Berra — Dawn Visit
????, Earth Season, Illusion Week
Earth Season, Illusion Week, Water Day. Directly after Pre-Dawn Visit. [[[s02:session-17|Session 17]]]
After a moment, Varanis says, “I can’t decide if I should take the lead here. If it were any other House… but the Hulta have not been friendly to me of late. Still, we rescued Lenta and returned her unharmed. That should count for something.” She considers further. “But a Humakti asking after a fellow Humakti might also make more sense. Except that your name and his have been linked in an unfortunate manner.” She glances about, then slides her helmet off and ticks it under her arm, stuffing the arming cap into it as she does so.
Belatedly, she remembers that this isn’t her mission and that she invited herself along. Again. She turns to Berra with a question in her eyes.
Scholar turns to look at swordswoman. After consideration he asks, “Would you listen to advice?”
“He asked for me, and Xenofos,” Berra says to the air. “Lady Varanis is here as a friend. The question of politeness is whether we go in all. Personally, I’d see if the other door doesn’t have cypress on, but I don’t know if that’s right. What’s your advice, Lord Xenofos?” Back to formality, but Berra’s tone is fond.
“A house in mourning is house in mourning even if they wouldn’t decorate the servants entrance. But my advice would be to proceed, apologize for calling at time of mourning we were unaware of and tell we had meeting with Kesten.” He looks at Berra.”Maybe using either of your Esrolian friends as spokesperson this time.”
“Or we could see at the Temple.” Berra walks towards the main gate, though. “But Humakti don’t mourn. Not like that. Although Kesten might, if he doesn’t understand the concept of Separation. But I should ask. Or you should.” Berra is not hurrying, but she is now actively checking out the house, eyes moving over the shuttered windows.
Varanis exchanges glances with Xenofos and gives the tiniest of shrugs. She gestures him to follow Berra. This time, she’ll take rear guard.
Xenofos steps up, hand on rapier pommel, helmet between his right arm and side.
The Vingan falls into step behind him, casting her eyes up and down the street warily.
Berra too takes off her helmet, and lodges it neatly under her left arm. “Still a few minutes before Yelm,” she says. “And this is awkward, too.”
Xenofos nods. “Indeed. But I doubt it will become less awkward by waiting or makng detours. And I hate retreating.”
“Always go around the target if you can,” Berra advises. “So. He called on you as well. Either you talk, or I do, but I don’t like spokespersons. People. You reckon it’s best to be you or me talking?”
“At this time? Me. At least until we meet Kesten. If we meet him.” Scribe looks at the cypressbranches.
“Yeah. You do that. And if we meet him in Hell, we’ve gone too far.” The Humakti seems serious.
Xenofos glances at Berra. “Slaying us now would bring royal wrath and other houses on the Hulta.” A brief pause. “It would be impolite.”
Varanis considers them both. “I can stand as your guard and wait outside,” she offers. “I doubt I will be unrecognized, to be honest. But, it provides an excuse to stand with the Hulta guards and perhaps learn something.”
Berra glances up at the sun’s halo, and at the edge of the brightness that is creeping towards them. “Nah. I’m going to miss you later. Might as well have you around now. And they’re the ones that made you being here awkward. They can suffer it.”
Varanis studies Berra silently, then nods her acceptance.
As Yelm creeps closer, Berra draws her sword, salutes the Sun, so that only the tip touches, and then takes a moment to breathe calmly.
Varanis too draws her blade to formally welcome Yelm’s approach. Across the city, at the Temple of Vinga, others are doing the same.
After that, Berra falls in to the left of Xenofos. “Forward, until retreat is ordered,” she says. It sounds like a famous quote from something, the way she says it.
Xenofos sees the blades resheathed and starts walking towards the main gate.
Berra makes sure of the simple string around Wind Tooth and the decorative band that keeps her other sword in place, as she follows along.
The gate has dark evergreen branches on both sides, over the lintel stone and on the ground before it.
Varanis falls into place a few steps behind Berra. She scans for sign of the Hulta House guards.
Berra holds herself with the look of a warrior, but as they walk closer she makes a little growling, frustrated noise, like she wants to be in battle. She looks around casually, and she seems to be taking things in.
Nothing unusual is visible apart from signs of mourning. Xenofos steps forward to the gates raises his left fist and looks at two others questioningly.
“Ready,” Berra says.
Xenofos knocks thrice and the gate answers with hollow sound lacking any echo.
Berra contrives to look politely alert without looking overtly aggressive.
After a very short pause the gate opens up with a creaking sound. A gatekeeper with ashen death rune on his forehead nods to the trio.
The Humakti bows a touch, although whether to the Rune or the person is unclear.
Behind them, Varanis draws breath like she is about to speak, but lets it escape again in a little sigh. Instead, she offers a nod of greeting to the gatekeeper and waits for Xenofos to address him.
“Apologies for calling in a house in mourning, but we have a meeting with Lord Kesten. Can he meet us at this time? I am Xenofos of Saiciae, and with me are Lady Berra Humakti and Lady Varanis of Saiciae.”
“Um..” Berra looks to the gatekeeper. “Not lady. Just Berra Humakti. No title for me.” She sounds almost apologetic to be correcting Xenofos, but she does it.
Varanis casts a quick look at Xenofos when he introduces them, but schools her expression swiftly. Her gaze darts to Berra as the other woman corrects the Scholar. She says nothing.
Guard looks a bit startled, giving both women long glances. “I will ask. Would you like to wait in the garden.”
He is looking very long at Berra.
No decision from the Humakti. She waits on Xenofos for everything else, looking politely into the distance and not meeting stares.
Xenofos nods and lets a servant lead them past the front courtyard into a small private garden.
Somewhere in the interior of the house weeping women are at work.
Echoes of the lament reach those waiting in the garden.1Nobody hears, but these are the words: Why did you leave us child of Imarja, why do you abandon us, why do you choose Ty Kora Tek’s silent chambers way before your time. Weep now Nochet, your beloved child has left you, weep now Hulta for one of your flowering branches has been cruelly torn….
Berra takes up a protective station, although she keeps her helmet off. Standing by Xenofos to look after him seems natural the way she does it.
Odd counterpoint to the flowing water and morning birds in the cherry trees.
Guard in the corner makes no movement apart from shifting his weight from one leg to another every now and then.
Berra makes a couple of movements, mostly like she is about to talk, and then says nothing. And then nearly talks again. She obviously wants to speak up.
Xenofos listens to the water and tries to catch the words of the weepers. Surrounded by walls and trees he seems relaxed, perhaps a bit absentminded.
Finally, Varanis murmurs, “Say it, Berra. Before you burst.”
“I’m not a lady,” Berra says quietly. “Not even to be polite to me.”
Xenofos raises his head and tilts it a bit. “In matters of sword you claim authority…” He pauses a moment. “… and I reckon you kin.”
“When I’m a Rune Lady, if I live that long, you get to call me that. Or if I end up as a Thane somewhere. Cousin, I’ll take. That’s between us, and we like each other enough. Lady, no. I call Lord D’Val by his title, because he earned it. Don’t just give it to me. I haven’t yet.” So maybe Berra is claiming authority in matters of the sword.
Varanis looks at Xenofos over Berra’s Head, trying to catch his attention.
“You command nobles in matter of arms? And we accept that? You are a lady, despite your birth or what your your temple calls you. But I will not use the word if you don’t want to.” Looking over the Humakti Xenofox adds, “Yes Varanis?”
Varanis just shakes her head, whether in disagreement or in an attempt to discourage him from arguing is unclear.
“That’s not being a Lady. That’s being a Champion, or a general, or a Captain. I’m not here as any of those either.” Her voice stays quiet, but determined.
Xenofos smiles and looks at birds looting the cherrytree.
Berra says, “It’s important,” quietly, but nothing more.
He looks at her and nods.
After that, Berra settles to silence.
After Yelm has travelled for about a quarter of an hour a man in black tunic enters the garden accompanied by a page. Despite the ash on his hair Kesten Hulta is recogniseable.
Berra looks at the splash of Humakti colour, or at least the lack of it. Perhaps she would not mourn him much, but there is still a slight smile when she sees who it is, like someone glad to see a friend. She relaxes into looking professional a moment later, going through sympathy on the way.
The Hulta Humakti nods in greeting, his face showing as much emotion as an iron mask. “Lady Varanis, lord Xenofos, lady Berra welcome to house Hulta.”
Varanis nods politely.
Xenofos responds with a nod.
It’s a bow from Berra, not a nod. She defers to rank here, it seems.
“Thank you for coming. It is an ill time, but that is not of your doing.” says Kesten.
Berra twitches a bit with not speaking before Xenofos does.
Xenofos looks at Berra and nods.
“You asked us to come, Lord,” Berra says, her voice gentle. “There were a couple of matters I brought, but only one needs speaking.”
Berra glances to the page, considers for a moment, and hardly eyeballs the spare guard at all. “If you didn’t know, I should tell there’s a song about us which is pretty much pure slander, but the timing of it, with Lord Rillo’s death, and him being mentioned, is…” She flails for a word and comes up with the slightly unfortunate, “Suggestive?”
Scan2Varanis passes, Berra fails.:Page is about six, looks quite a lot like Kesten and is throwing glances from Berra to Kesten and back.
Kesten waves dismissively “Minstrels will sing any lies they wish. It is as useful to listen or try harnessing them as it is to try telling wind where it may blow.”
Berra shrugs. “It’s a thing I had to say.” She does not look at the servant of storms over on the other side of Xenofos. “And Harrek the Berserk sent me his regards through the Black Feather Duck, seeing as I’m reporting stuff. So he probably is one of the offshore henchducks you were thinking.” Casually she drops that in there.
That earns a nod from Kesten. “There have been pirate sightings during last season, Harrek being somewhere in the Bay is not unlikely.”
“I think they mentioned him before, but you’d have to ask Lord Venlar. I wasn’t really listening, and it was weeks ago. But the ship we saw yesterday was one that had chased ours and Varanis hit it with lightning.” Berra finally gives her kinswoman a glance, and it comes with a nod of respect.
Kesten nods. “Wolfpirates fearing Harrek does not require him being close, he has quite a reputation…”
“Believe me, I know.” Berra falls silent to wait for what comes next.
Varanis has been silently watching and listening. She notes the resemblance between page and Humakti and watches the boy as he listens to the conversation. At Berra’s mention of the lightning strike, the Vingan lips almost twitch into a smile, but she stops herself and acknowledges the words with a nod.
Berra’s attention is mostly on Kesten, except that from time to time she sweeps the area with a look that seems habitual.
“That may require looking into. But it is not worry of any single house. And ours – as you see – is in mourning right now.”
Berra bows. “Yeah.” She looks like she is trying not to ask more on that, manages it, and goes for, “You asked us to come, Lord. Is it anything you can say now?” With a page, and a guard, and any number of people close to the garden.
He looks at them with same calm expression as before. “Not very much I am afraid, with the loss and grief our house met last evening.”
Berra looks to the scribe. Either she does not want to ask, or she does not dare.
Xenofos clears his throat. “You lost someone, may I inquire whom?”
A tiny wince is the only indication Berra gives of her opinion, and it’s quashed before it hits her posture.
Varanis glances at Xenofos, shocked by his breach of etiquette, but quickly schools her features.
“Certainly, but I would appreciate if you would not tell of the manner of her passing. Though the word will no doubt leak anyway. Samastina, widow of late lord Rillo…” his voice betrays no sorrow “took her own life yester eve.”
Berra blinks, and the calculation on her face is visible for a few moments before she manages to get it under control, and gives a tiny nod like she has filed the matter away where it belongs. She then bows to Kesten in token of condolences, such as a Humakti might give. Death is just Death, after all.
“Grandmother has told me she just could not bear the loss and chose to pass to Halls of Ty Kora Tek.” Kesten turns towards Varanis and nods.
“Lenta found her,” he says.
Varanis looks startled, first at the mention of Samastina’s death and then at Lenta’s discovery. Her polite mask has fallen to the wayside. “Is Lenta…” She hesitates, not certain she should ask.
“… alright?” she finishes lamely, apparently having realised she has no right to ask, but unable to stay silent.
Berra’s expression does seem to have genuine sympathy in it, and it is turned on Kesten. She knows his pain, it says. It’s oddly focussed, however, and she might not know what the rest of the house is feeling.
“She is not. Though Samastina’s way out was rather pain free it did leave quite a shocking spectacle. But she is young and will heal.”
Berra gives the page a thoughtful glance.
Varanis looks like she wants to say more, but bites her lip and just nods. “I am sorry she has to carry that with her,” she says after a moment.
Kesten nods. “That is indeed unfortunate… She may be haunted by dreams of red bath but that should pass with time.”
There is no accompanying shudder from Berra, but she is watching the small child carefully, perhaps for evidence of distress. Perhaps it is that she has seen the resemblance. Maybe she just does not want to have to look at Kesten.
The child is watching Berra closely. He does not seem troubled, more intrigued.
“Lenta is asleep now, our healer deemed it best.” Kesten turns towards Berra. “I don’t think Grandmother wants resurrection this time. Let the poor spirits rest together, she said.”
“Kind of her. Not to put people through that.” People. Unnamed. Berra looks to Xenofos again, and then back to Kesten. “It turns out I don’t have other business in Nochet,” she says, saying the word just like a Sartarite peasant. “And I said I’d go to Prax with someone, so I’m likely to be gone a while. But Lord Xenofos and Lady Varanis will be here.”
“For some time Berra. I may be travelling, just not today…” Xenofos comments.
Berra nods to Kesten in lieu of passing on that information out loud to someone who already heard it.
Kesten nods “Safe travels my lady.” Nods are extended to Xenofos and Varanis. It seems clear that audience is over.
Things Berra does not say include ‘not a lady’. If she wanted to ask anything else, she politely keeps it behind her teeth.
Berra and Saiciae are escorted to the outer gates where wash basin is ready with water and rosemaryleaves. Xenofos and Varanis use it to ritually wash out taint of the house with unburied corpse before entering the street.
Berra murmurs a short prayer to Humakt instead.
It is some time before Varanis speaks. “Grandmother Hulta rules with an iron fist, it seems.” She sounds pensive. “I worry for Lenta. She’s been through a great deal recently.”
Xenofos nods. “Quite unlike Granny.”
“The only question I have is whether it’s over. Was the bath for losing her husband to someone else, or for killing him?” Berra looks faintly annoyed, although she still seems alert. “I know what I think, but is it too much, for having failed as a wife? Would that be forgiveable?”
Xenofos raises an eyebrow. “Kesten told it was her deed.”
“What did I miss, then? Oh, you mean she did it herself? Yes, whatever. But why did she?” Berra turns her irritation on the road ahead. Nobody attempts to get in her way.
“That would be between her and Ty Kora Tek… And he did make it clear that Grandmother Hulta considers it to be so.”
“I think it must be over. Both parties are dead and it is now a private family matter. If Rillo was killed by an assassin, it must have been at Samastina’s instruction. There is no other reason that would truly make sense for her death,” Varanis muses.
“If you say so. It makes sense that he didn’t ask us to come back.” Berra nods. “Right. Back to Saiciae, then.”
Varanis nods then begins to scan rooftops. “I don’t suppose you’d care to take that route?”
“Which route? Are we going straight back? Am I walking us through the turns?” Berra looks a bit confused.
“If you want to talk to little cousin alone you can just say it Varanis. No need to flee to the rooftops.” Xenofos does not sound reproachful.
“I’m not trying to abandon you, Xenofos. I just… never mind. It was a foolish suggestion.” She shrugs and falls silent.
“I don’t have time to climb back, if that’s what you mean.” Berra paces without apparent hurry, but still rather faster than on the way to the Hulta palazzo.
“Forget I said anything.”
The road passes by beneath them for a while, and then Berra says, “Would it be awkward for him if I sent him stuff from Prax? I like sending food back to D’Val.”
Xenofos thinks for a while. “It could be…. under the circumstances.”3Again, Berra fails Insight Human around Xenofos.
“I don’t know,” Varanis replies. “What would make it awkward?” The Vingan is stalking down the street barely a pace behind Berra. She’s sticking to their assigned positions, but only just.
“What would his wife think of it? I don’t much care, but he might,” Berra tells them.
“I doubt she would appreciate that.”
There’s a small, ‘Mm,’ from Berra, who seems to be trying to set her own good behaviour into the future. Maybe succeeding.
“Wait. You mean Kesten? Not D’Val?” Varanis looks aghast.
Berra’s reply is offhanded. “Yeah. Would that be a ‘no’ then?”
“That is a no. Unless you are courting him? And pretending he doesn’t have a wife whilst doing so. You don’t just send random gifts to Esrolian men.”
Varanis casts a quick glance back at her cousin and winces.
“But Sartarite Durulz are fine…” Berra seems to be noting that gravely.
“You’re Sartarite, so you’d know that better than I.” Varanis shrugs.
Xenofos does not comment, checking the architecture or perhaps ambushers on the rooftops.
“Was that… I mean… I didn’t mean I wouldn’t do that for you.” Berra turns as she walks, scanning behind but also making sure she can see the other two for a moment. “Did it sound like that?” She looks suddenly unsure. “You’re… I…” She is struggling for words.
Varanis waits. For once, it is she who has no mercy, letting Berra fumble for words.
Berra looks to Xenofos, and then back to where they were going, and turns her attention back onto her habitual task. Those alleyways will not check themselves for lurking danger.
Insight4Varanis passes, Xenofos fails.: Berra is trying to take care of Xenofos, in a way that is more than just a captain looking after warriors. She’s trying so hard it’s visible.
Varanis sighs. “I suppose you’d object if I took to the rooftops and kept pace?”
Xenofos shakes his head. “I have seen how Movement and Air bubble in you. I won’t mind, if you want to run way of the wind.”
Varanis’ eyes light up and she looks to Berra.
“Please do,” Berra says politely.
Varanis needs no further encouragement. She breaks for the wall and is climbing before either of them can possibly change their minds. Long-limbed and agile, it barely takes her a minute to reach the roof, and she waves down at them before disappearing over the edge.
Berra does not wait for Varanis to finish climbing, although she slows down rather to let it happen without getting too far ahead. Now she is checking both roof and road as they walk, but she does not seem worried.
Xenofos falls into same steady pace occasionally checking Varanis’ progression.
If Varanis had a plan to leave people alone to talk, it fails to make Berra talk. However, if she had a need to feel the air around her, it is definitely up there, playfully tugging at the rooftops and blowing autumn scents around her.
Down on the ground Berra just paces calmly.
Xenofos lets Yelm warm his shoulders. He is not breaking the silence either.
Berra’s old habits break in, and after a while she is walking with the casual, menacing stride of a Humakti who does not want to be interrupted in her walk. This being Nochet, there are many who are not fazed by this, but her glare still seems to earn her a free path.
It is only once they are almost back at home – his home, not hers – that Berra says, “Would you mind writing me a short letter to Lord Kesten?” She says it like it’s an option, not a direct request. She says it like it would matter if he did mind.
“I can do that.”
There is a small pause, like time to breath in and out before that answer comes out. He did not quite answer the question Berra made and sounds resigned.5Finally a pass on Insight for Berra, at a -20 for the previous fail.
Berra pauses a short moment only before she says, “He got my title wrong too. I want people not to.”
“Ah. That may be hard to achieve, with people using polite language. What do you want me to write?”
“That the herald heard it wrong? That’s true, because he didn’t hear me change it. And that it wasn’t the time to… no, he knows that. Just that I regret the error.” Berra shrugs. “That I’m not a Rune Lady. So he knows why.”
“Hmm. Herald heard what I said so it would be wrong to blame him…”
“But he didn’t hear what I said. So say I wasn’t clear enough.”
Again a pause. “I can’t write that. It would be avoiding the Truth.”
“Well, this is what I’m asking you to write. If you want to write your own, I don’t know how that works. But it’s true. You’re just trying to make me look good. You don’t have to.” Berra, who is almost certainly trying to do the same, seems to see no irony in that.
“I introduced you with a title you do not wished to be used on you and you wish to clear that… and trying to take the blame there is sweet, but not needed. “
“… sweet?” Berra stops dead.
“… and not needed. If you feel Truth was not said, and that needs correction better be as accurate as possible when describing what needs correcting.”
There is a glare from the Humakti. “There isn’t blame here. I didn’t speak loudly enough. I can change that.”
There is an absentminded smile from the scholar. “That is sloppy logic, little cousin. Just write that you wish to make it known that you prefer people to not use the title lady, which you do not claim yet?”
“I wouldn’t even bother with the last bit, but yes.” Berra shrugs, and gets moving again.
Scribe nods and picks up the pace.
“It can’t go while his House is in ashes, I think. So if I’m not there to sign it, how does that work?” Berra checks the final approach to the house as she reminds Xenofos she is leaving.
“You sign it right after it has been written. But no pressing reason not to send it immediately either if you wish.” Xenofos ponders. One would think those eaves would be quite familiar to him already.
And the risk of ambush on their own roof quite minor.
“Nala will be awake by now,” Berra points out. “I don’t know exactly what the arrangements are, but packing the bison and leaving isn’t impossible. A bit of time for saying goodbye to people.”
“Hmmm. I hope my letter cleared the weird notion she had I would be going with her to Pavis. I don’t know where she picked that one from. She has not answered or commented.” Scribe comments.
“Um, she hasn’t read it. She thought that sending a letter to her was mocking her. I told her it wasn’t. But because she can’t read and doesn’t know about hiring scribes…” Berra looks at Xenofos uncomfortably. “I don’t think she knew you were telling her a thing.”
“I mean, that I know of. She might have read it by now.” The Humakti adds to her statements in the way she often does.
“Why, she sent me a written letter? So she got answered in writing as well and should be able to get Venlar or even Yamia to read it for her. But… you are telling me she took that as mockery?”
The helmet under the black feather dips exactly once in a nod. “I just did, and those were my words. We asked Rajar and he said if one of us sent him a letter he would think we did not trust the right-words… um. Forgotten Esrolian. That the messengers might not remember some details of many. So he would have a scribe found.”
Civilized shrug. “Perhaps she should not start a correspondence if she does not understand how that works. Well, her letter was pretty rude in tone, so no great injustice was done.”
“Well, now you know.” Berra salutes the gate guard lazily.
“A tad disappointing little cousin, she may have retained the illusion I would be travelling to Prax.”
Berra looks to Xenofos. “Well, you’re the one that has to tell her.” The gate is being opened.
“I have. Once with words spoken. Once in writing.”
Berra gives a tiny shrug, and turns away and steps through the gate.
Xenofos follows, silently wondering how people can refuse to acknowledge simple truths.
Nobody shoots Varanis down as she descends to street level.