Jin'tka District, Quin'lat: Qo'noS
Laria's transformation was astounding. After a hovercar ride to the estate, Lady Elessa, wrapped Laria in a tight fitting and richly embroidered robe of red silk with a matching belt that was nearly half a meter thick. The silk gathered together in the small of her back forming a large, decorative knot. Leska and Kesrath, her favorite maids, styled Laria's thick, Bajoran hair. They steamed it straight and braided it into an elaborate bun behind her head.
"I can barely breathe!" Laria said as her pair of attendants finished their work.
"Then you are wearing the kamakha correctly," Elessa said as she worked herself into a similar garment. "Daniel has done well teaching you the ways of a Klingon warrior, but now I must do my duty and teach you the ways of a Klingon noblewoman."
"I thought they were the same thing," Laria said struggling to adjust the heavy garment so she could walk.
"Much of the time, yes." Elessa said selecting a red silk fan from a collection in one of her chests, "However, today you are something more. The line has blurred in most cultures, but in ours, we preserve the separateness. To do what men cannot, to be refined and poised, gives us tremendous power over them. It is our way," she said snapping the fan closed and placing it into the front of Laria's belt.
Now, the pair walked through the stone streets of the ancient city of Quin'lat. A heavy snow gently drifted down from the grey sky, and despite its bulk, Laria was grateful for the warmth provided by the heavy silk kamakha. The women hid their faces from onlookers with red paper parasols painted with the House of Torlek's crest. Laria couldn't help but notice how every commoner they passed stopped to bow respectfully.
"Why are they doing that?" Laria asked.
"Because," Elessa answered, "we are the women of the warrior caste. We are the wives of lords. We survived the Bre'Nan, and control lands and estates beyond their imaginations. We are what they aspire to be, but that which is also beyond their reach. Despite the reforms, if we are displeased with their deference, their lives are ours to take. It creates respect, but also fear."
Laria didn't know how to respond to that.
After another few minutes of winding their way through the narrow streets crowded with pedestrians, vendors, and handcarts, they arrived at the large wooden gate of a walled compound. Laria knew enough pIqaD to decipher the sign:
Por SuS Tea House
"Follow my lead, and do as I do," Elessa warned her companion before ringing the bell. She then raised her parasol to the gate. She beckoned Laria to do the same. A tiny slit opened in the door and a pair of eyes examined the crests painted on their umbrellas. Then, the slit slammed shut. Laria could hear a wooden bar being slid away and the gates pulled open. Elessa and Laria stepped aside, and the gates were immediately shut. Laria glanced behind her just long enough to see the people in the street longingly gaze at a world they only knew from story and fantasy.
As Laria pulled the parasol away, she looked at her new surroundings in amazement. They were in a lush, manicured garden full of evergreen trees and wild bushes now covered with pristine white powder. Raised stone walkways meandered above an artificial stream trickling through the rocks and foliage. In the compound's center, was a large wooden building with a green tiled roof set on a foundation of rough-hewn stone. From outside the high walls, a person in the dirty city would have no idea that such of a place of wild beauty existed. Laria once again realized that it was what they kept hidden from view that made Klingons truly remarkable. The Bajoran marveled at the other patrons as they strolled down the walkways trimmed with frozen beauty. All carried parasols emblazoned with the designs of their own houses. Quickly, Laria realized there wasn't a man to be seen.
"Where are we?" she asked as Elessa beckoned her to follow towards the main building.
"This is the qo'InSong," answered. "The Flower World exists inside every Klingon tea house. It is a refuge where women gather to relax and rid themselves of the stress we often experience as the mothers and daughters of great houses. It is a place of only grace and beauty where the highest arts of Klingon etiquette are practiced: conversation, painting, floristry, music, dance, and the tea ceremony. Politics are discouraged. Men are forbidden under pain of death," Elessa said flashing her a grin. "They are beneath the elegance of this place."
They approached the stone steps leading up into the tea house. Elessa collapsed her parasol and Laria followed suit. At the top, they were met by two female attendants. They dropped to their knees and bowed so deeply, their forehead crests touched the wooden floorboards. Elessa handed her parasol to one of them. Laria gave up hers as well. The attendants silently beckoned for them to sit on a nearby bench. They removed their walking shoes and replaced them with leather sandals. Laria wasn't used to this level of attention. Elessa acted as if it was completely normal.
A door in the side of the building slid open. A third attendant inside bowed and motioned for them to enter. Elessa went first with Laria right behind. They descended a flight of steps and found themselves in a large stone chamber illuminated with burning braziers. Another artificial stream trickled down a series of rocks in the middle of the room. Dozens of women sat on targ skin rugs around eight low wooden tables arranged in rows on either side of the running water. They carried on lively conversations while sipping on ceramic demitasses of potent Klingon tea. More attendants dressed in white kneeled nearby with stone kettles and ensured no patron ever had their cup run dry. On a raised platform at the end of the room, two Klingon women dressed in elaborate kamakha kneeled on mats woven from klongat wool. They strummed out a hypnotic tone on a type of necked instrument Laria had never seen before. A third woman rhythmically danced to the beat while hiding her painted face with an unfolded fan. She sang in strange, atonal words that Laria found hypnotically captivating. She had no idea how she would ever explain this to anyone back in the Federation. It was nothing like what outsiders pictured as Klingon entertainment. It was a metaphor of wild passion brought under control by civilized sophistication. It was so very Klingon and Laria was immediately lost in its spell.
Elessa scanned the room until her eyes finally came to a stop at a table on the far side of the hall. A Klingon woman knelt alone as an attendant refilled her cup with tea. She wore a black kamakha with a gold tIq ghob broach indicating that she had lost her husband in battle. Elessa scoffed.
She walked across the room and took a seat across from the mysterious woman. Laria again followed. The woman in black sneered as she realized she now had unwanted company. Elessa ignored her. An attendant approached the two women of the House of Torlek and gracefully placed two empty cups in front of them. With practiced poise, she poured the tea, bowed, and then returned to her place in the wings.
Elessa took a sip while Laria stared nervously down at her cup. The Bajoran remembered the lethality of Klingon tea and realized she hadn't taken antidote prior to coming. Elessa smiled as she leaned over and whispered:
"Don't worry, this is not the tea that tests courage. It's the por Sus' signature blend: peppadugh spiced chai. Wonderful for cold weather and perfectly safe for non-Klingons. Try it."
Laria took her tea and sampled a small taste. It was boiling hot, but it had a strange effect as it hit her tongue. The liquid turned to vapor and filled her sinuses with a wonderful herbal aroma that instantaneously made her more alert. She couldn't help but crack a smile. However, it soon faded as she noticed the other woman was glaring at them from the sides of her eyes.
"Normally," Elessa said taking another sip before putting the cup down on the table, "I would wonder what warranted such disrespect from a fellow patron, but considering your lineage, it is no surprise."
The other woman growled, but Elessa was still unfazed. She motioned for the attendant to return and refill her cup. The lady in white obliged.
"And what precisely do you mean by that?" the woman replied still glaring in Laria's direction.
"You are Drusilla," Elessa said as her tea was poured, "first cousin of Duras and mother of Toral. Leave it to your house to sin twice: once for incest, and once for proclaiming your own off-spring as a bastard to cover it up."
"How dare you!?" the woman aggressively spit at Elessa. "I am not of the House of Duras, but if I was, I should kill you for those remarks." The attendant looked at both women with harsh glares. Noble lineage aside, they were coming dangerously close to violating the tea house's strict rules on politeness.
"Why? Everything I said is true," Elessa said calmly. "I am Elessa, Daughter of Krisn'ath, Wife of Lord Torlek. My family's honor goes back twenty generations and my husband commands the entirety of the Defense Forces. The man that you consider your fallen husband…your cousin…betrayed us to the Romulans, died in disgrace, and then the abomination that sprang from your womb tried to rip the Empire apart," Elessa said grinning while taking another sip of tea.
"The House of Duras was discommended by that dead Ha'DIbaHGowron! Not the Klingon people! If I was who you claim, I would be well within my rights to claim blood vengeance for your blasphemy."
Laria began to look nervously on this exchange. Elessa was certainly pushing the limits of Klingon etiquette.
"Very well," Elessa replied. "I'll play pretend in your fantasy. You are not Drusilla. Then, join me in toast to the dishonorable death of all who have the blood of Duras in their veins. After all, they just tried to murder the Chancellor. It is good that my husband's troops are in hot pursuit. Soon the few surviving stragglers will join their baktag-sucking slime devil of a leader being roasted across Fek'lhr's coals in Gre'thor."
Laria could see the blood vessels in Drusilla's eyes popping with rage. In hiding or not, she wanted Elessa's head.
"My Lady…" Laria said quietly. Elessa calmly held her hand up. She was trying to draw her adversary out and displayed no fear.
"You speak very boldly for someone from a House that has no honor…" Drusilla growled.
"Excuse me?" Elessa said looking at her target with a death stare.
"The House of Torlek is guilty of bestiality! And the proof is sitting at this very table. You allow sub-Klingon animals into your family, and then bring them into our people's most sacred places! You can put any dog in a kamakha, but the Qa'Hom still doesn't have the ngech for it." Drusilla said taking another sip of tea. "If I was the woman you claim me to be, I would kill you just for your blatant hypocrisy. Don't worry, the day is coming when a real Klingon will once again lead our people and wipe away the malignant cancer that your kind has inflicted on the Children of Kahless…"
"Is there a problem here?" a woman in a gold and white kamakha said. Her imposing eyes stared down at the table from beneath her formidable forehead crest.
"Not at all, Madame Ra'tijik," Elessa said with a polite bow before turning to Laria. "May I introduce my sister-in-law, Lady Laria?" Elessa gracefully gestured towards the woman. "Laria, Madame Ra'tijik is the proprietor of this honorable establishment."
"We are always honored to welcome the family of the Governor of Ty'Gokor as well as a holder of the Order of the Bat'leth, Lady Laria," Madame Ra'tijik said returning Elessa's bow, "however, I feel the need to remind you that this is a place of tranquility. If you ladies are about to draw blood, please take it outside the gates."
"Draw blood?" Elessa said feigning surprise. "Oh no, we were merely drinking your wonderful tea in a toast to the downfall of the enemies of the Empire. Specifically, the honorless glob flies of the House of Duras. They are, after all, discommended traitors and any businesswoman found knowingly serving the family of a traitor would be arrested for violating our sacred laws. Luckily, none of them are here, right?"
"Right…" Madame Ra'tijik said glaring at Drusilla who was now absolutely quivering with rage. "However, with the greatest possible honor and respect, I will have to ask you to place any personal quarrels aside here. You are disturbing our other guests in their conversations."
"Of course," Elessa replied with a bow. "I ask forgiveness, Madame. Not only for our conversation, but also the implication that would you would allow an honorless k'pekt into this place of beauty. After all, the only place a whore of the Duras family belongs is on her knees, sucking the moQDu' of her Romulan masters…"
A roar erupted from the end of the table. Drusilla reached into the waist of her kamakha and drew her fan. She snapped it open to reveal eight razor sharp blades hidden inside the crescent shaped piece of black paper. Madame Ra'tijik screamed for her to stop, but Drusilla lunged straight at Elessa's throat. She did not get far before a d'k tahg drawn from the rear knot of Laria's belt flew straight into her chest. Drusilla coughed as a dribble of blood appeared at the corner of her lips. She looked down in shock at the piece of baakonite lodged in her torso before collapsing onto the table. The chamber went eerily quiet as all the other women stared at the bloody scene. Laria held out her hand and gasped for air. She had no idea how she acted so quickly. She had killed a woman completely on instinct. It terrified and thrilled her at the same time.
"Normally," Elessa said finishing her beverage, "killing someone in the tea house is a bit of a faux pas. However, you will have to forgive my sister-in-law, Madame," she said placing her empty cup back on the table with a high lady's refinement. "She serves the Empire by killing a traitor this day." Elessa stood up, calmly walked around the table, and rolled the dying Drusilla onto her back. She stared into the woman's fading eyes. "There will be no roars for you this day, My Dear, for Sto'Vo'Kor does not await. Give the Chancellor's regards to Duras in hell. Fear not, for if your son still lives, you will see him again soon." Drusilla coughed in an attempt to curse Lady Elessa, but only more blood bubbled from her mouth. Elessa reached up, grabbed the handle of the d'k tahg, and ripped it out. It instantly cleaved Drusilla's heart in two. The woman fell still. Elessa calmly wiped the blood off her sister-in-law's blade using Drusilla's sleeve before handing it Madame Ra'tijik. "Would you be so kind as to return that to Lady Laria?" Elessa said smiling. Ra'tijik was in such shock, she did what the lady asked without question. Laria accepted her weapon as Elessa began searching inside the corpse's robes.
"Ah, there we are," she said pulling out a piece of green plastic and holding it up to the light. "Laria?" she asked softly. However, the Bajoran was still so stunned she wasn't paying attention. Instead, she merely stared at the hand that didn't seem to completely belong to her anymore. "Laria!" Elessa said more firmly.
"Yes, My Lady?" she said finally breaking through her mental haze.
"Do you recognize this object?" she said loudly enough for the rest of the tea house's guests to hear.
"Yes, My Lady," Laria replied. "It is a Romulan iso-linear data chip."
"Very interesting…" Elessa muttered sarcastically before placing it in her own sleeve. She rose back to her feet and beckoned for her sister-in-law to join her. "Madame," she said bowing deeply to Ra'tijik. "Thank you for your wonderful hospitality, but we really must be going. As always, the tea was excellent. Please place our beverages on my house's account. Also, please include a generous gratuity for you and your staff. We apologize for the trouble we brought to your door."
"Yes My Lady," Ra'tijik said returning the bow. "Do not worry. It was no trouble at all." She couldn't get angry, not only because it would violate her own rules, but also because a traitor had been revealed under her own roof. If word of this got out, her reputation would be ruined.
"Are you going to have any trouble disposing of that, or should I send some men for it?" Elessa asked pointing to Drusilla's corpse.
"No, it will be cold tonight and the refuse is picked up tomorrow," Ra'tijik responded.
"Excellent!" Lady Elessa replied cheerfully.
"My attendants will return your checked items and show you out," Ra'tijik said gesturing towards the door.
"Come along, Laria, Chancellor Martok and Lord Torlek await us," Elessa said heading to the exit. Without a word, Laria followed in a daze. Once they were gone, Madame Ra'tijik clapped her hands and two women in white grabbed Drusilla's body and dragged it towards the backroom. Another appeared with a cloth and bucket and began mopping up the gore. The other patrons returned to their tea, annoyed at the disturbance to their day of relaxation.