Kebrin: Chapter 1, Episode 2.9 — Twenty-Six Keys

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

Kebrin had spent his entire childhood in Ista Weyr, isolated by geography and even more by culture. He’d come to know and love the same hundred-something people and dragons – and one watch-wher and two firelizards – his entire life. He still hadn’t gotten comfortable with large crowds by the end of his first semester at Harper Hall, so the Autumn Gather was overwhelming at first. Fortunately, his more experienced friends were happy to show him around his first Gather. He fell deeply, madly, passionately in love. It was completely unlike anything he had ever experienced before, and utterly wonderful. People had come to Fort Hold from all over the known world, bringing with them strange accents, clothes, foods, songs, and stories that were foreign to him. He ran himself ragged over the next three days trying desperately to drink it all in before it went away again, like some beautiful, impossible dream that he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe would remain real with the coming of dawn.

Kebrin was only human, and a teenage boy at that, so he was sorely tempted to laze through his second semester at Harper Hall. He managed it for about a week and a half before the constant pricking of his conscience grew too much for him. He wanted to travel the world as a Harper and, far more compelling, desperately needed to live up to his own demanding ideals about how a dragonman should conduct himself. He worked with some of his older classmates and a couple of agreeable instructors to continue studying ahead, with the thought that this lead would be invaluable when he finally reached a class that he struggled with and could concentrate heavily on it because he was already ahead in others. He continued to help other students, especially his friends and dorm mates, as his largely self-imposed studies allowed. Also as time and opportunity permitted, he actively sought out opportunities to compile a list of who owned firelizards at Harper Hall and then ask them about finding, Impressing, caring for, and training them. Naturally, he started with Aunt Gema since she had a green firelizard and was very, very approachable. It took him more nerve to work his way up to asking First Master of Strings Salinda since she was his Master and, frankly, he was still more than a little scared of saying or doing anything wrong in her presence.

Kebrin was a firm believer in the value of a positive attitude, but this belief was put to the test when he had to deal with weeks of miserable freezing rain and then with half his friends and dorm mates coming down sick. He looked after them as best he could, bringing them food – including treats wheedled out of Aunt Gema to help keep their spirits up – and the assignments that their instructors thought they could handle from sick bed. At least it kept his mind off the fact that he felt miserable and unhappy most of the time, perpetually damp and chilled to the bone. When it turned bitterly cold and students were only allowed a small amount of coal for keeping their rooms warm, his classmates and even some of his instructors teased him for his penchant for finding warm public or out-of-the-way places to nap for a while – or sometimes all night, when he could get away with it. Eventually, a classmate from an even colder climate took him aside and gave him a long lecture on exactly how to dress and redecorate his room to stay warm. This was baffling because the classmate who helped him was Eurielle, a talented girl only a Turn or two older than him – and his greatest rival at Harper Hall. Why would an enemy willingly help him? Wouldn’t she have been ecstatic if he decided he couldn’t bear the long months of bitter cold and went home to Ista Weyr in defeat? Kebrin would barely admit it to himself and never to anyone else, but he was secretly afraid that she was even more talented than he was. She was definitely more driven. He did best in the classes that they shared because her haughty teasing bruised his delicate teenage ego, goading him into working even harder than his distant dreams of seeing the world and returning to become Ista’s Weyr Harper could. Kebrin’s emotional turmoil was made even worse by the fact that he was about to turn fourteen and therefore starting to notice her – and girls in general – in a new and fascinating way but didn’t yet know how to talk to them.

Snow was still on the ground when classes ended for the Turn, so Kebrin worked with several of his classmates to organize a huge snowball fight on the field just outside of Harper Hall. This eventually involved the construction of rudimentary berms and even a couple of ‘towers’ as the battle dragged on throughout the day. The stark beauty of the pristine snow had been forever ruined, but a good time was had by all. Eventually both teams returned to Harper Hall, laughing and clapping one another on the back, to tell exaggerated tales of their valor over a long, companionable dinner. Turns later, Kebrin would look back fondly on this day as one of his happiest at Harper Hall.

Kebrin had made a lot of friends at the Hall and Hold, so the two days off before Turnover passed in a blur. Master Laran was decidedly unpopular with the students because he was so fussy and exacting about how even Apprentices crafted their instruments, so it had come as a complete shock when he offered to let them use the workshop and a reasonable amount of material to craft Turnover gifts. The one catch was that they had to show each item to him, and be able to demonstrate how they had used it to practice some skill or technique they had learned in class. Kebrin had started carving practical-sized storage boxes for his closest friends and family weeks before, but still barely finished in time. The boxes were simply but solidly made out of good-quality spruce wood, with each one possessing an interesting feature such as intricate jointwork at the corners, inlay, or delicate repeating patterns carved into the lid or body of the box. He then traded one of these boxes, a couple of small things he had purchased at the Autumn Gather, and a few precious hard-earned coins to another student who had made bundles and bundles of delicious oatmeal cookies for him to give to all of his other friends. He had chosen oatmeal cookies because they were tasty, filling, and could last for weeks and weeks if stored properly. This meant that they would make good snacks for friends who missed meals or stayed up late studying.

Kebrin absolutely loved handing out all of his gifts during Turnover, even if it made for a long and exhausting day. He asked around for Toria at the Healer Hall, but couldn’t find her. One of the assistants to the Headwoman, who was unofficially keeping an eye on people entering and leaving the Hall, assured him that she would put the cookies in Toria’s room for him with a note. It was a long walk to Fort Hold, and especially all the way up to Pentiath’s weyr, but worth it for the looks on K’len’s and Tilton’s faces. Neither man was originally from Fort Hold and they were long-accustomed to being set apart by the the mighty beasts who looked to them – so having someone who thought of them as family, however distant, visit with Turnover gifts turned out to be awkwardly emotional for everyone involved. He spent the whole afternoon catching up with them, thoroughly enjoying K’len’s stories of life in Fort Weyr and Tilton’s detailed gossip about the comings and goings from Fort Hold.

Kebrin thought it was an especially mean practical joke when someone told him that Garoway had come to visit with him. Almost no one’s family ever came to visit them here at Harper Hall, not unless they were from Fort Hold or somewhere else nearby. Pernese geography was just too rugged to allow for much casual travel. The boy had grown noticeably taller since the last time the Senior Journeyman Harper had seen him, and much more outgoing and assertive. His first half a Turn in Harper Hall, having to venture beyond his home at Ista Weyr and deal with the world on its own terms, had done him good in countless ways. It was still obvious that the boy was desperate for Garoway to stay as long as he could, though. Kebrin gave him the nicest, most intricate box he had crafted – obviously intended for him from the beginning, since the inlay was almost identical to that of Garoway’s favorite guitar. When Garoway opened it, he found one of the bundles of oatmeal cookies. Hidden beneath it was a short, simple note on a slip of heavy paper. In Kebrin’s neatest, most formal handwriting was a message the boy was too afraid to give in person:


Several Master Harpers have told me that you should have accepted a promotion to teach here, but didn’t.
For Turns, you refused to leave Ista Weyr.
I’ve thought about it and thought about it, and I think you stayed because of me.
I’m glad.
Because if you’d come to teach at Harper Hall, then you wouldn’t have been my Dad.

– Eternally grateful,

Although Kebrin had grudgingly adapted to Winter, he was still grateful to see the return of warmth and color to the landscape with Spring.  He would have dearly loved to Impress a firelizard or twenty, he was still more than happy for an excuse to spend time outdoors with the sun on his face and the wind on his skin. He also loved to play explorer, practicing his bushcraft and learning new tricks from his friends.

Kebrin was a little concerned when he realized that his classes were no longer as easy as they had been the first couple of semesters, but gradually relaxed when he realized that  the weeks were slowly but steadily passing and he was still doing well in all of them. Especially those that he shared with Eurielle, which was most of them. He had less free time than he had before, but took comfort in the fact that he at least found most of his classes interesting. He wasn’t nearly as interested in dance as many of the girls were, but paid close attention anyway since he was determined to do better at the Harvest Dance later that Turn.

Kebrin offered what he hoped was a reassuring smile when Ned nervously approached him and spoke. “Hello, Ned. It’s nice to meet you. My name’s Kebrin.”

He nodded encouragingly as the drudge talked. When Ned was done, he replied very seriously, Thank you for helping out around the Hall, Ned. It’s important that everyone do their part, and you’re definitely doing yours. So… sure, I’ll be glad to help you. You don’t have to give me your food. You already pay plenty by helping Aunt Gema out every day.”

It never once crossed the young man’s mind that he might not help Ned. He invited the drudge to sit down across from him at the table, and began trying to apply what he had learned in his teaching classes. At the end of the first session, he made certain to set the next class date a couple of days later so he could ask his teaching instructor for very specific advice on teaching drudges to read. If they couldn’t help him, he would ask around about other instructors who might be able to – or even risk venturing into the unfamiliar territory of Healer Hall to ask Toria if she would help him find someone there who might be willing to help with the information he needed.

[Attribute check: IQ 12, rolled 7.]

Even with regular guidance from his teaching instructor, tutoring Ned proved to be a lot harder than Kebrin had anticipated – mostly because Kebrin wasn’t a grown up yet and still needed to develop patience.  In this way, it was a learning experience for both of them.  Following his instructor’s advice, he started by helping Ned to map the letters to word sounds and then start building those word sounds into words for tangible things in their environment.   Repetition was absolutely critical.  As the semester progressed, Kebrin was gratified to see that Ned was making slow but very real, very permanent, progress.

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