Through The Looking Glass

Chapter One

The fire crackled, throwing sparks into the air as if a tiny universe was being born within the blaze. Ronon Dex sat back from the gathering, half listening to the night sounds and half to the discussion. The planning seemed eternal, to the point where Ronon became restless to get on with it almost before it began to take shape within the minds of their so called 'leaders.' He'd never been one to sit and talk it out. He was action oriented, strike first and ask questions later or maybe not even bother to ask. It was, he knew, why they brought him into their group.

The idea was supposed to be a 'statement' to the people of the country, or maybe it was just another way to stick it to El Presidente; holding his son for ransom. Random acts of violence were key to keeping a populace on the edge of their seat, always questioning whether the government could keep them safe if they were unable to do the same for a citizen of such importance. Ronon shrugged. He didn't care. This was simply a job that afforded him to remain outside of mainstream life in the chaos that reigned over the people of such small Central American Republics. The fact was, Ronon had been in the company of insurgents since before he was old enough to pick up a gun, globe-trotting from one political hot spot the next, around the world. His alliances were with those who offered the best price, but always outside the law.

It was time. Strapping on two ammunition belts that criss-crossed his body, Ronon slung his weapon over his shoulder and slid into one van to ride shotgun for the trip to the palace. The night was moonless, which gave them advantage. Watching the occasional lights flash by, Ronon felt they were finally accomplishing something. Silently, he observed the countryside open up as they passed through each town, and close up again, as the darkness made everything surrounding them faceless.

Nearing the palace compound, it bore only a slight resemblance to the other times when they'd cased the joint. It might have been the time, mid evening, but the place, usually teaming with family, and indentured servants, conjured up the lifeless grounds of a graveyard rather than a thriving residence. The men spread out as they scaled the walls. The delicious sense of adrenalin nibbled at the edge of Ronon's consciousness, giving momentum, pumping him up.

Where he had previously seen small clusters of outside guards, there was now a lone man, pacing the length of one side of the many storied building. Reports came in over walkies that all had encountered similar circumstances. "What's going on?" Ronon's own walkie talkie crackled. "I don't know! Just get on with it. Go. Go, go, go," he answered, his deep voice expressing undisguised annoyance. Reaching the lookout, Ronon's large hand closed in over the man's mouth, as he easily subdued and slit his throat. Even before the thud of the body registered, Ronon was up and over the railing of a balcony on the second floor. Entry was quick and easy and the building was breached. The small group of rebels stalked the silent corridors, taking out unsuspecting sentries as they came upon them but not before they learned why the complex was on half staff.

"They are attending a gala," one guard revealed, as he sought to melt into the wall.

Ronon reached out and pressed his hand around the man's throat. "The boy, Santo. Is he here?"

"Yes, yes, in there," came the response. "There, in there. Now please, let me go. I won't tell."

"You're right about that," Ronon said, releasing his opponent, slashing out with his knife, silencing him forever.

Several of the group had already broken through to the suite, finding not only Santo, the intended target, who was cowed the moment they broke into his suite, but four young women inside.

The unexpected visit of dignitaries from a neighboring nation, was but a fly in the ointment of an otherwise well thought out scheme. The daughter of the visitors, betrothed to El Presidente's son was pale and whimpering as she sought to hide behind her husband-to-be. In tow were her handmaidens, in varying states ranging between shock, alarm and was that indignation? Yes, it was, and Ronon felt certain if they were not so well surrounded, she might try to stand up to them. This was a bonus, if the strategy garnered a greater ransom.

The small group was hustled out of the compound, into the waiting vans and whisked away, all trussed up and gagged into submission. The ride back was more somber than they thought it would be after a successful kidnapping. Ronon sat quietly, weapon held on the prisoners, though he knew that it was unlikely they could break free of their bonds and either escape or overpower their captors.

Smiling, he watched the fiery one struggled to free herself from the ropes. In fact, he felt strangely drawn to her. It was only her body Ronon could see, now, since all of them were hooded to keep the way back to their hideout truly secret. But she held herself with pride and, Ronon was sure, a strength of spirit. As he was considering lifting the hood up so he could see her face, the van halted and the doors were thrown open. Voices shouted commands at the captives and Ronon slid across and pushed each one down into the waiting hands of his brethren. The final distance to the cells where the prisoners would be held, afforded Ronon the feel her raging energy as he clasped his hand around her arm, guiding her through the wooded trails while she stumbled, still blinded by the woven sack secured over her head.

There was one 'cell' which had been prepared for their hostage and two others were in progress when word had been sent back that they'd bagged more game. A wooden grate was lifted and the captives roughly escorted down into an earthen hole the width of a half dozen graves and three times as deep. With lanterns hanging on each wall, all five were shackled together, the thud of the grate seemingly sealing their fate as the latch clicked into place.

Sitting once again at the ever present council fire, arguments broke out among the various factions of the outlaws. The discord concerned the wisdom of taking the four women. Many believed they would serve only to complicate the original plan, while others thought the bounty worthwhile.

"Keep the son and his lover," someone suggested, "and kill the others. No one will care. They are servants, disposable."

"Agreed."

Ronon walked with an eager gait, with another of the men to separate the servants from the two who would remain in custody. As was expected, they were followed by several of the others wanting to take their due from the condemned. In the prison, the hoods were snatched from their heads, giving them a chance to say their final good-byes, and Ronon took the opportunity to see the one he thought of as proud, almost regal.

"Milagra!" she called out to the one being left behind. Her voice was like silk.

"Teyla!" came the response from the first. "Please, spare their lives!" the young bride begged. "They have done no one harm." But the men ignored her pleas and dragged the three other women from the underground room.

Outside, two of the women were thrown to the ground, their handlers deciding not to wait for their reward.

Their plaintive cries were a counter point to the night sounds. "Please, no!" Their voices were almost in unison.

One of the men grabbed for Teyla, but Ronon had already taken hold of her arm again. "She's mine," he growled, his very words causing the other to step back, joining the line of men waiting to take their turn the two other women, both pressed beneath the wanton bodies of their captors. Words became muffled screams, and Ronon could feel Teyla struggling, disregarding her own fate, to try to help her friends.

Pulling her away from the scene, Ronon silently led Teyla deeper into the forest until no sounds from the camp could be heard. He'd left her hands tied behind her back and now helped her to kneel when they stopped by a swiftly flowing stream. Putting his hand to the back of her head, he pushed her down slightly to his other hand which held water, allowing her to drink.

"Thank you," she said as she leaned back against the trunk of a tree, watching Ronon drink as well.

With a vague grunt-like sound, he swallowed as he drank his fill. Sitting opposite her, taking his first real good look, Ronon held up a lantern he'd brought to give him a better view. She was beautiful and good stock. Her defiance was intriguing. There was a long silence as they watched one another. Yes, Ronon thought, she was a proud, strong woman. She, in fact, seemed out of place as a servant.

"Why did you pull me away from there?" Teyla asked.

"You heard what I said to Diego." Of course, Ronon knew it wasn't what he'd had in mind at all, not that he didn't want her. She awoke a fire in him, in fact, that coursed through his veins, mind, and perhaps even touched his heart. He knew what the fate of the women would be. He knew, as they'd seen and heard, what they would endure before their lives were ended and he could not allow that, for reasons he had yet to figure out, to happen to this one.

With an air of daring Teyla challenged her captor. "Then why not take me yourself, then and there?"

Ignoring the question, Ronon finally asked, "Who are you?"

"I am Teyla Emmagan."

"And who is Teyla Emmagan? Daughter of a sheep herder? Or perhaps daughter of the visiting president?"

"I am, as you suspect," Teyla replied after a long pause, "the daughter of the President, but I was not visiting. I was returning home. Santo is my brother, my half brother."

"Then you will fetch a pretty price." Ronon mused.

"And I wonder how long you will live to collect, when your comrades find out who I really am. Milagra will reveal my secret, I am certain."

"I haven't decided who I will sell you to." Ronon laughed. Teyla's eyes flashed angrily. "Maybe, I'll keep you for myself." Before she could answer, he pulled her to her feet and they made their way further into thicker, jungle-like forest.

The reality was, something else about her, that he could not put his finger on, nagged at his mind. In certain moments, he felt as if he knew her already which was absurd. They'd only just met. It was these puzzling thoughts with which he was pre-occupied as they traveled. Soon enough he would have to deal with the other thought; he'd have essentially placed a price on his own head, when the men found out who she really was. Of course, first they would need to determine which one of the women was the prize, and it would take them a while to even realize that only two were killed and buried. Time was on his side.