Berra — My People Iiii
1627, Fire Season, Death Week
Fire Season, Death Week, Clay Day. [[[s02:session-42|Session 42]]]
Deref says, “My honour,” with a bit of a smile. He puts up his hands to take the armour.
The light from the door dims. “Isran, I came to ask if I could borrow your auger,” says a voice. The man there gives a look around the room, and invites himself in. “I’ll get out of your doorway.” He stares at Berra, who is finger-wrestling with Timon.
Varanis hands over the cuirass. “It’s taken a bit of a beating this last year. See this spot? A pirate got me there! Dented my armour so badly that I had to get it fixed by a redsmith.”
Deref shakes his head, with the expression of someone who does not want that to have happened. Timon launches himself from Berra to ask, “Show me! Please!”
“Of course,” Isran tells the newcomer. “You know Berra, I think? This is her friend Thane Varanis. Come have a drink.” There is enough beer for this, and the new man accepts it. “I owe you. I need to drill a few planks, and the light is good…”
Varanis points out the mark to Timon, still just visible despite the repair. It’s next to one of the many air and movement runes that decorate the cuirass.
Timon asks, “Can I wear it?” of course.
Isran searches in a small tool box to find a bronze-headed tool. “Woodwork in the sun is pleasant.”
Deref looks envious of his brother.
“Your brother helped me with it, so he might want to try it first. But I don’t mind after he’s had a chance.” Varanis nods in the direction of the newcomer. “Hello, friend. I’m Varanis, or Varena, whichever you prefer.”
“Varena is Heortling,” Timon says. “You call me Timo. I want to be a warrior and a leader.”
“He’s a lot like me,” says Berra. “But messier.”
“I’m part Sartarite, Timo. My mother’s mother came from Sartar.”
Timo looks happy about that. “You are a Colymar too. We’re Swan children. We are all the same tribe.”
Varanis glances at Berra for clarification.
“Apple Lane,” Berra says. “The swan maiden stayed with their founder for seven years, and had children.”
A moment later she adds, “Hiordings,” just as Deref murmurs, “The founder was Hiord.”
“You’re right, I am Colymar too. I’m still learning what it means to be Colymar though. I grew up here, in Esrolia. Would you tell me a bit about Hiord, Deref?”
“He was the founder of our clan and stole a cloak from a swan, until she agreed to give him a kiss to have it back. She pecked out an eye with her kiss, and offered him another, and he gave the cloak back, but they had seven children together in seven years. All boys. It’s called the Seven Brothers clan for that, sometimes. He never learned to use a swan cloak to fly, but women of the clan do.” Deref has the highlights of the clan’s stories, right there.
Time passes. Half a dozen people drop in to visit, to return something they had forgotten to bring back, or to ask Sylla or Isran something. Children come in to play with Timo or Deref, ignore them completely, and sit watching the warriors. Berra is handed a small pink-brown child, Meryr, and declares him almost as lovely as Haran. Meryr cries at her for a while.
Food arrives. Either Esba guessed there would be people coming by, or Berra paid for an extra large meal. Someone offers to lend a spare bench, as everyone has been invited to eat, but now the meal seems to be formal, where the earlier stew was almost a snack. Isran invites Varanis to sit on his right, Berra on Sylla’s left, at the table. The benches are covered in cloaks, and hides are put onto the floor to sit on, and Sylla puts out the salt that Berra bought, and brings out a few things she had hidden away.
This is, definitely, a different sort of meal.
This, at last, is mostly familiar ground for the Vingan, though there are more children present than she is used to for such affairs. Quietly, she asks Sylla if she could lend her a scarf or a wrap of some sort.
Sylla obliges, opening a chest under her bed itself to pull one out.
There are eight adults in the room now; four visitors and four at the table, with the adults seated outside the benches and the children inside. The children are, just about, outnumbered by their parents.
Varanis carefully wraps the scarf, draping it in such a way that she looks less half-dressed than she did in just the padding.
Berra, sweating a little in her armour, gamely stays as she is.
Esba’s food is delicious, and a lot of the conversation is about who made it – she is the baker but who is her butcher? Who did this marinade? And is that really Thane Varena, who brought back Kallyr Starbrow?
Varanis blushes a little at that last. “It was a group of us,” she tells them. “Berra played a crucial role in the quest.”
“Will you sing it for us?” Isran asks, but quietly.
Eyes do move to Berra. People are impressed. Berra sits straighter, looks proud.
Varanis glances at Berra, then takes a deep breath and begins to sing the story. This version is different from any other they have heard. The occasional pause and thoughtful look suggest that she’s making up the verses as she goes. It’s fairly simple, as far as epics go, borrowing a tune and key phrases from other songs. But it is well put together.
Varanis’ version of the tale is one in which Orlanth is one among many and is triumphant because of those who aid. She sings of Sartar’s fire in the darkness of the underworld. Of sheltering the spark whilst others sheltered her. And finally of finding the prince, passing the spark, and together triumphantly returning to see Great Kallyr rise again and this time light the Flame.
The audience are rapt, and at the end there are shouts of congratulation. There are no rings to give here, but Isran cuts the best of the lamb for Varanis, and puts the plate before her.
Varanis smiles warmly at them all, basking in their praise. “I can sing another if you like?”
“Eat first,” Isran says. “And then more. Deref, sing us one?”
Deref stands up, shakily, and then dives under the table to hide.
Varanis peeks under the table. “Would wearing my armour help?” she whispers to him.
Deref shakes his head. “Let him stand behind you,” Isran says. “So nobody looks at him.”
She whispers again, “I can be your armour. Stand behind me while you sing?”
He does that, and his voice is rather good for a child’s – sweet and still short of breaking. He sings the story of Varanis meeting Queen Leika, which has parts that are not strictly true, but rather flattering nevertheless. Down here, it seems that Leika suggested the gifts of her lands, which is why the Blue Tree has Varanis in it now. Leika suggested hides and Kallyr agreed. It is a song of community and unity, out of place with the current politics.
Varanis praises him profusely for his song and does her best not to look at Berra. Having begun to eat the lamb, she asks Sylla if she recognizes the herbs Esba used. She thinks she can taste Starflower, but it’s not quite the same as it was in the stew.
“This isn’t Esba, although she delivered it. But it’s a Colymar cook. It’s definitely apricot, and a touch of mint, which is fresh, and that went on very late – it’s just cooked in the warmth as it came here. But I can’t really tell you. I think the starflower is mostly stew made from dried stalks, so perhaps there was a cooking tray, and it got basted?” Sylla does not mind guessing.
Berra, out of the corner of the eye, looks happy and proud, and not even wistful.
“It’s lovely. I haven’t eaten so much food in ages and every bite from your stew earlier to this feast now has been delicious.”
“Sometimes it is hard to get time to sit and eat,” Sylla says, and does not make any comment on feeding Varanis up. Then, to prove a point, she is interrupted by the baby waking again, and feast or no, she has to go deal with him.
Varanis watches her go, almost wistfully, before turning back to the conversations at the table. As before, she is soaking it all in, eager to learn about these people who are all part of her tribe.
There are three families represented at the low benches. Two more Hiording men, and a married couple from the Varmandi, across the Swan river. They talk of Oakton, and their chief, Korol Serpent-tongue, as if they are just away from home and not settled in place here. One day, everyone knows, they will go back.
Korol is an argumentative man, a proud poet, who once loved a Vingan and then married a wife stolen from the Ernaldori when he was rejected.
“I hear Vingans are hard to pin down,” Varanis jokes. “Too full of Air and Movement.” She brushes her red plaits away from her face and grins with mischief.
“Tell them the story of wrestling Rajar?” Berra suggests. “And how you watered him to help him grow.”
Varanis laughs and then launches into a somewhat embellished version of the story in which Rajar is a veritable giant, much beloved by Ernalda.
When she reaches the part about dowsing him with water, she leans over to tell Deref, “I don’t mind admitting that this was a very bad idea and I strongly discourage anyone from such foolishness. Berra rightly chided me afterwards.”
Berra almost falls over laughing. “I nearly yelped. I thought someone was about to get pounded into mud and I wasn’t sure who…”
It takes an hour to finish eating, and to examine the modest but useful gifts that Berra brought, and to politely chivvy people out, and then the door closes, and Isran asks, “Are you sure you will not stay?”
“I have a bison in stabling,” Berra replies. She looks a little sad about that, although she is currently bouncing a small girl up and down on her knee, and has had her greaves borrowed by Timon and Deref, who are using them as shields.
Varanis has shyly asked to hold the baby and looks very reluctant to surrender the child now snuggled against her.
Meryr has thin, wispy baby hair, and a wrinkled look, but he is a little older than Haran was, when his aunt met him. He still has no idea what this Outside World thing really means.
The Vingan peers at the baby. She leans down and whispers something to him. Then she pulls her head back and wrinkles her nose. “I think…” There’s a very audible rumble from the baby. “He smells!” she laughs.
“Oh, yeah. Problem with cities, you can’t get them to grass fast enough to teach them to use it young.” Berra wrinkles her nose. “You have to teach them when they can walk, instead.”
Berra’s kin hold a feast – which Berra paid for with money borrowed from Varanis