Varanis — 1626 0660 The Vow
????, Sea Season
Late in Sea Season, Varanis and Berra go on a field trip to see where the Flame of Sartar should be burning. Dice rolls are left in to show how things went where they went. Surprise guest visit by GM mid-scene. [[[s01:session-30|Session 30]]]
The morning after their rock climbing excursion, Varanis checks to see if Berra is still in the common room at the inn. The Vingan is fully dressed, and armed, though not armoured.
Berra is asleep in a chair, arms on the table that has the remains of her breakfast on it. She looks peaceful, but stirs even as Varanis sees her.
Varanis stops by the counter to see what Rondrik can arrange for portable food for her, and then quietly slides into the chair opposite Berra, waiting for the Humakti to come fully awake.
Wakefulness comes quickly. Berra stirs a little as the chair moves, looks around, decides against alarm, and sits up straight. She stares at Varanis for a moment, and then says, “Hello.” Her voice is a little puzzled, and the remains of sleep are still on her, but that was as fast as might be expected from a young warrior.
Varanis smiles at her. “Hello. How are you feeling this morning?”
“Awake. I can supply more than that if I can have something to drink. Water will do, if it’s fresh. Or beer. Or wine. Or anything.” She stretches, shoulders cracking audibly.
The Vingan is not quite restless, but seems to be trying to hold herself still. She looks surprisingly awake, given the hour. Maybe she’s mostly used to mornings again since leaving Esrolia. As the serving girl brings food for her, she says, “Thank-you! My friend would like something to drink.”
Berra looks at the food, and the portability, and says, “Just fill my water bottle,” to the girl.
Varanis grins fiercely and sinks her teeth into some kind of bread stuffed with cheese and vegetables. After she finishes chewing, she says “Rondrik does it better than the place by your temple. More seasoning. I want to go see the place where the Flame should be. Come with me?”
“I…” Berra considers. “Yes, but I don’t want to go right up to the top. Not to where the oath was made. I’ll look from the steps.”
“It’s associated with my ancestors. I want to walk where they walked.” She seems very determined.
Berra nods. “You should,” she replies. “But for me, it belongs to… well, it’s a new Regiment now.” She takes a bit of fruit leather, and nothing more. “You didn’t try the pickled vegetable bread. That’s the best one.”
Varanis practically leaps up from the table. “Do you have time now?” She seems to be vibrating with energy.
“Yes,” Berra replies. “I will be away for this evening but I am free until then. I need to organise a few things at the troll end of town, which I think means the West, but I also want to find out what people mean by Troll End. But that part can wait.”
The Vingan heads straight for the door, food in hand, happily chewing. She seems to have picked up a habit from Berra, as she is now sporting a new leather water bottle on the hip opposite her sword. When she reaches the door of the inn, she stops just before opening it, to check that the other woman is with her.
Berra is on the way, and asks, “Me first?” like that is automatic. Without even waiting for an answer she calls on her spirit for the detection of foes, but she does not move to go in front of Varanis.
Varanis wrinkles in nose in response, but steps back from the door.
Berra takes a couple of tries to get her magic right, rolls her eyes, and steps out onto the street. She gives no signal, just looks around and waits for Varanis.
Varanis follows without comment. She turns southeast along the road, heading in the direction of the Palace. Her pace is brisk, showing much more familiarity with the area these days. “I was talking to Xenofos a little about my kin,” she remarks casually to Berra as they walk.
“Oh?” asks Berra. She was obviously glancing over the roofs, but she gives Varanis her attention instead. “The Esrolian or the Sartarite?”
“The Sartarite side. I didn’t know that the last ruler of King Sartar’s line lived in Nochet before he became King of Sartar. Or rather, I knew Temertain had come from Nochet and that he went to rule in Sartar when I was a child. But, I didn’t know we shared blood, and I didn’t know his was spilled by the Humakti.” She sounds almost casual, as she says this, but Berra knows her well enough to recognise that her nonchalance is a cover in this instance.
“I think I talked to him about this. He was a Lunar man, no matter where his blood was from.” Berra gives Varanis a glance, no more. “I don’t know exactly how they did it, but I know they broke in and killed him. It made room for Kallyr.” She considers briefly, and then looks to Varanis again. “If you want to find out if you should be angry, ask her. He was your kin, so that’s a blood tie, but there’s no point in declaring a feud if she… in fact, if she hasn’t, that might be your answer.” Berra seems to be talking to the part of Varanis not being nonchalant, because she sounds very serious. Answering questions that have not been asked and jumping from topic to topic is very Berran.
Varanis shakes her head. “Kallyr is a good Prince, and will be a good Queen. And I understand that Temertain collaborated with the Lunars. But after talking to Xenofos, I find myself wondering what choice he had. And I find myself…” she trails off, takes a deep breath, and restarts that last thought. “I’d rather die that sell myself to the Lunars. But, what if putting my own honour ahead of the survival of my people means that I really am not suited to lead? Dormal suggested something similar on the road to Clearwine, about how leaders don’t have the luxury of putting their honour first.”
“What if, if everyone kept to the right path, there was not a problem?” Berra shakes her head. “It’s much more important for leaders to do the right thing, than their followers. If you didn’t, how would others know what to do? Temertain had choices. He could have chosen to say no. He could have chosen not to give away Boldhome. He could have chosen not to blame the race of ducks and help their hunting. He could have chosen a clean death over living as a servant. Of course you have no choice about putting your honour first. It’s why you are Orlanth. It’s not a … luxury. He just wants you to think it is. Dormal tries to break people down to be like him.” Somewhere in that, Berra lost track of talking about Temertain.
“He should have chosen to say no to leading, and stayed in his Temple. I feel like the man didn’t have a chance once they put him on that throne.” Varanis looks almost angry at that, but it isn’t clear who her anger is directed towards and it may be that she doesn’t know either.
“Well, yes. But we’re a Kingdom. We should suffer together and triumph together. We’re Sartar.” Berra is trying to work something out as she walks, hands moving as she balances her argument. “You said that your honour and your love of Vinga were not for sale. If he told you that love of Vinga was a luxury, what would you do?”
“Dormal? Walk away. The same way I did when he told me that my honour was a luxury.” Varanis looks at Berra curiously. “I’m not questioning the rightness of my honour. That is mine and I will not compromise it. Rather, I find myself wondering at the way the wind is pushing me.”
“Oh, right. Sorry. But it goes that way too. You are more suited to lead because you are honourable, not less. You are more Orlanthi as you approach how he would behave.” Berra looks penitent. “If you had been him, and had the strength to say no, things would have been worse for some people, better for others. That’s what I should have said.”
“I suppose, that if I arrange for the service of another Humakti or two as a guard, that it’s a pretty clear sign that I have no Lunar leaning tendencies,” Varanis observes. Given what happened to Temertain, that is.” Varanis looks thoughtful again. “But, if I start wandering around with body guards, what will that suggest to Kallyr about my aspirations?” Ironically, perhaps, the Vingan doesn’t seem to have considered what her current field trip might suggest.1Failed intrigue roll.
“That you’re being careful, but too cautious. I heard what she said to you, although she whispered it. She’s not afraid of you. But it does send out the message to people that you think you’re in danger, for whatever reason you have decided. Like I say, it’s a thing to think about, but not necessarily to do. The Lunars will want you dead or captured, but you can’t be seen as a coward, even if precaution is sensible. Your Leap spell may yet save your life. It’s faster to jump than even to fly.” Berra dances a few steps along the road, curses, and goes back to walking. “I think Kallyr is honest. She’d challenge you if she had a problem. But if you’re not communicating with Tennebris, making sure he knows you’re checking in from time to time would probably be a good idea. Right now, he’s the Orlanthi Chief Priest here, and you’re a Vingan Initiate, so it’s not unreasonable to think of him as your commander. I sort of do, just because of Orlanth.” She is back into a words-spilling-out mood.
By this point, the two have begun the long climb up the stairs to the Palace. Varanis has become a familiar enough sight that she no longer draws side-long glances the way she use to. Either that, or her choice to abandon the Saiciae coiled and plaited hairstyle in favour of simpler plaits means that she no longer looks so much like a foreigner. “I’m not actually sure where to go, once we get to the Palace,” she admits.
Berra pauses, and says, “I think these might be the wrong steps. Are we going up to say where we’re going, or are we just going up? I’ve been following you.” Berra looks at Varanis and then bursts out laughing.
Varanis laughs out loud at this, drawing a glance or two from others on the stairs. “I thought we had to go by way of the Palace! And here I was, feeling like I was finally starting to understand this city. You lead the way then.”
Berra looks back down the steps. “If we tried to climb around, they would notice, right?” She cheerfully sets off downwards again, jump-bouncing to speed up the process, and generally causing a hazard to pedestrians. At one point she falls, and has to stop to stop laughing, but soon enough she has led the way downwards and around the expensive houses, and she points across the grass to a stairway that is steep and barely visible. “There. We could cut across, or we could …. well, I don’t want to walk in the footsteps of Harsalter, but I want to show respect. So let’s go around by the road.”
Varanis’ mood has definitely lightened. She’s laughing as she follows the Humakti’s mad dash down the stairs, travelling just as quickly, but more lightly and with more grace. “Let’s go by the road,” she agrees. Taking a deep breath to calm her laughter, she adds, “This is a place to show respect.” In spite of her words, laughter seems to be lurking in her eyes.
“I am pretty certain I can find a road,” says Berra. “Even I can. Just keep walking until you’re on a road.” Although she has stopped walking and is skipping. A Humakti skipping still gets respectful looks and people moving out of the way. Maybe even more so than normal. And then they go along pleasant streets that have hardly any mud on them, but are paved, with large houses to eiehter wide, and then suddenly there is a split in the rock, and in it, crudely carved stairs. They looked hacked out as an afterthought, wide enough for two people at once, deep enough for a troll to put feet onto them, tall enough that a second step has been carved out of some of them, here and there, to help those of shorter stature. And, above all, they are steep. This is a path for getting to a place, not a path for processing. There Berra stops, and looks upward. Her smile is still on her face, but something else is there too, suffusing the happiness.
“You ok?” Varanis asks, looking closely at her companion.2Dang it. Just missed the insight roll.
“Yes,” says Berra, and turns those happy eyes to Varanis. “But up here, this is the seat of what I am. Sartar, and Humakti, and promises, all at once. Even as it is, even with what happened. It’s all I could be.” Happy, distant, proud.3Special Honour score. Berra loves this place because people promised to die here. Not that you’d know that, but I wanted to record it.
Varanis is already placing her foot on the first step. Her body seems to be vibrating with the need to climb. “It’s a clue to what I am,” she says excitedly. “A connection to those who came before me. Did any of my ancestors walk these steps? This isn’t a processional path, so there must be another route, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t step in the places where my feet now take me. Come on, I need to get to the top.”
Berra nods, and sets off, and soon the steep path has taken its toll, or something about the place has chilled her. The runner who can go up the Ramp wearing a backpack full of rocks is not built for ladders. The effect on her is strange, for she keeps smiling even as her legs stop moving, and her hands fall to her side. Then she looks up, sighs, and says, “I see,” and pronounces the words of a spell. The strength to go on comes to her, and she sets off again, this time faster, determined, and somehow unhurrying but untiring.4000/less than that, Vigour, 15/60.
Varanis takes the steps steadily, her long legs eating the distance at first, though the closer she gets to the stop, the slower her pace, until Berra catches up and the two are now walking side by side. The Vingan doesn’t look tired, but the eagerness is starting to shift into something just short of hesitation.562/70 CON
Berra says casually, “I find I want to go all of the way, after all.” Oh so casually.
Varanis nods, takes a deep breath, and seems to recommit to her destination. She doesn’t say anything though. The top of the stairs seems to be looming, not too far in the distance now.6Berra passes insight roll – Varanis wasn’t tired, but she was suddenly worried, questioning. She’s either decided her worries don’t matter or that she needs to see it through anyway.
Berra lets Varanis go a little ahead, although she does ask quietly, “Should I?” and indicates the narrow way out of these tricky steps. She seems perfectly happy to hang back, however.
Varanis pauses before taking the next step. Without looking back, she says quietly, “Please? I think I’d like you there. To know you are with me. It’s probably nothing, but I just feel…” She shrugs.
Berra reaches for her companion’s hand to squeeze it. “Let’s.” Then she rather ruins the moment by failing to bring the strength of her spirit into her Detect Enemies spell, and muttering darkly. “Let’s,” she repeats, and steps forward.
Clearing the final steps, with Berra at her side, Varanis stops to look about. The platform at the top is larger than she had expected, large enough that it was probably possible for all the major priests and priestess of Boldhome to gather as witnesses when the situation called for it. At its heart, stands a huge bronze brazier, covered in elaborate imagery. Beyond the brazier, on the side opposite where the two women stand, is a wide, even set of stairs, carved into the living rock of the mountainside, probably leading to the palace that lies out of sight.
Berra stops there, and looks about. Oddly, her eyes are drawn to the area around the platform, before she looks at the brazier. She says nothing.
Step by slow step, Varanis approaches the brazier. In spite of the century or so that it has stood here, the metal gleams in the morning sunlight. “It’s beautiful,” she whispers.
Berra trails behind, tearing her eyes from the platform to look up at the bowl. She is easily tall enough to look into it, and yet it seems to have been an effort to get her eyes to look that far above where she is standing. Still no words from her, just that look of happy pride.
Hesitantly, Varanis reaches a hand out to touch the metal. She traces fingers around the designs closest to her, studying the figures of the gods through touch. She shudders, as if chilled. “He gave himself to the gods here…” Her voice is soft, reverent.
Berra stays back, walking around the brazier as if staring at the crowds from the time she was born. “Yes,” she replies. “He did.”
“When the Lunars quenched his flame… did they kill him, Berra? Or is he here still, somewhere?”
Berra takes a moment to come out of what she was thinking. “I think he can’t really be dead. I’d know if there were not a Sartar – it’s my place. So he’s somewhere. But they drove him away, I think. Not here, but all around. I think that’s why we’re still fractured, but here. They hurt him, but he couldn’t be killed. I think.” She shrugs. “I’m sort of guessing based on what I want to be true. I shouldn’t do that.”
“And he was my ancestor. The blood of Sartar runs in my veins.” Varanis seems momentarily overwhelmed by that. “What must it have been like to watch him ascend? And how many have stood here since?” She lets her hand fall from the figures she was still tracing. She straightens, breathing deeply of the cool morning air. “I need to be worthy of this legacy.”
Berra’s nod is an answer to Varanis, and then she shuts up and stands back, more interested in the place around her than the holy metal.
Varanis circles the brazier, examining each of the myths embedded in the bronze. She’s muttering to herself quietly, as she identifies them. A smile breaks over her face as she encounters the figure of Vinga and she lingers there for a moment, the muttering seeming to shift into brief prayer.7Sudden, surprise visit by GM – “Roll scan both of you.” Both pass, Berra with a special.
There’s a brief flicker of bluish almost invisible flames when Varanis is stroking the carvings. It goes out when she stops.
Berra catches that from the corner of her eye, and turns to look.
Varanis stares into the basin in astonishment. “Grandfather?” she asks, ignoring the gulf of generations between them. She looks to Berra for confirmation. “Did you…?”
“I did, yes,” Berra replies. “That one most of all, but it might be the light. It looks a bit like there’s an Air Rune over it.” Closer she comes, keeping her eyes on the brazier now, and not on the platform around.
Varanis traces the Air Rune with a finger tip. There is another flicker. It’s not a flame like fire… but it’s something. Faint. Blue. Like burning alcohol.
Berra hardly dares to breathe, but she does whisper, “Yes. There.” The S takes on a slight lisp, for some reason.
Staring into the heart of brazier, Varanis’ gaze takes on an intensity that Berra has never seen in the Vingan before. “I will find a way to bring you back, Grandfather,” she vows softly. “I will bring you back for Kallyr, for this land, and for these people.”8Rolled a 001 on loyalty Sartar! I’m assuming that applies to him as much as it does to the land, or at least I’m interpreting it that way in this context. And oh crap. What have I just done?
Berra stays back, in no danger of touching the Brazier. She smiles, and a moment later wipes a tear from her eye, and says nothing at all.9Fortunately I only passed Loyalty Sartar so I didn’t make any stupid vows. HARSALTER.
Varanis steps back from the brazier, her face still alight with passion and determination. She turns to look out over the city sprawling below, and the land beyond that. “I will find a find a way,” she says again. For a long time she stares out at the land below. Finally, she turns to Berra and says “We should go down. I promised service to the Temple this afternoon and evening, and I need to get there before Yelm reaches his peak.”10How the hell does one relight the Flame? Oh crap. I’m going to die.
By now, Berra is leaning back against the wall, staring at the brazier, but she nods and hauls herself away. “Do you want me to go via the Palace? I should … we should probably make sure the Orlanthi Priests know that, but I won’t if you don’t want to. And we could find out where the steps meet.” She seems oddly moved by this, uncaring who sees, and her voice is overly thick, like her throat is not letting her speak properly.
“I need to think on it for a while. I wish I knew the High Priestess of Vinga better. I think… it might be that the first person I should talk to about this is the Prince. I’d rather she hear it from me, than from anyone else. But first, I need to give my service to Vinga, as promised.” Varanis heads for the stairs, but her feet are moving slowly, as though she is reluctant to leave this place. Before she takes the first step down, she stops and looks back at the brazier again. “Sartar,” she whispers reverently, and then she turns back to the stairs, her frame infused with resolution, and she begins her descent.
Berra follows, carefully not coming between Varanis and the brazier until she has to. She takes a last look back for herself, and bows to whatever is there.