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CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO Khimhok za'Fanak

This time Francis Mulrooney felt no surprise when the kholokhanzir's herald led him into the guarded apartment, yet tension more than compensated for its absence. The aged Orion on the dais seemed not even to have moved in the thirty-two standard months since their last meeting, and his bright eyes watched the Terran ambassador's approach.

Mulrooney stopped and bowed, then straightened. Liharnow'-hirtalkin's hand rose. It held the formal parchment document, signed by the Prophet of Holy Terra and sealed with the sigil of his faith.

"I have received your message and your document, Ambassador," the Khan'a'khanaaeee said. "Your Admiral Aantaahnaav is to be commended upon his understanding of the Zheeerlikou'valkhannaieee and the demands of our code of honor." The Khan's ears twitched. "Perhaps he had also some small assistance from Kthaara'aantaahnaav," he added dryly, and Mulrooney felt an icicle of relief at his tone. Then Liharnow's ears straightened more seriously, and he sat fully erect.

"Neither the Zheeerlikou'valkhannaieee nor the Federation read the original events in Lorelei aright, Ambassador. Had we done so, much suffering on the part of your people might have been averted. Yet even after the truth was known, the Federation honored its responsibilities. This"-he twitched the parchment-"shall be placed among the state records of my people and of my clan to serve the Zheeerlikou'valkhannaieee forever as an example of a khimhok's fidelity. We have received shirnowkashaik from the oath-breakers who slew our warriors, and in the name of the Zheeerlikou'valkhannaieee I now renounce all reparations. There has been khiinarma. I am content, and I declare before Hiranow'khanark and my clan fathers that the Federation is khimhok za'fanak."

Despite decades of diplomatic experience, Mulrooney exhaled a tremendous sigh of relief and bent his head with profound gratitude.

"In the name of my people, I thank you, Hia'khan," he said softly.

"Your thanks are welcomed, but they are not necessary," the khan replied just as softly. "The Zheeerlikou'valkhannaieee themselves could not have more honorably acquitted themselves. There will be no more talk of chofaki among my fangs. You are not Zheeerlikou'valkhannaieee, yet we learned to respect your warriors' courage as allies against the Rigelians; now their honor makes the differences between us seem as nothing. And that, Ambassador, is what truly matters to us all."

Mulrooney bowed once more, touching his fist to his chest in silence, and the Khan rose with fragile, aged grace. The Terran's eyes widened as the Khan'a'khanaaeee stepped down from his dais and performed an unthinkable act. He extended his hand and touched an alien ambassador.

"It is time to present this shirnowkashaik to my fangs," Liharnow said, leaning upon the human's arm for support, "and I would have you present when they receive it." He smiled a wry, fang-hidden smile as the Terran moved with exquisite care, supporting his weight as if it were the most important task in the Galaxy. "For today, you shall be Fraaanciiis'muuulroooneeee, a hirikrinzi of the Zheeerlikou'valkhannaieee, and not the Ambassador of the Terran Federation, for ambassadors are not required between warriors who have bled for one another's honor."



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