"Husband?"Daniel squawked. He and
Jack exchanged stunned glances.
Daniel was wearing a distinctly deer-in-the-headlights look,
much like the scarecrow, though the latter was not paying any attention to what
was going on around him, being solely concerned about whether or not the fire
was truly out.
"Déjà vu, Daniel?" Jack asked, trying
the while to pry the scarecrow's arms from his own.
"Looks a bit like it," Daniel replied ruefully as the
crew of the 'Heart of Gold' came ambling up.
"What's the bride's name?" Jack said, adding to the
scarecrow, "Look, you're quite safe now, and if you did accidentally catch
fire" The scarecrow gave a terrified shriek and clung on more
tightly. "I'm sure Trillian will put you out. Right, Trillian?"
"Oh, sure," she smiled.
"So would you please let go of me. You're cutting off the
blood to my arm!"
Daniel asked the lady her name.
"I am Brrrünnhilde," she said, waving her arm
aloft in a proud flourish.
"That name rings a bell," Arthur said with furrowed
brow. "Wasn't she the dizzy bint that worked in that pub on the Balls Pond
Road?" Ford asked, clicking his fingers. "You know - the - the - The
Goat and Compasses."
"No, that was Hildegarde, the music student from
"Do you have The Ring?" Brünnhilde demanded.
"Er, ring...?" Daniel mentally ran through the
Teutonic myths. "Ah, that wouldn't be the Ring of the Nibelungs, would
"Yes, my husband, The Rrring!" Brünnhilde
"Um, no. Sorry."
"Then you must go and get it." Brünnhilde
didn't seem like the patient type, nor one to suffer fools gladly.
"Excuse me?" Daniel's voice had taken on a hard
edge. "I suppose you want me to slay the dragon too?"
"But of course." Brünnhilde gave him a hard
stare then looked around. "I presume one of your minions has Notung?"
"Minions?!" Jack and Zaphod said as one, then scowled
at each other.
"Notung?" chorused everyone else except the
Daniel shrugged. "Magic sword."
He turned to Brünnhilde and growled. "No, I don't
have Notung and I see no reason why I should kill Fafner. He hasn't done me any
harm. That's the dragon," he added before anyone asked.
"But how else will you get The Ring?" she asked,
less hectoring in her manner. Sam suspected she wasn't used to having anyone
treat her arrogance with such disdain.
"I have no need of a sword," Daniel said in quelling
Brünnhilde backed off a little. "Ah, so manly, so
forceful So virrrile," she sighed lustfully. "My Hero..."
Jack wouldn't have been surprised to see little bluebirds and
winged hearts fluttering round her head and her eyes spinning round. Movement
in his eye corner made him turn to the scarecrow. He was wrapping his arms
around each other and wearing a similar sort of goo-goo expression, but without
"Ain't love grand," Sam said acidly.
"I am not your hero," Daniel scowled.
"I'm not anybody's hero. Now where's the cave?"
"Cave?" Ford asked.
"Yes. Fafner lives in a cave. He was once a giant who
built Valhalla with his brother, Fasolt. He turned himself into a dragon the
better to guard the hoard of gold which includes the ring "
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up a bit there, Earthman,"
Zaphod broke in, eyes glittering like Brünnhilde's, but motivated by a
different deadly sin. "Did you say go-old?"
Daniel sighed heavily. "Yes. It belongs to the
"So?" Zaphod asked, not seeing the problem.
"So, it's stolen."
"What's your point, Earthman?"
"It's cursed. The first thing Fafner did, when Wotan paid them with
the stolen Rheingold, was to club his brother to death so he could have
all the gold for himself. And stop calling me Earthman. My name's
He grunted as two sharp points dug into his back. Brünnhilde was trying
to spoon up behind him. "Mmm, so masterful..." she purred.
Daniel moved carefully away from her. Jack looked at her breastplate and
"She could have someone's eye out with those things,"
"Mm," Sam said, a speculative gleam in her eye.
"No, Carter. Not gonna happen."
"What isn't, sir?"
"You are not going to have one of... those things. You'll
have kevlar like everyone else."
Sam gave him a sullen look that segued into calculating.
"I could make one myself... with a little help from Sergeant Siler. I have
some spare "
"Just no, Carter."
"So, how about we go get the gold... " Zaphod
"Did you not hear what I just said? It. Is. Cursed.
Nobody's going to touch the gold."
"But what about My Ring?" Brünnhilde wasn't
giving up that easily either.
"Ye-es, the ring," Daniel mused. "I think we're
going to have to do something about that. Okay, er - Wife - you'd better take
me to the cave."
Brünnhilde led the group along a path through the woods.
They'd only been walking some ten minutes when, somebody - the scarecrow? -
asked, "Are we nearly there yet?"
Daniel stopped, raised one hand and turned around to face the
motley crew. "I think you guys had better wait here while Brünnhilde
and I go on ahead and get this thing done."
"Oh, no ya don't, Daniel. Not letting you out of my
"Silence, Minion!" Brünnhilde bellowed."
Jack looked liked he'd been slapped in the face with a wet
Daniel winced. "Not right in my ear er, Dear. The
point is," he went on, "With all the racket you're making, we have
approximately zero chance of sneaking up on Fafner "
"Sneaking, Beloved?" Brünnhilde apparently
thought that a true Hero would announce his presence with great bravado and as
much noise as possible, then challenge the dragon to a fight to the death with
a view to flashy sword play or hand-to-claw combat.
Daniel sighed. "Look, I told you. I am not a hero, but I
can do this. Just trust me, okay?" Brünnhilde looked
"The rest of you, stay here. Ah! No Jack. You look after
the scarecrow. Or are you trying to say that I need protecting more than he
does? Think carefully before you answer..." He looked at the scarecrow.
"It's a fire-breathing dragon, you know."
The scarecrow shrieked and threw himself into Jack's arms.
While Jack was thus distracted, Daniel grabbed Brünnhilde's hand and
disappeared into the trees followed by a despairing "Dammit, Daniel!"
O'Neill turned to Teal'c. "I don't suppose there's any
chance of Thor turning up and fixing this?"
Teal'c shook his head. "Daniel Jackson says that Thor
belongs to the Norse pantheon. The tale of the Rheinmaidens is Teutonic.
Similar, but different."
Jack looked at him suspiciously. "You been taking lessons,
"Indeed, O'Neill. Daniel Jackson is a most interesting and
accomplished teacher, as you would know if you listened now and again,"
Teal'c said severely.
"I do listen," Jack said, looking crushed.
It took about half an hour to reach the cave. Brünnhilde
had set a blistering pace despite her large size.
"Wait here, um, Honey," Daniel said, getting a less
than adoring look from Brünnhilde. "I'll be right back. Trust
As an afterthought, he added, "I'm a doctor," then
crept into the cave.
"Teal'c, you're on," Jack said, reorganizing his
scarecrow and removing a piece of straw from between his teeth.
Teal'c bowed sedately, then went about tracking Daniel's trail,
or rather, Brünnhilde's; it was wider. The rest followed on in a long
crocodile. Jack, with the apprehensive scarecrow hanging on his arm was,
perforce watching Arthur Dent's six.
"Look, I keep telling you, there are no such things as
dragons," he told the witless wonder. "Well, unless you count the
komodo dragon. Which isn't really a dragon. Just a big lizard - and they do not
breathe fire. They just have very bad breath..."
The scarecrow looked like he wanted to believe this but
couldn't quite manage it.
"Oh, fer crying out loud," Jack grunted, fed up with
the constant drag on his arm. He picked the scarecrow up, and threw him over
his shoulder, fireman-style, then jogged after Arthur.
He caught up with the rest as they arrived outside the cave
only a couple of minutes after Daniel had disappeared into it. Brünnhilde
was staring into the inky darkness with a kind of manic eagerness that Sam
found distinctly ghoulish.
"Looks like one of the «trichoteuses» doesn't
she?" Trillian said.
"What?" Ford asked.
"The women who used to gather round the guillotine in the
French Revolution and knit while they waited for the next aristo's head to drop
into the basket."
"Nice," Zaphod murmured.
"They'd have to build a special guillotine for you,"
was Arthur's snide comment.
Jack did a quick head count and came up one light. "Okay,
"My hero?" Brünnhilde asked, not taking her
eyes from the cave mouth. "He has gone to fight the"
"Aht! Don't say the 'D' word!" Jack ordered, patting
the scarecrow soothingly, he hoped, on the back... Butt.
"The 'D' word?" Brünnhilde looked puzzled for a
moment. "Oh, you mean 'Dra' "
A large chocolate-brown hand cut off the rest of the word.
"You are welcome O'Nei" His jaws clenched as
Brünnhilde bit his hand. He was tempted for a moment to use the
neck-breaking head-twist maneuver, but figured he'd never hear the end of it if
he killed another of Daniel's wives.
A dull red glow came from the cave. Fortunately, as Jack was
facing the cave, the scarecrow didn't see it. A flock of black creatures flew
out in their hundreds a few seconds later.
"Holy Batcave, Robin!" Sam exclaimed.
There followed a multi-colored light show in red, yellow and
blue from within, then the cave settled back into its usual dark, silent mode.
The silence spread through the group congregated outside, all eyes focused on
Daniel casually strolled out to the sound of a collective
exhalation of breath. Brünnhilde broke away from Teal'c.
"Is the " she eyed Teal'c warily. "Is
"Ah, not dead, exactly, but the dragon is no more."
"And have you got The Ring?"
In reply, Daniel stretched out his arm and opened his fingers
to reveal a heavy gold ring.
Brünnhilde reached out for it, eyes alight, saying,
Daniel's fingers closed over the ring again. "Uh-uh. This
is not for you, Sweetheart," he said, manipulating something that looked
like many small gold rings all fastened together. Golden chain-mail? Then he
disappeared in a fizz of sparks.
Uproar ensued. Everyone exclaimed in surprise. Everyone
expressed wonder. Everyone wanted to know where he'd gone - and how he'd done
As the clamor died down, a discorporate voice said, "If I
could have your attention please...?"
"Daniel? Dammit! Where are you?"
"Doesn't matter, Jack. I have a little job to do and I
have to do it alone. Trust me."
"'Trust me.' He keeps saying 'Trust me',"
Brünnhilde whined, "but The Ring - My Ring! Where is My Ring?
I want My Ring - My Precious Ring! I wantsit." She stamped her
foot. "I wants it now. Give me My Prrrecious!"
An immense roar cut her off in mid-tantrum. The ground shook
beneath their feet, then shook again. And again.
"Uh-oh," Sam muttered. She'd been paying attention to
Daniel's earlier lecture on Teutonic mythology.
"What's the matter Earthgirl?"
"Fafner isn't dead... 'but the dragon is no
"So?" Zaphod persisted.
"Weren't you listening? Fafner was originally a
"A what?" He turned to see what Sam was looking at.
The glass in his shades instantly turned opaque black.
As giants go, Fafner was a mighty specimen, at least fifteen
feet tall and very probably more. He glared threateningly around then smote the
ground with an immense club six or seven feet long and with a girth to match
He opened his mouth and bellowed, "SOMEBODY STOLE MY PRECIOUSSSS
UNGHK...?!" then toppled slowly backward.
He hit the ground with a thud that probably rated at least six
on the Richter scale. Fafner may have had loud a voice, but Jack's P90 had
Zaphod's shades reverted to normal. He looked at Jack, then at
the fallen giant, then back to Jack again.
"Well, let's hear it for Jack the Giant-Killer!"
Brünnhilde gave him a long, scary stare. "My
"Oh no! No, no no! Not me." Jack backed away.
"Come on, folks, spread out. We have to find Daniel before he does
something really stupid."
"Yes, find Daniel," Brünnhilde agreed. "He
has my "
"And if the word 'precious' crosses your lips again,
you'll be joining Frat-boy there. Capiche?"
Invisible or not, Daniel had still left a trail that Teal'c
could follow. For half a mile, he had zigzagged through the trees, but then
returned to the wide track of dead leaves which speeded up the march.
Forty minutes later, the track came out of the trees at the top
of a low cliff, fringed by bushes, overlooking a wide flat-bottomed valley.
Narrower paths ran along the edge of the cliff to left and right.
There, at the top of the cliff, Daniel's trail seemed to
have come to an end. The party spread out and gazed across the valley below
It looked like it had been subjected to slash-and-burn clearances, and was
covered with large, jagged, grey and black spoil heaps, with here and there,
In the distance, at the head of the valley, smoke was issuing from a
volcano, and feeding a large black cloud above it. Furthermore, the valley was
swarming with armed and armored aliens. Fortunately they hadn't seemed to
notice the interlopers.
Jack took out his 'scope and scanned the valley. On the plus
side, the ugly-looking aliens were armed mostly with clubs and mediaeval
weapons; the downside was that there had to be at least a thousand of them.
"Dammit, where's a cultural expert when you need on?"
"He hasn't been captured has he, sir?"
"If he has, I can't see him."
"We could not see him before, O'Neill."
"Well, that's all right then. If we can't see him, neither
can they," Ford said.
"Can we go now?" Zaphod whined. "I'm getting
"Certainly not. Not without My Ri "
Brünnhilde gave Jack a sideways look. "Husband."
"We must come up with a plan, O'Neill."
"Yeah, Teal'c, but I'm clean out of ideas." He looked
around his companions hoping someone might have something to contribute but
came up empty.
"I know, why not go straight on to Plan B," Ford
suggested. "Plan B always works."
Sam gave him a withering look. "Before you have a plan B,
you have to have a plan A. Which we don't have."
Marvin suddenly found everyone staring at him. "Don't look
at me. I'm a robot, not a miracle worker."
"Yes, but as you keep saying, you have a brain the size
of a planet," Arthur pointed out. "All we're asking you to do is use
"I am still calculating the answer to your last
question." Marvin replied in aggrieved tones.
"Well, it can't be that difficult, can it?" Zaphod
said, wrapping an encouraging arm around the android.
"Yes it can. And it is."
"Ok, my mechanoid friend. So how long's it going to
"You remember when you left me behind on Magrathea?"
"What? You have abandonment issues now?"
Marvin ploughed on. "And I waited for you for
Zaphod sighed. "Yeah."
"Longer than that."
Jack shivered suddenly and held his arm across his eyes as if
to ward off something very unpleasant. The moment passed and he let his arm
drop. He looked unnaturally pale.
"Are you all right, sir?"
"Didn't anybody else get that?" Jack asked slowly,
looking round at his companions. "Apparently not," he concluded,
taking in the blank looks.
"What was that, O'Neill?"
"A big... eye - fiery eye... Looking straight at me.
Inside my mind... I think we're being watched. Somehow."
Jack pulled out his 'scope and scanned along the valley again.
At the far end, black gates were opening in a black curtain wall around a
sinister black building. Several riders were emerging therefrom and the
creatures they were riding certainly weren't horses.
"What the" he exclaimed as the beasts took to
the air, flying straight towards them. "Looks like we've got
"Oh?" Zaphod said with apparent nonchalance.
"He means 'company' as in 'trouble,' Sam translated.
"Well, why didn't you say so?" he demanded, backing
off into the trees. "Let's get out of here."
"Not without Daniel," Jack said.
"But we don't know where he is!" Zaphod protested.
"Yes, we do."
"Oh yeah? Where?" Zaphod made an exaggerated play of
looking all around.
"Wherever there's trouble, he's usually right in the
middle of it," Sam explained. "He's drawn to it like iron filings to
Jack ground his teeth. "As a rule, he's right up to his
neck in it," he said, taking cover behind a convenient boulder and
levelling his P90 at the in-comers.
Everyone else took cover as the black riders, for want of a
better description, flew rapidly down the valley towards them. However, before
they were close enough to fire on, they turned abruptly and hurtled back the
way they'd just come.
"Well that was... odd," Jack muttered, and 'scoped
up the valley again. "Oh, shit!"
Before anyone could ask what the trouble was now, the
volcano answered the question for them, spewing out fiery lava and belching out
more smoke than ever. As the little group looked on in horror, the ugly-looking
aliens dropped everything, took to their heels and fled in disarray.
"Oh god! I hope that thing doesn't produce pyroclastic
flows," Sam said, horrified.
"Produce what?" asked Arthur. "Pyroclastic
flows. A pyroclastic flow is a cloud of pulverized rock and hot gases - around
five hundred degrees. It flows along the ground destroying everything in its
"Then we'd better get back to the ship, sharpish,"
Arthur said, eyes wide in terror.
"Too late for that," Trillian said, looking glum.
"What? Why? It's not that far away."
"Pyroclastic flows travel at over a hundred miles an hour
and if there's also a nuée ardente - a cloud of super-heated gases -
tagging along for the ride," Trillian continued relentlessly, "they
can reach eight hundred degrees and three hundred miles an hour. So if
we'd started running half an hour ago, we still wouldn't make it back to the
ship in time..."
The scarecrow collapsed into a gibbering heap, clinging to
Jack's ankles, and Zaphod's anti-panic glasses turned black again. The rest
stared up the valley as if collective will-power alone could stave off