1628, Earth Season, Illusion Week, Godday
Berra and Maalira have a talk which sparks Finarvi and Serala having one. Session S3A.11.
As they set off, and for the first few hours on the road, Berra is obviously trying hard not to be lost in her own thoughts. At the first food break, the Humakti show impressive speed and professionalism in getting a fire started with the aid of magic, so they have hot bread and meat. It seems each team of ten is a unit that eats alone.
Berra does not eat, but walks away to be by herself. Varanis follows. When they return, Berra is a bit less withdrawn, a bit more positive. She still occasionally falls into talking like Eril.
Varanis grabs a bit of the meat and bread, not having eaten before chasing after Berra. She separates her demon horse from the Humakti duck Manasa has been eyeballing and mounts up with a reasonable amount of grace.
Berra stays at the back of the first file of Humakti, who are in a wedge shape as they go along the road. Some would put it that they are in the V shape of ducks on the wing.
Berra is calming a little as they travel towards Wilmskirk. After Serala’s late-night outbreak of Lunarism, the Humakti is thoughtful in the morning. Still, being around others of her kind – Humakti ducks – seems to be good for her. She spends a lot of time in conversation with Harmast and Valgarar about the upcoming Heroquest and the best way of approaching it.
Valgarar is in command of nine other drakes and hens, and there are nine who answer to Harmast. Overall command seems to be with Valgarar, who gets to walk at the front.
Berra spends some time trying to be a scout, but the ducks keep on ushering her back onto the road, and finally she walks there, apparently dazed by being protected.
Maalira is drifting along amongst the ducks, occasionally making her way to the edge of the road to snag bits of small plants growing in the cleared margins.
Berra falls in beside Maalira over the early afternoon, and then seems to realise she is there. Her face cracks into a nervous smile.
Maalira smiles back contentedly. “Having a nice day?” she asks.
“Good enough, thank you.” Berra’s smile becomes polite, her features pleasantly set. “I have a feeling I am going home, which must always be helpful.”
Maalira nods. “Sometimes travelling feels like home to me, though it’s not dusty enough to be Prax of course.”
Berra takes a deep breath, either surprised at what Maalira said, or concentrating. She speaks again a moment later, her clear tones gone and her rural Sartarite accent back. “Sorry. S’hard not to be him. I keep slipping. We’re going to his home. It’s good that you’re getting to travel, though.”
Maalira gives Berra a sympathetic look. “Perhaps once we’ve done this quest we can go back to Blue Tree for a while so you can go home properly.”
Berra winces slightly. “Sea Season. I can go then.” She will be spending Sacred Time in exile.
“I’m sorry. This whole thing is very hard on you.” Maalira gives Berra a light pat on the shoulder.1Fails Insight Human. Does not notice Berra wants hugs and fears being hugged.
Berra does not pull away from that. “I know my friends have volunteered for it, but it’s still hard to see it. I hope it makes a difference to him. I think I can remember some things again, of what’s going to happen. He probably needed more help.”
“I hope so too.” Maalira gives Berra’s shoulder a little squeeze then takes her hand away. “Are you worrying about it?”
“Right now I am mostly trying not to worry about whether I can remember his poetry. I think he couldn’t have written it. But it is weird. Because if he didn’t then I did.” Berra looks really confused.
Maalira frowns in concentration, then shakes her head. “Time and people going in loops. Bison never have to think about this sort of thing.”
“I know. I mean, I really hope it’s me but ugh. Um. I hope my bison is alright. And I still haven’t named my horse.” Berra scowls over at Lofty, and then shrugs. She does not seem to be worried by walking.
“As long as they have food and water, nothing upsets a bison,” Maalira says, not entirely accurately. “Have you got any ideas for horse names?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never had a really good animal before. I don’t think it would be right to give it the kind of name the others have.” Berra seems conflicted here. “Even if I want to.”
“Perhaps Serala or Finarvi could suggest a good one. They know about horses.” Maalira’s tone implies that this is something slightly strange to know a lot about.
Berra says helpfully, “I need to talk to Serala anyhow. And… uck. Last night was weird. She seemed not to know she’d been having a Lunar nightmare until we told her. Although the talk is about something else.”
“She’s really not happy about that Lunar in her head, is she? Not that I can blame her. I wouldn’t want a Lunar anywhere in me, either.”
“It’s … I don’t like the idea at all. Do I seem to you like someone who puts duty before friends?” A Berra change of subject there.
Maalira’s mouth pops open in surprise. “Um… I don’t think you put either first,” she says slowly. “You do what needs to be done, and sometimes that’s duty to your friends and sometimes that’s duty to your Sword, or your task at hand, or whatever else is going on. You try to do what’s right.”
Berra spends a moment just taking that in. “Different people believe different things of me,” she says. “I suppose that happens to everyone.”
Maalira grins. “Definitely. I think people who knew me when I was young would be surprised at how capable I am now, for starters.” Maalira emphasises this by tripping over her own feet, stumbling slightly but not falling.
Berra is instantly there, an arm out to catch Maalira even though it is not needed, a concerned look fading to care on her features.
Maalira leans on Berra’s arm despite not really needing to, and smiles at her.
Berra has forgotten to keep moving.
Maalira stops too, tilting her head curiously.
“I, in the gatehouse between outside and in, long for both,” Berra says, with a tiny smile that is unfamiliar. A beat-pause. “Crap. Sorry. Did not mean to say that.”
“Him again?” Maalira asks.
“Keep it moving.” comes Serala’s drawl, as Pag starts to catch up on the two dawdlers. Riding competently, but with a slightly hard curb on the reins, causing Pag to tuck his nose down and flatten his ears against his skull. The Grazelander nearly rides over the two of them as she overtakes, moving towards the head of the group.
Maalira shakes her head. “Horse people,” she mutters to herself.
“Him again.” Berra sighs. “Unless it was me. But I don’t even know all the words. Just that he … um. We should move on.” She does not move yet.
Maalira squeezes Berra’s arm gently. “I’ll be here, or rather there,” she says.
“Part of me wants to chase Serala down right now and just talk to her, for being rude to you. I think I once – he once – did that. Someone had insulted Silor. And when… I think that about six weeks later they died in battle. Because they found honour in the conversation. Lord Eril just changed them.” Berra tears her eyes from Maalira finally, to look towards Serala.
“I think she was being funny, rather than rude,” Maalira says with a smile and a shrug. “She’s just teasing.”
There is a flick from the grey war-pony’s tail, and he jogs slightly sideways across the road. “There was no discourtesy… save for that of people blocking the road while making eyes at each other.” Apparently Serala is not quite out of earshot yet.
“I was not making eyes at her!” Berra is taken aback.
Maalira refrains from comment, merely sticking her tongue out at the war-pony’s back end.
“Чи муу юм ярина2“You talk horse crap.”” comes the faint reply, even as Serala moves further forward down the road.
“Uh… that was Grazelandish, right?” Berra asks Maalira.
“I guess so?” Maalira grins. “I’m not sure it would do either of us any good to know what she said though.”
“Yeaaah. It sounded a bit Lunary, though.” Berra puts out her hand for Maalira’s, and then takes it back and lodges it in her belt. Tucked in. Safely.
Maalira’s eyebrows climb, and she reaches out her hand, offering it to Berra.
Berra walks on, bright red. Her ears are pink, even.
Maalira takes a moment to start moving, then scurries to catch up. “Berra… what’s on your mind?”
“Not all the poetry has your clothes stay on,” Berra croaks.
Maalira stumbles again, and lets out a little startled giggle. “Oh, is THAT all?” she asks once she has caught herself.
“Some of it’s stuff I can’t even read, because you need to be able to write to follow the word patterns!” Berra just about manages to pull herself together. “I mean, some’s pretty good war poetry. But it just drops into my head all the time. Like I’ve… like I’ve got a habit of writing things and thinking of how to put the world into words.”
Behind the main group, one of the rearguard ducks breaks into a marching song. He has a fine, if duck-accented, voice.
“Berra, listen,” Maalira says, close to her friend’s ear. “I know that the role you have asked me to play has a lot of messy feelings stuff – and physical stuff – mixed up in it. I know, you understand? It will be okay. Just do what needs to be done.”
Up ahead, Pag comes to a brief stop, throwing his head up and whinnying, before moving on in response to a clump on his sides from Serala’s boots.
“What needs to be done is for me not to get too involved until we’re at home. I mean, the Cinder Fox village. Foxhome.” Berra looks towards the opposite side of the road as if thinking she should be over there. “I shouldn’t have said anything. He never did. I don’t even know what he felt. I think it’s me as much as him and… you know I like you, right?”
Finarvi rides past at a fast trot, nodding distractedly to Maalira and Berra before shouting to Serala, “Хүлээгээрэй, аргал тархи!”
Apparently the language was the Pure Horse Tongue. Berra was wrong about it being Lunarish.
Maalira blinks. “Yes,” she says, softly. “And you weren’t wrong to say something – your face was kind of saying it for you anyway.”
Serala turns, a face like thunder turned on Finarvi for a moment before a smile breaks through. Slightly strained, but a smile nevertheless. Although her expression darkens for a moment as her eyes flick to Berra and Maalira. “Тэдний тугал шуугиантай нүүр тулж байгааг хараад би тэвчдэггүй.3I can’t bear to watch their calf faced moo-ing.” she replies to her cousin, a slight curl of her lip.
“But that just means that it’s harder to act as a Humakti should. I can’t show favour to people. I mean, not when it comes to the gift I carry.” Her sword hand falls to the hilt of the weapon on her right hip.
“I promise I won’t take advantage,” Maalira says lightly. “You will do well. You always do.”
She cuts a glance at the horse riders. “I have GOT to learn Grazelander.”
“I… thank you. I know it’s… everything has to be your own decision. And Lord Geoffri made me think a lot. That’s what I’m mostly trying to sort out right now. Mostly.” Berra sighs. Still pink.
Finarvi has fallen in to a walk alongside his cousin, or as much as his horse will allow. His mount seems to take inspiration from the disgruntled Pag to put on a show.
Serala turns her back on the people behind once more, Pag crabbing and jogging and generally kicking up dust in the faces of everyone on the road. She lifts her hand for her hawk to come to her, but it screeches in disinterest, going to land in a tree instead. “Би дахиад хэдэн цагаар мод руу хашгирахгүй. Шувуу өлсөж болно.4I’m not shouting at a tree again for hours. The bird can starve.” she notes dourly.
Maalira squeezes Berra’s shoulder again. “Whatever happens, I will decide then, not now,” she says.
Finarvi’s pony falls short of kicking or biting Pag, but it’s clear he wants to. Finarvi looks like he’d dearly love to kick some sense into his cousin too.
This time Berra puts a hand up to her shoulder, to pat Maalira’s, just once. “I should go,” she says, and starts veering away to the other side of the road.
A half rear from Pag, some Grazelander cursing from Serala, and he spins in a circle on the road before she gets him walking straight again. And then… she dismounts to walk, pulling him along next to her by the bridle.
“Тэр муухай ааштай. Надад илүү сайн морь хэрэгтэй байна.5He’s bad tempered. I need a better horse.“
Finarvi dismounts too, and spends a moment calming his pony.
Berra stays out of it all. Now on the other side of the road, with nothing but some ducks for company.
Finarvi turns to Serala, and he is outwardly calm. “I’ve seen corpses ride better than that. The horse is not the problem.”
Serala stops dead, turning to stare at her cousin. A curl of her lip and a look of open contempt flickers across her expression. ‘You dare to speak to me like that…. cousin?” she demands, “You would be nothing without me.”
Finarvi cocks his head to one side, giving Serala an openly appraising look. “I was going to chide you for being in a mule-mood two days running, but I see you’re not yourself.” He places deliberate emphasis on the last word.
Serala snorts, turning and dragging Pag forward once more. The warpony has his ears flat back against his head now, his eyes rolling and flecks of foam around his lips. “Or perhaps I am more myself than I have ever been. No longer living in the shadow of the expectations of others, free to go my own way.”
“He’s going to bite you if you don’t pay attention,” her cousin says flatly. “I was going to ask you what you broke, defaced or destroyed while in Duck Point to come back biting your teeth like that. But that nightmare you had last night casts a different light on it all, doesn’t it? Serala?”
“*I destroyed nothing. But history has been wiped away there. Don’t you see? Those… *ducks*… Living in the footsteps of their betters. Pretending they are somehow worth something. Anything.” *Serala meets Finarvi’s gaze, flat and distant and hard. Harder than diamond, brittle as glass. ” *And there was no nightmare. Dramatic words for a restless night. Are you so bored you need to seek excitement?” * She snorts, finger poking forward in an attempt to tickle Finarvi under the chin, condescending. “* Are you in need of your own ‘excitement’, cousin? I’m sure something can be arranged. That little trollop looked up for anything back there.* *”
Finarvi jerks away, angry, then he laughs in her face, merry and mocking. “So you didn’t spend the evening making free with the Ducks of the Night after all? Varanis will be happy to hear it.”
Serala opens her mouth to answer… but Finarvi’s prediction comes true. Without her hand tight on the rein, and constant watching, Pag has had enough. He lifts himself into a rear, his hoof catching her shoulder as he goes up, sending her spinning to land unceremoniously in the dirt. There is a long pause, before she starts coughing, hacking up the dirt she swallowed. Pag nickers softly and comes up closer, nudging her with his head, as though in mute apology. There is a whimper, before Serala reaches up, almost uncertain, before she rubs his nose. “It’s okay, my heart. It’s fine. My fault, all my fault. Not yours, never yours.“
The rearguard of ducks pauses before it reaches the diorama. Berra, who knows only a few words of the language in which they were arguing, has stopped to watch the Grazelanders. She looks worried.
Mollified, Finarvi offers Serala a hand up. After watching her roll in the dust for a bit. 6…for quite a bit, probably…. – Serala
Serala takes her cousin’s hand, fingers tightening on his. She looks uncertain. “I…” She is back in Tradetalk, turning her head as though to remember there are, in fact, others present and it is discourteous to speak in her own tongue exclusively. “Fin… I..” She turns, wrapping her hands around Pag’s neck once more before remounting with a fluid grace, a light touch on the reins. “We should ride? We have somewhere to be…”
Wordlessly, her cousin regains his own saddle. He doesn’t look angry anymore. Thoughtful, maybe.
Berra’s expression clears a little. She steps back into motion once it seems the horses are moving again. The ducks chatter a little amongst themselves.
There is no more playing up from Pagliacci. His pace is smooth and serene, even if his rider’s face is less serene and more… distant. She tries to smile at Finarvi, but it fails, never quite making it before it fades away to nothing. “So… err… we have the ducks. We have everything we need? Into the marsh next? Or does Maalira’s role come into play next? I’m.. a little confused.”
Finarvi frowns. “Maalira’s part comes after the marsh. Eril was wounded, and she nurses him back to health. What comes before I’m less clear on myself. I remember parts of the Indrodar story from last time. The part Eril was caught in, that Irillo followed, was very grim.”
Serala nods, “I think this time… we avoid that? That’s why we have the .. ducks. They will help pull us into another subsection of the quest. One where different things happen, with hopefully a happier outcome for everyone. So.. the Marsh it is.” She lifts her chin, grey eyes staring off as though looking into the future. But probably just looking at the road ahead. “I hope… for Berra… that it comes out right.”
Finarvi nods emphatic agreement. “Yes. The ducks story is the next one in the cycle. They go into the marsh that killed so many of Indrodar’s friends, and they kill all the undead they find, and make big pyres and burn the bodies. It’s a great victory to wipe out the sorrow. So we stand a much better chance of not dying if we have them with us, and not just because they’re ducks.” He makes a gesture that expresses the self-evident formidableness of duck-kind.
The death-worshipping homo-anatidae are giving the group a wide berth, watching the area and not the people on the road.
Serala is ignoring all the ducks, as far as possible. It’s a shame that she met Devolin before any other duck; she logically respects D’val, and has had no other problems with any other individual duck, but she does seem to struggle to let go of the first impression that ‘all ducks are swindling little thieves’. But she can manage courtesy and respect… as long as she doesn’t try and talk with them for too long.
Devolin is, of course, nowhere to be seen as well as oblivious to the trouble he has caused.
“So,” Finarvi ventures, when the silence between them has gone on long enough that it’s stopped feeling awkward and has begun to slink away in the hope no-one notices. “So, the next time you forget how to ride a horse, we need to give you a hard smack with a hoof or something?”
A crease appears between Serala’s eyebrows, and she opens her mouth to answer before looking around, suddenly concerned. “Where is Mouse?” she asks, looking up overhead. “He’s not here. He’s always around somewhere!” She closes her eyes, searching her memory, before half turning to look over her shoulder. “He’s been left behind… I have to fetch him back!”
Finarvi points to a tree a bowshot behind them, back the way they came. “He’s sitting back there glaring daggers at the Lunar who was sitting on Pag.”
Serala looks for a moment as though she might reply to Finarvi, but then she just lifts a hand to him, almost in a farewell gesture, before she turns Pag back and hightails it to retrieve her sulking hawk. Riding like the wind, it would be more impressive if it wasn’t such a distinct difference from her earlier efforts.
- 1Fails Insight Human. Does not notice Berra wants hugs and fears being hugged.
- 2“You talk horse crap.”
- 3I can’t bear to watch their calf faced moo-ing.
- 4I’m not shouting at a tree again for hours. The bird can starve.
- 5He’s bad tempered. I need a better horse.
- 6…for quite a bit, probably…. – Serala