VS 115 Cousins to Be

Varanis — 1626 0781 Varanis Venlar

????, Earth Season, Death Week


Context

Earth Season, Death Week, Waterday, Afternoon. [[[s02:session-5|Session 5]]]
In Saiciae House, Nochet

Continues from [http:journeyoftheheroes.wikidot.com/varanis:1626-0779-mastyr-minds Mastyr Minds]
Continued in [http:
journeyoftheheroes.wikidot.com/varanis:1626-0785-countermanded Countermanded]

Events

There’s a knock on Venlar’s door. Venlar’s voice calls out, strongly, “Enter!” The door opens a moment later and one of his thralls bows and slips out.

Varanis sweeps into the room, still dressed in green silk. As it had been earlier in the day, her hair is piled on her head in a complex arrangement of tiny plaits. One of the plaits appears to have escaped attempts to restrain it and is slowly unraveling itself along her neck. She wears gold jewellry in her ears, at her throat, and on her arms, though she has not given up wearing Kallyr’s armband, which winds itself around the sleeve of her tightly fitted gown.

Venlar is in Sartarite clothes, having not yet bought gear fully suitable for the weather. However, his casual but expensive robe is light, and he does not seem to be suffering. “Welcome,” he says, and stands to gesture to a chair. There is no bow, for he too is noble, and they are something close to equal in age. “Thank you for coming.”

She nods her greeting to him. “Of course, Venlar. We have shared interests, I believe.” Her reply is polite but bears a certain amount of familiarity. She seats herself in the proffered chair.

“Well, I’m the only one hoping to marry Mellia,” he says carefully. “So we could talk about my sister if you like? Would you like wine? Father’s had some brought in so it isn’t your grandmother’s stock I’m offering you.”

Varanis smiles at him. “My grandmother’s wine is good, so I would not object if you were. But your father has good taste in wine too, so yes please.”

“Certainly different.” It is Clearwine that he brings out, probably brought up from the cellars within the last half hour. The amphora is darkened by moisture, and was probably soaked. “Would you mind pouring? I hate expensive accidents.” The wine bowl is rather more sturdy than is fashionable, and the water jug looks like it was built to be easy to hold. Venlar travelled with a lot of luggage.

She rises and gracefully goes to the table to pour wine for both of them. Neither of the drinking bowls is filled more than halfway. She returns, setting one of the bowls in front of Venlar before sinking into her own chair. She sips at the wine appreciatively then turns kohl-lined eyes on her host.

Venlar concentrates briefly on the task before him, and manages to take a sip without ruining his clothes. “He has good taste. He probably brought it with him from Sartar. He took that route.”

“Are we going to make polite small talk for a while? We could talk about the wine, or the weather, if you prefer. Or shall we get to whatever point it is you hoped we could discuss?” The tone is impatient rather than dismissive. As before, there’s something underneath the polished veneer that suggests restlessness barely contained.

“I wanted to give you the chance to talk,” Venlar replies. “Because you looked like you wanted to be away from everyone else, and so do I. And if there is anything about Mastyr to mention, now is the time.”

She shakes her head. “Mastyr did as he should, I suppose. It’s just that he got between me and where I was going in a misguided attempt to protect Yamia. I laid hands on him and for that I apologise.”

Venlar nods, and makes to put his cup down as he sits forwards. There is a cracking sound as the base of the bowl impacts on his sturdy table, and he freezes, looking resigned. After a moment he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, while wine drips from his hand and stains the sleeve of his robe.

Offering no comment, Varanis rises and retrieves a towel she’d seen on the other table. She hands it to him. A moment later, she places a new wine bowl on the table near him.

Venlar looks drunk, which is odd given a moment before he was standing and fetching wine and his speech was fine. He moves to put the bowl down only after he has checked it, and he does it with great care and concentration. “Not broken,” he says. “Just chipped. But I should not have more. I would end up with two broken cups on the carpet if I collided them. It happens – I’ll drink what I have.”

She shrugs and moves the wine bowl further away. “Be careful drinking from the chipped bowl,” she warns. “I cut myself drinking from a cracked cup before.”1Successful roll on insight: Venlar is a little embarrassed, but mostly tremendously frustrated. It is not coming to the surface obviously, but it is beneath, visible in how careful and calm he now is.

“It is the bottom,” he says, and lifts it to show her, and manages to slosh wine again. Wryly, he shakes his head. “It will repair easily enough, as long as I do not tread the chip into dust. So, are you also being held up as a potential marriage?”

“Not as yet,” she says. “I suspect Grandmother will be hoping to arrange something particular for me.” She tries to smile at him, but it’s an effort. “Can we be frank with one another? Given that you will be family soon enough, I hope?”

“Of course. I am chiefly concerned about the dance around Mellia, if that helps.” Venlar waits, suddenly awkward.

“I thought you might be. I don’t know what reassurance I can offer. I feel like Grandmother is trying to drive up Mellia’s value. I think it highly unlikely that Mellia would be forced to marry someone she didn’t want though. And,” she turns a real smile on Venlar now, “she’s made it very clear that she wants you.” With a laugh, she adds, “Besides, can you picture anyone forcing Mellia to do something? She’d just leave.”

“Oh. Well, yes. I know that. But there is always the chance that there is a better offer. She is a Lightbringer.” Venlar shrugs. “It was something else I was thinking of, though. Father pointed it out, not me. After you and your cousin were seen last night, he was given far too many presents for them all to be for him. My Lord thinks that other people at least are of the opinion you are available. That Xenofos is the one who should be approached. I do not know Esrolian customs that well, but he told me of several precedents. I understand he has been plotting with your Clan. He picks up this sort of thing very well.”

She blinks at him. A look of dawning horror grows in her eyes. “But…” She shakes her head in denial. “No. They wouldn’t. I’ve never been more than a half-blood foreigner in the courts here. My reputation among the warriors of Esrolia is acceptable, but among the matrons? No.” She relaxes. “They wouldn’t be interested in me.”

As he thinks, Venlar reaches casually for his cup, slows down with an effort, and pays attention to what he is doing. He finishes the movement under rigid control. He picks up the cup, moves it to safety, flicks the towel off the table and onto his lap, and then stops moving for a moment so he can consider where his hand is, and how to move it to the cup. He gets it right, and leans back with his hand supported on the towel and an air of having conquered himself yet again. “Lightbringer,” he says gently. “Not foreign, but Kin to a Foreign Queen. Or Prince, but that will mean the same to most. And we have not yet considered your dowry. It is that which brings reputation among the matrons. Gold will heighten the sallowest complexion, I’m told.”

Varanis rises to her feet and begins to pace restlessly. “Mellia is the one who wants a husband. She wants you!” She points her finger at him abruptly. “I do not. I will be no man’s wife.” Another of the plaits has come loose and begun to unravel.

“That is a good starting point,” Venlar replies. “If you will take no wife either, it is a finishing point.” He is unperturbed by the finger, with much of his attention given to checking his hand is not letting his wine slip. “I think, though, that your Grandmother did not expect this. For all his shining talents, Lord Xenofos is not such a negotiator. So I am halfway at a loss. You were sent out without Mellia yesterday. That is odd.”

“Your darling Mellia failed to make an appearance. She was supposed to come with us.”

“Yamia,” Venlar says. “Nobody could have foreseen that Mellia would have a patient who took so much of her time. But beware. You were sent out too.” He punctuates that with a drink of wine, his movements becoming easier as he does. He uses his thumb to wipe a drip of wine from his lower lip and pretends not to care.

“We were sent out to drive up interest in Mellia. At least, that’s what we were told.”

“Mm.” Venlar grunts a reply around his wine, and then comes up for air having drained the whole bowl. “Have you ever used a stalking horse when hunting?”

“No.” She stares at him.

Under the stare, Venlar seems uncomfortable. “They are led up to disguise scent and sound, allowing one to stalk close, but ultimately they are ignored during the kill. Perhaps it is a Sartarite method.” Venlar shrugs. “I would hesitate to say who was the horse and who the hunter.”

“Impossible. Grandmother will not be seeking a spouse for me as yet. She’s said nothing about it. My task was simply to make sure that it is known that Mellia has plans to marry. Xenofos might find himself on the marriage market if he isn’t careful, but not me.” She shakes her head in denial.2Failed INT x 5

“I am not saying she is, but she has just had a powerful suggestion that she should. Of course you must continue to make your own choices. Sartar is here for you.” Venlar picks up the towel on his lap and folds it carefully,

The look she gives him is sword sharp. “What do you mean by that? That Sartar is here for me?”

Venlar smiles slightly. “The Kingdom is free. Perhaps I will end up in Esrolia. It would be an interesting swap. I suppose I am trying to think too far ahead.”

She covers her confusion by retrieving her wine bowl and taking a sip. Finally she admits, “I still don’t understand. But perhaps it is not your words I’m failing to understand but myself. I don’t know what I am to Sartar. I’m not heir to the throne despite Dormal’s efforts to make it so.” There’s an odd mixture of wry humour and irritation in that statement. “I’m a Lightbringer, yes, but not the only one.” Here she sounds uncertain, as if she is trying the title out for the first time.

“And I am failing too. I’m surprised it has taken this long. Mellia is good for me. I used the wrong word because I was thinking us still back in Sartar, trying to be supportive. What you are is a hero, I suppose. By no means the only one, but still a rarity.” With the folded cloth in his hand, Venlar looks around for somewhere to put it, settling it finally on the side table that holds his wine bowl. He watches himself do it, as if with interest, and smiles a little when nothing falls.

Suddenly she asks, “Have you always been like this?” She makes a gesture that seems to indicate him, the wine bowl, and the table. Then she blushes. “I’m sorry. That’s a rude question. It’s just that Yamia has changed so dramatically, and yet you remain as you were when we first met.”

“Always,” Venlar replies. “My spirit does not … it never really grew as you would expect an adult’s to. Most of the time I am fine, but this? It happens sometimes. I have always been clumsy, except when I do the work of Orlanth. Earlier, I was protecting my Champion, meeting with another leader, and you saw the result. And now that is gone from me, either I am more than usually clumsy for no reason, or I used up some reserve I have. Frankly, either would be entirely possible. I don’t try to hide it, though. What would be the point?”

“No point,” she agrees. “It does not make you less of a man, and perhaps it underscores just how competent you are when the situation calls for it.” She considers. “I find myself wondering what has happened that affects your sister without seeming to have an impact on you or Hengrast. I presume nothing has really changed for him either?”

“I don’t know. I rode to Wilmskirk, had Mellia’s first letter there and rode to see her, and since then I have not been back to my Tula. I had to find my father, then Yamia needed my attention. I could not say what might have happened, although mother did not report any problems. If she had called for me, I would have gone. She did not, so I suppose nothing truly terrible?”

Varanis nods. “You are probably right.” She takes her seat again. “How can I help you?” she asks.

Venlar considers that. “First, know I think something has changed in me. This is the first time since I met Mellia that I have had what I call a cascade of falling over and breaking things. It has a certain lack of ring about it, don’t you think?”

She smiles at him.

“I know she is good for me – she makes me feel special and that makes me want to look after her, and so perhaps I find it wasier. However, could it be that whatever affected me has been ameliorated somewhat?” Without noticing, he has slipped into the habits of an orator, posture and physical language in agreement with what he is saying. The gesture he makes with the question is perfectly timed. He is doing the work of Orlanth, once more.

“I believe you. Indeed, I can see it in you. Which brings me back to my question. How can I help?” The grey eyes study him.

Venlar shakes his head. “I will probably be going to the Paps,” he replies. “Likely with my wife, but I do not know. Mellia believes that the force of Death is in me somehow. Whatever it is, the Priestesses there may know, but as for helping me, I am content. I have people to help me already, and enough lands to care for them, and for all of my dependents. Help me by helping my bodyguard. When she is healed I will have no complaints.”

Varanis laughs, but there’s no mockery in it. “I meant with Mellia, rather than with your…” She waves her hand vaguely. “How can I help ensure you and she get married? Do you have any convenient Sartarite customs involving kidnapping or some such thing?”

“Well, yes, but they might not translate well into Esrolian. Besides, I have heard that killing Yelm is a bad idea. But the question now makes a little more sense… I think you should probably speak to father, rather than to me. I have little status here, save as a guest to be shown off. Keeping the household enamoured of the idea of such a marriage is like to be the best way.”

She considers him. “I can work on that. And perhaps I will seek out your father.” A pause, then, “Do you have all that you need to make your stay with us comfortable?”

Venlar looks around him. “I have.” He bends forwards to reach for the second bowl of wine. For a moment it is touch and go, but there is no disaster. “I was considering a visit to the Temple of Knowledge,” he notes. “After going to Orlanth’s Hill.”

“I will happily accompany you to Orlanth’s Hill, if you like. I need to make some enquiries of my own. And should you desire, Xenofos is well acquainted with the Library and could make introductions for you.”

“You’re very kind,” Venlar tells her. “The city is huge. Do you know it is the largest collection of Heortlings in the world? Not all within the wall, of course, but within a day’s ride you could see more than anywhere else.”

She nods. “Among Esrolians, it is enough to say ‘the City’ and people will know which city. I am planning to head to my Temple shortly, should you wish to go today. Otherwise, I could take you tomorrow.”

Venlar considers only briefly. “I should go now. Tomorrow I may be called on to support my sister. If there is a Heroquest during the day I should be free, against my father not being suitable for the part.”

“I need to change into my armour, so give me a half hour. I can come by here to pick you up. Will you be bringing guards of any sort?”

“I would ordinarily take Yamia and someone of her choosing,” Venlar says cautiously. “Would it be rude to have my own guards rather than your hospitality?”

Varanis waves a gold-tipped hand. “Not at all. I will be taking one from the household. Perhaps I’ll bring two so you and your people can have a local guide back, if that suits?” She frowns slightly. “The only way I could get Xenofos to agree to be guarded was if I took a guard too. So now I’m bound to have one with me, no matter what.”

“That would be better. I fear nothing here save the local politics, but putting on a show seems…” He takes a moment to get out of the chair, managing it on the second attempt. “…seems an appropriate thing to do. Lord Eril did say, you know, that I might be assassinated for looking like him at the palace recently. He did not think it likely, but possible. Perhaps the warmer clime will be more relaxing after all.”

She laughs lightly. “Tennebris informed me that I had made myself ‘infinitely more assassinatable’ or some such thing.” She shrugs as if to say ‘what can you do?’

“This probably means that other people are slightly less assassinatable, so it is a good thing we are doing.” Venlar stumbles around the table with his wine on, but nothing gets broken. “Taking on the burdens of others is a fine thing in life.”

Varanis rises and impulsively hugs Venlar. “It’s so nice to have someone around who understands!”

Venlar is surprised for a moment and then squeezes her on the shoulder. “I will be happy to call you cousin,” he tells her. “Vingorlanth is a proud warrior, and an honourable one.”3Observation from GM: I roll DEX when he is surprised, so he could have fallen over and dragged you with him. But he didn’t.

“I’ll be happy to call you cousin too, Venlar,” she replies with a warm smile. “I’ll be back in 30 minutes and we can go to the Hill of Orlanth.”

Venlar walks her to the door, where the thrall who left earlier is waiting outside.