1627, Fire Season, Season, Illusion Week, Freezeday
Discussion goes on for some time. There is some discussion on the days schedule, not entirely harmonious. In the end something similar to day before takes place. Woman shouting loudly and shieldwall shambling around. Late in the afternoon pickets spot incoming riders on the road from Boldhome.
Varanis and Venlar have been riding all day. The Vingan is in full armour atop a black mare. A second black horse follows, with laden saddle bags.
Venlar is wearing token armour – vambraces and greaves. His riding clothes are rich and impressive, and his tunic is not squashed into a cuirass. His horse looks big, expensive, glossy, and placid.
A troop of riders is sent to meet the comers on the road. Venlar, peacefully on the left of Varanis as they ride, lets her take the lead both literally and figuratively.
Riding out are about half a dozen men, all on horseback, in colourful equipment with bright helmets and array of feathers and plumes.
The ground opens up to form a shallow valley. At first change is mainly on the left where road is overshadowed by rough ground strewn with boulders of various sizes. When you meet the riders you see a long meadow with few copses of trees. On the right side of the road there is a stead. By the stead there is a small herd of horses and cattle. Further down, on other side of Swenstown road there is a small knoll with a red tent, in front of which flies a huge green banner displaying Vinga in her radiant splendor.
Varanis hails the riders in Esrolian. “Greetings. I’m looking for Lenta Hulta and the leaders of this unit.”
“Hail Varanis, you have been eagerly expected.” A rider with whose panoply shines with gilding announces. “You will see them in camp, please allow as the honour to escort you there.”
“Proceed.” Varanis answers.
Venlar bows politely to the crowd, exactly as a Lord should; no more, no less.
Horsemen form a double column behind the newcomers. The man who spoke takes a position close to Varanis and politely points the way towards the meadow. “Lenta is probably by the tent, milady.”
“Thank you. And my cousin, Xenofos?” She scans what she can see of the camp, her expression hidden within her helmet.
“Lord Xenofos was watching our javelin practise after noon. Last I saw him he was watering his horses.” The man tells.
“Rajar the Stormbull? Where’s he at?” Despite asking after her people, Varanis is riding directly to the tent where Lenta may be lurking.
The man nods in general direction of Praxian who is pretty obvious even in this large crowd.
Varanis nods. “Make sure they both know I’m here and they can report in when they are done their current tasks. For now, I want a word with Lenta.”
As Varanis rides through the crowd it is as if a silent wave went through it. Men leave what they are doing and look at the arrivals. They seemed to be resting and preparing to make fires, for most part.
By the tent there is a small gathering of people. A redheaded woman is talking with Xenofos and a short woman in skirt and bodice of a noblewoman, not armour.
“Xenofos!” Varanis calls out. “Cousin, it is good to see you.”
Venlar looks to the important things, checking the set of his cuffs and adjusting one a little.
“Varanis! ” shouts the small woman with a joyful sound.1Well, yes it is Lenta.
Xenofos greets Varanis with a wave “Good to see you, milady!”
The redhead raises a light mace in salute and with hoarse voice greets Varanis as she approaches “Milady Varanis”2 Varanis has vague memory of the redhead, one of the younger initiates in Nochet Nersteva?
Varanis dismounts and removes her helmet. “Hello Lenta. Nersteva, is it?” she asks, with a smile for the Vingan.
Venlar dismounts as well, with the clumsy care of an infantryman on a very good horse. He looks around for someone to take his reins.
Varanis’ horse disappears without any fuss, if she is not careful her helmet may follow suit. It takes some time and a marked look from a man with Air tattoo on his cheek before the same happens to Venlar.
“Yes, Varanis, Nersteva.” The young woman beams at being remembered. Her voice is almost painful to listen to, though.
The man gets a nod, and a slight smile, from Venlar.
“Right. I met Berra Humakti on the road, so I have some sense of what I’ve ridden into, but I want to hear from you, Lenta. And of course, I’ll need Xenofos and Rajar’s perspectives too. Venlar Silorsson is a trusted advisor and Mellia Lightbringer’s husband. He is to be treated with the same respect due all my people.” A meaningful look is directed at anyone within hearing range. “For the moment, Venlar, I’d like you to stay by my side. I’m hoping you’ll take some notes for me.”
“Of course,” Venlar says. “I only have a wax on me, however.” He looks around, and gives Xenofos a hopeful look. “Lord-Scribe, I know this is awkward, but might I borrow pen and ink?” He is the very picture of polite embarrassment.
“Do you want to talk with me before you talk to the commanders?” Lenta asks Varanis, smiling and glancing discreetly at Nersteva..
Venlar speaks in Esrolian, somewhat accented, but entirely comprehensible.
Xenofos thinks for a while, reaches for his writing kit, picks up a pen, puts it back and chooses another. Handing that and small inkhorn over he asks “Do you have papyrus or parchment, brother-in-law?”
“Only a little,” Venlar replies. “I had not meant to pack any at all, if truth be told, but I was wondering how to send a message to Mellia, and so I have some by accident.” He examines the pen tip, and rolls the pen in his fingers.
“Lenta, is there somewhere we can sit and talk? Venlar and I have been riding all day and I will want to walk later, but I don’t yet know a scribe who can write and walk at the same time.”
Nersteva looks miffed. “I am sure she will talk with all the commanders and to everyone a bit later,” Lenta assures her. “You heard she wants to rest for a little while? There would be shade in the tent,” she says to Varanis nodding towards it.
“Nersteva, I have another task for you, please. I would like all the unit leaders ready to meet with me in an hour. Make sure that each of them knows I’m looking for a report on their troops and that I may keep them for some time. This will allow them to make any arrangements they need to.” Varanis smiles at the Vingan, though it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “I need someone with authority to do this, not a simple messenger. I trust you to be sure that every unit commander knows of my wishes, regardless of the type of troops they lead.”
“I am the commander for today… Until Yelmset. Do you wish to see all commanders or the whole council? “Nersteva asks.
“Start me with the inner circle. Those who share overall command and who advise. We’ll move on to the others after.”
She looks at Varanis like the order was a bit unclear. “Yes milady,” she croaks an answer. “When do we march?”
This earns an impatient frown. “Not yet.”
She salutes again and starts looking around.
Venlar has spent that time making sure he has pen, ink, parchment, and a surface to write on; in this case, he has a small case in a pannier that he seems puzzled to have brought with him, but is pleased to have nevertheless.
Nersteva looks at the gathering crowd with some irritation. With a forced shout she calls out “Commanders to the banner! Commanders to the banner! Pass the word!”
Varanis arches a brow and gives Lenta a look. Then she brushes past to step into the tent.
Venlar steps forwards, but pauses to let Lenta go in first. He gives the camp an interested look.
From behind them Varanis and Venlar can hear in a different voice, “Rest of you disperse! Yes! It was Varanis! She will speak to everyone – later!” followed by a tumultuous cheer that takes a time to quiet down.
Xenofos peeks in. “Do you wish me to stay here or do something else?”
“Stay please.” Quietly she murmurs, “and signal me if I start to lose my temper.”
There is another woman in the tent already armoured and leaning on a battle-axe, she nods to comers with a mirthless expression.
When tent flap closes behind Venlar, Lenta breathes out. Some of her smile vanishes. “I am glad to see you here Varanis.”
Venlar, who has a pleasant, polite expression, gives the armoured woman a tiny nod, and then looks around.
Varanis looks at the axe-bearing warrior. “And this is?”
The tent is sparsely furnished. There are some chests, a rug, some sleeping blankets.
“This is my cousin Harunelda, do you wish her to leave us?” Lenta asks Varanis. Up close it is possible to see that her eyes look tired under impeccably applied kohl and there is hint of that in her voice too.
“Will her presence help you feel at ease?”
“It could make her feel at ease. I know I am safe.” Lenta says and nods to her cousin, “could you go outside and see we are not eavesdropped, please?” She shrugs apologetically. “This is just a tent though.”
Venlar settles onto a chest so that he can use his little case and his parchment if needed.
Varanis unbuckles her cuirass and drops it near the tent flap. Then she sinks to the rug. “I don’t know if I want to shake you or hug you. I’m glad you’re safe, Lenta. I was worried when I learned you’d vanished from Nochet again. Especially with Garin still on the loose. But what have you done?” She runs a hand through her hair, a sure sign of frustration.
“Helped spread your words that Sartar and liberty need support,” she answers quietly. Her lip wobbles a bit. “Tried to help this company to get underway despite disharmony.” She bites her lip.
“Berra spoke well of your efforts,” Varanis tells her.
Lenta looks to be on verge of breaking down, but breathes in and out several times. “It was perhaps not very diplomatic of you to talk me first, but it may be prudent.” Her voice is controlled. Just.
“So, tell me what your role is here,” Varanis suggests, indicating that Lenta should sit with her.
“I am not a commander. Nor do I vote in the council. I observe. Make suggestions. Give little hints and nudges when things get bogged down by arguing. Sometimes that helps get things moving” She shakes her head “But I am no warrior. I don’t really know how to run a household yet… ” Her voice starts to break and she needs to pause.
“Tell me who is on the council, please. And what you have observed about them.” Varanis tries to be reassuring. “You’re observant and presumably you’ve been with them since the beginning.”
“Well, the council is all the Vingans, all the axemaidens of Babeester Gor and those who participated in the collection of funds. That is basically cavalrymen.” she rubs her temples. “Your cult sisters will probably suggest you appoint them the sub commanders. Axe maidens will hear none of that. And the men argue that they should have a say since it was they who started the recruiting.” She pauses and looks at Varanis.
“If it’s a council, of course the men should have a say too. Why wouldn’t they? I’ll appoint my sub commanders based on experience, training, and skills.”
Venlar finally makes a couple of notes.
“Vingans and Babeester Gori just plain loathe to accept any commands from any man even if it has been agreed on. ” She shrugs “And make that rudely clear. Not that they really like to accept orders from each other either. Infantry can follow orders a bit better, even though Nochet guys complain for not having a commander of their own in rotation. They just could not agree on anyone and were voted down anyway. Cavalry follows orders but want to make it absolutely clear they only do it because they choose to.”
Xenofos puts a hand on Varanis’ elbow.
As Lenta explains, Varanis’ expression gets darker and darker. “I will not tolerate troublemakers and I will not allow stupid biases to interfere with what we are trying to do. I will send these people home if I have to. Better that than have them shame their families by their behaviour.”
The tension and controlled rage is palpable to Xenofos. Venlar too has begun to notice it.
Lenta nods. “The trouble is – they all will follow you, but many if not most are not ready to submit to someone else between you and them. Or so it seems to me.”
“They aren’t going to have a lot of choice about. This is how military units work. Is there anything else you think I should know before I speak to them?”
“They expect to choose themselves, Varanis. If you try to change that you are better off persuading then ordering.” Young woman looks with a defiantly set jaw. “None of us are here because we were following family orders. So you don’t have obedient unit to work with, but company with fire in its heart.”
“It is not so different from the old Greens, you know,” Xenofos says. “And you can probably get them to choose people you want to. Once you find them.”
The Vingan takes a deep breath. “You are both wise. I will try to do as you advise.”
“What else you should know… I don’t know what Berra told you. Commanders are twelve in number, change at Yelmset. A Vingan, followed by one of the Greens, followed by one of Axe maidens, followed by one of the Golden Racers,” Lenta says.
“I brought some lentils to stretch the food supplies a little further. It’s not much, a few meals per person. But it will hopefully take the edge off while we try to sort supplies. I didn’t know that cooking tools were somewhat limited though. We’ll need to work out how to cook them in sufficient quantities.”
“Did you get us access to Boldhome markets?” Lenta asks “We were denied that when we came over and that has caused bad blood. Berra did explain reasoning behind, but I am afraid that may have been a shortsighted decision.”
“Did you not notice that Sartar is hungry as you marched across the kingdom? People are starving in some villages. That’s why I was in Nochet, trying to arrange supplies to help alleviate some of the pressure.”
“We bought cattle here,” she looks at the tent door, “so the pressure was not borne by city of Boldhome, but a village. I have said that we need to pay fairly for anything we use but I am concerned.”
“We cannot be thieves here. If we must take, we take from the Lunars.”
“Pay with silver, pay fairly,” she confirms, looking sad. “I am afraid, Varanis, I fear blood was spilt. I should have demanded to know. I was afraid to find out so I did not have courage to confront her. I am sorry, Varanis. My courage failed.”
She nods looking miserable. “None of our own are missing as far as I know, I asked quietly around yesterday.”
“I’m going to have to find out and punish her if it’s what we think it is.” Although the anger still seethes below the surface, Varanis’ voice is dead calm.
Lenta looks aside. Xenofos clears his throat quietly.
Varanis glances at her cousin. “Yes?”
“This is hearsay, I did not talk with Varaneva herself.” Xenofos starts.
“I’ll hear it anyway, please.”
“Apparently, when the patrol was out buying cattle one of the locals took a weapon and tried to stab her. She severed his hand with an axe. Those I talked with agreed that he was the attacker.” He looks at Varanis. “It seems to have happened pretty quickly. The men present could not quite remember what words preceeded that.”
She nods. “I’ll need to know more. But first, I’m going to need to meet with this council. Is there anything else either of you think I ought to know?”
Venlar has made a few more notes, nothing more.
“People are expected to pay for their own upkeep, but I think some are already running low on coin. We gathered some funds.” She points to one of the chests with her chin. “Irillo Norinel keeps one key, Esrolakar has another. I… I have the third. Your cultsisters and Axemaidens could not agree who of them would take it.”
Varanis nods. “I suppose it’s time meet with them then. Do you have any wash water? I’d like to rinse the dust away.”
Lenta looks around the tent and hands over a canteen. “Not very much I am afraid. There are springs, but we do not have much beyond drinking in this heat… Have you eaten anything?”
Varanis takes a small sip of water, then passes the canteen back. “I’ll not waste it then. I ate on the road. I’m fine for food for the moment.”
Lenta looks around. “I can move out if you wish to take this tent. It is Hofhrai’s but I am sure he would be fine with it.”
“I’d prefer not to displace you. I have what I need.”
Venlar looks up, pausing with his pen poised.
Varanis sighs and nods at him. “Yes?”
“Sleeping outside does not befit your status here,” Venlar says. “Unless it is apart from others, with a guard.”
“Kept in a cage once again.” The Vingan shrugs. “So be it. Lenta, I accept your kind offer, if Hofhrai agrees to it to.”
“I am confident he will.” Lenta says.
“Varanis?” Xenofos says quietly.
He leans over to say even more quietly “Her cousin was sleeping with her, you could fit in here together without discomfort.”
“And without people assuming she is my lover?” Varanis scans the tent, assessing.
“Oh, I did not think of that.” Xenofos admits.
Lenta’s expression does not change but her ears flush.
“The tent is too big for me alone. Lenta, you will stay here, but so will Venlar while he is at the camp. If he leaves, someone else can take his place.”
Venlar seems happy with such an arrangement.
“You are right, you need to protect your reputation and avoid giving anyone a wrong impression.” Lenta says a bit stiffly.
Varanis shakes her head. “It’s not that. I don’t want people here to think your authority stems from you being my lover. You’ve taken on a lot of responsibility and you’ve been doing well given the circumstances. That is what people should be paying attention to. Besides, your mother already wants me dead.”
Flicker of emotions go through younger woman’s face. She bites her lip and looks away.
“So, it’s settled? If Hofhrai agrees, you and Venlar will stay here? When Venlar has to go, Xenofos, I think it would be best if you take his spot.” Having decided that, Varanis rolls her shoulders and takes a deep breath. “Where does the council usually meet?”
Venlar continues looking pleasant and polite. He has Resting Nice Face.
“Here they have gathered by the banner.” Lenta says and nods towards the front of the tent.
“Time for my note-taking?” Venlar asks Varanis.
“Yes, Venlar. Thank you. Lenta, I feel like it would be useful to have you here. Do you believe this would be unwise for any reason? I need you to be honest with me, not polite.”
“I have listened to their discussions before. I think they are used to it by now.” the younger woman ponders.
“Then I would like you to stay. Let’s get this over with, then.” She rises and glances around the tent. “Where did they take my packs? I have some wine with me…”
“Shall I stay, milady” Xenofos asks, a tad formally.
“You are my primary advisor, dear one. I need you. Between the three of you,” Varanis gestures to include them all, “I am hoping I’ll be able to manage leading these people with some degree of success.”
Venlar bows his head, politely accepting.
Xenofos nods, stands up and offer his hand for Lenta to rise up.
The young woman nods to Varanis her face starting to take the calm friendly expression it had before she entered the tent.
Varanis buckles her cuirass back into place, then with no Berra about to object, she ducks through the tent flap first.
Venlar follows directly afterwards.
Varanis is greeted by salutes of a dozen people waiting a bit behind banner. And a spontaneous of roar of people further down the meadow.
Xenofos and Lenta follow quietly.
The Vingan puts on a confident smile and waves.
The woman with the baton, Nersteva, announces “commanders assembled as you requested, milady.”
Her hoarse voice is almost drowned out by the crowd.3 Varanis Oo. ‘Vinga and Orlanth, help me.’
“Thank you, Nersteva.”
Venlar looks comfortable as he settles into a posture that makes it very unlikely that even he will drop his ink – he has it held firmly. Nothing could go wrong.
Varanis surveys the group, making careful note of each face, then she nods. “I’m going to need to speak to them, to get them settled back into their tasks. We won’t be able to get any work done with all that yelling.” She indicates the crowd. “Give me just a few minutes and then you will have my undivided attention.” It is information that she is passing to the gathered commanders, not permission that she is seeking.
The six women and six men nod. The faces show variety of haughtiness, curiosity but mainly admiration.
Varanis jumps up onto the boulder at the base of the banner. She holds her hands up, palms out, gesturing for quiet.
For a while effect of her action is louder cheering and the crowd approaching, but after some time that quiets down and they look expectantly at Varanis.
The Vingan launches into a short speech, telling them that she is happy to be able to join them at last and that she looks forward to talking to them all soon. She tells them that she will meet with their commanders first and directs them to return to their evening tasks. She promises to visit them at their fires, so that she can begin to know them. She asks them to spread the word among the camp. It’s not a flowery speech – short and to the point. But her words carry well, as she seeks to reassure them.4 orate – success
Venlar does not make notes during that. He just listens and watches.
Much cheering ensues.
Varanis steps down off the rock, murmuring, “It’s going to be a long night.” To the assembled commanders, she says, “Now, I know some of you, but my advisor, Venlar does not. And I don’t know who or what you are commanding. If you could each take a moment to introduce yourself and tell me about the troops under your command, I would appreciate it. Then we can discuss things further. Would you like to sit? I do have some wine to share, if any of you would like some.”
Venlar readies his pen once more.
Nersteva looks around. “Err. We alternate in overall command, I carry the baton today. I am Nersteva.”
“And do you have direct command over any of the troops here?”
“All of them, on agreed matters when I carry the baton.” She looks a bit lost.
There is writing from Venlar, of course. His borrowed nib skitters a little, but he seems to be able to control it.
“I may have a misconception here. All twelve of you rotate overall command, correct? But there are several units combined in this camp. I saw cavalry from both the Greens and Golds, did I not? And different infantry militias? Who commands these groups.”
“Well, there are troops with different origins, they do not form specific units. And there is only one overall commander each day. ” says a man who rode to meet you. “He or she may give tasks to someone else if need be. I am Irillo of Norinel, I rode with the Golden racers.”
“I see. Thank you for that information, Irillo. I saw your mother recently. She is a consummate host. Let’s stick with introductions for the moment then, shall we?”
Venlar continues writing, making sure he has the details.
“Oralartha. I will carry the baton as representative of Babeester Gori day after tomorrow.”
“Aranda – of the Vingan temple”
Varanis nods at each in turn.
“Sorala- of the Vingan temple, also. I do not lead us but I do on occasion speak for all of us.”
Venlar does not, although he nods to say he has each name down. He writes a little more slowly than Xenofos would, if Xenofos could currently write.
A man attempts to say a word in between, but is interrupted by an Axemaiden “Varaneva “
“And Henalda of Babeester Gor. If Sorala sometimes speaks for your spearsisters so do I for us axemaidens. You should know that we do not accept their demand to take command just because they belong to your cult. Just so you know.”
There is a very short pause, cough from one of the men who continues. “Kesten Evaeo from the Greens.”
“Barnropos Delaneo, also from the Greens – I do not claim leadership, but my comrades have sometimes chosen me to speak for them.”
“And Esrolakar Zirandarn. also of the Greens.”
“Hendrestos Deleaos – from the Golden Racers.”
“And Barntmal from house Deleaos. I would like to note that while Irillo does not lead us, we have let him speak for us in some matters.”
Varanis nods at each in turn, making mental note of names, Houses, and Temples.
“I am, as you know, Varanis Saiciae. In Sartar, I am sometimes called Vareena. My grandmother was of the Colymar and descended from the House of Sartar.” She looks at them all thoughtfully. “I understand that you have gathered in my name. Tell me what it is that you wish from me. Are you here to serve under my command?”
There is short look around. Barnropos responds. “We have sworn to follow that banner where you lead us, because you words inspired us.”
There is nodding and comments of hear, hear.
“So be it. I am waiting for word from Boldhome on where we can best be of use. But in order to use us effectively, I need to know what we have and I, or my people, may have ideas about how to organize the troops into effective units. I know that you are all knowledgeable and I respect that. My people have training and experience. I ask that you trust that they know what they are talking about. I am counting on you to continue to lead, but ask that you be willing to consider some possible shifts in how that happens.” Varanis watches them as she speaks. Her tone is persuasive, her smile reassuring.
Two of the three Vingans look like they are hiding a smirk. Spokeswoman looks thoughtful. Axesisters look gloomy. Men look mainly curious, with glances at the groups of women.
Venlar glances up, possibly takes that in, and seems to have finished writing.
“Each of you brings important skills to this task. The best general I have ever served under comes from your temple,” Varanis says with a nod to the Babeester Gori. “If you have even a fraction of her training, you have important things to contribute.” To the Vingans, she gives a warning look and says, “I know what your training is like and probably have a good idea of how far along in it you are and what you likely have yet to complete. I trained in the same temple and I know your teachers.” She turns to the others. “As you know, my cousin Xenofos served with the Greens, as did my father. I have some idea of what their training was like, but I will need to learn more about you and your skills.”
“Show us a shieldwall and we will break it for you, and let whoever can or dares follow us.” Henalda bellows striking her armoured chest with her fist.
Varanis shoots a look in Rajar’s direction.
“I need to wait for some guidance from Prince Kallyr. While I do, I’d like to get to know this unit better and perhaps help it reach its potential. I have an idea and would like to know what you think of it.” She pauses, hoping to spark some curiosity in the group.
There are curious looks. Barnropos is the first to speak despite scowl from Aranda “What would that be, milady?”
“Could you create small units of the types of warriors that you have been trained to lead? Tomorrow, you will run them through some drills to show me the best of what they can do now. Once I know what they are capable of, perhaps we can develop a set of competitions to further test them. A bit of lively competition should keep people active and their spirits up.”
There is some looking around and shifting of weight from foot to another. Irillo is first to open his mouth “For us that would be cavalry and none of us Racers were officers… I know some of the infantry because they are men my family under protection of our house and more likely to listen to what I have to say then some stranger.” He looks questioningly at Barnropos. “I think it is similar among the Greens.” He admits. Aranda laughs derisively.
“We know how to charge on foot, just show us a target, Varanis. Men need just follow if they dare.” says Oralartha.
Oralartha gets a warning look. “None of that. I’ll make my own assessments. Just charging is going to get you all killed.”
She turns back to Irillo, giving him an encouraging smile. “None of you were officers, but did any of you have officer training?”
“What our uncles have taught us, I guess, for most of us” he answers “things learned when following orders and sometimes assisting the officers. And this trip. I have learned more this season then in years before. It is a different thing to arrange things and lead men then to listen old stories or even practise with your fellow youth…”
There is general accepting murmur to this from the group of men.
“Then I expect you to learn from the experience of others. I will discuss this more with my advisors and let you know what I want to do longer term. But, in the meantime, I would like you to sort the troops into sub-units that each of you will command. Discuss it amongst yourselves and agree to a plan for this. Then, we’ll run through a series of challenges and make adjustments as needed.” Giving them a reassuring grin, she adds, “In part, this is because we need to give the troops something to do. And this will help me see what we’re working with. Now, I have promised to go through the camp tonight, but before that, there are a few more things we need to discuss. Is there a quartermaster?”
There is a general shaking of heads. “No, not really. Commander has needed to take care of that on daily basis.”
“I see. So is there a record of what supplies we have? And of all the people here?”
“No, not as such. People brought there own kit of course and some rations. And bought food themselves until we were cut off from the market. We bought a small herd of cattle day couple of days ago.” Irillo tells Varanis.
“Yes. That’s another conversation we’ll need to have. I’ve brought a few meals worth of lentils. It should stretch to a couple of days or more as a supplement to the beef. Food supply is one of the things Berra Humakti is working on. Can any of you hunt?”
Kesten Evaeo twirls his moustache. “Of course we can hunt. Chase is one thing we have done quite a lot, right? And I think we could find reasonable amount of beaters for the chain too if, we do not think that much of the sport. But it would take some time for us to get to know the lay of the land.”
“Too bad I did not bring my foxalynxes” comments Hendrestos.
“Foxes won’t feed us,” Varanis points out. “Deer is what we’re after. When we split into smaller units for training, some of those units can also be responsible for things like hunting. Units that don’t have hunters may pull extra guard shifts or be responsible for other tasks.”
Venlar puts up a finger to imply that he has something minor to say.
Varanis gestures that he should speak.
“It may be difficult to negotiate hunting rights in a timely fashion,” Venlar says. “I am not sure if we have reached the Kheldon border.” That is, they might be anywhere.
Varanis sighs. “I see. Then it will have to wait. We cannot cause conflict in Sartar. We’ll find a way to feed people.” She glances around at the group. “So, I’m seeing what some of my concerns are. Now I need to hear yours. One at a time, please.”
“When do we march against the Lunars?” asks Sorala.
“When we are ready and when Kallyr directs us.”
There is nodding all around. “Where shall we strike?” asks Kesten.
“Again, waiting for Kallyr’s direction. It has to be where we can do some good.”
“Do you have any idea how soon we can expect to hear from her?” Henalda asks.”We could form up and attack today if required. But some of the men might benefit from a bit more training.”
“And we could all benefit from learning how to work together. We’ll see if Berra brings word on her return. In the meantime, can someone please tell me what happened that led to bloodshed recently?”
Venlar glances up at Varanis and down at his parchment, but does not start writing again.
Big woman wearing necklace of severed hands nods and explains in calm, melodious voice entirely devoid of any feeling. “A local peasant wished to die. He grabbed a spear, yelled some gibberish and tried to stab me. Because our little Ernaldan has said we should treat these people with gentleness, I did not grant his wish,”
The axemaiden looks at Lenta and nods “They got paid a fair price in silver for those animals, I deemed the rest of the village should not suffer for the stupidity of that one fool.”
Lenta looks at the necklace and looks nauseous.
Varanis arches a brow. “You didn’t understand what he was trying to say? And if he was trying to tell you that he could not sell the cattle? Could he have been trying to defend his family’s livelihood?”
“His spear told me clearly enough he was trying to kill me. I know that language. It was not I who turned that discussion into clash of arms” axemaiden, Varaneva, turns her eyes towards Varanis. “He is a lucky man to be alive after trying to kill an servant of the Pleasant one.” The voice of the axemaiden is patient and calm.
“I see.” To the observant, Varanis is not yet done with this topic, but also unwilling to continue the discussion here and now. “Well, Yelm is sinking fast and I have promised to move amongst the warriors. I will do so now. Who is to take the baton next?”
“That would be me, milady” Kesten Evaeo answers.
Varaneva just looks at Varanis calmly, with a gaze that looks through Varanis and beyond her.
“Nersteva and Kesten, you likely have business to attend to then. Irillo, Henalda, Barnropos, and Sorala, I wonder if you would be so kind as to join me while I walk the camp? If you have other tasks to attend to, please feel free to say so.”
Venlar straightens up a little too, not invited by name, but definitely moving around when Varanis is.
There is some general nodding. Nersteva looks at Kesten who looks back at her and nods as if they had just agreed on something. “Milady, it would be my turn to receive the baton at Yelmset, but Nersteva pointed out that it feels wrong to hold that symbol of command now that you are with us, and I do agree with her. Would you wish to take it?”
She shakes her head. “I don’t think we are quite there yet. I would be honoured if you continue to carry the baton for the time being.” 5 Varanis passes charm 31/34
There are some nods of agreement and people begin to split off. Varanis signals Venlar to join her and steps closer to Xenofos to murmur very quietly, “Let me know what you hear a little later?”
Venlar insinuates himself effortlessly beside Varanis.
Xenofos nods to Varanis quietly.
Yelm has fallen beyond the mountains and left the meadow of the Esrolian camp in deep shadow lit by flickering fires spread widely. As soon as Varanis and her entourage start descending people, mainly men start assembling around them. Loud shouts by Henalda the Axe maiden, reminding of Varanis’ words get them to fall back to their fires. Well some of them. Those whose fires are further away remain around wishing to hear what is going on, to not miss a thing.
Somehow Varanis and her entourage manage to travel from fire to fire in a flurry of welcomes, cheers and attempts at hospitality even from lads with nothing else but a reedmat and a fistfull offreshly charred meat. Everyone is certain everything will turn right now, and those Lunars are going to get a licking no matter what anyone says, and when will we storm Glamour?
Varanis meets Hofhrai who has nothing against her occupying his tent as long as she wishes. She also meets a flurry of semifamiliar faces and loads of total strangers by looks both citylads and farmboys, everyone eager to press her hand and vouch their fighting spirit. Fighting songs are raised towards the darkening evening sky.
Some nob even tries the Lightbringer ballad. Songs Varanis sings of Berra and Rajar are applaused. Someone returns with ballad of Berra and Kesten and there is some confusion if this refers to Kesten in command at the moment.
That song will earn a frown from Varanis.
Men lack bread but they are not hungry. The man who has done the butchering takes the opportunity to ask if Varanis could arrange for them to get some salt, just to make it possible to preserve stuff more efficiently. He apologizes for the waste, but with no salt and rudimentary equipment…
It is late hour of the night before Varanis has walked past all the fire places. As she is leaving for the tent Barnropos tells her quietly that the pickets were just changed and if she would like to meet them now, they probably would appreciate it…
Varanis makes sure that Venlar has noted the salt needs and the name of the butcher.
She is definitely up for meeting the returning guard shift, despite being tired at this point.
Venlar nods his head. “Of course,” he tells Varanis, and kneels by a fire to be sure he writes it correctly.
More handshakes, more assurances of fighting spirit. Pickets are hungry and tired but chance to meet Varanis is way more valuable then getting to cook their portion of the meat and to sleep.
After they talked long enough, she sends them to their food and sleeping rolls and then thanks the others for accompanying her and encourages them to do the same. She asks Venlar to accompany her to the tent, where they’ll be sleeping, after checking with Sorala about where to meet the rest of the Vingans for the Yelmrise rites.
Varanis reaches the camp with Venlar
- 1Well, yes it is Lenta.
- 2Varanis has vague memory of the redhead, one of the younger initiates in Nochet Nersteva?
- 3Varanis Oo. ‘Vinga and Orlanth, help me.’
- 4orate – success
- 5Varanis passes charm 31/34