They finally made it to the structure. They were sodden, chafed, cranky and had mud rising from their boots and rain soaking its way down to almost meet in the middle.
Daniel had already fallen over twice and nearly lost a boot at least once, which would have amused Jack if not for the sudden and unrelenting storm they had found themselves in. The MALP had shown no signs of oncoming rainclouds yet there they were.
"I think there's a light up front," Carter mused, water dripping from her nose and her waterproof bucket hat proving useless against the onslaught. It now looked more like bonnet than a hat.
"And a smoking chimney," Daniel added, wiping fruitlessly at his glasses.
Jack curled his hands above his eyes, "Thank f... let's go."
It took nearly another hour before they trudged themselves over the boggy marsh, no other signs of shelter in the meadow-like valley. The building seemed to be somewhat-haphazardly constructed out of three huge, layered slices of a native tree that bent round corners and held up a corrugated tin roof. The bendy woodwork would be more interesting if they didn't have gallons of water pouring down onto them.
Sam and Daniel peered in through steamy windows to find a candle-lit tavern; three long tables and benches stretched the width of the room that looked to be more of the native tree and a doorway that seemed to lead to another room was behind the bar to the right. A roaring fire was to the left.
They saw no movement but Sam mentioned the other entrance before Jack tried the handle to the large wooden door. It was unlocked but he thought it might start things off better if he knocked.
He glanced to Teal'c, his staff at his side and rain running rivulets down his stoic face, and wondered if he had ever seen the man look miserable before and mean it...
Jack knocked but Sam saw no movement from inside. Jack tried again, harder, and suddenly a man's head peeked out from the far doorway, the look on his face telling Sam he was not convinced he wasn't just hearing things until she wiped at the wet window to see clearer.
The man, short and lean with clothing layered in white and tan and a dark half-apron tied around his waist suddenly sprung to life and ran to the door, gesturing and calling "come in! Come in! Why would you be out in a downpour?"
"It came out of nowhere," Jack groused but with a thankful smile as they all piled in. Their host closed the door behind them though Jack, Sam and Teal'c stepped no further into the tavern, wary of the planet's worth of mud they were tracking in. Daniel, however, pushed his way between and headed towards to the fire.
"It's our wet season, you must have travelled from far to not know that. Come, warm yourselves by the fire. I am Hassaf," he had a welcoming smile but worried eyes that Jack felt was more towards just how wet they were than the four dripping guests turning up on his doorstep.
"Jack. This here's Carter, Teal'c and that's Daniel."
"We came through the Stargate," Daniel offered, twisting his hands as close to the flame as he could tolerate while everyone else began to remove their boots. Hassaf tilted his head in confusion. "Er, Ring of the Gods? Chappa'ai?"
"Ah! Through the Chappa'ai!"
Daniel smiled, "Yes, from far away."
"Then you need warmth and sustenance! I will bring you something."
Teal'c bowed in thanks while four pairs of boots were lined up by the hearth.
"Okay, who's got dry stuff?" Jack asked, digging through his bag. He was glad to hear their waterproof packs had survived the storm and all began to awkwardly peel clothing from goose-pimpled, damp flesh. There was no time for dignity when it came to hypothermia, so eyes were kept to themselves whilst they changed, sodden items rung out before being draped close to the fire.
They sat down on the pew closest to the warmth, Daniel flexing his toes towards the heat while Sam attempted to use her devices to guage where they were. "I think it's waterlogged, sir. I might be able to dry it out but I can't guarantee it'll work nor its accuracy."
Jack nodded, adding the information to the running assessment of the situation in his head. "I think we're holed up here until that storm passes at least."
"Food and blankets!" Hassaf announced from the doorway at the back, carrying a tray of four steaming bowls and blankets tucked beneath his arms. Sam trotted over to help, taking the tray from him and noting that the bowls contained a kind of stew that looked and smelled edible, if not possibly appetising.
"Hassaf, thank you for your hospitality. We would not usually impose on you like this but we got caught out in that storm," she slid the tray carefully to the table.
"It is my pleasure. I do not often have company during the wet season so this is a pleasant surprise."
"How long does the wet season," Jack sniffed at a bowl and seemed happy with what he found, "usually last?"
"Oh, it used to just be a few cycles when I was young. Now, it can last many, many cycles. This settlement used to be as far as the bird could fly, but the rains turn the ground to swamp and no farming could be done. People come back when the season is over to mine for Naquadah, but the caves will be flooded now."
Daniel took another mouthful of stew, beginning to feel a warm glow from the inside out. "So you stay here alone?"
Hassaf nodded. "There are still some people local who come for my stew, but the season can be very lonely, yes"
No one really knew what to say to the forlorn look on Hassaf's face.
Once the meal was devoured, Daniel had helped Hassaf clear the plates and got him talking animatedly about the village, mines and the settlement's history. They sat away from the fire while Sam turned their drying clothing and Teal'c settled in for an overdue Kel-no-reem.
Jack had explored the room, taking note of what he could make out through the windows. They were definitely there for the night, if not more. He would need to get word to General Hammond somehow...
Sam had moved some of their clothing from being draped over a large wooden unit to the right of the fire. He hadn't paid much attention to it before, when it was just a clothing rack, but now was curious if he was correct about what it contained...
He tucked his fingers beneath the long wooden lid that stuck out furthest into the room and uncovered a piano, exactly as he had thought.
The keys were different - shorter and coloured a tarnished silver and copper. They looked well worn and Jack was given a glimpse of what the tavern was like during the dry seasons. He stooped to look beneath and found the stool, dragging it out with his foot until he could sit down.
It had been years since he had played but curiosity was getting the better of him. Did alien pianos sound like earth ones? Did he dare ask Daniel how there could be alien pianos? Did aliens have an equivalent of The Beatles?
He fingered a few keys and quiet, deep notes sounded from within the casing, in the correct tones or near enough. He wasn't interested in playing a tune - he was too tired to be racking his brain for long forgotten irish drinking songs or bar ditties - so he pressed gently, years of childhood training coming back to him as he danced his fingers slowly across the keys in a simple melody.
Thunder rumbled deeply outside and the rain from the roof and windows added inconsistent beats to his tune.
"I didn't know you could play," Sam's quiet voice announced behind him.
"A little," he lied. He scooched over so she could perch next to him on the bench. "Grandma taught me. Said it would teach me dedication and perseverance. Grandpa said the girls would love it."
Sam smiled, she hadn't heard many stories about his family outside of Sara and Charlie. "And did they?"
"I did okay."
Sam didn't buy that for one second. She watched his long fingers dance across the keys, the gentle melody almost like a lullaby. "My Dad can play."
He flashed her a look, never having pegged Jacob as a pianist. "Really?"
She nodded, "He always said he'd teach me but I never heard him play after my Mom died."
Jack gave a slight nod, understanding Jacob's reluctance. There were alot of things Jack couldn't do after Charlie; a lot he still hadn't.
She had been watching him play quite intently and he figured her brain would have figured out the pattern by now. "You play the highs."
"What? No, I can't," she almost looked fearful.
"That one then that, then those two at the same time."
She did as instructed, her mouth bending into a smile.
"There ya go!" He played his chords and couldn't resist saying, "Play it again, Sam."
She tried so hard to hide her grin as she played her turn, "That was really awful."
It was, but he knew it would make her smile. "That line and movie are iconic."
"Never seen it."
"You've n- you've never seen Casablanca?"
She shook her head, eyes still to the keys and cheeks still risen in a smile.
"Okay, when you come fishing we are renting that movie."
Her face flashed with something familiar but that he couldn't quite put his finger on, and the twinkle disappeared from her bright eyes. "Sir-"
"Hey guys?" Daniel interrupted, his notepad tucked against his chest. "I'm beat, I'm gonna go to sleep, " he hooked his thumb over his shoulder to where they had agreed to roll out their bags. What he was essentially saying was 'be quiet'.
"Right, yeah," Jack bounced into action, lowering the lid to the piano and stepping to the side while Carter pushed the stool away.
They rolled out their bags and settled in, bidding Hassaf a good night as he retired to the back room.
"Dream dry thoughts, guys. I'd like to get back to the Gate tomorrow."
A round of 'goodnights' and 'that's my foot' eventually subsided and Jack turned his head to see Sam already looking at him. The dark, unknown look from her face has gone but the twinkling had yet to return to her eyes. She gave him a small but warm smile, nodding a goodnight.
He smiled back, happy enough that he hadn't pushed her away too far with the fishing comment. He closed his eyes and thanked his Grandparents again for their teachings.