“Berra. You’re a duck?” They’ve stopped for the night and Berra has finished sorting the watches and is sitting by the fire, eating the evening’s meal. Varanis drops to a patch of ground beside her, bowl of hot food in hand.
“Yeah.” Berra stirs at her food, confused. She has mixed in all sorts of interesting spices, and yet the food fails to hold her. Even the dark, reddish flakes sprinkled on top have not helped. “I don’t really know how to take it.”
“The Durulz who serve Humakt do it effectively, as far as I can see. Wear it with pride?” Varanis shrugs.
Berra looks up at Varanis, something obviously on her mind. “That, yeah. That I can do. But it gives me more responsibility. I need to not let him down.”
This gets a quiet snort from her companion. “And you were planning to let him down before?”
Berra makes a laughing noise that is almost the same. “No. Thank you.” She looks down at her food, still without appetite. “And I found out something weird. I …” She shrugs.
There’s a pause while Varanis swallows her food, as she’s not the sort to talk with her mouth full. “Oh? Do you want to speak of it?”
“I dunno. I need to think about it. I… I really respect the High Sword, but I think he’s wrong about ducks. Not just because I am one now, although the timing of that’s pretty close.”
“What did he say about your quest, by the way? I’ve been meaning to ask.”
“He said to do it when I was ready.” Berra looks down at her food, hoicks out a spoonful of what had texture before she got to it, and flicks it into the fire, staring at it. “I couldn’t read him. At all. But he’s got more time than I thought.”
Varanis chews thoughtfully on another mouthful of food. Finally, she says, “So we rescue Mirava, then. And try to get to Mellia’s weddings on time. At least one of them. And worry about your quest later.” As Varanis works through this rather short list, her voice is devoid of emotion.
“Yeah, we don’t worry about it yet. It’s for the future.” Berra pauses only for a moment, and then ploughs ahead, “I’ve got to do it even though I … it’s complicated.”
The Vingan waits patiently to see if any further explanation is forthcoming.
There is obviously something going on behind Berra’s eyes. “Lord Eril. I don’t like him. He’s so great and so small at once. And I don’t know if I can change him. He … Divining what he’s thinking isn’t going to please him.”
“It’s interesting that you seek to elevate a hero that you don’t like. But…” Varanis looks thoughtful. “Just because I don’t like a weapon, doesn’t mean it can’t be useful in the battle to come. To be honest, I still don’t see why people dislike him so much. Nala and Xenofos both seem to hate him with a passion, and for different reasons. Really, in many ways, he’s just another nobleman and politician. Necessary to the running of effective government.”
“He’s not bad. I mean, he’s all that you say. He’s a politician. But he also thinks too much of humans and too little of other people. He rejects ducks because they … because to him, they mimic people, and show us weak, pathetic selves. And he … I don’t want to think like that, but I pick up how people around me think.” Berra prods with her spoon at her congealing meal.
Varanis sighs. “If you serve under his command, you are unlikely to serve him closely enough to worry about that. But if you help to create his cult…” She trails off.
“Yeah.” Finally, angrily, Berra takes a spoonful of pre-mixed gunk. She winces at it, but swallows before she stares into the bowl in disbelief.
Changing the subject abruptly, Varanis says, “Both Tennebris and Kallyr thought I knew and hid the information from them.”
“You said that, but you said you told them that you didn’t, too.” Berra takes a tiny bit of mixed stuff on her spoon, and eats it delicately.
“I followed Kallyr’s orders and carried her message to the Feathered Horse Queen, instead of searching for my sister. I chose Sartar over my kin! And they doubted me.” The angry resentment begins to bubble over. “How do I prove my loyalty to her? I quite literally went to hell for her, but that doesn’t seem to matter.”
Berra thinks for a while, and then says, “Don’t prove it. Just be loyal.” Varanis gets a glance from her. “You do the right thing. But let Tennebris know what that meant. He can explain it to her. And to him.”
Varanis laughs bitterly. “Pardon me, my lord. You and the prince hurt my feelings with your distrust. Bah.” She sets her food aside. “I’ll do what needs doing because it’s right and because I believe in her. But damn, she’s shit with people sometimes.”
“Yeah, no. You do need to let him know that, because he should treat you with respect. And you help him by telling him the truth. But maybe not like that.” Berra is now taking tiny nibbles of her food, despite having made a mess of it.
“I don’t know what I’ll do if Mirava is there voluntarily,” Varanis says quietly, shifting away from Berra’s advice without answering it.
“I’ve figured she is. But we make sure we let her know what damage she’s about to do. I mean, she MIGHT be being held there, but by now? She’s been talked to. Only she’s not at Dunstop, which is weird. So it might not be Fazzur, or it might be a trap for us.”
“She always was ambitious. But I thought it was High Priestess she had her eyes on.”
“She’s your kin. You might have to do stuff like defend her against Rajar and Suuraki, but that’s also a thing you can point out to her. It depends on how well she’s guarded. I don’t think they’ll be able to harm her, but if we don’t have to … well, I dunno if I’d fight to get to her. I don’t think that’s a problem, at least. But if she’s volunteered, she can damned well volunteer to come and visit Kallyr too.”
Varanis runs a hand through her hair. “I don’t know if she’ll come with me willingly,” she admits.
“And you’re a long way from your House,” Berra says. “So I don’t think that her not …. oh. Alright. If you’re really Esrolian about it, then grandmother has the power of life and death over her even that far away. But you’d have to be prepared to kill her, then. But what does your Grandmother want? Because that’s important.”
Varanis growls under her breath. “I don’t know. She’s ambitious enough that it could be a play for power. But, I never would have thought her capable of supporting the Lunars. Never that.”
“Right.” Berra grins slightly. “And you have a Humakti who can tell when there’s a lie being told. So if she doesn’t have grandmother’s permission, you’ll be doing your duty in trying to take her away. And if she does, we’re outmatched, but maybe we can think of something. Apart from her guards.”
“Xenofos would know if she’s lying too. And he’ll need to see it for himself if Grandmother is involved. He’s a good Esrolian man – loyal to his matriarch.” The Vingan glares at the fire. “If Grandmother did send her there…” She trails off, then lurches to her feet, her meal forgotten. “I need to go for a walk.”
Berra asks, “Need a guard? I can be quiet.” She does not immediately spring up, however.
Varanis waves her off. “I’ll stay in shouting distance. I just need to think.”
Berra nods, and looks over to where Xenofos is, and then back at her own food. “I’ll keep it warm for you.” She leans over to get a plate from her kit to use as a lid for the bowl Varanis leaves behind.
The Vingan stalks away, but Berra sees her turn a short distance away to pace around the camp, rather than disappear entirely from sight.