Berra — Cottage 01
????, Sea Season
Sea Season 1626. [[[s01:session-29|Session 29]]]
Before the party with Rajar and the interesting drunken happenings and the frankly Very Loud Singing, there is a pause. Beer is being brewed, pigs are being slaughtered, the Hall is being cleaned and a new portico built… And a Humakti turns up at the shrine of Vinga.
Varanis is neatly stacking her armour, which is gleaming from a cleaning. She is dressed in fine woolen clothing and wearing what she probably thinks is a modest amount of jewellery, including the arm ring given to her by Kallyr. She looks up as Berra arrives, and offers a welcoming smile.
Arianatha, who was here a moment ago, is old enough to take the hint, and has suddenly vanished.
Berra has a wide, sloppy, boyish smile, and she sweeps Varanis up into a hug – dignity permitting.
Varanis blinks in complete surprise. She doesn’t reject the hug, and after a moment, she returns it. Her embrace is warm, friendly, and platonic.
“Hello, Berra,” she murmurs into the top of the Humakti’s head.
“Hello,” says Berra, and disanages with a bouncy movement that leaves her on the balls of her feet, and then she relaxes and calms a little. “You did well.”
“Thank you,” Varanis replies with a grin. “It has been a good few days.”
“I don’t mean in the fight, just so you know. I mean, leading us to the Green Fish.”
“The Green Fish were easy. It helps to know how to appeal to the passions in people and to persuade them that their desires and yours align,” she replies modestly. Her attempt at modesty is perhaps diminished slightly by the pride shining in her eyes.
“Leading to. You did a really really difficult thing. I’m not good at being a friend instead of a…” She slips into an Esrolian accent for a moment, to say, “Monophyle… uh.. clade member. Shoulder to shoulder warrior. But you should know that from me.”
Varanis shakes her head. “I think you are a better friend than you give yourself credit for,” she answers. And after a pause, “I owe you thanks again. I don’t know why I was so convinced that Tiwr was not himself, but your intervention was timely. I’m sorry I yelled at you. Maybe I was still wound up from the fight,” she admits reluctantly.
“I think you see visions. I think the Air Spirits touch you, and that makes you different. It’s not bad, but you need to be aware of it. And yes, apologising is good, and apology accepted. But you should probably be nice to Nala at the feast. Do you want to stay at mine tonight? I have a house now! It’s my own!” She is back on the balls of her feet, her impatient waiting stance, all desire for action.
Varanis sighs. “It’s hard to be nice to her, but I suppose she likely feels the same towards me. I will think on it. And yes, much as I have enjoyed the shrine, having four walls might be nice tonight. It has been cold.”
“Well, this is Sartar. Learning to decide whether the cold is to be ignored or if it will kill you is a skill. Mostly it depends on Orlanth. If it’s damp, seek shelter. If it’s dry, seek a cloak.” Berra’s blanket-cloak is pinned and folded over her shoulder, like some of the men here wear their clothes when working in the field. Either modesty or the habit of wearing her amour has prevented that in her. “And apart from the way to the other Tula, you spoke like a leader when you were there. You’re right about that.”
((What state is the woad likely to be in given we are a day or so after, but got into a bit of a fight, plus smoke from burning etc?))
(( On our faces? Well, it’s magical woad. Berra applies her Truth Rune (made with this Clan’s woad) every day or few days. ))
(( So I suspect… *rolls dice** yeah, it’s stayed on surprisingly well. ))
Varanis unfolds her cloak and swings it around her shoulders, careful not to hit Berra or anything in the small shrine. She pins it in place, with a large bronze fibula, leaving her sword arm free. After a pause, she replies “It’s important to me that our people be secure and to ensure that, we needed to smooth the transition of land peacefully and win the Green Fish Tula over to our perspective. I helped them to see the benefits both for their own security and for Sartar. I reminded them of their loyalty to this land.”
“Well, yes. You did it well. Come eat with me. It’s alright – my sister cooked. I just have to put it over the fire, and she baked as well so the bread will be good.”
Varanis follows her friend out of the little shrine, sword strapped to her hip and dagger in her belt, but all else neatly wrapped in a blanket in the corner.
On the way Berra chatters and points out interesting trees, and rocks that she used to stand on so she could be taller than ducks, and oh, there is the point where the ghost came out by her house, and that’s where Nala was, and that’s where Mellia was. That last bit is in almost the same tone as the part about the rocks and the ducks, although there is a proud pause after it.
“I didn’t get a chance to hear about how things went with the ghost…” Varanis comments as they pass the house.
“Oh. Right.” Berra opens the door, and peers in. An effort has been made to tidy up, and there is a low banked fire, but the place is still a little chilly. “So, did you hear about Farnan’s personality?” She goes over to poke the fire with a slim log, and then sacrifice the log to Mahome of the Hearth, by the simple method of putting it onto the exposed embers.
“A little. He was particular about debts, as I heard,” comes the reply. The Vingan lowers herself into a chair by the table.
“More than particular.” Berra drags a wooden tripod over the fire, and hangs a bronze pot from it. She takes off the pot’s wooden lid, pours in a little water, and stirs with a spoon that looks far cleaner than the rest of the cottage. It was probably provided along with the pot. “They obsessed him. He could not separate cleanly from life. If … well, I might be wrong about this, and I’d like to ask D’Val, but if he had been me, I’d have called for a court and passed judgement. Make him let go, but don’t steal from him, if he had rights to the money. And then send him on.”
“A court? For a dead man?” Varanis sounds perplexed. “But what would you do with the money owed to him?”
“It doesn’t matter. If I die with money, I have heirs, or you might bury me with it. It doesn’t stop being mine just because it gets passed to someone else. I mean… alright, I put that badly. But do you get what I mean?” The sound of crackling wood begins to build, and Berra stands to grab a pitcher from a shelf, check its contents, and then pour the contents – fresh watered perry – for Varanis.
There are cups here, some of which are definitely old and repaired, some new and bright-painted.
Varanis accepts the cup appreciatively and takes a delicate sip. “But, it didn’t come to court. I hear there was a fight?”
“Yes. We decided to bargain with him. I’d fill the debts – buy them from him and take the court cases myself – and he would have one last time when he got to argue with someone, and that would satisfy him. I did not really want to lose – I should be fair, not overly soft – but I was prepared for that. But I made a counter-offer and he attacked me. I think he was insulted by the fact I tried, but I don’t know. He was a ghost, and who knows what part of it was bad to him?”
The perry is not bad. It’s dry, but has had a touch of honey added, and it tastes like it was warmed over. Most of the alcohol is gone, and someone spiced it a little.
“Well, clearly you defeated it, so well done!” Varanis replies, taking another sip of the perry. “Ghosts are peculiar beings and best avoided where possible, I feel.” She speaks with all the wisdom of one who has probably never really encountered ghosts.
“No. I didn’t defeat it. That’s why Nala and Mellia were there. We defeated it.” Berra gives the pot one more stir, and a bit more water, and pours herself a drink too.
“My cousin is both wise and gifted. Chalana Arroy clearly favours her,” Varanis replies blithely.
“Her sleep spell was definitely well timed.” Berra seems amused. “But Nala was the one who sent Farnan away. I might not have been there on the hillside, if not for her. Although I’d have been a lot easier to kill, because it would have been a farmer holding my sword, not me.” Some of that amusement over her painted cup is at herself.
Varanis scowls at the mention of Nala’s name and turns her gaze away.
Either Berra is merciless, or she did not realise that Varanis did not like what she said. “I made my offer, and he attacked me. I struck back, and so did Nala – but I do not have her strength. And neither of us, I think, had the ghost’s strength. He was clinging to what he wanted too hard.”
Varanis continues to look mulish, but says “I glad that she was there to back you up then.”
Berra sighs. “Varanis. I was the bait. She was the spear. And if we had been on the hillside, I would have been the sword – but she was the one who broke him.” She covers the awkward moment by pouring more perry, so at least there is something to look at.
Varanis nods curtly, accepting her friend’s words and more perry without further comment.
“And then things went black for me. The ghost took me, Mellia made me sleep and Farnan fled. Nala destroyed him – and then I woke in the shrine of Chalana Arroy, and there was Rajar, with beer. It is the ritual for a warrior coming back to the waking world from such a thing. I do love him – he is generous and he knows battle.”
Varanis’ expression suddenly appears bleak as Berra mentions being taken by the ghost. “Are you ok? Losing your spirit however briefly…” A shudder comes over her.
“It wasn’t lost, as I understand it. It was… pushed aside. I was asleep, but open to it. Then I was asleep and closed to it. So more like when you twitch in your sleep, but a very strange twitch.” The sound of the fire has changed enough that Berra goes over to check the pot and stir it and pour in perry instead of water, and mutter a bit, and shrug. “It has pears in anyhow. I think Xenofos thinks I drew on Mellia.”
The perry pitcher gets put firmly away from the water pitcher.
“Why would he think that?” Varanis takes another, less delicate, swig of her perry.
“Because he saw someone who was me – my body – draw a sword. I have no idea why Farnan did that. Probably to attack Nala, but I don’t know. So personally I think he thinks that because he doesn’t know much about battles, but it’s to his credit. He’s wary for the people he loves.”
Berra stares into the pot of what is starting to smell like a rather delicious vegetable stew, and puts the lid onto it.
“I’ll speak to him,” Varanis offers. “He’s an emotional young man, at times.” She smiles fondly as she thinks of her cousin. “He means well, and he’s surprisingly intelligent, but he can be very close-minded at times. Did I tell you that he tried to convince me to seek revenge against you for tackling me into the mud? He even offered to help.” She grins at the memory and the bleakness leaves her eyes.
The fire gets another couple of logs, and Berra comes back to sit down. “Mhm… No, you didn’t. But he didn’t try. You can tell because he’s still breathing.” There is a definite air of boasting to her, in her grin and the easy set of her shoulders. “He… I don’t know if he loves you, in the sense of men and women. I don’t think that. But he loves you in the sense of cousins. I can’t blame him for such – I’d wrestle anyone who touched Yehna. More – she’s my sister. But my cousins, too. If they were here, and not in Esrolia.”
Varanis laughs lightly. “He’d be in for a disappointment if he loved me more,” she says wryly. “But yes, he is a good man and a good cousin. I will protect him if the need arises. The food smells very good, Berra,” Varanis observes. Her stomach grumbles in agreement.
“Yehna is a really good wife. She says I need to wait until it is bubbling, and then add the pot of butter on the side, which has all the fresh herbs in. It’s not bubbling yet. We were always very different in what we liked doing, but I think that made us closer. There were a lot of other people in that house.”
“The only time I ever spent in a kitchen was when I was in the dormitory in Nochet. All the Vingan apprentices had to share shifts assisting the cook.” From Varanis’ expression, it’s clear that this wasn’t a chore she especially enjoyed.
“I did that too.” Berra loses her happy expression. “During the siege – we had to. Poisoning the Battalion could have tipped the battle.” Then she shrugs. “I learned how to cut things, I just don’t much like cooking. I can do it. But I have to think about it. Yehna doesn’t. She just does it with one hand while she’s looking after Haran with the other.” At the mention of her nephew her expression softens entirely.
Varanis smiles at Berra over the edge of her cup.
Berra is smiling at her own cup. Humakti should not have such soppy expressions, but apparently she has forgotten that life rule.
“Oh! I have to show you something,” Varanis says, suddenly leaping up. She sets her cup on the table and carefully undoes her belt, setting it, with the sword and dagger on the table. Then she hauls up both tunic and short shift, to expose her abdomen. “Look!” The new tattoo is bright blue, though the healing skin around it shows a bit pink.
Berra grins, and holds up a hand for a moment, going to get an oil lamp and light it to put it down where she can admire the new blue lines. She looks for long enough that it is certain she is really taking in the work. “You’re my cousin now,” she says. “It’s not really sunk in yet, I have to say. It wasn’t how I thought I would come back.”
Varanis drops the hems of her tunics and hugs Berra again, at first tentatively, and then, as the hug is welcomed, more fiercely.
Berra does melt into it, happily. “I thought I would be alone. Maybe with Irillo,” she tells the shoulder she can currently speak to. “With a chance of not being alive. And now I’m here, and my tattoo got my runes on too.”
When the two step back, Varanis blinks rapidly for a moment. “I have a lot of cousins,” she says at last, “but I have always felt like a goose among swans. Tolerated, but never fully belonging.” She picks her cup up again and hands Berra hers too. “Here’s to the family we choose!” she says, offering a toast.
Berra looks at her cup. “You know I’m Humakti, right?” She answers the toast by lifting her cup, and drinking, but she does not echo it.
Varanis shrugs. “And I’m Vingan. It doesn’t mean we have to die alone. Your god comes first, I know that. But Berra, you don’t have to face everything by yourself.”
“Mmmm… If Humakt says so, I do. It can happen to a Humakti. We… have rituals that most people don’t. We take on more of the burden of the God, and in return we can use more of his power of Death – but sometimes, that burden cuts us off from clans or families, or everything but honour and devotion.” Berra took a moment to start saying that, but once she commits it’s a tumble of words, like her normal speech. She gets up to check on the food, and now it is bubbling, so she adds the glob of herbed butter and starts to look around.
Varanis watches Berra thoughtfully. “It may be that your god takes you from us, or that my duties prevent me from being where you need me when you need me, but regardless, you will always be my cousin now.” Her expression is stubborn. “You are stuck with me.”
Berra looks at Varanis, faintly confused. “Oh. Yes. You’re not Humakti…” She is still looking confused when she hauls a stool towards her, stands on it, and looks around again. That puts her eyes are the right level for seeing onto a shelf and she pulls down a cloth-wrapped bundle which has bread, clean wooden bowls, and scraps of wool for hand washing, all in a bigger bowl that would do for water. “Yehna. You delight.” Berra puts the fruit of someone else’s labours onto the table, keeping the bowls to fill them.
Varanis fidgets with one of her many red braids. Definitely not Humakti. Finally she shrugs. “Maybe we don’t completely understand each other, but at least you understand the sides of me that my clan has always frowned on. And you seem to accept me for who I am.” She tries not to look wounded, instead, reaching for a bowl, as Berra fills it.
Berra looks up, from where she is checking the butter is all dissolved. “It’s… I don’t know how it works for you. For me, I won’t be part of the clan any more, if that is what he asks. I could not ask you to be tied to me if I were, beyond wanting to be. I mean, I want to be – but that can be taken too. Humakt has to be able to judge without bias, when it comes to Death. He severed himself from the Storm Tribe, and that was one of the reasons. He’s not even an Air God now. It took Orlanth some time to stop trying to cajole his brother, and it took him longer to treat the God of Death with honour – but it’s a different relationship they have now.” She hands up both bowls, so she can deal with moving the tripod out of the way of the fire.
There does not seem to be much bronze in this house, but wood and horn and bone have been used with cunning. The tripod’s chain and the pot are the shiniest things, and they look like they are new to the place.
Varanis places the bowls on the table and refills the cups. She glances about for spoons.
Berra cuts bread, using her belt knife held over the fire briefly to purify it, and nods to the biggest bowl. “All of the clean things worth using are in there. Yehna has lent them to me. Farnan had one of everything, mostly repaired by himself.”
Varanis looks into the bowl and pulls out some utensils for both of them. She places one neatly beside each bowl.
“You’re quiet,” is Berra’s next observation. She has thrown more logs onto the fire, closed the shutters, and is bringing another oil lamp to the table. The room is finally getting properly warm, although as there is no chimney it is also getting smoky up in the rafters.
Varanis shrugs. “I was thinking… I might like to keep wearing my runes like this. How can I get some of the woad? Is there time before we leave for Clearwine?” She is clearly changing the subject.
“The best thing to do is ask Haralis. If you are going to paint woad on, the Clan woad is the best – it shimmers like none other. We don’t usually sell it, but I filled my pot again, as soon as I saw Yehna. I’d diluted mine a lot.” She looks into her bowl, turning over potentially interesting lumps with her spoon, and mixing in a few bits of torn bread.
The spoons are horn, curved just right to eat a thick-sauced stew with bread to help.
Varanis nods and eats the stew with genuine appreciation. “This is very good,” she observes. Then, “do you think Queen Leika would be offended by this,” she asks suddenly, indicating her forehead with her thankfully empty spoon.
Berra looks up at the Mastery Rune. “If she is, you should wear it anyway. It was given to you, and it’s the Truth, and it will warn her what she is getting. It’s rare. Do her the honour of going to her throne wearing all of your valuables, not just the expensive ones.”
Varanis listens thoughtfully to Berra’s reply. Quietly, she murmurs, “this one might be the most expensive. It comes at the highest price.”
Berra is picking at her food, eating only a little, but she does not seem to be worried away from hunger. It seems she is just not that hungry. “Well, yes. But you should not humble yourself to keep the peace. She is a Queen. She has kept the peace for a long time, and you will be one wonder among many. Walk in, in your pride, and offer your pride to her. Kallyr wants you to be a Colymar. Would you not be proud of a Clan Member with the Mastery Rune?”
Maybe, in Berra’s eyes, that expression is pride.
“At home, some Grandmothers would read this Rune as a threat to their power. My Grandmother might take pride in it, but perhaps only so long as she felt certain of her mastery over me. I am not entirely certain how she will see it now, though I can’t help but wonder what she planned and what she guessed.” Varanis sounds almost cynical as she speaks of her Grandmother. “I love the old woman, and I owe her everything, but I no longer trust her.”
Berra’s expression is easy to see – a tiny dimple forms as her smile compresses, and the oil lamps make certain it can be seen. “I think she forms plans easily, but when a plan has grown up and wants to leave home, how can you change it?”
Interpreting that smile, on the other hand, would probably take the wisdom of Ernalda and the knowledge of Lhankor Mhy together.
“I will speak to Haralis,” Varanis says at last. “The Rune and its obligations are mine to bear, and as you say, it is best to do so openly. May I have more bread? It’s very good.”
“It really is.” Berra cuts off a hunk rather than trying to slice it, breaks that in two, and hands over half. She starts eating then, like she has suddenly remembered she is hungry.