VS 153 Bearing Witness

Varanis — 1626 0852 Witness

????, Earth Season, Stasis Week


Context

Earth Season, Stasis Week, Godday Eve [[[s02:session-12|Session 12]]]
House Saiciae

Varanis has been falsely accused of kidnapping or luring away Lenta Hulta. After a failed rescue attempt, she’s back at House Saiciae planning to try again. But she wants to have witnesses to her story, in case something goes wrong.


Events

There has been talk of Varanis taking an oath to clear her of suspicions. As she paces around the room someone stops her leaping to the streets by mentioning this should maybe done before they go anywhere.

Berra has been waiting on Humakti; Yamia and Eranda are likely to be required, while there may be others.

Varanis is shaking with frustration. “I will take an oath before any witnesses you want to drum up. I am not the one who kidnapped Lenta.” She stalks to the table to pour a cup of lumiviiva and then growls because the pot is empty.

“You just have to state the Truth,” Berra says. “In this case, it’s not an oath, but the ability of the Humakti to …” She hesitates. “Find out if you believe you are saying the Truth. I think Yamia can open the way. If not, I will. Or you could ask if Eranda can.”

“And will people trust any of you to be unbiased?” Varanis snaps irritably. She looks at the food, but turns away and resumes pacing.

“No, but they’ll trust us to be Humakti. We too can say what we saw. Which in this case is that you stated the Truth. There’s a funny thing here, though. There’s an awkward moment sometimes. The only way you can check the spell is by someone lying.”

Varanis raises an eyebrow.

“There are stock phrases you can use – but sometimes the thing that tests the spell is agreed afterwards to be sealed. So you get watchwords and things. I’ve never done this before – not like this. But there’s a Humakti at the Battalion Temple, Irillo Scarface. People use ‘Irillo is a pretty boy’ a lot. I heard. Which I’m allowed to tell you because that part wasn’t sealed.”

Varanis looks briefly confused, then shrugs impatiently. “I don’t care. I will do what I need to so we can get on with finding Lenta and Xenofos.”

“Yes. But we need to do this.” Berra looks out into the hall again. “Yamia. Eranda. Do you want to send for them again? Ask where they are?”

“Yes. Can you arrange it?” Her gaze is almost pleading. She passes the table again, pauses to look at the food, wrinkles her nose and paces on. “And we need more lumiviiva. We need to stay alert.”

“No. We start being alert when we start to move. We don’t need that yet. You need food, and then we wait on Mellia going out and getting back, maybe we ask Nala about divination for Ernaldans, and we probably wait until morning when the Ducks are willing to take us somewhere. Alert now means asleep later.” Berra steps outside for a moment, to ask a servant to go see where Eranda and Yamia are, and check they had the invitation to attend from Varanis.

Varanis stares at the door suddenly, then blinks a few times.1Xenofos nods at the door. She shakes her head and walks to the wash basin. She splashes lukewarm water onto her face and uses one of the towels stacked nearby. The towel comes away grimy.

Yamia appears first. Beautiful, deadly, and alert in weirdly detached way. After taking the whole picture of room she takes a long inquiring look at Varanis.

Berra stays on guard by the door, facing in rather than out, just to one side. She stifles only one yawn during the pause.

Varanis says, “I need someone to witness and verify that I am speaking the truth. Can you aid in that?”

She tilts her head. “I could. But to whom would I need to bear witness of your words? “

“We need as many people as possible to know the truth. Hulta are gate-housing us. But if we can get word to Lord Kesten, it might take pressure off.” Berra breaks in to answer that.

“House Hulta. Grandmother Saiciae. The Queen. The Humakti Temple. I don’t know. Everyone?” Varanis sounds impatient. She is shaking with tension and frustration.

“Probably the Temple-Library, and almost certainly the Battalion. There should be an altar to a Truth-Hero there. I think Lord Kesten worships slightly differently.” No argument from Berra, but suggestions.

“Would they put any weight to words of a foreign barbarian.” Yamia shrugs her shoulders. “Foreigners word might not count in court in Sartar. No matter, I will help if I can.”

Berra notes, “It’s not about court. It’s about Truth. If they want to tell you that you’re not good enough for Humakt, they can argue with the god first and you after. Any way of getting the Truth out is good.”

Yamia looks at Berra with serene expression. “Truth is like a sword. It should be kept clean and wielded precision. It is not a maul. So it pays dividends to think how to use it. “

Berra gives Yamia a peaceful look in return. “No targets are identified, sister,” she says, “So we strike at the most likely in order.”

“But it is often better to strike past shield, rather than through it like my father.”

There is no peace in Varanis. “Where is Eranda?” she snarls.

There is sound of hobnailed sandals in the corridor.

Berra shrugs. “If you can get past, sure. I know what you mean – and we’re not going to stop you trying. But we’ll all be doing different things.” There is that odd, peaceful calm on her, like magic keeps her peaceful and alert now.

Eranda appears on the door. In one night she has become years older. There is fresh, big, black Death rune painted on her forehead.

Varanis stares at the rune and reels almost as if struck. She drops into a chair. The Vingan takes a shuddering breath and tears her gaze away. “You’re here. Good. Can we do this? Please.”

“My apologies it took some time, mistress. I had to make rounds among the troops. They grieve passing of their captain when they shoud rejoice of warriors Death in battle, though even that might be a bit early yet.” Eranda says all the correct words, but can’t hide the pain her voice or the faint hope in the end.

“Sword hall is good for warriors,” Berra says.

Varanis brings her eyes back to Eranda’s with visible effort. “She was… is… a strong woman. We must hold onto hope. Her work is not yet done.”

“Yamia, do you have this secret? I do, but I’d prefer to keep my power held back, in case things get messy later.” That might be a deliberate change of subject from Berra, or she might not care about death.

Eranda looks a bit confused by the abrupt Sartarite. “What is it that you wish me to do Mistress?” Her words are addressed to Varanis.

“I need to speak truth and have it witnessed.”

Eranda nods. “I know how to.” She glances at Berra “In two different ways to be accurate. But if your champion says things are apt to get messy…?”

“Things are apt to get messy. Hulta may not accept truth from any source, but having it verified by multiple Humakti may at least ensure that Grandmother has solid ground to stand on if the Hulta act out.” Varanis seems to have pulled herself together now that she has something solid to focus on.

“I’m currently working for Lady Mellia,” Berra says. “Bodyguard. Retainer. Or something.”

“I doubt that scum will listen to any reason. Is this their doing?” Eranda asks.

“Yes and no. Garin Merelt is angry that I spurned his interest. He kidnapped Lenta Hulta. Because Lenta has been rather… open… about her own interests in me, the Hulta think I have made off with her. They are threatening retaliation. In the meantime, we tried to chase Garin down but…” She grasps her hands tightly to still their shaking. “A sea troll attacked us. Now we are missing both Lenta and Xenofos. And…” She flicks a glance at the still silent Irillo. “I think you know the rest, Eranda.”

Eranda had good posture before, but she becomes an inch or two taller when she bristles “Retaliation? If you have said you have not done it, they are not worth any answer that cannot be delivered with a rapier.”

“They refuse to even hear my reply. I will not wait for Hulta to come to their senses. I have to rescue Lenta without them. But, if I die or if Lenta is…” Varanis hesitates, “dead. If she’s dead, I want Grandmother to have the proof that I did not do this.”

“Getting a message to them which you can swear to might help. Lady Mellia is trying herself. They delivered the message to her. But this way, there are more people than just Varanis who can swear to her innocence.”

Eranda clearly would like to draw her sword and cut to the matter that way, but she is concentrating. “We might need to bring Lady Mellia in when lady Varanis gives her oath. She can’t see if she is lying herself though, so that does not really help now. It could if they want to check what she has seen and heard…”

“I didn’t think it would make much difference, but you might be right.” Berra leans back against the wall and closes her eyes briefly.

Varanis launches herself out of her chair to start pacing again. “So now we need to wait for Mellia to return from the Hulta so she can bear witness in order to be more credible when speaking to the Hulta?” Her laughter is harsh. “This is ridiculous. We are wasting time. and. there. is. no. time.” The last words are bitten off angrily.

“Depends. Has she gone yet? She was going to take guards.” Berra looks to Eranda. “If she’s spoken, we can find out what happened. If not, we talk to her.”

Varanis checks the lumiviiva pot. It has not been refilled. She paces some more.

“That sailor. From the ship.” Berra speaks up muzzily. “Do you think he’s an Engizi worshipper? We could do with those.”

“What was his name again?” She thinks for a moment, then says, “Vasos. His name is Vasos. He had water runes. And a beast rune. On his hand, I think. Might be a follower of Engizi.”

“Eranda, can you ask Mellia to come in? Varanis, should we send him a runner?” Berra keeps her eyes closed.

“He said he’d be at Murni’s Rest. We could try.” She asks Eranda to send a runner to the tavern by the Harbour Master’s Tower, with instructions to find a sailor by the name of Vasos, who sailed on the ship that carried them to Nochet. “Ask him to come here. I’ll make it worth his while.”

“And any Engizi friends he has with him,” Berra adds, and pushes herself away from the wall. “Where is Mellia?” She looks out of the room.

Varanis impatiently summons a servant. When the young man arrives, she directs him to take the empty pot to the apothecary and to return with more as soon as it is ready.

Mellia returns, looking worried.

Eranda rises. “Is it your command that we witness your words with wisdom of Humakt looking over us, mistress?”

“Yes,” Varanis replies without hesitation.

“Then let us go to the House chapel.”

“Mellia, please join us. I want you to bear witness,” Varanis says to her cousin.

Mellia nods. “I was planning to.”

Berra nods to Mellia, the greeting due to an employer.

Varanis is so eager to be doing something that she nearly outstrips them all in her haste. She reins herself in, inhaling deeply and slowing her pace to something more suitable for the White Lady.

Berra falls in behind Mellia, but while Varanis is ahead she taps her employer on the shoulder and gestures at the Vingan, with a worried face.

Mellia nods back at Berra, looking worried.

Varanis stops abruptly and looks around.2Varanis catches the scent of violets. “Do you…” She lets the words trail off and shakes her head, the question unfinished. “No. Never mind. To the chapel.”

Berra silently mouths a rude word, evidence of strain rather than a request for sporting equipment.

Eranda and Yamia follow behind, Eranda explaining to Yamia the formulation she thinks proper for the act.

The chapel is silent at this time. There is lamp before statue of Ernalda and incense in the brazier. Due to season there is also fresh bread and sheaves of barley in front of the family altar.

Varanis inhales again, looking around as she does. She enters the sacred space, bowing to the statue and the altar. Death masks of past grandmothers look at them mutely. The Vingan stares at them for a long moment. Berra is politely unimpressed, eyes courteously downwards. Mellia bows to the statue and the altar. Eranda leads them to a niche carrying runes of Truth and Death and small painting of Swordsman clad in black armour, wielding a black rapier and shield. To that, Berra bows deeply.

Varanis is practically vibrating with pent-up energy. She bows to the altar politely, but turns impatient eyes on the group of women with her.

It is as far from the main altar as possible, on north side of the hall. Eranda looked nervous before, but in the flickering light of the hallowed lamp, her face seems to gain serene impression. “Unsheath your sword.”

Varanis obeys, drawing the rapier at her hip. She nearly drops it; her hands are shaking.

Yamia and Eranda draw their own blades, making no comment on Varanis’ clumsiness. Berra steps back, a fluid motion that puts her at rest, watching Varanis and with a peripheral view of Mellia. Her expressive face shows worry when Varanis almost fails. However, she schools that expression into calm, and draws her own broadsword, kissing the Truth Rune painted onto it and holding it point down, by the very base of the blade.

Mellia frowns when Varanis almost drops her rapier, but she says nothing yet.

Notably, Berra stays between Mellia and the drawn swords. She makes sure the White Lady has a good view, but she has fallen into a bodyguard’s habit.

At the moment, the Vingan has her hilt grasped in her sword hand. The tip is pointed upwards, towards Orlanth, rather than in Ernalda’s direction. She looks to the Humakti around her for guidance, then inhales deeply, making an effort to calm herself.

The Humakti hold their swords point down. Berra, her sword held so her fingers touch the hilt and the Truth Rune is shown, is a calm still force, her face serene.

Varanis looks to them. “Am I to threaten Ernalda to do this?” There is an expression of distaste on her face. Vinga and Humakt have their differences.

“I am Eranda of the Second regiment, in service to house Saiciae, Initiate of Lord of Death and Truth. I have come to this place and time to bear witness of words of Varanis Lightbringer of House Saiciae and Colymar.”

“The sword represents Honour,” Berra says. “And the right hand, the strength with which you hold it. Hold it as you may, it is still Honour; unchanging.”

“It also represents Death. Final and everlasting. Like Truth.” That comment comes from Yamia who also introduces herself and her intent to bear witness.

Varanis looks to Berra and Mellia, waiting.

“I am Berra Jarang’s Daughter, of the Boldhome Regiment, Initiate of the Lord of Truth and War. I come here to bear witness to the words of Varanis Lightbringer, of House Saiciae, Thegn of the Blue Tree Colymar.” The worlds are slightly different from the northern Humakti.

“I am Mellia Kirse’s Daughter, Initiate of the Lady of Healing. I come here to bear witness to the words of Varanis Lightbringer, of House Saiciae, Thegn of the Blue Tree Colymar.”

Varanis looks to Eranda for a cue.

Berra looks at Varanis, like her brown eyes could see through anything that got in their way, to find their target.

“With the wisdom of Humakt we will weigh your words, so consider them carefully. Do you wish to bear witness mistress?” Eranda asks.

“Yes, I do.” A calm has begun to descend over Varanis, perhaps borrowed from the Humakti around her.

“We call on lord Humakt to grant us wisdom to gauge the weight of your words.” Yamia and Eranda speak in unison as if they had rehearsed.

Berra stays on duty by Mellia, not speaking those words. “I take the burden of the lie,” she says instead. “I’m not angry with Kesten Hulta right now.” Then she winces, like even saying that tasted bad.

This gets a nod. Then then other Humakti return their attention to the Vingan in front of them. “Who are you, who wish to bear witness?”

“I am Varanis of the House of Saiciae, daughter of Serzeen, daughter of Berra of the Colymar. I ask you to bear witness to my truth.” She states her lineage and request with calm. The sword wavers slightly as she fights to control the shaking of her hands.

“We hear you, and see no lie,” Eranda states, speaking for the others. She begins the questioning. “Of which matter or accusation you wish to bear witness, Varanis Lightbringer?”

“I have been accused of kidnapping or otherwise being involved in the disappearance of Lenta Hulta. The accusation is false. I am not behind her disappearance and I actively seek to find her so that she might rejoin her family.”

In a cool voice, Eranda asks, “Have you robbed this maiden Lenta Hulta yourself?”

“Of course not!” Varanis snaps, the calm bursting suddenly. “Nor have I arranged for anyone else to do it.”

“Tell us of the night,” Berra says. “Yester night.”

As Berra makes her demand, Eranda also asks, “Have you seduced the said maiden to get her leave her mother?”

Varanis glares first at Berra, but then wheels on the one who asks that question. “I have not! In fact, I have had to resist being seduced by Lenta, rather than the other way around!” Her grey eyes flash dangerously. “And I have resisted.”

Eranda is a bit red, but continues.

Berra also glares. “One question at a time,” she says, her voice calm despite her expression. “Let one who bears witness do so without the choice of questions. An understanding of the whole evening is appropriate.”

Varanis glares at everyone, but does as she is bid. She retells the story of spotting Garin at the party, his words, and his dropping of the violet-scented hankie. She speaks of their failed attempt to follow him, their return to Saiciae to get help, the attempts to warn House Hulta, and their tracking of Lenta to the docks. When she speaks of their pursuit by water and the calamity that befell their vessel, her voice becomes hollow, the fury bled dry by her narration.

“Did you get into your palanquin after arriving at the party? For any reason?” Berra’s voice is calm, dry as parchment, but her eyes are sharp.

“No.”

Berra stays silent, and looks to Eranda. The other Humakti had been a bit irritated by Berra earlier, but nods now. Berra asks, “Did you speak to Lenta, at this party, or see her?”

Varanis blinks. “Umm… I don’t remember. She kissed me. That was the night before. I think.” Suddenly Varanis looks confused and worried. “I… no. She wasn’t there.”

“That you saw,” Berra prompts. “Is it possible she was there and you did not see her?”

“It’s possible,” Varanis concedes. “There were a lot of people there.”

Eranda nods to Berra again.

“Was the time she kissed you the only time she kissed you, or you kissed her?” Again, Berra’s voice is calm. This time she seems to know the answer already.

“Yes. That is the only time we kissed. What is the relevance of that question?” Varanis scowls at Berra.

“I might be asked to swear to it. Did you knowingly give her reason to think she would have you as a lover?”

“No!” Varanis snarls. “I told her my heart was engaged elsewhere.”

“Peace. We are here to establish innocence that we already believe.” Berra’s right hand has not moved, although her forearm muscles are locked in effort now. Her left comes up in a gesture of calm and slowness. “Have you any current knowledge of her whereabouts?”

“I…” Varanis inhales slowly. “Back up. It’s possible that she may have interpreted some of what I said as encouragement. I tried to discourage her, but maybe I was not firm enough in that discouragement.” She looks pleadingly at the Humakti. “I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. But I told her that I loved another. And that is the absolute truth.”

Berra nods. Maybe someone who could read her could read more than just acknowledgement. “There is a difference between knowing you are leading someone on, and not knowing,” she pronounces. It is said like something that matters in the eye of the Truth. “Have you any current knowledge of her whereabouts?”

The sword wavers as Varanis’ hand begins to shake again. “I do not,” she says and the anger is gone, washed away by fear and exhaustion. “She’s gone. But… it is my fault. Garin seeks to punish me through her. I should have seen what he was sooner and taken steps. Oh Vinga, I have to make this right.”

“We are not judges. We seek only truth. Think carefully on what knowledge you have, and the words of the Praxian Nala. Have you any current guesses where she might be, or how to get to her?” If Berra sees or does not see lies in Varanis’ despair, she gives no answer to them.

“I think there’s a good chance she’s trapped on one of the little islands. Either with Garin or with that black duck. But it’s a guess, it’s not knowledge. It’s still possible that’s a wild duck chase and that he’s hidden her away on one of his family holdings.” The effort to hold her sword steady has brought the shaking further up her arm. The strain is showing on her face, but she breathes deeply, trying to restore her own calm.

Yamia asks, “Did this Garin threaten to you to hurt Lenta?”

“He said that he always gets what he wants and he dropped her hankie. His threat was implicit, rather than explicit.”

“Do you know he has taken her?” Berra asks.

Varanis looks sharply at her. “Do I know it? In my gut, yes. But I have no proof.”

Berra looks to Yamia and Eranda, with a mild question on her features.

The Vingan sounds frustrated again. “I thought the purpose of this was to establish that I didn’t kidnap her, lure her away, or cause her harm?”

“As well, we should be able to say what it is that you know, so that we can swear to it. If we are questioned, the more we know of this, the more we can say. Would Garin Meralt have known of Lenta Hulta’s liking for you?”

Varanis scowls. “She wasn’t exactly discreet in her pursuit. And he watched me a lot until he gave up on me. Or until he seemed to give up on me, anyway.”

“Would others have known, then?”

“Her family was concerned that she was being too obvious. So yes, I suspect others would have noticed.”

Berra stifles a yawn. “I can’t think of more questions,” she says. “Anyone else?”

Varanis’ hands shake. Her arm gives way suddenly and it’s all she can do to not drop the sword. “I should have seen this coming,” she moans, but follows it with an angry snarl. “I will kill him.”3 To those seeing truth, she believes this to be true.

Eranda throws a glance at Yamia.

“Try not to say things that might be taken as promises or oaths, please.” Berra does a good Eril impression sometimes. The cold, distant voice has little in common with her usually bouncy temper. “Do you have anything more to say?”

When Berra speaks, Varanis turns her glare on the little Humakti. “I have said all I can think to say,” she admits at last.

Berra states, for those who are listening, when the palanquin left, so that it is heard under her own oath. That Varanis apparently left the party before Varanis left the party.

“Will you swear by your sword, your honor and your god Vinga that what you have said now is True to best of your knowledge and you have left nothing of importance unsaid.”

Varanis drops to her knees, her usual grace absent. She shifts her sword so that the hilt rests on the palm of her sword hand and the blade on the palm of the left. She raises the sword towards the altar, almost like an offering. “I swear in Vinga’s name, by my sword, and by my honour, that every word I have spoken is true and I have left nothing of importance unsaid.” Although her arms are shaking as she offers the blade, her words are steady. There is no doubt in her when it comes to this.

“We hear and by our sword and honour and Lord Humakt bear witness that we see no lie or falsehood.” Eranda and Yamia salute with their swords, kissing the cross of hilt and blade lightly before gracefully sheathing the weapons.

Varanis lowers her blade with shaking arms. She places it on the floor in front of her knees and bows to the altar. “I need a few minutes to pray,” she says at last. Although she doesn’t say the words out loud, she seems to be asking for space.

Berra sheathes her sword from where she holds it, with no transfer of grip. Her shoulders fall a little, but she gives no hint that was tiring. The Humakti glances at Mellia and looks outside. Mellia nods back at her and leaves the chapel, waiting outside of it.