Book 3 of "Tales of Death and Honour"Adjur staggered, panting, against the wall of her sleeping chamber. The flickering candles casting a pale light over the hulking shape of Kr'vash her husband, her lord, where he lay sprawled on the floor beside her bed, unseeing eyes staring at the ceiling.
Sometimes the strongest chains are those we make ourselves.
"What have you done?!" she gasped.
K'lvia looked down at the bloody d’k’tahg she held. "I've done what you should have done years ago, you spineless bIHnuch. He's beaten you for the last time."
Part of her howled in delight, in sheer relief, that the years of cruelty were now over. The degradation, the insults, the beatings and finally… this. In the five years since she had been pledged to him as a child-bride, their marriage had disintegrated as it became apparent that she was not able to give Kr'vash the one thing he needed from her: A son, an heir to whom he could pass on the vast estate he had accumulated by guile, deceit and conquest.
Realising the enormity of what had happened, her eyes widened and she dropped to her knees. "They'll string me up for this! What should I do?"
Adjur felt rather than saw K'lvia’s eyes flash with anger and disdain. "Get a grip on yourself! Must you go through life a pawn, a victim? This is your chance to be free! Get out of here now!"
Adjur looked uncertainly at the body. "He was my husband."
K'lvia lashed her with the whip of her disdain. "He was an animal, worse than an animal! You know this as well as I."
Tears of shame and frustration coursed down her cheeks as she thought of the scars, old and new, that covered her body, of the things he had done, had made her do. She rocked, half growling, half weeping—caught between the horror of her past and the horror before her.
The bile in K'lvia’s voice rose to a loathing as she hissed, "Be quiet, you Qa'Hom! Do you want them to come and lock you away? To string you up for the targs to pick your bones? You must act! Now!"
Adjur stopped rocking and looked around. "How? Where?" she stammered.
"Dress in your hunting gear. Steal a zark. Ride for the hunting lodge in the mountains. You could hide in the mountains for years without being found!"
Doubt crept into Adjur’s voice again as she muttered, "Perhaps I deserve to be punished … he was my husband …"
K'lvia nearly broke into a scream "He raped you! He was going to kill you! But for a lucky twist of the blade, you would be the one lying there on the floor!"
That was the point that turned the tide for Adjur. Kr'vash had never shared Adjur’s devotion to their marital vows and he had never tried to hide the succession of mistresses and concubines he had shared his bed with. Tonight he had staggered into her bed chamber boasting that his latest mistress, J'ven, had just presented him with a healthy son and that he had no more need for her. If K'lvia had not come to her rescue in the battle for his blade he would have rid himself of her forever.
There had been no choice, just as there was no choice now. She dragged herself to her feet and started dressing and throwing a few clothes, weapons and a riding cloak in a satchel. Now that the decision had been made, she moved eagerly, her strength returning. As she was about to slide stealthily out of the door, she paused and spoke over her shoulder.
"Will you be there for me if I need you?"
From the depths of the shadows K'lvia’s whispered reply echoed in the wild storm that raged in her mind.
"I will never be far away."
Adjur dragged herself the last few kellidars up the sheer cliff onto the mountain ledge. Crawling to the back of the ledge, she placed her satchel on the ground and leaned her back against the rock face to catch her breath. The view that spread before her was awe-inspiring even for the usually taciturn Klingons, who cared little for beauty.
She had been pushing herself constantly for two days now and was deep in the mountains over a hundred kellicams away from Kr'vash’s stronghold, yet still she felt the breath of pursuit hot on her neck. She had set the zark free that morning at the foot of the mountain when she had struck out on foot to completely lose herself in the wilderness. She had succeeded, for she was now hopelessly lost.
Twenty metres along the ledge the bushes were disturbed and a bird shot out with a surprised, shrill cry.
Not good, she thought. How could they be here already?!
Drawing her d’k’tahg she rose silently to her feet and padded soundlessly along the narrow pathway that ran along the ledge until she came close to the bushes that had been disturbed. Slowly, carefully she crept up on them and when she was level with them pounced, slashing the thick foliage.
Nothing. Her shoulders sagged as she realised that she was jumping at shadows. Damn! She wished she had paid more attention to her lessons with her father’s grizzled old master-at-arms. A sound behind her made her spin around and this time she knew that she wasn't imagining it.
Her satchel was missing!
"Come out, you petaQ! Let's see if you have enough backbone to face me instead of stealing from behind my back!"
A deep melodious laugh came from the scrub higher up the mountainside.
"Why don't you come and get it? Don't worry, I'm used to beautiful women chasing me!"
Rage gave her a new lease of energy that she used to attack the cliff face, angling off to the left towards the direction that the voice had come from. Occasionally she would hear the same deep booming laugh come from above her, sometimes accompanied by taunting banter, but as the afternoon wore on, the laughter seemed to come from further and further away until eventually she could hear her tormentor no more.
Still she bore on, climbing higher and higher, the scrubby bush that dragged at her riding garb giving way to bare rock and scree slopes. As the sun dipped towards the horizon far away she halted for a moment to sniff the wind: smoke! More cautiously now she inched higher, the smell of wood smoke becoming fresher and finally, after she had turned an outcropping, she caught sight of a wisp of smoke coming from a small plateau nestled into a gully above her and to her right.
By now her anger had worn off and she realised how foolhardy she had been. At any time during the climb she could have been picked off with a disruptor pistol. Even now she knew that whoever was on the plateau above her had a clear view of her approach - if he wanted to kill her he could do it at any time.
Ambush was obviously not on his mind, though, for her tormentor was squatting before the small camp fire he had lit, in plain sight of her as she approached. When he saw that she was within twenty metres of him, he rose and walked to the back of the clearing, gesturing for her to come closer.
Adjur hesitated, chewing her lip, undecided whether she should move up to the fire or… or what? Realising she had little choice, she threw caution to the wind and traversed the last few metres onto the sheltered pocket of greenery.
"Your pack is over there. You travel lightly, lady; would you like to share my meal?" He uncrossed his arms to gesture towards the fire where for the first time she noticed that he had two clay parcels sat amongst the rocks of the fire. The words were fair and respectful but she could see from the set of his grin and the hungry look in his eyes that he was by no means a safe person to be around.
"Of what is it to you how I travel, thief? Who are you and what are you doing here?" She tried to put some steel into her voice, to show that she too was not to be trifled with.
He grinned and nodded appreciatively. "Question for question, normally a fair exchange but here in the high mountain wilderness you will learn never to ask someone their name lightly because it is a powerful thing!"
As she stood catching her breath after the arduous climb she began to notice that there was a delicious smell coming from the fire that made her realise that she hadn't eaten in two days.
"What is that you have cooking anyway… forshak?" Actually whilst it was nothing much to look at, it smelled marvellous and with each second, the temptation grew to dive into the fire and grab it.
Her would-be host threw his head back and laughed. "It does remind you of t'liss droppings, doesn't it! Well, I'll not inflict my cooking on you if it's unwelcome. It can stay on there and burn for all I care." He grinned as he moved up to the fire. "I'll just eat mine then." Picking up a stick, he knocked one of the baked clay parcels out of the fire.
Adjur stood her ground but watched him suspiciously as he took out a hunting knife—no-one would dishonour a d’k’tahg for cooking—and started to knock off the outer coating of clay to reveal a fist-sized ball of cooked flesh which he started to strip the meat from. Looking up he knocked the other ball of clay out of the fire towards her without speaking.
To say more would be to lose face in front of this irritating stranger, so she simply dropped to her haunches and bashed the clay apart with a rock. The succulent meat was steaming hot from the captured juices but she quickly stripped it from the small skeleton it covered. Not sure if she should ask, curiosity got the better of her …
"What is this?"
"Qa'Hom." He said, grinning evilly. The Qa'Hom was a small spiky animal that roamed the hills." The spines and skin peel off … they steam in their own juices."
"This is excellent food." She glanced across as she tore the last of the meat from the bone. "You would make someone a wonderful wife." She was surprised at her own temerity, throwing insults about like that. Adjur had always been a timid creature, by Klingon values anyway, but after everything that she had been through….
Later that night she lay awake staring up into the stars.
"I don't trust him," came the voice of K'lvia from the darkness that surrounded her.
"You don't have to… but I do need someone who knows these mountains if I'm going to survive here for any length of time."
"He's too friendly. He laughs too much."
"He's been in these mountains for months; he wants me. You just don't remember what that feels like.”
"If he touches you he dies."
"Yes …" Adjur rolled over to hide her face in the crook of her arm. "…as they all do."
Her dreams that night were her usual nightmare. She was a teenager again and her father had discovered B'Shen her lover….
The days turned to weeks and then months. They hunted, travelling to the lower mountain valleys as Winter approached. They argued. They fought on many occasions. K'Neer, for that was his name, loved battle and was maddening to fight with his constant taunts and laughter. She lost. She always lost … and every time he said the same thing.
"Ask me. You know I will not steal from you. You have to ask me."
But every time she turned away, chest heaving, fighting the lust that raged in her also.
The winter snows raged and sometimes K'Neer would share a story from his past, of battles fought on far-off planets, of friends long ago sent on the journey to Sto-Vo-Kor, of death, dishonour and betrayal. Adjur never spoke on nights like these. She kept her past a secret and sometimes he would growl softly, "Tell me. Let the past go. Send your demons to Gre’thor."
But on those nights she would turn away to bundle herself in her sleeping furs, holding onto the ghosts of her past as if they were the shredded remnants of armour.
Spring came and the herds of kolar beasts came up to the mountain valleys to graze. One day K'Neer laughingly boasted that he would sleep tonight on a new fur—a sleeping fur big enough for two. Adjur slapped him hard, only making him laugh so much so that she turned and walked away leaving him to hunt alone.
When he failed to return that night she went in search of him and found his battered and bleeding body propped against a tree beside the carcass of a bull kolar beast.
Cradling his head in her chest, she stooped to hear the mumbled words that he was trying to force between gout's of coughed up blood.
Placing his head between her hands she kissed him as she had never kissed any man, with a violence and passion that mirrored her soul.
"Love me," she whispered to him
His eyes closed slowly in a moment of ecstasy. When they opened she could tell the end was near, that his world was darkening. Even the racking coughs were weaker as he tried to speak.
Slowly at first but then with less hesitation she told her story—the pampered child… the betrayed teenager… the brutalized wife.
"… and then I found love. I found you."
Looking down she saw that he was smiling. He knew. He had known all the time… and had died happy.
Throwing back her head she screamed. This was not just the Klingon death howl, warning those in Sto-Vo-Kor that a warrior was coming to them. She felt as if her soul was being ripped from her body as it yearned to follow her dead lover—the only man who had loved her enough to care if she loved him.
And as the last light of day died, so did a part of Adjur.
Days later, attracted by the column of smoke coming from the other end of the valley, an elderly targ hunter and his son came across a tall, hollow-eyed huntress standing and staring at a funeral pyre. At the base of the pyre was a massive kolar beast.
"Who was he?" said the old hunter.
"A great hunter. A mighty warrior. An honest lover. An honourable man."
Her grief over his death had burned a clarity into her mind that that had lifted the protecting veil of madness from her. Dipping her hand into her satchel, she came out with two darseks. "These are yours if you will build a rock cairn over this fire."
The old man looked at the coins and shook his head. "Keep your money. My respect cannot be bought. I will build the cairn and keep the memory."
The old man looked back to the funeral pyre. The woman picked up her satchel to leave.
"Who are you and what was he to you that you would honour him so?"
She paused and looked sharply at him but he stood his ground; he had a right to know. Do not ask for a name, K'Neer had said, because it is a powerful thing. Adjur, the frightened Qa'Hom who had been searching for love but was unable to accept it when she found it … she was gone.
"I am K'lvia, daughter of K'Vanth of the house of B'renth."
She gazed one last time at the funeral pyre of the man she would love until they were reunited in Sto-Vo-Kor.
"He set me free."