Maalira — Breaking Heart
1627, Dark Season
The very start of Dark Season. [[[s02:session-55|Session 55]]]
Spoilery for emotion
Berra gets up, suddenly looking tired and drained. “We want to go left across the tributary,” she says. “There’s a bridge.” She tugs Followed along, this time holding on properly.
Maalira scrambles to her feet, following after Berra. “I would like to see more of the city, one day, when we have more time,” she prompts.
“You’re coming back after the winter is over,” Berra says. “Sea Season’s wet, obviously, but the spring grass is in. It’s best in Fire Season, I think – the light does justice to it.”
“I’d love for you to show me around then.”
“Sure.” Berra points to the bridge. When all the fight goes out of her, she seems smaller than she even is.
The bridge is wooden, and large enough for bison to walk on. To their left as they approach it is the Y-shaped bulk of the Library, house of Lhankor Mhy. To the right and almost facing them as they cross, is the Sword Temple.
Maalira takes in the buildings, and also looks over the side, enjoying the sight of the rippling little tributary, not so common in Prax.
Berra detours around the Temple, to the north-east, where there is indeed a food seller. Even before the evening rush, he and a little cart full of pots have a small queue, but he gestures the white lady and the Humakti to the front of the queue. Nobody argues.
Maalira nods gratefully at the food seller, acknowledging the honour he is showing them.
“Two,” Berra says. “One yes, one no.” The man nods after he works that out, and asks only, “Which is which?” Berra points to Maalira.
“Yes, but…” He gives Maalira a look. “Berra hasn’t explained. You want bread with vegetables. What do you want in it?”
Maalira looks a little confused. “I am not permitted to eat meat,” she says. “I have never found a vegetable I did not like, though.”
“It’s the bread that has the vegetables in,” Berra says. “You want mushrooms, onions, he sometimes has pepper…” She trails off, but the man with the pots names their contents. “Spiced onion and garlic, chickpea paste, mushrooms, parsnip mash…”
After he has finished Berra says, “Plain bread for me. Paste and mushrooms, and if you’ve got sliced olives them. Otherwise the apple sauce. And the sausage.”
“Ahh. Yes, please – mushrooms, onions, pepper, parsnips, and apple sauce please.”
Maalira gives Berra a sidelong grin. “Between the two of us, we just about eat a balanced diet.”
The bread gets split open, and inside is soft and puffy, so the sauce goes on first. Food is layered on, the bread is put back down, and Berra says, “If you’re the other part of me, you need to never eat spiced sauce again. All of them without vegetables. Basically, never eat a hot pepper, and we’ll do fine.”
The Humakti is finally cheering up. Or swiftly cheering up, considering how broken she was a short walk ago.
Maalira gives a mock pout. “Perhaps we can share pepper,” she says.
Berra grimaces. “Maybe. If there’s enough. I mean, I eat a lot of it.”
Maalira grins and rolls her eyes a little. “Fine. You can have all the pepper, so I’m the proper other half of y-.” Maalira snaps her mouth closed, eyes wide and cheeks once again going bright red.
“It works that way,” Berra says with a nod, and has somehow missed out on the blushing. She digs in a pouch to get some coins and pay. “I liked the vegetable one a lot more. I think I’m glad I had it.” When she comes to try to pull Followed along, one-handed, the bison just stays in the way of the queue.1Passed Scan, failed Insight (Human) there. Well done Berra.
Maalira turns to look at the bison. “Is there a problem with Followed?”
“Just stubborn,” Berra says. “She knows I’ve only got one hand free.”
The man behind the serving cart pulls it around a little to be able to face new customers, disturbing the queue but at least getting to talk to the next in line.
“Would it help if we both led her?” Maalira offers.
“Maybe?” Berra moves over a bit to make room.
Maalira moves closer and places her hand on the rein next to Berra’s, giving it a gentle tug.
Maybe it is the gentleness. Maybe it is some kind of animal attraction. In either case, Followed does as she is asked, rather than doing what she was told.
“Having an entirely lifetime of practice probably helps,” Berra admits.
Maalira shrugs. “It’s like with little kids, sometimes the surprise of being asked by someone else is all it takes!”
“I think that’s why Haran likes me. I’m different.” Berra lets go of the reins, and with her bread held in one hand, takes hold of Followed’s mane and leaps, jumping over to get to the other side. A moment later she has swapped hands so she can hold the bread and also hook her hand into the reins. They run to a nose ring, as well as having a strap to help turn the head by pressure rather than pulling. Bison are notoriously hard to steer.
Maalira gives a startled laugh at Berra’s manoeuvre.
“Where are we leading her to, anyway?”
Followed entirely fails to bolt.
“Just back to the Temple, although we’ll go a long way around so we have room to eat. I should let my Sword Lord know I’m back, and the High Sword will probably want to know I haven’t embarrassed him in public or anything.” Berra looks entirely unembarrassed.
“You would never do that, of course.” Maalira’s tone is teasing.
“Um… how much related to the Truth Rune do you feel right now?” Berra engulfs her food as she eats.
“Far, far too close,” murmurs Maalira cryptically
“Well. I don’t do it on purpose. But I do argue with him when I think he needs it. And it’s just possible that I’m going to turn up covered in spiced apple sauce, at his temple, but that’s beneath his notice anyhow.” Berra winces. “Except that I’m a senior initiate so maybe he’ll find time to be irritated.”
“You’d best eat carefully then.” Maalira grins wickedly. “Or I’ll grab a cloth and wipe sauce off your front before you go in to the temple, as though you were Haran’s age.”
“I can probably take the armour off it I have to,” Berra says. “I’m pretty sure nobody would try to assassinate a White Lady in my company.” Despite her words she is managing to keep clear of sauce – so far.
Maalira takes a bite of her own food, swallows, and takes a deep breath. “Berra, I wanted to come and say goodbye to you properly, because I will miss you, in particular.” It is an awkward thing to say around a bison.
Berra takes a step or two a little faster, and turns to walk backwards. “Yeah. I like hanging around you too,” she says. At least this way she is visible, even if she is having to glance over her shoulder from time to time.
Maalira gives a slightly shaky laugh, and turns to look at the bison. “Well, Followed, I know she doesn’t think I’m a danger. She notices danger,” she mutters into the mane.
“Um. Oh.” Berra looks at the food in her hand and back up at Maalira. “When you put it like that…”
“I like you.” Maalira’s words tumble out, almost tripping over each other.
“Like, like me-like me….” Berra cannot always grammar good. “Shit. I’m sorry.”
Maalira has started giggling. “Yes, Berra. Like, like-you like-you.”
“Well. Sorry. It’s been a while since people made passes at me. Death God, you see.” She looks somewhere between yearning and sympathetic.
Maalira blinks. “That bothers people?”
“It… means that I need to cut myself off from this kind of emotion. I feel it. But… if I act on it, I’d not be able to judge Death right.” Berra blinks a couple of times, waits for the next sally.
“Oh.” Maalira bites her lip. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah… Me too. I mean, that I can’t give you a proper answer.” Berra shrugs, looks down. Followed looks up at her, which is perhaps the least romantic thing to see at such a moment.
“It’s okay.” Maalira’s smile is a little twisted, but her tone is gentle. “It’s better to know where things stand, as they are.”
Berra nods. “Yeah. Thank you for the ear-hat. It’s good.” There’s a smile from her as well, a little sad but with happiness mixed in it. “And you’re good to have around. You really are. I like your company.”
“Thank you. You are too.” Maalira’s voice cracks a little, just the hint of a sob in it.
Berra holds up her hand. “Wait a sec.” She looks for someone to put her bread, and fixes on the helmet that hangs on the saddle. This may later have hilarious consequences. However, that leaves her with a spare hand, and she is over by Maalira. She puts it on the White Lady’s shoulder. “Someone like you will always give their heart,” she says. “You’ve got a lot to give.”
“It gets me into trouble,” Maalira is half-laughing, half-sobbing.
“Oh. That’s why we get along.” Berra goes for the hug. “You’ll live. We both will.”
Maalira hugs her back, trying not to sniff in Berra’s ear. “Yes, we will,” she murmurs.2This may or may not have added apple sauce to Berra.
Berra gives spiky, armoured hugs. “I’ll be here when you get back. And I’ll try not to get sent away.” Two things that are mostly the same thing.
“You had better.” Maalira dashes at her face with her hand, wiping away a couple of stray tears. “Ugh I need to get these to stop before I get back. If Rajar figures out why I’m sniffling I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“Tell him to come and take it up with me, and the entire Temple. I mean, if he does it’ll at least be interesting.” Berra does not wipe away Maalira’s tears. She is not that sort, perhaps. “It’s a bit dark to go up to the Ramp now. You won’t get there before the view fades. You could probably go to your Temple, though – it’ll be warm there.”
“Ohh no, I am not pitting you and Rajar against each other. Apart from anything else, Varanis would eat me alive if I did.”
Berra says, “Rajar wins, most of the time. But if it’s honourable combat, I do. He wouldn’t hesitate to stop me without warning, though. Storm Bulls are reliable like that at least.” She knows that one already.
“Anyway, I’m not going to do that,” Maalira says firmly. She looks around at the fading light. “I should probably head back to the inn, I guess.”
“But first he’d have to get over the walls, and he’s pretty fat,” Berra says without remorse. “You know how to get there?”
“I think so,” Maalira says. “I can retrace my steps, anyway.”
“It’s called the White Grape,” Berra says. “Just east of the palace.” She points up to the golden flame that burns on the cliffside, lighting up the grand building above. Although the details of the palace are hard to make out from here, the flame is a constant in the city.
“That’s hard to miss,” Maalira says, smiling. “I’ll keep my eye on it.” She looks Berra in the eyes.
“Don’t forget…” she pauses… “…that your food is in your helmet.”
Berra says, “I’ve been a soldier for a lot of my life. I don’t usually forget where I put food. It’s surprising I didn’t put it all into my mouth but I’d still be chewing.” She leans over to get Followed moving, and grabs the bread as she gets vertical again. The bison begins to plod onward.
Maalira stays where she is. “See you soon,” she calls after Berra.
Berra lifts up a hand in greeting, but she does not look back. She just urges Followed onward, swiftly vanishing around a corner towards the Temple.
Maalira sighs deeply, uses the edge of her cloak to dry her face, tries briefly to tame her hair before giving up, and turns and heads back towards the inn.
Maalira and Berra get food and That Talk
- 1Passed Scan, failed Insight (Human) there. Well done Berra.
- 2This may or may not have added apple sauce to Berra.