Berra — Flame Of Sartar 03
????, Fire Season, Movement Week
Movement week of Fire Season [[[s01:session-33|Session 33]]]
Over a day since she left… Berra comes back into the White Grape. She looks tired, both in the sense of not having slept, and in the sense of physical exercise. It is almost the height of noon, and Yelm overhead has not been kind. Berra is armoured and in her padding, and faintly pink. Her hair is damp.
Finarvi is sitting on a stool with a good view of the inn’s door. He stares at Berra for a long moment, as if doubting his eyes, then stands to greet her. “Berra. Is all well?”
Berra nods. “It is.” She makes for a table, drags it towards a wall, and with a stub of charcoal from her pouch, scrawls a Death Rune over it. Then she noisily puts down a couple of chairs by it. When that is done, she glares at the only person close enough to overhear. “That means you. Other side of the room.” The man looks, gulps, and picks up his drink to get out of earshot. Berra turns to the bar. “Water for me, and beer.” And then she slumps into the chair.
Talking with Finarvi
Finarvi watches all this in tight-lipped silence. Once she’s done, he sits on one of the chairs. “Road came back safely.”
“Good. I’m glad. Thank you.” Berra waits for the water to be delivered, and the beer, and then says, “She had gone to the Flame. We had a couple of places to check.”
Finarvi nods. “I thought that might be the case, but neither Mellia nor I knew how to get there. Is she well?”
“She is. She’s sleeping at the Palace now. The main way is up there, and then down, but there’s a route that’s almost secret, too. I didn’t know it was – I thought it was the way, before. She had some sort of vision, which is why she stayed so long, but she… well, I’m irritated.” Berra looks it, and also tired. She pulls off her helmet and the padding, and runs her hand through her sticky hair. “Xenofos is with her.”
Finarvi smiles in relief. “So everyone is safe and accounted for. Good. Has she said anything? I would like to think it was worthwhile.”
“She spoke about what she saw, but … I… well, she should be the one to interpret it. It seems that the Underworld is the place to go, though. It was worthwhile.” She sips at her water, looking faintly confused by it.
“Ah well.” He gives Berra a crooked grin that probably started life as a grimace. “Get some food and sleep. I’ll head up to the palace and see if they’ll let me in. Though I might let Serala have The Talk with her about telling us where she’s going before she scampers off again. She’s better at scolding than I am.”
Berra stares into the beer. “She did not think it would take long. She went into a trance. She needs to be told how not to let that go wrong again.” And then she downs the cup and fills it again from the amphora.
Finarvi shakes his head. “She shouldn’t be going anywhere without one of us with her for protection. Especially if she was planning on going into trance. Am I going to have to sleep across her door to stop this happening again?” He puts on a peevish tone that’s only half in jest.
“No. Because that will destroy her. She needs to be able to look after herself, or rebellion will tear her apart. I’ve talked to her about bodyguards – she needs to think about them, but she can’t have them forced on her. She’s Orlanthi. Nobody can make her do anything.”
“I know.” He sighs. “And much as I’d like to throw her over the crupper of Serala’s horse and ride for the Grazelands as fast as we can, we cannot outrun fate.”
Berra unbuckles her vambraces, and pulls them off with a bit of wriggling. “And she’d hate you for it,” she says, concentration on the task. “But we need her to know that we should know where she’s expected to be. It looks exactly the same if she’s got drunk and fallen asleep, or been killed or kidnapped. I don’t think she realises that yet.” The Humakti’s voice is casual, but when she picks up her mug again, her fingers beat a rhythm against it, announcing her tension to the world.
“I’m sure Serala will help her to understand.” There’s a bitter edge to it; he’s not looking forward to the fallout of that particular conversation. “Perhaps we could also impress that message on the rest of the group. It was not good to come looking for Varanis, only to find more people missing and no idea where they had looked or where they had gone. It looked…bad.”
“Well, yes. I did leave a message, but there was nobody here who could read, and I didn’t want to say where we were. Then I went back up. I wasn’t sure how to say where we were without letting the knowledge out.” Berra massages her left elbow, stretching it out and wincing. “Keeping where she is secret will be important, I think.”
“Next time, let one of us know, maybe?”
“No. Because you were not here, or I would have.” Berra gives a swift smile. “Next time, I’ll leave the best message I can.”
Finarvi frowns. His usual easygoing demeanour is gone. “No. No leaving messages. We aren’t so hard to find.”
“You were,” Berra says mildly. “You were not in the one place I had room and time to return to. I didn’t know if Varanis was going to go into a holy fit that would put her over the edge of the cliff, and I didn’t know if there were people in the city who would try to kill her, if they found out she was vulnerable.”
Finarvi spreads his hands in apology. “I’m sorry. I am much more favouring adventure when the highest authorities in the land have not just offered to stab us all to death.”
“Humakti are not the highest authorities – the High Sword is not Orlanth. And it was a … well, it would not be stabbing all of us. Just Orlanth. It’s the brutal way to start the Quest, but it would work.” Berra picks up her beer. “It would be the one time you can return from a death that Eril would inflict, I think.”
Finarvi makes a dismissive gesture. “He was standing next to Kallyr. He was speaking for Kallyr. I may not have understood the words, but I read their manner well enough. He said nothing the Prince objected to.”
“Did you want a drink? Sorry, I completely failed to offer you a cup. Because… this is a Humakti Mystery. Humakt kills Orlanth to send him after Yelm. It’s one of the two main ways the Quest can start – and His Excellency stepped around that part carefully.”
Finarvi brightens at that. “Two?”
“Yes. The other is that Orlanth is overcome by an understanding of what he has done, and sets off alone. That’s how it’s normally told, but of course, the Humakti know both versions pretty well. That’s probably what we’ll act out at the Necklace of Stones.” Berra signals for another cup.
Finarvi rubs his chin. “What would my role be? I’m an initiate of Issaries, but a poor one.”
“Oh, you’d be Issaries. He goes there. And you know the version that Issaries tells, behind the temple walls as the market throng moves outside. There will be secrets to it that Orlanth doesn’t know. It’s more important that you love and follow him, than that you are powerful, because this Orlanth has a very special task. It has to be her.”
Finarvi nods, looking doubtful.
The cup arrives, brought by Rondrik himself. Perhaps nobody else wishes to approach the Humakti right now. Berra pours water into her own cup, and offers beer to Finarvi. “If you’re unsure of any parts of it, find your Priests and ask. Ask for as many versions as you can, as many people as you can, because you don’t know which you might meet. And don’t worry about being stabbed. That’s… a way. Not the only way.”
Finarvi chuckles and accepts the beer. “Oh, I wasn’t worried about Eril stabbing me himself. More concerned that helpful servants of Sartar might mistakenly think they’d be doing the Prince a service if some outlander heroes were to have… fatal episodes.”
“Oh. Hah. Right. No, that was a private enough meeting, and there’s no way he would let that fall on him. For all his faults – and he has many – the High Sword is a man of honour and integrity. He doesn’t believe in this quest, I think, so he doesn’t want to waste resources, but he’s not against us, and Kallyr really does believe in us, or she would not send Varanis out. She thinks we have a chance.” Berra sips water, swishing it around her teeth to clean them.
“The presence of brave D’Val the Sword is the one thing that convinces me you are right.” Finarvi is completely serious, maybe a little embarrassed by this admission. He takes a long drink of his beer to compose himself.
Berra tries to keep a smile from her face, but fails. “He’s my Sword – my commander within the Temple. The High Sword… well, hates him, as far I can tell. But Kallyr wanted us protected, and D’Val’s good for that. I don’t know if… well, um, D’Val thinks he’s coming with us. We should probably make sure he can, because his Excellency – the High Sword, not other Excellencies – might think we have enough on our own. But the Lismelder lands are where D’Val’s people live.” So many emotions pass over Berra’s face that it’s impossible to keep up, but chief among them seems to be worried pride.
“Is that going to be a problem?” Finarvi asks. He drops his voice to a low murmur. “Isn’t he some kind of exile from his people?”
Berra looks a little surprised. “It’s not a problem. He’ll be a better guide than any of us, and he knows a lot about when to be silent.” She picks up her drink, swigs it, and makes a face. “I forgot this was water.”
Then she perks up. “If you heard that, did you hear he was eight feet tall with eyes of fire? He almost fell over laughing when I told him.”
Finarvi grins. “Aren’t all heroes?” He pushes the beer jug in her direction.
“Except for Rajar, maybe. They probably say he’s eight feet wide with eyes of fire.”
“I think he’d point out that he’s tall for a Duck, if you asked.” Berra pours beer, and sniggers. “Rajar is terrifying to follow into battle. I know I might have to bring him down.”
“Better you than me. You’ll have an easier time getting under his swing and stabbing him in the knee.”
“Slice. You need to take the whole thing out so he can’t move. He’ll still try to crawl after you, but he won’t be moving so fast.” Berra sips at her drink. “This one is beer. I am planning to go back up to the Palace now that someone knows I was here, and all is well. Can you take the message onward?”
“Why don’t you get some sleep? You look like you need it. I am heading up to the palace to check on Varanis, then I will let Serala know all is well and everyone is back.”
“I slept for four hours last night, and I want to get back up there before the Chief Priest tries to talk to Xenofos. And you have the horses. But we could go up there together. We’ll tell Rondrik all’s well, for in case anyone else comes in.”
Finarvi grins. “Poor Rondrick. At this rate, we should hire someone just to run messages for us all day.” He finishes his beer and stands up. “Come on, then. I need to stretch my legs before I turn into a piece of furniture.”
Berra goes to deliver that message, and then turns to Finarvi, bouncing on the balls of her feet to be off.
“You know she’ll be asleep, right?”
“Good. That means she’s likely to still be there when we arrive.”
As they leave, a thought occurs to Finarvi. “What took you so long? If you knew where she had gone, and went straight there? The three of you have been missing for well over a day.”
“She was meditating. In a trance. She’d been like that for a while, I think. The vision – it came after she had spoken a lot of stormspeech and been walking around. We couldn’t come back because we were looking after her, not because we didn’t think you were worried.” Berra makes for the door.
Finarvi nods. “I’m glad you were with her.”
Varanis tries to walk around
Varanis opens her eyes and looks around. There’s still a lump on the cot that might be Xenofos, but no one else obviously in the room.
She sits up gingerly, testing for a headache. Then she carefully swings her legs over the edge of the bed.
There is also a pile of armour and clothes on the floor, on a cloak. It’s tucked into the corner, where it is only visible to those out of bed, and breathing slowly, quietly. The hair sticking out looks like Berra’s.
Noticing the Berra-shaped lump, Varanis hesitates. Slowly, she lets her bare feet touch the floor. Using the wall near the head of the bed for balance, she rises.
The lump on the cot lets out unclear noises and ttrashes about a bit.
Varanis glances around the room. She’s clearly looking for something.
Finally, she tentatively makes her way to the door, using the wall for balance as much as possible.
Berra sleeps on, her hand loose near to her sword.
Quietly, trying hard not to wake anyone, Varanis opens the door and slips out.
Several minutes later, she returns, just as quietly.
Berra is cudding her sword.
As she tries to make her way back to the bed, Varanis stumbles and curses softly. She catches herself against the wall and leans on it for a moment.
That’s enough to bring Berra to wakefulness. The movement from asleep to having her right hand on Wind Tooth’s hilt is fast, and happens as she rolls to her knees. She looks around blearily, works out where she is as she gets a foot under her, and gives Varanis a nod. “Mm.” Talking may have to wait.
As Varanis recovers her balance, she makes her way back to the bed and sits on it. She takes a long drink of water. “Will I ever not be thirsty?” she murmurs softly to the half-awake Humakti.
“I don’t know. Probably, but thirst might be asked as a price for what you are doing.” From one foot, one knee, Berra decides to kneel, not to stand. She buckles on her scabbard, indicating her intention to stay away.
The lump on the cot disentangles rolls to the floor and hastily draws blade.
Red eyes scan the room for the cause of the alarm.
Varanis blinks at her cousin in astonishment.
Berra gets a foot under her again, this time looking ready to rise forwards – and fast. But as yet, she does not.
“Xenofos, we’re safe. It’s fine.” Varanis’ voice is calming.
“And I’m not even going to laugh,” adds Berra. “But that was very funny.”
Varanis shoots a warning glance at Berra. “Xenofos?” She doesn’t reach out to her cousin, but keeps her tone calm, watching for recognition. “Are you actually awake, cousin?”
Berra sighs, but shuts up. She is watchful, apparently not trying to be overtly threatening but something about her body language as she tries to be quiet says that frustration is making her more dangerous. Then she relaxes.
There is a slow sense of returning wakefulness as Xenofos slowly starts to recognize people and remember the place. Sheepishly, his rapier gets resheathed.
“Hello, cousin,” Varanis says in greeting. “Welcome back.” She smiles at him. “Did you know you snore?”
“Surely not. At least I have never heard.”
“I have a witness,” Varanis says laughing while nodding in Berra’s direction.
“If it wasn’t you, then it was the horse you smuggled in that was snoring. I guess it was a horse. There’s not room for a dragon here. Are you a horse-smuggler?” Berra says it all seriously, like she really believes it.
The joke sounds a bit too placid, like Berra’s attention is not on jokes, but on some beautiful place far away.
Fear, taken under control almost immediately.
Varanis glances sharply at Berra again. “Do you think we could find me some real food,” she asks, changing the subject. “I’m so tired of mush.”
Berra reaches for her pack. “We have jerky, and that stuff that is basically jerky in fat, and the stuff that’s jerky but softer, and things that would be jerky if they hadn’t started off as fruit. And if I go out, people will notice and decide you might be awake.”
Varanis rolls her eyes at the list of jerky options. “I made it out and back safely enough. I’m hungry for fruit or something sweet. I’m willing to take the chance.”
“This is a palace and Varanis is a guest…”
“I’m not suggesting danger. People might want to talk about it.” Berra shrugs. “If dried fruit jerky leathery stuff is not sweet enough, then we … I… no, I’m a warrior. I don’t go get food. I ask for food. And Xenofos is closer to the door.” Her mood seems good, if oddly even.
Xenofos rubs his eyes. “It is not exactly a secret you are here cousin, and even though you say you went out and came back safe I doubt it happened without people knowing. So ordering food might not be excessive risk. But with that it becomes more likely that it might be asked if you are feeling well enough to greet our hosts – or summoned to their presence – depending on their sense of joviality.”
Rubbing of beard “But it would be rude to leave without letting our hosts know anyway so that possibility approaches in any case quite rapidly – unless you are planning on staying under covers for a prolonged period.”
“Mostly,” says Berra, “I was thinking that people dropping in to see how she is could be wearing. Choosing the site and spacing of a skirmish is…” She pauses a moment. “This is not a skirmish and we are among allies, but you still don’t have to talk until you’re ready, or at all.” Somehow she has gone from talking to Xenofos, to addressing Varanis.
Varanis hears them out and then says, “I’d really like real food. And maybe some wine. Please?” It’s not quite plaintive, but it’s definitely a request rather than a demand.
Berra shrugs. “Xenofos is still closest to the door,” she points out. “And we can’t stop you.”
Varanis rolls her eyes and pulls herself to her feet, using the wall for balance again.
Carefully, without saying anything, she walks to the door and out through it. She hardly wobbles at all.
Xenofos stands up and follows.
Berra chuckles, and follows, leaving behind her kit. That leaves her in most of her armour, with her sword. As she follows, she buckles on her vambraces, but the breast and chestplate got left behind.
Xenofos seems to have slept in his armour and may now be regretting the experience.
Berra, who definitely slept on the floor, looks as limber as ever, and quietly happy, and only a little bit murderous.
The Vingan is standing in the hallway, one hand on the wall, clearly trying to decide which way to go. She is barefoot, long legs exposed beneath the hem of her tunic. She doesn’t look much like an Esrolian noblewoman at the moment.
“What are you trying to do cousin?” asks Xenofos,
“We came in by the side way,” says Berra, “And they didn’t make you go up any stairs. So we’re a bit down of where we would normally come in, and off to the right.” There is no hint at all in her tone that she knows where they are because she plans the sacking of such places as a mental exercise. That’s all in her body language.
“Find real food,” Varanis replies determinedly. “I need strength and mush is not the way to build it.”
“Normal way would be to call for a servant, not dash after it…” tone is soft, reasonable.
Varanis comes to a decision and turns left. Keeping one hand on the wall, she makes her way steadily down the hall. “I didn’t see any servants. Did you?” Her tone is also reasonable.
“No – and then you can send a retainer…”
“Oh, yes. I guess you could do that,” Berra says to Xenofos. “I would not have thought to. I mean, call. Find, yes…”
Berra looks like she is considering being loud.
Xenofos has another question. “Any idea of the time of day – it is weirdly quiet?”
Varanis keeps putting one foot in front of the other. “I need to move. I’ve been cooped up too long. And I’m hungry. And I’m thinking about becoming irritable.”
Berra side-eyes, and puts her fingers to her mouth. Her expression is pure innocence.
“Bec…” raised eyebrow.
“You know what… maybe I don’t need to find out if alarm signals here are whistled.” Berra drops her hand.
Ahead of them in the corridor, they see Mellia walking briskly in their direction.
Berra continues to look innocent.
“Mellia!” Varanis says in greeting, one hand still on the wall for balance. She attempts to look innocent, but there’s something about a barely dressed Vingan with mussed hair leaning against a wall that defies that descriptor.
Mellia doesn’t appeared fooled. “You!” she says to all three of them. “You had me and Finarvi scared half to death. I even did a divination.” She looks straight at Varanis and adds, “You look like you should be in bed. Are you defying your healer’s orders?”
Varanis blinks. “I don’t know… am I?” She turns to Xenofos and Berra. “I’m hungry, Mellia. And all I’ve been getting to eat is mush. I want real food.”
Berra steps forward to bow to Mellia. “Not as far as I know, clan-cousin,” she says. “There was a White Lady here, and she stopped saying Varanis had to stay abed.” Innocent, calm, and lacking the largest part of her armour – Berra’s not wearing her breastplate.
“I think my fever broke yesterday.” She doesn’t sound entirely certain of the timing.
“You look capable of handling real food,” Mellia says to Varanis. “You just don’t seem able to walk it off. What did the White Lady say was wrong with you?”
“She left off ‘stubborn’ from the list,” says Berra proudly. “I think that was well done.”
“I got a fever, but I’m fine now,” Varanis replies evasively. “I had a vision though. About our quest.”
From Berra, silence.
“Long fast, long meditation and Yelm.”
“You’re about to fall over,” Mellia snaps. “That’s not ‘fine’. At the very least, I want you in a chair while I look you over.”
“I’m fine,” Varanis insists, but she turns around in the direction of the room without further argument. One hand remains lightly on the wall for balance.
“Here, lean on me. You can tell me about your vision once you sit down.”
Varanis bristles at the offer of assistance. “Really, I can manage. I need to. And I’m still hungry.” Her tone has become mulish.
Mellia frowns, but lets Varanis lean on the wall instead. “We can send for some food in a little bit.”
It’s not long before they reach the door to the room. Varanis hadn’t managed to get very far. Frustrated, she makes her way to the bed and sits down with as much dignity as she can muster. Her face is set in a scowl.
“I’ll seek a servant. What would you eat if they have it?” Xenofos asks Varanis, but looks at Mellia for confirmation of possible orders.
Mellia answers, “If she’s been fasting, I recommend a bowl of soup and small portions of whatever Varanis wants. “
Berra manages to keep calm, and quiet, and all of those things.
“I’ve been on mush for two days. I want meat. And something sweet.”
Mellia eyes Berra. “Want to tell me how your horse came home without you and covered in mud?”
The Humakti kicks back into the little piles of her belongings where she is obviously nesting. Her helmet and armour are there, and she gives a big yawn and says, “Mellia’s right. Soup, and small portions.” Then she looks at Mellia and winces. “I… would have thought you’d been told by now. Yes, I rode for a while looking for Varanis, and then when I found her, the horse couldn’t follow, so I left it.”
Berra gets a glare from Mellia. “You should be.”
“I’d do it again,” Berra says calmly. “Because what Varanis is not saying, is that she was in a trance. She did not mean to stay away, but she needed looking after.” From down on the floor, she gives Mellia a shrug.
Mellia rolls her eyes and pulls on her hair. “Thank you, Berra. Do you think the next time Varanis wants to do something like this, you can get her to bring me along?”
“I’ll try.” Berra gives Varanis a glance. “But mostly, what we need is keywords that people don’t understand. I didn’t want to tell anyone who wasn’t you where we were. I don’t write, and I forgot to ask Xenofos to make a note before I came down, so I couldn’t. It’s an odd thing. I could teach you the landmarking system I use, but it’s awkward unless you practice it a lot.”
Mellia nods. “I need to learn how to read,” she mutters.
Berra gives a weird, one-shouldered shrug. “It’s a good idea.” There might be regret in her tone.
Mellia sighs. “I hope Varanis’ vision will help us with our current quest. Even with D’Val, I don’t think we’ll survive Snakepipe Hollow.”
Berra gives a grin. “It certainly does not rule out the Greydog Lands,” she says. “Going in where Humakt came out is still our safest bet.” She snuggles under her shaggy horsehide cloak. “I hope D’Val comes with us, though. He’ll be a good guide there.”
“I’ve never heard of the Greydog Lands. What are they like?”
Berra thinks a bit. “I know very little,” she says. “They are not quite up against the Marsh Edge, but they were at one point, when the Necromancer pushed outwards. They’d driven the were-ducks away, and thought the Marsh was just an ordinary place. Indrodar Greydog was the main force that held them together as a fighting force after their Queen died, and he was the one who made peace with the Ducks, according to most. They’re… they hate Delecti, more than most, and that’s pretty hard. But I only know it from stories, and from travel along to Duck Point.”
“I can’t really do much about the undead,” Mellia says, “but I can try to keep everyone alive.”
“The Humakti there can do a lot. It’s… it’s more of a holy place than a Temple. The stones are either in a circle, or in the shape of Humakt’s Sword. The constellation. Apparently they change, depending on something people don’t know. It might be a Death-secret. Nobody I found would tell me, but I have one more person to ask. Two, if I decide on an appropriate question for the High Sword.”
“I’d avoid the High Sword if at all possible.”
That gets a smile. “You’re welcome to, but I understand enough… he’s not trying to kill me. He doesn’t care if I die. Those are different things.”
“They are different,” Mellia agrees, “but I still wouldn’t be in a hurry to seek his advice.”
Berra then glances over to Varanis as if to check her wakeful state, and then shrugs. “He’s honourable. He would not lie to me, if I asked him a thing, but his Excellency is not likely to volunteer helpful information. I think he believes this is a waste of time. He doesn’t want resources in it.” The Humakti shrugs, which is rather complicated in her recumbent nesting position. “I can see his point of view. I don’t think he’s right, and I don’t like how he sends people he does not admire onto such a mission he thinks will fail, but I did know already who he was, when I joined the Temple.”
Mellia nods. “Just for laughs, does His Excellency have a solution for Sartar’s problems that doesn’t involve relighting the Flame?”
“I don’t know. I have not thought to ask him.” Berra grins. “Also, that would really irritate him, if I did. But I suspect he has enough plans to put into action, and they don’t involve us. It’s fun watching him try to bait me, though. You can disarm him by perfect correct behaviour. I almost wish I could keep it up.”
Berra fails at an annocent look. “And that’s good for me. It honestly is an honour to accept his orders and try my best to carry them out. It brings me closer to my God. I’ve been considering volunteering for punishment duty, but I just don’t have it in me. Yet.”
“You don’t deserve that, Berra.”
“Well, no. That would be the point of volunteering. As well as being really funny, it would probably teach me more, and toughen me. Deserving or not, the risk is that someone would decide I was mocking them, and I don’t want that.”
Mellia nods. “I suppose I had better take that look at Varanis before she eats the furniture.”
Berrra nods, and folds up a saddlebag to use as a pillow. Her greaves and vambraces stay on, although she eases the buckles under her forearms. A happy sigh escapes her.
Mellia smiles and goes to look Varanis over.