I like it when K'darran brings me to Half Circle Seahold. It's almost like the Weyr, with its big cave, except it has salty water filling half of it, and the sandy parts aren't at all warm. That's not right. Everyone knows sand in a cave needs to be warm. But the...ships...bobbing up and down like boats on the water are nice. A bit like dragons floating in the Weyr Lake.
Don't you dare try landing on one again, Jalpath!
What's that, K'darran? I did?
I eye the ships carefully. The sticky-up bits look a bit too flimsy to cling to, and the flat bits are covered in all sorts of funny stuff.
I'm glad you remember, Jalpath. Faranth knows, I'm lucky to be allowed back here at all.
K'darran is remembering something. It's not a good memory. The sails got broken, and my foot got all tangled up, and then we all got wet. So I follow Throeth and Falmyth and land on the bare rock. K'darran dismounts, and I tiptoe after him. There are ropes everywhere, and I don't want to trip up again. I watch the ground beneath my feet, and listen to the singing that K'darran is hearing. They're singing about me! About dragons! I stop, and listen to the words carefully. Flaming dragons, fighting thread!
Is thread coming, K'darran? Can I fight it, too?
Assuming I live that long, Jally, sure. Only another hundred and thirteen turns to go...
Good. A hundred and thirteen turns. And then we fight thread. I'll be good at it, I'm sure! I hurry ahead to look at the young singers more closely, and wonder if they'll sing about K'darran and Jalpath then, when thread comes back. They look a little startled. K'darran is calling to me, urging me back, and I remember to listen to him.
...back here you wherry-witted fool! Jally! Get back! You're scaring them!
Well, something's scared them. Might even be all of K'darran's shouting! They've certainly stopped singing, and now Throeth's rider, the Wingleader, is talking to them. The smaller ones are going away, but the bigger ones are staying, and the man in the blue shirt. I like him. I like his shirt. It's the same colour as me.
"Every fardling time," K'darran is muttering to himself, but it's okay, because I love him, and he loves me. I tell him, and ask him why we're here. I think I ought to know, and it has something to do with the youngsters, but I can't think what or why. That's K'darran's job, and we're here to do my job, K'darran says.
My job, K'darran?
K'darran sighs, his breath tickling my face. We're here on Search. Search, Jally. Just take a look at the kids, tell me which ones you think might Impress, and then we can all get out of here. Preferably before anything else goes wrong.
I can do that? I can do that!
I can, I know. I can see it in K'darran's mind. There are nineteen eggs on the sands, Sarrinath's eggs, and soon they'll hatch and want riders. There aren't enough boys of the right age in the Weyr - not enough to give the hatchlings a wide choice - so we've come here to look, and we'll go to Nerat and Benden and everywhere in between until we've found enough.
I step closer - slowly, this time - and look at the youngsters. Half of them might as well not be there at all. They're shapes, small, rider-shaped shapes that can walk and run and eat and do all the other rider things... except Impress a dragon, because whatever makes them enough like K'darran to be a person, it's nothing that means anything to me. But the others do feel more like people to me, not just people-shaped things. I can hear them, a little. This one is afraid, and that one is excited, and the tall one at the back is trying not to look at me because his green-blue dreams of sea and sky and cloud and surf are all the wrong way up, and his heart is filled by the second-biggest boat bobbing out on the water.
I sense K'darran nudging me towards one of the boys in particular. Why him, K'darran? He doesn't seem special to me. I can barely sense him at all!
Just pretend you're giving him a good look, Jally, for me. The Harper says he'd be happier at the Weyr.
I turn and stare at the Harper, the man in the blue shirt. You don't know what makes a good dragonrider! I tell him. But he doesn't hear me. He's just as empty as the boy K'darran wants me to look at. I look at the boy anyway, but I listen to the others. When K'darran's happy that I've stared at the empty face in front of me for long enough, I know exactly where to look next.
You, I say. I like you. I like you best of all.
K'darran is down in the stands with his friends. I'm perched on one of the ledges inside the Hatching Cavern, in the tiny space that Throeth and Shunboth have left for me. Theybrought some of the girls in for the gold egg, but I'm the one who found the two that Throeth carried. Throeth thinks well of me for that, and Sarrinath, and the Weyrleader's Nyoronth. I try to hum louder, try to make myself heard above the bronzes beside me, above all the other dragons all around.
K'darran is proud of me, too.
The boys are coming in now, and I ask K'darran which ones were ours. Some of them I remember without being told. The empty boy is there, but K'darran didn't make any wagers on him. Some of the other riders did, but K'darran told me I wasn't to tell their dragons they were being silly. He told me that several times, I think.
The eggs are cracking. K'darran and his friends aren't talking much now, but they're all thinking about their own dragons, and the day we all found one another. They like remembering it, but I'm not so sure. When K'darran remembers when I found him, when he thinks about it, I can remember it, too. I wanted a rider. All the other dragons had riders, and I was very hungry, but I wanted a rider even more than something to eat. There was a big emptiness inside me, and he filled it up, more or less. Not completely...but all the other dragons had found someone, and none of the others were any good at all, and I really, really needed someone. I was the last to hatch, but the best dragon of them all. That's what K'darran says. I love K'darran.
A green breaks shell, then a brown, then another brown and a blue and a green almost all at once. They're all so loud, so hungry, and very, very empty. But the youngsters are there, all wearing white, and some of them fit the shape of the emptiness inside the hatchlings' minds, some of them give meaning to the whispered names I hear. Lyoloth and Handriath and Holoth and Vaskanuth and Effith. K'darran cheers as Vaskanuth's name is announced by one of our youngsters, and I know he's happy because he's won some marks.
I'm happy for K'darran too, but mostly I'm happy because Vaskanuth isn't feeling that horrible emptiness any more. The other hatchling dragons have found their riders, too, and while we wait for the next eggs to hatch K'darran tells his friends how, when we were still only weyrlings, I came in and made a huge fuss over some of the candidates that hadn'tImpressed. But when the next clutch hatched, three turns later, all of them found dragons of their own, and that was how the whole Weyr learned that K'darran's Jalpath was a Search Dragon. K'darran says that makes me special. But I don't need to be special. I just need him.
The new gold hatches, and I know right away that she's going to choose one of the girls I helped Throeth find. They fit together, Alth and Gravalla. Gravalla is sparkly and warm, big enough to fill a hatchling gold's needs... and more, to grow with her, into a weyrwoman to a queen. The people all cheer, but K'darran doesn't cheer as loudly as most. I think some of the other dragons had heard Gravalla, too.
The boys still left on the sands don't cheer, either. They still hope to Impress a dragon of their own. I look at them all, and ask K'darran which ones of those left were our boys. I know I've asked him before, but they keep moving around, and really, they all look the same. Besides, up here, I'm not close enough to hear them properly. My favourite isn't there, I can tell that much; he's walking off the sands with blue Serruth. I can hear them loudly enough, Serruth's emptiness filling up with a boy with a new name, his very own Y'nallen. It doesn't ache so much, hearing them go, so, so happy with one another. The hollowness has faded, except for the smallest part: a tiny, almost ignorable thing, tucked away to one side of the dragon's mind, the part of Jalpath that isn't quite filled by K'darran, the part that keeps on looking and searching for something to fill the emptiness I was born with.
For some reason, I meet K'darran's eyes across the cavern, and we remember the moment of our Impression together. It surges through me, through us both, a fierce, hungry love that never, ever fades. Something tickles me, inside. There was something else I was thinking of, something important. About the hatching? K'darran? What were we talking about again?
Silly Jally! That one with the gingery hair is ours, and the short boy we found in that cothold. And there, that blond boy with the big nose, see, I think he's going to Impress the bronze!
He does, of course. K'darran and Throeth and everyone else congratulate me again. Later, K'darran drinks too much wine, but it's a Hatching Day, and everyone needs to celebrate, and it's not often a mere blue rider can afford Benden White, K'darran tells me. His mind is blurry, and happy, and if it's not quite K'darran-as-I-love-him-best, it doesn't really matter. I tell him how much I love him, and he's happy enough for us both, and tells me again how special I am.
I can still hear the new weyrlings, down in the barracks. Talking, learning, loving and growing. I don't think any of them will ever be as special as me.
They're luckier than that.