Square Meal

1628, Fire Season


In an eating hall in Dwarf Mine. Session 3.12


It’s evening, around a day or maybe two after the group arrived at Dwarf Mine. Berra and Maalira are eating Dwarf Stuff, well away from the main crowd, in a big painted room.

Varanis drifts over, freshly scrubbed and in a clean tunic and trews. She eyeballs the food and winces, but sits down with Berra and Maalira, obviously assuming she’s not interrupting.

Maalira gives Varanis a welcoming smile and wave

Berra waves companionably. Her cheeks are full, making her look like a snub-nosed hamster. Her hair is still soft and fluffy, adding to the impression.

“At least they make it easy to get clean here,” Varanis murmurs. “How do you two fare?”

“Mhmmp-gnnnm,” says Berra.

“Slightly less desperate for a sight of the sky than I was before coming in here,” Maalira says after hastily swallowing her mouthful.

Berra swallows a bit, nods thoughtfully, makes a noise of agreement.

“I’m trying really hard not to think about it,” Varanis admits. “Working on convincing myself that it’s a bit like visiting Ernalda’s holy places. But…” she shudders, “I don’t think I can stay here too long.”

Maalira nods. “It’s not a natural place for me.”

Berra swallows, and makes a confused face. “There’s so much to explore here!”

“There’s no Air. And rather limited opportunities to climb. I tried climbing the wall earlier. One of the … guards, I suppose, politely stopped me.”

Berra sighs. “I guess so. But it’s interesting.”

“I prefer to be able to see the horizon. Or at least an horizon.”

“I have this eerie sense of foreboding,” Varanis confides after glancing around to make sure no one seems to be listening. “Berra, promise me that if anything untoward happens, you’ll get my body out of here for a proper pyre under the sky?”

The main light above dims somewhat, but within the painted sky of the room, smaller lights are revealed, shining behind inlaid slices of alabaster or quartz. “Sure,” Berra says. “But it’s fine – we’re guests here. We’re probably about as safe as we can get in Sartar. In Dragon Pass.”

Maalira looks sidelong at Berra. “That’s not saying much.”

“I mean, the safest. Because I get the feeling we won’t be betrayed here. The Dwarf wants us to come back, or at least, wants the reputation of this place being safe. So we’ll be looked after.” Berra breaks her orange-brown food square into bits in front of her, carefully.

The Vingan wrinkles her nose. “What’s that one taste like?”

“A bit like apple,” Berra says. “And maybe really dried apricot. It’s maybe fruit, mashed up and dried? A bit sweeter than the rest.” She flicks a bit towards Varanis with her forefinger.

Varanis catches it and nibbles cautiously. “The texture is bland, but it’s edible, I suppose. Maalira, you’re sure this is food?”

“Not in the least.” Maalira wrinkles her nose.

Berra shakes her head, and eats one of the torn up bits. “Interesting,” she says. “Because they must make this somehow. And then they distribute it, and it’s a basic ration. It’s… Regimental. So strange.”

“It does make you full, it just isn’t as much fun as food should be.” Maalira shrugs, sending her curls bouncing.

“Rations,” Varanis snorts. “That’s very Humakti. Still, I suppose I ought to eat something or Xenofos will look at me like I’ve failed in my duties again. I’ll go pick something out. Any requests?”

“Right now, I just need food. I’m full of other thinking.” Berra shrugs. “Hey, Maalira. That set of stars there is Humakt’s sword.”

Maalira squints in the direction Berra indicates, then nods. “I’m glad they’re real constellations. It would be even more uncomfortable if they just put stars anywhere.”

Berra looks up towards the dimming central sun then. “Orlanth’s Ring is going to be there,” she says. “I wonder when these stars are right for.”

“Perhaps for when the battle took place?” Maalira suggests.

“Yeah…” Berra squints up at the light. “Alright, so that’s the Blue Moon, just hanging there. I guess it probably goes up and down, like the real one. For making the tides. But is that a white moon? A cold sun?” There is a white bulge in the ‘sky dome, most of the way towards the top. “What the heck?” White Moons? No wonder Berra looks confused.

“A… white moon? What?”

Maalira is frowning in genuine concern.

Berra shrugs. “Dunno. Although the red one isn’t here, now I think about it. I thought it would be… this is interesting.” By which she often means ‘dangerous’.

Maalira frowns harder. “Whenever you say something in that tone of voice I end up needing bandages.”

“Sometimes I hardly end up bleeding at all, and sometimes you just give me sweet things to eat until I forget about it. But there’s the Boat Planet. And no Red Moon. I think you’re right, this is a really old or just an old sky as well. But maybe really old, because I’ve never heard of a White Moon.” Berra stares up at it.

“Perhaps the red moon was white once?”

“Don’t think so. She – the moon that’s red – stole a chunk of Ernalda and rose up into the sky. That one’s already up there.” Berra looks back down, and takes a deep breath. “See? There’s a lot to learn about here, even if we don’t know the answers. Because this means something here.”

Maalira nods. “Point taken. I still don’t feel comfortable here but I do like the questions it’s raised.”

“You’re a big place person.” Berra, like most people, is likely unaware that the plains of Prax are only a fraction of the land that the animal nomads use. Most Sartarites have never heard of the Wastes, or Vulture County, or the magical, terrible Copper Sands.

Maalira nods. “The first time I went in to a city I thought the walls would make me cry forever.”

Berra thinks. “I had been to Clearwine, and I saw Jonstown, and I went to Boldhome once, but my first big city was Nochet. I lived outside the walls for a bit, then moved in once I got someone who wanted me to sleep where I was guarding.” She seems blithe about these places, at least one of which has exiled her.

Maalira nods. “I thought New Pavis was the worst thing that had happened to me, until I got used to it. Nochet was worse in some ways because there were so many people, but at least the walls were further away.”

“Yeah. It’s noisy. There’s always someone awake there.” Berra scowls at her orange fruity food, and eats a chunk by throwing it into the air and snapping forward to eat it, less easily than Koraki manages with grapes, but with a grace of her own.

“I don’t think the dwarfs will appreciate you headbutting orange stuff across the dining room,” Maalira observes blandly.

Berra is staring at a segment on the wall, looking very thoughtful. Her orange stuff chunk is tucked into her cheek, but she seems to have forgotten to chew. “Mmng?” She hardly answers. She is thinking.

Maalira eyes her nervously.

Berra is not looking like she wants to fight the wall, which is a good sign.

“Berra,” Maalira says slowly, “What’s on your mind?”

“I can see Stormgate,” Berra says. “That’s where Orlanth’s Ring comes out from, but it’s all wrong – it’s just got that one lumpy bit next to it. The orange one.”

Varanis comes back to the table carrying a very small selection of food blocks, including one that might the same as what Berra shared, but the colour is slightly different and therefore, it might not.

Lore: The White Moon has never existed outside the God Time, although there are stories that the Lunars tell about it returning some day; they tell them mockingly – once in a white moon, wishing on a white moon, and so on. But the single planet is a special one. It’s the father of storms itself – that orange chunk Berra is staring at is Umath, coming out of Stormgate to rise up into the sky and challenge Yelm. This sky shows not just ancient times, but the particular ancient time before Umath split into Orlanth, Humakt, Vadrus, and the others.

Maalira catches Varanis’ eye and tilts her head towards Berra. “Berra has questions. Lots,” she says.

“What’s up, buttercup?” Varanis asks cheekily.

“That orange planet. It’s where Orlanth and the Ring should be.” Berra is confused.

The Vingan follows Berra’s gaze, then blinks and drops onto a seat. She stares more intently at the sky depicted above them. “That’s… well, that’s Umath, I think. Look, there’s the white moon,” she points with her chin, trying to be discreet. “So this has to be the God Time. Early too… before Orlanth and his brothers.” She sounds awestruck.

“Wait, you know about the White Moon? What’s that the moon of?” Berra looks up, then back at Umath. Then she stares. “This is before me.”

The Humakti ups the dignity in the room marginally by remembering to swallow the lump of fruit-food in her cheek.

“I don’t know much about that moon. There’s some Lunar prophecy about it returning. I think it’s a daughter of Yelm and she ran away from Umath… but that’s Umath there. So maybe… I think this must be just before he challenged Yelm,” Varanis offers uncertainly. “Anyway,” she says, gaining more confidence, “that’s definitely Umath and he’s on the verge of changing everything.”

“Chalana Arroy’s still in the Spike,” Berra says, although she may mean the Celestial Court, rather than just its Palace. “But I never really … it’s Umath!”

“Where?” Maalira perks up at the mention of Chalana Arroy.

“I think that would be about where that table is, under Yelm,” Berra replies. “But it’s weird. This is before Death and the Cannon Cult is there. Chalana Arroy – what did she do before Death? People just got better.” Sort of. Berra does not know all the stories.

“So, Umath tore apart his own parents to create his realm. Then he had many children, including the brothers Kolat, Storm Bull, Vadrus, Humakt, and Orlanth. Some stories say that when Shargash destroyed Umath, his planet split to form the ring that is his sons. But, of course, his sons were also already born before this happened, because it was the God Time and all things already were and were not and other such impossibilities.” Something about the way Varanis is speaking is unfamiliar, as if she is channelling someone else in this moment.

Maalira rubs her arms, as if she has goosebumps

Berra says, “I am permitted to tell you that Humakt is the oldest of Umath’s sons, just as Orlanth is the youngest,” like that approaches secrets she is not permitted to tell. “And we have tales from before Humakt was born, and before he was the North Wind, the cutting wind.”

Varanis looks like she might disagree, but stops herself by taking a second, slower breath.

Berra looks at her food, and changes her mind about talking, and eats with every evidence of enjoyment in a mind free of awe. She looks happy.

Varanis finally remembers that there is food in front of her and picks up the piece she thought was the same as Berra’s. Judging by her expression when she bites into it, she was wrong.

“I’ve got spices if you want,” Berra says, “But it felt wrong to add them with dwarfs around, and anyhow, I don’t need them. But if you want them?”

“I’m not even sure what I’m eating,” Varanis admits.

“Brown. I think maybe it’s breaddy stuff?” Berra hooks her spice pouch from her belt and offers it over. “Add a pinch and spread it with your finger?”

“Stuff,” murmurs Maalira

“It tastes… nope. I don’t have the words for it. But, it’s not what I thought it was.” She stares at the offending food gloomily. “It would be rude not to eat it, wouldn’t it?”

“No, but it would be wasteful,” Berra says. “Which I guess counts as rude, here. I’ll have it if you want?” She picks up her chunks of pale orangey stuff, offering them over.

The Vingan shakes her head. “I took it, I’ll eat it,” she says attempting to look stoic. “It’s probably good for me.”

Berra tells Maalira, “Sometimes I get more interested by how food feels. Like chewing on hard tack. It’s slow and it tastes weird but it’s satisfying. This is… a taste and stuff that I don’t understand yet, so I like it. My mouth’s still learning it.”

“And sometimes food just gets in my way,” says Varanis, who, as Maalira has no doubt heard, has a problematic relationship with food at times.

“Last year I started really hating cheese for a while, and it turned out that I just wanted a different kind of cheese and then I liked it again. Umath gets killed but he doesn’t actually die because Death isn’t Death yet.” Berra creates no real difference between those two subjects, in tone.

“And Kolat is his first-born,” blurts Varanis, like she gave up holding in back and besides, it makes a good distraction from what is in front of her.

Maalira looks between them warily

Berra nods. “Yeah. The oldest brother.” Maybe she has forgotten what she just said a few moments ago about Humakt.

Varanis looks vaguely troubled as she stares upwards again. “Yelm’s daughter, the white moon… I think her name Zaytenara or somthing like that. She was afraid of Umath. I sometimes wonder if Vinga would have protected her. I mean, I think she would have, even though Umath is her father and grandfather. But, Orlanth didn’t. Jareen didn’t have answers for questions like that though.”

“God Time. Humakt … well, it gets really complicated picking out what I can tell people, expecially with a White Lady here as well as a Vingan.” Expecially. Berra was brought up by peasants.

“Especially,” Varanis corrects absently.

Berra nods like Varanis is agreeing with her.