Daniel's tension level was still high the next day. First thing in the morning, he visited a craftsman who worked in leather and hired him to make a pouch that would slide onto Daniel's belt. It was a simple job, so the man said it would be done by tomorrow.
After leaving the leather worker's shop, Daniel walked through the city, laying out his escape route and deciding where the best place to get a horse would be. Daniel knew that Jack would be pleased by his efforts to plan out his escape in advance.
Once he was sure that he had the best and quickest route mapped out, Daniel returned to the palace. Throughout the rest of that day, he kept expecting to be called before Egeria and commanded to tell her where his ship was hidden, but he ended up not seeing her at all.
The next morning, the archeologist went to pick up the pouch. Once he was back in his room, he retrieved an item from the chest at the foot of his bed. For a moment, he stared at the gun, then slipped it into the pouch, closing the flap and hiding it from view.
Daniel didn't like the idea of having to carry the weapon, but, if he was forced to make a quick getaway, it might be needed. He had no intention of shooting anyone, but having a weapon would increase his chances of stealing a horse and getting out of there. His knife would be going into the pouch as well.
After learning that Daniel sometimes liked to work on translations out in the north garden, where there was no sun to damage the writing on the delicate scrolls, Egeria had given him a large leather satchel in which to carry things. Night before last, Daniel had packed his BDUs, vest and other belongings into it so that he'd be ready to go at a moment's notice.
When Daniel was asked to join Egeria that afternoon, he was sure this was it, the moment he'd been dreading. The gun felt heavy in the pouch at his waist, a dead weight that he was praying he didn't have to use.
"Ah, Daniel," she greeted. "I wished you to know that we must move you to another room tomorrow."
Daniel blinked a couple times, taken off-guard by the announcement. "Um . . . you do? Why?"
"I have acquired three new slaves, men taken from a freeman who was treating them very poorly. They are in ill health, and I wish to see that they are well cared for, so I chose to take them myself rather than giving them to another freeman. Because of this, we must convert the room you are in to one that will hold two of the three slaves."
Daniel was happy to hear that Egeria had stepped in and rescued the slaves from a bad situation. He knew that there were laws here governing the treatment of slaves, unlike in ancient Rome, where they were considered to be objects rather than living beings and, therefore, had no rights at all, their owners free to do anything they pleased to them.
"So, where am I going to be moved?"
"There is another section of the palace where the slaves of higher station live. We will put you there."
Again, Daniel was surprised. He knew that there was a sort of hierarchy among the slaves in Egeria's palace. On the lowest rung of the ladder were the ones who performed the most menial tasks. On the highest rungs were those like Camilla, Egeria's Lo'taur, and, until he was given his freedom, Decimus, slaves who were considered to be the most valuable, whose duties held a measure of prestige. The system worked well since every slave who performed their duties well and faithfully had the hope that they would eventually be "promoted" to a better position. It helped keep the slaves motived without the use of threats and punishment to keep them in line.
Apparently, Daniel was receiving one of those promotions. Considering that he'd been here such a short time, he should be flattered. Instead, he was just surprised and a little puzzled. Weren't there other slaves with greater seniority whom such a move up the ladder should go to first?
"Um . . . thank you. I have to admit that I'm surprised, though. I've been here for only three months, and I should think that there are others who should go in front of me."
Egeria smiled at the display of Daniel's humility. "Do you think that you are unworthy of being given a higher standing among the servants here? Your work in the library is of great value, Daniel. Decimus says that you are invaluable to him. And this is not counting the aid you have given to Aulus, who has told me that the gallery will be a marvel thanks mostly to you. Though you have been here only a few months, you have earned the right to join the ranks of the most important servants in the palace."
Embarrassed, Daniel thanked her again. He really hoped that there was nothing more to this, that this wasn't part of some plot to make him feel more at ease and content before asking him to tell her where his nonexistent ship was hidden.
Daniel knew that he was probably doing Egeria a disservice by thinking that she might trick him like that. After all, so far, she'd given him no reason to suspect that she had ulterior motives regarding him, at least none that were sinister. But the fact remained that she was a Goa'uld, a member of a species that was known for its deceit, trickery and backstabbing. Egeria might be miles above the other Goa'uld when it came to her conduct, but their self-serving disposition was still a part of her genetic makeup, born into her through millennia of racial memory. No matter how nice she was to him, he couldn't let himself trust her completely.
The move took place early the next morning. The area of the palace where he would now be living was closer to the library, which would make it more convenient. Daniel's new room was just a little larger than the one he'd had before, but it was a great deal airier, with very a large window going almost all the way to the ceiling that looked out upon one of the gardens. Facing the east, it would get the morning sun. The room also had more furniture, three chairs instead of two – one of which was quite well-padded – a second table between two of the chairs, and an open shelving unit that could be used for storage or as a display case.
Taking advantage of that third thing, Daniel folded his tunics and placed them on one of the shelves instead of sticking them in the chest, which he reserved for the things he'd had with him when he arrived on the planet. On another shelf he put the paper and writing implements he'd purchased. On the top shelf he carefully set the vase that Egeria had given to him.
Once he was all done moving in, Daniel went off to the library. Decimus smiled upon seeing him.
"So, are your new quarters to your liking?" the old man asked.
"Yes, they're very nice. The view is definitely better. And it smells better, too. The other room was close enough to the stables that I could sometimes smell the manure. Now, I smell flowers instead. Big improvement."
Decimus chuckled. "I'll wager that if you asked Gaius, the stablemaster, he'd claim that manure smells sweeter to him than any flower."
Daniel smiled at the comment. He studied Decimus, who'd gone back to his work. There was a question he'd been wanting to ask, but he hadn't felt that it was safe to do so. He was now thinking that it would be all right.
"Um, Decimus? Egeria told me about the language she found in the ruins to the west of the city. She said that you took a look at it and couldn't translate it."
"Ah, yes. I remember that. It was many years ago. It captured my interest for quite some time. I copied all the writing I found so that I could study it here, but I had no luck at all in deciphering it."
Daniel was excited to hear that Decimus had copied all the writing. With his limited understanding of the language, perhaps he might learn something that would help him figure out how the time device worked.
"May I see it?" he asked.
Decimus went over to one of the shelves and perused the contents for a while. He retrieved half a dozen large scrolls and gave them to Daniel, who unrolled one of them, his eyes scanning the writing.
"Do you know the language?" Decimus asked after watching Daniel for a few seconds.
"I believe I have seen it somewhere before, but what I saw was just a small sample, and it was in a structure that hadn't been used for a long time."
"Then you cannot read it."
"Um . . . no."
Clearly disappointed, the elderly man went back to his work. Daniel felt bad about the half-lie, but he couldn't have told the truth. Egeria must not know that he could read any part of this language.
That evening, instead of eating with the other slaves, Daniel took his food back to his room and began studying the writing on the scrolls. He recognized a character here and there, those that he'd learned from the writing in that meeting chamber on Heliopolis, and was able to guess at the contents of some sentences based upon the meaning of those characters. He wrote down everything, hoping that the guesswork might lead to more discoveries. Daniel knew, however, that it would be impossible to translate even a small portion of this. He simply did not know enough.
For some reason unknown to Daniel, that time device had sent him back to this date. Had it been completely random, just a matter of happenstance that he was sent to this time rather than some other century, some other millennium, or had something been in control? It was a question Daniel needed to answer, for how could he have any hope of returning to his own time if he didn't even know how to set the thing?
Daniel discovered that Decimus had drawn a representation of the top of the pedestal and the panel. He paid particular attention to it, matching the characters with ones found elsewhere in the ruins. From his guesswork, he tentatively identified the meaning of three more characters on the pedestal.
It was quite late before Daniel gave up for the night. Maybe by the time his year here was up, he'd have learned what he needed to know.
Over the next two days, Daniel kept his guard up, still wondering if Egeria was going to ask him about a ship. It was on the sixth day after she had revealed her suspicions that he finally let himself relax. As amazing as it seemed, she was apparently going to let him keep his secret about exactly how he got there.
The archeologist's relief didn't last for long. That afternoon, he received some alarming news. Egeria was expecting a visitor – and that visitor was Lord Yu. Daniel knew that, above all, he must not let Yu see him. Though the likelihood that the Goa'uld would actually remember his face some two thousand years later when they'd meet again was very remote, the archeologist couldn't take the chance.
He had to wonder about the visit, what the reason for it was. None of the servants he questioned knew, and he certainly wasn't going to ask Egeria.
As it turned out, he didn't have to ask.
The day before Yu was scheduled to arrive, Daniel was called to the sitting room.
"As I am sure you are aware, one of my fellow Goa'uld is coming here tomorrow," Egeria said.
Daniel nodded. "Lord Yu."
Egeria searched his face. "Have you met him?"
Daniel paused before replying. "Yes, once."
Egeria took a sip of her wine. "Among my species, he is far less unpleasant than what is normal. He actually seems to understand what the word honor means, which is a concept mostly foreign to the Goa'uld. In truth, he is the only one whose company I can stomach. He is here to discuss an alliance."
Daniel's gaze sharpened. "An alliance?"
"Yes. As you may know, Goa'uld queens are small in number. Some ally with one particular System Lord, giving all her offspring to that one in exchange for the greater power and protection that the System Lord can give to them. Up until now, I have not done so, partly because there was no System Lord with whom I had any desire to align myself."
Daniel's mind was absorbing this information. He didn't recall seeing anything about an alliance between Yu and Egeria in the Tok'ra historical records, but that didn't mean it didn't happen. But would it be a good idea?
"Um . . . well, an alliance with Yu might have its advantages . . . and its disadvantages," he cautiously responded.
Egeria smiled slightly. "Please explain."
"Well, aligning with Lord Yu might be beneficial if you ever needed help. He has ships, armies, the might of a System Lord. If trouble came, he could help get you out of it. But, um . . . there's also the other side of the coin. Any enemy of his would very likely consider you an enemy as well, which means that they might decide to attack you as a way of striking at him. It could actually put you in greater danger."
Egeria nodded. "Your words are wise and are in keeping with my own thoughts. I hesitate to make a deal that could threaten the security of my domain. As things are now, no Goa'uld has a reason to attack me."
"Then you're going to say no?"
"I will listen to his words and arguments. It is wise to do so. Whether or not I accept his offer is a decision I will make after I have heard all he has to say. But enough about that. The reason I requested your presence was that I am assuming you would rather not see or be seen by Lord Yu."
For a panicked second, Daniel wondered if Egeria had figured out that he was from the future. Then he realized that she was making this assumption because she knew how he felt about the Goa'uld.
"Um, yes, you're right about that. I would prefer to be as far from him as possible."
Egeria gave him a smile. "Then I will grant your wish. I doubt that Yu will want to go anywhere but the palace, so if you spend the day with Aulus, it is likely that you will not be in a position to have to suffer Yu's presence."
Daniel relaxed. "Thank you. I appreciate that."
And so it was that Daniel spent the entire next day with the master builder. Aulus was delighted and took advantage of the archeologist's presence.
The gallery was coming right along, the construction flowing smoothly, with few delays. By the time Daniel left for home, it might actually be finished, which made him wish that he still had some battery life left in his camera. He'd have liked to have some video of the building he'd helped to create.
The sun was creeping toward the horizon when Daniel returned to the palace. He approached it cautiously, hoping that Yu was long gone. It would be just his luck that the Goa'uld was still here, and they'd bump into each other.
Thankfully, Daniel's luck was good this time. He learned that Yu had departed a while ago. He was really curious about what Egeria had decided. When he was summoned by her that evening, he figured that he was about to find out.
"I refused Lord Yu's request for an alliance," the Goa'uld queen told him.
"How did he react?"
"He was not pleased, but he understood my reasons for the refusal. There will be no trouble from him."
"That's good." Daniel hesitated before saying his next words. "Um . . . this whole thing has made me wonder about something. I know that, after you've produced offspring, they're taken someplace to be implanted in Jaffa, but what about the symbiotes that mature inside your own Jaffa? What's done with them?"
Egeria studied Daniel closely. Considering his own experience and his feelings regarding the Goa'uld taking unwilling hosts, she had a good idea why he was asking.
"Most Goa'uld of higher standing can select what humans will be made hosts to the symbiotes that mature within their Jaffa. Unless I was to choose men and women from my own domain to be hosts, I do not have that same power."
Daniel was no longer looking at her. "And have you ever done that?"
"No, Daniel, I have not."
Daniel breathed a silent sigh of relief. "I'm . . . I'm glad."
Egeria gave him a gentle smile, understanding his feelings. "When the time for a symbiote to be removed from one of my Jaffa grows near, my priests contact others to learn who wishes to take it. Once they get an answer, the Jaffa goes through the Stargate to where the mature symbiote will be removed and a new one implanted in his pouch."
"Thank you for explaining. I appreciate it."
Daniel left a few minutes later. In his quarters, he sat on the sill of the open window and stared up at the stars, thinking about the fact that, in one way, Egeria was already like a Tok'ra. She had told him that she did not take unwilling hosts, and he now knew that she'd also never subjected any of her citizens to that fate. He was really beginning to see how it was that she was able to take that final step to truly being a Tok'ra.
But when was that final step going to happen? During these months, Daniel had been studying this world's calendar, trying to compare it to the one the Tok'ra used, and he'd come to the conclusion that Egeria's rebellion would come quite soon, perhaps sometime within the next few years.
The thought came to Daniel that, if he had to get sent back in time, at least it was to a time that was on the eve of one of the greatest turning points in the galaxy's history.
Two days later, Daniel was back at the construction site with Aulus. A mistake had been made by one of the man's assistants, resulting in a lot of work being done incorrectly. The master builder was fuming, and a somewhat amused Egeria told Daniel to go calm him down before he strangled the unfortunate assistant. It took the archeologist an hour or so defuse the situation, after which a much calmer Aulus treated him to lunch, though he insisted that it wasn't necessary.
They were returning from the meal when they heard a commotion nearby. They followed the noise to its source and witnessed two men in what was clearly a heated dispute as a frightened young woman looked on. Suddenly, one of the men pulled a knife and plunged it into the chest of the other one, who fell and did not move. Stunned by the murder they'd just witnessed, Daniel and Aulus rushed forward. The killer saw them and grabbed the woman, using her as a shield, the knife hovering mere inches from her throat.
"Come no closer!" he yelled.
Daniel held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Calm down. Why don't you just let her go? You don't have to hurt her."
"No! She betrayed me! I gave her my love, and she betrayed me with that man!"
"Please. I know you must be angry, but if you truly love her, you wouldn't really want to hurt her, would you?"
The man shook his head. "I will not let another have her. She is mine!"
Daniel stared into the man's eyes and saw rage, hatred and the gleam of madness. He had a terrible feeling that he wouldn't be able to reason with the guy. Where was a Jaffa when you needed one? But then, what could a Jaffa do? Their staff weapons could not hit the man without hitting the woman as well.
Daniel's thoughts went to the gun that was inside the pouch on his belt. Could he shoot the killer without hitting the girl? He'd become a pretty good shot after hours spent on the shooting range at Jack's insistence, but precision when firing at a cardboard or paper target was not the same thing as it was when someone's life was hanging in the balance. On top of that, he wasn't wearing his glasses.
As he continued talking softly, Daniel moved around behind Aulus, taking the gun out of the pouch when the killer could not see what he was doing. He then slowly lifted the weapon and aimed it at the only place he could hope to hit the guy without also hitting the woman: the man's head.
"Please let her go," Daniel pleaded. "I don't want to hurt you, but I will if I have to. This weapon can kill you, and it can do it faster than you can use that knife. So why don't you just put the knife down and surrender. I promise I won't hurt you if you do."
The man stared at the gun. Aulus was staring at it, too, but Daniel paid no attention to that. His eyes remained focused on the murderer, watching for any sign that the guy was about to use the knife. It came around ten seconds later.
"Noooo!" the man suddenly wailed. He lifted the knife, intending to plunge it into the woman. Knowing he had no choice, Daniel took the shot.
The single report of the Beretta echoed off the walls of the nearby buildings, the sound startling the city's inhabitants, a sound the likes of which none of them had ever heard. The bullet hit right where Daniel had aimed, dead center in the man's forehead. The result stunned Aulus, who stared, open-mouthed as the murderer fell to the ground, his head a bloody mess. The master builder's gaze went to the one who had killed the man and saw anguish in his former assistant's eyes. Daniel turned away quickly to brace his hand against a wall, his face pale.
Several people appeared, drawn by the sound of the gunshot. Among them were three Jaffa. It was at that moment that a horrible, gut-wrenching realization hit Aulus. Daniel, a slave, had just killed a freeman, and the punishment for such a thing was death.
The master builder frantically tried to think of a way that he could take responsibility for the killer's death, but there was no way. The woman would reveal that it was Daniel who did it.
As the Jaffa asked what had just happened, Daniel straightened and stepped away from the wall. In the months that he'd been here, he had familiarized himself with the various laws of Egeria's domain. He knew what he had just done. He'd sentenced himself to death. If a freeman killed another to protect someone's life, he was pardoned of the killing. That exception to the law did not extend to when it was a slave who killed a freeman.
Aulus tried his best to plead Daniel's case, to impress upon the Jaffa that the man Daniel killed was insane and was about to take the life of the woman, but the Jaffa knew the law and what they had to do. They stepped up to Daniel, who freely surrendered his weapon, his eyes telling them that he was aware of the fate that awaited him.
There was regret on the faces of the Jaffa who took Daniel back to the palace. Their grip on his arms was firm but not painful, something for which the archeologist was grateful, though he knew that the kind treatment would not change his fate. There was only one person who could save him now, and he wasn't sure if even she could. Though Egeria was the god and queen of these people, if she defied one of her own laws for the sake of a slave, it could cause trouble. Ironically, if Egeria had been like every other Goa'uld, one who ruled with an iron fist and absolute power, it would have made no difference. The people wouldn't have dared to question her. But because she ruled justly, with legal codes, acting more like a queen than a god, her situation was different.
Instead of being taken to the throne room, Daniel was locked in a cell in a chamber beneath the palace. Most of the other cells were empty. He guessed that this was not the only prison in the city.
Daniel sat against the wall on a straw mat. The only other things in the cell were a chamber pot and a pair of manacles hanging from one of the walls. He couldn't help but wonder how often those manacles were used.
As he sat in the dim cell, the only light coming from the torches out in the hall, Daniel tried to think of what else he could have done besides shoot the man. Perhaps if he hadn't drawn his gun, the guy wouldn't have gone off the deep end. Maybe Daniel could have talked him into surrendering. The archeologist recalled the insanity he'd seen in the man's eyes, the anger and hatred. Would any amount of talking have done any good? Trying to reason with the guy might have just ended with the woman being killed.
Daniel thought about what he had done. This was the first time that he'd killed a human being face-to-face. He knew that there had been humans onboard Ra's ship when they blew it up, some of them children. There were likely also human slaves on the ships that came to attack Earth, ships that he helped to destroy. But that was different. He hadn't looked into the eyes of any of those people when they died.
Daniel didn't know how long he'd been sitting in the cell when the Jaffa came for him, though it felt like several hours. He was taken to the throne room, which he hadn't been in since the day he arrived. Egeria sat on the throne, her back stiff and straight, her face showing no emotion. When he was brought up to the dais, however, Daniel saw the deep sorrow in her eyes.
"I have been told what you did, Daniel, how you killed the freeman named Herminius Gallus. You must have known that the punishment for a slave killing a freeman is death."
Daniel took a deep breath. "Yes, I knew. I didn't want to kill him, but I had no choice. If I hadn't done it, he would have killed that woman."
Egeria searched his eyes. "You knowingly condemned yourself to death for the sake of a woman you did not even know?"
Daniel met her gaze unflinchingly. "I'd do it again, if I had no other choice, Egeria. That's just who I am. This isn't the first time I've risked my life to help someone else," he paused, "though I'm, uh . . . kind of guessing that it's probably going to be the last."
The pain in Egeria's eyes deepened. She turned to the Jaffa who stood on either side of Daniel. "Leave us," she barked.
The Jaffa hesitated.
"But My Queen—" one started to say.
"Leave us, I said," Egeria turned to all the other Jaffa in the throne room. "All of you!"
Bowing their heads, all of the Jaffa exited the room.
Egeria rose and left the dais. "Aulus pleaded for your life," she said. "He got on his knees and begged me to spare you just as he begged me to save the life of his wife when she was ill."
Daniel closed his eyes for a moment against the sudden sting of tears.
"Decimus begged as well, weeping with the strength of his pleas." All semblance of Egeria's emotionlessness was now gone. "I do not wish to put you to death, Daniel, but the laws I created for my domain are clear. If a slave deliberately takes the life of a free citizen, he must die. It is only now that I see the error of that law, the way that I failed to create a just and fair law for all my people, slave and freeman alike. As the ruler of this world, it is within my power to pardon the crimes of someone in my domain. If you had been a freeman who committed some crime, I could have pardoned you, and none would have dared question it. But you are a slave, and if I pardoned you of this . . . this crime that is truly no crime at all, it could breed anger and resentment among the freemen. I can change the law, but. . . ."
"But it wouldn't apply to me since the old law was still in place when I killed that man," Daniel guessed. He considered telling Egeria that, where he came from, if a law was changed, the change often applied even to people who had already committed a crime, like when a state changed their laws to ban the death penalty. But that was on Earth in the future, not here and now.
Egeria walked away several feet. "For the first time in my life, I wish that I ruled as my fellow Goa'uld do, with fear and a demand for absolute obedience. No subject under the dominion of one of them would dare question any decision they made. They could pardon you, and none could object."
Egeria turned and looked at the man her own laws had doomed to death. How could she do this, execute someone who had done nothing wrong, who had, in fact, saved the life of another? She should have set him free weeks ago, when she first considered it. Then he would be gone. He would be safe. But, now, it was too late.
Egeria knew that to assure no trouble in her domain, she had no choice but to have Daniel put to death, but just the thought of it made her feel like she was being torn apart inside. There had to be something else that could be done yet still maintain order and peace on Estrania. There had to be!
Daniel's gentle voice interrupted the Goa'uld queen's thoughts. She met his eyes. He was looking at her with understanding.
"I understand, Egeria," he said. "I do. I wouldn't want you to risk the peace and stability of this planet just for my sake."
Instead of soothing her, Daniel's words deepened her pain even more. She came up to him and laid a hand on his cheek.
"How did you come to have a heart so good and pure?" she whispered.
"It's not pure, Egeria. I just know that, in the grand scheme of things, my life isn't all that important." Daniel wished he could tell her how important she was, how vital it was that nothing be done to change the destiny that lay before her. If he had to die to maintain the status quo, to make sure that, someday, she would become the mother of the Tok'ra, so be it.
For a very long moment, Egeria's deep brown eyes gazed into Daniel's blue ones, then she stepped away and ascended the dais to sit upon the throne. Daniel stood where he was and waited for the words that he was sure would sentence him to death.