|“||The one aspect that neither Washell nor Robie’s mother had considered was the child’s enthusiasm for things musical. They did not expect quite how swiftly and eagerly, over the next few months, he absorbed his lessons and learned how to play the various instruments.||”|
The Masterharper of Pern was one of nominees for the HOMer Award for science fiction novel.
MasterSinger Merelan and Harper Petiron were a brilliant and devoted couple. Merelan was the most outstanding soprano ever heard on Pern, and was often the only one who could master Petiron's technically accomplished compositions. When, after a long and difficult birth, Robinton was born to them, it should have been the culmination of a unique partnership.
But Petiron, almost from the first day, had no time for his son, refusing to see the incredible talent the boy possessed, ignoring his achievements and maintaining a strict and disapproving vigilance over him at all times.
As constant sadness beset his personal life, so a startling career sent him like a meteor through the Holds and Weyrs of Pern until, as MasterHarper, he became part of the great plan to rescue Lessa from the brutal rule of Holder Fax — Lessa, who was to be the saviour of the dragons of Pern.
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During the Eighth Interval, Robinton is born at the Harper Hall to MasterComposer Petiron and MasterSinger Merelan. Merelan remains weak for some time after the birth, and later catches a fever, prompting Ginia, a Healer, to suggest Petiron take a position in Southern Boll near Merelan's home hold, allowing her to recuperate there. Travelling with the Sev Ritecamp trader train — during which they encounter hill folk who think Harpers are to be distrusted — Petiron, Merelan and Robie" reside at Pierie Hold for a Turn, before returning to the Harper Hall.
Young Robinton shows musical skill from an early age, but Petiron fails to notice this; however, Merelan does, and she and the other Masters at the Harper Hall decide to keep this secret from Petiron, lest he push his son too hard and cause him to lose his love for music. As the years go by — during which Petiron ends up tutoring Halanna, a difficult student from Ista — Robinton's skills improve, and he also ends up conversing with dragons on two occasions: once when a dragonrider comes to convey Robinton's parents to Nerat, and later when dragonriders come on Search.
When Robinton is nine, Petiron comes across his writings — which are now being used — while looking for blank sheets, and confronts Merelan for not telling him of Robinton's musical abilities — in return, she accuses him of failing to notice. Before he can take control of Robinton's education, Merelan accepts a position at Benden Hold, where she will teach Lord Maidir's eldest daughter to sing. Petiron ends up talking with Masterharper Gennell — who was aware of Robinton's skills — before stating he will have him as his apprentice when he is twelve.
At Benden Hold, Robinton befriends Falloner, a young boy who is determined to become Weyrleader some day — and is in fact the son of the present Weyrleader, S'loner, to whom Robinton ends up singing the recently reinstated Question Song — and later travels with him to Benden Weyr for a day. At the end of her contract, Merelan returns with Robinton to the Harper Hall, where relations remain strained with Petiron.
Robinton becomes an apprentice at twelve turns, and his education continues — his voice ultimately changing at thirteen turns. One night — urged by head apprentice Shonagar — Robinton ends up spending a night alone at the abandoned Fort Weyr, a tradition amongst Harper apprentices — and notices a «flicker» above the Star Stones as he returns to the Harper Hall the following day.
While on drum duty, Robinton receives a message about a clutch at Benden Weyr. At a later date, Robinton manages to send word to ask who Impressed, and discovers Fallarnon Impressed and is now F'lon — along with others such as Rangul (R'gul), Sellel (S'lel) and Lytonal (L'tol). F'lon visits in the second year of Robinton's apprenticeship, and offers him a ride anytime he needs one.
At fifteen, Robinton is made Journeyman, and sent to High Reaches Hold to work under Master Lobirn. During his three Turns teaching at High Reaches — some of which are spent traveling to minor holds — Robinton continues to compose, and meets Fax, a nephew of Lord Faroguy, who takes an instant disliking to him. Robinton later finds that Harpers are not permitted at the holding Fax controls.
Robinton remains at High Reaches Hold for three turns, learning much about hold administration — and losing his virginity to a girl named Sitta. In his final turn, Benden Weyr's Weyrwoman Carola dies, and is replaced by Jora, a weak-willed woman who is afraid of heights, something that may restrict her queen Nemorth.
Robinton briefly returns to the Harper Hall, before being sent on to Benden Hold — although he has to make his own way there as Lord Maidir is not on good terms with the dragonriders. Traveling first by ship, then by runnerbeast, Robinton arrives at Benden Hold, eventually becoming the Hold's Harper when the previous Harper, Evarel, transfers to Nerat.
Several Turns later, Jora's dragon Nemorth at last rises for her first mating flight, and Robinton attends the Hatching, which becomes marred with tragedy when S'loner and Lord Maidir are discovered to have died while attempting to travel to Benden Hold — it is theorized S'loner died of a heart attack, and his dragon Chendith went Between, inadvertently taking Maidir with him.
A Council is called at Benden Hold to determine who will succeed Maidir. Fax attends with Lord Faroguy — who appears to be quite weak — and Farevene, and Robinton is asked to keep him and F'lon away from one another. Maidir's son Raid becomes Lord Holder of Benden Hold, and Robinton continues working as Harper there, until Raid dismisses him for smoothing over some of his less popular orders.
Robinton is next sent to Tillek Hold — accompanied by Groghe, the son of Lord Grogellan of Fort Hold, who is to act as steward for Lord Melongel — en route, managing to solve a building dispute between two families living on the border of Fort and Tillek. At Tillek Hold, Robinton gradually falls in love with Kasia — the youngest sister of Lady Juvana — and the two decide to get married, at which point, Robinton begins composing a song for Kasia.
Before their marriage, Robinton completes a teaching round, visiting a number of minor holds in Tillek. When at a holding near the border with High Reaches, Robinton is informed of groups of abused refugees seen fleeing from High Reaches. The holder, Chochol, believes Lord Faroguy is dead. At Tillek Hold, Lord Melongel decides to invite Faroguy to the upcoming Gather — where Robinton and Kasia will be married. On the day of the espousal, a drum message arrives from High Reaches stating that Faroguy will be unable to attend — although they note it odd that Faroguy has not inquired about Lady Juvana, as he normally does.
Merelan and Masterharper Gennell arrive for the espousal, but Petiron does not — instead sending a piece of music to be played — along with Kasia's parents, and Robinton and Kasia are wed, spending their honeymoon on a rented sloop, however, the weather turns bad after three days at sea, and they both end up soaked as they seek shelter in a cove. Kasia falls ill, and Robinton sails their sloop for another four days — inadvertently away from the nearest holding — at which point they are rescued by MasterFishman Idarolan and brought back to Tillek Hold. During the cold winter that follows at Tillek, Kasia succumbs to fever, and is buried at sea. Robinton falls into a depression, and F'lon arrives, revealing that an accident has happened at Benden Weyr — L'tol's dragon Larth was fatally injured during a drill. F'lon notes he could take Robinton Between if he wants, but they decide not to — like Lytol, who chose to return to High Reaches instead of suiciding.
Robinton continues to work at Tillek, until Lord Melongel releases him from his service, noting that Robinton is pained to remain there, as it reminds him of Kasia. During this time, it becomes clear that Fax is now Lord Holder of High Reaches — a runner reported Lord Faroguy was dead, and his eldest son Farevene had been killed in a duel, while his younger son Bargen had gone missing. Two of the Harpers at High Reaches Hold flee with the aid of «Nip» — a Harper spy — but a third, Mallan, is sent to the mines where he later dies.
Robinton returns to the Harper Hall and immerses himself in studies — briefly confronting his parents in anger for playing the song he wrote for Kasia — before doing rounds in Southern Boll in winter — replacing journeyman Karenchok, who broke his leg. F'lon visits, announcing the birth of his son Fallarnon to Larna, the daughter of deceased Weyrwoman Carola — although Larna passes away two days later. When Karenchok recovers, Robinton returns to the Harper Hall, before being sent to Keroon — where he finds that many holders consider Harpers liars, and dragonriders relics of a bygone era — and later Nerat. Merelan passes away not long after his return in the spring, and a grieving Petiron becomes closer to Robinton as a result.
Robinton returns to the Harper Hall and obtains his Mastery the following turn, and continues to be sent to various holds. F'lon has a second son at Benden Weyr, Famanoran, to Manora — who had been fostering Fallarnon. Despite his worries that Nemorth will not rise to mate — having not risen since S'loner's death; since that date, Benden Weyr has been run by a team of four riders — the next turn Nemorth rises and is flown by Simanith, and F'lon becomes Weyrleader of Benden Weyr.
Distrust of Harpers begins to spread — resulting in a number of attacks against them. Groghe becomes Lord Holder at Fort Hold, after Grogellan dies of an inflamed appendix — his wife, Lady Winalla, would not allow surgery, as she saw it as barbaric. Not long afterwards, Lady Relna of Crom seeks refuge at Ruatha Hold with her two youngest children; Fax has invaded and usurped control of Crom Hold. The next turn, Masterharper Gennell dies of a heart attack, and Robinton is «unanimously» elected the new Masterharper. Following this, Petiron transfers himself to Half-Circle Sea Hold, so his presence in the Harper Hall will not make him an embarrasment to Robinton — despite Robinton's attempts to talk him out of it.
The next turn, Melongel becomes fatally injured when his runner — found to be poisoned — falls on him. Fax — likely responsible for the poisoning — seizes Radharc Hold from Tillek, and begins styling himself «Lord of Three Holds». Robinton ends up in an informal relationship with Silvina — who will not espouse him as she knows he still thinks of Kasia — and they have a son, Camo, who is mentally challenged due to suffering oxygen deprivation during birth.
The following turn, Fax takes control of Keogh Hold — having befriended the holders, and then offering to take care of the hold while they attended one of his Gathers, which they subsequently «failed to return from». Rantou — Merelan's cousin from Southern Boll — enrolls his grandson Sebell at the Harper Hall, and he gradually becomes Robinton's unofficial assistant. In winter, Robinton is conveyed to Benden Weyr by C'gan — the Weyrsinger, who he met during his early years at Benden Hold — to watch a Hatching where both of F'lon's sons are candidates. Both end up Impressing, becoming F'lar and F'nor.
Over time, Fax captures Nabol Hold. Lord Tarathel of Telgar Hold schedules a Gather where he invites every Lord Holder — including Fax, some of whose men were recently captured within Telgar's borders. During this Gather, Kepiru, a boy traveling with Fax, knocks into young Larad, Tarathel's son, and refuses to apologise. F'lon attempts to correct him, and ends up in a duel with Gifflen, one of Fax's men, who injures Robinton's arm before killing F'lon. Lord Tarathel arrives, and orders that Gifflen be exiled to the Eastern Ring Islands, only for Fax to arrive, and attempt to overturn the order with force. Robinton musters the holders to defend Tarathel, and Gifflen is killed when a knife is thrown from the crowd — by «Nip».
As Robinton returns to the Harper Hall, he stops at Ruatha Hold, where he fails to convince Lord Kale to increase his number of guards — although he does manage to convince him to set up border patrols. At the Harper Hall, «Nip» informs Robinton that he has found the missing Bargen hiding in the abandoned High Reaches Weyr, where he is doing what he can to inconvenience Fax.
Over the following turns, «Nip» continues to spy at Fax's holds — now numbering six. Lord Tarathel passes away, and Larad succeeds him — despite his elder half-sister Thella attempting to become Lady Holder. C'gan pays occasional visits, reporting on R'gul, the new Weyrleader, who he is unsatisfied with. One night, «Nip» comes to the conclusion that Fax is planning to invade Ruatha, and he and Robinton race to Ruatha Hold, only to find that Fax has already invaded, murdering Lord Kale and his family, and claiming Ruatha through his marriage to Lady Gemma of Crom, a distant relative of Kale's father Ashmichel. Upon discovery of the invasion, the nearby Lord Holders ride to Nabol Hold to confront Fax, but fail to control him. In protest, many Craftmasters — with the exception of the Healer Hall — remove their Masters from the Holds Fax controls.
Over the next five turns, Robinton starts self-defense classes at the Harper Hall. Jora dies at Benden Weyr, but her dragon Nemorth is bound to the Hatching Ground since she had clutched. The dragonriders go on Search to find a candidate for the queen egg, and Robinton soon discovers that Fax is travelling to Ruatha with dragonriders.
Robinton disguises himself as a drudge and travels to Ruatha Hold, where he witnesses the arrival of Fax and the dragonriders, and sees the state of disrepair Ruatha Hold is in. Changing into the clothing of Fax's guards, Robinton witnesses Lady Gemma go into labor, and F'lar duel Fax, killing him — also finding that Lessa, the daughter of Lord Kale, is in fact alive and posing as a drudge.
Following this, Robinton unmasks himself and talks with «Nip» — also at Ruatha Hold — and the dragonriders about re-instating the deposed bloodlines at Fax's Holds, while F'lar convinces Lessa to leave Ruatha Hold and attend the Hatching at Benden Weyr.