"It is time." Orqina started at the voice. Her mind had been far awy and the voice forced it back into the here and now, back into the pain. She turned to see her brother, Tarn, standing in the doorway. He beckoned to her. "It is time," he repeated. He touched her shoulder gently and stood aside for her to precede him. She nodded and moved past him to take her place beside her father's bier. As his youngest child, it was her place to make the final comments on his life.
She swallowed back the tears. She would not dishonor her father by showing such weakness. There would be time enough for that when she was alone. The sea of faces watched her expectantly. "Older friends and family have spoken at length about Torg's life. They know him as an honorable warrior, philosopher and poet. I will not repeat what they have said for I knew him best as a scholar and father. He taught me many lessons, the most important of which is that truth is the ultimate honor." Orqina closed her eyes and began to sing.
I learned from him what is possible,
not what is common now;
he chose to be guided by honor...
when I need to discover higher ground
within myself, and hold it,
he is my beckoning star.
She let the final note die away and touched her father's ridges gently. "The fight is over, Torg. Your honor will live on. Go now and take your rest." She stepped away from the bier as Tarn lit the pyre under it. As the flames grew and obscured their father's body all the warriors present, old and young, began to bellow the traditional warning to those that had gone before that a mighty warrior was coming to join them. Orqina ignored them. Let the men howl. Her father was not there to hear them. She began to think about the task ahead of her. Of all her siblings, she was the only one that had been interested in Torg's research. The job of organizing his massive collection of data and artifacts would be hers by default. Where should she even begin? Her numb mind refused to give her an answer. She shook her head. Tomorrow would be soon enough to worry about it.
The night seemed ages long and the dull, rainy dawn seemed no better. It suited Orqina's mood. Breakfast did nothing to improve that mood. The normal morning conversations were monopolized by the declarations of her brothers that their father's death must be avenged. As the eldest, Tarn did most of the talking, but Toral was in just as blood thirsty a mood. As young and hot-headed as Toral could be it was a good thing that he listened to Tarn at all.
Orqina left both of them to their posturing to start organizing their father's study. Once there, she closed the thick door behind her with relief. She could feel the tears coming and this time she did nothing to stop them. The study was well insulated. With the door closed, no one could hear her and there was no one to see. Orqina indulged herself in her grief. Yes, Father had died well defending his scholarly honor. Yes, people die all the time. It did not make the pain of his loss any less. It took almost an hour for her to compose herself. Finally, she felt the anger and pain subsiding and looked at the remains of the couch bolster strewn about the room. It had been in need of replacement anyway. Far better to vent one's emotions on such a thing rather than the precious artifacts. She gathered up the bits and disposed of them quickly. Now clear of mind, she was ready to begin the real work.
Her gaze wandered about the study that suddenly seemed so empty. Where to start? Her mind went back to her earliest lessons in the scholarly arts. She could almost hear her father's patient voice, "In any endeavor it is best to first take the time to assess the entire situation. Unnecessary haste may lead to serious errors," Very well. a good look at the room. Orqina forced herself to look around the study as if seeing it for the first time. On the wall above the desk was Father's bat'leth. It was well cared for, but had not been seriously used for a very long time. Father had made quite a name for himself as a young warrior, but had given it all up when he discovered his two great passions, Mother and historical research. No need to do anything with it. Tarn, as the eldest son, would inherit it.
Her eyes dropped to the desk. The work area was pin neat, but the perimeter was crowded with scrolls and other objects. She moved on to the shelves lining the walls. Everything there was in order, but would have to be gone through systematically and cataloged. It would probably be best to begin with the desk. Clearing the clutter would leave more space to work. She dropped into the chair behind the desk, brought the computer up, and began sorting the objects into related piles.
One of the first things she encountered was a package she remembered being delivered the morning Father had died. He had intended to open it that afternoon, but became involved in the fatal argument before he had gotten to it. She checked the sender. It was from Vorq, the team leader at Father's latest dig. A search of the computer revealed no clue as to the package's possible contents so she was sure that Father had not been expecting it. Orqina opened the package carefully. The wrappings yielded a curved piece of metal with faint markings on it, a scrap of parchment, and a PADD. She keyed the PADD first. It contained images of both object in situ with Vorq's voice narrating. "These were found in a layer dated to be approximately 1,000 years old, consistent with the time of the Hurq invasion. As you can see, they were found extremely close together, such that we suspect they were stored in the same container." Orqina compared the two objects in front of her with the images on the screen. They were definitely the same objects. Vorq continued, "The markings on the metal are not readable here in the field. The parchment appears to be written in ngo'Hol. I am sending them to you for detailed study in a controlled environment as they are both quite fragile."
Orqina stared at the two objects, her mind churning furiously. This could be the tangible proof Father had been searching for. He had always held that, while the Hurq had shown the possibilities to their ancestors, Klingon starfaring technology was solely a product of Klingon drive and intellect. The organization of the study could wait.
Moments later, she inserted tiny samples of both materials into the Analyzer and set it to work. It would take some time for the device to come up with any results so she had time to take a closer look at the metal piece. It closely resembled a bit of the interior of a very early starship. She compared the piece to the examples of the first Klingon starships stored on the computer. It didn't take her long to find that it was, as she suspected, a piece of one of the first starships. Now for a closer look at the markings on it. Careful inspection revealed that the markings did not match either the ancient ngo'Hol nor the modern pIqaD so they were not any form of Klingon. Orqina then turned to the references on the Hurq language. She realized with a start that the characters matched. It did not make sense that the Klingon ancestors would have used the invader's language in their starships. The simplest explanation had to be that this piece came from a Hurq starship. The Klingons did not have starships before the Hurq came so it could not be a case of the Hurq copying Klingon technology. Orqina closed her eyes. If what she was beginning to suspect was true, Father's theory had been wrong. The theory he had died defending had been wrong.
She breathed deeply to calm herself. She must not rush to conclusions. The Analyzer had not yet confirmed the age or composition of either sample yet, nor had she translated any of the writing so she did not know what either said. She could be mistaken. "Unnecessary haste may lead to serious errors." She would wait until she had all the facts before deciding what to do with it.
By the next morning, Orqina had neither slept nor eaten and she had studied the metal piece and the parchment until her ridges ached, but she had some solid answers. The Analyzer had confirmed the age of both objects did date to the time of the Hurq invasion, before there were any Klingon starships. The metal was of offworld material yet it precisely matched the form of an access panel from an early Klingon starship. The markings on it were definitely Hurq writing and translated into instructions consistent with those found on an access panel. The only conclusion that she could reach was that the first Klingon starships were copies of Hurq ships and not original designs. The parchment confirmed her conclusion. The Analyzer results showed it to be made of local material and she had translated the ancient script several times, both from front to back and back to front. She wanted to be certain that she was not misconstruing the words because of her assumptions. Each time, the message was the same. "We will take the Hurq technology for ourselves so that we will not be vulnerable to such invasions again."
Orqina was stunned. Father's theory had been wrong. It had been a good, solid theory, but it was wrong all the same. A piece of metal the size of her hand and an even smaller scrap of parchment was all it had taken to blow the theory away. His scholarly honor had been based on falsehood. "Father, I am sorry."
"Sorry about what?" Tarn's voice shocked her out of her reflections.
"Father's theory was wrong, Tarn. He had the truth on his desk, but did not live long enough to discover it." Orqina pointed to the two artifacts, now the most important objects in the study. "These arrived the morning he died. He did not have a chance to study them. If he had, he would have changed his theory and the argument would never have happened."
Tarn scowled. "Father wrong? NEVER!" He grabbed Orqina roughly by the arm. "Do not ever say that again. You will not so dishonor his memory!"
"It is the TRUTH, Tarn! As it is right now, his honor stands on a falsehood. He did not know it to be so, but it does. Now that I know the truth, I can correct the error and his honor will never be assailable by anyone. Father would wish it so. Truth is the ultimate honor."
"You will say nothing. To remain silent is no lie. Leave the matter of a man's honor to men."
Orqina shook herself free. "To hide the truth is the mark of a coward, Tarn! I may not be a man, but I am no coward! Father would be ashamed that his eldest son IS!"
Tarn snatched the bat'leth from the wall and held it at Orqina's throat. She swallowed hard, but stood firm holding Tarn's eyes with hers. Finally, Tarn lowered the bat'leth and returned it to its resting place. "You will pay for that remark later. I have business with the Council. Father's death WILL be avenged." He stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Orqina watched him go, shaking with anger. She was finding it difficult to think in an orderly fashion and she fought to bring her emotions and mind to order. First she needed food. She also needed sleep, but she knew where Tarn was going. The only business he could have dealing with revenge was formally petitioning the Council to sanction a blood feud. In light of the facts she had uncovered, such a feud would be unnecessary and dishonorable. For the honor of her father and her family, Tarn must be stopped. There was no time to sleep.
She hurried to the kitchen. Mother was stirring something that smelled wonderful and singing softly under her breath. Orqina caught the familiar refrain.
The warriors may go out to fight
Defense of Honor and the right.
Strong foundation safe at home
A woman's place to guard.
The song was so old that it was known only as The Women's Song, the original title having been lost in the mists of time. The family had been getting quite a bit of non-replicator food recently. Mother had obviously decided that the best way to deal with her grief was to cook.
Mother looked searchingly at her. "Orqina, you have been working so hard you have forgotten to eat and sleep." She laid out a plate of fruit. "Sit and eat. Your work will go better with something in your stomach."
Orqina grabbed a couple of pieces from the plate. "I have no time to rest, Mother. Tarn has gone to petition a blood feud. He must not do this thing!"
Mother looked at her sharply. "Why not? It is his place to demand vengeance for your father's death."
"In this case it would bring dishonor upon this house."
"Explain yourself, Girl!" Mother sat across from Orqina, scowling. "What do you know about this?"
"The package that arrived the morning Father died had new evidence that proves his theory wrong. He did not get a chance to examine them, but I have. He did not know it, but his theory was based on falsehood."
Mother grabbed Orqina's hand painfully, staring into her eyes. "On your honor, Orqina! This is the truth?"
Orqina stared back unflinchingly. "On my honor, Mother. I tested the artifacts several times. Each time the answers were the same. I have looked for other answers to the best of my ability without success. It is the truth."
"Then you must go and tell the Council. You are right. It would be a dishonor to declare blood feud." Mother stood and gently pulled Orqina to her feet. "I would go myself since Torg was my husband, but I do not have your knowledge. It will have to be you." She moved off, beckoning Orqina to follow. "First you will have to gain access to the Council chamber. Fortunately, I have some outgrown clothes of Toral's. You have the height, but your breasts are still small. I think with some careful wrappings and his old clothes you will be able to pass as male long enough to get in. After that it will be up to you."
A short time later, Orqina and her mother approached the Council chamber. Orqina moved off to the side while Mother walked directly up to the warrior guarding the door. "How goes the proceedings, Warrior?'
He moved to block her way. "Only warriors may enter, woman."
"I am well aware of that. I am Vanira, wife of Torg. The honor of my house and family ride upon this matter." She moved back, the guard following her. "I do not seek entrance. I asked how the proceedings were going." Another step back and the guard followed her again. His attention was now fully on Mother. "Am I not entitled to a progress report?"
"Your son has been making a strong case. He carries the honor of his house well."
"Indeed." Mother's eyes were on the guard's face holding his attention on hers, but Orqina caught her quick, tiny hand gesture. There was just enough room for Orqina to slip past the man. She didn't waste any time in taking her chance.
"They have just gotten past the preliminaries. It will be some time yet before any decision is reached."
While mother nodded slowly as if deep in thought, Orqina worked her way away from the door and deeper into the chamber. She could hear her brother bellowing. With all eyes on the front of the chamber, nobody took much notice of a young warrior trying to get a little closer look at the events.
Now that Orqina was safely inside, Mother took a deep breath. "Thank you, Warrior. Since men take so much time to come to a decision, I will wait for further news at home. I may as well get some work done while I wait." She strode off purposefully while the guard stepped back into place.
Orqina managed to work her way almost to the front of the crowd. She could hear Tarn still blustering. "Honored Council, the only way my father's death can be avenged is by blood feud. The House of Dakar has made themselves my enemy and the enemy of my family!"
The eldest councilor, Kahlen, rose from his seat. "You have a good case, Tarn son of Torg. We will consider your words and give you our verdict by nightfall." He signaled and the entire council rose to leave. It was now or never. Orqina pushed past the warriors in front of her and dashed toward the council dais. "Wait, Honored Ones! I have facts that bear heavily on this matter!" She dodged Tarn's grab for her and skidded to a halt only inches from the dais. Tarn was coming for her, murder in his eyes. Orqina turned quickly to the Council. "I ask permission to present my facts."
Kahlen held up his hand. "Hold, Tarn! No violence may be done within this chamber without the Council's permission!" He turned to Orqina. "Why do you, a girl-child, invade this council of men? Go back to your place, Girl!"
Orqina stood her straightest. "I am Orqina, daughter of Torg. I have facts that bear upon this matter and I have come to set the record straight."
"Let your brother present these facts. He has a right to be here. You do not!"
"My brother does not possess the knowledge of these facts. I, alone, of my family know them. If my father had lived a little longer he would also know these facts and would have set them forth for the record. Since he is dead I must speak for him."
Martaq, the youngest of the Council, scowled at her. Orqina could tell by his body language that he would be happy to help Tarn beat her if council tradition did not forbid it. Martaq snorted. "Only a son may speak for his father. Begone, Girl!"
Orqina stared back at him. "I will not go until I have said what needs to be said!" She turned to Kahlen. "Honorable Kahlen, I claim a son's right to speak for my father. I have been his assistant for the past five years. I know his work better than anyone else. This is new knowledge that has been uncovered since his death. Allow me to place it into the record for my father!"
Martaq laughed. "There is a reason women are not scholars! They do not possess the capability for such wisdom!"
Orqina did not flinch. "I am sure your mother would be pleased to know that she is an incapable dolt!" Loud laughter rang out around the chamber at her words. Martaq looked ready to tear her limb from limb council tradition or not, but subsided as Kahlen's laid a hand on his arm. Kahlen's scarred face was unreadable as he watched Orqina closely. She turned again to him. "Honorable Kahlen, I am sure that you know The Women's Song. Is the song not as ancient as our people?"
Kahlen nodded. "I remember hearing the song from my grandparents. They learned it from their's. Yes, it is a song from our beginnings."
"The song sings about women being the strong foundation and guardians of our culture. Is the song not true? As the men go out to the stars, the women keep house and home safe for their return?"
"Yes, that is the way it has always been. That is a woman's place."
Orqina took a deep breath. "Then, if women are capable of maintaining and guarding such an important thing as the wisdom of our culture, I submit to the Council that women are also capable of gathering and maintaining the wisdom of scholarly research!"
Kahlen eyes narrowed and he motioned to his assistant. "Bring me the scroll from the top shelf of my chambers." He turned back to Orqina as the aide hurried off. "Very well, young woman. You may present your facts to this counsel, but you must first earn the right. No warrior is here who has not proven himself. You must also prove yourself."
"I am no warrior, Honorable One. A trial by combat would not be a true test."
"My aide has gone to bring your test. It is not your fighting abilities that are in question here. Since you claim to have knowledge of scholarly things, you will have the chance to prove it."
"I am Orqina, daughter of Torg. I accept any such test you choose to administer." The words were scarcely out of her mouth when the aide returned with the scroll. Kahlen motioned for Orqina to come forward and take it. She did so carefully. The scroll was so ancient that it crackled when she handled it. The words were badly faded. It would be a difficult read.
Kahlen gave her a moment to study the text. "Only I and a handful of others can read this text. Your father was one of them. I know that he had never seen it. If you can read the text, you may place your facts before the Council. If you cannot read it, you will be subject to whatever punishment the Council deems appropriate for your insolence. Do you understand?"
Orqina nodded. "I understand, Honorable One." She took a deep breath and began to read aloud, slowly at first, then more quickly as she became accustomed to the author's style. The council chamber grew silent and everyone strained to hear her words. Minutes later, she reached the torn bottom of the scroll where the words trailed off into oblivion. She looked up at Kahlen. "The scroll ends here, Honorable Kahlen. There is no more." She rolled the scroll up reverently and handed it back to the aide.
The silent crowd waited for Kahlen's response. He didn't hold them in suspense for long. He let loose a shout that echoed from one end of the chamber to the other. "WELL DONE!" The crowd responded with an approving roar. Kahlen gave them a moment then held up his hands for silence and the crowd noise subsided quickly. He returned to his seat and the rest of the Council did likewise. Orqina waited. It was now up to Kahlen whether or not she would be allowed to speak.
Kahlen addressed her formally. "Step forward, Orqina, daughter of Torg."
"I am here, Honorable One."
"You claim to have new facts that bear heavily on the matter now before the Council."
"I do. I would set them forth in my father's place since he is no longer capable of doing so."
"Present your facts, then. The Council is listening."
Orqina took her time with her presentation. She did not want any misinterpretations of the evidence. The Council listened to her gravely. Afterward, each councilor inspected both artifacts, comparing them with the images and information on the PADD as well as the results from the Analyzer and Orqina's several translations of both writings. Several hours and many questions later, Orqina could feel the lack of sleep and food taking its toll on her. She was starving and bone weary, but stiffened her spine and forced herself to concentrate. Warriors did not complain about hunger and fatigue, neither would she. She watched the Council comparing notes about what they had seen and heard. Finally, they stood and motioned Tarn forward. "Tarn, son of Torg, in light of this new evidence we do not feel that a blood feud is justified in this case. Go now and lead your family with honor."
Tarn nodded. "Yes, Honorable Ones." Orqina was pleased to note that he seemed to have been listening to her presentation. A lot of the anger and belligerence had gone out of him. He turned to go, but stopped when Kahlen held up his hand. "One moment, we have not finished here yet. Step forward, Orqina, daughter of Torg."
Mystified, Orqina did so. "I am here, Honorable Ones."
"It would be a waste for five years of scholarly research to end here. The Council wishes to offer you a place as an historical consultant when such is needed."
"I would be most honored! I accept the offer!" She heard a murmur of approval from the crowd.
"And, as a personal request, since you are so apt with ancient languages, I also wish to offer you a position as my academic assistant." Orqina looked at Kahlen in surprise. Did she just imagine it or did she actually see a smile beneath the scar? She restrained herself from hugging him. It would not be proper in these circumstances. However, smiling was not prohibited. Orqina grinned. "I would be pleased to assist you, Honorable Kahlen!"
He nodded. "Very good! This session of the Council is finished!"
As the crowd filed out of the chamber, Tarn took her elbow. He seemed strangely quiet and Orqina did not break that silence as they made their way home. Once they were far enough from the other warriors to have a little privacy, Tarn turned Orqina to face him. "I am sorry, Orqina. You were right and I could not see it."
"It is understandable. You did not know all that I knew. It is hard to see clearly when you are angry and grieving."
"My honor and our family's honor is still intact thanks to you. I owe you for that."
"You owe me nothing, Tarn. You are my brother. Torg was my father. What else could I have done?"
Tarn threw back his head and laughed "Strong foundation safe at home, a woman's place to guard! Kahlen made you his assistant so that he could keep you in your place. See that you bring honor to it, sister!"
Orqina hugged Tarn tightly. "Don't worry. I will!"
The Women's Song -- Susan Stahl, June 2006
NOTE: The words of Orqina's eulogy song are not mine. They are part of a poem by Joneve McCormick entitled "My Father". The last two stanzas fit my image of Orqina's relationship with her father so well that I borrowed them. The full poem goes as follows:
Compassionate warrior, philosopher, poet,
my father showed chivalry to women
and good will to all.
I learned from him what is possible,
not what is common now;
he chose to be guided by honor...
when I need to discover higher ground
within myself, and hold it,
he is my beckoning star.
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The Above is a work of fiction. All characters are fictional, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
Copyright © Susan Stahl: June 2006. All rights reserved, re-print only with permission.