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Song of the Crafter

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Song of the Crafter

An Apprentice finds a new path laid,
that leads away from Weyr or Hold,
to turns spent growing in a Craft,
nurturing their talents manifold.

An Apprentice flourishes or fails,
but if discipline shows him able,
if hard work and diligence hold true,
he will be asked to walk the table.

A Journeyman treads many roads
he plies his trade, she hones her skills
at Holds and Weyrs both near and far,
as Master and Craft asks and wills.

A Journeyman must grow and change,
learn who she is, who he will be,
craft, skill, and self, assess and hone,
so that their paths they clearly see.

A Journeyman, once Master made,
knows what he knows, knows where she stands
in Craft and Duty, work and toil
they put their skills at Pern’s demands.

A Master acts in his Craft’s name,
to best serve Craft, and Hold, and Weyr.
He or she reasons, builds, creates,
to benefit all in their care.

Apprentice, Journeyman, Master all,
in honor to your craft be true,
keep to your teachings, hone your skill,
and in your work, give Pern its due.

But Apprentice, Journeyman, Master all,
in your selves to your selves be true!
Obey, don’t break on, your Craft’s call,
for only whole hearts can craft true.

 

 

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It had been a long two turns, Menolly thought, as the blue Benden dragon slowly circled down over the familiar cliff face that gave shelter to both Fort Hold and the Harper Craft Hall.

Two turns she had spent serving as journeyman assistant to the Harpers of Bitra, Igen and Boll Holds, as well as to the Harper of High Reaches Weyr, learning the specificities of their assignments, and the intricacies of their respective situations when it came to the relationships of their Holds and Weyr to the other Holds, Weyrs, and Crafts of Pern. Two productive turns, true, in which she had managed to hone her skills in many fields that were only loosely, if at all, related to the composition or performance of music, and which she had not been able to learn in the Master Craft Hall itself, in her time as a journeyman there. But also two very long turns, and she was glad to be home. For the Master Craft Hall was home to her, had been home to her almost from the beginning of the first seven-day she had been there – her only seven-day as an official Harper Apprentice – and had only become more so during the three turns she had spent there as a Journeyman, before her assignments to Weyr and Holds had started.

Menolly hoped that she’d get to stay for longer now, not the just couple of days it took to personally exchange news and impressions, to learn new songs, share the songs she herself had crafted – and for the Masterharper to figure out where next to send her, to the best benefit of both Menolly and his plans for Pern. As it was, she supposed she would only be there for the seven-day craft conclave that was scheduled to begin the next day, for which Master Harpers returned from all over Pern to the Master Craft Hall, to elect new fellow masters and to discuss craft innovations and changes, as well as major reassignments. The craft conclave, held every two turns, was one of the Masterharper’s innovations, introduced as a reaction to the start of Threadfall and the coming forward of the Oldtimers, as well as the accelerating pace of changes and innovations on Pern. The presence of five additional Weyrs and the start of the Pass made harpering a much more delicate business, and thus a closer connection between the harpers of Holds, Crafts, and Weyrs became essential, the Masterharper felt.

So yes, realistically, Menolly thought, she would only be there for the seven-day of the conclave and then leaving with a Master Harper for a Hold or Weyr somewhere on Pern – but at least it would be a change from her assignment to Lord Sifer and Harper Casson. Lord Holder Sifer of Bitra had been a difficult Lord Holder to look to, and Master Harper Casson, who was riding on the brown Benden dragon that was circling in just ahead of them, was a hidebound and bitter old man, well suited to his holder, both deeply skeptical of a female journeyman harper.

Still, the turns were bringing change, and both Lord Sifer and Harper Casson were an exception, now, rather than the rule – there were female apprentices and journeymen not only in the harpercraft, now, but in other crafts as well, and the weavercraft had even elected its first female craft master. Talmor and Sebell – who had both made master two turns ago, during the previous conclave – had thought she would be dismayed about not being the first female master crafter, but in truth Menolly had been relieved. It was good that she wasn’t the first female journeyman to make master, for a variety of reasons, none of which had to do with her skill at the craft itself, all of which she kept close to her heart. And, from all accounts she had heard, Master Gwenola was doing an admirable job in the Weaver Craft Hall, which was all to the good – Menolly had written a song about her, about the first female master crafter and her cleverness and skill, which was being sung across the breath and width of Pern to educate Holders and Weyrfolk alike, and that, as far as she was concerned, was that.

Not that Menolly didn’t want to become a master harper, but she was willing to wait her turn, and more-or-less-gladly go where her Craftmaster assigned her in the meantime.

 

 

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“It won’t work, you know.” Menolly told the Masterharper six days later, her new master’s knots proudly pinned to the shoulder of her blue tunic, and the scroll with her new assignment in hand. “I mean, I’ll do it, and be glad to do it, but it won’t work out the way you want it to.”

“Oh?” Robinton, the Masterharper of Pern, looked up from the scroll he had been perusing, seated at the hearth in his quarters, relaxed and with his tunic unlaced at the throat, now that the conclave had ended for the day, and regarded the woman standing in the doorway. “And what is this ‘it’ that you are referring to, now that you have so rudely burst into my quarters?”

“I wasn’t rude, I knocked, and you gave me permission to enter – so don’t try to sidetrack me into a conversation about the courtesy levels of various forms of greeting, it won’t distract me, I know you far too well for that to work on me.” Menolly replied more acidly than she had been planning on – but then, this conversation was one that she both dreaded having and was adamant and eager to have, and it was more difficult than usual to keep her emotions in check. On her shoulder, Beauty gave a disquieted chirp and burrowed more deeply into Menolly’s hair, and Menolly raised a hand to soothe her.

“Ah, the dangers of familiarity!” the Masterharper chuckled, seemingly unaware – or unwilling to heed – her somewhat snappish tone, and made an elegant gesture at the chair next to him. “It seems as if all of my plans are to be foiled today, then, according to you … so why don’t you come in and sit down? You might as well be comfortable when you tell me about all the follies of my misguided ways.”

Menolly quickly entered and closed the door behind her, before striding across the room and taking the seat the Masterharper had indicated. She gently nudged Beauty, mentally projecting an image of her flying to the mantle above the window to perch next to the Masterharper’s bronze Zair, until the little queen accepted Menolly’s prodding and grudgingly gave up her favorite perch. While distance didn’t keep firelizards from picking up on their humans’ emotions, a lack of skin contact helped, and Menolly didn’t want her firelizard’s reactions to sidetrack her in any way during this conversation. Out-arguing a determined Robinton was going to be difficult enough, without any diversions. At least her other eight had stayed outside, sunning themselves on the Hall’s roofs in the golden sunshine of a summer’s evening. She sat, back straight, hands clasped between her knees, eyes on the Masterharper.

Shrewd eyes mustered her, and the Masterharper lowered the scroll he had been perusing and put it on the side table next to him, nudging his ever-present wineglass a little in the process, before he leaned back and crossed his long legs, a picture of relaxation and ease.

“Now, now, aren’t you looking serious.” He teased her, voice wry with amusement. “Well, we’ve established that you don’t want to talk about various forms of greeting etiquette, so why don’t you share with me just what plan it is you think I have foisted upon you, and what fatal flaw you have detected within it, hmm? I must confess, I am at a loss. Do you not think a turn on the Nerat Peninsula will do you good? You haven’t been there for any length of time, yet, my dear, not since leaving Half Circle Seahold, and while I am hesitant to stir up bad memories for you I think we both agree that it is important for you to get a feeling for the land and the people there, as harper rather than as part of a seahold, to further your progress as a harper. At least, you didn’t voice any objections to the assignment when we discussed it yesterday … so I am at a loss, as I said.”

Menolly took a deep breath, and replied: “What you, and everyone else, failed to mention to me yesterday, is that you are assigning Sebell to Nerat Hold with me.”

The Masterharper frowned. “Didn’t I mention it? I promise, Menolly, it wasn’t intentional. You and Sebell have been assigned to the same place before, several times, as you work together well, are generally on very good terms with each other, and of a complementary temperament and skillset, and it was always to the benefit of the craft …” his frown deepened “… I have not had time to talk to either you or Sebell long, since both your return, with the conclave and all … has something happened between you? Do you not want to be assigned to the same place? I really do believe that the delicate situation in Nerat would benefit from his presence, as well as yours.”

Menolly shook her head and interlaced her fingers more tightly between her knees, carefully, so that she wouldn’t give too much of her tension away. “I have no problem with Sebell. We get along well, as you very well know, and he is a fine man. And if both our presence will benefit Nerat, Pern, and the Craft, then I will gladly go to Nerat with Sebell.” She glanced down at her hands, took a deep breath, and then raised her gaze to meet Robinton’s again. “But for all that, your plan won’t work out the way you want it to.” Another deep breath, hands clenching even tighter together, but never breaking the Harper’s attentive regard. “For I will never marry, let alone fall in love with, Sebell.”

Startled, Robinton sat up from his casual slouch and straightened up, elbows leaning on the armrests, hands clasping in front of his torso. He leaned forward, sharp eyes studying her face intently, actively taking in her clenched hands now. On the mantle, Zair gave an alarmed chirp.

“What?!” he demanded, his voice loud in the suddenly tense stillness.

She had his entire attention now. Which had actually happened a lot, over the turns she had spent as his journeyman, while they came to truly know each other – but while it was usually something that she basked in, something that made Menolly feel warm and cherished and cared for, it only made her want to squirm now.

‘Well, no straying from the course now, Menolly,’ she told herself. ‘You’ve caused this sudden squall, better sail straight and true through the gathering storm – for both your sakes.’

Menolly took yet another deep breath – briefly and absurdly glad for all of Master Shonagar’s exacting lessons on the subject – and forged ahead.

“I won’t fall in love with Sebell. No matter what you try, where you assign us to, how isolated the Hold, if you strand us on a boat in the middle of the sea and our firelizards rise to mate – I won’t fall in love with Sebell. So, you might as well stop trying to make me do so. It’s unfair to all of us.”

She leaned back in her chair, feeling her tension partially drain away. Nothing was won yet, the storm still only gathering, but this had been gnawing at her for turns, now, and she’d finally said her piece, she’d set her course – and she trusted him not to let her down, to help her steer this ship through this conversation, and to ask her what she needed him to ask. He wasn’t only shrewd and perceptive and a tactical mastermind, but also kind and gentle and careful in every sense of the word, and if she couldn’t trust him with this truth and with this conversation, then she should never have started it in the first place. But, Menolly knew, she could trust him in this, as in everything. The waters might get choppy from his temper, his pride, or his resolve on the matter, but he would ultimately help her sail them home – even if it wasn’t to the harbor that she wished for them to reach.

Robinton’s posture didn’t change, even as he carefully observed her. If anything, he seemed to become tenser, even more intent on her. “How,” he asked slowly, carefully, clearly enunciating every syllable, his face giving nothing away, “could you possibly think that that is what I have been doing? Isn’t that a rather impertinent insinuation to make?”

Menolly shrugged wryly and held up her right hand, three fingers raised. “A mix of observation, patterns drawn from evidence thus observed - and ultimately an inference of three reasons of yours that I concluded from said patterns. Two good reasons, and one misguided one.” She paused, and added conscientiously: “Misguided in effect if not in intent, I should clarify, and that because it is based on erroneous assumptions on your part.”

Robinton leaned back, away from her, creating physical distance between himself and Menolly, and said nothing for a long while, while Menolly started to shift nervously in her chair, wondering if she had made a miscalculation after all.

When the Masterharper spoke, his tone was intimidating, cold, and distant: “And would you care to enumerate these three reasons that have led you to this audacious and arrogant reasoning, so that I can then explain to you your presumptuousness in reaching such a conceited conclusion and we can part on that disagreeable note and you can be off to Nerat, so that I shan’t have to see you again for a turn while we forget that this conversation ever took place?”

Once, his cold and distant tone would have utterly unnerved Menolly, but she knew him, and so while it did make her gulp, it did not make her want to flee the room – for she knew that with the Harper, you had to listen to what he wasn’t saying, as well as to what he was, and he hadn’t told her that she was wrong. He had told her that she was vain and arrogant in her reasoning, but he had not told her that she was wrong. And if she was right – and she was, she knew she was – she hoped she was – then he would only be acting as coldly and hostile as he was and attacking her because he felt he needed to end this conversation, to keep her from seeing too clearly.

Still, his tone was intimidating, and if she was wrong, this would spell the end of so much more than the easy familiarity that usually existed between them.

Menolly felt more of her ease drain away.

“Yes. Yes, I would care to do so.”

He made an abrupt ‘go on’ gesture with his hand, eyes still intent on her, face still closed off and cold.

“One – it would make sense, politically. Sebell … chances are high that Sebell will be elected Masterharper, once you retire – I know you have been grooming him for the position – and a Masterharper Sebell could benefit from a wife of my standing and talents, as, expanding from that, would then the Hall and Pern.” She cringed a little at the praise she was heaping on herself, but if she wanted to win through this situation, she had to stick to the facts, and not let modesty or self-awareness influence her reasoning unduly.

Robinton’s face softened slightly, and his gaze warmed a little. “Well, yes.” He huffed curmudgeonly, and continued: “Granted, that does seem like a reasoning I might follow. And would you fault me for it? You are right, that is the position I intend Sebell to take, in the not too distant future, and between his talents and yours, the Harper Hall and Pern would benefit from that match immensely. So?”

Menolly shook her head, smiling at him fondly, feeling more relaxed now that his manner had eased a little. “I told you two of the reasons were good ones. I am not disagreeing with you. It does make sense. So does my second reason for this course of action that I am claiming you have been undertaking.”

Robinton made yet another ‘go on’ gesture, but Menolly was glad to see that his face did not close off again.

“Reason two – you want me to be happy, really and truly happy.”

His face softened further and he leaned forward, a hand reaching out towards her, but he stopped himself halfway and his hand came to rest on the arm of his chair again, instead, his attempt at creating distance momentarily set aside as he regarded her with a warm, intent gaze.

“I do, Menolly, I do. And Sebell and you do get along, are of compatible temperament and share a close friendship – assuming your inferences are indeed true, would you fault me for wanting to make sure that my two best journeymen – former journeymen – are happy? Never doubt that I wish you happiness for a second, whatever else you think of me, and whatever overfamiliar motivations you assign to my actions.” The Masterharper shrugged.

At this, Menolly mirrored his pose and also leaned forward, sliding towards the edge of her chair so that she could reach out and touch his hand. He made to draw away, but she wrapped her fingers around his warm, calloused ones, stopping his movement.

“I don’t doubt that, and I won’t doubt it either, in the future.”

“So?”

Never breaking his gaze, she continued, into the now considerably narrowed space between them:

“Reason three – and this is where your reasoning has led you astray, most likely because you are looking at the situation without having all the relevant information …” Menolly had to pause, and squeeze her eyes shut briefly, before she looked at him again, for this was where she was risking everything that lay between them “… for you mistakenly believe that I could be happy with … could love … anyone who isn’t you.”

Robinton made a sound as if he had been punched. He jerked his hand out from under hers, sitting back in his chair in a violent motion. He took in a sharp breath, then released it. The Masterharper rubbed a hand over his face, and his voice sounded gravelly, tortured, when he said:

“Menolly…”

“No, hear me out, Robinton, please. It’s – I might be wrong – I don’t think I am wrong, but I might be, and even if I am right, I know there are reasons why what I feel, or what I think you feel, or even what you think I don’t feel doesn’t really matter, but before you try to convince me of those, hear me out, please?”

Zair came flying down from his perch on the window ledge and nestled himself against Robinton’s neck, crooning soft, comforting noises, but the man himself made no sound, and only moved far enough to reach up and stroke along the bronze’s back comfortingly, his other hand still rubbing his face, his gaze tortured and distant.

Beauty stayed where she was, even though she chirped a little disconsolately, Menolly’s command to not distract her overriding her instinct of coming to Menolly, too.

Still, Robinton made no sound.

Menolly took the silence as – grudging – assent, and continued.

“Robinton – I know it’s none too wise, and I’ve spent a turn sometimes wishing I didn’t feel the way I feel, that I could fall in love with Sebell, because that would make everything so much simpler, because that would be a far easier option, and thinking it made me sad and upset and angry, at myself, and at Sebell, and at you – and then I spent another turn thinking and plotting and scheming, and biding my time, waiting to finally not be your Journeyman anymore so that I could tell you this – but the thing is, Robinton, that I can’t be happy with Sebell, I can’t, and I won’t be, and even trying to think about trying to be is all wrong and makes me feel …”

She huffed angrily, and then Menolly’s so carefully crafted composure broke – while her voice remained steady, true to her Harper training, tears started gathering in her eyes and finally overflowed. At this, Beauty came winging down and settled against her neck, offering comfort, but while Menolly raised a hand to comfort her, in turn, she did not let the queen distract her. She roughly dashed her tears away with her other hand and continued:

“… well, it’s wrong, Robinton. I can’t be happy with Sebell, or with anyone else, because I love you, Robinton. You. Not Sebell. And I know it’s a little foolish and rather inconvenient but that doesn’t make it any less true. Send me to Nerat or don’t send me to Nerat, but don’t send me to Nerat if it’s only because you think it’s what I want, and don’t tell me I don’t feel how I feel. It’s not … and … I do.”

Faltering, Menolly ran out of steam, and stopped.

Robinton hadn’t moved, hadn’t made a sound, and while his gaze was now focused on her, Menolly for once could not even guess as what he was thinking. She slumped, and closed her eyes, defeated. For all his carefully cultivated stillness, she had expected him to show some kind of reaction, not this perfect, unreadable distance. Beauty crooned in her ear, but Menolly had no attention to spare her, suddenly too aware of her audacity, her foolishness, the senselessness of having dared to confront him with this, of having reached for what she could never have, of having destroyed whatever lay between them with her blunder, of losing, possibly forever, his friendship and his warm regard, for how could they every come back from her rather violent outburst of unwanted and unasked for affection ... ?

The room was silent and oppressive in that silence, and Menolly squeezed her eyes more and more tightly shut, wishing she could vanish between like one of her firelizards, or, better yet, that she could go between times to a candlemark ago, and stop herself from committing this ultimate blunder.

Finally, she heard a chair creak, and then fingers, long and warm and calloused, gently wiped at the tear tracks on her face.

Menolly opened her eyes, to find Robinton leaning forward in his chair, perched almost on its edge, to bridge the distance between them, his face close and full of emotion.

“Menolly … my dearest, most foolish, stubborn, inconvenient, brave Menolly.”

Her heart started to give a stuttering shudder of hope, at his words, but sank again as he continued:

 “I won’t tell you how you feel, or not to feel how you feel, or …” He shook his head, sighing. “… but I must tell you this: what you are saying, what you are asking for … Menolly, Menolly …” he shook his head again, firmly “… what you are asking for, Menolly, it cannot be.”

His hand brushed across her cheek one more time, before it withdrew back into his lap.

Menolly had to blink hard, had to swallow hard, a heavy, sinking feeling in her chest – one pit of despair avoided, one brief glimpse of hope, only to fall into another. He respected how she felt, didn’t blame her for how she felt, but he didn’t love her as she loved him…. ‘No!’ She mentally shook herself. ‘Remember to listen for what he does not say. He didn’t say that he doesn’t love you. He said …’.

“It cannot be.” she repeated, her voice, despite her best attempt, small.

“No.” he confirmed, quietly.

Menolly caught his gaze, took a deep breath, and stated: “Because I’m in love with you, and you don’t feel the same way about me.”

She didn’t look away, even though it was one of the hardest things she had ever done, this not looking away from him, right then and there. But she didn’t, and so she caught his twitch, his start of denial, his unwillingness to lie to her, even if it would be easier, better, possibly, if he did.

“I didn’t say that,” he replied, instead, quietly.

Menolly felt relief catch her like a dragon’s powerful wings snapping open to stop a free-fall.

“Then, if it needs saying, say it now, Robinton, for that is the only argument I have no counter to. All the others – your age, my age, your position, my position, women only recently being allowed into the crafts, what the Holds or Weyrs or, shards, Morshall or anyone else will think – I can counter. You have taught me how to think like a harper, in questions like these, after all – and I …” she shrugged, somewhat helplessly, “… well, I have had turns to ponder the matter.”

He remained silent for a long time, but then his shoulders slumped, just a little, and from that, and from his very silence, she knew that he could not and would not tell her that, that he did love her, after all.

He closed his eyes and shook his head, and his gaze, when it returned to hers, was warm and fond and only a little resigned.

“Shards know I should Menolly, but I have not lied to you in all my turns as your Master, and I certainly will not start doing so now, in this. It is imprudent, and certainly utterly unwise, and while I am foolishly hopeful that you will be able to counter all my objections,” – he started to smile, at this, just a little, and gave a rueful shrug – “I am also highly doubtful that you can in fact do so. But I will not lie to you, because you have told me your truth and deserve mine in return, even if it only serves to hurt us both, even if it is something that will never be spoken of again, even if it will only leave us both lonely and unhappy. But I will not lie to you, not in this.”

He leaned forward, all man and nothing of the Harper, reached for her hand and by their clasped hands drew her towards him, until they were leaning into each other’s space. His gaze was intent and warm, and he reached up and gently ease a strand of her hair behind her ear, on the side where Beauty was not perched.

Robinton took a deep breath. “Here is my truth, then, Menolly, Faranth help us both. I love you, and I have loved you for longer than is sensible, or wise, but I am glad to say at least not for longer than is decent.”

He shrugged wryly at that, and she chuckled, filled with relief and elation and gladness and so much love for this man that she felt she might burst.

“I love you, and, all being said and done and all insurmountable obstacles having been surmounted, I would much rather that you stay here with me, than that you go to Nerat for a turn or two and we forget about this, but, again, I just do not see how …”.

Menolly raised her hand to his lips, fingers softly tracing over them, to stop him.

“I do,” she said, somewhat daringly.

He leaned back a little, away from the touch of her fingers, and smiled faintly, wryly. “Well, in case you can craft a solution for the tangle of how the Masterharper of Pern can be in love with a Master Harper half his age, one of the first female Masters in all the Crafts, and one who used to be, Faranth help them, both his Journeyman and his Apprentice, and have it not be the scandal of the turn, nor the end of said Masters’ careers – then, shards, Menolly, as the Masterharper I am by trade and position obliged to want to hear it, for the Masterharper does long to hear of such incredible and unlikely crafting.”

He paused, and grew entirely serious, and his face took on a sad and resigned look. “Only … as a man, and not as the Harper, please, Menolly, do not make me hope where there is little hope to be had, for I do not think that I could take it.”

Menolly tightened her grip on his hand, the pressure so great that it must surely be close to hurting him, but he gave no indication of pain and only clutched her hand back just as desperately. “Shards, Robinton …” Menolly swallowed, “ … I would not do that. Not to you, not to either of us. Trust me in this, Robinton, please. Trust me, and the skill and training that you and the Craft have given me. I tell you, as your Apprentice, as your Journeyman, and as a Harper in your Craft, that I do see a way through this. Not an easy way, or one quickly implemented, but one that will be to the ultimate benefit of Craft, Hold, and Weyr, as well as to ourselves. I swear this to you Robinton. I swear it. On Faranth’s egg, my songs, my craft, and my heart, I swear it.”

Robinton’s eyes, throughout her speech, had never left hers, caught up in the fervor of her reply and the certainty that rang from her tone. Now he swallowed thickly, and his eyes shone suspiciously when he replied. “Well … you are one of the most astute Harpers of Pern, so it would be …” he took a deep breath and blew it out harshly “… insupportably foolish of me not to listen to your ideas, wouldn’t it?”

Another pause, another deep breath, and then he continued. “I trust you, Menolly, Faranth knows. I always have. Of course, I trust you. If you see a way to win through this, then I shall take my guidance from you. Let me state my concerns, then, so that you can find solutions to them all.”

“And so I shall,” Menolly replied, feeling utterly certain and relieved and powerful – that a man such as he should trust her so, with not only the future of the Craft and of Pern, but with his very heart… .

Still, there was something she needed to do, before delving into that long and no doubt difficult discussion. “I shall, Robinton,” she repeated, and it felt absurdly like a vow. “But there is something just as important that I must do first.”

“There is?” he asked, trying to sound bewildered and skeptical, but failing to sound anything but fond.

She smiled at him, softly and tenderly, and leaned forward to close the remaining distance between them, capturing his lips in a gentle and tentative kiss.

Robinton froze for a moment, long enough for Menolly to start questioning the wisdom of, once again, daring so much, of pushing this man, when she had yet to negate any of his objections – but then he jerked and turned his head slightly and his lips moved over hers to intensify the kiss, and his hands reached for her and drew her close, and then it was all eagerness and disgruntled firelizard squawks and a scramble of hands and legs and warmth and closeness and such overwhelming gladness and relief that Menolly started to cry into the kiss. When she surfaced some uncountable time later, her knees were on either side of Robinton’s thighs, her hands tangled in his hair, and she was sitting astride his lap in his chair, both firelizards now perched on the backrest behind his head. She blinked down at him from her slightly elevated vantage point, bright and happy and tearful and with her heart overflowing with joy and love and a fierce protectiveness.

From his expression, Robinton wasn’t doing any better at reigning in his emotions. He hugged her tightly, almost desperately, hiding his face in her neck, his breath a warm caress against her shoulder, even as his arms were warm bands or affection around her back. She kept her hands buried in his hair, and turned her head so that she could kiss his ear and the side of his face, before she rested her head against his, her eyes falling shut so that she could bask in this closeness between them.

“Menolly, oh Faranth, shards, Menolly …” he groaned and kissed her neck, and then also fell silent and still, the only movement his breath ghosting through her hair and his fingers drawing tiny circles into her sides.

More untold moments passed by, until the silence was broken by a firelizard trill and a tiny, sharp beak nudged Menolly’s hand where it was tangled in Robinton’s hair. Menolly’s eyes blinked open, to find both Zair and Beauty gazing at her curiously. She leaned back a little, just enough so that she could catch Robinton’s eyes, and smiled down at him.

“I think we are confusing the firelizards, my love.”

Robinton had been smiling up at her, but he stilled at her term of endearment. His arms tightened around her, until Menolly was gathered close again. She blinked somewhat dumbly at the two firelizards, wondering what had caused his reaction. His lips found her ear, and a whisper-soft kiss fell against it, before he started murmuring in her ear, harshly and almost desperately, his short sentences interspersed with kisses, and her arms tightened around him as well, holding him as tight as possible, tears springing to her eyes yet again, as she came undone from his words and actions.

“My dearest.” “Menolly.” “My Menolly.” “Shards, Menolly, you don’t know …” “You don’t know…” “It’s been hard, sending you away, but it’s been harder having you here and not having you close to me…” “I was jealous of Sebell, you know, so jealous, for being young, and for being the sensible, the smart, the prudent choice, and it seemed like the right thing to do, even as it hurt to do it, but I love you, I loved you so much, and I only wanted, want, what is best for you, even when that meant sending you away, sending you to Sebell, and …”

Menolly didn’t think it was possible, had thought she had already reached the brink of her emotions, but she felt yet another part of herself well up and overflow with love for this man. Before her, Beauty crooned, and gently rubbed her head against Zair’s. Menolly leaned back, and gently turned Robinton’s head, so that his gazed found hers. Her hands cradled his face and she kissed his forehead, before meeting his eyes again.

“Oh, Robinton, you foolish, selfless, wonderful, beloved man.”

She kissed him again, because that seemed like the best form of punctuation. He returned it, gladly and eagerly, but then leaned back, his gaze turning serious and thoughtful. “Now while I personally don’t care about the world outside of this room very much right now, and find it hard to believe that I ever will again, as long as you stay here with me …”.

She smiled at him, bemused and fond. “… you are still the Masterharper of Pern, and so you are obliged to care, even if you don’t want to. I know. I am a Master in your craft after all, and … ” she grinned briefly at this, and resisted gazing at or touching her new shoulder knot. Robinton felt no such hesitation, however, and untangled one arm from around her, to grasp her it where it lay against her shoulder, gently tugging it back and forth, his gaze proud “… and I would, as promised, be honored to untangle my Mastercrafter’s problems, so that it might benefit both Mastercrafter and craft.”

“Oh you would, would you?”

“Indeed, my Mastercrafter, I would.”

“To the benefit of Mastercrafter and Craft?”

Menolly considered him, thoughtful face and mischievous eyes. She leaned forward, and interspersed her answer with kisses, which he made no move not to return, the increasing seriousness of the conversation set aside.

“Well, to the benefit” … “and satisfaction” … “of Mastercrafter” … “and Master” … “and Craft.”

They shared one more kiss, and then Menolly untangled herself from his lap and went to sit back in her own chair across from him. He reached out and wove the fingers of one of his hands in hers, giving hers a gentle squeeze. She squeezed back, before decisively letting go and clasping her hands in her lap, trying to assume a composed expression, before meeting his gaze again. Robinton was leaning forward in his chair, his elbows on the armrests, hands hanging loosely down at his wrists. His gaze was equally serious, but his silvery hair was wild from where her fingers had run through it, and his lips were red and kiss-swollen.

Menolly swallowed at the sight, the desire to kiss him again lancing through her in a wild thrill. She clasped her hands tighter, to keep them from reaching out, but found herself unable to tear her eyes away from his lips. When she finally managed it, she found his gaze now heated and intent as she met his eyes, and she suppressed a groan. How was she to remain serious and composed, and over here and not in his lap, her lips on his again, when he looked at her like that? Well, to be fair, how was he to do so, when she looked at him in the same way?

Her resolve short-lived, she reached out to him, and his hand met hers halfway, fingers clasping each other tightly.

“This discussion hasn’t gotten very far,” Robinton said, somewhat nonsensically.

“No,” she agreed, “it hasn’t. I can’t think. You’re too far away for me to do so. Or – not far enough away for me to do so. Either one would work.”

He chuckled, and squeezed her hand, before standing up and drawing her to her feet alongside him.

“Well, I am not going to have this conversation with you while we stand at opposite corners of the room, or shout at each other from opposite ends of the great hall, so … come with me. I have an idea.”

“Oh?” she smiled, but came willingly. When standing, their height difference was such that she had to both stand on her tiptoes and draw his head down a little if she wanted to kiss him, but she managed. “Is it a good one?”

He smiled down at her, warm and affectionate, “Well, it involves keeping you close and you hopefully invalidating all of the Masterharper’s objections, so I think so. But I’ll let you be the judge of it.”

“I like this plan so far.” She raised their joined hands to her lips and gave his knuckles a soft kiss. “Tell me more.”

“Let me show you instead.” He tugged her along, across the short distance to where his sleeping furs were spread on a bedframe heaped thick with soft rushes. “Here.”

“Here?”

“Here. I lie down,” Robinton let go of her hand and suited action to words, lying on his back and holding his arms open for her, “and you come lie down right here with me. I get to hold you close, or you get to hold me close, that part is open to discussion, I don’t really care one way or the other – and for every objection of mine you manage to convince me to let go of we get to share one,” he glared up at her, still standing by his bed, mock seriously, “and mind you, one, kiss.”

Menolly grinned, happiness coursing through her. “Just one?” She asked, even as she sat down and snuggled into his side, his arms coming to hold her close and secure, as the firelizards flew over to curl up next to them.

“Just one,” he replied. He kissed the side of her head, and she could feel his smile, even if she couldn’t see it. “I will, however, grant you a removal of all restriction regarding the number of kisses shared between us as being possible, and indeed mandatory, once we have successfully invalidated the Masterharper’s last objection.”

Menolly shifted a little and turned her head, so that she could meet his gaze, full of love and tenderness, but also of an aching vulnerability, for fear that they might not manage to find solutions to every aspect of this tangled and gnarly situation.

‘We will, we will, we will,’ Menolly thought, fierce and certain, and ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’.

“Well then,” she said, her gaze steady and warm and unwavering. “Let the Masterharper raise his first objection.”

Robinton cleared his throat.

“So I am, as it turns out, the Masterharper of Pern, and I have the following concerns … .”

 

 

 

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It took them an entire turn, an utterly tedious amount of carefully held and frequently somewhat painful strategic conversations with a great amount of people, and the crafting and distribution of several songs, but when Menolly snuggled into Robinton’s side, in their bed in their shared quarters in the Harper Hall, and felt his arms come around her, holding her warm and safe and secure, just like he had that first time when they had crafted their future together, Menolly knew that it had all been more than worth it.

From the way he whispered, “I love you” into her ear and drew her close, she knew that Robinton, and the Masterharper, agreed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 THE END