1626, Fire Season, Movement Week, Freezeday, early afternoon
Serala, Varanis, and Finarvi, in Varanis’ room at the White Grape Inn in Boldhome. After Red Sky at Night (Session 1.37).
It’s a little beyond mid afternoon when Serala wanders nonchalantly into Varanis’s room. Knock, she always says. Do I get no privacy, she says. But Varanis, on this occasion, gets none; of course, she could be thinking Varanis is still a little bit Rajared out, or it could be she is distracted by Finarvi, who is leaning against her just a little too heavily and quite obviously nearly dead on his feet.
Varanis is sitting on one of the two chairs in her room, buckling one of her greaves into place. The room is a reasonable size, with a bed against one wall and a small table with two chairs against the opposite one. There’s a window in the far wall. The Vingan’s packs are tucked into a corner and the room is surprisingly tidy, given her usual habits. She looks up in surprise at the door opens without warning.
Serala nudges at Finarvi, who collapses onto the bed, his eyes closing. “You don’t mind, right?” she clarifies. “The stables were too far, much as I’d love to drop him on some straw to sleep, I can’t be sure I wouldn’t drop him in horse shit by accident.” She perches next to her cousin and sighs heavily. “I want to join him. In a platonic way, you understand. Fin and I have slept together in many and varied places over the years. But I really don’t dare sleep. Just in case. Damnit, am I babbling? I’m babbling. How’s your head?”
Varanis blinks. The last time she saw Serala, the Grazelander was in a high temper. “Still a bit sore,” she admits warily, “but I think I healed the worst of it.” Suddenly, “He hit me!” There’s complete disbelief in the words as she expresses them.
“Anger is tiring,” Serala points out. “I was doing fine until your annoying cousin Xenofos made me calm down and ask him nicely for information. Now I’m just tired. He really is very anno…” She breaks off, lifting her eyebrows. “You tripped a Storm Bull who was very, very angry. You’re lucky he only hit you.”
“He pushed me fir…” she trails off, probably realizing how childish she sounds. Finally, she says, “you’re right. Provoking him was stupid. It’s a good thing I didn’t find him before I went to the Temple this morning…”
Serala pulls her feet up, balancing neatly cross legged on the bed. “You went to the Temple? Which Temple, when? I thought you and Finarvi had come back here then you’d been … err.. fisted by Rajar sounds wrong.. what are the words in Tradetalk… knocked out. Or have you been gallivanting behind my back?”1Brief pause while Varanis’ player recovers.
“I left the site of the … quest,” she scowls as she says it, “before the others. I don’t know what they did, but I climbed the Vingan temple and tried to meditate. I only got back here a little before you and Rajar arrived this morning.”
Varanis looks tired. Like she hasn’t slept much, except for the nap that Rajar gave her. She was fidgeting with the tail end of the long plait that hangs over her shoulder as she spoke, having stopped putting on her armour. Now she appears to have moved on to nibbling the ends of her hair.
“Ah,” Serala allows. “Forgive me, if I worry about where everyone is at the moment. Have you seen Mellia? Nala? Berra? I am concerned. We all landed in that vision at our respective locations, as far as I can tell. So there is an argument we should stay together until we understand.” Finarvi, behind her, grunts and turns over to settle into real sleep. And only drools a little. Varanis has to sleep on that pillow later. Oops.
“Mellia and Nala were there when we came out of it. Mellia helped Irillo and Tiwr was there to help the wounded too. I don’t know where they went after. But I haven’t seen Berra since she went to her Temple.” Varanis looks concerned too, and returns to nibbling her hair. “Is he ok?” she asks, peering past Serala to the sleeping Finarvi.2GM asks for INTx3 roll, V passes: Memory nudge: Irillo sent Nala to do something… Something about… something, anyhow. “Oh!, I think Irillo sent Nala to do something, but I don’t really remember.”
“Take your hair out of your mouth. If you want to be a leader, you need to act like it. In public at least.” Serala does stop to consider that, “Wait, we’re not in public. Chew away. But you’ll get split ends.” Wait, a Grazelander knows about hair care…. Oh, horses have manes and tails. Right. “How were there wounded?” she wonders suddenly. “Or do you just mean Irillo?” Poor Irillo, ‘just’ Irillo… “Xenofos went to the library. Found nothing. Irillo said something about asking at the Humakti temple, but Nala would seem to be an odd choice for that.” She arches back, staring up at the ceiling. “People! We need a.. drawing in the sand.”
Varanis pulls her hair out of her mouth and stares at it in consternation. “I haven’t done that since…” she mutters. She refocuses on the questions. “I might have had a little cut,” she admits quietly. “I could have dealt with it myself though.”
Serala gives Varanis a long, steady look. “Varanis. You have to stop this,” she says quietly. “Just because you could deal with it doesn’t mean you can’t accept some help. First rule of leading, as people appear to think you’re our leader… don’t try and do it all yourself. Wait, is that the first rule? A rule, anyhow.”
The Esrolian woman stares a little as Serala arches her back, but glances away with a faint blush before she gets caught. “I let Tiwr do it. I accepted his help! It’s just that I didn’t really need it. I’m capable of looking after myself.” There’s a defensiveness in her words as she replies.
Serala sighs. “Do you, for example, think I’m not capable of looking after myself?” she counters, regarding Varanis thoughtfully. “There is no shame in saving one’s strength for what others cannot do. Can Tiwr talk to Xenofos and persuade him to share what information he learns? You can. So let Tiwr do what he is good at and you do what others cannot. No one will think less of you for it. Or if they do, then you know they do not have the best strength of the whole at their heart.
Varanis listens, nibbling on her hair again. Finally, she nods. “You are right, I suppose. But, letting others do things like that for me makes me feel weak. It’s hard to accept help.” She looks vulnerable, even as she talks about her fear of weakness.
The Grazelander shakes her head, “Look at it this way, Varanis. You make yourself weak if you insist on expending all your strength on unnecessary tasks. I could carry every bucket of water for Pag from the river to let him drink his fill. But when there are stable lads – and lasses – employed to do that very thing, what do I show by dragging water? Should I need to ride out, I would be tired, Pagliacci would know, he might not respond as he knows he should. He baulks at the wrong moment, an arrow doesn’t fly true, the battle is lost. Because my pride said I was going to carry every bucket myself? Who would thank me for that? Who would thank you for healing yourself if you then cannot leap to the front of battle should it be needed? You cannot be all things to all people. You must prioritise.”
Varanis drops the tail of her plait again. She picks up a cup that is sitting on the table, but sets it down again. “I want to argue with you, but I can’t when you are right.” There are shadows under her eyes, and the way she keeps fidgeting implies that her tiredness is coupled with frustration.
Serala herself looks a little on the tired side of tired.. some people didn’t have the luxury of annoying a Storm Bull and taking a nap… But she’s calm as she regards Varanis, settling herself to all but use Finarvi as a pillow. “Of course I’m right,” she replies, with an easy half smile. “The sooner you learn I’m always right and bring your issues to me, the better.” A heartbeat, “That’s a joke. In case it wasn’t clear.”
Varanis smiles half-heartedly, but her expression turns serious. “Ok then. Ask and you shall receive. I feel completely and utterly out of my element. I’ve taken on more than I can do and I’m terrified that it will cost the lives of people I’ve come to care about. Again.” Once the words start spilling out of her, they don’t want to stop. “Dormal and Mellia seem to think that if we fail the quest, we die. But if we succeed, we will be killed to protect the throne. Mellia told me I needed to find a way to save us.”3The conversation with Mellia can be read here: [[[mellia:price]]] She looks desperate. “The only solution I can think of is for me to die before we start the quest again, hopefully freeing the rest of you from it. But, Serala, I don’t want to die. But the price of going through with all of this…” By the time she’s done, she’s started to shake.
Serala … laughs. Actually laughs. “Oh, Varanis.” She shakes her head slowly. “Calm down. Back up. Why is this even sitting on you? Why does Mellia say it’s your problem, and not our problem. Okay. Okay.” She comes to her feet and pads across the room, moving behind the Vingan, and resting her hands on her tense shoulders. “Slow down. Think logically. And start by telling me what Mellia and Dormal said. No. Start by telling me what Dormal said; I thought you hadn’t spoken to him about this heroquest. And remember: Just because someone has said it, doesn’t make it true. You need to slow down. Weigh up. Find balance. Stop reacting.” Her words are calm, quiet, almost hypnotic. “Slow down. Breathe. Take me through it logically.”
Varanis takes a slow deep breath. “Not this quest. The one to relight the Flame. It’s my fault we are on that quest. I made that vow and trapped us all.” She keeps breathing slowly. “Xenofos4This conversation can be found here: [[[varanis:1626-0661-ring-giver]]] and Dormal5To read this one, you can go here and hope it’s available now: [[[varanis:1626-0680-negotiations]]] , at different times, have suggested that if we succeed in this quest, I will have a claim on the throne. I’m descended from Sartar and can make the Flame flicker.”
“I’m sorry…” Serala pauses, apparently thinking. “Which one to relight the Flame?”
“The Lightbringers Quest – that was why we were going looking for Dormal in Rhigos. No one told you?” Varanis glances at the slumbering form of Finarvi, who definitely knew.
Serala shakes her head, “You know me. To the point. Direct. I knew we were looking for Dormal, I rather assumed I didn’t need further information at that point.” The pressure of Serala’s fingers on tired muscles increases for a moment, before she comments idly, “I think they’re right. If you go lighting the Flame, you rather make yourself Queen of Sartar, surely? Finarvi is better at this stuff than I am though. He listened when our parents droned on.” One hand leaves Varanis’ shoulder for a moment, and a moment later, an empty mug, accurately thrown, bounces off Finarvi’s head. “You’ve had long enough. Wake up.”
“I don’t want to be queen. I want to make Kallyr queen. I’d be a terrible ruler, Serala!” Varanis protests.
Finarvi wakes with a snort, stares blearily around, and realises he’s in Varanis’s room. In Varanis’s bed. With his face in a puddle.
“I….” Oh dear, Serala struggles between truth and friendship for a moment, and then temporises. “You need more experience to master yourself before looking to lead others?” she offers, a little weakly.
“Whut…?” Finarvi mumbles, looking very confused, and maybe slightly concussed.
“Wake up.” Serala is standing behind Varanis, hands on the other woman’s shoulders. Probably trying to be calming. Possibly about to throttle her. These things are relative. “Lightbringers’ Quest. Tell me everything you know about it.” She considers that for a moment, “No. Summarise everything you know about it.”
“Eh?” Finarvi’s having trouble getting up to speed. He must have been deeply asleep before Serala started bouncing crockery off his head. “What’s happening?”
Serala sighs. The sigh of a woman surrounded by simpletons. Or maybe just someone very tired and struggling for words. “Apparently you were aware that Varanis signed up for the LightBringers’ heroquest in order to light the flame of Sartar. It has been expressed this may be a poor idea. Mellia has said Varanis needs to get herself – us – out of it, or we all die. My take would be that if one of the Blood triumphantly wanders back from the Underworld, Flame in tow, then she has just made herself Prince of all Sartar. Which seems to be a poor place to be. I’d appreciate your take, oh Wise Heart Sib.” No sarcasm at all. No.
Varanis relaxes under Serala’s hands and doesn’t say anything for a moment.
Finarvi struggles up into a sitting position and rubs his face. “Well, Sartar’s in the underworld, with the Flame, so we have to get there somehow. There aren’t many quests where we can enter the underworld and have a chance of getting out again. The Lightbringers is the obvious one for exiting.”
Serala frowns, “No wait; why is Sartar in the Underworld?” she asks. It doesn’t take much to confuse her in this particular area…
Finarvi stares at his cousin. “Because he’s dead?”
“Sartar’s a place…?” asks Serala hopefully.
“Named after a man. Who Varanis is apparently a many-times-great grandchild of.”
“Oh that one.. King Sartar… You missed out the appellation. Accuracy, Finarvi, we’ve discussed this before.” Of course, it’s Finarvi’s fault…
Finarvi nods, taking the criticism as deserved. Varanis twitches slightly as Serala digs particularly deeply into the muscle while she’s discussing things with Finarvi.
“The full Lightbringers quest will almost certainly kill us all,” Finarvi continues, “but Berra thinks we can just perform part of it. I’m not clear on which parts. And I’m not happy about her starting it without us, but she’s already riding that bear.”
“Well… she already failed starting it. Which buys us thinking time? Right?” Serala queries. “I am.. unsure.. I am on board with destabilising Sartar… the place. Obviously. Not the King. Him being dead, you understand… We can retreat to the Grazelands, but we always get dragged into Sartar’s mess…”
Finarvi glares at her balefully and continues, ignoring her comment. “So, you know the story of how Eurmal used Death to kill Grandfather Mortal, and Orlanth used it to kill Yelm, and that’s how the Great Darkness happened.”
Serala clears her throat. “You recall when our parents were droning on, and I was out with the horses…?” she mutters. “I remember Elmal guarding the stead…?” Ever hopeful. “And Yelm lost his fire and so Yelmalio was born as a Sky God not a Fire God?” she asks hopefully. “And… and… Humakt ate Voria – I know that one!” She knows that one because she took part in it, after Berra had explained it at length. Serala actually does manage to look ashamed, “You know I was never good at… God stuff, Fin.”
For a moment, a look of intense envy comes into Finarvi’s eyes, then he looks quickly away.6Varanis and Serala both fail insight rolls. Varanis’ player is desperately curious though and she agrees with Serala that Serala should have had a bonus for insight on her own foster sibling/cousin.
“It’s not the Flame we need to bring back… it’s the spark. Kallyr could use the spark to relight the Flame.” Varanis says suddenly, seemingly lost in her own thoughts and only just emerging from them.
“Whichever, it’s in the Underworld. The Lightbringers’ quest is a resurrection quest. It’s the most important quest of the Orlanthi religion.” He adds, “They perform it every Sacred Time to bring about the new year.”
“Remember earlier in this conversation, Varanis, when you were saying you wanted to heal yourself rather than letting anyone else do it for you?” Finarvi is getting an odd look from Serala, but she lets it slide. For now. “How does it make Kallyr look if she lets a band of near-nobodies trot off and do her heroquest for her?”
“Especially given that she failed to enact the Lightbringers’ quest and restore the Flame before,” Finarvi chimes in.
Serala sighs, “It’s not our choice to make. But I think it is a choice that should be well thought out,” she notes. “And all of the possible outcomes could be considered, so that we can work our way around them. It’s called strategy, Varanis, and it is an important part of command.”
Finarvi grins. “Isn’t it annoying when she does that? She sounds like an old crone handing down ages-old wisdom.” He nudges Serala with a foot.
“Serala, I was in the place where my great great grandfather stood. The place where he became a living Flame. The place where the Lunars destroyed him. When I felt the echoes of his presence, I had to try to bring him back.” There’s no pride or desperation in the Vingan’s words. Only absolute certainty that it was the right thing to do. “How was I to know that would be tantamount to declaring a claim on the throne?” The certainty fades in her final question.
“Because, Varanis, you’re meant to think before you speak.” Serala’s fingers tighten, hopefully reassuringly, on Varanis’s shoulders. “So. Put yourself in Kallyr’s shoes. What would be your reaction if you were Prince in that Hall? Having publicly, humiliatingly, failed that quest, and faced with an upstart with at least equal bloodclaim with yours, crying her intent to succeed where you failed? Do we even have evidence that, should you succeed, you can hand rulership to her? If there is any doubt, assume she will assume the worst? Be cold. Be logical. Be Prince for a moment. How does this play out?”
The Esrolian woman quietly says, “I think that I have no choice, Serala. If I don’t follow through on my vow, I think my life is forfeit. If I follow through and fail, some of us may die. If I follow through and we succeed, Dormal thinks we’ll be killed.”
“I think that you’re thinking this through back to front. I’m sure Kallyr doesn’t want to kill her kin publicly either… this is still not good press for her, correct?” Serala doesn’t have all the answers, so she’s flailing around, asking questions and hoping other people come up with some. “So again… Be Kallyr. You’re in an untenable situation. You don’t want to kill this party of idiots who came ‘helping’ after she fell flat on her face. Find Kallyr’s way out of this situation, and we find our own.”
“There will be a political answer,” Finarvi assures her with the blithe confidence of someone who thinks talk can solve all human woes. “Let your cousins know you hear their fears and understand them. Ask them for aid. Get them thinking about solutions, not worrying about what you’ll do next. You’ve got a fine collection of wise heads around you.” He cocks his head to one side, fully awake now and teasing. “Almost enough for a clan ring.”
- 1Brief pause while Varanis’ player recovers.
- 2GM asks for INTx3 roll, V passes: Memory nudge: Irillo sent Nala to do something… Something about… something, anyhow.
- 3The conversation with Mellia can be read here: [[[mellia:price]]]
- 4This conversation can be found here: [[[varanis:1626-0661-ring-giver]]]
- 5To read this one, you can go here and hope it’s available now: [[[varanis:1626-0680-negotiations]]]
- 6Varanis and Serala both fail insight rolls. Varanis’ player is desperately curious though and she agrees with Serala that Serala should have had a bonus for insight on her own foster sibling/cousin.