Cromwell rubbed his nose against his rolled-up sleeve, resisting the urge to sneeze as flour wafted into the air on a breeze from the open window. With the midsummer celebration slated to occur the next day, every available pair of hands in Llanavon was busy preparing whatever items of food and drink could be made in advance, or readying the communal area where the festivities would take place. Food prep work had overflowed the communal kitchen, spilling out into private homes where bread and other goods were being baked, meat slow-roasted, and vegetables peeled and sliced for cooking on the morrow. He and Tesni had opted to contribute their share of labor to the making of bread, something the colonel had learned to enjoy doing in his naina’s kitchen as a boy, and were working for the moment in his cottage. It was the last time he would call this dwelling home, for as of the next morning, he would move whatever of his belongings had not already found their way there in recent weeks into Tesni’s slightly larger cottage. There were loaves already baking in her hearth at the moment, though, so they were making the next batch here.

“Tesni, how much do you know about what Sabar and your uncle do when they’re off-world? Specifically, when they’re not on any of the Five Worlds?” he asked, turning a large lump of dough out of a bowl onto a well-floured piece of smooth leather and beginning to work it with his hands.

Across the table, his bride-to-be looked up from the similar portion of dough she was kneading. “Well, I know they spend time at Caer Ynys with the other Tok’bel,” Tesni began thoughtfully. “There’s quite a bit of planning that goes on there, of course, and Sabar receives reports from the operatives he has throughout Bel’s domain.”

Cromwell nodded. He was aware of the existence of the Tok’bel’s base of operations at Caer Ynys, though he’d never been there. It also hadn’t escaped him that he heard the word ‘Tok’bel’ used far more often than ‘Tok’ra’ among the Am Rhyddid when referring to the cadlywydd’s symbiote and his companions, although he did hear both terms. Whether this was a normal thing for groups of Tok’ra engaged in a specific cause or an aberration from standard nomenclature was something he couldn’t quite figure out at first, but as time went on, he’d begun to form the distinct impression that the Tok’bel were in some way quite separate from their brethren. Not in any hostile sense, he was sure, but simply independent of them, or at least largely so. “Do you know whether the Tok’bel ever receive visits from any other Tok’ra who are not directly involved in the rebellion against Bel?”

She shook her head. “I don’t think it happens often. I know there are far more Tok’ra than Tok’bel, according to Sabar, but the Tok’bel don’t have frequent contact with them. Perhaps every few years, at most, and that’s more often a matter of Sabar visiting the Tok’ra than the opposite.”

The colonel found this puzzling, even though it confirmed something he’d suspected for some time. “Do you have any idea why this is?” he asked.

Tesni shrugged, sprinkling more flour onto the loaf she was patting into shape. “Sabar says it’s a matter of having different objectives. The Tok’ra work against the Goa’uld in general, largely by stealth, and don’t often get directly involved with subject societies the way the Tok’bel have. But Sabar prefers direct action — he says you can only do so much with standard Tok’ra methods, and since he first found himself with a Pridanic host, he’s been committed to seeing us free of Bel, so that’s been his focus.”

“Have your uncle or Sabar ever mentioned any other human allies recently made by the Tok’ra?” Cromwell felt compelled to ask the question that had been troubling his mind ever since he’d first become acquainted with the Tok’bel leader and his host. On his arrival in Llanavon, he had drawn the symbol he’d been told was unique to Earth on the wooden surface of a table using a wet finger, but Tesni had shown no recognition, indicating that she, at least, had never had contact with anyone from there. After meeting Cadogan and Sabar and realizing that the symbiote belonged to the same race who had recently allied themselves with Earth — this much he knew based on the scant details he’d been provided in a heavily redacted report by order of General West perhaps a month before his encounter with the Stargate — the colonel had initially entertained the thought of telling them where he came from and asking for help getting home. Of course, they’d all been a little busy dealing with the Jaffa incursion at the time, and by the time the dust had settled from that particular bit of action, a tiny alarm bell had already begun to go off in the recesses of his mind that caused him to hold his tongue and continue to assess the situation. He wasn’t certain why, but he’d learned from long experience to trust his instincts, and they’d only steered him wrong once in all that time.

By the time several days had passed, Cromwell was beginning to be glad he’d listened to his gut. He hadn’t exactly spent long hours in conversation with Sabar or any of the other Tok’ra he’d met during his shifts guarding Tir Awyr’s stargate — nor had he wished to — but he’d caught just enough of an exchange between Cadogan, Sabar and Gerlad to make him wonder just exactly what the local Tok’ra group’s relationship was with the Tok’ra known to the SGC.

While answering a call of nature just inside the edge of the woods, he’d unintentionally found himself situated not more than fifteen feet from the cadlywydd and his aide, who were conversing in Pridanic. Cadogan was speaking, rather than Sabar; the cadlywydd’s voice carried its own normal timbre. “This is exactly the kind of thing the Tok’ra High Council would be furious about,” he said. “Tok’ra openly interdicting the chappa’ai on a dominated world and taking direct, potentially traceable action against a minor System Lord in aid of an outright rebellion, rather than looking for a way to use that System Lord to upset the plans of a larger one… well, Sabar tells me he would be taken to task over this, for certain.”

Cromwell froze in the act of rearranging his clothing. Unwilling to reveal his presence, he nevertheless strained to listen to the conversation. Eavesdropping was far from his normal practice; however, this could be considered the gathering of intelligence in the line of duty to his own world… or at the very least, he might learn something that would help to settle his mind with regard to his own inclination to work with the Pridani themselves, despite whatever reservations he might harbor about their alien allies.

“Then we’re doubly fortunate that the Tok’ra Council aren’t in charge here, aren’t we?” came Gerlad’s voice from behind a screen of bushes as he and the cadlywydd walked the trail that ran through the wood and up the hillside to the compass circle surrounding the stargate.

The response that followed was in Sabar’s voice. {“Assuredly so,”} he said, in Pridanic rather than Tok’ra, which Cromwell knew Gerlad spoke. Presumably, the symbiote’s use of his native tongue the other day had been an artifact of sheer stress and excitement, and Gerlad had responded in it out of deference to his commander’s mental state, the colonel surmised.

Sabar continued. {“While we get no help from them, at least these days they leave us largely alone to do what we came to do. All things considered, it’s a reasonable trade. Though if we ever manage to do something they feel actually furthers their own efforts, or find something they think will do so, you can bet they’ll take far more interest in us. That’s why achieving our objective on our own — just us and the people of the Five Worlds — is so important. It will prove to them…”} At this point, both Gerlad and his commander — commanders, Cromwell amended — had passed beyond earshot, and he missed the rest of what Sabar had been saying.  But what he’d heard was enough to move him to caution, and so he had decided to refrain from any mention of Earth for the time being until he figured out exactly where this odd faction of Tok’ra stood with their brethren. He had no problem with Cadogan; it was the Tok’ra that put him off balance. As long as he could operate without having to deal directly with the alien symbiotes more often than necessary, he was willing to go along with whatever else necessity dictated.

He’d adopted a policy of watching and waiting, rather than asking direct questions — believing at the time that with any luck, someone would come from Earth to find him, and things would sort themselves out then. As time passed with no search party, Cromwell had resigned himself to figuring things out on his own, and finding his own way home if need be — and if possible. One of the unredacted portions of the SGC’s report on the Tok’ra had mentioned that there had initially been resistance among them to any thought of an alliance with Earth, he recalled. Based on the date of that report, he reasoned the alliance was still new enough that it wasn’t terribly surprising to find it wasn’t universal knowledge, given that the Tok’ra might likely be spread rather thin.

If Sabar’s particular faction had separated themselves from what had to be the main body of their peers, there must be a good reason — for by this time, the colonel had come to trust Cadogan fully, and by extension to do his level best to give Sabar the same trust, even despite his own personal discomfort at the idea of host-symbiote pairings. He knew his visceral reaction to the symbiote was a product more of reflex than of rational thought, and he endeavored to put it aside as much as possible in their interactions, but it had not been until just this spring that he’d begun to get to know Sabar in any direct sense — and that only upon Cadogan’s open request. Still, it was slow going. There was just something about interacting with a creature who had the potential to completely dominate its host that unsettled the colonel and left him with a vague sense of unease, despite that fact that intellectually he knew Sabar to be a completely trustworthy ally who would never dream of employing that ability. With all of this in mind, Cromwell had kept his silence on the subject of Earth… and soon afterward had found himself occupied with enough else to push all other concerns aside, beyond his current duties with the Am Rhyddid, learning to read and write Pridanic, and by extension learning all he could about their history and culture.

And, of course, his burgeoning relationship with Tesni. As of this moment he was enormously glad that he hadn’t gone home months ago, despite the fact that he was still concerned over what might have transpired there since he left. The fact that he had unburdened himself to her last night had brought his curiosity to the fore once again, however, especially in the wake of suggesting that she might be of help in forging an alliance between his people and hers, should contact be possible. Now that he’d opened the topic of his homeworld, if only to the woman to whom he’d pledged the remainder of his life, he found himself once more trying to fit together the pieces of what he knew about the Tok’ra with what he knew of the Tok’bel and what his instincts led him to suspect. Reasoning that Tesni — who appeared to be something of a sounding board for Cadogan, at least — might know more about the subject than he’d initially surmised, he’d asked, and what she’d just now told him confirmed some of his suspicions.

Her next answer was perhaps not quite as helpful, but even so it provided another piece for the puzzle.

“New human allies of the Tok’ra?” Tesni considered the question. “No… not that he’d necessarily say anything to me about that, for all that we do talk about all sorts of things.”

If Sabar hasn’t spoken to the other Tok’ra in the past couple of years, he wouldn’t even be aware of contact having been made between them and Earth, Cromwell mused as he worked the bread dough. Which means that I’d be the first to tell him. He could probably find out from the others whether they still have contact with Earth, and if they do, I’d be able to learn what happened after I left — and go home for at least long enough to take care of whatever I need to take care of. Maybe asking the question might not be such a bad idea, now that I have some idea of why Sabar’s Tok’ra are different. If it weren’t for worrying about what might happen if Bel got hold of him and Cadogan… ah hell, it’s probably still best that I get a better picture of the lay of the land before I go bringing any of this up with Cadogan. As much as I’d like to learn what’s going on back home, I don’t want to upset anyone’s applecart here; not if it could adversely impact the Pridani. No, he’d not do or say anything that could cause problems for the Tok’bel and the rebel group they supported.

For the first time, he truly felt the tug of two separate duties as well as desires. Not opposite, exactly, but pulling in different directions. That he owed something to Earth and the SGC — and to Jack — went without saying, of course. At the same time, however, he had taken on a duty here, to the Am Rhyddid, and while it was understood at the time he took it that his duty to his homeworld superseded that, he was also acutely aware now of the extent to which he was bound to this world and its people. Not only because of their adoption of him, which fact he had not even been fully aware of until last night, although certainly they had gone to great lengths to treat him as family. Now he knew why. But on top of that, he’d chosen to make himself family now, in deciding to marry Tesni. Cromwell, you’ve gotten yourself into it hip-deep here, you know that? He wouldn’t have things any other way, of course, but if he’d thought his life was complicated before, it was nothing compared to what he felt now.

Dividing the dough into a pair of loaf-sized portions, the colonel began to shape them. As he reached for another handful of dusting flour, he glanced up to see Tesni watching him curiously, her eyes locked on his face. “You’ve something on your mind, cariad,” she said. “All these questions… what is it?”

For a moment he was tempted to just come right out and tell her what he knew about the alliance between Earth and the Tok’ra. After all, she’d promised that nothing he told her would go beyond herself. Still, he knew it would likely lead to even more questions, possibly complicated ones. Better to save that for another day, he decided.

But he had to answer her with something. “Curiosity, mostly,” he told her. “My people have encountered the Tok’ra before — well, you knew that on my second day here, or could have guessed. We didn’t know anything about the Tok’bel, obviously, and thought the Tok’ra were a unified movement. I guess maybe we were wrong about that part.”

She smiled, shaking her head. “I’d figured you knew of the Tok’ra when my explanation about my uncle didn’t bring about a lot more questions on your second day. Of course, now that I know your people only rediscovered their own chappa’ai recently, I’m not surprised you’re still becoming acquainted with what you find. And the Tok’ra… well, as I said, they tend not to involve themselves directly with human societies under Goa’uld domination, or so Sabar and my uncle tell me. The Tok’bel are regarded as something of an aberration by their kin. They aren’t shunned, exactly, but they aren’t always on the best of terms, either.”

Now Tesni had touched on something else that puzzled her husband-to-be. “I meant to ask you, how did Sabar come to be mixed up with the Pridani and the rebellion in the first place, if the Tok’ra don’t usually get so involved?”

Tesni put the loaf she’d been shaping onto a tray and began working on a second one. “The way I understand it, he was a Tok’ra operative sent covertly to Bel’s court by the Tok’ra High Council. While there, he was presented with a gift of slaves, among them a Pridano. When Sabar left Bel’s domain, he took these people with him and settled them on a world of free humans with whom the Tok’ra had some dealings. When he later required a new host because the one he had was dying, this Pridano offered to blend with him, and after their blending, convinced him to aid us in winning our freedom from Bel. Sabar gathered some friends to help. They became the Tok’bel, and have remained allied with us ever since.”

So the host retains enough leverage in the relationship to influence the symbiote that strongly? Cromwell was mildly surprised. He didn’t understand everything there was to know about the Tok’ra, but he knew they had long lifespans and took a series of willing volunteer hosts, leaving each at the host’s death and blending with a new one. This had been explained briefly in the report he’d read: three or four sentences that summed up the essentials on a species that were biologically identical to the Goa’uld but whose philosophy was opposed to theirs. It was a basic understanding, but enough, he felt, to work with in his present situation. Still, I can’t imagine having one of those creatures inhabiting my cranium, he mused. That Cadogan managed to handle it while retaining his own personality intact was nothing short of a testament to the man’s strength of will, in the colonel’s estimation. Presumably, whoever had been Sabar’s first Pridanic host must have been an impressive individual indeed.

He pushed the thought aside, returning to the present moment. “Thank you,” he said to Tesni. “I was never quite sure whether it might seem rude to ask Cadogan directly, or Sabar either.”

She laughed. “I don’t think either of them would have minded. But in any case, this is all common knowledge; so common that almost no one finds it necessary to speak of it, the same way no one speaks of rain being wet, or of trees having leaves.”

Cromwell nodded. “Fair enough.” He finished shaping the second of his loaves and placed them on the tray next to Tesni’s.

She added the fourth loaf and wiped her hands on the damp towel he held out, having just used it himself. Covering the loaves with a clean, dry towel, she made her way around to his side of the table. “These will need some time to rise, and I could use some cool tea. Anwen will have made some earlier; shall we go and visit?”

He slid his arms about her and pulled her close. “In a moment.” Bending his head to hers, he kissed her gently, then just held her, reveling in the simple joy of contact. “Have you told anyone our plans yet?” he asked.

“I haven’t had a chance,” she said. “I’ve been busy ever since we got up this morning, and the five minutes I found to speak with Anwen were spent helping her portion out bread-making supplies. Have you said anything to anyone?”

Cromwell shook his head. “No, I’ve been as busy as you have.” He grinned. “I suppose we can simply announce it together, if you like.”

“We could. Though I’d like to say something to my uncle before anyone else. As patriarch and chief, he deserves to know first.” She kissed him again, then turned toward the door, keeping an arm about his waist and drawing him with her. “There will be two other couples marrying tomorrow as well, which will make us the third. Three is a lucky number, so that’s good.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Cromwell said. “Are you sure there isn’t anything else I need to know about for this?”

She pulled him closer against her side. “I’m sure. Just make sure you wear something nice, obviously. You know we dress nicely for festivals anyway, and people will be looking at us at some point.”

“I was thinking I’d wear that blue tunic that Anwen gave me last summer.” The tunic, in deep blue summer-weight wool and graced with embroidered knotwork at neck, cuffs and hem, had arrived in his cottage a scant handful of days after his arrival in Llanavon. Adamant at first about giving it back to its owner, certain that he merited no such gift, he’d changed his mind once Tesni had explained the rules of Pridanic gift-giving to him, adding that her sister-in-law was happy to have made it for him, especially in light of the family’s gratitude for saving Ris from being killed by a Jaffa staff blast. He’d worn the tunic several times since then, and it had been joined by several more in various colors, made to his measure by Anwen’s skilled hands, but the blue one was by far his best clothing, and carried a certain additional value by virtue of being a gift of thanks. Both Cromwell and Tesni suspected — though they’d never been able to prove — that it had originally been intended for Cadogan but that Anwen had finished it with the colonel in mind, the two men being of a similar size and build. Cadogan was perhaps the merest bit slighter through the chest than Cromwell; not enough to make a difference given the way that Pridanic clothing was cut, and indeed it was the cadlywydd’s wardrobe that had first clothed the colonel beyond the black uniform he’d arrived in.

Tesni smiled. “That’s an excellent idea, and I know that she’ll be pleased you chose it. Besides, you look very nice in blue; it’s definitely your color.”

Cromwell chuckled. “How about you? What are you going to wear?” He had no interest in fashion, but he had to admit to liking certain colors, and there were one or two in which Tesni looked spectacular. Well, she looks spectacular regardless, he amended.

“Oh, I have one or two things in mind, but I haven’t decided yet,” she said. “Rose or yellow, most likely.” Pridanic women dressed not dissimilarly from men, in tunics belted over loose trousers. Even everyday clothing was well-made and carried some embellishment; for special occasions one wore clothing in more intense colors or with additional embroidery, though otherwise what was considered formal clothing tended to be as practical and comfortable as one’s everyday garb.

At least wedding attire for both of them would be a simple matter. For his first wedding, Cromwell had worn his dress uniform, while Lisa had spent days shopping for a gown that she considered not only pretty but also comfortable. The result had been nothing short of stunning, but he’d felt vaguely guilty that women went to so much trouble when a man could just put on a suit — or in his case, a uniform — and be done with it.

The Pridani, he decided, were eminently practical people.

As they entered the kitchen at Bennaeth Bod, they met Ris on his way out. “Neirin, I was just about to come and find you,” said the youth. “My father would like your help and mine in the pavilion.”

“Ris, give him a moment to get something to drink, please,” said Tesni. “Anwen, do you still have some of the cold tea?”

Anwen glanced up from where she sat hulling strawberries, and pointed to a ceramic pitcher nearly hidden behind a basket of mid-season fruit and a sack of meal. “If there’s any left, it’ll be in there,” she told them. “Ris, do sit down and wait for Neirin. If you want him to come and help, you can at least have a moment’s patience.”

Ris ducked his head as he turned from the doorway. “All right, Mam,” he said, plucking two mugs off the shelf next to the fireplace and carrying them to the table, where he proceeded to fill them with tea from the pitcher. He handed one to his aunt and the other to his mentor. “Sorry, Neirin. My father just wants to get this done.”

“Even your father won’t begrudge a busy man a moment’s refreshment,” chided his mother. This time she didn’t lift her head from her work.

Tesni sat down beside her sister-in-law, setting down her mug and pulling a clean, empty bowl over in front of her. “Here, let me work on some of those,” she said, reaching into the basket of strawberries between herself and Anwen.

Cromwell drained his mug of tea, setting it down on the table. “All right, Ris. What is it that Idris needs?”

Ris answered as the pair moved toward the door again. “He wants to check the hooks around the edge of the pavilion, to make sure that none are loose. We’re going to have a lot of lanterns hanging tomorrow night, and dealing with the hooks is a job best done by taller men, who will only need the benches rather than ladders.” There was a note of pride in the youth’s voice. While he’d not yet attained his father’s six feet, at five-feet ten he was closing in, and matched both his uncle Cadogan and his mentor in height, making them four of the taller men in Llanavon, where the average man stood perhaps two inches shorter.

Unaccustomed to being regarded as particularly tall on his home planet, Cromwell chuckled. “I suppose it is,” he allowed, following the young man out the door. “Cariad, I’ll come and find you when I’m done,” he called over his shoulder to Tesni.


In the wake of Ris and Neirin’s departure, the two women continued to pluck stems and hulls from the berries. “I need to go and check on my bread in a little while,” said Tesni after a moment, “but I want to speak with Cadogan first, if he’s around.”

“The last I checked, he was in his study,” Anwen told her. “I’ve no idea what he’s doing, but if you want to go and see him now, I can finish the berries and then see to your loaves. I need to go up the street and fetch some honey from the community stores anyway, since I forgot to ask Ris to bring some back with him.”

Tesni put aside her bowl of strawberries and wiped her hands on a damp cloth. “Thank you,” she said, rising from the table and stepping to the inner doorway leading to the rest of the house. She climbed the stairs to the second floor, made her way down a short hallway and peeked through the open doorway of the study that occupied one of the front rooms overlooking the street.

Cadogan was seated at the table near the open windows. The cadlywydd leaned back in his chair with his feet propped on the table, studying a data tablet. Tesni noted with a touch of humor that he’d removed his shoes before putting his feet up; Anwen wouldn’t tolerate shoes on the furniture at Bennaeth Bod, not even when those shoes belonged to the clan patriarch whose house this was by birthright, along with its furnishings. Cadogan wasn’t one to make waves with her, and only indulged his habit in socks or bare feet. Tesni knew from family lore that it was little more than a continuation of the same truce he’d reached decades earlier with her own mother, Dwynwen, who had been Cadogan’s co-chief until her death had placed that role on Idris’ shoulders.

A breeze from the open casement ruffled the cadlywydd’s light-brown hair, sunlight catching and illuminating the bright silver that graced his temples. Tesni reflected that her uncle’s appearance had scarcely altered over the course of her own lifetime; such was the result of his role as Sabar’s host, despite the fact that he was approaching his one hundred and thirty-first birthday. Cadogan tended to ignore his own birthdays, and had asked the family to let them pass unobserved and unremarked-upon, as he felt acutely self-conscious to be able to claim so many when most of his family and friends would never come anywhere near that number. He was not the least bit vain regarding his age; rather, he felt it unfair, he said, to live as long as he had — and quite probably still would — while the people he’d known in his youth had long since passed on, and even their children had gone. Cadogan had outlived his own children and even his wife, despite Menna’s having taken a symbiote herself not long after he and Sabar were blended, and reminders of this were the one negative element in what was otherwise a true gift of longevity bestowed by his partnership with the Tok’bel leader.

He had explained this once to Tesni, when she was in her teens and had asked him directly, as was her wont. One of her earliest clear memories from childhood recalled the boisterous celebration the family had held to mark his hundredth birthday, when she herself was but four, but since that time he had announced his intention to mark only quarter-centuries, and those solely to placate the loved ones who held him dear — as dearly as he held them — and who stubbornly insisted on honoring his presence among them when he knew it was only the combination of duty and luck that allowed him to remain.

Cadogan had always been Tesni’s favorite uncle, and she regarded Sabar as a beloved uncle as well. As if that weren’t enough, in the six years since her parents had died, Cadogan and his symbiote had largely filled the role of her late father in her life. Between the love she felt for them both, and her status — along with her brother — as Cadogan’s heir, it was only fitting that she inform him of her impending marriage before sharing the news with anyone else.

Tesni suspected that he would be thrilled. It hadn’t escaped her notice how encouraging he’d been of anything that allowed or required her to spend time in Neirin’s company these past several months. That Neirin’s need to learn to read and write in the Pridanic script had provided a perfect excuse was almost beside the point, as Tesni was sure her uncle would have found some other means to foster their relationship had the opportunity for her to play teacher not presented itself. Far from feeling manipulated, however, she felt only a sense of joy at how easily the situation had been made to work in her favor, even as she’d begun seeking her own opportunity to explore what might be possible between herself and the man who had sparked her interest almost from the moment of his arrival, despite the fact that it had taken her some time to admit this to herself.

It was time to tell her uncle the result of his benevolent machinations… and to thank him. She raised her hand to tap on the doorframe.


His attention absorbed by the report he was reading on the data tablet that rested in his lap, Cadogan was unaware of anyone’s presence until he heard a knock. Glancing up, he twisted slightly in the chair to see who was at the door.

Tesni stood on the threshold, smiling. “Am I interrupting anything important?” she asked.

Cadogan flicked a control to place the data pad in hibernation and set the device on the table. He brought his feet to the floor, though he remained seated. “Not at all,” he responded with a smile of his own for his niece. “Come in.”

She entered the room and made her way to the table. Ignoring the chairs, she perched herself on the table’s edge, in the space so recently vacated by her uncle’s feet. “I’m surprised you’re holed up in here, rather than outdoors,” she commented.

Cadogan chuckled. “So am I, but I wanted to get some work done. I was nearly finished just now anyway, so I suppose the rest can wait. Did you need me for something?” It wasn’t as if the report he’d been reading wouldn’t still be there the day after tomorrow, after the midsummer festival had ended. Even I need to take a break sometimes, he acknowledged silently.

{Very true,} agreed Sabar. {I think we’ve both earned one for a day or so.}

Tesni watched his face, waiting for him to finish the exchange with his symbiote. Like most of the family, she was accustomed to these silent dialogues, and knew well how to read the signs to tell when he spoke with Sabar as opposed to being available to converse with others. Tesni, Anwen and Idris were so attuned to his habits that they could even discern when he was merely woolgathering, rather than involved in a conversation with his symbiote.

Clearly sensing that she had his attention, Tesni said, “No, actually I just came to talk to you.”

“Oh? What’s on your mind, annwyl?”

Tesni ducked her head, staring at her lap and swinging her feet the way she’d always done as a young girl when she’d had something she wished to address but was unsure where to begin. “Well…” she began, “you’re well aware, of course, that Neirin and I have been spending quite a lot of time together lately.” She glanced at him from under raised eyebrows, a small smile playing about her lips. “In fact, if I recall correctly, some of that was by your personal request.”

Cadogan nodded, wondering where this was going. He’d suspected something might develop between his niece and the mysterious offworlder, but as far as he was aware, they’d only begun to spend a great deal of time in each other’s company recently, perhaps all of two months ago. Surely things hadn’t progressed terribly far yet, had they? “I meant to thank you for teaching him,” he said sincerely. “You have no idea what a help that’s been, both to Neirin and to us — Sabar and myself, and the Am Rhyddid.”

Tesni laughed. “Oh, I have a pretty good idea, actually. Neirin acts as though he’s discovered yet another new world, and he’s been reading aloud to me most evenings. For practice, he says, and while I don’t doubt that’s part of it, we both find it entertaining as well. We spend most evenings together now… and I wanted you to know that after tonight, his cottage will be available for someone who needs it. Neirin will be living with me from this point forward.”

Cadogan raised an eyebrow, a smile creeping to his lips. “This sounds serious.”

His niece answered his smile with one of her own. “You know perfectly well that I never meant to take another love, let alone marry again… but so help me, that’s what I mean to do. The second, that is; the first has been a foregone conclusion for some time now. As I suspect you hoped would be the case.”

The cadlywydd felt his face break into a grin. “You’re thinking of marrying him? Tesni, you know you have my blessing — not that you need it; this is your own decision. But I’m happy for both of you.”

She nodded. “It’s beyond the thinking stage, Uncle. Neirin and I had a long talk last evening. It turns out that he’s been married before, on his own world, but that had been over for quite some time even before he found himself here. I think he was afraid I would reject him when he told me what had happened, but there’s nothing that could make me do that, and I said as much. I wasn’t even remotely expecting this outcome from the conversation, not right now, but… well, he offered me the rest of his lifetime. I accepted, and so we’ve decided to wed tomorrow, at the festival dinner.”

Cadogan stared up at his niece, surprised. Not that she and Neirin were getting married, but that the two of them had come to that decision so quickly.

{Perhaps we should have placed a bet on that, rather than on how quickly Neirin would learn to read,} Sabar suggested in a humorous tone.

Hush, you, his host rejoined good-naturedly. To Tesni, he said, “Congratulations.” He couldn’t resist adding, “I thought you were the woman who was afraid to marry a second time, these past eight years. Now here you are, not only doing so, but on short notice.”

Tesni leaned forward to rest her hands on his shoulders and kiss his cheek. “Sometimes a thing will happen that will change one’s mind, Uncle. You’ve lived long enough to have that occur, certainly?”

Cadogan smiled at her. “Oh, a time or several.”

“Well, then.” Tesni sat back and shrugged. “Besides, you know the proverb, ‘A little fear is the price of fire.’ I know as well as anyone that what warms can also burn, but I’ve decided to take my chances, and be warm while I may. Every one of us is at risk, given what we’re doing. I could lose you or anyone else in the family, and I know it. Anyone in this movement or connected with it could lose their husband or their wife; why should I be any different? For that matter, something could happen to Neirin whether I marry him or not… and if it did, I think I might grieve even more deeply if I hadn’t taken him as my husband when I could,” she finished softly. There was a pause, and then she continued brightly, “As for marrying on short notice, remember that he and I have known each other for nearly a year now, even if we only realized what we mean to each other more recently. Sometimes you just know when a thing is right.”

The cadlywydd nodded. “I’ll not argue that with you. I married your aunt Menna with similar speed. I was really only teasing you just now.”

Tesni chuckled. “I should have known, incorrigible man. Or was that partly Sabar’s idea?”

Cadogan bowed his head for the instant it took to cede control to the symbiote. {“I’m innocent,”} Sabar told her.

Now Tesni laughed outright. “The question is, of what? I’m sure there’s something.”

The Tok’ra grinned. The teasing banter between himself and his host’s niece was an old routine that went back to Tesni’s childhood, for in truth Sabar was well aware that she loved him as another uncle, and he regarded her as a beloved family member, the same way his host did. As Tesni had matured into womanhood, and her wit along with her, both Sabar and Cadogan had found her a worthy and delightful opponent when it came to humorous verbal sparring. Clearly Neirin was going to have his hands full. He probably did already, and the pair suspected he enjoyed it thoroughly. Their adopted kinsman might not be as voluble as some, but when he did engage in conversation, especially on those occasions when he was at his most relaxed, he displayed a sharp and ready wit of his own. He’d made Cadogan laugh more than a few times with offhand remarks, and Sabar as well.

{Yes, Tesni and Neirin are definitely a good match,} said the symbiote, relinquishing control once more to his host.

Cadogan patted Tesni’s knee. “So that makes three couples who will wed tomorrow. This will be quite the celebration, I’m sure. Have you told anyone else yet?”

She shook her head, smiling. “No, I wanted you to be the first to know. And I wanted to thank you.”

“For what?” he asked, puzzled.

“When Neirin needed help in learning to read and write, my serving as his tutor gave us a lot of time to spend together. Whether or not you were aware of it at the time, I was looking for an excuse to spend that kind of time with him, so I was quite glad you thought to have me teach him.”

Cadogan chuckled. “Tesni, it was apparent to me that he was looking for a similar excuse. All I did was see the obvious and take advantage of Neirin’s situation to point you both in the same direction.”

Tesni slid off the table to stand, smoothing the skirt of her tunic. “Well, to my thinking, that’s reason enough to thank you. Not that Neirin and I wouldn’t have found our own way to this point eventually, I’m sure, but you certainly helped us reach it sooner, if nothing else.”

The cadlywydd rose from his chair and placed an arm about her shoulders as they walked toward the door. “Then I’m happy to have done so. Let’s go see what we can do to help prepare for tomorrow, and you can share your news with the rest of the family.”