1627, Fire Season, Fertility Week
Fire Season, Fertility Week, some afternoon/evening in Nochet. Session 42: Kin-Making
When Varanis returns to her chambers a note from Grandmother awaits. She wishes Varanis to attend a party at house Norinel. If she feels like it. And is not too tired. Varanis sighs. Now what was that part of Asrelia in the note? “A little consideration to them would be nice now when asking a favour from granaries of Asrelia, don’t you agree Varanis-dear.” Going to the party is the least she can do and she knows it.
Marta makes sure that Varanis looks appropriate. It’s important to be well-turned out when you are representing both House Saiciae and Sartar. Lushly embroidered gold silk and lots of bronze, gold, and lapis this evening. Her runes have been freshly done, though Varanis has chosen not to wear the mastery rune, despite Marta’s nudging. She does consent to the diadem again, however.
“You do not shame your house by your looks mistress, if I may say so. And with the hairdo your brow is covered.” She fusses over her picking non-existent lint and sweeping non-existent dust. “And where is that short girl tarrying now?”
Varanis arches a perfect brow. “Short girl?”
“Your Humakti, mistress” Marta explains. “Even if she refuses proper makeup and hairdo I would rather see she turns out clean and not straight from the palestra all muddy and dusty.”
“I don’t know that she’s available this evening. I wasn’t expecting to go out and sent her off to her own business.” Varanis considers. “We can send word to her about where I’m going and she can meet me if she deems it necessary.”
“So you are going alone?” Marta confirms with just a hint of a question.1Obviously alone means with a retinue of guards and palanquin.
Varanis nods absently as she fidgets with the bracelet on her wrist, checking that it covers the tattoo there.
The palanquin and guards wait when Varanis gets down to the yard. She looks at the palanquin with distaste, then lifts her chin and climbs inside.
The roofs of Palazzo Norinel are less then a bowshot from roof of Palazzo Saiciae. But instead of taking the straight and short route, the palanquin wanders past the temples of Heler and Ploughman to reach the magnificent Way of the Pillars, turning at the Great temple of Esrola and approaching the palazzo Norinel from Sacred Way and its main entrance. Effectively doubling the distance it needs to travel. Inside the palanquin Varanis rolls her eyes. Then she decides to attempt to meditate during the trip. Unsurprisingly, it does not go well. Though the carriers are experienced, the swaying of the palanquin is difficult to ignore. For her purpose, the route is oddly appropriate.
Varanis climbs out of the palanquin with as much dignity as she can muster and greets her host with all due courtesy. Matron of the house greets her warmly but does not grab her for round of presentations like the previous hostess.2Scan: No Lenta, Not her mother either. No Vahnfahr, obviously. No Leika tonight. For the most part a bit more mature crowd. A woman of about 30 to 35 you think you saw at Saiciae wedding but have no idea who she was.
Varanis begins to circulate, greeting anyone familiar to her. There’s something about her tonight. She sparkles and it’s not from the gold.3Pass Charm She is received with polite greetings, room is made for her in discussion circles and her looks are commented with courtesies. She answers questions about the wedding, shares tidbits about her travels, but inevitably turns the conversation to Kallyr and Sartar. She speaks of the needs of the people, but also their fierce determination against the Lunars. When she talks of the prince, her fierce loyalty and complete belief in Kallyr is obvious.4Passed Loyalty Sartar and Loyalty Kallyr.
She gets nods, smiles, raised eyebrows. This is not the adulating crowd of youth she gathered last time. But these are the people who can really help, the decision makers and the purse-string holders, so she does her best to win them over. As she speaks, she begins to feel that she just can’t get traction. Her words lack Air. People’s smiles are fake, their nods hide scorn, and mentions of Kallyr result in hidden smirks.
Angry at their complacency and their silent mockery, Varanis stalks through the party. A servant offers her wine and she accepts, draining it in a single draught. Setting the now empty cup down, she heads in the direction of the musicians. When they finish their song, she waves at them to wait. They give her an odd look, but comply, for the moment anyway. Then the Vingan turns to glare out at the shining mass of Nochet’s elite. She’s stripped away her bracelets, exposing the Sartar and Lightbringer tattoos that are generally kept well covered.
“Lady Norinel, noble matrons, and all others present this evening, hear me now. I am Varanis Lightbringer, daughter of Serzeen, daughter of Berra Colymar and I am of the Houses of Saiciae and Sartar. You know me well. This is not the first time that I have come to you to ask for aid.” She lifts her chin proudly. “I’m done asking. Now I’m telling.” She launches passionately into her speech, reminding them of the Lunar army at their gates only a few short years ago and the bitter losses of the Great Winter. She speaks of the Dragonrise and Prince Kallyr’s role in that. Of rebellions and resistance and driving back the overwhelming forces of the Lunar Empire. She tells them of Kallyr’s return from the underworld, bearing the Flame of Sartar. Her eloquence was in turn fierce, majestic, fervent, and entreating; her gesticulation natural, vivid, expansive, and powerful. She finishes by insisting that they need to make a commitment to back the prince’s claim to rule Dragonpass, so that all of the peoples and polities could be unified in the effort to drive the Lunars out once and for all.501 on Air and 05 on orate.
By the time she is done, her cheeks are flushed and her eyes glitter with the intensity of her emotions. She stares out at them all again, challenging and tumultuous. She is Air. She is the Storm. And she dares them to deny her.
The people in the hall look kind of confused at the outburst. Lady Norinel feels obliged to finish the awkward silence. “Now that passionate speech from our heroic Lightbringer gave us all something to think about I am sure. Would you like to have a drink Varanis dear?” The band begins to play the ballad of Lightbringers.
Varanis collects up her bracelets and jams them back into place. She glares around, then crosses the room to her host. “I’d like to visit one of your balconies, please.” She accepts the offered wine and downs it quickly again. She mutters a quiet curse, something rather foul, but in Pure Horse Tongue, so hopefully Lady Norinel doesn’t understand it. “I can’t, can I? Not yet. Not after that.” Whether she is speaking to herself or to Lady Norinel is not clear, but Varanis lifts her chin and puts a polite smile on her face, and does not repeat her request for a balcony.
She tilts her head “It would look a bit hasty, dear.” She raises her glass “To our Lightbringer.” Glasses are raised, but what lies behind those kohl lined eyes and false smiles?
Varanis smiles and nods, accepting the toast with as much dignity as she can muster.
“That was quite passionate,” says the lady whose name Varanis does not remember. Curvy Ernaldan type.
“I feel very strongly about this,” Varanis admits.
“So we have heard,” the strange woman confirms with a nod.
Varanis studies the woman carefully, trying to decide if this is sarcasm or mockery.6Also, any clues about her? Approximate age? House tattoo? She is a bit older than Varanis, maybe about 30 to 35. You should know that hairdo of course but after that speech you feel a bit wrung out.
The Ernaldan watches her with friendly amusement.
“And have you been enjoying the evening?” Varanis asks. “House Norinel always outdoes itself.”
“Yes, thanks for asking. I don’t visit so many parties these days, but with Kesten out of city it is nice change” She shrugs elegantly “Palazzo feels kind of lonely sometimes, despite it not really being empty, ever.”
“It is easy to feel alone, even when surrounded by kin,” Varanis agrees. “Has he been gone long, Lady Serenelda?”
“A few days. His regiment requested his services on something that had happened in Pedestal.” She looks at Varanis “My Kesten is pretty good in finding out hidden truths.”
“He is. I appreciated his efforts the last time I was here,” the Vingan says, adding with a wry smile, “mostly, anyway.” Talking to the other woman has allowed some of the tension in her to bleed off. Or perhaps it’s the wine. Either way, she is beginning to relax.
“Is that short Sartarite, Berra residing in your palazzo?” she asks.
“No. She’s at an inn. She comes by regularly to help me train in broadsword, though. I saw her earlier today actually. I helped her send a message to you.”
“Yes. I received that.” She looks at Varanis questioningly. “Do you have any idea of her errand. Her letter did not mention that.”
Varanis flushes a little. “It’s my errand, really,” she admits quietly. “I was concerned for Lenta and was hoping to find out if she was alright.”
Serenelda looks at Varanis. She is smiling but her eyes are sharp “You have not seen her?”
“If I had, I wouldn’t be asking,” Varanis points out. “I haven’t seen her since Earth Season and when I encountered her mother at House Oranaeo, it was pretty clear that she is still very angry.”
“She blames you for her leaving, I guess.” Serenelda looks at Varanis “She disappeared on first day of Harmony week of Sea Season.”
“What?!” In her surprise, Varanis is louder than she intended.
“And we kind of suspect she was heading for Sartar.” She looks at her head tilted sideways.
Varanis starts muttering about foolish children. “Sartar? Not alone, I hope.”
She shrugs. “We do not know really. But it seems she is not the only young person gone missing.”
Varanis arches a brow. “More?”
Serenelda looks at her glass and the wine in it. “After she disappeared enquiries were made. Apparently, she agreed with views like ones you just spoke of. And talked of those quite often during the Dark Season. And gathered listeners…”
Varanis looks startled.
“I heard plenty of young men almost drowned in those green eyes that flashed of conviction and justice of a noble cause.” She looks at Varanis. “Quite ardent in her words, she was. So I heard.”
“But where did they go?” Now the Vingan looks concerned. “There was no sign of them in Boldhome.”
She shrugs. “Kesten said Granny told him not to pursue that question.”
“I see. Thank you.”
“That little Sartarite appeared to be… upset?” She says gaugingly?
Varanis shrugs. “She objected to being told to tie the peace knot on her sword.”
Serenelda raises an eyebrow. “Then why did she tie a knot on one of the swords. I mean, if she simply told she will not draw one she would have been let in?”
“I’m afraid I don’t always understand the inner workings of the Humakti,” Varanis replies. “She gets prickly.”
“Our gate warden is obnoxiously suspicious, but that is his job.” She smiles a bit. “You can tell her I am sorry she was not let in if that helps unruffle her feathers.”
“I will tell her so.”
“Thank you. I would hate if she thought it was my doing. And thank her for those treats – I have not sampled them yet but I will.” She puts her finger on her chin. “And I’ll make sure dear Kesten will read her tablet as soon as he comes back too.”
Varanis smiles warmly. “You are very kind, Lady Serenelda.”
She squeezes Varanis’ arm lightly and disappears to the crowd.
The normal flow of the party has largely returned.
Varanis watches her go, then seeks out another cup of wine. This one, she sips slowly. She can see that she is a center of attention; however, like a current, another nexus is forming. Heads are turning. Whispered comments are said. Varanis glances about, trying to see what has drawn attention.7Pass Battle and Scan
There is a blonde woman at other end of the room. With a flashing smile and slightly outlandish clothing. To Varanis it looks like something the westerners could wear. But the lady is most likely an Esrolian noblewoman.
The Vingan watches quietly, taking the time to get a sense of things.
The woman is greeted by people she meets. Others look at her. To be fair she is worth another look. Not quite as tall as Varanis, but well formed and voluptuous. And even though her jacket covers her upper body her skirt reveals hints of her knee as she sashays through the floor.8Fail Listen, Special Fertility
The Vingan’s gaze heats, but she does not approach. She watches almost like an alynx tracking prey.
It is weird. It is like a vortex around her – some people get sucked into a current towards her, some roll away like pieces of flotsam in the tide. And she is beautiful. Her smile is enchanting and has devastating effect on men – and some women, around her.
Varanis sips at her wine, smiling speculatively.
Slowly the woman approaches, wreaking havoc on onlookers. The host greets her politely and friendly, but for some reason other matrons do not gravitate toward her.
Varanis watches her approach over the rim of her cup.
Her makeup is impeccable. Her smile is devastating. Around her eyes there are faint traces of wrinkles, not quite hidden by the kohl.
Standing a little taller, lifting her chin a little higher, Varanis continues to watch the woman’s progress. If she were an alynx, her tail would be swishing side to side.
“Well, well, well, what do we have here” she asks when reaching the side of the hall with Varanis. Her voice is low and deep, like a purr of an alynx.
There’s an arched brow and a tilt of the head. “Varanis Saiciae. And you are?”
She looks at her with appraising look. “A long time since I have heard that question.” Then she flashes a smile with row of perfect teeth. “But I guess I have been a bit absent for couple of seasons.”
“As have I,” Varanis admits.
She comes closer. The foreign cloth covering her, but not really hiding anything that is underneath . “Varanis… Saiciae…” Her perfume is heavy yet cut with something refreshing and fresh and totally unfamiliar. Her voice is like a promise. “The Lightbringer? One who brought Kallyr back?”
Varanis blushes a little. “I was one of several.”
She is a bit closer than is customary among strangers. Her smile is warm. “In Nochet again?” her question runs through Varanis’ spine.
Varanis arches an eyebrow. “You still haven’t told me who you are,” she says instead of answering the question.9Not obsessed. Not paranoid. That’s not Garin wearing some kind of illusion is it?!
“Oh? How absentminded of me… Almost rude one could say.” She answers with that low, voluptuous voice. “I am Elanka. Grandmother Merelt if you want to be horribly formal.” Her voice suggests that no one would wish to do anything like that.
Varanis jerks back in shock. She takes a step away, creating space between them.
“Why, why, why. I am not going to eat you, little redcap.” that alynx-like voice… Full of promise – or is it menace.
“Stay away from me and mine, Merelt,” Varanis hisses quietly. “I know what you did and one day I’ll find a way to prove it.”
“Are you accusing me of something, little birdie?” Her eyes bore into the Vingan. “Is there something I have done to you.”
“You know what I speak of. You and your brother…” Varanis glares.
“You do not know what you speak of little birdie.” She tilts her head “I know you persuaded that fool Vahnfahr to tattle on Garin. But he should not have fought inside the city walls that day. So the Queen meted out justice.”
“Out of respect to our host, my Grandmother, and my Prince, I’ll walk away now.” Varanis turns on her heel and stalks away, heading in the direction of the food table.
“I suppose the war in Sartar is imminent now, when our hero is here and her tame sparrow in Sartar… ” She throws as a parting dart. Varanis can hear laughter behind her back.
Varanis circulates a little more, so that it doesn’t look like she’s leaving because of Elanka. She talks to a number of matrons, using exquisite courtesy to mask the roiling anger within her. Before too long, she makes her excuses to Lady Norinel and departs. Though she’d give anything to run the rooftops right now, she slips into the palanquin instead and directs them to take the quick route home.
Lady Norinel holds her hands for a bit longer than customary and mutters something inaudible about Irillo.