1628, Earth Season
Berra and Varanis have been called to Boldhome over a small matter of law, regarding the ownership of their house. Session 3.25.
As they travel out of the Greyrock lands, Berra looks at the blasted fields that used to be fertile and are now abandoned, and with one of the changes of subject that define her, asks Varanis, “What’s honour?”
Varanis answers instantly, “It’s doing what is right.”
“Yeaaahhh… But how do we know?” Berra presumably has something on her mind.
For a moment, it looks as though Varanis is about to respond quickly, then she pauses and takes a slow breath. As she releases it, she looks thoughtful. “I can’t speak for others, only myself. Sometimes, I just know. Or think I do. I have been wrong a time or two.” This is said with a wry smile and a shrug.1Insight if you roll/pass: She’s definitely thinking of recent mistakes. “Other times, I have to really weigh it. If I’m stuck, I might pray to Vinga or ask someone whose knowledge or honour I respect.”
Berra sighs. “D’you reckon if you’ve never been tested, you can be honourable, then?”
The Vingan chews her lip thoughtfully. “I think that if you haven’t been tested, then you will only know how you plan to be, but not necessarily how you are. Does that make sense?”
Berra nods. “Yeah, I think that does. So… I think I gotta test myself more. Where … that’s a bit tricky, though. I mean, do I look for places to be strong? Where I could go wrong?”
“I think this raises an interesting question and I’m not sure I want to think about it, but I have known since Tarsh that I need to. Are you willing to hear what I have to say about decisions made, or would you prefer I stick to the hypothetical?”
“Oh, just say stuff. Please.” Berra looks almost relieved.
Varanis stares at the road ahead. “I made decisions that I believed were honourable. I weighed my conviction and the advice of a Wind Lord against the arguments of people who trusted me and I believed that I was doing the right thing. If I died, the sacrifice would be honourable. If I lived, the cause would be justified and people I am responsible for would be safer.” She sighs. “I was wrong though. So, I thought I knew and I didn’t. The point, though, is that I was tested, I acted, and I learned. Did I pass or fail? I don’t know how to measure that. What I know is that I learned from the doing.”
“Alright, and I think I’m pissed off at Koraki again. Fuck him, for leading your people into that.” Berra looks away, for a moment hiding fury badly. “Wanna punch something now.”
“No, Berra,” Varanis says. “He’s a Wind Lord and knows Orlanthi honour. So, here’s the part where I’ve been struggling. Is Orlanth’s honour different from Humakt’s? Is it different from Ernalda’s? Or, is Honour like Truth? Immutable. Is the problem that we are only people and can only have a limited understanding of something as pure as Honour or Truth?”
“No. If he… he gave you advice and he didn’t think that you should talk to us about it. So yeah, fuck him.” Apparently Berra just got more angry.
Varanis takes a deep breath again. “Forget Koraki, for the moment. Focus on the other part. Is honour the same for everyone? A pure and unchanging thing?”
“No. Just give me a bit.” Berra gets off Followed and walks for a while, saying nothing.
Manasa flicks her ears in irritation and tries to pull ahead. In response, Varanis slips off the horse and leads her by the reins instead. She remains silent, giving Berra space to think.
It takes some time, and when Berra mounts up again her expression is calm but distant. “Honour is always the same,” she says. “Its basis is Truth. Koraki was wrong, and you were wrong, because you did not act openly, and it was about us. Like Valseena says, you didn’t give us a choice. So this is about that too. Although it’s done now.”
“I did say that I was wrong,” Varanis points out. “I’m not trying to justify my actions. My point is that honour is complex. I believed, in that moment, that I was right. And I believed wrongly. So, when I say that I just know I’m not saying that I am always right.” She has remained on foot, so she has to look up at Berra.
Berra nods. “I did not think you were,” she replies. “But I think that part of Honour is not acting for others who have not asked you to.”
“I disagree. Sometimes people can’t ask for what is needed. But,” she holds up a hand to forestall argument, “acting for others when they have asked me not to… that I know see as dishonourable.”
Berra considers, and nods. “If they cannot ask, you should help out of generosity,” she says. “So is generosity also honour?”
“Generosity is honourable when it is sincere, I think. But I have known people to use generosity as a weapon. My Grandmothers particularly enjoy this tactic.”
Again, Berra nods. “I have thoughts on that, but it is not for this talk.” She does not volunteer what might be for this talk, however.
“Honour is about doing what is right,” Varanis says after several more steps. “But knowing what is right… that is a challenge, especially when there are multiple things that may be true at the same time. Back to Tarsh… I believed that I knew what was right and acted on that. I believe that my dishonour stems from my deception more than anything else. And this is where I begin to stumble. Imagine, for a moment, that my mission was an unqualified success. That somehow I’d managed to drive the Bat away or win certain peace for Sartar. I’d have done something that would have benefited all the people of Dragon Pass. Would that success have made up for my betrayal? Could it?”
“No,” Berra says carefully, “But that would be judging different things. Eurmal has no honour, but he saves the world. So what is honourable must be good, but not all good things are honourable.”
“And this is where I sometimes hear Dormal’s voice in my head, asking who and what I am willing to sacrifice to lead well,” Varanis says, her strides lengthening to keep up with Manasa. “And where I sometimes get confused. I know, without question, that I can sacrifice my own life or happiness for the greater good and that this is a thing that has no true impact on my honour. But I cannot sacrifice someone else that way without dishonour. So why did I believe that my silence was not a deception? Or that the deception was not dishonourable?“ She shakes her head. “Back to your question about how we know. I don’t think we always do know. And even when we seek the advice of others, we may still make the wrong choice. So then, true honour comes from not only admitting your mistakes, but working to remedy them.”
Berra stays distant in expression as she ponders that. “I’m not sure,” she says. “You should admit them, but you should do the right thing. That might not always be the same as working to remedy a mistake.”
“Are you saying that an honourable person can never make mistakes? That to be honourable is to be perfect?”
Berra shakes her head, slowly. “No. But say your mistake does a thing you cannot remedy? Or… if you move on and never find out you made a mistake, you should still be striving just as hard to be honourable. Or what you do makes a break in a tile you walk on and you can’t fix it, but you can move to the right place.” The Humakti looks down at her bison’s horns. “I’m not very good at saying what I want to.”
Varanis gives her mare an irritated look, then pulls herself back into the saddle. Serala would have been pleased with how smoothly the Vingan manages it.
“Your explanation is good. I just hadn’t understood it at first. Yes, you should always strive to do the right thing. My point is that sometimes you won’t know what it is. Or you’ll guess and guess wrong. Being afraid of making mistakes, or always waiting until you are absolutely certain you’re right, can lead to harmful inaction. So, sometimes you act in a way that you think is the right thing and learn later that you were wrong.” She shrugs. “And if you are me, sometimes that has significant consequences. Would I make the choice I made again? No. Because now I understand the situation better. I can see the dishonour that I overlooked before. Will I hide something from you again? No. I see the dishonour in that more clearly now. Can I promise to never act rashly again? Or never make a mistake again? No. Because that would mean I would never act again.”
Berra nods slowly. “I do worry that I will not recognise the next time I might go wrong,” she says. It seems to be just a side-note right now, as if she is examining her own self, more than making any admission to Varanis.
“When we first met… I’d been frozen since Dragonrise. Afraid to do anything because I might do the wrong thing. I don’t ever want to be like that again. Sometimes I don’t spot it when I’m going wrong. And I do worry about it, so I’m not going to tell you not to worry. But I will say, don’t let the worry stop you from moving. I blamed Grandmother Saiciae for how trapped I felt in Nochet, but it was a cage of my own making.”
“I could never stop moving,” Berra points out. “If I do, on that day you build my pyre, because that’s not me any more.” She gives Varanis a look that is surprisingly old. “You’re so much more Sartarite now. I think Sartar is a place of rebellion.”
“I think I’m more myself than I have ever been before.” The Esrolian offers her friend a smile. “But, what brought this on? Are you wrestling with something in particular?”
Berra smiles slightly, politely. “I need to overcome my own lack,” she says. “Sometimes I do not do what is right, and that holds me back from further advancement within my cult.” There is no coldness to her look – she just seems far away.
Berra’s expression is that of one who has judged another, and stepped away from them.2Varanis fumbled Insight, and fails to see this: Berra has, by her own effort, separated herself from emotion for this conversation. It hurts, distantly, but she is staying present and in the moment. She has not managed the placid calm she has learned from D’Val, but she is staying away from anger at the cost of pain.
Varanis flinches, starts to say something, then falls silent.
Berra looks back to the road they are travelling. “You are one of the people I look to,” she says. “But Lord D’Val asks these questions right back, and I was asking him because I didn’t know.”
“I’m sorry that I have let you down so many times, Berra. Perhaps my mistakes can serve as lessons for others,” Varanis says stiffly.
“For me, for you,” Berra says. “And people hear our sagas now.” She looks around. “This field here used to grow crops. We’re riding through the mistakes of others, but the clan is still here.”
“I’m sure we make a good cautionary tale.”
“Sometimes, even when you’re blistered, there is nothing to do save walk on,” Berra intones. “We go forwards, because going back is impossible, and staying still is unthinkable.”
“That’s a thing we agree on,” Varanis observes. “I’ll not stay still again. I can’t.”
“We have this small thing to do. Whatever it is we are called for. And then Prax, I suppose. While there, I should find tests. I need to know what I am.” Berra looks along their path to Boldhome, not back the way they will travel when they return.
“I… please don’t take this the wrong way…” Varanis begins cautiously, then rushes ahead, “is it that you wait for others to decide what is honourable first? You look to D’Val or Eril or me but not enough to yourself.”
Berra considers that. “It can’t be,” she says. “They are not there at the time. And besides, this understanding is new in me, I think. Perhaps I never found difficulty before because I never reached a place where I did not know the answer, but I never waited instead of acting.”
13 November 2022
Varanis shrugs. “No doubt, you are correct.”
“I don’t know the whole answer inside me,” Berra says. “But I will keep trying.”
- 1Insight if you roll/pass: She’s definitely thinking of recent mistakes.
- 2Varanis fumbled Insight, and fails to see this: Berra has, by her own effort, separated herself from emotion for this conversation. It hurts, distantly, but she is staying present and in the moment. She has not managed the placid calm she has learned from D’Val, but she is staying away from anger at the cost of pain.