Ring Out The Bells
Genia was beautiful in autumn. Brilliant sunlight ripened the tava, and warmed the soil and harvesters alike. Sweat and loam and the rich scent of drying beans: Sora loved them all, loved the long days spent scything, and the nights of laughter and new beer. In seventeen summers she hadn't yet counted all the shades of bronze, of copper, of gold: the earth between the village houses, the falling leaves, and the sheaves of sweet hay. She partnered her twig broom across the dancing square. Heat soaked through her clothes, but she tasted the promise of frost in the air.
Sora raced her shadow to the ancestral ring, lifting her skirts and running, breathless and laughing, like a child. She waited, watching the clouds shape themselves, until the great wheel rippled blue.
Tagan stepped through first, hands open and weaponless, his smile wide as the sky. "Sora," he said. "It has been many days."
She smiled. "Too many." More followed him--Halling and three young hunters, with poles across their shoulders, supporting a wapiti between them; Doran, carrying bundles of fur and leatherwork; and, last, Teyla.
Teyla, who lifted her face to Genia's sun, eyes closed, and smiled her joy.
"Sora!" Teyla placed her hands on Sora's shoulders. Her forehead was warm, and her smile was very close. Sora breathed in the sage and wild grasses that perfumed Teyla's skin. It was still high summer on Athos.
But autumn suited Teyla. She melted into the pattern of trees and reeds: burnished bronze, from skin to leathers. The smoothed sticks looped through her belt beat time against her hip as she walked, with a hunter's silence and a hunter's grace. The sun painted her with Genia's colours.
Teyla might disappear entirely, unless someone watched her; Sora watched her very closely indeed.
The table bent under the weight of the feast. Calabash stews, roast wapiti, tava in soups and porridges and baked into chewy bread; and tumblers of mulled ale, spiced and steaming. Minister Cowen made speeches of welcome, and Tagan honoured them with toasts.
Sora bit into an Athosian fruit, red and firm-fleshed. The spurt of tartness shocked her. She caught Teyla's eyes across the table and licked the juice from her fingers. Her heart tripped over itself, racing.
Teyla's leg brushed hers beneath the table. Sora smiled into her first taste of liquor, its heat proof against the chill night.
Bonfires and torches flared, bringing the dancing square alight. Sora took Teyla's hands, showing her the pattern of a reel. Teyla whirled easily through the steps, and returned to Sora's arms, laughing.
"Show me an Athosian dance," Sora said. Teyla held her arms and moved her through fluid poses, one after another. "This is how my people practice with staves," she said. "Even in our celebrations we fight the Wraith."
"Do you always practice so closely?" Sora asked, burning with boldness and liquor.
"No," Teyla said, and her eyes were bright. "We only practice one thing as closely as this."
Kisses flavoured with wine and fruit made it easy to forget the world existed. A moan rose in Sora's throat. Despite the night, she was warm; Teyla's fingers cupped her jaw, her neck. Her hoop skirt forced too much space between them, and Sora wished for clothes like Teyla's, that moved as naturally as she did.
"Did you expect this, tonight?" Teyla asked.
"No," she laughed, "but," and kissed her again.
The path beyond the village led under the forest's eaves. Its only use must be moments like this. "Meet me," Sora said into Teyla's mouth. "Soon, oh please, soon."
Tirus grabbed Sora's arm as she eased beyond the circle of torchlight. "Sora. Come with me."
"But, Father--where are we--" Teyla was waiting.
He didn't speak. The metal hatch in the barn, the massive chambers beneath the ground--they spoke for him.
Minister Cowen presented Commander Kolya. Sora said nothing. Her throat ached, tight and impassable. Their words were meaningless sounds: soldier, secret, killer of Wraith.
"You have been chosen," Cowen said. "It's an honour."
"You are mine, now," Kolya said. "Your loyalty is to me."
And, as they left, Tirus said, "You are Genii, Sora. She is not."
"I worried that you would not come." Teyla stepped into the path, dappled with moonlight.
Sora shook her head. "I'm sorry." She reached for Teyla's hands; her own were icy cold.
"Are you certain...?" Teyla bent down, but this time it was not to touch their foreheads together. She was closer than she had ever been.
"I'm fine," Sora whispered. They lay on the cool grass, with the autumn wind rustling the drifts of fallen leaves. Teyla kissed her, and Sora tasted her warmth.
And beneath them, the metal bones of the earth reached for her, as coldly as winter.
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October 20, 2005