Amanda stared down into the wide brown eyes raised solemnly to hers. Realising this was serious and not something to be shrugged off with a light answer she hunkered down to bring her eyes level with his. Face to face now, mother and son eyed each other gravely.
"Please give me your reasons for not wishing to attend school today, my son."
Spock looked down. It was not necessary, he knew, to hide his feelings from his mother, but he found his own negative reactions embarrassing and wished to turn aside. Amanda had seen many young eyes, Human as well as Vulcan, slide aside from adult questioning, and was unperturbed.
"The question requires an answer, Spock," she prompted.
He looked at her sidelong, gauging her likely response. "The studies required are childish."
"But essential at your stage of development." She had all the pat, Vulcan answers ready for him, this tiny alien child of hers, but inwardly she knew he would be well grown before she lost the Human urge to pull him close to her, settle him on her knee, and sort things out within the loving protection of her arms... but once his telepathic ability had wakened her embrace failed to calm him, for her unshielded, strongly-felt emotions spilled over to him incomprehensibly, increasing his distress. It had been hard to accept, when he was only three, that they had shared their last, sweet, secret, comforting cuddle.
She watched the small, imperious face set stubbornly, the lower lip jutting its defiance. She tapped it fleetingly with her finger.
"My son, unless you can present me with a more convincing argument, we leave this house in one minute's time - and even then we shall be late unless we hurry most mannerlessly."
Spock recognised the tone and regretted that he had spoken impulsively. If he had given himself time to think there would surely have been some way to have avoided the distasteful hours ahead of him. He drew a sigh that seemed to come from the soles of his soft boots and resigned himself to the inevitable.
Amanda acknowledged his capitulation with a tiny pat of approval. "Then get your jacket on and we will leave."
She watched him walk through the doorway to the big, bright classroom, a faint worry-line creasing her forehead. He had made no further objections on their short walk to the school, but he had not trotted at her side as he usually did, but had lagged two or three steps behind her all the way, as if to put off the unpleasant moment of arrival as long as possible. He went in without demur, pausing for that brief, surreptitious last look back at her that was their silent alternative to the forbidden goodbye kiss, but it was obvious that he was not happy. She turned away. Maybe it was a passing thing, and tomorrow all would be well; if it was not, she would deal with it then.
He was silent when she went to collect him, very correct and in what she privately called his ultra-Vulcan mood. However, once the garden gate had closed behind them he exploded into boisterous activity, and seeking out I-Chaya, clambered onto his back, goading him round and round the garden in the midday heat until she went out to protest.
He looked at her patiently. "I-Chaya doesn't mind, Imi."
"In this heat?" The old animal's fur must be fully six inches long. Amanda could feel her own clothes already beginning to stick to her back out here in the full sunlight.
"It is not so very hot today," Spock told her, "and he truly does not mind."
She looked from one pair of brown eyes to the other, both fixed on her in affirmation of the child's statement. There was nothing to do but give in gracefully.
"Very well. I suppose you both know best."
"But it is too hot for you, Imi," he said firmly.
"All right, I'm going." She smiled teasingly for one brief second and went back into the cool, air-conditioned food preparation area to finish making her thusha sauce, still watching him through the window.
They had their usual light lunch together before he went to his room to work on a logic problem Sarek had shown him the previous night. By bed-time she had almost forgotten her worry of the morning and did not feel it necessary to mention it to her husband - the child had been so obviously content during the rest of the day.
She went into his room last thing, just to be sure, smiling as she looked down at him - sleeping with all the fierce concentration of the very young - and crept away, closing the door behind her.
The following morning, Spock reported a headache.
She looked at him thoughtfully for a long moment and then patiently took him through the ritual for the relief of light pain.
"If it is not successful then a visit to the Healer is indicated."
Spock's silence showed he knew when he was beaten.
He was quiet again on their short walk to school that morning, not peppering her with questions as he normally did, and he did not look back at her as he walked into the classroom.
So - she had let him down, failed to employ her omniscience to diagnose his troubles and put them right, and now he was punishing her for it. She smothered a smile. Vulcan or Human, children were very alike.
That afternoon she asked his help in the preparation of vegetables for the evening meal, encouraging him to talk to her about his school.
"You were pleased this season when we came to live in ShiKahr and you were able to go to school at last," she reminded him. "Has it been all that you expected?"
He tilted his head consideringly. "It is all right."
"'All right' is imprecise. Specify what pleases you."
"T'Ulisa tells us a story at the end of the morning."
"Yes. Not like yours, though. She does not know any of them at all - I asked her. I thought grown-ups knew everything."
"Not quite." She hid her amusement at the disillusionment in his voice. "Try not to break that collordon into quite such small pieces, my son... about as long as your thumb will do. I learned my stories from my mother when I was small and lived on Earth."
"I like your stories." Spock held up a piece of collordon for her inspection and added honestly, "But I like hers also."
"What are they about?"
"All sorts of things," he answered vaguely. Catching her eye upon him he said hastily, "Today it was about the lematya and how it cares for its young ones, and yesterday about the sandrat that lives in the desert, and the day before about the ngrali bird, and the day..."
"I see," she interrupted him firmly, knowing his ability to recall all the details right back to his first day there if need be. "And are they always about animals?"
"No. Sometimes she tells us about Surak. I'd like to have been in the desert with him, Imi, and faced the warriors like he did."
"And what else do you like at school?"
"Structure apparatus - but there's never enough time to finish it and then you have to put it away."
"What did you make today?"
"T'Ulisa said to make a dwelling, so I tried to make a house like yours when you were little, like the picture in my room."
Knowing her son's eidetic memory and his passion for details she said, "But that would take you hours to complete. Why didn't you choose something simpler?"
"Vulcan dwellings are too easy," he said flatly.
She eyed him thoughtfully; was it possible that his manual dexterity differed from, or even exceeded, that of Vulcan children? She had never thought to check, had assumed that if there was something in him that did not compare with the Vulcan norm Sarek would have mentioned it.
"You could make a house after we finish this," she suggested, "unless your father has suggested a task."
"Only simple number work." Spock's eyes were shining. "I can work them in my head while I make it, Imi. Oh!" His face fell again.
"I have not enough pieces. I would not be able to complete all the... I have forgotten the word... the windows in the roof,"
"Dormers. How many more pieces would you need?"
It took him only a moment or two to make the calculation. "Sixty-three."
"That's very precise," she teased.
He blinked at her. "You asked me how many..." he said uncertainly.
"True - but I didn't realise you'd know how many you already had.
He frowned, "But if you do not know, how can you tell if you have lost one?"
"Do you know how many you have of everything?" she asked curiously.
"Of course. Are there any more of these to do now?"
"No. Go and wash your hands, then you may order the new pieces you need. They should arrive before you have completed the house."
"I may order them myself?" For a moment a Human child's excitement peeked out and was firmly thrust back. Since the never-to-be-forgotten day that Spock had punched orders for every commodity known to his five-year-old mind into the household requirements outlet, he had been forbidden to enter the computer room alone, It had taken an almost-giggling Amanda and an outwardly-calm Sarek some fifteen minutes to explain to the bewildered supervisor that the goods had been ordered in error and were not actually wanted.
"You don't make the same mistake twice," she said, "Off you go."
The house was delightful; he worked on it with close concentration, completing it just before his father returned home. Amanda peeped in on him once or twice, proffered advice once when it was asked for, but otherwise left him alone. Her heart ached for his solitary contentment; it was not right that he should prefer the solitude of home to the companionship of his peers.
She went to his room again that evening, sitting for several minutes on the chair she still kept by his bed, and wondering how best to help him. When she came out she found her husband waiting for her, and sensed his disapproval. She put her fingers up to his.
"Sarek, he is my son as well," she said gently. "I do not touch him as I would if he were wholly Human, but I have needs also, my husband."
He accepted the reprimand. "You are always most careful of him," he acknowledged.
She laughed. "Sarek, I was a teacher. I have been trained to consider the needs of a child. I would not attempt to force a Human child to accept my patterns of behaviour. My difficulty lies in discovering precisely what is best for our son."
"There is a problem?"
"A small one." She explained more fully, and added, "Part of my problem, of course, is due to the way we have journeyed with you for the last five years. I am shamefully ignorant of Vulcan schools. I believe it might be helpful to speak to T'Ulisa. I will do so tomorrow,"
Perhaps Spock had been given hope by her gentle questioning the previous day; at least he made no objection to setting off for school, but once again he disappeared without looking back - whatever was troubling him was clearly not yet off his mind.
She made a formal request for an interview with T'Ulisa and waited patiently in the small, plain office until the teacher had time to spare for her. The door was open, and she could hear the quiet murmuring of voices, the occasional rustle of movement. There was none of the boisterous activity nor the raised, excitable voices of a Human school here, though from her knowledge of her own son she assumed that Vulcan children were ready for more cerebral pursuits than Human children of a comparable age. If Spock's development was normal it seemed a six-year-old Vulcan would be at about the same standard of intellectual attainment as a seven or eight-year-old Human, possibly even older, for Spock had been reading fluently for some months now.
She sighed, wishing she was better acquainted with the attainments of small children, but her teaching had been with older ones. It was possible, of course, that Spock was way behind his full-blooded contemporaries and finding life difficult on that account. She saw a shadow moving along the corridor and rose politely to her feet as T'Ulisa entered the room.
They exchanged formal greetings and Amanda came, quite correctly, straight to the point of her visit.
"My son has been a little reluctant to come to school these last three days. Do you know of any special problems he has that I can help with?"
"Reluctant?" T'Ulisa's brows rose in mild surprise. "He is a quiet child, but I have not noticed anything that he finds difficult."
"Quiet?" Amanda could barely disguise her astonishment.
T'Ulisa registered the surprise and, being in agreement with it, said so. "I myself expected him to show more evidence of his Human blood than he does, but he is very quiet, at times almost subdued."
Amanda experienced an odd sense of precognition. How many parents had she seen express disbelief over the different character their child displayed away from the home environment? But all the same - Spock, subdued? She was not at all sure she cared for the sound of that, no matter how satisfactory it was from a Vulcan point of view.
"It is possible, of course," she said carefully, "that he is unable to cope with some of the tasks that he is given. Perhaps he takes refuge in silence because he does not like to claim your attention."
"That would be most illogical behaviour," T'Ulisa said calmly.
"Perhaps," Amanda said with even more care, "my attempts to follow Vulcan tradition have not been as successful as I hoped and I have not yet helped Spock to see that such restraint would be illogical."
T'Ulisa smiled faintly. "It has been most gratifying to see how much you have achieved with the child, Amanda. I do not believe you need concern yourself in that direction."
Amanda inclined her head in grave acceptance, restraining a strong urge to shake the young woman in front of her and yell, "Then what the hell is bugging my son?"
"It occurred to me also that his Human blood had retarded his intellectual development," T'Ulisa said placidly.
Amanda thought, Thanks very much, but remained silent. She knew T'Ulisa had not intended the remark as an insult, merely as a statement of a possible fact. It was well known that, on average, Vulcans were brighter than Humans, though they could often be overtaken by the Human ability to reason laterally and their occasional illogical reliance upon intuition.
"As a result of that," T'Ulisa continued, "I took care to notice his work particularly, and I have always found him to be fully competent to do what he has been set."
Amanda frowned. "But don't you test their intellectual quotient by some more accurate means?" She saw T'Ulisa's look of surprise and said, "0h, I know I.Q. alone is not the only standard one goes by, but it is a helpful guide to what they might achieve."
"He will be tested next year, of course," T'Ulisa assured her.
"Next year? Won't it be a little late by then?"
"Formal education does not begin for over four more seasons, after all."
"Formal education?" Amanda knew her mouth was agape. "But Spock started to read when he was four and has been fluent since he was five and a half."
"Five? But that is quite exceptional." T'Ulisa eyed the Human woman a moment then said quietly, "Forgive me, but are you certain he can do so? Sometimes a parent mistakes a child's ability to recall the words that have been read to him for an ability to make sense of the written word."
"I am aware of that. No, I am not mistaken. You see, although I speak Vulcan with reasonable fluency, I have been much slower at deciphering written Vulcan. In effect, Spock has been helping me to learn. I think he was rather ashamed of having a mother who could only read books in English and Federation Standard."
"T'Ulisa almost became animated. "But did you not find it strange that he should read so early?"
"Five isn't particularly early," Amanda said. "I could read myself when I was four."
"It is extraordinarily early for a Vulcan child, however. Of course," T'Ulisa was nearly smiling, "it is quite logical when one thinks about it. The Human life span is so much shorter, development would be faster than it would be for us. We do not expect a child to read much before he is seven, and usually later."
"It never even occurred to me he might be bored," Amanda said thoughtfully. She controlled a sudden smile with difficulty. And just why had Sarek never mentioned that his son showed every sign of being a high achiever? She would have more than a few things to say to him this evening. "Am I to understand that since formal education does not commence for another four seasons, that you do no reading or number work at all at this stage?"
"Preparatory work only, just the foundations are laid, unless we find that a child is ready for more. You mention number work - precisely what has Spock done?"
Amanda explained the basic computer work that Sarek had introduced Spock to, and her own work with him in more old-fashioned areas. "He has always been fascinated by numbers," she said. "He was much more at home with them at first than he was with reading."
T'Ulisa was openly surprised at the child's ability and astounded at her own lack of insight. "I must apologise to you; it is unforgivable of me not to have realised how advanced Spock is."
Suddenly Amanda understood. "He does not like to be different," she said softly, swallowing down the sudden ache in her throat. "Children can be very protective towards their parents at times. He does not yet quite understand why people are... curious about him, he only knows that it has something to do with me."
T'Ulisa nodded. "It will never be easy for him," she said sympathetically.
She saw Amanda look at her and added placidly, "Forgive me. Working with the young and still emotionally unstable, I am occasionally too open. Perhaps it would be sensible for you to come and watch the children for the rest of the morning - to see for yourself what they do, and then together we can work out something that will be satisfactory for him."
Spock was surprised to see his mother enter the room - surprised, and a little resentful; He took a quick look about him and saw the other children all staring at her. His resentment grew. Why did other people always have to look at Imi like that...? As though pretty golden hair and round ears were odd. He tucked his head down, concentrating fiercely on his drawing; unable to get the tail quite right he frowned hard, recalling the picture Imi had shown him, and made a slight correction. That was better. He leaned back with a satisfied sigh.
"What is that?"
He looked round at Sotal. "What is what?"
"That!" His friend pointed scornfully at Spock's drawing. "That animal with a tail in its head."
"It is an elephant. An Earth animal. Don't you know anything?" Spock retorted with equal scorn.
"Not even Humans would be so silly as to have a silly animal like that."
"It is not silly," Spock hissed angrily.
"Then why does it have its tail on its face?" Sotal demanded reasonably.
"It does not. You are silly. That is its nose."
Sotal stared at him in disbelief. "You made it up," he said accusingly. "I shall tell T'Ulisa you are drawing silly, made-up animals."
"It is not made-up," Spock said it far too loudly and saw faces beginning to turn their way. Hot with embarrassment he whispered, "It is better than your silly old picture, anyway. Babies can draw houses with flat roofs." He flicked the drawing contemptuously with one finger, and watched in unconcealed horror as it shot along the polished surface of their table and floated to the floor at T'Ulisa's feet.
The two boys exchanged angry looks out of the corners of their eyes.
"T'Ulisa, Spock just knocked Sotal's drawing on the floor," T'Jai said virtuously.
Both boys turned their glares on her; they had never liked T'Jai.
"It was an accident," Sotal said.
"And Sotal said Spock's drawing was silly." T'Jai was obviously going to exact a just revenge for the way they always kept her out of things. She snatched at the paper. "And it is. It's just a silly, made-up animal."
Spock had had enough. He stood up so abruptly that his chair fell over. The sudden, unexpected clatter shocked the whole room into stillness. Forgetting his mother's presence, the carefully taught lessons in control, he yelled, "It is not a silly made-up animal, it is an elephant. You are silly, T'Jai, you don't know anything." He grabbed at the picture and tore it rapidly into pieces. "There, it is gone, and it doesn't matter any more."
He turned his back on everyone defiantly, quickly scrubbing the back of his hand across his eyes.
Amanda controlled a strong urge to laugh and cry at the same time; maintaining a steadfast air of calm she watched T'Ulisa cross the room to the small, stiff figure and lay a gentle, calming hand on his shoulder.
"A pity to have torn it up, Spock. I should have liked to have seen your drawing - I saw an elephant once myself, when I visited Earth."
"You did, T'Ulisa?" Sotal said disbelievingly. "Is it a real animal?"
"Of course it is. Spock knows a lot about Earth animals, don't you, Spock? Will you draw another one so I can see it?"
"If you like." He still did not turn round, but T'Ulisa's projected calmness was helping his control.
"Yes, please. Place the torn bits in the 'chute, unless you wish to keep them, and then get some more paper. There will be just time if you are quick. Sotal, come and get your picture too, and remember that you must always keep an open mind if you are not sure of your facts. There are a great many animals in the galaxy much stranger than a Terran elephant."
She turned away from them again, leading Amanda to the large cupboard where the learning apparatus was kept. Vulcan toys did not differ so very much from Terran ones, of course, at this stage of development; there were no areas set aside for the encouragement of imaginative play, though, so vital to the growing Human's assimilation of the world about it, but not employed on Vulcan.
T'Ulisa explained that although the ability to reason adequately was not fully developed until the child was over seven, until then it was possible for them to erase distressing, or misunderstood experiences by the employment of simple meditational exercises in conjunction with their parents. It was Amanda's greatest regret that she could not help Spock in this way, and that when Sarek was unavoidably away, the boy's grandmother had to help him. Once the processes of deep meditation and of self-examination were gradually begun, the child coped with traumas in that way.
T'Ulisa noted Amanda's eyes slide worriedly to Spock, who was now drawing again with the tip of his tongue protruding slightly as he bent over his work, giving it his whole attention.
"Please don't be concerned," she begged softly. "The incident is unimportant - although I begin to see why you were surprised when I said he was quiet."
"His father is most concerned when he cannot control." Amanda did not mean to say the words, but somehow they were out without volition.
"Perhaps because he sees the child's intellectual maturity and does not appreciate that his Human genes will have an effect upon his emotional growth also," T'Ulisa said.
"I do not believe he even realises Spock is advanced," Amanda said guiltily, "and I presumed that he was probably behind his peer-group."
"Parents are all too often unaware of precisely what standards to expect," T'Ulisa said severely. "Of course, it is impossible to lay down absolutes where child development is concerned, but it is logical to have some idea of what the norm is. We cannot always rely on our own memories of childhood, for they are often distorted because the facts were incompletely understood. However, in Spock's case it must always have been difficult to know what to watch out for."
There was a bustle behind them as T'Ulisa's assistants were overseeing the clearing of the room while the children busily stacked tables tidily, collected up pencils and coloured chalks. Amanda felt a pull at her long over-mantle, and looked down.
"Imi, must you stay?" Spock's face was a study in agonised embarrassment imperfectly controlled.
She knelt down swiftly. "Does it mean that much that I go?"
"Very well. If it is that important, I'll go." Her eyes expressed understanding, but also a certain steely determination to find out why. She stood up. "Thank you, T'Ulisa. My visit has been very informative."
The Vulcan woman came out with her. "I find that most interesting," she said slowly. Amanda raised enquiring eyebrows. "We are about to practice the dances the children will perform at the Glah'kerfal... you know of the festival?"
"I was present once, yes, when Spock was a baby. Since then we have been off-planet."
"All the children will be involved - you know, of course, that we set much store by the discipline and coordination of our ritual dances."
"When he first came, Spock was very interested. It was new to him, and he was eager to learn. Lately, though, he has been performing very badly. So badly I was beginning to think we might have to excuse him in case he spoilt the dances for all the other children."
And that's probably what he's aiming at, Amanda thought, chuckling inwardly. The little rascal.
Aloud, she said, "You have not told him you were going to excuse him?"
"No. We thought he might be disappointed." Understanding dawned on T'Ulisa's face. "You mean... it is deliberate?"
Amanda could not help a tiny laugh at the horrified amazement in the formerly calm voice, more particularly at the undertone of unwilling admiration.
"The deviousness of Humans is well-known throughout the galaxy," she said. "For the moment, will you leave it in my hands?"
T'Ulisa nodded, her eyes showing her amusement. "Very willingly indeed. It would seem that this is an area in which you are better qualified than I."
Out of school, Amanda went to the botanical garden close by. It was almost time to collect Spock, and it would be a pleasant place to wait. There were a few seats provided for the benefit of the elderly - or outworlders who might wish to sit and enjoy the pleasant surroundings. She found one in a shady spot close to the entrance and sat down to think things over.
If Spock was bored it could explain a lot... but it could not explain that look on his face when he asked her to leave. He had known she would understand what T'Ulisa did not... but did she? She thought back to the one time, four years ago, when she had attended the Glah'kerfal with Sarek... The children's dances had been charming, the solemnity of the young faces a delight. They had been guests of Stakk and T'Elwe, and their son had been dancing that day. She laughed to herself, remembering how T'Elwe had enquired about Human customs, and she had tried to picture her small nephews' faces if they had been asked to perform such exacting and dainty steps when their prime interest lay in noise, dirt, spaceships and the acting out of fierce, inter-galactic battles.
Spock had never conformed to any such Human norm, but equally it appeared that he was not an average Vulcan either; as always he seemed to be on some indefinable interjacent point, and she wondered unhappily whether he would always have to walk along a tight-rope, always unbalanced, constantly tipped this way and that by the warring sides of his nature. It seemed such a selfish burden to have laid upon their dearly-wanted child that for a moment she was rent by guilt, closing her eyes over the hot prickling threat of tears.
Illogical! She had absorbed enough of her husband's culture not to indulge herself with vain regrets and unhelpful self-blame. What was, was - and must be dealt with. She got calmly to her feet; the need for outward serenity brought some measure of inner peace as she walked back to the school to collect her son.
On their way home a sudden impulse made her say, "You are a sensible boy, Spock. Would you like to be permitted to walk to school by yourself?"
"Without you?" The dark eyes widened.
"Be logical - if I am with you, you cannot be by yourself," she teased, then went on softly, "You are not a baby any more, so we must not treat you as though you were."
"I should like that." His face lit in a smile, checked at once when she shook her head admonishingly, but the brown eyes were still shining. He studied her face for a moment as they walked along, and then offered, "But you can come with me sometimes if you would still like to."
Astounded, she stared down at him, hardly believing a six-year-old could be so perceptive of her own sense of loss. Equally seriously she said, "I should like that... sometimes."
Spock was so inwardly enchanted by this recognition of his increasing self-reliance he positively danced through the garden and up to the house once the entry gate was safely closed behind them, and it was only when he saw his mother watching him that he recalled sending her away so that she would not see him doing the Glah'kerfal steps so badly. Guiltily caught in mid motion he half stumbled, awkwardly off balance, and went down with a hefty crash across a low stone wall.
The sudden sharp jab of stone against his knee was exquisitely painful, and he'd let out a quick yelp of pain before he could prevent it. He bit his lip hard and scrambled clumsily to his feet.
"We'd better get that scrape cleaned up," Amanda said cheerfully. "Come on."
Spock limped along behind her, not so much because the knee was painful - although it was - but because he was bent over trying to see through the rent in his trousers so that he could watch the fascinating green trickle as it slid down his knee.
Amanda put out a hand to prevent his head impacting with the door-frame, saying automatically, "Look where you're going. You'll do yourself a real injury if you're not careful."
Inspiration flooded him. He straightened himself up and limped dramatically behind her, favouring his injured leg and schooling his face to a stern stoicism.
Amanda's lips twitched involuntarily as she watched him cross the tiled floor of the downstairs wash-room. "Is it as bad as all that?" she asked gravely.
"0h, it's not too bad," he answered heroically.
She fetched a sterile pad, pushed up the loose trouser leg, and applied the antiseptic gently. He managed a convincing wince.
"Did that hurt?"
"Not much - but I don't think I'll be able to do dancing tomorrow, p'raps not the day after." There, it was out. He darted a swift look up at her under his lashes.
She applied a dressing and then took his chin in her hand, turning his face up to hers. "One thing you will have to learn, my son, is that Vulcans make very poor liars! Now, go and change those torn trousers and get ready for lunch."
Crestfallen, he trailed from the room, shoulders drooping listlessly. Amanda suppressed another smile as he went past her, and gave the final blow to his dignity with a tiny swat on his backside.
"Hurry up... and after lunch, we'll talk."
He looked back at her, hope clearly written on his face. "Really talk?" Perhaps Imi would make it right after all.
"Really talk," she promised.
They went into the cool shade of the conservatory on the north side of the house after lunch and busied themselves pricking out plants - it was a job Spock particularly enjoyed; one which his nimble fingers were deft at, and which was pleasant to do out of the heat of the day, with the tiny fountain in one corner playing a cool, splashing accompaniment to the quiet sounds filtering in from the surrounding city.
As Amanda lifted a tray of seedlings down for him she asked, "Why have you suddenly decided you don't like dancing?"
He put his head on one side. "It is undignified."
"I have only seen the Glah'kerfal dances once." She handed across a small trowel. "I don't seem to remember anything undignified in the dancing - I seem to recall that it was most formal and correct. We'll plant those in that corner over there. Yes, behind those little yellow ones - these will grow taller. Do you mean the dances are undignified or that it is beneath your dignity to perform them?"
"I am not a baby," he said firmly. "Just here?"
"That's right. Neither is Sotal, and I presume he does not find them undignified."
"Sotal is so a baby," he muttered.
"I thought he was your friend."
"Well, he is, but he doesn't know anything."
"No-one likes an intellectual snob, my son." He savoured the new phrase,
"What is an intellect'al snob, Imi?"
"IntellectUal." She spoke it slowly for him. "Someone who thinks he is important because he knows a lot of things."
The fleeting smile showed he understood her. "No, Imi," he said meekly.
"So you think the dances are babyish... Anything else?"
"Father does not dance."
"Father danced in the Glah'kerfal when he was six."
Spock absorbed that silently and, failing completely in his attempt to visualise Sarek as anything other than a grave, rather stern adult, said, "Girls like to dance; they like to be graceful."
"And boys like being clumsy, I suppose," she said drily, pointing at his knee.
He eyed her indignantly; she wasn't being fair. Backed into a corner, he dragged out a phrase he recalled Sarek using only the other day.
"It is irrelevant to my future studies."
Amanda gave a tiny, choking gasp and rose to her feet in a hurry. It was unfair to laugh at the child, unkind as well, but there were times when the sheer incongruity of the formal Vulcan speech patterns overcame her control.
Biting her lip she went to the fountain for water and said over her shoulder, "Dancing is an excellent method of learning coordination and discipline, both of which are always necessary for us all."
He gave a long sigh, seeing he was not going to win. It seemed so unfair - grown-ups made all the rules, always had the last word. He took the can of water she held out and sprinkled it over the plants, careful not to spill or waste a single drop; when the last one had been watered he stood looking down at them silently.
"You're very thoughtful." She took the can from him.
He took another long breath and peeped up at her, slid his hands behind his back and clasped them tightly, then prodded at the tile path with the toe of his boot. Amanda paused, sensing that he was nerving himself to speak.
At last, in a very small voice, he said, "Everyone will be watching, Imi."
A tight sensation in her chest and throat swelled and thickened. He had always been watched ever since he was a small, frail baby, the first Human/Vulcan hybrid to survive; the eyes had sometimes been friendly, always curious, occasionally hostile, but they had always been there.
She knelt down on the path in front of him and drew a box of seedlings close. "Dig one up for me," she said, "Just one - all by itself,"
He flicked her a curious glance but obediently crouched to do as he was told.
"Put it down there on the path." She indicated a spot five or six inches away from the box. "Now, which particular plant can you see most easily?"
He smiled then, a slow, joyful smile, and she did not repress it. "The one all alone."
"Yes. Do you want to put it back in the box with the others?"
He tilted his head, "I'm not sure." He caught her look of surprise and said placatingly, "It is a very big and strong plant. It is quite old enough to grow by itself."
Delighted by his quick comprehension of her practical demonstration she said, "Plants do not have feelings as Humans do, but I can't help thinking it looks a little lonely all by itself. Perhaps it needs the other little plants for just a little while longer."
He looked at her very gravely. "Do you really think so, Imi?"
"Yes, I do." She was equally grave.
He gave a quick, impatient sigh. "Very well." He replanted it carefully and they slid the box back to its place.
She nodded approval, and then said conspiratorially, "I'm hungry - and thirsty. How about some brownies and hilva juice?"
Snacks between meals were very rare, very secret treats. "Mmmm" He nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, please."
She sent him back twice to finish removing the earth accumulated under his finger nails before finally handing him the tin of brownies and picking up the tray with the carafe and glasses.
"Where shall we have our picnic?"
"In the east corner, under the ssava vine." He called I-Chaya to join them and they settled down together in the shade. He leaned himself comfortably against the old animal and gave it a surreptitious brownie when he thought she wasn't looking.
After his second one he sighed contentedly. "Dancing isn't really so very bad," he said dreamily. "I expect I would have liked it when I was little."
"I expect so. It will be nice for me, though."
"How?" He was puzzled.
"I shall be able to see you."
His eyes gleamed, "But I shall be with all the others."
She shook her head. "Mothers can always see their children," she said positively.
She tried to explain the problem to Sarek that night, but was not really sure she'd made him understand. To divert his mind from Spock's shockingly unVulcan duplicity she turned to a mild form of attack.
"Why didn't you tell me our son was a budding genius?"
He stared at her. "There are no grounds for such a statement, Amanda."
She smiled, "Oh, but there are. At least, he's way ahead of his Vulcan contemporaries, though not so very advanced for a Human. But a lot better than average, I'd say."
"Is he ahead of his contemporaries?" He sounded as though he could not quite believe it.
"Quite a lot, yes. Sarek, when did you learn to read? At what age?"
"Six. Just before I began my formal schooling."
"And you didn't think anything of it when Spock learned even younger? And he's even further ahead in maths."
"It had not occurred to me. I presume he found the school environment insufficiently stimulating?"
She nodded, "T'Ulisa's going to keep a careful eye on things from now on. I don't think he'll be too reluctant to go now."
It was no easy matter to explain Spock's all-too-Human 'feelings' about dancing in public in a logical and unemotive way, but Amanda did the best she could.
T'Ulisa heard her out and said serenely, "I do not believe this is the moment to exert external discipline, do you? When he is older, perhaps not even until the time of the Kahs-wan, will be time enough for purely Vulcan ideals of behaviour. Do you consider him to be mature enough to make his own decision?"
"He does know that I think he should take part," Amanda told her, "but I know he would like to have some say in the matter himself."
"Very well. I will give him the choice."
Amanda got to her feet and made the formal gesture of farewell. "You have been very understanding, T'Ulisa. I am grateful."
"Each child is an individual." T'Ulisa's face lit with a half-smile. "It is stimulating to deal with one a challenging as Spock - a true representative of IDIC."
It was not until during the course of the evening meal that Spock made any reference to the forthcoming festival. Picking up his spoon and cutting into his portion of livakli he announced importantly, "T'Ulisa said I did not have to dance at Glah'kerfal if I did not wish to."
Amanda interrupted hurriedly and - by Vulcan standards - rudely, before Sarek could utter the quelling comment she could see him forming. "And what did you tell T'Ulisa?" She shot a warning glance at her husband, willing him to understand.
Spock swallowed his mouthful carefully before he replied, "0h, I said I would." He took a quick, peeping look from one adult face to the other and added tolerantly, "Some of the children are very young."
"Your remark requires clarification, Spock," Sarek said drily.
Amanda looked down at her plate, hiding her amusement.
"It is helpful to have older ones to do the dances correctly," Spock explained. "I do not make mistakes, you see... and nor do Sotal and T'Jai." He sounded faintly surprised. "It is pleasant to be useful."
"Every Vulcan must strive to be so," Sarek agreed. He was well aware of Amanda's inner laughter, but he did not comprehend it, and diplomatically changed the subject.
Later, in the privacy of their own room, he raised enquiring eyebrows at her. "Has the matter been resolved, my wife?"
"Indeed - to everyone's satisfaction."
He shook his head, allowing a tiny gleam of affection to lighten his face. "The ways of Humans are hard to comprehend," he said, "and I do not understand why it should amuse you that our son does not make mistakes in the dances."
"Oh," she pursed her mouth demurely, "it wasn't that. Just that I believe that he will perform them with perfect dignity and grace... We will be proud of our son on the day of Glah'kerfal, my husband."
And they were.