Chapter 9

 

Eight months prior...

 

S’Von waited until Stefin was out of the holding, drilling his warriors for the next phase of the campaign.  He had feigned nausea from too much drink the evening before as an excuse for not accompanying them and then, when they were well away, he rose from his bed and made his way to the Holder’s chambers on the upper level.

His knock was answered by a serving woman who opened the door a crack and looked shocked to see the sorcerer, then she dipped her head in deference to him. “My lord,” she murmured.

He shoved the door and her aside in one motion and stepped into the large room.  “Leave us, woman,” he ordered imperiously.  “I would have words with your mistress.”

Fearfully, the serving woman glanced for permission at the young woman seated by the window, then quickly exited at her nod.  S’Von shut the door with a firm movement and faced T’Kaela.

“What do you want?” she demanded, her voice quivering, but still holding a regal note.  She was in her 20's and not classically pretty, although she was attractive. She had been resolutely working on a tapestry stretched on a frame, more to keep herself busy than displaying much creative talent or energy.  She looked as if she’d been crying recently, for her eyes were puffy, and across her left cheek was a bruise that looked suspiciously like a handprint.  Nevertheless, she faced him with pride and strength.

He bowed to her.  “My Lady T’Kaela, I regret that I have not paid you a call recently to congratulate you on your marriage.”

Her eyes hardened and narrowed, but she refused to answer, knowing he was baiting her.  He continued, “I hope your transition to your new home has been a smooth one?”

“You know it has not,” she whispered hoarsely.  “I have come here as a captive of war, something that you helped engineer.  Why do you taunt me?”

“My lady, I do not come here to taunt or to malign you.  Let us speak frankly, for I sense that subterfuge is something for which you have little patience.  Your husband beats you, does he not?”

She blinked in startled reaction and he could see that tears threatened to spill over her lashes once again.  “Why do you ask me this?” she murmured.

“Lady, when I proposed to Stefin that he take you to wife, I had no idea that he would treat you so cruelly,” S’Von purred sincerely, taking a step closer to her.  “I deeply regret that my actions have caused you pain.  My only thought was that your union would be a balm to the hostilities between your father and Lord Stefin.”

Her jaw tightened as she sought to control herself and she stared at him skeptically.  “You lie smoothly, Lord S’Von.”

He looked wounded.  “Lady!  I assure you I do not lie!  That you have been injured has cut me to the heart!”  He sank down on the edge of a bench across from her and spoke in an intimate, caring voice.  “May I advise you regarding your relationship with Stefin?  And I apologize for my bluntness here, but I feel that I must tell you this.  When he comes to you at night, don’t fight him. I know his advances are unpleasant for you, but he enjoys subduing you almost more than what follows.  Be docile.  After a time, I believe that he will turn his attentions elsewhere and you will not be bothered by him again.”

She was sitting back in her chair, regarding him in silent disbelief.  When she did not respond after a minute or so, S’Von urged her, “Think on it, lady, won’t you?  And, please, think of me as a friend here.”  He reached over and took her hand, bending over it to press a quick, soft kiss against her fingers.

Then he rose and was quickly gone, leaving her confused and uncomfortable.

* * *

Sai Spock, I would speak with you.”  Ansaric, the young man from Tuldu’un, came striding across the great hall as Spock entered from the courtyard.  He was now clad in a muted green tunic and tan leggings, his feet shod in the same sort of tall laced boots that were common here.

Spock paused, shifting the saddlebags he carried across one shoulder.  He still felt uneasy about their earlier encounter and wondered if Ansaric intended to question him further.  But he made himself answer noncommitally, “Walk with me then.  These saddlebags are heavy and I want to stow them by my bed.”

Ansaric was agreeable to that and followed the older man to his sleeping alcove.  When he had dropped the bags onto the straw mat that was his bed, Spock turned to the young man.  “What is it, Ansaric?”

Ansaric looked uncomfortable then brought his eyes back up to meet Spock’s.  Sai, there is something I must ask you.  You said that you used the sword to kill the le’matya.  You must have surely noticed that this is no ordinary weapon.”

Spock was cautious in his answer.  “Yes ... it does have some ... unusual properties.”

“But they mean nothing special to you ...”

“No.  Should they?”

Ansaric shifted again.  Sai, will you come with me and speak with Lord Suvakh?  You wear this sword now and you must know what that wearing means.  It could be the most important information you ever receive.”

Spock raised an eyebrow in surprise, then nodded.  “As you wish.  Lead the way.”

* * *

His back against the wall, one foot propped up on the bench on which he sat, Spock did not look at Suvakh, although he was listening intently, his brow furrowed.  They were in Suvakh’s chambers, on the level above the main hall.  Compared to ordinary lodgings, this room offered considerable comfort, a real bed and chairs, a solid table and a chest along one wall. From his seat, Spock could see out through the open window into the courtyard below.  The afternoon activities were picking up a little as the sun sank and the worst of the afternoon heat seeped away. 

Suvakh had offered his two guests bread, cheese and tikh-beer and Spock was surprised to realize how hungry he was.  Coming on the heels of his long, inadvertent fast during his journey here and then following a day in which he’d had only traveler’s bread and some fruit, the simple repast tasted like a feast to him. Ansaric downed his own portion of bread and beer with alacrity, for he too had come a long way and hadn’t eaten since a quick mouthful on hoxback that morning.

As they ate, Suvakh questioned Ansaric for news.  “How go things in Tuldu’un now? What do you hear of the war?”

 Ansaric dipped a chunk of bread into a platter of spiced oil and popped the crust into his mouth.  “Not well, uncle.  The north has fallen to the D’Khali and I fear that Tuldu’un will be next.  That was the message I brought Lord Anskar.  My Lord Sefak is calling men in from all quarters to form a united front against them.  Otherwise we won’t be able to withstand them.”

Spock glanced over at him, caught by the name “D’Khali”.  He knew that it was a province in the northern temperate regions, but for some reason the name meant more than that to him.  If only he could remember why it did.

Suvakh leaned back into his large chair, lacing his hands over his ample stomach.  “Bad news indeed, nephew. What says Anskar?”

“He’s meeting with his captains now.  I expect to be sent back to Sefak soon.”

They finished their meal and kitchen girls came to clear away the dishes.  Then the men settled back, Spock sitting beside the window and Suvakh ensconced in the cushions of his chair. Across from him, Ansaric sat cross-legged on the rug, hanging on the old man’s words. 

“So, Spock, let us speak of you now,” the old warrior began.  “Or, more properly, let us speak of this sword you now carry.”

Ansaric has given the impression that this is no ordinary sword,” Spock answered quietly, pointedly.  “I have seen that it is indeed rather ... remarkable, but you seem to attach quite a lot of ... extra importance to it.”

Suvakh nodded gravely.  “Indeed I do, nephew.  As you will see.”  Settling into an almost trance-like state, chanting the words he had learned by rote and repeated countless times, the old Vulcan began his tale:

“Many, many years ago, legend has it, an old woman came to an armorer and commissioned him to make her a silver sword.  The armorer laughed and asked what an old beggar woman would do with such a sword and how she would pay for his work.  The old woman brought forth a pouch filled with precious stones and said he could have his pick of any three if he made the sword.  He took her then to be a miser, hoarding her wealth, and agreed.  He set to work, following the old woman’s precise instructions.

“At last the sword was finished and by then had become famous in the town.  Many people came to see it.  The sword seemed to shine with a light all its own and the silver engravings and reliefs carved on the blade seemed to come alive.  They  told the story of the Creation, how the gods came down and brought order to the chaos.  How they chose something that was special and gave it a greater loveliness and hid it away in the bowels of the earth — the silver from which the sword was made.  The sword was perfect.  Not a grain of silver was wasted, and there was not a grain too much.

“The old woman came and paid the armorer and had him take the sword to an obscure warrior on the field of battle.  She accompanied him and presented the sword to the warrior. Now, there was great darkness in the world at this time and such a gift was looked upon with great suspicion.

“The warrior was bewildered and asked who she was and why she should bring him such a magnificent sword.  The old woman seemed to grow taller and she took the sword from him.  Then she stepped into the open and threw off her cloak, raising the sword to the sun.

“At once, she grew young and beautiful and her hair turned from gray to silver and shown with a light all its own. The sword began to glow and pulsate and, with a cry, she thrust it into the very heart of the sun.  It exploded with color and blazed like a torch in her hand, and the men covered their faces in fear.

“Then, when the blaze was absorbed within it, but the sword still shown like a beacon, the woman turned and held out the weapon to the soldier, but he shrank away in fear.

“‘Who are you?’ he begged. 

“‘I am the one whom men call the Goddess of Day.  I am the roar of the Mountain and the whisper of streams issuing from it.  I am the fertility of the soil and the barrenness of the wastes.  I am the Mother of All Things and the Death of All Things.  I am Heya.’

“And the men fell down before her and wept in terror.  ‘Rise,’ she said, her voice like the sound of distant thunder.  ‘Rise and face me.’  The warrior turned his eyes upon her and slowly rose.  The Goddess stood before him, transfigured, clad in stars. ‘You are chosen,’ she said, ‘and this sword shall be our sign. You shall lead this land to peace and unity. Your foes shall give way before you and the land will be yours.  We have spoken. Let it be so.’  He took the sword in trembling hands and knelt before her, his head bowed.  The breeze moved gently and she was gone.

“This was our Great King Solan, who took the mountain of Seleya, which is named for the Goddess, and all the lands around her and set our House upon it, where we Hold to this day.  The sword remained at his side all the days of his life and Solan lived to a good old age, and when he died, the sword was buried with him.  It lay with him in the crypt for decades, guarded always.

“But the Goddess had not intended that the sword should lie hidden and gathering dust.  Solan’s descendants fought among themselves and the land was in danger of war.   Heya appeared to Solan’s grandson, Sakan, and led him to the resting place of the sword.  He took it from his grandfather’s bones and, when he did so, the katra of Solan came upon him and entered him, so that Sakan rose up infused with his grandfather’s spirit and knowledge.  It led him through the years of war and peace, guiding him.  Before he died an old man, he passed it along to one whom the Goddess had chosen as the bearer and again the katra entered its new host.   To this day, Heya chooses who will wear the sword and Solan’s katra goes with it.  We are not privy to her reasons, but the bearer always appears when and where the Goddess decides.”

The old man fell silent and, after a moment of quiet, Spock turned his gaze away from the window to find both Suvakh and Ansaric looking steadfastly and expectantly at him.  A chill ran over him as the implications of the story sank in.  He shook his head in denial.  “No, you don’t mean me.”

“You bear the sword now,” Ansaric answered in a soft, urgent voice.

“No, Tumik was the bearer.  I just picked it up along with his other things.”

“The bearer is whomever Heya chooses,” Suvakh responded.  “She led you to Tumik and put the sword into your hands.  Did you not feel the change come over you when you first held it?”  Spock’s startled expression must have betrayed him because the old man leaned forward and demanded, “You experienced katra’tolok, didn’t you?”  It wasn’t a question but a statement. 

Spock frowned and shook his head again, trying not to remember the thoughts and emotions that had swept over him, the inexplicable knowledge he now possessed of things, and the rising sense of destiny that refused to go away.  He put his hands over his face for a moment, wishing he could wake up and find that he was back in his cabin on the Enterprise, the victim only of a particularly vivid dream.  But, when he lifted his head again, he was still in the upper room of the ancient fortress of Shar’ram, the sounds of late afternoon filtering in through the window, and the two men across from him peering at him as if expecting him to transform into a god.

“What do you want of me?” he asked with a feeling of despair consuming him. “I am no hero or great warrior.”

“Spock, you were chosen and brought to us for a reason,” Suvakh answered.  Heya will lead you as she wishes, in her own time and to her own place.  Be content and trust in her wisdom.”

Spock turned and put both feet on the floor, leaning earnestly toward the old man.  Sai, you mistake me for someone I am not,” he said forcefully.  “An accident of fate allowed me to come upon Tumik’s body and recover his possessions.  Nothing more than that.  There was no deity involved here.”

“You must have faith in Heya,” Suvakh replied calmly.

Spock sighed and tried again.  “Lord Suvakh, I am not a religious man.  I have never believed in any god.  I reverence the ancestors, but my life has been guided by logic and science, not faith. I cannot now blithely and simply take up faith in a deity whom I do not believe exists.”

Ansaric looked taken aback, but Suvakh merely returned his intent gaze.  “Spock, believing or disbelieving in something does not make it real or unreal.  You are still a young man.  When you have lived two hundred years, then look back and decide what you believe or do not.  My advice is that you look within yourself and go where your heart leads you.  Do not argue logic with it, simply follow the path you feel that you must follow.  That will be the path Heya will lead you down, whether you hold her hand or not.”

Spock started to reply that he had been to many worlds and had seen no gods or goddesses, but cut himself off before he could say anything on that topic.  So doing would betray his origins and would be completely incomprehensible to the two other men in any case. 

He looked down at the floor, then back up at the old warrior, his face hardening into determination.  “Lord Suvakh, I respect your beliefs in this matter but please hear what I am saying. I came here on a mission, yes, but it is not the one you seem to think.  I am pursuing a man from my homeland, a madman who is bent on the destruction of us all.  I have come to find him and return him to face justice.”  Spock paused.  “Perhaps he has passed this way and you have heard of him.  His name is S’Von.”

Suvakh came to his feet in surprise and looked around at Ansaric, who was also staring in dumbfounded amazement.  S’Von!  Then you have been led here by destiny.  Do you not know of the trouble in the north?  The very thing we are preparing to fight?”

“No, sai.  I have been on the road for a long time and I am not current on the news of the land.”

S’Von of D’Khahl is leading an army south, conquering and destroying everything in his path.  His next target is Tuldu’un.  If we do not stop him there, then Shar’ram is his certain destination.”

Spock felt a chill of understanding sweep over him and he slowly rose to his feet, nodding.  “So...” he murmured to himself, one eyebrow quirking up in revelation, and turned to stare out the window, his hands behind his back in a characteristic pose.  “It seems that there is purpose in my coming here, after all.” He was silent for a few seconds, then addressed the other two men.  “Yes, his ultimate goal is Shar’ram.  And me.  He won’t stop until he has seen the House of Ni’ikhirch crushed and he rules Vulcan from Heya’s Seat. ”

Suvakh approached him.  “That is why Heya has brought you here.  Together we must defeat this madman.”

Spock looked around at him, his expression grim yet strangely calm.  “No, sai.  Now that I know where he is, I will go there and apprehend him.  He is my responsibility, not yours.”

Ansaric rose to his feet and came over to face the other Vulcan.  “Alone?  Have you lost your mind?  No one man can capture S’Von.  He has the hordes of D’Khahl behind him.  How in Heya’s name could you even get near him?”

Spock merely stared back implacably, but Suvakh spoke up.  Ansaric is right.  You’d never make it through the front lines of his army, let alone get near him.  No, Spock, the only way is to meet him in battle and defeat him there.  You were sent here for that purpose.”

“I was not sent here to lead an army, sai,” Spock responded stubbornly.  “That is not my mission.  You must find someone else for that role.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I have said enough on this subject.  Good day, my lord ... Ansaric.”  He turned and strode from the chamber, leaving the two other men to exchanged frustrated looks in his wake.