WARNING: Other players should not read this until Chapter 1 is complete.
Autumn was a time of transition. Kebrin learned that he would finish his fourth Turn of study under Master Salinda. After meeting with the Masterharper, she accepted Kebrin’s eventual transfer with considerably more optimism.
“You were always going to outgrow our little troupe,” she told him before the break. “You’re just leaving a little sooner. I’ll still be right down the hall if you need anything.”
Once his seat in strings opened, Master Salinda would become Eurielle’s patron. The young harpist’s friends, aware of her dedication and fiery temperament, knew better than to suggest favoritism was involved in the decision. Eurielle had been told to step away from the harp until the end of Autumn break, as she had developed serious tendinitis. It was the only ailment in the Hall more common than a cold. Despite the hiatus, Eurielle was overjoyed.
“Someday,” she said one evening, resting against Kebrin’s shoulder with happy tears in her eyes, “I’m going to be a Master.”
While many students held Kebrin in awe since his refusal to Stand the sands, seeing it as a sign of his unwavering dedication to Harper Hall, a few thought of him as unlucky. The shift in his social circle was sudden but not surprising.
Feyneth’s clutch hatched at Fort Weyr, an event much celebrated at Hold and Hall. As twenty-three new weyrlings began training, those living in the shadow of the mountain enjoyed free music, food, and drink.
Tumar returned to Harper Hall a day later. “I’m so glad,” he admitted quietly to Kebrin. “I really didn’t want to be a dragonrider. No offence, they’re brilliant people, it’s just not what I was meant for.”
He also asked Kebrin why two of the eggs didn’t hatch. The weyr-brat was able to explain that older Queens sometimes laid infertile or weak eggs, which she usually pushed aside before Hatching Day.
During Autumn break, Kebrin’s new Master, Karthen, sent word that he should buy a wardrobe befitting his new station, along with a small fortune in Marks. Master Karthen also mentioned that he would return to the Hall in less than a sevenday. The message arrived from Ista Weyr with a second letter from Garoway. This took Kebrin by surprise, as he had been told Master Karthen was leaving a post at Ruatha Hold.
In a short but heartfelt letter, the Weyrharper expressed great pride in Kebrin’s new career and hinted that he learned of his son’s rare ability. He also revealed that Karthen was touring the Weyr, asking many questions about Kebrin’s life and personality.
“Everyone remembered you to him fondly,” Garoway tried to reassure his son.
It seemed premature to buy a Senior Journeyman’s wardrobe, until a Master Salinda reminded Kebrin that it would take several months to make quality custom outfits and appropriate footwear. He was measured by a cobbler and a tailor the very next day.
A visitor arrived during the second sevenday of Autumn Break, delivered to Harper Hall by dragon. Kebrin was able to catch a glimpse of them out his apartment window.
[Skill check: Savoir Faire (Weyr) 12, rolled 12.]
The dragon was large and muscular, a deep honey-brown that was almost bronze. From the heraldry on the riding gear, he was assigned to Ruatha. The dark-haired rider looked entirely too young for such an assignment, perhaps in his mid-forties. Kebrin had heard that Ruatha was both a wealthy and prestigious Hold, but even Fort Hold was assisted by an oldtimer.
Kebrin watched the passenger dismount and could tell that he had been adragonback more than once. He had his own riding jacket and didn’t require any assistance, despite the dragon’s impressive size. He was taller than average and looked to be in his early-thirties. His hair and clothing weren’t Weyr-style.
The barely perceptible echo of a dragon’s trumpeting call was heard in the courtyard. The brown responded with a low, undulating sound from deep within his chest. Pentiath was no doubt conversing with the new arrival.
Kebrin watched as the two men asked for directions, eventually making their way to his building. As they reached the front porch, the taller of the two men stepped back and scanned the open windows. One face in particular caught his attention.
“Hello, up there, do you happen to be Junior Journeyman Kebrin?” he shouted. “Would you mind coming down for a moment?”
Kebrin couldn’t help but sigh. If anyone had forgotten recent events involving the young Harper and dragons, they were reminded yet again. Apparently, his days of being a normal student were gone forever. He made his way downstairs and found the men waiting in an adjacent patio.
The rider was slim, with short, wavy black hair and sideburns that ran down to an equally short beard. His skin was darker brown than his dragon’s and his dark eyes were set into a stern, oval face. It was hard to imagine him being cheerful.
With his riding jacket over one arm, Kebrin could see the Harper-themed embroidery of the other man’s clothing. He wore a cream-colored tunic with cerulean threadwork and mother-of-pearl buttons, rolled carelessly at the elbows and cinched with a tooled leather belt. It was very stylish, something a man might wear at a social event to attract women. Wind-tousled brown hair and stunning blue eyes over a perfectly shaven face, a square jaw, and an air of unshakable confidence completed the package.
Kebrin had met many Harpers but never one like this.
He smiled immediately when Kebrin appeared and held out his arm, shaking Kebrin’s with enthusiasm.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Kebrin, son of Garoway, Junior Journeyman, student of Master Salinda, formerly of Ista Weyr!” he said, his eyes twinkling with mirth. “I’m Master Karthen and this is K’relen of brown Garioth.”
Karthen’s voice was resonant and clear. A Harper could tell it was well trained.
K’relen nodded once as he was introduced, then briskly turned and walked back to his dragon. He began unloading Karthen’s belongings from a cargo net while the Harper Master continued to chat amiably.
“K’relen’s a right good fellow, once you get to know him. He’s been ferrying me around for some time, but I’m afraid this was our last trip,” Karthen explained. “Ah, Ruatha, how I shall miss you!” he added in an amusing, overly dramatic voice.
Karthen put a hand on Kebrin’s shoulder. “I need to see my things up to my new apartment. Would you mind fetching two mugs of spiced klah and meeting me at my office, wherever that might be?” he asked with a charming smile.
Half an hour later, Karthen joined Kebrin in an obscure office, the last door in a dead-end hallway. It was dusty and windowless but had all the basic furnishings. Thanks to thick earthenware, the klah was still reasonably warm.
Karthen put his fists on his hips and looked around the office. “Perfect, absolutely perfect! Yes, this will do nicely. I’ll settle right in. Remind me to thank the Administrator,” he said, heaping on the compliments. A moment ago, Kebrin had thought the office was dark and drab, but really, it was cozy with ample privacy.
Kebrin’s brows furrowed as a headache began to form behind his eyes.
Master Karthen slowly sat on his desk. “Oh, there it is…” he said quietly. “Shake it off, now. Look around and tell me what you really think.”
Kebrin wasn’t officially Master Karthen’s student but the lessons had already begun.
During the next sevenday, Kebrin learned to sense the use of mental disciplines, and perhaps more importantly, to know when he was bringing one to bear. Master Karthen had no intention of allowing an “awakening power” to be used randomly for months, simply because of a semester schedule.
Whenever someone asked Kebrin what he was studying under Master Karthen, the correct answer was, “Diplomacy. He’s preparing me to take over his post at Ruatha Hold.” Eurielle accepted the answer without question. Ruatha was large enough to host several Harpers. She started to wonder if they wouldn’t be separated after all.
Winter crept down from the peaks, embracing the Hold and Halls by the middle of Autumn break. One night, a heavy windstorm tore at the beautiful Autumn colors, leaving the forest a skeleton of its former self. Throughout the next day, drudges and Apprentices busied themselves, picking up fallen branches and collecting leaves. Journeymen cleared the roofs and burned debris. Before long, the smell of pine smoke reached even the deepest recesses of the Hall.
The next day, staff and students were rewarded with a special luncheon. The pine smell was replaced by the savory scents of roast wherry, orange tubers, sweet gourd pies, and milk punch. At Kebrin’s table, rumor had it that a group of Senior Journeymen had made a giant wher-sport out of woven sticks and planned to burn it after dark. All Journeymen were invited, especially if they brought a handful of cone seeds to throw on the bonfire.
MUSIC: Primal Forge
Cheerful voices filled the main cavern. The table was bumped hard and several mugs tipped over, spilling their contents on the table. Several shouts of “Hey!” and “Easy now!” came from every direction.
[Attribute check: PER 11, rolled 12.]
Ned hurried over to help clean up Kebrin’s table, wiping at milk punch with a fluffy towel. “Don’t cry over spilt cream,” he joked with a crooked smile.
Kebrin felt the table vibrate again. He looked over just in time to see Largo leap from Master Salinda’s shoulder and disappear between. “That’s odd,” he heard her say, “He usually loves wherry meat…”
The trembling quickly grew into shaking, causing quite a bit of alarm. The cavern fell silent except for nervous squeals from several young children. Mugs sloshed liquid, fell over, and rolled across the floor.
“Ground quake!” someone exclaimed.
It was quickly echoed by dozens of frightened voices as students stumbled away from the tables, tripping over benches and each other in their hurry to leave the cavern. Gema and Ned grabbed iron pokers and worked to keep burning logs from rolling out of the hearths.
“Stop! All students sit down where you are!” the Steward commanded. Marlen braced himself against the Master’s trestle table and continued, “It is dangerous outside, there will be falling rocks! Stay where you are!“
A minute later, the ground quake stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
Quickly, the Masters helped settle the students into groups, away from tables and shelves. They offered words of comfort while Marlen went outside to survey the damage. A short while later, he announced that it was safe to leave.
Although the courtyard was in chaos as students ambled about in a state of confusion and wonder, the damage wasn’t nearly as bad as Kebrin had expected. There was minor damage to half a dozen roofs where falling rocks had struck them. Decorative hanging plants had fallen, smashing their pots on the cobblestones. Round tables with central pillars had fallen over and the edge tiles were cracked. No one appeared to be injured. Overall, the windstorm had required more effort to clean up than the ground quake likely would.
Students and staff gradually formed clean up crews. Tempers calmed and fears abated. Other than roof repairs, Kebrin expected everything to be back to normal before sundown.
Less than an hour later, the confident mood was shattered.
The great Sounding Horn announced that emergency watch fires were alight on the horizon. The Fort Hold drum tower began thrumming, beating out a series of long distance messages. The deep tones of the massive Argentine Bell in the highest oriel of Healer Hall urgently summoned all staff to the hospital. A wing of dragons appeared and circled on station above the fireheights.
Somewhere, something had gone horribly wrong.
Soon after, the Masters sent messengers to the dormitories, summoning dozens of Journeymen to the main hall, almost exclusively older, male teens.
Master Karthen found Kebrin personally, looking somewhat disheveled and out of breath. His face was a mask of concern.
“It’s bad, really really bad,” he explained. “The ground quake was much worse down in the hills. They’re saying…”
His voice trailed off and he ran his fingers through his hair. “I don’t know if I believe it. They’re saying everything on the eastern coast flooded. Some kind of giant wave from out at sea.”
He paused when he noticed students eavesdropping and waved Kebrin outside. “I could use your help, if you’re willing. The rescue crews are going to need all the help we can give them, and a few holders might need persuading to make sound decisions. I need you to watch my back. Grab a sturdy lute, your best travel gear, and a warm jacket. We’re going by dragon.”