samandjack.net

Story Notes: SPOILERS: Mainly Emancipation, with tiny references to Birthright and Fallen.

SEASON: 7-ish

NOTES: This is the first fic I've written in… wow, a very long time. I hope I'm not as rusty as I think I am! Thank you my very own 'online thesaurus' in chat; their knowledge of Old English synonyms knows no bounds, and to 'Chiroho' for the name of the baddie.

Finally, huge hugs for my wonderful beta, SallyR who, basically, just kicks ass.

Dedication: For Jackie, who gave me the bunny, had the patience to wait until I could write again and then bugged me incessantly until I finished it.

lindsaymallen@yahoo.com


Good Knight, Sir… Jack


So far, this had been the type of mission that Jack O'Neill couldn't decide if he loved or loathed. No bad guys out to draw blood, usually his, no world that needed an ingenious plan to save it, usually Carter's. No one for Daniel to make friends with and no Amazonian Jaffa's for Teal'c, although he knew that that may not be a plus point for his alien friend.

Nope just trees, grass and something that sounded suspiciously like birdsong, although Jack had since learned that the Earth version of birds was not always the same in this wide and wonderful universe of ours. Teeth? That's just plain wrong!

The only thing that made this planet mission-worthy was the 'funky' things the M.A.L.P had found in the soil. Whatever-the-stuff-was had sent Carter and the other scientist types into paroxysms of bounciness – really Carter bouncing was a sight to behold! Hammond had subsequently deemed this worthy of a long mission to see if they could find more of it, map it, and assess its potential value. Carter's excitement had swayed Hammond into giving SG1 the 'privilege' of the mission. Oh Joy.

SG-1, flagship team of Earth's most top secret… well, secret… was basically on a science field trip!

In fact the only interesting thing that had happened to them so far, was walking out of the stargate, into the very small stone mound – which Daniel had since gone into raptures over, because it was 'obviously' man-made, as opposed to being just a pile of rocks - which meant people, culture… all the stuff that made the archaeologist all but dance. As well as the Gate's 'house', they had also been greeted by a flock of birds. Large, pink, beautiful birds… with large, pink and sharp teeth!

Since their abrupt departure from the psychotic flamingos, it had been one long walk in the park, literally and figuratively.

And just to make things peachy, the comms system didn't seem to like the climate of P5X-wherever-the-heck-they-where, because as they got further from the gate the comms system got worse, even between each other. They'd tested out the viability, or lack there-of, of their equipment shortly after realising there was a problem and found that they could hardly hear each other for the static if they were more than a few feet away. Carter thought it was the denser proportions of the stuff in the soil, rather than distance that was interfering in the radio signals. Their last radio-in with Hammond had been so bad that Jack had only just been able to make out what his CO had been saying. But Jack's assessment of 'minimal threat' had appeased Hammond enough to let them continue the mission as planned.

So here they were… walking.

Carter was chattering about the soil, Daniel was chattering about the potential civilisation, Teal'c was… being Teal'c and Jack, well, he was just plain bored.

His P90 hung loosely in his hands, a testament to the lack of threat. Not that he couldn't get a good hold of the sucker and let rip a few dozen rounds if he needed to, but he just doubted if this mission would amount to very much other than a fairly pleasant stroll. He and Teal'c followed while Carter played in the dirt and Daniel got ever more excited about the potential civilisation he expected to find around the next bend. On the other hand, there was only so much walking in the park that he could take, and after clocking their fourth hour, he'd had enough.

"Ok, that's it," he said as he turned to face his team, "Since Hammond, in his infinite wisdom, decided that this is a five day, fun-filled stop-over we may as well set up camp here."

One 'Yes, sir' and a head bow later, Jack lowered his pack as he turned to greet what he just knew was coming.

"But, Jack," Daniel all but whined, "it's still daylight! We can walk a few more miles before night falls. There has to be 'something' close by, the gate had been housed by someone and they aren't going to just…"

Jack really did try to stifle the urge to roll his eyes, although he was the first to admit that he may not have been all that successful. "Daniel, do ya remember that M.A.L.P reading?" At his friend's blank look, Jack continued, "The one that showed how quickly it gets pitch black on this planet?" A small 'o' shape appeared on the archaeologist's mouth as Jack elucidated further. "The one that told us we'd have about 5 hours to travel and pitch camp… and" he glanced meaningfully at his watch, "oooo, look… four hours and now ten minutes down, fifty to go, well aren't I just good?"

A small, but well disguised snort of laughter came from the direction of Carter, who seemed to suddenly be very interested in getting the tents laid out. Jack raised an eyebrow in return, pleasantly surprised to see a subtle, but tell-tale hue sweep over her cheeks. Momentarily lost, Jack fought to pull himself back to his excitable friend, who looked like he'd just lost a dollar and found a cent.

"Daniel if whoever built that … house… for the gate is still here, they'll probably still be here in the morning. Now, go do something useful and help Teal'c check the perimeter." Daniel's eyebrows weren't the only ones to draw in confusion at Jack's order. Both Teal'c and Carter wore the same expression, and if he was honest, if he'd had a mirror handy, he'd probably have found the same expression on his own face.

Usually, either he or Teal'c or sometimes both, checked the perimeter, while Carter unpacked and started building the fire. Daniel's usual job was coffee. The boy had definite talent in making field-ration coffee taste almost drinkable.

However, since his glorious un-ascension, Jack had sensed a change in his friend. A hardness to him that was never quite as obvious before he did the 'glowy' thing. Jack knew that Daniel needed more that just the responsibility of being chief coffee maker and this planet seemed as good as any to get him back into the swing of things. So Jack put on his 'I'm-the-colonel-I-don't-have-to-explain-myself' face and watched in smug satisfaction as Daniel went on his merry way with Teal'c while Carter valiantly finished unloading the supplies.

Ok, so now what should he do? Carter had already done the supply thing and was about to prep the ground for the fire. He figured he should go start collecting the…

"Wood," as if reading his mind, she suddenly spoke. "It might be a good start point, Sir." The humour lacing her words was so not lost on him.

"Really?" he smiled back. "And here was I wondering why I couldn't get the water hot enough to make the coffee." He watched in satisfaction as the smile spread to her eyes and waited for her comeback.

"No offence, Sir, but I'd rather wait for those pink birds to make coffee!" Her eyes twinkled back at him, and not for the first time recently, he was hit by the fact that she was beginning to get, well… a lot like him.

Not being the type of man to back down…"Yeah, but Carter, I wouldn't want to come between you and your 'I am woman, I make Fire' inclinations, now would I?" He almost winked.

"Sir, did you just call me a pyromaniac?" She straightened, squaring her shoulders ready to defend her honour. Pity she gave herself away by that quirk on her lips.

"No, I think I just called you a woman, actually." Ok, question one: where the heck did that come from? Two: why the hell did he actually say it? And three: how hard was she gonna hit him?

He never got the chance to find out, as she quickly schooled the myriad of expressions that flew across her face, coughed a little and gathered herself enough to say, "I'll go get the wood, Sir," and was gone before he had the chance to say anything else, which in retrospect was probably a good thing.

"Watch out for those birds, they bite you know!" He distractedly rubbed over the small scar that was his evidence of the warning as he called after her while most of his apparently remaining brain cell was still trying to work out what the hell had gotten into him.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Jack had assembled the tents, and was almost through with setting everything ready for Daniel's coffee magic, when he heard the familiar footfalls of the previously mentioned archaeologist and his Jaffa bodyguard returning to camp. Carter, he could tell as he glanced over to the edge of the forest, was still putting together an impressive amount of fire wood, that he and the boys would no doubt end up having to help lug back to camp. He was about to ponder whether she did it on purpose, just to see them show their mighty masculine strength, when Teal'c's voice timed his interruption to perfection.

"O' Neill, the perimeter is set." Jack nodded his understanding. "However there are tracks around this area, of what I am yet uncertain, though the animal is large."

"Risk assessment, Teal'c?" The question needed to be asked, especially if Teal'c had felt the need to bring it up.

"Again, I am uncertain. The tracks are even and well-spaced, in consistent patterns through the forest, O'Neill."

"So you're saying…" Jack never got to finish his sentence.

"Jack, he's saying that it's the second real sign of a civilisation on this planet! Teal'c said they could be horses, well, 'domesticated equines', but you realise what this means?" Jack opened his mouth, all ready to assure his bubbly companion that he actually did know what that meant, but once again, he never got the chance. "People, Jack. People. People who obviously have the infrastructure to use horses, or something like horses, maybe that is even evidence of trade? Jack, this means…" This time it was Daniel who was interrupted.

"This means, Daniel that we're pulling double watches tonight, just in case." Teal'c nodded his assent, as Jack continued "It also means that we better go haul the fire wood Carter has been collecting for the last half hour, before we lose our light completely." Without waiting for any reply, Jack turned on his heel and wandered over to Carter's position, ready and willing to show off his wood-hauling skills.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

Jack watched the flames from the fire dance in front of his eyes, trying his best to shut out Daniel's constant theorising about the apparent civilisation and culture on this previously thought of uninhabited planet. He was too busy theorising himself. Risks, dangers, the usual stuff that went along with being the commander of a team and being utterly unwilling to have something happen to any one of said team.

His other major decision had already been made. Pulling double watches meant having to pair off his team. And since he was CO it was him who got to decide. He and Daniel would have first watch, Carter and Teal'c the next. And that had nothing to do with the fact that his brain to mouth reflex with Carter seemed to be on full flow today.

Nothing.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Sam walked carefully to the forest edge, her gun in one hand, her flashlight in the other guiding her path.

Quickly finding a suitable location to take care of her needs, she placed her gun on the mossy ground with her flashlight. She finished and stood, righting her clothing as she went. Her peace was suddenly broken by the sound of unfamiliar footfalls right behind her. She reached out to pick up the Beretta but before she got close to it a strong, cruel arm encircled her while another clamped tightly around her mouth.

Instinct took over. Sam jerked her head back in the hope of breaking at least a nose as her foot lifted sharply in the hopes of doing damage of a more 'personal' kind.

Neither action succeeded as suddenly more arms grabbed her.

She bucked frantically, trying to gain enough leverage to hit out while she did her best to scream for help. Her scream was dull at best, as she was forced towards a rope that burned as it was tightened brutally around her arms while a gag was stuffed violently into her mouth before being tied tightly in place. Whoever was doing this was good, she had to admit. But she'd apparently run their patience to its limit, for as she felt the rope surround her ankles, her last attempt to kick out was met with a decisive fist heading her way.

That was the last she saw for a while.

In their haste to escape before their captive's absence was noticed, the dark shadows failed to notice the black box that slid from Sam's pocket as they hauled her lifeless body onto a horse and galloped off into the night.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

As always, when off world, Jack slept the sleep of a natural soldier. Restful enough to be worth it, but light enough so that he could be up and running at a heartbeat's notice, gun in hand and ready for action. He could count the number of time's he'd actually had to do this, but tonight added one to that list.

He was up and out of the tent; P90 gripped tightly, finger already around and not flagging the trigger, at the first sound of trouble. By the time he heard the muffled scream, he was off and running, Teal'c by his side, Daniel not more than two steps behind him. By the time he got close enough to fire, it was already too late. Teal'c gave chase, but Jack stopped, knowing full well that it would be a waste of their energy. He watched as four horses galloped away, carrying four men and one very familiar woman. As the tight knot of fear settled in his stomach, he heard Teal'c fire repeatedly to no avail.

Struggling to contain the sudden upsurge of anger, Jack dropped his gaze to the floor, still not quite able to believe what he had seen.

"Jack," Daniel attempted to connect, as Teal'c came unhappily back, holding his hand out regretfully. He held a single Earth-issue radio; obviously dropped during her capture… the implications hit him hard. The radios were more than just a coms system. They also housed the tracking signal that would have led her team right to her. Only now, they were on their own.

"JACK!" Daniel tried again, this time the edge in his voice brought Jack's attention away from running scenarios through his head. Daniel said nothing more, he just held out his hand, offering Jack whatever was in it.

Forcing his attention onto whatever Daniel as trying to show him, Jack's eyes focussed on a black piece of cloth, edged in silver, with a vicious hawk decorating its centre. It took Jack a moment or two before he fully understood what he was seeing – proof of what he had already observed in the four men who had taken his second. They had been knights; old world, medieval, King Arthur, Sir ''Galahad'', Merlin the damn Magician knights.

Only judging by their 'calling card' these were no brave knights presiding over a round table. Even with his limited knowledge gained in the main from the 'auspicious' cinematic releases that Sara had adored, Jack knew that 'black' was not a good thing.

"They have left tracks, O'Neill." Teal'c sounded a little out of breath, but filled with the type of confidence it took to slap him back in to action.

"Right. Daniel, pack light, essentials only. We wanna move as fast as we can. Flashlights, water, spare clips." Jack took his Major's radio from Teal'c as he began to needlessly recite to the other men as they made their way back to camp. "Oh and… you better get the med-kit from Carter's pack, just in case." With that he stopped, knowing he didn't have to say more. He was already assimilating the information at hand, assessing the threat and weighing his choices; the probable outcomes of each different scenario that ran through his head. Knights, weapons, battle: fine by him. He was just about ready to pick a fight with pretty much anyone who stood in the way of him and his one acceptable outcome.

They'd find her, get her back… un-harmed, or there would be hell to pay.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Sam had come too a little while ago and had since tried valiantly to keep a rough track of the general direction she was being taken in. If she was given the smallest chance to run, it'd be a good idea to know which direction she should run in.

She knew the guys had seen her, she'd heard them running… the Colonel's shout of her name and then the bright orange of Teal'c staff fire come close enough to cause panic in her kidnappers, just before she'd been hit. She also knew that being so far from the gate with no comms, that they'd be tracking her already. The thought brought comfort and stopped her automatic response to being captured. Normally she'd be doing anything she possibly could to fight back, but as her body continued to be jerked unceremoniously over the black horse she had been thrown over, she figured she had to make it as easy as possible for the guys to track her. Causing horses to buck and circle would not be the best ways of letting Teal'c follow clear trails. So she lay still, trying to relax her body as much as possible while her stomach muscles worked overtime to try to keep her balanced over the horses back. Her legs had no purchase and dangled over the other flank of the horse while her head constantly banged between the horses near flank and the rider's armour.

Armour!

Part of her almost laughed. It was something out of the movies. She had been kidnapped by real life knights, on horseback no-less! But the ropes that dug into her wrists and ankles, and the rough material that formed her gag – not to mention the headache she had, told her enough to know that these were not the romantic heroes of the screen. She just had to lie still, concentrate and do as little as possible to disturb the ride. Sooner or later the cavalry would arrive; she had no doubt at all. She just hoped to hell it was gonna be sooner.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

When Jack had said they wanted to move quickly, he wasn't joking, but he knew that realistically they couldn't keep up with four galloping horses, he just had a hard time being patient. Coming to a halt, he heard the groan of relief from Daniel, and almost gave in to his own urge to echo it. Instead he bent over, hands on knees and allowed his tired body a few moments to rest. He had to slow the pace; they'd be useless trying to get Carter back if none of them had the energy to walk!

As his body drew in oxygen, removing the lactic acid that was beginning to take up residence in his muscles, his brain was pre-occupied in replaying how they has managed to capture a member of his team so easily. She and Teal'c had been on watch, when the call of nature demanded her attention. According to Teal'c she hadn't gone too far away, just far enough to give herself some privacy, it was in those few scant minutes when she had been out of sight that the 'knights' had stuck. And as good as Carter was, she was no match for four men especially when she was unarmed. They'd found her sidearm on the ground where she had left it while she… took care of business. Which meant two things; one: the knights had to have been watching them for a while and had chosen the most advantageous moment to strike, and two: Carter wasn't ever taking a potty break alone ever again!

He smirked slightly when he thought about how that little decree would go down. The truth was no one could've done anything to stop it. Not one of them would have ever encroached on her privacy and they all knew it. What he should have realised, was that they were being observed. He didn't know how he'd missed it and he was more than a little pissed off that he had. If he hadn't, Carter might still be here.

"O'Neill!" Teal'c called from further up the 'track' and Jack knew as he looked to the large man, now squatted over the earth, that this wasn't going to be good news.

"What?" He tried to keep the apprehension from his voice, but he had a good idea what Teal'c was about to say.

"The direction is no longer apparent. There are two clear tracks from this point forwards," murmured the still crouching man.

"Well, ok, so we've come to an intersection, which one has our set of prints?" questioned Jack, sounding way more confident than he felt. He knew without doubt that if Teal'c could've been able to distinguish one way or another, they'd already be heading down yonder.

"Neither one, O'Neill, the group has separated." The Jaffa's eyes conveyed his regret.

"Teal'c, I'm no tracker, but can't you tell by the depth of the tracks?" Jack watched Teal'c eyebrow question Daniel, his own following the same journey as Daniel continued. "I mean, the horse carrying Sam is carrying the weight of two people, so won't the prints be… I dunno, deeper?"

ack was reluctantly impressed. "Nice thinking, Dr. Jackson," he duly acknowledged.

Teal'c nodded his approval at Daniel's insight. "However, the ground is now hard; I can no longer determine which animal carries the heaviest burden."

"Typical," began Jack, falling characteristically on flippancy when the situation got all screwed up, i.e., pretty much all the time. "So, Teal'c, you're basically saying we have to…"

"…guess" finished Daniel in stereo.

"Indeed," agreed the third man.

"Great, just great!" Jack rumbled, rubbing a hand over his face. "Anyone got a quarter?"

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Sam sighed in grateful relief as she was pulled off the horse and dumped to the ground. The earth was hard and stony, but with her stomach muscles finally gaining some reprieve, she really didn't care. The largest of the four knights came close, yanking her arms as he tied a thick rope over her already bound wrists, which he in turn tied to a large tree trunk.

"Thou shalt have no escape, my Lady," came the echoing voice from inside the still-lowered silver helmet as he obviously took a moment to look at her defiant face, before turning abruptly away and settling with the other 'men' to rest.

She almost giggled. They even spoke like the movies! Although there was something in his tone when he called her 'lady', that warned her to be wary. But, if she still had her Beretta, she'd show them escape; odds were that a bullet was a new experience for these guys, if their reaction to Teal'c's staff blasts were anything to go by.

Dragging her mind back to the situation at hand, Sam tested the knots, damn, but they were done well. She'd not be able to work them loose anytime soon. Rather than dwelling on negatives, she focussed on the positive, on what she knew. Thanks to the twin suns that had risen a short time ago and previous M.A.L.P telemetry, they figured had been travelling a roughly Easterly path for the majority of the morning at a fair speed. Not that that helped her much unless she managed to get out of these ropes. She also knew that it was going to take the guys a while to catch up with her since they didn't have the benefit of horses.

That would have left the Colonel with two choices. Come after her on foot, or make his way back to the gate for reinforcements. Considering the latter would be deemed a waste of too much time, especially since they didn't have the luxury of comms on this mission, Sam knew he'd opt for the former. She just had to wait.

She looked over at the quartet. They were sat in a circle, two men facing her, visors down, two men with their backs to her, visors up. They obviously didn't want her to see their faces, which struck her as a little… odd. They were talking so quietly that she couldn't make out their words, but she knew without doubt that she was the topic of conversation.

Three of the knights wore silver armour, with black tunics also trimmed in silver, while the fourth (whose right knee was way too familiar) wore the same tunic over black armour, giving him a decidedly more 'dangerous' aura. He was the leader, of that she had little doubt. Their shields and tunics all bore the same crest, a vicious looking hawk with its wings splayed and large hooked talons bared in wait for its prey. Yup, these were indeed the bad guys.

A few moments later, all visors were replaced, as 'Black Knight' returned to her, silently unwound the rope from the tree and dragged her up by the wrists; the rope was unforgiving to her flesh. 'Black Knight' saw her small grimace.

"T'wil not be the worst of it, woman, if thou resists." His voice made Sam internally flinch, he was enjoying this. "Nay, fortune favours us in error as you be no squire." Sam lost her breath as 'Black Knight' swung her easily over his shoulder and then back across a different horse. "Your companions' magic may be lost to us, but thou shalt be won!"

Sam heard the replying cheers from the other knights. This was not sounding good. 'Hurry, Sir!' She thought as the horse accepted his rider and burden and suddenly cantered into motion.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Jack dropped to the ground behind the covering bushes and brought out his scope to get a closer look at the camp below. He scanned the tents – horses, knights... fire – looking for anything that could be a sign of someone being held prisoner. There was nothing. "How many, Teal'c?"

"At least ten, O'Neill. As yet I have seen no sign of MajorCarter."

"Daniel?" Jack questioned. "Talk to me." He needed more Intel. It had taken most of the day to get this far along the trail. It had been a long and tiring night (or what had been left of it after she'd been taken), followed by a long and tiring day and it would be dark again soon.

To make matters worse, he knew absolutely that she wasn't there. His head told him that the lack of guards, chains, or anything that remotely suggested there was a prisoner there, kinda hinted to the fact that there wasn't. But the biggest clue was the distinct lack of a black and silver anything in sight. Gut told him the same thing, but for an entirely different, and altogether a more dangerous reason. She wasn't here because he couldn't 'feel' her.

"Well, it could virtually be right out of Arthurian legend, Jack," began Daniel as both Jack and Teal'c watched the movements in the camp. "King Arthur was said to rule over the ancient kingdom of Camelot, which is purported to be what is now Cornwall in the British Isles and legend holds that…"

"Yeah, Daniel, I saw the movie, funky swords, round tables, ladies in lakes, Merlin the Magician, right?" Jack interrupted, but Daniel continued unfazed. "History is a little more violent than the Disney effect, Jack, but yeah…these knights, for want of a better description, are obviously the white knights. Their white tunics and the gold lion crest would seem to indicate that they are…"

"The 'Good Guys'?" questioned Jack.

"I'd say it's safe to assume that we've already met the bad guys…" answered Daniel, who was quite blatantly under the spell of the medieval culture playing out right before his eyes.

"Ok, so we should go and see…" Jack began to rise, only to be interrupted once more, this time by a very sharp and shiny sword hovering precariously above his Adam's apple.

"Silence, knave and yield to your captor!" spoke the muffled voice from under even shinier armour. Looking quickly for his remaining team members, Jack saw they were all in the same predicament, only Teal'c was special, he had three swords…

"You lost me after, 'Silence'." Jack's reward was a swift kick to the ribs. "Ow! Dammit!"

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Sam was tired, sore and not just a little bad tempered. After spending most of her day slung uncomfortably over the back of a horse, she was not at her happiest as she trudged through the camp, a sword at her back.

'Black Knight' and his cohorts had finally reached their destination. A fairly small encampment set on slightly higher ground than that which they had been traveling through all day. On one side of them was a covering of light forest and on the other a small, but fast flowing stream. Looking around her, Sam was forced to admire their location. It was perfect. Easily defendable, a fresh supply of water and wood… These guys may not be the best hosts in the world, but they knew what they were doing when it came to living in the outdoors.

Sam was pushed non-too-gently into a large canopied tent. Fur rugs, small stools, jugs of… something and two small women were waiting for her as 'Black Knight' ordered, "Wenches, robe her fittingly for a tournament!"

Two small curtsies immediately followed their joint "Aye, m'Lord" as Sam turned quickly coming face to face with the largest man she had ever seen, aside from Teal'c. He was, to put it bluntly, formidable. Tall and broad, he was frightening in stature and appearance. His hair was jet black and his dark eyes would have reminded her of someone else's, were it not for the malice and spite that were so blatant in their depths.

"What do you want from me? What tournament?" demanded Sam of her captor.

"The woman has spirit, an asset to be sure," he smiled maliciously. "Be warned, I break men with more courage that thou."

Sam stifled her shudder, "My name is Samantha Carter, not 'woman'! Who are you and what tournament?" she asked once more, the steel in her tone belying her fear.

"I shalt enjoy thee, wench." His eyes lit with the promise of her fire, this time she did not control the shiver as easily. His dark gaze pinned her like a butterfly as he took a menacing step closer. "Thou hast been mistaken for a squire; I wished to learn of your magic - fire without flints, light in thine hands. I will also have the magic of firesticks from you, thus our error was highly favourable and will giveth me a true advantage." He stepped closer still, into her body space, testing her resolve. She stayed were she was. His eyes showed admiration for her, but a more definite promise of determination to break her followed too swiftly. "I am Lucien Danford, once member of the Knights Royal. Injustice was served upon me by our King, branding me traitor and murderer. Thine capture provides opportunity to take revenge!"

Sam knew in that instant as the sheer brutal force of him demanded her to step backwards and the 'injustice' he was speaking of was certainly not unreasonable. His sly, victorious smile at her withdrawal angered her more as he continued. "In times of 'peace'" he spat the word at her, "no armies may form. Battle is conducted through tournament jousts. I have long wished to wreak my revenge for their treachery and lies and now I shalt have it! I shall challenge the King offering thee as prize! Thine magic and beauty be reward enough, yet he would not see anything as innocent and true as thee go easily to me. Already have I sent word to Alfred's camp, he shalt know I have thee, and of thine powers. Let honour be his downfall, his penance for discrediting me, the murder was just!"

Sam belatedly realised that she had been backed against a low table as he reached for her and stroked a finger along her jaw; every ounce of her being went cold at his leering touch. "My plot is bold; I shalt kill the Knight Herald in battle, thereby no law can demand my head. Twill be revenge upon my accuser and the loss of his most trusted knight will unnerve the King. Moreover, if thine companions attempt retribution outside honour, the king must brand them traitor lest his power shalt be ousted and my revenge shalt pass complete. Further, I shall own a new wench!" His sadistic grin made Sam pale as he finished, "And once I own thee, make no mistake, 'wench' is all thou shalt ever be!"

The violent promise he predicted was shattered by the sound of a breaking jug. Black Knight… Danford… spun quickly away from Sam, turning his anger abruptly on the younger of the two women.

"Inane woman!" he bellowed as he struck her forcibly across the face with his still gloved hand. The blow sent the woman to the floor and Sam felt every hackle in her body rise as her instincts took her over to help the fallen woman.

"Leave her!" roared Danford, "the wench deserves no aid!"

Sam had already made up the ground between herself and the fallen woman before his command was finished. She instinctively recoiled internally as she saw the evidence of the brutal reality of life under this man's control in the broken and bloody face below her. It was only as she felt her arm almost yanked clean from its socket and looked up to see the fury on the vicious face before her that she realised her mistake.

"Challenge me not again, woman, or thou shalt watch the joust through blacked eyes!"

Sam looked away, hard lessons having already taught her enough to know that defying this man would be a huge mistake. He was apparently satisfied with her submission as he threw her violently from him and stalked from the tent, leaving Sam the opportunity to help pick up the young woman who was now coming to from the cruel blow. Without her med-kit, there wasn't a lot she could do, even with it she would have found it difficult.

Two more women entered the tent and quickly removed the battered woman from sight.

Sam knew at that moment that she was in deep trouble.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Jack wasn't happy. His hands were bound and he was being dragged along well worn, but equally well concealed paths by really impatient, real life Knights. And his fingers were turning blue.

What was it with these people? He understood the 'tying people up' thing, that was a necessary evil, but seriously, did they have to be so tight? Flexing his fingers to keep the blood flowing, Jack knew that unless they were intentionally untied, those ropes were staying put. With every step his frustration increased. This little 'adventure' was costing them valuable time, quite possibly time that could mean the difference between finding Carter and not. If the bad guys rested briefly and traveled over night and then throughout today… well, Jack already had that option figured out. A radio check with good ole George – crackled and indistinct or not, it had to be worth a shot- and then a whole heck a lot of friends would come a runnin', or at least he hoped. First he had to get his radio back, oh and a gun, his nine 'mil would be nice, but he wasn't fussy.

He felt the rope bite into his wrists a little more as he slowed his pace.

"Hey, easy there, ''Galahad'', the knees aren't what they used to be." Jack's grouse was met with nothing more than a harder yank on the rope.

He glanced over at the other two bound men; Teal'c gave nothing away, although Jack could tell from the slight stiffening of his shoulders that he was as unhappy about this situation as Jack. He knew what this delay meant. Daniel on the other hand seemed preoccupied, more interesting in the scenery than the fact they were losing too much time. Jack chided himself, knowing that assessment was neither fair nor accurate. Daniel was just as eager to have Carter back safe and sound as any of them. And, Jack had to admit that what Daniel was seeing and hypothesising about this culture would undoubtedly come in very useful.

Jack gave a cough, gaining Daniel's attention. Using his eyes to point the other man's attention to his hands, Jack mimicked the flex of his fingers. Daniel immediately took the advice, his face noticeably showing the relief.

As they entered a small but perfectly defendable encampment, all three men's attention were focused on varying aspects of the camp.

Jack knew that he and Teal'c would be looking for weaknesses and assessing chances of fighting their way out. Daniel, on the other hand would be taking in everything about their culture, relating it to whatever history books he knew by heart and assessing the chances of talking their way out. As far as Jack was concerned, either option was fine by him, he just wanted the most expedient process.

The shiny ''Galahad'' – as Jack had christened him – punched the air, victorious in his conquest as they passed the cheering and laughing men of the camp. Jack couldn't help yanking back on the rope, just enough to make 'Galahad' stumble a little, the weight of his armour nearly taking him down. He received a quick punch for his trouble from 'Galahad' Junior, but it was worth it to see the other guy lose his poise in front of his men. Childish, some might say. Jack would disagree, it was tactical. 'Don't underestimate me, my friend' was implicit within the action and Jack was pleased to see that 'Galahad' had taken the warning. Jack knew instinctively that his usual MO wouldn't work. Here weakness was a mistake and manipulating his opposition to underestimate him on his usual scale would be unwise. Although, he couldn't stop the glib wave at the on looking men as he was pulled past; after all, it was only civil.

Finally their little parade through the camp came to an end as his team were bundled into the largest tent in the camp.

"Nice!" Jack whistled as he took in his surroundings. Warm torchlight filled the room, fur rugs were scattered around a large central fire and a… yeah… a real life, honest to God, throne sat right there in the corner! With - judging by the crown - a real life, honest to God king sat in it! This just kept getting better! Jack quickly assessed the man before them. He was old, easily in his sixties, larger than his men, girth wise, but Jack realised shrewdly that he held that indefinable spark that told of wisdom, experience and power.

"His Majesty, King Alfred of Merrick, right and just ruler of these lands…" boomed 'Galahad' as he unceremoniously pushed Jack to his knees. Of course, the knife to the back helped persuade Jack that his knees should make the sacrifice gracefully. Daniel, already kneeling, was in his absolute element. But Teal'c, unable to be physically placed on his knees, waited for Jack's small nod before moving stylishly into position as the King looked down at them from his lofty perch.

Jack watched carefully as Alfred motioned the other knights, 'Galahad' included, to rise from their own respectful positions.

"Malcolm, what friend or foe has thou brought before me?" Ah, thought Jack, 'Galahad' had a name; not that he'd ever actually use it, but still, it was nice to know.

"Forgive my intrusion, I beg grace for your audience, my King, these rogues were found close to camp, spying, I feel." Galahad explained. "They possess magics, your Majesty, powerful magics." Galahad nodded to groupie number one, who duly brought forward their supplies and equipment. Alfred leaned forward; his interest peaked as he reached out to pick up a grenade, his fingers coiling around the pin.

"Don't!" Jack shouted as he rose on his knees. "That’s dangerous!" Alfred held Jack's gaze for a moment, before he carefully replaced the grenade and turned to address the kneeling Colonel.

"You are, 'Knight Herald'?" he questioned as Jack took a surreptitious glance at his team, looking for and gaining Daniel's guidance.

"Yeah, I guess you could say that." He nodded, squaring his shoulders. Only to have the wind knocked from him by 'Galahad' who chastised "Your Majesty!"

Jack took the hint.

"Your Majesty." His correction obviously appeasing the opposing party as Alfred nodded to Galahad, who then stepped away.

"And your name, Sir?" demanded the King.

"Jack. Jack O'Neill and this is…" Jack didn't get any further in the introductions because Alfred spoke again.

"Very well, Sir Jack," began Alfred as Jack preened slightly at the new and exciting context of 'sir'. "Explain your manner of magic and your purpose."

Jack looked at Daniel, who merely shrugged. So much for his help!

"We're explorers; we come from a long, long… way away." He began their usual spiel. "The things you took from us are our…" Jack stalled;

"Supplies and rations" provided Daniel.

"Yeah, supplies and rations. We use them to… explore." Jack fumbled.

"And weapons?" pressured Alfred.

"Yes, we carry weapons," Jack stated honestly, wanting them to know they were not to be misjudged, although instinct told Jack to add, "Our weapons are used in defense not attack, Sir."

Jack held the older man's eyes, refusing to lower his gaze. He knew if he was made to falter he wouldn't be given the respect he demanded of the room.

Almost imperceptibly a flicker of respect sparkled across the other man's eyes in recognition of Jack's determination and courage and it was at that moment that Jack realised that there was something almost familiar about Alfred – about this whole stand off.

He'd witnessed, and been a part of it, too many times with a Texan General back home not to recognise the same dynamic here. Alfred commanded and received respect, not only because of his rank, but because you knew that he would do anything in his power to save your butt, if he thought your butt was good enough to save.

Jack let a subtle signal flash back to the regent through his own unwavering gaze – an unspoken acknowledgment of respect and acceptance.

"And be they thine knights or squires?"

Jack smiled, getting into the swing of things and motioned first to Teal'c then to Daniel. "They are my knights and my friends, Sir… um, Your Majesty." Jack held the King's assessing gaze, as did Teal'c and Daniel, until Alfred addressed 'Galahad' again.

"Malcolm, unbind them, they be honest and true, they shalt be greeted as friend," determined the man in the crown after studying Jack for what seemed an interminably long time. Jack had to admit the man was astute enough to read the question in his eyes. "Thou held great magic when my knights captured thee." Alfred explained as Jack watched him motion to the small table that held their weapons. "Yet thou yielded without challenge. Thine honour caused thee to bid warning of your magic that was held in mine hands. That be proof enough."

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Once they were freed, they were ushered over to the rugs and motioned to sit, a golden goblet thrust into each man's hand.

"Thou be a noble man, Sir Jack." Alfred decreed once they were all seated. "I believe that if thou wished to, thou could have caused much harm before now. Yet thou chose honour. For that deed alone, you are judged favourably." Alfred finished with a benevolent smile that only served to reinforce his resemblance with Hammond.

Jack only nodded as Alfred continued speaking,

"Thy knights and thee travel to our lands through the astralianua." Alfred hadn't issued a question; he'd made a statement, one that caused his knights to lean slightly closer in anticipation of the answer.

"Daniel?" asked Jack, although he needn't have voiced the question at all, Daniel was already there.

"Astralianua…" he pondered aloud." It sounds like a combination of two Latin derivations, Jack. 'Astra' meaning 'star' and 'ianua' meaning 'portal' or 'gate'… my God, it's actually… well… a virtually literal translation…Jack!" the excitement was tangible. "He's asking if we've come from the…"

"…from the stargate," Jack finished. "Yeah, I got that."

Turning his attention back to the regal figure before him, Jack answered the wise man.

"Yeah, we did." Beating around the bush was definitely not an option here as he used his eyebrows to press for further explanation.

Alfred read the signal well. "It be the most cherished secret of this realm, with only myself and My Knights Royal, privy to it. Their secrecy bound by their honour and allegiance to me."

Jack looked in turn at the five men he faced. Deja-vu. Who would have guessed that governmental cover-ups went this far back in time!

"Alas, its magic is beyond our understanding." Jack tensed as he predicted the next question. "And I feel that it is best left unseen. Until such time as we can master its secrets and control its power, by my decree it shalt be untouched."

Jack was stunned. That he had not expected, at all. He'd been waiting for the "share it, we'll give you what you want if you give us what we want" speech and it hadn't materialised. He was grateful, he didn't want to have to make that choice; Carter for the gate. He knew which one he'd have to make. Here, instead, stood before him men who understood the natural order and the fundamental balance of knowledge and power. He was highly impressed.

"Why do you trust our motives, Your Majesty? Surely you would be dubious of anyone with the power of the star… I mean… the astralianua?" Daniel had beaten him to the punch; he'd said it better too!

"As already spoken, thine weapons are magics beyond our experience and if thou truly harness the power of the astralianua, then thee are great indeed. Yet thou yielded to my knights upon your capture inflicting no harm. If thou were without honour, my knights would be dead. Thou controls magic, but wilst not use it unjustly." Alfred reasoned with a benevolent smile as he continued. "Now, Sir Jack, be willed to introduce your knights," came the king's request.

"My pleasure," began Jack, and he realised that he truly meant it. This man commanded a natural respect that the soldier in him responded to. It was a characteristic that told Jack all he wanted to know about his new allies, besides, the quicker he could ask for their help in finding Carter, the happier he'd be. "This is Daniel Jackson, he is our…" Again, Jack faltered.

"Scholar," Daniel again provided as the other men nodded their understanding.

"And this," Jack motioned to Teal'c, "is Teal'c; he too is a … knight." Jack finished.

"He bears a strange marking," commented the blond knight now sat opposite Jack.

"It was given to me by my father," explained Teal'c, comfortable in that abbreviated explanation. As, it seemed were the other men, who once again nodded their understanding and acceptance.

"Very well, I shalt now have privilege to introduce my Knights Royal. The most just and honourable men in the land!" boasted the king as he motioned to each of the men in turn. All wore the same white tunic, with the same heraldic golden lion, all wearing the same dignity as their king.

"This," a surprisingly strong arm motioned to the tallest man in the room, "is my Knight Herald, Sir Malcolm Wessex, and this," Alfred moved his jeweled finger to the next man, more slightly built than Malcolm, with blond rather than dark hair, but the same intelligence in the same eyes, "is Lord Royce Wessex, brother to the knight herald, and somewhat an apothecary." Jack could've figured the brother part out for himself, as the jewel settled on the next man, as large as Malcolm, but once more, fair. "This be Sir Guy de Fontinac, also a scholar, and at finish, Sir Edward Breck," again a large man, dark in appearance and nature, Jack thought, he and Malcolm being the more obvious warriors of the four. "Nowhere in this fine land wilst thou find better, more noble men!" finished the King joyously.

"No 'Galahad's' huh?" At their host's blank looks, Jack shook his head, "Never mind."

"You're language is foreign to us, Sir Jack, yet thou are most welcomed at our table. Eat, drink and tomorrow we shalt talk of more," decreed Alfred.

"Whoa! Tomorrow? I don't think so!" exploded Jack, unable to contemplate a whole other day between himself and Carter. Immediately the knights rose, ready for any threat, Daniel coughed, as he took over the conversation.

"Our apologies, your majesty, but we are tracking our fourth. She has been taken by…" Daniel got no further, as Malcolm questioned in utter disbelief,

"'She'? A woman travels in your party?!"

"Yeah, what's wrong with that?!" bristled Jack. There was still something about 'Galahad's' arrogance that grated on his nerves.

"MajorCarter is a formidable warrior and scholar," maintained Teal'c. "She is more than capable of her duty." Jack smiled at the protectiveness in the large man's tone. Teal'c certainly projected the image of guard dog at that moment in time. One wrong move by the knights and… wham. At that moment, Jack was not going to tell him 'down boy', either.

"Malcolm," warned the King, tempering the younger man's attack immediately, "differences do not always defy trust."

Jack's own ire died just as quickly as it had arose; he liked this man, and moreover, he respected him. He watched Malcolm bow slightly, before turning to face them. "My humble apologies, I intended no insult to thine ways." Jack nodded his acceptance of the apology.

There was just something so… familiar… about Malcolm, the way he held himself slightly apart from everyone else… the way he held his position as head knight without alienating the others. The man exuded a natural aura of command combined with a nobility that radiated from his shrewd eyes, eyes that when leveled upon you, spoke of a deep intelligence and the courage to defend his beliefs. He was not a man to be underestimated.

"That's ok. These things happen." Jack acquiescence was a little prickly. "But we really could do with your help in finding Carter."

"Carter? Your fourth?" asked Royce, aiming his question to Daniel who immediately took up the story.

"Yes, our fourth, a… knight… our scholar and… alchemist. She was taken by four men, knights. We found this…" he produced the pennant-like material they had found in place of their friend.

Neither Jack, Teal'c nor Daniel missed the look shared by the other men as they recognised the offering. They knew something.

The one called Guy cleared his throat as the others continued to exchange meaningful looks. "Carter is a strange name for a woman, although common place for thee?" His attempt to distract them failed miserably on all but Daniel, who although still wanting to know about the looks, didn't want to appear rude. Or so it seemed to Jack.

"Carter is her family name, her given name is Samantha," explained Daniel, while Jack continued to try and decipher the undercurrent in the room.

"Ah, Lady Samantha!" exclaimed Edward, pleased with the now familiar ring to Carter's new title.

"Now, just wait one minute here." As nice as this bonding was, Jack's patience had just waved the white flag, "Who took Carter? Why? And how do we get her back? And don't try to play innocent with me, I know you know something!" he finished with gusto, carefully examining the impact of his demands on the five men.

"Very well," began Alfred resignedly. "I believe Lady Samantha was taken by Lucien Danford, you offer his crest and guild as evidence of his further treachery."

"Further treachery?" it wasn't a question, rather an unambiguous insistence for clarification.

"Danford once held position as my Knight Herald, a strong and savage warrior that spared no sympathy for any enemy. His true nature kept well hidden from all eyes, but Malcolm's until he murdered without just cause. A woman," explained Alfred, hurt by his obvious lack of judgment about the man. "He was duly condemned to death, his wealth and assets seized by the crown, however, while in custody, an escape was made, another man lost life by his demon hands. He has been out of law ever since." The apology was sincere in the older man's eyes. "Whilst journeying back to Merrick, the royal seat, we have seen evidence of Danford's presence in this area, hence Malcolm's search this day."

Jack had gone cold; the guy who had Carter was blatantly the right kind of lunatic to have no qualms about killing. And knowing her as he did, her temperament placed her in very real danger of that threat begin carried out.

"AlfredofMerrick," began Teal'c "SamanthaCarter is then at grave risk, immediate action must be taken!"

"Alas," began Alfred, "I fear that…" He was never allowed to finish, as suddenly the tent flap opened and two armoured knights stepped through, immediately kneeling. Malcolm swiftly went over to the two men and spoke in hushed tones. He just as quickly dismissed them, before returning to the King and passing a rolled piece of paper to him. Jack felt something cold and icy grip tighter on his stomach as he watched the elder man's reaction to what was being read. Finally, he looked up and addressed the room.

"Danford seeks a tournament. And it seems the infidel holds Lady Samantha as prize." As he finished the sentence, he held up something very carefully. Jack focused his eyes in the torchlight.

It was without doubt a lock of Carter's hair.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

"What?!" Jack demanded of his hosts.

"I am pained to convey this news to thee, Sir Jack. Danford claims to hold Lady Samantha prisoner, he makes note of her beauty and magic and offers her as prize for victory at joust." Alfred, at that moment, and probably for the first time since they met, looked every day of his sixty-plus years.

"Scoundrel…" swore Edward and Guy at the same time.

"Your Majesty," began Daniel, "if Sam…Lady Samantha is with Danford, if you know where he is, we can find her ourselves, there is no need to joust."

"Just tell us where he is, and we'll be on our way." Jack promised as he rose to his feet and headed straight for their weapons only to be stopped in his tracks by Malcolm.

"The scroll was happened upon by squires near the river. We have no knowledge of Danford's camp." Malcolm informed him.

Jack was incensed, but he could tell by the reactions of 'Galahad' that he was just as angry, which perversely calmed his temper.

"If it was found nearby, there may be tracks," stated Teal'c as he too walked to the entrance of the tent, his intention clear. But Jack knew better. These guys may be history on Earth, but they sure knew what they were doing when it came to tactics and surveillance. Any clues had already been looked for and not found.

"I don't think it'll do any good, Teal'c." He turned his attention from his friend to Malcolm, directing the final part of his speech to him. "Will it?"

"Nay, I fear 'twil not."

"No, I didn't think so," Jack agreed, a second more sinister subject already formed in his mind. "What does he want with her anyway?"

"Thou told that Danford was surveilling thee for some time before he moved to strike?" Edward questioned. Jack merely nodded. "Then he hast undoubtedly seen thy magic, Sir Jack. He wishes to possess it."

"Aye and he hath opportunity to command advantage, whilst seeking revenge against Our Majesty and Malcolm," added Royce.

Daniel spoke again more to himself that anyone else, but Jack was listening carefully. "Amazing! The Heraldic code means that if we tried to get Sam back ourselves, using our weapons, the King would be dishonoured in law. I would imagine that in such a society that would be the worst possible crime, causing undoubted loss of support with the noblemen. If they agree to the challenge they have to literally 'win' her from him."

"Thine scholar is correct, Sir Jack. We are blessed by peace; as such no battle outside the arena may be fought without leading to rebellion against the throne."

"Ok, you may not be able to fight, but we sure as hell can!" Jack almost growled as he lifted his vest onto his shoulders.

"No, Jack, we can't," Jack's eyes flashed to his friend's he didn't even attempt to disguise his temper as Daniel continued. "Don't you see, he'll know already we are with Alfred, and if we went to Sam back it would end with the same result. Danford is using their own code against them. I want her back just as much as you do Jack, but if it means bringing down an entire civilisation in the process, I'd rather find another way."

Jack listened to the words and accepted his choices, or more aptly, his lack there of. He hated it when Daniel was right. There was no way he could choose Carter over the collapse of this government, not when there was another option. He may not like it, but…

"So what will happen to Carter while Danford has her?" Jack voiced the question that he had almost feared to ask.

The knights exchanged looks, before Royce spoke. "Danford shalt not dishonour your Lady, Sir Jack, if it t'were found out, his honour would fall further. No nobleman would take his side against the King. She be safe, lest until she belongs to him."

Jack eyed the other man carefully, "Well, that's just not gonna happen anytime soon, is it?" he stated, surprised by the depth of his venom and his absolute certainty.

Jack changed the focus, feeling like a coward but unable to let himself dwell on the possibility that she'd…No!" He'd kill Danford with his bare hands if he as much as touched another hair on his Major's head. This thirst for vengeance that poured through him at that moment scared him. Squashing his sentiment ruthlessly, he spoke. His voice he was glad to note held none of the turmoil in his gut.

"Ok, so how does this joust thing work, and where will it be held?" Jack needed as much detail as he could get. He was being forced by his own sense of right and wrong into acting uncharacteristically calmly and he didn't like it one bit.

"In a tournament joust," began Guy in a tone scarily like Daniel's lecture voice, "Knights from the realm are invited to do combat, each knight holding one joust. Each joust contains three passes. Victorious knights progress, vanquished knights are carried from the arena."

Well that was sure blunt enough, thought Jack as he nodded his understanding while Guy continued. "Alas, Danford has challenged our Sovereign outright. Thus to win Lady Samantha, Danford must be faced in one single joust," Guy finished, resigned.

All knights' eyes turned to Malcolm, knowing it was he who would face Danford on his King's behalf.

"Danford challenges me once more. He shalt fail. I shalt be victorious, I vow to win the Lady," Malcolm stated with all the brash arrogance that Jack knew he possessed.

"Thanks very much Galahad, but there's only one person going to win back Carter, and that's me!"

Jack was quite satisfied with the look of utter shock on every man's face. But by way of explanation he offered, "I'm her Commanding Officer… Knight Herald… whatever… it's my responsibility."

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Sam ran her hands through her hair, or, to be more accurate, the now massacred part that Danford had cut 'as proof to the king'. Ok, so maybe massacred was a little too strong a description, and maybe if she hadn't have fought so much – receiving a lovely purple bruise on her rib for her trouble- she may have had a less obvious reminder just behind her ear.

She felt the disadvantage of losing her BDU's, especially her boots. They'd have left an impressive legacy in Danford's anatomy if she'd have had the opportunity.

Unfortunately, what little advantage they may have offered, had been lost. Not only had she lost her radio – and with it the self-tracker that would have given the guys her location - she'd now lost the protection of the shapeless ambiguity of her combat kit. In its place, she now sported a deep emerald dress. The obviously expensive silk, with its flowing lines, long sleeves, low cut bodice and low slung waist, would have made her feel like a princess on any other occasion. Here, it made her, and everyone else, far too aware of her femininity - a definite weakness. Danford had mistaken her for a boy, squire to men of magic, when she had been taken. He'd warned her no one would make that mistake again.

Having had the dubious 'honour' of watching him for the last little while, Sam had witnessed his brutality time and again and part of her counted herself lucky that he wanted her as a prize. It meant that he couldn't mark her too severely; at least the parts of her that were on view, anyway.

He reminded her of another brutal man she'd had the misfortune to meet on one of their first missions as SG1. Turgen had also vowed to break her, and he almost had. She would not make the same mistake with Danford.

Her biggest fear had been at nightfall. Here there was no separate tent for women, and she was still uncertain of his intentions. Since her bruising, she had forced her mind to overrule her gut. Her instinctive reaction to stand up to him, to rile and hurt him, was now tempered by her need to stay safe. It had been a hard lesson all those years ago, but she had learned it… eventually.

Having feared the worst for her night, her body had remained high on the adrenaline that her nerves had triggered. As he had strolled into the tent and moved to purposely crowd her body space once more she had fought the urge to be sick. He had raised a less than gentle hand to tug at the now shorter stands of hair behind her ear, his voice nothing more than a menacing whisper.

"Thou hast already tempered thine fire, shrew! A pity, for I wouldst have enjoyed greatly enforcing your submission this dark." he smiled at the thought, then stole a savage kiss from her lips, laughing as he pulled back, leaving a small welt and trickle of blood from her bottom lip. "Alas, not this night," he stated as he took a step away. "I cannot mark thee before thou be mine by law, t'would sway the barons against me. Yet mark my words wench, I will ultimately have thee!" With that ominous warning he had strolled casually from the tent as relief caused her legs to collapse onto the nearest rug. Try as she might, she couldn't hide from the truth that this man was eminently capable, even willing, to carry out his threats.

Stretching her still bound wrists and legs, she comforted herself with the sure knowledge that whatever pain she could inflict on Danford, it would be nothing compared to what the Colonel would do to him when he came for her. She'd seen the temper of her CO on rare occasions. Usually he had rigid self-control, but she knew beyond doubt that if Danford touched her, he'd kill him with just as much malevolence as Danford deserved.

Perversely the thought made her smile. Teal'c and Daniel would be there too, she knew that without a doubt, but it was the security of her… relationship… with him that kept the fears under control. Even when he wasn't here, she drew more strength from him than he would ever know. Those first few months, it had been a stubborn refusal to allow him to see a weakness in her, refusing to give him the slightest excuse to kick her off his team. Later it had been because she would not, under any circumstances, let him down. His pride in her made her capable of anything. Later, as it was now, it had morphed once more into a deeper and profoundly essential, yet un-stated, emotion in them both. It was a bond that meant more to her than she could ever admit, even to herself.

He would come for her, radio beacon or not. That wasn't even a question. She just had to wait for him. She stifled a small smile. She just knew how much he would enjoy the rescuing the 'Damsel in Distress'. She grimaced at the thought, utterly loathing that characterization of her predicament. Yet she knew that for the time-being at least, she had no choice but to accept it. As she watched the guards shift slightly in silhouette against the tarpaulin, she just wished he hurry up and rescue her, so that this 'fair maiden' would have the chance to kick some medieval butt.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Jack was getting *really*… irked. Really.

"Jack, are you insane?" had been Daniel's response.

His answer… "Obviously."

"O'Neill is this wise?" had come from Teal'c.

His answer… "Probably not, but since when has that ever stopped me… us?"

Daniel had shaken his head, sighed and given up – thankfully. Teal'c had accepted the truth in his words, bowed regally, and also given up.

The knights however, were not so easy to convince.

"Hast thou had tournament experience?" asked Royce quickly.

"Well, not exactly…" Jack answered as he squared his shoulders.

"Danford is legend in joust, Sir Jack! With no experience…" interjected Alfred with a dire shake of his regal head.

"Without meaning to sound arrogant, Sir, but I'm no slouch myself…"

"Thou shalt lose, Sir Jack," predicted Guy with too much certainty for his liking.

"Only Malcolm had fortune to bear victor against him!" Edward seconded.

"Look, I'm doing this, with or without your help," Jack assured.

He knew that tactically he couldn't make a worse decision. He should be letting the experienced man handle this. He knew he should. Unfortunately, this was one of those rare occasions when Jack couldn't fully bolt down his emotion. He needed to do this. It was his job as her CO. It was ultimately his responsibility that she had been taken, so he'd be the one to get her back. Not that guilt or even a sense of duty was his primary motivating factor.

It was something more that that. And he would never ever admit it.

On the upside, he had a plan. Actually, he had a couple of them.

If Malcolm fought the joust and lost, Carter was in big trouble, which just wasn't acceptable. But if he fought the joust and lost, well, there was an alternative.

A bullet with Danford's name on it.

His nine mil was small enough to be concealed during the joust and if lost, which was a distinct possibility, he wouldn't have any doubts about using it. He knew that if he had to use it in the joust, it would dishonour Alfred and would potentially lead to a power struggle… everything Daniel had warned of. But this was as close to a compromise he was gonna get if he went up against a Danford.

Teal'c and Daniel could get Carter out of trouble and head back to the gate during the ensuing pandemonium. He'd stay, offering himself as sole perpetrator in the hopes that it would satisfy the noblemen and save Alfred.

"Personally I'd prefer your help, but…" Jack eyed each man in turn, determination searing from every part of him.

It was Malcolm who broke the stand-off.

"She is thine Lady?" Jack met eyes as dark as his own, eyes that were way too perceptive for their own good.

"She's my responsibility," he hedged, as much an answer as he was willing and able to give. But the Knight's eyes never left his own and Jack had the uncomfortable sensation that Malcolm knew.

"Canst thou ride?" the abrupt change of subject didn't faze Jack.

"Enough," he answered truthfully.

"Thou shalt use the morrow to practice at the quintain, this eve we shalt plot. You shalt win back thine Lady, Jack."

"For cryin' out loud, she's…" Jack stopped his natural defence when he realised what Malcolm had said and the fact that that was the first time the other man had used his name.

"Good!" Jack smiled victorious, the smile fading quickly as he noticed Daniel's reaction.

"Quintain?" he belatedly thought to ask.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Jack walked slowly, following the rest of the party to the quintain. He knew what that was now.

Training.

Ride the horse, hit the shield, try not to get knocked off said horse by the revolving arm of the quintain as the motion of the hit spun it around.

Easy.

Really.

In truth, Jack was lost in thought, torn between concerns for his second's safety and the previous evenings happenings. He'd been told in no uncertain terms that stealing Carter before the joust was just not gonna happen. It would dishonour the King. Word had already been spread that the King and his Knights Royal had accepted the challenge therefore officially showing Jack's allegiance. That damn "honour" thing was really beginning to drive him insane. So he had no choice but to leave Carter there for another night. It would take longer to send Teal'c back to the gate, even on horseback than it would to press on with their new plan. One night had passed already, now this full day and the following night, before the tournament at noon the next day.

Jack had hated to have to explain his motives to anyone, and he especially hated to have to play diplomat, but he'd realised that there was no way the Knights or Alfred would let him joust unless he did. While there was no way in hell anyone was gonna get the whole truth from Jack, he had a solid enough argument to get what he wanted. He'd just have to get everyone to listen to it first. The only way he could do that was by speaking privately to Alfred.

Alfred had concentrated carefully as Jack postulated that if Malcolm lost – which wasn't exactly unthinkable - Alfred would have no recourse to get Carter back, which to Jack, was utterly unacceptable. If Jack jousted and lost – which was highly likely – he could use the gun and offer himself as traitor to the King. Jack reasoned that to keep any implication of Alfred using 'unworldly magic' – which would dishonour him badly and lose him vital support from the noblemen leaving his position vulnerable to rebellion – Alfred had to appear to be impartial. As such, he could use Jack as a 'scapegoat' and hopefully hold his honour in tact. But most importantly of all, Alfred had understood that Jack's responsibility was to his team and that meant he would make the ultimate sacrifice.... the king had also made it plain that he knew Jack would make that sacrifice especially for her. A point Alfred had held as proof that Sir Jack was a most valiant of men.

Finally, the King had yielded to Jack's determination, agreeing that Jack needed to be in the joust. Unfortunately, neither of them believed for one second that Jack could best Danford in what at least had to start out as a fair fight. And Alfred had informed Jack that not even offering his own life would stave off the noblemen's ire. There had to be another way… one that didn't involve gunfire, if Alfred was going to let Jack joust.

It was at that point that Jack had finally allowed them to see how savvy he actually was. After asking Alfred to let everyone back in, he assured Alfred he had another plan, he just needed everyone to shut up and accept the fact that he, Jack O'Neill, was going to joust.

As such, the Regent had stopped all of the anticipated doubts regarding Jack's participation when he allowed the rest of the men to enter.

With one "He shalt joust" command the decree was made and no man would question it.

So here he was, about to do the most stupid act of his life to date. He was going against everything his years of training had instilled… but he was still going to do it. He just hoped Hammond followed his usual "don't as, don't tell" policy when -*if*- he got home. He doubted very much whether he could explain this one.

Jack hadn't held out much hope that Plan A (beating Danford, using the gun, dying) would actually fly, he'd had a niggling feeling that the "gun" thing wasn't gonna be a good option; besides, Plan A's had a habit of, well failing spectacularly. Having already thought through to this point in the proceedings some time ago, Jack was already prepared with plan B; he just waited until everyone was ready to listen to it before he made it common knowledge

If he couldn't use the gun, or beat Danford outright, he'd just have to join Danford… or more precisely become Danford.

It was, without doubt, a sounder proposal. Jack wouldn't even have to carry the gun and risk dishonouring Alfred and causing a whole heck of a lot of trouble for the man. He smiled at his own ingenuity. He enjoyed the moment when everyone figured out just how good he actually was. Jack was sure he'd remember Malcolm's face until the day he died. Which, he remembered, could potentially be fairly soon.

To all eyes, Sir Malcolm Wessex, King's Knight Herald would take on Lucien Danford to gain the prize of Lady Samantha of Carter (as she'd now become known). But only a few select people would know that Malcolm Wessex would, in reality, be jousting against Jack O'Neill, a brave, yet blatantly stupid man. Who would eventually ride off into the sunset with the fair maiden, Lady Samantha.

In seeing their 'master' victorious, Danford's men would be appeased and have no reason to cause trouble for Alfred. By the time any of them thought to check, news would have been spread that Danford had been witnessed murdering his prize by the knights herald as they rode to Merrick. He had been captured and put to death, with no one daring to question the word of the collective Knights Herald.

Honour would be withheld, as a fair fight would – at least appear to – have been staged. The King would emerge innocent and keep his honour – and regency – intact and Malcolm Wessex would give the ultimate sacrifice of any warrior of this time. He would lose.

What's more, he would lose on purpose.



Jack had known that getting Malcolm to take a fall was the only risk in his plan, the fact that Malcolm had agreed to do it with little hesitation, had surprised him. He knew how much "honour" meant to these people and for him to take a fall on purpose… well… not the first choice of any knight. His simple acceptance of his fate sealed by one single sentence, "Thou shalt regain her hand," was enough to tell Jack that this man showed honour, courage and nobility all rolled into one. It was enough to tell everyone else that Jack O'Neill would indeed be jousting.



The remainder of the evening had passed slowly for Jack, his restlessness a testament to his reaction to his missing Major. Daniel had spent the evening enthusiastically exchanging stories with Alfred, Royce and Guy, enjoying the culture and its rich, living history. Teal'c had used the time to bond with Edward, warriors together, while Jack and Malcolm had both remained quiet, alone and content to ruminate over the strategies they had formed.

He smiled a little at the fresh memory as his feet continued to follow the path to the training ground. He had to get this right, he knew he'd look like a Knight, but would he be able to act like one? That had been the largest loophole that remained in their plan. If Jack didn't look skilled enough on the arena field, questions may well be asked.

He felt the determination fire his blood. He wouldn't screw up. He couldn't. There was too much at stake. Somehow, Carter's rescue had become meshed within a much bigger picture, and it was giving him a headache.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Daniel glanced over his shoulder at his friend, who once again walked alone, slightly behind the main party as they headed through the woodland towards the quintain.

"Thou are troubled, Daniel?" asked Guy, noticing his movement.

"Not really, Guy, it's just…" He couldn't seem to voice his thoughts, as if doing so would jinx things.

"That the joust must appear real for the plot to ring true, thus Malcolm cannot show mercy. Thou fears for Sir Jack?" came the astute response.

"Yeah, I guess I do. Don't get me wrong, if anyone can do this, it's Jack, but…" trailed Daniel, his explanation sticking in his throat.

"Thou fears he shoulders his burden alone?" replied Guy, once again his perceptiveness surprising Daniel. "That the resolve he holds may be his downfall?"

Daniel could only nod.

"Fear not my friend, his resolve is akin to Malcolm's strength of will. Sir Jack shalt learn the skill of the joust by Malcolm's aid, he shalt prevail."

Guy slapped his shoulder and moved forward to talk with Edward and Royce, leaving Daniel with Teal'c.

"O'Neill is a capable warrior, DanielJackson, strong in body and mind." Daniel looked up, though not really surprised by the Jaffa's unwavering support of their leader.

"I know that Teal'c, I guess I'm just a little worried about why he's doing this." Daniel finally spoke his concerns. "You know as well as I do that he didn't have to joust at all."

"Indeed." conceded the other man, "yet it is that very reason he jousts that will assure his success, DanielJackson. As AlfredofMerrick would say, 'have faith'"

Daniel took a moment to digest those words. Teal'c of course was right; Jack would go to hell and back for Sam, and vice versa. They did their best to contain it, harness it, to use that spark that lit them both to give them a special edge regardless of the situation. It was something he'd seen before, several times, but each time it took more of their souls to keep that fire from spilling over, to keep that restraint. He felt pain for them, and he hated it.

But as Teal'c communicated the same sentiment with an arched brow, Daniel again accepted that it wasn't his decision to change.

^*^*^*^^**^*^*^*^*^

Sam knew her capitulation was frustrating Danford. He wanted her to offer him the excuse to beat on her… or worse, but she refused to give him that satisfaction.

He'd goaded her throughout the day, pushed her to previously unknown limits of forced placidity.

"Thou dost well to keep thy temper, woman," he'd growled earlier. "Yet by this time on the morrow, it shalt matter no more. Thou shalt be mine by law and I will no longer have to keep mine!"

Her determination to stay unharmed stemmed from the conversation she had overheard. Apparently the King had new allies, 'the wenches Knights'. A thrill had gone through her. Her team was here, and if she knew them at all, they'd be at the tournament with a plan to get her back. It was easy, all the eyes would be on the joust, they could slip her away quickly and with any luck be well on their way to the gate before anyone noticed! And if they had gained horses from their new ally, well, so much the better. It would be a head long race to the gate… but they had the distinct advantage. They had guns, or at least she hoped they still had guns.

But, she reminded herself, a galloping horse needed an uninjured rider and her team needed that much from her if they were to all get home safely.

Unless of course Danford had already made plans for just such an attempt to steal his prize away, this was more than possible. If that was the case, she knew there were only two alternatives. Either the colonel would, literally, arrive all guns blazing, or the joust must be fought. Sam was reasonably sure that he wouldn't want to risk civilian casualties if there was another way, so she reasoned that he might well use the joust as cover if he'd stacked the odds in their favour.

The more she thought about it, the more sense it made. She knew her colonel well enough to know "covert" would be on top of his agenda. Maybe the Colonel had indeed found a way to load their bases.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Jack stopped walking.

That was the quintain?

There was maybe a hundred or so yards of fence in the middle of two well worn dirt tracks. Dead set in the middle of the fence was a… quintain. A vertical wooden pole attached to the fence, with a horizontal cross-bar about two-thirds up its length. One side of the cross-bar had a large, somewhat battered, shield attached to it, while the opposite end had a sack, a very heavy looking sack.

It didn't take a logistical genius to figure out how the knights'… and Daniel's… descriptions of the quintain matched its actuality. Nor did it take a billion brain cells to figure out just how hard that sack was gonna hit if, one, he actually managed to hit that damn shield, and two: he didn't duck fast enough after hitting it.

He was brought abruptly from his musings by the snorting of a horse, a very large, very impatient looking horse. As it was held by one of the squires, it began to paw the ground, obviously eager to see his new rider make an ass of himself, Jack thought. Well, not today, buddy.

He approached the animal carefully, holding his hand flat to the horse's nose, as he'd always been taught. He couldn't stroke the horse's head because the horse was in full battle dress, white and gold skirt and everything. Jack smiled internally. Who was looking like the ass now? As if the horse heard his thoughts, he whinnied and butted Jack's shoulder hard and Jack decided to call it quits with the beast, while fighting the urge to rub his shoulder better.

"This be Sir Malcolm's animal, Sir Jack," the small blond squire informed him shyly. "He be a good seat," he added as a proud note crept into the still bashful tone. "He's fast to turn and quicker to attack!"

"Thanks," Jack replied, "I'm sure we'll…" But he never got to finish the sentence as Edward came back into view carrying clanking a suit of armour with him.

"Sir Jack, thy must be properly attired," the man motioned to the cumbersome attire he carried.

Jack was spared the need to reply as Malcolm intervened.

"Nay, Edward, first he must practice without. He in unproven - lance and shield be enough for now." As Malcolm's eyes held no insult, Jack took none. He was right of course, so Jack for once, didn't argue.

"Mount." Malcolm commanded. Using the stirrup and his body weight as leverage Jack pulled himself into the saddle, grateful not to need help despite his knees and back.

Jack took hold of the reigns and settled in the saddle. Letting the horse dance as it got used to his weight, he looked at his audience. All four knights, several squires (who looked impressed with his show of agility), Alfred, Daniel and finally Teal'c all stood a careful distance from the practice area, but watched eagerly.

"Jack," called Daniel, "are you sure about this?"

Jack didn't even dignify that with a response as he quickly turned the horse in a sharp circle and galloped the animal the length of the run and back again. The squire was right, the horse was fast and agile, and more importantly, it could stop on a dime. A talent that he exploited on the return gallop, pulling the horse to a quick stop, mere inches from Daniel and Teal'c. The former flinched instinctively; the latter didn't move a single muscle.

"That answer your question, Daniel?" Jack said with not just a little amusement.

"You haven't hit anything yet, Jack," Daniel retorted honestly.

"Good luck, O'Neill." It was an unmistakable cue from Teal'c to end the banter.

"Thanks Teal'c," Jack answered before turning the horse once more and trotting back to Malcolm and his squire.

Malcolm stood silently and then, after a moment, nodded to the boy at his side. Two more boys of about the same age appeared helping to pass Jack the lance. They allowed him a few seconds to adjust his seat to accommodate the implement, waiting silently as Jack got used to the weight in his right hand. It was heavier than it looked! When Malcolm was satisfied with Jack's hold on the weapon, he nodded once more to the squire who brought a large white shield. The squire looped it over Jack's left forearm. Although it was heavy and felt cumbersome, it helped counterbalance the lance and Jack suddenly felt a lot more comfortable.

"Aim across thineself and prepare thine body for impact, or thou shalt be unseated," advised Malcolm.

Jack held the reigns in his left hand, balanced his body and tapped the horse lightly in the flanks. He nodded once to Malcolm as he directed the animal to the far end of the run.

Holding the horse in check at the start of the fencing, Jack realised that the shield on the quintain suddenly looked a whole helluva lot smaller, and the lance on his arm suddenly felt a whole helluva lot heavier. He could feel the expectation of the crowd, and his own confidence took a momentary nose-dive, causing the lance to dip slightly. Cursing himself, he righted the lance and his bravado with one thought.

Carter.

With that he kicked the horse into a fast and uncompromising gallop along the fence. As the quintain drew closer, he raised the lance a fraction, adjusting to the galloping motion of the beast beneath him – really this would have been easier on skates! He focused again on the shield. It loomed closer at an alarming rate. Adjusting the lance once again he counteracted the roll of the horse beneath him. Preparing his body - his right shoulder in particular - for the impact of lance on shield, he gripped the reigns tighter. Almost there! Jack held his breath.

THWACK!

Yes! Jack's smile was wide. He'd actually hit that damn target, first time and more importantly stayed on the damned horse! He was just about to drop the lance and punch the air and shout a very undignified 'yeehaw', when…

WHAM!

Then…

THUD.

All of a sudden Jack found himself laying face down in a very undignified heap on the ground.

Ignoring the throbbing in his back, he pushed himself in to a sitting position and spat dust from his mouth. Looking up only to come nose to nose with the smuggest looking horse in the entire universe!

Eventually picking his ass up out of the dirt, Jack bit back a curse as he saw Daniel's empathic grimace and Teal'c's… smile? Huh. Fine. If that wasn't bad enough, Alfred shouted from his vantage point, "Nay, Sir Jack, thou didst forget the arm of the quintain!"

"No shi…um, really?" Jack substituted his original word, but still couldn't help the surliness of his tone. His back felt like he'd been hit by a wrecking ball, his knees were protesting loudly, his arms ached from the weight of the lance and the shield, and the last thing he needed was blatantly obvious advice from the sidelines!

Refusing to dust himself off, he placed his foot back in the stirrup and hauled his aching body back into the saddle.

"Again," Jack ordered the squires, motioning to the lance and shield they had already re-gathered.

"Again," agreed Malcolm.

"Oh boy," groaned Daniel.

"Indeed," agreed Teal'c.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

It had been a long, long day, for 'Sir Jack' and his body was letting him know it. He ached in places he didn't know existed; he had aches on top of aches and bruises on top of bruises. His back felt like it had been used for target practice by a wrecking ball, which he admitted, it kinda had. He couldn't even lift his arms past his elbows, which made drinking… interesting. Even his butt hurt! Between the saddle and the ground, his ass had taken a beating too.

And that had been before he'd put on the armour.

They had added it bit by bit as he got used to each part, until finally, he donned the whole shebang, helmet included. It had been heavy, dark and eerily claustrophobic once the visor came down. It was also, he'd decided, physically impossible to walk, mount a horse… and pee, at least with any modicum of dignity.

Next time he saw Walt Disney, or any of those people who did the whole "Romantic Hero" thing, he was personally gonna whup their asses. See how they liked it!

But, he'd finally done it. Exhausting hours later and approaching dusk, he'd finally succeeded in satisfying Malcolm. His standards had been grueling and exacting, but Jack knew that he had to look good enough in that arena tomorrow if this whole thing had any hope in hell of succeeding. As such, he was grateful (now) for every meticulous adjustment and piece of advice he'd been given. He might hurt like crazy, but if he was good enough to please Malcolm to the point that the man almost smiled he figured he'd done and would subsequently do okay.

"O'Neill," Jack looked up from the fire to see his Jaffa friend approach, a small pause in his stride a silent inquiry for permission to sit. Jack merely motioned a finger to the next rug over, nothing else on his body was capable of moving. "I bring a poultice that Royce instructed the apothecary to make. He assures it will relieve lingering pain and stiffness." As he finished Teal'c handed Jack five seriously foul smelling rags. He wrinkled his nose with displeasure, but slapped them over his back, shoulders and legs respectively as he turned his attention back to the flames.

"I regret that I was unable to prevent the capture of MajorCarter, O'Neill," intoned the Jaffa in a voice so low, Jack knew it was for his ears only. Turning, he was surprised to see a muscle work in his friend's jaw, a patent manifestation of his emotion.

"Not your fault, Teal'c." Jack immediately reassured, his tone showing no sign of any blame.

Teal'c merely nodded his head, but Jack knew his words had absolved none of his guilt. The solider in Teal'c knew that he was blameless but the man in Teal'c wouldn't accept that. It was a dichotomy that Jack understood too well.

"We'll get her back, Teal'c," he vowed.

Only an almost imperceptible bow of the Jaffa's head's head showed the comment had been heard at all.

"You're a good man, my friend," Jack spoke honestly.

"As are you, O'Neill," Teal'c echoed, a reminder of a conversation many years ago, his words eliciting the same sentiment as they had then.

Both men stared at the flames that danced before them and Jack knew at that moment that guilt had not been the only motive for his friend's appearance. He didn't know if it was the stinking gunk that now covered most of his body, or the words of a friend, but all of a sudden Jack felt better than he had for a long time. His confidence reasserted itself, as he vowed that he would either get Carter back or die trying.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

At least this time they were actually letting her sit on the horse properly, Sam thought as she tried to keep any part of her swaying body from touching that of the faceless, silent knight, who sat in the saddle, controlling the horse.

That morning she hadn't seen Danford, a mercy for which she was eminently grateful. As the joust grew nearer, his malice and threat grew stronger. Sam wasn't sure if it was his own confidence and adrenaline which increased his brutal boldness, or her own stress awarding his taunts more power than she wanted.

She occupied her self with trying to figure out her CO's plan - again. The strategist in her told her that there must be a reason that stopped her team charging straight into Danford's camp, kicking severe butt and getting her out of there. She also knew that due to their lack of comms, SG1 would be flying solo. There was no way the Colonel would waste the time it would take to travel to the gate and back again – despite what the field manuals might say about getting back-up. He was, when he deemed the situation warranted it, one of the most unorthodox soldiers she had had the privilege to serve with. It could be infuriating at times, no doubt Hammond thought so, but she knew that it was the Colonel's ability to fly by the seat of his pants that had kept them alive on more than one occasion.

Her logic told her that if he was waiting so long to mount his rescue, there must be larger issues at stake; she smiled at his uncharacteristic patience. It must be killing him to have to wait.

She stopped her ponderings suddenly. Why did she always think of her rescue in terms of the Colonel? She knew without doubt that Daniel and Teal'c would be no more than a half step behind their CO. Yet it was always him she saw as she imagined the scenarios for her escape.

Although she knew examining the whys and wherefores of that little concept was probably not a good idea, she couldn't help but hug the measure of comfort it brought.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

This was better!

Finally he was doing something productive. They were all doing something productive.

Danford had finally arrived at the arena, setting up his preparation tent close to the battle ground. When news of his arrival had reached Jack, he'd almost cheered with relief that the waiting was over and the first stage of their plan could be put into action. They needed Danford out of the picture and they needed his armour. By capturing him now they eliminated the threat to Carter and the risk of any reaction after the event. To stop his men crying foul later, they must believe they had seen Danford joust – and win. Alfred's guards were already waiting to take Danford back to Merrick, to do with as their laws dictated they treat murderers. No one outside the dungeons of Merrick would ever see Danford, or his personal guard, again.

As such, the remaining members of SG-1 had left Malcolm and his men in the forest just beyond the otherwise pleasant clearing that harboured Danford's preparation area.

Their plan called for SG-1 and SG-1 alone to attack Danford, since Danford and his personal guards would shortly be occupying the dungeons of Merrick, there was no risk in the use of "magics". So here they were, as they had so many times in the past, moving quickly and quietly through the remaining brush cover, weapons poised, about to carry out stage one of 'Operation Damsel in Distress' as Jack had labeled it.

Even though they knew that this particular damsel was already gone.

Sometimes Jack wished he wasn't so bothered about leaving a mess behind. He never used to. In and out, as long as his primary mission objective was met, screw the rest. But he'd changed since then. The last seven years of his life had changed him, the people, the places… he smiled; it was her own damn fault she had to wait so long. His team, his job… her… gave him the chance to be more than special ops had allowed him to be. A conscience proved to be a royal pain in the butt, but he relished it.

The tournament ground was maybe half a click away, but the noise level that already came from its direction, while serving as a wonderful mask for what was about to happen next, surprised Jack. He hadn't realised that in such a short time, half the country (it seemed) had turned up to see this. He reigned in his focus; he'd do nerves later. For now they had a cover to build, a prisoner to take and a horse to steal.

Holding his right fist in the air, he crouched low, his team following his command. Teal'c, who was a few feet to his right, motioned with his own hand to give Jack and Daniel the information they needed. Four armed men, plus Danford, all together and slightly ahead of their current location. Jack responded in kind, signaling Teal'c to the right and Daniel to the left, positions that would hopefully encircle their prey.

They did.

Jack fired a warning shot into the shield of one of Danford's knights as it rested on the ground to show he meant business and that their hastily drawn swords would do them no good at all. The corralled men seemed to sense their inadequacy and laid down their weapons with little pre-amble. All but one and Jack didn't need the Intel that Alfred and Malcolm had given him to be able to recognise that it was Danford himself.

Trusting his team to keep the others covered, Jack stepped forward.

"Please," he began in a tone that told of his opinion of this man, "just give me one excuse…" he threatened ominously and was pleased to see a fine sheen of sweat break out over his opponent's upper lip as he very reluctantly dropped his sword.

"Pity," Jack taunted as he kicked the blade away while allowing Danford the opportunity to watch the infra-red sight as it slowly leveled at the man's chest, right on his heart. Danford may not know what the little red light did, but he sure as hell realised that it wasn't good for his health. "Now, I believe that you have something that I want?" Jack continued, his light tone utterly belying his antagonism.

Danford's eyes widened, a malicious smile creeping onto his face.

"Thou ist too late. The wench has already gone!" he snarled victoriously. "Once I assured that she is worth fighting for…" Danford let the taunt hang in the air. "Wilst thou still value the wench now I have had her?"

Anger flooded through Jack as he coiled his finger around the trigger. He knew Danford would do this, he also knew that he had come only for the man and his armour... but dammit he wasn't going to stand…

"The wench was good, markedly so, once all fire was beaten from her." The man's eyes spoke of enjoyment in his continued baiting. "Does she pleasure thee like that?"

Jack had heard enough and moved to the side of his prey. In a swift and decisive movement, he brought the butt of the gun crashing down on the back of the man's head.

The other knights shifted instinctively at the sight of their leader hitting the ground with Jack kicking him a little harder than was really necessary to make sure he was out cold, but they too held their place. Of course a the gun that had just placed a hole straight through their strong shields and felled their boss, helped keep their urge to fight under control.

"Right, just so you folks don't get any ideas about following us," drawled Jack to the men, he reached into his pocket with his free hand pulling out the plastic zip-lock tags that were oh so good at their job. With Teal'c and Daniel's help they had the four men bound wrist and ankle in no time. Placing them in positions that they could not escape from – really their armour was such a hindrance- Jack held court.

Gesturing Teal'c and Daniel to carry out the remainder of the plan, Jack watched with one eye remaining on his captives as Teal'c immediately hoisted the still unconscious man easily onto his shoulders and made his way over to Danford's horse as Daniel retrieved the remainder of his armour and his shield.

"Oh, and boys," Jack taunted as he walked backwards to the tree line, "I wouldn't try and escape, those ropes are enchanted and you don't wanna mess with our powerful magic, trust me." With the satisfaction of undimmed fear lighting their eyes, Jack smiled before breaking into a run to catch up with his friends and their hostage.

Very soon they arrived to where their escorts were waiting and Malcolm dispatched the guards to retrieve the tied men.

"Bravo, Sir Jack!" cheered Edward. "Danford's men will be taken to Merrick under guard. They shalt have no opportunity to tell of this!"

"Well done!" exclaimed Royce and Guy as they patted Teal'c and Daniel heartily in the back, including them in their praise.

"Ready thineself," Malcolm ordered Jack brusquely. "Time runs fast."

Jack's smile disappeared.

Stage two was here. Even though the threat of Danford and his men were being taken care of, the people and noblemen in the arena were another issue entirely. Danford's men who undoubtedly held Carter under guard in the arena expected to see their boss joust and win. If the honour thing was questioned, but without giving Alfred's men enough time to get Danford and his men far enough away, there would be serious problems.

To protect Alfred and this whole set up, a joust must still be held.

And held it shall still be.

Kind of.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

This was not good, Sam thought as she surreptitiously pulled her hands, testing the ropes that held her to the chair on which she had recently been placed. Sure enough, they held firm, as did the ones holding her ankles. The fact that on either side of her was one of Danford's men, each holding a dagger to her ribs, was also a bad sign. Worse still, was the placing of at least four guards at the doorway to the viewing box she was in, with another four or so stationed at various strategic points beyond.

They really were making it difficult for her to be rescued. But then again, she figured that was kinda the point.

Resisting the urge to pull more noticeably at her bindings, she let her eyes take in the scene. She told herself that she was looking for something… anything that would tell her help was on the way. But part of her was also stunned at the spectacle before her.

Even though there would only be one joust held that day, the large arena was full to breaking point. Every space had been filled with people eager to see the outcome of Danford's challenge to the King and his men, all of them knowing the back story of the treacherous Knight who had fallen from glory in brutal ways. They crammed themselves around the large central area, jostling for position along the sturdy fence, gaining the best views they could of the jousting area. A single fence running length ways along the middle with two worn tracks on either side of it told Sam that all those history books were accurate in their descriptions of a jousting field…right down the 'royal' box which was directly opposite her current location.

What those history books hadn't prepared her for was the amazing pageantry that had been thrown together with startling speed to make the short-notice event honourable. What she assumed to be the King's standards flew proudly from one end of the arena, while Danford's silver hawk fluttered darkly at the opposing end.

A sudden blare of trumpets startled her from her musings as a fanfare sounded to herald the arrival of the King, his knights and… Daniel and Teal'c. The crowd cheered madly as the white-haired ruler took his place, his knights by his side, her team mates a step behind them. Not that she was really seeing them; she was more concerned about the missing man… Where was the Colonel!? Hurt? Dead? She quickly shook her fear away, more likely he was in jail for blasphemy or something. Either that or, more likely, she had been dead right about her time of rescue!

She didn't let the elation show on her face, neither did she risk alerting her guards to the potential escape by looking for him… it, but she readied her body for flight and looked up to catch Teal'c's gaze. He smiled, his relief at her safety (which she confirmed with a slight nod of her head) palpable, even at this distance.

She resisted the urge to cheer.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Jack was trying, with little success, to stay focussed on what he had learned about jousting as he was placed in Danford's armour. Malcolm, already in his silver paraphernalia looked ominous and every inch the "white knight".

As the final buckle was fastened at his 'shield-side' and the black tunic was placed over his head and belted, the huge broad sword hanging at his side, the squire handed him the black helmet before leaving.

The other knights had left a few minutes ago, as had Daniel and Teal'c, to join the King in the Royal box, leaving Jack alone with Malcolm and the squires.

"It is time," pronounced the other man as he returned from checking the heavy metal shackles that bound the now conscious Danford to the solid oak tent pole. Having 'given' his armour to Jack, the man was about to be taken away.

"Malcolm, can I ask you something?" Jack couldn't help it. There was something that didn't quite fit with the knight's actions. Why would he voluntarily take a dive in front of a whole lot of people just to help out some strangers? Jack knew enough about the Heraldic what's-it from Daniel to know that there was no honour in being bested. And apparently 'honour' was the currency of choice in these parts. Jack just didn't get it and he didn't like not knowing the motivations of people he had to work with and more importantly, people he had to trust.

"Thou art well prepared…" Malcolm began.

"No. Not that. Well technically it's got something to do with that, but…" Jack shook his head and started again. "Why are you doing this? Taking a dive, I mean? Its not as if this is gonna make you look good!"

Malcolm only smiled in response and Jack knew that he had been waiting for this question.

"The life Danford took was my mothers." He stated simply, holding Jack's eyes for a second letting the implications sink in.

Well, that certainly explained a few things! Suddenly Jack found that the respect he had held for Malcolm doubled. It also began to grow into something that Jack could almost pin as 'liking'. Not that he would tell Malcolm that.

"Thank you." The words seemed trivial as Jack offered his hand to the tall knight. But the sincerity was unquestionable.

Taking his hand, Malcolm nodded slowly. "It is time," he reiterated as if nothing had passed between the two men.

"Yeah," nodded Jack mildly distracted. "Just give me a second."

With that he walked calmly over to the tied man, nodding briefly to the four men stood guard over him. Jack bent as close as he could considering the extra burden of the black metal he carried. He saw the rage in Danford's eyes, the impotent fury and it made Jack smile as he spoke low and solemnly.

"When I get her back, if I find that you have harmed her in any way, I will come for you and I will kill you," he promised as his smile turned dangerous. He watched as Danford's temper ignited.

"All this for a cheap and eager blonde whore?" jeered the Black Knight.

Jack half turned as if to walk away then halted before turning back to face the man on the floor.

"Big mistake, I was gonna let the hair thing slide..." Jack informed him as he took a step forward and in one single, graceful movement brought his fist crashing down on Danford's jaw with a loud 'CRACK'. The man immediately slumped forward, "…but since you mentioned it…" he explained to the now unconscious criminal as he turned back to Malcolm, and proclaimed, "*Now* I'm ready." He tried not to let the other man see the quick shake he gave to his now aching hand, seriously why did all bad guys have such hard jaws?

Jack had left the tent before he had chance to see the small smile of approval that crossed the White Knight's lips, unaware that for Malcolm, any debt owed had now been paid.

The capture of the man who had killed his mother was payment enough.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Sam felt her heart lurch as the fanfare that told the crowd the combatants were about to enter the arena sounded sharply.

This really was the stuff of fairy tales.

Two horses trotted proudly into sight, one as white as the other was black; as black as the man he was carrying. The riders looked strong and powerful, even at this distance Sam could tell both men were of similar build and height, their armour accentuating their natural presence. The only noticeable difference was the biggest clich in the book; black versus white, good versus evil. The black horse, fully regaled in its battle armour carried the knight with whom she had become all too familiar with these last few days. As much as she hated the mortal sight of him, she had to admit, he cut a dashing figure as he rode gently around the arena, delighting the crowd. The silver hawk, with its talons bared menacingly glinted off his shield and chest and she hated herself for even thinking he was anything other than evil. He wasn't the romantic hero that her heart was imagining, he was the utter antithesis of anything romantic or good. Whereas his opponent, who due to the occasion rode at his side, was dressed in silver armour with a white tunic emblazoned with a golden lion on his chest and shield. He should be the one she saw as the hero. But there was something about 'Black Knight' that drew her and she hated herself for it.

Both men stopped their horses in front of the King, lances down, as dictated by the rules she imagined. A few words were obviously exchanged before the men rode on around the arena, heading straight for her position. Little did Sam know, that the words "God's speed, Sir Jack" were spoken; little did she know that the man dressed in black who stopped his horse sharply before her as he lowered his lance, was the very person she so desperately needed to see.

She knew her role, she had been well drilled and she felt the daggers in her sides pressing more firmly to make sure she did as was told. Her arms had been freed for this moment, the point in the proceedings when the 'Lady' declared her favour by tying a sash of whatever material her dress was made of around her chosen Knights lance. She would have given anything on this planet or her own to defy them this one last time and tie the silver blue material around the White Knights lance. Yet she knew without doubt that if she did, it would indeed be her one last act… ever.

Raising her eyes to meet those hidden by a black visor, she allowed her hatred to flow freely from them as she lifted her hands slowly. 'Danford' moved the horse back a step, before raising his lance high enough to aid her tying. Not once did her indignant eyes leave the small slit in the visor that allowed him sight, but as her hands finished their task, something shone from inside that slit that scared her more than anything else she had previously been through.

Whether it was his slightly altered position, or a change in the light, or even a stroke of fate, Sam caught a fleeting glimpse of dark eyes that seemed to hold her, lighting the small something inside her that had flickered from the moment he had entered the arena.

Bile rose in her throat as her mind screamed 'Never. Not for him.' It was purely because of the occasion, her nerves, and her excitement at her imminent rescue…

But her heart, her soul, was sending another signal, the truth. It wouldn't let her deny the spark, the link that she had just felt.

But how could she?

Sam watched in tortured silence as the two men galloped to opposite ends of the jousting fence. She felt like she had betrayed everything that made her the woman she was. In that one moment as their eyes had too briefly merged, she'd betrayed herself, her team and the one man who she needed more than any other. The silver blue material that flagged along the black lance as it traveled to the right end of the field mocked her.

In that moment, she hated Danford more than ever before.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Jack felt the bead of sweat trickle from his hairline to his jaw, the annoying droplet tormenting him. He shouldn't be nervous; really, he knew exactly how this was going to go down. But he couldn't stifle the churning of his stomach as his mind openly reminded him that it wasn't the joust that had caused this sudden bout of emotion within him.

For the first time in days he'd seen his second, his sharp flash of relief had threatened to make him end this charade then and there. She was safe, or at least she looked it, the two jeweled daggers that poked her sides not withstanding. He hid a small chuckle, those daggers were probably the only thing keeping her obedience, he had seen it her eyes.

Eyes that spat frustration and anger, eyes that had turned upon him radiating hatred, eyes that had widened in shock a few seconds later as he had altered the angle of his head just enough to let her see… if she wanted to look.

He'd seen her physically start as the bolt had hit her as hard as it had hit him. The emotion had been quickly buried by both, that small, forbidden amount of truth that flashed between them quickly suppressed, but this time for entirely different reasons. Jack wasn't allowed to feel it, not here, not now, not when he had a job to do… not ever. Sam didn't want to because she still thought he was Danford, that much was obvious from her reaction. She was in for quite a surprise. The thought made him smile, it wasn't often he got to out-think his major.

His attention was drawn by the first fanfare, the one that signaled him to raise his lance and prepare to joust. The crowd went wild as the second fanfare sounded signaling him to kick his horse into a grueling gallop. But his eyes weren't focused on the man charging towards him, but on that small scrap of material tied resentfully to his lance.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Sam cheered as soon as the White Knight struck a blow to his opponent's shield. It may not have been enough to unseat him, but it definitely hurt. She could tell by the way his left shoulder sagged slightly as he made his way to the opposite end of the fence.

The daggers in her side were no longer enough to deter her from showing her true favouritism.

She heard the first fanfare, watched as both knights raised their lances once more and ignored that small voice that wanted to feel sympathy for the blow that had just been struck. What was wrong with her?!

Suddenly the second fanfare sounded and both horses charged at each other, both men holding their lances steady, aiming for the heart.

Closer and closer.

The horse's hooves thundered along the ground, making her feel the vibrations of the charge through her entire body.

She fought the need to close her eyes as the contact was made, the raw crash of metal on metal hit with a force that had to have caused damage, armour or not. The blow was so violent and aimed so true that it had unseated its target, the man now lying in a twisted heap of metal on the floor, his shield having fallen over his broken form now glinting in the sun.

Sam felt sick as she saw the flash of the golden lion, now lying prone in the dirt.

No, God, please no! Her heart screamed.

He had won… he'd said he would and now he had. He had won her just had he had promised to… Cold fear gripped her stomach as she wondered what other promises and threats he would also keep.

She looked frantically at Teal'c and Daniel, knowing that it was now or never but they hadn't moved. Not a single inch… in fact they were pre-occupied with the King, their words obviously serious. She wanted to scream. I'm here, come and get me before he does! Don't leave me like this!

Her mind fought to accept what was happening, why she hadn't already been rescued, why it didn't look like it was going to be done now, either. What if that had been the only chance for them? What if they couldn't get her back any other way?! What if their next chance was to go back to the SGC and call in back-up?

As a vision of black swam in front of her eyes, she knew without doubt that if they left her for at least three more days with Danford, she wouldn't be alive to need rescuing.

'Jack!' she screamed internally for the first time since her capture using the name that showed more eloquently than anything else her profound sense of despair. Her eyes stung with the effort of keeping the tears of despair from falling. Her faith in her team was faltering; her hope was shattering, her courage floundering… almost.

She realised that her hands and ankles were being untied in order for her to be placed on the black horse and escorted triumphantly from the arena with the victor. As quick as a flash, she picked the guard's dagger from the seat that he had previously occupied. No one witnessed her subtle movement, no one suspected a thing as she quickly stowed the dagger in the long, floaty sleeve of her iridescent gown. She acquiesced gracefully to the demands of the guards as she was led to the field of battle. She stiffened her body in preparation of being yanked into the waiting saddle, yet as a black armour clad arm gripped her waist, she was hoisted with surprising gentleness onto the back of the horse. She felt her arms automatically go around the waist of the rider to keep balance as he immediately kicked the animal into a smooth canter and out of the arena.

As they rode she felt her heart trip as her breasts unavoidably crushed against the unforgiving metal back plate he wore. This time she refused to analyse it, her focus was too single-minded to be taken off track by anything else.

They cleared the main arena and the crowds swiftly and entered the covering of the forest. Sam counted ten full seconds in her head before allowing the dagger to slide from her sleeve into her hand. She counted another five before and just as the rider reached to his visor, beginning the motions that would turn his head towards her, she forced the blade violently into the body of the rider at precisely at the weakest point in the armour. She felt the impact of the blade on the metal buckles that kept the armour in place; the buckles that resided on the left side of the rider, usually under the protection of the shield to keep their weakness as limited as possible. She pushed harder to make sure the blade sunk to its jewelled hilt into the ribs of the man who now screamed in agony.

The horse bucked as its rider reared from the pain, throwing them both from its back. She landed hard but quickly pushed herself to her feet and began running in the general direction of the arena, hopefully she could find Daniel and Teal'c... maybe even her missing colonel before Danford's men found her.

Sam would never know what had possessed her to look back, but something in the sound of that scream didn't allow her to take flight.

Instead she turned fully, coming to a complete stop as her heart gave a sick lurch at the sight before her.

The silver hawk was now stained red by the blood seeping from the wound she had inflicted. The fall had thrown the rider on his side causing the helmet to rise slightly, revealing the mouth and lower jaw of a familiar sweat stained face. A small trickle of blood came from lips that formed one word…

"Carter."

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

"Sam!"

A different word, quieter, more urgent.

For a moment its import didn't register, the awareness of those lips didn't register. For a brief, yet endless moment, Sam was blissfully unaware.

The moment didn't last, they never do.

On a choked sob, she ran blindly to the side of her fallen Knight, her colonel… fear for him now took over her actions. She had known exactly where to place the dagger, the join of the armour and mail being its weakest point; a point at which a blade could easily penetrate and cause enough damage to give her the opportunity to escape.

"Jack!" she pleaded as she collapsed as his side, pushing the offending black helmet off completely and letting one hand brush the sweat from his face

"You stabbed me!" he choked through a cough, more blood spilling from his lips.

She didn't answer; she was too busy pushing aside the layers of fabric and chain mail to get to his damaged side. The dagger had fallen from his body during the fall, leaving only a gaping, ugly wound, one that she had inflicted. Years of training kicked in as she ripped her long skirt into a serviceable bandage and packed the wound tight, firmly ignoring his cries and curses.

"Sir, we have to get you out of here!" she told him needlessly, but her only response was his breathing to grow more difficult, shallower.

"Are you ok? Danford…he….didn't…?" His words rattled in his chest as he coughed more with the effort.

"No, no… I'm fine. He didn't…" Sam knew what he was getting at and quickly assured him he need not worry.

"Good." Jack coughed again.

"Don't talk, Sir. Save your energy," Sam instructed as she wadded the torn strips from her skirt, only to feel his breathing noticeably weaken.

So while she continued her field-aid, she talked to him, alternating between shouting and cajoling, anything to make him take another breath.

"Don't you dare die on me! Don't you dare!" she ordered, as she applied as much pressure to his wound as she was physically capable.

How could she bear it if she was responsible for killing him? No, he wasn't going to die, he couldn't.

The blood kept flowing, not so fast, but it hadn't stopped. Her hands, dress and conscience were covered in it. His face was getting paler, his breath too shallow as his eyes remained closed. If she'd punctured a lung… the internal bleeding…

"You can't die, Sir… I never told you…" she whispered brokenly as she felt another cough rattle through him. This time it wasn't followed by a hard won breath. He still hadn't taken a breath a few seconds later when her hand flew to his neck, checking for a pulse. Her shaking fingers unable to locate one…

"No! You are not going to do this." She immediately began to attempt the removal of his tunic, chest plate and whatever else stopped her getting at his heart to start CPR. But it was taking too long, the buckles were too fiddly for her shocked fingers and she knew that time was running out.

She was unaware of the tears that flooded her eyes as she gave up her struggle with the chest plate, opting for mouth to mouth instead. She saw his chest expand with the dearly precious air she was providing, but as she took a second to assess him, her desperation shone eloquently in her words. "Come on, help me!" She forced yet another breath into his lungs before lifting her head once more. "I might love you, Sir but if you don't breathe right now, I swear I'll kill you myself!" If she hadn't already been in shock by this point, she sure as hell would've been as she heard a small breath rattle through him, closely followed by rasping words.

"…liked 'Jack' better."

She couldn't help the laugh that leapt from her mouth, as she stroked the sweat spiked hair from his forehead, her relief affording her a brief moment to be Sam. All too quickly she slipped back into her "Major Carter" role.

"Where were you taking me, Sir? Which way?" she tried to focus him by closing the distance between their eyes.

"It's Jack… order…" he whispered tiredly as she packed more material into his wound, satisfied that he was now breathing un-aided.

"Fine!" she bit out, her frustration apparent. "*Jack*, which way?" but he didn't respond.

"Jack!" she shouted, slapping his face gently.

Still nothing.

She leant closer to his mouth, checking he hadn't stopped breathing again, thankfully he hadn't and she couldn't contain the totally inappropriate response… she kissed him. Quickly and gently, nothing more than a feather light touch of her lips on his, but it was a kiss non-the-less. Lifting her head from his, she could have sworn a small smile played across his face, but she had more urgent matters to worry about. The wound was still bleeding badly; he needed a med-kit… Better still, he needed a doctor and she had no idea how to get him that, other than to leave him and go and hope to hell she could find a friend.

She was pulled from the weight of the decision by the sound of approaching hooves. Holding a tight reign on the panic she felt rising, she gripped her colonel tighter and prayed.

Two knights came into view, the sight of their golden lion almost making her feel faint with relief.

"Here! Make haste!" One of them shouted as he vaulted off his massive white horse and ran (armour permitting) over to them. He paid her no attention, quickly assessing the injured man and uttering a vicious oath as he saw the wound.

"Thou inflicted this?" He spoke abruptly and Sam could only nod as he uttered another curse.

Seconds later, more hoof beats sounded as Sam looked up to see two more white knights join the others, moving just as agilely to the bleeding colonel. They spoke quietly to each other, words she was not meant to hear, despite the fact that she was now cradling Jack's head on her knees.

They still didn't speak as they stood, lifting Jack with infinite care and carrying him from her, ignoring her almost completely until the fair haired knight spoke. "Lady Samantha?" she nodded. "Follow."

She did, watching as they reached their horses and lifted Jack onto one animal's back, ignoring his protests and pain. She wanted to tell them to be careful with him, his ribs may be broken, that he shouldn't be jostled like that. But she couldn't, her voice was mute in her throat. The fair-haired knight spoke again. "My Lady, your Knight is in noble hands," he soothed. "Thy friends await…" He never got to finish his sentence as Daniel's jubilant cry of "Sam!" split the air. She turned, seeing her friends running towards her watching the horror and confusion mar their features as they noted her blood covered appearance.

"What happened?" Daniel questioned immediately, surveying the scene.

"I thought he was… I tried to…" Sam babbled, shock now taking its toll, the image of the dagger, the wound, the blood clogging her mind as the four knights quickly and effectively mounted their horses, one behind Jack, one clutching the reigns of the black horse before they started moving.

"My friends make haste, follow lest we are found!" urged one of the knights at her small group.

Just as she was about to do just that, large arms grabbed her, encircling her, making her feel safe for the first time in days. Her guilt tipped over the edges and she cried as Teal'c swung her sagging body easily in his arms and cradled her to his massive chest. She felt the low rumble as he spoke.

"We must depart, DanielJackson."

They did.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Never had Sam been so grateful to slip into the familiar security of BDU's, they may have been three sizes too big and a mixture of Teal'c, Daniel's and his spare kit, but they were more than welcome regardless. Although she could detect the aroma of each man in her new 'uniform', it was the evocative scent that was his alone seemed to wrap her in a bone-thawing comfort that she was eminently grateful for.

They had arrived at a camp shortly after Teal'c had allowed her to finally walk. It was warm and welcoming but Jack had been immediately taken to be tended. Apparently this was something that she was absolutely not allowed to witness. Four knights and a King insisted it was not proper. Just as she was about to tell them exactly what they could do with 'proper', Teal'c had taken her arm and spoke for her ears only.

"O'Neill is resilient, MajorCarter."

Nothing more, but it had been enough to allow him to draw her away. And enough for one of the knights to smile at Teal'c and quietly state. "As he is hers, so she be his." Teal'c bowed his head to the knight and pulled her with him leaving her colonel in the hands of these men.

While she waited for news on the Colonel, she had listened as Daniel had filled her in on the last few days from their perspective, how they had followed her trail and then been captured themselves. He told her how they had met and befriended the knights, all about the 'astraliauna' and the Heraldic code that curtailed their rescue options severely. Then, when no other option had remained, they spoke of Jack's utter insistence that he was going to be the one to ride the joust. How he had trained and fallen, swore and cursed, but eventually proven to every man present that he was indeed good enough to take the lead role.

Sam was more grateful than she could say as they made her laugh, despite her worry, her guilt. Although she knew both men had reservations about their CO's decision, she also knew that both men were aware of the deeper motivation he had. She could tell that they had virtually forced its acknowledgement from the Colonel, despite it being an unspoken truth of their unit.

In turn she told them of her experience, of Danford's cruelty and his plans to get revenge. She was pleased to discover that he was already languishing in Alfred's dungeon at Merrick. She told them of her own plan once she had stolen the dagger, what she had intended to do…

Minutes or hours later, a dark haired man exited the tent, making his way rapidly to them. Sam bit her lower lip as she waited for him to speak.

"He will live." He stated, causing Sam to release the breath she knew she'd been holding.

"Thank you, Malcolm," Daniel grinned Daniel slapping the other man on his back.

"He is weak, but I fear that thou must make thine journey home regardless. Heal him fully with magic beyond our understanding," continued Malcolm, his eyes resting on Teal'c.

"Then we shall prepare to depart," agreed Teal'c as he turned to gather what small supplies they had left.

"I shalt prepare horses for thine journey," Malcolm explained as he turned to leave. He hadn't gone two steps however, before he turned back and addressed Sam.

"Feel no guilt, My Lady. The rouse was our doing as such blame shalt reside with us." Sam could only nod, as a tear slipped from her eye. Malcolm saw it and took a step back to her, wiping it from her face. "Thy bring to me an understanding of his strength of will, Lady Samantha. For thee, I too would have fought as bravely."

His abrupt departure startled her somewhat, but not enough to stop her seeing the truth in his eyes. His gentle admission was at odds with her team mate's description of him and yet, she knew it was the clearest testimony of his character than anything else. She smiled as she finally understood something herself, Daniel had told her of the animosity and finally the grudging respect between Malcolm and Jack and now it made sense. They were one in the same, two men divided by centuries, united by a common character, the temperament, the courage… No way was that going to have been an easy friendship for either party.

And just like the man he mirrored in so many respects, Malcolm was able with one sentence, to make her feel… better.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Jack was dressed in his BDU's when she saw him next. They were ready to leave, Jack's wound had stopped bleeding and he was breathing a little easier. But she knew enough to know he did indeed need more powerful magic to heal him… He needed Doc Frasier. Now hers was powerful magic!

The knight she now knew as Guy helped the one called Edward place Jack on a horse. It wasn't the ideal way to travel with him, although she was assured his damaged ribs were bound tightly enough to allow him to make the journey with as little danger as possible, which was good because the horses would cut their journey time in more than half.

Royce, who seemed to know what he was talking about, had given Sam a bag of what looked like dried tea leaves and given Teal'c a bag of 'Stones'. The former was for Jack while the latter was to keep the pink bird's teeth occupied while they went home. The pink birds, and their teeth, were placed specifically by the gate to make sure anyone that stumbled on the land, didn't go exploring any further. Who knew, Alfred had his own version of a guard dog!

Royce instructed Sam to press the bag of leaves to his lips when he stirred, informing her that the bag would keep him unconscious and anything that kept him out of pain was a good thing.

Alfred kissed her hand as she mounted the horse on which Jack had been placed. It was perfectly rational for the rider than accompanied Jack to be the lightest, but Sam had a deeper, less logical need to be the one to get him home and everyone knew it.

Having already said his goodbye's to the rest of the team the Monarch turned his gaze upon her.

"It has been my honour, My Lady. Your Knight is brave and honourable, your friends of equal nobility. For they kept the honour of an old man whist fulfilling their own. Cherish them all," he smiled, "but your Knight, Sir Jack especially. He alone has ever unseated my Knight Herald in joust." Sam gasped at the admission, thinking back to the plan that Daniel had told her about.

"But they said Malcolm fell on purpose…" she stated

"Aye, and that twill likely be the tale he too shalt tell. Mine eyes are wise, My lady, trust them." With that he stepped back, allowing Malcolm to take his place just as Jack surfaced into the world of the aware. As she was about to do as Royce had instructed with the bag, Malcolm stopped her gently as he waited for Jack to focus on him.

"Galahad," Jack recognised weakly, his voice tight with pain.

"Thine lady is at thy side, may it be that way for always. Fare thee well, Sir Jack," Malcolm finished and Jack smiled a knowing smile as Sam was signalled to apply the bag. Jack slipped back into slumber almost immediately.

Carefully Sam turned her horse, mindful of the burden she carried. Waiting for Teal'c and Daniel to arrive at her side, they smiled at their friends as they were waved off on their journey home.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Jack slowly felt his mind float into consciousness and prepared himself for the pain he knew he was going to feel when he came fully awake.

The pain never came; instead, he heard all too familiar beeps and smelled an all too familiar smell that could only mean one thing… He was home and the smile was on his lips even before his eyes opened to look for the one person he knew would be hovering somewhere nearby.

"Ah, Colonel, finally awake I see." The small brunette commented, her lips quirking into a small smile that belied the strain he could see around her eyes.

"Hey, Doc, how ya doing?" He tried to sit up.

"Obviously better than you, Sir," she said and she gently pushed him back down again. "You're recovering from a partially collapsed lung, thanks to a small nick in the pleura. A couple of fractured ribs, thanks to the impact of the dagger." She recited his injuries by rote as she checked the beepy, flashy things around him.

"You're a modern day Merlin, Doc," he quipped as he once again attempted to sit up, this time a flash of pain from his obviously busted (although now splinted) ribs shocked his system.

"But," she continued, "you'll be just fine, if you stay still!" she scolded all the while knowing how little attention he was going to pay to her.

Their small 'discussion' was brought to a halt by the arrival of the only person he really wanted to see.

"Hey, Sir, how're you feeling?" she asked, as her eyes connected meaningfully with the Doc's, who immediately made herself scarce.

"Oh not too bad, considering I got stabbed and all," he let her see the laughter in his eyes so she didn't feel any sting in his words.

She obviously didn't. "Well, if you'd not left rescuing me until the last minute or at least showed me who you were," she laughed at him. He knew he should be somewhat irked by her blas attitude, but considering what he'd seen and more importantly heard when she'd been packing the wound she'd inflicted, he was more than happy.

"Ah, so it's my own fault huh?" he replied, matching her flippancy as she smiled down at him. "Daniel and Teal'c?" he belatedly thought to ask.

"They're with General Hammond, the de-briefing," she answered, unfazed by his change of topic. "I've done mine already," she added in response to his unasked question.

Her eyes lowered all of a sudden as she obviously struggled with something. "I'm sorry, Sir." Her tone told him she was fighting her emotions, but as usual, he had no idea how to react to them. This mission had brought things back into focus that they'd let simmer in their safest places for a long time. He didn't think either of them were ready to face the reality of them, and he certainly didn't think she was ready for him to admit he'd not only heard her declaration but would hold onto it with every ounce of his being until they were both free to say it properly. So he did what he always did.

"Well, Major, for future reference," he deadpanned, "that's the last time I play hero for your ungrateful butt!"

"Aww, now I'm disappointed," she echoed his tone, her previous melancholy replaced by a smile in her eyes.

"But hey, it wasn't all bad," he continued, slightly more seriously that he'd intended. "I actually got to play the Shining Knight who rescued the Fair Maiden, which Disney tells me is the most romantic thing that you can do…" He trailed off, surprised at himself. Slowly he locked his eyes to hers, not knowing what to expect, other than the punch for the 'Fair maiden' crack.

"Is that enough for you, Sir?" she questioned, taking the levels of seriousness to a dangerous peak. The implicit meaning present in her words pushed whatever surprise he felt at her response out the proverbial window - closed it and then double-locked it, just for good measure.

He looked carefully around the room, checking were the little woman with big attitude was, before reaching his arm to the woman at his side and gently laced his fingers through hers while he brushed his thumb over her knuckles. He couldn't say it, they weren't ready to hear it, but that didn't meant he couldn't tell her everything with his eyes.

"For now."

He was rewarded by one of those smiles as she squeezed his hand.

"Get some sleep, Sir," she mock ordered.

"Yes, ma'am," he obliged, pleasantly surprised when she pulled up a chair and settled besides him before lacing her fingers back through his.

Just as he began to drift back into the realm of dreams, he heard her voice from a distance…

"Good night, Sir… Jack."

A feather-light touch of lips on lips confirmed what he'd said before.

It was enough…

For now.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

The End.



End Notes: I hope you enjoyed the story!

Feedback of any kind helps improve my writing and is welcomed!
lindsaymallen@yahoo.com

Good Knight, Sir… Jack © Lindsay Allen, September 2003.

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