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The Lost Apprentice

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To: MasterHarper Robinton
Harper Hall
Fort Hold

From: Master Harper Petiron
Half Circle Sea Hold

Greetings MasterHarper,
The conditions are as expected at the Sea Hold, the Sea Holder is as hidebound a man as I have ever met, but he still observes the old ways and traditions. I do not expect much talent to be discovered here, the Sea Craft is brutal on hands and voices, and the Sea Holder expects all his holders to pull their weight with no time for the distraction of incidental music.
I am requesting copies of the latest Teaching Ballads, as the Hold’s selection is woefully inadequate…

***

To: MasterHarper Robinton
Harper Hall
Fort Hold

From: Master Harper Petiron
Half Circle Sea Hold

Greetings MasterHarper,
Thank you for the offer of transport to the Harper Hall for Turn’s End.  I must regretfully decline as there are many things that require my attention at the Hold at this time.  There are some children who show some musical promise, but it is difficult to have them devote the time necessary to rise above merely proficient.

***

To: MasterHarper Robinton
Harper Hall
Fort Hold

From: Master Harper Petiron
Half Circle Sea Hold

Greetings MasterHarper,
… In addition, I have included two pieces of composition one of the students has created for consideration.  They are unpolished, but I believe they show promise.  As mentioned previously, a Sea Holder’s life does not mesh well with Harpering; I have taught them all I can with the resources and abilities I have available to me…

***

To: MasterHarper Robinton
Harper Hall
Fort Hold

From: Sea Holder Yanus
Half Circle Sea Hold

Greetings MasterHarper,
We regret to inform you of the death of Harper Petiron this seven-day past.  He was interred with great honour, and will be missed by all in the Hold.
We request a new Harper be assigned to the Hold in replacement, preferably one with some knowledge of Sea Holding, and before the winter storms set in.

***

“Yes, yes,” Robinton muttered as he read the short, stilted letter again, hoping that this time a mention of Petiron’s mysterious song writer may leap out at him.  He needed more songs like the ones Petiron had sent last; ones that spoke to the general smallfolk about momentous happenings, and were simple enough that most people with even a small amount of musical ability were able to sing them.  If Petiron hadn’t been so opaque about his Apprentice and his abilities, Robinton could have had him safely in the Hall months past, before Petiron died and took the apprentice’s name with him to the deep.

He made a long arm across the glassed-over portion of the sand table in his office, and caught the loop of a wineskin.  Pouring a generous measure into the goblet by his elbow, he frowned in contemplation of the best way to hunt down an elusive harper’s apprentice.  Short of visiting every small-holding and cot between here and Nerat, and interrogating the occupants – his frown eased at the thought of lining up every person and demanding they write a song for him – he could think of no efficient way of reaching the apprentice.

Pushing that thought to the back of his mind to mull over, he turned his attention to the thorny issue of new assignments.  There were many Holds, small and large, needing new or additional Harper resources, and managing everyone’s needs and expectations was a constant juggling-act.  Now he needed to find an experienced Journeyman to take over from Petiron, and that threw out his careful plans out.

Of the Harpers scheduled for reassignment this Turn, Harper Elgion had originally been allocated to the band of roving Harpers.  He would be the best of that band to be reassigned to the Sea Hold, old enough to carry some authority, diplomatic as was needed with the Sea Holder, a thoroughly competent teacher that enjoyed working with young ones.  Yes, he would be a good choice.

Elgion would also be charged with locating Petiron’s apprentice and sending him to the Harper Hall for proper apprenticing.  Such talent needed to be nurtured.

***

To: MasterHarper Robinton
Harper Hall
Fort Hold

From: Harper Elgion
Half Circle Sea Hold

Greetings MasterHarper,

I have arrived and been greeted with great relief at the Hold.  I am unsure as to the relief with which I have been greeted, as I have found that the children have been well-drilled with the Teaching Songs, and understanding in their duties to Weyr and Hold.

I have also enquired as to the whereabouts of Master Petiron’s apprentice, as ordered, and regret to inform that he has returned from his fosterage to his home hold.  I have asked the Sea Holder to send a message to this hold, requesting that the boy be sent to the Harper Hall, but he seems strangely reluctant to do so.  I shall endeavour to discover from others what hold this is and send the message for you.

Although I bear bad news in regards to finding the boy, I can include a pair of songs that I believe were written by him.  They were hidden in the back of the collection of teaching songs, and aren’t a subject usually contained with them.  Fire-lizards!  A boyhood dream to find one and Impress like a dragonet.

***

“Shards and Shells!  Thrice over!” Robinton exploded when he read the message from Elgion.  Hopefully Elgion would shortly discover where the boy had disappeared to, the new tunes were superior to the ones Petiron had sent previously.  In the meantime, he would have the new tunes copied and sent out with the new assignments, in the hope that it would bring the boy forward.  Though if he had returned to a tiny cot-holding, the chances of him being found from hearing his tunes being played was remote.

Robinton shook himself out of the dark mood he was sliding into, and threw open the door from his workroom, startling some of the apprentices who were passing by on their way to the dining hall.  “Apprentice Ranly, isn’t it?  Please ask Master Arnor that I request a moment of his time as soon as he is free.”

Ranly reddened with pleasure at being singled out and scampered back the way he had come.  The MasterArchivist would wheeze and complain about giving up his precious wood-pulp sheets to what he considered a fool’s-errand of a search.  Robinton had had years of dealing with the vagaries of the Masters, and knew exactly how to manipulate them into doing what he wanted.