Berra — Cooking Up
1627, Dark Season
Varanis joins Yehna and Berra in the common room of the Grape one morning. “I was thinking about walking over to the area where all the tribal palazzos are.” She’s used the Esrolian word, in her otherwise Heortling sentence. For all that she looks to have been trying to be as Sartarite as possible for seasons now, she’s still clearly Esrolian in many ways. “I’ve not really explored that area and I’m curious to see them.”
“Venlar is staying up that way,” Berra says. She is in minimal clothing, looking cold, but her Temple is dictating what she wears and what she eats, even on the days she is not present there. Yehna is wrapped up against a light dusting of snow.
Varanis is wrapped in her blue wool cloak. Beneath it, she is wearing warm clothing, but no armour. “It’s cold out there, Berra. Will you be ok like that?”
“I’ll be fine,” Berra says. “I’m instructed simply to live as I am. But I can ride a bison, so my feet will stay warm.”
Yehna gives Berra a sorrowful look and gets a shrug and a smile in return. “It has to be all one to me.”
“I had planned to walk, but riding will be better for you, so riding it is then,” Varanis says. “Finish what’s in front of you and then we can go.”
Berra does that, while Yehna goes to get a bag full of snacks and let Haran know he is loved by kissing him goodbye and being ignored. Berra lingers over tacking up, before she rides out of the stables, already mounted. Two swords, a helmet, and a plain thin tunic and breeches. She looks very Humakti, other than the expression.
Varanis watches the goodbye with an odd expression. She mounts Doqeia without saying anything however.
Yehna likes Rode, and Rode likes Yehna, as their relationship contains a lot of bribes. They all get moving without incident.
The snow is a few specks of white, and a light cover on the ground, much like it would be on colder days in Esrolia. There is no sleet, making it less unpleasant than it could be, by far.
After a few minutes, Berra forces herself to relax, to look around her as a guard should, and to stop shivering. She still looks cold, but at least she is managing to go about the business of being her.
“Does the snow always come so early here?” Varanis asks. She’s using a pair of heavy brooches to hold her cloak closed. One below her throat and one a handspan or so below it.
Doqeia does not seem impressed with the snow. She’s lifting her hooves high with each step.
“Usually,” Berra says, after a glance at Yehna to see who is speaking. “This is the start of it. It ends when it starts raining again. Get a bit more of it and you won’t be able to see the grass, and the road will have to be cleared a lot of mornings.”
“Boldhome has less wind than home,” Yehna adds, “But it is higher, so the snow may well fall harder.”
“How do babies survive the cold?”
That gets some silence, and then Yehna says, “How do they in Esrolia?” gently.
“It’s not that cold in Esrolia,” Varanis replies. “The babies in Prax survived Dark Season,” she adds thoughtfully. “They were heavily bundled and usually on a person.”
“That is sensible,” says Yehna. “Often we keep them inside, because cold air can be bad for them, but some will leave a child out well-bundled in a cot, to sleep. It calms some.”
“I once got out and fell in a snow heap,” Berra says. “And cut myself on ice under it. That was before you could walk, Yehna.”
Yehna gives her a patient look.
“Do many infants…” She shakes her head. “Do your horses get as shaggy as the bisons do?”
“Yes, although the hair’s longer,” Berra replies. “You can see Rode growing out – he’s a south horse, not like our ones, so his coat won’t be as long.”
“Proper horses do,” Yehna says loyally. “But if not you can have blankets.”
“Doqeia needs a blanket,” Varanis opines. The horse in question side-steps a suspicious snowflake.
“I think so,” Yehna says. “If we can get the cloth, I’ll make her one. It should be padded, a bit like Berra’s armour.”
“My armour isn’t padded,” Berra says. “That’s my padding.”
“But you’re not allowed to wear armour, and you don’t wear your padding. How does that work?” Her sister looks puzzled.
“It just does. Anyhow, right now I’m not allowed to wear any armour, except metal, and that would just make me colder faster. I think soon they’re going to have me wearing that, though.”
The road traffic is steady, but disinterested. People have places to go.
“I told Xenofos,” Varanis says out of the blue.
A moment more silence. Berra nods, and then asks, “How did… that go?” She holds up a hand to stop Yehna from asking things.
“He congratulated me.” Varanis sounds irritable about it. “Happy. A bit like you.”
Berra manages to stay silent for a while. Yehna asks, “Are the mansions those buildings ahead?” of her sister, who looks confused to be addressed.
“Yes…” Varanis says, peering ahead. “Those are them. Mansions?”
“That’s like villas, only for the tribes,” Berra translates, thoroughly unhorsed or at least, unbisoned.1‘derailed’ She looks only a little blue about it – and that might be her general colour right now.
“Did you know you’re starting to look a bit like Orlanth?” Varanis asks the Humakti.
Berra pinches at her short hair, trying to look at it. “What?”
“You’re blue. You’re going to survive what your temple demands of you, right? Because I’ll be really angry if you freeze to death.” Varanis’ thoughts and emotions are leaping around, much as she does at times. Now she sounds protective, perhaps even worried.
“Yes. Just please don’t order me to stay outside for too long.” Berra sort-of smiles, although she is looking small and cold again. “They know how not to kill me.”
“I suppose that if I wrap you in my cloak, it would be violating whatever their requirements are for you just now.” Varanis turns her gaze to Yehna. “Are you warm enough? I can’t have both of you freezing to death.”
“I am fine, thank you. But perhaps we could ride a bit faster?” Yehna urges her horse forward and up the kilometer-long rise.
Doqeia resists the increased pace at first, then settles into it. “Is there likely to be somewhere to warm up? An inn or something?”
“We can stop at the mansion,” says Yehna. “Or make a fire. I brought a bit of wood just in case, but really it’s all food in here.”
Ahead, the mansions loom – many on the left, and the big square Colymar building on the right. Berra makes a noise of interest on seeing it.
Varanis’ eyes can make out a figure who looks familiar – taller than anyone around him, dark-haired, well dressed. It looks a lot like Venlar is up on the road there, by the houses of the tribes.2Varanis passes Scan. Berra specials and sees that Venlar is not just up by the Colymar house, but hanging about there, particularly.
Varanis waves in Venlar’s direction. “Let’s go say hello,” she suggests.
Venlar is talking to someone. Berra says, “Has he been making friends with our tribe without me? Without us?”
“He’s allowed to,” Yehna says, as if she is used to drawing tension out of conversations with Berra in.
“Who is he talking to? Is that not the Sambari House?” Varanis asks, peering ahead.
“Tha’ss the Colymar house,” Berra replies. “If that’s Venlar, he came out of it. I’m pretty sure. But he’s allowed to.”
Yehna does not exactly radiate approval. She just gives her sister a proud glance, nothing more.
“The Colymar… I wonder if it is wise…” With a shrug, Varanis decides it doesn’t matter and continues towards Venlar.
“S’fine,” Berra says. “I’ll be with you anyhow.”
Yehna keeps her proud look, just.
It is only a minute or so before they are in calling range, and can see Venlar is in conversation with a well-dressed but rather shorter man. The tall Orlanthi does not give a wave – he seems not to have seen the incoming cavalry.
As they draw near, Varanis dismounts from Doqeia in a show of competence that might be surprising to those familiar with her usual riding habits.
Venlar gives Varanis a surprised look. “Thane Vareena,” he says, rolling the name over his tongue in just the way Eril does. “What a pleasure!”
His companion, a well-dressed man who looks something like a guard, gives the whole group a glance. He acts a lot like a guard.
“Thane Venlar,” she replies with a warm smile. “How are you, cousin’s husband?”
“Chilly,” he says. “Gerast, these are my friends, but one of them is currently cold for reasons of her own. Shall I take them to the Sambari house, or will Colymar hold them?”
Gerast, addressed, says, “Thane Vareena is always welcome here, my Lord.” He seems on friendly terms with Venlar already.
Varanis arches a brow at Gerast. “I am? That is kind.”
“You’re a Thane,” he says, “With rights here, to visit and demand a roof.”
“Gerast is the gatekeeper,” says Venlar. “He has been explaining all sorts of interesting things to me.”
“Oh? I am always interested in learning new things.” To Berra and Yehna, she asks, “Would you like to visit the house?”
“If you will,” Berra says with an attempt at casualness.
“I would like to,” Yehna says. “I have never been here.”
Venlar goes to help Yehna off her horse. Berra gets left to dismount alone. “Stabling is off the inner courtyard,” Gerast says. “I will announce you to the steward.” He gestures for them to go first, a polite way of saying he’ll watch their backs on the way in.
There is a short tunnel into the inner courtyard, under the upper storey of the house.
It seems to Varanis as she goes in that Berra is looking very suspiciously at Venlar, while Venlar is paying a lot of attention to Yehna.
Varanis glances between Berra and Venlar, then turns her attention to where she’s headed.
The inner courtyard has several doors, including an obvious stable, and by the time Gerast has called for people to take the animals away, several people as well. The walls here are whitewashed with blue dots of glass embedded in the plaster here and there.
Venlar gestures Varanis over to him, almost casually.
Varanis drifts his way. Her cloak is still wrapped tightly around her.
Venlar murmurs, “We want to show Yehna to best advantage,” without moving his lips much.
Varanis reaches out to touch one of the blue dots as they pass it. She nods imperceptibly to Venlar, though she looks like she has questions. “I like the walls. They are bright in the darkness.”
“The glass is made in Clearwine,” says a new voice, and a slim Heleran in a warm-looking quilted cloak bows. They have grace and poise. “Welcome. I am Arahna, the steward here. It is my honour to greet you all, whose sagas go before you.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Arahna. I’m Varanis, called Vareena. May I introduce you to Yehna and Berra, daughters of Jarang, from Blue Tree? I believe you have already met Thane Venlar.” Varanis matches the Heleran’s grace with full courtesy.
Arahna’s expression turns into a smile. “Come in, and warm yourselves,” they offer. “Will you want a room?” They usher the group towards a door, and into a common room, where someone pre-prepared brings a cloak over for Berra, who waves it away and makes gestures, but cannot find words.
“Her temple has given her certain… challenges,” Varanis explains for the Humakti. To Arahna, she says, “Thank you for your office. I am currently staying up at the palace, but if the need arises, it is good to know that I can find shelter here. Yehna travels with her son and a cousin and are currently staying in the heart of Boldhome – if they wish a change of scenery, is the House open to them as well?”3Varanis Specials Charm.
Arahna replies, “While it denies us the company that you would bring, any guest of yours would be welcome, in such a season. Someone dear to a Thane of the Colymar is dear to us all.” They sketch a bow to Yehna, who says shyly, “I’m… pleased to be here.”
Arahna looks genuinely delighted to hear that. “Let us sit you all down by the fire and feed you…”
Varanis removes her cloak, but then as she sits by the fire, she spreads it over her lap like an overgrown lap blanket.
Berra sits by the fire without a blanket, but with an expression of gratitude. Venlar helps Yehna to a stool, casually.
There is small talk, and Venlar is definitely leading the conversation, with Arahna tagging along. However, he does not seem to be leading it anywhere in particular – he is just making polite chatter. However, the politeness he shows to everyone, including Yehna, is marked. He is acting like they are all doing him a favour.
Varanis takes an opening to talk about the recent visit to Blue Tree and how kind Yehna had been in teaching her how to make pancakes. It’s gently teasing, but underlying it is the message that the Ernaldan is both generous and patient.
“She can cook like an Esrolian,” Berra says, finally getting back onto the conversation.
“And traditionally,” Venlar says, like he can imagine the meals.
“A mixture of both is my favourite,” Yehna supplies.4Varanis passes Charm and keeps the conversation moving.
Enough of the people gathered around the fire have heard that someone asks, “How do you do both?” politely. Yehna melts a little under the pressure, and Berra glowers at Venlar. The Ernaldan explains about cooking anyway, but she is going on too long. Still, it gives people a chance to see Berra bristling in her defence as she notices her sister is nervous.
She is not making it better.
When there is a hint of an opening, Varanis slides herself into it, telling a story about the time she’d tried to make stew while on the road, but had accidentally added so much pepper that it felt like the stew was biting back when they tried to eat it. It’s a self-deprecating story, but an amusing one, especially the part where Rajar thought she’d fed them fire ants.
Berra says, “Yeah, I like hot things but that was special.” Derailed.
Then Venlar talks for a bit about his brother’s one attempt at cooking, and how he was banned from ever touching a ladle again, after the cauldron was chipped clean. He is not playing fair – he has made sure Berra has plenty to drink, plying her with it. When she slips away for a few minutes he eases closer to the fire, cutting her out. “Of course, you’re letting us do much of the talking,” he tells the assembled, if small, group. “But cooking is not heroic. Would you sing us something of note?”
“We’re not cooks,” says someone. Apparently he hit the wrong note somehow.5Fumbled Charm. Venlar undoes a lot of his good work.
“Of course not,” Varanis soothes. “But food is a unifying force. We all eat, do we not? Still, we can speak of other things. Do any of you climb?”
“For fun? I do,” one admits. He’s tall, rangy, warming himself for a brief moment. “Odd to find someone who does.”
Berra returns and gives Venlar a look.
Varanis gives him a grin. “What’s the highest thing you’ve climbed yet?” she asks eagerly.
“The ice wall. Up near to the bird place. I bet I would when I was drunk.” He smiles. “I fell down a few times, but we decided that flying wasn’t cheating, just that I couldn’t do it to get further. The route closed after that, so I don’t think I could do it again. There’s been a melt – you know what a chimney is?”
More glaring from Berra, although it’s still at the same person. Yehna listens better than she talks, at least, and is paying polite attention.
Varanis nods. “Yes, though I’ve not dealt with chimneys in ice.”
“It was all the way inside, so I could brace a lot, but still. Tricky.”
“Fargan’s forgetting to say he got his hand stuck to the ice at one point,” says someone else. “Came down bleeding.”
“A mere detail, not worthy of the time it takes to add to the tale,” Fargan says airily.
“Surely, if you haven’t given some blood to what you’re climbing, you haven’t truly given yourself to the climb,” Varanis says. “The hardest climbs always demand sacrifice.”
“Quite. And it made a handy foothold later.” Fargan seems to be preferring Varanis to talking about cooking.
“Handy,” mutters one of his friends, seeing what he did there.
Berra gives Varanis a glance, but it’s hardly the look at all. It’s just an unconvinced look.
Varanis glances at Berra and Yehna and decides suddenly that she might be on dangerous ground. “Did you know that Berra has climbed Kero Fin?”
“Yes, I’d heard that.” Fargan talks, but there is general nodding.
“And brought back knowledge that led to-” Someone else gets his arm tapped, and there’s a little head shake. Berra just gives the man a grin. “Sometimes I blurt stuff out too,” she says, and there is one of those moments in which things hang on a reaction, and then laughter.
“You just know things and have to talk, right?” he tells her, and gets a nod.
“You know, I think your nephew takes after you, Berra. Fierce and talky.” Varanis winks at Yehna. “This brave woman has a remarkable little one. The curiosity of an alynx and the determination of a badger. I suspect that her experience with her own sister is part of what makes Yehna so good at guiding her son.”
“I’m a pretty difficult person sometimes,” Berra admits. She looks tiny, cold, and like she thinks she could take on anyone present. “But yeah, Yehna’s good with that. Haran’s amazing – he.’s really wilful!”
Varanis leads the group through a conversation that ranges from weather to Blue Tree’s ponies, the fighting at Alda Chur to dealing with raiders in Prax. While she boasts a little about herself, she is always careful to put the others of her band at the heart of her stories. She works to draw the Colymar into the conversation, inviting them to share their own stories of glory or humour along the way.
Over the course of the conversation, people soften towards the group, although Yehna remains as a wallflower, blushing when mentioned. This is not an easy crowd, but they do at least share their own stories when prompted, and when Venlar asks for song, there is a young man, voice just steadied after breaking, who gives him a run for his money – it’s a beautiful voice, suited to the hall. People move around a little – even Venlar – and Berra gets her seat back.
After Yelm has had time to climb into the sky, Venlar murmurs, “We can do no more here – time to go?”
Varanis thanks their hosts for their genial company and the warmth of their fire.
It is Fargan who shows them out, explaining that Arahna is busy. He seems to have taken a shine to Varanis.
Berra’s uncaring attitude about the cold has apparently won admiration, and her easy-going attitude, which is apparently today’s mood, has even won a few friendly looks. Venlar, of course, is at home anywhere he goes, but despite his best efforts it seems like Yehna has been overlooked; she is just a person among many.
Berra does not realise that Venlar is trying to find Yehna a husband