The heavy metal doors of the sunroom parted and Laria stepped into the huge chamber. She did her best to walk with confidence, keeping her shoulders back and her head up, but inside she was nearly in a panic. As her eyes adjusted to the bright light streaming in through the massive stone windows, her nose caught the scent of a dozen different flowers and blooms planted in pots around the periphery of the room. In was an amazing mix of smells: sweet, but harsh and wild at the same time.
At the far end of the room, a woman sat at a massive loom covered in strands of brightly colored targ wool. Laria was immediately intrigued by the way she skillfully wove a strand from the shuttle in her hand across the vertical threads. She then slammed the loom’s wooden batten down with a heavy thud, causing the two braids of bright red hair running down her back to bounce in unison. The young Bajoran was afraid to speak. She did not want to break the Klingon’s intense concentration.
Laria’s eyes wondered over to a nearby plant. It was beautiful in its coarse ugliness with several long, thorny branches covered in bright white flowers. Without thinking, she slowly raised a hand to feel one of the blooms.
“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you,” the Klingon woman said without looking up from her loom. The force in her voice caused Laria to jump. “That’s Fire-Hibiscus for the Klingon Tea Ceremony. It’s extremely toxic for most humanoid species. If one of those thorns pricks a little Bajoran like you, you’d be dead in less than five minutes.”
Laria quickly drew her hand back and looked towards the loom. Gathering all the confidence she could, she spoke.
“nuqneH ‘ej tlho’ Elessa Koh. Ek’taH roh masa qee’plok.”
Elessa briefly paused her weaving and looked over her shoulder. Flashing two fierce, green eyes in Laria’s direction, she lowered her forehead’s crest towards her perspective daughter-in-law.
“Your sentiment is acknowledged, but you don’t so much speak my language as you chew it up and spit it out. If it’s the same to you, why don’t we continue to converse in your Federation language? Both for my sake and yours.”
She then turned back to her weaving. Laria felt her stomach turn to her stone and her heart fell through the floor.
“If that’s what you prefer, My Lady,” Laria said sounding very disappointed.
“Tell me, did you ask my maids to fix your hair like that, or did they do it of their own accord?”
“I don’t understand, My Lady,” Laria said still frozen under Elessa’s gaze.
“I’m saying, do you think you are worthy of that braid?”
“I still don’t understand. Daniel spoke to Leska and Kesreth…”
Elessa raised a hand, which silenced Laria again.
“That braid is called ‘The Weave of the Wam Serpent.’ It is reserved for female warriors who have killed an opponent in battle. Have you killed an opponent in battle?” That question made Laria raise her shoulders again.
“I have,” she said resolutely.
Elessa placed the shuttle down on the loom’s bench and rose to her feet. She turned to face Laria still staring her down with her eyes. Laria’s eyes moved down to Elessa’s neck. The mistress wore a large, silver pendant in the shape of the crest of the House of Torlek. With the confidence of a great lady, she took a few steps toward Laria like a hunter sizing up her prey.
“If you are referring to that Romulan petaQ, yes, Torlek told me that it was battle worthy of story and song. However, it seems to me that most of the fighting was done by Daniel. You just administered a coup de grace at the last moment.”
“I did it to save Daniel’s life!” Laria said. She was almost shouting now.
“So you think my husband’s brother: the man I consider my adopted son, owes you his life?” Elessa said taking another step towards Laria.
“No,” Laria said. “Because he saved mine as well.”
Elessa snorted derisively.
“How does that Federation expression go? Let us cut to the chase. I have no intention of administering the trials to you. It would be a waste of time.” Laria felt herself on the verge of tears.
“Why not?” she asked trying to keep her voice from cracking.
“Look at you,” Elessa replied looking her up and down. The Klingon towered over Laria by a full head’s height. “You look like you’re about to burst into tears and run away just from looking at a real Klingon woman. Do you even know who you are?”
Laria answered with far more honesty than she wanted to.
“No, I don’t…” she said looking down towards the stones in the floor, but before Elessa could reply, she raised her eyes and looked the Klingon in her face. “But I do know one thing: I love Daniel Tigranian, and he loves me. We are meant to be together, no matter what you or anyone else says!” Laria heard herself shouting again. “You can call me weak, you can call me unworthy of your name and your house, but nothing will change how I feel about him. We will find a way to be together. Even if I’m never allowed back on Qo’nos, I swear on my life we will find a way to be together!”
Elessa’s face instantly softened and a smile crept across it.
“I know that, little warrior,” she said with warmth that shocked Laria. “I knew that you were worthy to join the House of Torlek before I had even met you. Daniel would not have asked for this meeting if you weren’t. I just had to make sure you understood that. That’s why I hadn’t planned on the trials. There was no need for them.”
“I…I…” Laria said starting to stammer.
“Calm down, young one,” Elessa said softly. “Come over here,” she said beckoning Laria closer to her. When she was within arm’s reach of Elessa, the Klingon took her hand and led her up to the loom. “Do you see that?”
Laria examined the half-complete tapestry. The picture coming together depicted a huge tree. Its trunk was surrounded by many warriors starting to climb towards the branches.
“Do you know the story of Kortar the Mighty and his mate, Baka?” Laria shook her head. Elessa nodded understandingly and began to tell the tale. “Thousands of years before Kahless the Unforgettable brought Honor to the Klingon People, we worshipped the ancient gods. They lived at the top of the great qo’Sor tree on the plains of Balduq.
The people were little more than slaves to the whims of the gods. Those creatures demanded much and gave little in return. The ancient Klingons were angered that they were forced to serve such unworthy masters, but did nothing to fight back until two brave warriors stepped forward. A man named Kortar and his faithful mate, Baka, travelled from village to village and said ‘Who will stand with us to end this injustice?’
Eventually, one hundred joined their cause. They charged across the Balduq Plains, climbed to the very top of the qo’Sor, and slew the gods who created them. They freed the Klingon people and then razed the tree to the ground. However, they left its massive stump to always remind us of the tyranny we once endured at the hands of those who arrogantly believed they could be our masters.”
Laria continued to marvel at Elessa’s intricate weaving. The Klingon woman smiled.
“I am making this as your wedding present.”
Laria turned to her with an expression that was a mix of shock and gratitude.
“Why?” she asked.
“As a reminder to you, little warrior, that true Klingons make their own destiny. They let no one stand in their way.”
Laria looked over to Elessa and smiled.
“What happened to Kortar and Baka?” Elessa looked down for a brief moment.
“That is a tale for another day. Now, Laria, Daughter of Amira,” Elessa said extending her arms. “Embrace me as a daughter to her mother before we discuss your wedding plans.”
* * * *
Torlek and Tigranian sat in the estate’s dining room with a spread of food between them. As Torlek finished off a piece of bakrat liver, Tigranian took a look around the empty hall.
“Is it just me,” Tigranian mused as he reached for a shell squid tentacle. “Or does this house get a little emptier every time I visit?”
“Unfortunately, it is not just you, my brother,” Torlek said contemplatively as Tigranian chewed on the tentacle. “The war changed much for us.”
“I knew things were changing on the homeworld, but I didn’t know they were happening this fast.”
“The commoners endured much during the fighting. We were fighting for our very existence as a race. Social conventions fell away to pragmatism. As the warriors of Great Houses fell in droves, they rose to the challenge.”
“Surely, you believe that was a good thing?” Tigranian said leaning back in his metal chair.
“I do indeed,” Torlek said staring at the wall behind the captain, “but the commoners demand rights from the High Council commensurate with their sacrifices. They seek economic equality, upward mobility, and the most ground-breaking thing of all: political power.” Tigranian took a deep breath. He understood what that meant for the feudal system that had dominated the Empire for centuries. “I am prepared to release our servants to seek their fortunes off our lands. Many other nobles are not.”
“Soon it might not be a choice for the nobles…” Tigranian said looking down at the table.
“Be careful, Daniel,” Torlek said looking at him. “I understand that your Federation upbringing makes you more tolerant of democracy than most Klingons…but many fellow warriors might view a statement as borderline sedition.”
“Then I’ll be more cautious about voicing my support for democracy around other Klingons,” Tigranian said with a grin before taking a sip of bloodwine. Torlek smiled back.
“Ensure that you do, my brother.”
Suddenly, the doors to the dining room opened. The two men turned to see Laria walk inside with a sullen look on her face. Elessa followed a few steps behind. Tigranian’s heart dropped and Torlek stared at his wife with concern.
Silently, Laria made her way to her par’Mach’kai and stood silently. He was afraid to ask what had happened when, without warning, Laria backhanded him across the face. The captain tasted blood. Laria reared back and screamed in his face.
“You never told me what an incredible, honorable, and understanding lady the House of Torlek has as its mistress! You let me carry on like a fool in fear!” Elessa had to place her arm over her mouth to prevent from laughing out loud. Slowly, Tigranian put his hand to his mouth and examined the streak of crimson slowly oozing from his lips. A grin crept across his face.
“I kind of tried, you just were too nervous to listen…” Laria backhanded him again.
“Well, you should have tried harder!” she said with her own smile. Torlek leaned over and whispered into Tigranian’s ear.
“I think this means you’re going to have a very fun evening when you get back to your chambers…”
Laria pretended not to hear Torlek as she jumped into Tigranian’s lap and started kissing him violently. Torlek looked to Elessa and chuckled. His wife only answered with an approving nod.