Chapter 1 Chapter 1
Drummer, beat, and piper, blow
Harper, strike, and soldier, go
Free the flame and sear the grasses
Til the dawning Red Star passes.
Almost as if the elements, too, mourned the death of the gentle old Harper, a southeaster blew for three days, locking even the burial barge in the safety of the Dock Cavern.
The storm gave Sea Holder Yanus too much time to brood over his dilemma. It gave him time to speak to every man who could keep rhythm and pitch, and they all give him the same answer. They couldn’t properly honor the Old Harper with his deathsong, but Menolly could.
To which answer Yanus would grunt and stamp off. It rankled in his mind that he couldn’t give voice to his dissatisfaction with that answer, and his frustration. Menolly was only a girl: too tall and lanky to be a proper girl at that. It galled him to have to admit that, unfortunately, she was the only person in the entire Half-Circle Sea Hold who could play any instrument as well as the old Harper. Her voice was true, her fingers clever on string, stick or pipe, and she knew the Deathsong. For all Yanus could be certain, the aggravating child had been practicing that song ever since old Petiron started burning with his fatal fever.
“She will have to do the honor, Yanus,” his wife, Mavi, told him the evening the storm began to slacken. “The important thing is that Petiron is properly sung to rest. One does not have to record who did the singing.”
“The old man knew he was dying. Why didn’t he instruct one of the men?”
“Because,” replied Mavi with a touch of sharpness in her voice, “you would never spare him a man when there was fishing.”
“There was young Tranilty…”
“Whom you sent fostering to Ista Sea Hold.”
“Couldn’t that young lad of Forolt’s…”
“His voice is changing. Come, Yanus, it’ll have to be Menolly.”
Yanus grumbled bitterly against the inevitable as he climbed into the sleeping furs.
“That’s what everyone else has told you, haven’t they? So why make so much of a necessity?”
Yanus settled himself, resigned.
“The fishing will be good tomorrow,” his wife said, yawning. She preferred him fishing to stomping around the Hold, sullen and critical with enforced inactivity. She knew he was the finest Sea Holder Half-Circle had ever had: the Hold was prospering, with plenty for bartering set by in the storage caves; they hadn’t lost a ship or a man in several Turns either, which said much for his weather-wisdom. But Yanus, at home on a heaving deck in foul weather, was very much adrift when taxed with the unexpected on land.
Mavi was keenly aware that Yanus was displeased with his youngest child. Mavi found the girl exasperating, too. Menolly worked hard and was very clever with her fingers: too clever by half when it came to playing any instrument in the Harper Craft. Perhaps, Mavi thought, she had not been wise to permit the girl to linger in the old Harper’s constant company once she had learned all the proper Teaching Songs. But it had been one less worry to let Menolly nurse the old Harper, and Petiron had wished it. No one begrudged a Harper’s requests. Ah well, thought Mavi, dismissing the past, there’d be a new Harper soon, and Menolly could be put to tasks proper to a young girl.
The next morning, the storm had cleared off: the skies were cloudless, the sea, calm. The burial barge had been outfitted in the Dock Cavern, Petiron’s body wrapped in harper-blue on the tilter board. The entire Fleet and most of the Seahold followed in the wake of the oar-driven barge, out into the faster moving current above Nerat Deep.
Menolly, on the barge prow, sang the elegy: her clear strong voice carrying back to the Half-Circle Fleet; the men chanting the descant as they rowed the barge.
On the final chord, Petiron went to his rest. Menolly bowed her head, and let drum and stick slide from her fingers into the sea. How could she ever use them again when they had beaten Petiron’s last song? She’d held back her tears since the Harper had died because she knew she had to be able to sing his elegy and you couldn’t sing with a throat closed from crying. Now the tears ran down her cheeks, mingled with sea spray: her sobs punctuated by the soft chant of the steersman, setting about.
Petiron had been her friend, her ally and mentor. She had sung from the heart as he’d taught her: from the heart and the gut. Had he heard her song where he had gone?
She raised her eyes to the palisades of the coast: to the white-sanded harbor between the two arms of Half-Circle Hold. The sky had wept itself out in the past three days: a fitting tribute. And the air was cold. She shivered in her thick wherhide jacket. She would have some protection from the wind if she stepped down into the cockpit with the oarsmen. But she couldn’t move. Honor was always accompanied by responsibility, and it was fitting for her to remain where she was until the burial barge touched the stones of Dock Cavern.
Half-Circle Hold would be lonelier than ever for her now. Petiron had tried so hard to live long enough for his replacement to arrive. He’d told Menolly he wouldn’t last the winter. He’d dispatched a message to Masterharper Robinton to send a new Harper as soon as possible. He’d also told Menolly that he’d sent two of her songs to the Masterharper.
“Women can’t be harpers,” she’d said to Petiron, astonished and awed.
“One in ten hundred have perfect pitch,” Petiron had said in one of his evasive replies. “One in ten thousand can build an acceptable melody with meaningful words. Were you only a lad, there’d be no problem at all.”
“Well, we’re stuck with me being a girl.”
“You’d make a fine big strong lad, you would,” Petiron had replied exasperatingly.
“And what’s wrong with being a fine big strong girl?” Menolly had been half-teasing, half-annoyed.
“Nothing, surely. Nothing.” And Petiron had patted her hands, smiling up at her.
She’d been helping him eat his dinner, his hands so crippled even the lightest wooden spoon left terrible ridges in the swollen fingers.
“And Masterharper Robinton’s a fair man. No one on Pern can say he isn’t. And he’ll listen to me. He knows his duty, and I am, after all, a senior member of the Craft Hall, being taught up in the Craft before him himself. And I’ll require him to listen to you.”
“Have you really sent him those songs you made me wax down on slates?”
“I have. Sure I have done that much for you, dear child.”
He’d been so emphatic that Menolly had to believe that he’d done what he’d said. Poor old Petiron. In the last months, he’d not remembered the time of Turn much less what he’d done the day before.
He was timeless now, Menolly told herself, her wet cheeks stinging with cold, and she’d never forget him.
The shadow of the two arms of Half-Circle’s cliffs fell across her face. The barge was entering the home harbor. She lifted her head. High above, she saw the diminutive outline of a dragon in the sky. How lovely! And how had Benden Weyr known? No, the dragonrider was only doing a routine sweep. With Thread falling at unexpected times, dragons were often flying above Half-Circle, isolated as it was by the bogs at the top of Nerat Bay. No matter, the dragon was awing above Half-Circle Hold at this appropriate moment and that was, to Menolly, the final tribute to Petiron the Harper.
The men lifted the heavy oars out of the water, and the barge glided slowly to its mooring at the far end of the Dock. Fort and Tillek might boast of being the oldest Sea-Holds, but only Half-Circle had a cavern big enough to dock the entire fishing fleet and keep it safe from Threadfall and weather.
Dock Cavern had moorings for thirty boats; storage space for all the nets, traps and lines; airing racks for sail; and a shallow ledge where hulls could be scraped free of seagrowths and repaired. At the very end of the immense Cavern was a shelf of rock where the Hold’s builders worked when there was sufficient timber for a new hull. Beyond was the small inner cave where priceless wood was stored, dried on high racks or warped into frames.
The burial barge lightly touched its pier.
“Menolly?” The first oarsman held out a hand to her.
Startled by the unexpected courtesy to a girl her age, she was about to jump down when she saw in his eyes the respect due her at this moment. And his hand, closing on hers, gave silent approval for her singing of the Harper’s elegy. The other men stood, too, waiting for her to disembark first. She straightened her shoulders, although her throat felt tight enough for more tears, and she stepped proudly down to the solid stone.
As she turned to walk back to the landside of the Cavern, she saw that the other boats were discharging their passengers quickly and quietly. Her father’s boat, the biggest of the Half-Circle fleet, had already tacked back into the harbor. Yanus’s voice carried across the water, above the incidental sounds of creaking boats and muted voices.
“Quickly now, men. We’ve a good breeze rising and the fish’ll be biting after three days of storm.”
The oarsmen hurried past her to board their assigned fishing boats. It seemed unfair to Menolly that Petiron, after a long life’s dedication to Half-Circle Hold, was dismissed so quickly from everyone’s mind. And yet… life did go on. There were fish to be caught against winter’s hungry months. Fair days during the cold months of the Turn were not to be squandered.
She quickened her pace. She’d far to go around the rim of the Dock Cavern and she was cold. Menolly also wanted to get into the Hold before her mother noticed that she didn’t have the drum. Waste wasn’t tolerated by Mavi any more than idleness by Yanus.
While this was an occasion, it had been a sad one and the women and children and also the men too old to sea-fish observed a decorous pace out of the Cavern, making smaller groups as they headed toward their own Holds in the southern arc of Half-Circle’s sheltering palisade.
Menolly saw Mavi organizing the children into work groups. With no Harper to lead them in the Teaching Songs and ballads, the children would be kept occupied in clearing the storm debris from the white-sanded beaches.
There might be sun in the sky, and the dragonrider still circling on his brown, but the wind was frigid and Menolly began to shiver violently. She wanted to feel the warmth of the fire on the great Hold’s kitchen hearth and a cup of hot klah inside her.
She heard her sister Sella’s voice carrying to her on the breeze.
“She’s got nothing to do now, Mavi, why do I have to….”
Menolly ducked behind a group of adults, avoiding her mother’s searching glance. Trust Sella to remember that Menolly no longer had the excuse of nursing the ailing Harper. Ahead of her, one of the old aunts tripped, her querulous voice raised in a cry for help. Menolly sprinted to her side, supporting her and receiving loud protestations of gratitude.
“Only for Petiron would I have dragged these old bones out on the cold sea this morning. Bless the man, rest the man,” the old woman went on, clinging with unexpected strength to Menolly. “You’re a good child, Menolly, so you are. It is Menolly, isn’t it?” The old one peered up at her. “Now you just give me a hand up to Old Uncle and I’ll tell him the whole of it, since he hasn’t legs to leave his bed.”
So Sella had to supervise the children and Menolly got to the fire: at least long enough to stop shivering. Then old auntie would have it that the Uncle would be grateful for some klah, too, so when Mavi entered her kitchen, her eyes searching for her youngest daughter, she found Menolly dutifully occupied serving the oldster.
“Very well then, Menolly, while you’re up there, see that you set the old man comfortably. Then you can start on the glows.”
Menolly had her warming cup with the Old Uncle and left him comfortable, mournfully exchanging tales of other burials with the aunt. Checking the glows had been her task ever since she had grown taller than Sella. It had meant climbing up and down the different levels to the inner and outer layers of the huge Sea Hold, but Menolly had established the quickest way to finish the job so that she’d have some free time to herself before Mavi started looking for her. She had been accustomed to spending those earned minutes practicing with the Harper. So Menolly was not surprised to find herself, eventually, outside Petiron’s door.
She was surprised, however, to hear voices in his room. She was about to charge angrily through the half-open door and demand an accounting when she heard her mother’s voice clearly.
“The room won’t need much fixing for the new Harper, so it won’t.”
Menolly stepped back into the shadow of the corridor. The new Harper?
“What I want to know, Mavi, is who is to keep the children up in their learning until he comes?” That voice was Soreel’s, the wife of the First Holder and therefore spokeswoman for the other Hold women to Mavi as Sea Holder’s lady. “She did well enough this morning. You have to give her that, Mavi.”
“Yanus will send the message ship.”
“Not today, nor tomorrow he won’t. I don’t fault Sea Holder, Mavi, but it stands to reason that the boats must fish and the sloop’s crew can’t be spared. That means four, five days before the messenger gets to Igen Hold. From Igen Hold, if a dragonrider obliges by carrying the message—but we all know what the Old-timers at Igen Weyr are like so let’s say, Harper drums to the Masterharper Hall at Fort is another two-three days. A man has to be selected by Masterharper Robinton and sent overland and by ship. And with Thread falling any time it pleases, no one travels fast or far in a day. It’ll be spring before we see another Harper. Are the children to be left without teaching for months?”
Soreel had punctuated her comments with brushing sounds, and there were other clatters in the room, the swishing of bed rushes being gathered up. Now Menolly could hear the murmur of two other voices supporting Soreel’s arguments.
“Petiron has taught well…”
“He taught her well, too,” Soreel interrupted Mavi.
“Harpering is a man’s occupation…”
“Fair enough if Sea Holder’ll spare a man for it.” Soreel’s voice was almost belligerent because everyone knew the answer to that. “Truth be told, I think the girl knew the Sagas better than the old man this past Turn. You know his mind was ranging back in time, Mavi.”
“Yanus will do what’s proper.” The finality in Mavi’s tone firmly ended that discussion.
Menolly heard footsteps crossing the old Harper’s room, and she ducked down the hall, around the nearest bend and down into the kitchen level.
It distressed Menolly to think of anyone, even another Harper, in Petiron’s room. Obviously it distressed others that there was no Harper. Usually such a problem didn’t arise. Every Hold could boast one or two musically able men and every Hold took pride in encouraging these talents. Harpers liked to have other instrumentalists to share the chore of entertaining their Holds during the long winter evenings. And it was also the better part of wisdom to have a substitute available for just such an emergency as Half-Circle was experiencing. But fishing was hard on the hands: the heavy work, the cold water, the salt and fish oils thickened joints and calloused fingers in the wrong places. Fishermen were often away many days on longer hauls. After a Turn or two at net, trap and sail line, young men lost their skill at playing anything but simple tunes. Harper Teaching Ballads required deft quick fingers and constant practice.
By putting to sea to fish so quickly after the old Harper’s burial, Yanus thought to have time enough to find an alternative solution. There was no doubt that the girl could sing well, play well, and she’d not disgraced Hold or Harper that morning. It was going to take time to send for and receive a new Harper, and the youngsters must not lose all progress in the learning of the basic Teaching Ballads.
But Yanus had many strong reservations about putting such a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of a girl not fifteen Turns old. Not the least of these was Menolly’s distressing tendency toward tune-making. Well enough and amusing now and again in the long winter evenings to hear her sing them, but old Petiron had been alive to keep her to rights. Yanus wasn’t sure that he could trust her not to include her trivial little whistles in the lessons. How were the young to know that hers weren’t proper songs for their learning? The trouble was, her melodies were the sort that stayed in the mind so a man found himself humming or whistling them without meaning to.
By the time the boats had profitably trawled the Deep and tacked for home, Yanus had found no compromise. It was no consolation to know that he wouldn’t have any argument from the other holders. Had Menolly sung poorly that morning… but she hadn’t. As Sea Holder for Half-Circle, he was obliged to bring up the young of the Hold in the traditions of Pern: knowing their duty and how to do it. He counted himself very lucky to be beholden to Benden Weyr, to have F’lar, bronze Mnementh’s rider, as Weyrleader and Lessa as Ramoth’s Weyrwoman. So Yanus felt deeply obliged to keep tradition at Half-Circle: and the young would learn what they needed to know, even if a girl had the teaching.
That evening, after the day’s catch had been salted down, he instructed Mavi to bring her daughter to the small room off the Great Hall where he conducted Hold business and where the Records were stored. Mavi had put the Harper’s instruments on the mantel for safekeeping.
Appropriately Yanus handed Menolly Petiron’s gitar. She took the instrument in a properly reverential manner, which reassured Yanus that she appreciated the responsibility.
“Tomorrow you’ll be excused from your regular morning duties to take the youngsters for their teaching,” he told her. “But I’ll have no more of those finger-twiddlings of yours.”
“I sang my songs when Petiron was alive and you never minded them…”
Yanus frowned down at his tall daughter.
“Petiron was alive. He’s dead now, and you’ll obey me in this…”
Over her father’s shoulders, Menolly saw her mother’s frowning face, saw her warning headshake and held back a quick reply.
“You bear in mind what I’ve said!” And Yanus fingered the wide belt he wore. “No tuning!”
“Start tomorrow then. Unless, of course, there’s Threadfall, and then everyone will bait longlines.”
Yanus dismissed the two women and began to compose a message to the Masterharper to go when he could next spare the sloop’s crew. They’d sail it to Igen Hold. About time Half-Circle had some news of the rest of Pern anyway. And he could ship some of the smoked fish. The journey needn’t be a wasted trip.
Once in the hallway, Mavi gripped her daughter’s arm hard. “Don’t disobey him, girl.”
“There’s no harm in my tunes, mother. You know what Petiron said…”
“I’ll remind you that the old man’s dead. And that changes everything that went on during his life. Behave yourself while you stand in a man’s place. No tuning! To bed now, and mind you turn the glowbaskets. No sense wasting light no eye needs.”