One year prior...
To S’Von’s eyes, the Holding of D’Khahl was not much more than a hill fort with a stockaded wall surrounding it. Nowhere near grand, it sat atop defensible high ground overlooking the surrounding low hills. The craggy mountains that towered behind it formed a rugged backdrop to the blocky main hall and outbuildings. A dark green banner with a white s’wu’un fluttered atop the watch tower.
Outside the walls, animals were grazing on the parched grass — shaggy-coated hoxa and a sparse herd of the small, long-haired milking beasts called paran, their horn-bells tinkling faintly as they moved. Several boys watched over them to keep them from straying too far, armed with long sticks in case the creatures decided to be obstinate in their wandering. Two of the bigger boys were engaged in mock combat with the sticks, pretending they were lirpa and bashing away at each other. Near the front gate, several women were scraping hides stretched on frames, tanning them into leather. Another was presiding over a large steaming stone cauldron, although whether it contained food or was part of the tanning process was unclear.
As the group of riders approached the fort, the boys left their herding and began running through the grass toward them, yelling and brandishing their paran sticks. The women stopped work and watched them come and more people came out of the gates to greet them. The boys reached the riders and trotted alongside them, pointing at S’Von and calling to companions to come see the stranger. They had attracted quite a crowd by the time they had reached the open gates.
Inside the stockade, the Holding didn’t look any more promising than it had from the outside. The bare dirt court was hard-packed from use but none-too-clean. A flock of domestic h’nan scratched and pecked among rotting food that was strewn outside the kitchen, occasionally breaking into a squabble over a choice bit. Over on one side, near the stables, a man was holding a hox by its head while another man straddled one of its rear feet, filing down an overgrown hoof. Several women drew water from a deep well and paused to watch the riders curiously.
S’Von sighed to himself. An unlikely place to start a conquest, but these people were his ancestors and he intended to make this Holding over into a great kingdom.
The riders stopped and dismounted before the door to the main hall and S’Von was escorted inside. The place was dark and smelled of smoke from the firepit in the center of the room. Several haunches of meat were spitted over the coals, slowly roasting for the next meal, the grease dripping and sizzling among the embers. The scientist felt his stomach lurch at the sight. He knew it was logical that these people ate meat, but he had no intention of defiling himself in such a manner.
Sitting before the fire, carefully wrapping a leather thong around the shaft of a spear, was a lanky, hollow-cheeked man. The warriors stopped and bowed to him, then the one S’Von had ridden with addressed him. “My lord, we found this man trespassing on your lands, but there is something marvelous strange about him. He has the power of lightning in his hands. He struck a bolt at Tavahk and knocked him unconscious.”
The Holder Stefin stared skeptically at the stranger. “What nonsense is this?” he finally demanded.
“I swear, lord! We all witnessed it!”
Stefin rose to his feet and faced them. “So, you hope to gain entrance to my house with cheap tricks that any court fool could do?”
“Sai, these are not tricks,” S’Von answered calmly. “I have come to set in motion events that will change the future. I have come to make this House into the greatest ruling dynasty on Vulcan.”
Stefin did an elaborate scan of his small, dingy hall, then laughed mirthlessly. “Your power must be great, indeed, stranger. How do you propose to do this mighty work?”
“Sai, my name is S’Von cha’Sekin hei-Kh’d’Khahl.”
Stefin stared at him coldly, his eyes narrowing. “I don’t know who you are, traveler, but you are not of this House. We are not a large clan and I know every member of my family and court. How dare you claim kinship with me?!”
“Because I am your kinsman, sai. You do not know me because I have not yet been born.”
There was dumbstruck silence throughout the hall at this extraordinary statement, then the Holder demanded, “What?”
“I said I have not yet been born. I come from a time in the far distant future. I am your distant descendant.”
Incredulous laughter broke out among the people in the hall and comments such as “He’s mad” and “Throw him back outside the gates” were heard. Throughout it, S’Von stood silently, his eyes locked on Stefin. Finally, the Holder growled angrily, “You must take me for as big a fool as you are!”
“Sai, I will prove my claim to you,” S’Von answered. “I bring powerful devices that can slay everyone in this room ... or put them to sleep just as easily.” He drew out a number one phaser and thumbed it onto wide-field stun mode. “I will demonstrate, so that you may believe.”
Without further warning, S’Von turned and pressed the trigger on the phaser, sweeping the broad blue beam quickly around the room. In its path, people fell unconscious as if mowed down by a scythe, collapsing to lie in limp heaps of tangled limbs and bodies.
Stefin gasped and leaped back, staring in amazement. “By the gods of my fathers!” he managed to exclaim.
S’Von turned back to him. “They will awake in a moment. They are not harmed. But, hear me, Holder, I could have killed them all or made them vanish in a burst of fire.”
Around the room, bodies began to stir and moans erupted as people clutched their aching heads and began to sit up. One by one, they began to climb unsteadily to their feet, some reaching down a hand to assist another. A couple managed to stumble outside before doubling over and retching. One or two others didn’t make it that far.
Stefin was still gaping in shock at the small man before him. “How is this possible?!”
“I told you, sai, I come from a time yet to be. I am of this House and I intend to guide you in becoming the greatest Holder of all time. Together, we will assure that D’Khahl will rule Vulcan. Now, do you have a place where we can speak in private?”
* * *
Somewhere along the road, Spock stopped thinking of his mount as “the hox” and began addressing it as Brax. There was no compelling reason why he should call it this, but he came to believe that this was the stallion’s name. It meant “fast” and the animal was aptly named. Perhaps Brax himself had communicated the information. Hoxa were empathic with their riders and this one seemed to have decided that Spock was now its master. At any rate, once this fact was established, Spock felt even more comfortable and accepted that part of his new situation.
Astride the swift animal, it took only about three hours to reach the next water source. This one was no mere mudpuddle. A vibrant spring bubbled up in the midst of an oasis, overshaded by disa trees, heavy-laden with fruit. A carpet of grass spread around the pool and proved so inviting that Spock decided to stop and camp here. The sun was beginning to lower into the western sky, about an hour or so until sunset. He was only about an hour’s ride away from his destination at Seleya but he did not know what he would find when darkness finally came. It was more prudent to camp for the evening and go on fresh in the morning.
He was out of the Se’han Hills now, the land changing from desert to open rolling land covered with sparse grass and stunted trees. It was an interlude before the land rose again into the angular volcanic mountain range lying to the east. This area was the beginning of the Llangon Hills and its lower regions had been populated since recorded time. It was well watered from the runoff of the mountains and more temperate than the true desert to the south and southwest.
If his calculations were correct and he was
where he believed himself to be, by tomorrow morning he should reach the
cultivated area surrounding the base of
He unsaddled and unbridled Brax and briefly considered hobbling him so that he wouldn’t wander, but a decidedly disapproving impression came over him and he left the stallion to crop the grass unfettered. As he leaned back against the trunk of one of the trees and leisurely ate the disa fruit from the bunch he had pulled down, he considered what his next move should be.
Except for the dead traveler, he had seen no people at all since arriving here. He had dropped his plans to reach ShiKahr as soon as he had realized when he was in history. The city didn’t exist in this time period. It wouldn’t be founded for another 4,000 years. He ran over in his mind what he knew of this time. Vulcan was divided into hundreds of warring clans and kingdoms. Boundaries shifted constantly as blood feuds rocked back and forth over water rights and grazing lands. His family had held Seleya for as far back as memory allowed, but did it go this far back? Did his clan even exist? Perhaps, but not as the Talek-sen-deen, the Clan of Surak. The great teacher was millennia in the future, the distant descendant of the people Spock sought. Perhaps he could find them by using the old name, Kh’da’Ni’ikhirch. It would be hard to explain his presence, though. He’d have to come up with some plausible story.
Abruptly, the other voice inside him insisted belligerently, No! You are the Heir! Kh’Liorah is yours! Claim your rightful place!
Spock grimaced and rubbed the bridge of his nose. What had made that go through his mind? The Heir? The “Bright One” was his? That made no sense whatsoever. Yes, in his own time, he was Spock cha’Sarek, the only child of his father and therefore heir to all the family holdings, but that meant nothing here. Here he was a “stranger in a strange land” and he would be at a disadvantage. But he had to find people. He couldn’t survive alone and without a clan around him. To be outcast from a House was a literal death sentence. One without a clan might as well lie down in the Forge and await the coming of noon. Both conclusions were the same.
As the sun dropped lower toward the horizon, he roused himself and began to make camp. There was deadwood and brush among the trees and Spock gathered as much firewood as he could find. It took most of the remaining daylight to locate enough to insure a fire that would last through the night and keep predators at bay. By the time the wood was gathered and the kindling arranged, the sun had set.
After laying the wood, Spock reached underneath his tunic and took out his phaser. A quick shot and the wood burst into flame. Satisfied, Spock stuck the phaser back against his belt and dug into the saddlebags for a couple more wafers of journey bread.
Poking the fire once or twice, he pulled his cloak closer around him. With the waning of daylight, the desert temperatures had begun to drop and there was a decided chill in the evening air, a sharp contrast to the day’s heat. He wondered what season it was? Granted, Vulcan’s seasonal changes were slight but they occurred nonetheless. He looked up at the stars beginning to appear in the moonless sky. What constellations were visible? That should tell him the time of year it was.
The edge of T’Ael the Dancer was just showing over the eastern mountains, the diamond stars on her shoulders barely high enough to see. Spock had learned those stars as S’Sahn and Kh’Tal, then discovered later that the Terran-made starmaps listed them as Bellatrix and Betelgeuse. Overhead, higher in the sky, burned the baleful red fire of Vorikh’an — Aldebaran — and close by was the lovely little star cluster the humans called the Pleiades.
Constellations were changeable things, of course, depending on the point in space from which they were viewed, but here on Vulcan the stars and their patterns weren’t substantially different from the way they were seen on Earth, only 16 lightyears distant. And, although the individual positions of the stars had changed marginally here 6,000 years in the past, Spock was still easily able to recognize them and recall basic, primary school astronomy.
The positions of the stars told him what he wanted to know — he was in early autumn, probably the period of et’Khior, maybe T’lahkt. Summer harvest would be well underway and the winter sowing would soon start. The rains would begin before too long, quenching the long thirst of Vulcan’s deserts and cooling the temperatures to what a human would find barely comfortable hot and humid, but which a Vulcan invariably suffered through as impossibly chill and damp. The knowledge only reinforced Spock’s need to find his clan and shelter for the coming winter.
The night was quiet and he continued to gaze at the stars overhead. Somewhere out there, in the unimaginably distant future, there was a ship circling one of those stars and people were looking for him ... he hoped. Perhaps they no longer existed, would never exist. He had no way of knowing if his presence here — and S’Von’s — would change the timeline that was meant to be ... or if their being here was part of that history, creating the world he would someday be born into. He sighed and looked back down at the fire. The odds of them ever finding him were astronomical. He couldn’t even begin to calculate the number.
His thoughts drifted to another time in the past and another planet, this one gripped by the iron clutches of ice and snow. He thought of the woman he’d found there and of the warmth of her arms and sweetness of her lips. Odd that he should think of her and that the feelings she had stirred within him should once again begin to rise. He realized that the disquieting rumble of unbridled emotions and the untamed savagery of his ancestors was building in him once more, even as it had then. That time it had taken only a few hours for the stirring volcano inside him nearly to erupt. He had barely restrained himself from killing McCoy and remaining with Zarabeth forever. He’d been here four days already. Would he totally revert?
Zarabeth had said to him, “You can’t get back. You are trapped here in the past, just as you are.”
Was he trapped here? He could fathom no way to return to his own time. Unlike the Atavachron, there was no convenient portal leading to a central library. The only clue he had to returning was that twice before he had used the Guardian of Forever to travel into the past and, in both cases, the Guardian seemed to know when his mission was complete and pulled him back to the present. Would it do so again? But how could he accomplish his mission when he wasn’t even certain that S’Von was in the same time period? He could be anywhere ... any time ...
Spock had the same overwhelming sense of despair he’d felt on Sarpeidon, his world lost to him and no hope of rescue. But there was no Zarabeth here to comfort him, no McCoy to spar and argue with. He was alone here, unless he could find his clan and join them.
Then, mentally, he reprimanded himself for giving up hope. Things were not so bleak as they had been on Sarpeidon. At least this time he was on his own homeworld, not far from the place he was — would be — born. And the road he was following might be the pathway home. Tomorrow would tell.
He was now in the Llangon Hills, the uplands that culminated in Seleya itself. The place had special meaning for him. It was in the barren upper regions of Llangon that he had tested himself in the kahs’wan and where he had lost his childhood companion, i-Chaya. The old sehlat had insisted on following him and had saved his life when the boy was attacked by a le’matya.
Spock’s reverie deepened as he pondered the double memory he had of that event. It was one of those ironic paradoxes of time travel. His pet sehlat would not have been enough to insure that he survived the kahs’wan. It had been the presence of a distant cousin, Selek, who had appeared suddenly the day before and then disappeared a day or so after, that had been the deciding factor. The irony of it was that Selek had been himself, gone back through the Guardian in order to assure that the boy — again himself — would survive into adulthood so that he could go back into time and save himself ...
He shook his head. Time was a loop as well as a branching tree. No wonder people had gone mad trying to unravel its intricacies.
Brax ambled over and nudged him, purring softly. Spock rubbed the hox’s soft muzzle and then shoved him gently away. “Go to sleep. We still have a long way to go tomorrow.” Brax responded by shoving back, pushing his master over. “Okay, yes, I will sleep as well,” the Vulcan answered good-naturedly. Brax snorted and moved away slightly.
Pulling one of the saddlebags over to use as a pillow, Spock wrapped himself in his cloak and made himself as comfortable as possible, settling down and clearing his mind for sleep.