by Cheryl Petterson

(Standard Year 2239)

Go to Part Two

Return to Valjiir Stories

Return to Valjiir Continuum

Za'faran, the smaller of Indi's two suns, was hovering just above the horizon, preparing to join his red brother and give dominance of the sky to Mnori and Mirana, the double moons that were both at full and rising in the east. Jole Costain, Epsilon Indi's Ambassador-at-Large to the United Federation of Planets, stood on the balcony of his family home, watching the second sunset with his guest, Selar of Vulcan. As the Federation representative, it was his duty to offer hospitality to any member of another Federation race who wished to visit Indi in some capacity other than tourist. Selar was a researcher from the Vulcan Science Academy, in the Indiian system on a biological field trip concerning the goonut. The goonut was a species found on Ritaani, the innermost planet of the Indiian system. It had, in one thousand and fifty years of recorded existence, evolved from a small, bird-like herbivore into an omnivorous predator the size of a two-year-old child. Such rapid evolution was, of course, more than remarkable, and biologists from all over the galaxy were gathering to study it.

Jole turned to the Vulcan. The man was tall, of course; all Vulcans were. His dark hair did not signify age, Jole knew, as it would have were he Indiian. He was, in fact, young for a Vulcan, in his early thirties. The typical Vulcan features, upswept eyebrows, elongated, pointed ears and green-tinged skin seemed more alien here on Indi than they did at Federation gatherings. Still, Jole knew his duties. "It is our traditional dinner hour," he said. "My wife has prepared dishes in accordance with your species' dietary customs. Will you join us?"

Selar took his gaze from the horizon and settled it on his host. Ambassador Costain was, by Indiian standards, of middle-age, not yet sixty; in Federation standard years his age would be sixty-seven. He was of medium height, just under two meters, of a good build. His burgundy hair was just beginning to darken, his slate-grey eyes held an admirable calm, considering the cultural data Selar had been given. He was dressed in a dark blue suit with a triangular opening over his upper chest, and sleeves which were open above his elbows, the style signifying his marital status. Selar had been told it was important to be aware of such details when dealing with Indiians.

"Thank you, Ambassador," he answered his host's query. "I would be honored."

The two men turned and walked into the house.

~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~

"Kera, call your sister, it's dinnertime!"

Karina Costain was setting large dishes of stewed and fresh vegetables on the carved wooden table. The five-year-old child scurried out of the dining room, her green skirt flying behind her as she began screaming her sister's name.

Liore scowled at the food. "Mother" he said, "do we have to eat only this..."

Karina scowled back at her son. "We are entertaining a Vulcan, Liore, and we will eat as he eats. You know custom as well as I."

Liore mumbled about eaters of roots and berries but he aided his mother with the table.

"Mama, she says she's busy," Kera said as she bounded back into the room.

"Father's engines, no doubt," Liore chuckled, shaking his head.

"Father's engines or not, we have a guest!" Karina wiped her hands on her apron. "Jilla!" she called.

"Mama, not now!" an impatient voice called back.

"Get in here for dinner!" Liore ordered.

"Fall into a crater!" the voice answered.

"That is no way to speak to your elder brother!" Karina said sharply.

"Mama...!"

"You will come for dinner, daughter!"

A mumble was followed by the crash of tools.

"And wear proper clothing!" Karina added. "We entertain Federation!" She slapped Kera's hand as the child reached for a dish on the table.

"Mother, Jilla isn't interested in anything other than starships." Liore was grinning. Karina turned to him.

"You could bring your friends home more often," she admonished. "She's not an ugly girl."

"No, she's quite pretty when she's cleaned up. But she spends all her time in Father's workshops."

"You could try..."

"I have!" Liore protested. "She'll come up, say hello, fidget, then excuse herself and go back to her engines. Do you blame the men for finding nothing to interest them?"

Karina sighed. "It's not healthy," she declared. "She's sixteen. She should go out more."

"What do you want me to do about it?" Liore demanded. "Am I supposed to drag her bodily out of her circuits and wiring?"

"Liore, keep your tongue," Jole said sternly as he entered the room with Selar behind him. Karina took Kera by the shoulders, standing her in front of Jole and Selar. Kera curtsied.

"Selar Selik's son of Vulcan," Jole said in formal Anglo-Terran, "I present my wife, Karina, my eldest, Liore, and my youngest, Kera." Jole frowned at Kera, who was staring openly at the Vulcan.

"Our family is honored by your presence," Karina said in the language Jole had used.

"The honor is mine, Lady Karina," Selar said, apparently undisturbed by the child's inquisitive gaze.

"The meal is prepared," Karina rejoined. "If you will be seated?"

"I've heard of your work, Selar," Liore said heartily as they took their chairs. "Do you think you can discover the evolutionary patterns of the goonut? Do you think it will be of any use?"

Jole assisted his wife in serving the meal. "Where's Jilla?" he whispered in Indiian.

"Getting into suitable dress," Karina whispered back. "She was in your workshop till moments ago." Jole smiled and Karina glared at him. "I hope she will not disgrace us."

"Your daughter knows her manners," Jole replied indulgently and Karina sighed.

~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~

Selar listened and conversed quietly with Liore. They were, by Federation standards, approximately the same age. The young man's interest in biology had been included in the biographical data he'd been given on the Ambassador's family and so he was content to speak of it with him. His only wish was that the Indiian would lower his voice and contain his more buoyant enthusiasm. He partook politely of the veritable feast Karina Costain had set before him, refusing to acknowledge the young child's continued stare. The information he had been given said that the Ambassador had three children - a small family by Indiian standards. But the third child was nowhere in sight. He found himself wondering if his hosts' whispered conversation had anything to do with that fact - and his eye was caught by a flash of deep red. He glanced up.

A small silver goddess was silently taking her seat at the table. One arm was bare, her hair worn loose in the manner of unmarried Indiian women. Her grey eyes sparkled, her face glowing faintly. The red and silver dress she wore clung to her delicate form, accentuating the ripeness of her figure. She smiled shyly at him and he abruptly pushed the fanciful metaphor from his mind.

"Selar," Jole Costain said, "This is my eldest daughter, Jilla. Jilla, Selar, Selik's son."

"We are honored, sir," Jilla said. Her voice was soft and cool, a welcome respite from the clarion tone of her brother. Selar noted that the girl's mother sighed as though displeased. Selar himself acknowledged her welcome with a gracious nod in her direction.

~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~

Jilla filled her plate, glancing surreptitiously at the Vulcan. She could sense his reaction to her - one of an almost awe-filled wonder. It made her skin heat in a blush. His eyes were dark and intelligent. She found his skin color fascinating and the way his eyebrows swept away from his strong, angular features strangely attractive. The curving, pointed ears accented his profile when he turned his head. She watched his hands as he ate. They moved gracefully. He was dressed all in black, slender and elegant, and when he spoke his voice was deep and calm - so unlike Liore's booming ebullience.

"Daughter, did you solve the problem of the theoretical warp extension?" Jole said between bites of food.

"Jole!" Karina hissed, and for once, Jilla was glad of her mother's disapproval, for it gave her time to tear her thoughts from Selar. She ignored it, though, as she usually did, and turned to her father.

"It gave me some trouble at first," she said. "but when I realized the dynamics could be recalculated...'

~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~

Selar began to listen to Liore with only half his attention. The other half was on the conversation between the Ambassador and his daughter. Her grasp of the intricacies of warp drive engineering was amazing for one so young. She spoke rationally and intelligently, with little of the flagrant emotion that was so prevalent among Indiians. He found himself drawn into her voice and her clear, precise logic.

"...therefore, with only a .013 enlargement of the dylithium converters, easily accomplished within the existing housings, and a 5.7 percent increase in hull tensile cohesion, warp 10 becomes a viable emergency speed."

"Quite logical," Selar interjected. "Can the increase be accomplished?

Jilla turned, her face taking on an attractive sheen. "My father is working on that now," she said. "The obvious solution is the addition of neutronium into the final tempering..."

"And the temperatures necessary for such a venture would instantly melt any hull metal placed in the solution," Selar concluded.

"Precisely," Jilla stated. "It is a problem.

"I have no doubt that, considering the Ambassador's reputation, and seeing what an able assistant he has, any difficulty will eventually be dealt with."

Liore stared at him. "Assistant? A fanatic, that's what she is!"

"Liore!" Karina cried in exasperation.

"Well, she is!"

"I'm sure our guest isn't interested in family quarrels," Jole cautioned his son. "Forgive us, Selar."

"It is already forgotten," Selar assured graciously, but his eyes didn't leave Jilla's.

~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~

"Mama, is Selar married?" Jilla asked casually as she brushed her hair in preparation for bed.

"Now how would I know that?" Karina replied, tucking Kera under the covers. "And why do you want to know?"

"Vulcans are a handsome race."

"I suppose so." Karina turned to her. "Child, what is on your mind?"

"Just that he is - attractive," Jilla mused softly.

Karina stood, moving to sit next to her daughter on the bed. "He is also Vulcan," she said. "They are not suited to our temperaments." She paused. "Or to what you're feeling." Jilla smiled sheepishly at her mother. Karina hugged her. "Now go to sleep."

"Yes, Mama." Jilla kissed her lightly and Karina rose, leaving the bedroom.

The first normal interest the girl has shown in any male and it's toward a Vulcan, she thought, shaking her head. Aema, what am I to do with Your child?

~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~

Jilla reached for her gyrocompass and glanced at the chronometer. It was almost sunset. Selar would be arriving for dinner shortly. She unconsciously ran a hand through her thick hair. She should get cleaned up. Just a few more calculations and she'd leave the shop.

Of course, she thought, and blushed, I could just wait for him. He had come down every day about this time for the two weeks he'd been their guest. He seemed fascinated by her work, and she was just as interested in his. But her mother gave her sour looks when she appeared in the company of 'Federation' dressed in work coveralls. But then, her mother gave her odd looks when she changed to proper attire. There was simply no pleasing her, so Jilla stopped trying and concentrated on pleasing Selar.

Intelligence, order, reason. Open emotion embarrassed him, but he did like to see her smile. "You're wasting your time, Jilla," Liore had told her. "Vulcans are asexual."

And who said anything about sex? Just because I had my lin-arin over a year ago...

She had spoken the words of affirmation and consecration and was no longer a child, but an Aeman woman. And because of that, Liore expected her to behave like...

She couldn't help smiling, remembering her father's comment: any normal Aeman woman. Her father, at least, understood. He was proud of her. She was nearly as good at starship engineering as he was. It left little time for anything else, a point her mother made frequently. But Jilla wasn't interested in anything else. That is, until she'd met Selar. He was, without a doubt, the most intelligent man she'd ever talked to, even if he didn't speak Indiian well. And he was so controlled! The emotions came from him as easily - if not always as clearly - as from any Indiian, but he didn't let them effect him. Wouldn't it be wonderful, she mused, to be able to feel without having it all get out of hand? How her father had managed it, she couldn't begin to guess. He was in the diplomatic corps, he had to deal with all sorts of strange and ridiculous customs without losing his temper...

"Jilla!" Kera's voice called, "Mama says to come up and prepare for service!"

Service! Goddess, she'd forgotten! Mirana was at full, Mnori at Her half face. It was her place as youngest woman in the house to preside at the sim-arin. She hurriedly began putting tools away, shouting "Coming!" to her sister. Her mother was probably boiling! One was supposed to spend at least an hour in prayer before a service. She would barely have time now to set the altar properly. "Jilla, you Roshian disgrace to your father's name!"

"Jilla?"

She turned swiftly at Selar's voice, realizing she had spoken the deprecation out loud. Her hand brushed against a pinpoint laser, activating it. It scored her finger. "Ca!" she swore, sticking her finger in her mouth. She looked up at Selar, beginning to blush.

"I had not I intended to startle you," he said. "Does your injury require attention?"

Jilla quickly took her hand down. "No, it's only a surface burn."

He nodded. "Your father informs me that you will not be at dinner this evening."

"I have service" she said.

"The sim-arin, I believe."

She smiled, surprised at his knowledge and unaccountably pleased by it.

"I had thought," he continued, "you might accompany your brother and I to the field laboratory tomorrow. We are close to understanding the cause of the goonut's uniqueness. You did mention being interested in the procedure."

Jilla tried to keep her voice calm, though excitement and an indefinable feeling of pride and joy were racing through her. "I think that would be most pleasant, Selar," she replied. "Thank you."

He nodded again, then laid the palm of his left hand flat on his chest, fingers spread. "Torzina ah rehan en sim-arin" he said in flawless Indiian. He bowed his head slightly, then turned, silently leaving the workshop.

Jilla stared after him, her eyes shining, her heart beating furiously. He had wished her peace and joy at service, after the fashion of a man who courted mnorindar. Wedded to Selar? Her eyes closed with the shivers the thought sent through her. His graceful hands touching her, the warmth of his skin next to hers... He had touched her once, brushing a spark from her cheek while watching her work on one of her father's prototypes. Touching him back, caressing his curving, elegant ears... His eyes, so deep, so knowing, gazing at her, his slender body held against hers...

"Jilla Costain, I will not tell you again!" Karina's shrill voice screeched from upstairs.

Jilla pulled herself away from her reveries. "Coming, Mother!" she shouted, and quickly bounded up the stairs.

~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~

The field laboratory was humming with cautious excitement. Kelet Tofflin, an Equian biologist, had succeeded in determining the enzyme that accounted for the goonut's accelerated evolution. Hours of testing raised the specter of Eugenics, but the boon to the research of genetic disorders was incalculable. The scientists were all eager to put the knowledge to work on behalf of their various races and went quickly to the spaceports and communication centers to report to the Federation and their home systems. Liore left to celebrate with friends, and Jilla stayed with Selar, aiding him in gathering and transcribing notes, collecting data and formulating conclusions and hypotheses. It was well after dinnertime when they took a shuttle back to Indi. Selar suggested they dine at the shuttle port. Jilla resisted the temptation to order rare roast tumnar and followed custom by eating only fruits and vegetables. She noted the silent appreciation in his eyes and was pleased. As they ate, they spoke of his work and hers, biological oddities and engineering marvels, differences in customs and traditions, and differences in general.

Mirana was high overhead, Mnori just rising as they left the dining room. The night air was cool to Jilla's skin. She knew Selar must be freezing, although he didn't show it. They stood on the port observation balcony, silently watching the sky. Selar broke the quiet.

"I must return home in two days."

Jilla said nothing. What could she say that he would not think flagrantly emotional and terribly illogical? Still, there was a sudden lump in her throat as she realized she did not want him to leave.

"It will not be an easy thing to do," he went on.

She felt his reluctance echoing her own. Her heart beat faster. "It will not be easy for me to see," she answered softly. "I... enjoy your company." There was pleasure from him at that.

"And I, yours," he returned, "as I have enjoyed little else." His gaze was set on a faint, far-away blur that she knew was Epsilon Eridani. "There are very few outworlders who know anything of Vulcan marital customs," he continued and his tia was tinged with mild discomfort. "Suffice it to say that my - betrothed - died quite young. An arranged marriage of which I am now free." He turned to her. Her head was down, the hair throwing her face into shadow, but she could feel the sudden strength of his emotions. "Jilla, it is not my wish to leave you."

She looked up quickly. Selar's hand gently brushed her face. "You - cannot stay?" she asked hesitantly, knowing he wanted to. Perhaps he only needs the asking...

"No," he said. "There is much I need to return to."

"Then, can we... is it possible to share... the memory at least?" That, too, he wanted, and her skin glistened faintly with her own desire as well as his. He shook his head ruefully.

"Vulcans do not take such things as lightly as Indiians," he told her. "And it would be difficult to order under the best of circumstances."

Jilla lowered her eyes, not wanting him to see the sorrow she knew would be evident in them. She felt his fingers tracing the line of her jaw, lifting her chin.

"You are young, Jilla," he murmured, his voice low, "and beautiful by more than Indiian standards. There will no doubt be many men in your life. Do I dare ask you to give up all that you have yet to experience?" He is so noble, so strong...

"To leave this way would be far worse, would it not?" The tears were filling her eyes, try as she would to stop them. Stay, she begged silently, Selar, stay!

"Perhaps. I would always cherish this time, yet always rue that it was not more."

"Can it not be?" A tear she couldn't stop slid silently down her cheek as she felt his sad determination. "One kiss, then?" she went on hopefully. "That surely cannot compromise you." She tried to smile but her face was full of pain and despair. His eyes closed for a moment, then opened into hers; dark, warm, reflecting her sorrow. He leaned down, still holding her face tenderly. His lips touched hers with a light, gentle pressure. She returned the kiss with her own, firm and sweet and loving. Her fingers caressed his face, her body falling into the sensation of warmth and bitterness.

When they broke the kiss, she was locked in his arms, clinging to him, her tears soaking the shirt that was the color of the midnight sky. He gently put her away from him and she knew he was embarrassed, yet fighting it.

"Jilla," he began. She turned away, hands covering her face. He touched her shoulders, turning her back, then took her wrists, pulling her hands back down. "I do not wish to be parted from you." His voice was still determined, but rash hope had replaced the sadness. "Indiian custom dictates a bond which is among the most permanent known to the galaxy. I have decided it will have to do."

She met his gaze with a quick jerk of her head. Love, deep and abiding respect, need, desire - all came from him as clearly as starlight. Her eyes widened, disbelieving and hopeful and delighted all at once.

"Mnorindar?" she whispered uncertainly.

"If you will have me" he said.

She started laughing, her tears spilling out joyfully, and she couldn't say 'yes' fast enough.

~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~

"Jilla he's Vulcan!" Karina cried, wringing her hands.

"Does that matter? He loves me, he asks for a wedding. Marriage, Mama!"

"You're too young!" Liore snorted. "You're still a virgin!"

"I know what I want, Liore!"

"Child, Vulcan is a cold place. Even your emotional lack won't be enough." Karina paced nervously. "You must never disgrace a husband, how can you adapt to the restraint? You're Indiian!"

"Mama, Selar knows what I am. He wants me, wants to take me as his wife to Vulcan! And I want to go! I love him!"

"Girl, at least make sure you're compatible in bed,"' Liore suggested. "Forever is a long time. I'm twice your age and I haven't found a woman I'm ready to spend eternity with."

"He won't until we're wed," Jilla replied with a touch of petulance.

"To marry a man simply to enjoy his body is foolishness, Jilla!" Liore exploded.

"That's not all it is!" Jilla shouted back. "Why can't you understand? There is peace between us, joy within us, love beyond us..."

"He's Vulcan," Liore began. "What does he know of..."

"Xenophobe!" Jilla hissed.

"Xenophile!" Liore returned harshly. "Indiians aren't good enough for you!"

"Liore, I love Selar!"

"Liore, leave us," Jole ordered as he entered the room. Liore scowled, and stormed out. Jole took his daughter's hands, sitting her down. He looked intently at her. "Selar has pressed his suit properly, Jilla," he stated. "He understands our traditions and is willing to become bonded to you by Aeman custom. Is this thing what you wish?"

Jilla smiled. "Yes, Father."

"Are you certain? I do not try to influence you, you are a woman. However, there may come a time, daughter..." He paused. "When the novelty passes, a man usually prefers a woman of his own race."

"Selar understands the vow," Jilla replied. "And he is not subject to whims of passion."

"That is true," Jole conceded. "Vulcan is perhaps the only other race that could accept the discipline." He straightened. "You have no reservations?"

Jilla beamed. "None."

"You will pledge freely, with the knowledge of Aema's constant vigilance and blessing?"

"This I will."

Jole turned to Karina. "My wife, Aema's presence in this home, are you satisfied that your daughter is following her own course, free from the influence of any other?"

Karina stared at Jilla and felt the joy and the expectation. She called to Aema and felt the love and acceptance. With a relenting sigh, she crossed the room, kissing her daughter. The girl was, as her father had said, a woman. "She follows," she said, with a worried smile at Jole, "though I wish I could say she does not." She stepped toward her husband, who took her into his arms.

"Child," Jole said to Jilla, "go tell your husband-to-be that he is welcome."

Jilla shrieked with delight and began rushing to the door. As she passed through it, she changed to a respectful pace.

"She is so young," Jole commented.

"Can we stop her?" Karina returned. "She is your daughter."

Jole smiled. "That she is. Come, Karina, we have a wedding to prepare." But his eyes were troubled and he glanced at the door before leaving the room.

~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~

The sculpture of Aema was clothed in multicolored swirls. The stars overhead stood reflected in a pool set before it. The soft light of double moons and tall tallow candles lit the courtyard. Streamers of sparkling cloth ran from tree to tree to stone wall, forming a canopy of gently rustling beauty. A pathway of soft earth had been bordered with stringed bells. The light wind sounded them softly. Basins of clear water stood on either side of the large, carved stone altar, flame dancing in cups of oil floating in their centers. A small dish on the altar held a silver dagger, a seal set in its pommel, and a square of parchment that shone with its own light. Guests sat or stood or knelt on the grass, the walls, and in the trees, excited and expectant.

Karina appeared from the gateway in a flowing robe of ebony, Kera behind her scattering a silver dust over the pathway. Each stopped, making a gesture of submission and respect before the sculpture, then moved aside. Jole and Liore entered in robes and capes of red and blue, kneeling swiftly at the altar, also stepping aside.

At the gateway, in a dress of emerald green edged with silver netting, Jilla began a swaying, swirling dance. The folds of her gown moved around her like clouds in the wind. The bracelets on her wrists and ankles flashed as they caught the light, her elaborate head dress giving the dance a stylized elegance. The music of pipes and chimes and bells whirled throughout her movements, becoming almost a part of them. She leapt and ran, turning, spinning, spreading joy and light throughout the courtyard and among those watching. They reacted, laughing, calling out, rejoicing with her. She began the final twirl, moving like a top up the pathway away from the altar, and Selar stepped into the courtyard. He caught her up in his arms, lifting her from the ground, ending her spin with one of his own. Then he set her on her feet and their eyes met. She smiled, he nodded to her. Together they walked down the path to the altar. Jilla's arms reached up and out in joyous supplication, then moved gracefully down as she knelt, her palms toward her. She then extended her arms, hands cupped as she bent her head. Selar crossed his arms over his chest, also kneeling, then brought his right hand, palm up, out before him, likewise bowing his head.

Karina stepped forward, removing the cups of oil from the basins, placing one in Jilla's right hand, the other in Selar's.

"Flame burns, water flows, the stars shine," she said, and her voice was strong and clear as a bell. "Each gives its own gift, each has its own life, eternal, ever-changing, ever-growing. From one they did spring, to one they will return. So it is with all things under Aema's skies." She paused, looking at the kneeling figures. "Selar, Selik's son of Vulcan, Jilla, daughter of Jole Costain, you come here with dancing and joy under the stars, before the water, possessing the flame to pledge and ask Aema's final blessing. Blessing She gives, and freely, eternally for the bond you seek. Speak now before the sky and those ears that will hear, your intentions."

"She to be my wife," Selar said.

"He to be my husband," Jilla rejoined.

Karina held out her arms and began quoting.

"Betrayed, abandoned, Aema began Her vigil, watching the night and the stars for sign of His return. Her skin became pale as moonlight, Her eyes washed grey from the tears that fell to Her silken cheek. Her despair cleansed Her and She ascended to the stars, ever to keep Court till the end of time when Roshi returns to Her." She lowered her arms. "Until that end, She asks of Her children only that this vow be Her sacred inviolate. Will you vow?"

"We will," Selar and Jilla said together. With her free hand, Jilla took the silver dagger from its dish. It glinted in the flickering light and Selar held out his left palm over the altar. Jilla brought her lips to his hand, then slashed the blade across it.

"Eternity," she whispered. The dish and parchment caught dark green blood.

Selar took the dagger. He kissed Jilla's open palm, then sliced it deeply, the hilt greening with his blood as he held it.

"Eternity," he replied.

Jilla's clear, silvery blood mingled with his on the parchment. Together they pressed the seal of the pommel into the blood and paper. It left an imprint of moons and suns swirling and combining in ever-changing patterns. The dagger was set aside. They clasped hands, wounds touching and dropped the cups of oil with their flames onto the altar. A slight indentation in the center of the stone caught the oil. The two flames danced across its surface, then joined at the center to one steady glow. Selar and Jilla faced each other, pale jade and silver reflected in water and fire and starlight. They spoke together.

"According to Aema's word, the bond is set, the seal is placed. The stars are witness. They will hold the memory of this vow until they yield up their secrets to the final concordium of all that is. As they shine, so the bond, the seal, the vow will live within us, you and I, as one."

A hundred torches were lit simultaneously, filling the courtyard with light as Jilla and Selar kissed. Karina smiled and announced loudly to cheers and joyous shouts:

"Jilla, daughter of Jole is now and forever wife of Selar, Selik's son!"

~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~X*X~~~

The bridal chamber had been prepared with information from the Vulcan embassy, given reluctantly in deference to Ambassador Costain. As was custom, Jilla entered first, to ready it for her husband. Selar waited the prescribed fifteen minutes, then followed her.

The room seemed cut off from the world. It was a cavern hung with tapestries, a pile of furs serving as the bed. There was a store of food. A single lantern illuminated the rocky walls.

Selar blinked. He had never seen his family's farrenr'oon yet he knew it. There was nothing here of Indi, nothing to show it was not a cave in the hills ringing Sal-sa-shar. The very atmosphere seemed to say Vulcan, mating as decreed by The Time. It pleased him. He would make Jilla his wife here, as he would have Vulcan acknowledge it when his cycle reached fruition. He shook his head. No, not here. In the place that was only represented here to honor him.

He approached the pile of furs. Jilla turned, drawing the covering from her naked body. Her eyes were warm and eager, and she smiled at him, holding out her arms to him. The light of the lantern played over her skin, reflecting in the delicate sheen. Selar knelt, entranced by her beauty.

"Husband," she said softly. He smiled.

"My wife."

"There has been no other," she confessed. "Teach me to please you."

One eyebrow rose. "You would have given your innocence to a man you might never have seen again?"

Her gaze was steady, but not in the least challenging. "I would have given it to the man I love."

"Had I consented to a tryst, had I not proposed..."

"I would have taken the gift gladly and let you go with a loving heart," she replied honestly. "On Indi, it is a rare thing to come to one's husband a virgin. If you had wished it, I would have given to you with no thought for the future. No Indiian would have expected innocence from me."

"Yet a Vulcan..." Selar continued.

"And I am virginal," Jilla broke in gently. "Is there discord?"

Selar gazed at her, unable to find words for his emotion. It seemed their roles were reversed; she explaining with patient logic, he struggling with an irrational emotion. How could he explain that while he was pleased beyond measure to discover she was untouched, the thought that she would have allowed such contact before marriage - even though it would have been with him - was unsettling? He watched the understanding grow in her eyes, saw her skin silvering with her blush, and she bent her head, leaning against him.

"Teach me," she whispered.

Selar embraced her, then shed his robes, lying down beside her. She pressed close and he gently put her away. He held up his hand, third and fourth fingers parted. "This is a telepathic key," he murmured. "It is the path to union. It allows contact and the blending of minds." He reached for her hand, parting the fingers, and pressed her palm to his. "I know there is no telepathy in you, yet your race are sensitives. You can absorb and receive with great ease. Open your mind to me, and for now, do not attempt more."

Jilla closed her eyes.

"No, Jilla," Selar said. "Look at me. Look into me." She complied, locking her eyes onto his. Deep wells, they seemed, dark and cool, yet intense. Shadows upon shadows, darker, deeper, drawing her inside them. She felt a tingling, the whisper of a touch, then the gentle stroking of Selar's fingers along her hand. She moved to it.

"Do not respond to the physical, Jilla," Selar whispered. "Respond to the thought. Concentrate on keeping yourself open to me." Jilla blinked in confusion, but she kept her eyes on his, letting herself be captured by the ebony velvet.

Slowly, tenderly, the whisper returned, the tingling that came from somewhere deep inside her. She went with it, feeling with her mind, flowing into the soft heat.

The sensation built and grew, then subtly, gradually began to change. It became less hesitant, more a touch yet more too a whisper, both caress and endearment. The heat grew, and the intensity, yet Selar's eyes remained calm and cool, hypnotic, enticing. She became aware of his fingertips on her body, aware that she brushed his cheek with the barest touch - but it was, it seemed an extension of the thought and not a physical thing at all.

Then excitement of the senses came, and through them of the body. A slow, erotic, sensual fire began as a glow of warmth and grew, becoming hot and hotter, yet did not turn to flame. Sparks came from it that raced through Jilla's mind, a need that made her shiver. It pulsed inside her and she fell deeper into the swirl of thought and sensation and the feel of Selar's mind.

Deeper and yet higher she was carried, away from the physical even as the fire burned within her, a craving and a hunger and a desire stronger than she had ever felt. Her body began to react independently of the stimulation of her mind, but tuned to it, timed with it. She could feel herself falling away from Selar's mind, away from the eyes that were now flames of ice. Passion was overwhelming her and she reached for her husband.

With sharp, swift motions, Selar was on top of her, inside her. He filled her with all the fire that seared into her from his thoughts. The pain was swallowed in urgency as the heat at last burst into leaping, roaring tongues of flame that were not red, nor orange, nor gold, but shades of deep green and flashing mercurial silver. Jilla cried out, clutching to him, and was brought to quick, savage satisfaction.

She began to pull away, and Selar grasped her head, hissing, "Look at me!" Her eyes flew open, meeting again the cool darkness. It drew her in, surrounded her, and the flow was of warmth and bonding and love. Her thoughts felt joy and blending and union and heard the whispered caresses and the gentle appeasement.

Time hung in an eternity.

Slowly, she became aware of his arms around her, his lips against her cheek. She could feel the strength and heat of his body as he held her. The lantern had gone out and the rose light of pre-dawn filled the chamber. She stared at him, awe and wonder filling her.

"You will be apart, yet never parted from me," Selar said tenderly, "as I will always feel your presence. This is completion, this is union. This, my wife, is love."

Go to Part Two

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