Chapter 6

 

Ten months prior...

 

S’Von found the girl when he opened the door to the storage closet in the ransacked dwelling.  She cowered back into the darkness of the corner, shaking with fear, her deep brown eyes huge with terror.  Long dark lashes framed those eyes and slim, upswept eyebrows hovered above them like the wings of a frightened bird.  Thick black hair spilled over her delicate shoulders and around her perfect face, falling across the lush breasts that heaved against her laced chemise.

He caught his breath and stared at her, mesmerized by the doll-like perfection of the terrified creature before him.  She was without a doubt the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, either in this time period or the modern day.  For a moment, he reflected that she embodied the native loveliness that modern Vulcan women seemed to have lost, hidden beneath their logic and control and training.  She was like an ethereal being of myth, suddenly come to life before him.

He put away his phaser and bent down, holding out his hand to her.  “It’s all right, my dear.  Don’t be afraid.”

She recoiled back farther, knowing who he was.  Tears shimmered in her eyes and she shook her head, too frightened to do anything else.

Gently, he knelt, still offering her his hand.  “I won’t hurt you.  It’s all right.  You can come out now.”

“You killed them,” she whispered hoarsely.

“The killing is all done now,” he assured her.  “Please come out.”

She swallowed and studied his face, searching for some sign of promise, of truth.  He smiled at her, his unusually light eyes full of friendliness and reassurance.  Slowly, hesitantly, she extended her hand and placed it in his.

Pulling her to her feet, he stepped back, moving her out into the open.  Standing, she was even more stunningly beautiful.  Her body was ripe with womanhood, her breasts full and accentuated by the chemise and bodice she wore.  Her slim waist and generous hips made him pulse with sudden desire to have her.  For an instant, he imagined what it would be like to possess her, flush with a fire akin to plak tow, and feel her writhe beneath him in ecstasy and submission.  Then he pushed the image away.

“What is your name, my dear?” he asked quietly, drinking in her face and form.

“I am called T’Vela, sai,” she answered in a soft voice, still trembling slightly.

T’Vela ...” he repeated, reaching up to stroke her ebony hair away from her face, tucking it behind the delicately pointed tip of one ear, then running his fingertips down her jade-tinted cheek. “You are so very beautiful, my dear.  So beautiful...  T’Vela, would you grant a soldier one request?  Would you grant a soldier a single kiss?”

She blinked at him, surprised and confused by his request.  Without waiting for further answer, he leaned forward and touched his lips to hers.  It wasn’t an especially passionate kiss, not full of fire or desire, but rather one almost chaste, reverent, as if he were kissing a sacred object with devotion.

As he drew back, his eyes were sad and held her entranced.  “I’m sorry, my dear, truly sorry for what I must do,” he said softly.  “But you are the last of the Holder’s children and I simply cannot allow him to leave any heirs to avenge him.”  And then he drew his dagger and plunged it into her belly, ripping upward. 

She only gave a small gasp of utter astonishment and collapsed at his feet.  Looking down on where she lay, her hands attempting futilely to hold her entrails inside her gaping abdomen, he added with a note in his voice that was almost regret, “Now the killing here is done.”

* * *

In short order, the group of riders found themselves cantering out of the hills and into an area of long rolling meadows.  In the distance a weathered fortress crowned a hilltop, with the bulk of Mt. Seleya rising in the background like a brooding god.  Spock’s eyes widened as they drew closer, for he knew this place.  It was Shar’ram, the Yellow City, so called because of the golden sandstone used to build its high walls.  It was the ancestral home of his clan,  although, in his time, nothing remained but eroded dun blocks to mark the site of the great fortress.

But now, its solid walls and crenelated heights spoke of power and security.  Pennons and banners snapped in the wind, among them the crimson flag of the clan, marked by a staring eye. Armed men patrolled along the towers, keeping watch.  The castle’s many keeps and courtyards sprawled along the hillside so that every angle was covered. 

He knew where he was now.  From the sheer ramparts of Shar’ram, a gentle valley spread out toward the beginnings of the Sas-a-Shar Desert — Vulcan’s Forge.  He could see it in the distance from here.  Once, in the unimaginable mists of time, a sea had lapped here, slowly drying underneath the unforgiving rays of a blazing red sun.  As it shrank and evaporated away, it grew saltier and hotter until at last only a vast, featureless salt plain was left.  It still blazed a blinding white underneath the sun and stretched to the horizon.

But here in this wide valley, a sea of yellow grass grew, interspersed with the winding waterways of streams coming down from the Arlanga Mountains to the east, the central peak of which was Seleya. Woodlands followed the streams down to the very edge of Sas-a-Shar, interspersed with large clearings that held homesteadings and farms. Left to themselves, the streams emptied out onto the salt plain and quickly evaporated, but people had long ago changed their courses to prevent the loss of precious water.  Now the streams emptied into underground cisterns.  Careful preservation and usage assured that those reservoirs never went dry.  On the ramparts of Shar’ram, a complicated system of gutters and pipes funneled the rare rainfall into the fortress’ holding tanks, one of the reasons the fortress could withstand sieges.  The water of Seleya was well preserved and well guarded.

The mountains themselves were plutonic in origin, mostly igneous flows and basaltic lava beds, thrusting up through the overlying layer of sandstone, the remnant of some long forgotten desert.  Mt. Seleya was a vast dormant volcano rearing high above the surroundings, so high that at times there was actually snow on its summit, the premier landmark for a hundred kh’eet in all directions.  It was the layers of ash from its eruptions that made this valley fertile and drew people to settle here.  Seleya had not erupted in living memory but hot springs and geysers along its flanks testified to the fact that the volcano was only lying in repose and not death.

Spock gazed up at the mountain with something surprisingly like homesickness.  He’d lived his first sixteen years in the shadow of the great peak, for in the valley opening before them would one day stand ShiKahr, his birthplace.  In his mind’s eye, he tried to place the orderly city and its outlying gardens, the buildings and boulevards he knew so well, even the approximate location of his parents’ home.  But the valley was so different from when he knew it that it was difficult to think of it as the same place.

As the riders neared their destination, they began to come upon scattered farms and fields of grain.  Spock had guessed correctly that it was harvest time. People were hard at work with scythes, reaping the golden, red-tipped tikh grain.  Following behind the adults, children worked diligently at gathering and stacking the cut grain into sheafs.  These would be collected later for the laborious process of threshing and winnowing.  It was early morning but they all appeared to have already been at it for quite a while.  Logical, he knew, to get as much work done as possible in the cool of the day before the fierce sun forced them in during the afternoon.

In other fields, already cleared, he could see men plowing with teams of s’box, massively-muscled work beasts, dumb and gentle and used for heavy labor.  Leaning into their yokes, the draft animals plodded placidly along, turning the dark soil into furrows, waiting the next crop.  Still other fields would lie fallow for a season to recover and be replenished with dung, soiled straw from the stables, and other organic material. 

There were a surprising number of crops being grown here. Besides tikh, Spock could identify caseer, a tall-growing, large-seeded grain that was almost as much a staple as tikh. Another field held the low spreading vines of t’l’poch, legumes that would be mashed into a paste and then formed into cakes.  A bit further on was a s’ruk orchard, its bright red fruit being gathered into baskets by another group of men and women.

As they rode closer to the mountain, they finally came into a small village nestled against the base of the hill topped by Shar’ram, the homes of the peasants that worked the land owned by Anskar, the Holder of Seleya.  The village consisted of a scattering of small houses that gradually became an area filled with the shops of merchants and tradesmen.  Surveying his new surroundings with interest, Spock identified a smithy, a candlemaker, a bakery, an alehouse, and a butcher.  The last caused his brows to lift in surprise, but then he remembered that in this time period there were no restrictions against eating meat.  Vegetarianism did not become nearly universal until well after Surak’s Reforms, still 4,000 years in the future.  What surprised him even more was that he did not feel as revolted by the concept as he would have expected.  He filed that away for future consideration.

As they passed, people came out of their homes and shops to see the warriors escorting the stranger along the road to the fortress.  Strangers were always of interest and soon they had an escort of children running along with them.  They were shaggy-haired and dirty, as children often were dirty with play, but on the whole they seemed well cared for and fairly well-fed.  Brax cocked an attentive ear and kept a wary eye on the youngsters but did not react otherwise.  As he rode quietly along, Spock exchanged curious scrutiny with several of the boys. Some sported small knives stuck in their belts and one even carried a parakh, a throwing stick similar to an ancient Earth boomerang.  It was generally used to bring down small prey and, indeed, this boy held the lifeless body of a shanna hare by its back legs, obviously the product of a recent hunt.

At last they came to the first, lowest gate of the castle complex. Stahl and his men were saluted by the guards and the portal opened for them. Once through the thick metal-reinforced wooden doors, the wide, well-kept road ran a short way up a causeway toward the main entry gate of the fortress itself.  They entered the main gate and finally found themselves in the wide main courtyard.  Spock had noted that all the gates had been of reinforced wood.  This was a precious substance in his time and he was surprised to see it so liberally used here.  But he had also been surprised at the amount of woodland and grassland that surrounded Seleya.  It was mostly desert in the present day.

Their hoxa’s hooves clattered on the cobbles as they rode to the door of the main hall.  Stableboys took their mounts there and the warriors shoved the traveler toward the entrance to the hall.  It was bordered by stone blocks and closed by thick wooden doors, carved with intricate patterns of gods and ancestor figures.

Inside, morning activities were well underway at several tables around the hall. Craftsmen worked at their arts — leather, tools, weapons — and, near a large window that opened onto the courtyard, the women sat in the light, sewing at clothing for the members of the house.  As Spock and the warriors entered, the hall grew quiet as all eyes turned their way.

At the far end of the hall was a great chair where the Householder sat in judgment on various issues and heard petitions from those in vassalage to him.  A curtained doorway beside it led to the after chambers where private council was held.

Now, as the group of men walked down the length of the hall, the curtain was pulled back and the Holder of Seleya stepped out.  Anskar was a tall, well-built man with shoulder-length gray hair and solemn dark eyes.  His weathered, scarred face bespoke many battles and he eyed them with curiosity and reserve.  He seated himself in the great chair and waited for the men to reach him.  Stahl halted before him and dropped his chin in a respectful bow.

“My lord, on our border patrol we found this stranger camping beside the water in T’Refin. He will say only that he has business with you.”

The Holder looked gravely at Spock.  “Speak then.  What business have you here?”

Spock inclined his head.  “I extend greetings to the Holder of this House.  I bring no harm or threat to your Household, sai.  In fact, I am a part of it.  I am Spock ... hei-Kh’da’Ni’ikhirch.”

There was an immediate murmur around the room and the Holder sat up straighter in heightened attention.  “You’re who?” he demanded.

Sai, I am of the House, but of a distant branch.”  Spock took a gamble.  “My great-great-grandmother was of the clan but was married to another House.  I have chosen to return to the  Family and claim my rightful heritage.”

“And your parents’ names?”

“My father is Sarek cha’Skon and my mother, Amanda t’cha’David of Earth.”

There was some discussion among those in the room as Anskar considered this news.  At last the Holder shook his head.  “I do not know these names. And Holding Urth is also unknown to me.”

Sai, my mother’s House is very far away.  She left her homeland to follow my father’s people.  His land is on the shores of the K’Prel Sea.”  That wasn’t quite a fabrication.  Sarek did have a cottage there which they had visited occasionally when Spock was a boy.

Anskar pondered it for a moment longer.  “I do not know your parents’ names but many daughters have been cross-bonded and lost to our knowledge.  For the moment, I will accept that you are who you say.  We will speak more of it later and I will hear of your journey here.”  He stood and lifted his right hand, palm out.  “In the meantime, the House greets and welcomes you, cousin.”

Spock pressed his palm against Anskar’s and answered, “My cousin, Lord Holder, I acknowledge your welcome.  I come to serve.”   As the Holder dropped his hand and stepped back, others stepped forward and exchanged family greeting.  Neither Stahl nor any of his surrounding cohorts were among them, however, standing back out of the way and viewing the proceedings with skepticism.

“Lord Anskar, with your permission, I would question this man,” came a new voice.

Spock turned to find a young man approaching him.  The newcomer had just entered the hall, clad in riding gear and dusty from the road.  He was scarcely more than a boy, the thin growth of  new-sprouted beard marking his entry into manhood.  Yet, he had a sense of strength about him that seemed to mark him as destined for greatness.  Now he came to stand before Spock and stare at him with a suspicious, rather puzzled gaze.

“Traveler, how came you by this cloak and sword?  And did you, by chance, ride mounted on a gray hox?  A hox named Brax?”

Spock stared back at the young man in surprise.  “Yes,” he finally answered.  “How did you know?”

“Answer my question, sai.  How came you by these things?”

Anskar had stepped closer. “Ansaric, what are you implying?”

Sai, these things were the property of my master, Lord Tumik of Tuldu’un,” the young man responded.  “He was on his way here as an emissary of Lord Holder Sefak to seek your aid in repelling the D’Khahli forces invading our land.  I ask this man again — how did you come by these things?”

Spock raised an eyebrow in comprehension and replied, “I am not a thief or murderer, as I see you suspect.  A day ago, I found a man lying dead by the roadside and his hox being attacked by a le’matya.  I killed the le’matya and buried the man in a cairn by the roadway.  I did not find any identification on him to tell me who he was.  I was stranded without hox and gear and I was on foot, attempting to make my way here.  I did the only logical thing there was to do.  I took his clothes and gear and the hox.”

The young man continued to glare at him in disbelief.  “How could you kill a le’matya with your bare hands?”

“I did not say that I killed it with my bare hands,” Spock responded.  “I used your master’s sword.”  Somewhere inside him, a small logical voice chided him and marveled at his new-found talent for lying.  He ignored it, telling himself that spinning a reasonable story was totally logical to surviving in his current situation.  And he wasn’t strictly lying; exaggeration was more descriptive.

But now the young man’s eyes narrowed.  “You used my master’s sword, eh?  Then no doubt the le’matya’s blood still stains it.  Or perhaps the blood would be that of my good master, Tumik?”

Spock’s brows shot up in astonishment at the young man’s accusation.  “I am no murderer,” he stated, beginning to feel a little note of anger and insult swelling deep inside him.

“Then you could undoubtedly lead us to Tumik’s grave and we could verify that there are only the marks of the le’matya on him.”

“I did not kill him!” Spock repeated firmly, his features settling into a hard, determined expression.  The anger that was boiling up inside him jolted him and he tried to take control of himself.  “I swear to you ... I found him dead by the roadside.”

Ansaric continued to glare at him.  “How convenient.  You just happened to find him dead and you just happened to be without your hox and gear.  Sai, I say to your face and before this company — you are a liar.”

I did not kill him!” Spock snapped, taking a step toward the young man.  Immediately, hands grabbed him and held him.  The rage in him seemed to blaze ever higher and, while he realized what was happening inside him, he felt powerless to stop it.

Lord Anskar moved between the two and peered coolly at Spock.  “Cousin, you are acting very much like a man with something to hide.”

Spock gulped and calmed himself.  Sai, I swear to you by the spirits of my fathers, I did not kill this man.  I found him dead and claimed his possessions by lawful declaration.”

“By what witnesses?” Ansaric demanded.

He didn’t have an answer for that.  “By no witnesses,” he admitted finally. 

“Then your claim is not valid,” the young man stated.  “And, by right of having served as Tumik’s shi’ka’ree, and as his sister’s son, I claim his possessions, particularly the sword you wear.”

The primitive, savage voice inside Spock roared in outrage at the idea of losing the sword.  “No!  It is mine and I will not surrender it!”

“I am Tumik’s shi’ka’ree — his squire and line-heir should he die without issue!  He has done so — the sword is mine by right!”

“I claimed this sword by declaration of na’Tha’thhya!  I did the burial rites and said the prayers over him!”  What Spock was feeling was totally illogical, but he had an almost frenzied need to possess the sword.  He couldn’t explain it.  He simply knew that the weapon must remain in his keeping at all costs, and that he was willing to kill to achieve that goal.

Ansaric was just as adamant, however.  “I want that sword!” he declared in fury.  “Give it to me!”  He made a lunge for the sword hilt.

Immediately, Spock backhanded him away and made to draw the weapon from its sheath, seething with fury.  “By Heya, I’ll give it to you — through your heart!

Anskar angrily grabbed Spock’s wrist before he could follow through on his threat.  Kroykah!  I see but one way to settle this dispute.  So, Spock, you swear by Heya.  Very well, Heya shall decide this quarrel.  Come, all.  We will go to the Ring Stones and there the Goddess will pass judgment.”