| To Win the Prize
The young man standing before
Kahlen was like many of the others. Fresh
out of the service, he was fit and full of himself.
Kahlen could barely remember when he had been
the same way. Time had a way of either
balancing one’s outlook on life or killing you.
Kahlen reflected wryly that, since time had not quite
latter, he himself must therefore belong in the former category. He looked the man up and down
critically. “You’ll do,
grinned. “Thank you, Honorable
just frowned until Morag stopped grinning.
“It was not a compliment. Your
service record does not matter in the field of archeology.
I said that you are adequate. You
have yet to prove to me that you are more
to my study after breakfast tomorrow.
You have much to learn, so we will begin your training
away.” Morag nodded and strode off. Kahlen watched him go. Did
this apprentice have the necessary
passion and perception to succeed? Time
would soon reveal the answer.
that evening, Kahlen laid aside the scroll he’d been working on
stretched. He looked up to find Orqina
standing at his shoulder with a warm glass of 'Iw HIq. The girl… Kahlen stopped
himself. No, Orqina was a girl no longer. She was a woman. Her
trim waist, broad hips, and lovely face
with its delicate ridges should have had the young men howling at her
door. The number of potential suitors
had been reduced by her status as his assistant. Those
suitors who did decide to approach had
been decimated further by Orqina’s own standards.
The last young man had been violently driven
off when he showed no appreciation for her intelligence, lively wit, or
history. Kahlen smiled proudly, took the
glass, and sipped the thick, sweet liquid.
“How goes your examination of Roq’s last shipment of
of the fragments are large enough to
handle without instruments, but I am beginning to see a pattern in
those I have
been able to positively identify. Apparently,
there was not a single bloodline belonging to that House but several
ones. Interestingly, there are overlaps
in some of the dates.” Orqina could
keep the excitement out of her voice.
“Do you have a preliminary
“Oh yes! Indications
so far point to annihilation of
the House from the inside. We do not
have enough evidence to positively confirm such an event, but it would
evidence Roq has uncovered to date.”
Kahlen took another sip. “Very interesting! Would
you say that the current body of
evidence disproves the official history of the actions of a rival
“No, a hypothesis is not
fact. What we have so far only sheds
doubt on the official record. It does
not disprove it.”
It will be interesting to see if your
hypothesis holds up as more artifacts come to light.”
Orqina smiled. “It
is getting late. Did you need anything
Kahlen shooed her out the door. “Go to bed, Orqina.
If I decide I need something else, I am perfectly
capable of obtaining it myself.” Once
the door had closed behind her, Kahlen raised his glass in a salute to
friend. “A daughter to be proud of,
Torg! Rest well!”
Early next morning, Kahlen briefed Morag
on the projects currently under investigation.
“As you can see, Morag, we have several areas of interest. What think you of the developments so
Sir!” Morag was enthusiastic.
“You have accomplished far more than
is based on
conclusions. One cannot number
in-progress studies as concluded.”
Kahlen opened the door and called.
“Orqina, come to my study, please.”
He turned back to Morag. “We
one dig currently active. My assistant
has been doing most of the investigation on it.”
He smiled at Orqina’s arrival. “Morag,
this is my assistant, Orqina. She will
brief you on our active dig.”
incredulous. “A woman?”
He turned to Kahlen. “You
was gone. “Yes, I do… and she
is far more knowledgeable
than you at the present time!” He
dismissal at Morag. “I have other
to attend to. Orqina will brief you on
the active dig.”
urge to slap Morag. She would not dishonor
Kahlen with such an
unprofessional display, but she didn’t have to pretend that she
words. “Follow me, Morag.”
Orqina stalked out the door without waiting
to see if he actually did.
Two days later, Morag was put to
work removing matrix from some of the recent artifacts.
Orqina noticed that he insisted on using the
largest scraper available. She stopped
him. “Morag, that scraper is much
large for the artifact.”
Morag scowled at
her. “This needs to be finished sometime
next year. A smaller scraper will take
the size and a small brush. “Use
these. The smaller scraper can get into
the crevices, and the brush can remove the loosened matrix
easily.” When Morag continued to
scrape away at the
artifact, Orqina shouted, “MORAG!” Her
shout gained his attention, and he sent the scraper gouging into his
Morag jumped to his
dripping blood. “STUPID FEMALE! DON’T YOU KNOW BETTER THAN TO DISTRACT A
USING A TOOL?” He nodded at the
spattered desk. “Clean that up while
fix my thumb!”
Orqina wet a rag at
hurled the sodden mass into his face.
“CLEAN IT UP YOURSELF!” By
time Morag got the water out of his eyes, Orqina was no longer in the
was his custom, Kahlen retired to
his study with Orqina after dinner to discuss the day’s work. It was normally a relaxing event for both of
them, but Kahlen noticed she seemed agitated this evening.
He could guess the reason why. “So
what think you of the new apprentice,
Orqina scowled. “He is impatient, and he thinks too much
both counts. It is an unfortunate failing
of many young
men. Have you read some of his
She nodded. “I have.
They’re absolutely brilliant. I
find it hard to believe that the author of those essays is the same
cannot seem to do the simplest things in the lab.”
brilliance does not
guarantee practical knowledge.”
“I know, Sir. I am trying to instruct him, but he
want to listen to me.”
Kahlen sighed. “I understand, Orqina.
If he wishes to continue as my apprentice, he
will need to learn to listen to you. I
will speak to him about it tomorrow.”
"Thank you, Sir.”
Kahlen sat in thought long after
Orqina’s departure. Morag, for all
failings, was a very promising apprentice.
On the other hand, Kahlen would rather cut off his right
Orqina as his assistant. Morag’s
disrespect to her must stop, but it would not ensure automatic respect. He let his mind wander back in time. He considered himself fortunate to have
enjoyed the association of some very wise mentors.
One, in particular, had always stood
out. He could see Vrenn’s seamed,
now, and spoke to the vision. “I do
think you realized just how much I appreciated your wisdom, Sir. I wish you could lend me some of it now.” Kahlen closed his eyes in remembrance as he
drank. The man had seemed ancient and
ageless at the same time. Vrenn had
never instructed… he set challenges that allowed you to instruct
yourself. Kahlen smiled and nodded to
himself. Vrenn had given him the answer he
Kahlen woke Morag and Orqina at dawn
the next morning. “Come, we are
Sir?” Morag looked at Orqina who
shrugged. She was just as mystified.
“You will find
out soon enough.” Kahlen led the way
to his transport. It was piled with
camping gear. Once everyone was safely
opened the throttle and aimed the transport at the distant mountains.
Half a day later, the transport came
to rest at the mountains’ foot. Kahlen
began unpacking the gear. “Set up
camp. We stay here tonight.”
Orqina was well
style of camping. She began to set the
tents into his preferred configuration.
“Has there been a discovery here, Sir?”
It wasn’t like Kahlen to withhold information like this.
“There is a
discovery to be made
here. You will be working on it
tomorrow.” Despite their best
at persuasion, his companions could pry no more details from him. Dinner was spent with much small talk and
Kahlen waited until breakfast the
next morning to enlighten his campmates.
“I have a challenge for the two of you.
You are to climb the mountain behind us.
Go as high as you can. When
decide to turn back, take a twig from that location and return with
Sir?” Morag was dubious.
“I fail to see
underestimate the degree of
difficulty, Morag.” Kahlen scowled. “The climb is difficult.
The terrain is rough, and the air gets thin
halfway up. There are several trails up
the mountain, but it is easy to go astray or fall.
I overcame this very challenge many years
ago, but it was a struggle. There is a
prize to be had, if you can find it.”
“Sir, with all
due respect, Orqina
should not do this.”
Morag. “You refuse to listen to me! Now you are trying to say what I should or
should not do! WHY should I not do
this?” She glared at him.
“You are a
woman.” Morag seemed to feel that
stating her gender
was sufficient explanation.
“How observant of you!
I would never have known I was female if you
hadn’t mentioned it. Now, explain to
why I should not attempt this challenge!”
“Kahlen said it
himself. The challenge is difficult and
dangerous. That places it into the realm
of the warrior.” Morag turned to
in appeal. “You were a great
Sir. Can you not get her to see
his head. “Orqina is perfectly capable of
herself if she wishes to attempt the challenge.
She is no longer a child under my protection.
The climb is difficult… not impossible.
I believe that Orqina has the strength and
skills to succeed.”
Morag. “I accept the
each a pack. “Here are first aid
supplies as well as
sufficient food and water for one day.
Use them wisely.”
Many hours later, Morag and
Orqina had reached the tree line. They
paused, both of them gasping in the thin air.
Morag broke a twig from the nearest tree and turned to
the trail. “Where are you
called. She motioned to the trail still
leading upward. “Kahlen said that we
should go as far as we could.”
Morag snorted. “He also said to bring back a twig from
point at which we turned back. There are
no trees or twigs beyond this point.
Therefore, this must be as far as we should go.”
He started back down the trail and called
back over his shoulder. “Go ahead if
wish, but I will be the one with the prize.”
Orqina threw a
at the departing
back. It didn’t make contact, but
felt better anyway. Why had Kahlen
instructed them to go where there were no twigs and bring one back? Orqina shrugged. Kahlen
would never have sent her on this
challenge without a reason. She turned
and started upward once more.
An hour’s hard going later, Orqina
ran out of upward. The land sloped
steeply down in front of her with no trail in evidence.
Morag had been correct. There
no trees or bushes to be
seen. The ground yielded plenty of
stones but no twigs. Orqina scanned the
immediate area. What could she take with
her to prove where she had been? She
looked in the direction of the setting sun and caught her breath.
which she stood,
a broad valley surrounded with lushly forested hills opened out. From her current vantage point, Orqina could
see all the way down the valley to a meadow rimming a vast lake. As the rays of the setting sun dropped into
the valley, the forest became an embroidered tapestry of deep green and
the meadow became a brocade of gold, copper, and deep purple; and the
became a mirror of silvered turquoise. Far
beyond the lake was a hint of more hills and mountains.
If she squinted a bit, she could almost
imagine what might lie beyond them.
Orqina let her eyes drink in the beauty as the light
faded. She felt suddenly very small and
Kahlen was worried. Morag,
now dozing by the fire, had been back
for hours with no sign of Orqina. Had
she fallen and been injured? Had her
mind become muddled in the thin air? He
needed to search for her, but it would do no good for the searchers to
around in the darkness and end up needing searchers of their own. “Morag!”
The dozing young man started awake.
“Turn in. We will begin searching for Orqina at first
“Yes, Sir. I knew she was going to get into
trouble. She is too headstrong for a
“Yes, she is
headstrong. That is one of her best
learned much, Morag. However, you have yet
to learn one of the
most important lessons.”
“What is that,
never change. It will give you the same
results regardless of a person’s gender or occupation.”
“I will keep
that in mind, Sir.”
“Be sure you do. You will go much further in life.”
Sir.” Morag headed for his tent.
Kahlen yawned. He should get some sleep as well, but his
mind was far too active to allow such a thing.
He retrieved a scroll from his tent and settled down by
woke with the sun’s first
rays and a knot in his neck. He had
fallen asleep by the fire. Fortunately,
the scroll he had been reading had landed in his lap instead of the
ground. He returned it safely to his
tent. Morag was already up and had the
search equipment ready. He handed one of
the packs to Kahlen. “Ready,
proceed.” Kahlen shouldered the pack
and headed up the
more than an hour into their
climb, Morag saw movement far ahead. He
called out, “Sir! I see
something!” There was no answer, but
Morag heard Kahlen
moving toward him. He pointed as the
older man reached him. “That
Sir. I could just barely make out the
cupped his hands
around his mouth. “ORQINA!”
It was a shout meant for a battlefield, and
it echoed back from the surrounding hills.
As the echoes faded, Kahlen motioned Morag to be silent.
passed. Morag shook his head.
must have been an animal, Sir.” Kahlen
silenced him once more. “Wait.”
The breeze shifted and both men heard the faint call. “Coming! Coming, Sir!”
Kahlen sat on a log and opened his pack.
motioned to Morag to join him.
“We may as well rest and have a bite to
eat. It will take her time to get
Orqina came into view just as they were
finishing their bites. She looked
puzzled. “I thought you would both
concerned that you had not
returned and decided to search in case you had gone astray.” Kahlen seemed matter-of-fact, but Orqina
could read a hint of relief in his voice.
“I am glad to see that my concerns were unfounded.”
“I’m sorry to worry you, Sir. The
view at the top is so beautiful; I could
not bear to leave it while I could still see it.”
“You managed to
make your way down
the trail in the dark!” By
expression, he was perplexed.
DID!” Orqina then turned her
attention to Kahlen. “You
didn’t tell me that there are
bioluminescent mosses along the trail.
Once my eyes adjusted to the dark, it was just enough for
twitched. Orqina could tell he was
smile. “I did not tell you because I
not know. I have never been up this
mountain at night. If you have been
traveling all night, you must be exhausted.”
travel *all* night. I found places to rest
along the way. I am tired but not
handed her a piece of fruit. “You
can have breakfast while we return to
in camp, Kahlen called a
meeting around the fire. “So, who
won the prize?” He looked
Morag and Orqina.
Morag stood and
the twig he
had taken from the mountain. “I have
prize! You instructed us to bring back a
twig from as high as we could.”
Kahlen nodded. “Very good, Morag. Did
you follow my other instruction?”
you to go as far as
you could and bring back a twig from the point at which you started
“There were no
twigs beyond the tree
“So you went
only as far as you
needed to go.” Kahlen took a sip of
tea. “I see. Orqina,
what have you brought back.”
Orqina hung her
head. “I did not bring anything back, Sir. There were neither twigs nor bushes at the
“What did you
see at the top?”
broadly. “It was beautiful, Sir!
There is a valley and a meadow and a
lake. There are other hills and
mountains in the distance. The colors
and textures were so rich they almost hurt to look at them.” Orqina was trembling. She
knew Morag would probably think her
descriptions stupid and her reaction to the sights a sign of weakness. So be it.
“I felt that I could see into forever!”
She looked at Kahlen. He just
signaled her to continue. “I know
feeling, Orqina. Did you come to any
conclusions while you were there?”
“Yes, Sir. I have come to the conclusion that the world
is far more important to me than I am to the world.”
Kahlen nodded. “Then you, Orqina, have won the
Morag jumped to
feet. ‘But, Sir..!”
Morag. A prize is something of
value.” Kahlen took Morag’s
twig and bent it in
half. “You gained nothing more than
token of where you were. Orqina, by her
efforts, gained something beyond price… an understanding of
herself. It is a prize which needs no
token.” He handed the twig back to a
stunned Morag. “You are a brilliant
scholar, Morag. If you wish to continue
learning about the
past, you must be willing to go further than required for no other
curiosity. You must perceive what is
with an open heart and mind… not through the fetters of the
filter.’ You must be willing to
not only the possible but the improbable as well.”
Kahlen paused then continued, “Do you now
begin to see, Morag?”
nodded. “I think so, Sir.”
He looked at Orqina. “I am
sorry for the way I have acted,
Orqina. I thought less of you because
you were female and not a warrior. I
know now that I was wrong. You proved
yourself just as capable of meeting a challenge as I am… perhaps
more so, because
you were willing to go further.”
Orqina smiled. “Apology accepted, Morag.
Perhaps we can start over when we get home.”
both on the
shoulder. “An excellent idea!
Pack the camp and let us get back to
To Win the Prize -- Susan Stahl, Auygust
challenge stems from a Cahuillan legend that teaches the virtue of
prizes and not mere tokens along life’s journey. In reading
the legend, I could almost hear
Kahlen’s voice in my head… hence the challenge of the
legend became Kahlen’s
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Trek: The Stories
The Above is a work of fiction. All
characters are fictional, any resemblance to persons living or dead is
Copyright © Susan Stahl: June 2011.
All rights reserved, re-print only with permission.