Hello friends! Sorry for the long delay, but RL got in the way plus I hit a wall with this one, but it's finally done! Thanks for all the wonderful reviews, and thanks to all of you that favorite / followed me and this story.
Special thanks go to Mysra for her excellent beta skills and to DorothyOz who asked for this story. You girls are great!
Now, enough chatter. Let's see what John and Kanaan are up to ...
John stood and locked his knees as his leg protested the movement. The painful throb dissipated and John moved forward. He took his time walking to the big tent in order to avoid further injury to his leg. Two guards flanked the entrance and Jinto opened the flap for him. John ducked to step through, careful to keep his eyes up as one would when bowing to an opponent.
Teyla, Ronon, and Carson were seated to one side. Rodney was on the other with Woolsey, minding a video camera. The IOA and the SGC had requested reports of the proceedings and Rodney decided that video would be better. He had also recorded the meeting with the Elders days ago.
John made his way to the witness seat and waited. Elma, one of the matrons of the village, stepped forward with a wreath of thorny Viala blossoms and placed it on the table before John. At her gesture, he gently placed his left hand upon it, the thorns pricking his fingertips. Halling had explained their unique property – the flowers would wilt if someone touching them told a lie.
"Colonel John Sheppard of Atlantis, do you vow by all you hold sacred that only truth shall cross your lips during this Rite of Juris?"
"I do so vow."
"Colonel, please relate the events of your encounter with Kanaan of Athos."
John related the entire day's events starting with his handing Kanaan the pistol in the Gateroom to his staggering exodus to the river in order to escape. Because John had yet to fill out his official incident report, much of his tale was new material to his friends.
Silence fell as he uttered his last words, but it didn't last long.
"Lies! He utters lies!"
Elder Penna turned his cool gaze upon Kanaan. "Kanaan, you shall be silent unless you have proof. The Viala blossoms stayed open throughout his testimony." He pointed at the wreath, which still sat before John, softly gleaming in the dim interior of the tent.
"He has poisoned my son against me with his honeyed lies. He actively keeps my son from me and has seduced Teyla to his bed."
John narrowed his eyes at Kanaan's statements, his jaw clenched to hold back the words he longed to throw in the other man's face.
"What proof do you have of this?" Penna said.
"Bring my son here and have him choose."
"No." John stood, his body tensed for a fight, his left hand still upon the Viala blossoms. "I will not allow Torren John to be brought here so you can twist his feelings. You made Teyla choose because you hate what you've become. I won't allow you to do the same to Torren."
"I love my son," Kanaan cried.
John relaxed into a pose that he'd perfected to make people underestimate him. "Since you love him so much, why can't you call him by his name? It's easy. Torren John Emmagan. See how simple that was," he drawled. "Or if that's too much, you could call him Torren or even TJ. He'll answer to any of the three."
Kanaan let out an incoherent roar and charged at John only to be held back by some of the guards. He tried to shake them off, but they held firm.
"Kanaan, you will control yourself," Elder Penna demanded. "Colonel Sheppard has spoken the truth," He glanced at the other two elders and received silent nods. "Kanaan, you are guilty and shall be held accountable under the Old Laws."
Kanaan calmed with a visible effort, anger visible in his eyes. John watched impassively from his position at the front of the tent. The guards released their hold on Kanaan when he quit fighting them.
Kanaan took a deep breath and stepped forward two paces. "I reject the findings of the Juris. I call for the Rite of Macto."
Forty minutes later, John was still reeling from the speed at which the Athosians had moved. The Gather tent had quickly emptied; chairs and tables disappearing with alacrity. The sides rolled up and the tables and benches were turned on their sides to form a barrier. Two openings remained, one on either side, for John and Kanaan to enter the circle.
During the tent's transformation, John had taken Teyla aside and demanded to know what was happening.
"Kanaan has refused to accept the ruling of the elders. He has called for a trial by combat." Teyla said; her eyes downcast.
"Combat?" Carson asked. "Is there not some way to stop this?"
Teyla shook her head. "There is not."
John reached out to Teyla and Carson. "Relax, will ya? I'm not on my death bed. I can handle this."
"Colonel, yer not back to fighting weight yet and yer wounds aren't fully healed. Too much strain could tear them open again." Carson shifted towards Teyla. "Can he have a champion?"
Teyla's shoulders drooped. "Not in this circumstance. John would have to be infirm to be allowed a champion."
"Look, guys, I appreciate the concern, but I'll be alright. It's not a fight to the death. Trust me."
"Oh god, he's gonna die," Rodney said.
"Thanks, McKay, I can feel the love."
A drumbeat sounded. The contest was about to start.
John shucked off his jacket and handed it to Rodney. He also removed his watch and his dog tags and placed those in Teyla's care. He wanted nothing that would hinder his movements. He stepped into the ring and the barrier closed behind him.
"Friends, family, and guests, you are here to witness the ancient Rite of Macto between Kanaan of Athos and John Sheppard of Atlantis," Elder Penna announced from his seat outside the barrier. He turned towards John. "John Sheppard, as challenged, the choice of weapon is yours."
"He may use mine," Halling called as he tossed the sticks to John after Jinto fetched them from their tent.
Kanaan's were lobbed in after one of his acquaintances fetched them.
Elder Penna picked up a delicate chime and a small hammer as John and Kanaan fell into their starting positions. "You may begin." He struck the chime and a clear tone sounded from it.
John rolled his wrists as he and Kanaan circled, each watching the other for a sign of movement. John smirked and made a come-hither motion with one of his sticks. Kanaan's mouth twisted and he charged. John braced and caught the wild swings. He also managed to deliver several good blows of his own. He let Kanaan wear himself down through anger and temper.
"It's different this time, isn't it?" John asked at one point when Kanaan backed off for a breather. John could feel the ache in his muscles from the exertion, but his breathing was steady and his leg was holding for now, adrenaline masking any pain. "I can walk and you don't have a gun."
Kanaan growled and rushed John. John danced backward, but Kanaan managed to land a hard blow on the half-healed wound on his right leg. He grimaced in pain as he hobbled backwards while blocking.
"What was that about walking, Colonel?" Kanaan spat as they circled once again. "I do not need a gun to destroy you."
"Teyla will never take you back, and she sure as hell won't trust you with Torren."
"I told Torren that I shot you because it was the only way to save him."
Well, that answered that mystery. Kanaan spilled the beans himself. Torren, with a child's built-in BS detector, realized he was being fed a pack of lies. That explained the question that day in the infirmary. "Yeah, well, he didn't believe you and he told me you did a bad thing."
John spotted the moment Kanaan snapped. He met Kanaan's berserker rage with a flurry of moves. The sticks met so often that the sound merged into a continuous stream. Warmth trickling down his right leg and twinges of pain from his left knee told John he needed to finish this. He dipped deep within himself, to the dark core that allowed him to kill and allowed it to take over. His strikes became faster and more precise and in short order, Kanaan was on his back, blood oozing from several cuts, John's boot planted firmly in the center of his chest.
"Do you yield?" John asked.
Kanaan spat and struggled to dislodge John. John shifted, his combat boot pressing harder into his opponent's chest.
"Do you yield?"
Kanaan snarled, grabbed John's foot and twisted as he rolled. John felt his knee give as he fell. Unfortunately for Kanaan, he had misjudged John's position and flexibility and John fell atop him. John quickly took advantage of the situation and drove the point of his elbow into Kanaan's solar plexus. Kanaan pushed him aside as he gasped for breath.
John decided enough was enough as the younger man rose to his knees still struggling to draw a full breath. He scrambled across the ground and wrapped his arms around Kanaan's neck in a chokehold.
"Do you yield?" John asked for the third time.
Kanaan clawed at John's arm, but he couldn't get leverage. John tightened his grip and Kanaan's movements grew more frantic and jerky. "Yield or I snap your neck," John whispered, his voice dark and low.
Kanaan smacked the dirt three times with one hand, defeat evident in his posture.
Elder Penna stood and rapped his staff three times. "Kanaan has yielded. I declare his challenge void and his standing forfeit. Colonel Sheppard, as the wronged party, his life is yours. What would you have us do with him?"
John released the hold and shoved Kanaan away from him. John staggered to his feet, his damaged knee throbbing in time with his pulse. He took a step and would have fallen if not for Ronon's timely intervention. John grasped the back of Ronon's shirt in his left hand as Ronon's arm hooked around his back. "Don't kill him. Do whatever is traditional in these circumstances."
"Very well," Elder Penna said. He waved a pair of burly Athosians over and they yanked the bleeding and still-gasping Kanaan to his feet. "Kanaan, you are hereby exiled from the People of Athos. You will be escorted to your tent and allowed to take with you any possessions that you can carry upon your person. From this day forward, you are no longer an Athosian. All doors shall be shut to you. No hand shall reach out to you. Your words shall not be heard." The Elder nodded to the pair holding Kanaan. "Take him to his tent. Stay with him as he packs then escort him to the Ring of the Ancestors."
John tuned out the rest of the proceedings as the pain in his knee demanded his attention.
Carson bustled up and took his other side. "Help me get him to a bench."
John zoned out for a moment as Ronon and Carson moved him. Next thing he knew, Ronon was holding him against his chest while Carson examined his knee.
"Lad, I'm going to give you something to take the edge off so I can examine you without getting kicked," Carson said as he rummaged in his pack.
John leaned back and let Carson do his job. He barely noticed the prick of the needle as the doc gave him the promised painkiller. The relief as it hit his system was palpable and he relaxed further, not even flinching when Carson performed his exam.
"Well, lad, you made a right mess of your knee. You're gonna need surgery again."
Aw, crap. "Can't you just wrap it and let it heal?" John asked with a bit of a whine in his voice. "I'll even use crutches and stay off it."
Carson drew a brace out of his pack and fastened it around John's knee. "You'll be doin' that anyway." He paused and looked up at John. "Do you want to fly again?"
John thought about rolling his eyes then decided against it. No need to antagonize the Keeper of the Big Needles. "Of course, Doc."
"Then you need surgery. Otherwise, you will never walk without a limp and will possibly need a cane."
The thought of being hobbled and grounded scared John more than any Wraith ever could. "Fine."
"Good choice," Carson said and patted him on the thigh.
A discreet cough from behind them drew the group's attention.
John looked up at Elma and nodded for her to come closer.
"Colonel Sheppard, I have come with an invitation from the Elders for you and your friends to join them for the evening meal."
"I'd love to Elma, but I'll have to take a rain check on it."
John saw the confusion cross her face at the expression before Teyla crossed to her side and whispered in the older woman's ear.
"Ah, I shall tender your regrets to the Elders. You shall come another time once your injuries are healed."
John bowed his head in an approximation of the Athosian greeting. Elma returned the gesture and left.
"Do you need a stretcher, Colonel?" Carson asked and it was clear from his tone what he'd prefer John's answer to be.
"Nah. I can make it to the jumper," John replied with a half grin.
"Figures, but I had to try."
With Ronon on one side and Carson on the other, John did make it back to the jumper. Teyla unfurled a sleeping blanket and spread it on one of the benches. Ronon and Carson eased him onto the pad so he could stretch his leg out. John closed his eyes as the combination of the painkiller and the adrenaline crash sucked him under.
John woke to the gentle beeping of a heart monitor and the scents of the infirmary. His foggy brain refused to divulge how he'd gotten there until he shifted slightly. The sharp stab of pain from his knee cleared the fog away.
The Rite of Macto.
A rustle sounded nearby and John cracked one eye open as someone clasped his wrist to check his pulse. Finding the light too bright, the eye snapped shut and John reached out mentally to lower it.
"Ach, Colonel, I wish you wouldna do that."
John opened both eyes this time to find Carson at his side.
"Sorry, Doc," he whispered.
He must've blinked as a straw touched his lips and he hadn't seen Carson move.
"Here, lad, small sips."
John was more than happy to indulge until Carson set it aside. "In my defense Doc, you know I always wake up with headaches."
"Aye, tis true. I'll forgive yeh then." Carson prodded his knee. "How's the knee on a scale of one to ten?"
John wiggled tentatively. "Five."
Carson beamed at him, a knowing look on his face. "So a nine then?"
John sighed. "Seven, maybe seven and a half."
"Which means anyone else would be begging for relief," Carson said as he held up a syringe. "So, you won't want this then?"
"I didn't say that."
Carson injected the painkiller into his IV. "Well, you'll be happy to know the surgery was a success. You'll be right as rain in no time."
John snuggled into his pillows, the drug already making him drowsy. "Thanks, Doc."
Carson chuckled as he straightened the blankets. "Just remember that when you're in PT."
John would have replied, but he was asleep once again; dreams of himself, Teyla and Torren filling his head.
The breeze that had been refreshing when they stepped through the Gate was picking up. John glanced up and saw the dark clouds moving in overhead. This was only his third trip through the Gate since the Kanaan debacle and he was trying for a record of coming back without injuries. Bad weather would make that much harder.
"There's a storm coming." John let his gaze rove across the plain. "McKay, any other energy signatures?"
"Just some low-level signs. Could be Ancient tech. If it is, there's not much energy left."
John looked up as a rumble sounded overhead. "What a great ending to a lousy day." The Ancient ruins had been a bust, plus he had about a dozen bug bites that were itching like crazy. Fortunately, they were only an hour from the Gate, so he could get a hot shower and have the bites looked at soon.
The wind whipped up suddenly and Teyla cast a glance over her shoulder. "We should hurry. The storm is moving in faster."
Shifting into a jog, P90 tucked under his arm, John felt Ronon and Teyla do the same.
Rodney, being his usual self, started grumbling immediately. "Dammit Sheppard, I am not a race horse!"
"Just imagine that Wraith are chasing you."
Rodney shot a glare at Ronon. "Thanks a lot." Nevertheless, he put his tablet away and picked up his pace.
Trying to beat the storm to the Gate turned into a race that they lost. The rain started halfway there, coming down in wind-blown sheets.
"Great – tired, bitten, wet and empty-handed. I'm not letting you pick vacation spots, McKay." John quipped as Rodney approached the DHD.
"Oh yeah, blame me! I did this just so I could ruin your day!" Even snarking back, Rodney's hands were entering the address.
John felt a tingling in the air just as a bolt of lightning struck nearby. "Hurry up! I don't want to add fried to the list!"
"Got it!" With those words, the wormhole engaged and Rodney scrambled for the gate.
John knew he didn't have to tell Teyla or Ronon, as they were just ahead of him. Just before they hit the event horizon, John felt the tingle again, but much stronger. Oh hell, not again!
- Continued in Lightning Strikes -
Thanks for staying with me. If you haven't read Lightning Strikes yet what are you waiting for?!