Berra — Bread With Varanis
????, Sea Season
After the return to Boldhome, and after all the wrestling is over, life settles in to a pattern once more, at the end of Sea Season. [[[s01:session-30|Session 30]]]
Yelm is beginning his descent, and she’s there, pacing outside the entrance to Humakt’s temple. Her red hair is piled in plaits in an Esrolian style, her armour gleams in the early evening light, and her blue-green eyes flash with impatience and frustration at anyone who tries to meet them.
Berra arrives from the outside, not the inside, and pauses on seeing Varanis. She is in her armour, but under it she has her blue wool tunic and short trousers with leg windings that go down into her sandals. That is, she is rather more presentable than usual, and less padded out. Her hair is damp and brushed back, and some is even fastened behind her head. “Hello,” she says. “Waiting for someone?” She should have been inside, not outside. Damned Humakti.
Varanis looks Berra up and down, assessing. “You,” she says without elaboration. Her expression is momentarily confused, but returns to one of annoyance. She glances back at the Temple, then finally adds, “But if now is not a good time, we can talk later.”
Berra looks into the courtyard, cups her hands, and yells to someone inside, “Vengras! I’ll be on time, but not early! Keep a place for me!” There is a nod of acknowledgement, and a wave from him. Then to Varanis she says, “Not a bad time, but I should get something to eat before I get back here.”
“Where do you want to go then?” Varanis shifts from foot to foot with impatience.
Berra looks Varanis up and down. “There’s a place that does bread stuffed with vegetables up the road,” she says. “But I can’t run there. I need to look presentable for the service later.” She sets off at the unhurried pace of someone who is trying not to break a sweat in armour. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” the Vingan says curtly. “Fine.” She matches her pace to Berra’s with ease. She doesn’t say anything for a moment or two longer, but then bursts out with, “Bodyguards? You told Mellia I need bodyguards?” There’s disbelief in those words.
Berra is silent to consider, and finally replies, “No, I said you needed to look at options. Humakti bodyguards are one. And you should not be unescorted on the roads, but we need to talk about how safe you want to be, and how public, and who might be suitable, if anyone. So no, I would not say you need bodyguards. But you’ve got to consider reasons why you do or don’t.” She does not pause in her walking, and the food cubby is not far. It is one of those places with seats that will do drinks, but people are queuing up to be issued flatbread with a variety of fillings taken from either one big steaming pot, or another. Berra gets into the queue.
The queue pays no particular mind to being joined by a Humakti, so presumably this is a regular occurrence here.
Varanis joins Berra in the queue, never one to turn down interesting food, despite feeling irritable. From her scowl, she appears to be considering the Humakti’s words.
“I’m bored,” says Berra a moment later, and pulls out a chunk of money. She steps aside and says to the first two people in the queue, “How much to go to the back?” A swift negotiation results in them walking away with two wrapped flatbreads. She has paid for two squarish, dished plates as well, to save them from drips and splashes. “We can sell these back to the queue if we want our money back,” she says.
After a moment or two, the Vingan asks “What risks do you see? I’ve dealt with this threat my entire life, and the main difference now is that I might understand better why the threat is there. But has the threat itself really changed?”
Varanis has a choice of plain or plain-with-pickled vegetables. “You’re in Sartar now,” says Berra. “The Lunar Empire will want any drop of your blood rubbed away, or bent to itself. In Esrolia, you were not such a threat, but you are here. That’s moved you into their….” She moves her lips, thinking. “Battle-space. Influence area. Place they want to project their power.”
“You have work to do yet this evening. Eat your vegetables,” Varanis says taking the plain bread. She takes a bite, chews, and swallows absently. The earlier irritation seems to have vanished when she asks, “You think they have that much influence here?”
The ‘plain’ bread is still vegetable stuffed, but lacks the tang and vinegar crunch of Berra’s. “They nearly killed Kallyr here,” she points out. “We leave our horses in sight of where they did that, when we go up to the Palace.” Berra seems irritated by that, but isn’t taking it personally. “Assassination is not about influence. It’s about infiltration. Influence is an entirely different problem, and you probably want Xenofos or Mellia for that sort of thing, or Kalis. She’ll know about how you’re likely to be used. But yes. They can.”
Varanis looks thoughtful as she chews her next mouthful. She’s clearly still too distracted to give the food the appreciation it deserves. “You don’t think that adding guards will simply draw more attention to me?”
“You will already have the attention that matters. Your bloodline is very very important here. I mean, yes it’s Colymar, but it’s the Sartar line. You’d be one of those considered as a Prince, if your deeds were right. Some people will bring in an army to be sure your deeds are right. That’s what they did with Temertain, I reckon. I was young at the time, but Xenofos will be able to find out the details.” She is giving her food very little attention, but multiple small bites as she tries to stop pickle and vegetable juice from running down her sleeve, and eat while briefing someone. She’s pretty good at it, like she has had a lot of practice.
The vegetable bread needs a little salt. The textures are mixed and varied and should not be wasted on the less-salted flavour, but together it is all edible, and maybe more than that.
Varanis is beginning to look resigned. “I’m not saying that I agree,” she says softly, “but if I did, do you have thoughts about who?” She’s no longer eating. Indeed, she seems to have forgotten about the bread in her hand.
“Bodyguards? It depends. How much protection do you think you want? How much are you prepared to look like you need? How much money do you have? How many favours are you prepared to owe?” Berra shrugs. “Really, the question is about protection, not about guards. Guards are one aspect of protection, like soldiers are one aspect of a war.”
Varanis laughs bitterly. “I don’t want any. The question is rather what do I need?” Resentment colours her next words. “After we came to Nochet, I was rarely alone. In the House there were always lessons and such. When I did leave the House, it was always with at least one guard. Once I moved to the Temple, there were always senior initiates and priestesses.” She grins for a moment, though there’s not a lot of humour in it. “I got pretty good at finding ways out, though I didn’t do it often. The consequences if I was caught were…” She doesn’t finish the sentence, but her memories have also side-tracked her from Berra’s questions.
“Well, yes. And now you are an adult, and you do not need to have it if you don’t want to – and part of you requires freedom. So… You can’t be tied down. Having people with you would wear at you, and make you be… well, not the Varanis you want to be. Maybe not what you need to be. Physically, you’re doing the right things. You are unpredictable in your movements. You are alert. You do not stay outside strong points for long. Spiritually, I think you should talk to experts. There are active and passive things you can do, either way. Being guarded, is passive. You start it, and then it begins. Being alert is active. You keep starting it, no matter what. So you can look into that in the spirit realm and ask Nala or Kalis for advice, and that is a step forward. And think about what freedoms you are willing to lose, for the chance you think you will be attacked.”
“I will think on it.” There isn’t yet agreement in those words, but the commitment to considering the advice is genuine.
“Are you going to finish that? I’ll have it if you don’t want it.” Berra is nearly done with her flatbread, and looks at Varanis hopefully.
Varanis hands hers over without a word.