Nevertheless, as he now lay on the pallet she’d fixed for him in a corner of what he supposed was her house, he was restless and filled with dread. The breeze through the window nearby still carried the heat of the vanished day. Not that heat would keep him awake. He’d slept like a baby in deserts and in jungles, taking rest where and when he could get it. You learned to do that in his line of work. Of course, there usually had been someone standing watch while he slept, which helped. That line of thought brought him back to Jack, naturally. For a dozen years, when it was the two of them on a mission, knowing that Jack had his back made it easy to sleep anywhere. He’d always hoped the feeling was mutual. It seemed to be: Jack could lie down, pull his hat over his eyes, and be out like a light in thirty seconds. And be up again in a flash, if there was need; Cromwell had never met anyone with quicker reflexes. He wondered what his friend was doing right now, and when he would see him again. Wondered if he would do so.
He knew damn well that traipsing off into the woods and farther away from the gate was not going to improve his chances of that. While he was pretty sure that an SG team would not only scout the area immediately surrounding the gate for signs of him but would also follow the same trail that had led him to Llanavon, he was far less certain that they would manage to locate him if he left the village and went farther afield. A lot would depend on the Pridani cooperating and telling them of his whereabouts. Hell, he wasn’t even sure how Jack or anyone else from the SGC would communicate with the locals here. Jack had mentioned something about SG-1’s civilian linguist, a consultant to the Air Force. He hadn’t met the man in the course of the crisis that brought him to the SGC; the good doctor had probably had been somewhere up top with the rest of the evacuees while he and Jack and the rest of Jack’s team dealt with matters below. You didn’t need a linguist to deal with a black hole, after all. He just hoped the guy was good, and knew some Welsh. What were the odds of that, though?
Of course, he could improve his chances if he just got the hell out of here and went back to the gate. He wasn’t sure whether he was a prisoner or a guest. Getting up and simply heading for the exit was one way to find out, he supposed. If he wasn’t a prisoner, they’d have to let him go. If they didn’t, then at least he’d know his status. He didn’t really want to hurt any of these people, although if he had to do so in order to free himself, he would. It beat being carried off to who-knew-where and missing his ride home.
Quietly, he sat up and took stock of the small house. It was full dark now and no candles or other lights burned, but he had entered at twilight, and remembered noting wood-and-plaster walls, a worn wooden floor, and a wall dividing the interior into two rooms. The one he was in was sparsely furnished with an oaken table, two benches and a couple of chairs, all fairly plain and sturdy. His pallet occupied the corner farthest from the door, where the dividing wall joined an outer wall. A fireplace took up a portion of this outer wall, its hearth cold in the summer heat. Tesni must rely on the communal kitchen for food and hot water at this time of year, he reasoned. Listening intently, he could just hear her breathing softly in the sleeping room on the other side of the dividing wall. An open doorway linked the two rooms, about ten feet from where he sat. In the other direction, he knew, about fifteen feet separated him from the home’s entryway, a narrow opening filled by a door of nondescript, weathered wood. He recalled iron hinges and a worn-looking latch. He hoped they were well-oiled.
Levering himself up from the pallet, he crossed the room silently, pausing to feel the door hinges. His finger came away slightly greasy. Good; he should be able to open the door without anyone’s hearing. Probably quieter than climbing out an open window, though the thought of doing the latter had crossed his mind. He glanced back at the room again, double-checking his options. The windows appeared as slightly lighter rectangles in the overall dimness, their sills about four feet off the floor with nothing beneath them to climb on, unless he wanted to start moving furniture around and risk waking Tesni. The openings themselves were narrow, offering no room to swing his legs up and gain purchase; he’d have to pull himself up using his arms alone and then wriggle through, head-first. Not really all that difficult, especially for someone with his training. But to do it silently, in his current sub-optimal state, when his arms were still protesting the gravitational strain he’d undergone while holding onto Jack, back in the Gate Room? Eh, maybe not. Christ, he could do it right now, he knew, if his arms and shoulders — okay, everything else, too — weren’t stiff and sore as hell from that and bruised from his rough landing when he’d exited the wormhole on this planet. But at the moment, hard as it was to admit, he trusted the door more than he trusted his own body.
Lifting the latch, he gave a gentle tug. The wooden slab swung noiselessly on its hinges, and he stopped it with a hand when the gap was wide enough to slip through. A peek outside showed the empty lane, just around the corner from the village square, everything barely visible in the inky blackness. Between the surrounding forest blocking all but a patch of sky directly overhead and the fact that the only one of the planet’s moons even visible was a mere sliver in its current phase, he had only the faint glow of a portion of the Milky Way’s ribbon to light his path. It was enough, if just barely, as his eyes had adjusted to the darkness several hours ago when he’d lain down and feigned sleep on his temporary bed. Not that he’d have exactly minded having a pair of night-vision goggles right about now, but he was grateful for the fact that his own natural night vision had always been good.
Stepping fully outside, he pulled the door shut behind him. He turned slowly, making a 360-degree sweep of the area, checking to see whether anyone had observed his exit. Seeing no one at either ground level or above, he set off in the opposite direction from the square, intending to slip along the inside of the settlement’s protective wall until he came to an egress. What he would do then would depend on whether there were guards or not. He assumed there would be. While not ideal, it was the best plan he could come up with on limited resources. He had no weapon beyond his own bare hands and the makeshift staff he had picked up on his trek through the forest. For some reason, he’d been permitted to keep it when Tesni took him to her home. This gave him hope that he wasn’t quite regarded as a prisoner. After all, who in their right mind allowed a prisoner to have a potential weapon? Unless, of course, the captors had weapons so much more powerful as to render it ineffective, which didn’t seem to be the case here. A staff could be useful against someone wielding a sword or a knife, maybe even a spear, though not against arrows or other projectiles. He doubted there would be much use of those within the confines of the village anyway. Now if the locals had firearms, he was toast, but he’d seen nothing to indicate that this was the case.
Making his way along the perimeter wall, he stopped every few feet to listen for sounds of alarm or pursuit. The drone of woodland insects and a rising breeze which caused the forest leaves to flutter conspired to make this somewhat difficult, but also served to mask the sound of his own movements. He could smell rain in the air, still some distance off if his guess was any good. He hoped he could get out of Dodge and find shelter before it came. He didn’t relish the thought of spending the night wet on top of the soreness and stiffness he already felt from the abuse his body had taken in the past twenty-four hours. Of course, being sore and wet beat being held captive on any day ending in -y, and rain would actually make things more difficult for anyone trying to track him in it.
He felt, rather than saw or heard, motion above just an instant before a body landed on him. That brief warning was enough to make him lunge to the right, so that his assailant caught only his left side, knocking him off-balance rather than bearing him to the ground. He recovered and whirled, his staff at the ready. In the darkness, it was hard to separate his opponent from the shadows, but he could hear rough breathing and the shifting of feet as whoever it was tried to assess the best position from which to launch another attack. Not about to give him the opportunity, Cromwell moved in toward the sound. He swept his staff low, caught something solid in the shadows just above ankle-level and sent the other man sprawling. Heard him grunt on impact, and hoped to heaven that no one else did. He was surprised that this individual, whoever he was, had chosen to leap on him from above and pursue a solo fight rather than merely raising the alarm and bringing out the rest of the guard or the watch or whoever was responsible for keeping the peace in the wee hours. Even yelling out once he’d landed would have made sense. So what was the purpose of this attack, if not expressly to prevent his escape from Llanavon?
A scuffling sound told him that his attacker was attempting to rise. If he wanted to make a clean escape, he couldn’t let any alarm be given. He leaped toward the sound, flattening the other back into the dirt and straw that formed a path along the wall’s base. He noticed as he did so that the figure he’d landed on felt slighter than expected. One of the village youths? They didn’t seriously put kids on watch here, did they? He flashed back just for an instant to Nicaragua; saw again that teenaged kid in the contra unit, the one who’d bought it in the firefight that had gotten him and Jack out of there after the mission went south. Shit. It isn’t like that here, is it? Please tell me it’s not like that…
The body beneath him squirmed, facedown in the dirt. He shifted his weight, reaching to clamp one hand over the other’s mouth as the head turned, and flipped him over, pinning arms to sides with his knees. This was definitely a kid. Shitshitshit. In the faint starlight, he peered into the wide eyes that stared, frightened now, into his own. Ris. What the hell is going on?
He heard the sound of approaching feet, at least three sets of them, just before flickering torchlight painted the area. Clearly, it had been too much to hope that no one had heard their altercation. He looked up to see Nenniaw and one of his lieutenants approaching. And Tesni.