WARNING: Other players should not read this until Chapter 1 is complete.
Contrary to Tumar’s prediction, Kebrin’s childlike love of Gathers had never really waned – not even when he had to start performing at them.
He still loved the controlled chaos, the people and goods – and especially the foods – from all over, and the incredible sense of anticipation and endless possibilities that preceded them.
Most of all, he loved watching all those different people go about their lives, wondering where they had come from and where their lives would take them next.
He was still pondering this when the unexpected sight of Kailas stopped him dead in his tracks.
Sevendays before, Kebrin had finally worked up the nerve to approach Kailas to give a practiced speech about staying at Harper Hall, about not wasting his obvious musical talents. He emphasized that he could rejoin Nissa in victory, a successful and respected Senior Journeyman Harper, in only a couple of Turns. Kebrin had intended his words to be encouraging, but they only fueled the unnerving, barely-controlled, frenetic fire threatening to consume his dorm mate. Kailas had stiffly thanked him for his unsolicited advice, gotten up, and left the room without another word – still tense as an angry wherry and just as dangerous.
Kebrin reflected on this as he watched the scene at the trader’s camp unfold from a distance, and approached Kailas when the time seemed right – probably as they were performing the last few chores of striking camp. He greeted the former classmate as warmly as he could manage, told him that his new clothes looked good on him, and sincerely wished him well in his travels, his future career, and – most importantly – with Nissa.
Kebrin watched thoughtfully as Kailas and Nissa rode slowly out of sight – pondering the consequences not only of Kailas’ actions, but of his own as well. How would things have gone differently had he confronted Kailas himself instead of taking it to the Administration, or if he had turned a blind eye to it entirely?
After several uncomfortable minutes, he realized his thoughts were running in circles and resolved to ask Garoway, his Dad and most trusted confidant, about this in his next letter home.
Kebrin had gotten a little better at hiding it, but he was still nervous on Commencement Night – just like every other hopeful Apprentice and Journeyman, past and present. A faint smile played across his lips as he dressed for the event, momentarily amused by the passing thought that Masterharper Cameron’s speech should include something to the effect of, “As Harpers, we are connected together in many ways – in our shared music, our shared culture, our shared traditions – but, perhaps, most importantly by the fact that we were all absolutely knock-kneed terrified every Commencement Night. Keeping that in mind, we’re going to skip the pleasantries that you weren’t really going to pay much attention to anyway and get to what you’re here for tonight. Please listen closely to the following list of promotions.“
Kebrin watched the Masters and the other hopefuls as they filed into the Great Hall, thoughtfully studying expressions and body language. He sympathized with those who seemed the most nervous. He himself was nervous, even though he had every reason to believe that he was going to be promoted – so how must the students who weren’t certain about their fate tonight feel? With this firmly in mind, he made a point of sitting close to some of his more anxious dorm mates and friends, to offer calming words or at the very least a welcome distraction. It wasn’t lost on the young Harper that helping his friends also helped keep himself from pointless fidgeting and fretting, too.
Kebrin applauded for every promotion, finding it strange that he was starting to know almost all of the Senior and Junior Journeymen’s names – and fewer and fewer of the Junior Apprentice’s. Even worse was the mixed feeling of elation and loss when he heard that Senior Journeyman Ranthall, one of the Stumpthumpers who Kebrin had enjoyed playing and socializing with, would be leaving Harper Hall for one of several prestigious positions at distant Benden Weyr. The Weyr felt half a world away and it seemed likely that they might never cross paths again. It hadn’t crossed young Kebrin’s mind until that moment that he would someday be the one who lost friends, scattered to the winds. He felt like he’d been sucker punched. One day in the not-so-distant future, their time as students at Harper Hall would come to an end. Most would return to the Holds that had sponsored them, or to new postings all over the continent. Only a tiny few would make their permanent homes at Harper Hall. He fought back tears, desperately trying to rebuild his crumbling composure, as the Masterharper continued to announce promotions.
He had only a few moments before Masterharper Cameron read his own name. He was overcome by a bucking draybeast ride of mixed emotions as he numbly, automatically, stood and walked to join Master Salinda’s other Journeymen. It wasn’t lost on him that they made a point of welcoming him to their table, even though it was no secret that he had quickly become Master Salinda’s favorite. But why? It was equally obvious that Kebrin, while very talented, was far from the most musically gifted student at Harper Hall – or even currently studying under Master Salinda. Why had she taken such an intense personal interest in his career, and why were they so welcoming of an obvious rival for their Master’s precious time and attention? He was deeply grateful for these things, but also mistrustful – feeling that he couldn’t count on their continued good will and support since he didn’t understand its source in the first place.
Kebrin forcibly shoved these thoughts into the back of his mind and concentrated on the rest of his ceremony – applauding his classmates’ promotions and silently commiserating with those who were passed over this Turn. His applause was especially enthusiastic for dorm mates and friends, and he breathed a sigh of relief when Eurielle’s name was also called.
Kebrin stared at the beautifully etched wineglass that Aunt Gema handed to him and narrowly resisted the urge to take a couple of calming but unseemly gulps from it. Instead, he remembered his training and took only a few sips as he pondered the important symbolism of this ceremony. As his heart slowed, it gradually dawned on him that the Junior Journeymen were being served alcohol at the table for the first time – and what that meant. Journeymen were, by definition, craftsmen – just skilled enough to safely practice their craft afield without the constant supervision of a Master. Tonight, they were officially adults. Kebrin’s hands trembled slightly as he forced himself to continue to merely sip the wine and distractedly go through the motions of the rest of the ceremony. Sunrise the next morning found him and several of his closest friends, including Ranthall, sitting on the roof of a nearby cothold, still reminiscing and talking very honestly – thanks to the frankness often found deep in a bottle of alcohol – about their hopes and fears about the future.
Kebrin was genuinely surprised when his friends organized a house warming party a few days later. He was even more shocked when all of the Senior Journeymen who were leaving dropped by, bearing all of the furniture and housewares that they couldn’t take with them to their new postings. By the end of the long and emotionally difficult day, Kebrin had pieced together a working household. He collapsed into a comfortable overstuffed chair that he had previously favored in Ranthall’s apartment and reflected on how strange it was to have hours and hours of uninterrupted privacy for the first time in Turns. Even stranger was the thought that everything in the neatly appointed apartment was his. Be it small and humble, this was his home. He was content.
Kebrin pondered Master Salinda’s advice concerning classes, and – somewhat unnerved – signed up for the ones she recommended. A few days after, Kebrin finally worked up the nerve to ask her about it. As was typical for the young Harper, his question was direct and had been carefully considered. “Master Salinda, I’m deeply grateful for your patronage. I appreciate the opportunity and want to go as far as my talent will carry me.” His words might have been rehearsed, but they were also sincere. He was eager for her to believe him, since he was genuinely afraid that what he was about to ask might be inappropriate.
“Why did you choose to take me as a student? I’m smart but not the smartest, and I’m not a musical prodigy like Ramann or Eurielle. I used to wish that I was, but… you learn to use the gifts you have, instead of wishing for ones you don’t,” he said, swallowing hard. This was a still a difficult truth for the young Harper to admit to himself, much less to the Master he wanted to impress.
“I hate to ask, but… I want to continue to do well, and I’m not certain what that means now. I’ve been told my talents would be wasted as just a teacher, and now we’ve pared down my study of music to almost nothing this semester – so that means music probably isn’t going to play a large part, either. If not either of those, then what should I be working toward?”
He forced himself to meet her gaze levelly, despite the fact that he felt like he was in freefall. He couldn’t take back his questions now. If she took them poorly, his close relationship with her – the shape of his future at Harper Hall – could be damaged.
Kebrin was shocked when they asked him to begin teaching lute to Junior Apprentices. He had never heard of a Junior Journeyman teaching at the Hall before, and neither had any of his friends. That level of responsibility was normally reserved for Senior Journeymen, so he took it as a very good sign that they were already trusting him with it. Eager to prove himself up to the challenge, he asked for lesson plans and advice from several others who had taught lute or similar instruments. He even tried to talk one of the Senior Journeymen teachers, or at the very least one of his most responsible friends such as Mitch, into sitting on on the first few classes to provide constructive criticism.
Kebrin found teaching lute to eager young Journeyman Apprentices far easier than reading to Ned, although he continued to refine his technique as the semester progressed. He found it oddly satisfying to see his students learning their lessons quickly and well, and was even more gratified when rumor reached him that his class rosters for the following semester were filling up alarmingly quickly because many of his current students were recommending him to their friends.
Once, while waiting for one class to file out and another to file in, Kebrin idly strummed his second-favorite lute and mused that these classes might have gone very differently if he had been left entirely to his own devices. A faint smile played across his lips as he pondered what these classes would look like if they were taught like weyrlings at Ista Weyr. He envisioned the students lined up, holding their lutes stiffly to their chests as he walked slowly but purposefully in front of them, leading them in a chant, “This is my lute. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My lute is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.“
Kebrin was as diligent with his new studies of diplomacy, philosophy, and Hold economics as he was with everything else. For the first time in his career at Harper Hall, he often found himself borrowing books from the library – reading about other subjects his instructors and Masters had mentioned in passing, trying to fill in gaps in his understanding that he assumed were due to being raised in the isolated island paradise that was Ista Weyr. He spent what little spare time he had with Eurielle, indulging in long rambling talks with his friends, or in Master Laran’s woodworking shop. He enjoyed the company of the laconic but sharp-witted Master, and found working with his hands – making something very tangible, useful, and lasting – calming and extremely rewarding.
At some point during this time, Kebrin made more than found the time to finally take a sequence of extracurricular classes on public speaking. He told himself that he was doing it because thinking quickly on one’s feet and speaking eloquently were excellent skills for a Harper to cultivate, and this was true. He was too embarrassed to admit it, but he was also doing it as an experiment. He wanted to see if he really did have some kind of uncanny ability to influence people.
Like any Weyr brat, Kebrin was elated to learn that Feyneth had clutched. Kebrin still thought of K’len and Tilton as part of his extended family and so had always visited when he could, especially for holidays and during breaks. When the time of hatching neared, though, these visits became noticeably more frequent than usual. Young Kebrin was eager for news from Fort Weyr, almost giddy at the thought of another Weyr continuing to survive even if his own would not. Perhaps especially because his own would not.