A whirlwind of study is interrupted by a plea for help…
MUSIC: Harper Days
The Autumn Gather ended with a massive fireworks display. Gradually, over the next three days, the assembled travelers and traders made their way down the wide road leading out of the mountains. A few days after that, Kebrin’s second semester began.
Only two of the classes were challenging. Kebrin was taught how to construct his own lutes from scratch. He also had to learn advanced musical notation and how to transcribe a song simply by hearing it. Everything else was easy, as Garoway had taught him musical terminology and all the teaching songs. Kebrin was quickly transferred to a more skilled ensemble, with members who practiced even more often than he did.
Winter started early. It was tolerable once Kebrin learned to emulate the older students who dressed in layers. As the days grew short, the mountain was hit with a patch of brutal weather lasting almost a month. The rain was bitter cold and turned into hail at night. At least one hearth remained burning in the main living cavern at all times. The dorms were given an extra helping of coal to ward off the damp chill, but several of Kebrin’s friends still caught a cold.
In the last sevenday of the Turn, two inches of snow fell on the mountain. The glittering white powder was magical, except where was tromped into slush along the walkways.
The two days of Turnover were right in the middle of a six day study break. Most of the celebrations were indoors. The living caverns were decorated with wreathes and garlands that filled the air with the scents of milkweed, almond, and vanilla. Harpers played traditional songs, encouraging everyone to sing along. Turnover dinner didn’t rival the feasts of the Gather, but it was a special time for cherished friends and beloved family members to enjoy each other’s company.
Friends exchanged small gifts, usually fun little items they had crafted themselves. Gifts between family members were sometimes larger and more useful. Kebrin received a set of writing nibs from Jomon, who was still on track to become a composer. Baylen made him a small frame drum tambourine so that he could play music during Turnover without risking tendonitis. Mitch gifted him with a bundle of spicy beef jerky, Rashtin made him a burl wood wrist cuff, and Dainen surprised him with a leather scroll tube that would keep papers safe when traveling by dragon. Toben brought everyone honey-covered fritters stuffed with gingered walnuts.
Garoway arrived for a visit with tall, quiet G’legam of blue Tegorth, who proved to be much more sociable after a glass of wine. Garoway let Kebrin give him a tour of Harper Hall to see what had changed since his last visit, while G’legam wandered off to visit a friend at Fort Hold. He also gifted his former pupil with a large tea-brewing mug, since klah was too strong to drink on the same day as a performance.
When Spring arrived, the landscape transformed. The monotony of dull, pine green was broken by vivid wildflowers in every color imaginable. Wildlife returned from hiding in the valleys or slumbering in remote caves. The river swelled and could only be crossed by the bridge on the main road. The whitewater rapids were full of Steelhead fish, fighting to return to the lake that spawned them.
As another semester ended, Baylen walked the tables and moved out of Gannon dorm. Everyone would miss him, but at least he would stop trying to sneak coy hold-girl Denika into his room.
Spring Break was spent relaxing, exploring, and hunting for firelizard eggs. No clutches were found, but everyone involved had an exciting time hiking along the mountain trails.
As Summer progressed, Kebrin’s studies expanded to include musical history and traditions, preserving music, storytelling, dance, and teaching. These new topics were piled on top of lute, flute, and singing instruction. He could no longer coast through any of his classes. If he did well, he would probably walk the tables next Spring. As a Senior Apprentice, Salinda would dedicate more time to training him, though she already seemed determined to fill Kebrin’s head to bursting.
One evening, Kebrin sat alone at a round, stone table in the main courtyard. This table was special — the top was a mosaic depicting a gold and bronze dragon chasing each other in a circle. Most of the students had gone to the living caverns, attracted by the savory smells of freshly cooked dinner. The rest had taken their papers and instruments and gone indoors, suspicious that the dark, foreboding cloud overhead might burst into rain at any moment.
A young man stepped out of the shadows of the cloister and approached Kebrin. It was Ned, a drudge at Harper Hall for as long as he could remember. His appearance was typical of a Hall drudge — almond-shaped eyes that slanted upwards with strange spots around the iris, a child-like face with a button nose, and chubby little fingers. He was friendly and kind but prone to distraction. Sometimes he would clean a pot or patch of floor and wouldn’t stop until someone pulled him away.
He hovered nearby, shifting his weight from foot to foot, waiting for Kebrin to acknowledge him and invite him to talk. When the young Harper waved him over, Ned beamed with a warm, trusting smile.
“Hello,” Ned began simply. “Hi, I’m Ned. I’m Ned and I’m glad to meet you.” His hands were clasped tightly together with nervousness and he didn’t offer to shake. “I know you. You’re the nice one, the one that stops people from fighting. I like that, fighting is bad.”
Ned’s smile was infectious and completely genuine. “I help too, I help every day. Can you help me? I want to learn. I know the letters but I can’t say them. Can you teach me to read? Please? I can trade you, here, see, I have things to trade.”
Ned offered Kebrin a neatly wrapped bundle of yellow skillet bread. It was probably a substantial portion of Ned’s dinner.