1626, Dark Season, Stasis Week
Rajar has been provoking Varanis with unsubtle comments about Kallyr and how convenient it would be if she were dead. It culminates when he suggests Varanis could do the job herself. The Vingan loses her temper and rather than attack the Uroxi, she races ahead. Post Wedding Daze and particularly the IC chat therein (Session 2.28). Further discussion of these events takes place in Hold the onions.
Varanis swears, then wheels her mount. The startled zebra, already made nervous by his rider’s anger, takes off into a gallop, charging up the road. She leans into it, rather than trying to stop him.
Xenofos follows her at steady brisk pace and catches up when she starts to slow down.
They run for a few minutes before finally she begins to encourage the zebra to slow down. By the time they reach a walking pace, Zukko has worked up a sweat.
Xenofos does not comment on the argument, letting Varanis cool down at her own pace – or simmer in her anger if that is the case.
Choices insults in Praxian, Pure Horse Tongue, and Theyalan rain down on Zukko’s ears. The least offensive of them refer to Rajar’s intelligence, of lack thereof. She diverts briefly to accusations of inappropriate behaviour with various animals, before finally settling on insulting his father and grandfather for their roles in bringing the Storm Bull into the world.
Xenofos lets the storm rage without interruption.
She brings Zukko to a halt at last. Throwing her leg over the saddle, she drops to the ground. Silently, she passes her reins up to Xenofos, without looking at him. The hairs on the back of Xenofos’ arm stand on end when her hand touches his. Brown eyes look at Varanis. He pats Zukko to calm the zebra down. With her mount secure, she turns on her heel and stalks off into the field beside the road. Xenofos scans the terrain she is going into but does not follow.
She climbs a small hill on the far side of the field, still easily in sight of her cousin, and probably visible to those that follow. She doesn’t check behind her to see. Instead, she stares up at the mountains looming in the distance. And then she screams. It’s a roar of fury and rage and hurt. When she’s done, she turns around and makes her way back to the road. Her trousers are soaked to well above her knees from the wet grass. Her face is flushed. Her eyes glisten, too bright. Still she says nothing to Xenofos, simply holding her hand out for the reins.
He nods and hands over the reins, still not saying something. Not asking anything.
She mounts and turns Zukko back to the road. This time her pace is more reasonable.
Xenofos glances at others and follows the Vingan. He is riding half a zebra length behind Varanis, but does not talk.
The early ranting has now given way to silence.
Berra manages to bring Followed up at a trot after a few minutes. She gives them both a look, as if trying to work out what is going on, and then gives them both a decent width of berth.
Xenofos nods to her as she passes.
At length, Varanis slows Zukko to allow her companions to catch up. As they draw near, she says softly, “I’m sorry. That was ill-mannered of me.” Her voice is raspy again.
Berra angles in, to be close, but she is obviously as much on watch for the outside as taking care to be in the conversation.
Again, the scholar just nods.
“I should not have allowed my misplaced trust to create this kind of difficulty for everyone. I should have known better.”
Berra gives Varanis a sigh. “Don’t apologise for things you haven’t got wrong. It puts us in a position where we have to argue or accept it.”
Stormy eyes flick up to Berra’s face but don’t hold her gaze for long, returning instead to the road ahead. “I did get this wrong, Berra. I assumed that seasons of travel together, of fighting side by side, meant the same to Rajar as it did to me. It was a foolish assumption. You warned me before that he doesn’t see the world in the same way.” She shrugs, a tiny movement beneath her armour. “I should have listened to you.”
Xenofos looks at the road ahead and then Berra to see if she answers the Vingan.
“He was softer with you than any Praxian, if you can believe that,” Berra says. Her voice is only a little rough.
“He as much as told me to kill my prince,” Varanis points out. The earlier rage has completely drained away now, leaving confusion and hurt in its wake. “He thought I was going to try to provoke war between Sartar and Prax.”
“Well, yeah. He’s bad at listening to Esrolians, too.” Berra turns to look down the track. “And he’s worried.”
“How could he think so little of me, Berra? Do I really seem that petty or stupid?” A tear tracks a path in the dust on Varanis’ face. Impatiently, she wipes it away with the back of her hand.
“He… thinks of war more naturally than we do. And I think of war pretty naturally. So he’s always looking at the danger.” Berra crosses her ankles on the neck of her bison, and looks at her feet.
“He has said before his loyalty to the White Bull is more important than friendship.” Xenofos notes quietly. “When Kallyr was in the Underworld. He has been open and honest about it.”
“That was seasons ago,” Varanis points out. “Before we had saved each other’s lives more times than I care to count.” She shakes her head. “The fault is mine. Just because my own feelings changed doesn’t mean anyone else’s would have. I knew better than to trust others before.” Her voice turns cold. “I know it again now.”
“Judgement’s hard. He doesn’t see all of how you’ve changed, and he’s more wary than most of us. But let’s keep moving on. We only have to get to Boldhome.” Berra gives the surrounding countryside a long look, as if hoping it hides enemies.
“Don’t put me to guard with him tonight. I don’t trust my manners yet.” Varanis scowls at the road. “I was so close to hitting him. I haven’t lost control like that in a long time. I’m sorry I raced ahead. It wasn’t fair to you. But if I’d stayed, I’d have done something even more stupid.” She runs a hand down Zukko’s neck. “Thank you for putting up with me.” It’s not clear if that’s directed to the zebra or to her two companions.
Xenofos shakes his head. “That was nothing. Don’t worry about that.”
“Yeah, no. He gets to be on watch with me, so he knows I’m watching him.” Berra scratches idly at her ear as she speaks.
Varanis nods. “I think I’m done talking for now. I’d like to keep riding point, and I don’t object to company if one of you wants to stay.”
Berra looks around, and takes in the country. “Nobody knows we’re here, but a Sartarite accent might go down well if we meet people.” She seems to be weighing up danger against social trickiness.
“Even from a Colymar?”
“Even from a Colymar. Maybe.” Berra sighs. “Just that the language is different. I speak it better.” Still, she looks unconvinced.
“I’ll stay… Unless you think three is too scary for people we might meet,” the Scribe says.
“She did say she wanted to be alone, though. But you have the zebra. You’re faster.” Berra hauls Followed to a halt, slowly, letting the others get ahead.
Varanis doesn’t look back. Her gaze is resolutely on the road ahead.
Xenofos keeps the half zebra distance, but does not try to speak with the brooding Vingan, scanning the horizon as before.