The Long Haul

Chapter 2: Starting and Stopping

The clearing

"It's no use, sir!" Carter threw her hands up in frustration. After two and a half hours she'd exhausted every possibility she could imagine, and herself in the process. "There's just no way I can deactivate this from the inside." She wiped her sleeve across her forehead to absorb the sweat that had accumulated there.

Colonel O'Neill raised his zat. "Back to plan 'A' then," he declared. "We short circuit the sucker."

Carter squeezed herself between his outstretched arm and the boundary of the softly shimmering force field. There wasn't a lot of space to spare. "As I've already explained, sir, the field will either simply absorb the energy or more likely rebound it at us. I'm sure I don't need to remind you what a zat blast at close quarters feels like?"

Jack frowned at her, opened his mouth to make a snide retort, then shrugged and lowered his weapon. Having been knocked on his butt after colliding with the shield when it was first activated, he was in no hurry to get himself shocked into total unconsciousness.

"Should we not consider a Plan 'C' instead?" Teal'c put in.

"You got something, T? Cos I'm all out," Jack shot back. If there was one thing guaranteed to rile the colonel, it was feeling helpless. "I don't see any cavalry on the horizon waiting to ride in to our rescue, do you?"

"I do not." Teal'c paused for a moment and pointedly glanced around. "Neither do I see any guards posted to prevent our departure," Teal'c stated the obvious as only he could.

"That's because they know this force field is impenetrable," Sam kicked the dusty ground at her feet. If there was one thing guaranteed to rile the captain, it was her failure to solve a problem.

Without another word, Teal'c took the standard issue shovel from out of his backpack, assembled the handle and began to dig. Nothing seemed to rile the Jaffa.

Nightfall in the woods

"My horse needs to rest. I don't wish to risk him injuring a leg in the dark. We'll make camp here for the night," declared Valton, dismounting and tethering his steed loosely to a nearby branch so that it could graze on the mossy forest floor.

Your horse isn't the only one!

Daniel had never been so glad to hear anything in his life.

They had been marched at a brutal pace for what must have been five or six hours, though the movement of the alien sun across an unfamiliar sky made it difficult to be accurate. It certainly felt like it had been a very long day.

One thing Daniel could be sure of was that he ached all over. He'd been allowed to move the princess to different positions periodically – piggy-back, fireman's lift etc - but never to put her down. His shoulders were burning, his arms ached, his back was stiff and his bruised ribs were sore. He was lucky they weren't broken. His legs felt like lead and his feet hurt. He was clammy with sweat, his floppy hair lank and plastered to his forehead and neck. He was tired and hungry, and sick to death of hearing the girl whine all the way about how unfair all this was on her.

If Daniel thought his ordeal had been suspended, he soon learned differently.

"Put her down over there - carefully," Folcan ordered, nodding toward the base of a particularly wide girthed tree and waving his weapon in Daniel's face in a manner that warned Daniel not to make any sudden moves.

He needn't have worried. Daniel could barely move at all, even when the rope was removed from Valton's saddle giving him some leeway. It was all Daniel could do not to drop the princess like a sack of coals.

Unsure how he managed it, Daniel sat her down gently against the trunk, being especially sensitive to her injured foot, which so far seemed to have been mercifully numb by her lack of complaint on the subject.

Now however, the shift in her center of gravity restored feeling and she yelped loudly. A wellspring of tears poured forth from her pale lavender-blue eyes. "We are in intolerable pain. Make it stop!" Since Daniel was out of reach, her fists pounded the ground at her sides instead.

For the first time, her tone was more upset than angry, the gesture borne of frustration rather than fury. She hadn't even protested about the lack of a blanket to sit on.

"Silence, Pa'tuch, you would complain of 'intolerable pain' if you broke a fingernail!" Folcan raised his arm as if to strike her.

Ro'Pita sobbed all the louder.

Daniel put himself between them, arms spread out slightly from his sides, but low, palms upward, careful not to make any counter move that might be perceived as a threat, but making it clear he would not allow his charge to be beaten or bullied. All thoughts of asking for something to ease her discomfort evaporated. They didn't care.

Folcan glared, but dropped his arm.

"I'm truly sorry, Highness, but without a first aid kit there's little I can do," Daniel was genuinely empathic to her plight.

Under the watchful eye of Folcan, Daniel removed his jacket and rolled it up, using it to elevate and cushion her ankle, if only slightly. With the setting of the sun the air had began to cool and he shivered at the contrast.

Daniel briefly debated with himself whether he should suggest removing her boot. The ankle was bound to be badly swollen, and the snug fitting footwear probably felt as if it was cutting into the delicate flesh, making it throb. On the other hand, it would offer the support that he didn't have a bandage to provide.

Daniel could use Sam's advice. He wished she were here, along with Jack and Teal'c. He wondered what was happening with them, and how much longer it would be before they turned up.

On balance, Daniel thought it best to leave the boot well alone. Even with him carrying her, it would be easier to make a quick getaway if she was still wearing it. The idea of a rescue attempt being bodged because she insisted on someone going back for her priceless footwear didn't bear thinking about.

"You done pampering Princess Pa'tuch?" Folcan asked in an irritated tone, casting a glance over his shoulder at the campfire the others had gotten going.

They were starting to cook their rations. Folcan was clearly anxious to make sure he got his share, but the prisoners were his responsibility and he had to secure them first.

"I'm afraid I've done all I can," Daniel nodded. He wished he could do more. The girl was evidently in genuine pain from her ankle, and there was a nasty cut on her forehead, surrounded by a large raised bruise. She probably had the devil of a headache and almost certainly had a concussion.

Under threat of the energy weapon, Folcan gave Daniel a length of rope and ordered him to bind the princess to the tree.

"Is that really necessary?" Daniel queried. "She can't stand, let alone run away."

Folcan pressed the weapon hard against Daniel's solar plexus and simultaneously delivered a powerful left-hook to his jaw, making Daniel's head whip sideways. The noose that still hung loosely round his neck rubbed against his flesh. Daniel winced, feeling his teeth with his tongue to be sure they were all still in place.

The princess cowered in fear.

"My humble apologies, Highness," Daniel offered as he encircled her waist, arms and the trunk of the tree with the rope. He made sure to fasten it tight enough to satisfy the guy with the gun, but not so tight as to cause her any real discomfort.

"Now, your turn," Folcan declared. "Stand there." He gestured to the same tree, to the right of the princess, and forced Daniel to stand up straight with his back to it. The length of rope dangling from the noose was looped over a sturdy branch above Daniel's head and then knotted around a lower one. So much for lying down to rest, if Daniel let his head droop more than a few inches; the slack in the rope would tighten and the noose would start to throttle him.

A second, shorter piece of rope was looped around Daniel's left wrist, taken behind the trunk and then tied to his right wrist, pulling his arms behind him so that he was half hugging the tree in a most awkward and uncomfortable backward position.

Folcan checked that their bonds were secure before moving off to get his supper. Daniel asked when it would be their turn to eat, but received no answer.

"We are most disappointed in you, Daniel," Ro'Pita said his name in exactly the same scathing tone as Folcan had said Pa'tuch. "You promised our father we would be safe in your care."

Daniel bit back the urge to point out that if the precious princess hadn't fussed and flounced and dilly-dallied so long before leaving the palace, they would have been safely through the Gate and back on Earth long before the marauders showed up to abduct her. Them. Which thought led him inevitably to another, more disturbing one.

"I'm very sorry, but we couldn't have foreseen the attack upon you, Highness," he began. "Doesn't it strike you as odd that these kidnappers just happened to show up as you were in the vicinity of your spinrock?"

Daniel was always fascinated by the various names given to the Stargate. They often gave a clue as to the ancestral origins of the natives. Spinrock was both a fairly fitting – if slightly inaccurate - description of the device and the Swedish word for a spinning wheel, which was also pretty apt.

The Princess looked up at him sharply, obviously reaching the same conclusion that he had. Someone had tipped them off that she was making her very first journey off world. Well, almost the same conclusion.

"You are in league with them!" she decided, shrieking with fury. "You betrayed us! We trusted you, and you have delivered us to our enemies."

Daniel was suddenly grateful that she was tied up; else he would surely have been on the receiving end of those fists again. Genuinely shocked by her accusation, Daniel looked down at her delicate face, marred by the angry bruise on her forehead. He frowned.

"Your Highness knows that is not true."

She squirmed beneath his scrutiny and avoided eye contact. "Yes, of course we know it. We are hungry, upset and tired. That is all." Her tone made it clear that particular topic was closed.

"Apology accepted, Highness." Daniel realized that was as close as he would get to one. He changed tack. "Might I ask, do you know who these people are, Highness?"

"The Mendan, from a neighboring planet. A world filled with untrustworthy ruffians. They have traded with us for generations, but of late they have revealed themselves to have designs upon our throne."

Further discussion was curtailed by the return of Folcan, bringing them meager rations of a couple of dry biscuits and a cup of water each.

Princess Ro'Pita berated him loudly for the unsuitability of the food and more so for having to endure being fed by him.

It was only Daniel's intervention and groveling gratitude that ensured they didn't go to sleep without anything at all.

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