icon by samantilles
My thanks to the 23 authors who made Bra'tac (and Jaffa) Alphabet Soup a reality: 11am_street, Aelfgyfu, Beatrice Otter, Cantarina, Fig Newton, GateGremlyn, Iamnomad, JediButtercup, Lolmac, Magistrate, Paian, Random, Rbmi_fan, Rinkafic, Sallymn, Samantilles, Sela21k, Sid, Stringertheory, Thothmes, Traycer, Wendybnyc, and Wonderland. An extra warm welcome to our new cooks, iamnomad, cantarina1, and wendybnyc, and special thanks to Gategremlyn, Thothmes, and Traycer, who wrote backup letters after the last minute for us!
Enjoy some 26,000 words of Bra'tac (and Jaffa) Alphabet Soup! Story lengths range from 200 words to just over 2,600. Ratings range from G to PG-13. Expect spoilers from pre-series through post-series, including canon character deaths.
Story text is as written by the authors, but minor HTML coding has been changed (removal of smart quotes, for example) and scene breaks have been altered to allow for more uniformity in page style.
Readers are strongly encouraged to follow the links to the authors' individual journals and leave feedback.
A is for Ashrak
An odd silence plagued the Court of Apophis, stifling even the rumors which would have explained why. Bra'tac had been First Prime long enough to distrust such silences, especially when he was summoned out of one to a secret meeting with his lord.
He entered Apophis's throneroom with, as ever, little idea what to expect. What he saw offered little in the way of explanation: Apophis on his throne, expression repulsed and intrigued, and a figure kneeling before him, so motionless as to seem dead.
"Bra'tac," Apophis greeted as Bra'tac bowed. "How fares the battle on the Line of Cabrakan?"
Bra'tac did not allow his curiosity to show. Curiosity was not a trait the Goa'uld valued in their servants. "Well, my lord. Lord Zipacna shows his loyalty to you thrice over in his attempts to take the seven systems. Your own Jaffa have laid down their lives rather than see you lose a single lightminute of your won space."
"Well that they do so," Apophis said. "And well that Zipacna's aim remains true. It is a matter of loyalty for which I have called you forth."
A deep foreboding grew in Bra'tac's chest, but he allowed none of it to touch his face. Matters of loyalty in the court of Apophis generally went rank in file with executions. "My lord?"
Apophis gestured to the figure before him, and for a moment slipped into the higher tongue of court and Ra. "Monthu, long a thorn in our side, has surrendered to us his territories at last," he said. "To escape our wrath, he has offered us a gift to show his eternal loyalty to our being." Then, once again in lower Goa'uld: "An ashrak."
At that, Bra'tac did go stiff.
Ashraks were storied and rarely seen, and there was more rumor than fact circulating about them. It was said that they were spat out of the Stargates, born of the chill between stars. That they ate dead spirits on their way to the afterworld. It was said that the symbiotes they carried were from a lost, primeval bloodline which predated Ra. It was said they were dead already, and thus could not be killed. Bra'tac had more experience of ashraks than most, and even he didn't know all the truth of them.
How a small planetary lordling like Monthu, however clever his resistance had been, had secured the services of an ashrak was beyond Bra'tac. As was the reason he had chosen to make the ashrak a tribute rather than employ him to bring Apophis down.
Carefully, Bratac formed the words: "What do you wish of me?"
Apophis seemed to enjoy Bra'tac's unease. He always had. "I would like you to prove Monthu's sincerity to me."
An odd request. And a dangerous one. Bra'tac allowed his eyebrows to rise. "How may I do so, my lord?"
Apophis gestured over the ashrak. "You may take this hunter and see Monthu dead."
They were to leave on a tel'tak and travel to Menouthis, the planet which Monthu had made his throneworld. Menouthis had at one point likely been a habitable world, but historical bombardments had left the skies a choked, dusty grey, and the surface a pitted ruin.
It seemed to suit Monthu, though, as Monthu was completely uninterested in being hospitable.
Although he'd been the target of Apophis' ambitions for years now, and although his forces had rendered stiff resistance to Apophis' fleet, Monthu himself was never seen. His orders came through his First Prime, through untraceable transmissions, through anything except a face-to-face command. His palace had bustled with sub-commanders and priests, but sat atop a system of sensor-scattering tunnels which riddled the entire crust of his world. Even when Monthu had bowed before Apophis and offered his surrender and subservience, he had done so remotely.
Forty-seven ring transporters dotted the caverns of Menouthis, and the ashrak, without explanation, indicated one. He and Bra'tac ringed down into a wide, dark corridor, and began their hunt. The ashrak led.
He walked without recalcitrance or eagerness. Bra'tac followed, ready for battle, but hearing nothing but silence and their own footsteps and breathing. It was a strange, cool affair, and after several corners, Bra'tac said "This is a strange place for a god to hide."
The ashrak surprised him by answering, "Yes."
"The warren of a prey animal."
They walked for a few more strides.
"Does it trouble you to hunt your old master?" Bra'tac asked.
The ashrak blew out breath, like a hunting dog. "I have never been troubled."
"It is not a concern of ashraks."
"Nor excitement?" Bra'tac asked. "Anticipation?"
"He will die. Death does not excite me."
Bra'tac turned his attention away from the halls, for a moment, focusing instead on his companion. He could sense the symbiote within the hunter, but had he not that sense, he would never have taken him for a Goa'uld.
"So. What is your name? Hm?" He studied the ashrak's face. "Do you have a name?"
The ashrak said nothing else. Bra'tac rested both hands on his staff weapon. "I am Bra'tac of Chulak. By what name are you known?"
"I am known most frequently by orak," the ashrak said. Abomination. "By name, I am Bakhu."
The ashrak seemed to have endless stamina. Bra'tac was nearing his middle age, but even so, he could sustain a march as long as the freshest of young Jaffa. But the ashrak outlasted him, until he was forced to call a halt. How long they'd been in the tunnels, Bra'tac couldn't say.
They settled down in an unremarkable corner, like any number of unremarkable corners before, and Bra'tac wondered how Bakhu knew his way. Or whether he was just wandering, waiting for his Jaffa companion to die, possibly of old age.
Not that Bakhu couldn't kill him, easily, if he'd wanted him dead.
"Do you eat?" Bra'tac asked, and the ashrak stared at him. His eyes were pale, without glint or glow. "No? Drink?"
"When it suits me."
Bra'tac drew his pack from under his cloak, and withdrew a canteen of water and a flat ration. He offered them to Bakhu, but Bakhu didn't move. After a few long seconds, Bra'tac allowed a small hmph to escape his throat. "As it suits you."
He ate, and the ashrak watched him. It was discomfiting. But, on another hand, simply bewildering -- here was a Goa'uld, a symbiote-controlled host, sitting and waiting for a lowly Jaffa. This was not the usual order of things.
The Goa'uld had no respect for silence or subservience, and the only loyalty they trusted was that born of fear and the promise of reward. Little wonder that an ashrak like Bakhu endured slurs like orak -- he was like as not perverse, in Goa'uld eyes. His very existence was evidence of a corruption in the genetic lines.
And yet, ashraks were capable of feats of endurance and brutality which put First Primes and Goa'uld alike to shame. Bra'tac had seen, now and then, Goa'uld who took to the battlefields with their troops, there to revel in the blood and desperation. He had never seen one half so deadly, or invulnerable, as the stories of a single ashrak.
And now such a killer was crouched before him, eyes hard and unkind but devoid of insult. Bakhu moved with the grace of a hunter, but had not, even kneeling before Apophis, moved to increase his own station.
Bewildering was one word for it.
Bra'tac finished his water and ration, and clipped the pack back under his cloak. "A question, if I may."
Bakhu didn't say he might not.
Bra'tac exhaled. "Where is your loyalty?"
There was no hesitation. Bakhu answered as though the answer was self-evident, like the temperature of the air or the color of the walls. "It has been given to my lord Apophis."
"Even the most trusted underlord retains some loyalty for himself," Bra'tac said.
"I am no underlord," Bakhu replied. "I am an ashrak."
"True," Bra'tac said.
After a moment, while he tried to think of another question and another way to phrase it, he was again surprised when Bakhu spoke. "Where is your loyalty?"
"I am the First Prime of Lord Apophis," Bra'tac said. "Where else could my loyalty lie but with him?"
The ashrak didn't answer, but Bra'tac got the sense that the answer to that question was considered self-evident as well.
"I know where my loyalty lies," Bra'tac said. And if Bakhu had guessed it... what would he do? "But you... you confound me."
The ashrak looked unimpressed.
"To have the power to make the gods tremble," Bra'tac began.
"I am no threat to your lord," Bakhu said. "An ashrak has never turned against the hand that wields it." He turned, then, and the slitted eyes of his helm seemed to single Bra'tac out. "The same has not always been said for Jaffa."
"The Jaffa are the most loyal of all the servant races," Bra'tac said, and was interrupted.
"The Jaffa will rarely rebel," Bakhu said. "The ashrak never will."
"Why is that?" Bra'tac asked.
"Because we are ashrak," Bakhu said. "It is written in our blood." He nodded, as though that had settled matters. "If you must rest, Jaffa, then rest. It is still a ways to the hiding place of Monthu."
When Bra'tac roused from kel'no'reem, Bakhu was still watching him. It was unnerving, made even more so by the fact that Bakhu had made no attempt to either rouse him or attack. Bra'tac had only allowed himself to meditate for a few hours, but felt rebuked, nonetheless.
He stood, and would have snuffed out the fire with his boot had they built one. "Onward," he said. "Have you an estimate of our distance from Monthu?"
"Miles yet," Bakhu said.
"Then lead," said Bra'tac, and Bakhu led. On they marched, through corridors remarkable in their alikeness, until they came to a great door.
Bakhu stopped, and nodded to them. "His chambers," he said.
The door was unadorned and reinforced. Bra'tac looked it over, then went to the controls to open it. A quick inspection revealed that they had been nonfunctional for some time -- decades, perhaps. "Monthu must not entertain many visitors."
Bakhu pushed him aside, not unkindly, and set to work on the wiring. Bra'tac watched him, holding his staff weapon ready; who knew what sort of defenses such a recluse might employ?
But the door groaned open, after a while, without fanfare, and nothing shot or sprang at them from beyond. The air in the hidden chambers was stale, and the furnishings old. Even the gurgle of water, fed from some far-underground spring, did nothing to dispel the atmosphere of ruin.
Bra'tac stepped in, expecting to see the place long abandoned, and instead saw Monthu in a corner: a strange, nervous Goa'uld whose host seemed to be weathering the millennia poorly. His skin was wrinkled, his eyes pale and clouded. Even the clothes Monthu wore were threadbare, with long rips no one had mended. Bra'tac was taken aback; one rarely saw a Goa'uld in such disarray. They were vain to the last, and even in hiding were known to sacrifice their own safety to ensure the acquisition of slaves and the proper maintenance of their sarcophagi. Seeing this ruin of a planetary lord, Bra'tac felt something almost like shame. Almost like pity.
Monthu opened his mouth to speak.
And said nothing; Bakhu had raised a hand, and some small, jeweled thing in his palm shot red light and struck Monthu in the throat. The Goa'uld crumpled, eyes wide in shock, fixed in death.
"It is done," Bakhu said; "your lord will be pleased."
Bra'tac looked at the corpse, and thought how small a thing, how petty, was the execution of this god. How unnecessary to send a great hunter to kill a cringing, unguarded Goa'uld.
How like Apophis.
"How long had he hidden here?" Bra'tac asked.
Bakhu turned and strode out the door. "Who can know."
"As Apophis harried him, and his Jaffa died for him," Bra'tac said, and stepped quickly to draw even with him. "In a tomb of his own devising. Do you feel nothing?"
"I have never been known to."
Little was said on the march away from the bunker, or when they rested, or when they marched back to the rings. Surely, Bra'tac thought, there would be songs of this quiet little mission, painted by the imaginations of those who thought a First Prime and an ashrak would never be wasted on a task so meaningless. These would be the same bards who sang of the infinite glory and wisdom of Apophis.
At the rings, as he had been instructed to do, Bra'tac took his subspace communicator from his pack and activated it. Apophis was at his leisure; there was little wait before the surface cleared into an image of Apophis's face. "Speak."
"My lord. Lord Monthu is dead." Bra'tac refrained from saying that it was a death without contest or glory, which turned little credit to Apophis's name.
Apophis smiled. "Good," he said. "There was no trouble to delay you?"
"None whatsoever," Bra'tac said. "The ashrak knew the path to Lord Monthu's lair. Lord Monthu, true to his word, had surrendered even the vestiges of his personal guard. None opposed us."
Apophis nodded. "Then return home, my First Prime," he said. "And kill the ashrak. I have no need for a beast who will turn on his masters."
The transmission washed out.
Bra'tac held the transmitter for a moment longer, then turned back to Bakhu. The ashrak was still regarding him, and no expression crossed his features.
"Your lord has commanded," Bakhu said.
"Am I to believe you would allow me to kill you?" Bra'tac asked.
Bakhu remained silent.
"I could do little without your allowance," Bra'tac said. "I might be the first Jaffa ever to slay an ashrak."
"You would not be the first," Bakhu said.
"You care nothing, even for your own life," Bra'tac said. He shook his head. "This is the ideal the Jaffa are taught we must rise to, and here my lord Apophis is, spitting on you for it."
"You do not intend to kill me," Bakhu observed.
Bra'tac considered that. "I had never dreamed that it would be in my power to spare the life of a Goa'uld. Even a Goa'uld orak. But you are entirely unlike a Goa'uld, my friend."
Bakhu was silent. Bra'tac had expected him to refute that -- say I am no one's friend, perhaps -- but instead, he did not deign to respond at all.
Bra'tac watched him, searching for reaction on a reactionless face. "I know I cannot order you, Bakhu. But I will not kill you. I would ask that you not bring this small disobedience to the attention of my lord."
"I would not give you the same courtesy," Bakhu said. "If you were my target, you would be dead."
"Perhaps," Bra'tac said. "Or perhaps 'most certainly'. But you are a rarity, and however I may regret this in times to come, I cannot kill you now. You should go."
And perhaps the day will come when you will slaughter Apophis and Ra, he thought, although he knew there was little chance of that. Even an ashrak had limits to its power, and Apophis and Ra had weathered many, many attempts on their lives before.
Still. It was a pleasant fantasy, and perhaps not entirely impossible.
"Where will you go?" Bra'tac asked, curious of what a creature like Bakhu might do with his freedom. But Bakhu said nothing, and in the end, it was Bra'tac who turned to leave.
B is for Bully
The other children call Bra'tac a smith's son, because that is what he is.
It is not meant kindly.
Bra'tac is too young to have his first prim'ta, a child by the definition of his god and his people, but he understands more than enough to know the shame these sons of warriors bring to those words.
Bra'tac throws himself at them in a rage. He strikes the first blow. He does not fight to protect his father's honour; he fights because he is afraid that they are right.
Later, his mother orders him out of his bloody clothes and takes care to clean his wounds of blood and dirt. Bra'tac squirms impatiently under her ministrations; if he had already received his prim'ta, it
would be so much simpler.
"He makes the lives of our people better," says his mother. She's gentle with him, but the split skin still stings. "There is no shame in that."
But of course she would say that. She is a wife defending her husband. That is her place.
Bra'tac is a smith's son, yes, and expected to learn his father's trade, but there has always been room among Apophis' warriors for any who can prove their ability.
C is for Courage
A Test of Courage
The test of courage was not an easy one to take on. Bra'tac stood next to his friend as Teal'c waged a valiant struggle to win against the Rite of M'al Sharran, a battle against forces that defeated many before him, and indeed, may still defeat Teal'c. But Bra'tac had his own war with the fear that rose up within his thoughts as he contemplated the fate of his people. Teal'c was strong, he told himself. He will survive this. Teal'c muttered in the silence as Bra'tac tried to stem the fear that rose up within him. His friend had to survive.
Teal'c spoke up at that moment and Bra'tac welcomed the interruption.
"I am dying old man," Teal'c told him in a furious whisper. "You could save me."
Bra'tac knew this to be true. He also knew that Teal'c possessed the strength to win on his own. "You must save yourself," he said. "Only then will you understand the true meaning of life, loyalty and purpose."
"You speak in riddles," Teal'c said with hatred in his eyes.
"You know of this ritual," Bra'tac responded. He had no time for this. Teal'c must live and Bra'tac leaned closer to make sure the Jaffa heard his words. "You must win or we let you die. You are no good to us as a slave to Apophis."
"I am his First Prime," Teal'c said with fierce pride. "I am not a slave."
Bra'tac did not respond. There was no need, for he knew that Teal'c would soon understand the reality of his worth. He watched with a solemn expression as the Jaffa fell back into the memory-filled dreams that would define his fate, then turned away with the intention of retiring to the room he was given, but stopped at the sight of Major Carter.
"Is he dying?" she asked.
There was no point in hiding the truth. "He may not survive."
She stared at him for a moment, then at the bed where Teal'c battled his demons. "It's just so hard," she said quietly.
"It takes a great deal of courage to watch a friend die."
She nodded as she turned to look at him then said, "Especially when that death is avoidable."
Bra'tac bowed his head in silent agreement. He could not argue the point. "He is strong and stubborn," he told her, then smiled slightly at the memories that came with that admission. "Very stubborn," he said with a great deal of emphasis.
She returned the smile, but not for long. He could see her pain as she said, "I just wish there was something we could do."
"This is a path he must follow on his own."
"Yeah, you've mentioned that already."
There seemed to be nothing more to say. Bra'tac thought of the room filled with candles, a nice setting for an old man to practice kel'no'reem. Perhaps he would spend more time in the comfort of the lights...
"What will you do if he dies?" Major Carter said quietly.
The question broke through Bra'tac's thoughts of kel'no'reem as effectively as if she had hit him over the head with a staff weapon. He stared at her for a moment, wondering if he would be able to hide the deep fears he harbored, fears that the rebellion against the false gods would die with Teal'c. "He may still survive," he said in response, stalling for a moment or two in order to collect his thoughts.
"But if he doesn't?"
He thought about it for another moment, then said, "The rebellion will go on. I will see to it." She nodded, but Bra'tac reigned in the strength he had relied on in the past. "If he were to live and remain loyal to Apophis, he is as good as dead to our cause, leaving the fate of our freedom to those that would keep us from finding it. If he dies in the process, he will leave behind a legacy of doubt among the Jaffa to push past the oppression we were forced to endure. Either way, the rebellion will continue." He turned to look at the Jaffa in the bed, realizing that the fear he dealt with as he watched his friend battle death was fading away. "We will not give up," he vowed to the Jaffa on the bed. He looked back at Major Carter and said, "Nor will Teal'c."
He bowed once again to her and turned to leave with the knowledge that he had conquered fear once again. The test of courage is not an easy one, but Bra'tac would always win. Fear was nothing to a Jaffa.
D is for Doubt
Doubt did not take him all at once.
Doubt and belief lived side by side in Bra'tac for many years before one emerged victorious. His belief was strong, an inheritance and a birthright. Whispered to him in his mother's womb, taught to him from birth, expected of him for life -- his faith in the Goa'uld ran deeper than the deepest naquadah mines. He felt it in every breath, in every heartbeat.
Had he been able to foresee it, Bra'tac would have expected the loss of his belief to be a catastrophic event. It would have rivaled the explosion of a planet or the tearing apart of a ha'tak. Like hot steel struck with a hammer, his belief would have shattered from its own strength. It was a bond he once thought only death would be able to break. Instead, he watched it slip away from him a little at a time, like sand trickling through fingers.
The battle was long and bitter. His belief did not go easily or quietly. But doubt was persistent, and took hold wherever it could.
It stuck to him like a burr under armor, a tiny irritation that grew with every movement, working its way into his skin. It burned there, just beneath the surface, a steady pulse of what if. Every time he stared across a field of battle, every time he received impossible orders, every time he knelt before his lord, doubt itched up and down his spine, a question unvoiced and deadly.
Bra'tac tried to ignore the stirrings of uncertainty, sure that they were signs of weakness. He feared such a weakness would show and strove to hide it under a hardened resolve, a firmer dedication. But it was nothing more than a fa?ade, a lie he told himself. From the time doubt took hold of him, there was no way to make it let go. Doubt was patient. It waited.
It fluttered in his chest like a wounded bird, and he hesitated. Every Jaffa that died became a personal wound, his failure not that of a warrior for his god, but of a leader for his people. The petty requests and foolish orders built one upon another, and his heart stuttered. Why became its beat, ticking away in him like a bomb.
Doubt coiled inside him like a second symbiote, writhing in his belly until he was sick with it. It whispered in his mind until he could not hear past the sound. Doubt crept through him slowly, expanding like a living thing, feeling its way along through the cracks in his resolve. It stretched inside him like a tree growing toward the light. Its roots ran deep, far into places within him he had not known existed. Bra'tac questioned, and began to find answers for himself.
Doubt filled him like a stream taking on flood waters. He fought against it in the beginning, clinging to his first truth like a rock amidst rapids. But doubt washed over his beliefs, wearing them down until there was nothing left.
Though it began to seem like a constant companion, doubt did not keep him forever. Doubt was not the destination, but the path from belief to belief, and one day Bra'tac found his belief was whole again.
He believed that the Goa'uld were not gods. He felt it in every heartbeat, in every breath. Doubt was quiet in him, and he knew he had found the truth.
From that day forward, doubt was something new. It was the specific light he recognized in the eyes of fellow Jaffa. It was tone of voice with which he reached out to them. It was a gauge by which he knew friend from foe. It was the grain of sand that tipped the scales. Doubt was no longer a feared weakness, but an old friend. It was the fuel of the rebellion that would one day bring all Jaffa to freedom.
Doubt was hope.
E is for Elegance
Bra'tac was in his third decade when he noticed it for the first time. Old enough to have experience; young enough to still be under a master's care, responsible only for his own actions and with no greater cares than survival to distract him. Old enough to understand what was happening beyond his own small corner of the battle, and young enough to be idealistic about it.
That delicate state did not last long, and he later came to realize it was as well he had seen it then, for he could not have earlier and would almost certainly not have later. But when he had seen thirty-four summers, he saw it, and it was the beginning of many things no one could have foreseen.
His lord and God Apophis was attacking Sokar's domain, in retaliation for a battle lost and in hopes of gaining control of the planet which was the main source of a certain rare type of fabric that was very valuable. Bra'tac did not know what the fabric was called, for it was too expensive for Jaffa or for slaves, and besides, it was enough that Apophis wanted it.
There were no ha'tak in orbit, though there were many Jaffa on the surface guarding Sokar's planet and the slaves who produced the fabric. Ha'tak were expensive; Jaffa were not. Apophis' Ha'tak arrived unheralded, surprising Sokar's Jaffa. It landed on a mountain near the main city (where Sokar's own ships no doubt landed) and disgorged its horde of Jaffa, Bra'tac among them.
In full armor, staff in hand, Bra'tac jogged towards the city, where he could see Sokar's Jaffa gathering against them. Above his head, death gliders wheeled and fought, but he paid them no mind. Awe-inspiring they might be--and his master had promised that he would learn how to fly them some day--but they were only a distraction in battle.
Bra'tac knew how the battle would go, for it would be like every other he had fought in, every other he had heard of. Apophis had landed his Jaffa. Sokar's Jaffa came out to meet them, and the two great armies would meet on a field. The stronger army would win.
This was all Bra'tac knew of war, and all his Master had ever said of it. Yet, as he ran towards the enemy Jaffa as he had done many times before, it occurred to Bra'tac that perhaps there might be some better way to fight. After all, he knew well that in a battle between individuals, skill and cunning could be more decisive than size and strength--surely, the same held true in battle between armies? He shook his head. A battle was no time for thinking, not if one wished to survive.
After the battle, when his friends had set his leg and bound his wounds--for he had been grievously injured--the thought came to him again. He tried to ignore it, for if there was some better way Apophis would know it and would already use it. The very idea that Apophis might have missed something was blasphemy! Besides, while Bra'tac knew much of skirmishes, he knew little of large battles besides his own role in them. So he could not imagine what better way there might be, and comforted himself that he could not imagine it because it did not exist, and Apophis knew it.
If he had not been injured, that might have been the end of it. But it took him almost two weeks to be fully healed, and to resume his place fighting and training with his master and his comrades, and in those two weeks he had much time to think. Even after he was up and about again, a pervasive gloom filled the barracks. They had lost, and were in disgrace for failing Apophis.
The masters chivvied them through their practice fights, pressing them to greater skill, that they might regain their honor. Bra'tac was given some small authority in training, for though he was small and young he was a cunning warrior, for his age, and could defeat warriors much larger than he. His brothers in arms scoffed at his tactics as unbecoming for a Jaffa warrior, but Bra'tac knew the truth. His skill lay not in trickery, but in precision and speed. His blows landed exactly where he meant them to, at all times. Bra'tac did not waste energy with unnecessary flourishes or posturing, nor did he simply charge in like a mindless beast. Thus he used the power he had to its greatest effect, and did not tire himself out unnecessarily, which gave him greater stamina. Precision and perfection were his allies.
It occurred to him that Apophis' army--and the other armies it had faced--showed little precision and less perfection. Regardless of each individual warrior's skill, the army as a whole was crude and wasteful. Apophis hurled his Jaffa at his enemies as a small boy might hurl rocks at his tormentors. No, not even that, for even the smallest child tried to aim his rocks where they might do the most damage. Apophis simply pointed in the general direction.
But Apophis could not be wrong, Bra'tac told himself. Perhaps it was a test. Perhaps Apophis wished for his Jaffa to learn this for themselves. This comforted him greatly, for of course it was impossible for a mere Jaffa--who had only seen thirty-four summers!--to see something that a god did not. Very well, then, if this was a test, Bra'tac would set himself to pass it.
It was then that he began seriously working towards the goal of becoming First Prime. He focused on his own practicing, and on guiding the Jaffa around him, gaining a reputation for both skill and for training that skill into others. He watched his commanders, and learned from them. His diligence was rewarded, and he began to climb the ranks with speed.
He found that his new-found habit of thinking could not be turned off. Attention was good for a Jaffa when it was turned towards the pursuits the gods required, such as battle; in all other cases, it was a distraction. Yet Bra'tac found himself pondering many things.
Their staff weapons, for example. The slaves who crafted them were highly skilled! Each one was carved and assembled by hand, yet each was virtually identical no matter which world it was made on. Bra'tac did not know the secrets of the staff weapon, of course, for that was a secret of the gods and forbidden to a Jaffa, but he could see that in their own way the craftsmen possessed as much precision and perfection as Bra'tac himself did. In fact, Bra'tac found examples of such dedication and care in many places all around him: it was in the way some slaves swung sickles when his company walked past fields. It was in the way the minstrels honed their craft and their stories.
It was an attitude, a way of life in which through practice, skill, and attention, the most difficult things could be done with apparent ease and grace. There was not a word for it, but Bra'tac strove to apply it to all aspects of his life. In so doing, his vague ideas of what a god must be were honed and focused. It seemed to Bra'tac that there should be a word for what he was looking for, a word to describe the precise swing of the sickle and the exactness of the armorer's art, the perfection of Bra'tac's aim. Perhaps he would learn it when he met his god. Of course the Goa'uld were powerful; that went without saying. But Bra'tac had taught himself that the management of power was more important than the mere possession of it.
His first meeting with Apophis, therefore, was a great shock.
Apophis did not look directly at him; Bra'tac had not expected so great an honor. He and several Jaffa were being presented to Apophis as superior warriors, whose prowess and skill were worthy of Apophis' attention and (perhaps) promotion into the Serpent Guards who were Apophis' bodyguards and from whom his First Prime was drawn.
"Yes, I am sure they are fine," Apophis said with a dismissive hand, barely glancing up from the slave he was having tortured. He was dressed in finery, cloth of gold, an elaborate headpiece, and looked every inch a god. Or, he would, if he were not also in a room with gold walls and floor. In truth, despite his finery, he almost disappeared into the background. "Well?" Apophis said, frowning at them. "Can't you see I'm busy?"
With many apologies, Bra'tac and his fellows backed out of Apophis' presence and were shown to the barracks they would occupy as Serpent Guards. Bra'tac's gear had already been placed there, and he lay down on his bunk for kel'no'reem, rather than joining he comrades in a game of hounds and jackals.
But kel'no'reem would not come. Bra'tac ran the encounter over and over in his mind. Every detail of it was unsatisfactory. Though he knew he must be wrong, Bra'tac felt there had been something lacking. He tried to tell himself that it was disappointment that Apophis had not looked at them more closely.
Each day, Bra'tac guarded Apophis' palace or fought Apophis' battles; sometimes he was even fortunate enough to be in the presence of the god himself. But each encounter felt more lacking than the last.
Apophis possessed riches and wealth enough for a god, it was true, and for the first few years of Bra'tac's service as a Serpent Guard he saw more of them than he did of Apophis himself. But such riches were carelessly used. Instead of somehow arranging and using them for maximum impact, Apophis' possessions were crammed carelessly together. Being in Apophis' own chambers was very like being in the nest of a large bird with a taste for shiny objects. Although each item might be beautiful and useful in its own right, when taken together they all were lost in the clutter. Apophis' clothing was the same. At first, being newly promoted to the Serpent Guard, that was most of what he saw of his lord. But over time, he came to see more.
The crudeness of Apophis' tactics was not a test, to see if his Jaffa could figure out better ways and rise to implement them, for Apophis ignored most of his First Prime's suggestions. Instead, it was a primary part of Apophis' behavior. Everything about him was crude, from his mind to his tactics to his clothing. Apophis knew nothing of subtlety, nothing of precision. Apophis swung the hammer of his army with far less precision than a blacksmith at his anvil, and if that did not work his only response was to get a bigger hammer. And if that did not work, he would throw a tantrum like a very small child.
This being was not higher than Bra'tac, nor better in any way. And close exposure also taught Bra'tac that Apophis' power came from his devices, and not from himself.
Though he struggled mightily to convince himself that he must be wrong and the god right, it was the beginning of Bra'tac's apostasy. He still had no word to describe what he was looking for.
He found it while working with Teal'c's human friends. Not at first; and he had not expected to find anything of it in them. They were children, even gray-haired O'Neill, flailing around the training yard. Luck they had in abundance, and a determination that spoke well of them, but their irreverence and inexperience hampered them sorely.
He was guarding Major Carter while she examined a piece of technology which Apophis was seeking. If Apophis wanted it, that was reason enough for Bra'tac to keep it from him; and as it was not a standard part of the Goa'uld arsenal and did not come with an instruction manual, the SGC had a better chance of determining if it was useful than Bra'tac did.
"Oh, now, that's interesting," Major Carter murmured from within the device's interior. "Wow, okay, no matter what's on the outside, no Goa'uld made this."
"How can you tell?" Bra'tac asked. From the outside, it did look fairly typical for Goa'uld technology: gold, and covered in hieroglyphs.
"Well, besides the fact that the crystals are pretty distinct, it's just too elegantly made," she said.
"Elegant?" Bra'tac asked. "What does that mean?" The chapa'ai translated languages, but Bra'tac had long experience in it and knew that not everything translated such as the word the woman had just used ... and sometimes the explanations given were more confusing than useful. Particularly with technical terms.
"It's, okay. How do I explain this," Major Carter said, extracting herself from the machine. She bit her lip as she thought; perhaps she, too, had experience in the miscommunications the chapa'ai could cause. Or perhaps it was simply experience with O'Neill. "It's when you do something the best it can be done--nothing wasted, nothing excessive, everything exactly as it should be. Perfect. Graceful. Tasteful, not extravagant. It can be a style of dress or movement, it can be a person's general demeanor. With technology, it's something that does something important in a simple and concise way, with a minimum of effort. It's the opposite of crude."
Bra'tac nodded in understanding. "And the Goa'uld are nothing if not crude."
"Exactly," she said with a smile. "The only Goa'uld I've ever heard of who could do elegant if his life depended on it is Ba'al, and even then, his sartorial sense and plotting doesn't really carry over into his technology, from the little I've seen."
"Thank you," Bra'tac said. For more than she knew.
Major Carter nodded and got back to work.
Bra'tac turned back to his guard duties with a smile on his face. Elegant.
After all these years, he finally had the right word.
F is for Tal Shakka Mel (I Die Free)
Bra'tac was still smiling when he stood before the Tau'ri Stargate several hours after Daniel Jackson's miraculous return, despite the fact he would be stepping through it alone. Teal'c would follow before long, he knew; his student would not have become bloodkin to all Jaffa if he had not repeatedly placed the freedom of his people over the individual bonds of his heart, but Bra'tac understood his need to rest and reconnect in the aftermath of all that had occurred.
It had been saddening to him as well, to hear Doctor Jackson's report and know that the Kheb of his father's tales was no more: that no further Jaffa who journeyed there would be shown the path through darkness into the next life at the end of their own. That he, himself, would be denied that journey when the time came. Despite all that he had learned about its origins in the years since they had sought the Harcesis child, and despite the way the likes of Imhotep had used its promise to lead many Jaffa astray, it had been symbol and motivation to him for over one hundred and thirty years. It had been the reason his father had believed the Goa'uld were not truly all-powerful, if they feared such a place; and those tales had sown the seeds of his own doubt, and so led to his mentorship of Teal'c.
But it was also very fitting that the circle be closed in such a way: that the mistress of Kheb should be the one to end the greatest threat the Jaffa had ever faced, and help clear the path for the Free Jaffa Nation to survive its difficult birth. Most of them would never know, and fewer still would believe if Bra'tac told them of it, but he knew it to be true. From his father, to Bra'tac, to Teal'c; to SG-1 and the emergence of the Tau'ri as a power to rival the Goa'uld; to the deaths of false god after false god, and the Jaffa at last taking ownership of the sacred ground of Dakara from their would-be masters.
It was a wondrous day to be alive. Perhaps Teal'c was right; now that tretonin had freed the Jaffa from the limitations of their bodies' ability to carry a prim'ta, they were only as old as they believed themselves to be. Perhaps one hundred and forty was not so ancient, after all; perhaps Bra'tac would live long enough to see further marvels equal to the moment he had stood on Dakara and declared that no Jaffa should ever bow before anyone, ever again. Anything seemed possible, now.
The seventh symbol lit, and a ripple of light burst into being in the center of the Chappa'ai, beckoning him home. He was Bra'tac of Chulak no longer: he was Bra'tac of Dakara now, and so too would Teal'c have a place there when he finally left the Tau'ri. So would all Jaffa who chose to inhabit the new city being built there, whether they had participated in the struggle against Anubis or chose not to throw in their lot until the war was already won. All would be welcome. And all would, at last, be free.
He did not blame those, like Aron, who had thought their attempt to take Dakara in the first place madness; still less those who had not dared believe until their masters were proven mortal before their very eyes. The rate of change over the last eight years had been staggering, and had Teal'c not been involved from the beginning, Bra'tac would have been much more skeptical of the Tau'ri himself. It was not an easy thing to overthrow the beliefs, fears, and habits of a lifetime, especially for those who had been entrusted with some small power under the reign of the Goa'uld, and step into uncertainty.
But they had done it. And the settlement would only continue to grow: to swell its ranks further with those fleeing the service of those few Goa'uld remaining, and knit previously warring factions together under a single, unified government. They would rule themselves, for themselves. And though he had not lived to see it, Bra'tac knew that from somewhere in the next phase of existence his father was smiling along with him.
"Shal kek nem ron," he murmured: to himself, to his father, to all his folk yet to take that first step. More than a statement: a promise. Then he turned to clasp forearms with Teal'c in farewell.
"Shal kek nem ron," his chosen son echoed. "I will see you soon, brother."
"I have no doubt of it," Bra'tac replied, with all the warmth in his heart.
Then he turned and walked up the ramp to help build their future.
I, too, shall die free.
G is for George
As soon as O'Neill stepped through the Chappa'ai, Bra'tac knew he was the bearer of bad news. He momentarily forgot himself and feared Teal'c fell in battle, only to see him in the corner of his eye with Ry'ac practicing in the field nearby.
Bra'tac stood up carefully; even with the Tretonin, he was still almost 145 years old, an age very few Jaffa ever saw. He strode to meet O'Neill and offered his hand out in greeting. O'Neill had changed greatly since Bra'tac last saw him. The wearinessthat comes with leadership was taking its toll. "Greetings, my friend."
O'Neill took his hand firmly and gave a half-smile to the Jaffa master. "How's it hangin'?" He would never understand the Tau'ri idiosyncrasies, but Bra'tac readily understood even the oddest phrases Jack O'Neill had to offer.
"The Jaffa Nation grows stronger everyday. With Ba'al no longer in power, the Goa'uld have gone into hiding and every day we come closer to tracking down the last of them. They will not escape us for long." Bra'tac paused for a moment. "But I sense that you have not travelled all this way for a status update?"
O'Neill shook his head. "I need to speak with Teal'c. We need him at the SGC."
"O'Neill." Teal'c's deep stoic voice carried easily through the quiet air as he approached the men.
"Heya, Teal'c." The two shook hands as well. The air between the three men stood silent for moment, and Bra'tac was beginning to fear something dreadful had occurred.
O'Neill finally spoke after several failed attempts to begin the conversation. "Hammond's dead, Teal'c." O'Neill took a deep, rapid breath and stared directly at Teal'c. Bra'tac too stared at Teal'c and at once he recognized the emotion he hadn't before identified in O'Neill--utter anguish. Teal'c nodded somberly. "We haven't figured out the memorial yet, but uh..."
"I will arrive in the morning, once I have attended to that which I must finish here first, O'Neill."
"Great." O'Neill pointed his finger at Teal'c as if it was an acknowledgement as Teal'c bowed quickly and made his way back to Ry'ac. Jack then turned back to Bra'tac. "General Hammond regarded you as perhaps our greatest ally, Bra'tac. The Asgard might have given us technology, but never the true solidarity you've shown us. He told me you were truly our brother in arms."
"It was a true honor to fight alongside Hammond of Texas. His presence will be sorely missed. The free Jaffa will know of his contributions, be assured of that."
"Like I said, we haven't figured out memorial services, but when we do, I'll send word back. He'd be honored to have you present." Jack turned away slightly from Bra'tac for a moment and blinked repeatedly before shutting his eyes briefly.
Bra'tac wanted to ask for more detail, but the anguish on O'Neill's face stayed his tongue. As O'Neill turned back towards the Gate, Bra'tac could nolonger hold back the question burning in him. "I must ask, did Hammond fall in battle?"
Jack shook his head. "He died naturally." Jaffa almost never lived until old age, and a natural death was nearly impossible as the denial of a prim'ta was neither natural nor a pleasant way to die.
"How old was Hammond?"
Bra'tac was confused at Jack's quick laugh. "He was 69."
"Far too young to leave this world. I was not yet named Apophis's First Prime at 69."
"Yeah, far too young." Jack echoed. He nodded to Bra'tac and took the opportunity the moment of silence gave him to return to the gate and back to the SGC.
"So, this is Texas." Bra'tac stared out the window of the SUV. Teal'c was driving the vehicle, and Walter Harriman was asleep in the back. A large blue sign welcoming Bra'tac to Texas passed on the right, and the Jaffa master looked out at the craggy terra cotta landscape.
"Indeed. General Hammond spoke of it often to me," Teal'c stated. "Though I have not yet travelled here in my time with the Tau'ri. Idesiredto travel to General Hammond's funeral in Amarillo by car to better see his homeland."
"The detail would be lost from the sky, Teal'c. It was a wise choice." Bra'tac also knew that Teal'c found flying in a Tau'ri plane quite uncomfortable, once confessing the Tau'ri voluntarily and at great expense pack themselves in ships tighter than even the lowest of Jaffa warriors on their way to battle. Walter admitted in an earlier conversation that seven hours in a car was much more agreeable than an hour and a half flight in the Tau'ri ships. But Bra'tac was willing to allow Teal'c tosay his request to drive was only for the scenery.
After several hours, Teal'c stopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Bra'tac thought he had seen the signs to Amarillo, their destination, an hour earlier, but Teal'c diverted from the path and continued East. "Weare here."
Walter hazily straightened up and looked around, his confusion apparent in his face and body language. "Um, Teal'c, where are we?" He straightened his glasses on his face.
"Hammond once showed me a picture of this place and told me if I ever came to Texas, I had to come here and watch the sunset." He pulled out the neatly folded paper out of his pocket and held it up to the vista in front of him. Before them all stood a large clay and stone pillar jutting right out of the earth hundreds of feet in the air. The image was a perfect match. Surely enough, the sun seemed about ready to set for the night. The men walked out onto the massive walkway to the stone pillar and, finding several small boulders, took a seat and watched as the orange globe set deep behind the blue hills far away, leaving a fuchsia and pink sky above. The last rays of the sun slowly succumbed to shadow on the pillar, and far too quickly night had come.
Walter pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and was wiping the tears coming from his eyes while Bra'tac and Teal'c made their way to the car. "I cannot recall the last time I spent so much time just looking at the landscape," Bra'tac noted.
"It's not practical to admire the landscape when you're under attack," Teal'c replied.
Bra'tac felt a similar sensation to the one he felt on Kheb all those years ago--true peace. He now understood why Hammond liked this place so much.
A full month had passed since the intimate funeral for George Hammond in Texas. Bra'tac and Teal'c were the only non-humans at the small cemetery and very few of the SGC were invited, save members from the original nine teams and team commanders. Careful not to break his cover, Bra'tac quickly offered his condolences to General Hammond's children and retreated to the SGC crowd.
News came by last week of a service for General Hammond aboard the new Tau'ri starship, intended for allies to pay their respects without the need for cover. Today, Bra'tac took a look at the crowd in the mess hall of the USS George Hammond, amazed at the number of representatives from various worlds that had travelled to honor the simple, good man he knew. While the quiet service he attended last month were the wishes of Hammond's family, the crowd today was a true testament to what George really accomplished during his tenure as the leader of the SGC. He felt for the family, unable to fully grasp the difference he made, especially as he stood near Ry'ac, who was like a grandson to him. The Tau'ri world might never know his contributions, but the rest of the galaxy certainly knew.
H is for Humour
" . . . and the Setesh guard's nose . . . drips."
Bra'tac's face is serious, his voice soft and low and intense, but his eyes twinkle in his scarred face as he delivers the final line.
Around him, the small circle of students stirs, the young novice warriors glancing at each other, mostly uncomfortably. Three of them laugh, but nervously, as if they're not quite certain that was the correct answer to a question. Sel'ran and Va'lar simply look puzzled. Prau'at looks perturbed, not quite successful at hiding his shock that Master Bra'tac, their teacher, would stop in the middle of a nighttime patrol on the verge of enemy territory to tell a joke. And such a joke. It's almost disrespectful -- it is disrespectful of Setesh, who is a god, after all, even though he was banished in disgrace, even though he's an enemy of their own god, the dread Lord Apophis.
Teal'c keeps his face impassive, although it's difficult. He has, in fact, heard the joke already, although his mother doesn't know this and would be shocked if she had learned of it. It's not a joke for children. He overheard two warriors telling it, late one night, when they did not know he was awake and listening.
Bra'tac tells it better, or perhaps it makes a difference being able to see his master's face, see the delicate shifts in expression, see the laughter in his eyes. The joke is funny, funnier than he had imagined. Teal'c wants to laugh aloud, to throw back his head and let his laughter echo off the stones of the rough landscape around them. But he doesn't. Bra'tac's voice was soft, going no further than their small group even as he told the joke. This is still a patrol, and they must be wary, even when their teacher tells them jokes.
Even when . . .
Teal'c is aware of the Horus guards before they strike. Part of the troop, he suddenly knows, has been lurking in the trees, waiting while their comrades slip around into flank position. Their presence bulks in his awareness, a distortion in his sense of their surroundings. Teal'c knows when they begin to move, steps and turns smoothly and brings up his staff weapon -- newly-issued, the first one that's his very own. He and Bra'tac are the first to fire.
This is what it is like -- he's seen Bra'tac do this, turn to face a foe before the foe has quite moved into place. This is how it feels, to have that slight, amazing, vast edge over the enemy. His arms and legs are relaxed, his movements flowing and graceful as he fires and pivots and fires again. The skirmish seems unhurried, although it takes only a handful of seconds. The survivors of the enemy patrol retreat in disorder, leaving at least half their force sprawled on the ground.
Bra'tac sends Sel'ran running back to the main encampment. A troop will be dispatched to push forward into this section of the disputed terrain. Their small victory becomes a step forwards for the Jaffa forces. Teal'c's chest swells with pride at the thought. When they count the fallen enemy warriors, they have slain more than twice their own numbers.
Va'lar and two of the other students have been winged, painful but nothing more than inconvenient. Prau'at was badly hit in the first exchange of fire, and must now lie still for some hours, teeth clenched against the agony as his symbiote, no more experienced with battle than he is, learns how to manage his body's pain responses and set him on the road to healing. His eyes are sullen, and Teal'c frowns as he turns away from his fellow novice. Master Bra'tac is beckoning to him.
"I must see to the disposition of the new forward outpost. Walk with me."
Teal'c falls in behind his master, glad to be singled out, but uneasy. Bra'tac gestures, almost impatiently, denying Teal'c the chance to conceal himself in quiet service.
"Speak your mind, young Teal'c."
He doesn't want to. But he will not, will never, disobey Bra'tac. "You knew they were there, master. You knew the patrol was on its way."
"Prau'at -- "
"The joke. He was distracted by the joke."
"He was distracted by his fear."
Teal'c feels his face flush. He knows it's true. But he must deny it. "Prau'at is my friend. He is no coward!"
"Teal'c! I did not say he was a coward. But we all carry fear. Even you, young Teal'c. Do you think I do not know?"
Teal'c feels a blazing wash of ice through his body. His face burns, but his belly is so cold he wonders if his symbiote has frozen solid.
"You fear to be anything less than the best. You fear that you will lose honour if you do not surpass all others."
"Master . . . "
Teal'c wants to say more, but he cannot. It's all but impossible to say even that much. Teal'c has been taught that no master will permit fear in a student.
Bra'tac is nodding, almost nonchalant. It's as if they're discussing the moves in a practice bout. "Yes. I know of it. I have seen it, and I have seen what you do with your fear. It drives you. You have a fine, strong hold on it, and you use it to make yourself stronger.
"I permit this." Bra'tac's eyes, impossibly, twinkle. "For now."
Is this another joke? Teal'c understands it is, and is not. He sets aside his fear. That is the power of humour. The gods they serve are grim and demanding. Goa’uld laughter is cruel. This is different. Bra'tac is unique amongst the master warriors of the Jaffa: he makes his own rules and his record of victory permits this, while it holds. Teal'c imagines, just for a moment, what it would be like to serve a leader who could laugh freely, who could mock danger and joke in the face of death.
He remembers the moment when his mind relaxed in the wave of unexpressed laughter. The Setesh guard's nose drips. He understands the lesson. "It is a very funny joke."
The master's smile is open and sincere. "It is."
I is for Ingenuity
The fight was over very quickly; Bra'tac caught the lone guard by surprise, and the two priests were not truly trained to fight (although one of them proved hardier than Bra'tac expected). Then his opponents lay unmoving on the ground.
"Not bad for a man of a hundred thirty-three." Bra'tac could not help smirking at the Tau'ri youth who had been so surprised to learn of his age.
"Not bad at all," O'Neill said. He smiled, though the dark coverings over his eyes kept Bra'tac from seeing how far the smile went. O'Neill sent the younger man to the Gate to prepare their departure.
"What will you do?" the woman asked him. "When the priests come to, they'll tell Apophis that you betrayed them."
A human woman concerned for him? An unexpected warmth tempered Bra'tac's amusement. He had been deceiving Apophis for much longer than she had lived, but he was touched that she worried about a man she had only recently met. Teal'c had won loyalty from the humans quickly. They were either fools or excellent judges of character; Bra'tac could not yet determine which.
"I suppose . . . I will cross that bridge when I come to it."
O'Neill clearly recognized Bra'tac's echo of his own words. The woman smiled more dubiously.
Bra'tac made his farewells to Teal'c. He had had high hopes for his chal'til almost from the start, but Teal'c had surpassed anything Bra'tac could imagine.
The Tau'ri and then Teal'c disappeared through the Stargate. Bra'tac had begun to walk away from the portal, thinking already of how he would "cross that bridge," when he thought better of leaving.
A staff weapon needed a hand on it to fire. Bra'tac repositioned the unconscious guard to point his staff weapon just to the side of the Stargate. He pulled his cloak off, rolled it to make as long a coil of fabric as he could. and then quickly but carefully wrapped it around the guard's hand to be able to trigger the staff weapon from a short distance away. He wished he wore an even longer cloak! The first time, he jostled the guard too hard, and the shot missed him entirely and hit the ground beside him.
The second shot seared into Bra'tac's lower right leg. He welcomed the pain; it would keep him from worse. He quickly disengaged the cloak from the still-unconscious guard. The cloak was dirty and twisted; he pressed it to his bleeding leg, for he could not simply put it back on and pretend that it had been damaged when he fell. The shot had caught him at an angle and not fully cauterized the wound, so he was justified in using it to staunch the trickle from the side of his leg. All physical evidence would support the story he was creating.
Bra'tac had hardly positioned the cloak against his own wound when the first man started stirring--the priest that he had only hit once. The priest stirred slowly, clearly not yet alert. Soon the others were starting to move as well, and Bra'tac began a low stream of curses.
The guard was the first to raise his head and look alert, so Bra'tac directed his ire at him. "Hassak!" he cried. "Did you not see they were about to take me to their world? I could have infiltrated the Tau'ri! But no, you had to follow your orders without thinking, and thus they have again left Chulak unscathed! Go'tak!"
The guard's head bobbled a bit on his neck, but at least the first of the priests to move now seemed to comprehend his meaning. The priest looked distinctly queasy, and Bra'tac hoped the head injury was not the sole cause.
Fortunately, other Jaffa were arriving now who were better positioned to appreciate Bra'tac's performance. Bra'tac continued to tell the guard in no uncertain terms how badly he had failed while the second priest began to stir, and fear showed clearly in the man's eyes. The guard would not meet his eyes, and shame showed clearly on his face. The guard might never even admit that he could not remember firing upon Bra'tac. Even if he did, everyone could see the man's memory might have been affected by his injuries.
Bra'tac ended his invective with the air of a man who has decided his inferiors do not merit any further energies from him. He had done what he needed to do. Bra'tac would not even have to tell Apophis the story first; others instead would recount Bra'tac's attempt to win the trust of the humans so as to open their entire planet to Apophis. Apophis would perhaps be suspicious, but he had suffered too many recent reversals to condemn the one man who might yet lead him to the supposed shol'va.
His own primta would heal Bra'tac's wounds soon enough, and he would find his way back into Apophis's good graces. When Teal'c returned, Bra'tac would be ready to help him again--and he had no doubt that Teal'c would return to his family, nor that Teal'c would bring his companions. Teal'c's Tau'ri friends did not look like skilled or cunning warriors, but their foresight in taking a primta before they even knew of a need, and their ability to change plans quickly, spoke well of them.
Bra'tac hid his smile as the newly arriving warriors jostled each other for the right to take care of him, and one of them took over his remonstrations with the two priests and the unfortunate guard. He would emerge from this round victorious. He had already outlived all his own masters and many of his pupils, but he had never anticipated the day when one of his students would defy Apophis outright. The time had come to share the truth about the false gods with more of his people. Teal'c and the Tau'ri would be back, and Chulak should be ready. They should take their own freedom--and now, for the first time, Bra'tac could believe he might live to see it happen.
J is for Jaffa Food
A Ritual Formality
"I could snap you like kindling..."
And if truth be told, Master Bra'atc thought, snapping the boy would still be as simple as that.
Or, as O'Neill would have it, not.
The non-warrior he had derided on that first encounter had shown himself harder to break than Bra'tac could have imagined at the time. It still amazed him that meeting Teal'c's new allies had shown him, even at the ripe age of one hundred and thirty-three, how much he could still have to learn about other races, other worlds, other people.
And even more so now, after Kheb.
What had happened on that mystical, forbidden planet had changed much. It was not just the weight of years he had felt lift from his shoulders (a young man of eighty, he had told Teal'c? Maybe he should have said a youth of sixty-five, brash and ready for battle) but also for the hope and faith he had come away with. He was not sure why - the strange young 'priest' had spoken in riddles that an old warrior found harder to grasp than he had admitted - but it did have something to do with Teal'c's 'kindling' friend, with him standing, weaponless and barefoot, in front of Apophis's soldiers and coming out of it with all their lives.
The Tau'ri scholar was not for snapping.
Bra'tac adjusted the heavy covered platter he carried as he entered the Stargate. For the first time in more years than he could recall, he felt... what was it? Ah yes, nervous. O'Neill, Major Carter, Hammond of Texas... formidable warriors all, and he had thoughts one day of he and Teal'c, their freedom and battles finally won, sharing with them all. But this was different. He was not sure that any of them would understand, not even Teal'c, who would never have seen this old, venerable, neglected symbolic ritual. But at this moment, after what they had shared, it felt right.
"Tak mal tiak, Master Bra'tac."
Teal'c, along with his warrior brethren, his commander Hammond of Texas, and (to the Jaffa mind) a suspicious number of onlookers, was waiting at the ramp.
"Tak mal tiak, Teal'c, Hammond of Texas." He bent his head in respect to the leader, in acknowledgement to the rest. "I am not this time the bearer of ill tidings."
"No, rather a large... plate?" This was O'Neill, of course.
"I have brought a gift, in recognition of what occurred on Kheb."
"I see," Hammond, who clearly did not see, said politely.
"Do you not have rituals on this world involving the giving of food?"
"Oh yes," and it was of course Doctor Jackson, as inquisitive as he ever was no matter what the moment, who broke in, "pretty much every civilization does, don't they? It seems to be one of the central ways that social groups all over the galaxy operate, one of the most important -"
"Thank you Doctor Jackson," Hammond cut in calmly. "Yes we do, Master Bra'tac. I take it that this," with a nod to the plate, "is just such a tradition on Chulak."
"Jaffa food?" O'Neill turned an inquiring gaze on Teal'c. "Something different from what we had when we were there for Ryac?"
"Or the feast we nearly -" Doctor Jackson stopped, and winced.
O'Neill glanced at him, and took over. "That we sort of gatecrashed that first visit. So," changing the subject with his usual unsubtlety, "how different?"
"Very different, human."
Teal'c was frowning slightly. "Master Bra'tac, I am uncertain which practice you mean."
Bra'tac gave them all a sliver of smile. The dish was, he admitted to no one but himself, becoming heavy, and the odor of its chief ingredients was beginning to waft through the gateroom. Several faces - among them the beautiful Major, the General and several of the onlookers - took on faint alarm.
"Of course, Teal'c hasn't told us much about the real delights of Chulak food," O'Neill spoke easily, rocking back a little on his heels, "even when we suggested that the mess could try some recipes if he knew them. And if we could get the stuff to make them."
"And as I recall, you were most relieved to hear I could not."
"I wasn't." Doctor Jackson spoke wistfully.
"As I have said, I have found your planet's fare more than satisfactory, DanielJackson," Teal'c answered. "There is nothing that I find I cannot do without."
Bra'tac nodded. "This is true. Unlike the palace feasts, true Jaffa fare is meant to build strong bodies and hardy minds, and is not for the weak and decadent."
"Like the Spartans," Doctor Jackson said quite eagerly. "They were famous for their black broth, said to be made of boiled pigs' legs, blood, salt and vinegar -"
"Christ, Daniel," O'Neill screwed his face up, "thanks for sharing."
Teal'c eyebrow shot up, and he spoke gravely. "Indeed," he rumbled. "Such a meal even a true Jaffa might well choose to forgo... or at least," after a moments' thought, "the limbs of the swine."
Bra'tac matched the lifted eyebrow, and watched O'Neill blanch and look at both of them suspiciously. It may have been frivolous, but he never found the diversion of - what did the man call it? - pushing Tau'ri buttons to grow stale. But he did have more important matters to deal with. "May we retire to more private rooms, Hammond of Texas? I have this gift for your people. In particular -"
He paused, an evil demon inside him prompting him to look long and thoughtfully at O'Neill. The man paled even more, but when poked in the side by his scholar (unobtrusively, but not nearly enough for Bra'tac's sharp eye) tried to look pleased at the idea. "Blood, you said?"
"Sadly," Bra'tac took a little pity, "no. These... Spartans you speak of, they had their own ways, we have ours."
Brat'ac laid the massive plate down on the briefing room table, and looked around, again allowing himself one moment's malice by pausing on O'Neill. He had to agree, the smell from the plate was becoming pervasive, even worrying to those of weaker stomachs than Jaffa. And human stomachs, like human bodies, were weaker.
It was all part of this rite, this formal gift of Retah T'rtH.
"This custom is one Teal'c may only have heard of," he said gravely. "It is old and out of fashion now, but my own father performed it and it meant much to him and his forbears. As a child and youth I myself saw him formally honor other Jaffa this way. I admit, I have done so myself, but not in recent times.
"Doctor Jackson, you have a passion for the past."
"Uhh," the young man had been trying to both listen and discreetly, incorrigibly, study the symbols on the cover, but looked up at that, "yeah. I think everyone knows that -?"
"I would share this old custom of my fathers - of the Jaffa - with you." He lifted the cover.
Teal'c spoke first, cautiously. "Those are Chal'tii death onions."
Major Carter turned wide eyes to him. "Death onions, Teal'c?"
"My mother used to prepare them for us. They were a noteworthy part of my childhood."
"Ahh..." O'Neill said weakly. "Jaffa comfort food then, wonderful."
"If I understand the term correctly... no. My mother was not skilled in preparing food."
They all stared at the small, oh-so-shiny quarters of vegetable surrounded by piles of black, hard bread cones made - as Bra'tac knew and Teal'c probably suspected - from the oldest and most basic recipe known on Chulak. Bra'tac felt rather than saw Teal'c's reaction - shock, amazement, even pride - as he watched the humans' faces and smiled to himself. Teal'c, a youngster of one hundred and one, may not have seen this but his father must have told it to him.
"Well I'm sure, cooked correctly, they are - delicious," Major Carter said valiantly, trying not to back away too obviously. "So many wonderful shades of blue, after all."
"And Carter should know, she loves blue food," her commanding officer added, less than helpfully.
Doctor Jackson, however, had lit up like a watchfire at night. "This is fascinating, Bra'tac. Chal'tii... death onions?" He was clearly committing the words to memory as he barreled on. "Probably bred from onions taken from ancient Egypt or other cultures, thousands of years ago. And this -" he delicately extracted a single cone of the bread and examined it like an artifact of pure gold "- this is probably made from what were originally middle eastern grains."
"It is retah bread, from ancient grain and made to an old recipe, correct. It was long ago the custom to share this plain but honest meal with those who you feel a debt of no ordinary size to, a symbol of sharing respect and admiration, and gratitude. True, the sharing is a formality, and has been forgotten, or made changed to suit modern tastes and modern appetites, but the meaning is more important than minor details." He paused. "In the time since Teal'c first met you, you have all performed well and bravely, and have done much to assist the cause of freedom."
Hammond, his expression at his most civil, spoke with his usual imperturbable courtesy. "Nothing we were not happy to do, Master Bra'tac."
"Yeah, it was..." O'Neill stopped, and went on more seriously. "Okay, not nothing. But you really didn't have to do this for us."
"I have not."
"I have brought this first and foremost to acknowledge my debt to Doctor Jackson."
"Uhh... me?" Doctor Jackson looked up, startled.
"I believe, Doctor Jackson, we shared some small illumination on Kheb, it made me - young of mind and sure of heart again, and I would not have had this but for your search for the child. I would therefore share this with you... and your people." His eyes flickered round. "You are young, too young to be my brother as you are Teal'c's, and I doubt you will ever be a true warrior. But after Kheb..." Bra'tac paused, "after Kheb, I have a debt to you."
The man's eyes became shadowed. "Me too," he spoke softly. "You were the one to say to put the weapon downs, I don't think I said thank you for that -" He stopped at an uncomfortable shuffling of military feet around them. "I know, Jack, I know. The very young -"
"Ah ah," his commanding officer cut in hastily. "Don't say it."
After an awkward pause - Bra'tac did not know why, not care to - Doctor Jackson returned to examining his bread cone. "I've seen bread like this," he said softly, "in the tombs of Egypt."
"It does look very old." Major Carter reddened. "I mean -"
"Not quite that old, I think," Bra'tac inclined his head. "You are correct, but in these matters it is the symbolism that counts - as I said, it is the meaning more than the details. That the gift is accepted and Retah T'rtH shared is enough, and an honor to myself, my forbears and my people."
She smiled uncertainly, and nodded.
"The basis, maybe even the barest bones of the recipe, could have come straight from the Valley of the Kings. There's an old Egyptian prayer," Doctor Jackson's voice was soft and wondering. "Give my spirit bread and onions to eat..."
And before anyone could speak - before even the two Jaffa watching him could do more than blink - Doctor Jackson broke off some of the bread, scooped up a chunk of bright blue bulb... and popped them in his mouth.
The two Jaffa, the General and everyone else around him blinked again.
The General and everyone else except the two Jaffa visibly cringed.
Bra'tac watched as one the most unlikely, most foolhardy and most incredible non-warrior he had ever known chewed valiantly, then spoke mildly. "I believe that I did say, the gift of Retah T'rtH is - symbolic, as is acceptance.
"It is not however, required that you actually eat it."
"No. The sharing has been merely figurative for many lifetimes, possibly ever since the first Jaffa tasted a Chal'tii onions and renamed it accordingly."
"They're... fine." Doctor Jackson's voice was faint and somewhat strangled, but he managed to force the words out. "Much stronger taste than smell, though. And after all," ignoring the complicated sounds coming from his appalled teammates, "a custom this old has to be experienced...." he swallowed again, "really experienced to the full. You should all try some too."
"Did you not hear me say the meaning was more than minor details, young human?"
"Uhh... yes, but I don't see -"
"One minor detail," Bra'tac overbore him easily, "being the fact that both Chal'tii death onions and retah bread are, even to the strongest Jaffa stomach, deeply unpleasant."
"Indeed," Teal'c agreed solemnly. "My mother was not that unskilled in preparing food, DanielJackson."
"Uhh.... well, okay, not the best thing I've eaten but umm... really, honestly not the worst." Doctor Jackson shrugged. "Much better than Spartan black soup. And as you said, it's the meaning - it's living something that had its roots in the history that is a part of both of us - that's a gift. Master Bra'tac, I don't know how to thank you."
He scooped up another of the onions, and looked around at the blank faces looking back at him. "What?"
O'Neill let out a faint moan. Major Carter simply started. Teal'c gave the precise eyebrow lift that was the Jaffa equivalent of a helpless shrug. Bra'tac looked at Hammond of Texas and saw the shared helpless exasperation on the Tau'ri leader's face.
For someone who might never fight with much proficiency that an old Jaffa could wish for, Doctor Jackson still showed no understanding of whatever the term for preservation instinct might be, nor concern for O'Neill's increasingly grey head that was a testament to it. But he had to give credit where credit was without doubt due.
"I have given, and been given, the gift of sharing Retah T'rtH but five times in my life," he said finally. "Trust me, young human, I have yet to see even the bravest Jaffa do as you have just done -
"And not snap."
Doctor Jackson gazed at him mildly. "I don't snap," he said... and Master Bra'tac could not argue with that.
K is for Kheb
"... Kheb, a name of Lower Egypt. Kheb...the place of emanation..." G. H. Massey
"It appears the wars passed over this world."
"Indeed. The Ori were not so foolish as to come here."
Throwing back his cloak with one hand, Bra'tac stepped away from the Stargate. He used his staff weapon now more as a staff, less as a weapon, and he had discarded the armor of a Jaffa. But the sun glinted from the close metal skull plates that protected his bald head. He glanced back at his companion, eyes bright, a small smile lifting his mouth.
"They were foolish enough to think this galaxy theirs for the taking." He turned back to the forests around the Stargate. "But this...this is a place of legend still. It is good to see it respected."
Teal'c threw back his own hood, and stepped forward. Like Bra'tac, he carried a staff weapon. His mentor had said it was fitting.
Gesturing to a worn, half-hidden path in the dry grass, Bra'tac started walking. The air smelled sweet with living things--pine, the waving grass, distant flowers. Bra'tac thought he could hear chimes in the distance.
"Do you recall the way?" Teal'c asked.
"Do I...?" Bra'tac straightened. The years hung heavy on him, had deepened the lines on his face, left old wounds aching not just on cold nights. "Let us enjoy our walk."
They reached the temple easily. The woods offered no lurking dangers--no bodies on this visit, no hidden enemies. Forest aspen whispered, leaves brushing in a breeze that did not touch their faces. Twice Bra'tac stopped and looked up, but saw nothing more than trees and leaves. A brook wove its way beside the slim path, which disappeared and reappeared under their sandals. The water moved with them, kept them pointed in the direction that Bra'tac knew to be true. It had been many years, but even if more recent events faded too soon, his memories of his time here remained sharp as his blade.
The temple roof came into view first, then its white walls. It lay nestled still in a small valley, sheltered from strong winds and bad weather. The forest had grown closer, but the walls still stood.
At the gate, Bra'tac leaned his staff against the wall, slipped free of the sandals they had worn for this occasion. Teal'c kept his weapon and Bra'tac glanced at him, lifted an eyebrow. Teal'c lifted one back.
His old student had not forgotten his lessons--a wise man respects his friends, a wiser one respects his enemies, too.
Turning, Bra'tac entered the courtyard.
Here, the brook turned with them, winding its way beside the temples. Bra'tac glanced into the water, but he saw nothing--no fish, no light dancing on the shallows, nothing but water softly murmuring.
He stepped forward to the temple, but he stopped outside its doors.
All lay still and orderly--the doors closed, the walls standing and bare. One would never know a great battle had taken place here. Except for the scorch marks on the earth--those remained. And Bra'tac stepped around those spots.
He glanced back once at Teal'c. Teal'c stood with his feet wide, the butt of his staff weapon braced between them. He seemed at ease, but Bra'tac could sense ready tension--some lessons, some habits, never faded.
Turning back, Bra'tac spread his arms wide.
"I no longer harbor evil within. And I am come to the end of my days and would step forward into the next great unknown. I am returned to learn, to shed my days of teaching and begin anew."
The breeze picked up. Bra'tac glanced around him, saw Teal'c doing the same. Wetting his lips, Bra'tac put back his head, lifted his voice again. "Is no one here?"
"No need to shout."
The voice came from his left, from temple doors that now stood open. Bra'tac whirled, reaching for the knife he'd left behind. Teal'c did the same, staff weapon lowering. A robed figure stepped from inside the temple, into the sunlight. He threw back his hood and light glinted from short, pale hair, from pale skin. Blue eyes regarded Teal'c and Bra'tac with gentle humor.
"No need for that, either," Daniel Jackson said stepping forward, gesturing to Teal'c's staff. It vanished. Teal'c stood where he was, whispering the man's former name as if it was a prayer.
"Hey, Teal'c. Master Bra'tac."
Teal'c straightened. "It is good to see you. It has been too long."
Daniel Jackson smiled. "Not that long."
Stepping forward--but not too near--Bra'tac held out his arm. "Tek ma' te, Daniel Jackson."
A solid hand reached out and grasped his arm, and the shock of it rippled through Bra'tac. "You are indeed here."
With a smile, Daniel Jackson nodded, shook his head, and let go. "Well, as here as I ever was... or as any of us choose."
Teal'c again rested his staff. "You are become proficient in speaking in mysteries."
"Oh, Jack might say I always was. But let's talk about why you're here."
Bra'tac again spread his arms. "It is time--on my last visit I was not ready to leave the adventures of this life. Now I am."
Daniel Jackson tipped his head. "Really?"
Bra'tac glanced from him to Teal'c. Dropping his hands, he nodded. "Really."
"Would you be like the blind man and light a second candle when the first still burns?"
"I would light one before this one is burnt out."
"Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said, stepping forward. "Will you not help?"
"Help--it's all in the perspective, isn't it? Okay--what can I do?"
Bra'tac straightened. "I wish to ascend."
"Okay." With a nod, Daniel folded his arms, tucking his hands in the sleeves of his robe.
Bra'tac glanced at Teal'c, who shared the look, his expression, his own as uncertain. "What do I do?" Bra'tac asked.
"Well, it's...it's complicated. But well...release your burden. And you have no idea how tired I got of hearing that one."
"Burden?" Bra'tac repeated. He also folded his hands into the sleeves of his robe. It would be unseemly for a Jaffa, a master, a First Prime, to fidget.
"Yes, well, or think of it as all burdens--we seem to acquire more than a few over the years, but tying it up in one bag with the singular sums it up better."
"And how do this...this releasing?"
Daniel Jackson smiled and stepped back into the temple.
Bra'tac exchanged looks again with Teal'c. With a last nod, he followed Daniel Jackson. Inside, lamps hung on the walks flickered, holding back cool darkness. A fire pit lay in the center of the room and Daniel Jackson sat before it, cross-legged. Seating himself on the floor as well, old joints creaking with protests, Bra'tac waited.
Daniel Jackson gave him a nod--an encouragement. "Close your eyes."
Taking a deep breath, Bra'tec closed his eyes. And he knew he would do this before no other man.
"Now think of a light--a candle burning. And see inside it all that waits for you--Teal'c's grandson, who yet needs training. His granddaughter, who fights even better than her brother. That young Jaffa who sought you out a year ago..."
Daniel Jackson's voice brought forward images, faces--a list of those who crowded Bra'tac's life. He had thought himself a burden to them--becoming useless, for he lacked the speed and strength he'd once possessed. And then Daniel Jackson asked, his voice soft, "Will you give them all up?"
Bra'tac opened his eyes. He glanced at the fire burning in the pit now, small dancing flames that gave no warmth. He looked at the man next to him who also gave no warmth, who now seemed more phantom than real, his form glowing, his eyes an impossible blue.
"You know I cannot."
With a smile, Daniel Jackson nodded. "Not yet." He stood, glanced around him, hands on his hips. "Y'know, it'd be nice to have a new teacher here... one day."
Bra'tac climbed to his feet. His left hip ached. His muscles protested against more walking. But he straightened. "Not this day."
Daniel Jackson's form began to fade. "We'll see each other again--sooner than you think."
And then Bra'tac stood alone in a room. The lights went out one-by-one. Bra'tac left before the last one extinguished.
Outside, Teal'c stood with his head bent low. He looked up, the movement sudden, sharp. His eyes widened. He took a step forward and stopped himself. "Master Bra'tac?"
"It seems today is not the day. I find I am not yet as old as I think. I am not yet ready to give up this burden I enjoy."
Teal'c inclined his head. His smile showed in glinting eyes, but nowhere else. "Let us go home."
L is for Loyalty
It was a battle of wills. Bra'tac knew this, but he also knew with a certainty the victor would be Kronus. Bra'tac watched as Apophis stood his ground in the face of his adversary and waited for the time when he would be needed.
Several Jaffa scrambled at the order, each determined to protect their god with the unfailing loyalty that had been ingrained in them since childhood. Apophis surveyed his Jaffa for a moment, then turned his attention to the enemy that stood before him.
"You dare raise your weapon against me?" he asked in a careful, controlled tone. "I will kill you where you stand."
"You will not succeed," Kronus replied with a haughty smirk. "It is I who will walk away from this meeting."
"Jaffa!" Aphophis said again. Staff weapons were now primed on all sides as the Jaffa that were loyal to Kronus also took up arms to defend their god. They were at an impasse, one that Bra'tac knew would end soon. It was only a matter of time before Apophis or Kronus would turn and run, either through the active Chappai'ai, or through the portal that led to the corridors of the ha'tak. The possibility that one would kill the other was also a strong possibility, one that Bra'tac would relish with a fervor.
It was apparent though, that Apophis believed differently. He glared at his nemesis, then turned to his First Prime.
Bra'tac bowed in response then with the deftness that came from years of training, he shouted an order to his compatriots as he fired his weapon at the nearest enemy Jaffa, while at the same time, moving to stand in front of Apophis to form a personal shield as was his duty as First Prime.
He fought valiantly, knowing that his own life was at stake. It was imperative that he live to continue his charade of loyalty in order to further the rebellion's cause. He would do whatever it took, even if it meant lying to Apophis.
But as he knew would happen, the battle did not last long.
"No!" Apophis said, his expression filled with rage. Kronus had activated a personal force field and with an arrogant smirk, vanished into the shimmering pool that filled the Chappai'ai. The remaining members of his Jaffa soon followed, although they left in a storm of staff blasts. It was a cowardly deed, an act that provided sustenance to Bra'tac's belief that the Goa'uld were indeed, false gods. A true god would have no need for retreat.
"Bra'tac," Apophis said as his eyes flashed in anger. "Send your Jaffa to finish this." Bra'tac nodded, then turned with the intent of gathering more Jaffa to do his bidding, but stopped when Apophis said in a low voice, "Do not fail me in this."
Bra'tac turned slowly, briefly wondering as he did so if his true feelings had shown through. He stared at Apophis for a moment, then said, "My Lord?"
Apophis did not speak at first. He seemed to be inspecting Bra'tac with a look of distrust. Bra'tac stifled the impulse to squirm while he waited for further clarification. Pride kept him from displaying his disloyalty now, as it has always done in the past.
"I have seen no signs of weakness or disloyalty in your actions," Apophis finally said. "But I have been told otherwise." His eyes flashed again as he squared his shoulders. "Which is it? Loyalty to me? Or do you pledge allegiance to the shol'vah?"
The answer came from Bra'tac immediately, as if it were the only answer he would ever give. "My loyalty will always be with you, my Lord." Apophis stared at him for several long minutes, leaving Bra'tac to wonder if he had been convincing in speaking the lies. He stood his ground, refusing to give Apophis a chance to believe otherwise. His role in the rebellion depended on it.
Apophis had his suspicions. Bra'tac had been the shol'vah's mentor. Surely he had an insight into Teal'c's traitorous thoughts of betrayal throughout the years. Yet Bra'tac showed only anger at the shol'vah's defection, a barely controlled anger so deep that Apophis could only believe to be genuine.
It was the anger that gave him the incentive to appoint Bra'tac the position of First Prime after Teal'c's defection, despite the doubts that filled his thoughts. He did not regret this decision, but he watched the Jaffa, always watching for any signs of the betrayal he feared all his Jaffa were capable of. He would not be defied again.
"Do not fail me on this," he said again with cold finality. Bra'tac bowed his head, then turned to do as he was bidden. Apophis watched him go, his thoughts still on the doubts that simmered within his mind. He would watch Bra'tac, as he watched all his Jaffa. And he would capture Teal'c to show all who would dare betray him the punishment they face.
With the decision made, Apophis turned to sit on the dais to wait news of the fate of Kronus and his Jaffa. He would not be denied again. His role as a god depended on it.
M is for Master/Mentor
He stood solemnly before the mirror, slowly, carefully dragging the razor sharp knife across his scalp. It had been a long time since he had participated in this ritual but the effect was surprisingly calming. With one last stroke he scraped away the symbol of freedom, the long hair and returned to the person he had always been inside - a Jaffa master.
It had been many years since he had performed this ritual as he no longer needed to wear the silver skull cap as part of his Jaffa armor. He had set the uniform aside, donned the soft robes of civic leadership and finally let his hair grow as he never expected having to go into battle again. It was not for battle but respect that he prepared to dress maybe for the last time in the full flashing armor of a First Prime. He did so to honor the passing of his friend, Hammond of Texas as he had honored the passing of his friend Jacob Carter of the Tok'ra. They had come together as leaders, comrades and finally friends to help mentor the Tauri through to their place in the wider community of the universe. They had taught and guided and spoke truth to the powers of their respective races. When the three of them stood together to speak, none would dare to gainsay them. Today he would be standing alone. He was the last of the three.
Teal'c stood by in respectful silence as if to be witness to his transformation. Bowing slightly he handed his mentor and teacher the precisely folded towel as he had taught him to do so many years before. He had gone through this ritual himself in early darkness of the dawning day day with his son R'yac at his side. They had both come fully dressed in their own Jaffa warrior regalia to help the assist their master with his preparations.
Bra'tac relished the delicious feeling of the roughness of the towel sliding across the clean surface of his head. Perhaps he had given up on this ritual too soon. He nodded at himself in the mirror, a slight satisfied smile on his lips. He would make sure that when he spoke today, they would hear not only his voice but the voices of Hammond of Texas and Jacob Carter of the Tok'ra as well. He was the last of the three and he was ready.
N is for Next Time
Because you have forgotten that a warrior's true strength comes from his heart and his mind. You have had a physical advantage over me for a long time and yet I have never lost a sparring match to you.
Because for years, old man, I have let you win.
"You let me win?" Bra'tac fingered the gauze strip covering his arm.
"You do not believe this?" Teal'c asked from the bed beside him.
"Because it is not true. We must test this theory."
"Gentleman?" Janet Fraiser, appearing with a warrior's stealth, stood between their beds. "Did I not tell you to rest?"
"We have rested, DoctorFraiser," Teal'c said.
"As you ordered us," Bra'tac added. "But now we are... bored."
"I don't care if you're bored. You are both supposed to rest." She glared from one to the other until they settled into silence. "Better. Now, if you're done bickering, I have other work to do." She stepped away to attend to her other patients.
The two men stared straight ahead after she left. Even warriors of their stripe knew better than to argue with a physician.
"So," Teal'c said several minutes later, "a test?"
"A test," Bra'tac agreed. "You have a training space available, Teal'c?"
"We have a gymnasium. Once we are released, I will use it to teach you a lesson, old man."
"I believe I have already done the teaching, Teal'c." Bra'tac smiled at his apprentice. "Yes? A warrior's true strength comes from the heart and mind. You had forgotten this, I fear. It is fortunate I was there to remind you."
Teal'c folded his hands on his chest and smiled. "So you are willing to pit your strength against mine one more time, Master Bra'tac?"
"The next time we meet in combat, in your... gymnasium, I will not be so easy on you." Bra'tac leaned forward as far as he could with his injuries. He peered into Teal'c's face. "I can see I need to give you a... how does O'Neill say it?... a refresher course, my friend."
"I look forward to next time."
"Gentlemen!" Janet pulled the curtain between their beds, startling both of them. "I don't want to hear another word from either of you until morning. Understood? Or I will be the one giving the 'refresher course.' Not. Another. Word."
Again there was silence. A few minutes later, and in a much softer voice, Teal'c called, "Master Bra'tac?"
"Teal'c?" an equally soft voice asked.
"I think DoctorFraiser could teach both of us much."
"I agree," Bra'tac said. "We should invite her with us to the gymnasium."
O is for Opportunity
"Master Bra'tac, there is a matter that requires your attention." Teal'c strove to keep his voice even, to bury the flare of anticipation.
"See to your God," Bra'tac instructed the two soldiers before dismissing them. He motioned Teal'c away from the door.
"The latest prisoners? One of them claims that they are from the First World."
Bra'tac's eyes widened. "Are you certain?"
"The one who attempted to speak to Amaunet drew the symbol on the ground."
His breath caught on the cusp of hope. "They have the knowledge to scribe?"
"I believe so. And their leader? He wears this 'technology' as carelessly as one would wear ribbon. I could not identify its purpose."
"Hmmm," Bra'tac pondered.
"Is it time?"
Bra'tac stared at him silently before nodding. "Yes, we act today. The masters go to select new hosts. Try to shield them if possible; we will need both the scribe and the warrior. I will attempt to control the guards. If you see a chance, you must take it, Teal'c."
"If we fail..."
"Then others will rise. But if they are of the First World, we may never see this opportunity again. Go, Teal'c, today we seize this chance."
P is for Purpose
Today, the most astonishing thing happened -- I saw Teal'c show a moment of doubt.
Never could I have imagined such a thing. Even as children, when our fathers were friends, he was so always so sure of himself. All of us were certain, of course, that we would grow to be great warriors, but Teal'c aspired from his earliest days to be a First Prime and none of us questioned that he would indeed. When he became shol'va it was as shocking a betrayal as I could imagine; that he inspired so many others to follow suit, and created an entire Free Jaffa rebellion from sheer force of will, should not have surprised me as much as it did.
On my last day loyal to the goa'uld, I delivered him to Heru'ur to be taught the lesson I thought he so richly deserved. I hoped he could be cured of his delusions and returned to the servitude for which Jaffa are raised and trained. Instead, it was I who was cured of delusions, and infused with a passion for the freedom which Jaffa will in the future see as their birthright.
Through hours of torture, he was unwavering in his resolve that the goa'uld were false gods and he would witness a successful Jaffa rebellion (Heru'ur and Terok died that day); through days of the K'tano mishegas (it's an earther word, they have such vivd language!!) he did not doubt for an instant he would see the Jaffa prevail (Imhotep died that day). Last year at the Alpha Site, when the Jaffa/Tok'ra/Tau'ri alliance almost splintered, he and Master Bra'tac turned the kefluffle into a diplomatic triumph, and in the end the alliance was stronger than ever (the ashrak died that day).
But on Erebus, in Ry'ac and Bra'tac's tent, he expressed doubt in himself. It shook me to the core. It was brief, Bra'tac with only a few words was able to revive his resolve by reminding him of his true strength (OMG! I am so privileged to apprentice to such a formidable trainer!! what? OMG is another earther word. Teal'c's apprentice O'Neill says there's no proper way to pronounce it, it's only to be used in writing). In the end, with the Tau'ri's help, we staged a prison break, destroyed Ba'al's shipyard, killed many of his guards, and best of all I fought shoulder to shoulder with a revitalized Teal'c and the mentor we share. I'm the luckiest Jaffa who ever lived, to be able to serve at the side of such magnificent warriors.
The Jaffa freed from the camp at Erebus are with me now at the Earthers' Alpha Site, eager to join our struggle. The rebellion grows. We will persist, we will endure, and in the end we will prevail.
It will be glorious.
Q is for Question
"Ra will protect me," the prisoner claimed. "Your master will not survive this outrage."
It was a lie, Teal'c knew, and the kind that should have cost the man his life. But he held his ground, standing still in the shadows by the door, as his master had commanded.
Bra'tac took a step forward, eyes fixed on the prisoner.
Alone among the System Lords, Ra did not think much of Jaffa, and filled most of his army with humans. This had its advantages, since it freed him from the need to keep queens who could provide him fresh symbiotes, but it meant that his soldiers weaker, without the strength and endurance that a symbiont could give them.
They were also much easier to question.
Bra'tac crossed the dark, cold room in ten slow, silent steps, never breaking the prisoner's gaze for so much as a blink. For the first four steps, the prisoner kept protesting his innocence -- claims about a secret mission, promises that the Supreme System Lord would explain all -- but the pitch of his voice kept rising.
After the fifth step, the pretense collapsed. "You will learn nothing from me" quickly became "I know nothing," which became "Please, they'll kill me."
After the tenth step, Bra'tac stood eye to eye with the man, who had backed up all the way against the wall. He wasn't even bound, but somehow Bra'tac had reduced his cell to the space between their boots.
"Qer'aqa!" he exclaimed, finally, his posture collapsing although he managed to stay standing. "The naquadah mines! She promised -- it was just a few bricks from the quarry! She said the System Lords would never know!"
Bra'tac leaned forward, a fraction of a degree. Still, he did not speak.
The prisoner tried to recoil into the wall. "Qetesh! It was Qetesh! I never saw her, but that's what they said. I swear, that's all I know!"
Teal'c knew better than to speak until they had left the prison cell and the doors had sealed behind them, but he could barely contain herself a second longer. "How can you do that?" he asked.
"One day, you will understand," said Bra'tac. "But there is much else you must learn first."
R is for Reassessment
Teal'c is not the first chal'ti that Bra'tac trains in both the noble art of war and the more subtle art of rebellion. But he is the first that not only survives, but thrives enough to reach highest rank: the only one, besides Bra'tac himself, who manages to attain the coveted status of First Prime. Bra'tac has great hopes for Teal'c as his partner in spreading quiet dissent and inspiring their fellow Jaffa to seek freedom from the Goa'uld.
So he is disappointed when he learns that, despite his counsel, Teal'c threw away his rank, his power, and his ability to suborn his fellow Jaffa, all for the sake of a few human slaves. There is no great victory over Apophis in the rescue of a motley group of rejected hosts! And now, officially branded shol'va, Teal'c cannot even protect his own wife and son from reprisal. What prompted Teal'c to act so rashly, to abandon the careful plan of decades and openly rebel?
In those first weeks after Teal'c's inexplicable open rebellion, Bra'tac tries to seek consolation in his former pupil's apparent escape from death by vengeance. Still, while he doubts that Apophis would fail to trumpet Teal'c's execution on every planet under his sway, the angry silence from official channels does not reassure him entirely. He uses other sources of information as well: those he has successfully suborned, canny veterans who still appreciate the leadership that assured their survival, awed young Jaffa who leap at the chance to curry favor with a former First Prime. He hears whispers, notes rumors, patiently sorts through half-truths.
The first murmurs of Tau'ri are initially dismissed as a mere child's tale, unworthy of note. Later, when he has a chance to question Shak'l about the debacle that took place in the regular hunt for the secret of true cloaking, he takes the mythological First World more seriously. Still -- humans! He does not use the common Jaffa epithet of slave, as so many do; he is all too bitterly aware that he and his fellow warriors are also enslaved, though most do not know it. But humans! What could possess Teal'c to throw away his every advantage, his wife and child, to first rescue some humans, then consort with them?
He finally meets the Tau'ri himself when they arrive on Chulak, apparently seeking to help Teal'c retrieve wife and son. Their initial meeting, with no guard posted to shield them, does little to ease his doubts. These soft creatures, "great warriors of skill and cunning"? Bra'tac easily overwhelms one, snaps his teeth in contempt at the second, and completely dismisses the third as a useless woman. It is true, as he himself admits, that none before have defied Apophis and lived; but what worth can Teal'c see in these humans, with their frail bodies and lesser strengths?
Despite his urge to dismiss the Tau'ri as weak fools, Bra'tac's greatest weapon lies not in his strength of body, but in the shrewdness of the mind that recognizes the Goa'uld for what they are and rejects their claims of godhood. So he watches, and listens, and slowly learns.
Their leader, O'Neill -- too loud, perhaps, and easily duped, but possessed of strength and remarkable free will. His very reluctance to follow Bra'tac's orders suggests a strong spirit of freedom and stubborn independence. So Bra'tac asks more questions, probing, wondering.
"Then you serve no one?"
"I serve the SGC under a General Hammond."
"So this Hammond is..."
"Just a man. A very good, very bald man. From Texas."
Bra'tac carefully analyzes this answer, even as he walks soundlessly through the forest and tries not to wince at the human's louder passage. O'Neill emphasizes three things about the one he serves: that he does not claim divinity, that he is good, and that he is bald. It is an interesting combination. Bra'tac is pleased to learn that the Tau'ri, like the Jaffa, see baldness as a mark of respect. "Texas" he sets aside for now, until he can question Teal'c privately and learn of its significance.
Reluctant respect for O'Neill slowly grows as he watches the human interact with Teal'c and his wife and son. He directs, yet allows Teal'c to choose. He possesses healing powders and speaks of medicines more potent still. The very existence of medicines tells him much, and Bra'tac tastes the heady flavor of a people that have wealth and power to spare. That is a freedom beyond Bra'tac's wildest dreams: to possess sufficient security and leisure to coddle the weak, to even allow them to grow strong! Part of him sneers at this waste of resources, but he also marvels at how the Tau'ri must value one another to even make the attempt.
But it is the actions of the other two -- the woman, and the young one he treated with such contempt -- that truly change how Bra'tac perceives the Tau'ri. For they meet them near the chappa'ai as Teal'c is dying, and the two Tau'ri have stolen a prim'ta from the sepulcher of the temple!
He blurts out the words: "You dare?!"
And even as he hears Teal'c's wife speak of sacrilege in wondering, scandalized tones, he meets their blank, puzzled gazes and replays his own words in his head.
You dare steal from the seplucher of the temple?
Even he, with his rejection of Apophis and the other false gods, is so conditioned from his youth that he considers their actions to be shocking, blasphemous... but the Tau'ri, who do not bear the crushing weight of servitude, do not even comprehend his dismay.
O'Neill reinforces this blinding realization with his impatient words. "So what?" he demands, dismissing their objections. "Is it going to help him?"
There is practicality there, and determination, and a blind courage that simply ignores what is so ingrained in all Jaffa. It is this, Bra'tac finally decides, that truly defines the Tau'ri: by overthrowing Ra so long ago, they have long since achieved not just freedom of movement, but also freedom of thought. That is even greater than physical freedom, and it beckons to Bra'tac in a great leap of hope for the future and its newly glorious possibilities.
He helps them reach the chappa'ai and easily dispatches the guards, then exchanges a few last words with Teal'c. "I have another young warrior to teach of new worlds," he tells him, and thinks to himself that teaching Ry'ac of the Tau'ri will be his newest and greatest challenge.
He grants them the salute between warriors as they depart, amused at the returned greetings. Then, as the link between Chulak and Tau'ri ripples into nothingness, Bra'tac turns and strides away. He is glad that he knows, now, that Teal'c acted wisely in choosing the Tau'ri as fellow soldiers in the struggle against the Goa'uld. He will do his own part to bolster that struggle: by training Ry'ac and other young Jaffa, by continuing to quietly spread insurrection, and by watching and listening for signs of movement against Earth. Before meeting the Tau'ri, he would not have thought the humans worth the effort; but now, Bra'tac knows that they will be great allies in the battle to bring freedom to all the Jaffa.
S is for Scrutiny
The debriefing over, they stood across from one another in the empty room, two old warriors engaged in a silent battle.
Bra'tac sat. Then General Hammond sat. Neither spoke.
Bra'tac glanced at the men standing in the corners of the room.
"They seek to do you honor, Master Bra'tac," Hammond assured him.
"And to make sure I do not cause dishonor," Bra'tac added with a smile.
"And that," Hammond agreed, smiling as well.
"Hammond of Texas, you are the leader of this planet?"
"No, I'm only the leader of this facility, Stargate Command. The leader of my country is the President, and our planet has many countries with many leaders."
"I see. But you command O'Neill?"
"You also command the woman, and the man with the round glass circles?"
"I do. Captain Carter and Doctor Jackson are invaluable to the program. They, Colonel O'Neill, and Teal'c make up SG-1, our flagship team."
Bra'tac considered this and nodded. "You are a leader of good men."
"Yes," Hammond said simply. "The men and women under my command are the best our country has to offer."
"And your title, Hammond of Texas, it is to show respect?"
"It mostly shows that Colonel O'Neill has a rather... unusual sense of humor." Bra'tac's smile broadened at that. "My title is General. It's an honorific placed in front of my name to show my rank. It identifies my place in the hierarchy of this facility."
"Ah, yes. O'Neill. He is a difficult man to lead. I saw this," Bra'tac said. "He is not good at following orders."
"True," Hammond said. "But he's a good man, and a good leader in his own right.
"This I also saw. If Teal'c follows him, he must be a man who earns the respect of others--yet O'Neill does not give his respect easily."
"Colonel O'Neill gives respect where it's due. Occasionally, though, he has trouble with authority figures, especially if that authority figure is... not worth of respect. Sadly, such people exist on all planets."
"Indeed," Bra'tac said. "You are also Teal'c's leader, as I once was."
"I am. Although he reports directly to Colonel O'Neill, I am his commanding officer."
"It is a difficult job to be a leader of men." Bra'tac stood and walked to the window. He stared at Stargate for several minutes before he turned. "I entrust Teal'c now to your care--and your command."
General Hammond came to stand by Bra'tac. "Master Bra'tac, I'll do my best. But I'm a far cry from a man who's been training Jaffa warriors for longer than I've been alive. Teal'c had a good teacher."
"I have taught him all I know. O'Neill said you were just a human, a bald man..." Bra'tac fanned his hand over his head "...from Texas, and that he served you."
"That's an accurate description, Master Bra'tac. I do what I can--but I'm only one man."
"I am Jaffa, Hammond of Texas, but I am just one Jaffa who does what he can--although I do not let my pupils learn of this until after their training is complete. And I am also bald." His grin lit up his face. "Is it possible we old men are bald for the same reason?"
Hammond laughed. "I had a full head of hair when I started this job."
"I, too." They stood in companionable silence, looking through the glass.
Bra'tac turned and placed a hand on Hammond's shoulder. "We will battle the Goa'uld together, your warriors and mine, and perhaps someday we will win this fight."
"I hope so," Hammond said. "They are an enemy unlike any we, on this planet, have faced before, and we can use all the help we can get."
"Our numbers on Chulak are small, but growing, and this great victory will aid our cause. More Jaffa will know that Apothis was a false god who enslaved his people. And I believe those who oppose the armies of Apothis must stand together. Is this acceptable to you, Hammond of Texas?"
"It is, Master Bra'tac." He reached out to shake Bra'tac's hand, but Bra'tac pulled him in as he had done Teal'c, and grabbed his elbow in a warrior's embrace.
"I must go," Bra'tac said as he released Hammond, "but when I return, I will provide you what information I can."
"I look forward to it," Hammond said. "We'll send word through Teal'c if we have information. We'll also provide you with a device and a code to get through the iris."
"This is good."
"General Hammond?" An excited 'gate technician stood at the door. "Sorry to interrupt, sir, but SG-1 would like you to know there's a party in the commissary, and that you and Master Bra'tac are invited."
"Can you join us, Master Bra'tac? There's certainly cause for celebration."
"I regret that I cannot. They have earned their victory, but tell O'Neill he is still hasshak."
"Do I want to know what that means?"
"I didn't think so."
They looked at one another, weighing, judging, finding common ground and uncommon values. Neither found the other wanting.
Bra'tac took his staff weapon from the guard at the door. "Teal'c chose well. We will meet again, Hammond of Texas," he said as he bowed his head.
"It was an honor to meet you, Master Bra'tac."
They separated then, each to lead his people; two old warriors now friends, prepared for the next battle.
T is for Tales
Although the Goa'uld guarded their power and control jealously, it took them only a few centuries to learn that it was necessary for their Jaffa to know how to read, write, and perform mathematical calculations, and so, five generations after the Jaffa race was created, Ra insured that the priests and priestesses of his Jaffa knew how to read and write and calculate, and that they in turn would teach this skill to the children of all Jaffa. Soon the other System Lords followed suit, and it didn't take long for at least a minimal education to be universal among the Jaffa.
Given that all Jaffa could read and write, someone like Daniel might have expected that Jaffa knowledge and tradition would have been written down, and passed from generation to generation in archive form. That was not the case. To assume that was to forget that the Jaffa were slaves, with cruel and capricious masters, living lives where anyone could be a spy or a snitch, ready to betray their fellow Jaffa to curry favor with their Goa'uld masters. No, the Jaffa, blessed with exacting and capacious memories, transmitted culture and history through tales. Women spun their stories as they gathered to work, the songs, the stories, and the many hands lightening their loads. The men gathered in tents in the evenings, tired from a long day's battle or exercise, replete with a good meal, snacking desultorily on fruit and dried snacks, drinking their richly spiced drinks, served hot or cold, depending on the season.
Bra'tac could still remember with crystal clarity the first night when he was allowed to follow silently behind his father into the men's tent, to feast with the men and older boys and stay for the storytelling to follow. He knew that he was to keep to his place near the outside walls of the tent, and not to attract notice by wiggling or making noise. If his discipline was not up to the task, chastisement would be administered, and he would not be able to return to the men's tent until his trainers deemed him more ready. He crept quietly to the back of the tent, and sat down among the other boys, the youngest there. He watched the other boys and took his cues from them, and listened to the hum and the rumble of the conversation of the warriors gathered around the brazier in the center of the tent.
When the evening meal was finished and cleared away, the small bowls of dried delicacies and fruit were brought out and scattered within reach of all along with the pitchers of sweet, spicy gra'cheh, and the tale telling began. The first tale, as always, went to Apophis' First Prime, Tenshon, who told a lengthy and intricate tale of how a Jaffa, a valiant but as-yet undistinguished warrior of Apophis, followed the orders of the First Prime despite all difficulty and danger that this entailed, and won through to gain the notice of his superiors, which ultimately led to his becoming First Prime himself. That the young warrior had been Tenshon himself was the twist at the end that surprised no one, not even Bra'tac. He would have been deeply disappointed at the poor quality of the entertainment that he had longed to hear for so long if all the stories had been like that one, but things got better from there. Tenshon, he was to learn later, had not gotten to be First Prime through his gift for storytelling, and his tales were inevitably heavy-handed exhortations to obedience in the ranks.
Bra'tac's own father was given the honor of telling the second tale, in honor of the first feasting of his young son. He told the tale of Kheb, naming the symbols to get there, and emphasizing that it was forbidden to dial them, on the orders of the gods. The penalty for dialing it was death, slow and terrible, but worse, it was said, was the suffering of those who took their impurities with them to Kheb. That the suffering was not described, or even known, but more to be feared than the ultimate wrath of one of the gods made it all the more fearsome. It was said that the delights were as wondrous as the punishment was terrible, and that Jaffa who fought with valor, who kept their honor, and made their souls pure would be rewarded in Kheb, traveling the second path, through free and honorable death. Only those who died free, it was said, could follow the second path to Kheb, but it was a tale, his father said, only a tale told around a campfire.
There were other stories that night, but Bra'tac, his young body tired with hard training, his stomach full, did not remember them, because he could not stay awake, and soon he was curled up on the pillow he was sitting on, so sound asleep that he did not wake when his father picked him up and carried him home.
But that was only the first night of many such nights. With time and the increasing stamina that growth brought, he was able to stay awake late into the night, and many and varied were the tales he learned by heart. It did not take him long to learn to look beyond the surface details to search for the reason the tale was told, to learn to weight the value of the teaching by the character of the teller, and to see the subtle undercurrents, the metaphorical winks and nods, the things brought forward and the things left out, the ways in which the tales were veiled references to things which could not be told. Storytelling was an art with the Jaffa, so whether the tales were solemn or ribald, full of action or quiet and subtle, with a few memorable exceptions, they held the attention of the audience, all the better to impart their lesson. There were tales of Jaffa who outwitted their god, usually Ra, Sokar, or Setesh, since they were sworn enemies of Apophis. There were tales of gods who were weak or fallible (never Apophis!). There were tales of success in courting, brilliance in battle, cleverness in meeting a god's demands, these last often involving Apophis. There were tales of strange climates and the things necessary to survive them, stories of strange or fearsome creatures, and tales of the struggles and stratagems of the gods themselves, all mixed with songs, and jokes, and good natured boasting and ribbing. Bra'tac listened, and learned, and in time he joined in, gathering knowledge and wisdom until that proud day when he first earned the honor to tell the first tale. He chose the tale of how the Jaffa Gontar asked the question that Heru'ur could not answer, and he watched the faces of those gathered around, looking for which eyes met his, and which were cast down, who was listening, and who was letting their mind wander.
Naturally, when he came to know SG-1, he eagerly anticipated the moment by their campfire when he could hear the stories of the Tau'ri. Their tales would tell him much about their race, their strengths, their blindnesses, and their hearts. Intrigued by the presence of a woman in the ranks of the Tau'ri warriors, he asked Captain Carter to speak first, and she shared the stories of Molly Pitcher who lived many generations earlier, when - even among the Tau'ri - women were not commonly warriors, yet she had stepped in when needed, and fought among the men until victory was won. A second tale was the story of a woman surgeon, Mary Edwards Walker, who won something called the Congressional Medal of Honor for her services as a surgeon and as a prisoner of war during a Tau'ri civil war. The concept of a civil war was strange to Bra'tac, as it did not exist in his world, but the ending of slavery was indeed a noble cause for battle. It pleased him that all Tau'ri could now die free, and he said so, noticing immediately when the Tau'ri exchanged a look of discomfort.
"Not all Tau'ri," said O'Neill, reluctantly.
"Slavery is illegal everywhere," said Daniel Jackson, "but there are still people held against their will and forced to do the bidding of the people that hold them. We are not perfect."
"I had not thought so," said Bra'tac.
O'Neill was not best pleased, and by his glare, he found Daniel Jackson and Bra'tac equally at fault. Soon after it was time for watches to begin and the rest to retire for the sleep that the frail Tau'ri bodies required, so the tale telling ended for that night. Because Teal'c had the first watch, and Bra'tac's need for kel'no'reem was not urgent, he asked instead what had prompted Teal'c to throw in his lot with the Tau'ri.
"O'Neill," he answered, living up to his longstanding reputation for brevity.
Bra'tac waited for some time before gently chiding, "That is a name, Teal'c, and not a tale. I wish to know what it is that made you choose that time, and that place."
But in spite of the fact that Teal'c could be a gifted storyteller when he chose, his tale of a refusal to bow gracefully, and a look in O'Neill's eye, of strength in fragility left Bra'tac unsatisfied. Teal'c's rebellion was a good thing for all Jaffa, a spark that might yet become a flame, but the beginnings were a slender thing indeed for something so momentous, although there was something in the Hasshak's irreverence and sarcastic wit that intrigued Bra'tac too.
The tales that Daniel Jackson chose to tell the next night required much thought before Bra'tac could see their significance, although when he did, he thought that the young man had chosen well. He too told two tales, the first, which he called an "origin myth" was the story of the first man and first woman, their making, their life in a garden called Eden, and their being cast out by their god, described as an only god, all knowing and all powerful. Bra'tac had heard many gods claim that, and he doubted it for the god of the Tau'ri too. But that was not the point. The point was that all Tau'ri carried within them this story of rebellion, of choosing to defy their god, and yet living free. Their god allowed them the choice, and given delightful captivity, or a diminished life in freedom, they chose to be free. The second was "just a folk story" of someone named Duffy and an evil overlord named the Devil, who had the power not just to torment a being's body, but his very soul. Bra'tac was so caught up in finding the Devil to be too easy to fool, an unworthy opponent, that he missed the message at first. The Devil had all the power, and against him Duffy was weak, but he used his skills and his mind, and in the end he triumphed. Daniel Jackson was telling him that the Tau'ri were not cowed by power, that even the weak could prevail, that according to the Tau'ri, it was not honorable battle and purity worthy of Kheb that mattered, but ultimate victory. Daniel Jackson's tales told Bra'tac much, but as with all tales, only when he listened for the deeper meaning.
O'Neill resisted telling a tale around the fire, or at least any tale of deep meaning. He told of a few humorous incidents, minor mishaps and inconveniences on previous bivouacs with other teams, foolish things that he and others had done as raw recruits, and sights he'd seen and dishes he'd eaten in various places around his world, but nothing like the tales of Captain Carter and Daniel Jackson. They were warrior's jokes and traveler's tales, nothing more. Bra'tac did not make First Prime on his stunning good looks alone, though, and he was willing to bide his time. At last, strung out on a line of march, largely out of the hearing of the others, O'Neill finally shared two tales which satisfied the old warrior.
The first was a stirring tale of battle, the story of 300 Spartan warriors facing the 10,000 warriors of Persia. They fought a delaying action, and they died, saving the freedom of their fellow Greeks. It was a satisfying tale, and it told him that in spite of what he feared based on Daniel Jackson's tales, the Tau'ri indeed bred warriors, and that this man understood warrior brotherhood in the way that he and Teal'c understood it, and that the Tau'ri would die free, rather than submit.
Bra'tac asked for a second tale, and for a long time O'Neill was silent. Finally he asked Bra'tac if he remembered the story of the Garden of Eden? This was needlessly insulting of O'Neill. Did he think that just because he was over 100, his mind was failing him?
"No," said O'Neill, with a frown. "It's just that he told you the beginning of the story, but not really how it turned out," and he told a confusing tale of how a man, half Hasshak, half god, had died slowly nailed to a wooden cross, giving his life that all Tau'ri could be allowed to be free of their god's rules and enter Heaven, which sounded like the Tau'ri equivalent of Kheb. "Greater love hath no man than this, that he shall lay down his life for his friends," he said in conclusion.
Now Bra'tac was heartily confused.
"So you extol self-sacrifice, and yet when I offered it on Apophis' vessel, you said that it was a bad plan!" he said.
"Of course it was a bad plan! There were things we could do that would allow us to live to fight another day! Giving up is just wrong!" he said, with none of the deference and respect that a Jaffa would have given someone of Bra'tac's status. He rubbed one of the strange black Tau'ri half-gloves over his face, took off his cap, scratched under it, and replaced it, clearly at a loss as to how to explain.
Bra'tac thought back over what O'Neill had said.
"Captain Carter teaches of the bravery of the female. Daniel Jackson teaches of the value the Tau'ri place on cleverness and knowledge. You speak of love," he said. "You think that it is the bonds between you that will allow you to vanquish the Goa'uld."
"That and this," O'Neill said, lightly tapping his loud projectile weapon he wore strapped to his chest with his right hand. Bra'tac had to admit, though it was a tasteless weapon, it was very effective.
Bra'tac smiled, and nodded, and the two warriors proceeded in silence. The Tau'ri had given him much to think of, and Bra'tac began to craft in his head the tales he would tell, the way he would share and interpret the stories he had heard for a select few he knew to be loyal to the cause, and what bits of information he could carefully craft to sound out the hearts and minds of others, to swell the ranks of the Free Jaffa. It was good to share tales. Tales would be the lifeblood of the rebellion.
U is for Unspoken
Bra'tac had learned from childhood that a warrior used an economy of effort and energy in everything he did, but he had only left the ranks of the chal'tii for a mere day to join the exalted ranks of the warriors when it was brought home to him in a way that he was never to forget that this applied to words as well as deeds. That year's new warriors were all assembled in their ranks before Apophis, that their god might look them over, when Apophis decided to test their loyalty.
Pointing to Bra'tac, the god addressed the warrior to Bra'tac's immediate right, a massive blond fellow who towered over Bra'tac by at least half a head, saying "That one" -- here he pointed to Bra'tac -- "has marked skin, and for a Jaffa he is slight. Kill him."
"But Milord," the fellow blurted out, "That is Bra'tac the fastest and most skilled at-"
Apophis was displeased, and before Bra'tac got a chance to wonder if surviving the pox before he was old enough for a symbiote was going to be the death of him, before his unfortunate neighbor could finish his sentence, Apophis had unleashed the power of his hand device, and the fellow was dead. Apophis stalked off, having proven conclusively that he was a capricious god, and Bra'tac lived, having learned that it was best that some things, indeed all unnecessary things, go unspoken.
"Bra'tac!" bellowed the First Prime, his voice sharp and angry. "Why do you lurk in the shadows there? Report!"
Bra'tac had not been lurking, nor was he in the shadows. He had just barely cleared the doorway to the Throne Room, and was proceeding as quickly as he could towards the daĩs where his god lounged. Silently he continued his approach, trying to hide his limp as best he could. It would be a few hours more before his symbiote could heal the staff burn. He reached the area before the first step where the First Prime stood, and, careful not to glance at the exalted figure on the throne, stood at attention.
"Well! Why did you not hasten? What is your report?"
Bra'tac cast his glance to the floor, and ignored the first question. Surely both Apophis and his commander could see that he was hampered by his wound. The second question was the important one.
"We are the victors," he said. "The forces of Ra have retreated, and we hold the planet."
The fact that over half the warriors that had been dispatched to the planet would never return he kept to himself. Over half of fifteen squads. There would be much wailing among the women tonight.
Bra'tac had high hopes for this chal'tii. It was not just the physical skills, which Teal'c had in abundance, nor his courage. Courage was common among the Jaffa, and many a bold warrior and agile warrior had been a glitter in the sun and vanished into untimely death. It was not his mastery of strategy and tactics either, although that was a skill that unsubtle minds often stumbled over. No, it was the way that this one listened both to the words and the silence, and grasped that both had equal importance. This one learned as much from what Bra'tac did not tell him as from what he told him. This one would learn the lessons that Bra'tac wished to impart.
Apophis took a last look at the trainees disheveled but standing proud in their ranks after their first encounter with the trained forces of Ra. They had been in the rear guard, and they had not been in the worst of it, but they had tasted fear and seen death, and several of their number had failed this test, and lay dead on the field of battle. The engagement had been inconclusive, except for one detail: Ra's First Prime was also among the fallen, as were his two lieutenants.
"Fight for your god always as you have fought for me today, and we will see that Ra's First Prime Ken'dac is carrion fodder, and after that Ra himself."
From his place to Apophis' left side, Bra'tac could see the consternation on the faces of most of the youngsters. Apophis was a god! How was it that he did not know that Ken'dac was dead? But Teal'c's face was without expression. When he noted Bra'tac's gaze upon him, his eyes softened with a hint of private amusement, and he bowed his head fractionally.
Apophis had only been gone a short time when Gra'nesh, an able fighter with a marble head said what all those around him had been thinking.
"He is a god! How is it that he does not know of Ken'dac's fall?"
All eyes turned to Bra'tac for the answer, except Teal'c's which went to Gra'nesh, one eyebrow raised ironically.
"Gra'nesh, I predict that your life will be short, but that you will attract the notice of your god before you die," said Bra'tac.
Teal'c's expression conveyed what he did not say.
Yes, Bra'tac had high hopes for this one.
The Tau'ri were a puzzle to Bra'tac. They had females in their ranks. Among the Jaffa all women were taught the skills of a warrior from childhood. Women were the defenders of the home, and should the enemy think to attack the home front while the warriors of the city were fighting their god's battles, the women must take up weapons in defense of the children, the priests, and the larval Goa'uld the priests tended, but to have women fighting among the ranks of the warriors was not the Jaffa way. The one called Daniel Jackson wore the clothes of a Tau'ri warrior and he could wield their weapons, but he had the ever-inquiring mind of a priest. In Hammond of Texas he recognized a kindred spirit. This man, like Bra'tac, had molded men and commanded them, and understood the burdens that this entailed. In spite of his great youth, he had the wily hard-earned wisdom of a seasoned warrior. He saw nothing special about the rank and file of the Tau'ri. As a rule they were young, and not very subtle, although their healer seemed shrewd.
It was O'Neill that puzzled him most of all. When Bra'tac had first met him, he fell completely for a trick that would not have fooled a Jaffa boy of twelve years, and Bra'tac had pulled him to the ground. Much of what came out of his mouth was inane nonsense, and he seemed to have no more sense than an infant as to when to be silent. Bra'tac would have dismissed him for a fool if it were not for the fact that this man had been the one to cause Teal'c to betray his god. There must be something there that Bra'tac had missed.
In the aftermath of the unmasking of Imhotep, Bra'tac began to see some of what Teal'c had seen. This time O'Neill had seemed to listen more and say less, and each of his words had been uttered with purpose and intent, even the frivolous ones. More importantly, where he and Teal'c had been blinded, O'Neill had not.
What impressed Bra'tac the most, though, was that even after he and Teal'c joined the rest of SG-1 and the escaping Jaffa on the other side of the wormhole, O'Neill never said "I told you so."
Bra'tac had spent his entire life dreaming of the day that all Jaffa would be free. His every action, his every choice, his every plan had been bent to that end. It was his greatest hope, his dearest wish, his oldest dream. He found it ironic that it had never occurred to him in all those long years how very, very difficult it would be to live life as a free Jaffa. O'Neill was right. Nation building was a bitch.
It was with enormous pleasure, then that he spotted the familiar figure of Teal'c, dressed in his traditional robes, striding towards him as he exited the council chamber. Here was the one person in all the universe with whom he most saw eye to eye. It did his old heart good to see this former student who had taught an old man so much. The master had become the recruit, although Teal'c's greeting, as it always had and always would, honored him with the deference due his teacher.
"You have delayed your arrival just long enough to avoid a long and contentious meeting," said Bra'tac.
Teal'c merely inclined his head in response, although his eyes twinkled. They turned as one to head for Bra'tac's quarters, where ingredients for a simple supper were laid out on the table awaiting them. Bra'tac had been expecting the visit, and he had made sure that he had a few delicacies, fruits, and richly spiced breads, and a collection of vegetables that he knew Teal'c particularly loved. The stew was bubbling softly in its heavy earthen pot over an oil brazier. They helped themselves and ate in silence, enjoying the view of Dakara's ancient and storied stones through the window, and listening to the ever changing whistles of the wind.
Finally they were both replete, and pushed their chairs back from the table.
Bra'tac looked at Teal'c and waited for him to speak.
For a long time Teal'c was silent, but then he sighed.
"I am a Jaffa," he said. "These are my people. This is my nation. The future of my race, my son, and my grandson are here. It is for the freedom of the Jaffa race that I have fought for so long."
"As have I," said Bra'tac.
"Even longer for you, old man," said Teal'c with a smile.
Bra'tac ignored the jibe, gazing pointedly at the striking white hair at Teal'c's temples, and instead asked "And why do you tell me this?"
"I am a Jaffa," said Teal'c again, "and yet when I am here, after a few days, I find that I miss the Tau'ri and the things of Earth that I have grown accustomed to, and yet when I am there, I am apart from my people, my family, my nation."
"You have never chosen the easy path, Teal'c" said Bra'tac.
"Indeed," said Teal'c after a moment's thought.
The two men sat in silence for a time, digesting their meal, and gazing out at the sunset and watching for the first stars as they appeared.
"It is this that I sometimes wish I could teach the Tau'ri," said Teal'c.
Bra'tac raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
"The beauty of silence," said Teal'c.
Bra'tac just nodded.
V is for Voice
There had never been such a thing as a voice of the Jaffa people. The Jaffa peoples were divided and at war with one another throughout their known history. Loyal to this god or that one, and filled with bitter mistrust and scorn for those so misguided as to worship any god which was not one's own.
Even within the ranks of Jaffa loyal to the same god, there was no true voice. The words of a First Prime were listened to with respect or fear, but he spoke only as his lord commanded. In his waning days as First Prime of Apophis, Bra'tac had had questions and misgivings to which he dared not give voice. He saw similar questions sometimes in the eyes of the men he commanded, but their silence was even more certain than his own. He might dream of speaking out; they would never dream of so doing.
As the Free Jaffa gathered and organized and recruited and planned, many individual Jaffa found their voice. They orated and persuaded and argued. They were loud and fierce and proud. A new kind of pride, centered on free choice rather than service to a god. But too many of their voices were silenced in the bloody battles that followed. Their words, their leadership, seemed to pass from memory. In that time of upheaval and rapid change, the tradition of honoring the past was set aside, and fallen heroes were simply fallen.
Now the battles have ended. They have won their victory, and, for the present, peace reigns. It is time to unite -- to create a strong nation that will never again be oppressed, that need fear no enemy nor rely on any ally. Once again, voices rise.
Smooth. Insinuating. Smug. Self-aggrandizing.
The loudest voices of the Jaffa Council are as the voices of braying animals, filled with wind and empty of sense.
So now it is Bra'tac's self-appointed mission, with Teal'c and a few trustworthy others at his side, to ensure that the ultimate, lasting voice of the Jaffa people will be the voice of reason. He is confident that he will succeed.
No matter how many skulls he must crack together in the pursuit of reasonableness, Bra'tac shall, in the end, prevail.
W is for Wedding
"Well, perhaps I have chosen poorly as well!"
As he watched both Rya'c and Kar'yn leave the embarkation room furiously, Bra'tac couldn't help letting his comment slip, "I can see why one must rehearse these events." The corner of his mouth curled as a tiny chuckled escaped his lips.
As the Jaffa gathered in the room quietly left, Bra'tac was left alone to collect the items scattered throughout the table. The proud Jaffa rarely permitted his mind to wander, especially in a strange location such as the Tau'ri home world. However as he picked up the circle of fidelity he could not help but think back to another time where he stood facing a bride, ready and waiting for the circlet to be placed on her golden hair.
She was one of Bastet's priestesses, tall and fair with golden hair and eyes as fierce as a summer storm. Bra'tac first saw her at a time where Bastet and Apophis had shared a temporary alliance to defeat a common enemy. Bra'tac's gaze had fallen upon her and the rest had fallen in to place. It was not long before he stood before Sher'ac and placed the circle of fidelity on her head. He remembered with mirth as she had frowned and wrinkled her eyebrows in distaste every instant that she knelt before him. He remembered how he had nearly laughed at the sight, in the middle of one of the most sacred Jaffa ceremonies: the joining of a Jaffa warrior and his simka.
Bra'tac smiled as he thought of Sher'ac strength and determination, of how one day, while they walked thought the agora in Chulak, she had spoken of a great day where no Jaffa would need to sacrifice his life for a god. A god, she had begun to feel lest inclined to have faith in. Sher'ac had spoken of her distaste for Bastet's eventual betrayal of the alliance with Apophis and how she had ordered the slaughter of many Jaffa who were allied to her cause. Sher'ac had asked Bra'tac, how could a god who claimed to love her people so callously cast them away without a second glance?
Sher'ac's words remained with Bra'tac a long time. He discussed them vigorously with her until at last they had begun to see the same callousness with Apophis. They noticed too the oppression of the Jaffa and how they were bowed in servitude. These realizations made him think of freedom for many many months.
And when Apophis ordered Sher'ac's execution for treason for speaking against her god, Bra'tac no longer thought of her words. Instead, he vowed to begin planting the seeds of rebellion to one day see them grow. He vowed after her death that he would fight for the freedom of all Jaffa to his dying breath. He never hoped to see the Jaffa gain their freedom, he only hoped he would die knowing his and Sher'ac's dream would not die with him. The following week, he met an ambitious young Jaffa named Teal'c and it was not long before he too began to believe.
Bra'tac's smile faded. He returned to his quarters and once he closed the door, he pulled out the small linen cloth from his boot. He unwrapped it and brought the dried leaves and flowers which once formed a circlet and inhaled as though the scent of Sher'ac still lingered.
"The fight continues, Sher'ac. I have not forgotten. We are one day closer to freedom," he said before quickly replacing the linen in his boot. He thought of Sher'ac, he thought of Teal'c and his dear friend's current dilemma with Rya'c. He must admit he did see some of Sher'ac spirit in Kar'yn, though the young Hak'tyl warrior had much to learn about patience and respect. Though Sher'ac was opposed to many of the Jaffa traditions, she still held some respect for them.
Bra'tac's thoughts returned to Rya'c and his discord with his father. This was the first bond that needed to be mended. Rya'c would not be able to wed Kar'yn in peace without repairing his relationship with his father; this was key and clearly the root of his frustration towards his simka.
Bra'tac left his quarters and made his way to the training room to speak with a certain Jaffa.
"The rite is complete. May you love and fight like warriors. Just not with each other." Bra'tac laughed along with the other wedding guests as the newlyweds kissed for the first time as husband and wife.
It pleased him greatly not only to see that Rya'c had mended his bond with Teal'c, but also that the light had returned to both their eyes as they cherished this moment. He knew both men would have left this day with a heavy heart had they not resolved their differences. For a brief instant, Bra'tac 's heart felt light, almost as light as when he had wed Sher'ac. Not all was perfect for the Jaffa rebellion, but for this moment in the throes of celebrating a new union, everything was at it should be.
X is for Xenocide
And let it be known that the heathens were given a chance to repent of their ways and acknowledge their true god and did not. Therefore their faces will be forever scoured from the universe. For the glory of Apophis.
Bra'tac's mother smelled of incense and cooking spice. She was strong, and proud, and she believed with all of her heart that Apophis was her god. It was one of the few things she and his father disagreed on.
"The day you were born," she would tell him, "I had a dream. I saw you grown into a man; a skilled warrior. You stood in Apophis' highest favour and he poured blessings down upon our family. I have never doubted this would be so, my son."
Bra'tac never forgot his father's teachings; carefully worded stories that showed the gods as fallible, arrogant and cruel. But sometimes. Sometimes, when the other trainees spoke excitedly of the glorious battles awaiting them. When he stood with his peers and was accepted into the ranks of Aphophis' soldiers and his mother looked on with unconcealed pride. Sometimes, he wanted her to be right.
They were a stocky species, with skin a light pink colour that Bra'tac had never seen before and never would again. They guided their children away from the Jaffa and they spoke with caution and reserve. Their city was beautiful; buildings set in stone and marked with colour and patterns. They would trade, they said. But they would not serve and they would not acknowledge Apophis as god.
He told them that refusing meant death. It didn't matter.
For his victory in battle Bra'tac was awarded the title of First Prime. He knelt before Apophis and he did not scream when the gold was seared into his forehead. It was what he'd wanted. It was where he'd do the most good. But as he looked back at the chappa'ai and remembered the bodies he'd stepped over to get there and the satisfaction in Apophis' face when he came back victorious, he remembered his mother's dream. And he wondered who he was truly helping more: his people or the man who sat in his gold throne and pretended to be their god.
Y is for Years
Bra'tac strode across the trampled meadow towards the shimmering chappa'ai amidst a rumble of staff weapons butted hard on Chulak's ground in respect. No honor guard, the Jaffa posted here; some of the most able and courageous warriors of this planet, they performed, in deadly earnest, a duty as vital in this strange new era of peace as it had been in the countless generations of war that preceded it. And what better delegation could a returning warrior desire?
No priests. No Priors. Only Jaffa, now, at the gateway to this Jaffa world.
Teal'c stepped through onto the stone platform in a swirl of robes. As ever, Bra'tac's heart soared at the sight of him, pleasure tinged with only a mild dismay at the greying temples, the new lines around mouth and eyes. He knew of Teal'c's entrapment in time on the Tau'ri ship and the price he had paid for saving his comrades and the Asgard's legacy. He had also heard of Teal'c's ordeal on Celestis. Surprisingly, the wear of years and suffering paled in comparison with the ravages wrought on him by the Dar Eshkalon massacre and its aftermath. Imposing and inspiring a figure as ever, he seemed more balanced, more at peace, than Bra'tac had seen him in a great while.
He could not suppress a smile and nod of approval as he moved to meet his onetime prot?g? at the foot of the platform steps. But he sobered as he got a closer view of Teal'c's expression.
For Teal'c, this was the poignant joy of reunion after a long and gruelling campaign, magnified many times over. What had been for Bra'tac a scant -- albeit momentous -- few weeks had been decades for his old friend. Teal'c had tears in his eyes when they gripped each other's arms.
Never had they met this way without another battle on the near horizon. Never had they met this way in a time of peace. Never, in all their lives, had they known a time of peace.
"Tec'ma-te," Teal'c said.
"Tec'ma-te," Bra'tac replied -- greeting him with the honorific in turn, acknowledging Teal'c as equal.
Teal'c's brows lifted almost infinitesimally. He inclined his head, briefly closing his eyes. Bra'tac gave his forearm a bracing shake, his shoulder a hard squeeze, and stepped back.
They turned as one and set off down the road.
"How fare you, old friend?" Teal'c said.
"My armor sits heavy on me now, a councillor's robes heavier still, but in peace and freedom the weight is nothing."
"I bring tidings that may lighten them further."
"News of your triumph with the ark reached us days ago," Bra'tac said. "I witnessed the device's effect at first hand -- a Prior's delusions were lifted away before my eyes." He snorted at the memory of the Ori propagandist's epiphany. "We Jaffa confronted the truth of oppressors we had served for millennia, and no man, woman or child among us crumpled into such a pathetic mewling thing."
"They did not take it well," Teal'c agreed. "But it is not the Ori War of which I speak."
"Research conducted on board Odyssey suggested that the life-prolonging properties of tretonin far surpass those of the larval Goa'uld. What we have lost in physical power and accelerated healing we should by all indications regain in an increased life span." He laid a hand on Bra'tac's shoulder. "You should have many years to chafe in those councillor's robes."
Enough time to make his peace with the prospect of an unknowable afterlife, or no afterlife at all? Bra'tac's belief in the gods had not been torn from him; he had lost it gradually, over years, contradiction by inconsistency, as the evidence of falsehood had mounted. Dakara they had lost in violent cataclysm, a blow to the fledgling unity of the Free Jaffa. But in a deeper, more grievous wound to Bra'tac personally, they had lost Kheb, finding the place of the glorious warrior afterlife to be a world like any other. He feared only death with dishonor, not death itself; he had been injured to the point of death as many times as he had fingers to count them with; with the gods and the afterlife discredited, he had filled the void of faith with a cause he had expected to die for. Now the battles were done, and he found himself, somewhat perplexingly, alive -- with no idea, now, what he did believe.
He would welcome the time to find out.
"Such news must be celebrated," he said. "My house survived the Ori bombardment and stands ready to receive you."
"I would enjoy nothing more than to share the noon meal with you," Teal'c said, "but I have business to complete in the city and my time is somewhat short -- "
"This gift of prolonged life and you cannot spare an hour for your old master? Indulge your elder, Teal'c."
With the beginnings of an amused smile, Teal'c said, "You are still my master, Bra'tac, as you have ever been and will ever be. But you are my elder no longer."
Bra'tac cast him a sharp and curious look, then did a quick, approximate mental calculation. Chulak took longer to orbit its binary star than Earth took to orbit Sol. It was quite possible that the thirty years' difference in their ages, as reckoned here, was roughly equivalent to the fifty Terran years Teal'c had aged in one blink of Bra'tac's eyes.
Bra'tac shook his head and chuckled. "I once called you the son I never had. Now it seems you are also the brother I have always had."
"You honor me," Teal'c said. Then he took a look around, and frowned. "We have taken a wrong turning."
"Not at all," Bra'tac said, having altered their path deliberately while Teal'c was engaged in the conversation. "It's only a little farther now."
Teal'c began, "But this is the way to ... "
Then they were over the rise and rounding the bend in the road, and Teal'c pulled up short.
Teal'c had long desired to raise a new house on the site of the one Apophis burned, and his business in the city was to arrange for the start of construction. He had no idea that after their wedding Rya'c and Kar'yn had undertaken the building in secret, and through two long years of conflict with the Ori had shepherded the project to completion. The last Ori attacks had done some damage, and since Teal'c had messaged his intent to visit they had been feverishly making repairs. Bra'tac was charged with keeping Teal'c busy while they applied the finishing touches -- without letting him near anyone who would casually mention the new house, and without letting him disappear into the city on errands into the evening hours. But Teal'c was stubborn, Bra'tac knew when a tactic had failed, and this was really the way he'd thought all along that it should go: no prearranged presentation, but Teal'c coming upon Rya'c and Kar'yn unnoticed while they did the things that made a house a home -- working, laughing, bickering, teasing.
In an hour, others would arrive. Ishta, Raknor; other friends from the city and from Hak'tyl; neighbors old and new. There would be food, drink, festivities. For this brief moment, there was just Teal'c and the sight of his children and their labor of love.
And Bra'tac, who stood by his side, and said, "Welcome home, old man."
Z is for Zat'nik'tel
As a boy, Bra'tac remembered that his father had been a man of great faith, which he instilled in Bra'tac, encouraging his son to follow him on the warrior's path. His father had carried the Zat'nik'tel with pride and instilled a reverence for the weapons of the gods in Bra'tac.
When he was of age to carry a symbiote within his body, Bra'tac took vows to serve the gods, to follow the commands of the first prime, to give his life if his god Apophis demanded it. As he undertook training with the masters, he firmly believed with all of his heart that he was travelling on the good and righteous path.
On the day that he was deemed skilled enough in his training and worthy of the honor to carry a weapon in service of his god, Bra'tac felt as if the honor might overwhelm him. When his training master held out the Zat'nik'tel to him, laid across his palms like an offering, young Bra'tac felt his heart swell with pride in all that he had accomplished to reach this day.
He took the gleaming weapon into his hands, glad that he did not tremble before his master. He touched the swooping curve of the body, traced the lines that had been artfully carved into it. He did not caress it, for that would be like a sacrilege. The weapon, meant to be an extension of the arm as it delivered the wrath of the god, resembled the form of the god that he served. It was to be a constant reminder as he carried it with him, this power of the god capable of delivering both punishment and death.
One day, Bra'tac would carry a staff weapon and join the others in the ranks of Jaffa serving Apophis. But the Zat'nik'tel and all that it symbolized would hold a place in his heart, a reminder of the vows he had made as a boy. His skill would carry him through the ranks until he became a first prime in his own right.
He did his duty faithfully, believing in his heart in what he did until the day when he came to know the god he followed was false. On that day, he set aside his Zat'nik'tel, because the reminder was no longer a bolster to his faith but rather a reminder of the folly of his youth, when he was blind and believed the lies and did the bidding of the false gods, carried out atrocities in their name. The Zat'nik'tel became a new symbol for him, one that made his heart ache and troubled his soul, for he had broken the vows of his youth.
Bra'tac could never look upon a Zat'nik'tel without a pang of guilt. If there was time for it, his mind would wander; his thoughts would turn to the consequences of breaking a vow made to a false god. If one gave one's word to a liar, was it wrong to break that trust and go back on the promises made? It was a question that troubled him through the years as he took a leading role in destroying the false gods.