Looking for Water

Berra — Water Sign 02

????, Fire Season, Movement Week


Context

Fire Season, Movement Week, Godsday. [[[s01:session-41|Session 41]]]

CONTAINS SPOILERS personal info about Varanis’ feelings and a bit about Eril

Events

It is late at night, and Varanis has crept in without waking anyone – Berra was lost in the maze of corridors, she thinks… And she’s sleeping, and her thirst is TERRIBLE. She needs water. And suddenly she can taste it.

There’s a dagger within reach. There is always a dagger within reach. She goes for it.

Varanis will later work out that there were two people in the room…

Berra is the one who hits her with a shoulder and gets hold of her wrist. “Stay down,” she says. “Varanis, down.” Those strong fingers are going for a wrist lock. “Stay down.”

At that point, the stool on which Berra was seated hits the ground. She was fast.

“Varanis…. it’s your cousin. You need to stop listening to your mind, and start listening to your friends. You need water.”

Now there’s a pain in the arm as Berra keeps a wrist lock on.1The grapple rolls all go Berra’s way.

There is dim light in the room, and Irillo and Berra are there.

Varanis stops struggling. She’s glaring wildly between the two of them, but she’s not fighting anymore. Her breathing is shallow and too rapid.

Berra steps back, releasing the wrist.

Varanis scrambles into a seated position, pulling her knees up to her chest.

The Humakti sits back. “You can relax. But you need to stop trying to keep secrets like this.”

Berra is in an infanteer squat, on the ground, looking up. Short.

“I have a cup of water here, Varanis. You’re my Orlanthi, but by Issaries’ sacred purse, if you don’t drink it right down, I am going to be writing to Grandmother.”

She says nothing, but holds a trembling hand out for the cup.

He hands it over, “Nobody else need know about this. I know that would hurt your Face. Your secret is safe with us, isn’t it Berra?”

“Urrr?” Berra looks confused.

The Vingan stares into the cup. She makes an effort to slow her breathing, and finally takes a sip. Then another. And another. And then she’s gulping it down.

Berra gives Irillo an approving look while Varanis is busy drinking.

When the cup is drained, she stares into it again before looking up at Irillo and Berra. “Thank you. You are right, of course.” Her voice is hoarse and tinged with shame.

And Irillo leans forward, to pour another cup worth, “And don’t you forget it!”

“You’ve got to stop trying to be what you think we think you are,” Berra says with a sigh.

Varanis sips the second cup more slowly. “I…” She tries to answer Berra, but the words aren’t coming easily.

“I know. You want to be worthy. You have to be seen to be leading. So you can’t falter. But … well, that isn’t good for you.” Berra stands to go get her stool and put it back down where she was.

“I’m not worthy though, am I? Dormal says…” With a look at Berra, she falters and turns to look at Irillo. “You said I was your Orlanthi, but how can I be that when I am the least of our companions? Even the unicorn is more capable than I am.” She sighs. “All I have done is create more trouble for people I care about.”

“Orlanth leads, but he has a band, and he uses the strength of each. It’s not the individual power. It’s the power of the whole.”

“Dare you to find a wound that you can’t heal,” Berra mutters.

Varanis stares at the Humakti in confusion.

Berra smiles, widely, eyes big. No context offered.

“We are… a band. We all have our victories and failures,” Irillo says.

“Are you trying to compete with a Humakti and a Storm Bull in battle? And a war unicorn?” Berra looks unconvinced.

Some of the tension seems to be leaving Varanis. She shifts her limbs so that she isn’t so knotted up and takes another sip of water. “I’ve had so many failures these past two seasons, cousin. I haven’t failed so much since Dragonrise.” Irillo might also realize that she stopped taking risks after Dragonrise. “A leader should lead from the front, Berra…. he’s a war unicorn?” Disbelief and resignation mingle. “Of course he is.”

“Riiiight. But you can do that without trying to be tougher than I am. Right now, we’re in a place where the chief’s son is at war and he’s not. Are you telling him he’s wrong?” Berra gives a flat look.

“You don’t suppose they ride around on peaceful stallions with lances on their foreheads, do you?” He pauses, “And Orlanth kept failing.”

“But he’s old, Berra. It’s his son’s place to go.” The cup comes back to her lips and she takes a long drink. She laughs bitterly. “Maybe I am Orlanth then.” With a long sigh, she says, “Maybe… maybe it’s too soon for me to enter the Marsh.”

Irillo notes, “We are where we are. You’re here to be with me, not the other way around.”

“There is a thing you could do here, which I can’t do,” Berra says. “If you don’t come with us.”

Varanis has relaxed a lot more over the last several minutes and no longer appears ready to bolt. Instead, she has become receptive, listening to them both.

“But in general, I can see you doing a thing where you define what you should be and then fail at it. A lot. You are being unfair in that, to yourself. That’s going to hurt people more than you admitting you can’t outrun a Humakti on the way to battle. We just need to know what to expect from each other, we don’t have to fill out our roles perfectly like we’re … perfect.” Berra shrugs her way over the lame finish.

“I don’t know what I should be,” the Vingan admits. “I keep trying to figure that out. How can you know what to expect from me, if I don’t?”

“Well, you’re a competent warrior and you’re good at oratory. That’s why I think there’s a thing you can do that we … well, in this case I… can’t. But Lord Irillo is right. This is his path right now. You don’t have to be anything. Take the time off.”

“Take the time off? It’s… my fault that Irillo has to do this. If I hadn’t followed Dormal…” She gives her cousin an anguished look. “I’m so sorry, Irillo. I didn’t mean to put you at so much risk and now I’m too much of a coward to be with you as step into what might be the deadliest part of your quest.”

“You aren’t. You must do what feels right. Your heart must guide you in matters such as this,” Irillo tells her.

“I…can’t enter the Marsh yet. If I do, I think I will only bring more risk to you all.” There is so much shame in those words. “Berra, you said there is something else I might be able to do. How can I help?”

Berra’s voice, always peasant-accented, drops a little more of its grammar. “We ain’t gonna force you. Here, we need allies. Thenaya – the thrall mistress – just said something that means she might know why we’re here. We need to have the Clan friendly.” Then she adds, “Or rather, didn’t say something.”

Varanis gives a little laugh. “Some of them are very friendly,” she admits. More seriously, she asks, “Do you want me to speak with the thrall mistress? Or just work on ensuring that Silor and Aelna stay friendly?”

Berra looks to Irillo. “You call this one.”

“Both, I think.” Irillo considers, “Varanis, I think she may have been Eril’s lover. She was certainly his thrall, and he freed her.”

“I really can’t comprehend that. Just can’t.” Berra grins.

Varanis nods thoughtfully. “Ok. I can work on that.” She flushes slightly. “I should probably admit that when Silor asked about my armour, I prevaricated a bit. And… he might have thought I was flirting with him on the ride here. I suppose… I was, but not with intention. We were just having fun. But… I spent part of the night with his son.” Even in the dim light, it’s pretty obvious that she’s blushing.

“Hengrast. Thenaya said. I don’t think she minds, at least. You’re adults. It might make things tougher with Silor, but I don’t know. Any insight?” Berra looks to Irillo.

The lamp gutters briefly. Berra finds a small flask of oil on the same shelf, and pours a little in.

As Irillo’s silence grows, Varanis blushes more.

Irillo shrugs a bit, “I’m surprised, but really, who you choose to bless is no concern of mine.”

“The only question is whether he’ll be jealous – but he’s fifty, so I don’t think so.” Berra relaxes a bit.

“He didn’t seem serious in his responses to me, anyway. So, I suspect that all will be well.”

“I hope so, yes. So, planning on making this an official alliance?” Irillo asks.

Berra snort-blorts.

Varanis raises an eyebrow at him quizzically.

“If she was going to, it would probably have taken more than part of a night. One way or another.” Berra looks down at her cup of water, like she is explaining things to it.

“Oh, just wondering. You know, I’m not really much of an auntie, but I could probably put the official approach together.” Irillo might be serious, or might not.

“There aren’t some sort of barbaric Sartarite customs about sex that I need to be aware of, are there?” Varanis sounds pained.

Berra sips from her water. “No, either Irillo is pretending, or he thinks you’re female and therefore able to support several husbands. Irillo, here in Sartar we have this thing we call ‘sex for pleasure’.”

“So…. if we are done here, can I maybe go back to sleep for a while?” Varanis asks, stifling a yawn. “I was sleeping pretty deeply when someone tried to drown me.”

“More to drink first. Unless that’s a change of subject and there’s anything else you should tell us.” Berra is merciless in some ways.

“We have a LOT of that in Esrolia. But it’s worth checking my Thane isn’t planning on a marriage alliance. And yes, more water. Lots more.”

“No, she’s not, or she wouldn’t be blushing.” Berra reaches for the jug. “So there was a pretty important ‘Dormal Says’ in there, earlier…”

Varanis sighs and holds the cup out for a refill. “I’m not planning a marriage alliance.”

Berra pours, waits.

Varanis takes a sip and sighs again. “Dormal has made it clear that I am a chore and an obligation. He has also made sure that I knew that if I am incapable of doing the things that need doing because I put my personal honour before my clan, then I am not worthy of leading. I don’t remember exactly what his words were, but that’s what it boils down to.” She holds up a hand between herself and Berra. “I know what you think of him and I know you don’t want me to listen to him. But sometimes the things he says make sense and they get in my head and I just can’t let them go.”

“Well, yes. But they make sense because he puts them in ways that sound that way. He can go get fucked, and if he doesn’t want the chore or the obligation, he can leave it to people who care about you.” Berra seems oddly easy about swearing, although she seldom does when not under stress.

“Exactly so.” Irillo smiles, “You’re doing fine. Some mistakes, but heading in the right direction. Dormal just likes to get into your head.”

“He sees the world differently from us, Berra. That doesn’t make him wrong. He has a different perspective on things,” Varanis says defending Dormal.

“No, it makes him wrong.” Berra smiles widely. “And a liar, and a bad person. And wrong.”

“But yes, you’re right. You should aim higher for a first husband, Varanis.”

Varanis blinks at him. “I… wasn’t really planning on marriage, Irillo. I haven’t given it a lot of thought.”

“He knows. That was a change of subject so you don’t have to think about Dormal,” Berra says almost brightly.

“I don’t think there’s anything else I need to tell you,” Varanis says, changing the subject again. “But I do have a question. The hazia…. you don’t think that was really Xenofos’, do you?”

Irillo answers, “Maybe. He’s never been the same since Dragonrise, has he? But maybe it was an assassination attempt.”

Berra shrugs. “No idea. I don’t know if anyone could have got upstairs. Do you know that Dormal is making you feel bad so he can dole out feeling good to you, so you’ll depend on him? I mean, I think. I could be wrong.” Her tone says, ~but I’m not.~

Varanis laughs bitterly. “He doesn’t say or do anything to make me feel good, Berra. He’s made it pretty clear he’s here because of Grandmother and that I am simply an on-going disappointment and waste of family resources. Come to think of it, he sounds a lot like some of my aunts back in Nochet.”

“Yes. And as soon as you show him behaviour he wants, how do you think he’ll behave. That’s not a perspective. That’s… yes. Think like that. Would you put down honour for them? Honour and Vinga are what you ARE. If he can take those from you, he gets power. Because he gets to guide you if you’re unsure how to behave. That suddenly sounds to me like he’s trying to be an aunt.” Berra nods over her water like something makes sense.

The Vingan takes a sip of water, looking thoughtful. “I’ve made it clear that my honour isn’t for sale….” She trails off with a sudden look of horror. “I practically encouraged him to torture that outlaw, knowing he’d been tortured recently and that you had too…” She appears to be well-watered now, because her eyes have become glassy and she looks like she might cry. She takes a long, slow breath, pulling herself together before she can fall apart again. “I am better than that. I have to be better than that,” she says quietly. “I really think I need to sleep now,” she says to them, not yet at the point of pleading. She drinks more water.

“The reason Dormal doesn’t give you anything, is that you won’t give him any,” Berra says quietly. “So what he’s trying isn’t working on you – you are not going to shift. It’s making you miserable, but that’s because he isn’t winning, not because he is.” Berra stands up, and begins, finally, to unbuckle her armour.

Draining the cup one last time, Varanis looks to her cousin and friend as though seeking permission to rest. She doesn’t say the words, but she is obviously looking to them to release her from the intervention they staged.

Berra sits down on Varanis’ bed once she has the armour and padding off, and offers a hug.

Irillo curls back up in his bed.

After only a brief hesitation, Varanis flings herself into the hug, nearly knocking them both from the bed.

Berra puts up with that, and whispers a few things about it all being alright really.

“Thank you,” Varanis says softly to Berra, eventually disentangling herself from the other woman. “Thank you too, Irillo,” she says quietly, hoping not to wake him if he’s somehow fallen asleep. She curls up in her bed, such that she can still see them. She closes her eyes.

Berra’s bedroll is where she can keep an eye on both doors, and she pads over to sleep there once she has been summarily hugged and ejected.

It’s a long time before the Vingan’s breathing drops into the steady rise and fall of sleep, but eventually, it does.