Berra — Fruit And Nuts
1626, Sea Season, Fertility Week
Shortly before setting off once more for Boldhome, Berra takes Varanis out shopping. They don’t buy much. Session 24 (North, Miss Tesmacher. North!)
It’s not quite time to set out yet. Berra has been pacing up and down in corridors and practicing violent drills with Rajar and failing repeatedly to whittle something complicated. Leaving is set for not far in the future – Berra has been ready to go for weeks, apparently. But she claps outside Varanis’ door at about the time that early risers will be dressed, and waits there, hopping from toe to toe with every evidence of impatience. An athlete at the blocks would hardly be bouncing more. An athlete in the long jump would be hard pressed.
A servant opens the door. The room behind it is large, the walls are beautifully painted with colourful frescoes, including one depicting Vinga, sword raised to the heavens. That wall seems to almost glitter in the sunlight that streams in from a window. There’s a rumpled bed against the wall opposite the Vingan frescoe. Next to it, the armour is on a stand, gleaming beautifully. Varanis is sitting in a chair, mostly dressed, with her hair partially braided.
“Good morning, Humakti. Did you need something?” Her tone is curious.
Berra, her armour all on and her sword at her side, says, “Oh. Hello.” She bows at the doorway. “Good morning, Lady of Saiciae. I… wanted to ask a small favour. Of you in particular, although it could be anyone. I wouldn’t want you offended by thinking I didn’t know that.” She manages not to bounce up and down now, but only by putting her arms behind her back. Her shoulders writhe awkwardly. She’s uncomfortable there.
“Come in. We are almost done here.” The servant offers Berra a place to sit and a glass of wine. It’s cool and has been watered down. Varanis is sipping her own. The servant goes back to braiding her hair. Her actions are efficient and it likely won’t take more than another 5-10 mins.
Berra says, “Thank you,” and steps in. She looks at the seat, and then back towards the door, and makes up her mind – the seat gets moved so that she can see the door and react to its opening, but she can also see and be seen by Varanis. Then she leans back a little, and settles to wait. The wine gets sipped politely, and then tasted a few more times, and then put down half drunk. She manages to sit mostly still, although a foot jiggles and she does not seem to have realised. She maintains silence, calm without looking stony.
As Berra makes no move to begin the conversation, Varanis asks, “Did you sleep well?”
“No.” Berra might realise how that sounds, because she gives Varanis an appealing look and a glance at the servant. “We can talk on the street. I mean, if you want to come for a walk, which is what I was hoping.”
The Humakti does not look tired, but she looks a little worn.
“We will be done soon,” and indeed the servant finishes with the complex pile of braids. She brings Varanis a relatively simple gown of green and blue, which the Vingan slides into. A fine gold torc with small air and movement runes, some small bracelets, and a pair of earrings complete the ensemble. Varanis slips her shoes on and rises. “Let’s go for a walk then.” As she steps towards the door, the servant begins to tidy the rumpled bed.
Berra sighs, and gets up. She takes one last sip of the wine, and then falls into place. As they get towards the door she mutters words that are almost certainly to check for enemies outside, and gives Varanis a sudden smile as the sunlight hits them. “Right. I need a fruit market.”
Varanis leads her in the direction of the South Market. There’s a member of the household guard following a discrete distance behind, out of earshot.
On the way, tension begins to fall off Berra. It’s remarkable how much she cheers up as they get towards their destination. “I’m looking for fruit that will travel for a few weeks. It can be dried, but it has to be pure fruit. Something we can’t get in Sartar. It’s for a friend. And I want to taste things I haven’t tasted in years, too. And I wondered how you were feeling.”
Words are almost bubbling out of the short Humakti, suddenly. She is brighter-eyed and looking around and taking things in without looking like she wants to fight them all.
“Fruit will be easy to find. If anything, you might have too many choices. The South Market is close to the harbour and is a favourite among the elite families of Nochet.” Varanis starts to play the role of tour guide a little bit, pointing out sites of interest along the way, unsure how familiar Berra is with her city.
After a bit Berra says, “I know a bit about where we are now. It’s further South than I used to be, but I was Initiated to the Battalion here, when the Siege started. I patrolled the walls sometimes. My battle-captain died by the ferry. Fruit is fine. It’s fruit that will travel, is not of Yelm, and can’t even possibly be taken for a vegetable by someone who’s not seen it before that I need to look for. In fact, can be eaten by a Duck who will probably not shout at me. Probably. And it should be delicious, and small enough not to weigh down a horse. How hungry are you?”
Some people might not have gone straight from death to fruit, but apparently Berra forgot to study subject changes when she was failing to learn to read.
“Well, as we left before my morning meal, I could definitely eat.” Varanis laughs. She guides Berra through the market. “These are among my favourites.” It’s a stall selling sweet pastry like things. They are warm and smell divine, at least to Varanis. There are also numerous fruit vendors in the vicinity.
“Would you like one?” Varanis asks, indicating the pastries.
“I already ate.” Berra smiles. “I couldn’t sleep – and if I was hungry the fruit would taste good even if it wasn’t. But you eat, and then we can eat some more.”
A tiny shadow passes over Berra’s eyes as she admits again to not sleeping, but it’s only a tiny one, and it flees. Maybe it was just tiredness.
Varanis buys some and starts chewing, somehow managing not to get pasty crumbs down her front.
Berra pokes around at stalls and talks about pricing and then eventually says, after licking her thumb tip clean of something sticky and definitely not a vegetable, “You didn’t answer how you were. I know it’s a strange question to have me asking, but I think I’m trying to be a Regimental Leader right now, and sort out how happy people are.”
Varanis hesitates a few seconds. “You noticed that, did you?” She sighs. “I don’t know how I feel right now. I was pushed into taking the lead when I wasn’t ready to do so. And then suddenly I’m thrust in with a group of people who seem to have mixed feelings about my presence and I don’t know what my role is.” It comes out in a sudden rush. She sounds frustrated and unhappy, shedding the serene expression she’d presented to Berra for most of the morning.
Berra considers for a bit and then says, “No, I hadn’t noticed, but I’m a Humakti trained at the Battalion, so I ask. But…” She looks down at the package she is carrying, and fishes out a small bunch of something she mispronounced badly when buying them. “I… I didn’t mean you. I mean, about not wanting people. I didn’t know you knew.” She looks none to happy either, suddenly.
Berra’s trade talk is not great, and her Esrolian is not fantastic, and to be honest she seems to use short words in Heortling too, but she has managed to get through the work of buying food with smiles and animated gestures and pointing and enthusiasm, and now that has all fled.
“I’m confused, Berra. How could you not have meant me, when it was my name you were given?” Varanis is trying to school her expression, but she’s clearly still struggling with it. “When we talked after the Tower, I thought we’d started to…” she lets the words drift off and then shrugs helplessly.
“Right. We need beer, in that case. Or at least, this goes better with beer. But the short answer is it didn’t matter who was named. At that point, I could not be sure what was known, so I could not afford to let anyone in. If Grandmother had sent Humakt himself, I would have had a seriously… well, I would have had a lot of bowing, but also I would have hesitated. We said we wouldn’t tell, and then she just grew the group in a way that took advantage of hospitality. Did you hear how Eranda put it?”
“No, only your rejection of the request.” Varanis leads the way to a stall selling beer. “My grandfather likes this particular beer very much.” She buys two cups of it and then proceeds to scowl into hers without sipping. She hands Berra the other.
“Ah. Right. So at that point, it was not a request.” Berra takes the beer. “I’m not sure who should be buying this, but neither am I proud about it. So…” She glances down, works out what the deposit on the cup is probably going to be – her lips move while she does that – and starts walking more slowly now. Her eyes still scan the crowd, but it looks more automatic. “Into a position where I could guess people knew a thing I had sworn to keep secret, but could not be sure, came a Humakti to deliver a message. That hurt, to be honest, because it felt almost like I was being invited to join in. Maybe I was, but I am not that sort of person.”
Varanis looks slightly puzzled. “Invited to join in what?”
“The happy acceptance that we all knew what was going on and would pretend. ‘Grandmother insists that to make recompense, these people join you.’ When there was no recompense to make, and everybody knew it.” Berra’s hand shakes, and she covers it with a gulp of beer she ends up spluttering around.
Varanis’ expression becomes somewhat wry. “You haven’t had many dealings with Esrolian Grandmothers, have you? The only no they hear comes from their own lips.” She pauses. “I can see why you would have been unhappy about the situation.”
“Mm. I know the type. I met one – he’s called Eril – up in Boldhome. In fact, he’s the Head of my Temple. He’s also got an annoying habit of suggesting I should be grateful for things, instead of just telling me to do them. But Eril’s also one of the greatest warriors I’ve known, and he put together a Regiment from exile. So I know what your Grandmother can do, I think. But I don’t have to like it, and I hate having to pretend.”
It seems that Berra is fond enough of Eril to bring back at least a ghost of a smile, or a touch of pride. Then, perhaps because it’s the truth, she adds, “Other people helped with the Regiment – but the Wyter is his.”
Varanis stares into her beer for a while again. She still hasn’t taken a drink. “I still don’t know what my place is within your company. It seems to me that you aren’t in need of a leader like me anyway and you have plenty of other skills between you.” There’s an odd twist to her expression as she says, ‘like me’.
“We … well, you say that. We don’t have a leader. It’s been a bit strange, but we’ve always been a small enough group not to. We were thrown together, by accident, and we’ve stayed together largely because we know the same things. But remember I said you had a choice you had to make? I think maybe I should expand that, at some time. But… Rajar and I met when we both accidentally walked into Whitewall and didn’t know the top had undead things on it. That’s how good our planning is.”
Varanis doesn’t quite seem to have followed Berra’s words. She’s still staring into the cup and tension is now written in every line of her body.
Berra looks at Varanis, and taps her thumb against her cup, thinking. “Right. Do you want to be a warrior, or do you want to be a leader? The first thing you need to settle in yourself is what YOU want to be. Then that part of you isn’t fighting itself. Then you can do what other people want, if you decide you should.”
Varanis takes a deep, shuddering breath. She seems to come to a decision. She mutters something that sounds like “fuck it” and takes a huge swallow of the beer. “I need to tell you something, so you know what kind of person you’ve been saddled with.” She takes another drink and without looking at Berra, she launches into her story.
Story: [[[varanis-youth:0300-missing-dragonrise|Missing Dragonrise, or why Varanis is a reluctant leader. (Warning, spoilers for session 23 and personal secrets)]]]
The beer is entirely gone by the time Varanis is done; misery and shame are clear in her expression and posture. “You know, this is the first time I’ve drunk beer since that night.”
Berra just watches for a bit, and thinks. “Well.” She tilts her head to one side. “Now is when you find out if you’ve really learned your lesson, then. I… I can’t say anything that lets you know it will be alright, but you blame yourself, so I don’t have to blame you.” She looks away, and flicks up another of the odd little fruit into the air, catching it with a swipe of the hand and squeezing it to pulp. “I know a lot of people don’t like me, because even when they think they are safe, I will be telling them they should be on guard. My friends here … I feel they humour me. But it’s my job to be that, as well as yours. So… you want to do it again, and do it right, or you want to avoid it?” Now she looks back at Varanis. There’s no mercy in her eyes, but there is no derision or pity. It’s just a stare.
“I don’t know,” Varanis admits raggedly. “There has never really been a choice for me. The only choices I’ve ever been permitted to make in my life revolved around what colour of dress to wear or whether to pray now or later. Even the weapons I train with were chosen for me.” She draws a shuddering breath and tries to focus. “I want to do right by my Clan. I want to restore my Honour. And I want to give myself to Vinga. I feel like somehow these things are in conflict. I am not sure that I can be what Grandmother expects me to be.”
Varanis tries to meet Berra’s stare, but can’t hold it.
“Hmmm. So. I’m hearing Orlanth, right now, complaining that someone is trying to make him do something.” She glances upwards, and blinks as she keeps the glance. “How did that go for Yelm?”
It seems Berra cannot out-stare the sun, and she looks down again, wriggling her nose and squinting away the after-images.
Varanis manages a reluctant smile. “Grandmother is not Yelm. She is more like Ernalda and tell me, does Orlanth not bend to Ernalda when She demands it?”
“Sometimes?” Berra suggests lightly. “But doesn’t Ernalda also bend to her husband? And I bet you she doesn’t get to tell him who his war-mates should be. There’s a famous story about that, in fact. One of the big ones. Orlanth makes the war tribe – Ernalda helps him. Not the other way around.”
Varanis’ smile is genuine now. She laughs, “perhaps comparing me to Orlanth and my Grandmother to Ernalda doesn’t quite work? I can’t really kiss Grandmother into submission, nor she me.” She thinks for a moment, then says earnestly, “I love and respect Grandmother Saiciae. Failing her is incomprehensible to me.” It’s hard to be certain, but the sudden mood shift and a barely discernible change in movement suggests that Varanis might not be entirely sober anymore.
“Mhm. D’Val, for me, I think. But no. Humakt, really. But answering to the gods is for when we die. Answering to the day, right now, is today’s business.” Berra can hold her beer, and she does – in one hand, not drinking much. “But you need to decide how fast you want to become a leader again – and then do it a little faster than that, so you are not comfortable.”
“Well I’m definitely not comfortable already.” Varanis laughs a little. “Perhaps this is something I need discuss with Vinga.” “Do you have what you need from the market?” She asks, eyeballing the fruit that Berra has purchased so far, some of which now seems to be mashed.
“I think so. I might have bought too much, but that’s fine. Breakfast happened when it was dark. I’d prefer not to go back to the house, though. People are pretending there. I’ll probably go over to the Battalion for an hour or two.”
“I’ll walk with you, if you’ll permit me and don’t mind stopping briefly at the House. I need to pick something up, but then I’d like to go to the Temple.” Varnis sighs. “The walk will clear my head and I don’t like putting things off.”
Most of the fruit that Berra has would probably survive a long journey. She was particular about that. Some is squashed in her hand, and some is definitely being prodded to find out if it is breakfast-worthy, but at least some should make it, wrapped in wool and hides, at the top of a pannier. “Of course I don’t mind. I’ll show you a route that I am far too sensible to take now, if we can go by Fate-week Park.”
Varanis grins at her. “I’d like that.”