Three months prior...
T’Kaela t’cha’Supak aduna’Stefin hei-Kh’d’Khahl died in the black hours of the morning, along with her stillborn daughter. The healers and the priestesses were powerless to stop the bleeding, either internal or external, and at last stood by helplessly as the unfortunate young woman slipped into a coma and ceased to breathe.
The body of her murdered husband had been removed from the bed chamber and taken to be prepared for cremation. She would soon follow him, although it was decided that they not be burned together, both because of her crime of homicide and because many felt it was justified for his abuse and cruelty to her.
S’Von had retired to his chambers almost at once and had spent the night frantically working on a plan to salvage the deteriorating situation. Stefin had left no heir, but there were several of his military commanders who would leap at the chance for power. They must be dealt with swiftly and decisively. The crisis was compounded by the fact that Stakkan was in residence with his army and would welcome a chance to add D’Khahl to his own lands. He likewise must be neutralized and power settled firmly on S’Von’s shoulders.
Briskly, the sorcerer finalized his plans and moved to put them into immediate action. Retrieving a hand phaser from the locked chest where he stored his weapons, he checked its charge and left his chambers to go in search of Stakkan and any others would might endanger his power base.
With purposeful step, S’Von made his way to the guest chambers at the end of the hallway. One of Stakkan’s men stood guard outside and came to attention at the sight of the approaching sorcerer. S’Von vaporized him before he finished his challenge. Then, pushing open the door, he found the portly Holder in bed, twisting to stare in outrage at whomever was disturbing his sport. S’Von caught a glimpse of one of the twins beside him.
“What’s the meaning of this?! S’Von — what is this—?”
With icy deliberation, S’Von pointed the phaser at the couple and pulled the trigger. So high was the setting on the weapon that the entire bed disappeared in a burst of energy, along with Stakkan and the unlucky girl.
Completely expressionless, the sorcerer turned and left the room, moving on to his next destination.
Sixteen died that night before S’Von was finished with his bloody work.
Dawn found the new leader of D’Khahl astride his big black hox, on a hilltop before the assembled armies massed on the plains around the stronghold. He had dressed carefully, making sure that he presented as imposing a sight as possible, and now he waited, mail shining in the bloody light of the rising sun, long cape snapping in the morning breeze, and phaser rifle resting prominently in view of all.
He purposefully sat silent until the men quieted in restless anticipation, turning their attention to him. Then he spoke in a loud, carrying voice. “Stefin is dead! He was murdered last night in a coup attempt by Stakkan and a group of warriors who were intent on taking control of D’Khahl Holding. Stefin’s wife, T’Kaela, was beaten and raped and died giving birth to a stillborn child. All those who were responsible for this reprehensible action have been executed!”
A shocked murmur swept through the company spread out before him, then quieted again as he continued. “Stakkan was the force behind this conspiracy! But—” He was forced to raise his voice even more as D’Khahli soldiers turned accusingly to Sekanis. “— hear me! — but do not turn the blame on your allies! They are not responsible for Stakkan’s actions! He has been apprehended and executed as have the guilty parties on both sides!” He paused until the muttering died down again. “As Stefin would have wanted, I have taken the Holding of D’Khahl and am in command of this army! We will carry on with the campaign we have gathered for — the taking of Seleya!”
He thrust the phaser rifle into the air and immediately the host roared back in acclamation. S’Von waited until the cheering had died away, then continued, “Tonight we burn Stefin and T’Kaela upon their funeral pyres! Tomorrow we march! To Seleya and victory!”
* * *
The faint chill breath of morning air made Spock come abruptly awake and realize that T’Preve was snuggled against him, asleep in his arms. They had not intended that she still be here in his bed, for the danger of her being found here was enormous. But the sweet fatigue following their lovemaking had lulled them both into slumber and their bonding the night before made them loathe to be parted from one another. Even now, as he gazed down on her beautiful face so near to his, he could scarcely bear the thought of her leaving. She had filled the emptiness in his soul like nothing he had ever known and he knew that their minds and hearts had joined into one during the night.
But soon the fortress would be stirring as the inhabitants began to rise in their early morning activities — taking care of morning hygiene, getting the fires started, preparing firstmeal. T’Preve must be back in her own chambers well before anyone else arose.
Gently, he stroked her temple and cheek, waking her. As she sleepily opened her eyes and peered up at him, he thought again that she was the most beautiful creature he’d ever beheld. She smiled and reached for him as she had the evening before, but, although he allowed her a warm embrace and a long, fervent kiss, he drew back from her while he knew he still could.
“You must get up now, t’hy’la,” he whispered. “It’s nearly morning. You must hurry.”
“I don’t want to leave you,” she murmured back, still clinging to him.
He closed his eyes for a minute to steel himself. Goddess knew how much he wanted her to stay just where she was, how much the fire she had kindled within him demanded that he love her again. But it was impossible. Gently, he answered, “And I don’t want you to, but you must. You know that.”
She snuggled her head under his chin. “I know...” She lifted her face to his and they shared one final kiss before she rose from the warm security of his arms and hurriedly dressed in her chemise, sliding her feet into her slippers. He got up, too, and quickly pulled on his breeches and boots.
“What will you say if someone sees you?” he questioned her in a whisper.
“I’ll tell them I had to go to the latrine and am on my way back to bed,” she answered.
They embraced again, holding each other tightly, and he bent to kiss her once more. Then she forced herself to pull away from him. In the predawn darkness, she peeked out through the curtains, making sure that no one else was about, then glanced at him with a smile and was gone.
He stood for sometime, listening intently, attempting to follow her progress to make sure she had made her way safely, but so quiet was her footfall that she might never have been there. After a while, he turned away and found his shirt, pulling it on over his head, then wrapped himself in his cloak and knelt in meditation on his mattress, turning his thoughts to the preparations for war that would occupy yet another day.
* * *
T’Preve slipped like a shadow through the back halls and up the servant stairs to the second floor. It was nearly pitch black in places, but she had lived in Shar’ram her entire life and knew its nooks and crannies with the intimacy of an inquisitive child. She had slipped from her chamber countless times as a girl and could still do so with a surety and silence that had seen her on numerous adventures.
But her mission tonight was returning to her own bed unseen. Her waiting woman, old T’Kaal, would be fast asleep. T’Preve had seen to that before she slipped out earlier. The hallway was silent except for the soft snores of sleeping people and the occasional creak of a mattress as someone rolled over into a new position.
Her door was cracked slightly ajar, just as she’d left it, and with a final glance, she slipped through into the dark room. T’Kaal muttered in her sleep then settled back down. T’Preve tip-toed across the room to her own bed and quietly crawled between the blankets.
Her bed was cold and empty-feeling after the blissful warmth of snuggling into Spock’s arms. She could still feel him in her mind and knew that a mating bond had formed between them. For the first time, she understood the words she had heard others repeat at Joining rituals ... “parted from me and never parted, never and always touching and touched...” She had Joined with Spock mentally and physically, and from this day he would be with her, and she with him.
As much as the mental joining had fulfilled and delighted her, the physical had been just as sweet and painful and joyful. She lay for sometime in the early morning darkness, identifying and marveling at the differences she now felt within herself. She had gone to him a barely grown girl and had been magically transformed by him into a woman and a bonded wife.
Their bonding meld had been magical. Although endowed with the innate telepathic ability that all Vulcans possessed, she had never experienced the indescribable sensation of uniting her thoughts with another. As soon as their minds had merged into one, she had known he was no novice, awkwardly fumbling in the corridors of her mind to find his way. With the surety and knowledge of a man fully experienced in such things, he had gently taken control of their meld and guided her through the intricacies of weaving their souls together. When it came to the physical aspects of their joining, he was more hesitant, not so assured, and they had walked together as he took her tenderly onto the path of womanhood.
They had clung to one another afterwards, drifting into sleep, sated with emotional release, and there in his arms she had dreamed a most strange and disturbing dream.
In a swirling green haze, she beheld something small and round and gelatinous, turning gently in the fog. Inside it, something moved, forming ranks, splitting and pulling apart and forming again. She had no idea what it was, having no reference by which to identify it. Then a faint line appeared across its surface, a line that deepened and dimpled the thing, cutting down through it. As she watched, it completed its task and suddenly there were two identical round things, side by side and still joined. The dance started again in the two new objects and they each divided again. Now there were four. Again, and there were eight.
She had awakened at that point to Spock’s gentle summons, but in the manner of dreams, in the twilight instant between waking and sleep, her mind had leapt away down a long, shifting tunnel. Images and faces flashed by her in an incomprehensible blur. She only knew that suddenly things were changing away from the way they should be, were meant to be. Or perhaps it was just the opposite. Perhaps things were right again.
But something was changing. She was changing. She could feel herself twisting out of sync with the world, the ground moving beneath her like sand slipping down the face of a dune. And yet, when she opened her eyes, everything was just as it had should have been, her cheek snuggled into Spock’s shoulder, his arms around her, the glow of their lovemaking and mind meld still suffusing her.
And yet, the last strobe-flash image lingering in her mind before she woke was of Spock. Definitely her Spock, but different, not the man who had held her and loved her throughout the glorious night just ending. Clad in blue and black and golden stars, surrounded by lights and noises and odd-looking people, he stood like a god, serene and imperturbable, in a place of such strangeness that her mind shied completely away from it until there was only Spock’s face, stern and commanding and calm.
And then his face had been truly bending near hers, now kind and gentle and real, whispering to her, “Wake up, t’hy’la, wake up.”
Now she lay in her own bed, her pillow soft against her cheek, old T’Kaal snoring quietly across the room, and the song of the dawnbirds warbling ever so faintly across the courtyard as the first rays of morning broke across the mountain peaks. She replayed scenes of her vision over and over again, attempting to sort them out into some semblance of comprehension. She didn’t understand any of the dream and she knew that she didn’t dare go to a Dream Reader with it. She would try to puzzle it out by herself. But this much she knew by some instinct she could not explain — whatever the round thing was, it had changed the world and her with it. And somehow, in some manner, it ultimately led her back to Spock.