Toria attends the largest celebration of her young life…
Music: Autumn Gather
The final exams of the semester were brutal. Every student knew that, should he fail, a dozen more hopefuls would be ready to take his place. Worse, the Hall intentionally forced students to face stressful conditions. There was no point in training an Apprentice that would break down in the face of death or disease.
With help and encouragement from Toria, Sylvie finished the semester. She would wait until after the Gather to decide if she wanted to continue.
Winter temperatures crept into the mountains earlier than expected. Toria and her dorm mates were eventually allowed to gather warmer linens and clothing from the Hall stores. As Junior Apprentices, they had last pick of gently used goods, but it was enough to see them through until Spring.
The Autumn Gather at Fort Hold was something Toria would never forget. It was riotous with color, clamorous with music and cheering, and boisterous with dance. The chilly air was filled with savory scents. Thousands of people walked along the cobbled paths, enjoying everything the Gather had to offer.
The main tent was a marvelous site to behold, made of overlapping strips of triangular cloth in shades of yellow, blue, and purple. Garlands of flowers set with glows covered the posts. Inside, people from Hold, Hall, and Weyr mingled freely, dressed in their best clothes. Individuals of rank wore formal shoulder knots, protecting commoners from social blunders.
In the adjacent Gather square, Harpers entertained a vast crowd eagerly waiting to hear the latest songs from Harper Hall and secretly hoping the Masterharper himself might perform.
Several rows of trader wagons and craft booths provided ample opportunity for shopping and barter. Goods from all over Pern could be had for a few coins. Lurking nearby, Apprentices sold inferior goods under the table at a discount, desperate to make a few Marks to spend.
The largest part of the gather was a runnerbeast racetrack surrounding several sports fields. There were competitions of sprinting, boxing, wrestling, and archery. Gamesters called vociferously for wagers, attracting many who aimed to test their luck.
All day long, Runners came and went, delivering packages and messages from across Fort’s holdings. Their sizable satchels were stuffed to bursting.
Each evening, the Lord and Lady of Fort, Brynmor and Thenora, sponsored free dinner for all in the living cavern. The high tables of the Great Hall were reserved for the most important visitors. A chamber was also set aside for Backgammon and Rebels, where a chalkboard blazoned the names of the best players.
Trader families had built an encampment a mile away, so dozens of rural children mingled with Hold- and Hall-bred youths. For the most part, things went smoothly, but a quiet rumor circulated that trader children had sticky fingers.
There were also rumors swirling around the holdless wights that every Gather attracted with free music and food. Their shabby clothes made them easy to spot. Most of them looked lean and hard, almost predatory. It took three major infractions to be turned out of Fort Hold, so these wights were the worst of the worst.
Gather Champions acted as bouncers in case of trouble, and Gather Stewards enforced rules where violence wasn’t necessary. For the most part, the Champions were only called late at night, when visitors grew rowdy after too many tankards of ale.
Of course, this was well past Hall curfew, which was scarcely enforced for the older students. Many braved the Stewards to buy discounted sweets as the stalls closed or enjoy bawdy tunes they weren’t meant to hear. The delegates chided anyone who didn’t make an effort to slip back into the dorms with stealth.
So much to see, so much to do, and it would only last three days.
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