Xenofos — But This Is Not The End Of The Trail
????, Earth Season
Late Earth season On the trail between Corflu and house of Lord Raus. [[[s02:session-18|Session 18]]]
On the trail up Zola Fel valley Xenofos’ cithara remains obstinately out of tune. Unlike sometimes his singing carries the tune and he routinely remembers the words. Rather sombre repertoire of drinking songs for dead comrades, laments for lost heroes and unhappy lovesongs are heard partly on the road, partly in the camps.
Show spoilers and fluff
On ship, four couple of last days Xenofos was not quite avoiding Berra. But perhaps kept a bit more distance. Later, in Prax, it turns out to be surprisingly easy not to talk to Berra too much. Without being rude about it, she is making it easy. At night, her bed-roll tends to go down on the side of Followed that does not have zebras on it. In the day time she often scouts off on foot or walks with the Praxians or lies on the back of Billy as he stamps his way through the landscape and lets her hitch a ride while she looks up at the sky dome.
She is not being rude about it, and is a pleasant companion when she does talk. She seems to take pleasure in his company, even. But, for certain, she is doing it on purpose. She makes sure she takes a round of the campsite before she settles for the night.1 Insight: Someone who could read people over time would say that she is trying to take care of him by not being too much in evidence. A wall of snoring bison is a very solid thing.
Xenofos is not avoiding discussions and seems to enjoy them when they happen. His cithara is still out of tune. His singing – luckily – is in tune, but choice of songs rather sombre. Lost comrades, dead heroes, unhappy lovers. As days goes by they don’t get any merrier.
After the second day, Berra asks, “Did Varanis mean anything by asking you … she sort of told you not to play Dormal’s Wife. Did I miss something?” Guard roster consists of her sitting on a rock, trying not to meditate out of boredom.
“I honestly don’t know. It is quite popular on the quayside taverns, but it is a song of wife missing a husband, a woman’s song if you will. So there is that.”
Berra nods. Silence. Sunset.
“But she did later give me some unpleasant truths to ponder.” He notes and disturbs the silence with tapping of the instrument.
“Eaauhh?” Sartarite noise of inquiry. Some might call it barbaric, others ill-educated.
“I still don’t know quite what to make of it.”2 Xenofos failed the Truth so he is avoiding the point
“Mm?” Berra offers over her water skin.
“Logically she is right, but matter is a bit diffuse… let me rephrase that, like a situation in a battle where there are several options, each having good and bad points and no clear right answer, nor indeed a clear question.”
“That’s sword-path stuff right there. Choose one. Do it. If you’re wrong, you’re not more wrong than if you were stopping to think and died without giving orders. And if you’re right, you’re right.” Berra unplugs her water skin with a faint pop of Air taking the first sip, and has a drink.
“I am not the one who pays for mistakes if I make mistake and worst happens. “
“Neither am I, but I still have to be in command. If you don’t know how you’ll make the decision, you’ve got two choices – go straight forward, because you’ve got an enemy who deserves it, or throw dice now for what you should do, because then you can start practicing in your head.” Berra puts the plug back into her water and offers it over again.
He accepts the skin and takes a sip, replacing the plug afterwards. “I don’t have a clear enemy, just phantom of a one. “
“Then you want to do the aggressive bit. As soon as someone threatens a thing you want to hold, go for them. Hard. Make sure they know you are not to be messed with and you’re holding that point.” Berra gives a slow look around the near-empty horizon.
He drums the strings of the cithara without seeking a melody. “No targets in my sights. Just a way of denying the phantom knowledge of my weakness. If there is a phantom out there.”
“The other way to deal with it is to reinforce the weak part. Which you should be doing anyhow.” Berra crosses her legs, feet resting comfortably on her thighs. She drops her eyes from the horizon to her hobnails and concentrates on them instead.
Sturdy, short-headed bronze spikes are embedded in the leather, in no particular pattern, save that under the centre of each foot there is a neat set of staples that might have some purpose in leathercraft or religion.
“Weak part is strong in itself, weakness is my unwillingness to tolerate losses. So someone could attempt to manipulate me by threatening that.”
“Yeah. Go for them hard, or learn what loss is. All things you could lose will pass anyhow.” Berra seems unworried by that, but rubs the dust off one of her spikes and grimaces at it in annoyance.
He nods “I must think about that.”
“I am too aware of how fragile everything is anyway.”
“Look at that. It had a secret void in, and it’s bending. That’s annoying.” Berra gives Xenofos an irritated look, and then a shrug. “All fragile, but you don’t know until you’ve worn it for a while if it’ll break. Don’t fear what doesn’t happen. Truth is. All else is lies and worries.”
“You think I am worrying too far ahead?”
“Yes.” The answer gets left there, casually, and Berra opens her water skin to dip a finger into it and drop water onto the stud she has identified. “It’ll have to come out, and I’ll put a new one in. Otherwise it’s going to bend and tear the sole.”
He looks at her for a while. “You have been avoiding me a bit?”
Her ear has a little twist in the cartilage at the back, like someone cut it, but without a scar.
“Huh?” She looks up and then nods. “Yeah.” Back to examining the sole, only this time it might be to avoid eye contact. “I’ve found it’s easier not to think about people I want to sleep with if I’m not seeing them so much.” What a shade of pink that is.
Berra shrugs, and looks up at the dimming landscape as Yelm starts to fade away, bloodied. “I don’t want to make things hard for you.” It takes a moment before she realises what she has said. “Um.”
That shade on Xenofos’ face is surely just reflection of Yelms last rays.
“I… uh, I meant it can be difficult.” She is looking out at the horizon. Very carefully.
“I think I understood first time, little cousin. I did not expect to hear that reasoning though.” He seems quite interested in the landscape too.3Mineral lore: yep, those are rocks.hard rocks…
Berra shrugs. “Dunno what else to say.”
“Not me either. Not quite.” He looks a bit pale now.
“It gets better eventually. I know that. But not for a while.” Already she sounds more matter-of-fact, moving on from the moment.
“She gave me phantom fears to ponder, you blurt out truths of quite other nature.” He looks at her with a weak grin “At least I will not be bored on this trek in the desert.”
Berra grins up at Xenofos. “I know how boredom gets. At least for me. Have you ever been climbing?”
“Never if I can help it. Wind children are made for eyries, thats what they have wings for.”
“Well, we should do it for not-being-bored sometime. But it’s dark now, so I got to send you away. Distractions and all.” She settles down onto her rock, looking out at the grey, colour-draining landscape.
“Good night, Berra.”
“Night.” Her voice is light. Berra seems perfectly unaffected now by the last few minutes, and as the cloak of darkness falls, so she shrugs on professionalism and gets on with being on watch.
Same cannot be said of Xenofos but dusk hides his flustered expression.