Questions of Honour

Berra — Honour 02

????, Fire Season, Stasis Week


1626, Fire Season, Stasis Week, evening of Windsday [[[s01:session-36|Session 36]]]


After they left the cave, Berra stuck close to D’Val on the way back to the village, seeming almost light at heart, but now it is evening and she seeks for Finarvi, and on closer inspection she looks tired and worried.

Seeing this, Finarvi ends the quiet conversation he was having with Irillo and makes his way towards her.

“Is all well?” he asks, making a gesture that shows he knows it’s not, but has no more polite way of saying it.

“Hello,” Berra says without her usual energy. She can be intensely negative in mood when sulking, but now she is just lacking in positivity. “Good enough. I need my armour pressed out, and Wind Tooth’s scabbard will need to buckle onto my right hip. And I wanted to say thank you.”

Finarvi looks puzzled, “Thank you? For what?”

“All of you came to find me. I would have died otherwise. So that. But we don’t have to… um.. talk about it.” That might have been a joke when she started, but Berra could not keep good humour going until the end of the sentence.

Finarvi gives half a shrug, playing along. “If it’s any help, I thought we were hunting wolves. I was looking forward to having a nice wolfskin scarf.” He gives her a crooked grin. “It really didn’t occur to us to not go and find you, you know. Especially these noble idiots…” he gestures vaguely about to indicate the rest of their comrades, wherever they might be. “They were racing off to rescue some manchild they could barely remember the name of. I don’t think you should read too much into it.”

“Yes, well. Glad to be rescued by accident, then.” Berra looks rather more relaxed then. “Maybe something woven out of grass instead?” She puts her hand up to occlude Finarvi’s neck in her squint. “It could work.”

He heaves a huge, sad sigh. “Madryn would eat it,” he says mournfully. Then his expression turns sober. “I was discussing with Irillo the likelihood of using this place to repair our gear. I don’t want to start the journey to Eneera’s Compass in our current state.”

“Well, I have good news about that. I can’t, and the people I’ve talked to so far say that D’Val probably can’t step in. We’re going to have to talk to the Humakti at Wilmskirk, but I think we might have to go to Boldhome. I started a quest with you in, and failed at it.” Berra looks glum, but not actively unhappy. She gives a tired sigh.

“On the bright side, we didn’t die.” Finarvi looks like he’s about to say something more, then thinks better of it. After a pause, he adds, “And look, now even Dormal can’t pretend he doesn’t care what happens to you, not after dragging you out from under the feet of a particularly unpleasant troll. There’s currency in that.” He gives her a brief grin full of mischief.

Berra looks confused. “Uh… I think he doesn’t like me. He’s just not a coward. At least, not like that. He won’t fight me, but I can’t say he runs from battle. But… no. He doesn’t like me. And I don’t have to like him. I just have to be grateful to everyone and he’s part of it. That’s different.”

Finarvi grimaces. “Who said anything about liking? It’s possible to care about someone and not like them. Where I come from, we call that ‘family’.”

“No, he doesn’t care. Not beyond needing me. I mean, I’d save him too, but if he died a long way away and I heard about it, I wouldn’t give a damn, beyond to hope he didn’t disgrace anyone. He’s not family to me. My family, I like. And my Clan, mostly, too. He’s not either of those, and we know how we feel about each other, and believe me, it’s not care.” Then, because she is honest, Berra adds, “Well, not in a good way.”

Finarvi mulls this over. Berra’s words have given him something to think about. “I look forward to learning about these good ways of caring. Your version sounds like it is more than duty and obligation.”

Berra thinks, although she unbuckles her sword. “I need this to hand on my right hip properly,” she says, in a change of subject. “I think we’re using the same sound for different things.” She changes it right back. “When I care about someone, I’m unhappy if I find out they are.”

Finarvi gives a short, bitter laugh. “Yes, very different things. I hope you never meet Serala’s grandfather.” He turns his attention to the buckle. “How do you want it adjusted?”

“Just once. But that would be duty without liking. I can think that, but I don’t call it care.” She points to her leather belt. “Just reverse the hangings. I’ll be using my left hand for a while, so it’ll sit where my other sword does. That one’s resting in a hide for the moment. Until I can carry a shield again, and control it, a second sword isn’t called for.”

Wind Tooth’s scabbard is set up so it has small buckles, and can be taken off the belt, much like Berra’s water bottle or indeed, her other sword. It might be possible to add even more to it, but other than a few pouches knotted on like everyone does when a belt is handy, she has not yet committed to more things weighing her down.

Finarvi’s fingers get to work on the buckles of Wind Tooth’s scabbard. “I’d like to thank you for commissioning that second sword. Varanis is so taken with it she wants one too, and Serala is throwing expectant looks my way like she is expecting me to offer to make one for her, too.”

“Heh. I’ll tell anyone who asks who made it for me. Will… I … oh, is Varanis going to be using a broadsword? That’s good.”

“If I interpreted the noises correctly. She seems dissatisfied with her rapier. I’m still thinking about what to do for Serala. Maybe if I can devise a bright green dye for the scabbard, something loud enough to herald her arrival from three hills away.” He chatters on as he works, fingers nimbly reversing the buckles and adjusting the straps to hang at a convenient position for her uninjured hand. “There. Give that a try.”

Berra watches, arms hugged around herself, attention keenly on the work. “Put gold onto the scabbard. A Yelmalio colour,” she suggests. “And tool the leather with her weapons in pictures. But I think she’d like gold tracework.” She reaches for the scabbard carefully, and looks content with the weight of her sword back in her hand. The buckles hand right as she stands and tries it. “Yes. It’s good.” Even a one-handed draw and replacement work well. “Hmm. Rapiers are too light. I’ve never seen the point of the extra length, and that’s not even a pun. You can get the end of the blade anywhere but they don’t have the weight you need for cutting.”

Berra demonstrates by emotive hand-wriggling and then chopping.

Finarvi chuckles. “I was trained to use a broadsword, but I use a knife every day. I know which one is a tool, and which is an extension of my hand. I’m not a warrior, but I’ll make you the same promise I made Varanis. I’ll stand with you and help you face what is to come, if that’s your wish.”

“Oh, as for that, I don’t mind if you’re behind me sometimes. For one thing, I might be next to Rajar.” Berra almost manages a grin. “But pretty soon I probably open the way for you then have to go do my own thing. Humakt as a Lightbringer isn’t a story. I mean, I’d go, but I think Nala will be Ginna Jar, so that leaves me to go do mystery-things.”

Finarvi marvels at how she can sound so assured, so soon after all that has happened. He runs a nervous hand through his sandy hair. “I feel like a child playing at Heroquesting,” he admits, very quietly. “The fate of Sartar is riding with us. I don’t want to let you all down.”

“Mm. Did I tell you about how mine went, the first time? I mean, leaving aside that I have just, let’s face it, done what you’re afraid of.” Berra scowls down at her water bottle. “That’s on the wrong side now,” she mutters, and reaches her left hand awkwardly to unbuckle it, then stops trying. “Have you got any water?”

Finarvi is already reaching for the flask, and blushing horribly under his tan. “I didn’t mean to imply – that is, if you’re going to fail a Heroquest, better to do it in such a way nobody dies. Not that that’s good. I mean, it’s good none of us are dead, but not that…” He takes a deep breath, calming himself by force of will. “Here,” he hands her his water flask.

Berra snorts laughter, slowly, but for a little too long, and then takes the water. “I… know what you mean. In one way it would have been better if I’d died – someone else could do it. But I did what you’re fearing. It’s what I fear too. Which is a bit horrible, to be honest. But… you go on even if you do. That’s what honour is. I said I would, so I will.”

He looks at her with bemused admiration. “Serala has that, too. Like she’s made of a different metal, one that never blunts or tarnishes. She just washes the mud and blood off and there it is, shining bright and sharp as ever. And I have no idea what it is.”

Again, Berra takes that as a sort of question to answer, rather than just a remark. She pops open the water flask one-handed, obviously thinking, and after pouring a little into her open mouth, says, “Truth is the basis of Honour. The real Truth, what we all are, what the world is, is unyielding and unchanging. It’s a torch to light our way. So the laws of honour are also unyielding. No matter where you are, Kinstrife is wrong. So if you know that – if you follow Serala’s grandfather because he is old and wise and your kin, not because you like him, then that is the start of honour.”

Finarvi listens to her, remaining silent.

“That’s really what it is. Knowing that the behaviour is worthwhile, not because it give you an advantage, but because it is right to do. You look after guests who come to you, even if they are your enemies, if it’s night-time and they ask. You do not fight against those who cannot. You keep your word. Truth’s shape is the shape of a torch because it lights the path, and that path is correct. It’s a comfort a lot of the time, because when I don’t know what to do, the path’s still there, even if I can’t find it.”

“And that’s really the whole secret of it,” Berra concludes, like it is no strange mystery to her. “The path is there for everyone. It can be reached with a step, and it is always the same, although different people find different tests in staying on it.” She has some more water and re-stops the flask to offer it back.

Finarvi accepts the flask. “The river has its path, but what of the rain? If truth is unchanging, what is water’s truth?” He shakes his head. “Others have tried to explain it to me, but it’s as if they’re only explaining ice. Water is not always ice.”

“The Truth is that water changes. What water does is opinion and wishes, based on truth. When you find hot ice, you know something is strange. When a river flows uphill, you know it did not answer the sea’s call. But that is not the water having a different Truth. It’s the water having an opinion. I could act with honour at home without being a warrior, but my understanding of honour calls me to fight. I can, so I do. Yet…” She tries to pull up her left sleeve, but her right hand will not grip. “I have the Water Rune about my wrist,” she says lamely. “I change like most people can’t even imagine.”

Finarvi smiles at that. “Water reminds us that truth is not simple, and it is not only one thing. I think I see.”

“Not quite what I said. More that there are different ways of being the same thing, but if you could examine water with the light of Truth you would see all the shapes of it. Knowing the Rune is different from not lying, I could tell you that water will poison you, but that does not make it true. If water is hard, that does not mean hardness is its essential nature, any more than sitting talking about water is mine. But remember the difference between the Truth Rune and just what people call telling the truth. One is light. The other is things that happen.”

He frowns, struggling to follow Berra’s reasoning. But water can poison you, he thinks, but doesn’t say, recognising this as a false trail. “I understand your first statement. There are different ways of being the same thing. There are different ways of describing the same thing, but that is a view, not the thing itself, and there are as many views as there are people to see. But when you speak of Truth, or its Light, I cannot follow.”

“It’s a thing that went before people, maybe among the first of the Runes. But without Truth, water could change its nature. Not just being cold and hard, but being hot and dry. Without Truth, water and sand could be the same. Truth allows ordering of things. That is the world that allows all things to happen – because sand knows how to be sand, we can walk on the ground. Truth is the rules that are so deep you often do not see them, yet they touch everything.”

“I think I understand a crafter’s Truth. Charcoal and fire and bronze, wood and leather and clay. But Paths? That is where I feel lost.”

“Mmm.” Berra looks a little uncomfortable, and frowns in thought. “I think that’s because you’re looking for your Truth, and what you have instead is a crafter’s life. You’re trying to say you have a Truth, instead of your life being supported by it. Whether you want it or not, whether you believe in it or not, water will still be water in your workshop and Magasta’s body and the Zola Fel. Don’t try to have your Truth. Be part of the eternal Truth.”

“I’m not sure if I am,” Finarvi admits. “I know the rules my materials obey, but the rules of people seem to me more opinion than Truth. You speak of the Path as though it is something you can see and touch. I don’t know what that is.”

“Oh, rules of people often are opinion. You’re not looking for a thing you can’t find there, don’t worry. But the laws of honour are like the laws of water, or the laws of bronze. Once you know them, you know them. Learning how to live by them is maybe harder. But to give hospitality is a good thing in all places. Giving guest-shelter is a part of correct behaviour. How that happens – if that includes a roof and a guard, or a feast and new clothes and gifts, that’s opinion.”

Finarvi rubs his chin thoughtfully. “Some things are just right. To give fair value, to do one’s best, to heed wisdom, to save a comrade’s life. Acting with rightness is honourable.”

“Yes. Always just right.” Berra does not sound approving so much as in agreement. “Ask another warrior-Issarian, they would give you the same answer. Even Irillo would say that giving fair value – keeping your word to a bargain – was good, and he’s not a warrior. So even with him, you share.”

“Ah, yes!” Finarvi looks delighted, like he’s finally grasped something that’s been evading him. “We agree, then. I am glad.” He smiles in relief. “I too thought Dormal acted very honourably in saving you.”

“I think so? I’m not sure. I think anyone who did that would have acted with honour,” Berra says. “Even if you do a thing for the wrong reason, it can be honourable, and he did it where there was danger. Finding out what is in a heart is why we judge honour by actions, not intent, so if there is the honourable result then it should be.” She shrugs. “He is not a coward, not in that sense.”

“It might take courage to act honourably sometimes,” he concedes, “but it’s not the same thing. He could have defended Varanis, or supported the rest of us, and still acted honourably with much less personal risk. But he acted in a way that suggests ‘help try rescue Berra’ was not good enough. It had to be ‘rescue Berra.’”

“Huh. I personally think he was in less danger there than fighting a Dark Troll.” Berra grins, as she starts to unbuckle her belt. “Could you move the fixings for the water bottle? Otherwise that’ll annoy the hell out of me.” Wind Tooth comes out of the scabbard to rest across her knees.

“That’s an interesting perspective, given the direction the missiles were flying, and the fact it put him in front of Rajar.” Finarvi quirks an eyebrow at Wind Tooth. “You know, it might be easier to take the belt off first.”

“I’m the one who ended up by him. It put a Zorak Zoran Death Lord between him and Rajar. Now I know which I’d prefer to face, but I know which way that thing was looking, too.” Berra does unbuckle the belt. “I didn’t want to take off the scabbard,” she explains. “Although I can’t remember why I thought that was a good idea now.”

He gives a huff of amusement and takes the belt. “And both were between him and an exit. That’s the sort of cowardice that passes as valour in the army. I remember being told that fleeing through the enemy ranks is called ‘making a charge.’” He refastens the water bottle in a new position. “There. That should be easier to reach without needing to tie yourself in knots.”

“Well, if a thing needs doing, you do it. But yes. He’s not a coward – but I don’t really get why you seem to want me to like him. Is that what you’re doing?”

Finarvi laughs. “You seem very fixed on the idea of liking. I like you, Berra, but I don’t think I’d run between the legs of a Death Lord for you.”

He grins, unrepentant. “I can detest a person but give praise where it’s due. It doesn’t make me false. If I made good armour that was ugly because that’s how the buyer wants it, I don’t change my price because I think it’s ghastly. They’ll pay the price of good armour. How we treat those we dislike reveals more about us than how we treat people we like, that’s all.” He shrugs. “You’re probably right, anyway.”

“Well, whatever it is, I can give him what praise I think is due, but I don’t think he saved my life. I think everyone did. You too.” Berra looks at Wind Tooth, and does not put the sword belt on yet. One-handed, it may be tricky.

Finarvi’s smile vanishes. “I’m not looking for compliments. I was less use than a burning wolf. My sword skills have rotted.” He waits to see if Berra will ask for help with the belt.

Berra glares. “If I’m trying to compliment you uselessly, I’ll call you pretty.”

He grins at her glare. “That’s better. I was starting to worry we’d left the real Berra behind. So, would you like to help me improve my terrible sword technique? I would ask the others, but Serala would gloat and I’m too overawed by D’val to ask.”

“D’Val’s a Lord. You shouldn’t ask unless you know he’s free. As for me? Of course. But you’ll have to do the opposite of what I do. And I may not have much time in Boldhome.” Berra sighs. “And this evening I will be standing watch and then probably drinking. Dawn tomorrow? I’m not good at gloating. People tend to be dead when I try.”

“Safest time to gloat,” Finarvi agrees amiably, amused that Berra took his suggestion of D’Val seriously. “Any time that would suit you. I don’t want to have to resort to my fists the next time a corpse gets lively.”

Berra, deadpan and probably still thinking it was all serious, says, “Dawn. I’m usually up before then anyhow. If I’m not, come and wake me. But without any lead weapons please.”