Best with Duck

Berra — Bard From Clearwine 04

????, Sea Season


1626, Sea Season, stopping off at Wilmskirk on the way back from Clearwine, Berra gets a letter. She can’t read. [[[s01:session-30|Session 30]]]


Yelm is stronger as Spring returns, and the long ride from Clearwine to Wilmskirk – a stretched day of riding to do it all in one – has not been unpleasant. Orlanth’s blessings on Ernalda have been in abeyance, and the joyful sun has only just lost his fight with life, and is slipping out of sight as they get into town. Town. Wilmskirk has two inns, and one of them has no private sleeping rooms. The Broken Jug is a tiny place but they seem to know Berra there, and they offer her the room, and she accepts it on behalf of Mellia and Varanis. It seems that with her in the common room, there is tension around, and so the Humakti slips out to enjoy the last of the evening sunlight, walking up and down in the inn’s courtyard, and generally making people inside nervous.

Xenofos orders a beaker of local wine – astonishing the locals by asking for a pint of water to go with it and sets to test the quality of both drinks.

Well, the water is good. The wine is a Sambari red, vinegary and salted, but after the first surprising sip, very refreshing. One of the locals leans over to advise, “It’s best with Duck.” It seems to be a running joke here.

Raised eyebrow. “Fascinating quip, dear chap, but I am afraid that as uneducated foreigner I don’t quite appreciate all the nuances.”

There’s an awkward silence, and then the door opens, and Berra comes in, and the silence becomes absolute as the jokers of a moment ago stare at her. She takes it personally, but not as an insult. That is, she glares back at them, and then walks over to Xenofos. “I would have hope they’d forgotten by now.” She shrugs, looking puzzled, and asks, “Um, do you have a rate for reading letters?”

“No. I don’t work for coin.” The words are harsh, but the tone is totally friendly and body language relaxed.

Berra pauses to parse that, and the slowly moving thoughts on her face coalesce into mild irritation, but not at Xenofos. She turns to look at the gathered and silent room. “Look, just talk among yourselves. I’m not here for trouble, or to be listened to.” Someone at the back sniggers, and she takes a deep slow breath and looks back at Xenofos. “Someone just gave me a letter,”she explains. There are various quiet conversations going on here and there, but Berra is the centre of a surprising amount of attention.

“Since the local chap is not up to explaining his durulz comment we might seek a place with somewhat less eavesdroppers,” suggests Xenofos to Berra with a friendly smile to the local joker.

Berra says, “Let’s,” and gets up. “Want me to carry your drink?” Berra looks over at the local joker, who looks away rapidly.

“Nah its fine” says Xenofos mixing stuff to the pint mug in about half and half. “Thanks good publican, i’ll return the tankard later or you can put it on my bill.” There is an amused stare at the joker.

Berra is already at the door by that point. “Oh. The woman who delivered it is probably going to try to go back in the dark. That’s no good… Let’s walk towards the palisade, unless you need to be somewhere still, or with better light.” She tentatively holds out that most terrifying thing of all, a wax-sealed roll of parchment.

“Yes a bit of light would indeed be indeed helpful,” says Xenofos while observing the roll and seal.

(( Roll read Theyalan for examining the scroll as well as reading it: success ))

Berra points to a corner of the courtyard that is both out of the way of eavesdroppers, and still mostly light, with a reflection of Yelm striking off the walls.

The seal is an anonymous bit of beeswax, pressed down with a fragment of long, thin leaf. The parchment is almost certainly very fine calfskin, expensive, but not prepared as well as it could be, and the surface will probably crumble if re-used too much.

“Break the seal. I don’t mind,” says Berra.

With ease brought by practise Xenofos cuts open the seal with a minuscule knife he digs from a case hanging from his belt. He opens the vellum wide and takes an overall glance of the document.

Inside, there is enough parchment for the message itself, and to cover up the writing from being peered at through the inside. It is unsigned. It is also, in the barbarian way of these people, a poem designed to be written down such that it fits into the tiny space. Such things have no name here, although ‘love-note’ would work. The writing is clear, but inelegant, a well-formed but half educated hand, and the dotted line on which it is written is in the same ink as the poem itself, which is against most sensible rules of decoration.

Berra watches in patient puzzlement. “This is the second letter I’ve ever been sent,” she says, almost excited. The patience is probably for Xenofos, not for the letter.

“Well this is interesting. Whoever wrote this did not put his signature on it.”

“Well, the seal had a leaf. It might have been willow?”

And then there is the content, which can be read almost at a glance.

The sweetest fruit I know
Is locked in a tower, unassailable
Behind blank brown walls

And it grew on a tree overlooking a meadow
Where I shall drown my heart

“Could have been. Here take a look yourself. Not totally bad hand, clear . Very nice content. Decent rhythm, no rhyme though. Oh sorry I got into analyzing mode I see: The sweetest fruit I know Is locked in a tower, unassailable Behind blank brown walls And it grew on a tree overlooking a meadow Where I shall drown my heart.”

Berra peers. “By ‘hand’ you mean… how they did it?” She looks in amazement at Xenofos. “Someone sent me… Oh. Right.” Now her face shows understanding instantly, like she has just finished getting to what she thinks is the right conclusion.

(( Berra rolls INT x5: special – she knows what it means and can guess at who sent it. ))

“By hand I mean the quality of writing itself, form and clarity of letters. To me, that looks a lot like a love letter.”

“Ah, right. Yes, it is, but I think he’s also saying he’s giving up. Although he might not know that’s how my father died – I’m going to guess he doesn’t.” Berra looks faintly nonplussed, but not for long, and then she looks like she is back on even keel, her quick changes of mood being easy to read.

A slight awkward pause. “Yes, the end could be read so. I could dare guess a reference to blue tree, but rest of references give me nothing. But you would not want poetical analysis on personal letter any way, silly of me.”

“Oh, not at all. I don’t mind. But…” Berra taps her armour, which gives off a dull thud. “Blank brown wall? Not many people wear all leather. Linothorax is far easier to make, but this was being sold and I bought it all at once, and I like it plain. And I’m pretty sure that by unassailable he’s saying I don’t sleep with men and I’m a warrior, with one word. That’s definitely about me, but ‘drown my heart’ I’m not sure about. I think it means kill love, but it’s probably already in some famous poem.”

“What is the meadow ?”

“It is a meadow – but it’s down at the level of the river. Unless you know the river won’t kill you, you shouldn’t go there in Sea or Storm seasons. It becomes part of the flood plain, and the ground shifts. There, the grass keeps it together, but you can still be swept away. So you can drown there, even while your hands clutch what was land, a few hours before. Jenath Minar will take you, and if he likes you he’ll keep you, and if not he gives you back to the village after he takes your air.”

“I was thinking of drowning sorrows in amphora, but that does not sound like a place for that. He might hint he’ll drown himself. “

“Oh, I see. Well, he’d have to go there, but if he wants to, he’s welcome. I mean, I’m not going to stop him. Sensible people might.” She brings herself up short. “Not that I wouldn’t, just that I won’t be there. Anyhow, he knows that.”

A riotous laugh is let out of the inn as the door opens and one of the patrons starts making his merry way home. The door closes again.

“His choice I guess. Might be awkward for the villagers though.”

Berra is very carefully not looking back at the door. “Oh, they’re used to it. It happens every few years. Not someone arriving with that in mind, just someone not paying the River-god enough mind. He loves the tree but he envies the land, so he takes the people sometimes. Anyhow… Thank you for that. Can you use the parchment, or should I keep it?”

“I suppose I can scrape the vellum clean if you have no use for it… So no love for the Humaktis’ chosen?”

(( Xenofos makes Insight, Human. ))

“Well, you can – but Fertility sort of puts you off thinking about Death. I decided on celibacy partly to clear my head of Lanasha, and partly because it’s just easier. It doesn’t mean I don’t love, just that I don’t give way to desires, which will always draw me from what I should be doing. It’s a combination of flesh and favouritism, and that’s very bad.” Berra speaks lightly, but the yearning in her expression, just for a moment, is terrible. She misses that, and she knows it. The flicker of emotion is gone a moment later, but she drew her scowl onto it like a travelling cloak over bright clothes.

The scowl gets directed at the inn, like she has just remembered she was annoyed inside.

Xenofos misses the scowl since he seems to be scanning the surroundings for possible assailants.

(( Berra fails Insight, Human ))

Xenofos has been doing that ever since Boldhome anyway, the scanning…

“Well.” Berra sighs. “I’m probably going to start a fight if I go back in there right now, and I really don’t want to do that. I’m off to find out if the messenger has left already, and make sure they know they don’t have to. I know who sent it, I’m not angry with them, and it’s not a thing they need to escape me from.”