Too soon for the Sword

1626, Fire Season, Illusion Week, Fireday Afternoon


The White Grape Inn, Boldhome. After Palace Athene (session 1.44).

Varanis and Berra have a conversation, that leads to what is meant to be some broadsword training. Things take an unexpected turn. Although there are technically no spoilers, this does discuss a brief encounter with Humakt and gives a bit of insight into Varanis’ state of mind. Read at your own risk.


It is early afternoon and the White Grape Inn has a short, violent Humakti keeping people out mostly by glaring at them. The back door has been barred and the front one is the current scene of an argument. Berra’s voice is quiet, and there is a touch of menace in it as she tells someone she does not care who their master is, her master is Humakt, and she is prepared to use all the power of the god she has in her to keep them out. The door closes without anyone coming in.

Varanis comes down the stairs of the inn, appearing somewhat refreshed, as though she’s had some rest. Glancing around, she spots Berra by the door and raises an eyebrow. “Trouble?” she asks.

“Uh? Oh, no. Someone who wanted to have a room here, and tried to bribe me. I didn’t manage the full experience where they wet themselves. I got told by a friend that he did that once.” Berra sits easily in a chair that faces the door. “That is, made someone do it. Although there was one time he got really really drunk and passed out in a puddle, so I can’t say for sure not the other thing.”

Varanis decides not to comment. Instead, she comes the rest of the way down the stairs and settles at a table. Rondrik comes over with a small platter of food. “You didn’t eat earlier,” he says as he sets it before her. “I made it all myself and I tested all the ingredients.” She smiles gratefully at him. “I’m sorry we are driving away your patrons.”

Berra keeps on facing the door, but scoots the chair a little closer to Varanis. A stool supports one foot, but she leans back a little, looking brooding and deadly even in relaxation.

The foods on the plate look like they have been chosen with care. Rondrik has been paying attention to what Varanis likes. She nibbles on a small, sweet cake first. After he drifts back to the kitchen, Varanis murmurs, “I hope we don’t ruin his business.”

“It’s an inn. Keeping people out is probably bad for him regardless of money, but protecting his guests is a sacred trust. We are already most of his sleeping custom, and we can give him something extra at the end of the season.” Berra shrugs. Her attention seems focused on her task, and her voice is oddly light given the scowl the door is getting.

“Did you see Eril again this morning?”

“I did. Pull the table closer, so I can talk without turning?” Berra stays relaxed, in a ready to move sort of way.

Varanis makes a face. Instead, she moves her bench and sits, straddling it with the plate of food in front of her.

“I presented your decision to the H… damnit. To Sword Eril. He agreed with you that if he could not be Humakt, I should be. I sort of came away with the understanding that Death would get in the way of his plans, to be honest.” Berra’s profile is a study in how to kill whoever comes through the door next, until her expression dissolves into not understanding Eril fully.

“It wasn’t a decision or a demand. Simply a request. But thank you for asking. Has he given any indication of where he thinks this should take place?” Varanis picks up a piece of roasted chicken and pops it into her mouth, chewing carefully.

“No. We talked of a few things. He will probably write, once he knows. Everything is a bit strange right now in the city, and politically he’s thinking quite a lot. He might not know yet, at least not to be certain of.” Berra glances only briefly at the food, and continues her murderous-looking relaxation. “No where, no when. Where might depend on when, and that probably depends on Irillo, and whether Sword Eril is strong enough.”

“Perhaps it’s best not to have that decided too soon anyway. I feel like there are no secrets here and once it is decided, it won’t take long for others to learn. I’d rather not give our enemies time to prepare.” Varanis takes a sip of her water. “We forgot to ask Eril about me sleeping at the Temple.”

“We asked the Acting High Sword, though. He said it would be highly irregular. Lord D’Val is currently the decision-maker for the Temple.” Berra rolls out her right shoulder, wincing slightly. “I’m going to have to spend some time at the Temple learning about this, as a mystery. I don’t know how to do it all at once.”

“He also said to ask Lord Eril,” Varanis reminds her. “But no matter. It was an oppressive feeling place and I don’t know that I could sleep there. I’ll be safe enough at my own Temple.”

Berra considers. “I thought he said to speak with Lord Eril. More as a general thing.” But she shrugs, unworried. “Fine, yes. Vingan Temple. But be aware it’s a pinch point, so we need to change the times you go in and out.”

Varanis sighs. “Yes. I know. And I’ve promised not to leave unescorted. It won’t be forever. A few days. I can handle a few days. At least it’s up high.” Although spoken aloud, the words are more a reminder to herself than conversation with the watchful Humakti. She picks at the food, finally taking another bite of chicken.

“Mellia said you had something to talk about.” Change of subject.

“Oh. Right. She had an idea. I thought I might discuss it with everyone at once, but perhaps I should run it past a couple of people first.” She takes another bite of food and considers. After a sip of water, she says finally, “Mellia thinks I should publicly swear an oath to defend the throne.”

“Um, what does that mean?” Berra grimaces, giving Varanis her full attention for a moment.

“She suggested that I swear that I have no intention to claim the throne for myself, but instead will defend it until Kallyr returns or another is chosen by the Tribes.”

Berra thinks for a while. “That’s… not a good idea for a few reasons,” she says. “Noble, but it makes no sense. It would have been fine with Kallyr here.”

“I wondered. I was afraid that it might set Leika against me. Make it look like I was accusing her of trying to take the throne and that I was going to defend it from her.” The Vingan’s shoulders are rigid with tension and she pauses to breathe slowly and roll them back. “The truth is, she might be here to claim the throne. But I don’t know how she’ll react to the news of the illusion.”

“And it would make people want to pick you up as a prize to persuade the tribes, if they listened to you, or a problem to be cleared away. It depends on whether Leika is the only candidate, and if she feels she needs to marry you.”

“Pick me up?” The Vingan looks confused. Perhaps it’s an unfamiliar idiom that doesn’t translate well into Tradetalk.

“Have you as an asset. It makes you more valuable, if you associate with any of them.” Berra’s expression at the door is a glower touched with sadness.

“I wondered if that might be the case. Is there any way to persuade people that I have no aspirations of rule?”

“No. People are people, and not wanting to does not mean you should not. That would be easy.” Berra moves her chair so she can watch Varanis as well as the door, giving up her footstool position and some of the murder-Humakti expression.

“We both know I lack the experience that Sartar needs in its ruler, especially right now.” She meets Berra gaze steadily.

“And? If it brings Sartar together, you might end up called to it. Keep the option open, because you can always use it as a thing to bargain later. Doing a thing is not always as effective as threatening to do it.”

Varanis nods thoughtfully, then half smiles. “It’s a good thing I promised not to make any rash promises.” She picks at the plate again, settling on a slice of apple with soft cheese on it.

“That was a good promise to make.” Berra looks at the door, and then says quietly, “I don’t think Sword Eril wanted to go through what he did, but… it helped. Once you are back, his political advice will be good, although Humakt and Sartar are his chief thoughts.”

“As is right for the High Sword of Humakt in Boldhome.” After a moment, she asks, “Has there been any word from the Palace? Do they know what Eril has proposed?”

“No, and don’t know. Sword Eril is doing the right thing – why worry people who might try to stop him?”

Varanis blinks in surprise. “So they don’t think we are trying to take the throne?”

“That’s a thing to do after we’ve started.” Berra grins. “They’re allies, but they are not our army.”

“You know them better than I do. I had hoped to ask the Storm Voice for guidance.” She frowns.

Berra shrugs slightly. “You and I fret in different ways,” she says. “Right now I’m half guessing what the Sword will be thinking, half guessing what the world will be like tomorrow or the day after. It’s not a problem to talk to them – but Tennebris already knows, or he’s not Tennebris. He can perform divination, and we know he will if the Prince is in danger. He’ll know what we’re doing anyhow.”

Varanis gets up from the bench and begins to pace. “You don’t make sense, sometimes. You say we shouldn’t worry the Palace because they might try to stop Eril, but that Tennebris already likely knows. So, how would mean speaking to him cause more worry? He is the Storm Voice in Boldhome and I’m an initiate about to throw myself into Orlanth’s greatest quest. Surely it makes sense to seek guidance from my high priest?” She sounds frustrated.

“Officially speaking, and him knowing are different. And yes, it probably does. And no, I’m not always making sense. I want to be outside too, and I can’t find the words to say when I think I’m guessing or when I think I’m talking or even when it’s me in here.” Berra pulls her chair back towards the footstool so she can do Dangerous Lounging again.

The Vingan looks ready to climb the walls. “Can we talk in the courtyard? Or open the doors? Or something? I feel like I’m suffocating.” She stops in the middle of the room, forcing herself to stillness and drawing in slow breaths of air. “I’m sorry. That’s not fair.”

“Yes. We should.” Berra steps to the door, where she speaks her spell to detect those meaning harm. When she opens it, she takes a deep breath, looking out. Nobody tries to kill her.

Varanis doesn’t crowd her at the door, but it’s pretty obvious the Vingan is working to restrain herself.

“Broadsword?” Berra suggests.

“Gods, yes,” Varanis replies. “The wasters?”

“Let’s think. One moment… Yes. No. Sharp ones. Practice. Because Orlanth should have Death, even if it’s new to him.” Berra rubs the back of her neck with her hand, not like the Rune there is burning, but like she is getting rid of tension.

“May I borrow your Finarvi blade? I don’t yet have a broadsword of my own.” The request is courteous, respectful.

Woodcut of Humakt (source)

“Of…” Berra considers, and then unbuckles Wind Tooth. “Or you could take her, without permission.” She puts her sword down carefully, and steps back into the inn to get the sword Finarvi made her.

Varanis stares at the sword on the ground, then stares at the inn door which Berra has disappeared through. In disbelief, she glances around the empty courtyard. Stepping closer to the sword, she looks at it again. “Taking another’s blade without permission is dishonourable. But… she seemed to suggest it…” She takes a deep breath and reaches for the hilt.

It’s a sword. Wind Tooth. The hilt is slightly worn with good use, and the action of metal rubbing against armour. Within the scabbard, it is nothing special, but of course the point of a sword is to draw it, and use it.

She slides the sword from the scabbard, just a tiny bit, to peer at the gleaming metal. There is a Truth Rune, mark of honour, painted carefully at the base of the blade. The metal gleams exactly like high quality bronze that has been well cared for, and the woad mark is fresh.

Curiosity pulls her onward. Carefully, reverently, she slides the sword from its scabbard. With the hilt held comfortably in her palm, she examines the blade, turning it to catch Yelm’s light.

Wind Tooth is balanced a little further back than most swords, the leaf of the blade sculpted in a way that makes every movement glitter.

The beauty of the blade snatches her breath away. The smooth curve of the keen edge almost seems to whisper of death. She is fascinated by it. Experimentally, she begins the motions of a sword drill.1Rolled broadsword – Special.

Her feet shift into the sword dance and the blade cuts through the air, slicing through the sunlight.2GM says: Roll Devotion Vinga please. Passed.

Serala must have another lover by now. Maybe the Stallion King. Maybe the Horse Queen. Something isn’t right there… but anyway… some ruler keeping her from you.

She continues in the sword dance, but the reverence has shifted to something darker. The movements have taken on a deadly intent, rather than just celebrating the glory that is Wind Tooth.

Maybe if you showed them Dea…. Wind Tooth, you’d win a contest for her hand.

Her feet are flying, fast and furious through the sword kata. She’s no Berra, but suddenly she is full of rage and a desire to prove herself.

Maybe it’s Leika keeping Ernalda from you?3Roll honour: passed

Yelm is your liege lord.4Varanis’ player: ((Say what?!)) Oh. Wait. Leika is your Queen. Killing her would be very dishonourable.

Her steps falter. “Vinga. Vinga is my Goddess. Kallyr is my Prince. Leika. Grandmother.” She stumbles to a halt, breathing desperately.

Humakt, the same Rune on his cheek as is on his sword, walks up to take the sword. “That is not for you, yet.” So obviously, she will have to give it back, beautiful, interesting secret.

“Vinga. Kallyr. Leika. Grandmother.” The names are repeated like a prayer. She stares wildly at Humakt and offers him the sword, hilt first.

Humakt takes it, and holds it hilt up, a Rune that has been used once in this world.

Varanis stares at him, then drops her gaze to her own hands, still outstretched as though she is still offering the sword. She takes a breath, trying to slow herself to calm. She raises her hands to her face, covering her eyes. “Vinga. Kallyr. Leika. Grandmother,” she repeats.

“Walk the path that is right, brother.” Humakt is one of the Air Tribe. There was no theft. No murder. Just the sword, and the purity of the thing his own brother will not share.5Roll Loyalty (Blue Tree): passed with a special

Humakt is, after all, of the Storm Tribe. That is his secret. Surely it is a thing to be proud of, not a reason for argument. The son of Umath, the white-haired cold wind of the North, that cuts like a knife. Pride, not anger. He is a good man, a stout battle-brother, as well as a brother by blood and Air and violence.

Varanis’ breathing slows and she drops her hands from her face. Her eyes glitter with unshed tears. “Humakt,” she says hoarsely, as she faces the god. “Give me back, my Prince.”

Annnd, click back in the courtyard.

Berra is standing holding Wind Tooth in her right hand. She gives a yelp as the sword nearly falls, and then an impressively fast grab steadies her weapon. “Ow?” she suggests.6Insight Human from you please, Varanis. Fumbled! Insight (Human): Berra, unnatural person, is one of the only people who COULD be Humakt, who COULD be pleased by Death. With Kallyr over the doorway, and with the secret of Death in her hands, no wonder she has that little, wry smile.

Varanis stares wordlessly. She backs up.

Berra takes a deep breath, lips tight. It is almost a Ty Kora Tek look, and not the look of Humakt. Cold, deadly, pale with anger or possessiveness of That One Secret. That thing that is hers, and she must guard jealously.

The Vingan bristles at Berra’s expression, snapping back into herself at last. She ceases her retreat, standing her ground and meeting that stare with one of defiance.

Berra looks away, contemptuously. It must be contempt, for Berra meets stares boldly.

Varanis turns away and stalks around the courtyard. She’s vibrating with tension and pent up emotions.

Berra sheaths Wind Tooth, carefully. “Maybe the wasters after all,” she says.

“I wasn’t trying to take it,” Varanis snaps at her. “I just wanted to look.”

Berra nods, face still pale. “Just the practice,” she says, with that calm that comes from within, summoned up by effort, but a true change in how she is.

The Vingan’s nostrils flare as she breathes deeply. “Just practice,” she acknowledges, seeking, and then finding calm.

  • 1
    Rolled broadsword – Special.
  • 2
    GM says: Roll Devotion Vinga please. Passed.
  • 3
    Roll honour: passed
  • 4
    Varanis’ player: ((Say what?!))
  • 5
    Roll Loyalty (Blue Tree): passed with a special
  • 6
    Insight Human from you please, Varanis. Fumbled! Insight (Human): Berra, unnatural person, is one of the only people who COULD be Humakt, who COULD be pleased by Death. With Kallyr over the doorway, and with the secret of Death in her hands, no wonder she has that little, wry smile.