Date Posted: 25th April 2020
Jayala turned over the last page of a long message from one of her
fellow Masters, sighed and jotted down a line on a scrap of hide where
she'd been keeping notes. It was a long list of peevish complaints,
mostly about apprentices and their disrespectful behaviour, of the type
that was becoming all too familiar. She wondered if Vestian had been
forced to put up with such letters before he'd named her Hallsecond, or
if the Masters were making a special effort to drive her out by
bombarding her with trivial nonsense.
If that was the case, she thought, they clearly didn't know her very
well at all.
She reached for a fresh sheet of paper and penned a brief, bland
response, then folded it and placed it in a pile. It was a warm day, the
sun streaming through the open window of her new office. Leaning back,
she rolled her shoulders to ease the tension in her back. There was
still a half-candlemark until her journeyman chamber group was due to
practice, time enough to warm up with a few exercises on the gitar.
As she rose, she heard the sound of hooves and the rumble of cartwheels
approaching and slowing as they drew up outside. Curious, since most
carters passed by the Hall on their way to Emerald Falls, she rose and
walked over to the window to look down at the visitors.
It was a trader wagon, with a canvas cover stretched over a curved frame
in the back to protect the goods. As she watched, the driver got down,
patting the two beasts in front affectionately before he came around to
the back, unlatched a panel and reached out a hand to help down someone
The passenger was a small, frail woman with a long white braid, wearing
a blouse in the exact shade of harper blue that ran though Jayala's new
knots. Even at this distance, the Hallsecond could tell that she was
clearly extremely elderly; she stooped with age and leaned on a stick
that was handed down after her. Another woman, a few decades younger but
still grey-haired, followed her with a bag in one hand and a gitar case
in the other.
Jayala caught her breath. All thoughts of her class, her practice and
her paperwork, her dignity were forgotten. Even after so many Turns, she
recognised them instantly.
Turning from the window, she hurried from the room and half-ran down the
steps leading to the ground floor, her heart racing in her chest.
Passing a startled pair of journeymen, she burst out into the sunlight
and heat of the Southern afternoon. No - she hadn't been mistaken. The
trader wagon was still there, the driver standing by the beasts and
listening politely as the younger of the two passengers spoke to him.
The older woman stood a little apart, her posture straighter now as she
looked up at the Hall.
In a moment, Jayala had run to her and the two embraced. She took care,
knowing the woman would be frail, but the grip of those fingers on her
shoulders was as firm as she remembered. Tears prickled her eyes and she
blinked them back. She had not seen her grandmother since the day she'd
left the hold where she'd grown up, nearly forty Turns ago.
"You've come back to the Hall," she said, wonderingly. "I thought..."
"I said I would not return until women were restored to their rightful
place in our Craft." Age had not diminished the strength and authority
in her grandmother's voice, the voice of the Master Harper she still
was. "When I heard of your promotion, I decided that the day had come."
"Oh - I - I'm so happy..." Jayala made an effort to control herself,
brushed her eyes with her palm. She straightened, aware that people were
watching, and used the voice her grandmother had trained, clear and
carrying. "Welcome back to the Hall, Master. This gives me great joy."
"Hallsecond," Zahira replied, and Jayala thought that she'd never felt
prouder of that rank, until now.
She looked over to the other woman, still smiling like an apprentice
after a successful first performance. She had changed, too, far more,
for while Jayala remembered her grandmother always as an old lady, her
mother had been hardly out of her first youth when they'd parted. Hair
that she remembered as dark and shining was now entirely grey, her face
weathered and lined from age and outdoor work, her figure now plump and
"Mama. You are most welcome, too."
Her mother returned the smile with a warmth and ease that brought back a
rush of childhood memories, before all of their differences, the hurt
between them that had long since healed, and came over to embrace her.
"Thank you. My dear, how I've missed you."
Jayala thought for a moment how she must have changed, too, wondered if
her mother was remembering the rebellious, awkward girl she'd been. "I
have, too. It's so good to see you again! And - how is Father, the
"He's well, strong as ever. Though we'll see how he manages without me
for a while." There was a spark of mischief in her mother's eye. "Well,
your sisters-in-law will take care of him, I expect."
Jayala had never met them; her younger stepbrothers had been only boys
when she'd left home, though she felt she knew them from her mother's
letters, which were always full of family news. Sometimes she read them
and wondered how it might have been if she'd stayed and married as her
parents had wished. For many Turns she'd felt anger at the price she'd
had to pay for leaving such a stifling life behind, but now the past
seemed not to matter so very much.
"Please, you must come in and rest after your journey. We can go to my
study." She turned, caught the eye of a young lad who was loitering
around, clearly taking in what was happening for later gossip with the
other apprentices. "Polken, please run to the Headwoman and ask her to
have quarters prepared for Master Zahira and - and Holder Rahani." She
knew her mother had once had journeyman rank, but she'd never used it
since the craft ban, unlike her grandmother. "And ask for cool drinks to
be sent to my study, please. Journeyman Edrivay, you can take these bags
inside. I'll take the gitar." She wasn't going to trust her
grandmother's precious instrument to one of these young men.
Rahani handed over the gitar case and they began to walk, slowly at the
eldest woman's pace, towards the building. "Thank you. How strange it is
to be back, after all this time," she said, thoughtfully. "The Hall
doesn't look as I remember it at all. So new. Well, of course, the fire..."
"I've heard it was rebuilt along the same lines," Jayala said. She
didn't remember the old Hall at all, having been only an infant when
they'd left. She wondered what her mother and grandmother saw, what
memories they shared.
"Vandals," Zahira said, her walking stick tapping sharply on the stone
floor as they entered the building. "Destroying the work of so many
crafters, risking lives...it's unthinkable. You could have been back
here Turns ago, instead of having to go to the Weyr."
"Well, it's past. You should see the junior apprentice class - and hear
the choir. There are real, trained female voices now. And there are
journeywomen, they more than hold their own in the instrumental groups.
They've had to work harder." Jayala opened the door to her office and
ushered her mother and grandmother in. She set the gitar case reverently
on a shelf, next to her own.
Rahani sank into an easy-chair with a sigh of relief, but Zahira showed
no sign of weariness despite her long journey. She asked to see the
instruments, examining Jayala's gitar with care and finally - to the
Hallsecond's relief - a nod of approval. Next, she turned over the
scores on Jayala's desk.
"Scenes from a Hold by the Falls," she read. "It's new?"
"Yes, one of the senior journeyman composed it, in honour of Lord
Corowal on his birthday. We're having a concert next sevenday." She
smiled. "You'll be able to attend, and criticise my technique, just like
in the old days."
The old lady's eyes glinted. "I hope by this time you'll have corrected
most of your faults, granddaughter."
Jayala laughed. "We can always learn, and improve. You taught me that."
Then the arrival of a drudge with the drinks interrupted them, and she
helped her grandmother to the best chair. Soon, they were speaking of
the concert programme, and then the apprentices and her journeyman
groups, the newest music, as if the past decades had passed by in an
instant and they'd never been parted.
She almost forgot about her journeymen, but fortunately word came from
the Headwoman that the Master's rooms were prepared and the two new
arrivals retired to rest before dinner, leaving her to hurry to the
practice room. She walked briskly, filled with a new confidence. Grandma
Zahira would never give her false praise or fail to speak her mind, she
knew her far too well for that, but she now had one genuine ally among
the Masters. And most of all, she had her beloved teacher and
grandmother back, to stay for good.
Last updated on the May 31st 2020