1627, Sea Season
Mellia goes in search of Sosa.
Sosa is in the Shrine, dealing with a spilled sack of beans. The worst possible spillage would have been a jar of honey-maggots, so at least it could be worse.
“Sosa! If I help you clean up, would you please help me with talking to Matila about her son?”
“I’ll help you whether or not you help me,” she says. “But I could do with extra fingers. I’ve got to the layer which hit the dirt.” She is indeed picking up beans a few at a time, to put them into the wide bowl she is using for temporary storage.
Mellia helps clean up the mess.
Sosa is quick, and patient, and then sweeps up the last few into her hand and says, “Those for the pot and these for the pigs. What about her son?”
“Finarvi is the father and a few things need to be settled.”
“Oh, wait, he IS the father? I thought he said he wasn’t.” Sosa looks more surprised than confused.
“No, he is. We need to settle him seeing the child and sending Matila gifts. I don’t know Blue Tree customs about this.”
“Well, what does he want to send her? What is to be settled?” Sosa pulls on a cloak.
“Finarvi doesn’t know what he wants, other than to make Matila happy.”
“Oh by the Imperial Gazelette!” Sosa has a very Orthodox line in swearing. “So he wants to be the father, he wants to… visit the child? Once? Name-father and follow Matila’s choices? She was really upset when he didn’t respond, before.”
“Name-father, I think. He said he would be a poor father. He travels a lot.”
“Well, unless one of them asks the other to marry, that is easy enough. What gifts, though? Does he have a list?” Sosa walks out with Mellia to the Ernaldan Temple, where she puts the last of the beans over a wall into the pig trough there, and scratches the head of the fat pig that comes to nose at them.
“No list. I don’t know if he’ll want to give smith work or horses. Probably the objects.”
“This is all a bit strange,” Sosa says. “Does he want to give gifts just once? Or is he committing to support?”
“Maybe we’d better ask Finarvi that. He didn’t give me clear instructions.”
“Yes. We need to know that. Normally he declares himself by sending back the cup she sent him, if he agrees to be named as the father. If he wants to show off what he can provide, he’ll put a bit of that in there. That way, everyone knows what to expect. He can even send it back empty, which is what he might be after. But he didn’t send hers back. She was upset for weeks.” Sosa brushes off her hands. “And we need to find one of her friends to talk to, not her directly.”
“Oh no. I have no idea who Matila’s friends are.”
“I do,” Sosa says kindly. “We’ll walk out to the herd.”
Mellia follows along.
It takes about half an hour to find a young woman who is not Matila, who has everything explained to her, and asks, “Well, why didn’t he send the cup?”
Sosa explains to Mellia, “Maybe you would not know in Esrolia, but the Grazelands are closer. Matila sent a cup to Finarvi to let him know he was a father, but he never sent it back. We… we wonder if perhaps you could ask him whether that was a mistake?” Kind soul that she is, she seldom says outright that people were wrong.
“And I’ll talk a bit more with Belerra here.”
“I will go ask him, but I am sure it was a mistake.”
Mellia leaves to go ask Finarvi about that. She tries the long hall first.
Venlar is in the long hall, plying Finarvi with alcohol. The heady odour of pear cider surrounds them. Venlar is trying to teach Finarvi to hit a note. “Perhaps… with a little less of the drone to it?” There are several young men drinking around them, keeping them company.
Mellia says,”Hello, Finarvi. Did you receive a cup from Matila?”
Venlar sits back, with a slightly exaggerated movement as he tries to look sober.
Finarvi gives her a long, blankly puzzled stare. “No, I haven’t had anything from Matila. A cup? Wait…”
His brow furrows in concentration. “A wooden cup, maybe? With an air rune carved inside it? I have seen… I think… Maybe?” He’s clearly trying to shake off the pernicious effects of the perry, and failing.
“Orlanth’s blue balls,” Venlar mutters. It might be surprising to Mellia at least to hear Venlar swear. Finarvi would have no basis for comparison. Then, louder, “You lost the cup?”
“No, I think I put it in my pack. I don’t remember who gave it to me, but it wasn’t Matila.” He sounds a bit more certain.
“It doesn’t matter who. Because you ask them. Who. If you care. And then you give it back to them. If you want to be named. Oh.. Air-sprites take me now… It’s how we send that message!” Venlar looks astounded, although there is a slightly dangerous burp from him too.
Finarvi looks like he wants to snarl. He closes his eyes and presses three fingers to the rune at the base of his throat, mastering himself. “Not a custom I am familiar with,” he says with feigned calm. “Where I come from, we talk to each other. With words.”
Venlar considers, and then tops up Finarvi’s cup. “Right. Drink that. Then go get it.”
Finarvi looks at the drink, thinks better of it and pushes himself to his feet. “Excuse me,” he says to Mellia. “I’ll be back directly.” He heads out of the longhouse, only a little unsteady.
Venlar says, “Don’t rush away with it directly,” to Mellia. “He needs to add things to it, like maybe an explanation. I can compose that for him, and send it.”
At length Finarvi returns, carrying his backpack. He sets it on the floor and starts rummaging. He finds the cup wrapped in a scrap of faded blue cloth, draws it out and unwraps it carefully. He sets it on the table in front of Mellia and Venlar and regards it gravely.
“Is it possible for me to fix this?” he asks them. “Tell me truthfully. I can’t call this arrow back once it’s loosed.”
“Fix what? Oh, of course.” Venlar smiles. “This is an Orlanthi strength. My god is very good at messing up, and always takes responsibility and makes this better again. Things better again. I am drunk. But I’ve composed you a poem.”
Finarvi looks hopeful but also a little bit dubious.
“You think about what you can afford to give the child in future. If you will gift horses, you put leather into the cup. If you will give money, you put money in. It’s not binding in law, but it is in precedent. And then you send Mellia to give it to her.” Venlar takes a sip directly from the water jug, and then gives Finarvi a look with a secret smile in it.
Finarvi regards his pack. He has no horses to give, and only a little money. He’s sunk most of his funds into a trading venture that might come to nothing. He places a few lunars into the cup, and feeling this is inadequate, goes back into his pack. A little more searching and he finds what he is looking for, a bronze brooch polished to a high shine. The golden horse at its centre gleams, stretched in a flying gallop.
He turns to Mellia. “If it is fitting, do you think I could give this to Matila? To show I regret the hurt my ignorance must have caused.”
Suddenly, and with a surprising crash, Venlar drops the jug he was holding. It hits the hot rock he was using earlier for his hands, and breaks, and for a moment the longhouse is silent.
And he is Orlanthi. He stands, and begins to sing. For a moment, everyone just watches, getting up to speed with events, and then they realise this is a performance, and attempt to pay attention.
Mellia was about to answer when Venlar began to sing. She nods frantically.
The young man begins with an appeal to those who are here to listen, and he names them, their deeds tripping off his tongue as if he has known them forever. It is a formal style, and to those who know about Heortling music, it is an obvious, arrogant attempt to start a new epic right then and there. And it works. From the moment that the names start being sung as if they are already famous, the audience is listening, and by the time they are finished many people are pleased to be named in that wise company.1Critical for the composition, Air-inspired pass for the performance.
Then he starts telling the story, a very simple allegory, of a young horseman who rides by a blue-leaved tree, and how, it being beautiful to him, he camps there, and dances in its praise, and offers it wine. Soon it is obvious to Mellia and Finarvi, at least, that he did not have time to make all this up. He is extemporising in song. To those who know how to understand human emotions? Mostly, the audience has pride. Their tree is special, and this is a thing that they know deep down.
Mellia smiles and prays that Venlar can pull this off. She is not too worried.
From the wine, and her joy, the tree makes a special fruit to plant, but the young man does not understand, and puts it in the shade of her branches, and kisses her goodbye. Winter falls over the tree, and the cold of a frozen river embraces her.
Just as the audience is at the point of sadness, the horseman returns, with spring, and the marks of new knowledge tattooed on him. Unable to plant the fruit, because of a geas, he nevertheless puts it on the ground, and his new dance is around them both.
Venlar sings for long enough that Yelm has slipped down from low to dying. He ends with formal thanks for those who were present, to people who have forgotten to feed the fire as they listened.
People remember themselves. Dogva calls Venlar forward to embrace him, and a lot of people suddenly start explaining to each other what that was about. Venlar gets given a new cloak, something to keep him warm on cold nights. He looks like he has never been so pleased by a gift of shaggy horse fur.
Mellia comes over to admire the new cloak.
Venlar looks pleased and proud and happy and excited, as any Orlanthi should. The cloak looks warm, if a little rough next to his usual clothing.
“Wonderful, my clever love!” Mellia says to Venlar.
Venlar looks to her. “Now you take the cup and go explain to Matila. Maybe with her friends. I don’t know. That would be woman-things.” He goes over to speak to Finarvi again as one of the villagers begs Dogva for the use of the harp.
Mellia nods, takes the cup and goes looking for Sosa and Matila’s friends.
Finarvi makes sure she has the brooch to give too. Clearly, the Blue Tree custom is to use proxies for such things.
The harp goes straight to the man who asked for it, who plays to the tune that Venlar used, developing the story further in music, and then singing the highlights of the story as well. Venlar, looking tired out by the performance, sits on his stool and just watches, staring blankly into the longhouse.
- 1Critical for the composition, Air-inspired pass for the performance.