Can’t Win

1627, Sea Season


Context

Sea Season? Kin-Making

Varanis’ sister Mirava has married General Fazzur. Varanis and the others arrived too late and are now en route to Nochet.

Events

The party has barely left the Dragonewt city when Varanis signals Berra.

Berra is still in that state where she is twitchy, jumpy, wants to run and move and fight. Seeing Varanis, however, switches her to calm and quiet, although a little more intense than usual, which makes her very intense. She moves her bison closer, with inelegant boots.

“Tell me about separation again.” There is little to give away the Vingan’s thoughts at the moment. She stares directly along the road in front of them and hasn’t looked back even once in the time they’ve been riding.

Berra looks across at Varanis. “You’re thinking about family?” she asks.

“I’m thinking about how to not be family to someone I may need to kill,” comes the cold reply.

“You don’t,” Berra says, but she holds up her hand to think, asking for more time.

They ride in silence, accompanied by the sound of the animals’ hooves and the murmured conversations of their companions.

Berra says finally, “Two things. First, you’re not as important in this story as you think. You’re probably not going to be the one to kill her, or even be sent up against her. She’s protected by iron. Her guard? That woman? I… she’s a Rune Lord. I don’t like it, but she’s the sort of person you can’t get past.” Maybe Berra does not want to admit she can’t either, until she sighs, and says it. “She’d put me down. And that’s just ‘a guard’. There were more back there. And I don’t think your sister’s stupid.”

There’s a flicker of emotion across her face, even though it is obvious that Varanis is trying to lock herself down as tightly as possible. Anger? Pain? It’s hard to say. “She married him.”

“Yeah. But if someone had been able to do that fifteen years ago, thousands of ducks wouldn’t have been slaughtered. I don’t have to like him. But he’s a problem to be solved. And I think your sister solved him.”

“Kallyr is going to fly through the roof.”

“… Yeah. But if we’ve done the right thing? I mean, she’d got a temper. But we’ve let Lord Eril know. He should be able to work out what’s needed.”1AND WE WOULD TOTALLY BE GOING BACK THERE EXCEPT THE GM HAD TOLD US TO GO TO NOCHET

“I’ll send word to Tennebris as soon as possible too. I’ve failed her badly. I was supposed to try to stop the wedding and we arrived too late.” The cold is starting to crack. Varanis gives herself a little shake. “I think I did something good back there though. I think, maybe, I helped Blue Tree.”

“Nah. We didn’t … nobody else could have arrived faster. We wouldn’t have got to see them unless they were married, anyhow. I bet she wouldn’t have done that. Sometimes you don’t get to do better than other people did.” Just for a moment, Berra sounds a bit too determined, like next time she will do better than herself.

“What happened to you at the top of that building?”

“I couldn’t stop Yanafal Tarnils. I’m not really supposed to, in the myth – but that’s how I know I can’t match a Rune Lord. Because she played him.” Berra shrugs. “I can try next time. It’s weird, that one. It happened in Time. So… yeah.” She shrugs. “I’m a long way from being a Rune Lord, and I need to work harder, and I’ll get there, if I live and something doesn’t break me.” She sounds a little dulled, finally coming down.

Varanis listens intently. “You will get there when you’re ready. I expect of you,” she says when Berra finishes. “I know it’s your path and that you will walk it.”

Berra nods a tiny bit. “So… you don’t have to solve it all. Sometimes, you can’t win with what you are, and who you are, and what you’ve been sent against. The most important lesson of Separation that I can give you is this: you are not your task.”

Varanis scowls. “And whether I like it or not, they are kin? Fazzur Wideread, my brother?”

“That’s a different thing. He’s scum. But if you cut yourself off from her, you have to cut yourself off from a lot. From your whole family. You have to walk out on them.”

“I know.” She glances at Xenofos. “He’s the only one I’d miss. Though giving up my hides would mean I’d lose the power to help Blue Tree.” She’s thought about this.

“Yeah, that’s why kin are so powerful. Mostly, it’s better not to fight. But I think he’d follow you anyhow. Only they keep you pinned.” Berra looks down south. “I hate the Houses. Noble’s a word that doesn’t mean the same thing as it means in Heortling. It means a slave, to me. I wish you could be free. But … shit. Heh. Been trying not to say that.”

Varanis snorts. “My duty is to serve. There’s no real freedom for me. But do you have freedom? You serve your temple and Eril. You can’t walk away any more than I can.”

“I chose him,” Berra replies. “I could walk away, and go to another Temple, and I’m in good standing. I choose to keep going on. Because he’s worth serving, and he makes me work harder than anyone else would. But choosing to stay in your house is allowed. That’s a decision too.”

“You could, but would you? I could walk away from them all. Go join Serala in the Grazelands. But it’s not the right thing to do and so I stay to serve.”

“Nah, of course I wouldn’t. As long as you know you can leave, and you stay, that’s deciding. And as long as my lord’s worthy of me, I’ll strive to be worthy of him. The …. anyhow, the second thing I was going to say is that when it comes to kin, let Prince Kallyr be the one to decide. If you act rashly and she doesn’t want it done, then you’re insulting Fazzur before Mirava’s really got him coming to her whistle.”

This gets a nod and then there’s a reluctant grin. “She seems to making good progress on her training of him,” she admits. “Maybe, if she survives this foolishness, she actually can do what she says she will.”

“Again. Don’t have to like her. But hospitality and kin are important. For that reason. I think she thinks she can.” There’s a shrug. “Ernalda’s power has never been mine, but you change for people you love.” A brief setting of her jaw indicates Berra is holding onto thoughts that are Not That.

“Fuck. She shut me down quickly. I felt like a child again.”

“Yeah? You want to try her on a battlefield some time? Because you were up against her power. And she’s had practice.” Berra shrugs. “Priestess. But we don’t compare ourselves to what we’re not, right?”

“Did you feel it? How quickly she earthed me? It was like she snuffed a candle flame. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her and Ernalda’s love for her has grown.” There’s a grudging respect in her voice.

“I … kinda. That was why I was yelling. I figured you needed a bit of time. But I didn’t see that bit happen, I just heard you stop. You can tell me not to do that, though, and I won’t.”

“It… was welcome. I needed to remember that I’m an adult now too. We haven’t exactly seen much of each other since my initiation and our relationship is complicated. She was already initiated when I was born. And when our parents died, she wanted to be the one to take over my care. Even more than my grandmother did, she would have tried to force me into an Ernaldan. They share names, you know.” The last is added as if it explains things, and maybe it does.

Berra nods. “You are. We’re allowed not to be what other people want, because who will stop us? And if we can’t always get our way, it’s good to practice. Right?”

There’s a nod. “I don’t want to think about this for a while. Tell me what Surraki did to end up in my path? It had something to do with that model that so intrigued you both, didn’t it?”

“Uh? Oh, I think he jumped in. The model was the city. It WAS us. So we could see it, because of something the Dragonewts did, some kind of magic, but it wasn’t a magical model. It was a view of the city.” Berra seems pretty clear on that.

“He’s lucky he didn’t step on himself,” Varanis muses absently. Although she asked the question, she might not be giving the answer her full attention.

“I was wondering if I should have tried to pick myself up. But I had a thought, when I was there. Which might sound weird, but it was really comforting to me…” Berra gives Varanis a glance, checking if she should go on.

Varanis notices the pause, blinks, and says, “hmmm?”

“I was looking down at it, thinking that there was a bigger me, and a smaller me, and I could ask the bigger one for help. And then I thought maybe I should tell the smaller one that it was doing alright. Because it might need to know that.”

Varanis smiles at this. “You’re doing more than alright. I couldn’t have asked for a better…” There’s a slight hesitation. A moment of vulnerability. “Friend. In case you need to know that.”

Berra nods. “You’re a good friend to me too. You’ve always been true.” She says it just like she thinks Varanis might need to hear it, and it’s the truth so she says it. Just like that.

Berra is rewarded with a smile that that makes the Vingan’s eyes crinkle at the corners. Despite her obvious pleasure, Varanis says, “I think I need to ride alone for a time. Can you check the others for me, please? We’re going to need to push the animals hard to make good time to Duck Point. And Rajar’s been scowling more fiercely than usual since he woke.”

Berra nods. “Yeah.” It’s short. She might be going to say other things. Then she doesn’t.