1626, Storm Season, Harmony Week
After A Load of Bull (Session 2.25)
On the Plains of Prax, after meeting up with Mellia and Venlar’s caravan.
Sometime after their initial meeting on the road, the caravan resumes its slow progress towards the Paps. Varanis has ridden ahead a few times, but true to her word to Berra, the impatient Vingan has stayed within line of sight.
Berra has also ridden ahead, behind – every which way. After a miserable Wildday in which she walked through mud, only to find that she would have been better to wait another day as the weather dried, she is making the most of riding again. However, now they are with the cavaran she is always within sight of Varanis.
After one of her forays, Varanis rides back and approaches Mellia’s beloved. “Venlar, would you ride with me a while? I was hoping to speak to you about a few things, if you wouldn’t mind.”
Venlar is riding also, no longer on guard so often now he has brought in friends who are doing his job for him. This leaves him free to join Varanis, and he says, “Of course! The land out to the right is good for zebras.”
Varanis heads in the direction he has suggested. As she rides, she looks for Berra and when the Humakti notices her, she gives a beckoning wave.
Berra sees quickly. No doubt she was keeping an eye out. She brings her bison over by, after a few minutes of failing to get it to behave, getting off and leading it. “Hello.” Around Venlar she is wary.
Venlar bows his head, politely, and gives Berra a reassuring smile.
“Venlar, I confess, I was hoping to get a clearer picture of the state of things in Sartar. Mellia does not always understand the subtleties of politics and may be misunderstanding things.” Varanis gives him a wry smile. “I asked Berra to join us because she has a way of cutting straight to the heart of a problem, and may be aware of elements of Sartarite culture that are foreign to me still.” She isn’t seeking permission or apologizing for involving the little Humakti, but simply explaining her reasons.
“I’ve noticed,” Venlar says, looking at Berra. “Your friend’s given me a hard time once or twice…” Then he thinks for a while. “Well. Mellia makes the mistake of thinking everyone is the same, I believe. Kallyr is not popular, and the omens are bad, but Lord Eril believes she will make it to Sacred Time no matter what. After that, the question of whether she can lead Sartar is likely to be answered. At which point you are in very little danger of being put on the throne.”
Varanis looks thoughtful. “And in the unlikely event that she can’t lead Sartar? Who do you think will step in?”
“Most probably, the Council of Tribes,” Venlar says.
“And how long will that last?” Berra stares. Venlar’s pause might be answer enough, but he replies after only a brief hesitation. “It will come down to isolated confedaracies within three years, and then a Lunar Sartar again, unless we can push into Tarsh and find a leader as we do.”
“That’s not acceptable. A Lunar Sartar is not an option.” The reply is vehement and angry. “We have to make sure that Kallyr is successful. So, how do we do that?”
“Bring her back victories,” Venlar says instantly. “Do great things and show that she made them possible.”
“Victories…” Varanis muses. “Where? Are you suggesting we hunt down Lunars and bring back heads, so to speak? There’s little time and a long way to travel still.”
“The Lightbringer Quest helped. And I know you were talking to people in Esrolia about support. Your grandmother sent a huge pre-wedding gift to us. If anyone stands out as being the sort who would like to visit and give good news, Esrolia is rich and can show friendship well.”
“Venlar, are you suggesting we return to Esrolia to try to bring support to Kallyr from there?”
“We can’t get back there in this weather,” Berra points out.
“No. But you should, I think, send that way and point out to your grandmother that if Kallyr falls, you will not last long, and it would be good to deliver a promise of friendship, at the least. You have long enough for letters to arrive, and if a dozen families see a chance to help…”
Berra’s nose wrinkles as she thinks that through.
“Hmmm…. if you and Xenofos work together, we could get several letters written and sent at once. There are a few families that I should write to directly…”
“I do not write in the Esrolian style, but I do have a variety of wood-waxes with me. My father was going to insist I write to mother, he said, but then he said other things too. Chiefly, that friends should talk. I think this is what he means.”
“There’s another thing to think of,” Berra says. “If Kallyr can’t hold the throne, she needs to have safe routes out.”
“Yes, that will matter too. Let’s start with the first step. I will work with Xenofos to compile a list of the nobles I think most likely to support Kallyr. Some we will write to directly. Others will need Grandmother’s encouragement.” She considers. “Venlar, can you and Berra give thought to the largest threats to Kallyr from within Sartar? We need to know who her allies are, so that if we have to get her out, we can. Will your father stay neutral or will he help her, do you think?”
“Oh, he’s helping already, but he’s denying it. If it comes to it I think he’d rather like to go on the run again, to be honest.” Venlar looks apologetic. “But he cannot swing Wilmskirk alone. He could get her out towards the Enstalos, and he’s just started patrolling along a lot of borders. So his scouts will know a lot of way, and people will be used to their passing.”
Berra looks worried as she nods to Venlar. “I’ve not been properly in Sartar for years, though,” she says. “I mean, never as an adult doing politics.”
“I’ve been thinking too much about fighting and not enough about the political game. The whole point of being in Esrolia was to do the political dance. I wish we’d been able to see Argrath. I’d like to know if Kallyr could have counted on his support. Gallaf wouldn’t move without Argrath, and I suspect that’s true of most of Prax.”
“Argrath certainly tried to push at the Lunars last year,” Venlar says, “But Dragonrise got in the way. Still, I suspect that Boldhome – at least the luminaries – know which way he is likely to move.”
“Yeah. Not for us to worry about, unless we’d got here a while back and got back already.” Berra looks thoughtful, sounds distracted.
“Venlar, what are the fastest ways we could send messages now?”
“The guards here, probably. If we can replace them, we may be able to persuade the caravan lord. He knows my father, so he should trust me. Or one of your companions, although if I do it, Mellia may cry.” Venlar looks at Berra, who shrugs. “Not until after Deathday, but then, sure.”
Varanis looks thoughtful. “What is the caravan’s final destination?”
“We’re going to the Paps. Not far. After that, probably back in through Svenstown, but we were not sure we were going to be taking on anyhow – not via Esrolia, however.”
“We could guard the caravan as far as Svenstown, if needed. And the caravan guards could serve as messengers. One to Grandmother, and if you think it prudent, one to your mother.”
“If they go back that way. But there will be other caravans also,” Venlar notes. “And if not, we should set off before. The Paps are not far now, and I said I would be here all the way, but I can speak for you if you’re willing to be on guard.”
“I meant I could try to hire the caravan guards away to take messages to Nochet and Cinder Fox and then guard the caravan until Svenstown, where the caravan leader can hire new guards while we make for Boldhome.” She chews a lock of hair thoughtfully. “I think we need to get those messages moving as soon as possible.”
“Aah, yes. The caravan will dissolve at the Paps,” Venlar says, “And reform, probably for Svenstowm if the omens are right.”
“Svenstown’s behind us as we go to the Paps,” Berra says. “Quite a long way. But the fastest thing to do is to ask the caravan master now, and then write the letters. That way if he agrees the hors… the rider can be ready. Not horse. Horse would be bad.”
“Right. We’ll do as the two of you advise. I’ll speak to Xenofos so the letters can be started as soon as possible. Thank you, both. If there is anything else either of you thinks is relevant or important, please say so.”
Venlar considers long enough to say, “Choose a Sartarite guard, not a Praxian, if you have that option. They will do better in Nochet and they will be more familiar to those who see them make the delivery.”
Berra asks him, “What are Cinsina doing?”
He turns his attention there, confused by a change of subject. “Is this apposite?”
“Dunno what that means. But it’s not about Notchet.” She says it as she always does. “It’s me thinking about who could lend a hand to my Tribe. A guiding hand.”
“Speaking of which…. Leika has been a supporter of Kallyr’s. What’s changed and can we win her back?”
Venlar grimaces. “It’s unlikely. Kallyr does not want to make peace with someone who so nearly usurped her – creating support where there is such anger is hard. But if she proves herself, she could win Leika back. If. Beyond that, working together is the best to be hoped for, and the best thing to work for.”
“So it is likely best to avoid the Clearwine area.”
“Svenstown is a good route in,” Venlar replies, which sounds a lot like a yes.
“What about Jaldonkill?”
“That would let us in almost through your Tula?” Venlar says politely to Berra.
“Oh. Is it there? I thought it went up towards Alone. We’d end up in those lands or coming out at Dangerford, but the Alynxfish Clan like us. Or did last we knew.”
“No Royal Road, of course,” Venlar muses. “If I get the route you mean.”
“My Sartarite geography isn’t good. I was not the best of students, I’m afraid. But I think one of the rivers in Boldhome empties into Prax somewhere south of Swenstown. We marched that way in the lead up to Dragonrise.” The Vingan’s forehead furrows in concentration as she tries to remember the route.
“We came out that way,” Venlar says, “Although from Wilmskirk. Either that way or Svenstown would be workable, and if you mean Jaldon’s Rest, then we’re talking about the same place when you say Jaldonkill. It’s not far from where my new Tula will be. If you care about which gate you come in to Boldhome, the Svenstown Route leads to the North Fort, I believe.”
Berra shrugs. Her attention seems to be on Venlar, and she is looking polite.
“Hmmm… is there something I should know about the gates?”
“Just that the main one attracts more attention,” Berra says. “If the Sambari are still solid for Kallyr, then if they can persuade Whitewall to join her, that would really help.”
Venlar does the sort of stare that happens when Berra changes the subject.
“And do you think it’s wise to draw attention as we ride in? It forces Kallyr’s hand, to a certain extent,” Varanis muses.
“We’re not that important,” Berra says. “Nobody’s going to be looking out for us like that.”
“No, but it does cause rumour to spread faster. If you choose the North Fort entrance, you will be seen less on the road. That is the major difference.” Venlar’s expression says he is explaining for Berra, although he is talking to Varanis.
“And how much longer is that route likely to take?”
“It’s hard to say – the weather has more bearing than the length of route, but a day or two would be my best guess, if it were dry enough for good riding.” He holds himself like his father, despite looking like his uncle.
“You remind me of Silor,” Varanis observes. “To Berra’s question now… can he bring Whitewall to Kallyr?” This is stated rather more bluntly than Berra put it. Apparently, Varanis doesn’t feel like dancing around important subjects just now.
“He can’t,” Venlar replies, emphasis on the pronoun. “There is an unsettled feud there, and effectively he cannot visit. He passed through recently – but he had to take care nobody found out. His mother was stolen from the Hendrikings, you see. Grandfather refused to pay her bride-price.”
“And what about your brother? Or yourself? Is this something no one in your lineage can resolve?”
“I might be able to pass there, but not negotiate. I look more southern than they. Even I would likely be a hostage in short order, however.”
“That’s no good then. What are your suggestions? We might be able to get support from Greyrock, but as I remember them, they were not in a good position, either in terms of their resources or their relationship with the rest of the Sambari.”
“Father can probably sway the council in Wilmskirk enough that they look favourably on the idea,” Venlar says. “But it does not have to be the Sambari who make the approach.”
“It can’t be the Locaem,” says Berra, “If you want the Colymar to be pleased about it. It can be if you don’t care.”
“Balmyr, or old Kultain – the Enstalos, as are. That would depend a lot on clan.” Venlar has an easy posture, despite it being obvious his mind is racing. “It’s bold. And you – all of you – did a lot for Whitewall. It might tip things. That depends a lot on whether you have time, and I should write back to father anyhow. A tricky letter to write.”
“D’Val could do it!” Berra blurts.
Venlar gives Varanis a look of appeal, as if to ask for a translation.
“D’Val is her Sword. He’s a very well-known Humakti.”
“He was the one who led us… well, he put me in command. But he was the Sword of Humakt they sent to deal with the problem. Of the undead.” Berra explains to both.1Varanis, Insight (Human) please? Pass. Insight: Venlar looks unconvinced.
“He’s extremely competent. And I get the sense that he’s very intelligent, though he’s a Durulz of few words.”2Maybe Venlar should try insight? Pass. Insight: Varanis is dead serious. She believes in the Duck.
“I would not doubt it,” Venlar says smoothly. “But as I said, it is a very difficult letter to write.”
“He might carry the message, if you think you could write it well,” she suggests. “His presence and support might garner the support of others and ensure they take it seriously.”
“No…” Venlar looks at Berra and then back to Varanis. “It begins, ‘dear father, have you thought of doing this, and will we be getting in the way of any of your plans if we do,’ and has to be designed to go through enemy territory without ruining the surprise if intercepted. One does not simply annex Hendrikiland. Although, as I say, it is a bold notion and the best chance it could be done is here, in this group.” Venlar speaks in the plural, in Heortling – the ‘best chance’ is a group of people. Presumably, those known to Whitewall already.
“Wow. You sound a lot like Lord Eril when you’re explaining things.” Berra seems more taken by that fact than by what Venlar is saying.
Varanis frowns as she thinks it through. “It would mean a strong set of allies for Kallyr, if we were successful. And we’d not be asking them to bend the knee. Only to offer support.”
“That’s different. And easier. But it is still a possibility we should prepare for and offer up, rather than a thing we do directly. I’ll think about how to put it. ‘Varanis was thinking about heading South and asks if she could bring anything back.’ Something like that would do it.” Venlar rubs at the scar on his face with a fingertip as he thinks.
- 1Varanis, Insight (Human) please? Pass. Insight: Venlar looks unconvinced.
- 2Maybe Venlar should try insight? Pass. Insight: Varanis is dead serious. She believes in the Duck.