Unwanted Honor

Chapter 3

Jack woke early and lay confused for a moment in the soft bed. He was used to waking up in strange places; almost every night they camped out on an alien planet. But that was just it – they usually camped out. The number of alien worlds that received them with these kinds of comforts could be counted on one hand. His mind cleared quickly and he remembered yesterday's surprisingly smooth first encounter with the locals. The thought made a wrinkle appear on his brow. He didn't particularly like smooth – no matter how little he liked the opposite. Smooth always seemed to come back to bite them in the ass on a later date.

He wasn't about to complain though; he hadn't slept this well in a long time. After showing him his room the servants had left him alone, and he had fallen for the temptation to take a long bath in the pool in his bathroom. The warm waters had left him sleepy and he had promptly fallen into a deep sleep that lasted all through the night.

Refreshed and in the mood for some tactical snooping Jack donned his uniform and left his room. In the hallway he hesitated for a moment and considered waking one or two of his teammates to join him, but he decided it was unnecessary. It was still early and yesterday's events had not given him any reason to think he'd be at risk from wandering around on his own. Besides, he was a soldier and well armed. He could defend himself if it came to that.

He saw no one as he strolled through the halls of their wing, but as he drew nearer to the centre of the palace activity increased. Servants were hurrying back and forth with flowers and other preparations for the feast. Aside from a respectful nod and quickly getting out of his direct path none of them seemed to notice him, which suited him perfectly. The less attention he drew the more he in turn could observe.

He hung around the main hall for a while, watching as several banquet tables were set up and laid for the guests. After some time he noticed that many of the preparations were also leaving the palace so he joined the steady stream of servants to find out where they were going. It didn't take him long to recognize the path to the temple, and even though he would never admit it to Daniel he became a bit curious to see if he could sneak in and see it.

The plaza in front of the temple was as much a hub of activity as the main hall of the palace had been. The whole area was full of workers erecting tables of purely gigantic proportions. It seemed that the entire city would be invited to the feast. The servants Jack had been following joined the preparations, arranging flowers for decorations and in several huge copper vats right beneath the temple stairs. Preparations were being done on the temple as well. Halfway up the grand staircase was a wide landing where a row of big fires burned with flames that almost contended with the rising sun. A dozen priests in bead and feather decorated cloaks milled around the inferno, tending the fires and mounting several big roasting spits. Since no one but the priests went near the temple Jack decided it was safest not to press his luck and stayed down on the plaza as well.

Finally he became bored with watching and strolled back to the palace to see if any of his teammates had woken up yet. He found Teal'c in the main hall, doing much the same as Jack had a while earlier.

"Morning, T."

"Good morning, O'Neill."

Jack leaned against the wall next to his Jaffa friend.

"Sleep well?"

"I rested well."

"Yeah, is this a sweet place or what?!"

Teal'c didn't respond, just lifted an eyebrow at the expression. He was getting better at understanding his Tauri teammates, but once in a while they said things that he couldn't make sense of. A location cannot have a taste.

Jack suppressed a sigh.

"Let's go fetch Sam and Daniel, and find out when this party is gonna get started."

When they reached their hallway they met Sam outside Daniel's room, with a more than a little concerned look on her face. Jack's hackles went up.

"Carter? What's up?"

"It's Daniel, sir. He's not in his room. Some of his things are still in there, but there's no trace of him."

"Are you sure he didn't just go for a stroll? He does have a tendency to wander off, and this place is like a candy store for someone like him." Jack tried to hide the twinge of worry that had appeared in the pit of his stomach.

"I know, sir. I figured as much, but when I tried to hail him on the radio I found that he had left it behind."

Crap! Jack made a grimace and barely resisted the urge to ram his fist into something. I thought I had trained him not to do that anymore.

"Well, let's go see if someone's seen him," he said aloud and led the way back through the corridors. They halted everyone they met and finally found a servant girl who lit up at the mention of Daniel's name.

"Yes, Tlatoani Danil. I had the honor to aid him in his purification yesterday. He is with the queen until the celebration where he will be honored. You will see him there."

Jack frowned. He didn't like his team separated on an alien planet, but he could almost hear Daniel objecting to him trying to find him. 'It's their custom' he would say, and wave off Jack's worry as unfounded. Reluctantly he resisted insisting on seeing Daniel.

"When will this celebration begin?" he asked instead.

"At noontide, lord. If you wait in your chambers someone will come fetch you when it is time to gather."

A glance at his watch told Jack there were still a few hours left until noon.

"I think we'll just take a walk instead, if you don't mind," he said and checked the girl's expression to see if she would object. She smiled and pointed down a nearby corridor.

"The royal gardens are down that hall. The queen's guests are free to go anywhere they like. The runner-boys will find you when it is time for the celebration."

The time snaked by as they waited. There wasn't much to entertain themselves with. Another recon of the palace and surrounding areas reveled there was indeed nowhere they weren't allowed to go, except into the queen's chambers. That's where they were told Daniel was, and Jack assumed the two of them were probably engaged in tedious treaty negotiations. No matter how it itched him to have one of his people out of sight he was not very inclined to barge into that conversation. When it came to diplomacy Daniel needed his input just as much as he would enjoy giving it.

In the end the three of them ended up dozing on a lawn in the garden, each drifting off in their own thoughts as they watched the clouds sail by on the blue sky. Good day for a party, Jack thought and considered sharing the conclusion with Sam who lay a few feet away. The words died before they reached his lips though; it was too much effort to say them.

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