1627, Sea Season
At the Feathered Horse Queen’s camp, to negotiate marriage. Session 37: Whose Queen?
After returning from their post-feast visit with the Feathered Horse Queen, Varanis suggests that Berra take a walk with her. The implication, of course, is that the Vingan wants to talk outside of the confines of the yurt.
Berra, trying not to pace up and down in a small pavilion, nods. “Yes. Definitely.”
Varanis grabs her blue wool cloak to wrap around her armour. She looks to the Humakti, waiting for Berra to precede her outside.
No cloak for Berra, until she changes her mind halfway across the floor, and goes back for it. “Yes. I have a thing I should mention.” She wriggles into the cloak, which she wriggled out of hours earlier, in much the same way as a snake wriggles under its familiar hearthstone.
Outside, there are a few people about casually, including the Designated Servant, acting as a guard on the door, and as a warning.
Varanis nods politely at the servant. “We’re going for a walk. Do you need us to wait a few minutes while you make arrangements?” she asks in careful Tradetalk.
“It would help make sure you don’t get lost,” the woman replies, and she does not have to step away far to find someone to escort them at a discreet distance. There’s a small smile for the new escort and then the Vingan sets a brisk pace for the perimeter of camp, trusting both Berra and the Grazelander to keep up.
Berra does just that, her cloak back and her eyes sweeping the place like the bodyguard she got accused of being. Just like that. Behind them, presumably just as alert and with a better knowledge of what is going on in the area, their minder follows.
They reach the perimeter without interruption. A time or two, someone takes notice of them, but then also takes notice of the Grazelander trailing them, and politely looks away. When they reach the edge of the camp, Varanis pauses and takes several deep breaths.1Insight? Special. Insight: Varanis has been rigidly restraining all emotions and acting calm. It is now obviously an act and she is letting down the walls a little. She clearly feels safe with Berra. Insight: Berra is still tense, maybe more so with Varanis a little more open, but it looks like the professional tenseness she always carries with her.
After several more breaths, she begins to walk again, leading them around the boundaries of the camp. “Tell me your thoughts and observations,” she invites.
“She’s keeping her options open, and putting Kallyr onto the board by sending the Luminous Stallion King,” Berra says, keeping up easily. “The Tarshites are their own main rivals, to each other, and they know that. And with what Suuraki said, Argrath could be a proxy for any of them to gain power, but they don’t need proxies. Kallyr letting him in would be like a fox being invited into the chicken cages, so he can be used against her as a threat. And I wonder a bit if your sister’s going to turn up in the court of Pharandros. Because that’s the bloodline. And I should tell you something Lord Eril told me.” Words. Berra. All out at once.
Varanis pauses in her steps abruptly, then starts again. “Why didn’t I think of that? I assumed that as a priestess with a husband and mature children, that my sister was unlikely to be seen as a pawn for marriage. But…” She shakes her head in disgust. “Stupid. I should be seeing the bigger picture. Tell me Eril’s words.”
“We were talking about the Luminous Stallion King. He said Kallyr is a Hero, and this will not happen until it is her idea. I think he’s trying to persuade her to have that idea. But if he – the Luminous Stallion King – asks her instead, that might go down badly. If he’s anything like the Feathered Horse Queen.”
Varanis runs a hand through her hair, dislodging some of the braids Valseena had attempted to pin in place. “Use all the words, please. I’m tired. This won’t happen? What is this? Kallyr’s hero status or the marriage?”
“Her marrying the Luminous Stallion King as a proxy. She needs to be the one leading that idea, as far as she knows. So if we can warn the Queen that she’s … that she’s a strong-willed individual who needs to come to her own conclusions, then she can advise the King of that.” Berra’s pause seems to be in consideration of how to put that carefully, and not of any deeper matter.
This earns Berra a thoughtful look. “Yes, I think you’re right. Which means I need to speak to Her Majesty in the morning, if she’ll see me again.”
“Nah. I think this is probably one that can go through someone else. If Endars can be trusted to look after us, he can send a message.” Berra shrugs. “But maybe. It might be stronger coming from you and that’s good.”
Varanis shakes her head emphatically. “No. I need to say it. I’ll only ask Endars if she won’t see me again.”
Berra nods. “That, then. Beyond that, no matter what, she’s playing all the sides for what she can get, so she’ll want to make sure Kallyr stays attached to the attempt. So she should be good about it. I think she likes you, and it was lucky for her that you were here, so she could see someone privately after the feast but it not be either of the Lunars. But that’s not so important. The liking, a bit. The gifts and what Kallyr can give, far more. And how the Luminous Stallion King reports to her. And if we all look strong.”
Varanis walks quietly for a time, taking this in. The sounds of the camp remind them that they are not alone, though neither of them could forget their silent shadow. “And you?” Varanis asks softly. “How are you?”
Berra shrugs. “On my way to being a warrior?” she suggests. Nothing about her body language says different.
Despite the darkness, Varanis gives her companion an assessing look. Conflicting expressions cross her face, before she settles on one of acceptance. “As you say. Tell me your thoughts on the Lunars, then.”
“Um. If I could face Fazzur and not be destroying you here, I would? He’s on my shit list. Dunno about the other one – I don’t know enough about Pharandros to say anything. But he’s the one who tried to have Fazzur and his people killed.”
Varanis shakes her head. “Not what I meant. What did you observe over dinner? Are they more interested in each other than us? Did you notice anything of interest about the warriors at the table? Have you got any sense of how many are in camp?”
“Thirty I’ve seen, probably more hidden. Guests, and people keeping watch on the guests. And yes, they’re more interested in each other, because they are at war, and whoever the Feathered Horse Queen choses is King of Tarsh. And Dragon Pass. But for them, Tarsh and killing each other is more important. Most of the warriors are impressive, we’re among Rune Lords and High Priests and such. So we look less impressive, but now she’s invited you in, even though it was the only invitation she could give, you’re going to be looked at more. And if she knows about you, they know too. At least something.” Berra shrugs. “Sorry. I’m not political.”
“You’re echoing my own thoughts. I admit… I am hoping they remain more focused on each other. If they decide I’m important, our chances of leaving here unmolested are slim. Even if the Grazelanders stagger departures and send us in different directions…. we’re very exposed just now, Berra. Accidents happen. People disappear. And we are a small group. We’d make them work for it, but I wonder at our chances.”
“Pretty small. That’s a … whatever the High Sword is, but for Yanafal Tarnils. And the others will be about the same. But we sent the gifts, and we’ve delivered the message. If we don’t get back, then someone’s broken an oath. It’s the promise they’ll make us make that’ll keep us alive.” Berra shrugs. “We should probably go to the Shaker Temple. It’s the closest Shrine of Humakt I know of, and it’s also hostile to Lunar Tarsh.”
Varanis nods. “Agreed. When we depart, we head that way as quickly as we can. It may be predictable, but it’s the closest point of safety. And it’s possible we will be able to send word to the Prince so she knows what has transpired, even if we are trapped there.”
“Once I’m there, I’ll be able to pray properly, for what that’s worth.” Berra then looks around as if secrets might travel too far, and then shrugs. “It’ll be good to see somewhere I know now I know more.”
“Do you have any guesses as to how far away it is? I’ve never been. I’m hoping they have a shrine to Vinga, but am uncertain of it.”
“We’re about level with Bagnot. I think. So the Shaker Temple is a couple of days away, and Wintertop’s a bit beyond that. There’ll be an Orlanthi Temple there, for Vinga. It’s possible we could ask for guides. Trouble seems to be following us.”
Varanis considers. “Asking for help is an admission of weakness. I don’t think we can afford that either.” She shakes her head decisively. “No. We have to do this on our own. We’ll just have to be quick and careful.”2Rolled 19 on Air. Pride does not permit weakness in front of outsiders.
“The trouble,” Berra says. “And Finarvi and Serala finding us. It’s going to happen more.” She has accepted what Varanis says, and this, to tell from her tone, is a new subject.
There’s a frustrated look. “Use all the words you mean, Berra. ‘The trouble’? Which one? What about it?”
“All the trouble,” Berra repeats. “That’s another thing that Lord Eril mentioned to me, although it was about something else. We’re getting further into the Hero Wars. This is a time when people you’re connected to will be drawn to you. The net is getting tighter – like when we met Rastip on the road, or maybe when a Troll was drawn to me because I was being Humakt. More and more like that.”
“If I allow myself to think too hard about that, it will cripple me. I need to focus on putting one foot in front of the other right now. First, speak to Her Majesty again. Then exit this camp without company. Then get to the Shaker Temple to send word. One step. Then the next. We’ve seen what happens when I allow the what ifs space inside my head.”
Berra nods. “Fine. Nothing else I can think of, then.” There is a brief hesitation as she thinks something through and then repeats the nod. She is all done.
Varanis is quiet again for a few paces. She runs her hand through her hair, frustration in her eyes. She darts a glance back at their shadow, still following at a respectful distance. “Running now would be unkind. And dangerous.” She seems to be telling herself this, rather than Berra.
“I want to now you say it, though. Not to run away, just to be moving. Maybe we could find some decent space tomorrow and not ride, just walk.”
“If we leave tomorrow, then I might just run anyway. At least for a while. Likely to move faster than on that monster of a horse. I never thought I’d miss Manasa.”
“Bisons. Bisons are the thing.” Berra does her best to look wise despite the lack of light to show off by. “You can tell people you’re keeping me company. Although I can tell people that you’re unfit and want to understand infantry, if you want.” Then a tiny pause later she adds, “You’d have to tell me that truthfully, of course.”
Varanis laughs, a genuine burst of amusement. “You could also just not say anything. Who is likely to ask?”
Berra shrugs. “I was thinking Rajar would probably ride around you and shout a lot, to be honest. Encouragement.”
“I’ll point out to him that we’re trying not to attract too much attention.” The Vingan considers. “I would be faster without my armour on, but I think it’s unwise to expose myself that much.” She looks to Berra, “Is tomorrow a walking day for you? I’ve lost track.”
“No, I didn’t need to ride a horse on Godsday. But if I walk then I’m fine for another week, so I like it to be two days a week anyhow. That way if I do have to mount up, I’m fine. It teaches me preparedness, and thinking ahead. Almost like the god knows me.” She is offhandedly amused there.
“I’ll have to ride out of here. I can’t risk losing face in front of the Grazelanders. I’ll just have to hope that Fish behaves. But we’ll see how things are after that. I’d really rather not give either Lunar party easy access to me.” The frustration and worry are back. “Right. Enough. Time to get back before the others worry. We’ve almost completed the circle anyway. Have you given me a guard shift tonight or not for the sake of appearances?”
“No, you’re staying in. I’m not yet decided if we DO guard. There were no Lunars outside the Lunar tent I saw. I might stay out for a bit, but we’re safe here, or safer than we’ve been for a while – and we can’t do anything about what matches us. I think we should probably trust in our Hostess, but I’ll keep the guard company for a bit, if I wake up. It’s… We get to relax our bodies, if not our minds. And we could all do with sleep.”
Varanis looks thoughtful. “Trust our hostess. It’s necessary, I suppose. We’ll take the chance. But, I’ll still be up at Yelmrise. If you’ve slept enough, will you join me? I’d prefer to greet Yelm as far to the edge of the camp as our shadows will allow, and I’ll need someone to watch my back. I could bring one of the others, but given they see you as my bodyguard…” She trails off. “Of course, you’d be the expected one. Maybe Rajar to be less predictable? Though he’s not always his best that early and he seemed to be drinking heavily tonight.”3I think Varanis was so focused on the FHQ and the Lunar leaders that she didn’t realise Rajar was pretending.
Berra nods. “Of course. Wake me and find out if I get dressed or swing at you. I’d go with predicatable. Let Rajar’s brain be kept as a surprise. And have this talk with him too. He was closer to the red-cloaks. And he thinks well about war. Better than me. I’m better about battle but he understand the big things.”
“Alright. We go back. Talk to Rajar and the others. Then sleep.” Varanis turns to look back at the Grazelander trailing them and nods in the direction of the yurt.
Berra looks away to make sure if any others are following them.
When they approach the yurt, the Vingan speaks to the attendant waiting outside. “I think we’ll be good for the night now. Your people have made sure that we are well supplied. Can I assume that if anything changes, there will be someone nearby we can speak to?” Although she phrases it as a question, they all know the answer. It’s a polite acknowledgement of the attendant’s duty without making a fuss about the presence of someone else’s guard outside their sleeping space.
“We will be sure you are looked after,” the Humakti servant assures Varanis, with no significant weight on the sentence to say which meaning of that she is using.
“Thank you. You represent your Queen with honour. Your assistance and that of your companions is appreciated.” The smile she turns on the Humakti is real. Despite being caged for the night, Varanis appears to be thankful for the presence of these strangers. She slips into the yurt ahead of Berra, leaving the other woman to make any final security checks she deems necessary.
Berra just steps in afterwards, and makes sure the outside is well sealed away.
- 1Insight? Special. Insight: Varanis has been rigidly restraining all emotions and acting calm. It is now obviously an act and she is letting down the walls a little. She clearly feels safe with Berra. Insight: Berra is still tense, maybe more so with Varanis a little more open, but it looks like the professional tenseness she always carries with her.
- 2Rolled 19 on Air. Pride does not permit weakness in front of outsiders.
- 3I think Varanis was so focused on the FHQ and the Lunar leaders that she didn’t realise Rajar was pretending.