Varanis — 1626 0679 Rhigos Bound
????, Fire Season
Fire Season, Sometime after Varanis, Serala, and Finarvi head to Rhigos before Yelm’s rise. [[[s01:session-34|After Session 34]]]
It’s not yet dawn when Varanis turns up in the stables with saddle bags, Eranda (the perky Humakti), and another guard. She looks around for Finarvi and Serala, and when she spots them asks, “Are you ready to go?”
Serala is looking decidedly pained. The expression of a sage, wizened old auntie, surrounded by Impetuous Youth. “I am unsure if ‘ready’ is the correct word.” she replies thoughtfully. ‘”Resigned is, I think, the better fit. “
Varanis smiles at Serala and goes to saddle up Doqeia. “I was thinking I’d leave Manasa here this time. We shouldn’t be gone for long and I want to travel light.” Eranda and the other guard go to saddle a pair of mounts. The second guard is a lean, but well muscled , dark haired man. He introduces himself as Minik.
Serala nods towards the pair. More people. Just what she likes. She turns to rest her head against Pag’s silken neck for a moment, a silent greeting, before she tacks up with smooth, economical moves. “Dormal had better be worth this.” she grumbles. “You two *could* always just stay here. Stay out of trouble. Just a thought.”
Finarvi steps away from the horse he was saddling and gives Varanis and her guards a quick bow of welcome. “We are ready,” he says with a wink at Serala. He’s practically bouncing on the balls of his feet, a habit he seems to have picked up from Berra.
“Where would the fun be in that?” Varanis says by way of reply to Serala. It takes next to no time for the five of them to be on their way, into the early morning streets of Nochet.
Serala has finally calmed down in the big city, but it is clearly not her preferred environment. Of course, last time she was here, there really were assassins around every corner, so perhaps it’s understandable that she is skittish and on edge, her nerves picked up by Pag who all but dances under her, being difficult – and encouraging the pedestrians to keep their distance from the group.
“So,” Finarvi says at length. “What do you know about this place we’re going to, Varanis?” He’s ignoring Pag’s antics in a slightly arch way, as though this is just further evidence of Serala’s inferior horsemanship and nobody needs to draw attention to it.
“Very little, to be honest,” Varanis admits. “Minik is coming with us because he’s pretty familiar with Rhigos though. My understanding is that it can be a bit of a wild place. You probably don’t want to be wearing your pouch where it can be easily accessed.” Varanis, though wearing her armour, is not wearing any of the jewellery she normally displays, not even Kallyr’s arm band.
“City?” Serala queries. “Town? Village? Bar brawls? Rajar’s natural habitat?”
“Markets? Baths?” Finarvi adds, tucking his slender money pouch inside his tunic.
“You and your baths.” Serala mutters, “I think Varanis has corrupted you.” There speaks the woman who will lounge in the warm water of the baths for hours… when she thinks no-one’s looking.
“More like Dormal’s natural habitat, I think. City, market, baths…” She looks to Minik.
His reply to Varanis comes in a low tone, “The baths are not really suitable for you, lady. There are …. questionable people who work out of those locations.”
Varanis shrugs. “It’s Rhigos. They are all questionable.”
Finarvi raises both eyebrows at this exchange. “I have questions…” He looks hopefully at Varanis and Minik, hoping for more explanation of what ‘questionable’ involves.
Serala glances towards Minik, “You are aware we are seeking Dormal, yes? Surely questionable places would be the very starting point of our search?”
Varanis laughs. “Minik is trying to politely imply that there are prostitutes in the baths. And well, every where. There are also pickpockets.”
Minik grimaces in reply.
Smiling, Varanis suggests, “We might also try the prisons.”
Finarvi winces. “I was going to say ‘You sound like Berra’, but perhaps our Humakti was not unfair in her judgement?”
“I just know my cousin and have some idea of what he was up to in Rhigos.” She eyes Minik and Eranda and doesn’t say anything further.
Serala actually laughs, “Unlike Berra, I do not dislike Dormal. However, I do not feel that we would be fair to him if we did not recognise his, err, skills, for what they are.” She lifts her eyebrows slightly, “Also, I do not understand this custom of paying for ‘entertainment’ of that nature. If you wish to enjoy company, just enjoy it. Why exchange coins?”
“The money is for when you don’t enjoy their company, dear sister,” Finarvi teases.
Minik smiles broadly at that statement, making his brown eyes crinkle a little at the corners. That smile transforms him from a somber warrior to a very good looking man.
Eranda laughs merrily. “Not everyone is as fortunate or exotic in their beauty as you, Grazelander. They can’t always win what they seek with a come hither look. You two, on the other hand, I suspect could win any heart you sought in Esrolia.” She winks at them both.
Varanis rolls her eyes.
Serala snorts, “The ones who can be won with a look are often not worth the winning,” she points out. “If you want a strong partner, then they need to be able to match you, in one way or another. They must be able to earn your respect.”
Eranda laughs. “You don’t have to keep them! Just enjoy them for a while and turn them loose. Everyone has needs, sometimes.” Minik nods in agreement with the perky Humakti.
Varanis brings Doqeia up beside Serala. “Just ignore them. They are Esrolian and well…” Her cheeks turn slightly pink and she doesn’t finish her sentence, possibly because she realizes that she too is Esrolian.
“That’s where you and I differ, Serala,” Finarvi laughs. “For me, respect is something you offer freely until someone proves themselves unworthy of it. It’s not a wage to be worked for.”
Yin and yang Grazelanders.. The more serious Serala smiles warmly at her lighthearted cousin. “The day you and I approach life in the same way, the sun will set in the east,” she replies. And then, she can’t resist, her expression pure innocence as she turns her gaze to Varanis, “Tell me of your Esrolian ways, sweet Varanis,” she all but purrs.
Varanis turns to look at Serala and her cheeks grow even pinker. “I, well, um…” she stammers. “Ernalda encourages people to love as they will and to share their love freely.” She turns away again to stare at Doqeia’s twitching ears.
Finarvi gives a wistful sigh. “I once thought to initiate into the cult of Ernalda. But the priestess just said `No, no, no, no, no.’ Apparently a liking for serpents wasn’t enough, in her view. Or maybe because I was still in the habit of putting any snakes I found in pockets and she didn’t approve. Maybe she had a point. They weren’t always my pockets.”
Varanis blinks. She starts to say something, then stops. She tries again, and then just shakes her head.
“Where were you putting the snakes, Grazelander?” This comes from Minik, whose expression is the picture of intrigued curiosity.
Finarvi shrugs, all innocence. “Oh, where I thought they would be happiest. Dark places, warm places. As a child I sometimes found them warming up on chilly mornings, and if they were small and cold I would put them in my coat pocket to warm up. I did forget, once, and gave my coat to Serala. In truth I’d have thought the snake would have gone on its way by then, but apparently this one liked being in my coat. Or maybe it was just a cold day. The snake was still pretty chilly when it crawled down Serala’s back, to judge by the way she squealed.”
Varanis laughs out loud at that.
“You may notice a theme here, Varanis,” Finarvi continues, taking advantage of Serala’s silence, “Of Serala taking my clothes. My advice to you is to never let Serala know of any secret yearnings for others you might hold in your heart, or you might have to resort to hiding snakes in your garments.”
Varanis blushes again, even as she laughs. Minik raises an eyebrow speculatively. Eranda blithely ignores them all.
“The good news is I don’t have to do that anymore. Which is handy, as I know nothing about Esrolia’s snakes.” He drops his bantering tone, and says with something approaching awe, “The audience with your Grandmother. Was that…?” He trails off, unsure how to voice his question.
“Grandmother is a powerful woman. She’s been matriarch of Saiciae for as long as I can remember. All in all, she was very gentle with us.” After a moment, Varanis adds, “I wasn’t sure of what my reception would be. I’m not certain what she expects of me and… well, perhaps I’m no longer the dutiful Esrolian granddaughter she sent to Sartar.” Varanis shrugs, then attempts to steady her mount as Doqeia sidles into Pag unexpectedly.
Finarvi turns thoughtful. “She did not seem displeased with you, as I read such things.” He glances across at Eranda and Minik for confirmation or otherwise.
Pag tosses his head, but in general the warhorse is fairly laid back around the mounts of Varanis after all the training time together. “I really must meet the brother who gifted you those horses,” Serala muses. “Maybe he has more that I could buy.” There was politics discussions? The grazelander does manage to note, “Grandmother seems, in general, to be direct to me. If she was displeased, she would say so.”
Varanis shakes her head. “Only if she wants you to know she’s displeased.” She runs a soothing hand down Doqeia’s neck before adding, “My brother’s lands are a distance north of here. Unfortunately, we’d have to travel well out of our way to visit.” She does not sound like she thinks this is truly unfortunate.
Serala winks, “Ah, Varanis. The ‘gentleman’ who gifted you with those wonderful, but spirited steeds? Of course, I wish to make his acquaintance.” She seems almost at ease, her hawk circling overhead, watching for any threats before ever she could notice it. “I do not truly understand why you worry so much for her approval. She is Grandfather’s equivalent.. and I spend my time avoiding his gaze and am certain to be found wanting.” She doesn’t seem to concerned at this state of affairs.
Varanis glances back at Eranda and doesn’t answer. Eranda, for her part, appears to be continuing ignoring the conversations around her, keeping a watchful eye on the landscape. And on Finarvi. Especially Finarvi.
Varanis, very quietly, whispers to Serala, “Your cousin might need to decide which of them he’s interested in before long. Unless he wants both.” Thoughtfully, she adds “Or neither. He could choose neither, I suppose.”
Serala looks to Finarvi. Then to Eranda. Then Minik. Then Finarvi again. “I’m not sure that ‘choosing’ is strong in his vocabulary. Whoever’s most interested should make a move. Otherwise we will be sitting here observing all the way to Rhigos and back. Which, I admit, has its own entertainment value.” She looks between the three again. “Fin is good at watching the world go by. And making armour. He’s very good at making armour.”
Varanis’ face is lit up with humour. A lot of the tension that has plagued her for the past few weeks has eased. “He’s going to make me a sword one of these days. I like the one he made for Berra.”
“I could object. He’s making swords for everyone but me.” Serala narrows her eyes and peers at her cousin. “I think perhaps he is waiting for me to ask so he can demand something exorbitant. Or simply humiliating. It can be difficult to predict with him.”
Varanis grins at her. “At least he hasn’t tried to do away with you. I’m still not convinced Manasa and Doqeia here weren’t part of a plan my brother had to be rid of me.” She seems to be joking, and her hand on Doqeia’s neck demonstrates a fondness that didn’t used to be there. She’s still a poor rider, but she isn’t afraid of the horse any more.
“If it was, you have the last laugh; and two good mounts.” Serala points out. “You have to introduce me to your brother. I can play the ignorant barbarian and make wagers that have me winning a horse if I can ride it. I see.. many horses in my future.”
Varanis grins in reply. “That would be an excellent reason to introduce you to Desdel. And he would deserve his losses too.”
Finarvi and his mount have fallen back and Minik and Eranda are now riding on either flank. There seems to be a lot of bantering going on. Varanis risks a glance back and then laughs again. “Maybe he won’t need to make a choice.” She grins at Serala. “He told me a story about swapping clothes with you when you were both 13. So you could get out of some kind of festival and catch frogs, while he pretended to be you, buried under a pile of formal robes.”
Serala looks purely innocent. “You don’t want to believe everything Finarvi tells you.” she replies evenly. Of course, she doesn’t comment on whether or not that particular story can be believed… With a cousin like Finarvi, perhaps it is more clear why Serala’s default position is to not comment on anything that could be taken out of context. Or in context, come to that. For all that, her smile is warm as she glances over her shoulder. “I’m glad he’s here. I find it easier when there is someone I can trust at my back.”
“I like him,” Varanis admits. “He’s a good companion with a fun sense of humour. I’m glad he’s here too.” Then her grin grows even more. “And I’m learning all sorts of interesting things about you.”
There is an eyeroll, but a good natured one. “I refer you to my earlier statement. Finarvi is always entertaining. And occasionally follows the truth in his tales..”
Doqeia starts at something invisible, but apparently scary, on the ground, side-stepping into Pag again. Varanis’ eyes widen a moment as her leg is briefly pinned against Pag’s shoulder. She works to regain control and calm her animal. She sighs. “Still seated, so that’s something.”
“Don’t underestimate yourself.” Serala notes calmly. “A few short weeks and you would have your rear in the dust. They are good horses.. but very… what is the word? Individual?” She reaches over and gently pulls Doqeia’s forelock, clearly fond of the mare. “Horses that are always calm are fit only for pulling a plough. If you wish to ride them to battle, they need mettle.”
Varanis preens at Serala’s praise. “I’d still be falling in the dust if it weren’t for you,” she says, smiling warmly at Serala. “Thank you.”
A toss of her head, “Well, I couldn’t let the horses’ backs get hurt by you bouncing around like a sack of root vegetables..” Serala notes. Compliments hard offered, compliments accepted with even more difficulty. “How long is the journey to Rhigos? Hours, days, weeks?” Subtle change of subject, there.
“Two or three days of riding, depending on how far we decide to go each day. Minik will know better, I think. He was recommended because he’s been before and knows something of the city.” Varanis glances back again and shakes her head. “He seemed a lot more serious when I first met him. You know, I rather think Finarvi is enjoying the attention. We may only have each other for company tonight.” Varanis looks at Serala with wide-eyed innocence and a hint of a grin. Then she yawns suddenly. “Sorry! I didn’t get much sleep last night.” The Vingan does look a little tired.
Hidden for mild naughtiness
There’s a sudden burst of laughter from the riders behind. Finarvi appears to have coaxed the guards into teaching him phrases in Esrolian.1“Yeah, ‘I waaan to foondul your bootocks’ means ‘Good morning, High Priestess.’
Finarvi seems to be testing out some of the phrases Varanis has taught him already.2This is where we find out if Varanis has been teaching me and Serala dodgy things!
Varanis glances back at the laughter coming from behind her and grins again. “Clearly, they are having too much fun.”
“Varanis,” Finarvi calls to her, seeing her looking back. “Your guardsman tells me Esrolians have fourteen different words for ‘breast.’” He taps his sternum to illustrate his point. “Is this so?”
Varanis laughs out loud. “If you count the sorts of words they use around the docks, there’s probably more. I’m not sure if anyone has done a true inventory of them. You should ask Xenofos. If he doesn’t know for certain, he could search the library.” She has a mischievous grin.
Finarvi’s grin matches hers. “I will ask him as soon as we get back. I had no idea such things were kept in libraries.” He arches an eyebrow at Minik. “Why do Esrolians need so many different words for one thing? Do you grade them, like corn?”
Doqeia does a little sidestep, presumably to avoid a terrifying pebble, and Varanis quickly faces forward again in an effort to maintain her seat on the horse.
Minik flicks his glance towards Varanis and then back to Finarvi. He counters with another question: “Why do Grazelanders need so many different words to talk about horses?” Eranda has been watching him casually to see what his reply would be.
“For the same reason sailors need so many words we don’t,” Finarvi shrugs. He’s heard that question before. He gives the guard a sly sideways look. “Why, how many Grazelander horse-words do you know?”
Minik manages two somewhat recognizable words and one that might translate best as “I am a pretty little mare.” Someone apparently had some fun teaching him, and he looks proud to have remembered the words. Finarvi fights to keep his face straight. He repeats that last one back to Minik, correcting the pronunciation slightly, voicing it as a question. He watches for any indication of comprehension in his companions.
Eranda’s expression gives nothing away. Minik carefully repeats the sounds back, concentrating as he does so. “I’m good with language,” he says with a self-satisfied expression. “I have an ear for them.”
Finarvi looks impressed. “You really do.” His mind is suddenly full of phrases he really wants to hear the Esrolian say. He glances at the sky, trying to judge how long it will be before they make camp. Yelm is beginning his descent, so it’s probably getting close to time to look for a good place to settle for the night.
“How safe is the land here for travellers?” Finarvi asks Eranda. Her watchfulness hasn’t escaped him. His impressions of Esrolia are of a relatively peaceful, prosperous country, but the last time he and Serala had been near Nochet, they’d had an army with them.
Eranda shrugs. “Being vigilant is always wise. We have enjoyed some peace, but war looms everywhere.”
“We’ll make camp soon,” Finarvi observes. “We should organise the watch between the four of us. Varanis needs sleep.” He manages to sound both concerned for Varanis and cavalier about his own need for rest.
Varanis looks back, startled. “I’m fine,” she exclaims. Her sudden yawn makes a liar of her. “No, really, I’m…” She yawns again, “fine.”
Finarvi grins at her yawning. “My mistake, noble Lady. Perhaps you and Serala should take first watch?”
Varanis nods regally. “First watch suits me fine.”
Eranda rolls her eyes, then proceeds to divvy up the remaining watches. Minik ends up assigned to the watch after Varanis and Serala.
Finarvi stares at Serala throughout the exchange, hoping to catch her eye and exchange a choice look, but his cousin knows his mind too well and studiously ignores him, her gaze on her hawk instead. He rolls his eyes. He knows better than to expect thanks, but if Serala had her way this would be a very dull journey.
Eranda picks a location a short distance off the road and directs the setting up of camp like a Humakti drill sergeant. There is no question of who is in charge and no consideration for rank or foreignness in her instructions. Finarvi leaps to obey like someone who’s grown up taking orders from formidable women warriors.
- 1“Yeah, ‘I waaan to foondul your bootocks’ means ‘Good morning, High Priestess.’
- 2This is where we find out if Varanis has been teaching me and Serala dodgy things!