Feathers and Further

By Eireann

Rating: PG

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Feathers and Further: Prologue

By Eireann 

Disclaimer: Star Trek (plus all its intellectual property) is owned by Paramount.  No infringement intended.  The additional characters are owned by me.

Rating: PG

Summary: Unforeseen circumstances require Enterprise to return to Kerriel.

Author's Note: This story is a sequel to 'Fur and Feathers' and it won't make any sense without it.  I owe a debt of gratitude to Distracted, who provided the suggestion that set me off, and to Cogito for scientific advice as well as help and encouragement.  I hope you kind people who were interested in getting a sequel will think it was worth waiting for!

Beta'd by Distracted, to whom I offer very many thanks as always!

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The Prologue

Emperor Vede'hanax was not a believer in hasty decisions.

That was why he had gone through written reports submitted by every member of the retinue from Dovith.  After reading the reports he had summoned his council and listened in silence while each of the men - and women - were questioned and cross questioned about what they had written.  His three prospective brides were not allowed into his presence.  They were allotted quarters in the outer areas of the Women's Quarters, comfortable but secure, and armed men made sure that they did not communicate with each other or with anyone else.  After the rumours that had washed out across the city almost as soon as the outriders of the escort column arrived, he could not afford to treat this matter with any lack of care and caution. 

It seemed beyond question that something extraordinary had happened.  Exactly what varied according to the witness.  Some details were corroborated by many voices; almost everyone in the camp had some garbled tale to tell of a manifestation of divine power at the river. Having listened closely to the accounts, Nev'kalla the High Priest of the temple in Thervanil had made urgent representations on the necessity to build a shrine there to commemorate the event.  In discussions afterwards it was suggested that the being upon whom violent and impious hands had been laid might in fact have been the God Himself - certainly he had escaped from his bonds and vanished from the camp in a highly mysterious manner.  No one had caught a clear sight of the second figure by the riverside, but whom else would He embrace in so passionate a manner but the Goddess Herself?  The few who had dared to look back testified that They had returned to the heavens in a chariot that could only have been supernatural.  That, at least, was beyond doubt.

The political ramifications, too, could be serious, although not for a moment could they be thought to be in the same league.  The brides' father was a minor king who had been somewhat lacklustre in his loyalty to the Emperor so far, and adding his three daughters to the hundred-plus wives who already decorated the Women's Quarters had seemed like a deft way of binding him more closely to the Horned Throne.  However, Vede'hanax had not bargained for a trio of wives who arrived at his capital city in a storm of rumour and speculation, with at least the suggestion of having behaved in a manner that constituted extreme impiety, if not downright blasphemy.  To have attacked the God - to have removed His clothing and tied Him to a bed and drugged Him - it was hardly within the compass of the imagination.  Such persons could not be considered suitable wives for anybody, let alone an Emperor who himself paid every reverence to the God and ensured that his subjects did the same.

Questioning of the cavalcade's physician lent an even more sinister cast to the episode.  Men did not lie to Vede'hanax; something about that steady, piercing gaze seemed to see through even the smallest attempt at evasion as though it were made of glass.  Sare'sora had been in a pitiable state by the time he had been brought into the Council Chamber.  His conscience was already in shreds, and his nerves very shortly followed it.  He sagged to his knees in front of the Emperor and spilled out a terrified babble about bandages and drugs and a being whose eyes had been the colour of the summer sky with the sun blazing in it.  His testimony was followed and amplified by that of the junior Healer whom he had left to monitor the prisoner's reaction to the drugging.  He had been an unwilling witness to an ugly plot involving rape, deceit and murder - and so horrified by what he had been hearing that he had gulped down the remains of the drug used earlier to dull the prisoner's pain during the treatment of his damaged ankle in order to be able to plead that he had fallen asleep too soon to have heard anything; a flogging for dereliction of duty would be better than execution on trumped-up charges, and his life might have been in the gravest danger if his silence had been in doubt. Now, however, he very swiftly came to the conclusion that his life would be in graver danger still if he failed to confess every word.

An intention to deceive and murder were matters within the Emperor's remit to deal with if he was convinced that there was sound and ample evidence.  Rape, however, was of a different order.  It was not so much a crime as a sin of the most heinous nature against the Goddess, and since this was the case he courteously requested the attendance of any of the Daughters of the Goddess who were in the city to provide their opinion on the matter.  In the general course of things it would have been an offence against the women's rank to have their integrity so far brought into question as to have Skaira examine them for lies, but in this case there seemed little alternative.

In any event, it had proved unnecessary.  No sooner had the youngest of the three women been confronted by the stern-faced Skaira than her hard-held nerve had snapped.  Informed that she had talked, or rather babbled, the eldest also capitulated.  The middle one, the one who had conceived and almost carried out that terrible plan, held out for a little longer, claiming that it was all a plot to discredit her; but in the end she too had caved in just before the first clawed finger touched her forehead.

The confessions secured and the testimony fully supported, a full council had been convened to consider the verdict.  The Skaira were requested to attend this too, since their opinion on the most suitable way to atone to the Goddess for the planned rape was of the highest value.

*               *               *

Bright sunshine streamed through the windows of the Hall of Gracious Audience as Mahé'lanné the First Warlord rose from his place of honour to passionlessly list the collected evidence.  The Emperor was seated on the Horned Throne with a two-headed axe across his knees as a sign that a case of treason was being considered.  The Lower Throne was unoccupied: matters of this gravity were not the province of women, though the imperial heir Vede'pra stood quietly behind his father, his place here being to observe, to listen and to learn.  His councillors sat in a semi circle around the great marble oval before the dais, grave-faced and silent.

The accused had now been brought from their place of confinement.  They were kneeling in the centre of the marble.  They had the right to listen to the evidence and to contest it if they would.  In view of the care with which it had been collected and verified it was unlikely that they would exercise that right, but they had been told that it existed.  Any bravado they had managed to sustain had drained out of them now; they had been well enough in their father's court, but faced with the magnificence of the Imperial Court and the Horned Throne itself their self-conceit had collapsed.

Behind them in a row stood three Skaira: the two priestesses from the city's temple and another who had been visiting them and had been politely invited to lend her wisdom to the debate.  They said nothing while Mahé'lanné spoke, nor when Shur'gadja the Justiciar turned his dark narrow head towards the princesses and asked in a clear, level voice whether the accused wished to contest any of the evidence or had anything they wished the assembly to take into consideration before sentence was passed.

In view of the weight of testimony there seemed hardly any point in contesting the evidence, but one of the women straightened with a look of desperation, half turning to the waiting Skaira.  "I was seized with desire - I wished to assuage it!  It is as the Goddess made us - I sought only to protect my future husband's honour!"

"'Honour'?" echoed Priestess Tierse with a snarl of absolute abhorrence, her tail lashing and her ears flat on her head.  "You planned to corrupt the most precious gift the Gods have given us - to force an unwilling partner to honour the Goddess with you?  And then to cover your sin by having him torn apart by wild animals?  Do not quote the Good Goddess to me.  Your shame is your own, and you will account to Her for it beyond the Endless Ocean!"

"I find the charges proved beyond doubt," said Shur'gadja evenly, as the woman collapsed into half hysterical sobbing.  "If the Daughters have no punishment of their own to request, I place it before the Horned Throne that the appropriate punishment for such actions is death by rope."

There was a small stir at that, though it was quickly stilled.  Women were very rarely executed, and 'roping' was a particularly cruel and long-drawn-out death.  The victim was suspended by the wrists until they fainted from pain and exhaustion, at which point (since continuing to hang would cause suffocation) they would be lowered to the ground and revived.  A skilled executioner could keep a victim alive so long that insanity would come before death.  It was so barbaric an end that it was very rarely demanded and even more rarely granted.  Shur'gadja was generally known as a moderate and humane individual.  The fact that he would even suggest such a punishment was a sign of how appalled he was.

"And I ask that it be carried out before the God's Temple, that the insult to Him may be seen to be repaid!" cried Nev'kalla, who had briefly left his temple duties to ensure that the heinousness of the crime of laying violent hands on a deity might not be in the least danger of being overlooked.

"With the permission of the Horned Throne and the Council, I would speak before sentence is pronounced," said a quiet voice.

Vede'hanax's gaze snapped to the visiting Skair, who was young for such courage: many of his own councillors would have hesitated before interrupting at such a sensitive point.  "I do not know what you could add to what has been said, but you may speak."  He surveyed her narrowly.  He did not know her name, but unless she chose to announce it to the court it would have been disrespectful to the Goddess to ask it.  Fair-haired and slender in build, she had a look of bright-eyed intelligence just now overlaid with a desperate gravity.

She took a step forward.  "I thank the Emperor for his tolerance."  She sketched a salute, a courtesy unusual in a Skair, since her people owed the Horned Throne neither obedience nor homage.  "It is my understanding - I speak under correction - that these are the daughters of the King of Dovith."

"Your information is correct."  Mahé'lanné looked at her with a faint frown, his arms folded across his chest.

"And that putting them to the rope - however well earned such a punishment might be - might possibly undermine his loyalty to the Horned Throne."  The intelligent eyes gazed straight into Vede'hanax's, and the message was clear: that loyalty is already shaky.  Many innocent people will suffer if it collapses altogether.

"If King Tra'hasy chooses to take issue with it, then that will be his mistake," the warlord said sharply.

The Emperor did not answer immediately.  He sat back slowly on the Horned Throne, and his talons closed gently and deliberately around the carved ends of the armrests.  His stare was terrifying.

"The punishment for the offence that was intended against my honour I can remit.  The punishment for the affront to the God and the dishonour that was planned against the Goddess I can not remit.  I offer you the decision, Daughter of the Goddess.  In what way can they atone for their crimes and yet their father remain my loyal subject?"

The Skair smiled.  It could not be said, however, that there was much humour in it.  Her bared fangs glinted in the sunshine through the window, and as she glanced at the three women her golden eyes blazed with a hard-held wrath that was strangely personal.  "Is not the Temple of the Goddess here in Thervanil still in existence?"

"It is," said Nev'kalla.   It was a strange question for the Skair to ask, and obviously a purely rhetorical one, as she had been a guest in it since her arrival several days ago, just hours before the princesses' retinue had arrived.  He looked puzzled, but Vede'hanax's eyes had taken on a sudden gleam.

"And it still continues the ancient customs - that the priestesses there must be the Goddess for any man who comes there - high and low, of whatever form or age?"

"It does."  Now Mahé'lanné too had caught the drift.  His shoulders relaxed infinitesimally, as if for all his bold words a weight had rolled off them.  "And to serve there as priestess is an honour for any woman.  Even a king's daughter."

The eldest of the women had also caught on.  Her eyes dilated with horror, and she turned to the watching Skair.  "It cannot be a matter of force!" she cried.  "It must be offered with consent!"

"Oh, you will consent," said the Skair silkily.  "When you, too, have drunk wine laced with halkarh, as you made your victim drink, you will refuse no man.  Of course, if a priestess's duties would be too onerous for the daughter of a king, you could always choose the rope.  And after the rope is finally done with you, you will face the Goddess.  You should have a good explanation ready.  Though, of course, years of service - good and willing service - might do somewhat towards expiating what you have done."

There was a short silence, broken by the small, shrill noises of the youngest as she realised what her future would be.

"A judgement worthy of a leader," said Vede'hanax, lifting a hand in acknowledgement.  "I confirm it.  Word of all this shall be sent to King Tra'hasy of Dovith immediately.  The condemned shall be allowed to have the space of one day to choose whether they will abide by this judgment or would prefer the rope."

A chorus of shrieks indicated that the choice was not a difficult one.  At his gesture the new priestesses were raised from their various postures on the floor and almost carried out of the Hall.  Possibly someone would see to it that supplies of halkarh were made available to them, but few of those present would shed too many tears if it were not.

The Emperor set down the ceremonial axe and stood up, signifying that the council was at an end, and descending from the dais among his councillors who had also risen, he strode the short distance to the young Skair, who seeing him coming towards her had stopped and turned back.  "I owe you thanks for that," he said briefly.  "If Tra'hasy foments rebellion now he will seem to condone dishonour to the Gods.  His nobles would not support him, even if he dared suggest it."

"That had occurred to me."  Her smile now was real and sunny.  "The Goddess must have put the solution into my head."

"Hmph!  I think that head of yours is seldom short of its own ideas."  He looked at her closely.  "I seem to remember your face.  Have you been to court before?"

"No, never, Gracious One." 

"Then I will hope to see you here again."

"I am travelling to the Shrine in the mountains presently, and hope to take up service there.  It may be that one day I will return here, but it is as the Goddess wills.  In the meantime, I am glad to have been of service."  She inclined her head, turned to rejoin her companions and padded towards the great outer doors, joining the talking throng now heading towards it.

He stood frowning thoughtfully after her.  Presently he turned around to find his son Vede'pra at his shoulder.

"A remarkable judgment," the youth said gravely.

"Given by a remarkable Skair.  Mark me, we have not seen the last of that one.  I do not know her name yet, but soon I shall, and some day the whole world will know it.  And then we shall see what we see."  He put an arm around his heir's shoulders, and the two of them walked back into their private quarters to begin discussing the specifications for the imperial fleet's new flagship they were planning.  For some reason, it had occurred to him that it would be a fine thing if the vessel's name should be Enterprise.

 


Comments:

Cogito

When Shirannor told us about the Emperor in the previous story I had a feeling that the Emperor was somebody best avoided. Now I can see that he is every bit as autocratic as I suspected, but he's far from the ruthless dictatorial stereotype I was imagining. Ruthless, certainly. And a dictator, too. But even in this brief snippet I can see how he deserves to be Emperor. Clearly his heir is just as sharp, too. The Skaira are getting more interesting each time I encounter them, too. I was wondering how these different species would get along. It sounds as if the Skaira are just as much of an enigma to the others as they are to us, but I like the mutual respect being shown here. The young Skaira's playfullness, too. I get the impression that this young lady is quite an adventurer.

I'm also pleased and relieved to see that the behaviour of those harpies isn't condoned here; in fact the locals seem to have a far stricter and harsher view about that sort of behaviour than we do. Their attitude towards the sanctity of the Goddess' bond between mates feels almost - dare I say it? - Vulcan to me.

This encounter also left me wondering the same as Vede'hanax; who is this Skaira, and why does he feel as if he recognises her? There's a back story here that has me thoroughly intrigued. The Emperor's parting thought was also intriguing. Did Shirannor put that thought in his head, either deliberately or accidentally?Or are the other species that share this planet also telepathic to some extent? Presumably without realising it, since he seems unaware of the origin of that name. I want to know what happened previously, and I want to know what happens next!

Transwarp

A good start.  The world you describe is highly detailed, fully textured, and (most important) very interesting!  I love the way the title plays on your previous work.

Good writing!

Asso

Interesting scenario. I remain in watchful waiting.

Alelou

Very richly realized.  I'm very curious what possible circumstances could lead Enterprise to return, unless that remark is a play on your ending there.  Interesting little vignette -- poetic justice and all, although it makes me wonder about the priestesses who do this voluntarily.  At this point it feels more like an epilogue to the original story than the beginning of a new one. But I assume there is more to come?

Weeble

Off to the races again. Enjoyed the first story and now we have a new chapter in what I am sure will be a long long tale:D

Interesting punishment options as well.

Eireann you have great talent and I happy you post here.

 

 

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