It was almost two full Turns before Caffera saw her twin again, but when the brown dragon appeared suddenly over the cliffs above their Hold, she knew instantly who it was.
Hello Caffera, the voice, so like C'Len’s, was almost shy, and Caffera had the sudden sense that her twin’s dragon had been every bit as anxious about meeting her, as she had been about meeting him.
Hello Tadith, she responded, trying to put as much loving welcome into her mental voice as she’d put into her speaking voice, were it C'Len himself greeting her. Carefully she placed her feet into a pair of pockets on the rock face, and settled her weight comfortably before swiveling her torso to better see the new arrivals. She and the hovering dragon were of an eye-level, and he was so close she could smell the sweet spiciness of his hide.
C'Len is very worried about you, being so high, said Tadith. Would you like a ride down to the ground?
Caffera almost made a sarcastic remark about not being the only one up so high, but she thought better of it.
If you’re sure you don’t mind, Tadith.
It would make C'Len happy, he said, simply.
And so Caffera found herself being oh-so-carefully plucked off the cliff by a dragon.
As gentle as Tadith was, being carried in dragon talons was still not what Caffera would have categorized as “comfortable”, and as he set her on her feet in the courtyard she knew she’d bear the marks of her little adventure tomorrow. But then C’Len was sliding down to the ground and throwing his arms around her.
“Caffera! Caffera! I’ve missed you so much!” C’Len’s voice was muffled in her hair, and Caffera suddenly realized that although she’d gained half a head in height since their last parting, C’Len had added at least that much again- perhaps more.
“What do they feed you up there?” she demanded, tilting her gaze up to meet his, and C’Len laughed.
“Everything! The Holds tithe only their best to the Weyr, you know.”
And he makes certain he gets his fair share, Tadith added, amusement coloring his voice.
Caffera laughed, and C’Len’s face broke into a relieved grin.
“I’m so glad you can hear him, too. I worried- well, I shouldn’t have worried. Of course you can hear him! I’m so glad the two most important people in my life have finally met!”
Caffera felt her smile falter, but she did her best to recover it, not wanting to spoil the moment. C’Len was still the most important person in her life, for all that she hadn’t seen him in so long- but she knew she’d been irrevocably replaced in his heart.
Not replaced, said Tadith. What he and I have- it is a different kind of love, from what you and he have. He thinks of you all the time- he misses you. He misses you so much it made me miss you, and I’d never met you.
Well I’m sorry for that, Caffera told him. I don’t know that I can live up to what he’s been telling you.
“What are you two talking about so seriously?” C’Len asked, a hint of annoyance in his voice.
“You can’t hear us?” Caffera didn’t have to feign surprise.
“Apparently not,” C’Len said. Tadith stretched his head out to nuzzle his rider’s shoulder, and C’Len’s face softened. “Oh. He says you think I’ve made too much of you. Well I haven’t, I promise you. You’re extremely loveable.”
Before Caffera could summon a response to this, the younger siblings had broken free of whatever small restraint Jallica had lain on them, and came shrieking into the courtyard.
“C’Len! C’Len! C’Len!”
“Mother said we had to let you greet Caffera first-”
“-but you’ve had enough time right?”
“Now will you let us meet your dragon?”
“We’re supposed to respect your dignity-”
“You got so tall!”
“Your dragon smells good!”
C’Len laughed at the cacophony, and tossed the littlest ones into the air.
“Tadith smells good because he had a bath before we came, in honor of our first trip home. I didn’t want Mother to scold us for being slovenly.”
“Mother wouldn’t scold a dragon!” said one of the children, but there was doubt in her voice.
“I expect your mother would scold anyone who deserved it,” said Errol, approaching the boisterous crowd with caution, his arms full of a squirming infant. “How long can you stay, son?”
“I’ve leave to stay overnight,” C’Len made a face at the baby, who rewarded him with a two-toothed grin. “And who is this charmer?” he asked.
“This,” said Jallica, embracing her son and then moving to take the baby from her husband, “Is Lorrel, born this past autumn. She is very pleased to meet her dragonrider brother, I’m sure, but perhaps we should move inside out of the cold?”
Later that night, when the littles had worn themselves out with excitement, and their parents had retreated to their own bedroom, Caffera and C’Len sat together talking beneath the stars, their backs again Tadith for warmth.
“Mother has been adamant that I learn everything there is learn about running a Hold,” Caffera said in disgust. “And the more I learn, the less I want anything resembling that level of authority. All those people looking to you? Ugh. I’d much rather not be responsible for anything beyond myself.”
“You will be, tho’,” C’Len said. “Queen riders have enormous amounts of responsibility within the weyr, especially the senior riders who become Weyrwomen.”
Caffera made a dismissive gesture with her hands. “If I Impress.”
C’Len looked alarmed. “Of course you’ll Impress! You have to!” Tadith gave a low rumble of support, and Caffera smiled.
“I appreciate your faith, both of you, but… I mean it’s a bit of a numbers game, isn’t it? It’s not like if I was a boy, and there were lots of eggs to choose from. I only get to stand if there’s a gold egg, and even then it’s me and what- six, ten? Anyway a bunch of other girls.”
C’Len shook his head adamantly. “If Slioth thinks you’ll Impress, you’ll Impress. The weyrling master says he’s never yet brought someone back from Search who didn’t, even if they had to stand on the stands twice. And anyway I heard that girls are starting to Impress greens- not that I don’t think you’ll impress a gold, of course!” he added hastily.
“Hmm,” Caffera said, noncommittally. Then, “So… what’s it like?”
“Impression?” her voice was shy, slightly embarrassed, as if she wasn’t sure she should be asking something so intimate.
“It’s…” he trailed off. “It’s like nothing I can easily explain. Like you know how when you have a headache, and it feels so good when the pain is finally gone, and you realize that you didn’t even realize how much you were hurting until it stops? It was like… like I didn’t realize that I wasn’t complete, until suddenly I was. I didn’t realize there was a… a hole in my heart, until Tadith filled it, perfectly. It sounds silly-”
“It sounds wonderful,” Caffera said, sincerely, trying to fight down her jealousy. She wasn’t sure if she was more jealous of C’Len for having found such peace, or of Tadith for providing what she couldn’t. C’Len reached out and squeezed her fingers.
“I still love you,” he whispered, and she realized he’d been feeling her emotions.
“I know,” she said, sadly.
And I love you, too, said Tadith. But soon you will have a dragon of you own, and then you will be as whole and happy as C’Len is, and that will make him happier still.
Caffera gave a watery laugh. “Let us hope so, Tadith. Think how embarrassing it would be for Slioth to be wrong.”