Varanis — 1626 0706 Politics Kinship
????, Fire Season, Season/Movement Week
Fire Season/Movement Week/Clayday/Late [[[s01:session-39|Session 39]]]
Back at the White Grape Inn after a strange day.
The fire has died down, and Berra is lying on her back, staring up at the ceiling, not sleeping. Her left hand is behind her head, her right hand over her chest, and in the light of an oil lamp, which ekes out the embers from the hearth, she seems pensive somehow. Her fingers can’t dance restlessly, but her toes are tapping on the air.
The Vingan has been sitting, glaring at the world all evening. Finally, she rises, takes her cup to Rondrik’s counter and places it carefully. She looks at the stairs that would take her up to her room, but then glances in Berra’s direction, indecision in her movements.
Berra’s breathing deepens a moment. “What’s the matter?” she croaks, and then swallows and repeats the words without the dry throat. “What’s the matter?”
Varanis shrugs, but she comes over to where Berra is lying down and seats herself. “I might have screwed up again,” she whispers in resignation. “The High Healer…. she was holding back the truth and that’s the same as lying, isn’t it? But the others… they think I spoke too soon and too rashly.”
“Aah. One of the complicated ones. But really, it’s easy. I hold back the truth all the time.” Berra sits up, strength and grace combined. “Don’t you?”
“Not when someone asks me something directly. At least not usually… I might not always offer the information. But if it’s asked for, that’s different,” the Vingan says stubbornly.
Berra tilts her head thoughtfully. “I still sort my thoughts,” she says. “So what happened that you thought the High Healer was not going to say the truth?”
“Mellia asked her about the Red Lady and she said that she didn’t know anyone called that. But, I know she was there – I saw her in the HeroQuest. She was the second initiate.” Varanis thinks. “She kept skirting the truth, asking more questions, instead of answering them. It felt deceptive, like she was trying to distract Mellia from the questions she was asking.”
“Red Robes,” says Berra. “Not Red Lady. But… yes, that sounds annoying. I’ve shouted out about that sort of thing before.”
“Mellia definitely said Red Lady, because it made me think of Vinga’s Red Women…” Now Varanis looks confused. “Did Mellia make a mistake?”
Berra shrugs. “There are different ways of talking about people. I’d call her a White Lady, or a white-robed lady, or an Initiate of Chalana Arroy. Did we finish the beer?” From seated she goes to standing with a rolling motion that has her hand on her sword for a moment, as if by habit.
“I think there’s still some on the counter,” Varanis says waving vaguely in that direction.
Berra pads over to grab an amphora. She has chosen to sleep vambraces and greaves, but not the rest of her armour. It helps that she can comfortably sleep in any position, even while seated with her head on her arms. Still, she does look rather rumpled. “I think you struck while half drawn,” she says. “But sometimes it’s hard not to. It isn’t a thing to worry about, but a thing to make right.”
“So, it really doesn’t matter whether she was called Red Robes or Red Lady – the High Healer was deliberately avoiding speaking what she knew.” Varanis scowls. “I don’t think she likes me much. I don’t like her. But, I don’t want to cause Mellia trouble. She seems like the kind of person who would take it out on Mellia, for some reason.”
Berra pours with the amphora laid over her arm, finger through the ring. “What, if anything, does the High Healer Jaldis owe to Mellia? Because there are some things that if you asked me, I wouldn’t tell you. Mostly cult secrets, but also… well, other things. Truth is. It doesn’t have to be spoken. Now, maybe it should be – from what I understand, Jaldis was not saying all she knew. That’s annoying, maybe bad, when you ask. But if I asked you… I don’t know, what Kallyr… no, maybe something else. There are things you wouldn’t tell me, right?”
“If you asked directly? Maybe cult secrets. But I can’t think of anything else I wouldn’t tell you. That’s part of the split between Dormal and me right now. He wanted me to do something and promise to never ever tell you why.” Varanis shrugs, but there’s sadness in her expression. “I refused and he sees it as proof that I value you over him, without understanding that it’s about truth and honour, not about which person I love more.”
Berra nods. “The problem is, the world should be that way, and it isn’t, and I hate that too.” She looks into the cup Varanis set down earlier. “But it’s the reason that the High Sword of my Temple doesn’t like me. So I sort of think that there are political reasons not to talk, sometimes. We’re Initiates. We get to not have to think about that. But Chief Priest Orl… uh, Tennebris, once chided me for speaking like an Initiate, and thinking like one. But it’s our strength, too. We’re young and not as worn down as they have to be.”
“Grandmother sometimes despaired of me for it. I think she was hoping all her training would lead to someone with a little more subtlety. I’m usually pretty good about being polite, but I’m about as subtle as my armour.” The Esrolian woman shrugs ruefully. Really, what can you expect from someone who walks about in armour like hers?
Berra sips the beer and winces. “Would you like some water?” She is staring at Varanis, thoughtfully, but without apparent accusation.
“Yes please,” Varanis says. “Are you ok?”
A nod comes as the reply. “So, you’ve seen me do exactly this sort of thing before,” Berra says, which is almost a change of subject, at least from her. “And sometimes people are loud about it, and sometimes they are not. But I keep doing it, because I hate that situation you hate. So yes, it might have made things harder for Mellia, but if Jaldis is that unfair, then she just needs an excuse, and it could be anyone. Anything. For you? I… find it hard to keep quiet.” And she grins, just a little. “Do you remember how I reminded the High Sword of Humakt, in front of Prince Kallyr and her Chief Priest, that the Necklace of Lismelder existed?”
Varanis laughs. “Not the sort of thing easily forgotten.”
“Right. That could have gone badly. It wasn’t quite a Cult Secret – in fact, the Necklace itself isn’t at all. But I couldn’t keep quiet, so I didn’t. We’re getting judged on results, I think, not on what we meant to happen. To be honest, I didn’t know if he was going to strike me down for it.” Berra shrugs that away, and takes another sip of beer. “This is half stale. I should probably finish it so it doesn’t sour the clay.”
“Are there times when it is acceptable to not speak truth when asked?” Varanis asks thoughtfully. “And what is the way to deal with that? Not answering the question or openly refusing to answer it seems the most honourable, but I have to admit, it’s probably not the most diplomatic…”
Berra sighs. “In general, I tell people I cannot in honour answer such a thing. Um, in fact, I’ve done that to the High Sword too. For other people, I think it depends on them.” She looks into her cup, puts her right hand up as if to try to pick something out, and grimaces as she looks at it.
Varanis looks curious, and tries to cover her curiosity by sipping at her water.
“There are, I think, times when it’s acceptable not to speak the truth when asked. I don’t know what they are. But the truth as we can know it, and the pure Truth, the torch, are different. If you demand the Truth from yourself or others – the greater Truth – you’re deceiving yourself. And I say that as someone who tries that, and fails. Honour is what dictates we’re truthful, not Truth itself. And if I had promised to look after something, I’d refuse to say. If we asked the High Sword about the relics of the Household of Death, should he tell us?”
“No, but he should answer honestly that he can’t or won’t say, shouldn’t he? And what do you mean when you say that demanding Truth is deception? That doesn’t make any sense, Berra.” Varanis looks perplexed.
Berra thinks back. “Demanding the Truth Rune is deception. Only Lhankor Mhy and the other gods can have the power of that within them in a pure sense. So if you think that is happening, you don’t yet know Truth.”
“What I expect is honesty. I expect people to tell the truth.” Varanis sighs. “But it seems, from this evening’s earlier lectures, that my expectations may be high.”
“Mhm. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that you did the wrong thing. You did a very rash thing, and you didn’t have to, but … if you don’t follow your love of truth, where will it lead you? And I should say because it’s true, that when I do, it often leads me into trouble.” Berra keeps on trying the beer, now hardly wincing at all.
Varanis laughs quietly, then takes another sip of water. She sets her cup down and wanders in the direction of Rondrik’s kitchen without saying anything. A moment later, she returns with a small bowl of nuts, which she sets between them before taking a small handful.
Berra leans against the bar – that is, the slab of wood balanced on stacks of flat rocks that also do as shelves – and stares at the nuts for a while. “If that thing with the High Sword had happened a year ago, I’d have offended him a lot more,” she says. “I’ve never had to learn how to put the polite parts, before. Fighting was always enough.”
Varanis raises an eyebrow. “You were more blunt before?”
Berra blorts laughter, biting it back to make it as quiet as possible, and failing. “Uhhhh….” she says faintly after a while. “Um, yes?” Her beer has slopped over her hand.
The Vingan smiles teasingly at her companion. “I didn’t think that was possible.”
Berra considers briefly. “I have told his Excellency that if he wants me to understand him, he has to avoid long words. That was in private, but I don’t think he was too pleased anyhow. Let’s just assume that … how did it go? Let’s just assume I won’t know the long words. If you want me to understand, avoid them in future. Something like that. Which now I think of it, I should probably regret, but he knew already. And he knew that I knew, after that.”
Varanis shakes her head ruefully.
“I don’t think he was too pleased, but I couldn’t actually tell. He answered without letting me know. And there was a time in Pavis when I told a city guard that if he didn’t get out of the street I was advancing down, he’d be the street, and it turned out he had a lot of other guards with him. But I had a lot of soldiers with me, so we came to a… I think my commander called it a peaceful accord. And I did once tell Harrek the Berserk to get bent, but I don’t think he heard me, because I’m still alive.”
Varanis looks very impressed at the last one. She has no love for Harrek.
“On the way to Nochet, I think I threatened a chieftain of a village. I thought he was stalling in taking down a dam that was across the river, but in fact he was probably trying to tell us about politics. But he was wrong, I think – he should just have taken down the dam.” Berra looks like she has a lot more of these stories.
The conversation that follows has spoilers that relate to Dormal. Are you sure you want to read it?
“I want to tell you something,” Varanis says suddenly. “It may be that you can help me to understand, or it may make things worse. Can you promise not to take my words out on anyone else?”
Berra considers, and then takes a deep breath, and the slow calm inspired by her Sword Lord comes over her. It takes her a few moments to settle into it, and then she looks back to Varanis. “I promise.”
Varanis takes a slow breath. “You have no doubt noticed that things have been … tense between me and Dormal for a while?”
Berra considers that. “I might not have used the word tense, but I don’t know what word I would have used, so yes. Strained somehow.”
Everything about Berra seems slowed down now, with consideration given to each word. Calm, peaceful, all her attention on Varanis, she waits to be told a thing.
Varanis nods. “It began when I tried to hit him on the road to Clearwine. He saw that as me choosing you over him, and in his heart I betrayed my kin for an outsider.” She takes another breath and steadies herself. “When I convinced him to return with us for this quest, he made a demand of me to make reparations, and I refused. What he asked for is impossible for me, but maybe not for the reason he thinks.”
She takes another deep breath, but this one is almost a shudder.
Berra nods slowly. “And you want to talk but don’t want me to hit him.” She puts out her hand to rest it gently on Varanis’ shoulder, probably getting nut oil there. It is slow enough that it could be refused.
Varanis doesn’t shrug it off, but places her own hand on top for a moment. “More, I’d rather you’d take it out on me, if you need to.” She takes another breath and then continues. “He wanted me to hit you the next time that you threatened him. And I seriously thought about it. But, he told me that I could never tell you why and I couldn’t lie to you, not even by refusing to tell you the truth.” She looks down, but then forces her eyes back up to Berra’s. “The thing is, I might have been willing to hit you for threatening him. And that sits badly with me.”
Emotions obviously play over Berra’s face for a while. “I see. It’s good of you to say that, I think. It must hurt.”
Varanis looks shame-faced. “I feel like I have betrayed you both. You, for being considering doing violence against you, and him for telling you this thing. But it was eating me up. And so, I tell you this thing and maybe it eases my own pain, but maybe it causes more harm to others. Is that selfish of me?”
“No. It’s young and inexperienced of you. Because you’re thinking I’ll be hurt like you are. He’s using you to strike at me, and you’re strong enough not to. You know that violence and lies are different. The only thing on which I can judge you here is honour. I find that whole.”1Each player rolls on insight. Berra passes – Varanis hasn’t said everything she meant to say. Varanis fumbles – Berra is dismissive – she is probably telling the truth, but definitely uncaring.
Varanis looks away. Berra squeezes the shoulder she holds, and lets go of it. Maybe she does not want to be touching someone so weak, or so simple as to not know these things already. The Vingan is silent for a long time. “Maybe,” she begins, “maybe I should go to bed.”
“I… think I understand about the rest, but I don’t mind it. You asked me to be your friend. If you hit me, do you think I would change? Unless Varanis Colymar tells me to my face that she does not want me here, I might froth over my banks for a while – but I’ll always be in my course again. Is there anything else?” Berra pokes with her knife for the best nuts, flicking a few out onto the table and not making eye contact for the moment. It would be possible to just get up. She is giving that space.
Varanis hesitates.2While her player rolls on truth. Stupid dice! Special on truth. The Vingan takes a long drink of water. Then she checks a wine amphora on the counter. Somehow, this one hasn’t been fully emptied. She fills her cup with the wine and takes another long drink. She looks at the table, then at Berra. “He tells me that the way to save all of you is to take the throne for myself,” she whispers at last.
“And he knows you can’t rule – so there he would be to help you. In the spirit of this, I should say I heard what Kallyr told you, when you said you didn’t want the throne. And she’s right – you could not take it from her.” Berra seems, again, oddly untroubled by this. “I laughed,” the Humakti admits then. “She … I really admire her.”
“He is convinced that either Kallyr will have us all killed, or Leika will turn me into a puppet to claim the throne and then have us killed. And he thinks the only way to prevent it from happening is to act first. Even Mellia believes him.” She is deeply unhappy. “How can I protect all of you? I will die to save Sartar, if I must. You will make your own choices. But the others?”
“Well, you can stop having poison dripped into your ear. What if we are all protected? What if Kallyr loves her kinswoman? I have a different explanation for Dormal’s suggestion, and it reflects on him, not you. What if you do NOT need to protect us, because we are not in danger like he says?” Berra calmly bites down on a nut kernel.
“Why would Kallyr love me? I’m nothing but an assassinatable threat to her throne, even if she and I both know I couldn’t take it and don’t want it. She’s a Hero, and I’m just…” She trails off, shaking her head. “He’s not lying to me. He’s telling me what he genuinely believes. It’s possible that he’s wrong, but if he isn’t?”
Berra takes a slug of beer, with a tiny grin. “He thinks that because he has no honour, and can’t imagine being a person who does. He thinks of honour itself as a disadvantage. So… would you kill your kin? That is what sort of person he is saying Kallyr is.”
“Of course I wouldn’t! Kin-slaying is heinous.” She’s disgusted by the suggestion. “But, it wouldn’t have to be Kallyr. Hell, she wouldn’t even have to know. Just someone who wants to make sure her throne is secure and is willing to act on it. And then there’s Leika. The Queen barely acknowledged me when we met, and Dormal thinks she would be willing to use me as a stepping stone to the throne.”
“Mmmmhm. So now Kallyr is incompetent, in Dormal’s mind, and cannot choose people who will obey her. And Leika’s feast for you is bare acknowledgement. Because I didn’t see her dismissing you. I saw her taking in a fact, one among many, ignoring an insult from your bodyguard, not hearing Rajar talking about beer, and then accepting you as a message from Kallyr, and at that point I stopped being nervous. Because she accepted you. And then there was the feast. You may have forgotten she gave you a feast.”
“She gave us a feast,” Varanis reminds her.
“Uh… yeeesssss. Feast. And… Kallyr sent us to her tribe. Does that not tell you something?” Berra still looks unworried.
“And she didn’t introduce me to the Wyter. I don’t know what that means. In Nochet, if a Grandmother didn’t introduce a kinswoman to the clan Wyter, then she isn’t really welcoming them. She’s just making a show of it.” The Esrolian sounds uncertain.
“Blue Tree Wyter not good enough, huh?” Berra grins to that. “You’re not the Royal Clan. Or at least, she wasn’t certain you were. She’s got her Clan Wyter, but you’re definitely Blue Tree. But was I introduced? With the Snake sniffing me?” She looks genuinely puzzled for the first time in a while, like she has to check that detail to be sure for herself.
“Sort of,” Varanis says. “You weren’t welcomed as kin, but you were acknowledged as a person of interest by the Wyter and Grandmother. It’s not quite the same. I suppose I am confused. If I’m to be known as Colymar, and descended from Sartar, doesn’t that make me part of the Royal Clan? I don’t think I understand Sartarite kinship very well.” Then she asks suddenly, “Unless the snake gave you a name? That would be different.”
“No, it didn’t. We didn’t speak although I saw its truth-tongue. As for your questions… Not at all. You’re Royal Clan if you join it. That’s the royalty of the Colymar, not the Kingdom. But in this case, I can lay your mind at ease on a thing. Queen Leika had the Black Spear in the room. That’s the sign of her … I suppose in state would be the words. You were being acknowledged by it being there. It’s what makes her Queen. But you’re not her Royal kin, just her Colymar kin, and that’s not a problem.”
Varanis nods thoughtfully. “Then it may be that Dormal’s assumption about Leika using me as a way to seize power for herself is based on our lack of understanding of Sartarite politics and kinship.” She looks relieved suddenly. “I’ve been worrying for such a long time, Berra. I wish I had spoken to you sooner.” She looks light, like she’s shed an awful weight that has been dragging at her. “We should both get some sleep.”
Berra’s little sound of amusement could be derisive – just a snort – but it does not seem aimed at Varanis. “My understanding is that the Queen took you as a message from Kallyr that she was not angry about getting. Kallyr was allowed to demonstrate her power, and Leika got a nasty problem solved, because it was Kallyr who distributed lands up there. Cover for each other. I don’t know about their personal feelings, but Kallyr presented you as… a thing to say what the situation was, and Leika accepted it, and it made them both stronger.”
Berra reaches for more nuts. “I’m staying awake in case D’Val comes by. He said if he found any proof of vampires he would, if the hour was early enough.” It is late. Maybe she has not noticed.
“Berra, it’s awfully late. You could just put your head down for a while as you wait… but it’s your call to make. I’m going to my bed. Thank you.” Impulsively, she hugs the Humakti.
Berra seems prepared for this, and has her arms out by the time Varanis impacts. “I might sleep across the door so I can leave it unbarred,” she says. “That is better than locking up, probably.”
Varanis smiles as she heads for the stairs. “Try to get some sleep.”
The short little Humakti sits back down by the bowl of nuts, and grunts a farewell.
- 1Each player rolls on insight. Berra passes – Varanis hasn’t said everything she meant to say. Varanis fumbles – Berra is dismissive – she is probably telling the truth, but definitely uncaring.
- 2While her player rolls on truth. Stupid dice! Special on truth.