DISCLAIMER: Star Trek Voyager and all who sail in her belong to Paramount/Viacom and no infringement of copyright/trade marks is intended. The Dungeons and Dragons Roleplaying System is owned by Wizards of the Coast and no infringement of copyright/trademarks is intended. The only thing I would like to lay claim to is the original D&D character used in this story.
WARNING: This story deals to some extent with the subject of rape, and although by no means graphic reader discretion is advised.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
It had been four days since the Doctor had discovered that my 'genes' did not have 'blueprints' to cause me to be empathic or to make the organelles that stored energy. I was not certain why, but it seemed to bother both him and the Captain greatly. I gathered they both would have preferred it were not the case.
"So, something caused these organs to be formed; they aren't natural," the Captain had said with a frown.
"No, they're not," the Doctor replied with a matching frown.
I had stared at the both of them wondering why this seemed to bother them so. "Ilmater caused them to be formed so that I might become his priestess, as I desired." I emphasized the 'I desired', feeling that I needed to remind them that Ilmater did nothing to me without my consent.
"I'm sorry, Arana," the Captain had apologized "I didn't mean to imply that he had."
I had accepted her apology. But I knew she had apologized because she realized she had offended me, not because she accepted that Ilmater would not use his power in such a manner. I gathered from her reactions, then and later, that she was troubled by how active the Gods and Goddesses of Faerun were in our lives.
When I learned about Starfleet's Prime Directive from Lt. Cmdr. Tuvok the next day, I began, I thought, to understand the source of her objections. She was forbidden to interfere with, or influence, the development of less advanced cultures. Given the dichotomy of power between mortals and immortals on my world, I had no doubt that in her mind they were breaking a rule that was as important and cherished to her as doing my duty was to me.
I also realized that she was concerned that she was breaking this rule by training me in their ways. Normally they would have kept me sedated and returned me to my world without my ever being aware that I had been aboard Voyager. Failing that, I would have been returned as soon as possible, having seen as little of their technology as could possibly be managed.
The unusual nature of my arrival, her need for information from me, and the lack of a method of getting me back to my own realm, had initially led her to decide that I would become part of her crew. Then my revelation that I was here, as a representative of Torm and Ilmater, to find out what Bane was doing changed all of that. Now there was the possibility that I would be returning to Faerun when my task was over.
This, of course, brought up the Prime Directive and the issue of how it applied to my situation. I gathered there had been several conversations between the Captain, Commander Chakotay and Lt. Cmdr. Tuvok on how much information I should be given access to. On the second day Captain Janeway let me know what had been decided: I was to be taught only the basic sciences for now, and certainly no specifics as to how their technology operated.
When she explained to me her fear that I might bring back information that would lead to technologies being developed that we were not yet ready to have, I acquiesced; however, I was not certain what technology could do on Faerun that magic did not already. What I did understand, and sympathize with, was that she was sincerely concerned that their technology could have a negative impact on my culture, and that she did not want to break the rules of the organization she belonged to and respected deeply.
As I felt the same way about being both a Priestess of Ilmater and a Champion of Torm, I was certainly not going to try and persuade her that she should do otherwise. She and I decided that I would continue my training for now with both Tuvok and Seven. Upon hearing my concern that my weapons skills would grow rusty, she assigned Lt. Paris and Ensign Kim to assist me with developing a suitable holo-program for my use.
That had been three days ago. By now the three of us -- or four as Seven frequently dropped in to see how the holo-program was progressing and offer suggestions-- were almost done. I did not even have to put on my armor or bring my weapons with me, as the holo-program provided both when it began. At my insistence both the holo-armor and holo-weapons weighed the same as the actual items. As I reminded my colleagues, it would do me no good if I grew unused to what it was like to actually wear armor.
We had designed a variety of terrains and, again at my insistence, weather such as rain and the accompanying mud, for me to fight in. They had used the game as a resource and programmed in several Faerun creatures such as orcs, bugbears, goblins, dire wolves and dire bears along with several others.
"You regularly run into these things when you travel?" Ensign Kim had asked as he stood underneath a frozen bugbear, the largest of the goblin races, with its axe upraised. It was larger and taller than he, and he had done well making it closely resemble an actual bugbear. It was brutish in appearance, with greenish-white small eyes, hairy tan skin over corded muscles, and protruding canines. "He's certainly cleaner than any bugbear I've met," I commented with a grin.
"Eh?" said Ensign Kim absently as he continued working.
"You forgot the grime, and fleas," I commented.
He looked up at me at this and back at the bugbear, "Fleas?"
"Usually infested with them, to the point that after you kill one most people will not approach the corpse to see if it had anything of value or not," I replied. "Not that they usually do, unless they just took it from something else."
I looked over the bugbear and realized what was missing, "You forgot trophies."
"Trophies?" asked Lt. Paris.
"Severed hands, heads-- usually nailed on the shield in the case of hands, or carried by the hair on their belt in the case of heads," I indicated the proper positioning.
"I thought was just the artist!" said Ensign Kim.
"The picture had those?" I asked curiously.
"Yes," he replied, his revulsion obvious.
"Whoever drew it then knew about bugbears. I believe they use them for status among their own and to intimidate those they are trying to kill," I told him.
"Charming," commented Lt. Paris dryly.
I merely grinned at the both of them in reply.
I ate my meals with Seven, Icheb and the children. For the rest, my daily routine consisted of: several hours study; exercise in the 'gym' in the afternoons; and work on the holo-program in the evenings. At night, I tried to sleep.
By the time I had been on Voyager for six days, I had had five nights of broken sleep. It was starting to show. I was sitting in the research lab trying not to nod off over the computer terminal where I was studying--and failing. Seven had taken the children to the holo-deck to run a program she called 'Di Vinci's studio' where they would work with clay and paint. I guess I must have nodded off, for the next thing I knew I heard Seven say my name and tried to stand to greet her properly. I overbalanced and started to fall backwards; thankfully, Seven caught me about the shoulders and steadied me.
"Arana, are you ill?" Seven asked.
"Sorry, Milady, I am clumsy today. No not ill, just overtired," I replied, allowing my shoulders to slump in her grip as we were alone.
I felt a gentle pressure on my shoulders and then she pushed me back down into the chair and came around to look into my face. I could clearly see her concern as she examined me, undoubtedly noting the dark circles under my eyes and the fact I was paler than I should be.
"Why are you not sleeping?" she asked.
I hesitated for a moment, then, as the children were not around, "My experience with the Lovitarian priests was the first time I have been touched against my will since I was a child. It has brought up memories and feelings I had thought I was past," I admitted.
Seven stared at me and I could feel her uncertainty. "Perhaps the Doctor can help you," she said.
"A sleeping draught, yes, it may come to that. However, I would prefer to deal with the feelings that have been brought up rather than numb them with drugs."
I rubbed my face tiredly and thought I felt the light touch of a hand on my back, but it was gone when I looked up. Seven stepped away from me slightly and I was sure then it had been her; but she had obviously made herself uncomfortable with her action so I did not mention it though it warmed me.
"If you continue to have difficulty sleeping you will seek the Doctor's help?" she asked.
"I will, Milady," I answered.
She looked at me a moment longer then offered, "We could postpone your lesson if you are too fatigued."
I smiled, "You are kind, Milady, but I fear I would get no sleep even if I tried. [however, Seven has just caught her asleep, so is this logical?] I would prefer to continue studying. I hope that after a good 'workout' this evening I might be tired enough to sleep no matter what my mind may want to think about."
She nodded and left me, presumably to go to Astrometrics until we met for dinner. I had grown used to her manner and knew she meant no rudeness by it; she just did not see any use in conversation solely for the point of politeness. It was one of the reasons the other crewmembers saw her as cold and haughty. They were, however, misinterpreting her behavior, expecting her to act and react as they would.
Seven, of course, did not particularly mean anything by it except that she had no relevant information to share so she remained silent. It was a by product of her past, the Borg seeing no use for 'social banter' as I had heard the Doctor term it. Thus, she had never learned how. I believed that she regarded it as just one more adaptation she would have to make to humanity --- one that I had noticed made her particularly uncomfortable and anxious whenever either the Doctor or Captain Janeway insisted that she practice it.
My empathy, now that I was aware of it, seemed to be increasing in sensitivity almost daily. I seemed to be particularly attuned to Seven's emotions, and also, though to a lesser extent, to Captain Janeway's. I always knew when Seven was near just by her distinctive feel: ordered, usually calm and with an innate gentleness that was at odds with the image she projected to others.
This only made the times when she was anxious about something more obvious to me. And usually it was when she had to interact with the crew; then there was an underlying tension and unease in her. It was this uneasiness which caused her to act with the slight stiffness most of the crew associated with her. With me, when we were alone or with the Icheb and the children it was noticeably absent, and I held it as an honor that she felt comfortable enough around me to be at ease.
"Nay, I can always tell when you are near now, Milady," I answered Seven's question as I walked into my room from the bathing area, having washed and dressed after my exercise. Icheb would meet us in the mess hall, and the other children were already there having spent the afternoon along with Naomi there with Mr. Neelix watching over them.
"I was not aware your empathic ability was that advanced," Seven said with interest.
"I am more sensitive to certain people than others," I admitted somewhat shyly. "You and Captain Janeway I can always tell from others; usually I can tell Icheb and the children as well from those around them."
"Familiarity, perhaps," she offered. "You have been in contact with me and those you mentioned more frequently than with the remainder of the crew."
I nodded, "I suspect you are correct, Milady."
Seven shifted uneasily and I wondered what was bothering her, then she asked, "What do you sense?"
I smiled gently, "From you?" At her nod I closed my eyes and concentrated, "Right now curiosity and some unease. Usually you feel ordered, calm, and usually intent on what you are doing at the time. With the children you also feel protective." I opened my eyes and looked at her.
Seven nodded then admitted, "I am used to people assuming I have little or no emotions."
"I am sorry it disturbs you, Milady. I would never speak of them to anyone, except perhaps Captain Janeway, and then only with good cause," I tried to reassure her.
She nodded and relaxed somewhat, "We should proceed to the mess hall."
I nodded inwardly amused; obviously my reassurance had worked and the matter was now finished, thus we were on to the next matter at hand which apparently was not being late.
I had almost finished my meal and was listening to Icheb and Metozi arguing about some point of spatial physics when Lt. Paris came over to the table. The conversation between the two was so far above my level of knowledge that I had no idea what they were arguing about, and was finding it somewhat embarrassing to know that the two of them knew so much more than I.
"Arana," Lt. Paris said attracting my attention and that of everyone else at the table.
I rose politely and returned the greeting, "Lt. Paris, I trust the evening finds you well and in good spirits?"
"Ah.... yes, thanks. I was wondering if you would be interested in joining us in Holodeck 1, the Fair Haven program, for a few rounds of drinks. Play a few games relax " he said indicating the table he had come from where Lt. Torres and Ensign Kim were sitting and looking our direction.
I had been aware that the trio at the table was curious about me and wanted me to partake in activities with them. I gathered that they found it curious that I spent so much time in the company of Seven, Icheb and the children.
I was not unwilling to spend [just because it seems to be the first time she has done so] time with the three of them. But I found it very rude that they were so discourteous as to not invite Seven, especially as she was sitting at the table with me. Given her proximity, I was very aware of the fact she was now feeling distressed, which I assumed was due to the fact she obviously was not invited to come along as well.
I frowned at Lt. Paris in disapproval and received a blank look of surprise in return. I sighed under my breath before saying, "I have heard of this Fair Haven, it is I understand a public program?"
"Umm yes," he replied still confused over my reaction.
I gave him another disapproving look and turned to Seven, "Milady, this Fair Haven sounds like an interesting distraction." I knew she would understand the reference and was not surprised when her look sharpened and then softened and she nodded to me.
"I found it interesting but have not visited it since it was repaired. Perhaps you should accept Lt. Paris's invitation," she said to me and obviously not looking at Lt. Paris.
"Ah, you're invited too of course, Seven I mean if you're interested that is it's just that you usually aren't," he trailed off, confusion evident on his face as he realized what had displeased me.
Seven finally glanced at him, "You are correct, and I should work on the Astrometrics data this evening." She directed the last at me.
I nodded and with my regret obvious in my tone said, "Your presence would greatly increase my enjoyment of the evening, Milady. But I understand if duty forbids your attendance." I tilted my head to the side and gave her my best wistful look. In this I was being quite sincere as I knew I would feel much more at ease if she were present. I was aware as I did so of Icheb and the children watching the scene intently, and I had no doubt they were analyzing everything that was occurring.
I could feel her reluctance as she glanced at Lt. Paris and the others; then she looked at me once again and I could sense her softening. I mouthed silently 'Please'.
Seven sighed inaudibly, "I will start the calculations and join you there." I smiled happily at her, feeling my tiredness lifting as I became far more interested in seeing this holo-program.
Out of the corner of my eye I noted Metozi giving me a particularly intent look, and inwardly winced as I wondered what entirely too intelligent and pointed questions I would be on the receiving end of tomorrow. Icheb was certainly as intelligent and sensitive to situations, especially when they involved Seven, but was considerate enough of others not to ask. Rebi and Azan were more self-absorbed; and even if they noticed, their natural reticence usually meant they would not ask. Metozi, however, let no such concerns stand between her and information gathering. I knew I should be thankful that she was choosing not to ask them now.
I turned and almost chuckled aloud at Lt. Paris's surprised expression, before he recovered himself and said to Seven, "We'll save you a chair at the table" He spoke with admirable sincerity, even though I sensed that he wasn't entirely comfortable about something. I suspected it had something to do with the occasional antagonistic interactions between Seven and Lt. Torres with whom he apparently shared an intimate relationship.
None the less, I was not about to socialize with anyone who was not accepting of Seven's presence as well. If they made her feel unwelcome, I would make my excuses and we would leave.
"When is my presence required for this excursion, Lt. Paris," I inquired politely.
"We were going to head there now, actually," he replied.
"Ah, I will have to join you in a while; Metozi and I have a wager that must be decided," I said grinning at the young girl.
"You shall loose," Metozi declared confidently.
"Metozi," said Seven in a sharply rebuking tone.
"Nay, it is alright, Milady. Pride goes before a downfall," I said sagely.
Seven raised her brow at me and I could tell I was in trouble for encouraging the girl. But I could tell she was also curious.
"Rebi and Azan are you ready," I asked with uttermost seriousness. The two of them stood up eagerly and nodded, looking rather bright eyed.
I could see Lt. Paris looking puzzled but amused, "Well I wouldn't want to interrupt your wager, I'm sure we can wait for you." He said the last looking toward the other two who had disposed their food trays and now approached.
"What's up?" asked Lt. Torres looking on curiously.
"Champion Arana has wagered that she can carry Rebi and Azan from here to Cargo Bay 2," announced Metozi. An analytical look passed over her face, "Given her size, muscular density, and the combined weight of Rebi and Azan, I believe she will have insufficient strength to do so."
Lt. Torres looked amused as she asked me, "How did this come about?"
"I made the mistake of offering to carry one on my shoulders and disappointed the other. So I said I would carry them both," I replied simply.
Kneeling low I extended my arms, bending them I instructed, "One on either side, hold onto my hands for balance. I don't want to risk dropping either of you."
As the two boys eagerly followed my instructions I could sense Seven's concern and looked her way. "I shall not drop them, Milady."
Seven frowned at me. "I do not want you to hurt yourself, or them," she said pointedly.
I grinned at her and restrained a groan as the two boys hopped up on my outstretched arms, "I will not."
Making a show of it I commented, "You two are heavier than I thought; perhaps I should have done this before you had eaten."
The two of them giggled and wiggled causing me to sway. Seven if possible looked even more anxious and I was certain she was about to call and end to the whole thing before I had a chance to do what I was planning. To forestall her, I looked at Metozi who was looking a bit wide-eyed at the scene. "You are ready to accept the terms of the agreement?"
Metozi nodded impatiently, "If you win I will listen to a Faerun saying and consider it."
"Then I will go ahead and give it to you and declare the wager over, for I am bound to carry out my word to Rebi and Azan regardless." Metozi had an outraged look on her face at my declaring the wager over prematurely, but I continued not wanting to embarrass her. "Be wary of overconfidence: it leads one to overlooking an opponent's strengths and one's own weaknesses."
She frowned at me uncertainly as I looked back at her quite seriously. I concentrated inwardly for a moment then spoke, "Tulca," invoking the spell commonly called 'Bulls Strength'. I felt the spell's strength work its way through me, and suddenly the two boys were no burden at all.
I stood slowly and easily under their weight and looked down at Metozi who had her mouth pursed together and her arms crossed as she frowned at me. I met her gaze for a long moment with kindness in my own. In a few seconds she unbent and admitted sheepishly, "I did not know you could use the stored energy in your body to make you stronger."
I nodded understandingly to her and smiled gently. Turning slowly, I met Seven's eyes as she watched us anxiously. "I am having no difficulty carrying them, Milady." I reassured her.
"We are," Rebi began, "fine," finished Azan.
Seven met what I knew were their pleading eyes and sighed, "We will go slowly," she ordered me.
"As you wish, Milady" I assured her.
Lt. Paris, who had been watching the events with a bemused smile said, "We will wait for you outside the Holodeck doors."
"I will meet you there shortly then," I answered and began to follow Seven from the mess hall.
"Why does she still call Seven 'Milady'?" I heard Lt. Torres say in a low disapproving voice to someone. I suspected she did not think I would overhear her so I continued on as if I had not.
As we approached the doors opened, and the Captain and Commander Chakotay entered and stopped short, looking up at the two boys, then at me.
"What's going on here?" asked Captain Janeway with a confused smile.
"Champion Arana," said Rebi and stopped as his brother Azan finished the sentence, "is carrying us to Cargo Bay 2."
"I see," said the Captain, though it was obvious that she did not. "And why is she carrying you there?"
"She promised," they both answered seriously and in unison.
"Well," she paused and with an amused look finished, "We can't have our paladin not carrying out her promises," and stepped further into the mess hall clearing the doorway. Commander Chakotay stepped back into the hallway, a broad grin on his face that crinkled the tattoo on his face and I carefully ducked down so the boys would clear the doorway and proceeded down the hall.
I could tell by the amused grins on the faces of those we met that Rebi and Azan were likely beaming broadly at their method of conveyance and I was pleased that they were having fun. They were certainly more considerately still than I would have been at that age, a fact I was thankful for as it made carrying them safely much easier.
"Thank you," Rebi started, "Champion Arana," finished Azan, both looking very bright eyed when they had gotten down after we arrived. Given their level of excitement, I wondered if Seven realized how lucky she was that they regenerated instead of her having to wait for them to unwind before going to bed. I watched as each of them stepped into their alcove and shut their eyes in their regenerative sleep. I always had the impulse to stay and watch over them as they looked so vulnerable, but reminded myself they were perfectly safe here; there was no one on this ship that would harm them.
"I will begin my computations in Astrometrics and join you on the Holodeck shortly," Seven informed me after the last of the children began their regeneration.
I bowed to her, a habit I had fallen back into when we were alone. "I will abide patiently until you arrive, Milady."
Seven shifted from one foot to the other, "You may use my designation if you would prefer."
I realized she had overheard the comment made by Lt. Torres in the mess hall. I smiled, "Are you uncomfortable with me calling you 'Milady' instead of Seven?" I inquired.
"No," she answered succinctly.
"Then I would prefer call you 'Milady', Milady," I replied quietly.
It was not as if I could detect Seven's every mood, I could only tell when her mood changed by a certain amount or if she was feeling something to a particular degree. I did know though that she liked me calling her Milady. When she was feeling unhappy, her mood lightened when I addressed her so, and I would frequently see her eyes brighten with pleasure.
It had caused me to wonder if she knew that I liked calling her 'Milady' because I held hope that someday she might be my lady. I had been attracted to her from that first day, and as time went on I only found her more attractive as I came to know her better. I still did not know if she could ever be interested in me in the same way, but she had never indicated to me that she was not interested; and indeed several of her actions could be interpreted that she did return my interest.
I had been staring at her musingly this entire time and Seven finally questioned, "Arana?"
I felt the blush in my cheeks and noted her gaze growing more questioning at my reaction. "I was just pondering something, Milady," I admitted.
She gazed at me inquiringly.
I decided to meet my fate head on and steeled myself for disappointment. Seven's querying look turned concerned as she noted my changed demeanor. "Milady," I began on a breath and wrestled with my sudden sharp fear of what her answer might be.
I self-depreciatingly noted that in many ways I would rather have a dozen bandits after my blood than pose this question. "You indicated to me that my interest in you was not taboo in your culture. But you have not informed me whether you find my interest acceptable or no. Are my attentions to you unwelcome? I do not want you to feel ill at ease around me, your friendship means too much to me."
Sevens eyes widened and she looked surprised and I though I detected a flash of distress, "I have never felt uncomfortable around you, Arana."
I noted with unhappiness that she had still not answered my question, and with concern I wondered if she thought that I would no longer be friends with her if she were to tell me she was not interested in me in that manner. "Milady, I will be your friend whether or not you ever return my interest in kind. You do not need to fear that I would withdraw from our friendship if it is an impossible attraction."
"I am not making myself clear," stated Seven after a moments pause. "I have only begun to think about possible relationships with others recently. My attempts at 'dating' did not end well." She said this shortly and I wondered what had happened during those dates for her to refer to them that way.
"I determined that there was not a suitable mate for me aboard Voyager, and suspended my efforts to explore that side of my humanity." Seven hesitated, looking at me with an unreadable expression.
"And then you rescued me," I said.
"Yes," she continued. "The Doctor assumed that I would only be interested in the male members of the crew. I was aware that it was possible that I might be attracted to a female as well, but as I had not found any of the female crewmembers attractive up to that time, I did not contradict his assumptions."
Seven stopped but this time I stayed silent waiting for her to continue and listening intently to what she was telling me. I was also chastising myself thoroughly for not realizing before that Seven might have absolutely no experience in this matter. Not that I had much more, as my relationship with Alessa was my first and only one.
"I do not find your attraction to me unacceptable, and the thought of copulating with you is not distasteful. I do not know, however, if I can return your feelings in the manner I believe you desire," she said the last in a voice that had softened from the matter of fact tone with which she had started.
I felt the smile growing slowly on my face until it was quite broad, and my mood lightened considerably as the concern that she might tell me my interest was unwelcome to her lifted. "Acceptable," I borrowed one of her favorite phrases.
Seven's lips twitched at this and the serious mood that had grown between us lifted. In its place, however, was a certain tentativeness and I had no doubt she was wondering, as was I, where we went from here.
"May I pay court to you, Milady?" I asked hesitantly. I hadn't been certain enough of my feelings until now but something inside me had firmed over the course of our conversation and I realized with surprise how strongly I cared for her, even when she was acting stiff and unemotional.
Seven looked confused, "I am not familiar with that terminology. Is it the same as dating?"
I was familiar with the term from my studies of Federation Standard and considered her question. "People, at least the well born, do not date on Faerun. The man will ask the woman's parents or whoever is acting as her guardian for permission to court her, then if they both agree they will marry. As I am a woman interested in women, I have never followed that custom as such relationships are not openly acknowledged there."
"Should I ask Captain Janeway's permission to court you?" I asked confused. I knew that such relationships were not only permissible here but legally acknowledged as well. Suddenly I was not certain how I should honorably proceed.
"Starfleet personnel are required to get clearance from their Commanding Officer and Medical Officer before initiating an intimate relationship with an alien species. However, as you are part human I do not believe the protocol would apply to you. And Captain Janeway while being my mentor is not my guardian," Seven replied dryly.
"I believe I should inform her of my intentions," I gained confidence as I worked through the intricacies of the customs of this realm and my own. I sensed Seven's mood change to match the frown on her face, and realized belatedly that Seven did not seem particularly happy with my proposed course of action. "Milady? You are not pleased with this?"
"I would prefer if you waited until I knew whether or not I could return your interest," Seven replied without visible emotion.
I flushed hotly, highly embarrassed at my inconsideration for her feelings. "Of course, Milady. My apologies, I am presuming too much."
"Apology accepted," Seven said looking at me more gently.
We stared at one another for a few moments and I realized that I had erred greatly in delving too deeply into the matter at this time. Tentatively I offered, "Perhaps we should simply carry on as before Milady. Except now I know that my attentions are not unwelcome to you."
Seven considered my words and I could tell they reassured her for she looked more relaxed, "Acceptable."
I offered a smile and was pleased to see she returned it. "I should go to meet Lt. Paris."
Seven nodded, "I shall start my calculations in Astrometrics."
"I look forward to you joining us Milady when you are done." I bowed to her and turned and exited the room with a light step.
"I guess everyone made it to the Cargo Bay ok?" asked a smiling Ensign Kim as I approached the trio.
I grinned back at him, "Yes, I believe I met their expectations."
Lt. Paris looked speculatively at me, "That spell it's still in effect?"
I noticed Lt. Torres eyeing him with a slight frown after this statement, so I replied uncertainly, "Yes, it will enhance my strength for several more hours. Why?"
Lt. Torres looked as if she was about to say something; before she could, however, Ensign Kim spoke with a disapproving look at his friend, "I don't think Arana would be interested in arm wrestling Liam, Tom."
I cocked an eyebrow at Lt. Paris, amused. "You wish me to deceive a holo-character into an arm wrestling contest so you can win a wager?" While he struggled to come up with an answer, I though about the situation a little more. I continued, "For money that will vanish when you exit the holodeck?"
My mouth twitched as I struggled not to laugh at him. I would normally have frowned on his suggestion, but the fact that the people and the money involved were not real made the entire thing more amusing than offensive.
Lt. Torres and Ensign Kim started chuckling at him, and with a sheepish grin he finally admitted, "Well when you put it like that "
He turned went into the Holodeck and we followed. The world we stepped into had just enough similarities to the towns with which I was familiar to cause a pang of homesickness. The street was laid of cobblestone, and the houses and shops that lined it were made of wood and brick, with hanging wooden signs announcing their name and purpose.
Just then a man went by, perched on upon a device with two wheels. At a glance I realized that it moved using the same mechanical means as a mill.
"What is that? The means of conveyance the goodman is seated upon?" I asked curiously, looking down the street after the man.
"It's a bicycle," answered Lt. Paris after a moment's hesitation.
The surprised look on his face when he realized what I was referring to sharply reminded me of my relative ignorance of this realm. I nodded, suddenly realizing that the device, while new and clever seeming to me, was more than likely ancient technology to them. I though of mentioning that it used the same mechanics as a mill, but decided to remain quiet as they undoubtedly already knew that.
"Um well, Sullivan's is just down this way," Lt. Paris said breaking the moment of uncomfortable silence.
I nodded and fell into step with them, wishing for a moment that Seven were here instead. I would have felt comfortable talking about the similarities of the device and a mill with her; and she, as much as she was able given the Captain's restrictions, would have explained the device further to me.
I knew now, given what I had over heard and the assignments that had been given her, that Seven was considered one of the most technically competent persons aboard Voyager. Yet she had never made me feel as if I was stupid when I was unfamiliar with this realm's technology. Seven would always pause for a moment, and I got the impression she was making an internal note that the subject was unknown to me; then she would answer me as clearly as she was able. I suspected that by now she had a fairly good idea from my past questions what I would know and what would be unfamiliar to me.
We passed several men and women, all of whom greeted Lt. Paris and Ensign Kim by name, and finally stopped in front of a building painted in green and yellow. A rocking chair sat on the small front porch. Above the door was a sign depicting a lion's head and harp and announcing that Sullivan's was a public house, a term I was familiar with from Faerun. I smiled at this and followed my companions into the tavern.
It was crowded inside, but we easily found an empty table as most of the characters in the program seemed to be either standing by the bar or talking with one another.
"Guinness, Arana?" asked Ensign Kim courteously as we sat down.
I glanced at him confused then saw past his shoulder a sign that read 'Guinness extra stout, daily delivery' behind the bar. I was quite familiar with the stout style of beer, at least the Faerun idea of it, but had never heard the term extra stout. With interest and some trepidation I nodded, "Yes please, Ensign Kim that would be welcome."
When he returned with two glasses of the dark brew I thanked him and then stared for a moment, dismayed when he sat down next to me. I had hoped that chair would be Seven's but could think of no acceptably polite way to ask him to move. I took a sip of the drink to cover my moment of impoliteness and was pleasantly surprised at the taste. It was not a smooth stout, being more hopped than I was used to, but the bitterness combined well with the heavy dark malt taste.
"Do you like it?" Ensign Kim inquired seriously.
"Yes, it is quite pleasant," I answered and noted with confusion that Lt.'s Paris and Torres were watching us with slight, but definitely amused expressions. Suddenly it dawned on me that perhaps the invitation had been issued for more Ensign Kim's benefit than any strong desire on their part to get to know me. It also explained the exclusion of Seven: they wanted their friend to have a chance to court me instead, of me spending most of the time talking to her.
"So, what's it like on Faerun?" he asked me brightly, resting his forearms on the table and leaning forward.
The situation, combined with the extremely general nature of the question, confused me and I fell into more familiar speech patterns, "Milord, I am uncertain as to your meaning?"
They all looked at me, surprised, and Ensign Kim said, "Harry, you can call me just Harry. I ah mean how would you usually spend your day?" He paused and then added, "If you were there I mean."
I was suddenly struck by a sense of unreality. He was good looking, but I doubted I would have been interested in him, even if I were interested in men. He seemed so young, even though I knew he was around the same age as Seven.
"Well," I began hesitantly, "I would rise and say morning prayers in my room, then join the senior knights to inspect the knight-trainees. I would practice arms for most of the morning and break at midday for a meal."
I went on to explain my typical day as I watched the door, hoping that Seven would arrive soon as I was now uneasily aware of the attraction Ensign Kim was feeling toward me. I was certainly not frightened of him in any way, but I was also not particularly feeling up to figuring out how to gently dissuade him. Inwardly berating myself for my lack of discipline, I forced myself to focus on the conversation, and to determine how to politely indicate my lack of interest.
"So where do dragons fit into things? No offense, but that sounds boring. I got the impression your life was a lot more adventurous than that," Lt. Torres commented, a speculative look on her face as she leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms.
Since I had made it sound pretty boring on purpose, wondering if perhaps Ensign Kim was enamored more of the idea of a paladin than he was in me; I was not offended by her question. I did wish, however, that she had not brought up the discrepancy between my story in the mess hall and the recital of my daily activities. I certainly had not misrepresented my life. What I had told them was entirely accurate for most of the year. I had just purposefully not mentioned the other part, where I spent most of my time in the saddle away from the temple and life frequently was interesting.
I chuckled depreciatingly, "That was seven years ago; I had many less duties to the church than I do now." I paused for a moment as I considered what to say next, then continued, "Life is certainly more interesting than that occasionally, but you asked what my life was typically like. I'm certain you could say the same about your own lives. I've heard about a few of the things you've went through over the past six years."
"Well that's true," nodded Lt. Paris as he leaned back in his chair, "Most of my time on the bridge is pretty boring, with only a few course corrections to input. Other times though, as you say, are a lot more interesting."
"So, what are some of the more interesting parts? Say in the past year?" asked Lt. Torres with an intent look.
I was mentally reviewing the events of the past twelve months when I became aware of a change in my environment, and at the familiar mental presence looked toward the door. When Seven entered Sullivan's a few seconds later, I smiled at her both in welcome and in relief. She looked at me quizzically, returning the smile for a moment before replacing it with her usual impassive mask.
I rose as she came toward the table and greeted her, "I trust you had no difficulties in your work, Milady?" Out of the corner of my eye I caught the now expected scowl on Lt. Torres' face and wondered why exactly she had an issue with the way I addressed Seven.
Seven took the only chair left, one between Ensign Kim and Lt. Parris, "The necessary calculations are running, they should be completed in two hours twenty minutes."
"Would you like any refreshment, Milady?" I asked still standing.
"Not at this time, Arana. Thank you," Seven replied.
I sat down and turned toward Lt. Torres, "A Paladin of Torm follows the fourfold duties to faith, family, masters, and all good beings." I left out the 'of Faerun' that was usually added as I knew it was no longer applicable, Torm obviously meant me to serve the good beings of this realm as well.
Taking a breath I continued, "And also the Penance of Duty that Torm instituted after corruption afflicted the church during the Time of Troubles. Those being: the Debt of Dereliction, by which we must strive to eliminate the cults of Cyric and Bane and to work against the efforts of the Zhentarim; the Debt of Destruction, where we record and attempt to heal zones of dead and wild magic;, and the Debt of Persecution, in which we are tasked to aid and respect the churches and followers of all other goodly religions."
I took a sip of beer and with a certain level of melancholy continued, "As I also serve Ilmater, I am tasked with helping those who are in pain, oppressed or in great need. It is my duty to seek out and thwart those who server Loviatar."
I had been staring at the table but now looked up into Lt. Torres eyes. "Because of my service to both Ilmater and Torm, I am often chosen for tasks that combine those duties. Six months ago I exposed a nobleman who was kidnapping children from the poorer sections of Waterdeep and selling them to the highest bidder. Some were sold to noblemen with a taste for children; some were sold to those who in turn profited off the children by prostituting them."
Seven had never heard of this particular event, but I had told her enough of what I was usually called to do that she was not nearly as shocked as the other three were. "I tell the children of dragons because those tales are suitable for their ears. But such happenings are rare; usually I am called to serve in much grimmer circumstances. My usual duties are not suitable for tales of entertainment, so I do not speak of them; and I am certain you would not desire the victim's pain to be diminished by such a usage." I finished feeling all of my weariness descending upon me.
Lt. Torres stared at me shocked, "Kathless! Sorry, but Faerun sounds like a horrible place to live."
I was surprised by her response, until I realized what she had heard of my home. "Pardon, Lt. Torres. I did not mean for it to seem so, for that would be a falsehood. Most people live out their lives without being touched by evil. It is only because I seek out evil that I come into such frequent contact with it."
I considered what I could tell then of Faerun to show my home world in a more fair light. Searching through my memories for tales which would show the goodness of the folk of Faerun, I realized that they usually went hand in hand with times that were less than lighthearted. Yet they were the ones that symbolized most to me why I continued to struggle with all my strength against those that would destroy it.
"Three years ago the spring rains were unusually plentiful causing floods and mudslides. I along with several of my fellow knights traveled through deep mud to reach one village which had been particularly hard hit. We carried with us what food supplies and blankets we could on the pack horses, and all of us had the gift of healing in one form or another. When we arrived it was clear that though we and the supplies which we had brought were very welcome, our aid was not desperately needed." I smiled somewhat ruefully as I related this.
"When we rode into the town I was stuck by the pervading sense of determination that existed among them. Everywhere I looked were village folk helping one another with tasks simple and complex. We lent our skills and the strength of our backs and of our hands to healing those that were injured and setting up shelter for those whose homes had been destroyed by the waters."
"I had the last watch of the night, when darkness gives way to light. The dawning of that day was still, and the weather which had been clouded throughout the night was starting to clear, the clouds tattering against the sky. When the east began to glow with light and send banners of color across the sky, the village gathered. A lone young man stepped before them and faced the east and, with a voice that was marvelously clear and belllike, began the Hymn for Renewal to Lathander the Morninglord."
On that morning, moved by a sense of rightness to the scene, I had joined the young man and lifted my voice in prayer for the village's renewal as well. Now I rose to my feet and closing my eyes to concentrate began the Hymn putting my heart and soul into the words of comfort, hope and faith that the dawn would bring new beginnings. When I finished I opened my eyes and looked at my audience.
Surprise was present on all four faces. Seven glanced at me questioningly, as if to ask whether or not the song was merely a retelling of the past or a prayer for myself. She must have read some acknowledgement in my gaze, for her glance changed from a question to muted concern.
"Bravo where did you learn to sing like that?" asked Lt. Paris in an openly appreciative tone.
"That was really good," added Ensign Kim right after him admiringly.
Lt. Torres added her agreement and they all looked at me expectantly. The raised questioning metallic brow from and otherwise quiet Seven let me know she was curious as well.
"It is not unusual for squires to be asked if they have any musical gifts to offer for an evening's entertainment. One of the priests heard me singing and insisted that I receive voice training. Since then music has been somewhat of a hobby for me; I do not have anywhere near the quality of voice of a trained bard but it serves well enough for common use." I replied.
"Common? Your voice is hardly common," remarked Lt. Paris.
"Do you play anything?" asked Ensign Kim.
"I have had some training on playing the flute," I admitted. "I began while I was a squire and then when I visited Aglarond six years ago searching to see if I had any surviving family I trained for a few months at the bard school there."
"Did you find anyone?" asked Lt. Torres somberly.
"I did find some information, but no surviving relatives. I found that my father's mother was named Marana, perhaps my name was taken partly from hers. She was half-elven. No one knew who the sire of my father was, and she apparently refused to name him. I found out that she died before my father and mother married," I answered her and she nodded.
"What does a Faerun flute look like?" asked Lt. Paris eagerly.
Using my hands to show the dimensions I described the length, the placement of the finger holes and mouth piece and the woods usually used to construct them.
Then nothing would do but that we all proceed next door to the holodeck research lab so that Lt. Paris and Ensign Kim could recreate it. For my part I was fascinated with watching the flute materialize and dematerialize as I made changes to their initial idea. Finally it at least looked correct, being of simple design with the mouth hole placed on the side and two groupings of three holes and then two holes at the end of its length.
I had learned on the standard Faerun flute, but after my training in Aglorond I had taken up the elven longhorn flute which was longer by several inches. This added to the depth of the tone the instrument was able to produce. Finally it was ready for me to try and with a bemused smile I reached out and grasped the flute which was hanging in mid air.
I tested the weight of it in one hand and suspected it was perhaps slightly lighter than it should be. Lifting it to my lips I placed my fingers over the holes and gently blew into the mouth hole. The resulting sound was not displeasing but it was not what I expected.
"The tone is not what you desired?" asked Seven.
"No, Milady. It is higher in pitch by an octave and the tone is sharper than it should be. The instrument also feels rather lighter than what I am used to." I answered looking over the flute carefully.
"The density of the material can be adjusted. Computer adjust flute properties to play in next lower octave range," Seven ordered. When the "Modification complete," came back she continued after looking at the console, "Change material of flute to blackwood."
Ensign Kim said approvingly, "That should soften the tone."
When I next picked up the instrument I nodded approvingly at its weight. This time when I blew into it the tone was much improved and I smiled warmly at Seven.
Her lips curled up in a slight smile in return before she asked, "The pitch and tone are correct now?"
Before answering her I played a short section of melody, listening closely as I did so. After a few minutes I paused satisfied, "Yes, Milady, they are."
"May I?" asked Ensign Kim looking eagerly at the flute.
"Certainly Ensign," I replied and handed it to him. He and Lt. Paris fell to discussing the differences between it and an Irish flute and with their attention off me I realized suddenly how bone tired I was. Things were starting to feel distant, as if they were not quite real. The surge of energy I had gotten that had allowed me to discuss the nature of my feelings for Seven and be willing to investigate the holodeck had disappeared.
"I believe it is time Arana slept," I heard Seven say and I looked up at her from where I had been absently gazing at the hologrid walls in a waking doze.
"She's not one of the children, Seven" Lt. Torres replied in an irritated tone.
I was torn between the dictates of politeness and the desire to agree with Seven, it was after all the truth, I did need to sleep.
Seven raised one brow and said in a dry tone, "I am aware of that Lt. Torres. I am also aware of the fact that she was fatigued during her study session this morning."
"Hey, if you're tired just let us know," said Ensign Kim, concern apparent in his tone.
I met Seven's eyes and realized how concerned she was for me. "I am fatigued," I admitted.
"You know if your having trouble sleeping you should probably have the Doctor look you over, make sure there isn't a physical reason for it." commented Lt. Paris frowning slightly at me.
"I have already given my assurances to Lady Seven that I will do so if it continues Lt. Paris," I replied mildly trying to hide my discomfiture at the thought.
His eyes widened in incredulity. From behind me I heard a snort and then Lt. Torres said in a sarcastic tone, "Lady Seven?"
I stiffened at the discourtesy but before I could reply Seven said calmly, "Champion Arana addresses me in the manner in which she feels most comfortable, in accordance with the customs of her people."
Lt. Paris's eyes flickered between where Seven was standing and where Lt. Torres was standing then returned to me in the silence that followed, "Is that the case? You would feel more comfortable calling me by Lt. Paris rather than Tom." he asked with what I suspected was a cautious phasing.
"I mean no disrespect to your customs Lt. Paris, nor would I be spurning the offer of friendship I know you mean by offering the use of it. But I would be more comfortable using your rank than your birth name given the newness of our acquaintance." I admitted.
The three officers looked equally uncertain how to reply to my statement until Lt. Torres blurted out "Do you call anyone by their first name?" in a disbelieving tone.
I turned toward her noting the crossed arm defensiveness of her posture, before replying politely. "Three Lt. Torres, the Senior Priest of Ilmater, Father Tormlin who rescued me from slavery, Champion Kurn one of my fellow Knights at Waterdeep and the Lady Alessea."
"Oh," Lt. Torres suddenly appeared much less certain of herself.
"So first names are used only between close friends on Faerun?" asked Ensign Kim.
I frowned slightly trying to figure out how to answer him honestly, "Perhaps more so among the Knights of Torm, Tyr and Helm who frequently serve or interact with the upper Nobility, than among some of the other Knightly Orders. It is a matter of degree of formality, and my order is one of the most formal in their manner of speech and action. The use of first names is not encouraged unless between as you say, close friends or family, Ensign Kim."
He said sincerely, "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable earlier by insisting you use my first name. Please just call me Ensign Kim for now."
"So umm," I heard Lt. Paris say. I turned to him and looked inquisitively at who he was suddenly struggling with what I could clearly sense was amusement, "If things normally are done so formally, and you actually prefer that, I assume that if someone wanted to get to know you they would have to ask the Captain first?"
"If they sought my hand in marriage? Yes of course, anything else would be highly improper." I replied sternly suddenly understanding his amusement.
"Marriage?" the strangled sounding question came from Ensign Kim.
I frowned at him, "Ensign Kim, in Faerun suggesting that a woman would accept any other type of relationship with a man but marriage would be a grave insult to her honor. I trust that you did not mean to insult mine?"
Ensign Kim obviously retreating to firmer ground replied, "No, no, of course not."
Even though he was obviously teasing Ensign Kim, I silently thanked Lt. Paris for his comment. Suddenly Ensign Kim didn't look quite so eager to get to know me.
"I believe it is time to 'call it a night'" said Seven.
"Of course, Milady," I agreed with alacrity turning toward her. She was looking rather thoughtfully at Ensign Kim but at my motion returned her attention to me.
This time no one objected to our leaving and I heard Lt. Paris comment before the door shut behind us, "Well Harry, you sure know how to pick em."
"Deck 7" Seven said as we entered the turbo lift and I glanced at her curiously, "Milady I am not escorting you to the Cargo Bay?"
"No, I have researched the problem you are having and believe I have a solution. If I complete my work in your quarters while you are sleeping I believe with your empathic awareness of my presence I will disrupt your dreaming." she answered. I frowned trying to understand her meaning, "I will not 'fit' into the dream." Seven clarified.
While I was struggling with trying to determine whether it would be proper for her to do so, given my declaration of interest, Seven continued in a softer tone, "I wish to assist you Arana, I am concerned that you will damage yourself if this continues."
"As you wish, Milady," I found myself answering, unable to deny her.
When we entered my quarters I excused myself and went to the bathing room while she brought up the information she needed to analyze at my computer terminal.
When I finished my absolutions I entered the main room again and prepared to go to bed.
Seven glanced up from her work and raised a brow at the shirt and breeches I was wearing, "You do not wear specific sleeping attire?'
"No, Milady. This is what I am accustomed to." I answered.
Seven nodded then with a softer look, "Good night, Arana."
"Good night, Milady." I hesitated, "Thank you."
Seven nodded then ordered the lights down and turned back to her work.
In the darkness the screen of the console lit her face softly and I allowed myself to admire her openly, tracing with my eyes the outline of her profile. She stared intently at the screen a slight frown of concentration upon her face as she tapped upon the keys, manipulating the data I guessed. Her presence in the room was almost palatable to me, and I eventually drifted off feeling warmed and comforted by it.
Through the ringing in my ears I heard my master Lord Druss say, "Stupid slave, I don't know why you fight me. I'll always win." as he grabbed my mouth and forced the drug down my throat. Within a few minutes things took on an unreal quality and I felt the drug sapping the strength to fight from me.
He grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to my feet and then over to the bed where he forced me to bend over. The air hitting my back side told me he had lifted my skirt and I tried to find the strength to fight him, pleading with him to stop. Even as I did so I despised myself for my pleading. He enjoyed it when I pleaded with him, and knew I would not without the effect of the drug, which was of course why he used it.
But something this time was different, there was someone here, Lord Druss faded away and I felt calmer. It seemed as if I heard my name and I murmured, "Seven?" and reached for her. In the nether world between waking and dreaming I felt her hand clasp mine and pulled it to my chest and wrapped myself around it knowing that she would protect me and slipped back into sleep.
Seven had been absorbed in analyzing the day's astrometrics data when she realized that Arana was experiencing a nightmare. Seven clearly heard, "No, I don't want to take it." and looked over in concern. When Arana had begun pleading in a voice that sounded much younger with some Lord Druss not to touch her Seven had come over to wake her.
"Seven" Arana had murmured her name and reached out toward her. No Milady, no Lady Seven. Just Seven.
Seven grasped Arana's hand with her left one almost absently as she was still trying to analyze the feelings that had just swept through her at Arana's use of her name. Then she stared bemused as Arana pulled her hand to her chest, nestling it against the skin above her heart. Seven waited for Arana to let her hand go but apparently Arana had fallen back asleep and showed no signs that she was willing to let Seven have her hand back.
Seven sighed inaudibly and shifted to a more comfortable position; her internal chronometer told her it was only two hours until the time for which Arana had told the computer to awaken her. She attempted to continue her analysis from memory but found herself distracted by various sensory inputs. The feel of Arana's heart beating against the exoskeleton of her left hand, the fact that Arana's skin was even paler than her own, how in sleep Arana appeared so much more vulnerable than during the day.
Finally giving up the effort to continue her work she concentrated upon the last, studying Arana's face intently. In public Arana always appeared strong and confident, compassionate and kind, but with a certain sternness that Seven knew most of those who had met her found intimidating. To Seven and the children she showed a gentler side, one that was exceptionally forgiving and supportive.
It was often too easy to forget that only a week ago she had been near death. Sometimes Seven felt she was the only one who remembered exactly how damaged Arana had been. Now examining Arana's face in the dimness of the room Seven found herself noting the length of Arana's eyelashes, the curve of her ear as it arched upward toward it's tip, the planes and lines of her face. Relaxed now in sleep Arana's face was softer and there was a subtle look of vulnerability and sorrow there.
Dropping her gaze to her hand where Arana held it tightly Seven was suddenly fiercely glad that that it was she that Arana let see this part of her. The part that wasn't always strong, wasn't always confident, the part that needed someone to help her, to keep away the dreams.
As the time passed Seven watched Arana sleep and hoped that in the morning that the golden flecks, which Seven had noted with anxiety had been decreasing as she became more and more fatigued, would be back.
To Be Continued
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