Berra — Embers
????, Earth Season, Season/Movement Week
Earth Season/Movement Week/Fireday. Berra is in trouble within the Temple, and Varanis has had a haircut that is not Esrolian. To Berra, only one thing is important, however, and that is the future. [[[s02:session-16|Session 16]]]
On Fireday, in the middle of the afternoon a messenger finds Berra. There’s a Vingan, one Varanis Saiciae, waiting at the Temple Gates. She’s asked if Berra Humakti would join her. Something in the Humakti’s expression suggests that he isn’t overly delighted at playing messenger boy for the noblewoman, but nevertheless, the message has been delivered.
Berra arrives at the gates about ten minutes after the message was sent, slightly dusty, as if meditation took place outside for her today. She looks a little worn, but has a tiny grin on her face that grows wider as she sees Varanis. For a moment it seems there is danger of an embrace, and then Berra remembers herself enough to bow, and look up waiting in silence. Her eyes sparkle.
Varanis returns the smile and though it lacks Berra’s sparkle, it is at least genuine. She is, as has become usual for her, wearing her armour. Her helmet is pushed back on her head.
A pair of Saiciae house guards maintain a respectful distance, looking alert. On recognizing Berra, they return to scanning the buildings around them.
Berra leans from side to side, examining the silhouette she can see. “Ummm…” Perhaps she has spotted the short hair around the ears.
“Yamia said you wanted to meet?” Varanis asks.
“I said some big things about eating together, and time free?” Berra looks at the guards. “Maybe we shouldn’t go climb anything really tall, though.”
Varanis glances at her guards who demonstrate that they were paying more attention to the two women than appeared. The older of the two gives her a slight shake of his head, though his expression is apologetic.
She turns back to Berra. “No climbing today,” she agrees. “Food would make Marta happy. The woman is constantly haranguing me about being too thin.”
“You are too thin. Nothing t’ hold onto.” Berra steps out of the Temple grounds and gives a big sigh. “We could go to Storm Gate, or head into town. Any wishes?” Out here she suddenly looks a little more tired, a little less immortal.
“Storm Gate,” Varanis suggests. “There are good choices around there. Something is bound to appeal.” She looks at Berra critically. “You look tired. Are you sleeping enough?”
“I’m… yeah. It’s interesting right now. I can explain once I’ve eaten something that doesn’t taste really boring.” Berra gets that grin back on her face again.
Insight: Berra has that look of sly pride and challenge that means she does not intend to lose, even if she is dead on a pile of bodies. Amusement, determination, and aspiration are all there, a combination that has previously led her far deeper into trouble.
Varanis peers closely at the little Humakti. She starts to say something, then stops, glancing around. “Storm Gate,” she says again decisively, loud enough that the guards have no doubt where she’s headed. One of them moves out in front, while the other waits for Berra and Varanis to begin walking.
Berra does that, and on the way manages to let out a little of her mood with a few sighs. She is bouncy, and fighty, and on the alert, but not aggressive. She just obviously craves movement.
Varanis strides confidently towards their destination. Her pace is set comfortably, so the guards can easily match it and do their work.
Berra keeps up easily, although her attention is largely on the world around, and not where they are going.
Varanis doesn’t say much on the way to the Storm Gate. She does ask if Berra has any particular food preferences though.
“Something that’s not boring. Spicy and crunchy. And freshly cooked. Hot.” The little Humakti bounces on her toes before she can even answer. So much is not spilling out of her, but it is a close-fought battle.
The area with the food vendors is often busy and today is no exception. Varanis suggests a place near one end that sells flat breads wrapped around various fillings. They can be ordered hot or cold.
Once again, she catches the eye of the older guard. She lifts her chin in the direction of the food stalls – a silent question, answered with an equally silent shake of his head. She shrugs and turns back to Berra to see if her suggestion meets with approval.
“Good to me,” Berra says. “And let’s eat it outside the city. I want to see something that isn’t buildings.” She digs into her armour for the coin pouch she puts small change into, and bounces it up and down in her hand.
Varanis raises an eyebrow at this, but doesn’t argue. The queue for the vendor is not particularly long, although several people linger nearby, waiting for their orders to appear. When it is their turn, Varanis motions for Berra to order first.
Berra ends up ordering two for herself, once it is clear she wants to try every filling. The cold one to have now, and the hot one when she is finished. No passionate red-heads interrupt this time.
The dispassionate red-head orders next. She gets four of them. She doesn’t seem particularly concerned about what she picks, but asks that they include fish or fowl, along with vegetables. She pays for her order and steps aside to wait.
Berra is engulfing food already…
… after a little while, more food is ready, and then eaten, and then they are sitting on the grass of the Hill of Orlanth, looking over towards the opposite shore of the river, with the guards in the background and Berra has stopped hiccoughing.
The younger guard is munching on the food Varanis gave him, while the other one tries to mask his disapproval.
Varanis glances around, sighs, and takes off her helmet. There’s a padded coif that comes off with the helmet, dropping to the grass behind her. She scoops it from the ground and shoves it into the helmet.
Her hair. Well, it’s very short, falling in line with her jaw. It is more unruly than usual, lacking the weight that normally kept it somewhat in line.
Berra nods. “From the chapel?” She is suddenly serious, maybe even reverent.
Varanis self-consciously puts a hand to her head, then lets it fall. “I made a promise,” she says simply.
“Oathkeeping looks good on you. No matter how it tangles.” She nods approvingly. “Well done.”
“Thank you.” The grey eyes seem huge above cheekbones that have become sharper in the passing weeks. “Marta was… dismayed. But some things are non-negotiable.” Then she gives Berra a little grin. “Oddly, Grandmother seemed to rather suddenly decide that my presence was not necessary at this week’s social events.”
“Weird. You’d have thought that with a wig…” Berra smiles, and lies back on the grass, and groans. “I ate too much. Will you grow it out, or keep it short?”
“I haven’t really had the time to think about it,” Varanis admits. “I won’t miss having to sit through the styling of it. But…. it’s an Esrolian woman’s hallmark. It’s how people identify her family even before they can see her tattoos.”
“I see. Yeah. And you’re Vingan, so it should be all yours.” Berra crosses her legs at the heel, and tries to get her head comfortable on her hands, but her helmet keeps getting in the way. “Tricky.”
“It’s possible I ruined some of my marriage prospects.” Varanis doesn’t sound the least bit contrite about this possibility.
“Oh dear.” The lack of sympathy in Berra’s voice is probably for Grandmother, and not for Varanis. It’s a very patronising lack of sympathy at that, and has a giggle at the end.
“It’ll be seen as evidence of my instability,” Varanis explains, “and it is possible that will create some problems. But I promised Humakt and that’s really all that needs to be said.”
“Mhm.” Berra makes a noise of agreement. “It’s good to have that freedom. I’d say I’m proud but that’s of the decision you made, not of keeping the promise.”
Varanis shrugs. “I didn’t do it for your approval either.”
“I know.” Berra is silent for a bit, other than the gurgling of digestion.
Varanis permits the silence to grow, then deliberately changes the subject. “So, why are you tired? What are you working on?”
“Um.” Berra manages to cut off even that word. “Ummmm……” The second time, it goes on a lot longer.
Varanis waits with uncharacteristic patience.
Berra gives the guards a look and a gesture, asking Varanis for a bit more room and privacy, and unbuckles her helmet. “Sooo…” She lets Varanis and her bodyguard sort out between themselves what they do about the request. “Uh, you know how I react badly to being told things, sometimes?”
At a nod from Varanis, the guards increase the distance between themselves and the two women, taking up watch from different vantage points.
Varanis murmurs her agreement. “Mhmm.”
“Well, the good news – and this is genuinely good news – is that Kesten didn’t get into trouble with the Battalion. At least, not as far as I can tell. And Yamia can’t tell either. They don’t seem to have blamed him for getting noticed by the Queen, or the Queen didn’t get angry, or something. But apparently I shouldn’t have apologised.” She’s smirking. It’s a full-blown smile-sneer of amusement.
“You put him in a difficult position, throwing your apology at him in front of the Queen,” Varanis agrees.
“Yeah. He’s been really good about it. He even offered to fight me if it made things easier. To whatever limits we agreed. I didn’t understand why at the time, but it turns out that if you’re Esrolian you offer the chance to apologise but you don’t actually think anyone will take it.” Berra speaks loftily now, as if explaining to a lesser person or Sartarite. Her hand waves in dismissal of any other argument at all.
Varanis raises an eyebrow, but does not point out that she’s an Esrolian. After all, she no longer looks like one. In fact, if you were to dress her in a Sartarite style, she would actually probably blend in rather well, as much as any Vingan could be said to blend in.
“This seems to bring you a certain amount of pleasure,” she observes.
Berra might or might not have forgotten where Varanis is from. “There was a bit of awkwardness,” she admits, “But I managed to keep my mouth shut. Which is lucky, because some of the stuff I wanted to say would probably have got me chucked out. But… they think they’re teaching me humility. They’ve forgotten how to deal with me since I’ve been away. They’re trying to make my life hard.” Varanis is given a look with full perplexity and added shrug with hand movements. “They keep pushing!”
“They being the Battalion commanders?”
“Well, by the time it comes down the order structure, a Sword in charge of making me humble. But it’s probably from the top, because otherwise it… well, possibly. If whoever did it blamed me instead of Kesten, then that’s from the top. If it’s that Kesten was never getting any of this on him then this is from Great Sword Chettoria, probably. But either way, not fighting is apparently not what the Humakti do. Which is odd, because I thought telling the Truth was part of what we did. Which was one of the things I managed not to say.” Berra is nearly laughing again. Her wide smile wrinkles up the Rune on her cheek, but does not destroy it.
“And you are coming to no harm through their efforts?” Varanis asks.
“No. I’m just getting the shittiest work to do, but I’m … well, the problem is they are telling me to be happy with working for Humakt, and I’m happy with working for Humakt. I’m just missing the stage where I get unhappy about it. Although they might chuck me out soon. If they do, I’ll have to go find another Temple.” Berra’s lips twist wryly. “But Yamia will let you know what happens, if I can’t.”
“Can they do that?” Varanis asks, looking startled. “Just cast out an Initiate? It’s not as though you are acting in defiance of them. It sounds as though you are following orders.”
“For what I’m about to do. The reason I moved out of Saiciae. If I was in good standing, I could probably manage it. But being there means that my enemies I’m about to make can find me, so I’m not moving out just so they don’t chuck me out. It would still be my local Temple anyhow, so I’d have to worship there.” Berra sits up straight and stretches her arms up and out, flexing her fingers. “They can’t actually cast me out of their structure because I’m a guest, but they can ask me to leave and forbid my returning. I’m still part of the Boldhome Regiment.”
“What you are about to do? And what is that?” The Vingan’s gaze sharpens.
“Remember I said about the slave?” Berra looks around cautiously, even here. “But I’m not going to repeat it in public. Just that it’ll seem to them to be proof I’m dishonest. Even though everything I’m going to say is true.”
“How can truth make you look dishonest? You are speaking in riddles.”
“Can I tell you that later? This is something I don’t really want to speak out loud. But in about the same way that apologising can make me seem like a coward, I guess. I’m not doing things the Esrolian way, but I’m taking options that I can only take here.” Berra finds a bit of pickled cabbage on her armour, and flicks it off, rubbing at the mark it has left with her fingertip.
“Fine. But be careful.”
Berra nods. “I’ll…” she considers. “I’m already being as careful as I can. Don’t worry.” That last is more about care, less about soothing or placating; all that be be done, is being done.
This gets an abrupt nod. “So be it. Was there something I can help with, since it doesn’t seem to be this…?” There’s an elegant hand wave that seems to encompass the conversation to this point. Varanis’ nails have been regilded somewhere in the past few days. They catch the late afternoon sun.
Berra sighs. “No, it was good to just talk. Yamia was right. I did want to, although I thought I just wanted lunch. Don’t hold what happens against Kesten. And always get extra sauce.” She sounds sleepy now.
“I make you no promises. If he is in the wrong, then I will hold it against him.” Varanis shrugs. “Why don’t you close your eyes for a few minutes? We can keep watch for you.”
“Fair enough,” Berra says in between the shrug and the suggestion, and she is already getting sleepy. The suggestion of rest almost wakes her, but then she nods, trusting. “I don’t have to be back until it’s dark. So however long you feel like staying out here.” Her hand seeks out to pat Varanis on the knee, fails to find her, and rises instead into a sign of thanks.
The Vingan says nothing, staring into the distance moodily.