“Meleq protect us!”
The guard carrying the torch flinched at the sudden glare of the flashlight.
Teal’c had not required it earlier. His eyesight was sharp enough to discern where a multitude of footprints veered off the stone path. As the Tauri were fond of saying, a blind man could have seen it. Now the broad white beam of Major Carter’s flashlight picked out the smooth imprints of numerous sandals that had flattened plants and soil and overlaid any earlier trace. He could not say with certainty whether O’Neill had come this way.
He followed the trail regardless, motioning Major Carter to accompany him. His perseverance was rewarded. Some twenty paces further into the trees, he discovered a puddle surrounded by muddy ground. Most of the sandal-wearers seemed to have evaded it, and at the far end he found the profile of a combat boot.
“Looks like the Colonel’s,” Major Carter stated.
“Indeed. And it appears that a great many others were in pursuit of him.”
“Thanks, Teal’c. Keep those positive thoughts coming, why don’t you?”
“As yet we know nothing of the pursuers’ intentions.”
“Sure. They were trying to sell Girl Scout cookies.” The beam of light scanned the ground as she moved further along the tracks. “It’s probably why the Colonel shot this guy. He wasn’t in the mood for cookies.”
This response took Teal’c by surprise. It had been worthy of O’Neill. But like O’Neill, she used flippancy to conceal her anxiety from herself and from others.
Major Carter was pointing
the flashlight at a waxen face. The eyes stared wide open, etched with an
expression of rage and surprise. Almost exactly between them gaped the entry
wound, its size consistent with a 9 mm round. Even
without this additional confirmation he would have been certain. The Tyreans did not possess firearms. The
“Priest! You requested proof that O’Neill was not aiding the attackers,” he called out. “You may wish to view this.”
A tall, white-haired figure emerged from the group and cautiously glided into the forest. A pair of guards escorted him, lighting the way. It was true that Kandaulo had demanded proof, but he would not relish seeing it. Men such as he resented having their assumptions overthrown by fact. Conceivably this and the humiliation that went with it would heighten the priest’s hostility.
When he arrived, he regarded the corpse with disdain. “Is this your proof? You have seen what the Phrygians do. They are animals. His fellow bandits could have killed him.”
“They could not.” Teal’c permitted himself a minute smile. It was as he had foreseen. “Which of their weapons would cause a wound such as this? Turn him around.”
The guards obeyed and
recoiled when they beheld what the
“What did this?” he rasped.
“A small piece of metal ejected at high speed from the weapon O’Neill used.”
“But this cannot be! You are –”
While they were debating, Major Carter had continued to search the area. Clearly with some success, although she did not appear to welcome the results. Retrieving an object from beneath a patch of fern some ten meters to the right, she straightened up abruptly.
“Want me to demonstrate, Kandaulo?”
An instant later, the nature of her discovery became obvious. She fired, and the bullet tore into a tree trunk behind the priest, provoking a shocked outcry. It was Kandaulo’s good fortune that Major Carter’s fury did not affect her marksmanship, and perhaps it would teach him not to employ the term ‘woman’ in a pejorative fashion. Teal’c did not wait for this, admittedly unlikely, event to occur. He joined his team mate.
“It’s Colonel O’Neill’s Beretta, and it doesn’t look like he dropped it deliberately. The safety was off, and there are three rounds left in the magazine, counting the one he’d chambered.” She swiped rain water from her face, and her voice sounded rough with anxiety. “He said he didn’t need backup. Why the hell did I listen to him?”
“We should proceed,” he advised, silently admitting that he dreaded what else they might come upon.
The ground around the ferns was trampled, footprints converging on it and verifying Teal’c’s first impression. A fight had taken place here. Within a short time they had collected two further items: the peculiar seating device the Professor had employed earlier in the evening and a Bowie knife. The knife lay trodden into the soil a few meters away from the location where Major Carter had found the sidearm. There could be little doubt that O’Neill had been disarmed, and that Professor Kelly had indeed been with him.
However, the near total absence of blood was encouraging. Teal’c had seen the massacre on the ship and he had seen the sword lying next to the dead soldier. When these people killed, they killed messily. For the first time since Kandaulo had arrived at Hamilqart’s house, he dared to hope. The hope was spurred further by a combination of tracks, which –
Daniel Jackson had been examining the interior of the complex, and now he approached through the trees, his task evidently completed. What was more, it seemed to have left him agitated enough not to observe where he was going. A frequent occurrence with the young man. He tripped and nearly fell, backtracked and picked up an old-fashioned leather bag.
“Hey! Did you see this? Kelly’s bag.”
It was indeed. Teal’c received the item, and Daniel Jackson squinted at the small pile that constituted their previous finds.
“I take it Jack was here?” he asked.
“Teal’c and I are leaning towards the idea,” said Major Carter. “You come across anything useful?”
“Depends on how you define useful. According to the people in there” – Daniel Jackson cocked a thumb in the direction of the temple – “the first wave of the actual attack came from the roof. While some of the mob staged a mock run on the gate, the boys on the roof rappelled into the courtyard and opened a side door.”
“Tactics 101,” muttered the Major. “Nice, tidy, almost guaranteed to work.”
“Tidy being the operative word, which is where it gets interesting … I mean, you guys know more about this stuff than I do, but compared to the ship this was asking politely. It looks … less angry.”
“In what way, Daniel Jackson?”
“No gratuitous butchery. It’s still not pretty; the Tyreans took casualties and they’ve got two men seriously wounded, but it seems to have been a straightforward fight, rather than …” He shrugged. “You know.”
Less angry … Teal’c turned the words over in his mind. “I believe your description may be apt, Daniel Jackson. O’Neill killed one of their number, yet they did not kill O’Neill when they had the chance to do so. They abducted him.”
“What makes you so sure all of a sudden?” Major Carter gazed at him, the strain in her face easing slightly. Unlike death, capture could be remedied.
Teal’c pointed out the tracks he had noticed just prior to Daniel Jackson’s arrival. Two parallel sets of sandal prints scaled the hill. Between them ran a pair of smudged, uninterrupted marks, almost certainly left by boot caps.
“Someone tall and heavy was dragged by two men. I am confident that this person was O’Neill.”
“What about Kelly?”
Off to the side yet another trail could be seen. “Professor Kelly was carried. The imprint left by the right foot is deeper. Her abductor must have conveyed her slung over his right shoulder.”
Major Carter gave a bleak smile. “Anyone mind if I get Kandaulo and rub his nose in this?”