Ok, everyone, this chapter is dedicated to D. P. Balding, who was gracious enough to write me into his story, "In Darkest Days." Check it out, and do be kind enough to leave him a review! With his permission, I'm returning the favor.
Thank you to my invaluable proofreader/editor/hubby, 0afan0! And to thyme2read, BewilderedFemale, and JustaCrazy-Man for your reviews!
And thank you to everyone else who is keeping up with the story!
Captain Daniel Balding of the USS Bellerophon nervously held his hands behind his back. It was the first day of the war conference on Romulus. If anyone had told him but a week ago that he would be a guest on Romulus (and not a prisoner), he would have laughed at the preposterous notion and told that person he or she was crazy. Yet here he was. It was a proud accomplishment that many ambitious captains could only dream of.
Balding was young for his rank. Originally from the former U.K. on Earth, his family had a long tradition of serving in Starfleet. Due to his razor-sharp intelligence, and rapid problem-solving skills, he had climbed the ladder a good deal more quickly than the majority of Starfleet officers.
He slowly sipped his Romulan ale (for once, he wasn't breaking the law by drinking it) and scanned the crowd around him. Because Admiral Ross had taken temporary command of his ship, Balding had no official duty for the time being. It was a welcome break from the hard fighting on the front lines.
His eye caught sight of Wendell Greer, who was flitting around the courtyard from one person to the next like a mosquito. Was he still going around asking people about their "neck of the woods"? Or was he instead bragging about his knowledge of etymology? Balding repressed an annoyed sigh. That chap really needs to get a life...
Many Romulans believed that humans were an inferior species, he knew well. And unfortunately, it looked like Greer was lending credence to that opinion. Balding was all the more determined to do his part to prove otherwise. He represented the Federation, and therefore had to make a good impression.
The problem was, he knew so little about Romulan culture and etiquette. Naturally, he had already read everything in the ship's database about the Romulans, but there was still so much about them that remained a mystery. No doubt he had already committed countless taboos on this first day alone. What he needed was a teacher.
"Penny for your thoughts, Capitaine?" asked a feminine voice. Lady Guinevere Allaire smiled kindly at him.
Balding smiled back, and shook her hand. He had already met her and her husband during the voyage from DS9, and remembered that she was very friendly and personable. She was not at all what he would have expected a monarch to be like, and as far as he could tell, not much older than he was. She was married to a Romulan, so if any human knew how to interact with them, it was she. Come to think of it, he recalled, that was why she was there in the first place.
"Well, my Lady," he confessed humbly, "I'm just trying not to make an ass of myself in front of these Romulans. Any pointers you can give me?"
"Well, for starts, don't try to shake anyone's hand," she advised, fluttering her pretty dark eyelashes.
"Are Romulans touch-telepaths?" he whispered in surprise.
"Most of them aren't, actually. It's more of a cultural difference for them. Only family members ever have any physical contact," she explained. "Oh, and don't smile too often, or they'll think you're a fool."
Balding laughed, "Is there anything I'm allowed to do?"
"Yes, always stick to your guns. They'll respect you for it. Remember those main points, and you'll do just fine, Capitaine."
"I'll keep that in mind." He downed the rest of his ale. "Thank you very much for your advice, my Lady." He bowed slightly, and was about to walk away when an older Romulan man approached them. Chairman Koval, his sharp memory told him.
The Chairman had a great deal of iron-gray in his hair, and wore the infamous black tunic of the Tal Shiar. His hard, deeply lined face looked to Balding as if it would shatter into pieces if he attempted a smile. All in all, he had every appearance of a villain.
"Lady Guinevere Allaire," he greeted her coolly, ignoring Balding altogether.
"Chairman Koval," she returned, matching his icy tone. "What can I do for you?" It was plain to Balding that the two had met on a previous occasion. Judging by their behavior, they hadn't gotten off to a good start.
"You can begin by assuring me of your intentions."
She blinked. "My intentions?"
Koval ground his teeth in vexation. "You have a long record of getting into trouble, Lady. I must inform you that I can only guarantee your safety if you don't try anything...unwise."
Was that a threat? Balding was certain it had to be. He had to defuse the situation before things got ugly. "I must say, Lady Allaire, your dress is very...um, nice. Where did you find it?" In reality, he couldn't have cared less, but he knew it would be an effective way of changing the subject.
As he predicted, Guinevere glowed with happiness. "Oh, Bochra gave it to me. I imagine he obtained it on DS9, probably from that Cardassian dressmaker—I forget his name."
Koval shot a dirty look at Balding, then huffed away. If looks could kill... So much for not making an ass of myself. Note to self: don't get on that fellow's bad side!
"He's an excellent tailor, but a vile man. Almost as vile as Koval, I should think," she added, lowering her voice.
"I don't like the looks of him, either," warned Balding, "But if I may be so bold, my Lady, it would not be wise to cross the Chairman of the Tal Shiar. They're a ruthless lot, trust me."
"I am well aware of what they are capable of, Capitaine. I don't care." Her French accent was growing stronger as a result of her anger. "Koval and I are old..." she searched for the right word, "acquaintances, and I won't cow before the likes of him."
"Famous last words." Balding lifted his empty glass. "I'm sure you know what you're doing. Just be careful. Oh, and please, call me Daniel," he added with a wink.
The passageway to Tævek's tomb was dark and menacing. Every few meters, there were torches along the wall, which unfortunately didn't do very much to illuminate the eerie catacomb. The silence was almost deafening.
Guinevere stopped in her tracks. Her heartbeat was pounding in her ears. She was all alone; Romulan tradition dictated that it must be so. She clenched her fists to keep from shaking, and took several deep breaths. The air felt thick and stuffy. Bochra and the guards were waiting for her at the entrance, she assured herself. This wouldn't take long, though she knew it would feel like it.
I should not have come, a traitorous part of her mind said. She firmly pushed it aside and pressed on.
Her heart was heavy. The memories of her life on Romulus were flooding back to her. She could still see Tævek drenched in blood each time she closed her eyes. Though she had been in several battles by this point, it wasn't the same as the sight of her murdered husband. This vivid first impression had never faded like the others.
Beads of sweat trickled down the side of her face. Her breaths grew more shallow. She was on the verge of panicking, and yet again felt the temptation to turn back. No! I'm not a coward!
Fortunately, pride came to the rescue. She knew she could not return with her small sachet of unburned incense still in her hand. To do so would not only disgrace herself, but also Tævek. And after she had so adamantly insisted to Bochra that she must perform this task, she was all the more determined to see it through.
After what seemed like an eternity, the stone tunnel opened up to a larger chamber that reminded her of a honey comb with its many cells. In the center was an intricately-carved fire pot. Fixed metal bars were bent over it, no doubt so that it could not be used as a weapon. Though she wasn't Romulan, she understood the reasoning behind their ways.
She searched the alcoves. At last she found Tævek's crypt. Fresh lagga flowers had been placed in the golden vase above the cell. Reverently, she ran her hands over the words of his engraved epitaph. Her heart sank further when she saw that her name had been chiseled off. Of course, she should have expected this. His family had held her responsible for his death, and had claimed the Rite of Vengeance. Nevertheless, it was yet another cruel blow.
No longer able to withstand her intense emotions, her eyes filled with tears. But she would not permit them to fall.
"What are you doing here?" a harsh voice demanded. "You don't belong here, human."
Guinevere started. That voice belonged to Lady Iovita, Tævek's elder sister. She had never approved of their marriage, and Guinevere guessed that it was she who was responsible for scratching out her name.
Iovita stepped into the light. The dull flickering from the nearby blaze caused her harsh features to appear even more frightening, as though she were a demon who had risen out of a fissure from hell. Her eyes flashed with rage.
Guinevere held her ground. "I have come to honor the memory of my husband."
"Honor him?" she scoffed indignantly. "You are the one who is responsible for his death, ungrateful hussy!"
Without answering, Guinevere held her head high and boldly cast the obsidian stones from her small sack into the fire. She closed her eyes and chanted the ancient Romulan incantation of farewell:
Jolan true, Heis'he
Havra yhfiri siun
Urr Vorta Vor
Khia eliu, tlhei
Nnearh oal'lh'lih rah'kholh
The flames rose and violently consumed the offering. Red smoke filled the room. Her eyes burned, causing the tears welling in them to finally fall. She tried in vain to keep from coughing.
Iovita seemed unaffected by the fumes. She was more concerned about the fact that her disowned sister-in-law hadn't backed down after her threats. Guinevere knew that it was respect for the dead alone which kept the Romulan woman from lunging at her throat.
"Very well, human. You have completed the ritual. Now leave," she hissed furiously, "And never return."
I didn't plan to, Guinevere thought angrily. She chose to remain silent, however, nodded her head, and turned to leave. A heavy weight had been lifted off of her chest. At last she could be at peace.
Fare you well, my love
We shall never meet again
For you go to the afterlife
Yet you have not been forgotten, I promise
Your avenger has come
Honor is satisfied