VS 152 Reviewing

Varanis — 1626 0852 Reviewing

????, Earth Season, Stasis Week


Context

Earth Season, Stasis Week, Fireday afternoon. [[[s02:session-11|Session 11]]]

Events

[http://journeyoftheheroes.wikidot.com/varanis:1626-0850-rejoicing Later that afternoon], Varanis knocks on Silor’s door at the palazzo. She is freshly bathed and simply dressed, at least for her. She’s not yet gotten around to the finery she’ll need to wear for the evening out. Her only adornment is a simple pair of earrings, a few rings, and Kallyr’s arm-ring.

The door is opened by one of Venlar’s household, a woman Varanis does not know well. After admitting the lady, she slips out, leaving Silor to rise from his seat in greeting. Yamia and Venlar are also there – Yamia leaning against a wall with a slightly sardonic smile, Venlar managing to stand up to bow without knocking anything over.

“Welcome and be my guest,” Silor says, like he owns the place. Then, in a slightly more friendly fashion, “How are you?” He gives his children a nod of farewell, and they take the hint.

Varanis gives the siblings polite nods of greeting. As they leave, she takes a seat opposite Silor. “Truthfully? Frustrated. I was seeking information today and failed to find it. But, such is life.” She shrugs. “And you? Do you have everything you need?”

He smiles slowly, and looks down at the wine he was about to pour. “I need to be back in Sartar. Little help for it, I suppose. I did not think to send for anyone to negotiate on my behalf, but I might leave Yamia here with instructions. I… well, what do you know about my brother, and the fall of Sartar? I need to know where to start the story.” There is no mockery now, and his voice is slow and careful. He is picking his words as he speaks them.1Insight: under the care, there is something that Varanis has not often seen in Silor; weariness, and determination, mixed.

“I know a little, my lord. There were things we picked up during the HeroQuest that brought us to your lands.” Her grey eyes are solemn as she studies him.

He sighs. “Then I’ll start with that. He turned up, unshaven and smelling like a dung heap – I think he had slept under one – carrying a fortune and hiding the Relics. I knew neither of those things at the time. His tattoos were gone. He’d a camp in the woods. You know about the Household of Death – his people died or were bound to silence, his… his damned Temple got its treasures hidden, and then he asked me to meet him, and goaded my father into exiling him. For the good of the Clan, of course.” Silor pours wine and mixes it with water, an Esrolian habit already well established. He offers Varanis a bowl and keeps one for himself, rather than assuming a closeness that involves sharing. His expression is distant, with a touch of pain in the memories.

She nods as she accepts the bowl from him. “We learned of that. It was a… a bad time for him. He paid a high price for his service to Humakt.” There’s the barest hint of sorrow or pity in those words. For a moment, it looks like she will add something more, but then she takes a sip of the wine instead.

“I walked with him to Boldhome. Or rather, I rode, and he walked as if I employed him. A Lord and his man. It took a week. On the way, he gave me a pretty good understanding of the politics of Sartar, and what he thought the Lunar plans would be, and how to deal with them over the next year. He thought he would come back, and he had a plan of campaign laid out. And, Orlanth be praised, he was not too proud to let me know it, in case all went wrong. He gave me more money than I have ever seen in one place, in gemstones and gold and tiny magic trinkets, and then I betrayed him. I became someone the Lunars trusted. And I watched.”

Varanis listens intently. When he speaks of betrayal her expression doesn’t change.2Insight roll: Silor fails.

Silor looks into his wine. “I watched how they worked. The Lunar way is to find weaknesses, and they do it very well. My brother thought too… militarily. He was right on many things, but after the year went past, and I looked for him and missed him, I thought again. I had been spending the money on small acts that would annoy them – minor risings, anything that would keep them in the field or busy in various places, but always with a thought to a final rebellion. Yet when the moment came, Sartar was not in any way ready. Not at all. Every alliance I tried to forge fell apart. Every old feud was re-opened. It was like trying to hold water in a net. There were others too, and I could have supported the Starbrow, but I did not think she could have Sartar stand behind her, even with my help in the South. And I was trying to do it silently, and failing. I’d been the Chieftain of the Cinder Foxes for a while, and been exiled… and watching Kallyr try, I could see why she failed. The ties between communities were rotted, and the rot was caused by the Lunars. They did it on purpose, and they did it by studying us far, far more than we have ever studied ourselves.”

Varanis listens, engrossed now in the story he is telling. This is a new perspective for her, perhaps. Her wine sits on the table, forgotten for the moment.

“I had been trying to forge an alliance that would rise up and support leaders and a rebellion,” Silor says, his voice indicating he is lost in the past still. He pauses for wine occasionally as he speaks. “And they were looking out for that. Every time there was strength, I would find Lunar money and resources working against me. I stopped – may Eril forgive me – trying to solve the matter by violence, and started to consider what was truly happening. Sartar was being pulled apart slowly, and the red moon was shining in the gaps. So I began to heal those gaps in different ways. Instead of fighting, or making people stronger, I made them closer. I’ve been an exile, a bandit, a rebel, twice chief, and I’ve led a Clan for years, but my main fame is as a marriage broker. I used the Royal Treasury for dowries and blood money. The Cinder Foxes have bought blood feuds for years now, quietly, without it being known. If someone needed a ransom, and I heard about it, I’d make sure a loan was available, or a mother was given an unexpected inheritance. And then, if I found any evidence that the Lunars had been involved, someone would discover that, and if I found none, I’d take very careful note of the situation, because I’d often find it later.”

Varanis leans forward as she listens. Her expression shifts from time to time as he tells his story. She is sympathetic as much as she is intrigued.

“Sometimes things did need a rebellion. Eril… I thought he would have been pleased with what I did with the Firebulls. I was a leader among them in exile, I used the rebellion to pull Lunar attention that way – taking it from elsewhere while I forged the repairing of the South along with a few people who would definitely prefer not to be named, and I kept a lot of them alive afterwards. And I was returned to my Clanlands in glory, because I was a friendly face in the area and my dear usurper cousin was implicated in the rebellion. I could barely keep a straight face when I promised to serve better than he had. I’m glad my moustache was long at the time. And as it turned out, the friends I’d made along the way, in all sorts of places, have served me well. Nobody argues with me, because I’ve done so many favours. Except the Enstalos, of course, but I brought the best of the Firebulls with me. For a while they had to stay out of sight, mind you…” Silor looks back to Varanis, finally. “So, you see, I know a little of what is about to happen. Perhaps as well as anyone can, who has lived there. The infiltration starts long before the invasion, but it never stops. Many people can quote a dozen full lineages. Some can quote the grudges and feuds of family lines. Not many can predict from that where there is a weakness in the fabric of community. I’m not sure myself right now – so many died at Dragonrise. But that is what I’ve done, and how I spent several ransoms of Kings.”

Varanis looks directly at Silor. “You’ve had to make a lot of unenviable choices, my lord. You have my utmost respect,” she says at last. “What do you predict for the days and seasons to come?”

“In general terms, much more of the same, but with many more bandits and displaced backs to clothe, mouths to feed. I know the South much better than the North, and for many reasons it is better off – being further away from the accursed Empire being a large part of it. But there will, I can promise you without lying, be Lunar efforts to break Kallyr and Leika further apart. Right now, I’d assume drunk young warriors are being talked to, young men and women without money are being given gifts to do nothing save remember who their friends are, and innocent traders from all over Sartar are spreading the rumours they have heard in every tavern, until nobody can tell the truth from the lies they have been offered. Neither Leika nor Kallyr will be able to depend on what they hear, unless they have very good intelligence. I hear good things about the Chief Priest Tennebris. Less so from Clearwine, which is closer to me. Neither the Queen nor the Prince are much given to stepping back from a fight, and Leika’s people are very proud. There will be talk of how they are cowards, betrayers, deserters – anything to make them stand ever more firm.” Silor finishes his wine thoughtfully, and leans back against the wall behind him, hands laced behind his neck. “Leika will be painted as someone nearly but not quite strong enough, probably, so she feels she has to prove herself. And outside her lands, she will be made the villain or the heroine, as required. The Moon is fond of illusion, and of making up whatever story they like honest folk to hear.”

Varanis inhales slowly, letting Orlanth fill her lungs as she considers the implications of his words. “Tennebris is a good man. Not a kind one, but honest and intelligent. He cares too deeply for the Prince though and it is possible that could cloud his judgement. He was nearly crippled by her death. He will serve Kallyr until his death and I would not expect him to outlive her for long should she die again.” Her brow furrows as she considers. “You’ve probably figured this out already, but I’d like to get it into the open. We were advised to leave Sartar and to avoid the Queen. It was felt that she or her followers would take their anger out on us. That never sat well with me. It seems like something beneath Leika. But…” She pauses for a sip of wine. “But, while I couldn’t see Leika ordering it, I could see the Lunars goading someone into it and making it look like the Colymar Queen was behind it. They wouldn’t find us easy to kill, but even just the attack would drive the wedge between the Prince and the Queen deeper.” She frowns. “It rankles that the best way I can serve Sartar right now is to stay away.”

“Yes, exactly that. If not you, then others – but your death would be a deep wound, were it struck. Venlar says that Berra was attacked, and I do not think that was coincidence. There are always young fools, or nobody could use them as an excuse, but someone can always find young fools. I have not asked her about it, but … even if it was entirely accidental that a group of hotheads ran into your Humakt, they were already angry, and that anger is also flamed by red gold.” Silor hauls himself to his feet, and groans faintly. “Getting old. This morning hurts still.” Without any evidence of aches, he goes over to the table where his children were seated, to pick up a dish of Sartarite breads and cheeses, and a knife, and some grapes that are white, not red. They probably came from the North, given the sheen on them.

Varanis laughs. “You did not look old when you were swinging that sword at me today.”

“I’m almost fifty. I remember seeing the Flame of Sartar the last time it burned. It catches a man, slowly or fast.” Silor brings the dish back to put it where Varanis can reach. “If we don’t eat this, everyone will know I had a clandestine meeting, and Venlar keeps forgetting meals and visiting Mellia instead. I think you could go safely back to Sartar, you know? Not Colymar lands, and not to stay, but if you passed through, with the right words, you could do much damage to the Lunar efforts. Many of the Tribes would find it hard to choose between Clearwine and Boldhome, because they would not see they have to, save for this war. Persuading them just to stop, and not to move? That would be a fine thing.”

Varanis considers. “Hmmm… I had thought myself essentially exiled for the time-being. I had been planning to ask if Yamia would be going with Mellia and Venlar when they return, as I dislike trusting Mellia’s robes to shield her entirely.” Absently, she pops a grape into her mouth.

“Of course she will. She’s his bodyguard. She’ll probably end up in the Blue Tree Clan, one way or another. But… if you keep moving, plans will not catch you easily. If you have a prepared understanding of what you wish people to think, then you’ll do well. But you can’t stay, or can’t stay still, I think. That would be perilous. Pass through, like a lancer at a line, and then wheel from a different direction. You’d get away with that a few times, before anyone made specific plans for you. If I only knew what was wanted…” He thinks about that, like he is close to getting an idea.

“Finding the right words… that is the crux of it.” She looks thoughtful. “I’m willing to take the risk, if it will help us end the war and drive the Lunars out.”

Silor eats quickly, folding cheese into bread and tearing off chunks small enough to swallow without much chewing, so he can keep attending to the conversation. Any Esrolian matron would look down on that, and it would be out of place at a Sartarite table, even. He does it without apparent thought for anything but food. His thoughtful look is sharp, his mind obviously hard at work. “You’ll never drive the Lunars out. You might achieve safety from their forces,” he says absently. “But getting a message to… Tennebris? Kallyr? Eril? I still recall a few of the codes my brother and I used, but I can’t guarantee they won’t be read. We never trusted the writing so much as the amusement of finding new ways to write. If they do want a particular move, you should not get in the way of it.”

Varanis plucks another grape from the bunch and chews it thoughtfully. “We could get a message through. I’d suggest to Eril or Tennebris rather than directly to the Prince. But we’d need to be available for a reply, and that would be tricky if we are trying not to stay still for too long.”

“I think that depends on whether the news is yet out that he’s my brother. If not, a letter from me is not a problem. If so, I become bound in the web there. But he lives outside the Palace, as I understand, which means he can carry words in unimpeded. Assuming, of course, that he still lives. Anything could happen.” Silor gives another of his slow smiles. “We can stay still here, and we could have word taken to Jengharl, to send to us, and let my son be our gatekeeper.” He then sighs, and it turns into a chuckle. “I say ‘our’. I’m too eager for action. Eril was ever the patient one. But it could be done, in a way that is mostly safe. I kept a dozen Firebull rebels hidden once, before they became honest and long-serving weaponthanes within my Clan. It can be done. It is not easy.”

Varanis smiles at him, almost shyly. “I’m happy to have you on our side, Old Fox. You’d make a formidable enemy. Let’s try Eril, by way of your son. And I should speak to my companions. I cannot compel any of them to follow me. But I need to do something and I cannot stay in Nochet much longer. For all her charms, the city suffocates me. Even worse, I find myself slipping back into something I don’t want to be any more.”

“Less of the Old from you, whippersnapper,” he replies. “And more of the action. I’ll design a letter, and probably a gift or something, to make it clear what the letter means. Something he’ll understand and remember. It will be a while, but I need to stay here and … I WANT to go. Surely Yamia could handle negotiations?”

“Yamia probably could, if you had Grandmother’s agreement. Most often, these arrangements are made by the women of the family anyway. But, would you miss the ceremony or would it be delayed? Oh. Mellia asked the Prince to officiate. I still have trouble figuring out what that would look like. Would we go to Boldhome? I’m not sure Grandmother has ever been to Sartar… or perhaps there will have to be two ceremonies.” Varanis shakes her head. “I have to remind myself how important weddings are, especially when violence threatens. Still, the wedding could be a way back to Boldhome, even if only briefly.”

“It would hardly be this season, anyhow. Talking for several weeks, followed by travel and preparation, with the Dark of the year approaching? It might take place here, before then, but not if the White Lady wants it done by the Redhaired Prince. So probably an Esrolian and then a Sartarite wedding, and a contract to say exactly how the two relate.” Silor pours more wine, upending the amphora. “Down here I understand you barely get snow, if at all. Can you imagine your Grandmother in Sartar when it is cold, and the drifts above the lintels?”

Varanis pauses, a piece of bread raised halfway to her lips, and looks startled. “So deep?”

“I’ve known drifts higher than I stand, when I am standing on a foot of packed ice. Worse as you get north, and I was a long way from home, but even in Sambari lands, I would expect to have to wear snow-shoes, and not see Wilmskirk without great effort. We winter in the Tula, and wait. No, I think it would go badly to travel, but the double wedding would ease many troubles, in fact. For one, which Clan will my son join?”

“I’d assumed Saiciae,” Varanis replies. “But given Mellia plans to live in Blue Tree Tula… what would it mean for your son to be joined to the Colymar through Blue Tree?”

“Fascinating, isn’t it? But if he marries here and then in Sartar afterwards, that is a different thing. He passes from me to Mellia, and then to her Sartarite Clan, and yet keeps his links. He tells me they want an equal marriage – I think he would do badly out of Sartar, even if that was the case in law and fact. But a series of two marriages would suit, by removing him from that danger, and letting the Blue Tree also claim him, but from me. It has many merits as a start point.” He says it like he has thought through a lot of possibilities, of which this is one.

“It makes sense on a lot of levels. I see the value of a ceremony in Sartar too – good for the people to have something to celebrate. A good public show of the connections between Sartar and Esrolia. And a chance for us to visit Boldhome openly.” She sounds almost excited. “But before that, we have to get through an Esrolian ceremony. And the Dark. I don’t want to spend the Dark here, but I will need to consider where I can do the most good. Hmmm.” She pop another grape into her mouth. Her throat moves as she swallows. “I should stop talking now.”

“My Tula, or travelling, or my wife’s Clan… she is Locaem, so perhaps not. If I knew who might be persuaded over-winter of peace and calm, I’d make a suggestion. Many of those I knew about were at the Dragonrise, by wish or by demand of others. But the snow is a protector as well as a killer. With so little travel, it is easy to settle safely.” Silor shows no signs of not talking. For all the grey in his beard, his look is fierce and young.

“Your clan would be safe for me, but there is little work I need to do there, I think. Your people love you and will follow where you lead. Why not the Locaem? I’m afraid I don’t know your wife’s people well at all.” She absent-mindedly selects a piece of bread and cheese.

“Because their relationship with the Colymar is already so bad. I think your being there would make things worse. But… remind me, what is the Green Fish Clan’s tribe?”

“They are Malani,” she replies after she finishes her mouthful of food.

“Queen Amalda died at Dangerford,” he says. “Now there is a tribe we might influence. And Ranulf of the Culbrea, I think. But… if you can stand six feet of snow and a frozen river, you could visit the Malani at their north territories.”

Varanis frowns as she considers it. “That might work,” she says thoughtfully. She takes a sip of wine. As she sets the cup down again, she inhales slowly. “Can we travel on the river when it’s frozen? Or will we need to go over land?”3Silor passes Insight: There’s a slowly building tension. Though she erased the frown, it’s like she’s trying to control her expressions now.

“Down here, it will not freeze. Up there it depends on the weather at the time. Usually you can cross in full armour. I once led a cavalry charge across a river, but I was very drunk. I seem to recall it was a river, anyhow. But the great rivers tend to stay faithful to Magasta.” Silor does not ask about the expression. He just takes a bunch of grapes and sits back on his stool, shoulders against the wall behind him.

Varanis nods. “Ranulf… I thought I’d heard that he serves the Lunars? Though I’ll admit, I’m still learning the tribes and clans and may have mixed him up with someone else.” She considers it further. “No…. I’m sure I heard a story about a Culbrean king who fled the battlefield…”4 I did a homeland lore, halved for Sartar instead of Esrolia and passed – just barely. The frown has returned. Once again, she breathes deeply and smooths her expression.

“As I said. I think.” Silor shakes his head, accusing by saying nothing more. “I have so little information down here. Curse Eril and my father anyhow.” It is light, but behind it Silor is frustrated.

“Perhaps the Malani. While I would be open to visiting the Culbrea to get a sense of things, I’d prefer not to risk over-wintering in a place with strong Lunar connections. If they are going to come for me, I’d rather not make it too easy.” Without seeming to be aware of it, she brings her hands to her temples. Her rings catch the light.

Silor watches, and for a moment says nothing. Then he reminds her, “We will have to contact my brother, I think. And of course, work out your route.” He pulls a dozen grapes from his bunch and eats them in two handfuls.

She lets her hands fall as he speaks. “Of course. For now, I have an event I should be preparing for.” She rises smoothly. “Thank you. If you are willing, we will discuss this further soon.”

“Indeed. Yamia should be outside the door. Send her in?” Silor does not stand but he gives Varanis a quick nod. There seems to be a lot on his mind.

She sketches a bow, not quite managing to hide a flash of pain. “I will, my lord.”

“Headache?” he asks as she reaches the door. Then he holds up a hand to say what he was going to say is unimportant.

She leaves with a polite nod, but without answering his question.