When Danaril has said his goodbyes, and Irillo’s caravan has peeled off towards Alda Chur, Berra keeps on leading her bison, but her steps slow, and Followed is in no mood to hurry.
Slowly, the Humakti drops towards the back of the reduced group.
Mellia is back on her horse, but she is not going fast. “Berra? Are you doing well?”
Berra blinks, and is back in the Middle World again, from wherever her mind had gone. “Hello,” she says in greeting, and acknowledgement of being around. The placid Humakti look slips onto her features as she pays attention once more.
“Hello,” Mellia replies. “Irillo will be a good escort for Danaril. You will see.”
Berra nods, saying, “Of course. I was just thinking.” She looks North, and goes on, “I haven’t been back in a year.”
Mellia says, “They will understand. Some of them will come to the Boldhome wedding. There’s going to be contests to pick them.”
Berra grins, brightening suddenly. “Will…” She trails off and shrugs. “I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up about family right now.”
“I know that there’s going to be a singing contest and a race. I wish we could have a cake eating contest, judged on speed and neatness.”
That brings a smile back to the little warrior. “Would you have it be only open to people without beards?”
Mellia considers that. “Maybe not, although you have a point about the beards.”
“Two contests, and then the winner has to eat a flour-dusted dough-cake. A really wide one.” Berra looks happy at that notion.
Mellia grins. “A great idea!”
“Probably without cream or cheese. Too sticky. Stops the flour falling off.” Berra’s mood has apparently shifted entirely. “Horse-race or foot-race or both-race?”
Mellia says, “I think foot-race.”
“Cool. I have an idea of who might win, then. Among the herders.” Berra bounces on her toes like she wants to be one of those people.
Mellia smiles. “Good. I wish they could all come, but it will be harvest time.”
“Well. Yeah. But afterwards you have to go there, right? And you’ll need a warrior guard?” Berra stops, looks Mellia up and down, and then adds, “Or want one?” hopefully.
Mellia smiles. “I would love to have you come, Berra.”
“By then, I’m hoping I’ll have some more free time. And you can always try to hire me from my Temple. I’ll give you the money, if I have to. I should have done my service by then, though.” Brief worries flit over her face, and then Berra is happy again.
Mellia says, “We should be able to hire you, Berra. Remember, Venlar is rich.”
“He’s pretty well dressed. The new cloak suits him, though. Like he lives in the Blue Tree already.” The warrior skips a few steps, happily.
Mellia says, “Venlar got on well in Blue Tree, I thought. I worry about feeding and housing his servants.”
“We’re not so hot on thralls up there, but I guess they’ll be fine if they do their work. He should only need to find them food for the first year and then there’ll be a harvest, even if he doesn’t get anything from his new lands this year. Until Spring-Crop, probably.” Berra airily dismisses problems she cannot solve.
Mellia thinks. “Housing may still be a problem. We may need to build in a hurry.”
“That’s not so much of a problem if we’ve got Fire Season to go,” Berra points out. “That’s when you have time for building.”
“Hmm. We may be with Venlar’s family during Fire Season. We will see.”
“You don’t have to be there to build. Just make sure that it gets done. I know he’s used to a big place, but you can start small and add to it as your household grows.” Berra scowls. “It was easy for me because the hide had an empty house.”
Mellia decides, “We will write.”
“Good idea. Yamia … does Yamia know what the situation is?” Berra looks around for the other short Humakti warrior.
Mellia says, “I am not sure. Normally Yamia would guard Venlar, but she is going to be busy for at least a while.”
Berra looks a bit puzzled. “I mean, I thought she was the negotiator. Is the house in the contract?”
Mellia says, “I don’t know. I have a house, but it only holds two people.”
“Well, that’s definitely one thing to check on, then. You can’t live in a tent year-round, and a noble should have their own rooms, so the great house isn’t going to be a long solution either.” Berra shrugs. “You can build another half house on the house you already have, easily enough. Just knock one wall out, and you’ve only got to make a few more, and some of the posts are already in.”
“That is comforting. I have never built a house before. You may need to teach me.”
“Oh, hell. You don’t do that part. You get everyone together, someone organises the mud, someone organises the wattling – if you do wattling, otherwise it’s cob and I don’t know so much about that – and you get all the bits woven in the morning and the mud on them by the end of the day after. You take down the wall once you’ve got the weaving done, and the new posts in. It’s the thatching that takes time – that needs to be supported, probably extended from where it is. It depends a lot on whether you’ve got an end wall to work with. That’s where you go through if you can.” Berra knows that one, and rattles it off happily.
“I see,” Mellia lies.
“It’s a mud mix, and you actually need to mix it. Mud, dung, and dry earth – the crumbling stuff, at least, before you get it all wet. And you put it onto the weaving with your hands. Makes a hell of a mess. I once helped out and got so dirty that my mother said I should be washed with my clothes on to make it easier on her.” Berra smiles at the memory.
Mellia snickers. “I hope I can borrow some clothing for the occasion.”
“Naked is better,” Berra advises. “Or underwear if you think you’ll be cold. … Does Venlar have any clothing that isn’t dyed?”
Mellia answers, “Not that I know about. He will get the thralls to do it and supervise if he can.”
“I want to get Yehna to make me a bigger tunic. I’ve outgrown the last one she made me. I haven’t worn it in ages, but she can probably just add darts to it, and make them look good. I like her embroidery.” Berra hops to a new subject, still happy.
Mellia gives Berra a searching look, checking for pregnancy. “I haven’t seen her embroidery much.”
Berra is still just as muscular and wiry as she always has been, and the mark of Death is still on her shoulder. She does give Mellia a look, and then laughs. “Let’s pretend you were just looking me over for her work?” she suggests. “But I’ll show you some of it later. I’ve still got the tunic – it’s just that my shoulders got too big for it. But it was from her, so I didn’t sell it.”
“Oh. Sorry about that.”
“Well, my muscles make me a warrior because my bones don’t, so I can’t really complain.” Berra shrugs it off. “If I was anyone else I’d be different.”
“That is true. I like you just the way you are.”
Berra actually blushes. It takes a moment for her to pull herself together and remember to be a Humakti, at which point she goes from pink and smiling to pink and severe and mature. “Perhaps I should go back on guard,” she says gravely.
“Perhaps,” Mellia agrees. “How close are we to Boldhome?”
“About an hour? And we have a lot of people. But I shouldn’t relax just because I think it’s safe.”
“That is sadly true.”
“Even if it’s fine now, it only needs one not-fine day.” Berra puts her shoulders back, the last of the blush fading away, and now she is walking like a warrior again.
“You are right.”
Berra picks up the pace, walking like an infanteer. Followed obediently traipses behind.