The God-King and I
P4R-I3X -- Routtua
"Woman, you will not stab me with another of those needles." The voice was angry, imperious, and unquestioningly confident of being obeyed. Hardly surprising, since it belonged to, Adoh Arim, the proclaimed God-King of the inhabitants of P4R-I3X.
Janet Fraiser looked up from what she was doing, one eyebrow arching as she eyed the speaker. He had on his most intimidating look, and she could sense the servants fluttering on all sides of the room, clearly terrified of their master's latest rage. "Well, Your Highness," she said dryly, "if you'd rather risk getting sick again...." She let the sentence hang as she watched his face turn purple with anger.
"I am your God-King," he bellowed at her smirking look. "I can bring the wrath of heaven down on your head."
It probably would have been a more effective threat were the god-king not a twelve year old boy, still skinny and underdeveloped, his face showing the beginnings of acne, and his voice prone to high-pitched creaks at the most inauspicious moments. Desperate to prove he was an adult, he lost himself in the rages, then would turn on a dime and beg for attention and comfort. Only a week before, he'd lain in her arms and sobbed for his dead mother in the midst of a dangerous fever. "No doubt, Your Highness," Fraiser drawled, showing little sign of intimidation -- after nearly two weeks of caring for the boy, she was relatively immune to his tantrums, though she chose her times to show defiance carefully. Not so, the servants, some of whom were literally quaking in their shoes. "However, as my task is to see to your health, and those needles you so hate are an important part of that, I'm left with something of a problem." She turned and glanced at Prime Minister Idri, for all practical purposes the man in charge of things, and raised a brow.
The tall, somewhat portly, bearded man winced. He'd been running interference since her arrival, often a challenging task at best, but it fell under his venue since he'd negotiated with SG-1 for her services some two weeks before. The team had first visited Routtua over a little over ten weeks ago. During discussions with a village priest, they'd learned about royal records going back several hundred years, which contained accounts of what had to be the Goa'uld. Carter and Jackson had been eager to get a chance to read through the royal libraries in hopes of gleaning some new knowledge of their enemy. Unfortunately, their efforts to petition for a chance to view the documents had been firmly rebuffed. The libraries were located in the royal city, normally off limits to all outsiders. Diplomatic contacts had been made, but no more than that, though SG teams had continued making periodic contact in hopes of gaining access to the libraries one day.
The situation changed abruptly, however, when the boy God-King -- a deified symbolic leader, who, like the Chinese emperors of old was hidden away from his people behind high walls -- came down with a rampaging infection that was on the verge of killing him. Faced with a dying ruler, the Routtuans had abruptly become much more open to the idea ... provided the technologically superior Tau'ri were capable of returning their lord's physical body to health. The diplomatic corps had made enough inroads with the local government to have some trust that they'd keep their word and O'Neill had secured agreements guaranteeing her protection and return home whether the boy survived or not. General Hammond, meanwhile, had been very clear about the fact that she didn't have to accept the mission, since it meant allowing herself to be locked away, weaponless and alone, behind the high walls of the royal city. Then Sam had taken her aside, making it very clear she shouldn't feel pressured to take the assignment, though her eyes had been glowing with excitement at the thought of getting to read the archives in question. A faint smile touched Janet's mouth as she remembered that look. It had melted her on the spot and she probably would have agreed to leap into a live volcano if Sam had asked.
Which, considering a few of the dreams she'd had lately, was possibly not the best news possible.
She consciously shook that thought off, reminding herself that those had been the product of suggestion and her Hathor-inflicted hormone storms. She hadn't had any since that particularly unpleasant side-effect of the Goa'uld's visit to earth had finally worn off completely ... or at least none since a few days after it had worn off.
She shook that thought off too, concentrating instead on her patient who was scowling furiously. Besides, she hadn't done it for Sam, she reminded herself. Not really. Presented with a dying child and the possibility of gaining that much information, she'd have done it whether Sam had flashed her that look or not. So, she'd agreed to try and save the boy, then quickly found herself being assessed by the royal oracle, who'd proclaimed her, "God's Chosen for the task of teaching our God-King his most important lesson," and led behind the high walls of the palace. She had a two way radio and had made daily contact with SG-1, but past that she'd been on her own. At first her patient had been too ill to do anything but sleep restlessly or whimper in pain, but as he'd gotten healthier, he'd become progressively more imperious in his dealings with her, issuing demands and orders as though she was a slave. To say the least, she was looking forward to the end of the mission.
His childish bellow interrupted her silent musing, dragging her back to the present.
"You will find a more pleasant way to complete your task," he snapped impatiently, as though she could simply change the rules of medicine because he wished it.
Janet resisted the urge to sigh. Clearly, giving an overly hormonal, moody, adolescent boy nearly absolute power over life and death was no better an idea than it sounded. She looked at Idri again and he flushed, his gaze dropping away from hers. Unused to dealing with anyone other than his lord so unwilling to drop their eyes before him, he had developed the odd habit of doing so himself, as though he couldn't quite accept any dealings which put people on even footing.
"My Lord, God-King," Idri began as he stepped forward, his tone placating, his gaze downcast before the only person in the kingdom who held a higher position than he did, "if I might make a suggestion before Your perfection and greatness."
Janet resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
The boy's eyes continued to blaze, his anger a complex mix of autocratic self-confidence, whiny, adolescent angst, and overtired small child. Not a pleasant combination any way you looked at it. "The only acceptable suggestion is that she do as told."
Idri ducked his head, nodding in agreement, though his words belied his obsequious mannerisms if one listened carefully. "Yes, my Lord, I can understand why You would feel this way, however, if I might speak, I would point out that this woman, while clearly exceptional in her field -- else she would never have been allowed near Your greatness -- is still only human, and as such, cannot make the laws of her trade mutable as You could, my Lord. Sadly, she is confined by her very humanity, and since You have ordained that You must learn a lesson about what Your people go through when ill, perhaps You would be wisest to experience the fullest extent of such knowledge."
A frown twisted the youthful brow and childish lips pursed. "I tire of this lesson," he said petulantly.
Despite her ongoing irritation, Janet couldn't restrain a surge of sympathy for the boy. He was going to be fine, but he'd been very ill and was still weak and prone to tire easily, which was reliable to cause grouchiness in the most even tempered of children. Something Adoh Arim was unlikely to be accused of any time soon.
"I know, my Lord," Idri said quickly, "but it will end sooner and hopefully need not be repeated if You experience all of it." He looked at Janet then, silently pleading for her help.
"Prime Minister Idri is right," she said gently as she stepped forward, reminding herself to show the proper respect in hopes of making things go more smoothly. It always made things worse when she let her sarcastic side show. The sooner she could get this over with, the sooner she could head home to her own bed in her own house with recognizable food, the option of a hot bath or beating shower, and absolutely no one who shrieked at her or called her woman. After two weeks, that sounded like a little piece of heaven. "Sometimes life involves difficult lessons, but I would think someone with your level of," she hunted for a word that was neither artificially obsequious nor overtly sarcastic, finally coming up with, "power ... would be more than capable of handling a small needle prick or two." She flashed him a tiny, challenging look under the cover of her lashes, and saw him stiffen fractionally at the provocation Like most adolescent males, he'd reacted to his obvious crush on an older woman with a whole series of mood swings, ranging from clingy to overbearing. He'd also tried desperately to impress her on more than one occasion, so she counted on masculine pride to make him go along.
The boy was silent for a moment, then finally, narrow shoulders straightened and he folded his arms across his skinny chest. "I am capable of handling anything," he snapped. He turned a mutinous look on his prime minister, though his words were mildly conciliatory. "And since my High-God-Father has ordained I must learn this lesson, she may continue."
Janet finished filling the syringe from the bottle in hand and tamped down another smirk, instead offering her best bedside-manner-smile, an expression she'd developed and perfected while dealing with any number of young airmen who were often only slightly less hormonal and slightly more mature than her current patient. "We'll just do this as quickly as possible," she promised and pushed the loose sleeve of his robe aside before swabbing his upper arm.
He turned his head and looked at the syringe, then up at her, then back down at the syringe.
"Personally, I've always found it helps if I don't look at the needle," she suggested gently and earned a dark scowl for her efforts.
She fully expected a curse or insult, but he simply said, "You will be going home soon."
Janet's mouth quirked in her first genuine smile of the day. "As soon as we're finished here."
He nodded. "This is good. There will be no more needles once you are there."
Janet was a little surprised to find herself feeling a bit insulted. After all, she'd also held him while he whimpered and cried, and brought him back from the brink of death. A touch of gratitude seemed in order, though she shouldn't have been surprised. The boy expected worship as his due. "That's right," she confirmed. "Though there haven't really been all that many needles."
He flinched as the needle stabbed his arm. "But they will be a thing of the past."
"Yes, they will," Janet muttered, then refocused on examining the child, until she was comfortable that he was well on his way to health and it was perfectly safe for her to leave. "Well, Your Highness, you get a clean bill of health," she said as she finished and stepped away from the bed to begin repacking her things.
He settled deeper into the mattress, his eyelids drooping. "I am tired," he announced abruptly. The earlier tantrum had used up most of his limited energy and he had to fight just to keep his head upright. He sprawled back on the mattress, resettling the pillows as he moved.
Janet turned back, head canting to one side as she found herself reminded once again that, despite all the trappings, he really was just a sick little boy. "Well, you get some rest then," she said softly and reached out to tug the covers up over his scrawny frame. "It's the best thing for you."
He stared up at her, his expression softening in a way that almost made her melt. When he was like that, she could almost forget what a bombastic, autocratic, little pain in the ass he could be. "You will do well when you are home," he mumbled, his eyelids fluttering with exhaustion.
"I'm definitely looking forward to it," Janet murmured softly, saying her goodbyes just before he dozed off. Once he was asleep, she silently gathered her supplies together, then slipped into the small room that had been set aside for her use during her stay.
Her guest quarters had belonged to Adoh's nurse when he was younger, and it was hinted would house any concubines he cared to keep close when he was older. Though small, it was lavishly decorated and more than large enough for her purposes. Gas wall sconces supplied artificial light for the evenings while a narrow window allowed natural light in during the day and offered enough clearance to use the two-way radio she'd brought. That had allowed her to maintain daily contact with SG-1 -- no small thing, since the entire city was built from stone permeated with iron flakes, which interfered with radio signals and made transmitting through the walls an iffy proposition at best. The bed was reasonably comfortable, the small, attached bathroom had running water, and there was enough space for her equipment. It wasn't exactly home, but it had served well enough for a couple of weeks.
Idri followed close behind her on silent feet, pulling the door shut in his wake.
Janet glanced back, brows lifting in silent question as she noted that the prime minister was sticking to his habit of dropping his eyes in front of her. "I wished to thank you, personally," he explained, his tone deferential. "I realize our ways have been trying for you at times, and my Lord has not been at His best during His illness, however, you deserve the utmost gratitude of both myself and my people for your efforts and skills in restoring Him to health."
Janet accepted his gratitude with a distant nod as she silently began repacking her supplies, her thoughts still with the boy in the other room. Despite her ongoing irritation, she was worried about him. He was a product of his environment and because of that, too young to be responsible for what he was turning into. She looked up, studying the minister, noting his sincerity. On first arriving, she'd assumed his worry for the boy was primarily a desire to protect his own power-base, but after two weeks, she'd concluded he truly loved him as both the child he was, and the god Idri regarded him as being, viewing him as having a duality of nature that made both possible. They'd had several discussions during her time, talking quietly when Adoh slept, and she'd been impressed by the depth of his beliefs, no matter how much she might disagree. Since she was leaving, and because she'd taken some measure of responsibility for Adoh's health, she felt bound to try and make some points to him. "If I might speak freely, Minister Idri?" she requested politely.
A flicker of a frown touched his brow. He sensed the seriousness of her thoughts from her tone. "Of course, Doctor Fraiser. I have come to value your opinion during your stay here."
Janet ducked her chin in acknowledgment. "As I have yours, Prime Minister." She nodded toward the closed door, indicating the boy sleeping on the other side. "I realize you love Adoh--"
"He is my God-King ... my Lord and my Liege," he said, his tone making it clear he couldn't imagine any other response or consideration.
"I know," Janet said softly. "Which is what I wanted to talk to you about."
Idri watched her curiously, but waved a hand, indicating she should continue.
"You may not realize because, in general, he's better behaved when you're around, but Adoh bullies his entire staff ... screams and rages at them ... threatens them with torture and imprisonment when he's not instantly pleased. They're terrified of him ... literally quaking in their shoes at times." She'd even had a few scary moments of her own when he hadn't liked the course of treatment, and she'd found herself manhandled by the guards. After that, she'd made it a point to try and have Idri present whenever she thought things might get difficult. The Prime Minister was the closest thing the child had to a father and had a way of calming things when they started to get out of hand. He couldn't afford to allow anything to happen to her and having him around allowed her a small release valve when the ongoing stress had her on the verge of losing her temper.
Idri sighed softly, his expression making it clear he was aware of the uncomfortable truth behind her words. "Because of His father's death, He was forced to assume much at a very young age," he said defensively. "And His godly self is often frustrated by the limitations of His physical youth."
"I realize he has a great many pressures to deal with," Janet allowed, careful not to argue philosophy, "but I'm afraid of what might happen if his behavior continues this way. His servants fear him and that breeds anger and resentment--"
Idri looked scandalized by the implication of what she was saying. "No servant of any God-King has ever betrayed his Lord."
"But according to you, his father and mother were assassinated," she pressed insistently.
Idri shook his head. "By individuals who would have stolen power--"
"And may try to steal it again," Janet pointed out firmly, her tone pulling the minister up short. "Which means that boy's life could be dependant on the people around him ... and their willingness to put their lives on the line for him." Her tone and gaze sharp, she was oddly gratified to see she was making her point when he flinched.
"They are all loyal," he insisted quietly, but there was a note of uncertainty in his voice.
"I don't doubt that," the doctor admitted, though it was primarily because she'd seen more fear than anger. However, that could start to change very quickly if the situation continued. "But if they're distracted or terrified, it may slow them down ... and, bluntly put, how many people are willing to die for someone they're terrified of? Moreover, how loyal will they remain if the abuse continues?"
He turned away abruptly and she had a sense that he was struggling not to simply ignore what she was saying. In some respects, he was nearly as afraid of his lord's tantrums as the others, since he had taken it upon himself to calm them where he could, and since he truly believed in the boy's deity. It had to be tempting to simply chalk it all up to his godly-self teaching his human-self another lesson. That seemed to be the rationale behind his father 'allowing' himself to be assassinated. "You have a point," he said at last, his voice low and thoughtful. "But how does one discipline a god ... even when He is in the body of a child?" He sounded a little hopeless, leaving Janet with the distinct impression he was more aware of the problem than she had realized. "I try to show Him the proper way, but without His mother and father to teach him, there is no one with the power or the right. He's had to shoulder too much and He misses them fiercely, but is also angry at them for leaving Him. He has no idea how to deal with His own emotions ... and I have been unable to help Him."
Janet sighed softly, pitying the other man's position. If she had her way, the boy would be taught the meaning of the word 'rules' in no uncertain terms, and then shown something of affection that wasn't tainted by unquestioning worship based on his status. Unfortunately, their system didn't allow for that option. "You need to find a way," she said softly. "It's obvious you care for him ... and his life could well depend on it."
A moment passed and then Idri turned to face her. "Now, may I ask you care enough to speak up? Your frustration with my Lord has not gone unnoticed ... yet you care for Him."
Slender shoulders dipped in a faint shrug. "He's a little boy ... and my patient. I might think he needs some serious discipline, but I don't want to see him dead."
The minister studied her carefully, the look in his pale eyes assessing. "You have loyalty and a sense of justice." He looked satisfied by that. "They will serve you well."
She shrugged again. "I just don't want anyone to get hurt."
He nodded, maintaining the quietly deferential manner. "That is to be admired. And I do appreciate the sincerity of your worries. I can only hope that my Lord finds a way of learning the lessons He must."
Janet sighed as she realized the discussion had just deadended. Idri's worship of what he saw as the dual nature of Adoh Arim made it nearly impossible to go past certain points. It made for a confusing tangle of religious philosophy that she had to struggle to take seriously. "I hope he does," she said simply.
He ducked his head in acknowledgment. "And now I'm afraid I must return to my duties. I wish I could escort you home, but with my Lord so ill, I've neglected many of my duties these last days."
"I understand," she answered quietly. "I'll just finish packing, and then I'm ready to go."
"I will see that your escort is ready."
He paused as he turned to leave and turned back, studying her carefully. "No, Doctor, thank you."
Moments later, Janet was alone again which allowed her to quickly finish packing her backpack and medical case, both considerably lighter after two weeks of using the supplies she'd brought. After finishing, she retrieved the two way radio from the padded side compartment of her pack. It was heavier than the standard issue headset SG teams carried, since it required more power to send a signal the distance from her position in the center of the royal city to where SG-1 was camped near the Stargate. Standing at the window, she activated it and heard the comforting static as it powered up. "Fraiser to SG-1 ... Fraiser to SG-1."
"O'Neill here, Doc'. How's the gig as the personal physician to a god going?"
She could almost hear the colonel's smirk. He'd found her assignment humorous for reasons she still hadn't quite figured out, or maybe it was just that Jack O'Neill found a twisted kind of humor in nearly everything, especially anything that made him uncomfortable. And sending an unarmed officer behind walls he had no hope of breaching had clearly made him more than a little uneasy. He'd told her so several times, in no uncertain terms, until he'd bordered on trying to talk her out of it. "Well, it looks like I'm going to have to find a new job, sir," she riposted neatly. "Just finished his last checkup and he's healthy as a horse, so my dirty laundry and I are headed home." She'd kept the team up to date on the mission status, so they knew she'd been expecting to leave that afternoon.
"Good timing," O'Neill said, sounding satisfied with how things were coming together. "I just heard from Carter and Daniel and they've finished copying everything and are packing up their equipment, so we should be able to get moving by the time you get here."
"Good to hear." It was Janet's turn to sound satisfied. "I'm looking forward to getting home."
"I think we all are at this point," O'Neill drawled. "MRE's start getting scary after a few days ... and I'm not even going to comment on the local food."
She laughed dryly. "Tell me about it." The choice between the local food -- which tended to make her stomach and nostrils quake with terror -- and MRE's -- which weren't much better -- was starting to get depressing. "I may have nightmares for months about some of the things I've seen served during my time here." She shuddered at the thought. "However, the good news is that Idri assured me he'd send my escort, so I should be there within the next two hours."
"Sounds good," the colonel said. "We'll go ahead and get things packed up here so we head back asap."
"All right, sir ... in which case, I'd better get moving."
"Fraiser out." A moment later, she finished packing the radio back into its proper compartment, and slung the shoulder strap of the heavy field pack over her right shoulder while she grabbed the hard cased medkit in her left hand, balancing the weight. Any other configuration tended to leave her feeling like she was going to topple one way or the other. She slipped out of her makeshift quarters, pausing in the dimmed light of the god-king's bedroom to settle her things against the wall, taking a moment to check on her young patient one last time. He was sleeping peacefully and never felt the gentle hand that smoothed dark hair off his forehead. "Grow up well, Little Prince," she breathed. He could be an awful brat, but she'd also seen enough flashes of native kindness to have some hope. Besides, if one gauged most people by their adolescent years, the predictions for them becoming decent human beings probably wouldn't look too good.
She stepped away from the bed, retrieved her things, and slipped out through the foyer and anteroom. A pair of guards stood at the entrance to the boy's rooms and they nodded as she passed them, pulling the heavily detailed, double width, brass doors that protected his rooms open for her.
Two men stood waiting for her, both large and heavily muscled and wearing the formal black and purple doublets of the royal guard. Both bowed low.
"Your ladyship," the taller of the two spoke formally, "we are to escort you home."
Janet ducked her head in automatic acknowledgment. "Thank you."
"May we aid you with your things?" the senior guard questioned, gesturing to her pack and medical case.
Her automatic impulse was to refuse, but it was a long walk back to SG-1's camp. Even with the load lightened, since she'd used so many supplies, it was still an effort to carry both. "Actually, that would be wonderful. Thank you."
They quickly relieved her of the case and pack, not seeming to notice the added weight, then the taller of the two, the senior officer by the emblem on his belt, gestured down the corridor. "Madame, if you'll just proceed now, we'll see you home safely."
Janet shook her head musingly as they wandered through a long corridor that was bounded on either side by panel after panel of elaborate tapestries depicting several great battles and the peace agreements that had ended them, resulting in the unification of several warring tribes under the God-King. Under different circumstances, there would have been a fairy tale quality to the experience. Certainly there was something utterly fantastical about the surroundings, though she couldn't see them as a setting for anything as prosaic as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. Maybe something more exotic like The Firebird or the Maha Barata.
The palace sat at the center of the Routtuan Royal City, a huge, walled complex reminiscent of a medieval castle or the Chinese Forbidden City. Despite the fairy tale atmosphere, it came with all of the same requirements as any medium sized city. There were workers, artisans, soldiers, clerics, cooks, and builders, and all of the necessary buildings and services to house and feed them. Limited to the area immediately surrounding the god-king's apartments, Janet had met only a few people, though they had all seemed pleased and even grateful for the opportunity to serve their ceremonial leader, even though it meant never leaving the grounds for the vast majority of them. As far as she could tell, the Prime Minister was the only person who lived in the city who routinely left the walls. Though political and religious leaders from surrounding towns were apparently allowed in at times, according to Idri they were never allowed to meet with the god-king himself, only his advisors and ministers. Were it not for the dire situation with the boy's health, Janet knew she would never have been allowed past the gates since even SG-1 hadn't managed that trick. Instead, they'd camped well away from the city walls -- near the Stargate -- and Idri had personally carted out the volumes they'd been allowed to copy during their stay.
They reached an intersection of corridors and the guards both turned left and she shook free of her idle musings, then frowned, not recognizing the tapestries on the wall. She then glanced back, noting what looked like recognizable images in the corridor that stretched away the other direction. Of course, she was far from confident, since they all started running together a bit, but.... "Shouldn't we be going the other direction?" she questioned uncertainly.
The senior officer looked over at her, his tone and expression blandly polite. "No, my lady." He gestured the direction they were headed. "It is this direction."
"Oh," she exhaled, frowning. Well, they had to know the place better than she did. Obviously, she was turned around, but it still felt wrong, which left her just a little edgy. So when they still hadn't exited through the grand courtyard entrance several minutes later, she pulled up short at yet another intersection of several corridors. Nothing felt right now, leaving her certain she'd never been in the latest part of the palace before. "Shouldn't we be outside by now?" she asked as both guards slowed to a halt and turned to face her, their expressions expectant and a little worried.
"Outside?" the officer questioned, frowning in confusion.
Janet glanced back and forth between the two men, trying to decide if maybe they didn't really speak English or were a bit slow. "Right ... outside. I need to go outside to get home." It was nearly two miles back to the Stargate and as large as the palace was, it wasn't that big.
A look of comprehension came over the guard's face. "Ah ... I understand now, my lady. Things are probably somewhat different on your world. The harems are attached to the palace proper here. You do not have to go outside to get to them."
"H-harems?" Janet repeated, her voice bobbling ever so slightly in the wake of her shock. "No, no," she said quickly, and tamped down an instant of panic. Just a mistake -- she told herself -- it's just a mistake. "I'm not going to any harem. I'm leaving the city and returning home ... back through the Stargate," she clarified, graceful hands cutting through the air in sharp gestures to emphasize her point when both men simply stared blankly at her.
Finally, the senior guard spoke. "No, my lady ... you're going home ... to your apartment in the women's harem."
Janet shook her head in denial. "I think there's been some kind of misunderstanding," she said firmly. That had to be all it was. O'Neill had made certain of her release and Idri had reassured her more than once that he would make certain that the agreement was absolutely adhered to. "My home is not in any harem--"
"But, my lady--" the guard began and she cut him off in a hard voice.
"No," she snapped before continuing more calmly. "My home is through the Stargate." Despite the firm rein she kept on her temper, she punched an angry finger into his chest, backing him up a step. "Now, take me there as agreed."
His spine snapped ramrod straight and he looked nervously down at her finger, then back up until he met her blazing gaze. "My lady," he said a little helplessly while his partner looked on, cheeks flaming with embarrassment as he shifted uneasily from foot to foot. "Our orders were to escort to your home in the women's harem. Your quarters are very large and have been well prepared," he added as though that made all of the difference.
"That was not what was agreed to," Fraiser said carefully, fighting the urge to rant or panic. "I was to be taken to the Stargate once I was finished caring for the god-king. Now, I suggest you do so."
"My lady, I cannot," he said politely, though there was an underlying gleam of panic in his eyes. He couldn't defy his orders, but he'd also been warned to keep her happy. The clear conflict between the two assignments left him with a distinct problem.
Janet could feel her pulse accelerating even as she kept telling herself it was just a mistake. "Then I'm leaving without you," she muttered and turned on her heel. She'd always had a good sense of direction and a near photographic memory. Finding her way back out shouldn't be too difficult. She hadn't gone more than a step or two when a heavy hand landed on her shoulder.
"My lady, I cannot allow you to leave," the guard said insistently, his grip firm enough to keep her right where she was.
Janet did a slow pivot, her flinty gaze landing first on the hand clamped to her shoulder, then on its owner and lastly on his partner where he stood poised to help. She knocked the offending hand off her shoulder with a healthy thwack and glared at both of them with furious menace. Unfortunately, despite their nervousness, she didn't stand much chance if it came down to a physical confrontation. The two guards might only have one complete brain cell between them, but they were big, powerfully built, and presumably well trained. Teal'c's defense classes had improved her skills, but she wasn't sure it was time to give them that challenging a workout. "Get Prime Minister Idri," she rapped out in her best command voice; the one that made even senior officers snap to attention.
The guard looked doubtful. "My lady...."
If he called her that one more time while insisting on dragging her to a harem, Janet resolved to hit him ... hard.
"...it was the prime minister who oversaw the decoration of your apartments and gave us our orders." The guard stared at her, mystified by her obvious anger.
Despite the sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach, Janet straightened her shoulders and maintained an aura of calm. "Get him," she ordered and planted her feet, ready to start swinging her fists if they touched her again. "Now!"
The senior guard flinched under her hard gaze and stood unmoving for a long moment. Finally, he cleared his throat and nodded to his companion. "Find Prime Minister Idri," he instructed, "and inform him there has been a problem with Lady Fraiser and his presence is required."
The other guard nodded. "Of course, sir." After ducking his head in automatic respect to Janet, he hurried off down the corridor after leaning her pack against the wall.
Feeling his curious gaze directed her way, the doctor glared at the remaining guard, then knelt down beside her pack, quickly fishing out her two way radio. The soft crackle of static was comfortingly familiar as she turned it on, then depressed the send switch. She glanced up, but the guard made no effort to interfere. "Fraiser to SG-1 ... Fraiser to SG-1."
She tried again. "Fraiser to SG-1 ... SG-1, please respond."
Still nothing. It was no great surprise, considering the interference from the castle walls. Even with the antenna hanging out the window, the signal had often been noisy.
"Damn," Janet breathed, though she left it on and hooked it on her belt -- well within reach -- just in case someone had heard her and decided to reply. She looked up again to find the guard standing stiffly at attention, his face twisted in a frown."What?" The demand came out quick and impatient.
"You have been within the presence of the God-King and you wish to leave," he said thoughtfully as he continued to study her carefully. "I have heard the mad often make excellent healers, but have never seen proof of this before."
Fraiser's teeth ground together and she pushed to her feet. "I suggest you learn the value of silence," she bit out. Anything else was just likely to make her blood pressure rise ... and get him hit. "It's a much better option." She gave him the evil eye, and he fell silent. "Trust me on this."
Janet leaned against the wall on one hand, fingers tapping a varied drum and flag corps beat. She ran her other hand through her hair, combing loose bangs back and then running her hand over the back of her head and down to her neck, where she idly massaged taut muscles. It was all just a misunderstanding, she assured herself. Once Idri arrived, everything would be straightened out and she'd be on her way. She glanced at the guard and felt the ball of lead in her stomach grow a little heavier ... except he seemed very certain about his task. And it occurred to her that there was a perverse sense to it, since the guards didn't leave the grounds of the city anymore than anyone else. Had they been assigned to return her to her people, wouldn't they have simply escorted her to the gates just like Idri had met her there? She grabbed for the radio on her belt and thumbed the send switch, the effort to contact her colleagues giving her something to do. "Fraiser to SG-1. SG-1, please respond." The only answer was more random static. She hooked it back on her belt. Janet tipped her head back on her shoulders, eyeing the intricately painted geometric patterns on the ceiling, muscles tense as she struggled against the urge to make a run for it. Despite her instincts, she knew logically that was just likely to make things worse.
Several more minutes passed before she heard the pad of soft soled shoes and heard the familiar, slightly fretting voice of the prime minister. "Doctor Fraiser, Bancu informs me that there is some problem?" he said by way of a question.
She took a deep breath and turned, straightening her shoulders and putting on her most formal professional mask. "I'm afraid there is, Prime Minister Idri, however, I'm certain we can straighten things out quickly."
"Of course," he said instantly and she was relieved by the lack of duplicity in his worried gaze. "Whatever I may do to help; I am at your service."
She felt her pulse start to slow and the tightness in her chest ease fractionally. "Thank you." She flashed a look at the tense figure of the senior guard. "I'm afraid there's been some miscommunication." Idri continued to watch her worriedly and Janet's tensions let up another notch. "My escort appears to believe their task was to take me to the royal harem."
Idri looked blank and Janet felt her pulse start roaring again. "Yes?" he questioned politely. He glanced at the guard, then back at Janet. "I'm not sure I understand the problem."
Her breathing took on a forced quality as she fought the rapidly encroaching threat of panic. "I was to be escorted back to my people where they're camped at the Stargate." Adrenaline flooded her veins when Idri frowned and shook his head.
"No, Lady Fraiser." She caught the change in the title he addressed her with and frowned -- he'd always called her doctor before. Instinct told her that wasn't a good sign. "You were to be taken home when you were finished."
"Right ... home. And my home isn't here." Fear started to creep into her voice despite her best efforts to keep it hidden away. From the first moment she'd stepped behind the walls, there'd been an element of dread that something like this might happen, but she'd kept it locked away and refused to acknowledge it. Now it was threatening to flower forth out of control. She gestured in what she was sure was the general direction of the gate. "It's on the other side of the Stargate."
His look of confusion was too open to be anything but real. "But you have come here ... entered into the presence and service of the God-King. Your home now is by His side."
Janet shook her head, backing up a step in instinctive impulse to escape. "No, it's not." She glanced back and forth between Idri and the guards, feeling a sense of impending doom that wasn't so much physical -- she didn't fear that the prime minister intended her any bodily harm -- as spiritual. She was locked behind very thick, very high walls, in a very alien culture, on a very alien world. "Have them take me back to my people."
"All in service of the God-King are your people now, Lady Fraiser--"
"Quit calling me that!" Janet snapped, dark brown eyes blazing with fear that was rapidly dissolving into anger, or maybe it was the other way around. She wasn't entirely certain of the order, but both emotions were making a strong showing in her mental landscape. She took a deep breath, forced the frustration and trepidation down a notch, and continued, "I'm a captain in the United States Air Force, and the agreement was that I was to treat your god-king and then be returned to my people."
Idri's frown deepened and took on an upset cast. "No, my lady," he said as though his words should assuage her fears, "you were to be taken home--"
"Right ... through the Stargate," Janet broke in, frustration raising her voice the better part of an octave, the conversation leaving her feeling like she was caught in some bizarre, interstellar version of Who's On First?
"No," Idri said, his expression genuinely baffled. "All who enter His presence can only be home in His grace." He laid a gentle hand on her forearm. "We would never be so cruel as to deny you your place in His service because you are not of our people. I assured your colonel you would be granted a home in His household ... not merely allowed to stay within the city."
Janet just stared at the man for a long moment as it all started to sink in. The lead ball had pretty thoroughly taken over her entire stomach now. Well, there'd definitely been some serious miscommunication, unfortunately, not between Idri and the guards. O'Neill and Idri might have been using the same words, but they'd been discussing completely different concepts. She shook her head and held up a hand. "I'm afraid Colonel O'Neill misunderstood your promise," she said carefully. "To him, seeing that I got home safely meant back to the gate ... back to my world ... not to your harem--"
"It is not my harem, my lady, but rather my--"
"Not to any harem," Janet cut him off pointedly. "Listen to me," she said, well aware that a pleading note had entered her voice, "I have friends ... a family ... a job I love. This isn't my home. I can't stay here."
The hand on her forearm slid down to pat the back of her hand in what was meant to be a soothing gesture. "I realize this is all very strange to you. Many feel great trepidation when they first enter into their new home--"
"Goddammit, this isn't my home!" Janet felt her temper snap in the face of his blind refusal to hear what she was saying. "I don't worship your god-king! I don't feel anything for him but pity because the poor little bastard is being turned into a complete jackass by all of you...." She trailed off mid-rant as it occurred to her she'd just gone one step too far. Idri's expression instantly solidified into one of firm intent, and he no longer dropped his gaze before her, his pale blue eyes locking with her darker gaze. He'd been painfully polite and careful during their entire association, but she suddenly had a sense of just how much power he wielded as a man who stood second only to a god in this culture. "Prime Minister, I'm sorry, I--"
His voice was hard now, no longer placating, but obdurate and commanding. "You are home now. You have seen His face ... touched His flesh ... become a part of Him ... as He is a part of you." His eyes raked over her, then lifted to clash with hers. "And while I realize your ways, and the ways of your old world are very different, you must realize that makes you a part of this place and my Lord. This is your home now."
Janet backed up a step, eyes swinging back and forth from Idri to the guards.
"Later, when you have calmed, you will appreciate the truth of what I say. This is simply fear of the unknown."
She grabbed for the radio, depressing the send switch as she called into it, "Fraiser to SG-1. Please pick up--"
Idri nodded to the senior guard. "Please escort Lady Fraiser home."
He reached out, grabbing for her shoulder, and Janet slapped his hand away, dancing just out of reach. The junior guard's hands landed on her shoulders from behind, and she spun, swinging the heavy radio like an impromptu club, punching it into his midsection hard enough to send him stumbling and gasping for air. She didn't have the kind of combat training or experience that SG team members did, but Teal'c's lessons had done a lot for her abilities. She was in good shape, used to handling both limp and struggling bodies, and, as a doctor, she knew where the human body was most vulnerable.
As the senior guard leapt after her, she heard Idri's worried shout. "Do not harm her!"
She had no such limitations as the guards quickly discovered. The senior tried to get an arm around her shoulders, and she cracked an elbow into his nose, drawing a dull grunt of pain and then a louder one when she brought the same elbow down and into his solar plexus. His partner made a grab for her from the other side, and she responded by swinging the radio low and hard. His gasping scream and subsequent tumble made it apparent that, unlike the harems of old earth, this one was not guarded by eunuchs.
"Guards!" Idri shouted, his voice echoing up and down the corridors as though it had gone through a megaphone.
There were guards all over the palace and doubtless every single one within hearing distance would come running. A blast of raw panic arced through the doctor. The junior guard was shakily trying to regain his feet, while his superior had gotten a solid grip on her wrist. With more men coming, she knew that if she couldn't get free now, she probably wouldn't get free at all. She brought the radio around in a roundhouse punch, clubbing her would-be captor in the head hard enough to drop him to his knees, then yanked her imprisoned wrist free and delivered a solid shove, not pausing to watch as he toppled over backwards.
"Guards!" Idri shouted again even as she backpedaled, dodging the flailing arm the junior guard swung her way and pivoting to break into a hard run away from the prime minister. If she could just get out of the palace, she had a chance. She'd spent much of her spare time during the last two weeks watching the world go by from her own window or the god-king's balcony, and there was a fairly direct path to the gates that seemed to carry little traffic. Which made a perverse sort of sense. It wasn't like there was anyone leaving the place.
She'd gone perhaps twenty yards when four uniformed guards rounded a corner ahead of her. Janet skidded to a halt, glancing over her shoulder to find another foursome headed her way from the other end of the corridor.
"The Lady Fraiser needs escort to the harem," Idri said by way of command. "She is our God-King's chosen and not to be harmed."
The men seemed uncertain how best to follow those orders, and she got in several good blows while they were still considering the problem, nearly getting past them in the confusion. Unfortunately, someone got an arm around her waist from behind and Janet suddenly found her feet kicking at nothing but thin air as he hauled her up against the solid plane of his chest. All eight men had reached her by then, though at least two were on their knees from well aimed blows and another two were limping badly. Two men grabbed for her flailing feet and she managed to wrench an ankle loose, gratified by the waffle patterned welt her boot left on one man's cheek after she kicked him in the face. She lost her grip on the radio and heard it clatter across the floor as she clawed at the forearm wrapped around her waist. Unfortunately her attacker's thick doublet protected his arm, while heavy leather gauntlets shielded his hand from her efforts.
Reacting on pure adrenaline, Janet rocked her head back into her captor's chin hard enough that he stumbled and she wound up seeing stars. She reached back, nails finding purchase in his cheek and leaving deep furrows even as she felt him trying to twist his head away from her hand, his jaw muscles working as he shouted out, "Someone grab her hands!"
Men grabbed for her wrists, and others gripped her upper arms, while still more reached for the foot she still had free. Despite her wildest struggles, she never had a chance. There were just too many of them and they were too strong. Moments later, they held her squirming frame tightly, pinned in place, well above the floor, containing her writhing struggles with considerable difficulty.
"Be careful," Idri reminded his men as he drew closer. "She must not be harmed."
Janet twisted desperately, trying again to kick free. She turned her head, glaring at the prime minister. "Don't do this," she growled furiously.
"Soon you will understand," the minister murmured, his tone and expression startlingly gentle under the circumstances. "And your fierceness and loyalty will serve your lord--"
"No," she hissed.
He smiled, his affectionate expression at odds with the situation. "You were right about the lessons my Lord must learn, and I understand now why He used His illness to draw you here." He reached out, stroking the back of an imprisoned hand in what was meant to be soothing gesture but only set off a new round of struggles. "As His First Wife, you will teach Him--"
Janet shook her head in denial, muscles quivering and breathing harsh from her efforts to escape. "No ... don't ... you can't do this."
"I've already spoken to the oracle and she has agreed. My Lord has also been consulted and approves--"
"I won't do it!!"
"Take Lady Fraiser to her apartments," Idri commanded the guards as he stepped out of the way, completely ignoring her shouts and pleas. "There is much to be arranged."
Janet twisted, trying to keep him in sight as she was carried away down the hall, her voice echoing off the walls as she roared at him, "NO!!!"
* * * * * *
Samantha Carter eyed the waning colors of sunset that sprayed out behind a distant mountain range with a worried look and glanced at her watch. Even if they made the hike back at a snail's pace, Janet and her escort should have arrived at least two hours before. She looked over at O'Neill whose worried look mirrored her own. "If the boy had a relapse of some kind," she said softly and a little hopefully, "she might have been focused on treating him and not had time to call in." In a medical emergency, the doctor would worry about her patient first and all else later. Unused to field work, she might well forget the importance of remaining in contact. Sam could only hope that was the case, while simultaneously planning to sit the other woman down and have a firm discussion on the need for retaining lines of communication on the other side of the gate if it was.
"Uh huh," he exhaled distantly and she knew he was worrying about the same thing that had her on edge. It wasn't until after the doctor was already ensconced behind the high walls of the royal city that they'd learned that the previous god-king and his first wife had been assassinated by a small cadre of would-be usurpers. Those individuals had all supposedly been put to death, but there was always a possibility of more conspirators, and having just saved the current god-king's life could well make Fraiser a target. He glanced at his watch, then looked back out, silently scanning the darkening landscape.
"Any sign?" Daniel Jackson questioned as he joined them on the ridge, a little breathless from the climb.
Sam shook her head. "Nothing." She glanced at her colleague just as Teal'c came up behind him.
"We have returned the M.A.L.P. with our equipment to the SGC and informed them that we have been delayed," the Jaffa informed them without bothering to ask about Fraiser, confident that Carter or O'Neill would mention any news. He looked out, eyeing the ragged landscape that surrounded the Stargate. Villages with expansive farms and fields lay on the other side of the royal city, but the gate itself sat on a rocky crag of granite surrounded by a coarse field of old lava flows that supported little more in the way of life than shallow rooted grasses and small plants. "I believe it is time we return to the royal city and demand to know what has occurred from Prime Minister Idri."
"Yeah," O'Neill exhaled. He'd just been thinking the same thing. He rocked the MP5 slung over his shoulder around and checked it with automatic skill while Carter quickly followed his lead. "I want everyone alert," he spoke softly, but there was a pointed sharpness to his tone. "If something did happen on the trail here, we could run into almost anything." Still concentrated on his weapon, he started walking, knowing his team would follow.
Sam swallowed hard, focusing on the weapon in her hand in an effort to ignore a dozen different scenarios racing through her brain. Worrying about assorted imaginary horrors wasn't going to help anyone. She looked up then and caught a glimpse of naked guilt in O'Neill's eyes before he hid it behind an inscrutable mask. He was the one who'd made the deal and if anything had happened to the doctor, he was going to feel responsible. Sam sighed softly, not wanting to consider her own emotions if something had happened. She settled her weapon into a more comfortable position but kept a hand on the grip, ready to swing it up and fire if need be. As they hiked, O'Neill pushing the pace, no one spoke, each simply sinking into their own worries and hunting the darkening landscape for any signs of threat. It was going to be a very long walk.
* * * * * *
Hands bruised from hammering on the door, nails cracked and torn from her confrontation with the guards, Janet Fraiser finally surrendered to the harsh reality that no one was going to react to her screams to be released and did a slow turn, leaning heavily against the heavy, brass-plated door at her back. The adrenaline rush gone now, she simply slid to a sitting position where she was and rocked her head back against the door. In the hours she'd already spent imprisoned, she'd paced the room, checking every corner, hammered at the doors and shouted until she was hoarse, but none of it had made a bit of a difference. The doors remained locked and no one had answered her shouts. She folded her arms together on her upthrust knees and leaned her forehead against the makeshift pillow, mind still racing, though her body was flagging badly. Despite Prime Minister Idri's orders, the guards had left any number of bruises while manhandling her, and there were more than a few aching pulled muscles as well.
She muttered the most profane word she could think of to no one in particular, but it did nothing to relieve the raging sense of frustration. Then she let go with an impressive volley of colorfully obscene insults that did even less to vent the stress and gave up. Clearly that method wasn't going to help clear her head. Janet leaned her head back against the thick door once again, barely resisting the urge to rhythmically bang her skull against the sculpted bronze. She tensed as she heard the barest edge of muffled laughter.
Great. At least the harem was having a good day. They'd found it particularly humorous when she was hauled in through the well occupied main rooms by the bruised and puffing guards, several of whom Janet had left with pronounced limps. There had been a surreal quality to the whole experience of being dragged kicking and screaming through the luxuriously appointed chambers full of gaggles of half dressed, giggling girls. It was like something out of a bad movie. If Rudy Valentino had shown up wanting to carry her off to the Kasbah, she wouldn't have been surprised. She probably would have punched him in the face -- bruised knuckles be damned -- but she wouldn't have been surprised.
So much for the romantic notions of any number of movies and novels. Stuck in the middle of the situation, she could attest there was nothing even faintly romantic about the whole experience. It was scary as hell to be so out of control of her own life and infuriating to be faced with so many people who seemed to think she ought to be flattered, or who were convinced she would see the light and look forward to her fate.
"To hell with that," she snarled as the thought crossed her mind. That little bit of defiance did make her feel a little better and, after a moment, she took a deep breath, then pushed to her feet, wincing as overstressed muscles protested the movement.
Her gear, which had a few tools that might have been useful in any escape attempt, was a dead issue, left behind during the confrontation. After her efforts, she doubted Idri was likely to have it delivered anytime soon, which left her with the contents of the apartment that had become her prison. There were five lavishly appointed rooms; the livingroom/foyer area where she was, a huge bedroom and attached bath, an elaborate sitting room, and -- oddly enough -- a combination office and library.
Hunting for anything that might offer some hope of escape, she wandered from room to room, noting for the first time just how thoroughly the prime minister had tried to respond to what he'd learned of her tastes, from the colors, to the painting on the walls, to the shelves full of books in the library. She pulled a volume down, frowning as she studied a delicately hand illuminated illustration of the workings of the human body. They'd gotten more than a few things wrong, but she couldn't help but admire the artistry. She flipped a few pages, noting she could almost read the text. The letters appeared quite similar but not identical to the modern Latin alphabet, the spellings clearly phonetic. She already recognized a few words. It probably wouldn't take more than a few days to learn to read it fairly well--
That thought sent a bolt of terror through her. It felt like giving up somehow. Janet snapped the book shut and laid it aside on the desk next to the stacks of paper and various writing instruments. Now she knew the reason for all of those long conversations. This had been in the works all along. She hitched her hip against the edge of the desk and sighed softly. The SOB probably thought he was doing her a favor. She began yanking desk drawers open in a random kind of order in hopes of finding something that might be useful, but it was a half hearted effort since she'd already done the same thing at least twice before.
"They will get you out," she reminded herself aloud to stave off the crushing threat of depression. No way in hell would the SGC abandon one of its own. Carter, O'Neill, Teal'c, and even Daniel had all made a point of reassuring her that she only had to shout and they'd do whatever was necessary to get her out. She took a deep breath, letting it out on a ten count to calm herself down. Finally, she pushed away from the desk, returning to the hunt for something that might help her situation.
* * * * * *
"What the hell do you mean you won't let her out?" Jack O'Neill demanded furiously in the face of Prime Minister Idri's calm response to his questions. He was standing in the broad arched foyer at the front of the royal city that served as a reception area for petitioners, the rest of SG-1 behind him, well aware of the walls standing between his team and the doctor.
The prime minister's pale gaze slid from one member of SG-1 to the next, taking in their weapons and clear anger with a faintly apologetic look. "I am sorry, Colonel. Clearly, there has been some miscommunication, however, Lady Fraiser is now safely within her new apartments in the royal women's harem."
Sam pushed down her automatic burst of fury in order to watch the man carefully, noting his reactions and trying to decode their meaning. "Not willingly I'd bet," she inserted more calmly than her superior, though no less angrily.
"Indeed," Teal'c said very softly, a wealth of meaning in the single, blandly uttered word.
"Admittedly, it was not," Idri allowed. "Though I assumed it was merely nervousness...." He sounded genuinely unhappy with the notion it was anything else.
"Get her out here ... now!" Jack snapped, his temper getting the best of him. "That was the deal you and I made ... so stick to it." He punched a finger solidly into Idri's fleshy chest.
Idri shook his head, unwavering in the face of O'Neill's obvious anger. "I cannot, Colonel O'Neill since -- contrary to your interpretation -- it is not the deal I made." There was a flinty quality to the politician's tone that seemed at odds with the rather benign image he presented. "And even if I wished to go against history and tradition -- which I do not -- Lady Fraiser has been selected to be my God-King's First Wife. Her future is set now." O'Neill stepped forward and the two men stood glaring at each other. "He has chosen His lesson and she is to be His teacher."
"Goddammit," O'Neill snarled in growing frustration. He wanted to hit the smug, self-satisfied minister so badly it hurt. "You can't seriously be planning to force the woman to marry some kid."
The minister's head canted ever so slightly to one side and his voice took on a lecturing tone that only irritated O'Neill even more. "The First Wife is often older than the God-King, particularly when His physical form is this young. He will learn much from her and she will give Him fine children."
The colonel's hands fisted at his sides. "That's just crazy," he snapped. "He's a little kid. She's an adult ... a kidnapped adult from another planet! You can't go around kidnapping women and marrying them off to .. to the local children. It's just not ... right!"
Idri appeared ready to respond equally hotly for the briefest second, only to catch himself and respond calmly, "She has entered His presence and His service ... she will come to understand that He is no normal child ... the deity within is older than time."
Still watching carefully, Sam caught the aborted flare of temper on the minister's part. As angry as she was, she'd gone into a rather calculating mode, studying the situation like it was a math equation that could be solved if she just found the right variables. She was still considering the problem when Daniel stepped forward in an effort to calm things before they got out of hand. If Jack started throwing punches, it was only going to make things worse.
"Prime Minister, you must understand our position," the Egyptologist began diplomatically, ignoring the snort of disgust that O'Neill couldn't contain, "Doctor Fraiser is a valued colleague. We would never have allowed her to enter your royal city if we'd had any idea you were going to try and keep her there."
The minister's look shifted back to apologetic. "And for that, Doctor Jackson, I am very sorry. It never occurred to me that you would expect her to leave after coming home to my Lord's presence--"
Jack's muttered comments made his opinion on that matter more than clear, the sharp glares he earned from both Idri and Daniel making it clear he wasn't helping the situation.
"In truth," the minister said and threw a pointed glare the colonel's way, "I cannot imagine being so cruel to someone you claim to value and respect."
It wasn't an act, Sam decided, still studying the minister. Unless she was completely misreading the situation, he wasn't out to hurt Fraiser in any way. In fact, from his point of view, he was protecting her. It was just that his point of view was so skewed from their own that communication on the subject was nearly impossible.
"I understand and respect that," Daniel said carefully, "however, I hope that you can understand that our ways are not yours ... that we don't worship as you do. For you to continue to hold Doctor Fraiser and to force her into some kind of marriage would be extremely cruel."
Idri stiffened, his expression profoundly offended. "Of course I realize our ways are different, but she has now entered His service." He shook his head. "I am sorry for any misunderstandings, but this is not open for debate."
"In which case, you should be aware that we will be forced to respond if she isn't returned unharmed," Jack said, the meaning behind his words cutting across any communications gap.
The minister's spine stiffened another notch, and he met O'Neill's glare with an implacable look of his own. "And you should be aware that our walls are thick and our soldiers brave." The Tau'ri were technologically superior, but he was realistic enough to know that they weren't that much more powerful ... especially with the limited lines of supply offered by the Stargate, and someone they viewed as one of their own behind the city walls.
With the situation rapidly devolving into something none of them could back away from, Sam stepped forward, her look and tone calculated to be challenging. "I'd like to know what guarantee we have she's even still alive."
The minister looked every bit as scandalized as Sam had mentally predicted he would. "I assure you, Lady Fraiser is well," he clipped. "I have seen to her comfort myself. She has the finest apartment within the women's harem and her every need will be seen to."
Sam's mouth twisted in a deliberate smirk. "We only have your word on that." She tipped her head to one side. "Pardon if that's not much comfort." Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Teal'c's subtle response.
He realized exactly what Carter was trying to do as he quietly agreed, "Indeed. This may be no more than an attempt to conceal her murder." His low voice rumbled with quiet threat. "And if that is the case, there is no reason we should not attack in force."
Idri's breath caught, his look one of outrage but also fear. The Tau'ri response if they thought they were rescuing one of their own was one thing, but if they thought she was already dead, there would be no reason to hold back. He was well aware that his world could be in great danger. "I assure you--" he began quickly, but Jack interrupted.
"Your assurances don't mean squat at this point," the colonel said grimly. He caught a glimpse of the look Carter threw his way and realized she had something in mind. "Do they, Captain Carter?" he asked, purposely tossing an opening her way.
"No, sir, they don't." Sam pinned a hard look on the minister. "In fact I don't see how we can believe a word you say unless we see for ourselves that she's all right."
O'Neill grabbed the ball and ran with it. "In fact, if we aren't allowed to see her, I'm afraid we'll have to conclude that you've harmed her in some way and assume the worst...." He trailed off, the look in his eyes deadly serious, and pointedly rested his hand on his MP5.
Sam saw the minister's expression waver in the face of O'Neill's obvious threat and, for a moment, she felt a measure of hope. Maybe he'd decide holding Janet wasn't worth the risk. At the very least, if they could just get him to bring the doctor out to prove she was alive, it might be possible to get all of them back to the gate before the poorly armed guards could stop them.
"Very well," Idri said after a beat. "You," he indicated Sam with a small hand gesture, "may enter the city and confirm for yourself that she is well."
It took a moment for his offer to sink in and then Jack exploded. "So you can have two prisoners instead of one?" He shook his head emphatically. "Like hell!"
"You will bring her here so that we may see her," Teal'c intoned firmly. Like Carter, he was certain they could all escape if the doctor was outside of the city walls. The guards he had seen did not impress him, and their weapons were painfully ineffective.
Idri shook his head in denial. "I'm sorry, but that's unacceptable. With your arms, you could simply take her, and there would be little we could do to protect her. I cannot risk the safety of my Lord's intended that way."
"Risk her safety," O'Neill repeated on a disbelieving note. He stuck a finger in Idri's face. "The only threat I see to her safety is you."
The minister's eyes narrowed, his temper once again showing itself. "Colonel O'Neill--" he began hotly.
"We're her friends," Sam broke in, not wanting things to get out of hand. She was reaching him at some level, even if he wasn't giving them what they wanted. "We'd die before we'd hurt her."
Something in her tone caught his attention, and he swung his gaze back to lock with hers, his look covertly assessing. "You may enter the city, Captain Carter," he reiterated the proposal "That is the only offer I have the right to make."
"Fine, if you'll let someone in, I'll go," O'Neill broke in before Carter had a chance to respond.
The minister shook his head. "No man who is not a part of the royal staff may enter the harem ... nor may he be allowed to see my Lord's intended."
Jack bit back on an angry curse, and Carter spoke while he was still fuming. "May I leave after I've seen her?" she demanded, her voice underlaid by steel. She was practical enough to know that the colonel was right about one thing. It wouldn't do anyone any good if there were two people trapped behind the city walls instead of one.
The minister's spine straightened fractionally at her challenging tone. "You have my word that I will do everything in my power to keep you from the presence of my Lord so that you may return here." It wasn't exactly the resolute promise she would have preferred, but as she looked in his eyes, Sam was certain it was the best deal she was going to get.
"No dice," Jack rejected the offer at the same moment Carter said, "All right."
O'Neill's head swung around and he gaped at his 2IC, barely even registering the rest of the limitations placed on the offer.
"You may carry no weapons or equipment," Idri warned her.
"Understood," Sam agreed and slung off her MP5 to hand it to a silently watching Daniel Jackson. His eyes swinging back and forth between Carter and O'Neill, he nonetheless took the weapon.
She was just starting to unfasten the front of her tactical vest when O'Neill snapped free of the momentary paralysis and grabbed her arm. "Carter," he snapped and hauled her away from the others, "you can't do this."
She looked at him without slowing her preparations. She'd expected resistance and already had her argument ready. "Sir, we need to know for certain she's alive before we do anything," she said loudly enough to be sure the avidly listening Idri overheard.
"Not at the risk of having another officer trapped inside those walls, we don't," the colonel disagreed vehemently.
Sam knew he was making a fair point, one she would have probably been making had their situations been reversed ... just like she knew he'd be doing what she was. She dropped her voice until she was nearly mouthing the words in an effort to keep what she needed to say between the two of them. "Normally, I'd agree, but I believe he's telling the truth ... and if we know where she is, we've got a better chance of finding a way to get her out."
"Dammit, Carter," he hissed in frustration, hating every aspect of the idea. He'd already sent one woman behind those walls, and the thought of sending a second turned his stomach in a visceral way that -- if pressed -- he would have had to admit had more than a little to do with gender. Even respecting both women, and knowing they could do their jobs as well as any man, there was a part of him that cringed at the notion of allowing them to face the same risks. It just wasn't how he'd been raised.
"I can also get a look at their security ... and maybe find a way of getting her out that doesn't involve a full frontal assault." She took a deep breath and continued, "We asked her to go in there." Guilt quicksilvered across her expression before she could control it. "We can't walk away now." She peered up at him through clear blue eyes, silently daring him to disagree as she quietly added, "And if he'd let you in there, we both know you'd be doing exactly the same thing."
He stood silently shaking his head in automatic resistance, but couldn't argue. "All right," he ground out after a moment.
Sam stepped past him as she finished unfastening her vest and peeled it off, tossing it to Daniel before leaning over to undog the thigh straps on each leg. A moment later, she unbuckled the webbing belt around her waist and handed that to the Egyptologist as well.
Jack did a slow pivot, the look in his eyes murderous as he glared at Idri. "She takes a two way radio or no deal," he spoke without planning to, uncertain whether he hoped Idri would accept the alteration to the deal or reject it.
"Sir--" Carter began but he cut her off.
"That's the deal, Carter ... he can take it or leave it." He knew it wouldn't be reliable inside the city walls, but it would offer some hope of maintaining contact if there was a problem.
A moment passed in total silence and then Idri ducked his head in agreement. "Very well," he allowed, "She may bring that ... and nothing more."
Daniel slung her vest off his shoulder, quickly helping her retrieve the transceiver and the headset where they were still attached to the vest. She dropped the transceiver in her breast pocket and hooked the earpiece around her outer ear, adjusting the microphone so it ran along her cheek. When she straightened, she swung her head around, gaze briefly meeting the colonel's before moving on to the minister. "I'm ready," she said just loudly enough to make herself heard.
Idri nodded in acknowledgment. "Then we will go."
Jack caught the other man's arm before he could turn to leave. "Your word you'll bring her back," he demanded intently.
The minister took a deep breath. "I will do my best, Colonel. You may not believe this, but I have no desire for conflict with your people ... and I do understand the importance of your request ... but she enters the Gates of Heaven ... and while I will do my best to keep her from the presence of my Lord, it is His realm and I am not the one who decides these things."
Jack almost called a halt to it right then and there. Only Carter's softly uttered, "I'm sure it'll be all right, sir," stayed his hand.
"You make sure of it," he snarled at Idri, then swung his gaze back to his 2IC. "Now, get out of here before I do my job and put a stop to this." He watched her move to follow the minister through the elaborate front gates, his voice hoarse as he called out to her retreating back, "Be careful, Carter!"
A moment later, the slam of the huge doors sent a shudder through all three men.
Jack looked back at Daniel where the younger man stood weighted down by Carter's discarded gear. "Please tell me I didn't just hand them another hostage," he begged, angry at himself for agreeing to such a risky venture.
The Egyptologist shrugged. "For what it's worth, I don't think the guy wants to hurt anybody." It wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement and he sounded every bit as worried as Jack felt.
"Gee, that helps," the colonel muttered acidly.
"Captain Carter and Doctor Fraiser are both intelligent and determined," Teal'c said thoughtfully as he stepped forward. "Even if there is additional difficulty, they will not be easily held." One eyebrow quirked upward. "Nor would either of them make their period of captivity pleasant for their captors."
Jack turned a slow motion look at the other man. "Teal'c," he sighed, "promise me you'll never try and cheer me up again."