1628, Earth Season
On the way back from Jonstown to Boldhome. Session SA3.07.
Maalira, with no bison, finally caught up to the group in Jonstown. Assured that her bison is coming back too, at least she will not have to mourn poor lost Lofty. There is also, as a sensible option, a cart to be hired. She can sit down and be driven along, which is better than a walk. Berra, on her golden-eyed horse, has been pacing along all morning, and the Humakti asks, “Wanna walk for a bit?”
“Great idea, my legs are getting stiff,” Maalira says, jumping up and swinging herself down off the cart.
Berra dismounts smoothly, and keeps hold of her reins, but steers her horse to the edge of the road where it takes a moment to put its head down and scrunch. “We were gonna walk,” she tells it.
Maalira looks slightly askance at the horse. “Does that work?”
“What? Talking? No. But I think my voice is good. Your mount should hear you speak as well as shout, right?”
“Yes, of course,” Maalira says. “I say all sorts of nonsense to Lofty.”
“I’m … alright, you can speak nonsense. But you do it really well.” Berra walks on a pace and whistles to the horse, which obediently falls in. That looked like an order, not like it finishing its snack.
Maalira is grinning. “Got to be good at something,” she says.
“So, you know I asked you to do me that big favour?” Berra drops in next.
“Yes, I remember.”
“I know you know a bit, but you don’t know much, and I should tell you about the thing, right?” Berra puts the reins over her horse’s neck, and whistles again as she walks. It follows.
“Yes, please. I only know a few bits and they’re more confusing than helpful,” Maalira says. It’s an observation rather than a complaint.
“Mhm. Right. So do you want to know the history of it, or what I’m trying to do now? Which end should I start?” Berra rests her hands on her sword hilts briefly.
“The history, please.” Maalira absent-mindedly grabs a piece of foliage from the side of the road and twirls it in her fingers.
“Alright. Long ago, before we were born, my High Sword was in what’s called the … no, even before that. He was in the Cinder Fox clan, and he was raiding the Firebulls – clan next door, different Tribe. And they ambushed him.” Berra also picks at something to twine around, in this case grass.
Most of the road is cut back, more or less recently, to a distance that those who are not bison riders would call a bowshot. Here and there are bushes, or trees, usually fruit-bearing.
“Cinder Fox clan, got it,” Maalira says encouragingly.
“You’re doing well,” Berra half-jokes. “The ambush was a Heroquest that they trapped him in. He lost a lot of people, and it was pretty bad. Soon after that, he went to Boldhome and pretty much stopped going home.”
“Why did he stop going home?”
“I’m not sure. Humakt’s temple, maybe, or not wanting to? That’s the sort of thing I need to find out.” Berra is weaving grass, badly. Bits keeps springing out of whatever she is trying to start. “But the important things he left were, I suppose, his brother, his friend…?… Thenaya…. And the ambush site. It got changed permanently – they hit him with it pretty hard, and that was part of the result.”
“Changed how?” Maalira is plaiting grass strands, rather more successfully.
“It became a marsh. A bit of the Upland Marsh. Full of undead.” Berra looks West. “The real thing’s a long way over there, next to Duck Point and the Lismelder. There was a tiny bit of it by their Temple.” The bit which a White Lady needed an escort through, despite the Humakti being wounded and weak.
“Right, I understand. Not very nice.”
“No. So, sing the saga of a few years later, and Lord Eril joined the Household of Death. The omens were terrible for Sartar, and King Salinarg’s oldest child formed a regiment of Humakti to see off the Lunar Empire. The regiment swore to defend Sartar to their death.” Berra picks up new bits of grass to try again.
“Did they?” Maalira prompts.
“Yeah. Harsaltar, the prince, wounded the Red Emperor. He was ten. There’s a lot of power in big oaths. But just before that, Lord Eril made a plan. He’d have died with them – he didn’t break his oath.” Berra takes a moment to understand that Maalira obviously gets that. There is a concerned, determined expression, and some staring.
“But he didn’t die with them, because of the plan?”
“Yeah. He figured that if they all died, the Lunars would get some pretty impressive treasures. He worked out a plan to hide them, and all it was going to take would be one Sword of Humakt.” Berra snort-laughs. “And they didn’t have one, so they used him instead.”
“That must have been a shock.”
Berra looks troubled. A tiny frown suits her. “I really cannot guess. But the first part of the plan was to be cut from his Regiment. I wonder a bit if they let him do it as a punishment. He was cast out, with this job to do.”
Maalira nods understanding.
“So he went home finally. He took the relics of the Temple and he went back into the Marsh. He did a different Heroquest there, which let him hide them.” Berra loses interest in the grass. “Maalira, he stopped being a good man then.”
Maalira looks troubled. “In what way?”
“He… first of all, when he led people into the Marsh he knew they were going to die. He still cared, but he… that isn’t the bad bit. He would have died too and they were warriors and some come alive from there. But he had a way of keeping spirits there. He thought he would be back to free them.” Berra does not quite say it.
“He left people trapped there as spirits? People who trusted him?”
Berra’s jaw tightens. She nods once, and no more.
“That’s not good.”
“I told him that. When we met on the road, on the way to Jonstown – he wants me to find his Wyter, and this Heroquest, being him, is the way. But I’m not going to do that and I’ve told him to find a… I was telling the story. I should keep on.” Berra goes from thoughtful to determined.
“Keep going, then,” Maalira says gently.
It takes Berra a moment, as for a few long heartbeats the thoughtfulness is winning out on her features, and then there is anger, briefly, and then she is just calm. “He was wounded. His brother had helped him, when they came to the Tula. When he got there. Apparently he’d stopped on the way and bought some of the warriors, and for some reason he also had a kid with him, because I think he’d rescued someone? But Lord Silor helped him get the relics past his village, I’m pretty sure, and maybe his… not lover but wanted to be? Thenaya, anyhow. She might have. That bit of the story I don’t know so well. I’ve talked a bit to Lord Silor, but not enough. And he managed to get back to his village, and Thenaya looked after him. That’s going to be the bit that you have to do. I mean, looking after me should be easy, right?”
“It usually is, yes.” Maalira smiles. “When you’re cooperating, anyway.”
“I’ll probably be feverish, but not drunk. I can’t promise… um, they might have been lovers. And nobody’s telling. I don’t know if the High Sword even remembers.” Berra sort of winces as she gets to that part.
“Whatever happens, I’ll look after you,” Maalira says. If she is worried, she is not showing it, though her plaited grass finally breaks.
“It… yeah. And then he had to do more, because he’d been given an extra task by the Palace. He had a lot of money with him. Enough to start a revolution. A big lump of the treasury, I think.”
“What did he do next?”
“Well, he’s pretty smart and he had a lot of pieces moving on the board. But he knew he’d be questioned. He got his brother to tell the Lunars where he was, and he got some Eurmali to start up a Heroquest. Another one. Ikadz and Humakt, in this case.” Ikadz is a familiar word even to Maalira. The torturer.
Maalira grimaced. “That sounds like a dangerous combination.”
“Yeah. The Lunars were to make sure he survived.” Berra looks down, looks back up again. “He was aiming to be able to remember some things, but Ikadz cuts out what’s important. So he became innocent of all the Lunars would think he did – killing them, taking what they wanted. But he lost too much, and that was that. He survived. And he stopped being able to remember.”
“Has he ever been able to remember?” Maalira asks.
“Well, we discovered this had happened when Irillo got kind of grabbed by it. He ended up being Eril in a Heroquest and that’s how I eventually worked out Lord Eril had to be a Hero. So he’s lived it, but that bit got cut away from him again. He knows Chief Silor but he can barely remember Thenaya. He knows bits?”
“Is that going to happen to you if you do this Heroquest?” Maalira asks, sounding troubled.
“Maybe?” Berra looks wry. “But that’s likely a year away or more. I just need to – want to – have the information in case Lord Silor dies, or Thenaya does.”
Maalira nods. “I don’t like that you are putting yourself at risk like this, but I have to trust that you know what you are doing.”
“Gneh.” Berra makes a hand-wave-maybe gesture. “I’m … I know what should happen, and he’s a worthy Hero, even if I think he’s also an egotistical bigot with no sense of the worth or humanity of others, and a bloated bladder of sarcasm to go with it. That’s just the human part. He’s also a part of a god.”1Failed Loyalty (Eril), criticalled Truth…
“Humans don’t always make very good gods,” Maalira says musingly.
“Thankfully he is not the whole lot.” Berra grins. “Anyhow, the point of all this, and the reason to do it, is to get him a Wyter. The parts of him that got cut out are are something I can call up. I killed them, so it needs to be done by this way, but it can be done.”
“How will I know when you get to the bit where you need me?” Maalira asks.
“You’ll be into the Heroquest. I’m planning to do it in the city, so our house will do as a tula – the place to come back to. Finding out from Thenaya … not what happened, but as much as you can about her and him to be able to look after me and not get hurt yourself, that’s what I’m after. And then I’ll probably arrive wounded. You’ve met Venlar? That big scar on his face was inflicted in the Marsh, to his uncle.” Uncle. With a tiny pause beforehand.
“His uncle?” Maalira dives into the pause.
“I don’t know what happened. Like I said, nobody does. Silor – Lord Silor back then – acknowledged them. But Venlar really looks a lot like Lord Eril.” There’s a shrug. “Hengrast looks just like his father, though, so there was probably magic involved. I mean, someone had just been wounded in a Heroquest and there was a lot of omen stuff in the air. Sartar had been invaded. Lord Eril should by rights have been dead. So…” Berra has a good line in awkward, complicated expressions. She adds a shrug to one. “Yamia looks like Thenaya. She just acts like Yamia. They were all born together.”
Maalira’s eyes go kind of glassy as she tries to follow all of this. “She’s related to Yamia?”
“The story with initiate Eril’s mostly ended now, but Thenaya and Lord Silor were lovers. I mean, I guess if one brother doesn’t turn out right you get another? I don’t know. Thenaya grew up as Lord Eril’s servant. From what Irillo and the Ch… and Lord Silor said, they were really close.”
“Will it matter too much if I am extremely confused?” Maalira asks.
“By that point it’s probably important that one of us isn’t,” Berra says. “But you be the confused one now, and I’ll be the feverish one later. Eril went back past his home, and a year after he left, his brother’s girlfriend had those three children.” A year being, of course, the length of a pregnancy.
“Which three children?” Maalira asks, another look of confusion on her face.
As if this is simple really, Berra replies, “That’s Venlar, Yamia, and Hengrast. They were all touched by the Heroquest.”
“Right, yes, I am following now I think.” Maalira sounds relieved at the straight answer.
“Um, so you know, it’s just possible this could end up with you having a child. But maybe better not to – try not to give in to my blandishments, yeah?” Berra blinks several times after saying that.
Maalira laughs nervously. “If you start blandishing me I won’t be responsible for my actions,” she jokes. “But… having a child wouldn’t be the worst thing. It would be ok.”
Berra relaxes a bit. “Still, I did just only think of it now. Fortunately I’m not intending to be a father.” Her ears go a little pink, but that is all.
Maalira grins at her. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” She pauses. “By ‘bridge’ I mean that possible situation, and by ‘cross’ I mean deal with.”
“Yeah, and… ugh. I really hate the idea of my High Sword being a fertile person. It’s like him telling a lie.” There is more Expression. “Uh, so anyhow. He says I’m not ready for it yet – for binding a Wyter. It’ll probably not happen until I’m a Rune Lord, and there are significant holes in my person to patch up before that happens.”
“Your person is just fine,” says Maalira, impulsively.
“Now you’re blandishing,” Berra smiles.2Rolls ‘Remain Oblivious’. “Anyhow. Moving right away from that, I’ve asked my Lord to send a letter to his brother. To ask Lord Silor to tell me anything I ask about his brother. Two different His Brothers there. The first one was Lord SIlor and the second one is the High Sword.”
“I got it,” Maalira says. “And once you know, you can start the quest?”
“That, and once Lord Eril thinks I’m strong enough. He’d be pretty pissed off if I died, which is both him being pissed off and also as close as he can come to saying please don’t die.” Berra shrugs. “I faced up to Jar-eel on an interpretation of his orders and he just said I’d done adequately. I wonder if he’s geased against saying well done.”
“Or he’s just not very nice,” Maalira murmurs. “I am glad the bear dealt with Jar-Eel. She was terrifying.”
“Yeah. I thought she was going to kill him.” Berra sighs. “He’s mostly not very nice, but he’s a good High Sword. Do you think we’ll stop for lunch soon? I’m hungry. My horse is hungry.”
“I’m definitely hungry,” Maalira says. “Let’s go make lunch happen.”
A bit later, Berra blurts out, “Yamia’s child was born from that Heroquest.” Beat-pause. “He’s cute.”
“He is,” Maalira says with an indulgent smile. “I like kids.”
“Irillo doesn’t get to see him much. He’s got another, but she… she? never really found out. Belongs to the Earth Temple. But anyhow, that’s how Yamia has a kid at all.”
- 1Failed Loyalty (Eril), criticalled Truth…
- 2Rolls ‘Remain Oblivious’.