Without actually getting into full-on nanowrimo, I've been trying to make November into a writing month. This hasn't been altogether successful, but my Deep Space Nine story about Tora Naprem, Gul Dukat's Bajoran mistress, has advanced to the stage where there is a rough outline, and a few chapters are starting to emerge. Here is the first of them.
But when my father told me the stories of the Prophets, all that was still in the future. I was still just Tora Naprem, daughter of Tora Silban and Tora Nerys, of the village of Gari, Kendra Province, Bajor. Gari is in the Northern peninsula – cold winters, brief summers, a wild rocky coast and hills fragrant with makara and spiny basil, through which the Serala river winds on its way north. Gari lies beside the Serala, surrounded by fertile agricultural land – katterpods, kava, groats and wheat, with grazing for kilvorn and mubaks. If there is anything I miss about Bajor, now that I am leaving it, it is Gari. The first snowfalls of winter, the yearcrest bonfires at midsummer – when it never gets dark all night – the delicate green of the first kava leaves, the mist rising from the land in autumn – that is my Bajor, the only one that has survived in my memory, the only one I regret.
But even there, many of my dearest memories of this beautiful place include a creature to whom it was alien, even hostile. Cardassians love warmth above all things, so a province where a hot summer’s day is one where it is possible (for a hardy Bajoran) to strip to only one layer of mubak wool would never be likely to appeal to them. As I remember my home now, so many of my memories are of him – his sarcastic comments as he stretched out his long neck to catch what warmth he could from the spring sun, his energy as he leapt high over our midsummer bonfire – and oh, the look of horror on his face when he first saw snow! It makes me laugh even now – although as I remember, I am crying too.
No, this is no good. Everything comes back to him, and it must not. It really must not, Naprem. You are alone now, and you have a daughter dependent on you. Control youself. Think back to the Bajor before him, the Bajor of your childhood, when as my mother said, quoting Hendrik Govat, ‘the land is yours, and you its, and both are of the Prophets, in the springtime of your life’. She had known that joy as a girl, before she met my father, before the Cardassians came even, before her long life of toil in the fields and house – and she was glad for me to know it too. I was already working then, of course, as she had, working as a bird scarer, water carrier, lunch fetcher – all the little jobs that a child can do. From these, I would graduate to milking and feeding the kilvorn, hoeing, harvesting, chopping kava roots and the like with the other girls, and then, when I had married, to brewing springwine and tending my vegetable patch as I looked after my home and family. I would do this because it was the recognised pagh of a girl from the Te’nari d’jarra.
There are those who would say that the d’jarra system is long gone on Bajor – I have heard both the Resistance and the Cardassians take the credit for its abolition – but in a backwater like the Northern Peninsula of Kendra Province, it dies hard. And why would it not? Where it failed was among the elite – the Va’klavi, for example, whose playing at soldiers was so ruthlessly exposed by the military efficiency of the Cardassians, or the Ih’valla, whose lives dedicated to beauty seemed trivial in the light of the occupation – or among the outcastes, the Ind’jarra, who would naturally take the opportunity to throw off their lowly status. And it failed most strongly in the cities, or in those provinces where the entire population was made to labour in Cardassian mines and factories – where there was no match between the d’jarras and the jobs that needed to be done. Here in Kendra province our wealth was in the land: every valley had its family of Ind’jarra to lay out the dead, a few Ih’valla worked among us (and more came from the cities to exclaim over our unspoilt landscapes and quaint peasant ways), and of course we had P’jarras, in numerous little monasteries and temples, but mostly the population divided into the Te’naka who owned the land, and the Te’nari who worked it. And I was one of the latter.
So, at the age of nine I was given my first job by Lora Trobal, the farmer who had employed all my family – scaring birds from the growing crops, and carrying food and water to the workers in the fields. It was indeed as good as my mother had said – those long spring days alone in the fields, throwing stones at the kazarks that cawed above me, the ever-changing pattern of sunshine and clouds on the hills and fields, the familiar curve and dip of the land, the bright green of the growing kava plants. And then in the warm summer days to sit with the grown-ups as they ate their lunch, sharing their jokes and their stories. I felt almost one of them, even when I scarcely understood what they said - proud of being part of a community, proud to be working – and I was very happy.
I was especially proud to be working because my mother was now a widow. My father had died in the great trenka fever epidemic when I was six – all three of us had caught the disease and had it badly, but only he had died. I had nearly died – I was so ill that he had been dead and buried three weeks before I knew what had happened. I missed him badly, and was very unhappy for a long time afterwards, but I consoled myself by thinking that he was in the Celestial Temple, where I would join him one day, walking with the Prophets. I used to visit his grave and pray to the Prophets to look after him; sometimes I could almost feel that he was looking down on me, his pagh giving me strength to follow mine. He had been nobody special – just a Ten’ari. But when he came in from work in the evening, however tired he was, he found time to sit down with me, and talk to me. As I sat by his side in front of the fire, he told me stories, and, as I grew older, he taught me the Prophecies, and their interpretation. He was a disciple of Tol Andros, the great Sage of the Calash monastery, and, like him, he believed that all life came from Pah Meren alone, and all beings with pagh were her children – the Bajorans, the plants and animals of Bajor, and the strange creatures who lived on other worlds, with whom our star sailors had made contact. Even the Cardassians who were the children of Kosst Amojan had our great mother’s pagh within them. ‘All who strive to do right are Pah Meren’s children – so, let us not argue, but live as brothers and sisters’, he would often quote. And because I loved and respected him, I remembered that, and tried to live by it.
And when he had a holiday, and did not have to work, he loved to go with me into the hills above Gari. He taught me to tickle streliks in the streams, and to find the nests of sunbirds, full of plump chicks, on the moors. All the Ten’ari did this, to supplement our allowance from the crops and herds – and we children grew up strong and healthy as a result.
‘Never take more than one chick from a nest,’ he would say; and when I asked why, ‘We are of Bajor, and they are of Bajor – they are Pah Meren’s children, just as we are, and she has given them her pagh. We may eat them, and we may kill to protect ourselves and our livestock – but we may not kill wantonly. That is what Cardassians do, because they know no better.’ And when, intoxicated with an afternoon of lying up to my elbows in the stream, I begged to tickle one more fish, he said, ‘No, Naprem – we have enough to eat now. These fish are Pah Meren’s children too, and they belong to the Prophets. If we take too many, it will anger Mesh’uvah.’
And when we were at home, round the fire, with grilled strelik or sunchick pie in our stomachs, he would tell me of Mesh’uvah.
‘Mesh’uvah is Pah Meren’s sister,’ he would say. ‘Yes, of course all the Prophets are brothers and sisters – indeed, Kai Ubon, in his fourth prophecy, saw them as closer yet, as in some way one being with many faces, so ‘brothers and sisters’ is not quite right – but it is as close as we can understand. And within that brotherhood some are closer than others, and Pah Meren and Mesh’uvah are often said to be sisters – Tolnar Edom, in his twelfth prophecy, speaks of them as our beginning and our end. So they are sisters. And she is called Mesh’uvah, the Harvester, which is why her statue in our temple has a sheaf of corn and a sickle, and she is also called Jo’ka Navren, the Kindly One, because she leads us home to the Celestial Temple. So never fear death, Naprem – it is Mesh’uvah’s gift to us, and she is our mother as much as Pah Meren is, calling us home to her side.
He believed that absolutely, and it was some comfort as I grew up to think of him calmly greeting Mesh’uvah, and walking by her side to the Celestial Temple. But I still missed him, and life without him seemed much harder. After he died my mother became cold, difficult to please, more critical of me – at times it seemed that I could do nothing right. The fever had left her scarred, her face a mass of ugly red blotches, and perhaps that had something to do with her temper. She never visited my father’s grave, and as a girl I thought that she did not miss him – one or two things she said made me think that she would have liked to have remarried, and this displeased me. Now I am ashamed of myself for wanting to dictate how she grieved. I suspect that she cared for him more than I thought – she was a woman who prided herself on being practical, and did not make a display of her feelings, but who knows what she kept bottled up inside her. Lora Trobal allowed her to continue to live in our barral
, and to go back to working his land, as she had when she was a girl. This put food on our table – but not much – so an extra income was a big help to her, and I was glad to provide it.
Gari was a small place, but it did have two things that other villages did not. One was a small house of prylars by the river – a cluster of steep-roofed wooden buildings round a sturdy grey stone temple. They had been there for four hundred years, ever since one of Lora Trobal’s ancestors, a pious man, had founded the house – a double house, with a men’s community to the west of the temple, a women’s to the east. They worked their own land and were especially famous for their springwine, and they taught the local children – Te’naka and Te’nari alike. So as well as learning my prayers, and the stories of the Prophets that my father taught me, I enjoyed a good education at the hands of Prylar Lukaarn.
He was something of an outsider in our world. Most of our prylars were from Kendra province – naturally enough – but he came from Musilla. Why he had come all the way to the cold north to pursue his pagh, I don’t know, but we were lucky that he had. As well as reading, writing, arithmetic and scripture, he took us outside, up into the hills, and told us about the plants and animals of Bajor – and of other worlds. When we read Manon Edom’s fourth prophecy, telling how our star sailors would cross the heavens and find a world of ‘vipers who walk’, he explained that although this clearly referred to the Cardassians, the word ‘vipers’ was just a comparison, a way of speaking. They were not actually reptiles, like our snakes, although they resembled them in some respects, but therapsids – which meant that they had both hair and scales, that they bore live young and suckled them (and loved them more deeply even than a Bajoran could, although he did not tell us that), and that they could regulate their body temperature to some degree, but not very efficiently, so that they tended to lose heat when they slept, and found it difficult to operate in cold climates, like ours. Cardassians were actually rather primitive creatures, he explained – much more so than Bajorans – and this amused us a lot. I don’t know why seeing two-thirds of each harvest taken away was easier to bear if we could think that the people who did it were actually rather primitive, but it was, and we children smirked at the Cardassian soldiers as they supervised the loading of our kava nuts and wheat into their transports, happy because we had the measure of them.
He was a good teacher, and taught us always to look at things squarely - never to be satisfied with half-truths or children’s stories, but always to face things as they were. His lessons in natural history never painted a sentimental or idealised view of life – which would in any case have aroused the scorn of farm children like us – but neither did he dwell only on the mean and sordid. He taught us the facts of life before we needed to know them, as something quite natural and even beautiful, which the Prophets in their wisdom had made so that men and women would love and support one another, quoting from the seventh prophecy of Torak Bromal: ‘Where two people live in love, the Prophets live with them’. When he overheard Kentos Meru (always a rather silly girl) saying that her brother had seen two Cardassians swimming in the deep pool above Gari, and (and here she blushed deeply and giggled) they had no pulas
, instead of telling her not to be so dirty-minded, as most adults would, he turned it into a lesson, explaining that in fact male Cardassians had testicles and penises just as Bajorans did, but that, because of their low body temperature, their testicles could lie within their bodies, and their penises – he deliberately avoided the word pula
as vulgar and unscientific – also retracted within their bodies. We were inclined to snigger at this, but he pointed out that it protected them – kicking a Cardassian in the groin would not disable him the way it would a Bajoran – and he then dropped the subject and went on to compare the reproductive systems of Bajoran sinoraptors.
For it was Bajor that especially delighted Prylar Lukaarn. He delighted in showing us the countryside, teaching us to really see the lovely planet that surrounded us, and he also taught us to appreciate its art, and especially its poetry. He read us Akorem Laan, Hedri Meru, and especially Tolson Antos, the Bard of Kendra. He had a special love of his great poem Adami
, in which he describes his love in terms of the landscape of the Kendra valley, beginning ‘She is to me the earth beneath my feet’ and including sun and rain, moon and stars, hills, fields, river, birds and animals in his hymn to his beloved. The happiest moment of my childhood was when he took us to the Kendra valley, where Tolson had lived, and recited that poem in the landscape it described.
His love of Bajor shone forth in his love for the Prophets. He knew that, as Shabren’s third prophecy says, ‘Bajor tells out the glories of the Prophets – he who has eyes can see this’, and ‘all living things are partners in the Prophets’ dance’, and showed us that dance in the plants and animals of our world, and in the life of her people. ‘How beautiful it is to the Prophets, when their children fulfil their pagh’ he often said, quoting Luhsan’s twelfth prophecy, and told us how even we, working in obscurity, could in their service be part of that dance. ‘If a Te’nari ploughs a field for the sake of the Prophets, that field becomes a work of art as fine as that created by the most skilful Ih’valla, and no less pleasing to the Prophets’ he used to tell us. But he did not hide that our lives would not necessarily be easy, and that the dance of life was often cruel. Quoting Vedek Ruban, the master under whom he had studied at the Dakeen monastery, he compared it to a game of three-dimensional chess, where the roles of the individual pieces were often short – but their importance in the wider pattern of the game, seen as a whole, considerable. He himself had taken an oath to eat only fruit and vegetables, although that made his life much harder in Kendra than it would have in Musilla, but he accepted the northern practice of livestock farming without question, teaching us only that the Prophets required that the lives of our kilvorn and mubak should be happy, and their deaths quick and merciful. ‘Only the Prophets are perfect’, he said, quoting Horran’s first prophecy, and expanded on this: the Prophets had not created a perfect world, because they did not wish for rivals to their perfection – besides, if Bajor were perfect, then Bajorans would become lazy and self-satisfied. We must struggle for perfection as they demanded of us, even knowing that we would never achieve it – only then would we learn what a great gulf separated us from the Prophets, and how much we depended on them. Besides, as Geront Bromal said in his commentary on the prophecies of Horran, perfection rose from imperfection – if there were no death, then how would Bajorans come to the Celestial Temple, and if there were no suffering, how would they be worthy of it? I was surprised at this, because my father had always said that suffering was caused by the Pah Wraiths, and I asked Prylar Lukaarn about this.
‘Ah, your father was a disciple of Tol Andros, then?’ he said, and I nodded. ‘Indeed, as he says, the interference of the Pah Wraiths does much to harm Bajor – but even without it, the Prophets did not give us an unblemished world. That is why an Ih’valla will not struggle too much for perfection in his art, but allow a tiny flaw to remain – he acknowledges in his humility that he and this world are flawed, and that only in the Celestial Temple is there perfection.’ But the fact that my father had been a disciple of Tol Andros interested him, and after that he often spoke to us of his teachings – how in a corrupt world, we could best confound the Pah Wraiths by our love for one another; and he would quote his most famous saying ‘All who strive to do right are Pah Meren’s children – so, let us not argue, but live as brothers and sisters’. And he continued to speak of him to me when I was older, and studied with him in the evenings, after work.
For my childhood was a short one – that was natural for the Te’nari. I went to the temple to learn at the age of six; I was eight when we visited Tolson’s home; at nine, I left, proudly and happily, to start work, while Te’naka Lora’s daughters went to continue their education with the Sisters of the Celestial Temple in Kendra. I felt no injustice at this then – this was normal, to me. Prylar Lukaarn must have felt some injustice, for he encouraged me and my friends, Tabor Dias and Hortak Elami, to continue to come in the evenings to discuss the poets and the prophets with him. And we did, for a while, but gradually the real world, as we saw it, became pressing, and the others stopped coming – first Dias, then Elami. I continued on my own for a couple of months – then my mother said to me, quietly, that while it was very good of Prylar Lukaarn to give up his evenings like this, it was not fair for me to waste his time in this way. I did not need all this education, and I should remember my place. I whined and grumbled, of course, but she was implacable. She needed me at home, she said. Prylar Lukaarn’s face when I told him this was very sad. I had been one of his best pupils, he said, and he would miss our talks. But if my mother needed me at home, he could not go against that. Then he took my ear for the last time and listened for a moment. He shook his head.
‘Your pagh has not changed, Naprem,’ he said. ‘I have never been able to read it. Your destiny is not an easy or an obvious one. Life will bring you trouble, and distress, and confusion – you will have difficult decisions to make, and I cannot see whether you will take the right path. But you will love, and be loved – and there will be joy there too. So hold onto that when the way is rough. All else is unclear. So, Tora Naprem, walk with the Prophets – and may they bless you and preserve you, may Pah Meren smile upon you, and may she guide your feet. And I will say your name in my prayers every day.’
And with that he said goodbye to me. I continued to see him in the village, of course, or to meet him out taking one of his long walks in the hills, and we would stop and talk – but it was never the same. Still, I remembered him as someone who treated me as an individual, not a Te’nari – one of only two people in my life who really did that. Strange to think that the other should have been a Cardassian.
And it is strange to me to think that I have got so far in my story without mentioning the Cardassians. But it is simply the truth – they were not very important in our lives. Elsewhere, where the minerals that they wanted were found, they were brutal – villages were razed, land cleared, whole populations pressed into slavery. What happened in Dakkur province, in Rakantha province, in Reliketh – even in the Kendra valley in the south of our province - is infamous. What I saw of their rule on Terok Nor will haunt me forever. But in the Northern Peninsula there are no great mineral deposits, and, while the Cardassians took enough of our crops to make life difficult, they did not take over our agriculture. Instead they left us to farm, and merely turned up at the harvest and demanded two-thirds of our produce – whether of crops or of livestock. And as we became very good at concealing wheat, katterpods and kava nuts in small stashes here and there, in practice they got rather less than two thirds. They were a constant presence – tall, angular men of mud in black uniforms patrolling the towns and villages, usually in pairs - but they were a presence we soon learnt to ignore.
And that was despite the fact that that was the other thing that was unusual about Gari – it was the closest village to the headquarters of the local Cardassian administration. The District Prefect had commandeered for his residence a farmhouse that stood on the hillside above the town, and just below it Bajoran workers, my father among them, had been pressed into building a large ugly barracks and administration building, as well as a flyerport for transports, and various hangars, barns, and other outbuildings. It was almost a little village in itself, and we became quite used to seeing the Cardassian transports flying in and out. But it stood above the village, on the road to the summer pastures, so only the young people on their way up and down with the kilvorn and mubaks saw much of the Cardassians. Otherwise, they watched us, but we mostly ignored them.
The only times of the year when we really saw them were at harvest, when they came to claim two-thirds of our crops, and at the winter slaughtering season, when they took two-thirds of the carcasses. We would see the large transports flying in to their headquarters, and then they would go round the countryside with long flat loaders, which they piled high with our produce. Te’naka Lora always treated them with great deference, although he was the one who really suffered most from their presence. Where before he had been the chief man of the village, there was now a Cardassian prefect to lord it over him; and he could no longer make a profit from his produce, as they took so much – whereas, we, his servants, were really not very much worse off than we always had been. We loyally gave him some of what we had hoarded (which, ironically, we had once hoarded from his ancestors) so that he had a little to sell, but all the same, it was a humiliating reduction in his style of living.
That was Gari; that was the world I grew up in, that, and only that, is what Bajor means to me.