Long Briefing

Berra — Long Briefing

1628, Sea Season, Fertility Week


Context

Sea Season, Fertility Week, Windsday. Berra, newly banished from the Colymar, has news for Lord Eril. [[[s03:session-6|Session 6]]]

Events

Berra presents straight to the Temple (assuming she is not stopped at the gate). She knows there will be Questions. And possible quacks.

She is, of course, kept waiting.

During that time, Berra goes to see if D’Val is around.

When she stirs from where she’s waiting, she gets glared at by another Initiate.1GM hints that this is going to be an Eril scene, not a D’Val one.

Berra considers, and sighs, and sits down again. “Yeah. I could do with down time.” She closes her eyes and attempts meditation. She even succeeds.

The day stretches out. Her stomach grumbles. She does indeed take time with D’Val, and time for a snack or two, and a cheerful look around because this is good ground to be on. Eril is being an arsehole again. Then she is called out to the palace, and returns, and lets the Wyter know she is within the halls again.

The place seems quite placid. Not very busy.

Berra stretches, stands and walks from time to time, and tries out various things to say in her head. She does a small carving of a sword, making sure to catch the clippings on her knee and put them into the carving pouch. She takes out the kazoo but manages not to play it.

Eventually the door creaks open

Berra glances up, ready to stand but not doing so.

“You may enter.”

Berra gets to her feet with the usual burst of sudden energy, like a Mostali worked out how to install springs under her while she waited. Whether or not anyone else is included in that permission she takes advantage of it herself.

The other initiate does get a glance, but only as part of her getting up and going in.

Eril has his back to her, as she enters. He’s brushing a hand over a sword hung on the wall. “Report.”

Berra bows despite the fact he’s not looking, and once the door is closed says, “Uh, small stuff first?” She would not usually ask, which indicates there might be bigger news later, and she wants her head clear.

“Proceed.” That would be a yes.

“So… we met with Queen Leika twice. Three times if you include a court. The first time was pretty quick, everyone was polite, and I didn’t notice much except that I found out one of the places that songs about me are coming from.”

A brow arches up. “Prey” (or is it Pray?) “tell.”

“Torograi Birdcharmer – either he fancies me, or he enjoys making me think he does. But he had a lot of songs about me.” Berra’s ears go pink, which she realises, which makes the rest of her blush as well. Her expression says she knows that too.2A failure on Death and a pass on Fertility mean that she suddenly really cares about this conversation.

“Ah, I see. Passion. How…. inspiring.”

“Um, yeah.” And her personal relationship with truth makes her add, “He wrote me a poem once.”3… Critical on Truth.

Then her expression says ‘maybe I should have sewed my eyes shut so I didn’t have to see this moment’.

“Oh? I have an ear for verse. Perhaps you would care to recite it.”

“Sure.” In for a bolg and it might as well be in the sling of a great troll in the darkness in front of her.
The sweetest fruit I know
Is locked in a tower, unassailable
Behind blank brown walls

And it grew on a tree overlooking a meadow
Where I shall drown my heart.

And that’s done, and she waits to hear critique. Her expression is polite, but her jaw is clenched solid.

“How… romantic. Still, it sounds like he does not trouble your separation.”

“No.” Berra looks briefly at the lamps like wondering if she could knock them both down accidentally at once, and then asks, “Well, what does your ear for verse tell you about it?” Resignation to her fate wars with challenge to his wish to move on having just embarrassed her. The only loser, probably, is the woman herself.

“He over-rates himself.”

Finally, Berra manages to get her expression under control. “So then the Queen asked Lord Xenofos to take care of a minor problem, and it turns out there’s a thing called a River Egg, which is the product of the love between a river and a dragon. I don’t know if poetry’s involved.”

“A fine meal and some gifts, perhaps.”

“You seem to know a lot about it, Lord.” Berra might not want to live any more.

“I was speculating. Proceed.”4Berra’s player pauses to laugh out loud.

That, at least, is a direct order. “Lord Xenofos had to touch it, so I protected him against magic with the power of the god – but then it took something from me. And I woke it. Or it woke, and that was part of it.”

“Who would have thought you would be so movable?”

“Well, the River Egg, apparently, Lord. So then… I woke up knowing I had to protect it. Got into an argument with Lord Xenofos that isn’t really important, and there were a lot of claimants. To the river, I mean. So Queen Leika judged that out of town.”

“Out of town?”

“Uh… there was a river flowing. From it, to me. Sorry. I thought you’d know what that meant. The egg was still whole, although cracked, and it needed to be settled, and a path made for it, but it was attracted to the Water part of me, and I got the idea I was its parent, or ideal, or model.”

Is that a smile? Surely not. “I see. Do you require guidance from Lady Kaylis?”

“I gave up women, Lord. I did tell it not to take any insult from anyone, though, and to be as riverry as it could be. Um, Leika wanted to claim it, but wouldn’t let… … sort of. She wouldn’t… she said she didn’t want to bother any other in… no, that no other individual would be bothered by that decision. So she wanted to make that decision more than she wanted to have the river. And I’d told Nameless that I would listen to her advice, even. The Humakti’s, I mean, but it would have come from the top.”

There is an amused smile, “Pride. The …. pride… of the Orlanthi.”

“Tha’s my Queen you’re talking about, Lord. But there were some ducks there, and Leika gave them the rights to the river in exchange for giving up their beak money claims. They couldn’t speak for everyone, but the new river’s up in mostly Lismelder lands, and comes down North of Quackford.”

“Do let me know if you take offence at my words. And that is uncharacteristically statesmanlike of Leika.”

“Don’t worry, Lord. You’ll know, if you do.” Berra counts up on her fingers. “Alright. I think that’s it. For small things.” The unknown sword on the wall gets a glance. There might briefly be something else on Berra’s mind, triggered by curiosity, ending in a closed-down expression over something grim. She does not volunteer it, just looks at him as if to wait for permission to go on. Even as she does so, a small thing pings up, and she adds, “Uh, this damaged me, Lord. I’d been hoping to build up to being able to bind your Wyter, but it’ll be harder and more dangerous for a while, if I have to.” No apology, just fact.

“I understand. This is a check, but not a prevention. When the time is right.”

Then Berra takes a deep breath, and as if she has just started on the important things, or on any report at all, says, “First of all, I believe that Nameless Humakti met with Gunda in Jonstown a bit above a week ago.”

“Interesting. You may speculate as to why.”

“Um, sure, but that’s going to make me do other things less. Unless you mean now?” Berra sounds slightly confused.

“Now.”

That gets her thinking. “We got to Jonstown on Windsday and were ahead of when we needed to be there, so the White Lady with us, Maalira of the Straw Weavers, went to the hospital. She got a patient who’d been hit by a Humakti and she didn’t get a description but it sounded a lot like something I thought Nameless would do. So I went to the shrine and asked if there had been foreign Humakti, and yes. Nameless and Gunda. And the assault had happened that day. I couldn’t get details over when, though, without asking a lot more, and I figured knowing that was enough. And then the next morning, Fireday, we rode out past Gunda, who was riding in. So probably, there was a reply to something, or time for thought, or her – Gunda – setting up something else. And it’s about who gets to be supported in Sartar. It has to be.”

Eril taps his chin, “You have done… adequately.”

“Was that one of the things I should have Divined about, Lord?” Berra looks him over for general health as much as reaction – one of those things is easier than the others to read.5She is much less concerned now that he is aging too fast, but wants to make sure she remembers how he should be.

He looks pale, perhaps, but not yet Delectoid. “Perhaps. But you did not, and the moment has passed.”

Berra nods. “Anything that I’ll need to let Varanis know?” She looks ready to go on, just pausing to check.

“Well, where Gunda goes, we may suppose Harrek will follow.”

“Yeah. She’s got reason not to like him, but she knows what politics is. Kay, so she can work that out for herself anyhow, and will have. But that brings us to the next bit. Which is part of the thinking. We got exiled from the Colymar…” Berra’s expression indicates a lot of emotion is happening under the surface. Her body language translates freely to ‘come and have a go’ and the dialect form of her breathing says her words are under control by great effort.

A brow lifts, “Oh?”

“Queen Leika said that Argrath was of the Colymar, and of the blood – and that she was waiting for a sign of who Orlanth favoured.” Berra’s tone says she thinks that explains some of the meeting of Humakti.

“I had surmised as much.”

Berra relaxes a little bit, as if Eril being ahead of the Orlanthi is natural to her. “So, that’s what I’m guessing the meeting was about.” She says it anyway. “Whether Argrath’s going to succeed on his own, and how Harrek can help my Queen’s plans, or else what his plans are, so the Queen can deal with them.” She shrugs, not having words to put it better.

He sniffs haughtily. “That seems excessively planned for Harrek”

“Din’t says that Harrek planned it. Just that … well, alright, it probably sounded like that, but what I meant is that even if … if Queen Leika knows what he’s going to do, especially if we don’t, then that’s how she can make her decision. But that might mean she already has, right?”

“Correct”. He appears to be humouring the diminutive one.

Berra nods. “So, one thing you prob’bly don’t know yet. Onjur wrote to Varanis and we got the letter a couple’a hours ago, and he says…” Her eyes unfocus slightly with the effort of recall…

His eyes narrow.

“…the Bat has finished its duties in the Heartlands and may soon descend once more upon Dragon Pass.” She speaks in Esrolian. “You want as much of that as I can recall?” Berra forgets to switch back to Heortling.

“Yes. It is vital!”

Berra gives no indication of alarm, but says, “There’s a copy at… no, in order.”6Passes INT x 3.

“My dearest foe. I had the honour to meet you and on those occasions to be temporarily bested by you. Despite this, I think we both acted with the best possible intentions and behaviours to our respective causes. It therefore pains me to say that steps may be taken which I feel are at root dishonourable; namely the Bat has finished its duties in the Heartlands and may soon descend once more upon Dragon Pass. I do not believe this to be in the best interests of the Empire, still less of yourselves, and trust that this information and your tendency to cause irritating friction to the best-laid plans, may act in the Emperor’s best interests for once. Yours, with the Sword of Death, Onjur-eel.” Berra’s Esrolian accent is pure soldier; she learned from scouts, Vingans, and Humakti. Not many of them were nobles. Nevertheless a few words within were new to her, and there she has a Saiciae inflection; Xenofos was the one who read it out.

When done, she tries to keep from showing it, but it is tolerably obvious that she is watching his features for clues.

“What do you know of this Onjur-Eel. Whom does he trick? Us? Some lunar rival? Both?”

Berra takes a moment to think. “If he… if he wanted to trick us, then he’d not put his name on it. He’d have something more subtle. He doesn’t need to bother. So on the level where he’s the one in charge of the thinking, he’s not. But he could be taking orders to do it. If so, I think those are from pretty high up, because his name’s known in Tarsh. It was a curse-word to the King of Glasswall. It’s not a sharp enough thing to push Varanis in any direction, so he’s not after her. He didn’t send it to Kallyr, so he didn’t want the immediate reaction. Dunno why not Tennebris. And sending it to you…” Berra tilts her head to one side. “He wouldn’t know if you’d go for it.” Again. She does not say ‘again’. Is probably barely thinking it.

“Proceed.” No hint of what he is thinking, which is, of course, also a hint.

“He’s… I think he’s pretty independent or whoever gives him orders is really flexible and good at picking points, because he’s often in the right place to cause a lot of trouble. After we got out of Boldhome he was there in Nochet and Dormal walked us right into his trap.” Beat-pause. “Through one of the strands of the web he had there. He’s been up in Tarsh and near the Far Place, causing trouble by pretending to be Praxians and leaving evidence of attack – he did that same sort of thing only in the Grazelands, to try as well. He doesn’t mind, I think, getting stopped. As long as it’s not permanent. Because enough people believe in his acted-lies that he’s happy to do it and go. Like when you get to a poisoned well, it doesn’t matter if your own water’s pure – everyone else is affected.”

He spits. A shocking moment. “Honourless trash.”

Berra stares down at the floor, where spit might or might not have landed. Shock is clear on her face. “You know, if this hadn’t been your Temple, I’d have been tempted by that when asked to describe him?” she says, words carrying the magnitude of her surprise. “It’s cleaner than talking about him, and he folds it all into words. He hired assassins, ones who were going to die, so he could pay their families. He asked if anyone would be willing to assassinate a White Lady – so he didn’t have to ask for one who would. And he made sure he paid. Early, because he was escaping. So he thinks he has what he doesn’t understand.”

“So, not reliable as an informant.”

“No, not at all. And he’s telling us this because it’s so big we have to do something. We can’t just ignore it. So he gets what he wants and gets to use us. And as soon as we’re vulnerable and he’s got that, it’s back to the assassins. Oh, he tried to burn down the inn we were at, the first time we stopped him. That’s when he spat on me in the marketplace. I know what he looks like up close.” Minor details, there.

“I shall call an artist. You will describe to them.” Eril is good at orders disguised as short-term prophecy.

Berra nods to that, focuses on the air before her as she tries to summon up the look. “And I know how he looks when he’s fighting, and when he’s… oh, he’s got a thing he can do, where he becomes two people. I fought one, and Serzeen Saiciae fought another, and then as Rajar arrived the real one vanished and he left the other and it stayed and fought a moment longer, but it vanished not long after that. We’d damaged it enough. That time, I wasn’t fighting the real one.” Just standing up alone7Alongside a known scribe. to someone she thought was a Rune Lord. Nothing more than expected.

“Interesting.” Isn’t it annoying he takes that for granted?8GM fails to poke Berra’s buttons.

Berra, who joined this Temple because and despite of the High Sword, just gets on with the next bit. “It’s useful to know his face, but he uses people who use illusions. Someone you think is him might not be. Probably still a person – it’s harder to fake the whole thing, I’m told. But make sure of it before if you can, and otherwise after.”

“The nature of the Red Moon is Illusiory.” No, he does not deign to explain further.

Berra nods slightly. “Does that mean it can be dismissed?” she asks, a blurt that she can’t stop.

“With extreme prejudice.” He may be using a different meaning of dismissed.

“Kay. So that’s most of what I know about him, but with your permission now I’ll take a moment to go through all the times I met him, or heard about him?” Berra rolls out her shoulders, as she does when getting ready for action.

“Proceed.” Again, controlled and measured.

It takes Berra a few minutes to do that, and includes her walking her hands over a small mini map. She sets forth, goes up Kero Fin and returns, and then from Boldhome goes down the Creek-Stream River to Nochet, points at several imaginary places there, and frowns thoughtfully. Then she points back to Alda Chur with her left hand, accurate in space despite being weeks of travel away. That leaves her hands in two different points as she struggles to put together something that might already be obvious to a seasoned politician. It takes a little time for her to think that through, nod, and go up to Dangerford and Tarsh. A wiggle around Alda Chur, and another frown at the area. “I need a map, but I think he’s in Furthest right now. Or at least, I can say why I think that.” But she is herself and adds, “I need to check Furthest is where I think it is, too.”

There is a room for maps next door, but no need for Eril to go there. He produces a map from a pigeon-hole in a cabinet.

Berra asks, “Just show me where Skyfall Lake is? I don’t want to get this wrong.” She watches him indicate on the map as she talks. “I was wrong, when we first met him, about what he was, and why he was there. We took horses from people we’d killed, and sold them in Alda Chur.” Illiterate at best, at least she can point to the right places. “Because we thought that would be far enough away, and because it was big enough. But it was far enough away. He was there because he was controlling a lot of things. He sticks to big cities, places where he can handle lots of plans, and places where he can control lots of different things at once. So he’s a lot higher ranked than I thought. Sometimes he does things, and leads things, alone – but he’s not just doing that. He’s got to have a whole lot of other things going on, or else Nochet makes no sense.”

“What makes you say so?” It seems, at least to Berra, that he is pointedly interested in her understanding, and not, as is sometimes the case, scorning it.

“Because when we went to see Queen Samastina, she took us seriously when we said he had to have a base in the city. And then he did, and he knew the way out of it. He knew the secret way, and he was the one to use it. And he’d probably just been organising something big in Boldhome – the whole ritual. So then HE went there, to Nochet, and he was there when we arrived, to try to stop us. So he’s either allowed to operate or ordered to operate anywhere in… well, this map just about covers it, but probably the rest of the Holy Country as well, because you don’t get to be the one person to escape from a fortified palazzo unless you’re really important to the people there, and the Queen put her own people onto breaking that, and it wasn’t easy.”

Berra pauses briefly and then adds, “Uh, it was a Red Earth place. I think. I wasn’t in Nochet when all the earlier politics was happening. Hadn’t moved there yet.” That’s either an excuse or an explanation of her limits.

“Important and ruthless. Very well.”

“And in Alda Chur, he was there to be reported to, I think, not because we were there. I mean, not because he was looking for us. High Sword, when could news of the Prince’s Lightbringers’ Quest have been known?” Berra is looking at distances on the map, comparing the space where she was standing while she worked this out to the inked representation.

“A week, say.”

Berra scowls. “A week from what? Beforehand? Or after we set off?” The scowl is incomprehension, and probably not disrespect.

“A week from when it happened, I would expect him to hear.”

“So, he or someone put that together quickly. What happened. But there was already something ready. So, I think that… he’s got patterns he uses. Things that work. We won’t know them all yet. But lots of plans that he can choose among. When I’m saying ‘he’ it could be him an’ someone else, but he does repeat what he knows to work. And… the Empire’s pretty sharp at Fazzur right now, right? So he could also be in Bagnot. If that’s there.” Berra manages to put her finger on the correct large river island. “He was going around Snakepipe Hollow, both ways. I asked the trolls to put a… we asked the trolls to put a bounty on him, but it’s still an available route. And he doesn’t just sit there. But that’s still the main area he works.” Her finger circles Furthest and Bagnot, swiftly. “And he’s got access to big news.”

“Perhaps an informant in Glamour?”

Berra looks at her High Sword for a long moment, thinking. “Can’t tell. And anything I’m saying from here’s specula…. just guesses. He was very careful not to say how he know, and to… no. Not one informant. More than one. That’s how he’d work. He’s always tried to have multiple things he can do. Sits in Alda Chur and the Grazelands burns, but he’s also keeping an eye on everything up to Dangerford, and on what Fazzur’s doing. In Nochet he already had at least one place he could use and enough money to start a rebellion. He, or what he represents, doesn’t just have one informant.”

“Strong in Disorder? But they have chaotic minds, and I feel this one plans.”

“Illusion’s lots of things, all in different places. Like …. uh, juggling balls. Throw one, catch the next. Although he had Truth on his breastplate. But you don’t even really need to know what’s going on in Glamour to write that letter, Lord. The only bit of information he’s sent is that the bat has finished its duties in the Heartland. The rest starts with ‘may’. And then he leaves us to have to work it out. So that’s the only thing in that letter that has to be Truth. Oh, and he’s up himself.”

There is a dry smile, “Up… himself. Arrogant?”

“Yeah, and believes in what he says about himself. Like maybe he was honourable – those times we beat him. But he wants people to know it. He wants us to believe it, at least, even though we know he hired assassins. So… um, there’s a thing there I can’t quite put my edge to, but he reckons his hands are clean of all that blood. And he’ll never stop. I think he’d have hired someone to kill a White Lady if everyone else was dead and it would have stopped her. Or would have kidnapped her. And somehow he’d had explained that to himself too. But that’s just a guess because I don’t like him further than I could spit a rat.”

“Have you heard of a ‘Dart War'”?

Berra shakes her head, watching her Lord with less than the usual caution.

“They are wars of assassins. Controlled. A means of settling things between families in the Empire.”

“Uh… you’re reckoning that’s how he’s thinking?” Clearly Berra is not taking in all of the possibilities, but is working on it. Her expression shows that thoughts are changing rapidly.

“Perhaps. More that it reflects a mindset where assassins might be viewed as honourable. I am not an expert on the Empire, but perhaps something to reflect upon. Their ideas of Honour are clearly very different.”

… ‘And Inferior’ goes unsaid.

“Yeah. So he’d find someone who would be willing to kill a White Lady and let them kidnap Mellia, and not tell them not to. And they’d know that he’d asked that question.” Berra looks back down at the map. The intensity she had when thinking is beginning to drain, but given that her stance is pure Fourteenth Flank Defence, she is almost certainly working out what to say next, and not just giving up.

“So… I’ve got a question that is cousin to these ones, in my head.” Berra unhorses her thoughts, sets off at a sprint. The stance of defence changes – a feint, probably, or one of the many possible ways of opening choices.

“Ask then.” No commitment to answer. An invitational.

“If I..” Berra looks around to check the door is closed, and gives the sword on the wall a glance, before looking up at her Hero. “If I call on the Hero Eril for a direct intervention within the world, what will that do to you? Will people know?”

“I do not know.” He gives a little shrug, “I should speak to the God, not I.”

“Yeah, alright.” That seems to scotch whatever plan she had. “And while I’m here, could someone who’s Humakti ask questions to Yanafil Tarnils?” She might, from her expression, think Eril is special.

There’s a pause, then he shakes his head, “It might be that they could ask questions of Humakt, but not vice versa.”

“Damn. I… sorry for my intermperate language, Lord.” If she knows she mispronounced the apology, she does not let on. “I was… I asked who might be divining about me recently. But I want to find out what his ranks are. And if he has secret ones. I bet he has secret ones.” Berra looks back down at the map, and now her expression says she is folding up her thoughts, and most things are said.

“If he can ask Humakt, and if he has, Humakt would know. But that is a secret, if his Heretical Band can do so.”

“So… I’ll check if he has, then?” Berra suggests.

“Are you ready to learn if you worship the same God as such a one?”

Confusion. Thoughts. Colliding. Slowly, as some would measure it. Still, it’s a lot of thoughts. “My only question would be why Humakt allows that,” Berra says when she reaches a conclusion. “Which is probably a question I’d also end up asking.”

He gives a soft laugh. Not a particularly nice one. “Perhaps he does not.”

Berra looks back down at the map. “I find it hard to see a wall without trying to look over it,” she admits. “There’s not much more here. He might have had a snipe at an army at Glasswall, might not have. Oh. But… Xenofos also fought him, and Rajar made sure to mark him. Can the artist speak to them as well?”

“They should. Each person has their own Truth for faces.”

“Then I think that’s all, Lord. To tie up this bag with the story in it, asking who he’s tricking isn’t the right question. It’s what advantage he’s taking. He’d happily let us stop the plans he doesn’t want, and then kill us, but I think the bit about the Bat is true. And the word is ‘may’.” Berra steps back from the map.

Eril nods. He looks grave. “Think on what I’ve told you, and on my warning.”

Berra bows. “Thank you for your time.” Bites back on a question that comes with another glance at the iron sword.

He nods, and turns back to look at it.

Berra backs off, pauses. Fights not to talk, and wins.

The Humakti slips away, closes the door, and goes to find D’Val.

====
Berra reports on recent Gunda, banishment, and Onjur, to Lord Eril