Thursday, May 31, 2012

Choices Chapter Three

(Previous chapters can be found here.)

After the confirmations ended the band returned and the dancing resumed. Liam seemed less inclined to join in this time, but that was fine with me. My feet were already aching quite a bit from the first round. He appeared lost in thought, toying absentmindedly with the hem of his vest. I felt that I should say something to reassure him, or to at least bring him back to the jovial state of mind he had been in earlier. I did not fancy going through the rest of my wedding night with a surly groom. I could think of no words that seemed appropriate, however, and so instead I shifted position so that I was a bit closer to him, our bodies touching as much as propriety would allow, hoping to lend him some comfort in the closeness.

I settled back to watch the rest of the dancers enjoy themselves. My hands itched for paper and my pencils, the partygoers reminding me ever so much of birds in flight, although with the women's bright gowns and the men's mostly somber vests and suits the coloring was rather reversed. I longed to capture the beauty I saw in their motions. I did my best to take everything in, memorizing as many details as possible, so that perhaps later I might be able to recall enough to draw a few scenes from the evening. We passed almost an hour in that comfortable silence, each lost in our own world, before Roslyn joined us. She sat down next to me on the bench with a warm smile.

"They are all rather a sight, aren't they dear?" She asked me. It seemed she had noticed how intently I was observing the others. I nodded politely, and she leaned over me to tap Liam gently on the shoulder. "Liam, darling, might you consider rejoining the party for a while?"

"Mother?" His eyes regained their focus as he turned to her, brought back from wherever his thoughts had taken him.

"If you don't mind, dear, I am going to steal away your bride for a little bit. I would like to show her off to a few people. She has done an admirable job of hiding herself away all of these years, and as a result is something of a mystery to all of the nobility," Roslyn glanced at me and smiled again, taking the sting out of the words. I managed not to cringe at the mention of being "shown off" but I did not relish the idea. Some of my reluctance must have shown through anyway. "Now, now, Laren, it won't be as onerous as you fear, I promise." To Liam she said, "Keras was asking after you, Liam. I believe he has wandered out into the entrance hall, if you would like to keep yourself occupied while we are gone." I did not recognize the name but Liam nodded and a small smile crossed his face, this one true, I could see.

"Thank you Mother, I will go find him." He stood and smoothed his clothing. Then he grasped my hand and gave it a brief squeeze, bringing it up to his mouth for a chaste kiss. "My lady, I shall find you again soon. Mother." He bowed his head to each of us and turned towards the doors leading out of the ballroom. I watched after him for a moment and then turned back to Roslyn.

"Now, my dear," she said, pulling me up and linking her arm through mine as she had earlier done with Father, "let us be about it. I promise we shall be quick, I know how tiring many of these people can be." I let out a small chuckle in spite of myself and she answered with one of her own. Yes, I rather thought I would get along quite well with Roslyn of the Stag. She led me around the edge of the dance floor and we proceeded to flit from knot to knot of people gathered at the end of the room. True to her word, Roslyn would introduce me to each person in a group, engage in a few moments of inane banter and then suddenly spot someone else she needed to introduce me to, pulling me along to the next group.

I cannot even begin to recall the names of everyone I met during this sedate mad dash through the nobility of Pelos. I do know that I was duly impressed with how deftly Roslyn handled each person. For the few moments we spent in each group she managed to make them the center of her attention, and seemed genuinely sorry each time we had to move on. Once we had worked our way through the end of the hall, we moved down the other side, stopping only here and there, and ending at my parents and Garrus. Even Mother was a relief to see after spending so much time meeting new people. The relief didn't last very long, of course, but for a few moments it was quite nice.
I could sense that Garrus was as overwhelmed as I and remembered his earlier discomfort at dancing. I wondered if he, too, had been subjected to a whirlwind round of introductions to the nobility. Some minor nobles felt very much at home among the upper strata, but most kept to their own circles and social events. I suspected that Garrus was one of these. After a short time Liam joined our group. He seemed in much better spirits and inwardly I released a sigh of relief.

"Would you care to dance some more, my lady?" I did not need the pointed glare I received from Mother to agree, and we excused ourselves, making our way back to the dance floor. "Laren," he began as we picked up the steps of the current dance, "I must apologize for my earlier distraction."

"There is no need, my lord," I answered. "The ball is full of so much activity, it can be quite easy for one to become distracted, I am sure. I myself have rather enjoyed the chance to just observe everyone here. There is so much to drink in." He relaxed a bit at this. "I am glad to see you returned to your jovial mood of earlier. I find I am enjoying the evening much more than I had expected to, and I have you to thank for that, my lord." I feared I might be laying it on a bit thick, but realized the words were true enough. They did seem to be what he needed to hear, as his face brightened in response. I added a healthy appreciation of flattery to the things I now knew about my soon-to-be husband, and we danced on.

I was on the verge of asking Liam if we could stop for another break when a page approached us. "My lord, my lady," he said, bowing his head deeply to each of us in turn. "Prime Vinnis has requested that you make your way to the stage." He did not wait for our answer, but slipped back into the crowd, quickly disappearing from sight. If we were wanted at the stage, it could only be to make preparations for our wedding ceremony, which was to close out the ball. I looked around and saw that the dance floor was no longer as crowded as it had been before, and the couples still dancing were starting to flag. The end of the evening had arrived much more swiftly than I would have believed possible.

"Shall we?" Liam asked, offering his arm to me.

"Of course," I replied, offering a nervous smile. I took his arm and we made our way to the back of the ballroom, where Prime Vinnis waited along with our families. The time had come at last. Prime Vinnis greeted us warmly and then separated us, sending Liam and Roslyn to stand at one end of the stage while Father, Mother, and I remained at the other. As the band finished its final tune of the evening, the Prime mounted the stage and waited quietly as a page, the same one who had fetched us from the dance floor, called for the attention of the rest of the guests. Those still on the dance floor moved towards the stage and the crowd quickly filled in behind them. Most of the people seated along the walls got up to join the audience, and it seemed an announcement had been made in the entrance hall as well, many people streamed back in through the ballroom doors.

Prime Vinnis waited until a sizeable audience had assembled and then raised his hands for silence. Once more a hush fell over the crowd. Their attention seemed to be equally divided between Prime Vinnis, Liam and Roslyn, and my family and myself. I felt my face begin to flush as I realized how many eyes were on me. The longer the silence held out, the more nervous I became. Finally Prime Vinnis seemed satisfied and he began to speak, thanking his guests for such a successful Solstice Ball and inviting them to stand witness to one final ceremony for the evening.

Weddings in Pelos were usually quiet affairs, even among the nobility. The Prime's approval was required for any match of an heir to Head of a House, of course, but he rarely officiated the ceremony. Every Solstice Ball, though, closed with a wedding. It was tradition, meant to signal prosperity and growth in the coming harvest season. To have your wedding chosen to close the Solstice Ball was considered a great honor, and likewise to have so many witnesses considered a great blessing. Intellectually, I understood that Prime Vinnis was very publicly bestowing his approval of the match and that the House of Jade's standing in public opinion would grow monumentally as a result. I knew that Roslyn's influence with the House of Rivers likely had much to do with the Prime's decision to make our wedding the closing ceremony. But at that very moment, with all of those eyes upon me, I could not help but find the whole thing very inconvenient. I would have given almost anything to have been married quietly in the Quarter of Houses rather than in this overwhelming display.

"Friends, it is with great pleasure that I now introduce to you this year's Solstice couple! Laren of Jade, please come forward." Father and Mother each took one of my arms and together we three climbed the stage stairs, walking to the middle of the stage and halting before the Prime. "Laren of Jade," Prime Vinnis intoned, "Do you accept this match?" I glanced at my parents. Father beamed at me and Mother arched her eyebrows, impatient for me to get on with it.

"I do."

"Then kneel, child." Father and Mother stepped away from me and moved to stand behind Prime Vinnis. I carefully knelt on the stage, my skirts flared about me like a pool of fresh blood. I bowed my head and waited for what came next, breathing deeply and trying to ignore the crowd. "Liam of the Stag, please come forward." Roslyn escorted Liam across the stage from the other end, stopping just before they reached me. "Liam of the Stag, do you accept this match?"

"I do." I almost looked up but stopped myself just in time. There was something fierce in those two words and I wanted to see his expression. It was not allowed for me to look at him yet however, so I kept my head bowed.

"Then kneel." I heard Liam settle on his knees beside me, and from the corner of my eyes I saw Roslyn move to join my parents. "Clasp hands." Prime Vinnis instructed. We did so. "Gaze upon each other," at the next order I raised my eyes and they locked with Liam's. The fierceness I had heard in his voice shone in his eyes as well, and his grip on mine was firm enough to be almost painful. For the first time since meeting him, I felt fear at the prospect of our marriage. I had thought that his mother was a woman not to be crossed, but only now did I realize the son should come with the same warning. I felt my eyes widen as my breath caught. Prime Vinnis was still talking, but I was no longer listening. I almost missed my cue when the Prime finished the ceremony and bid us to bow our heads once more. We did as instructed, each leaning forward slightly so that our foreheads touched as the ceremony called for.

"You are mine now, Laren," Liam whispered in my ear, so low that I could barely hear him. He squeezed my hands sharply, just once and repeated, "Mine. Do not forget that," he added, pulling me to my feet as instructed by Prime Vinnis. No one else had heard the exchange, but no one had been meant to. Liam let go of my right hand and we turned to face the audience. I somehow managed to smooth my features, though my mind was racing, trying to process what had just happened. Prime Vinnis stepped up behind us and placed a hand on each of our shoulders.

"Laren of Jade no more," he proclaimed, "be true to your new House, bring it nothing but honor and worthy heirs. Liam of the Stag, show your wife what honor means." Louder, and to the audience, he called out, "I give you Liam and Laren of the Stag!" The crowd cheered and Prime Vinnis clapped his hands twice. At this signal, the loud boom of the main doors in the entrance hall being thrown open could be heard. The ball was over.

Dismissed, the crowd began to stream out to the entrance hall and into the night to find their waiting carriages. Liam and I waited on the stage until the room had emptied of all others except for our parents. Prime Vinnis had quietly exited through a hidden side door once the crowd began to disperse. Father hugged me and shook Liam's hand and he and mother made their way toward the exit as well. Roslyn hugged us each in turn and followed them out, leaving me alone with my husband in the empty ballroom.

I have never felt so unsure of myself in my life as I did at that moment.


Roslyn had arranged for a private carriage to take me and Liam back to the House of the Stag after the ceremony. We did not speak as we waited for the carriage, I could not even begin to think of anything to say. By the time we had climbed inside and were on our way to my new home, Liam was once more all smiles. He leaned back in his seat and stretched out his legs, an artful slouch that I was clearly meant to admire. I likely would have, had my head not still been spinning from the ceremony. Would he always be like this? Were his moods always so stormy? How will I ever keep up with him if he is so quick to switch between hot and cold? Liam gazed out the window of the carriage, humming one of the tunes to which we had danced. I took advantage of his moment of preoccupation to study his profile. He certainly seemed relaxed now, a small smile played across his features and the light from passing street lamps gave his pale skin an almost translucent glow.

"You know, when Mother told me we were to be married, I was more than a little surprised." His statement caught me off guard, it came so suddenly in the quiet calm we had been wrapped in. "I have to say, Laren, you are not what I was expecting at all." He turned to me then, still smiling slightly as his eyes traveled appreciatively over my form. I fought another blush and was thankful it was quite dark inside the carriage, despite the well-lit street outside.

"I..." I was unsure of how to reply, but he seemed to be waiting for a response. "How so, my lord?" He arched an eyebrow.

"Call me Liam, my dear. There is no one else to overhear us, we needn't worry about propriety." I nodded, thinking furiously. Was that an invitation to speak my mind when we were alone together? Or merely reinforcement that in the presence of others I should display a proper level of subservience? Before I could answer, he continued. "You are not so meek as I thought you would be, given what I was able to learn of you before tonight, for one thing."Learned from whom? Learned what? His smile widened. "I am glad of it, however. Though I am also glad you have shown you understand the importance of loyalty. Loyalty is a strong currency in the Stag, you'll find."

"I see." I answered, "If I may ask--"

"What, exactly, did I learn about you?" My face flushed again as he chuckled and I nodded. "Not very much actually. Mother was right, you have kept yourself well hidden. We might be able to use that to our advantage. But mostly I learned that you are known to be quite fond of books and rather less than fond of social engagements. I am sorry to say you will have to learn to at least give the appearance of enjoying such events from now on. As heir to the Stag I must attend my fair share of functions, and my wife will attend them at my side." His light tone did not waver, but the implied command was clear.

"I suspected as much." I matched his light tone as best as I could, and was rewarded with another chuckle, this one deep and throaty, that caused a quiver of anticipation to shoot through me. Damnation! How could this man make me terrified one moment and then full of desire the next? I will never survive a lifetime of this. Perhaps I would grow used to it in time. Perhaps the fear would diminish as we grew to know each other. I could only hope so.

"You have also displayed a healthy sense of humor this evening, my dear Laren. One that is more than welcome. That we may laugh together bodes quite well for us, I think. I have hope you will do well with the socializing, my dear. You held up admirably tonight, better than I had hoped for, I will admit. You might even grow to truly enjoy the events."

I let out a huff of breath to indicate my thoughts on that but said nothing.

"We shall see," he said, "we shall see. I don't know why you are so surprised that I should want to learn more about you. Can you honestly tell me you did not ask any questions of your own about me?"

"I..." Well, he certainly had me there.

"I thought as much," he chuckled again. "Tell me Laren, what did you learn of Liam of the Stag? I'm curious."

"I learned a few things," I admitted. He leaned forward now, waiting for me to share, "The consensus seems to be that you are quite well educated, enjoy the study of the law," he blinked at that, as if surprised it was something I would have heard. Curious, I thought, I heard mention of his constant presence in the courts more than any other bit of gossip. I continued, "you are also said to enjoy horseback riding and in general very well thought of." Remembering his positive reaction to the evening's earlier flattery I added, as if it was an afterthought, "Oh, you are also considered quite attractive by the young ladies of the nobility."

"Am I? He sat back and smirked, clearly pleased, and also clearly aware of the truth of the statement. In another man I would have been annoyed at the arrogance, I knew, but he was so easy in it I could not help but be more amused at the quality. By this time I had relaxed again, I was feeling more comfortable than I had since arriving at House Prima. I decided to see if his arrogance could stand a little bit of teasing.

"So it would seem. It was often the first thing I was told about you, even when it was not asked. Everyone I spoke with seemed to feel it very important that I know this fact." He leaned forward again and took my hand in his.

"I hope you weren't too terribly disappointed by the reality, in that case," he said with mock sincerity. He leaned in even closer and his free hand cupped my cheek, one finger gently stroking my ear.

"Not at all," I breathed in the second before he kissed me. It was not a chaste kiss, but rather a deep, intimate, searching one. My eyes fluttered shut and had I any breath with which to do so, I would have moaned. Liam's hand slipped around to the back of my neck and I scooted forward on the bench, trying to get closer to him. My free hand found its way to his arm and I realized I was pulling him closer as well, kissing him back just as eagerly.

We broke apart just as the carriage came to a halt.

"Ah," Liam murmured, "we're home."


We entered the House of the Stag with our fingers linked. I had only quick impressions of my new home--rich wood paneling lining the walls, the flash of golden antlers on the massive banner bearing the House sigil in the entrance hall, thick carpets lining the corridors, carved stone railings on the stairways--I was still dazed from the kiss in the carriage. I felt a yearning deep within myself, it was new, like nothing I had ever felt before. I thought I should be frightened of the feeling but I was more excited than anything else. I let Liam pull me along to wherever we were going, and he seemed content enough to do so. It was late enough in the evening that few lamps were lit and fewer servants were out and about. Those we did see stopped what they were doing to bow their heads deeply as we passed. A distracted part of my brain noticed a few men in guard uniforms as we made our way deeper into the building.

"I hope you don't mind if we save your tour of the House for the morning," Liam said to me as we rounded a corner and headed down a corridor that was darker than the others had been. "It is rather late, and I find I am more than ready to retire for the evening." The look he gave me at this left no doubt that sleeping was the last thing on his agenda at the moment. Another series of shocks coursed through my body in anticipation.

"Of course my lord."

He stopped at a large set of heavy wooden doors, pausing for a moment to look me over. I thought he might say something then, but he did not. Instead he turned and opened the door on the left, stepping inside and gesturing for me to follow. When I had crossed into the room I turned around to find that he had closed the door behind himself and was fastening a set of bolts. No, he would not want to be disturbed on this night.

I looked around the room, taking in the rich furnishings, but my eyes were mostly drawn to the very large four-poster bed that I could see through the open doorway to my right. My heart was racing and I was unsure of what I should do, but I felt strangely calm. My eyes found Liam again and I saw that he was watching me. He stepped closer and then walked around me in a wide, appraising circle. He came to a stop behind me and I heard him move closer. I jumped a little when one of his hands skimmed my bare shoulder, surprised at the touch.

"This gown seems constricting, my dear," his voice ghosted in my ear, "it is high time we got you out of it." He began unfastening the long line of buttons that ran down the back of the gown, quite deftly, in fact. I soon felt the top of the gown fall away from me. It slid to my waist, held in place still by my full underskirts. He next went to work unlacing my corset. Though I had not perceived any difficulty breathing during the evening (none due to the corset, at any rate), the difference once it had been loosened was measurable. He tossed the corset to the floor, leaving me naked from the waist up.

Liam's hands slid up my back and then around to my front, cupping my breasts and squeezing them gently, eliciting a gasp from me. I turned my head to try to gain a glimpse of him and was rewarded with a soft chuckle and a kiss on the nape of my neck. His hands fell away and moved to my underskirts. The ties holding them up were quickly undone and they fell to the floor with my gown in a pool around my feet. All that remained to cover my modesty were the short silk drawers that had been under the skirts. Liam's fingers skimmed across the small of my back, dipping under the edge of the drawers to graze the top of my bottom.

Suddenly he pulled me to him, tight against his front, cupping my breasts again, squeezing more roughly this time, sending sharp jolts of pleasure throughout my slight frame. I could feel the hard length of him through his trousers, pressed against my bottom. He buried his face in my neck, lapping at it, nipping and suckling. His hands slid down to my hips, pulling at the ties on either side of my drawers, and they too fell away. Moving suddenly once more he spun me around to face him and crushed my body to his, kissing me fiercely, his hands roaming everywhere on my exposed skin.

I kissed him back and worked my hands between us, starting to tackle the buttons on his vest. I got them undone and he allowed me to pull the vest off of him, then returned his hands to their exploration of my body, still kissing me all the while. I next set to work on his shirt, my hands shaking as I worked my way down the row of buttons. I pulled the shirt loose from his pants and  once enough buttons had been undone, I slid it off over his head. When he broke the kiss I took advantage of the moment to step out of my slippers and kick my clothing to one side. Then I laced my fingers behind his neck and pulled him down to me for another kiss, causing him to loose another of those deep chuckles that went straight to the center of me. I could feel the heat of him now, with our bare chests pressed together, but still we were not close enough.

As that thought crossed my mind, Liam scooped me up in his arms and carried me into the bedchamber. He lay me down on the bed and stepped back to remove his boots and trousers. I was breathing heavily as I watched him, admiring the flush in his pale skin, and pinned in place by the intense look in his eyes. When he was as naked as I he paused for a moment, and we drank each other in. Then he climbed onto the bed and pushed my thighs open, settling himself over me.

I could feel the hardness against my leg and the briefest flash of fear flashed through me. I must have tensed up in that moment, because Liam leaned down and kissed me very gently on the lips.

"Relax, Laren, it will go so much better if you do." I nodded, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath. He trailed a finger along my cheek and down my neck. Then his weight was gone. My eyes flew open and I saw that he was sitting back on his haunches, regarding me carefully, a small smile on his face. I allowed myself to look at him in turn, my gaze lingering for a moment on his manhood, jutting up rigid and thick from between his legs, before moving back up and meeting his eyes. He leaned down again and kissed my neck, then moved lower, kissing again. He proceeded to leave a series of soft fluttering kisses all over my body, lightly running his fingers along in other places as he did so. Liam continued this until I was moaning and shivering in pleasure, my head tilted back and my eyes closed once more.

Only then did his weight return to settle over me again. When I felt him begin to enter me I let out a little sigh of relief. He pressed forward slowly, carefully, and I opened my eyes to look at him. The muscles in his neck and arms were taught, strained, he was clearly holding himself back. Why would he be--before I had time to finish the thought the pain came. A cry escaped my throat before I could stop it. As if that had been a signal, Liam slammed forward, sliding the rest of the way inside of me, his thighs meeting my own. I cried out again, the flash of pain was so intense I could not stop myself. It hurts so much! I could never have imagined such pain mixed with an experience I had believed would be pleasurable. I felt tears flowing down my face.

Liam remained where he was, very still, clearly waiting. I realized after a few moments that the sharp pain had been replaced by a dull throb and I felt myself begin to relax again. Sensing this, Liam began to move once more, slowly at first, but then his rhythm picked up. The pain faded away, quickly replaced by more jolts of pleasure, and when I cried out again it was not because I hurt. Soon Liam's breathing became harsher and his thrusts stuttered, and then he was still again, all of the tension gone from his frame.

He gingerly pulled out of me and rolled over to lie by my side. We were both breathing heavily and I realized with some dismay that the pain was starting to return, though I was thankful it seemed to only be the dull throb again. I turned my head to look at Liam, apprehensive, but he gave me a lazy smile and pulled me to him for a slow sweet kiss. He scooted me around so that I lay with my back to his front, his arm thrown over me and holding me close. I could hear his breathing evening out; he was falling asleep. A yawn welled up in me and I closed my eyes again. Sleep sounded absolutely delightful.

"Mine," he whispered once more, before drifting off completely. This time the word was said with simple satisfaction, without the intensity that had so frightened me earlier.

Yes, I suppose I am, was the last thought I remembered having before falling asleep myself.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

SGA Rewatch: The Queen

Hello and welcome to another episode of the Stargate Atlantis Rewatch! Today's episode up for discussion is season five's "The Queen." Join me, won't you? Spoilers for the episode and any that came before, as always.

What Happened

The puddle jumper exits from a space gate and we see that inside are the team and Jennifer. Rodney grumbles that he wishes they had brought backup and Teyla reminds him they are on a diplomatic mission. They approach a wraith hive ship and receive a message with docking instructions. They get inside and there is a knocking on the outer hatch. They open it up, weapons ready, and find several equally armed wraith on the other side, guns drawn.

From around the corner comes the order for the wraith to lower their weapons and then Todd appears and welcomes them to his ship. He leads them to a meeting room and introduces his second-in-command. He has even procured food for them. He begins things by saying he understands they've reached a breakthrough. Cue Jennifer, who explains about going through Michael's research. She says they have discovered information that would alter wraith DNA so that they wouldn't need to feed on humans anymore and could eat regular food again instead. Todd's second-in-command is skeptical. Todd himself doesn't see the benefit to this treatment. The humans point out that not needing to feed would give his hive a great advantage over others fighting for humans to feed upon. John also quips it would mean he could stop waiting for when he needs to kill Todd (in theory).

Todd asks how it would affect their longevity and ability to heal. Jennifer says she isn't sure. The "gifts" might continue, albeit in diminished form. There is no way to know until they test the treatment on live subjects, which is why they are bringing this to Todd in the first place. Rodney reminds them that there is no way to know which planets have been affected by the Hoffan drug still, and John pipes up that bottom line is there is a shortage of "food" for the wraith. Not needing to rely on that depleted resource would be a big benefit to Todd's hive.

Todd goes to confer with his people and the team waits. Ronon grumbles that this is wrong and they shouldn't be there. He still doesn't like working with the wraith. John for his part is surprised at the lack of resistance. Todd comes in and says he has considered their offer to test out the treatment. He thinks the idea has merit if Jennifer can make it work, although he follows that up by saying just converting one hive would be rather pointless. He is allied with several hives but doesn't really have the clout to sway them. They need to convince the Primary, the main queen, and if they do then the whole alliance would convert. Unfortunately, the queen will only speak with another queen and they don't have one anymore, a fact which Todd has kept secret from the alliance. He thinks that Teyla can help him with that though.

Back in Atlantis John tries to talk Teyla out of whatever it was Todd suggested. She says that Jennifer assures her that "the procedure" is perfectly safe and John says it doesn't matter. The whole idea is crazy. Even if they do convince the wraith and convert them, they will then have a huge technological advantage over humans. He is worried they will try to enslave them instead of feeding on them. Teyla points out that he's never raised this objection before and he says that's because no one was asking her to risk her life. She says her wraith DNA makes her the only possible candidate. The queen would detect anyone else immediately. John thinks they should just sit back and let the wraith keep killing each other. Teyla worries that if they do that Todd's hive will be destroyed and they will never have such an opportunity again. She thinks she needs to take it while it's here. Amelia radios John and tells him that Todd has arrived.

Teyla prepares to go into surgery and Jennifer says she is worried that Teyla is being pressured into this because of her research. Teyla reassures her that it is her choice. Todd makes his way to the infirmary and is stopped by Ronon, who threatens him if anything happens to Teyla. He clearly isn't happy about this situation either. Todd arrives and we learn he will be the technical advisor while Jennifer performs the mystery surgery. They get underway.

Night falls and the rest of the team waits tensely. Jennifer comes in and tells them they can see her now, leading them to Teyla's bed. She asks how she looks and the camera reveals that she has been turned into a wraith.

On the hive Todd begins training her in how to act properly like a wraith queen. She needs to have the proper manner and bearing or the Primary will sniff out their ruse and kill them. She cannot show any weakness. The team waits on board the ship. Todd arrives and fills them in on the plan, telling them the meeting with the Primary has been set. He thinks that as long as he presents the proposal as his (rather than the Lanteans') the queen might go along with it because their alliance is losing badly against the other wraith and her instinct for survival is strong.

Teyla has a video chat with the Primary and manages to be convincing enough to get an invite to her ship. Todd remarks that the Primary likes her, although it was hardly obvious. Teyla goes to see her team and inform them that she is about to head over for the face to face. They wish her luck and assure her they will be right there in case she needs them.

Teyla and Todd arrive on the other hive and are greeted by the Primary's second-in-command. The Primary is nowhere in sight. When Teyla asks after her, she is informed that they will meet with her in time. The wraith orders the others to jump to hyperspace and leads Todd and Teyla to a space to wait. The Primary won't leave her ship within weapons range of Todd's hive during the discussion.

There is a brief kerfuffle on Todd's ship when the Primary's ship jumps away but Todd's people assure the team they didn't know that would happen. The two groups realize they are just going to have to trust each other until they find out what's going on.

Teyla starts to freak out but Todd swears he didn't know this would happen. He says that if the queen didn't believe them they would be dead already. She is clearly just taking precautions. The queen interrupts their discussion and asks why Todd is there. Teyla says she thought he would be helpful since he is the one the Primary has been dealing with up until now. They have a brief "you show me yours I'll show you mine," and then they seem to accept each other. The Primary invites Teyla to sit so they can discuss the matter at hand but as she turns away Todd stabs her in the throat. She dies but not before managing to set off an alarm that blares through the ship. Teyla looks at Todd in horror and he carefully places the knife in her hand, asking forgiveness and telling her this is the way it has to be.

He tells Teyla she must claim the kill, explaining that this is how power changes hands among the wraith. If she can convince the Primary's hive that she is capable of replacing the Primary, they will accept her as their new queen. The Primary's second arrives with drones in tow and he is less than happy. He moves to attack Teyla but Todd starts to defend her. She knocks him down and tells him not to speak unless spoken to and thus displays strength worth following. They accept her rule, although the Primary's second does so very hesitantly.

Teyla gets Todd alone and he says that everyone on board has been fooled. She is pissed that he didn't tell her about the plan. He assures her that it was necessary and everyone will fall into line. She is unhappy but uneasily agrees to accept the rule for now. She tells Todd to take her back to his ship and he says in due time. She must remain aboard the taken hive for a while to let everyone get used to her and then once things are running smoothly she can take her leave.

On Todd's ship the team is trying to figure out if this whole thing was a setup or not. John is leaning toward no, but still, they realize they probably shouldn't linger on the hive without Todd around to keep the other wraith in line. John doesn't know what exactly they could do to get Teyla back though. Todd's second finds them and tells them that the Primary's hive has dropped out of hyperspace and they are receiving a transmission, it's Todd's tracking beacon. They decide to go after it. Along the way they try to come up with a plan for their arrival. Todd's second points out that it is likely to seem highly suspicious when they arrive exactly at the Primary's ship's location and it could provoke an attack. They consider the possiblity that maybe they should come out of hyperspace with guns blazing.

On Teyla's ship, the Primary's second comes to inform her that a rival hive has been detected feeding off of one of the worlds in the alliance's territory. They are the closest hive to the world, so he says they need to go investigate and deal with the rival hive. Teyla is adamant that they remain where they are (to allow Todd's ship time to find them) but Todd realizes they need to go. He asks if he might speak to Teyla privately. The deposed second watches their byplay with suspicion and they dismiss him. Todd manages to convince her that his ship will find them even if they move and that dealing with the rival hive will help cement her position. She relents and tells him to order the bridge to set course.

They arrive at the feeding ground and Todd reminds Teyla that she must remain firm when the other hive opens negotiations. Teyla doesn't respond to his coaching, she orders the second to charge weapons and fire on the other ship. The second is surprised she would attack unprovoked and she says intrusion on their feeding grounds is provocation enough. Todd is mad and points out that their hive is likely to suffer heavy losses once the other ship returns fire. Teyla says she is aware of the consequences and reminds him he told her not to show any weakness. He mutters that she is doing this on purpose to kill wraith.

Todd's ship gets to the Primary's first location and realizes that the ship is gone. They find the new location but don't want to just follow because then it will definitely alert suspicion of the Primary's hive. John asks if the planet they are at has a gate and Todd's second says yes. John tells them to drop the jumper off and the team gates to the planet where the Primary's ship is. They arrive and pick up the two hive ships engaged in battle and debate how to proceed. They see that the ship Todd is on is severely outgunned. John decides to join the battle, tip the scales a little. He takes the jumper in and scores a couple of critical hits on the enemy hive, destroying it completely.

The Primary's second expresses disbelief when the enemy's hive is destroyed and Todd congratulates the queen. The second orders the darts recalled and John flies the cloaked jumper into the hive along with them. The team sneaks onto the ship and tries to track down Todd, and hopefully Teyla. They encounter too many wraith to hide from and open fire. They begin to fight their way through the ship and are captured pretty quickly. The Primary's second orders the other wraith to inform the queen that they have intruders.

The team is locked in a cell and Teyla goes to talk to them. She dismisses the guards and greets her friends, telling them they should not have come. She promises to explain more fully later, but gives them the short story about being the queen now and needing to stay to secure her position. She tells them they must not try to escape and need to just wait it out. Of course, the Primary's second was eavesdropping and hears all of this. He follows Teyla back to her quarters saying he needed to see her in private. She tries to order him away but he refuses to comply. He confronts her for being a fraud and attacks her. Todd arrives just in time to prevent the second from killing Teyla.

Todd's hive arrives and he sends the "prisoners" over to it. After enough time passes, Teyla assembles the hive to tell them she is taking her leave. In her absence they will answer to Todd. They accept this order without question. As they leave Todd congratulates her on a job well done. She reminds him of the reason for all of this, to get Jennifer's treatment refined and distributed. Todd says yes, yes, in time. Teyla reminds him that as far as the hive is concerned she is their queen and she will be watching him. If he steps out of line she will return and will have him removed permanently.

Back in Atlantis Teyla is finally returned to her normal self. John goes to visit her in the infirmary and she tells him she is ready to get back to the regular routine. She asks if there has been word from Todd and he says that they have heard that Todd has solidified his position as "leader" of the alliance. Teyla wonders out loud if  maybe Todd had been playing them all along to get control of all of those hives. John says it is what it is and leaves, telling her to get some rest.


Wow, it's just not a Todd episode without a delicious apparent double-cross, is it? I love Todd. He hands down wins the award for Best Wraith Ever in my books. If every episode had more Todd I would not complain one bit. Although, man do I wish the wraith were in the habit of naming themselves. Any episode that involves multiple wraith as a big part of the plot is kind of a pain to write about sometimes. I mean, I get that it's derivative of their hive culture and all, but geez.

I do think the whole idea behind this episode is amazing--although I agree with John that the plan itself was totally nuts. But the concept of reversing what Carson had been working on to turn wraith to humans and instead turn a human into a wraith...that's just a nifty story right there. Also, Teyla rocked it.

I mean, compare this episode to the last one and here you get an example of girl power done right. It's very subtle, but it is there. The wraith are definitely a matriarchal society, which means in order to get anything real accomplished, Todd needs a woman to help him out. Also, notice how quickly Teyla starts to lose respect when it seems she is willing to let Todd, a man, speak for her. As soon as she can demonstrate that she is in charge of him, the others are a lot more willing to fall in line. Teyla even managed to demonstrate her own strength outside of Todd's guidance. I mean, yes, she displayed apprehension to start--because let's be honest, going full wraith is quite honestly Teyla's Worst Nightmare. But once she settled in to the role and assessed the situation, she was able to resume her general badass ways. Big props to her.

As far as for the season as a whole, this episode starts to set the stage for the larger arc. Michael's been dealt with and his research has been assessed,'s not completely terrible. Okay, yes, yes, his methods were ALL horrid and reprehensible, but some of his ideas on the surface--like eliminating the need for wraith to feed on humans--have merit to Atlantis.

Now we are looking at a way to at least start eliminating the nightmare aspect of the wraith without destroying their cultural identity or resorting to genocide. This is the diplomatic solution if they can find wraith willing to go along with it, and it seems that they have. For now, at least. Because Teyla's right, sitting back and just waiting for the wraith to whittle themselves down to manageable numbers is not the answer. There's no guarantee that the victors in such a fight would be willing to reason with humanity. Once the wraith eliminate resistance within their ranks, they will just turn their attention back to the humans of the galaxy. Also, the fallout from such a battle isn't likely to be pretty. Casualties are likely to be just as high among the innocents as the guilty.

So, woohoo Atlantis trying to find a better way. I guess we'll have to keep watching to see if they manage it, eh?

Favorite Quotes

"So, what happens now?" (Jennifer)
"If history's taught us anything, this is the part where we get double-crossed and taken prisoner." (Rodney)
"That will not happen this time Rodney. We were invited, remember?" (Teyla)
 "And that makes a difference?" (Rodney)

"Hmm. Fruit bowl. Nice touch." (John)
"Well, we picked them up on our travels. I thought it would make our discussions more comfortable. I hope they prove as delicious as the farmers who grew them." (Todd)

"Why are we thinking of ways to fix them when we should be thinking of ways to kill them?" (Ronon)
"We've been trying to do that for four years. They're still here." (Rodney)
"The wraith may not deserve our consideration, but as John pointed out, we're not doing this for them." (Teyla)

"I still say this was a setup." (Ronon)
"I don't know, Kenny seemed pretty surprised when that ship disappeared." (John)
"Who?" (Rodney)
"Kenny--Todd's second in command." (John)
"Well, since when did we start calling him that?" (Rodney)
"Maybe he wasn't in on it." (Ronon)
"I don't know. If Todd wanted to kidnap Teyla, he'd have done it the second we arrived. Doesn't add up." (John)
"Seriously, the next time we name one of these guys, we should take a vote." (Rodney)


So ends another episode. Next week we get a little bit of resolution to a hanging plot thread, so that should be fun. Join me Monday for "Tracker."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Go Fish

Wow, I almost forgot to show you this little beauty!

One Fish, Two Fish by Cori 2012

Pattern: June by Sandy Rideout (from Leisure Arts #5260 A Year of Baby Afghans Book 5)
Yarn: Knit Picks Brava Worsted in Solstice Heather, Canary, and Red (3, 1, and 1 skeins)
Hook: US I

I finished this one a little over a month ago but I wanted to wait to show it to you until I had gifted it to the baby's mama. I finally got a chance to meet up with her and deliver the blanket (and its intended baby arrived last week, huzzah!), so, now you get to see it.

I have to say, I love pretty much everything about this blanket. The only thing I didn't like was that I felt like it was a little small. I was a bit put off by this, especially given how much yarn I had left over, but the Brava had more yardage per skein than the listed amount, so that could probably account for that. Still, the next time I make this, (which will be happening) I will probably go up a hook size and possibly add one more strip of fish. It actually really is the perfect size for a baby, I just like my blankets to be ginormous.

In addition to looking really nifty, the pattern itself is super easy to work up, and quick. I think it took me maybe a week to make this, working a couple of hours a day on it. That is kind of my ideal blanket pattern right there. This is the cover pattern for the booklet it comes in, and the one that caught my eye and made me pick up the booklet in the first place. There are lots of cute patterns in that book, don't get me wrong, but this is by far my favorite. I think that it alone is worth the price of admission, because I suspect I will get much use out of this for many years to come.

I also want to say that this was my first project using Brava (the Ducky Momo I made my daughter used leftovers from this), which is Knit Picks' new acrylic line. You guys, I am in love with this yarn. It's comparable to Lion Brand's Vanna's Choice, but I think it is even softer, and it has a much better price point. This might be my go-to yarn for baby blankets going forward. I have already started the next baby blanket with this yarn and I am really excited about how it is coming along.

So all around, this project was a delight to work on, and the kind of thing that reminds me of just why I love to crochet and make blankets so much. It's always so wonderful to find a project like that.

Monday, May 28, 2012

SGA Rewatch: Whispers

Happy Memorial Day, folks! I hope you are enjoying your random Monday off if you are so fortunate as to have one. I'm celebrating with Stargate! Which, yeah, is how I roll pretty much every Monday, but hey, if it's broke, don't fix it, right?

So. Today on the Stargate Atlantis Rewatch we will be talking about season five's "Whispers." Spoilers for the episode and any that came before, as per usual.

What Happened

Two Pegasus natives walk through a misty wood at night grumbling about the late hour. They stop when they hear something and through the mist they see a cloaked figure. They move closer to see if they can be of assistance and find something that terrifies them. One trips and the other keeps running then stops and turns to find a figure wearing a gas mask of some sort.

Flash to one year later and a team from Atlantis is going through the ruins of a facility that we see is on the same planet as one of them stoops and picks up a death mask like the one we just saw. They go further into the facility and stop, looking at something. One of them declares that they need to call Atlantis.

In the city Rodney is visiting Carson who is apparently packing to leave again after a brief visit. Rodney is grumbling about this because he wants Carson to stay but Carson tells him his place isn't there anymore. Carson apparently wants to go visit worlds afflicted by Michael's virus and try to help cure them. John comes in and tells Carson he is going to have to delay his plans. Major Teldy's team just radioed in that they have found another one of Michael's labs.

John and Carson get to the planet and hike through the woods to meet up with Teldy's team. She introduces her team, Sergeant Mehra, Doctor Porter, and Captain Vega. John is kind of taken aback that they are all women. She points out that she was told to pick the best and the brightest, so she did. Behind their backs John and Carson bump fists at the prospect of a mission filled with hot women. (insert eyeroll here)

Teldy leads them to the lab and Porter explains they found it when they picked up a low-level energy signature. It led them to a lab filled with stasis pods and wraith tech. The lab appears to have been abandoned for some time. Carson says it is not one he was ever taken to. John is weary of another booby trap like the one that collapsed the building on his team but Porter says she disabled the security protocols so that's not a worry. Carson says that the data in the lab could prove to be very valuable information about Michael's work.

Teldy mentions there is a village not too far off and John leaves Porter and Carson to go through the information under guard by Mehra while the rest of them head to see if the locals have any info on Michael or his activity. Mehra goes to check the perimeter and Porter and Carson get to know each other while they work. They find the specs for Michael's earliest version of a human-wraith hybrid.

When John and the others arrive in the village they don't see anyone out and about so they decide to split up and see if they can find anyone. It appears as of the locals have been gone for quite some time. John wonders why.

Carson finds evidence that Michael wasn't just combining humans and wraith, he was combining several other species. They look at the stasis pods and realize that there is no way they can wake the occupants up, because they are definitely not human anymore.

John and his group finally find a villager, Mirellus, and ask him what's going on. He says about a year and a half ago villagers started disappearing. Unable to find any explanation or the missing people the inhabitants abandoned the village, believing it to be cursed. John asks Mirellus why he is still there, he tells them he lives in the next village now and saw then exiting the caves. He followed them to see what they were doing and to warn them if necessary. He says the caves are also rumored to be dangerous.

Carson radios and says they have downloaded a chunk of data to their tablets and would like to take the night to go over it, ideally in the village if there is room for them. John says that's a definite yes and they pack up to head to the village and meet up with the others. Mirellus wishes them luck if they plan to stay the night, saying it is not safe, and then he leaves. On the way to the village from the caves Mehra stops the others in the woods, thinking she hears something. When they don't hear anything further they continue on, but after they pass we see Mirellus lurking in the woods.

Once everyone is settled down for the night, John decides to head over to the next village to see if he can gather any useful intel. Again he takes Teldy and Vega, leaving Mehra to watch over Carson and Porter.

In the lab, someone activates one of the stasis pods and the room fills with a fog as it opens.

Porter and Carson continue bonding and try their hand at some awkward flirting. Mehra, unamused, decides to go check the perimeter again.

John's group makes their way through the woods and encounters a fog that rolls in very quickly. Both Sheppard and Teldy's lights go out and they see a shadowy figure run by.

Mehra walks through the abandoned village whistling and decides to check out the well. She drops a rock down it and listens to see how far down it goes and shines her light inside for a look. Then her light dies. She turns and notices a very creepy doll on the ground covered in leaves. As she walks away from the well fog starts to stream from it.

In the woods Mirellus stumbles into them and claims that there are demons in the mist. They hear more movement and something grabs Vega, snatching her back into the fog. They find her but it is too late, she is dead. Then lurching figures start to shuffle toward them through the fog. John shoots one and then orders the rest to fall back, they grab Mirellus and fire behind them as they go.

In the village Carson and Porter hear gunfire and go outside to investigate. They try radioing John but get no answer. Mehra tells them she will go check it out and orders them to get back inside.

John and Teldy get to the caves and make their way into the lab, horrified to see that all of the stasis pods have been opened. Mirellus apologizes and says it was him. He admits that his wife was among the missing villagers and he thought maybe they had found something in the caves, that maybe she was down here. There are twelve pods, and John took out one of the creatures so they have eleven more to deal with. They try to radio Carson but get no answer, Teldy says it is probably the fog interfering with the radio signal. So they venture back out to make their way to the others.

Not having heard from Mehra in some time, Carson gets impatient and arms himself, telling Porter he is going outside to see if he can find her. Porter tries to talk him into staying put but he is unable to do so. He walks out into the fog and his flashlight quickly dies. He hesitates and then calls out for Mehra when he sees a figure in the fog. The figure gets closer and resolves and it is most decidedly not Mehra. He backs away and steps on a twig, drawing the creature's attention.

He turns tail and runs, trying to find cover against a wall. An eyeless creature that seems to be exuding the fog crawls along the wall right up to Carson but does not seem to realize he is there. It starts to leave and his radio squawks. The creature turns back to attack only to be shot down by Mehra. She gets him back to their hideout and they find that Porter has gone missing. John and Teldy come back with Mirellus and they update each other on the current crappy situation. Carson tells them that the creatures are Michael's experiments, early versions of his hybrids. He says they are blind and hunt by sound and that they are creating the fog, using it as a predatory device.

Mirellus wants to wait until dawn but Carson says it doesn't matter, day or night, the creatures will still be there. John says they need to find Porter anyway. Carson warns him that even Michael could not control the creatures, which is why the research was abandoned. John, Teldy, and Mehra go to search for Porter with Carson staying behind with Mirellus. Carson assures John that as long as they remain quiet in their hideout they should be perfectly safe.

The soldiers begin their search, armed with glow-stick like lights that don't seem affected by the fog. Mehra checks the well again. We see one of the creatures crawling up inside of it but she is distracted by a sound and turns away before she sees it. John, meanwhile, finds Porter huddled in a corner and collects her quietly.

In the hideout Mirellus starts to freak out, yelling at Carson that they are making a mistake and they need to get out of there. Carson tries to quiet him down but he refuses and two of the creatures bust through the window in front of which he is conveniently standing. They snatch him out before Carson can do anything and then disappear. Carson drags a shelf in front of the broken window and then looks on nervously as fog begins pour through the door.

John and Porter meet up with Mehra and make their way back. They see a figure they think is Teldy but she doesn't seem to see them. Mehra goes up to her and it turns out to be one of the creatures with Teldy's light sticking out of its shoulder. They kill it and get to the hideout where they find Teldy but no Carson. Porter remarks that at least one of the missing men was wounded and she points to a puddle of blood on the floor. Cut to Carson nervously moving through the fog. Back inside Teldy says she saw a creature come out of the well and realized that there are catacombs that run right under the village. Which is probably how Michael managed to take so many unseen. They do a headcount and realize they've narrowed the enemy down to nine. Porter points out the creatures have acute auditory senses. She thinks they can use that to lure them in.

They work out a plan to each take up position around the well, where they will set off a high pitched signal to draw in the creatures. John will blow it up and hopefully take out several of the creatures. Then they can ambush the rest, taking out anything that moves. Mehra doesn't approve of the plan but John overrides her objections by pulling rank. They get into position and John plants the lure in the well, then starts the timer on the explosives. Before he can plant them, he is attacked. Carson appears and takes out his attacker but John loses the C4 in the struggle. He and Carson decide they should probably get out of there, of course by this time they are surrounded and there doesn't actually look like any way out.

The well blows and Teldy, Mehra, and Porter open fire on the creatures. Once things quiet down they do a quick double check around the well, trying to find John and making sure they got all of the hybrids. John radios them that he has Carson and they went down the well into the catacombs. He tells the others to come join them. They head back to the lab for Carson to check one last thing before they leave. Porter hangs back, not really wanting to go back in after everything that has happened, so Mehra stays with her. Carson gets to work in the lab.

In the corridor Porter thinks she hears something. Mehra tries to reassure her they got all of the creatures but then she hears something too and readies her gun. In the lab, John explores and he finds a door they hadn't noticed before. He opens it up and finds a room beyond with several more empty stasis pods. He and Teldy realize that they didn't kill all of the creatures after all. Mehra and Porter check out the sound they heard and just when they think it's nothing, one of the creatures attacks.

John and Teldy hear gunfire and they grab Carson and go to try to find their people. They get no answer when they call out but are quickly attacked by more creatures. They shoot everything that comes their way and then as they move forward Mehra calls out an all-clear. She and Porter are fine. They all breathe a sigh of relief and bugger out.

Back in Atlantis Rodney is chiding Carson again in a similar scene to the opener. He is ready to move on to the work of saving lives in the galaxy. John stops by to ask if he needs any help packing and then asks how Porter is doing. Carson says she is fine, taking some R&R and then will be back to work. He comments that she would be great help to his own work and John smirks and says it's noted. They head out with poor Rodney still trying to figure out who the heck they are talking about.


Okay, first I have to say that this episode was the season's attempt at a horror story, so it's never really been one of my favorites. That being said, on this viewing I have to admit that it is starting to grow on me a little. It's a pretty straight ahead one-off episode that relies on the show's previous mythology and (ostensibly) introduces some new characters, as well as giving the writers a chance to bring Carson back for a bit. Because, as he points out, with Jennifer now in charge of the medical staff of Atlantis, there really isn't much place for him there.

I find it super awesome that Teldy's team was fully assembled of smart kickass women. I find it much less awesome that the writers felt the need to comment on it like they did with John's reaction (and that little "lucky us" fist bump behind the girls' backs). It's a case of one step forward, two steps back. Absolutely yes, please do introduce strong and entertaining female characters and include an awesome girl power team. That rocks. But don't pat yourselves on the back by calling out in-episode what an anomaly it is. It doesn't make you look enlightened, it makes you look like part of the problem. Treating it like it's no big deal makes it no less wonderful, in fact, establishing that in this universe such a thing truly isn't a big deal is what would have made the writers look enlightened. /rant

Also, why didn't John already know who was on the team anyway?? As military commander of Atlantis doesn't it fall under his purview to at least be aware of the duty rosters even if for some reason he doesn't approve the team configurations? Is he just pawning all of his actual leadership duties off on Lorne? *grumble* I'm sorry, my level of suspension of disbelief in this universe stops just below the military commander not knowing what is going on with the teams he is in charge of. That makes his reaction to meeting Teldy's team even more annoying because it took me out of the narrative entirely for a minute.

For that matter, why didn't Rodney know who Porter was? She was clearly a doctor of science, not medicine, and therefore one of his subordinates. It has been established that he is one who hires these people. Although he at least possibly gets a pass because of his also established terrible track record with names (and with matching said names to faces). Still.

I will give the writers props however in how fully fleshed out all four of these new characters felt. In that brief hour of television we got a pretty good idea of all of their various personalities and such. That was nice. I also like that they had a good team dynamic developed as well. Especially between Porter and Mehra you get the feeling that these people have worked together and know each other well. I do have to wonder why Porter ever left the hideout. We saw when Carson left the first time, and the second it was pretty easy to assume he feared he was about to be overrun, but beyond people returning to find her gone, we never got an explanation for her disappearance as the team regrouped.

In the interest of full disclosure I feel like I should share how much outcry it caused when they killed off Vega in this episode. It was only her second appearance on the show, her first being on the season opener "Search and Rescue" where she got to shoot down a wraith dart with a rocket launcher.  Thing is, before the season started, her addition to the cast was really being hyped. She was supposed to be a new recurring character, meant to get her own team before the season was even halfway over. Instead she got put in second place on a team and killed. Also, it was revealed after the episode aired that she was to be the first openly gay character in the Stargate franchise. People were not happy about the fact that the writers so quickly killed her off after all of the hype, especially when they learned about her background. I am sure there were valid reasons for the writers' decisions to nip this character's inclusion and subsequent arc in the bud, but it just was really poorly handled. That gives this episode a really sour taste to a lot of fans.

Favorite Quotes

"Resurrections make for very interesting reunions. Especially when the dead man had no idea he was dead to begin with." (Carson)

"So, Sergeant, I hear you served with Stargate Command before transferring over." (Carson)
"Yeah, but Pegasus had more of what I was looking for." (Mehra)
"And what was that?" (Carson)
"Bad guys who need killing." (Mehra)

"Where's the Captain?" (Mehra)
"She's gone." (John)
"Where's Porter?" (Teldy)
"We don't know." (Beckett)
"Ah that's great. All we need now is for the prom queen and the kid in the wheel chair to wander off and then we're all set." (John)

"Fine. You know what? I don't even wanna know. Don't tell me! ....Okay, come on, tell me!" (Rodney)


That wraps up today. See you back here on Wednesday for "The Queen," when we get back to our more science fictiony roots.

Friday, May 25, 2012

One For the Hoopy Froods

Happy Towel Day people!

Do you know where your towel is?

(Hint: Your answer should be, "Why it is right here with me of course. One never goes anywhere without a towel, that would just be tempting fate.")

If you crochet or knit and also happen to be into Douglas Adams and his wonderful Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, then an excellent way to celebrate Towel Day is, of course, by making your very own towel!

Which is precisely what I did.

Always Know Where It Is by Cori 2012.

Full view.

Pattern: Cottontail Dishtowels* by Lion Brand Yarn
Yarn: Knit Picks Dishie in Maps, Coffee, and Swan (2, 1, and 1 balls)
Hook: US I

*Link may require free registration to see pattern.

Guys, guys, guys, I cannot tell you how much I absolutely love this main colorway Maps! The fact that it is called Maps makes me almost giddy. I am a nerd of strange tastes, yes, but come on, it is just so freaking cool! I also feel like the colors just fit in so well with the theme of galactic travel and holding on to a bit of Earth wherever you go...

Anyhoo, so that's my bit of tribute to Mr. Adams. I hope wherever you are, you know where your towel is, and I wish you a fantastic and safe holiday weekend!

In case you are wondering just why towels are so important, I will leave you with this informative little piece.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Choices Chapter Two

(Previous chapters can be found here.)

The week leading up to the Solstice Ball was full indeed. I realized that it would behoove me to find out more about my husband-to-be, which meant braving a few of the social clubs in the Quarter of Trade, visiting with those few acquaintances I had been able to bear at the parties I could not escape attending. Everyone was eager to congratulate me on my pending nuptials, and I noted with some amusement that few seemed surprised to learn the match was arranged. Upon hearing that I had not yet met Liam of the Stag, those who had were more than willing to share their impressions of him. Such idle gossip normally bored me to tears, but in this case I drank in all that I could.

"Oh Laren," a girl from the House of Merchants sighed at me upon hearing of the match. I thought her name was Jayna but I wasn't certain. "Liam of the Stag? Truly? Your parents have done well by you! He is so beautiful and always so polite when he meets with my poppa. Someone like that will surely make a fine husband. I hope I am so lucky one day!" She giggled and fanned herself quickly with her embroidery hoop. I fought back the urge to roll my eyes, fixing as sincere a smile upon my face as I was able to manage. Jayna was perhaps fourteen, I thought, and I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to learn that beauty and a polite demeanor seemed such strong indicators of a "fine" husband to her. Not that either quality was a bad thing, I was just hoping for something more substantial.

"Does he meet with your father often then?" I asked her, hoping to glean some more useful information. Jayna just giggled and nodded, apparently unconcerned with elaboration. Instead she proceeded to tell me how striking she found Liam's eyes. Someone must have noticed my brief flash of irritation because a voice spoke up from nearby.

"Don't mind Jayna, Laren, she is fully engaged in hunting for a husband at the moment and easily distracted by thoughts of a pretty face." It was said rather fondly and brought forth another shyer giggle from Jayna. I turned to find Sara of Sylvans, no she is of the Sun now, she married a few cycles back, approaching us with a cup of tea cradled in her hands. "May I?" she indicated an empty seat next to me and I nodded eagerly. Sara was of an age with me and she and I had always got on rather well. I suspected she could give me a much better idea of my future husband than dear Jayna.

"Hello Sara!" Jayna greeted her. "You've met Liam before, haven't you? Tell Laren about him, she is ever so curious. She doesn't even seem to care how pretty he is," she shook her head at this, as if the very idea seemed unbelievable.

"I have met him once or twice, actually," Sara agreed as she sat down. She frowned slightly in concentration, as if she was trying to recall the encounters. "Every so often I accompany my husband to the courts when he is presenting to the Council of Peers. Liam of the Stag is often to be found at the courts as I understand it. He seems to have a fascination with the law. After presentations he often likes to go over the details with the presenters and discuss strategy and the history of any precedents brought up, that sort of thing. My poor Randall is never quite sure what to make of him, to be honest." She smiled as she said it and I knew it was an amusing memory for her rather than an unpleasant one. I hoped that meant that Jayna's description of him as "polite" carried over into his interactions in the courts as well.

"That certainly is interesting Sara, thank you. I hope Randall wasn't too bothered by him." I mulled over this new tidbit of information and Sara shook her head quickly, setting down her half-finished cup of tea.

"Oh not at all!" she insisted. "It rather worked out well for him. Liam was so impressed by Randall's most recent presentation that he was invited on one of Liam's hunting trips. He had the opportunity to make quite a few beneficial contacts in the process. I understand that Liam hunts often, his parties are something of a who's who of Pelos' younger noblemen. I must admit that I can much more easily imagine him engaging in such pastimes than in haunting the courts. It seems an occupation much more suited to a man of only thirty cycles."

"I see," I said, smiling at her with genuine thanks. I even included Jayna in the smile, although she seemed to have lost interest in the conversation and had gone back to her embroidery. Sara nodded at me and our talk wandered to other topics, though all the while my mind continued to ponder the subject of my soon to be husband. It was certainly a better picture of Liam than I had yet gleaned from anyone else. The sketch was starting to come together, now I just had to clean up the lines and fill in the empty spaces between them. I can admit that I was quite relieved to learn him only ten cycles my senior. It suggested the hope that we might find common ground enough to be able to actually speak with one another.

That was probably the most productive session of information gathering I managed. I paid a few more visits to the clubs in the next few days, but I did not learn very much more of consequence. Still, I picked up bits of information here and there. I had started to assemble them in my mind, like the pieces of a puzzle, beginning to form some idea of the man I was to marry. He seemed to be very well thought of amongst the nobles of Pelos. I was given the impression that he was a kind enough man. In addition to his regular attendance at court and his very popular hunting parties, it seemed he was an avid rider as well. I supposed that I could work with that. Also welcome, though less important (or at least so I told myself), was the constant repetition that he was considered rather attractive. Though this did lead me to wonder why such a well-mannered, well-liked, and handsome man would have needed to have a marriage arranged for him, rather than making a match on his own.

I spent less time packing than you might think. Though I thought of my new wardrobe with mild trepidation, there weren't that many pieces in my closet I considered taking with me. A few vests, my nicest cloak, and my most comfortable riding clothes, along with two pairs of boots were all that ended up being chosen. The rest, I hoped, would be donated to a shop in the Quarter of Citizens that resold or repurposed unwanted garments from the nobility. Most of them, like the many party dresses squeezed into my armoire, would have only been worn once or twice. I hoped that some young woman might find my old things and appreciate them as I never could have. But the items I did take with me filled not even half of one trunk. I added a blanket that my governess had made me one cycle when I was a girl, and the few pieces of jewelry that held meaning for me. The rest of the space I left for the daily incidentals that I would not pack until the day of the ball. Two more trunks were filled with my books and drawing materials and...that was it really. It was rather saddening to look around my rooms, once packed, and realize just how little difference the removal of my items had made. This had been my sanctuary for as long as I could remember, yet it seemed I had left little of my own mark on the place. I did finally make my way to Renard's store. In addition to a few new books for myself, I purchased one I hoped would make a suitable wedding gift for Liam.

My dancing lessons, unfortunately, continued. If anything, they intensified. With my wedding making up part of the ball's planned ceremonies, I would be an item of interest to the other attendees. I was not to be allowed to shame my family by revealing my clumsy nature on the dance floor. I fear Master Ablard had his work cut out for him, but he was skilled at his craft. He managed to bring me up to "passable, at least" in a handful of currently popular dances. It should be enough to get me through the ball without too much embarrassment, I hoped.

I was also given instruction on my new House. House of the Stag is almost as old as Pelos itself, and I was shown genealogies and expected to memorize them. The current head of the House was Liam's mother, Roslyn, who had been born to the House of the Stallion and had joined the Stag upon marriage to Liam's father Williams. Liam had been just a boy, only four or five cycles old, when Williams died during an outbreak of some sort of exotic fever that had swept through Pelos before I was born. Many people had died during that outbreak, noble and common alike. Since Liam had been nowhere near of age, Roslyn had assumed the role of Head of the House. It was somewhat odd that Liam had not yet stepped up to claim the position for himself, but by all accounts Roslyn was a capable and well-respected leader in Pelos so I supposed that the Prime was content to let Roslyn remain as Head for as long as she and Liam deemed appropriate.

The Stag had certainly thrived under her leadership it seemed. Its prestige (and likely wealth) had more than doubled over the past twenty cycles. The House's primary source of wealth seemed to come from investing in the businesses of others, facilitating new ventures, and helping to pair Houses in situations where cooperation would be beneficial to both parties. I reasoned that this probably explained Roslyn's interest in an alliance with Jade. Having influence in one of the primary sources of shipping between Denara and Dumais could go a long way toward ensuring the Stag's success in future ventures. The Stag also had a very strong influence on shaping the regulations and decrees that governed businesses in Pelos. I was expected to learn the history of each motion proposed by House of the Stag since its founding. The amount of information was staggering, but I did find the lessons useful. They were a good map to the policies and alignments of the House, as well as how those policies shifted with each cycle. I would not be wholly unprepared when I entered my new House as wife of its heir.

What little time I had left after all of that was spent making my goodbyes. There were many members of the staff who had taken time out to teach me or encourage my own interests and talents throughout my life. I spoke with each to let them know my appreciation for the care they had shown. There were more than a few tearful hugs during those conversations. I also spent as much time with Father as his schedule would allow. Even just moving across the Quarter, I did not know when I would see him again after I left the ball. Mother even made a small effort to part on good terms. She invited me to attend an opera with her when Father had to cancel at the last moment. It would not have been my chosen method for spending an evening, but it seemed to make Mother happy that I agreed.

At last the day of the Solstice Ball--the day of my wedding--arrived. I had feared I would not sleep at all the night before but I was so exhausted that I slept quite soundly. I went through most of the day in a haze, wandering through the gardens and surprised at how calm I felt. After lunch a page found me and informed me that I was required in Mother's solar. Louise had arrived with our gowns for the ball. The time had arrived.


I should have long since ceased to be surprised at the changes the right wardrobe selection can have on your appearance, but as I looked at myself in the wall mirror hanging in Mother's solar, I still found myself rather stunned by the difference from my usual visage. A corset pulled in my waist enough to make it actually distinguishable, meanwhile pushing up my breasts to make them appear much fuller than they truly are. The gown, blood red as was traditional for a bride of nobility (and actually appropriate for me as I was still a virgin), had a full skirt over stiffened pettiskirts and left my shoulders bare. Coupled with the way Mother had ordered my hair pinned up, this showed off my neck quite well. Looking at my reflection, I almost felt graceful. I silently hoped that I did not break the illusion as soon as I stepped onto the dance floor. I had no doubts I would be expected to be present for the entire evening's festivities. There would be no sneaking off this time.

"Well, Laren, I do say, Louise has managed to work wonders once more." Mother stepped up behind me, a flat wooden box in her hands. I'll say, I thought to myself, I am amazed that I actually appear to have curves in this corset. I chalked that up to Louise's mastery. It crossed my mind to wonder how Mother had kept the woman from being snatched up into some other noblewoman's service for so long. "I would say that all you require are a few finishing touches and we shall be ready," she added, extending the box to me. I took it from her with a questioning look, I didn't for one moment believe that it was a gift from her. I doubted the rift between us would ever mend enough for that. Knowing exactly what I was thinking she smirked and answered the unspoken question, "They were your grandmother's. Garvin's mother, that is, she wore them on her wedding day. He felt you should have them."

Ah. Of course. I opened the box and let out a soft gasp. Jewelry rarely occupied my thoughts, but these pieces were quite beautiful. They were simple, yet startlingly elegant, even so. I had never met my paternal grandmother, but Father had once told me I was very much like her. Perhaps that was why he had never pushed me to deny my true nature. The box contained four items. My mother lifted out the necklace, a delicate silver rope chain on which hung flat oval blue star sapphire a little larger than my thumbnail, set on a simple silver disk. She fastened it around my neck, it fit closely, as a choker, with the stone resting in the hollow between my collarbones. Also in the box were a pair of earrings with smaller matching stones and a bracelet with a larger matching star sapphire in the same style. An attendant stepped up and took the box so that I could put on the earrings and bracelet, then stepped back murmuring that she would place the box with the last of my things to be sent to the House of the Stag when we left for the ball. I thanked her and Mother and I looked in the mirror together, gauging the final effect.

"Well, I suppose Liam won't be able to find much fault with you tonight at least," she said after a few moments. I ignored the barb and she continued, "As long as you don't embarrass us too much once the dancing starts, all should go quite smoothly tonight. If you do happen to find him disagreeable, daughter dear, please do me the favor of keeping a civil tongue until after you are married, won't you?" I drew in a sharp breath. That seemed a low blow even for Mother. Could she really imagine that I would come so close to fulfilling the arrangement with the Stag only to jeopardize it at the last moment? I noticed she was watching me very carefully and suddenly realized that she was testing me. I smoothed out my features and thought of the best way to reply.

"As you say, Mother. You look extraordinarily lovely tonight." A flicker of a smile, there and gone so quickly I could have imagined it. I had passed the test. If fate was kind it would be the last she had to administer to me, though I did not believe I would be so lucky. My compliment was sincere enough, Mother did look quite beautiful. Her dress, in a garnet hue, had a similar skirt to mine, but Louise had given her sleeves, short ruffled frilly things that on any other woman would have looked silly. They seemed soft and elegant on my mother, and coupled with a dipping heart-shaped neckline had quite a striking effect. She wore garnets to match, set in gold, thick cuff bracelets on each wrist, and a heavy necklace that filled in the space her dress did not. Her hair hung loose in ringlets, with gold and deep red ribbons woven into many of the curls.

"Thank you Laren." A knock sounded at the door, signaling that the carriage had arrived to take us to House Prima. "Now, it is time we were on our way. We have quite an evening ahead of us, do we not?" We donned the cloaks we were handed and left the parlor, heading swiftly to the main hall. We were silent as we walked, and in short order we met up with Father, who was waiting for us by the entrance.

"Such lovely ladies I have in my party this evening!" Father exclaimed. "I shall be the envy of all of the Houses tonight."

"You always are, dear heart," Mother said, taking his arm. I knew she was not referring to me. Father extended his other arm to me and together the three of us left the manor. We climbed into the waiting carriage and were off within moments. As the carriage turned out of the drive onto the private street that would eventually take us to the main roads of the Quarter, I could not stop myself from looking back, just once. I drank in the sight of the House of Jade. It was home, it had been for my whole life. But as we moved and it fell from my sight, I knew that the next time I saw it I would be a visitor, not a resident. I would never see it the same way again.


During the ride to House Prima I was left mostly to my own devices. Mother and Father chatted about their expectations for the evening, mentioning those they hoped to see and those they hoped to avoid. Father dreamed aloud of the feast that would open the evening. He was always delighted to be invited to table at House Prima. The Prime had ways of ensuring he kept the best chefs in Pelos working only for his House.

I listened idly to their conversation, paying more attention to the scenery out the window. Perhaps I should have been making the most of my last few moments as a child with her parents, before I went off to presumably start a family of my own. When I tried to think of a way to enter the conversation, I found I had very little to say. The questions that burned inside of me could not be answered by them, and I would likely learn their answers soon enough. Mother and I might have reached a truce of sorts, but I did not doubt that it was shaky at best, and engaging Father in a discussion would only have alienated Mother, renewing her ire. Instead, I slipped into the familiar pattern of sitting quietly and losing myself in my own musings while they occupied themselves. It was, perhaps, the most fitting farewell, now that I think upon the matter.

Unsurprisingly, the driver seemed to be following the more scenic route to House Prima, taking the road that followed the bend in the South Claret River north around the edge of Peregrine Lake and eventually leading to House Bridge, one of two bridges that spanned the lake to the eye-shaped island in its center upon which House Prima sat proudly overlooking all of Pelos. Perhaps a week ago I would not have noticed how few ships seemed to be passing under the bridge as we crossed, but now the lack seemed rather obvious. As our carriage pulled up in front of the seat of Pelos' government I could not help but admire the palace. Its striated grey marble always brought storm clouds to mind. I had only seen the palace twice before in my life, and it seemed to me unchanging, stalwartly guarding against chaos despite the furious imagery its exterior always evoked from me. I found my eye drawn to the massive dome that topped the palace. It was the only such structure in Pelos and a marvel of engineering and architecture according to every book I had ever read that mentioned the subject. The fact that it was several hundred cycles old only made it that much more impressive.

Exiting the carriage we made our way sedately up the wide expanse of stairs that led to the palace's entrance and paused at the top of yet another set of stairs, waiting our turn to be announced. I took the opportunity to observe my surroundings. The entrance hall of the palace itself was almost large enough for the ball, though of course it would not be held there. Much of the entrance was the same grey marble as the palace's exterior, but where the outside was austere the inside was brilliantly splashed with color everywhere the eye seemed to look. Banners bearing the sigils of each of the noble Houses hung along the walls, suspended from the room's high ceiling. I located Jade's sigil with little effort--a sinuous black winged serpent clutching a pale lily in its front claws, backed by a field of green to match our name. Inadvertently I found myself also seeking the sigil of the Stag, finding it directly across from Jade, a magnificent tawny stag with golden antlers against a forest green field. Rich velvet curtains in deep blues and reds hung at regular intervals to the left and right of the entrance, concealing doors and passageways. Halfway across the room twin staircases curled up to meet each other at a landing in front of the doors leading into the ballroom. Peacock blue carpets lined the staircases, while a third, emerald green carpet, led between them to the banquet hall underneath the ballroom.

The first two floors of the palace were divided into four quarters like Pelos itself, housing all of the public areas of the building. Each face of the building had an entrance leading to its own section of the palace. We had entered through the east face, which led to the part of House Prima used for public events such as tonight's Solstice Ball. Entering from the south would bring one to the merchants' center, where trade negotiations could take place and be regulated. The west entrance led to the courts and chambers for the Council of Houses. To the north were the Guild Halls, where the Quarter of Industry's business was conducted and regulated. Atop all of this sat a smaller round third floor, which rested directly underneath the dome. It was in this third floor that the House of Rivers resided. Many of the books I have read speculated on the function, if any, of the dome itself. Most seemed to concur that such secrets rest only with the dead and with the current House Prima, however.

Eventually we reached the front of the queue and were formally announced to the party.

"Garvin, Head of Jade!" I noticed a few heads turn at Father's name. The page quickly followed up with, "Carren of Jade! Laren of Jade!" Even more heads turned at my name. It seemed word of tonight's events had spread throughout the Houses. I felt many assessing eyes and suspected more than a few found me wanting. I would not let them get to me, however. I've gone this long not worrying about what others think of me, after all. What's one more night? I affixed what I hoped was a pleasant smile to my face and followed my parents down the short flight of stairs to mingle with the rest of the guests until dinner was announced.

As we entered the fray a woman broke away from a small knot of people to make her way towards us. "Garvin!" she exclaimed, placing her hands on Father's shoulders, "Here you are at last. It is good to see you and your family," she looked at me with a winning smile and then back at Father. I noticed, with an inappropriate amount of amusement, the way Mother's eyes narrowed at this woman's familiarity with Father. "Laren is every bit as lovely as you said, I see. This will be a rather eventful night for both of our families! Come with me, there are some people who have been asking after you."

I realized at once who the woman must be. She was Roslyn of the Stag, my soon-to-be mother-in-law. I found myself surreptitiously scrutinizing her, trying to assess her as much as possible in these first few moments. She was ten, perhaps more, cycles older than Mother but still quite beautiful. The hair framing her face was a deep auburn that would flash red as it caught the light from the lanterns scattered about the room. Her eyes were a pale blue but held a deep warmth within. At the moment she was smiling and looked terribly kind, yet I could see under the surface the potential for sternness if you stepped wrong with her. She actually rather reminded me of one of my more memorable, and favorite, tutors. Overall she gave off the impression that she was a woman who brooked little nonsense but was pleasant enough if not crossed. I instantly liked her. The feeling was increased when she took Father's arm and led him back to her original group, beckoning for Mother and I to follow and blithely ignoring the very unpleasant glare that this elicited from Mother.

Fighting the urge to giggle at my mother's reaction, it really just wouldn't do, I turned my gaze to the group of people toward which we were headed. A man in the group had turned as we approached and I realized he was watching me in particular. When I saw him, my eyes locked with his and all traces of the giggle bubbling in my throat died right there. Liam, I realized. The gossips in the clubs had done him little justice. He was indeed quite handsome. Where the angles in his mother's face were softened his were sharply defined, a square jaw and pointed chin, with a razor straight nose. Each piece of clothing he wore seemed to be perfectly in place, though I noticed that he had left the collar and top button of his shirt undone. It gave him a calculated yet rakish appearance. Liam's hair was a pale brown, almost blonde, and he wore it cut short. I suspected this might have something to do with the hint of curls I could see where there was any length to it. His eyes were the same pale blue as Roslyn's, but again contrasted. Where hers held hints of a deep warmth, his instead suggested ice. Jayna had not exaggerated their striking nature at all. There was an overall haughtiness to his demeanor, but it seemed to fit him well.

He must have noticed my faltering because he offered me a small, unsure smile. Somehow that simple gesture managed to set me completely at ease. I offered him one in return, and dipped my head in a brief bow, which he returned, and quickly caught up with Roslyn and my parents. Roslyn apparently did not miss much and seemed to have noticed the exchange.

"Ah, but first there are introductions to be made, of course," she stated serenely. "My son, Liam of the Stag." He bowed his head again and Roslyn turned to my family. "Liam, please meet Garvin of Jade, his wife Carren, and their daughter Laren." Father extended his hand to Liam, who grasped it firmly. We said a polite round of hellos and then Roslyn pulled us into the larger group, I confess I do not recall any of their names, though they were given. Liam stood next to me but did not say anything, he seemed content to simply watch the rest of the attendees, so I did the same. Occasionally we would catch each other's eyes and trade those small smiles again. It should have felt very awkward, and yet somehow it didn't. I was quite grateful for that small blessing.

When the page announced a group of arrivals from the House of Blades, Liam surprised me by leaning in closer to whisper in my ear. "I'd watch out for those two, were I you," he said, indicating a set of twins who had been announced as Sebastian and Nathaniel. They were of a height with Liam, slender like the blades for which their house was named. They were dressed alike, perhaps to enhance their identical features. The only differences I noted were in their hair (Sebastian's chestnut brown hair was long enough to pull back from his face but ended in a short tail at the back of his head, whereas Nathaniel's tresses hung straight and ended below his shoulders, the top of it pulled back and braided to keep it clear of his face) and their eyes (Sebastian's were a bright cerulean blue while Nathaniel's were storm cloud grey, matching the marble of the palace). Both were tanned a golden brown and they seemed to exude an aura of cockiness the like of which I had never encountered. "They are notorious lotharios with little respect for a lady's standing or honor," Liam whispered, "You will be a particularly tempting target for them tonight."

As he said this last he brushed my waist gently, indicating my bridal gown. The brief contact caught me off guard and caused me to shiver slightly, despite the warmth generated in the room by the large crowd. The words were said lightly but I detected a hint of disdain in them nonetheless. Aimed at me? I could not help but wonder. But no, Liam's gaze was still focused on the twins, following them as they descended into the room. As if feeling Liam's eyes, Nathaniel turned his head and saw Liam. He smirked and I felt Liam stiffen slightly. There is bad blood there, I realized. Perhaps later I could ask Liam for the details but now was not the time. Nathaniel's eyes shifted, and noticing me, he gave a dashing grin and winked, then turned back to his family and continued past us.

"Then I shall simply stick close to you this evening, my lord." I said it with a confidence I did not feel, but I suspected the words were reassurance he needed. He did not know me, did not know how fickle a woman I might be. His words were a test as much as a warning, I knew that much. I had plenty of practice with that kind of exchange from years of living with my mother. I stepped slightly closer to him and casually slipped my arm through his, smiling up at him as I added, "If there is no opportunity for them to be tempted, then they needn't embarrass themselves by wasting their time, and we might enjoy our evening undisturbed." For just a moment I thought I had gone too far, overstepped some unseen boundary. His eyes remained hard, considering, as he looked down into my face. Then in an instant they softened and the ice I had imagined earlier melted, replaced with the same warmth I had noticed in Roslyn's eyes. The tension seemed to flood out of him and he smiled, a bright, brilliant smile that made the breath catch in my throat. Ancestors be my guide! What have I gotten myself into? The true import of what lay in store for me that evening struck home then. In a few hours' time this man would be my husband, and we would be...together. I could feel the blush start to creep up my neck and into my cheeks. I was sure the entire room was staring, watching and knowing exactly what I was thinking.

"You are quite right, my lady, quite right indeed!" He let out a deep chuckle and brushed a thumb across my cheek lightly, breaking the spell that seemed to have been holding me in place. I blinked, trying to regain my composure. A muted thump sounded behind us and he turned his head toward the source. The great teak doors to the banquet hall had been opened and the crowd was flowing into the room beyond. "Ah, and it is time for our dinner! Shall we, Laren?" I did not trust myself to speak, so I only nodded instead, letting him pull me through the crowd behind our parents and to our seats at one of the exquisitely set tables. He smiled at me again as we were seated and I offered him a shaky smile in return. His confidence seemed to have grown with my nervousness.

As it turned out, we were seated at Prime Vinnis' table. Along with the other members of the Prime's own House of Rivers were representatives from the Houses of the Griffon and the Moon, who with the Stag formed the triumvirate of most influential Houses in Pelos outside of Rivers. In addition to Roslyn and Liam, at the table were two of Liam's cousins, Walther and Hensley of the Stag, who were sons of his father's cousin Samuel, I remembered from my lessons. Also present were my parents, my cousin Garrus, and his wife Adelyn. Under other circumstances I would have been highly uncomfortable, or at least extremely intimidated, to dine in the company of such powerful people. I was still in something of a daze, however, and somehow managed to muddle through it just fine. For the most part I remained quiet, taking in the conversation of others and focusing on not spilling anything as I ate. Liam was seated across from me and made occasional small talk, but I sensed he did not want to discuss anything of note in such a public venue. He was also frequently drawn into the conversations his mother was having with the Heads of the Moon and the Griffon. The realization crept in that this was only the beginning of such events for me. Liam was his mother's heir, of course, and Roslyn would likely be pressured to step down from her role as Head of the Stag before too much longer, now that Liam was both old enough and actively working to continue the family line. I blushed once more at the thought of what that would entail.

Garrus was seated next to me and he seemed to be in much the same sense of befuddlement as I at finding himself in such company. I had not spent much time with my cousin but I remembered him fondly from our few encounters at family functions. He was small in stature and stocky, with a very bookish air about him. Perfectly understandable for an accountant. His skin was the same honeyed tone as mine, his hair the same deep black, his dark almond shaped eyes tilted up ever so slightly. He looked, I realized, very much like Father. I wondered if that, along with his competence in financial matters, had influenced Father's choosing of him as heir. We spoke a few times throughout the meal. He seemed very kind, and grateful although a bit surprised, to find himself suddenly so elevated within the House.

The meal was drawn out over two hours, with multiple courses served at intervals, but once the final course had been cleared away, Liam was right back at my side, escorting me out of the banquet hall and up a curved staircase into the ballroom. I looked longingly at the padded benches and cushioned chairs lining the walls to either side of the room, but my betrothed passed right by them, pulling me into the center of the dance floor as the first tune began. I do not know what Master Ablard would have made of my dancing, but I managed to keep up with Liam, more or less, and avoided stumbling or stepping on his feet. He seemed to be enjoying himself quite a bit as he led me around the floor for what seemed to be hours, though I knew it to be nowhere that much time in reality. I was surprised to realize that in fact I was enjoying myself as well. Dancing with Master Ablard was no preparation for an evening spent on the arm of Liam of the Stag. I received several more of those brilliant smiles that stole my breath, and I feared I was grinning back at him like a loon. If I was, he did not seem to mind.

Father cut in once and Liam relinquished me, partnering with Roslyn for that tune. I searched for Mother, surprised she would allow Father to dance with another woman, even his own daughter, and found her not far away partnered with Garrus. Her face wore a strained polite smile as he carefully led her through the steps at half the pace of the music being played. When the song ended, Father gave me a quick hug before giving me back up to Liam. I thought I saw tears in his eyes as he turned toward Mother to rescue her from my cousin. Thankfully, Garrus looked just as relieved to be free of Mother, making a beeline for Adelyn, who was seated on one of the benches. I laughed a little at the sight, glad to find another thing I had in common with my father's chosen heir. Liam laughed with me, pulling me close as the next song started, a slower tune this time.

Halfway through the evening the band retired to rest a little and refresh themselves.  The deep booming sound of a gong rang throughout the room and all eyes turned toward a small stage that stood at the far end of the ballroom. I had not noticed it until then, having been kept more or less in the center of the crowd by Liam. Prime Vinnis stepped up to the stage and a hush fell over the room, like a wave rushing across a shore.

"Friends and honored guests, thank you for joining us this evening!" His voice boomed throughout the room, carrying quite well. "I hope you have all been enjoying yourselves thus far." There was a murmur of polite assent at this. "The Solstice Ball is, of course, one of my favorite events every cycle. Not the least because it is on this night that we reinforce the stability of Pelos by confirming all newly named House heirs." A small smattering of applause met the statement. The nobility of Pelos liked nothing so much as to be reassured of its security. The naming of an heir was not considered official until it was confirmed by the Prime at Solstice. For the most part the confirmation usually just saw the children of the various heads who had reached their majority and were thus eligible to be officially declared heir to their Head of House. Occasionally, as with Jade tonight, a Head without a natural-born heir would announce the man chosen to succeed him. The Head of such a House was required to submit the identity of his chosen heir to the Prime ahead of time for approval, although the Prime had until the actual confirmation itself to decide whether or not to deny such a request. It was a rare instance and usually resulted in quite the scandal. I did not expect any surprises in regards to Garrus' confirmation, though. Prime Vinnis would not have had Garrus dine with us at his table if he did not approve of the appointment.

A page stepped forward next to the Prime and unrolled a scroll of parchment. Few documents were kept in such a way any longer, but the confirmation of heirs was a ceremony of tradition, and so the scroll and parchment were necessary. The page called off the name of the first House heir to be confirmed and a young boy and old man stepped forward. They knelt before the Prime and he intoned the ritual imploring of the Ancestors to serve as shining examples for their descendants. He placed a silver sash over the boy's shoulder and bid both men to stand. They moved to the back of the stage and the page called the next name on the list.

I was scanning the crowd for Mother and Father when I felt Liam's arm wrap around my waist in a rather possessive manner. I turned to him but found that he was not looking at me. I followed his gaze and saw that Sebastian of Blades had made his way through the crowds to stand near us and was staring in rather frank admiration Liam was facing away from me, glaring at Sebastian, and I could see tension in the set of his jaw. His whole body felt tense, I realized, taking advantage of the closeness to gauge the situation. I narrowed my eyes at Sebastian, and gave him my best false smile, the one my mother always used to indicate to me that she had no interest whatsoever in my current topic of discussion. I then moved slightly, stepping between the two men. I knew I did not block Liam's line of sight completely, he was just tall enough that his eyes were above my head. I placed a hand on his shoulder and stretched to the tips of my toes to grab his attention.

"My lord," I said quietly, "I find I am unused to so much dancing. Might we not find a seat during the confirmations at least?" I kept my tone light, not complaining, just voicing a sincere query. He looked down at me and blinked in surprise, coming back to himself. I saw him start to look back up at Sebastian and then forcibly stop himself. Though he smiled at me, I noted that the ice was back in his eyes.

"Of course, Laren," he answered. Without looking back he turned and we made our way through the crowd to find an open bench along the wall. I hoped that Sebastian would take the hint and not follow, but I did not look back to check. It did not seem like the best idea. I have got to find out what is going on between those Blades and Liam, I told myself. The situation was clearly not a friendly rivalry as I had initially assumed. I was beginning to suspect my bridal gown had much less to do in making me appealing to Sebastian and Nathaniel than the fact that it was Liam I was set to wed.

We found a seat easily enough and Liam focused his attention on the confirmations. I paid little attention after Garrus was confirmed, thinking to myself about what I had learned already that evening. It seemed Liam was the jealous type. I would have to watch my step with him until I learned how far that extended. I hoped he was not as bad as Mother was about Father, but if he was I would just have to bear it. He is lucky I am so solitary, I suppose, I told myself. It would be hard for him to worry that another was trying to steal me away if I rarely spent time in the company of others. A small smile played about my lips. I doubted I would be so lucky, but for a moment I allowed myself to dream that I had found an excuse against attending the many social events that would come with my new standing.