A/N yes, I do reiterate what was said in Elissa's Fosterlings as an introduction to this first chapter; then it stands alone as a story too. Bear with me, you'll soon be into the meat of the rest of it. Thanks to everyone who reviewed and continues to review and who asked for me to get right along with this. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

"Let me pour you both klah….this is going to be a long haul" said Master Isimy.

Alaran and Margand were beginning to wonder just what being his special assistants at Threewoods Crafthall might entail!

The Master spoke seriously to his new assistants and explained to them the various reasons that Master Bendarek had seen fit to withdraw the Master in charge of Threewoods Craft Hall. He told them too that it had come to light that Serelis' father was a journeyman in a craftcot attached to Threewoods; and then needed to explain to a horrified Margand how a seven-turn-old child had been sold to a trader to hide the fact that she had lost a foot through her own father's carelessness. Alaran of course knew the story from H'llon! There was more that the Master had gleaned from the boy Birgel, the son of one of the teaching Journeymen; and that, with the boy's general bad attitude and lack of competence was very telling against the Hall. That the same hall had failed to take care of the widow of a logger and their orphaned son but left them destitute drew cries of horror from both new Journeymen!

"There is now too a new Lady Holder of the Hold that hosts the crafthall; who will have her own troubles to contend with after her grandfather, who was previous Holder, was murdered" Isimy told them. "And it was her grandfather who gave succour to Ciella and her young son Diccon. He's apprenticed happily at High Reaches Weyr now, under H'llon; and not before time that the craft stepped in! Incidentally, we'll have backup if we need it from acting Woodcraftmaster Bronze Rider H'llon and thus the Weyr in general; and we shall make sure if we invoke his name to impress ALL his titles on the lax crew we'll be licking into shape and make fardling well sure they use them!"

"Aren't there ANY Masters left there likely to be helpful? And won't they rather resent us, especially as we're both young?" asked Margand.

"No other Masters" rumbled Isimy "One Master and half a dozen in-Hall journeymen, and perhaps twice that in their own independent craftcots. The number is unconfirmed. Maybe there's more; maybe less. Records seem a little….incomplete. Billan could keep better records assisted by Sheesha and a fair of new-hatched firelizards!"

The youths laughed, but looked aghast. Billan was not the most scrupulous of record keepers amongst the journeymen; and anyone helped by a heedless piece like little apprentice Sheesha was likely to be in a muddle be they as careful as Master Challer! And with the addition of firelizards, untrained and enthusiastic….

"I HOPE that's an exaggeration, Master" said Alaran.

"Alas, only barely!" said Isimy. "In the Hold we'll work with Ciella, the logger's widow; she's now headwoman there so she has understanding of our troubles which may help and she has undertaken to write out a list of all the journeymen she knew of. It's good of her to go to the trouble after her unnecessary sufferings. By all accounts, the laxity runs to more than the records; by what that boy Birgel has said in detailed questioning, the whole atmosphere is lax. Coming here was a shock to him; he was expecting confirmation as journeyman to be a foregone conclusion because he thought he 'knew all there was to know' if you please!"

"Toerag!" said Alaran indignantly "KISRA knows more than he does!"

"Quite" said Isimy, dryly. "And he is discovering that; and galling it is too to a big boy of fifteen to be surpassed by a maid child only just Turned twelve. And in a turn or two perhaps the lad might return having finally caught up to make journeyman, and make himself useful. But expect mucking about; and insolence; and a limit to the number of classes. There is NO marquetry taught, nor advanced cabinet making, nor turning. Alaran, you will teach lathe; Margand, you will teach general decoration, that is starting chip carving as well as marquetry and parquetry. They teach logging and sawing – and even those vital skills to loggers not very well it seems if Birgel is an advanced specimen to our study – basic wood jointing skills; and that came CLOSE to Master Jaben's stringent standards, almost to the level of an apprentice who'd studied two full turns, and it's the one thing Birgel may be said to be good at. If 'good' quite covers it. The boy's father is the journeyman teaching that. I'd like to take some senior apprentices of our lot to stiffen the general atmosphere; but the three that spring readily to mind are likely to get picked on for looking or seeming different."

"Tirlo – stutter; Teerel; twisted spine; Kamar – squashed face?" guessed Alaran, the three being cronies of his own from his own so recent apprentice days.

"Exactly" said Isimy. "None of which affect them as crafters; but children can be cruel; and wild, out of control children…"

Margand winced.

"Tage is too gentle; they'd get at him" he said "And Seeta the same. She couldn't say boo to a wherry! Bierel? Sarney?"

"Bierel has a turn for mischief without letting it out of hand….Sarney keeps himself to himself but he's not afraid to do what he has to do. I'll ask Master Bendarek. Alaran?"

Alaran grinned.

"Bierel and I once put Master Batol's – as he was then – underlinen on top of the log store tied to the lightning conductor" he said. "He is younger than me, by a turn or so; but he knows the difference between pranking and daftness, he's no ovine to go bleating after some idiot leader. I like Sarney too, he's a good sort; he and Tage are by way of being friends though….still, Tage is friendly with 'most everyone. Let's have Kamar; Sarney and Bierel won't let anyone cheek him in their hearing and he's got heaps of self confidence, you know!"

Isimy nodded.

"Good; three will be a good cadre. And Sarney is likely to be made up to Journeyman next turn too, he's a turn older than the other two."

"Yes" said Alaran "He's my age; and Margand's."

"True" said Isimy "But some are readier than others. He'll have to settle for tassels only for now; as he already has."

"What other skills DO they teach, sir?" asked Margand. "If it's only forestry, sawcraft and jointing, it's scarcely a woodcraft hall at all – and even more shame that a boy Birgel's age couldn't make any grade on so meagre a group of skills!"

"They do have a wheelmaker and a papermaker and a varnishmaker who I presume must have SOME knowledge of dyecraft. And there's a free carver. And I'm doubtful about the efficacy of any of them judging by Birgel's work since he was supposed to be a star pupil!"

There were mutters of assent from the new journeymen!

The group from the Woodcrafter Hall were to leave soon; and Master Barlis, lately Master of Threewoods, would return to the parent crafthall. Barlis was a forester, trained under Master Challer; and in Challer's estimation good at what he did.

Apparently he was not so good at inspiring his followers nor at keeping discipline.

wWwWw

The first person to approach Master Isimy when he arrived was Journeyman Hagel, Birgel's father.

"May I ask, Master, why my son wrote to me that he did not make the grade for journeyman?" he asked respectfully enough.

Isimy regarded him; the face was open, though he thought there was a touch of petulance to it.

"Because he didn't" he said "And not by a long chalk. His work is by no means good enough for a journeyman; all his skills are poor save jointing, in which he is equal to my twelve-turn-old niece. He is in that respect average for a second-turn apprentice and good enough to pass on to cabinet making, but in a youth of fifteen turns that is disappointing, very disappointing. Especially in the craftbred who one would expect to be a turn ahead, not a turn behind. Of course, had he applied himself from the moment he reached us, he might have pulled himself up; others have managed in the past who do NOT have his advantage of background; but he preferred to lark and play."

Hagel gave a deprecating laugh.

"Oh well, they're only young once. Apprentices like to play."

Isimy shrugged.

"Not if they want to be journeymen. You can't have it both ways, Journeyman Hagel; if he's young enough to want to play – and frankly the pranks he got up to we wondered if there was something wrong with him since they were more appropriate to the games our new intake were playing, little boys and girls of ten and eleven – then he is too young mentally to consider as a journeyman even if his skills WERE up to scratch. Which they were not. Journeymen put childishness behind them; we have dangers in our craft that do NOT forgive heedless silliness! Perhaps that is why this Hall has a poor safety record too! Incidentally" he moved on swiftly "Birgel says he has a sister who has not been allowed to apprentice; why is that?"

"Oh well, we're only a small Hall; we have few enough places without wasting any on girls who are only likely to get married and be lost to the craft" said Hagel.

Isimy blinked. It sounded glib and learned.

"What a parochial, hidebound oldtimer attitude! SOME girls marry and devote time to children – and generally give those children their first craft preparation! In Lemos we have a number of very talented female journeymen, some of whom are married and juggle quite adequately married life and craft, even as a man does. Two of them even teach part time, including my sister-in-law. You'll get your daughter here later this very day if she's willing; I'm sure she'll catch up readily, you don't seem to expect high standards after all. I'll set one of my senior apprentices bringing her on."

"Er….yes Master" said Hagel. He was still fuming over his son being considered inadequate; and fuming even more over the fact that it might be true!

"Assemble the teaching journeymen for me; I intend to speak to them" said Isimy. "Know that many of my general remarks will NOT apply to you; your boy is a lazy little scrub but I see your teaching has been careful enough and will improve when the discipline of this whole Hall is tightened."

Hagel brightened somewhat; and went to do Isimy's bidding.

wWwWw

The Journeymen of Threewoods crafthall looked wary, not to say shifty.

"Do you know why I was sent in Master Barlis' place?" asked Isimy.

There were shaken heads.

Isimy began by pointing out that Barlis was a perfectly good Forestmaster; but had let discipline slide. He cited the two examples of ill usage that had come so far to master Bendarek's ears; adding dryly that he would not be surprised to learn of other accidents the news of which had NOT got about; and equal attendant failure to care for dependants.

There were uncomfortable shuffles and a long, loud silence.

"As I thought" said Isimy grimly "The record keeping here is lax too; and if the lot of you were proud enough of yourselves to think that boy Birgel was well prepared for Journeymanship you are deluding nobody but yourselves! If his preparation is an example of your collective teaching, I'm half inclined to get rid of the lot of you and bring in a pack of second turn apprentices from Lemos Hall who would appear to have a better grasp of which end of a chisel is the dangerous one than you lot of scrofulous no-hopers! Discipline appears to be non-existent – and no wonder you have accidents! And the few meagre classes you manage to teach are poorly taught and lacking in depth. I presume each of you knew enough about your own subject to be promoted to Journeyman in the first place; but there's a lot more to teaching than knowing – even if you haven't spent the intervening turns forgetting! I suspect some of you are suffering in your classes from the laxity of behaviour instilled from the very top: and if you have not had the force of personality to impose discipline in your own classes, a bunch of wherry-brained boys permitted to run riot will not make your task easier."

"It's not easy to impose order if discipline is countermanded by other journeymen currying favour to some of the boys" growled one journeyman.

"You are?"

"Kaybez. I teach Varnish and finishing; and when you put a boy on bread and water for three days and he laughs at you because another tells him he need not worry about that and orders kitchen to feed him, what do you do?"

"The countermand was not ratified by the Master?" asked Isimy.

Kaybez shook his head.

Isimy's eyes narrowed. He was also pleased however to note that Kaybez was sufficiently loyal to his own hall to name no names instead of trying to shift blame.

"NO Journeyman has the right to countermand the punishment of another; nor any Master to any Master. Let us get that quite clear" he said softly. "The Master of a crafthall may be appealed to if a punishment is felt to be harsh, humiliating or unjust. If anyone feels a punishment imposed is too harsh he will come to ME. NO journeyman will countermand the punishment of another. Conversely, no journeyman should be using serious physical punishment; a light cuff as a reproof is acceptable; no more. I do not, of course, count putting a boy – or girl I suppose – on a short stint at the bottom of the saw pit for dangerous behaviour in the mill. It's an unpleasant but necessary part of the job and if they will lark about it provides some time for reflection. If no-one is on punishment of course, how a rota is organised is up to the journeyman in charge so long as it is fair. Strict rota is how we do it in Lemos; at the woodhall at High Reaches Weyr they dice for it. If the lads think it fair, it probably is. It does NOT mean that favourites get saved saw duty any more than from any punishment. Do I make myself clear on all these points?"

There was a murmur of rather sullen assent.

Isimy was not going out of his way to be popular; and he had won no friends so far – save perhaps a grudging willingness to see how he went from Kaybez.

"Very well" the Master said "There are two more teaching Journeymen who will help to bring this Hall a little more in line with a true crafthall; Journeyman Alaran will introduce the craft of turning; and Journeyman Margand will teach Marquetry, inlay and the start of free carving to free up the carving master to teach more fretwork and block carving for the weavercraft."

The looks the new Journeymen were given smacked of the looks apprentices were wont to bestow on Masters' pets.

Alaran managed to resist the temptation to stick out his tongue!

wWwWw

Alaran and Margand set out to explore their new home, helped by Alaran's brown firelizard Wally.

The crafthall was set against and into one side of a steep sided alpine valley, with the Hold on the other side, and the Gather Ground on the valley floor. And the trees here were predominantly pines, sweeping up the valley sides towards the sky.

Alaran shuddered.

"It is rather claustrophobic, isn't it?" said Margand "I was afraid I'd feel that way at the Crafthall, but nobody makes a fellow stay under shutters during Threadfall if they don't want to."

Alaran shrugged.

"It's our pact with F'lar. If we keep the ground clear we keep the trees. And only by going out as soon as the trailing edge has gone over can we ever hope to do that. And some of us are out during Fall, because with flamethrowers and agenothree for score it's safe enough under dragons, with the skybrooms for added cover."

"Do they have skybrooms here? What three woods does the name of the place refer to?"

"Pine, skybroom and sugar maple; I checked it up. The High Reaches had better sugaring off than we do in Lemos – I say. It'll be your first time!" Alaran grinned "Sugaring off is great, very sticky and there's a dance and feast when it's all done. And all the syrup you can eat, and Saranna makes blackberry ice cream to eat hot syrup on!" he smacked his lips.

Margand laughed.

"You sound like you're still an apprentice!"

"Believe me, thinking of sugaring-off I FEEL like an apprentice" Alaran laughed too "We'll climb up to the ridge sometime; there'll be a view to be had up there I warrant. I see the sawmill down by the river; the wheel uses the river as motive power not a tributary. And it's no very big waterway itself; I'd have thought a tributary coming down the valley would have more speed and power by making it an overshot wheel not an undershot."

"I haven't a clue what you're babbling about" said Margand "Talk sense and explain."

"Oh, it's easy; an overshot wheel, well the water pushes at the top of the wheel so starting it falling away always from the water; undershot, the water has to push the wheel to climb, so it takes more oomph, so overshot is better."

Margand nodded.

"Technical words like er, oomph aside, that makes sense. Maybe there's no suitable tributary or the ground by it wasn't suitable to build a mill."

"Or they got lazy. We'll find out. I shan't much like being partly in caves, I have to say; I like being all open. You too?"

"Rather. There are caves at Igen, but plenty of wide entrances to look out of. And I LIKE the building at Lemos; it's safe without coddling people."

"We'll need to build new crafthalls for our crafts; let's ask Master Isimy if we can build out, with plenty of windows. Crafting needs light, especially delicate stuff like marquetry. Lathework you CAN do by feel – Telfer used to when he was blind – but I like to see!"

Hereupon, Alaran had to explain about Telfer's background to Margand; and the once Holdless boy learned yet more about the folks of High Reaches Weyr.

"I'd say we were lucky at least in our dragon cover" he ventured.

Alaran nodded.

"And Cousin H'llon will keep an eye out for us too!" he said "Well, let's get our order in for building our craftrooms and living quarters before Turn's end, huh?"

"Yes; and meantime let us get to know journeymen and apprentices that they will respect us once they join our classes!" said Margand. "Begin as we mean to go on!"