Green Shoots

1629, Sea Season, Death Week, Waterday


Berra been sought out by two young Humakti who want to join her. She has let them bodygyard her around town and is done with that. Session SA4.08.


They glance at each other and then at her, confused. “But, we’re not back at the Temple,” Nayale says.
“Did we not do it right?” her brother asks at the same time.

“Oh, it’s fine, but I don’t like being looked after,” Berra says. “And I want to talk. For how young you are, you’re pretty good. I can’t test more until the hammer hits the metal – until it’s for real. I don’t need bodyguards – Humakti gotta stand alone.”

They nod. “That makes sense, I guess. But… if we’re not gonna be yer guards, what will we be?” Harmakt asks.

“Some people out talking with me?” Berra shrugs. “Tell me about you now.” She falls into her slow infantry stroll, the one that eats up the miles despite spending little effort. “You’re Narri, so I guess you know horses. That’s about all I got.”

“Yeah. Our da’s Narri and when we was…”
“Our father was Narri, but our mothers…”

They start at the same time, then look at each other. Harmakt shrugs and waves at his sister.

She starts again. “Our father is… was… of the Narri clan. Our mothers’ people are different, but when we were nearing the age of our initiations, Derost, our father’s father had us brought to the clan.”

Berra nods her head, taking it in. “Uhuh.” She indicates with a gesture which way she is going, which in this case is down towards the bottom of Boldhome.

“Da was… popular with the ladies and well… let’s jus’ say Ernalda loved him too. Plus, he travelled a lot and there’s a lot of us,” Harmakt adds.

Nayale rolls her eyes. “What he’s trying to say is that our da has left children across Sartar, Prax, and even Esrolia. For reasons of his own, our grandfather decided we needed gathering in one place. There’s about twenty of us, ranging in age from 13 to 26 and probably more. We were among the first brought back and our da started our training pretty quick.”

“S’always easy to spot our siblings,” Harmakt adds. “We always look like da.”

Berra slow-nods her head. “Your grandfather brought you together, but your father trained you? But he wasn’t much married? So how … how’re you Narri?” That seems to puzzle her.

Nayale shrugs. “Grandfather had us adopted into the clan. Claimed. Especially anyone he had collected when they were still little. It used to be a big family, but well… things happened. Grandfather was always mad that our da wouldn’t marry, but also kind of proud that he was rebuilding the family, so to speak.”

Harmakt nudges his sister. “So to speak?” he mimics. “Always so fancy. She was born in Clearwine. Crafter family who thinks they’ll get business from the nobs if they sound like ‘em. Her ma’ was a Zethnoring. My ma was of the Hillhaven Clan. Old Derost paid them good money for me.”

Berra nods. “Gotcha.” Curiosity satisfied, she changes the subject. “What brought you to Humakt?”

“Humakt did. At our Initiation. We dreamt of him and the old man decided it was acceptable. We had already been training for sometime. Da is,” Nayale starts.

“Was,” her brother cuts in.

She winces. “…was, a guard. Sometimes caravans for rich merchants, sometimes a bodyguard for someone who needed it. He was very good. Orlanthi, but it was like the sword was an extension of him. We started training to be like him and Humakt called.”

Berra seems genuinely impressed. “I din’t know until it mattered,” she says. “The Lunar army pitched up at the right time, maybe? I walked to the Temple about the first day of the Siege.” For context she remembers to add, “Of Nochet.”

“What was the siege like?” Nayale asks. Her brother gives Berra a hopeful look. Apparently, now is story-time.

Berra considers this, as she angles across a plaza. “It had some boring bits, and some interesting bits. I didn’t get on so well with people then, so they put me in a unit called… well, out of Esrolian it translates as the Roof Runners, but a lot of them called us the Roof Rats. Or the Rubble Rats, sometimes. It was our job to get to wherever needed us, really quickly. Some of the time we did run across the roofs. Sometimes it was just about knowing the streets.”

“I heard Vareena runs around on roofs. That where you met?” Harmakt asks, glancing up at the buildings along the street.

“Yeah, no. She got assigned to me. It’s weird. You should ask her some time – her story, not mine.” Berra raises a hand to a food seller. “You got… yeah, ta.” She joins the queue. This, despite there having been a feast less than an hour ago.

Harmakt’s stomach growls and just like every other time they talk, Nayale’s rumbles at the same time.

“How are you still hungry? Are you still hungry? Why didn’t you eat before?” Berra looks surprised. Her expression matches her hair, which also manages to look surprised.

They look at each other and flush. “We ate,” Nayale says. “We don’t need anything.”
Harmakt opens his mouth to argue, catches his sister’s glance, and just shrugs.

“Nah. I’m asking. I din’t eat much because it was chicken and I don’t eat the meat of birds, so I just drank hot water for that bit, and that was most of it. Did you two eat properly?” Eyes narrowed, Berra is big-sistering.

“We did. It’s just. You know,” Nayale looks a little embarrassed. “….” For once, she seems at a loss for words.

Harmakt does not suffer the same reluctance. “Food was always hard ta come by. So, when it’s there, I’m hungry.”

“Yeah. I was in the… I was in Esrolia, but it’s still a thing you should think about. Humakti need not to be pulled by the world, but soldiers should eat. Are you Humakti or soldiers?” Berra looks curious.

“Humakti,” they chorus.

“Right. You’ve eaten. You were with your Regiment and you were part of the community. Let that tide you over. Do you carry food with you?” Berra is getting odd looks from the rest of the queue.

“When the Regiment provides rations to carry,” Nayale says. “What we need, they provide.”

“What Nayale’s not sayin’, Lady, is that if it doesn’t come from the Regiment, we can’t afford it.” The look he gives Nayale is unapologetic. “Not yet, anyway.”

Berra gives a slow nod to that. “Yeah. I was going to give you money to get food in Wilmskirk.” She digs into one of the pouches she carries. “You can get something to carry. Exchange it out when you next have money, so you got a meal to carry. Then the rest you can spend in Wilmskirk.” She hands over a Lunar, enough for two people if they are careful, and have a place to stay. She offers it to Harmakt, the closer of the two.

He accepts the coin, then passes it to Nayale who stows it away in a flat pouch worn around her neck and under her cuirass. They offer their gratitude.

“That’s for food, this is for need.” Berra holds out another directly to Nayale. “I want this one back unless something goes wrong and you need it.” Then she turns to the food vendor. “Zeela. The usual please. Extra pickles.” She gets a wooden bowl with her mark already on it, filled with beans and meat. She already has her spoon. “Not many places around here don’t use any vegetables,” she complains, but not to the vendor. He just gets given a clack.

The young woman adds the second coin to the first, solemnly.

“Right. I got more business further down town,” Berra says. “We’ll walk there, and if you got more questions, ask ’em.”

“Is Vareena going to be Queen somewhere? Will you start a Regiment for her?” Harmakt asks.

His sister rolls her eyes. “How could she do that and be Eril’s Chief Priest?”

“Uh… no, and no, and if I was Chief Priest I would not be the best choice. Varanis is loyal to Sartar and serving Kallyr is her pride. Vinga and honour. I’m terrible at the sorts of things you have to do when you run a Redge, and I’m happy as Wyter Priest, and Lord Eril and I get on best when we do what we’re good at.” Berra’s voice is gentle, with a touch of warning in it.

“My brother is still learning to guard his tongue,” Nayale says. “He tends to say the first thing that crosses his mind when given the chance.”

She receives a glare, but he’s got no grounds for argument and decides to show he can be silent by doing so now.

“Chief Priest, though?” Berra pocks a brow at Nayale. “Zzat you or him?”

Nayale considers, then says, “Us, I suppose. We were discussing it and I don’t remember which of us it started with.”

Berra nods. “I ain’t gonna be. Lord Heenith’s that good, and Lady Graria, and that’s about it. And ten years from now I wanna be running his Hero Cult an’ nothing more.” She sighs, big. “I’ve done a lot. It’s enough.”

“But yer not that old!” Harmakt objects.

Nayale studies Berra, a look of concern in her dark eyes.

Berra seems fine. Physically, she is in good shape, and she does not seem injured. “I did what I did too soon. I gotta make good now. The Wyter.”

“Given the stories we heard, it seems like there was no choice. The Hero was revealed,” Nayale says with a shrug so like her brother’s. “People are talking and others will come.”

Harmakt grins. “We ain’t the first, but we also won’t be last.”

“Yeah. But … well, it takes a bit outta ya.” Maybe it is Harmakt’s company, but Berra’s accent is creeping towards rural Sartar. “There was a vampire, trying to get at him. Serala – the Cold Lance – stopped its power. Then some people who were not me killed it.”

“I heard that a whole unit of Ducks was wiped out then…” Harmakt says, pitching his voice low. “An’ they was all Humakti.”

“Er… Right. No. How back… how far back do you want me to start with this?” Berra pauses. “I mean, not too far. Most people are really boring when they’re toddlers.”

They look ready to listen to anything she’ll share.

“Right. We had done this once before. That’s a bit complicated. But we started out having to, suddenly. So we went towards Duck Point, looking for allies. When Indrodar made his mistake, he made good. I wanted to make good. And so, the Ducks. On the way there, we were attacked and I had to call on Humakt. Lord Eril helped me answer – I couldn’t’ve done it if I hadn’t been being him.”

They stare wide-eyed.

“Seriously, a lot of other people helped me with this.” Berra frowns. “I ended up in the Temple of Humakt at Duck Point, and he made me fight Varanis to show what really mattered to me. Which was a good lesson, but I really do not like that High Sword.”

“Didja kick her… what?” Harmakt glares at his sister as she elbows him. “You wanna know too. You know what the rumours said.”

“Nah. If it’d been Third Temple Rules, I would have.” Berra pauses and then smiles widely. “Three times. But I let her get her sword.” There’s a shrug. “Yeah, if it came to it, I’m better than her. Even without magic. But anyone can die, right?”

They nod at that. “Mighta been bad if you killed the Prince’s cousin though,” Harmakt says with the wisdom of youth. “Probably good you let her win.”

“No, I didn’t let her win. I let her pick up her sword. An’ I gave her time. I gave her the chance. I wouldn’t… yeah, no. Not that.” Berra gives Harmakt a glare. “Why’d I do that?”

He flushes. “Well… it’s just… I heard… um. Nevermind.”

“Yeah. No, I wouldn’t do that. But Lord Geoffry did give me two files of durulz warriors. One led by someone I knew, who volunteered, one by a Sword. And they didn’t get wiped out.”

The pair of them nod.

“We went into the Marsh. They’ve got a really good way of working that they call the Floating Fortress. So they kept us safe, and then we got to the middle of the island – the place where we had to be, and we met wraiths.” Berra grimaces.

“An’ you killed them,” Harmakt says. “No… you said the Grazer did.”

“No, I nearly got wiped out. They came for me – they were the High Sword’s sins.” Berra nearly says more, and then stops herself.

It’s easy to see how the half-siblings could be mistaken for twins when they turn identical pairs of horrified brown eyes in Berra’s direction.

“Nobody’s perfect. He’s a great man, but that doesn’t mean he’s a good one – he knows I judge him, though. And I’d leave if he messed up again.” It looks like Berra could talk a lot if not stopped.1Critical on Truth…

It doesn’t look like it should be possible, but if anything, their eyes widen in shocked fascination. “But… you helped make him… and you’d just leave????” Nayale whispers.

“Because why should I follow what ain’t right? You gotta make that decision all the time. If you found out I was not what you thought – which in some ways I won’t be – then what do you do?” Berra waits on the answer while finishing her food.

The pair consider the question. The way they look at each other creates an eerie sense that there’s a whole conversation happening. Finally, Nayale says, “We tell you what we think and then we see how you react.”

“Uhuh. Good. But always be prepared to ask yourself that question. Anyhow, the wraiths would’ve killed me. I couldn’t lift a sword when they were done, but Serala was there, and Varanis was there.” Berra shrugs. “Maybe without them there, something different had happened? Would’ve happened. But sagas don’t always tell the truth. I did a lot, though. And not just then. A lot of things don’t get sung about, though.”

“When’d you hold yer first sword?” Harmakt asks.

Berra thinks. “I was probably thirteen. Before that, spears. And practice swords. I was right out in a tiny village up close to Heortland, but in Esrolia. Back end of nowhere.”

“I hear you’re a force to be reckoned with when you’re holding those,” Nayale says, nodding at the swords.

“With Humakt’s help.” Berra shrugs. “But I’m pretty good even before the magic. Starting to be very good.” She says it thoughtfully rather than boastfully. “The god told me not to bear a shield. When he says that kind of thing you get good or you die. That’s… well, it’s been hard but I’m not dead yet.”

“He’s not really… you know… not since our initiation. I thought maybe there’d be more guidance,” Nayale admits. “Does he…?”

It’s Harmakt’s turn to cut his sister off with an elbow. “Not for us. Plus, yer impatient. He’ll talk or not. He’s a god. We’re just… us.”

He turns to Berra. “But, I wanna learn from you. We fight good together, but need to be better. And better on our own too.”

“He’s a politician, a general, and a leader in prayer. He’s got to be distant, and he will be, but he’ll expect you to be pushing yourself hard. But d’you have a Sword assigned yet?”

They shake their heads.

“We got to Boldhome a couple of days after Sacred Time,” Nayale admits.

“Right. Yeah, you’re still being thought about. I’ll have to tell people I’m taking you to Nochet, but on the way I’ll see who I think you’ll fit with. I’m not a Sword, though – I don’t lead people in battle like they do.” Berra might be aware she is letting them down, or at least not being exactly what they thought.

“But… yer gonna be,” Harmakt says.
“And we can be your first,” Nayale adds, her eyes shining. “We’ll train so hard. You’ll see. We won’t let you down!”

Berra looks away. “I dunno. I… I’ll be a Wyter Priest. There’ll be a Hero Cult. But it’s not the same.” The accent is Esrolian now. Half rural, half Nochet street. “And they’re better than me at this.” For a moment longer she does not meet their eyes, but tells the air, “Anything could happen.”

The siblings deflate a little, then Harmakt says, “Just… maybe give us a chance, yeah?”

“We’ll be worthy of you, I promise. And of the Hero. There aren’t any Swords in his cult yet, are there?” She sounds so reasonable and so sincere at the same time. “Maybe that’s because you’re meant to be the first Sword of Eril. I’ve heard that one of your blades is his… it’s a sign.”

Berra tells Harmakt, “Me giving you a chance is in part up to the Temple. You’re starting off well, but other people have got to decide what’s best for you, not just me. An’ how many other people are coming to Nochet? But I’m not a sword, and I know where I fall short. I can’t teach you all the right things an’ I know that.”

He nods reluctantly.

Berra then turns to Nayale. “I’d expect you to be worthy of me, and the Temple, and the Hero, no matter what. If you join his cult, you might end up under me, but you need to take it slowly, because I might be the wrong teacher for you. But you’ll learn from us all anyhow. You’ve been here two weeks, right? The Temple hasn’t got your measure yet. I’ll be one of the people to tell ’em.”

The young woman nods. “As you command, Lady.”

“Meanwhile, you’ve got your assigned time at the Temple. You’re staying here the rest of the time too, right?” Berra gets into motion again, choosing a route that takes them down towards the bottom end of town.

“We’ve nowhere else now,” Nayale admits. “We cut our ties with home.”

Berra’s brows rise, but then she nods. “Then get used to boredom as well as excitement. Being a guard for the Temple on a cold night is just as important as what sword you carry. Learning not to yearn’s hard, but you want to be at your best all the time, and that means learning to get along and learning to wait, as if they’re both the same.” She pauses only a moment. “Believe me, I could be a lot better at that.”

They nod in unison. “We’ve done a lot of guard duty already. It’s about as wet and cold as it was in the village,” Nayale says. Her brother nods. “We c’n guard through the night when needed.”

“Uhuh. We’re the ones that have to do it without complaining. Not just to be an example, but because… well, if Humakt would, we would. Now, I actually have got a lot more questions, but they’re not coming out right. What is it you want out of life?”

They look at each other and then at Berra, confusion writ on their faces. “To serve Humakt.”

That just gets a nod. “Good. That’s a good start. We’ll work on more. On what that means.” Berra puts in the plural as if she intends to do at least some of it. Then she kneels down by a mountain stream to wash the wooden bowl she has.

“May I return that for you, Lady?” Nayale offers.

“Yeah, I’ll probably get you to in a bit, but I’m further off into town.” Berra then stops to stare at her bowl thoughtfully, with it still under the water. Something has just occurred to her.

They wait patiently, demonstrating that they are capable of silence from time to time.

After a while, Berra cleans her spoon as well. She has stopped at a place where the sediment is sandy, so she is cleaning her gear rather than rubbing mud on it. Then she stands. “There’s probably about a dozen people in the Temple a lot better than I am with a sword,” she says thoughtfully. “Every single one of them is better at the things you need. Then there’s maybe twice that who are about how good I am. Most of those? Most of those are more sensible than I am, and frankly likely to be longer-lived. I just make my mistakes really quickly, so by the time most people look, I’ve done at least something that looks good. I ain’t talking about swords any more there.”

Nayale and Harmakt look at each other and then at Berra. Again, they seem to communicate silently before coming to some kind of agreement.

“We’ll follow orders and train as best we can. If it can’t be you, so be it. But maybe we’ll be able to prove our worth to you over time, Lady Berra. My mother would have said something similar to you – learn from all the teachers and experiences to create something new.” She chews her lip, then adds, “We appreciate whatever you can offer us. Thank you.”

“S’not about worth,” Berra says. “Your mother’s right. Anyhow, less’ be quiet for a bit. Gotta think.” She keeps carrying her bowl, lightly held in her left hand so her right is free.

  • 1
    Critical on Truth…