1627, Sea Season, Movement Week
Varanis waits outside the inn door, giving Xenofos a chance to catch up.
“I am not sure, Varanis. But so far those attacks seem to follow a pattern, it gets surprised by something shiny and lashes out.” scribe re-iterates.
“Well, I’ve left everything shiny in my room, so let’s go see him.” She makes for the stable.
He opens the door for her.
There is someone in the stables, waiting. They are whistling, not particularly well, the polishing song they use to keep from being so bored they are dangerous, on days when they just want to run… Berra’s tune, or one of them. It sounds like she is working in there, hidden by the internal walls.
Varanis smiles. “Sounds like Berra’s in there. Good! I need to check in with her.”
Xenofos face lights up and then turns gloomy. “Oh.”
He stops at the door.
“What? Come on. You can tell her your thoughts about Fish. She grew up with horses… at least, I think so. Seems to be a Blue Tree thing. Mind you… she seems to prefer the bison. Still, she might have thoughts about your ideas.”
“Hey, rat. If you pass me the polish I’ll let you have some… no? Well, don’t say I didn’t offer. But there are trollkin around here so don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Berra has a friend.
“I am not sure if she wants to hear my thoughts on topic of horsecare right now, Varanis.” Xenofos takes a step inside.
Varanis steps in after him. “Berra?”
Berra’s hand comes up to wave. “Over here. Seeing to Followed’s leather.” The hand opens and closes a bit to be sure that it is visible.
Varanis closes the distance, careful not to make any sudden moves that might startle the horses. “I came to check on Fish. There was an incident earlier, and Xenofos has some thoughts about that monster of mine.”
“He’s been pretty quiet,” Berra says. “I think he’s awake.” She is cleaning and rubbing down the straps that make up her bison’s harness. She has a comfortable seat made of hay and a cloak, and her rat companion has obviously just fled.
Xenofos takes a few steps forward, warily coming to Berra’s sight and nodding to her.
Berra gives him a nod, and a little smile.1Insight roll for Xenofos: Berra has something big on her mind, but does not seem angry. Sad, yes, but he is not the reason.
“Mellia had to make him sleep earlier. The horse, not Xenofos. He attacked Yamia and then panicked when we tried to get him to settle.”
“If I’d attacked Yamia I’d be nervous,” Berra says. “But I’m not a horse.”
“And not afraid of shiny bronze. Like Fish seems to be.” He looks at Berra trying to see how she is. “Good to see you… Erm. This feels awkward right now. Varanis needed to have a word with you. I will leave you two to it.”
Xenofos takes a last look on Berra and leaves the stables.2Disorder and Truth Pass.
Berra considers a moment and then nods, and he gets a wave goodbye.
Varanis watches him walk away in silence and then shakes her head. “You two talk yet?”
“About the stuff between us? Yeah.” Berra shrugs, like she does not understand why someone might not move on.
The Vingan approaches Fish, holding her hand out, palm up. She moves slowly and speaks softly. “He’s been busy blaming himself for my illness.”
Berra does not speak for a bit, and then says, “He cuts himself up when he sees the world and it’s not like he wants. Because he loves so hard. Believes things strongly.”
Fish shifts side to side, twisting his head to watch Varanis. She stops moving. “I think I understand some of what that’s like,” she admits. “I was nearly out of my mind after the sea troll in Nochet. Between Serzeen’s death and Xenofos going missing…” She inhales, pauses, then slowly releases the air. “It’s ok, you great fool,” she tells the horse. “I won’t hurt you.”
Berra stays silent.3Insight: She is a warrior who does not understand fear of Death or Loss. She is just puzzled.
When Fish doesn’t show any signs of relaxing, Varanis sighs and steps back from his stall. “I’m going to send him to Serala. Maybe she can help.”
“She knows how to.” Berra watches Varanis, her task paused.
From the door to the inn comes a roar of laughter. Rajar has probably done something very impressive with a volunteer.
“I wish there was an easy solution for Xenofos too.” Varanis drops into the hay near Berra, draws her knees to her chest, and pulls her cloak around her. “You ok? I heard you got some bad news today.”
Berra looks down at her work. “Our clan’s going hungry,” she says. “Mellia says they’ll be eating cow food. Fodder crops.” That seems to be the biggest thing on her mind.
“She told me. I’ve been trying to figure out if I have enough surplus on my Esrolian hides to send anything into Blue Tree.”
“If we’re going there for a wedding, I might buy food down there.” Berra still looks glum. “Haran’s only small. Small children are the ones who suffer first.”
“My tenants have children too. And I’m worried about old Arianatha. She has nothing spare on her bones.” Varanis looks worried.
“Wedding gifts can be cows,” Berra says, uncertainly.
“Good thinking,” Varanis agrees. “Mellia said something else… before… oh wait. I meant to say I was sorry for not waiting at the Temple. I… couldn’t finish the rituals today. I was too weak and had to leave before I became a problem for others. Venlar said he left word.”
“He let me know. I was not there for long anyhow. I was walking most of the day. I didn’t get to my Temple for longer than it took to irritate Yamia.” The Humakti gets back to her task. “Mellia had a thing to say to her.”
“Yeah. Yamia’s been hiding her pregnancy and Mellia’s been… well, Mellia.” There’s a shrug. “She gets over protective and was smothering her soon-to-be kinswoman.” Varanis’ tone suggests that she knows what that feels like. “I love her, but sometimes she loves back so hard she forgets you need to breathe.”
“She tried to tell me off for duelling with Kesten,” Berra adds. “But I just didn’t listen, and made some sounds. “So. Mellia thinks it’s important to know who the father is.”
Varanis looks confused. “It wouldn’t matter back home. Is that important in Sartar?”
“Not really, only if it’s someone powerful, you probably take notice. She thought Yamia was miserable about it, though. I think she’s scared.”
“Yeah. I did asked her if she was sure it was Yamia. But she is.” Berra shrugs. “When Mellia asked, there was something in her eyes – I think it is important. And she says she’s not telling now, not that she isn’t telling. Something about the marriage first.”
“Hm. Odd. Probably politics.” Varanis says this as though it explains everything.
“Yeah. I guess.” Berra goes back to her work. “Maybe we can send them dried fish from here.”
“You don’t think… well… Yamia and Xenofos seemed close back when we were in Nochet….” Varanis looks at Berra, then at the door where cousin had vanished some time ago.
Berra considers. “Dunno?” she says. “How did he take it?”
Now it’s Varanis’ turn to consider. “I don’t know. I think I missed the point when he learned. But he doesn’t seem overly worried. I think he would at least be thinking about appropriate child gifts if it were a possibility, so perhaps not.”
“Yeah. I’d say he’s not because otherwise he’d be even more tied up by his heart. Mellia thought it was a handsome Humakti.” Berra looks briefly perplexed. “I don’t think she really gets Humakti, to be honest. But then, I wouldn’t have expected it of Yamia either.”
Varanis laughs. “Handsome Humakti? There’s an oxymoron.”
“Yeah. There used to be one called Pretty Irillo. He’s one of the Great Swords now, I think. He took a bronze bite to his face, though. And also, he’s not her type.” Berra gets to the end of one of the straps, and puts it aside, reaching for another.
Varanis frowns. “There’s an old custom… it’s Ernaldan, not Humakti. But, though Mellia often ignores it, she is noble… it might apply…” The frown deepens. “It would be wrong to impose it on Yamia. Grandmother couldn’t have expected that.”4Customs: Esrolia: It’s possible, although would be strange for a non-Ernaldan, that getting a particular bloodline into Silor’s family was part of the marriage deal. It’s definitely not the only answer, but it’s a possibility.
“Errr?” Berra looks curious. “What like?”
“It’s convoluted and doesn’t make sense. You see, both houses are losing a child to Blue Tree. In Esrolia, when a marriage takes an important child out of the family bloodlines, sometimes the matriarchs will require a replacement. There are ways this can be done. A second marriage between other partners is one way. Adoption is another. And in very rare cases, a child may be born specifically for this purpose.” Varanis frowns. “But to demand such a thing of Yamia… Surely not.”
“Mm.” Berra looks unconvinced. “Yeah. Seems wrong somehow. Although Lord Silor’s short on family, it doesn’t sound like Yamia’s the best one. Could you adopt one of his children in that case?” Her face breaks into puzzlement.
Varanis considers then says a little defensively, “to be honest, I don’t know. I may not have paid close attention to those particular lessons. Not like they were likely to ever apply to me.”
“In Sartar, it would be important that someone says they are the father. So it doesn’t necessarily matter who the mother is, so much. I mean, it does, but not like in Esrolia. And the mother has to offer, anyhow, if they aren’t married.” Berra turns her puzzlement onto the next strap.
Varanis looks perplexed. “What does it matter who watered the garden to start with? The only important thing is who cares for it in the long term.” She shakes her head. “Never thought I’d regret ignoring the marriage lessons. I just hoped I’d never marry and knew that if I had to, Grandmother would arrange it as she chose anyway.”
“In Sartar it matters a lot more. Orlanth is the storm. But you can’t take a child from an unmarried mother without her offering. That’s important.” Berra shrugs. “Did Mellia tell you Yehna’s a widow?”
“She did. I’m sorry to hear that.”
There’s a shrug from the little warrior. “It’s a thing to get over. More important to look after her right now. Probably I should send them food from here.”
“Do you need extra resources for that?”
“I’ve got a bit of cash. Not much. I gave most of it to the duck in Drakemere. But you’re a Thane there. If you chose to, you could send it to Dogva direct, to give out as needed,” Berra suggests.5She passes Customs Sartar, and decides this is true.
Varanis nods. “I’ll make some arrangements then.”
“Let me send some too, with yours. I can spend about a wheel. If much more’s needed I’ve got jewellery I can sell.” Something twists Berra’s lips into genuine amusement. “Did I ever show you my necklace?”
Varanis hugs her knees to herself and stares thoughtfully at some hay. “What are the Sartarite customs around a year marriage?” she asks at last.
“Uh, you basically promise the usual things but only to last a year. You can renew it after that without another ceremony, just by saying it. Usually you’d have witnesses and a set of rituals like a life marriage, but it’s basically the same only you know when you’re getting divorced. You have to be a bit more careful if you think you might be pregnant at the end because then you’re getting towards who the child belongs to, but that’s up for talking about too. Usually it’s considered a marriage-birth.”
Varanis laughs softly. “Well… pregnancy wouldn’t be a problem.”
Berra says, “Oh, right.” She might just have caught up. “Then just the time. It’s just a marriage. Useful for making kin.”
“Apparently, Tennebris told Mellia to suggest it. If he did, that must mean the Prince approves, right?”
“Wants to test how it would go,” Berra suggests. “But they’ll have talked about that. So maybe? Probably.” She looks hopeful on behalf of Varanis.
Varanis gives her a wobbly smile. “Don’t know what Grandmother will say. It was easy to speak of defiance when I didn’t imagine myself going home. But Mirava is missing and… oh, I don’t know. I should be excited, but instead I’m worried.”
“Family’s important,” Berra says. “But Serala’s Colymar, and you’re related to Kallyr. It could be really helpful. If it’s done right.”
Varanis laughs wryly. “She’s as Colymar as I am, which isn’t saying much.”
“Thane of Apple Lane. It counts. Queen Leika’s given her lands and responsibilities. Personally. So it counts.” Berra stretches her hands and rolls her shoulders, and keeps on with her task.
“Am I’m a Thane of Blue Tree, which is also Colymar,” Varanis points out.
“Yeah, but it’s as much about being seen to be marrying her, as it is about marrying her. Because Leika allows it and Kallyr allows it. It wouldn’t change much, but it would let people change what they talk about. I think. I’ve probably thought about this too much, to be honest.”
Varanis laughs wryly. “Mellia says I deserve to be happy. How can the scion of a noble house have such an innocent view of the world?”
“White Lady.” Berra grins. “We’re back to how loving she is.”
“Well, I’m glad she has a chance at some happiness for herself.”
“A bride-groom worthy as Orlanth,” Berra says, looking down at the strapping. It seems to be a quote from something.
“You and Xeno manage to sort things between you?” Varanis is drifting from topic to topic, like someone who is avoiding something by filling in the silences.
“Mostly. But he’s unhappy I won’t change, and I think he’s wrong. But at least we said it all. There was some stuff that was aching in me. Some of that got cleared up. Some didn’t. I don’t know how to make him not protect me, but… well, I can’t stop him. It’s his decision. I can’t make him do anything.”
“I’m glad I didn’t have to knock your heads together this time. I was too sick to do it when it needed doing. And neither of you would have thanked me for it.”
“Yeah. I wouldn’t have reacted well until I’d sorted out what I was thinking too. Now we’re in Sartar I feel better.” Berra too bounces to another topic. “Did you know Finarvi’s a father?”
Varanis blinks. “No! He is? Serala didn’t mention it. Mind you… we were distracted at the time. A father? Who is the mother?”
“Uh…” Berra blanks. “I don’t think I asked. But a Sartarite woman. Unless Esrolians do the same thing with sending cups. But probably up where Mellia had been, so Blue Tree maybe?”
Now the Vingan looks worried. “Another baby in a hungry village. I definitely need to send supplies in.”
Berra’s face falls at that. “I hadn’t thought of it like that,” she says quietly. “Damn. I kept meaning to go home, and then things just happened and it’s been a year. I didn’t check.”
“I’ve heard that Irillo is here. I’ll ask him to send supplies to Dogva for me,” Varanis promises.
“He’s the right one, yes. He arrived with Mellia. They met up there. Dangerford.” Berra has gone on to short sentences, which usually means she is tired.
There’s a sudden burst of song, abruptly cut short as the door to the inn opens and closes. New people to join the fray. “I was thinking I might sleep out here,” Varanis mutters. “Too loud inside.”
Her lips turn up in a small smile. “Rajar is having fun.”
“When I looked in, he was wearing a loincloth. Showing a duck how to axe-dance.” Berra nods to the stalls. “There are a few free. Salid has gone out now it’s dark.”
Varanis nods and for the moment seems content just sitting there, watching Berra work.
Berra sits contentedly working, yawning from time to time, until she reaches a point where she can put things away, curl up tiny on her cloak, and pull half of it over her. She gives Varanis a little wave from underneath it, but words have gone now.
Berra talks about her bad news; clan and family are suffering
- 1Insight roll for Xenofos: Berra has something big on her mind, but does not seem angry. Sad, yes, but he is not the reason.
- 2Disorder and Truth Pass.
- 3Insight: She is a warrior who does not understand fear of Death or Loss. She is just puzzled.
- 4Customs: Esrolia: It’s possible, although would be strange for a non-Ernaldan, that getting a particular bloodline into Silor’s family was part of the marriage deal. It’s definitely not the only answer, but it’s a possibility.
- 5She passes Customs Sartar, and decides this is true.