1628, Earth Season, some time before Fertility Week
The group is in the army going towards Alda Chur, after a surprise invitation from Koraki in Varanis’ case, and a call-up from the Temple in Berra’s. Maalira has come along to be with them, and to help. Session 3SA:01.
The army moves more slowly now, and there is more dust on the road, and wagons rumble, feet blister, infantry complain…
The White Ladies have the task of keeping spirits up right now, and therefore get to move up and down the long line that is snaking towards Alda Chur. A group of Humakti singing a marching song are headed by a small warrior is a couple of steps ahead, her walk casual and her head held high. She looks distant, like all this is just… noise. The bright look of Berra is gone, replaced by a corroded but professional mask.1Maalira fails Insight (Human)
Maalira spots Berra and slips into the procession beside her, matching her pace.
The Humakti gives Maalira a nod, and uses the motion to turn, walk backwards for a few steps, and check over the people behind her. Many are in finely coloured clothes, or have bright, light capes. They do not look like the Boldhome Humakti generally do.
“Who are you leading today?” Maalira asks by way of greeting.
“Malani Humakti,” Berra says. “Lay members,” she nods to some younger faces on her left, “And initiates.” Most of the group is older than she is, some with the scars of many battles, some merely with the look of knowing what Death means. The bright colours seem shared out equally among them all.
“Are they holding up alright?”
“They’re Humakti. Some of them are worried, I suppose?” Berra speaks a little more quietly. “I haven’t really got to know them enough – I’m mostly moving them so they don’t get to talk to the Regi… the Boldhome Regiment too much.”
Maalira grins. “A bad influence?”
“They think Sarostip should be in charge,” Berra replies. “And he’s… not.” She cuts off anything else, and her lips twist wryly.
“Politics.” Maalira shakes her head. “You would think that a group of people all trying to achieve the same goal could at least play nicely together for a while.” She considers this thought for a moment. “If only sweets worked on armies like they do on ducklings.”
“I don’t think Sarostip much cares,” Berra says staunchly. “But his people do. Also, when you are not there the ducklings mob me asking where the sweet woman is.”
Maalira’s smile is unrepentant. “Good, that means they’ll grow up into ducks who might help the sweet woman out if she’s in trouble.”
“Alright but also it does result in me having to have ducklings in my hair and I think some of them were not big enough to be up that high. And then they kept jumping.” Berra shrugs. “I think it’s a duck thing. But anyhow, it happened, it is done. How are you holding up?”
Maalira pulls a face. “Everyone is tense, and other than treating the odd blister or graze there’s nothing I can do to help them.” She considers this. “Well, everyone except Varanis. Since Serala got here she’s like a dazed calf.”
“That’s a thing that Serala can help with, not you,” Berra deadpans.
“I think Serala’s help is the cause, not the solution,” Maalira shoots back.
“In that case, ask her for technique tips?” Berra’s look is innocently helpful, and she manages not to crack a smile until she is facing away from her command.
“Berra!” Maalira chokes on laughter – and possibly dust – and then sighs. “No one to try the tips out on, anyway.”
Berra reaches up a hand to squeeze Maalira’s shoulder. “Maybe we’ll find you a wife,” she says gently, but her expression says ‘sorry,’ and ignores the words.
Maalira smiles ruefully. “She’d have to want to trail along after Varanis, and be someone Varanis would let trail along after her… in the non-Serala sense… and we don’t really stop long enough for me to find some woman and say ‘hey, want to fall in love with me and come along on stupid dangerous adventures because I’m kinda addicted to seeing what this random thane and her assorted company are going to do next?'” Maalira pulls a face. “Ugh. Please forget I said that. I sound pathetic.”
“No, I get it.” Berra looks ahead. “It’s a road, so you walk on it because it goes to places, and sometimes you fall off or you go investigate things along the way. Even if it’s hard to.” Her expression is calm again.
“Yes, you understand.” Maalira looks at the horizon and smiles. “One day I suppose I might get tired of the road, but I haven’t found where it ends yet.”
“I h…” Berra trails off and looks very puzzled for a moment. “Um, it forks. Like the Truth Rune.” She touches the painted Rune on her left cheek in confused wonderment.
“Sometimes it knifes, too,” Maalira murmurs, probably to herself, touching the scar on her head. “I’m glad I haven’t come to a fork yet that takes me somewhere lonely or dull.”
“They all exist,” Berra says. “They have to. But we do tend to walk down the others. And I think that is going to happen more. We’re in a strange time within the world.”
Maalira nods. “I don’t understand the half of what is going on, but I think I’m where I’m meant to be. I think the White Lady would show me if she wanted me to stop or turn aside.”
“Have you asked her lately?” Berra might even be trying to be helpful.
Maalira looks sidelong at her. “Yes, all the time. When my cousins chose to go to Prax I asked her specially, and had the strongest sense that I should not go with them.”
Berra nods. “She… might be giving the answers based on what you know… Gods can’t tell the future.” Obliviously little thing that she is, marching into danger. Still, the Humakti’s expression says she knows a lot about asking questions of Gods.
“I’m glad they can’t tell us the future,” Maalira says vehemently. “If this is going to end in disaster, I don’t want to know.”
“If they could, everyone would ask, and I guess that might change things. The future’s not fixed. Just… uh, the puppetshow background? The rocks and mountains of it? Not the rivers and which way the wind goes.” Berra has little room for complicated philosophical concepts, but trade-talk can describe landscape well, as traders need to know such things.
Maalira frowns a bit as she puzzles her way through this. “Even the rocks and mountains change over time,” she hazards.
“Yeah. So even better – we can change more things. But they’ll take the most effort.” Berra shrugs smoothly, elegant without meaning to be.
“How do you think the battle will go?”
“Ooh. Big one. It depends. For one, you have to determine what ‘the battle is and what it’s meant to do. Usually that’s stopping a force from being able to act in an area, and with forces this size, usually that is by a… what is known as set-piece battles. Where afterwards you can tell what the hell happened if you have enough pieces to set out in a board, mostly because at the end most of them will only have one set of markings. But it’ll be about where we end up, what the scouts say, what phase of the moon it is, what the opposing forces are… the big thing is it’s going to be loud and confusing. Learn what is needful and stick to it.” By the end she sounds almost like she is giving a pep talk to a battle line.
Maalira nods. “Keep as many people alive as possible,” she says. “That’s my bit, I guess.”
“Yep. Don’t stop to think or worry. Just do the thing. Learn later. Later you get to talk about still being alive. In the battle press, you stay that way.” Berra shrugs. “Also, for you, do not get into the battle press.”
“I don’t intend to.” She rubs at the scar on her head again. “I can’t help anyone else if I’m incapacitated.”
- 1Maalira fails Insight (Human)