The LIEF Press

Sunday, May 15, 2005


Book 3 of "Tales of Death and Honour"
Sometimes the strongest chains are those we make ourselves.
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.

"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.

"Ask me."

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.

"Tell me."

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."


Book 2 of "Tales of Death and Honour"
In a society where Honour is valued above life itself your first mistake could be your last.
The long hours slid slowly past as the unfathomable stars inched their stately circle towards the dawn. The child quietly waited for his parents' return - Klingon babies do not cry much - but finally hunger made it cry out. Minutes after the childs' first wail cut through the chill, pre-dawn air - for the sun would be up shortly - a dark shape separated from the inky blackness of the Temples' entrance.

"Life is not fair." His fathers' voice was surprisingly soft, almost wistful. "All these years we have been wanting a child, a son. No one could have been more proud than I when I found I was to be a father."

"You should have died at birth! You should have died last night!" His tone was now bitter as he contemplated what he must do. "What irony that a body so deformed can hold such warrior spirit. It is of no matter. There is no way forward for you and it is only I who can save you from the disgrace and dishonour that would be inevitable if I let you live."

"I said that if you saw the dawn, I would help you - I did not say I would allow that to happen. Life is not fair."

From the darkness came another voice, soft, almost baritone.

"This is true. That is why sometimes a neutral third party is required to ensure fair play."

The Klingon spun to face the direction the voice had come from, dropping instinctively into a knife fighters stance, blade drawn.

"Your wife assumed you would take matters into your own hands and through her family contacts got in touch with me."

A lantern clicked on and, once his eyes had accustomed to the new light, the Klingon recognised the interloper.


For long seconds the two faced off. The wild-eyed Klingon shifting his weight easily, weaving his knife-hand in lazy circles. "I know you – you are T'Lor of L'Stok. Why do you interfere in a Klingon affair of honour?

The Vulcan stood perfectly still, his hands clasped in front of him.

"You shall not take the child's life." Calmly, unemotionally ignoring the question.

"And how do you think you will stop me?" Snarled the menacing Klingon as he started to edge his way around the stone altar.

The Vulcan raised one eyebrow. "It is a statement of fact, not a challenge …"
With a lightning burst of speed, the Klingon flipped his knife in the air, caught it by the tip and threw it with deadly force and accuracy, launching himself with a mighty roar after it!

For a split second the Vulcan looked certain death in the eye and did not flinch. The attack was over nearly as soon as it had begun though, for, within metres of their target, the knife and the Klingon rebounded in a blinding flash from the invisible force field before him.

The Vulcan continued after a brief pause. "It would be illogical to fight when there is no necessity."

Like an enraged animal, the Klingon leapt to his feet and once more charged the force field, this time standing his ground against it, a pyrotechnic aura lighting up the temple. After what seemed like an age but was in fact less than ten seconds, he fell back from the barrier, semiconscious, amidst a smoking haze, tinged with the stink of Ozone and singed flesh.

"Most impressive - you are obviously a brave and mighty warrior - however your attack is ultimately futile."

T'Lor stepped forward to the stone on which the now-silent baby was lying. "My purpose here is not to confront you, but to take the child to safety. If you have any feeling for the child, you might wish to bid him farewell."

The Klingon looked up with hatred glaring from his eyes. "You fool! It is you who is killing my son, for unless he completes the nights ordeal, he is not now, nor ever can be a Klingon. He will be dead in our eyes."

"Everything that transpired here last night and this morning has been recorded - I know your customs and laws and your fixation with death is illogical - death is not the purpose of life. Life is a gamble in which we, the players, confront one challenge after another. Some are trivial, others are virtually 'life or death'. The child has confronted his challenge and won. Unless I am mistaken, " he gestured towards the horizon " it is dawn."

Taken by surprise, the Klingon staggered to his feet and limped to the door of the temple where he could glimpse the first rays of the sun glinting over the mountainside opposite. He turned to glare at the Vulcan like a caged animal, his eyes shifting wildly here and there.

"Let us not delude ourselves though." T'Lors voice was calm and even, as if he were discussing a book or a recipe. "No matter what the outcome here, you had no intention of letting the child live …!"

His calm words were interupted by a sudden flashing and spluttering of the force field between them. The Vulcan correctly concluded that there had been an overload in one of the plasma couplings caused by the Klingons struggle. Seven minutes until his ship was in position to beam them up, when he spoke he was the model of control.

"It would seem that there is now a necessity to fight."

Seeing his opportunity the Klingon shambled back into the temple. "You Vulcans rely too heavily on your toys!" he growled through clenched teeth." Without them you are nothing!"

Without any appearance of haste, the Vulcan shrugged off the long trailing outer garment he wore to show a more tight-fitting jump suit underneath. "… and you Klingons rely too heavily on your blades." He said, stooping to pick up the dagger at his feet. Tossing it over his shoulder, he smoothly went on "I cannot allow you to harm the child."

As if this was a formal challenge the Klingon once more threw himself forward with an unintelligible battle cry. The Vulcan dropped into a sideways-on crouch with his right foot back, his left hand held like a vertical blade in front of him, his right hand palm upwards in front of his chest.

Instead of the collision of two bulls meeting head to head as the Klingon expected, it was as if he went straight through him to crash to the ground on the other side! It was a classic absorption, redirection and return of force. It started with a downward trap of the Klingons grasping hand, followed by a crunching "Bear Claw" strike to his nose which would have stunned a lesser being! The anti-clockwise turning motion started by the strike was continued as the Vulcan spun to the right of his opponent. Almost elegantly he rapped him over the back of the head as he passed him and finally dropped into a round-house kick to the back of the knees which knocked the legs from underneath him.

Six minutes, thirty seconds he thought - he had to stall for time and the best way was to get him talking. "You are a force without control. A missile without guidance circuits."

The Klingon looked up from the ground. "You have no honour! " He spat " Stand and fight! " He shouted.

"… and let you tear me limb from limb? I think not." Whilst his opponent was on the ground, the T'Lor lowered his hands from their defensive stance.

"You seek to harm the child, I cannot allow that to happen. You seek to get to the child, I redirect you away. If you come to harm it is in direct response to your attack. Cease your attempts to harm the child and the confrontation is over."

The Klingon staggered to his feet "You insult me, Vulcan, my son must be given an honourable death - hegh'bat. I am the only one that can do it." With a grunt of effort – his enraged attack on the force field had sapped his strength – he once more advanced on his opponent, albeit with more caution, and the battle was joined in earnest. T'Lor had been right in that this particular Klingon at least knew little about unarmed combat. He was as strong as a bull, single minded in his attack and fast. Fast, but not as fast as the Vulcan and what he lacked in strength, he made up in skill.

The battle now took on an almost surreal, dance-like quality as the two whirled and clashed.

This was no holonovel fight of pretty poses and dramatic oaths. The Klingon threw a virtual hurricane of punches, any one of which would have stunned a lesser opponent, however each attack was met with precisely the right block or counter. The Vulcans' style was beautiful to behold! His reflexes were so fast that to the uninitiated observer it looked as if his blocks, instead of being in response to the Klingons attacks, were drawing them like magnets!

He jumped and spun with the grace of a Denubian ballet dancer and yet his counter-attacking puches and kicks were delivered with deadly force. In the real world outside holonovels, most fights were over in minutes, sometimes seconds of the first blow being struck. As this fight wore on, it became obvious that the Klingon had the advantage. The Vulcans' only chance was to stop his opponent as soon as possible, but no matter how powerful or deadly the strike, the Klingon kept coming.He was tiring, of that there was no doubt, but so too was T'Lor, and the pauses when they faced each other, chests heaving, gasping for breath, were getting perceptively longer.

Eventually the inevitable happened, and one of the Klingon's punches slid past a block that was just a fraction of a second too slow and slammed into T'Lor's shoulder. Not enough in itself to end the fight, but enough to let through a flurry of blows that ended with the Vulcan crashing to the ground.

With a roar of triumph, the Klingon pounced on his adversary and the two rolled in the dirt grappling for an advantage. When the Vulcan came to rest, pinned to the ground, it was with the Klingon ceremonial blade – the D'k tagh – centimetres from his heart. Too late, T'Lor realised that he had underestimated the cunning of his opponent who had been manoeuvring towards the weapon all the time. The Klingon leered down into the face of the Vulcan, sweat & saliva dripping on his cheek.

This test of strength could only have one outcome. At such close quarters the Vulcans skill was of no avail against an enraged Klingon warrior whose every fibre was dedicated to war. The knife shakily bobbed & jerked between the two fighters but gradually with agonising slowness it bore down on the green Vulcan blood pumping at breakneck speed below it.

The Klingon gathered himself for his supreme effort and with a guttural roar of triumph, plunged the blade into the Vulcans' chest, pushing himself free the moment after! Not pausing for a second, he leapt to his feet and staggered towards the alter stone and the baby on it.

Even in his bloodlust though he realised something was wrong - was the force field up again? Too late he realised that the whole fight had been allowed to go ahead for a reason. As he lunged with his last reserves of strength to grab his son, he saw the tell-tale sparkle of lights spread through him as the child was transported to orbit.

Collapsing against the side of the alter, he tasted the bitterness of defeat and shame. In the end, the Vulcan had won. He had been unable to save his son from a life of shame and according to Klingon custom that shame was now his and his familys'.

He looked around and saw that the body of his Vulcan adversary had been transported as well but one thing had been left behind, the outer garment he had shrugged off at the start of the fight. Staggering to it and scooping it up, he crushed it to his face to memorise the scent and study the clan mark on the shoulder.

"L'Stok!" he whispered to himself.

"L'Stok!" his roar boomed out over the mountainside.

"A Blood Curse on you and your clan! I will destroy you and all you hold dear, just as you have destroyed my life!"

... and so saying he lifted his head and screamed a blood curdling howl that echoed through the still morning air.


Book 1 of "Tales of Death and Honour"
Which are stronger, the bonds of Maternal love or the dictates of Honour?
The midnight bell boomed out from the village as the two Klingons strode slowly but purposefully up the well used mountain path. The light from the ruined moon Praxis outlined the clouds that scudded across the sky in brilliant silver, painting the mountainous landscape in an eerie monotone.

In the lead was a male holding up a lantern to light their way. Slightly built for his race, he never the less carried himself with the lithe power of the seasoned warrior. The woman on the other hand, was a statuesque beauty with a tumbling mass of blonde curls, fine teeth and delicate brow ridges. Dressed conservatively in maternity clothes, she carried a small bundle that squirmed occasionally.

Their monotonous climb eventually brought them to the summit, their goal becoming apparent as a strange stone building came into sight. Whilst Klingons have little time for religion, they have a complex culture and deep rooted traditions. The building would best be described as a temple although those who came to it worshipped a way of life rather than any god. It was a simple but massive structure consisting of an imposing dome atop a circle of columns.

At the last curve in the path, within metres of the arched entrance, the female faltered. "I cannot do this thing!" she spat in their guttural tongue. Klingon women were inured to a long painful childbirth but this labour had been particularly bad by even Klingon standards and she had come close to death. It was not the obvious pain that each step was costing that she spoke of though. Hitching the bundle higher in her grasp and swapping hands, she pulled the course blankets apart slightly to uncover the head of a sleeping infant. "There can be no honour in killing an innocent child!"

The male turned to her and growled in turn "It must be done for the honour of the family." He looked away, grunting in resignation. "Come into the temple with me, we will speak of this one last time and then we will do what you know must be done." He was uncertain as to whether he should help her since she looked ready to fall at every step but knew that she would take it as an insult.

The last few, painful metres covered, they entered the temple. Along the perimeter of columns was a low wall that marked the outside of the building. Into these, benches were hewn into the solid rock. Slowly, painfully, the female eased herself into the nook closest to the entrance. Her mate strode to the centre of the small temple and placed a hand on the flat rock in the centre. Without looking back he spoke into the darkness.

"The life of a Klingon is a battle that cannot be won. We are born into this world of strife and must fight all our lives to survive, knowing full well that no matter how skilfully and bravely we fight eventually we will die, for death is inevitable. Some die young, some die old but die we will and a Klingons' life is a preparation for that day."

He turned from the rock and started pacing the earthen floor, his voice gaining volume as he warmed to his subject. "If we are lucky, it will be in battle surrounded by the bodies of our enemies, soaked to the armpits in their blood! To go to Sto Vo Kor preceded by an honour guard of a dozen mighty warriors is every Klingons dream." If the female had been close enough she would have seen the gleam of fervour in her mates' eyes as he talked of his dreams of glory.

Turning now to his wife, his voice dropped almost to a whisper. "Not to die in battle is against the very purpose of our existence and it would be a waste of our life. In this we battle against fate - fire, storm, accident ... sickness." Roughly he grabbed her by the nape of the neck in what was, for them, a show of tenderness. "This is his first battle ..." he rumbled into her ear "... to show that he has the strength to combat the elements." Levering the child out of her arms, he stood, looking down into the small round face. He had woken now but was silent, his dark eyes gazing deeply into those of his father.

Turning quickly - did he doubt his own ability to see this thing through? - he strode to the flat slab of volcanic rock that squatted in the centre of the temple and with a surprising gentleness laid the baby in the shallow depression on the top.

"Your first battle. " From his belt he drew a D'k tagh, the Klingon ritual blade - and held it up to the high domed ceiling. "You will either live a Klingon, with the strength to hold your own against the world, or die a Klingon, fighting the elements." looking down to the quiet child, his voice broke to a growl once again. "This is the only gift I can give you, the chance of a short life and an honourable death." He placed the D'k tagh at the head of the baby and, spreading the blankets to expose the naked waif, turned to the entrance. "We go."

His wife leapt to her feet, gasping momentarily at the effort that this cost her. Flinging her head back she drew her lips back into a snarl "Glorious dreams of death and honour!" her sneer stopped him in his tracks. " I care nought for your pretty fantasies! All I see is someone who is trying to hurt my child and it would be a dishonour to me - as a mother if not as a Klingon - to let that happen!" Reaching into the folds of her cloak she pulled out her own blade and slowly, painfully advanced on her stunned husband.

"Are you mad!" His astonished shout rang from the depths of the vaulted ceiling, but as he looked into her eyes he knew that, yes, she was. The grim determination he saw flew in the face of all reason.

"What else can we do?" His tone changed from challenging to reasoning in an attempt to defuse the situation. "Would you have me not do this? Every Klingon child goes through the same ritual as soon as they are weaned from their mother. We would be dishonoured, driven out of our homeland, our families would disown us and we would be doomed to live the life of penniless vagabonds. " Still she advanced, step by step. Rage swept over him and he leapt back to the stone where his son lay, snatching up the D'k tagh.

"I would see him dead before I would let you do this to us all - to force us all into a dishonourable half-life!" This made her hesitate in her tracks. She knew she could not overpower her husband, in fact she had expected death herself but this would mean nothing if her son died also.

Slowly the male brought the blade away from the baby's throat, his tone once again changing to reconciliation. "In battle there is always the chance - the hope - of victory." He reversed the blade in his hand. "You have my word that if he survives the night he will be given every chance to live." For long seconds the two glared at each others in silence across drawn steel until the female slowly drew herself erect and returned her blade to its' secret place in her cloak.

"It was a black day for me when first I set eyes on you, if only I had known that at the time. You will keep your word, I do not doubt that. We will let him fight his own battle. Be gone, for I do not want to set eyes on you unless you hold our son alive in your arms." Abruptly she turned her face away from him. The male snarled in frustration, making as if to go to her and force his will on her, but in the end he spun on his heel and marched to the exit, only pausing at the entrance to give another wordless snarl.

For a scant minute or two the female stood motionless, breathing deeply, until with faltering steps, she approached the baby who, through all this, had uttered not one sound. Tenderly, she bunched the blankets to the infants' sides, as close as she could get to covering him without breaking the spirit of the ritual that, even in her maternal madness, she knew to have an element of justice. Q'onos was a hard world and life as a Klingon was a brutal one in which the weak died young.

Not knowing if this was going to be the last time she saw her child alive she tried to memorise every aspect of him, laid bare as he was on the rock to the increasingly chill night air. From his squashed nose and bold forehead crests, to his tight cap of black curly hair, his eyes like twin pools of blackness in the night and his one good arm waving in the air above him. She loved him. That was the be all and end all of it. In her doting mothers' eye she only saw his beauty ... not his withered left arm with a flipper like stump for a hand ... nor his non-existent legs. Infant deformities were rare in Klingons and the few who lived rarely last long, mainly because of the may'ram - the ritual battle against the elements that her beautiful son was to undergo tonight.

"Be strong and fight hard, my little warrior! But mark this well - your mother loves you, no matter where your brave soul wanders." and so saying she turned abruptly to stagger, choking back tears, to the exit.