VS 156 Leaves on a Current

1626, Earth Season, Stasis Week, Godday


It is early morning and Varanis and Xenofos are in a reedboat with TightBeak, the duck who rescued Nala. He’s taking them to the island where Lenta might be held captive. After Ducking Out (Session 2.13).


Light rain falls through the mist making rings in the calm water as Tightbeak pushes the reedboat off the pier and with his companion starts to paddle in lead of the small flotilla.

Xenofos sits down crosslegged, hangs his helmet from his sword hilt and pulls the edge of his riding cloak to cover his head.

“Keep her well off the Diros docks. Current flows outward there.” Orders are quacked from the stern to the duck in bow. Followed by a spit and some untintelligible muttering. “Water goes out now, helps with paddling for now, but also makes for quite evil currents. I should know. After all these years, out on the marsh on all seasons. Still, not home it is not.” Tightbeak swats a mosquito. “Good weather for fishing it would be, though.”

Varanis removes her borrowed helmet and scowls in the low light of the misty morning.

“Redhead? Not common in Esrolia, that is not. None of my business. And I don’t put my beak where it don’t belong. Keeps you out of trouble it does…. Dyed for Vinga?”

Varanis glances at the duck. “No dye. How long will it take us to get to the island?”

“With the current helping? Some time. Not very long unless we run into crocodiles or something else unexpected. We’ll be there well before noon. Vingan?”

“Yes. Why?”

“I thought you would be. Have the beak for stuff like that, I have.”

Varanis doesn’t answer, instead twisting about to study Xenofos. Her grey eyes search his face.

Xenofos’ head is hanging low and his eyes seem closed.1On the edge of falling asleep. On either side. … {Xenofos is in rain. There is thunder. He can hear Varanis calling.}

“Xenofos,” Varanis says softly.

His head jerks suddenly. “Oh, I almost slept.”

“I’m sorry I had to wake you. I… I didn’t want you going over the edge.”

“I should not be sleeping anyway. Thank you, cousin.”

She looks like she wants to say something more, but instead she lets the silence grow.

“Yes? Did alynx take your tongue?” Inquires Xenofos after a moment, seeing Varanis has something on her mind.

She glances at Tightbeak, then back at Xenofos, then she seems to come to a decision. “I thought I’d lost you, and you’ve come back just in time for us to head directly into trouble again. There are things I don’t want to leave unsaid, but things I don’t want to say wrong.”

“Important to weigh your words careful, that’s what I always say. And not say a quack too much or quack too little,” affirms Tightbeak, nodding.

Varanis’ expression tightens at the duck’s interruption, but she says nothing.

“They don’t call me Tightbeak for no reason.”

Xenofos turns to throw the duck a cold stare.

“I know when to keep my beak shut, you see.” The duck taps the side of his beak.

Varanis raises an eyebrow at Tightbeak. After a moment, her gaze returns to Xenofos. “I thought I was going to have to go looking for you. I’m glad you found your way home, cousin.” She hesitates. “I was… worried.”

Xenofos turns to return his cousin’s gaze. Duck nods and gives a quiet sympathetic quack.

Varanis sighs unhappily. She looks away and absently rubs her temple as she examines the mist in front of the boat.

Xenofos looks at the current boats ride on and pieces of flotsam following them. “I think I heard your voice through the rain and thunder,” he says quietly. “But it was a dream and you vanished.”

“I called for you. But I had to dive for Serzeen. That thing… it… took her.” The Vingan’s voice shakes a little.

Xenofos shakes his head. “She felt so solid. Hard to imagine that.” He adds softly, “Poor Irillo.”

“There’s still a chance. The healers have her. But… Xenofos it was awful. We spent the night on the sandbar with her body and …” She doesn’t finish. Blinking rapidly, she looks away.

“Death in battle is often less than pretty, Varanis.” Xenofos admits.

Tightbeak nods with a quiet quack.

“I know that,” she snaps, then immediately looks contrite. “I’m sorry. I’m just tired.”

“So am I. And sorry you had to be witness of any new horrors.”

“I want to yell and rail at the world right now. I let Garin escape last night. How could I lose him? It’s his fault Serzeen is dead. Vinga only knows what he’s done to Lenta. I should have done better last night. I should have known better sooner.” Conflicting emotions cross her face. Pain, rage, shame.

“Don’t let the anger make you too rash. It will not help you in saving Lenta. Or punishing her captor.”

Varanis raises an eyebrow in reply, then scowls. She closes her eyes an concentrates a moment. When she reopens her eyes, some of the tension in her has eased.

“Are you injured, cousin?”

“No.” Perhaps realizing how curt her reply sounds, she adds, “It’s just a headache.”

“Just a headache?” Xenofos has vague memory of saying something like that once.

“Just a headache. Mellia wouldn’t let me have the apothecary’s tisane. It helps with headaches, but Mellia distrusts it.” Varanis shrugs.

“Mellia has weird distrust of Solaska’s brews. Reminds me I should probably remember to get poppy seeds just in case.”

Varanis does not reply.

“They might help with your headaches and sleep,” he adds.

Now Varanis looks at him, dark circles like bruises beneath the grey eyes. “There’s no time for sleep, Xenofos,” she says. The words convey the sense of having been said so often that they’ve become a rote response. “I have too many things to do.”

He raises an eyebrow. “You can push it for a time. But sooner or later that debt of sleep must be payed. In one way or another.”

“I sleep when I have to, cousin. I slept last night.” The words are defensive and she doesn’t meet his eyes.

Xenofos looks her for a while. “Are you honest Varanis? To me – or to yourself?”

“I did sleep,” she snaps at him. “Why would I lie about that?”2She’d be less irritable if she’d just had a cup of lumiviiva. But Mellia won’t let her.

“You say you slept, I believe you. But why do I feel you are trying to hide something cousin?”

“Because you’re paranoid?” she snaps.

Xenofos winces. “Because I know you and care?”

She flushes. “I’m sorry,” she says again. “I know you care. It’s just, I can look after myself. I don’t need you and Mellia hovering over me all the time.”

She changes the subject abruptly. “What did you learn from the guards who made it back with you? How did they survive? Did any of them see anything before the boat went down?”

“You cope?”

She casts a sharp glance at him. “Leave it alone, Xenofos,” she warns. “I don’t want to fight with you when I’ve only just got you back.”

Xenofos looks back at her with a level gaze.

“What?” she snarls. Then she takes a deep breath. “Please? I need to focus on getting Lenta free of Garin or whoever he has hired. The man is a monster.”

“You have always been honest with me Ranie. I get worried when you look like you are hiding things. Reminds me of Wilmskirk. But you are probably right, we need to focus on our current chase.”

Something in her expression softens when he calls her by her childhood name. “After. I promise to tell you everything after this is done.” She blinks a few times, then rolls her shoulders under her armour. “For the moment, I need to consider what we will do when we get to this island. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Not really. Stay alert. Move quickly but silently. And when time comes, hit hard.”

“I won’t let him slip away again.”3Spoiler alert: He gets away again. The anger underlying those words could be as easily directed at herself as it is at Garin. She falls silent, staring into the mist.

Xenofos nods silently. Tightbeak quacks.

Xenofos picks up a small sharpening stone, looks at it for a while and then goes over the blade of his rapier.

Out of the blue, Varanis murmurs, “I’m sorry I nearly got you killed again. And I’m sorry I’m in such a foul mood today.”

Xenofos resheaths his rapier and looks at Varanis. “You did not get me nearly killed. Some seamonster and marshwater did.”

“You know what I mean. You’d have been safely in your own bed if I hadn’t insisted we go tearing off after Garin. And Lenta would be too, if I hadn’t missed the warning signs about him.”

“I chose to get in that boat. Garin made his own choices and so did Lenta. This is not your doing Varanis.”

She gives him a sad sort of smile and doesn’t answer, turning back to the mist.

  • 1
    On the edge of falling asleep. On either side. … {Xenofos is in rain. There is thunder. He can hear Varanis calling.}
  • 2
    She’d be less irritable if she’d just had a cup of lumiviiva. But Mellia won’t let her.
  • 3
    Spoiler alert: He gets away again.