Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back: a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country. — Anais Nin
With the shutters closed, the fire poked to life and two lamps still burning in the front room, Tesni’s home seemed cozy as they began to hear rain falling outside. Tesni pulled two large floor cushions over in front of the fireplace, the way they’d been set on the first night he’d spent in her bed. “I still want to hear the rest of your tale, if you don’t mind telling it,” she said, sitting down and patting the cushion beside her.
The colonel joined her, noting that she’d casually arranged things so that his right side was toward the warmth of the fire when he sat facing her. The heat felt good on his shoulder, which had begun to ache with the advent of rain and the memory of receiving the wound whose scars he carried there. I promised to explain shoulder surgery, too, he reflected wryly. This is shaping up to be a very educational evening, I don’t doubt.
“You mean what happened with my friend Jack, don’t you?” he asked. “We didn’t speak to each other for eight years. In fact, the only person I ever talked to from before what happened was his wife, Sara, because she insisted on staying in touch. We saw each other a few times, exchanged letters once or twice a year. She and Jack only remained married for a few years themselves after the war, though they ended their marriage for other reasons. Sara was the only one out of the four of us who still tried to be everyone’s friend. She still talked to Lisa, too, I know.” The only person who hadn’t been talking to anyone was Jack, after he and Sara divorced. “I kept track of what Jack was doing, at least when I could get the information. Even if I couldn’t be there with him, I had to know that he was all right. That was something I just couldn’t let go of.”
“I can understand that. Obviously, something else happened, though, if you’ve been expecting him to come here.”
The colonel nodded, fiddling with a loose thread on one of the cushions. “Something did. Jack was one of the very few people on my world who was involved with our stargate. I didn’t become aware of its existence until a couple of years after he did, when my team and I were put in a position to defend our world should someone such as the Goa’uld choose to invade using the gate. Think of us as backup, because that’s exactly what we were, while Jack and his people were directly involved with my world’s use of the gate, and had been offworld. I hadn’t.”
While helping to put things in order before the storm, Cromwell had used the brief respite from discussion to think about exactly how much he dared tell Tesni regarding Earth and its use of its own stargate. Not that he knew all that much himself, but what he did know he’d kept secret, save for the very small bit of information he’d given her on his first day in Llanavon, before discovering that the Goa’uld menaced her world too. But he trusted Tesni. To some extent, he had to. Like Cadogan, and the rest of the cadlywydd’s close family, she knew full well that he was not from any of the Five Worlds. Unlike her uncle, however, Tesni was a far less likely target to be captured and interrogated by Bel or his minions, who from what he could gather seemed to pay little mind to who was who in the hierarchy of the human rebels. Furthermore, even if that unlikely event were to happen, no Goa’uld would suspect her of having information regarding anything that lay beyond Bel’s own domain. Only Cadogan, as Sabar’s host, or possibly some of the other Tok’ra and their hosts, were likely to be in much danger of that.
And unlike the other members of her family, only Tesni was in a position where an argument could be made that she perhaps needed to know more about him than she did. She might well find out more eventually anyway, if he continued to spend nights in her bed, or she in his. While he hadn’t had one in recent weeks, the colonel knew he was still prone to the same kinds of nightmares that had plagued him throughout his marriage to Lisa, and since that time as well. Upon having read some of the more graphic excerpts of reports from SG teams, especially SG-1, once he’d been brought into knowledge of the program, new elements had occasionally found their way from his own envisioning of those events into his dreams. He also knew that while he didn’t always verbalize what he experienced in dreams while moving through that boundary land separating sleep from wakefulness, he’d already done so tonight, leading to this very conversation. It had happened often enough to have caused Lisa to ask questions on occasion too, back when he’d been with her. And the conversation they’d just been having had addressed the issue of secrets unshared between himself and Lisa, and the wedge it had driven between them, especially when she knew just enough to know that something troubled him, and was not permitted to know more. He’d be damned if he’d allow the same thing to repeat itself unnecessarily.
He would always carry the knowledge of things he could never, and would never share. That went without saying. He’d done so for more than two decades already. But his own personal story impinged directly on Tesni’s life, and he wondered whether he had the right to remain as much of a mystery to her as he knew he surely must be, at least in the matter of his origins and his past, if he intended to continue in the relationship they had embarked upon. At least Lisa had known who he was and where he came from. It was what he did when he was away from her that was shrouded in secrecy, and she’d known from the beginning to expect that. With Tesni, things were reversed. She still knew next to nothing about his life before his arrival on her world, but she was as involved as he was in the activities of the Am Rhyddid, and privy to whatever details he cared to share about his personal experiences in its service. Cadogan had placed him under no oath of secrecy with regard to her; he was free to use his own judgment. He endeavored now to use that same judgment to decide whether sharing with her information about his own world and its situation regarding the Goa’uld constituted an unacceptable risk.
He decided that it did not, as long as the information went no further than Tesni herself. And he already knew that she, like himself, not only could keep a secret but would do so even at the ultimate personal cost, if need be, though such a situation was highly unlikely to occur. She already had enough secrets that would need keeping anyway, however, should she ever find herself in that situation, so one more was of little consequence.
She was watching his face, waiting patiently for him to continue. “Tesni, I’ll tell you a bit about my world, but you can’t tell any of this to anyone else. Not even Cadogan. All right?”
“Not even my uncle?”
Cromwell shook his head. “It’s just too dangerous. After the malfunction that sent me here, my world may be more vulnerable to the Goa’uld than before, and I don’t want to risk anyone knowing that who might be a target for capture and interrogation by them. Even though I know your uncle and Sabar would never willingly give up any of their knowledge, I don’t know that the Goa’uld might not have a method of getting it anyway. I’m willing to tell you, because I don’t think you’re in any real danger of them doing that to you, just as I’m probably not. If Bel or his Jaffa got hold of you or me, most likely they’d just shoot us. But Cadogan is a different story.”
Tesni pursed her lips. “That makes sense.” She lifted the cider jug and gestured toward his cup. “More?”
He nodded. “Thank you.” As she poured, he began to explain his origins. “My world is called Earth, and as far as I can tell, it’s the same place Bel took your ancestors from. In fact, you and I probably share some ancestry from before that time, since I’m pretty sure the Pridani were taken from the same island where my grandmother was born. That language I first spoke with you when I arrived here is called Cymraeg, and it’s the one her own ancestors spoke. She taught it to me when I was growing up. I think the reason it’s so similar to Pridanic is because both languages developed from a single earlier language that your ancestors probably spoke when Bel brought them here. Your people and mine are blood kin.”
The colonel had debated exactly how much to tell her about that, but at this point, he reasoned, she deserved to know the entire truth. The Pridani could only be the same people as the Briteni, among whom the ancestors of the modern-day Cymri or Welsh were one tribe of many. Tesni had told him that her people had been on Tir Awyr for roughly sixty generations, give or take — in her own maternal line, it was sixty-six. Counting back those sixty-odd generations led to a point where the two of them might well be descended from some of the same individuals, via his father’s family at least. His naina Cromwell had been of Welsh descent, born in Wales, and he knew the same was true of at least one of his paternal grandfather’s grandmothers. In fact most of his ancestry originated in the British Isles, that he knew of, on both sides of his family, and although he was well aware how many other peoples had occupied the lands of his ancestors and bred their own genes into the pool from which his were drawn, the fact remained that he and the Pridani almost certainly shared descent from the same ancient tribe or tribes.
“Then not only are you Pridanic by adoption, but you’re one of us by descent, too?” Tesni asked, setting the jug down again. “And you come from the byd cyntaf — the first world?”
He could see understanding dawn. Her next words confirmed it. “So my ancestors came from your world, and your grandmother’s people are descended from the ones who remained behind. And they were once the same people, all speaking that older tongue?”
Once again, he was struck by her intelligence. These were undoubtedly novel concepts to her, yet she was able to accept them and then put them to use in the space between one breath and the next. He wondered exactly how far out of his league he might be playing right now. “It’s the only explanation I can think of,” he agreed.
“That’s amazing. But why, then, have your people not visited here before this? How do they not even know about the stargates, or the Goa’uld?”
I’d be wondering the same thing, in her shoes. “Tesni, the people of my world once buried their stargate and cut themselves off from all other worlds, in order to be safe from the Goa’uld. We forgot about it for many generations, and have only recently rediscovered it and begun to use it again, in just the past few years. That’s why so few there are even aware of it.” He explained briefly what he knew about the accidental discovery of the Stargate, buried under the dusty soil at Giza, and the research to discern its function, forgotten in the intervening centuries. “What I don’t understand is how your ancestors were brought here, when the Giza gate was buried much longer ago than your history can account for. Apparently Earth has a second gate, but I was under the impression it was buried then too, beneath the ice at my world’s southern pole.”
Tesni appeared to think for a moment. “A lot of what we know from those early days is regarded more as legend than as pure history, but the tales mention the use of great ships that sailed through space, as well as the use of the chappa’ai.”
Cromwell nodded. “That’s probably it, then. It looks to me like a lot of plants and animals from Earth came here with you, so the use of ships makes sense. That might even explain a few of the weirder legends told on Earth, too. They’d be stories passed down by the descendants of those who stayed behind.” He sipped at his cider. “Anyway, once we got the gate working, we immediately discovered the Goa’uld, and what they did to humans. We’ve been fighting them since we first encountered them, and though I’ve never seen one in person, my friend Jack has, because he’s been directly involved in that fight.”
“But you hadn’t fought them yourself, before coming here?”
“No.” The colonel shook his head. “Jack led the first group of people from Earth to go through the gate after it was reactivated, and they ran into the Goa’uld right away. I found out about this much later, when my team and I took the job serving as a secondary line of defense against possible incursions by the Goa’uld or any other hostiles via the stargate. Even now, fewer than five hundred people on Earth are aware of even the existence of the gate, and until then, I wasn’t among them. As far as I know, Jack wasn’t made aware then that I had any connection to or knowledge of what his people were doing with the gate. But then something went wrong, and the facility housing it lost contact with the rest of the world. My team was sent in to find out what had happened and do what we could resolve the problem, and Jack and I saw each other that day for the first time in over eight years. He wasn’t happy to see me, I can tell you that much.”
“Why?” Tesni’s eyes widened. “Don’t tell me that even after eight years —”
“He still blamed me for letting him get captured.” Cromwell held up a hand. “I know, I know. Not entirely my fault.”
By the time he and his team had transferred stateside and taken the assignment to back up the SGC, Cromwell had accepted that there hadn’t really been anything else he could have done that day in Iraq that wouldn’t have probably gotten someone else killed. O’Neill clearly hadn’t come to the same conclusion, though; not that Cromwell necessarily had expected him to. And no amount of acceptance or rationalization assuaged the guilt he still felt over what had happened to Jack at the hands of the Iraqis. Some things went deeper than any logic could reach.
“It didn’t matter,” he told her. “The whole reason I’d taken this job in the first place was because I knew he was there, and if there was going to be trouble, I wanted to be in a position to do something about it. I wasn’t about to let him get into a bad situation again if I could do anything about it. I knew he still blamed me. If he didn’t, he’d have gotten in touch; I was easier to find than he was. So the only thing I could do that had a prayer of making things right was to be there if something went wrong, and get him clear of it this time. I figured that since someone had to be in that position anyway, it should be me.”
Tesni was shaking her head. “Neirin, I don’t know who sounds more stubborn, you or your friend.”
He had to laugh at the way she said it. “We’ve never figured that out ourselves, either. I’d say we’re probably about even.” He sobered, thinking of what else had transpired in the course of dealing with the crisis that had brought him face to face with Jack after so many years. “Anyway, the people in charge of my planet’s stargate had been sending small teams of people out to different planets on the stargate network, exploring the worlds they found, looking for resources and allies. They’d managed to send a team to a very dangerous planet.” The colonel paused, wondering how he was going to explain what had happened. “Tesni, how much do you know about gravity?” Pridanic contained a native word for the concept, which indicated that some knowledge existed, but he wasn’t at all sure how much.
“I know it holds things to the surface of a planet, and keeps planets in orbit about their suns. And according to Sabar and my uncle, it can differ in strength from place to place — there is less of it on our moons, for example, than here on Tir Awyr.” She gave him a puzzled look.
Cromwell might have been more surprised at her response were it not for the presence of the Tok’bel leader among Tesni’s circle of family and friends. Surely being as close to her uncle and his symbiote as she was had afforded her the opportunity to learn things that might not be included in the general body of common knowledge available to the average individual on the Celtic worlds, he realized. “All right then, what do you know about stars and what happens to them at the end of their lifetimes? Did Sabar or Cadogan ever explain that to you?”
She nodded. “When I was old enough to realize that my uncle and his symbiote knew so much about the universe beyond this one small world, I became very curious and began asking questions about how things worked. I suppose I’ve never really stopped.” Her brow furrowed in thought. “Stars…what happens depends on their size. They become very large and red, then the ones with not much mass remaining eventually become very tiny, dense and white before burning out and growing cold. The more mass the star has left, the more dense it will become.”
Good, good… “Exactly. Not only that, but its gravity increases in relation to its density. If it is massive enough, and becomes dense enough, the gravity becomes so great that nothing can escape it, not even light itself. We call this a black hole.”
Another nod. “Sabar told me about them.”
This was going to be easier than he’d thought. “In a gravity field like that, time slows down significantly. There is a stargate on a planet in a system whose primary star has a black hole companion. The people on my world had sent a team to this planet, probably without realizing there was a black hole nearby. When the team discovered it and tried to return, the gate on that world somehow became locked to the gate on our own, and no one could get it to shut down. Time on the other planet was passing much more slowly than on Earth, and somehow the gravitational effect of the black hole passed through the stargate and began to affect the area around it on Earth, causing time to slow there as well. The military base housing our stargate lost contact with the outside world as a result, and my team was sent in to find out what had happened. At first we suspected a Goa’uld attack of some sort, but once inside, we encountered my friend Jack. That’s when we found out what was really happening.”
“What did you do?”
Cromwell picked up the poker and adjusted the position of one of the logs on the fire. The flames blazed up, sending a rush of light and warmth into the room before settling down again. “Well, the team that had been sent to that other planet… there was no way to get them back home again. Jack didn’t want to leave those people on that other world, but there wasn’t any choice. It was kind of like the situation I’d been in, when I thought he’d been killed: no real viable options. I’ll be honest; I pointed that out to him, and whether it was that or something else, he did start acting differently.”
Laying down the poker, he turned once more to face Tesni. “He didn’t say anything — he didn’t have to — but I could tell he’d decided to forgive me, and that I was still his friend. By that time, someone had come up with a way to unlock our stargate from the one on the other planet, by setting an explosive device to direct energy into it that would hopefully cause the connection to jump to somewhere else. Jack and I were setting it up when something went wrong and I fell through our gate. The last thing I saw was Jack trying to catch me. The bomb we set must have gone off not long afterward, because the connection did skip, and I ended up here. I’ve been hoping ever since then that he’s all right and that someone there knows what planet the connection skipped to…” Cromwell trailed off at the look on her face.
If he still felt a shiver of horror at the memory of those last seconds in the SGC’s gate room, or at the thought of what might have transpired there after his fall, it had its match in Tesni’s expression. Her face, normally fair, was pale; her eyes, huge. “I had no idea, Neirin.” She took his hand yet again, tracing the long bones of its back with her thumb. “After this long… no wonder you’ve worried.”
He drew a deep breath to steady himself. “It doesn’t necessarily mean anything’s wrong on their end. There could be damage to the gate, or to the facility housing it, but there might not be. Jack might not have gotten away before the blast, but he might have. There were people there who would have done their best to see that he did. It’s entirely possible that everything’s fine on their end but that their equipment didn’t tell them where the wormhole skipped to, and if for whatever reason they had to shut it down before they could send anyone through to check, then they have no way of knowing where I am.”
Pausing, he stared at the fire before speaking again, this time much more softly. “Of course, that assumes they’d even think to look for me. Given the situation, I know I’m lucky to have survived. If no one on my world suspects that was possible, that’s as reasonable an explanation as any for why no one’s come looking for me.” His voice grew even quieter. “It would also mean I’ve been declared dead, and that Lisa is legally a widow. In that case, I hope she’ll have found someone who can give her the things I couldn’t, because she deserves that.”
Tesni shifted closer, putting her other arm around him He followed suit, and they sat holding each other, watching the flames spark and dance. “I suppose it makes sense, that your people might assume you died,” she agreed after a moment. “So if no one’s coming for you, for whatever reason, what are your plans?”
He sighed. “I don’t really have too many options. I don’t know the address for my world, and I can’t ask your uncle or any of the other Tok’ra, because of the risk I already explained to you. If what happened did damage my world’s ability to defend itself against intruders coming through the stargate, then I don’t want that possibility to be known. Obviously I trust Sabar, and I trust Cadogan, but the Tok’bel probably don’t have the time or resources to do much for Earth if there’s a problem there, and if something were to happen so that Bel or any other Goa’uld learned that my world might be more vulnerable than before, it would be a disaster. Remember how I said almost no one on my world is even aware of the Goa’uld?”
Her eyes went wide again. “I see what you mean. They wouldn’t even know what was happening until it was too late, would they?”
He nodded. “Exactly. And we’d already been attacked once, before this happened. We were lucky that time; we managed to defend ourselves, but barely.”
“How could you do that, and have people still not be aware of what happened?”
“It’s a long story, Tesni. Two Goa’uld ships were destroyed in orbit — in fact, Jack led the team that did it — and people were told a lie about the lights they saw in the sky that night. I saw them myself, but even I didn’t have a clue what I’d really witnessed until a couple of months later, when I was also told about the stargate.”
She shook her head. “I can’t imagine what it must be like there.”
“It’s actually a nice place, for the most part. You’d probably like it. But my being able to go home isn’t worth exposing everyone there to another possible threat, so I’m not willing to take the chance. If I can find out the address on my own somehow, that’s one thing, because then I can try to dial it and see if it connects. At least then I’d know whether the stargate on my world still worked. I could maybe communicate, or even go there at least long enough to find out what happened, whether or not I stayed. Or if someone does come looking for me, then I’ll know it’s safe. But if neither of those things happens, then it’s a good bet that I’m never going home at all.”
She looked at him oddly. “I notice you said ‘whether or not’ you stayed. Does that mean you might go, and decide not to stay there?”
He struggled for an answer, trying to reconcile the two desires of his heart. “Tesni, please understand that I’m very far from home right now. I don’t mean that Tir Awyr hasn’t become home in its own right, because it has. But still… I have commitments. A duty to my own world. I can’t help thinking about that.”
“I see.” She stared at the fire again. “Of course you want to go home. I’m sure I’d want to as well, if I were you.”
Damn it, that wasn’t what I was trying for. “Tesni…”
She shook her head, still staring at the fire. “No, I do understand, Neirin. I’ll be honest, and tell you this: I’m just selfish enough to wish I could keep you here for my own sake. But you never meant to be here at all, and if you could go home, then it wouldn’t be right for me to ask you to stay here. Besides, there are people there who have loved you for far longer than I have.”
She turned slowly to look at him. He could see pain in her eyes, even as she did her best to hide it, and he was consumed with a desire to make it go away. “Cariad, I said I couldn’t help thinking about my world, and about going back there. It doesn’t mean I will, because I probably won’t get the chance. And even if I do get that chance… what makes you think I’d want to stay there, if it meant I’d have to leave you here?”
“No. Not now.” He brushed a strand of hair from her face. “Two months ago, maybe. Three months ago, probably. But it’s a little late for that now.” He kissed her, gently at first, then again, more deeply, before drawing back to look into her eyes again. “I hadn’t planned on what’s developed between us, but of course it isn’t the kind of thing anyone plans. It just happens, and I’d be an idiot to throw it away.” His voice grew husky. “I love you. It scares me a little to realize just how much. But I already walked away once from someone I loved, and I’m not going to do it a second time. I learn from my mistakes, at least usually.” Smiling then, he asked, “What did you think I was talking about when I asked if you still felt you could trust me?”
She was confused; he could see it in her face. “So… you’re saying that if you did get the chance to go back, you wouldn’t? Because of…” She trailed off, gesturing helplessly between them.
“I’m saying that I wouldn’t go back and stay. Not unless you wanted to come with me.” He gave her a hopeful look, though he was pretty sure of what she’d say next.
She shook her head. “Neirin, you aren’t the only one with duties and obligations.”
It was no more than he’d expected of her, really. “I know that. The only way that taking you with me would work would be if we could somehow divide our time between both places, then. It might be possible; if it were, would that suit you?”
She considered the question. “Yes… I could see doing that. But what if it turned out not to be possible? If you had to make a choice — one place or the other, only?”
That’s where it would get difficult, wouldn’t it, Cromwell? But Tesni has lifelong obligations she was born to, and you’ve already given the Air Force twenty-four years of your life. Twenty-five, counting the time you’ve spent right here, while everyone back home considers you missing or worse. You could’ve retired at any time after twenty, so what’s to keep you from doing it if they make you choose, and just coming back here? You can probably finagle one more gate trip out of Jack, or if that isn’t possible, out of Hammond. It isn’t as if you’d be bored, because the Am Rhyddid will keep you as busy as you want to be.
Even as he formed the thoughts coherently, he knew he’d already made his decision. “If I have to choose, then my choice is to be where you are. I’m not obligated to continue on, as far as my military duty on Earth goes. I could have retired five years ago, though right now I’m glad I didn’t. But there’s no reason why I couldn’t do that, and then come back and continue what I’m doing with the Am Rhyddid, for as long as I’m useful to the Pridani in my current capacity. After that… well, there will be other things I can do here, certainly. I can think of far worse places to spend the rest of my life, and there’s no one I’d rather spend it with than you.”
“You don’t have family on Earth whom you would miss?”
“Not really. A few cousins, that’s all. No one I’m particularly close to.” At her look of concern, he added, “It’s a long story. My family wasn’t very large to begin with, and most of them died while I was still pretty young.”
“No children? You and Lisa didn’t —”
He shook his head. “No, we didn’t have any children.”
“So that just leaves your friend Jack, then, if he’s all right.”
Cromwell was touched to think she would make that her concern. “Tesni, like it or not, Jack’s been doing well enough without me for years. If he made it out of range before that bomb exploded, he’ll manage just fine without me still, I’m sure of it. And we’d likely see him anyway, once Earth knew about Tir Awyr and the rest of the Five Worlds. His job involves gate travel, and looking for resources and allies for Earth. If everything’s all right on Earth, and with the people responsible for its stargate, there’s every chance my world and yours would become allies. We share a common enemy in the Goa’uld, and the Five Worlds have resources that Earth could probably make use of. Believe me, there’d be trade.” He grinned. “In fact, that’s part of why I think there might not be a real problem with you and me being able to divide our time between Earth and here if I do get to go back, because the first thing I’d do is request a transfer to Stargate Command. I’m already in the know and I’ve got experience from being here, so I think my request would have a pretty good chance of being accepted. And you could easily wind up being the person who serves as a liaison between Tir Awyr and Earth.”
“You’ve given this some thought, haven’t you?” She eyed him quizzically.
A shrug. “Maybe a little.” Whether I realized I was thinking about it at the time or not.
A smile played about her lips. “Did you really mean to offer me your lifetime just now?’
He laughed. “I did. You might get thirty years or so out of me, if we’re both lucky. They’re yours if you want them.” He kissed her. “You have my heart already, and you know it. You deserve to have whatever else I can give you along with it.”
Her smile blossomed fully. “Of course I want them.”
Cromwell took her hands in his. “Then let me ask you this: you’ve told me how divorce works among the Pridani, but how does one go about getting married?”
“It’s really quite simple, but your life has already been complicated in that area, cariad.” Tesni cocked her head, still smiling. “Are you sure you wish to wed a second time?”
He kissed her again. “I just promised you the rest of my life, and to someone like me, that means a marriage. So unless you have some pressing reason not to, I’d like to make it a formal arrangement. Assuming I ever do get back to Earth, it might not be considered fully binding there, depending on my status, but a marriage that is binding here will signal my intent to anyone there. Besides, I live here now, and I’m committed to you in the fullest sense, make no mistake.”
Tesni laughed. “You don’t do anything by halves, do you? All right then; I accept.”
The colonel grinned. “So, how do we formalize this? And when?”
Her face grew thoughtful. “You own no property on any of the Five Worlds, and few goods. I have potential claim upon the seat of Bennaeth Bod, by birthright, but legally you are of my clan, which keeps it simple…”
He stopped her. “What do you mean, I’m of your clan? I’m not even from around here, remember?”
The musical laugh again. “I forget sometimes that you might not recognize things that seem obvious to us. Do you remember the cup that was passed around the table when the family dined together at Bennaeth Bod, at last autumn’s harvest festival? The one that everyone drank from?”
Cromwell did remember. A cup of elderberry wine had made its way around the dinner table, beginning with Cadogan at the table’s head, and everyone present had drunk from it before passing it on. It had come to him second-to-last, where he’d sat between Tesni and Ris, and having been given no indication to the contrary he’d followed suit as Ris gave the cup to him, before passing it on to Tesni. There had been no solemnity and no ceremony, only smiles as the cup was passed amid normal conversation, and he’d thought it little more than some quaint family tradition at the time, in which he’d been invited to share as a guest. Now he wondered precisely what had been going on.
“Maybe you’d better explain,” he suggested.
“The cup is passed that way between members of a family, and only between them. That Ris was instructed beforehand to give it to you, rather than passing it directly on to me, was intended to formalize what had already been decided more than a month earlier by my uncle, my brother and myself: your adoption into our family and clan.”
The colonel stared at her. “Why?”
She touched his face. “Neirin, you came to us kinless and clanless, at least in any terms recognizable by the Pridani or our sister tribes. Among us, to be kinless and clanless is a status reserved only for those who have committed crimes so severe that their own kin and clan have made them outcast. You’ve done no such thing, and in fact had risked your own life almost as soon as you arrived to safeguard the lives of my niece and my nephew. That alone would have obligated us to you and given you a claim upon us, but when you later made it clear that you wished to be regarded as one of our tribe, it meant that a kindred and clan had to claim you for their own. Clan Branoc would have done so in any case, and so it was a small matter for us to agree — Cadogan and Idris as co-chiefs, and myself as their first heir.” She chuckled. “Little did I know that I was making my own life easier, but there it is. Marrying within the clan is a simpler contract than marrying outside of it.”
Good grief. Cromwell found himself searching for the words to frame a response. “I had no idea, Tesni. I’m honored to have been made a member of your family, but no one ever explained any of that to me.”
“Well, now you know. In legal standing, your status in relation to most of us is that of a cousin. Having no documented common descent closer than five generations — obviously — you and I are free to marry, and this will change some of those relationships, making Idris your brother under our laws, Anwen your sister, Ris and Tegwyn your niece and nephew, and Cadogan your uncle, just as he is mine.” She took a sip from her cider cup. “Pridanic marriages come in varying forms, depending on intent, prior marital obligations and on property, along with rank in the case of clan leaders and their direct heirs. Our intent is permanence, which is of the first degree. By our laws you are divorced from your first wife, so again, our bond would be of the first degree. My birth and your rank as filwriad make ours a marriage of equals in all but property, and because your arm along with my own protects any property to which I might hold claim or be bound to safeguard, your own lack of property is superseded by this fact.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I thought you said this was simple.”
“For you and me, it is. All that is required is that I address you as husband, or you address me as wife, before any three or more witnesses. The one so addressed then kisses the one who has spoken, and if we wish, we may repeat this with roles reversed, although it is not strictly necessary. As of that moment, we are married in the eyes of all who witnessed this, and anyone with whom they may later speak. The contract is the business of the cyfreithwyr who deal in our laws, and my brother will arrange all that for us; we only need sign it and that can happen later.”
“Thirty seconds of time and thirty pages of paperwork, is that it?” Cromwell chuckled.
Tesni grinned at him. “Perhaps not thirty, but you’re more or less correct. When do you want to do the simple part?”
“Any time you like. Lady’s prerogative.” He kissed her hand.
“Well, midsummer is a day when many traditionally wed,” she began.
The colonel blinked. “Two days from now?”
“Do your customs require a longer wait, Neirin?”
“No…” He thought for a second. I already promised my life, and she accepted. Our intentions are clear, so why wait? “Midsummer is fine.”