After dreading this chapter for weeks, I'm finally done with this one! Ugh, there was so much necessary dialogue here and this chapter simply refused to yield itself to me! But I'm fairly pleased with the way it turned out.
Thank you all for continued support. I love that people are so enjoying this story! -Jess
"One way or another, Jack O'Neill, I will speak with you alone."
Jack held up his hands in a conciliatory manner. "Alright. You could have just said so."
Reyada signaled the guard to unlock the door of the cell. Jack turned and caught Sam's half-closed eyes. She gave a faint nod that said she was fine. It was a lie, but that was par for the course.
A guard threw the door open and Jack left the cell with all four members of his team lying prone on the ground.
Chapter 21 – Interrogation
The ship's corridors were cramped as Jack, his hands tied in front of him once again, was jostled down a dark hall by two beefy goonies on either side of him. They were following Reyada, who finally opened a wooden door at the end of a passage. She stepped inside and indicated for them to follow her.
"We can speak in here without being disturbed."
Jack shifted uncomfortably when he realized that even though the room was far from extravagant, these were Reyada's personal quarters. The room was small – claustrophobic with four bodies inside – and starkly basic. There was a bed, somewhere between a twin and full-sized in the middle of the room, one small trunk against the wall, and space for very little else. The room was hardly wide enough to accommodate Jack and his entourage standing shoulder-to-shoulder, and Jack gave an animated jostle just to affirm how uncomfortable he was. The crewmen readjusted their hold on his arms, rooting him firmly to the ground.
Reyada shot him a narrowed glare, clearly irritated by his childish antics. She fingered the zat, as if considering dispatching him once and for all, but she settled for setting the zat down on the bed before she bent over the small trunk and began rummaging through its cramped contents. She finally pulled out a solid metal box, about the size of a briefcase.
"Ma'am?" The crewman on Jack's right spoke up, frustration edging his voice. He clearly didn't want to be here any more than Jack did. Reyada glanced up from hunting through the metal case and considered the men in front of her.
"Leave the bindings," Reyada said firmly with a glance toward Jack's secured arms. Jack considered what she was planning. Far from a discussion of equal standing, she could be looking to intimidate him, to coerce him into spilling his guts by whatever means necessary. That wouldn't surprise him, especially considering how effectively she took down Ibarra in the brig. She was obviously powerful, obviously skilled at getting what she wanted.
Well, this lady had something else coming to her. It didn't matter if she had some kind of torture device in that nifty little case she was still searching through. Nothing would compare to Iraq. Or to Ba'al. It couldn't.
"And you may leave us. Now."
Jack's head snapped up. Oh. The thought occurred to him that Reyada could have a very different intention for the bindings.
The goons released his arms and slipped out into the hall. The door closed behind him, and suddenly Jack was tied up and alone with a crazy woman.
He cleared his throat uncomfortably and lifted his bound hands. "You know, people are gonna talk about this. Mark my word," he jerked his head toward the door, "those two are major gossips."
The room less crowded now, Reyada moved purposely towards him, the ominous metal case still in her hands. "Do you care what other people think, Jack O'Neill?"
Jack backed up, trying to counter her movement. "Easy…"
"Because I do not."
"Yeah, I'm getting that." His back hit the wall, but she still came closer. She stood right in front of him, so close that the fiery curls that had escaped her braid feathered lightly against Jack's face. Her eyes narrowed, but Jack noticed that they didn't hold that predatory, snake-like look she'd had in the brig.
She was studying him, it seemed. Her eyes roamed over Jack and then she reached up to touch his face. Jack screwed up his face in confusion and tried to turn away, but she stretched further in order to probe his cheek. Pain flared and Jack realized that the skin there had split, no doubt when some nincompoop's fist had impacted his cheekbone.
"Sit down." The woman motioned toward the bed, her tone brooking no arguments.
"And remove your shirt."
Jack blinked, unbelievingly. "In your dreams."
Reyada rolled her eyes before she pulled a jar full of salve out of the case. "You are injured. I can help you."
Jack stared at her suspiciously.
When he hesitated, Reyada continued, frustration tingeing her voice. "If you would like, I could send you down to be examined by the ship's physicians. They had no trouble seeing to your injured friend, but I doubt they will be as considerate with you."
Jack had to concede that point. But in addition to his swollen cheek, his ribs were aching and he thought his kidneys might be bruised too. This woman's mood could turn on a dime, but if she had something that could help, Jack wasn't going to refuse her.
He sighed and perched himself on the edge of the bed. Reyada laid the case next to him, and Jack breathed a sigh of relief when he saw it was filled only with medical supplies.
"So they still haven't forgiven me, eh?"
Reyada wet a clean towel and rubbed it over Jack's grimy face before she threaded a needle with what looked like surgical thread. His cheek must look pretty bad if it needed stitches, he thought. Jack winced as the needle pierced his skin, but Reyada's fingers were deft and surprisingly gentle as she sutured his bruised skin together.
"The sailors you stunned have recovered," she talked as she made neat little stitches in his face. "The crew has no more ill will toward you on that account. But Captain Ibarra has set them to work cleaning the ship in response to their display when you arrived. They will not have forgiven you for that."
"A freshly swabbed deck all because of me?" But Reyada didn't seem to understand the meaning of the word, or she was concentrating too hard on tying off the thread to respond.
Now that his face was stitched together again, Reyada opened her jar and scooped out a liberal amount of salve – it was ginsee, Jack realized, the same stuff that Eliana had given to Teal'c – and dabbed it over the swollen skin.
"So …" Jack tried again when she didn't speak. "Ibarra seems nice."
Reyada gave a little huff. "Ibarra is a stubborn fool whose single-mindedness leads him to unfounded assumptions. He makes conclusions without evidence, unwilling to believe there could be any more than what he sees on the surface."
When she had apparently finished with his cheek, Reyada capped off the ginsee again. "Take off your shirt."
Right. That action was difficult with his bruised ribs and the fact that his hands were still bound together, but eventually Jack was able to wiggle the loose-fitting shirt over his head so that it was only wrapped around his arms.
"But you don't have that problem," he stated. "The one Ibarra has."
"Captain Ibarra is not curious about who you are or what you are doing here. I am."
"Why?" Jack let out an involuntary shiver as Reyada moved along his battered torso, feeling for breaks. The places of impact were painful, but Jack didn't think anything was broken, and he was surprised by the fact that he actually trusted this woman's medical capabilities.
"You said that you were not Albian spies," she answered.
"Isn't that exactly what an Albian spy would say?"
Reyada smirked. "That is true, but I suspect there is something more to it than that."
Reyada bent over and reached beneath her bed in order to grab a soaked and soggy book. She tossed it toward Jack, and it thumped onto his lap. He recognized it as the Chronicles of Albion book.
"This was found on one of your crew. My family left Albion many generations ago, but I am well aware that a book such as this is banned under penalty of death."
Reyada pulled out a roll of what looked like elastic compression bandages. Jack raised his arms in order to give her access to his battered ribcage, and she threaded the thick material around him.
"That begs the questions: for what reason would be have it with you, and why would you be sailing towards Ierne?"
Jack set his jaw, unwilling to say anything, but Reyada didn't even give him a chance to answer.
"You certainly would not be working for Mordred or you would never have that book in your possession," she continued, wrapping the material around him several more times. "And yet, if you were Albian defectors, there would be no reason to fear our approach. The Ierneans do not have a problem with those Albians who wish to come to our country to escape Mordred, only with those attempting to spy upon our defenses.
"As I have said: you cannot be allied with Mordred and be in possession of that book. That evidence gives credence to your original statement. I believe you when you said that you are not Albian spies. But if you are not Ierneans and you are not Albians, then where do you come from?" She wrapped his chest once more before coming to the end of the bandage.
"From where," Jack quipped, trying not to show how impressed he was by her deduction.
Her eyes narrowed. "Excuse me?"
"From where do you come," Jack corrected. "Don't worry, it's a common mistake."
He let out an involuntary squeal as Reyada pulled the bandages tight around his ribs. That was so uncalled for.
"The question has then been asked." She tucked the end of the bindings underneath one of the strips and stepped back.
"What's it to you?" Jack countered, grimacing as he rubbed at his sore chest. The bandages were snug enough to take pressure off his pained ribs, but not too tight as to restrict his breathing.
Reyada crossed her arms and considered him. "For starters, I need to know your worth."
"Just look at me." Jack spread his arms as far as the rope binding his hands would allow. "I'm priceless."
Reyada smirked in amusement. "I'm sure. But every human being has a monetary value, and I need to know yours, Jack O'Neill. For example, I need to know if you are worth anything to Mordred or his court."
"Nope, the king has never heard of us," Jack said firmly. If this crazy woman hadn't heard about the price Mordred had put on their heads, he sure as hell wasn't going to clue her in. "We're far too lowly to ever come up on his radar."
"Then that is unfortunate for you," Reyada said evenly.
"Because a captive who is not worth enough to be ransomed is only good for one thing. The workers in our iron mines are dying faster than we can replenish them, and I am sure the foreman down there would welcome five able bodied newcomers."
Jack wrinkled his nose in disgust. "You know, I've already done the whole slave in the mine thing … twice, actually … so I'm not looking get the t-shirt a third time."
"Then convince me you have a greater purpose."
Jack sighed, and realized he was out of options. "All right," he said, slowly. "What would you say if I told you I was King Arthur?"
The amusement on Reyada's face vanished. It was replaced with a deep scowl. "I would say that you are a liar, and you do not value your life very much, Jack O'Neill. Or the lives of your friends."
"Hey! You wanted my worth! There it is!"
"Arthur is dead and has been for over three hundred years."
"Well, you know what they say. You just can't keep a good man down."
Reyada's narrow eyes scrutinized Jack's face. Jack felt the uncomfortable itch of being studied again, but he held his ground and refused to show his discomfort.
Reyada's voice was dangerously low, and she reached beneath her skirt to where Jack could see she kept a personal dagger. "With your next breath, you will convince me of how you could possibly be Arthur or I will slit your throat right here."
She was just insane enough that Jack believed she would do it.
"Okay, umm…" Jack licked his lips and wished fervently that Daniel were here to explain. "You've heard of the Prophecy of Arthur's return?"
Reyada scoffed. "Myths. Fairy tales. Bedtime stories for children and fools. Ierneans put little stock in such rubbish."
"Hey, if it was any other story I'd probably agree with you," Jack said emphatically. "But this is real. Trust me, if it were up to me, I would not be on this planet trying to overthrow a tyrant I didn't know existed until a couple days ago. I didn't ask to be king! I don't wanna be king! I've got enough on my plate as a general!"
Reyada turned back to face Jack, but this time he noticed her eyes were wider, open, more willing to believe. In fact, she wanted to believe, Jack realized. He softened his voice, attempting to draw the woman out. "What have you heard about the Prophecy?"
Reyada looked at him suspiciously for a long moment, as if she was trying to figure out if Jack was drawing her into a trap. When she finally did speak, her own voice held a faintly wistful quality, as if she were remembering a time long ago when she had been told this story. "That Arthur, dead for many years, would one day return from beyond the stars. That he would come during his peoples' greatest need, to vanquish the enemy and reclaim his kingdom."
"That's us," Jack said evenly. "We're not from Albion. We came through the Stargate, the Gateway, from 'beyond the stars'." He raised his bound hands to make air quotes. "We didn't know about this prophecy until we'd already started to fulfill it."
Reyada continued to stare at him, trying to determine if there was any falsehood in his story. "I expected you to say many things, Jack O'Neill, but never that."
Apparently satisfied, she began packing up the extra medical supplies and then closed the metal case.
"You have answered one question," she said. "Then it is time for another. What is your purpose in sailing for Ierne?"
"We weren't sailing for Ierne," he said, and when she shot him another look, he raised his hands. "Honest! But I just have to warn you: the answer to that question is even crazier than the first. You see, Mordred has set a bounty on our heads for perpetuating the Prophecy. He's out to execute us, so if we need to fulfill that Prophecy in order to go home, that's what we'll do."
"You are attempting to eliminate Mordred."
Jack hesitated but figured that there was no danger in confirming that detail with Mordred's adversary. In fact, he thought, the Ierneans could prove to be valuable allies. The enemy of my enemy and all that.
"And how to do you plan to do that?" Reyada spoke coolly, as if she were intentionally trying to keep the interest out of her voice.
Jack picked up the soggy and flimsy book in his lap. "Well, that's all in here."
He proceeded to tell Reyada about the Round Table, about Excalibur, and about Nimue. He told her about how Nimue had once helped Arthur defeat the Goa'uld who ruled before him, and that she supposedly still resided in the infamous Devil's Circle. When Reyada scoffed at that, Jack had no choice but to tell her about the age-defying Ancients and their eternal quests to become glowy beings who lived on other planes of existence. He told her that they were sailing to the Sistern River to try to locate Nimue and Excalibur in order to use the Round Table to destroy Mordred.
When he finished, Reyada's eyes were awed, but not disbelieving. "Jack O'Neill, your story is just crazy enough that it must be the truth."
"Exactly!" he exclaimed, excited that she finally understood. "There's no way anyone would make this stuff up! So you believe us now?"
"I do," she said, sincerely. "And as I also wish to see the downfall of Mordred, I will assist you with your goal."
"Well, call me a cab and tickle me Elmo! That would be great!" Jack said enthusiastically. His spirits lightened as things started to look up again, but he realized there was a touchy subject to be raised. "Mainly we're in need of a boat. You know, since you destroyed our last one…"
Reyada gave an easy wave of her hand. "I assure you it will be no trouble to procure a boat or two from this ship." Captain Ibarra probably wouldn't be too happy about that, but Reyada's firm tone told Jack that it was another argument that she would win. Definitely.
"I will have them stocked with food and supplies and anything else needed for the journey."
"All very appreciated," Jack said. "And then we'll be on our way."
Reyada chuckled. "No, you misunderstand me, Jack O'Neill. I will be coming with you."
"Say what now?"
"My people have been fighting against Albion for nearly three hundred years. If you plan to destroy Mordred, then I will be there to watch him fall," she said firmly. "I will be going with you."
Jack gave her a sidelong glance. There was a fervency returning to Reyada's voice, an unbridled passion that hinted at obsession. It was almost as if she were unhinged, and Jack wasn't quite so sure he wanted help from her at all anymore.
But it didn't look like there was any other choice. They needed a way off this ship. They needed a boat and supplies to get up the river. And this crazy woman hell-bent on joining their merry band was the only way to do that.
"That would be great…" Jack said. He gave a thumbs-up and tried to hide his grimace behind a disingenuous smile.