Alien Legion: Arrows of Artemis

By C.S. Hayden

Alien Legion is the trademarked and copyrighted creative property of Carl Potts as published by Epic Comics/Marvel Entertainment 1984-1993. This is a work of fiction loosely based on the characters of Alien Legion and is unauthorized by its creator Carl Potts.

Plot and additional original characters copyrighted 2003 to Christi Smith Hayden

XVII. The Wedding, Part 2:

In one fell swoop, Jaikira felt she had been demoted from a Legion officer to a little girl being lectured in her mother's study. She had no choice but to accompany her mother and sister to the luxury suites reserved for visiting dignitaries and heads of state. Only the best would do for the Lady Kaathera, matriarch of the joint houses of Jai and Kaa. Anything less was for mere mortals.

"Do stop pacing," Kaathera said sharply. "You'll wear a hole in the rug, Kira."

"Why are you here, mother?" she snapped. "I thought I'd been disowned."

"Things change," Kaathera replied. She sat regally straight in her chair regarding her older daughter calmly. The years since Jaikira had left home to join the Legion had not changed her mother very much. Her face was more angular but still handsome with traces of a luminous beauty. "Your sister, no doubt, has kept you apprised of family matters?"

Jaikira stopped and frowned at the floor. "Yes," she said softly. "I was sorry to hear of Father's illness."

"Not sorry enough to give up this soldiering nonsense and return home, I see."

"Mother, I am an officer in Defense Intelligence. I'm responsible for the welfare of my squad." She glared across the room. "It is NOT nonsense and I am NOT at liberty to just up and run home whenever you beckon!"

"Please, Mummy, Kira," Jaityra said soothingly. "Let's not start that old argument again. You promised, Mummy - we're here to be part of Kira's wedding and that's all." She looked imploringly at them both. "Please?"

Mother and daughter glowered at each other and turned away with their arms crossed, unaware how very much alike they were. After a few moments of heavy silence, Jaityra tried to steer the conversation to less volatile subjects.

"Kira?" she asked cautiously. "Since you're here, perhaps you could try on Grandmother's wedding sari. I had it aired in the garden before we left and vacuum-packed it for the trip. It should still smell like night flowers."

Jaikira smiled. "Do they still grow under our old bedroom window?"

"Oh, yes." Jaityra got up and opened a suitcase. "I thought it might be a nice touch since there are no flowers on a military base and besides, it will make Sarigar anxious for the honeymoon." She winked at her sister. "Hmm?"

"Gar was ready for the honeymoon weeks ago," Jaikira laughed. "If it wasn't for Nomad having been sent out on a routine patrol so he could blow off some steam, he'd be climbing the walls by now."

"Actually, you did rather well for yourself," Kaathera said coolly. "Even though I have yet to interview him personally," she gave Jaikira a hard stare, "I had Sarigar's family lineage researched. His father was a decorated military officer before becoming a teacher, upper middle caste but of a line of well known scholars. His mother, however, was of a minor branch of the Nek high family. Any offspring you produce will be especially desirable."

"Really, mother, you're talking of your potential grandchildren as if they were puppies." Jaikira slashed her tail. "Gar and I are committed to our careers in the Legion for cycles yet."

"You must honor your commitments, of course." Kaathera shrugged minutely. "However, I note that Sarigar is the last male of his family line. He will want children long before you will, I wager."

The thought made Jaikira pause for a moment; she and Sarigar never really discussed it but her mother had a point. Children would complicate things tremendously in a Legion career. K'thok was less than enthused about her upcoming marriage as it was; it had turned out that his species had strong cultural bias on family and marriage that verged on archaic. He had already begun to push for F'marrl to take charge of Artemis squad and Jaikira could only assume he was preparing to phase her out of the command structure.

She sank down into a chair by the window and stared out, not really looking at anything.

"You see how it is then," Kaathera said, her voice softer than it had been previously. "Marriage is not all romance and daydreams. There are consequences, strange twists and turns that your life will take that you hadn't counted on. It is a challenge, my dear, which must be met headlong." She paused, and when Jaikira looked towards her, her mother was smiling. "I always pictured you on a stage, not Tyra and look what happened." She shook her head. "Then I realized your stage was just much, much bigger. Do you know that your father watches the tri-vids religiously now, just to hear the mention of your name?"

"Really?" Jaikira asked. "I thought he said he'd never acknowledge my existence."

"One of the few convenient things about his illness is that his memory comes and goes." Kaathera shrugged and rose smoothly from her chair. "He associates your name with a little girl that was forever climbing trees, not an officer in the Legion." She crossed the room to help Jaityra unpack a mass of silken garments from a bag. "It is a pity he can't be here for your wedding. Have you chosen someone appropriate to escort you?" She wrinkled her nose. "I understand your cousin Kaavon is here."

"Actually, I've chosen one of Nomad's most respected soldiers," Jaikira answered, grateful for a change of topic. "Zeerod was a brigadier general in the regulars before he joined the Legion. His service record is very distinguished."

Kaathera nodded approvingly. "That should do. The males are all wearing formal uniforms, I take it?"

"Dress greens all around," Jaikira said lightly. "Sarigar's going to have on all his medals." She laughed. "Hopefully, I won't get snagged on them. His combat stars are kind of pointy."

"It's a wedding, not an orgy," Kaathera said tartly. "See that he doesn't maul you."

"Yes indeed, Kira," Jaityra teased. "I want to have the use of Grandmother's sari after you."

"Have your arrangements all been made?" Kaathera pursed her lips as she checked off a mental list in her head. "Ceremony, priest, flowers, reception, catering..."

"All done, mother -- all we want is a simple Legion ceremony and a party afterwards." Jaikira smiled as she held up the filmy embroidered fabric. "Gar is going rattle his spikes when he sees me in this."

Behind her, Kaathera crossed her arms and regarded her daughter archly. "A simple Legion ceremony?' What do you mean -- that there will be no listings of your family ties? Your spouse will not pledge allegiance to our house?"

Giving her mother a baleful look, Jaikira retorted, "That is an antiquated custom, and you know it. Father disowned me formally so I can't list my titles so there's just no point in doing that. Gar and I have already discussed it with the Greelbase chaplain, and it's all been arranged."

"But surely you'll have music?" Jaityra asked plaintively. "A wedding isn't a wedding without it."

"We decided against it during the ceremony," Jaikira admitted, "but I talked a band from the civilian zone into playing the reception. They owe me a favor."

"Civilian zone?" Kaathera pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Then perhaps there is a place I could order some Jentekian delicacies from."

"The reception is fully catered, mother."

"My dear, you must allow us to do something for your wedding! Surely there must be some small task your sister and I can do for you."

"I know what I can do!" Jaityra chimed in. "I can sing at your reception."

"Oh, I'd love that, Tyra!" Jaikira studied her mother for a moment and turned away, chewing on a thumbnail pensively. "Let me think -- yes, there is something. I never arranged for a bouquet. It's not part of a military wedding so I hadn't given any thought to one."

"Done," Kaathera said, clapping her hands together. "At this late date, it will have to be simple but I think I can find something suitably elegant to go with your wedding sari."

Checking her gauntlet, Jaikira grimaced. "I've got to be getting back," she said contritely. "My squad is giving me a party in the barracks. Would you like to come?"

"I believe I'll stay here," Kaathera said archly as she settled back into her original chair. "That's doesn't sound like the sort of party the bride's mother should attend." She smiled at her younger daughter. "But you should definitely go, Tyra, and meet your sister's friends."

"Are you sure, Mummy?" Jaityra asked brightly as she helped her sister gather up the wedding sari and place it back in its bag. "I've always wanted to see how Kira's been living all these years."

"Quite sure," Kaathera said calmly. "I'll busy myself with Kira's flowers while you're gone."

"We'll stop by the visitor's hostel and pick up Sarivil," Jaikira said enthusiastically as she began to lead Jaityra to the door. "Goodbye, mother!"

"Goodbye, my dears."

The sounds of her daughters leaving the suite had hardly faded when Kaathera had accessed the hotel's computer system. She punched in a series of commands and narrowed her eyes at the information that scrolled by on the screen. "Taiba!!" she called out, summoning her personal assistant. "Come here - we have a lot to do before morning."

* * * * *

The bedside comunit chirped in the darkness. Sighing, Sarigar reached an arm out to answer it. "Sarigar here."

"You can't sleep either, hmm?"

He smiled at the sound of her voice and rolled over to face the small monitor. "No, I can't, darling. I'm just lying here, counting the hours until I can have you as my wife."

Jaikira tilted her head, making her curls tumble around her shoulders. "Don't say things like that. I'm anxious enough as it is." She laughed. "The party just broke up here. I've been given a whole inventory of new things to do to you. F'marrl compiled them onto a textpad with the title, 'Bedroom Combat Tactics.'"

"For a self-professed asexual being, she has quite an earthy sense of humor, doesn't she?" Sarigar grinned back at her. "Anything interesting?"

"Oh, you'll find out, major," Jaikira purred in her best Naja mode. "The chapter on 'Field Testing' has diagrams and an equipment list."

As intriguing as that prospect sounded, Sarigar opted to change the subject before he needed to take another cold shower. "Did your sister arrive? Sarivil said you were still waiting on her when she showed up with Kaavon at the pool."

"Well, the good news is that Jaityra is here. She came to the party with me and met everyone." Jaikira sighed deeply. "The bad news is that my mother decided to come with her."

"I thought your family disowned you."

"I was rather hoping that I still was!" She leaned a cheek against her hand. "I asked Jaityra to bring me something for the wedding and Mother caught her taking it from the vaults. Tyra had to tell her why and as result, my mother is here for the wedding." She winced. "I'm really, really sorry about this."

"Why?" Sarigar could see she was upset and wished he could hold her. "You're lucky. My parents died when Vil was just a child. I would've loved to have had them here for this. Kaavon mentioned that you and your mother didn't get along but this is different. A wedding is a special time. Your mother probably just wants to be a part of it."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Jaikira said ruefully. "Mother doesn't sit on the sidelines very well."

"Kira, everything's been arranged," he said consolingly. "What could she possibly do?"

"I don't know," she sighed petulantly. "Mother did bring up a couple of things I hadn't thought about."

"Like what?"

"She had your family line traced." Jaikira made a face. "She's thinking ahead to her potential grandchildren."

Sarigar's brows rose. "We've never talked about that."

"I know." She looked down at her hands for moment, clearly ordering her thoughts. "What do you think about children?"

"I'll admit that there have been times when I've considered it." He began to smile slowly. "My parents married late in life so they didn't wait very long to start a family."

"I don't think we should, not while both of us are in the Legion," she said abruptly. "K'thok has been pushing for F'marrl to take command of Artemis. I don't know if he's lost confidence in me after Helios or if he doesn't like the idea of me getting married. His species can be very parochial at times."

His heart fell. "Are you saying you don't want children?"

"No! It's just -" Jaikira's lip twisted. "I think that at least one of us should be out when we do have children. Our enlistment terms overlap so we're not going to muster out at the same time. One of us has to be there for that child, whenever that happens."

"For a micron there, you had me scared." Sarigar reached out and touched his fingertips to the screen. "I would love to have a child with you, Kira, but I can wait." He smiled. "Let's get married first."

Jaikira smiled back. "Then I'll see you in the morning."

* * * * *

The day of the wedding dawned with a flurry of activity. Leaving F'marrl in charge of Artemis, Zora Ree and Jez Shivblade accompanied Jaikira to the chapel to get ready. She'd already assigned someone to escort Kaathera and Jaityra to the ceremony and hoped sincerely that her mother would be on her best behavior.

"Not bad," Jez commented with a flourish of her fingers. "Ol' hardass won't know what hit him!" She was helping adjust the drape of the floor length veil as Jaikira stood patiently in the center of the antechamber just outside the chapel.

"I agrrree," Zora purred approvingly. "I can now see why you werrre so anxious about yourrr sisterrr getting herrre in time. This is the perrrfect touch." A knock came at the door and Zora went to answer it. "Ah, some guests to see you, captain!"

Kaavon, dressed soberly in a deep midnight blue suit, escorted Sarivil into the room. She was wearing a wine-colored dress with gold piping and was holding an ornate wooden case in her hands. Her part in the ceremony was to present the wedding bands and Jaikira assumed that the case contained the formal set that matched her betrothal bracelet.

Raising a hand to her face, Sarivil gasped in surprise and smiled behind her fingers. "Oh, Kira! That's so lovely!"

"It was my grandmother's," Jaikira answered. "Gar's expecting me to come out in my dress uniform - what do you think?"

Kaavon chuckled and nudged Sarivil. "She's so evil, isn't she?"

Sarivil handed the case she'd been carrying to him and took a compact holo-camera out of a pocket. "I'm going to have so much fun with this," she proclaimed. "I'll take a shot of you now and then I'll have Torie get a shot of Gar's face when he sees you."

Posing demurely with her hands folded in a classic prayer pose, Jaikira couldn't help smiling when she thought of just how Sarigar would react when he saw her. He had shown her a picture of his parents in their wedding regalia and had been enthusiastically nostalgic on each intricate detail. As insistent as he was on having a no frills Legion wedding, she could tell the poet in him had been wishing for something more romantic.

"Perfect!" Sarivil exclaimed, breaking Jaikira from her reverie. "I'll need to retrieve your betrothal bracelet for the ceremony, Kira," she said as she took the case back from Kaavon.

"Hold the veil up for me, Von," Jaikira said as she unfastened the antique gold bracelet. "I haven't had this off since Gar put it on me weeks ago."

Kaavon laughed as he held the veil up out of the way so she could pass the bracelet to Sarivil. "So I've heard," he said. "It was one of the topics at the bachelor party."

"My, my, and I thought we were chatty at my bridal shower last night," Jaikira quipped tartly. "It was a shame you missed it, Vil."

"I know," Sarivil said as she exchanged a guilty look with Kaavon, "but I hadn't been invited out in a long time. It was very enjoyable." She placed the betrothal bracelet in the case with the rest of the matrimonial set. "I want to go see how Gar's doing before I have to take my place."

"All right." Jaikira grinned. "If he's nervous, I'll expect a full report later."

Sarivil smirked. "Oh, I will!"

Kaavon chuckled as he watched Sarivil leave the room. "Oh, fine -- why is it you females act so gleeful about us males and our discomfort at a time like this?"

"Vonnie," Jaikira drawled out threateningly, "what did you do? I saw that look she gave you."

"What?" Seeing that she wasn't buying the innocent act, Kaavon sighed dramatically and threw up his hands. "Hey, we got to talking on the way back to the hostel and I asked her to dinner, that's all. I took her back to her room and then I went back to mine. That's all that happened." He laughed. "Vil's nice but she's too much of a brainiac for me. We mostly gossiped about you and Gar - now that was entertaining!"

* * * * *

Knocking on the wall, Torie Montroc paused in the doorway. "The squad is leaving to go to the ceremony with Zeerod," he reported. "Is there anything I can do for you, major?" He watched as Nomad's medic finished administering a shot to Sarigar's shoulder. "What's that for?"

"Meico's just catching me up on my shots," Sarigar said calmly as he fastened his starched shirt. "I am going on my honeymoon later today, you know."

"A wise precaution it is," Meico said, crinkling his eyelids in amusement. "Taking your vitamins as well you should be, major."

"Definitely." Sarigar gave a small grin. "Apparently, one of Kira's shower gifts from her squad is a manual on bedroom combat. I may come back looking much worse for the wear."

Torie laughed. "You must be worried about what things the ladies of Artemis have in store for you."

"Actually, the only thing that I'm concerned about is meeting Kira's mother," Sarigar said calmly as he donned his dress jacket. "Apparently she turned up yesterday with Kira's sister."

"Her mother?" Meico asked in surprise. "So seldom of her parents Jaikira speaks. Deceased, I thought they were."

"No, they disowned her when she joined the Legion. Kira doesn't talk about it much." Sarigar finished fastening his jacket and adjusted one or two of his medals on the wide arrow headed band that ran down from the epaulets on his left shoulder to mid-chest. It contained his gold-pressed rank insignia at the point, a number of honor stripes, and a cluster of combat stars. "She's not entirely happy about her mother being here for some reason but I've told her not to worry."

"Nerves perhaps it is," Meico suggested sagely. "Never before a bride has she been."

The door to the outer corridor burst open. "There you are!" Trillian Gok called out jubilantly. "Not having second thoughts, are you?"

"You've been through this before," Sarigar retorted, "Did you?"

"Second thoughts? Never, but then I've been married four times." The ursinoid general chuckled warmly at his own joke. "Come along, old snake. If I don't have you there on time, your wife-to-be has promised to skin me for a rug!"

* * * * *

"Captain?" Zora said, discreetly interrupting Jaikira's conversation with her cousin. "The memberrrs of Nomad arrre taking theirrr places. Jez and I must go now. Will you be all rrright?"

"Go ahead, Zora," Jaikira said with a nervous smile. "Tyra should be here shortly. Please find Zeerod and show him in, will you?"

"On my way, captain."

"I'll hang around and keep you company," Kaavon said amiably. "It's going along swimmingly, cuz. I don't know why you're fidgeting."

"You'll know soon enough," Jaikira sighed.

The door opened and they both looked towards it anxiously. With a whirring of his servos, Zeerod entered the antechamber. The old soldier had taken great pains with his appearance and wore his dress greens with style and panache. "My word!" he exclaimed at his first glimpse of Jaikira. "This will be a rare treat!" He grinned and nudged Kaavon. "First I get to walk in with this radiant creature on my arm and then I get to see the major become totally unglued." He beamed at Jaikira. "Have I ever told you how delightfully entertaining you are?"

"My daughter has always had a fine stage presence," Kaathera said as she swept into the room. She was dressed in an elegantly cut gown of rich royal blue with an intricately patterned sash of red that was draped across her chest and over her shoulder. "I am the Lady Kaathera," she announced succinctly. "Are you the escort?"

"Madam, I have that most singular honor," Zeerod intoned grandly, bowing low to Kaathera. "Legionnaire Zeerod, at your service."

Kaathera studied him carefully, pursing her lips disapprovingly at his cybernetic parts but raising her brows at the medals on his chest. "You received the Nebular Star?"

"Yes, milady," Zeerod answered blandly, "during my tour with the Union Regulars. It's one of the few commendations from my previous career that I'm allowed to wear as a legionnaire."

She glanced at his mechanical feet. "You will try not to step on the veil, will you not? It's a family heirloom and very delicate."

"I will do my very best," he replied with a small bow. "Fortunately, I plan on a stately and dignified walk up the aisle with Captain Jaikira."

"See that you do." Kaathera turned her attention to her nephew. "Kaavon." The tone of her voice was glacial.

"Auntie?" Kaavon gulped and tugged at the collar of his good suit. "How very nice to see you here."

"You will escort me," Kaathera said imperiously, "so stay close and don't go anywhere."

He leaned towards Jaikira. "You know, it's not too late to elope."

She sighed heavily. "Gods, I wish!"

Kaathera beckoned to the soberly-dressed Jentekian female that had followed her and Jaityra into the room. "Taiba, come with me. Tyra, give Kira her bouquet. I'll be right back." She swept from the room.

"Kira?" Jaityra slid up to her with a spray of artfully arranged orchids in her hands. She was dressed in a similar fashion to her sister, but less ornately as to not outshine the bride. "Oh, Kira, I'm so sorry!"

Jaikira gave her sister a puzzled look. "What?"

"I wanted to call you last night but she locked down all the comunits but hers." The younger female was nearly in tears. "Mother's been meddling! She contacted everyone associated with your wedding and changed all the arrangements. Apparently she brought a lot of things with her from home, just for this occasion."

"Zeerod...?" An unspoken demand was growled out between Jaikira's clenched teeth.

"Oh, dear," the old soldier murmured. "I knew there was a reason why I should have packed a sidearm."

* * * * *

The members of Artemis marched in two by two, led by Lt. F'marrl and a tiny Thracian that Sarigar almost didn't recognize until he saw the slight raised edge of the synthbox at her throat. Without her full-face helmet, Jez Shivblade looked like a delicate, if chronically hostile elf. Her face was heart-shaped with a hint of a dimple in each cheek and her hair was short except for a long strand spiked with steel balls that was draped over her shoulder.

Glancing at his men, Sarigar nearly laughed out loud at Jugger's reaction. The psychotic Thracian had gotten off on the wrong side of Jez from the beginning and had countered her hostility by openly speculating on how ugly Jez probably looked like without her helmet. Dumbfounded and slack-jawed, he was now staring at Jez and mouthing the word, "Damn!" over and over. Jez caught him gawking at her and discreetly flipped him an obscene hand gesture. Jugger grinned back without being the least bit intimidated.

Trillian Gokk nudged him gently. "I think someone decided to change the script."

Traditional Jentekian music began to play with an opening cascade of harps, blending with chimes and flutes. Sarigar winced; this was not what he and Jaikira had discussed at all -- a simple Legion ceremony with no frills. It was only by force of will that he was able to keep his tail spikes from flexing. A murmur of voices went up and he glanced back to see a demure Jentekian maiden undulating up the aisle, not Jaikira, but a relation with similar markings. She was dressed in a rich reddish brown sari over a gold underskirt. The delicate garment had intricate gold threads interwoven through it that highlighted her waist-length hair and she was scattering tiny, fragrant blossoms of ivory and pink. As she approached Sarigar and General Gokk, she kept her head lowered respectfully.

"Sarigar?" she said in a low voice. "I do not know if Kira mentioned me, but I am Jaityra."

"Yes, you're her younger sister that entered the Conservatory a few years ago," Sarigar said in relief. "She reads bits of your letters to me -- she's very proud of you."

Jaityra smiled but kept her head bowed as was proper and continued to toss flowers about. "Kira wants you to know this is NOT her idea, or mine for that matter!" She rolled her eyes and shuddered just like her older sister. "Last night Mother begged to let her do something for the wedding and Kira agreed to one small thing, but like most things Kaathera gets her hooks in, it got out-of-hand."

He closed his eyes. "Oh, no."

"So our mother fully intends to ram a traditional Jentek wedding with all the regalia down your throats whether you like it or not." Jaityra sighed. "Kira says that if you'd like to pull a gun on Mother, she'd be grateful."

A bell rang out and Jaityra turned on cue in a tight coil, sliding into her place on the far left of the Legion chaplain. He was staring at the ornate book that had just been handed to him by a half-caste Jentekian female. "Major," he said in quiet desperation, "I can't make heads or tails of this."

"Just do the service the way the major originally requested it," General Gokk told the chaplain. "The book can sit on the altar and look impressive." He put a massive hand on Sarigar's shoulder. "I can see that I've got some best man duties to perform. Stay here." Halfway down the aisle, Gokk addressed the assembled Legionnaires in a barely audible but urgent voice. Jugger Grimrod and Jez Shivblade instantly stood up and followed Gokk from the room.

"What's he doing?" the chaplain asked curiously.

Sarigar closed his eyes and tried futilely to quell the incessant throb in his forehead. "I believe the general has gone back to shoot my mother-in-law."

The chaplain blinked all six of his eyes. "That's quite a wedding gift."

There was a brief outcry from the antechamber that was promptly overruled by a curt parade ground bellow that drew curious stares from the wedding guests. A few minutes later General Gokk returned triumphantly, holding open the door for Kaavon and an older Jentekian female who had to be Jaikira's mother, Kaathera. The resemblance to her older daughter was uncanny but her facial markings made her face look like the mouth of a striking snake. As she came closer, Sarigar could see daggers in her almond-shaped eyes. Jugger and Jez followed behind like a matched set of bodyguards, clearly there as insurance against further interference. Sarigar bowed solemnly to Kaathera, in hopes of staving off any hard feelings but she returned his courtesies with a cold nod.

Gokk looked smugly at Sarigar. "Well, that's one tough old broad," he murmured as he took his place again, "but Shivblade's riding shotgun on her and Grimrod's backing her up. I would've offered Jaikira a weapon but damned if I'd know where she'd put it."

"Thanks."

"Don't mention it." Gokk grinned as the music resumed with a flourish. "Now, take a deep breath because unless I miss my guess, this is your bride is coming in."

Turning, Sarigar composed himself to expect something spectacular and as result as, was totally unprepared for the first glimpse of his bride. He almost didn't recognize her gliding towards him on Zeerod's arm. The old soldier was decked out in his full formal gear including one or two impressive medals from his days in the regulars but it was Jaikira in her bridal finery that outshone the day. She was wearing an ivory silk ensemble consisting of a criss-crossed midriff top, a full pleated skirt and a sari heavily-embroidered in silver and gold thread that wrapped around her waist, draped across her chest, and cascaded down her back. Several gold necklaces adorned her neck and a gold pendant dangled on her forehead where it was woven into the center part of her dark hair, which fell like black silk to her shoulders. She carried a spray of Thalusian orchids with delicate pink veins that glowed beneath the whisper thin veil that covered her from head to tail and flowed in the slightest breeze.

"Close your mouth," Gokk advised. "You look like a fish."

Glowering briefly at his best man, Sarigar put on his best command face but it was all he could do not to be totally bewitched by her. Jaikira knew very well the effect she was having on him, even though her eyes were kept demurely low. The self-possessing little smirk on her face was proof of that.

"We are gathered here," the chaplain began," to unite Major Sarigar and --" he paused to look a note handed to him by an aide, "Captain Jaikira, lady of the joint houses of Jai and Kaa --"

"What?" Sarigar asked incredulously under his breath. "You never said--!" He stared around Zeerod at her, completely stunned at Jaikira's formal ties.

"Mother must have put that in. Sorry!" Jaikira winced. "I was disowned -- I didn't have any right to the titles so I didn't tell you about it."

"Hoo boy," Torie said shaking his head. "The major's in for it now."

"Problem there is?" Meico inquired quietly.

"Sarivil told me a bit about Jentekian society," Torie whispered back. "They have a very highly structured caste system. Jaikira's family is about as elite as you can get on Jentek."

Up on the dais, Sarigar stared at his bride in dismay. "You're THAT highborn?"

"If I may interject here," Zeerod said hastily, "but what does any of that matter now? It doesn't change who she is or the way you feel about each other, now does it?"

The chaplain had continued, unaware of the hastily whispered conversation around him, because before Sarigar knew it, Zeerod had turned to him and said, "It has been an honor to escort your lady, sir. My best wishes to the both of you." He put Jaikira's hand delicately into Sarigar's and stepped aside.

"You're trembling," he said to her quietly.

"No, I'm not!" she whispered defiantly back. "I'm pissed as hell!"

Sarigar had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing at his angry bride. He could only imagine how furious Jaikira was at this moment but he was grateful that her ire was directed at her mother and not at him. It was probably a good thing she was unarmed. He squeezed her hand reassuringly. Zeerod was right - he had fallen in love with Jaikira, not her family or her titles and nothing else mattered but this moment with her.

The ceremony itself went smoothly, in spite of Jaikira's mother making disapproving noises at their using a standard Legion service and not the more complicated Jentekian ritual. With Jez sitting besides her and Jugger standing nearby with his hand on his jacket holster, there wasn't much else she could do. The only part that was truly traditional was the exchange of the wedding bands. Sarivil had come through with not only their mother's betrothal bracelet but also with the matching antique gold bands that had been in their family for generations. She glided forward with a highly polished wooden box to present them.

Gokk handed Sarigar the bride's band with a smug nod. They'd discussed it and decided to say the ring vows in Jentekian verse. Sarigar hoped he wouldn't make a hash out of it when he finally got to look into her eyes. He focused instead on slipping first the wedding band, then the betrothal bracelet onto Jaikira's wrist with her sister's assistance in holding back the veil. The two ornaments clicked together as they were designed to do. Then it was his turn as Jaikira's cool fingers pushed back his jacket cuff and fastened the wide band around his left wrist. The significance of that gesture affected him more than he thought it would and as they raised their hands to heart level, palms pressed together and wedding bands touching, Sarigar found that what he originally meant to say just didn't seem to mean enough so he said the first thing that came to mind.

"Be the mistress of my heart," he said hoarsely, "for from this day forth, I will live only for thee and will devote myself to our life together. Thy passion has enslaved me, thy love has freed me, and only thou will make me complete."

"Command me not," Jaikira said as her eyes shone brightly, "but instead take what is freely given -- my heart, my soul, and my life. Thou alone have won me by the virtues of thy deeds, the integrity of thy soul, and purity of thy love."

Jaityra and Sarivil came forward as was traditional and lifted the veil from his bride, the impossibly fine fabric sliding down her back and billowing as they carried it down the aisle. The taller members of Artemis squad caught the edges of the veil and took their places to form a living canopy. Sarigar saw little of this -- all his attention was focused on one face. Jaikira's hand trembled against his.

The chaplain cleared his throat. "By the power invested in me by the Tophan Galactic Union and the Legion which serves it, I proclaim you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride." He was a little late -- Sarigar had already pulled Jaikira into his arms and they were locked in a passionate embrace. Legionnaires began to cheer them from all over the room.

Gokk cleared his throat discreetly and rumbled, "Old snake, save some of that for the honeymoon!"

Jaikira smiled against his lips. "He has a point, Gar."

"Do you think your mother's mortified enough?"

"Oh, most certainly."

To be continued in Chapter XVII1: New Beginnings