1626, Dark Season, Stasis Week
At Jaldonkill, right before they return to Boldhome. After Wedding Daze (Session 2.28)
Varanis and Berra ride for the gate of Jaldonhill. When they are far enough from the others, Varanis says, “Thank you. I want to buy some beer and maybe some meat for dinner. I need peace with Rajar before we get to Boldhome.”
Berra nods. There is a moment when words and thoughts battle over her face, and then she takes up the habit of looking around, scanning the world as they go.1A critical scan there. I see every dead badger! It looks like someone has chopped the head off that one.
“What? You have thoughts about that? I’ve already handled things badly with him. If there’s something you think I should know, please just say it.”
“Hey. Someone’s taken the head off that… why would you do that to a badger? And leave it?” Berra shrugs. “Seriously? Punch him on the shoulder, and tell him he stinks but you love him. Give him beer.”
“That’s why we’re going to the fort. I need beer.” Varanis sighs. “I still struggle with what he said to me, but… I have to remind myself that he’s Praxian and we just don’t see things the same way.”
“Yeah. But what I meant was you’re right about the beer, and you’re worrying too much about handling it wrong.” Berra scowls at the badger as they leave it behind, but then looks up towards the fort. “Right. Irillo didn’t say we shouldn’t, so let’s assume it’s safe. I mean, as safe as normal.”
“I can’t shake the feeling that he was deliberately provoking me.” She looks towards the guarded gate. “Think they’ll ask for names?”
“He was. And probably not, but they might ask our business.” Berra looks down at her sword, and then at her other sword, and makes sure that the fastening on Wind Tooth is politely on.
Varanis’ eyes fly to Berra’s face. “He was?” Indignation and anger colour the question.
“Well, yeah. He wanted you to understand.” She seems surprised even to be asked. “It’s important to him. But maybe we’re not meaning the same thing?”
“But why couldn’t he have just talked about it? Why did he have to insult my honour like that?” They are drawing near to the old fort’s gates, and she adds, “Nevermind. Tell me later if you know. I can’t afford to be angry right now.”
“Yuhuh.” Berra urges Followed up closer to the zebra, in the position of a bodyguard. Her eyes close briefly as she concentrates on the world that only she can hear.
Varanis hails the guards, in her best Trade Talk. “Good day. We need supplies. Do you have any recommendations for where to buy beer and meat?”
Berra grins. “Good day,” she says in Northern Sartarite.
There’s a grunt. “Youse best try the market, ay?”
Varanis nods. “Thank you. Which way, please?”
Berra stretches out a little, hardly threatening at all. She even smiles politely. The Humakti is looking about, the warrior in her never resting even as she wanders along with Varanis. Mostly, she stays on her bison.
“So,” Berra says after a little time. “Question. Do we go out by the same gate we went in by?”
“Finding another way out and then getting to the others would be complicated,” Varanis points out. “Does it need to be?”
“Nah, and we’d be seen doing it. If there’s any trouble anyhow, they can bring it.”
The Esrolian passes her newly acquired amphorae of beer up to Berra, to be strapped into place on the bison. “I hope this is decent beer. I’d still rather drink wine. Even kumiss.”
Berra does just that. “I could have checked it all,” she says with a grin, as she pulls on the fastening strap. “Made sure.”
“You can tell me if I did alright when we get back to camp.”
“Sure.” Berra stands up on Followed again to look over the crowd. “I love having a bison. I can’t do this on a horse.”
Varanis picks her way through a few food stalls, picking up other supplies she’s run low on. Dried fruits, nuts, jerky. Staples for times when inns are few and far between as they have been since Pavis. “Just meat now, unless there’s anything you need.”
“Uh, pick me up some things that are not vegetables?” Berra then smiles. “And some fruit for D’Val. I can tell him it’s all the way from Jaldonkill.”
Varanis adds Berra’s requests to her order. “No vegetables,” she reminds the merchant. She hands several packages up to the Humakti for packing. “Best meat vendor in the market?” she asks.
“I’ve seen one was having a delivery when we went past,” Berra says, but then falls silent, to see if the merchant knows of any more. She has fallen back into her Sartarite speech habits almost completely, grammar to the wayside and may the past participle take the weakest.
“You want Gherthyr, over there,” says the fruit merchant, as Berra throws up half a dried apricot, and bounces it off her chin rather than catching it in her mouth. She makes a quick catch with her hand, but it’s not the same. “Tell him I sent you, and ask about his salt mix if you want something to travel with.”
Varanis nods her thanks and makes for Gherthyr’s stall. On arrival she mentions the fruit merchant and explains her needs. Something fresh and good for tonight. Easy to cook over a campfire. Something more to travel with.
The man nods and says, “Over, not in a cook-pot?” as he reaches for a hook and a side of venison. “Something fatty then, and for a bit more I’ll give you some marrow to stuff it with. Slit, stuff, pin. Keeps it wet as it goes.” From the size of him, and the way he looks lovingly at his food, it appears he knows about good cooking.
Varanis agrees and sets to bargaining. He does know his food, although he does keep on showing delicious things that Varanis could also have, including his salted and spiced jerky that is delicious but as it turns out has vegetables in the spice mix. Nevertheless, Berra also buys a couple of unspiced dried sausages to snack on. The meat is handed over wrapped in a skin, and Berra puts it into one of her bags, moving that one to where she can see it in this busy town full of thieves and bastards.
Satisfied, Varanis suggests they return to camp. No need to linger amongst the thieves. No need to invite any assassins either. “Same gate as before,” she says, reaffirming the earlier decision. “It’s direct and won’t take us long. And I didn’t spot any likely places for ambushes anyway.”
“Yeah, we’re fine.” Berra is still watchful, but there is no change there. “The main one would be outside the gates, about where Irillo is.” Her face softens. “I’m glad to see him.” Then she is back on duty, changing to a professional as soon as her sentence ends.
“I am too. It’s been too long.”
“His beard’s well trimmed. Oh Humakt. Poor Xenofos. Have you been keeping an eye on him lately?”
Varanis looks sheepish. “I’ve been a bit preoccupied since losing my temper with Rajar. But, I’ve been worried about Xenofos for a long time. I tried to get him to spend some time at the Temple of Uleria at the Paps, but you know, I think he spent most of his time waiting for me outside the temple.”
“Oh. I was hoping he’d get some good time the… uh, just be able to relax there. But riding past the Dragon was horrible for him. He needs rest.”
Varanis curses under her breath. “I should have realized that. We should have taken a different route.”
“We didn’t have time if we needed to get back here. Not for Storm Day. But don’t take him anywhere you don’t have to for a while. He’s untied, and he doesn’t have a home, and that hurts him.”
Varanis looks stricken. “How do I help him? He’d be devastated if I sent him home. But I have no idea what is going to happen when we get to Boldhome.”
“You can’t send him home. If he gets … well, if we can’t stay there for a bit, then we should try to find places he likes being. He’s trying to live up to what he thinks he should be, but he’s terrified at the same time. Definitely of the dragon. Probably of failing.” Berra lifts her hand to wave to the guards at the gates, in a lazy greeting-salute.
“We’ll just have to see what happens in Boldhome. If we can stay there a time, maybe the library will be good for him.” The Vingan looks troubled. “I should have paid more attention.” Then she shakes her head. “Self-recriminations won’t help. Move forward.”
“Right.” Berra checks over her shoulder. “As for the rest, Valseena’s happy to be … well, she’s happy. Suuraki I don’t know but he wouldn’t complain anyhow.” She leaves anyone else off the list.
Berra blinks, caught. “Pretty good,” she says after consideration, and she is smiling. “Nearly done with an important thing, nearly about to find out what another important thing is, and nobody’s called me a duck-sucker lately. Although I might just have to put up with if they do, at least until I can get back to them on it. I had a horrible craving for onions earlier in the market. Could smell them. But that’s the worst of it.”
Varanis nods. “Good. So… Rajar.”
Berra lip-wrinkles. “He’s dangerous, and he doesn’t have a sense of honour like we do, but he doesn’t want you dead. He does want you to be careful.”
“Can you help me understand why he said what he said? Do you understand it?” The Vingan bites her lip. “I’m not going to lie, Berra. It hurt. I don’t like being this vulnerable.”
“In Prax. He said to you… something. I don’t even know if I was there. But he was – he reckoned – trying to warn you to be careful about what you said to Kallyr. I don’t know exactly how, but he said he did. He said he was gentle and you didn’t get it.”
“Yeah, you were long gone. This was after my initiation. We’d been there about a week. I sought him out and asked him about Argrath being of Sartar’s line. He said he knew that but it wasn’t important. I told him about what Toras had said and my fears that Argrath would seek the throne of Sartar. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he pointed out that I didn’t know it for certain and that telling Kallyr would be betraying Argrath and causing trouble based on nothing more than gossip.”
Heaving a tired sigh, Varanis continues, “I didn’t agree with him at the time and he very rapidly handed me kumiss and before much longer, we were tracking drunken circles around the Paps. But I when I sobered up, I found myself mulling it over and he’s right. I have no evidence. Only my own interpretation of an early morning conversation. And Toras’ remarks were cryptic enough. I know I have to be very careful what I tell Kallyr. That’s why I need to see Tennebris first. I can tell him exactly what I heard and he can decide whether it’s relevant or not and what should be passed to the Prince. For all I know, Kallyr already knows Argrath is a kinsman. It was no surprise to Rajar, so it can’t be a secret.”
“Aaah, right. Yeah, well. He isn’t good at seeing what Esrolians mean. I don’t know what he thinks, but he’s…” Berra stops and then starts again. “Listen, what you said to me about what Turas said was clear. You were certain then. And Rajar said he knew? Don’t talk yourself into not having evidence. Talk to Tennebris, but don’t doubt what you heard.”
“Toras said that Argrath was King of Pavis and of the line of Sartar. And that the Khan was not sitting on his throne. He also said that if I try to claim Argrath’s throne, I’d be his enemy.” She looks at Berra seriously. “But, Toras is not a White Bull and so not in Argrath’s inner circle. I know what one Storm Bull says, cryptic though it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s truth.”
“Yeah. I figure he doesn’t want Sartar now. But might later. Depends how shaky Kallyr is. He might even try to shake. But you heard what Venna said at the Block?” Berra glances around, now looking for people close, and not just threats.
Varanis shakes her head. “Not really, no.”
“Don’t mention this to anyone else, because it’s probably important, and I don’t know how different people would take it. Alright? Not until you’re at the Palace, or speaking to Tennebris or Lord Eril.” Berra looks oddly serious.
There’s a solemn nod in reply.
“Rajar was asking about what to do next, and I can’t remember exactly why they were talking. I think maybe because Venna wanted to be sure of where he was continuing on. Not sure. But it was about the war, and he said he’d prefer to fight it in Sartar than Prax, and she said the Great Khan would prefer it was fought in Tarsh.” Berra looks at Varanis, still serious.
This gets a thoughtful frown. “So he’d rather not fight in Sartar? What does that mean though?”
“A few things. First, if he sends forces into Tarsh, that he’s sound in other ways, at least for the moment, because then Venna wasn’t just feeding us bad information using Rajar. It seemed that way, but I can’t be sure. Second, he likes Sartar in the same way Rajar likes Prax, I think. But also, Tarsh is better because if you push them out of there, you’ve just got the Grazelands to hold to keep Dragon Pass. So he’s thinking big-battle, not war size. And he might be content with Tarsh. I dunno. But if he comes in that way, instead of through south-way like he tried last time, I think we’re easier. And he’s not planning to stop in Prax. Although that’s a lot to pick up from how she was saying it.”
“I see. That makes sense. But as you say, it’s reading into the words a lot.” She considers. “Not something to share lightly.”
“Yeah, but … she wasn’t just talking to someone she didn’t care about. He’d rather it was fought in Tarsh. And he has the power to make that happen, right? He’s got an army. He didn’t send it home. It’s still around him.” Berra shrugs. “Now you know. But I’m pretty sure Rajar heard it. Part of what he’s … part of what he was thinking might have been that he wanted to be sure King Argrath got a good chance at fighting it there, not being knives-out at Sartar.”
“And you think he believes I’d be stupid enough to try to pit Kallyr against Argrath.” She says it flatly, her temper well-banked.
“No… He thinks you could say the wrong thing. And he doesn’t pull his blows. He wanted you afraid so he said the things he knew would hurt. That’s the provoking I was thinking about.” Berra casually picks an entangled fly from Followed’s fur, squeezes it, and flicks it away.
Varanis laughs, but there isn’t humour in it. “I was so close to just hitting him,” she admits. “Fear really wasn’t an issue. Should have been, but wasn’t.”
“Not afraid of him,” Berra adds. “Of the things he’s afraid of. Of that war, which would mean the Lunars sweep over everything. He’s not stupid – he doesn’t think you’re stupid, but he’s not going to let friendship stand between winning and losing, when it’s Chaos. When it’s Lunars. When Prax is against them. He doesn’t want you to be a coward – he wants you to know what could go badly wrong.”
“So let me get this straight. He’s spent the better part of a year with me, watched me fret over screwing things up every step of the way, and thinks I’m going to rush into this without thinking it through now?” Varanis shakes her head ruefully. “I admit, I may leap into trouble without looking from time to time, but that tends be with a sword in hand and when I think the situation is urgent. But rush into politics? No.” She pushes her helmet back on her head and rubs her eyes. “Fine. I understand better, I think.”
“Pretty much. Not so good at subtle.” Berra makes a face.
“I’ll do my best to mend this bridge, Berra. But, he’ll have to meet me on it. I can’t ignore repeated jibes about the Prince.”
“I don’t think there’s a bridge to mend. He’s done what he wanted and he’s happy. To him that was not an argument.”
Varanis gives her a dubious look.
“Seriously. He’s not upset. He just wants the result. Remember, he doesn’t have honour. He gave it up to fight Chaos.”
“If you say so.” It sounds like the Vingan is humouring Berra, rather than truly agreeing with her. “They’re just up ahead,” she says, changing the subject. “I’m going to cook tonight.”
“Fair enough. Do me something with no onions.”
- 1A critical scan there. I see every dead badger! It looks like someone has chopped the head off that one.