1626, Storm Season, Death Week, Windsday
It will be several days before Xenofos sees Varanis except in passing. He’s had glimpses of her, covered in ash, moving through various rituals. But as the week of worship and training draws to a close, she finally emerges. The ash has been washed from her skin. Her clothing once again hangs loose, the work of the Straw Weaver Bisons to fatten her up has been undone in the couple of weeks since they left. She looks worn, but her eyes are bright and focussed.
Xenofos raises from spot close to gate of temple Orlanth to greet Varanis, sheathing his sword and putting the sharpening stone to his belt pouch. “You look like you have accomplished something, milady,” the scribe notes.1X passes scan, we’re applying it backwards, so that he will have observed some of the outdoor parts of the initiation ritual.
Seeing her cousin, the corners of her mouth turn up in a smile. “I hope so, Xenofos. Truly, I do. Walk with me?”
Scholar nods, unsmiling and looking a bit haggard too.
As they walk, she studies him with sidelong glances. Finally, she says, “You don’t look well, Xenofos. I had hoped you’d take this time to rest.”
“I have taken naps occasionally,” he says lightly, “sometimes even at the inn.”
“I thought perhaps… you might have spent time at the Temple of Uleria?” She stops walking and turns to face him. “You need sleep. True sleep, not little naps like an alynx does.”There are dark circles beneath her eyes, testament to her own lack of sleep.
“Temple of Uleria? Oh yes, I paid my respects and thanks to the Goddess on the day we arrived here. After that I have mainly been here. A bit alynx like, now that you say it.” He may have been at the inn at some point, but he does look like he has been better part of week outside. And his beard has not been groomed properly…
“Xenofos, you have sworn to serve me, yes?” The words are stern, but her eyes are worried. “How can you do so if you don’t take care of yourself?”
“I did not have anything urgent going, so I kept eye on things around this temple.” he wrinkles his nose “And what they call inn at this camp is not so cosy I feel I would have been robbed of rest by that. I did sleep there when the weather looked bad. With Mellia’s drops I even managed to fall asleep.”
“Before we leave here, you might consider a night at the Temple to Uleria. Perhaps the priestess can help you find rest. We should both go. I got clean in yesterday’s rain, but not as clean as I’d like.” Up close, it’s possible to see the residue of oil and ash in her hair. The day before, the rain was torrential and if Xenofos stayed out in it, he would have seen Varanis and the Storm Voice on top of the Temple, stripped down to their skin. They danced for over an hour and at one point, the wind seemed to bend and wrap itself around them, briefly changing the direction of the sheeting rain.
He nods. “I did not inquire about their bathing facilities. Prax has not been the dry, hot place I have heard of but… But you should go if you feel like it.”
She lets the subject drop for the moment. “I’m sorry I was at the Temple for so long.”
He shrugs. “It would have been good to know beforehand. But rites take the time they take. What have you been up to?”
“I thought I was going there to worship. But the Storm Voice asked me if I was there to initiate. I had planned to do so, but I thought it would be at the Temple in Boldhome, after speaking to Tennebris. But when the Storm Voice asked, I knew that was my purpose.” She stares into the sky for a long moment, remembering. “It felt right.”
He nods. “Sounds like you were called. Fascinating.”
“There’s something else we need to talk about. Are you clear-headed enough to listen and advise well” Grey-blue eyes bore into brown.
His gaze wanders from south to north scanning the horizon and returns to look at the Vingan. “As clear-headed as I am likely to ever be…”
She breathes deeply and nods. “We keep walking then.” Glancing around to ensure nobody lingers nearby, Varanis begins. “The morning we arrived here… I had the Yelmrise guard shift with Toras. We got to talking.”
“I see. And? “
“Argrath is of the line of Sartar,” she blurts suddenly. “Argrath is kin to me and Kallyr. And he seeks her throne. At least, I think that’s what he meant. His Tradetalk isn’t particularly good. He is certain that Argrath is of Sartar’s line though and now he knows I am too.” She frowns. “And he left here with that information a week ago.”
That gets a sideways glance. “That is… interesting. Rumours of his blood have circulated before, but I have not heard of open bid for the crown.” Scribe pinches his nose. “He went apparently southwards – away from Pavis and Argrath…”
“Berra hopes to reach Eril through prayer, so that she can give warning. But, if she believes it necessary, she will race ahead to Boldhome. Toras said that as long as I don’t seek the throne for myself, he thinks Argrath will not see me as an enemy. But, I’m afraid I left him with little doubt regarding my support of Kallyr’s claim. I don’t know what he’ll do with that information.”
“Your support of Kallyr has been sung on these plains already… Though after we left Pavis.” scholar notes. “So Berra has this information of what Toras knows? “
“Yes. She believes that for the moment, at least, Toras wants to keep me alive. But she also said…” Varanis looks troubled. “She said that she thinks the Colymar will support Argrath! I know Kallyr is Kheldon, rather than Colymar. But still, she lives and breathes for Sartar. It doesn’t matter who Argrath’s ancestors were. He is no longer Sartarite. As I told Toras, King of Pavis without a doubt. But King of Sartar? No. How could anyone think such a thing?”
Xenofos shrugs. “One barbarian warlady or another. But atleast Kallyr has not risen to power with the arms of Harrek and the Wolfpirates.”
“Regardless of whether or not you feel strongly about Kallyr, what I need now is an assessment of risk. I told Rajar that I would join him for worship with the Storm Bulls at the Block. If I’m correct in my reckoning, that will be in two weeks’ time. I need to speak with Rajar about Argrath. I hope that his reaction will give me a sense of what risks I take at the Block. But are there considerations I have overlooked?”
“How did this discussion of your and Argrath’s lineages begin? Did Toras or you start it? On you or on Argrath?”
“I tried to convince him to come to Sartar. I thought I might win him over to Kallyr’s cause. That’s when he made reference to Argrath’s claim to the throne. I’m afraid I was so caught off guard that I’m the one who revealed our kinship.” She flushes, embarrassed by her error. “And after I chided for Mellia for not taking enough care with my secrets.”
“I see.” He strokes his beard. “You do remember Rajar is man of White Bull too? And when Kallyr was in the land of the Dead implied that you trying to take the throne would be cause for violence?”
She nods. “But I don’t seek the throne.”
“No, but Argrath apparently does. You are White Bull and did not know that, but you have thrown your lot firmly with Kallyr. What about Rajar?”
She gives him a worried look. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“The Block might not be the place to tell this information. Before or after. Preferably with Berra around if things get ugly. If you feel you need to tell this to him, you might not want to wait though. Just tell me beforehand so I’ll be around. And ofcourse Mellia could make him sleep to avoid violence if it looks like he would resort to it.” Another tug of the beard. “He could, and it would be really bad. But in the end I don’t think he would do it. Maybe I am too naive.”
“I was planning to tell him before we leave the Paps. And if he doesn’t try to kill me, I’ll ask him whether or not he thinks me joining worship at the Block is still a good idea.” She sighs. “I can’t wait for Berra to be around, as she may leave for Boldhome any day now.”
“I thought we would meet her at the altar…” He shrugs. “But you are right, you can’t wait for Berra. Mellia and me as backup and let us hope he is in reasonable mood. He is not stupid, even if he is loud and prone to charges.”
“The plan was to meet her at the Altar, and hopefully, we will. But, she’s trying to warn Boldhome about Argrath, and depending on how her worship goes…” Varanis shrugs. “Perhaps we tell him after we leave here. On our first night. We’d be safely away from extra ears that way.”
“If it turns ugly and something happens to him that would look bad, cousin”
Varanis frowns. “But… I wouldn’t…” She pauses, breathes, then says, “No. You’re right. I have to tell him here and take my chances.”
“I know you would not.” Brown eyes look at the Vingan. “But take me and Mellia, to be around when you do tell.”
“I will. I promise. To be honest, I think Suuraki and Valseena should be there too. If Rajar does attack, there needs to be Praxian witnesses.”
“No need for extra Praxian blades, one of which is his kinswoman’s,” the scribe counters.
“Honestly, Xenofos, I don’t think it matters. If nothing else, it will give me a sense of how much risk I take by going anywhere in Prax. And well…. we need someone to guide us out of the plains. If it turns out that my life is more in danger here than we believed, I won’t put them at risking without them understanding why. And if the Praxians react badly, then Mellia and Venlar have the security of the Temple until such a time as they can find a caravan out.”
“If it comes to a fight with blades two against one is not very heroic, but I have seen Rajar fight and would not wager on the outcome. If Suuraki and Valseena are on his side… And I would be dishonored if it would be necessary to fight Valseena who brought me back from brink of Death. Not that possibility of fighting Rajar or even Suuraki would bring me any joy.”
“I won’t put others at risk to protect myself. They have to know.” Although Varanis is governed by Movement, every now and then Stasis takes hold. This is beginning to look like one of those times.
“That is proper from the leader. They do not know the risk if you drop this to Rajar suddenly and things escalate to bloodshed, which I do not hope it will.” The scribe raises his hands to ward off the possibility.
He’s turned the tables on her and she knows it. She swears softly. “If I tell them all at the same time and there’s violence, I’ve put them at risk. So, the only way I can do this right is to tell him first and then tell them.”
“So I see this. And hope Rajar’s friendship and common sense keep him reined.” Xenofos says softly. “So that precautions will prove to be superfluous.”
Varanis sighs. “Your advice is sound. Thank you.”
“Evil times that requires such counsel. Rajar has been a stout friend at arms.”
“I don’t know what I’ll do if we lose him. But I have to do what I know is right.” She turns them around, to make their way back towards the complex. “I’ll speak to Mellia first.”
“That is wise. I do not wish to draw blade on Rajar if it can be avoided. I will if it is needed, cousin.”
“I understand. May Orlanth be with us then.”
- 1X passes scan, we’re applying it backwards, so that he will have observed some of the outdoor parts of the initiation ritual.