Escalade : an act of scaling, especially the walls of a fortification
"Do not look down, Teal'c. Look up. Look up." Master Bra'tac's voice floated down to Teal'c from the top of the wall the young man was trying to scale.
"But it is so far down," Teal'c hated the tremble that was in his voice but he could not help it. It was very far down. He scrabbled on the rocky surface of the wall, trying to find a hand hold, but the rock surface kept crumbling in his hand. It was useless, he was not going to be able to make it to the top. He would never be able to complete his training as a jaffa and he would never hope to achieve the coveted position of First Prime of Apophis.
"Teal'c," Bra'tac's commanding voice drew his eyes upward.
He still had a long way to go before he made it to the top. He could barely make out Master Bra'tac peering down at him from the top of the rock wall."Do not look down.," Bra'tac said. "Down is in the past, it is over. You must keep your eye fixed upon the top, that is your goal. Always keep your eye on your goal."
Clinging to the wall, Teal'c took a deep cleansing breath. His goal was to be First Prime of Apophis someday. In order to achieve that, he first had to reach the top of the wall. He pushed aside the fear and doubt that were clouding his mind. He would make it to the top because he had to.
Opening his eyes, he scanned the rock face, picking out hand holds, looking for indentations where he might find secure footing. With one more deep, cleansing breath he reached out for the rocky protuberance he had spied. It was at the very edge of his reach, his fingers slipped unable to close around it securely. He took a chance and pushed himself onto his toes. He could feel himself slipping but he refused to look down. Down was the past, down was death if he fell and he did not intend to fall. He was going to be First Prime and he could reach it…
His fingers closed over the rocky knob just as his toes lost their purchase. He pulled himself up by one hand until his toes could find a solid purchase again. He heaved himself up, looking only at the top of the wall, his eyes now firmly fixed on his goal.
The jaffa hovering in the periphery of his vision caught Teal'c's attention. The man looked self-important and pleased with himself. He was probably another who would someday challenge him as First Prime of Apophis. There had been too many over the years. He hated sending them on missions from which they would not return, but there was too much at stake to allow himself to be replaced by one whose only thought was to find favor with the god.
It was true that once that had been his only goal, to serve Apophis and restore honor to his family. Over the years he had seen the cruelty inflicted by Apophis, he had been forced to kill people whose only crime was that they would not bow down before the god. He had begun to question whether the Goa'uld were really gods as they claimed to be.
He felt that a true god would show compassion and love for his people. He would not trample them underfoot and use them for his own perverted pleasures. He knew it was heresy but Teal'c was even beginning to think that perhaps they were wrong, that this Apophis was not so much a god as a demon risen from the depths of a fiery hell, sent to torture and punish his people. If it were true that Apophis was a god, then he did not deserve the loyalty and devotion of his followers.
Now Teal'c looked upon his position as First Prime as something more than the head of the god's army, more than the chosen right hand to Apophis. Teal'c saw his duty as so much more. It was also his duty to serve the people.
Standing by and even participating in some of the worst of Apophis' atrocities was hard, but necessary. Because sometimes..., sometimes if he was careful and clever he could bend his master's will to a different path. Convince him to spare a world or take one life instead of many. His victories were few and hard won, but he felt a moment of hope for each one
. Today was going to be one of the hard days when he would be unable to save anyone – neither the ones chosen for the honor of becoming one of the children of the gods or those left behind to die. Many would be lost today. Not the least were those who would become hosts. He knew his own complicity in this.
It was he who had chosen the host for Apophis new queen, Ammonet. She was a slave girl, beautiful beyond words with a fiery spirit that had been quenched by introduction of Ammonet. Apophis told them it was an honor that the girl had been used so. She was elevated from slave to queen.
But the screams of pain that Teal'c had heard as the creature, the god Ammonet, had gained mastery of the girl chilled him to his soul. Of all the sins he had committed in the service to his god, he thought that this one was perhaps the worst.
He would not let himself grieve over the fate of one person. He learned long ago that Apophis used the feelings of his followers against them. Teal'c would not allow himself to be so used because of one girl. He had a wife and a son to worry about. If he died, their lives would be forfeit. And he would not give any more hostages to fate. No, he saved the ones he could and the rest would have to take care of themselves.
Sometimes he felt as he had that day on the wall while training with Bra'tac. He had a new goal, achieving freedom for himself and all his people, but the wall in front of him was now so high, he could not even see the top.
At last the jaffa who had been following him would be denied no longer. He knelt at Teal'c's feet, unannounced and uninvited. Death would be his reward if Teal'c were so inclined and none would ever question him.
"Speak," he commanded in a growl that clearly told the man that what he had to say had better be worth the interruption.
The jaffa dared to look up at him, "the prisoners are assembled, my lord."
Teal'c frowned. This was not news of such importance that the man would risk his life. "Yes?" he asked impatiently.
"The strangers that were taken..." the man trailed off, perhaps finally aware of the enormity of what he was doing.
Teal'c knew of who he was speaking. He had seen the strangers when Apophis presented his queen to the people of Chulak. There had been something about them that had caught his attention immediately. It had been his intention to study them more closely later.
"Yes?" he said again, prompting the man to continue.
"They were taken to the room of the chosen," the man reported.
His words startled Teal'c, although no one watching would have known. He himself had ordered the strangers put into solitary quarters. He wanted to interrogate them himself at a later time when the god was not in residence. Instead someone had sent them to the chambers of those to participate in the choosing. None could countermand his orders but Apophis himself.
"This is well," Teal'c nodded as if he was in complete agreement.
His thoughts churned, however. Why would the god do this unless they were a threat? He frowned down at his subordinate and the man had the good sense to cast his eyes to the floor and cower there, "Is there more?"
The man hesitated, but then said, "They are different."
"Different?" Teal'c had certainly thought so when he first saw them.
The newcomers presented a strange company that included a woman in their midst. She was dressed as her companions and appeared very much to be a warrior in her own right. There was only one other place he had encountered a woman in the guise of a man. He mourned the beautiful woman who had been sacrificed when she was found unworthy by the God, Ammonet. Just another in his list of sins committed in the name of the God.
The presence of the woman was not the only thing that marked the small company as odd. They did not give the god the proper deference. Oh, they made the proper movements, bowing low, but he could see in their eyes that they held no special regard for Apophis.
While they all appeared as warriors, only one of the men could truly be named as one. The older man reminded Teal'c strongly of his old master, Bra'tac. He had been impressed at the way the man constantly assessed their situation, calculated their odds of escape, coolly planning his next move even as things went wrong around him. Teal'c recognized another leader of men when he saw one.
The third person in the group, the other man in their company puzzled Teal'c. He did not have the instincts or the demeanor of a soldier. He was passionate and reckless, foolishly throwing himself at the gods, drawing their attention and Apophis' anger. Teal'c was surprised he escaped from his first encounter with Apophis and Ammonet alive. Although the last he had seen of him as his jaffa took the three away, he did not look well.
"They are not of the people of Chulak, my lord, I thought you would want to know," the jaffa kneeling at his feet brought Teal'c back to the present. "They came here impersonating the gods."
Although it was an offense punishable by death, Teal'c knew of no one who would even contemplate such a thing.
"Do you know where they came from?" Teal'c asked.
The jaffa again raised his head in pride. "I questioned the priests who brought them from the mountains. They were on the path leading down from the Chap'pei. They said they came here to choose."
The word fell between them, like a stone, heavy and immutable.
No one traveled through the ring but the gods themselves. Whatever they were, the newcomers were not gods. Teal'c would know it if that were so. For one moment Teal'c allowed himself to wonder, to hope, that perhaps this was what he had been searching for all the years he had been First Prime of Apophis, someone to help him in his dream of freeing his people of their enslavement to the god.
As quickly as he thought it, though, the ember of hope flickered and died.
The strangers were only three in number. How could they possibly think to strike against the god and all the other gods who held jaffa and their kind in slavery? Even now they were prisoners of Apophis. They would either become hosts to a god or they would die. There was nothing they could do to help him.
And there was nothing he could do to help them.Teal'c felt the wall rising above him, too high to climb. He was fated to live his life as a servant to a cruel and evil god. It was fit punishment for the crimes he had committed in the god's name."You have done well," Teal'c nodded at the man at his feet, dismissing him summarily.
The man had sense enough to nod in respect and back away.
With narrowed eyes, Teal'c watched the jaffa as he disappeared down the hallway. Teal'c marked him as one to watch in the future, soon he would challenge Teal'c's position.
The man was right about one thing though, the newcomers were different. They might not be the saviors that Teal'c hoped for, but perhaps he should speak to them while he still had the chance.
Teal'c strode through the halls of Apophis' palace as if he himself owned it. As Apophis' right hand, none would dare question or try to stop him, it would be their death to do so. When he told the guard to open the door and let him enter the chamber of the chosen, the guard bowed and did as instructed.
The people closest to the door shrunk away as he stepped in. They did not know for what purpose they had been taken, but they knew enough of Apophis and his legendary cruelty to be afraid. As Apophis' First Prime, Teal'c's was the hand they feared most.
Ignoring them all, he scanned the crowd, searching for the strangers. Just as he thought, they were easily found in the crowd of cowering slaves. They stood out just because they were not cowering or even particularly afraid. Their manner of dress was very different from any around them.
He approached, watching them warily for any signs of weapons they might have been able to smuggle in, as unlikely as that might be. They talked among themselves, even the warrior was unaware of his approach. A glint on the man's wrist drew Teal'c's attention.
The band was unfamiliar to Teal'c, but the metal was refined. It had the look of technology that was forbidden to all but the gods. He reached out and took the warrior's wrist so that he might inspect it further.
Instead of the cowering submission he would expect to meet from a slave, there was resistance as the warrior almost jerked his arm away. There was a battle of wills as he felt the other man wanting to fight back, defend himself and his people. He watched through narrowed eyes as the man made the conscious decision to relax.
"What is this?" Teal'c asked. He studied the device the warrior wore closely. It did indeed have a precision to it that spoke of forbidden technologies.
"It's a watch," the warrior said as if that should explain the whole matter.
"This is not Goa'uld technology," Teal'c said. He studied them closely, looking for something, anything to tell him what to do with these people. His instincts told him that they were more than they seemed, but how could he find out for certain without betraying himself?
"Where are you from?" he asked.
"Earth," the warrior replied. Teal'c had immediate respect for the man as he saw him sizing up his opponent. "Chicago if you want to be specific..."
"Your words mean nothing," Teal's said impatiently. They were worse than useless. "Where are you from?"
"Excuse me," the warrior's companion spoke, the man. There was a gleam in his eyes, an excitement that couldn't be quenched from sitting in a dank, dungeon room facing death or worse. He knelt to carefully draw a symbol in the dirt. "This is where we're from." He looked up at Teal'c expectantly, his lips parted in excitement.
For a moment Teal'c could not believe what he was seeing. The world represented by the symbol was a myth, the people who lived there a story told to children. Without hesitation he used his staff weapon to erase the symbol so that no one else would see what had been there.
Without a word he turned, leaving the strangers standing there, staring after him.
Teal'c continued in his duties, preparing for the ceremony of choosing. No one, except perhaps for Master Bra'tac, would have been able to see the conflict warring within him.
For the first time in his life, he felt as if he might have found a possible ally in his fight against the Goa'uld, a fight that until this moment had been waged by only himself and Master Bra'tac. A pitiful army that was only able to win the smallest of battles when no one was paying attention.
Was it possible that the newcomers were from the home of the Tau'ri, the race from whom all others had sprung? And now they were destined to be chosen as vessels for the gods or to die. Teal'c didn't know how he could let them die, but he also didn't know how he could save them either.
Saving them would mean giving up everything he held dear, giving up his wife and his son and his people, his very honor among them. He would never be able to return to Chulak and his family would very likely die because of his actions.
Not knowing what to do, he continued as he always did. He watched. He listened. He kept his eye on his goal which seemed further away than it ever did, the top of the wall stretching out of sight.
When the jaffa entered the chamber of the chosen, Teal'c watched the newcomers. While fear bloomed through the rest of the crowd, spreading like a plague, the newcomers were alert and cautious, but not afraid.
They were startled by the entrance of Apophis and his new queen however. Teal'c saw the grief that passed through them and he knew without being told that this was why they were here, to find this woman. He watched, never betraying the turmoil that raged within him as the man who had drawn the symbol in the dirt launched himself at his captors.
He cried out, "Sha're!" His companions stepped forward, physically holding him back.
The queen did not acknowledge him; she did not even bother to glance in his direction. She stood at her lord's side, cold and impassive.
The misery on the man's face was enough to crack Teal'c's stone façade. How would he feel if someone took his wife? What would it cost him to stand and see her at the God's side, never even knowing him? He wished he could undo what had been done, but that was in no one's power. Not even the gods.
Not allowing himself to feel pity or guilt, Teal'c stepped forward. He knew his part in this charade, he had played it many times before.
He took his place, stalking down the middle of the room, clearing a path for the gods. Once he reached his place he turned, calling out "Kneel before your masters."
As his voice reverberated throughout the room, the people dropped to their knees. They knew the price of disobedience was instant death. None were willing to draw the wrath of the gods upon themselves.
None that it is but the strangers, they drew unwanted attention to themselves as they were the only ones in the room left standing, save the jaffa and the favored servants of the God. The warrior looked at Teal'c, a question in his eyes.
Teal'c nodded to him, a bare movement of his head. If they wished to live, they would bow. He was impressed when the warrior did so immediately, gesturing for his companions to comply. They knelt, watching the proceedings with keen interest.
Teal'c stood impassively waiting, he knew what was about to happen. He has seen this drama played out many times. He has always thought it was better to be among those not chosen, at least their death was swift and clean. Once it was done, suffering has ended. To be the chosen of the gods means to die each day, each minute, each second.
The gods move down the path he has cleared, looking to the left and the right and the choosing began.
A Goa'uld stepped forward into the crowd of people to draw forward a girl so that he might examine her more closely. She shivered at his touch and flinched away. The Goa'uld rejected her for whatever reason and she fell back into the waiting arms of her people. Whether she knew it or not, she was one of the lucky ones. Another was found pleasing and was accepted. She was led away, her feet dragging the ground. The girl looked around bewildered, unsure what was going to happen to her. She reached out for someone to help her, but there was no help. She disappeared and another followed quickly after.
Teal'c continued to watch the newcomers.
The young man's whole body seemed to quiver as he watched the Queen. There was a desperate desire in his eyes, a need to be with her no matter the price. There was nothing Teal'c can do when he saw the young men tense, even though he knew what the other man was going to do. The man watched until one of the Goa'uld was even with him, then the young man threw himself forward into the path of the questing god. All eyes turned to him.
The Goa'uld paused to look disdainfully down on the man that blocked his path. He considered him critically, "This one is passionate," he said in apparent approval.
"How much would I remember if you chose me?" the man asked. His voice quivers as he looks to the queen. His eyes are filled with such longing, he would do anything to be with her, including giving himself up as a sacrifice to the gods.
The warrior endeavorsedto reach his comrade, to pull him back, but he is stopped by the jaffa around him,
"Daniel, what are you doing?" he called. But he knew what the man was doing as surely as Teal'c did.
The other man ignored him as he implored the Goa'uld, "Something of the host must survive?" He was nearly in tears as his heartbroken gaze returned to the cold figure of the queen.
Teal'c did not truly know if the girl was trapped somewhere inside her own body now. But he had suspicions. He stared at the strangers willing them to see him. What he does know is that the Goa'uld must not be allowed to learn of the existence of the Tau'ri. They would find their world and grind it under their heel. Any hope that he might someday find help there would be gone forever.
Perhaps he can sense Teal'c stare, perhaps he is just searching for some way to help his friend. Whatever the reason, the warrior turned to look at Teal'c. With the drama in front of them, no one saw Teal'c shake his head but the warrior himself. Teal'c hoped it was the truth. No one should be trapped within their bodies, unwilling witness to the cruelty and terror that their bodies inflicted upon others.
The Goa'uld took a moment to survey the man, playing with the man kneeling in front of him. The god's were capricious and rarely would they choose one who threw themself at them this way. "We choose..." he paused before suddenly turning to the young one standing with his hand on the man's shoulder, "him."
The guards were ready and pulled the chosen one forward. The young man fought valiantly but it was all to no avail. No one could escape the will of the gods. The warrior tried to get to the young man, but he was struck down by the waiting jaffa even as the boy was taken away, screaming and fighting every step of the way.
Teal'c knew what was coming next. He steels himself, knowing it his duty. He scans the room, trying to decide if there was a way that he can safely shield the newcomers from what was to come.
Apophis turned as he departed. "Kill the rest," he commanded. Then he was gone, his new queen at his side.
Pandemonium broke out around him as the people flee, seeking any avenue to escape their fate. But there was nowhere for them to go. Teal'c knows this for a certainty. It was his duty to make sure that none leave this room alive. His jaffa know their part also, they move forward, staff weapons at the ready, waiting only for his command.
But the newcomers do not flee. They do not scream in terror or plead for their lives. The warrior faces Teal'c with burning in his eyes. They hold a challenge that Teal'c finds difficult to deny. Perhaps he can see into Teal'c's heart and knows that he was sickened by what he must do.
"I can save these people." The warrior refused to give ground to the jaffa that threatened him. He stood, challenging Teal'c to move him if he could.
Teal'c leveled his weapon, knowing what he must do. It was his duty to his God. If he allowed these people to live it was his wife and son that would pay the price for his disobedience.
"Help me!" The warrior shouted in desperation. "Help me," he said simply. There was a fire in his eye, the need to save the people around him, the need to save the people under his command. He had to watch as the boy was taken away knowing there was nothing he could do to save him, but he was determined to help the ones that he could.
"I can save these people," the warrior implored.
Teal'c believed that he would try. "Many have said that!"
So many times he has seen brave men rise up against their Goa'uld overseers and try to protect those they loved. So many times he has seen good men die in a lost cause. Teal'c has always been a realist. He fights his war in a small way when no one will know or see his hand. But there comes a time when a man must take a stand for what he believes in. Teal'c looked around him at the room, at the frightened people fleeing from him, at the warrior with the burning eyes challenging him to take that stand here and now.
The wall rises before Teal'c. The handholds are precarious and his feet are slipping. But for the first time he can see the top of the wall. Dimly he can see the figure of the warrior that stands before him now. He reaches a hand down to Teal'c, offering to pull him up.
With a pivot, Teal'c turned and fired into the line of his jaffa before tossing his staff weapon to the other man, "But you are the first I believe could do it!"
For just a second his own men are confused, unable to believe that Teal'c has betrayed them. It is enough time for him to scoop up the weapon of the man he just shot. The warrior covers him, activating the weapon and taking care of those jaffa nearest him.
For most of his life he desired to be the first prime of Apophis. Now he has a new goal – freedom for his people. Around him the walls of doubt that had hemmed him in and kept him from acting tumble away and he finds himself fighting beside the man who said he could save the people. Teal'c believes him.
It would be a long and arduous climb, that he knew. But for the first time Teal'c believes he will make it to the top of the wall and see the day that his people would be free.