Chapter 1: Prologue
This chapter is largely lifted from LotR. I've thought about different ways to do this, but this isn't so much my chapter as a bridge between the great Professor's work and mine. While other revisions will be taking his words out and rescripting to be all fanfic, this is the bridge and needs to stay roughly as it is. The first three paragraphs are all Tolkien (indicated by italics).
It was Sam's turn that day to take the first watch, but Aragorn joined him. The others fell asleep. Then the silence grew until even Sam felt it. The breathing of the sleepers could be plainly heard. Sam could hear his own joints creaking, if he stirred. Dead silence was around him, and over all hung a clear blue sky, as the Sun rode up from the East. Away in the South a dark patch appeared and grew, and drove north like flying smoke in the wind.
"What's that, Strider? It doesn't look like a cloud," said Sam in a whisper to Aragorn. He made no answer, he was gazing intently at the sky; but before long Sam could see for himself what was approaching. Flocks of birds, flying at great speed, were wheeling and circling, and traversing all the land as if searching for something; and they were steadily drawing nearer.
"Lie flat and still!" hissed Aragorn, pulling Sam down into the shade of a holly-bush; for a whole regiment of birds had broken away suddenly from the main host, and came, flying low, straight towards the ridge. Sam thought they were a kind of crow of large size. As they passed overhead, in so dense a throng that their shadow followed them darkly over the ground below, one harsh croak was heard.
A new sound invaded Sam's hearing, something he had never heard before. It began soft, but grew swiftly, buzzing like some giant insect approaching. The birds wheeled overhead and swooped above their hiding-place again, calling now to one another in coarse voices. A new shape in the sky approached them from the East; but what it was Sam could not say. It flew like a bird, a great eagle or raptor, but flew too straight, too stiffly, as though there were something lifeless about it. When it came closer he could see that it did not flap, or call, or look about; it just flew on, droning ever louder.
The birds dived for it, calling in warning and wheeling about, harrying it cruelly. The croaking and unrepentant drone became a great ugly chorus that filled the silence completely. Soon enough the flying thing turned a wide arc in the air and flew back along its path. A few of the birds followed it curiously, but the rest contented to let it go and resumed their searching.
Not until the last birds had dwindled into the distance did Aragorn stand. He moved to Gandalf's side, but the wizard had already risen and stood staring after the strange thing that had returned to the mountains. There was an unreadable look in his eyes, but when Sam turned he saw that all the Company had awoken, and from the various expressions of confusion, curiosity and fear on their faces, he knew that none of them had any idea of what the thing might be, or whence it came.
Chapter 2: Chapter One
SG-1 stumble into a whole new world when they travel through the Stargate onto Mount Caradhras and find themselves crossing paths with the Fellowship.
A/N: There is the odd bit of direct quotation from JRRT, especially in the speech. I have tried to tidy it out as best I can.
Jack tumbled headfirst from the Stargate, the wormhole seeming to be more turbulent than usual. He prepared himself in the space of a split second for the harsh impact of stone steps, but landed on a surface that was much more giving, and cold. Very cold.
"Wow." Daniel stepped gracefully through the event horizon behind him, distractedly offering Jack a hand up. "This is different." Jack grabbed the proffered hand and hauled himself up as Carter and Teal'c appeared behind Daniel, wondering why it was always him that ended up sprawled across the floor.
"That was a quick change in the weather,” Carter agreed, looking thoughtful. "The UAV reported a pretty temperate climate, even if the air is a little thinner up here."
"We're that high up?” asked Jack. By way of reply, Carter turned and walked to the edge of the rockface, beckoning him to follow as she disappeared round the corner. Biting back a comment about the chain of command and use of the term 'sir', he dutifully followed her, waving at Daniel and Teal'c to stay put.
A landscape that Jack could only classify as 'fairy-tale' lay before them. The snow was falling harder out here, as area near the Stargate was protected to a degree by an overhang in the mountainside, but it was still light enough that they could see beyond it to make out swathes of grassland peppered with forests and, further off, rivers glistening in the sun that contradicted the cold creeping through his limbs. It looked, for all intents and purposes, like a Disney film world.
“The report from the UAV didn't show any snow at this altitude,” Sam told him. "It has come in very quickly though. The UAV showed some much higher up the mountain…"
"Alright," Jack cut in before she could start on the technicalities. "We're not exactly geared up for this kind of weather, but we'll head on down and take a look around. It doesn't like the snow lasts far beyond here."
"Yes, sir," Sam agreed. "At a guess, it probably stops pretty close beyond that drift, or maybe a little further on. We should keep an eye out for crows, though - the ones that attacked the UAV seemed pretty vicious."
Back at the Stargate Teal'c was digging the MALP free of the thick blanket of snow that had fallen over it, and Daniel was performing similar excavations on the DHD. Jack went to help the Teal'c examine the unit, checking for damage, and he barely registered Daniel calling Sam over. It was only when Daniel called his name in more sharply, that he paid them any attention. Sam was frowning and jabbing at symbols that stubbornly refused to light up, and Daniel was beside her, bobbing up and down on the balls of his feet nervously.
"Why don't I like the look of this?" Jack asked, striding over to them.
"It's not good," replied Sam vaguely as she continued to press symbols fruitlessly. A moment later she caught up with herself and straightened up to face her CO. "The DHD is, well, it isn't working, sir. It could be the power source is disconnected, or the crystals are out of alignment, or...
"Meaning?" Jack knew very well what that meant, but he allowed himself the hope that his two hyper-intelligent scientists might somehow have already worked out the solution, or have spotted something that he had missed. Next to him, though, Daniel shifted his weight from foot to foot and glared down at the DHD for a moment before answering him.
"Right now, it means we're stuck here, Jack."
The Company gathered together as close to the cliff as they could, hoping it would give them some shelter from the blasting winds and deepening whorls of snow.
Frodo's face, half-hidden against Sam's shoulder, was lined in thought. He absently stroked the tousled head resting upon his own chest, wondering how Pippin was able to sleep through the squall. He was tired as well, but the howling of the wind and the thoughts running through his mind gave him no peace or rest.
"What is it?" asked a soft voice. Frodo raised his head to face Merry, ignoring Sam's sleepy mutter as the warm presence on his shoulder was removed.
"What is what?" he queried.
"Something's bothering you," said Merry. He smiled tightly at Frodo, displaying the certainty that only four beings in the world could when it came to Frodo's thoughts. Four - and three of them were right here. He sighed.
"I don't know," he said quietly. "There is something, but I couldn't tell you what. I will be very glad once we got off this mountain."
"I think we all will," Merry said. Glancing down at Pippin, he ran a hand across his cheek and was troubled to find it ice-cold to the touch. Gently he hitched up the younger hobbit's scarf to better cover his face, before turning back to Frodo. "The sooner we go back the better, that's for sure. But there's something else, isn't there?"
"Yes," admitted Frodo. "That… thing, the flying thing? It came from this direction. Nobody's saying anything, and I don't think anyone really knows what it is, but I'm… I don't want to meet it."
"Definitely not," agreed Merry. "But it can't be so very terrible, or Gandalf would not have brought us this way."
"I don't know that there was another way we could have gone," Frodo replied. "Maybe it's not that bad, but to be honest I don't think anyone knows - even Gandalf seemed baffled by it. And if Gandalf doesn't know, then I'd rather not have the chance to find out."
"Well, it won't be bothering us in this," said Merry confidently. "Nothing could walk, let alone fly, through this storm. As soon as it calms down, we'll be starting back, so I doubt we'll come up against it." His face was calm as he spoke, and no tremor in his voice belied his confidence. Only his eyes glimmered with uncertainty, and even Frodo, who knew his young cousins better than anyone, caught only the briefest hint. With a sigh he settled his head back down on Sam's shoulder, hooking an arm around Merry and drawing him close on his other side.
Frodo had fallen quickly into a deep sleep and was dreaming of Bilbo when he felt himself shaken, and he came back painfully to wakefulness as Boromir pulled him from the deepening snow.
"This will be the death of the halflings, Gandalf," said Boromir. "It is useless to sit here until the snow goes over our heads. We must do something to save ourselves. What do you say to a fire?"
Gandalf agreed, although he seemed doubtful that it could be done. Indeed, the combined skills of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli were unable to strike a flame, and finally Gandalf took a hand, producing a spout of flame from his staff with a word of command.
"If there are any to see, then I at least am revealed to them," he said. "I have written Gandalf is here in signs that all can read from Rivendell to the mouths of Anduin."
"What?" Daniel looked up sharply at Jack's exclamation. His jaw dropped as he saw the blaze of coloured flame, high above them on the mountain. "What was that?" he gasped.
"Some kind of signal flare, I guess," replied Jack, glancing back to where Teal'c was diligently heating MREs and brewing coffee over the blaze of standard-issue fuel tablets, and wondering if any glimpse of their small fire could be seen. Daniel kept watching the mountainside, but no more flames were forthcoming. "The storm will be heavier up there, too.”
“It might have been a distress flare...” Daniel began.
"Don't even think it," said Jack. "If it was, then there must be people around to see it, so they can go help. We're in a situation of our own." He glanced up as Carter muttered an oath under her breath, glaring down at the glittering array of crystals inside of the DHD. Daniel pulled himself to his feet.
"Need a hand, Sam?" he called.
"I need two," she replied. "And a tent, or if you could just make the snow stop…" Daniel walked over, tugging off his gloves, and took one of Sam's bare hands in his. He winced.
"Jeez, Sam, your fingers are like ice! Where are your gloves?" He began to rub his hands over hers in a determined effort to keep the blood flowing warm.
"I can't pick up the crystals with gloves on, they're too delicate," said Sam. Daniel threw a glance over his shoulder at Jack, who recognised the look and came over.
"You can't pick them up with numb hands either," Daniel chided Sam gently before turning to Jack. “We need to get out of this snow."
"We're not going to get anything done from down there," argued Sam. "The MREs are nearly ready, I can just take a break to eat and then…"
"Carter?" Jack smoothly cut over her. She looked up reluctantly.
"Are you going to be done within the next half hour?"
Frustration flashed over her face. "No, sir, I'm not. I don't even know what's wrong yet." Jack nodded sharply, casting a look over her. She was shivering - and the only time he'd seen his hard-as-nails major shiver was when they were trapped in Antarctica. This was definitely getting to her. Daniel took a step away them, clearly not wanting Sam to feel like they were teaming up on her. Jack watched him go for a moment, noting that he too was near transparent in the cold.
"That's what I thought," he said to Carter. "Teal'c, how are those MREs doing?"
"They are ready, O'Neill," Teal'c replied. Jack thought he detected the note of a shiver in even the steadfast Jaffa's voice.
"All right, that's it," he said. "We eat on our feet - we're moving out. We'll come back once the storm is over."
"No buts, Carter. I'm not risking anyone's health for the sake of a few hours. We're outta here."
She began to reply, but an ominous rumbling stopped her in her tracks. For a split second they all stood frozen in disbelief, then as one they turned and dived away from the Stargate, out of the path of the mass of rocks and snow cascading towards them and towards the protection of the rocky outcrop. Jack reached it at the same instant as Teal'c, closely followed by Carter, but turning he watched in apparent slow motion as the last member of the team scrambled towards them through the knowledge that he wasn't going to make it.
"Daniel!" Jack shouted furiously. Teal'c started towards him, but Daniel had already grabbed something up and was headed back for them as fast as he could manage through the snow. He almost made it to them before the whirling debris hit. For a second Jack felt the too familiar bite of fear that they had lost him - again - but then Teal'c was pulling him under the shelter with Herculean strength. Daniel's face creased with pain, and Jack vaguely noticed that his right leg was torn and bloodied, but in his hand was the GDO that had lain by the DHD.
The avalanche passed swiftly, and soon the sky brightened to a pale grey dawn. Leaving the sheltered area around the Stargate proved much harder than any of them had anticipated. The snow had fallen ridiculously thick and heavy and lay waist-height above the ground. They had little snow gear with them, but after the requisite amount of decisions, discussions, arguments, orders, veiled retorts, and a stoic raised eyebrow from Teal'c, they were on the move. Jack and Teal'c took the lead, forcing a path through the snow, with Carter watching their six and supporting Daniel, whose leg was strapped tightly with makeshift bandages. Thankfully there was nothing broken, but the damage clearly caused him a lot of pain, even though he claimed to be just fine, thank you.
They toiled until his lungs, arms and legs were all burning before Jack called a halt, flapping wordlessly at Daniel for a water flask.
"We're doing well," he managed after several large gulps. "The same again, and we should be out."
"Indeed," agreed Teal'c, drinking his own water more sedately. Sam eased Daniel carefully to the ground and stretched thankfully.
"This certainly is beautiful," she said. "I don't think I've ever seen snow fall quite like this - it's amazing. There's something so strange about this place - if only I could get some soil samples from underneath…"
"No," said Jack flatly. "We're not hanging around for the sake of the dirt, Carter. It's beautiful to you, to us it's just exhausting."
“I find the snow most aesthetically pleasing, O'Neill,” Teal'c interjected.
"I did offer, sir…" Sam started.
"No, Carter. Just keep carrying Daniel." Jack handed the flask back and returned to shovelling snow, knowing that two pairs of blue eyes were rolling at his back, and not really caring very much. He had made it all of half a metre before there was a gasp behind him.
"Oh my god!"
"Jack, Teal'c, over here! Look!"
A retort regarding members of the team who were able to stand there looking at the pretty scenery made its way to his lips, but died there when he followed their gaze. Far away across the field, a figure was moving, seemingly running lightly across the top of the packed snow. His movement was graceful, much more than a human would be, and what little light there was glistened and sparkled in ridiculously pretty golden hair.
"Well, I have not brought the Sun," said Legolas. "I bear good tidings, though; there is the greatest wind-drift of all just beyond the turn - on the other side the snow suddenly grows less. But there are also ill tidings to be told: we are not the only company forcing a path through the snow."
At his final words, a palpable shiver ran through the Fellowship, even as Aragorn and Boromir returned from digging the snow. The hobbits huddled closer together in reassurance as well as cold, and Gimli hefted an axe from its resting place in his belt.
"What company?" he growled. "Orcs, from high in the mountains? Trolls?"
"None so terrible," said Legolas lightly. "They are Men. One of them is very curious to my sight, and they are strangely dressed; I have never seen their like. They are only four, and they progress through the snow even as we do."
"Were you seen?" asked Gandalf.
"I fear I was," said Legolas. "Even the stealthiest elf could not have hidden so high upon the flat field. Their path will intersect with ours, and we cannot retract it."
Aragorn nodded grimly. "Four, and not armed?" he asked
"I saw neither sword nor bow," replied Legolas. “They carry some things that I could not identify, though."
"Then this is my counsel," said Aragorn. "Boromir, Legolas and I will go to meet and confront them. We should be enough of a match for them, if it comes down to it: Legolas has the advantage over all of us. Gandalf and Gimli should stay here with the hobbits, in case things go ill. If all is well, I will signal to you."
Gandalf nodded his agreement and the two men turned to retrace their steps, led by Legolas, now stepping lightly through the tunnel forged through the drifts of snow.
"Oh for crying out loud! Teal'c!"
Teal'c reached down and hauled Jack up from where he sprawled in the suddenly diminishing snow. The drift they had been battling through had given way suddenly to a much lower level and Jack, putting too much of his weight into shovelling, had fallen right through. A single twitch of Teal'c's eyebrow betrayed his amusement.
"Why is it always," snapped Jack as he brushed himself down, "always me that ends up on the floor. No, wait," he added hastily as his companion opened his mouth, "I don't want an answer. Carter!"
"Sir?" Sam scrambled through the gap they had forced in the drift, Daniel following.
"We need to check out the area. You're with Teal'c, Daniel…"
"O'Neill!" Teal'c called them urgently. "There is another path forged in this drift.” All three hurried over to him at once. Teal'c was already examining the uncovered ground. "Two men," he announced. "They pushed this far from further up the mountain, then doubled back."
"That's odd," said Daniel. "The being we saw seemed to have no difficulty moving on top of the snow. I wonder if we're dealing with more than one species?"
"Or a couple of very fat beings?" Jack offered unhelpfully. Daniel cast him another of those caustic, why-do-I-put-up-with-you glares, and got a jaunty grin in return. "Right, so, maybe two kinds of people. Let's…"
Jack was halfway through turning to Sam to ask whether he was ever going to be allowed to finish what he was saying, thank you very much, when he saw what she was looking at.
Reflexively, he grasped up his MP-5, noting out of the corner of his eye that Carter now grasped hers, Teal'c had hefted his staff weapon, and Daniel was at least holding his handgun, even if he was displaying all the signs of hopping out and launching into his 'We're peaceful explorers' speech.
Three figures had come into view at the end of the path, approaching them cautiously. Two were rugged, with long dark hair and beards, dressed heavily in leather and fur against the weather, and both grasped long swords warily. They reminded him a little of the people they had met on Cimmeria. The third was slender, almost ethereal both in body and in movement, clad lightly in green and armed with a longbow. They stopped a few metres away, and the taller of the bearded men spoke.
His voice was commanding, and the words fluid and lyrical, but they meant nothing to Jack. He raised his eyebrows at Daniel, who was concentrating hard on the words.
"Well?" he asked, sotto voce. Daniel shook his head.
"I have no idea," he admitted at the same volume. "It sounds almost familiar, but I can't get a grasp on it.”
"Well, you're up," said Jack, nodding him forward. Taking a deep breath, Daniel stepped a pace towards the men, lowering his gun and looking openly at them.
"Hello," he began, speaking slowly with little hope of being understood but determined to give it a go anyway. "We're peaceful travellers. My name is Daniel Jackson…"
"There are no travellers of peace on these mountains, not in these dark days," replied the speaker. Daniel blinked in surprise.
"I assure you, we are peaceful," he said. "We're explorers, from… well, a long way away. I'm Daniel Jackson, this is Colonel Jack O'Neill, Major Samantha Carter, and Teal'c."
The speaker inclined his head. "I am called Strider," he replied. "With whom is your allegiance?"
"With the Stargate Command, from Earth," Jack put in, stepping to Daniel's side, lending him support to keep his weight on his good leg. "Which is-" he glanced sideways at the linguist "-a long way away."
"Are you friend or foe of Mordor?" pressed Strider. "You are not orcs, that much is obvious."
"No, we're humans – tau'ri," said Daniel, frowning as he tried to muddle through the conversation without getting on anyone's wrong side. "I'm afraid we really don't know what Mordor is, but we're here in the hope of learning about you, your culture and…"
"We're not your foes," Jack put in.
"We'd really like to learn about you," Daniel continued as if he had never been interrupted.
The blonde turned his head slightly towards Strider and spoke softly in the lyrical language he had first used. Despite his clearly bearing a serious poker face, Strider's eyes betrayed a flash of surprise and he looked them over before replying. Daniel was frowning again, listening for anything that he could pick up on, but their talk was only brief. Strider turned to the man on the other side, and after a couple of muttered exchanges, he turned about and strode purposefully back the way they had come.
Strider returned his attention to Daniel.
"We do not believe you are allied with the Enemy," he told them.
"That's good," muttered Jack. Daniel nudged him in annoyance, wondering how they had worked that out. Interspecies trust was fine and well, but generally when people were this wary about newcomers, they didn't suddenly swing round and decide to trust them. There must be something about them - or perhaps one of them - that they recognised, but he had no idea what that might be.
"Our companion has returned to the rest of our company," Strider continued. "Let us move to lower ground, out of the snow. There we will talk."