My People III

Berra — My People Iii

1627, Fire Season, Death Week


Fire Season, Death Week, Clay Day. [[[s02:session-42|Session 42]]]


“That’s Deref!” Berra stops and then almost runs towards them, pulling up after a few moments as Deref runs into the house calling, “BERRA IS HERE!” By the time a woman of about thirty comes out, Berra is paused in the street, waiting almost nervously to approach.

Varanis steps back a half pace. She is here for Berra, but the Humakti gets to be the centre of attention now.

“Berra Jarang’s Daughter!” Blonde, thin-faced, and loud. The woman hurries forward and hugs Berra, telling her, “You look so grown up! I’m sure you’re an inch taller! And bronze! We’ve been hearing all about you!”

Berra is hugged.

Varanis smiles at the scene, then scans the area to see how people have responded to such a loud declaration of Berra’s identity. Sure enough, there are faces at several nearby doors and windows.

“I brought you some things. This is Varanis. I travel with her and her band. She’s my be…… ughfff friend. Very good …” Berra is still being hugged, despite trying to talk and to offer over the bag. “Varena, this is Sylla.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Varanis says.

Sylla releases Berra for long enough to look Varanis up and down. “You are welcome in my house,” she says. “Please come in. Berra, do you need a bed? Either of you? We can find you a place.”

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Varanis replies politely. “I have family in the city, but your offer is very generous.”

Sylla calls to her sons to come over and greet the warrior. Up close, Deref is probably closer to twelve, but never likely to be long-boned. His little brother introduces himself as Timo, with a bow. Timo must be about ten. From inside the house a man holding two wriggly girls in an expert grip looks out to see what is going on, and smiles but cannot hold up a hand in greeting.

Berra gets dragged in by the boys. This is a tactile family. Sylla gives Varanis a tiny bow. “Come and meet the man of the house.”

Varanis returns the bow politely. She smiles in Berra’s direction, but follows Sylla.

Berra is already being seated on a bench, but she pushes over so that Varanis can be on her right. “She’s a thane,” comes the explanation. “Although she’s here as my friend.”

Varanis glances around at the children. “Let’s see… Deref, will you introduce me to your sibs?”

The boy smiles, and bows. “Of course, thane. I stand here before you, son of Isran, son of Orlan, and my …” He looks in puzzlement at his father who says encouragingly, “Uncle.”

“My uncle is Berra’s uncle. My brother is Timon, And my father’s joy beside us is his daughters. Selmena and Irimena. In our cradle is Meryr.” he adds, “Selmena is the one with the orange hem. She argues more.”

The children are put down when their father is safely seated as well. This is a tiny house, with a ladder up to a roof space, where the children presumably sleep. A cot next to a bed behind a hide has a little bundle in it, silent and still and pink and sleepy.

Varanis listens gravely. “A pleasure to meet you, Deref, son of Isran. I am Varanis Saiciae, daughter of Serzeen. I am sometimes called Varena.”

“We know all your stories,” Deref replies. “Escept of course any you would like to tell us now.”

Timon is in a staring contest with Berra, who is smiling happily, possibly having not realised she is being stared at. Isran stands to go get cups and a jug of beer, and the two girls stay on the floor together, holding hands.

“You do? My goodness! Do you know all of Berra’s stories too? Have you heard about the time Berra and our buddy, Rajar, killed a crocodile in Prax?”

“No…” He stands tall and asks, “Pliz tell us oh thane.”

“We got surprised by a sudden flood,” Varanis begins. “I was swept into the water… I don’t mind telling you, I was scared. Do you swim well? It’s a good skill to learn,” she tells him earnestly.

“I swim in the river sometimes, but not this year. This year I’m going to be helping around the workshop more. My father weaves. He’s at home today because it’s Clayday. The workshop gave him a holiday because they needed the looms for a ritual. I might be a weaver.”

“Weaving is an important craft.” Varanis returns to the story. “We travel with some Praxians and one of them helped to pull me out of the water. The waters receded and we were trying to collect the gear from one of our mounts who had drowned.”

Berra listens in, holding out a hand for Timon, who comes to plunk himself down on her lap. Very very tactile family. Berra does not seem to mind, and puts a hand on his shoulder to steady him.

Deref nods, eyes wide, waiting for the next bit.

She continues, “Suuraki, he’s the one who pulled me out of the water, was attacked by the biggest crocodile I have ever seen! It was like it came out of nowhere.”

“It came out of the river, which brought it to us,” Berra whispers to Timon, who nods.

Deref’s eyes get wider. “Like the sea-beasts to the South,” he murmurs.

“Suuraki was brave, but he was injured and only armed with a knife at the time. Berra leapt into protect him, wielding two swords at once! She sorely wounded the beast, and would have killed it too. But, we have a huge Praxian with us too. His name is Rajar and he’s a bit like a giant!”

“He killed the first crocodile in Prax probably since the god time,” Berra tells little Timo. Deref nods almost violently. “We have heard of him. He found favour with a Priestess.”

“Well, Rajar finished the crocodile off, but it was your Berra who saved Suuraki.” Varanis continues the tale. “She is always so brave. You should see her wield those swords! She has taught me so much about fighting and I’m a better warrior because of her. But, she can also be amazingly gentle. I loved watching her with Haran, Yehna’s boy. He already loves his auntie, even though he is teeny tiny.”

“Wait, Yehna has a boy?” Isran asks. “Did she get married?” He takes the opportunity to hand out beer, which Berra takes. “A man named Dostiarag. I don’t know if you knew him,” she replies. “I think he was from Sartar. He died but he gave her a boy, Haran. He’s perfect!”

Varanis gets offered beer as well, by Isran giving it to Deref to hold out to her.

“Thank you, Deref,” Varanis tells the boy, accepting the beer. “You are an excellent host.”

“You do our house honour,” he says formally.

Berra then has to describe everything about Haran, which is not much, but she makes a lot of it. He has, she says, got a warrior’s grip. Then Isran asks if it was true about Pennell Ford, and blood hour, and Berra just nods, and adds, “There were a lot of people there. I was just the one at the front for a while. My whole Regiment was marching. The second. Our captain got killed in front of me. That’s all it took. I stepped forward.”

Food is offered. Vegetable stew and bread.

“May I offer some contributions to your table?” Varanis asks Isran. “I found someone who makes the most amazing meat filled rolls in the market and I confess that I got a little too excited about them and bought more than I can eat.”

“I can’t eat vegetables any more,” Berra says. “But we bought from Esba.”

There is nodding. They know her food, and they would love to share. Berra adds, now that it is safe to, “I asked her to bring something along for us all to eat. It’s not every day I get back here.”

“Why no vegetables?” the younger boy asks. “Humakt demands it of me,” Berra replies. “I had to teach an iron sword to be deadly. It’s in my Temple now. In Boldhome.”

Much awe.

Sylla and Isran exchange glances, and there is bread with a touch of cheese for Berra, who takes a little more than she needs to, but then feeds Timo on her knee.

Varanis politely accepts the stew and a small chunk of bread.

She glances around at the others.

Though only Berra seems to notice, the Vingan is unsure suddenly.

Berra is engrossed with young Timon. Deref is just staring at her. The parents are taking the chance to feed two small girls, and the baby is still asleep. It is a ritualised offer, but they were also probably hungry, and this is an excuse to have food with a promise of more on the way.

Berra – not entirely engrossed after all – lifts her eyebrows in question, while playing catch-the-morsel with Timon.

Varanis mouths, “Can I eat?”

Berra looks confused. “Why not?” She is equally quiet.

The Vingan shakes her head. She’ll explain later. She takes a mouthful of the stew. “Oh. This has lovely flavour to it! What herbs do you use?”

“Mostly we use what we can get from home,” Sylla says. “We still think of ourselves as Colymar. We just haven’t gone back yet. We all really like Starflower, so that is most of the flavour. Everything else is seasonal, except that the garlic is pickled.” She looks like she will burst out into a recipe if she is allowed to.

“I did some of the cooking while we travelled. I think we all appreciated the days when it was not my turn to cook,” Varanis admits with an embarrassed laugh.

“You need to learn what you are good at cooking, and start with that,” Sylla replies. “The girls help me to knead bread.” She uses a spoon to feed Selmena, but is now also picking at a roll, and letting the girls have bits of that between eating herself and helping her husband to wrangle a rather wriggly Irimena.

Berra accepts being fed by Timon as part of the process of feeding him. They are chatting about Esba and in a low voice he asks, “Can I wear your armour?”

“You can wear my greaves, she replies, “But they will be big on you, and I don’t have vambraces you could use instead. Just the one. Now eat up. If you finish all this without mess I’ll let you wear the helmet and tell you about my crest. It’s a bit of the story you probably haven’t heard.”

Varanis whispers conspiratorially to Deref, “That’s a good story. It comes with a bit of a surprise, but I won’t spoil it for you.” She winks at him and grins at Berra. The Vingan looks down at her bowl in sudden surprise. She has finished the whole serving. She uses the last of her bread to wipe the bowl clean. “I’ll have to get some Starflower before we travel again, Sylla. Do you cook it along with everything else or add it towards the end?”

“The flowers get dried and used a little like any green herb, and the stems put into a little bag so you get the flavour but you can use them a few times. Old and new together is best. The leaves don’t really travel, but slice them fine and use them like onions, if you can get them. Sometimes we can find them salted.” Sylla smiles. “There are things you can do with the root as well, but mostly to do with dye, and it’s only a pale yellow. After the petals drop, the flower bulb makes tea with this flavour, but you should not have too much or your nails grow into claws, my mother told me.” She might not believe that last part.

Varanis examines her fingernails then looks to Deref. “What do you think? Should I try to grow claws?”

Deref shakes his head slowly. “Claws!” demands Timon. They are obviously very different children.

She shakes her head, and gives Timon a sad look. “It would be fun, I think. I like to climb and surely claws would help. But, sometimes I have to have my nails …. coloured?” She glances to Berra. “I don’t know the word for that.”

“Painted works,” Berra says. “Or lacker?”

“Lacquered,” Sylla puts in. She is finally getting to eat. Her husband, who has a more difficult child, is still patiently getting past flailing limbs. He does not seem to say much.

“Could I help with one of the little ones?” Varanis asks.

“You already are, although he’s a big little one,” Sylla says. “Nearly a man.”

Meryr gives out a short cry in the cradle, and settles down again.

“He doesn’t need my help. Oh, but maybe he’ll help me? Deref, when you are done your stew, would you help me with some buckles? As we aren’t rushing away, I wouldn’t mind taking this thing off for a bit.” Varanis knocks on the heavy bronze of her cuirass. While Berra knows that the straps have been modified so the Vingan can do it herself, Deref doesn’t.

Deref nods, and hurries up with his small portion. Berra is somehow lying on her back now, with Timon sitting on her, eating stuffed bread. She does not seem to mind. Her feet are up on the bench she was using. She is the least prepared warrior in the room.

Varanis waits patiently for the boy, soaking up the ambience of the home. There’s a bemused, but happy little smile on her face.

Deref stands, goes to wipe his hands and face on a rather dusty cloth, and then to splash enough water to make himself clean, from a jug on a stone shelf built into the wall. Then he comes to help Varanis.

Berra tells Timon, “You have beaten me, but you have made a mess. Still, help me to tidy, once you have eaten.” She has her helmet, and her beloved feather, next to her. “And if you get off me, I can eat.”

Deref dutifully hauls on straps.

Varanis shows him which ones to pull and in which direction and before long, they have the cuirass off her, leaving her in her padding. She wriggles a little. “So much better! Thank you!”

She glances around, looking for a place to put the armour out of the way.

Berra’s kin live in a tiny house and it’s wonderful