(See Exile #1 for Disclaimer and Rating)

Warnings: Languaga, Adult Situations

Exile #5



Samarra sank deeper into the steaming tub, letting the hot water ease the aches from her tired body, and dipped the cloth into a dish of rosewater resting on the tiled step into the deep bath. She wrung out the cloth, and lightly dabbed at her face and forehead. The rosewater was deliciously cool in comparison.

It had been nearly a month, and the trader's daughter was becoming accustomed to life as Lord Robert's wife. It was very different from life on a trading caravan. Going to sleep every night and waking each morning in the same place. Seeing the work that went into producing the good her people had bartered for trade. Learning to pitch in. There was so much work to do on a large estate like this, and Samarra was glad of it.

The work helped to keep her occupied, kept her from dwelling on her fear that Jaq, Daneel, and Teelik were dead, or lost to her forever. It tired her, exhausting her physically so that she slept through the nights without dreaming. Without nightmares.

There were eggs to collect from the henhouse, where chickens bobbled about, clucking and fluttering their wings. Baking to do. The cow had to be milked. Butter churned, cheese made. The vegetable garden weeded and watered. Bees buzzed madly in the herb garden, bending lavender stalks double with their weight, making honey and wax. Clothes were washed and dried and mended. Floors swept and mopped. Dishes washed. Dogs fed and bathed and brushed.

Samarra knew she was underfoot for almost all of it, but she prided herself on her quick and clever mind, and she was learning the work as she went.

She soon ventured out of the house to the smithy, and power-house, pelting Daric with more questions than he could answer about the generator and the way it provided heat and light to the house, and charged the power cells that made the tractor and cart go without horses to pull them.

The offworlder machines fascinated her. It was like magic... but everyone knew you had to be blessed by the gods to perform magic. This... this was magic with rules, magic anyone could learn!

She wandered the grounds freely, through fields and barns, the smithy and the school. The weaving shed, with the bitter smell of mordant and dye, the fleeces, and the steady sound of spinning wheels and looms crafting raw fiber into yarn, then cloth.

She spent a lot of time at the small shrine and altar, burning candles and praying for her lost family, for Jaq, Daneel and Teelik.

Each day, Robert came in from his work, and they dined together quietly, Daric and Merran often joining them. Her husband listened to her prattle on about her everyday adventures with patient interest, though she felt like she must be making a right fool of herself. Describing how she'd overcome her fear of the clucking, pecking hens by threatening them with dinner, or how she'd pulled out five clumps of orange mint, certain it was a weed.

"You've only seen chickens plucked and dressed at market, and packets of dried herbs. No shame in learning," he'd comfort her, but she still felt like a fool.

At least some of her tales made Robert smile. She rather liked his smile.

Reluctantly climbing out of the tub, she dried herself off, and dried her hair with a hand device that blew a hot wind into her hair while she brushed it out into a sleek golden cap. Silk underclothes next, and the wine red dress, now completed with a lavishly embroidered girdle belting her waist, a complicated knotwork pattern of gold and black. Sandals. Kohl darkened her eyes, lip rouge reddened her mouth, and the soft scent of the rosewater clung to her skin.

Heavy gold and garnet chandelier earrings dangled from her pierced lobes, matching the necklace she fastened around her throat, a string of oval golden discs set with garnets, supporting a pendant golden butterfly with garnets and pearls set into it's wings. She checked the great looking-glass that formed one bathroom wall, and lifted her chin, setting her shoulders. Lady Samarra Makepeace looked back.

Ready to attend her marriage feast.

There had been a flurry of preparation, invitations sent, the house cleaned and decorated, a special menu planned... and tonight was the night. With a final, nervous smoothing of her skirts, Samarra walked out to the library, where Robert waited. He was wearing ice-blue, the same fine color as his eyes. A bit of her nervousness faded, at his admiring expression. She found herself returning it. The well-tailored tunic did bring out the color of his eyes, and the sleeves were short enough to show off tanned and muscular arms, the trews tight enough to show the sturdy shape of his legs.

With a sudden start, Samarra realized she was noticing him as a man. She had been aware of his comforting, strong presence, of course, his generosity and care. But she had been... numb... for so long, with shock and grief. Scrambling blindly to find her way on this new world. She counted the days, and it warmed her heart anew that he had respected her mourning and not forced his attentions on her. A man of honor, she also knew he hadn't been swiving the serving girls... noble and chaste, as well.

This feast was the formal announcement of their marriage, her introduction to Caidos society as his lady wife. Tonight, she would be a wife to him in truth as well as name.

He offered her his arm, she took it, and together they walked out of their apartments and into the Great Hall.

The huge room was filled. Great garlands of evergreen boughs with live roses wired onto them had been swagged along the walls, releasing a spicy sweet fragrance into the air. A small group of musicians were tucked into one corner, playing a sprightly tune. There was a crowd of strange people in fine clothes and bright jewels.

The room fell into a hush as they appeared in the doorway. The music stopped, the people drew back to line the walls. The musicians started up again, a slower traditional waltz. Robert drew her out into the middle of the floor, into his arms. Other couples swung into the dance at the first repeat, and the party was under way.

In the dining hall, the floor had been strewn with sweet herbs, and the great table laden with food. Merran ran her kitchen like a general under siege, keeping the table supplied and sending runners with baskets to the slave quarters, where a simpler echo of the celebration grew even more joyous as they found the blue-beads in their baskets... Robert had given everyone a year toward freedom in honor of the day.

It was a full evening. Samarra was introduced to more people than she could keep count of. Some of the women sneered at her lowly birth, but some of them were friendly, and she regretted the distance between settlements that would keep her from getting to know them well. There was music, laughter, dancing, and food.

Later, when the last of the guests were on their way to the train or the inn, on the first steps of the long journey back to their own homes, and the overnight guests were bedded down in hastily arranged pallets in the loft, despite her best intentions, Samarra fell asleep.

She'd been waiting, in her boudoir, door invitingly ajar. She'd put on her prettiest embroidered nightgown, and lay down on top of her quilt, waiting for Robert to come into his bedroom, so she could go to him. She'd only meant to close her eyes for a second, and opened them the next morning.

They saw the last of the guests off at a more formal breakfast than usual for the household, and before she could speak Robert grabbed the last of the briarberry muffins, chucked her on the chin, and was out the door.

She sighed, and set to work, starting with sweeping up pine needles and rose petals from the floor of the Great Hall.

Dinner was mostly the leftovers from the feast, cold imported beef and shelled mud-bugs marinated in oil and garlic and then pan fried. Robert had to go back out, after, to catch up on work that had stalled during preparations for the party.

Samarra hummed to herself as she helped Merran with the dishes. She had another bath, and selected one of the few fictional novels in the library, a comedy of manners set in the Imperial Court, and settled down to read while waiting for Robert to come in. She waited for him to change and get settled in bed, then set aside her book, shrugged off her robe, and padded naked to the doorway.

Her eyes adjusted to the darkness, and she could see that he was already in bed, eyes closed. She crossed to the bed, and gently lifted the covers, crawling under them. She smiled to see Robert was already half-asleep, seeming unaware of her prescence in his bed, but he automatically shifted to give her more room.

Time to wake him up. She snuggled closer, enjoying the feel of his warm, solid body. Shr kissed his cheek, moved down to lip lightly at the line of his jaw. She let her hand slide over his chest, her fingers playing with the crisp curling hair. Her probing fingertips found a small round scar on his shoulder and she kissed him again, tenderly, at this tangible evidence of his former occupation. And let her hand move lower.

He did have a nice body. A sturdy build. Muscle, padded with just enough fat to make a man cuddlesome. He stirred under her ministrations, sighing with contentment as her hand slid lower still...

His eyes flew open. "Sam," he gasped, hoarsely, turning away from her kiss. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Do I not please you, husband?" He had denied her his mouth, so she nibbled playfully at his earlobe.

"Yeah, baby, you're pleasing me, that's the problem," he groaned, catching her hand gently at the wrist and pulling it back up to rest on his belly. "Samarra! Cut it out!"

She drew back, surprised at this reaction, and he took advantage of the moment to roll over and light the lamp on his bedside table. She looked at him, dark hair adorably rumpled, chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath, and wanted to pounce all over again.

Of all the reactions she had expected to her brazen actions, this wasn't one of them. "Robert," she asked softly, "we haven't consummated our union... I thought you were waiting for me to come to you. Did I do something wrong?"

"No," he licked his lips. "You didn't do anything wrong. I just... wasn't expecting it."

She smiled and moved closer.

"I don't think we're ready," he blurted. She stared at him again, puzzled, suddenly unsure of herself, of why he was acting so reluctant when she knew he desired her... bridegroom nerves perhaps?

"You seem ready enough," she purred teasingly, then stopped, stricken, as she thought of another explanation... After all, he had never spoken of love to her... "I see. You only married me out of pity. I don't please you, I shouldn't have..." Tears of embarrassment pricked at her eyes.

In a comforting tone, he quickly rushed to reassure her, "Samarra... it's not you. It's, uh, you're beautiful, I want to, it's just..." he fumbled, helplessly.

Mollified, she eyed him, speculatively. A former soldier... she'd heard talk about lonely men in far-off garrisons. And some men and women were just born wanting their own sex rather than the opposite. "Do you prefer the company of other men?"

"What!? NO!" he seemed startled by the implication. "Not that there's anything wrong with that. I like women, I like you..." he stopped and rubbed at his eyes. "I'm not used to arranged marriages. Where I came from, a man and a woman get to know each other socially before they get together."

He paused, then propped himself up on an elbow, gazing earnestly into her eyes. "We'll have the rest of our lives together. I want to be friends before we become lovers. Our first night together... that should be special."

Samarra sighed softly. She didn't want to delay their wedded night any longer, but it was a sweet sentiment, and it charmed her to see yet again that Robert was truly a noble man. She snuggled closer, part of her hoping to entice him into abandoning his lofty ideals.

"I know you well enough," she informed him. "You are a decent man, kind, noble, and good," she kissed him, and he responded to it this time, not pulling away. The skill of his kiss made her want to explore his other talents all the more. "desirable," she sighed, adding reluctantly, "and if you wish to wait for love and not passion, so will I." One more sweet kiss and she slipped out of his arms and his bed.

She heard him groan quietly as she slid the door of her boudoir closed, and smiled in the darkness.

Later that week, Robert left for the main worlds of the chain to attend to his business interests, and he promised to start the search for her family again. He was gone for nearly a month. Samarra threw herself into work to keep from fretting. Merran was teaching her needlework, and her knitting and sewing were both improving. She also began to spend more time at the school. The school was another of those astonishing ideas Robert had implimented.

When he bought slaves, he bought whole families to keep them together. But noone under seventeen had to work. Instead, he'd built a school, and set a schedule. Merran taught homecraft and reading and writing. Daric taught maths. Robert himself lectured on history of the Chain. They learned old songs and stories... any of the slaves who had something to teach was allowed to work a shift as teacher.

Samarra told the children what life was like as a traveling trader.

Robert returned at last, with new trading contacts, books and other trinkets, and no news of her family at all.

"I'm sorry, Samarra. I've set agents looking, with orders to report to me immediately if they get word, but there's still no sign of them."

She thanked him, and cried a little. He left her alone, and after a while, she took three candles to the shrine, and sat remembering, and praying that the gods watched over them, in whatever dark places they must walk.

The kitchen was one of her favorite rooms in the house. Large and airy, the electric stove and oven didn't fill the room with smoke or stifling heat. Summer had come to Caidos early, long golden days under a blazing sun.

Today, the kitchen smelled of cinnamon. They were baking pies. Samarra sat with a large bowl and a basket of ripe briarberries, trimming the stems off and slicing them into the bowl. A cup of white sugar sat at her elbow, to be poured over the sliced berries, drawing the juice out into syrup.

The quiet gossip-chatter faded as a boy barely out of his teens came bursting into the kitchen, panting for air and wild-eyed. "Merran! Milord... brushcat!... over to Jackson's Hill..." he gasped.

Samarra didn't hear what happened next. All she knew was that she was outside, running for the distant hill. The powered cart pulled up beside her, Merran driving and the white-faced shepherd boy, Tohbi, in the back. It stopped long enough for Samarra to climb aboard.

It was only a few minutes out to the pasture at the foot of the hill. The battlefield. The smell of blood hung heavy in the humid air. A partially eaten sheep lay not far from the tawny-furred corpse of the native predator.

Robert lay a few feet away, leg elevated on a stump, and a cluster of men around him. His trouser-leg had been cut away, and one of the men was shirtless, holding the pad of cloth to the clawed gashes.

He was pale, sweating, and swearing a blue streak.

"... fucker tagged me before it went down, damn it. I knew we needed to arm the shepherds with something heavier than those shitty little pellet guns... where's the dog? Banjo all right?"

Samarra spotted the dog darting nervously around the edges of the crowd, as she knelt on the grass beside him.

"The dog's all right. Robert..."

His lips twisted in a weak attempt at a smile. "Hey Sam. Y'want a fur coat?"

Merran dropped down at his other side, rummaging in a carrysack. At her nod, the farmhand lifted the cloth pad, and Merran replaced it with a white square from her kit, wiping gently at the torn flesh and gore. Robert hissed through his teeth. Merran lifted the bloodied swab, and Samarra's stomach turned over at the sight. Five nasty gashes that ran almost from his hip to his knee. Merran hurriedly replaced it with a fresh one, pressing down. Robert sighed, his eyelashes fluttering, and his face went slack.

With a keening yelp, Samarra moved to gather him into her lap, but Merran leaned over to touch her arm, her brown eyes bright with compassion and tears. "He but sleeps. The bandage carries a potion, to heal the wound and spare him the pain."

Heart in her mouth, Samarra saw that his chest still rose and fell, breathing. "Offworld technology," she sighed, and it was a prayer of gratitude.

After another moment of keeping pressure on the wound, Merran produced a spray bottle from the bag. She carefully filled each of the gashes with a soft foam, then covered it with another square of the cloth that clung like a second skin.

The men helped load him into the back of the powered cart. Samarra sat with him, his head cradled in her lap, and helplessly stroked his hair. Word had spread, a grim and silent gathering waited at the house. Daric and the blacksmith carried Robert inside and put him to bed.

Merran, the other married woman of the household, helped Samarra undress him. Boots and the ruined trousers, the blood-soaked cotton shorts he wore beneath. Merran kept her eyes modestly averted, a blush heating her cheeks. Samarra allowed herself a glance. She'd been naked on the auction block, fair was fair. They got him settled, swaddled under a light blanket.

"He'll sleep a good bit," Merran explained. "while the potions do their work."

Samarra was reluctant to leave him. She stayed in his bedroom, nervously watching him breathe. Wounds like that... a man could die, or lose the leg. She tried to have faith in the miracles of offworld technology. Merran didn't seem to fear for his life.

Samarra still watched him breathe, and busied herself straightening up. The top of his dresser, checking for dust. Curiously, she opened the small carved wooden box he kept there, wondering if it contained some secret stash of the fabulous gemstones that founded his fortune. Puzzled, she tipped the contents out, a small silver pin, in the shape of an eagle with a shield covering the breast, a clutch of arrows in one talon.

There was also another; a bit of ribbon striped red, blue, and white, supporting a small golden star, with a silver star set in the center, an engraved wreath surrounding the smaller star.

She closed her hand around it, the points of the star scratching her palm, strangely shaken. The sight of the star filled her with a nameless foreboding. She put it away, hurriedly, and tried to put it out of her mind.

She spent the rest of the day in his room. Sitting by his bedside. Around sunset he woke up, long enough to use the commode and ask for food. He finished most of a bowl of soup, and went back to sleep.

It worried Samarra, but Merran reassured her as she bolted down her own meal, anxious to return to her vigil.

"It's the med-i-patch," Merran pronounced the strange term carefully. "It's got these tiny, invisible bugs..."

"Nay-gnats," Daric interjected helpfully.

"... that climb into the wound and help it heal. They eat bloodpoisoning and spin whole flesh as a spider spins cobweb, and then they melt away when all is healed."

Samarra tried to picture tiny bugs crawling around and mending Robert's leg like patching a torn shirt.

"They've a lot of work to do. Those claws struck to the bone."

Samarra looked up at that. "And Robert will sleep through it all? Until his leg is sound again? How long will it take?"

After an uneasy glance at her husband, Merran could only shrug.

Samarra lay by his side that night, dreaming disturbed dreams.

Days turned into weeks. Robert slept. Woke to eat, simple foods. Broth and fruit. He used the commode. Blushed as Samarra bathed him, shaved his bristling chin. The potion-pad slowly darkened from white to grotty black, and was replaced, again and again. Each time, the wound Samarra glimpsed was less severe.

When Samarra wasn't tending to him, she was closeted in the library with Daric. Robert had chosen his foreman well. Daric handled the details of running the estate, helped her make decisions, and list the things they needed second-guessed, to be put to Robert during his conscious and lucid moments.

Daric didn't seem to have any trouble taking orders from a woman, a relative newcomer at that. He explained patiently each problem as it came up, offered his advice, and got them through.

The worst of it came with a fever. It swept through the household, an inconvenience to most, but a danger to Robert in his weakened state. Her own throat sore from coughing, Samarra sat by his bedside, bathing him with cool water and cologne, trying to bring the fever down.

Robert fought the sweat-stained sheets, occasionally opening glazed blue eyes, shouting gibberish; shy Anne, ham and gold, calling for esgeewan again. Samarra had never heard that language in all her travels.

The fever broke at last. Samarra, still weak and chilled with her own bout with the illness, wrapped up warmly against the early autumn chill with a fat lavender candle.

They drove the sheep into town, a lazy ride on horseback with Ragdoll and Skeeter doing all the herding work. They were loaded onto cattle cars on the train and Daric and a few of the trusted shepherds took them to the market in the capitol, beside the Ring. Samarra rode home alone, the two dogs trailing her, or running ahead, taking exploratory side trips to flush treerabbits and barking excitedly at their harrassed quarry who sat on low branches angrily shaking their long ears.

More days passed by in a blur. Fall was coming. Harvest, and all the preparations for winter. Feed crops brought into barns and silos. Firewood cut. Fruit and vegetables canned or frozen in the great coldboxes in the shed.

Robert healed. He stayed awake longer, and was more alert. The last of the potion-pads was removed to reveal thin red lines scoring his leg. He exercised the newly remade muscle, unsteadily wobbling through the house with the help of a stout oak cane and Samarra hovering anxiously behind him, ready to catch him if he stumbled.

It wasn't long before he was walking on his own, the cane propped decoratively in a corner of the library, resting against the shelf lined with spearheads and axes and odd bits of stone.

They were spending a quiet evening in the library, Robert going over the books and seeing everything that had been done during his illness. Samarra was seated on the floor brushing Boyington. The big dog lay blissfully stretched out, grizzling muzzle resting on the brushcat rug as Samarra carefully worked the wire brush through his silky fur and the thicker, tangling undercoat.

Some of the men had skinned the brushcat and cured the hide, the traditional way. The teeth and claws had been saved as another souvineer. Robert kept them in a canning jar on the fireplace mantle.

There was only the crackle of the fire, and the steady skritch of Robert's pen moving across a piece of scrap paper when he said quietly, "I can't believe this."

Samarra looked up. Robert was grinning. "You actually made a profit!" he whooped, laughing.

She smiled demurely, warmed by his obvious pride. "Traders know all their own tricks, mi'lord husband. Each time they tried to drive the price down, I raised it, til we had a deal."

Robert finished his figuring, still chuckling. "I ought to let you take over running the place. I can really retire, go fishing..." He got to his feet, came over, and offered her his hand. She gave Boyington a final pat, set the brush and comb on the hearth, and stood. Their eyes met. And then they were kissing. For the first time. Forever.

They broke for breath, and she could see the light leaving his eyes, even as he whispered, "I love you. I shouldn't..."

She rested her head against his shoulder. "I was so afraid. When the brushcat clawed you... I love you, I love you and we've been living like strangers, not man and wife..."

"Sam. Samarra. I—"

Angry now, she took a step away from him, turned away, and spun back to rail at him. "WHY? You won't lie with me. You aren't swiving the servant girls or the stable boys, or bothering the sheep, is there no passion in you?" she demanded, almost hysterically. "Is it that I was bought a slave? The work I've done here while you were wounded is worth ten silver, I've seen you pass coin to slaves as reward for extra work. Pay me my price, let me buy myself back and prove to you that I'll stay at your side, Robert, I love you, please... I love you."

Makepeace grabbed her and kissed her again. Partly to shut her up. Mostly because he had fallen in love despite his best intentions, because he was only human and had been tempted beyond endurance. And his first, frantic impulse to buy time to invent some new convoluted explanation was lost in the silken touch of her lips.

"Your leg," she squeaked when he lifted her.

'S'fine," he mumbled, carrying her back to the bedroom.

He set her down gently in the middle of the bed. If you do this, and her memory comes back, she's going to kill you, he thought. Worse, she's going to hate you for the rest of her life, his conscience told him. His heart responded. We love each other now, that's enough. He stretched out beside her, and kissed her, delicately reaching out for the button at the neck of her blouse. All doubts and second thoughts were lost in the slow removal of clothing and the loving discovery of skin.

Afterward, Robert did stare guiltily at the ceiling for a long time before falling asleep, the warm weight of Samarra snuggled up against him. She started using the boudior as a dressing room, and slept with him every night.

Robert took the train to Caidos Town and went through the 'gate for supplies one last time before winter. There were no messages from the men he'd set to look for the enslaved SG-1 or the Tok'ra. A tiny sigh of relief escaped him, and he went on about his business.

Samarra was waiting with Daric at the New Ohio station when he got back. His heart both lifted and fell at the sight of her. It was a disquieting feeling, letting himself love her when he knew it was going to end badly.

As they loaded supplies into the truck, Samarra stopped to stare at the contents of one crate.

"What are these?"

Robert glanced over, as she lifted a pinafored rag doll and a pull-horse out of the box.

"For the slave kids, for Frostfair. Every kid gets a new toy at Frostfair."

She beamed at him. "Even toys for the tots—Robert?"

Oranges rolled across the platform spilling from the sack he'd accidently tossed over one shoulder at her phrasing. Toys For Tots... the Marine toy drive for the poor at Christmas, the inspiration for this tradition. He gave her a wary glance... was she starting to remember? And started collecting stray fruit.

The moment passed, and nothing else happened. They made love every night and nothing else happened. They went about their daily work, and nothing else happened. He came to accept the sword of Damocles hanging over his head, and lived for the moment.

It was snowing again. Samarra shook snowflakes out of her hair, shivering, as she darted back into the warmth of the house. They were decorating the Great Hall for Frostfair. Pine boughs were wired into garlands, and a large cut tree stood in one corner, in a special stand, a tradition from Robert's homeland. Ornaments had been brought from storage, origami paper animals, painted wooden stars, to hang from the branches of the tree.

Samarra liked the idea of this holiday. Giving thanks that they had survived... winter and hope for the coming spring. Exchanging gifts with loved ones. She'd just barely finished the sweater she'd knit for Robert in time.

There would be a feast. No high born guests, travel was too difficult in this weather, just the household. Simpler food, but in abundance, and special cookies only made this time of year. It's important to have something to look forward to.

She hummed to herself as she hung ornaments on the tree. She'd hoped to have another gift for Robert, hoped that there would be a child come spring. Now that his odd conjugal reluctance had passed. Her cycle had been late... merely late after all. A small sorrow, but there was time yet.

"You made this yourself?" Robert exclaimed over the gray sweater. It was the simplest cable stitch pattern and the sleeves proved to be a little too long, but Robert just turned them up and insisted on wearing it. She was wearing her new present as well, a long skirt of dark blue velvet, paired with a buttercup yellow vest over a white blouse with froths of lace at the throat and sleeves, framing a golden star pendant set with seed pearls. She'd teased him that he was wasting his treasure, having jewelry made for her, and his response was 'every jewel needs the right setting.'

Faint music drifted from the Great Hall as they entered. A small band set up in a corner, opposite the shimmering tree, playing merrily. Shepherds and fieldhands, weavers and spinners, all scrubbed pink and dressed in their best clothes, filled the hall. Children ran through the crowd, playing tag.

Everyone had already eaten their meals, the table in the dining hall held pies and cakes and cookies, kettles of spiced cider and hot chocolate. Outside the frigid wind howled and snow drifted waist deep, but the house was warm and cozy, and filled with music and laughter.

It happened just a few days later. She and Robert had woken early, and indulged in a rare morning tryst. Samarra had bathed, and was dressing.

Deep within her ear canal, the tiny Tok'ra implant went dead. The energy charge ran out, never intended to operate continuously for so long. A sudden blinding headache staggered her. Unfelt, the device migrated to the rim of her ear, and fell to the floor. No bigger than a grain of rice, it rolled into a crack between the tiles.

Under the rushing onslaught of returning memory, Samarra fell to the floor, curled into a fetal ball, as her life flashed before her eyes. Mixed with the jumbled flashes of Jolinar, the Tok'ra she'd been a host for briefly before the symbiote's death, every thing she had ever experienced was relived. Relentlessly.

Trembling, she managed to push herself up to hands and knees, and slowly got to her feet.

Where Samarra had fallen, Major Samantha Carter now stood in her place. 'Samantha Makepeace,' she thought dizzily, looking at her wedding ring. She'd seen Daniel's lost wife referred to in official paperwork as Sha'uri Jackson enough to set a precedent for recognizing offworld marriages. "Daniel! Oh, god, Jack! Teal'c!" she said aloud.

The other members of SG-1 had been dragged off by slavers to an unknown fate. Had any of them escaped? Made it back to Earth?

Had her dear husband ever actually looked for them? The man was a traitor, a thief... She shook her head. The calm competence of Colonel Makepeace's command of SG-1 before they discovered Jack's defection to the dark side was just an act, and Makepeace was the NID courier. Being almost as shocked by that revelation. His court-martial.

Her terrified expectation of brutality and rape at the hands of her new master. His courtliness and respect. This settlement created from nothing. The determined importation of advanced technology to ease the burden of primitive life, the creation of indentured servitude in a slave economy. The school. His hands moving gently over her bare shoulders...

Sam blushed, remembering the morning's lazily enthusiastic lovemaking.

It was... disconcerting... to reconcile the two separate impressions. Colonel Makepeace, the man she'd known slightly, a traitor, a figure of disdain; Robert, her gentle nobleman, the visionary creating something pure and clean here in this wilderness, her husband. The same man.

Were Samarra and Sam Carter the same woman?

It was a question she pondered the rest of the day, going about her normal duties half in a trance. She saw everything with new eyes. The outrageous generosity of Lord Robert... a nice bit of social engineering. The near magic of technology... merely advanced technology, practical application of common theory.

But only a woman who knew nothing but hauling water from a stream, heavy bucket by bucket, boiling it, and hauling the used slop to dump out, could truly appreciate indoor plumbing.

There had been a colonel at the SGC who went mad and took over a stone-age planet, declaring himself a god. He had almost worked the natives to death to satisfy his whims.

Looking at this little settlement that Robert Makepeace was trying to drag into the modern age with his bare hands made her question the standing assumption that interference was wrong. Backbreaking work lightened through machinery. Medicine to cure the sick. This was... a little miracle. And she was going to have to leave.

For a moment, she considered staying. Pretending the device was still working. Being Samarra. Living happily ever after.

Until the Goa'uld came here.

That was the problem. Earth was still in danger. Every peaceful, populated world was still in danger, and as much as she loved this life, she had her duty.

Joking with the girls, dinner conversation with Merran and Daric, all meant more to her, knowing she'd have to leave. She froze as Makepeace joined them. Again, her mental pictures of beloved husband and court-martialed marine jarred violently, like one of those trick 3-D pictures that shifted from two black silhouettes to a white candlestick and back again.

"Temperature's dropping. And I think we're in for more snow. You sure the livestock'll be all right, Daric? I remember a story I read when I was a boy, a bad winter and the farmer had to go chip ice away from his animals' mouths so they could breathe okay." Makepeace said as he pulled out his chair.

Carter blinked, slowly, recognizing the plot from Little House On The Prairie, as Daric reassured him. She was uncharacteristically quiet during dinner, listening. She knew she would have to tell him tonight, and was trying to work out what to say.

She was going to break his heart. She knew, because her own was aching.

After dinner, they went into the library as they had a thousand times. Carter settled nervously into her chair, plucking nervously at the strap of her work-bag hanging from the arm of the chair, and watched Makepeace taking the farm book down from it's shelf.

"Maybourne needs shoeing," he started to say.

She blurted out, "You named the mule after your boss at the NID?" It was absolutely the last way she'd have chosen to announce the return of her memories. Makepeace froze. The tension in the set of his shoulders betrayed him, otherwise he could have been carved from stone.

"I know a horse's ass when I see one," his voice was calm, steady and even. "Jackson's Hill... I think it's a burial mound. This isn't really hill country, and it's too rounded... the arrowheads turned up when we cleared the land. Welcome back, Major. Glad to see you're feeling... yourself... again."

The lie was painfully obvious. Neither of them were glad this moment had come. He turned, finally, and Carter met the naked emotion in his eyes with a flinch, as he came to the other chair by the fireplace.

"What happened to you and SG-1? I've had men out looking, through the Chain and any trading planet the slavers are known to visit, and there's been no sign of them, Sa—" he swallowed her name. "Major Carter. If they made it back to base, they'd've sent teams back for you. One thing about O'Neill, he doesn't leave people behind. I'm betting the three of them have amnesia like you did... out there somewhere."

"I don't know. I don't think so. We were testing new equipment for the Tok'ra. A version of the memory device. For going under cover, it was programmed with a fictional native personality... so you'd have her whispering advice in the back of your mind, local customs, how to behave. Mine... somehow mine took over, and I thought Samarra was who I really was."

"I wondered. The bathhouse had sensors behind the tile, like Star Trek. I thought some kind of head injury, but they didn't find anything."

She nodded. Watched his big hands clench into fists and unclench. Watched him twist the wedding ring that matched the one on her own finger.

"You didn't send me home," she said finally.

"I couldn't. You didn't have a GDO with you." He shrugged. "Johnson was SG-3's gategeek, I only know Earth's address. I've had agents trying to find the Tok'ra and your old man too, but they're damn tough to find. Guess they'd have to be or the Goa'uld would wipe 'em out. I, uh, thought about telling you the truth, who you are, but I couldn't think of a way that didn't sound insane."

She believed him, and they fell silent for a moment.

"That's how I ended up here," Carter said finally. "How did you?"

He gave her a half-smile. "The second gate. Maybourne's up and running again. Hammond'll want to do something about that when you..." his voice trailed off, and he glanced down. When you report in, that was left unsaid. "You know I was just discharged, no prison time. Retirement... was killing me by inches. Maybourne showed up, offered me a chance at a fresh start. He wanted me to go back to work for the NID, but I turned that down, ditched 'em. Wandered from stargate to stargate until I found the Chain Of Twelve Rings, which has everything I was looking for, and settled down. These people... life out here is cheap. People are wasted, working themselves to death just to survive. So many of them don't. I can change that. Just by being one man in a position of power, and doing the right thing."

"The children of slaves learning to read," she murmured. "Medicine and light chores for the ill instead of leaving them to die."

"It has to start somewhere. When the kids grow up, I'll set them free. They'll have skills to get jobs, move up the social ladder. And they'll remember."

She closed her eyes and shook her head in disbelief. "This isn't New Ohio, it's Camelot. How did you get mixed up with Maybourne and the NID, anyway?"

He took a deep breath, letting it out very slowly. "Because it was the right thing to do."

Her head snapped up. "The right thing to do?"

He met her gaze evenly. "For Earth's defense, yes. Our allies haven't been all that helpful, have they? The Tollan, the Tok'ra, the Asgaard... it's important to keep them as allies, yes. That's one thing. But in the event of a foothold situation or outright alien incursion, I don't trust any of 'em to come running to Earth's rescue. To the Tok'ra... no offense to your dad or the snake-in-law... we're just a source of willing hosts and guinea pigs. To the Asgaard we're a bargaining chip. The Goa'uld want slaves, and the Tollan... you got me, maybe they think we're quaint. For a real alliance, one that has any meaning, they have to see us as equals. Being able to defend ourselves would be a good start."

"But stealing from them undermined our diplomatic negotiations. We're getting them to trust us, to trust that Earth might soon be ready for them to share technological advancements in weaponry, while a secret branch of our government is running this espionage operation. It made us look like liars, or fools."

Makepeace smiled a little wryly. "With god knows how many gazillion human populated worlds out here, the plan was that none of the aliens would ever know Earth was behind the thefts, to give the contact teams plausible deniability. Somebody screwed up—I don't know how. I was just a courier, bringing tech Newman collected back for analysis while Maybourne was working on getting the second stargate out of it's crate and back in running order."

Carter thought about the small box on his dresser, and the rank insignia and Silver Star she'd found.

"I can't agree with that," she said finally.

"Our first fight." Makepeace smiled wryly.

They sat in silence again, for a long uncomfortable moment. Then he cleared his throat.

"Say, you wouldn't happen to know who won the last couple of Superbowls, would you?" a faint note of homesickness colored his voice.

Glad to be on a safer topic, Carter filled him in on the news from home. Sports, international events, movies and television... gossip from Cheyenne Mountain, the Stargate Command base. They talked late into the night, until both of them were trading yawns and had trouble keeping their eyes open.

They awkwardly retired to the master bedroom. Carter changed in her boudoir, and hesitated, while combing her hair. She made her decision, then slid the door separating them open and stepped through. Makepeace was just climbing into bed. He stopped, and gave her a dubious look.


She crossed the room determinedly, and got in on her side. "Samarra's just a name, Rob," she kissed him. "It's still me."

"Aw Sam..." he sighed, pulling her close.

It was gentle, and desperate, and frenzied, and bittersweet.

Afterward, she clung to him, cuddled close while he kissed and licked at the nape of her neck. He sighed with amused resignation, "I don't suppose I can seduce you into going AWOL?"

She blinked back sudden tears and tried to match his tone. "With the train and the stargate in Caidos Town, it wouldn't be a bad commute from Colorado," she countered.

He snorted. "Baby, either way it would be the end of your military career."

She closed her eyes. It wasn't fair, but it was true. "We have time. I can't go until the snow clears enough to travel. We have a little time together."

"Then let's make the most of it," he said, and reached for her again.

It wasn't easy. Robert took time off to spend with her, and rumors spread. They'd decided not to announce that 'Samarra' was leaving to return to her people until the time came. They bundled up and went for long walks on the paths plowed and trodden through the snow, talking, arguing, laughing together.

She tried to spend a little extra time with everyone she'd befriended. Merran, talking over recipes and needlework. Daric, engines and mechanics. She played with the dogs. She spent time with the children, telling them stories adapted from Major Matt Mason comics and taught them as much physics as she could with seesaws and kettles of boiling water. She spent every night in Robert's bed.

And finally the day came. The snow had stopped, no new storms for a week. That gave them the chance to clear the train tracks all the way from Caidos Town to New Ohio.

Carter dressed, quietly, in boots and trousers, and pulled a quilted jacket on over her blouse. Makepeace dressed in the same brown trousers and tunic he'd worn that day at the slave market. She didn't pack anything, leaving him as she came. But the laurel enameled wedding ring was still on her finger.

Breakfast was almost unbearable. Deceptively casual, Makepeace announced, "Samarra and I are headed to Caidos Town today. I'll be back tomorrow."

Daric didn't catch the pronoun shift, but Merran frowned slightly. Buttering toast, Daric cheerfully suggested, "It's been a bit of a long winter with the trains off schedule, but the supplies are holding out. But we could do with more lubricant for the..." he trailed off, finally catching on to the mood in the room with a puzzled look.

"I won't be coming back," Carter explained quietly.

"What? Why?"

"She doesn't belong here," Makepeace said heavily. "You know I bought her at the slave market. She has to go home. The... rest of the family... doesn't know what happened to them, and if her brothers are gone, they need her there."

"But you're leaving us?" Merran asked, distressed. A quick glance at Makepeace, and then Daric betrayed her thoughts. Merran was trying to imagine walking away from her own husband willingly, and failing. "Couldn't you go while you're needed, and return?"

"It's more complicated than that," Carter tried to explain.

"Samarra is a princess," Makepeace said suddenly. They all stared at him, Carter included. She recognized the gleam in his eye, although it was usually followed by explosions before his court martial. "Among the trader folk. With Jaq gone, she's the head of their family, and there are obligations."

A unique interpretation of SG-1's command structure, but one the people of the Chain could understand.

She received a flustered hug from Daric and he wished her, "Good journey, be well." And a sisterly hug from Merran who told her, "Return to us when you can."

Horses saddled, they rode into New Ohio, and caught the train. The long trip was spent mostly in strained silence. They'd said everything, made their peace with it, and said goodbye.

He walked her to the stargate, waited while she used the Dial Home Device, and then kissed her. For a long time. For the last time. She squared her shoulders, walked up the ramp, and stepped through, not looking back.

Edora. An appropriate choice. Jack O'Neill had spent a hundred days here once, stranded when the gate was buried by a meteor strike. He'd given up on rescue, settled down with a local woman, Laira... she hadn't been able to understand then. She'd felt betrayed by the thought that O'Neill believed they gave up on him. She'd lived on Caidos much longer than a hundred days, and she understood now.

When Jack O'Neill had gone undercover in the NID, exposing the black ops team and Makepeace's role as a courier, he had left Earth and joined the NID offworld base by claiming to want to retire on Edora, with Laira. Doubly appropriate.

Holding her arms out from her body, steady, she called out, "I'm Major Samantha Carter, SG-1. I'm unarmed. If you'll escort me to the observatory outpost, you can confirm my identity."

One of the Marine sentries stood up from his covered position, keeping a weapon trained on her. Standard procedure since the Goa'uld could be anyone. She walked toward him.

Ten Years Later

It was the end of the world.

Colonel Carter watched the screens and the fleet of Goa'uld ships with morbid fascination. Too many of them. The Tau'ri of Earth had finally proven nuisance enough for the System Lords to act together to wipe them out.

Behind her, Jack and Daniel were arguing, with dark humor, whether they would be the first to die as the Goa'uld located the stargate from orbit and eliminated it—or if they would begin by targeting major cities. Teal'c, stoic as ever, merely waited for Fate to assign him his role.

She spotted it almost at the same time as Lieutenant Webber spoke. "General O'Neill, we've got another ship coming in..."

The reports of ships coming out of warpspace had become routine, but this was different. "My god, it's massive... it's firing on the Goa'uld!"

The four exchanged a quick glance, daring to hope.

"Mothership destroyed," Webber reported with growing excitement. "Two, no three, five... seven... the rest of the fleet is retreating! They're out of our solar system, sir, only the intruder is left."

Jack O'Neill let out a war whoop. "About time, Thor!"

Webber corrected him. "It's not a known Asgaard configuration, sir. We're getting a signal..."

O'Neill gestured and the lieutenant opened the channel.

Carter sagged against the console at the familiar midwestern drawl. "This is the Caidos Imperial Dreadnought 'SnakeEater'."

O'Neill leaned back and put his feet on the edge of the console. "Nice rescue, Bob!" he enthused.

A dry chuckle. "Amazing what a little bootstrapping can do, eh? Don't see any of your allies up here, Jack. Good thing I was taught to share my toys."

"Caidos Imperial?" Carter asked warily.

A snort. "Things have gotten politically interesting since Emperor Rupert died and the Chain broke. You want to get the protocol right for the red carpet, it's Robert, Lord Makepeace, Viceroy of Caidos, Defender of the Rings, Protector of the Throne, Regent Guardian to Her Serene Highness the Empress Beatrix."

"How upwardly mobile of you." O'Neill quipped.

Jackson held up his index finger politely, to interrupt. "Ah, how did he... how did you know Earth was under attack?" he raised his voice.

"I didn't. Need to borrow Carter for a diplomatic mission. The opposition is claiming I've murdered my wife and I'm holding Beatrix hostage until she's of age—that I intend to plant myself on the throne."

O'Neill had been making a phone call while Makepeace explained his timely arrival. Jackson, looking at Carter with an odd expression, ventured, "And you're not?"

Her three old friends watched as Carter silently took her only piece of personal jewelry, a gold ring enameled with a laurel wreath, off her ring finger and moved it to her other hand.

"Having his wife join him would end that speculation," she admitted.

"Bob, the gate's gonna be busy for a while, but I've arranged for you to put a shuttle down at the Academy airfield. You do have shuttlecraft on that boat?" O'Neill asked.

"I got shuttles, fighters, and the whole range of action figures."

"Cool. See you dirtside." The general gestured for the communication to end. "Webber. Let's get a message through the gate to the people at the Beta site, tell the evacuees to start coming back through. Let's get a briefing together for the President, have 'em start with the SGC dependents. Cassie Fraiser..." he leveled a pointed stare at his second in command. "... and Robbie Carter..."

"Sir," she began, wondering how to explain the secret she'd kept so long, wondering, as always, what she'd have done on Caidos if she had known she was pregnant.

O'Neill's warm brown eyes were dancing. "Go. Permission for family reunion granted."

She headed down to the gateroom to meet her son and prepare him for meeting his father. O'Neill's voice trailed after her.

"I love a Happy Ending."


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Page last updated 12/11/03.