Everything began settling down once more and although not exactly ideally happy, the people felt much better than they had for a while. The malcontents that had hid in the shadows and caused doubt seemed silent. Things were back to normal.
Palla and her new mate joined the Royal couple out in the garden. Lona had invited them for something called a picnic. They weren't sure what it was other than the consort had told them to come with an appetite. When they arrived, they spotted the happy trio sitting on blankets on a grassy area under some shady trees. Belle was propped up on several pillows and seemed to be enjoying herself, content as long as her parents were nearby. She was about five weeks old now and awake more each day.
The Queen seemed recovered from the childbirth. In fact, the way the couple were looking at each other, it wouldn't be long before the consort was once again sporting interesting bruises and scratch marks. Grinning, Palla cleared her throat, letting them know of their presence. The four adults happily greeted one another.
"So, what exactly is a picnic?" Branen asked.
"Ah, well," she said, twisting her body and reaching for a large wicker basket from behind her. "A picnic is just another word for eating outdoors." She removed the cloth from the basket and began removing plate and utensils from the interior. She then passed out cold cans of everyone's favorite drinks. Reaching into the deep basket, she began removing covered dishes and spreading them out on the blanket. Tashalia uncovered them, telling Palla and Branen to help themselves before Lona got to it. She had been looking forward to it all day and neglected to eat earlier, wanting to save room, the monarch warned.
They chuckled and began filling their plates. Most of the foods were made for eating with the hands. There were a variety of cold fruits, vegetable slices, skewered meats, cheeses, and something she didn't recognize.
Lona saw her curious look. "It's called a hamburger, or at least as close as I can come to it on C'hela." The natives didn't eat anything equivalent to beef. The protein they got was mostly fish and fowl. Palla picked it up and took a tentative bite.
The filling was some sort of meat she didn't recognize. It had been cooked over a smoky grill. She took a bite but wasn't sure she liked it.
"It's okay if you don't like them. I know C'helans don't normally eat red meat." One of the beasts they used for dairy milk had broken a leg, and Tashalia had placed a request earlier that year for one to be butchered if the small herd ever needed to be thinned. The meat had arrived a few days earlier. Lona had a difficult time trying to convey the idea of ground meat to the cook.
The preparation of the meat had been left to Lona. The kitchen staff had been sickened by the very idea of eating red meat, but Lona knew she had to get some in her diet. The lack of iron and other nutrients found in beef was having an effect on her.
She had slapped a large steak on the grill and cooked it. The staff had been horrified when the consort had cut into it, the meat still having a pink streak in the middle. When she had taken her first bite, several of the kitchen staff had to run from the room, their stomachs revolting.
"Let me have a bite of yours," Branen asked, not wanting to start one if he wasn't going to finish it. The idea of a meat other than typical was a bit unnerving, but it didn't look like a slab of meat. It sort of looked like a burnt cookie.
Palla brought it to his mouth and let him take a bite. Lona was pleased to see the newly mated couple now felt comfortable with each other. At first, when the young man had begun showing small affections to his intimidating mate, Palla had blushed shyly. As the relationship grew, it had become common place. Lona doubted the Security Chief even noticed than Branen's hand cupped her knee. The human didn't think they had become lovers yet, but it would happen soon.
"Actually, I kind of like it. Especially with the sliced pevft on it." He commented. The vegetable was sort of like a crispy chili pepper. Palla handed it over to him, not really wanting it.
"Do your people eat a lot of red meat on your world?" she asked.
"Yes, we need quite a bit of iron in our diet and it's a good source for it. There isn't much in other foods here. I've checked with Dr. Taob about it. It was either eat red meat or start suffering from anemia. I wonder if Belle will need it too?" She turned to her mate. "Taob will have to keep an eye on that. If she starts acting listless, she'll probably need it," she warned.
Tashalia nodded as she glanced at the sleepy baby. She was wiggling her little fingers as she snoozed. Returning her gaze to her mate, she spotted her secretary running their way.
"What is it Depran?"
"Your Highness, a space vehicle of some sort has landed nearby!"
Commander Zeth was not a happy woman. The Queen and her mate both insisted on accompanying her to the landing sight. At least they had left the child behind, but still, she was worried sick.
No one had left the craft according to her troops. It sat there eerily, watching for only the Holy One knew what.
The luxury car carrying the Royal couple arrived. Lona stepped out first. Zeth quickly joined her.
Lona turned to the commander. "I talked Tashalia into staying in the car for now. Let's go see who arrived." Lona walked towards the distant craft and she got closer, she saw the words ‘UFSS Brittany'!"
"It's from the ship that rescued me! It's okay Commander, I promise." She jogged up to the outer door and waved. Within seconds, the door began lowering. Lona began smiling, wondering who came for a visit.
Two security officers walked off first, wary in case the surrounding troops attacked. Satisfied all they were doing was watching, they nodded to the occupants inside.
"Allen!" Lona ran towards the approaching alien that had befriended her so long ago. He caught her on the fly as she leaped into his arms.
"Lona! It's so wonderful to see you once more!" he wept, hugging her tightly.
"Hey, no hugs for us?" Captain Haber teased. Lona gave Allen one more squeeze then went over to the tall captain of the Brittany. They hugged warmly before she was passed to his wife Janet.
"It's so great to see you all again! You came all this way just to say hi?"
"Well, that, and we wanted to pass on some good news. Vegra has been captured. He's been locked away for a long long time in a maximum security prison."
"That IS good news! I hope the son of a bitch rots there!" The three humans laughed, agreeing with her sentiment.
"Where is your lovely wife I heard about? We all want to meet her," Allen asked. Lona smiled and waved at her waiting wife, who was still in the car. Tashalia opened the door and stepped out.
"Oh-my-God! She has got to be the second prettiest woman I've ever seen." John said, stunned but not enough to dare his wife's wrath. He was an old pro at the marriage bit. Janet patted his arm, silently promising him his reward for his words later.
Lona grinned, knowing although Janet was pretty, her mate was very much an exotic beauty and outshined the doctor.
As Tashalia stepped next to her, Lona placed her arm around her waist and began introducing everyone, easily switching between languages.
Janet was about to stick out her hand in greeting but Lona quietly told her not to, explaining that touching her was considered a crime.
"Lona, are they staying long enough for a visit or must they leave?" The Queen asked.
"Let me ask," and spoke to Captain Haber.
"Oh, we'd be pleased to stay for a day or two. Commander Lewis is watching the fort and knows we might stay for a bit. We were hoping to see the baby," he added. "Oh, and Allen brought along a bunch of food. He figured you were itching for some Earth-type meals."
"Really? Allen, I love ya!" Fetch the food and your luggage and let's head out!"
People openly stared at the visitors as they entered the palace, especially Allen, with his coral colored skin and shock of white-blonde hair. Everyone knew Lona was an alien, but her appearance was much like their own except for her rounded ears and paler skin. But this other one was extraordinary!
And the other male, his size was surprising as well. Even though the Captain was of average height for a human male, he easily towered over the men of C'hela by at least a head.
"Wow, what a great building!" Janet said in wonder. "Look at that architecture!"
Lona quietly translated. Tashalia was happy she liked it. She was a bit afraid they'd think C'hela provincial. She suggested they go to their personal quarters for a visit and to see the baby. A tour would be arranged later, perhaps after they had eaten.
Dala and the nursemaid stood quickly when the Queen returned, then gasped at the sight of the aliens. Lona reassured her all was well and asked her to fetch some refreshments. The servant bowed and quickly left.
Lona entered their bedchamber and fetched their child, who was just waking. She took her out into the outer chamber and Janet nearly pounced on her, wanting to see Belle.
"She'll probably fuss, I think she's hungry. Tashalia breastfeeds by the way, in case the men types wanna make a hasty exit," she teased, handing the baby to the eager doctor.
"She's such a cutie!" Janet cooed, sitting down on the sofa.
The Queen didn't understand what the alien woman said, but she understood the tone. Grinning, Tashalia joined her mate on the other sofa and snuggled up to her. John sat next to his wife while Allen stood behind her, looking down at the infant.
"I think she looks a little like each of you," he commented.
"Probably. I just hopes she doesn't have any problems taking after me," Lona said, explaining her special needs.
"I'll fix you up with a lifetime supply of daily vitamins. That should help. I ought to scan the baby and see what she'll need as well. John, hold the baby while I take out my scanner."
She took out her portable scanner and held it close to Belle for a moment. She adjusted a few buttons and studied the results.
"Hmm, I'd say her dietary needs are much like yours Lona, except she won't need as much iodine or magnesium in her diet. Is Tashalia taking in any sort of calcium?"
"Yes, but only in the form of cheese and ice cream. She hates milk."
"Would you ask her if I may scan her? I'd like a comparison reading, just to be sure." Lona translated the request. Her mate agreed and watched the alien doctor hold it to her. She felt a mild tingle but that was it.
"Okay, her system doesn't require much calcium to stay healthy, but as long as she's nursing, I suggest she keep up her intake on it. The readings show she's doing fine otherwise."
Lona passed on what the doctor said. Tashalia let out a sigh of relief. She was afraid the doctor would say she had to eat red meat as well. She loved her mate, but the food preferences she had at times was enough to make her queasy.
Belle started fussing more. Lona stood and took her child from John's arms to pass her to her mate. Tashalia bared her breast and began nursing her. The men began looking everywhere but the queen. Janet and Lona shared a look and grinned.
"Allen, where's the food John mentioned? I hope you brought something spicy too. The food around here is rather bland."
"Oh? When Janet brings the supplements, I'll tuck in some spices for you." He retrieved the sealed container and opened it. Inside were covered plates of various foods. He handed her one along with a fork.
Lona sniffed appreciatively and dug in, making happy noises as she ate. The plate held Chinese food, some sweet, some spicy, and best of all, it had onions! She missed them most of all.
"Any chance for some onion plants while you bring the rest?" she asked between forkfuls. Allen chuckled and promised to send them too before asking if she wanted any other crops.
"Corn and broccoli," she said around her full mouth, "Oh, and garlic!"
"Good choices really. They'll give you most of your vitamins," Janet said. "just be careful that they aren't allowed to spread. Sometimes transplanted varieties can end up taking over native ones. I suggest growing them in a green house." Lona nodded, making a mental note to have it built.
"So, tell us about what has happened since you crash-landed. Lewis only knew that you were mated to a woman and expecting a child."
Lona told her mate what they had asked and that she wouldn't bother translating it for her, it would take too much time. Tashalia smiled and leaned against her.
The human began telling her tale, starting with the fact that even before John sent her on the trip, she had been contemplating suicide. She continued on, telling them about Daz, their meeting, and slow courtship of sorts. When she got to how Belle was conceived, they were fascinated.
"Her body can actually blend genetic samples and form a child? That's amazing!"
"It's also why she is queen. It took me a long time before I had a good understanding of the language. But the position isn't inherited. The selection of their queens is done by searching all the female children until they find one with the same abilities. When Tashalia grows older, they will begin searching so she has time to train her replacement. But it's a sad thing. Tashalia was torn from her family when she was about six and raised within the palace. Her replacement will be treated the same way."
"Too bad Belle hasn't…" Janet pulled out her scanner and brought it quickly to the sleeping infant. She ran it and stared at the readings. She flipped the display around and held it up to the couple. "Is this what they look for?"
On the x-ray option scan showed the dark shadows of two long lines above her mouth.
"By the Holy One!" Tashalia gasped.
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