Berra — Kindling
????, Earth Season, Stasis Week
Earth Season, Stasis Week, Windsday, and Fireday Eve. [[[s02:session-11|Session 11]]]
Berra has asked Xenofos for help on slave law. She wants to know everything about escaped or stolen slaves in particular, because the man they sent to the Hulta has disappeared.
Xenofos has reminded her kindly it was actually Rajar who removed said slave from the house he was serving in. So if Hulta are accused of making a slave escape there will be legal blame pointed at group that got him into palazzo Hulta…
“Oh, I know. I’m going to move out of the palazzo so I don’t bring trouble on this house, but we handed over someone in good faith. And I suggested Rajar do it. I’ll stand for all of that trouble. But you should not be killed just because you serve someone, if you’re not a warrior.”
“Which part of interrogation of slaves with torture was unclear, little cousin. We knew he could suffer at their hands, did we not?”
Blank. Stare. A moment too late Berra adds a blank smile.
“It is distasteful. But it is legal.” Xenofos looks sad.
A pause. “Really? Who should have done it?” Berra turns off the smile for a moment, and then it returns, sharp and wolfish. “Can anyone torture people? For fun maybe? Or do you have to suspect them first?”
“Good Ernalda, no. Obviously not people. But that was a slave involved in a murdercase against one of the great houses.”
“Well, good. Let’s hear what he had to say, out in the open.” The smile is half lost, lopsided, the stare is almost happy. She has been this way before when ready to go into battle.
“To hear what he said in that palazzo may be quite hard.”
“Well, they should have thought of that before they killed him. It’s not right. But I’m not afraid of getting into trouble over the law, don’t worry.” She smiles.
Insight1Xenofos gets a special: Berra has gone from asking Xenofos a favour into the calm beyond nervousness that says she is ready to die over this. All of his entirely correct statements just pushed her further, and she’s happy to be in this state. Underlying it is something that is giving her strength, a determination that his call to reason has not been able to address.
“I see this is troubling you. Did you not understand the implications when he was handed over?” Xenofos is trying to understand where this weird determination is coming from.
“Not really, no. I thought sending him there would be better than sending him here. But I think he got killed, Lord Xenofos. For being loyal, and in our power and then theirs, and being unable to defend himself. People don’t get better from that.” She might be building up to anger now, or it might just be her underlying emotion coming out.
“If he was killed, that error can not be corrected. But even if they killed him, it would not count as murder. Before the law it would be destruction of property worth – dunno – something from 100 to 300 lunars.
“Yeah. But I can bear witness as to WHY. That they killed someone to keep him silent. Or at least, that this is why I think it happened. I’m happy to pay whatever the fines are, but I’m going to say it.” She shrugs. “You don’t have to help. But if you can tell me what to ask at the library, that would be good. I want to know what I can ask that gives me most chance of speaking most.” Now the smile is a little grin, her eyes merry.
There’s a small shrug as she goes on. “I pointed out to Kesten that he was prepared to have a Lord resurrected. So that error can be. They just have to want to.” The smile is suddenly gone and Berra’s face is serious. “I can’t help them do that, but if I can make them decide to, I’m pretty sure that’s not a thing Humakt will hold against me. Not if I do it in Esrolia. It might be different if I was in Sartar.”
A raised eyebrow, a familiar reaction from Xenofos. “I thought Death would be one and same everywhere.”
“Yeah, but if Kesten was willing to stand ransom for Lord Rillo, then his house can pay not to have been unjust, and I’m going to find it hard to give a damn. It is the same. Just the orthodoxy isn’t. He’s got until… sorry, they have got until … probably Wildday. I’ll likely move out of here then, if you’re wondering.”
“I don’t think that is necessary. I reckon you are kin. And you moving out now would probably not change in any way how Hulta see your association with Saiciae anyhow…”
“Yeah, well. I’m not going to make it harder on anyone.” She shrugs, and gives him a bow. “Thanks for your time. Think about whether you can tell me about the library, even.”
Xenofos does say he will help, but it may take some time as law is not his expertise.
Varanis and Berra are crowded into Varanis’ palanquin. Varanis, of course, is elegantly dressed in silks and gold. Her nails have been freshly gilt. Her hair precisely styled.
Berra is travelling in armour, although the question of whether she will be taking off some modest amount later had not been addressed. Her mood has been odd lately, and strangely familiar.
The last time she saw Berra this way, it was before going into the Krarsht tunnels. It was after the Humakti had stopped being nervous, and was ready for the fight.2Pass on INT x 5 for memory
And all of the short evening, as Varanis was washed and brushed and gilded, Berra was carefully polishing her armour and murmuring promises of fresh oil and a fine stone to Wind Tooth. All through that time, the bird was singing challenges.3The red-capped bird reacts to the emotions of those around it. GM used a POW vs POW to decide who, in this case, and Varanis failed.
“What’s with you tonight, Berra?”
Berra tilts her head, and thinks for a moment, then comes out with it. “I believe the Hulta have killed that slave. I’m going to try to hurt them, if they can’t produce him. It’s probably going to get messy.”
Varanis looks at her in astonishment. “You’re going to hurt them?”
“Probably. As much as I can, if he’s dead. They shouldn’t have done that.” The Humakti gives a brief, reassuring smile.
“You’re not wrong. If he’s dead, then they’ve done a bad thing, but why would you be the one to punish them? It’s no small feat taking on one of the great Houses. You’d do better to have the authorities on your side.”
Berra grins. “I can do better than that, I think. They are the authorities. I mean, anything official will just be a fine. It means nothing to a house that rich. But I should not tell you unless you ask, because your Grandmother might want to know if you knew my plans.”
Varanis frowns. “Well, I won’t lie to Grandmother. But, I don’t like not knowing what you are up to either. What if you need back-up?”
“I have Nala. She’s Ernaldan. That’s important here. And if it comes to a fight then I will be making that part of my plan anyhow.” Berra shrugs, like that is no problem.
Varanis raises an eyebrow at Nala’s name, but doesn’t say anything.
“If it does come to a fight, it’ll be a duel. Then I will need your help. I’ll need to make sure everyone knows about it.” Berra briefly looks up at a noise, files it as part of Nochet, and relaxes back into her seat.
“A duel? And who do you anticipate duelling with?” Now Varanis looks concerned.
“Nobody, I hope, but if they send someone after me, it will probably be Kesten. By then it will be too late, though. Twice my ransom… do you know what that means?”
Lore: Berra is referring, quite offhandedly, to a quick rule of thumb during war. If you can risk your life to do damage worth twice your ransom, it starts to be worth the risk – if you think the risk is small enough. War, not raiding.
Sartarites are notably aggressive, of course.
Varanis nods slowly. “Do you think you could take him, if it came to a duel?”
“Probably. But he could take me too. It really depends on who the God is with. He’s not a … he’s a house warrior, not a field warrior, but he’s of Humakt. That’s why we only ever fight each other to first blood. But that can be a jugular.” Berra shrugs that off. “If it happens, I want everyone to see. I want them to know what it’s about. That the… well, not yet. We don’t talk about it yet. But if they can’t produce him then it’ll get loud. Hulta will get hurt.”
Varanis looks thoughtful. “You need to do what you think is right, of course. You’ll have my support.”
“Thank you. Do you think you can find me somewhere to stay? I would not want it said that I did this while I was a guest in your house. I’m not going to let you stop me anyhow, and it’s best for you this way.” Definitely, the plural you, other than the request for a new roof.
Varanis considers. “You can’t stay at the Battalion?”
“I could, I suppose. I hadn’t thought of it – it’s not my Temple any more, and I would be a visitor. Let me see if that gives me any advantage.” Berra tilts her head slowly as she thinks, the calculation of numbers and forces and strikes and counter-blows obviously dancing in her head. She smiles a little as she thinks it through.
“Surely it has the advantage of being neutral ground, at least. And it’s an unlikely place for an assassination attempt. An inn has significantly more risk.”
“I was thinking more of it being a house, or an apartment, but I think the barracks would be a good place. It is right they should be able to find me if they wish. Hiding might be efficient but is cowardly. Disappearing without going to ground is too similar. So I should ask for a bed there, and a place for my armour. Yamia can borrow the scouting gear. As my Clanmember in the Blue Tree, you might be pressed on, though. And Mellia. So let them know that nothing would have stopped me. Don’t let this make things harder for you. Or her.”
“I will always offer what protection I can to Mellia. But, I won’t cower from anyone.”
Berra’s thought cascade keeps on going for a while, bouncing through half-related subjects.
“I know. Of course. And I won’t either, and Nala will speak for me, and Rajar will happily stand up with an axe because a friend did who would stand with a sword for him. But I think nothing I plan will have … Uh, I don’t know the Esrolian word. Punishment-in-law? Legal comebacks?”
“Repercussions,” Varanis says.
“Repurcussions.” Berra’s accent is nearly right. “I am just going to grab at the soft bits and keep tearing. And if they get me to stop, they’ll be bleeding already. And they might be able to prove he is not dead, which will be good, but then I will need a law expert probably, to try to buy him, or at least work out who owns him.”
“Irillo could probably help you with the purchase, if necessary,” Varanis suggests.
“I’ll bring him if they can show he’s alive. If I pay for him, they’ll have less call on him still.” Berra uncorks the copper water bottle built into the arm of the palanquin’s reclining seat, and takes a swig. “I talked… well, that’s not for me to say. Anyhow, this is likely going to damage the Hulta, and I do sort of want to see Rillo’s face when somebody tells him. And Mother Hulta’s.”
Varanis nods. “I wish I could shelter Lenta from this, but the heads of Hulta have to be held responsible for what they do.”
“I did say to Kesten that I was sorry for the massive amount of shit it was going to bring down on him. I can’t find much sympathy for other people, though. He died because he was loyal to someone, I think. Because we wouldn’t protect him. I didn’t realise Hulta would be dangerous to him until he was gone.”
“You’re sure the slave died?”
Insight: Berra sounds sorry, but underneath the outer sorrow there is hot rage, fed by something that has nothing to do with compassion.
“No, but that’s why I gave them a couple of days. Or why I am going to. I let Kesten know where I would be, even, in case nobody else got the hint. If nobody contacts me in the next day or two, I’ll claw along the soft parts.”
“You are really angry about this, aren’t you? Profoundly angry.” Varanis studies Berra in the low light of the palanquin. “Why? What is it about this that strikes so deeply?”
“He didn’t have anyone to help him. I.. we should have thought what we were doing. But they should not have hurt someone just for doing his duty. We should help those who can’t fight.” Berra looks away suddenly. “Because they cannot.” The curious formality of the last sentence is at odds with her usual grammar.
The outside world suddenly has a lot of interest for Berra.
“You feel responsible,” Varanis says as it dawns on her. “We… we are responsible, aren’t we?”
Silence. Staring outwards. No sound in reply.4Berra criticals Love (Family), reminding her why she chose Humakt.
Varanis falls silent, thinking furiously.
Berra sniffs a couple of times, and gets a sob under control. Finally her breath escapes with a judder and then comes back evenly. She keeps looking out but her shoulders relax, maybe even sag.
Varanis starts to reach a hand out, hesitates, and then lets it fall.
“Did I ever tell you how my mother died?” Berra asks. It sounds light, casual, like she cannot quite remember that tiny detail.
Varanis nods, then says softly, “Broo.”
“She had nobody to protect her.” Berra turns her attention back to the inside of the tiny swaying chamber. Her lashes gleam with tears, although she has overcome the main swell of emotion.
Just for a moment, Berra looks young and small, and then she looks angry and determined and much more like her usual self.
“You are doing the right thing. Tell me how I can help.” Varanis sounds sincere.
“Of course I am. I thought about this. And we move on from doing the wrong thing and try to be better.” Berra shrugs that away. “But if I die, or I disappear, make sure they get hurt. So I can say to them that getting rid of me will not stop me, which might help me, and so that I can face it knowing all will be well, that I leave behind. Nala knows the plan, but really it is pretty simple.”
“If you disappear, I will rip this city apart brick by brick, Berra.” There’s a hard edge to the words.
“Oh, you can do better. Ask what is important, then do that. Ask why I disappeared, not how. Damage twice my ransom. And you’re good with words. If I disappear, it’ll be because they were trying to silence me. Then you don’t tear. You shout. Not from where they can hear you. From where everyone can.” Berra sounds like she has already thought this through. She speaks it like she is enumerating a list.
Varanis radiates tension, but she listens carefully to Berra. “I will do as you say,” she says at last. It looks like she wants to say more, but she stops herself.
“Thank you. And it will probably not be bad in that way. Although others might try to kill me to cast them in a bad light, or they might. But they will already have the bad light upon them.” She closes an eye to dab it dry with a fingertip, leaving little evidence of tears, and then repeats it for the other side. That might be how she dries her eyes, or might be her keeping watch no matter what. “And it might not happen. So. What am I looking for tonight, that you are too tired to see or think of?”
“Garin, mostly. Or word of him or his sister. More than once, rumours have tried to put me at the front of attacks on people, so perhaps any gossip to that effect too.” It’s fairly dark in the palanquin, though Varanis has kept the curtains open. As they pass the torches out front of a palazzo gate, the light gleams in the Vingan’s eyes.
“What does he look like? And am I listening for word too? That makes it harder to be a guard.” Berra settles back down to being professional, giving Varanis her attention. Maybe she notices the torchlight. Maybe not. She does not comment.
“Tall, blond, handsome, I suppose, though not really my type. He often wears orange silk. Just be you. Keep your eyes and ears open. Chances are, we won’t hear anything anyway. But, Xenofos and I have been poking around a bit, and that might bring him out in the open.”
“Understood.” Berra settles back to watch the world and concentrate. Her attention seems back on her task, and her professional look is on.