bloody light of the morning sun, the armies of Anskar
and Sefak stood silent and waiting, stretching out
along the plain. In the center of the
first column, beside the two Holders, Spock waited astride his hox, straight and unmoving, his eyes on the far side
of the plain. His long cape snapped in
the chill wind sweeping the flat and he held Brax’s
reins lightly in one firm hand, his war helm cradled in the crook of his other
arm. Looking out over the valley that
lay before them, its far side black with the enemy’s number, Spock said softly
to himself, “Once more into the breach, dear friends...”
over at him. “What’s that you say?”
“A quote, lord, from a very old story from my mother’s homeland. ‘Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more. Or
close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace, there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and
humility; but when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the actions
of the tiger: stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature
with hard-favour’d rage and lend the eye a terrible
aspect!’” He looked over at the older
man. “From a story about a king who went
to war to reclaim that which was rightfully his.”
nodded. “A good song,
Spock. You must sing it for us
when we return to our own peace.”
smiled a little and shook his head. “It
is an epic, my lord. I don’t know it
all. It requires many singers to tell it
someday we can arrange for it to be told.”
lord. Some day.” With that, the two men turned their attention
back to the gathered hordes awaiting them.
Brax champed at his bit and pawed the ground
impatiently, letting his master know that this waiting was intolerable to
him. Spock sat quietly in the saddle,
however, and would not respond to the hox’s
urgings. It was not yet time, though
they all sat straining “like greyhounds in the slip.” The ancient words whispered through Spock’s
mind now as he viewed the battlefield, thinking of all the times throughout
history when men sat poised on the brink of death and disaster and glory. It might be the French they faced across the
there came an eerie wail floating across the plain like a voice from hell. Hollow and lost it was, and chills swept over
the men. The hoxa
began to rear and snort, but the men held them firm. And then there could be seen advancing across
the plain a black tide, flowing inexorably toward them, and the tramping of
many boots rumbled through the morning air.
army stopped as one, but their master kept going, his black hox
wild-eyed, prancing as they continued onto the field. Halfway out, he halted and sat like silent
wants a parley,” Anskar said and made to go out onto
wait, my lord,” Spock interrupted him.
“Let me.” He squeezed his legs
against Brax’s side and urged the hox
forward. The big gray stallion cantered
out onto the plain where S’Von waited for them. About ten feet apart, they halted and the
adversaries stared at each other across the distance separating them.
S’Von was the
first to speak. “So, Spock, we meet
again. I thought I had escaped you.”
Spock shook his head. “No, Doctor. It has always been my mission to apprehend
you and take you back. If it is within
my power, I intend to do so.”
other laughed harshly. “Back? To where? How?
There is no Gateway here.”
“Nevertheless. I shall find a way, S’Von. Either that or kill you.”
can try,” S’Von grinned unpleasantly. “But I think you will find either prospect
rather difficult. I don’t intend to go
back or die quietly.”
if requiring fail, I shall compel you,” Spock responded and the menace and
resolution in his voice was unmistakable.
S’Von gave him a
look of mocking dismay. “Quoting Shakespeare, Spock? Or
misquoting it, actually. Really,
how trite. Why not something from the
Tenets of Surak? That would be more appropriate.
Well, just do me one favor, then. Don’t
launch into ‘St. Crispin’s Day’. I
really couldn’t bear it.”
other did not respond so S’Von continued, “All right,
then. Have it your own way. Shakespeare it is. I think I shall compel you to compel me. For ‘in fierce tempest am I coming, in
thunder and in earthquake, like a Jove’. And I will take no mercy ‘on the poor
souls for whom this hungry war opens his vasty jaws;
and on your head turning widows’ tears, the orphans’ cries, the dead men’s blood,
the pining maidens’ groans, for husbands, fathers and betrothed lovers, that
shall be swallow’d in this controversy’. Go make yourself ready, Spock, because I
intend to make your
did likewise, rejoining the front line with Anskar
and Sefak. The
older man glanced at Spock’s grim, angry visage and knew that any hope of
negotiation had failed. Turning back to
the battle before him, Anskar slid his war helm onto
his head and all the other men, Spock included, followed suit. Removing his cloak, Spock tossed it to one of
the pages, as did anyone else similarly attired, and turned back to the battle
lines, awaiting Anskar’s signal.
Holder of Seleya drew his sword and held it aloft,
and there was the ring of steel all along the line as every man with a sword
pulled blade from scabbard. Spock was
the only one who did not. He would keep
the silver sword sheathed until they charged.
The sight of its blazing wrath suddenly appearing in their midst would
make its impact doubly terrible.
was a tense moment of quiet, broken only by the restless stamp of hooves,
jingle of harness and creak of leather.
Mounted lancers and swordsmen sat their hoxa
like statues. Beside them, pikemen and men-at-arms with long axes and light-weight
battle lirpas, crossbowmen and archers and
those armed with the boomerang-like parakh,
foot soldiers with a variety of weapons — all waited and watched.
from across the field arose a cry of hatred and malice and S’Von’s
mounted warriors launched forward as one, thundering toward the army of Seleya. Behind them, their foot soldiers dashed after them,
screaming their war cry.
Anskar thrust his
sword into the air and hauled back on the reins in his hand, causing his hox to rear and shriek. The cry was echoed by thousands of throats as
the troops roared their defiance at the advancing horde. Then the mounted warriors sprang forward in
unison, the sound of their hoxa like thunder
reverberating across the plain.
throat was one that bellowed the battle cry and at last he drew the Sword of Kh’Liorah from its sheath, and Brax
leaped forward, eager for battle. The
sword blazed in his hand and the sight of it caused an even louder shout to go
up from their men.
lines of cavalry collided in mid-field and immediately disintegrated into a
maelstrom of clashing steel, screaming hoxa,
blood and dust. Flights of arrows
shrieked over their heads as both sides launched attacks on the others’
infantry. The cries of stricken men and hoxa joined the din and men on both sides began to
fall, trampled underfoot by hooves and booted feet. Undaunted, the foot soldiers caught up with
the hoxa and fought their way into the fray.
was in the midst of it all, fighting with a fury he had never felt before. The overwhelming hate and savagery that
radiated from every man around him suffused him and blotted out everything but
the need to kill. There was no time or
inclination for second guessing or logical thought. He only knew that men were doing their best
to kill him and he must respond in kind or die. With a ferocity that roared up
from his ancestral blood, he swung and hacked and clashed swords with other
mounted warriors, the spirit of the ancient King Solan,
whose katra he carried, giving preternatural
strength and surety to his strikes.
blood lust screaming in his ears, the Heir of Kh’Liorah
killed and killed and killed.
* * *
of S’Von’s men and allies charged forward into battle
that morning. On the hill overlooking R’uhn s’vat, Stahl and Temek sat astride their hoxa,
watching the first clash of the battle with satisfaction. The twenty men who had defected with them
waited as well and within a few minutes, a man on a black hox
galloped up the hill to them, leaving the raging battle below.
It was S’Von. Unlike Anskar and Sefak, he did not feel
compelled to thrust himself into the heat of combat and risk having his head
sliced from his body by an errant swing of an enemy sword. He preferred to
direct his troops from an observation point and let others die for his
conquests. It was illogical, he felt,
for a military leader to needlessly expose himself to
death and thus risk the whole operation collapsing. Besides, the battle waging below was nothing
but a diversion from his real purpose.
group of hoxmen made their way down from their
vantage point on the hill and guided their mounts onto a trail that led back
a little over three kh’eet from R’uhn s’vat to the village lying
below Shar’ram and the town was basically
undefended. Every able-bodied man in the
area was on the battlefield, leaving only old men, women and children behind
smiled with delight and motioned a group of his D’Khahli
warriors forward to carry out the carnage they had become so adept at
performing. With a chorus of wild
whoops, the invaders spurred their hoxa forward
into the wide-open village.
for S’Von and the rest, their mission lay ahead and
now it was Stahl’s turn to take the lead as they guided their hoxa up the foothills of the mountain. A frontal assault on the main gates was
impossible, but there were other ways into Shar’ram
that few were aware. Stahl had lived and
worked in Shar’ram for most of his life and he knew
every entrance and strong point, every weakness and trap that lay in the
fortress. Now he guided S’Von and his men up into the hills behind the fortress and
around to where the walls of the stronghold met the sheer heights of Seleya itself.
S’Von reined in
his hox and stared at the high, invulnerable
walls and cliff towering above them.
“What is this?” he demanded of Stahl.
“You told me you knew a way in!
It would take a siege army to get through these walls!”
turned a cold, hard gaze on him. “Yes,
it would. But we’re not going through
follow me and trust that I know what I’m doing.” With that, Stahl jerked his hox around and headed for the base of the cliff not
far from the wall terminus. The other
men followed, only Temek smiling in knowledge of what
his captain had in mind.
neared the rugged cliff face, the rock began to show cracks and indentations in
its surface that hadn’t been evident before.
It was for one of these cracks that Stahl now headed and, as they
reached their destination, the crack proved to be wide enough and tall enough
for a man on hoxback to enter. Without hesitation, Stahl disappeared into
the darkness inside and Temek followed. S’Von paused for a
second, then kicked his black hox and guided
was a sizeable cavern, the floor smoothed and spread thick with straw to
cushion the footsteps of man and animal.
It was large enough to hold fifty men and hoxa
and the rest of the men began to ride in behind them.
is Shar’ram’s back door,” Stahl announced with a
nasty grin. “There aren’t many who know
of its existence. That passageway leads
into the upper courtyard and through the stableyard
to the main hall. Anskar
won’t have left many on guard inside the walls.
The fool believes it’s invulnerable.”
His grin widened. “It is ... from
done!” S’Von remarked, truly impressed. “Once we hold it, let Anskar
try to get back in!” He laughed
uproariously at the absurdity of the joke, the irony of it. “Lead on, my good sai.
did just that. Leaving the hoxa in the cavern stable with two men to
guard them, only S’Von still mounted,
the group of invaders made their way through the wide passageway and emerged
into the sunlight of the upper courtyard.
It was deserted and they quickly slipped through and into the entrance
of the stable area. The long structure
was nearly empty of hoxa, only the draft
animals waiting in their stalls. All the mounts of the warriors were gone.
began to make their way through the stable, they were suddenly confronted by
the hoxmaster, an older man with a lame
leg. “What are you doing—” he began and
then recognized the men for who they were.
Immediately, the old man seized a hay fork and brandished it at
them. “Guards! Guards!” he began to scream.
forward and silenced his throat by slitting it.
“Quiet, you old fool!” he commanded as the hoxmaster
crumpled to the straw-covered floor and clutched at the gurgling gash, his
voice reduced to a burbling splutter of blood and air flowing out through the
wound. They left him and hurried on down
the row of empty stalls.
door into the main courtyard, they met two of the guards left on duty, running
to the hoxmaster’s summons. Both men were quickly and quietly dealt with
and the invaders moved on out toward the main hall.
the guards were gathered on the outer wall, attracted by the commotion in the
village below, where smoke was beginning to billow from the fires set by the
looters. As Stahl had envisioned, there
weren’t many men left to guard the supposedly impregnable fortress.
take care of those,” S’Von said and drew out his hand
phaser. Stahl and his men stared at it
uncomprehending, having never seen anything like it before. Then they leaped back with cries of fear as S’Von aimed and pulled the trigger, burning down the men on
the wall with the brilliant blue beam that screamed out of the phaser barrel.
you children?” S’Von sneered at the astounded men as
he turned back to them. “Get inside the
hall and secure it. I’ll take care of
any opposition out here!”
from their shock, Stahl motioned to his men and they charged into the main
hall. Servant women screamed and
scattered, running for the kitchen areas of the hall. One of the few men who had remained guarding
the fortress was old Suvakh, too elderly to join in
the ride to battle. But he now met the
invaders in a furious assault with his sword.
The weapon had lain too long in its scabbard, unused, and both it and
its master were dull with lack of service.
Still, Suvakh managed to catch the first two D’Khahli by enough surprise to chop them down in quick
halted for a second in shock as he came face to face with Temek,
whom he had known since boyhood. The
warrior, however, was not so sentimental and plunged his blade through the body
of the old man. “I’m sorry, uncle,” he
whispered as Suvakh crumpled to the floor, staring up
at him. Then Temek
left him and ran on, following the rest of the defectors and invaders as they
moved their search up to the second level.
Dying, Suvakh looked after him and feebly reached out his hand to
the boy he had raised. The man didn’t
was in the lead and he knew exactly where he was heading. Upon reaching a certain doorway, he slammed
his mail-covered shoulder hard against the wood and it sprang open before his
T’Preve had been
standing at the window watching the battle raging in the distance and she
screamed in fear as the warrior burst in.
don’t act so surprised, my dear,” Stahl announced, a grin of victory and
vengeance spreading over his face.
“Surely you knew I would come back for you.”
“No!” T’Preve begged, edging away from him. “Stahl, please...”
what?” he asked, continuing his advance.
“Please forget that your father gave you to me as my wife? Please forget that you carried on faithlessly
like a common whore with a murderer and thief?
Please go meekly away and allow you to consort with a krenath stranger who takes my place at Anskar’s side?” She
had backed into the bed and could go no further.
he grabbed her upper arms and shook her.
“Not very likely, my dear! And I’ll tell you why. I don’t love you any more than you love me,
but you are Anskar’s niece and the heir to your
father’s lands. As your husband, I hold
those lands and become subholder to the House. You are my stepping stone to wealth and
prestige and I don’t intend to lose that chance! Spock will die at my hands — and I intend on
taking both you and the Sword away from him.”
away from him and scrambled across the bed so that it stood between them. Her long black hair falling into her face and
her mahogany eyes flashing fire, she ground out in a low voice, “I will never
marry you, Stahl! Spock and I were
bonded before Heya in the Ring Stones and I am his
legal wife! We pledged our hearts and
minds two months ago and consummated our bond fully! I carry his son and heir!”
face drained of blood at her statement, then he roared
with fury and launched himself across the bed at her. She tried to get away from him but he was too
fast and tackled her, knocking them both to the floor.
As T’Preve fought desperately to free herself from his brutal
clutches, her mind and voice screamed out the only thing she could think of —