1628, Fire Season, Fertility Week
During some downtime in Dunstop, Varanis begins to figuratively climb the walls. She wants to do it literally, but that’s a bad idea. Session 13 (Family’s Always Embarrassing) and after Tearing Strips.
It’s getting on in the evening. Yelm has set and the guard rotations for Irillo’s people determined. It’s not that Dunstop has grown quieter, but rather that there’s a change occurring as day shifts into night. Respectable folks are home with their families or at their temples or standing guard to protect such things as they’d prefer disreputable people to stay away from.
Varanis has offered to do the shift that ends at Yelmrise, but she’s clearly too wound up to take the rest she ought to seek now. “Want to check out the rooftops?” she asks Berra in a voice pitched low enough that the others shouldn’t hear.
Berra sighs. “Wonder if we should,” she says. “There won’t be Vingans around here.” She has taken off her armour, for her guard shift is the early hours, when it is quietest. In light linen, with her hair cut short, she looks boyish and tiny. The sword at her waist and the tattoos on her hands give the lie to the harmless look.
The Vingan chews her lower lip, then shrugs. “I have to do something. It’s possible my sister will expect it and set watch of some sort. She’s bound to know where we are. But she can…” Varanis uses a particular Grazelander curse that is anatomically implausible. “We’ll just need to be careful. I refuse to let her lock me down as she used to.”
“How about Irillo?” Berra asks, pushing off from the wall she was leaning against. “Are you going to let the person you’re guarding tell you?”
Varanis winces. “We have a good set of guards around him and it’s the Market. Surely the same wards protect him here as elsewhere?”
“Not what I meant. People would be spotting that his guards are weird. It’s not Mirava that you need to worry about. It’s where we are. There were spies in Alda Chur. There’ll be spies here.” Berra shrugs. “We can go for a walk. Check the place out. That’s kind’ve expected, and we should do it.”
There’s a small growl, followed by a sigh, but Varanis acquiesces. “That will do for the moment,” she says. “But I can’t promise it’ll be enough. I’m angry.” She frowns, then adds, “I could talk to Irillo, I suppose. But if he says no, I might have to disobey and that could get awkward.”
“Then the walk, but with talking.” Berra starts to set off, then pauses. “Talk to him about what?”
“About whether or not it would cause him problems if I climbed. If he told me not to climb, I might find myself in rebellion.”
“Oh. Right. I don’t care about him. I care about what we’re doing.” Berra gestures towards the other side of the market. “That way. Let’s find an inn that does beer, walk around a bit, then go into the inn if we still feel like it.”
At the mention of an inn, Varanis goes rigid. “I suppose that would be alright,” she replies. If she needs to bleed off some of her frustration, a bar fight could do it. Or even just a lot of alcohol.
Berra says, “We don’t have to go in. It’s just that it’s good to know where they are.” She walks at a slightly more relaxed pace than her usual scurrying to keep up stride.
Berra’s slow pace means that Varanis outstrips her quickly and then has to stop to wait. She takes a few deep breaths.
“I know it’s hard to keep it in,” Berra says cautiously, “But we’re … we’re here for a bit. And that’s fine. You’re not locked inside, you’re just pausing in a place. The caravan’s how we’ll move on.”
“Just the night, right? We can move on tomorrow? I thought we were moving on in the morning. I…” Varanis glares in the direction of the palace. “I don’t want to be near them.”
“Irillo’s done his trading, so I hope so. I haven’t checked with him, but I’m sure we want to move on as fast as possible.” Berra looks at a place on the edge of the market that is full of light and noise. “Maybe we can get lucky and someone’ll try to mug us,” she says wistfully. In her light clothes, with her single sword.
“We can always hope,” Varanis says.
The market gives way to a broad, paved street. Berra walks close to the middle of it, where there is a little foot traffic. “Them – her being your family doesn’t change you, you know?”
Varanis kicks a pebble and it skitters ahead. “She deliberately tried to set me off.”
“Or she’s really bad at handling you. But if she was doing it… well, does it matter why? She’s not controlling you, and she’s trying to.” Berra shrugs. “That’s the right way around.”
“Why were you so belligerent in there?” Varanis asks suddenly. “It was another thing I had to pay attention to.”
“Because I don’t like her, and because it makes her concentrate on me, not you.” Berra looks at Varanis. “Sorry. I thought…” Then she looks down. “Sorry. I thought it was good to keep her off-balance.”
Varanis snorts. “Next time I’ll know and hopefully it won’t put me off balance too. It’s just… if you’re one of my people, even just in appearance, my inability to keep you in line becomes a weapon she can use against me. More evidence that I am unfit for command.” As she speaks, her wry amusement turns towards anger again.
“Uh, why’s she get a say in that, though?” Berra looks confused, briefly. “Do you believe what she says shou… do you believe what she says?”
“She knows what happened before Dragonrise. They all do.” Varanis corrects herself. “Did. I keep forgetting that Desdel’s gone now.”
“Um. Oh, right. Yeah – but that’s the same question. What has what she believes got to do with what you are? It’s not a weapon she can use – she just thinks she can.” Berra rolls out her shoulders like that is a fight she would like to have.
“Fine. You’re right.”
“It took me a lot – a long time – to start working out who to listen to. I got into a lot of fights, had a lot of arguments, but it’s … what advice would you give to you, if you weren’t you?” Berra side-steps a hand-cart coming the other way.
Varanis glares at the person pushing the cart, belligerent. It’s as though he has offended her by getting in her path.1Pass Intimidate
The man stops in his path, giving her a nervous look. It is not helped by Berra’s bright smile – she is not as reassuring as she could be.
Varanis brushes past, ignoring him now. Her angry gaze has moved on to its next target. A young man in armour lurks near a doorway up ahead. If he’s noticed, he gives no sign.2Don’t know who this guy is, just felt bad for the carter.
Berra walks on the right, casually. “We’re not staying too long, and you get to refuse the things she says about you. You don’t have to do her stuff.”
“It’s not fine,” Varanis admits after a moment. “I can’t explain it. She’s my older sister,” she says, using the Esrolian word that makes the label something akin to a rank.
Berra frowns. “I can’t see it,” she says. “But if she told you… nah. I think I can’t work out how to put this. Beyond just being rude to her. But I can stop that. Or try to time it better.”
“You sure that up is bad? It’ll be dark enough soon and we could disappear down an alley first.” They’ve passed the loitering guard who somehow managed to avoid seeing them. If he’s on guard duty, he’s doing it badly or else he’s remarkably subtle.
“I’m sure it’s bad. This is a city at war with other cities. There’re going to be a lot of people here. We’ll stretch out again soon, but right now we spend time coiling up and getting ready.” Berra is, of course, on watch as she walks. “We’ve been to see the palace lot – we’re targets to look at. To watch. Even if we’re just guards.” That might explain why she is so alert, or her being Berra might.
Varanis glares at anyone who meets her eyes now. It’s beginning to look like she’s spoiling for a fight. With another angry growl, she says, “Fine. I need you to do something for me then.”
“Uhuh?” It could be an agreement.
“Either order me as my temporary commander or appeal to me as a friend, but demand my promise now. My honour will keep me on the ground, but my own good sense won’t just now.”
“Then let me be clear.” Berra looks around, and then gives Varanis her full attention. “You’re ordered to stay down here, for the good of everyone here. You are not to climb until we leave this city, unless I say so.”
Varanis flinches, then nods. “As you command.” Although the anger doesn’t ease, Berra can see some of the tension bleed out of her. The decision is now made and she’ll abide by it.
Berra says, “I have to keep being the commander here. Afterwards, friendship.” Her path takes her over a lump of stone in the middle of the road, scarred by innumerable wagon wheels. For a brief moment she is on a height with Varanis.
“Thank you,” Varanis says simply. “I suppose this means no picking fights either. Should we head back?”
“We can walk a bit more. But this time around, no fights.” Berra looks like she could do with some sleep, or a quiet drink, or a walk – she looks like she wants something. It’s just hard to tell what.