Caffera’s fifteenth naming day came and went in the dark of winter, but no one came to collect her.
“It was just me being silly, of course,” she said to the herdbeast she was shearing. The beast let out a bleat, but did not otherwise protest its ludicrous positioning. “I don’t know why I got it in my head that the moment I finished my fifteenth turn, a dragon would appear and whisk me off to Igen Weyr. Of course no one will get me until there’s actually a queen egg to stand candidate for.”
She tried not to let impatience color her thoughts, but it was difficult. She had waited so long to be of age- and now it seemed she must wait longer still.
“You’d think,” she muttered as carefully clipped around the beast’s neck, “that C’Len might at least drop a hint as to when they expect the next queen to rise.”
“They may not know,” said Errol from the doorway, another beast slung casually across his broad shoulders. “From what I understand, queen dragons don’t rise on a set schedule. But they do tend to average at least one mating every two turns during a Pass- more frequently near the middle than the beginning or end. So don’t fret, my daughter- I’m sure one of the Igen queens will clutch sooner rather than later, and you’ll be free of Hold drudgery.”
Caffera’s face colored at having been caught grousing. “I didn’t mean it that way-”
Errol laughed and nudged her affectionately with his knee. “I know you didn’t, Caffy. It’s not easy to know what you want, but not be able to do anything to work towards it. We’re not a people that do well with not doing in this family.”
Caffera let out a heavy sigh. “I think that’s it, exactly. I just feel… useless. C’Len is off doing what he’s supposed to do, protecting Pern, and here I am…” she trailed off, not knowing how to express herself without giving offense.
“Here you are, being a great help to your old father,” said Errol kindly. “And setting an excellent example to your younger siblings that, just because you can’t be doing what you really want to do, doesn’t mean you don’t go ahead and do what needs to be done in the meantime.”
Caffera colored again, and shook her head. “You make me sound a great deal more virtuous than I feel.”
“A father’s prerogative. Now, what say we trade off beasts, eh?”
It was nearing summer solstice when at last Tadith and C’Len appeared above the Hold again. Caffera felt them before she saw them, and it took every ounce of her self-control not to drop the clean laundry she was carrying, and take off running for the courtyard.
Caffera! Tadith’s voice was joyful in her mind. Ionath has clutched! Twenty-seven eggs, and one of them a queen!
That’s wonderful, Tadith! Please tell C’Len I’ll be there as soon as I finish this.
He is very excited, Tadith confided. We got special permission to collect you ourselves. You’ll stay with us, if you want. Our weyr is very nice, he added in an anxious voice. It opens to the west, so my couch stays wonderfully warm in the afternoon.
Caffera laughed. At last she was to be a dragonrider!
As it turned out, there was still more waiting to be done at Igen Weyr- the eggs were still hardening, and would not hatch for several more weeks. But since the waiting weeks were spent primarily in C’Len’s company- when he was not flying Thread- Caffera didn’t mind so much. And, of course, there was the entire Weyr to explore, and the eggs themselves to admire and handle. Not that Caffera was encouraged to handle any egg but the queen- but there were eight other hopeful candidates waiting to caress the giant gold orb at any given moment, and more often than not Caffera ended up talking to the inhabitant of whatever egg she ended up closest to. Perhaps it was because she was the sister of a brown rider, but none of the boys challenged her right to pet any egg she chose. Besides, she reasoned to herself that if she did end up a queen rider, she would need to be on good terms with all the dragons.
When C’Len and Tadith were flying Thread, Caffera spent time with Ionath’s rider, an extremely talkative young woman by the name of Linnin. Linnin was newly pregnant, and inclined to mother anyone who would hold still long enough for it. She was exceedingly kind to Caffera, telling her all of the responsibilities she could expect to take on if she did indeed Impress and become the most junior queen rider, and letting her know how highly they weyr thought of her brother. “Of course C’Len is very sweet,” she said as the two of them soaked in the communal baths, “And has the makings of a fine wing-second, someday, so we have been very excited to meet his twin. It must have been very hard for you, to be apart for so many turns. I know it’s normal in the weyrs for siblings to be raised apart, but I’m holder-bred, like you, and I’ve missed my siblings terribly. It’s just too bad C’Len will have to go to a different weyr once you Impress-”
“What?” Caffera laid a hand on Linnin’s arm to halt the flow of chatter. “Why should he do that?”
“Well, because… well, did anyone explain to you what happens when a queen rises?”
“Yes, of course,” Caffera said dismissively. “But Tadith is a brown. I thought only the bronzes flew queens.”
“Well normally yes,” Linnin said carefully, “I mean, usually. But there are a few exceptions here and there, and we wouldn’t want to take the chance, you know. Often times a queen will let herself be caught by the male she likes the best- or by the male who is ridden by the man her rider likes the best… I suspect that’s why Skyth caught Ionath so handily- D’Lan and I are weyrmates. And it seems not unlikely that, with you and C’Len already being so close…” she trailed off and gave a little shrug. “Better safe than sorry.”
Caffera closed her eyes, caught between laughing and crying. Is that true, Tadith?
You like C’Len the best, he said, voice puzzled. Why shouldn’t your dragon like me the best? Why is that wrong? Ionath and Skyth are siblings from different clutches. Is it because you and C’Len are from the same clutch?
Ask C’Len. Caffera sighed and opened her eyes. Linnin was looking at her worriedly.
“Tadith doesn’t understand why human siblings mating is any different than dragon siblings mating. I told him to ask C’Len. Which was perhaps mean of me.”
Linnin gave her a half-grin and a reassuring pat. “Well, being a dragonrider does come with responsibilities, after all.”
Years later, Caffera could never clearly remember the events leading up to Impression. There were a few moments frozen in her memory- the way the dragons’ humming reverberated in her bones; the rising heat from the sand turning the watching crowd into a shimmering mirage; Caffera’s white robes twisting akwardly between her legs as she tried to walk with a dignity befitting her candidacy- many small moments, but no cohesive narrative. Not until the moment she was standing in a loose circle with the other girls, staring at the great golden egg rocking on its mound. All around them was the chaos of Impression between boys and and their dragons- young voices crying out in pain or joy, or creeling in hunger. Suddenly a crack appeared in the golden shell- and Caffera was knocked to her hands and knees by a blow from behind.
“Ow!” she said, and turned to glare at whichever boy had been clumsy enough to stagger into her at this pivotal moment.
But it was not a boy.
It was an awkward green dragonet, and in that moment their eyes met- and at last Caffera, too, knew what it was to be whole.