James was aware of Spock moving away from him to sit up before he was fully awake.
"Your majesty," an unfamiliar voice was saying. Spock acknowledged one of his guards, sitting up to better see him in the dark of the room. The guard was speaking his native language, Spock translating it in his head so that James could also understand. James would be relieved when he had mastered all of their language so he did not require a translator.
"What it is, Tranq?" Spock asked, on hand on James' shoulder to provide comfort, reassurance, and an understanding of the words being exchanged.
"We have received notice, sire, that King Christopher is camped just on his side of the border," Tranq informed him. James could feel Spock's surprise through their bond, that surprise adding to his own.
"Is there any indication of his intentions?" Spock asked.
"We do not know, sire. None of our guards speak his language and none of his speak ours," the guard explained.
"Is he attempting to conceal his presence?"
"Not at all, sire. He is camped on a rise where our border patrol would be certain to see him," Tranq said.
"How many Knights are with him?" Spock asked.
"It is believed that there are no more than 20, sire," Tranq responded.
Spock nodded at that, considering this news.
//He wants to talk to you,// James guessed. //He's not stupid.//
//No, he is not stupid. It does seem to represent an invitation,// Spock confirmed.
//What are you going to do?//
//Accept his invitation. There must be something he wants to share with us.//
//You're going to take me and Leonard, aren't you?// James asked, fairly sure of the answer.
//Certainly,// Spock assured him with a silent laugh. //Otherwise you will find all the trouble you have been avoiding.//
"Inform 30 of our finest Knights," the King instructed. "At first light, we will begin our journey to the border, to see what it is that King Christopher wishes to discuss with us."
"Very good, sire," Tranq said. With a bow, he turned and left, carefully closing the door behind him.
"You'll have to unchain my ankles so I can ride," James said as Spock left the bed.
"I had been planning to do so, love. Go back to sleep. It is several hours to daylight."
"Where are you going?" James asked.
"To prepare. King things to do," Spock teased, kissing James' head as he closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep.
James slept lightly, missing Spock's presence next to him. It was not hard for him to be instantly awake when Spock told him it was time to eat so that they could leave. "Did one of the squires pack for me?"
"Of course. One of the advantages of being consort to the King," Spock reminded him as James dressed for the journey.
"You aren't concerned about Christopher's presence, are you?" James asked, certain Spock was not, in fact, worried.
"There is no reason that I should be. He is not concealing his presence. He clearly means us no harm. He has something he wishes to convey to me and I am willing to journey to the border to find out what that is."
James nodded at that, going with Spock to the dining chamber to find Leonard already there, looking more than half asleep. After they had eaten and Leonard had drunk extra coffee, Spock left them, telling them that he would meet them at the stables in quarter of an hour.
"Where'd he go?" Leonard asked, eating the last of James' rolls.
"To talk to Sarek. Inform him that he'll need to be regent while Spock's gone."
"Makes sense," Leonard agreed. "He unchaining your ankles, finally?"
"I couldn't ride if he didn't," James said.
"Unless you rode like a girl," Leonard teased, laughing at James' scowl.
"We better go. Don't want to be left behind," James said, standing and not exactly waiting for Leonard as he made his way to the stable.
"As if he would ever leave without you," Leonard said when he had caught up to his friend.
James shrugged, entering the stable, the 30 Knights watching them, some warily, some with open expressions of welcome, some talking about them, certain that they did not understand. James missed most of the words, but lazy, dumb, ugly came through loud and clear. Why he understood those words he couldn't imagine but he told Leonard what had been said, Leonard shrugging.
"Not one thing we can do about it. But they get injured on the way to the border, they will have to treat themselves or simply die," Leonard replied.
"Not those though. They don't think we should be dragon fodder."
"Does the King know what they are saying?" Leonard asked.
"He does. He's not especially pleased," James said in some satisfaction.
"They know you are bonded, right?" Leonard asked.
"They're probably too dense to understand what it means," James said, turning to watch Spock enter, the Knights coming to attention.
//They understand. They do not know you understand them,// Spock said, addressing his Knights and giving them their instructions. Among those were his admonition that they treat James and Leonard with the respect that they were owed. The Knights who were insulting them looked slightly angry but James decided he would simply keep his distance from them.
//Excellent plan, t'hy'la. If they approach you, I know that you will alert me,// Spock said in reassurance.
//You can count on it,// James agreed.
"Sit," Spock instructed, gesturing to a rickety stool in the corner of the stable. James sat and was approached by a man who had the unmistakable air of a blacksmith. The gnarled man removed the chains from between James' ankles, not removing the rings which held them. //I will have them removed when we return.//
//Why?// James asked, wondering if the presence of the rings would provide the Knights an excuse to further insult him.
//Because,// Spock responded, silent laughing at him.
//That's what I say to you. How can you say it to me?// James complained.
"We must go," Spock said in both languages, the Knights mounting their horses, James and Leonard mounting theirs, their horses happy to see them again. The blacksmith held the King's horse as Spock gracefully mounted, four of the Knights leading the sturdy pack horses with all of their necessary supplies.
"Why did he not remove the rings?" Leonard asked when his horse was next to James'.
"He didn't say," James admitted with a shrug. "He's not going to allow his Knights to hurl further insults at us."
"I should hope not."
The entire trip to the border was made relatively swiftly, much more comfortable than the first trip for James and Leonard as this time they were not tied to their horses. James slept each night with Spock, Leonard sleeping in the same tent. The Knights had several tents, two Knights on guard throughout the night hours.
James and Leonard were not insulted during the trip, at least not in ways which they could understand. Spock assured them that the Knights were being distant and respectful, which was fine with them, especially the distant part.
Just after the sun passed directly overhead on the third day, they arrived at the river bed which served as the common border. As expected, Christopher and his 20 Knights were camped on a low rise just within their realm. Spock dismounted, inviting James and Leonard to attend him, the Knights told to remain on their horses and to stay where they were.
When Spock, James, and Leonard approached the bridge, Christopher came from his side. James and Leonard were surprised to see that Christopher was accompanied by Pavel the Young, looking disconcerted by all that was occurring.
The five met on the rise in the middle of the bridge, providing a clear view to all of the Knights that no hostilities were being engaged on the wooden structure between the realms.
"You are the Dragon King," Christopher said to Spock, looking up at the taller man in some amusement.
"I am. There is no dragon," Spock said.
"Of course there is not," Christopher said, focusing on James and Leonard. "You are well?"
"Very well, sire. We have been well treated by the King," James answered for them both. Christopher could see the truth in his face and nodded.
"Pavel told us of your sacrifice. That you surrendered your freedom to ensure his," Christopher said.
"Yes, sire. And that of the others as well," James said, glancing at Pavel and seeing his discomfort increase.
"I fear they never returned, James," Christopher said with a shake of his head.
"Where are they, sire?" Leonard asked in dismay. "They were released and escorted to the border as the Dragon King promised."
"Yes, Sir Leonard, Pavel told us this," Christopher agreed, turning to Pavel for him to explain.
"We were sleeping the first night in our realm when they were captured by Knights from the realm of a different Dragon King. I was gathering extra firewood and the others did not betray my presence. They were taken to his kingdom and I followed far enough behind to not be detected. I returned to inform King Christopher that they are being held prisoner."
"What is it you require from us?" Spock asked, studying Christopher and feeling James' apprehension over the fate of his friends.
"We wish to join forces and go to the realm of the Dragon King. To free our citizens and prevent him from capturing anyone else from either of our realms," Christopher explained.
"If we refuse, you will attempt it with 20 of your Knights?" Spock asked.
"We will await the arrival of 100 more. I did not think that 120 of my Knights would be a welcome invitation for you to come," Christopher said in clarification.
"I have with me 30 Knights. That gives us 50 if we choose to undertake this journey," Spock said.
"There is also James. He counts for at least 4, especially as we are going to free his friends," Christopher said.
"There are times when fewer are more," James said to Spock, Christopher nodding in agreement. "We are few but determined."
"I do not know that this is my fight to take on," Spock said, considering the situation.
"You must know, sire, that your Knights have been captured and killed by the other Dragon King. And this river once provided water to both our realms. He diverted it," Christopher reminded him.
//Is this about your father?// Spock asked James.
//It is about my friends. I cannot help my father. I can help them,// James said in some urgency.
//Yes,// Spock agreed. //And Christopher is correct. He has seized my Knights. And he took our water.//
//We're going then?//
//Of course we are,// Spock assured him. "We will undertake this journey. We will rescue your Knights and any of mine that have been taken. And when we succeed, the river will be restored to its natural state. Our Knights must unite and work as one."
"I concur. Do you speak their language?" Christopher asked James.
"Not completely, sire. And they are not entirely certain of me or Leonard."
"I can see how they would have their doubts," Christopher said, turning to Spock. "Very well. If you agree, we will address our Knights together."
"I do agree," Spock said, with a nod.
The Kings addressed both sets of Knights who obediently listened to the instructions. If any of them thought the intentions of their Kings was foolhardy, they were smart enough not to make it obvious.
"And we will work as one," King Christopher told his Knights, Spock saying the same.
Christopher's Knights broke camp as the Kings discussed the most efficient way to travel to the realm of the Dragon King.
"Sires," Pavel said, standing off to one side.
"Yes, Pavel. What is it?" Christopher asked.
"We should follow the river bed, sire. It will take us directly to his fortress and that path is not very difficult."
"Is that not what he would expect?" Spock asked Christopher.
"As they are not aware of our plan, I think that they would have no expectations of our arrival. At least I hope they would not," Christopher said.
"Had you taken prisoner three of my citizens, I would eventually come to find them," Spock pointed out.
"Yes," Christopher said thoughtfully. "What route would you recommend?"
"We travel through my realm," Spock suggested, tracing the path with his finger. "He would not expect you to travel through my lands. The way is more difficult but we will not be as easily detected."
"Pavel?" Christopher asked over his shoulder.
Pavel approached to study the map, agreeing that he would still be able to find the fortress of the Dragon King and that he thought it would take only four days to arrive.
"Very well," Christopher said with a nod, informing his Knights of the decision and the plan they would be following.
When all were mounted, Christopher and Spock lead the way, Pavel close at hand to make certain they were on the correct path. Leonard and James came next, the Knights following and trying to avoid interaction with those not from their own realm.
After four day's journey, they arrived at the base of the range of mountains where Pavel said the fortress was hidden, careful to set up camp under a rocky outcropping perfect for disguising their presence. Which made it all the more surprising when they awoke the next morning to find that they were surrounded by 100 of the Dragon King's Knights, all with fearsome dragons emblazoned on their armor.
Christopher and Spock automatically approached the Knights in the front, looking up at them. "What is it you require?" Christopher demanded, hoping one of them would understand his words.
"You have with you James of Kirk," the Knight on the very tall horse responded.
"Yes," Christopher agreed, staring up at the Knight.
"Relinquish him. You will be free to go," the Knight said.
//Oh crap,// James said to Spock. //How did I manage to piss him off when I've never met him?//
//You needn't worry, t'hy'la. I have no intention of doing as he asks.//
"We must discuss your demands," Christopher said to the messenger.
The Knight nodded slowly. "You have 10 minutes. No more."
The two Kings, James, Leonard, and Pavel went into the tent serving as their headquarters, Christopher looking from James to Spock and back. "James?" Christopher finally said.
"He is not paying the price," Spock said before James could speak for himself.
Christopher studied James who looked back with the same bold determination he had displayed when Christopher first found him in the tavern.
"I don't have any choice, Spock," James finally said.
"Spock?" Christopher said, not truly a question. "You are not being held by him, are you?"
"Not in the strict prisoner sense, sire, no," James said. "You must know I don't ever intend to return to your realm."
"I thought as much," Christopher agreed. "Then we cannot ask you to make this sacrifice."
"You are not asking me, sire. The Dragon King is. And I cannot refuse. Any more than I could refuse when Spock said they would go free if I stayed," James said firmly.
"You are out of your mind. You do know that, right?" Leonard finally said, his face unhappy and equally determined.
"It's not the first time I've been accused of it," James agreed, turning to Spock. "You know that I have no choice."
"I do not know that. He will kill you just as he did your father," Spock said, one hand on James' cheek, needing the contact.
"He won't kill me. I'm the main character of this story. I can't die. Seriously."
Spock and Christopher exchanged a look, turning toward Leonard who had to shrug. "Well. He has a point."
"You still can't be sure," Christopher said. "Stranger things have been known to happen."
"I'm willing to take the chance, sire. I should have made sure they got home safely. They are my responsibility and I let them down," James said, sounding more mature than any of them ever expected him to.
"If you go, I am as well," Leonard said. "I can at least help keep you alive for a little longer."
"No, Leonard. I appreciate your offer but I cannot allow you to do that," James said.
"I wasn't asking your permission, you lunkhead. And you cannot not allow me to do anything," Leonard retorted.
Christopher had to shake his head, the conversation familiar to him. "Spock?"
"I do not want James to go. I do understand why he feels he must. And our 50 Knights cannot fend off the 100 surrounding us," Spock said reluctantly. "You must return to me safely. Both of you."
"I promise," James said, enjoying Spock's kiss. It was tender and loving and reassuring.
"I will do all that I can," Leonard said with a nod.
James finally looked away from Spock to focus on Leonard. "Please stay. I cannot be responsible for you too."
"I'm not asking you to be responsible for me. I'm telling you that I am going," Leonard responded.
"Spock," James said in request.
Spock shook his head. "He is possibly even more stubborn than you, t'hy'la. Allow this from him."
James sighed but finally nodded in agreement. "Fine. You get yourself killed, I'm not talking to you. Ever again."
"Understood," Leonard said.
"We'll see you…later," James said, stealing one last kiss before leaving the tent with Leonard at his side. "I agree to your terms. Leonard is coming as well."
The Knight on the very tall horse nodded, not looking the least bit surprised. "Mount your horses. We will take your word that you will come."
James and Leonard mounted their horses and were immediately surrounded by Knights.
"80 of our Knights will remain for two days. When we have reached the fortress, you will be escorted back to your realms," the Dragon Knight told the Kings who nodded in understanding.
//You must return to me,// Spock said, watching James until he was out of sight.
//I will. Don't worry about us. We're very clever when we need to be.//
//This I know,// Spock responded, turning to talk quietly to Christopher who was equally frustrated by the situation they found themselves in.
James and Leonard were treated mostly like they did not exist as they traveled the two days to the fortress of the Dragon King. Leonard noticed that one of the Knights guarding them was limping excessively and after some persuasion, was able to treat the blisters he had developed on the inside of his thighs. James corrected the fit of his Cuisses and they knew that they had at least one friend among the dragons holding them.
The fortress of the Dragon King was much like James and Leonard had expected. It was encircled by a smooth stone wall, impossible to scale. It was dark and imposing and if they hadn't been Knights they might have even said it was a little intimidating.
They were taken into the immense dark castle of the Dragon King and forced to kneel when they reached a chamber dominated by an enormous throne.
"Makes you wonder what he's compensating for, huh?" Leonard whispered to James as they awaited the arrival of the Dragon King.
James wanted to laugh but knew that was in neither of their best interest. Instead, they both respectfully bowed their heads when the door opened to allow the Dragon King to enter.
"Finally I come face to face with the infamous James of Kirk," the Dragon King said, mounting his throne to stare down at them. "And Leonard of Coy as a bonus."
One of the Knights guarding them toed James in the leg, gesturing toward the Dragon King with his head.
"Yes, your majesty," James agreed, glancing up at him. This Dragon King was not beautiful like his was. This one had no hair with strange markings on his forehead and a must unpleasant scowl on his face. "What is it you want from me?"
"I want you to die. Just as your father did," the Dragon King informed him.
"Yeah. I figured. Sire," he added hastily when one of the Knights kicked him.
"You and I will meet in hand-to-hand combat. If you were to best me, which is completely out of the question, you and your people will be free to go. If I best you, you will die and your people will remain my prisoners."
"Alright," James agreed.
"You have no concerns about dying at my hand?" the Dragon King asked.
"I'm not ready to die at anyone's hands, sire. I am ready to return to the realm from whence I came, taking my friends with me," James told him.
"So that you might return to the bed of that other Dragon King?"
"It is a bonus," James said. "Mostly I want to free my friends from your fortress."
"Can you be certain I have not killed them?" the Dragon King asked.
"I am fairly certain you have not. I will not fight you only for myself and Leonard. I will fight you for all of them."
The Dragon King nodded at that, standing.
"Sire," Leonard said, glancing up. The Dragon King stared at Leonard which he decided was permission to speak. "I at least wish to see our friends. To see that they are unharmed."
The Dragon King turned to one of his Knights with a nod and left.
"Come with me. Both of you," the Knight ordered, waiting as the prisoners rose to follow him. They were surprised to find their three friends in a dining chamber, eating with others who did not look as though they belonged in this realm.
"James, Leonard," Hikaru said in shock, Montgomery and Uhura turning to the door to also see their arrival.
"In the name of the saints," Montgomery said. Uhura looked like she was ready to either hug them or pass out. It was a toss up. They all hugged in relief, the Knights allowing James and Leonard to sit with their friends.
"What are you doing here?" Uhura asked quietly, frowning at the two of them.
"Rescuing you," James said.
"By being taken prisoner yourself?" Uhura asked.
"Not exactly. This Dragon King wants to fight me. When I win, we'll all go free," James explained.
"You canna beat him, James," Montgomery said in concern. "He's stronger. Faster. And it's his realm."
James shrugged, focusing instead on his friends. They said that they had been treated surprising well. Montgomery was put in the stables to care for the horses, Hikaru was teaching the Knights to fight more effectively with swords (or at least that's the story he told the King), and Uhura was serving as a translator within the castle. None of them had been harmed, left alone for the most part when they were not at their jobs.
"Why does he want to fight you?" Hikaru asked James.
"He didn't say. But it apparently has something to do with my father," James said with a shrug.
"Thirst for revenge makes men do stupid things," Uhura said.
"He killed my father. What does that have to do with revenge?" James asked her.
"You are the one being stupid. You aren't going to beat him. We'll still be stuck here and you'll be dead. What will it have accomplished?" she asked, actual regret in her words.
"I'm not going to die at his hands. I promised Spock I would return to him."
"Spock?" Hikaru asked.
"The first Dragon King," Leonard explained. "They've bonded."
"Oh good lord," Uhura said with a roll of her beautiful eyes. "Count on you to seduce an enemy of our realm."
"Turns out he's not the enemy," Leonard said. "This Dragon King is."
"How many Dragon Kings are there?" Montgomery asked, trying very hard to keep track of the conversation.
"Just two so far," James said. "Unless the citizens of those realms think Christopher is a Dragon too."
"Nobody thinks that," Uhura assured him. "And they don't think of Spock as a Dragon King. Only we do."
"Oh," James said, congratulating himself for his eloquence.
"You two," the Knight who brought them to the dining room said. "Come with me."
"We'll see you soon," James promised, following the Knight out, Leonard at his side. To their surprise, they were shown a comfortable chamber with a huge bed and a full meal spread out for them.
"Last meal for the condemned man," Leonard said, drinking from the ale.
"I'm not going to die, dammit. Show a little faith," James said, pouring himself a tankard of ale. "I'm going to kill this Dragon King and return to mine. You can come back or you can return to Christopher's realm."
"You think I plan to leave you if you do survive?" Leonard asked, shaking his head at his friend's denseness.
"You can if you want. Spock will allow you to go."
"I know that. I have no interest in leaving."
"Okay," James agreed. "Why do you think he wants to fight me? Really?"
"To prove he can. Because you are the infamous James of Kirk. I dare say more people have heard of you than have heard of him. Wants to make a name for himself. So he'll be mentioned in the same breath as Spock and Christopher."
"He couldn't accomplish all that even if he were to kill me," James said. "Maybe he thinks it will make Spock and Christopher suffer."
"Maybe. I wonder when this death match with take place."
"Doesn't much matter. I'll beat him whenever it may be held."
Leonard just shook his head, eating more of the food that had been left for them, encouraging James to also eat. When they were both satisfied, they decided to sleep, looking forward to having an actual bed after spending too many nights on the unforgiving ground.
"Hey," Leonard said softly when they were both stretched out in the comfortable bed. "It's a good thing that you are doing."
"Thanks. You didn't think I had it in me, did you?"
"Of course I did. You never fooled me for a minute. Any more than you fooled Christopher."
"Yeah," James said, turning his back to his friend, a smile playing on his lips.
//Have sex with him and get it out of your system.//
//Stop eavesdropping on me,// James returned with silent laughter. //And I have no desire to have sex with him.//
//Are you safe?// James asked.
//Yes. We are on our way home. Christopher doesn't know whether to be more impressed by your bravery or your stupidity.//
//It's a toss up,// James had to agree. //I miss you.//
//I miss you as well. And I love you, t'hy'la. You must return to me.//
//I will. I promise,// James assured him, warmed by the love being transmitted over their bond.
//Sleep now,// Spock said to him.
//You too,// James returned, drifting off and dreaming of Spock.
They were left mostly alone the next two days, the dragon Knights bringing them food and drink, escorting them to see their friends and returning them to their chamber to sleep. James knew that Spock had reached his castle safely and was certain that Christopher too was on his way safely home.
On their third day, one of the dragon Knights came and informed James that the next day would see the combat between James and the King. James accepted the news calmly, Leonard not at all pleased but knew there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. The same dragon Knight provided James a suit of amour which fit surprisingly well, assuring him that his horse would also have all the necessary protections.
James tried to keep the news about the up-coming bout secret from Spock but he did not succeed.
//I don't want you to worry,// James told Spock late that night as he lay in bed next to Leonard who was also not sleeping.
//How can I not? I have every faith in you. I have heard that the Dragon King is not honorable.//
//Oh great. He cheats?// James asked.
//I have been told. You must be prepared for all contingencies,// Spock said in warning.
//I will. I'll tell Leonard too.//
//Please do, t'hy'la. And above all else, be careful.//
//I will. You have my word that I'll return to you,// James said.
"Hey," Leonard said, finally giving up the pretense that he was sleeping.
"Yeah," James responded, turning on his side to study his friend.
"I'm sure you're going to beat him tomorrow. But just in case, I want you to know that you are the best friend, the best man I have ever had the privilege of knowing."
"You know I feel the same, right? That you are my brother as surely as if we had been born to the same parents," James said, staring into the worried brown eyes of his friend.
"Yes," Leonard said with a sigh. "Please don't die tomorrow. I'll be really pissed if you do."
"So noted," James assured him with a smile. "And I have no intention of allowing him to win."
"That's all right then," Leonard said, closing his eyes and drifting off to a light sleep. James watched him, greatly comforted by his presence.
James watched from in front of one of the tall windows as day-break lightened the world outside.
"What are you doing?" Leonard asked from the bed where he still lay.
"Watching the sun come up," James said, turning to look at his friend.
"You didn't sleep, did you?"
"No. But I meditated the way Spock taught me. I'll be fine."
Leonard got out of the bed, pulling on his clothes and watching as the Knight brought their breakfast.
"I will return for you in one hour," he said not unkindly.
"Thank you," James agreed, drinking some of the coffee that was well supplied.
"You need to eat," Leonard said in coaxing.
"I will afterward," James said, shaking his head.
"Is Spock with you?"
"No. He's keeping his distance so he doesn't distract me," James said.
"Probably just as well," Leonard agreed, eating another roll out of nervousness rather than actual desire.
"Yeah. I'll be glad when we get back home so I can really talk to him," James said with a note of wistfulness which Leonard rarely heard in his voice.
"I know," Leonard assured him. "You'll see him soon."
"So you're sure I'm not going to die any longer?" James asked with a half smile.
"You're sure you aren't. That's enough for me."
James nodded at that, drinking more coffee, watching Leonard eat more than was usual.
The Knight returned to take James to the armory to put on his borrowed armor, Leonard being escorted to the arena where the battle would take place. The Knights offered Leonard a seat in the reviewing stand but he declined, choosing instead to stand at one end with Montgomery, Hikaru, and Uhura, all of whom were glad for his company.
"Is he going to be able to win?" Hikaru asked Leonard, expressing the anxiety they were all feeling over the fate of their friend.
"He believes he will. And sometimes that's enough."
Hikaru and Uhura had to nod at Leonard's words, Montgomery admitting he wished he hadn't given up his tenuous belief in a higher power so that he could pray for assistance for James. The others agreed that any intervention would be welcome.
Any other conversation was preempted by the arrival of James and the Dragon King on their horses, entering the arena at opposite ends. The horses were bedecked with flourishes, the King's with dragons emblazoned on every available surface. The visors of their helmets were raised, the King looking determined and angry. James looked calm and as though he was at least mentally elsewhere. His friends were not sure if this was a good sign or not.
After receiving seemingly gigantic lances from squires, the two lowered their visors and spurred their horses forward. James' horse accelerated immediately, happy to flex his impressive muscles. The King's horse also possessed a powerful physique, his legs firm and strong as he charged toward James.
The first lance splintered against James' armor, a blow hard enough to unseat a lesser man. James wobbled but righted himself immediately, his lance also broken though no one could say how it was damaged.
New lances were provided and they charged again. This time James had the upper hand, shattering his lance on the King's armor. The blow raised an audible gasp from all those gathered. Unbeknownst to James, no one had ever before landed a blow on the King. It was a painful and disconcerting first time for the Dragon. And it seemed to increase his fury. Even before James had a firm grip on his lance, the King charged but James recovered quickly. He deflected the blow, landing his lance firmly in the center of the King's chest and unseating him. The gasp from the spectators was louder this time, a few cries rising from those gathered.
James dismounted his horse while it was still in motion, accepting a sword from the squire serving him. He waited until the King was similarly armed before approaching him to see what the King would do. The King, out of anger, pain, or plain stupidity, advanced on James, the arm holding the sword wobbling from the weight of it. James patiently bided his time until he was sure he was at the advantage. With a mighty surge, he knocked the sword from the King's grasp, using his superior agility to upend the King who landed on his back with a resounding thump.
James stood over him, one foot on his dented chest plate, the tip of his sword resting uncomfortably on the King's exposed neck. "I should kill you." He used his foot to raise the King's visor, needing to see the face of his enemy, to gauge his reaction.
"You are welcome to do so. Revenge your father's death," the King sneered at him.
James considered those words, his sword even more firmly pressing into the King's neck and drawing blood. The King's eyes were squinted but he made no other sign of impending doom.
While James vacillated between wanting to kill the other man or follow his natural inclination of sparing his life, he became aware of chants from those seated in the arena. At first, he thought they were calling for his own death until he realized that instead they were urging him to kill their King. That seemed a strange turn of events.
//Do not slay him,// Spock requested softly.
//What will I do with him?// James asked, looking at the crowd who were cheering him, not their defeated sovereign.
//Bring him here. We will dispense justice.//
//The crowd wants me to kill him,// James said. He was drawn to the sight of his friends racing toward him, all looking happily surprised.
"What are you going to do?" Leonard asked when they skidded to stop before him.
"Spock said I should spare his life," James admitted with a shrug. "What do you think?"
His friends agreed that while the King was despicable and responsible for many unnecessary deaths, including that of James' father, it was not James' nature to kill without immediate provocation. The King was defeated. That had been his goal.
"I will allow you to live," James told the King who was looking up at them. "You will allow us to leave."
"You must kill me if you ever wish to leave here," the King spat at him.
James turned his attention from the supine King to several of his Knights who had gathered around their fallen ruler.
"Are you going to take your revenge?" one of the Knights asked, studying James closely. He looked vaguely familiar to James but he couldn't imagine why since he had not previously encountered this particular Knight, who seemed older than most but also wiser in some intangible way.
"That is the matter currently under discussion," James said. "He said we will not leave alive if I do not kill him. I am willing to spare his life."
"His death is of no consequence to us," the Knight said. "If you allow him to live, one of us will gladly take his life."
"Oh," James responded, looking at his friends at that news. "You have so little regard for him?"
"He is pompous, odious, unkind, coldhearted, and badly dressed," the Knight said.
"I had no idea," James said. "I guess I assumed you and the other Knights would exact revenge on us. Or at least me."
"On the contrary," the Knight said. "It is much like when Dorothy killed the Wicked Witch of the West. It freed her people, about which the flying monkeys were especially pleased."
"That's a little anachronistic of you, isn't it?" James asked with a laugh.
"Yes. But an apt metaphor," the Knight said.
"It is more an analogy than a metaphor," Uhura said, earning her a glare from those who did not particularly care about the difference.
"Once you kill him, you by rights will be the ruler of this realm," the Knight continued as though Uhura had not spoken.
"Hmm…" James said, looking down at the King who was by this time bleeding profusely from where the tip of the sword rested in his flesh. "And if I don't kill him?"
"He will remain sovereign."
"If you kill him, will you inherit his throne?" James asked.
"Whomever kills him will," the Knight agreed.
"Do you wish to be King?"
"Not especially," the Knight said.
"What if my friends and I simply mounted our horses and left? Would the wisest of your people sort this out to a satisfactory conclusion?"
"We would," the Knight agreed.
"Then that is what we will do. On one condition," James said, removing his sword and returning it to the Knight with whom he was talking.
"What condition is that, Sir James?"
"Your realm restores the river so that all realms will benefit from its bounty. And you make no more raids into our realms, abducting or terrorizing our citizens. Well, I guess that is two conditions."
"Agreed. To both," the Knight said with a nod.
"What is your name, good Knight?" James asked, looking up at him in order to memorize his face.
"Spock," the Knight said.
"Bullshit," James responded. "I mean. You aren't my Spock. How many Spocks can there possibly be?"
"I am yours, James. The reasons I am here are multiple and complex. However, you can be certain that I am one and the same as yours."
"Oh lord," Leonard said in dismay. "Does that mean there is another James lurking around here somewhere?"
"No longer," this Spock said sadly. "His was a full and happy life."
"With you?" James asked although he knew the answer without asking.
"Yes. Your Spock knows of my existence so you do not need to try to keep my secret."
"Oh good," James said. "You can read my thoughts too?"
"Superficially. Not to the extent of your t'hy'la."
"Good," James said with a nod. "I really think you should assume the throne. My Spock does an excellent job."
"Thank you," this Spock said with a nod. "I will consider it."
"That's all I can ask. Once I have returned this armor, we will leave. Will you be able to give us provisions for the trip home?"
"Certainly," Spock agreed, turning to some of the other Knights and informing them of all that had transpired. They nodded, going to do as he asked after thanking James in their own language. Two of the Knights picked up the King and drug him off, his eventual ends not of concern to James or his friends. "Come with me. I will provide you food and drink. Your horses will be prepared by the time you are ready to leave."
They agreed, following him into the castle, James diverting to the armory to return his armor before venturing up to the dining chamber where his friends were celebrating his victory and their freedom. They decided, at Spock's suggestion, that they could surely wait until the next day to begin their trip home. James had some bruising and was admittedly sore so it wasn't too hard for his friends to convince him of the wisdom of waiting until the next day.
//You don't mind, do you?// James asked when there was a moment of quiet.
//I miss you but I agree with the wisdom of you remaining.//
//Why didn't you tell me about this Spock?// James asked with some amusement.
//You had no need to know, t'hy'la. I will tell you all about it when you come home,// Spock promised.
//Do you think he'll accept the throne?//
//He would if it did not necessitate killing Nero. Neither of us are comfortable shedding blood unless we cannot avoid it.//
//I understand that,// James agreed, accepting more wine from Spock. "Thanks."
"Tell my counterpart that he must come visit soon," Spock requested, James relaying the message.
//Tell him I will plan to do so. Amanda and Sarek will come with us as well.//
James told older Spock what his Spock had said, hoping there weren't many more messages to convey. It was giving him a headache.
//You have a headache because of your abstinence,// his Spock teased him.
//Probably.// He stood, smiling at his friends, new and old. "If you will excuse me, I really need a nap."
They all agreed that he did indeed look tired and with warm hugs and warmer words, sent him off to rest.
"James," Leonard was saying when he slowly and reluctantly surfaced.
"What?" James mumbled. "You finally comin' to bed?"
"Not exactly. It's morning. We are ready to go," Leonard explained.
"No way. How long did I sleep?" James asked in sleepy confusion.
"16 hours, more or less. No one is surprised. How are you feeling?"
"Mmm…" James sighed, turning over to sit up and consider the question. "Better. I had no idea I was so tired."
"You slept for lots of reasons. While you were out, I think this Spock decided to be King. They are trying to figure out someway to give him the throne but not kill Nero."
"Oh," James said, leaving the bed and pulling on his clothes. "They can't exile him. There's no telling the kind of trouble he'll stir up."
"They know that. They haven't decided what his fate will be," Leonard said, leading him out of their chamber and down to the room where his friends waited, a huge breakfast spread out before them. "Eat and then we'll go."
James nodded, sitting and eating more than any of them believed he possibly could. Except Leonard who had witnessed his ability to pack it in on several previous occasions.
When they had all eaten their fill, James said a final farewell to Spock, with assurances that they would indeed see one another sooner than later. There was excited chatter as they left the fortress, all anxious to return home.
It was decided that Montgomery, Uhura, and Hikaru would travel with James and Leonard to their Spock's realm before continuing on to Christopher's. Spock's realm was closer and would be a convenient mid-point, providing them a place to sleep and refresh before they returned the rest of the way home.
Five days after they left the realm of the Dragon King, they arrived at Spock's castle to much acclaim and many cheers. Already the river was flowing with water that had been too long held captive by Nero. They no longer had to worry about the Dragon Knights making incursions and abducting or worse killing their friends and neighbors. And best of all, Spock was standing at the front entrance of the castle, more than ready to welcome them home personally. Next to him, to Hikaru's surprise and pleasure, stood Pavel, beaming in pure happiness.
The five weary Knights, including Uhura who had been summarily Knighted in absentia by Christopher, approached the King and bowed to him.
"Welcome," Spock said, sending waves of love and warmth to James. "We have a feast prepared. Then you will rest."
//That resting. It include you?// James asked hopefully.
//I am inordinately tired,// Spock returned, making James smile as they mounted the steps, hugs all around, Pavel holding to Hikaru as though he would never again let him out his sight. And the others thought that just might be true.
They ate and drank and talked and reveled in their own company, Amanda and Sarek joining them to listen to all that had occurred while they had been away. James thought Sarek looked a little less disapproving but was far too happy to really care.
When everyone had eaten all they could hold, they decided to adjourn to chambers, Hikaru and Pavel practically running to the one they had been assigned, the others gratefully entering theirs to lay down and rest.
James could not hide his excitement at finally being alone with his Spock - his other half. Spock understood the urgency of his need, discarding their clothes in a flurry of desire and lust and pleasure.
James enjoyed having his feet free to use to his advantage, but wanted Spock to enter him like they had always done before. It was comfortable and familiar and what he had dreamt of the entire time he had been gone.
Their loving was urgent and passionate more than loving and tender but fully satisfying to them both. Simply being back together was almost enough to fulfill their desires. Almost.
When they were both sated and breathless, James' head on Spock's stomach, gazing up at the black eyes of his t'hy'la, James had to smile.
"What?" Spock asked, running his fingers gratefully through James' hair.
"I love you," James said, the words wonderful to say. Finally. And the unmitigated joy they brought to Spock was beautiful to behold. Maybe meddling in the affairs of dragons wasn't so bad after all. Because, as anyone would expect…
…they lived happily ever after.