Chapter 13

 

Four months prior...

 

Stefin was in an exceptionally bad mood when he rode his hox back through the gates of D’Khahl Holding.  A quarrel had broken out between his troops and those of the Sekani commander, a quarrel that had quickly dissolved into a full-fledged fight.  When the men were finally separated and lashed into compliance by their sergeants, the ringleaders had been hauled up before Stefin and Stakkan.  The Sekani soldiers accused the D’Khahlis of cheating them over a captured woman.  Instead of the men taking their due pleasures with her, the D’Khahli soldiers had killed her after they had grown tired of her and then thrown her lifeless body into the Sekani camp with a great deal of hilarity and obscene commentary.  The Sekanis had taken offense and the fight ensued.

Neither Stefin nor Stakkan was amused at this and all the men involved were dragged away to be scourged for their parts in the melee.  The D’Khahli mastermind of the incident was executed by Stefin’s own hand before the gathered troops as a warning that there would be no more similar episodes.

It had set Stefin into a sour disposition for the remainder of the day.  Now, as he dismounted his weary hox in the courtyard and turned the beast over to a groomsman, the D’Khahli Holder was seething inside.  Last-meal was awaiting him in the main hall, but he merely seized a goblet of wine and stamped his way up the main staircase to his chambers, growling, “Wife, attend me!” as he went.

T’Kaela dutifully followed him, sensing his anger and quailing at what sort of evening must surely be awaiting her.  When she quietly entered their bedchamber and closed the door behind her, she found Stefin downing the last of the wine in the goblet and then pouring himself more from the beaker on the sideboard.

She stood quietly as Stefin stripped off his blood-spattered tunic and threw it on the floor, then poured water from a ewer into a bowl and began washing blood and dirt from his hands.  “Was it a hard day, my lord?” T’Kaela ventured softly, deciding to see how bad her evening would be.

“They are all hard,” Stefin snarled laconically.  “I am surrounded by fools and incompetents.”  He turned to look at her for the first time.

T’Kaela was standing just inside the doorway, clad in a long, low-cut gown, the type of clothing he forced her to wear.  The tight bodice accentuated her lush bosom and he could plainly see the outlines of her nipples underneath the fabric.

The act of the bloody execution that afternoon, coupled with the sight of T’Kaela’s inviting body, served to arouse him.  He needed an outlet for his aggression, either in more violence or in sex.  Possibly in both.  And that, after all, was what his wife was for.  To serve him in any way he desired.

He straightened and reached for a towel to dry his hands then said, “Come here.”

She did, walking slowly toward him.  As she came within arm’s reach, he seized her and pulled her to him, kissing her hard, forcing his tongue into her mouth.  His hand went to her breast and covered it, massaging it roughly.

She squirmed and tried to pull away, for he was hurting her.  It only spurred him on.  Grasping the front of her gown, he ripped downward, tearing the sheer fabric open then he bent and moved from one breast to the other, sucking her into his mouth, biting her nipples to make her cry out.

Again, she tried to shove him away, but he had her bent back over the sideboard and her feet were barely touching the floor.  Just when she was about to start fighting him in earnest, he abruptly lifted his head and grabbed her upper arm, spinning her around away from him.  Before she could react to that, he shoved her forward at the waist and yanked her gown up out of the way, exposing her buttocks to his sight, even as he was using his other hand to open his breeches.

She knew instantly what he wanted and had barely set herself before he grasped her waist and mounted her, plunging his hard shaft deep into her.  She wasn’t ready for him and his huge erection slamming into her dry passage brought a cry of pain from her lips.  He paid no attention to her, pumping again and again as deeply into her as he could.  The feel of her tight, clinging interior excited him and he worked her even harder.

By the time he had brought himself to climax, she was fighting the involuntary tears of pain and humiliation that streamed down her cheeks.  After his initial eruption, he continued to clasp her waist and thrust deep into her a few more times before he finally pulled out of her.

But the violence still lurked within him.  The quick, hard coupling hadn’t satisfied him and he stood behind her thinking about what he wanted to do next, when she unwisely looked around at him, frowning.  “That hurt,” she snapped. “If you wanted me, why didn’t you wait until I was ready to take you?”

His face darkened with anger and his hand flew to grip her throat, just short of doing her real harm.  “I take you, woman — not the other way around!  Anywhere and anytime I see fit!  If you can’t understand that, then I’ll rid myself of you and find a woman who knows how to be silent and obedient and in her proper place — on her back with her legs apart!”

“Then do so!” she hissed, enraged.  “Let her deal with your perversions and filth!  I never wanted to be here!”

The next instant, T’Kaela found herself on the floor, her face smarting from the blow he’d dealt her.  “Do not talk back to me!” Stefin rumbled as he advanced on her.  He bent and grabbed the tattered front of her dress, hauling her up bodily, then threw her on the bed.  “Since you don’t know how to be a proper wife, I’ll teach you.”

Roughly he stripped her, fending off her ineffectual blows with heavier slaps of his own, until he had her naked and subdued through pain.  “Now, wife,” he muttered as he quickly shed his own clothing and spread himself atop her once more.  “You will service me as I require — silently, obediently and readily.  And if you please me ... perhaps I will graciously allow you to live.”

* * *

It was the custom at Shar’ram that on some evenings after last-meal, a time of entertainment was presented, sometimes storytelling, sometimes singing, sometimes a dance.  On occasions a court fool would juggle various objects, or a visiting troop of actors would perform a saga. Most of the time, however, the offerings were simple and done by the people who lived in the fortress.  They served to bring the family together and close the day on a joyful note.

Inevitably, one evening Spock was called upon for a story.  He demurred, saying he was no storyteller but the company insisted, refusing to allow him to back away.  Finally, he gave in and moved to a seat by the hearth where he sat in deep thought for a few moments, searching for a suitable tale to tell.  As he did, the family’s children came and settled around him, the better to hear the tale.

He thought of various stories he had read as a child, both human and Vulcan, but they all took place so much later in history than this, he was afraid they would be incomprehensible to these people.  Searching farther back in time, he landed upon a scrap of a legend that had been passed down through his family and that seemed appropriate here.  He began:

“The story I tell you is a true one.  It is about a man named S’Kar.  Through his line, there arose a great teacher, Surak, and from his line arose my great-grandparents, the Holder Salkar and his wife, T’Pau, and their son Skon, and his son Sarek, who is my father.  The family line rolls unbroken far back into the mists of time.  There are Tellers who can recite the Tell all the way back to S’Kar.  Of the lives of our ancestors, much has been lost to us because of the amount of time to be Told, but this much is known and handed down, that we not forget.

S’Kar was a child of war, a refugee from a Great House that had fallen to invading armies in his homeland.  He was a magical child from birth, blessed by the Goddess Heya in the womb.  No one knows who his father was. The legend only says that he came from the desert, sired S’Kar upon a princess of the House, then disappeared once more, never to be seen again.  His name is not even remembered.  The princess was called T’Riffa and she was the daughter of the Householder, his only child.  And, as in all legends, she was wise and brave and beautiful.”

There was a tittering of appreciative laughter at that, which made Spock smile as well.  He continued, “S’Kar’s beginning came when the land was being ripped apart by a fierce war. Perhaps his father was merely a warrior of her father’s house, lost in the fighting, and that was his sole moment of importance to anyone.  But started S’Kar was and at a time when the populations of Holdings and Houses were being destroyed or fleeing into the hills or deserts.

“There was a great, evil warlord from another province who was terrorizing the countryside, much as the army of D’Khahl is doing now.  Legend only knows this warlord as the Usurper. He was blood-thirsty and cruel and led his warriors on terrible raids against the Great Houses. One by one they fell until finally only the House of Princess T’Riffa stood.  The Usurper attacked that, too, and such was the strength of his army that he overran and took it for his own.

T’Riffa barely escaped with her life and that of her unborn child.  She fled into the high hills south of Sas-a-shar and hid there with a companion-protector, a young man whom she eventually married.  S’Kar was born while le’matyas prowled and sehlats roared and their spirits infused him.  He grew to manhood in the wilderness, armed with their fierceness and cunning.  His bondfather trained him as well in all the arts of warfare and strategy and, when S’Kar reached the age of manhood, he also gave him a weapon.  It was the sword of S’Kar’s father, which the bondfather had kept for him.

“Once armed, S’Kar came down from the hills and raised an army of the people suppressed and held in servitude by the Usurper.  He led them into a war of vengeance and reclamation and eventually routed the invaders from his House.  For it was his House now.  He was the son of the daughter of the Holder, his grandfather, whom the invaders had put to death in the final battle of the Holding’s fall many years before. The seat of judgment was rightfully S’Kar’s and he claimed his right.  The countryside had fallen into such lawlessness and barbarism that it took S’Kar many years to bring it under control, but he was a strong and wise ruler and eventually the land knew peace again.  And the legend says that he ruled to a great old age and sired many sons and daughters.”

Spock fell silent and, after a moment of expectant silence, spread his hands and said, “That is the end of the story.”

“What happened to the princess?” asked a little boy who was sitting rapt beside him.

Spock looked down at him and shook his head.  “I do not know.  The legend does not tell us.  Perhaps S’Kar brought her back to her old home and established her there in honor.”

“Oh, I hope so,” responded another child, a little girl.  “I think it would be too sad if the princess did not get to come home.”

“I’ll bet the sehlats ate her,” spoke up a slightly older boy.  This remark garnered loud protests from the other children and he backed off defensively.  “Well, I’ll still bet they did.  Whoever heard of anyone living in the wilderness for that long without getting eaten?”

“It is not unheard of,” Spock answered.  There was dissent once more from his audience but he insisted.  “Have you never heard of anyone choosing to live as a recluse or hermit?  It would be a constant testing of one’s self, but I would not count it as impossible.  It would be like always enduring the rite of kahs’wan.”

There was puzzled silence as the youngsters exchanged glances with each other.  “What?” asked one.

“What’s kahs’wan?” questioned another.

Spock looked up to search the faces of the adults present but their expressions were just as uncomprehending as the children.  “You do not know the ritual of kahs’wan?  The testing of a boy in his seventh year in which he goes for ten days into the desert?”

Anskar spoke up, “Why would anyone expose their sons to that sort of danger, Spock?  When too few survive into adulthood as it is?  Your people have very strange customs!”

“Yes, forgive me,” Spock answered, taken by surprise but then understanding the logic of it. Kahs’wan had developed because of the feeling that Surak’s Reforms had sapped the strength and ingenuity from the Vulcan people. That, while logic and emotional control had led them into a golden age of scientific and cultural achievement, their proud heritage of invincibility and resourcefulness had diminished accordingly.  The testing and passage into manhood maintained that heritage.  But it was not needed here, in this time period.  Life was hard enough and children were a precious commodity to a family.  They would not be sacrificed to a symbolic ritual simply to prove they could survive. They proved that by living to adulthood.

A teenage boy sitting at one of the wooden tables still littered with last-meal dishes and remains brought the subject back to the story. “What Holding was it that fell?”

“I do not know the name,” Spock replied although again he knew that he was frankly lying.  He did know the name of the Holding.  It was Shar’ram.  Legend clearly stated that it had fallen to invaders.  The eroded ruins that brooded above the modern city of ShiKahr testified to its fall, but when?  There was no date attached to the incident so he had no way of verifying the truth of the myth.  In fact, when he’d first remembered of the legend of S’Kar, his immediate thought was that the story spoke of his present circumstance.  But then he dismissed it.  Shar’ram still stood in this time period and the few facts he knew from the legend didn’t fit his current situation.  The Holder Anskar had no daughters, only four grown sons who had their own Houses to rule, thus no princess to be mother of the near-mythical S’Kar.

Stahl had been sitting across the room, T’Preve by his side.  She’d gone back into the tense wariness she always seemed to affect when her pledge-mate was around.  But he was paying little attention to her at the moment.  In a scoffing tone, he called out, “So, that’s the best story you can make up, is it?”  He looked around at his cohorts with a sly expression.  “You men come to my chambers later.  I’ll tell you a tale about a woman and a man from the desert that will bring the Madness down upon you!”  He laughed raucously at his joke and his men joined in, while T’Preve looked down in embarrassment and blushed.

The remark killed Spock’s good mood and he felt outrage brewing within him for T’Preve’s sake and the sake of the other women present.  Stahl’s crude reference to pon farr was completely out of line, according to Spock’s sensibilities.  One simply did not speak of such a thing openly and in mixed company.  It was too private and personal a thing, too devastating to the psyche and the soul, although a necessary thing in Vulcan life.

Still, he was uncertain about speaking up.  There were many things in this culture that shocked and offended his 23rd century mores, but which went without comment here.  Privacy was a rare thing and taboos that were iron-clad in his world had no meaning at all here.  Perhaps this was one of them.  Instead of taking Stahl to task, he stood up and said, “I’m sorry.  I don’t know any more of the story.  That’s all of it I ever learned.”  He turned and nodded in Anskar’s direction.  “I believe I shall retire now, sai, with your permission.”

“Of course, Spock.  Good sleep to you.  And thank you for your story,” the Holder replied.

Spock turned to go but was stopped for an instant.  T’Preve had raised her head slightly and was staring at him in such mute appeal that he almost found himself starting across the room to her aide.  But then Stahl slid an arm possessively around the woman’s shoulders and turned his haughty, challenging gaze directly on the other man, daring him to come their way.  Spock steeled himself, bowed slightly to the company of his clan, and walked from the hall toward his sleeping alcove.

* * *

The stately Vulcan steepled her fingers and gazed with implacable calm across the conference table at Kirk.  “There is no mistake, Captain Kirk,” she repeated.  “We have thoroughly checked our records and cross-checked it with birth records in ShiKahr.  There is no one named ‘Spock’ in the current generation of the Ni’ikhirch family structure.”

“That’s impossible!” Kirk exploded, unable to rein in his frustration and worry.

T’Lon lifted a delicate eyebrow at him.  “Would you care to check it for yourself?  We have traced the Ni’ikhirch clan for the past two thousand years.  The last person to bear that name was Spock cha’Selkin 153 years ago.”

“But how can that be?  He’s the great-grandson of T’Pau and the son of Ambassador Sarek.  He’s the family’s heir, for Pete’s sake!”

The Vulcans present exchanged glances.  “Pete?” responded one of them, puzzled.

Kirk waved it away.  “Just a human expression.”

T’Lon ignored it.  Ambassador Sarek, you say?  Ambassador to what?”

“Earth, of course!”

“Captain, the ambassador to Earth currently is Soton hei-Kh’d’Elakil.”  She turned and played her fingertips across a small keypad, causing the computer screen display to change.  “There is a Sarek listed here, son of Skon, grandson of T’Pau, but he is not nor has he ever been any sort of ambassador.  He is employed as a computer expert in the Ministry of Trade.”

Kirk leaned closer.  “But doesn’t it show his offspring? Surely Spock is there.”

T’Lon zoomed in the screen closer.  “Sarek is the father of three children ... a son, Sybok, by his first wife, now dead.  Two daughters, T’Pas and T’Arla, by his present wife.”

The captain was shaking his head.  “That can’t be.  Sarek and Amanda only had one child ... Spock.”

“Who, Captain?” the historian questioned.

“Sarek’s wife.  Amanda Grayson.”

“His wife is named T’Bel, Captain.  I do not know of anyone called ‘Amanda Grayson’. This is a Human name.”

Kirk was feeling the ground opening wider and wider beneath him as he sank into a quagmire of fear and hopelessness.  “Yes.  Sarek married a Human woman whom he met while posted to Earth.  Spock was the first Human/Vulcan child ever born that lived to adulthood.  It was quite a feat of medical accomplishment.”

He turned away, ignoring the shocked and affronted expressions on the Vulcans’ faces. The other three exchanged soft, astounded comments in Vulcan, but T’Lon, to her credit, kept her astonishment to herself.  No doubt she was as staggered as the others by such an indecent thought — a Vulcan and a Human mated! — but was diplomatic enough not to show it.

“I’m sorry, Captain Kirk,” she said, standing, her veils draping lightly around her tall form.  “Obviously, whatever your Spock did in the past changed his own future completely.  In the world we know, the clan of Ni’ikhirch is a very minor one in Seleyan politics.  It has few members and those are not noted for any accomplishments worthy of mention.”

Kirk was standing beside the window that looked out over the ancient ruins of the city.  In the distance, he could just see the Guardian rising bright among the grayness.  T’Lon moved over to join him.  “We have managed to narrow our search to a critical area.  We believe that the Battle of Seleya in 4583 ... our calendar, not yours ... is the pivotal event.  We will concentrate our search of the records there and attempt to isolate your first officer and Dr. S’Von.”

When Kirk did not respond, T’Lon did the very un-Vulcan thing of reaching up and laying her hand on his shoulder.  “Do not give up hope, Captain.  We may yet be able to find them and bring them back to our world.”

“But which world?” Kirk murmured, almost to himself.  “A world in which Spock never lived?  Or the world where he belongs ... and you don’t?”