1628, Fire Season, Stasis Week
After splitting up with Varanis, the group starts to makes its way out of Sartar. Session 3.15.
It is afternoon and the caravan is inching its way away from Stopover, where Irillo bade farewell to his ex, and to the comparative safety of the larger mule train. Still, these lands have little to say there is danger in them. Despite that, Berra has dismounted from her horse and gone to stand on the back of her bison, keeping a look-out on the patient animal.
Maalira guides her own bison alongside Berra’s, eyeing the Humakti. “Is all well?” she asks in a tone that holds more hope than expectation.
Berra says shortly, “So far.” She manages a strained smile down at Maalira. “Just watching for trouble.”
“Hmm. Usually when you start watching for trouble it’s because you expect to find it.”
Berra sits down. “We’re in trouble. The only question is whether it picks us up. And if it does, what we try to do about it.”
Maalira nods. “What flavour of trouble is it this time?”
“Onjur. He wants us to do things this way more than he wants us to do it the other way, and he might try to put the squeeze on us. He’s got at least a hundred warriors within a day of us.”
Maalira wrinkles her nose. “That’s enough to take us out and Xenofos and Va-… the Th-… Ranie.”
“Yeah. He’s been the main danger all along, but it’s… he doesn’t want to take us out. But he wants to have… he’ll have more ways of putting pressure on us, if he captures us, but Var… Rani’s more important.”
Maalira’s eye twitches slightly as she puzzles this out. “But if he captures us, he’ll know that Ranie isn’t with us, and will go after her anyway.”
“Yeah – but by then she’s a day further away, and likely to get out of Sartar, and without her, his plan isn’t so good – so as long as she gets away, we can probably … probably get away. More probably than if she’s with us.”
Maalira chews on her lip. “What’s the plan if Onjur does appear on the horizon?”
“Depends a bit on where we are. We want to hold him up, but not make it look like we’re afraid, because that makes just riding away afterwards harder. So here, we have to just ride, tell him we’re not doing it – or that we’ll ask advice – and get back. If we’re further out we want to make him chase us, because that means he left it until later and he’s more likely to make mistakes.” Berra shrugs. “Really it’s up to him, and to how good the scouts are in the area, and whether they’re all talking to him.”
Maalira nods. “It’s a pity we can’t persuade more of his scouts to not talk to him.”
“It’s not about him… Or his. In this case. Although it might be if he’s got a lot of his men out. I didn’t get that impression from him, but I didn’t think much about out-riders. But I haven’t seen any that are definitely his.” Berra sounds like she is considering that, and the next shrug has enough hand movements in to say she just does not know.
Maalira looks around, rising up just a little in her saddle. “How many people are definitely watching us right now?”
Berra says, “Definitely? Only four on the road. But we’ll reach another two before the two at the back lose us. So of the troops that are with the Lunars, between four and six. And then there’s a group of people on the road that’s going at about our pace, up in front, so they could stop at any of the waystations if they really wanted to and just let us go past, or catch up. And behind, some people on foot who might be too. So two sets of just people, some soldiers, and then I’m pretty sure I’ve seen scouts in the …” Berra glances right. “There was a glint from the hills a while back – could be anything. Off to the left is more hilly and there are people up there, but only the road people in armour definitely. The rest, I can’t say. They could be watching anyone.”
Maalira stares at Berra for a moment, then looks around again. “That… that’s a lot of people I can’t see.”
“Yeah. Well, I’ve been a scout.” Berra smiles, almost bravely, but not quite. “In Esrolia. In the civil war there – I was small enough to get into a lot of places, and I didn’t look threatening, and at first I didn’t even have my armour. So I saw a lot. I learned how to. We were lucky really – most of it passed over where we were, but it was still… awkward. Me and my sister – she’s a bit younger – and my cousins, and their village. It could have been nasty, but we just got taxed a lot.”
Maalira pulls a face. “In some ways, a battle always on the brink of happening is worse than one that is actually happening, even with the taxes.”
“I’m gonna have to disagree with that, except maybe about how you don’t like growing anything – but Esrolia’s good at growing things. But then again, I don’t think battle’s bad. I’m good at it. But for other people.”
“You can’t carry growing things with you,” Maalira shrugs, but with the corners of her mouth twitching. “Crops are bad for retreating.”
“Yehuh.” Berra sighs. “All this – it’s so rich. And it’s not even at the middle of the Empire.” She looks out pensively at the maize fields. “We’re going to have to work really really hard.”
“Work really hard on what? You lost me.” Maalira takes both hands off her reins for a moment to run them through her hair. Her bison makes a slightly cranky noise before she takes them up again.
Berra sighs slowly. “On pushing the Empire back. It’s got to be done. And we’ve done it in Prax and Esrolia and Sartar. Kallyr and other heroes.”
“Oh.” Maalira grimaces. “Yes, I suppose we will. You’re right, they won’t want to give this up easily.”
“This bit’s been Empire for a long time, but down towards where Fazzur is, that’s Tarsh. A couple of generations ago it was free.” Berra’s expression darkens briefly, and then she sighs, and manages a little relaxation.
Maalira reaches across and squeezes Berra’s shoulder lightly. “If it falls to us to do it, we’ll find a way.”
Berra looks surprised by the shoulder squeeze, but allows it. “Yeah, gonna.” She smiles a little bit.