Into the Valley ~ The Praetor's Son (#Uhura)

Previously ~ Stories, an Outtake

Amanda’s shuttle was no ordinary shuttle.

Nyota blinked at the rich red carpet, and inhaled the scented air. The shuttle was small without being cramped, clearly state-of-the art. The consoles glittered, the ride was completely smooth, and Nyota could imagine how far her mother’s jaw would drop just to get her hands on a shuttle like this.

The aide who piloted the ship and the attendant who co-piloted were both human, but the primary attendant was the Vulcan version of the Headmistress. She was solidly built, tall, with her gray hair cut in the traditional Vulcan style. Her outfit was a severe, drab black gown, and she smelled deeply of incense—her most feminine quality. For a split second Nyota wondered if the woman was Amanda’s attendant or her bodyguard.

“May I introduce my primary aide Mr. French,” Amanda glowed, “and his wonderful co-pilot Miss Paola. And my trusted adviser in all things, Madam T’Laurian. People, this is Miss Nyota Uhura, my son’s…lady friend.” She winked at Nyota.

Nyota’s bowed her head slightly, feeling her face heat. Sitting opposite Spock, she noticed he still refused to look at her. How come in all our time together, she wondered, he never mentioned that he once had a speech impediment?

Her inner evil voice immediately replied, Would you run around telling people about “Thuwak?”

Nyota let out a slightly giggle which she immediately disguised as a cough. Too late, though; eyes were already on her. “So, um,” she began delicately, “is ‘Ghost Moon’ a popular opera on Romulus?”

“Hardly,” T’Laurian answered stiffly. “It’s been banned on Romulus for the past eighty years. The composer himself spent the last the half-century in exile when he presented it to the Romulan Senate.”

Nyota blinked, slightly confused. “Is it, um…racy or something?”

Everyone save the Vulcans laughed.

Oddly enough, it was T’Laurian who explained. “In a manner of speaking, yes. Despite their not adopting the teachings of Surak, Romulans are a prudish species.”

Don’t you mean the teachings of Thuwak?

Nyota blinked, taken off guard by her own thoughts. Uh…WTF…?

“It’s interesting you bring that up,” Miss Paola nodded, “Romulans rejected a strictly regimented lifestyle as prescribed by Surak, and yet in many ways repressed themselves over the past centuries.”

You mean as prescribed by Thuwak?

Nyota clamped her hand over her own mouth as a strong tremor rippled through her whole body. Oh, shit.

“Interesting point, Miss Paola,” T’Laurian raised an eyebrow. “My observations of Romulans indicate that they can embrace logic and discipline as well as any Vulcan. Therefore, the most logical course of action for their people would be to embrace the wisdom of Surak.”

Wisdom of Thuwak, you say?

Nyota coughed, and it made her boyfriend’s eyebrow rise. His dark eyes narrowed as his gaze drilled into her. He seemed to be reading her thoughts, because his complexion immediately darkened to a turbulent flushing green.

Damn it! she twitched. Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!

“Romulans are too passionate a people,” Mr. French shook his head. “Disciplined and strict as their culture may be, they would still find the way of Surak to be far too restrictive.”

The way of Thuwak, huh?

Nyota’s head was going to explode. The pressure of repressed laughter was building so rapidly she was pretty sure her brain was going to erupt through her skull and splatter all over Madam T’Laurian. She suddenly imagined the calm, impassive Vulcan matron sitting perfectly still, dripping in blood and brains and not even batting so much as an eyelash.

Nyota “coughed” a few times before asking. “So…um…ahhhhhh…what’s the story of the opera again?”

“The story focuses on Tiral,” Amanda began gaily, blissfully oblivious to Nyota’s condition, “the only illegitimate son of a dying Praetor some two or three centuries ago. Much to the displeasure of the Praetor’s legitimate family, Tiral is slated to inherit the bulk of the Praetor’s wealth—a direct violation of Romulan tradition.”

Nyota’s unexpressed laughter quickly subsided as her curiosity took over. “Was Tiral even a real person?”

“Romulan history speaks openly of his father, Praetor Nirok, but only briefly mentions the illicit affair Nirok had with Lady N’Roya, daughter of his one of his favored senators,” T’Laurian explained. “However, Tiral’s existence is hinted and rumored, but never explicitly confirmed.”

“To even suggest that a bastard son of a Praetor could be portrayed as a hero is akin to blasphemy,” Spock finally spoke up. “Romulan politicians often present themselves as perfectly loyal, upstanding subjects of the Empire. They never admit to having illicit affairs and never acknowledge illegitimate children.”

Nyota’s brow furrowed in disbelief. “And the composer presented this opera to the Romulan Senate?”
“Tetral of Chulak,” Amanda chuckled, “was originally a music historian. He’s written many operas about the old Praetors. He believes that it is not enough to tell only a half a story of a leader’s life. He thinks a balanced perspective is healthier for all students of history and culture.”

“A logical approach,” T’Laurian nodded. “I found it most agreeable when Mioral introduced us to Tetral’s work. It is Miss N’Tal’s favorite opera of all time.”

“Oh?” Nyota blinked. “And why’s that?”

Amanda smiled faintly. “Because N’Tal and her family are descendants of Nirok.”

***

The Grand Holo was indeed a grand and gorgeous building overlooking the greenish Kanawha River. Its seating capacity was for at least a thousand, at least when opera program was being run.

The opera house mimicked the Romulan style, complete with greenish-gray balconies emblazoned with golden eagles. The curtains of the stage and the balconies were blue-green and trimmed with silver silken cloth. The stage was huge, rectangular, and unlike the Vulcan opera Nyota had seen with Spock, the accompanying orchestra was much smaller, with less diverse instruments. The chorus’s dais lay to the left of the stage instead of the right, and they were half the size of the Vulcan chorus.

The balcony Amanda had reserved was in the center; as the main dignitary present, she had the largest and most luxurious box. She sat in the middle, on a throne-like chair. To her right sat T’Laurian, Mr. French, and Miss Paola. To her left sat Spock and Nyota. There were four holographic waiters programmed to only serve that box. They brought round glasses of sweet, pale purple champagne from Trill, and some rare Vulcan tea for Madam T’Laurian and Spock.

Many members of the audience kept looking to their box and whispering, causing Nyota’s heart to pound. She suddenly realized she wasn’t sitting with ordinary people now. She was sitting with the wife of Sarek, Sarek’s whose works were required reading in schools throughout the Federation. Sarek, who had kept whole worlds from falling to war.

Her breath caught, and Spock looked at her, eyes hinting concern even as he neutrally inquired, “Are you well?”

Amanda was right. Ignore his words. Focus on the eyes.

“I’m fine,” she nodded. But she wasn’t. She was falling for the son of Sarek. What did that mean for her? When he used to mention being a ‘son of Sarek’ she hadn’t fully understood what that meant. She’d even rolled her eyes sometimes, thinking it was his standard excuse for everything. But now…now she was beginning to see what he meant, what he’d lived through.

She could imagine Spock’s classmates on Vulcan giving him looks and whispering amongst themselves. A human wasn’t supposed to be wife of the great Sarek. The great Sarek wasn’t supposed to have a hybrid son. The great Sarek, the most admirable of all living Vulcans, was not supposed to leave his wealth and work to some half-breed who would never know what it truly meant to be Vulcan. That was not logical. That was not what Surak would have done. Surak had intended for Vulcans to live at peace with themselves and other species, not breed with them. In their minds, Spock had no place at his father’s side. He was unworthy of his father’s legacy.

As if on cue, the lights of the vast opera house dimmed, and the holographic Romulan chorus, garbed in regal black and sporting tattooed brows, filed onto the dais, taking their seats. Opposite them, the musicians entered and seated themselves below the towering height of the stage.

“Pay close attention to the lead Vulcan lyrist,” Amanda whispered to Spock and Nyota, “he has beautiful solos.”

While the curtains were still shut, the Romulan chorus rose in unison. The holographic Romulan maestro began to conduct (with no wand, Nyota noticed), and the music began.

Romulan music sounded vaguely similar to the Klingon-textured Vulcan music. There were still those deep guttural strings, but the lyrists were more haunting, their music thinner and heart-wrenching.

And when the chorus began to sing, Nyota noticed their voices were deep and full-throated, but not rough. Instead, their voices came out as elegantly as the music of a cello. They harmonized with one another almost sweetly, almost delicately. It took Nyota by surprise.

The lyrics however, were pure Romulan.

“All hail the Praetor!
Praetor, all hail!
Nirok lies dying and poisoned
Aged one and ninety years
Praetor, all hail!
His mistress has fallen, body in the river
Lady N’Roya of Malar—foulest of play!
Praetor, all hail!

“Was Nirok too a fallen one?
Did his enemies strike him down?
Praetor, all hail!
Blood in family, flowing and ceasing?
—Where his enemies his kin?
Praetor, all hail!
Was it the matriarch, wife of the Praetor?
Sivir, wife of the Praetor?
Praetor, all hail!
Was it the Firstborn, Nekra the Prince?
First Blood of the Praetor?
Praetor, all hail!

“Treachery of servants, or was it treachery of slaves?
Was there one on his staff embittered, enraged?
Praetor, all hail!
Was it the councilor, Toprak of Malar?
Did he avenge a daughter bespoiled?
Praetor, all hail!
Was it the general, Krektor the Praetor’s right blade?
Was it He Who Felled the Armies of D’Ahmal?
Praetor, all hail!”


“A whodunit!” Nyota gasped under her breath. Spock leaned slightly to his left to hear her better.

“Pardon?” he murmured.

“This is opera is a whodunit,” she whispered excitedly. “A mystery! I thought it was going to be all about the Praetor’s son, but it’s about who killed the Praetor!”

He nodded slightly, whispering, “Romulan political intrigue is a staple of their culture. The historical betrayals and assassinations of their leaders are the backbone of their arts.” He leaned back into his chair.

And Nyota leaned back into hers. This was going to be a most exciting opera!

The Romulan actor who portrayed Tiral was a beautiful man, dark olive-skinned, black-haired and dressed in splendid dark armor. The tattoo above his brow—unlike all the other characters—was done in blood red ink, announcing his status as an illegitimate child. After meeting with his dying father who shockingly decreed Tiral would be the one to inherit all that was his, the hero set out the Praetor’s country home near Chulak Valley where, posing as a junior Senator, he issued summons to all those closest to his father—the Praetor’s wife Sivir, his half-brother Nekra, his grandfather Toprak, and the valorous General Krektor. They were instructed to arrive at night and in utter secrecy, as there was supposedly an alternate version of the Praetor’s will which did not favor Tiral.

Never a bastard favored,” sang the messenger he’d sent, “never since our forebears fled the blistering of the Forge/To Chulak come silently, and bring none….”

Once they all arrived, a serving girl lit a cozy hearth and provided them all with round after round of frosty blue Romulan ale.

A beautiful young actress with a glorious soprano voice, she sang, “My master bids you welcome, most welcome!/Be welcome, dear guests! Drink deep, drink free!/ Forgive that he tarries, forget your worries! Never a bastard favored, he swears! The Praetor most honorable did not you fail!

Praetor, all hail!” boomed the chorus (they did this seemingly any time the Praetor was mentioned).

The unwitting guests drank and drank until they were all deeply intoxicated, singing carelessly of their anger towards the Praetor.

My husband and lord,” lamented Sivir, “knew not my love/Nine sons I bore him, a healthy first-blood child I bore him/But he knew not my love/N’Roya kept his heart in chains, forever entrenched in his embrace….”

I who served my father well/Forever sought his love and grace,” growled Nekra, “and did all to please his will/was never granted smile nor praise….”

The wizened old councilor mourned his daughter. “My daughter, my daughter—my Praetor, why?/Why take my one child, you who had nine?/Rob her of husbands and honors her own/Why, my Praetor, O Praetor—why?

The fiery general too mourned the loss of N’Roya. “I who felled armies deserved my own bride/Betrothed to me she was/All that was N’Roya promised me/How many wounds for my Praetors?/Soldiers fallen for my Praetor?/Who is this Praetor who takes all that’s mine?

Behind a curtain, Tiral listened to their entire exchange, realizing they all had motive to kill his father—but none of them were actually guilty. Piecing clues from each person’s song, Tiral realized that the killer was actually someone else.

Rushing out from behind the curtain, Tiral tried to stop his guests from drinking any more. But he was too late; one by one his guests fell before him, succumbing to the poison he’d put in the ale.

***

“I don’t get it,” Nyota blinked, after the Shakespearean-like opera ended with a thunderous applause. “Why did the Praetor kill his own mistress, and then kill himself?”

“You misunderstood the Romulan lyrics,” Spock corrected her, “the Praetor didn’t. His mistress poisoned him and then killed herself.”

“In her mind,” T’Laurian explained, accepting yet another cup of tea, “it was the most logical course of action to assure her son’s place as his father’s heir.”

Nyota’s body chilled. “A bit extreme, don’t you think? N’Roya already knew her son was the Praetor’s favorite.”

“And the moment he confirmed it,” Amanda said softly, “Tiral’s life was in danger. She knew that if she and the Praetor appeared to be victims of assassination, it would throw everyone off for a moment, giving her son a chance to strike first.”

Nyota remained disturbed. “But to poison the man she loved, then gut herself and jump into a river….”

Amanda sighed wearily. “Someday, you’ll understand. A mother will do anything to protect her child, especially when there are those who think he never should’ve been born.”

Next ~ Honor

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