1628, Earth Season, Stasis Week, Fireday
Berra was not telling Varanis something earlier, but it has been eating at the Vingan, and perhaps the Humakti is ready to talk now. Session SA3.07.
Stasis Week, Fireday. Berra and Varanis are on a cliff, in Jonstown. Berra has had a morning of falls and slips and frustrations, but seems in a good mood nevertheless. As they stop for a breather, she says, “So, I talked to Lord Eril. Which you know. But I talked to him.”
“Mhmmm,” Varanis replies.1Berra fumbles Insight: Varanis is dead curious, but attempting to hold it back.
“You’re… not with me? Thinking?” Berra peers at Varanis. “Hungry?”
Varanis shakes her head. “To be honest, I really want to know what you talked about, but I’m trying not to demand you tell me secrets!” she blurts suddenly.
Berra laughs. “Oh, right. Well, yeah. I can’t tell you everything. I ain’t gonna. But I told him the news and what I did, and asked him about perfoming his Heroquest. He says no. Not yet.”
“Right… what did he say about Grizzly Peak?”
“Uh, not much. I told him the problems of the Dead there were done. I think he’s… well, probably happy it’s not a problem to deal with. The first time I ever met him, we needed a High Sword to help deal with a problem. That’s why I reckon that in places like that, you get vampires. Because I’d seen it before. Serala was there then, too, but that was when I met D’Val. He can’t say well done, though. I’m not sure if he actually can, to be honest.”
“He’s not much of one for praise, is he? Do you think he ever was? Did that get cut away from him with the other things?”
“I need to find out. I need to know a lot more about him, and he reckons I’m nearly ready. So I want to talk to Lord Silor. And I have to ask Maalira to be… well, not to be her. Not yet. But to talk to Thenaya. Anyone could die. Lord Silor’s a warrior. Thenaya could get ill. And I want to know things so I can prepare. But he was different, I know, back then. Apparently he had a proper sense of humour and everthing.” Berra stares at her rock-stained fingertips in confusion.
Varanis chuckles. “Eril? A sense of humour?!”
“I know. I mean I’ve seen him smile a few times, but usually when he chuckles it’s like… I get the idea he’s not thinking any good for someone.” Berra shrugs. “And I asked him about what you said. About laity worshipping him.”
Arching an eyebrow and tilting her chin, Varanis waits for Berra to continue.
“He said yes. I mean, he took about six times as long to say it, but he said yes. It’s Wildday later – I could teach you how, if you want?” Bera wrinkles her nose in question, her head tilted. She looks more like a Vorian than a Humakti, just for a moment, with the Truth Rune hidden and her hair plastered back. Sweat and dust are not Vorian, and the moment passes anyhow.
There’s a nod. “Yes… if we want to strengthen him, then I think I ought to help. I will learn from you.”
Berra looks determined, in a satisfied way. “Then we will. Tonight, and I’ll get some stuff later. That makes you a proper Orlanthi warrior, you know? When they say everyone’s a member of the Regiment in wartime? That’s what it means.”
Varanis snorts. “Are you suggesting I haven’t been a warrior up to this point?”
“No, I’m saying that you’re fitting into being a Sartarite one.” Berra stretches her arms, clenches her little fists to check them. “I’m ready to go on, but I shouldn’t stay out too long – I’ll need to go shopping for a few things. And we can do this… let’s avoid the Temple of Humakt… no, wait, we don’t have to. Let’s go there. You can come in as you, and now people know I don’t have to keep his private stuff private.”
“Are you sure you want to put yourself in the reach of the temple, given the Harrek stuff?”
Berra shrugs. “Pretty sure they won’t have heard of that. I don’t know if my Lord will have visited here, but if he has it… well, nobody’s seeked me out yet.” Sought. Nobody has sought her out.
“You don’t think anyone from Jonstown was at the battle?!” The Vingan’s forehead wrinkles as she turns to stare at Berra.
Berra sighs. “An army shouldn’t get back this fast,” she says. “I mean, it’s good for the harvest, but it’s really confusing!”2GM indicates that Eril has stayed at the Temple here, and Berra is about to be very surprised by how many people know who she is.
“Let’s just count the blessings. More people for the harvest means fewer starving later.”
Berra nods. “Yeah. Sorry, not really thinking about how to put that properly. Wanna go up the last bit?” From there, she lets Varanis take the lead.
It is afternoon of a harvest day in Jonstown. The traders here are those who could not get to the fields. Berra is in the meat market, looking annoyed. “Alright. If we can’t manage a black chicken, then any chicken. I mean, it was it being a chicken that was important, right?”
Varanis looks perplexed. “Being a chicken?!” She gamely listens for the sounds of chicken pens though.
“The sacrifice. What Rajar did.” Berra slumps in place for a moment as if remembering the incident, and the chicken, and Rajar, and the shouting, and the blood.
“Oh! Right, ok.”
There’s a tug on Berra’s left arm.3She probably did well on POWx5.
Berra glances left. “Yeah?” She is interested, rather than worried. Curious.
Berra doesn’t have to look down far to see the gap-toothed child staring up at her. “You want chickens?” A frizzy mop of hair, bright eyes, and a smudge of dirt on one cheek. The child is maybe 6 or 7 years old.
“Yeah. Black one if you got it. Rooster, though. This one’s important.” Berra looks down, but not very far.
“C’mon. M’uncle has chickens. He’s over that way.” He ducks through the crowd with ease.
Varanis looks wary. “How is it a child just appears with exactly what you want when you want it?”
“Either because it’s the Hero Wars and holy things are easy, or more likely because there are not many buyers right now and the families of the merchants have been set to listen.” Nevertheless, Berra goes that way.
She, too, can dodge through tiny gaps in crowds.
Varanis does her best to follow. She’s lean, but her armour makes it difficult to slip between people.
The child pauses now and then to make sure they don’t lose him entirely and before long, they are at a stall with cages of noisy chickens and a man who looks like the epitome of a Sartarite farmer. It’s as if Barntar himself is greeting them with pleasure. He ruffles the child’s hair and earns a cheeky grin.
“They need a black ‘un!” The boy blurts before dashing off again.
“Rooster,” Berra says. “Fighting bird or whatever, I don’t mind.” Berra looks over the chicken choices with the eye of someone who cares little.
The farmer points her to a cage at the back of the booth where one bird stands alone. He’s mottled black and grey, but mostly black. Even his comb and wattle are dark. His beady eyes glare as if he’s plotting how to kill them all.
“Yeah. Good enough. How much?” Anyone who knows Berra will know that there is about to be Humakti Bargaining happening. She is bad at this.
The farmer looks at Berra, then past her at Varanis. He names an outrageous price. 1 Lunar for a chicken.
Berra shrugs, and digs for her money pouch. She asks, “It got a history of fighting?”4Berra knows the price of a chicken and gets a special on Movement. She is fighting this one.
“It’s got a history of killing my other roosters,” he admits. “Good for sacrifice, not so good for breeding or eating.”
“An’ you trained it to what, clear out latrines?” Maybe that is a Sartarite thing. Berra looks serious.
“No training. Seems to just be its nature. You don’t usually think of chickens as predators, but this one…” He begins to regale the Humakti with stories of things it has killed. It ranges from chickens to snakes and even one difficult to believe incident with a fox.
“Nah. What I mean is, at that price something’s taking the piss. And if it ain’t the bird, who is it?” Berra interrupts the man.
Varanis starts to laugh, but smothers it with a cough.
The farmer shrugs. “He’ll either win someone a lot of money fighting or he’ll be a worthy sacrifice. Either way, he’s worth it. But, if that’s too steep for a famous warrior like yer’self, I can give you a discount.”
“It’s too steep for Yinkin racing Orlanth! The right price is a clack, one for the fame, one for the story, and one for another rooster you’re going to sell me because I like this guy.” Berra points to the murder-chicken with a grin.
He shrugs in a way that suggests it was worth a shot. Then he settles into dickering in earnest.5Berra fails Bargain and the merchant passes.
In the end Berra gets two roosters and a cage for the one that cannot be bagged, all for the low price of eight clacks, with a promise of two back if she returns the cage. She orders them delivered to their room, and the cage left there, mind – I ain’t gonna try and catch that…
Then she tells Varanis, “Right. Juniper sticks, and a wooden bowl, and something t’ represent Storm Bull. I cannot kill something that deadly. Not until I decide to. Not just for finding it.”
“Alright, on we go then. Maybe beer for Storm Bull?”
“Mmm. It can’t interfere. Wine, to mix with the blood. Red. There’s anointing and stuff.” Berra thinks. “Yeah, not much blood in a chicken.”
“There was someone back the way we came with wood-turned stuff. Probably a decent bowl there.”
“Uhuh. The wood doesn’t matter, and they have braziers at the Temple, so we don’t need those.” Berra sets her shoulders back, her chin up. “Huh. That guy knew me. Right. Yeah, wine. Juniper. Bowl.” She sets off back towards the wood turner.
“He might have just been trying to flatter you,” Varanis calls after her, struggling to keep up. People give way for the Humakti, but almost seem to close up in her wake.
“Yeah…” Berra slows down a bit. “You kinda gotta twist right in a crowd,” she says. “The fastest path ain’t the straightest.” Like Varanis has never been to Nochet.
“I know how to get through a crowd, Berra,” Varanis objects. “This one is just behaving oddly. Haven’t you noticed?”
“Huh?” Berra looks at Varanis in confusion, but believes her. “How?”
“It’s like they don’t want to touch you. Close enough to see, but not to touch.”6Berra passes Insight, and also Intimidate, given she is scowling at the crowd. Berra turns to scan the crowd, scowling as she concentrates.
Several people are very definitely not looking at Berra. A merchant with an array of luxury oddities much like what Irillo deals in is watching closely, a speculative look in his eyes. There does seem to be a sort of bubble around the Humakti that encompasses Varanis now that they’ve stopped moving.
Berra says, “Oh. It’s me.” She glances around again, and then closes her eyes to take a moment in relaxation. “So the wine, and the bowl. Cheap red. Keep your eyes open.” Then she walks ahead, slow and deliberate, fronting onto the crowd like a bodyguard clearing the path for an important client behind.
That works and Varanis now finds the going easier. If anything, people clear even more space about the diminutive warrior and it’s as though she grows to fill it. Varanis gives people polite (regal?) smiles and glances around at the booths.
“That one looks likely,” she says, pointing to a stall off to the right.
Berra stops moving, but looks no less like she is going to fight the whole crowd if it tries anything. She turns, and even in the movement there is the threat of readiness. She is too poised, too in control of herself. “Yeah, looks good.” And she is back to fluid again to slip up to the stall and look.
The wine on offer is passable. Nothing fancy and Varanis wrinkles her nose at it, but it is fine.
“Can you choose something?” Berra asks Varanis. “It just has to be red and not smell of vinegar.”
The look Varanis gives suggests that none of it meets her standards. The vintner offers her a taste of a couple of different things and in the end, she rejects them all. “We’ll find somewhere else.”
Berra shrugs to the vintner. “I really do not wanna be getting too close to wine,” she tells Varanis. “Seems to be a side-effect of meeting Harrek. Happened last time too.” She grimaces. “But it’s not to be drunk. It’s getting mixed with blood anyhow.”
“That’s fine. We can still find something more worthy of him.” Varanis is insistent and waves Berra further down the market.
Berra smooths herself back into bodyguard mode. “It’ll be the first time I’ve led this. Might as well get it right.”
At the next wine stall, the Vingan is able to find something she deems “good enough”. She bargains for it and hands over money before Berra has a chance to intervene.
Berra does not bother interjecting, but does count out money to replace what Varanis spent. “Juniper. That’s the other market again, I think. We can go past the turner on the way, right?” (edited)
There’s a moment where Varanis looks like she’ll argue about the money, but in the end she lets it slide. “Yes, it was that way.”
“I can probably get it back from his Temple, but there’s a chance I am his Temple.” Berra sees the wood turner, the pole-lathe acting as an advertisement even if he is not currently using it. “I have money right now anyhow. Maybe I can collect among the people I tell.” She shrugs off the future and walks slowly through the crowd.
The crowd continues to give her space and there are surreptitious glances and the occasional outright stare.
The Humakti buys what is needed, and puts the Juniper sticks into water, so they will spit when burned.
As dusk settles, she takes the black fighting bird outside the city and releases it: she does that very carefully, and although it goes for her she has found a tall rock to stand on and it finds itself falling. She tells it, “Sometimes you get lucky. Go bother things, and be free. The first time, we didn’t need a chicken.”
And then she goes to the Temple, to find out that several people are very curious about Lord Eril, who was here a few days ago. Is he really a Hero? Is she a worshipper? What is the thing he offers that others do not?
The service consists mostly of her explaining a lot about her Lord and then the fact he does not have a Wyter yet, and his band is likely to be small but full of those who are worth his time. She is competent at sacrifice, but for all she tries, she is not so good at crowd control.
There is a distant, cold thing that accepts what she gives, but even accounting for the quiet sobriety of the Humakti ceremony, it feels strange. There is nobody else there within the darkness, even though she can feel the heat of bodies.
Afterwards, Berra looks drained and tired, and listens to people about their experiences. She is the only one unmarked in blood. Everyone else has a Rune of Death or Truth on their forehead in clotted wine.
- 1Berra fumbles Insight: Varanis is dead curious, but attempting to hold it back.
- 2GM indicates that Eril has stayed at the Temple here, and Berra is about to be very surprised by how many people know who she is.
- 3She probably did well on POWx5.
- 4Berra knows the price of a chicken and gets a special on Movement. She is fighting this one.
- 5Berra fails Bargain and the merchant passes.
- 6Berra passes Insight, and also Intimidate, given she is scowling at the crowd.