Grigan and his deacons had transformed the temple's outdoor garden into a wonderful setting for the reception. Long wooden tables set with white and orange tablecloths beckoned in the warm autumn breeze. A stage had been erected along the Esani bushes and the sweet fragrance of their flowers mixed with the candles and fading sunlight to create an absolutely magical atmosphere.
The guests were enjoying the end of their dinner as Tigranian and Laria made their rounds of the crowd. They wished everyone another warm welcome and thanks for their attendance. The dais bearers and Tigranian's groomsmen sat on the main stage talking with each other, but they couldn't help but notice the brazier burning brightly on the ground directly in front of them. Elessa and Torlek would systematically check it every few minutes, stirring the glowing coals inside.
Katie leaned over to Phil and whispered in his ear.
"And what precisely is that for?" she asked nervously.
"Don't ask me," Phil said taking another bite of his Kava caramel pie.
"I thought that after spending four days with the captain and Torlek, you would know everything about this Klingon stuff?" Katie asked.
"All I know, Katie," Phil replied nervously. "Is that it is probably going to involve a lot of pain." Katie shot back a nervous look at him, but Phil just shook his head.
Daniel and Laria were off speaking with Jion and Lanassa. As Laria was hugging her father, Tigranian was speaking with his new mother-in-law. As usual, the little Bajoran woman was full of loving energy.
"Oh! Chat mes, Daniel-ga-ne. Yis kezza shad les lave," Lanassa said gripping him so tightly he was having trouble breathing.
"I love you too," Daniel said trying to get some air in his lungs.
"Let him go, Lanassa," Jion said turning to them. "Can't you see the boy is turning blue?"
"He is fine," Lanassa said pulling back. "He is a strong boy," Lanassa said playfully hitting his arm.
"So," Jion said to his daughter and newly minted son-in-law. "You are now married, and you will go back to you ship. When will you come back to Gault to visit?"
"Dade," Laria said. "We will visit soon, but let's just enjoy each other's company now."
"How can we enjoy each other's company now?" Lanassa said shaking her head. "You have to come back to the farm so I can cook for you."
"Mama…" Laria said shaking her head.
"Daniel! Laria!" a strong voice spoke from behind them. It was Lady Elessa. "It is time." The Klingon matriarch turned back towards the brazier and stood at the ready.
"Time for what?" Lanassa said nervously.
"Mama," Laria said hugging her mother tight. "I just want you to know that I'm going to be fine. You and Dade just need to sit down and be calm for a while."
"Laria-ga-ne?" Jion said angrily. "What do you mean?"
"Jion, trust me." Tigranian said. The old Bajoran looked at him suspiciously, but finally acquiesced. He grabbed his wife's hand and they took their seats.
Daniel and Laria walked towards Torlek and Elessa, but just before they reached the brazier, Tigranian leaned over and whispered in his wife's ear.
"Laria, you know you don't have to do this…" he said.
"Daniel," Laria said gripping his arm tightly. "I don't have to, but I WANT to," she said with steely resolve in her voice.
"Alright," he replied with a final nod to Torlek.
"EVERYONE!" the Klingon general said loud enough to silence the whole crowd at once. "Take your seats," he commanded. Everyone froze. Torlek looked over to Daniel who shrugged. Torlek growled, but realized that other species were not as direct as Klingons. "…Please," he added with a bit of polite disdain. Without another word, Torlek handed the floor to Tigranian.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," Tigranian said. "Thank you for coming and sharing this special day with Laria and me. However, a Klingon's wedding day is more than just a union of two people. In our tradition, it is also the union of two houses. Before the wedding, Laria and I traveled to Qo'nos, where the Lady of the House of Torlek, Elessa, judged Laria as being fit to join us. Now, that we are married, we must welcome Laria as one of our own..."
He stepped aside as Elessa stepped forward. The crowd fell silent as they watched Elessa remove the veil from on top of Laria's head. Without a word, she reached up and pulled the pin out of Laria's braid. It fell away from her head and lay flat down her back.
"Are you ready?" Elessa asked.
"I am, My Lady," Laria replied with a bow of her head. "En'Cha."
Elessa placed a gentle hand of Laria's cheek.
"I know you are. I am so proud of you."
The lady drew her dk'tagh and cut open her palm to the gasps of many in the audience. As the blood dribbled down her arm, she walked over to the brazier and let it flow onto the coals. They sizzled as the blood hit their white hot surface.
"LET ALL KNOW!" Elessa shouted to the crowd. "That this woman is now a member of the House of Torlek. May all her enemies be ours, and ours hers…"
Torlek then drew his dk'tagh, clicked open the blades, and held it aloft so that everyone could see.
"LET ALL KNOW," he repeated his wife's words. "That this woman is now a member of the House of Torlek. May all her enemies be ours, and ours hers!" He violently cut open his hand and let his own blood join his wife's in the inferno.
Tigranian walked up to Laria still standing in front of the brazier.
"Let all know that this woman is now a member of the House of Torlek." Daniel pulled out his dk'tagh and stared at his wife's eyes as he sliced into his palm. "Let all her enemies be ours, and ours hers." He didn't break Laria's gaze as his blood dripped into the fire.
Elessa reached down and grabbed a metal handle extending from the brazier. Laria looked down and Elessa pulled out the brand of the House of Torlek. For a brief moment, Laria saw its glowing, downward facing blades silhouetted against the flames of the burning coals.
Suddenly, time stopped and the words of the Prophets in the Celestial Temple echoed through her mind.
"She will be reborn in fire…"
The feeling of Elessa's grip brought her back to the moment. The Lady grabbed Laria's left sleeve and ripped it away to reveal her pale skin underneath.
"Welcome to the House of Torlek, My Daughter," Elessa said before shoving the red hot branding iron onto Laria's arm. The entire crowd gasped as Laria gritted her teeth against the pain. Jion and Lanassa grabbed each other in sheer terror, but to their credit, stayed quiet.
After a few seconds, Elessa pulled the brand away and Laria looked down to see the crest of her house permanently seared into her flesh. She stood there silently and gazed at the bleeding, blistering mark in wonder as the pain magically disappeared from her consciousness.
"Are you alright?" Tigranian whispered, worried she might be in shock.
Laria looked up and stared into her husband's eyes. Suddenly, she struck him across the face with the back of her hand and then pulled him in close for a kiss.
"She is fine…" Torlek chuckled as he whispered in Elessa's ear. The two Klingons grinned.
After the commotion ceased, Alex and the other dais bearers walked up to Laria to share both their admiration and their surprise.
"You never cease to amaze me, L," Katie said shaking her head. "Starfleet officer, proud wife, and now Klingon barbecue."
"While I admire your dedication to your husband's clan, I fail to see the logic in defacing your body in a possibly hazardous way when a simple vocal affirmation suffices in most cultures," T'les said raising a slightly judgmental eyebrow.
"Some things are worth suffering a little for," Laria said as Alex wet a clean cloth napkin with water from a nearby pitcher.
"Far be it for me to criticize a bride on her wedding day, but that was stupid. Shock, infection, gangrene…" Alex said expertly wrapping the cool compress around Laria's singed limb.
"I think she gets the point, Babe," Annabeth said to quiet Alex who flashed an angry look back at her wife. The doctor magically produced a hypospray from her handbag and injected Laria's neck.
"This will help with the pain and prevent infection."
"Do you always keep a hypospray in your purse?" Katie asked furrowing her brow curiously.
"Only when I suspect Klingon shenanigans might be happening," Alex said turning back to Laria. "Honestly, sometimes I question whether or not I need to confine you to sickbay on a psych hold."
"Come now, Doc," Tigranian said from behind her. "Be nice."
"And that goes for you as well, Sir," Alex said grabbing another napkin for Tigranian's bloody palm. "I'm getting really tired of seeing you bleed…whether it's intentional or not."
"It is not the first time Daniel has cut his flesh in the name of honor," Torlek said proudly walking up and placing his bloody hand on Tigranian's shoulder
"And it won't be the last," the captain replied.
"Oh, he got blood on the captain's wedding armor," Phil jokingly whispered to Katie. "That will never come out."
Both of them chuckled.
"Qapla'," Torlek and Tigranian said to each other in unison. Alex simply rolled her eyes. Then, Torlek gave Tigranian a glance. Daniel knew it was important.
"Come, Sister," Torlek said to Laria. "This concerns all members of the House of Torlek."
Laria nodded to her friends before following Torlek and Tigranian to a secluded corner of the temple's garden. Elessa was already waiting for them.
"It's Cardassia, isn't it?" Laria asked sensing the tense mood suddenly hanging in the air.
"Yes," Torlek replied with a nod. "The HoS has entered orbit. I must leave immediately."
"What?" Tigranian said in shock.
"The situation in the Occupied Zone grows worse by the hour. Gangs of insurgents are roaming the streets of the two lost planets. They're killing injured warriors, Klingon civilians, and any local suspected of working with the Occupation Authority. It's fast becoming genocide. The Cardassian Provisional Guard are already moving to pacify Sheva II, but on Senath III, the larger of the two worlds, the rebels have seized an industrial replication plant and begun construction of orbital defense platforms. It seems they're digging in for a protracted siege.
As if that was not enough, a faction of commoners on Qo'nos is becoming more vocal in their opposition to the Defense Forces acting decisively. They claim that it was the incompetence of the Noble Houses and the High Council that has brought us to this point. They are demanding Chancellor Martok resign and immediately call for free elections. It's like our society is ripping apart at the seams."
"Kahless forgive us…" Tigranian said shaking his head. Elessa simply lowered her gaze and gritted her teeth. Torlek continued. "The Chancellor has ordered the Suk'Valt to immediately reconquer Senath, if only to maintain support for the High Council among the Klingon people.
I'm sorry to leave you so suddenly on your day of joy, my brother and new sister," Torlek said to Laria and Tigranian, "but duty to the Empire calls."
"And you shall answer it," Laria said with confidence in your voice. "Go now to battle, my brother, and bring honor to our house."
Torlek smiled as her heard Laria speak those words.
"It is you, little warrior, who will bring honor to our house," Elessa said wrapping an arm around Laria.
"If I don't not see you again in this life, Brother…" Tigranian said reaching out a hand to Torlek. The old Klingon smiled as he remembered the transporter room on the Sk'oh four years before.
"We will dine together at Kahless' table," Torlek replied grabbing Tigranian's wrist.
"Qapla'" they spoke in unison once more.
Torlek than took two steps backward, pressed the comm badge on his right shoulder, and smiled.
"Torlek Sa' HoSDaq. jol yIchu'."
The general disappeared in a shimmer of red light.
Tigranian then turned to Elessa.
"Are you alright, My Lady? Do you have everything you need?"
Elessa actually scoffed.
"Daniel, I hate to see your human side. It makes you seem weak. I am a Klingon woman and the mistress of a great house! My husband goes off to wage battle for our people. Not only am I 'alright' I rejoice!
Tomorrow, I will return to Qo'nos as planned where I will pray to Kahless, the Unforgettable to give my husband a good death, but tonight, we still celebrate your promise of tomorrow."
Elessa turned and headed back towards the blood wine. Tigranian just smiled and put an arm around his bride.
"I had to ask," he said shrugging his shoulders. Laria laughed in reply. "What?" Tigranian asked at her strange reaction.
"She's right you know," Laria said glancing down at her new brand. "Sometimes, you are too human for your own good. Warriors like us would never ask such a pathetic question."
Then, it was Tigranian's turn to laugh as they rejoined their guests.