And this huge castle, standing here sublime,
I love to see the look with which it braves--
Cased in the unfeeling armour of old time--
The lightning, the fierce wind, and trampling waves.
"Up! Up and out!"
The loud banging on the wooden walls of the wagon roused Jack from a semi-doze. He bit back a groan at the ache in his head. His mouth felt as though he'd eaten a pair of sweaty socks left forgotten in his locker for far too long at the SGC, while his body ached from being jolted for God only knew how long over roads that he suspected were little more than rutted paths. He tried rolling his shoulders back to relieve some of the stress from abused musclesâ€”their captors had bound their hands behind their backs with iron manacles while also hooking them together with ankle irons.
The door of the wagon opened and Jack squinted at the flood of light. Granted it wasn't sunshine, but after the darkness of the wagon, it seemed extraordinarily bright.
"Daniel," Jack whispered. He nudged him with an elbow.
Daniel opened his eyes and then shut them tightly.
"Out. Out with both of you."
"Daniel," Jack said again as they were roughly manhandled from the wagon.
They fell to their knees on the stony ground, Daniel breathing hard beside Jack. Jack looked at his friend. Daniel had his mouth open and, Jack suspected from the way he was breathing, was trying very hard to keep from throwing up. He was sure Daniel had suffered a concussion during their capture and with the drugs Jack believed they'd been fed, confusion was a given. Hell, he was confused himself.
Jack tried to piece together what he could remember, but there was a gaping hole of time between the banquet held at Grania Keep in SG-1's honor and now. There was no sign of Carter and Teal'c, had been no sign of them on any of his awakenings. He had no reason to believe they'd been taken off-world, but anything was possible at this point. He only hoped Daniel was right and the Goa'uld hadn't had a presence on this world for the centuries Daniel predicted. Jack kept his head bent and willed Daniel to do the same. The last thing either of them needed was to be hit again.
"Master Enak," the man who'd pulled them out of the wagon said. The tone was one of reverence. Jack watched as a pair of black boots came into view. Leather with a knotted gold chain around each ankle.
"Rahni Keep thanks you for your delivery," the newcomer replied. The man moved, coming closer to Jack and Daniel.
"Look at me," the same voice commanded.
Jack lifted his head and noticed Daniel doing the same. He didn't speakâ€”there were times to hold one's tongue after all.
The man was tall, dark-haired and wore a green cloak covered with elaborately embroidered vines. His blue eyes were devoid of emotion and Jack had to suppress a shiver. It was the drugs they'd been given, he told himself, that was all.
"What are their names?" the man asked, as if they had no voice of their own.
"This one is Jack O'Neill." The introduction was accompanied by a push that forced Jack's head down to the ground. "And this one, Daniel Jackson."
Jack raised his head in time to see their captor hit Daniel. Uh oh- that was so not a good idea. The small bit of control Daniel had managed over his stomach undone by that action and Daniel threw up, quite spectacularly, all over the black boots.
To Jack's surprise, the man didn't step away, didn't say a word to Daniel.
"We paid for delivery in good condition. Obviously there has been damage. I believe a reduction in payment will be necessary." The man pulled out a velvet pouch and poured a few gold coins into his hand.
"But Master Enak, the delivery has been as arranged. The..." Their kidnapper's voice trailed off and he hunched his shoulders as he backed away.
"Rahni Keep has kept our bargain," Master Enak said. He tossed the coins towards the wagon, not seeming to care that they landed on the ground. The men scrambled for the coins and then into the wagon, leaving Jack, Daniel, and Enak apparently alone.
"Aithien, Balith," Enak called. As Jack watched, two men came out from behind large boulders. They too had vines embroidered over their tunics although their clothing was not of as fine a quality. Both had bows slung over their shoulders and Jack knew arrows had been aimed at the other men the whole time the bargain was being sealed.
"Who the hell are you?" Jack spat out. Daniel leaned against him, his body trembling with cold. "What the hell do you want with us?"
Enak laughed and then knelt down in front of them. The eyes that had been so expressionless when dealing with their captors were intense now. "You, Jack O'Neill, Daniel Jackson, belong to Rahni Keep now. You are our deliverance."
* * * *
Sam was not a diplomatâ€”it had never been clearer to her than now. When they got Daniel back, she was never going to take him for granted again. She could feel the headache that had been building for hours double in strength. She looked across the table at Teal'c, who looked as sublimely confident as ever, and swallowed hard before turning back to Gelar.
"We need to arrange for a transport to retrieve Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson." She didn't know how to make the request any clearer.
Gelar, the clan leader, shook his head. "I am sorry, Major Carter, but we can not allow you to travel to the Northern Keeps."
"You admitted that the slavers were from the North," Sam said, her tone betraying none of her frustration. "Teal'c and I need to retrieve our teammates."
"Major Carter, I'm afraid you don't understand the import of what has happened." The speaker was Haethiel, the young man who'd welcomed them to Grania a week ago. "The Northern Keeps are inhabited by barbarians. To venture there, when we don't know where the slavers have taken your colonel and doctor, would be to walk into a death trap. The North is a land of mountains and wilderness and only the foolish would enter with winter approaching, especially when it is unknown to whom your friends may have been sold."
"May have been sold?" Teal'c asked. "Then it is possible they have not been sold."
Haethiel looked at the scarred wooden table and Sam felt her heart sink a little more. "The slavers have been known to kill those they capture if they believe they have no useful skills."
"We will continue to gather intelligence from the North," Gelar assured them, "and will contact you when we learn of their whereabouts."
Sam looked at Teal'c. He nodded, imperceptible to anyone who didn't know him. She took a deep breath and stood. "Thank you, Gelar, Haethiel. Teal'c and I will retire to our quarters for now. We will need to contact our leader to update him on the investigation."
She and Teal'c didn't speak to one another until they arrived at the large suite SG-1 had been given on their arrival in Grania Keep. Teal'c put a finger to his lips and motioned for Sam to follow him to the balcony. He opened the doors and they stepped outside.
Sam looked out over the ripe fields before she spoke. "Someone here was behind the colonel and Daniel's kidnapping."
"I believe so." Teal'c nodded. "I also believe that person knows exactly to whom O'Neill and DanielJackson have been sold."
"And if we know why, we'll be able to figure out who," Sam said. She placed her hands on the balcony rail and stared northward as if she could see her teammates across the miles. She would get them homeâ€”somehow she would get them home.
* * * *
"Your deliverance?" Daniel spoke, hating how weak his voice sounded. He resisted the urge to spit the foul taste of vomit from his mouth. His head pounded and he wanted nothing more to curl up in a ball and go to sleep.
"Rahni Keep needs men such as yourself, Daniel Jackson," Enak said. "We are at war."
"I'm not a soldier," Daniel replied. He kept his voice low, deferent.
"I know. But there are many kinds of war." Enak turned to the other two men and made a sharp hand gesture.
Daniel was pulled roughly to his feet along with Jack. He stood still, taking his cue from Jack. There was no way he and Jack could overcome their new captorsâ€”not in their present condition. Enak pulled two silver wristbands from his cloak. They, too, were inscribed with intricately curled vines.
The manacles binding his arms were undone, but Aithien and Balith held him secure. His right arm forced forward and Enak fitted the band to his wrist. It was cool against the abraded skin. Daniel watched as the same thing was done to Jack.
The ankle irons were also undone. Aithien and Balith stepped away and Daniel sensed Jack tense beside him. He kept his head down, trying to appear meek. Jack took a half step forward and suddenly jerked as if he'd walked into a force field. He fell to his knees, gasping and shaking.
"What did you do to him?" Daniel demanded as he thumped to his knees beside Jack.
"I did nothing. Jack O'Neill decided for himself." Enak crossed his arms over his chest and looked down at them impassively.
Jack shook his head and leaned against Daniel for a brief moment. "Okay. I'm okay."
Daniel allowed Jack the lie as he felt the shudders continue to race through his friend's frame.
"Aithien. Balith." Daniel half-expected Enak's eyes to glow and his voice to change from the haughtiness in the tone.
The taller of the two men prodded Daniel in the back and he stumbled forward. Jack fell to his knees again as the other guard pushed him.
"Come on," Daniel said, a bit breathlessly as he helped Jack to his feet.
Jack grunted and began walking, his body still wracked by periodic shivers.
The landscape ahead was bleak. Daniel had no idea how they were going to get out of their predicament.
* * * *
Jack chewed a piece of the dried meat Balith handed him and kept his head lowered. The ankle irons they'd removed earlier had been put back on when they stopped for the night. Beside him, Daniel chewed on his piece of meat with single-minded determination.
The air was chill and damp, and even the campfire Aithien had built did little to warm Jack. He wasn't sure if it was a lingering effect of the activation of the silver bracelet or lack of movement. He lifted his head and looked at the wagon that had been hidden a short distance from the trading point. Balith and Aithien were near it, tending to the horses.
Enak sat across from them, a mug held between cupped hands. He glanced in the direction of the wagon and then back to them.
"This is necessary," he said in a low voice.
"Kidnapping, what appears to be slavery, and inflicting pain on your captives is necessary?" Daniel bit the words out before Jack could open his mouth.
"You do not understand."
"Then make us understand. Tell us why the hell we're here," Jack demanded. He could feel his own anger build.
"I can not," Enak said. "I can not tell you."
"How can we help you if we don't know?" Daniel's voice turned soft. "You said we are your deliverance. What does that mean?"
"You are Rahni Keep's deliverance. Only the Keep's." The firelight made Enak's face look lined and old. "Not mine." He gave a small bitter laugh.
"You couldn't ask us? Send an invitation?" Jack leaned forward slightly. "This isn't looking good for your side."
"It was necessary," Enak repeated. He dumped the remains of his tea onto the fire and stood.
"Look, we're willing to help." Daniel outstretched one hand toward Enak, starting to get to his feet. "But you need to tell..." the rest of what he wanted to say was cut off as he doubled over in pain.
Jack held on to Daniel as Enak walked into the shadows.
* * * *
He didn't think there was anything left in his stomach but bile rose in his throat, choking him. Jack turned him on his side and held the small bucket Aithien had handed them at the beginning of this day's journey.
"Better?" Jack asked when Daniel spit up a mixture of phlegm and bile.
Daniel said nothing, did nothing, other than continue to shiver while pain raced through his muscles and body. Talking would take too much effort.
Daniel stared at Jack's cloth-covered knee, not bothering to acknowledge Enak's presence.
"It will help," Enak said in a gentler tone. "Trust me."
Trust? The man was speaking of trust? Daniel would have laughed except for the fear of the pain and misery it would probably cause. He closed his eyes.
"Daniel," Jack whispered, a low note of warning in his voice.
He felt something cool at his lips and he opened his mouth a little. It tasted like a sweet spiced wine, a burst of intense flavor on his tongue. He tried to lift a hand to hold the flask but his body started to feel as if he was floating on ocean waves. He could hear Jack and Enak talking but the words didn't make any sense. He wasn't even sure that he wanted to know.
* * * *
"Anger will not get us our desire," Teal'c pointed out in a low voice.
Sam stopped her pacing and looked at him. So far all her attempts to hire transportation to the North had been met with apologetic no's or laughter, as though she had lost her mind. Gelar didn't appear to be putting forth much effort on finding her lost teammates and she'd stormed out of the walled area of the Keep after yet another plea for more help. Walking the open-air market was helping to clear her head.
"They can't be dead," Sam said. She stopped before a small stand offering hot drinks and meat pies. She remembered countless missions with her missing teammates where Daniel and the colonel could gather information by observing, by listening. Maybe it was time to she took a leaf from their book. She pulled some of the coins used in Grania from a pocket and placed them on the counter.
The proprietor slid over two meat pies and two mugs of the sweetened thick tea the people favored and then turned back to his other customers.
Sam pushed the pies to Teal'c and took one of the mugs in her hands, letting the warmth seep into her fingers.
"Cheaters, the lot of them. Break a deal every time." The loud voice came from their right and Sam looked up at Teal'c. He put out a hand to keep her from turning and took another bite of his pie. She took the hint and sipped her tea.
"That's what you get for trying to deal with Rahni Keep." There was a murmur of assent at that comment.
"Damaged property, my ass," the first man said. "I just delivered what I was given. I weren't the one who roughed them up."
"Let it go. You should be praising the ancestors you got out with your life," the other man said. "Word is, there's others after your package."
The voices faded away. Sam watched as Teal'c finished his pie and then drank the tea in two long gulps.
"Shall we, Major Carter?" he suggested as though asking her to go on a stroll.
Sam smiledâ€”one that Daniel would not have recognized. "I think yes."
* * * *
Jack pressed his elbow to Daniel's side as the wagon continued its bumpy journey to Rahni Keep. Daniel glanced at him and then at Enak who sat across from them, his chin to his chest and deep breathing.
"Wristband?" Jack mouthed.
Daniel moved his arm, bringing his wrist closer to his face. He fingered the intricate design. "Just vines," he whispered.
Jack motioned for him to continue studying the band and turned his attention to his own wristband. Despite knowing the band was fastened on, he had yet to find the release. He became aware of someone watching him and looked across to see Enak staring at them.
"It can not be removed by force," the man said with an imperturbable calm that was beginning to become very irritating.
"The design," Daniel said, his voice echoing the calm. "It's the same as on your cloak."
"Rahni Keep," Enak said as if that were answer enough.
Jack twisted the wristbandâ€”it slid easily on his skin. Maybe dislocating his thumb? He tugged at the band slightly, testing.
"If I were to set you free here," Enak said and gestured to the bleak landscape around themâ€”rocks, patches of brown grass, and sky, " you would not survive. Escape is futile."
"We don't appreciate being kidnapped," Daniel said.
"That's the understatement of the year," Jack murmured.
"It was necessary. You will understand. When Rahni Keep has no need of you, I will see you are returned to your people." Enak pulled his cloak closer around him. He looked at them intently. "And I do keep my promises."
"You'll forgive us if we aren't inclined to believe you." Jack crossed his arms over his chest and stared at him.
Enak nodded. "Whether you do or not is immaterial. I know the truth of my words."
* * * *
Daniel looked as if he was about to throw up and Jack winced in sympathy.
"Maybe if you close your eyes, try to sleep," Jack suggested.
They'd been traveling for four days, not counting the day of their kidnapping and hand-over to Enak. Daniel had been plagued by headaches and Jack had nothing to give him.
"Is he ill again?" Enak asked from his side of the wagon.
"You planning on taking us back to Grania if I say yes?" Jack shot back.
Enak leaned forward and touched Daniel's wrist. "We will stop for the day. You can rest."
He hated Enak for the offer even though he knew it would help Daniel. But if they were to have any chance of escape, they both needed to be in as good a condition possible. Stopping this early in the day also meant any rescue party on their six would gain time.
Enak moved to the front of the wagon and soon they pulled to a stop.
"Stay in the wagon," Enak ordered as he came back to them. He pointed to some of the blankets they'd used on previous nights. "Make a pallet for him and let him rest."
Jack waited until Enak stepped off the back. He arranged the blankets on the floor and helped Daniel lay down.
"Here." Jack filled a dipper with water and held it to Daniel's mouth. Daniel took a sip and then turned his head away.
"C'mon. A little more. You'll get dehydrated."
"More if I throw it all up," Daniel said without opening his eyes. He turned to his side and bunched up one of the blankets over his stomach. He was asleep within minutes.
Jack sat back and waited, fiddling with the wristband. He rested one hand on Daniel's arm, keeping guard over him the only way he could.
Despite his best intentions he dozed, waking when he felt the wagon bounce as someone else got in. Jack opened his eyes to see Balith kneeling at Daniel's feet.
"Enak sent me with this." Balith held out a small wooden bowl filled with some sort of liquid.
Jack took it from Balith's scarred, work-roughened hands. The younger man smiled shyly. "It's westerberry tea."
"Tea," Jack said slowly. He held the bowl up to his nose and sniffed at it. It smelled like peppermint with an underlying spice.
"It will soothe his stomach," Balith explained. Jack studied himâ€”noting the earnest expression, apparently wanting to please, to help.
"The elixir Enak used earlier? Westerberry syrup," Balith continued.
"Where's Enak?" Jack asked after taking a cautious sip from the bowl. He could let Daniel sleep a little bit longer while he waited to see if there were any ill effects from ingesting the tea.
Balith grinned. "Like a boy he is out on the flats. He's gathering more berries for Daniel." He backed out of the wagon. "Have Daniel drink. We can make more tea."
Jack put the bowl on the floor and settled back to wait. He didn't understand these people at all. They were prisoners, bound to Enak by the wristbands, but treated with mostly kindness. Balith had made sure they had blankets each night and asked after their comfort. Aithien was mostly silent and kept to the horses, but he had never treated them with anything less than what could have been construed as respect. Their deliverers? What the hell was that supposed to mean? They didn't know anything about the Northern Keeps except a few oblique references made in Grania Keep about the barbarians of the North.
"Jack?" Daniel rolled onto his back, pulling Jack out of his circular thoughts.
"Hey." Jack smiled and helped him sit up.
Daniel kept his head down and breathed through his mouth.
"How's the...you know?" Jack asked when it appeared Daniel still wasn't feeling well.
Daniel shook his head and then scrambled towards the end of the wagon. Unfortunately, Daniel had nothing left in him to throw up and only succeeded in dry heaving.
Jack held onto him and helped him back to the pallet. He offered Daniel the bowl. "Westerberry tea," he said. "Made by Enak himself."
Daniel looked at him over the rim of the bowl. It was a sign of Daniel's misery when he drank it without question.
The rest of the day and most of the night passed in the same way. Balith kept the bowl refilled, Daniel would wake and drink more of the tea and then fall back asleep. Towards dawn, Enak came back into the wagon.
"How is he?"
"Better, I think. He's stopped throwing up. Said his head doesn't hurt as much either," Jack replied softly, not wanting Daniel to wake any sooner than necessary.
Enak nodded and then handed Jack a small pouch. "Dried westerberries. He can chew on them as we travel."
"Let us go," Jack asked and watched the brief look of what could have been regret cross Enak's face.
"I cannot. Not for the sake of Rahni Keep." He left and a few minutes later the wagon began to move again.
* * * *
"You will tell us where you took our companions or you will regret it." Teal'c held the loud-mouthed man from the market against the wall.
"I didn't take anyone. You're mistaken."
Sam watched impassively from her place by Teal'c's side. "It's no use, Teal'c. He isn't going to talk. Take care of him." She turned away as Teal'c lifted the man slightly.
"No. No. I'll tell you!" The man's voice rose nearly an octave.
"You will tell us the truth," Teal'c said and lowered the man to the ground.
Sam stood with her arms crossed over her chest and waited. The man wrung his hands together and then began to speak rapidly.
"It was a delivery, nothing more. Two men brought to my business from Grania Keep. Deliver them to the Low Border where Rahni Keep will pay for my services. That was all."
Sam kept her voice neutral although she could feel anger building. From Grania Keep? Someone at the Keep was responsible for Daniel and the colonel's disappearanceâ€”not the work of unknown slavers then. This was something planned. "Who brought them from the Keep?"
"I don't know," the man said. He was lying, Sam knew it. She could see it in the way his dark eyes shifted, could hear it in his voice.
"I believe you do," Teal'c said and advanced another step towards him.
"Haethiel. It was Master Haethiel," the man blurted out. "And he still owes me the money Rahni Keep didn't deliver."
"Let him go," Sam ordered. The man stood against the wall, tugging at his tunic and eyeing them both warily. "You will not speak of this to anyone," she ordered.
The man gave a shaky nod. "My word."
"Teal'c," Sam said and turned to leave. She had an appointment with Haethiel, one he didn't know about yet.
* * * *
Haethiel looked up from a paper-strewn desk as Sam and Teal'c entered his office.
"We know you are behind Colonel O'Neill's and Doctor Jackson's disappearance," Sam announced. Colonel O'Neill might often have accused her of being long-winded but, when necessary, Sam knew she could cut right to the heart of the matter.
She felt a moment of satisfaction when she saw the fear come to his face. He got up from his desk and headed towards the door. Teal'c grabbed him by his collar.
"Please," Haethiel whispered. "The door."
"I'll do it," Sam said and closed the door while Teal'c kept tight hold of Haethiel. She turned back to see Haethiel once again sitting at his desk. This time, however, Teal'c stood behind him on alert. Haethiel's face was pale and he was swallowing so hard he reminded Sam of a fish out of water.
"Tell us," she ordered.
Haethiel spread his hands wide and Sam didn't miss his glance at the now closed door. "I am from a Northern clan," he said, his voice pitched low. "Some ties always remain."
"The colonel and Daniel have no ties to your clan, to this world."
Haethiel didn't look at her. "They do not. That is why they are valuable to me, to Rahni Keep."
"They don't belong to you. They aren't pawns for whatever twisted game you are playing." Sam put her hands on the desk and leaned forward. "I don't believe you wish Gelar to know of this, so I would suggest you tell us why, what, and how you plan on getting them back here."
Haethiel's gaze shifted to the side and he licked his lips a number of times before he spoke. "I can not return to the North, to my homeland. I am outcast, but my heart lies there. Tidrahni rules Rahni Keep unjustly. But blood can not kill blood to rule. The hands that rule must be kept clean."
"You kidnapped the colonel and Daniel to kill for you?" Sam didn't bother to keep the distaste from her voice.
"Not kill. Not necessarily. To give the rule to the right heir." Haethiel began to stand and Teal'c placed his hand on his shoulders keeping him in place.
"You will help us, Haethiel of Grania Keep. MajorCarter and I will be taken to O'Neill and DanielJackson. I suggest you cooperate with us or we shall inform Clan Leader Gelar of your machinations."
There was silence in the room. Sam looked at Teal'c over Haethiel's bowed head. His mouth was set in a grim line and for a moment she was reminded not of Teal'c, her teammate, her friend, but of Teal'c, First Prime of Apophis. She suppressed a shudder at the thought.
"Arradric," Haethiel said in a low voice.
"Arradric," Sam repeated.
"He travels freely from Grania to the Northern Keeps. A Healer, an apothecary. He would take you there if so ordered." Haethiel looked at her hopefully.
Sam glanced at Teal'c who gave the slightest of nods. "You will do so. It will be necessary for us to contact our world before we go on the journey. They'll be warned that if we don't return, you will be responsible for our disappearance."
Haethiel nodded and touched a button on his desk. "I understand. I am prepared to take the risk. Arradric will be able to leave in a dayâ€™s time if that is sufficient time for you to prepare for your journey."
Sam nodded her assent. She only hoped they wouldn't be too late.
* * * *
Daniel looked up at the massive gray stone keep. Forbidding was the first word that came to mind.
"Jack?" he murmured without taking his eyes from the stone walls. He wondered if Enak had made them get out of the wagon to walk so that they got the full effect of the Keep's size.
"Assess the situation," Jack murmured back. "Stay alive. That's the plan."
Daniel nodded, grateful that for the first time since their capture, that the motion didn't bring an accompanying nausea. Assess, stay alive. He could manage that.
A large iron gate opened and they entered Rahni Keep. They came into a large central square. Thick gray walls of stone towered towards a sky that was the same gray color. Small patches of grass grew in the area, but most of the square was muddy, trampled ground. Daniel could hear the clang of a hammer hitting an anvil and smell the acrid scent of iron being heated. A small group of men were chopping wood in another area, while some women stood around what Daniel believed was a cauldron where they were boiling cloth. As their small group made its way across the mud, the residents of Rahni Keep stopped their work. A few children dressed in rough cloth ventured closer, eyes huge in their thin faces.
"Go ahead and tell Kearaen to inform Lady Tidrahni that Enak has returned," Enak said to one of the children.
The child took off at a run, bare feet flying over the cold ground.
"What you bring Rahni Keep this time, Master Enak?" a male voice called out as they passed some men working on pieces of leather.
"Looks like some new property, eh, Semus?" another older man answered, spitting on the ground. "Think it's likely they'll be lasting long?"
"Back to work with the lot of you," Enak said, surprising Daniel with the warmth and fondness in his voice. A surreptitious glance at the man who'd become their captor showed a different side. The pinched look around Enak's eyes, the frown Daniel had assumed to be perpetual, seemed to have melted away as soon as they'd entered the keep. Daniel revised the estimate he'd made earlier of Enak's age seeing him now in his home.
"Enak!" A man came to meet them as they walked through a set of plain wooden doors. The hallway was damp and cold.
"Kearaen." The warmth Daniel had detected in Enak's voice morphed into full-blown affection as he pulled the brown-haired man into a rough hug. "How has it been?" The sentence was said in a quiet tone that Daniel suspected he and Jack hadn't been meant to hear. A quick glance at Jack confirmed that he thought the same.
"It is good you are home, my friend," Kearaen replied before turning his glance to Jack and Daniel. "Lady Tidrahni will be pleased." The smile he gave didn't quite reach his eyes. "Come with me." Kearaen gestured for all of them to follow him down the long hallway.
They passed a few people in the hall that showed the same silent curiosity as the denizens of the outer courtyard. The tapestries hanging from the walls showed signs of wear and Daniel noticed that only every other sconce had a candle burning in it. Maybe Rahni Keep wasn't as prosperous as he'd assumed on their journey here.
Jack and Daniel were led into a larger room with a fireplace big enough to hold the grown men standing at the far end. Nearby were two large chairs on a small dais. Pennants hung from the ceilingâ€”and they, like the tapestries, were tattered.
"My lady Tidrahni," Kearaen said as they approached. He bowed low and Enak motioned for Jack and Daniel to do the same. Daniel sensed rather than saw Jack's hesitation.
"Better than down on our knees," Daniel murmured so low only Jack could hear.
"Master Enak. You have returned to us." The woman rose from her chair and then stepped down from the dais. She was as tall as Sam, her red hair bound in a single long braid. Her eyes were the same gray as the stones and sky of this Northern Keep. She walked around Daniel and then did the same to Jack before stepping back to stand by Kearaen's side. She smiled but no emotion touched her eyes.
"What are your names?" she asked.
"Daniel, my Lady Tidrahni."
"And your occupations?" Tidrahni asked.
Enak spoke before Daniel could open his mouth. "Jack is a soldier, my lady; a leader among his people. And Daniel is able to speak many languages. He is a learned scholar, a wise man."
"We didn't tell you that." Jack broke his silence and stared at Enak.
"I believe they will prove a valuable addition to Rahni Keep," Enak continued as if Jack hadn't spoken.
"A very nice gift, indeed, Enak," she said. She placed a hand on Daniel's chest, then moved her fingers to Daniel's lips. "Perhaps private lessons for me?" Daniel kept his eyes fixed on the fireplace and hoped the shiver that went up his back was unnoticed. Hathor was dead he reminded himself. Dead by Jack's hand.
"My Lady," Enak said. Tidrahni gave a small laugh and stepped away trailing her fingers along Daniel's arm.
"And you have brought me another soldier." Tidrahni turned her attention to Jack who stood at attention, his gaze fixed somewhere across the room. Daniel wished for his control. "Enak?"
"To assist Feraen, my lady," Enak said. "I believe it would be prudent for the coming winter."
"Yes," Tidrahni acknowledged. "You, Jack, will assist Feraen, of my guards. Yes. An assistant to Feraen, a wise choice, Enak."
"I believe Kearaen would welcome Daniel's help with the children and the library," Enak continued.
Tidrahni nodded. "Would you welcome the help, Kearaen?"
"I would, my lady."
"Then it's settled. Enak, you will take Jack to Feraen with my orders, and Kearaen, Daniel is yours. I will expect to see them at evening meal."
"We understand, my lady," Kearaen said.
Daniel looked at Jack, his stomach twisting when he realized they would be separated in the keep.
Assess and stay alive. Daniel repeated the order to himself. He and Jack would get free, they would go home. Daniel refused to believe anything else.
* * * *
Jack wasn't sure whether Feraen or Enak wanted him dead. He stood between the two men as they discussed his place in the Keep.
"What would I need an assistant for? When have I failed my lord Cydrahni, or even you, Master Enak? Not mentioning that he doesn't look too young anymore."
Jack stood up straighter at that. "Isn't that good?"
Feraen looked at him and raised a hand when Enak began to speak. "Good?"
"I'm old and I'm alive. And so therefore I must be doing something right."
He heard a small humph from Enak and then Feraen broke into a laugh, a scary sight considering the livid scar that stretched from his right eye, across the bridge of his nose and down his left cheek to his chin. "You'll do, Jack. Now, Master Enak, wouldn't you be having other more important work to tend to? Go. Leave us to our work. I'll be letting you know how this one is getting on."
"As you wish," Enak said and gave a small bow.
"So, a soldier," Feraen said. Jack turned as Feraen walked in a circle around him. "From Grania Keep."
Jack stayed silent. He wasn't ready to let his captors know he was from another world. He wasn't sure if the people in the North even knew there was a Stargate on their planet.
"Who's your clan?" Feraen asked. When Jack didn't respond he shook his head. "Not from Grania Keep then. Not from the south."
Feraen was good, Jack would give him that. "You sure?"
"Any born and bred from a Southern Keep can't keep their clans secret. It's a matter of pride with that lot. And you're not from the Northern Keeps either." Feraen motioned for Jack to follow him. He lit a rush torch and handed it to Jack. "Here."
Jack followed as Feraen led him into a passageway between the outer and inner walls of the keep. It smelled of damp and dirt, the temperature cooler than the air outside.
"So it's one of two things. Either you're clan-lessâ€”and what you've done to be cut off from your clan is something I'd rather not know. Or your clan sold you out because you were more trouble than you were worth."
More trouble than he was worthâ€”well, Jack had heard that assessment before.
* * * *
"Before we meet the children, I think it would be wise to get you into some more appropriate clothing," Kearaen remarked as he walked with Daniel through the quiet halls.
The quiet was unnerving. From the little he'd gathered of Rahni Keep's reputation, he would have expected far more people to inhabit it. Coupled with the general atmosphere of shabbiness, he believed the keep's reputation was more bluster than reality.
They walked up a long staircase. The thick layer of dust in the corners of the stone steps made Daniel sneeze. Kearaen looked at him in concern.
"Are you ill? Do you need assistance?"
Daniel glanced at him in surprise. "I'm a captive," he said, no longer able to keep silent. He pointed to the wristband. "Why would you care?" Jack was going to kill him if Kearaen didn't first. Speaking back to their captors while on a stone staircase probably wasn't a good idea. All it would take would be one push from Kearaen and Daniel would probably be dead of a broken neck within his first few hours at the keep.
Kearaen looked taken aback. "Why would I not care? You are a resident of Rahni Keep and under our protection." He stared at Daniel for a moment.
Daniel felt strangely ashamed of his outburst and gave Kearaen a half smile. There was something more going on here than his surface assessment. "Allergies," he said and pointed towards his nose. Kearaen looked puzzled. "Um, allergies. My immune, no, uh, the dust makes me sneeze," Daniel finished.
Kearaen glanced away from him. Embarrassment? Shame? Daniel wasn't sure, yet. He felt the need to assure Kearaen that it was okay. He didn't want to think what Jack would say to his reaction. "It's fine. No problem. It doesn't make me ill. I will be able to do my duties." Kearaen's smile confirmed he'd said the right thing.
* * * *
He was finally warm. He just hadn't realized how cold he'd been until he put on the clothes Kearaen had given him. Daniel glanced down. He wondered if Jack had been given the same sort of outfit. He now wore a pair of brown leggings made from a rough spun wool that was surprisingly soft and boots that came halfway up his calves. He'd also been given a thigh length tunic woven of the same soft wool but in a blue-green color. He tugged at the collar and then turned to Kearaen.
"Were you captured too?" he asked. He didn't think Kearaen's kindness had been an act. He supposed he would find out in a moment for his bold question.
"I was fostered here," Kearaen said. "My father brought me here when I had eight summers. He was distant clan cousin to the Lady."
"The Lady? Tidrahni?" Daniel was sure disbelief was apparent in his tone.
Kearaen curled his upper lip in disgust. "Not *her*. The Lady-Lord Cydrahni's wife, bless her."
"Will I be meeting her or Lord Cydrahni?" Daniel asked as Kearaen gestured him towards the door.
"She died four winters past. Died giving birth to Dedianâ€”the lord and lady's youngest." Kearaen's voice broke. "It was a dark time for Rahni Keep. Lord Cydrahni died this winter past."
It appeared to still be a dark time for Rahni Keep, Daniel thought, but he kept his opinion to himself.
"Jasa!" Kearaen called out as they came to the next wooden door. "I've brought us some help."
The door opened. The woman who stood by it was shortâ€”shorter than Janet, and Daniel felt a wave of longing for the SGC. She smiled up at him and Kearaen and wrinkles creased her face. She was partially hunched overâ€”age, arthritis, a combination of both, or maybe more and she backed away with a slow shuffling gait.
She peered up at Daniel, her dark eyes bright despite her age. "Master Enak appears to have chosen well. What's your name, young one?"
"Hm. Unusual but it will do." She walked behind him and he tried to remain still.
He kept his hand still when she brushed her fingers over the wristband, bringing the memory of pain he didn't want to relive.
She narrowed her eyes. "Enak used this?" She stepped back and stared up at Daniel.
Daniel didn't know what to do, but he felt compelled to nod under her scrutiny.
She made a tsking sound and then looked to Kearaen. "Lady Tidrahni wants him to work with the children?"
Okay, Daniel was ready to admit he hadn't ever worked with children, but Jasa sounded totally dismissive. He clamped his mouth shut before he said something he would regret.
"It was Enak's suggestion. He said Daniel can speak other tonguesâ€”that he is a scholar." Kearaen glanced at Daniel. "Did Enak speak the truth?"
Daniel hesitated only a second. He needed these people on his side if he and Jack were ever to have a chance to escape the keep. "He did. On my worĂ‰um, where I live, I study ancient civilizations and languages." His heart pounded and his mouth went dry at his near mistake. The people of the south had interactions with those who came through the Gate, but Daniel wasn't sure if the Northern Keeps were aware there was a portal to other worlds on their planet.
Jasa looked at him and then shook her head. "You might want to watch your mouth around Tidrahni," she said. "She would view an off-worlder as a great prize." The affection Daniel heard in her voice when speaking of the children disappeared when Jasa mentioned Tidrahni. He would need to tread softly around herâ€”her actions in the room where she'd received them set off alarm bells.
"The library," Kearaen said. "We have many volumes, Daniel, and you would be able to assist the children and I with some of them. Would that work please you?"
Daniel didn't know what to say, so he gave the only answer he could. "Yes, it would please me greatly."
Kearaen nodded. "I thought it would." He motioned for Daniel to follow. "Jasa will bring the children there."
* * * *
The library was in the same condition as the rest of the Keep that he'd seen. Dust coated many of the volumes and the draperies at the windows were threadbare. Despite the dust, the shelves were full and Daniel thought he could lose himself for hours each day. As he reached for a volume, light caught the silver wristband and he dropped his hand to his side. He couldn't afford to get distracted from his true missionâ€”to find a way out of here, a way for both he and Jack to escape.
"Daniel," Kearaen called and showed Daniel a large desk covered with papers and scrolls, a mess that reminded Daniel of his own desk back in the SGC. He smiled in spite of himself as he thought of Jack's teasing about the Daniel Jackson method of organization. "This is yours," Kearaen continued. "It has not been touched since Lord Cydrahni was...since he died. The library was his joy. Our history, he used to say."
"You miss him," Daniel said softly as he touched one of the scrolls on the desk.
"We all do except for..." Kearaen cleared his throat. "The children are coming,"and he walked towards the doors.
So...secrets. It seemed Enak wasn't the only one who chose not to share their purpose.
Jasa came into the library surrounded by a group of children.
"Hello," Daniel said when they stood and stared at him without speaking.
"Who is *he*?" a red-haired girl that could have been a miniature version of Tidrahni asked.
"My name is Daniel." He moved a little closer to them.
"I am Gabryn," a tall dark-haired boy of perhaps thirteen said. Daniel followed his glance towards the silver wristband. He fought the urge to tuck his hand behind his back. "You must have given trouble to your clan. It will not be tolerated here."
"Wonder if Enak had to use it?" the red-haired girl said. She sounded rather happy at the thought.
"Aridette," Jasa said in a sharp tone.
"I don't like him," the girl continued.
"You don't know me," Daniel felt compelled to point outâ€”and how pathetic was it that he was arguing with a child? Aridette didn't seem to mind though as she simply turned her back on him and wandered away.
"I'm Becyn and this is Kycian," another girl said. She pointed to the boy at her side. "We're twins."
Daniel smiled at them. They giggled again and ran to Kearaen. He hugged them both and whispered something that caused them to giggle even more.
"You must be Dedian," Daniel said softly and crouched down to get at eye-level with the youngest of the children. The little boy smiled around the thumb he was sucking and hid his face in Gabryn's leg.
"He doesn't talk," Gabryn answered. "At least not much."
"Sometimes people don't have much to say," Daniel replied. Jack might have laughed at that comment coming from Daniel. "It's nice to meet you, Dedian." He straightened. "To meet all of you."
"I still don't like him," Aridette announced to the room at large. "I don't want him to be here."
The feeling was mutual, Daniel thought, although he held his tongue.
* * * *
Jack entered the hall he and Daniel had been taken to earlier in the day dressed as a guard of Rahni Keep. Like the other guards, he wore leggings of gray wool and a brown and green tunic. Unlike the others, he also sported the silver wristband. He searched the room for Daniel and spied his friend sitting at a table with Kearaen, an old woman, and five children. Master Enak sat at a table at the front of the room with Tidrahni. He didn't trust Tidrahni, not after her little performance in front of Daniel. None of the other guards had said much about herâ€”they were a taciturn bunch, but Jack could read body language as well or better than most. And their body language screamed disapproval and distrust.
"Eat hearty, Jack," Balith said as a huge platter of meat was passed down the table. The younger man took a few hunks of the roast off the plate with his fingers and placed them on some coarse-looking bread.
People at most of the other tables were doing the same, except he noticed at Daniel's table and the head table. There the food was served on plates and it appeared everyone had some sort of utensils.
Jack shrugged and removed some meat. He'd eaten in far worse conditions. The hall fell silent as everyone concentrated on eating and Jack took the opportunity to observe.
Despite the bounty of meat and bread, little else in the hall spoke of wealth. Jack remembered their first kidnappers, their looks of fear and awe as Enak approached. So far, he'd seen nothing to indicate Rahni Keep's reputation was well-earned, except for the fact that he and Daniel were now owned by the lord of the keep.
Although their clothing was rough and somewhat threadbare, the people all appeared to have appropriate clothes for the weather. He hadn't seen many frowns throughout his journey this day and no one appeared to be ill-used. Even the people who'd brought the food to their table were now sitting down to eat. Less than half the hall was filled with tables and people eating and Jack wondered if at one time many more had gathered here to eat.
The children that sat with Daniel were having an animated conversation complete with throwing food. Kearaen said something as did the woman but the children ignored them both. Something hit Daniel in the side of the face and the girl who'd thrown the food laughed. The woman stood and grabbed the girl's arm. She shook her head and pointed and the girl stomped off. Kearaen leaned over to say something to Daniel who simply shook his head and took the offered cloth. The table quieted and the children began to eat again, this time minus the food throwing.
Jack turned his attention to the head table. Tidrahni smiledâ€”she reminded him of a snake about to strike and then he tried to erase that image from his mind. There'd been no indication of a Goa'uld on this planet for centuries Daniel had said what seemed to be ages ago. Master Enak said something else and Tidrahni began to laugh. Jack suppressed a shiver. Enak looked away towards the table where Daniel sat. There was something more going on, a mystery Jack couldn't begin to fathom. He was trained in covert ops---time he put it to use.
* * * *
|Genres:||Action/Adventure, Friendship, Hurt/Comfort|
|Summary:||Jack and Daniel are taken captive off-world, but what do their captors want with them?|