1627, Sea Season
Berra has put Varanis out on the left flank for much of the day, where she can range back and forth on her horse. The diminutive warrior looks, when they stop to cook a midday meal, like she has something to say. She does not say it though.
Varanis eyes her for a time, looking thoughtful. Finally, she walks up to Berra and peers down at her. “Sometimes it’s better just to say it. Before you burst.” Her tone is carefully neutral.
Berra looks up. “I was planning to, but when we were moving. Want to go for a walk?” The Humakti is in an infantry squat, watching the fire as she chews on a bit of spiced jerky.
“Sure, I can do that.” A pause. “I mean, yes. I would like that, Berra.”
Rolling to her feet easily, Berra puts away the knife she was using to chip away at the meat, and tucks what she has not eaten into her snack pouch. One of her snack pouches. She nods over towards the grass of the grazelands, alongside the path they have picked.
Varanis gives a half wave at the others, making sure people see where they’re going, then starts walking in the direction Berra has suggested. When they are beyond the point where people might overhear, she asks, “Are you ok?”
“Yeah,” Berra says, and gets straight to the point. “Xenofos says you’re not.”
A bleak look crosses Varanis’ face, but she shrugs and says “I’m just a little worried. I’m not sure how we’re going to do this.”
“Just a little worried?” Berra kicks at a tussock as she walks. “A lot worried?”
The Vingan wrinkles her nose. “Fine. A lot worried. Hard not to be when I feel like the fate of Dragon Pass rides on our mission and I don’t know what we’re doing or how we’ll accomplish it.” She is trying to keep her tone light, but there’s a deep current of fear beneath her facade.1I rolled Insight for Berra and this is what I’ve decided she gets based on the results.
Berra walks quietly for a bit, and then nods. “Yeah. It’s big,” she agrees. “Hard. How do you think Kallyr feels all the time?”
The question is met with a shrug. “From what I can see? She’s either angry or busy. Or both. She masks her anger with a polite smile for her audience at times, but it’s often just under the surface.”
“Seems to me there’s a lot of worry, is all,” Berra says, scowling at the horizon. “And a lot of people have it. But we’ve got a chance to make a difference. We don’t always win, you know?” That seems to make her sad. “But that shouldn’t mean we stop. And us being there to try is a good thing.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do if I find a way to reach her and she won’t come,” Varanis admits.
“There’s a question you have to ask then. And one I should know as well. Is she there with your House’s wishes with her. Or are you doing what you should by taking her away. Because one of those things is… well, we can’t kidnap her. But we could take her to Esrolia. Maybe not back to Boldhome, then.” Berra weaves her way through possibilities.
“Did he tell you what I was contemplating? He was so disgusted with me…” She doesn’t look at Berra, staring directly ahead as she walks. But even from her vantage point, the Humakti can make out the flush of shame on the Varanis’ face.
“No…. He said you were worried about me, but that was just the polite bit before the talk. But he was doing that thing where he was really calm and seemed like he was picking his words from his mind to get them all right.” Berra steps on a grass hummock, which slowly gives way under her with a ripping sound as she pauses on it, one foot raised ready to step off.
Berra steps down. “Want to tell me? Want to say something else?”
“I…” Varanis sighs and is silent for several paces. “I had a moment of despair,” she admits finally. “I thought that if there was no other choice… Well, there was one way I could ensure that neither Mirava or I could be used as political wives to strengthen a Lunar claim to Dragon Pass. It would be an irredeemable act, but it would buy Kallyr time.”
Berra looks at Varanis flatly for a moment, and then says, “Right, so then you got sensible?” and even lifts her hand towards her friend’s shoulder. For all that she is a professional warrior, right now she looks sympathetic. “If we can’t win with honour, we haven’t found the right way yet.”
Varanis sighs again. “Eril sacrificed honour to do what was needed,” she points out quietly.
“Yeah, and I’m going to have to tell him at some point I’m not going to do that part of his quest, and he needs to find a better way. Not looking forward to that – but he needs to find a better way. There isn’t a what’s needed that is more important than honour. He was just out of ideas and couldn’t bear to fail.” From the way that comes off her tongue, it sounds like Berra has thought about it a lot.
“This is the part that I am struggling with, Berra.” Varanis stops and swings about to face the Humakti, her eyes pleading for understanding. “I know my honour should be everything. Honour before anything else. But… is that also pride? What if my honour is what leads Dragon Pass into another generation of conflict? Is that still honourable? Or is it just arrogant? Our people are starving. Can I put food in the bellies of Blue Tree’s babies with my honour? And how many of those babies will lose their parents in the fighting that will surely come?” She runs a frustrated hand through her hair. “It’s pointless anyway. Even if I sacrificed myself and my sister, there are still her daughters to consider. Their identities are no longer hidden and they are reaching adulthood now, or near enough for politics.”
“No, honour doesn’t feed people,” Berra says. “Orlanth’s honour puts the world back together so they can be fed in it. We’re coming up to the Hero Wars. Some people say we are in them already. The fighting is coming to find US. It has to find us honourable, or what will happen?” Berra looks a little afraid when she speaks of the prophecied time of strife, but only a little. Mostly she looks determined.
“Someone once told me that I could be honourable or be a good leader, but I couldn’t be both. At the time, I believed him to be wrong. I think I still do.”
“He’s not one to trust,” Berra says. “But yeah, honour doesn’t feed people. It makes it so you can trust strangers under your roof. That’s the first step to being fed – being the stranger that arrives. I wouldn’t follow you if I didn’t think you were honourable. So you wouldn’t be a leader at all, to me.” Berra leans down to pluck a handful of grass as she walks, a smaller reach for her than it would be for Varanis. “And that’s what being Orlanthi is. Being worthy to be followed.”
“As I promised Xenofos, so I promise you. I will do everything I can to remain worthy of your faith in me. I don’t know where this doubt comes from, but when we stop tonight I will pray for Vinga’s guidance.” She starts walking again. “I probably should have added that I already decided that murder wasn’t the way. Even were I willing to sacrifice my own honour, I could not sacrifice yours or that of any one else in our company.”
“Yeah. You kind of said that up before. But you do get your breast-band in a twist sometimes.” Berra shakes her head, with a wry expression hovering for a moment. “You think all about the same things without stopping. You’re allowed to tell people when your worries… when they’re gnawing. Because you probably should.”
Varanis almost smiles at Berra’s comment. “I didn’t wear one until I met you,” she points out. “And I am telling you. And I told Xenofos too. It just took some time. Serzeen used to tell me that I had a habit of thinking too much about the wrong things. I wish she were here. She knows Mirava and Saiciae politics enough to help me figure this out. Mind you… she’d probably slap me upside the back of the head and tell me to stop listening to the murmurings of weasels too.”
“Yeah. You listen to the same things over and over in your head. I can’t understand it. You want to do well so you’re trying to think of all the ways and then once you have, you think of them again. I don’t know how that works.” Berra is only lightly complaining. Mostly she sounds like this is alien to her.
“I have to examine every possibility,” Varanis explains. “Firstly, because Vinga teaches that there are always other ways to things. But also because my decisions have an impact on others and so it is my duty to make the right choices. Sometimes, the weight of that is hard to carry and I forget that I don’t have to carry it alone.” She turns them back towards the others. “I’ll try to do better,” she offers.
“Yehuh,” Berra says. “But you don’t have to roll in it when you find it.” She follows back, hopping to the nearest tall bit of grass.
The Vingan’s only reply is a snort of laughter.
- 1I rolled Insight for Berra and this is what I’ve decided she gets based on the results.