1627, Fire Season, Death Week
The farewell drink as short, although the wine as good. Berra insisted on getting her armour on, and Sylla insisted on giving her a cloth wrap of bread and cheese, in case she got hungry. She is carrying it tucked into her belt, dinner sorted for the evening. “It was good. Thank you. I’m really happy I could give them things.” She has steered them away from her old home by a different route, one which takes them past tenements but no true slums. Now she is back on the alert, with occasional slips to look back longingly.
“Thank you for bringing me with you,” Varanis tells Berra. “I feel like I learned more about the Colymar in that visit than I did in the days we spent in Clearwine.” Varanis smiles. “They are good people.”
Berra smiles. “They looked after me, really well. And they love visitors. And stories.” She looks regretful. “I shouldn’t have relaxed that much. I know we enjoyed it. I really did. But I can’t do that again.”
“Why?” Varanis protests. “It was good. We needed to do something we could enjoy. I needed to escape the stifling confines of House Saiciae and it has already been suggested that I can only spend so much time at the Temple.” She’s lapsed back into Tradetalk now that they are out of the Sartarite neighbourhood.
“Because we were out of armour, and they are not warriors. But we could go with more people, if you like? Or maybe swing past my cousins? They’re a long way out of town.” She is still speaking in Heortling, but her accent is drifting towards Esrolia again. Any moment now she will be using Tradetalk.
“You think someone might have tried to harm us?” Varanis starts out disbelieving, but then looks worried. “It would have been … to bring violence into their home… You’re right. We can’t put the children at risk like that again.”
“Yeah. Your guards let me be the one guarding you. I have to do that. But hey. It was good. I’m glad we went.” And then finally Tradetalk strikes. “It was worth the trip.”
“Surely no one would have predicted we’d go there. I’ve never been that way before.”
“Yeah. That’s a reason I relaxed. But the news about your sister will be big in Nochet soon. I was just thinking about that, while Timo was playing on the ladder.”
The Vingan’s expression darkens at the mention of Mirava. “All these years, we’ve lived… quietly isn’t the right word. But suddenly we’re so exposed. I’m not even sure how much of the House knows I have siblings, given the age difference between us. Now, I feel like I am watched constantly and that my life, our lives, have become fodder for the family. And that’s going to expand beyond the House to the whole of the city.”
“Yeah. And your brothers too. Mirava said ‘Saiciae Prince’. Don’t have to mean you.” Berra’s mood clouds over. “They haven’t even been seen in Sartar swearing loyalty to Kallyr.” Then she remembers herself, enough to add at least one of the titles she missed – the important one, to her. “Prince Kallyr.”
“My brothers?” Varanis shakes her head in disbelief. “Highly unlikely to leave Esrolia. Ever. One won’t leave his horses and the other won’t leave his wife. And neither is fully Saiciae anymore. They have joined their wives’ Houses.”
“Which counts for about nothing in Sartar,” Berra points out. “They’ve got the bloodline. Do you think Temertain wanted to leave his library?”
Varanis wrinkles her nose. “I’d assumed he did. I heard he enjoyed wearing the crown.”
“Mhm. Remember when we were back in Sartar? The messenger that Great Lord Geoffri kicked?” Berra looks glum, more than argumentative.
Varanis looks faintly embarrassed. “Yes…”
“And how much do you think the Queen’s likely to pay the House? The only thing that’ll stop her is if – stop Granny, I mean – is if she thinks the others down here will think it’s too much.” Berra pauses as they near an intersection, remembers to listen to Humakt, remembers to watch the shadows.
“It is too much. My brothers would make even worse princes than me. Desdel… he’s selfish and petty and all he cares about are his horses!”
Berra nods, like that makes it easier. “Yeah. So whoever gets him, gets to give him Goldeneyes and does the ruling.”
“And Kalops… he openly wears a Disorder rune. He loves his wife, but he has always fought authority. I always suspected Grandmother was happy to send him off to House Oranaeo. They stay out of politics and out of the way for the most part.”
“Maybe loving his wife will be enough. But politics will make her uncomfortable too. It’s not enough to hope, Vareena.” Berra seldom uses the Heortling pronunciation, but now it comes out, worried.
“What do you suggest, Berra?”
“Suggest? Dunno yet.” But she goes on. “There’s nothing you can do at the level those people work at. So that’s the answer, really. Get to working at that level. Things like wooing the Feathered Horse Queen are things you need to get used to, not out of the ordinary stuff any more.”
“I need to return to the Prince. See if the Stallion King turned up as promised and if Kallyr is any closer to winning the Queen’s hand. And I need to tell her about Mirava’s plans.” Varanis sighs heavily. “I wonder if I will ever see Serala again.” Then she shakes her head. “Kallyr is my priority. Boldhome first and what comes after is a thing to worry about later. We should find the Praxians. Learn whether or not they intend to return to Sartar with us. They still need to visit Salt and Tears before they can return to Prax, I think.” The Vingan’s thoughts are leaping about, or at least, her words are.
“She knows about Mirava’s plans. Lord Eril will have understood more than I do as soon as I told him, and Lord Tennebris will have worried it through before we left Sartar. Maybe we could make things better by travelling now, but I think we should be with the caravan and make sure that it goes well.” Berra shrugs. “Not sure about that. I’ll find a question that Lord Eril can answer.”
“I’m trying to be patient while the caravans are prepared. Really, I am.”
Berra chuckles, her shoulders shaking with the effort of not laughing louder. “Yeah. Hey. If we want to be really cruel, we could take Xenofos climbing.” That is a decent change of subject, right there.
“He hates climbing,” Varanis points out. “I have sometimes wondered if he has a fear of heights, though I have never asked.”
“I know. But we could teach him how to go sideways, not up. And I’m bored and want to pounce something and puncture it with claws.” At least Berra is honest.
“Alright. I’ll need to think about good places for that kind of thing. Nochet is rather flatter than Boldhome, after all. But, speaking of claws…” Varanis glances at Berra’s swords. “I need more broadsword practice.”
Berra perks up. “Yes! Yes you do! I can help!”
“I know. That’s why I brought it up. Training on the road is one thing, but we have more time here. Not fewer distractions, but different kinds. Until we leave, can you help me with a daily training regimen?”
Berra nods. “Yeah. Yes. Time in the day is best. Drills, then have breakfast, then do the work that is good for when you’re fuller, like learning.”
“I feel like I should be stronger too. The broadsword is just that bit heavier. It’s slower. I want to try to make it faster.” Movement in a window across the street draws the Vingan’s gaze. She watches, shrugs, and continues. “Courtyard at the Palazzo acceptable to you?”
Berra nods. “Yeah, of course. But if you want to work on that properly, I’m not the one to help with strength. Heavier swords and training weights can help a lot, but you need to know when not to use them, and I’m not so good at that.”
“Suggestions?” Varanis asks. “Spear and rapier are the primary weapons taught in my temple.”
“You’re …” Berra looks at Varanis, looks around, looks back at Varanis. “You’re trying to be a Sartarite. But really, the more you use the sword, the more you get to know it. So just use it a lot.”
“I am a Sartarite. To some extent, anyway. I need to understand what that means. You called me Vareena today. You know it as well as I do.” She waves vaguely. “Oh, I know I’ll never be wholly of Sartar. But…” A shrug. “Use it a lot. I need to figure out what happened to the blade Finarvi was going to make me.”
“Probably in Apple Lane by now. But the problem is – I see it – while you could carry just a broadsword, you shouldn’t. So you’re not really learning how not to use a rapier. And you’re not good enough with a spear to make it worth using that instead, I think.” Berra scowls more.
“We most definitely do not want to rely on my spear work for my personal safety,” Varanis admits with a laugh. “Jareen despaired of me ever learning it right. I have a tendency to close the distance too quickly and could never seem to maintain the range needed to keep the spear effective.”
“Pointy bit goes in enemy. Wooden bit goes well back. So… I can do drills to make you faster. But not to make you stronger. Wrists and forearms, though, sure. You’re going to go ow a lot.” Berra nods like she knows what she is talking about there.
“We are still talking about broadsword, right?”
“The wooden bit is part of a spear. The rest is about broadswords, though. Except the pointy bit. That was a spear too.” Berra steers them towards a road crossing as a group approaches on the pavement.
Varanis allows Berra to direct her across the street, but murmurs, “We can’t do this all the time. For one thing, it’s an impossibility in most of Nochet and for another, it will draw attention.” Sure enough, a couple of people in the group they avoided are staring in their direction with open curiosity.
“Well. Yeah. But let’s get you back safely, and then we can work out how we’re really doing this. I can’t always hear the god clearly.” Berra scowls at the group, and the people looking, but it is clear that her heart is not behind the notion of slaying them for their temerity.
“Mirava has painted new targets on us all,” Varanis says with dawning realization.
“Yeah. And you’re the one with the best position. You’re already seen as loyal to Kallyr, by more people than your brothers are.” She leaves unsaid ‘or nieces’.
“That depends on your politics. From a Lunar perspective, killing me could be seen as a blow to both Mirava and Kallyr. A way to prevent them from working together. And much as it pains me to admit it, if Argrath aspires to rule Dragon Pass, my death benefits him for the same reasons and removes another potential claimant to the throne he seeks. My brothers… they live on their estates and don’t come to Nochet often. They are less likely to run into a mob, but more accessible for assassins.” Varanis glances around, checking for listeners. “The girls… I don’t know where they’ve been hidden away.”1Passed intrigue. Failed loyalty White Bull. This is my interpretation of things. Could be wrong.
“Mirava might well be going to send for them. I mean, she’s Queen now. Fazzur might not want that, though – but I think he probably will. Helping to decide who they marry will be good for everyone up there. But you’re right. You’re better known than the rest, too.” Berra kicks a pebble along the pavement, bouncing it into the road below.
“Grandmother saw to that.”
Berra wrinkles her lip. “I gotta say, she knows politics.”
- 1Passed intrigue. Failed loyalty White Bull. This is my interpretation of things. Could be wrong.