Varanis — 1626 0560 Arianatha
Early in the morning after the party’s arrival in the Blue Tree Village. Between [[[s01:session-27|session 27]]] and session 28.
At dawn, every day of the year, a Vingan in charge of a temple or shrine can come and stand guard and perform a greeting to the sun. It is not observed in all places, no doubt, and in other temples it will be done differently, but here is Arianatha, with her spear, and her shield, her sword held by a small girl of the village, and she comes to greet Yelm the Emperor and refuse to bow before him. It’s a chilly day, and Arianatha comes in a cloak, well wrapped up until the moment of challenge. She makes no threats, only a refusal, and the wind stirs her untied hair, and she briefly stares into the sun.
Varanis watches respectfully as the old Vingan enacts this sacred ritual of refusal and strength. She is careful not to usurp the moment, but is fully dressed, alert, and ready to face anything. She stands just outside the entry way, as the Yelm climbs. Her hair is braided simply this morning. Her blue wool cloak is draped over her shoulders.
Just outside the entryway to the tiny three-quarter room puts Varanis stoutly by Arianatha’s shoulder. It’s a good place to be, because it keeps the wind off. After a moment, Arianatha nods to the sun, and no more, and then turns to Varanis. “Your hair should free or sacrificed to the wind, to be here for that,” she says. “But welcome, and may Yelm warm you, in whatever aspect he takes.”
Consternation flickers in Varanis’ eyes, but her expression is quickly schooled. “May Yelm warm you too, Sister,” she replies respectfully. “I have some time this morning, and wondered if there were any tasks about the shrine that you might welcome assistance with?”
Arianatha looks at the tiny place, and says, “Short of re-thatching?” She shrugs bonily. “The laths could be better, I suppose. Those need re-weaving and I don’t have the hands for it any more. If the windward wall can last another season, I know where the slats are growing to rebuild it again.”
Varanis nods, taking mental note. “Is there a thatcher in the village?” she asks.
“A few are good at it,” says Arianatha. “But this year the river was short on reeds. It took a whole bed away. I suppose where you’re from you use straw.” She bows to the shrine and then ducks into it to kneel slowly on the dry ground inside, and point to the aging wooden weaving inside the wall. “Here. These are cracking, and putting another stake in the ground would be wrong for the place. She doesn’t want disturbing in here. The temple…” She points her chin towards the strongest wall, and the Orlanthi altar in the slightly bigger room beyond. “They did, but they could ask his Farmer aspect.”
Varanis bows to the shrine before following the aging Vingan. She steps in to look closely at the sections being indicated, but shakes her head. “I’m afraid that this is an area with which I have no knowledge. As you have suggested, we build in different materials in Esrolia.” She thinks for a moment. “My friends and I will have to go to Clearwine soon. We could bring the needed materials on our return, or I could send someone with them. You could direct them to make sure that it is done according to Vinga’s will.”
“Oh, it’s easy enough,” says Arianatha. “We’ll just use younger wood this year. I can show you how. The places where the wood has come away are fine, but the places where it has cracked are not. We’ll take those out and put greener shoots in. Sea season’s perfect for this task.” She takes a long breath before rising to one knee and then getting upright. Her spirit may be strong but her body is aging around it.
Varanis nods, happy to take instruction from Arianatha. She takes off her cloak, folds it carefully, and sets it to one side. She is dressed practically (or as practically as she can be, anyway). Her armour has been stowed with the rest of her gear. The rapier that had been strapped to her hip is placed carefully on the cloak, leaving her with her long dagger.
“We’ll cut them first…” and there is a trip to a nearby copse of pollarded and coppiced trees, with a burly cottar who does the cutting, while Arianatha watches with good humour.
Varanis smiles at the cottar. “Would you show me how to cut it?” she asks, smiling at him.
“Well, it’s just an axe,” he says, skillfully dropping the work-hardened edge just right. “Mostly it’s in the wrist, but if you fail to cut through you have to bounce it up and out or it’ll get trapped, see? And always cut towards the stump, to drive the spirit back in, and be sure you don’t slip with the axe as well. Always towards the stump.” He hands the axe over, with a faintly worried look.
Varanis handles the axe deftly, though more like someone used to wielding it as a weapon, rather than a tool. It takes a few tries and she has to shift her grip subtly, but eventually she seems to fall into the rhythm of it.
Arianatha nods the cottar away, and then they are alone with the work. After a while she asks, “How did you sleep?”
“It was a cool night, Sister, but it was good to shelter in Vinga’s arms.” Varanis replies with a smile. “I spent several years with the Vingan shrine in Nochet, and though I usually slept in the dormitory, there were nights spent under the roof of the shrine too.” There’s a faint sheen of sweat on her face and pink in her cheeks as she works.
“Well, roof, we can provide. If there is another year without a reed bed, we’ll think about tall barley. It depends on the food…” The old woman paces up and down to keep warm. Somewhere during Varanis’ exertions she has tied back her hair, and with a hood added to keep her warm she looks neat and her age is hidden. “I was thinking a few years back I should shingle it, but there did not seem to be much point.”
“We could shingle it, if it would preserve food stocks. Or we could collect the reeds from elsewhere,” Varanis suggests.
Arianatha laughs, a short chuckle. “Now there is another Vingan, the work seems worthwhile again.”
Varanis pauses in the work to roll her shoulders and straighten her back. Her smile lights up her entire face. After a moment she realizes that her tunic is sticking to her back and she is damp under the arms too. She laughs at herself. “I’m not used to this type of work,” she admits ruefully. “Is it enough, or shall I keep chopping?”
“Enough for now,” says Arianatha. “Best not to make too much, or we’ll have to carry more. Let’s just bind them.” She has a pouch of coiled nettle yarn with her, and gets to work. She can bend to the level of the remaining tree stumps, which means she can tie things piled on them. “If we are going to shingle, we should think about the whole roof structure. It will all need rebuilding.”
Varanis watches the old woman’s movements, and then does her best to copy. It’s a passable, though imperfect job. She tests the knots and tension and satisfied that it will hold, she collects as many bundles as she can carry.
It is not difficult to get back along the path. The rising cliff to one side makes navigation easy, and up this high the ground is mostly dry. “Hear that?” Arianatha asks as they go back. “The river has settled.”
Varanis listens. She can hear the sound of the water below, birds on the wing, and the wind in the trees. She smiles. After a moment, she asks, “Elder Sister, what can you tell me of the Wyter?”
Arianatha smiles in a way that makes her wrinkled face bright. “Little that would make sense until you join it, beyond the sense of peace. It is an old, slow spirit and it watches the river for us.”
Varanis nods thoughtfully. “I noticed…. everyone’s tattoos here are in blue. Do you not use ochre or charcoal?”
“Blue Tree,” says Arianatha. “Clan members use nothing but woad, although there are rules about marrying in, and arriving with other colours. And no cutting down a tree in Sacred Time. Not even a green growth like this. The Tree wouldn’t have it. You’ll meet it soon enough, don’t worry.”
As they arrive back at the shrine, Varanis looks for a place to set down the bundles. Arianatha says, “Pile them anywhere. It’s important that we brought them here.” She puts hers down close to the shrine, not blocking the entrance. “It’s fine for them to touch Earth. We’ll need a bucket of water, too, but we can send someone for that, unless you really want to go see the river from close up.”
“I can fetch it. Maybe there is someone who can show me the way, while you get things organized up here?” The younger Vingan’s enthusiasm for the morning has not faded.
Arianatha nods to the small girl who carried her sword for the duration of the morning ritual. “I think she wants to meet another Vingan. That is Insterla. My late brother’s grand-daughter.” Insterla gives a big-eyed stare, and then steps forward to bow. She is dressed much as Arianatha is, and is probably about six, in the pretending-to-be-Vinga stage.
Varanis bows back gravely to the child. Then she smiles. “Shall we go looking for water?”
There is a frenzy of nodding, and then the child dashes off, ending up with a leather bucket she holds proudly. It is big enough she could probably fold into it, if it were softer leather. With her arms around it she proudly sets off for the bottom of the cliff. Varanis laughs out loud and catches up quickly.
Insterla knows a way down the cliff that would make insane mountain goats blench, and she takes it at the high-speed trot of someone who has done it before. With the bucket before her it seems unsafe…
Varanis confidently follows the child down the cliff, dividing her attention between the climb and Insterla.
At one point, Insterla abandons the bucket to swing down on a sharp bit of rock, and pick up the bucket above her head and run on. Getting down the cliff takes a few minutes nevertheless, especially once it starts getting muddy. The river has indeed settled, but it has left a mark to show where it visited, thirty feet up the cliff. Mud and water have been left in pools, with broken grass, dead wood, and the detritus of flood. Insterla slows down as she reaches there, puts down the bucket, and bows to the river before she continues. Then she walks placidly, carefully watching where she puts her feet, with the huge bucket on her head and an expression of extreme pride. All is peaceful and quiet around them.
“I feel like your runes will include Movement and Air, like me,” Varanis says laughingly. “Are you going to be a Vingan one day?” Insterla looks back at Varanis and gives her a wide smile, and the bucket wobbles as she nods. “I bet that will make Arianatha happy. Are you a good helper to her?”
The river is a ribbon of silver water, far away across a mud flat, but it has sent a tiny rivulet as if for Insterla’s convenience, and it is at that she stops, and bows to it again. This time she bows low enough to kiss the surface of the river, and blow a little bubble under it, and only then does she fill the bucket. Then, although she can get it upright, she cannot lift it at all. The question gets answered with a nod, and wide eyes, and absolutely no appeal for help in her huge task. The eyes look like they are about to bring forth rivers, though.
“Hey Insterla, you carried the bucket all the way down. Can I have a turn now? I need to do my share of the work, or Vinga might be disappointed in me.” Varanis looks seriously at the child, but there’s a smile in her eyes.
Insterla smiles and moves over, keeping one hand on the rope handle, and nodding again. The eyes are glad now, and she gives Varanis the look of a small but grateful friend. Varanis takes a grip on the handle and lifts. The bucket is heavy and she looks back up the cliff. “That’s a long way up,” she comments ruefully. “I guess be better start going!”
Insterla tugs the way to a different path, rather more forgiving, but still steep and hard to take with a heavy bucket and a determined child trying to help. Varanis tries to ensure that she is handling the bulk of the weight of the bucket. It sloshes a little from time to time, but somehow between them, they manage in spite of the dramatic difference between their heights.
Insterla hands over the bucket at the top of the cliff, which is probably a good thing, as she would have to reach upwards to carry it. She leads the way proudly, not too fast to be followed. They are not far from the shrine, which is just over rocks that Varanis is starting to recognise. Arianatha is there, and as Insterla runs to her, she wipes her hands on each other to clean them of mud, and puts her hand into a worn but expensive pouch to pull something out for her grand-niece. Insterla runs away with her hand full of whatever the treat was, leaving the place to Ariantha and Varanis.
As she reaches the shrine, Varanis sets the bucket down and straightens up gratefully. She bites back a little groan as her back creaks. Arianatha winces in sympathy. “She wanted to do you proud, I see. That’ll do for us. But if you haven’t drunk from the river, from water you collected, do that now, before we use it for anything else.”
Varanis glances around for a cup momentarily before realizing the foolishness of that. She reaches a cupped hand into the water and hisses suddenly as the cold bites into new blisters. She brings the water to her lips and drinks it gratefully. The water here tastes very slightly of mud, and there is a leaf floating in it, and it is cold enough to chill fingers instantly, being snow melt. But it’s water, and Arianatha nods in approval, and for some reason the wind turns just then, and the chill starts to fade from the air.
“She’s a good girl,” Varanis says, looking in the direction Insterla vanished. “Quick too, in spite of those little legs. She’ll make a fine initiate, one day.”
“She’s a terror. Always popping up here and there.” Arianatha sounds proud. “But … she doesn’t talk. Sosa says nothing is wrong with her. Gis – the Wyter Priest – says he can see nothing holding her apart from the community. But she’s not said anything since the Tusk Riders raided. I … I think she’s trying to save her Air, so she can be a Vingan. Damned fool girl.”
“Tusk Riders…” The words come out as a curse. “They killed my father when I was little older that her.” There is years of anger in her voice. Varanis takes a deep breath and visibly calms herself. “Maybe, Mellia, the White Lady who came with us, could look at her. She is a skilled and beloved Initiate of Chalana Arroy,” she says at last.
“Maybe. I think what she needs is to know she’s safe, but with a pallisade around her, what else is there? It seems you know what they are, and we think she saw the raiders arriving.” Arianatha shrugs it off, like it is a thing that has been discussed many times before. “The first thing to do is wet all of the mud we’re going to reform, and then get some earth in here to soak, because it’ll be a bad repair but we might as well do it bad and right.”
Varanis shakes off her dark memories and nods at the elder. She follows the instructions carefully. “Where do you want me to collect the mud from?” she asks.
“Oh, where it usually grows. The ground.” Arianatha has made several bundles from short, coarse straw, and she dips one into the bucket to stuff it in behind one of the broken laths. “We’ll do this first, to give it a chance to soak, and then see if we can find the ground, which no doubt you left lying around somewhere.”
For a moment Varanis looks torn between amusement and defensiveness. Amusement wins out. When she finishes laughing, she says “I only wondered if there was sacred earth you wished to use, or if you had a preferred location so we don’t build any traps for late night drinkers stumbling about in the dark.” Again, she watches for a few moments, then does her best to copy the older woman’s movements.
Mostly, the old woman is crumpling up old straw to soften old mud but she is also trying not to smile. “I know, child. But in this case what the shrine is made of does not matter. Only how. pack this in, and we’ll pour a little more water on, and then we’ll mix mud, and then take out the broken wood, put in new wood, and glue it with a little of the mud, and that’ll hold. We’ll be done in a couple of hours. That little Humakti of our should be back by then.”
Varanis nods. “Where is Berra, anyway?” she asks curiously, as she continues to work.
“Out at the head of a group of yahoos, probably scaring the horses. Someone should tell them to pipe down when Yelm is rising.” Arianatha looks at their damp handiwork. “Maybe we should soak it again after breakfast,” she admits. “Finding the ground is easier on a full belly.”
Varanis looks at their handiwork in satisfaction. Then she looks at her hands, with growing dismay. Mud is deeply embedded under her fingernails. Turning her palms over, a number of red blisters stare back at her. “I guess sword calluses don’t help much with buckets and axes,” she observes. Although she has rolled up her sleeves, she is covered in mud and damp.
“No. Axes stop suddenly in wood, slowly in people.” Arianatha takes a beaker from by her now depleted pile of straw to add more water. “You go get those seen to, and see what is still hot in the Great Hall. I will sort out the laths, and have something brought for me. Return when you are full, and have either seen Sosa, or taken a pricker to your hands.”
Varanis glances at Arianatha for permission first, then sinks her hands into the muddied water in a futile effort to wash mud off. Shaking her hands and her head, she says goodbye and heads in the direction of the temple to Chalana Arroy and hopefully Mellia.