High-Level Thinking

Berra — Great Strategy 01

????, Sea Season


Sea Season, late on, after seeing Queen Leika in [[[s01:session-30|Session 30]]]


As soon as possible after the the trip to the Palace, before the Feast, Berra taps Varanis on the shoulder. “We should talk about a sort of thing I am bad at.”

Varanis turns at the tap. “Yes?” she says, raising an eyebrow.

“We need to define…” Berra’s lips move as she thinks through the words. “Great Strategy.” She slips into Esrolian for a moment. “That is how to think like a Chief Priest, I think… But I’m a tactician and an initiate so this is not so easy for me.”

Varanis nods. “You are correct, of course. We need an overarching plan.” She thinks a moment and glances around at the people lingering near them. “Now is perhaps not the time though. This conversation might be more suited to some privacy.”

“I need to get ready for the feast, come with me?” Varanis rises from the table at the inn and indicates the stairs.

Berra, who never dresses up for these things, follows.

As they come to the door, Varanis does a quick check to make sure it is still secure, before opening it. Her hand rests casually near her sword though.

Berra mutters a spell, swears, and mutters the same spell again. “Nobody meaning me harm. So probably not you either.”

Within the room, Varanis waves Berra in the direction of a chair and starts to root through her pack. “A grand plan… everything has been happening so fast that I haven’t felt like there has been much time for plans, let alone grand ones.”

“Not quite a grand plan. That comes from this, if we can manage it. Great Strategy… High Strategy. It’s… it’s the concept of what you want. First of all, what can you not do without? Things like serving Vinga. What can you never sell to people? What’s Varanis?”

“That’s simple enough – neither my service to Vinga nor my Honour are for sale.” The answer is swift and sure. No doubts here. She is pulling various tunics and dresses from her pack, shaking them out, and scowling at each in turn.

“Mhm. And what do you want to be, or do? Imagine Varanis twenty years from now.” Berra looks over the clothes without apparent interest, from her chair in a corner out of the way.

Varanis thinks further. “My people too. Those I have promised to care for. As long as I bear responsibility for them, I have to be true to that responsibility… 20 years from now?” She sounds startled. “I’d be… old.”

“Well, yes. You know where you are now. Where, and what, do you want to be? Fix it now, and even if it changes we have a thing to work to.” As for old, Berra says nothing.

Varanis laughs lightly. “When I’m old, I want to be somewhere with a decent bathhouse.” But then she sobers and seems to seriously consider Berra’s words.

Berra lets silence happen.

“I want to be a Daughter of Vinga, as a start,” she says thoughtfully. “That hasn’t changed.”

“Mhm. Daughter of Vinga, protector of your people. Sartar?”

She takes a deep breath again as she considers. “I want to be a good leader to my people, but I can’t yet see who my people are.” After a moment, she nods thoughtfully. “Maybe… I feel like I can do more good here than in Esrolia.”

“You don’t have to see. You can choose. You should be happy with that choice, and communicate it as and when you can.”

“Choose?” Varanis quirks an eyebrow up at that. “That’s an intriguing idea. But… I’m working on listening and not… taking. How do I choose rightly, so that I do serve where I can be the most helpful?”

“I’m a Sartarite. I can give you the Sartarite answer, which is that the biggest threat you can deal with is the Lunars. To me, asking Tennebris for advice is the best way. I can’t do that – I don’t have the rank and I did once and it all got complicated – but decide on the big threats to the people you want to protect. It might be Chaos, it might be the Lunar Empire. Decide on your swor… your assets, as you’d put it. Here, you can do more than is Esrolia. Maybe in Prax you could do much, but here you are Noble, so I think you can do most good here, whatever you choose. But you should ask Xenofos as well, and Rajar, and other people.”

Varanis nods in agreement. “I definitely need to talk to Xenofos. Any decision I make now affects him directly. I will talk this over with several people, I think. I need to remember to visit the Temple here and speak again to the Storm Voice too. And…. I’m thinking I might go to Boldhome, so I could speak to Tennebris then.”

“I’ll be heading back to Boldhome for the next season. I’m going to make sure the Temple knows I’m at their service.” Berra draws her belt dagger and starts cleaning her nails with it. “But back to the next level of things. It should be your task to say what you want, and make it clear. Then you and your generals – currently me and Serala, but that could change and it could be anyone – make military strategy to make that happen. But there is also non-military strategy, and that is people like Xenofos, who will have to learn to mix with nobility up here. Again, it could be anyone, but Xenofos is your man. You are the one in charge of keeping people together, and finding the people you trust, but often that will be done with all of us together – assuming there is an ‘us’.”

Varanis looks up from the blue silk dress she is shaking out. “I want there to be an us. That’s why I worked so hard to fix things on the way here. You, Serala, and the others – you’re good people. The kind I want at my side when the Lunars come.” This time, Varanis sounds more confident. She glances down at the dress in her hands, sighs and tosses it to one side.

Berra looks at how she is cleaning her nails, with a wry expression, and very carefully wipes off the dagger and puts it away. “Well, that’s good. I owe a few things to a few people, but I’ll be here for you when I’m not in the front line, or the Death-Hall. I want there to be an ‘us’, as well.”

Insight: Berra seems unsure on the ‘us’, and it seems like she can’t believe it, and is hoping. That’s odd, because hope and Berra, looking back are almost alien to each other. She has been living in the moment for as long as Varanis can recall.

Varanis finally finds a fine blue wool tunic that isn’t too badly wrinkled. It has little air and movement runes embroidered in a lighter shade of blue around the neck, cuffs, and hem. It’s definitely Sartarite in style. She frowns at it slightly, but decides it will do. “Do you mind helping me with these buckles, Berra,” she asks, indicating some of the buckles on her cuirass. “I can manage them, but it’s easier with another pair of hands.”

“Of course.” Berra stands to do just that. “And you can talk me out of wearing my shield straps.” She seems to be finished with telling Varanis how to think now.

“How can we build up the defences of the Tula,” Varanis asks after a few moments of stripping down armour. “Both the physical defences, but also the people? I want to make sure our people are safe and that the Temple is well protected.” She might not be thinking as far into the future as Berra hopes, but this is a new set of mental exercises for the Vingan.

“It’s a Peaceful clan. That’s part of the problem there. But next door the Green Fish are part of the Maloni. Their patron God is Humakt. One clan could guard and another heal, and there are several other clans nearby that would gladly subscr… sub… would gladly lend money and warriors to making a temple to Chalana Arroy. Then, the Wyter is a protective thing too. If we can teach new spells to Haralis, the Wyter will know them, so if there IS anything that would help, more than what it already has, we should let them know.”

“We should talk to Haralis. For now, I want to make sure to send some supplies back. Arianatha needs…” the words are muffled as Varanis pulls her under tunic up and over her head, “…and also…” This time they are lost to the donning of a clean under tunic and the blue wool. “She wants to put a tile roof on the shrine.” She buckles a fine belt with metal plaques on it around her waist.

“Tile?” Berra looks impressed. “So she’ll need to rebuild the place completely, then.”

Varanis nods. “New support beams, new walls… I was thinking of hiring someone to do the labour. It would make her life easier.”

She slides the Vingan arm ring on over her sleeve.

“It’s next to the Orlanth shrine, though. Are you going to move them apart? How does this help the Great Strategy, or are we onto details now?”

“How are my runes? Should I repaint them?” she asks turning to Berra. “Hmmm…. perhaps it’s connected to the strategy only in that I want to care for my people and Arianatha deserves care.”

“The Mastery Rune is fading a little. If you repaint it now, it’ll shimmer in the torchlight. For now, work on breaking down whether you are thinking of high level or low-level things, and think of them separately. It is good to help Arianatha, but it is also good to keep in mind that helping the Clan strengthens her.”

Varanis pulls out the pot that Haralis gave her and her polished bronze mirror. She peers at her reflection and carefully paints the runes, retracing the lines that Haralis drew. “Maybe I should make a list,” she murmurs thoughtfully, as she works.

Berra peers into the mirror, over the shoulder of the Vingan. She seems to be interested in how she looks – mirrors cannot be new to her, but they must have been vary rare. Her Truth rune glitters faintly in the light of day.

As she finishes with the woad, Varanis hands the mirror to Berra. She also indicates her pot of woad. “If you want it…. I know you have your own, but mine is right here and open.”

“It’s mine too,” says Berra. “At least, the inside. Ours.” She does not use a brush, but dips her ring finger in and then considers, staring past the mirror rather than at it. Something has caught her mind, and the pause stretches out as she thinks.

Varanis lets the silence stretch as she adds a pair of earrings, bracelets, and a torc to her ensemble. “Too much?” she asks, holding up a diadem. She shakes her head and wraps it again, without waiting for a reply. “Too Esrolian and I don’t want anyone thinking it alludes to a crown.” She puts the wrapped jewellery back in the box she had pulled it from. “Berra…. among your people, would serving Kallyr be seen as a slight to Leika? Or vice versa?”

“Not making your own decision would be seen as a slight to yourself.” Berra does not bother answering the question that needs no answer. “But ask that again, with the Great Strategy in mind, and see if an answer falls out.” She is still pausing without having put the woad onto her cheek.

“Well, first I need to determine what the strategy is. And for that, I need advice and at least one of the advisors you suggested is in Boldhome.” There are notes of impatience and frustration, but undirected.

“Mhm. But you can answer some parts. Kallyr is Sartar. The High Priest of Orlanth.” The finger finally moves over her cheek, smearing the glittering, irridescent blue in three downward strokes on the Y. “You can treat with her as such, and she commands the Tribes, so far as they are commanded. If you want to help at the level of Sartar, that is where to be. Queen Leika is Colymar, as you are, and as I am, and you can do more good for the Colymar Tribe here. On a personal level, I think the Prince would like to see you in Boldhome, but to avoid Clearwine entirely would be a mistake. However, I don’t think service to one or another will be a problem.”

Something seems to come to Varanis suddenly. “Is there a Wyter for the Colymar? Or just for the various Tulas?”

Berra closes her eyes briefly, and then looks at Varanis. “Did you see the spear in her hand?”

“Yes. It is beautiful.”

“Yes. It brought us out of the land that became the Holy Country, hundreds of years ago, to Clearwine. The Tribe formed around it, from Clans that came. That’s the Tribal Wyter. It’s black because the Spirit within wants it to be. In battle, light falls into it.”

Insight: Berra looked surprised that people didn’t know that, or possibly that anyone could ask if a Tribe – a grand community – has a Wyter.

“This might seem like an odd question then. Are all members of Colymar bound to the Wyter? And if so, what does it mean that Leika has not mentioned it?” Wheels are turning in Varanis’ head. There are nuances to Sartarite politics and clan dynamics that are clearly escaping her.

“You are part of the Clan, and that is part of the Tribe. Clearwine and the Royal Clan here – the Ernaldori – would be the ones in the rituals. The Clan has their own Wyter, and then there is Royalty too. I don’t know quite how they work together – I was a child when I left here – but that’s my best guess.” Berra tilts her head so she can see her reflection shimmer, and grins like she is still a child.

Varanis hides a grin as she watches Berra with the mirror. Then she refocusses on the issue at hand. “Perhaps I should ask the Stormvoice. He seemed very welcoming and as the High Priest, he would understand such things.”

Berra nods, and hands over the mirror carefully in two hands, as one would a precious thing. “Yes. It would be good. He must be at the Feast, surely? He might also know if the Loyal Thane came here. I … I know she does not sound like your direct line, but Boldhome’s Berra was important, and I’d like to know more about her.”

“I would also like to know who my Berra’s mother was. I wonder if there are records here that could help with that.”

“Probably not. But there will be sagas.” Berra seems chipper about living in a world where nobody writes anything down.

Varanis looks at her blankly. “No records?” This clearly hadn’t occurred to her.

“Sagas,” Berra replies. “What you need is bards, or people who knew the family, if they didn’t get wiped out. So bards. They’ll know all of the songs you need, when you find the right one..”

“Where does one acquire the right kind of bard? There seems to be a lot of them around, but I suspect that not all boards are equal. I’ve heard some ridiculous songs and poems from a few of them lately.” There’s a mischievous glint in the Vingan’s eyes.

“I… don’t know. I haven’t had much need for history for a while. Everything has been happening too fast. But ask rich people. The powerful. They honour singers and poets with money and a name. While you are in this town, and at the Feast, see who you can meet.” Then Berra smiles. “I heard I killed a dozen scorpion men. It was rather embarrassing.”

“Did you hear the one about the Humakti who rides a Storm Bull? It was… educational.” She gives a lascivious wink.

Berra raises a brow, although she’s not very good at it, so she mostly looks startled. Still, it’s a credible effort. “No, but I’m sure I can explain the chorus if you sing it to me. Remember to do the actions.”

Varanis laughs in reply. “Maybe I’ll pay someone to perform it for you and Rajar both. I might have to pay very well to find a volunteer,” she adds thoughtfully.

“Perhaps not,” Berra says gently. “Sex is a thing I enjoy, but I shouldn’t have it. Also, if the volunteer decided they required a ladder to get onto their mount there might be blood.”

Varanis merely grins shamelessly in reply.

Berra smiles, but she’s getting up to go. “Keep thinking about the Great Strategy and which parts of it you can answer now. I’ll help look for bards or Dangmar Thane tomorrow, if you can’t find anyone to talk to.”

“Remember, no shield tonight. And we’ll see if we can manage a whole feast without anyone dying.” This time, the smile is wry and while the words are meant to be joking, there’s a serious undertone to them.

Berra takes a slow, deep breath. “And no shield straps to point out how annoyed I am they took my shield away?” She asks lightly.

Insight: Berra’s fine with that, she’s just making a joke in reply.

Varanis smiles and nods in reply. “It will be fine. See you soon? We’ll all go up to the Hall together.”

Berra bows at the door and scuttles off, and her gait is a run within a few moments.