Berra — Eril Is Blunt
????, Fire Season, Illusion Week
Fire Season, Illusion Week, Fireday. Late at night by the Humakti Temple. [[[s01:session-43|Session 43]]]
Contains some spoilers for politics, Eril, and the Humakti Temple
Questions to Duck:
“What happened here, my Lord?”
“Is the High Sword likely to live?”
“Why does separation sometimes feel like it is knife-thin, and sometimes a yawning void?”
1) A lot of injurieth to the High Sword.
2) Yeth. But not as High Sword for a while.
3) Some Sseperathions are bigger than otherth.
“Do your duties allow you to guard the Rune here? Thegn Varanis will need my support.
1) Yeth. Right now I’m Acting High Sword.
“Permission to depart the Temple, Lord?”
Berra bows and pauses
“Is the High… is Lord Eril able to take visitors? Will he need help?”
“Can you write me a message for Thegn Varanis, Lord? I should pay my respects before I go down there.”
“Thank you, Lord.”
Berra goes to his room, takes a deep breath and closes her eyes for a moment, and then braces her right hand in the one position she can clap her left on it, and does that. Then she waits, either for an answer or for silence that lets her off the hook.
“Who is it?”
“Berra Jarang’s Daughter. Initiate.” Formality serves.
A pause. “En-ter”
Another deep breath, and then she does, eyes down deferentially for a moment after she comes in.
Eyes closed for a moment, and then she looks at him. “I came to ask what news you had had, and if you wished my report, Lord.”
“In front of two Swords is traditional.”
After a brief pause, Berra says, “I regret my error, Lord.”
“That’s alright. I was just reminding you. Anything you do not wish to be written down?”
Berra considers. There is obviously something on her mind, larger than she can say. “I believe my own conscience is clear, my Lord.”
“You imply others may not?”
“To be clear, before we go on, Lord. I came here to offer a personal report, and nothing written. I should have been more clear about that. I can give that report if you wish, and it will probably answer your question.” Any competent politician could read her discomfort. A good one might be able to see more.
“Yes. Please do.”
Berra looks at the man like she is trying to read him, as she sets her thoughts in order. “As Humakt, I attempted to meet Orlanth in the wilderness, to set him on the path to the Underworld. I was captured by a Death Lord, and broken badly enough we had to return to Boldhome for purification.” Berra winces slightly, catches herself, and then raises her hand to show the damage. “While here, my associates and friends began a Heroquest in which Irillo of Saiciae was playing my Lord you.” Awe, concern – her voice is a blend that is far from Humakti. “I can include hearsay if you wish, where it does not breach trust.”
“If you wish.”
“No, then. Evranala asked the Iron Lord for advice here, as the Lord Eril he had been playing was badly wounded.” There is almost worship in her voice, as she says his name. “On his advice and the understanding of Lord Irillo, we prepared to start the Quest again, while attempting to find out who had sparked it. This time, Lord Irill… Lord Eril escaped. I was present this time, as a Yanafil Tarnils Initiate. I tried not to think about it. I asked permission of my Sword to support a Heroquest. I felt you would prefer he did not know details.” Unable to keep looking at him, and having forgotten to kneel, she looks down again.
“Yes. I would have. Go on.”
It takes her a moment to look up, but when she does it is without fear. “I did ask the Iron Lord about purification and continuing Heroquests. After hearing the name of the Regiment from which Lord Eril had been severed I went with Lord Xenofos to the Library of Lhankor Mhy, where he and a clerk helped me – that is, the clerk helped both of us and Xenofos helped me – to find the rolls of the Household of Death. A name we believed to be yours was there, and there was a record of a man we believed to be you staying there, at the Fall of Boldhome. Eril Sambar Humakti. No Clan given. No lie.”
A tiny smile, like with that word Berra is back on familiar ground. “Lord Irillo found an outpost of the Chalana Arroy Temple, where I understand Lord Eril scraped off his tattoos. I did not see that part. There was a rumour of a Vampire the next day. A man had died of blood loss with his blood in the shape of the Sartar Rune. I reported this to Lord D’Val. We went to the Great Gate, after Irillo arranged for a merchant to help him move a wagon out. I searched it – I lost myself in my… in being one of them. It felt so different to a part I had prepared for.” Berra sighs, and then says, “Others distracted me. Lord Eril escaped. We went back to the Inn, and then the Rune of Darkness on me froze. It was hard, like ice.” She rubs the back of her neck, and looks at him as if for understanding. Maybe for the first time she takes in how he looks.
He is reclining on a couch. He looks pale but composed. “You may find more meditation helpful to recall who you are in Quests. And then?”
“Thank you Lord. I passed out. I think I heard Lord Irillo begin to swear. When I came round, I had been healed. The Rune had been frost-eaten. There was some fuss. People were worried about me. Tiwr came to heal me and then remembered to go back to the stable where the same thing had happened to Salid. Irillo’s hired guard. Irillo said you killed a merchant, cold-bloodedly. That he had been captured. I don’t know how much was missed before I woke.” Berra seems unworried about that, like she believes in Eril.
“Sacrifices for the Kingdom are sometimes unavoidable sadly.”
Berra stares at him briefly. “And that the adding of the Treasury had been an afterthought. The Royal Treasury,” she goes on, after a moment’s struggle. “But we knew where to go next. Wilmskirk. We set off. There was a problem with outlaws known to Lord Irillo on the road. They had been set against Humakti previously, in Wilmskirk. Rastip Kinslayer. I do not know if he was attracted as a Quest Enemy. Should I say more about him, or that?”
( He thinks that someone else can die, and it’s a sacrifice. He’d make it for himself, so he assumes it of anyone. Like he has the right to decide… )
( He said ‘sadly’. He never says that sort of thing. )
“Yes, please do.”
Berra holds up her hand in the signal meaning ‘give me time to think’ and closes her eyes to get this right, taking a moment before she speaks. “Lord Irillo had been at a village called Greyrock Rise. The Greyrock Clan.” Berra might just have stopped herself explaining more to a noble of the Sambari. “They had been cursed by Ernalda because Rastip slew his child and hid the murder, and the village did not investigate. Irillo and Dormal uncovered it.” There is a tiny hesitation before the second name as Berra steels herself to say it. “And Nala and Mellia slew the spirits, or laid them to rest. Rastip was to have been sent to Wilmskirk for judgement but he was the leader of the warriors. They broke him out, killing villagers and a Humakti guard, and all became without-law. I would value your judgement on whether this was coincidence, Lord.”
“I doubt it. I believe they were called to your journey.”
Berra nods like she thinks that too. Arguably too honest just to be falling in with him, she adds, “I might have trouble with a Troll in future, but it seems that he was not called. I’ll try not to…” She trails off. “Apologies. I continue. We hung the bodies from trees. Lord Irillo would not see one tortured.” The word is said, and she realises as she says it, and just goes on, perhaps a little faster. “He offered the man life in exchange for information, but the camp was not far, and there were no others. We went to Wilmskirk. The sword of the kin-slayer was left with the Humakti Temple to be destroyed, and the remains given to the Orlanthi. I might have offended the God Talker there by telling him to when he knew already.”
( Oops. )
( Well, let’s give him something to concentrate on. )
( And a reason to be irritated at me. )
“Very good. An appropriate offering to the God, and it is of Truth to declare your wishes clearly, even if others would do the same. The trophy was not theirs.”
Berra bows thanks. “In Wilmskirk. I acted as a guard for Irillo. He arranged to buy thralls. Dormal had a reason to buy Enlo. We were there a day. Then I woke as a captured warrior, within the quest.” Then she pauses and looks at him, Truth shining from her eyes, along with … is that protectiveness? “My Lord, Lord Irillo was experiencing moments in which he was not actively Heroquesting, but remembering things you recalled.1Truth Rune, used to inspire Loyalty, Temple, which is Berra’s relationship to Eril.“
“That is a little inconvenient.”
“It was for him too.” Berra combines the blurt with the too-late-to-shut-up wince, for something close to the full experience. She only needs to come off a horse and land on her Shield spell to make it complete.
“Proceed, if you don’t mind?”
( He sounds a lot more… gentle. What in hell? )
Another wince, and then a slight but proud smile grows. “Lord Eril had bought people. Praxians. A woman, a … I think a war Zebra, who was complaining about the halter. Some pygmies – riders of small beasts. And then he tried to buy me.” She glances at his leg, down where greaves would fit. “Luckily, Lord Irillo was wearing armour in the Middle World. I kicked him hard enough to take a kneecap off. I regret not waiting until he was closer, but I also… I … uh, if you were to ask me what I felt, under conditions of oath, I might not know what to say, Lord.” Her expression and body language are mixed aggression and shame, her inner rebel fighting with the Humakti code of obedience to superiors, right there in front of him.
He waves a hand. “Of no matter, other than to note once more you need to retain better focus within the quest.”
Berra closes her eyes to think, for a moment. “If you want me to take a break, say so, Lord.” She uses the moment to compose the next part of the report.2Failed Insight: Human. Read/Write Bastard is not on Berra’s sheet.
“I am content for you to proceed. “
( Ah, that’s better. Long words. )
“I got bought. That’s another thing I probably won’t answer about when they ask me. I don’t like swearing in front of officers.” Berra does a small bit of staring straight through the Sword, and there is nothing that is not violent in her for that very brief moment, and then she sighs, and manages to pull herself together, with a couple of little twitches of the lip, like she’d bite too, if she could. “Irillo had bought Salid too, and another Enlo. Who was a bit surprised because he hadn’t been part of it before. But then Lord Irillo bought more, from his owner.” There is tension all the way across her shoulders, and her right arm shakes a little. She clasps hands behind her back and suppresses it.
( He hasn’t disagreed with me yet. This is really disconcerting. )
( Any minute now the sandal’s going to drop with a slap that scares me. )
“Are you ready to continue?”
( And I’ll be really polite to him. … alright, NOW I am nervous. )
Berra stares at him, blinks, and nods. “Yes, Lord.” And concentrating again, she says, “We travelled to the Cinder Fox Tula. Xenofos, Mellia and Varanis were left behind – a private matter. They caught up at various times. Irillo was able to remember something more each time he entered the world, at a place you had been, Lord. He recalled a Heroquest. Indrodar’s Mistake. They didn’t really understand what that meant. I don’t think they knew it was before the Indrodar Dances, before I explained. And they didn’t know how … well, what it would be like.”
“And you did?”
“To tell the truth, sir, once I got there it was easier than I feared. Nobody I loved died.” ‘Sir’. Far more intimacy than ‘Lord’, and entirely uncalled for between an Initiate and a Sword, or a Noble. Then she looks down, and says, almost too low to be heard, “I’m sorry, sir, that you had to. I’ve never had anything that would compare with that.”
“Humakt claims all. And it would have been entirely acceptable if he had picked me then.”
“Yes.” That cheers Berra up. “Lord Irillo had freed the Enlo, and they were following Salid. Four deserted overnight while scouting. Five drowned or were destroyed by undead in the Marsh. Half of the rest of those who entered were wounded. I stayed by Irillo to advise, but he was in command. He used magic, Lord, that I think was yours. A ghoul fled him, and I heard him speak a word that meant Severance.”
( Wait. Back up. Check that alley. Entirely acceptable if… )
( I mean yes, it would be. )
( But did he mean that? )
“That would make sense, yes.”
( He remembers stuff now. He knows what I’m talking about. )
( If you remember this and there hasn’t been intervening time, is it like it was recent? )
Berra starts to take in details actively. Is he showing any signs of what Berra would think of as battle woe – a post-battle trauma? Emotional exhaustion? How even is his voice?
He’s sounding controlled. So… maybe?
Or maybe just pain. Not all of those cuts have been healed up…
“We found the barn. The haven. And the things inside. And a ghost. Irillo said it was free – the year was over. It attacked him.” Now Berra’s voice is dulled too.
“Interesting. Was it freed?’
“It passed on. Nala, mostly. But Irillo was only just conscious when it was sent away. And then we searched the barn. We bolstered it against attack, just in case, with what was left lying around, and we found the Relics. I could feel them in the beams, once we knew where they were. And the Marsh had gone.”
“Any observations to make at this point?”
Berra, who was preparing to go on, looks at Eril for a while, thoughtfully3A failed Truth roll means she does not just accuse the Sword of murder.. “Nothing wise, Lord.” She rubs at the Truth Rune on her cheek, and looks through him more than at him.
“Good. Do you have Geasa from the God?”
“One, Lord. It’s a regret of mine I didn’t go further at the altar. I was afraid. Of failing, not of Him.”
( Shut up, Berra. It’s some sort of trap. )
( Mouth shut, eyes open. Nod, Agree, Respect. )
( If he wanted to know he would ask. )
( Oh. Right. And stop trying to impress him. Far too late for that. )
“And if an oath you swore conflicted with it, what would you choose? Reverence to a Higher Duty or personal Honour?”
“Honour is never personal, my Lord.” There is sympathy in Berra’s voice as she does not say what she is thinking.
“Oath or Higher Duty. Don’t Lawspeaker at me, please.”
“I don’t think I’d break my geas, even for a victory, Lord. Because Humakt has given it to me to work within this limit. There is no victory outside what he has decreed me. But… I’m a woman, sir. We’re all lay Ernaldans at some point. We get taught there’s always another way.”
“Sometimes there is not. And distasteful things… horrible things… are necessary. Which I regret but… Sartar lives.”
Berra is silent a while, and then says in a small voice, “I was born after it all happened. I’ve lived to see Sartar free.”
“Yes. Now, go on please.”4Fumbled INT check.
GM: It’s clear that you’ve misunderstood everything. His actions were not merely legal but moral.
“Lord Silor had arranged, as he said, to go for a ride with some of his friends. Forty of his warriors. He was there, and his daughter Yamia, a Humakti. They helped rig up the barn so it wouldn’t collapse. She helped me get the cross down. The banner and the iron, she didn’t see, but those with Lord Irillo on the Quest did.”
( It must have been moral if it freed Sartar. )
( That’s where his questions were pointed. )
( I needed to see that. )
( But he’s still being oddly patient. )
( The action could not have freed Sartar if it had been wrong. )
Berra thinks carefully for a moment5First Aid gives no hint about how he is from his symptoms.. “I treated each thing with the respect I felt it deserved. Lord Silor had a chariot brought. No wagon would have got through the forest and the reeds. Yamia Humakti drove it back the next day, and I walked beside it. I slept outside a bothy with it under cover that night, to be sure nobody got too close. Then Lord Silor escorted her… Uh… us, towards Wilmskirk. But on the way he had a messenger telling him of the death of Prince Kallyr.” Relaxed. Berra mentions it as a fact, unsurrounded by emotion.
“Ah yes. A shame. We might speak of that later.”
“Yes, Lord. I have not been called to the Palace, but the healer Mellia was. At Wilmskirk, in the morning, a hired Humakti guard touched the Cross. I was not prepared for his movement, and got there too late. It was a perfect Severance.”
“Yes. It would be. If there is blood money to be paid the temple will… no I will provide.”
( Is that… no, he’s not High Sword. He can’t speak for the Temple. He’s being correct.)
“None, Lord, or Rajar would have paid it, as he made the hire. A warrior volunteered for danger.” There might be a touch of sharpness in her voice there. “Lord Silor could not order his men to accompany us. He had business related to the Heroquest in Wilmskirk. His scouts went out before us, though, and some of his guards with. They said their horses needed exercise. I don’t know if any stayed as runners to take him information. He’s got more warriors than I thought he could support. A lot more, because he had forty, left some greybeards with his son, and had another son with Kallyr, and that man took friends too. So more than forty.”
“Never mind that too much, please.”
Berra tries not to stare, but there is a brief moment of surprise. “On the journey, the Cross was less present in my thoughts. When it Severed someone, it stopped being like the height of a ritual and started being like the knowledge I always have with me, of Humakt’s presence within the world.”
“Yes. I recall.”
“How recently?” The words might have escaped but Berra is committed now. Her expression is schooled – or in her case brought up without education – to respect and professional curiosity.6Passed Truth and blurted properly.
“Twenty-five years ago.”
“Because you look a bit like you’re suffering from battle malaise, and you’re not sounding yourself. Lord.” Then Berra pauses to consider what to say next, and maybe her future career prospects.
“Thank you. I shall bear that in mind.”
If Berra had ever seen a dwarf mine in operation, she might have a word for ‘derailed’. Unhorsed in conversation, she stops, draws herself back to the subject, and then smiles slightly. Firm footing. “We were pulled into the final part of the quest, Lord. Irillo first and then the rest of us. I… ended up as a Eurmalite. I spent most of that scene trying not to think. I was mostly successful.”
( Riiiight. He’s throwing me off-guard by politeness. Bastard. )
( Or he’s badly in. Avoiding conflict. Shit. )
( He hasn’t disagreed with me at all. And his only order has been ‘Enter’. And that was slow. )
( Come on. Take that line. Dormal would take it. )
“Wise, on balance, I think.”
( Right. That makes it D’Val’s problem. )
“Then Humakt was off the table. And then the moment fell apart. There was some squabbling going on and the Eurmalites had betrayed Ikadz, and … then we were in Boldhome again, only it was all dark. And my apologies, I forgot to note earlier that while I was guarding the Cross in the Cinder Fox Tula, my Rune froze again. Not so hard. And it happened again here. I winced but it wasn’t bad. But Irillo spoke in a voice much like yours.”
Berra has spoken to a spot a little above Lord Eril’s head to give him room to each without observation, but she looks directly at him again afterwards. No sympathy, no mercy, no judgement. Polite. Respectful.
“Very well. That clarifies much I had only surmised. Thank you, Berra.”
“The thing that was talking is dead. I missed out matters that probably Irillo should tell you. Nothing I believe important, though.” Berra gives the not-High Sword the benefit of some of her sigh collection. She is obviously thinking, but her expressions change too quickly to be read at any distance, like the choppy surface of a river.
The Sword appears content anyway. “Thank you. I require thought. Could you please return tomorrow?”
Berra bows. “I may be called on by the Palace, and Thegn Varanis will require support,” she says. “Saving those two things, I am at my Lord’s service.”
( I called him ‘sir’. He gets to use my personal name. )
( At least until this is over. )
“Of course. Thank you.”
“Before I go, is there anything I can do for you?” The subtext is that she is unsure he can stand. “If you don’t want to have to call on anyone else, I mean.” She is not good at subtext, but sometimes driving a four-oxen plough through the conversation is good enough.
( He left the Regiment, and the Wyter to come back here. He’s without his spirit… no. Not that. )
( He’s being kind. But it’s the shock. He’ll be back soon. )
“No. That is all, thank you.”
Berra bows and retreats, taking the dismissal. She obviously had things she wanted to say, but did not.
Then she goes to D’Val to say, “I just had the strangest thing happen. The … Sword Eril was kind to me. I think he has battle malaise.”
“He’th had a bad day.”
“Wow.” Berra stares into her imagination for a bit, shudders, and then focuses on D’Val again. “I’ll probably be at the White Grape, High Sword. Then I’m not sure. He has asked for me again tomorrow.” She is clearly rather shaken, but puts it off with a slow breath.
“Alright. I’ll keep an eye on thihgth. As much ath I can spare.”
Was that a joke? There’s a little quackie chuckle.
“Is your eye-patch a spell focus?” Today is a good day for asking impolite questions.
“And you’ve been busy.”
“You know a lot of spells. I cut apart a Demon of Darkness, with fireblade. Which was good, because it was trying to cut me apart with claws.”
“Thee? Concentrathion is utheful!”
Berra hardly blanches at all. “I’d… well, once I’m free again, I’d like to learn more of Protection. Are the Relics inside the Temple grounds yet?”
Berra bows, takes a deep breath, and leaves, stretching out as she starts to walk, in preparation for a sprint through the night-bound city.