Kebrin: Chapter 1, Episode 2.4 – The Greatest Good That Men Know

The Weyr-bred youth must prove himself to be accepted at Harper Hall…

Tumar chuckled quietly at Kebrin’s description of the harpist, then formally introduced himself as a senior Journeyman library assistant.  He was originally from Benden Hold but had become a permanent resident of the Hall.  The preservation of history, music, and lore was his true calling.

He opened a small pouch on the table and pushed it towards Kebrin. “Black walnuts, have some.” He popped one of the shelled halves into his mouth and crunched noisily.

Kebrin had never seen a walnut. It had an odd, complicated shape like pink coral.

“I was hoping you’d come in before your initial assessment. The Masters prefer people go into it cold, but seriously, why?” Tumar asked rhetorically as he sat across from Kebrin.

His voice was cheerful but Kebrin could tell by his body language that Tumar was driven by some difficult past experience.

“They’re going to call you into the recital hall,” he began.  “Do you know what that is? Good. So they’ll call you in with no notice, sometime in the next sevenday.  In front of three Masters, no less. So there you are, standing on stage, and they ask you to demonstrate your most proficient talent. Which basically means, show them what you’re best at.” He paused to see if Kebrin was keeping up.

“So if you can sing, you pick a challenging song, but not too hard, because you’re nervous and don’t want to crack a capella. What if you’re best at carving pipes? Well then you ask for reeds and tools and get to work. You could be there for hours while they watch every little thing you do.  See how it goes?” Tumar asked, barely waiting for a response.

“When it’s over, if they don’t think you’re talented enough, you go home. Yeah, that’s it, back home with you, go learn to fish or sew or something else boring in whatever little cothold you came from,” Tumar paused for breath, noticing Kebrin’s clothing. “Well, a Weyr in your case. That’s not so bad, but still, you’ve come all this way…”

Despite an impassioned speech that would rattle most newcomers, Tumar’s purpose was actually to prevent Kebrin from being surprised when he was called before the Masters. He had some genuinely good advice to offer about the “initial assessment”. The Masters would keep asking questions until they ferreted out the depth and breadth of Kebrin’s knowledge. Under no circumstances should he claim to know something that he didn’t.  He also shouldn’t hesitate to ask for a tool or instrument.  No matter what the Masters asked of him, he had to try.  To quit was to fail.

By the time Kebrin left, he felt completely confident that he would impress the Masters and earn his place in Harper Hall.

The day ended when Toben, the senior Journeyman dorm delegate, finally caught up with him.  Toben was twenty-two Turns old, with classic Scottish looks and a confident demeanor.  He took Kebrin down to the lower caverns to pick up basic personal supplies and linens from a store room, then made sure he was settled in for the night.

Three days later, just as the clouds were gleaming with the first golden rays of dawn, a message arrived at the dorm for Kebrin.  Masters Chanler, Salinda, and Farrell would await his presence in the recital hall promptly at eight bells for his initial assessment.

The recital hall was barely lit when Kebrin arrived.  Mirrors directed bright light across the stage, while only a pair of glow baskets illuminated the front row where the Masters sat with inscrutable expressions.  The silence of the room was broken by his footfalls as he walked up the stairs and across the stage.

The Masters confirmed Kebrin’s identity and made quick introductions.  Chanler was a lean man in his mid-fifties with dark hair, grey at the temples, wearing a thick-rimmed pair of glasses.  Salinda was a shapely, platinum blond woman with a long braid over one shoulder and a brown firelizard perched on the other.  Farrell, the youngest of the three in his mid-thirties, had a narrow face, a stiff posture, and a penetrating stare.  All three were dressed conservatively in fine clothes.

[Attribute check: Will 9 +5 overconfident, rolled 9.]

Kebrin began his audition with his best instrument, the tenor flute, which had accompanied Garoway on the guitar many times.  It was the length of his arm with a long hook at the end, not unlike a shepherd’s staff, and polished to a brilliant shine.  He didn’t plan to play a learning tune or a popular ballad — those were too common.  Instead, he lifted his flute into the proper position and began a more challenging instrumental piece.

[Skill check: Tenor Flute 14+2, rolled 10.]

By the end of the song, Kebrin was feeling slightly lightheaded but accomplished.  He looked up into the faces of the Masters, hoping for some hint of how they were judging him.  Chanler was leaning forward, elbows resting on his knees, giving Kebrin his full attention.  Salinda was idly stroking her firelizard’s tail.  The brown had curled up around her neck and looked half asleep.  Farrell raised an eyebrow, then began asking a series of rapid-fire questions, testing the boy’s knowledge.

[Skill check: Music Lore 13+2, rolled 7.]

An hour later, Kebrin had played three different instruments and a dozen song snippets.  He had sung and recited.  He even played songs he had never heard before from sheet music.  He felt wrung out.  The look on Salinda’s face, careful neutrality giving way to pity, was beginning to make him nervous.  Chanler and Farrell spoke quietly to each other while Kebrin swallowed a lump in his throat.  He started to wonder what he had done wrong or what he had failed to do.  His playing and his answers had been flawless.

“Do you like to teach?”

Farrell’s question broke him out of his reverie.  He wasn’t sure how to answer.  If he said “yes”, would they shuffle him off into the teaching curriculum?  Would they send him home if he said “no”?

Salinda interrupted as he began to stammer out an answer, “Pick up your guitar and show me what it will feel like when the last of the dragons leave Ista Weyr.”

Farrell shot her an odd look but Chanler nodded approval.  All three Masters gave Kebrin their complete attention, probably for the last time.

Kebrin returned to Gannon dormitory in a daze.  Dainen and Rashtin pounced on him as fast as they could run downstairs.

“Are you in?  How did it go?  What happened?”

The later was a boy from Ruatha River hold who had offered to study with him.  He was the second least popular boy in the dorm after Dainen, as he occasionally woke everyone in the middle of the night, having nightmares about drowning.  Some residents hoped he would be leaving soon, if his voice wasn’t exceptional after it finished changing.

“I’m in,” Kebrin admitted.

The two boys whooped and cheered.  The rest of the dorm came down to see what all the noise was about.  “Kebrin had his in-ass and he’s IN!”

“Teaching, probably,” a Bitran boy named Mitch said, assuming the worst from Kebrin’s subdued manner.  There were several groans and nods of agreement.

Everyone looked surprised as Kebrin shook his head.  “No, I’ll be studying under Master Salinda,” he said quietly, as if in a dream.

What? No way, you’re lying!” Mitch burst out, though he didn’t really believe it.

“Harpertrue?” asked Dainen.  Kebrin nodded again.  “Hah, my roomie’s a prodigy!”

The room erupted into overlapping exclamations and congratulations.

Days turned into weeks, passing by Kebrin in a blur of music and study.  Although he was constantly busy, the lectures weren’t difficult and the rehearsals were the best part of the day.  It was almost a disappointment to return to the dorm each night for sleep.

Kebrin hadn’t been able to play with a conductor and a group of skilled musicians at the Weyr.  It was an exhilarating feeling that sometimes made his hair stand on end.  As one Master put it, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which we must not be silent.  It is the greatest good that men know.”

Once every sevenday, Kebrin studied with Master Salinda, First Master of Strings.  He had assumed the tenor flute would be his primary instrument, but his Master insisted that he train his voice and focus on the guitar.  “Your flute playing was technically proficient but lacked heart,” she explained when he pressed for answers.  Kebrin was finally convinced when he noticed her firelizard, Largo, showed no interest when he played a wind instrument.

Over time, Kebrin learned that it was easy to make friends but difficult to keep them.  Students had much in common but the atmosphere was highly competitive.  Outside of lectures and rehearsals, one’s success was measured by how much private time a student spent with the Masters.  Kebrin had to deal with jealous rivals, drama within social cliques, and desperate students begging him to help them practice.

Kebrin’s first semester progressed smoothly.  With any luck, he would spend more time with Master Salinda and learn how to make guitars in the next one.

The Autumn landscape was breathtaking and inspirational.  The leaves on the trees turned red, orange, and gold.  Journeyman painters tried to capture the lingering sunsets on canvas.  Astronomers watched the stars migrate across the heavens.  Chill winds heralded the coming of Winter.

Kebrin needed warmer clothes, but to buy them, he would need to earn money.  He wasn’t allowed to craft and sell instruments until he reached Journeyman rank, but he could perform in his free time for whatever tips he earned.  Unfortunately, he would be competing for work with an entire Hall full of trained musicians.  He would have to think of something clever.

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