DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Cheryl Rice and is copyright (c) 1981 by Cheryl Rice. Rated G. Originally published in Alpha Continuum #3, 1981.

Beggars Would Ride

Cheryl Rice

The woman cradled in his arms was either dying or already dead. He pulled the impatient horse to a halt at the river's edge. The coruscating lights of the aurora in the night sky were casting dancing shadows over the rock-strewn ground and mist-covered water. He was conscious of an aching weariness deep within himself and something that was dangerously close to sorrow.

She stirred slightly and spoke his name with a surprisingly firm voice. "And why have we stopped?"

"It is necessary to wait here until moon-rise. It is too dangerous to attempt a crossing until we can see our way more clearly."

With dimming eyes, she tried to look through the mist. "This whole journey was doomed from the start. I told you that many times. Nothing can save me. If I can accept that, why cannot you?"

He pulled her closer. Her raven-dark head slipping under his chin. "Because it is so unfair. You are so young."

She made a noise of bitter amusement. "Unfair? You show your human blood again to your shame. Whatever Vulcan expected life to be fair?"

"Whatever human didn't?" That difference in outlook, he reflected almost bitterly, could help explain why his dual natures had never been able to merge. Why he had never fit into either society comfortably. But it was too late for such thoughts now. He strained his eyes through the near dark. Just for a moment he could see the city of his desires. Crenellated battlements and jewel colored, spiraling minarets wavered in the uneasy light. Fog and mist swirled around their tops like ghostly smoke. It had the aura of something older than time and heart-breakingly beautiful.

And for a shattering moment he wanted to be there, to have this endless journey over and done. To no longer be responsible for this querulous woman. But his sense of duty, as usual, stepped forward to regain control and he considered himself obliged to attempt to settle her more comfortably.

The horse stamped its feet impatiently at the delay. He patted the raw-silk hide, knowing that if he were alone he would dare the crossing. "Hold on," he urged the woman. "The city is within sight. There will be help within its walls."

"No help for me anywhere in creation," she intoned in a voice expressionless even for a Vulcan. Her face was ivory with the pallor of approaching death. "And nothing for me or any true Vulcan in that place. I do not wish to enter the gates."

"I do." He shielded the thought fiercely. It had been endless years since he had allowed himself to want anything so much. A wave of longing lowered his defenses and other thoughts insinuated themselves.

Esteemed one, it is far past time for the Revered Elder to attend the Council Assembly. They have need of his wisdom and experience.

Silence. This morning the esteemed Spock is in deep personal meditation. It would be most illogical to interrupt such communion with his innermost being.

But the delegation from Earth is here. Not since the Romulan war has there been such danger for all the Federation. His experience is unique. He understands humans so well.

Too well, perhaps. The strain after all these years might be too much for him. Even Vulcans are not immortal. And even for a Vulcan he is old.

Is it true, the talk about him? That he was never the same after the Enterprise was lost?

Your language shows the unfortunate contamination of human beings. Lost? Is a starship then misplaced as if it were some child's toy? The Enterprise was destroyed with all hands while he was being held hostage on a Romutan ship. But he escaped and was invaluable in tuning the tide of battle. At least that is how the official story has come to us from Starfleet.

Yes, Esteemed one, so we learn in school. Then he returned permanently to Vulcrm and has remained here ever since, all these many years, as one of our greatest citizens.

There are also those who say that his career among the stars was too much for his mixed blood. That he burnt out early and came to Vulcan simply because he had nowhere else to go.

With all due respect, sir, I cannot find it in me to believe that. Now perhaps when he is so ancient and ailing ... but then? In his prime?

We will discuss this at some other time. The meeting begins. I shall do my best to represent his point of view. No one is irreplaceable.

The tiny voices in his head moved off until they could be ignored again. The moon was rising. Full and sweet and golden yellow. And the woman, suddenly heavier, was dead.

The horse as if aware stamped in sudden fright, but he gentled the animal and urged it into the water.

For the first time in his life he was fully alive. The weight had fallen off somewhere along the line and he could have howled with an animal, irrational glee. So she hadn't wanted to cross the water? Then she wouldn't. He let her slip from his encircling arms and into the current where she sank without a trace.

With bare heels he rib-kicked the horse and it scrambled up the far bank and headed for the city at a steady canter.

But he was in no extreme hurry. He had been waiting for this moment for more years than most men lived. And they had been awaiting him. Their bright pure light gone dark too young.

As he neared the city he could hear the sound of distant bells like music from another reality. But this was the only one that mattered. Before he entered the wide-flung gates he paused long enough to enjoy the ethereal loveliness as the aurora shed its glory over tower and wall. He knew the heart-breaking beauty would endure long after there were hearts to break for it.

But they were awaiting him. And their love and spirits could be found nowhere else in any universe. And neither could he.

But even that was only part of the reason why he entered so joyfully into the city on a wave of ashes and moonlight. Sapphire and smoke.