It was the last Day of the Midsummer Gather and everyone was looking forward to the last two big events; the Harper Open and the Gather Dance.
In the very center of the Gather an enormous area had been cleared to set up a stage and allow space for the dance that was to come later that night--it would also serve as a stage for the Harper Open, where contestants would sing in front of a live audience… no pressure, right? Silfrid and her companions would be sitting in a booth to one side of the stage.
Raobehr would have been absolutely tickled to hear anyone refer to him as a top-notch Harper. His musical training was much more recent than most, as he had been trained as an academic rather than a proper Harper from his childhood. But he was rather proud at how well he had taken to the mathematical aspects of music theory and poetry. It was all very satisfyingly quantifiable if you learned the underlying theory. And that part had come to Raobehr naturally.
"I believe we are ready to begin," said the hulking man. He smiled warmly.
Ravelan had been thrilled at first to be selected as a judge for the Harper Open; it had been a prestigious task for the journeyman to have been selected for. But the man did not look as happy today as he had been when he’d first been given the task. In fact, he looked downright nervous, and more than a bit ashamed as he faced his two colleagues.
“Er...actually, if I could speak to you two privately, for a moment?” Ravelan asked, looking around nervously at the other crafters and such that were in the tent. “Please?”
Though by no means a short woman, she found herself having to look up at both giants and for a brief moment she wondered if her neck would survive the evening. She gave Ravelan a puzzled look, “Yes, of course. Something wrong? Here or… should we go somewhere else?”
“Outside, please? I think out back is quiet enough, at the moment,” Ravelan answered. There shouldn’t be too many people lingering around the back of the tent, if any at all. “This will only take a moment, I swear.”
Raobehr raised an eyebrow curiously, but he gestured for Ravelan to lead the way. He hoped the man was not feeling ill, but he could not imagine why, if he were, he would need to keep from being overheard.
“Alright, let’s go, we should have some time before it all starts,” Silfrid said, glancing at Raobehr, wondering if he might know what was going on. She followed the two outside.
Once outside, and certain that there was no one around to overhear them, Ravelan sighed loudly and looked at the pair with a face as full of shame as a weyrbrat caught snooping through the Weyrwoman’s office.
“I have to drop out of the judging,” Ravelan said plainly. “I shouldn’t have done it, but I was caught between a rock and a hard place, and I know that’s no excuse, but…”
The stork-like man reached into a pocket and pulled out a tiny pouch, in which was about 5 marks worth of smaller denominated mark pieces.
“Someone offered me a bribe, yesterday, for their contestant. I shouldn’t have taken it, I should have walked away. But, I had - have - family that really needed the help, so I took it. But I can’t go through with it. Harpers are supposed to be trustworthy, above things like this. And I just can’t take the guilt. I’m sorry, so sorry, that I’ve let you both down. Let the craft down.”
Ravelan stopped then, hanging his head shamefully.
Silfrid listened to Ravelan speak and as realization dawned on her she felt her heart sink. She placed one hand on her hip and closed her eyes, massaging her temple as she took it in. This was not good. It was not good for the Harper Open, not good for the Hall, and most of all not good for Ravelan. “Oh Ravelan…” she began. “Bend over really quick.”
Startled and confused, though he had an inkling of what was towards, Ravelan did as he was asked and bent forward. He deserved whatever was coming, and he knew it.
Silfrid was quick, smacking the journeyman across the crown of his head. “That’s for…!” she realized she was talking loud and immediately lowered her voice. “... for doing something so foolish! But… at least you confessed. So thank you for that. I imagine it wasn’t easy. Oh, Faranth… what are we going to do…”
Ravelan winced as Silfrid’s hand connected with his head, but it was no less than what he had expected was coming. And he definitely deserved it, and more.
“I’m so, so sorry!” There were tears in his eyes, though they hadn’t yet spilled over. “You’ll have to find someone else to judge with you. I *can’t* be involved any more!
This was rather distressing, was it not? Raobehr was simply too innocent to even conceive of taking a bribe. Or of being in such dire straights as to think it necessary. Of course, Ravelan was right. He had to step aside.
Well, if Raobehr had thought him ill…
"Let us tell the others that you have fallen ill. Perhaps you ate something that did not agree with you. Such things happen at Gathers, or so I have learned…" Raobehr had not been intestinally prepared for his first Gather since coming forward, that was for sure.
"Will you return the marks?"
There was relief in Ravelan’s expression that both of them weren’t tearing him apart the way he had feared. They were disappointed in him, that was very clear, but then, he was disappointed in himself, and he could hardly blame them for the same. But, he could live with that, now that he’d actually confessed.
“I’m not sure that I can. The man, he’d probably deny having given me any such bribe if I tried to do so. He wouldn’t want anyone knowing he’d bribed a harper, any more than I’d want anyone to know I’d given in. The only thing I can think of, is maybe you using it for a consolation prize or something? Give it to whoever comes in third.”
“That… that’s not a bad idea. Both ideas are sound…” She looked at Revelan. “You… we’ll deal with you later. We will tell everyone you have fallen ill… but tomorrow I want to see you in my office, understood?” Though speaking in hushed tones she was as stern as she could be, even if she felt ridiculous dressing down a man over a foot taller than her. “Go ahead and give the marks to Raobehr and find a way home and don’t leave your quarters for the night unless you absolutely have to--you are sick, remember.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Ravelan replied, feeling relieved. He’d take whatever punishment was meted out to him willingly, if it would help clear his conscious. He handed the marks to Raobehr and beat a hasty retreat to get himself back to the Weyr.
Raobehr took the marks and pocketed them… somewhere on his person. The man had so many pockets.
"Who will be joining us?" he wondered, still looking pensive about the whole affair. He would have to work hard not to let it all affect his attention span while he should be thinking about rhyme and meter and harmonic resonances and such.
“Well…” Silfrid began, a little unsure of herself. She watched Revelan retreat, shaking her head slightly. “Have you met the Weyr’s new goldrider? I think that it might be a good idea to bring her in. As a special guest judge. What do you think?”
"Ah. A fantastic idea. She will be popular enough that no one would begrudge her serving in the role of substitute," Raobehr answered as he tapped his chin. "I trust that you have this well handled? I don't need to tell anyone else."
“Err… well, I’ll send Cookie to look for her. Shards, the Open starts in an hour… do you think you can speak to the organizers in the meanwhile? Tell them that we want to offer a third place prize… give them some excuse as to how we gathered it. Donations from the judges or something.”
"A more or less accurate explanation," said Raobehr. "I will deliver our explanation of events. I can't imagine they will begrudge us what we ask – there's nothing to be done about an upset gut." Even if what had really upset it was guilt.
Silfrid grinned, deciding she really liked Raobehr. “You are quite right, nothing to be done about an upset gut! Right! I’ll see you as soon as possible!”
Andronda hadn’t really been focusing on anything much aside from the music. She loved music, despite not having any real talent in singing or playing an instrument herself. Instrumental music, of the sort being played right now, was by far her favorite kind. She was looking forward to the Harper Open, if only for the novelty of it all. She might have even been tempted to take part herself, if it didn’t involve singing in front of the crowd at large. The marks or the gold firelizard weren’t worth it to her to make that sort of attempt.
It was Marble who noticed the Harper approaching her first, and the little brown reared up and chittered nervously in her ear. Andronda laid a reassuring hand on the flit, and looked around to see if the Harper was looking for someone else, but no, they seemed to be on a beeline straight to the gold rider. Not an emergency, surely! She didn’t get to her feet, but waited expectantly to see just what was up.
Cookie returned from between and landed on Silfrid’s shoulder just as the harper reached Andronda. “Goldrider Andronda,” Silfrid began, offering her a smile and bowing her head slightly. “I hope I’m not interrupting… but may I have a moment of your time?” She glanced at the chair next to her, “Mind if I sit?”
“Please,” Andronda nodded. “I’m not in the habit of having Harpers seeking me out. Is there something wrong, Harper….” Andronda paused to allow the woman to give her name.
“Oh! Forgive me! I’m Senior Journeywoman Silfrid, of the Harper Haven,” she introduced herself as she sat down. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ll make this quick, if you don’t mind, because in truth we don’t have much time. I’m serving on the judge’s panel for the Harper Open. There is supposed to be a total of three of us but sadly one of the other judges ate something last night that didn’t sit well with him.” She paused for a second, making sure the goldrider was following, though Silfrid was sure that Andronda probably knew where this was heading by now. “So… we were thinking that, perhaps, you could take his place as a special guest judge.”
The gold rider sat perfectly still as she listened to Silfrid’s explanation and following proposal. Her eyes went a bit wide at the offer. Her? A judge?
“But...I haven’t any experience at that sort of thing!” Andronda said. “I’m no Harper, I wouldn’t know a good song from bad, other than if it was sung off key.”
Silfrid smiled. It was refreshing to meet a goldrider that was humble, in the harper’s opinion. She reached over and put a hand over the younger girl’s, “Oh, dear, don’t worry about that. We can help you along the way. The other judge and I can worry about the technicalities, but it’s also good to have someone there that can be the voice of the people--you like a song or you don’t. You like a performance or you don’t. Sometimes we harpers get obsessed with things like meter and rhythm, which are important, I won’t deny that,, but so is being able to set that aside and just enjoy music for what it is--entertainment. I saw you as I made my way over here, you were enjoying the band, were you not? Do you think they played well?”
“I..Well...Yes, yes I do think they played well,” Andronda admitted. “And I guess I can see what you’re saying.”
They needed a third judge, and having someone who wasn’t a Harper could be a benefit. At least, she wouldn’t have to worry about all the nitty gritty things. If they wanted someone to be a voice for the people, then why not?
“Alright. If you really think it’ll be alright, I’ll do it.”
Silfrid beamed, “Perfect! I knew I could count on you! Thank you so much, Andronda. Now, if you wouldn’t mind accompanying me backstage…”