[NOTE: These events occurred shortly after the Turnover of 1,266, in Ch 5 EP 18]
- I finally found a day a few weeks after Turnover when Masterharper Cameron and I were both free to meet. I was surprised when Valenth was reluctant to jump to Fort Hold. He knew that there was tension between Fort and Ista Weyrs, even if he didn’t fully understand why. We went anyway, but I promised to do something that he would enjoy afterwards as a reward.
- People at Harper Hall were uncomfortably formal with me. As I pondered this, I realized that many of my old teachers had retired or accepted postings elsewhere, and my classmates had scattered like leaves on the wind after graduation. There weren’t many people left at Harper Hall who remembered I had once been a Harper, and fewer still who knew I had once been Cameron’s chosen successor. I glanced down self-consciously at my hands, thickly-callused, scarred, and strong enough to toss heavy sacks of Firestone – but incapable of the precision required for delicate chamber music. I wouldn’t think I had ever been a Master Harper, either. I was separated from my old life by an ever-widening gulf in position and rank, Turns, and – most importantly – experience. It was a sobering thought, and one more than a little tinged with wistful nostalgia for how things had once been and how they might have turned out differently.
- Warned by a teacher or student, Steward Marlen greeted me as I was still walking toward Harper Hall’s administrative offices. The aging administrator greeted me warmly, talking a little too fast with excitement as he caught me up on recent events at the Hall. When he casually mentioned that his old bones liked Fort Hold’s bitterly cold winters less and less each Turn, I offered to let him come guest with me at Ista Weyr for a few days. He grew even more excited when he realized I wasn’t kidding, and went to gather his things for a short vacation.
- Masterharper Cameron and Master Lancaster were waiting for me when I knocked and let myself into Cameron’s office. Lancaster still looked painfully young to me, despite his artfully staged haircut, beard, and clothing – all intended to convey age and experience that he didn’t really have yet. He looked more mature than the last time I had seen him, though, and listening to him talk, it was hard to not admit that he was growing into his role as the Masterharper’s understudy.
- Masterharper Cameron asked me some about the trip, especially what I thought and felt about certain things. It felt odd admitting to anyone, even the Masterharper, that our trips to Varlada had been both exhilarating and absolutely terrifying. Cameron was most interested in learning about Syfrin Valley Outpost and the political landscape of the five Dominions. I would have preferred to talk about their music and culture, but dutifully reviewed the many maps and drawings I had drawn and told him everything I could. Cameron’s extremely hard to read, but it gradually dawned on me that the establishment of Syfrin Valley Outpost without his knowledge – the fact that the Lord Holders had acted in concert to distract him from what they were actually doing – really upset him. Despite his impressive self-control, I don’t think I had ever seen him so angry before.
- After what felt like hours, Cameron finally finished grilling me on Syfrin Valley and the Dominions. I thought the working part of our conversation was finally over, but then he casually mentioned that an annoyingly persistent rumor was circulating through Hold and Hall. They were half-joking that Masterharper Cameron had finally placed a Harper (meaning a Harper agent) into the Weyrs. This rumor was only reinforced by the fact that all three of the Candidates I had chosen to stand the sands at Maranath’s first clutching had Impressed, and all three were at least minor Talents and had either been Harper apprentices or had some musical skill.
- Right before I left, I asked Master Lancaster – who had been silently observing most of the conversation – if he would like a firelizard for companionship, carrying messages, and such. He nodded eagerly, and I told him that I would be honored to gift him with his first during the next spring’s clutching. We all parted on very good terms, although I could tell that the very existence of Syfrin Valley Outpost weighed heavily on Cameron.