WARNING: Other players should not read this until Chapter 1 is complete.
Kebrin ran with the letter to one of the several obscure nooks he had found during Fort Hold’s seemingly endless winter. He didn’t dare read it in public. His hands shook as he carefully – carefully – opened it, and his eyes grew wet on the first sentence. He was crying openly, hands shaking, by the time he reached the end. It felt like an impossibly heavy weight that he hadn’t even known had been there had been lifted off his chest.
He was Garoway’s son.
That night, he added in his neatest handwriting his second short entry to the ornate journal that Garoway had given him when leaving Ista Weyr.
The first, added months ago, was, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which we must not be silent. It is the greatest good that men know.” Below was a neat annotation of the Master’s name who said it, and the place and date.
The second read, “Don’t ever be normal. Be great.” Below was annotated, “Garoway, My Dad & Senior Journeyman Harper of Ista Weyr”
He folded the letter carefully back into its envelope, and tucked it neatly into the expensive leather-bound journal for safekeeping.
Kebrin had hoped that Garoway would visit again after his letter, but the two had to make do with letters and small parcels – Garoway’s usually including Marks – over the next semesters. Between class assignments and wanting these letters to appear as adult as possible, young Kebrin’s handwriting improved dramatically over this time. His musical and analytical skills also gradually improved, although he was eventually forced to grudgingly admit that a good number of students at Harper Hall really were better at music than he was. It pained him that haughty Eurielle was one of them. He reminded himself over and over again of what Garoway had taught him, that he was only competing with himself – to be better than he was the day before – but sometimes he couldn’t help but be jealous. Why couldn’t he have a real talent, a real gift, like them?
Kebrin tried studying harder and putting in even more hours of practice, but after weeks and weeks of this it didn’t really seem to help. He finally swallowed his pride and politely asked Senior Journeyman Ramann, one of Master Salinda’s other students and generally acknowledged by several Masters as one of the most gifted musicians currently at Harper Hall, for advice. Ramann seemed genuinely sympathetic, but had little practical advice to offer. In Ramann’s experience, many people could become competent musicians – and some could become very good, like Kebrin – but gifts like his own were a matter of birth. You were either born with them or you weren’t. He then shocked Kebrin by leaning forward to quietly admit that he wished he hadn’t been, but was mastering it anyway because “you learn to use the gifts you have, instead of wishing for ones you don’t.” Kebrin spent a lot of time pondering this over the next few weeks, and eventually added it to his journal.
Teaching Ned to read was one of the most frustrating and rewarding things Kebrin had ever done. He was tempted to quit many times, especially during the first few difficult lessons before he learned better ways to help Ned learn, but just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t quite bring himself to dash the charmingly innocent drudge’s very modest dream of reading without at least giving the lessons a hard, honest try first. As the semester – and Ned’s lessons – drew to a very satisfactory close, Kebrin wheedled Aunt Gema into helping him throw a small party for Ned and his friends to celebrate his learning to read. Kebrin made two simple but colorful banners, from scrap paper and whatever art supplies he could scrounge, for the occasion. The first read, “Great Job, Ned!” The second read, “We’re Proud of You!” And he was.
Kebrin continued to meet Tumar a few times a Semester, usually over lunch or in Harper Hall’s courtyard on afternoons when the weather was pretty. It was during one of these visits that he hinted that Kebrin should invite Eurielle to the annual Harvest Dance. Tumar listened patiently as Kebrin listed all of the reasons why this was a bad idea – first among them that she obviously must hate him – and then repeated his recommendation again, this time emphasizing that he was older, more experienced, and had only Kebrin’s best interests at heart. Kebrin reluctantly agreed, but promised that Tumar would never hear the end of it when – not if – she rejected his invitation, probably in the most scathing and publicly humiliating way possible. Seemingly unperturbed by this, Tumar nodded agreeably and said that they would cross that bridge when they came to it.
Tumar wasn’t wrong. It took Kebrin over a week to work up the nerve to approach Eurielle to ask her if she would go with him to the dance. He had been braced for a blistering retort, not the beautiful smile that suddenly graced her face – instantly transforming it from stern to beautiful – or the gracious acceptance that followed. Tumar later had to explain to him why she had groused, after arrangements had been made and they were walking out of the classroom together for the first time, about his invitation having “taken twice as long as it should have.” Kebrin was surprised to find that they both had a good time at the Harvest Dance, once they relaxed and actually started talking to one another. He was even more shocked to learn that she was not, in fact, the horrible monster he had imagined. She was the hero of her own story. She was often abrasive because she had given up on making friends, since competition among the girls at Harper Hall was far more vicious than anything Kebrin had experienced or even heard of among the boys. They would never, ever accept her because of her beauty and musical talent; one might have been forgivable, but never both. She studied and practiced so much because she desperately wanted to become a real Harper, not spend a few Turns learning to play music “like a bird in a gilded cage” for a future husband like her wealthy parents planned. This was her one real chance at freedom, and she wasn’t going to let it slip through her hands.
The biggest surprise of all came at the end of the night, however, when he was walking her back to her dorm and she obliquely asked if he thought he might ask her out again some time. He readily agreed, and they attended a few other events, including the Autumn Gather, together as their busy class schedules permitted.
Kebrin slowed and then stopped eating as a Junior Journeyman played the song about dragon dreams. He commented quietly to his friends, “I thought I was the only one who dreamed over and over again about being a dragon. I guess not.” He paid rapt attention to the rest of the song and its lyrics, with every intention of playing it for himself later.
He made small talk with his friends while waiting for the announcements to begin, trying to help everyone – including himself – keep calm. He had done very well in his class on dancing, and even gone to the optional extracurricular lessons on proper table manners for events like this – but deep down he still felt like an impostor, especially wearing such fancy clothes. Just like pretty much every other hopeful student in the Hall, he fell into nervous silence the moment Masterharper Cameron began to speak.
Kebrin felt lightheaded, his heart pounding in his chest and his palms suddenly sweaty, when his name was called. In retrospect, he wasn’t certain how he made it across the seemingly impossible huge gulf between the Junior Apprentice and Senior Apprentice tables but he somehow managed it. He had meant to listen to see if any of his other dorm mates or friends had been promoted, but forgot in the panicked excitement of his own Walking the Tables. He was disappointed to learn later than none of them had been. He resolved to continue helping them as best he was able even after he moved to Taskin dorm, especially Rashtin since there was absolutely no reason Kebrin couldn’t help him make new friends now that his nightmares weren’t alienating his dorm mates. He also reminded himself that a number of younger students, such as Dainen, seemed to look up to him – so he would need to continue to serve as a good example for them as well. More immediately, though, he look forward to telling G’len and Tilton and writing a letter to Garoway to share the good news with him and the rest of his family back at Ista Weyr.