To End All Wars

1629, Fire Season, Harmony Week, Godday


Just after leaving Alda Chur, having not been arrested at all. Session O-5.02.


Berra takes half an hour to calm down once they have left the city of Alda Chur. Although she is obviously on the look-out for problems, she is also bouncing up and down, standing on her bison from time to time to look around, dismounting, mounting up, walking backwards… And then finally just riding once more. Today’s mount is the bison, with her horse being given an easy day.

Maalira has watched Berra with some bewilderment, then brings her bison alongside.
“All okay?”

Berra gives Maalira a bright look. “Yeah. What happened in Alda Chur anyhow? How did it look?” Her bison is not as tall as Lofty, but at least she does not have to look up as far as when she is on her horse.

“There’s an odd illness, something cursey – Valseena can explain it better, she figured it out,” Maalira says, gesturing vaguely. “Otherwise it was just a bit off. Too busy and not in the right way.”

“Gotcha.” Berra leans over to wave at Valseena. “I talked to the God-talker of Humakt, and Koraki didn’t come out to talk to me, which is also a message.”

“Koraki was his usual self,” Maalira adds.

“If he didn’t come out to talk to me, his usual self’s busy. He’s taking good care of the place, but he really doesn’t like having to be where he is and what he is.” Berra shrugs it off.

“He likes having people to do it for him,” Maalira points out.

Berra shakes her head. “He likes being Koraki. But he’s a… he’s a very Orlanth Adventurous person. He’d be a lot happier with a band of outlaws than he is with a city.”

Maalira mutters something which might have been “cities are full of outlaws” under her breath.

Maybe Berra hears it. Maybe she does not. “I know you’ve met the Dwarf before,” she says. “With the underground room and the really odd square food. After that we’re going to be off to Dunstop, probably. S’up to Irillo to decide, but it’s likely.” Dunstop is another city, of course. “You know much about what’s going on in Tarsh?”

Maalira gestures vaguely again. “Someone is fighting someone. Koraki said Kallyr is going up there to deal with them. He didn’t sound overly convinced that Tarsh wouldn’t attack Alda Chur.”

Berra considers. “Right. So, Tarsh’s one place that’s been cut about a lot. A whole, divided into three parts. Old Tarsh is where Koraki’s from, and where there’s the Shaker Temple. That keeps it free. Then there’s what’s in the Glowline, which we’re heading to, and sometimes Alda Chur’s been Tarshian, and sometimes Sartarite. Where we’re going, it’s one side of a sort-of civil war. And outside Tarsh there’s another civil war going on. A bigger one.”

Maalira pulls a face. “Have we tried not doing wars?”

“Yeah. We got invaded.” Berra glares towards the Glowline. “So the army up ahead of us is going to take a big chunk out of the Lunar Empire while it’s in its big war, to give us more room and time when it’s got an Emperor again, or to try to make it clear we’re too expensive to fight. One of the other. That’s where Kallyr’s fighting. I dunno exactly why Argrath’s there, but I’m pretty sure he is. We saw his army go through in Sea Season.”

“Probably making sure that Kallyr doesn’t get one up on him,” Maalira observes.

“Grabbing as much as you can before your allies arrive is a time-honoured way of doing diplomacy, yeah.” Berra nods like she is agreeing, but there is too much wry smile for it to be just amusement. “Lunar Tarsh, and the island where Fazzur is, is to my knowledge peaceful. But people’l’ve been talking to Fazzur, and if he’s decided to march on Pharandros, we get to take a different route.”

“I am happy with not being caught in the middle of that, yes.” Maalira squeezes the scrip that is hanging at her waist. “Not enough bandages.”

“You need to do more meddling in affairs if you want to try to reduce bandage usage.” Berra puts her hand onto the sword on her right hip, sighs, and says, “I forgot I left the Wyter at home. But you need to do more meddling in stuff.” Berra nods wisely.

“So far, whenever you lot meddle, it leads to more bandages,” Maalira observes.

Berra shrugs. “People shouldn’t invade Sartar,” she says. “But that’s why I’m saying you should be the one. Because when I do, noses get broken. At least.” She is perking up by the end of the sentence, less shrugish and more eager.

Maalira frowns. “Are you saying I should be a diplomat?”

Berra tilts her head. “If that’s what it takes. But I’m saying you should have ambition. Should decide what to do, and not be pushed around by events. We all are, but it’s good to resist that.”

Maalira blinks rapidly a few times. “I should?”

Berra looks up at Maalira. “Why not? I mean, you want to change things. So step up and think about how.”

Maalira pulls a face. “I know you’re right. I’ve been following you and the others around and doing what the temple tells me. It’s the easy way and that’s probably not good enough.” She looks unhappy.

Berra reaches up with a fist to tap. “Small steps are the first ones.” In her head maybe that makes sense.

Maalira snorts. “Well, yes.”

“What’s the strength you’ve got? What can you ask or demand? A day of truce or a decision to be vegetarian for a week? A donation made directly to your Temple, or to people who need it?”

Maalira looks thoughtful. “Would anyone listen?”

“Depends. Are you going to speak it, or only hope it?”

Maalira shoots her a sour look. “When did you turn into a philosopher?”

Berra grins back. “I’m a caravan guard right now. I get plenty of time to think. An’… well, I’ve thought about this a lot already. It’s just I haven’t said it for a while.”

“Hah. Were you just hoping it?” Maalira is smiling not sharp.

Berra does that little head-tilt thing. “I was broken, I think? But I’m starting to feel better. For me, that means wanting to fight the whole world, but I’m trying to keep that bit in check.”

“At least I know you won’t fight me,” Maalira says. “I will give some thought to what you say. It certainly sounds better than the alternative.”

“Also, take it from someone who does fight – timing’s a lot of it. Being prepared to go forward instead of back’s most of the rest. When people are trying to persuade you to do a thing, that’s when you ask what’s in it for peace and Harmony. Or whatever you… well, now we’re over to things Irillo and Varanis do better. But it starts with getting out there and doing it.” Berra does a one-shoulder shrug and looks at her mount’s ears.

Maalira nods thoughtfully. “How did you decide to become a warrior?” she asks. This is not a deflection in the slightest.

“My mother died. She was fast. Broo came and she could outrun them, but she couldn’t outlast them. She jumped off our cliff.” Berra seems to have told this story enough that it does not really affect her. “I put an oath-spear in her grave goods so people knew I was serious. And I never changed after that – people need people to protect them, if they can’t protect themselves.”

“I understand that,” Maalira says. “My mother died of the fever, … well, whichever fever was ‘the fever’ the year she died, I guess. I was pretty young.”

Berra nods. “Mhm. You said you were her child and then the one who was going to the Temple, and then you.” Famous for being labelled, not for being a person. “I guess White Ladies can’t kick against stuff like other people can, in case it hurts.”

“I think I can kick rocks, as long as I am sure there’s nothing alive on them,” Maalira says. “Or I can throw my sandals against walls. That one is useful.”

Berra considers. “Please don’t tell Haran that,” she says. “But I might remember it.”

Maalira giggles. “I’m sure Haran will figure that one out all on his own.”

“Yeah, but let’s not help him. I nearly didn’t choose Humakt, you know? Weird, thinking that. Thinking back.” Berra’s nose wrinkles in that way with the freckles.

Maalira is studiously not watching Berra’s nose wrinkle. “Who did you nearly choose instead?”

“Vinga. I had a girlfriend, and I was taking lessons in the sword at the Humakti Temple, but doing a lot of practice at the Temple of Vinga. I was living in Nochet. She … I’d had… she was my first serious girlfriend. I think she likes confused shouting people maybe.”

Maalira grins. “There’s a lot to be said for small, confused, shouting people.” She winces slightly, perhaps because she notices that Berra did not say ‘small’ first.

Berra looks Maalira up and down. “You don’t shout much,” she says. “You more glare and give out sweets.” Also, not so short. She missed that bit.

Maalira gives a half-smile. “My high priestess where I trained as a White Lady was very against shouting. She said it hurts more than hitting sometimes and a good stare and a soft voice are a lot more effective. I think she’s mostly right, for me at least?”

Berra nods. “Yeah. I know what you mean. It takes different people different ways, though. If I don’t shout, big people with expensive armour ignore me.”

“I guess I am lucky there, the white robe does the shouting at big people with expensive armour for me.” She considers. “Though we do usually have a Varanis for that too.”

“We’ve got an Irillo. Walk softly and carry a big sword. I’m the sword. So’s getting thrown out of markets, mind you.” Berra smiles. “You know I’m not going to talk to Fazzur? He’ll probably push to be given a lot of favours for what we’re asking.”

“Talking to Fazzur is definitely a thing for experts,” Maalira agrees.

“If you’re going to be there, do remember to push.” Berra has half a smile. “We might have to go onto the Dragonewt…. uh, Unhuman King. Putting crocodiles into a river isn’t necessarily going to please Fazzur.”

Maalira makes the slightly wide-eyed look she gets when she’s trying to keep up with Berra’s half-full sentences. “I’m pretty sure the only ones it really pleases are the crocodiles,” she says.

“Yeh. But he’s going to say that he doesn’t want to do this thing that can damage his people. Even if it causes trouble for his rival. But… I think we gotta get the newtlings to tell him how to be friendly with it.”

“That will certainly be an interesting conversation,” Maalira chuckles, then sobers. “What will we do if they can’t convince him?”

“Go somewhere else. Unhuman King, or the Maran Gor Temple – last choice that – or the Grazelands and find the Feathered Horse Queen.”

Maalira shudders a little bit. “Just as long as I don’t get left in any caves this time,” she says.

“I think this is not going to be so Heroquesty,” Berra says. “But if it is, rebel against the thing itself.”

“I was a bit busy having a hit to the head last time to rebel,” Maalira points out ruefully, rubbing the spot on her head where the injury isn’t. “But I’m stopping doing that, aren’t I. Letting things just happen, I mean.”

Berra nods. “Sometimes the best thing to do is walk along the road you’re on. Sometimes it’s to set up a customs post and call yourself a chief. Sometimes it’s just to walk away. But if someone pushes you into a thing, step aside and let them fall.”

Maalira flashes a cheeky grin. “That sounds like it could be amusing.”

“Have you ever been taught to wrestle? To… I guess you can’t. Damnit. S’fun.”

“No, I’m not allowed.” Maalira sighs. “Though it’s always a risk, that someone might not recognise or respect the white robe but we still can’t fight back.”

“And you can’t even throw them with their own rush. Still, we… nah, just dodges isn’t the same.” Briefly, Berra looks hopeful and then she subsides. “Most of the ones I know leave a leg in the way to trip over, or are made to keep a sword online.”

“Stepping out of the way is allowed, the foot is definitely not.” Maalira gives a sudden laugh. “I remember once two of the girls I trained with got into a spat after bickering all day and one pinched the other and the other slapped back. The priestess who was teaching us had such a look on her face that I know the oath was the only thing stopping her from knocking their heads together.”

Berra winces. “Yeah. No. I got more encouraged to get along with my people and be wary of others, and that meant… well, I was small. Some people tried to bully me. Most didn’t.”

Maalira nods. “Most of the girls were nice. The ones who weren’t, well, they didn’t stay in the end. You have to learn to be a certain way at least on the outside, and some of them could never decide to keep their thoughts in their heads.”

“Have you ever had a serious talk with Jaldis? In Whitewall? She’s a White Lady who’s very sharp. Good at getting things done. Mellia doesn’t like her, but I think… I think that’s personal and also about how Jaldis works.” Berra leans back on her bison, to stretch her legs out forwards.

“Not a serious talk, no. The next time we are there I will make an appointment.” Maalira pulls a face. “Though there is something a bit silly about going and asking someone to tell me how to not let the world tell me what to do.”

“Any tool’s a tool. Doesn’t matter who made it. But you could go in there without an appointment?” The warrior shrugs. “I try that with Lord Eril and something had better be on fire, but I would if I had to.”

“I might get more out of her with an appointment than without,” Maalira says. “Especially after explaining that nothing is on fire.”

“It’s a good starter,” Berra muses. “Bit threatening if you’re holding an ember pot.”

Maalira snorts with laughter. “I think a lot of people would pay good money to watch you run in to Lord Eril’s office with an ember pot as an excuse to say something is on fire and you need to talk to him.”

“I’d walk,” Berra says. “Probably. Anyhow, I can set my sword on fire. Don’t need embers.”

“That would be hilarious,” Maalira says.

“I told him once in front of Prince Kallyr that he hadn’t mentioned everything he should have. He’s an honourable man, which is fortunate. But I wouldn’t waste his time.”

“No, of course not. It’s only funny as a thought really, not a thing that happens.” Maalira glances to the horizon. “Where will we be stopping tonight?”

“We might make Dwarf Mine. If we do, we’re going to have a warm place. Probably Glasswall, though. It’s got – get this – a glass wall.”

“Isn’t a glass wall a bit breakable?” Maalira asks, in a more Praxian accent than usual.

Berra looks blank. “Um, you make it by… well, in this case probably magic, but some people make it by piling up the bits for making glass on a walll and then setting a big big fire around it, and it keeps the wall in place. Glasswall’s a bit different, though.”

“Huh. That sounds… well, no weirder than anything else really I suppose.”

“I mean, we make trees into palisades, so it’s not strange to make stuff out of other stuff. Glasswall looks like someone just moulded it into shape, though. It’s got some cracks but they’re reinforced.” The Humakti stretches a bit. “Nearly caught up with Onjur near there once.”

“Oh? What happened?” Maalira leans towards Berra a bit.

“Uh..” Berra considers. “We were outside the area – not sure if you were with us. There was…. alright, two armies.” She pulls herself upright. “When we had been sent up there by Argrath to try to gain support, we camped outside Glasswall. We’d been moving back and forth, and Onjur had been making himself busy. There was a wagon and some corpses set up to look like the Bisons had killed them. Some cavalry from the Princeros – one of the tribes there – had been pursuing Onjur, after the wagon bit. Overnight we were attacked, or our forces were. Looking back, I think he was hoping to trail us towards the Princeros and start a fight, but we met up, gave chase for a while, and lost him when it was obvious he was getting away.” There’s a shrug. “One day, I’ll get him. Or he’ll get me.”

“I hope he doesn’t get you,” Maalira says earnestly.

Berra shrugs. “I’ve got bigger things to go after than him, to be honest. At least I won’t make a mistake of thinking he’s the thing to aim for.” She falls quiet to consider that.