Watching The Watch

Berra — Watching The Watch 01



After Varanis has handed the box over to Nala, she has a bad day. In the night, she and Berra talk. [[[s01:session-29|Session 29]]]


On the day of the box 2, Varanis has taken a late Guard shift. She is a short way from camp, outside the light of the banked fire.

Berra, who is mostly in charge of the guard roster, insofar as there is one, has changed things around so there are fewer regular slots and different people get to be awake with other people. While there is no official roster, and while there is no definite ruling that Berra is in charge of the military part of the journey, there has been no direct outcry. Sometimes things that get discussed get changed back, and she is not always in control of what happens – but this night in particular she has half the time on with Varanis and half of it with Salid.

The group is not far from Clearwine now, and perhaps nobody wanted to argue the case given they were so close to their goal. Perhaps nobody cared. Perhaps it’s just coincidence.

It’s partway through the Varanis shift when Berra sits down on a rock, and some time from now, as the darkness of Yelm’s absence deepens utterly, Sid will have his turn.

“Hello Berra,” Varanis murmurs into the darkness, without turning to look.

“Hello.” Berra sounds tired, like she has not slept yet. There was a determined effort to meditate earlier that ended in her having to go for a sudden walk after staying still for so long. “Nice night.”

A chill breeze plays with the wisps of hair that have once again escaped Varanis’ plaits. She pulls her cloak around her more tightly. “Yeah,” she replies with the slightest hint of sarcasm.

Berra does not break the silence for a while, although a couple of times the weight of her body shifts as she looks out into the dark. She might be preparing to speak and then saying nothing.

After a bit, Varanis says, “I talked to Sid. The little Enlo is wiser than he looks.” This time, there is no sarcasm, just honesty.

“Yes. He really is.” Berra still sounds tired, but does cheer up a little. “Can you tell me what he said?”

“Mostly, he told me to just be me. And to listen more.” Varanis thinks. “And to trust in the Gods. He’s an Uz of few words, though more than any other Enlo I have met.”

“His god is Argan Argor. Surface darkness. Harmony. Marriage to Ernalda, I think. And spears.” Berra takes a drink of water, quickly. “I suspect the other Enlo may have had words, but Salid trusts us not to misuse his.”

“Spears are good. Vinga loves spears,” Varanis says with a smile in her voice.

“One day, we should…” Berra trails off. “Maybe spar.” Quiet little voice, unlike how she normally speaks.

“I would like that,” comes the reply. “It’s a good opportunity to learn. Though, I’m not much with a spear. My sword is my primary weapon.” Her hand drops lightly to her hilt, an almost unconscious gesture.

“I’m not bad.” Berra does not move her hand to her sword, but her spear is by her even though she uses it seldom, and her bow is strung for the length of her watch. “I got good when I was young. A spear’s easier to carry, and if you have to abandon it you can take the head with you and make another spear. Or it’s just a sharpened stick.” There is a distance in her voice, like she is remembering.

“Berra, is everything ok? You don’t quite sound like yourself tonight.” The question and observation are a little hesitant.

“Mm. I… I can’t settle. I hate feeling like this, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything when meditating. Just… distractions. I still feel distracted.” Berra’s voice is tight, but she answers. Her stare out at the darkness almost challenges it to come and get her.

“I’m afraid I have no advice there. I’m terrible at meditating. My thoughts just spiral in my head. Jareen used to tell me to just let them spiral and meditate on the patterns they made, but I never quite figured out how to shift from the thoughts to the shape of the thoughts.” There’s an old sadness in these words.

“D’Val had some good advice for me, but I can’t always summon up the ability to use it.” Berra shrugs, a movement that can be heard as her armour squeaks on the rock. She moves so that will not happen again. “I’ll survive,” she says.

Varanis lets the silence grow for while. Finally, she says “Mellia and I talked tonight. I think those wounds are as mended as can be for now.”

Berra takes a deep breath, bolstering herself. “I talked to Nala. It didn’t go well.”

Varanis snorts quietly. “Nor for me.”

“I think she didn’t really listen, but thought she was. So I was trying to explain but it sounded wrong to her. Or not really listen. Maybe that’s the wrong word. But I think I exposed things she was thinking, and made her feel them. I’m sorry.” Berra stands, picking up her spear to lean on it and keep looking out.

“For what?” Varanis asks. She shifts slightly to look at the Humakti by her side. The movement is light, just enough to change the angles.

The Humakti tilts her head away a little, staring off at an angle. “For probably making things worse.” Her voice is approaching sulky, although it does not seem to be aimed at Varanis. It might be that she is talking quietly because she is in pain. In profile, her lower lip is swollen, a subtle change in silhouette that she might be trying to hide.

“Berra… what are you not telling me?” The question carries a wealth of worry.

Berra shrugs. “Lots of things. None of them important to you. I’m fine. Well. Mostly. But nothing I can tell. I’m missing people.” The sentences seem disjointed, together only because they are said at the same time.

“Berra?” Varanis steps closer, trying to get a better look at her kinswoman’s face in the darkness.

Berra does not move, but she says, “The danger is outwards, not me. You’re on guard. So am I.”

“Who hit you? You are fast – the only one who stands a chance is… Rajar?” Disbelief in the words.

Berra stares at Varanis, suddenly. “What?” It’s still a whisper, but it’s amazed. Whatever happened, that was not it.

“Your face. You look like someone punched you in the mouth.” Varanis sounds very confused. “But, it’s dark, I can’t see for certain…” She is still peering at Berra’s face.

Berra almost smiles. “I bit my lip. I was trying to stay still. It’s only a mess on the inside, but it’s a bit tender. It’s… no. Nobody hurt … Nobody hit me, Varanis. Thank you.”

Varanis steps back, allowing herself to stare into the darkness again. After a moment she says, “You started to say that nobody hurt you, but you changed it to hit. So who hurt you?” She can be annoyingly persistent sometimes.

“Me. A thing I did.” Berra scowls, which is visible even in the dim light. “I think I said it was not something important to you. Please don’t ask this – it’s not a thing I want to say.”

Varanis sighs. “And Salid said to practice listening. I’m sorry.” The apologies seem to be coming more readily these days. It seems she’s had lots of practice.

Berra’s laugh is quiet, a series of small snorts of amusement. “Listening is an active thing. It’s not just about ears being open, but about thinking. And we should listen to the darkness, too. We still have night noises, and the bushes haven’t moved.” She is watching the side Varanis is not.

Softly, “I could heal it, if you want. At least it wouldn’t be distracting then.”

Berra does not reply for a while. “I know it’s important because you care,” she says. “I know that. It’s just I don’t think it can be helped. Maybe at … maybe D’Val could.” She genuinely shudders then. “Or the High Sword. He could probably deal with it. Eaurgh.” No answer about healing, unless Berra thought Varanis meant her wider problem.

Varanis lets the silence sit between them again. It’s not uncomfortable, just quiet. Finally, she says “How bad do you think it is with Nala?”

“Bad. She thought I was… this is going to sound off when I say it. She thought I was trying to defend you. I thought I was trying to explain. Those are probably the same to her and different to me – I wasn’t even trying to talk about anything but what I think are your visions.” Berra holds up a hand for silence, and indicates a direction out of the camp, but soon relaxes.

“I don’t know that she and I will ever find a path to peace. I have tried to better understand her. I’ve tried to apologize. But her opinion of me is pretty clear and I am not prepared to humiliate myself any further. ” Varanis sounds like she no longer cares what the Praxian thinks.

“There is a point at which Orlanth must not beg. There’s also a point where he has to placate Ernalda. I don’t know which story you’re in, but that’s for you to decide. If you can’t move further, don’t. Nobody can make you do anything.”

“Mhmm,” a small sound of agreement. “But, this conflict cannot be allowed to harm our group either. As long as we travel together, we must be able to work as one. Otherwise, we are vulnerable.” The words are soft in the darkness, but determined. “And we don’t just expose ourselves to risk – the conflict between the Praxian and me has the power to harm any of us. Witness Mellia today.”

“Well, I don’t think that’s the case. Any war band has tensions in. We must be able to work effectively. That’s not working as one. Working as one is… well, it sounds like the sort of thing free people only do from time to time. We need to be able to work together.” Berra’s voice is a little stronger; she sounds like she is more confident now.

Varanis listens and mulls over Berra’s words for a while. “Can we work together if we are fighting each other?”

Berra sounds certain when she replies. “Mostly, yes. I mean, it’s like a clan. Nobody liked Farnon, but the Clan still held together. People think of working together as being a thing where everyone is pulling on the same rope, but that’s not it. Arguments and persuasion can be just as important.”

“How would you proceed in my place, Berra?” The question carries a wealth of uncertainty in the face of Berra’s confidence.

“Well, again there’s the problem. I’m not you. I get the easy path here. If this had happened to me, I would not be … saying I was humiliated. It’s… well, the question is whether anyone has the right to take things. If my High Sword did it, I’d say I was taught, and try to learn from that. And I joined his temple so he could teach me. So I think I’d think of this group as my temple. You didn’t ask to join, but you joined. So whether you’re humiliated or not is up to you. If His Excellency tries to show me up, it’s because I have a weakness. So if I’m here and I have to be my own High Sword, because I’m Orlanth… for you, what can you learn, first of all?”

There is a touch of awe in Berra’s tone when she talks about her commander, and also plenty of Being Very Careful.

After a long silence, Varanis begins, “I think that the first lesson from the actual day on the hill, is that I need to think about how my own actions might affect others.” She pauses and as she continues to mull things over, she pulls the crisp night air into her lungs. “I have been trying to do this more,” she says.

“That’s good. What else?” No mercy there, then.

“Salid gave me another, this morning. I need to listen better. There are times when others have more knowledge or experience.” This one comes more readily. “Like when you can advise about how best to enter a fight. There are things I know, but also things I need to learn. With the box, if I had listened better, I might have understood the risk presented by the aldryami.”

Berra nods, and then asks, “What else?”

Varanis stares into the darkness for a long time.

Berra waits in silence, the only sound the swish of her cloak on the grass, in the breeze.

“I feel like I am missing something, and I wonder if it is at the heart of the problem. What is it that I can’t see?” She sounds impatient and frustrated, though it seems to be directed inwards.

“I don’t know. That’s not supposed to be a question that has an ultimate answer. It’s a question to make you think. It works best if someone else asks it. The Battalion used to use it to put people through their paces. What are the problems here? What could you have done? What would you do to plan this defence? It works to stop you from thinking you are satisfied. It’s one hell of a question, to be honest. So without trying to look for big things you are missing, what might you learn? What else?”

“Don’t cross a Humakti?” Varanis attempts levity, but then sighs.

“Well, if you cross a Humakti, you’ll probably notice.” Berra moves to sit on her rock again, which serves to make her eyeline slightly higher.

“There may be more to things than what I can see. Nala is very protective of Tiwr. Serala rides like a demon. You are a mean grappler and very fast. Mellia has strong feelings about shrines, even ones that are unrecognisable. Boxes may be more than just boxes…” Varanis starts listing facts as they come into her head, ticking them off on her fingers.

She stops her list and concentrates. “But you said might learn…. so what lessons can I still learn from this?”

Berra uncorks her water, which make a faint, carrying pop in the night air. She mutters a low, rude word. “Anything can be more than anything. Salid is wise. What were the others doing? Rajar? Dormal? Before, during, after. What village is there? What happens if you go to war with Aldryami?” The questions come easily enough.

“One day, I might learn how to make peace with a Praxian. We might learn more about the box, I suppose, though I still think it’s just a box.”

“Well, yes. But you already have peace with one Praxian. Rajar is very easy-going. But he wouldn’t hit a woman without her permission. I mean, unless it were in battle. He’s not like I heard about Storm Bulls, or saw. He’s got depth as well as girth.”

Varanis keeps thinking. “Rajar… I don’t remember. But, Dormal was arguing that we should take the box. And he was the one who picked it up after you knocked it out of my hands. Irillo… he was mad at me. Mellia yelled at me, but she also spoke to the woods as though there really were aldryami present. I… need to learn more about the aldryami. They weren’t included in my lessons, not really, anyway.”

Berra pulls her cloak around herself. “I suppose there are more forests here than you are used to. Sartar is odd if you come from other places. I’d forgotten some things, until I got back to my Kingdom, and then my clan.”

“The forests are very different from the orchards that I grew up with. Of course, there were forests en route to Dragonrise, but when you are moving with an army, it’s different.” Varanis shrugs into the night.

“Yeah. Up here things are wilder. More free. I like that. I mean, I liked being part of Battalion.” Berra is speaking quietly again, but in a stronger voice now. “But the Regiment is… sharper, somehow. In a better place to do the things I need to do.”

“What do we do after Clearwine?” Varanis wonders out loud, but it seems like she’s not expecting an answer, as she follows it with another question. “Do you remember, back in Nochet, when you told me that I had a decision to make?”

“Yes. Oh yes, very much.” If Berra leans a little on that, she’s not explaining why.

“What I wanted to say then was that I want to be a Daughter of Vinga. I want to serve my goddess. But instead, I find myself with more land, more people to look after, and more politics pulling on me. What I want seems to be very different from what I should do.” She sounds resigned.

“I wanted to be a hero, but instead, I need to be a Thane.”

“Well, sort of. It is an answer, because it says you want to be Vinga, not Orlanth. I think I was wrong about youth and adulthood. I mean, it’s your Cult and I could be more wrong, but it looks to me like you don’t get to be a Daughter of Vinga as you wanted. You get to take up the destiny that her father had. But that might not be with us, and it might not be for a long time, and being a Rune Lor… Lady will help. But one day you may lead your own Storm Tribe. I don’t think you need to struggle to make us into it, if it’s not going to work, but it might help.” Berra rolls out a cramp in her arm with a delicate circling motion.

“A Daughter is a Rune Lord and a priestess, though not all Daughters serve individual temples. Vinga is worshipped in many forms. The temple in Nochet serves Vinga the Spearwoman, but also Vinga the Avenger.” After a pause, she continues, “I wanted to follow Vinga the Adventurous, but that path was forbidden to me.”

“And what does Vinga say about being forbidden? Is there a Vinga Rex?”

Varanis laughs quietly. “Vinga accepts nothing as forbidden, but she never had to face my Grandmother. The High Priestess in Nochet was sympathetic to my wishes, but my Grandmother compensated the Temple well for my upkeep and she was loathe to risk that relationship.”

“Yeaaaaaahhhhsssss. So I think that your Grandmother is still your clan. But if my sister forbade me to leave the Tula, I’d not take that well, as an adult. We did discuss what we would do and be, but… This feels a little wrong, because I am telling you that someone dear to you does not have to be obeyed any more – but she does not. On the other side of the slice, she’s not there to protect you.”

“Oh, I have already decided that Grandmother no longer makes decisions for me. If that means that she takes back the hides she gave into my keeping, so be it. I will hear her requests and serve if I feel it right to do so, but I am no longer taking her orders.” There is a fierceness in the words that has been absent all night. Varanis’ stance has shifted subtly into almost a ready stance, soft on the balls of the feet, arms held loosely by her sides. It feels like she is spoiling for a fight, though she continues to stare into the darkness.

“Oh… That reminds me. She will know this already, but you … you still have living siblings who share your blood, don’t you?”

“My sister, and her two daughters, and two of my brothers,” Varanis replies, nodding.

“You should let her know about this, and maybe not write to them. It depends on whether you trust them not to come here unprepared. But you should definitely warn them. She won’t know what is done here, only what she thinks might happen.” Berra pulls her spear closer to her and starts running her thumb along the edge, testing it. “And be prepared to answer that question from those who ask. Tennebris, for one, if he doesn’t know already.”

Varanis blinks a moment. “I hadn’t thought about the risks to them,” she admits after a moment. “They are very…. Esrolian. Saiciae through and through. Mirava is a priestess of Ernalda. Desdel and Kalops are both married, each into other families. Neither of them is really Saiciae anymore, at least in terms of who they belong to.”

Berra makes a couple of quiet thinking noises. “And assassins came after you. After them too?”

“Maybe? I heard rumours about my older brothers. They died of a sickness before I was born, but no one else got sick. Mirava married young and began serving Ernalda right away. Desdel and Kalops…. it’s possible. We don’t speak often.” She sounds thoughtful.

Berra’s voice is calm now, although there is a hint of difficulty with some sounds, thanks to her lip. “They’ll be more exposed because of this, so… well, you know how to write. Send Grandmother a herald. Damnit. Now I’m playing the what-else game with myself. There are a few things, but we’re on watch.”

“We are. I will send a message from Clearwine, as soon as we figure out what Leika’s reaction is. In the meantime, I want to circle the camp before it is Salid’s turn. His eyes see better, but I can cover more ground faster.”

“You do that. Some time… in fact, you need to know this before you set out. People will want to make you choose between Sartar and Saiciae. Choose what can do most good. We should probably talk Grand Strategy some time, although I’m mostly out of my depth there, but really it renders down to knowing what you want, and using your tools to get it. You don’t really have the luxury of thinking like an Initiate.” She gets up from her rock, ready to walk as well.

Varanis’ quiet laughter contains a note of self-mockery. “More words to think on. It feels like I am spending my days thinking and apologizing. It’s better than remembering and feeling guilty though.”

“Good night, Berra. When I have finished my loop, I will wake Salid.” She places a hand on her companion’s shoulder a moment, before turning to slip away into the night.

Berra bows slightly which means that the hand on her shoulder can get no possible read from her body language, and goes on her own way, patrolling in the dark without any difficult questions.