Here Be Dragons
Amanda woke in darkness and for an electrified moment lay perfectly still, roused abruptly from a profound sleep by such piercing terror that she was completely disoriented. It took her a few extra seconds to realize she was in her own bed on Vulkhanir, and that the fear did not originate from within but came from outside her own self. By the time she was thoroughly awake and had thrown off the soft quilt, the first tentative murmur whispered across the quiet room, no more loudly than the sigh of the desert wind outside, or of Sarek's soft breathing beside her.
Careful not to wake Sarek, she rose from the sleeping dais and stole like a ghost to the door. She paused outside Spock's room for a moment while the corridor lights brightened around her, listening attentively. From beyond the entrance to his apartment came the softest of sighs, the slightest susurration. Tiptoeing over the threshold, Amanda stepped into the dim interior and stood looking at the tiny huddle curled up among the tumbled bedding. He was lying on his side, his eyes closed too tightly, the long, and silky lashes dark against his cheeks. His shallow breathing came fast, and alarmed. As she watched, Spock muttered, turned on his back, and presented her with an expressionless profile. A small child for his age, with mushroom-coloured skin, winged brows, and elegantly pointed ears; Amanda sometimes found it difficult to believe that her son carried any of her Human genes. Even at three years old, he had learned that Vulkhanir did not show emotion. But remembering her own childhood, the irrational fears that darkness brought, Amanda whispered, "Spock?"
His breathing checked, became erratic for a time, before settling again. Amanda knelt down beside the sleeping dais, her face almost level with that of her son, and just stared. The strategy was one Spock had never been able to withstand. Sarek would have been taken in completely by his subterfuge -- but Amanda, never! In fact, Sarek would not have needed to pass beyond the door to be satisfied that Spock was sleeping soundly. However, within moments he opened his eyes to stare at her. In the soft glow from the corridor, they were black, eclipsed with anxiety.
He allowed her to draw him into her sheltering arms, his stiff little body melting into warmth and softness against her breast, relaxing for a short time the touch-me-not reserve that for half a year had steadily set him apart from her. As she held him close, he became the loveable pixy-eared bundle she had shared every possible waking moment with since his birth. He put his arms around her neck, his hot cheek against her own, and Amanda crooned and soothed, while a shaft of mingled joy and agony shot through her blood, a reaction to his fright. Tenderly, she stroked his tousled hair, the soft strands as sleek as satin beneath her caressing fingertips.
"What is it, baby?"
The desperate stranglehold tightened around her neck as he trembled beneath her hands but as she continued to hold him the vice-like grip eased and he babbled something that she only half understood.
"What did thee say, child?"
"D'rachanya, M'aih---" Spock said, whispering against her ear. "Many d'rachanya."
"Dragons," Amanda repeated. "Thee dreamed about dragons, Spock-neha."
Spock shook his head fiercely, recollecting confused memories of pursuit and terror that had hunted him mercilessly through the palpitating realms of his nightmare. "Lots of d'rachanya, M'aih. They wanted to eat me."
He looked fearfully around the shadow-filled room, clutching at her hand.
"Silly boy," Amanda chided tenderly. "As if thy A'nirih or I would allow anything to hurt thee! Sleep now. I am nearby if thee needs me."
She slipped her fingers free and started to rise from the floor but Spock reached out to her once again and hung on even tighter than before.
"No, M'aih," he whimpered huskily, sitting upright. "Do not go. The d'rachanya will come back."
Amanda sank down on her knees once more, drawing him nearer to her heart. "Nothing can get to thee here, Spock-neha. I promise thee is quite safe. If it is thy wish, I will stay until thee is asleep."
However, it was another half hour before his eyes finally closed and he subsided into nervous slumber, and even later still before his grip on her fingers loosened and she could slip away to her own bed.
Sarek, her Vulkhanir husband, slept blissfully on, unaware of the turmoil he had caused. She looked earnestly down at him where he lay; the thick duvets pulled up protectively around his chin, precisely on his own side of the wide dais. The dark, hawk-face had relaxed in slumber, stripped free of the aloof mask that he usually displayed in public, and Amanda felt her heart turn in her breast at the sight of his easy tranquillity. Men were such fools, she thought forlornly, even the best and most logical of them, especially the best and most logical---
It had been precisely one week since he had joined her in the secluded rose arbour that was her own special area of the grounds that surrounded their big, old ShiKahrii house, and proceeded unexpectedly to drop his bombshell.
"You mean to send our son away," she questioned with a calmness that she did not truly feel. "Send him away where, my husband?"
Sarek had looked at her steadily, unperturbed by her disquiet as if he shared none of her misgivings, felt no doubts. "Spock is Vulkhanir, Amanda. Thee knew that eventually this time would arrive. The child must learn independence."
"He is three years old, Sarek. Must independence come so soon?"
He answered with exasperating composure. "This is a harsh world, my wife. It is only logical that our children learn early the tenets of their civilization. Thee is a wise mother, an able teacher, but now Spock has other lessons he must learn."
Amanda understood her husband's concern for their child, realised that he feared their mixed parentage disadvantaged Spock, and that their son's inherent emotional responsiveness, on this most rational of worlds where such sensibilities were frowned upon, might hinder his progress. For that reason alone, she had never before interfered in Sarek's relentless training programme, which had started as soon as Spock could speak and understand. Yet she knew her child, recognised Spock had yet to reach the stage where he could accept with equanimity, absolute separation from either his mother or father.
In the same low and level tones that Sarek used, without emotion or reproach, matching his dignity with that of her own she had implored him to reconsider his decision.
"Spock is still a baby, husband. To send him away while so young will distress him," Despite the hidden pain inside her aching heart her voice remained serene. She retained the conviction that, given the chance, both sides of Spock's diverse nature would amalgamate in time, making him resilient enough to withstand anything that life on Vulkhanir - or anywhere else - could throw at him. However, no matter the power of her argument, she could not sway her husband from his chosen path.
"Sirak and T'neah will take him until he is old enough to attend S-choli'on, the Halls of Learning at Chin'ohr. Do not fear, my wife. Spock will be treated in exactly the same manner as Sirak's own."
But instead of allaying her anxiety, the information only increased her apprehension. Sirak and T'neah were proud of their logic and their command of arie'mnu, the mastery of all emotion. After four years within their typically Vulkhanir household, Spock would have changed irrevocably. She envisaged the Human part of his persona submerged beneath the stronger Vulcan element, transforming him into someone she could no longer recognise as her child. He had already erected defences in response to Sarek's adamant regime, trying to disguise his humanity, allowing that side of him to show only when he was completely alone with her.
"If he were fully Vulkhanir thee would not insist on this action so soon. Thee view our child too lightly. Thee must give him the time he needs to reveal his strengths and abilities."
They continued to talk long into the night but Sarek remained immovable and Amanda could not help wondering when he had become disillusioned; at what time had pride overtaken his tolerance, prejudice suppressed his compassion? Their child was to have become a bridge between their disparate cultures but Sarek seemed to have forgotten the idealism that had attracted her to him from the first and had developed, it seemed, a sudden quest to turn their son into a carbon copy of every other Vulcan.
Perhaps with the advent of dragons, he would realize that Spock was unique, something she thought he already understood.
However, when the nightmares continued on every second or third night, Sarek took their son's fretfulness calmly in his stride. "It is natural that Spock should experience some anxiety. The idea is still new. Pay no attention and it will pass."
Another week of disturbed sleep went by and yet again, the familiar soft cry came whispering out of the darkness.
With a tired groan, Amanda prepared to go to Spock but Sarek, apparently lying awake beside her, placed a firm hand on her arm.
"Stay here, my wife. I will take care of this." His face expressionless, he rose quietly from the dais and strode purposely for the door, pulling on his padded night robe against the chill of the unheated room.
Amanda nestled into the vacated space, soaking up Sarek's heat retained by the thick mattress, lulled by his skin's faint, piquant fragrance that lingered on the bedding. Idly, she contemplated the luxury of undisturbed sleep until finally, curiosity overcame her and she left the sleeping dais to follow her mate.
Lapped in shadow outside Spock's door, she watched as Sarek approached their small son's bedside. As on the many previous occasions when she had attended him, Spock lay taut among his rumpled covers, lips bloodless, eyes screwed shut with dread, his terror obvious.
"Spock," she heard Sarek ask quietly his light baritone soft and well modulated, "why did thee call for M'aih?"
The boy opened his eyes nervously, blinked up at his father who loomed over him. "The d'rachanya were chasing me, A'nirih."
"So, and where are these bloodthirsty d'rachanya now?"
"I --- do not know, A'nirih. They went away when thee came."
"Do thee not think that perhaps they were never here at all?"
It was clear to Amanda that the question made no sense to Spock. In the daytime when she or Sarek were with him, he knew that such creatures did not exist on Vulkhanir, although once they had done so. Yet, at night, when he was alone in his apartments and they were asleep, the dragons took on a form and presence, slithering out from the dark places, shrieking and rampant, mouths agape, ready to tear him apart.
"But I saw them, A'nirih."
"Spock, there are no d'rachanya present in this house. I will prove this to thee."
Amanda, standing by the door, could imagine the indecision on her son's face as he cast a wary glance around the shadowy room. He knew there were dragons, whatever Sarek said.
"Come, get up, Spock. We will look together." Sarek threw back the bedcovers and lifted Spock to his feet. Patiently leading his reluctant son by the hand, he made a thorough inspection of the room. As was typical in Vulkhanir dwellings, the furniture was sparse, but Sarek dutifully made the rounds. He scrutinized every corner, inspected the separate cleansing room, opened the lid of the chasulh against the wall, and even pushed the large and heavy chest aside to look behind it. Finally, Sarek sat on the edge of the dais and drew Spock toward him.
"Did we find any d'rachanya, Spock?"
Spock stared solemnly at his father. "No, A'nirih."
"I am pleased to hear it," Sarek said dryly. "And now that we are sure there are no dragons, we are all going back to sleep."
He placed Spock under the bed quilts and touched him lightly on the forehead with one long finger. "The All be with thee, Spock."
"And with thee, A'nirih."
Back in their room, Sarek took off his robe. He climbed into bed beside Amanda. "Firmness and logic were all that was needed, my wife, " he murmured. With that pearl of wisdom, he closed his eyes and was instantly asleep.
Amanda wondered if the problem was that simple, but it was true, there were no more sounds coming from Spock's room. She felt a mixture of relief and --- sadness that the spark of imagination could that easily be extinguished. Eventually, though, she too drifted back to sleep.
Spock, silent but still awake, stared unblinkingly into the dim reaches of his room, baby teeth biting into his bottom lip, only too aware of the dangers waiting to emerge as soon as he shut his eyes. His heart thudded painfully against his lower ribs and his spine dampened with nervous perspiration as the shadows shifted and reformed into strange shapes, his night vision sensitive to every change in the circulating air currents. He wanted desperately to call out to Amanda but accepted with almost adult resignation that Sarek would prohibit her from answering his frightened summons a second time. It occurred to him abruptly that what he feared most was not shadows, darkness, or even dragons. It was Sarek. Given the choice between dragons and Sarek, he knew that he would sooner choose dragons every time.
Then, something moved in the darkness just out of range of his straining vision. He shuddered, wide-eyed and dry-throated; the fertile imagination handed down to him by his Human mother, working overtime. Heart in mouth, his glance flicking from one wavering shadow to the next, he bolted soundlessly from the sleeping dais and dashed wildly for the door----
Once more Amanda woke with a jolt, her conscious mind slowly registering what her unconscious mind had heard some while before. She listened, suddenly attentive to the usual small sounds that all old houses made, the creak of settling floorboards, the gurgle of water in cold pipes, the wind as it moaned in low and mournful complaint through the shrubbery outside. Yet, the noise she heard came from none of those sources. Instead, she pinpointed the distinctive sound to the rattle of the night shutters opening - or maybe closing - on the ground floor. She continued to listen in tense concentration but the faint clatter did not repeat.
Could Ee-chiya be on the prowl, she wondered? The big sehlat stayed in the wild garden at night where it was most at home, its thick mountain coat a protection against the sub zero temperatures that fell after dark. However, Amanda scolded herself, intelligent as the beast was, it could not open shutters by itself. The thought of prowlers never entered her head for crime did not exist on Vulkhanir. On
the other hand, the automatic sentry defences around ShiKahr's perimeter did fail occasionally, allowing the odd marauding animal access to the city. If one had gained entry to the garden, Sarek's old pet might well find itself outmatched, and the screens were hardly constructed to keep out a hungry le-matya or an ecaroya, the le-matyas considerably smaller but vastly more inquisitive and ferocious cousin.
Amanda's heart skipped a beat, her imagination conjuring up an image of the scaled and supple, lizard-like animal, the size of a large Terran dog, with its flickering amethyst tongue probing at the flimsy screens with eager persistence as it sensed their presence, looking for a way to get into them. She pushed the thought hastily aside, knowing now where her son found the inspiration for his dragons, shivering a little as she crossed over to the window arch
"My wife?" Sarek, disturbed by her absence from his side, suddenly sat up, his winged brows ominously drawing together as she jerked the shutters aside and peered out over the garden. A draft of cold air found its way around Amanda's slight figure and whirled about his naked shoulders. He shivered convulsively. "Amanda!"
"Listen," she admonished sternly from the window. "I thought I heard something, a noise downstairs -."
"It is the breeze, nothing more. There is a storm advancing. Please, Amanda, close the shutters, and return to bed."
"How can thee sleep so sound when Spock is frightened, husband?" She questioned, indignantly.
A sound, suspiciously like a groan escaped Sarek's control. Could wife and son be engaged in a conspiracy against him, he wondered? "I do not understand, my wife. Spock is aware d'rachanya do not exist, nor can any harm befall him here. His fear is most illogical."
"He is a child, Sarek. Sometimes logic is not enough." She stood listening. "What was that?"
"I heard nothing."
She ignored him and hurried out onto the landing, listening outside Spock's door while she steeled herself. Suppose - suppose he was no longer there? What if, too terrified by the idea of man-eating d'rachanya, and apparently abandoned by his parents, he had run away? Where would he go? How would they find him again in the dark and the cold with a desert storm brewing? Again, her thoughts turned to the vision of the ecaroya questing at the night shutters, lavender tongue scenting the air in search of blood.
She shuddered. But of course he would be there, he must be. Making a supreme effort of will, she pressed the release, her breath held until the door slid back.
Sarek propped himself on an elbow, the draft still whistling uncomfortably through the room, aware that if he went back to sleep before his wife returned, he would be liable to charges of selfishness, lack of parental thought, and possibly even sloth! But as the seconds lengthened into minutes and the breeze became a gale, he finally gave up the struggle to disassociate himself from his clamorous surroundings and followed her onto the landing.
Spock's door was open and Amanda leaned against the doorjamb looking in, a tender smile upon her lips. Quietly, Sarek joined her there, peering over her shoulder into the darkened room. Spock sprawled beside the considerable bulk of Ee-Chiya arms wrapped as far as they could reach around the huge sehlat's neck. Both boy and pet were fast asleep, content in each other's company, their breath loud and vigorous, intermingling. Spock looked tiny in comparison to the massive animal, wearing a look on his face that Sarek had not seen for many days -- a look of peace. It seemed his son had found his own logical solution to the problem of nocturnal dragons. Sarek only hoped that Ee-Chiya was up to it.
Gently he encircled Amanda's slender waist, drawing her tenderly against him, wrapping the voluminous robe he wore about them both. Thankfully, she leaned into his hard body, feeling his natural heat quickly steal over her, taking renewed pleasure in the faint but distinct fragrance of his naked skin so close to her own as they shared in the tranquil scene.
For a time they continued to watch the sleeping companions in silence before Sarek touched the door release and they withdrew. In mutual agreement, they descended the stairs and entered the seiokan. Without a word, Amanda filled the water kettle and collected bowls and tsa'e pot while Sarek stirred the fire pit embers into life.
The aromatic steam from the herbal brew soon wafted through the quiet room where Sarek and Amanda sat before the fire on cushioned stools sipping from fragile bowls.
Looking at Sarek's face in the reflected glow of the firelight, Amanda thought, he's changed. She did not know in quite what way, but the arrogance had disappeared and he seemed to be more the man she had accepted as her bondmate.
He gazed back at her, his eyes aloof but kind, shadowed by the winged brows. "I owe thee an apology, my wife."
"How so, Husband?" Amanda questioned innocently, knowing very well what he meant, relishing a definite anomalous pleasure at his declaration. The fire settled more firmly in the decorative fire pit.
Sarek took another sip of tsa'e staring thoughtfully down at the burning coals, well aware of her enjoyment at his expense. "I was obviously mistaken in my belief about Spock."
"Indeed." She murmured, unwilling to allow him off the hook so soon. "In what respect, Husband?"
He sipped again at his tsa'e, the hot infusion burning a trail down his throat to his stomach where the warmth spread through his chilled flesh, a comfort to both mind and body. He took the time he needed to consider his words before answering. "I may have been over hasty in my initial assessment of our son's maturity."
Amanda inclined her head. "So, thee will not be sending him away?"
"No, I will not be sending him away." Sarek granted, his face expressionless. "At least not for some years. I doubt that Sirak is forbearing enough to take both Spock and Ee-Chiya."
Amanda found it impossible not to grin. "On that point we are both agreed, my husband."
His hard mouth relaxed in what Amanda liked to imagine was a smile. "May I assume that our divergence over this issue is now satisfactorily concluded, my wife."
"Within the family, all is silence, Husband. No more will be said of the matter."
He looked at her in a way that reminded her of Spock when he wanted to be hugged. She reached over to kiss him. It was very sweet and infinitely tender -- and Sarek did not object. "I do love thee, Husband.
"Quite illogical," he murmured softly and reached out to take her empty bowl. He placed it carefully down on the rim of the fire pit where his own resided, before standing in one fluid movement. With a hand beneath Amanda's arm, he helped her rise. He looked at her eloquently and she laughed, stretching up on tiptoe to kiss him again.
They clung together in silence, kind and considerate with each other. Sarek's eyes were closed, lashes dark against his skin, Amanda saw in the instant she opened her own eyes and then closed them again. At last, they pulled apart.
With quiet assurance, Sarek gazed down at the woman who was his companion, his bondmate, and the mother of his youngest son.
"Come," he said carefully, hoping she would understand. "Maybe it is time to hunt dragons of our own."