Teyla steps from the cold blue chill of Atlantis into a lush green wood and immediately takes a deep breath. It's early summer on Renga and the air's filled with the rich scent of humus and the electric hum of insects. It's just as she remembers it, unlikely though that is, and that feeling of familiarity makes her cautious. The air has that particular stillness that sometimes follows the activation of the gate, but as time lengthens and no other disturbance is forthcoming, the wood gradually returns to its business, unseen animals rooting through the leaf litter, birds chittering overhead, the knock of branches off in the distance.
"We good?" John asks, coming up beside her to face in the opposite direction.
She sees no signs of distress or warning carved into the tall white trees that surround the gate and feels nothing but health and industry in the energy of the air and soil, unspoiled by the buzz and hunger of the Wraith. She nods. "I believe so."
"Cool," John says.
She takes point for the walk to the village and John and Ronon fan out behind her, the three of them keeping Rodney tucked safely between them while he trudges along, eyes trained on the small assay device he calls an AAGS and John calls The Sniffer. John does so now and Rodney talks over the top of him until he stops, and then keeps on talking, offering reports on the mineral composition of the soil, complaints about the uneven ground, and an ongoing review of the tiny birds scolding them from the trees. Ronon teases John about something he said at breakfast and Rodney has an opinion on that, as well, and shares it. John says something that makes Ronon and Rodney laugh. Teyla flicks a bug off her neck.
As they get further away from the gate, the little birds become more agitated, uttering shrill warning cries and a few even diving at their heads. Rodney's bird updates develop a sense of urgency.
"Uh, do I need to be worried about this?" John asks, one arm held over his head.
Rodney is considerably less sanguine, waving both arms over his head wildly. "How are you even asking that question? Is it just now occurring to you that your eyes might be pecked out by a mob of hungry murder birds with needle-sharp beaks? I saw this coming fifteen minutes ago!"
"Should've said something," Ronon says. Rodney splutters and Teyla suppresses a sigh. Rodney might think Ronon's joking, but Teyla had been listening and though he'd said plenty, he hadn't voiced that particular fear or she would have assured him he was in no danger of having his eyes pecked out.
"There's no need for concern," she says. "The birds won't attack unless we disturb their nest and this aggressive behavior will cease once we leave their territory."
"Stay out of the trees," John says. "Got it."
"There." Ronon stops and points up at a woven structure high in the branches. It's egg shaped and many times larger than the birds themselves, made from their curly white feathers and long strips of pale, papery bark, and fitted with multiple entrances, some occupied by suspicious bird faces.
"Bird condo," John says inexplicably.
"Hah," Rodney says, pointing The Sniffer at it as he hurries past. "The xenobiologists are going to be so jealous."
A few minutes later the birds are satisfied with their work and return to perching in the trees and emitting the occasional screech. Rodney similarly seems to be over the experience, though also emits the occasional screech.
They cross a stream. The air is warmer here and Teyla can tell they're nearing the edge of the wood. She remembers it from her trips here as an adolescent, the way the trees grow almost too close together and then stop suddenly, all at once, and the land opens up into a vast plain that stretches to the horizon, the sky unrolling above them in a brilliant, unbroken blue.
The sight momentarily silences Rodney's stream of reports, and Teyla stops there in the tall grass, her team coming around her to form a loose circle of four. She thought they could pause here to compose their greeting to the people of Renga, but her teammates don't appear to have reached this understanding.
"You want us to <em>what</em>?" Rodney demands.
She glances at John to confirm that Rodney truly requires further instruction and isn't just being purposely difficult to avoid having to contribute. John gives her half a shrug. Even knowing John as well as she does, this could mean anything. She closes her eyes and takes a steadying breath before replying. It would reflect badly on her if she abandoned her patience so early in the day.
"Before we enter the village, we must prepare a greeting poem that honors our hosts and their home," she says, for what is surely the fifth time.
Rodney makes an aggrieved face and checks his chronometer. Ronon looks into the distance and runs a hand over his head, newly shorn to mark their return home. Only John is still, hands stacked on top of his P90 where it hangs from his vest. "Now, I heard you say that before," he says, "but I was thinking we'd just pass them a note that says, 'Hi, nice planet, wanna talk?'"
Rodney scowls at him. "We're trying to trade with them, not pick them up in a bar."
"Who doesn't like their planet being complimented?" John protests. "Tell me that wouldn't work on you."
"A poem," Rodney says now, ignoring John. He pulls his tablet from the back of his vest with a rip of velcro and starts poking at the screen. "We can use something from the database. They'll never know."
Teyla stares straight ahead. Over Rodney's shoulder, beyond the plain of gently waving grasses, is a craggy mountain range, its distant peaks covered with ice and snow. A great bird soars above them, broad wings stretched wide. Of all Renga's many birds, this is her favorite, and in the midst of the morning's frustrations it feels like a gift.
"Hm, I know I've got some Shakespeare on here because I used it to bribe those linguists on MX4-356 with the Ancient library," Rodney says. "Something something summer's day? That could work."
"No," she says.
"Yeah, who wants to deal with that. Maybe I've got something more modern."
"We must compose it ourselves," Teyla says, also for the fifth time. The mountain bird dips its wings and circles lower.
"She said no, McKay," John says, following Teyla's gaze and squinting in the sun.
Rodney groans and lets his head fall backwards. "Can't you do it? You know more about this than we do."
"As I said before," Teyla says, again, "I have already offered my greeting to the people of Renga."
"It's just a poem," John says to Rodney. "How hard can it be?"
"It obviously can't be that hard, going by the poets I've had the misfortune of meeting," Rodney says, scrolling through his files. "I'm just looking for some inspiration."
John tilts his head to the side and says: "Hey folks, nice planet you've got. Do you mind if we sit here and talk about rocks?"
"Unbelievable," Rodney mutters, still scrolling.
"What? It rhymes."
"Why would you want rocks?" Ronon asks.
"Naquadah's a kind of rock," John says.
Rodney's head snaps up. "Shut your mouth," he says. "First of all—"
Teyla imagines she is the mountain bird soaring high above, its powerful wings riding the thermal winds. It circles lower, its attention fixed on something in the grass. The winds shift and the bird drops into a steep dive, giving a piercing cry as it plunges into the tall grass. A moment of struggle and the bird rises up out of the field, talons clutched around one of the long, sinuous rodents that live in the ground.
Ronon makes a tsking sound. "That's no greeting verse. You need all five houses or it's no good."
John and Rodney break off their bickering to stare at Ronon. Teyla has a brief spark of hope that the greeting will be produced and this journey might resume before the season turns and the gate goes dry.
"That wasn't in the briefing," Rodney says flatly, confirming Teyla's suspicions that he was being intentionally difficult earlier. She exchanges a look with John, who gives her a shrug of apology and pulls out his sunglasses. Ronon plucks them from his hand.
"Hey," John says.
Ronon grins. "Watch and learn, frogs."
"Hey!" Rodney says, louder, probably more bothered by the suggestion that there's something he doesn't know than by the insult.
Ronon puts on the sunglasses, plants his feet, and points at John. "Something you see right now."
John looks around him like he doesn't know where he is or how he got there. "Green?"
Ronon shakes his head in disbelief, but points two fingers at Rodney next. "A feeling."
"I'm definitely feeling like I should have gone back for extra sausages at breakfast," Rodney says, looking suddenly troubled. "Do you think this thing is going to be catered?" He pats down his pants pockets, then starts going through his vest.
When it's Teyla's turn, Ronon offers no guidance, just holds up three fingers.
"The mountain bird," she says firmly.
Ronon thinks for a while, legs braced, arms crossed behind his head, then says:
"Grass oceans wave
the mountain bird hungers
young summer morning."
Teyla feels a wave of peace wash over her, and she's reminded of the rightness of this team, their shared purpose, their strength and kindness and unexpected beauty.
"Nice," says John.
Rodney still has his tablet out, holding it in one hand while going through his vest pockets with the other. "Should we write it down? I have paper...somewhere."
"Nah," Ronon says, "I got it. But next time we have to sing, it's on you."
John and Rodney both groan now, complaining in concert about the sacred rituals of their trade partners, and Teyla takes a deep breath, like the mountain bird before it screams down atop its prey with talons spread. A breeze rustles through the grasses, rippling through like a wave and giving off the sweet smell of summer, and she releases her irritation, allowing the wind to lift her up again like the air lifts the mountain bird while it soars.
"It's a good poem," she says. "Thank you, Ronon."
Rodney finally finds what he was looking for and pulls it from his vest pocket with a happy hum. It's a small, slightly flattened tube of the colorful round chocolate candies his sister often sends him. "Smarties?" He passes the tube around. Teyla takes one—blue—and places it on her tongue to let it soften. The outer shell is chalky and sweet.
"I never got an answer about the food situation," Rodney says, crunching away on a mouthful of candies as they start walking again. "And this village—exactly how far away is it? Because it's hotter than I expected it to be. Also, we need to talk about your abysmal grasp of what constitutes poetry, Sheppard."
"There once was a man from Nantucket," John begins.
"No!" Rodney cries, far too loudly, and a clutch of startled peafowl flap up from the tall grass, followed by John's honking laughter and Ronon's low chuckles.
Teyla bites into the chocolate and gazes up at the mountain bird, soaring far above them in the warm summer sky. It's going to be a long day.