1626, Storm Season, Harmony Week, Windsday
En route to the Paps, during Rune Messiah (Session 2.26).
Takes place almost immediately after Revelations.
Almost as soon as the caravan is on the road, Varanis finds Berra. “I need to talk. Scout ahead with me?”
“Sure.” Berra gives a couple of signals, to make sure that other guards have spotted they are moving forwards, and then kicks Followed into a decent-paced trot. She seems to have the hang of bison riding better than ever she understood horses.
Varanis’ tension is transmitted to Zukko. He flicks his ears at her to show his displeasure. Manasa would have bitten her. The Vingan breathes slowly and as she releases the air, she eases her grip on the reins.
Berra takes the scouting seriously, indicating the direction with a point of her hand, despite how close to safety they are.
Despite her apparent urgency, Varanis doesn’t say what’s on her mind immediately. She follows the signals and scans the landscape.
“What’s up?” Berra asks, after a slow, careful look around that includes making sure they can be seen from behind – from a distance. They are out front-right and Berra puts herself on the left of Varanis, so she can look past the Vingan even as they talk.
“I was on guard duty with Toras at Yelmrise.” Berra, of course, knows this as she set the watch list. Varanis pushes her helmet back on her head. “He said Argrath is from the line of Sartar.”
Berra stares for a moment, and then blinks. “Wow. Well. Um.”
“And he claims the throne.”
“Of… Sartar?” Berra wrinkles a lip in puzzlement. She is astounded.
“He didn’t say it quite that explicitly.” She frowns as she tries to recall his exact words. “He said that if I claim Argrath’s throne, I’d be his foe.”
“Oh, right. Well, that’s a bit different. But not very different.” Berra shudders. She does not make the obvious connection to anyone else claiming the throne.
“Kallyr’s throne, Berra.”
Berra says, “Right. Well, we’re defending that.” She looks forward towards the Paps, and then glances behind her. “Do you want me to go to Boldhome straight from Tourney Altar?”1Heh. Pass Loyalty Argrath, Special on Honour.
“No. I think we need to go together. We stick to the plan, I think. But, keep an eye on Toras? If you think he’s sending messages back to Venna, we need to know.” She stares ahead, scowling into the distance. “It makes me wonder about the assassins in Pavis. Does he know? Did he or someone close to him think to remove a potential rival? But if so, why was I allowed to leave?”
“I don’t think he currently is, but I already have been keeping an eye on him, so if he is then we don’t have a way of spotting it.” Berra glances around them quickly, looking over the landscape. “If he’d wanted us dead, I think we’d be dead. Maybe someone close to him who doesn’t have his power did. But I’d like to get that information back to Boldhome as fast as possible if it’s not already known.”
Varanis nods. “But if you race off ahead, Toras will know something is up. Unless you can find an excuse to lose him along the way.”
“I’m going to Tourney Altar. I don’t know if you’ll all catch up with me. But… he knows something is up. He told you that Argrath’s descended from Sartar. He knows all the things that could happen.” Berra looks discontented.
Varanis flushes. “I told him that I was too. I was too shocked. It just spilled out of me.”
Berra keeps up the grimace. “If he didn’t know already, he knows now. But Mellia sort of blurted it out anyhow. He either doesn’t speak Esrolian or is pretending not to. But then he told you about taking the throne? How did the conversation go? Can you recite as much as you can recall?”
“I asked him if he was planning to come to Sartar. I thought maybe he might be another sword for Kallyr, if he was interested in fighting Lunars. His reply. There was something….” She thinks about it. “He asked me if it was his fight while his Khan does not sit on his own Throne? I didn’t understand. I thought maybe it was something not coming across right in Tradetalk.”
“His tradetalk is terrible, but I think I get what you mean. What he means.” Berra drums her fingers on her thigh as she rides, like she wants to draw a sword and cut all this to be simple.
“And when I asked for clarification, he said it outright. Argrath is of the royal line of Sartar.”
“Riiiight. And… sorry. Go on.” The Humaki is trying hard not to say anything.
She flushes again. “I was so taken aback. It felt like a physical blow. I started to laugh. I couldn’t help myself.”
Berra holds up a hand. “Nah-nah. I get it. Go on.”
“But before that… it just sort of burbled out of me. I told him there were three of us now. Kallyr, Argrath, and me. And that when we helped Kallyr light the Flame it all made sense, but now, with Sartar on the brink of civil war and Argrath claiming her throne…. I think I left him with little doubt that I am throwing in with Kallyr.” She scowls in sudden memory. “He said Starbrow is cursed.”
Berra grins. “You do have a cousin now, yes. Another one. But go on. Was that the next thing he said?”
“I have a lot of cousins,” Varanis points out. “I asked what he would do if he knew about me. I may have suggested a connection between the assassins and Argrath. That’s when he told me that if I tried to claim his throne, then Argrath would be my enemy. And he didn’t seem to think he… Argrath, that is, would bother with assassins.”
“Yeaaah. But then again, if you’re his kin. He couldn’t do it himself. What about the curse?” Berra prompts. “Because that’s the sort of reason you give when you want to say someone else isn’t a good King.”
Varanis shrugs. “Nala hinted that something might be wrong with Argrath anyway. Oh. Actually… that might be a reason for you not to race ahead to Boldhome. We need to see if Nala will tell us anything more. He won’t exactly be a threat to Kallyr if he is sick, after all.”
“Mm. I should probably send a letter, then. I can do that from there. If Xenofos writes it.”
Varanis shakes her head. “What would it say? Dear Eril. I hope you have recovered. I hear you are no longer clanless. By the way, Argrath wants the Prince’s throne and may have a claim to it?”
“Something like that, yes. Although I’d call him Lord.” Berra seems perfectly serious.
“If things are as bad in Sartar as Mellia and Venlar think they are, that could cause a wealth of problems in the wrong hands.”
“Compared to King Argrath of Pavis arriving?” Berra winces. “But you’re right. He once said to me he didn’t want to write something. That I was to take the message. But I hate the idea of people not knowing. Not preparing. If they don’t know already.”
“Venlar was going to send word to his father. Maybe he has a way he can hide a message like that in his letter? In case we don’t make it back to Sartar ourselves.”
“If you want to ask him? I mean, I could. If you don’t want to be seen talking to him.” Berra’s confusion is slowly coalescing.
“He’s my cousin’s betrothed and soon to be kin. Not talking to him would be more obvious, I think. I’ll ask him.” Then she swears. “But his letter has gone already. It went with the guards who took my messages to Nochet.”
“And? He can write another one. That’s probably a good way – the right sort of person.” Berra frowns. “And less obvious than Lord Eril. Or Great Kalis.”
“What do you think Rajar will do?” Varanis asks.
“Fuuuuuuck.” Berra closes her eyes. “Alright. That will be… wait, you’re White Bull Society, aren’t you?”
Varanis nods, looking suddenly miserable. “And I don’t know what to do about that. I saw him acclaimed, Berra. I know how powerful he is. But she’s Starbrow! She summoned the dragon. She is the Prince of Sartar. And you were there – she relit the Flame.”
Berra nods. “She’s the one who was there. And I know he’s powerful. But the best thing we can do is try to make them friends. To make sure he knows that she’s good for Sartar. She needs to be able to show that.”
“I don’t know how close the lines are. Marriage could be an answer.”
“Both Vingan… well, Orlanthi. But yes. And also… Toras could tell Rajar any time. Best to work out how to put it to him. He’d put honour aside to fight Chaos. To him, it’s a dis… no, not a distraction. But a thing he says he can’t afford. So he needs to think that Kallyr’s best as well.”
“Wait, back up. Both Vingan? I was referring to Kallyr and Argrath marrying. Just to be very clear.”
“Yeah. But neither of them’s the Feathered Horse Queen. So unless Kallyr wants to give up trying to marry her, that’s a problem. Shit. So, let’s assume that Argrath’s already sending gifts to the Feathered Horse Queen.” Berra looks at Followed’s horns as she works that through.
“I forgot about that part of the arrangement.” Varanis really is getting good at swearing in Praxian.
“Mmhm. So, a thing to know. Whatever we’re thinking of right now, he’s already had a lot of time to think about. So I think that beyond making sure that it’s known in Sartar – by the right people first – we don’t have to run into anything.” Berra is settling to the new facts already. “Was that all he said? What about the curse on the Starbrow?”
“It was actually the last thing he said. That she was cursed. I pointed out that Nala said something was wrong with Argrath and that Sartarite by birth or not, he was more Praxian than anything else. She lives and breathes Sartar. She’s bled for Sartar. Like me, he’ll always be an outsider. She’s the obvious ruler. He didn’t argue with me, but I don’t think he agreed.”
“And anything else? If this is a report I have to give, or if I don’t find you and I do get there first, I should be prepared to answer questions.” Berra mostly concentrates on Varanis, with a little attention still for the outside.
Without hesitation, the Vingan says, “That’s everything. We fell silent and continued our watch and not long after, people began to wake.”
Berra nods. “Right. Well, great. This is not really good news, to be honest. I mean, not at the first time I hear it.”
Varanis nods. “We really should get the news back quickly. Maybe you should head there from the Tourney Altar, but it’s risky.” She frowns. “While I have a lot of faith in you, are you sure it’s wise to travel any distance in Prax without a guide?”
“The way up to the Block is called Caravan Alley,” Berra says. “I can at least send a message, if not send myself.”
“If you can, seek Humakt’s guidance and if you do travel to Boldhome, leave word where it can reach us. I’d rather we travel together, but this may be too important to wait.”
Berra nods. “I need to work out how to ask,” she says. “Because praying to him tells him things, I don’t really want other people to have the chance to ask. But maybe the Hero Eril is different enough.”
“Maybe the Iron Lord will hear you.”
“I can pray to my Lord directly. I’m pretty sure that’ll tell him, at least. But I need to think about what to ask him.” Berra twists a sort of smile. “I don’t like him, but his advice is good.”
“He is an easy person to respect. That’s what really matters, I suspect.”
“He’s really clever. That’s the one thing he can do that I can’t even imagine growing into.” There’s a shrug from Berra. “But yeah. I’ll head on from Tourney Altar if the god advises through the Hero.”
This gets a nod of acceptance. “And how will you tell us?”
“I can let Toras know, or I can just leave. Then he might try to help, but I dunno. I’ll leave a message at the Temple, maybe?” Berra puzzles through that.
Varanis considers the options. “You could tell Toras that you have been recalled to Sartar and ask him to wait for us. If you go, that will be the truth and it means he has a reason to wait for us rather than disappear into the Plains.”
“He’s useful. He wants to keep you alive, even if only for someone else’s timing, I think. And … well, the rest isn’t for me to think about right now.” Little Berra can look down on the world from her high perch on Followed. Her eyes scan the distance and then return to Varanis. “You’ve got someone in your position now, but that the Colymar…” She trails off and then says it. “That the Colymar would be more likely to support. And everyone else who Dormal was afraid would put you on the throne.”
“You think the Colymar would support Argrath over Kallyr?” Varanis is startled. “Why?”
“Because they can’t support you over her. I had a talk with Venlar. He can tell you this better. But there were not many people supporting the Lightbringers’ Quest she did. Leika didn’t go. And the Tribes that did, suffered. So if Leika can’t…” Berra takes a deep breath. “If my Queen can’t do it herself, then I think that to her. Maybe. Being rid of the Prince would be better. The Colymar supported her rebellion, and lost clans because of it. So he could offer them a lot that she can’t. Like not being her.” It does not take any great insight to know this is making Berra miserable.
“So civil war is a very real possibility,” Varanis breathes. “This is so wrong. We shouldn’t be fighting amongst ourselves. We should be focused on the common enemy.”
“I know. And she drove the Lunars out.” Berra looks at the muddy flats ahead. “Venlar says the thing they do best is drive people apart.”
Varanis takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “Orlanth and Vinga will guide me. I have to believe in that.”
- 1Heh. Pass Loyalty Argrath, Special on Honour.