Bella suscipienda sunt ob eam causam, ut sine injuria in pace vivatur.
Wars are to be undertaken in order that it may be possible to live in peace without molestation.
Cicero—De Officiis. I. 11.


In Bel’s administrative palace, Sholan settled into his chair and flicked a data tablet to life. Late afternoon sunlight streaming through the single narrow window of his office washed out the tablet’s display for a moment, until he shifted position slightly and settled the tablet on his left knee. Running a finger along the device’s edge brought up a scrolling list of Jaffa units and their current assignments off-world.

I see two additional units are being sent to Galla, noted Brice.

{Yes, to the orbital shipyards.} Sholan scrolled the display again. {Bel’s new ha’tak is coming along, and he’s understandably paranoid given Moccas’ raids over the past year or two.}

You don’t think this might cause trouble down the line when Sabar launches his own raid to take the ship? Sabar had made Sholan and Brice aware of his plan some months earlier, in the hope that Sholan would be able to increase the rebels’ chances of capturing the vessel when the time came.

{Not if I can exert the right pressure regarding which units are in place then, and how long they’ve been there.}

Bel’s Jaffa rotated among his several worlds, spending several months at a stretch on first one, then another, before getting home to their families on Bohan. As ‘General Kasol’, Sholan kept abreast of the status of the units, noting their deployment and their movements. Bel’s First Prime, Tirin, was directly responsible for commanding Jaffa personnel according to his master’s will, but the System Lord drew heavily on the counsel of his generals regarding the use of Jaffa and other resources. The right words in the proper tone, spoken at just the moment when Bel was most susceptible to influence, held the potential to sway fate.




Cromwell opened the shutters on the window closest to the table, testing the air. It was barely sunrise, but already the temperature was unseasonably warm. He left the window unshuttered and turned to Tesni, still in her nightdress with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. She’d complained of an upset stomach on first waking, but having consumed a cup of tea, was now busy pulling bread and cheese from the cupboard. “I wonder if this warm spell is leading to a mild winter, or to a harsh one?” he asked.

“I don’t know that it really says anything about what kind of winter we’ll have.” She carried the loaf to the table and placed it on the cutting board, adding a wedge of yellow cheese beside it. “But you’re right, the weather is still so nice. All the same, I am glad of a fire in the evenings.”

Cromwell poured fresh tea into their mugs and laid plates on the table as Tesni sliced bread and cheese. Early dawn light painted the side of her face closest to the window. He loved the contours of her face. Hell, there wasn’t anything he didn’t love about her.

Having risen early, they ate a leisurely breakfast as the light grew stronger, until the candle was no longer necessary. Cromwell extinguished it, then reached for the teapot, pouring again for them both. Setting it down again, he remarked, “This warm weather can last as long as it likes, for all of me. Still, though, it is autumn. The nights are cooler, and we’ve got shorter days… oh, that reminds me.”

He removed the watch from his wrist. It still kept time, after more than two years on the same battery he’d installed only a month before his fall through Earth’s stargate. He knew that eventually it would stop, but for now he still found it a useful item. Other than the boots and belt he’d been wearing when he fell, the watch was the only thing from Earth that he still used. He did have to reset it about once a week, however, as Tir Awyr’s slightly shorter rotational period caused the watch to get out of sync with local time as measured by the sun. The difference was only a few minutes per day and had taken him several weeks to calculate based solely on his observations, but once he’d managed to do so, the colonel made sure to adjust his watch regularly to keep it as current as possible.

He also had to adjust its calendar function periodically to coordinate with local dates. He knew the names the Pridani used for the months on their calendar, of course, and mentally he matched them to their Earth equivalents, assigning Heulwenmis to July and Tesog to August, for example. But months on Tir Awyr were uniformly thirty days in length, except for the first month, Mis-bach — literally, “short month” — which was only twenty-eight days long. This was Medi — September, by Earth’s system, at least more or less — with Cynhaeaf or October just over a week away. The autumnal equinox would be on the first of Cynhaeaf, he knew. Amazing how quickly the past year has gone, Cromwell reflected as he performed his weekly time adjustment.

Suddenly, he paused, thinking. Unless he was imagining things, and he was pretty sure he wasn’t, his watch wasn’t the only thing out of sync lately. Counting in his head only reinforced the impression. He glanced across the table at his wife, who calmly sipping her tea while she observed him fiddling with the timepiece. Tesni and I are going to have to have a talk soon, if I’m not mistaken.

She must have seen something in his expression, for she set down her mug, favoring him with a slightly amused look. “Something on your mind, cariad?” she asked.

For a moment, he debated just coming right out and asking her if what he suspected was, in fact, true. A second later, he dismissed the idea. She’s a woman, and unless I miss my guess, they prefer to tell us these things on their own timetable. If there is anything to tell, she’ll get around to it soon enough.

Aloud, he said, “Nothing, really. Just thinking.”

She smiled. “About what?”

He had to say something. Fortunately, another thought was near to hand.

“About how lucky I am to wake up with you each morning.” It was the truth, and to hell with whether or not it was sentimental. The colonel knew all about the tough-guy image people attached to people like him, at least back on Earth. He also knew that he’d always been something of a romantic at heart; image be damned. And anyway, this wasn’t Earth.

Across the table, Tesni smiled and laughed. “Silly man. I’m the lucky one; don’t you know that?” She stood, taking up the teapot and carrying it toward the fireplace, where the kettle still steamed. Reaching out, she ruffled his hair as she passed, and he grabbed her hand, bringing it to his lips for a kiss.

A knock at the door put paid to further conversation, at least for the moment. “I’ll get that,” said Cromwell, rising from the table.

He opened the door to find Anwen with a basket in her hands. “Good morning, Neirin,” said his sister-in-law. “Is Tesni ready to go?”

“Come in, Anwen,” called Tesni from the direction of the fireplace. The colonel stood aside from the door as Anwen entered, placing her basket on the table.

“What are the two of you doing today?” he asked.

“There’s a work party going out to gather apples for cidering. Care to join us?”

Cromwell thought about it. “I have a meeting with Cadogan, but once that’s finished, I should be able to come and help.”




Meleri dropped the apples into the cart, and hurried off to the shady spot where her infant son, Sulgan, fussed in a basket of his own. The baby was six months old, having been born in the spring. Fair-haired and blue-eyed, he resembled his mother and his father both. Rhufon, Meleri’s husband, knelt by the basket, crooning to his son, but the infant still fussed. “I think he’s hungry,” the young man told his wife as she approached.

Meleri picked up her son, who immediately began butting his head against her, searching for a breast. “I think you’re right, cariad,” she told Rhufon, plucking the baby’s blanket from the basket and moving to sit against the trunk of a tree. Soon the child quieted as he fell to nursing.

Cromwell noticed Tesni watching Meleri and her infant as she carried yet another small basket of apples to add to the cart that was being filled. His wife took a break and went to sit with her friends, and the colonel returned to picking apples. About ten minutes later, the work crew broke for lunch, and he went to join Tesni and the other couple in the shade. Meleri was unpacking bread, meat and cheese from a cloth bag while Tesni held a now-sated Sulgan.

“Neirin, would you be so kind as to get our lunch? I seem to have my hands full at the moment,” she asked as he approached. “The bag is just there, with the yellow embroidery.” She pointed at a bag similar to Meleri’s, hanging from a low branch in a nearby tree.

Cromwell retrieved it and took a seat next to his wife, noting as he did so the way she smiled at the baby in her lap. Sulgan was alert, his eyes following the newcomer. He waved tiny fists in the colonel’s direction, gurgling.

“I think my son likes you,” commented Rhufon with a chuckle.

Cromwell smiled at the baby. “Hello, little man.”

Tesni laughed. “Here, let’s trade.” She passed Sulgan to her husband, and took the bag containing their lunch, extracting sandwiches and a stone bottle of cool tea.

He settled the infant on his lap. Sulgan cooed and smiled, then set about blowing bubbles. The colonel remembered holding Jack’s son Charlie at around the same age. At six months, Charlie had been just a bit larger than Sulgan, with the same fair hair, though his eyes had been brown like his father’s. Cromwell had loved Charlie like his own, and as the boy grew he’d greatly enjoyed visits from his Uncle Frank.

He still missed Charlie.

Tesni passed him a sandwich, smiling. “You seem to have made a new friend,” she commented.

“It appears so,” he replied, accepting the sandwich one-handed.

“I can take him now, if you want,” offered Rhufon.

The colonel looked down at Sulgan. The infant’s eyes were half-closed and he had his thumb in his mouth. “Let’s not disturb him. He’s fine where he is for the moment.”

Lunch break over, the rest of the afternoon passed pleasantly though by the end of the day, Cromwell was sure he’d be seeing apples in his sleep that night. At Anwen’s invitation, he and Tesni ate dinner at Bennaeth Bod before walking back to their own cottage.

He deposited their lunch bag, now filled with apples from the orchard, on the table, then tended to the banked fire in the hearth. The air was growing chill as dusk deepened, and he added a couple of logs, building a cheerful blaze. Tesni sank onto the high-backed settle and removed her shoes, wiggling her toes and sighing. She propped her feet on a hassock and watched her husband as he poked at the fire.

Finally satisfied with the fire, Cromwell lit the oil lamp on the side-table and joined her on the settle, pulling off his own shoes, a rather new pair he’d gotten recently from the local cobbler. They fit well, but he was still breaking them in, and it felt good to go about in his socks for a while. He propped his feet next to Tesni’s on the hassock and reached for the latest book he’d borrowed from Cadogan’s library. Since learning to read Pridanic, the colonel had taken to borrowing books on a regular basis, eagerly devouring every scrap of written material he could find regarding his adopted people and world, along with its sister worlds. Fiction, poetry, prose, historical accounts — it scarcely mattered; he was fascinated by all of it. There was even a collection of plays by an author named Hyfaidd ap Morvran that he felt could easily have vied with some of Shakespeare’s work in overall quality.

Cadogan and Sabar, quietly amused by their friend’s hunger for reading material, had begun borrowing Pridanic translations of works not in their own library from off-world friends so that Cromwell could read them. Arverenem in particular had produced some very good literature, only a fraction of which had thus far been translated into Pridanic although the two languages used the same script. Cadogan had insisted on teaching him some Arverenic for practical use in the field, but the colonel found the ability to enjoy an even wider range of literature to be a nice by-product.

The book he currently had on loan was a volume of short stories by a contemporary Pridanic author, one Olwen ferch Cathwg. The cadlywydd held her works in high esteem, and Cromwell could see why. They tended toward the comedic, drawing on witty observations from everyday life, and he’d taken pleasure in reading one or two of them aloud for both Tesni’s entertainment and his own. “Fy nghalon, would you like me to read to you?” he asked, propping the book on his lap and wrapping the other around her.

She leaned her head against his shoulder. “That would be nice.” She stifled a yawn, then smiled up at him. “I’m tired, though, so if I fall asleep, please understand that you aren’t boring me.”

He laughed. “Between you and Sulgan today, I might think I was the most boring person in Llanavon.”

“Sulgan is adorable, isn’t he?”

“He is. It’s been a long time since I held a baby, before today. I’m glad he was comfortable enough to fall asleep in my lap,” said the colonel. “A lot of infants won’t do that with a stranger.”

“Sulgan really likes people, and Meleri says he hardly ever fusses when someone new picks him up, as long as she or Rhufon are where he can see them.” Tesni grinned. “It was cute seeing you hold him. I knew you liked children, but I wasn’t sure how comfortable you were with little babies.”

“Well, I’ve never had one of my own,” he told her, “but I do like them. My best friend Jack had a son who was like a nephew to me, remember, and I used to hold him every chance I could when he was a baby. It wasn’t often, unfortunately, because we both had to be gone a lot around that time, and babies grow so fast.”

“That had to have been hard, being away.”

The colonel nodded. “It was harder on Jack, but neither of us was very happy about it. We both loved his son.”

Tesni reached across the book in his lap and took his hand, stroking the back of it with her thumb, as was her habit. “I imagine you must miss him. Was this a long time ago, Nye? How old is the boy now?”

Cromwell was silent for a moment before answering. “It was almost sixteen years ago that he was a baby, but… he died when he was ten.”

Tesni looked up at him, stricken. “How awful! Was he ill?”

The colonel shook his head. “There was an accident. It hit me pretty hard when I got the news. But it’s a long story, and I don’t really feel like talking about it, if that’s all right.” He always hated doing that to her, but there really were things he didn’t feel comfortable explaining to anyone, not even Tesni. Fortunately, she always seemed to understand and accept this.

Nor did she disappoint him now. “You don’t have to. It’s all right.” She shifted a bit on the settle, leaning into him and resting her head against his chest, gazing down at their entwined hands. “I’m still surprised you’ve never had children of your own, though. I know that you and your first wife were together for several years. Did you not want children? Or perhaps Lisa didn’t? There are ways to prevent their conception, I know.”

Hard as the topic of his failed first marriage was to talk about, it was easier than discussing the circumstances of Charlie’s death. “It wasn’t that at all. In fact, we did want them, but… well, like I said, I had to be gone a lot, and we were sort of waiting for the right time. Only it never came. And then eventually we weren’t together anymore, the way I explained to you once.”

“You aren’t the first person to have had something like that happen.” Tesni continued stroking the back of his hand. “It seems strange that we’ve never asked each other this before, cariad, but… do you still want children?”

In that moment, he knew his suspicions were correct. Something in the tone of her voice, combined with the little bit of calculation he’d done over breakfast that morning — even the upset stomach she’d complained of on awakening. “I’m going to guess that’s an academic question at this point, now isn’t it?” he asked lightly, unable to keep from smiling, although at the moment she wasn’t looking at his face. He couldn’t keep the smile out of his voice either.

The sound of an indrawn breath accompanied the tightening of her fingers on his hand. “You already knew?”

He chuckled. “Tesni, I’ve been married twice now; I’m hardly ignorant of how a woman’s body functions. And a man can count as well as a woman can.”

“So when did you figure it out?” She sat up and looked him in the eye with a smile of her own.

“This morning. Which, if I know anything at all, isn’t more than a week or so after you did — for certain, that is.”

She nodded. “You’re right; it’s been not quite a week. It can take a couple of cycles to be sure, and that point came while you were in Dinas Coedwyg a few days ago with my uncle. I’ve just been looking for the right moment to tell you.”

“So, let’s see…” He engaged in another brief moment of calculation. “That means a due date somewhere near the end of Blodeumis, or early in Cyntefin, then?” His child would be born in the local equivalent of either April or May; more likely May.

“That would be my estimate.” She kissed him. “So… are you happy about this?”

She asks me if I’m happy? By all rights I shouldn’t even be alive now, but I am, and by some miracle this woman loves me and is about to give me a child years after I threw away my first marriage and what I thought was all chance at fatherhood along with it — and she has to ask if I’m happy? “Tesni, tell me in what possible way you might think I’d be anything else?” Suddenly, a thought struck him. “Wait, maybe I should be asking you that question. You’re the one who has to do the hard work here. Are you happy?”

She kissed him again, more deeply this time, before answering. “You’re right, cariad. It is a silly question, isn’t it? I’m very happy. After Eogen died, I never thought to be a mother, because I never thought to allow myself another love. Until I met you, and even then, I knew you meant to leave again soon, and so for the longest time I did nothing…” She shrugged. “But it seems I’m lucky enough to be getting everything I wanted. You’re still here, you’ve given me your love and promised that even if you can go home, you won’t go without me. And now you’ve given me a child. To say that I’m happy doesn’t begin to describe it.”

He placed Cadogan’s book on the side-table and pulled Tesni onto his lap instead, his arms tightly around her, breathing deeply the sweet scent of her hair. As on the night they’d both admitted their feelings for one another, he was incredibly grateful to whatever agency of good fortune had seen fit to place himself and Tesni together, after all else that had happened to them both. He wanted to laugh, to cry — to race in circles, perhaps, shouting in joy, Yes, this, this is my life, this is what I wanted.

And, as also on that night, some part of him was more frightened than he could put into words. First-time fatherhood, at his age, on an alien planet in the middle of what was effectively a war — one in which both he and the mother of his child-to-come were involved, even if he did spend a hell of a lot more time on the putative front line than did she. Yeah, sure, no sweat…