Grave-digging Part 3

1629, Sea Season, Disorder Week, Godday


In the wilds of Culbrea territory, there was a Telmori den. Varanis digs the grave with determination while Irillo and some of the healers swap stories. Part 3 of 8, following on from Grave-digging Part 2, Session Ill Wind.


“Wanna tell stories to keep us going?” Berra looks thoughtfully out into the distance, like the muse might live there.

Irillo answers, “Well, I can. But I don’t think you’d be interested in many of mine.”

“Give us a short one and we can be polite?” Berra suggests.

There’s a snort. “I could tell you a bit about Glamour?”

Berra considers. “Sure.” She glances around, and gets a nod from the surgeon, who is doing the very important job of tasting the food he has cooked.

“I mean, it’s not as big as the City, but it’s bigger than anywhere here. It’s very impressive though. Lots of marble. And the crater, and the sense of the Moon hovering over you.” He pauses, “Not telling that well, am I?”

“That’s not too good, no. You think about it…” Berra nods to the surgeon, who smiles and sits up. “It’s a short one,” he says, “Told to me by a Praxian who had a broken jaw and later paid for his healing with this wisdom.” The man glances around, checks nobody else is going to talk yet, and goes on. “Waha came across a knotted rope in the desert. He had heard that the Air Tribe left their power in such knots… He thought back to how recently he had heard it, and the very trustworthy man who had told him, and he nodded and walked away.”

That seems to be it, and with the smile of someone who likes that story, the man gets back to testing his own cooking.

Berra suggests to Irillo, “Start with approaching the city. What were you thinking? What did you see? How high’re the walls and what were the banners?” However, she turns away from him and gives him a bit of time to come up with his answer. “If we’re doing short stories, then I have a short one. It’s from the Lesser Darkness, when Humakt was out looking for Death. He was following the footsteps of Eurmal who was giving it to others, and he came across Aldrya, who had swallowed Eurmal’s gift. She was dying of it, and so Humakt took his blade and cut it from her, but the only cut he could make was the shape of a cross, so she ended up marked with Death, but not bound to it. There’s a touch of it in her and that’s where the poisons of plants come from.”

That seems to interest one of the White Ladies, as well as the surgeon. The grave-diggers just get on with things.

Irillo ponders, then says thoughtfully, “On either side the road there lie, vast fields of maize corn and of rye, that clothe the hills and meet the sky. And through those fields, the road runs by, to moon en-shadowed Glamour town.” He makes a face. “Sorry. My best rendition of a travellers lay. But the fields are vast, and if not green and succulent like at home, golden with the wealth of the empire, tinged red by the overhanging moon, or the blood of war.”

Berra nods to that, not even wincing at the poetry. “Is the city as big as the fields? Same word?” It’s definitely a leading question, but while she seems to expect an answer, the surgeon points to one of the white-clad women, who is looking like she will burst if she does not get to talk. Berra looks at her, expectantly.

“It was in the time before Darkness that the greatest of healing happened,” the healer says, “For it was the first healing. Chalana Arroy walked on the Spike and she saw that behind her, she had left the grass bent, and she was not sure what to do, until it stood up by itself because all things did in that time. But as she walked on she saw drops of golden red on the ground, and saw Shargash puzzled by a wound, which was the first one ever inflicted. He had been playing with his weapons and had stabbed himself. To make it easier for it to close and be undone, Chalana Arroy sang the song that brings blood back to the body, and the song that closes the skin over it, and the song that eases pain, which were songs she had heard the grass singing. Some of us wear green sashes for the grass, after that, the humble thing that taught us.”

Irillo pauses, for the other story, then continues, “It’s not like the hill cities here. It’s in a plain, surrounded by hills, and of course on the edge of a massive crater. The walls are bright white marble, almost as splendid as those of Nochet. Towers stand less than a bowshot apart. The crenellations are in half moon shapes, so the light and shadow marks the Red Goddesses mark as a perimeter around the city. There are guards taking a tax at the gate. And then the city is itself further divided by walls. I was not permitted too far inside. The market is wide, but less well appointed than that in Nochet.”

Berra thinks that over. The woman who last spoke says, “There aren’t really enough of us to tell the story of the parentage of Arroin, but you should ask Derri about it.” She nods to the surgeon. “I’ve never been out of Sartar. Do they have a big hospital at Glamour?” The question is addressed to Irillo, hopefully.

His answer is noncommittal, “I believe so. I saw slightly oddly dressed White Ladies, but thankfully neither I nor my companion needed their services, so I can speak only of gossip”

“I have one,” says the peaceful grave-digger, stepping back and straightening his back. “About Barntar meeting Eurmal.”

He does not bother waiting for a nod from Berra, or anyone else. He just launches into it. “Ploughing used to be done with hand tools, but Barntar’s hoe was the best of all. Big, heavy, well-rounded, and he loved to handle it. So one day, or one night rather, Eurmal decided to steal it. He picked it up and carried it away but soon he was exhausted and started to drag it, and in the morning Barntar saw a gash all the way across his field, and at one end of it, Eurmal sleeping. The hoe was bent out if shape from all the dragging. They had words, and Barntar tied Eurmal to the hoe to drag it back, to teach him who was strongest. Eurmal guided himself by the cut in the ground he had already made, and when he left he didn’t look back. Barntar did, though, and that’s why he went to see Hippoi the next day, and that’s why sometimes a plough just doesn’t do what you want, and just drifts.” His grumpy companion nods, understanding that.

Berra grins, listening and not having to work. “Irillo, there’s lots of markets in Notchit. Did you go to more’n one in Glamour?”

“Of course. I wanted to see how much things were going for!”

“Oh, yeah, right.” Berra grins. “I guess all of that got reported. Got any more stories? Seems we’re doing short ones.”

“Reported? Sorry?”

“Anything that people need to know about it, they should already know.” Berra gives Irillo an uncertain smile. “Right?”

“Which people?”

Berra shrugs. “Pretty sure that Lord D’Val would have reported it. Otherwise I’d ask questions.” She sighs, and comes to join him on his rock. “It’s not for me to do.”

“Oh… cult people? No. I’ll trade the information if it comes up. I’ve written to Grandmother, and Tennebris had a chat over wine”

Berra looks like that might have been related to what she was saying. “Lemme think. Do I know any stories about Issaries?” She fails to see the amused look of one of the women in white.

While the story telling is going on around her, Varanis has been digging with a single-minded focus.1Insight: Her tension has been rising and she’s taking it all out on the dirt.

“None I can think of.” Berra looks over at Varanis. “You wanna rest, Orlanth? You’re going fast again.”

Varanis ignores her and keeps digging.

Berra sighs. “So maybe a bit later, then.”

“Go on, tell the one about Arroin,” the surgeon says to the White Ladies. “It’ll fill the time while I dish up.” He is ready to ladle out food. He travels in some style, and has a bronze pot and ladle with wooden handles. “Master Irillo, warrior Berra, fetch bowls if you have them.”

“I can’t eat veger’ables and I don’t eat eggs or bird-meat,” Berra says. “I brought my own, and ate back in camp. The other camp.”2Back at the other camp, Berra ate hard-tack and did not seem to notice the lack of flavour. She does that sometimes.

The white ladies rush for bowls. The lay members take a little longer. One is still digging, and the other needs to scrub his hands, wetting them and wiping them on a coarse bit of cloth and then submitting to have a White Lady cast magic to finish the cleaning process. By that time the other has got to a point where he can consider he is finished. “Arroin,” prompts the surgeon, looking at the woman he has volunteered.

Varanis keeps digging.

  • 1
    Insight: Her tension has been rising and she’s taking it all out on the dirt.
  • 2
    Back at the other camp, Berra ate hard-tack and did not seem to notice the lack of flavour. She does that sometimes.