<<Previous  | Story Intro | Return to Stories | Next >>

 A Promise Kept


Chapter 7

The area was bustling with activity as men, women and children prepared for the festival. Mouthwatering aromas wafted on the breeze as a myriad of dishes were set out to tempt the palate. Colorful floral arrangements adorned with silken ribbons added to the décor. Throughout the animated chatter, laughter and squeals from children playing topped off the organized chaos. Jessie and Cam spotted Spencer and Pisano, still in the midst of helping several beautiful young women with the party preparations. They were hefting a large wooden table across the lawn, setting it in line with the other tables and scooting the benches up next to it.

Cam chuckled out loud. "See? Told you they could have them moving boulders and you’d hear no complaints."

"Jessica, you got back just in time!"

Turning, Jessie saw one of Kanathia’s handmaidens, Amity, nudging her way through the crowd. She smiled at the animated young woman, who at the moment was almost bouncing with childlike exuberance. "Back in time for what?" she asked, curious as to what would have her so excited.

"We’re about to go questing for an offering for the blessing of unions."

"Blessing of unions?" Jessie had no idea what Amity was talking about, but she was obviously excited over it.

"The blessing of unions coincides with the festival celebration. The betrothed females find an offering for the goddess, to thank her for blessing their upcoming marriage." Amity reached out to take her hand.

"But-" Her reply was cut short by a hand on her shoulder. It was Kanathia.

"It’s all right, Jessica. The blessing is for women soon to be married, which you are to be. The goddess watches over all her daughters…not just the ones from Herboren."

Amity’s hand closed around Jessie’s as Jessie looked at Cam. "Go head," he said, smiling at her. "Remember what General Hammond said." It took the young woman no time at all to pull Jessie into the crowd, chattering excitedly as she did so.

Kanathia watched them head off toward the trees before turning to the young man beside her. "Cameron, we need to talk."




"So, what kind of offering are we looking for?" Jessie asked as she caught glimpses of the other women heading into the meadow, others veering off toward what appeared to be a large orchard on the right.

"An offering from the heart; a fruitful offering." Amity waved to a friend in the distance. "When you were little, what would you give your mother as a gift?"

"Well, if it was her birthday, or a holiday, my father would take me shopping for her gift…candy, jewelry, maybe a figurine." Jessie smiled as she recalled those times. "During the spring and summer, when I was small, I’d bring her wildflowers I’d find growing outside."

Her newfound friend gave her a knowing look. "The gifts given in simplicity are the ones that are most heartfelt. This offering is along the same line—a gift as thanks for the blessing of marriage."

While the majority of the women were spreading out through the meadow, Jessie glanced towards the tree line once again, her attention drawn to the majestic tree in the far distance. "Are any places off limits?"

Amity noted the direction of her companion’s gaze. Smiling, she shook her head. "No. If that is where your heart leads, that is where you should go. If you should become lost, just look for the mountain ridge and walk towards it. You’ll encounter the stream…follow it back here."

Jessie nodded, already turning toward the trees. There was something about the tree in the distance that drew her. Memories of long, lazy summers out in the country, walking along the river, and climbing the mighty oaks began surfacing, bringing with them the happy emotions of carefree days gone by. Every once in a while she would catch a subtle scent on the breeze, sweet like the gardenias growing in her mother’s garden. A fruitful offering. One could take that in different ways—of something bearing fruit, especially since it was tied into the blessing of the union between a man and woman. Anything that was born, that would come to bear, could fit in that description. An offering from the heart. Keeping that in mind, Jessie let her instincts guide her.




The interior of the building was cool, but the bright sunshine filtered in through the windows lining the walls. Cam glanced around the room Kanathia had led him to, his attention drawn to several paintings hung between the windows. One in particular caught his eye; two women stood back to back, their long flowing tresses hanging well below their hips. The woman on the right had midnight black hair, while the one on the left was a pale blonde. Everything was a study of contrasts—milky white skin versus honey; black and silver garments versus cream and gold; muted light blending into dark shadows.

"Cameron." Kanathia’s voice brought him out of his reverie. "What happened to Jessica?"

While Cam wasn’t the type of divulge just any information, much less to virtual strangers, there was something about the priestess that lowered his guard considerably, a calm, quiet strength that drew one into conversation. Still, he was a bit leery nonetheless. 

"Happened? I’m not sure what you’re talking about."

The look she gave him reminded him of his mother right before he got into trouble for something. "I think you do know exactly what I’m talking about." Pointing to two chairs near the painting that had caught his eye, she said, "Sit, and tell me…everything."




The trees and bushes became more and more dense the further she ventured into the forest. Jessie kept going, though, checking every now and then to see that she was headed in the right direction. The tree that held her attention was much, much taller than the surrounding ones. In fact, it was the tallest from what she could see. Every once in a while she would catch a glimmer of white, though it was hard for her to tell if her eyes were playing tricks on her or not, the darkness of the forest shadows contrasting with the bright rays of sunlight from above. She briefly wondered if perhaps some type of bird inhabited the tree, one with light colored feathers that would explain the glimpses she kept seeing.

Just as she was beginning to wonder if she would ever reach her destination, the forest suddenly opened up to a small clearing, one that surrounded the tree in question.

"Wow." Jessie was in awe of the impressive view in front of her. If anything, the tree was taller than she had originally perceived it to be. The oaks she climbed at home were little cousins compared to the giant specimen before her. Thick, heavily laden branches stretched outward and upward from a massive trunk, the leaves so thick that they obscured most of the limbs. Here, though, she could finally see what she had thought was a bird, or flashes of light. High in the uppermost branches were flowers—blossoms of breathtaking beauty. Even with the distance between them, Jessie could see the silvery shimmer covering pearlescent white petals…a white so pure it seemed to glow from within. It was then she noticed that the scent of gardenia was much stronger, and she wondered if the fragrance was coming from the flowers above her, as a quick look around failed to reveal any other floral displays—just the trees, bushes, ferns and moss underfoot.

Those blossoms were definitely regal enough to serve as a gift to the goddess in question. Even though Jessie was Christian through and through, she learned to adapt a "when in Rome" attitude to different cultures, with the blessing of Uncle Shay. As he said a long time ago, "A rose by any other name is still the same", and she had learned that many different roads led to the same destination.

Jessie’s mind was made up; the blooms were so perfect, there was no doubt that was going to be her offering. Approaching the tree, she stopped short of the trunk. Going on impulse, she bent down and began unlacing her boots, pulling them from her feet, along with her socks, before slipping off her long-sleeved uniform shirt, revealing the thin cotton T-shirt she wore underneath. She didn’t question why it seemed important to ‘connect’ with the tree, for her skin to touch the bark and leaves—her sole focus was on the blossoms overhead. Eyeing the trunk, she reached up and grasped the lower most branch, holding it within her hands for a moment before planting her foot against the trunk and hauling herself up.

If any member of SG-7 had witnessed what she was doing, they would have had an absolute fit. The tree in question was almost 200 feet tall; the flowers were at least 100 feet from the ground. Jessie was so focused on her task, she took no note of the scale. She carefully climbed from branch to branch, pulling herself up through the shaded arches. Once she reached the level of the blossoms, she then had to shimmy along the branch itself, as the blooms were situated at the outermost stretch of the limb. The tree was strong; not once did the limb bend or sway as she made her way to her goal. Thankfully the leaves were thick enough that she couldn’t see the ground from where she lay, or she would have experienced the shock of how far she had climbed.

Upon reaching the end of the limb, the blossom was finally within her reach. The bloom was almost as large as her hand, and she carefully cupped her fingers around it from beneath as she detached the stem from the branch. The gardenia fragrance was heady, bringing to mind many happy memories of sitting outside during the evening as a child, her mother’s gardenia bushes filled with glowing white blossoms, the scent wafting along with the evening breeze. Giving herself a mental shake, Jessie now considered how to get down without crushing the delicate flower. Scooting back along the branch, she straddled it near the trunk. Reaching up, she pulled the band from her hair, releasing her ponytail. Taking a small section of hair on the side, she quickly plaited it into a tight braid, before pulling it back with the rest of her hair and re-securing the ponytail. Thankfully the stem of the flower was fairly fibrous, and she threaded it through the center of the braid just above her ear, careful not to damage the blossom itself. After assuring herself it was secure, she began a slow descent to the ground below.

Just before she reached the forest floor, the thought occurred to her that her newly obtained prize might not make it back in pristine condition if it didn’t have water. Jessie frowned as she contemplated her dilemma. The stem was fairly short, and usually the shorter the stem, the faster a bloom would wilt. Dropping the last couple of feet to the ground silently, she quickly pulled on her socks and boots, grabbed her shirt and headed towards the stream a short distance away.




Kanathia sat across from Cam as he finished telling her of Jessie’s time as a Goa’uld slave. She paid more attention to his demeanor and body language than she had to the tale he told. Kanathia had already guessed much of the trials the young woman had endured; she was more interested in the state of mind of her betrothed. What she saw impressed her. Instead of shame, she saw a man who hurt inside because the woman he loved had been harmed. Instead of distance, she saw the closeness he shared with her, the strength of their bond. Still, there was an underlying tension, a confusion that existed. She had no doubt they were still trying to find their way back to each other.

When Cam fell silent, Kanathia gestured to the painting on the wall. "What do you see?" she asked simply.

Cam shrugged slightly. "Two women." When the priestess remained silent, he looked closer at the picture. "Contrast. The differences in light versus dark."

Kanathia gazed at the canvas. "You see two women. What if I told you it was actually one?" She watched as the young man stared at the picture, his frown deepening before he shook his head slightly, obviously not picking up on what she was alluding to. "Cameron, when a woman is whole, she is invincible, but when her soul has been torn in two, she is vulnerable…weak. The two parts, in their separated state, are at war with each other. They must be combined in order for the balance to be restored." She nodded at the painting. "What you see there are two halves of a whole, light and dark, yin and yang. That," she said as she pointed at the picture, "is Jessie, and it’s the direct result of what she went through. In order to survive, she brought one half to the forefront to deal with the situation she was in, while she pushed the other half into the shadows. Unfortunately, by focusing solely on one half, it throws the whole out of balance." She turned back to Cam. "Jessie hasn’t melded the two halves completely yet. When she does, the chaos will disappear and harmony will be restored."

A multitude of questions flooded Cam’s mind as he considered the scenario Kanathia presented to him. The concept itself was fairly easy to grasp, and it made sense on several different levels. Looking at the painting, the woman garbed in black seemed to gaze directly at him, while the one in cream had her back to him, looking away; an eerily accurate depiction of the situation he found himself in with Jessie since her return. Turning back to Kanathia, Cam turned his hands palms up in a questioning gesture. "So how do I get those two halves put back together again?"




What she thought was going to be an easy task, wasn’t. A cursory examination of the area showed nothing besides leaves, twigs and ivy. None of the rocks were curved, and there wasn’t anything that appeared to be able to hold a bit of water for her to put the stem of the flower in. Dropping down to her hands and knees, she began looking through the underbrush, hoping to find something she could fashion into what she needed.

"What are you searching for, little one?"

Jessie jumped slightly, not having heard anyone approach. The woman smiling down at her didn’t feel threatening, however, so Jessie made a conscious effort to relax. "My heart, since it just jumped out of my chest." Seeing the puzzled look, she grinned. "Sorry…it’s an expression where I come from. You startled me."

"My apologies. I thought you had lost something, you were so intent in your search."

The woman’s voice was perhaps the most melodious one Jessie had ever heard. Her dress was similar to the other women’s, and her honey gold hair was braided and secured at the base of her neck. Her eyes, however, were the most interesting mixture of blue and green she had ever seen. Jessie was puzzled; even though the woman looked youthful, there was a serenity, a maturity about her that belied her appearance. "Actually, I’m searching for something to hold a little water." Jessie gently removed the blossom from her braid. "I want to offer this flower for the blessing of unions ceremony, but I’m afraid it’ll wilt before I get back."

The woman’s eyebrows rose slightly. "That’s a blossom from Kia Kaha."

Jessie’s stomach dropped. "Did I do something wrong?"

"Oh, no child, you didn’t. It’s just the blossoms are so high up they’re generally unobtainable. You took a great risk in procuring one."

Jessie frowned as she regarded the bloom lying on her palm. "Amity said the offering should be one from the heart. When I saw the tree and the flowers, it just felt…right."

"As it should," she replied cryptically. Reaching into the folds of her gown, she pulled out what appeared to be a clamshell, the mother-of-pearl lining the underside reflecting in the sunlight. "Perhaps this will work to hold some water."

Jessie took the proffered mollusk, setting the blossom within the concavity. "Thank you," she said, before extending her hand to the woman. "My name is Jessie."

The woman smiled as she took Jessie’s hand in her warm grasp. "It’s nice to meet you, Jessie. I’m Zarya."

Jessie turned and knelt at the stream’s edge, filling the shell with water and assuring the stem was well submerged. "This should keep the flower fresh until I get back to the…" Jessie’s words faded as she looked back up. "Zarya?" Standing, she looked all around her. Other than a slight breeze ruffling her hair, nothing else moved—she was alone. Just as she was about to call out again, she noticed how low the sun was riding in the sky. Realizing if she waited any longer, she might be caught in the woods after dusk, she grabbed her long-sleeved shirt and quickly slipped it back on. Cradling the shell full of water carefully in her hands, the blossom resting in the vessel, Jessie began following the stream back out of the woods.




Twilight had fallen. Cam eyed the sky with a bit of apprehension as he watched the three moons rise above the horizon, his thoughts turning to the dream he had of Jessie, garbed in black, her wings matching those of the raven standing on her knee as three moons shone in the night sky. He rubbed the tense muscles along the back of his neck while trying to take comfort in the fact Lya promised no harm would befall them here. At least here in the temple it was calm, quiet…a big difference compared to the commotion Jessie caused when she arrived with her offering. The growing murmurs among the women of "Kia Kaha" had him mentally calculating the distance to the gate, almost certain Jessie had managed to stumble upon something that was off limits. Kanathia managed to quiet the rising chatter, and they all listened as Jessie recounted her trek into the woods, what she had to do to obtain the blossom she was cradling in her hands, as well as her conversation with the woman who gave her the shell to carry the water in. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as Kanathia explained that Kia Kaha was the oldest and largest tree on the planet, felt to be enchanted by the goddesses. The name itself meant ‘forever strong’. On top of all that, Zarya was the name of the goddess of the forest, a water priestess and protector of warriors. The last physical encounter with her was eons in the past…she was legend personified. All took it as a sign that the goddesses were definitely pleased with Jessie’s efforts. Kanathia personally took her into the public temple and stood as witness as Jessie placed the shell and flower on the small altar. It was then she proclaimed that Jessie had earned Hera’s blessing, which was how they ended up in the private temple away from the others.

The large temple was an open-air building with four walls enclosing the area, but the roof was open sky. An abundance of greenery surrounded them; in fact, it was as if the walls had been erected in a garden. A crystal clear pool, the water sparkling from the moonlight, lay in the center, its long rectangular length spanning about 40 feet. The interior of it appeared to be a white limestone, with steps at either end. At the moment, the temple was empty save for Cam, Jessie and Kanathia. Cam was standing at the far end of the pool, holding a long white robe that the priestess had given him. According to her instructions, it was here he was to wait for Jessie to climb from the water, and he would clothe her with the garment. The private ceremony was symbolic—a gesture of leaving the past behind, washing away the old and emerging anew, ready to embark upon their life together. Kanathia walked to the entrance of the pool and lit a small fire pot at the left corner. The ceremony sounded simplistic enough, but when Jessie entered the temple and approached the pool, Cam’s chest tightened with anxiety. She was wearing a long black robe, as black as a raven’s wing. With the moonlight from the three moons overhead, it was as if his dream was taking shape in front of his eyes.

Kanathia talked quietly with Jessie for a moment, before moving down to the halfway point at the side of the pool. Cam’s heart was beating so loudly he could barely make out the short prayer the priestess gave blessing his union with Jessie. Kanathia invoked the spirit of Hera, instructing Jessie to release all that encumbered her and to allow the waters to purify her spirit. He watched transfixed as Jessie slipped out of the robe and dropped it into the fire, the garment slowly consumed by the flames. She slowly descended the steps before pushing off, her body submerged in the sparkling water, long, effortless strokes carrying her towards the end of the pool.

Cam blinked several times, not sure if the shadows were playing tricks with his vision. As Jessie swam, the water behind her appeared to darken. By the time she neared the end of the pool, the water had turned a jet black at the beginning, fading to a dull gray at the middle, and was completely clear from that point on. As Jessie reached the steps, she brought her feet beneath her, slowly rising from the pool, the water sluicing down her body.

Cam stepped up to her, his breath taken away by the genuine smile she gave him. He hadn’t seen her smile like that since… It was at that moment that a hideous shriek broke the silence in the temple. Both Cam and Jessie turned in the direction it had come from…the pool itself. The shadows Cam had seen in the water coalesced at the far end of the pool, being drawn together by some unseen force. The darkness writhed, causing distinct ripples on the surface of the water. The smoky gray at midpool had disappeared, and whatever was in the water was drawn together, concentrated into a jet black mass. As it was compressed smaller and smaller, the shriek grew higher in pitch, until the exact moment when the darkness was obliterated completely, and silence once again enveloped the temple.

Cam’s hands were shaking as he brought the robe around Jessie, covering her, all the while watching the water in the pool. "What the hell was that?" he whispered.

Jessie blinked slowly, staring at the now-pristine water. Shaking her head slightly, as if shaking off the vestiges of sleep, she looked at Cam. "Hey."

Once again he was taken aback by Jessie’s expression. It was like a veil had been removed, and she was completely, one hundred percent, Jessie. "Hey yourself," he said as he reached out and caressed her cheek, wondered if he imagined the slight tingling of his skin where it met the droplets of water, the sensation was so fleeting. He jumped slightly when the priestess spoke, not having seen her approach.

"Your union has received the blessings of Herboren, given in exchange for your offering today. May many joyful years lay ahead for you both."

Jessie bowed her head to the priestess. "Thank you, Kanathia."

Cam did the same, still slightly confused by what he had witnessed, but it all was quickly being replaced by an overwhelming sense of tranquility. Not one to question good wishes, he thanked the priestess before leading Jessie out of the temple and away from whatever had been writhing in the pool.

<<Previous  | Story Intro | Return to Stories | Next >>

SciFi Topsites