Duty forces Kebrin to trade one dream for another…
Master Salinda seemed to appreciate the directness and honesty of Kebrin’s questions. She insisted on making them a pot of tea and serving it at a small, decorative table overlooking the courtyard from high above.
“Kebrin, that is a very intelligent question, but it’s one we usually get from a few, special students studying to become a Master. I’ll do my best to answer, but this is not something you can share with younger students,” she began.
“Harpers are musicians and teachers and historians and even mediators, from time to time. Some of us are gifted in other ways. We learn to make new and better instruments. We write ballads or plays that will last the ages and convey something that mustn’t be forgotten. We try to maintain tradition and help it evolve when it must,” she explained, pausing to blow on her cup of tea to cool it.
“Those are my other students. You’re not competing with them. You don’t have to sing better, play better, or even write better songs. You need to be a leader… or perhaps even a confidant that helps someone else lead. You’re probably not going to teach history or record it, you’re going to give it a shove when it falls off the right path. And you’re going to lose a lot of sleep wondering what path that is.”
Master Salinda did her best to explain more about the inner workings of Harper Hall’s highest ranks and the real, often secret duties of Harpers posted to the most critical Holds. The best Harpers didn’t write songs about battles… they averted them.
As Kebrin began his fourth Turn of study at Harper Hall, he noticed a new social divide between Journeymen. It wasn’t their maturity, although some students were wrestling with the privileges and duties of adulthood more than others. It wasn’t the fiercely competitive nature of those still seeking sponsorship, as he was already familiar with that. It was a growing divide between those who were staying two more Turns and those who would be leaving in the Spring.
All Harpers considered themselves part of a special community, but this was something deeper, something greater. There was a growing sense of family among students who thought of being a Harper as a way of life and not just a career. No one needed to achieve Master rank to secure a bright future. Most Harpers wanted to become a Master as the ultimate acknowledgement of their dedication to the craft and their ability to contribute to its future, not as a way to earn more Marks and larger apartments.
There were always exceptions, of course, but they weren’t part of the Hall’s most respected inner circle.
The Summer of 1,253 was pleasant and mild, even by Fort Hold standards. Kebrin always found mid-Turn weather amazingly cool and dry. He never felt the Summer lethargy that gripped residents who thrived on the cold mountain climate. It wasn’t difficult to spot southern-bred students, who were happy to hike or play sports in the middle of the day.
Thus, Kebrin and his kin were the first to see Pentiath circling above the Hall’s courtyard.
“There’s a pleasant sight,” commented Jomon who was lying in the shade with a cup of citrus juice.
[Attribute check: PER 11, rolled 10.]
As he looked around, it dawned on Kebrin that no one else realized Pentiath would be landing presently, right there in the courtyard and not at his weyr.
The aging blue dragon glided in gently, aiming for the largest empty space, and backwinged hard to land. At the first sound of wind rushing over wings, students panicked and ran for the buildings. Kebrin heard several of them shout in alarm.
Kebrin had forgotten how people simultaneously loved and feared dragons. When he turned to comment on it to Jomon, the Journeyman composer was already halfway back to his dormitory.
K’len was wearing a formal riding jacket with visible rank knotwork. As he removed his helmet and gloves, Kebrin started to walk over to him, but a quick look from the dragonrider warned him to wait.
Pentiath neatly folded his tail and wings to keep them out of trouble. K’len disappeared into the main hall.
Except for one Master, two drudges, and a handful of dorm delegates hovering by their doors, the courtyard quickly emptied. Kebrin could see sunlight shining on a hundred faces watching from the surrounding windows. He knew what it felt like to capture a crowd with a song or stand before the critical gaze of Masters, but this was something entirely different.
Pentiath pretended not to notice.
Administrator Leeland stopped by each dorm to speak briefly with the delegates, probably warning them about proper etiquette.
Headwoman Gema brought a group of young Hall workers out to view the dragon from a respectable distance.
When K’len emerged from the Hall a short while later, he was accompanied by Steward Marlen. The Steward led him on a tour of the exterior living quarters.
The Search for Feyneth’s clutch had begun.
Kebrin caught little snippets of conversation echoing across the silent courtyard. Marlen was clearly tense but excited. The dragonman showed little interest in the people he was meeting and exchanged only a few words with them.
Tumar had been standing beneath the portico leading into an Apprentice dorm. He had probably been offering useful advice to the latest batch of arrivals. Somehow he had wandered forward, staring at the blue dragon who was currently scratching an itchy wingtip. Pentiath turned to regard the librarian with one large, whirling eye.
[Attribute check: PER 11, rolled 14.]
K’len broke free from a conversation and walked swiftly over to Tumar with a startled Marlen in tow. As the dragonrider touched his arm, Tumar looked embarrassed and tried to retreat. K’len subtly blocked his path. They spoke quietly. Before long, Marlen was patting Tumar on the back and the young man looked like he could be knocked over with a feather. Marlen pointed toward the main hall and Kebrin’s friend walked off with more trepidation than if he had just been promoted to Master.
There were audible gasps from the surrounding windows.
K’len and Marlin continued making their way around the courtyard until they reached Kebrin’s apartment building. Three students were brave enough to emerge and greet the pair. When K’len reached Kebrin, Pentiath let out a staccato rumble. The dragonrider’s eyes glazed over for the briefest of moments.
“Well that’s no surprise, is it,” K’len began. “Good to see you again. Pentiath insists that you accompany us back to Fort Weyr,” he said so casually that it took a moment for the meaning to sink in.
Kebrin finally started to breathe again when Marlin gave him several rough, congratulatory thumps on the back. “Well done, we’re proud of you,” the Steward assured him, but deep down he knew that Master Salinda would be heartbroken. “Wait for us at my office, please?”
[Attribute check: Will 11, rolled 16.]
Kebrin crossed the courtyard in a daze, almost unaware of the watchful gaze of Pentiath and the open amazement of his fellow students. It felt as if he were standing still and the Hall’s shadowy entrance was swiftly drawing near.
What would Eurielle think? Would he even have a chance to say goodbye?
Kebrin made his way to the Steward’s office and found Tumar standing just outside the door.
Color returned to the librarian’s face when he noticed Kebrin approaching. As his friend stopped beside him, he asked quietly, “This is good, right? You know all about this. You’re coming, too?” Tumar’s voice was shaky but he seemed to draw comfort from the presence of his Weyr-bred friend.
Hours seemed to pass before the Steward and dragonrider joined them. Marlin was excited and frenetic, like a student who drank too much klah before a dance. K’len was a rock. At his age, he had doubtlessly been tasked with Search riding several times before.
“Yes, good, good!” Marlin chortled. “Let’s go see the Masterharper, he’ll want to wish you both well before you leave and don’t worry we’ll pack up your things and inform your Masters, this is wonderful, what a singular opportunity, they’ll take great care of you at the Weyr and…”
Kebrin wondered if Marlin had trained as a vocalist, since he could talk so long without taking a breath.
When the four of them arrived, Masterharper Cameron was sitting at his desk, wearing a stylish semi-formal outfit. He sat up straight with a commanding, almost regal look.
[Attribute check: IQ 12+2, rolled 13.]
The Masterharper had obviously prepared for this moment, which is why it was so confusing when his pleasant, approving demeanor shattered into a look of dismay.
Steward Marlin began introducing Kebrin and Tumar, oblivious to the change in the Masterharper’s expression.
“Could I speak with the Masterharper?” K’len interrupted as Cameron was standing and clearing his throat.
“I was just about to ask the same,” the Masterharper replied.
“Oh, what? Yes, of course,” Marlin said agreeably, glancing between the two men. He shepherded Kebrin and Tumar out of the room and into a nearby lounge.
Ten minutes later, K’len walked in and informed Marlin, “I’ll take it from here. Thank you for your assistance, Steward.”
The Steward positively beamed at the boys before departing.
K’len slowly crossed the room and placed a hand on Kebrin’s shoulder. “Next time, I’m afraid,” the dragonrider said gently. “Someday, blood will tell. The Masterharper wants to see you.”
With that, K’len turned and began escorting Tumar out of the room.
“Wha- what?” the boy protested weakly.
“This will be your first ride on a dragon, won’t it?” K’len asked Tumar to distract him, as he already knew the answer.
When Kebrin finally worked up the nerve to return to the Masterharper’s quarters, he found the man sitting informally on his desk.
Cameron let out a long breath. His eyes were filled with sympathy. “Kebrin,”he began, “Have a seat? We need to talk. I had hoped to put it off another Turn but this wher’s come to roost.”
He paused a moment to collect his thoughts. “A Harper’s life is never simple, never ordinary, and yours will be less ordinary than most. The things we choose to do and say have an impact, not just for ourselves and our Hall, but others as well. Sometimes… sometimes for all of Pern.”
The Masterharper wavered for a moment. “There’s a diplomatic component to consider here. If you stood the sands at Fort Weyr, the Weyrwoman at Ista would be offended. I realize that new riders will transfer but I’m sure you can see, it’s not the same thing.”
He waited for Kebrin to consider his words before continuing.
“The most compelling reason to keep you here, however, is that you’re gifted,” Cameron said carefully. “You were born with the ability to tap into certain mental disciplines that are exceptionally rare. Your talent can be trained here at the Hall and put to good use. To be frank, it would be wasted at a Weyr.”
The Masterharper stood and straightened his tunic. “Kebrin, you have the ability to influence how people feel, not just with your music, but with your mind. It’s a gift but an even greater responsibility. I’m going to assign Master Karthen to instruct you in its proper use. When your fourth Turn of study is complete, he will become your patron. Master Salinda will understand.”