On The Road Again

Berra — On The Road 02

????, Fire Season, Movement Week


Fire Season, Movement Week, Clayday [[[s01:session-40|Session 40]]]

Lunchtime is a pause for eating on the road to Wilmskirk.

Show spoiler for Berra’s thoughts


Varanis is eating one of the hand-pies that Merios, Rondrik’s wife, gave her as they were leaving. She’s sitting on a rock, not far from everyone, but looking a little morose.

Berra throws herself down by Varanis without any particular drama, just a boneless flop that only she could carry off. She has hard tack, and the expression of someone who hates riding and was having to do it, and now regrets it.

Varanis visibly brightens. “Hello, Berra. Enjoying the ride, are you?”

Berra scowls. “No,” she admits. “Fed up?”

“With what?” the Vingan asks. “My pie? Just about.” She laughs lightly. “How about you?”

“Well, if you’re not going to finish it, I will.” Berra, half propped up against a rock so she can keep watch down the road, sags a little. “Worried. About my High Sword, and the future for him. Is your pie that bad?”

“Actually, the pie is lovely. Merios has learned to make a pretty decent pastry and she has a good nose for seasonings. We were experimenting a bit to make something that tasted just a bit like the ones from Nochet that I love so much.”

“Ah, right.” Berra nods, eyes still on the road.

“What worries you most about your High Sword right now?”

“That someone may be attacking him, through Irillo. Even through me. I might be doing the wrong thing.” Berra looks up at Varanis in sudden appeal. “What if I hurt him?”

Varanis shakes her head. “Follow Truth and how can it be wrong?” she asks. “What would D’Val say?”

“I don’t know how to follow Truth here. It’s Dark. Maybe really dark. And if I knew what D’Val would say, I’d do it. Although probably, be prepared to cut the head off the right person, instantly. So that’s comfort.” Berra shrugs. Apparently that genuinely is comforting to her.

“You generally do seem prepared to decapitate those in need of it,” Varanis observes. “How do we get more light?” Sadness comes into her eyes as she asks that question, but she blinks it way. “Maybe we need to look at the problem from a different angle.”

“Light and Truth are different. Light’s gone off, at least for the moment. The Torch remains.” Berra sighs. “But that’s not what you meant.”

“Speaking of Dark… your rune… has it ever gone, well, frosty before?” Varanis looks worried as she thinks back on the morning’s surprise. “You just fell over, and then… it was like your rune was made of ice or something.”

“Never. No. And it happened to Salid too. But… I don’t know exactly what I saw. There was something strange about Irillo. Only I can’t really place it. Something odd.”

Varanis looks concerned. “Dangerous?”

Berra shrugs. “Probably? but I don’t know why or how. The only thing I could think of was to ask Irillo to write to the High Sword. And I should have done that two days ago. I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

“It could still be done. Someone could carry the message from Wilmskirk once we arrive. Though how a return message could find us…” Varanis shakes her head. “Perhaps it is too late for that.”

Varanis scowls. “I’m confused by all these strange events. You said that D’Val found no evidence of a vampire. How was that man killed then and why? Is it connected to what we are doing now? Or to the quest for the Spark? Or neither?”

“I told him at the last stop. I think he sent it with that rider we met, going North.” Berra shrugs again. “He found no evidence. It doesn’t mean there was not one, but he’ll be looking out around town. Or maybe the Iron Lord will take action. I don’t know. If there really is a vampire, he could probably find it?”

“Even if there isn’t a vampire and it’s a human killer, the timing concerns me.”

Insight: there is some internal struggle going on in Berra, which seems to be below the surface, but has just risen, and at least part of it has been released.

“His blood made the Sartar Rune. It’s important. And, um, I think it… damnit, it is for this current Heroquest.”

Varanis studies her friend. “Ok, what else?” Although her words demand truth, her tone and posture convey respect. She is listening carefully to the Humakti.

“It was the shape of the path of blood. It linked the temples, and it went in a big curve around. Over a bridge made of broken houses, over the river. Back round to the red rock. The Iron Lord says it’s bright red because the blood is still fresh.”

“Mind you,” Berra adds, “He said it like that was obvious. I don’t really understand him.”

Varanis looks thoughtful. “Do you think it could have been a sacrifice to recreate something from the fall of Boldhome? Didn’t the blood run in the streets then? I remember it a bit from my own visions when I was…” She makes a face, “a Lunar. And from later, when I followed Eril to the healers.”

“I don’t know. But most of the blood that came from the Humakti temple wasn’t Humakti. At least, not at first. So when I heard of it, I thought it was about sacrifice – from the people of the Temple, back then. But now I’m worried it’s about the rest. The Lunars who died. It could make them stronger, if we get this wrong. I think that the red stone is a Humakt thing – but it might not be.” Berra drops her eyes, and even the very duty of watching the road seems forgotten.

Varanis considers. “What’s the worst case possible here? And what is the best?”

Berra grimaces. “The Lunars have put this together and used Dormal … no, sorry, that is unjust of me. They could have used anyone. But they have put this together so that something that the High Sword did will hurt him and gain them the relics of the Household. Although I don’t know how they would have learned about it. The best case is that the High Sword did this on purpose – put things beyond his own reach, so he could not be tortured for information, and some friendly force is guiding us. And we should be getting these things back. But then, I wonder why Dormal.”

“I think…” Varanis pauses as she picks her words very carefully, “I think Dormal believes he is acting on his own. He spoke about having a plan to increase the chances of us surviving the quest for the Spark, or rather surviving the return from that quest. He is convinced that someone will want to make sure that I don’t live to benefit from the success.”

“Well, I think my view of him is pretty clear by now. I’d hate to have to live life like he does. But something like this doesn’t happen just on his own – and he does think someone’s guiding this quest too. Although I don’t know why he isn’t trying to stop it.” There’s the complicated, liquid shrug, imprisoned by the armour. Berra rolls her shoulders afterwards, trying to ease them. It is almost like watching a wave go through a person. “If he is trying to damage Lord Eril, I don’t think I’ll even need to get there first.”

“It is a good point. Why is Dormal allowing himself to be led like this?” The Esrolian sighs. “I’m sorry that I don’t have any answers for you. The unfortunate thing I learned at the Siege, and at Pennel Ford, is that the blood of a Lunar looks identical to our own. I don’t know how to tell them apart and I don’t know how important it is for us to understand that sacrifice.”

“I think it might allow different people to have access to the power. But I don’t know. And my Rune BURNED with cold. And so did Salid’s.” Berra shrugs. “But it’s fixed, and if it happens again, we might know more. But we should look out for ambushes when we get close to the goal, and for people following us. Hawks, magical sight. They could be using anything.”

Varanis nods. “That sounds wise.”

Berra shakes her head. “Pretty standard. But I… I worry that will not be enough. Someone’d planned hard to do this, and we’re stuck in it, and if we stop then I’m afraid of what would happen to Irillo.”

“We’ll need to keep an eye on him, and be ready to jump in if he needs support. But there’s a fine line between providing support and getting in the way of what needs doing.”

“Yes. And we can’t do the other thing until we’re clear of this one. I wonder if that was why we were chosen – because we have to.” Berra looks down at her hard tack, a bowl-shaped piece that can have water poured into it to soak, and brightens slightly. From a pouch she pulls a short, stubby spoon, and then she holds the food between her knees while she attacks it. Her right hand is still non-functional.

Yelm’s light catches on the white feather sewn, rather clumsily, onto the side of Berra’s helmet.

Varanis watches her silently for a while. “Would you like some pie? Merios gave me a few extra. She’s a generous woman.” The Vingan looks at the feather curiously. “I don’t remember that being there before,” she observes casually.

“I’ve got food, thanks.” Berra scrapes happily enough. “I’ll probably grab a pie for the road, though, if you don’t mind.” And then the feather. She eyeballs it. “Yes. It really surprised me. I sort of need to find out what it means when a Duck gives you a feather. Is that like a lock of hair? I really didn’t want to ask him at the time.”

Varanis laughs, but it’s fleeting and she looks… yes, she definitely looks sad. “Serala’s gone,” she says after a time, heaving a sigh. “Just as we started to figure things out, she’s gone.”

Berra sighs too, although it might be at Varanis. “And?”

“I’m going to miss her,” the Vingan says simply. And then, because it’s not really that simple, she adds, “I thought maybe…” She doesn’t finish. “It’s a distraction we don’t need right now. We should focus on the quests and what we need to do.”

“Parting hurts,” Berra says quietly. “But while people live, they can meet again. But not yet. Focus. On protecting Irillo, and not harming the High Sword. He … maybe this could damage his link to Humakt. That would be terrible. But Irillo’s doing really well – he understands how to be him, I think.”

“He’s struggling,” Varanis says, disagreeing. “There is a lack of Harmony in the decisions Eril made, and it’s hurting Irillo. He will survive, I think, but he is having a difficult time right now.”

Berra sighs. “He… had to be alone. That’s sort of what Humakt is, anyhow. But I think I see. Irillo can’t rely on anyone, in the Heroquest. That’s… horrible.”

“He mentioned that he found Eril to be everything he isn’t, though he also feels some admiration for your High Sword. Part of the problem was living in the head of someone who is so very different from himself.” Varanis sighs. “We can protect him from those who might seek to harm him physically, but how do we protect his heart?”

“By being around him. Being with him. We’re going to walk him there and we can be as good to him on the way as we can be. And if it gets too bad, maybe I can find a way to step in. Let me try to be him.” The ‘him’ has changed there, for Berra.

Varanis nods. “Those are tasks I can manage.” She looks at Berra and asks, “what about you? How is the hand healing? How are you healing?” The subtle emphasis on ‘you’ implies that she is asking about more than bones and bruises.

“The hand is going to take a while. Probably a season. I have more feeling back, but nothing is moving yet, beyond the wrist twitching a bit. You’re going to have a left-handed Humakt, but I don’t think that’s a problem.” Maybe the answer to the rest is that Berra only answers that part.

Varanis nods, not pushing for more. “I packed some wasters,” she says. “I was hoping we could keep up the broadsword training. Finarvi promised to send me that sword one day.”

“I tend to make them as we go along,” Berra says, “But packing is good. Maybe that’s what we should have given Irillo as a burden. When we have time, I’ll take you through a few tricks.” She seems subdued now, like it is an effort to lift her head to watch along the road. The hard tack looks mostly played out, and as she stabs with her spoon the bottom cracks, and she nods like that was expected.

“Can I do anything to make things easier for you, Berra?” Varanis asks, watching her companion. She has long since finished her pie and brushed away the pastry crumbs.

Berra looks down at the breaking bowl, and tucks her spoon away. “Make horses not exist so I can walk?” she suggests in a small voice.

“You could ask Rajar to let you ride on Billy for a while. Or, if you want, we could both walk a distance. I’m sure Doqeia wouldn’t object to being relieved of her burden for a time.”

“That bony horse bruises my arse anyway,” she says with a smile.

Berra sighs. “Look. It’s been a week. Since I was on this road, and got captured. And everyone’s being very kind but I’d prefer to just not have to talk about it if you don’t mind, and not have people ask.” She breaks off a fragment of hard tack with her fingers, and concentrates on eating that.

Varanis blinks in astonishment. “Berra,” she says after taking a slow breath, “you made that clear by the nature of your answer and I changed the subject. I thought we’d moved on to talking about riding and walking.” There’s no judgement and only a tiny bit of hurt. “I won’t press you for what you aren’t ready to give.”

“I’ll never be ready.” Berra hunches down, smaller than she usually seems, her compact frame compressing as if to minimise contact with the outside. Her hand keeps picking at food, but it is shaking now.

Varanis looks at her companion with growing concern. “I said I wouldn’t press you, and I meant it. But… I do worry about you. My healing knowledge is limited, but this makes me think of a wound left festering. It will poison you if you don’t lance it soon. If you need help with that, I am here for you.” The Vingan looks like she wants to say more, but she falls silent.

Berra reaches for calm, and fails to find it. Her closed eyes and moment of slow breathing end up with her fighting for the next breath, and the next, trying to hold back tears. The attempt is mostly successful, although she has abandoned the attempt to eat.

Varanis begins to breathe in long, slow breaths. Perhaps she is communing with Vinga, or perhaps she is providing a basis upon which Berra can build her own rhythm.

After a few minutes, Berra says, “Can I be alone please?” The tears have stopped dripping onto her plain soldier food, but she does not look like she is going to enjoy eating it.

Varanis rises, looks at the Humakti with sorrow, and nods. “Whatever you need, love,” she says. Then she turns to leave.