The wounded Otomi warriors considered Daniel's offer for several minutes; trading glances and a few Aztec words that Daniel did them the courtesy of pretending he didn't understand. Finally one of them gathered his courage and pointed his sword at Daniel.
"Why should we trust you?" he asked suspiciously.
Daniel lifted the gun and waved it suggestively.
"There is the fact that I haven't shot you yet."
The man nodded slowly, thinking for another moment. Then he lowered his own weapon and beckoned Daniel closer. Daniel kept the gun in his hand as he walked over, keeping the other wounded in his view and out of arms length reach.
"What can you do to help?" the man asked as he knelt down take a look at the wound in his leg.
"I don't know, I have to examine you first."
He reached for the bloody hole in the man's leg, dropping the gun on the ground to use both hands to gently feel for an exit wound at the back. The man flinched when his touch sent fiery shocks of pain through his thigh, but he said nothing. Finding no exit wound Daniel paused, unfortunately knowing what he had to do next.
"What's your name?" he asked lightly in an attempt to distract the man as he prodded the bullet hole for the little metal object still lodged in there.
"Chimalli." The answer came on a short breath, between clenched teeth.
"Okay, Chimalli, I know this hurts but I have to find out where the bullet is. And…we might have to try to take it out."
"Yes, the projectile that Sa…that hit your leg. It's still in there and if we don't get it out you could get a lot worse fast. After it's removed we can bandage the wound and hopefully it'll heal. And…"
Daniel hesitated, sitting back on his heels and letting his blooded hands rest. The man in front of him seemed able to endure his prodding, and probably the procedure of removing the bullet as well, but Daniel wasn't sure he would be able to perform it. Up until a few years ago the entire concept of bullets, and especially the wounds they left, had been utterly foreign to him. Now he had felt the sting of them for himself more times then he wanted to think of, but he had never attempted to remove one himself.
"Look," he said. "I'm going to dial my home world and ask my friends to send help. They can bring medical equipment and they'll make sure you'll heal just fine. Okay?"
Chimalli hesitated as well. Accepting help from Daniel was one thing, but this was one step further. Letting him dial the Stargate and call his friends for help was more like betrayal, disloyalty towards his queen. Daniel read his face and understood what thoughts moved within; he had seen loyalty at work before and he knew the force it had. It drove people to follow their masters almost to any extreme. Surprisingly enough Chimalli didn't consider very long before he nodded affirmatively. Usually it took Daniel a lot more effort to make someone turn, and it was almost impossible when it came to warriors and soldiers. The surprise must have been evident on his face because Chimalli flashed him a small smile.
"I'm dead to my people anyway. We all are. Your offer gives a better chance of living."
The explanation didn't do much to settle Daniel's confusion.
"Dead to them? Why? You're gonna be fine."
Chimalli shook his head, losing the smile to a sad expression.
"It does not matter. I have lost in battle and I should be dead. I assume your friends showed us mercy by not killing us, but such a thing does not exist among our people. Here there is but winning or dying."
"Is that why the guy who left before didn't head back towards the city?"
"Yes. If he had returned to Mixcoatco he would be sacrificed. It would of course be an honor but he must have decided he wanted to live. He will try to reach a neighboring city and appeal to live with them, as I will take my chances surrendering to your people. As we all will." He made a gesture that encompassed the other men in the glade, and Daniel looked around to see them nodding their agreement. Apparently they had all decided they wanted to live. He smiled with relief.
"I'm glad to hear that. I don't really…I would rather leave removing those bullets to someone who has done it before."
He rose, wiping his hands on his pants, and walked over to the DHD. With a glance to his new allies he paused. Maybe I shouldn't show them the address to Earth? Then he shrugged and punched in the symbols. There's always the iris. The thought wasn't as reassuring as it should have been, even if it was for a completely different reason than the potential threat of the Otomi knowing Earth's number. He had just realized that one of the many things he had naively left at the palace was his GDO, which meant that he couldn't go through the 'gate or he would end up as nothing but atoms spread over the back side of the trinium shield. Reaching for his radio he remembered he didn't have that either, so he couldn't call to inform the SGC of the situation. What am I going to do now?
He stood staring at the open wormhole, watching it ripple as his mind seemed to stand still – except for the imaginary voice of Jack yelling at him for being such a gullible idiot. Then, like a lightning strike from a clear sky, an idea flashed into his mind. Frantically he started scanning the ground, giving a muted yelp of joy when he found what he was looking for.
The Otomi followed his actions with confused interest. Finally Chimalli couldn't resist asking, with a voice that sounded just a bit impatient.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm looking for rocks," Daniel replied without turning away from his search. He had found two fist-sized stones near the base of the DHD, but that wouldn't be enough.
"What do you need rocks for? The portal is open, go fetch your friends." This time Chimalli's voice was definitely impatient, causing Daniel to stop and try to explain properly.
"I can't. I can't go through the 'gate. We have this…a kind of shield in front of the Stargate. It's called an iris, and it's meant to stop unwanted guests. If I don't send a specific signal before I go they won't open it for me and I will die. But I can't send the signal because the device I would use to send it is left in the city, so I have to send a message in a different way. That's what the rocks are for. If I send them through in a certain pattern the impacts on the iris will tell my friends that I need help."
Chimalli's face changed like a flip of a coin. He started running his hands over the ground as far as he could reach, feeling for rocks.
"How many do you need?" he asked, just as Daniel found another one by the Stargate platform.
"Nine. But I can only find three. The ground is too soft here." He kicked the offendingly mossy grass, an action that made more harm to his beaten up foot than it did to the ground. Making a grimace of pain he abruptly sat himself down with a disappointed huff. Chimalli looked at him for a moment, then he panned his gaze around the glade.
"Does it have to be rocks?" he asked.
"No…?" Daniel wrinkled his forehead in confusion, an expression that was quickly becoming the most common one between the two of them. The same thought must have occurred to Chimalli because he smiled a little wider as he continued.
"Then you can use our swords."
"Why didn't I think of that?!" Daniel jumped to his feet, immediately forgetful of the pain.
Turning to the Stargate Daniel saw the wormhole was still open. He assumed that meant the people back at SGC were trying to hail them on their radios, since the connection would have been broken if nothing at all passed through. As he walked up the steps he wondered if the radio signals reached the rest of his team back in the city, if they even had their radios anymore, or if the impacts of his collected items would be the only answer the SGC received. There was no possible way of knowing.
He knelt down and aligned the rocks and swords for quick fire. The timing would have to be quite precise to get his message through, and without any more items he only had one chance to get it right. He just hoped the right person was manning the computers so they would understand. Maybe Walter. He'll get it – I hope. He picked up the first rock and threw it in the puddle, quickly followed by the other two. After that he threw in three swords with longer pauses in-between, and finally the last three swords in the same quick succession as the stones. Then he waited, counting the seconds as they added up to minutes. He tried to figure out if it was getting close to the thirty eight minute limit for the 'gate to stay open, and he wondered how long he had spent looking for something to hurl through the 'gate. He had just started his fifteenth sixty-second cycle when the wormhole dissolved, and his best guess was that adding the time he had spent rock searching the SGC had kept the line open for as long as they could. He wasn't sure what that meant though.
"Do you think they got the message?" Chimalli uttered the question on his mind, but he could give him no better answers than he had for himself.
"I don't know."
In the same moment the words passed his lips the Stargate began spinning, locking in the symbols of Earth's address again. The vortex erupted with the Kawoosh sound that had lent it its nickname. Daniel smiled widely and prepared to greet the SG-team he anticipated to rush out with guns at the ready, but the minutes stretched out without anything happening. He started counting again; this time definitely reaching a full cycle of the Stargate's maximum open time. By the time the puddle dissolved into nothing he had drawn the conclusion that he couldn't count on reinforcements any time soon. Maybe Walter wasn't on duty. He stifled a curse, wondering if it had been worth trying to call for help at all or if he should have headed after his friends to the city a once.
"Don't seem like they've figured it out yet," he said to Chimalli, kneeling down to take another look at the wound. He swallowed hard. "I guess I'm going to have to give this a go after all. Do you have a knife?"
Chimalli shook his head, but one of the others pulled out a small blade that he handed to Daniel. It was a beautiful weapon, made from a finely worked piece of flint that despite its primitiveness had a sharp and straight edge. The anthropologist in him ached to study it and find out how it had been made, but at the moment he had a very different task at hand.
"Now, this is going to hurt," he told his patient and got a stoic nod in response that reminded him so much of Teal'c that he thought the man could have made a pretty decent Jaffa.
Taking a deep breath he felt in the man's wound again, locating the back end of the slug lodged in the flesh once more. It wasn't deep in, which was what made him think he could actually do this without causing more damage than he was trying to fix. He was more than a little nervous about some of the others' wounds which would be more difficult to tackle. He pushed the worries aside and focused on the man in front of him. He would handle the others in case this went well – or maybe not if it didn't.
He slid the knife into the wound until it touched the bullet, and then further down beside it. Sweat broke on Chimalli's face, but he barely made a sound of even twitched as Daniel dug into the wound to get hold of the slippery slug. It was difficult, bloody work, but just as Daniel was getting a little worried his patient was losing too much blood he managed to get a grip of the crumpled piece of metal and pull it out. With one hand on the now profusely bleeding wound his other hand reflexively went up to search for the pocket on his tac vest that usually contained an emergency bandage. Then he remembered – he wasn't wearing the vest. Great, yet another thing I left at the palace, just because I was SO sure there was no danger… He forced himself to cut off the self-berating thoughts. That's not very constructive. I have more important things to think of than how stupid I am. Besides, I'm sure Jack will tell me all about it as soon as he gets an opportunity.
Refocusing his mind on the task at hand, finding something to bandage Chimalli's wound, his eyes fell on the rich colored cloak given to him by the queen. He'd worn it all the way from the temple, not stopping to take it off even when it got snagged on branches in their initial mad dash through the forest. He remembered vaguely that Teal'c had wrapped it snuggly around him both times that he had carried him in his strong arms. It had made him feel secure, reminded him of how his mother had carried him to bed when she was still alive.
He had finally thrown the cloak to the side when he began searching for rocks, but now he picked it up again and carried it over to Chimalli's side. The fine fabric tore easily into long strips and he barely even felt bad for ruining the artful weave. It had after all been a gift intended for him to wear to his death, which took away a lot of its allure as an artifact.
Having stemmed the bleeding with a snug bandage, he checked on the other wounded. It turned out only one of them had been hit by a bullet from Sam's gun. The other three had taken blasts from Teal'c's staff, leaving them with burns that Daniel couldn't do much to help with. They needed professional treatment, possibly surgery, and at the least water to stay hydrated. Daniel had none of those things to provide, so unless the reinforcements from Earth came soon the ones with the worst burns might not make it. He explained the situation with a heavy heart and was amazed by how calmly they accepted his words.
"We should be dead anyway," they told him.
Daniel shook his head. Death wasn't quite that easy for him to accept.
"My friends will come," he assured them – and himself, "and when they do, they will help you. They have medicine for burns like these."
The Otomi nodded appreciatively but he could see they weren't convinced. When it came right down to it he wasn't either. The people he would trust most to figure out the message he had sent were all on the wrong side of the Stargate, held captive by murderously religious natives and in need of the very rescue he had hoped the reinforcements would provide. Now it seemed that the only rescue they could expect was him, wounded, alone and armed only with a single hand gun and possibly the small flint knife. Well, this should be a piece of cake…
He tried to push away the worry and fears, and the vague terror of the thought that he might already be too late, that his friends had already been sacrificed on the altar of those people's 'celebration'. How long have I delayed here? He pushed that thought away as well, concentrating on the men in front of him. No matter how much he wanted to go after his friends his conscience wouldn't allow him to leave without at least doing what he could for the wounded.
The second surgery went surprisingly well, even if Daniel was sure the man would need more care if he was going to recover completely. The bullet had gone into the knee and only a real doctor could tell what the full extent of the damage was.
Deciding there wasn't anything more he could do for his patients Daniel picked up his gun and checked it over like Jack had taught him. He found he had almost a full clip of ammunition. That's something good I guess. He slammed the magazine back into the gun and turned to the Otomi. In the process of examining and treating them he had moved them over to the side of the Stargate platform. They would be safe there from the Kawoosh of an incoming wormhole and still able to make contact when the reinforcements finally did come from Earth. To his surprise Chimalli wasn't sitting with the others; he was in the process of getting to his feet.
"I'm coming with you," he said matter a factly, dismissing Daniel's protests with a hand gesture that reminded him of Jack in his 'don't argue with me, Daniel'-mood. "You need my help, and I am willing to give it after what you have done for us. I am dead to my people, but to you I am alive. Let me aid you."
Daniel frowned but found he couldn't very well argue. He did need the help. Even if he hadn't been wounded he would be alone against every single person in Mixcoatco. On the other hand Chimalli wasn't much in the way of back up, wounded as he was himself. Meeting the man's eyes Daniel realized it wouldn't matter much if he argued, so he nodded acceptance to the offer and with matching limps the two of them headed into the forest toward the city.
It was a painful walk. Daniel felt the sting of the wound in his side at every step, and the blood loss he'd suffered had made him weaker than he had realized at first. He didn't even want to think about what state his feet were in. He had added the last strips of the cloak to the bandages Sam had applied so he hoped at least he wasn't getting any new cuts. Occasionally he cast a sideways glance at the man walking next to him. He must also be in awful pain. He knew how a bullet wound felt, but Chimalli did a good job of hiding his pain. His face was a mask of pure determination, and in admiring his perseverance Daniel never considered that his own expression was exactly the same. Despite the pain and exhaustion there was only one thought in his mind; to find and free his friends. Taking care of his injuries, or even feeling them for that matter, would have to wait until they were safe.
The best way he knew to keep the pain at bay was thinking of the plan, even though at the moment he didn't have much of one. In fact all he had was the hope that the Otomi back at the city hadn't taken down the rope he and the rest of SG-1 had climbed out of the city with, and that it was unguarded. Then he and Chimalli might have a chance of entering the city unseen, and the further they got without being detected the greater the chance was that he could actually rescue his friends.
Dusk slowly crept in over the world. It was barely noticeable at first in the already shadowy forest and it wasn't until they were nearing the tree line, sighting the city walls between the thinning trees, that Daniel realized the sun had almost set.
They approached the wall just out of sight from the city gates, thanking the darkness for the cover it provided. Daniel was pretty sure they were at the right spot but the rope was nowhere in sight. Unwilling to give up he hobbled back and forth along the wall several times, but eventually he had to resign to fact.
"Crap," he muttered and plunked himself down on a fallen log to rest his aching feet. "They must have taken it down."
"Taken what down?" Chimalli asked. He had quizzically watched the pacing and Daniel realized he hadn't told him the plan.
"The rope that I and my friends used to climb out of the city. I had hoped we could climb in the same way, since the gate's probably too well guarded. Now I don't know how we're going to get in."
Chimalli nodded understanding, but he didn't seem quite as discouraged as Daniel by the setback.
"I have an idea," he revealed, instantly sparking Daniel's hope and motivation again.
"There's a small door leading into the warrior quarters. It is usually not guarded since the Otomi are the only ones who know of it. We should be able to sneak in."
Daniel bounced to his feet. He almost wanted to hug Chimalli but instead he harnessed the energy that his words had given him and channeled it into giving him strength for the rescue operation. There were still many obstacles in their way to overcome and he was going to need every ounce of strength.
The small door was unguarded as promised, and Daniel immediately saw why. It was so well hidden by a dense shrubbery that he doubted he would have been able to find it on his own, even if he had known it existed.
"Be careful," Chimalli pointed to the branches and Daniel noticed long needle-sharp thorns. "The thorns of the Cochi-xihuitl are poisonous and will put you into a deep sleep if they pierce your skin. We use their poison for our sleep-arrows."
"Like the ones they used on my friends?"
"So it's just a sedative? I mean, I suspected it was poison, but…." I was afraid to ask. "It isn't dangerous? It just put them to sleep?"
"Yes. They will wake after a few hours, feeling much like a man the day after a great feast but that will pass too. As a matter of fact they may already be awake."
Getting a vague idea Daniel ripped a strip off his already torn t-shirt and used the piece of fabric as a glove to pick a handful of thorns. He wrapped the sharp points up so he wouldn't accidentally prick himself and carefully placed the packet in his pocket. He didn't know what he was going to do with them yet, but they might prove useful for something before this escapade was over.
The door creaked a little when it opened but no other sounds could be heard in the dark corridor beyond. The darkness seemed almost tangibly compact, especially when the door closed behind them and shut out the last evening light. As their eyes adjusted a dim glow became visible further in. They snuck forward as silently as they could manage, and soon found that the glow came from light sifting through a drape covering the opening at the corridor's end. A careful peek behind the drape revealed a dining hall filled with row after row of wooden tables and benches. The tables were laden high with food but the room was still empty waiting for its guests.
"The warriors will be here soon," Chimalli whispered. "We should hurry."
He folded the drape to the side and led the way toward a door on the other side of the room. Halfway across they passed a huge wooden barrel next to a table with wooden mugs. Daniel paused.
"What's in this barrel?"
"Water. We shouldn't stop." Chimalli urged him to come, but he was unsuspectingly about to get a taste of dealing with Daniel having an idea.
"Do all the warriors drink from it?"
"Yes, yes, of course. Now come before they get here."
Chimalli grabbed for Daniel's hand but he easily avoided him and pulled out the little bundle of thorns he had collected outside. The Otomi smiled when he understood and hurried instead to help unplug the lid on the barrel. Daniel unfolded the fabric and dropped the thorns in the water, and after resealing the barrel they hurried out the door.