DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Sue Bursztynski and Jan McDonnell and is copyright (c) 1980 by Sue Bursztynski and Jan McDonnell. This story originally appeared in Alnitah #12, Joyce Cluett and Margaret Draper, editors. This story is rated PG.

 

Kah‑Ree ‑Ah

by Sue Bursztynski and Jan McDonnell

 

"Hear me!" Stonn cried. "I have made the ancient claim. I claim the right. The woman is--"

 

"Kroykah!" T'Pau snapped, and, conditioned from childhood to instant obedience to that command, he bit back the word he had been about to say and sullenly muttered, "I ask forgiveness."

 

Inwardly, he was seething. The fool, the fool! he fumed. First she makes a mess of her research by not being thorough enough and now she messes things up for me -‑ good and proper! If she'd only given me some indication -‑ a look, a whisper -- but no, she goes ahead with a last‑minute change of plan. I could have *told* her!

 

He had been about to say, "The woman is ignorant of the implications." He suspected T'Pau had thought the word would be "pregnant!" And T'Pau took care of her clan. She'd been against Sarek's marriage with a human and she had no great love for its product, but family was family and there would be no scandal in the aristocratic clan of which she was head -‑ not while she lived! A bondmate who challenged was bad enough; an adulterous one was disastrous.

 

Stonn calmed himself, using every technique he knew, as the combat began. How many hours he and T'Pring had spent in the library's history section, doing their research! All of it -‑ wasted.

 

He knew a few things she didn't because, fascinated by the study for its own sake, he had continued to read after T'Pring had found the information she wanted and gone back to the university, where she worked in the music department. However, he'd seen no need to tell her, since he hadn't in his wildest thoughts imagined she would do this, nor had there been time to discuss it; it had been only a few days before that T'Pring had heard her bondmate's mental call and their decision had been made.

 

And now, he thought bitterly, the woman had ruined his life.

 

For, while what she was doing was obvious to one whose logic wasn't clouded by plak‑tow, the fact was that there was no way the human would win that combat, even with Spock weakened by the days he'd had to wait to get here. Humans simply weren't as strong as Vulcans. The atmosphere and gravity were wearing him down and he wasn't familiar with either lirpa or ahn‑woon. And what T'Pring didn't realize was that, under the ancient warrior code still effective, Spock, having won her, had the right to make use of her, then cast her off to anyone he pleased.

 

Oh, Stonn would get her in the end, sure enough. There wasn't anyone else in the general area who would take her -‑ and Spock, after such a fight, would have neither energy nor inclination to search for someone else.

 

But a woman so cast off brought stigma to the man who accepted her in marriage. Taking another man's leavings would make him lose face in the community. Even on modern, logical Vulcan, the attitude towards him would be contemptuous and several legal obstacles would be placed in the way of his success in his career. It wasn't logical, of course, but there were a good many illogical things about Vulcan life that Terrans, thank heavens, never learned of. The ancient law of Challenge remained from necessity, since most bondings were impossible to break before consummation of a marriage and moral attitudes frowned on breaking them afterwards -‑ except in cases of Challenge -‑ but the many little details that clung to the challenge laws had remained in all their illogicality. Tradition was the Achilles heel of the Federation's most logical people!

 

Spock was busy garroting his captain as Stonn struggled inwardly to make his decision.

 

He needn't accept T'Pring if Spock cast her off. He knew that. But it would be a fine to‑do if, after the entire drama, he turned her down! He had, after all, been prepared to risk his life for her -‑ and to die, for that matter.

 

I was prepared to kill her bondmate to win her, he told himself bluntly. I, who am not at present in pon farr and am therefore in my right mind. I can rationalize that my own bondmate is dead and few unbonded females are available to me. But the truth is, I want her enough to accept even this. And if he insists on keeping her and I am obliged to look elsewhere for a bondmate because of the necessity of mindlink during pon farr, I am even prepared to commit adultery in between. A fine pair we'll make!

 

The fight was over; the human captain lay dead. Now for it, Stonn thought, and waited for Spock's decision.

 

He was mildly surprised when Spock handed over T'Pring without making use of her first, but, thinking about it, realized that the man's half‑human nature had saved him, in the end, from having to use her. And since he didn't have to -‑ under the circumstances, Stonn didn't blame him!

 

* * *

 

When the Enterprise men had beamed up and T'Pau gone, T'Pring said, "Stonn, the bonding is broken. I feel it. I am free. We can be bonded whenever we wish."

 

Ignoring the statement, he asked harshly, "Why didn't you tell me what you were planning?"

 

"There was no time. But it should be obvious to you that I didn't want to risk your life."

 

"In protecting my life," he said, "you have made me lose honor. It will be said Stonn hadn't even the courage to fight for his own bride, but allowed her to use trickery. I could have refused you just then."

 

"Yet you did not."

 

"I did not," he agreed. "And you knew I would not. You assessed my past behavior and attitudes, my past weakness, and arrived at the correct conclusion from the evidence. So be it. I do accept you. But I must recover my honor in whatever way is open to me. Return to your parents' home. When I have decided what to do, I shall inform you and we will be bonded then, not before."

 

"But Stonn--"

 

"You challenged. That made you Spock's property when he won. Now you are mine and you will obey. Return to your parents' house."

 

A small flame of anger burned in her eyes, though the rest of her face remained impassive and her voice was steady.

 

"It was for you I challenged and lost my right to selfhood. And it was agreed that my status would be in name only. I put my trust in you."

 

"You broke the agreement between us when you chose Captain Kirk for your champion instead of me. Now go."

 

For a moment, she stood there, the desert wind stirring the wisps of hair that had escaped her coiffure. Then she turned, crossed the empty arena and headed back towards ShiKahr.

 

Stonn remained a while longer, deep in thought.

 

He hadn't wanted to speak so harshly to T'Pring, but for the present, there was no other way. That he couldn't speak reasonably to her, he now knew; she might well mess things up again, whatever course of action he took, rash as she had shown herself to be. And, though she was officially his property, if he had shown any signs of weakness at all, she would have ended up making him her property. If he ever did recover his lost honor and marry her, he would gradually let things get back to the normal, equal relationship that existed between a Vulcan husband and wife, but right now it was a battle of wills and one or the other would end up on top, with no compromise.

 

Heading for the city, he considered. There was something in the back of his mind that he remembered having learned in pre‑Reform history as a child; but, not having Spock's computer‑like memory, he could not instantly recall it. Somewhere in the library there must be a book that mentioned it.

 

Having taken a day off from work, he still had the afternoon free. He went straight to the library, where he spent most of the day reading, browsing among the tomes and ancient parchment scrolls that made up the bulk of the library's content. Scanning tapes would have been quicker, but the information he wanted was more likely to be in the old books.

 

It was long past the Meditation Hour when he found what he had sought and slowly shut the volume he had been reading.

 

* * *

 

It was not a pleasant solution, but no worse than what he had been prepared to do to win T'Pring in the first place. It would not be pleasing to her or her family, but after what she had done, she had no right to expect to be pleased. Besides, it would give her a chance to escape her status of chattel, so he was actually being extremely fair.

 

Wearily, he made his way home. He must rest and marshal his arguments before taking his next step -‑ an audience with the World Council. What he proposed to do hadn't been done in generations. Neither had the Challenge, for that matter, which was why, despite learning of it in childhood, most people were ignorant of its full implications. But technically, the Challenge was a woman's right and nothing could be done about it once she had made her decision. Whereas if he attempted this without Council sanction, he would at best be ignored by the person in question, dismissed as a crank, at worst find himself in trouble with a peace enforcer. After all, this was far more obscure than the Challenge. But the Council would be aware of it.

 

* * *

 

The day of his audience, he thought as he prepared himself a cup of tea, he would have to be at his most logical.

 

It was several weeks before he was able to get an appointment with the Council, some of whose members had been off‑planet at the time of his petition. Before then, he had received a visit from T'Pring's father, Sutak, who demanded to know when he would take the girl in marriage.

 

"You have both disgraced our family by your action," he declared, having declined a seat in the living‑room of Stonn's small home. A human would have paced, but Sutak stood stiffly, hands behind his back. "Although T'Pring was within her rights, and Ambassador Sarek has not spoken to his son for seventeen point five years, it is an insult to the entire clan of Xtmprsqzntwlfb, one that we will have to bear. And to make things worse, you send my daughter back to us, disgracing us twice over, yet leaving no reflection on yourself. You have accepted her; you must take her -‑ soon! She is no longer my responssibility."

 

"Much as it grieves me to disagree with one who is to be my father‑in‑law," Stonn answered, "I must respectfully point out that your logic is faulty, since you have not fully considered the facts. Firstly, you are wrong to say that there is no reflection on me. It is because of the disgrace to my honor that I have been obliged to do this. It will ultimately be to your benefit for me to regain my esteem in the eyes of others, since you would surely not have your daughter to marry a man who has lost face, even if she has lost you the good graces of the Xtmprsqzntwlfb clan. Secondly, though she is living in your house, you are not obliged to take responsibility for her, since she is supporting herself financially from her earnings. You may send her away if you wish, but that will not improve the situation, nor concern me unduly. But this I promise: the matter will be settled, one way or another, in the next few weeks. I may not speak of it before it is settled with the Council."

 

He would say no more, despite prodding, and in the end Sutak had respected his privacy and left him alone.

 

And one bright, particularly hot day in the month of Kes‑mir, Stonn walked to the Council chambers in the center of the city for his audience.

 

He was admitted to the building by a guard in ceremonial costume and stood waiting in the cool, high‑vaulted foyer, enjoying the contrast to the blazing heat of the street.

 

Presently, the guard returned.

 

"The Council acknowledges your appointment. You may enter." Stonn followed the man to the huge double‑doors, which were opened for him.

 

The Council chamber had been built a long time ago and had the vast, high‑ceilinged look of the days before widespread air‑conditioning. Stonn's footsteps echoed on the marble floor.

 

The tiers of Councilors' seats were arranged in an almost‑circle, with a triangular speaker's platform intersecting it, forming an IDIC.

 

Stonn now climbed up on the platform to face the solemn assembly of men and women. At their head sat T'Pau, regal as a queen, though the Vulcans acknowledged no such position; she was simply the leader of the World Council, elected by the citizens, logically.

 

She spoke now in the formal language required. "Thee has asked for audience. Speak."

 

"I come regarding my marriage with the woman T'Pring."

 

"That was settled seven point four weeks ago," she said. "For this thee has petitioned the Council?"

 

"Not for this." He took a breath to help him control himself. "As you are aware, T'Pau, daughter‑of‑T'Ress, I did not win T'Pring in combat. She chose another champion, who was defeated and her former bondmate then gave her to me. And since that gives her the status of a cast‑off chattel, I am dishonored in the eyes of all Vulcan for taking her."

 

"Thee was not compelled to accept her."

 

"The situation being what it was at the time, it would have been unjust for me to have refused her. But I cannot take her fully to wife until my honor is restored. And since I lost it by not engaging in combat, only combat will recover what I have lost. I am here to claim my right to challenge a male relative of T'Pring."

 

There was a visible stir in the chamber. It took several seconds for the frozen Vulcan masks to fall back into place.

 

"What kind of logic is that?" T'Pau demanded, abandoning formal language. "You would take another life -‑ for this honor?"

 

"T'Pau, you are aware of this law. As a judge, you learned it long ago. It is my right. I may challenge T'Pring's family according to the ancient custom of kah‑ree‑ah. If I lose, she is free of her status of property. If I win, my own status is as before."

 

"It is a pre‑Reform law, two thousand years old."

 

"The laws of kali fi are older still, yet they are still in practice, though not often used. And the law of kah‑ree‑ah has never been repealed. It is my right."

 

"None denies that; but it is the way of a warrior society, not suitable for our logical times. Your respect for life is small indeed. It is bad enough, is it not, that you were willing to kill T'Pring's bondmate? Now you wish to challenge one of her clansmen and take another life."

 

"No life was taken the first time.  Spock won the fight and his captain, so I have heard, was not dead after all."

 

"The intention was enough."

 

"And where," Stonn enquired coolly, "was your respect for life when you allowed T'Pring to challenge without any attempt at dissuasion -‑ and when you allowed Captain Kirk to accept it without informing him that it was to the death? IDIC, too, meant little to you that day when you goaded Spock on with the mocking of his 'thin' Vulcan blood -‑ and he a clansman to you!"

 

T'Pau would not allow this to floor her. Just as coolly, she replied, "As for your first statement, I did all that was legally required of me; it was foolish of Spock to bring his companions without informing them fully of our marriage customs. Once the human had accepted the Challenge, nothing further could be done; having agreed to participate in our ritual, he was bound by our laws. For your second statement, it is invasion of privacy to cast aspersions on my personal actions, nor is it relevant to the question at hand. You must keep to the matter of your petition."

 

Stonn deferred to her. But he had scored his point. He continued his arguments. Firstly, his situation was unfair. He had not even been given the chance to win T'Pring in combat and therefore honorably, but had had to accept her as another man's leavings or not at all. The way he had chosen was the only logical method of proving he was not a coward, and since, under the ancient law, he would lose some of his privileges by accepting T'Pring, there were obviously other logical reasons for demanding the kah‑ree‑ah.

 

He would not back down.

 

"It has never been done in post‑Reform times!" a Councilor protested. "To invoke such a law after two thousand years, and in a different society, is as illogical as riding in a chariot when an aircar is available and more efficient."

 

"Blame the illogic of the reformers who did not repeal the law," Stonn said calmly, "not mine. I consider my reasons for invoking it sufficient to overcome any absurdities in the law itself. It is my right and I will have it. Besides, you merely repeat T'Pau's argument."

 

At the end of two hours, the Council sent him away while they discussed the matter and voted. It was a further three days before he was summoned again.

 

A weary‑looking T'Pau addressed him.

 

"Your request has been granted. You must, however, conform to the letter of the law. Your Challenge must be delivered in a public place at midday. T'Pring's champion will have choice of weapons. And one more thing: if you cry craven or change your mind after Challenge has been given, or if you flee from your opponent during combat, he‑who‑acts‑if‑cowardice‑is‑seen will be authorized to execute you immediately and all your property will be forfeit to your opponent's family. It is a savage way, but you have demanded this right and you must abide by all its rules."

 

"I agree to do so," he affirmed.

 

"So be it," she intoned. "You may proceed. On the day of the Challenge and the day of the combat, I shall preside."

 

* * *

 

He chose T'Pring's brother, Senek, who was close to his own age, rather than her father. It would have been unfair to challenge an old man who probably hadn't so much as looked at a lirpa in years -‑ and besides, he wouldn't put it past the old fellow to say, "Let her stay a chattel and serve her right! She=s brought enough shame to this family."

 

But Senek was young and, like Stonn, ambitious. He would himself lose prestige if he refused. He would also probably see in it an opportunity to regain the family honor lost by T'Pring's shocking action. Senek would not refuse, Stonn knew. He was the logical one to challenge.

 

* * *

 

"Let me understand this," Senek said carefully. "You are invoking a two thousand year‑old pre-Reform law to challenge me to defend my sister -‑ who will regain her free status if I win?"

 

"You have stated it correctly."

 

"It is not logical. The Challenge I can understand and the law that makes the woman a chattel afterwards I can understand. The first is a necessity, for reasons we all know, the second discourages too many Challenges, but why this business of your status should matter I don't understand. You'll have to explain it.

 

"I am suffering under that law; it stands to reason I should use it to help myself."

 

"And if I refuse?"

 

"You cannot refuse," T'Pau interjected, "without putting yourself in Stonn's present position. And your sister would remain his property for the rest of her life. To refuse to fight for her freedom would be regarded as dishonorable in you."

 

Senek thought a moment. "Very well," he said finally. "And as I have choice of weapons, I choose the angar."

 

Stonn could not quite conceal his surprise. The angar was the ancient Vulcan broadsword, used by pre‑Reform mercenaries in battles between cities.

 

"The lirpa is the traditional dueling‑weapon," Stonn pointed out, "followed by the ahn‑woon. The angar is a battle‑weapon."

 

"Nevertheless," Senek replied, "I am more proficient in its use than in that of either the lirpa or ahn‑woon. It seems to me logical to protect my life as best I can, since I have no particular wish to die at present. And in my opinion, you have little cause to speak of tradition when you are breaking two thousand years' tradition of peace by this Challenge, without even the excuse of pon farr."

 

"Yet there are older traditions still. We live by them, illogical as they are. I am merely taking the only logical path open to me now."

 

Senek inclined his head. "As you wish. I have accepted your Challenge. And my choice remains the angar."

 

"So be it," Stonn acknowledged. "All that remains now is where and when. That is also your choice, according to the law."

 

Senek turned to T'Pau. "Hear me now. I, Senek, son of Sutak, have accepted the Challenge of Stonn, son of Svorn, according to the laws of kah‑ree‑ah. And I shall fight him to the death for his honor and the freedom of my sister at my family's place of Koon‑ut‑Kal‑if‑fee in the sixth hour of the seventh day from now." In his ordinary voice, he explained, "That will give us both time to settle our affairs in the event of defeat."

 

"Agreed," Stonn said.

 

"It is settled." T'Pau stood. "Let none interfere from here on. I shall await you both at the appointed hour."

 

As she sat and signaled to her chair‑carriers, the crowd began to disperse.

 

Stonn turned to Senek. "Farewell till the appointed hour. I regret I cannot wish you live long and prosper, but it would be inappropriate."

 

"It would be an absurdity at this stage," Senek agreed. "Farewell for now, Stonn."

 

Stonn returned to his place of work, musing. He knew the use of the angar, of course -‑ what school weapons‑master didn't ? But he'd never expected to use it in earnest.

 

In any case, everything was settled now. There was no turning back. No changing his mind now. Even as T'Pau had warned him. What was it the old Terran playwright had said? "Cowards die a thousand times before their deaths..." Cowards in the grim old Vulcan rituals didn't have time to die a thousand times. They died once. Permanently.

 

He entered his office and fingered the beautiful old sword hanging on the wall. What illogical impulse had prompted him to keep it sharpened along with the ceremonial dagger? It was polished too, bright as the day it was made.

 

His ancestor, the warrior Soldar, had forged this sword himself in the smithy of the famous smith Seth, whom some had identified with the craftsman of the gods, Sethar, so skillful had he been.

 

The weapon had been passed down through the generations, a permanent reminder of the savage days before Surak. It had hung on family walls and been pointed at.

 

"Remember, our forebears were barbarians, my son," his father had said. "Do not be like them."

 

But he had always found a fascination in the old heirloom. Softly, remembering, he chanted a stanza from the Saga of Soldar, the family poem.

 

"...All day long, till sun sank slowly,

Soldar's sword sated birds of prey,

Glutted grapas greeted break of day

Over blood‑green gullies grim..."

 

He had been taught to find that disgusting; nevertheless, it was -‑ fascinating in its grim way. He had had enough of a skill with weapons and affinity with them to make them his career.

 

And now, he thought, I teach boys to use the lirpa, both to keep them strong in our peaceful days and -‑ in the event their brides betray them. A sorry reason to have to learn the use of a weapon!

 

He took the sword down from the wall, balancing it in his hand. It would serve his purpose.

 

"Oh, it=s true, then!" a young voice exclaimed.

 

Stonn allowed himself a twinge of annoyance. That was the trouble with combining his functions as weapons‑teacher with that of youth counselor -‑ children in and out of the office all day. If it wasn't to ask for permission to enter the lirpa store‑room, it was to ask for an on‑the‑spot appointment.

 

Turning, he saw that the speaker was one of the school's human students, the fourteen‑year‑old daughter of a Starfleet officer stationed at the nearby base.

 

"Claire," he said, "it is an ancient Vulcan custom to knock on the door before entering a room belonging to another. And then to wait until invited to enter."

 

"Sorry, sir." She flushed. "But the door was half‑open and I did have an appointment for after lunch."

 

"You are forgiven," he said quickly, to cover her rambling explanation. "Do not repeat the action, however. Sit down."

 

She sat. "Is it true, sir?"

 

"Is what true?"

 

"That you're going to fight a duel to the death?"

 

"Who told you?"

 

"Oh, all the human students know, sir. We've been discussing it all lunchtime. Do you think we could--"

 

"Enough!" he snapped and, seeing her face startled at his display of emotion, he continued,  "It is a private matter, child, not to be discussed by others. Please respect my privacy as I do yours."

 

"Then why did you challenge him in public?"

 

"It was the law," Stonn answered, wondering if he hadn't bitten off more than he could chew. But this had to be done. He would not have backed out now, even if he could.

 

Respect for privacy or not, within the next few days it was all over Vulcan that he was planning to revive a custom not performed in two thousand years. He had to hide from offworld news reporters each morning on his way to work, refuse them at his door each evening. He was even obliged to be quite rude to one persistent news network that offered him ten thousand credits to allow them to film the combat. Humans! he thought, disgusted. Nothing was sacred to them. For sure, it hadn't been a human who had established the Prime Directive. At school, the principal complained of the reporters she had to turn away, disrupting the day's classes.

 

In addition, he had to make his personal arrangements. He had no parents. They had been killed in space some years before. Being an only child, he had to turn to distant cousins rather than siblings to take over his affairs if he died -‑ and to conduct the funeral. His clan matriarch was at present on Rigel Four, so he could not ask her to come to either the duel or -‑ in the event of defeat -‑ the funeral.

 

He meditated each evening, preparing his mind for the day that was coming...

 

And it arrived. He rose at the fifth hour, to cleanse and purify himself before the contest. As was customary, he would fast beforehand, even as a man did before his wedding. He'd done his research well.

 

At the sixth hour, punctually, he arrived at the place of Koon‑ut‑Kal‑if‑fee of the Krtsnzm clan. His cloak was wrapped around him against the cool of the morning, but soon there would be no need for it.

 

In the ruby morning light, he made out the form of Senek, similarly cloaked. "Well‑met, Stonn." He saluted his challenger.

 

"Greetings, Senek."

 

They stood together and watched as T'Pau came in her ceremonial chair, preceded by ball‑banner carriers. But the bell‑banners they carried did not contain the lovely tinkling marriage‑bells. They made a harsher, more solemn sound.

 

As T'Pau's chair was set down, the banner‑carriers split up and made a slow circuit of the stone ring. Beside T'Pau, on her right, the weapon‑bearer held both broadswords, which had been at T'Pau's house the entire week in order to avoid any possible treachery. Such was the custom.

 

At her left stood the masked figure of he‑who‑acts‑if‑cowardice‑is‑seen. He was a man well-known to all, one Seron, and he was performing a function his father and grandfather had performed before him. He knew all the rules and he knew how to use that wicked‑looking weapon too. One could be sure of that.

 

T'Pau began the ritual. "Thee, Stonn, has challenged Senek to combat for the recovery of thine honor. Thee, Senek, has accepted for the sake of thy sister. Neither may now draw back till combat is done. At the first sign of cowardice, Seron will act immediately. Seng..."

 

The weapon‑bearer stepped forward while attendants removed the combatants' cloaks and tied the ritual combat sashes around their waists.

 

Storm took his ancestor's sword from Seng and held it in both hands. A crude contest it would be, he thought. All slash and cut -‑ none of the delicate fencing of a Terran rapier. And less versatile than either the lirpa or the ahn woon.

 

"Let the duel begin," T'Pau chanted.

 

The swords were too heavy for swift, lithe movements. The opponents circled each other warily.

 

It was Senek who made the first move, a slash which Stonn parried easily, driving the other man back. Pity one couldn't thrust with this weapon, he thought. It had always had a special mystique because the heroes of mythology had used such swords, but it was really very limited.

 

The broadswords slid off each other and the antagonists leaped back as one men.

 

Stonn allowed the other man to do the attacking. Proficient he might be, but he obviously hadn't the common sense, in a real battle situation, to allow his opponent to tire.

 

Still, he wasn't reckless with his blows. It was all Stonn could do to keep up with them, and he left no opening for Stonn to get him. But the clang, clash and parry couldn't continue indefinitely. The fight must be resolved.

 

The sun had risen high in the sky now. The clash of the combatants' weapons and the thump of their feet were the only sounds to be heard, apart from the occasional grunt from one or the other.

 

Once, on the edge of the firepit, Stonn slipped and his foot scraped it, on the point of toppling him in, but he recovered himself in time to take the offensive against Senek, thus pulling himself away from the pit's edge.

 

Both men were trickling green from a dozen cuts, but neither seemed aware of it, so intense was their concentration on each other.

 

But Stonn's opponent was tiring. He could feel it. Senek's breath was coming hard, his swipes were half‑hearted. Better for him to have chosen the lirpa with its swift conclusion.

 

Now Stonn pressed his attack, gradually forcing his antagonist back... back... Senek tripped and fell. His sword went spinning out of his grasp. He rolled over and clutched for it, but Stonn was there first, kicking the weapon away, then holding his own sword‑edge against Senek's throat.

 

Senek looked up at his opponent, quietly prepared to die with dignity, but Stonn made no move to kill him, only said, "Your weapon is gone and I have you in such a position that you could not rise without my allowing you to do so. It logically follows that you are the loser of this combat. Do you acknowledge yourself defeated?"

 

"I can hardly do otherwise," Senek said drily.

 

"Say so."

 

"I declare myself defeated."

 

"Good enough." The sword lifted from Senek's throat. "You may get up now. It is over."

 

Not even Vulcan restraint could hide the look of amazement on Senek's face, but he rose.

 

T'Pau had also risen when Stonn had begun to speak. Stonn turned to her. "I have satisfied my honor. The kah‑ree‑ah is fulfilled."

 

"Yet you did not complete it," she told him. "You did not kill Senek. Since that is so, you are still subject to the law."

 

"I have read the law," he objected, "and nowhere does it say that this duel must end in death. That is only at the kali fi, where the male in plak‑tow will kill in his frenzy and if he loses it is better for him to die there and then. But my blood does not burn now. I am a Vulcan, with respect for life. In my right mind, and with a choice, I shall not kill." He dropped a bombshell then. "And you yourself set a precedent by allowing even a kali fi to end with both combatants still alive, no proper check done to be certain the lower was dead, but only the word of a doctor who had interest in seeing them both survive. Both that case and this may provide some interesting situations in future Challenges, perhaps even a way to be sure nobody is killed."

 

T'Pau was silent a moment. Finally, she said, with a twinkle in her eyes, "You have the cunning of a viper, Stonn‑son-of‑Svorn -‑ but you are right. I commend your thinking."

 

"I am honored."

 

"Tradition will never be the same again, brother‑in‑law," Senek remarked as T'Pau was carried off. "And I am not sure it is such a bad thing in this case. Come. We will clean our wounds and break our fast at my home."

 

"I shall be honored to do so."

 

* * *

 

T'Pring put the magazine cassette in the viewer and switched it on. Another article about that fight. She and Stonn had been married for two months now and still outworlders came to interview him -‑ and her, for that matter. And even here on Vulcan, he was the subject of people's interest. Wherever they went, it was inevitably, "Stonn? Then you=re the one who..."

 

It was becoming distinctly... disquieting. She had chosen him over Spock because he was home‑loving, comfortable and unremarkable. But now she was living in his shadow.

 

What he had done had made him famous all over Vulcan. Having dealt a blow to tradition, he was still admired because he had provided some possible solutions to the ritual death of the kali fi. People would no longer accept it so passively. And the irony was that he had used tradition's own trappings to destroy it. His solutions were roundabout, but others would be found, in time.

 

T'Pring had spent the whole time burying herself in her composition, refusing to have anything to do with the entire business or to know what was going on. But though her work had been performed publicly since then and received critical acclaim, there was always some remark to the effect that the composer T'Pring was married to the celebrated Stonn, who had...

 

Never would they have a quiet life together now.

 

She snapped off the viewer and sighed -‑ a tiny sound she allowed herself only because nobody else was there to hear it.

 

She had to face facts: despite her best efforts to the contrary, she had become the consort of a legend.

 

THE END