Swamp Things

Berra — Swamp Things

????, Fire Season, Movement Week


Context

Fire Season, Movement Week, Godsday. [[[s01:session-41|Session 41]]]

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Events

… And then Irillo is awake and there’s a woman there, although it turns out to be two women because one is Berra, who hangs back. The other, with a lamp held in a familiar way, is Thenaya.

“Yes?”

“Your Humakti has apologised to my daughter,” she says, “And I’m told one of your party may need a healer.”

He groans slightly, and reaches for a robe to pull on without leaving his bed, and then swings out, and nods, “I see.” A beat. “Actually, no I don’t. Healer first. Who, and why?”

“Varanis,” Berra says. “Her eyes are sunken, and her lips are dry. I think she’s having a problem with water. The thrallmistress – this is Thenaya – was awake already. She said she would take a look.”

“Yes, I remember.” And then a brisk nod. “Alright. So, she needs to get over her problem, doesn’t she? Is Mellia with her?”

Berra points to where Varanis has returned to their room. “I don’t know where she was, but she’s here now. Mellia hasn’t caught up. She’s going via Boldhome.”

“She was with Hengrast,” Thenaya says. “But that was private, so unless we have to, we shouldn’t ask him how she was.”

Varanis is sleeping in a bed in the corner of the room, and she does look ill. Hot and yet not sweaty.1Irillo failed First Aid, but Thenaya makes a special.

Thenaya creeps over and takes a look, taking her time rather than getting the light too close, and then steps back. “I’ve seen this near to Pimper’s Block,” she says, “But never in Sartar. You see it when people have been lost in the desert for a day or two. They use their spirit to keep from dying when they run out of water. She’s been healing herself with magic, but she’s dehydrated. Badly.”

Irillo pours a little water from his jug onto a cloth, and puts the wet end between Varanis’ lips.

Thenaya says, “She has eaten plenty, so give her no salt. Her problem is water only.” She leaves anything else unsaid, On her throat there are three bars tattooed for Harmony, in charcoal. Nothing on her cheeks. A line of hennaed squares above her brows. She looks like she is genuinely here to help, even though Berra is looking slightly awkward in her presence. She does have a different face to everyone else, probably denoting a different clan or even tribe.

Obviously. She was a thrall. Irillo waits a little, then wets a bit more of the cloth, and puts it to her lips, to see if she sucks at it. At least some is dribbling in. “I can’t heal. Do you have a White Lady?”

“We have an initiate, but this is not a problem for her. I can heal – but she should drink. That is the main problem. Letting her use magic will stop her from doing that.” Thenaya gives Irillo a smile and an explanation. “I take care of much of a household of people. We can let the White Lady sleep tonight – your friend is in no immediate danger.”

He nods, “Until she wakes properly, she can’t drink properly, and it will worsen. Is this not so?”

Berra is looking blank, expression on Varanis.

There is a pause, as he adds, “She is an idiot, but as my cousin, she is my idiot.”

“Slowly,” Thenaya says. “But if you wish..” She leans forward, laying a hand on Varanis’ dry forehead, and murmurs a spell. She sighs, and tries again when it fails to work, and then Varanis seems a little easier. “She is just tired,” Thenaya says. “Exhausted. She will wake. I do recommend letting her need water, or else she will have no reason to want to drink. It is very rare people forget such things. The last time I saw this a man was so desperate for water he threw himself into a forbidden pool at an oasis, not knowing where he was.”

“Of course. As soon as she wakes, we will get it done. “

“I forgot to eat once,” says Berra. “She helped me. But I had to tell her it was happening – she doesn’t want to let us down.”

“It is an aftereffect of the spirit she threw herself onto to protect another cousin. I am sure it will pass. With gentle reminders.” A beat. “Even if I have to ask Rajar to do the gentle reminding.”

“You do that, and I’ll gently remind you that I can thrash Rajar,” Berra says, and then Thenaya looks at her mildly, and the Humakti falls silent, rather sullenly. “However it is done, try to make her eager for water,” Thenaya advises. “If you make it a fight, she will learn to fight it.”

He considers, “Perhaps it is for Lord Orlanth to remind her. To let his fructification fall upon her.”

Thenaya gives Irillo a steady look. “Are you asking for our High Priest to call on rain?”

“If he will. Otherwise, it may be that it happens naturally.” A beat, “Although up here you don’t get that much in Fire Season, do you?”

“You are our guests – I will ask him when he wakes. But we have plenty of mountains to bring him joy and make him fertile. Ernalda reaches up to touch him here and there. It is late in the season, but it could happen.”

Irillo nods, and dribbles a bit more water onto the cloth, “Oh cousin, I do love you, but you can be such a pain to follow.”

“I’ll leave you,” Thenaya says. “But your guard knows where to find me, if I am needed.”

“I’m not his guard,” says Berra. “I’m with him because I want to be.”

“All the better.” Thenaya takes the lamp, but lights another from it as she prepares to go. She doesn’t even flicker her eyes towards Berra’s bedroll to check for signs of use. She just accepts the declaration of friendship and lets it make her happy.

“Go well, Thenaya. And I am glad you still find the elderflowers.”

She pauses, looks, smiles. Off she goes, hair shining in the lamplight.

Berra does not ask. She has settled down to watch Varanis.

Once she has left, Irillo says, “I wonder if she knows. Because that should have caused more questions.”

Berra considers briefly. “He knew her? I suppose he knew a lot of people. But I… and this is stupid given what I know… I just assumed your father had been here. But yes, that was a bit strange now you mention it.”

“He knew her. Owned her. Freed her. I only wonder if he…. knew… her.”

Berra takes a moment to process that. “I suppose he was young once. Back then, in fact. It’s really hard for me to think of him as anything but how I know him. I can’t imagine the High Sword wanting someone, or even feeling desire. It’s a thing Humakti strive not to do.” She shudders slightly.

“Strive, but not always achieve, perhaps?”

Berra might be blushing. “I still feel. I just don’t act. Although seeing Lanasha hit me pretty hard. That was in Nochet – I don’t think you met her. But it gets easier. The really important thing isn’t not to love people – I do what I do because I want to protect everyone equally and that needs some form of love. It’s to treat them equally. Appropriately. But if she knows, why is nobody saying anything? Do other people know too?”

“I don’t know. Just something to consider.”

Berra’s discontented look is mostly grimace, but might also be tiredness. “Yamia is her daughter. Yamia daughter of Silor.” She pours a drink from Irillo’s jug and finds a cup for him as well, either to drink from or help with the watering for Varanis.

The Vingan might have swallowed a little, but is still asleep.

“Maybe. Similarly her son.” He shrugs, “The woman quite often takes a new husband from the same tribe as her last, if one dies or leaves.”

“It wouldn’t be odd in Sartar either, but I’d expect it to be a marriage between people of rank. I don’t know what rank a thrallmistress is here. She has responsibility, certainly, but she’s not noble.” Berra is speaking to Irillo but watching Varanis.

“Oh, yes, sorry, I forget your odd attitudes to gender.”

“Don’t worry. You’re forgiven. This one is about rank, anyhow. Nobles tend to marry nobles. I don’t know where Aelna’s from, but she looks like she’s always been used to sitting at the top table.” Berra shrugs. “Not really a thing. But that does make me wonder if he had a personal shrine here. Would you … no, I shouldn’t ask. That would draw attention.”

“I can think about it, if you want. We need all the help we can get.”

Berra sighs, half growling. “But if we ask them, they know. Is that worth the chance of their help?” Maybe she does not understand what thinking means, in this context.

“Eril would know.”

“Oh. Yes, I suppose so. But the High Sword is not going to look on that kindly… oh hell. Are you going to tell him you met his maybe-girlfriend? How much of his private thoughts are you seeing?” Berra’s face has the expression of someone who knows her commanding officer’s temper.

“Some. Not all.”

“I am so sorry. He’ll probably understand. He just won’t like it. If this was a proper Heroquest that would not be happening. Did you think up any plan for when we find things? Is now the time?”

Berra’s replies are broken up and choppy, the swift subject changes a good indication her mind is racing.

“Not really that’s why I wrote. I hope his reply reaches us soon.”

“Fair enough. But if he’s in Tarsh, we might be on our own. So what is important? To prevent whatever started this from finishing it? To survive?” Berra sips at water, gives Varanis a pained glance.

“Maybe to turn the tables on them. I suspect it’s the Lunars.”

“We could try to make it all vanish again. We could try to fight them. We could try to stop, but I don’t think that’s a good idea for you. Or we could try to fail. Those are the only ideas I’ve had. We can’t let the Lunars win against him now. So if you need a distraction while you get away, I’m it.”

“Hmmm. I think we might call on the Tribal Eurmalite and pull a bait and switch. We have other silks. We have other wood. We have other things.”

“That leaves Humakti relics with the Tribal Eurmalite. It’s probably better than the alternatives, but you should know I’ll have to protect those things. I can’t not, unless there’s something even more important, and I think this is probably more important than my High Sword’s life. Maybe than my Regiment. I don’t know.”

“Not necessarily. I believe that there is a precedent for Humakt taking the secrets of Death from Eurmal.”

Berra laughs, briefly, a blort of amusement before she manages to get it under control. “Yeees. But that wasn’t quite what I meant. There’ll be a time we’re trusting the Eurmalite. Or Chief Silor. If Thenaya knows, does he? And then that means I have to be Humakt and out-smart Eurmal. But I guess if we’re depending on me to bring Death into the world, that makes me very Humakti and I can’t refuse.” She shrugs. “But to return to the subject from earlier, I don’t think me visiting his shrine would help, even if it’s still around, even if he had one. So don’t do that on my account. It’s just me wanting to know more about my High Sword.”

“Alright. I wasn’t sure if you had a chance to worship.”

“I did, in Wilmskirk. For me it’s nights, not days, remember? Humakt is as much with me as he can be. And we should probably time going into the swamp for after I … well, should we have a ritual of morale, or should we make it easy to fail?”

“I think the important bit is survival.”

“Then we want to be enough in control, so we’ll feel hope, at least. But you need to be prepared to make hard choices – even if you think you can win, save your men. Indrodar’s band was tight around him. This is before the seven-fold quest begins, so you haven’t yet found them all, but they were noted for loyalty to each other. The first time he went into the swamp, which is what I think we’re probably going to do, he was completely unprepared, but he managed to get some out. The next Quest would be a year later, and it’s the one where they find the necklace. The circle of stones. That’s the first one in the cycle. A Humakti marries an Earth Priestess.”