1626, Sea Season, Movement Week, Freezeday
“I’m intrigued. Don’t answer this if you do not wish, or cannot… but why did your Grandmother send you with us?” Serala wonders. “Do you know? Or if not told, have you some thoughts on the subject now, weeks down the road?”
Varanis looks very thoughtful. “I didn’t know, though I wondered if she saw it as an opportunity for our House to be involved in something important. I’m not sure that I have any better answers yet either.”
“Or possibly, given what I have seen of your Grandmother, there are multiple reasons.” Serala counters. “An opportunity to learn, perhaps? She was able to look at us, as outsiders, and establish comparative rank; your teaching has taught you you are superior to all, regardless of experience. An opportunity to assess your cousins? I don’t pretend to know; are you likely to rule someday? Will you need scribes and allies amongst your kin? Do you even trust any of your own people? A chance to see how others make battle and learn from them? There are so many opportunities in front of you, Varanis, and if you wear your pride like a shield, you will likely lose them. You are not, now, our leader. In seasons to come, who knows? Perhaps you are the person to unite us. But that is something you must work towards. Leadership is a heavy responsibility, not a right.”
“Oh Serala, you ask the hard questions.” The exhaustion is suddenly writ clearly across Varanis’ features. She doesn’t look like she has been sleeping well.1and Kalis is only partly to blame. “I think my grandmother has more in mind, but I don’t have all the information yet and I can’t decide if I want to know more. I’m a terrible leader and I’d be a terrible ruler, if that is something she plans for me one day.”
Serala tuts gently, “You’re a terrible leader right now.” she corrects. “All that is required to fix that is open mindedness, experience, and willingness to work hard. I am not a wonderful leader, I lack the skills to drag everyone together. I can plan, and plan well. I can see my way through a battle. But no-one is ever going to ride under my banner to glory or death.” Manasa prances closer, nudging against your leg slightly as she does so. “Don’t run before you can walk. Just be with us. For now, is that not sufficient?”
Varanis watches Manasa closely, making sure her teeth are not aimed at Doqeia. “I can try. But… I was thinking about leaving Boldhome soon. I’ve just been trying to decide where to go and what to do.”
“I’ve been thinking about simply.. leaving. To where has not been my highest consideration.” Serala admits. “I…” She pauses for a moment, then suddenly offers, “I wish to go to the Grazelands. To talk with my Grandfather – he is, perhaps, to the tribe, what your Grandmother is to your family. I would value his wisdom. And there are better horse trainers than me there, we could get expert advice on your beautiful mares here. A thought, no more.”
“That is very tempting, Serala.” A warm smile, quickly shadowed by apprehension. “The choices I’m facing here are to do with conflicting responsibilities though. If I pursue one, I abandon or delay another. Either may lead to trouble for me and any associated with me.”
Serala snorts, “Story of our lives.” she points out. “Ride to Kero Fin, find answers, ride to Nochet, find more answers, work out how to get information back… all the time neglecting the call of my clan and tribe.. All you describe there, Varanis, is life.”
“What if the answers I seek could cause harm to others?” She sounds uneasy. “And what if I have placed my trust in the wrong people? I’m not sure I can afford to make mistakes in this.”
“What if you trust no-one and in trying to make choices alone, you do it without all of the facts?” Serala counters. Not seeking to know, but trying to help Varanis see options. “Can you trust Xenofos? Dormal? They are your family, and Dormal clearly gave you information about Kallyr early in our acquaintance. What if you make decisions, alone, and deny others the chance to make their own choices? I don’t know who you feel you are deciding for, Varanis, but… take the box as an example. You made a choice, without being in full possession of the facts. And it backfired. on you. Take that as a learning experience.”
Varanis raises an eyebrow at her companion. “Would you trust Dormal? I know he’s my cousin, and I thought he had my back, but….” she shakes her head. “I’m not so certain anymore. And Xenofos will take anything I say to Dormal. Irillo… he’s been busy and I won’t put Mellia at risk.” Doqeia shifts restlessly, and Varanis carefully unlocks her fingers from the reins and takes a slow breath.
Serala laughs softly, “Dormal is not my family, so it is moot as to whether I trust him. I do not pretend to understand Esrolian politics. Xenofos, likewise, believes that the nomads have the brains of our beasts, so I have not endeavoured to converse with him. Irillo, I think, would be a good choice. Interrupt him. Mellia..” She tilts her head to one side. “Mellia is a woman of strength, who is quite capable of making her own choices. And gives you a reason to reach out to her following the previous altercation. But I will not advise you to trust your family. I would advise you to trust those you feel worthy of it. The answer to that may be, simply, ‘no-one’. But I fear you do yourself a disservice if you wrestle all your decisions alone.”
“And would I not be doing them a disservice if what I share puts them at risk?” Varanis asks bluntly.
Serala rolls her eyes. “Tell them first!” she points out. “Tell them that what you would share could put them at risk and let them make their own choice, Varanis. Stop trying to protect everyone; it isn’t possible to do and you will drive yourself insane trying.”
Varanis rides in silence for a while. She is mulling things over and finally seems to come to a conclusion. Before she speaks, she looks around carefully to ensure that they are alone. Finally, she says “Are you willing to take that risk, Serala?”
There is no immediate response. Serala, listening to her own words, weighing the decision before she answers. “Yes.” The response is simple, “I could give reasons, but, to you, what probably matters is that, yes, I am willing to take that risk.”
Varanis thinks things through, searching for the right words. “When we arrived, did you notice how Tennebris reacted to me?”
“I wasn’t here when you arrived.” Serala points out with an edge of humour. “I arrived days earlier, and then was sitting with Kallyr. So I can safely say no, I have not noticed anything.”
Varanis shakes her head ruefully. “It’s been a confusing couple of weeks. He ignored me initially, then stopped mid-sentence to look me over closely and query me about my origins,” she explains.
“If you tell me Tennebris is your Grandmother’s long lost lover, I may have to have a moment.” Serala notes. “If, however, he’s actually your grandfather, I wouldn’t be unduly shocked, given what little I know of Esrolia..”
“I think maybe I should start this story earlier. I never met my mother’s mother. Her name was Berra,” she smiles as she says that. “I’m told that she was an amazing Vingan, but she died at Grizzly Peak.” Her voice trails off a moment, then she continues. “Berra was a Sartarite, and I was always told that she was from the Colymar. Grandmother Saiciae’s attention to me was a source of difficulty for her at times. Esrolians trace family through their mothers, and by rights, my mother should have been Colymar, rather than Saiciae.”
Serala inclines her head in understanding, “Many of us lost our grandparents’ generations at Grizzly Peak.” she acknowledges. “It places its mark on us all, one way or another.” She doesn’t interrupt though, waiting for the tale to continue.
“The first night we were here…. someone made copies of part of my armour. The pieces that date to my grandmother’s day. My armour came as a gift from Grandmother Saiciae; some of it was new, but other pieces were much older. It was the older stuff that was copied. When I talked to Dormal, he…” she glances around again. “He had an idea and I don’t like it.”
“I usually don’t like Dormal’s ideas.” Serala snorts. “That doesn’t, however, make them always incorrect.”
“He suggested that Grandmother Saiciae might have sent me here to replace the Prince if the quest failed.” Her voice is hushed. “He thinks I might be related to the previous royal family.”
The silences stretches out as the pair of you ride onwards. “That’s entirely plausible.” Serala agrees. “If I was you, I would do some investigation into my own family tree. Truth is important – and while you are left speculating, it makes you…” She gestures vaguely, looking for words, “..more.. less stable. The ground will shift beneath your feet. If you don’t trust Xenofos, there are others who can be trusted.”
“Frankly, I didn’t believe any of it, but I promised to check at the Vingan Temple for records.” There’s a very long pause. “What I found there suggests that he may be right, though not necessarily. I’m tired of being someone else’s pawn, Serala.” Her voice rises a little as she sheds the worry for frustration and anger.
“Does it matter to you?” Serala wonders. “Either in a way of wishing you could claim the throne in your own right, or rejection of being used as a pawn, without anyone even having the courtesy to..” She breaks off, as the Vingan’s own words give the truth to her speculation. A nod, and then the pair ride on in silence again for a while.
“Serala,” Varanis begins, breaking the silence, “I should have asked this before I said anything. Can we keep this between us for the moment?”
“You don’t really need to ask at all.” Serala reassures you. “Given the tone of the conversation, I assumed. But yes. We can.”
Varanis watches as Manasa and Serala move together easily. “She’s really good with you,” she observes, a tiny note of envy in her voice.
“Time and practice.” Serala points out. “She knows I won’t let her get away with nonsense, and I’m not coming off her back until I choose, so she saves get her energy.”
- 1and Kalis is only partly to blame.