Berra — People Are Just Too Much
????, Earth Season, Death Week
Earth Season, Death Week, Clay Day. Berra took part in a Heroquest which was used to help heal Yamia, while Varanis was prevented from going out to her her Vingan Temple. [[[s02:session-6|Session 6]]]
The morning after the all-night party, Varanis returns to her room to find her missing armour has reappeared and is on the stand beside her bed. She curses loudly, in multiple languages, having picked up some useful words from Finarvi. Marta is waiting for her and tsks loudly at the language. The old servant briskly helps Varanis strip away the gorgeous green and gold gown, before leaving at the Vingan’s angry wave.
Varanis washes her face and then stares for a time at the seething woman in the mirror. With a growl, she turns away and stalks over the the armour stand. Everything is there, where it should be, but not where she put it yesterday. It had to be Serzeen. The woman’s smug expression when Varanis’ palanquin was switched up last night said everything.
She jerks on the tunic she wears under the armour. These are followed by a set of trews and sandals. Each piece of armour is carefully examined before being strapped into place. It’s not like Serzeen would have done anything to it, but someone else has handled it and habits die hard. Everything is as it should be.
Finally, after sliding her rapier into place, she stalks out of the room, heading down the halls in the direction of the front door.
The house is awake. The bound servants and fire-starters have been up for some time, of course, but it was half an hour back from the party, and it broke up after dawn. Memories of the night slip in…
There was formal dancing, and less formal dancing, and singing, and a magnificent performance on a stringed instrument by a Praxian, and then wine, and iced snacks, and everyone was so happy to see her.1Varanis failed Dance but passed Charm, while the party as a whole had critical successes on both, rolled as an abstract of how the evening was.
And the man she cut in front of in the Dance of Five Hours in Summer made it look like she belonged there, and then afterwards offered her a drink and told her how magnificent her gown was.
They were all so polite and charming!
It had been difficult to hold onto her anger through the evening, especially as she had to pretend that she was having fun. And, if she’s honest with herself, sometimes she wasn’t even pretending. But it still wasn’t fair. She had plans and those plans were interfered with.
Nobody had asked her.
But… well… she hadn’t exactly stated her intentions either. She’d known what the answer would be if she had.
A guard stands as she reaches the front door, and prepares to fall in behind her. Polite, unassuming, and … there.
She turns a stormy glare on him, but says nothing, simply sweeping past.
Into the courtyard, where there is a Humakti practicing strokes that like her are short and violent. Berra is there, glittering in bronze.
Varanis stops in her tracks, forcing her shadow to stop too. Hopefully he was paying attention enough to manage it with a reasonable amount of grace.
The Vingan watches Berra at her sword work, studying the movement of feet and blade.
The guard manages that, and watches too.
Berra is working through several brutal sets of air-stabbings, rather unlike her usual fluid style, but with exactly as much grace as she always has. The fast, choppy movements do not suit her, but she suits them. Yelm rises far enough in those few minutes to bless the feather in her helmet with his rays, and then to start shining in her eyes, and she goes on fighting, gaze more careful now. Everything she was doing, she now does again despite the disadvantage offered by the light. A few of the other guards are watching. Eranda, back from Temple, is one of them.
Despite herself, the tension in Varanis begins to ease as she studies her friend’s movements. It’s as though the keen edge of the blade cuts away at some of her frustration. Every time Berra practices there’s an opportunity for Varanis to learn and she’s well aware of that. She’s not still as she watches. There’s a subtle shifting from foot to foot. Her hands move ever so slightly. It’s as if she’s following in her mind and there’s an echo of it in her body.
Berra finishes, salutes Yelm, in a way that starts as respect and ends as a teary-eyed wince, and turns away. “Ow,” she says loud enough to be heard.
Eranda drifts off. Despite blinking hard, Berra looks around, tracking the other Humakti and then gazing around the compound. The other guards stop looking and head after Eranda, or up the stairs to the wall towers, or over to the house for their meal.
“Be careful letting Yelm stare into your eyes like that. One day he may burn them out for spite.” By way of a greeting, it’s not exactly cheerful, but neither is Varanis.
“Varanis! I was about to come to look for you. Yamia’s a lot better.” Berra grins widely.
“That’s good to hear. Did she quest?”
“Oh yes. Um… and Mellia…” Berra looks around. “Let’s go walk and talk.”
Varanis nods curtly and heads for the gate. Her shadow follows at a respectful distance.
Berra looks around. “Can I guard you?” she asks. The guard gets a blink. “Oh. Right. The way to see through this blindness is just to see. Of course.”2Critical Scan while trying to work out if she could see anything. Berra’s unaffected by mere sight, obviously.
Varanis shakes her head. “If you are guarding then we can’t really talk, can we? Not if we are taking it seriously anyway.” There’s a certain amount of resignation in the words. “I promised Xenofos and no matter how much it chafes, I have to follow through.”
“Fair enough. But this is political. Although if he hasn’t heard, he’ll hear soon.” Once they are out of the gate and a dozen paces away from the wall she says, “Venlar was a very good Orlanth. So good that he went and rescued Ernalda, too.”
Varanis raises an eyebrow. “Mellia…” She winces. “Grandmother will be furious.”
“Well. Probably. Venlar came back to us to see how Yamia was, and he wasn’t dead. He’s already spoken to her, but as he said, he was very proud of being Orlanth and he defended his actions well. But anyway, your cousin might be married. I don’t know how much that counts, here. But he might also have started a feud or two, and I don’t know how that counts, either.” Berra’s body language is mostly the bounciness of a Humakti who has been up all night and plans to be on the go all morning.
“Hmmm… well, it means she’s likely to forget to be angry with me.” Varanis’ attention is divided between her own irritation and the political implications of what Berra has said. “I’m not certain that Grandmother would accept that as a legitimate marriage. Hopefully it has shown her that his suit is serious and that Mellia will fight for it.”
“Down here, I think it’s different to up there,” Berra replies. “But it’s probably not going to help negotiations. I don’t know. Maybe it’ll mean nobody else tries. Maybe it’ll mean everyone does. I couldn’t really guess how Esrolians will react. But it was a very dramatic way to leave a party, I guess. So they’ll have noticed.”
“Oh, I’m sure they noticed. You mentioned feuds?”
“It was not pre-arranged. So if that had happened between Sartarite Clans he might have found himself feuding with his new wife’s Clan. if they were offended, or he didn’t make good on a price later. But they’d definitely be married.” Berra gives a glance down a side alley, from ground level up to the roof, as they pass it.
“I see. Esrolia is more…” She hesitates. “Peaceable,” she finishes lamely. “It is unlikely to cause a feud as we rarely feud. The Queen frowns on it. Feuds are bad for trade. But there are likely going to be repercussions of some sort. Unless…” She looks thoughtful. “She could pretend that it was planned. That would save face for the family and allow the marriage to go ahead. It depends on whether or not she was in favour of the marriage to begin with. Was anyone hurt?”
Berra shrugs easily. “I don’t know. Venlar mostly talked with Yamia, but he didn’t say anyone was, and he didn’t seem to fear or worry? But he was very excited, and a bit savage. So maybe? I’d never seen him like that.”3Berra failed an Insight (Human) on Venlar, rolled in retrospect.
Varanis considers. Finally she shrugs. “I have never been able to understand how Grandmother thinks. She will make her own decisions in this and then Mellia may be faced with difficult choices.” With a sigh, she says, “It sounds like it was an interesting party, anyway.” She changes the subject, “Do you know if there was any difficulty with the trolls last night?”
“Uh, no?” Berra gives a quick twitch of a smile, maybe meant for reassurance. “They don’t often come out too far on Humakt’s nights.” Of course, she has not lived in the city all her life.
Varanis looks at her and says nothing. Finally she gives a little nod. Of course a Humakti wouldn’t know, especially one from a small village in Sartar.4See [[[ephemera:vinga-repays-a-favour|Vinga Repays a Favour]]] for the story behind Vingan actions on this night.
Berra catches the look, damn her sharp eyes.5A pass on Insight for Berra as she tries to read Varanis. The Vingan is preoccupied, though she is paying attention to Berra. There’s a thin veneer over simmering frustration. It’s possible that she’s slipping back into the old Varanis, including that tendency to see outsiders as less than civilized.
Varanis is guiding them in the direction of Orlanth’s Hill. Her stride is brisk, but not so quick that Berra would need to run.
Berra looks off into the distance, and then says, “My eyes are better. But you’re right about the sun.” She is slowing down a little, as they get to busier roads. She might be preparing to say something else.
With a glance in the Humakti’s direction, Varanis slows her pace to match. Her eyes scan the buildings and streets, observant but not wary. She is leaving the wariness to the guard, who has closed the distance between them now that the streets are busier.
“Thank you,” says Berra absently. And then, “You’re about to burst. What’s the matter?”
Varanis glances back at the guard. “Nothing.”6Fumbled Truth.
“Mm?” Berra leaves it at one more question.
“Your continued questioning makes it seem as though you don’t believe me, Berra.” The reply is flat and cold.
Berra’s steady walk has a momentary hitch in it, and then a slightly longer stride to catch up, and after a moment she says, “Mhm,” again, but this time it is a noise of acceptance. She takes a deep breath, thoughtful.7Having failed Air, Berra does not give Varanis the benefit of her Truth Rune…
Varanis stops dead in her tracks. “You,” she says, jabbing an angry finger at the guard. “Stay here. Or get a drink. Or do whatever the fuck you want except follow me for the next 10 minutes. I won’t leave this location.” She wheels on Berra. “We’re going to the roof where we won’t be overheard.” Without waiting for a reply from either, she heads up, agile even in her fury.8Runes and rolls for decision making. Pass on Air for pride, fumbled Loyalty to her Clan member.
Berra nods, and tells the guard, “I’ll keep it clear with her.” A little lower she says, “She needs time.” And then she goes to attempt the wall.
After scrambling for a moment, and failing to get anywhere, Berra steps back, mutters an oath to an Air god who is no longer an Air god, and runs at the wall, going up it with a couple of bounces and then some dangerous, flashy jumps. In full armour.9Varanis had a special climb. Berra had a fail and then a critical.
The shell has cracked and Varanis is vibrating with misdirected rage. It doesn’t take any effort to see that she is spoiling for a fight. When Berra is safely on her feet, the Vingan advances, though not so much that she’ll push the other woman to the edge of the rooftop. “Why don’t you ever believe me?” she demands coldly. “And why do you refuse to accept a gift? Are we kin or not? Are we friends or not? Am I not your Orlanth?” Each question comes with no space for an answer. The air around the Vingan practically crackles with electricity.
“No,” Berra says coolly. “You’re not my Orlanth yet. You’re my Vinga.” Her lips then shut tight on anything else she was going to say. With her eyes narrowed and her jaw set, she looks angry. She often does, but this seems more like the real thing.10While not calm, Berra has passed Honour and failed Darkness. She neither wants to swing at Varanis, nor knock the stuffing out of her psychologically.
And as swiftly as the dam burst, the anger flows out of her and Varanis’ shoulders slump. “I’m sorry, Berra. It’s not you I’m angry with.” She steps back. “I hate this place,” she mutters quietly.11Failed Air, crit on Water.
Berra relaxes a little, showing she was tensed. “Come sit down on the edge,” she says. “I don’t think you hate this place. I think you hate what it makes you.” With absolutely no fear, she drops down to look out over the square. Then, because she is her, she casts Detect Enemies. Mutters. Casts it again after a bit of concentration. She still looks angry, but no longer like she might deliberately curl a fist and hit someone.
Varanis takes a seat on the edge of the roof, her feet hanging high above the poor guardsman below. Her eyes are still full of thunderclouds, but she doesn’t appear likely to start tossing lightning around anymore.
“So.” That’s all the Humakti says.
“They trapped me in a party last night, dancing to Grandmother’s political aspirations instead of allowing me to serve my temple. And they took my armour so I couldn’t circumvent them.”
Berra is silent for a while, and then says, “I didn’t bring a water bottle. Would you?” She glances at the one Varanis carries. Then, unusually for her, she unbuckles her helmet.
Varanis hands over the water flask wordlessly.
Berra takes off her helmet and puts it down next to her very carefully before taking the water. “I don’t know if anyone’s ever tried to stop me fighting. Not like that, anyhow.” She takes a sip, spits into her hand and drops dusty water behind her, and then takes a drink.
“They have always controlled my life. Like a little marionette. If I didn’t dance to Grandmother’s tune willingly, there were ways to coerce me to do so. Grandmother rarely takes action herself – she doesn’t need to with so many willing to do it for her. This time, I think it was Serzeen again. She had this look on her face last night..” She mutters what sounds very much like a Grazelander swearword. “A marionette. With a smile painted on my face to entertain the nobles of Nochet.”
“Mhmm.” This time the noise is longer, and then Berra says, “Soooo,” drawing out the word. “What’s important? Separation. What’s important?” She makes it sound like she thinks she knows the answer.
“Why do you ask the question when you’ve already given your answer?” Varanis asks sourly.
“Oh, because Separation is a word I use to remind myself. I just came in halfway through. To me, it’s a way of reminding myself to step back. But this is about Strategy, not Great Strategy. You know a thing that is really important, and I want to know if it’s the most important thing to you.”
“What’s important? Serving my Goddess. Being worthy of her. Being worthy of my responsibilities.” The sourness is replaced with conviction.
“Yep. That’s the one thing you can’t take away from Varanis. Her honour, her service. But that’s also how you do things, not what you do. I think that the important TASK you have, is looking after Sartar, and the Flame.”
“I can’t do that in Nochet. But I also can’t go back to Sartar yet. I feel like I’ve been exiled from it somehow. Isn’t that odd?” She scowls across the rooftops.
“Uhhhh. You can do it here. Lord Eril said to strengthen your ties with people, and your community. That’s what parties are for.” Berra looks at Varanis as if to be sure she gets that.
Varanis looks briefly mulish then lets it go. “Are they really my community? I don’t feel like I belong here and I’m beginning to wonder if I ever did. When I was a child, I knew I didn’t. I hated Nochet. But when I was older, I allowed myself to be seduced by the city and I started to try to be a part of it. Now? I don’t know any more. It doesn’t feel like home.” She laughs wryly. “I do like the baths though.”
“It doesn’t really matter so much. If you’re trapped in a party, that’s a battleground. But you’re a Vingan. You don’t have to do the things there that Grandmother wants. You can make allies there for yourself instead of her, or as well as her. You can be seen and make sure they see you, and use the Air in you to make sure they believe in Sartar. You can make them your community. Win them.”
Varanis looks thoughtful. “Serala would say I’ve been fighting the reins when what I should really do is take the bit in my teeth and run.” She laughs at her own metaphor. “Manasa would have no problems doing that.”
Berra just nods, and takes another quick drink, letting Varanis sort things through.
With that, Varanis rises gracefully to her feet, stepping back from the ledge. “Right, I had a plan for this morning and it didn’t involve tantrums.” She freezes. “Shit. Did I do anything that could be described as laying a hand on the guard? I don’t remember it clearly.” She looks suddenly worried and perhaps even ashamed.
“No, although we shouldn’t be up here. But I think that you do need to use the time you’re here, and get better at using that time.” Berra looks down. “Damnit. Easier up than down, unless I go the really fast way.” Her hand reaches for her helmet.
“Do you want me to take your helmet?” Varanis offers quietly.
“Or you could use the straps to tie it to the back of your belt, out of the way.”
“No, but if you could hold my feather that would be good.” Berra breaks the threads that sew the black feather in, but she is looking downwards with a slight smile that says she is about to do something approaching crazy. “I’m going to need the helmet.”
“What are you planning?” Varanis demands, even as she accepts the feather.
“Going down quickly,” Berra says, as she buckles her helmet on. “I think I see a thing to bounce off.”
Varanis mutters another curse and jumps, landing easily in the street below. She peers up at Berra, watching. ((Special on the jump roll and a pass on a second, to stick the landing.))
The guard looks startled. “Just keep your back to the wall a moment,” Varanis warns him.
Berra slips forward from where she is, aiming to put a foot down on a ledge and she manages it, but in the worst possible way. Her foot jams, and is pulled out only by her weight, and she does half a turn in midair, and hits the ground head first, not even getting her hands in the way to slow herself. There is a lot of bouncing about as she comes to rest.12Fumbled Jump roll. Oh, Berra…
Varanis lets loose a stream of curses and runs to Berra.
“Ow,” Berra says, and sits up. “Could have gone better.”
Varanis checks Berra over carefully. “Is anything broken?”
The only damage that Berra has, on Varanis looking her over, is a badly twisted ankle. Even her armour is hardly scratched.13Passed Truth to cast Shield as it all went wrong.
“I don’t think so,” Berra says, in wonder. And then a moment after Varanis has come to the conclusion she is right, “Can I have my feather back please?”
“That was stupid!” Now that Berra seems to be ok, fear turns to fury. “Why would you do that?” Even in a full rage, somehow Varanis manages to hand the feather over carefully. “You could have died, Berra! And for what? To save yourself a climb?”
The crowd that had begun to form when Berra first hit the ground now starts to shift uneasily away. While this could make a fun story to tell the neighbours, it also looked like it might be dangerous to stand too close.
Berra grins. “Well, yes,” she says. “Just for that. And because I thought of it and wanted to do it.” Her eyes are pools of darkness, but the smile is entirely unlike grim Humakt.
“Of all the idiotic, fish-brained, foolhardy, daft, inane, asinine, idiotic…” Varanis is beginning to repeat herself in her temper.
“Yep,” Berra says proudly. “I think the thread will hold if I can get it through, but I should sew it. I really need to work out how to carry more kit with me over the metal.” She is not ignoring Varanis – the conversation is being carried on as if the reply is not a list of her shortcomings of decision-making.
“Look at me!” Varanis shouts.
Berra does. “You forgot addled,” she says.
Varanis’ eyes bore into Berra’s. “Look side to side. Without turning your head.”
Berra does that, and then back at Varanis, meekly. “Impetuous? Giddy?” she suggests. “Senseless?”
“Move your head around so I can see you haven’t done any damage to your neck. Then I can decide if I’ll fix that,” Varanis growls at her.
Berra does that gently. “It hit my shield,” she says. “I called on Humakt in midair to protect me from the ground.”
“Fine. You’re lucky Ernalda doesn’t love you more. Get up. I was going to your Temple anyway. When we get there, you can thank Humakt for his timely assistance.”
Nothing seems to be broken, amazingly. Berra examines the feather quickly and gives Varanis a nod of thanks. She scrambles to her feet. “Still, that was pretty dramatic, I admit.” There is a wide smile on her face still, like she is proud of herself.
“For a moment, I thought you’d broken your foolish neck,” Varanis admits, her voice breaking on the words.
“I’m fine,” says Berra, maybe meaning it more than the surface words. “But you jumped too. We both did. And we both got down together.”
“I’ve been climbing and jumping from rooftops here since I was 9. And I wasn’t planning to jump. I only did so I’d be on the ground in case you needed help.” Varanis turns on her heel and starts walking in the direction of the Temple of Humakt again. She doesn’t appear to be waiting to see if Berra or the guard keep up.
A bit of broken adobe lands in the street behind them. Berra manages to keep a straight face as she follows Varanis. “I was a pathfinder here,” she says, scurrying a little.
Varanis gives a curt nod. Then she glances in Berra’s direction and slows her pace.
“Thank you,” says Berra politely as Varanis slows. “And thank you for looking after D’Val’s feather. Did you ever see the Humakti running like hell to get to where there was a problem? In the Siege?” She has to add the last bit because, in her usual way, she has blurted a question.
“There were a couple of forces dedicated to getting there as fast as possible. I used to go at the front and find the best way. That means getting a lot of practice at falling.”
Varanis sighs. “I’d be a hypocrite if I lectured you on risk-taking.” There’s another sigh. “For a moment I thought you were dead.”
“It’s sort of funny to hear you being Serzeen. And I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m sorry about that. But for a moment I bounced!”
Varanis winces when Berra compares her to Serzeen, but refrains from comment. “I’m going to your temple to ask about learning Fire Blade. Who should I speak to?” The change of subject is deliberate, heavy-handed even.
“Oh, uh, today?” Berra thinks, and goes with the change. “It will be whoever prayed during the night. There’s always a guard, and they join the ceremony later, and finish it. Some people go right through, but some stop to go take guard and be at the Temple. Today it’s the Second and the Seventh Regiments. The central command won’t step outside the Temple unless something big happens. So Irillo the Scar – don’t call him that – or Senreva. Their people. Ask for a free sword in the Second or the Seventh.”
“Thank you. Any thoughts on what they might ask for beyond the fee Initiates might normally pay? And any advice on what to expect? I’ve not had many dealings with your temple, except that we fought alongside them at times during the siege.”
“Not really. Except to be sure you’ll use it right. I’ll speak for you. I mean, if you don’t mind. As to your character.”
Varanis chuckles at this and finally it’s a real laugh, like she’s let go of everything that was eating at her for the moment. “I would appreciate that, Berra. While it’s possible they will know my name already, there’s no way for me to know what they associate with it. Thank you.”