P’Tull left shortly thereafter, promising that another rider- “A green, probably,” would be by to collect Callen in another week or so, should he decide to accept. His parents would be sent for at a later date, closer to the actual hatching.
That night, Caffera could tell something significant had happened- something to do with her and Callen- but neither Jallica nor Errol said anything out of the ordinary during supper. It wasn’t until the plates were being cleared that Jallica summoned the two of them to follow her and Errol to their private sitting room.
“Do you remember your teaching ballads, children?” Jallica said. They nodded solemnly- the teaching ballads were almost impossible not to remember. That was the point. “And you remember why the dragonriders go on Search?”
“To find more dragonriders,” Callen said promptly.
“How do they know who would make a good dragonrider?” Caffera asked. She, like most children, had grown up playing at dragonrider, fighting imaginary Thread, but she had never really considered the fact that dragonriders had once been children, themselves.
“According to P’Tull,” Errol said, smiling, “They don’t. It’s the dragons who can tell.”
Callen sucked in a breath at this, and Caffera suddenly realized that perhaps he had considered it.
“I heard him,” Callen whispered. “I heard Slioth. Does that mean…”
“I heard him too!” Caffera yelled, jumping to her feet in excitement. She immediately regained her seat at a stern glance from Jallica.
“It means you have been Searched,” Jallica said, looking directly at her son, “because you might- you might- be acceptable to a hatchling. But you don’t have to go-”
“Of course we want to go!” Caffera said, unable to contain herself. She grabbed her twin’s hands in her own.. “Of course we do, Cally!”
“Well, you see Caffera, that’s the thing…” Errol trailed off, not certain how to continue. Jallica gave his arm a pat.
“You can’t go, Caffera. You’re too young.”
Caffera felt as though the room had dropped out from beneath her.
“But… but we’re twins!” she cried, indignant. “We’re the same age! You can’t let him go and keep me home, it’s not fair!”
“It’s not our decision,” Jallica said sharply. “The weyrs don’t take girls as young as you. Boys may stand on the sands as young as ten, but girls may not try until they’re at least fifteen.”
“No, it isn’t,” her mother’s voice was more gentle now, but no more yielding. “You have never been caught up in a dragon’s mating-flight. My grandmother was, and she made sure her daughters, and her daughters’ daughters, knew what was involved. It’s bad enough for those who aren’t bonded with a dragon. They say that those who are, lose all sense of self when their dragons rise to mate. That is not an experience for a child.”
“The males don’t rise the way the females do. All the weyrs need do is keep the young males from the vicinity of a rising female, and they’ll be fine. But nothing will prevent a sexually mature queen from rising.”
“But… but…” Caffera had released Callen’s hands and buried her fingers in her hair, trying to think of a way around it. She’d seen what happened to the female herd- and runnerbeasts when they were in heat, how little choice they had in the matter.
“There is no but,” Jallica said firmly. “It is not our decision, and not yours. What we are here to decide is whether or not Callen chooses to go. You are here as a courtesy, and because P’Tull feels strongly that, once you are of age, you should go.”
“But that’s three years away!” she wailed, balling her hands into fists.
“Three years isn’t so long, Caffera,” Errol said, his eyes sympathetic.
Caffera’s eyes burned, and she turned her face to the ceiling, determined not to cry. Her nails were biting into her palms so hard she knew there would be marks come morning.
“I… I won’t go,” Callen said suddenly. His voice was hoarse, quiet, as though he was speaking around something in his throat. “I’ll just… I’ll wait until you can go, too, Caffy. Like father says, three years… it’s not so long...” he trailed off into a whisper, and Caffera whipped her eyes down to meet his.
“What?” she demanded,shocked out of her agony. “Don’t be ridiculous! You will so go! Callen you will so go, and you will Impress a bronze and be better than any of the others!”
“I’d rather be with you than, than a dragon,” he said, bright hazel eyes sincere.
“I could never live with myself if you didn’t go!” she said. “What if this is the only hatching while we’re of age?”
“Now Caffera,” Errol said, soothingly, “it’s not like before- there are plenty of queens now, and it’s very likely there will be not just one, but many Searches before you grow too old.”
“You don’t know that,” Caffera shot back. “Something terrible could happen and… and I just won’t let you miss your chance, Callen. I won’t! I can wait three years- you just have to promise you’ll come home and see me sometimes, and let me be friends with your dragon!”
“I might not even Impress-” Callen began, but Caffera waived him off.
“Of course you will! A bronze, too! The best!” his sister insisted. She wiped fiercely at the corners of her eyes, then took his hands in hers again.
“He doesn’t have to be a bronze,” Callen smiled, and gave her hands a little squeeze. “I’d be happy with any dragon, really.”
“That’s because you don’t know what’s best for you,” she gave a watery laugh. “But I do.”