For the third time in as many hours, Kathryn’s foot lodged between two rocks, threatening to twist her ankle. She was repeatedly thankful for the rugged boots. “Hold up.”
Chakotay was at her side in a second, helping to tug her free. Even in the dark night, she could read the concern on his face. “Can you keep going?”
Holding onto his forearm, she rolled her foot around in a circle, only wincing slightly when she moved it to the extreme left. “Yes, I’m fine.” She indicated the mountain trail they were following upwards. “Besides, it’s not like we have much choice.”
Escorted by the ambassador, they’d been taken straight from Sevrn’s quarters to the grand dining hall, where the same guests from the previous night mingled albeit with a much more subdued air. All eyes turned to Kathryn and Chakotay when they’d entered. Some were sympathetic, mostly the queens Kathryn had spoken to, but most just seemed indifferent. Chakotay had pulled her closer against him and they’d proceeded directly to their seats.
The dinner itself had been tense. No one spoke to either of them, and only a few dared look in their direction. Svern had and so had the Supreme Queen. The Queen had appeared very sympathetic and on the verge of saying something several times only to stop herself with a glance at her husband.
It had only been when the last of the plates and dishes had been cleared away that the Supreme Ruler himself deigned to look at them. Kathryn had glared at him. Maybe the others hadn’t known of her and Chakotay’s ignorance concerning the part they had been chosen to play, but the Supreme Ruler had. Svern had said so. He’d also said that he’d explained the misunderstanding of the situation and the Supreme Ruler had continued, counting on their lack of knowledge. She’d wondered if the Supreme Ruler had been responsible for the trader that had directed them to the planet too.
Finally, he’d risen to his feet. “This meal is concluded. The Offworlders will now depart.”
Surprising Kathryn, and many others in the room if the muttering had been any indication, the Supreme Queen had gotten to her feet and embraced Kathryn. What no one had seen was the Queen discreetly pushing a piece of the Second Kingdom crimson jewelry into Kathryn’s hand and wrapping her fingers tightly around it to conceal it. “May wearing it bring you good fortune,” she’d whispered.
Kathryn hadn’t even had a chance to really examine it as Chakotay had already been pulling her from the hall. She’d simply shoved it into a pocket at her hip and not looked back as they’d quickly made their way out of the castle and into the surrounding forest. Now they at least knew why they’d been taken on a tour of the grounds. She only wished she had known at the time what she’d really needed to be looking for.
A place to hide.
In three hours, Chakotay had taken them straight through the initial woods and skirted the edge of the lake. Together, they’d decided to try their luck with higher ground, heading for the mountain instead of haphazardly plundering further into more woods. At least with rock at their backs they wouldn’t have to worry about a sneak attack from at least one side.
“Hopefully, we won’t need to go too much further. With any luck, we can find a small cave or outcropping,” Chakotay said, squinting in the darkness. “Possibly something we can defend.”
Kathryn nodded in agreement, but finding a defensible position was only a temporary solution. Sevrn had made it painfully clear that they would be found. After all, this was the Sons’ backyard. Surely, they knew all the hiding places better than anything she and Chakotay could find in the dark. Not to mention their lack of any provisions. What they were really hedging their bets on was Voyager. Despite what they’d been told by Mreee, she knew Tuvok had to be suspicious by now and was hopefully already searching for a way to contact them.
The only question was whether or not they would be found in time. One thing Sevrn had been unclear about was what happened after the Sons captured them. Would they be killed? Was there some other part of the ceremony no one had bothered to tell them about? Or was capturing them simply enough? For some reason, Kathryn highly doubted it would be enough. Her and Chakotay’s luck didn’t seem to run that way.
Two more hours slipped by as they hiked upwards, and just as the sky was beginning to lighten, Chakotay pointed out what looked like a dark hole in the side of the stone. A cave. Kathryn sincerely hoped there was nothing living in it that they were about to disturb. As they approached, they could see that it was about as much as they could hope for with enough room for them to both sit comfortably in it and not be easily seen from below.
They both sat, resting their backs against the cool stone and catching their breath. Chakotay took her hand in his, gently, without the possessive strength of recent hours. When she rolled her head to look at him, color crept into his cheeks. He shrugged. “Fresh air, I guess.”
She squeezed his hand. “Or the fact that there’s no other male within five kilometers of us.”
“That could be it, too,” he agreed easily. “I’m sorry I’ve been acting like such a…”
“Hormone crazed teenager?” she finished for him, teasing so he’d know she wasn’t overly upset. “It wasn’t you, Chakotay. I knew that within minutes. I just didn’t know how to help you.”
“I’m just glad you weren’t affected.”
A shadow crossed her expression as she thought about how she’d acted the past day or so. “I think I was.” She caught his look of disbelief and smiled. “Maybe a bit more subtly than you, but any other day besides today and you would have found yourself in serious trouble more than once.”
“Trouble?” he asked, teasing.
“Noted.” He leaned out a bit from their shelter and looked at the steadily-brightening sky. “I guess they’ll be on their way now.”
“Release the hounds,” Kathryn muttered, leaning her head back.
Chakotay looked up. “As much protection as this may offer us from them, it may also shield us from Voyager.”
She sighed. “I thought about that, but do we expose ourselves for someone who may be looking or hide from someone we know is looking?”
“We could do both,” he suggested, pressing on quickly before she could interrupt him. “You could stay here and I could draw them off. It would also give Voyager something to see.”
Kathryn was shaking her head before he even got to the part about Voyager. “No. We stay together.” The very thought of him going off by himself panicked her. “Either we take our chances here or out there, I don’t care which, but we stay together. Not apart.”
He must’ve seen something in her expression because he nodded, agreeing with her way too easily. “To tell you the truth, I wasn’t too fond of the idea either.”
She closed her eyes at his admission, acutely embarrassed. Panic was not an emotion she usually succumbed to. She would never have made it very far in Starfleet if she had, but as the feeling slowly ebbed away, she could hardly deny how strongly she had felt it. She wondered if she could blame Erowid’s mind-altering drugs for her reaction.
“Well, if we’re going to stay here,” Chakotay interrupted her thoughts, “we should probably at least fortify ourselves with some weapons. We’ve at least got plenty of rocks to choose from.”
Kathryn nodded shakily and followed him out, keeping close to him. She tried burying the loose threads of panic she still seemed to be feeling, but they refused to dissipate completely. When she reached for a baseball-sized rock that she thought would be good for throwing, she ignored the shaking in her hands.
She hated waiting. Always had. After they’d retrieved a sizeable caveman arsenal and retreated back to their cave, all they could do was wait. Now she was even waiting by herself as it was her turn to take watch while Chakotay rested. Glancing at him, she resisted the urge to brush his hair away from his forehead. It was that impulse, like so many others she’d had, that convinced her that whatever drugs or chemicals were in their systems hadn’t run their course just yet. Even if Chakotay was acting more like himself.
It annoyed her. Staring out over the planet’s surface from their high vantage point, Kathryn could see how beautiful Erowid truly was. It could have been a really great place to have shore leave, but not after all this. Now she knew she’d never have good memories from this place. She might keep the boots, though, as they were actually quite comfortable when she wasn’t trying to run uphill in them. She’d also have the bracelet from the Supreme Queen. The crimson stones felt cool against her wrist and had a nice weight to them. If she survived the next several hours, the bracelet would be yet another Delta Quadrant memento with a hell of a story behind it.
Something in the air tickled her throat and she coughed. Then coughed again. Chakotay woke up, practically jumping to his feet before he too started coughing. Within seconds, the air began to thicken with smoke, acrid smoke that was not the mere burning of wood but something more dangerous. Tears began to stream from Kathryn’s eyes. “We can’t…defend against this.”
“And they know it,” he coughed, pulling his shirt up over his mouth and nose. “We’ve got to move…try and get past them.”
Kathryn nodded, rubbing hastily at her eyes and grabbing her rock. “Let’s do it.”
They didn’t make it far. The smoke had become so thick and toxic that they could barely see or breathe, and when the attack came, it started from above. A heavy net landed squarely on Kathryn, tangling her feet, causing her to fall to the ground. She barely had time to throw it off and take Chakotay’s hand before they heard the skittering of rocks as figures approached them from all sides.
Seven of the Sons surrounded them, wearing their shirts as protective scarves around their faces, bare chests covered in dirt and dust from the mountain, carrying large sticks or stones like the one Kathryn still clenched in her hand. No one spoke.
Chakotay squeezed her hand, silently trying to get her to move behind him. She put her back to his and blinked rapidly, trying to clear her vision. The Son in front of her reached for a pouch at his waist. She tightened her free hand on the rock, preparing to throw it if he moved. The Son on Chakotay’s far right lunged for him. Chakotay easily blocked the attack, but the movement had distracted Kathryn for a split second and that was all the time the boy in front of her needed.
A clump of black powder struck her in the face, immediately insinuating itself into her eyes, nose and mouth. Burning and blinding her as she frantically tried to wipe it away, but that had been the opening salvo as the Sons rushed forward as one entity. Kathryn couldn’t see the final attack, but the Sons’ war cries all melted together into a single roar that was silenced only when she felt a hard strike behind her right ear. She felt herself sliding against stone, knees hitting the ground…and then nothing.
There were cheers, guttural shouts of encouragement, and grunts of pain. The sounds of flesh impacting flesh and a thud of bodies hitting the ground roused her from unconsciousness. She’d attended a few of Chakotay’s boxing matches over the years, but it had never been a sport she enjoyed watching. At the moment, it sounded as if she had a front row seat.
Her head was pounding and even closed her eyes still burned, but she could breathe at least. The late afternoon air was cool and light and she took several deep breaths, feeling a twinge of sore muscles in her chest. Blinking open her eyes created a fresh round of tears, but after a few nerve-wracking minutes she realized she could see. Blurrily at first, but she was just thankful she hadn’t been permanently blinded.
Her view of the world was disorienting until she realized she was lying on her side. Her arms were bound behind her and attempts to move produced pain in her shoulders. She’d obviously been in the position for some time. Her hands were almost numb, but she could feel a coarse fiber rubbing against the exposed skin of her wrists. Her calves were also bound uncomfortably tight together, but at least no bones felt broken.
Lifting her head slightly and swallowing back against the nausea the motion caused, she surveyed her surroundings. A short distance away was the source of all the noise as two men seemed to be fighting in the middle of a loose ring of others. Squinting, she thought perhaps it was the Sons fighting amongst themselves. Unfortunately, one of the observers seemed to notice her looking and walked away from the fight towards her. It was too late to pretend otherwise, so Kathryn watched him come, never breaking eye contact. Wearing only shorts that were cut off at the knee and some sort of rope across his chest, he crouched down in front of her.
“Whe…” her voice caught, and she had to swallow twice before she managed to speak. “Where’s…Chakotay?”
He cocked his head to the side in a curious expression and reached for her. She flinched and he paused, frowning. “My name is Mitus, Son of the Fourth Kingdom. I will not hurt you.”
Kathryn wasn’t sure what surprised her more: that he spoke or that he sounded so kind. He gently grasped her by the shoulder and helped her to a sitting position. Pulling at the rope across his chest, he produced a sort of canteen that he’d been carrying draped across his back. Moving to her side, he held it to her mouth and allowed her several sips of water. The liquid did wonders for her mouth and throat, cooling the burn that was still lingering from the powder.
“Thank you,” she said.
Mitus shrugged, slinging the water skin back over his shoulder. “Your man is just over there,” he said, pointing past the unlit torches surrounding the fighting ring. “He has been awake and watching the trials for some time now. He was quite concerned for you, but it is good that he studies us.”
He glanced upwards at the early evening sky. “Before the Celebration’s Fourth Horizon, we will have decided amongst the Sons who is worthy to be Prince Future. But to also be eventually worthy of the title Supreme Ruler, that Son must ultimately conquer the offworlder.”
“Chakotay has to fight one of you?” she asked, looking again at the gathered young men still fighting.
He nodded. “At the peak of nightfall. Before the next horizon.”
Kathryn’s mind was racing. It wasn’t as though Chakotay didn’t know how to defend himself, but he hadn’t exactly been training for something like this either. “But you’ve already defeated us. We’re captured. You win. Wasn’t that the whole point? The kingdoms working together against an outside threat?”
Mitus looked impressed. “Are you certain you are not from the Second Kingdom? You are knowledgeable for an offworlder.”
Not knowledgeable enough. Every day that she’d been on the planet, she’d learned a new rule to the game she’d been unknowingly playing.
A loud cheer went up from the fighting circle, drawing both of their attention. The fight was over and the winner pumped a bloody fist skyward before dragging his defeated opponent up to his feet.
“Shurgar wins again,” Mitus sighed. “I had hoped not to fight him, but as there are only four of us left undefeated, I believe it will come down to us.”
Kathryn looked at him, sitting beside her in the dirt instead of celebrating with the others. She didn’t want Chakotay to have to fight any of the Sons, but she did like his odds better against Mitus than Shurgar. “Is he your friend?”
“He’s like my brother.” He grimaced slightly. “Well, like a younger brother that needs much supervision and a firm guiding hand. As Supreme Ruler, Sevrn will have to be stern with him.”
“You sound like you’re conceding defeat.”
Mitus shrugged again and gave her a half smile. “Unfortunately, victory is unlikely.” He pointed at Shurgar, who was watching them. “It’s been three seasons since I last bested him in personal combat.” He got to his feet. “Once this portion of the trials is concluded, we will rest for a bit. I’ll be able to reduce your bonds at that time.”
“Mitus,” she stopped him from leaving, “you never answered my question. You’ve defeated us. Why fight Chakotay?”
He looked away from her and towards where Chakotay sat on the ground. Relieved, she finally caught her first glimpse of him. Shurgar wasn’t the only one watching Mitus and Kathryn. “Your man is not defeated. He is merely captured. Only when he is forced to give up what he holds most dear is he truly conquered.”
For a moment she still didn’t understand, and then it hit her like a shuttle jumping to warp. “Me? You’re talking about Chakotay giving me up?” Mitus nodded. “I’m not his to give up,” she argued. “I’m his captain…not his queen.”
“That does not make you any less valuable to him. He will fight for you.”
She glanced again at Shurgar. “What if Chakotay wins?”
“An offworlder has never won. Allies of the Prince Future to be will not allow it.”
“It’s not even going to be a fair fight?”
Mitus gave her a slight smirk. “It will be…mostly fair.”
“Mitus!” Shurgar bellowed. “Come! Join us, Brother!”
“Please, wait. I just have one more question.” It scared her to even ask, but it was the one thing Sevrn had not been clear on. “This fight between Chakotay and whomever…will it be a fight to the death?”
He almost answered easily, relieving her, but then he glanced towards the fighting ring. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I’m afraid that will be up to Shurgar.”
Enough time had passed that Fourth Horizon was now closer to hand than Third Nightfall, and still Sevrn had not been signaled by the Sons. Surely, they had anointed a Prince Future by now. The shuttle service had reported seeing smoke in the boulders late in the morning of the Third Horizon, and everyone knew that meant the offworlders had been captured. So what was taking so long? The trials themselves should not have taken overly long. The trainers had all but determined that it would come down to the Sons of the Fourth and Eighth Kingdoms. Mitus and Shurgar. And despite what anyone personally desired, it was well known how that fight would end. The Supreme Ruler had already counseled Sevrn on how to best train Shurgar in his duties as Prince Future. With all that easily decided, that meant the delay could only be occurring because of the offworlders.
Sevrn glanced at the vials the Supreme Ruler had pressed into his hand at the end of the dinner. It was distasteful to him to even think of using them. He had met with the captain and commander. They were honorable beings that had been duped into their role. They did not deserve to be treated with disrespect. He ran his hand through his hair, remembering fondly how his trials had proceeded.
The barbaric pair of Wadarians he’d faced had happily volunteered to play the role of offworlders in the Celebrations. The male hadn’t been particularly smart, but he’d had a nasty knuckle punch that Sevrn still suffered from on occasion. It had been a pleasure to conquer him so thoroughly in battle. The female had not been pleased with her mate’s performance, but she hadn’t wanted to stay on Erowid. Which had worked out perfectly, since Sevrn had had no intention of ever making her his wife.
One of the reasons Sevrn had so looked forward to the Fourth Horizon was that he’d finally be rejoined by his lovely Kitaza. He knew that even without Second Kingdom heritage, she was going to make a wonderful Supreme Queen. And although it was not common knowledge, he was aware that the current Supreme Queen was with child. She too had a vested interest in seeing her time of ruling completed. If her child be a son, he could only be considered for Supreme Ruler later in life if he was born in a kingdom and not at the royal palace.
Sevrn paced. Many things rested on the Celebrations being completed properly. The change of rule to him. The anointing of Shurgar as Prince Future if that was indeed to be. The blessing and exiling of the captain and commander back to their ship. So what was it that was keeping the Sons from completing their trials? Surely, they were hungry by now…
He froze in mid-step halfway across the room. The Sons had now spent two complete nightfalls fasting, gaining strength, focusing their instincts, and increasing their aggression. Fasting was usually only done in moderate levels, but it was not unheard of for a Son to begin secretly fasting before the others, believing that it would give them an edge in the Trials. This practice was not generally condoned as instincts were to be honed for the Trials, but not given complete rule over rational thought. Sevrn shook his head, fearing he knew now what had happened. It wasn’t as though Shurgar had ever been accused of being overly logical on the best of days.
Sevrn summoned his aide. “Prepare a shuttle. I need to go out to the site of the trials immediately.”
His aide hesitated. “Are you certain, sir?”
Only because his aide was a trusted advisor did Sevrn not immediately snap at the man. “Yes, I’m certain. It’s unusual, but not unlawful. Now do as I say.”
Sevrn closed his eyes and wondered if this was a final test for him. Was it up to him to ensure the initiation of his time of ruling? He couldn’t recall seeing the previous Prince Future appearing at his trials, but the passing of seasons eroded many things from memory. Then again, he also hadn’t been in the best frame of mind to remember many details at the conclusion of his trials. Because of the damage of the strike to his temple from the Wadarian, Sevrn barely remembered being anointed. For all he knew, he could have had every ruler from each kingdom at his trials.
A green light showed on his comm. panel. The shuttle was prepared. He glared at the two vials sitting innocuously on the table. They were not something he wanted to use, but Fourth Horizon was drawing closer with every moment he wavered. With disgust, Sevrn pocketed the vials and strode out of the room and towards his shuttle. If fortune was with him, no one need ever know they existed, but one way or another, he would see that the trials would be finished in time for Horizon.
The Prince Future’s shuttle landed far enough away from the firelight to not be completely obtrusive. Sevrn had debated on the short journey how best to approach the encampment, but as the shuttle ramp lowered, he could see someone already approaching to escort him.
Mitus approached him with a slight limp and inclined his head respectfully. “I wondered if someone would check on us.”
Sevrn grasped forearms with the younger Son, admiring the darkening bruise covering the right side of Mitus’s face. “Shurgar has bested you, then?”
“I did what I could,” Mitus replied.
“Your kingdom will welcome you home with honors.”
The younger man acknowledged the comment with a defeated sigh and broached a new subject. “The hour of nightfall grows late, and Fourth Horizon will be upon us soon.”
Sevrn appreciated the candor. “Indeed. If Shurgar has won his placement, why now the delay?”
“The offworlder refuses to fight.”
This surprised Sevrn. “Does he give a reason?”
“The commander understands that as long as he is not fighting back, Shurgar cannot truly conquer him.” Mitus glanced back towards the flickering shadows of the firelight. “We are at a stalemate.”
Sevrn knew he was missing an important piece of the puzzle. “What about Kathryn?”
“The woman is calm.”
“Calm?” Sevrn asked, surprised.
“And you’ve done as instructed? You’ve kept the pair separated from each other?”
“Since the moment of their capture,” Mitus assured him. “I’ve even spoken with her. My presence near her agitates him, but not beyond reason. She watches him continually when in sight of one another, but she has not tried to reach his side.”
Sevrn rubbed his hand over his mouth and chin. That was certainly not how he remembered his trials going. The Wadarian beast had been anxious to fight him and return to his mate, and she…she had broken from her bonds more than once trying to reach him. The primal nature of the trials heightened everyone’s base instincts, including offworlders. Were the humans really so different that Erowid’s sands had not affected them? No, that wasn’t it. He’d seen the change.
“Sir,” Mitus interrupted his thoughts, “I’ve been told stories of the trials for many seasons now. I do not recall one ever being told like this.”
“Neither have I,” Sevrn admitted. “Is there anything else?”
Mitus hesitated, glancing again towards the ring. “I do not wish to be disloyal to my Prince Future.”
Sevrn placed his hand on Mitus’ shoulder. “I am your Prince Future.”
He nodded quickly, realizing his mistake. “It’s Shurgar, sir. He is not entirely himself. The commander will not fight him because Shurgar has made it clear that it will be a fight to the death.”
“To the death?” Sevrn repeated. “We haven’t done that in generations.”
“Shurgar wants to take Kathryn as his queen.”
“That can only occur if her mate is dead,” Sevrn said, rubbing at his temple, feeling the slight indentation left there by the Wadarian’s knuckled fist.
“The commander uses logic against Shurgar. If he doesn’t fight back, Shurgar is honorable enough that he will not kill him. If Chakotay isn’t killed, Kathryn cannot be made queen.”
“Logic has always been Shurgar’s enemy, I’m afraid,” Sevrn muttered before straightening and addressing Mitus directly. “I will address them all and bring about a conclusion. Lead me into the circle.”
Sevrn’s entrance into the torch-lit area was greeted warily by everyone present. The shuttle had been impossible not to notice, but no one had known who exactly was visiting them. The appearance of the Prince Future was more easily accepted than the Supreme Ruler’s would have been. All of the Sons knew Sevrn. He had helped in their training many times over the seasons.
Shurgar and Chakotay were both in the circle although seated on opposite sides of it. Kathryn sat at a distance away from everyone, her hands, bound loosely at the wrists, resting in her lap. She appeared dirty and tired but not mistreated. Sevrn was glad to see that the young Sons had not completely forgotten themselves. “Greetings, Brothers!”
Shurgar got to his feet and bowed respectfully if with a bit of arrogance. “Prince Future.”
Sevrn approached him, clasping the younger man’s forearm. “I understand you have done well, Shurgar. The Eighth Kingdom will be proud of its son.”
“Thank you,” he replied, not releasing his grip in greeting, “but the trials are not yet complete.”
Sevrn gave a pointed look at their still-clasped arms, enough that Shurgar took the hint and released him. Sevrn nodded. “I understand there has been some delay.”
“I will have her,” Shurgar insisted preemptively.
The Prince Future motioned for Kathryn to be brought closer into the light. “Are you certain you wish to do this, Shurgar? You could conquer the commander without making death a necessary outcome.”
Once in the firelight, Sevrn could see the dark smudges on Kathryn’s face for what they were. He was both sympathetic and impressed. He didn’t know how the Sons had managed to procure the Flameless Burn, but he did know firsthand what she must have experienced.
“I will not have her otherwise,” Shurgar growled.
“You will not have me regardless,” Kathryn replied, her voice stronger than Sevrn had expected. Sevrn almost grimaced. An attitude of defiance from her would not help matters.
Shurgar took a step towards her, slightly bumping into his Prince Future. “You will be mine.”
Sevrn watched closely for Chakotay’s reaction. The commander had gotten to his feet when Kathryn had been brought closer, and Shurgar’s statements had clearly agitated him if his tightening fists were any indication. But it was as Mitus had said; the commander was still managing to restrain himself. Sevrn felt the vials slide slightly in the pocket of his robe and decided to try a different tactic.
He moved forward, closer to Kathryn, and reaching out a hand to her face, stroked his thumb across her cheek, removing some of the black powder that still clung to her irritated skin. She flinched slightly at his touch, and he heard movement behind him. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Mitus with a restraining hand on Shurgar’s shoulder. Chakotay had taken a step forward as well, but two Sons pushed him back. It was something, but not enough from any of the three parties. He studied Kathryn’s face and saw the questions there. She was willing to follow his lead if it resolved the situation, of that he was certain.
Turning his back to her, he addressed Shurgar. “Are you absolutely certain you want her?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“I believe the hunt consumes you more than you know, Brother.” Sevrn forced a light chuckle. “Look at her. Attractive she may be, but she is many seasons older than you. It’s not likely that by the end of your time of ruling, she would even be able to bear you a son.”
“You should consider his words, Shurgar,” Mitus said softly, standing at the fighter’s side. “She is not of our world.”
Shurgar almost seemed to consider their words for a moment before shaking his head. “It matters not. She wears the markers of the Second Kingdom.” He gestured towards Kathryn’s bound wrists. “She’d never produce a Son, anyway.”
Sevrn frowned. Taking hold of Kathryn’s hands, he pushed aside the coarse rope binding her to reveal the crimson stone bracelet. He looked into Kathryn’s eyes and sighed. That, at least, explained one thing. “Where did you get this?” he asked quietly.
“It was a gift from the Supreme Queen,” she answered him, keeping her voice as low as his. “Why does it matter?”
He fingered the bracelet. “When worn, these stones affect the wearer’s energy, promoting calm and healing.” He glanced at Chakotay. “And your wellbeing affects his.”
Slipping the bracelet from her wrist, he held it up to Shurgar. “She is not from our world. This is merely a token from the Supreme Queen.”
“I infer it as approval then,” Shurgar argued, “from the Supreme Queen herself.”
Sevrn ground his teeth together in frustration. There would be no reasoning the younger man away from his decision this nightfall. After rest and nourishment, Shurgar would be easily swayed that his demand to keep Kathryn was unreasonable. Erowid would owe her restitution, but she would be free to return to her ship. Sevrn himself could even institute changes to the entire trials process to prevent a similar occurrence with future Sons, but he could only do that after he’d become Supreme Ruler. Not before. Not this nightfall.
“Prince Future, why do you obstruct me on this?” Shurgar asked. “I will destroy him, and she will be mine by right.”
“You cannot conquer someone who will not fight you,” Sevrn said grimly, making his decision. “This, you already know.” He motioned for Chakotay to approach him. “You still refuse to fight Shurgar?”
Chakotay glanced at the young fighter and then at Kathryn, his eyes lingering on her. “Not without considerable provocation. I will not risk her safety or her freedom.”
Sevrn sighed, reaching inside his robes to pull out the two vials. “I wish that you were not so honorable.”
At a silent signal given from their leader, three Sons converged on Chakotay, forcing him to his knees and restraining his arms behind him. Kathryn instinctively pushed forward, intending to help, but she was held back by two of the young fighters.
“Mitus,” Sevrn called for him and handed over one of the vials, “have the commander ingest this.”
The younger man frowned at the liquid but accepted it. “I will see it done.”
Sevrn turned to Kathryn, clutching the second vial in his hand. He would administer hers himself. Still struggling against the two men that held her, she tore her eyes away from Chakotay to glare at Sevrn. “We trusted you.”
Her hissed accusation struck him hard, but he refused to allow it to sway him. Not now, not in front of these future kings. He couldn’t waver. A choked cough behind him drew Kathryn’s attention to her mate, and Sevrn closed the distance between them. Grabbing her jaw, he forced open her mouth and emptied the vial’s contents, quickly clamping his hand over her face, forcing her to hold the liquid. Even if she didn’t swallow, he knew the chemical would still be absorbed into her system. He held her gaze even as he kept his grip firm. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
She tried to jerk her head away from his hand, her eyes widening as some of the liquid slid down her throat. She gagged, trying to cough it back up, but it was gone and the impulse to swallow the rest was too great. Sevrn released her and the Sons allowed her to fall to her knees. She tried to spit out whatever was left in her mouth, but the warm sensation sliding down her throat and spreading through her chest told her it was useless.
Kathryn glared up at the Prince Future. “You bastard. What did you-” She gasped, feeling the change begin as the drug hit her bloodstream. “What did you do to me?” She felt like her heart and lungs were being torn from her chest. The rope binding her wrists cut into her skin as she twisted against it, trying desperately to get away from it. To get any relief from the burning that was now coursing through every single one of her veins.
Sevrn grasped her hands and trapped her writhing legs underneath one of his. “This will pass,” he said, knowing she probably couldn’t hear him. Her eyes clenched shut against the pain.
The shout was from behind him, and he knew that all of the Sons would be moving to protect him from the now incensed offworlder. Kathryn stilled beneath him, her chest still heaving and her face covered in a slight sheen of sweat, but she was no longer struggling. Sevrn waited, watching for her to open her eyes. When she did, he could hardly see the blue in them that had reminded him so much of Kitaza. Now the black centers took up much of the space, leaving the blue as only a sliver around the edges. She didn’t appear to see Sevrn, but she still cried out, an inarticulate sound filled with fear that made the Prince Future damn his own decision.
The roar of the offworlder was stronger now and Sevrn could hear scuffling as the Sons held him back. “Shurgar!” he yelled, catching Kathryn’s hands as she began to squirm and fight beneath him to reach her mate.
The young fighter appeared at his side, clearly surprised at the turn of events. “Yes, sir?”
“I have provided the offworlder with his motivation to fight,” he said, wrapping his arms around the still-struggling woman as he got them both to their feet. “He will not stop now. The rest is up to you.”
The mewling noises Kathryn made as she fought against Sevrn’s grip drew Shurgar’s attention. “Is she all right?”
Sevrn ignored the question, frustrated at the young man’s idiocy for pushing the situation to this point. He began dragging the now kicking, scratching woman away from the firelight. “The farther he is from her, the more inspired he will be to reach her. I suggest you finish your fight quickly.”
With any luck, maybe the offworlder would actually defeat Shurgar and Sevrn would no longer have to worry about eventually handing the kingdoms over to him. Kathryn sank her teeth into his forearm and he grunted in pain. Of course, if Chakotay beat Shurgar, the commander would undoubtedly be coming for Sevrn next.