Chapter 11: Going Home?
They traveled much faster on the return journey, but Jack was still worried about how long they had taken navigating the forest, even after sunrise.
Daniel had drifted in and out of consciousness during the day, and several times Jack had barely caught him before he fell off the horse. Carter had been right, Jackson wouldn't have made it very far on his own. Jack was also worried about how hot Daniel felt, his body heat searing into his back as they rode.
Mid morning, after yet another near fall, they dismounted and stopped briefly. Carter made Daniel drink another dose of the antibiotic, but he remained feverish. Sam took his pulse and said it was elevated. His heart rate was rapid but weak. He complained of a headache and feeling dizzy and seemed confused about where they were and what was happening.
While Ro'Pita cradled Daniel's head and mopped his fevered brow, Carter led the colonel off to one side. "Daniel's very sick, sir. His temperature is through the roof. We need to get him to the infirmary A.S.A.P."
"Or...?" Jack let the question hang in the air. He really didn't want to speculate.
"I'm not a doctor, I wouldn't like to say for sure. Those dressings I applied really ought to be changed, but out here I'm worried about exposing the wounds to more bacteria. As it is I'm afraid..." Shaking her head, she broke off and took a couple of steps away, turning aside.
Jack closed the gap and stood in front of her. "Report, Captain," he demanded firmly, but his eyes betrayed a softness that silently told her he understood how she felt.
"Worst case scenario - with a fever running that high he could die sir." She blinked back tears she didn't want the colonel to see her shedding. "Although Daniel might consider my other concern to be worse than death."
Jack looked at her in alarm. "What are you talking about, Carter?"
"His feet are riddled with infection. Unless Doc Fraiser can do something to get it under control pretty fast... Daniel might..." she took a hitching breath, unwilling to voice her fear. "He might lose... Janet may have to amputate them."
"Ah, crap!" Jack wasn't ready to visualize that scenario. He knew he'd almost certainly choose death over such a disability, and thought Carter could well be right about Daniel feeling the same. "Damn those sonsofbitches!"
Jack took a swing at the nearest tree, punching hard into the bark and welcoming the momentary distraction of the pain to his knuckles.
"They're victims too, sir. The situation wasn't of their choosing. They need our help."
"Let 'em rot."
"You don't mean that, Colonel," Carter challenged. "There are children's lives at stake too remember. They've done nothing to Daniel."
"Maybe not," he mumbled. Jack strode over to his horse and fed it one of the apples Ruygan had supplied, taking a moment to calm himself down. Then he took a deep breath and announced, "Time to mount up. Let's get going."
As they helped him up on to the rested horse, Sam suggested tying Daniel to Jack to help keep him in the saddle. But when they tried his fevered brain panicked, thinking he was back in captivity. It took all three of them to calm him down and reassure him that he was safe and among friends.
After that, Jack had pushed them even harder, so that by mid-afternoon they were back at the Mendan settlement.
Carter prevailed upon Ruygan to accompany them back to the spinrock, so that he could collect his horses there, explaining that neither Daniel nor Ro'Pita could make it on foot. When she asked if they could hire more horses on their return so that the tyrant Drogor could be overthrown, Ruygan was only too pleased to offer what assistance he was able. He'd been afraid for the Mendan captives before when - against all reason - he'd decided to help them but, he told Sam, he felt in his heart that the best chance they had would be for him to trust the strangers. He claimed that he 'sensed' SG-1 would prove to be Menda's salvation.
"We'll do our best," Sam assured him.
Sam was helping a shaky Daniel - still on horseback - work out how to dial Earth. Jack was talking to the princess, sitting nervously atop her own horse while Ruygan held its reins. Jack had to admit, if only to himself, that her time in captivity seemed to have done wonders in toning down her superiority complex.
"Would you rather we took you back home to Salverit instead, Highness?" he asked tactfully, though he'd have Sam take Daniel through to Earth first before he accompanied the princess if it came to it. "I know you must be anxious to be sure your father is safe."
"We are concerned for our father, but we cannot go home. We can never go home." Ro'Pita burst into tears.
Daniel paused his study of the DHD and looked over his shoulder at the sound of her sobbing.
"What have you said to the princess now, Jack?" he asked wearily. He didn't have the energy to plead for Jack's life again.
"Who, me?" Jack pointed to himself, looking hurt and offended. "Nothing - just asked if she wanted to go straight home."
Ro'Pita wailed even louder.
"What is it, Highness, what's wrong?" Sam asked sympathetically.
"If we t-tell you, you will l-leave us he-he-here," she said through her sobs.
"Of course we won't, Highness," Daniel promised. "Please tell us why you're so upset."
"We are no longer of use to anyone," she buried her face in her hands.
"What do you mean, Highness?" Sam instinctively wanted to hug the girl, but even if Ro'Pita weren't still on the horse, Carter would have needed royal consent to touch her.
Ro'Pita fingered the dressing Sam had applied to her forehead. "This injury has robbed us of our gift. We dare not confess it before. We feared those ruffians would kill us, and Daniel too. We cannot return home in shame. We will not be welcome." She renewed her crying.
"Your father will be relieved to see you," Daniel reassured her.
"He will not," Ro'Pita insisted. "He blames us for the death of our mother when she birthed us. He only tolerates us because we have helped Salverit prevail against deceivers. No-one of Salverit likes Ro'Pita – only her gift." She dissolved into further floods of tears, her body shaking with sobs.
"Perhaps your gift will return once your injury heals, Highness," Daniel tried to placate her. He felt for her distress, but also for his own. Her bawling was exacerbating his headache.
She looked at him and he smiled at her in encouragement.
She suddenly remembered she was not the only injured party.
"Perhaps," she echoed, sniffing. "This is not the time or place to speculate on it. We should hasten to your 'infirmary' as soon as possible."
She didn't make it clear whether she was using the 'royal we' or including Daniel in that. Daniel felt that she was being deliberately ambiguous, so as to be thoughtful without seeming soft and weak. Either way, he heartily agreed with her plan. She may dread returning to her home, but he was desperate to get back to his. He was so damned tired.