Despair & disapproval

1627, Sea Season


Context

After Small Sword

Events

In the evening of a long day as they rode through Tarsh, Yelm is beginning to set. Berra and Varanis have returned to the camp after some sort of training mishap and while the Humakti has rolled herself into her sleeping hide, the Vingan is sitting quietly by the fire.

Xenofos has been helping Valseena with firewood and water, as he has been doing since the incident at the singing mountain. After checking that Creamy and Varanis’ mounts are restful he returns to camp and joins the Vingan. His eyes seem to be looking for something.

After a time, she glances over, looking slightly startled to see him there.

“Horses seem restful now. Creamy was a bit nervous when that rumbling happened so I thought I’d check. No trouble with Manasa or Doqeia either,” the scholar says as some kind of explanation.

She gives him a nod. “Thank you.”1Insight: Xenofos has the vague sense that something might be wrong, but he can’t quite put a finger on it.

Xenofos seems to be scanning the area while poking the fire with a stick. After a while, he turns to Varanis and notes lightly “I don’t see Berra around?” At least it is supposed to sound light.2Insight Where is she? I hoped to see her with you? Is she guarding? I can’t ask directly? Varanis would not notice that if he did not know Xenofos so well.

His cousin nods towards the Humakti’s bedroll. It’s lumpy enough that it likely contains a small body. “We were training,” Varanis says quietly. “We misjudged something and it was almost… it was bad. I’m ok, but she’s upset, I think.”

Scholar looks at the lump with some confused curiosity and turns a bit pale as Vingan speaks. He turns to face her. “How bad? What happened?”

“She hit me in the head with more power than she meant to. She wasn’t in control of the practice sword.” Varanis rubs the back of her neck as she adds, “I lost consciousness for a bit. If I hadn’t been wearing my helmet, it would have been much worse. Why am I always getting hit in the head lately? First Fish and now Berra. Maybe Vinga’s trying to tell me something.” She smiles ruefully at her own attempted humour.

He looks at her intently.389 on first aid of waaay less “Well it is not good and it was probably stupid to engage in such a practise in hostile land, but accidents happen in practises.”

“Xeno,” she starts, but then she pauses to take a slow breath. Finally, she twists to look at him directly. “If something happens to me out here, promise me that you and the others will leave me and go for Mirava. She either needs rescuing or stopping, but whatever else happens, that marriage mustn’t go ahead.”

He looks at her for a while and then turns towards the fire.4With the changed mood, and Xenofos actively trying to control his feelings and way he shows them I thought it was time to recheck Varanis’ insight, roll of 00 Angrily he breaks the stick he was using to make keep fire burning with least amount of smoke and throws it into fire, letting loose a cloud of sparks. His voice is icy when he answers. “You are a harsh mistress there, Varanis. Asking for things that are quite hard. But should you die, I will continue to seek for your sister, if I’m able. And if she needs rescuing I will try to pursue that.” He is looking towards the little heap of Humakti now, not at Vingan. Varanis does spot some tears.

“Mirava’s marriage to a Lunar threatens the whole of Dragon Pass, Xeno. It could be seen to legitimize their claim. That can’t be allowed to happen.” She leans against him lightly. “Surely you see that’s more important than my life?”

“Asking to leave you if you are dead, to pursue your mission would be harsh but honourable. To save a Saiciae noblewoman from a marriage she is against – a duty. But, to stop her if it is her will? She is a lady of clan Saiciae and priestess of Ernalda. I do not see any way I could honourably stop her. You are asking impossible.”

Sitting up straight again, Varanis runs a frustrated hand through her hair. “What am I going to do if she actually agrees with this marriage? Surely she can’t want to marry a Lunar!”

Xenofos shrugs. “If Grandmother wants alliance with one faction of Lunars fighting other Lunars it is possible. But I suppose just finding out what she wants will be trouble enough.”

“That doesn’t make it right. Tell me, Xeno. How do I balance my personal honour with doing the right thing for so many others?”

Scribe looks at the fire. “I do not have answer to that, Ranie. Honour is or is not. It is not for bargaining or measuring. Doing dishonourable things for good purposes will make you dishonourable. Sometimes it may be the price that needs to be paid. But, it is dishonest to call that virtuous or honourable. It is not.”

She sighs. “I will have to ensure that I live, so that I’m the one who has to deal with my sister then. I’m sorry I tried to force your hand. It was unfair of me.”

“We have no information indicating this is wish of Grandmother or your sister, my liege,” the scholar points out. “And if it is against the wish of our kinswoman and clan, there is not a shred of moral disambiguity in trying to save her and stop that marriage. It is just unimaginably hard.”

Very, very quietly, Varanis admits, “I know that. If there is no other choice… I could kill her and myself. I’ve considered it. Only, what would stop them from moving onto Mirava’s daughters next?”

“Do not let despair be your guide, my lady. Sororicide, or any spilling of family blood without maternal sanction is an abomination in eyes of Imarja.” He looks pale, but otherwise almost hides his anger and disdain. “Such deeds are what Chaos thrives on.”

“If I did it, I’d have no right to live. I know that. My shame would be a blight on all I hold dear. Vinga would turn her back on me.” She turns to him, her eyes pleading for understanding and flinches at the condemnation she reads in his expression. “But, if we cannot rescue her, then she is either forced into an unwanted marriage to Lunar scum or willingly joins with him and the Pass once again suffers invasion. Don’t you remember what it was like? So many died in that war, Xenofos. It took both my parents from me. I lost Vingan sisters to the siege and then later at Dragonrise… Mirava and I… we are just two people. How do our lives measure against the tens of thousands who will suffer?” She finishes on a choked sob.

“You are wallowing in despair, even thinking of murdering your sister, Ranie.” His voice remains cold, his words sarcastic, tears of anger on his cheeks. “I thought Vinga taught something of finding ways. Of protecting women. Having courage in face of adversity.”

“I just about died tonight,” she finally snaps, launching herself to her feet. “Practicing with a stupid wooden sword. I just about fucking died. And in that moment, all I could think of was how futile everything is and what a waste my life has been. And now we’re riding into enemy territory with no plan, hopelessly outnumbered, to save a woman who may or may not want to be saved. Forgive me if I’m struggling with perspective.” She turns on her heel and stalks away from the fire.

Scribe follows close behind. “Oh no, running away to the darkness alone is not the way out. Not this time little alynx.” He is not shouting but his voice is intense.

She doesn’t stop, but she slows enough that he can catch her easily.

“You went to Hell and back to bring back your Queen and the spark of Flame of Sartar, Varanis Lightbringer.”

The name brings her up short. She wheels to stare at him, her eyes huge in the darkness. “Kallyr brought back the spark. I only opened the way for her. But yes… we went to Hell and back. I… did you ever spend much time with Mirava?” She changes the subject suddenly.

“Don’t try to change the subject. So you almost died today. That is bad, that is scary, but it is not the first time and you are alive now.” The scribe looks at the ground. “You have loved and you have been loved. You have not lived in vain. You… we have faced the impossible odds before. Our luck may end. … Will end at some throw of the knucklebones but until that day there is no use for despair.”

She draws a shuddering breath. “What would you have me do if she is there willingly? Or there because Grandmother sent her? Should I just walk away?”

“We don’t know that to be the case, Ranie,” the scholar says. “Granny told us she was kidnapped and for all we know that is how it is. Mirava needs us to rescue her.”

“And if she’s there by choice? Mirava was always ambitious.”

“What if you had died when that walktapus came into our camp? You did not.” He looks her in the eyes “There is always another way, right? Is that not what Vinga teaches. You’ll find it if it is needed.”

“I feel like I’m drowning again,” she admits. “I’m lost. I don’t know what I’m doing and I’ve dragged all of you along with me.”

“You have dragged nobody? We follow you out of free will. And some of us out of loyalty and love.” He answers.

She darts forward suddenly, colliding with him in a muffled crash of bronze on bronze. She doesn’t give him the opportunity to escape her hug. “I don’t deserve your loyalty, Xeno. But I’ll try to be worthy of it. I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”

“It is all right, Ranie, it is all right.” He hugs her tightly, crying softly. “But don’t scare me like that. Please don’t.”

Her quiet sobbing is the only reply.