Maybe it was Zair.
Maybe Zair was feeding him these thoughts and images as an interpretation of the nurturers in his life. Scorch it, but he was a man long past such things. He'd buried two serious loves, come to a deep friendship with another, and had no need for yet a second infatuation with a powerful young woman. Especially one that was on the younger side of mature.
"You need to learn where we actually fall in this medley of life, my dear little bronze," Robinton said, tapping his finger on Zair's nose. He then smiled as the brilliant eyes focused on his finger, in an almost-crossed view.
The impression of 'queen/mother/bronze-mate' came through again with a solid image of Menolly in the thoughts, and Robinton sighed.
"No, my dear little friend. Menolly's tune is not yet played to the melody of another, and should not be. She is young, and will find her bronze, or a queen, in her own time."
Zair cheeped reprovingly at him, then launched himself to the sideboard, investigating the remnants of his, and Robinton's breakfast.
The saying that the first Journey is always the hardest was proving true in the most unusual manner, for Menolly was full of excitement, her belongings packed, while Robinton felt apprehension. It was a short Journey, not a posting, but a wandering where Menolly could take her new perspectives and tunes to the small holds of Fort and Ruatha.
Why then did Robinton feel as if his days were about to be more unstructured than usual?
"You're brooding, Rob," Silvina said, as she fluffed out new bedding on his mattress. He looked at her in complete reproach, hurt by the accusation, but she took on that air of knowing all things Harper. He relented into a smile.
"Menolly's young for her honors," he said. "And I worry."
"Pssh. Worry over something more of worth to worry for, Master Harper, for that one has her head on straight and then some. Not a Journeyman I've met, yourself included, that could have survived all she has, flourished, and manage that fair of hers!"
Robinton chuckled. "Perhaps then I have become a senile old fool, too accustomed to the care and warmth of a musician set after my own heart!"
He caught the edge of a shrewd look from her, before she smiled and set to tidying his quarters, leaving him wondering at her own thoughts.
It wasn't the first outing to a Hold Gather for the pair, but it was the first with just the two of them, a-dragonback, and with Menolly only just returned. He did not know how she had bribed all but Beauty and Rocky into staying, but those two minded her, taking Zair under their wings, so to speak, to go ahead to Tillek.
Maybe that was the other part of his unease. They were going to Tillek, and old memories might stray to the surface.
Rubbish, he told himself firmly, settling behind her on the dragon, before reaching past to grip the rider's shoulder that they were set.
The warmth of his Journeywoman vanished into the utterly impenetrable cold of between, before resuming in the brisk air of their destination. As they came down to land, a handful of responsible Hold youth came forward to take the various cases up to the Square, delaying the descent from the dragon for a moment. Robinton slipped free at last, trying not to linger on the way it had felt to hold on to his student. That was the wrong course of thought, and he would need to reinforce his mental boundaries as they thanked their dragon and the rider.
"Shall we?" Menolly asked, offering a smile and her arm, a cheekiness in the gesture that had him smiling broadly for how far she had come.
While the unseasonable rain had been a boon in the latest Fall, Robinton was finding it, and his inability to find a good reason to go out from the Hall, rather dreary. He flicked a piece of meat in the air, for Zair to swoop in and grab it, taking it to the mantle to eat it more neatly there than when he'd been a voracious clutchling.
They were not alone, as his Journeywoman had come with his tray, and he had bid her stay for the company. She had only Beauty with her, and was unobtrusive, only offering commentary as Robinton asked questions of her. She had, in the few Turns she had been with the Hall, become something of a fixture in his life, even if he refused to give his heart what it believed to be right. That Zair often agreed with his heart and had taken to boldly flirting with Beauty was not helping in the least.
Menolly was in the window seat, idly running through stretching exercises on her gitar — no, he corrected himself. That was his journeyman instrument, the one she had borrowed early on in her stay here. Its tone was quite different from the one she had fitted to Jerint's strenuous specifications. He hadn't realized she'd kept hold of it, to be honest, but he was inordinately pleased to learn she had.
Rather than grumble at the weather, or fail to appreciate that Pern was quiet enough to give him a respite from travel, he settled in to enjoy her tunings, for the stretching exercises gave way to just that. He eyed the sand trays, made certain one was ready for scribing, and then let himself listen for enjoyment rather than critique.
Nor could he have found much to critique, as her notes floated into his subconscious, pulling him away from his mood, and making him remember simpler times. There would be time to fret over Pern's problems later, but for now…
… now was for the joy she brought him, a joy echoed in Zair as he came back to rest on Robinton's shoulder, crooning so softly for the beautiful sounds the queen of his human fair made.
"Easy, Master," Menolly said as he came awake, sun beating down on him but not a drop of rain and only a bit of salt in the air.
He slowly sat up and looked around at the pure white sands, the utterly clear blue sky, and the placid ocean in its beguilingly deceptive calm.
"At least the boat is no longer rocking beneath us?" he said, before actually looking at her. His breath caught, as she had taken a bit of the sail's ragged cloth and fashioned a sarong, while her clothes… and his? Oh that was a bit worrisome… aired out on the boat's frame. He glanced down to find that yes, indeed, he was covered in similar fashion, around his waist. "I seem to have missed the landing."
She laughed, glancing back at him before looking shyly away. Now that wasn't something he'd seen in at least two Turns.
"I thought it best to let your clothing dry, Master, alongside mine, rather than have you catch further cold in the night air," she said by way of explanation.
"Your care is much appreciated, my dear Menolly," he told her, and knew how deeply he meant it. Zair crooned from the wallow in the soft sand he had made, but so did Beauty, making him look closer at his Journeywoman. Was she flushed or sunburned?
"I will always care for you, Master Robinton," she told him, and there was a depth there that he half-thought he had to be imagining.
"Then I am a most fortunate man."
Shards, but why had his voice deepened quite like that? She did look back to him, and now he knew it for a flush, in the way her breathing seemed a bit shallow as she tried to control her own emotions.
Why had they been born generations apart, when everything about her called to him, and was evidently returned?
"Robinton," she said, and they both knew that this was a line, a line they were dancing on the edge of. Evidently his five Turns of disciplining his heart had not been so one-sided. "May I come sit near you?"
He could say no. He could turn away from this moment, let her be his dear Journeywoman, untouchable and meant for some other to cherish.
He opened his arm instead, making room at his side, and she came to him like one of her fire-lizards chasing a tidbit of food.
Both Beauty and Zair crooned approvingly when their humans settled, side by side, his arm around her, and her head on his shoulder.
"We should not," he murmured, addressing the wher in the room.
"Must we obey should, when we have had five Turns to know our feelings? You are my teacher, my savior in many ways, but this? This is more than that. This is my heart tuned to yours."
Robinton closed his eyes, listening to her wisdom, then opened them and moved enough to press a kiss to her lips.
That she met him so swiftly, so warmly, was the perfect coda to the opening act of their opera.