Berra — Writ In Water
????, Earth Season, Movement Week
Earth Season, Movement Week, Freezeday Eve. Berra went to the warehouse where Lenta was found, to see who might turn up. She let Kesten Hulta know, and Xenofos has found out, and come in case there is bloodshed. [[[s02:session-16|Session 16]]]
“It’s a big bar,” [the lantern bearer] says after trying to get a knife through. Then Berra’s voice calls, “Who?” from some distance within.
“It is I, Xenofos.”
There is a short pause, and then the sound of a horse and a bison being led away inside. One set of clops, one of clunks. “We should have some kind of password for this sort of thing,” Berra says through the door, then the bar is lifted, and the door swings open slightly. “Come in. Bring your horse. There’s room. The place got cleaned out.” She keeps the bar over her shoulder rather than putting it down and having to lift it again.
Xenofos leads his horse in followed by the servant and his horse.
“Oh good. You have a lantern.” There is a light dimly burning, but it looks like the sort of oil lamp that comes with a block of solid tallow, and the light it casts is just enough to see the tinder and bow-drill that put effort into lighting it, and to make the internal part of the warehouse loom blackly. Berra shoulders the bar back on.
“All the barrels and boxes. Gone. Probably needed… well, I don’t want to think about it, because I don’t want to get the wrong sort of thinking into my head. I had to do that for the past couple’f days and I hate it.” Berra goes to pack away the things around her travel lamp. “Do you want to help me get a body out of the water?”
“Whose? By Ernalda, not Kesten?”
“Not that I know of. I think it’s the man Varanis killed earlier. If Kesten got here, it would have been pretty fast, to be honest.” Berra nods to the ladder. “I’ve got him tied on so the tide won’t take him away, but I couldn’t get him out. The Blue Moon must have risen.” Notably, she seems to have no worries at all about Xenofos arriving after dark.
Xenofos shudders a bit, removes his shield from his back and looks down the ladder.
There is a rope, and a shape below the water. “We don’t have to,” Berra says. “But if you’ve got ropes, I was going to lay him out and send his spirit on. And then I’ll have to get Irillo’s sword.”
It is about five feet from the top of the ladder to the water’s dark surface.
“I set out to witness a duel, not climb or tame horses. What about the lift ropes in the upper floors?”
“All taken. Everything. Who’s duelling?”
“From what Yamia told me I was afraid you might.”
“Uh… Who with?” Berra looks puzzled, in her lamp’s dim light. Once her fire-making equipment is away, she puts out the lamp, and walks towards Xenofos and his lantern, unafraid in the dark.
“Kesten. I did not believe you were calling him out, but I did not rule out possibility of bloodshed if you two meet to talk.”
“Uhhh.” The quiet footsteps stop. Berra takes a moment. “That’s not polite, Xenofos.” Her tone is hurt.
“You apologized so I did not believe you were calling him out. But I did not hear Kesten accept it. And since the apology at that time is something I have hard time imagining any Esrolian gentleman presenting I have hard time guessing what Kesten makes of it.”
“And which of us did you think would draw on a fellow Humakti first?” She is still not coming closer. The light of the lantern is just enough that the shine of her armour can be seen, but Berra’s face is in darkness.
Xenofos pauses for a moment. “You are like serpent and strike without warning if you think occasion warrants it. But you offered apology and you do not lie. You would not. But – you provoked Kesten to very curious anger once already without understanding how or why – so I could see him drawing blade in anger.”
“No. He wouldn’t. And … well, never mind. Leave it.” She is detouring to her animals. “If I get the body up to the surface, then we can loop the rope around him, and with someone at the top, maybe we can get him out. And the ladder goes down that far, I think.”
“Berra. I did not think you called him out to fight. But until that apology has been accepted by the other party, the duel is by custom on. And by custom seconds do the talking so there are no tempers lost. I am sorry if I hurt your feelings.”
“In Sartar, we don’t do this sort of thing,” Berra says evenly. “We sort it out, or we don’t. There’s not all this waiting and fussing. When did you last eat? And did you bring any water?”
“I had a bit of something after coming to palazzo.”
“Alright. Water? I thought my bottle would still be here, but I can’t find it. It didn’t have much in, but I don’t have another. I don’t want to eat unless I can drink.” She is closer to the lantern now she has reached her animals, and it can be seen as well as heard that she is shedding her armour.
“No.” Xenofos shakes his head.
“Sloppy. Both of us. But they took that too, and it was covered in poppy vomit. Or else they kicked it into the water and the sea took it. If I rub tallow on my lips, do you think that will stop me tasting all the salt?”
Xenofos looks a bit confused. “The water is not that salty in here.”
“Oh, good point. I wouldn’t want to drink it, but it’s mostly marsh, isn’t it? So that shouldn’t be too bad.” Berra shrugs off her scale coat, which slithers to the floor.
A moment later she mutters a spell that is probably for the detection of enemies, and sighs. “Spirit isn’t with me right now. But I can’t hear anyone, and the horses are not scared.”
On further thought Xenofos removes his swordbelt and places it close to the top of the ladder before descending.
“The bottom looks pretty muddy? Irillo’s sword can be almost impossible to find.”
“I know where it is. I can see through the water. I’m not worried about the sword, but I don’t want the crabs finding the body.” Berra comes closer, padding on bare feet, and holding her sword and belt. She is stripped down to underwear, rolling out her shoulders as she gets ready. “He was already bleeding. On that subject, don’t go upstairs. If we get alynxes in, or Zinat, we don’t want to mess with the trail. And if there is a chance Kes… Lord Kesten could follow it. If they trod in blood.” She sounds calm, almost unnaturally so.
Xenofos nods at the advice and looks at the black water with suspicion.
“I don’t have much magic in me, but enough that I could see through it if I have to. I think they put stones in his clothes, so I’ll try to clear those. If I’m under and bubbles start coming up, come and get me.” Berra offers over Wind Tooth.
“Bring the lantern closer!” Xenofos takes the sword with two hands. And again he nods at the advice.
Berra presses her fingertips to the Movement Rune on her sternum as she starts to take a few deep breaths. She goes down the ladder to the water, and then carefully tests the rope. “This was strong enough to get him here, from further down, but I didn’t want to lift him. The mud’s deeper at this end, and even that was making me worried it would break.” Then there are a few more deep breaths, and she gives Xenofos a nod.
Xenofos puts the other sword beside his own and descends the ladder to the waterline.
“You don’t need to do anything for a while,” Berra says. “Stay dry, and stay on guard. I’ll clear him, then we can lift him together. Look after my sword.” She leans back to look.
Xenofos nods again and climbs back up.
Berra has disappeared below the surface of the water by the time he is at the top. A pale blur descending, moving a little, and then after about half a minute rising. Berra breaks the surface of the water and takes an immediate loud, deep breath.
“How is it going?”
“They took his belt, but I think they tied his tunic closed, and put weights in it. I can feel cords. I can probably cut those – it would be easiest.” Berra keeps an arm hooked around the ladder. “Dark down there, but I don’t want to use all my magic. Can you get me a knife? There’s one on my belt. A flint one.”
A bronze dagger is offered from Xenofos’ belt. “You prefer the flint one?”
Berra tests the edge and the handle, and says, “This will do.” She starts breathing deeply again.
“Be careful, they might have left some unfriendly surprises.”
“Yeah. I checked with my fingertips. I couldn’t find any of those round things I think had fire in. I think that was what got used in the boat.” Her words come in short bursts, timed to her breathing. “I’ll do that again, as I go. I’m most worried about sleeve knifes and accidents.” And then she slips under the water again.
Xenofos paces restlessly at the pier.
Berra goes down into the murky waters a couple more times before she hands the knife back, and says, “I’m going to pull his weight towards the edge now, so I can get his feet up. He’s tied on by an ankle. Once I have a bit more to work with, I’ll tie him on by both, you can slowly pull, and I’ll support him. You only have to get wet if the rope breaks, but two people on the ladder, plus a body, would be a lot.” She does not even think of suggesting the servant be put to work, it seems. The calm, even temper has stayed with her all along.
Even then, Berra takes care. Once the body is ready to pull up, she dictates it should be brought up to the surface, where the rope can be re-fastened so that it now runs threefold. She stays in the water right up until that point, and then asks, “Do you have anything more to add?” Now it is clear that the rope is a jury rig of shield straps, bison lead, saddle bands, and other parts, sewn and tied together. The part that is hooked around one ankle looks complicated, and the other is just the loop that she has made to secure the second foot.
“Bring the harness of your horse. How much more do you need?” Servant gets instruction, Berra the question.
“I don’t know. If it breaks, we can always try again, but I’d have to use my clothes. I’ll fasten what more you have, then we can pull together. If we can get his knees over, we can hold him there, but that’ll be the whole weight on the rope.” In the lantern light, Berra looks very serious as she looks up at Xenofos.
“Show light, Valinos.” Xenofos orders.
Berra adds to the ropes on her way up, and then says, “Right. Up until his knees are over, then I’ll get back onto the ladder and.. how would this work? Yeah, then we just grab his ankles and lift and drag.” She takes a deep breath. “But I need to ….” She looks at her hands, wrinkled and soft. “I’ll need to have a loop to hang onto.” She points to one of the best bits of rope to grab. “Can you find somewhere?”
“Give us two ropes so the load will distribute evenly? If we get him high enough we can use the ladder to support him, maybe by knees?”
Berra understands the mess she has managed to make into a mostly-coherent piece of rope, and gets Valinos to add the secondary part. There were fifteen feet of rope, and now it runs to the dead man three times, five feet long. “If he catches on the ladder, lower a bit, and then hook around the riser,” she says.
As it happens, there is no need. The dead man comes up easily enough, and with the rope made safe he can be caught hold of and hauled onto the warehouse floor. It is not, perhaps to everyone’s relief, Kesten. The broken jaw and missing teeth of Varanis’ victim yawn upwards.
Xenofos closes the eyes of the man.
Berra lets out a slow, exhausted breath. “I’ll put him to rest in a moment,” she says. “I need to dry off, so I can prepare myself right.”
“Do you have a cloak?”
“Uh, yes. Not a woven one, though. I can use my padding.” She flexes, and the moment of tiredness seems to pass from her, and she picks up her sword, and goes to find her armour.
“There is one behind my saddle if you don’t wish to wear soggy padding.”
“Thanks. I’ll…” There is a moment’s pause during which she makes up her mind. “Thank you. Do you want the inside or the outside to get wet?” Berra has to hold up the cloak above shoulder level to work out which way out it goes.
“Outside, if I need it later, but there was just mist, no rain earlier and the way to the palazzo is short. If we get through the gate that is.”
Berra makes sure to keep the expensive, decorated ties dry. “Thank you,” she says once she is briefly wrapped in it, taking a moment’s break before finding her clothes. “It’s warm.”