1626, Fire Season, Illusion Week, Fireday Afternoon
After Palace Athene (session 1.44)
Xenofos’ room at The White Grape Inn, Boldhome
Varanis sits down with Xenofos to dictate letters. The first she asks for is for Grandmother Saiciae.
“Grandmother Saiciae. If you receive this letter, I have failed. Forgive me. Please know that I have given everything I have to Sartar and Esrolia. I beg you, protect the House and all within.”
The second letter is more personal in nature.
“Serala Granddaughter of Giland, White Hazel Clan, Pure Horse People. Don’t be angry with me. If you receive this letter, it’s because I didn’t come back. The Prince is lost and I seek to bring her back by way of a quest. I have agreed to let Eril begin it as he once offered. Berra promises that it will be swift, though the quest itself may be long. I don’t want to leave you, but I have to finish what I started. I am sorry. I had dreamed of following you to the Grazelands and maybe growing old alongside you. Ever yours, V.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Serala?”
“You didn’t know?” She raises her own eyebrow raised in return.
“No not really. I guess I was always looking for men trying to steal your life,” he says, “not ladies stealing your heart.”
Varanis smiles sadly. “I wasn’t looking for it either. It rather snuck up on me.”
“I am surprised, that is all,” he admits.
“It’s impossible, of course.” She tries to look like that doesn’t matter, but it’s clear that it does. “Her grandfather expects her to provide babies for her clan. And I’m likely to have to make a political alliance if I survive this.”
“Hmm – it is possible. But I would not worry about that yet. Have you said more than this to her in person?”
“We have made no commitments to each other. We both know that we have obligations to our families.” There’s a note of loss in what she says.
“Obligations and commitments are one thing. I am not talking of them,” he says.
She hesitates. “We have admitted we cared for each other. Shared a stolen kiss.” She considers further. “She said that if her grandfather picked her a husband, he’d have to be willing to share, and I agreed with her on that. That is all. That’s all there was time for.” She looks away.
There is a small pause that creeps into awkwardly long one. “Do you love her?”
Without hesitation, she says “I do.”
Again a suspiciously long pause. “It is your letter, but if this is sent it is last chance to tell it to her. Should you not say it straight?”
When she turns her gaze on him, the blue-grey eyes are glassy with unshed tears. “What good will it do? If the letter is sent, it’s because I’m dead. I don’t want to cause her more pain.” She sighs. “I’m doing it again. Yes, let’s say it. ‘I love you and don’t want to leave you, but I have to finish what I started.’ Does that work?”
He gives her a nod.
Surreptitiously, she swipes at her eyes. “Ok, the complicated one. It’s been suggested that rather than contact my sister directly, I should write to our grandmother. We had a way to signal when I was a child, but it was a way for me to alert them that I am in danger. I want to send a warning that they might be at risk. I’m especially afraid for my nieces. They are only just coming into their initiations and I could see someone deciding they would be easier to manage than me.”
“That might be a tad challenging, too.” He adds, “And by Sartarite reckoning your brothers would carry the same blood.”
She nods. “I don’t know if you know… there were two other brothers. They died very suddenly when they were young. It was before I was born. I was told they got sick, but I once heard my mother arguing with grandmother Mirava about it. Mother believed they’d been poisoned.” She scowls when she adds, “Gran said she was being paranoid.”
He nods. “Maybe send letter to grandmother Mirava?”
“That’s what Dor…” She stops. “That seems safest. She visits my sister anyway. My sister is named for her, followed her footsteps as a priestess, and has produced the only great grandchildren. But what do we say to get their attention without committing details to writing?”
Xenofos says, “To Grandmother Mirava priestess, etc. from Varanis, greetings… How is everyone, greet my nieces I hope they will be fully educated in Nochet before thinking of a visit to Sartar…?”
She shakes her head. “I’m not sure if their existence is known. I’d prefer not to reveal them at all, if it can be avoided.”
“Hmmm. Good point. Add some normal phrases and greetings from some of those who have passed to Ty Kora Tek’s halls, by name and tell that it feels like you have met them in Sartar?”
“Perhaps just something about my love for her and grandfather. That Sartar has proven more dangerous than anticipated.” She looks up at him suddenly. “And yes, maybe greetings from… perhaps from my other grandfather, who died protecting my mother from assassins. That should convey the urgency.”
“It should, indeed,” he agrees.
“His name was Barntaros. Mirava will remember him,” Varanis answers.
Xenofos says, “So normal pleasantries, Sartar has proven dangerous. Will you tell of quest, it is probably not entirely secret anymore and if this is sent after we leave even less? And towards end greetings from Barntaros- or a hint you are perhaps following his way?”
She considers. “The last, I think. It will underscore the need for protection.”
“It is also true,” he agrees.
“I don’t know that they need the details of the quest. They need to take precautions whether I succeed or fail. I’m not sure this letter should wait for the outcome of the quest.” She frowns thoughtfully.
He nods. “Mention Kallyrs apparent death, victory in north and something else too to mask the warning. Maybe Mellia’s temple and Venlar?”
“The best solution for the girls is to have them enter Ernalda’s service as soon as possible and find them suitable Esrolian husbands. This makes them less useful as pawns. But, Grandmother and grandmother Mirava will decide that.” She considers Xenofos’ suggestion. “Mellia and Venlar would be good to mention. It puts marriage in grandmother’s mind too.”
Again he pauses. “Are you suggesting caging your nieces for their safety Varanis?”
Varanis looks sad, but nods. “They both aspired to Ernalda’s service last I saw them. Miniature versions of their mother, anyway. It rushes things somewhat, but appears to be the path they wanted.”
He gives her a steady gaze.
After a moment, she adds, “That was last year though, and things may have changed. We don’t need to put it in writing. The Grandmothers will decide what is best.”
Xenofos give her a nod.
“Would you see a 14-year-old forced to take a throne, serving as a puppet like Temertain?” She sounds defensive, but whether she is justifying it to Xenofos or herself is unclear.
“Rather not, but neither would I see them married of for just security. Widows can marry again, you know,” he points out.
Varanis nods reluctantly. “It is for the Grandmothers to decide, regardless. All we can do is send warning. What I fear most is Grandmother Saiciae deciding that one of them must serve in my place if I fail. Their hearts are Ernalda’s and they deserve to serve her, not someone else’s political ambitions.”
“They cannot replace you anyway. They are not Vinga, or indeed Orlanth. But we don’t know their destinies; Ernalda with blood of Sartar may have part in history of this kingdom yet.”
With a deep breath, she changes the subject. “If I die, Grandmother will determine what happens to my hides in Esrolia. If I live, we will need to send instructions to my factor. We can deal with that later. So, I think this leaves just the Blue Tree hides to deal with and then everything will be in order as best we can make it.”
“Hmm, I should probably think of those too, ” Xenofos says. “I asked the procedures in the temple. Seems you can leave instructions on who gets them next. “
“And it is simpler than in Esrolia overall. I can do the work on basis of what you told me earlier. Tenants should stay, proceedings to the temple of Chalana Arroy.”
“Then you know my wishes. Royandr’s son and his family should continue as tenants if they choose, but the hides go to Mellia’s temple.” She stands behind Xenofos to watch as he works. “Thank you,” she murmurs softly. “For this and for everything else.”
“Thank you, my lady.”