Chapter 5 - A Vulcan Divorce
“Father. Are you still awake?” T’Shan asked in the near-darkness of the cave. Only the glow of the phaser-warmed rocks around them made T’Shan aware of her father’s silhouette in the sleeping bag less than an arm-span away from her own. The wind howled outside, too cold even for her, but they were quite warm.
They had done this every year for the last few years, since her mother had left them. Every year on the anniversary of her mother’s birth, they would travel to Andoria, and hike across the Qiinolxera plateau, camping in the caves along the ancient pilgrim’s path. The cave still smelled of the rich meal of pylori meat, cave mushrooms and herb-moss they had gathered and cooked.
“Yes, T’Shan-kam.” He responded, though it did sound as though he had been asleep.
“I was thinking about something. Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course.” He responded, rolling over on the spot to face her, even though his eyes remained closed.
“What was your wedding to mother like?”
“We had two weddings. One on Vulcan, the other on Andoria.”
“What was the wedding on Andoria like?”
“Cold.” He responded.
“And the one on Vulcan?” She asked.
“Perhaps you would prefer I showed you, instead of telling you?” He asked her.
She nodded excitedly, her antennae stretching to their maximum length, knowing what he intended. It was something she had only experienced twice before. He reached an arm out through the neck hole of his sleeping bag, and held his hand over her face, positioning his fingers at the points of greatest neural conductivity. She held her hands against his face in response, just an imitation of a technique she did not fully understand.
A moment later, she was somewhere else entirely.
The hot air was stifling, even as the sun set over the horizon, bathing the challenge grounds in the lurid purple of Vulcan twilight.
Rovak and his party approached, he was flanked by his extended family, nearly fifty Vulcans, with the notable exception of Rovak’s younger brother Retesk and his kin. His elder brother and sister stood either side him, shaking the rack of bells that signalled the coming of a wedding party. T’Shan was among them, but she knew they could not perceive her. She was a passenger in this memory.
As they entered the structure surrounding the ceremonial furnace and gong-bell, they saw a group of Andorians waiting, an atmogen box between them doing what little it could to ameliorate the air nearby into something less oppressive to those born on Andor. There were nearly twenty Andorians, the surviving members of the clans Zheishiotsu and Aitanovar, first among them a woman in the ceremonial thermoconductive silks of a ceremonial Andorian kimono, her hair done up high.
Rovak stepped forward as the others stood vigilant, striking the central gong with the implement provided.
The two groups stood silently, the bells going quiet as Rovak struck the gong. From the distance, the entrance to the east, the sound of more bells. The party of the officiant. Flanked by guards armed with long blades, bellringers and the eight men that carried her palanquin, a Vulcan matriarch was brought to the centre and placed at a vantage point. Rovak approached her.
“Thee would call the koon-ut kal-if-fee for an outworlder, Rovak, son of Sotep?” She asked as he kneeled before her, and she touched his face to link their minds.
“I am permitted this. We are married by the laws of the Federation. Her clan is here to support this union, as is mine.”
“Thy family holds no objection or protest?” The matriarch asked, looking to the assembled groups for response. They remained silent.
The Matriarch gestured to Surtha, who approached as the gesture bid. “This is Shalsurtha of the Clans Zheishiotsu and Aitanovar.”
“It is an honour to be considered and countenanced by such a renowned hero of the Federation, Matriarch. I humbly beg your permission to be considered worthy of this man, and a union between our peoples.” Surtha said as practiced. The ceremony had gone like clockwork, though the Andorians looked significantly more uncomfortable than when they’d practiced on the holodeck.
“Thee would name this Andorsu thy wife, and kin to thine great ancestors. How does thee pledge her behaviour?”
“With my life, Saavik.” Rovak explained.
“And the behaviour of thy outworlder kin, Shalsurtha of the Vyanhahr and Aitanovar, how does thee pledge?”
“With my life also, Matriarch.” Surtha responded with appropriate solemnity.
“What they are about to see comes down from the time of the beginning. This is the Vulcan heart. This is the Vulcan soul. This is our way.” She raised her hand.
“Kal-if-fal!” the matriarch announced, and Rovak moved back towards the gong. As he took the implement from it’s housing, a clear voice carried across the challenge grounds from the eastern entrance.
“Kal-if-fee!” From the eastern entrance came the face Rovak dreaded, the visage of his former wife T’Ret. She was wearing tactical active wear. She came for the challenge. Behind her came much of her family, bells were shaken by her half-Klingon nephew Korosk and her father, T’Gûn. Would T’Ret try and kill him herself, or send her father or nephew to do it? The father wasn’t a challenge he worried about, but Korosk served in the Klingon Defence Force, he was a mountain of a man, and by all T’Ret had told him during their marriage, a superior blending of Klingon and Vulcan abilities.
T’Ret approached the ceremonial gong, placing her hand between it and Rovak.
“I appoint no champion. I shall enter combat on my own behalf.” T’Ret announced.
“I humbly object, Matriarch. This woman and I were married and divorced under Federation law. Neither she nor I have made the ancient claim on these grounds before. We were never married by Vulcan law.” Rovak explained.
“My husband claimed and validated our union when he accepted custody of our son, a child of that union.” T’Ret countered, speaking to the Matriarch and all assembled.
“Custody you violated when you abducted him to an experiment he cannot safely leave until adolescence.” Rovak responded, to which one of the executioner guards approached with a blade, preparing to strike until the Matriarch raised a finger. “I can forgive such a display, only once. Though I understand the circumstances of thy marriage were without honour and a perversion of our way, thou did acknowledge thy union as Vulcans to claim possession of thy son.”
Rovak remained silent, conscious of the blade only a few inches from his face, retracted now that his outburst had been addressed.
“T’Ret, thee has chosen the kal-if-fee, the challenge. Who would thy challenge?”
“I challenge the dishonourable insect that would steal the man who is mine, father of my only child, in violation of our way.”
The executioner’s blade moved then to T’Ret, stopped only inches from her by the Matriarch’s almost imperceptible gesture.
“Thee shall also find no more forgiveness for such outbursts. Name the being thou would challenge.”
“Shalsurtha of the Zheishiotsu and Aitanovar.”
“Rovak, thee are prepared to become the property of the victor?”
“I am prepared.” Rovak responded.
“Shalsurtha, T’Ret is within her rights, but our laws and customs are not binding on thee. Thee is free to refuse, with no harm to thyself. Know that though I am willing, I cannot join thee in the Vulcan way if thou refuses.”
“I accept the challenge. But I ask thee for dispensation. The air is thin and hot in comparison to my native climate, I would be at a great disadvantage.” Surtha asked.
“The air is the air, what can be done?” The Matriarch repeated the old Vulcan axiom.
Surtha undid her kimono, then, and Rovak saw what he could perceive as shock on T’Ret’s face to see that Surtha, too, wore tactical wear under her kimono, in particular a Starfleet environmental suit designed to regulate temperature, with the addition of a modified Benzite breather device to keep her inundated with cool, moist air.
“There are no defensive capabilities, only those that assist in thermoregulation. On the honour of the Zheishiotsu and the Aitanovar.”
The Matriarch nodded, assenting. “Here begins the act of combat, for possession of the man Rovak. As it was at the time of the beginning, so it is now. Bring forth the lirpa.” The bells rang out as two attendants brought out long, heavy lirpas wrapped in cloth.
“If both survive the lirpa, combat will continue with the ahn-woon.” Surtha and T’Ret both checked over their weapons and held them ready. “It has begun. Let no one interfere.” The ancient Vulcan battle hymn echoed from the musicians in the walls of the challenge grounds.
The lirpa battle was quick, T’Ret began by kicking a cloud of sand at Surtha, then striking wildly and without rest, as though the plak tow consumed her. Surtha managed to avoid or deflect her fierce strikes, she was obviously the more agile of the two. Despite this, she could not get around the brutal attacks from T’Ret, any of which would strike her dead if it connected.
After evasion failed to tire her opponent, Surtha gambled on finally using her lirpa’s weighted club end to deflect T’Ret’s strike, shattering the blade of T’Ret’s lirpa. With T’Ret disarmed, Surtha threw her own weapon aside.
“Kroykah!” The matriarch cried out, and both combatants ceased. “The ahn-woon.” She instructed before long bladed strips of leather were given to each of the combatants by the attendants.
T’Ret’s first strike was from a distance, the blade of her ahn-woon severing Surtha’s right antennae. Causing her to stumble and fall. T’Ret seized on the advantage, crossing the distance between them as Surtha lost her balance and composure the way a human would if their inner ear was breached.
T’Ret quickly overpowered the disoriented Andorian, and wrapped her ahn-woon around Surtha’s neck, dragging her towards the central fire. The Andorian clansmen seemed ready to object, but Rovak stayed them.
T’Ret held her as close to the fire as she was able, though she was significantly stronger than Surtha the Andorian put up fierce resistance. She seemed certainly doomed as T’Ret held her, strangled over the flames of the central pit. She shifted from side to side, feeling the coals searing her soft blue skin, unaccustomed to such extremes.
Slowly, and after several desperate surges, Surtha drooped as though unconscious, causing T’Ret to shift in her balance, giving Surtha enough time to reach and grip her opponent’s athletic bandolier, then using her own bodyweight and momentum, throw T’Ret over her shoulder, face-first into the searing crystals and coals of the sacred flame.
“Kroykah!” The Matriarch announced again, as T’Ret’s screams filled the arena. Without another word, her family rushed to her.
“Matriarch, she is unable to fight. On behalf of our family, I end this challenge.” T’Gûn, head of the family said as they conferred over the wounded challenger without administering aide, determining that she was unable to continue. The Matriarch gave a subtle nod before the entire party beamed away.
Unsteadily, a battle-damaged Surtha made her way back towards Rovak and the Matriarch.
“Thou art victorious. The man is yours. May none come between thee.” The Matriarch announced.
Surtha offered her index and middle finger, in the way one might extend a hand to be held. Rovak repeated the gesture, matching his fingers against hers as they crossed the arena to the center, stepping over the shattered lirpas. Surtha reached down to pick up her severed antennae as they passed it, putting it in a cryogenic pocket in the eventuality they’d still be able to put it back on.
Rovak and Surtha stood before the gong. She struck it first, and passed the implement to Rovak, who struck it again. Each wrapping a hand around the implement, they struck it together.
“It is done. I pronounce thee wed!” The Matriarch announced, to cheers from the Andorians and dignified silence from the Vulcans, as the bellringers once again filled the arena with music.
The others present seemed to fade, and soon T’Shan was alone with her father, who seemed to fixate on the point where her mother had faded away.
She opened her eyes, and they were back in the cave.
Even though they honoured her in this way regularly, they rarely talked about Surtha.
“Do you miss her, father?” She asked, expecting a rebuke about the emotional nature of the question.
“Every day.” Her father remained composed, but she felt a sudden pang of loss and grief so deep she thought she might lose her balance. She knew it was not her own, the connection to her father remained strong enough to cast it.
“Your mother may be gone, but the best way I have found to manage the grief of her loss is to recall the agreeable moments and experiences of our time together. If there is more you wish to see, I can show you. It must however it can not become often or regular. It can be hazardous to dwell in the nostalgia of others.” Rovak counselled his daughter.
“I understand, father.”
“Goodnight, T’Shan-kam.” Rovak said, turning back to his other side.
“Goodnight, father.” T’Shan responded. As she slept, all night, she dreamed of nothing but her mother, and times with her father they had never spent together, with all the joy and nostalgia of the real thing.