Berra — My People Ii
1627, Fire Season, Death Week
Fire Season, Death Week, Clay Day, as Berra takes Varanis to see her people. [[[s02:session-42|Session 42]]]
“Right. Yes.” Berra saunters along. “Around noon for the meal?” she checks as she goes, and Esba nods. Foor will arrive. “Alright. How I know these people then. You know my grandfather had two wives? My mother’s father?”
“No, but I know that’s not unheard of in Sartar.” It’s definitely unusual in Varanis’ experience though.
Berra puts right what she said wrong. “I don’t mean at the same time. But before he was father to my mother, he had family. His wife Tarka had a daughter who settled here, my aunt Tamela.”
“Oh. I see.”
Varanis spots a young man staring at the two of them as they pass. She smiles and nods politely.
“And she got married and had a son and then a handful of daughters. Five of them. They were a bit older than us, but we stayed with them when we got sent down here. So then her husband Torfai – he’s still living, I think, but Tamela died a few years back – had a brother with a son who had room for me in his house. Cousin’s cousin.”
“In Esrolian, he would just be cousin. We don’t…” She searches for the right Heortling word, then switches to Esrolian, “differentiate to that degree. So, the same word for both.”
“Yeah. With a different grandmother, we’d use a different word for Torfai’s children. Not quite half-cousin, although you could say half-uncle for him and still be right. But it about translates that way. So Isran’s kin, and I can call him cousin, but I could also say exactly how.” Berra keeps right on in Heortling. “His cousins couldn’t call on me, unless it was through him, but he could, generally. At least, people say so.” This might explain why she knows a lot of Heortling customs, because around here, everything says ‘Sartar’, and it has to talk loudly over Nochet.
Varanis grins and switches back to Heortling. “I should know how Mellia, Irillo, and Dormal are kin to me, but… it’s compl… hard. And cousin is enough.”
She has to switch back to Esrolian to add, “We all initiated together and in the same House.”
Berra quirks a brow. “Really? How?” That seems to confuse her.
“Every four years or so, when the Priestesses say it is time, all the uninitiated youth in a House are gathered. You have to have had at least 13 Sacred Times, but often they make people wait a little longer.”
Berra keeps on being confused, walking along. “Riiiight…” She remembers to check where she is going, and what is around them, but most of her attention is on Varanis.
“There are baths and special clothes and body paints. The girl children, any nandans and helering, and anyone whose body is less able, are carried in palanquins. The boy children and those of an obviously vingan nature, tend to run. It forms a procession through the city streets. There’s a sacred space set aside for the Houses that we go to. The rituals there are secret, but there’s a lot of dancing and special drinks that make the visions come.”
Berra nods. “Gotcha. But. Um. What about when girl-women are ready?”
“What do you mean? They are ready when the Priestesses say they are. Just like everyone.”
“When they get breasts and bleed. What happens then?” Something is not adding up in Berra’s mind.
Varanis shrugs. “Usually that happens before initiation, but sometimes not. I was late to it. It was close to a year after I joined the House before I bled.”
“WHAT?” Berra stops in the street. “H…. HOW?”
“What do you mean? It just works that way.”
She looks at Berra curiously. “Why? How do you do it?”
Berra was probably unable to speak until prompted. “Not that way,” is what she can manage. “Not in Sartar.” She, a stolidly country-side girl, just cannot compute this city thing.
Cautiously, speaking in Esrolian again, Varanis says, “I’ve heard that in some of the remoter areas of Esrolia, it may be different and girls and boys are initiated separately. But, if you belong to a Great House, even if you live in the country, you are summoned to the city for initiation. It’s a time for celebration for the House and a chance to out-do the other Houses by the scale of the festivities.”
Berra blinks a lot, and then says, “Right. Yes. Yes, you…. they would. But I grew up with Sartarites, mostly. And a long way from here. Still in Esrolia. But yeah, separate. You need to learn different things.”
The Humakti gives a delicate little shudder, like even thinking of a different way makes her mind rebel.
“Different things? But everyone serves the House. Clan.” Now Varanis sounds confused.
“No… wait, does this mean you never did…” Berra stops suddenly. “Wow. You never had a man’s initiation. A warrior’s.” She looks down at Varanis, and then back up, amazed.
“I had a Vingan’s initiation,” Varanis says. “Despite what my grandmother hoped for right to the very end, Vinga came to me in my visions and once I wore my Saiciae tattoo, I went back to the Vingan Temple to finish my initiation there. I was a bit of an odd case, because I’d already been living with them a while.”
Berra blinks again, this time with her expression clearing. “Wow. Um, I got taught what my body would do – was doing – by Ernaldans. And then I had the part where my spirit got tested. I guess that was the Vingan bit for you. But I had that to bring me to adulthood. If we’re talking about the same thing.” She is probably keeping away from what might be holy mysteries, just in case.
“I was an adult by the end of about a week,” Varanis says. “House and Temple. The days blurred, so I couldn’t tell you how long I was in each place. We slept very little. But, I don’t understand. You were chosen by Ernalda?”
“No, but how can men tell you how to be a woman? My body was going to be anyhow, so they had to let me know. The older women look after the young ones and tell them hearth-secrets and things they’ll need to know as Ernaldans. For me, that didn’t take too long, but they still made sure I wasn’t going to love men or they’d have told me more about that too. Yehna would have taken longer. They told me how to be a vingan, though. I mean, gender. What things I’d know, what women’s bodies like. And how to go to men’s places and then they sent me to wait for that bit. Because then I should. Boys go in small groups, to be the hero band. Women – girls – need to be cared for as soon as they’re young women. That’s when their spirit wakes. Properly, I mean.” Berra now sounds like she is explaining this to someone foreign, who has never heard of Sartar. Still confused, but at least she finally can understand things are different elsewhere.
Varanis looks confused. “The Miravas told me those things. My grandmother and sister.” She scowls. “My sister made sure I knew that I was late in that, as in so many other things. But grandmother made sure that I was well prepared and knew what to expect. And at the temple, there were plenty of Vingans happy to teach the rest.”
“But what if you don’t have that? How can… what happens to people who don’t have that?” There is a lot more confusion there, and a touch of worry.
“There’s bound to be someone.” Then she glances at Berra. “And if not, I’m sure the priestesses would take care of it.”
“Yeah. When you get told all this stuff, because you’re a woman!” Another shudder hits her, as she struggles to come to terms with new information. “You know, I don’t think I can take in this and seeing my long-cou… my cousin. Shall we go?”
“Of course. Tell me more about the family? Names so I can practice?”
Berra accepts the change of subject gratefully. “So, Isran’s married to Sylla. One boy, then another boy, and then twin girls, but then I left. The boys are Deref and Timon. The girls were… darnit. Small. Oh, they had matched names. Selmena and Irimena.”
“How long has it been since you left?”
“Pennel Ford. I came in just before then, to say goodbye. I thought I might end up marching a lot.” Three years, or thereabouts, since she left as a warrior.
“I imagine they will be pleased to see you. I won’t be intruding?”
“I invited you.” Berra then pauses. “We probably want to mention pretty early on that we’re not getting married or anything. The last person I brought back to meet them was Lanasha.”
Varanis chuckles and bats her eyelashes at Berra. “But darling, I thought…” She stops herself. “Sorry. Not a thing to tease you about. We can make it clear.”
“It’s fine. I get it. You’ve got great legs but I’m faster than you.” She smiles wide, and then pauses as she turns a corner. “Wow. It’s exactly the same.” It is a small dusty-paved road, with little houses on it, each touching their neighbour, each standing out in some way – decorations carved or in colour, orange paint on the terracotta tiles or polished wood shingles… Thus, they all blend into each other, by trying to be apart. This is an area that has pride, and a little bit of money, but not much.
Varanis looks around with interest.
Off-handedly, she comments, “I like your legs too, Berra. What they lack for in length, they make up for in strength, I’m sure.”
Berra is staring at the rooflines and the carved runes on door lintels, and almost trips over the gutter that has been dug here, in defiance of the lack of rain.
Someone is staring at Berra, a mid-sized boy who was squatting on one foot over a hide he was drawing on with a small-sized boy. They look local to this area, not to Nochet. The child – maybe eight or ten – is standing, looking like he is confused about who someone might be, or unsure he knows it already.
“I can squeeze the life out of you, don’t worry.” Berra then laughs out loud, looks down, blushes in amusement rather than embarassment.
“Promises, promises,” Varanis replies with a laugh. “You’ve caught that youngster’s attention.” She nods in the direction of the children. “Kin? Or is it just the way you gleam in Yelm’s light today?”
Berra takes Varanis to see her family. They talk about initiation