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02 May 2012 @ 10:52 pm
Fic: "Husbands and Wives" (4/5)  
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


The rehearsal was quite early the day before the wedding, and to John's amusement, Elizabeth yawned twice while walking down the aisle with Lord George. He knew that this rehearsal was largely for his benefit, but as he stood at the end of the echoing chamber, his paranoia had met the nearness of the event and produced a strange giddiness.

The musicians were not present for this, so John and his groomsmen talked and laughed while the bridesmaids and Elizabeth and Lord George proceeded down the long aisle. Lady Catherine glared at them whenever the chatter grew too loud for her taste, but John was grateful for the light mood. It was keeping his nerves at bay.

He was getting married. To Elizabeth. Tomorrow.

At long last, Elizabeth and Lord George arrived. Master Thor then took charge of the rehearsal. "At this time, Lord George will announce that he gives the bride with his blessing," Thor said calmly, ignoring the merriment on the groom's side. "I will address Lord John, who will step forward and stretch forth his hand. Lord George will place his ward's hand in Lord John's, and he will step down."

John did as he was instructed, and Lord George laid Elizabeth's warm hand in his before going to his seat in the front row. Elizabeth looked at John in amusement. "You are in high spirits, my lord."

He lifted her hand to his lips quickly. Thor blinked at them, somehow managing to convey irritation without otherwise changing his expression. "I hope tomorrow we will have no interruptions. The service is not long, but I imagine her Majesty's guests will be eager for the banquet."

Elizabeth laughed. "This, I believe, is the point of a rehearsal."

Thor went on without further comment. "You will both affirm that you come of your own free will, and then you will make your vows to each other. Then Lord John will be crowned. I believe Lady Catherine wanted to observe this particularly."

Lady Catherine stepped forward then and nodded to Thor. "I was not certain if it would be better with Lord John standing or kneeling," she said. "Lady Teyla?"

Teyla stepped forth then not with the crown John had decided to use, but with a wreath of pink and white flowers. John glared at Elizabeth, but she looked too surprised to have known of this before. On a hunch, he turned on his groomsmen, who were bunched together and snickering.

"Oh, for shame, Cameron," he muttered.

"What? Why should I miss such an opportunity as this?" Cameron replied. "Besides, it was Dixon's idea."

John could not decide if Cameron was lying about that. It didn't matter, though. There was no point in practicing this with the real crown, so he would have to suffer what every other married man in Atalan had endured. At least he had far fewer witnesses.

Elizabeth looked as though she was about to start laughing herself, which eased his irritation somewhat. Then she laid the wreath upon his head while Thor explained what he would be saying. Elizabeth looked out at Lady Catherine, whose lips were pursed. "Let us try again with Lord John kneeling."

They did so, and Lady Catherine turned to Lord George for an opinion. "As I recall, Queen Margaret remained standing. They went against tradition somewhat, however, as he crowned her." John rose to his feet again.

"Perhaps a gentleman should kneel before a lady?" Catherine suggested. John repressed a sigh and knelt once more.

They went back and forth on the matter for a little while, until Elizabeth at last cleared her throat. "If I may?" she said, silencing the rest. "As I recall, Father was a good deal taller than Mother. I may be tall like him, but I am not taller than my betrothed. Perhaps Lord John should kneel."

"I concur," John said quietly. Elizabeth had had to reach awkwardly to place the wreath on his head. He stood back up. "Now, are we done with the flowers?"

Assured that they were, John pulled the wreath from his head and plopped it on his cousin's, though he surreptitiously plucked one of the pink rosebuds from it first. Cameron merely straightened the wreath and everyone laughed. Thor turned to John with weary patience. "My lord, which of your attendants will be in possession of the rings?"

"The prince," John replied. "We do know where the rings are, do we not?"

"They are safely locked away with the royal family's other valuables," Lord George said, chuckling. Elizabeth had decided that she wanted to use her parents' rings, and John was not averse to the notion. The rings had been cleaned and fitted but John was not privy to their whereabouts. "Tomorrow Lord Daniel and I will escort the prince to the storage room where they are being kept."

John looked out at the room, to where Lady Juliana and Princess Carolyn were sitting and talking lowly, neither of them having a role in the wedding itself. "Princess?" he called, and the ladies looked up. "Would you be so kind as to ensure your husband has the wedding rings tomorrow? Otherwise we might end up borrowing yours."

Carolyn laughed. "Of course, my lord."

Thor covered the rest of the service quickly, but instead of John being allowed to kiss his bride, Lady Catherine ascended the dais and gave the entire party specific instructions on a variety of things which John had not even noticed. If this wedding did not go off perfectly, he thought, it would not be Lady Catherine's fault.

She eventually released them all, but John was hardly free to do as he pleased. Elizabeth seized his arm and led him away. "We have diplomatic matters to attend," she told him. "The last group of ambassadors will be formally presenting their gifts to us."

"You make that sound arduous," he remarked.

Elizabeth looked as close to petulant as he'd ever seen her. "Yes, well, I suspect Ba'al's gift will not be the ugliest thing we receive, and at least his was not accompanied by an ambassador who must be thanked no matter how ridiculous the gift."

*~*~*~*

After sitting through a number of speeches and keeping her face calm despite the rather ostentatious gifts presented by Atalan's allies, the last royal audience was winding down, with only one nation left to present a gift to the happy couple. Elizabeth relaxed slightly as Lord Henry came forward with a gilt box in his hands. At the least she could trust the King of Iolan to send a tasteful gift that would not require her to lie through her teeth about how grateful she was to receive it.

Sitting next to her, John's face was a little too carefully blank. Elizabeth resisted the urge to poke him with her foot as Lord Henry bowed.

"Majesty, my lord, I present a wedding gift from his Majesty King Radek and the Princess Consort." He handed her a letter that bore the royal seal of Iolan.

"We are most honored to receive it, my lord," she said politely, opening the note.

"My dearest Elizabeth,

I regret I am not able to attend your wedding in person but my wife and I wish you and Lord John every happiness. I am certain all of Atalan is clamoring to celebrate your nuptials with you, and I hope you and your new husband may find our gift appropriate to use on your wedding day."


The letter ended with the usual niceties and Radek's signature. Elizabeth passed the letter to John, hiding her amusement as his eyebrows went up at the salutation, though he said nothing aloud.

Lord Henry set the box down upon the table before her and lifted the lid. The box was closely packed with two objects wrapped in heavy green cloth nestled in a bed of soft material. Elizabeth carefully lifted one out and then gasped aloud as the wrapping fell away. The gift was a goblet made out of delicate glass, rimmed with gold around the lip and covered in the incredibly detailed etching that the artisans of Iolan's capital were famous for.

John had lifted the other of the pair out of the box and seemed impressed almost in spite of himself. "I have never seen work of this caliber anywhere," he admitted, examining the present.

Elizabeth turned the glass and could see that the circumference showed the landscape of Atalan, from the Talas Mountains on one side along to a small drawing of Atlantis floating near the coast on the other. It was meant to include Caldora and John's home as well as hers, she realized. She exchanged a silent glance with John before smiling at Lord Henry.

"Thank you, my lord. We will write to our cousin later but his gift is most beautiful indeed." She turned to Lady Catherine, who was standing off to the side. "Please see that these are delivered to the steward. I wish them to be placed at my table for the wedding banquet." She and John would have many toasts to drink that evening, and needed something suitable for the occasion anyway.

Lord Henry's gift was to have been the last matter to attend to in this meeting. Elizabeth rose to say a few words to thank the ambassadors and others who had been present and then finally end the event, but there was a disturbance at the door. Lady Catherine was frowning, as was Captain Lorne, but Peter turned from the door and announced, "Majesty, a diplomatic party has just arrived and I believe you will want to grant them an audience immediately."

Elizabeth hesitated as Lorne took a short step forward. She could feel John tense beside her, as last-minute surprises often heralded no good and both of them had been worried the universe was going to drop some horrible obstacle in the path of their wedding day for weeks. Was this what they had both been dreading? But Peter was smiling and gave her a reassuring nod. With a quick touch of John's arm she sat back down and said, "Let them enter."

A trio of people came into the room, clearly having only just arrived. They were in traveling clothes and dusty, standing out from the finely-attired dignitaries already present in a way that should have been most inappropriate. However, as they approached the throne, Elizabeth gasped and jumped up again in surprise. "Samantha! Jacob!"

"Your Majesty." Jacob Carter bowed, just behind his daughter, Lady Samantha, who curtsied, both of them smiling widely. She was standing next to a tall gentleman whom Elizabeth belatedly recognized as Master Martouf, Samantha's husband.

As soon as they were upright Elizabeth abandoned propriety and stepped down from the dais and embraced Jacob and then Sam. "We'd given up hope of seeing you." An invitation had been sent to them some time ago and Sam had indicated she would come, but there had been no word since, although also no news of any trouble in the Tok'ra lands. Elizabeth and her advisors had given it up as a mystery to be solved at some later date.

"There was a dust storm, my lady, which delayed our departure, but I was determined to come anyway," Sam answered with a smile, pulling away from Elizabeth's hug. While they were touching, though, it was enough for Elizabeth to notice a bulge in her old friend's midsection, and a glance at Sam confirmed it. This was hardly the place to raise the issue, though. Elizabeth turned to her betrothed. "John, I believe you met Sir Jacob and you will remember Lady Samantha. This is Master Martouf of the Tok'ra, Lady Samantha's husband."

John greeted the new arrivals, and the others, including Lady Catherine, Daniel and Lord George stepped forward to welcome them back. After a few moments the general hubbub died down and the assembled guests listened to the brief account of the harrowing dust storm that had delayed the Tok'ra party from reaching the sea for the journey to Atlantis. Sam had insisted on continuing, even with the risk of being late for the wedding, but the winds had been on their side and they had arrived in the nick of time.

Master Martouf had also been named the Tok'ra's official ambassador to Atalan, which was welcome news as it meant Samantha might be able to visit now and again. But Elizabeth was mindful both of the audience in the room and the fact that the afternoon was quickly slipping away. "You must be exhausted, and it would not do for you to sleep through my wedding," she observed with a smile. Lady Catherine had been busily giving orders to servants but now she stepped forward to guide Elizabeth's last guests to quarters somewhere in the palace. Elizabeth had no idea where the staff was putting all these people, but she was content not to trouble herself with the matter.

"Thank you all for your kindness and your generosity," she said to the room at large. "We are deeply moved by the desire of so many good friends to share in our joy." She slipped her arm into John's smoothly, signaling the crowd to disperse.

John squeezed her hand. "That was unexpected," he observed.

"Yes, but most welcome. I hope it is a good omen." Sam and Jacob had been the only friends aside from Radek who were not here for the wedding. Now things felt complete.

*~*~*~*

After the surprise arrival of Lady Samantha and her father and husband, there was one final meeting to review the schedule for the wedding day, including the protocol that had been hammered out for John's coronation. The wedding would not be until noon, so the meeting of the college would be earlier in the morning. John was hardly looking forward to it, but he said nothing until Cameron leaned over and asked, "You will receive your title before the wedding is complete? I had to wait until after I was legally married."

Elizabeth smiled, although it was somewhat strained. No doubt she was remembering the weeks of meetings with the nobility to convince them to accept the marriage. "Yes, but you were becoming a member of the royal family to inherit the crown later on. John's title is granted to him as the consort of the reigning monarch."

Cameron looked curiously at Elizabeth. "Had you married before assuming the throne, would the college still have had the power to decide the consort's title?"

The tightness in Elizabeth's face increased, as did the tension in the room, though Cameron of course knew nothing of Elizabeth's first husband or the outcome of that disastrous union. John wished he was close enough to comfort her, but he was seated across the table. Elizabeth merely nodded at Cameron and said neutrally, "Yes, it is their purview to make such decisions."

Carolyn had picked up on the mood of the other people in the room. Though oblivious to the cause, she turned to John and said lightly, "Then you could accept your title and skip the trouble of the wedding, my lord?"

Everyone chuckled, but John rolled his eyes. "The title is a price, not the prize, my lady."

The look Elizabeth gave him in response to that made him flush with warmth. It was fortunate that Lady Catherine regained their attention. She finished reviewing the schedule and everyone rose and prepared to go their separate ways. A concert was being held for the wedding guests out in the courtyard at sunset, but Elizabeth had indicated that she would not put in an appearance the night before her wedding. John's bachelor dinner was this evening, during which he expected to be mocked heavily and have to restrain himself from drinking overmuch. Elizabeth had a formal bridal tea that would involve not only all the women of the court but most of the noblewomen who were guests. After that she would be free to retreat to a more private supper with her closest friends. Carolyn and Juliana had been invited to that as well.

This was, then, the last chance John would have to speak to Elizabeth until after the wedding. Although she had insisted on attending the coronation ceremony, she had no role other than to observe, and they would not be able to talk at all. It broke the tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other before the wedding ceremony, but Elizabeth had been unconcerned, observing that the life of a queen could not always fit traditions.

His betrothed seemed conscious that they were about to part as well, for Elizabeth took John's arm and let him walk her as far as the top of her stairs. "This far, but no farther," she told him as she stopped. "Not until tomorrow night."

John looked to see that Kate and Laura were both waiting by the entrance to the royal chambers. "Are they staying with you tonight?" It was early yet, but it occurred to him that she might not want to be alone on this night.

Elizabeth nodded, her smile bright. "One last time."

"Then let me kiss you good night."

When their lips met, she melted against him, and John held little back. He did not want Elizabeth to have any doubts as their wedding drew near, and if he could convince her with a kiss, he would.

At length he drew away and retrieved from his pocket the pink rose he had plucked from his crown that morning. Gently, he brushed it against her throat, her cheek, her lips. "Until tomorrow, my queen."

She took the rose from him and brought it close, breathing in its fragrance. "Tomorrow, my lord." And with that, she dashed away to join her friends, but not without another smile for him before the door to her chambers closed between them for the final time.

*~*~*~*

After John's most enthusiastic farewell, Laura and Kate helped Elizabeth change into a different gown. She was growing exceptionally weary of so many things to attend, but it was time for her bridal tea, so off she went to receive her guests. Nearly every nobleman's wife and daughter, at least those of age, were there for the wedding and on Lady Catherine's advice had been invited to the tea. To Elizabeth's amusement, most of them were far more interested in Lady Samantha and her new life in the land of the Tok'ra. She was prevailed upon for more than half an hour to tell stories from that distant land.

"My mother could sympathize with her," said Princess Carolyn, on Elizabeth's right, while Sam spoke.

"Oh?" Elizabeth asked, tearing her attention away from Samantha.

"My mother is not Caldoran," the princess clarified. "Father traveled through her country on a military campaign and fell quite deeply in love with her. When he came through again on his way home, he married her. She spoke at times about being a curiosity to many her first time in the court of Redwater."

Sam was finally released by her eager listeners, and she came to sit next to Elizabeth. "Princess, allow me to introduce Lady Samantha, whose husband is the new ambassador to our court," she said. "Samantha, Princess Carolyn."

Sam nodded to the princess politely. "Forgive me, Princess, but I never imagined I would see a Caldoran princess as a guest in Atlantis. It is exceedingly strange."

"Stranger than a Caldoran marquis becoming Prince of Atalan?" Carolyn suggested.

"Perhaps not, but still strange."

"I am so glad you were able to make it here in time," Elizabeth said.

"As am I, but I am disappointed to learn that I have missed Kate's wedding," Sam replied. "But she seems happy, so I will not complain to her."

"Has Master McKay accosted you for your opinion on his work yet?" Elizabeth asked. Then to Carolyn she added, "Before her marriage, Lady Samantha worked with my shipwright in both the design and construction of new ships."

"He has not, though Martouf and I thought we would walk back to the shipyards before supper," Sam said. "We both noticed what great change there had been. The Wraith must have destroyed the old yards entirely."

Elizabeth nodded. "They burned everything to the ground."

Sam was understandably troubled by this information. After all, she had spent many hours working in the old yards and had seemed to enjoy herself, despite Master McKay. But Elizabeth chose to turn the conversation in happier directions, and before long the tea was served.

Well she remembered Laura's bridal tea, when some lady or other had expressed designs toward the good doctor. Laura had admitted later that another woman had been giving her advice on her wifely duties. No one was so brave or foolish with the queen, though Kate and Laura's toasts to the bride were as teasing as their friendship with her would allow in public. Even so, she was glad when the event drew to a close, for it was the last of the well-meaning advice, and the last of the large parties Elizabeth would have to host before the wedding feast itself.

Afterward, she returned to the royal chambers, accompanied by the princess, Lady Juliana, Laura, Kate, Teyla, and Sam. They took their supper together, and for several hours they talked and laughed about a great many things. As Elizabeth and Teyla were the only unmarried ladies in attendance, Elizabeth found herself the object of a great deal of counsel, though much of it was silly and teasing.

There was a lull in the room after a little while, and Carolyn brought forth a package which Elizabeth had noticed earlier but said nothing about. "I know that we already presented a gift on behalf of Caldora," she said, "but when last he was in Redwater, Lord John chanced to mention that you intended to have a white gown for your wedding, in respect to the traditions of his homeland. There is another tradition which he could not possibly know of, and Lady Juliana and I thought we would honor it."

Curious, Elizabeth took the package and carefully opened it. Inside was a pair of lace stockings, knitted from fine white silk, and garters to go with them. "How lovely," she murmured, running her fingers over the delicate lace patterns.

"It is bad luck in Caldora for a bride to wear holes into her stockings on her wedding day," Carolyn explained. "Among the nobility, at least, brides are usually given new stockings, that they may dance all they like. I imagine you will dance at your feast at least as much as I did at mine, so these were an imperative."

"I wore holes in my stockings, and nothing ill has befallen me," Juliana said with a grin, "but the point stands in any case."

Elizabeth smiled at the two ladies. "This is a beautiful gift. Thank you."

Kate quickly took the gift into the bedchamber, presumably leaving it with Elizabeth's wedding gown. Before much longer, the clock struck midnight and her guests took their leave. Laura, with her sleeping baby at her shoulder, took the empty bassinet into the bedchamber while Elizabeth embraced each of the ladies, even the Caldorans whom she did not know so well, and thanked them most tenderly for attending her this night. When the others were gone, Kate brought out a box and set it on the table. "Laura, I think we should do this now."

Suspicious, Elizabeth drew near, followed by Laura. Kate opened the box, and from it she drew a glittering circlet of gold which was familiar to Elizabeth, though she had never seen it before. "My mother's crown!" she cried. She had seen the painting of her parents' wedding often enough to recognize the design. "Daniel searched high and low for this. Wherever did you find it?"

"In the nobles' storeroom, inside the armory," Laura explained. "A box of Queen Adelaide's personal belongings had been put there by mistake. The crown was inside; she had loaned it to your mother."

"Lady Catherine found one of your mother's letters in which she expressed a desire that her daughter wear this on her own wedding day," Kate added. Elizabeth had not known that detail, and it made the gift all the more precious. Though her mother was long gone, at least one of her wishes for her daughter's wedding day would be fulfilled. "We thought it would be fitting if we could find it, and only managed to locate it a few days ago."

"This is too much," Elizabeth said, wiping away the tears that had formed as she held the circlet carefully. "I do not think I deserve such good friends."

"Well, you have us anyway," Laura said with a smile, though Elizabeth embraced both her and Kate tightly for a moment, and all of them were misty eyed when they let go.

"Now, my lady, to bed. Tomorrow will be a busy day," Kate said.

"And night," Laura added with a smirk. Elizabeth blushed a little, while Kate rolled her eyes.

The three of them began to prepare for bed, and despite the sleeping baby in the room, it felt so familiar Elizabeth experienced a pang of regret for the many changes that had come upon them. Of course, there might be other nights that the three of them spent together thus in the future, but it would never again be customary. The last few weeks she had slept alone for the first and last time in her life. Although she had the right to send John away if she wanted peace for the night, she didn't foresee herself exercising that privilege all that much.

That only reminded her of Laura's comment, and Elizabeth slipped into bed and stared at the ceiling nervously while Kate finished putting on her nightclothes and securing the door. Laura checked on Moira one more time and then joined the other two, but she caught sight of Elizabeth's pensive expression.

"Elizabeth? What is it?" She kept her voice low, not wanting to disturb the baby.

Elizabeth blew out a breath. This was one subject which she could not confide in her husband about. "I suppose all brides feel some anxiety about their wedding night."

Laura nodded sagely. "I did. I felt so young, and that I knew so little." She grimaced. "My mother and sister's advice did not help." Before Elizabeth could ask what advice they had given, Laura looked across at Kate. "Were you nervous?"

Kate reflected for a moment. "I suppose so," she said slowly. "Though I spent most of my wedding day thinking about my mother."

That made them all laugh, for Lady Maria had long been a source of tension for Kate, and she had been as inquisitive and demanding in planning Kate's wedding as could be.

Recovering herself, Kate added wryly, "I had little time in the weeks prior to the wedding to dwell on anything. I suppose I should be grateful to my mother for that at least."

Elizabeth chuckled. Then she braced herself. She had been reluctant to pry too much into the affairs of her friends regarding their marriages, knowing how much both they and their husbands had to endure in service to the crown. But these two women who had grown up with her were also her family, and if she could ask questions of anyone, it was them.

Laura, to her everlasting credit, saw or guessed what Elizabeth wanted to know, and continued before Elizabeth even needed to speak. "My mother was very grim, warning me about the experience, and telling me to ignore the pain and focus on my duty to my husband. It was hardly helpful, though to be honest, it did hurt more than I had hoped."

Elizabeth was somewhat fascinated, for she had rarely seen Laura blush, but she was bright red now.

"It took us some time to grow used to one another in that way," Laura continued. "My fear did not help, for I did not say as much to Carson. If I had spoken up more frankly, we might have spared ourselves some of the awkwardness, I suspect." She shook herself slightly and regained some of her customary sauciness, snuggling down into the pillow and looking expectantly at Kate.

Kate was also flushed and she looked at the ceiling now to avoid the gazes of the other two, although her expression was more rueful than embarrassed. "It hurt, but I hardly noticed. It was over... very quickly."

Despite herself, Elizabeth began to giggle, as did Laura. Kate laughed also, all of them smothering themselves with hands or pillows to keep the noise down. When she could breathe again, Elizabeth asked, "Kate, was it at least, well, pleasurable?"

Kate nodded, rather vigorously. "It was. To be fair to my husband, I wasn't objecting." A wicked smile spread across her face. "And Marcus made up for his haste several times over."

Laughter seized them all again. Eventually Elizabeth shook her head. "I do not seem to be gleaning any useful information from this."

Laura squeezed her shoulder. "Be honest with him. He will not want to hurt you, and so long as you communicate what you are feeling to him, you'll be fine."

Kate agreed. "I have no regrets about my wedding night. Except that I can't have it again."

"Given how many late mornings you have had recently, that doesn't seem to be for lack of trying," Laura teased her. Kate rolled her eyes but did not deny it. Laura turned her attention back to Elizabeth. "You will see, my lady. Besides, you have waited for your prince for a long time, long enough to be sure of yourself and him. Although I confess I wonder what will happen when you have yet another reason to resist rising from your bed in the morning."

Elizabeth poked Laura for that while Kate giggled again. But she could not help but imagine waking up the day after tomorrow, wrapped in John's arms. That image was enough to banish the worst of her nervousness for now.

The three of them whispered a little longer, but sleep was tugging at them all, for tomorrow would indeed be a very busy day for everyone.

*~*~*~*

Morning came far too early for anyone who had been drinking with John and his friends the previous night, and Cameron was no exception. A pounding at the door jolted him up from his pillow; then an aching in his head asserted itself and he flopped down again with a moan. "Was that a knock or are we under attack?" he muttered.

Carolyn, who was now also awake, gave him an answer half buried by the pillow. "Why could it not be both? Our attackers could simply be polite about their crimes."

The presence of the guards standing watch over their room made that unlikely, so as the knock came again, Cameron dragged himself out of bed and threw his dressing gown on. He drew the bed curtain on one side as he went to the door, shielding Carolyn from view as he faced the intruder.

John was on the other side of the door, his hand poised to knock a third time. "What could you possibly want, cousin?" he asked.

"I am very sorry to wake you," John replied, a nervous energy to his voice which Cameron did not recall having heard before. Of course, it was very early and he might be imagining things. "I know you're not dressed yet, but I have the papers for the transfer of the marquisate. We will need a witness – the princess will suffice if she's awake."

Cameron stared at his cousin in disbelief. "Yes, she's awake, but –"

"Good. Lady Catherine is breathing down my neck to get this done already. I had not informed her that I had not done this yet nor that it needed to be done before the ceremony, and I fear incurring her wrath if I upset her schedule for the day. I cannot be late to my own coronation." He finally paused, frowning. "Why aren't you dressed yet? Have you any idea how much there is to do today?"

This was the last time Cameron would ever have the opportunity of invoking his rank on his cousin, and the first time the urge had struck. "My lord, you will wait five minutes while my wife and I make ourselves more ready to receive you." John gaped, and Cameron shut the door in his face.

He drew the bed curtain back to find Carolyn grinning at him. "Up, love," he said, taking her by the hand. "He is not wrong."

After a few minutes, they were dressed enough to receive John, and Cameron opened the door again. John's anxiety seemed somewhat lessened. "My apologies," he said. "I can only offer the stress of the day as an excuse."

"It is all right, Lord John," Carolyn said, sweeping her hair back from her shoulders. "Now, the papers?"

There was little ceremony to the abdication, which made Cameron feel somewhat hollow. Such an important decision should not have been so casual. John read the document aloud and signed it. Cameron signed his own name next to John's, and between the two signatures, John dripped wax and imprinted the seal for the last time. He looked at the ring for a moment before drawing it off his finger and handing it to Cameron. Its weight seemed slight in contrast with the importance of what had just passed. John of Sheppard, the last of his house, had severed his last tie with Caldora. Cameron understood his cousin's reasons and he was happy for John, but he could not help the pang of regret he felt at this moment.

Carolyn stepped forward then and signed the document as well, indicating that she had witnessed the transfer. Then John embraced Cameron, saying lowly that he knew Cameron would do well for their people. With a nod to Carolyn, he took his leave before anything else could be said.

Cameron looked back down at his hand, and Carolyn's attention was drawn there as well. Without a word, she slipped the marquis' ring onto his finger and kissed it, her gaze locked with his.

For a moment, Cameron thought to draw her close and kiss her, but the gesture reminded him of something else. "The rings!" he said, hurrying away to get his boots on. "I have to find Lord George or Lord Daniel. John will have my head if I don't have the rings."

Carolyn laughed. "Go. I will call for breakfast, but if you take too long, I will join you at the coronation, if nothing else."

"I hope not, but you may be proven right." He kissed her swiftly and left in search of someone who could get him the rings. Breakfast would have to wait.

*~*~*~*

The absence of the signet ring was distracting after so many months, but John had little time to dwell on it. Shortly after breakfast he was walking toward the college chamber with Daniel, Jack and Teyla for the coronation ceremony. Lieutenant Ford followed them discreetly. This was the last time John would enter the room from the public doors, as in the future he would escort Elizabeth through her private entrance on the other side of the room.

Teyla noticed him glancing at his hand and shot him a sympathetic look. "It was the right thing to do," she said quietly. "A province requires a full-time caretaker and an advocate in the government. You could not do it effectively from the far end of the continent."

He nodded, though part of him still felt some regret over losing his father's title. However, this was not the time to wallow. Instead he smiled slightly. "It occurs to me that my situation now is nearly what it was when we met, and when you brought me before the princess. A man with no country, no home and no title."

They were approaching the hall. Teyla grinned. "Not for long."

They entered the room and John escorted Teyla to her seat and then sat beside her in the chair that had been placed for him. A tedious discussion had occurred some weeks ago about where he was to be seated in the hall. John's only opinion was to be adamant that he not be seated on the dais, which seemed to have surprised everyone, including Elizabeth. He would be at her side in most other places, but John wanted no confusion in this room. Elizabeth remained the sovereign of Atalan, and she ruled alone.

Lord David had supported this idea. As John now had a vote in the college, it was proper for him to be seated with the other nobles. Daniel eventually agreed, because such an arrangement would be more amenable to the college at large. There had already been complaints that the vote on John's title had been held before all of the nobles had returned after the Wraith attack on the city.

When it came to choosing a side of the room, Elizabeth suggested John be seated near Teyla, on the principle that the Countess of Athos would be capable of restraining the prince from striking someone to defend the queen's honor. John was just as glad to be next to Teyla rather than Daniel, and so it was settled.

John glanced about the room as the college found their seats. The galleries were crowded, but he spotted his cousin and the princess, the Dixons, Ronon and Carson all watching. The crowd did not help his nerves.

He had refrained from drinking much the night before, though his friends had shown no such restraint. Despite that, John had lain awake a long while when he tried to go to bed. Though he was glad that Cameron was with him and grateful for his other friends, he could not help thinking of his parents and his brothers, of a life that had been gone for many years, but would never be entirely forgotten.

Eventually, his thoughts turned from the past to the future. He had counted the hours that had remained until the wedding was safely over, his mind running through possible problems that could arise in the intervening time. Those thoughts were less discomfiting than pondering what the future might hold for him and Elizabeth. He had had ample reminders in just the last few days of what would be required of him as the queen's consort. Could he endure always putting his own needs and desires after his duty to Elizabeth, and her duty to the nation?

Could they truly be happy together?

He had relived their courtship and the friendship that had come before it. Well after midnight, he had finally drifted asleep reminding himself that Elizabeth had chosen him. He would be worthy of her, no matter the cost.

When the college was assembled, Peter opened the door and the queen entered, with Kate and Laura trailing after her and Captain Lorne ahead, as usual. Ford was standing slightly behind John, close enough to act but out of John's immediate line of sight. John was still getting used to his shadow, but he put it out of his mind. Once Elizabeth was seated, she nodded gracefully to Lord David, who stood before the throne with a scroll in his hand.

"Your Majesty, as chancellor of the college, and on behalf of the people of Atalan, I call forth Lord John of Sheppard." John rose and approached Lord David. "My lord, you come before this assembly to receive the title of Prince of Atalan?"

"I do," John answered, hoping he sounded calmer than he felt.

"Then kneel."

John went down on one knee, grateful that a pillow had been placed on the stone floor for his use. He looked at Lord David expectantly. The older man read from the scroll the vows that had been written specifically for this ceremony.

"John of Sheppard, do you swear to uphold the laws of Atalan?"

"I do."

"Do you swear to protect and defend the nation by whatever means are within your power?"

"I do."

"And do you swear true loyalty and faith to her Majesty Elizabeth, Queen of Atalan?"

John glanced swiftly at Elizabeth as he answered this last question, his heart beating loudly in his chest as he answered. "I do."

"Then I, David, Earl of Heightmeyer, as chancellor of the college of lords, do confer upon you this day the title of Prince of Atalan." A page was standing nearby and David lifted a silver crown from a pillow and placed it carefully on John's head. The crown for the wedding would be more ornate than this, unfortunately, but he would not need to wear that one as often.

When the crown was secure, David stepped back slightly. John rose and went to the edge of the dais. Elizabeth stood and came to him silently, her hand held out. John had done this on the day of her coronation when she had knighted him, but once again he bent and kissed her hand above the signet ring on her finger. "At your service, my lady."

He caught her eyes for a second, though they had no chance to speak. The single look probably said enough for now anyway.

Then he turned to face the room and David said, "All hail Prince John!"

The college rose, repeating the cry, and the observers in the gallery began to applaud and cheer. John smiled politely, concentrating on not squirming in place too much. He was grateful for the welcome from his adopted homeland, but for now his only thought was to be out of the room so he could finally concentrate on nothing but his wedding.
 
 
 
Vicky: [Atlantis] Sparky - You&Mevickysg1 on May 3rd, 2012 12:52 pm (UTC)
AWESOME!!!! There's no other word to describe this chapter, really! I love it, and everything in it.

I'm so happy that Sam and Jacob are there for the wedding! They would have been really missed if they hadn't been able to come. I love the rehearsal, and the boys talking and joking while Catherine glared at them! *giggles* And John is crowed Prince of Atalan! Yeah!!!

I can't wait for the next part! The wedding! Heeeeeeee!!