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What the Eye Beholds, the Heart Denies

 

Chapter 8

Kiam and Maelu were quiet companions, but at least he wasn't alone. Another shelter had been built, one large enough for the two natives to sleep in. It was adjacent to his own, and faced the fire as well. The tarp had been adjusted, so that it offered protection to the front of both shelters.

Kiam spent the majority of his days searching for food, or so it seemed to Daniel. Not that he was complaining. There had been fresh meat two nights in a row. Along with something that resembled sweet potatoes. And berries, ripe and sweet and juicy. He was feeling better, the tremors seemed to be gone, for the most part. He still suffered occasional twinges in his joints and muscles, but nothing like he had endured at the beginning of his withdrawal process. He tired quickly and easily, and was admonished to rest. He spent most of his time sleeping, it seemed.

It was two more days before Daniel was well enough to venture to the river. His clothes were dry, although they retained a smoky odor, from being dried so near the fire. He wouldn't complain, at least he had them. And the furs he'd been wrapped in kept him warm as well. He had insisted that the old man take at least one of them. Wasn't entirely sure why the he hadn't seemed to want them back. Nor why the younger man seemed to believe it was important that Maelu accepted it.

He walked along the riverbank, watching the water as it rushed over and around the rocks that protruded. The mud was still churned up where he had fallen, although he had no memory of that event. Kiam had tried to explain how he and the old man had found him, and saved his life, from what he could gather.

The sun glinted off of something that lay just a few feet from the river's edge. Curious, he moved closer to examine it. Discovered the scattered pieces and shattered housing of the radio. "Oh, shit," he muttered. He didn't remember what happened...but the radio was in ruins. It was far too damaged to have simply fallen from his pocket. The ache in his chest grew stronger. No Stargate. No radio. Unless the team could find him using another means, he was stuck here.

He dropped to his ass. Was this how Jack had felt, when he'd discovered himself stranded on Edora? At least there had been people...a village full of people, and the language had been easy to learn. How long had Jack held out hope? Or had the disappearance of the Stargate crushed all hope immediately? It suddenly occurred to him that it was the one mission, the one event that Jack had never talked about. He could remember the first few days after bringing him home...Sam had been ecstatic...until Jack's cool responses to her had made her quietly ask him if perhaps it would have been better to have just left 'the colonel' where he'd been...apparently happy and starting a new life with Laira. He suspected that there had been something between the two...something that Jack hadn't expected, and perhaps hadn't even wanted. Something he had no doubt accepted because there had been no hope of ever returning to Earth. Jack hadn't figured on Sam working practically non-stop for over three months to create the miracle that brought him home.

Would Sam work just as frantically to save him? Would she do it for friendship, both to him, and to Casey? Or had it been her love for Jack that had driven her, her need to have him in her life, if only as her CO, and friend?

It had been damned near two weeks now. Surely they were still looking for him...weren't they?

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

He sat up, not certain what had awakened him. The fire had burned low, a glance at his watch told him that it was barely past two in the morning. Well, as close as he could figure. He had reset the time, judging by the sun, waiting until it was directly above him to call it twelve noon.

Maelu was coughing. A wet, rattling cough that had Daniel instantly concerned. Kiam was awake as well. Daniel pointed to the old man, and then to the skin of water.

Kiam shook his head sadly. Looked at the old man, and then pressed his hands together, put them against his cheek, mimed sleeping.

Daniel was certain that the young man was trying to tell him something, and that sleep had nothing to do with it.

Another round of coughing. Maelu remained lying where he was, his back turned toward the fire and the two men who watched him with such concern in their eyes.

"Kiam, what is wrong with Maelu?" Daniel asked. He held up his index finger. His talent for languages had him learning words and phrases quickly. "Maelu is...um...Maelu not good?"

Kiam shook his head. "This is his death journey," the young man replied.

He understood two words: Death, and journey. "Tell me," he begged quietly, his way of asking for further explanations.

"The Sacred Mountain touches the sky, and it is where the gods and goddesses move from here, to their dwellings in the dark void." Kiam replied, his voice low, so as not to disturb the old man. "When the Mother Goddess whispers in the ear of an old one, his...or her...night of death is near. They must journey to the Sacred Mountain, so that their ka can join with the ancestors there, and live in peace with the gods and goddesses."  

Ka, okay, that was a very Egyptian word, and if he was understanding correctly, from the words he could make out, there was a journey involved, because of, or for, the ka. Which, his brain reminded him, was the ancient variant of the soul. The Ancient Egyptians had believed it to be a "double" of a person, created at birth. It joined with the body, then left the body upon the death of the person, and received offerings ensuring the deceased's survival in the afterlife.

Daniel's eyes moved to the old man. He'd stopped coughing, but his breathing was labored. Maelu was dying, and he and the boy knew it. Pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. The young man was accompanying the old man on his final journey. Carrying all of Maelu's earthly possessions, so that his ka would have them for the afterlife. Which explained why they had with them the things that they did...stone axes so sharp that they rivaled the modern metal ones. An awl, bone needles, skins of various size and variety, although Daniel was still at a loss to understand the use for most of them. Wooden cups so smooth they felt like glass. Pieces of colored rock that he was certain were raw gemstones, and no doubt held special meaning to the people, or at least the man who carried them.

That the two travelers had found him had been nothing short of a miracle. Because Kiam kept pointing over his shoulder, signifying the tall peak to the west of them; he understood that that peak, or somewhere on its side, had been their destination. They shouldn't have been anywhere near this meadow, Daniel thought. They should have been several miles to the west.

He'd already been told that the mountain to the north, the one he had been on, was forbidden, although Kiam had no answer as to why it was so. Once again the thought, the belief that someone, somewhere was watching out for him, bounced through his mind. If there were those who had meant for him to be separated from Casey, and if their goal was the same as Dartal's had been, for him to be killed, then someone else was making certain that didn't happen. There was still no reasonable explanation for not just zapping him back to the SGC. Unless, like the Ascended, his Protectors were unable to interfere. Or at least, unable to do anything more than to see to it that he stayed alive.

But alive didn't mean he'd be able to carry out his obligations as The One. Not from here! There were too many unknown variables. Too many questions, and not enough answers. Another round of coughing from the old man brought his wandering thoughts back to his companions.

"This was his last hunt," Kiam said, smiling sadly. "He didn't know that he was tracking a Dan'yel."

Daniel smiled. He understood his name. And Hunt. And tracking. But he wasn't certain just what Kiam had meant.

Kiam reached for his pack, the one that Daniel recognized as belonging to the younger man, and that it held his personal possessions. Pulled a small piece of hide from the depths. Laid it carefully on the ground in front of him. With great care and not a little reverence, Kiam unfolded the scrap of skin, and gathered the contents. He motioned to Daniel, who held his hands out.

It was impossible not to gasp at the feather light pieces of material. So white that they almost glowed. He touched them gently with his finger tips. Speaking slowly, Kiam had learned that Daniel was quick to pick up the words if he spoke slowly enough, and using gestures to help explain, he told of finding the scraps of 'spider's web', and how they had led them to the meadow...and that they had found Daniel nearly dead at the river's edge.

After asking clarification on a few still hazy points, Daniel frowned. Well, that pretty much made it official. Someone had led these two here...right when he needed them. He was betting that whoever that someone might be, he or she was responsible for the escape pod being where it had been. Still was, he thought absently. Now the question became...did this Being, because only a being with significant powers could have high-jacked an escape pod, want him isolated from his Wife, and his friends, and the SGC...or was he here because this Being wanted to protect him from Dartal's associates?

The more he struggled with the puzzle, the more he was certain that the pod had been placed where it had been for a reason. He had been...led...to this meadow for a reason. Why? Because the Being knew that this old man and youth would be coming this way, and could lead him to safety? It was obvious that they had been led to the meadow as well. But why?

The next thought had his heart shuddering with despair. Had the Being led Kiam here, knowing that he could take Daniel back to where his people lived...so that he would survive the winter on this planet? No matter how many times he asked, the answer was the same. They had never heard of a Stargate...or Chappa'ai, or Sacred Circle, or Portal, or any of the other names that had been used for the stone monument. And if Maelu hadn't heard of it, then chances were there wasn't one anywhere in the vicinity. It didn't mean that there wasn't one. It just meant that Daniel was left with no idea where to even begin looking. And the further he moved away from the escape pod, the more difficult it would be for the team to find him if...no, not if...when...they finally found it.

Daniel pulled the robe tighter around his shoulders. Felt the cold fingers of defeat trying to wrap around his heart, squeezing...attempting to destroy what little hope remained. "Casey," he whispered, aching for her, missing her so badly that the pain was physical.

Kiam looked at Dan'yel. He'd heard the word...the name, he corrected himself, on the man's lips many times now. Mostly when he was asleep. When he'd asked, Dan'yel had showed him a bit of great magic...a drawing of a woman with wings. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before. Unlike the drawings in the sacred caves, this drawing made him feel as if he were looking at the very woman herself. She was very beautiful. He wasn't certain, but he believed that the woman, Ca'see, was a goddess that Dan'yel worshiped.

He'd learned that Dan'yel didn't mind showing him the things in the skin that held them. Kiam thought that Dan'yel might be a shaman...he had many magical things. A brightly colored stick that made fire. Tiny skins that he could see through, holding objects that were so alien to him as to be meaningless. It was where the drawing was kept. He stood, checked to make certain Maelu was asleep, for the old man had chastised him for reaching for what didn't belong to him, and lifted the tac vest from where it hung. He patted the pocket where Dan'yel kept the drawing.

He smiled. Kiam had heard him. Understood that the name and the photo went together. His fingers caressed the image of his Wife as he pulled the picture from the pocket. "Casey," he said, pointing at his Fantasy Angel.

"Ca'see," Kiam nodded. "She is a great goddess?"

Daniel chuckled. That had been easy enough to understand. "She is to me," he replied. A beautiful, sexy goddess who held his very soul in her soft, slender hands. "Yes," he said, pointing to the picture, and then to his heart. Wasn't certain that the words would translate from the Ancient Egyptian that he knew to the variant that Kiam spoke. But he'd try. "My Wife...um...mate."

Kiam's wide eyes were proof that the younger man had understood what he had said. He looked at the drawing. Frowned slightly. There had been no wings on the man when they had found him...had something happened to make the man lose his wings? He pointed to the wings, and then to Daniel's shoulders. Didn't understand why the man laughed.

It was apparent that Kiam was asking where his wings were. It was just too complicated to explain. Wait until he told her about this...she'd laugh, that sweet giggle would fill the air...His eyes filled with tears. The thought of never seeing her again, never holding her, never hearing that giggle that delighted him so, made his heart clench within his chest.

If this goddess was Dan'yel's wife, then Dan'yel must be a god! Why would he have been beside the river, naked, and almost dead? Had he been in battle with another god? Had he been cast down from among the gods? Was that the reason for the marks on Dan'yel's chest? Were those his wings, all that was left after being...Fear grabbed the young man, held firmly.

When Kiam suddenly jerked away from him, crawled backwards as if suddenly afraid of him, Daniel knew that something was wrong. "Kiam?"

"You are cursed! You are cursed!" Kiam muttered, his brown eyes wide and full of fear.

Well, that was one word that the two languages shared. And even though he felt just a bit cursed at the moment, he knew that he had to try to explain. He shook his head. "No, Kiam, I am not cursed."

Dark eyes moved from Daniel's face, to the photo, and back again. "You are a god."

"No! No, I'm just a man," Daniel replied, understanding that Kiam was associating him with a god.

Kiam frowned.

Daniel pursed his lips, studied the young man. Wondered if enough of the ancient language was a part of the local language that he could use it to try to explain. "I come from a place far from here." He pointed toward the sky. "One of the points of light in the sky."

Kiam listened carefully. It took several moments before he realized that what he was hearing was the language spoken by only the highest ranking shamans. It was said that only the gods spoke the tongue, and taught it to only the most deserving. That he understood was a secret he'd kept for many years. His natural curiosity had him following the local shaman when he had been but a boy. He'd always been careful, so that the old woman never knew he was nearby. He had sat and listened as she spoke with the gods. He hadn't even realized that he was learning what she was saying until he began repeating a prayer with her, his lips moving, although he remained silent. That he understood what she was saying hadn't occurred to him until he laid in his sleeping furs, safe within the dwelling of his father, later that night. Terrified that the gods would strike him down, he'd remained as far away from the shaman as possible...for a time. His curiosity got the better of him, and he took up following her again. While he might understand what was said, he could not form the words easily. This man spoke the tongue as if it were his own. Which only reinforced his belief. "You are a god!" Kiam repeated, his eyes wide.

He smiled. "No, not a god. There are...stone circles-"

"Chap-ah-eye," Kiam said immediately. Dan'yel had asked many times about this thing.

The smile widened. "Yes, a Chappa'ai. It...connects...two worlds, so that people can travel from one to the other."

Kiam frowned.

Daniel looked around, found two small rocks near the base of the tree where he sat. He held them up. "Pretend that these are points of light in the sky."

Immediately Kiam's eyes moved upward.

Okay, he was comprehending the words, that was a good sign. "The Chappa'ai opens a doorway...a very special kind of doorway...no, you don't understand doorway...path. The Chappa'ai opens a very special kind of path from one planet to another." Daniel found a small stick, held it between the two rocks. "We can travel...um...walk...this path, very quickly." His fingers mimicked the act of walking.

"You walk this path here?" Kiam asked, using the tongue of the gods, his heart trembling with fear, expecting to be struck down at any moment.

"Not exactly." Daniel shook his head. Just how did he explain Goa'uld pyramid ships, and escape pods...malfunctioning escape pods at that? "No. I was brought here by...by very powerful Beings. To protect me. I need a Chappa'ai to return to my home."

"If you are in danger, you must stay here," Kiam replied.

"No matter what the danger, I belong with my Wife, with my friends. I'll face...we'll face whatever danger there is, together. That's our way," Daniel said quietly.

His head was spinning. He was in the presence of a god, for no matter how much Dan'yel denied it, there was no other explanation. Wouldn't a god, who was in danger from enemies, deny who he was? If he was a god, how powerful were his enemies, that he had been placed here for his protection? Who were the 'beings' that brought Dan'yel here? How many gods were there?

Brown eyes were wide, and it was impossible not to see the jumble of emotions...and questions, that burned within them. He wasn't certain how much Kiam had been able to follow. But at least the kid wasn't muttering that he was cursed, Daniel thought.

Maelu began to cough again. Kiam frowned, then gathered some of the plants that he had picked earlier in the day. He broke off a few of the flowers, put them into the stone cup, and mashed them with what looked like a piece of bone. 

Mortar and pestle, Daniel thought, watching the young man. Water from the skin was slowly poured over the bruised and crushed flowers, and then pushed down into the embers of the fire.

It didn't take long before the water was bubbling. Wooden tongs gripped the cup, lifted it from the coals, onto the dirt beside the fire. No doubt this was what he had been given to drink. Tasted horrible, but it had certainly made him feel better.

Kiam gently held the old man upright. Softly urged him to swallow the liquid.

The rattle of the old man's breathing worried Daniel. He felt helpless as he sat and watched, hoping that the 'tea' would have the same healing effect for the Maelu as it had for him.

He put the picture of Casey back into the pocket of the tac vest...he wanted to protect it, and putting it in his shirt pocket was liable to wrinkle it. If he...he closed his eyes against the pain of his ensuing thought...if he was marooned here, it was all he had of her...he wanted it to be with him always.

Wrapping the robe around his shoulders, Daniel stretched out on the ground again. Sleep refused to return...until the first fingers of light pushed away the dark purples of the night.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

He awoke to the soft murmur of voices...and more coughing. He listened for a moment, pretending to still be sleeping. A lousy thing to do, perhaps, considering that the two men had showed him nothing but kindness, had nursed him back to health, fed him...

"...if he is a god, he is here to test you," Maelu was saying.

"Why do you believe this?" Kiam asked.

"Because you know the ways of the shaman. You know the tongue of the gods."

Kiam's eyes went wide, the color drained from his face. "I meant no harm! I just wanted to know what Nefer'sat did in the sacred grove for hours at a time...I wanted to see the gods she spoke to," he whispered hoarsely. "I always stayed hidden, and remained quiet. She never knew!"

Maelu cackled until he began coughing again. Took a sip of the tea from the cup Kiam held for him. "You were not so smart as you thought you were," he gasped. "Nefer'sat knew you were there every time. She told me, and she told your father and mother, that you have been touched by the gods. You are meant to be a shaman, or at the very least, a healer. This is your test."

Daniel could feel the young man's eyes on him. He wasn't able to catch everything, but it seemed that both Maelu and Kiam were convinced he was a god, something about Kiam being 'blessed', and either a shaman or a healer.

"What must I do?" Kiam asked

"Whatever Dan'yel asks of you. No matter that you do not understand...remember this always...the ways of gods and the ways of man are very different. Find the lesson in what he bids you to do. Learn it well," was the firm reply.

"I swear it," Kiam promised solemnly.

The old man began coughing again. Daniel sat up, frowned as the skinny man gulped breaths of air. "Maelu?"

The old man turned watery eyes toward the stranger. "Do not look so sad, Dan'yel. I have heard the whispers. I know that my time is near."

He wished fervently for a first aid kit. Just a bit of morphine to help ease the pain he could see in the faded brown eyes. "What must be done to prepare your ka for the journey?"

A startled look was exchanged between Maelu and Kiam. It was a test, Maelu's eyes told the younger man.

"All that I will need on my journey to the place where the ancestors gather is with me. I need only to choose the god to whom I will be faithful, and carve his likeness into a piece of wood, so that my ka might show it as passage over the great canyon of death."

Daniel nodded. "Do you have the wood?"

Kiam opened the old man's pack, pulled out a beautiful piece of cherry wood.

Maelu held out his hand. "I am too weak now to do a good job, Kiam, I ask that you do this thing for me."

Daniel noticed the glances that the two tossed in his direction, as if they were waiting for his approval. With a mental sigh, he nodded. Watched Kiam reverently accept the wood.

The young man sorted through his own belongings, found a piece of sharpened bone. He covered his lap with a small piece of tanned hide, then began to carve the wood.

Assured that the effigy would be ready, Maelu laid back and closed his eyes. "So tired," he mumbled.

He didn't want to admit it, especially to Kiam, but Daniel doubted that Maelu would survive another night. His cough was worse, and the wheezing noises he made with each breath, his skinny chest heaving up and down as he tried to breath, indicated that he was deteriorating rapidly.

Daniel tossed aside the robe. Slipped silently from his shelter, and headed for the river. He washed every morning, although not having clean clothes to put on seemed to make the practice a bit ineffective. He ran his hand over his jaw. The beard was heavier than he'd ever had before. Wondered briefly what Casey would think of it.

"She will never see it."

He whirled around, looking for the owner of the voice that had practically hissed into his ear.

"You will die here."

"Like hell I will!" Daniel spat. He had his suspicions about what was happening. He was either losing his mind...or Dartal's buddies had found him.

"You will never see her again."

"Never say never. I have all the time in the universe," he replied.

"You will die here."

"In your dreams, asshole. My teammates won't stop looking for me."

"They already have."

The words cut like a knife. He bit back the bile that the words had raised. No, Jack wouldn't give up. Not so easily! It had only been two and a half weeks! They'd looked longer than that for SG-21 when that team had disappeared...having stumbled onto one of Ba'al's booby-trapped planets! It had taken almost a full month to find the men...who were half starved and nearly frozen from being locked in the cold underground caverns beneath the temple they had been investigating. No, Jack wouldn't quit looking for him. Not unless...not unless he and the rest of the team were convinced that he was dead.

He dropped to his knees. "Casey," he whispered. If she thought he was dead...was she grieving? Was her heart breaking? Did she miss him as much as he missed her?

"You will never see her again."

Struggling to his feet, Daniel turned his back on the river. "I don't believe you."

The voice remained silent as he returned to the shelter of the trees.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Maelu survived the night. If Daniel was more somber the following day, less interested in learning more of their language than he had been in the first days after his sickness left him, neither Maelu nor Kiam said anything, neither to him, nor each other. But they watched him. The sadness that filled those blue eyes. The way his fingers trembled slightly as he looked again and again at the magic drawing of the goddess Ca'see.

For his part, Daniel was trying to determine whether or not he'd actually heard a voice, or if it had been his own mind, trying to trick him...saying out loud what he secretly feared. That he'd never see Casey again. That he was doomed to this planet for a very long time. That he might indeed die here. He was Immortal, yes. There were ways to die that not even Immortality could save him from.

Truth be told, if he was consigned to live out eternity alone, without his Destiny, without Casey at his side, he'd rather be dead. He wondered what she was doing at that very moment. Was she sleeping? Was she on the Prometheus, was the search for him still going on? Had there ever been a search for him? Had the ha'tak exploded, and when they could find no trace of his escape pod, had he been declared dead...again? Was she living her life as his widow now?

With Kiam busy working to finish the likeness of whatever god it was that Maelu had chosen, Daniel decided that the nightly meal was up to him. The soup in the skin 'pot' was nearly gone. Something had to be found to fill it. He remembered how Jack had made the fishing poles on that cold planet where Nirrti had left her experiments to die. Not that he was certain there were any fish, but it wouldn't hurt to try.

He searched until he found a long, slender limb from a nearby tree. Used his pocket knife to put a notch about an inch from one end. Tied one end of length of fishing line around it. He spent at least half an hour looking for just the right sized stone to use for the weight. It took almost another thirty minutes to get it tied onto the line. It seemed a bit low, but he wasn't about to undo it. The hook went on to the end of the line. He dug around in the dirt, found a few nice sized worms. Forced one onto the hook and dropped it into the cold water.

This was what Jack did when he wanted to think. To work out the problems he faced, to deal with his personal demons. At the moment, Daniel wanted to do anything but think. He was tired of thinking. Tired of going around and around in his head. They were looking for him. They had declared him dead.

He thought of how sure he had been that he would find a Stargate here. He snorted softly. What a difference two weeks could make, he thought morosely. Two weeks, and three days, he corrected himself.

Something tugged on the stick in his hand. Had tugged damned hard, as a matter of fact! He waited until he felt it again. Jerked the stick, felt the continued pull. This was where things got interesting. He didn't have a reel, he had to bring the fish as close to the bank as he could, and then grab it. Not so easy to do. He climbed to his feet, holding the stick steady, backing up slowly.

The fish arched out of the water, its body twisting and flopping as it tried to dislodge the hook from its mouth. The battle waged for fifteen minutes. Daniel shoved the end of the stick into the dirt to hold it steady, ran to the water's edge and grabbed the still wiggling fish. It was larger than it had first appeared.

Working the hook out of the mouth of the...he had no idea what kind of fish it was...he tossed it onto the grass. Found another worm, worked it onto the hook. If he could catch another fish the same size, he'd just landed dinner.

His mind turned from his predicament to what he could remember about plants, and which ones were edible. There was something about a patch of tall, dark green leaves near the far end of the meadow that seemed so damned familiar, but he couldn't figure out exactly why. Before he could concentrate on the shape of the leaves, another fish was offering itself to him. It was at least an inch longer than the first. Good enough, he thought, grinning from ear to ear.

He sliced the belly open, reached in and felt for the spot where the 'blood line' was connected. For once he was grateful that Jack had made him pay attention when he'd cleaned the fish in that small cave...telling him that he needed to know how to do the job...just in case. In case he survived, and Jack didn't, he thought. The tearing sound threatened to bring up the little bit of broth he had eaten. But just as they had for Jack, the entrails came out in one, unbroken piece. He tossed the waste into the river, washed the blood from the fish, headed back toward the shelters. Stopped and looked at the plants that had been poking at his memory.

He kicked at the bottom of one of the plants. And unearthed a potato the size of his hand. "Yes!" he nearly shouted. He ran toward the shelter, placed the cleaned fish on a flat stone that had been used to cut up the meat and vegetables that had gone into the cooking skin two nights before.

Kiam looked up, surprise on his face at the animation in the man's every movement. It was the first time he had seen Daniel looking...happy.

Maelu opened his eyes. Something had pleased Dan'yel. That was a very good thing.

It only took a few minutes to gather a half dozen large, brown skinned potatoes. He'd even cut one open, sniffed it, hesitantly tasted it, just to make certain that it was what he thought it was. Fish and potatoes. His stomach growling, he decided that fixing the food now was a pretty good idea. The answering growl from Kiam's stomach when he returned to their camp made him grin.

He took his pocket knife, which had been rinsed after the fish were cleaned, and poked the potatoes, making slits for the steam to escape through. The skins would be inedible, but the meat of the potatoes would be hot and fluffy. He wished for butter and sour cream. When he'd put them into the hot coals to bake, he turned his attention to the waiting fish.

He had absolutely no idea how Jack had cut the fish into filets. He'd have to figure something else out. Just shoving the fish onto sticks and holding them over the fire was one option. Daniel knew about hickory, and what the wood would do for meat cooked over a fire that contained the savory wood. He looked at the curls of the cherry wood on the skin that covered Kiam's lap. Wondered if it would offer any special 'flavoring' to the fish. Decided it was worth a try. "May I have these?" he asked softly, pointing to the pile of wood shavings that had been carved away from the once plain chunk.

Kiam nodded, watching carefully. Dan'yel put the fish on sticks, then tossed the shavings onto the very edge of the fire. He held the fish over the shavings as they smoldered among the embers.

Thirty-five minutes later, the fish was completely cooked; in fact, Daniel feared he had overcooked it. The potatoes were mostly done. Using the wooden tongs that Kiam had left beside the fire, he dug them out, put two onto the wooden bowl that the young man used to eat from. Did the same for Maelu. The last two went onto the wooden platter...which Kiam had fashioned from a chunk of wood he had found near a fallen tree...for himself.

The three men ate in silence, sharing smiles as they savored the fish and the roasted potatoes. It was a damned good meal, considering, Daniel thought. When he'd cleared away the remains, tossing the garbage into the fire, he sat back, sipped at the water he had poured into the wooden cup that Maelu had insisted he use. Once again he wished for his journal.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

As the afternoon turned into evening, the cough that wracked Maelu again and again seemed to worsen. There was a blue tinge to the old man's thin lips, Daniel recognized it as a sign that he wasn't getting the oxygen he needed.

Kiam continued to work on the effigy, Daniel took over the care of the old man, keeping the robe around thin shoulders, making the tea that seemed to do no good, other than offering the old man a bit of warmth.

The first of the evening stars were in the sky when the young man put the wooden god into Maelu's hands. The old man smiled, ran his fingers over the features of the face, the carved feathers of the headdress.

It was an amazing bit of work, Daniel thought, watching as Maelu caressed it again. Without a doubt, this was what the old man had been waiting for, holding out for.

"My bones won't know where they're buried," Maelu wheezed. "Take my belongings to the Sacred Mountain, set them near those of my family, that my ka might use them."

"I promise, Maelu," Kiam said solemnly.

Daniel listened quietly, frowning slightly. This was certainly a deviation of the Egyptian beliefs. To the Ancient Egyptians, the body and the trappings of life had to be together in order for the dead person to travel unhindered to the Field of Reeds. Perhaps too many deaths far from the Sacred Mountain had precipitated a need to change the death rituals. Certainly mummification wasn't as easy in the moist, forest climates. People adapted to their surroundings, and if that meant changing a few of the rules, then so be it.

As the night drew on, the cough became worse, and the rattle of death filled the old man's lungs. Just before ten, by his watch, Daniel realized that Maelu had died.

Kiam said nothing, although the sadness in his eyes spoke of his grief.

The two men worked together to wash the body, then dressed it in what Daniel assumed was some sort of ceremonial garb...a shirt with brightly dyed quills and wooden beads decorating it, pants that were so soft they felt like satin. Kiam carefully braided the old man's long, white hair, feathers from what appeared to have been a very colorful bird woven into the braids. Then gently wrapped him in the robe on which he had been sleeping.

"We will bury him tomorrow," Kiam said softly. "I will sit with him tonight, and sing the old songs."

Daniel nodded. The rituals seemed to be an odd mixture of what he recognized as being Native American traditions, and Ancient Egyptian. Was this group of people related in any way to the Navajo-Egyptians the team had met? And how in the world had the combination of such diverse societies ever come into being?

As he had since awakening on the planet, Daniel had more questions than answers.


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