Egeria frowned severely at the tank teeming with the children to whom she'd given birth. They would remain here for three days, then be taken by priests to Chulak, where they would await the moment that they would be implanted in Jaffa.
The Prim'ta were not the source of Egeria's frown, but, rather, the events of the previous night. As had been done many times in the past, her First Prime searched the outlying areas of her domain for a virile young man who had no romantic attachments to another woman and who would be quite willing to bed his queen and give his seed to her. She always preferred the man she mated with for this purpose to be someone she would most likely never lay eyes upon again. She never picked the same man twice, not wishing him to believe that he meant more to her than simply a source for the code of life.
Over the centuries, some of the men chosen had brought her great pleasure while others were not so skilled in the art of lovemaking. The man chosen this time was quite handsome, with dark hair and eyes and well-tanned skin. He was an adequate lover, not as good as some, though better than others. His mediocrity was not the problem. The problem was that, as they made love, Egeria kept imagining his brown eyes to be blue, his hair not quite so dark, his skin light instead of deeply tanned. In her mind, it was not he whose body was mated with hers, but Daniel. At the height of pleasure, she nearly cried out Daniel's name, afterwards knowing that it was her imagination rather than the skill of her lover that had enabled her to reach that pinnacle.
This should not be happening. She should not be feeling these things. She was Egeria, a queen of the Goa'uld. She had been the lover of kings, yet never before had any man ruled her thoughts as did this traveler about whom she knew so little. She should free him and let him leave this world. Then he would be gone, and she could drive him from her mind. Yet the thought of letting him go troubled her deeply. She did not want him to be gone. In fact, she wanted him to be closer, to see him more often.
Egeria went to her private chambers and out onto the balcony. There might be a way that she could satisfy her desire for him. The love Daniel still felt for his dead wife was great, but it would fade in time. Once it had, he would be more amenable to finding pleasure with another woman. She would bring him here, make him one of the servants in her palace. She would spend more time with him, learn more about him and perhaps share some things about herself. Surely, in time, he would come to have feelings for her. And when he was ready, she would be the one he turned to for the pleasure he had denied himself for so long.
For most slaves, being called to serve in the palace would be considered a great honor. For this particular slave, however, "honor" was not exactly the word going through his mind. Daniel was pretty sure this was not a good thing. He was not certain why Egeria had decided to make him a palace slave, but, whatever the reason, it would mean that he'd have to watch every step he made, every word he spoke. With Aulus and the others, he hadn't had to worry so much about that. If he referred to an event that hadn't happened yet or talked about a culture that he really shouldn't, he didn't have to be concerned about his mistake being spotted or someone expressing too much interest. Now, anything he said might reach Egeria's ears.
Aulus had not been happy that he was losing Daniel, but he had consoled himself with Egeria's promise that Daniel would be available to him if truly needed. The archeologist had promised that, if he was allowed to do so, he'd come visit the master builder on occasion. He'd been wished well by many of the laborers.
A female slave led Daniel through the palace to the slave quarters. Through open doors he saw rooms that housed two and three servants. He wondered if he would now have a roommate or two.
Such was not the case. When the servant opened a door and ushered Daniel inside, he was surprised to see a room over twice the size of the one he had before, the equivalent of a double bed against one wall, complete with an actual mattress instead of a pallet and colored blankets and covers instead of a single undyed woolen blanket. Two chairs were off to the side. A large chest sat at the foot of the bed, and upon the table was a water pitcher and basin that had been brightly painted and glazed. A big window let in the sunlight. Though the room could not in any way be considered luxurious, it was way more than what he'd expected. He began to wonder exactly what his duties were going to be.
Once the servant had left, explaining that Daniel would be summoned when needed, the archeologist wandered around the room a bit. He tried out the bed and found it to be surprisingly soft. An even bigger surprise was found in the chest. Daniel stared in shock at his BDUs and vest. He checked all the pockets and found them to be empty. It would have been far too much to hope that they wouldn't be. Also in the chest were other garments, the ones he was certain Egeria expected him to wear.
Daniel took a seat in one of the chairs. So what now? What job would he be given here? Work in the kitchen? Cleaning? Serving wine to Egeria and performing other such duties? He knew that if Egeria had a Lo'taur, a Goa'uld's most trusted human slave, the Lo'taur would be the one to perform many personal duties, which was fine with Daniel, more than fine. The less contact he had with Egeria the better.
The archeologist had actually come to enjoy his work with Aulus. It kept his mind active and made use of some of his prior knowledge and skills. He had his doubts that the same would be true here. Egeria would have no use for an archeologist, anthropologist, linguist, and untrained diplomat. With a sigh, Daniel determined that the rest of his year of servitude was probably going to drag by.
Daniel had been in his room for around an hour when a servant arrived. He was taken to another wing of the palace and to a room at the end of a long hallway. When he saw what was inside, his jaw nearly hit the floor.
"They're . . . they're scrolls," he said in a hushed voice. His eyes widened as he saw something else. "And books."
"Is that so very surprising?"
Daniel started violently and turned to see a wizened little man sitting behind a table, pen in hand. The guy looked to be at least seventy, with pale blue eyes and what was left of his white hair sticking up in little tufts. The eyes were now studying Daniel closely.
The archeologist turned back to the books and scrolls. There were thousands of them, all lined up on shelves.
"I, um . . . I've never seen a Goa'uld with scrolls or books," Daniel explained.
"True enough. Most of them prefer those contraptions with the buttons and knobs. We have those, too. In fact, that is one of the reasons why you are here."
Daniel looked at the man. "It is?"
"Egeria believes that you have experience with such things. All these," he swept his arm about to indicate the books and scrolls, "she obtained from other worlds. They are in many different languages, only some of which she can read. She wishes for them to all be translated into Goa'uld and entered into one of those devices so that she can read them. I have worked for over fifty years on translating scrolls, books, tablets and other things, but there is never an end to it, for she is continually getting more. And many of the languages are ones of which I have no knowledge. I am told that you can read and write several languages."
Daniel nodded, thinking that maybe he'd been wrong about the rest of the year dragging by. If he was going to be doing translations, reading things written by cultures and peoples from all across the galaxy, he'd never want to stop.
Daniel blinked, pulling his attention back to the sitting man. "Excuse me?"
"How many languages?" The man wagged a finger at him. "Do not lie. I will know if you do."
"Um. . . ." Daniel didn't know how to answer. Many of the languages that he could read didn't even exist yet.
Deciding to take the chance, Daniel gave an honest answer, which made the elderly man's eyes widened dramatically.
"I can tell that you speak the truth, but how can one so young know so much?"
"I, uh, always had a bit of a talent for learning languages. I've been learning them pretty much for as long as I can remember. My father once joked that I was reading before I was even walking."
The man nodded shortly and got to his feet. That's when Daniel saw that his back was slightly hunched, likely due to osteoporosis.
"I am Decimus Marius," he said with a little twinkle in his eyes, "and I believe that we will get along just fine, you and I."
Daniel's fingers sat poised over the keyboard, an actual, honest-to-goodness keyboard. Granted, the characters were in Goa'uld, and it looked more like something out of a science fiction B-movie, but it was a keyboard nevertheless, one that the archeologist was already giving a workout. The computer that the keyboard was connected to was antiquated compared to the Goa'uld devices that Daniel was used to working with, but considering the fact that, right now on Earth, they were using ancient versions of the abacus, who was he to complain?
Daniel typed in the sentence he'd just finished translating. This was his fifth solid day of translations, and he was quite enjoying himself. Decimus had started him on languages that the elderly man didn't know, which turned out to be mostly Earth languages or ones originating from the languages of that planet. Fortunately, Daniel had at least a working knowledge of most of the original languages, so his success in translating had been quite high. He'd started on the scrolls, deciding to do the books later since each one would take quite a while.
Truthfully, what Daniel really wanted to do was go through every book and scroll here and just read and read. So much knowledge of so many cultures right here within reach. The linguist could tell that a few of the scrolls he'd translated had come straight from Earth and wondered if Egeria had brought them with her when she left the planet. In just these five days, he had already regained knowledge that had been lost to Earth long ago.
Daniel felt a little like a historian who'd been sent back in time and plopped down into the Library of Alexandria, except that this library was not nearly so huge and that ancient library never contained things written in languages like the native tongue of the lizard-like race of the planet Ikseeki or the small, yellow-skinned people of Margenwa.
Daniel couldn't read those languages, but he was hoping that, by the time he went home, he would, along with several other alien tongues. Decimus had promised to teach him all the languages he knew in exchange for Daniel doing likewise. The archeologist wasn't sure what he was going to do regarding the modern Earth languages that he could not safely teach the man. He'd just have to cross that bridge when he came to it.
A smile came to Daniel's lips upon thinking about the old man. Decimus was quite something else. He possessed a lot more energy than you'd expect from a man his age. He had a mind like quicksilver and a love of languages that equaled Daniel's, perhaps even exceeded it. He could babble on for hours about this or that language and its roots in history. He'd already given Daniel historical lessons on several alien civilizations. He hated technology, preferring to write his translations on paper and let someone else enter the stuff into the computer. Because of this, Daniel had the computer in the library all to himself.
Just then, a servant came in and walked up to Daniel.
"Queen Egeria has commanded your presence," he said.
After making sure that what he'd translated had been saved into the database, the archeologist went with the man to what appeared to be a sitting room of sorts. Looking out the window, he could see that it was overcast. The library had no windows because of the danger that the sunlight would fade the writing on some of the scrolls.
Egeria was reclining on a divan, a tray with meats, bread and cheeses on a nearby table, a wine decanter beside it.
"Are you hungry?" she asked.
Daniel looked at the food, just now realizing that he hadn't eaten in quite a while. "Actually, I am a little."
"Please eat, then, and partake of a glass of wine."
Very surprised by the offer, Daniel served himself some of the food and poured out a bit of wine. He'd never been much of a wine-drinker, but wine to the ancient Romans was all but a basic food group, so anyone who didn't drink it would be looked upon as a sad, primitive creature indeed.
"Are you enjoying your work in the library?" Egeria asked.
"Yes, very much. I like Decimus. He is quite a man."
Egeria smiled fondly. "He is indeed. I recall when he was a child. So much curiosity, always asking questions." Her eyes went to Daniel. "I suspect that you were the same."
"Oh, yes. I pestered my parents incessantly. I wanted to know everything there was to know, and it took a long time for them to convince me that no one could ever learn that much in one lifetime."
"Do they still live?"
Daniel's gaze flickered away for a moment. "No. They died when I was a child."
"Was it your grandfather, then, who raised you?" Seeing the question in his eyes, she said, "Aulus told me that your grandfather was from Rome and taught you most of what he knew."
"Oh. I suppose I should have known that he'd tell you."
Egeria searched his face. "There are not many humans who know as much about the original homeworld of your species as you do."
Knowing that they were treading on dangerous ground, Daniel only said, "There is more that I don't know than do."
Egeria took a sip of wine. "Yet you know that the Goa'uld even now take people from that world to serve them on others."
Daniel began to get nervous. This was definitely not good.
The Goa'uld queen smiled. "Do not worry, Daniel. No harm will come to you if you admit to that knowledge."
Daniel took a drink of his own wine to wet his dry throat. "Um . . . yes, I know that."
"Do you know which Goa'uld still visit that world?"
The archeologist shook his head. "Not for certain." He could make some guesses based upon the civilizations the SGC had discovered on other worlds, but he knew it would be a big mistake to reveal that knowledge to Egeria.
Daniel decided that he needed to steer the conversation away from his knowledge of Earth. He chose to ask something he'd been curious about since meeting Egeria.
"May I ask when you left there?"
"When I left, Rome was under the rule of Lucius Tarquinius."
Daniel hid his reaction to that name. Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth king of Rome. Because no records of the kings of Rome had survived into modern times, historians and archeologists had to rely on things written about them by later generations, a great deal of which was based upon legends, myths and stories. Not much of it could be confirmed as fact.
The archeologist gazed at the woman across from him, a woman who had lived on Earth at the time of most of those kings, who could probably confirm or deny a great deal of the history of that time. Daniel had to curb his excitement. He had to be careful. He could not ask too many questions, though he ached to know everything.
Daniel was surprised when Egeria laughed softly.
"Ah, Daniel. I can see the questions in your eyes," she said. "You wish to know about him and the ones who came before him. I can imagine that by the time your grandfather was born, much knowledge about them had been lost."
"Uh . . . yes, it was."
"I welcome you to ask, but that will be for another day. Today, I wish to know more about you."
Uh oh. Daniel's nervousness returned full force. This was going to be like treading through a minefield.
"What . . . would you like to know?"
"On what world were you born?"
'Oh, crap. Think, Daniel. Think.' His mind began running through the planets he knew by name, trying to think of one he could use as his birthplace. Then he suddenly realized how he could reply.
"I'm afraid I don't know. My family left that world when I was a baby, and they never told me its name. I never really had a home growing up. We traveled a lot, going from world to world. My parents liked to study the history and culture of other people, which is how I became interested in the same thing. After they died, my grandfather and I continued traveling."
They say that the best lies have a grain of truth. Daniel's fictitious tale of his childhood bore similarities to his real one, the first few years spent with parents, whose lives revolved around history and ancient cultures, his later years spent moving from family to family in foster care, never really having a place that he thought of as home. One of the biggest lies was that his grandfather played a significant role in his young life.
"It must have been an interesting childhood," Egeria said.
"Yes, it was. I'm grateful to my parents for the world they opened up to me."
Egeria got to her feet and went to a table. Upon it was something covered by a cloth. She pulled the cloth away to reveal Daniel's things, his camera, the radio, his field journal, and the various other things he'd had on the mission. Also there were his glasses. Not surprisingly, the gun was not there. Neither was his knife.
"Come tell me about these things."
Daniel got up and went to the table. Egeria lifted the radio.
"What is this?"
"It is a communication device, but it will not work here. It only works for a limited distance, and the person you talk to has to have one like it."
She touched the camera. "And this?"
"It records images and voices."
Daniel picked up the camera and began panning it about the sitting room, talking all the while about what he was seeing as he recorded. He then played it back on the little screen, his voice playing through the speaker. Egeria smiled.
"It is a crude recording device, but quite amusing," she said.
Daniel's glasses came next. He put them on, explaining that his vision was not perfect, and the glasses helped him see better, especially when reading. He asked if he could keep them, and she agreed, though she requested that he remove them for the present time.
The next thing she pointed to was one of the power bars. Smiling, Daniel opened it and broke off a piece, popping it into his mouth. As he chewed, he offered the bar to Egeria, remembering the power bar he shared with Chaka.
The Goa'uld cautiously broke off a piece and put it in her mouth. A faint look of surprise widened her eyes.
"It has a sweet flavor. From what is it made?"
"I don't know everything that's in it, but the sweetness is chocolate."
Egeria took another bite, quite obviously enjoying it.
"Do you know how to make this . . . chocolate?"
Daniel knew that if he said that it was made with beans from the cacao tree and sweetened with sugar, she would want to know where she could get some of the trees so that they could be grown there, so he lied and said that, though he knew a bit about the process, he didn't know what all the ingredients were. He could tell that Egeria was very disappointed by the answer.
Egeria asked about the other things, the ammo clips, the can of foot powder, the sunscreen, the lighter and flashlight – both of which he demonstrated for her – and all the rest of the stuff that had been in the pockets of his clothing. He asked if he could keep the watch, and she said yes again. Though it probably wouldn't work for keeping time here since the length of the days was probably not the same as on Earth, he would at least be able to keep track of the time he'd spent here in relation to Earth.
Last came the journal. Egeria picked it up and scanned the pages.
"I do not recognize this language."
Daniel paused before replying. "I'm not surprised. I would be very surprised if any Goa'uld knows it." 'But they will someday,' he added silently.
"What does it say?"
"Oh, it talks about some of the worlds I've visited. It is a journal of my thoughts and impressions, things I found and learned."
Egeria placed the book back on the table. "Perhaps you will read it to me someday."
'Sure, an extremely edited version,' Daniel replied in his head.
The Goa'uld returned to the divan, and Daniel went back to his chair.
"I spoke to Aulus yesterday," Egeria told him. "He mourns your absence."
Daniel smiled slightly, his eyes dropping briefly to his lap. "I enjoyed working with him and the others."
"Would you like to visit them?"
"May I? I didn't know if it would be permitted."
"I do not require that you stay within the palace at all times, Daniel. You are free to go elsewhere when your duties do not preclude it. It is only beyond the city that you are not allowed to go, except for the area of the river where the slaves bathe. And, of course, the Jaffa who guard the Stargate will not permit you to approach it."
"Thank you. Yes, I would like to visit Aulus and the builders and see what they've accomplished since I left."
Egeria smiled. "Then please do so. I will see that you are given some money so that you may purchase things that you might find useful."
Daniel blinked, shocked by the offer. She was giving him money? "Uhhhh . . . thank you."
"I did not think to ask before if your room is adequate."
"Yes, it's fine. I don't spend much time in it except to sleep. The bed is very comfortable."
"Good." The Goa'uld got to her feet again. "I will bid you good day, then, so that you may have your visit with Aulus before the day grows too late."
Thanking her again, Daniel went back to the library to tell Decimus that he'd be out for a while. As he was heading for the door, a servant came up to him and handed him a bag containing some coins. Daniel took it, surprised by its weight. After he was outside, he took a peak inside it. Some of the coins were silver, whereas others looked like bronze. And there were two gold pieces. All together, it wasn't a huge amount of money, but the fact that he was being given money at all was amazing. Though gifts from a master to a valued slave did happen in ancient Rome, those gifts were generally in the form of jewelry and other trinkets. For Egeria, a Goa'uld and this world's ruler, to give him, a slave, a bag of money to spend as he pleased was beyond amazing. Why would she do this? Why would she treat a man she had enslaved with this much kindness? Daniel didn't understand it. But then, he also didn't understand why she invited him to dine and share wine with her, why she summoned him to her to do no more than chat.
Hiding the money inside his tunic, Daniel made his way to the construction site for the gallery. Aulus smiled hugely upon seeing him and hurried forward.
"Daniel! It is good to see you, my boy."
"It's good to see you, too, Aulus. So, how are things going here?"
"They are going well, although they would be better if you were still working with me. So, what have they got you doing in the palace? I hope it is something worthy of your talents."
"I'm in the library, doing translations."
Aulus shook his head in disgust. "Working on dusty old scrolls and books with things in them about the past. You should be here, helping to build the future."
Daniel smiled. "Well, working with the past is something with which I am quite familiar."
"A waste of a good brain, if you ask me. So, are you here for a visit?"
"Yes, and to see how far you have gotten."
"Well, let me show you, then."
Aulus took Daniel through the construction site, pointing out the things that had been erected since the archeologist's departure. Several of the workers greeted him with a smile. Afterwards, Aulus invited Daniel to come dine with him at a restaurant. This was one of the ways that this city departed dramatically from the culture upon which it was based. Though ancient Rome had a form of public eateries, true restaurants didn't come into existence until eighteenth century France. Most of this restaurant was outdoors, shaded by brightly colored cloth suspended from poles.
As a freedman, Aulus was paid a wage for his work, and as Egeria's master builder and architect, he had a position of some influence in the city. Therefore, he would not be an odd sight at the restaurant. Daniel, however, was and got a whole lot of looks when he sat down upon the cushions before the low table. It was probably unheard of for a slave to actually be eating there. Aulus paid no attention to everyone's reaction.
Over the meal, Daniel and the master builder chatted about a variety of things. Aulus was a shameless gossip and loved to pass on all the things he'd learned.
At the end of the meal, Aulus pulled out his money, intending to pay for both meals.
"You don't have to do that," Daniel told him. "I have some money."
The man stared at him. "You do?"
"Yes. It was given to me before I left the palace. Egeria thought I might need to buy some things."
Aulus kept staring at him for so long that it made Daniel very uncomfortable.
"Tell me, Daniel," the older man finally said. "Are translations all that you are doing in the palace?"
Daniel frowned. "What are you implying?"
"You have been a slave for little more than a month, yet you are being paid?"
"It isn't pay, Aulus. This is probably all the money I'll ever get. Egeria was just being kind."
"Perhaps. Still, I am not blind to the fact that you are a handsome man, Daniel, one I am sure has caught the eye of many women."
Realizing what Aulus was implying, Daniel angrily pulled out a small coin and tossed it on the table. Then he strode away.
"Daniel, wait!" Aulus called. He hurried up to the archeologist, puffing from the exertion of running. "Forgive me, Daniel. I have insulted you. I should not have said what I did."
Daniel stopped abruptly and turned to him. "How could you think that I . . . that we. . . . You should know that I am not that kind of man."
"You are right. I should have known better. It just surprised me greatly that Egeria gifted you with money."
Daniel sighed, his anger fading away. "I don't know why she gave it to me. I don't know why she invites me to come talk with her, unless it's just that she's curious about the things I know and the places I've been."
Aulus' surprise rose another notch and was now accompanied by curiosity. "How many such conversations have you had?"
"Two so far, one when I was still working for you, and a second one today, in some kind of sitting room."
Aulus knew of the room. It was a private room of Egeria's, one that she used for more personal conversations. He had been in it only once, and that was after he'd been given his freedom. He doubted that there was more than a small handful of people in the city who had seen that room, yet Egeria had invited Daniel there. She had gifted him with money, something she had never done before with anyone.
As not only their queen but also their god, Egeria had the freedom to take anyone she pleased as her lover, but Aulus believed that Daniel was telling the truth that nothing like that was happening between them. Yet the fact remained that she was treating him in a way that a master would not treat a slave, especially when that master was also the ruler of the entire planet. What could be the reason?
Daniel looked at the position of the sun. "I have to get back."
Aulus searched his face worriedly. "Do I still have your friendship?"
"Yes, Aulus, we're still friends."
The man relaxed. "Then I will see you again another time."
Daniel nodded. Bidding the man goodbye, he walked off in the direction of the palace. Aulus watched him leave, wondering if the queen he had served all his life was at last losing her heart to a man.