Kebrin: Chapter 1, Episode 2.7 – Revelry and Reminiscence

WARNING: Other players should not read this until Chapter 1 is complete.

MUSIC: Gather

Kebrin spent some time politely listening to the dragonriders of Fort Weyr talk, happy to listen to them chat about this and that – but eventually the lure of the murmuring crowd, hinting at the delights of the Gather, grew too much for the (barely) teenage boy. He waited for a lull in the conversation, and then politely excused himself.

Kebrin began to wander a bit, trying to reconcile what he was seeing with how older Harper Hall students had told him the Gather would be arrayed – getting his bearings.

He thought he recognized Toria the first time he passed her in the crowd, but didn’t say anything because he wasn’t certain – and he was a little flustered trying to navigate the ever-shifting crowd of people. She was looking around, mouth agape.

He slowed and then stopped when he saw her the second time, on his way back through that part of the Gather. He walked close enough to be heard, “Toria? Toria of…” He fished around in his memory, “Katz Fields?”

Toria was browsing the goods being offered when she heard her name being called by a familiar voice. She turned around to see the boy who had flown with her adragonback to Fort Hold. “Oh, Kebrin! Hello! How have you been? Are you having fun at the Gather? It’s just so… big!” She had the look of someone who was overwhelmed and trying desperately not to show it.

Kebrin was dressed a lot better than the last time Toria had seen him, now wearing what was almost certainly his Gather-best instead of heavy leather gear designed to protect from the cold of flight and especially between. His hair looked like it had been recently cut… again, shorter on the sides and back and longer on the top and sides. You could take the Weyr brat out of the Weyr…

He flashed an easy smile when Toria acknowledged him, and finished closing the distance between them. “I’m doing well. And you?” He glanced around briefly at the throngs of people, “I am, although I hate to admit that I’m still finding my way around. Navigating the real world is a lot different from reading a map.”

He paused, a thoughtful look crossing his features for just a moment, “What have you seen so far and what do you look forward to seeing?”

Toria was dressed in clothes that were a slight step up from what she had worn last time she had interacted with Kebrin, and she had braided her hair in a fancy circle around her head.

Toria smiled, happy to have run into a familiar face in the midst of throngs of strangers. “I’m alright. I’ve been looking forward to the Gather since my study partner Sylvie told me about it. I’ve never been to anything at all like this before! I want to see what’s being sold. So many people came from all over! I also wanted to listen to some Harper performances, so it’s good that I ran into you. I’m sure you’ll know where I can go.”

Toria added, “I was also hoping to earn some coin wagering on something – maybe on the runnerbeast races. “What about you? What are you wanting to see and do here?”

Kebrin looked around at the crowd and then back at Toria, something dancing in his eyes, “Honestly? I just wanted to see it. We didn’t have anything like this back at the Weyr! I think it’d take me a week to see everything, but it only lasts three days.”

There was the briefest of pauses and then, “Well, and I wanted to try dancing. And maybe buy a thing or two, ‘though picking the right ones – and not spending every bit of money I’ve got – is going to be hard.”

He gestured off to the west, “The fields they use for the races are that way. I think.” He glanced back at Toria, “Hey, one of my dorm mates – Mitch – is great at games and cards and gambling, and he’s from Bitra – so I’d bet he’s got a pretty good eye for runnerbeasts. If you’re interested?”

Toria’s eyes lit up. “Oh yes, that sounds wonderful! Betting with Bitran odds would make me feel better, for sure!” She patted her pocket containing her Mark and nodded. “I know what you mean about wanting to do everything and not spend all my money. I don’t have much yet.” Toria looked chagrined at admitting her lack of funds.

Kebrin nodded amiably, “Oh, I understand.” He started off through the crowd, moving slowly enough that they wouldn’t get separated. “He should be finishing his set on the side stage in a half hour, maybe a little more. You can listen to them play until they’re done – they’re pretty good – and maybe I can find someone to dance with…”

Toria grinned, looking forward to seeing an actual Harper performance! “Let’s go then! And well, if you can’t find someone to dance with, I’d love to try! I’ve… never danced before, not with someone anyway.” she finished shyly, looking at Kebrin briefly before looking away.

As she followed slowly beside him, she asked “So how was your first semester at Harper Hall? What are you studying?”

Kebrin flashed another one of his easy, lazy smiles, “Sure, I’d love to dance with you. I’m not very good yet, though – which is kind of the whole point of dancing here. So you’ll just have to bear with me.” He shrugged in response to her other question, “Music, music, and more music. Ah, yes – and some music.” He seemed like he was about to say something else when the wind shifted and he caught the sound of music, nearby. “Ah, we’re almost there.”

The side stage for impromptu performances was small and located on the edge of the Gather, at the end of trader’s row.

Mitch was a typical Bitran, which meant a dark-haired mix of nearly every ethnicity on Pern. His shaggy hair was overdue for a cut, not a stylistic choice. He was playing a striped lute shaped like an almond cut in half lengthwise. It looked a bit large for a twelve-Turn-old boy but his skill was unmistakable. He was playing backup for a group of four other youths from Harper Hall.

It was still early, so the crowds weren’t ready to settle down and listen to lesser performers. After a handful of songs and a very small number of tips, the group disbanded. Mitch slung the lute over a shoulder and made his way to Kebrin when he noticed his friend waving.

“Heyo!” he offered in enthusiastic greeting. “Oh, hello there…” he added, noticing Toria. “I don’t remember you from the Hall?”

Kebrin shook hands briefly with his slightly younger but also more than slightly taller friend. “How’d it go? You sounded good on the last couple of songs I heard.”

He shook his head in response to the question, “No, you don’t know her. Mitch, this is Toria of Katz Field. She’s studying at Healer Hall. Toria, this is Mitch of Bitra Hold. A dorm-mate of mine, and a natural talent on the lute.”

Mitch shoved his hands in his pockets, smiling crookedly. “Nice to meet you, Toria of Katz Field.”

Toria gave a shy smile and wave to the tall Bitran boy, “Hello. Nice to meet you too. I liked your music!”

Mitch shook his head to one side to get the bangs out of his eyes. “Thanks. I can play more for you later, if you like.” For a moment, it seemed like Mitch was flirting, but his attention turned quickly to Kebrin. “So how’d it go with that dragonman? Word has it you’ve been spending time with him, lately.”

Kebrin didn’t even twitch when it sounded like Mitch might – or might not – be flirting with Toria, “Yeah, he’s not as young as he used to be – so I’ve been helping him take care of his dragon in exchange for some coin.” He glanced back over at Toria, partly to gauge her response and partly because of where the conversation was going. “Toria here would like to see the runnerbeast races, and maybe bet on them. Since you’re the local expert, I thought you might be willing to help us out?”

Toria’s ears perked up at the mention of a dragonrider.  She smiled at Mitch when Kebrin made his pitch to his friend. “If you have time, that is!”

Mitch looked offended, “Local expert? When did we have time to see any races? It’s because I’m from Bitra, isn’t it,” he said in an acerbic tone of voice. “We’re all a bunch of low life cheating gamblers, right? Hoping I can swindle you some extra coins, maybe pick a few pockets like some filthy renegade?”

He glared at Kebrin a moment and then laughed. “So what do you think? Should I sign up for drama class next semester?” He turned back to Toria, “Of course I’ll help you two pick the runnerbeasts. C’mon…” Mitch started making his way through the crowd, mindful not to let his lute get banged around.

Kebrin looked surprised and was starting to look genuinely concerned at his friend’s diatribe. He looked obviously relieved when his friend admitted that he was joking, but shook his head, “Nah, you didn’t fool me.”

Still a little shaken, but uncomfortable admitting it, he trailed after the taller, dark-haired boy. He thoughtfully mulled over just how much Mitch might have been playing or not.

Toria worried that Mitch was upset at Kebrin’s words until he broke into laughter. “Thanks for your help, Mitch. I want to try a little of everything at the Gather, or at least as much as I can. Wagering on a race seems kinda fun!” She followed as closely to Mitch as she could, but even so, she bumped into someone passing by and almost lost her balance. When she looked up, the boys were a few lengths ahead and she hurried to catch up.

Mitch, Kebrin, and Toria walked past many interesting booths and attractions to reach the sports fields. They were built on a flat, open area beyond which the landscape sloped downward. This far from the Hold, they could see the mighty river that crashed down from the mountains, twisted and turned through canyons and valleys, and finally calmed before reaching the sea.

The track was an oval with straight sides, over a klick long, with low fences on both sides. The hard-packed dirt had been cleared of any stones or plants. Two high, arched wooden bridges had been built over the track so that people could reach the sports fields in the center.

Nearby, a temporary barn had been constructed of rough stone and woven reeds. Several riders were grooming their steeds with curry combs and coarse cloth. Others were watering the steeds or talking them on slow walks around the pen.

A massive crowd gathered around the track, most of them clustered around the finish line. Racing fans were restless, gossiping about runnerbeasts and riders, lamenting past loses, and sharing gambling tips.

Mitch led his friends toward the barn. “You need to see the runnerbeasts and their riders, get a feel for them,” he explained. “New jockeys, balky ‘beasts, poor gear, it all makes a difference.” He pushed his way forward past several adults until he could rest his arms on the pen’s low fence. “You’ve also got to know about odds. Some runnerbeasts, they expect ’em to win. If they do, you make a little profit. But… if an unexpected ‘beast wins, one with long odds, you win a lot of coin.”

Toria took in the sights as the group made their way towards the barn near the track.  Listening to Mitch’s advice, she looked past the fence towards where some runnerbeasts were being groomed, studying each pair carefully. As she did so, she commented “Where do they list the odds for each runner?”

Kebrin had little real clue what was going on, so he was content to take Mitch’s lead and pay close attention to what he said. “Alright, so we want to find a likely runnerbeast and rider – preferably with long odds on them. I’ve spent almost no time around runnerbeasts – and never bet on them before – so explain to me what you’re looking at as we go?”

Mitch jerked a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the high platform behind him. “It’ll be written on the chalk board back there.” He explained a bit about runnerbeast physique but sighed, “They’re all top competitors, so there’s not much difference.”

A man standing on a high platform used a loudhailer, a cone-shaped speaking horn, to announce the beginning of another runnerbeast race. His voice had a strange, hollow sound and it was impressively loud.

The next six runnerbeasts to race were saddled up. There were four bays, a chestnut, and a red dun. The chestnut mare’s mane and tail had been braided. One of the bays had wrapped ankles. They stomped their hooves and snorted with heads and tails held high. Perhaps the crowds were making them nervous.

Each rider wore a tabard with the symbol of their ranch emblazoned on the colors of their Hold. They were short, lean individuals with deep tans. One of them knelt down to sift a handful of dirt.

Mitch nodded toward the platform and slipped out of the gathering at the barn fence. He went to a gamester, took out a thirty-second Mark, and bet on the Fort-bred runnerbeast.

The board read:
Alder S red dun / Ruatha Tagmar, 1-2
Fletch G bay / Ruatha River Dasha, 3-2
Hazel M chestnut / Peyton Alfea, 6-5
Kestrel M bay / Fort Rinoa, 1-1
Ranger S bay / Kerooon Bassett, 4-5
Rumpus G bay / Plateau Essra, 2-1 (edited)

Kebrin watched with intense interest, trying to get a feel for how such things were done. As Mitch walked away toward the gamester, he asked Toria, “Are you going to bet on one?”

Toria looked to Kebrin, “I think I’ll try it out! Say… I don’t suppose you know what the numbers mean, do you?”

Kebrin nodded slowly, “Yeah, I think those are the odds that Mitch was telling us about. What you bet, against what you win if you guess right. So if you bet a Mark on Kestrel, you’d get your money back plus another Mark if he wins.”

Toria’s brow furrowed in confusion as she thought about it, and then nodded slowly. “Okay, I think I’ll bet on… Hazel.” She dug around in her pocket where she had safely stored her money and pulled out a sixteenth piece. She looked at Kebrin and grinned, then walked to where Mitch placed his bet.

Kebrin pondered betting on the runnerbeasts himself, but then decided to just continue watching for now. He had worked far too hard for his money to risk it on gambling, and he didn’t feel like he had a good sense of the game – or the odds – yet.

Toria walked back towards Kebrin after placing her bet. “Done!” she exclaimed. “I can’t wait to see who wins!”

A staccato trumpet note summoned the racers onto the race track. The announcer used his loudhailer to introduce each as it arrived, “Here comes bay Alder representing Ruatha ridden by Tagmar, chestnut Hazel of Peyton with rider Alfea, red dun Kestrel bred here at Fort and ridden by Rinoa, Bassett in the green and yellow of Keroon riding bay Ranger, here comes Essra’s bay Rumpus from Plateau hold, and finally from Ruatha River here is bay Fletch with his rider Dasha.”

Mitch craned his neck to see the runnerbeasts. He asked Kebrin, “Want to bet a night of dishwashing on the winner?”

Kebrin had been looking around for a better vantage point for himself and his friends, especially considering how short Toria and he were. He grinned back at Mitch, “Sure! Since this is my first time, I’ll wager on Alder and see if the other folks gamblin’ are right.” He gestured toward an area not too far away, “You think we might be able to see better from over there?”

The runnerbeasts were forced into a row behind a chalk line on the ground. A heavy rope of woven reed was held up in front of them at chest height. A hush fell over the crowd. When the rope dropped and the horn sounded, the race would begin.

People held their breath, hearts pounding, faces flushing…

Toria watched the lead up to the race, bouncing up and down with barely contained excitement as she responded to Kebrin’s inquiry, “Sure!”

Mitch followed Kebrin to the place he spotted, farther from the fence but on a tiny hill. They could see a little bit better.

The sound of the horn almost made Kebrin and Toria jump. The crowd erupted into a roar of shouts and cheers. The iron-shod hooves of the runnerbeasts beat the ground like distant thunder.

The announcer called the race for those who couldn’t see the entire track, “Hazel out very quickly, Kestrel moving through along the inside in the wraps and she’s up to take the lead, Fletch is the trailer…”

Toria yelled with enthusiasm, “Go Hazel! You can do it!

The announcer continued, “It’s Ranger dueling with Kestrel at the half pole, heads apart, Hazel moves up strong to take third, Alder is in fourth, Fletch fifth, Rumpus in the back of the pack heading to the three-quarter pole…”

Kebrin watched intently, suddenly concerned that the favored winner of the race wasn’t going to do very well at all – at least not unless he poured on the speed at the very end.

Mitch chanted, “Go Kestrel, go Kestrel, go Kestrel!”

The cheering intensified, almost drowning out the announcer. “Hazel keeping up the pressure, Kestrel right next to Ranger on the inside, Alder makes a three-wide bid and tackles Hazel at the top of the stretch! Ranger takes the lead and opens up with authority! Kestrel and Alder just bounding along will complete the top three behind Ranger.”

As the runnerbeasts crossed the finish line, the roar of the crowd subsided into groans and maledicta, with only children and a few winners still cheering.

Mitch kicked the dirt, “Aw, second place! So close!”

Kebrin had a hard time seeing and following the last few frenetic seconds of the race. He uttered hesitantly, “I… I don’t think any of us won.”

Toria groaned. “Well, that was well dusted.”

Kebrin glanced between Mitch and Toria, looking thoughtful for just a second, and then offered, “How about bubbly pies as consolation prizes? My treat.” He gestured back the way they had come, “I saw – well, smelled – a vendor as we were heading over here. If they taste half as good as they smell, then we might be in luck…”

Mitch nodded, “Yeah, thanks. Think we can talk one of the older kids into buying us an ale?”

Perking up at the mention of bubbly pies, Toria nodded. “Sure, some bubbly pies would make things a bit better. Thanks, Kebrin.”

Kebrin started leading the trio out of the throng of spectators and more into the open area of the Gather, trying to navigate by landmarks he had taken note of. He nods confidently to Mitch, “Probably so, yeah. We can probably find one of our dorm mates, or someone I’ve tutored that would be willing to help us out. Wanna try?”

He kept navigating the crowd for a moment and then slowed down to walk alongside Mitch. More quietly, where hopefully only the three of them can hear, “If they won’t, one of the Gather tents has some people I know – only a little – who might let us in. We could probably sneak a drink or two there. But I’d rather try talking someone from the Hall into it first.”

Mitch’s eyes gleamed, “I’m game.” he said conspiratorially.

Six men worked the massive bakery booth selling bubbly pies, two in the center making treats and one on each side selling them. There was still a line half a dozen deep coming from every direction. The scents of warm sugar and fresh baked pastry dough were irresistible. Carefully painted signs advertised six palm-sized pies for a thirty-second piece, in one of three different berry flavors.

Kebrin finished leading the group there more by smell than by memory, although it wouldn’t be hard for anyone to do. He looked between Toria and Mitch, “Alright. Two pies each. Do we want to share them, so we can each try all three flavors?” He reached into his well-worn belt pouch and fished out a thirty-second Mark.

Toria’s stomach rumbled as she got her first whiff of the pies being baked. “They smell so good! Oh yes, sharing sounds fine to me.”

Mitch nodded, “Well, my last coin was lost in a cloud of dust, but I can spare another thirty-second. Get a dozen, they’ll throw in an extra.”

Kebrin laughed, “Alright. Twice as many pies, then, with an extra for luck.” He took the piece that his friend offered, and went forth to retrieve steaming-hot bubbly pies – four in each of the three different flavors, plus an extra.

As Kebrin bought the pies, Mitch was suddenly distracted, “Toben, hey Toben!” he shouted as he darted off into the crowd, chasing down a young man with classic Scottish looks. After a brief conversation, Mitch shoved his hands into his pockets and walked back to the group. “No dice,” he frowned. “It’s up to you two.”

Kebrin returned with a cheap unfinished wooden tray laden with thirteen bubbly pies, just as Mitch had promised. He found a place on a nearby ‘table’ – really a repurposed barrel – and quickly shared out three portions of the pies. He gestured for Toria to take the first one, “Ladies first.”

As they ate, Kebrin started keeping closer watch for older students from Harper Hall – especially ones he was friends with, or that he had helped tutor at some point during the semester.

A little green firelizard, as bright as spring grass, landed on the edge of the barrel. It turned whirling eyes on Toria and trilled, begging for pie.

Kebrin’s eyes went wide as saucers when the firelizard landed, but not out of fear – quite the opposite. He looked quickly between Toria and the little creature, waiting to see whether or not she would acquiesce to its request.

Mitch stifled a surprised sound and snatched up his pies, shoving one whole into his mouth. Around the juicy pie, he mumbled, “Ooo din’t t’ll me she hash a ‘lizard…”

Kebrin didn’t take his eyes off of Toria and the green firelizard for a moment. His voice was obviously forced calm, “I don’t think she does.”

Toria had grabbed a bubbly pie at random, not having a particular flavor she liked the most and bit down into the warm crust. With her mouth still in the pie, she noticed the firelizard and her eyes went wide. Slowly swallowing the pie in her mouth, she grabbed another and broke it in half. Looking at the two boys as if to say “Can you believe this!?” she carefully extended her hand towards the green, food in her palm.

Kebrin watched, transfixed, as though he was afraid that moving or talking too loudly might shatter this fragile, magic moment.

The dainty green took the offered half pie, warbled a series of pleasant notes, and flew away. She landed gently on a sun shade, wrapped her tail around the pole, and began eating the pastry neatly with her front claws.

Kebrin tracked the little firelizard until she alighted nearby, and then turned his attention to Toria. “Does that firelizard belong to someone at Healer Hall, then? They don’t normally come anywhere near people they don’t know.”

Toria let out the breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding in and exclaimed, “Did you see that!? A firelizard, up close!” As she took in Kebrin’s words, she shook her head slowly. “No, I don’t know anybody at Healer Hall that has firelizards.”

Two more firelizards landed, buffeting Toria in the face with their wings and nearly knocking the tray off the barrel. One was jade green with darker highlights and the other was a deep sky blue. They began trilling, clearly begging Toria for treats. The blue began to eye the tray. Mitch shoved another bubbly pie into his mouth, hiding the last two in his hands behind his back. He looked completely taken aback.

Kebrin was startled by the arrival of the two additional firelizards, since he had been paying close attention to the first green one and then Toria. He recovered quickly, and slid the tray back away from the little creatures as far as he reasonably could, and then took one of his own, broke it in half, and offered it on the top of his flat palm – just like he’d been taught.

Toria barely avoided jumping in fright at the firelizards appearance. “Uhhh, well okay then. I guess you want some pies too?” She took the rest of the pie she’d broken in half and broke it up in her palm, offering it out to whichever lizard chose to eat it.

Mitch wiped juice off his chin with the back of a hand, swallowing the hastily eaten pie.

The blue firelizard darted forward to grab Kebrin’s half-pie, leapt into the air with a powerful back kick, and disappeared between. Hopefully it enjoyed frozen berries. The jade green firelizard balanced gracefully with her front claws on Toria’s forearm, warbled much as the first visitor had done, took the pie in her mouth and launched into the air. She disappeared in the direction of the Hold.

Mitch asked Kebrin, “Was one of those Master Salinda’s?”

Toria looked at Kebrin and Mitch after the two lizards had flown away. A shaky grin appeared on her face.

Kebrin shook his head, “No, Largo’s a brown. Male, a lot bigger, fatter.” He turned his full and undivided attention to Toria, “So they’re not yours, or anyone you know’s? Because firelizards don’t normally do that. Ever. They warbled at you almost like they look to you. Because if they’re not yours or a good friend’s, then I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Mitch turned in a circle, searching the skies for any more winged beggars. Seeing none, he put his last two pies back on the tray and licked his palms free of berry juice. His brows furrowed as he followed the conversation.

Toria’s grin faded as she looked at Kebrin, “No. There are some Healers who I know have firelizards, but nobody I personally know. Is it really that unusual?” A worried tone entered her voice as she looked around for any more firelizards showing up to beg for food.

Kebrin wasn’t angry, but – suddenly remembering that he was talking to a young girl – he made a concerted effort to soften his aggressive body language and intense stare. He paused to force himself to choose his words more carefully, and then replied, “It’s nothing I’d be worried about. Quite the contrary. But it is very unusual.” He finally remembered his cooling bubbly pies, and took a messy sizable chunk out of one before he continued. “Doubly so when you think about the fact you weren’t afraid of flying
adragonback, or even the cold of between.”

Mitch looked intrigued, “When did this happen? What did I miss?”

Kebrin took another sloppy bite out of his first bubbly pie, finishing it off save for a few odd crumbs. “Toria and I first met when we were being flown into Fort Hold by Dragonrider Klen and his blue, Pentiath. He picked me up from Ista Weyr and then Toria from Katz Field. Sure, she looked scared for the first minute or two – and that’s normal – but then she took to it like a duck takes to water. Absolutely loved flying. Even the jump between didn’t scare her.”

Toria pondered Kebrin’s words while munching on the remainder of the pie she had initially bitten into. “It was rather fun… after I got over the take off,” she said after swallowing her food.

Mitch ate his last two pies, paying rapt attention to Toria and Kebrin as if he were listening to a storyteller with a mysterious tale. “I really need an ale, now. When the Gather’s over, we ought to go look for firelizard eggs. Maybe she’ll have a knack for finding them.”

Kebrin shook his head as if to clear it, then nodded in wholehearted agreement. He resumed scanning the crowd for classmates or friends who might be able to help them out as he tried to savor his remaining bubbly pies, instead of wolfing them down. “Not a bad idea. They mostly nest on or near warm, sandy beaches. They clutch only at certain times of the Turn, but…” He pauses awkwardly, ” I don’t know when that is, exactly. Have to ask somebody.” He gave Toria an inquiring look, “You think you might be interested?”

Toria looked between the two boys questioningly. “I mean, yeah! But… are students even allowed to have firelizards?”

Kebrin flashes Toria that easy, all-too-white smile, “There’s no rules against it, are there? An’ it would be cruel to not let you keep them, once they look to you.”

Mitch shrugged, “My da always said its better to ask forgiveness than permission. But then, ma was always chasing him with a ladle…”

Toria looked dubious, but gave a slight shrug. “I guess it couldn’t hurt to look. Not sure what I might be able to do, exactly. I’ve not exactly attracted any firelizards before now,” she continued while finshing off her bubbly pie. “Kebrin probably knows better how and when to look for them, right?”

Kebrin continued watching the passing crowd, searching for classmates or friends who might be able to help them sneak an ale or two.

His answer was slow to come. “Well, like I said – they nest on or near warm, sandy beaches… near Ista Weyr. I don’t know where they would nest in rocky, colder places like here. Yet.”

He finally caught sight of someone he recognized, a considerably older classmate that Kebrin had spent at least a few hours tutoring over the course of the last semester, and hurried over to speak with him.

Toria looked at Mitch after Kebrin wandered off to talk to his classmate, “I used to help on my family’s farm back at the cothold, but I’m not sure when to even guess firelizards might clutch. Kebrin seems to know more about dragons, maybe he could ask K’len about it?” She shrugged, keeping an eye on Kebrin.

Mitch explained, “Well, if the wild ones came around like those did, maybe you could follow ’em and see where they were nesting.” He shrugged, “But that’s a question for another day, eh?” Drumming his fingers on the barrel and watching Kebrin like a hawk, he said quietly to Toria, “Let’s see how he does…”

Toria made a noise of agreement.

Kebrin knew the classmate pretty well, so he approached confidently. “Hey, Tyrigg! Happy Gather!” He made small talk for a couple of minutes, asking how his casual friend was doing and if he had any recommendation for things a first-Turn student should buy at the Gather. Finally, he got around to the pitch. “Hey, I was wondering if you could help me out with something – a small amount of ale, not enough to get into any trouble. What do you say?”

[Attribute check: Will 9, rolled 11.]

Tyrigg looked skeptical, peering over Kebrin’s shoulder at his two friends. “A mug’s a mug but it looks like you need three. In for a pinch, in for a bushel, right? Just get your coin out ahead of time, walk up to the booth like you know what you’re doing, and say you’re fetching it for someone else.” He nodded toward Toria and Mitch, “Just make sure those two are nowhere in sight.”

[Attribute Check: IQ 12, rolled 10.]

Kebrin did his best to look genuinely wounded, but he wasn’t precisely a great actor. “We had planned to split a mug; I wasn’t lying when I said we just wanted a taste.” He was telling the truth. He honestly didn’t know exactly what Mitch’s intentions had been, but he wanted just a little bit for himself – to feel more like a real adult at his first Gather. “Thank’s for the advice, man. I’ll try it.” He made a little more small talk if Tyrigg seemed interested, and even invited him to join them – no alcohol or other strings attached. Assuming that Tyrigg didn’t want to join them, he returned to the table to briefly outline the revised plan of attack and then wander off – away from them – to execute it.

Mitch nodded, “I like this plan, this is a good plan.” He thumped Kebrin encouragingly on the shoulder.

Kebrin searched for a stall selling alcohol with a printed sign so he could have the correct amount of money ready, and preferably one that was very busy – so they’d feel too pressured to spend much time asking him uncomfortable questions. Mustering his nerve, he waited in line and tried to purchase three mugs of ale just like Tyrigg had described.

Toria commented, “I think he can pull it off, he’s….” she paused a bit, considering her words, “well, he’s very serious and grown up, for a kid.”

The ale stand wasn’t particularly busy, since it was a little early for the lunch crowd. The only customers were those determined to beat the rush, plus two men negotiating for a half dozen kegs. The proprietor called out, “Best golden ale at the Gather, Greenfields ale! Brewed from the finest barley!” He looked down at Kebrin and raised a bushy eyebrow, “Can I help you, little sir?”

Kebrin had already spent some time people-watching at the Gather, and had been paying especially close attention to how the people ahead of him in line had been ordering their alcohol. He mimicked them as precisely and calmly as he could, “Three mugs, please.”

The proprietor wiped off a tray and pulled three wooden mugs from under the narrow countertop. He began filling the first from a huge keg and asked, “Who’s this for, then?”

[Attribute check: Will 9, rolled 11. Again.]

Kebrin had thought this through before he approached the stall, but it’s one thing to imagine it and wholly another to lie openly. He half-faltered, “Older classmates, sir. I’m doing their fetching and carrying for Gather money.”

The proprietor finished filling the third mug, slid the tray toward Kebrin, and held out his hand, “Just a sixteenth, if you please, since it’s for… classmates. Make sure and bring the tray back when they’re done.”

Kebrin tried to not go wide-eyed when he realized that the vendor was on to him. He nodded quickly, “Yes, sir. Of course, sir.” He paid the required amount, and began to make his way back to his friends with the tray.

Toria and Mitch had moved away from the road toward the trader’s living wagons. Mitch turned around to greet Kebrin, but his eager expression turned to concern. “You’re sweating, what happened?”

Toria looked startled as Kebrin came back with three mugs full of ale. “Wow, you did it! I mean, I thought you could, but… those are really big mugs!”

Kebrin found a convenient place to sit the small tray. He shrugged uncomfortably in response to Mitch’s question, “I… think he knew what I was up to. Exactly. But he sold it to me, anyway. Since it was for older classmates.” Toria and Mitch could hear the emphasis on the last two words, and the scorn that the vendor had held them in. He handed out the sizable wooden mugs, “But at least we were successful, in the end.”

Toria gripped her mug with both hands and looked at its contents with some trepidation.

Mitch eagerly took a mug and sniffed it once before drinking. After the first swallows, he paused long enough to say, “Outstanding!” with a little foam on his upper lip.

She took a small sip of the ale after seeing Mitch take a drink from his mug and her expression brightened. “Wow, this is good!” she enthused. She took a bigger sip, and then another quickly afterwards.

Kebrin looked out across what he could see of the Gather as he took his first sip, feeling thoroughly accomplished and a little more adult than before. He cautioned his friends, “Since we don’t drink much, we need to go real slow or we’re going to get drunk – and probably caught. A little goes a long way.” With that, he raised his mug toward his friends’, “Here’s to a great Gather, the first at Fort Hold for two of us!”

Toria smiled as she tapped her mug against the boys’ and said “Thanks for getting the ale, Kebrin!” She got out a thirty-second piece from her pocket and offered it to him. “Here, this’ll help pay for some of the drinks.”

[Attribute check: PER 10, rolled 16.]

Mitch suddenly put his mug down on the tray and shoved his hands in his pockets.

Toria and Kebrin heard a man’s footfalls in the dirt only a moment before an elderly man appeared from a cluster of wagons, dressed in a fine silk shirt and black trousers. He was round-faced and bald, wearing thick glasses, which gave him an almost humorous appearance. He was carrying a thick bundle of brand new instrument strings.

Kebrin recognized him as Master Tylon, instrument making instructor of Harper Hall.

Master Tylon paused for a moment, quickly sized up the situation, and then made a bee-line for Kebrin.

Toria startled at the man’s approach. They were caught!

[Attribute check: Will 9, rolled 4]

Kebrin nodded deferentially to the aged Harper, “Good Gather, Master Tylon!” Showing surprising restraint, he stood calmly and waited to see which way this conversation was about to go.

Master Tylon nodded toward the first boy, “Mitch…” then stopped in front of Kebrin. “By the Egg, Kebrin, it’s about time you started breaking a few rules, minor ones. We were starting to think you were Master Salinda’s most boring Apprentice ever. Talented, but boring. You’ll need a few adventures under your belt if you’re going to compose decent lyrics.” He patted Mitch on the shoulder, telling him quietly, “Breathe,” before walking off into the Gather crowd.

Toria looked like she was trying not to burst into laughter. “Shards, I thought we were done for! That was one of your instructors?” She took another sip of ale, having taken quite a liking to it already, but trying not to guzzle it.

As soon as Master Tylon was out of sight, Mitch grabbed his mug and started drinking at an alarming rate.

Kebrin had been braced for a fight, but it never came. Somehow, he managed to keep a surprisingly neutral expression as Master Tylon spoke – but then visibly relaxed the moment the much older man’s back was turned. He relaxed visibly as Master Tylon walked away, though. He reached down without thinking, and took another sip of ale, and half-muttered to himself, “By the shards, that was a thing.”

Letting out a relieved guffaw, Toria looked over at Mitch and quirked her eyebrow, “Uh, Mitch…”

Mitch finally stopped drinking and reeled slightly before catching his balance. “Drink ’til you see stars, da always said. He didn’t say they moved…”

Toria quietly moved Mitch’s mug towards her in concern. “Maybe you should slow down?”

Mitch gave a lopsided grin, “I’ve taken care of the edi… evidence! We’re safe!”

Kebrin was lost in his own thoughts for a moment, reflecting on what a close call that had been, when he hears Toria’s admonitions. He had been about to tell Mitch that he should slow down when he realized it’s far, far too late. He asked rhetorically, “Mitch, please tell me you didn’t just drink that whole fardling mug of ale?”

“Oh, he did,” Toria grimly confirmed. “Mostly.”

Mitch sniffed, “The longer we stand around drinking, the more likely we get caught, again. Anyway, let’s go shopping… or gambling.”

Toria looked to Kebrin with concern in her hazel eyes. “Maybe not gambling? That seems like a really bad idea. Maybe a slow…. slow walk back to your dorm for a uh, break?”

Kebrin sighed softly, shoulders slumping a little. He muttered very softly to himself, “And the frustrating part is that I have only myself to blame for this.” He then plastered on a smile and addressed Mitch, “Alright. We’ll do a little shopping… after Toria and I enjoy ours.”

Mitch smiled broadly, “Yes, take me! Back to the dorm with me,” he winked at Toria. “As long as you’re with me.”

Toria blushed and shook her head, “Um, I uh, don’t think that’s a good idea. But I had wanted to look for some crochet hooks and yarn. What about you, Kebrin?” She looked desperate for Kebrin to move the conversation away from Mitch’s awkward flirtation.

Kebrin gave Toria a meaningful glance, “I assume you know better than to drink a lot? Just a little bit to start?” His eyes went a little wide at Mitch’s outburst, and he blushed perceptibly at the crude comment.It took him a heartbeat or two to realize that he was the seniormost student here. “Hey, hey – none of that. We’ll take you shopping and then back to our room at the dorm to sleep it off.”

Mitch muttered, “Nothing ventured, it’s the motto of the day,” but he was willing to follow Kebrin around the Gather and watch his friends shop.

Toria nodded at Kebrin’s words, “So, what were you looking for, Kebrin?”

Kebrin rattled off a list of painfully mundane items. Once he was done, he explained, “I think this is the last Gather before Turnover, and I’m not very good at making things with my hands yet – so I need to buy presents for my friends now.”

He quickly realized, after a few shops, that Mitch was getting bored – and he did want his friends to have a good time. As they shopped and took in the sights, he pondered and then asked Mitch and Toria, “How do you feel about some of the games of skill they had back near where we entered the Gather? More fun than shopping, but less chance of losing every sliver of Mark we have gambling.”

The variety of goods available at the Gather were astounding. Most of the items in the Hold and Hall storerooms were practical, made in large quantities by crafters using the same patterns for generations. The trinkets and treasures laid out on the vendor tables were decorative, creative, and unique.

Toria bought some crochet hooks, but she was still looking for colorfully dyed yarn. “I”m going to try and learn to crochet so I can make things for Turnover gifts. I just need to look for some yarn, but I’m all for trying some games of skill. I wonder if they have any ball games? I used to play those back home.”

Mitch was terrible at the games, despite their simple design intended for children. It really didn’t matter because he had a wonderful time. He found a game of pitching large wherry-hide balls at stuffed wherries, trying to knock them off a narrow board, particularly hilarious.

Toria, upon noticing the game involved stuffed wherries, got an evil grin on her face and gave the game a try.

Kebrin nodded encouragingly to Toria, “I think that’s a great idea. It’ll give you something to do on cold, dark winter nights – and will make great gifts.” He smiled more and more, and then started genuinely laughing as Mitch obviously delighted in the simple game.

Kebrin tried a hand at Wherry Ball as well, as the prizes seemed halfway worthwhile and it wasn’t too expensive.

Toria jumped in excitement when she managed knock a few stuffed wherries down, “Yeah! Take that wherries! Don’t mess with me!”

Kebrin laughed with delight and clapped for Toria’s victory, “Well done!”

[Attribute check: DX 11 -2, rolled 12.]

Having grown up mostly around adults, Kebrin had little experience with ball games – and it showed. He lost with good grace, though, especially since he and Mitch were still joking and laughing like madmen.

Toria felt bad that the others didn’t manage to knock anything down and looked around to see what other games there were. “Maybe another game? Throwing isn’t for everyone,” she suggested.

Mitch pretended to be disappointed, “Aw… a few more balls and I’d hit him, for sure.” He meant, of course, the man running the booth.

The man took it in good humor and handed Toria a little wooden kazoo.

Toria laughed at Mitch’s comments, “I”m sure you would have! Just a few more throws!” She patted him on the back, and tried to get a feel for how he was doing after downing all that ale so quick.

Once they were done with the round, Kebrin went in search of other games that he thought he might do better with.

Kebrin noticed a game called “Raider’s Roost” which involved climbing a rope ladder up to a half-barrel made to look like a crow’s nest on a ship. The ladder was only affixed at a single point on both ends, so it could flip upside down easily. Fortunately, the rope was very thick and sturdy.

Kebrin pointed toward the rope game and announced, “I think I’d like to try that one. Either of you game?”

Mitch held up his hands, “No, I think I’ve done enough damage to my dignity for today.”

Toria nodded, “Sure! I’ll probably be awful at it, but I’ll give it a try!”

Kebrin laughed, and made like he was checking Mitch’s clothes for dirt. “You sure? It seems fine to me.” He walked over to do what he always liked to do, given an opportunity – see how other people do it, before trying himself.

[Attribute check: IQ 12, rolled 11.]

It seemed to Kebrin that the best way to climb the ladder was to ignore the rungs and use only the outside rope.

[Skill check: Climbing 10 +1, rolled 10.]

Toria let Kebrin go first. She watched with interest as he made his attempt, occasionally yelling encouraging words at him. “C’mon, Kebrin! You’re doing it!”

The ladder wobbled, threatening to Kebrin upside down and probably then off, but somehow he managed to keep his balance and – shaky and a little sweaty – he made it to the crow’s nest on top. He waved down to his friends, “Alright. Who’s next?”

Toria waved her hand. “I’ll try next, if Mitch still doesn’t want to go, that is?” She looked over at the other boy.

Mitch cheered, “Yeah!” when Kebrin reached the half-barrel. The bally talker gave Kebrin a dark blue, bouncy rubber ball as a prize.

Toria tried to imitate the path Kebrin had taken to the top, but somehow it just wasn’t working out and the rope ladder wobbled a few times before finally turning all the way over. Toria fell down with a squeal onto hay piled beneath the ladder for just such an occasion. She got up with a wry grin on her face and a shrug at the boys.

“Oh well, can’t win them all I guess,” she said.

Kebrin laughed good-naturedly, “No, no we can’t – but you gave it a good try. Good job.” He walked over to offer her a hand up out of the hay pile.

Toria took it and hefted herself out of the games area.

Kebrin looked between his two friends, “We’ve got two and a half more days of Gather, before it’s over – and then classes start back up not too long after that. What next?”

“A bit more shopping for me, I think. So, did you want to meet up later to go look for firelizards?” Toria asked of the two boys. “Unless you want to ask K’len for any ideas on where and when to look for them, we can try following the wild ones back to where they live?” she said, looking at Kebrin.

Kebrin shook his head, “No, I need to buy presents before the Gather’s over. And, yeah, I think we’re going to have to ask around about when and where we should go hunting for firelizard eggs.” He paused for a second, giving Toria an obviously thoughtful look. “You might have even better luck at that in Healer Hall than I will in Harper, especially since someone there already has a sizable fair. Would you mind asking around, too?”

Toria nodded, “Oh, I didn’t mean look for them now, just… later, later. I can try asking around my Hall. I guess I shouldn’t make it obvious why I’m asking, huh?”

The first Gather day was enormously fun. The weather stayed pleasant under blue skies dotted with just a few white clouds. The crowds swelled as the day progressed.

Kebrin, Mitch, and Toria were incredibly hungry by lunchtime. Fortunately, Mitch sobered up after a trio of spicy meatrolls and a baked tuber. By afternoon, Kebrin’s and Toria’s friends pulled them away to other adventures.

After the impressive feast in the Hold at dinner, it was hard to stay awake long enough to hear the Harper Masters play. The ballads were memorable and the dances were lively. Before long, it was curfew for the Apprentice Healer.

Just as they had done before, Kebrin and Toria parted ways at the fork in the road, until the Gather began again at dawn.

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