Water Way to Go

S02 — Session 12

1626, Earth Season, Stasis Week


Earth Season, Stasis Week, Wildday to Godday Eve


Dramatis Personae

PC

Berra
Irillo
Mellia
Nala
Varanis

NPC

Some guards who could swim
Some guards who did not float
Serzeen Saiciae (deceased)
A fisherman who could swim very well
Some bubbles where Xenofos was
Some sea folk
Some oyster divers
No black-feathered pirates at all
Kesten Hulta
Some other Hultas
A chorus of Priests, Priestesses, and seagulls

Events

This week, we are pleased to welcome back Doktor Forrest Oldman, noted expert on Xenofos, as our guest lecturer. [[His commentary will be denoted thus.]]

[[Guten Abend meine Frauen und Herren.]]

[[With Herr Dr Tomm still absent we shall continue with alternative material also on this week.]]

[[First we have an interesting text tangentially related to the cycle as the corpus should be called.]]

‘In waves billowing under the Red Moon you called Babeester a final time
with axe in hand challenged cruel fate’

[[Now this cannot refer to Varanis nor Berra, we are left to wonder who the protagonist or the poet is. Only the context in same clay tablets ties it to other material. It might refer to Lenta Hulta who is otherwise rather obscure figure in these poems.]]

[[That doublet may get extra illumination from Tuulen tytön runo:]]

Iku-Turso Äijön poika päätä nosti
kaatoi kauniin venosen, purtta punaista puraisi
veteen vieri Tuulen tyttö, alle aaltojen aleni
päästä heitti hyvän hytyrän, kiskoi kypärän kuparisen
sotkana sousi pinnalle, jalo nousi joutsenona
sorsana jälleen sukelsi,
veti vainaan vedestä, kirvesneidon kiskoeli

[[Form is hard to translate. Reference is made to a maritime monster who breaks the boat and through alliterative lines we are told how she – not the monster – the heroine surfaces only to dive again after someone dead and an axemaiden. A remarkable double feat of aquatic prowess indeed.]]

[[Now Dr.Tomm insists that economic material should be included in the syllabus. I find the idea quite far fetched to be honest. And some of these so called @@Accounts@@ do defy categorization even as ciphered economic notes.]]

Credit:
lift from oyster reef twice
Debit:
5 silver
innumerable tears vanishing in the rain.
Saldo1Lit: balance:
A heart broken with grief

[[Romantic drivel, I say. Speaking of which, we need to return to matter handling Mellia.]]

Whiteveiled maiden sat on the high throne of her house
quietly heard she accusers agenda
With sweet plead set to motion light breeze and wind northern
to ask for the wisdom of the Windlord

[[Now although poet is seeking to emulate the heroic forms it is obvious from the use of alliteration and kennings that writer has had Heortling, perhaps Sartarite influence polluting original Esrolian expression. This might be just a matter of chance in surviving material – or it might mean some cultural interaction.]]

[[Do note references to the Wind. In third age Esrolia this would denote rebellion, disorder. Bad things. Yet innocent – as alluded by her veil – Mellia is referenced as enlisting their help.]]

[[How do we know it is Mellia? That is an excellent question Fräulein. Why don’t you all examine this question in the essays you leave to prof. Garin.]]

[[Now BerraJaransdottirsagaHumakti is curiously intertwined with other parts of the cycle. I think the English tradition does not do the original justice and since I have heard not everybody in this class is fully fluent in MiddleEsrolian we shall use the Hungarian translation. I find that the best reflection of the original in form and content.]]

Miekkasille mieli mitaton, tappotöihin tapin mittainen
Hietikolle haastoi Hultaa, vilppiin valitti vikapääksi
Kuuli kumman kertomuksen, syytöksen synkän salissa
Vikapää Varanis vilkas, noutaja neitseen nuoren
Uskonut urosta ei tuonen tuoja,
viattomaksi vannoi Varaniksen vastoin valoja palkkalaisten.

[[Now curious mixture of alliterations and kennings is an extract from wider saga of that short sworsdwoman Berra. Allusions to this are made quite mercilessly. Now since that boy in backbench says you cannot Finnish – I clearly said Finnish – in brief it says the short protagonist wished to kill and challenged a Hulta, heard a weird accusation against abducting Varanis, which she did not believe and was ready to swear on her innocence over witness of paid people. Much is lost when told in younger languages, but that would be the gist of it. Most things are of course said twice since these were performed in call and response format.]]

[[I am not quite sure what to make of NalaTiwrSaga excerpt that Prof Garin so kindly suggested. It continues aquatic themes – or perhaps spidery?]]

Nets she bound, avoided clutches of the hungry waters
Asked with anger after his rider, wandered widely within the delta
sought shelter succor and sustenance the Spiritcaller
with ferryman silent crossed the straits.

[[Second essay on gender changes and possible death references in this poem. And whatever prof. Garin wishes to see you explore. I wish you success on your continued literary journey, dear students.]]

[[Over to you Prof. Garin.]]

[‘As my honoured friend says, those two essays. And if you want to impress me – and who does not – some speculation on why there is no Death of Xenofos.‘]


The session began with Nala, Irillo, Xenofos, and Varanis in the water, along with the fisherman, Zinat, Serzeen, and six Saiciae household guards. A storm raged around them, churning up the water and reducing visibility drastically. The fisherman made himself scarce rather quickly, apparently being a strong swimmer, but possibly being eaten by what had destroyed the boat. Everyone else splashed and spluttered. Nala managed to pull herself to the surface and take advantage of the floating debris. She used the nets and ropes to toss lines to as many of the guards as she could. Irillo, using his traded spell, summoned an air elemental who created a vortex, which swept him into it. The trader found himself spinning in circles, but able to breathe. Varanis, on the other hand, sank. She resurfaced without her helmet moments later. Throughout all of this, there was a piercing, endless scream that suddenly ended in a shout to Babeester Gor that was cut off as Serzeen was pulled under the water.

Varanis dove in pursuit, using River Eyes to help her see under the water. She was able to make out a glint of bronze through the churned up water and swam desperately to it. She found Serzeen, but couldn’t pull the sinking Babeester Gor to the water’s surface. She summoned an air elemental and with some effort managed to get to a point where the air elemental could help them both reach the surface. She managed to get entangled in the Rune Lady’s hair, which made swimming more difficult and interesting. On reaching the surface, Varanis realised that Serzeen was dead, but she refused to let go of the body.

Nala and Zinat made their way eastward, finding land somewhere. Varanis, Serzeen’s corpse, and three guards were rescued by some sort of merfolk, whom Varanis could not understand. They were left on a sandbar somewhere off to the west. Serzeen had been mutilated by whatever it was that attacked her, which had ripped off her right leg at the hip. Irillo was swept to the north where he found himself washed up on a beach. There was no sign of Xenofos.

On the beach, Irillo set a warding and slept overnight. In the morning he found himself confronted by a group of oyster gatherers who were convinced he was there to steal their stocks. It took a bit of persuading, but he managed to convince them that he was not a thief and that it would be to their benefit to assist him. They loaded him into a small boat and set out for Nochet. En route, they spotted Varanis and the stranded guards. The boat was too small to take more than one and as soon as the Vingan realised who was approaching she shouted for Irillo to take Serzeen’s body to get her to the Great Hospital. There was some difficulty loading her into the boat, but they got her there and made for the shore.

Meanwhile, back in Nochet, Berra and Mellia met up at House Saiciae. There was a lot of dashing about by guards, and some worrying. Berra, who was in the middle of moving out to the Battalion, paused to ask Mellia what the problem was and if she should worry. While they were finding that out, a message was sent to Mellia to say that there was someone from another house come calling, Grandmother did not wish to speak to them, and Mellia should handle it. Kirse’s only words of wisdom were, ‘do not mess up’. Berra went with Mellia.

There were six guards, in full war panoply, to accompany Lord Kesten Hulta. He delivered an ultimatum, demanding of the house of Saiciae that Varanis return Lenta Hulta by noon tomorrow, or there would be severe consequences. Questioned by Berra and Mellia, Kesten said that it was the Truth that people had seen Lenta and Varanis leaving together.

Mellia spoke with her mother to report what was going on, with Berra adding the parts that were of military interest, and saying that if they had not found them within two hours before noon, they should definitely let Grandmother know, but she advised it should be done then. Mellia suggested Kirse take this up.

Kirse decreed that Mellia needed to deal with it herself, as an adult who was old enough to speak to Grandmother. Grandmother was of the opinion that Hulta were bluffing, but it was a good bluff. She consulted with the Wyter and learned that Serzeen was dead, which greatly displeased her. Grandmother tried to hire Berra again and it briefly got awkward when Berra refused to take her money for something she would do for her friend. In the end, Berra agreed to be hired by Mellia for a bolg, refusing the clack from House Saiciae directly. She did not have change, so ended up owing Mellia a bolg; Mellia ended up with a bag of Lunars that Grandmother had given her to hire someone.

Mellia went off to ask Venlar to do her a great favour and divine where Varanis might be. Venlar, well aware of his own limitations, begged his father to2Venlar has certain problems with his spirit, making this sort of thing very difficult.. Silor told him he should learn to do it himself, a clear admonishment, but agreed to question Orlanth. The answer he delivered to Mellia after she accompanied him to the Temple was that Varanis was alive, well, and bound by Magasta.

After Irillo made it to shore, he tried talking to Tiwr to get help carrying Serzeen’s body to the Great Hospital. Tiwr was frantic over Nala’s absence and struck out into the water to search for her, leaving Irillo to use Varanis’ abandoned palanquin. He managed to get Serzeen to the hospital, take care of his debts with the oyster catchers, and send another boat back for Varanis and the remaining three guards, all in remarkably quick time. He was on shore when Varanis arrived and she headed at a run for the palazzo, with the beleaguered Irillo and damp guards trying to keep up.

Meanwhile, Berra went to the Temple of Babeester Gor to tell them about Serzeen and to try to get help finding out what had happened. They accepted her information, but stone-walled her, and she left after hinting she would pay the bill for any Divination. She then returned briefly to the House of Saiciae to let Kirse know that, and then went to the Temple of Humakt to try to find Kesten and talk about her duties there.

At the palazzo, Mellia, Irillo, and Varanis compared notes and caught each other up. Varanis and Irillo headed to House Hulta to try to speak with Kesten. They were turned away, repeatedly. Irillo managed to send in a message which he hoped would reach Kesten, saying he was deceived, but there was no answer and Varanis swiftly became impatient and headed off to the Temple of Humakt. There they were permitted to leave messages for Berra and Kesten, but nothing more.


“Let’s be merciful this once.” – Berra
“Who are you?” – GM

“I’m saying bad words.” – Varanis
“Don’t waste your air.” – Berra

“Has the kitten eaten your microphone again?” – Berra
“That furry mic cover…” – Berra

“While we wait for Irillo, you could do something with Berra or Mellia” – Varanis
“Like kill us?” – Berra
“SURE!” – Berra

“I want a CON roll to not be sick from Irillo.” – Berra
“I mean, I want him to win this one.” – Berra

“Waves should only happen when wolves jump into baths.” – Nala
“Or Rajars.” – GM

“How is your sea-speech?” – GM
“My stormspeech is good.” – Varanis
@@*@@speaks in Finnish@@*@@ – GM

“Grandma can decide if she wants to invest in Serzeen, and grandma had BETTER invest in Serzeen.” – Varanis

“I’m making her as comfortable as a dead woman can be.” – Varanis
@@*@@splutter@@*@@ – Irillo
“Irillo can’t breathe properly right now, so I’ll do the expression for him.” – Berra

“Just as a matter of interest, do I land?” – Irillo

“You meet your mother in the hall. She has words of wisdom. ‘Don’t Mess Up.'” – GM

“How many, for one messenger?” – Berra
“Six. Full war panoply.” – GM
“At the front of them is Kesten Hulta.” – GM

“These are words of house Hulta to house Saiciae. Varanis Saiciae must return Lenta Hulta before noon on Godday or the consequences will be of the most severe order.” – Kesten
“Berra gives a tiny smile, nothing more, and then she stares.” – Berra

“So, I still like him a lot more than most of his house, but he’s a bit up himself.” – Berra

“Can’t Kesten help you track Lenta? That blood spell?” – Varanis
“Kesten stormed out.” – Mellia

“This gets worse.” – Mellia
“Of course it does.” – Grandmother

“They’re bluffing.” – Grandmother
“They came with 6 warriors in war panoply.” – Berra
“A good bluff…” – Grandmother

“Venlar, my darling, I need to ask a very large favour…” – Mellia

“He’s using big words at us. HELP!” – Berra the Fisherman
“Future tense. JOB HIM!” – Berra the Fisherman

“You shouldn’t be with me right now. There’s a sartarite phrase… ‘fuckton of trouble’. I’m going to be causing it.” – Berra
“Nevertheless there are forms to obey. Is this sufficient as a retainer for what you would do anyhow?” – Grandmother holds up a clack
“… No.” – Berra

“Mellia, I think I should dash out to where the party was, while you talk to Venlar. I’ll see when people left.” – Berra

“Sounds good, do you want the rest of the clacks to loosen tongues?” – Mellia
“The rest of the clacks are lunars.” – GM/Grandmother

“Smaller words, Irillo.” – Varanis
“Berra would be able to talk to these people.” – Berra

“That’s a 00. I think I’ve done my back.” – Irillo fails to lift Serzeen’s body

“NALA, OR DIE!” – Tiwr

“They don’t want to associate with one of the great houses if they can help it.” – Irillo
“I know the feeling.” – Berra

“I’ll take a run up to the Babeester Gor temple.” – Berra

“Alive and well, and bound by Magasta.” – Divination via Silor

“I think Grandmother might prefer a note to seeing Mellia again.” – Mellia

“And who are you?” – Hulta Guard
“I’m-” – Varanis
“I’m Irillo Saiciae, and I come as herald to the most magnificent lady Varanis Saiciae!” – Irillo

“Tell that hussy Varanis to get off my gate unless she brings my daughter back.” – message from Lady Hulta

@@*@@holds up hand to camera@@*@@ – GM
“You are talking to a closed gate.” – GM

“Tell them that if they don’t come to help us, they’ll be responsible for what happens to Lenta.” – Varanis
“Telling them anything is a little difficult right now.” – Irillo

“Did you take your own horse?” – GM
“Yes, I took Manasa.” – Varanis
“…Apparently I’m not riding my own horse to the Temple.” – Varanis

“So, there’s a very grumpy Humakti…” – GM
“Just one?” – Irillo

“Maybe I should drown Xenofos.” – GM
“Clutching poetry.” – GM

“Oh, indeed, I am assuming there is an attempt to muzzle truth in service of politics. Which isn’t a bad thing, per se, but it’s inconvenient right now.” – Irillo

Spoilers in the footnotes – Berra, you may not want to read them.

When Varanis is back at House Saiciae, she finds herself with several people wanting explanations. She asks for a cup of watered wine and attempts to lay it all out, starting with the confrontation with Garin at House Oreanao.

“I’ve been looking for Garin Merelt – I think he’s behind the duel that maimed the Vahnfar. I’ve been looking for Garin for a while but until the party, I hadn’t seen him in several days. And suddenly he was there. I confronted him and he informed me that he always got his way, sooner or later. He left, but not before he dropped Lenta’s hankie.”

She accepts the wine from a servant and takes a sip before continuing. “I tried to pursue, but couldn’t catch him. I grabbed Irillo and Xenofos to help me. When we couldn’t find him, we headed home to get help, leaving my palanquin behind. At the palazzo, we found Nala and Serzeen and explained what had happened. Serzeen collected a half dozen guards, while Nala tried to get help from House Hulta. They didn’t seem to believe her that Lenta was in trouble.”

The Vingan takes a deep breath, clearly trying to order her thoughts. “We went back to the party, using Zinat to try to track Lenta. The trail led us to the water, where we found my palanquin abandoned. In the distance, we saw a boat. I don’t remember how I knew it was the one we needed, but I was certain of it. Irillo found us a fishing boat and its captain and we set out in pursuit. The unicorn had to stay on shore. A storm was brewing and it made the chase difficult. When we were far from shore, but still too far from the other vessel a…” The story falters. She inhales and exhales slowly. “A giant watery hand capsized the boat. Crushed it, really. We went under. I’m not entirely clear on what happened next. I had to take off my helmet and let it sink. I couldn’t swim with it. When I made it to the surface I could hear Serzeen. She was screaming.”

Varanis looks pale now. “I heard her call for her Goddess, but it was cut off.” She winces at her own choice of words. “I dove for her. There’s a spell I learned from… I learned in Blue Tree that helps me see under the water. It helped a little.” Her hands have started to shake. She pauses and waves at the servant hovering near the door. “Go tell the apothecary that I want a cup of her tea. Maybe a pot of it.” As the servant leaves, Varanis puts her hands in her lap and considers her next words.

“The water was murky. But, I saw a glint of bronze and went for it. It was Serzeen. I tried to pull her up, but she was in her armour and sinking. I summoned an air elemental and used it to help us reach the surface. But I wasn’t sure I could get her head above the water. I…” She is shaking visibly now. “I didn’t know what to do. But then someone came to me and swam us to the sandbar and left us there. I tried to ask her to help me find Xenofos, but I couldn’t understand her and she just swam away, leaving us there.” She shudders. “I don’t think I fully understood, until we were on the sandbar, that Serzeen was dead and that… thing… had taken her leg.” She breathes deeply, trying to calm herself, but the shaking doesn’t stop. “I healed the…” She hesitates then restarts. “I healed Serzeen as best I could. But then there was nothing the guards and I could do but wait. The rest, you know, I think.” She looks in Irillo’s direction, as if unsure as to whether or not he is in the right state of mind to continue the tale.

Like the others who went into the water, Varanis is a mess. Her clothes have long since dried, but they bear the evidence of the time spent in salt water and swimming through clouds of blood.

“The fishers probably wanted to cut my throat as I slept, but Lord Issaries warded me from harm. They indicated a place in the marshes where the Black Feathered one may be found. Where fishing vessels vanish. That might be where to look.” Irillo’s tone is brisk, practical, no nonsense.

“Fishers?” Dormal asks.

Irillo says, “Orlanth was kind enough to recall my aid to one of his priests and sent a sylph to carry me to an island. The fishers found me there.” A beat. “Are they still fishers when it’s oysters not fish?”

“I have no idea.”3Failed customs: own Dormal shrugs then adds, “Also what black feathered one?”

“I thought you were chasing a ship that you thought had a possible kidnapper on it?” Dormal asks. “Although if they sent a spirit or elemental after you I suppose they were up to something.”

Irillo replies, “Do you recall as we came south the bandits were terrified of a Black Duck?”

“I remember others picking a fight with some smugglers while we were trying to discreetly make our way south and not tip a distressed patient over the edge into insanity by exposing her to anything upsetting whatsoever. But I kind of had my hands full,” Dormal says sardonically.

“I tried really hard to get them to not make us kill them,” Rajar says in reply.

“Shouldn’t have been talking to them at all, let alone fighting them. But anyway, they were frightened of a black duck.” Dormal looks unimpressed.

“They were hiding something.” Berra shrugs. “But I don’t think the black feather duck is the problem. Much as I’d like to track him down. Not unless he is involved as well. Finding out where Garin Merelt is seems more important. Was he in the boat, does that water route lead to his country estate, and do the wolf pirates come in this close? Those are questions we can deal with.”

The servant arrives with a clay cup full of a steaming earthy-smelling liquid.4Cup number 1. She wraps both hands around it, trying to still her shaking. After a few slow breaths, she raises the cup to her lips and takes a sip. The wine is forgotten as she focuses on her lumiviiva. By the time she is done the first cup, the shivering has mostly stopped. She signals for a second. “I don’t understand why the Hulta are blaming me. I was the one who sent them a message warning that Lenta was in trouble.”

Berra says, “Messages miscarry. Not important until we get to deciding whether that’s on purpose. Can we do what they ask in the time they ask?”

“Why would we, if they’re blaming us?” Dormal raises an eyebrow. “Frankly, why would we even if they weren’t? Are we their keepers?”

“Because someone could be in trouble,” Berra replies flatly.

Dormal points out, “We don’t go running to help people who try to threaten us.”

“She’s a sweet girl and doesn’t deserve the harm Garin will inflict on her.” Varanis says quietly. “He’s doing it to punish me. And I think he’s trying to make me look responsible.”

“And if you go running you will definitely look responsible,” Dormal observes.

Irillo asks, “Is he a trickster? This witness of you being seen leaving today troubles me.”

“She’s an idiot, but she doesn’t deserve harm. And it would be nice to hear Kesten try to apologise. And we should do it.” Berra looks around the room. “I asked about her being seen. The servants were sure, so it could have been an illusion. Or it could have been tired servants.”

Dormal turns to Varanis. “How many more people’s lives are going to be spent so you can run headlong into an obvious trap? Defang the political situation first. Demand to give your account under a truth spell.”

“I tried that. They won’t talk.” Irillo’s voice is quiet.

Varanis says, “I spent a lot of time sitting on a sandbar thinking about all of this. There were rumours that I hurt Vahnfar, but I’m convinced it was Garin and that he started the rumours. There were rumours that I killed Lenta’s brother. We know the truth of that now, as do the Hulta. But someone started those rumours too. And now Lenta has been kidnapped, Garin has hinted that he has her. It looks like he used my palanquin to do it.” There’s a hollow look in her eyes. “I offered to give my account under a Truth spell and was sent away. I went to the Humakti for aid and was sent away. This feels like both a personal attack and a political one designed to harm our House.”

“Then give a statement under truthspell at the Library. And stop following where they lead.” Dormal considers a moment, then adds, “Hm. If the Hulta are cooperating with Garin… perhaps he has a hold on them. But why is he targeting us?”

“I believe it is personal for Garin. But he, or someone else, is using this to discredit Saiciae through me.” The second cup of tea arrives.5Cup number 2. Varanis wraps her fingers around the clay and stares into it. “And if Lenta dies while we wait?”

“How many people died on that ship? And how many more are you willing to spend?” Dormal demands.

Varanis visibly flinches. “Four,” she says softly. “Perhaps five…” She tries to hide her shudder behind a sip of lumiviiva.

“Not you. Her.” Berra nods to Varanis. “No waiting, unless we have to. It’s possible he’s innocent. But the Hulta are annoyed at Varanis.” She ignores the question about deaths. “And possibly ready for war. Your grandmother thinks it’s bluff but a good bluff converts.”

Dormal says, “It is a bluff. A bad one. One message is all it will take to make the Hulta skulk away into the shadows.”

“Nah. This is pride on the line. I know warriors. They’re going to make trouble. Whoever is behind it in that house, Kesten or Lenta’s people, they sent six people in full armour to escort a Lord of War to give a message about consequences. They won’t skulk. They might stab,” the Humakti says matter-of-factly.

“One. Message.” Dormal is insistent.

“Not that sort of message,” Berra says.

“We tried to send a message,” Varanis says impatiently.

Then Berra pauses, staring at Dormal. He shrugs. “It’s a mistake to let Garin choose his battleground and it’s a mistake to rush off towards him with the Hulta still at our backs.”

“We have until noon without the Hulta acting. That’s time to check out his home, and try to find-” Berra breaks off for a massive yawn.

Irillo looks to his cousin. “Can you sneak in and rescue Lenta while we wait, Dormal?”

“Depends on where his home is. And I still haven’t had a chance to Pray.” The weasly man adds, “Might be able to find out who he owes money to though.”

Berra finishes her yawn. “Did the boat head towards his holdings? That’s my big question. If so, I want to look there, but it will take time. And his townhouse.” She is blinking with tiredness.

“He’s not going to kill her and he’s not going to torture her. We have time, as long as we get the Hulta to back off.” Dormal sounds both reasonable and unconcerned.

“Xe… Xenofos…” Varanis stumbles over the name, swallows, and continues, “and I went to his townhouse. It was closed up. The guards across the way said it had been empty for some time. No one seen coming or going.”

Berra looks at Varanis, steadily, and then away. “Should still check it,” she says.

Dormal shrugs. “Well, can’t do that during the day either. So.”

“Nearly dusk. Best time to check for lights.” Berra stands up rather than going to sleep, and shakes out her shoulders. “And finds out where he lives. Elsewhere. Your Grandmother has sent a message to Lord Kesten by now, I think. The official one. But we could have me or Yamia witness what Varanis says. And Aranda. And send that invitation, or try to…” No yawn, but with some effort. “Get it in to him.”

Varanis tosses back the rest of her lumiviiva and glares at Dormal. “Not going to torture her?” She seems to be trailing behind the conversation. “He sent me a poem written in blood about endings. If I’m right, he deliberately maimed a singer so he can no longer sing. And he kidnapped a young woman to get at me. I don’t think he’d be too squeamish to torture her to punish me.” Her voice is rising as she catalogues her accusations against Garin. By the time she’s done, she’s on her feet.

Berra puts her hand out, but oddly it is to Dormal, as if to keep him from replying. “Time for a break,” she says, attention on Varanis. “And food if you haven’t eaten all day. We all need a break.”

Varanis wheels on Berra, eyes narrowed, rage building. She is shaking again. For a moment, she looks like she’s going to say something, then she nods sharply and walks away.

Berra turns to Dormal, and points to the door. “I need a word with you.”

He shrugs and walks through the indicated door. Berra goes with him, and after a few minutes comes back alone. There is no evidence of violence on her.6Irillo must be ill. He didn’t listen at the door.

Rather than eating, or even sending for food, Berra gives Irillo a grimace of a smile, settles down in a corner, and closes her eyes, leaning her head back to use the wall as a pillow. “Wake me in a few minutes,” she says indistinctly.

A short time later, Varanis returns. She’s made some attempt to wash her face, though the faint streak of blood present on her forehead shows that she did it in a rush. She is followed by some servants bearing trays with some kind of soup, and various easy to eat foods, including flat bread, pieces of cheese, and cut up fruit. There is also a wrapped pot, which turns out to have lumiviiva in it. The servants set the food on the table and make themselves scarce, after one hands the Vingan her cup.7Cup number 3. Varanis paces the room, sipping from the tea and scowling.

Berra snores lightly. She has left her helmet where she was before she took Dormal aside.

Varanis turns to Irillo and asks quietly, “What did they say? At the hospital?”

“They’ll see what they can do. It’s all they could. And I’m more use here.”

“I’m sorry. I tried, I really did.” Her eyes look glassy, but her next words are hard. “I will punish him. I will find him and I will kill him for this.”

“Don’t promise to kill him. It all depends. Did the troll work for him? Did he plan that or was it mischance?”

“It seems far too convenient for mischance, Irillo.”

“I agree. But it would be good to know.”

“Eat something? I will if you will.” She indicates the soup. “Want to try some lumiviiva? It helps clear the head and is a good cure for headaches too.”

“I already did. That kebab. I understand I have to if I’m to give Garin his fair trade,” he replies.

Varanis scoops some soup into a bowl for herself, then proceeds to ignore it and drink her lumiviiva instead. “Where’s Dormal?”

“Finding things out, probably,” Irillo says quietly.

When Varanis goes to fill her fourth cup of lumiviiva,8Cup number 4. she looks enquiringly at Irillo. “Do you want some?” The hand holding the pot trembles slightly.

Berra twists her neck into a slightly more comfortable position, and stays asleep.

He takes some soup and sips at it. “Yes please. We’ll get things sorted. And Zeen will be angry she missed it.”

She pours an extra cup of lumiviiva and slides it across to him.

Thunder approves loudly, with the wind rattling and shaking shutters of the room.

Berra wakes. She goes swiftly from sleeping to full wakefulness. “We should call Yamia and Eranda. Any other Humakti too. Get them to watch you swearing to your deeds, so they can say honestly they have.” She stands, breathes deeply, and looks alert.

Marta appears silently and whispers something to Varanis.9“The weasel wanted me to get you sleepdraught. And he is right you must sleep.” The Vingan whirls to face Marta, the temper that was banked is back in full force. “No!”

Not alert to that. Berra blinks, looks to the door, and looks back to Varanis.

Marta, looking stern, continues in low voice.10“But Solaska says you cannot take sleepdraught now, not after lumiviiva. And your spirit will get lost if you don’t sleep.”

Irillo stands, “What?”

Berra steps forward, aiming to put herself by, and maybe in front of, Varanis, but she is looking for problems elsewhere as well, unsure yet what to face.

Varanis ignores them, answering Marta. “I will not. I can’t. There’s no time.”

The stern facade cracks and the servant begins to cry, but Varanis shakes her head again. “I’ll sleep later. When Lenta is safe. When Garin is dealt with. Not now.”

“No time to sleep yet,” Berra tells Marta. “But could you make sure the birds are fine?”

The servant nods, hiding her tears and leaves the chamber. A bit later hot water, towels and basins are brought in.

Varanis looks to Berra and Irillo. “Where is Dormal?” There is ice in the words.

“Not a clue. Went off to do something. Probably blackmail. But I don’t know if it is, so I couldn’t … complicated.” Berra shrugs. “How long have I been asleep?”

Varanis shrugs. “Not long. He tried to get Marta to drug me.” Her scowl is fierce.

Berra considers.11And passes an INT roll. “Well. I think he might be getting permission from Grandmother to do what he said would be putting Hulta back in their box. Probably threatening them with the release of their secret. But seeking him is unimportant. Do we go for the black feather pirate, or Garin’s holdings, or is there anywhere else he might be? And she might be? And do you know what god is hers?” This could well be a deliberate change of subject from Berra. She goes on from one to another with enough firmness that it is hard to break in.

Varanis blinks trying to follow the rapid subject changes. She takes a deep breath, followed by a sip of lumiviiva. Finally, she accepts the redirection. “Ernalda, I think. And given the placement of the palanquin on the shore, I think we should follow the pirate lead. But…” She pauses. “Maybe Eranda could take a unit of troops to their country house to check, just in case I am wrong.” She considers further. “And yes, I’d like every Humakti we can arrange to bear witness to my oath that I did not kidnap, nor seek to have anyone else kidnap, Lenta. Bring any truth speaker we have access to, if necessary.”

Nala rides in at dusk, with Zinat. After she sees to a muddy Tiwr, she is escorted into a room where Berra, Varanis, and Irillo are. There’s hot soup, a pile of towels, and warm wash water. It doesn’t look like anyone has taken particular advantage of the wash water, though some attempt has been made to consume soup. Nala’s armour looks fresh as a daisy. Nala looks like Nala, but with more mud.

Berra gives Nala a startled look, and then a rather shaken, relieved smile with a touch of lip wobble.

“You’re alive. That’s good. That’s so very good. Did you see Xenofos anywhere?” Varanis’ words are warm, even though she is obviously on edge. Twitchy. Her hands shake as she sips at a hot drink.

The Praxian woman says, “No, I didn’t, at any point, see Xenofos. Huljeem May have been angry at him.” She looks at Berra, “Sorry I’m late. Shall we go to temple?”

Berra blinks. “Not just yet. The Hulta house are angry that Lenta has gone. We need to find her. Then. And then probably a few days before any duelling’s over. But if you want to leave after that and I’ll try to catch you, I won’t mind. You don’t have to wait. I know you want to get away. I don’t want to stop you.”

Nala says, “I promised Mellia I’d go find the Blue Tree Clan, or at least news of them, after we went to temple today.”

“What? Huljeem may be angry at him? What does that have to do with anything? Why would he be angry with Xenofos?” The warmth is gone. Varanis’ eyes flash in anger. “What does any of that have to do with what just happened to us?”

Varanis takes a deep breath. “Nala, you’ve been missing for hours. What happened to you? How did you survive and find your way back? Are you alright? Not everyone is. Serzeen and three of the guards are dead. Xenofos… we don’t know where he is. We need to sort this out before we can deal with anything else.”

“We can’t go out in this,” Berra says to Irillo. “Not on the sea. So we should go out on land. Do you know where his holdings are? Who would?” She leaves Nala and Varanis alone for the moment.

“The Library probably…. I got some details… all save the country estate has been sold.” The trader is unusually disinterested.

“If they don’t own the house here, then that makes it easier. Can we reach it overnight? How far?” Berra compresses another yawn, and ignores it.

“Well… their Palazzo is said to be up for sale. We could check that,” suggests Irillo matter-of-factly.

Berra says, “It’s dark enough we could look in and see lights. They MIGHT be there. And we should look because it would be bloody stupid to trek out in this if we don’t have to.”

“Or ask Dormal to have a little look around,” Irillo suggests.

Berra gives Irillo a look of patience… no, cold. One of the other attributes of Darkness. She gives him a cold look.

“Huljeem,” begins Nala, and her eyes go a bit soft, believe it or not, “is First Ancestor of Greyrock Fall and,” she hesitates with the Tradetalk, “a Saint? Martyr? Of the goddess of Teeth and Salt. Xenofos showed him great disrespect recently.”

She shrugs, as if facing off death was a normal day. Which, for a Praxian, it might be. “When you dove underwater again ignoring the floats, I decided to strike out for shore. I took off my armour, put it on a few planks, and swam with Zinat. Turns out swimming in armour is easier than swimming in wet furs. Gran threw me in the Zola Fel in furs to help train me. I got somewhat stranded off the coast of a…marsh? Swamp? And then found Tiwr, poor love. Then we hitched a ride with a duck, and rode back. I’m sorry about Serzeen. Do you want me to see if she is here, and what her wishes are?” As an afterthought, she adds, “Though Saiciae could do it as well.”

“Serzeen is at the Great Hospital.” Varanis replies to the last, as it is the easiest part of what Nala said to address. “I couldn’t just leave her, Nala. I had to go looking.”

The wind is howling like it sometimes does on evil nights in Sartar or Prax, when the Wild Hunt is on.

Nala nods non-judgmentally. “I couldn’t see where you’d gone. Bastard visibility,” she says, reverting to army Tradetalk.

Berra turns back from Irillo to listen to the pair.

Nala starts shucking her armour, wets a cloth with warm water, and starts rubbing a loyal but tired and muddy Zinat down. After a minute, she addresses Varanis again. “Have you told the temple? It might remove your Garin problem. Though the duck told me the sea troll has been terrorising crab… crabbermen?” She blinks long and slow, the only sign of fatigue she will show. “Doesn’t mean Garin isn’t teamed with it.”

Berra says, “I thought of a way we might get a message to Lord Kesten.”

Varanis has been pacing. Every now and then she looks to the door and then looks away again quickly. “I should send a message to the Temple,” she says by way of agreement with Nala. She pauses in her pacing when Berra speaks. “What do you suggest, Berra?”

The Humakti replies, “Rillo is still in hospital, and I recall they are closely related. Him and Lenta, I mean. So if they are not guarding him, and even if they are, he could get a message in, and he’s already sort of in, so it should get to who he sends it to.”

Mellia wanders in looking like she just got up from a nap. “I am very glad everyone is back. Varanis, did anyone tell you about Lord Kesten Hulta?”

Berra looks at Mellia and winces slightly. There is a blast of thunder.

Varanis wheels to face Mellia, startled by her entrance. “Kesten. Yes, I know about Kesten. I’ve been trying to get a message through. Garin has kidnapped Lenta. I tried to tell the Hulta last night, the night before…? I tried to tell them. They wouldn’t listen.” Varanis is a mess. She spent the night on a sandbar after swimming through salt water and blood. She’s made an attempt to wash her face, but the usually fastidious Vingan is not herself today. Her movements are agitated and when she’s finished speaking, she falls back to pacing.

“Mellia is the person Lord Kesten came to,” Berra says after a moment. “So if there is an official message, she’s harder to turn away.”

Varanis nods. “That makes sense. Mellia, can you try to get a message through for us? If we are to save Lenta, it would help to have her family… well, helping us instead of threatening us.”

“I can try,” Mellia says, “but no promises. Kesten’s being very stubborn right now. What’s the message? Just that Garin kidnapped Lenta?”

“He’s dangerous and we are trying to get her back. But it would really help if Kesten could aid us. We need to figure out where Garin has taken her.” She takes a deep breath. “I will bind myself with whatever oath he deems necessary. I didn’t do this, but it is my fault. I didn’t expect Garin to take his anger at me out on others.”

The Vingan pauses and stares past Mellia’s shoulder at the door.12Lenta nods approvingly from the doorway. Varanis blinks. No. She is not there. It is Xenofos, soaking wet, pale and quiet. Varanis blinks again. With visible effort, she tears her gaze away and stalks to the table where she pour a cup of lumiviiva.13Cup number 5.

Mellia nods. “Anyone else have a message for the Hulta? Otherwise I will go right now.”

“Before you go, let’s have the Humakti,” Berra says, and looks to Varanis.14No. Xenofos is not there. And Berra is saying something. Are you awake? “So that people he believes have honour will swear to this. Then we can send someone with Mellia.” She gives the healer a glance. “I don’t know if I’m the best guard to take with you but …” Then she looks back to Varanis. “I keep needing to be in two places.”

“I think any six guards will do,” says Mellia.

Berra nods. “Six is good.”

“Wait! Mellia, if you have time, can you check on my servant, Marta? Or send someone to check on her. She’s acting very strangely. Maybe the news of Serzeen…” Varanis glances over at Irillo. “Well, she’s not herself. She was in tears a little while ago.”

Nala says, “We should all get a good night’s sleep if we are to check for Lenta in the morning. I arranged for boats.”

“Sleep?! We can’t sleep. We have to find them.” Varanis wheels on the Praxian woman in disbelief. “There’s no time.”

Wind wrenches open one of the shutters and rattles it with awful racket.

“I will check on Marta,” Mellia promises. “I had better get to House Hulta before the rain starts.”

“We can check his house in town, and we can go by land, but sea travel? No. So where?” Berra takes a quick look out, maybe to see where any Humakti might be.

Irillo says, “I can show you. I looked at it, with a view to valuing it.”

“Fine. Let’s go to the townhouse.” Varanis drains her cup and sets it on the table carefully. She makes for the door.

Nala says, “Tomorrow morning. We are meeting the ducks on the docks. She is in a village apparently frequently by a black feather duck, who has been using the sea troll to trash anything that gets close. So Garin is either in cahoots or in debt to the duck.”

Irillo absently says, “Fathinating.”

Berra is halfway out after Varanis when she hears Nala, and calls out instead, “Varena! Did you hear that?” and lets her voice have the legs. Maybe it is fortunate that Berra did not hear anyone abthently mocking a duck accent.

Varanis stops, turns on her heel, and storms back into the room. “You could have led with that!” she yells at Nala. “You know where she is?!”

Nala says calmly, “You asked me questions. I answered them, then I told you. We were picked up by a duck, Tightbeak. Eventually enough information occurred that I could create the narrative. Basically, unless she is being kept on a boat, the only place solid enough to hold somewhere to hide out is the place I’ve hired boats to get to. Only it takes a while to round up the drakes. And they want two lunars per boat per day.” Nala continues, “And boats, unless something very special, would run aground with low tides. There was something to do with crabs, which he expected I knew about. Are there ten foot crabs here or something?”

Berra blinks a bit, but shrugs. She does not know crabs.

Nala adds, “So, yes, if she is still on the Delta, that is where she is.”

“And we need to watch out for Blackfeather,” Irillo states.

The Praxian says, “I’m going to go put leather soles on Tiwr so he can get into the bath house. It is still going to be watery, so armour will sink. I was think of going with you in the spirit world to keep the troll busy.” She looks at Irillo. “I said that. Either Garin is in league with him or is in debt to him, coz this is his place. And the duck controls or hires the sea troll.”

“Hired. Past tense.” Irillo’s quiet words are abrupt.

Nala says, “If anyone knows if sea trolls speak Darktongue, bring Salid.” Then she asks, “…oh. Is the sea troll dead?”

Irillo says. “Possibly. Varanis suggested Serzeen had killed it.”

“Might be useful in the spirit world anyway. Black duck if he kicks off can’t fight in both realms at once. But he also might be willing to sell out Garin. After all, you said Garin’s bankrupt, and not going to be a source of income, whereas there are people who want Lenta.” Nala adds, “Back later. I got the worst of the mud off Tiwr, so he needs a warm bath and probably a bran mash. Oh, we are hiring the drakes as transport, not as troops.”

“If it’s Devolin – I’m not hoping it is, but if it is, feel free to offer me letting him get away. I mean, it would be a huge coincidence.” Berra shrugs. “But I’d been hoping so I should put the hope down.”

The Praxian states, “This duck has been at it for quite some time.”

“Fair enough,” Berra replies.

Nala leaves to check on Tiwr and make sure that he is properly fed and bathed. Rumour has it that the unicorn had gotten into some Clearwine.