Never trouble trouble

1629, Sea Season, Illusion Week, Wildday


[Location and whatever other notes you want here.] Before Session S5-S-1.


Those human cults that worship at night have a thing in common: the day after their worship, when they are at their most poweful, they are also at their most irritable. For those cults not known for Harmony, this can be a dangerous thing.

And then there is this group; a Wind Lord, a Wyter Priest, a lord of the House of Hulta and his guard, and two young warriors who are still wet behind the ears. An Orlanthi and five Humakti.

Only one of the Humakti, Jessidan, looks grumpy in any way. Berra is fiercely joyful, looking ahead to Sartar. Kesten is quiet and alert, taking in his surrounding without opining on them. The not-twins are on their best behaviour, and trailing the group a little so that they can sort out which of them gets to ride up front on the bison, and which of them gets to face where they have been. Berra is riding well, other than an attempt to stand on her saddle, which led to her standing on the road instead, and apologising gravely to her horse as she caught up.

The cavalcade is not meeting any problems as they go.

Varanis rides a horse with the House Saiciae markings. She keeps her gaze directed forward, not glancing back even once. Her posture is rigid, leading to much irritated ear-flicking from the unfamiliar mount.

Berra finally draws up to her, like a little cavalier. “S’up?”

“Hmmm?” Varanis asks. She has one hand on her reins and the other resting lightly on her pommel.

“You look like you’re ignoring us. No?” Berra seems to be prepared to believe she is wrong.

There’s a blink. Then another. “No… Yesterday I had to visit the palazzo. And my Grandmother. It went about as well as one might have expected.”

“Oh. Right.” Berra falls silent, and lets that soak for a bit.

Varanis scowls. “She let me borrow a horse, at least. But… she knows there was a problem at the Library. I’m sure of it. Yet, she didn’t say anything!” The hand on the reins clenches into a fist.

“Mhm. We’ll be gone for a season now, at least. Leave it behind you.” Berra quirks a look up at Varanis.

“She knows how to … bah.” The Vingan shakes her head. “You’re right. But, it eats at me sometimes. Distracted me last night when I should have been focused on the rituals. Distracting me now.” She shakes her head a second time. “Did you see your family? How are they?”

Berra sort of grins. “I did, yeah.” The smile fades. “None of them want to come back. They… I think they just think they do.”

“To Sartar? Blue Tree?”

“They’re Colymar but not Blue Tree,” Berra says. “But they’re not coming back to Sartar at all, I think.”

Varanis frowns a little. “They’ve been settled her a long time. And things with the Colymar are… well, we both know it’s not ideal there right now.” She glances around at the others, checking how close they are.

The Esrolians are maintaining a polite distance, as if by accident. Behind them Harmakt has settled onto the back of Followed, and Nayale is up in the riding seat.

“Did you pass through the Colymar lands on your way here? Should we be expecting trouble from that direction?”

“I went down through Duck Point. There was a wannabe in Wilmskirk, and the guards were loud about me, but I didn’t get any trouble in Clearwine. Nothing’s planned, that I know of.” Berra shrugs off her potential ignorance.

“The exile is over, but I’ve not yet run into any Colymar outside of Blue Tree. And well, you know what the tribe is like,” Varanis glances around at the other again. “We’re not going to pass unnoticed.”

“So if anyone tries it, we explain calmly why they shouldn’t, and then we hit them hard.” Berra shrugs. “You’re buying trouble a week ahead.”

“Gotta plan, Berra. How many times have I been in trouble for leaping without a plan?”

“Alright. Plan for meeting people on the road. That’s reasonable. Then when we get closer to the border we can pick it over.” Berra nods.

“What are you going to do with those two when we’re back in Boldhome? Are you going to keep them on?” Varanis glances back over her shoulder.

“Not really my decision. I’m probably going to ask for Harmakt to be assigned to making and keeping a watch tower at the cave of Salt and Teeth, but I don’t know if I’ll get that. S’hard because they work well together.”

Varanis shrugs. “So why not have them both assigned to your tower?”

“I hadn’t thought of it?” Berra considers. “They’ll probably benefit from being kept together for a bit, but there’s little support for them there. Could go either way.”

The Vingan prods at the idea more. “What do you mean by working well together? So far, I’ve mostly seen them trade off guarding and insults.”

From behind them, they can hear the sound of bickering – something about being a bison’s ass versus smelling like one.

“The arguing alone would tempt me to separate them, if only for some quiet. But you won’t be at the Tower long-term, so you wouldn’t have to listen to it.”

“They work really well when they pull together. We’ll do some drills tonight and you’ll be able to see. Shake down against them. We’re better, but you’ll want to see what I mean.”

“Drills would be good. Dezar wants to pounce on everything!”

“Dare you to… no in fact I don’t. Let’s drop back a bit, be polite to Lord Kesten and… uh… Jessidan! Yes.”

“Think they’ll join in the drills too?” Varanis asks, looking at the other Humakti. “That could be fun.”

“Hoping so. Lord Kesten’s put on weight. I think his wife’s been feeding him up.” Berra is commenting on a relatively small change, but one that usually strikes warriors a little older than Kesten is.

Varanis looks back at him, frowning. “Has he? Didn’t notice. What do you think of Jessidan?”

“He got the scar in the siege. Carries himself like he’s got a few more. He hasn’t gone up in the ranks, but he’s not got money in his House, I think? So not much ambition, but he’s competent or he wouldn’t be here. Nothing the Hulta don’t mind losing. And they only sent one.”

“Which means they think he’s up to the job, Kesten doesn’t need it, or Kesten’s not worth it.”

“Kesten doesn’t need it. That one. I mean, they’re also saying they trust us. If we wanted to, we could wipe them out, and they didn’t try to even that up. So we’re part of the guard too. Also, he’s not me, but he’s not bad. Just not me.” Berra shrugs off being very good with a sword.

“Is he going back to Nochet after this?”

“He just wants to meet the Hero, and then he’s either going to become an initiate or not. Either way, he goes back home. He’s got a wife.”

“But, if he initiates, how will he worship? You and Lord Raven won’t be in Nochet. Or, is the plan that he may be the one to grow Eril’s worship in Esrolia?” Varanis considers the possibilities.

“I managed it on my own. I’ll teach him like I taught you, how to get there. And yeah, he’ll be pretty lonely in some ways. I’m wondering if you can get… well, you can, just not what I was thinking. I was wondering above votive statues of the Hero, but I guess that’s actually like a Rune Stone – you set them up to people. So there are ways.”

Berra does not seem to mind how she has mangled Heortling there, but a moment later glances down at the Truth Sword, and grins.

“Votives,” Varanis says thoughtfully. “I need one of those for him. I use my crocodile tooth when I’m worshipping her. Sartar is here.” She raises her hand, signifying the wrist tattoo which is hidden beneath her armour. “But Eril. I hadn’t thought about that. Maybe it would make worship easier when you aren’t around.”

“Sword.” Berra looks to where Dezar is. “It is this one, in a way that means they’re one. Even if they’re two swords.”

“But Dezar isn’t Eril. And I won’t share him with the Hero that way. And I’m not you. One sword is enough for me.”

“Hmm.” Berra shrugs, and then lets herself be convinced. “Alright, you’ve got someone living there now. But a model of the Wyter Sword could work, or ask him for something.”

Berra pauses for a moment and looks down to her sword. “That is, you could ask the Hero for something as a focus. Yeah, I’m sure she got that.”

Varanis considers. “Would a tattoo be appropriate, do you think? Then it can’t be taken from me. Is there someone in the Temple in Boldhome who is good for that sort of thing?”

She looks at Berra and then sighs. “Or a scar, if that’s more appropriate. But not my face.”

Berra thinks. “So, one of the reasons people – Geoffri and that – seemed to think… um, yeah. The design on my shield. I dreamed about it, but most people wouldn’t put it on their swords… or shields. So a tattoo of that, Truth and Death together. Or something that’s more like him, not the thing.” Berra, with one scar on each cheek, does not seem to take offence. “The scar would probably go over your kidney and that’s hard to look at while you’re praying?”

The Humakti then tells her sword, “He thinks I’m arrogant. Because… well, partly because I walked in on him and Lord D’Val, but … look, later?”

“And to trace if I’m meant to be prostrate.” As Berra mentions walking in on Eril and D’Val, she smirks, not managing to stifle it. “And his loincloth has been in a knot ever since.” In translation, the Praxian joke loses some of its charm.

She attempts a neutral expression. “Sorry. Inappropriate. But…” She glances around checking to see if anyone else was close enough to hear. “No. No buts. Just inappropriate. I’ll do better.”

“Ducks probably don’t wear them, but yeah.” Apparently Berra has been misusing pronouns and jumping from person to person again. “But there were a load of initiates outside listening to them, and that wasn’t right, so I opened the door so they’d stop shouting.”

“D’Val was shouting?”

Berra considers briefly. “Ducks are prideful. Lord Geoffri was shouting just as much.”

“I’d expect it from him. I just don’t know that I’ve ever heard D’Val raise his voice.” Varanis thinks about that more and then says, “I bet he’s terrifying when he does.”

“You know him in the Boldhome Temple, where he’s… it’s a bit complicated. But he’s not perfect. And he’s… well, I’d prefer him loud to quiet.” Berra winces. “Loud means he’s not concentrating on killing you.”

“I’ll remember that. Hey, do you think the Iron Lord would make votives? We have that small bit of iron from a couple of years ago. I could donate it to Eril’s worship.”

“Probably. I think it might need to be enchanted, but it’s something with a personal relationship to you, and to me. That’s a good idea, I think.” Berra says that thoughtfully.

“I was wondering about the enchantment. If we get it made, I’d like to wear it, so that part would matter to me. But if a person wasn’t wearing it, they’d probably be fine. It didn’t cause me problems when I had it wrapped and on my person after we acquired it.”

“It’s possible that someone else could. Lord Eril, even. But he’d have to decide to. You should ask.” Berra steers her horse left a little, avoiding a patch of gravel that must have been shed by a cart.

Varanis nods even as her horse plods directly through the gravel. Her Grandmother did not choose to send her with the finest of House Saiciae’s mounts. “I’ll see if he’ll see me on our return.”

“I’m probably going to be taking Lord Kesten up to the palace,” Berra says with an evil little grin. “Nochet doesn’t have that many steps in any building.”

There’s an answering grin. “I could get you both through to say hello to Grandfather. It would be useful maybe to have someone of House Hulta who has seen his Flame.” Someone other than Lenta.

“Yeah. I want to show him things, and we probably won’t have long. If he says yes and the omens read right, I’ll be spending a week in the Temple with him. If he says no, probably a couple of days and then he’s off. We should take him to the everything.”

“He’ll say yes. It’s impossible to deny what the High Sword is.”

“He, um… there’s the Hero part, and then there’s the human part. He’s very very human.” Berra scowls, and looks around to check they are still at a good distance before facing determinedly forwards once more. “I’ve told him the reason I want him is to be something Lord Eril isn’t, but I haven’t yet said to him about how I’m trying to change the High Sword, an’ the details of the Heroquest and stuff.”

“Uh huh. But look, just because you don’t like everything about someone doesn’t mean… well, consider Salt and Teeth. I know she’s dangerous. She terrifies me. But she is also due my respect, which is why I honour her. I don’t always like Lord Eril, though sometimes I think I like him more than most people do, but I respect the Hero Eril and can clearly see we need him in the fight against the Lunars. And so I worship him.” The Vingan shrugs. “I don’t even like Humakt sometimes. But I know how important he is to our cause.” Spoken like an Orlanthi who has listened to many of Ernalda’s lessons. Pragmatism to temper idealism.

“Yeah. But well. We’ll see. I ain’t gonna count my bearskins until I’ve done the skinning.” Berra shrugs. “I’d only worry, otherwise.”

“Fair enough.” Varanis changes topics again. “Are we camping out tonight or do you have a stop in mind?”

“There are a load of caravanserais and stuff – we’ll just see what we’re close to by evening. I don’t really want Lord Kesten to be spending a night on the road this close to Nochet. He does have enemies, even if he has friends too.”

“The chances of us being recognized are high.”

“S’recognised against followed. I don’t think I mind if random people know us. It’s people coming after us who already know that’s the problem.” The Humakti rolls out her shoulders, keeps her head high. “At that point, we protect Lord Kesten. You try to fly him away, but he probably won’t go.”

“Wait. You want me to save a Hulta and leave you behind?”

Berra looks Varanis up and down. “I want you to save my honour, if a man invited to travel with me’s attacked. But it turns out a lot of the people I like are really stubborn.”

Varanis chokes on a laugh. “You’re buying trouble? But I suppose it’s not a week ahead. Here’s the thing. If I try to make him fly and he refuses… that’s a lot of magic I’ll not be able to do until I can worship again. So, if you want that as a solution, you need him to agree to the plan ahead. If he does, then I guess I can too. But I’m not going to like it.”

“Yeah. I don’t think it’ll come up, but I’ll ask if … yeah, I’ll ask if he’ll be willing. He’s a careful thinker.” Berra falls silent to consider that.1Later when asked, Kesten turns out to be willing to get away if necessary. ‘Sensible. But with caveats.’

“Who are you expecting to come after him?”

“Nobody. He might have people in mind, but I don’t think he’s expecting it either. But he has guards around the city now. Not many, but you know just the edge of alertness? That.”

Varanis nods. “I’d hate that, but it is smart.”

“Yeah. I dunno if he likes… he doesn’t like it. I think he knows not to hate it.” Berra shrugs it off. “So back to if the rest of our Tribe cause trouble. If we’re on the road, it’s the King’s Road, or else they’re a long way from home.”

“Yeah. But you told me not to think about that yet,” Varanis huffs. “You said to wait until we were closer.”

“You kinda convinced me about the road bit. But whadda we talk about then? We should save stories for when we’re really bored, later on.” Berra casually leans forward in her saddle, onto the front bracings, what would be a pommel in other cultures. With her weight on her arms she straightens out, balancing with some effort and only a little wriggling of the toes. Her horse politely ignores the shift of weight.

“I am bored! Flying was so much better.” Varanis gazes skyward with longing. “I wish I could fly all the time. It made me hungry, but it was also incredible.”

Berra smiles slightly. “You’d lose yourself in the sky,” she says softly. “I mean, it’s not a bad way to go but I’d miss you.”

“I always have reasons to come back,” the Vingan points out. “Duty. Honour. But also… there are people I love. I wouldn’t let myself get lost.” She returns Berra’s smile with one of her own.

Berra looks upwards. “Fair enough. I’m pretty sure you could work out how to get down. So should I tell the story of the time we climbed the waterfall and your dropped your wet clothes all over Boldhome?”

Varanis blinks. “Wait… what?!” The horse beneath her keeps on plodding.

“Uh, maybe just about climbing it, and not about the blue shivering bits?” Berra suggests.

“No…. It’s the wet clothes in Boldhome part I want to hear about, Berra Humakti!” The Vingan’s eyes narrow. “I know you can’t lie, but… does exaggerating count?”

“It wasn’t all your clothes,” Berra points out. “You’d taken off some of them for the climb.”

The noise Varanis makes next is a garbled blend of choking and cursing. “Maybe I could have more details?” she asks eventually.

Berra stares. “Um, you remember, right?”

“No….”2Varanis: She gets hit in the head a lot?

“So… we got down by flying, and you were in your shift and everything was really wet, so I grabbed some clothes and flew after you. And you thought I was Valind, and first you threw your hat at me. I mean, I was in midair and only just in my trousers myself and I couldn’t catch that…”

“You flew after me.“ Understanding dawns. “Oh! You dreamt that we were both flying over Boldhome half-naked!” She chuckles. “That would have been less disconcerting if you’d started with the part about it being a dream, Berra. Did you get some mushrooms from Finrik? They gave me a bad stomach.”

“No. You were blue with cold then blue with being Vinga. You took all your clothes off.” Berra points to the Truth-scar on her left cheek.

Varanis frowns, thinking hard. “Wait…. Was that when we ended up in the baths after? I felt awful for days and couldn’t sort dream from reality for a bit.” She shivers in remembered cold. “The water hurt!”

Berra nods. “Yeah. You did good up the waterfall, though. And it was fun. And you probably can’t be identified from the shift embroidery anyhow. I mean, people looking, sure…” There is a lot of grinning.

“Wait… there were witnesses?” Varanis groans. “That means Grandmother will have heard and kept silent on that too.”

“Um, it was light. And we were flying. So some people probably saw us. I mean, there are plenty of Vingans, so who’s to know?” Berra shrugs. “If nobody thought it was worth using magic, nobody’d know? Maybe?”

Varanis shakes her head. “She knows. And she’s hoarding her arrows.”

“Well, ask her what Vinga’s got to be ashamed of. And tell her the waterfall was taller than her house. S’true. Three times taller.”

There’s a rueful laugh. “At least I look good naked. And blue. That’ll remind her I’m Vinga’s, not hers. Can we attempt the waterfall again sometime? Maybe in warmer weather?”

Berra thinks. “There were others up by the Telmori. We got just about to the top of that one, anyhow. We just couldn’t get into the water cave. We could do that one or another one.”

“Up by the Telmori could be interesting, so long as we aren’t trespassing. I think I’ve mended my fences with them, and I’d rather not cause offence again.”

“We could talk to them. Ask. And if we’re both around and together in Fire Season, that’s the ideal time.” Berra looks ahead. “Early Earth Season, maybe.” When warriors like them will not be needed for the harvest, but war season is over.

“I’d like that. You’re the best climbing partner I’ve ever had and I have climbed with a lot of Vingans.” Varanis grins at her friend. “Plus, you know all the good spots. Even if you apparently let me fly over Boldhome naked.”

“I brought you your clothes!” Berra is indignant and then remembers to keep her voice down. If any other Humakti heard it, they give no sign. “But next time, maybe let’s climb with the sun on us. We could go out into the…” She sighs, and looks ahead. “I’m going to be nervous for the next two weeks. Thinking too hard.”

Varanis nods. “How can I help?”

Big shrug. “I’m going to tell him about the Hero, and the kids should hear that, and I’m going to tell him about the man – keep them busy when I’m telling Lord Kesten about the High Sword’s flaws? Uh, and plenty of exercise, probably. But mostly, just know I’m jumpy. But also happy. I mean, I get to find out.”

“Find out?”

Berra looks back, and then at Varanis. “I haven’t had time to get down here yet. Until now. And even if the answer wasn’t a yes yet, it’s not a no, and I’ll get to find out if it is, and then I won’t be trying to make it happen any more.”

Varanis casts a surreptitious glance in Kesten’s direction. “Why does the answer of this one man matter so much?”

Berra does not answer for a while, as she thinks. She has a drink, makes sure that her horse is moving a little faster, and then says, “Lord Eril needs people to stop him from going wrong. So I want this one man to be the first, because that’s a good start. And it’ll probably be good for him to have the patronage of a hero, and he needs that. He needs to have allies, and I like him and I can help him by offering that. But he’s also got the … strength of personality to say no. To say something isn’t right. And he will if he has to.”

Varanis gives a thoughtful nod. “That’s good. Yeah, I like that. I will do my best to encourage him then.”

“He’ll make up his own mind when they meet, but it’s not bad to show us the… to show potential people in the cult what they’re getting.” Berra gets off her horse to walk for a bit, in one smooth motion. “I want to make today a short day. We were mostly awake last night and we’ll be tiring by late afternoon.” Quick-change subjects are a part of her still.

“And then some sparring with your matched set?”

Berra nods. “It’ll wake us up, and then we can get some sleep.”

  • 1
    Later when asked, Kesten turns out to be willing to get away if necessary. ‘Sensible. But with caveats.’
  • 2
    Varanis: She gets hit in the head a lot?