The Bajorans hadn’t lasted long after their encounter with ‘Yaaras’—whatever answers they had come looking for, it seemed they found themselves thwarted. Nor could anyone offer any explanation as to why they had locked in on Dukat. True, they had made a few more desultory interrogations after questioning ‘Yaaras,’ but gave up after that—convinced, Dukat hoped, that he and the Kurabda were not their answer. The Kekil-haaf considered relocating again, but this time the elders ruled against it: they dared not risk two off-season migrations in a row.
Dukat knelt alone on a rock ledge away from the main camp, where he could pray masked. He needed it—for his subdermal implant had run out three weeks ago. He’d been injecting his emergency medication since then, but it wasn’t as precise as the implant, which gauged the reactions of his body in real time and matched its output accordingly. Was he imagining it? Had that been a touch of the unholy fire the day he borrowed the name of Yaaras—one of the tribe’s other riding hounds—and confronted the Bajoran interrogator? Or was he just unaccustomed now to his old prosecuting nestor’s rhetoric? He wasn’t sure he liked the person he’d been in that moment, even in such a dire situation.
Out here in the Kurabda desert, there was little he could do. He could try to stretch what should have been two weeks’ remaining supplies into three, but there was no telling if the reduced dosage would be therapeutic. If a cartridge were found for the implant, the device would have to be recalibrated after this length of time—he could probably manage the process thanks to the eidetic Cardassian memory, but the odds of finding his prescription for the correct model of implant were…he didn’t care to think of it. Injectable medication might be easier to come by, but without being able to see a doctor, dosing adjustments would be risky.
—You are all I have now,— Dukat signed, tracing his words like a sculpture in the air. There was no one out here to see him as he prayed…only Oralius, and surely she understood. Furthermore, he had long since faced the possibility that he was one of those called to discipline for life. He might never speak again…and he could live with that.
His voice no longer concerned him. His mind…that was a different matter. —You are all that stands between me and madness. Your Guides taught me when I was ill and I have tried to be their student as best as I can, but I have not gone without for seven years. Please…don’t let me lose my mind out here alone; I have no other help.—
He felt a brief twinge at that…Rulaahan and Gharumef were good people, yes, and he didn’t doubt they would try…but they were not doctors. They were not family.
—Breath of life…sustaining fire…Spirit above Fate…Spirit commanding body…I plead with you, give me your strength when mine fails! Take me in your arms if I fall…let me go only in my time, and help me never to forget, whether the sun burns too bright or cannot be seen at all.— His hands fell for a moment. He contemplated the rising orb of Verkoun for a second…then the vast and resplendent expanse of the Desert of Kurab, red of rock redoubled by red of sun like ancient and sacrificial blood.
—I have no other help but you. And you give me life.—
Something hummed silently at the center of his forehead; other lesser nerves told him the source was at his back…and had been standing there for quite some time. His hands whipped up to his face, fingers clawlike as he grabbed his mask and boxed it quickly as he could lest whoever it was see what Rulaahan had deemed private…
“Dukat. You do not have to hide that from me,” someone rumbled. Gharumef
. “I have known for months now…what it is you do here.” He shook his head, as if to himself. “And yes…it is strange to see—your mask is like none that our people make.”
, Dukat thought—the features of his own recitation mask left a bit more room for interpretation than the soft-featured epitome of the feminine Rulaahan wore. Maybe it seemed…twisted, to Rulaahan and Gharumef. He supposed he could understand where that idea might come from, in a different interpretation than his. But the sons of Oralius express something of what she wanted in this world, too. Our souls reflect the same light.
Still, out of respect for the beliefs of the Kurabda, he said nothing. If something changed among them someday, it would not come as the fruit of an outsider’s harsh word or arrogant display: it would come from recognition of the Spirit within.
Dukat rose to his feet, turning to face the warrior. “Ah’tekel
,” Gharumef half-whispered. City-dweller. Foreigner.
But there was something almost affectionate in it, something that hadn’t been there the day they met.
“The Sokol-haaf have arrived,” Gharumef stated, the previous topic dissipating like sand on the wind. “They bring word of fighting between Hebitians and Bajorans.” By now, Dukat had grown so used to hearing the Kurabda refer to their species by the ancient name, that he didn’t even blink at the term. Dukat himself would never return to that practice, for the word’s meaning made it sound as though those who disbelieved weren’t exactly people
—though he understood much better than he used to why those like the Kurabda might feel the change of terminology threatened to strip away something sacred.
—I would like to hear what they have to say,— Dukat said.
“I imagined you would,” Gharumef replied, a hint of a smile pulling at his lips. “Their messenger is named Lihavre’el…I will introduce you. Come, and I will translate for you. They do not speak the common tongue—but they should understand your sign.”
Dukat fingerspelled the name back lest he stumble over the sequence in front of the Sokol-haaf envoy, for where the Kekil-haaf might poke fun of outsiders at times, the Sokol-haaf held them in decidedly less regard.
Gharumef nodded. “Yes…that is right.”
Dukat favored Gharumef with a smile and a nod of his own.
The envoys of the Sokol-haaf stood in the center of camp by the chapel tent, in the place given to guests. One leaned over to his companion and whispered something, hand held up to hide his lips. The other nodded in reply, then brusquely addressed Dukat. Gharumef translated: “Who are you?
—I am Skrain Dukat, guest among the Kekil-haaf. I am honored to meet you, Lihavre’el of Sokol-haaf.—
Lihavre’el inclined his head, understanding clear in his eyes. “You are the silent pilgrim Rulaahan spoke of.
Dukat matched Lihavre’el’s gesture, though he dipped his head further and held his position for a breath longer, as befit a young man addressing his elder.
Lihavre’el scrutinized Dukat’s features—an expression that bore a disturbing resemblance to the appraisal of the Bajoran interrogator. “A ship went down in our lands
,” Gharumef relayed. “Several men survived—soldiers.
” The Sokol-haaf messenger focused on Dukat’s face for a moment longer, weighing what he wished to say. “There was a man with skin like sand, and hair on his face
.” Dukat fought to restrain a laugh—there was a word in the common tongue, for the Hăzăkda spoke the language as well, but in the most ancient tribal languages in every other region of the world, no native word existed for ‘beard,’ for they rarely dealt with men capable of growing one.
“And he looked almost exactly like
A soldier—a man of Hăzăk—dear Oralius, the Bajorans must have sought a rebel in the desert! And many had said of Skrain Dukat and Akellen Macet that aside from the hue of their skin, the pattern of their ridges, and the brown of Akellen’s eyes, that they looked almost like twins.
—He is kin!— Dukat burst out, movements rapid and wide. He did not know the sign for ‘cousin,’ but this would do. —I believed he was dead, and now…I believe you saw my kinsman!— He paused. Lihavre’el could be wrong. Maybe it meant nothing…but the Bajoran, and now the Sokol-haaf…
“I understand,” the warrior replied.
No other words were needed: the tear gathering at the corner of Skrain Dukat’s eye said it all.