Maalira — Tabled Motion
A little after Humakt’s holy day, in Jonstown, as the group escorts tiny Berra to meet Leika. [[[s03:session-2|Session 2]]]
It’s a little after noon. The day in Jonstown is peaceful, and Amphelise has been helping at the Hospital, and Berra has been … doing whatever it is that Berra does. But now she is at the Bull and Ram, dozing against the wall, in a one-legged crouch like cavalry and very limber Sartarites use to relax. She looks asleep, but only just.
Maalira hadn’t precisely set out looking for Berra, but might well have chosen the Bull and Ram for lunch on the assumption that Berra might be there. The corner of her lip is twitching intermittently as though she is keeping a lid on something amusing.
Berra has drawn a little combined Death and Truth Rune above the bag beside her, on the wall. So far the staff have not dared to clean it off. She twitches a little at footsteps, opens her eyes, looks. “Mm?” And then she’s awake completely.
Maalira grins. “Tired?”
Berra says, “No, I just sleep when I can. Well, a bit. But habit. I’ve not been sleeping much lately. Got to think about how to deal with that.” She rolls forwards, puts her weight onto her hands, and gets her feet under her to stand. “I got tangled up one time I did that. Landed on my face in front of my High Sword.” Now they are almost eye to eye, she smiles.
Maalira shakes her head, snickering. “What is it with you and doing that sort of thing right at the most crucial moment?”
Berra takes time to consider that while she goes over to get a drink by waving at the innkeeper’s assistant until he gets the idea, and then holding up two fingers. “I think probably because I do it a lot so it’s always there at some crucial moment or another,” she says, “Or else the power of other people involved overcomes mine in a way related to the gods. Not sure really. But the High Sword’s pretty powerful.”
Maalira considers this in turn. “What did your High Sword say, when you planted your face in front of him?”
“Uh.. That he’d talk to me once I’d finished my devotions to Eurmal? Something like that.” Berra accepts beer, nods to the man bringing it to give the other to Maalira. “So then I took a few breaths, because he’s allowed to say that sort of thing and anyhow, I’ve done worse, and then there was some talking.” Her expression indicates that she came out of it alright really. Cheerful, over the cup.
Maalira grins again. “Thanks for the drink.” She picks up her cup and takes a sip, then puts it down again. “So, it’s been pretty busy up at the hospital recently,” she begins.
Berra looks sympathetic, and asks, “You want a nap? I can be awake if you’re worried?”
Maalira shakes her head, her grin getting broader. “No, I’m fine, but I was wondering whether you knew why there might have been an extra case or two in the hospital…?”
“Um. No?” Berra looks confused. “I haven’t have the time to fight anybody – I’ve been on duty!” Someone has presumably never taken her aside to explain irony.
Maalira does not elect herself to be the one to attempt that explanation. She raises an eyebrow. “You fight people when on duty all the time.”
“Well, other than that. I mean… actually I don’t. Most of the time when I’m on duty I’m with the Regiment. I usually fight people because I like hanging around Varanis, and doing the things that she does is important, and so’s helping her, and I like getting into fights. But most of the time I’m not on duty. I’m a volunteer.”
Maalira pauses a moment to make sure she has made her entire way through that series of clauses. “Fair enough,” she hazards finally. “So… if someone came up to the hospital complaining about injuries caused by a ‘foreign Humakti’, it wasn’t you?”
“I din’t…” Berra narrows her eyes. “Alright. But what kind of injury? Because I’m pretty sure I didn’t, but I might have shoved someone or something and then fair play, I should deal with that.”
“Splinters, in his head.” Maalira pauses. “From a table.”
Berra blinks. “Alright. So I have used a table as a weapon but not in this… was it a Big Humakti? Like, did they mention that?”
“Nope. They just said foreign.”
Berra stares, and there is obviously something going on behind her eyes1Maalira passes Insight (Human).. Suspicious, with a touch of worry, and whatever it is that makes a young Humakti drum her fingers on the table. “There’s only one I could think of that would count,” she says. “And has that rep. Because…” She trails off, either not wanting to complete the sentence, or thinking too hard.
“Because…?” Maalira recognises a trail of thought about to take a detour.
“Because mostly Humakti don’t do that sort of thing. Unless they’re either not good at controlling themselves me – or are nasty bastards. The one I’m thinking of. Or it could be just… someone. But that kind of fight sounds pretty Colymar to me.” She stares at Maalira for a moment, and then starts draining her cup.
Maalira’s voice has lost all humour now.
“My Tribe. We’re known as the proud people. I’m a Colymar, and I get that we have a … we do fight a lot. But I just want to drop by the hospital with you, if that’s… will they have left yet? Your person that got into a fight?”
“No, he’ll probably still be there. He only cared about the splinters, but a bump on the head, you know… we persuaded him to at least sit down for a bit.”
Berra nods. “Yeah, I’d like to just find out how big the Humakti was. Did you get where it happened?” She steps away from the table, but tells the White Lady, “Drink up. Important to look after yourself too.”
Maalira gulps down some more of her drink, but rises hastily and steps after Berra. “No, he wasn’t interested in telling us much about the actual incident. He just wanted to rant.”
“Right. Well, maybe you can get him to rant about the right things.” She bounces on her feet a little, and then relaxes. “I’m just going to let the upstairs-lot know that I’m not downstairs, in case there’s trouble.” She dashes up, taking only a moment, and is back down the stairs almost before the air has stopped trying to follow her.
Maalira has managed to take one more swallow of her beer and belatedly wonders whether that was a good idea on an empty stomach, but it’s too late now.
“I’ll do my best,” she says vaguely.
Berra says, “Normally we’d do something like eating on the way, in turns, but you’re not a warrior, so you can just do whatever. We can stop by a food place. I haven’t had lunch. And we’ll be crossing town, so we’ll have time. Going around the middle.”
“Food would be a good idea,” Maalira confirms.
Berra casts magic before stepping out of the door, just making sure nobody is lurking, and she takes a moment to collect herself. It’s a small, tightly-bound professional who leaves the Bull and Ram, looking around exactly as if she is on duty, and not like a volunteer. The North Market distracts her with food, however – she goes for lamb skewers, hot flat-bread, and some rather expensive pickled chilli olives.
Maalira grabs roasted vegetables and hot flat-bread, keeping a wary half-eye on Berra at all times.
Berra does not cause any fights. The only slightly odd thing is that, having set off in a hurry, she tarries in the market to finish her food. She seems calm now. It’s probably on purpose.
Maalira starts to relax a bit as Berra calms down, and manages to finish her food without giving herself indigestion.
Berra looks a little happier once she has eaten most of her food, and holds the olives in their little parchment twist as a treat as she goes. She does not break the silence again until they are nearly at the long, dark tunnel up to the top of town. She seems to have forgotten there is another, lighter way up. “The person I’m thinking of is a bit odd to be here, but honestly, hitting someone with a table strikes me as right. So if she was a really big person, that did it, then I get a bit more worried. Or at least curious.” She offers Maalira a spiced olive.
Maalira accepts the olive, pops it into her mouth, and makes a slight sputtering noise. “Spicy,” she murmurs.
“This person you think might be here… is she trouble?”
“Well, yeah. She’s… she’s the champion of the Colymar. So if she’s here it’s … well, we’re going to see the person she’s Champion for, the Queen of the Colymar. My Queen. And … and it’s the time that we’re going. So I want to know it’s not her.”
Maalira frowns. “I don’t quite follow.”
The guards hand Maalira and Berra a pair of lanterns, for the long, dark walk. Berra takes hers with an absent, “Thanks,” and lowers her voice a little to speak, once they are a little away. “So, most Humakti tend to be calm, and then usually start fights with… more regular weapons, right?” She’s taking it from the start, it seems.
“Yes, that sounds about right,” Maalira says, after remembering that nodding won’t work too well in the dark.
“But there are a few that are exceptions. Nameless, the champion of the Colymar, I think she likes hurting people to see them know that she’s won. Not even that she’s got a temper. She offered to beat me up once, as a favour to Varanis, when I’d just insulted her Queen for insulting me. But the thing is, she was offering to teach me a lesson – and that was going to be her just putting me in pain a lot. There’s a big Darkness in her – cruelty and cold and patience.” Berra holds her lantern easily, hardly swinging it at all after the first time she makes that mistake and nearly spills all the oil out.
Maalira shudders at the description, setting her own lantern’s light dancing along the walls. “She sounds… unpleasant.”
“Yeah. She’s about …” Berra scuttles ahead to reach up as high as she can in the air. “That big. And broad. And she’s the sort of person who’d hit someone with a table, because… well, maybe because hitting them with a sword would draw trouble, but maybe that’s a bit much thinking. Only if she’s here and not looking to draw attention she might still do that with a table to shut someone up. ‘Specially if she thought they’d end up hurting. I’m only surprised, if it’s her, that she went for the head.”
“To be fair, whilst of course I would never knowingly harm anyone, if I were so inclined, this guy is definitely the SORT of guy I would hit with something. He wasn’t very pleasant to us when we were taking out the splinters.”
“Well, yeah. And some people are frankly just asking for a knee to the groin then a bracer to the face, but swords are different. Swords are for when you’re trying to kill someone.” Berra agrees wholeheartedly, to tell from her voice. “But the next bit, is that I’d expect to find her in Clearwine, where we’re about to go.”
“So her presence here could mean that something is Going On?” Maalira manages to make the last two words sound as though they are written in red ink.
“Yeaaaah.” Berra, who presumably would not know red ink from very weird blood, still manages to make it seem like she caught the significance. “And… well. I dunno. She’s my Queen. Leika is. But I also don’t want to mess up and… so I want to know. Because if she’s here it’s because Leika asked her to be.”
Maalira swallows audibly. “We’re not in trouble, are we?”
“No. I mean, no more than we thought we were already. The Queen and Tennebris – that’s Kallyr’s Chief Priest – sorted out that we’d be safe. It’s … I can’t think that it would be to do with us. And it might not be her, and I just want to set my mind at rest.”
“Let’s hope they haven’t got fed up with the guy and let him walk out, yet, then,” Maalira says, still sounding concerned.
Sunlight up ahead hints at the end of the winding tunnel, and soon they get to hand in their lanterns and blink in the light, or in Berra’s case force her eyes open to get them to change as fast as they can. “They let me wear your ear-warmer sometimes,” she says.
Maalira breaks into a wide smile. “I’m so glad.”
“I had rest days, and then there were running days. A few swimming days as well. Those were really not fun. Lord D’Val was not sympathetic, either. But on the days I could I wore it. It’s comfy.” They are nearly at the Temple. Berra slows, preparing to not go in.
Maalira takes a moment to realise why the pace has changed, then comes to a stop. “If you wait here, I can go in and ask?”
Berra nods. “Yeah. I’ll finish the olives.” She offers them over again. “Unless you want more?”
Maalira shakes her head quickly. “No, thank you!” She smiles to make it clear she isn’t criticising the olives, then heads towards the temple entrance.
The soothing sounds and familiar antiseptic smells wash over her. Herbs and good food and a touch of blood. Athletic women are helping people to exercise, over in the open air, and there is splashing from the public bath… and nobody where she left the de-splintered man who was so notably complaining.
Maalira deflates, looking around and grabbing the nearest healer. “Please, the man that was being treated here – the man who complained about being hit with a table – has he been taken elsewhere in the temple?”
It takes a little time to sort that out, because there is a potential head injury, but no – he got up and walked out, promising the price of the healing in his next devotions to the Lightbringers. Gone.
Maalira swallows several unbecoming words – some bearing a surprising similarity to those used by the injured man – and makes her way back out of the temple, feeling guilty that she didn’t alert Berra sooner.
Berra looks interested in the city wall. She might be working out how to defend it, or how to rush it from the inside.
“No luck,” says Maalira by way of greeting. “He’s gone.”
Berra’s expression is briefly a grimace. “Well, never mind. We can try my Temple anyhow. See who came by.”
Maalira gestures “after you” and waits for Berra to lead the way.
It is not far away. Berra says, “I haven’t left you with anything to eat. So, ask about… foreign Humakti. Don’t assume. I’m not here to assume. I hate this sort of thing where I have… no, it’s fine. This isn’t court stuff. This is just making sure.” With that settled, she walks on. The clouds open up softly, kissing Maalira with the sky’s love.
Maalira blinks rapidly, then shakes her head. “I will never figure her out,” she says to the world at large.
It is only a short part of an hour before Berra returns, looking thoughtful. This is an unusual look on her face, not in its existence, but in how long it stays. Something big just happened, and she is processing it as she nods to Maalira and keeps walking.2Another pass on Insight (Human).
Maalira scrambles to keep up, curiosity writ large on her face
Berra says, “We’ll talk back at the rooms,” and the rest of the way back chatters on light things and talks about her tribe and their great hill fort, the city of Clearwine. And then, when they are in the common room and she has a warm drink and has made sure Maalira has one, she does a quick eye-ball-round to see they are unobserved, even glancing above for presumed children or ducklings in the rafters. “Nameless wasn’t the only foreign Humakti in town lately.”
Apparently, it gets worse than just the easily annoyed Champion of the Colymar.
“That doesn’t sound good,” Maalira hazards.
“Not really. She might have met with Gunda Queen-cracker. Gunda the Guiltless.” The friend of Harrek the Berserker. Gunda is bad news on her own, worse if her god-killing friend is concerned.
Most people would have called her Gunda the Guilty.
Maalira pulls a face. “Politics,” she mutters.
Maalira checks Berra did not cause trouble, finds there is more trouble than just Berra in the city