Berra — Whose Name
????, Earth Season, Movement Week
Earth Season, Movement Week, Freezeday. Follows on directly from [[[berra:here-lies-one|Here Lies One]]]. [[[s02:session-16|Session 16]]]
“Valinos was quick, if that is our breakfast,” Xenofos says to a sound at the doors.
“He …” Berra thinks. “Could not have, if the gates opened at dawn. Did he get sent back?” She looks at the rope she is trying to haul up, and the doors. “Yes?” She calls out.
Xenofos picks up his shield and throws it in his back. He has not yet bothered to put his arm- and shinguards on.
Berra took her weapons off her horse before Valinos took it away. Her shield is propped up against the wall, so she could run to grab it. Her bow is not far from it, now reunited with its string. Her spear, she was using as a marker of where to fish for Irillo’s sword. This handily keeps it by her.
There are footsteps outside. And a soft glow.
Berra mutters, “Maybe they didn’t hear me,” to Xenofos, and gives him a look in the dimness of the warehouse. “Or maybe they did.”
It isn’t flickering like a torch. Maybe a lamp?
The Humakti wanders closer, quietly. Part of it is how she moves so that her bronze armour only creaks and chirps a little. Part of it is because she has not put any shoes on.
Xenofos ties on right vambrace.
But if the glow is constant it does not appear like prelude to piece burning the Saiciae ally and scholar.
After a while there is a rap on the door.
Xenofos looks at Berra.
“Who is it?” Berra asks, setting her shoulder under the bar. But for Xenofos she might already have called out, but she was looking to him.
Xenofos nods and puts his hand on rapierpommel.
A voice calls out, “The Sacred Time Bull!” as another calls out, “Kesten.”
“Well, crap,” Berra says. “We sent the bison mare home.” She lifts the bar and leans it against one of the doors, nudging the other open. For a moment, she looks like she is fighting some emotion or another, or just thinking really hard.
Scholar steps forward. Close enough to engage if otherside comes in fighting.
Outside are Kesten and Agri. The Yelmite holds a gently glowing shield. The Humakti pauses, “May I enter?”
“Please do, Lord Kesten. Brother.” Berra bows. “It’s only mine as a battlefield, not as a place I own.”
Berra’s look, at least, is not that of someone who was expecting a fight.
“Lord Agri?” Xenofos asks.
Agri steps in. “Ah, yes, Lord Xenofos. My principle wishes to say….”
Kesten pads in also, “I assume you’ve something to share.” Agri looks a bit put out, but soldiers on, “He accepts your apology, but is happy to fight to a mutually agreeable point in order to ease difficulties you may experience at the Batallion.”
“Berra! A word if you please.” Xenofos tries to get her attention.
Berra lowers her voice rather than talking over the attempt to make peace, stepping closer to Kesten. “A couple of things. Timing, some points of interest, and I know when I arrived, so I know when this place was cleared out. And I’d like your help on some thinking.”
Then she looks at Xenofos. “Um… I probably have to take this.”
The other Humakti nods, briskly, as if it is a slightly irritating distraction from something more important
Berra gives Xenofos a bright look, and steps closer to listen.
“Did you hear what Lord Agri said?”
“Yes.” She turns back to Kesten, then gives Xenofos another look to nod to him. “Thank you.”
“Do you wish to agree on place and time to fight? Backing out of a fight is frowned on and lord Kesten is showing generosity in his offer.” Xenofos bows towards Kesten when explaining the offer.
“Uh, yeah. Later? I’ll need to show a flag to … that is, check something with Lord Kesten first.” Berra smiles at him, and then looks back to Kesten. “Right. So, you didn’t know everything when you launched out. Neither did I.” She seems calm, although there is a tenseness to her voice that suggests it is with effort.
Xnofos keeps trying. “So lord Agri, you heard, my principal would like to settle the matter later. Would that be acceptable to your principal?”
Kesten nods, briskly, to Berra. “Indeed. Also I was… influenced. For which I apologise.”
“Ah, I guess we got his answer,” Xenofos says to Agri.
Agri looks a bit helpless, and turns to Kesten, “Uh…. “
Kesten nods. “Get on with it.”
“I figured you probably were,” Berra says quietly, letting Agri talk over her, but she sounds sympathetic.
“Since they seem more eager to talk then shed blood shall we defer settling the details to later time, and let them talk of the mysteries at hand?”
Agri shrugs, “I…. suppose?”
Berra jerks her thumb at Xenofos. “He’s been really careful about me,” she says, in a fond voice. “But I think he thought this might happen badly.”
“Thank you for your courtesy and flexibility in this matter, Lord Agri.” Xenofos records to the air, with another bow to Agri and nod to Berra.
Straight face. Berra has a straight face.
Berra’s attention is on Kesten. All her attention. Rapt.
“I think that settles it for now?” Xenofos checks.
“Now, to business.” Kesten’s voice is almost brusque.
“Right. So, Lenta got into the palanquin before midnight. Slightly after midnight as far as I can tell, Lord Garin Merelt dropped a handkerchief that could have been hers – it was scented with violets – for Varanis to pick up. Do you know if any got taken from her?” If Berra could read, it would look like she was reading from a list in her head, as she starts to itemise things.
“I do not, but can check.”
Berra leans sideways to check the door, and briefly distracts herself. “Got any animals out there?” she asks as she goes to replace the bar. As she lifts it she says, “The slaves. I asked them to describe Varanis, and they couldn’t. I don’t think there’s a way of asking about Lenta’s thinking at that point without just asking out loud, was whoever it was wearing a scarf or a mask even THEN?” Tactful. She does not yet put the bar in place.
There’s a shake of the head, “Whoever it was, wasn’t wearing a mask.” A beat. “Wasn’t wearing a mask which could be seen.” Kesten then adds, “But the slaves did describe Lady Varanis very clearly. I do not believe they were coached.”
“Right. So…” Berra strokes the feather in her helmet. “On the way down here, I met someone who talked about a Black Feather Duck. And he seemed really familiar. So I was thinking about illusions. They didn’t tell me what she was wearing, or at least, not well. And the nobility in the party were… um… not scouts.”
“It would explain our observations, of course. But you know this Black Feather?”
“No, I don’t think so. I thought I did, but the one I knew wouldn’t have been violent. He’s too afraid of it coming back on him. But he’s an illusionist. So I was ready to think of those, and it was easy to anyone who has travelled with us. And then even once I was sure… was less sure it was him, was pretty sure it wasn’t, the idea of the illusions stayed. And also, I know Varanis. She lives for Vinga and Honour. So she couldn’t have done it. And that’s most of what happened early on, and then we got the news that there had been the chase, and Serzeen was dead. Remember that bit, because she had an iron axe, and that’s important, I think, later.” Berra checks the bar on the doors. “Do you have any water? My bottle got lost, and it’ll be a while before any gets back to us.” She looks to Agri as well as Kesten, indicating that she does in fact know there are other people present.
Kesten passes over a waterskin. “Go on.”
Berra takes a long glug, and offers it to Xenofos. “At about this point, I got forced onto the sword path, not the torch path,” she says musingly. “Because Varanis found out what she had been accused of.” To Xenofos and Agri, she says, “That means, I was having to act on what I knew could be wrong, as if it was right. I couldn’t hold Truth steady, but I had a good enough idea of what I would face that I could use the wrong things I knew.”
A raised eyebrow. Xenofos drinks deeply noticing in his belly it is day and night since last proper meal but ignores it. He hands the waterskin back with a nod.
Voice still casual, Berra adds to Xenofos, “The question I’m wondering about here is how many houses were under attack, if any. Was it aimed at Hulta and Saiciae, and how good, if any at all, is the evidence against the Merelts? We never had time to ask that. Or what ‘it’ is or was. What was the attack?” She holds out her hand for the waterskin, while she lets him and Agri – and possibly Kesten – take that in. Then it turns out she too is thirsty, and she has another drink.
“I am not sure. It does not seem other Houses have been attacked,” notes Kesten.
“It’s not yet clear to me that any were. Yet. Sword path.” Berra takes almost as much water as she can politely take, and then offers back the skin. “So, we had Varanis in a bad way. Politely put… this did not make things easier. I don’t think anyone could have known that. I’d like to know when different messages got through to you, though. But… let’s think. People came back. It was dark. I thought Xenofos was dead, and we had to try to find out more from Garin.” Berra pauses, clenches her left fist a few times like feeling the weight of a shield, and works a bit to achieve calm again. “At this point, let me add I’m still pretty annoyed with how you didn’t help the effort, which is why I want to know when the messages arrived.” She sounds distant from her own annoyance, if it is even real.
“They arrived with me yesterday.”
Berra nods. “Mhm. And that’s a thing I’ll leave for you, probably. But that’s why I didn’t let you know where I was or that I didn’t have a second. I didn’t think it would get through. So, it was late and we went to the Merelt mansion. Did you know it’s up for sale?”
“I had heard as much, yes.”
“He’d sold all his slaves, I heard. Or lots of them. Cleared out the household. I was going to go around the outside. I’m not saying that to clear me of what happened, but so you know what I was thinking. Varanis couldn’t stand to be still and she came, and then she heard a song that was mocking her. So she went in through a window. Now, I’d taken service with Mellia, because I was moving my things out of the House. She was there, and so was Rajar. I accepted a payment to go in. I thought it would keep trouble to a minimum. So if you hear I broke into a place, I probably did. And someone tried to kill me, but it was sort of endearing. We found Varanis. Garin had been there. Probably waiting for her. It… felt like he had been, but that’s not for me to judge any more. That and the handkerchief are what chiefly lies against him. He wasn’t shocked about the disappearance. But I wasn’t there, so I can’t say how not shocked.” Having admitted to something along the lines of breaking and entering, Berra unties a pouch from her belt and offers Kesten first pick at the contents. “All fruit, no vegetables.”
He takes a piece, “Thank you. Well, that is Truth, since it is not to your credit.” He considers for a moment. “I note a few problems. Questions, that is. Firstly, who killed Rillo Hulta. Second, who had the Seeming of Varanis. Thirdly, why were your messages to me delayed. Fourthly, why was I encouraged to fight to an extreme level with you?”
“Yeah. I have some of those questions as well. If Hulta is under attack, then this is linked to the death of Lord Rillo. However, using the Sword and not the Torch, I think it was too complicated, and put together complicated things too quickly. Was it vital that Lenta had been seen kissing Varanis? Was that part of it? We can probably help a bit with the second question. Because I was thinking of illusion, I was thinking of Elanka, but that’s something I have to unpick now, and bring to Truth. And whoever it is… well, I have an idea or two but probably not yet. Also, I think people are afraid of what I COULD say, which is why they want me dead, so that probably narrows down thinking for you. Can we leave the question of whether the houses are under attack, for the moment? It can probably be answered better once I know what parts of my thinking were wrong. At least, by me at least.” Berra probably knows she messed up the last sentence.
“The assumption of you bring quietened by me relies upon my killing you. That is by no means certain.”
“I know. But kill, punish, frighten… I’m… alright, I have ideas there. But in order, please? I need to comb out this hank, because my thinking has wrong things in it, and if you spot any I want to know. But I do have thoughts on that too. So. Nala came back. And she knew where the Sea Troll protected, and knew about the Black Feather Duck, and said that Garin either was in cahoots with him, which I think is a Praxian word, or in debt to him. Which is possible. But I don’t know if Garin was involved, but keep your mind open. It’s really important to keep the Torch on this, because it’s a bit delicate, and I had to run forward through it, so I don’t know what was right or not. She told us where the island was, where Lenta had to be. I don’t know what her evidence about Garin was. She might have been guessing from our guesses. But she was right about where. You should talk to her.” Berra takes her own breakfast, finally, pouring out half of the fruit from her pouch and eating so it hardly touches the sides.
“I see. And?”
“We sent Mellia to tell you – to try to tell you – about Varanis swearing an oath as to what she had done, before Lords of Truth and War…” Berra mentions that just in passing. “Then we woke for an early breakfast.” She grins. “You arrived… I shouted a lot…”
Berra glances only briefly towards Agri, and then attempts a serene look into the distance, failing entirely.
Agri tries to look calm and serene and unconcerned but fails.
It is just possible that Berra enjoys that moment.1Having passed her Darkness roll.
It is clear, if you know how to read silence, that Berra is letting the silence fill in questions she has for someone.
The other Humakti appears familiar with the concept, and says nothing. Agri looks uncomfortable
“She was right about where because it was the only place on the marsh that was stable enough to stay in,” Berra says carefully. “So… I can’t use the name Garin. Maybe-Garin. Person. Someone… owed the Black Feather Duck. We’ll get to who that might be later. But that pinned down a place, and Varanis Divined upon it, and we were warned by Nala and Vinga about what to face, and so we set off for the island. I think Lord Agri did as well, but differently. We went in from the opposite side of the island and walked across. That meant we didn’t meet the birds, and we were not over water when we found the sea troll. There was an old village there. The sea troll slowed me down. I… well, not important. We nearly got them then. There was a woman’s voice. She was the sort of person who says ‘oh crap’ when things go wrong. Esrolian. But I didn’t see her clearly. We killed the troll, and another person, and the rest used magic to escape.”
Maybe that was mercy. Maybe Berra is saving her stabbing for later.
“Now,” says Berra, “We get to the parts where I didn’t have to use the path of the Sword. Not battle. There were clothes there like the ones Varanis had worn to parties. She says they were of inferior make. But that is where we start to know what people could do, and what they might have done.”
At that point, her attention is all back on Kesten again, checking he follows.
He simply nods, listening. Attending to data, as it were.
Now Berra is on firmer ground, able to recite. “Master Irillo recognised the marks on the barrels and boxes as belonging to the Deques..nay House.” She takes a good run-up at the word, and nearly clears it. “And he knew the warehouse. So we came here. On the way, we found Lord Agri drifting.” Berra gives the lord a moment to interject if he wishes, and her tone is neutral.
Agri confirms, “They… rescued me. Which would be out of character if we were war?”
“Yeah, you don’t know my character. I’d expect Lord … Ahuh…” She trails off, giving Lord Kesten a glance, and taking a moment to Obviously Not Speak.
It takes Berra a moment to get back on track. “We found two of them in the warehouse,” she says, “Which is how many men escaped. I saw them from a distance, in a row-boat. I… I got this one wrong. I thought it was a blonde woman. It could have been a scarf or an illusion and I don’t know. Now, thinking back? I still think blonde but Nala thought red-headed. But that is who tried it, and I think we have some of her clothes. That’s the woman who was not Varanis, I think.”
((GM being away, the short version of what Berra says:))
Moving back to the island, the sea troll had a wound on it that was not healing, so was probably inflicted by Serzeen’s axe. That was a big threat that Black Feather had over the crab and fisher folk. On the island, a large snake attacked, which Berra had thought at the time could have been sent by an Ernaldan, but it could have been other magic.
Nothing on the island was sized for ducks. The high stairs up to the only really inhabitable house were made for humans and had not had extra steps added. Nobody (up-river at least) has ever SEEN the black feathered duck – they just heard about him, and got threatened, with things like black feathers appearing in their beds. He might well be a tale told to cover who was really doing things.
Related to that, the corpse over here has Illusion and Disorder Runes on it, and potentially any member of this gang could have cast such spells. Berra suggests it is or was a smuggling operation and that it is possible Garin either owed them money, or was …helping them.
The rowboat with the fugitives on left really fast, but the woman in it was unconscious after spirit travel. It is possible she had recovered in time to feed Lenta a potion, especially if she had already cast magic so her spirit was already moving to fill itself. Usually, only a gift of Humakt would allow that sort of recovery, but there are other magics too.
The two people who were in the boat were the only ones in the warehouse, other than Lenta, but the woman escaped, either taken away or conscious herself, and between late afternoon and the last rays of Yelm, the place got cleared out. Irillo could probably say how many boxes and barrels were in there. The fastest way would be the water gate. Berra has not yet checked it for recent scraping, or looked at the floors in any strong light. There was a row boat that was also taken. Berra suspects that there was not time to get fighting help to the warehouse, but they have not dealt with all of the gang.
The ropes got dropped into the water. Berra will suggest pulling them up to check if the blocks are present. She explains the fight and the various bloodstains, hopefully without Kesten having to go over there and get in the way of any scent trails. She walks him up the stairs, tells him about the sound of crying getting fainter, and suggests that if they can find what that box was and how it worked, they will have timing for when it was set. Having it there at all suggests it was personalised for Varanis.
If he can follow tiny amounts of blood, then the gold teeth that used to belong to the corpse have been taken, presumably by his friends, even if the splattered barrels were taking out by water. She admits to wanting there to be a secret passage because that would be easy. The clothes that were here, as opposed to on the island, went to the hospital with Mellia.
And, if she can get Kesten alone, she asks if he saw Agri flinching when she mentioned the duel. She thought he might be in love with Kesten, when the Queen mentioned it and he winced, but it’s still happening now there is not going to be a duel. If Agri knows all about Rillo, or preferably if he’ll talk alone, then she’ll offer her thinking on the pressure to fight an extreme duel:
It could have been to slow down the search for Lenta, to punish one or both Humakti, or to try to silence at least one of the two Humakti likely to look for Rillo’s real killer. Either way, within 12 hours Kesten knew that Berra’s reputation was being trashed and the Queen had heard a song about it. Given how few people knew who Kesten was trying to duel, that song was probably ordered from within the Hulta household, but it could have been the Saiciae trying to up tensions. It seems vicious for someone who was trying to kill someone else for silence, however, and Berra does not yet know what the expectation of the commissioner of the song would be – just that it was done very very fast, and probably by whoever put pressure on. She has not heard it, so does not know if it has accurate details, but whoever ordered it is probably the one who was ultimately influencing Kesten.
TL;DR: Black Feathered Duck may have been a bluff, there are a lot of things that magic or hunting wolves/alynxes could track down or reveal, and Berra is prepared to leave the body for Kesten as long as there’s no attempt to resurrect him. Xenofos might not have heard the bits not meant for Agri. Whoever is trashing Berra in song is probably Kesten’s enemy too.
At some point, hopefully, some victuals. Were brought in. Xenofos took the opportunity to break his fast. And Berra having told of her need to talk to Kesten in private, invited Agri to join him. With exhortation to the two Humakti to tell their seconds if they change mind again and decide immediate fight is required. ( insight human will tell that the friendly sarcastic tone is 9/10 jest)
Xenofos gets a look from Berra that is mostly confusion, but she takes a waterskin and asks them to leave her a bit of food.