Grand Dining Hall of the Chancellor's Palace: First City, Qo'nos
The summit proceeded without incident. It was mostly Admiral Paris and his staff negotiating for troop levels and ship coverage in various sectors with General Torlek and his cabal of officers. Whenever an impasse was reached, both Ambassador Worf and Captain Tigranian proved very valuable in negotiating compromises amenable to both parties. Paris had to admit, it was now very useful to have two "Klingons" in the ranks of Starfleet, even if one was adopted into the Federation and the other adopted into the Empire.
As the sun set on the final day, the entire group was arrived together in the Chancellor's palace for a formal banquet in celebration of the Alliance. A massive table was set with fifty places and ran down the entire length of an gothic stone hall. The Chancellor's throne loomed at the far end. Behind it was a massive stone staircase leading to a set of thick wooden doors.
One side of the table contained simple metal plates and bowls in the traditional, Klingon style. The other was set with full formal china, crystal, and silver in a manner befitting the highest levels of Federation dining.
"I wonder what side we sit on…" Paris joked in his dress whites with Murphy as a steward in Klingon livery led them to their chairs. Various lower ranking Klingon officers and their dates began to filter towards the seats on the opposite side. Annabeth, Alex, and the rest of the Pershing's staff were with the admirals, but there were two surprising absences. The seats to the right of Paris, Murphy, and Worf with place cards for "Captain Daniel Tigranian" and "Lieutenant Tigranian Laria" were empty.
"Where is he?" Murphy whispered to Annabeth nervously adjusting his jacket. "I would think this would be the one thing Dan wouldn't miss!"
"I don't know, Sir," Annabeth said taking a chair next to her wife. "I've called both his communicator and Laria's. Neither answered. I haven't seen them since the summit ended this afternoon."
"Keep calling him," Murphy said shaking his head. "This is getting embarrassing."
"Yes Sir," Annabeth said.
Burning torches hanging from sconces on the peripheral columns illuminated a massive mural across the vaulted ceiling. On the far end of the hall's roof, a Klingon holding an oar stood next to a fallen tree surrounding by cheering throngs. A red river wound across the center section of the mural towards the other end of the hall. Directly over the Chancellor's throne, the painted figure of a Klingon with an imposing beard and mane of dark hair held a bat'leth over his head and extended it towards the masses at the other end.
"I'm guessing that's Kahless," Paris said pointing to one end of the mural, "but I have no idea who those people are," he said shifting towards the other end of the painting. Worf was about to answer, but Annabeth beat him to it.
"Well Sir," Annabeth began confidently. "That is Kortar, the ferryman. In Klingon mythology, he and his mate Baka freed the ancient Klingons by climbing the qo'Sor tree and killing the old gods. She's the woman standing behind him in the painting over there," she pointed to a female warrior holding a d'k tahg. "However, Kortar was punished by being forced to pilot the Barge of the Dead over the River the Blood for all eternity. You can see the beautiful rendition of that above us right now. Now, you can also see on one side of the river is a set of gates surrounded by light. That is Sto'Vo'Kor or the Hall of the Honored Dead. However, across from it you see gates surrounded by flames. That represents Gre'thor, the Place of the Damned. As for the other end, you are correct, that is Kahless. He slew the tyrant, Molor, who I assume is the headless corpse that Kahless is standing on. He offers all Klingons salvation and he is pleading to the ancient peoples of the past to follows his ways of honor."
Paris, Murphy, and Worf looked at her absolutely dumbstruck.
"You are correct, Captain Geist," Worf said still in shock. "I am quite impressed."
"I've lived with Daniel Tigranian for two years now, Ambassador. It's hard not to pick up some things from him."
"I spent seven years on the Enterprise and four on Deep Space Nine. My crewmates never picked up any of my stories," he said with just a hint of jealousy.
"That is a pity, Ambassador," Annabeth said. "You have a beautiful and rich culture."
"That was very impressive, Annabeth," Paris added. "It's too bad that Captain Tigranian himself wasn't here to explain it to me."
"Yes Sir," Annabeth said. Murphy gave her another goading look. She could only shrug. Alex leaned over and whispered in her wife's ear.
"Did you really pick up all that from Dan?" she asked skeptically.
"Yes and No," Annabeth said. "I may have been reading a lot about Klingon culture and history lately…" she muttered.
"Beth…" Alex grumbled.
A series of blasts from trumpets echoed through the hall from the gallery above the stone staircase. The Klingons already in the hall rose to their feet. Worf did the same and urged the other Starfleet officers to rise as well.
"What is going on?" Murphy asked.
"Sir, the noble guests are arriving. They must be announced to the hall before they are seated."
"Of course nobles must be announced," Paris whispered to Murphy who chuckled. A Klingon across the table growled at Paris' breach of decorum, but an angry glare from Worf caused the alien soldier to go back to minding his own business.
"Sir," Worf whispered cautiously. "Nobility is still very important to the Klingon people. The nobles are obliged to care for those under their charge and the commoners live and fight under their banners. To not acknowledge the rank and position of those in High Houses is considered extremely disrespectful and ignorant."
Paris quietly cleared his throat.
"My apologies, Ambassador. I didn't know."
"Yes Sir," Worf replied. "Very few humans do," he said glancing over to Annabeth. She nodded to him and then turned to Alex.
"Disrespectful and ignorant…" Annabeth whispered.
"I said 'that's enough,' Beth," Alex replied quietly.
The wooden doors flew open and ten Yan'Isleth honor guards marched in formation down the staircase. They took positions along its edges, faced inwards, and held up their swords in a position of salute. A Klingon herald in dress livery stepped out and faced the hall. In a booming voice, he announced:
"Presenting His Highness, Martok, Son of Urthog, Leader of the High Council and Chancellor the Klingon Empire!"
Martok emerged and walked down the staircase between the two rows of guards. His solemn face betrayed no emotion. His silver and black dress armor shimmered from underneath his long Chancellor's cassock. He reached his throne, stepped in front of it and stood waiting for the remainder of his guests. The rest of the hall remained standing.
One by one, the herald announced a series of six noble couples dressed in ritual finery. The lords were dressed in polished leather dress armor covered in various insignia and medals. The ladies in Klingon ball gowns possessed varying degrees of military medals and state awards of their own. Depending on their noble rank, some woman even wore tiaras woven into their thick hair. After the herald announced their names and titles, they would descend the staircase, bow to the Chancellor and then take their seats at the table across from the Starfleet officers.
"Wow," Katie whispered loud enough for the others to hear as another couple bowed and curtsied to the Chancellor. "You just don't see anything like that in the Federation anymore."
"It's very beautiful," Alex said thinking out loud. "After all, what little girl doesn't dream of being a princess one day?"
"Or a knight in shining armor…" Annabeth said placing a hand on her stomach.
Alex got the blunt hint, but didn't say anything.
"Presenting Lord Torlek, Son of Ro'vagh," the herald shouted. "Military Governor of Ty'Gokor, Commander in Chief of the Klingon Defense Forces, 64th Joh of Qova Domain with his wife, the Lady Elessa."
Torlek appeared in his finery at the top of the staircase. His golden sash, emblazoned with his crests of office, glinted in the bright firelight. To his left, Lady Elessa looked radiant. Her green armored gown was covered in golden rivets. The lady's red hair was woven high above her head and a tiara with the crest of House Torlek rested over her pronounced forehead crest. She held out her right hand and Torlek grasped it to escort her down the stairs. After paying their respects to Martok, they moved to the table directly across from Paris and Murphy.
"Lord Torlek, Lady Elessa," Murphy said to them respectfully.
"Admiral," Elessa replied respectfully. "Glory to you, your Federation, and your house."
"Pay very close attention, Gentlemen," Torlek said looking back towards the top of the stairs. "You're about to witness history."
Paris furrowed his brow and noticed that the Tigranians were still absent. He took in a sharp breath and then turned to look upwards himself.
"Presenting Lord Daniel, Son of Tigranian, of House Torlek with his wife, the Lady Laria, Knight of the Order of the Bat'leth."
The couple that appeared at the top of the stairs caused the other Starfleet officers to gasp in amazement. Tigranian was dressed in polished black dress armor. A massive chain mail sash across his chest held the polished crests of the Empire and the House of Torlek. At his side, Laria was dressed in a brilliant red gown. A polished silver cuirass covered her torso, and a golden silk sash across her right shoulder carried the badges of the Empire, her house, as well as the badge of the Order of the Bat'leth. Her dark hair was once again braided into the Weave of the Wam Serpant, but a tiara identical to Elessa's shown bright as the sun from her forehead. However, her Bajoran earring still dangled from her right ear.
"They're glorious," Lady Elessa said as they descended the stairs through the bat'leth salute of the honor guards. None of the Federation guests disagreed.
"Take a good look, Admiral," Torlek said across the table. "Always remember that they have earned an honor no other foreign born Klingons ever have."
"Yes…" Worf said hiding his own regret that he could not present his own late wife before the chancellor. "It is truly remarkable."
Annabeth and Alex watched in awe as Tigranian and Laria maneuvered to the front of the throne. The captain bowed deeply. Laria curtsied to the floor and then held up her left hand. Martok smiled as he leaned over and grasped it.
"If you had asked me ten turns ago if I ever thought a smooth-headed woman could command the eyes of a roomful of Klingon warriors," the Chancellor's voice boomed through the hall loud enough for everyone to hear. "I would have called you insane. Tonight, I am proven wrong." He planted a kiss on the back of Laria's hand. "The women of the House of Torlek truly carry the lineage of Lady Lukara in their strength."
"majQa', jawwI'," Laria said looking up at Martok.
"You are a lucky man, Lord Daniel," Martok said to Tigranian in Klingon only loud enough for the two of them to hear. "Treasure her while you can. A warrior's life is short."
"Yes, Chancellor," Tigranian replied. He knew Martok was still mourning the loss of Lady Sirella very deeply.
The Tigranians took their leave and then found their seats. The rest of the Pershing's crew looked on in awe.
"Sorry we're late, Sir," Tigranian said to Admiral Paris.
"Next time, please call," Paris replied.
"Yes Sir," Tigranian said pensively.
"My Lords, My Ladies, Honored Guests of the Empire, pray be seated," Torlek shouted from the head of the table. Everyone took their seats and the meal began.
Tigranian and Laria began conversing with the Klingons across the table. Torlek introduced them as he would any other warrior couple and Worf was amazed at how easy it was for the Tigranians to assimilate among Klingon nobility. Soon, the pair was laughing, joking, and eating gagh as if they had crests on their forehead. Socializing with his own people had never been as easy for Worf as it was for these two, and it caused him painful pause.
Paris noticed the ambassador had barely touched his food.
"Is something wrong with the meal, Ambassador?" Admiral Paris asked him quietly.
"No," Worf said shaking his head. "Just a reminder of something I'd rather forget."
"If you don't mind me asking, what?"
"That no matter how much I desire it, my place may never be on this world."
"How do you wear that thing?!" Katie shouted as she tapped the metal breastplate of Laria's gown. They laughed as they collapsed back onto the couch of the Tigranian quarters.
"It's actually not that bad," Laria said. "It's a lot more comfortable than my Bajoran wedding dress. After all, I'm supposed to be able to use a bat'leth wearing this." Admiral Paris and Admiral Murphy had retired to their quarters on the Leonov, but Tigranian had taken his crew back up to the Pershing for coffee before bed. Torlek had come along for a very specific purpose. Elessa had wished her lord luck before the house footmen escorted her back to the estate.
"You looked amazing tonight, L," Phil said walking over with his white mess jacket already unzipped. "Like real royalty," he said pinching her cheek as the others laughed.
"Watch your hands, Lexington!" Laria said. "I'm a Klingon lady and I've killed people for less." The others cheered as Tigranian and Torlek came over.
"Alex, Annabeth," Tigranian said. "May we speak to you?"
Alex inhaled sharply. She knew an awkward moment with Torlek was probably coming all night, but was still dreading it.
"Of course," Annabeth said. Alex, to her credit, didn't complain.
"I'm taking a trip to the country tomorrow morning," Torlek said. "Daniel has no choice but to accompany me, but I respectfully request the honor of your presence, Alex," he said with a bow of his head.
"My presence?" she said surprised. "I'm not sure," Alex replied nervously. "I think Beth might be better, that is, if you're feeling up to it, Babe." Alex hoped desperately that her wife would politely decline.
"No," Torlek said shaking his head. "It would not be appropriate for a woman with child to make this journey. It is you who must come."
"I don't know," Alex said nervously. Part of her wanted to refuse, but after what she had seen this evening, a part of her was actually intrigued to learn more about this planet.
"Alexandra," Torlek said looking right into her eyes. "I know your feelings about our people. I know about your skepticism. It is alright. Klingons are just as wary of other species. However, at least give me one chance to convince you otherwise." He wasn't threatening at all. In fact, she could feel the kindness in his voice. It actually made Alex even more conflicted.
"Alex…" Annabeth said gently grabbing her arm.
"Can you make me promise?" Alex said looking back at Torlek.
"What is that?" he asked.
"That if you can't convince me to let Klingon beliefs into my child's life tomorrow, you'll stop trying and order Dan to stop trying as well."
Torlek and Tigranian exchanged glances.
"You have my word as a Klingon warrior," Torlek said.
"Then, I'll go."
"Very good," Torlek said. "Now, I should be getting home. It's not often I get the chance to spend the night in my wife's bed anymore," he said with a smile.
"Yes, my brother," Tigranian said. "We'll meet you in the First City at 0400 tomorrow morning."
"0400!" Alex said in shock. "That's in less than six hours!"
"Yes, that gives you almost four hours to rest," Torlek said. "Plenty of time. I suggest you take advantage of it. Wear sturdy shoes and something demure you don't mind getting dirty. We're going to a sacred place."
Alex shot an angry look at Tigranian as he walked with his brother towards the corridor. The captain looked back at her and mouthed the words:
"Welcome to Qo'nos."
After they left, Alex turned back to Annabeth and grimaced.
"Don't look at me," Annabeth said throwing up her hands. "I'm pregnant and he said I can't go."
"Just how long are you going to use the excuse 'I'm pregnant,'" Alex asked crossing her arms in front of her.
"Until you're the one that's pregnant," Annabeth replied.