Valseena — 1626 05 160
????, Storm Season, Movement Week
Storm Season, Movement Week. The evening the heroes arrive back in Boldhome. [[[s02:session-29|Session 29]]]
After the near disaster of Xenofos introducing Varanis, Berra was struggling to keep emotion in, but when servants came to show them to benches, she cheered up a little. Over the course of the meal she has been keeping her eyes on the top table, and the central figures there. The woman in very little clothing. Varanis. Kallyr. The man in the black robe. She eats, but her eyes are always drawn back that way. She looks like she wants to look, and can hardly bear to.
The room is loud, and warm, and there is plenty to eat and drink; strong beer and mead and wine for those who want to get drunk, small beer for those who just want to be merry. Multiple sorts of meat, breads made with different grains, and hot, rich sauces and soft, sagging fresh cheese that needs attention just to get it onto a spoon. The Humakti, next to Valseena, is eating without much attention to what she is having, other than to be sure nothing has vegetables in.
There is a harp in the room, although it is not making it through the loud sounds of conviviality, and there has been no official round of music yet.
Valseena is following the lead of those around her in terms of what to eat and how. Although she does eat her greens. She also surveys the room – watching how people are interacting – seeing who the movers and shakers are in the room.
That is one thing Berra is willing to show – where and how to sit, which jugs have what in, which crockery is for the use of guests – it turns out that you don’t have to bring a plate OR a cup here. The Prince has enough for everyone.
Valseena seems a bit awestruck at the level of opulence around her relative to what she’s used to.
The table up on the dais has those who are truly important, of course. Some dozens are there, in jewellry of gold and silver, and fine deep-dyed clothes with pleats in many of the women’s skirts. The woman who is taking most of Valseena’s attention does have a skirt on. It is seethrough, made of silk so fine that it is just a suggestion of green shimmer over gently rounded thighs. The bard is wearing rings of gold on each finger, a token of how much he is rewarded.
Insight: Berra notices Valseena fiddling with her much plainer simpler outfit, then looking rather wistful. She looks across at Suuraki to see who he is watching – he’s busy eating.
Berra, maybe showing mercy, says, “You don’t need jewellery to be you.” She fishes into her neckline for a moment, and pulls out a small black wolf’s tooth in a simple mount, on a leather thong. “It can help remind you, but it’s the trappings of riches. You can earn those things, or be born to them, but you can’t be born as anyone but yourself.” She squeezes the tooth and pushes it back into her tunic.
Valseena looks a bit embarrassed as if caught with her hand in the Praxian equivalent of a cookie jar. Her eyes flit to Suuraki again before she drags them back to her meal and chews mechanically.
“Yeah, well. Marry him or don’t, I don’t know how your Tribes work it out. But enjoy life.” Berra shrugs. “So. Up there at the top, that’s Kalis. Earth Temple. She’s very generous with herself. I don’t know who she’s mother to, but I never bothered finding out.” Ernalda was the mother of Eiritha, so speaking in those terms might make sense. “To her right, I don’t recognise nearly everyone, but there are tattoos and clothes from the Locaem and the Sambari – southern tribes – and the Cinsina and the… hello, that guy there’s a Malani. I wonder why he’s not next to Lord Eril. So he must be pretty low-ranking. They’re a tribe with Humakt as their Patron. And if the Malani are here, but the Colymar are not, that sort of makes sense. Low-ranking but he’s there to make a point.”
Valseena looks a bit confused. ‘is there some history between the Colymar and Malani then? or just jostling for position and favour?’
“After the …” Berra stops, and considers. “Kallyr led a rebellion, when I was about ten. It went badly. And the Colymar had supported her. So they got punished. Nobody could meet the Malani’s price to march to war – the Locaem and the Malani both had clans given them that were cut away from the Colymar.” She looks down. “The Locaem don’t have leaders right now. The Malani?” She glances up only briefly. “I would have thought their Queen was more aligned with the Colymar but the people not so much. That Tribe’s going to be key in a lot of politics. Like, if they were given the clans in right from the Colymar, they’d swing a war within Sartar, and then…” There’s a shrug, and Berra stabs viciously at a bit of bread with her eating knife. “But we can’t afford a war.”
Valseena looks thoughtful. ‘You talk as though you continually expect someone to be starting one…’ She pauses. ‘Do you?’
“If they hadn’t had…” Berra closes her eyes, and says carefully, but quietly, “I am glad that the Prince has good advisors.”
Valseena looks at the Prince. ‘So you don’t think the prince can make wise decisions for herself then?’
“Not all the time. Not when she’s angry.” Berra opens her eyes, but to look away from the high table, not towards it. Her expression shows all of the earlier stresses, now fully at the surface.
Valseena nods. ‘I doubt any of us make our best decisions when our judgement is clouded with rage.’ She notice her gaze light upon Rajar there.
An expressive shrug follows.
“Well, yeah.” Berra glances towards the high table again, and her attention is caught. The man to the left hand of Kallyr, in the plain robe, is gesturing her over.
Valseena asks before she goes ‘You know that fellow?’
Berra’s eyes are suddenly wide. “He’s my High Sword. This is where I find out if … well.” And off she goes. Around the table at the man’s mere gesture, so that he can move back his chair and stand, conducting business at the Prince’s feast with her implicit approval, for there is no rebuke.
Berra bows as he pushes back the hood on his robe; he is black haired, but unusually pale, more so even than she is, and even more than Varanis. He is starting to go grey, but he stands like a chieftain deciding whether to kill or reward the warrior before him, and not like an old man. He is clean shaven, expression set in lines that show he seldom smiles.
Valseena watches carefully. Still eating but ready, watchful, prepared.
And with the occasional glance still torn towards Suuraki who is still focused on his food.
Insight: The confident little Humakti, who has swaggered through a season among people twice her size, is wide-eyed in awe as she is spoken to, but she does speak too – and she seems to hit a wrong note just before she is dismissed. Nevertheless the man shows no anger. He hardly shows human emotion at all – just the watchfulness of a spider before it decides to let a particular bird escape.
When Berra walks away she looks relieved, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath once she is safely away from the table.
Valseena catches Berra’s eye as she sits back at the table. ‘Everything alright?’
The Humakti grins, and looks a lot more relaxed now. “Yeah. I… he doesn’t think I got anything wrong enough to mention it. I’ll have a proper report for him, but there … well, I should have asked his permission for something that just happened, and he’s… I think he’s happy about it anyhow.”
Valseena nods. ‘Good to hear.’
‘I am glad all is well.’
Berra heaves a sigh. “Yeah. I have too much to do to be dead. Varanis to guard.”
Valseena’s alarm flickers in her face for just a moment before she schools her features back to their calm resting position.
‘There is a threat against Varanis?’
She looks across at Xenofos – ‘Is it something to do with what he said?’
“Oh. Well, the usual. I’m her bodyguard. And she’s Kallyr’s kin – so the Lunars or in fact anyone might be after her. But because of her being Colymar but also an heir to Sartar, she’s in an awkward position. What Xenofos said was ‘princeps’. Prince. Instead of Thane. But anyone can be nervous and she took it well.” Berra reaches for her beer. Small beer. She is one of the sober ones.
Valseena is being careful with her beer also. ‘Bodyguard eh? Is the salary good?’ She grins.
“Um. Usually that sort of thing’s arranged through the Temple.” Berra takes the question seriously. “I’m not sworn to her, but she’s my friend. She needs to be guarded, so I guard her. And she shares the battle-bronze well.”
Valseena nods. ‘And I will do what I can for you both. After all the healing I have already put into you both it would be a shame to lose either of you!’
Berra grins. “I should have a song commissioned about you,” she says. “Once I have money, I will.” The difference between her before the meeting with her High Sword and after is marked, although she is still calm and sober. She looks happy inside now. “It would be rude of me to give my own gifts in return for yours, unless I give them to someone else.”
Valseena smiles – sharing in her good mood – she catches Suuraki’s eye finally and he smiles also which causes her to visibly brighten.
“So anyhow. The people to the left of my Lord. Again I don’t know everyone but I know enough. The man in the white tunic with all the Darkness Rune spots is an Argan Argar merchant I’ve seen around before. I think he lives up by the tent. The man with the beard’s a Sage here, which means we don’t have the High Priest of Lhankhor Mhy – she’s a woman. But mostly on the left we have people from the city, and on the right we have visitors. That’s… unusual.” Berra looks more closely, almost but not quite ignoring her own Lord, who has put his hood back on and is seated next to the Prince once more. “Why wouldn’t you mix your people?”
‘Are you asking me to theorise why they separated the visitors and the locals?’
“I’m not entirely sure what all your words meant, but yes.”
‘Perhaps because they have news they don’t want spread?’
Berra gives Valseena a mildly impressed look. “Yeah. Could be. And Kalis is on the right so it’s a… well, it’s the right so they are being honoured but kept apart. But they get to talk to each other.” She eyeballs the table again, although her eyes stop at the middle each time.
Valseena looks thoughtful. Considering other potential reasons.
“Maybe they want to stop arguments. Everyone from inside the city has to go through Kalis to get to everyone outside.”
‘Or they want to see who makes an effort to go talk to people they aren’t seated with?’
“That’s the sort of thing you’d expect to happen anyhow. Feasts are when you come together in public, but you’ll have the private talks already. It’s… I think part of it is probably that Kallyr’s saying who her allies are. Everyone to her left is part of the band already, everyone who joins from outside gets honour. But is that all?”
‘Hard to tell. It does send a message.’
Valseena continues to look thoughtful as she chews.
Berra shrugs it off. “Anyhow. Good results from getting back. Varanis is welcome. We find out about tomorrow what’s going on. I get to walk down the steps. We should work out what you want to do, and some things you can see.”
Valseena nods. ‘Tomorrow morning I will need to see to my bison. After that well…I would like to see more of this city.’
She looks wistfully at some of the more glamourous outfits.
“There’s a lot. And if you’ve never walked in a forest, you should do that as well. And …” Berra’s eyes follow Valseena’s, but apparently she does not understand. “And if you’re up for more steps, then the view from the North Gate is amazing. You can see half of the city. The biggest half.” Grammar and mathematics give way before enthusiasm.
‘I understand the word ‘forest’ but since I have never seen a tree it is somewhat hard to imagine’ she confesses
Berra sees Varanis wrinkle her nose at the idea of a biggest half but she lets it go…
“The trees…” Berra is about to speak and then says, “You did see some on the way in. The big green things coming up the vale. But you didn’t see them up close. It’s special. And the ones you saw closest were in the dark.”
‘The view from the North Gate sounds good too. I like to walk and to climb.’ Valseena sounds like she means it too.
“If you really like actual climbing, like, going up rocks pointlessly except it’s fun, then you will love Boldhome,” Berra says. “Varanis and I will take you.”
Valseena grins. ‘That sounds like fun’
“Just don’t fall off. You’ll need clothes you can move in. Something loose around the waist but … um, leg bindings, probably, to keep them close. Woven cloth.” Berra’s attention has bounced onto the next thing already.
‘And perhaps Suuraki might enjoy the view from the North Gate’ Valseena nods in response to the outfit recommendations
Berra grins. “It’s more worth the walk if you take food,” she notes. “And especially if you take a bit for the guards, although that’s just me – I’ve run up there a LOT more than I want to have.”
Valseena smiles. ‘The way to a Khan’s heart is through his stomach…I will pack some food’
“You won’t be able to take your animals, and it’s a couple of miles, or it feels like it. But you’ll go past some pretty cool places. Ducktown on your left, and a load of fields that are just green grass mostly, and then you get to the steps. It’s mostly a storm drain with steps beside it, if the weather’s wrong, so don’t go up if it starts raining hard.”
‘Noted – we will wait for a fine day’. She’s speaking to you but looking across the table to Suuraki.
Berra grins. “Oh. Got any problem with werewolves?”
‘I haven’t come across one, so difficult to tell.’
Valseena notices they are now serving candied fruits – she tries one and the look on her face is one of pure childish joy and astonishment. ‘How do they make it taste so sweet?’ She reaches for a couple more.
“It’s got honey and magic in,” Berra says. “Oh, yeah. Maybe you don’t have bees. But these are made I think by making honey really thin and soaking the fruit, then drying it with magic. The water goes elsewhere.” She too grabs for a couple, checking with a passing servant what is in them. “And apparently those yellow ones have a paste made of nuts,” she adds, and makes a pile of them, which she sprinkles with something red she pulls out of a pouch at her side.
‘What’s that? Valseena quietly grabs a couple more. She may be getting high on glucose. She skips the yellow ones.
“This? It’s called pepper. It’s… um, it’s sort of like having your food bite back, or when you’re young and stupid and you decide you want to taste an ember. But it feels great, too.” She shows a small handful of red fragments and tiny seeds. “Do NOT touch these then rub your eyes, or any part of Suuraki that he’s proud of.”
Valseena smirks. ‘Understood.’ A tiny pause. ‘I am quite fond of all his parts’. She then looks faintly embarrassed at the admission and eats her candied fruits.
“Or noses. Don’t wipe them with a finger that’s touched these.” Berra eats hers too, wincing rather, with the expression of a curry addict finding the House Special has a new recipe.
Valseena looks curious. ‘May I try one?’ She gestures to the amped up fruits.
“Sure.” Berra lifts one up on her knife. “But you might want to have some soft cheese ready. It’s the only thing that stops the pain.”
The fruit, complete with its deadly chilli load, gets put neatly on Valseena’s plate.
Valseena looks sceptical but takes some onto her plate as well just in case.
Valseena nibbles one corner cautiously – she has met Berra after all – and then waits. At first she looks happy then her face goes a little red and she pulls a sour expression. ‘Why would you want to make it taste like that? ‘ She downs her beer and the soft cheese and follows it with some more regular candied fruits.
“Because you get a really amazing sense of relaxing after a while.” Berra reaches over to snag the thing back. “I guess I need a lot of feelings to keep me interested?”
Valseena looks sceptical and perhaps a little concerned or sympathetic…or perhaps it’s indigestion…who can say?
“I’ve got a few other things from Esrolia,” Berra goes on, “But I mostly brought them back for my Sword Lord, D’Val. The Duck.”
Valseena nods…and has another beer. The chilli may still be bothering her.
“If it’s still burning, don’t have things with water. Water doesn’t triumph against the fire and the sky – although I don’t know why cheese does. Maybe it’s got Air in it?” Berra is speaking of the mythic cycle, rather than mere earthly forces.
Valseena takes more cheese and chews thoughtfully. ‘Perhaps milk then?’
“Milk might work, I guess. I’ve never really drunk it. But I could try. I could … oooh.” She helps herself to a pile of cheese and honey and red flame flakes. “The really soft stuff. If you can chew, you can’t put it on the parts that hurt.”
Valseena arches a sceptical eyebrow and asks a passing server if there might be milk. Some is brought. She downs the tankard and looks greatly happier. It is…. not Bison milk.
Berra is whimpering her way through her pile of food, with a smile of joy. “Oh ow this is good ow… the honey’s amazing with it.”
Given Valseena’s sense of taste is burned out by chilli it is unlikely she can taste much flavour from the milk but it is soothing.
The little Humakti scarfs down food like an infanteer on a time budget. Only yesterday she was eating like a bird of little appetite, and now she looks like she might not stop eating until everything is done.
Valseena seems to have recovered and snacks on some more candied fruits. She begins eyeing the harp.
The room is still full, but people are moving about more now, and the Prince has pushed her chair back from the table and started to talk to someone who is standing behind the High Sword. Whether or not the High Sword is impressed by this it is impossible to tell.
“Things are starting to break up,” Berra says. “The Prince counts as not seated any more, even though she’s still in the chair. The food’ll stay, but if you want to get up and go see people, you can, or you can just get away. I’ve got business at the Temple tonight, though.”
Valseena nods and makes her way over to Suuraki who seems reasonably pleased to see her.
Berra scrapes her plate clean but falls short of licking it, and with a last look up towards the High Table, she gets up and looks around. She is not leaving yet, but she is seeing who is about.