Maalira — High Emotion
1628, Sea Season, Fertility Week
Sea Season, close to the end of Fertility Week. [[[s03:session-6|Session 6]]]
Berra has not been back much over the past couple of days; the great Temple of Death held her, or other work did. Now she comes back, spends about a hundred heartbeats raiding the kitchen with great efficiency, and with a small bag full of food asks Maalira, “Do you want to go for a walk? I need to go for a walk.”
“Oh, yes please!” Maalira casts aside her busy work, something to do with yarn of some kind, and leaps to her feet.
Berra considers her helmet, and then puts it on. “I guess you don’t want to go over the wall? I don’t know what’s up there.”
“If you think it’ safe, I’ll go wherever.” Maalira sounds like she has been very, very bored.
Berra nods. “Right. Hitch up your robe.” She rolls out her shoulders. “You’re getting good at the yarn-work. I never thought I’d see a Praxian using anything but leather.”
“I spent my whole childhood doing leatherwork,” Maalira points out. “This is at least different.”
She hoicks up her gown and fastens it out of the way of her feet, grinning.
Berra has no need to hitch a robe up, but looks at Maalira for a moment. “You wanna put it through your belt,” she advises. “But I’ll help you up.” She’s not going for the front door, though. “It’s not a hard climb anyhow.”
Maalira passes the gown through the belt, revealing knees and shins with rather a few childhood scars on them.
Berra leads the way into the courtyard. “We can get up this wall, which I should deal with from the outside, or else we could just assume it’s a gate.” She points to a part that’s roughened with age and has stones in it, as opposed to the smoother adobe elsewhere. “I want to check out some roofs.”
“Great. Let’s go do something ridiculous.”1GM interjects: ….
“Um, you’re asking me that,” Berra points out. “Do you want me to show you how to do that, or do you want to try?” She’s in leather armour, wearing a single sword. Not climbing gear at all.
“You should probably show me,” Maalira says, eyeing the wall.
“So, you always want to try to have three parts of you touching the wall. Mostly hands and feet. And you want your legs to do most of the work.” Berra walks up to the wall and casually climbs it, coming back down the same way. “Watch where my hands go, and the feet can find things to stand on.”
Maalira approaches the wall and gives it a try, not having too much trouble.2Pass Climb x2.
Berra swarms up it again, turning herself almost upside-down to get onto the wall flat.3Critical Climb x2/Special on Climb. “Hm. Yeah, could … well, can I do it on that side?” She looks down to the other side of the wall. “I think you could get over and be hard to see. We should plant something sharp up here. Thorns. Right. Roofs. Let’s see where we can hide. Um, I might have to buy you new clothes after this.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Maalira shrugs. “I really should get some clothes that aren’t white, for when I’m not on duty as such.”
“Is that a thing you can do?” Berra seems surprised. “I mean, I guess I don’t always live in armour, but… what if you need to help someone suddenly?” She points over to a rooftop. “D’you reckon if you were there, you could drop down onto the end of the wall?”
“I’m not supposed to, really, but they’d have to catch me to tell me to stop, so…” Maalira shrugs again, grinning.
“And yes I think I can drop down there.”
Berra laughs out loud. “You’re really not a Regiment person. I was wrong. But in a good way. Alright. So if you can, I can. Listen, just… go for a walk up here? Let’s see where we go. Don’t tread on any thatch, and if you’re walking on tiles, something’s gone wrong.”
Maalira snorts. “Got it. Let’s go not fall off or through anything.”
“Yeah, people get really intense. So. Did you get what the letter was about?” She stays wary, letting Maalira pick the route, but peering around her to be sure.
“Sort of? Someone is threatening to send the Crimson Bat to wipe us all out.” Maalira is concentrating on her foot placement more than on her precise phrasing.
“Someone who is our enemy is warning us it could happen,” Berra says. “It’s not a thing we need to do anything about until we’re asked to, or in my case maybe ordered to, but it’s yeah, a big thing. And the person who warned us is an untrustworthy worm who doesn’t understand honour but thinks he does.” Berra seems perfectly at home up here.
“How likely is it that it will not be our problem?” Maalira asks cynically.
“It’s one of the things that might be far too big for us to manage,” Berra says, somehow not being struck down by a passing and jealous god of understatement. “Things that can eat cities probably are. But we might be sent to tell people, to warn them – we’re the only ones who know. And I told my High Sword, but he’s the smartest of them all, and otherwise Kallyr and Tennebris would have had to tell him. But they won’t want to let many people know, so… we’ll probably deal with any parts of their plan that are things we can deal with. We’ll likely get sent to warn Tarsh and stuff. Maybe. But we won’t be sent to try to fight it. They value us alive.” She gets bored, hops along a wall a foot wide.
Maalira changes direction, following Berra. “Well, that’s good. I didn’t really fancy trying to keep all of you alive through something like that.”
“Yeah. No. That’s not for us. It’s for iron-wearers. Kallyr drove it off once.” Berra walks along the raised wall of a flat roof. “I don’t know how, because that story didn’t reach me, but it was when King Broyan was still alive. In Whitewall.” Names. Broyan was a famous rebel, although not one from inside Sartar, probably. When Whitewall fell, the winds stopped for a while, even in Prax. “Kallyr was his captain. One of his captains.”
“I don’t suppose Kallyr will be sharing that information with us any time soon.” Maalira sounds carefully neutral.
“It’s not for us to know how, but if we needed to know, we could ask,” Berra says. “Varanis is one of the very few relatives she has – the Lunars killed most of the rest. And we’ve earned knowing. We might not learn from the Prince, but we’d learn. If we had to.” She glances over her shoulder despite the long drop to her right. “We’re not important, but we’re not nobodies either.”
Maalira nods, even though Berra has turned back around. “I was nobody in Prax,” she observes quietly. “Even as a White Lady, I was just Joneer and Imara’s kid who went and got made a White Lady. I wasn’t special.”
Up ahead, the houses merge with the mountain on the left. Berra looks that way, and heads the way she is looking. “I was one person in a Regiment that was as big as the one here, and there were five other Regiments beside it,” she says, and checks how far away Maalira is before just dropping down to sit on a decorative lion head. There is room on a carved deer statue for Maalira. “It all changed for me in a week. And I think probably the same for you.” She gives the White Lady a pained look. “Because we can’t stop, because it needs to be done.”
Maalira sits on the deer statue, absently tracing the line of a particularly stark scar on her knee with one finger. “Yes. Once you know a thing must be done, and that you are able to do it, you can’t walk away.”
Berra digs into the food bag. “I put meat in here, but it’s wrapped up in another bag. Is that alright?” She pulls out bread and cheese first, putting it on the back end of the deer. “So yeah. We’re bound up in all of this now. And the times being what they are, I think even if we tried to leave, we’d get dragged back. So you’re not a nobody any more. You’re with us.”
“That’s fine, as long as I don’t actually eat it.”
Berra nods, and makes sure of that bag. There’s a wooden plate, and a leather water-bottle with something slightly vinegary and spiced. “I don’t know how much you know about what the Hero Wars are, or are going to be. I’m… a bit guessing, but I think that’s the middle of it.” People with a better lexicon might say ‘crux’ but those people would not have the soft freckles over a cute nose, or the tiny frown of concentration as they check they’re cutting the cheese exactly in half.
Maalira is acutely aware of nose and freckles, and does not notice the phrasing in the slightest. “I’ve heard of the Hero Wars but only in passing. Could you explain about them?”
Berra sighs, thinking. “It’s something that people have been saying will come to pass. Soothsayers, and… people they call prophets. A time when the power of the gods falls on the world again, like it did when the Great Darkness was here. A bad time, because bad things happen, but also one when we can use this power to make things. It’s strange to think it’s happened, but it has. It’s started, and we’re in it. The big thing that’s different is that we’re more in our stories of the gods now, so it’s easier to get bound to people. Like, you’re Chalana Arroy and Varanis is Vinga-Orlanth. If she’s in a Heroquest, or even in a mythical situation, then you’re likely to be called in to be the White Lady. And the mythical situations are going to get more common. If I’m Humakt, me walking past a hill might be, or stepping into a bar fight. And that wouldn’t really have been the case when we were children, even.”
Maalira nods, grimacing a little bit. “I hope I’m going to be good enough.”
“My High Sword says… well, actually, some of that’s cult secrets. But we can use this to make us tougher. Learning the magic of our gods, learning how to command the spirits of small magics, walking in their paths – it’s all preparation for making sure that when we’re done, Sartar’s still standing.”
Maalira nibbles on her cheese thoughtfully. “That makes sense. I really should practise more… I’m not so bad at small magics and medicines but I’m not very good at big things.”
“Those are the things that I’ve found make most difference, to be honest. I walked into a battle with a Great Sword – one of the God Talkers of Humakt – and it was not about our own skill, but about what the God could give us. I think, if I had trusted in it more, I’d have put him down. If my sword had been better when I hit him. Because I had time to prepare, I gotta say. But also, I had that. I can lead a Regiment and still fight in the front line. And that keeps my god strong, too. But our enemies are also doing it. We’ve got to remember that.”
Maalira takes some time to parse this, feeling as though there are a few words missing.
Berra folds all her available food into a chunk of bread and presses it down. “Does that make sense?”
“… not entirely,” Maalira confesses.
The Humakti narrows her eyes, thinking. “The stronger we are, the more options we have,” she says. “And the more like our gods we can be, the more of that magic we have and the more we behave like them, the stronger we are.”
Maalira’s face lights up. “That does make sense.”
Berra grins. “To be honest, I find it pretty tough sometimes. But fortunately the gods – and the goddesses – did a lot in the God Time, so a lot of what I do is Humakti. I’m pretty sure that setting off alone, protecting a healer in the wilderness, probably talking about power – all of this is fine. It’s living without honour, and not looking after the power I have, which wouldn’t be.”
Maalira fidgets her feet, watching them absent-mindedly as she does so. “I think I should probably spend a bit more time listening to experienced White Ladies when I have the chance. I get distracted too easily and just want to be doing things, but I think the White Lady may need me to pay a bit more attention to what she teaches us.”
“That’s a big chunk of my problem too. I’m lucky I found someone I want to learn from, and someone worth following. But here’s a question I can’t answer for you, and it might be important, and I don’t know if there’s a right answer. Why do you wear a white robe?”
“We wear white because our Lady does. She wants us to be like her – merciful, kind, a light in the dark.” Maalira’s voice has taken on a reverential tone.4Pass Cult Lore x 2.
“So then, I think if you want to be her strongly, you need to be on duty all the time. Even if you’re not at the hospital, be in her shape. Walk like she would. Let people see that light’s in the world, when we need it.” Berra watches Maalira, to see how that goes down.
Maalira chews on her lip, looking a bit ashamed. “That’s true. I suppose I will just have to get better at washing clothes.”
“We have the money to get people to do that for you. It’s not a problem. And there are times when it’s best to just sit up on someone’s roof and look down. But we do need to remember to be what we’re worshipping. As much as we can.” Berra cranes forward. “Can’t see my Temple from here. But I know it’s there.” The Hospital is visible to left and downhill, a pale building rising from smaller ones around.
Maalira isn’t looking down, she’s looking at Berra’s profile. There might be a hint of tears in her eyes. “You’re right, of course. I’ve been neglecting my duties. I will go to the Hospital tomorrow.”
Berra looks at Maalira, and then reaches out a hand, stopping short of laying it on her shoulder. “I found it really tough,” she says, drawing the hand back. “Until I worked out that I can be me and still be him. There are cult duties, and temple duties, and devotional duties to the god – to your goddess. Being in the Hospital isn’t the only way, but it’s good if there’s nothing else. And then all around, you can be her wherever you walk.” As bolstering speeches go, it’s not her worst to date. That was probably talking about the dangers of creeping into a city under siege.
Maalira’s expression flits rapidly between a number of indistinct emotions, but she is smiling. “Thank you, Berra. You have a knack for making things clear.”
“I’m mostly telling you things that a wise duck showed me.” Berra reaches down for what might or might not be pickle juice. “When I first came back to Sartar, I was up for fighting everything. He just showed me ways of picking the fights. I still get plenty, but they’re more like the right ones now.”
Maalira sighs but it’s not a sad sound. “Sometimes I used to wish a fighting calling had chosen me… it sounded simpler, but since getting to know you I realise it isn’t simpler at all, just a different set of rules.”
Berra nods. “Yeah. I can fight, but if I do it wrong, then it’s bad. And I know a man who’s not as good with swords as me, but he’s my living understanding of honour. And then there’s … look, let’s just eat, and watch the city. The world’s big, and we’ll get to see more of it, and maybe I’ll punch some and you’ll set its nose.”
Maalira throws her head back, laughing heartily.
“Yes, indeed,” she says.
Maalira goes roof-walking with Berra, who talks about Hero Wars and duty
- 1GM interjects: ….
- 2Pass Climb x2.
- 3Critical Climb x2/Special on Climb.
- 4Pass Cult Lore x 2.