Red and Fire

1628, Earth, Week 3ish, Some unknown day


Somewhere up by Alda Chur. Session: SartarArc 1


Berra does not seem tired by spear drill, but folds herself back down by the fire as the darkness deepens and the Red Moon spins above, giving everything its usual blood-soaked evening look. She sits between Finarvi and Maalira, where there is a comfortable tussock not yet claimed, and entirely fails to relax.

The fire has done its duty, and in early Earth Season it is not needed, and yet Berra puts a handful of dried grass onto it, delaying its death a moment longer.

Lying at ease, Finarvi draws in a deep, relaxing breath, and gets a lungful of burning grass smoke. There is some undignified spluttering and he sits up, wiping his eyes.1Nap denied! – Finarvi

Berra asks, “You alright?” and then looks at what she has done, and almost but not quite sheepishly shuffles the grass into a smaller pile, so at least it will… burn more slowly and chase Finarvi around with its smoke, apparently.

Finarvi wheezes, blinks owlishly at Berra, and nods. He takes a few moments to get his breathing back under control and recover his calm. “It’s strange to be here. Part of an army again. Word came without warning, this time.”

“Yeah. I got called back by the Earth Temple. A point of law. And then as I was there, Lady Kalis sent me to the … well, it could be worse. But I got a briefing from Lord Eril while I was still smelling like a flower garden.” Berra rubs at her hair ruefully. “I think I’d have preferred the bits of fish.”

Finarvi gives her a baffled sniff, but she just smells of leather and Berra sweat and road dust. He knows better than to ask. “I was going to ask what you’ve been up to since we met last. We got rumours occasionally, but you know how word gets distorted as it travels.”

“Oh. Wow. Well, yeah.” Berra looks to Varanis and then looks away, down to the fire. “So, we bounced around a bit. We caused… stopped, mostly… some trouble in Nochet. And then some idiots decided that they were going to come and be a Regiment and be useful like Varanis, but without any of them actually being any good at being in a Regiment, so that was last Earth Season. Keeping them alive, Varanis doing diplomacy in Tarsh, and then helping to take Alda Chur from the Lunars. We got the gate, but we were also just one plan, so it was over pretty quickly once we started. I fought Lord Gallem there. He’s the leader of the Regiment. He beat me.” But not fatally, it seems.

Berra gives Maalira a grin of appreciation. “I had a White Lady there though.”

“That does help,” he offers wryly. He regards his adopted clanmate fondly. She’s looking well, considering. Despite dust, fish or flowers, her hair remains undefeated. She’s wearing a torc that at first glance he thought was familiar, but now he can see the clasp is different. It’s the design tooled on it that is familiar to him. The sword on her right hip has the same pattern. It’s not the one he made for her, but he can remember drawing that pattern, or trying to, from memory.

He frowns at it, concentrating, trying to recall the particulars.

Berra is a study in stillness, like quicksilver caught as aluminium. At any moment she could be moving, changing, flowing, but instead she is staring at the fire. There is little light left now, but what there is, red or made of flames, picks out odd shadows and highlights.

“Your offhand sword,” he ventures. “Why does it remind me of Lord Eril?” Even as he voices the thought, he knows. He has a clear image in his mind of Eril as a young man, and the sword he wears has the same look, though that one was made for a taller warrior.

Berra looks at Finarvi, and then down at the hilt. “He gave it to me to bear,” she says simply, and looks back at Finarvi, at least outwardly calm.

He nods as though this is perfectly reasonable. He doesn’t want to pry. But his redsmith’s mind won’t abide a mystery. “And you had it shortened?” he asks.

There is a brief pause. “It got broken. And as it needed to be remade anyhow, I took that extra metal off. Bit worrying, mind.” Berra frowns a little. “I was wondering if it was rude to suggest I make the rest into a torc, and then he told me to. I don’t want to think like him, but at least I don’t know why he said that.”

He manages to stop himself from saying “I don’t want you to think like him either” Instead he says, “Fair. I’d have made it into a dagger, but that’s me. Still, it seems quite an honour to be entrusted with the High Sword’s, er, sword.”

Berra nods. “Yeah.” She hooks a finger over the torc and eases it on her neck. “I had to have a hinge put into this – things got weird. I can turn into a wolf. I don’t really want to talk about that though.”

Finarvi turns to look at the fire so Berra can’t see what his eyebrows are doing. “That’s… um. Good to know? Did all this happen before or after you liberated Alda Chur?”

“Oh, that was after. The Dwarf brought the Cannon Cult to Alda Chur – it made the loudest sound I’ve ever heard! One of the walls fell!” Berra’s reminiscence has a lot of smiling in it.

He brightens. “It did? I’m sorry to have missed that.”

Berra nod-nods, smiling. “And then the Prince’s Palace there tried to hold out, and then the Cannon threw a big ball of stone at it, and that just went straight through the door and everything in the way and then they surrendered.”

He grins at her, on safer ground. “That must have been a bad day to be a Lunar soldier. Well done.”

Berra looks back to the fire, and pulls up more grass to feed it. “It was nice to just be in a battle for once,” she says. “That’s where I do best. And because I fought Lord Gallem, he could stop. He’d proved himself.” She thinks things through a little. “I haven’t seen him here, but we’ll muster by Alda Chur, rumour says, so I’ll pay my respects then.”

“There are some faces I don’t mind not seeing in Alda Chur again,” he mused, remembering his own last visit to the city, and one particular Lunar who had been too canny and persistent for comfort. If all Lunar officers had been made from the same mould, he muses, then the world might be a very different place. The thought makes him anxious and sad.

Berra may even have noticed. “Wasswrong?”

“Oh, nothing. Just thinking too much.” He shrugs. A Humakti is probably the ideal person to talk to about this, even if he probably won’t understand the answer. “I’ve fought alongside those who hated their enemy or fought for loyalty or love against strangers well enough. But one thing puzzles me. If you don’t have that… How do you go about fighting an enemy you respect?”

“Because not fighting them would be worse,” Berra says instantly. “Fighting’s not the worst thing you can do to someone – people just get afraid of Death. But if you don’t do what’s right, then the world goes bad. It’s easy as a Humakti, I guess, but I can tell you – you should be glad to respect them, because they respect you too. Honourable war is better than rolling over to a conqueror.”

He shakes his head. “You sound like my uncle Verars in his sober moments.” He tips his head apologetically. “I worry I don’t have the passion to fight. It comes so easily to everyone else, but I have to trust in the moment to sweep me along, and it seems to me there will come a time when it won’t.”

“It helps to have people beside you,” Berra says. “People you care about. Or care about not retreating when they aren’t. A lot of people get helped by pride.”

At that last, the Grazelander makes a strangled noise that might be a sob or desperate hilarity hastily swallowed. He takes a long, quelling drink from his water flask to regain his composure.

“These past few years I’ve spent too much time playing trader and not enough time making arrows and spearheads,” he offers ruefully, but he’s smiling. “A few foals underfoot and here I am talking like I’ve forgotten how to make war.”

Berra shrugs, helplessly. “I know the answers,” she says. “But they’re easy for me. I don’t fear things I haven’t seen, and I don’t know how to not be ready. But keep close to your fellows.” She looks towards where Varanis and Serala probably are. “Look after each other. That’s the best way.”

Finarvi stares unseeing into the shadows of the camp. For a moment his features are carefully blank; then his eyes focus again and gaze returns to Berra. He nods to her in thanks. “Aye. That’s sound advice. I’ll hold to it.”

There is a faraway moment from Berra, and then she stands, ready to go. “If you want to look at the bronze-work in the light, let me know, or come visit. I’m going to be around the Regiment most days, and you can spot us. The Malani have all come with their best clothes – they mean to die in battle, or triumph.”

Finarvi gets to his feet too, looking restless. “Malani? Are any of the Green Fish here?” He surveys the surroundings as if getting his bearings in the dark.

“A few, yeah.” Berra gestures at where the campfires are larger and more regular in spacing. “The order of it will break down once all the army’s together but right now Heenith Egilson has got the fires numbered. The Green Fish are probably around fire seventeen.” She shakes her head. “That man needs to spend more time meditating and … and I should not demean a Sword of Humakt for taking care.”

Finarvi gives her a too-bright smile. “Oh, he’s magnificent. Herding all this into any sort of order is an achievement to be savoured, even if it’s only fleeting. I’ll go pay my regards.” He waves farewell to Maalira, pauses a moment to wonder how one numbers a fire, then heads off into the darkness.

Berra gives Maalira a friendly wave of the hand and vanishes into the darkness herself. Presumably, but not definitely, it is different darkness.

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    Nap denied! – Finarvi