1627, Sea Season
At the bottom of the mountain, as Nala first settles in to her Divination and before Rajar and Berra begin preparations to climb back up. Varanis rounds up Berra and Xenofos. “I need to talk to you both.”
Xenofos puts away the notes he was trying to make under the eaves of the bothy.
Berra stops cleaning her fingernails with a carved bit of wood, and stands. She grabs her beer, though, having certain priorities.
“First question. Are you both alright?” Her gaze moves back and forth between them, assessing.
Xenofos looks aside. “No injuries, Varanis.”
Berra nods. “Yeah.” She glances to Xenofos, too.
The Vingan runs a hand through her hair. “I’m not just talking about the obvious, Xeno. You picked that thing up. It talked to you.”1A round of failed insights for everyone.
Berra might just have moved to be able to kill Xenofos instantly – or it might just be a shift in how she is standing. She makes an effort at looking relaxed.
“It did. I should have listened to Valseena.” He is looking at Varanis’ sandals.
Berra nearly says something, then does not.
“Yes. You really should have. You do realise what we almost lost there? Who we almost lost? We need to trust each other. Valseena is a Praxian, but she’s a smart woman and deserves respect. When she says something, you need to listen.” Despite what she is saying, there’s not heat in it. No obvious undercurrents of the electric rage that Varanis is sometimes prone to.
He shrugs. “I did not pay enough attention there, right after the fight. And I was so certain I knew what I was doing…”
She turns her gaze on Berra. “And you…. half the time I wasn’t certain you and Rurik knew who the real enemy was. That’s not fair. I could trust you to point your swords at the right people. But the rivalry between you made it hard for me to keep my attention where it was needed.”
Berra thinks a moment, and then nods her head. “Understood.” Something about her expression says she is putting that into her mind.
“Well, at least she did not almost kill us with pure stupidity.” He looks chagrinned.
“What I wasn’t doing was not Humakt’s way,” Berra says. “But pride. And… well, I’m a Colymar. I’ll try to remember to be a Humakti first.” Her lips twist in a wry smile that fades before it reaches her eyes.
Varanis looks at him steadily. “You don’t get to punish yourself for this. I will decide and you will live with it and when your punishment is over you will let it go and move on.” There’s a calm here that isn’t characteristic of Varanis post-battle. Rather than stormy, it’s more like the rocks beneath her feet. At Berra’s words she turns that flinty gaze on the Humakti. “Good. Now. I need my war leader and my scholar. We survived in there, but some of that was pure luck. We fight like heroes bent on individual quests when we need to fight like a unit. You are both experienced with fighting in cohesive units. You both have keen skills of observation. How do we do better?” She looks fierce and frustrated and determined to figure this out.
Xenofos looks up at Varanis. For a while he is quiet, thinking.
“A bit…. We don’t. Because we’re free people. Because we have to be able to make our own decisions when there are not many of us.” Berra shrugs. “But mostly, we train together. Only Rajar doesn’t train, and when there’s Chaos around we just follow him. And when there isn’t, there’s command. But when we’re on foot, in a place like that, trying to be a cohesive unit is asking for Stasis when what you really want is Movement. There are individual things, but those are for discussion with different people.” Then, being Berra, she adds, “Xenofos did well, with the magic.”
Xenofos was starting to answer when Berra made her addition and almost looses his words. “Light cavalry is more about movement and nimbleness than cohesion. Or so it seems. It was quite confused, lots of the times, with darkness, flicker of torches and fireblades. But it seems to me enemies got engaged as they appeared and as many blades as possible were presented to greatest threats at all times. I don’t see how fighting could have been handled better.”2Failed battle roll.
“There are a few things. We’ve got two modes of battle. One is where Rajar is the axe head, and we’re the bulk of the axe, following. One is where we can persuade him to stay in line. When a Storm Bull goes in, the right thing probably is to follow. But we could have started with the magic earlier, probably at the cave mouth. That’s a good one to look at.” Berra might have a list to work down.
“Berra and Rurik rushing to the frontline and nearly wrestling each other was … inefficient,” Varanis observes. “Putting the Uroxi up front makes sense for that kind of thing. But egos came into play too and we don’t have room for that.” She sighs then. “And tempers. I made my own stupid mistakes and from what Rajar says, I likely owe my life to Suuraki. Again.” Scowling, she looks at them. “Either of you know if Valseena is any good with a knife? Unlike Mellia, she doesn’t have the protection of the white robes. She’s too vulnerable and we need to be thinking about how we keep her safe.”
Xenofos shakes his head.
“By letting her know we’ll pay her ransom,” Berra supplies. “So she can say what she’s worth if she’s in danger.”
“No idea of her skill with the blade. Even if she was as good as a Black Fang initiate she would have been vulnerable there without armour. And I doubt anyone would have been saved by ransom over there… Among proper folks that would be a good idea though.” The scholar looks thoughtful.
“Sometimes, you have to walk into Chaos. And she’s always going to dive in. But putting a healer in armour is wrong, and it often makes them a target. Magic, though – we could maybe get together the money to teach her protective spells?” Berra’s expression does her usual set of rapid, unreadable changes as she settles on another suggestion.
Xenofos disagrees. “She is Eirithan? They are not unknown to wear armour… Prax is tough.”
“If she’s willing to learn that, I’m willing to help her. We all owe her our lives. I’d rather not repay her by letting her be killed.” Varanis sighs. Her next words seem directed at herself. “She was protected coming up the mountain, but left to look after herself once we closed with the enemy.”
“Every blade was needed, my lady.”
“She… was protected by us being up front. And by you and Xenofos knowing where the harm was. But we should suggest to her that she casts that spell, so she knows too.” Berra stays calm, sips beer.
“Xenofos… thank you for the spell. It helped me immensely to know where we needed to go.” His cousin looks thoughtful. “That reminds me…. My connection with Vinga is weak though not fully drained. My high holy day is some weeks ahead yet. But, I’m not about to leave Valseena and Rajar without something. When they decide where they will set their base camp, I’m going to place a warding around it. Neither of them is capable of it at the moment.”
“And you,” she turns to Xenofos. “You’ll help Nala with food preparation over the next few days. Haul water. Pluck birds. Whatever she needs from you.”
Again a nod from Xenofos.
“I got nothing, for god-magic,” Berra admits. “And I’m still a bit pissed off about my sword breaking, and right now I don’t have that gift I got on a sword at all. So I’m saying maybe we shouldn’t fall into any Chaos nests for the next week. I think two people should cast that spell. Xenofos, and Valseena. One on me, one on Varanis or Rajar, depending on who’s around. Or even not on me if I’m not going to make a difference. But remember pride, too. We struggle to the front for each other, and ourselves. That’s good, when we use it right.”
“That is one less time Valseena can aid someone with healing of Eiritha…” Xenofos points out.
“Anyone can do Rune Magic to heal. It’s the spirit magic and knowing what a broken artery needs doing to that’s a worry. But as long as we know how much of the gods’ magic we have, so as we can keep track, it doesn’t matter who does it. But maybe only one. Only when I’m in, I want to be in the front line, not in the second or third.” Berra meanders towards the point.
“Pride talking? Truth is you are deadly, but there are others who are that too,” Xenofos observes.
“Uh huh. But should you always be front rank?” Stormy eyes glare at the Humakti.
Berra looks at Xenofos, and says, “I carry Death. Nobody is as deadly as that. Anyone could have struck down the Walktapus, but only Death could have ended it.” To Varanis, she shrugs. “I probably should, if we’re only fighting one enemy?”
“We weren’t though. We just didn’t know it at first.”
“We were, at any time. And if I am in the front rank and find out there’s danger behind, I’ll have warriors behind. Unless they jump ahead of us. Which you should do – but you’re telling me at the same time not to fight in the front.” Berra gives Varanis a surprisingly ancient look, given how young she is.
The Vingan retorts, “You are reading into my words. I did not tell you not to take the front line. I asked if you should always be there.”
Boldly, the scholar interjects, “I seem to remember that you could not strike the walktapus down with all that Death you carry and it was down to others to keep it occupied while you were coughing your lungs out?”
Varanis gives Xenofos a quelling look then turns to stare Berra down. “By being in the second rank, I could see more threats and act to deal with them. That shaman needed ending or she would have called more monsters to her aid.”
Berra gives Xenofos a glare. “Lemme just talk to Varanis and you think about who sent the Walktapus on.” And back to Varanis. “Orlanth should go ahead. But Humakt should be in the front rank.”3B: I’ve rolled Intimidation to see if I get stared down. Special. May be coming on a bit strong. V: Ahahahaha – since you rolled it, I decided to roll it too. I also got a special. It would have been a crit if I was Kosa.
Varanis meets Berra’s gaze, unflinching.
Berra smiles, although her expression says she is up for casual death any time.
Xenofos says gently “The walktapus cut down by others, with aid of Urox magic… The walktapus that would have killed you and Varanis had it not been for others. I am not belittling your deadliness. But you are not immortal and by claiming the front rank – always – for mere pride, you are apt to just throw it away wantonly.”4critical on love early on… may cloud int a bit
Berra turns to Xenofos. “Lord… it’s not pride. I am better than most.” Something in her eyes is unforgiving, even distant. “If I fall, it’s because I wasn’t good enough, not because I shouldn’t have been there. But now we’re talking about different things.”
“You are better than most, lady,” Xenofos says. “And you should make use of it where it is needed the most. It is not always at the front, not before it has been seen where the worst threat is.” His tone remains reasonable, calm.
Varanis takes a deep breath and lets it out in a controlled sigh. She repeats it. The look in her eyes suggests she may be praying. “Enough,” she says, firmly interrupting the other two. “We are going in useless circles. We are surviving more by accident and individual skill, rather than cunning and clear planning. That is what I wanted to talk to you about. If it’s not something you can contribute to sensibly, then fine. So be it.” Her weight shifts on her feet as she prepares to walk away.
“No. Because the individual skills are strengths.” Berra looks at Varanis, still calm. “We’re pretty good at this. It was dangerous in there – believe me, if you don’t think so yourself. And you need luck and good judgement both, in places like that. But there isn’t a secret way of being better, I’m afraid. We did really well. We’re alive, and that’s good.” She seems utterly sincere.
“Broulf’s not,” Varanis says flatly.
“Neither’s a dragonsnail. We faced a lot.” Berra offers over her beer. “Drink. Turns out that I’m paying for this one.”
Xenofos strokes his beard. “Once the dragonsnail was there it could have been anyone… It is a miracle Rajar walks, miracle bearing Valseenas name. And it is astonishing nothing like this has happened to us before this.”
“He wasn’t technically mine, but for a while his path merged with ours and he fell whilst fighting with us. Under my command, even if he didn’t know it.” Varanis looks at the beer then shakes her head. “Rajar gave me some already. I need to keep my head clear for the warding.”
“We did about as well as can be hoped. Nothing you could have done would have changed that. Probably nothing any of us did. But getting magic to find the enemies and the problems… Lor’Xenofos, can you detect things that are not living? Like pitfalls? Is that a thing?” Berra changes direction mid-sentence, having thought of a new thing.
He shakes his head and looks at Varanis. “I am sorry for my error of judgement. I am consoled nobody died because of that… My punishment is deserved.”
“And Xenofos? I expect you to take some time to get to know both Valseena and Nala better. You’ve been raised to know the strength and wisdom of women. That applies beyond the borders of Esrolia.” It’s not the towering command she issued in the mountain above them, but the echoes of their Grandmother are obvious in both her tone and expression.
Berra has fallen silent now, obviously thinking.
“I cannot prevent you from feeling guilt,” Varanis tells him, “but I ask you to fall back on the lessons you learned from Aranda. You cannot allow yourself to wallow in it. Accept the consequences, learn, then be better.”
“So, there’s two sorts of battle,” Berra muses. “Sword path, and torch path. One of them, you have time to think. The other, you do the thinking afterwards. And we did fine.” She gives Xenofos a look. “Would you tell me not to be in the front if I was Rajar?”
He is interrupted from answering to Varanis and turns towards Berra. “Rajar had asked me to take front rank. I declined because standing in front of Uroxi is not sound tactics. So he does not claim front rank always. And – he is bigger and wears more comp!ete armour so he can soak in more damage, while dealing out quite enough too. So no. Not if he was fit enough to fight. And I could on occasion still ride ahead of him.”
“I don’t always either, Xenofos. But in a fight like that, it’s right to. That’s where I make most difference.” She takes a deep breath, tilts her head to one side thoughtfully, and says, “Nala’s options without Tiwr are not many either. And if she’s not making earthquakes because we’re in a cave, she’s one person who can find the enemy. But she should probably keep her magic.”
“That is not quite what you said earlier, or what I and Varanis have argued against.”
Varanis watches the discussion, for once, staying silent.
“Yeah. Well you were talking a lot and calling me proud. That was what I was trying to say.” Berra looks irritated, maybe about communication. “I know when not to step up, but that’s not when there’s a hurry. When there’s a hurry, I should.” And she shrugs it off and rattles on with her thinking. “Right. So. Nala. Earth elementals. And spirits. Valnseena. Knowing what’s happening. Suuraki doesn’t fear Death, but he might have things he can do that we don’t know about. I like how he fights. Dependable, if a bit forward.”
Xenofos smiles a bit at Berra’s explanation.5And passes int roll to not speculate if there ever is a situation Berra will not deem one with hurry.
“He’s better armoured than he was before,” Varanis says of Suuraki. “And he’s fast on his feet. That weapon of his gives him good range and he’s quick with it too.” This last is added ruefully.
“When we have to move fast, individual is good. When we have time to plan, it’s… well, I’d say better but if we have time so does everyone else, and then planning is more important. But we did good. Really. Covered for each other.” Berra takes another sip of beer.
Varanis nods. “I hope Rurik can find out if Broulf had any family to speak of. Then I have to work out how to get that information. Trouble for another day. I need to make sure Valseena is alright. And once Nala is done, let’s get Rajar and Valseena sorted for their vigil.”
“Right, I’ll tell Nala of your orders when she is done,” the scribe says.
“The people here might know his markings,” Berra says, but she looks ready to slope off now.
Varanis waves them away. “I need to speak to the healer and then I need to think.” It’s very obviously a dismissal. Having called them onto the carpet, solicited their ideas, and listened to their words, she is done.
Xenofos nods and looks at Berra politely leaving her space to leave first.6Berra’s player prompts them both for an insight roll. Xenofos fails his. Too distracted by her cute nose. Varanis gets a special. Insight: Varanis is looking at just the right moment to see how Berra reacts to being dismissed. Confusion. Not resentment. But deep inside she is scrabbling to keep up, or catch up, or work out what this means.
Varanis reaches out to stop Berra, but the movement is aborted almost before it begins. The Humakti heads off, with that head-tilted thoughtfulness that is so her.7So cute.
Xenofos is lost in his thoughts for a moment, and seems to be awoken from them with a twitch, nods to Varanis again and goes on his way.
- 1A round of failed insights for everyone.
- 2Failed battle roll.
- 3B: I’ve rolled Intimidation to see if I get stared down. Special. May be coming on a bit strong. V: Ahahahaha – since you rolled it, I decided to roll it too. I also got a special. It would have been a crit if I was Kosa.
- 4critical on love early on… may cloud int a bit
- 5And passes int roll to not speculate if there ever is a situation Berra will not deem one with hurry.
- 6Berra’s player prompts them both for an insight roll. Xenofos fails his. Too distracted by her cute nose. Varanis gets a special. Insight: Varanis is looking at just the right moment to see how Berra reacts to being dismissed. Confusion. Not resentment. But deep inside she is scrabbling to keep up, or catch up, or work out what this means.
- 7So cute.