The following day, John took Aracely just out of town, to the lake that was nearby. It was a warm, sunny day and apart from the maidens and a handful of guards, they were alone. They shared a meal in the shade of a big oak tree (one John had climbed in countless of times, and had fallen out of about half of those times) and then smiled widely when he produced a small sapling out of the provisions bag.
“John?” Aracely asked puzzled.
“Even after these few months, I know that you don’t really feel like you’re ‘home’.” he pointed in the general direction of the castle. “That is the place I grew up in and the townspeople are the people that I have known all my life. I didn’t want to say anything yesterday, but one of the people coming in for a visit yesterday was a soldier of the party I sent with Ronon.”
Aracely’s eyes grew big. “You’ve heard back from them?”
“Not really, no. Apparently, this soldier first complained about being seduced by a ‘tall, black haired waitress’ before getting punched in the face by ‘a scrawny, librarian type man who said he was her husband and if the soldier, Rickardus Woolsideus, was wise, he’d leave his wife alone’. Matthew then was pestered by Halling, to bring back this.” He handed Aracely a note. “And on his way out of the village, the local herbalist gave him this sapling, well actually two; telling Rickardus that it was sprouted from ‘the queen’s favorite tree’.” John smiled as he caressed her hair while she read the note. “I thought it would be a great idea to plant it next to this oak tree, so it can grow tall here at this beautiful place. The other one, I think you’d like to plant that in our garden… the one solely belonging to you and me.”
“John…” Aracely sobbed as she flung her arms around him. “Why didn’t you tell me yesterday? Oh this is wonderful news, oh…”
“What is it?” John softly caressed her back.
“Vala! She’s with child!” She cried and buried her face in John’s shirt. “She’s with child! Oh John, she’s finally with child!”
He smiled and was confused as to why Aracely was crying. “That is great news, my love, why are you crying?”
“Oh, I don’t know…” she sobbed. “I miss them, I am overjoyed for Vala and Danyel and they actually dared to talk to one of your soldiers for me!”
He grinned as he pulled her close, wiping the tears from her face with his shirt. He didn’t tell her that soon, Ronon would return, and Rickardus was afraid to disclose the information they had gathered, and as much as John was in a position to force it out of the poor soldier, he dismissed Rickardus instead.
The boy had endured enough already at the hands of Aracely’s friends, and John had waited long enough for word from San Franciskus anyway. He could wait a couple of more days.
“I couldn’t possibly think of any better way to spend the day,” she smiled up at him as she settled against him to reread the note. “I do wish to go see them as soon as we can. Can we?”
“I told you yesterday, we can, as soon as Ronon returns and he says it’s safe for you.”
“I wish he would have come back with the other man with the note,” she frowned. “It is difficult being away like this.”
“I know, but I am sure Ronon had a good reason not to return with Rickardus.”
Aracely sat there quietly, thinking about everything. While the rest of the afternoon went by without any incident and it was relaxing, during the ride back to the castle she stared out the window of the carriage. “I don’t know but I have the strong need to go back there. I am unsure if you could ever understand but I need to go back. Safe or not.”
John sighed. Of course he understood her need to go back, well not really, but he tried to. However, as long as the Chulakkans were still around and as long as there was a chance of them hurting Aracely one way or the other, John did not want her to go back. “If Ronon hasn’t returned in five suns, we will go.” He carefully said, already regretting that decision but he would do anything for her, and if it would make her happy and ease her mind by visiting her friends, then so be it.
She turned to look at him and nodded with a small smile. “Thank you John,” she said. “You have no idea how much that means.”
“Anything to make you happy, my love, but you do have to see it from my point of view too; I want to keep you and our unborn child safe.”
“Is that not why you are coming as well?” she asked. “With all the soldiers I anticipate you wanting to go regardless of their status, I think I would be adequately protected.”
“Yes, which is why I’ll be coming along as well,” John nodded. “Only to be properly yelled at by Ronon for endangering the both of us if he hasn’t resolved the problems yet.” He grinned and softly kissed her. “Don’t worry, we’ll go no matter what.”
The following day, in the middle of the townspeople visiting him, Ronon bursted into the main hall, dropping a bag full of decapitated heads in front of him. John was grateful that Aracely wasn’t there with him, and the townspeople were so disgusted by one head rolling back into the hall that they fled. “You have one hell of a way to clear the hall.” John remarked.
Ronon shrugged, and put another bag down on the floor as John hopped off the throne area to hug his friend. “Welcome home, my friend.”
The soldier huffed. “I killed my brother because of you.”
John blinked. “For some reason I have a feeling that the situation wasn’t easy .”
Ronon shook his head. “More complicated than you can imagine.” He pointed at the first bag. “Chulakkans,” he then pointed at the other bag. “Our men.”
He couldn’t believe his friend. Did he just say that he killed soldiers of their own army? What was going on?
“I’ll go get rid of these, we need to talk.” Ronon said curtly before picking up the bags and turning around to exit again. “In your office, one hour,” he said as he picked up the stray head and left the main hall, leaving John dumbfounded.
Aracely wandered through the corridors, trying to avoid the main hall as she wasn’t dressed as a Queen should to entertain the villagers, and continue to familiarize herself with the lay of the castle. Just as she turned one corner, she very nearly crashed into someone who was off in a rush. “Oh! My apologies!” she cried out before taking notice at who the man was. “Sir Dex?”
“My Queen…” Ronon muttered.
She grabbed a hold of his tunic at the unsaid confirmation. “You have been to my home village. Please, tell me of my people. Are they well?” she begged.
Ronon sighed, and looked down on his best friend’s – the King’s – spouse. “Vala kept flirting, Halling and Lorne were working well together in arranging various things for my men and me. They are all well, my Queen. However, we failed in getting there before… they took the blacksmith’s daughter and we weren’t able to recover her. I am sorry.”
Aracely’s face fell as she took in the information. Taking a step back, she misjudged before she stumbled and fell against the wall. “Radell…oh no,” she breathed out, starting to feel more weak and sick. The desire to vomit her lunch grew stronger with the unsettling news that it sent her to the closest thing she could find, a large planter where she expelled the little food she had managed to keep down from earlier.
“Are you alright?” Ronon frowned.
“Yes,” she nodded, her face a pasty white. “Does John know?”
“I’m not going to bore him with details of your people, forgive me. There are other matters that are more important.” Ronon said bluntly. “I was about to go to his office.”
“Help me up. I am coming with you. I wish to hear everything as well,” she replied, her voice strengthened by the resolve she felt.
“The talk of warfare is not fit for a Queen.” Ronon said, taking Aracely by the arm and helping her up in one move. “I suggest you go and rest, you look ill.”
She glared up at him as she pulled her arm back to fix her dress. “I am pregnant. Not an invalid. They are my people and I have the right to hear of what has happened. If I had not come with John as I had, I would be there to live through it – again. Do not tell me what is or is not appropriate for me !”
“The kid is doomed.” Ronon rolled his eyes as he continued his way to John’s office.
Aracely only glared at the man as she followed. When she walked in behind him, she only gave John a look as he was seated behind his desk. A look that warned that she was not going to leave without a fight. “I wish to hear everything ,” she said simply, leaving no room for argument.
“Big guy gave you a hard time?” John chuckled.
“No,” she answered as she went to sit in the nearest chair. “Although this one did not take the news quite as well,” she added as she laid a hand on her stomach. “No matter. What is the situation?”
Ronon looked back and forth between John and Aracely for a while.
“Well? You’ve heard the lady, tell us what you’ve discovered and why you killed our own people.”
“I’m not proud of it!” Ronon spat, his voice was thick with grief. “What I’m about to tell you will probably end up in a war with Proculus.”
“I’m not certain, but somehow they are involved. However, the village is safe. The people are safe. I am not proud of my people, there was a splinter group of renegades and thieves that were performing the attacks. The men stationed at the nearest army base were bribed to look the other way.” Ronon said quickly, wanting to get this over and done with. “According to Tyre, my brother whom I… talked to for hours while I…” Ronon swallowed hard, “they were hired to kill a specific target of the village but they weren’t sure who so they kept coming back.”
“I don’t know! Tyre said the Royal Family of Proculus had something to do with it, but he wasn’t sure.”
Aracely swallowed hard as she listened to what the man spoke. “Did they share any details on who they were looking for?” she asked, something in the back of her mind, like a forgotten memory, tried to make itself known.
“Just that the target was female.” Ronon shrugged. “No clue why. But I assure you, your village is no longer in danger, the threat is gone.”
“Good work Ronon.” John said, looking at Aracely. “I suppose we’ll have to invite the King and Queen of Proculus… if they still want to come.”
She had stood and wandered over to the window as she looked out it, lost in thought. “How soon was the attack after Princess Chaya and her parents left the castle?”
Ronon looked at John and shook his head. “That’s not a wise decision, John.” he then looked at Aracely and sighed. “Two days, before they crossed the border.”
“More than enough time to have a message sent,” she murmured to herself. “John, did you notice any odd behavior with the King and Queen after we arrived? I would not count Chaya’s fit when she smacked me, but she was always a brat from what I could remember as a child.”
“I never liked them, I didn’t really pay attention to them.” John answered and then looked at the genealogy book that was on his desk. “Do you think it has something to do with the Royal Family?”
“Perhaps. I know my father moved us to San Franciskus because it was as far as he could get our family at the time. I was only seven, maybe eight years at the time so there was a great deal that I didn’t understand. I remember living in Proculus a short time before that, but the details are hazy. Like a forgotten dream,” she explained.
John sighed as he opened the genealogy book that held most of the Royal family trees. For some reason, it had been important to his Father, and he couldn’t figure out why. He looked up the chapter of Proculus and groaned. “Their lineage is a mess… no wait, the person who’s keeping up with this made a mess out of it in the beginning.”
“What do you mean?” Aracely and Ronon asked at the same time, both equally confused.
“Ehh…it’s just… messy, compared to my own…” John shrugged as he decided to flip a few pages. “Ah, here we go. Niam and Lucinda of Proculus were blessed with two sons. Robert, the oldest, and Nicholas, the youngest. Lucinda died after the birth of Nicholas. Robert married Eileen, daughter of Mitchell and Nicholas married Charlotte, daughter of Markham, a farmer.” John read. “And that’s it. No idea what happened to Robert, or how Nicholas got the throne, it doesn’t say.”
“My parents names were Robert and Eileen,” Aracely shook her head and laughed in disbelief. “That has got to be some error by the book keeper.”
John got up and picked up the book to show it to Aracely. He pointed at the image of Robert. “Robert of Proculus.”
She stared at the drawing for a long moment before looking up at her husband. “That cannot be,” she breathed. “My father? But – that would mean…”
” You should be in Chaya’s place.” John answered.
“Sounds like a good reason to launch an assault on a village.” Ronon shrugged. “It would get rid of the only living person capable of claiming the throne that is rightfully hers .”
Aracely looked at the man before finding the need to sit again. “All this time? All these years those attacks were to find me ? It was my fault that innocent people were taken?”
“No, it’s not your fault.” John shook his head. “Whatever you think, it is not your fault.”
“Do you think your Father knew?” Ronon asked frowning.
“He probably did. But apart from this picture, he didn’t have any proof… I don’t know, I haven’t gone through his drawers yet.”
She watched and listened to the men continue to speak but she couldn’t react in any way. She simply felt numb at the knowledge she learned. “I want to go to San Franciskus tomorrow. Please John.”
John looked at Ronon, who shrugged. “Yes, we’re going tomorrow.” He replied and put the book on the floor. He looked at Aracely and took her hands. “How about you… we… let this information sink in for a while before we decide what to do?”
She nodded as she tried to smile for him. “Can I please just sit with the book for a while? It’s been so long since I’ve seen my father’s image…”
He softly kissed Aracely and placed the book in her lap. “You know where to find me,” he said, before motioning to Ronon to leave the office. He needed to get arrangements made for their upcoming trip. “I’ll make sure we can leave tomorrow.”
As soon as he and Ronon had left his office and closed the door behind him, Ronon smacked him up on the head. “Ow! Why did you do that?”
“San Franciskus might be safe, but the road to it is not!”
“I travelled that by myself without guards before.” John countered.
“It’s different if you go with a Royal carriage, you know that. I can’t let them check the road days ahead of your departure because you want to leave tomorrow, because you’re…” Ronon blurted and John just looked at him.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Ronon grunted.
“You don’t have to come along with the escort, you know. If you want, you can visit your family and mourn the loss of your brother.”
“He was a traitor, he shouldn’t be mourned.”
“He was your brother.” John gently patted Ronon on the shoulder. “You didn’t have to kill him for me.”
“He didn’t deserve a life chained up in the cellars below the castle, I am sure that the regents of Chulakka will understand my decision, as you understood why I had to kill the entire regiment stationed near San Franciskus.”
“They were compromised and I trust your decisions, both as a friend and as ruler. However, as a friend, I want you to take some time to grieve. Mourn your brother as you remember him, not as the traitor.” John smiled reassuringly. “Uh… after you selected the men who will accompany me and Aracely.”
“Fine…” Ronon sighed. “Can’t believe you’re going to be a father. Congratulations, don’t screw it up.” He said lightly as he walked off.
John then went to find Teyla, to select a few servants to come with them as well. Not too many, just one or two and especially Gabriella, who probably wanted to go back to San Franciskus as bad as Aracely once she’d learn the news from Ronon.
Teyla had been working with Gabriella on getting her more acquainted with the mores of the castle while Amelia tended to her friend for her. That day’s lessons included the routines for care of the child when Aracely would give birth and the resources that would make any request much easier.
“Ah, here you two are.” John said as he leaned against the doorpost. The second he had walked into the servant corridor, everyone scurried to their assigned posts and quarters and it frustrated him. Sure, he was the King and they were there to help him and Aracely with things, but it didn’t mean he was the bad guy who would punish them for taking a break.
“John,” Teyla smiled in greeting as she stood. Having practically raised the man and know his preferences, she wasn’t quite as fearful of his status as the others. She knew it would take time for them to grow accustomed to the new King’s way of things. “What brings you to us today?”
“Well, now that Ronon has returned from San Franciskus, bearing the news about the seasons been having stopped permanently, Aracely wants to go home for a bit.”
Gabriella squealed. “Can I come?” she nearly bounced.
“Yes,” John laughed, and then turned his attention back to Teyla. “She wants to leave tomorrow, could you find two or three girls who wish to join us?”
“I am sure Miss Amelia would be pleased to go and actually Sire, I would ask if I may join you. I have been intrigued about this village that her Highness and Gabriella speak of,” she replied.
“Of course,” John smiled widely. “I’d love it if you’d come along.”
The older woman smiled and bowed her head with respect. “May I ask? How is Aracely feeling today?” she questioned carefully, unsure if she had informed the King of her – situation. Teyla had not spoken to anyone about it and was unsure how many truly knew other than those that were in the bed chambers that morning.
“Uh… she’s a little upset, surprised, angry, sad and probably very nauseated right now after we’ve found out some stuff today.”
Gabriella frowned as she listened. “Did something happen?” she asked with extreme worry.
“Aracely…” John sighed, not quite knowing how to tell Gabriella. “Ronon came bearing news about your village, he arrived too late to stop the Chulakkans from attacking and they took Radell’s daughter, I’m sorry Gabriella.” Well, that was one thing out of the way.
She nodded as she composed herself but that was something that she and her friends come to anticipate. “She was very close with Radell so it will be likely she would wish to stop at his home first upon returning,” she said. “Then Aracely would deal with Vala’s enthusiasm next.”
“Oh, and Vala’s with child.” John smiled.
Blessing herself, Gabriella closed her eyes for a quick prayer. “May the Lord save us as the woman is reproducing!” Teyla only looked on with marked confusion but said nothing as she would very likely meet this Vala she’d heard a great deal of.
John chuckled and shook his head. “I’m sure that Danyel and Vala will be great parents, their child will only be very adorable, and loud.”
“If they don’t turn the tavern into the first ever whorehouse in San Franciskus!” she exclaimed.
“Hey, give those two some credit!” John frowned. “That’s like saying that once Aracely tells you she’s pregnant you tell her that the child is going to be horribly snotty and arrogant and things like that because it will be born in a castle.”
“ARACELY IS EXPECTING?”
John thought for a moment, retracing his words. “I said ‘once’, which means ‘if’,” he answered, glad that he probably managed to get out of that one. “Besides, I think you would kill me if she was.”
Teyla raised an eyebrow as she looked at her friend and shook her head slightly. The way he tried to cover up his error did not go over quite as smoothly as he would have liked. That was more evident by the dubious expression that remained on Gabby’s face. “I would not kill you . If anything I had hoped when we had first saw you, saw Johan in the market that she would come to her senses about having a family. All I can say is – It’s about time! May I go see her?”
“Well thank you Gabriella,” John smiled and politely bowed. “If she’s pregnant, I’m sure you’ll be the first one she tells.”
“John,” Teyla spoke up with a knowing look. “You know that it is not -”
“Teyla,” John looked at her in warning. He took a breath and then looked at Gabriella. “She’s in my office, I’m not sure if she’s in the mood for company, but you can try.”
Gabriella nodded before she quickly scurried off to find her friend. Teyla on the other hand was more composed and looked at the man carefully. “Why would you leave her in your office alone?” she questioned. It was unheard of for the Queen, or any woman, to be unattended in any area of official capacity as the room carried sensitive documents.
“Why wouldn’t I?” John shrugged, not wanting to tell her what was going on, she needed to prepare for the journey and pack things.
“You are holding something back – something that is important. Please, if I am to serve you and the Queen – you know that I should be aware of anything so that I can make arrangements for the moral if necessary. Please tell me what is wrong,” she pleaded. “I know that I have not been the most welcoming of her but I knew that your father wished for you to maintain the royal bloodline by marrying royalty as well…”
“Teyla, that’s enough.” John said. “We were just looking into a few things while Ronon gave us his report about the village, we were solving a puzzle and until there’s absolute proof, I could tell you but it’s not important. Not anymore, maybe for Aracely, but it has nothing to do with the way I rule, or the way this castle is being run.” He tiredly ran a hand through his hair. “It may have to do something with the Royal Family of Proculus, that’s all I’m saying.”
“Of Proculus?” she questioned curiously. “Very well. I will make arrangements for the trip. How many carriages do you wish for me to have prepared?”
“Two.” John replied. “Or three, but a minimum of two.”
Teyla nodded with a small smile. “They will be ready after breakfast tomorrow,” she said. “Oh! And I had someone go to the village market to get some of the fruits that Aracely enjoys. They should be in the bed chambers for her.” With that, she made her way down the hall and disappearing around the corner to tend to her new assignment.
John smiled as he called after her. “Thank you Teyla, I appreciate both things, very much!” He then casually strolled out of the corridor, he was glad that Teyla seemed to be changing her ways and feelings about Aracely, and he knew that he had made the right choice in making Gabriella her apprentice.