Berra — More And Harder
1627, Sea Season, Death Week
Sea Season, Death Week, Wildday, not long after a battle in which two young Humakti ducks were killed. [[[s02:session-36|Session 36]]]
After a bit of talk, Berra asks the young duck Teltra how old she is.
“You’re doing well. You need better armour. My sister and I had land to sell, to buy me some.” Berra hands over a coin pouch. “Don’t let your pride turn me down. It’s not for you. It’s for Humakt. Be better.”
“I need to thwim. Maybe linothoracth”
“Lord D’Val has a helmet too. His is iron, but I don’t think he would take it off.” Berra looks at the duck briefly. “And if you really care about bringing stability here, there’s a thing I can tell you, but you couldn’t tell other people. And the people here are yours. You gotta think about that, because they’ll be supporting you as you protect them. It might be selfish knowing.”
She pauses then nods. Or nodth.
Berra looks at her, trying to tell if that is a ‘thinking’ nod or a ‘tell me’ nod.1Failed Insight (Durulz) alas.
Tell me. Possibly
“There’s a Hero…” It’s the start of an offer. Slow, paced out in case the read was wrong.
“He’s still living. Lord D’Val’s High Sword is Eril Humakti – his nature is Stability. He’s worth following, although a lot of people complain about him. Being alive, he’s in more of a position to give advice. He’s not outside time, and he’s a very good politician. I can show you how to worship him, if you like. But if the Lunars find out, he’ll be vulnerable. Humakt’s hero would be cut down. I’m going to be questing soon to bind his Wyter, if all goes to plan.”
The Duck considers and looks… dubiouth
“He’s a great man. But you do need more connection to the god, one way or another. As soon as this dies down – Fairfield is going to have a lot to say – get to work on that. Whichever Temple you like.” Berra shrugs. “And don’t let people find out there’s a Hero. Yet.”
She nods. “I heard he’th a Durulzhater.”
“He is. He doesn’t like people who aren’t human. Ducks in particular, I think. But D’Val still follows him, because Humakt is more important than liking a High Sword. And Humakt is more important to Lord Eril than disliking D’Val.”
She looks… well, deeply unconvinced, at least as far as you can tell.
“You don’t gotta. As long as you don’t endanger him.” Berra just changes the subject. “Anything you need here?”
She shakes her head.
Berra nods, and gives her a casual sword-salute in farewell.
Ever since the chariot was seen and destroyed, Berra has been a little off. Walking back around the lake she was quiet and watchful. Now, a little way outside the village, when she should be just as alert, she is looking into the distance. Blankly. And still quiet even now, when she should have cycled through a dozen moods. Her bison plods on, out on the right of the group.2Varanis passes a Scan to see something is wrong.
Varanis brings Pag alongside the bison, giving a quiet greeting as she nears, so she doesn’t startle the distracted rider.
“Hey. You ok?”
Berra does not seem to hear; perhaps the greeting was too quiet. Still, the object in her peripheral vision should… no.
It is only when Varanis is right alongside that Berra shakes her head a little, her expression clearing through startlement into a brief smile. “Oh, hello.”
“You ok?” Varanis asks again, studying her companion.
“Um, yes?” Berra replies. Something huge is occupying her thoughts, to the point where she just guessed at an answer to that question. She thinks she is ok.3Varanis passed Insight.
Varanis watches a moment longer, before saying, “I’m not sure you are. You’re distracted in a way that isn’t typical for you, Berra. What’s devouring your attention just now?”
Berra drops her reins to gesture in frustration. “I need to be better at what I do?” It’s almost an appeal.
“You’re pretty good at what you do,” the Vingan replies. “You’re efficient and deadly and I’m very glad you’re on my side. You’re just not much of a swimmer.”
Berra snorts, wryly amused. “I… I’ve seen good, from where I am. Lord D’Val is good. And I need to be a Wyter Priest, but I don’t want to die right now. People are relying on me. And if I don’t try, it’s just as bad.”
Varanis blinks, trying to follow. “You’re still a Dagger, not a Sword. You’re what? 19? 20? That’s no bad thing. I’d expect D’Val to be better than you.” Then it’s her turn to snort. “And people relying on you to be more? Huh. I can’t relate to that.” She shakes her head and then offers Berra a rueful smile. “You just have to keep doing your best and hope that it’s enough.”
“Twentyone,” Berra replies. “But my best isn’t good enough. Don’t you see? I could… I couldn’t do what I should have done, and I don’t know what else I could have done to make it better.”
“What should you have done? Explain it to me like I wasn’t there fighting alongside you.”
“Humakt’s magic should have been enough, but those ducks? They were hardly more than ducklings. I didn’t have anything left. I should have been able to kill it without getting into the water.” It is not the most coherent of battle reports, but Berra is not at her best right now.
“Right. And tell me, why is your link to your god drained right now?” The smile is gone. Something about the way she asks this suggests patience without indulgence.
“The simple answer is I used it already. But the other simple answer is I don’t have enough of it. And I should be smarter about fighting.” Berra has neatly cut off her own retreat there.
“Mhmmm. So, what would you tell a young warrior who has used all her strength in battle? Should she have held something back in case of another fight? And if she held back and lost because of it, would that have been the right decision?”
“That she needs to pick her fights. There are plenty. But I’m not her – I’m me. I need to know when not to be in the fights too. And then… that wasn’t a time not to be in one.” Berra looks down at Followed’s big, strong neck, like she wishes she could shoulder all the burdens of the world.
“You were in the fight,” Varanis points out. “As you were in the cave. How could you pick between those, even if you somehow knew to expect this? I didn’t know Humakt had gifted you with foresight.”
Berra replies, “Lord Eril expects more. So it must be possible.” Determination creeps into her voice.4Berra gets a Special on Loyalty (Eril)
This gets an arched eyebrow. “Do you believe, as Nala does, that Lord Eril will use you up and toss you away when you break? Or does he seek to make you stronger, that you may better serve Humakt and the Battalion?”
“What? No, of course he wouldn’t!” Berra goes straight to aggrieved. “She has no idea how he thinks. He’s… ARGH!” For a moment she can do nothing but grit her teeth and try not to shout.
“Breathe,” Varanis instructs her blandly. “So, he would wish you to push yourself and better yourself, but not to the point of breaking. He does not demand the impossible. He would not have expected you to predict what we would encounter here.”
“Um, he might. He expects me to be better. To push myself harder than I think I can. It’s why I joined my Temple, and he was right. But he’s not kind about it. He doesn’t plan to break me, but if it happens, he’ll just tell me to keep going. And I could, because it’s him, and he would. But if you’re asking if he’s guessed right about how strong I can be, I don’t know. So far, I’ve always managed it… sort of.” The last part is one of Berra’s signature – or thumbprint – realisations mid-sentence. “But even then I didn’t die.”
“I see. And you are afraid that you’ll disappoint or fail because you have a tendency to hold yourself back? You don’t try hard enough? You never take risks with your own person, to protect others or serve your god?” Sometimes, in her own way, Varanis can be ruthless too.
“No, mostly because I’m not smart enough about what I use and when. Like, here’s one. I could have held back using a shield on the way to the cave. Because I didn’t need it, really, for all that long. And that probably wouldn’t have changed anything. I didn’t know there wasn’t any magic there, but if I’d done that, would I have been faster inside? Dunno. But I could have. And it’s worth thinking about.” Maybe Berra got the idea that she was being described rather than challenged.
Varanis snorts. “I used a shield then too and yes, in retrospect, I didn’t need it. But did I know it at the time? No. And if I’d died because I had decided it wasn’t worth it? Well, I suppose I’d have been too dead to care, but in dying I would have failed on my promise to the Prince.”
“I know all these things, Varanis. Really. I do. But I’ve got other questions too and I need to balance them all. If I wasn’t trying to work out how to worship such a Hero, would I be able to do more, learn better? Nobody else is helping him, as far as I know. So it has to be me. But then I might die and that would REALLY inconvenience him. I mean, he’d be… uh, you know the phrase knee-deep and sinking? That.”
Varanis sighs. “I’m in no position to tell you not to wallow in what you see as your failures. I’ll just have to trust that you’ll come up for air soon.” She stares at Pag’s ears before adding, “Don’t stay under too long. I need you too.”
Berra says, “Heh. Yeah. I need to sort it out. But then there’s you as well. You’re growing into what you need to be. I don’t know how to handle that.”
This gets a wry laugh. “I’m doing my best.” She glances past the rest of the group, to where Nala and her pack range on the left flank. “Can I distract you with something?”
“Yeah, sure. What?” Berra perks up a little.
“Nala was worried that if I went in after you, I’d fill the lake with crocodiles. I dislike being uncertain about this. I think it’s time we start to experiment to see if this a legitimate concern or not.”
Berra grins. “Experiment sounds Esrolian,” she says. “It means get experience in a thing, right? So we’re going to try to lure crocodiles?”
“I thought we might start with buckets of water, so that if any crocodiles appear, like Suuraki saw happen, they’d be contained.”
She considers, then adds, “I think it’s unlikely and Nala is worrying for no reason. Even if there really were crocodiles then, it was when I called on Salt and Teeth to help me swim. I can’t do that again.”
“It’s… yeah. I think it’s going to be rare. And probably rivers. You might need the water to be moving. But yeah, let’s get you into a bucket and see what happens. Are they sweet-water animals?”
She shrugs. “They can be, from what I know. Some live in rivers, but others prefer the waters closer to the sea. I don’t really know how to tell them apart. We generally give them plenty of space in Esrolia.”
Varanis adds, “I don’t know whether Salt and Teeth is connected to only one kind or if all are sacred to her.”
Berra nods to that. “Well. She sent them as, I guess, a blessing to you. Or you allowed her power back into the world. So then she could send them. Makes me wonder what would have happened if I’d been swimming before Sacred Time. She did something to my spine. But I think you’re right and it’s calling on her that does it. Want to make a bet on it?” Berra comes up short, presumably as she realises they would both be betting on the same thing.
Varanis laughs. “No bets. But I want to try a few things, starting with a bucket of lake or river water. Maybe if I call on her through prayer, I could summon one? But if not, then I want to try in flowing water. I can’t simply avoid water for the rest of my life. If nothing else, it tends to find me.” She glances down to her left arm, where her sleeve and the bronze vambrace cover a series of water runes.
“If you do, then what? If you call on her and bring a crocodile, what does that mean and what is your plan?” Berra got distracted after all.
“Um.” Varanis flounders a moment, clearly not having thought this through entirely.5Not being an actual scientist, she didn’t bother considering the possibility that her starting hypothesis might be wrong. “It’s not likely to happen though, is it? It was just an aberration. I need to show Nala that she can stop worrying about it.”
“I mean, it’ll probably just happen if you call on her. But if it doesn’t and you haveabig crocodile, you likely want to be suited up, in bronze. So shallow water.” Berra considers. “I wonder which HeroQuest this is – how did she die in the first place?”6Berra is also not a Godlearner.
“If it’s a bucket of water, it won’t be a big crocodile, so we’ll start there. Armour won’t be necessary for something small. Let’s worry about bigger crocodiles later.” Varanis frowns. “That time in Prax… with the crocodile that tried to eat Suuraki… that one was big. It… wouldn’t really have come about just because I went for an unintentional swim. It was full grown.” She is sounding a bit less certain as she remembers the incident.
“It was the first flood. I mean, were else would it go? We’re in a time of magic, and if one was going to be, it’d be called to you. I… did it even start because you were there, or was it there because you were?” Berra pronounces the two sentences differently. “Um… I mean, because you swam, and it happened then, or a different time, and it just turned up to meet us?”
Varanis shrugs. “I don’t know. That’s a good question, but I don’t know how to work out the answer.” Her gaze returns to Nala. “I could try asking her, I suppose.”
“Maybe,” Berra says, and it is a real effort to say that much. ‘Maybe’ is as far as she can go right now.7Another Insight Pass for Varanis.
Varanis doesn’t look especially eager to go start the conversation. Instead, she says, “To answer your earlier question, if more crocodiles do appear, I should probably try Divination. Perhaps Vinga will guide me.”
“Yeah, I was thinking recently, about that. Divination, I mean, and Vinga. Why isn’t your armour iron?” Back off track. Berra is almost herself again.
Varanis blinks at the orthogonal leap. “I’m not worthy of iron yet? Or do you mean why was the other Berra not wearing iron?”
“Yeah. That. You’d have thought, given who she was, and what she was being armed for, that it would have been iron. I mean we’ve been staring at it for a long time and it’s been familiar, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. Why wasn’t it iron?” At least Berra sticks to the same subject for several sentences.
“I don’t know. It’s not like iron is common. And a few generations ago, it wasn’t any more common.” Varanis frowns. “It’s an interesting question though.”
Berra nods, but says, “Yeah. But… King.” Then she shrugs. “Anyhow. I’ve got a lot to think about, and thank you. And I think you’re doing well. Too. It’s easier to watch other people and guide them. Really hard to watch and know they’re guiding themselves.”
Varanis smiles warmly. “I think you don’t give yourself enough credit, Berra. If need be, I’ll do it for you.” If they were on foot, the Humakti would have to decide if she would tolerate a hug, but her dignity is preserved by being mounted on Followed. Varanis satisfies herself with reaching out to grasp Berra’s shoulder instead. “Right, I’ll leave you to your thoughts.” With a little kick of her heels, she encourages Pag to catch up to Serala and Fish.8Berra also passes Insight, but fortunately does not have to stab anyone trying to hug her.
Berra talks to a duck, then laments to Varanis about not being a better Humakti