Indian Interlude

May I draw attention to the industrious work my beta, Nell, has put into this story; she has tweaked and twisted and turned it this way and that in an effort to ensure it is well received. Her work is, as always, outstanding, but for this story she has really had to apply her skills to ensure it lives up to the standards she expects. Thanks a million, Nell; This story wouldn't be what it is without what you've put into it and I honestly couldn't have done this without you.

Part 2

N.B. -Native language shown in /

The passage of time within the burrowed out labyrinth of tunnels meant little to Jack; his only measurements were to place one weary foot in front of the other while containing his thirst and the ever present pain. As if the ache in his head wasn't bad enough, after what he surmised must have been hours of walking through dark, damp warrens, his right knee was beginning to protest - protest big time.

As he stumbled over yet another concealed rock, his fight with the sharp pull of gravity was lost and he went down with barely a muffled sound. For a brief exhausted moment as he weakly spat out the dust, he wondered if the horses and men would simply walk right over him, but a sharp jerk on his jacket collar pulled him up. On nothing but auto mode, Jack rubbed at the dirt in his eyes and would have made to walk on but for a firm hand which held him fast.

Bloodshot eyes looked up slowly and then widened as a skinned water container was pushed into his tied hands and, with energy he thought he'd spent, he drank frantically for all of five seconds until his training reasserted itself and sheer willpower allowed him to slow down and take small controlled sips. It had been a long time since water had tasted this sweet; he could feel his cells soaking up the precious liquid, expanding while his tongue bathed in the life-giving elixir. As he continued to drink he looked over the top of the water bottle, surprised that it was Geronimo himself who had offered the drink. Jack felt the man's dark, steady, assessing eyes on him and returned the look.

Eventually he had his fill and returned the water.

"Thanks." His eyes conveyed a much stronger message.

While still painful, the act of walking had become so much easier now that he'd managed to hydrate and he continued the trek in much better spirits - the thought of rescue and escape now becoming viable possibilities if not yet put into action.

In the darkness of the tunnels he was already making plans for any possible contingency that presented itself and was so engrossed in his strategies that he lurched into the uneven wall skinning his arm painfully, yet the discomfort was almost welcome as it forced Jack's mind back to reality.

'What the hell is happening to me?...Have I been drugged?'

Yes, maybe that was the answer to so many of the questions racing around his aching head. It would sort out why he simply had no recollection of how he'd got his sorry ass into such a predicament and why he was still so spaced out. He'd thought at first he had a concussion, but this was definitely different. Maybe when he'd been drugged, he'd fallen and given his head a crack hence the blood.

Thinking about it, he gingerly lifted his hands and felt around his head as much as he could, wincing as his fingers came in contact with an abrasion on his temple, but he couldn't feel anything that would point to the desperate way he was feeling right now.

His musings were put on hold as a faint white light before them grew larger and he knew they were about to leave the tunnels. It seemed hours since they'd entered the maze and as his black ops survival instincts kicked into gear, he began to search for an opportunity to escape.

Later, he was to wonder whether he was getting too predictable because no sooner had the thought entered his mind than his captors closed in on him and escape was quashed before it could take fruit. But at least he was allowed to sit astride the pony though his feet were again tied by rope and he realized if he were to lose his balance and fall, he'd still be attached to his mount and simply be dragged along to certain death.

More hours passed as his pony followed the narrow trail which descended the mountain to the grass covered valley below and hunger and exhaustion made their demands so that Jack became closely acquainted with the neck of his horse which he had slumped over in a restless sleep. This was, however, harshly interrupted when he again made bruising contact with firm ground, waking to find his bindings cut and surrounded by not only the warriors who had captured him, but now dark-haired women, young and old, and children.

The younger boys, miniature replicas of the men, who couldn't, he guessed, have been more than eight or nine, were racing forward, touching him with a stick and then retreating while howling in triumph. But eventually the crowd dispersed losing interest in the stranger, allowing Jack to take a long, hard look at his surroundings.

From the little he could see, they had entered a large encampment with numerous tepees made up of animal hides which could have been made of bison. The smell of open fires and food cooking in black earthenware pots assailed his senses and his stomach grumbled in protest. Skins of large animals were spread out on large wooden frames, drying in the open air alongside what appeared to be the intestines of whatever animal had been slaughtered.

These people were definitely akin to the Native American Indians of Earth in both bearing and the clothes they wore. He ascertained that the camp was set next to a wide, tumbling river they must have crossed while Jack was still out of it and which twisted through the land reaching to the mountains at the camp's rear and circumventing a thickly wooded expanse of trees. Jack knew those were the same mountains he'd travelled through, their ridges stabbing into the pale morning sky and as he stared back at them he promised himself it wouldn't be long before he made the return journey.

The land in the opposite direction was mile upon mile of grassland which went on for as far as the eye could see. Maybe that was all there was of this planet, he mused, nothing but-.

The sharp sting of a switch between his shoulder blades together with a voice screeching in his ear urged Jack to scramble to his feet, fists clenched ready to defend or attack if the possibility presented itself. His forward momentum froze however as he stared down in stunned disbelief at the tiny bowed figure wielding the raised weapon; the murderous anger in his eyes instantly changing to irritation at the diminutive woman in a long dress made of doeskin, whose bright black eyes surrounded by a deeply lined face conveyed not fear at Jack's aggressive stance, but rather disgust.

The old woman, long grey hair tied into plaits muttered under her breath and Jack would have bet a month's pay she wasn't paying him any compliments. The next moment she'd thrown a skinned pouch at his feet pointing at the water and then at the cooking pot on the ground giving him a series of sharp orders which, with the help of her body language, helped him to understand clearly her demands.

"So I'm the new water boy, huh?"

And in a flash of time, his memory raced back to when he was a sassy nine year old and his grandmother had thrust a water bucket into his hands and ordered him to fill it from the nearby lake when the weather had been so cold all the pipes supplying their cabin had frozen. He seemed also to recall a certain hesitation which had involved the threat of a slipper to warm his behind. Switch or slipper - little difference; he appreciated neither.

He followed in her wake, aware of her firm gait and no nonsense attitude belying the number of years she carried. As he bent to his task his eyes scanned his surroundings, searching for weaknesses in those around him.

Lookouts on horseback were on both sides of the wide river though by their very relaxed state he knew they were expecting little if no threat to their existence. Women glanced up from what Jack presumed was their cooking but other than a perfunctory glance they paid him no attention. It was only when the woman had spoken sternly that the children had faded away though a couple of boys still watched him from a distance.

At the water's edge Jack watched the old woman chatter to two others, one of them much younger and taller with fine cheek bones and who in different circumstances he might have admitted was interesting to look at, though when her eyes fell on him they revealed nothing, as if he weren't there.

'Well that's just fine by me lady, 'cos I'm going to be out of here in no time.'

They were washing some animal skins on the flat rocks which followed the course of the wide river and, aware he was probably the focus of their intense conversation; he didn't waste time at the chore.

/He is a strange one you have chosen with hair the color of the stone mountains./

The old woman stared hard at the man collecting the water.

/He has the build of a warrior and the strength too I would bet. He will do./

Once the sizeable pouch was filled, he straightened, gritting his teeth as his exhausted body complained, and made the short walk back to where their tent and the cooking pot were, emptying the contents of his pouch into the blackened container.

Afterwards, the old woman watched over Jack as he collected wood for the fire and once she'd started a flame with the flints she carried, he was required to work on a stinking hide that had the appearance of buffalo, softening it in a slow and painful process which required him to scrape away at the foul smelling skin with a hand-sized stone.

He'd balked at doing what he was shown until Gran-from-hell, who he was to learn later was called Little Step, had grown agitated, snapping out words, that were all too obviously castigating him and his lineage for as far back as it went, and starting to dance around him, raising her hand and threatening him with the switch.

In the end he decided that drawing too much attention and annoying the old bat was not conducive to his escape plans and so he'd acquiesced, giving her a scowl which had made her blink and mutter under her breath.

The flat of a moccasin foot connecting with the back of his shoulder blades sent him hurtling face first into the inky black shallow river and he found himself swallowing more than was healthy before pushing himself up and lunging forward again.

If he'd seen the faces of his two pursuers, he would have realized it was a game - totally one-sided - with little malice from the young hunters, but Jack never did know when to give up, thereby providing even more sport for the two young whooping warriors on horseback. Even Jack knew there was next to no hope of evading capture but when had that ever stopped him? It was only when he dropped to his knees in utter exhaustion, sweat dripping down his hanging head as he dragged lungfuls of much needed oxygen into his wheezing chest that he gave up the fight and accepted that he had failed. Failed miserably. He had no illusions about what was now to follow.

It had been the dog that had given him away - the one he'd actually befriended as it approached, dragging its belly on the ground as he worked on the foul smelling buffalo hide. Even in such a hopeless situation he'd held out his hand allowing it to be licked, and the friendship had been bonded with a rapturous licking frenzy together with vigorous tail wagging and so the mangy yellow cur dog was his.

It was only when Jack had broken free of his bonds that first night and began to scurry away that his canine friend had begun to cry plaintively. And before Jack could silence the hound it had set the other camp dogs on alert, particularly when they picked up his strange scent. Soon the barking warned the guards and in no time Jack's escape was made known.

Now, as he dangled by his bleeding wrists from cross poles normally reserved for cured hides, he didn't have to look into the dark faces of the people gazing up at him to know that his punishment was going to be the star attraction of the occasion.

'Gotta tell you flyboy, this is getting a tad boring,' he chastised himself silently.

He'd been hoisted up the moment he'd been dragged back to camp after his failed escape attempt, his feet bare inches from the ground; it might as well have been a mile. As his shoulders and wrists took the strain of his weight, his body swung gently and the cold night air could not prevent the rivulets of sweat that poured down his face and neck.

Morning was a long time in coming and for many of those hours, minutes and seconds, his only companion had been the cur dog whining softly from time to time as it realized something was amiss, but slowly the people of the tribe, men, women and children, began to take their places in a semi-circle around him. All were silent.

Eventually, Geronimo stepped forward followed closely by the old woman. Jack, even in the agony of his hanging body, did not fail to see the lethal looking switch the man had pressed into her hands.

He groaned inwardly.

'Oh shit, not again.'

He tried not to think about how now would be a really good time for his team to appear like the proverbial cavalry to save the day, or in this case a sad-assed air force colonel.

Harsh guttural words were spoken by the man and the woman and the crowd nodded in unison.

/He has broken the code of the people and must be punished. Would you carry out this task or choose another to fulfil the atonement?/

She was angry as hell with him, there was no denying it either in her dark scowl or in her body language, but within her she knew that a true warrior would be obliged to attempt escape. It was fitting.

/He belongs to my lodge therefore I will carry out this task. It is only right./

More words followed from Gran-from-hell until Jack wished they'd just get it over with. But when two braves suddenly darted forward and tore off his jacket and t-shirt, he knew exactly what was to come and stiffened in preparation just hoping that his kidneys wouldn't have to bear too much of the beating. He still had dark memories of a whipping he'd had years back which had resulted in him pissing blood. Not something he was looking to repeat.

The collective gasp of so many was not what he'd been expecting as his back was laid bare and Jack still continued to wait for the cutting bite of the weapon against his back. It never came.

/As foretold, he bears the marks...it may be that he is the one... Release him. Nothing will be gained in carrying out this punishment. Let us ensure that his action will not be repeated. Watch him. Watch him well. He is an accomplished warrior as the marks on his body attest. This may yet be a chance of fate, but whatever, we will be patient and await what will be./

To his complete astonishment, Jack found his rope was loosened and his feet felt solid ground. But shoulder muscles kept too long tied up high, screamed in protest and his face scrunched in pain as he rode out the agony of circulating blood, locking his knees and dropping his chin to his shoulders to conceal his distress.

He was aware of the dispersing of the crowd with no show of disappointment that he'd escaped being whipped to an inch of his life. However, as he massaged his protesting shoulder muscles an unexpected blow to the back of his knees felled him and he cursed loudly, but before he could react further, his boots and socks had been removed by two warriors leaving him shirtless and bare foot. Then Geronimo had issued a warning clear in its simplicity delivered with the blade of a knife at Jack's throat.

/Hear me and hear me well! Your body shows your valour and for such you will be spared, but do this again and there will be but one end!/

The prisoner knew without doubt what to expect should he attempt another escape.

Looking up, he met the steely gaze of the old woman, Little Step, who had been handed his footwear, and for a second saw something close to respect before she turned grunting an order and his heart knew what his position was - property, nothing more, nothing less, but he noted that her mumbled order seemed less severe than previously and as she turned away he knew he was expected to follow. This he did with the cur dog close on his heels.

(While back at the SGC)

Concluding her debrief, Sam finished by saying, "We searched every inch of the area but there was no sign of the Colonel. We haven't been able to ascertain whether he's been taken through the Stargate or is still on the planet, Sir."

Unable to look the general in the eye, Sam stared back at the closed iris as if willing it to reveal the missing member of SG-1.

Steeling herself to remain collected while she gave her report to General Hammond, Sam's whole body radiated deep unease. It was clear to her superior that she was struggling to retain her composure when her every natural instinct was to turn right around and return to the planet from where her CO had vanished. The same feelings were mirrored in the two remaining members of SG-1.

''General, you must know that every second we sit around doing nothing is precious time lost. We've got to go back. Now!''

Daniel was already standing, preparing to make the return trip to the planet.

Hammond's eyes softened sympathetically.

"I'm sending SG-2 and 5 to your last known co-ordinates..." and seeing the spark of rebellion in all three, he hardened his expression."Dr. Fraiser informs me you are all exhausted and require rest before I will consider your return to PX530."

The general could see the youngest member of the team about to interrupt with a strong protest and continued firmly,

"You will all go to your quarters and rest and come morning I will expect you all to be ready to return pending Dr. Fraiser's clearance. Is that clear SG-1?"

Discipline had been instilled in the captain and Jaffa warrior no matter how distasteful the order and the head of the SGC knew he need not worry about his orders being followed to the letter, but the young archaeologist had obviously been in the company of his 2IC long enough that certain insubordinate characteristics had rubbed off to the extent that he was plainly finding it difficult to rein in his natural instincts. The general, having been made aware of Dr. Jackson's impulsive nature, was not about to allow any form of disobedience. He had lost one member of his flagship team and he had no intention of it happening again.

"Dr. Jackson, if I so much as hear you've been looking at the Stargate, I will not hesitate to throw you in the brig for a period of time that will be distinctly unwelcome. I don't have time for any form of insubordination and I assure you that any non-compliance with my orders will be dealt with in the severest manner. Have I made myself understood?"

No matter his actual years, when the General took that tone with him Daniel found himself feeling as if he were a seven year old being given the dressing down of his life with the threat of a good spanking hanging over him like Damocles' sword. And it was only when he gave a resentful nod that General Hammond deigned to look away, thereby breaking the steely glare Daniel had been held in.

TBC