1628, Earth Season, Movement Week
There’s a feast up at the palace and Varanis takes some time to catch up with a couple of her favourite temple heads. There is a degree of impertinence, of course. Takes place towards the end of Surprise Sur– (Sartar Arc 8).
It is late enough in the evening that people are chattering, talking, shouting, even singing. Lord Eril is in his usual position to the left of Kallyr, who has the Luminous Stallion King on her right… no, on her lap. Kalis is next to the now-empty seat, with Varanis next to Kalis. The Earth Priestess is doing a fine job of keeping a straight face, but it may have been a relief to her when Kallyr decided to display dominance over her husband-bride.
Everyone is drunk enough that this is mostly normal even if one is not already Ernaldan.
Varanis is slightly tipsy as she leans over to peer at Kalis.
“Were you trying to mess with my love life, exalted one1Originally autocorrected to exhausted one, which would also work.?” she asks.
Kalis looks pink cheeked, which of course suits her. “Probably?” she says. “Which day are we talking about?”
“When you sent Lenta after me.”
“I didn’t send her after you… I sent her to do a job.” Kalis narrows her eyes. “Someone may have been both indiscreet and wrong. Tell me?”
Varanis thinks, chews her lip, then says, “Nope. Don’t want to.” She gives the priestess a cheeky grin and a wink. “Can’t make me either. We’re in at the Prince’s table.”
“Your tongue is far too busy, sweetheart,” Kalis replies. “But no, I try not to mess with my lovers. I support them, though. It can look like the same, if you do not know what you are seeing. Do you know what Lenta is trying to find out?” Now she looks amused for a moment.
Varanis shrugs. “No idea. I wasn’t even aware that she was looking for something. Sometimes I think she’s a Grandmother in the making. Casting and weaving many threads. Other times I worry that she’s tangled in the threads.”
“Oh, if you know that I was messing with your love life, she will never be a Grandmother. She’s thinking with her heart, not her head, poor dear, and probably thinks that’s the same as her loins.” Kalis casually reaches back and jerks at Jandetin’s minor throne just as he falls back into it, so he does not fall onto her. She did not even look that way. “What you have is someone with not enough Earth in her Fertility.”
Varanis takes a sip of wine, having snatched her cup and Kalis’ from the table when the table was jostled. She offers the Ernaldan’s cup back to her.
Kalis blushes, removes King Jandetin’s hand from her thigh, and sips at the wine while maintaining significant eye contact.
“Can you help her ground herself? Without involving me?” Varanis asks, returning the gaze. “She’s clever and capable and beautiful and she deserves so much more than she has right now.”
“Not easily,” Kalis says with some thought. “She has uprooted everything and drifts. What she has is what she carries with her, and her pride is bound up in you, as well as her love. Still, those roots bring something with her. We can find a Temple task for an Esrolian who can dance like she does. Do you think she would like to teach?”
“Honestly? I don’t know. But she would likely be good at it.” Varanis tosses back the rest of her wine and moves to refill cups.
“She needs to feel valued for other things, and to be honest, you should either cut her off, or use her as an asset. What can she do for you, that you have not yet asked her to do? She is, after all, clever and capable.” Kalis accepts the wine. “She is honey to your salt, yet I have not heard of her intriguing within the city.”
“That is an intriguing idea. I shall sleep on it and then perhaps discuss it with her,” Varanis muses. She takes another sip of wine. “Right, I’d better say what I’d planned to him, before I drink more or the night… gets too carried away.” This last with a glance at the Prince’s consort. “Forgive me, Bountiful One. I must brave the scowling Sword and hope I leave with both arms attached.”
“Oh, now there is a man who thinks with his weapon. I think perhaps I’ll not watch you greet him. I might catch a case of scowls.” Kalis leans back. “Let me know if you need to recover afterwards.”
Varanis rises, but before she goes, she leans down to place a kiss on Kalis’ cheek. “Always a pleasure to spend time with you.”
Kalis responds, but with nothing more than a brushed kiss, and she is standing up to go elsewhere as well. The party is getting started.
The Vingan makes her way behind the throne and the guards that lurk behind it, approaching Eril from the side. She does her best to get into line of sight before getting into sword range.
Lord Eril is watching the room. There is food on his plate, looking barely touched, but the hood of his woollen robe is pulled back, either demonstrating his current ebulliently happy mood, or because it is hot in here and he is wearing wool. Nevertheless, this does let him see Varanis approaching. “Thane Varena,” he says smoothly. “How kind of you to come in person.”
No doubt he is of the opinion that the correct way to do things is to send a messenger. To come in person indicates a social closeness that would be called kindness by Kalis, at least. He is not lying. And, just perhaps, he looks amused.2Special Customs Sartar.
“High Sword, I was hoping for a word and it’s not really the sort of thing I’d send by messenger,” Varanis replies with a shrug. “Besides, it was beginning to get noisy at my end of the table.” A lift of her chin indicates the Luminous Stallion King who is once again trying to be handsy with Boldhome’s Ernalda.
“The messenger is to ask what time is convenient,” he says. “However, as we are here, and it is warm in here, and the gossips have little else to do, shall we take a walk?” He pushes his chair out without bothering to get up until he has an answer, or the implied answer is at least confirmed. It has a very low back, allowing him to react quickly if necessary, while still being higher status than a stool or a shared bench.
Varanis steps back with a polite nod. “Of course. I am at your disposal, for the moment.”3Just like “yours to dispose of,” but not quite.
There is a moment, while he is getting up, in which she can see that people look at him when he does – far more attention falls on him then than is usual, and then he is walking out, without apparent heed of anything. He walks like he is absolutely prepared to admit that Kallyr owns the hall, if asked.
Varanis stretches her legs just enough to put herself beside him, not a half step behind.
He slows down enough to let her walk on his left, and steers towards the back part of the palace. “I take it you can have no objection to Humakt observing our talk?”
“None,” she replies. “Uncle Humakt is always welcome.” The term she uses is the traditional Vingan one. It’s not Varanis’ own impertinence, but that of her goddess.
“An interesting observation, given how many ways one can find of attempting to fend him off.” Eril looks politely interested in the theory, as if he has entirely missed the point. He can’t have missed the point.
Varanis shrugs. “Just because I like spending time with him doesn’t mean I’m ready to move in.” And now the impertinence is definitely hers. “I’ve visited a couple of times, but I have a lot that needs doing still.”
“Mm.” Eril gestures down a corridor a moment later. “Then please, come visit my home.” He sounds entirely serious, as if everything leading up to this point has been a chance for talk, but the Temple is no laughing matter.
Drawing a deep breath, Varanis nods. She takes her cue from the High Sword and all teasing drops now. Perhaps it’s his manner, or the weight of Humakt’s holy place, or the combination of both. She enters the corridor and follows his lead.
There are several rooms off the corridor, then a blank space of wall, and then a doorway with a hanging hide in it, and the Runes of Humakt carved above the door. This is deep in the mountain, and other than the torches, there is no light. Eril ducks through the hide door, holding it to one side for long enough that Varanis can slip in.
The room within is a simple cross-shape, with a screen hiding what must be the altar. They have come in at the point of the sword. Eril bows his head to the altar, and for a moment seems to look at it through the screen, which is nothing but a dark shape with a hideous demon nearly visible on it, in the low light. A single oil lamp by the door is all the illumination there is, and Varanis is standing so that her shadow bobs around the room and sometimes occludes it.
There is no furniture, and would not be room for much – the shrine is small, maybe twenty feet long in total. It smells, incongruously, of roasted beef and the spices of Esrolia.
Varanis makes her own acknowledgment of the God of Death. Rather than a cheeky greeting from a loving niece, it is the solemn salute of Orlanth Rex to the Champion. Courteous and respectful, tempered by a degree of regret for what once was.
“So, what interrupts the planned levity?” Eril’s dry sense of humour seems to be establishing itself after a moment.
She blinks, coming out of what was and was not a prayer. There’s a moment’s hesitation before she blurts, “Berra. I wanted to talk to you about Berra.”
There is a tiny flicker of satisfaction, like he knew that already.4Pass Insight Human. “And how is the initiate?” He does not ask where she is.
“My Lord, she’ll be ok, but … I think she’s changed in some way. I don’t know or understand how. She’s better than she was in the wake of the battle, beyond the epic hangover. But she has changed.” She chews her lower lip, sucks in a breath, then straightens her shoulders and looks him directly in the eye. She rushes ahead not giving him time to interrupt. “She worships you. She respects you. She trusts you. I know that you need to use the tools available to you and I know you could kill me without blinking, but I have to say this. She has to be in control of her own life. Can you promise me that you won’t let anyone strip her freedoms from her? That you won’t let her be used as a pawn? I’m sure that keeping her away is part of that, but it can’t be forever.” She doesn’t flinch, even as she makes her demands and possibly offers a deep insult.
He considers that for only a brief moment, before he says, “No. I cannot promise that.” He holds up a pale hand to forestall more words from her. “But do you think she would allow it?” The hand curls in the air, measuring the pause. He is trained in oratory, of course. “Anyone who tried would have to be considerably more full of ego than a mere palace could hold, surely?” That last question is a test. He knows what palaces are like.
Varanis considers his reply, then says stubbornly, “She’d do anything you asked of her. She might not like it, but she’d do it.”
“Really?” Eril looks pleasantly surprised. “This is news to me, indeed. Does your intelligence come from Orlanth, or from asking her?”
“I know Berra. I know her belief in you. I’ve joined her in worshipping you, as you no doubt know already. I felt your presence.” Her chin takes on the mulish tilt that some would recognize immediately.
“Thane,” he says carefully, “I can make no promises. It is not in my nature to assure others of the future.” There is a subtle change from care to determination. “Nevertheless, I can say that I will use her correctly. She will accede to that usage or she will not, and if she turns in my hand it is because I have failed. I do not intend that.”
Varanis gives him a long, assessing look. Finally, she says, “That will be enough for me. Thank you.”
In the darkness it is possible to make out how he assesses her in turn. “Thank you for giving me your time,” he says, his diction perfect and aristocratic and distant. “Will there be anything else?”
She considers, then nods. “Perhaps this is arrogant of me. I am Vinga’s and Kallyr’s before I am anything else. But I respect you and if I can strengthen you, Hero, I would like to do so. I’m not able to do this on my own, I think, but you may take of my spirit as you wish.” She holds her hands out to him, an offering made willingly.
He puts his shield-hand up, thin and elegant. It hides the strength he has well. “If I could do that, I would be a very different sort of god,” he replies. “One that did not respect the Compromise.” His forefinger strokes down her nose, fingertip cold, and then draws two little lines above it. A Truth Rune. “If you would help her, then set up my Rune Stone at the battle site.” Whatever moment in which he was entirely concentrating on her passes, and he adds a jab. “Jarangsdottir finds it easy to be asked to leave places, more difficult to be invited back.”
“As you say, High Sword.” As the mood shifts, she does too. “Do you suppose the gossips have enough fodder? Shall we go back together or would you like to enjoy some solitude for a time?” Even though it’s pointless to charm Eril, she gives him a charming and roguish grin. Vinga once more.5A critical on Charm! What a waste.
He smiles slightly. “Even Lady Kalis has failed to provide the gossips with fodder, for all she has attempted it.” He glances at the oil lamp, and gestures Varanis to the hanging hide. “I shall go back in my own time, as no doubt you will also.” He does not make to move.
Offering Eril a small bow and Humakt a deeper one, Varanis departs.
The hide falls back behind her, and Eril does not follow.6He’s probably just making sure he doesn’t have to make an undramatic exit after looking impressive.
Varanis briefly contemplates going to visit the Flame, but with a sigh she returns to the feast. She’s left people there and shouldn’t abandon them for long.
- 1Originally autocorrected to exhausted one, which would also work.
- 2Special Customs Sartar.
- 3Just like “yours to dispose of,” but not quite.
- 4Pass Insight Human.
- 5A critical on Charm! What a waste.
- 6He’s probably just making sure he doesn’t have to make an undramatic exit after looking impressive.