Maalira — Family Affairs
1627, Earth Season
Late in Earth Season, after the cliff-climbing day is over. [[[s02:session-54|Session 54]]]
Berra is, it seems, in awe of the hair. “That must be hell to keep sometimes.”
“Just sometimes?” Maalira grins. “It’s well enough if I can keep sweet oils on it, but that takes time and is fiddly. It’s easier sometimes to just let it do as it pleases.”
Mellia enters the hall, wrapped in a cloak.
“I kind of regret where this tattoo is,” Berra says, indicating the eyes and lines on the side of her scalp with a head tilt and an attempt to look back at them. “Is it disrespectful to pass a razor over them?”
“I couldn’t tell you either way,” Maalira says cautiously. “I’ve never heard of such a thing being disrespectful, but it is not my area of knowing.”
Venlar has not followed Mellia. There are a few chuckles from those who know them and have noticed. Berra lifts a hand in greeting to Mellia.
Mellia unwrapped herself a little and walked over to Berra and Maalira. “Hello! It is cold out.”
“Hello!” Maalira returns the greeting. “Is it still raining?”
Mellia says, “Yes, but not too much.”
“Sartar. Orlanth loves his Ernalda.” Berra smiles. “A lot.”
Outside there is a sudden buffet of rain. The shutters on the windows stay open. Berra gives Mellia a look. “Have you ever had a Sartar winter before? I mean, up where it snows proper?”
“I don’t think I have been north of Alda-Chur.”
“It’s not as far here, but it’s higher, or it feels higher. The snow really likes to stick. You’re going to be stuck inside a lot.” Berra bounces on the balls of her feet as if she means to be outside anyhow.
Mellia sighs. “The plan was to spend the winter with Venlar’s family. Thanks to my relatives, we can’t do that.”
Maalira raises an eyebrow, wondering at the issue
Berra looks sympathetic. “That’s awkward.” To Maalira she explains, “Venlar’s father is a proper sort of chief – he fought against Fazzur for years.” Fazzur being the Governor General of Sartar some years back, and a name famed where stories of generals are told. She leaves Mellia to tell the rest.
Mellia says, “One of my cousins married Fazzur. That makes me related to him. There’s a lot of bad blood between Venlar’s family and Fazzur.”
“He arranged for one of my cousins to be sent to a penal colony too,” says Berra chirpily.1This may be entirely wrong. “Which is how I found out about penal colonies. And everyone knows a…” She manages to shut herself up.
“We got kicked out of Venlar’s family when we got married. We all love each other, but Venlar’s family refused to be tied to Fazzur.”
“Not quite exiled,” Berra supplies. “But they stole away at night, so they didn’t seal a marriage treaty. Other people had to marry to do that.”
Mellia grumbles,”We worked for weeks on that wedding. Now my Sartar wedding is ruined too.”
“I see,” Maalira says. “Families and politics don’t mix well.”
Mellia says, “Don’t let my family hear that.”
“Families are politics,” Berra opines. “Some, anyhow. Both, for Mellia.”
Mellia says,”That’s why I left Nochet.”
Maalira nods understanding. “My own family seems mercifully uncomplicated by comparison.”
“Yehna can cook,” Berra says thoughfully. “Under-rated by warriors until we’re hungry.”
Berra gives Mellia a happy look. “I haven’t tasted onions in a year. She ground up onion seeds for dumplings.”
“Oooh.” Mellia says.
“They sound delicious,” Maalira adds.
“I finished that stew before you arrived,” Berra admits to Maalira. “And then we ate too. And now I’m too full. I am bad at separation sometimes.”
“I… hadn’t noticed,” Maalira lies with a hint of amusement.
Mellia comments, “It’s a good day for a nap.”
Berra looks at Maalira and seems to take that at face value. “It comes and goes. But I like new things. I like to see new things and take new chances, and then I forget what things are like and try them again, or Yehna cooks something new.”
Maalira smiles at Berra’s erratic explanation. “Yehna sounds like a good sister.”
“Yehna’s a treasure.”
“She grew up in a house – well, we both did – but with lots of people that were our cousins, one way or another. So we ended up with me getting out and her loving everyone. It works pretty well.” Berra nods wisely.
Mellia says,”Before I forget, Berra, what did you and Lenta say to each other? Now Lenta is being snippy to Varanis and Varanis wants me to talk to Lenta.”
Berra looks at Mellia, and then sighs deeply. “If you can talk to her without mentioning me, that’ll probably be better?” she suggests. “It wasn’t her fault.”
Mellia looks puzzled.
“As a Humakti, I have to look after the people I travel with,” Berra says. “So I kind of need to know what her home situation is or isn’t. But she doesn’t want to say, and I asked badly, at a bad time, when I’d just already put my boot in my mouth and started chewing.” Aah, tradetalk, with its colourful little fillips. ‘was bankrupt in conversation and then went into debt’ has many colloquial conversations. ‘in a pit and kept digging’ for example. Berra looks like she knows she did most of them. “So… she doesn’t want to talk, and if you go in saying about what I was saying then it’ll get worse.”
Maalira fidgets her feet, perhaps because she is trying to resist taking a physical step back from the ongoing wrangle.
Mellia looks thoughtful. “I would guess that House Hulta will ransom Lenta. She could not raise an army without some sort of support.”
“No. She did. Kind of. It… she’s not a prisoner. That’s not how ransom works. But she might be in danger from them and I just don’t know.” Berra sighs. “Anyhow, I saw Lenta earlier and I think people should just be nice to her for a bit.”
Mellia groans. “Lenta raised an army without the consent of her House? I suddenly understand your concern.”
“And it was full of… well, you saw it. They are going back alive with a victory so if it goes really badly we get more next year to look after, and the parents get angry.”
Mellia looks like she wants to explode. “The best we can hope for is that we get the problem children. If I did that, Grandmother Saiciae would have me assassinated.”
From not too far away, Varanis speaks up. “No she wouldn’t, Mellia. You’re a White Lady. Me, on the other hand…”
The said Hulta is in other end of the hall out of earshot, wrapped in her cloak, with only toes and face peeking out.
Varanis joins the little group, turning the triangle into a square. She looks at Berra for a long moment, but doesn’t say anything further.
Maalira looks between all of the faces with an expression of faint panic, her hair almost seeming to twist further in response to her worry
“Hey-up,” Berra says to Varanis. There is a smile, a peaceful one.
“Relax, Maalira. To be fair, our Grandmother is highly unlikely to send assassins for me. If she decides I’ve crossed a line, she’d execute me herself or have Serzeen do it.” Varanis shrugs, as if to say *it’s the way of things*. To Berra, she offers a murmured greeting and something akin to a smile.
“That was… not reassuring,” Maalira mutters.
Mellia says, “Grandmother still wants you on the throne, Varanis.”
“Grandmother doesn’t always get what she wants. But I think she wants stability.” Berra gives Maalira a grin.
“Yes, but I’ve not exactly been cooperative on that front, have I?” Varanis says at the same time.
Berra might have heard as well as talking, because her smile turns into a chuckle.
Mellia says to Varanis, “You are safe until you are an aunt.”
“I already am. Mirava has two girls from her first husband. Both have likely initiated or will do soon.”
“Congratulations,” says Mellia, and then, “Don’t worry until she gives Fazzur children.”
“She’s old!” Varanis objects. “And he’s older.”
“Yeah, they’ll use magic for that,” Berra says. “But if he tries, Sartar already hates him.”
Apparently there is a lot of politics floating about, now Varanis has arrived.
Maalira keeps her eyes on Berra, taking her cues about whether to be concerned from her.
Berra has the excited look of someone who knows she will be invited to the next war, which may not be what Maalira is after, but is certainly a cue, and also a hint of what Maalira might do in future.
Mellia says to Maalira, “All we have to do is keep children who play in the rain healthy.”
Varanis directs a look of suspicion at her cousin. “Children?”
Mellia waves a hand at the children in the hall. “Them. Ernalda will bless me if She wills.”
Berra stage-whispers to Maalira, “Venlar needs to work harder, then.”
A number of emotions cross the Vingan’s face, ranging from defensive relief that Mellia hadn’t been referring to her as a child, to amusement at the antics of the children in the hall, and disappointment for Mellia and Venlar. “Well, I should go talk to Arianatha,” she says. “I promised to help at the shrine today.”
Mellia nods. “You should do that,” Mellia says to Varanis.
Mellia adds, “I should do my rounds soon.”
Berra says, “I feel a bit hungry,” and her attention slowly moves to a fireplace where cooking is happening.
“Didn’t you just say you were full?” Maalira asks.
“Mmm?” Berra side-eyes, points to the food, and gives Maalira big ox-eyes.
Mellia smiles at Berra, shakes her head and heads out.
Maalira laughs, seeming to relax, and nods at Berra. “Come on then, I could also do with a meal.”
Berra looks around, checks what is going on, and goes to make something like the big-eyed expression at the woman cooking. Then on finding out there are vegetables in the mixture being fried, she just asks for bread, and a bowl for Maalira.
Maalira in turn checks that there is no meat in the mixture before accepting a bowl.
It is a mix of stale bread soaked with herbs and nuts, for some hours, and then fried in small flattened nuggets, to be wrapped and eaten in the hands. Not many people are eating yet, but Maalira is handed a bowl with several of the fried pieces already on bread, and Berra is told to help herself to bread, but not too much. The Humakti settles down cross-legged, not yet grabbing any from the pile of flat frybread. She wriggles to get comfortable, and then settles down into a lotus position, back straight, very still.
Maalira looks at her curiously, but decides that Berra’s stance is one of someone who shouldn’t be disturbed She breaks off a small piece of the bread in her bowl and pops it in her mouth, blowing around the heat of it, and waits to see what Berra will do.
Berra has now started to settle her breathing. The woman who is cooking leans around her and asks, “Are you the new White Lady? I’m Irri.” She is about forty, with long dark hair, and the look of someone who has had many children.
“Pleased to meet you,” Maalira says. “I’m Maalira, the White Lady travelling with Varanis, Berra and so on.”
“Oh, I see.” There is a moment of confusion, and then Irri says the obvious. “I thought you were another new member of the Temple.” She keeps on with what she is doing, though, pitching finished fry-nuts into a pot buried hot ashes, and cooking up more.
It takes a little while for Berra to stop meditating, if that is indeed what she is doing. Irri peppers Maalira with questions about being a White Lady, and then about Prax.
Maalira answers all of the questions with good humour, keeping half an eye on Berra the whole time.
Berra finally takes a deep breath, thanks Irri for the hospitality of the hearth, without actually taking any bread, and checks if Maalira has finished by peering into the bowl. She seems calmer now.
Maalira thanks Irri profusely for the food, and hands back the bowl, before giving Berra a quizzical look. “Are you not going to eat?”
Berra says, “I’m not hungry. But thank you.” After a moment she adds, “I thought I was, but when I sat down, I remembered I hadn’t meditated and my Sword would be disappointed. I think I’ve forgotten to be hungry.”
“Perhaps it was meditation you were hungry for,” Maalira muses.
Berra nods. “Yes. I understand.” Even her speech is a little slower and less frenetic, more relaxed. “I should probably go find… what’s his name? Irfanost? He might be upset.”
“The boy who saw Varanis fall? Yes, he might well be.”
“Saw her move,” Berra says. “Or rather, didn’t. But yes, him.” She stands with the grace of a dancer, leaning forward to stretch and arch her back with her weight on her hands, then turning and standing with one motion. That means she is facing away from the fire, and can look the other way for the young boy.
Maalira turns too, looking for any sign of the boy
Maalira gets a big dose of the group’s interactions with the political world