It didn’t help the diplomatic mission to P9X-654 that Jack had, early on, dubbed it Planet IKEA, and despite his better judgement and indisputably better sense, Daniel could not get it out of his mind. He didn’t often let Jack get to him – no, correction. He didn’t often let on that he was letting Jack get to him. But sometimes, even in the midst of making terrible jokes, Jack’s observations could be dead-on, and this was one of those times.
The inhabitants of P9X-654 were certainly Scandinavian in origin. They had once been a protected planet, much like Cimmeria had been, but the Thor’s Hammer that stood in front of the Stargate was no longer active. Probably, SG-1 had discovered, because the people of P9X-654 had become, on their own, so advanced that they had solved Thor’s puzzles all by themselves, had long ago met the Asgard in their true forms, and were almost certainly possessed of the kind of advanced Goa’uld-fighting weaponry that had Jack drooling, and he hadn’t even seen any yet.
They called their planet Nyrlandr – Newland, in other words.
Jack snorted. “From the same people who brought you Iceland and Greenland. And what’s up with that, anyway? Greenland, I mean. Is that history’s biggest piece of false advertising, or what?”
“Actually, sir,” said Sam, “it may be an example of historic climate change. There’s a theory that when Icelandic settlers founded colonies on Greenland, it was significantly more temperate, until the onset of the Little Ice Age in the 15th or 16th centuries…”
Teal’c added, “Indeed, O’Neill. I do not know why you maintain your subscription to the National Geographic Society if you do not take advantage of the literature they send to you.”
“What?” Jack demanded. “I like the pictures!”
The “Planet IKEA” problem had started after SG-1 had been given a tour of Thorshofn, the city around the Stargate (or the ThorsHringr, as it was referred to here). It was modern. Very, very modern. And tasteful. It was all swooping expanses of white walls, glass, and pale wood.
Jack dubbed the architectural style “Early Airline Terminal”, and Daniel, who had gone through the TWA Flight Center at JFK International Airport in its heyday in the late 60s, with his parents, before the place had gotten all decrepit and seedy and abandoned, now couldn’t get that out of his head as well. The stark simplicity of Nyrlandic architecture (at least, in this city, Daniel footnoted to himself) was offset by a riot of colorful, cleverly designed furnishings and decorations.
Even if Jack hadn’t made the inevitable quip, one of them would have. Sam had agreed instantly. Teal’c had remarked that the rug in a lobby they were shown through reminded him of a Marimekko design he had recently seen in a fashion magazine. (Jack had done a double-take at that, clearly thought about trying to make something of that and the earlier dig about the National Geographic subscription, and then wisely, for once, thought better of it.)
Their assigned guide was a middle-aged man named Thorbjorn. He looked just like some grim extra from a Viking movie, complete with the light-blond beard and long hair and piercing blue eyes and line-backer's build (that was Jack's description) that rivalled Teal'c’s. He was incongruously dressed in a well-tailored off-white suit (instead of lapels, all of the Nyrlander mens-wear had an open V front with contrasting turned-back edges that swept back into a stylized hood, and all of the tunic-jackets fell to just above the knees; except for the often light colors, they looked sort of like academic robes). He laughed heartily – including at some of Jack's jokes; even if he didn't understand the references, he didn't let a little confusion stand in the way of being amused, apparently – but otherwise was well-mannered, mild and polite in a way that Daniel had not come to expect of Vikings, from the movies or otherwise.
"I don't know, Daniel," said Jack, in a deceptively mild tone that meant that Daniel was about to be baited. "Maybe the history books all got it wrong. Everybody I've ever known with Scandinavian roots was the soul of courtesy."
Jack was clearly thinking of his Minnesota upbringing. He was also clearly excepting himself as an example.
At some point, Daniel really feared that their hosts were going to call them on all of the snickering and the sotto voce comments. But so far, their hosts remained pleasant, welcoming, polite – actually, Daniel realized with a start, they reminded him of the Asgard. They were humans who looked like strapping, modern Vikings, but they seemed to have patterned their social behavior on the Asgard. That was… weird. He decided not to share that observation with Jack, at least not yet.
The Nyrlanders appeared to be inclined favorably towards the idea of cultural exchange and trade with the Tau'ri – or, the Midthgardthurs, as they were referred to. (Daniel, for whom the Germanic languages were familiar but not a specialty, made another mental footnote to pursue later the idea that this planet had been seeded with colonists from Iceland.) Thor, it turned out, had already spoken highly of SGC and, of course, Jack O'Neill – which was what had prompted the offworld activation of SGC's Gate and the politely-worded message sent through inviting SG-1 (specifically) as envoys.
So here they were, in a balmy, temperate city ringing a spectacular harbor, with the Stargate set right in the middle of the curve of the bay. Thrown off by the beautiful weather and palm-like trees lining the harbor walk, SG-1 was surprised to discover that the Nyrlanders' invitation had been timed to coincide with their Midwinter Festival, apparently one of the most important of the year in Thorshofn.
As usual, SG-1 would be guests of honor at a festive party thick with dignitaries, underdressed in standard military BDUs. Daniel often wondered what the people they met through the Gate thought of the team's identical clothing, especially in cultures that didn't have a concept of military or civil uniform. What did their unisex clothing and drab colors look like to people who had no pre-existing category to relate the practice to, to give it context? That was the kind of thing he always meant to pull someone aside to ask, and somehow never got a chance to. Something always seemed to happen on SG-1 missions that would wind up driving the thought out of his head, until much later, when he was writing up the mission report.
The feast was set up in a giant hall that looked like a stylized overturned boat. There were tables full of food off to both long sides, and guests were seated in circles around sleek, modern firepits with wide flat rims that took the place of tables. SG-1 was given a place of honor at the biggest, 3-fire oval at one end of the room. The atmosphere was convivial, and Thorbjorn laughed with what seemed to be genuine amusement at Jack's questions about being given long forks to toast things over the fires.
The serve-yourself nature of the feast was eerily familiar. Jack immediately began waxing rhapsodic over smorgasbords of his youth – a word unfamiliar to the Nyrlanders (it must have been coined in Sweden after the period when the Nyrlanders’ ancestors had been removed from Earth), but they picked up on his enthusiasm and adopted the term, rolling the vowels and adding a distinctive –r sound to the end, so that it sounded more like "smoooorrrrrrrgasborrrrrdther". They just seemed to like saying it.
Jack was in a kind of Minnesotan heaven, with alien near-equivalents of childhood favorites spread in front of him, not to mention the chance to bait his teammates with some of the more idiosyncratic offerings.
"C'mon, T – you haven't lived until you've tried lutefisk." In fact, Daniel was detecting a distinct Minnesotan lilt creeping into Jack's voice; he could tell that it wasn't something Jack was doing on purpose, because it was delicate rather than exaggerated, but it was there nonetheless.
"You are mistaken, O'Neill. I have lived for many more years than anyone else in this hall, without recourse to this dish."
"Your loss. Carter?"
"With all due respect, sir, you serve lutefisk every Christmas, and you promised the first time that if I tried it once, you'd never make me look at it again."
Jack then turned to Daniel, and gave him a narrow look, because Daniel had already carefully put some on his plate. He gestured at it and gave Jack his most innocent look in return. It wasn't that he loved the stuff – in fact, Daniel wasn't even sure that Jack himself loved the stuff, so much as he loved engaging in a kind of food-related game of truth-or-dare with his team. But Daniel had eaten less palatable things in his time, and it gave him a certain amount of leverage when Jack was balking over some new restaurant that Daniel wanted him to try.
The climax of the feast came during the dessert course when, in addition to another remove of dishes brought out to cover the long sideboards, the head of every dining circle got up and went to the back of the hall. Each returned with an enormous platter containing a huge, golden-crusted pie.
The head of their oval had been pointed out to them as the godthi of Thorshofn, a sort of mayor, Daniel gathered. He was even bigger than their guide, Thorbjorn, with white hair and beard and a white suit with turnbacks and hood lined with white fur. Daniel was irrestibly reminded of a cross between Santa Claus and a polar bear. Godthi Hallgrimur stood regally at the end of the firepit, as the man on his right dished out the pre-cut slices of pie onto plates that were passed formally all the way around the oval.
Jack had been seated on the godthi's left hand, evidently a place of honor (relating to the fact, Thorbjorn had explained to Daniel, that it was not the sword-hand, and so it indicated trust that attack would not come from that quarter; some things, Daniel thought, definitely had not changed from viking times). Thus, he received the first slice after it had made its way through everyone else's hands. His audible reaction was a Home-Simpson-esque, "Mmmmm, piiiiiiieeee…", which caused Sam to duck her head and bite her lip, Daniel to blink at him and receive a What? look in return, and Teal'c to incline his head in agreement and look with satisfied anticipation at the plate just arriving in his own hands. The godthi looked down at Jack with a smile of indulgence.
Sam poked at hers with the dessert… spork that came with it. "Why is it greenish?" she asked, in a low voice, head towards Daniel.
"I think it's… peas?" he replied, doubtfully. But the texture looked an awful lot like solidified pea-soup.
"Thorsartta-paj," their guide told them, leaning across the firepit. "Peas are sacred to Thor, and we eat this dish in his honor."
“Peas are… sacred to Thor,” Daniel repeated carefully. “I’d… never heard that before.”
"Back home, it was always pea soup or mashed peas," Jack contributed, showing no hesitation over the pie. Daniel tried a spork-ful, tentatively, and discovered that while the base might be peas, they'd been sweetened and flavored with some mix of spices, and whipped to the consistency of a slightly-chunky custard. Then Jack went on, "I remember reading one time that Thor gave peas to man as a punishment."
Daniel stopped in mid-chew and stared at him. "Did – did I just hear you admit to knowing a story from mythology?"
Jack’s look in return was deadpan. "No."
"On the contrary, O'Neill, I believe that indeed comes under the category of folklore from your world," Teal'c pointed out, with a certain smugness in his tone.
Jack's expression became long-suffering. "Look. I was about five, and it seemed like a great way to argue my way out of having to eat peas. Nana didn't buy it, though, so it was all for nothing."
"Maybe not, sir," Sam spoke up, now happily digging in herself. "Maybe that explains something about Asgard cuisine." She gave a little shudder. She'd tried to describe the monumental awfulness of the geometric food-cakes that Thor had offered her, but words had failed her.
"I still think Thor was playing some kind of practical joke on you," Jack said, name-dropping the Supreme Commander of the Asgard fleet casually.
"Perhaps you're right, O'Neill," said Thorbjorn with a grin, even if he didn't know what exactly they were referring to. "Thor's sense of humor is as legendary as his might."
Jack's eyebrows went up, spork poised on the way to his mouth. "Oh, yes. Legendary is the word."
By this point, everyone at the table had been served, and the godthi was reseated. "In the old days, before we learned the truth about the gods," Hallgrimur intoned to the table at large; part of the ritual, Daniel guessed, "it was said that Thor grew displeased with his people, and he sent dragons to foul all of the fresh-water wells with peas, to punish them."
Jack looked at Daniel, and mouthed, "dragons?", and Daniel shrugged, and mouthed back, "peas?"
The rumbling voice of the old man went in, "But the dragons were careless, and some of the peas fell upon the ground, and took root – and man gave thanks to Thor, for giving them a new crop. Then Thor was highly wroth, and from end to end the sky was filled with his thunderbolts of displeasure. Only when man promised to venerate peas and eat them in his honor every week on Thor's Day was his anger assuaged."
"Wow," Jack commented. "You don't expect the god of thunder and lightning to resort to legumes for punishment. Then again," he added consideringly, "we're talking peas, so… "
"Your five-year-old self evidently agreed," Teal'c pointed out.
Sam turned to Thorbjorn. "Have you ever asked Thor whether the legend is real?"
The big man laughed. "Not to my knowledge. I don't know if he is even aware of the tradition. He is – "
At that moment, at the head of the table, Jack said very loudly and distinctly, "OW!"
Daniel whipped around to stare at him. Jack's face was screwed up in a painful and indignant frown, and he was ruining the Midthgardthur reputation for good table-manners by sticking his fingers in his mouth as if searching for something. "Did you bite your tongue?" Daniel demanded, and Jack, fingers still in his mouth, rolled his eyes in exasperated response.
"—nah muh ungh -- what the hell?" Jack replied, finally extracting and holding up something silvery between thumb and forefinger.
Unexpectedly, all of the Nyrlanders at the table burst into enthusiastic cheers and applause.
"Ah, O'Neill, congratulations," said Godthi Hallgrimur, with no surprise, and the pleased and knowing expression of a master of ceremonies that made Daniel instantly suspicious.
"Congratulations on what, cracking a molar?" Jack demanded. "What is this thing?"
The reaction of their own table had quickly spread to the entire hall, and somewhere near the other end a soft chant started up. Daniel exchanged a wild look with Sam, and tried to make out the word being chanted. It sounded like…
"Mjolnir! Mjolnir! MJOLNIR!"
It would have been a lot more unsettling, except for the smile on the godthi's face – Daniel was trying to convince himself that it didn't look predatory – and the way that many of the people applauding were also laughing. He stretched out a hand in Jack's direction. "Can I – uh, can I see that for a moment, Jack?" Wordlessly, Jack handed the thing over, still looking testily up at the godthi for an explanation.
Hallgrimur rose, and held up his hands to silence the growing tumult in the room.
"Friends! Today is Midwinter, and this night is the Longest Night! Here at the end of the feast we have eaten together the Thorsartta-paj – fittingly, it is to O'Neill of SG-1, Thor's own esteemed envoy from Midthgardthur, that the night's honor has fallen!"
There was a lot more clapping and shouting, with a lot of Thor!s and O'Neill!s interspersed with the Mjolnir!s.
Daniel looked up from the little silver token in his hand. "It's a Thor's hammer," he explained to the rest of the team, holding it up by the stem so that they could see it.
"It's a choking hazard!" Jack protested, still rubbing at his jaw.
"You appear to have found the coin in the Christmas pudding, O'Neill," Teal'c observed, with admiration. When the others all stared at him, he tilted his head. "Is that not the custom amongst your people?"
"Well," said Daniel, "there's a tradition in Greece of putting a coin in vasilopita, St. Basil's cake, for luck at New Years, and generally amongst some other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures there's – "
"I think he's talking about plum pudding, Daniel," Sam chimed in. "That's English."
"I believe that it is mentioned in the works of Charles Dickens," Teal'c affirmed.
Jack blinked at him. "You've read Dickens?"
The Jaffa nodded, in Daniel’s direction. "I was told that 'A Christmas Carol' would aid me in understanding the meaning of the holiday."
Then Hallgrimur said, "From this hall, you will be escorted to the Temple of Freyja, where you will spend the Longest Night in the company of all of her priestesses. And in the morning, Freyja's priestesses will regale all of us with tales of your prowess. Great is the honor of Thor!", and that pretty much brought the team's exchange to a screeching halt.
"Excuse me?" said Jack.
Thorbjorn leaned across the table. "The old record is seven of the temple priestesses in one night! But Thor has told us of his great esteem for you, and of your courage and might!"
"I wager it will be at least nine!" called another man from the opposite end of the table. This was followed by other cries. “Ten!” “Six!”
Sam had her face hidden suddenly behind a big drinking-mug; but her shoulders were shaking. Teal'c was giving Jack a speculative look. Daniel met Jack's deer-in-the-headlights expression with what he hoped was a soothing outward calm. "Uh, Godthi Hallgrimur, that sounds like, uh, well, a great honor –"
"A very great honor," Jack echoed quickly.
"And while we respect your customs and wouldn't want to offer any kind of insult to your Temple of Freyja or to any of your people, there are certain, uh, things that we –"
"Restrictions on our behavior when we're representing our people offworld," Sam offered.
"Right!" Daniel picked up gratefully, "There are certain restrictions, and expectations, and as the head envoy from, uh, Midthgardthur, Colonel O'Neill is –"
"I think what Daniel's trying to say is that there's nothing wrong with my, whaddayacallit, prowess, it's just, you know – " Jack held out his hands expansively, and said, "Restrictions!" in a "what can you do?" tone.
Everyone in the room was, by this time, watching them avidly as their attempts at explanation tumbled over each other.
“I beg your pardon, O’Neill,” said Godthi Hallgrimur carefully. He drew himself up to his full height, which was considerable, and looked down his nose at the seated colonel, and right at that moment Daniel thought, polar bear, definitely. “Do I understand that you decline the invitation to spend the Longest Night with the priestesses of the Temple of Freyja?”
Jack closed his eyes briefly and then, as if sensing that Daniel was about to jump in again, held up a quelling finger. “Basically… yeah,” he admitted. “Still! Great honor! Huge! Seriously. I just… can’t. Well, not can’t, can’t – it’s not a prowess problem, believe me, but –“ He jumped slightly when Daniel kicked him under the table, but otherwise didn’t take his eyes off the looming godthi of Thorshofn. “Where we come from, envoys aren’t allowed to do that kind of stuff.”
There was a further, pregnant pause, the room seeming to hold its breath while Hallgrimur stared down at Jack, and Jack put on his winningest smile, and Daniel exchanged meaningful looks with Sam and Teal’c and hoped that things weren’t about to turn really ugly. Then…
Godthi Hallgrimur let out an explosive breath and clapped Jack on the back so hard that he nearly wound up face-down in the remainder of his pea-pie, and with that the collective breath of the room was let out in booming laughter, further clapping, and scattered cheers.
Jack braced himself with his hands on the rim of the firepit, and said for the second time, “Okay – what the HELL?”
The godthi sat down again. “Ah, O’Neill,” he chuckled. “The guest at Midwinter who finds Mjolnir in his slice of Thorsartta-paj is said to have great luck and strength and success in the coming year, that’s all. Start a business venture, go a-viking – Thor watches over you, that kind of thing.”
“But – but – but what about the –“ Daniel started, and Jack finished with him, waving his hands in agitated emphasis, “—Temple priestesses?”
Hallgrimur was still smiling. “It is an old custom amongst our people, before agreeing to become allies or trade partners, to test the other’s intentions with a ruse that challenges his honor.”
Jack stared at the godthi for a long moment, then shook his head sharply and exclaimed, “What?”
“It seems to me,” said Teal’c, thoughtfully rather than angrily, “that you chose deliberately to present O’Neill with a difficult dilemma. The path of honor seems in your eyes to lie in the refusal of an attractive proposition. But in pursuit of the honorable path, you force a guest under your roof to risk offering you grave insult.”
Hallgrimur nodded in agreement. “Is that not part of the point?”
“Um, how?” asked Sam, and then Daniel jumped in immediately.
“Of course! The test isn’t – isn’t just the answer, it’s what you reveal while answering!” He turned from Sam to Jack, who was looking as if he still hadn’t decided whether to be annoyed or relieved. “Jack! Don’t you see? It doesn’t matter whether you say yes or no – it matters how you say it, and how you react when you’ll told it’s all a, a ruse, a joke.”
Comprehension dawned on Jack’s face, and he gave the godthi an assessing look. “So that was all about finding out whether we were good sports?”
Hallgrimur waved at Daniel. “Dr. Jackson is correct. I would rather be allies with a man who shows he has a sense of humor, even when he’s the butt of a joke. Wouldn’t you, O’Neill?”
Jack huffed. “Well, when you put it that way –“
The godthi of Thorshofn gave him a toothy smile. Friendly polar bear, Daniel thought. Maybe. “A second helping of pie, O’Neill? I promise you that this time, you won’t be in danger of breaking a tooth.”
# # #
"For a minute there," Jack confessed, late in the evening after their return home, as they laid entangled in Jack's bed, "I thought that was going to have to be the carefully edited mission report to end all carefully edited mission reports."
Daniel shifted until Jack’s pointy chin wound up in a more comfortable position. “Just what is it with you and offworld desserts, anyway?” When Jack gave him a blank look, Daniel poked him in the ribs. “Hello? Argos? Kynthia? Special cake?”
Jack winced. “Hey! This time, the rest of you ate it, too! And besides, it was rigged.”
“Well,” Daniel admitted, “it was rigged that time on Argos, too.”
Jack resettled his head on Daniel’s shoulder. “Thank you.”
Some time later, once the day’s tension and exhaustion had started to seep out of Daniel’s neck and back and shoulders, and he was becoming pleasantly hyper-aware of all of Jack’s bare skin, both smooth and roughly-haired, pressed up against his own, he said, “Did you consider saying yes?” He said it softly, in case Jack had drifted off into a doze, although he didn’t think that Jack had.
Jack snorted into his neck, proving that he hadn’t. “What?”
“I just – you know, I mean, did you consider it? For a second?”
“No,” Jack said. Too quickly and decisively to be convincing.
“Oh, come on – you weren’t tempted, even a little bit? Just you and a bunch of blond, Nordic priestesses…?” Daniel wasn’t sure why he was pressing the point, except that staring up at the ceiling had resulted in a flash of some very erotic imagery, and…
Jack raised himself up on one elbow, and glowered down at him. “Okay, you want to know the truth?”
Daniel blinked at him slowly, three or four times. “Yes,” he said, in the tone that meant, duh!
“The minute that Gotti guy –“
“Whatever – the minute he said ‘Temple of Freyja’, you know what happened?”
Daniel’s eyes widened. “Ohhhhhhh…” Jack nodded. They both said, “Anise,” at the same time.
“Exactly,” Jack went on. “I got this mental image of an entire temple-full of priestesses who all looked like copies of Freya and her snaky buddy Anise, and it was all over. I swear, Daniel. God, it was a nightmare.”
“Right, right, I hear you. Wow.”
Daniel wondered how long it was going to take him to get that image out of his head now, thank you very much.
After a while, Jack had apparently recovered enough to start tracing circles on the skin of Daniel’s thigh and hip. “Now,” he said, “if it were just some random temple full of completely human blond Nordic priestesses –“
“And if it wasn’t such a spectacularly bad idea for a whole list of reasons, starting with becoming infected with nanites and –“ Daniel felt compelled to add.
“Yeah, that, but I’m just sayin’… I could have. You know.”
Daniel snorted. “Uh-huh. Of course. O’Neill, great in Thor’s honor, legendary in prowess –“
Jack’s big, warm hands pushed apart his thighs, as Jack slid down his body. “C’mere, and I’ll show you legendary…”