Kebrin learns the dangers and delights of a Gather at Fort Hold…
On the last evening of the semester, all the students and instructors gathered in the living cavern for a formal dinner. A handful of students were promoted in rank during a brief ceremony called “walking the tables”. The Masters called their names in front of the assembled Hall. They enjoyed congratulations and farewells from their friends and then moved to another table, one for students of higher rank, nearer to the high table. Once promotions were finished, a few postings were announced. Postings were bittersweet graduations, sending students all across Pern.
One student out of ten went home for the Autumn break. A few were dismissed from the Hall and sent home permanently. Half of the remaining students kept up with rehearsals as though nothing had changed. The rest were determined to sleep in late and enjoy a slower pace.
The next morning, Toben gathered the dorm mates together in the sitting room. “It’s our turn to get winter supplies from the store room. Sorry it took so long, but Apprentices go last. Some of it’s used but don’t you dare complain to Gema,” he explained. “When we get back, if any of you are interested, I’ll teach you how to make whistle-sticks. The Masters don’t consider it an instrument, so you can sell them at the Gather as a toy.”
Gema was the Hall’s easy-going Headwoman. The students called her “Aunt Gema” and had a great deal of affection for her. She was exceptionally patient with the Hall’s two drudges, Fay and Ned. She was equally kind to students regardless of rank. There were many rumors about her good deeds and her generosity during Turnover.
Gema had an emerald green firelizard named Zinnia and had trained her to deliver little paper scrolls. She could deliver messages anywhere in the Halls, the Hold, and even some of the nearby cotholds. Zinnia had a knack for remembering faces and finding people she liked.
At nine bells, Gema led the students of Gannon dorm through the various storerooms. They left with warm blankets, wool socks, and an armload of used but well-repaired winter clothes. Soon after, a box of coal was delivered to the dorm, with strict instructions to use the heating stove only when temperatures dropped below freezing. Students who wanted to keep toasty warm were invited to spend time in the main Hall.
K’len was sympathetic to Kebrin’s impoverished plight. He paid an eighth piece once a week for help bathing and oiling Pentiath. Kebrin learned that Fort Weyr was home to two hundred and eight dragons. On his third visit, the oldtimer suggested that Kebrin help Tilton, the watch wher keeper, clean up after Foltisk to earn the odd sixteenth piece. Though it was hard work, it was a fantastic way to hear rumors from Fort Hold.
The day before the Gather, Kebrin received a letter from Garoway by runner. When he opened the envelope, there was a brief whiff of riding leather and Istan Moonflower.
Every night, I pass your room on the way to mine. It’s strange knowing that you won’t use it again. If you return, you’ll be an adult, probably a Journeyman Harper posted to Ista Weyr. You’ll have an apartment, not a room. I feel immensely fortunate that I got to watch you grow up and be part of your journey.
I remember my time at Harper Hall. Things weren’t much different then. Walk a few tables and the letters from holders will start making their way to you. Even if you plan to return here some day, don’t be afraid to take a few postings elsewhere. See as much of Pern as you can before you meet someone special and settle down.
We’ve heard you’re doing exceptionally well and we are all very proud of you. It’s customary for your Master to provide you with Gather marks, so don’t tell anyone about the three I’ve included with this letter.
The Autumn Gather at Fort Hold was a jubilant occasion. People from the entire region gathered to visit family, trade goods, and seek romance. 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.
Kebrin was given a half Mark to spend by Master Salinda, with an admonition not to spend it all in one place. He was careful not to look disappointed. Some Apprentices were given a full Mark, but one of Salinda’s Senior Apprentices had privately told him that their Master was more generous at Turnover.
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.
It didn’t take long for Kebrin to bump into K’len outside the main tent. He older rider waved him over, “Enjoying the Gather? There’s someone I want you to meet.”
K’len ushered him into the tent and led him to a round table where a number of well-dressed, middle-aged Weyrfolk were seated. Kebrin was pushed in front of a brown-haired bear of a man with a full beard, broad-chested with blue eyes that had probably charmed many women. He stood just over six feet tall as he shook arms with Kebrin.
“L’nos, this is Kebrin. Kebrin, L’nos of blue Senranth. This is the Istan weyrbrat I told you about,” he said with a wink to Kebrin to show he was teasing.
“Good to meet you,” L’nos said in a rich voice. “And thank you for helping my uncle care for that stubborn blue of his.”
They had time to exchange a few pleasantries before a Harper in the main square struck up a lively tune. All too soon, L’nos excused himself to choose one of the women mooning over him from afar and lead her off for a Rollicking Round dance.
K’len watched after him, shaking his head and smiling. “Go on,” he told Kebrin, “Find someone to dance with. It’s easier to learn now than at Turnover.” He made his way to a long table, picked up a full mug of ale, and disappeared into the crowd.