Early the next morning Aura woke up cradled on the sofa with Vreenak's picture in her hand. She had been looking at it and must have fallen asleep. She was still tired, had a headache, and kind of wished that she could just go back to bed. But she was supposed to join Tertia for breakfast, then they would start preparing for the party. She sighed then got up to go wash her face and change.
After breakfast and some cordial small talk, they went to the computer to select a design for the invitations. An hour later they sent them out, then Tertia made some calls and hired several musicians. Then they took one of the shuttles to the market, accompanied by one of the guards stationed on the estate.
The first place they went to was a special catering company. About an hour and several extraordinary samples later, they made their selections. There would be towering fruit arrangements, a multitude of expensive finger foods, over a dozen roasted birds, four types of fish and shellfish, and a dizzying array of vegetables and sauces. The desserts the ordered were so complicated and fantastic that they were just beyond description.
On to the florist shop, where Tertia ordered tons of garlands and table decorations as well as a few giant stand alone arrangements. Money was clearly not an issue to this family. It was easily one of the richest in the Empire.
The next stop was the tailor. Once they got out of the shuttle, Tertia ran into an old acquaintance. There were two children with him, a boy and a girl.
"Well, fancy meeting you here," he said when he caught up with them.
"Senator Letant! What a pleasant surprise!" she replied with a gracious smile.
"Yes. It must be nearly a year since we last met."
"Has it really been that long? And who are these adorable children with you?" she asked.
"My brother's children. We were just on our way to the zoo," he answered with a smile.
"We're going to be late," chimed the little girl.
Letant tuned the child out. His eyes were fixed on the noble Romulan lady. "I had no idea that you were in town, until I received your invitation this morning."
Aura surmised that with her fascinating beauty, flawless poise, money and powerful connections, Tertia must be considered quite a catch.
"That's because I only just arrived yesterday," explained Tertia. "I do hope you will be able to attend."
"Oh, I'll definitely be there. You may depend upon it." He then asked to be introduced to her companion, even though he already knew full well who it was. Since that infamous day in the Senate, Vreenak's scandalous affair had become the talk of the town.
"Miss Miller, our special guest."
"Delighted to make your acquaintance," he said, with a slight bow. Just then two children got impatient and started pulling on Letant's arms.
"Come on, Uncle! Hurry up!" said the girl, who couldn't have been more than four.
"We want to see the Klingons!" said the boy, who appeared to be somewhere between 7 and 10.
Tertia and Letant both burst into laughter.
"Well, I must be going now. Jolan tru." With that, he and the two children walked away. "Ha ha ha. Klingons. At the zoo. Wherever did you get that idea?"
Tertia watched them leave with a curious look on her face, then marched into the dress shop. Needless to say they spent the longest amount of time there. After much deliberation Tertia decided on an imposing black and plum-colored gown that had ruching at the shoulders. It was clinched at the waist with a metallic brooch, and to Aura it looked like some sort of new age Greco-Roman style, like most things on Romulus, but it seemed to suit her looks and personality perfectly.
"Yes, I like this one. When will it be ready?" she asked the tailor in Romulan.
"First thing in the morning," she replied. "Now what shall we do for this one?" The tailor tilted her head toward the human.
"Have you seen anything you like?" asked Tertia in Federation Standard.
"This style is nice, but I don't like the color," Aura replied. She'd finally found a book of styles that didn't all have super-high collars and long sleeves, but they were still mostly black, grey and a few other dark or drab shades.
Tertia came over and looked at the picture, then she folded her lips and whispered. "Eh…yes. That is very nice, but it is not formal attire. That is a temarhkh mohaes. What do you call it? A night dress?"
"Oh," said Aura, hastily closing the book. It was lingerie. For a minute she felt like the biggest idiot on the planet, even though the style would have easily passed for formal attire according to Earth standards.
Then Tertia smiled mischievously and said, "We'll get you one of those. Every woman should have one. But you must choose something else for the party."
"I'm so glad you told me." She would have looked like some wanton floozy showing up like that. She could only wonder what the Senator must have thought of her choice of dress on other occasions. Is that why he was always giving her those strange looks? She hoped not. But then again, as far as she could remember she'd always dressed conservatively.
Guessing her thoughts, Tertia laughed. "You are so innocent. That must be why my brother likes you. Now what colors do you like?"
Her tone was a little condescending, and Aura suddenly found herself feeling sort of rebellious. She was not a Romulan, and didn't want to conform to their boring assortment of colors. She wanted to wear something vibrant. "Would it be considered scandalous to wear bright red or pink?"
Tertia considered her question. "Scandalous? No. Especially not for a human. We just don't favor those colors because they do not complement our complexions. Choose whatever color you like, but keep in mind that bright colors will draw a lot of attention," she said with that same sly expression from a moment ago.
Over lunch, Aura decided that she liked Tertia overall. She was friendly and her enthusiasm was contagious. The only thing that bothered her was that from time to time she felt as though she was being patronized, but she supposed it was only natural since Tertia was a lot older than she was. It was strange to think that this elfin enchantress was 57 (the same age as her mother), but for a Romulan that must be like 28.
The majority of their conversation consisted of the differences and similarities between Earth and Romulus, since they didn't have much in common personally, and Aura didn't feel comfortable discussing her feelings for Vreenak with his sister. But every now and then Tertia would speak highly of her brother, and managed to tactfully drop a few hints that she would welcome her as a sister-in-law, should things turn out that way.
Meanwhile, somewhere along the Neutral Zone, Commander D'Loran, another proud Romulan female, was exchanging insults with her most hated rival, Commander Sela.
Over the years, their paths had crossed several times as they competed for promotions, prestige and the most noteworthy assignments. Both women had incredible determination, and while Sela may have had a bit more cunning, she'd had a few glaring setbacks, and D'Loran had better connections. Her brother was the dreaded Koval, the indomitable Chairman of the Tal Shiar.
On this particular day, Sela was getting the better of her verbally, and in a fit of frustration she threw out that Sela was incompetent and inferior for being half human. Usually this would cause Sela to fly into a rage, but today was different.
Sela burst into laughter. "As usual you have no room to talk, D'Loran, since you were just rejected in favor of a human."
"What are you talking about?"
Sela laughed again. "Haven't you heard the latest gossip? Your old flame, Senator Vreenak, is courting a human. He was seen wandering all around the capital buying things for her, and she's said to be living on his estate."
The news hit her like a ton of bricks, and Sela laughed again. "Didn't your brother tell you? Well, I may be half human, but at least I keep myself informed."
Sela savored her victory for a moment, then decided to quit while she was ahead and move on to her next assignment.
The fact of the matter was, D'Loran and Vreenak's families had been on friendly terms for centuries. She and the Senator had been educated together, and were about the same age and social status, so when they were growing up many had assumed that the two of them would eventually marry. Their parents were receptive to the idea, and had actually proposed it to their children once. But as usually happens in such cases, the constant conjecture and speculation only served to make them strongly opposed toward one another. D'Loran had always known that Vreenak would become a Senator someday, but that didn't mean much to her when she was young. But now, in addition to that, he was Vice-Chairman of the Tal Shiar, second only to her brother, and one of Praetor Neral's most trusted advisors. Over the years she began to see how much an alliance like that could benefit her. Should something happen to Koval, who was ill with Tuvan syndrome, she would still have a reliable Tal Shiar connection. Since Vreenak had remained single all these years, she had even occasionally taken the liberty of boasting to her enemies that he was only waiting for her word to proceed, but she chose to keep him waiting while she made a name for herself without his help.
But now that had all blown up in her face. Even worse, an invitation soon arrived for some sort of war-related celebration at the Senator's home. Certainly all the political and available military celebrities would be there, and possibly this human female as well. She decided it was time to pay a visit to her brother and find out exactly what was going on.