“Children! Back to your chores, the lot of you!” Their mother’s voice cracked out like a whip- and the dragon-addled brood jumped accordingly. There was something about Jallica’s bearing that brooked no nonsense, from the most rebellious child right on up to the most slothful adult. It was a useful quality for a Hold’s head-woman to have, however small that Hold might be, and Underhill prospered well beneath her benevolent dictatorship. Her husband, Errol, was thus free to turn his attention to what he cared most about- the breeding and keeping of ever-finer herdbeasts.
Jallica watched, pleased, as her offspring scattered- except for Caffera, who promptly unhooked the pouches from her belt and held them towards her mother.
“I got everything you asked for,” she said. Jallica eyed the girl speculatively, but didn’t bother opening any of the bags. Caffera would not have come down from the cliffs she loved unless her job was finished, dragon or no dragon.
“Good girl,” she nodded. “Now take them to Journeywoman Vikka, and see that you help her with the preparations.” Caffera made a face and puffed a strand of ash-blond hair out of her eyes, but did as she was told. That was the good thing about Jallica’s second-eldest daughter: she might prefer to spend her days climbing and exploring, but if you could catch her before she disappeared for the day, she could always be relied upon to do what was best for the Hold, with minimal complaining.
Younglings attended to, Jallica turned her attention back to Errol and P’Tull.
“Shall we continue this conversation inside, over a few mugs of ale, fine sirs?” Her eyes flicked ever-so-briefly to the left, where one of the children had returned to sweeping in a decided distracted manner. “Some conversations are best held without tiny shadows hovering about.”
P’Tull seemed to consider the offer. “I could certainly use a drink,” he stretched his back out, “And we have been on Search since early this morning-”
Jallica nodded briskly. “I thought as much. Come, come, both of you. Let us give Slioth and his Rider a bit of a rest before they move to the next Hold.”
Once the trio was settled with drinks and a platter of cold meats and cheeses, Jallica cut right to the chase.
“You’ll understand, of course, that we can release neither Jerrol nor Ellica to the Weyrs,” she said, indicating the eldest. “Jerrol is to take Errol’s place as Holder, and Ellica is already bride-promised to a neighboring Hold.”
P’Toll blinked at this forthrightness, but Errol just laughed.
“Don’t look so surprised, Rider. My wife’s grandmother was weyrbred. She knows how these things work. Or how they’re supposed to, at any rate. We are of course honored to send any of our other children you think might have merit-”
“Not me,” P’Tull said, “Slioth. I’m just along for the ale.” He grinned at his hosts and took another pull. “And it wasn’t your elder children that caught his attention so much as the twins.”
“Caffera and Callen?”
“Indeed. He feels both of them show great promise, but… we can always wait, if they cannot bear to be separated. I’ve heard twins can’t, sometimes.”
“Separated? Why should they be separated?” Errol asked, confused. “Double the candidates is double the honor, isn’t it? We won’t limit you to just one of our own, if your Slioth finds them worthy.” His face cleared as he corrected himself, “Ah, there’s no queen egg, I take it?”
“Oh, there is very much a queen egg,” P’Tull said gruffly. “That’s not the problem. The problem-”
“Is their ages,” Jallica cut in. “Specifically Caffera’s age, am I correct?”
P’Tull nodded. “You understand, I see. Twelve is a fine age for a boy to stand on the sands- they have plenty of time to grow and learn our ways after their dragons have matured. But the girls…” he trailed off, then shook his head. “If Slioth was less sure of her, I’d say bring her along… but Slioth is so certain she’ll impress that in fact I’m afraid I have to recommend she not even come to the hatching. Not this hatching, at any rate. Perhaps in another two years.”
“I still don’t,” Errol began, confusion clouding his face once more, but Jallica laid a restraining hand on him, and he fell silent. He trusted his wife to explain in her own time.
“We will leave the choice to them, I think,” she said. “They would know better than we whether or not they can stand to be separated. But,” she added with a wry smile, “I doubt that Caffera would let Callen miss this opportunity, no matter how disappointed she may be on her own behalf.”