1627, Fire Season, Fertility Week
Fire Season, Fertility Week, night of Freezeday in Nochet. Session 42: Kin-Making
As soon as Varanis has managed her polite goodbyes to the matron, she makes for the exit.
Berra follows with her helmet under her arm, rather than buckled on. It is the look of someone displaying she could be ready for action, rather than being ready, and yet as they reach the door she does stop and listen. No spells, just the habit of making sure Humakt is not calling a warning.
When they get outside, Varanis takes several deep breaths. Even this late, the heat still hangs in the air. The storm that threatened earlier seems to have passed them by. The palanquin is brought forward and Varanis waves it away. “I want to walk.” The palanquin carriers give her an uncertain look, as if they want to argue, but know they can’t.
Berra asks, “Want me to ride with you?” at the same time, and then grins, almost nervously. “Or that. Flying’s probably out, and climbing wouldn’t go well in that skirt.” She looks the guards over. “Out at a distance, unless you have to be,” she tells them.
“I’d run, but…” Varanis glances down at herself and shakes her head wryly. “That would garner the wrong sort of attention. Are you ok with this?” she asks Berra. “I need air, but it’s wrong of me to jeopardize your safety for my own comfort.”
It takes Berra a moment to find a come-back. She settles on, “Did you notice that I’m the one in armour?”
“Yes, but by walking, I make us more of a target.”
“Shut up and get moving. I want to get walking too.” Berra’s long-suffering expression has a smile in it.
“Oh good,” Varanis says, “because I wasn’t sure I could get in that thing if you’d asked me to.”
“Yeah, no.” Berra moves off at infantry pace – a slow walk she can keep up all day. “They were pressing you on purpose, right?”
“I think so. It was a test, of sorts. But I can’t figure out what the purpose was.”
Berra shrugs. “Nor me. Does it matter?”
“I think that depends on whether I passed or not. Vahnfar has gone into exile. That song about the Vingan and her exiled lovers… I suspect it was deliberate, though I doubt it was instigated by our hostess.” Varanis sets off in the direction of House Saiciae, though she cannot stride at her usual brisk pace because of the nature of her clothing.
“Mhm. Right.” Berra looks left and right. “Want to come and borrow some of my clothes and go night-running, or do you want to get up tomorrow?
“I… can we run until Yelmrise? And I can sleep after that.”
“Probably? Maybe? I’m going to be in armour, so possibly not.” The way back to Berra’s inn is the same route as the Saiciae house, for most of the way.
“Then we’ll run until you can’t anymore and I’ll still wait for Yelm,” Varanis says decisively. She waves the palanquin bearers forward. “I will be staying with Berra Humakti for a time. I will return to the House before Yelmrise. Please take word back to the guards at the palazzo gate.”
Berra nods. “Fair enough. Good parts of town. I’d take on a troll, but I don’t want to have to.”
Varanis waves at the two guards. “One if you accompany them. One of you can stay with me. The best runner and climber is the one stuck on guard duty. Decide quickly.”
There is some eyeballing, and a short argument. One wants both to stay, the other volunteers to.1Entitled little…. who does she think she is…. Pass on Loyalty House, Special on Not Disobeying These Current Orders.
Varanis leaves them to sort themselves out and strides ahead. As well as she can, anyway. “Dresses need to be cut for walking,” she complains. “This is irritating.”
“It’s fine. We’ll get there.” Berra falls into place on the right. The volunteer falls into place on the left, and behind them walks the other, also possibly volunteering. Berra waves them to a further distance.
Varanis glances back. “I do hope they can keep up. I’d hate for Serzeen to think I deliberately misplaced them again.”
“We’ll find out. We can always double back and catch them. Maybe give them a headstart.” Then, being honest, she adds, “Maybe give me a headstart.”
“Tonight was the final piece for me, Berra. To realise that this is no longer home. I can leave Nochet and I don’t need to return here ever again. Not for me, anyway. I will, if duty calls. But it isn’t my home anymore.” Varanis says this quietly, not wanting the guards to hear, but there is certainty in every word.
Berra walks on for a moment, and then nods. “If I’d cared about your house, tonight would have been… well, probably before now, but tonight I’d have asked your grandmother why she was pushing you to do a thing that was pushing you away. Maybe she means to. I dunno. But that didn’t seem good, all night.”
“It was not. Restina Hulta… that woman would have me killed if she thought she could get away with it. I don’t know what has happened with Lenta, nor how to find out… oh.” She glances at Berra. “Kesten. Could you make enquiries of him? I don’t know why Restina was so venomous, but Lady Yelendar said that she hasn’t seen Lenta in some time, and given the level of Restina’s anger, I am worried.” Words are tumbling from her.
“Uh, yes. Probably.” Berra nods. “I’ll see tomorrow if he can see me. It’s just possible his wife will, too.”
They walk in silence for a time. The only noise is their own footsteps. At one point, they can hear the sound of a drinking song, sung off key by several voices, but it seems as though they are at least a street away.
Berra says, after a bit, “I completely missed her talking to you. Although I guess that can happen in crowds.”
“It was just after I returned to the party. She told me that she hoped I’d choke, as I took a bite of something.”
Berra winces. “Ouch! That’s… that’s actually … wow.”
“She’s very, very angry.”
“Angry, or grieving?” Berra checks.
“I don’t know,” Varanis admits. “That’s why I need you to talk to Kesten.”
Berra nods. “I’ll ask tomorrow,” she says again. “Maybe take Sere… lady Serestina something.”
Berra is at the same inn as the last time she was in Nochet, but offers, “Want me to go grab something, or are you fine in this alley?” It is dry, considerably less muddy than the last time Varanis walked along it.
Varanis arches an eyebrow in question.
“I don’t want you ruining your dress, is all.” Berra shrugs. “Last time, there were more puddles, but I remembered you had to be really careful.” But now it’s Fire Season, and there has not been a recent storm.
“I don’t know that I’ll ever wear it again. I’m sure I’ll be fine. I just need something I can run in soon, before I burst.”
Berra leads the way; it is not far, and the door is open, and she has a tiny cramped room up two flights of stairs and a ladder, with no sign of where she keeps her bison. She suggests to the guards, “I can clear the way. You stay down here,” as she goes up the ladder, listens at the top, and even casts a spell. No problems. In and up she goes.
Varanis looks at the ladder dubiously.
“It’s strong,” Berra says. “And there’s room to turn around at the top. If we’re friendly.”
“Have you ever tried to climb a ladder in skirts?”
“Oh. Right.” There is the sound of rummaging up above, and then Berra drops down some blue trousers, her embroidered top, and a belt. She hangs onto the end of the belt so as not to hit anyone with the buckle.
Varanis catches the clothing and looks at it with some concern.
“I’ve got a wrap-around skirt as well,” Berra says, “But it’s a bit more buried.”
“I think I can squeeze into it. Puddles won’t be a problem,” she says with a laugh. “Um…. do you have a spare wrap?” Varanis is, of course, in the height of noble fashion, meaning her bodice is cut to expose her breasts and thus, the chest wrap she has taken to wearing is not in evidence tonight. She begins to strip off jewelry, handing it to one of the guards, much to his chagrin. Necklaces, diadem, earrings, rings, even the ever present cuff bracelets that are usually only swapped for vambraces.
“Yeah, of course.” Berra slithers back again, drops down a rolled linen bandage. “Yeah. If they’re tight in front of the hips, though, running ends up a big problem. We can put your things up here, unless you want them carried with us.”
“Let’s try the clothing first and then we’ll decide.” With a bit of effort and wriggling, she sheds the silk, and squeezes into the trousers. They are snug in the hips and and rear, but not uncomfortably so. Varanis binds her breasts and stuffs herself into Berra’s shirt. Although the Vingan is more generously curvy, Berra’s back and chest are more muscled. The differences balance out and the tunic is workable.
Berra takes the time to unbuckle a sword, thinking a bit before she offers up – or down – Wind Tooth. “You should be armed, Thane.” She seems serious.
Varanis’ eyes open wide. She doesn’t argue, however, gravely accepting the broadsword. “I thank you, Berra. I shall care for your blade as if it was my own and return it to you as soon as it is safe to do so.”
“Well, yeah. Could be a spot of trouble otherwise.” Berra is still wearing one. “Probably can’t take them both up and down walls and stuff. Maybe if I last that long, I’ll show you some of the ways I used to cross the city.”
Varanis uses her dress to bundle the jewellery. Poor Marta will be horrified in the morning. She passes the bundle to Berra to stow. Then she grins at the guards. “I hope you’re feeling limber.”
Berra does that, carefully, and then slithers down the ladder. She has added a waterskin to her burden, slung on her back. “Right. We can climb up from here, I think. Out of the window, or the boring way?”
“Window!” Before she makes her escape though, she turns back to the guards. “Rior and… Davos, right? Here are the rules. I need to run and I’m going over the roofs. I will stop to check from time to time to ensure that you are there. If you fall behind, I expect you to say something. The goal is not to lose you or injure you. But I must do this. Do you understand?”
Rior looks eager. Davos looks miserable, but he nods. Berra opens the shutters, and points up and right. “That bridge is a road, up above. Up over the side, and then we can get onto any of the roofs on either side.”
“Berra first, then Davos. Me, then Rior.”
Berra nods, and slithers out onto the sill, and slowly reaches up for a hold. “Damn, it is dark out here,” she says.
That just makes the Vingan’s eager grin broader. “More fun that way.”
“Yeah. I’ve marked this in the daytime, but I need to remember.” Berra leans out, looks, nods in satisfaction, and starts. Davos goes to the window to try to watch.
“Watch how she climbs. You’ll follow her path next,” Varanis tells him.
“It’s got some good bits to hold onto, but you’re going to have your legs swinging a bit. Especially if you’re small.” Berra pauses to cast Protection, and then makes her move, and one of the good bits to hold into is not so good, and there is a “D…” which might be the start of a ‘Damn’ and then a thump. “S’okay!” She is not dead.2Climb rolls: fail, fail, fail, fumble. Fortunately, Berra will be casting Protection. No shield – she had just cast spirit magic. But a passed Jump roll.
Varanis pushes Davos out of the way to stare down. “You two, stairs now. Get out there.” Then she swings herself up and over the ledge and is scrambling down the side of the building.3Climb: 11/84
Berra is on the floor, massaging her foot. “I think a bone went crunch, but nothing major,” she says. “I’m going to say that handhold wasn’t good.” Her face is a little pale, drawn by the pain, but it could have been a lot worse.46 hp, -1 for Protection. Armour didn’t really help because of how she landed.
Varanis drops easily to the ground beside her, then sinks down to sit. “Let me look,” she orders.5Oh! 25 is a pass on first aid.
“I don’t know I want to take off the boot.” Berra leans back, though. As Rior and Davos come out she tells them, “This happens a lot. It’s maybe the third time she’s patched me up? Fourth?”6Maybe a dislocation, then? Put it back in, a bit of healing magic?
Varanis is rapidly, but gently removing the boot. “Hmmm. The bones aren’t where they need to be. I can try to put them back, but… it will hurt. A lot.”
“Aw…. fu. Alright. Do it.” Berra heaves a slow breath, and looks straight ahead, bracing her arms and relaxing the rest of her body as much as possible.
Varanis takes a steadying breath and then, with a deft twist, she realigns the bones.
Berra manages not to cry out, although afterwards there is a little deflated whimper.
“So…. not running on rooftops tonight, I guess,” Varanis says.
Behind her, Davos is pale and nervous. He does not want to climb now.
“Well, I want to try that again,” Berra points out, perfectly reasonably.
“Let’s get you walking and maybe running on the ground first,” Varanis suggests.
“We could use magic now. The bone’s right.” But Berra as stands up, wincing a bit, she adds, “Still. I had a fall.” She tests her foot and finds it will bear weight, but she prefers not to, and so she closes her eyes, concentrates, and casts a healing spell.
Varanis watches to see how things go. “You ok?”
Berra lifts her foot, puts it down, winces in concentration rather than pain. “Yeah, mostly.” She looks to the others. “I think maybe they shouldn’t climb, though.” She is looking at Davos more than Rior
If the Vingan is disappointed, she masks it well. “On the ground. You set the pace when you’re ready.”
Berra bounces on her toes a bit, pronounces one more spell, and says, “We can maybe climb later. When we know the wall is good. Half of that crumbled and I couldn’t grab the rest.” She walks back the way they came, under the bridge that threw her off.
Davos looks relieved. He and Rior look to Varanis for direction and she glances at Berra. “They can guard our backs, yes?”
Berra nods, but she tells the guards, “If there’s a problem, Varanis will not be running away without us, so we go head on into it if it’s getting violent and we’re not all together. Away if there’s a way out we can all take together. I can do rearguard if that happens.”
Varanis grins when Berra explains the plan. It’s as though she appreciates the acknowledgment of her nature.
Davos opens his mouth to argue and Rior steps on his toe. Hard.
Maybe Berra does not see that. She does not comment, just turns to go, rolling her head from side to side and limbering up.
Checking the way the sword hangs on her hip, Varanis shakes herself out. “Ready?”
Berra nods, and says, “Once we’re clear of the alley,” but she also turns to look at the guards, checking in on them.
They appear to be prepared to follow.
Out of the alley, across the road, a left, a right… Berra is headed into the better parts of town, but not the ones that will be most crowded. No to parks, yes to markets, no to areas close to baths where people might be going to seek relief from the heat. She may or may not have a particular aim in mind.7Not trying to outpace the guards. Rolled a DEXx5 success. Varanis passes the same.
True to her word, Varanis matches Berra’s pace. Despite the heat, her expression shows relief. This may not be exactly what she was hoping for, but apparently it will do.
For a while, Berra runs in silence, slow at first, getting used to the weight of her armour and the heat of the night. Distant thunder rumbles again, nowhere near them. Finally Berra settles in, and she probably could be going a lot faster, but her pace is slowed for conversation, or for the guards to keep up.8DEX: Fail, Fail, Special. So slowly, then remembering other people.
Unencumbered by armour and likely happy to moving, Varanis has no difficulties adjusting her pace to match Berra’s. The run is effortless for her.9Two passes and a crit. V is doing fine. Checking Air for a moment… normal pass. “I don’t belong here anymore,” she tells the Humakti after a few blocks.
“Yeah…” Berra might be deciding whether or not to say anything, but she does not, just listens.
“Would it be really strange if I changed my name to Vareena?”
“No.” She ups her pace a little, after checking with the guards. “But you have to decide how hard you want to break with your house. It’s an asset.”
Varanis snorts, but doesn’t argue.
“I had an answer from Lord Eril.” This is hardly even a change of subject.
“Oh?” Varanis glances back to make sure the guards are there, but not too close. Satisfied, she asks, “What did he say?”
“I told him you’d bring a food-trading caravan, and bards. Asked for suggestions. He said ‘be humble’.”
“Makes sense.” Varanis scowls down an alley. “I have no desire to threaten her throne, only to bolster it.”
“Yeah. He tends to not use many words, so it’s probably saying a few things. About Sartar and about her. Are you going to bring her a gift?” Berra is holding up well under the effort of talking and running.
“I was thinking that my gift would be more supplies that she can dispense as she sees fit.” Varanis turns so that she’s running backwards and facing Berra. “Do you have any ideas?”
“Something personal. To say that you missed her. Thought of her as well as Sartar.” Berra steps left a little so she can more clearly see past Varanis, but does not even bother trying to catch up.
“Huh. Given the number of times she has threatened me…” Varanis laughs. “I’m not sure she’ll have missed me. But I will think of something. Oh…. ok. I think I have an idea. Weird question… what colour are her eyes?” As she asks, Varanis twists, to check the path behind her is still clear.
“Blue,” Berra says instantly, and adds a moment later. “She’s Kheldon.”
“Blue. Hmmm. The best option is in Clearwine, but that’s out for obvious reasons. But I’ll check the market.”
“She likes wearing blue, as well.” Berra speeds up to jump a low wall, slows down, and then finally comes to a halt, hands on knees, taking a moment to breathe. “Just a few…”10Berra failed CON * 5
Varanis leaps lightly to the top of the wall and looks around.11V passes CON * 5 easily “I was thinking of a set of palm cups.”
“Something…. for a feast. Yes. Good.” Berra looks back, does manage to check on the guards, and goes to perch on the edge of the wall. Breathing is a thing.
Varanis leaps off the wall and back up again. She is fidgety and still buzzing with energy, as though it has to explode out of her after being so rigidly contained through the evening.
Berra looks up, and snorts in laughter despite her need for air.
“Nochet’s glass is usually yellow and green, but there might be someone working in blues.” When Berra laughs, Varanis glares at her. “What?”
“You’re being you. It’s good?” Berra leans back, putting her weight on her hands and stretching her legs out a little, so she can breathe up at the sky.
“It’s good.” Varanis grins back at the guards who have stopped a respectful distance away. “Caught your breath yet?” she calls out to them.
Both are healthy young – or youngish – men. They nod, smile, say they have.
Berra looks up at the sky. In her expression there is some yearning unfulfilled, and yet she is smiling slightly, like the night is beautiful.
Varanis leaps down again. “I hope you’re ready, Berra. Because I’m going for it.” With a laugh, she takes off down the street, but only sprints long enough to make everyone swear, then she slows her pace and laughs.
Berra groans, then gets up with a determined expression, putting in far more effort now – this is the sprint of a Humakti heading into battle, enough to put her up alongside Varanis. Tired, concentrating, but fast.12Passed CON x 5, and indeed 3, and criticalled DEX.
The Vingan looks terribly pleased with herself. “Come on, ancient one! You can do it.” Then, taking in Berra’s tired and heavily armoured state, she adds, “I’d not have gone far enough for trouble. Sorry.” She might even mean it.
“Mm.” Berra looks around, insofar as she can concentrate. “Maybe we can find… a wall you can go sideways on?”
“The Hall of the Noble Brothers is just up ahead. It has a good wall,” Varanis suggests with the air of someone who has climbed it before.
“Then that. I can run more, but I can’t run more and be good to watch and fight.” Berra is matter of fact about that, unworried. It does not sound like an accusation, or a complaint, just a fact she wants known. She checks on the guards, sets her pace to a slow walk, and catches up on air.
The Vingan is almost quivering with the need to move faster. She takes several deep breaths and slows to match Berra’s pace. Within a few heartbeats she’s speeding up again. Catching herself, she slows once more. “Tell me about things you saw tonight?”
“Oh…” Berra thinks about that. “Lots of people in hot clothes, showing off how much money they had. And I think Lenta’s mother – I think it was her. Looking at you like she just saw a… that is, like she wanted you dead. And then the sword dance, although I wasn’t really looking at that. Nobody was holding themselves like they were ready to stab anyone. I could have taken most of the guards, one on one. Sword Heinamika … I think that’s his name … was trying to test me? And you? I think Lady Leika was more interested in you?”
“But why, I wonder. She’s only rarely taken an interest in me. There was one time… but mostly, she has treated me much as any other initiate.”
After a few deep breaths, Berra asks, “Was that before or after the Lightbringers’ Quest?”
“Hmm. You’re right. Mostly before. Last time we were here, I reported to the Temple scribe about the quest, but didn’t see much of the Eldest Daughter that visit.” Varanis considers. “There were other things going on, so she may have been busy.”
“And then… well, by now people know about Mirava.” Berra is predictable in whether she gives titles to people. Mirava scores a solid ‘nope’.
“That was about Mirava. Because she told you to go in Sartar and do your best. To be worthy of leadership. She believes in you enough to tell you that.”
“I know that my path is in Sartar. I am confident of that now. I just wish I understood how best to serve the Prince. In Nochet, I am a bird trapped in a gilded cage. In Sartar…” She struggles to find the right words. “What am I? Not free. Bound by my word and loyalty to the crown. A hunting bird in jesses?” She glances at Kallyr’s arm ring, the only piece of jewellery she didn’t strip off at Berra’s inn.
Berra says, “I don’t know yet. But it took a long time to find each other properly, and then we did. So you can keep being you while you find out. It’ll happen.” She hauls her waterskin off her back. “Have some water you don’t like.”
Varanis accepts the waterskin, takes a small sip, and hands it back. “Temple is up ahead. Sideways, not up?”
“Sideways, not up. I’m not climbing like this, and I’d make bad decisions.” Berra takes a longer drink of water, and grimaces.
Looking longingly at the rooftop, high above them, Varanis nods. As they reach their destination, she checks for guards, then latches onto the wall and climbs partway up. Just high enough to pass over the tops of the ground floor windows and door.
Berra steps back, checks how the guards are by actually asking them, and looks around for trouble.
Varanis, climbing over the door, starts to go higher. She is moving rapidly and efficiently across the surface of the temple’s facade. She’s almost halfway to the roof when she heads back down and in the direction of her guards.13Very good climb roll and a special on Movement. The roof called to her. But then she remembered.
Berra is watching, and in fact already putting her fingers up to whistle when Varanis comes down. She did not yell out, though, and she did not commit to drawing attention. “So anyhow,” she tells the guards with her, “When you fall, you’re probably about to make bad decisions, but you should get back to what made you fail anyhow, as fast as you can.”
“Davos, up!” Varanis demands as she gets within a body length of them. “You don’t have to go high, but up, just a little. Get the feel for the structure beneath your fingers and toes. Three points of contact.”
Berra grins at Davos. “We’ll keep you guarded,” she says.
He looks uncertain, but gamely has a go at finding hand- and footholds. He’s barely a foot off the ground when he gets stuck. Varanis drops down to the ground beside him with little warning. “Reach up for that one. See the shadow it casts? It’s sticking out enough.”
Berra is now fully on guard, and tells Rior, “Keep your eyes off them, or else you’ll be watching what you want to, not what you should.” She is keeping her eyes on the rooftops and alleyways.
Over the course of the next hour, Varanis instructs Davos on climbing. By the time she finally relents, he’s been able to climb two body-lengths up and back again, repeatedly. She is lavish in her praise of his successes, though sometimes impatient with his fear. When at last she calls a halt to it, she tells him, “I will be sure to let Serzeen know that you are an apt student and that you show considerable determination in the face of the unfamiliar. I’d be happy to have you and Rios with me again.” And despite the last hour of pushing and challenging him, she really seems to mean it.
Meanwhile, Berra is keeping her eyes on other things. Rior is mostly managing to as well.
Davos grins back at Varanis. “We’d be honoured to guard you again, Lady.”
“Right! That’s decided then. For now, we should head back to the palazzo, so that Berra can get some sleep. And I’ll head up to the roof to await Yelm.”
Berra nods. “We’ve got a bit of time yet,” she says. “But I’d like to sleep and then come back for drills. And then probably more sleep if I have to.” And if she can, if Varanis does not want her again. If Kesten will not see her.
“Ready to run? It’s not far to the palazzo from here.”
Berra nods. “Yep.”
Rior glances at Varanis, and says, “Of course.”
The Vingan sets off at a run, close to the edge of the market, then down the street towards the Sacred Way, As before, she does not stay ahead, but lets Berra set the pace.
Berra is running rather than jogging, but only just. She keeps inside her limits, but her route choosing is good – nothing wasted, no awkward jinks or turns to avoid walls or statues – she just gets the job done. As they get towards the Palazzo she signals to slow down, saying, “Walk in. No excitement. Entry and exit are the hardest times.”
There is no excitement and they are waved through the palazzo gates without comment.
- 1Entitled little…. who does she think she is…. Pass on Loyalty House, Special on Not Disobeying These Current Orders.
- 2Climb rolls: fail, fail, fail, fumble. Fortunately, Berra will be casting Protection. No shield – she had just cast spirit magic. But a passed Jump roll.
- 3Climb: 11/84
- 46 hp, -1 for Protection. Armour didn’t really help because of how she landed.
- 5Oh! 25 is a pass on first aid.
- 6Maybe a dislocation, then? Put it back in, a bit of healing magic?
- 7Not trying to outpace the guards. Rolled a DEXx5 success. Varanis passes the same.
- 8DEX: Fail, Fail, Special. So slowly, then remembering other people.
- 9Two passes and a crit. V is doing fine. Checking Air for a moment… normal pass.
- 10Berra failed CON * 5
- 11V passes CON * 5 easily
- 12Passed CON x 5, and indeed 3, and criticalled DEX.
- 13Very good climb roll and a special on Movement. The roof called to her. But then she remembered.