1626, Sea Season, Disorder Week
Well before Yelmrise. At the White Grape in Boldhome and from there up to the Flame of Sartar. After Session 2.30 (Sha-MEN!).
This is presented in three parts:
Part 1 – the climb/race
Part 2 – at the top
Part 3 – the descent and Berra’s anger
Part I: The Climb
Only a few hours have passed since Rajar finally fell asleep and the common room became still. Varanis makes her way down the stairs as quietly as she can in bronze armour, which, admittedly, isn’t very quiet. Serala is, presumably, still asleep.
Berra, who was dancing and singing last night, is just buckling on the last of her armour. She gives Varanis a nod, grabs her sword to buckle on, misjudges its length completely and whacks a table with it. 1Oh, dice, I love you. I know I helped for that exact result but a 000 is perfect. She stares at the sword rather than the amphoras on the table itself, but by a miracle nothing is upset and there are no further crashes. There is, however, a faint groan from the Humakti. “Fr….. argh.” Quietly.
Varanis covers her mouth to stifle a laugh. When she has composed herself, she jerks her chin in the direction of the door, an invitation to Berra to take the lead.
Berra gives Varanis a long-suffering look, and then at the door both casts a spell and pauses in concentration. “Clear,” she murmurs, “As far as I can tell.” She slips out, leaving Rondrik’s daughter to close the door behind them. Outside she hitches up the sword belt a bit, and tucks it over the belt that keeps Wind Tooth close. Her expression has annoyance in it, but her eyes look over the spots where danger might lurk.
The trip up the stairs
Varanis looks far too cheerful for someone with so little sleep. Despite all her worries, she is grinning in the predawn light. She walks purposefully down the street, sweeping her gaze across rooftops as she goes.
The trip up the
Berra goes at the fast lope of an infanteer who is much too short for the front rank, but wants to be there anyway. “I’ve got to get used to this sword,” she says. “And it’s deadly. I need to bring some wasters this long.”
“Can you find them quickly this morning? I don’t want to linger longer than necessary.”
“Yeah. I can always grab wood and shape them to a handle. I’m packed other than that.” Berra scampers a little to get ahead. “I just want you to know that it’s weird and annoying and I’ll need a while to get use to it. It’s two wide-spans too big and I hate it already.”
Varanis directs a curious glance at Berra. “Then why bring it?”
“Well…” There is a brief bit of irritated gesturing, and then Berra’s shoulders sink. “He wants me to carry it.”2Damnit. Passed Loyalty (shut the hell up about the complaint, Berra) and also Truth.
Varanis nods. “They ask for strange things at times…. could be worse. Did I tell you Kallyr asked if I’d consider praying to Vinga to change me to a man?” Her they seems to encompass any of the folks in the upper upper echelons, rather than herself.
Berra walks along for a few moments, and then asks, “Are you saying that to make me feel better about the Temple? Because it worked.”
Varanis shrugs. “Happy to help?”
“Wow. You as a man.” Berra turns to jog backwards for a moment, to look at Varanis. She even manages to keep her swords under control, and dodge a stepping stone at the roadside. “I… wow.”
“She suggested I could do it and then marry the Feathered Horse Queen by proxy, if her Majesty wasn’t interested in a Vingan for a Husband Protector.” This particular Vingan looks bemused by the idea.
“But she wasn’t going to?” Berra guesses. “Right. Of course.” She turns on a heel. “So if you’uhs a man, would you be even more flighty?”
This earns a flat stare. “What are you saying, Berra?”
“You’re emotional and Orlanthi enough already.” Berra glances over the ground as they get close to the thin staircase.
Varanis scowls, then laughs. “You’re not wrong.”
Berra attends to the view ahead. “Oh. More stairs!”
The Vingan laughs aloud at Berra’s attempted deflection. “Uh huh. Stairs. Race you?”
“Well, up to the bit where they narrow?” Berra’s gaze sweeps the area, and then she closes her eyes and listens, and then says, “Let’s.”3 Do 3 DEX rolls and then a CON roll, and then we’ll say the stairs start to narrow so we can’t get past each other. They do that from time to time. Berra’s rolls: DEX is pass, pass, pass. CON is fail. Varanis’ rolls: 57, 36, 05 and 36, so pass, pass, sp, and pass
Varanis whoops and then tears off up the stairs in a clatter of bronze.
Berra follows, although she was honestly already ready to run, and is right on the bronze-clad heels of her bronze-clad friend. The half hidden steps are steep right from the start, but she does not give up her position merely because sprinting is for tall people here.
The Vingan’s feet fly, though only in a figurative sense. There’s no point abusing her gift from Vinga for the sake of ego. She charges headlong up the stairs, trying to keep ahead of Berra.
Berra sticks with her, unable to gain enough to overtake, and unwilling to ankle-tap her rival despite the obvious opportunities. Short, strong legs work at the tall, high steps.
The staircase curves as it winds its way up the steep cliff. The Vingan vanishes around a corner, but is out of sight for less than a heartbeat as her companion stays close.
Berra keeps up on that steep turn but then there is a point where the steps are just right for Varanis – or just too tall for Berra. Or maybe it is the weather. It has been raining and the Humakti might be taking care on the slippery surface.
Varanis is still running all out, careless in her break for freedom. The distance between the women begins to grow, filled with the laughter of the fleet-footed Vingan.
Berra holds up a hand to say she has had enough, but does not have the breath to call out, and all she can do is stop, breathing hard, until she can move again.
It takes Varanis a moment to realise she’s lost Berra somewhere behind her. She slows down, glances back, and finally turns around, backtracking down the stairs to where the little Humakti waits, sucking wind. “You ok?”
Berra nods. “Yeah. Out of practice.” Her words come short, but she sets her back straight and starts moving. “You?”
Varanis is barely winded. “I’ll slow down,” is her only reply.
“Thanks. Sorry. No good right now.” Berra gets up the stairs slowly.
Scanning the way forward, the Vingan assumes the role of guard, allowing Berra to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.
Berra chuckles after a bit. “Are you sure you don’t want me to be in front?” She sounds better, but she is making a point of knowing what Varanis is doing.4Varanis passes insight human roll. Insight: Berra is trying not to be outwardly proud of Varanis, or overly happy.
“Nah, it’s good. You guard my rear.” She glances back to give Berra a lascivious wink.
“You’ve not got one worth guarding,” Berra says after a quick look. “So I’ll make sure we don’t get stabbed.”
Varanis protests with mock outrage. “I’ll have you know, Serala thinks it’s lovely.”
“I can’t help if she likes thin people.” Berra keeps going slowly, but at least she keeps going. “Maybe you need to sit down more, run around less.”
Varanis snorts. “I’ve been idle for weeks! And definitely eating plenty. Mind you, any time I’ve had meals up at the palace, I’ve worked them off on those damned stairs.”
“I do wonder if that’s one of the reasons Tennebris is down at the Air Temple so often – who’d want to?”
“Well…. unless something has changed, he does have personal reasons for climbing those stairs. But maybe his administrative duties have been keeping him busy.”
“I think it’s a good way of making sure the city and the palace get cared for both,” Berra replies. “I dunno how that Temple works, though, so… I’m shrugging but you can’t see it because you’re looking the wrong way. For that, I mean. The right way for guarding.”
As they climb higher, Varanis glances back at Berra from time to time, ensuring the other woman is keeping pace comfortably.
Berra is slowly recovering her colour, but she does still look like she is labouring under the climbing and the weight of her armour.
“Water break,” Varanis announces suddenly. She drops down to sit on a stair, unhooking her water flask from her hip. After taking a quick sip, she offers the flask to Berra.
“Thank you.” Berra is not thanking her for the water, although it’s a quick, clipped thanks that has no outward relief in it. She takes the flask, and says, “I left mine in that warehouse, way back. Outside Nochet. If Lord Kesten’s found it by now, he’s found some interesting people too.”
“You know, I have no idea if my letters made it through to Esrolia. I was hoping to have had word by now.”
“Probably not, then. You’d have had… well, depends on the pirates up the river. But I’d think you’d have had word of some kind. So they didn’t arrive or they didn’t get read kindly, I think.” Berra considers. “Was that one from your grandmother … I mean, it sounded like she was giving gifts, to me. So I did wonder.”
“The one about my sister? I should get Xenofos to read it to me again. I got stuck on the part about Mirava…”
Berra nods slowly, with sympathy. “Did you know… do you know her well?”
“She’s a lot older. She tried to mother me when our mother died… but our grandmother dealt with that. They share a name, you know. And a lot more. Mirava is a lot like grandmother. She has daughters – my nieces. They must be near to initiation now. But no… we aren’t close. I didn’t even visit her when we were in Nochet. They live outside the city.”
Berra nods. “It… I think I can see where your mind went.”
“And now I’m leaving her to her fate.” The Esrolian swears in Pure Horse Tongue and pushes herself off the stair abruptly. “C’mon. I’m done sitting.” She starts up the stairs at a punishing pace, but slows after only a few dozen steps. “Sorry,” she says with a quick glance backwards.
“It’s been a-” And Berra trails off. “Right. Good. Can move now. This is a reason I need to run – otherwise I can get like this.”
“But I shouldn’t let me temper come at a cost to others either,” Varanis points out. “I knew you were tired, but I didn’t care for a moment.”
“Nah. It’s fine. Sometimes you gotta run on ahead. As long as you remember. And you stopped.” She is walking faster now, getting more enthusiastic about steps.
“You’ll be relieved to know I can see the top now. Almost there.”
“I can see the top too now,” Berra says a few paces later. Maybe she is at peace with tagging behind. “Lemme go first?” Once more she pauses, and closes her eyes as if she listens.5Sense Assassin doesn’t find anyone. Alas.
Varanis nods, then realising Berra’s eyes are closed, says, “Sure. There’s room enough to pass me here.”
Berra opens her eyes, and steps forward. “See, I could have waited and then sprinted past.” She gives Varanis a serious look to indicate just how serious she is about being serious, and then she is scanning the area, suddenly entirely without humour.
Part II: At the Flame of Sartar
Varanis follows Berra for the last few steps to the plateau where the Flame of Sartar blazes in the predawn light.
Berra does the usual once-around, prowling for enemies.
The Vingan waits for the all clear signal, then makes her way to the brazier.
Varanis’ conversation with Sartar – mild relationship spoilers
“Hello, Grandfather.” She circles it, trailing her fingers around the carvings. “I have to go for a time. Kallyr… the Prince has trusted me with a mission. I’m to try to win the Feathered Horse Queen’s hand for her. She wants to unify the peoples of the Pass through marriage, like you did so long ago.”
Berra stays coolly on guard, watching both ways onto the sacred space.
“Something more rides on it now, Grandfather,” Varanis says softly. ”I asked permission to marry that Grazelander I told you about… but… she says to ask again when I return.”
Berra raises a brow. Then she looks back at the way down to the flame from the palace, and goes back to being a perfect guard.6Passed Listen but specialled Battle.
Heaving a deep sigh, Varanis continues her circle. “I can only do my best, right? That’s all I’ve ever been able to do.” She pauses to trace the Sartar rune. “I’ll come back to you as soon as I can, and tell you how it went.” She talks to the Flame the way you might expect someone to talk to a beloved grandparent, and not at all as you might expect from someone speaking to a Hero. “Keep watch over Kallyr for me? We need her in the battle that is coming. I know it. Well, I feel it anyway.”
Berra checks the lower stair again, impassive and calm.
Varanis places herself on the far side of the brazier, so she can see both the Flame and the city of Boldhome below. She holds her hands up to the sky, invoking Orlanth, Vinga, and Sartar himself, asking for their blessing on her undertaking.7For the hell of it, I did a worship roll and passed.
Then, as Yelm appears over the great city gates to the east, she draws her sword and steps into the ritual slaying of the god.821 on much more for rapier.
Berra closes her eyes for that moment, and then takes a knee to murmur something that might be a prayer to Humakt, or might be an attempt to apologise to Sartar for being in his Temple.
With a final flash of bronze, Varanis completes her morning ritual, saluting the sun and sheathing the sword.
Turning at last to Berra, she says, “I’m ready.”
Part III: The descent into rage
Berra nods, and falls in. “I heard that,” she says. “So you know.”
This gets a sharp glance. “Which part? All of it?”
“The bit that you hadn’t mentioned.”9B: Insight Human? V: 18! Passed! B: Insight: Berra is pissed off. It’s under the surface, in her tension. Outwardly calm, she is managing it with some effort.
Varanis stops. “Say it,” she commands.
The rest of the descent
“She makes you reckless and you make bad decisions around her. Marrying her won’t stop that.” Berra says it.
Varanis looks taken aback, then her features take on a familiar mulish cast. “I love her.”
“I know. It means you make decisons with your groin.” Berra looks, for once, just as set.10Failed Water – is not changing.
“Is it unreasonable to seek out a little happiness in the face of all this…” She flounders, searching for the right word. “Horse shit.”
“Depends. Did you take your armour off when you were out without your guards?” Berra avoids directly asking how many clothes they were wearing.
The Vingan has the grace to blush. It doesn’t look good on her, what with her bright red hair.
Berra just stays silent, waiting for words.
“I…” She stammers, then gets defensive. “So what if I did? I made sure we were safe.”11Let me just roll on truth…. Crap. 002.
“Without. Your. Guards.” Berra repeats it, staring at Varanis from a step above.
“Fuck. Most of the time. I… you’re right. My choices weren’t always good ones.” She protests, “I didn’t exactly want people standing outside the door, Berra!”
Berra takes a deep, slow breath. She seems to be trying to put her anger away, until Varanis speaks again, and the words do not help her. Instead they make her snap. “So? We have all offered to risk our lives for you. Risk being heard when you’re fucking. Is that unreasonable to ask?”
Varanis being one step below Berra means the two women can actually look each other straight in the face for once. “I’m sorry. Except… maybe I’m not this time. I wanted a little time and a little space for myself for once. I’ll give Sartar and Kallyr my life if I have to. But Serala is mine and when the gods brought her to me, I was damned well going to accept that gift.” Red-faced, she is just a decibel or two below yelling.
“If we were not on these steps right now, I’d punch you. A room to yourself IS space to yourself. Rutting in haystacks is not. That’s discarding safety that was given to you.” Berra’s voice is rather lower, but every word is perfectly precise, her Heortling pronounced so that an Esrolian can hear it easily.
“Then by all means, let’s get to the bottom and you can try. If you can keep up, that is.” Yes, she really did choose that moment to remind the Humakti about her weakness on the way up. Varanis wheels and begins the descent. Despite her angry words, she is not racing.
Berra looks back up at the flame, and over to Varanis. “Want to say again how you’re able to get away from your guard?” she asks. She follows, a moment later, without attempting to get ahead.
The trip down goes much faster than the way up, though the silence seems to stretch forever.
On the way, Berra says nothing, but her bubbling anger seems to be with her still. She scans the turns and movements of the stair as if willing an enemy into being so that she can fly to violence.12Repeated failures to calm down by all the methods Berra knows.
At the bottom of the stairs, Varanis turns and waits. Resentment is writ plainly across her features. “I’m not on the stairs anymore. Care to try it?” She holds her hands open, palms out, presenting herself as a target for Berra’s anger.
Berra looks completely relaxed, in the way that she does just before a fight, but she does not draw. “No,” she says. “I’m not here to do the Lunars’ job for them.” 13Passed Honour.
“You sure? It’d make you feel better. A punch won’t kill me.” There’s something dangerous in the Vingan just now. A rage just waiting to boil over.
“No, but a tongue might.” Berra’s expression gets just a touch of a sneer. It might be that it’s anger, and sometimes when she is concentrating she does pull up her lip like that, but it looks more like disdain than anything else.
And there, for just a second, she snaps. She gathers herself as though she’s about to lunge at the Humakti, hands balled into fists. As suddenly as it struck, it passes. A look of dawning horror comes over her and she turns on her heel and runs.
Berra follows, almost immediately. “Don’t leave your guard!” she says, and there is evident effort in her tone. She is not shouting. She is almost begging.
Varanis slows her pace. She doesn’t stop, but neither does she try to lose Berra. She doesn’t run for long – the short burst of speed the outlet she needs for the overwhelming wave of emotion. Eventually, she takes pity on them both and falls into a walk. If there’s one good thing to take away from this, her sudden run and the very randomness of her directional choices would have made an ambush virtually impossible.
Berra sticks with the Vingan, but says nothing. Even when they have slowed down, she keeps quiet, and stays at a polite distance.
Varanis wheels again and closes the distance between them. “You were right. I was wrong. I’ll strive to be better. But, I’m still going to marry her.” The rage is gone, leaving calm determination in its wake.
Berra shrugs, although it is awkward rather than dismissive. She does not know what to say.
“Are you ok? I shouldn’t have pushed you so hard.”
Berra takes a deep breath. “I’m going to take a bit of time not being angry, but I’m fine.” Her shoulders shake a little as tension bleeds out of her. There is a lot of tension there.
“You sure you don’t want to hit me? Might help.” The offer is made with no trace of humour.
“I really do not,” Berra says, and her voice is hard again. “Because I’m not an assassin…” She bites down on what she might have gone on to say. “But you need to not do this. The price of being happy has to be staying alive. Be happy while you are not dead.” Her logic failed her when it came to pricing, but then again, she is no orator.
“I…” Whatever she was about to say, she stops. Her shoulders sag. “As you say.” She glances around. “Shit. Which way is the inn?”
Berra jerks her hand and then stops, and says, “Uh…” She too is lost. In her city.14I so nearly fumbled Survival.
“Well, where’s Yelm then?” Varanis peers up at the sky. “That means the gate is that way somewhere… keep Yelm on our right and head uphill? We should find a familiar street soon enough.”
“Head towards Yelm and we always hit the river.” Berra offers.
This gets a short nod. “Easy enough once we find the river. Fine.”
Berra sets off, carefully silent for a while, and silently careful. She is still wound up like a child’s toy spindle in the wind.
“Separation is your choice, not mine.” Breaking the silence, Varanis is still worrying at the issue that hangs between them. “I’m not made that way. Berra, I wish I could explain this better. I cut myself away from people after Dragonrise and it made me… hollow. Grandmother thrust me at all of you and I learned what it was to not be alone anymore. I can’t go back to that.”
Berra says, “Take a left here,” which will parallel them to the river, going the wrong way. “We need to talk about that, and I need time to be calm before I explain.”
Varanis takes the hint and shuts up.
After a while, as the streets are suddenly familiar, Berra settles onto a low wall, from which she can check anyone approaching across the plaza in front of it. Behind there, there is only a decorative mosaic and a small spring that bubbles up into a channel that leads to the river. Nevertheless, she checks the place before she gives Varanis her attention. “I’m not telling you to be Separate. You get to have love. But you’re doing being Orlanth wrong.” Her voice is calm now, and her look is tired but determined. She believes in what she is saying.
Accepting that they are stopping here and now, Varanis perches beside Berra. There’s a moment where she looks like she might argue, but instead she takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly, and waits for whatever the Humakti will say next.
“In Esrolia, it might be different. Orlanth is more destructive there, I think. But here we know that his rebellion fits into the Tribe and makes it stronger. We don’t rebel to break ourselves. We rebel to make ourselves stronger. The Storm Tribe can change, and that’s what’s so good about it. We can change the whole Tribe, if we have to.” Berra sits straight-backed, like a lore-giver reciting, but her look at Varanis beside her is not that of a scribe but of a small, worried warrior.
“And my behaviour hurts our Tribe.” She says it more plainly than Berra has, striking directly at the heart of the carefully worded lecture. “I hurt our Tribe.”
Berra nods. “Yes.” She takes a deep, ragged breath. She might have more, but it is taking her a moment to get to it, if she does.
“You can use it well. You really can – but trying to escape us isn’t the Sartarite way. That’s the way which breaks things down. If you want to be happy with someone, we find a way. No-one can make you do anything. But you know what that leads to, in the end.” Berra’s eyes drag over the tattoo Varanis wears on her neck, as the little Humakti looks over the slowly-filling square.
There’s a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry. For a lot of things. Once again, you’re right and you were right to call me out on this too.” Running her hand through the tousled mop on her head, she sighs again. “It may not matter what I want anyway. Kallyr says we can discuss it depending on how my mission to the Feather Horse Queen goes. Serala doesn’t seem to understand why I need the Prince’s approval in the first place.”
Berra snorts a tiny bit. “Well, I like her, but she is a bit Yelmic when it comes to wanting to do things. But… there’s a thing that will maybe be more clear to you in the future. It’s not a choice between happy and imprisoned. Maybe in Esrolia, you can only be yourself when you’re refusing to be kept in, but here you can lead from the inside. You get to have both, if you can find that way.” Berra’s eyes are beseeching, her whole expression a plea to have her friend convinced by her words.
“I’ll try,” Varanis promises. Again.
Berra stands up, making her slightly taller than Varanis. “We’re not authority that you need to fight.”
This earns a tired laugh. “Maybe I just need to be pointed at enemy lines for a while. Let me fight where I’m meant to be fighting. It would likely save us all a lot of frustration.”
“Different feelings for different people,” says Berra after thinking a little. “I don’t get frustrated in the way you do.” She looks back the way they came, and then across the square. “Call a way out of this area. Which road?”
“Well then, me fighting Lunars instead of you lot would save you headaches?” Varanis suggests even as she is obediently scanning the streets, looking for direction. “That way, I think,” she says at last, pointing out her chosen route. “That building looks familiar. I think we can get to the main road just past it.” She rises, making her only a little shorter than the Humakti on the wall. “Am I right?”
“I think so, yeah. But… seriously. Just trust us. Sex is fine – it makes people happy. It’s not a problem to be making noises about it… But if you need to be free… that freedom is in the Tribe already.” Berra looks half miserable, but then she sets off and suddenly she IS the perfect bodyguard. There is no effort in setting things aside – she simply becomes a professional warrior and it does not even seem to be a mask.15A critical Battle seems a good place to end it. GM gives Berra ticks on Listen and Loyalty Clan. She also gets a tick on Honour for not punching the stupid woman. Varanis loses points on Honour for breaking her promises and sneaking out without guards. She gains a Love Serala passion.
- 1Oh, dice, I love you. I know I helped for that exact result but a 000 is perfect.
- 2Damnit. Passed Loyalty (shut the hell up about the complaint, Berra) and also Truth.
- 3Do 3 DEX rolls and then a CON roll, and then we’ll say the stairs start to narrow so we can’t get past each other. They do that from time to time. Berra’s rolls: DEX is pass, pass, pass. CON is fail. Varanis’ rolls: 57, 36, 05 and 36, so pass, pass, sp, and pass
- 4Varanis passes insight human roll. Insight: Berra is trying not to be outwardly proud of Varanis, or overly happy.
- 5Sense Assassin doesn’t find anyone. Alas.
- 6Passed Listen but specialled Battle.
- 7For the hell of it, I did a worship roll and passed.
- 821 on much more for rapier.
- 9B: Insight Human? V: 18! Passed! B: Insight: Berra is pissed off. It’s under the surface, in her tension. Outwardly calm, she is managing it with some effort.
- 10Failed Water – is not changing.
- 11Let me just roll on truth…. Crap. 002.
- 12Repeated failures to calm down by all the methods Berra knows.
- 13Passed Honour.
- 14I so nearly fumbled Survival.
- 15A critical Battle seems a good place to end it. GM gives Berra ticks on Listen and Loyalty Clan. She also gets a tick on Honour for not punching the stupid woman. Varanis loses points on Honour for breaking her promises and sneaking out without guards. She gains a Love Serala passion.