We need some new talent. Kalinith said as T’xe smoothed shimmery cream over her pristine green hide. Attendance has been dropping.
T’xe sighed. “Dragon-riding actors are few and far between. And non-bonded riders are even harder to work with...”
Kali’ leaned into her rider’s hands. They don’t understand us. The dragon-rider bond adds drama to life. What we need is a drama Queen...
T’xe laughed half-heartedly. What noble dragon would want to join their less than famous troupe?
A quick jump between away, young Calliopeth lounged on her couch, riled and quite uptight about the lack of service the area reserved for abandoned dragons received. My beautiful hide will be marred forever by this horrid treatment! She wailed.
Will you shut up?! Thaliath snapped. If I hear one more word...
Calliopeth didn’t give her the pleasure of finishing her threat. The white took wing and flew off.
T’xe had dropped off the scrolls with the harpers of Draco’s Inferno and was returning to his beloved green when something flashed overhead like a bolt of white lightning.
Enter Calliopeth, stage right. Kalinith remarked quietly.
“Such Flair! Such Beauty!...” T’xe began to rave.
Ahem? His green coughed.
“She’d be perfect for our troupe, Kali’!” The young male said without missing a beat.
And what of her rider? The green asked, a bit icy yet from the near insult (or lack of compliment).
“Oh.” T’xe said.
Weeks later, the drama-harper again found himself at Draco’s Inferno Weyr, and as he spoke to one of the harpers in the bowl, he found himself under observation.
Calliopeth watches you. Kalinith said quietly, but did not stir from where she dozed in the sun.
It is rather unfortunate that you’re male. An unfamiliar voice purred in his mind. It was crisp and cool like satin. And taken. She continued as she felt Kali’s presence in T’xe’s mind. You know how to treat a girl - and give her ego proper boosting.
The young man looked up at the white. “I try, Milady dragon.” He said, and then gave a bow in her direction.
I have heard of your entertaining exploits, T’xe, and I have seen how your Kalinith thrives in your care and in the spotlight. Calliopeth spoke eloquently, and gave Kali’ an encouraging nod. I will join your theatre troupe, but on one condition.
“Name it, Milady.”
You and Kalinith must find me a rider. A bond who will understand me like no other and treat me as I ought to be treated.
Kalinith’s eyes whirled in response to the younger dragon’s challenge. We will bring her to you. Kali’ said, leaving T’xe no option but to agree (though he had no intention of doing anything else!)
Good. Calli’ said and flew off in a shower of sparkles.
Time passed, and though T’xe mentally ran over every harper apprentice and journeywoman he knew, there were none who would mesh well with the white dragoness’ demanding personality. It just wouldn’t do to parade every remotely likely female harper or harper trainee before Calliopeth. It would violate the trust she had placed in them.
And she asked us to find her rider, not annoy her with brats who want to have the prestige of being the rider of a white dragon!
“You said it.” T’xe hrumphed, rolling over in his bed. Then he got up. “I need a drink.”
Kalinith shifted on her couch and then rose. Good idea. She said, Let’s go out.
T’xe quickly dressed and fastened Kali’s straps around her strong neck. “I suppose you know where we’re going?”
Kali’ dipped her shoulder and boosted her rider onto her neck. Nope, but we can’t give Calli’ somebody we know won’t fit her, and we don’t know anybody who fits her, so we have to go meet some new people.
“Okay Beautiful, let’s go.” T’xe said, patting her soft hide.
They travelled past a few taverns, but they were all quiet. On a stroke of luck, they found a Pernese Tavern that had opened their stage to travelling performers. Kalinith set down without a word and T’xe somberly went inside. An overworked maid found him a seat and a clean mug filled with cold ale. He dug in his pouch for money, and slipped the girl an extra 32nd with a sly wink. She quietly pocketed it and kept right on going. To make a fuss meant sharing. T’xe understood this quite well, and watched the juggler on stage.
Night after night and performer after performer he watched. The untalented ones were chased offstage by thrown objects - rotten vegetables and the like - and the good ones might make a few marks. It was entertaining for a while, and even distracted him from his preoccupation with his inability to find Calliopeth’s rider. How hard it must be for Searchriders!
Actually, it’s easier. A new voice said into his mind with amusement. It wasn’t wholly unfamiliar, actually. It sounded like...
“Can I join you, stranger?” Toshi said with a grin.
T’xe grinned back. “But of course!” He kicked out a chair for the blackrider. “What brings you here?” He asked.
“Same as you; new talent.” She lifted her mug towards the stage. “Shouraith and I like to get out once in a while.” T’xe nodded and she continued. “And it is easier to search for candidates than for new riders for solid minds.”
T’xe looked at her with a puzzled expression.
“Shou’ told me what you were thinking. Candidates just need to have potential and be willing. The one you’re Searching for is very specific.”
“Like A’rik for Discodanth?” T’xe asked, aware that ‘Danth had been abandoned...
“Exactly.” Toshi said, and looked towards the stage where a one-armed man juggled knives.
The maid came by with a pitcher. “More ale?” She half whispered.
T’ze held out his empty mug to her, and she filled it. Quietly she accepted his coins and slipped away.
Toshi turned and smiled at him in an interesting way.
“What? Her?” T’xe asked, drinking deeply.
Toshi nodded. “Tonight.”
Onstage, the juggler finished his act and took hid bows. Twin tumblers took the stage next, acrobatic tricks their specialty. T’xe watched them thoughtfully. They’d be an interesting addition to his troupe. If only they had dragons...
That’s thinking like a Searchrider. Kalinith said in his mind.
Toshi looked to him. “Them? You think so?” Toshi looked again, her lips pursed. Their lithe movements, their grace and agility, their strength. “If they’re willing, I could find them somewhere to stand.”
T’xe blinked. “It’s selfish and wrong to Search them because I want them...”
Toshi chuckled. “And if I was choosing candidates purely because I wanted them to be in my wing or be the protectors of my homeland, would that be wrong?” T’xe was perplexed, plain and simple. “Your theatre troupe is a group of dragonriders with highly specialized talents. It’s no more wrong to hope a talented youngling might be chosen by a dragon than to hope a healer might impress and join the staff in the infirmary and heal our friends when they’ve been hurt in the line of duty.” Toshi said, punctuating her speech by taking a drink.
“But healers come to our aid anyway. By their nature they help and heal.”
Toshi nodded. “True, but a healer with a dragon...”
“A rider who is a healer is an asset because they can heal riders and dragons. I don’t see where this is going.” T’xe pouted.
Toshi laughed. “Think of it this way then. We’re offering them a chance to make a lifelong bond, and to join our Troupe -- Ryslen. It’s their choice, in the end. Even if we selfishly invite them, they must choose to come with us. Then the dragons choose them. Nobody can force a dragon’s choice.”
The servingmaid slipped back to the kitchen, her eyes meeting his momentarily. T’xe was still perplexed. Toshi patted his head as she rose and followed the girl.
She has accepted the Search. Chavi will stand. Kalinith said a few moments later. T’xe was happy for her - but what of Calliopeth?
More time passed, and T’xe continued to haunt the tavern, listening and waiting. Service was terrible, but hope kept T’xe coming back. One night, months after Chavi’s Search, a young woman took to the stage, gitar in hand. She was dressed in a loose tunic with ruffles that Terrans would see as a poet’s shirt -- something Shakespearean -- and with an air of authority began to sing. Her song inspired hope in T’xe, and her charm...”
Could she be the one? Kalinith asked, startling him.
“What?!” The young performer snapped as she whirled to face him. “Oh you. Look, I’m not that kind of girl.”
T’xe held up his hands. “That’s not what I wanted to talk to you for.”
“What then?” The girl snapped.
“I’ve been looking for someone to be the partner of a friend of mine. I’m a Harper - or rather I was, since I was only an apprentice when I Impressed Kalinith.” T’xe said. “Would you come...?”
”No.” The girl said. “Leave me be.”
It’s her choice. Kali’ said.
“Okay. Good luck.” T’xe said with a heavy sigh, and left it be.
Athi stared at the woman before her. Dark curly hair framed a warm tan face - oval shaped, sprinkled with dark freckles, and dark eyes. Pretty enough, when she smiled. Musical talent ran in her family; she’d learned to play from her father, to sing from her mother, and to dance from her many aunts. They were traders, primarily, and entertained each other when they were away from holds and halls.
Athi turned from the mirror, realizing as she did that she’d turned from her family in the same way. She had been alone for several years now, barely keeping herself clothed and fed with the little she did earn. And now, that dragonrider... Ugh. She gathered up her things and left the small room she’d rented in the cothold. Her rent included breakfast, but then she’d be off again.
Winter finally ended, and Athi found herself as a guest at the Ryslen Flurry Hatching. It was amazing, watching all those teens bond to tiny dragons. Jealousy rose in her heart, and Athi escaped from the excitement to find a quiet place.
A firelizard peeped at her when it awoke from a nap in a nook nearby. After a while, a soft step heralded the arrival of somoene.
“Can I join you?” Toshi asked, and Athi scooted over so there was room for the newcomer to sit on the ledge. “Did you like the hatching?” She asked as she got settled.
“It was incredible.” Athi answered automatically, her tone a little flat.
“Something wrong?” Toshi asked, concerned for Ryslen’s visitor.
“I feel... empty.” Athi admitted. “Jealous.”
“You could stand as a candidate next time if you want.” Toshi offered.
“I’m too old.” Athi said, dismissing the notion.
Toshi shrugged it off. “Beautiful sunset, no?”
T’xe was brooding over a cup of klah the next morning, and never saw the performer enter the dining hall.
“Has your friend found a partner yet, Mr. Harper?” Athi asked as she dropped into a chair.
T’xe was startled. “Um... no. Calli’ is still looking.”
“You’re hard to find, T’xe.” Athi responded. “But Toshi knew who Kalinith’s rider was.” T’xe blushed. He’d never introduced himself to her! “So what kind off partner is this Calli seeking?”
“The permanent kind.” T’xe responded in turn.
Athi laughed and helped herself to some klah. “How permanent?”
“Forever? Calliopeth needs a rider who can stand her. She’s grown rather stubborn and arrogant... She’s dramatic.”
Athi set her cup down. “I’m too old to Impress a dragon.”
“...” T’xe began. “Shells! I don’t even know your name...”
“Athi.” She supplied coolly.
“Athi, Calli’ needs someone who’ll treat her like a queen and...”
”Let her rider do it.” Athi said, looking away.
“Her rider abandoned her. She’s alone.” T’xe said.
“And I’m supposed to fix her life for her? Smooth a little oil on her hide and live happily ever after?” Athi snapped. “Look T’xe, I’m not trained to be a harper. I’m too temeramental to keep a job anywhere, and I’m too old to play nursemaid to some conceited hatchling!”
“Calliopeth is not a hatchling. She’s a full grown dragon. Just meet her, Athi. Then decide?” T’xe’s eyes were huge and pleading. How could she say no?
White Calliopeth has chosen Athi as her new Rider! Ypa!
© TyGryph / Ryslen