Muddy Colours

Berra — Muddy Colours



Varanis and the rest of the crew caught up with Berra and Toras late at night. [[[s02:session-27|Session 27]]]


Berra hauls off the saddle and the harness from Followed, stacking them on a rock. She seems fine, perky even. Her movements have the care of someone working in the dark.1Varanis fumbles Scan and does not see that Berra is exhausted and running on nervous energy.

Followed flumps down, but there is still plenty of muddy bison visible.

“Want a hand? I have the brush I use for Zukko. Not sure if it will help, but I can try?” The Vingan sounds worn, but almost cheerful.

“I’d like a dry bison,” Berra notes. “So help is good. Some bits are dry and those are best cracked off, I think. Or you could do the leather and the saddle.”

Followed snorts and flicks an ear.2Varanis: Out of curiosity, I did opposed man vs beast – beast won by a longshot.

“I’ll help with her. She’s smelly, but kind of sweet. I like her.” Varanis picks a leg and starts to work systematically breaking away dried clumps of mud.

Followed refuses to allow her legs to be cleaned below the shoulder – she is folded down for the night, asleep or close to it already. “She is,” Berra says. “I like bisons. And she was really good today – she knew we needed to move.” The little Humakti starts with mud clumps on the same side as Varanis.

Tiny turns his head, and fixes Berra with a baleful look from small squinty eyes

Berra does see that. “You – you clean basically by wiping,” she says. “Now unless you’re going to help. Yes… you were good too. But Followed isn’t as big as you and is a lot more hairy.” In the dark, it is hard to see that Tiny is there, but she is probably not speaking to Varanis.

There is a grumbling grunty sort of noise, and the gentle sound of a large amount of rhinoflesh settling into a more comfortable bit of steppe.

Varanis sets to work on a shoulder, since Followed isn’t cooperating with the leg. Oddly, she seems to be singing softly as she works. Something that sounds vaguely like an Esrolian lullaby.

“It is just possible the rhino has better trade talk than the rider,” Berra says. “But I think he just likes me to talk when I’m here. I think we’re not going to have any problems tonight, though. Impala cavalry will have to come up the rock alley, just like we did.”

“Those impala seem agile, but I doubt they could make it up the alley quietly,” Varanis says by way of agreement. “So….” She peers at Berra around the bison. “Were you able to send a message?”

Berra says, “I prayed. Divined. I got an answer from him, so he knows I asked the questions. I asked what I should do if Argrath is of Sartar’s Line, and what is to be done if Argrath wants Sartar’s throne.” She bends the basic laws of Heortling grammar, quietly, voice pitched not to carry. “He told me, ‘Live well’ and ‘Die well’.”

“I talked to Rajar…” Varanis frowns at a particularly stubborn clump of mud. “He essentially told me to stay out of the politics and he and I wouldn’t have any problems. He doesn’t seem to understand that I can’t. He suggested that all I have to go on is gossip.”

“Better than I feared,” Berra says. “Not as good as it could be. We’ll go back to Sartar. See people. Remind him to deal with Chaos if politics comes up.”

“He’s right on one level. I don’t have anything solid to go on. I have something that was said offhandedly.” She meticulously separates sections of hair from a large clod of mud without looking up. “As long as I present it as such… it’s up to the Prince and her people to decide what to do with that information.”

“Yeah. We did what we could. I couldn’t send a letter but I don’t think we need to now.” Berra stands up. With Followed lying down she is tall enough to look around the camp as she stretches her shoulders, and then she kneels again and gets back to teasing mud apart. “Apparently we are pretty close to the Block now. We set off late but made good time. If we want to communicate, that’s good. And people will know where we are, if Lord Silor sends us anything.”

“I made a decision at the Paps that I know was the right decision, but may have consequences for us,” Varanis says, as though this is unusual for her.

“Ehuh?” Berra puts all her weight into trying to get Followed to move a bit, and gets only a contented sigh from the bison.

“When I got to the Temple, the Storm Voice was expecting me already. I had planned to speak to Tennebris before seeking initiation to Orlanth Rex in Boldhome. But the right time and place was at the Paps.” Varanis touches a dirty finger to her forehead where the Storm Voice had placed the rune. It washed away days ago, yet somehow she still feels its presence.

Berra pauses in what she is doing. She gives Varanis a long stare in the dark, and then nods. “Alright. Well done.”

“It was the right time,” the Vingan says again. “I could feel it. That might not matter to Tennebris though.” She sighs. “Still, what’s done is done.”

“No, if it’s right, then it’s good. He’ll know what Rex means. What’s done is well done.” Berra turns back to her mammoth, or at least bison, task.

“I learned some new magic,” Varanis adds. She stares at the back of her left hand. “I’ll need to make sure I clean the mud off this before sleeping.”

“Tattoo?” Berra smiles. “Cool. What did the god teach?”

This gets a grin. “I can bend the wind.”

Berra makes a pleased sound. “That will be useful in a few ways,” she says. “And… well. Orlanth.”

“How was the Tourney Altar? What was it like?”

“I spent most of the time inside. I walked around a bit with Turas, though. It’s weird. The altar itself is sort of the centre of everything, so you can tell who lives there because they never look at it. Everything’s built around the space around it. The Humakti Temple was pretty big. And there’s a lot of market space, and it was like… a Humakti market?” Berra seems surprised by that. “So many things that just were not for other people.”

“A Humakti market?” This gets a raised eyebrow. “Selling what?”

“Just the things you need for Temple, but all close together. A lot of that place was Humakti. They come in for the big times, apparently. The Temple got really full then emptied out again.” Berra uses short words, where short ones would do.

Followed snorts in her sleep, and shiver-shudders all over, then settles again.

“Maybe I should have gotten a bison. They seem more sensible than my striped horse. You know, Zukko almost went the other way when we set out after you earlier today.”

Varanis continues the endless task of grooming the great beast.

“I like them, but I do think Rajar got me a sensible one. The one he got for D’Val was a LOT bigger.” Berra works her way across a shoulder, and disappears behind a beast-boulder which snorts at her.

Followed seems to be awake enough to be aware of the humans at work.

“Do you know anything about the Block? I’m trying to imagine a place full of Rajars. Mind you, Toras is a different kind of Storm Bull.” She peers down at a handful of bison hair. “I think this one is matted.”

“Leave it for the moment. Let it dry and try to crack it afterwards?” Berra lies down so she can see around the beast while also looking a bit at what she is doing. “I think it’ll be rough. Rajar isn’t … he’s not very Storm Bull sometimes. And it only takes a few to set off a crowd, no matter what the crowd is. With a lot of them there, we should be sticking together.”

“Might need cutting,” Varanis says, setting the clump aside and starting on another. “And you’re probably right about sticking together. Much as I hate to admit it, I’m going to need guarding again. We have to assume that my secret is no longer particularly secret.” She scowls at the mud, or at least, in its general direction. “At least, if we stick together, it won’t feel like I’m being guarded.”

“I need guarding too, or at least, my sword does.” Berra rips apart a muddy knot, to tell from the sound of it. “That’s why I had someone chasing me. Although Toras didn’t help. I mean, he did. A lot. But he also probably made them more angry. I don’t know if they were chasing him or me.”

Varanis cocks her head at Berra. “What did he do?”

“Xarnis, or Turas?” Her pronunciation changes with the inflected question.

“Both?”3Varanis passes Insight (Human)

“Alright.” Berra then falls silent for a bit. She speaks just as it might be time to check if she is going to say anything. “But you… um. I’d have fought him if I didn’t have a better thing to do. Just so you know.” Her voice holds anger and shame.

“Berra, what happened? I think I’m missing something here. Who is Xarnis?”

“I was in the Temple, meditating, and someone used magic to dispel the magic on me. There wasn’t any, but… that was Xarnis. And I was in someone else’s Temple so I tried to be nice about it, but he said he thought I was a Eurmalite – I’d made a bit of a fuss earlier, because of something else, so then I asked him if he’d swear that on his Truth Rune.” Berra sounds, suddenly, like she is spoiling for a fight.

“He suggested you follow Eurmal? I’m impressed that you didn’t attack him then and there. What a foul accusation.” Varanis has to breathe carefully a few times before continuing with the mud, so she doesn’t accidentally hurt Followed.

“I was in the Temple. And to be honest, I was wondering what the hell he was going to say. But then he told me a tiny initiate shouldn’t be carrying iron. And he was talking about the initiate bit, not the small bit. So then I knew what he was after. And I wanted to. I really did. But I told him who it belonged to.”

“Somehow I thought Humakti were beyond petty jealousies. He seems to be evidence that I was wrong.” The Vingan shakes her head in disgust. “I’m glad you weren’t alone then.”

“Yeah. It could have been bad. And then he called me a duck-sucker, so I asked him if he wanted to walk outside.” Berra throws that out almost casually.

Varanis’ eyes widen with shock. “He called you a…” She swears under her breath. “To be honest, I’m impressed by your self-restraint.”

“Yeah. So then I walked him outside, and told him to stay there, I was going to go worship. Which I don’t think he liked. But then Turas clapped and said something and called him Sable. I think he was applauding me but he was definitely mocking Xarnis. So I went back in to ask the Hero Eril those questions. But I hated it all. And it could happen again. And then when I got out, I guess Turas saw Xarnis getting ready or something because Xarnis went berserk. Holy rage. Oh. Um… I wonder why the god didn’t stop that.”

Varanis shrugs. “Maybe Humakt wanted to see how Xarnis would fare. Maybe he wasn’t impressed with Xarnis challenging someone in his favour. Maybe he didn’t give a shit. Who knows how gods work.”

Berra snorts amusement. “Yeah. But anyhow, when I came out, Xarnis was being held down by a big group of people, and then I went to see the blacksmith and after that I talked with Turas for a moment and we decided to leave.”

“But… does some part of you feel like you ran away?”

There is no pause at all, although Berra gives her usual vocal spacer. “Um, yeah. A lot of me, to be honest. But I know I have to get this back to Boldhome. I’ll be glad to be rid of it.”

“You have a sacred duty to that blade. For what it’s worth, I think you did the right thing.”

“Yeah. I know. And if I hadn’t had it, I’d have fought but if I hadn’t had it, it wouldn’t have happened anyhow. I need to teach it the right myths and get it home. But … well, it’s only pride speaking, and not the good kind. I don’t want to be seen to be running, and I shouldn’t care. I’m going to the people who should judge me on that anyhow, if anyone can.” Berra sighs, and then seems suddenly happier. “Also, it was very funny twice. First when I left him and he got taught by an Initiate, and then when I came back and he got taught by a Storm Bull.” She suppresses a laugh, and it sounds like she has already left the low mood behind.4She has, having passed her Water RUne.

Varanis grins and suddenly chucks a clod of dirt in Berra’s direction. “Glad to see you shake that ghost.”

Berra scrabbles for, and carefully finds, a clod. It is hard to tell in the dark, but she might be drawing on her face. Then a moment later she shows herself – a great smeared grin and two dark circle eyes, against her Sartar-pale skin.5Berra, who hates this sort of play, fumbles Air, and likes it for once.

Varanis bursts into laughter.

“Ssssh. Might wake the rhino!”

The Vingan’s laughter turns to quiet giggles. “I missed you. Well… I would have if I’d had more time to think. I danced until the soles of my feet were raw and I could barely stay upright. And I spent a lot of time not fully here, so to speak.”

“I get what you mean. I was trying to stay close to Humakt, and… alright, the bit that happened before, in the Temple? I needed to have a black cockerel for sacrifice. I can tell you that bit – it’s not a religious secret. But I was meditating and I’ve never kept chickens. Never really looked after them. Crops and horses and pigs, mostly.”

Varanis arches a brow. “And?”

“It made a lot of noise, and I didn’t notice – I was right next to it. Really deep into an understanding of ending. And it was… well, making a lot of noise. Someone took it away.”

“Oh no. And you didn’t notice?”

“I’d been meditating!” Berra is almost crying with laughter now. “So there I was, stamping through the Temple, and really I can’t blame the guy who took it, although at the time I was a LOT annoyed. Made a fuss, and then I had to take the cockerel outside some of the time so it could get light and do cockerel things like shout a lot. Whatever cockerels do. I’m pretty sure it isn’t lay eggs. And feed it. But that’s probably why I got noticed. I was right over in a corner, out of the way.”

“Ssssh. Might wake the rhino!” The Esrolian woman winks. “Oh, I can just imagine it.”

Berra covers her grin-marked face with her hands. “I really did not make friends there. But I was well behaved. And the Blacksmith there said I should have my Iron Lord repair it. Or that he should, not that I should have him do it. And then we left. We left quite a lot.”

“So…. has anyone told you yet that we were asked to leave the Paps?” Now it’s Varanis’ turn to look ashamed.

“…. alright I might wake the rhino,” Berra says in a tiny voice. “Tell me really slowly and maybe I won’t.”

Ruefully, she explains about the shrine, offering worship to the Goddess of Salt and Tears. About being chastised by the priestess, and about the rune the priestess drew on her. She also mentions the incident with the Straw Weaver bison and the fruitless nighttime chase that led them into a near confrontation with one of the temple guards.

“It all seemed like a good idea at the time,” she says.

“Oh… Humakt now might be a good time,” Berra says weakly. “A tooth-killer? In… the Paps.”

“A goddess in the Paps. A place that is holy to goddesses….” Varanis looks pained. “It really did make sense when we were doing it….”

“When I left because there was not a single Death place. Wow. Alright. Rhino. Rhinos need to sleep.” Berra gets back to cleaning Followed, busily now, trying to get the worst off despite the bison not seeming to care.

“Well… yes. Um. There is now.”

“I think they might get rid of it in Sacred Time.” Berra sobers abruptly. “I hope they can.”

“I know she’s a predator, but … there’s something peaceful about her.”

Varanis looks thoughtful. “And hunters are part of the cycle, really.”

“She’s Death. I mean, she’s a lot of things, but Death can be peaceful. It’s not life, though.” Berra seems unconcerned by that. “And they’re not part of being born. They’re the end part.” But her voice is light again, and now finally she says, “Nearly at the tail… alright, I hope this is mud. Maybe the morning.”

“But she is part of life too. You know, they carry their babies in their mouths? I’ve seen it. Those massive jaws can be incredibly gentle.” Varanis looks at the tail end of the bison, her nose wrinkling. “I’m sorry, Followed. This is as far as I go.”

“Mhm. And does she eat them while…” Berra sighs. “I’ll do it in the morning. I should… Saddle. Most of that’s just the straps and a lot of that’s leather, though. But maybe the woven bit can wait.”

“Has anyone organised the watch?”

“Rajar went and sat up there and made Praxian noises,” Berra says, “And he’ll kick someone awake. I haven’t given anyone an order, but I’ll wake Xenofos before I finish. If Rajar hasn’t chosen.”

“Let Xenofos sleep if he can. He hasn’t been getting much. I can do the watch in the darkest part of night or just before Yelm’s birth.”

“Just before then. Turas can do the next one. I’ll take the one after, with Valseena to keep me awake. You after us.” Berra hardly sounds tired at all.

Varanis nods. “Right,” she says briskly, “I should see to Zukko’s harness. Make sure it’s good to go. I’ll be by the fire.” For once, Varanis is the one using short words and sentences.

“Thank you for the help.” Berra grins in the darkness. She can’t help it right now.


“Thank you?” Berra repeats. The mud on her face keeps on grinning, although differently now she is unsure.

“Why are you grinning? Do I have mud on me?” Reaching up self-consciously to check, Varanis manages to streak mud on her cheek, where before there’d only been a small mark on her forehead. She swears quietly, then laughs. “I suppose I do now.”

“No… just happy. Make it into a smile mask. I can draw on you if you like?” Berra is definitely bouncing and happy tonight, despite the stupidly late hour and long day.

Varanis wrinkles her nose. “No thank you,” she says politely.

Berra chuckles, but not nearly loud enough to wake a rhino, and goes to work on her own harness, in the little space between the rock and where Followed now lies contentedly sleeping.

. o ( Hey, Lord. Still alive. )

. o ( Storm Bull’s getting married when the light comes. I’m going to be on guard. )

. o ( So far it hasn’t been as dangerous as I hoped. I mean, thought. )

. o ( I didn’t mean hoped. But prepared for. )

. o ( Nobody seems to care that I’m short. Not any more than they care that Rajar’s big. )

. o ( They’d knock me aside but they’d fight him to hear the sounds. )

. o ( And I can sort of understand that. So I can’t really complain. )

. o ( But mostly I’ve been here with… well. Quietly. )

. o ( On guard. )

. o ( Today’s lesson for the sword is a meditation on silence. I’ll try not to fall over in the dance this time. )

Sword, sometimes you’re alone and you forget who you are. Stay now where I put you, and remember it.

Concentrate on remembering who you are. Every time you think of anything else, think of who you are.

Hold yourself within yourself. Hold an image of you.

Think of who you are. Remember to think of you.

My voice is not important. My words are a distraction.

Concentrate on you. When my voice fades, and you forget to listen to it, keep concentrating.

… here a while now, and you need to think about yourself…

… what are you?

… are you?

. o ( Yelmrise. I greet it and salute you, Lord Eril. I go to my duties. )