1627, Late Earth Season
Varanis blurts out her pregnancy secret to Berra and Yehna. Berra is far too pleased. After session 55 (Wolf at the Door).
The Death Temple took Berra for a day, but rituals that clear out impurities of the spirit should begin on Fireday, and while she is painted with patterns of woad and henna, she is also surplus to requirements while D’Val prepares the ground where she will live for the next season. Forbidden alcohol, sexual congress, and meat of all kinds, she is in a surprisingly good mood.
Yehna and her cousin Sanila have settled in well. Haran is astounded by all that is new and all that is shiny. That is a lot of Boldhome. Sanila has taken him out for a walk, by putting him onto a short leather lead, and letting him take her where he wants to go.
Varanis enters through the main door of the inn, greeting Rondrik in a distracted sort of way while she searches the common room. Spotting the sisters, she makes her way over to join them. She looks dazed.
Berra stands up while Yehna looks at Varanis in question, pushing out a stool and looking to Rondrik’s door but not calling out.
“I’ve just come from the Earth Temple,” Varanis tells them quietly, collapsing onto the stool. She signals Rondrik for wine and looks at the two women enquiringly. “Need anything?”
“I’m going to need some kohl, but I don’t think that’s what you were asking,” Berra says.
Yehna smiles and shakes her head briefly. “No. Berra was telling me about the climbing you do, and the cliffs near here. At least they sound solid.”
“I have kohl if you need it, but it’s up at the palace,” Varanis tells Berra. “And yes, the cliffs here are good.” The Vingan is saying the right things, talking about the landscape and weather and other such inanities. She’s courteous to Rondrik when he delivers her wine and a light snack for her too. She even nibbles on the dried fruits and nuts he sets in front of her. But it’s obvious to Yehna that her attention isn’t with them. Berra, who knows her even better, can sense that Varanis is really worried about something and trying not to say anything about it.
“Let’s go walking,” Berra says after only a few minutes. “Look at places. Things.” It’s a perhaps-clumsy attempt at not making Varanis think about houses, while also giving her a reason to agree with the plan if she wants to.
Yehna looks to Varanis to see if that is a good idea.
“Alright. But, I should eat first,” Varanis says. “Let me just finish what Rondrik’s brought.”
Berra eats up, politely letting Varanis have her own. Yehna is just as good at leaving food for others, and rather more subtle about doing it.
Varanis has little to say while she systematically works her way through the food and wine. Before long, she pushes the platter and cup away. “Let’s go.”
Berra scoops up a few lats bits of dried apple and cinnamon, and squirrel-cheeks them as she stands.
“I’ve been told that we might consider looking in the West Pocket for a home. You two up for a bit of a walk?” the Vingan asks.
Berra nods, although she suggests, “We could ride, if you want? Yehna won’t want to run.” It sounds like riding is one of those ideas she throws out – she does not want to unless everyone else wants to.
“Riding is fine. It’s a long walk otherwise. Manasa is in one of her moods though. She tried to chew on one of the servants at the Earth Temple.” The irritable black mare is in one of the stalls in Rondrik’s stable. It’s the one that the stable girl is actively avoiding. Varanis braves the small space to put the saddle on Manasa herself, after confirming that the child was uninjured.
Berra saddles Followed, and Yehna has Rode, her sister’s horse. A light rain hangs in the air as they ride out, but it is warm enough that while gloves are comfortable, they are not needed.
“Yehna, are you familiar with the Pockets yet?” Varanis asks.
“I’ve seen them, but never from close,” Yehna replies. She shows more interest in Varanis than in her sister, who is standing on her saddle to see where they are going. On one leg. On tiptoes.
“I’m told that there are bathhouses and steam rooms within them. But… I’ll be honest, I’m not sure that I would want to live inside the cliff, even for a bathhouse. I know it’ll be warmer in winter and cooler in summer, but… I want the sky above me. What do you think?” As they ride, Varanis continues to talk about houses and works to keep Manasa behaving. It’s possible that these are what have caused her underlying worry.
“I don’t think you should live in a cliff, but if we can find one that has a roof, you might like it. Obviously I’m thinking about how defensible things are.” Berra speaks from her high vantage point.
“You must be happy with a house, unless you want to have to buy another,” Yehna says with a smile. “You might be able to build a bath-house, or find friends who do not mind you using it, but you cannot buy the free air.”
“Mmhmmm,” Varanis murmurs.
Berra balances, wriggles, even does a handstand on the bison – a disaster that requires a dismount that ends in a yelp and her behaving for a while.
Yehna takes all that in stride, and lets Varanis make any conversation she wishes.
With Berra remounted, Varanis takes advantage of the momentary space created around them to put Manasa between Rode and the bison. “I’m pregnant,” she blurts, though not loud enough for anyone beyond the three of them to hear easily.
Berra sort of freezes, then stares at Varanis with a good owl-blink going on.
Yehna is more gracious. “Congratulations,” she says, her smile hopeful and happy.
Varanis turns terrified eyes on Yehna. “I can’t be. Vinga normally… I can’t. But Kalis confirmed it. What’s more, she thinks the baby…” She stumbles over the word. “The baby will come before Sacred Time.”
Berra says quietly, “I’m going to be an aunty again!” with a touch of a smile growing.
Yehna looks at Varanis and reaches out a hand to squeeze Varanis’ wrist. “You’ll be fine. You’re in a big city – you have good people here.”
“I can’t be a mother. Think on it! This child will be descended from Sartar. How can I be what I am and look after a squalling infant?” Varanis hisses urgently. “I like other people’s babies!”
Berra says, “Baby,” as the huge fact percolates deeper into her head. It seems to be making her happy as the news spreads to outlying parts.
“Lords don’t have to look after children,” Yehna says. “That’s what mothers are for – and their household.”
“But who will be its mother?”
“Is Lenta your friend or your lover?” Yehna asks.
“I can buy her swords!” Berra blurts.
“Friend,” Varanis answers. “There’s another I’d hoped to marry, but she’s the one who was supposed to have children. Any child I produce is Sartar’s and can’t belong to the Grazelands, unless we send it there in hiding.” While Berra has given the child a pronoun and thus humanity, Varanis talks about it like a thing.
“Then your Temple can help, or you can employ someone, if you have no siblings or cousins here,” Yehna says, her voice soothing.
“Aunty. I’m going to be an aunty again.”
“Berra, dear, your heart is full of words and they are spilling out of your mouth,” Yehna says, with a touch of severity.
Berra just stares at her, then at Varanis, then at lower down on Varanis.
“I… I have to think about it. There’s not much time. Kalis says two seasons at most.”
“I think that you might already have someone who wants to wish the baby well on its first day,” Yehna notes. “But you have many choices, and you are doing a great thing. One that Vinga wills, I think.”
“Baaaaaby. If it’s a girl I can teach her spear work… can I hug it?” Berra looks hopeful, as she joins the conversation once more.
Varanis stares at Berra, like she’s about to say something. Then Manasa, sensing her rider’s distraction, decides to remind herself what bison tastes like.
Berra is taken by surprise, and Followed is too. However, the Bison does not like being bitten and has horns, and elects to turn and swipe at Manasa with them. Berra does a swift, slithering dismount to try to get between the two.1Followed passed Darkness, and has decided to be brutal in return. Yay! 2It’ll be good for Manasa, if not Varanis. Manasa specialled Darkness, which is what led her to bite. 3Oops! Hungry AND cruel.
“Manasa!” Varanis yells, hauling on the reins. “I going to give you to Maran Gor one of these days!”4I have to check if 54 is a pass on ride. It’s close, but I think the skill is 50. 53. So close!
Berra shoves Followed’s head, and grabs her bison’s nose, managing to stop the bison from surging forwards. Meanwhile Yehna, who is a farmer and not a herder, is keeping her horse still by dint of not giving it any orders, and riding a calm horse.
At first, it looks like Manasa is going to just pretend Varanis isn’t there, but when her rider yanks the reins hard to pull her away from Berra, the horse gives a nasty roar and twists about to snap Varanis instead. “That’s it! You’re going back to Serala. Maybe she can work some sense into you!”
Berra keeps Followed calm, with a pat to the neck when the bison does not move on, as an added reward.
Yehna lets Rode carry her safely back a few dancing, nervous steps.
“I don’t know if I should take Manasa further into busy areas,” Varanis says breathlessly when she has finally got the horse under control. It might be better to get her to the palace’s pasture for now. That or the horse market, which we’ll pass en route.”
“I’m ok with either,” Berra says. “But we could also take her to the Temple of Humakt. You can ride on Followed.”
Yehna looks worried, of course, having not seen Manasa in such a mood before.
Berra makes the Death sign in the air.
“Ah. Right. I have considered it, but I think Serala would be disappointed in me if I did that.” Varanis shakes her head. “No. I’ll send Manasa to Apple Lane and stick to Doqeia for now. “
A few minutes later, Berra says, “I still want to hug your baby. But I think I can get over it.” The look of stunned joy is back on her face.
“I don’t want Grandmother to know,” Varanis says quietly. “But I don’t know how I’ll keep it from her.” There’s a long pause before she adds, “Please don’t speak of this to anyone. I need to be the person who tells the Prince.”
Berra twitches a moment, but then nods. “I need to tell my High Sword,” she says, “But that can wait. And he’ll find out anyhow.” She might mean that she intends to forget, or that the request is so reasonable she will not say, or any of half a dozen things.
“Very well,” Yehna says quietly. “You may have to send Berra for a night out in the wilds, though. She cannot keep a secret from her face.”
Berra waves her hands to show the bigness of her emotions and the trueness of what Yehna has said.
“I am hoping that she won’t make me wait long. It depends on how she is feeling with regards to me these days. Sometimes… well. We’ll just have to see.”
Yehna’s voice stays soothing. “You have done so well for her.” She seems to be under control emotionally, a balance to her sister, who is very nearly leaking excited noises.
The look Varanis gives Berra is unreadable. Manasa shifts irritably. “Let’s head back for now. We can try visiting the area around West Pocket another day.” Suddenly Varanis draws in a sharp breath and goes very still, or at least as still as can be on a moving horse. She lets the air out in a controlled exhalation. “I think… it moved.”
Berra freezes again.
“That sounds about the right time,” Yehna says, on stronger ground. “Running and fighting, or dancing before birth. It is a good sign.”
The Vingan’s eyes are wide and worried. She doesn’t say anything further until they reach Rondrik’s, where she says goodbye to Yehna and points Manasa to the royal pasture.
Berra stays on the bison, loyally present. By now she has stopped talking, and is alert once more, but she keeps smiling.
Yehna goes in to see to someone else helping her with the horse – she is a corn person.
“You coming with me to the pasture?” Varanis asks Berra.
Berra has stayed on Followed. “M-hm.” She nods, her whole demeanour saying she is full of a thing she is not telling.
Varanis looks at her and sighs. After they have left the Grape, she gets Manasa as close to the bison as she dares. “I’m sorry that I told you a thing and then asked you to keep it a secret,” she says quietly. “That wasn’t fair of me.”
Berra takes a few moments to work out how to reply. “No, it’s fine. It’s sensible. But I… I …” She looks at Varanis and down at her belly and back up, trying not to be too obvious. “I have a lot of big happy feelings in me that I should deal with.”
“If you keep staring at my belly that way, you’re going to give it away to anyone paying attention,” Varanis points out. “Why are you so happy about this?”
“Yes, and I’m trying not to.” Berra looks off into the distance instead. “You’re going to have a little Varanis! They’ll be great!”
“Shhh! How are we going to burn some of this out of you? Maybe we need to go climbing or something. At least we could go somewhere that no one can overhear.”
“Oh. Yes. Well, I was figuring once we had Manasa away we’d be going to look at houses, but we could go up to the Argan Argar tent or something? It’s a long walk. Or climbing. But I don’t know if I’d get too excited. We could race to the tent, or…. I don’t know. Walking sounds good. Then I can wave my hands a lot.” Berra’s voice is too fast, the words struggling to come out in order.
“Not houses. Too many people around houses for the words you want to say. We’ll walk to the Argan Argar tent.” The Vingan is decisive. She looks almost impatient, but does not rush Manasa. The mare is difficult enough today without the added encouragement.
Berra stays mostly silent, except for humming a little, while Varanis deals with Manasa. She dismounts from Followed, but does not turn her to the pasture – instead she takes a long rein to lead the animal.
It is only once they are away from the houses, the palace over their shoulder to the right, that she gives a big happy sigh and breaks into a big happy smile.
“Right. So, why are you so overjoyed?” Varanis demands once their only company is Berra’s bison.
Berra looks at Varanis, like she is astounded that it has to be asked. “Because there will be more of you!”
This startles the Vingan. “You want there to be more of me?!” Then she puts a hand to her belly. “It did it again. Like butterflies, but as though Chalana Arroy was angry. Angry butterflies.”
“Mhm.” Berra smiles. “Yeah, like that. You. Full of movement.”
“Dakajeel hoped I would have his baby,” Varanis mutters irritably. “Maybe this is his fault.” Then she shakes her head. “If Kalis is right about the timing, then it’s not.”
Berra nods to that. “I’m going to get to protect it. Her. I want it to be a girl, but I could handle something else.” Beat-pause. “I mean, I’d have to.”
“I am not sure I’m keeping it,” Varanis warns. “I might give the child to Kallyr. She needs an heir. I don’t. What I do know is that Grandmother will not get her hands on this child.” That last statement… just there… Varanis actually sounds protective instead of horrified.
Berra pauses for a moment before replying. “Yeah. But… family’s really good, done right. And an heir would be good, and it will still be your kin.” She manages another sigh, slowly leaking out the happiness that still suffuses her.
“If I keep it… if,” Varanis stresses the word, “you can be its aunt. But who would be its mother?”
“Uh, of course I can be its aunt!” Berra looks confused. “But ask Yehna? Or… uh… not Mellia. Or Yamia. But you can basically get an Ernaldan you trust. Ask Kalis, maybe, to help?” She bounces a little as she walks. “Um, I don’t know anyone who’s currently got a small one except for Yamia, and she’s been having trouble with her milk, so she’s got to have help already. I mean, a wetnurse is different from a mother, right?”
Then Berra considers a moment. “Oh, the if wasn’t about me being the aunt. Right. Because I got confused.”
“You do realise that this is a child of Sartar? I’d be putting Blue Tree at risk if I gave the baby to someone there.” She adds, “Sartar’s line hasn’t done all that well, for the most part. Too many knives and Lunar demons and the like.”
Berra nods. “Yeah. That’s one reason why not Mellia,” she says. “But even right now, Yamia’s tough and good at … well, she’s probably not the one, but there should be a bodyguard, I guess. I know it’s like … well, yeah, I got all that. But just because someone might try to take it away, doesn’t mean I can’t be happy today.”
Varanis stops walking and turns to Berra.
Berra stops too, and Followed ambles to a halt.
With enough warning that Berra can evade if she chooses to, Varanis steps in for a hug.
A proper Berra hug is a rare thing. Berra squeezes enough to hold on, and lifts.
Varanis gasps. “Berra!” she exclaims with laughter, “you’ll break my back!”
Berra adds a bit of wiggling Varanis back and forth in the air. “My Varanis! Mine!”
“You’re making it flail about in there!” Varanis protests, but she’s grinning. It’s as though Berra has shaken some of the worry from her. “Set me down!”
Berra does that, giving Varanis a moment to make sure her feet are in the right place. “Hey, baby? That wasn’t flying but I hope you liked it,” she says, casually, to the air a little in front of her.
“Well, either it loved it or it hated it, because it was being an angry butterfly again.” Varanis stares down at her belly. “My armour isn’t going to fit next season.”
“It’s the best time for it,” Berra says. “Cold and nothing else to do. You wouldn’t want to be marching and fighting while you were heavy.”
Varanis suddenly starts to laugh again. “It’s going to get in the way of climbing too. At least it’s not going to be the weather for that either. I wonder if I’ll be able to fly still?”
“You’ll have difficulty moving like a swallow.” Berra ponders. “Cloud sheep get pregnant.”
This earns Berra a look of horror. “Cloud sheep? I’m going to be a cloud sheep?! Oh Vinga… did you know its father is likely a Storm Bull?”
“Ooh.” Berra looks amazed. “Very airy. Try not to give birth in Disorder week?”
Varanis arches a brow in question.
“If there’s magic to help you time it, then avoid Disorder week. Haran is enough for one Aunt.” Berra grins. “But I’ll love them both anyhow.”
“Maybe Kallyr will be as delighted as you are.” Varanis stares up into the sky. “Vinga… you have a strange sense of humour.”
“It means she has a fallback child,” Berra says, either ignoring or not talking about the other things it means.
“Right. You going to be ok to not burst with this for a while?”
“Mhm.” Berra nods, soberly. “Probably the only people who will guess anything is strange are Lord D’Val and Lord Eril. One of them won’t mind and the other won’t think my happiness matters, so either way they won’t think about it much.”
“Good. Then… can we run and not talk for a little? I have some emotions of my own to expel.”
“Sure, but the bison might hold me back.” Berra shrugs, tugs Followed to close up the gap, and sets off.
Varanis tears off after her, then passes bison and Humakti in a burst of speed. “If I get too far ahead, I’ll loop back!”