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Walking, No Roads

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Half-Circle never leaves her.

Her hands lost fish-netting callouses long ago in favour of ones for gitar and harp; the scar on her palm no longer pulls. She does not smell the sea for long stretches of time, except to clean flicks of salt from her fire lizards’ hides. They go back to their old home, as she never will, they return to their cave and visit their wild kin, and maybe across the dunes some intrepid child comes wandering to charm them with pipes, or more likely, a net. If some young boy at the Sea Hold is cunning and gifted enough to befriend the wild lizards as she did, Menolly will not be the one to find him and bring him in for harper training. The Masters do not assign her the sea route when she walks, though perhaps not all of them know why.

It is not as though she doesn’t have a thousand other things to fill her mind with; besides the ever-chaotic Hall, the swirl of plans for upcoming festivals and Master Robinton’s plots, besides managing and reporting the interplay of Hold and Weyr, she finds herself drawn to the Southern Continent as if by wanderlust. Unlike so many fellow harpers, she doesn’t find the feeling familiar; shells know Piemur wouldn’t stop talking about all the places he’d visit when he walked the tables, and it seemed common enough for most apprentices to eagerly anticipate their walk not just for the prestige of making journeyman, but for the actual chance to walk. You could tell the ones starving for the road, who would have made good runners or merchants or, dragons willing, riders, the ones who need to see all of Pern and then maybe more.

Menolly has never felt that, except that the Southern Continent looms, empty and unexplained and open, in her mind. She dreams of wide fields bereft of people, bafflingly bereft of Thread, the plants twice as large as Northern plants, and no roads in sight. It is exciting and serene, at once, and her mind turns it over and over, like a child’s wooden puzzle toy, trying to extract a thought or line about it that will suit itself to rhythm. “Someone will have to write a song about it, and soon,” Master Robinton remarked the other day, and Menolly knows that someone is her.

Her gift for producing song, not complicated, maybe, but frequently, constantly, all the time, is open knowledge now. When she does her walks, the holders ask for the new ones, and she finds she’s produced so many between holds she has to pick and choose what she performs, or she’ll never get the Teaching Ballads in. Mirrim laughs at her, on those occasions they spend time together; imagine bemoaning being the celebrated girl harper, who cranks out songs like the Mastersmith’s delicate music box. “I assume that’s how it works,” Mirrim says brusquely, folding clothes while Menolly perches on her bed. “Turn the handle, another song pops out?” And Menolly is hard-pressed to find fault with it, because she does write like she breathes, and her dreams are scored with memorable, catchy lyric and fascinating combinations of chord.

It is still so strange to be held high for it. She still hesitates when she brings a new one up to the Harper’s attention. Surely he has had enough. Surely her little tune isn’t worth his attention. But Robinton spares the time, every time, sitting her down and listening, sometimes to a completed song and sometimes to her efforts to wrangle verses in the right order, and he offers her his brilliant insight and gives her over to Sebell or Domick to refine the thing. And then, more often as not, he puts it into curriculum and adds it to circulation when journeymen stop in for their new posts. When will her luck run out? When will she produce something worthless, and be dismissed or struck for it? Something in her insists, it must happen sooner or later. Logically, it will not, she knows, if just because her masters are hardly the sort to beat a girl for songwriting, even less than stellar songwriting. But the certainty eats at her. Less now. But still.

Her fire lizards are the things of fame, and every hold knows the legend. When she walks unfamiliar Gathers she can hear people trading lines of the song. “The little queen all golden,” they whisper to each other, seeing Beauty on her shoulder. They see her flight of lizards as glittering, brilliant prestige, and while they might wonder or sneer at a journeyman harper girl having nine, well, they can’t exactly remove them. It is oddly hilarious to Menolly, all too familiar with the dirty side of fire lizard care; if only the worshipful watchers with their dinner-plate eyes realized how much raw meat she handled in a day, how many hours spent oiling hides, or the joy of having nine personal roosters to wake her at dawn, even on rest days. She loves them, she adores them, but you can hardly slap one on your arm and call yourself Lord Holder.

She wonders, sometimes, if she’ll ever go back. Certainly she doesn’t care to now, but she recognizes life is long- maybe some day she’ll want to see the sea from Half-Circle again, maybe someday she’ll want to speak to her mother or sister or, she supposes, even her father. She struggles to keep the thought distant, remote, or else it will swamp her with horror. In more hot-tempered moments, she has vowed never to step foot in that place again, but so too has she listened to her Master’s gentle musings on the flighty desires of the young. Maybe some day she will distance herself enough to visit it, as a Journeyman or Master harper to any small sea hold, maybe she will grace it with her presence and remind them all that she was the best thing to come out of that forsaken place. She almost laughs at her own temerity. She is so proud and so humiliated by turns, and she can never predict which will surface.

She turns back to her work. Better to ignore Half-Circle Sea Hold until she knows what to make of it- or even, knows what to make of herself. Intentionally, purposefully, she calls up the sight of Southern fields, seen above from Monarth’s back. The wonder of it is enough to break the hold Half-Circle has on her, for now. She thinks of trees of massive, brilliant fruit, of red blossoms the size of her head. She thinks of the Southern Continent, where no roads go-

When Sebell comes in, she does not even notice, scribbling and scratching out words as she is, adjusting chords- C, G, A minor…. no, add the seventh, she modulates, so simple a child could do it. “Come with me, come with me, come with me and see,” she sings under her breath, “the land where no roads go…”

He laughs at her, of course, leave her with a gitar for twenty minutes and get a new teaching ballad, but then they get going on a debate about the bridge and the merits and flaws to a key change, and it is so enjoyable and engaging that her earlier malaise goes entirely forgotten.

So maybe Half-Circle will leave her alone from time to time after all.