Pride and Jaffa Predjudice

Episode 12

Written by

Katstales

Authors: Katstales
Status: Complete
Rating: 15+
Category: Angst, action/adventure, drama
Summary: Ry'ac is in danger 
Spoilers: Everything up to the end of S8, plus the first half of VS9.
Warnings:  
Authors' Notes:

 

 

Archive: Jackfic. Otherwise, do not archive without the author's express permission.
Disclaimer: The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Sci Fi and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles, and back story are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions, and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea, and the story itself are the sole property of the authors.
 

Pride and Jaffa Predjudice

Episode 12

*~**~*


Prologue

"Ry'ac! Behind you!"

Heeding his companion's warning, Ry'ac whirled and fired his staff weapon. The attacker fell, dead before he ever hit the ground. The loud clatter of Tau'ri weapons sounded across the clearing, their deadly projectiles biting into the tree near Ry'ac's head. He dropped to the ground and began to crawl on his belly through the dense brush at the meadow's edge toward the duo that had been helping him prepare to load supplies only moments before.

A rustling of the meadow grass alerted him to the approach of his enemy. He quickly crawled into a large hedge in front of him and stilled, hoping that his pursuers would pass by without detecting him. The footsteps halted mere feet away, leaving him fearful to even breathe lest he give his position away.

"Are you certain we are doing the right thing?" Though hushed, the voice was vaguely familiar to Ry'ac. Still, recognition remained just out of reach as his pursuers continued their whispered exchange.

"Our leaders have decreed that this is the only way to get his father to abandon the fool Tau'ri and take his rightful place among his true people. It is not for us to question them," insisted a second speaker. Still not quite able to place the voices, Ry'ac had to strain to hear as the conversation continued.

"I suppose," answered the first man. "Still, it does not seem right. Ry'ac has done nothing to betray us. We have fought side by side with him for our freedom; to now hunt him down like an animal when he has committed no wrong doing goes against everything we have fought to achieve."

"I know," the other reluctantly agreed. "But those we have chosen to lead us have decided. It is not our place to pass judgment on their decisions, only to see that they are carried to fruition."

"I know," agreed the first one. "I do not have to like it, though. I thought the days of being ordered to kill innocents were behind me now that our people are free. Yet, here we are, searching an alien forest in order to kill two of our own and kidnap yet another."

"All this talking is getting us nowhere," hissed the second man. "Remain silent and do your job or leave!" After a moments pause, Ry'ac heard the same voice, obviously straining to be heard only by his companion. "Come, I saw movement over there before you decided to stop and chat."

The pair moved on, leaving behind a stunned Ry'ac. These were not marauders or bandits after their supplies as he'd assumed. His own people, the free Jaffa, were going to murder his companions and capture him to use as a pawn against his father. Oh, he had heard the talk around the camp at Dakara. Many felt that Teal'c should be taking as strong a role in governing the new nation as he had in fighting for it. Still, Ry'ac would have never dreamed that they would go this far in an attempt to lure his father away from his friends among the Tau'ri.

Shaking himself out of the stupor the overheard conversation had caused, he found that his pursuers had moved far enough ahead that he could safely venture from his hiding place. Intent on preventing the deaths of his companions, he again carefully began to make his way to their side.

He had barely gone a few feet when another burst of fire from the P-90s sounded in the same direction he was headed. The cries of his fellow workers told him that the bullets had found their mark. He hung his head in dismay, knowing that it was too late for the planned rescue. Determined, he changed course and headed toward the teltac. He was not going to allow the rest of their plan to succeed. He had to get away and warn his father. There was no way he could allow himself to be captured. Someone had to see that the group paid for the senseless deaths of his companions.

He was over halfway to his new destination when a voice sounded far to his right. "There! He's trying to get to the ship--stop him!" The clatter of the Tau'ri weapons again filled the air, churning up the soil next to him as they attempted to ward him off. Determined, he kept going, ignoring the noise of the guns as they spewed bullets closer and closer to him. He felt a small punch in his shoulder, back, and thigh almost simultaneously, but he ignored it and kept going.

As he finally reached the ramp, the same voice called again. "No, you fools! I told you, he is not to be harmed!"

He barely comprehended what was happening around him, filing it away in his memory to be examined later and concentrating solely on escape. He knew his plan was risky, but he was also aware it was his only chance. Taking as deep a breath as his injuries would allow, Ry'ac rose to his feet and sprinted up the ramp into the ship. He nearly fell, stumbling badly on his wounded leg before lunging and diving through the open door. A voice was yelling at him, calling his name over and over, but he paid it no mind and surged forward.

Pain exploded all along his left side as he hit the floor of the teltac. His vision narrowed, but he fought hard to remain conscious and rise above the burning agony. After only a moment, he struggled to his feet, knowing that if he allowed the attackers time enough to make it to the open entrance of the ship that all would be lost. He half-crawled, half-stumbled to the door's mechanism and immediately closed the hatch.

Pausing only for an instant to catch his breath and prepare for the pain that would accompany his next act, he lurched forward to the pilots seat, dropping heavily into the chair as he grabbed the controls and started the engines. He wiped the beading sweat from his forehead, but otherwise ignored his wounds as he quickly checked his instruments and took off. He engaged the cloaking mechanism and guided the ship higher into the planet's atmosphere. Dismissing the light-headed feeling that threatened to overtake him, he plotted his course and launched into hyperspace. He had to get to safety in order to warn his father of this nefarious plot--and to avenge the deaths of his friends.

******

"Unscheduled offworld activation." Sergeant Harriman's voice echoed over the loudspeaker as the claxons blared in warning. General O'Neill quickly descended the stairs and strode up behind him at the dialing computer.

"What have we got, Walter?" he asked, slightly breathless from the exertion. Much to his chagrin, he was not yet back to one hundred percent after the assassination attempt and still on limited duty.

"Receiving IDC now." The sergeant paused as he punched in a command on the console in front of him. "It's Ishta, sir."

O'Neill raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Open the iris."

Harriman immediately placed his hand over the scanner. A soft, blue glow enveloped the room below as the iris retracted to reveal the open wormhole. All eyes turned expectantly to the gate as they waited for a figure to appear and step out onto the ramp. Seconds ticked by, seeming to stretch on into minutes, but the shimmering puddle remained empty. Tension mounted as the clock continued to run, but still no traveler emerged from the rippling event horizon.

Finally, Walter's voice broke the tense silence. "Receiving audio signal. Shall I put it on speaker, sir?"

The general nodded and leaned over the console as Harriman typed in the proper commands. Within seconds, the tinny voice of the Hak'tyl leader could be heard.

"…urgent that I speak with Teal'c in person as soon as possible. I would request that he depart immediately. Please respond."

O'Neill instantly switched into high alert mode as he grabbed the microphone in front of him. "Ishta, this is O'Neill. Teal'c's not here at the moment. Anything I can do for you?"

After a rather pregnant pause, her voice again drifted from the speakers. Her surprise at his presence was evident in her tone. "General O'Neill, I am most pleased to hear your voice. The Hak'tyl heard of the cowardly attempt on your life, but we did not think you would have completely recuperated so quickly. You have totally recovered, I take it?"

"Oh yeah, good as new. Thanks for asking." He glared at Walter as the sergeant tried unsuccessfully to disguise a snort of disbelief with a cough and quickly changed the subject. "So, um, about the reason for your call. Is there anything we can do to help until Teal'c gets here?"

There was another long pause before her answer. "I thank you for your concern, General, but this is a matter I can only discuss with Teal'c. Will he be available soon?"

O'Neill frowned as she spoke. There was an odd coldness to her tone that left him feeling almost as though she were angry with him for some reason. "It will take him at least an hour to get back here from Daniel's. You sure there's nothing we can do for you in the meantime?"

"No. As I have already explained, I can only discuss the matter with Teal'c. Please have him depart for Hak'tyl immediately upon his return to the SGC." The wormhole snapped shut as soon as she finished speaking, as if to punctuate her abrupt reply.

O'Neill frowned at the dormant gateway and then turned to Walter. "Send Teal'c to my office as soon as he gets here."

Without waiting for a reply, the general turned and slowly headed up the stairs, frustrated at the weakness he still experienced. He could feel the eyes of all personnel in sight watching him, waiting for him to falter, further fueling his irritation. He experienced a brief moment of remorse when he thought of his answer to Ishta's query as to his health, but he hated to admit weakness at the best of times. Added to that fact, it seemed that everyone felt the need to treat him like one of Daniel's precious and highly fragile artifacts. Was it really so wrong to want at least one person these days to treat him normally? And speaking of wrong, he couldn't help but wonder what was up with her.

She had been polite, for sure, but there was that oddness in her tone. He had the feeling that she was angry. Not with him specifically, but with the Tau'ri in general. Why though? No teams from the SGC had reported any encounters with the Hak'tyl for some time. He was certain of that, having read all the reports filed while he was recovering. It made no sense at all, yet he was certain that was the case.

Once again short of breath, he finally reached the top of the stairs. Oh well, no time to dwell on Ishta or the Hak'tyl now--he had a base to run. That the current wannabe-Nazi-power monger still refused to allow him to do it fulltime didn't matter to him in the least.

******

As Teal'c followed behind his escort, his extreme irritation at Ishta's vague summons gave way to a growing sense of unease as his eyes took in the details of the settlement along the way. On another occasion, he would have discreetly returned his gaze to his guide and thoroughly enjoyed the bird's eye view of her toned and shapely leg muscles striding powerfully toward their destination. Indeed, the feminine sway of her hips would have been almost intoxicating--an effect that Ishta would certainly not have missed upon greeting him; that the act would have annoyed his lover would have been merely icing on the cake.

But this wasn't another occasion. He schooled his features into a mask of bland normalcy, nodding in greeting to those they met. He noted with alarm that most people did not look him in the eye, and the few who did meet his gaze immediately looked away--though not before he saw the pity there. The constant urge to shiver in dread did nothing to alleviate his foul mood.

Not a word had been spoken to him since the escort, Koreysa, had informed him that Ishta requested that he accompany her. He thoroughly resented being treated as if he didn't know the way to her tent on his own.

By the time they reached Ishta's tent, Teal'c was unable to shake an impending sense of doom. The lack of conversation had served to amplify the background noise of folks going on about their everyday tasks and lent a surreal eeriness to the situation. During the long trek, he had come up with a number of possibilities for the odd behavior of the Hak'tyl people, but he had seen nothing to indicate its cause. His lips tightened in annoyance when Koreysa put up her hand to instruct him to wait outside. The tent flap had barely settled from her entrance before she again appeared and held it open for him to enter. He mutely acknowledged her invitation and thanked her for the escort with a regal nod of his head before ducking through the opening.

Teal'c frowned as he stepped forward and straightened. Ishta started upon seeing him, a deer-in-the-headlights look flashing across her features despite the fact that she was obviously expecting him. It was she who had summoned him, after all. "What manner of game do you think to play with me, woman?" he demanded.

"Father." The voice was familiar, though the word came out barely above a whisper. It was his turn to be startled as his eyes rapidly adjusted to the dim lighting of the tent. There, seated just beyond Ishta was the distraught form of his daughter-in-law.

Teal'c closed his eyes and breathed deeply to keep his stomach from rising completely into his throat. Suddenly all those looks of pity from the villagers on his way to the tent made perfect sense. He immediately shut down emotionally and switched to autopilot; every muscle remained tense as he demanded answers. "What has happened to Ry'ac?"

Ishta reached out a hand to him. "Come, sit with us and we will tell you what we know."

"Do not attempt to coddle me. Tell me what has happened to my son!"

The coldness in his voice did nothing to dissuade her. "Sit with your daughter," she calmly but firmly instructed. "This will not be an easy thing to hear."

"Where is my son?" he roared. "I demand that you tell me all you know--NOW!"

She leveled an icy glare of her own right back at him. "Can you not see that she needs you? I will give you what answers I have, but please, for the love of all you hold dear, join your daughter."

After glaring intently at one another for several moments, he put a tight rein on his emotions and nodded curtly. Refusing her outstretched hand, he pushed past her and settled next to Kar'yn. As he put an arm around the young woman and drew her close to him, she broke down and sobbed heavily against his chest. As her tears soaked his shirt, he silently wondered if he was holding his son's wife or his widow.

Once her tears slowed and the sobs eased, he gently lifted her chin to look her in the eye. "Tell me now, my daughter, what has happened to your husband."

It was Ishta's voice that answered. "Ry'ac left here early this morning by teltac with two others to pick up supplies from Talorian, Deymar, Aldorak, and Roshok. He insisted on taking Rojan's place on the trip when he found out that Daliah had lost her child during the night." Teal'c nodded, recalling that Rojan and his wife Daliah were very close friends of his son and daughter-in-law. Though saddened by news of the loss of their first child, his focus remained on his own son and he nodded for her to continue.

"We became concerned when the time of their scheduled return passed with no word from them," Ishta continued. "We attempted to contact the ship, but received no response. Several more hours passed with no word, until finally I departed with a small party to investigate." She paused and took a deep breath before going on with the story.

"On Aldorak, we found the bodies of Dasson and Jorian near the edge of a clearing where they were to trade for the goods. The crates had been ransacked, their contents destroyed. The teltac was missing, along with the supplies from Talorian and Deymar--and your son. The teltac never arrived on Roshok."

Teal'c's eyes narrowed as he ruthlessly quashed the small bud of hope that sprouted upon hearing his son's body had not been found with the others. "Are you suggesting that my son killed his companions and stole the ship?"

She glared at him in reproval. "Do not be absurd. Of course I know that Ry'ac would never do such a thing. But you should know that there are those among the Hak'tyl who are aware that your son has many friends on Dakara. They know that the need there is still great. There are whispers, asking if he might have done this terrible thing and taken the stolen provisions to give to those there that he calls friends."

"That is ridiculous. Why would he not wait until all the supplies were collected if he were planning such a thing?"

"I agree; I only mention this so that you will know of it should you hear of such rumors."

Teal'c nodded. "Then it is time to put such falsehoods to an end. Take me to this place. I will find those responsible, and in doing so, I will find my son and clear his name." Without waiting for her reply, Teal'c rose to his feet in one smooth motion.

Though she'd quietly allowed Ishta to inform Teal'c of the events leading to Ry'ac's disappearance, Kar'yn sprang to her feet. "I will accompany you--I will have vengeance upon those who have slain my husband," she vowed.

Teal'c rounded her on, seething at her lack of faith. "My son is not dead!"

Tears filled her eyes, but she did not shrink back. The shock had somewhat receded, but the prospect of action had well and truly lit a fire in the female warrior. "I would give anything if that were so! But you were not there when we found the bodies. You have not seen the carnage. And you have not seen how much of my husband's blood soaked the ground where he fought his way to shelter."

Teal'c stared hard into her eyes for several moments. Suddenly, his expression softened, but he did not look away. "Do you truly believe Ry'ac to be dead?" He gave her no time to answer before he continued. "Look deep into your heart before you answer me, my daughter. Come with me to this place where you believe my son to have died; but this time look also at what your heart tells you instead of only what your eyes do."

Kar'yn tearfully nodded and took the arm he offered to her as they turned to leave.

"Wait; there is more that you must hear before we leave, Teal'c." Ishta also rose to her feet, but put a hand on his arm to prevent him from leaving.

The veins in his neck throbbed with anger and impatience, but he forced himself to stay calm as he turned back to face her. "Very well," he warned, "but be quick about it."

Satisfied that he was prepared to hear her out, she let go of his arm. "There is something I need to show you." She reached into her pocket, its contents jingling as she withdrew it. "These were found near the bodies." Taking his hand and positioning his palm upward, she dropped the bits of metal into it. "This is but a tiny fraction of what was found near Dasson's and Jorian's bodies; there were more across the clearing and yet more in several other locations. There can be no doubt as to who is responsible."

He didn't even glance into this hand, knowing without looking what she had placed there. "This proves nothing," he spat, allowing the casings to filter out of his closed fist and fall to the ground. "There is no proof that the Tau'ri fired the weapons or even that they were the ones who made them. The Tau'ri have provided such weapons to certain of their allies for many years. Apophis even went so far as to copy their weapons and train warriors in the ways of the Tau'ri in a plot to tarnish their name. Anyone of the remaining Goa'uld could have done the same. No, we must look elsewhere for the perpetrators, not among the Tau'ri."

"Things are not as they used to be, Teal'c. The Tau'ri, who claim to be so dedicated to wiping out the Goa'uld, are now seeking to negotiate with System Lords! And you yourself once told me of a group of Tau'ri who stole from those who were supposed to be their allies. You cannot continue to trust them so blindly," she insisted, her voice rising with each sentence as her anger was fueled.

He clenched his fists in an attempt to keep control of his own rage, his dark eyes flashing with it. "What reason would the Tau'ri have to do such a thing? And have you forgotten so quickly who it was that took you in when Moloc found your hiding place? Who it was that then assisted you in finding this place and helped you to settle here? And whose weapons saved your life by killing Moloc and freeing the Hak'tyl from his barbaric ways?" he demanded.

"I have not forgotten the debt we owe the Tau'ri! I have not forgotten their shelter, their assistance, their supplies, or their tretonin. It is a debt I am unsure we can ever hope to repay. Your friends at the SGC were more than kind to us, but we both know that they had to get approval for that assistance from their government. Like others among the Free Jaffa, I now find I must question that government's motives. Those among us who claim we have merely traded one master for another have a valid point, at least in regards to Tretonin. Why is it that the Tau'ri are unwilling to share the knowledge of its production with us? It is we who need and use it daily, not they. Their refusal to provide us this vital information means that we shall never truly become independent of them. Or could it be that this is precisely their reason for denying us their formula?" She stood toe-to-toe with him, barely keeping her temper in check and oblivious to Kar'yn's presence as she continued her argument.

"And why would they order this attack? Maybe they do not like the fact that we have developed trading partners and are no longer dependent on them for every facet of our very existence. And yes, the Tau'ri killed Moloc. But I do not fool myself for one moment as to their purpose in doing so. For it was not my life that they were so eager to save, Teal'c, but yours. And while my people were freed from Moloc's tyranny, as you so aptly predicted another false god quickly stepped in to take his place. And need I remind you which false god claimed his territories? Ba'al, the very false god with whom the Tau'ri so recently sought a treaty."

The veins in his neck bulged even more prominently as his anger grew. "The Tau'ri did not seek a treaty with Ba'al or any other System Lord. It was Ba'al who came to the SGC via hologram to ask for this treaty. Washington knows the Goa'uld cannot be trusted, including Ba'al. O'Neill would have told him no immediately, but had to present the proposal to his superiors first; it is their way. It came as no surprise that they agreed with him and refused to enter into any agreement. I grow weary of these absurd accusations and will not stand here listening to them any longer. Either you will show me now where this attack took place or I shall find it myself," he threatened.

Kar'yn moved forward with him, wisely remaining silent and staying out of the heated discussion. He hoped it was because she did not agree with Ishta's assertions, but wasn't willing to bet on it.

The two had barely taken two steps before Ishta pulled him back, not ready to let the matter drop. "Teal'c, please. It is time for you to face the truth. We all know what great value you place upon your friends among the Tau'ri. And I have already agreed that they would not willingly be directly involved. I will also concede that they might not even know about this despicable ambush. But you cannot deny the evidence that some among the Tau'ri were involved."

"If you will not believe in those who have come to your aid time and time again, I have no choice but to prove to you once and for all that the Tau'ri were not involved. I shall request that SG-1 join me in examining the site of the attack. I am sure that Colonel Carter will have a method of determining if the weapons used were from the SGC. Or not," he stressed.

"Teal'c, no! You have said yourself that they have to report to those above them. Including SG-1 in this will serve only to alert the perpetrators among the Tau'ri to the fact that we know they were involved. We must handle this investigation ourselves and then confront them when we have all of the evidence we seek."

"The Tau'ri are NOT involved. There is nothing you can say or do to convince me otherwise," he roared.

"Stop this!" The two older Jaffa were startled by the vehement request from Kar'yn. "You are wasting valuable time with pointless arguments while the trail of those responsible for this attack grows ever colder. Hear me now, both of you. I swear, no matter should it take my last breath, I will not rest until those who have killed my husband are punished. For if it is the last thing I do, I will find Ry'ac's body and see that he receives a proper send off."

Teal'c turned to his daughter-in-law with a hard stare. "Ry'ac is not dead. But you are correct; we are wasting valuable time here." His countenance became an icy glare, a fair match to his voice, and moved to Ishta. "I will speak to O'Neill privately and request that Colonel Carter and Daniel Jackson join us. No one else will know the details. I will make no further concessions," he vowed.

"Very well," Ishta conceded unhappily. "But if the investigation is compromised, do not say that I did not try to warn you."

******

For the second time in as many days, O'Neill strode up to stand behind Walter as the alarms blared in warning of the unscheduled offworld activation. "What have we got this time?" he demanded.

"No IDC yet, sir." The Chief Master Sergeant listened intently. "We're receiving a faint audio signal. I can't quite make it out." He paused to make a few adjustments and turned to the general, eyes wide. "It's Harry Maybourne, sir. He's asking to speak with you. Shall I put it on speaker?"

O'Neill winced and pinched the bridge of his nose. He'd been on base for barely an hour, but wading through the giant stack of paper that had piled up in his absence had quickly taken its toll. The files, forms and reports that required immediate attention during his recovery had--thankfully--been quite ably dealt with by his second in command. Unfortunately, there was quite an impressive backlog of less urgent material waiting for him when Brightman had finally allowed him back on duty. And while on almost any other day he'd relish the chance to spar with the former colonel, today he'd much rather retire once more to his office with his aspirin bottle. Damn that sneaky Goa'uld assassin anyhow! Though the paperwork associated with running the place could give him a headache on one of his best days, he was pretty darn certain that the current throbbing behind his eyes was a direct result of the most recent attempt on his life. Not that he'd be sharing that particular little detail with a certain CMO, mind you.

He sighed heavily as he quickly arrived at the conclusion that there was really only one option open to him. While his people here were more than capable and he trusted them implicitly, there really wasn't anyone else who could effectively deal with a wily old rapscallion like Harry Maybourne. Reluctantly, he dropped his hand and nodded at Harriman as he grabbed for the mike. "Harry, Harry, Harry. You never write; you never call. We were beginning to think you didn't like us anymore," he admonished.

"I could easily say the same about you, Jack," retorted the king. "Haven't heard a word from Earth since you guys left with that ship last year."

"Oh, yeah. Well, sorry about that," he apologized, not sounding sincere at all. "So…how are the wives?"

"They're good. I'm good. We're all good. Thanks for asking. How about you and the guys?" he countered.

"Oh yeah, we're all good, too." After making a pained face, the general went on. "So I guess that about covers it, huh? Nice talking to you, Harry. Call again sometime soon. Or not," he added caustically.

"Ha ha, very funny, Jack. If you're all finished being a comedian, can we get down to business here?"

O'Neill took notice at the urgency in his tone and responded accordingly. "Go ahead, Harry. What's up?"

"I've got something here you need to see right away, Jack. How soon can you get the President to let you out for another short field trip?"

The general frowned at the vague proposal. "Without a few more details? Not anytime soon." He purposely neglected to mention that it was his doctors rather than the President who likely refuse to allow him to make the trip.

"I can't tell you much more right now, but this is big, Jack. Really big," he stressed.

"I need more than that, Harry. Tell me what you've got or it's not gonna happen."

There was a lengthy pause before the former colonel's voice came over the speaker. "I really can't go into details. I think it's possible that 'someone' might be listening in, if you catch my drift. You have to come, Jack. You're the only one who can deal with this. And you'd better make it soon or it will be too late. Real soon," he added.

O'Neill's frown deepened. The urgency and seriousness of Harry's tone made him decidedly uneasy. He had the feeling there was more to this than Harry finding more Ancient toys. A lot more. "All right, I'll see what I can do. Unless you hear otherwise, you can expect me and SG-3 in two to three hours."

"SG-3? But what about SG-1?" There was an underlying urgency to the question, but the king quickly covered. "I mean, they did help with that whole Ares thing last year--I know everyone here would love the chance to see them again. You might recall they're not really too keen on strangers."

Again, O'Neill had the feeling that there was a lot more to Harry's request for SG-1. And the hasty justification of the question was even more telling. Not to anyone who didn't know the likeable rogue, mind you, but it definitely spoke volumes to him. He briefly considered recalling the team, but decided against it for the time being. It had sounded like the situation with Ry'ac was dicey at best and time was definitely of the essence there. Besides, he could always send for them once on Maybourne's planet if he found the situation warranted it.

His mind made up, he fired back a retort. "Yeah, well sorry. They're not available at the moment. I'm sure everyone there will find that SG-3 are totally cool in their own right, even if they didn't blow up any Goa'ulds for you. O'Neill out."

"Ah, right. Okay. Well, I'll see you in a few hours then. And Jack? Hurry," warned Maybourne as the gate snapped shut.

Heaving a deep sigh, O'Neill turned and headed toward his office. This one was going to take some heavy-duty persuading, no doubt about it. He climbed the stairs one by one instead of taking two at a time as he'd normally do, again cursing his weakness. With that in mind, he couldn't help but picture Dr. Brightman's face as he explained his request. Oh yeah, some really heavy-duty persuading.

******

"I don't think this was an attempted robbery, Teal'c." Carter released the button on her radio to wait for his response. She frowned as she looked across the clearing to see Ishta poking among the ruined crates. The woman had been polite to her and Daniel, but there was a reserve about her that hadn't been there in previous encounters.

"I concur, Colonel Carter. I believe also that the evidence indicates that the Tau'ri were not involved." He glanced pointedly at Ishta as he spoke; her answering glare indicated that she did not at all agree.

'Well,' thought the colonel, 'that would certainly explain her attitude toward me and Daniel.'

"How can you say that?" Carter heard Ishta's raised voice clearly, in spite of the distance and the fact that she was not using a radio. "Look around you; do you not see the debris from their weapons?" she asked incredulously.

His mike still keyed, Teal'c calmly answered. "That is precisely the point. There is a highly excessive number of casings in every one of the enemy's positions we have encountered. While this would be expected when facing a large number of opponents, the Tau'ri would not have needed more than a few shots to dispose of three targets--even had those targets been heavily armed, which was not the case here. Though the supply crates suffer damage from bullets, the randomness suggests this was not due to an attempt to destroy them. Clearly, those wielding the Tau'ri weapons were not proficient with them. And that would disqualify any team of Tau'ri--from the SGC or otherwise."

"Sam, I've got something here," announced Daniel, effectively ending their discussion for the time being.

The trio hurried to the area that the archaeologist had been assigned to explore with Kar'yn. Teal'c led the way, quickly finding the trail the pair had left. He pushed his way through the bushes and low-hanging tree branches, never taking his eyes from the path and trusting the two females behind to keep up.

As Carter batted away another branch, she noted that they'd ventured deeper into the woods than the initial Hak'tyl search party. Whether Daniel had spotted something to draw him deeper into the woods or had gone there solely on instinct, it had apparently paid off and he'd struck pay dirt. She had been just about to radio for a more exact position when she heard his voice call to them. "Over here," he beckoned.

Crouched in the dirt near one of the taller trees, Daniel pulled a bandana from his pack and meticulously picked up his discovery. Rising to his feet, he carefully held it out toward his teammates. "Looks like someone lost something," he announced as he handed off the abandoned P-90 to Carter. "It's one of ours, isn't it?"

"Yeah," she responded reluctantly. "Sure looks like it. I'll check it for prints and run the serial number to find out who it was issued to. It could be one we lost," she added. "I'd also like to get a sample of the casings from each of the sites we've found."

"What good will that do?" demanded Ishta. "You have already as much as admitted your people were responsible for this."

"Colonel Carter has admitted no such thing," snapped Teal'c.

"Okay, that's enough," interrupted Carter. "Teal'c why don't you and Kar'yn start collecting those samples for me. Be sure to mark on the bag were you found them."

Teal'c continued to glare at Ishta for a moment longer, then turned to Carter and nodded. "Come, daughter. There is still much to be done here."

As the pair left, Daniel looked at the two remaining females and quickly offered his own help. "Why don't I go with them and work from the opposite direction?"

At Carter's nod, he quickly moved off after the two Jaffa. "Don't forget to mark the locations," she instructed. She grinned cheekily as he briefly turned to frown at her and waved him on.

As Daniel disappeared into the heavy brush, Carter turned to Ishta and took the bull by the horns. "So, do you really believe that we are behind the attack?"

Ishta silently considered her before replying. "I know that you and Dr. Jackson would never take such action, nor would General O'Neill."

Carter regarded her for several moments in return. "But you still think someone from Earth was responsible."

"I merely listen to what the evidence tells me, unlike some."

The colonel ignored the intended barb to her Jaffa teammate. "Do you?" she challenged. "Because Teal'c has already told you that the evidence indicates that the perpetrators were not proficient with the P-90's. And I can guarantee that no one from Earth, whether from the SGC or not, would be allowed offworld without being proficient in the use of their weapon. Especially not for this type of assignment."

"I am sorry, Colonel Carter, but that is not enough to convince me."

"I'm just asking that you keep an open mind about it. Let me go back and run some tests. Even if the weapon we found was lost by an SG team, testing the casings should tell us exactly which planet they came from--and hopefully lead us right to the guilty parties."

Ishta frowned. "That is the second time you have mentioned testing the casings. Metal is metal. How can you possibly tell exactly where it came from?"

Carter shook her head. "Casings are actually made of metal alloys, meaning that more than one type of metal is used to make them. To put it most simply, the casings are made by melting and refining the different ores, then combining and pouring the molten mixture into molds and waiting until it cools and hardens." She waited for Ishta's nod of understanding before continuing. "There are a lot of variables in the process. For one, no planet will have exactly the same composition of metal and mineral in its ore as any other. Not all impurities are removed during the refining process. So it's possible that I may be able to identify the planet of origin by measuring those impurities."

Ishta nodded thoughtfully. "I see. Then let us hope that your tests are able to prove conclusively who was responsible."

******

"All right, Harry, we're here. Now tell me what this is all about or I'm out of here," threatened O'Neill, as he stood and stiffly descended from the wagon seat.

Brightman hadn't been at all happy, but had cleared him for the trip on the condition that he continued to take it easy. Also at her insistence, SG-3 had gone ahead of him and made arrangements for transportation. Hence, the bumpy ride on the hard wooden seat he'd just endured. Maybourne's stubborn silence on all matters regarding the reason for requesting O'Neill's presence during the trip to the settlement hadn't improved the general's temper anymore than his throbbing headache. O'Neill wanted answers and he wanted them now.

Harry nimbly hopped down and maneuvered around the cart until he reached his guest. He looked pointedly at each member of SG-3 before nodding at the door to his home. "Come on. Let's talk inside."

"Harry."

"Jack." Maybourne cut him off and gave the general a look that plainly said it would be his way or no way.

O'Neill rolled his eyes as he looked upward and shook his head. He was sorely tempted to just tell Maybourne to screw himself; on the other hand, the prospect of getting right back into the wagon and bouncing all the way back to the Stargate was less than appealing. "Fine," he snapped. "Reynolds, have a couple of your guys watch the gate. The rest of you can hang out here."

"But sir," Reynolds protested.

"You have your orders, Colonel." O'Neill's clipped measured tone clearly said that he had reached his limit of patience and was not about to stand for being coddled.

"Yes, sir." Wisely heeding the not-so-subtle reminder that O'Neill outranked him, Reynolds backed off. His expression made it clear that he was not happy about the general going into the building alone with Maybourne, but he didn't push the issue.

A smug-looking Maybourne led the way into the stone structure with O'Neill right on his heels. Once inside, he paused only long enough to allow their eyes to adjust to the dimmer lighting before proceeding to the massive staircase.

He stopped abruptly just before putting his foot on the first step, causing O'Neill to run into him. Looking back over his shoulder, he questioned the general. "You okay with climbing stairs?"

"Get on with it," O'Neill growled, not backing up an inch.

The former officer shrugged and began a slow ascent, knowing full well that it would further irritate the general following close on his heels. When they finally reached the top, Maybourne turned to find O'Neill not even slightly winded.

"Well?" the general demanded, still scowling.

"This way." Maybourne made his way down the hall and stopped at the first door on their left. "In here," he offered, opening the door and waiting for O'Neill to enter.

The general paused long enough to offer him a look that plainly said "This had better be good." before entering the room.

As his eyes adjusted to the even dimmer lighting in the room, O'Neill stopped dead in his tracks, causing Maybourne to run into him. The bump was enough to rouse him from his shock and he hurried to the bedside before him. Carefully checking over the occupant and finding him unable to speak for himself, he turned back to his host. "All right, Harry, start talking. What happened to him and how did he end up here? And why didn't you just tell us he was here when you called the SGC? And don't try screwing with me--I want answers and I want them now," he threatened.

Maybourne nodded. "I'll tell you what I can, but I don't know much," he warned. "But first, you might want to send for Teal'c." He looked down at the prone figure as he continued. "The kid says his symbiote is dying and he doesn't have much time left."

O'Neill pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Okay, get Reynolds up here for me. Then you can tell me what the hell is going on."

"No, you must not let anyone else know I am here." The voice was weak, but steady as the patient announced his return to consciousness.

The general immediately turned his attention to the injured party. "Hey, Ry'ac. How are you doing there, buddy?"

The young man grimaced as pain flared once more. "As your friend has told you, my symbiote is dying. I do not have much time left, so I would like to ask a favor of you."

"Sure, I'll do whatever I can," he readily agreed.

Ry'ac's smile quickly turned into another grimace as he rode out another wave of pain. "Please, tell my father that I would ask one last thing of him; I would like for him to look after Kar'yn. She has no other family and it would please me greatly to know that neither of them will be alone."

Another spasm momentarily robbed him of breath, but he gritted his teeth and spoke through it. "Tell him that I am honored to have had the privilege of being the son of the mighty Teal'c. Tell him that I fought well and died with honor."

"You can tell him yourself when he gets here," chided O'Neill. "And you're not going to die. I can have a medical team here before you know it. They'll get you started on the Tretonin and you'll be good as new before you know it."

"No!" Ry'ac tried to sit up, but was immediately overcome by the pain.

"Take it easy, will you?" Though the general wasn't one hundred percent himself, he was easily able to hold the injured man down.

"Promise me you won't tell anyone I'm here!" demanded the weakly struggling patient. "They'll kill everyone here, too!"

"Who?" demanded O'Neill. "Who did this and why are you so afraid of them?"

"They…they attacked…us. They'll…come here, too….if they…find out…I'm…here…" Though Ry'ac struggled valiantly through the pain to tell his story, he was unable to finish before losing consciousness once more.

Satisfied that the young man was as comfortable as possible, O'Neill turned to Maybourne with a frown. Before he could speak, the king interrupted. "Now you see why I couldn't just tell you straight out? I couldn't take the risk of putting my people in jeopardy. I figured you might know better what was going on and how to handle it."

O'Neill nodded absently, his mind racing to map out a strategy to get Ry'ac the help he needed and alert Teal'c without letting anyone else know. Finally, he fished a notebook from his pocket and scribbled out a short note. Extending the note to Maybourne, he rattled off orders like the king was one of the soldiers under his command. "Give this to Reynolds; tell him to head back to the SCG and get a medical team. Tell him to give this to the doc in private. Tell him to have the SCG get a hold of Bra'tac. Once he's at the SCG, have them send the old coot here to me."

The king nodded. "I've managed to acquire a couple of pretty fast horses; he can use one of those to make the run to the gate. It'll save a little time, anyway," he replied.

Before the surprised general could reply, Maybourne turned and was gone. O'Neill shook his head and turned back to the injured man in the bed. "Hang in there, kid. Just hang in there a little while longer."

******

To her relief, Carter found both of her teammates waiting for her as she stepped out of the wormhole onto Hak'tyl. She was finding the cold shoulder routine from the Jaffa rather unnerving. It was a relief not to have to brave even the short walk to the center of the encampment to find them.

"Sam, did you find out anything?" Daniel was the first to ask, but Teal'c's expression clearly said that he, too, wanted to know what she'd found.

"Yeah, I did. The weapon was issued to Lieutenant Compton of SG-9 three years ago. It wasn't recovered after the attack when the negotiations on P4X-992 went sour two years ago."

"I remember that," recalled Daniel. "It wasn't long after you guys found me on Vis Uban. Only one of them made it back alive, right?"

Carter nodded. "Colonel Morton was the only one who survived. He retired shortly after the incident. The locals returned the bodies of the others, but they were stripped of all their gear and weapons. Recovering them wasn't worth the risk of more lives."

"And what of the shell casings? Did you discover their origins?" Teal'c adeptly steered the conversation back to the topic at hand.

"The casings were definitely not from earth. They contained minute traces of trinium, along with several other minerals not found on Earth. I've got a search running to see if we can match the content with any of the planets we have samples from."

"How long will that take?" inquired Daniel.

"Hopefully not long," she replied. "Dr. Lee is keeping an eye on it. He'll let us know as soon as he has something."

"So what happens in the meantime?" Daniel had no sooner asked his question than the chevrons began to light and click into place one by one.

Conversation was abandoned and the trio quickly took up a defensive stance. The Hak'tyl in the vicinity quickly formed their own defenses. Everyone watched the puddle splash outward, each one wary and ready to take action. Finally, a figure emerged from the event horizon. They all relaxed, instantly recognizing the familiar form

"Greetings, old friend." The visitor strode calmly up to the team, stopping directly in front of Teal'c.

"Tec'ma'te." Teal'c grasped Bra'tac's forearm as he returned the greeting. "You have heard what trouble has befallen my son."

"I have," agreed Bra'tac solemnly, bringing his hand to rest on the younger warrior's shoulder. "Nothing would bring greater satisfaction to me than to assist in finding those responsible." He paused to look at each member of SG-1 in turn. "But first I bring word from O'Neill."

Ishta approached the group. "Master Bra'tac, it is good to see you. I only wish it were under more pleasant circumstances."

The old Jaffa bowed at the greeting. "And you are as lovely as ever, my dear. I, too, wish the reason for my visit was more pleasurable in nature."

Teal'c, still angry with the Hak'tyl leader, abruptly interrupted the cordial exchange. "What news do you bring from O'Neill?"

The former master and pupil looked intently into each other's eyes. Several moments passed before the old Jaffa finally spoke. "You are to report back to your base at once." Seeing that more than one of the team was prepared to debate the issue, he wasted no time in clarifying. "All of you. SG-1 is urgently needed elsewhere."

Fighting the urge to announce to one and all exactly what he thought of the orders, Teal'c deeply searched his mentor's eyes. His own widened for only an instant in recognition of the true meaning of the seemingly untimely recall. "You will remain here and tend to the matter at hand on my behalf?"

"I will," agreed the wily old Jaffa.

Ishta was the first to recover from the shock of her lover's immediate agreement. "Teal'c, this is madness! Surely you are not going to abandon the search for your son so easily," she said incredulously.

Daniel was the next to speak up. "I'm sure Jack would understand if you chose to stay behind."

Carter quickly agreed. "He's right, Teal'c. We can handle whatever has come up. You're needed here."

"I will return to the SGC. I could not leave the search for my son in more capable hands," he insisted. "We should depart immediately."

Save for Bra'tac, everyone stared incredulously as the former First Prime strode to the DHD and began to dial. His two teammates quickly recovered and joined him.

By the time the final chevron engaged, Ishta had overcome her shock and delivered one final barb. "It is actions such as this which cause your people to question your loyalty, Teal'c. O'Neill calls for you and you run to him without a second thought, even though your son is likely dead or, at the least, dying. Is it any wonder that there are those who would call you O'Neill's lapdog?"

Though his eyes were spitting fire, Teal'c ignored the jibe. He gave one last, long, searching look to his former teacher. As Carter entered the iris code, Bra'tac nodded. Teal'c returned the gesture with a regal bow. Without another word, he turned and joined his teammates as they stepped into the wormhole.

******

"Where is my son?" Teal'c was all business as he emerged from the open gate onto Harry Maybourne's planet.

The former officer smiled as he stepped up to greet the members of SG-1. "Colonel Carter, Jackson, Teal'c." He nodded at each one in turn. "It's good to see you guys again."

"You will tell me of my son," instructed the former First Prime. His hard stare emphasized the demand. "Now."

"The doctor was with him when I left. She seemed pretty optimistic." He motioned for the team to precede him as they started to the settlement. Carter and Jackson moved ahead as indicated, but the Jaffa fell in alongside the king. "I'm sorry I don't have more for you."

Teal'c regarded him suspiciously and moved on to his next question. "You will tell me how Ry'ac came to be here."

"I'll tell you what I can, but I don't know much," he warned. "We've recently begun seeking out certain planets to establish trade agreements."

"I was not aware you had contacted the Hak'tyl," interrupted Teal'c.

"The who?" Harry's perplexed expression lent credibility to his words.

"Continue," requested the impatient father.

"Yes, well, as I was saying, we've recently begun to seek out potential trading partners. Yesterday afternoon, I dispatched a small party to negotiate with some folks called the Malabari. So there they are, in the middle of the meeting, and a teltac appears on the horizon. The closer it gets, the more erratic the flight line becomes, until finally it crashes nearby. Now, the Malabari claim they have no interest in it, not even to check for survivors, and want to continue the meeting. My people decline and leave the meeting to check things out. When they finally get to the crash site, they find only one occupant, more dead than alive. They recognize the symbol on the young man's forehead to be the same as yours and bring him back here so I can decide what to do about him."

"An act for which I am most grateful," offered Teal'c as Maybourne paused to catch his breath.

Harry nodded. "There was a time that they would have just left him to die, you know, him being a Jaffa and all. But you showed them that not all Jaffa are bad, and they're grateful for what your help in defeating Ares last year. This was their way of saying thanks."

Teal'c acknowledged the compliment with a regal nod, but quickly steered the conversation back to his son. "How did you determine my son's identity?"

"He regained consciousness briefly while two of my wives were bandaging his wounds." Maybourne smiled as Jackson grabbed Carter's arm to stop her from turning around at the mention of his multiple spouses. "I recognized his name immediately and assured him that I'd contact you as soon as possible," he continued. "He became extremely agitated and insisted that I should do no such thing. He said "they" tried to kill him, but he passed out again before he could explain. I knew he had to have more advanced care than we could give him if he was going to make it, but I didn't quite know what to make of his outburst. So I decided that the best thing to do was to get Jack here and let him figure it out."

Teal'c continued to regard him suspiciously, but let the matter drop as the group reached the village. Maybourne swiftly led the group through the settlement to his home, where they were joined by the members of SG-3.

"The general wants you two to wait out here," instructed Reynolds, motioning to Carter and Jackson. He then turned to the final member of the team. "He's with the doctor in your son's room on the second floor."

Anxious to see Ry'ac, Teal'c nodded and quickly disappeared through the open door with the waiting king.

******

"He's gonna be fine, T," assured O'Neill. He and the doctor emerged from Ry'ac's room at the same instant that Maybourne and Teal'c arrived at the doorway.

Dr. Brightman was quick to back up the general. "Your son should make a full recovery, given time and a great deal of rest."

Uncharacteristically, the look on Teal'c's face spoke volumes. "I am most grateful to you for saving my son's life." Clapping his fist to his heart, he bowed to the doctor. The pride in his voice was unmistakable when he straightened and continued, "He is young and strong; I have no doubt he will soon be well again, thanks to you."

"Teal'c, please don't misunderstand," she cautioned. "Ry'ac had a very close call. It's going to be quite awhile before he's completely recovered."

The concerned father's joyful mood sobered. "But he will recover."

"He's responding quite well to the tretonin," she assured. "So yes, barring any unforeseen complications, he should eventually recover. But without his symbiote, it won't be a speedy process."

Teal'c nodded. "May I see him now?"

"Of course. He's asleep now and he may not wake for some time yet," she warned.

He again nodded and then entered the room. Dr. Brightman's voice drifted through after him. "Now then, General. Since you are the supposed reason I was called here, let's have a look at you, shall we?"

Teal'c smirked at his brother warrior's reply. Though muffled by the closed door, the response was unmistakably O'Neill. "Oh, for crying out loud."

******

Some time later, Teal'c exited his son's room and was surprised to find O'Neill waiting for him. "I did not realize you had suffered a setback in your own recovery, O'Neill. Was Dr. Brightman satisfied with the results of her examination?"

"My recovery is going along just fine, thank you very much. That was just an excuse to get the doc here and keep the news about Ry'ac hush-hush. But then you already knew that," admonished the general.

"Indeed," agreed the Jaffa, a rare smile gracing his dark features.

"Still sleeping?" O'Neill gestured at the closed door.

Teal'c nodded. "As the doctor expected, Ry'ac has not awoken since I arrived. I had hoped to speak with Daniel Jackson and Colonel Carter. Much to my chagrin, I must admit that it has only now occurred to me that I should summon Kar'yn. I fear she will be most displeased that she was not informed of her husband's rescue sooner."

"Sorry, T, I sent Carter and Daniel back to Hak'tyl a little while ago. Thought maybe Bra'tac could use the help."

"Then Kar'yn should be arriving shortly. You have my thanks, O'Neill."

"Don't thank me yet," countered the general. "I told them not to tell anyone where you were or why you didn't return with them. So since Kar'yn doesn't know, I don't think she'll be here for awhile yet."

Teal'c frowned. "Then I must go and send word to her myself."

"You might just want to hold off on that for a bit," suggested the general.

"For what purpose?" demanded Teal'c, his temper flaring.

"Ry'ac was able to fill me in a little on what happened to him before he lost consciousness again. He said he recognized some of the attackers." O'Neill looked intently at his friend. "He wasn't awake long enough to name names, but he did say they were Free Jaffa--and they were specifically after him."

Teal'c's eyes glittered with rage. "Are you saying my son was nearly killed because of me?"

"He wasn't able to provide any real details, but yeah, that would be my guess."

"Then I must summon Kar'yn to care for my son while I determine who is responsible and exact my son's revenge."

"Not a smart move, my friend," warned O'Neill.

"Why should my son's wife not be told of his rescue?"

"Think about it a minute, T. Ry'ac going on this supply run was a last minute thing, right? So how exactly did the Free Jaffa know where he'd be at that particular time?"

Teal'c's eyes widened. "There was an accomplice, an informant, among the Hak'tyl."

"Bingo. Look, why don't you stay here with Ry'ac for a few days? At least until he's feeling a little stronger. Carter, Daniel, and Bra'tac can handle the investigation. With any luck, they'll flush out the informant, wrap things up, and have Kar'yn on her way here in no time."

"It is my right to exact vengeance for such a dishonorable and despicable act," vowed Teal'c as he turned and started for the stairs.

The Jaffa's anger was obviously not going to be easily quelled, but O'Neill didn't give up. "Aren't you the one who's been preaching that things need to change? That you need to let go of the old ways? Come on, let Carter, Daniel and Bra'tac handle it. Ry'ac needs you here. What do you say? I'll hang around, too. Keep up the pretense of finding more Ancient toys until things are settled," he insisted.

Teal'c stopped dead in his tracks and rounded on his friend. "You would not agree to do nothing were your son lying in that room--nor would you consider for even a moment allowing another to avenge him!" He didn't miss the hurt in O'Neill's eyes as the general quickly looked away, only then realizing what he'd said. His chin dropped to his chest in shame at his thoughtlessness.

A long, awkward silence hung between them until O'Neill finally turned back to address him. It was only through his training that Teal'c didn't flinch at the hard edge to his friend's voice. "Knowing what I know now, if that were my son in there, I damn well would leave it to the others. Because if I learned one thing from what happened, it's that I would be there for him when he needed me, no matter what." The general looked down for a moment before continuing in softer tone. "And make no mistake about it; Ry'ac needs you, T. You, not Kar'yn. I remember what you were like after you lost Junior, my friend. Have you forgotten what it was like when you took that hit to the pouch and damaged your spine? For the first time in your life, you had no handy-dandy, instant cure-all to save the day. Kar'yn doesn't know first-hand what that's like; you do. Are you really going to let Ry'ac go through it alone?"

Teal'c swallowed hard as the memories of the incident and recovery assaulted him. O'Neill was right. It was the first time in his memory that recovery from a serious injury took more than a few days. He closed his eyes as he recalled the long, painful process of regaining the strength and ability to walk again. And worst of all, he remembered the feelings of weakness and inadequacy that came with the loss of superior physical strength and stamina.

His decision made, he reopened his eyes to find the general studying him intently. He tried to apologize for his thoughtless accusation, but the words refused to come.

O'Neill, seeming to sense his intention, silently placed his hand on Teal'c's shoulder.

He bowed his head in gratitude for his friend's understanding, finding it difficult to speak. "I shall remain here."

******

"Bratac, Ishta." Carter nodded as she and Jackson entered the Hak'tyl leader's tent. "Thank you," she said, turning back to the escort who had met them at the Stargate.

"You may leave us now." As Ishta dismissed her, Carter was the only one able to see the woman's scowl of displeasure as she exited.

"What news do you bring from O'Neill?" Bra'tac was quick to get down to business.

Carter motioned for Jackson to check outside the tent, at the same time silently gesturing for the others to wait.

"All clear," he announced, reentering the tent.

Carter turned back to the two Jaffa. "We know who was behind the attack."

"Who?" demanded Ishta.

Carter nodded and began to explain. "Ry'ac hasn't been able to name names, but. . ."

"Ry'ac has been found? When? Is he badly injured?" Ishta interrupted anxiously. Before Carter could answer, the Hak'tyl leader's eyes widened and she rounded on her fellow Jaffa. "You! You knew about this when you sent Teal'c back to the SGC, yet you said nothing!"

"It was necessary." Bra'tac's expression was expression frank and apologetic, but he offered no further explanation before turning his attention to Carter. "He continues to respond well?"

"Yes, Dr. Brightman says he's responding very well to the tretonin." She looked him squarely in the eyes as she continued. "But without his symbiote, it's going to be some time before he completely recovers," she cautioned. "And though he is doing well, he hasn't been awake long enough to identify any of the specific individuals involved."

Ishta was outraged at their omission and not yet willing to move on to the identity of the perpetrators as she turned her ire toward Carter. "Why were we not informed as soon as you learned of his rescue? You know how upset Kar'yn has been, but only now have you bothered to bring us this news?"

Carter, understanding her anger, tried to placate the other woman. "It was what Ry'ac wanted. He didn't even want the people who found him to tell Teal'c, but the king managed to get a covert message to General O'Neill."

Ishta clenched her fists tightly at her sides. "For someone who has not been conscious long enough to name his attackers, it would certainly seem the boy has managed to speak volumes regarding other matters."

"Enough!" Bra'tac had apparently had enough of the petty bickering. "You of all people, Ishta, should know that some matters require utmost secrecy, even to the point of keeping information from those closest to us," he admonished.

"Of course I know," she shot back, "but such is not the case here."

With a mental sigh, Carter took in the defiant stance of the Hak'tyl leader. From her squared shoulders to the way her chin jutted out, it was apparent that Ishta was in no mood to back down. It was long past time to take some of the wind out of her sails. "You have an informant among your people. Isn't that a good enough reason for secrecy?"


Ishta gaped at her in stunned disbelief. "I should have expected these tactics when we discovered that it was indeed a Tau'ri weapon at the site of the ambush." She took a step forward to stand toe-to-toe with Carter. "I suppose it was Ry'ac who informed you of this so-called mole."

Bra'tac frowned as he touched Ishta's shoulder and pulled her back. "A wise leader keeps his mind open to all possibilities until the truth reveals itself. To your credit, you have been such a leader to the Hak'tyl."

She nodded graciously, silently acknowledging the compliment.

"But in this, you have closed your mind," he continued. "You have judged the Tau'ri to be guilty before all the facts have been uncovered. For this reason, you do not see that which is painfully obvious to others."

Ishta's expression darkened. "And perhaps it is you who does not see what is painfully obvious to others. You have grown close to the Tau'ri over the years, so much so that you cannot allow yourself to now admit their guilt--and so much so that you accept their accusations against the Hak'tyl instead of supporting your own kind. It is enough to cause one to wonder if you will next suggest that we worship them as we once did the false gods who enslaved us."

Bra'tac's eyes flashed with anger at her accusation, but he held his tongue. The silence hung heavily in the air until he finally spoke, his voice ice cold. "No, my dear Ishta, it will not be I who elevates the Tau'ri to divine status. The same, however, cannot be said for yourself. For despite all of your accusations and ill-will, it is you who believes that the Tau'ri see and know all."

Ishta stared at him, obviously stunned by his words. "I believe nothing of the kind! How can you even think such a thing?"

Totally belying his age, Bra'tac moved with the grace and swiftness of a panther into her personal space. Virtually nose to nose, he continued in the same icy tone. "Your actions contradict your words, Ishta. For if indeed there is no traitor among the Hak'tyl people, the only way for the Tau'ri to have known that Ry'ac would be with the transport would be if they were omniscient."

Faced with the fatal flaw in her logic, Ishta closed her eyes and backed away. Her head remained bowed for several moments before she finally spoke. "I must apologize to all of you for my behavior. In my zeal to see Ry'ac's attackers found and brought to justice, I did act rashly and jump to conclusions. It was wrong of me to judge anyone before all the facts were known."

She turned to look directly at Carter before continuing. "Do not take my apology as absolution. While I cannot deny the existence of this informant among my people, there is no evidence yet to exonerate the Tau'ri in the attack. I will, however, give you my word that I will keep an open mind in the matter."

The pair from Earth had remained quietly in the background while the two Jaffa sparred with each other. Now, however, it was time to set the record straight. With arms crossed over his chest, Daniel raised his right index finger and stepped forward. "Actually, there is evidence that proves once and for all that no one from Earth was involved. While it's true that Ry'ac hasn't been able to identify individuals, he has been able to tell us a little about the attack--including the name of the group responsible. It's only a matter of time before he'll be able to provide the identities of the exact individuals involved."

"This proves nothing. I believe your people call it "hearsay," do they not?" challenged Ishta.

Daniel shook his head sadly. So much for keeping an open mind. "There is more. Sam?"

Carter joined her teammate. "Daniel is right. We've finished searching our database for the planet where the ore used to make the shell casings originated. We found a match. Our findings support Ry'ac's statement." She looked directly at the older Jaffa as she announced the findings. "I'm sorry, Bra'tac. The shell casings came from Dakara."

"That is preposterous--no one would dare! Teal'c is a hero among the Free Jaffa. Every man, woman, and child knows that it was he who first planted the seeds of our rebellion, that it was because of his courage and determination that we are now a free people. Surely you cannot expect us to believe that Ry'ac, the son of one of our most respected heroes, was attacked by one of our own people!" Ishta was livid, her promise to remain open minded apparently forgotten as she rounded on the old master. "How can you stand there so calmly and accept such allegations?"

Bra'tac's head dropped slowly to his chest. When he was finally ready to speak, he raised glittering eyes to the tent's ceiling. "What I would give were the words of the Tau'ri untrue. For that would mean that the Free Jaffa have put aside the long years of petty differences and fighting each other to truly come together and forge a new way of life for our people."

Abruptly, he turned to Ishta, the hard mask of a veteran warrior firmly back in place. "But you know as well as I that such is not the case. You have seen with your own eyes the dissent among the High Council. A thirst for power by the more ambitious among us and the reluctance by others to part with any of the old ways has turned the Free Jaffa into a hotbed of intrigue and mistrust. The balance of power is precarious at best. A single misstep by any one of the many factions could well bring down the entire movement."

The Hak'tyl leader's temper had finally abated as her tone and expression became softer. "It is true, I will admit, that the Free Jaffa nation is struggling to find its identity. But what good could possibly be gained by killing Ry'ac? What would be accomplished by such a heinous act?"

Bra'tac shook his head. "Do not fool yourself, Ishta. Teal'c has made a great many enemies over the years. Not all consider him to be the hero you profess. Any number of our brothers and sisters would think nothing of arranging for Ry'ac's demise for a multitude of reasons. That is why the boy's fate must remain secret for the time being. We must protect him until those who wish him harm are apprehended. Even to the point of keeping this from Kar'yn," he stressed sternly.

Ishta reluctantly agreed. "I do not like leaving her to believe that her husband is dead, but I will concede your point. Ry'ac's safety must come before all else. I shall begin the search immediately. The sooner we uncover the traitor among us, the sooner we can end this deception and reunite Karin with her husband."

As Ishta turned to leave, Bra'tac caught her by the arm. "That is exactly what you cannot do, my dear. If we are to successfully keep this secret, you must continue as before." The old master turned to the two Tau'ri, who had again become silent observers as the Jaffa hashed it out. "You will go out and ask questions," he instructed. "It is well known that Teal'c has placed the investigation into his son's disappearance into your hands. This way, suspicions will not be aroused."

"Of course," agreed Carter. Daniel nodded his assent also.

Their cooperation assured, Bra'tac returned his attention to the Hak'tyl leader. "You must return to Kar'yn and continue to support her as before. The informant will be watching for the slightest sign that the boy has been found."

Ishta nodded, looking very unhappy about leaving the investigation to someone else, and made her way to the tent's entrance. Placing her hand on the flap, she paused and turned back to SG-1. "Once again, I find myself needing to apologize for my behavior. I should have supported Teal'c's faith in his adopted people instead of rushing to judgment. Please know that your assistance is greatly appreciated."

"Apology accepted." Carter smiled, seeming pleased that the woman had finally been convinced that the Tau'ri were not behind the vicious plot.

"Thank you," agreed Daniel.

Bra'tac headed toward the exit, signaling the end of the meeting. "Come," he instructed. "There is much to be done."

******

"O'Neill, there appears to be someone at your door."

The general continued to study the game board in front of him, ignoring Teal'c's admonition as well as persistent knocking at the door. Harry had surprised him with a passable chess set not long after their arrival, and he'd been more than happy to hole up in his room and occupy his time with it.

Though it had only been a few days since O'Neill had summoned her to treat Ry'ac, Brightman had eagerly availed herself of the opportunity to ensure that the still-recovering general took it easy. It hadn't taken long for him to tire of her scrutinizing his every move, so he began disappearing to his quarters after the mid-day meal to escape her attentions. Teal'c had taken to joining him while the nurses tended to Ry'ac, bathing him, administering medications, or changing his bandages.

Teal'c's jaw twitched as the knock again sounded at the door. When it became apparent that O'Neill had no intention of granting the unwanted guest entrance, the Jaffa took matters into his own hands. Without a word, he rose from his seat and crossed the room. His eyes never left the general as he opened the door and waited.

Annoyed, O'Neill finally tore his attention from the game and looked up. One glance at the visitor and he shot his Jaffa friend a look that could kill. "Come," he snapped.

"General O'Neill, Teal'c," greeted Dr. Brightman.

"I'm taking it easy, see? Just a friendly little game of chess, no stress, no strain, no physical exertion, all right?"

"So I see," agreed Brightman. "And I'm quite pleased to see that you're following my instructions, but that's not the reason I'm here."

"Oh?" The general perked up considerably.

Brightman nodded. "I actually stopped by to update Teal'c on Ry'ac's condition before I leave."

Wary, O'Neill pounced on the latter part of her announcement. "Leaving? As in going back to the SGC or leaving as in going out for a nice, long, leisurely stroll? You know, the kind you still won't let me take?"

The doctor bit back a smile as she shook her head. "I'm going back to the SGC as soon as I've finished up on a few final details. There really isn't any reason for me to stay here any longer." She turned to direct the rest of her at Teal'c. "Ry'ac's recovery is coming along quite nicely. He's responding beautifully to the Tretonin, so it really is just a matter of time, rest, and some therapy before he's back to one hundred percent."

The Jaffa didn't appear to be totally convinced. "Are you certain it is wise for you to depart so soon? What if complications develop?"

Brightman patted his shoulder reassuringly. "One of my best medics and two of our top nurses will be staying to take care of him. Don't worry; I'm leaving him in good hands. Honestly, I really don't foresee anything happening, Teal'c. But if it makes you feel any better, I'll be remaining on base for a few days to catch up on things. I'll only be a quick wormhole-ride away if he needs me--which he won't."

O'Neill, whose mood had brightened considerably at the news, jumped into the fray. "Doc's right, T. She's got responsibilities at the SGC that need her attention. We should let her get back to them."

After directing an annoyed glare at the general, Teal'c deeply bowed his head to Brightman. "Words cannot express the depth of my gratitude to you for saving my son's life."

She smiled warmly. "I'm just happy that it's turned out so well, Teal'c. But honestly, no thanks are necessary. I was only doing my job."

"Speaking of which, don't you have a wormhole to catch?" interrupted O'Neill. "We wouldn't want to keep you, would we, Teal'c?"

The Jaffa gave the general another annoyed look before returning his attention to the doctor. "Then I will leave you to your preparations for your return to the SGC. On behalf of myself and my son, know that we are greatly in your debt. Please do not hesitate to call on us should the need arise." With a final bow, he turned and left, headed for Ry'ac's room.

"Well, there you go, Doc. I'm sure you have a lot to do, so I'll just get back to my game here and leave you to it. See you when I get back," said O'Neill.

Brightman shook her head. "Not so fast, General. As long as I'm here, I may as well examine you one last time before I leave. Now, why don't we start by you telling me how bad that headache is on a scale of one to ten?"

O'Neill's head dropped as he gave up the pretense and massaged his throbbing temples. "Crap."

******

Daniel frowned as he ambled down the path around the Hak'tyl encampment that led to the Stargate. Weary of their dark looks and hostile attitudes over the past few days, he'd purposefully chosen a more isolated route to the scheduled rendezvous with Sam, Bra'tac, and Ishta.

He'd been persistent in asking questions, doggedly pushing to find anyone with an opinion or suspicion as to who would want to harm Ry'ac. The majority of those he spoke to either ignored him or told him in no uncertain terms that he was looking on the wrong planet. A few, however, provided a more interesting insight. Apparently there was a growing number of Jaffa who believed that Teal'c's place was at the head of the Free Jaffa nation. While this was not news to him, their further assertion that Ishta should be there to rule by his side certainly came as a surprise. Unfortunately, there had been nothing to help pinpoint the identity of the informant who had nearly gotten Ry'ac killed.

The archaeologist pulled up short as a small, dark-haired figure suddenly appeared on the path in front of him, startling him from his thoughts. The girl was young, no more than ten, but despite her youth and slim build, he remained wary. Cautiously, he approached and extended his hand. "Hi. My name is Daniel Jackson."

The girl ignored the gesture and looked around nervously before finally peering up at him. Doubt radiated from her, both in tone and expression. "Nesa says you have honor and can be trusted."

Daniel pulled his hand back and slowly lowered one knee to the ground to face her at eye level. Leaning both forearms on his bent knee, he tilted his head and donned his most sincere expression. "Nesa is right, but I get the feeling that you don't quite believe her."

"I want to," offered the youngster.

"But it's hard to trust someone you don't know." He smiled reassuringly.

"Yes." Her tension seemed to ease somewhat when she realized he understood and wasn't upset.

"Okay. Ah, well, why don't you tell me your name and we can start to get to know one another. Then you can decide for yourself whether or not to trust me."

She searched his eyes as she pondered his suggestion. Finally, she spoke. "Raena. My name is Raena."

"Hi, Raena. I'm Daniel. You have a beautiful name."

"Thank you."

The archaeologist waited, but it was soon evident that the young lady did not intend to say more. "O-o-okay. Um, how about we each tell the other a little about ourselves. I can go first if you like," he offered.

Her only response was a nod.

"Right. Well, let's start with the things we like to do. I like to read. I like to spend time with my friends, especially Jack, Sam, and Teal'c. I love my work--Jack says that I'm a workaholic. And don't ever tell him I said this, but he's right. It's because I really love to learn about all the new cultures we encounter through the SGC. And I love to help people whenever I can."

Daniel waited patiently, but Raena remained silent. He waggled his eyebrows and smiled. "Go on," he prodded.

She frowned. "Why?"

"Well, because I went first. Now it's your turn."

"No," she insisted. "Why do you love to help people when you don't even know them?"

Daniel blinked, surprised at her question. "Oh. Well, I guess mostly it's because it makes me feel good inside, knowing that I've made a difference in someone's life."

"There are those who say that you Tau'ri only help others because of the power that comes with having them in your debt."

"I'm guessing that those who say that were talking about the Tretonin." At her nod, he continued. "Raena, it's not as simple as just giving the formula to the Jaffa. Let me ask you something. Have you ever been ill and needed a healer to help make you well again?"

"Yes."

"Okay. Now, say the healer gave you the formula for the medicine or herbs she used to make you well--how much of each ingredient to use and how to prepare it. You could do it, right?"

"Yes, I think so," she agreed. "But what does that have to do with the Tau'ri sharing the knowledge to make the tretonin?"

"I'm getting to that. Okay, say the healer gave you the formula and you have made the medicine. Now, say that others needed the medicine you've prepared. Say, someone older than you needed it, as did someone much younger. How would you know how much to give them? If you give too much, it could harm them--possibly even kill them. If you don't give them enough, it won't cure them."

"The healer would know. She spends many years as an apprentice learning before she becomes a healer in her own right."

"That's much the way it works among the Tau'ri as well. So now let me ask you this: what would happen if we just gave the formula for the Tretonin to the Jaffa? How would you know how much to give someone beginning to take it for the first time?"

Raena's eyes widened in understanding. "We would need to learn this."

Daniel smiled encouragingly and nodded. "Yes. We haven't shared the formula yet because we need to teach your people how to use it as well. It's a very complicated process, both to manufacture the Tretonin on a large scale and to calculate the dosages. It's not that we want to have power over the Jaffa. It's that we don't want to see any more Jaffa die when we can prevent it."

The child cocked her head. "Why don't my people understand this?"

Daniel sighed. "The Jaffa have been slaves to the Goa'uld for a very long time. Now that they're free, they want to be totally independent. They've been warriors and priestesses, not scientists. They'll have to start at the beginning, and it will take many, many years for them to catch up to where we are in that area. Many Jaffa don't want to wait, and I really can't blame them for feeling that way. So it's easier for them to blame the Tau'ri than to wait all those years for your people to learn what they need to know."

"And in the meantime, they also remain in your debt."

Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose and gathered his thoughts. "I'm not going to lie to you, Raena. Yes, there are those among the Tau'ri who will only help others as a means to gain power over them. But I can promise you, the people who run the SGC are not like that. I'm not like that. For me, helping people is like giving a gift. I don't expect anything in return. If someone we help does return the favor in the future, we'll be grateful to them. But I would never require that as a condition for my help."

Raena studied his face for a long time before nodding. "I believe you." She then turned and slowly walked over to a nearby boulder, where she sat staring at the ground.

Daniel rose to his feet and watched her before he followed. He purposely chose a smaller stone to sit on, one that put him closer to eye-level with her. "Raena?"

Her eyes were brimming with tears when she finally turned to answer. "My sister needs your help, Daniel."

"Okay. With what?"

Raena shifted uncomfortably. "I-I heard her talking to someone. She thought I had gone to play with Carsa, but I forgot my stones and had to go back for them. Koreysa didn't know I was there. She-she was telling someone that Ry'ac was going to be taking Rojan's place on the supply run. Then when Ry'ac and the others didn't come back, she got really upset. She tried to hide it, but I could tell. Please, will you help me?"

"I'll try. Can you tell me who your sister was talking to?"

"I do not know. I was too afraid to go inside our tent, and I did not recognize the voice. I know for certain that she was alone in there, so she had to be using a long-range communication device."

Before he could reply, she suddenly reached over and grabbed his arm, obviously terrified. "Please, you must help me convince her to come forward before it is too late!"

Daniel frowned. "I get the feeling that there's more to this. Are you sure there isn't anything you might have forgotten to mention?"

Tears began to trail down the girl's cheeks. "I am afraid that he will kill her."

"The man she was talking to on device? Why?"

Raena sniffed and wiped at her eyes. "He threatened her."

Daniel's frown deepened. "And you're only now telling someone about it?"

The tears flowed freely as she looked him in the eye. "It was this morning. She didn't know I was there, but I heard her talking to him again. Koreysa was angry. She said he promised her that no one would be harmed. Then he told her that sometimes sacrifices were needed for the common good, and if she wasn't careful, she might well find herself making the ultimate sacrifice. She told him not to threaten her or he would be sorry. He laughed and told her to be very careful about what she said or she would find herself sharing Dasson's and Jorian's fates."

Her grip on his sleeve tightened. "Please, Daniel! This man has already cost Koreysa her honor; please help me convince her to own up to her actions before she loses her life as well."

Daniel sighed. "I'll do everything I can to help you, Raena. But we have to tell Ishta and Bra'tac about this. Your sister will have to face the consequences of her actions," he warned.

The girl sniffed and nodded. "I know. But at least she will be alive."

"Okay then," he agreed. He stood and offered her his hand. "Let's go find Bra'tac first, shall we?"

******

"You have done a very brave thing, child." Bra'tac patted Raena's shoulder. "Now you must continue to be brave. You must leave us and go about your business as if nothing has occurred. Can you do this?"

Raena looked to Daniel for encouragement and then nodded. "I will do whatever it takes to help Koreysa," she vowed.

"Good. Now remember, you must not risk further contact with the Tau'ri or myself. If you must speak to someone regarding this matter, seek out Ishta. If she is not available, find Kar'yn. One of them will see that we get your information."

"Yes, Master Bra'tac."

He maneuvered her toward the trail that ringed the encampment and, standing behind her, spoke into her ear. "Then go now, and be safe. Be watchful of all around you, but do not let anyone see you do so."

Raena nodded and obediently trotted off down the path. The old master watched until she disappeared from view and then turned to the two members of SG-1. "I must speak with this Koreysa. The two of you will find Ishta and inform her of Raena's allegations."

"Wait. What about Kar'yn?" asked Daniel.

"She will be informed when the time is right," insisted Bra'tac.

"Well, why not now? You have the identity of the spy here on Hak'tyl. There really isn't any reason to keep her in the dark any longer."

"It is possible that Koreysa was not acting alone. There may be others still watching her, and telling Kar'yn would lead them right to Ry'ac."

Daniel shook his head. "So we take her back to the SGC first. Or the Alpha site. Or any of a dozen other places where the Jaffa wouldn't be able to trace her. She needs to know that Ry'ac is alive; keeping her in the dark at this point is, well, cruel."

"Daniel's right," added Carter. "Once you confront Koreysa, any co-conspirators will know their secret is out. We need to get Kar'yn out of here before they realize what's happening."

After a moment to think over their point, Bra'tac acceded. "Very well. I will confront Koreysa as planned. One of you should inform Ishta of what has transpired while the other takes Kar'yn to her husband."

"I'll talk to Ishta. Daniel, you tell Kar'yn and take her to Ry'ac." Everyone nodded in agreement. "Okay, let's move out."

******

"Hey, Jack." Harry Maybourne strolled into the courtyard to greet the general. "Everything okay up there?" he asked, pointing to the upper level of his home.

"Yeah. Teal'c's up there with him, but so far no fireworks--yet."

Maybourne gave O'Neill a thorough visual once over. He'd heard about the attempted assassination, but had found it mildly disturbing to watch the maverick officer carefully following the doctor's orders to take it easy. Though he'd sounded like the same old O'Neill, Harry had to admit that he hadn't quite looked himself. Now though, the tightness around the eyes that had been present since the general had arrived was finally gone. At first, he'd thought the man's pale complexion was simply the result of spending too much time flying a desk inside the mountain. Now though, he realized that the color had returned to O'Neill's face and that the pallor of previous days had had nothing to do with the job. In fact, lounging under a cloth canopy, the man looked positively bored to tears.

Deciding the time was now right, the wily king smiled broadly. "You up for a little stroll before it starts up again?"

O'Neill looked up at the window to Ry'ac's room, obviously thinking the same thoughts as Harry. Now that the young man was awake more and slowly beginning to regain his strength, he'd become quite surly. The 'discussions' between father and son had grown louder by the day. Yesterday's finale had been a doozey. The general turned back and rose to his feet. "Sure, why not. Gimme a minute."

O'Neill disappeared inside the house, leaving Maybourne in the dark as to his intentions. The general immediately headed up the stairs to Ry'ac's room and found Teal'c waiting by the closed door in the hall. "How's he doing today?" asked O'Neill, nodding toward the room.

"He has informed the nurse that he is feeling stronger."

"O-o-o-kay. So what did he tell you?"

"He is not currently speaking to me."

"Ah, I see. Look, Maybourne just asked me to take a little walk with him. I'm taking a radio, so yell if something comes up."

"Will SG-3 be accompanying you?"

"Nope. I can handle Maybourne."

"I do not believe it would be wise for you to go alone, O'Neill. Colonel Maybourne has rarely been known to put the interest of others before his own. And did not Dr. Brightman insist that you were to continue resting?"

The general made a face at the mention of the doctor's name. "Look, Maybourne is up to something here. Do you really think he's gone out of his way like this to help Ry'ac simply out of the goodness of his heart? You said it yourself; Harry Maybourne hasn't exactly been known to put anyone else's interest before his own. He's up to something, and I damn well intend to find out exactly what that something is."

"The doctor will not be pleased when she hears of this."

"So don't tell her. What she doesn't know won't bother her," snapped O'Neill.

Teal'c raised a stern eyebrow. "And when you are carried back here, necessitating that we summon her to aid you?"

"Hey! I know my limits. There will be no carrying back of my person or summoning of doctors required."

"You have become bored," Teal'c announced smugly.

"Yes, well, there's that," conceded the general. "But it doesn't mean I'm going to do something stupid."

Teal'c's eyebrow rose as high as O'Neill had ever seen it go, but the Jaffa said nothing. The general grinned as he tossed him a radio and turned to leave. "Keep an ear out, will ya?"

"Indeed."

******

"Two young men are dead, Koreysa," roared Bra'tac. "And their deaths are directly on your head!"

The young woman in front of him was close to tears, but stubbornly remained silent.

Before he question her further, the tent flap was violently yanked aside and Ishta stormed into the dwelling. "What has she to say for herself?"

"Very little, I'm afraid," answered Bra'tac. "She refuses to speak, even to defend herself." The accused flinched at the disgust in his tone, but said nothing.

The silence was deafening as Ishta stood there, glaring at her sister-warrior. Without taking her eyes from the traitor, she finally spoke. "I will speak to her alone, Master Bra'tac."

He considered rejecting her demand, but decided that the change in tactics might be for the best. He had no doubt that he'd eventually succeed in getting her to talk, but Ishta knew the woman and might well persuade her to give them the information more quickly. And the sooner those responsible were brought to justice, the better. "I shall remain nearby," he announced as he left.

Ishta made a show of slowly and deliberately removing her cloak and laying it across a chair. Her every move was carefully measured as she approached Koreysa and circled around her until she was again face to face. The silence hung heavily between them as Ishta stared intently at her follower. She remained motionless, her eyes never wavering, until she could feel the other woman's urge to squirm. When she finally spoke, her voice was deceptively calm. "Have you even the vaguest of idea of what you have done? Of the depth to which you have shamed and betrayed not only me and your fellow Hak'tyl sisters, but the entire Free Jaffa nation?"

Koreysa's tone reflected the hurt in her eyes. "I have done nothing to bring shame to our people, nor have I betrayed anyone! My actions have been only in the best interest of all Free Jaffa."

The Hak'tyl leader studied her for any hint of deception, then abruptly turned and began to pace. "So you would have me believe that killing two of the young Jaffa who fought so valiantly for our freedom is not a betrayal of our people? That such a despicable act is no cause for shame?"

The young woman paled, but remained defiant. "I have killed no Free Jaffa!"

Ishta stopped pacing, but continued to glare at Koreysa. "Is that so?" She advanced a few steps, stopping next to a small table. Anger, disgust, and impatience rolled off of her in waves as she slammed her fist on the wooden surface beside her. "Three good, decent, brave, caring young men left here to pick up supplies for the people of Hak'tyl. Two of them are now dead; the third is missing and, at best, gravely injured. And you are as much responsible for their deaths as if you had fired the weapons that killed them yourself."

Tears again welled up in the accused woman's eyes, but still, she refused to admit her culpability. "It was not my doing."

Ishta again pounded the table. "You told them about Ry'ac and provided them with the route!"

A lone tear finally escaped Koreysa's eye. "I have done nothing wrong."

"Raena heard you!"

The mention of her sister was her undoing. She wept, her face buried in her hands. "Th-they promised no one would be hurt."

"Why?" Though her voice was softer, Ishta's question was clearly a demand. "Why would you take part in such a thing?"

Koreysa turned pleading eyes to her leader. "The Free Jaffa need a strong, but fair hand to lead them. We need someone who understands what is required to establish our nation, someone who has had more than just a brief taste of the freedom for which we all have fought so hard. Someone who cannot be seduced by the power such leadership brings, who will not allow it to corrupt him. There is no one better suited or more qualified that the one man who started the rebellion in the first place! Teal'c must be persuaded to take his rightful place as head of the Free Jaffa. With you at his side, he is the only one who can finally bring us together as a nation with which to be reckoned. But he refuses to leave his precious Tau'ri. Something had to be done!"

Ishta's mouth fell open in shock. "Aside from the fact that my place is here with the Hak'tyl and always will be, how could you possibly believe that killing Teal'c's only son and blaming the Tau'ri would accomplish this--that anything good could possibly come from it?"

"No!" wailed the desperate woman. "I told you, no one was supposed to be hurt! Ry'ac was to be taken and held until Teal'c could be convinced that the Tau'ri had betrayed him. He would then see the truth and take his rightful place as the leader of our people. The others were to be merely rendered unconscious, and when they returned home, they would tell of Ry'ac's abduction at the hands of the Tau'ri!"

Ishta shook her head, incredulous that the woman could actually be supportive of such an absurd plot. "What in the name of all that is holy were you thinking? Ry'ac is the son of one of the greatest Jaffa warriors of our time--possibly ever. And he is very much an accomplished warrior in his own right. Did you truly believe that he would not fight against his abductors? Or that the men with him would simply allow themselves to be meekly rendered unconscious while their friend was taken? And Teal'c! No Jaffa who has ever met Teal'c could possibly believe that he would accept such lies about his Tau'ri friends. How could you fail to make the others see these things?"

"It was not my place to question," wailed Koreysa.

"Not your place? Have you learned nothing I have tried to teach you? The flaws in this plan are so obvious that a mere child could see them! How could you be so blind?"

"He said it would work!"

"Who? Who would you follow so blindly when it is painfully obvious that they know nothing of the people involved?"

"He knows them! He is on. . ." Koreysa slapped a hand over her own mouth.

Ishta stepped forward into the other woman's personal space and angrily yanked her hand from her mouth. "Enough! You will tell me all that you know of this plot and those who perpetrated it--and you will tell me now!"

Koreysa's tears began anew. "I cannot. He-he made it clear that there would be dire consequences if I spoke of it to anyone."

The Hak'tyl leader's eyes flashed dangerously. "Must I remind you again that two people are dead? Do you honestly believe that he will not take measures to assure that his identity and involvement remain secret? He has already cost you your honor--are you going to stand silently by while he takes your very soul as well?"

"I cannot," whimpered Koreysa.

"You can and you will." Ishta leaned closer, nearly touching the other woman's face while still towering over her. "One way or another, you will tell me the name of your contact. This. Ends. Now."

The accused woman shivered at cold and deadly tone. One sob escaped, then another as she struggled for control. Unable to hold out any longer, she blurted out a name as she dissolved into full-blown sobs. "Da'ar. His name is Da'ar. He is a member of the High Council on Dakara."

******

"And that's when the purple dogs with the bright green spots appeared out of nowhere," goaded Maybourne.

"Huh." O'Neill suppressed a smirk and continued to string the man along.

"Yeah, turns out it was all just a misunderstanding. The dogs spoke perfect English and stepped offered to step in and translate for the Chinese-speaking cats."

"No kidding," answered the general in the most bored tone he could muster.

The king stopped dead in his tracks and stood with hands on his hips. "Oh, yeah. They want me to bring you by for dinner so they can eat you."

"That's nice, Harry," responded O'Neill in the same bored tone as he kept right on walking.

Maybourne hurried to catch up and grabbed onto the general's sleeve to stop him. "Have you been listening to anything at all that I've said, Jack?"

As O'Neill stared at the hand on his sleeve, the king immediately picked up on the gesture and released the material. With arms now free, the general crossed them over his P-90 and drew in a deep breath. "No," he glibly replied.

"Ja-ack," whined Maybourne. "I might have been telling you something important, you know."

"No, you weren't." O'Neill started forward again, with his companion quickly following.

"Hah! You were listening," crowed the king.

"No, I wasn't."

"Then how do you know I didn't say anything important?"

"Because if you had, I would have heard you."

Maybourne opened his mouth as if to reply and abruptly closed it again when nothing came to mind. The pair continued on in silence for a time, for which O'Neill was grateful. The persistent headache had begun to niggle in the back of his head, brought on no doubt by the other man's incessant chatter. He couldn't help but frown when some rather familiar looking stones loomed ahead of them.

"Oh, wow, would you look at that," announced the king. "I haven't been back here in ages."

The general's only response was a dubious glare.

"What? You think I purposely led you out here?"

"Maybourne, you never do anything by accident."

"Jack, I'm wounded," announced the king as he dramatically placed his hands over his heart.

"Just cut the crap and tell me what it is that we're doing out here."

Maybourne continued to play the innocent. "We're just out for a little stroll, Jack. Really."

"Fine, then I'll just be strolling on back now."

"No, wait!" The flustered king gestured wildly toward the markers. "I mean, as long as we're here, we might as well have a look around."

"I'm thinking once was enough. See you back at the house." O'Neill turned to leave.

"Wait!"

The general paused, turning halfway back toward Maybourne. When the king didn't continue, O'Neill prodded further. "Not getting any younger here, Maybourne," he threatened.

"Okay, okay. I was hoping you might be persuaded to poke around the stelae a little. See if anything happens to turn up."

"Such as?"

The king heaved a sigh and pointed to the monuments. "Such as more Ancient technology that our friend, the time traveler, might have left behind."

"The eggheads from the SGC went over this place with a fine-tooth comb and came up empty. What makes you think there is anything left to find?"

A long silence ensued. "Harry," threatened O'Neill.

"I found a tablet your guys missed," admitted the king. "It seems to indicate that there might be a cache somewhere around here and that the key is somewhere on one of the stelae."

"So you want me to help you find it. Hate to break it to you, Harry, but my Ancient is really kind of rusty. Guess you'll just have to keep looking for it yourself."

"I can't."

O'Neill raised an eyebrow in question.

Maybourne shrugged. "I don't have the genetic capability to work all things Ancient like some people."

"Fine, let's get to it," conceded the general with a sigh.

Several hours with no progress later, O'Neill gathered up his supplies. The headache was building and he had had enough. "Time to call it a day," he announced.

"But, Jack! We've barely even started."

"Ah! I said we're calling it a day."

Maybourne was about to argue further, but decided against it after taking a good look at the other man. The general's eyes were slightly drawn and the fine lines around them were again more noticeable, a little deeper than they had been earlier. "Yeah, okay. Hey, maybe we can come back tomorrow," he suggested.

O'Neill was already trudging back down the path to the village. "Maybe," he called back over his shoulder. He wasn't about to make any promises, because no way in Hell was he going to let things deteriorate enough to need to call the doc back. Damn know-it-all Jaffa, he'd show him how predictable Jack O'Neill was.

He quickened his pace after a fast glance over his shoulder to check on Maybourne's progress. He then quickly fished a Tylenol packet out of his vest and downed the contents. He didn't need yet another busybody to narc him out, after all.

******

Ishta slowly pulled the tent flap back and stepped outside. True to his word, Bra'tac had stayed close and was approaching even before the covering had settled. She inhaled deeply, bracing herself for the coming revelations.

"She has provided the needed information?" asked the old master upon reaching her.

She closed her eyes momentarily to prepare for his expected reaction, then nodded. "She has told me what she knows."

When she didn't elaborate, he pressed her. "Tell me."

She sighed deeply and looked him straight in the eye. "It is much worse than we anticipated."

He nodded gravely and waited for her to continue.

"Her contact is very highly-placed among the Free Jaffa," she warned.

"I feared as much," admitted the old warrior.

"Koreysa knows only one name, the name of the man to whom she provided the information. I am convinced she speaks the truth when she says that he promised no one would be harmed. I am not convinced that his promise was genuine."

Again he nodded. "Who? Who is behind this insidious plot?"

Ishta watched him carefully. "She said the man's name is Da'ar, and that he is a member of the high council on Dakara."

Bra'tac seemed to sag under the weight of the information. "It is indeed as bad as I feared. Da'ar and several others on the council have made known their dislike of the Tau'ri. They have grown quite vocal recently, but we could not have imagined that they would dare go to such lengths."

The old warrior straightened and squared his shoulders. "I must return to Dakara immediately. You will inform the others?"

"Of course," she agreed.

He nodded, bowing slightly. Then he abruptly turned and quickly strode out of the village toward the Stargate.

Though he was far out of earshot, she whispered a final farewell. "Stay safe, Master Bra'tac. The Free Jaffa nation needs you."

******

O'Neill paused outside the door, hand resting on the knob. He'd knocked several times, but he was fairly certain he hadn't been heard. The raised voices coming from inside were growing steadily in volume. He and Maybourne had heard them long before ever reaching the dwelling upon their return, so apparently Teal'c and Ry'ac had been going at it for awhile. He knocked one more time, and again received no answer. Taking a deep breath, he turned the knob and stepped inside.

"Hey, guys. Miss me?"

Startled by the sudden interruption, the father and son fell silent. From the looks on their faces, neither was pleased at his presence. Both, however, greeted him in return.

"General O'Neill."

"O'Neill"

When neither Jaffa spoke any further, the general swung his arms wide and then brought his hands together in front of him as he rocked back on his heels. "So-o-o-o. Anything happen while I was gone that I should know about?"

Ry'ac shook his head, but Teal'c snapped out a reply. "Nothing."

O'Neill met Teal'c's angry gaze with a level look of his own. "That's good." He made a vague motion toward the door. "I saw the nurse downstairs. She said to let you know that she'd be up in a few to change Ry'ac's bandages and check him over."

Both father and son nodded, but neither spoke. Their attitude was not helping his headache in the least--not that he'd admit to having one. "T, why don't go next door and set up the chess board? I can keep Ry'ac here company until the nurse shows up."

"That is not necessary."

"Oh, I don't mind. Really." O'Neill motioned to the angry father by nodding toward the door.

Teal'c looked ready to argue, but relented. "Very well, if you insist." He turned to his son before moving toward the exit. "I shall return once you have rested."

"Fine," came the reply through gritted teeth.

Once Teal'c had departed, O'Neill sauntered over to stand next to the bed. "How's it going?"

The young man's scowl softened abruptly as he turned his attention to the general. "You are the only one who does not ask me how I am feeling when you visit. Why is that?"

O'Neill made a face. "Well, I suppose it's because I've been in your place a few times. I know all too well how tiresome it gets when the first thing everyone who walks through the door says is "How are you feeling?" I mean, it's bad enough when the doctors do it, but you'd think your friends could cut a guy some slack."

The young warrior's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Do not think you will trick me into discussing my feelings regarding my injuries."

The general was indignant. "Hey, you asked a question; I answered. There was no tricking involved, attempted or otherwise. Especially not about discussions of feelings. Because I don't do feelings--just ask your father."

Ry'ac sighed as deeply as his injuries would allow and stared at the ceiling. "Please accept my apologies. I am grateful that you do not always ask how I am feeling. And I am sorry for accusing you of trying to trick me."

"Hey, no sweat. So I take it they're giving you the old "Oh, you'll feel so much better if you talk about it." crap, too?"

The young man barely suppressed a smile upon hearing O'Neill's falsetto. "You are also the only one who does not try to persuade me to talk about. . .things. And my father is the worst of them all," he spat.

O'Neill tilted his head slightly. "Well, he is the only one around right now who has any real clue of what you're going through." Ry'ac's scowl deepened so the general quickly backed off. "Besides, he's your father; it's his job to bug the crap out of you at times like these."

A smile again twitched at the edges of the young warrior's mouth, but he was prevented from answering by the nurse's arrival. "Sorry to interrupt, Sir, but I need to change Ry'ac's bandages now."

O'Neill glowered at the woman and then turned to her patient. "Well, I guess that's my cue to leave. I'll catch you later."

With a final backward wave, he headed out the door.

******

O'Neill removed his sunglasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. The headache that plagued him at the ruins yesterday had been blessedly absent this morning. Until now. "Daniel. Kar'yn."

"Hey, Jack. Maybourne. I've brought Kar'yn," explained the archaeologist helpfully. "To see Ry'ac."

Squinting from the bright sunlight, O'Neill tilted his head. "No-o-o, really?"

Frowning at the man's sarcastic tone, he quickly changed the subject. "So, what are you doing out here anyway?"

"Harry needs my help to find something."

"Aren't you supposed to be resting?"

"I demand that you take me to my husband immediately--and if his father is with him, so much the better!" Kar'yn's anger had been evident since the moment she'd come storming down the dirt path leading from the village toward them, so the interruption was not entirely unexpected. Still, O'Neill wasn't about to take it lying down.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Just hold up there a minute, will ya?" The general raised his hands to punctuate each of his first three words. His annoyance was as evident in his expression as it was in his tone. "Daniel here will take you see Ry'ac as soon as you calm yourself down."

"Calm myself? I will be calm once I have seen with my own eyes that my husband is recovering and have made my displeasure at not being immediately informed of his rescue known to his father!" The young woman's fists were clenched tightly by her sides.

O'Neill sighed loudly and scrubbed his hand across his face. "Look, you might want to cut Teal'c some slack on that. He was planning to tell you as soon as we found Ry'ac, but I convinced him to hold off."

Kar'yn stared at him, mouth agape. The shock quickly wore off, and before anyone could move to stop her, she swung her arm forward and slapped the general hard across the face. "How dare you!"

Daniel quickly stepped forward to restrain her, but her tirade was far from over as she struggled in his grasp. "What right have you, who barely even knows him, to decide when I should be allowed to see my husband?"

O'Neill, struggling to keep his own temper in check, pointed an accusing finger at her. "All I'm hearing here is you, you, you. What about Ry'ac?"

"I can't tell you anything about my husband since I have not yet seen him--because you have been keeping me from him!" she spat.

The general shook his finger at her before balling his hand into a fist and dropping it to his side. The veins in his neck stood out, throbbing in his fight to keep himself under control. "Lady. . ." he started to speak, but immediately cut himself off. He abruptly turned and took a step away before pivoting and turning back to her. "What's more important to you? Keeping Ry'ac alive or your right to know he'd been found?"

She stared at him as if he were insane. "Of course my husband's safety is the most important thing. But you still had no right to keep his whereabouts secret from me--I'm his wife! I should have been informed, even if I had to wait to come to him."

O'Neill clenched his fists, his arms stiff as boards, to keep from striking her. "For the last time, this is not about you! It's about keeping Ry'ac safe, for crying out loud. We knew there was a conspirator among the Hak'tyl. What exactly do you think would have happened if that person had found out that Ry'ac had survived and been brought here?"

"I would never have allowed anyone else to find out about my husband's rescue. Never would I do or say anything to cause harm to come to Ry'ac! How could you possibly think such a thing?"

"Fine, just for the sake of argument, let's say your acting skills were up to the task--a fact of which I am totally unconvinced, by the way. What if the informant had overheard when you were told and found out where Ry'ac was staying? You've got to know they would have been watching you like a hawk for any sign that he'd been found. Would you really have wanted us to take that risk?"

Kar'yn sagged in Daniel's arms. "No," she answered in a trembling voice. "I-I didn't know…for so long…whether he was alive or dead." Tear-filled eyes pleaded with him. "Please, I just want to see my husband."

"And you will," assured the general. "But if you go charging in there and start screaming at Teal'c, that's not going to do anyone any good." He reached out to touch her arm. "You've got to understand something here. Ry'ac isn't exactly having an easy time dealing with the whole tretonin thing. He's still pretty weak and the last thing he needs is the stress of you going at it with his father."

"I would not risk his health by intentionally upsetting him," she insisted.

"You don't get it. He's not exactly accepting the loss of the strength and stamina that Junior gave him gracefully. He's been in a foul mood ever since the Doc told him that the tretonin was working. He's been going at it with Teal'c every chance he gets. Given your current state of mind, just how long do you think it will take before he goads you into an argument, too?"

Kar'yn lifted her chin defiantly. "I will not allow that to happen."

O'Neill rolled his eyes, but refrained from commenting. "Take her to Maybourne's place," he instructed Daniel. "We'll catch up with you later."

The archaeologist nodded. Without awaiting any further reply, the general pushed past the pair and started down the path. Maybourne, who'd remained conspicuously silent throughout the entire conversation, simply shrugged and hurried after O'Neill.

Gently taking the young woman's arm, he pointed her toward the village. "Come on, it's this way."

******

Teal'c stepped from the open stargate onto Dakara with Ishta right behind him. Without looking back to see if she followed, he descended the stone stairs and strode over to a waiting Bra'tac. The blue tint to their surroundings dissipated as the wormhole winked out behind them.

After a solemn nod in greeting, he wasted no time getting to the point. "You have uncovered those who follow him?"

The old master sadly shook his head. "I fear the news of their imminent discovery preceded my arrival. Da'ar and his allies on the council have been very careful not to do anything that might incriminate themselves or their followers."

"Surely someone must have seen or heard something out of the ordinary," insisted Ishta.

Again, Bra'tac shook his head. "As of yet, neither I nor my most trusted protégés have been able to uncover anything to implicate anyone in the attack. I am afraid all that we have to go on is Koreysa's word."

The muscles in Teal'c's jaw twitched in anger. "Then there is only one course of action to follow. I shall confront Da'ar myself. Where is he?"

The old master looked doubtful. "I am not convinced we have exhausted all other options as yet. You must be patient and give us time, old friend."

Ishta gently placed her hand on Teal'c's arm. "Master Bra'tac is right. If you confront Da'ar now, it will serve no purpose other than to confirm our knowledge of his actions. We will risk losing any chance at discovering the identities of his accomplices."

The enraged father shrugged her hand away. "Da'ar is no fool. If he does indeed know that we are aware of his guilt, then we will gain nothing by waiting. Now I ask you once more. Where. Is. He?"

Recognizing that he would not change his former pupil's mind, Bra'tac reluctantly answered. "He is in the temple in one of the rooms off of the main council chamber in a committee meeting. They should be adjourning shortly."

Teal'c nodded and without another word marched across the plaza toward the temple.

Ishta took a step forward to follow him, but halted when she felt Bra'tac's hand on her arm. "He should not do this alone," she insisted.

His hand remained in place. "No. He would not tolerate your presence," insisted the old master.

"Fine," she snapped. "Then you go, but someone needs to be there to prevent things from getting out of hand."

Turning to watch as Teal'c disappeared into the temple, Bra'tac shook his head. "No, it matters not if another is with him--for no good can possibly come from this confrontation."

******

Kar'yn leaned her hands on the window sill, watching the villagers below going about their daily routines. Women scurried across the square from all directions bearing baskets of various foodstuffs. Wagons full of straw were drawn from one building to another. It was the children, however, which drew her eye back time and again. Laughing, they were clustered in a small circle, tossing small round objects into the center. A smile crossed her face as she straightened, her hands going to her flat stomach. Now that their people were free, she hoped it wouldn't be too long before she and Ry'ac became parents.

A soft grunt from the bed behind her caused her to start, and whirling around, she faced its occupant. "You should have told me you were awake, my husband," she admonished. She hurried over to his bed and grabbed the cup of water he had been reaching for from the table.

"I am not a child who needs someone to hold my cup while I drink," he snapped, turning away from the offered glass.

She frowned, one hand going to her hip while she held the cup in the other. Biting her lip, she resisted the urge to point out that he was certainly acting like one. "No, but you are injured and as your wife it is my place to tend to your needs until you are again able to do so for yourself."

"Maybe." He stopped abruptly, though Kar'yn had the feeling he meant to say more. Unfortunately, with his head turned to stare at the wall, she couldn't see his face to read his expression.

Puzzled, she held the water out to where he couldn't help but see it. "I fear your injuries have affected your memory," she chided. "But it matters not, for I shall remain by your side as always, you silly. Now here; drink."

"I do not want to drink!" He hesitated, and when he spoke again, his voice was cold, but strangely calm. "And maybe I no longer wish it to be your place."

A knot of fear twisted in her belly, and she quickly stamped it down. "I will hear no more of this foolish talk, my husband." She again offered him the glass. "Your father said the Tau'ri doctor left instructions for you to drink more."

Ry'ac's breathing quickened as he looked at the cup. After a long hesitation, he grabbed the cup and flung it against the wall. "I said I am not thirsty!"

Tears sprang to her eyes as she watched her husband curl onto his side in pain. "Husband, why do you act this way?"

"Go away," he demanded through gritted teeth.

Kar'yn shook her head and reached out to him. "No, my place is here. You must allow me to check your injuries."

Ry'ac slapped at her hand, groaning loudly at the effort. "I said leave me, woman!"

Stung by his harsh words, she hesitated. Noting his rapid breathing, her determination was renewed. She again reached out to roll him to his back. "Stop being difficult," she insisted. "We must see if you have done further damage to yourself with your foolishness."

He allowed her to pull him part-way onto his back, his eyes blazing with anger as they met her own. "Get. Out!"

Ire warred with the hurt she was feeling, and tears threatened anew as she stepped back. "Fine. I will summon the Tau'ri nurse to tend you."

He said nothing, continuing to glare at her as he clutched his chest and midsection.

Unwilling to allow him to see her cry, she turned and fled the room.

******

O'Neill paused near the top of the stairs to the second floor of Maybourne's dwelling. He'd heard the door slam and waited to see if Kar'yn would appear. There were no footsteps, no voices, no nothing but the eerie silence. Slowly, he climbed the rest of the steps and turned toward the sickroom.

He paused to take in the sight before him. There was Kar'yn, huddled against the wall, silently sobbing. 'Damn,' he thought. 'The kid hasn't come around at all yet.'

Quietly, he carefully approached her. "Mind if I join you?"

Surprised at the unexpected presence, she turned away and wiped away her tears. "General O'Neill, I did not realize you had returned. Did your search go well?"

He took her greeting as an invitation and slowly slid down the wall to join her, his knees popping and crackling in protest. Once on the floor, he rested one arm atop a bent knee and avoided looking directly at her. "So-o-o, Prince Charming in there being his usual cheerful self this afternoon?"

She giggled, though it half sounded like a strangled sob. "Ry'ac is being quite difficult," she confirmed. "I do not know what madness has possessed him."

"How's that?"

A lone tear escaped to trail down her cheek. "I-I am not certain, but I fear that he no longer loves me."

O'Neill's eyebrow rose, imitating his Jaffa friend. "Oh?"

She nodded, swiping at the offending moisture on her face. "He will not talk to me, confide in me as he did before. And he has indicated that he no longer wishes to be married to me."

The general winced as her voice broke and the tears began to fall freely once more. "He actually said that," O'Neill clarified.

She turned to face him, pain-filled eyes brimming even as the tears slipped down her cheeks. "Yes." Her voice cracked badly and she could barely continue. "I told him that my place was here by his side and he said that maybe he did not wish it to be so any longer."

O'Neill sighed loudly. "Why does that not surprise me?" he mumbled to himself.

Kar'yn frowned, obviously having heard. "You knew this would happen?"

"Well, no, not this specifically. But come on, you of all people should know just how much of that damn Jaffa pride he has. It's just one of the many ways he takes after his father, does ol' Ry'ac."

She shook her head, doubt written all over her face. "He has been injured many times since I met him. He has never before objected to my caring for him."

He rolled his eyes before turning back to her, wondering how she could possibly be so clueless. "Ah, but that was when he had Junior to heal the damage. He's never been faced with such a lengthy recovery before," he pointed out.

The doubt in her expression eased, but did not disappear entirely. "But he has the tretonin, just as his father does. He knows that it does not make Teal'c any less a warrior. Why would he believe so of himself?"

O'Neill snorted. "Yeah, you'd think so. But you weren't around when Teal'c lost Junior. He had a pretty rough time dealing with it. It took him a long time to realize that he was a lot more than the extra goodies his Goa'uld provided."

He gently reached for her hand and looked into her eyes. "Think about it from Ry'ac's point of view. One minute he's got his super-Jaffa strength and stamina thing going on; the next minute he doesn't. And just that suddenly, injuries that once took mere hours to heal now take weeks, and that's only if he really works at it. Plus, now he can't just go off and Kel'no'reem when he's tired; he has to sleep like the rest of us mere mortals. And that's just for starters."

She nodded thoughtfully, so he continued. "Now if all that wasn't bad enough, you get here and he has to deal with the fact that you still have all those things that he's lost. That's a pretty tough blow to a guy's ego--especially a guy like Ry'ac."

Her eyes widened at the truth of his statement. She pulled her hand from his and sat in quiet contemplation, staring at the wall across the hall from them. O'Neill shifted when the floor grew uncomfortable, but made no attempt to stand.

The movement brought her out of her reverie, and she turned to face him, eyes bright and alive with hope. "I cannot thank you enough." She then surprised him by leaning over and kissing his cheek. "I now know what I must do."

And with that, she jumped up and ran for the stairs. Stunned, he called after her. "You're welcome. Glad I could help."

Looking around to see that he was actually alone, he sighed and leaned his head back against the wall. One down, one to go.

Now all he had to do was get up off the damn floor.

******

Teal'c quietly entered the room to find that the meeting had indeed recently adjourned. Ignoring Rak'nor and Gar'tok, he strode up to Da'ar and looked him directly in the eye. Though he spared not so much as a glance at the other two, there was no doubt to whom he was speaking. "Leave us."

There was but a moment's hesitation before the duo complied.

"As you wish."

"By your leave."

Once alone, Teal'c stepped to Da'ar's left side. His eyes remained intently on the orchestrator of the attack on his son as he invaded his adversary's space and spoke softly into his ear. "I know what you have done."

For his part, Da'ar stared straight ahead and ignored the accusation. "I trust young Ry'ac has been found alive and well?"

Teal'c pounded his fist on the table, but his eyes never moved from the other man. "You will not dare speak my son's name again," he threatened.

Da'ar ran a hand over the heavy stubble of his jaw, but carefully avoided looking at the angry father. "Forgive me; I was merely attempting to show my concern for one of our finest young warriors."

Teal'c leaned closer, towering over his opponent in spite of Da'ar's own considerable size. "We have irrefutable proof that you are the one behind the attack on the Hak'tyl supply ship that nearly cost my son his life. You will tell me who aided you in this despicable plot."

Da'ar laughed at the accusation. "From what I heard, it was your precious Tau'ri who attacked your son. Their weapons were the ones used in the attack, were they not?"

Teal'c didn't back down in the slightest, remaining in the other man's personal space. "A clever ruse on your part, but not clever enough. Tell me who conspired with you to murder our own, shol'vah."

Da'ar's rein on his temper began to unravel upon being branded a traitor. With fists tightly clenched at his sides, he verbally lashed out through clenched teeth. "You dare call me traitor? I have fought as hard as any to help free our people! I now spend every day of my existence working equally as hard to forge a strong nation. Can you say the same?"

Though his features remained outwardly stoic, Teal'c smiled inside as the other man began to crack. He pushed harder. "You tread a narrow and dangerous path, Da'ar. A strong and free nation cannot be built upon the bodies of its own people, on the corpses of young men struck down in their prime solely because of the lust for power on the part of its so-called leaders."

"What would you know of the path I tread? You cannot know, because you are not here. We have all but begged you to return to your people, the ones you fought so hard and so long to help free. But no, you cannot give up your precious Tau'ri!" he spat. "Tell me, Teal'c, why did you really make all of those sacrifices--abandoning your family, leaving your son to be raised by others, being thought of as shol'vah for all those many years? Did you really do it all for the freedom of your brother Jaffa--or was it because you became a Tau'ri puppet? Is that why you insist on ignoring the evidence that it was your precious Tau'ri who murdered our young men--and nearly killed your son?"

Teal'c's smiled, a feral look in his eyes. "As I said, you were clever in using Tau'ri weapons--but not clever enough. The tests did indeed prove that the weapons were of Tau'ri origin, but they also proved that the casings from the projectiles were not. I grow tired of these games, Da'ar. Tell me who assisted you with this cowardly plot!"

"Of course the Tau'ri would not admit to their culpability in such a horrific act! Tell me, Teal'c, what is going to take for the Jaffa to receive the same loyalty and dedication from you that you so freely give to the weak and inferior Tau'ri!"

"You dare to question my loyalty and dedication to the free Jaffa?" Teal'c trembled in barely controlled rage.

"How can I not?" demanded Da'ar. "We continue to struggle, day in and day out, to forge this new nation. You, who are hero to all free Jaffa, could make that task so much easier. There is not one among us who does not heed your words when you speak. Yet you are not here among us. You are off risking your life for the pathetic Tau'ri--and for what? What does it gain for us, your people, for you to stay with them?" He paused, the tension suddenly leaving his body. "Perhaps if you had stayed among your own kind, your son would not have suffered this attack. And perhaps, for his future safety, you should consider returning to the people you have fought so hard to free--where you rightfully belong."

In a blind rage, Teal'c roared as he grabbed Da'ar and threw him across the room. Tossing chairs aside like matchsticks, the angry father pursued his prey.

Da'ar was ready by the time Teal'c reached him and swung a chair up to block the next attack. The impact barely registered as he brushed it aside. He seized his opponent by the lapels of his tunic and sent him flying across another table with a blow to his jaw. Da'ar rolled to his feet, wiping a dribble of blood from his lip. "This will change nothing," he taunted.

He dropped into a crouch and waited for Teal'c to approach. When the he drew close enough, Da'ar launched himself at his opponent. The pair landed on one of the remaining upright tables, each struggling to gain the upper hand. Blow after blow was exchanged, until they finally landed on the floor with Da'ar on top.

Teal'c reacted quickly and flipped them over, pinning the other man to the hard stone. "You will give me the names of your fellow conspirators."

Da'ar glared and spat blood at him. "I will tell you nothing."

Teal'c delivered a vicious backhand, rocking Da'ar's head against the unforgiving stone floor. "The names," he growled.

Da'ar laughed. "Go ahead and kill me, for either way, you will gain no information from me."

Teal'c roared again in anger, his hands going to the other man's throat. "So be it." He squeezed, gradually increasing the pressure, until Da'ar's hands were frantically clawing at his arms and face in an attempt to break the hold.

Suddenly, hands grabbed him from behind and pulled him away from his opponent. He fought to get away, but they were too strong and too many. Eventually, Bra'tac's voice broke through his rage. "Enough!"

The old master appeared in front of him and held him against the wall. His chest still heaved from exertion as he watched armed Jaffa haul his coughing, sputtering opponent to his feet. Though his hand remained on Teal'c's chest, Bra'tac turned to face the others. "Da'ar of Boulsan, by order of the High Council of the Free Jaffa Nation, you are hereby charged with the crime of high treason. You will appear before said council in three days time to answer for your crimes."

******

O'Neill rapped sharply on the door before opening it and poking his head inside. "Mind if I come in?"

Ry'ac weakly gestured to the chair next to his bed. "As you are the only one who will not ask how I feel or insist upon checking my bandages, I do not mind at all."

"Well, see, that's the beauty of being in charge. You get to make everyone else do the dirty work and then report to you. So I don't have to ask, because that's what we pay her for," quipped the general, pointing to the door where the nurse had exited before his arrival.

The young warrior scrunched up his face. "What of her most recent report?"

"Oh, you know. The usual. You got upset with Kar'yn and chucked a glass across the room; nearly tore out a few rows of Doc's fancy, decorative embroidery on your chest there."

Ry'ac flopped his head back against the pillows and stared at the ceiling. "I suppose this is where you lecture me on my childish behavior."

The general snorted. "Please. I know they've still got you on the good stuff, but come on. Do I look like your father here?"

The hint of a smile curled at the edges of the young man's mouth. "No," he conceded.

"Good answer. You had me worried there for a minute."

A comfortable silence fell upon the room, until O'Neill dared to break it moments later. "Um, I saw her out in the hall, you know. Earlier."

Ry'ac didn't answer, so the general pressed on. "Kar'yn, I mean. She was pretty upset, you know. She seems to think that you don't want to be married to her anymore."

The young warrior continued to stare at the ceiling, no emotion showing on his face whatsoever. "She will come to see that it is for the best, in time."

Inwardly, O'Neill cursed the stubborn pride so typical of the Jaffa people. Knowing it was likely futile, he gave it one last shot. "Oh, I wouldn't count on that if I were you."

"She will not have a choice," he insisted.

The general shook his head and rose from the chair. "Maybe. Anyway, I thought I'd come by and see if you needed anything before I head back to the SGC."

That drew the young man's attention. "You are leaving?"

"Yeah, as much as I've enjoyed stomping around the woods with Harry these past few days, I've got a base to run. Figure I'd better get back to it before the pile of paperwork on my desk makes it all the way to the ceiling."

For the first time since he entered the room, Ry'ac looked him directly in the eyes. "Then fare you well, O'Neill. I hope that one day I am able to repay you for all you have done."

"I'm just glad you're going to be okay." O'Neill turned and headed for the door. Before stepping through, he turned back to the young warrior. "You take care of yourself now, you hear?"

Ry'ac nodded absently, but said nothing further. As the general closed the door behind him, he shook his head. Maybe Teal'c would have better luck with the stubborn young fool.

Somehow, though, he doubted it.

******

"Aw, come on, Jack," whined Harry. "Just give it another couple of days. I know we're close to finding it."

O'Neill rolled his eyes and turned to the members of SG-3 who were standing in front of the DHD. "Bosco, dial it up."

As the chevrons began to clunk into place, the general turned back to their host. "Well, Harry, thanks for the hospitality. It's been…"

The premature kawoosh of the wormhole forming sent everyone scrambling as Reynolds confirmed the obvious. "Incoming wormhole--take cover!" Safeties clicked off and weapons were raised, aimed and ready as two figures stepped from the shimmering event horizon.

"Stand down," ordered O'Neill as the travelers approached. "T, Bra'tac. I didn't expect you back quite so soon. Everything okay?"

"Da'ar has been detained and will appear before the council in two days to answer for his crimes. He has so far refused to divulge the names of his fellow conspirators," supplied the older Jaffa.

"So Ry'ac is still your best bet to ID the others," reasoned O'Neill. "Which means he's still a target."

"Indeed," agreed the unhappy father. "It is unfortunate that Ry'ac was not able to provide the names of his attackers. When Dr. Brightman declares him well enough to travel to Dakara, I am certain that he will have no trouble identifying them in person."

"Yes, well, here's some more good news for you. Seems you're about to lose a daughter-in-law."

Teal'c's jaw clenched. "I find it difficult to believe that Kar'yn would abandon Ry'ac at such a time of great need."

"Oh, no, you've got it backwards there, ol' buddy. Ry'ac is the one making noises about ending the marriage, not Kar'yn. She was pretty devastated, to put it mildly."

Teal'c's eyebrow rose. "She is with him now?"

Surprisingly, Harry was the one to answer. "Naw, she took off yesterday after he chased her out of his room. And not for the first time, I might add. She left through the gate and hasn't been back since."

O'Neill glared at the former officer. "Like I said, she was pretty upset when I talked to her. Then she started rambling on about knowing what she needed to do and took off. Reynolds said she showed up at the gate and demanded to see Brightman, so he sent her on through to the SGC; she probably went back to the Hak'tyl from there. She said she'd see him in a day or two, so apparently she plans to return."

This time it was Bra'tac who commented. "Kar'yn would not abandon her mate in his time of need, regardless of his words."

Teal'c nodded. "Words which we shall speak of shortly," vowed the young man's father. "We will not delay further delay your return, O'Neill." Reaching forward, he clasped the general's forearm in the traditional Jaffa manner. "There are no words to express my gratitude."

"Ry'ac's family." O'Neill shrugged as if that said everything. And really, it pretty much did. So much so that the general almost felt badly about his part in the upcoming lecture, even though the young husband's behavior certainly warranted it.

He turned to his host once more. "Well, like I said Harry, thanks for the hospitality. You come up with anything definite on that little project of yours, you know where to find me." He turned back to SG-3, who were again clustered around the DHD. "Dial it up, boys. Time to head home."

"You sure I can't talk you into staying just one more day, Jack? Here you'll get fresh air, the great outdoors, physical activity; back at the SGC you'll be stuck behind a desk inside a mountain pushing paper all day."

"As tempting as that offer may be, Harry, I've got a base to run. And you know, those wild goose chases just don't hold the same appeal these days." The wormhole opened behind the group, casting an eerie glow over the group. O'Neill raised a hand in farewell and trotted up the stairs before Maybourne could mount a comeback. He paused before stepping into the event horizon and turned back to them. His gaze found Teal'c's and stayed there. "Good luck, buddy."

The Jaffa nodded, hands clasped behind him. O'Neill smiled, waved, and then abruptly turned and stepped through the open gate.

As the wormhole winked out of existence, Bra'tac slapped Teal'c on the shoulder. "Come, old friend. Let us see what manner of foolishness your son has managed during our absence."

Maybourne nodded and gestured in the direction of the village. "This way."

The men had barely started down the well-worn path when a small group of villagers approached. Each one appeared to be carrying a basket or bundle of some sort.

Teal'c turned to the appointed king. "Is there a problem here, Harry Maybourne?"

The flushed monarch quickly allayed any concerns. "Oh, no. No problems at all." The baskets and bundles were quickly and efficiently stacked before the two visitors, who turned puzzled looks to the beaming ruler. "It's not much, but it's all we can spare," he explained.

"Spare?"

"Yeah. Look, one of my wives overheard talk about the food shortages on Dakara. She wasn't trying to eavesdrop or anything," he reassured.

"Indeed," responded a doubtful Teal'c.

"No, really, guys. Anyway, she told my other wives about it and they did the rest. No one around here has forgotten how you helped get rid of Ares last year. They all wanted to pitch in, so they gathered up as much as we could spare." The two Jaffa exchanged a doubtful look, prompting further assurances on Maybourne's part. "I only found out about it this morning," he protested.

Bra'tac and Teal'c regarded each other silently. It was the old master who eventually spoke. "On behalf of the Free Jaffa on Dakara, I accept your most generous gift."

A beaming Harry snapped his fingers and the baskets and bundles were quickly gathered up. "We can help you get it to the gate."

The old warrior bowed deeply to the king, then straightened and grasped Teal'c's forearm. "I will see to this, old friend. Your son needs you."

As the group headed over to the stargate, Teal'c turned to their new benefactor. "And what is it you expect from Dakara in return for your generous donation?"

An exasperated Maybourne protested. "I don't expect anything, Teal'c. I already told you that. It's a gift, pure and simple. Just our little way of saying thanks for what you did for us last year."

The Jaffa's eyebrow rose skeptically. "It has been my experience that, in your regard, nothing is ever simple. Or pure."

"It's a gift," insisted the increasingly defensive king. "Nothing more; nothing less."

After a lengthy stare, Maybourne threw his hands into the air. "Okay, fine, have it your way. You want there to be conditions, how about this? If we ever need help in the future, maybe the Free Jaffa might consider coming to our rescue. You can call the food a down payment of sorts."

Teal'c remained doubtful, but agreed. "As you wish."

He started toward the village once more. He'd worry about Maybourne and his machinations later. Right now, he had a son who needed some sense talked into him.

******

"Father, you have returned."

"Indeed." Teal'c was pleased to see his son seated in a chair near the window upon entering the room. Indulging himself in a moment of scrutiny, he found the boy to have more color than on his previous visit. The young warrior's eyes were slightly pinched, indicating he was still experiencing some pain. Still, all in all, the boy appeared to be much improved since he'd last seen him.

"You just missed General O'Neill. He has returned to the SGC." Ry'ac smiled up at him, looking and sounding very much like the young child of Teal'c's fondest memories.

"I saw O'Neill at the stargate when I arrived and was able to say my farewells." He noted with amusement the wary look on the boy's face at that bit of news and decided to hold back on revealing O'Neill's information.

Ry'ac swallowed hard. "I see. May I ask what was said?"

Teal'c smiled benignly. "Of course, my son. O'Neill inquired of our mission. After informing him of the events on Dakara, I expressed my gratitude and said my farewell. Harry Maybourne attempted to coax O'Neill into staying another day, but was unsuccessful. He then departed."

"Oh." The father watched as relief stole across the boy's face and seemed to literally seep into the battered body. He almost felt some remorse over what he was about to do. Almost.

"What of the events on Dakara, Father?" Ry'ac interrupted before Teal'c could challenge him regarding his actions toward Kar'yn. Given how those events directly affected the young man, he decided the boy had the right to know before being confronted about his wife.

"Da'ar has been detained and is to go before the council to answer for his actions in two days time."

"Will he be put to death?"

"I cannot say for certain, but I do believe it is likely. Two Jaffa are dead by his hand. That is not something the council members can ignore. Da'ar's behavior, as any council member's, should be held to the highest standards by virtue of that position. I do not see how they could decide otherwise."

After taking a moment to digest the information, the youngster again questioned his father. "What of the others?"

"Da'ar has steadfastly refused to name any of his accomplices. Nor do I believe that he will ever do so."

Ry'ac nodded thoughtfully. "So it will be up to me to return to Dakara and identify as many of them as I am able."

"That is my belief, yes."

"Then that is what I shall do." The young warrior's eyes shone with emotion. Defiance. Determination. Bravery. Strength. All were there in spades.

"Of that I have no doubt." Teal'c's heart swelled with pride. Ry'ac had indeed turned out to be the kind of man every father hoped for in a son. Now if he could only get him over this misguided notion of ending his marriage.

"My son, there is one other matter of which you and I must speak," Teal'c began earnestly. At Ry'ac's puzzled nod, he continued. "Before he left, O'Neill informed me of your intentions toward Kar'yn."

Shutters immediately slammed down on the young man's face, trapping the boy of his memories firmly behind them. He turned to look out the window, refusing to meet his father's eyes as he spoke. "It is for the best."

"Is this not something the two of you should decide together?" Teal'c reined in his anger and exasperation, knowing that a show of either would result only in another shouting match.

"I have made my decision and it is final. I do not wish to discuss it further," insisted Ry'ac.

Teal'c's lips thinned, but he held his temper. "Very well, my son. I have but one thing to say, and then I will speak of the matter no further."

Ry'ac continued to stare sullenly out the window, not acknowledging his father. Teal'c shook his head and strode back to the door. Before stepping through, he offered his final word on the matter. "I would ask you to consider this, my son. Has Kar'yn not been a good wife and partner to you? Is this the way you would repay her love and devotion to you, by treating her in such a manner? By discarding her like yesterday's rubbish? Think on these points, my son, as you sit here staring into the distance. Does Kar'yn deserve this?"

As expected, no response came from the young husband. With a final shake of his head, Teal'c stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind him.

Back inside the room, a solitary tear slipped down the young man's cheek. "She deserves much more, Father. So very much more," he whispered.

******

The door slowly inched open. Ry'ac braced himself for the inevitable confrontation with his father. He was certain the visitor would be Teal'c, as no one else here would enter without knocking first. Not since he'd managed to send Kar'yn packing, at any rate.

So why, suddenly, was she standing right there before him? Her long silky curls framed her face and draped over her shoulders, her arms were bared and begging for him to run his hands along the soft skin. He ached to hold her as he had so many days ago. With her chin jutting out defiantly and eyes blazing, she was a vision and he drank in every detail of this vivid hallucination.

And then she spoke. "I have returned, my husband."

The walls he'd been building around his heart slammed shut the instant he realized she was real. "You should not have come."

"I will not leave again. My place is with you, wherever you are."

"No, not any longer," he insisted.

"I am your wife, Ry'ac. I will not leave."

His chest heaved as he struggled with his emotions. "I intend to seek an annulment as soon as I am able to return to Dakara," he blurted.

He expected her to shout in protest, or possibly break into tears. He was taken aback when she did neither, instead calmly questioning his announcement. "And why would you do that, my love?"

"It is what I want," he insisted.

She shook her head, sadness evident in her eyes. "That is no answer, my husband. If you must insist on cutting me out of your life like a chunk of dead meat, then you should provide a solid reason. You owe me that much." Her tone was calm, but assertive.

He sighed loudly and refused to look her in the eyes. "I am no longer the man you married."

Her hands went to her hips. "That is it? That is the sole reason why you wish to end our marriage?"

"Please, Kar'yn, do make this any more difficult," he pleaded.

She shook her head. "Then I suppose I should go now to seek an annulment of my own, for I am no longer the same woman you married either."

"That is different, and you know it," he snapped.

"No, Ry'ac. It is exactly the same."

"I no longer have my symbiote!" he roared in frustration.

"Well, neither do I!" she countered.

"What?"

She paused for a deep breath and then calmly explained. "I said I no longer have my symbiote either. I have begun to taking the tretonin."


"No! I mean, why? Have you been injured?" His fear and concern were evident in both his tone and his expression.

She smiled in triumph. "So you do still care."

"Of course I care! It was never about a lack of feelings. Now tell me, how were you injured? Have you recovered?"

"No, Ry'ac. I was not injured."

"But, then why?" he asked, dumbfounded.

She rolled her eyes. "It was no longer worth the cost of the benefits it provided."

"What? That makes no sense at all. Tell me, why would you do such a senseless thing?"

"There is nothing senseless about it. You, of all people, know that it was only a matter of time before the symbiote matured and necessitated my need for the tretonin. I merely hastened the process."

"But why? Why would you willingly choose to do such a thing?" Ry'ac just couldn't seem to grasp motives.

She laughed, almost bordering on hysteria. "Why? Why would I choose to give up a meager few years of the benefits of having a symbiote and keep my husband from ending our marriage? I do not know! You tell me," she demanded.

He stared at her in shock, unable to form the words. His mind reeling, he looked out the window. The curtains bellowed in the gentle breeze, mesmerizing him as thoughts whirled inside his head. She had done it for him. Given up years of the superior strength and stamina. Years of being stronger, faster, more powerful. Years of being…more. And all for him.

When he finally turned his attention back to her, his heart broke. She stood quietly in the same spot, rooted to the floor. Her eyes were wide with fear, her breathing rapid. She looked ready to bolt at the first wrong word from him. He leaned back on his pillows and groaned. "Gods, I've been such a fool."

She gasped, choking back a sob. "Does this mean that you have decided against ending our marriage?"

He carefully pulled back the covers and stood next to the bed, leaning heavily against the bedside table behind him. Tears filled his eyes as he held out his arms to her. "Yes," he whispered.

Unable to hold back the sobs any longer, she flew into his arms. Careful of his injuries, she kissed him fervently.

"Can you ever forgive me?" he asked.

Laughing and sobbing at the same time, she touched her forehead to his. "On one condition," she countered. "You must promise me that you will never again shut me out so completely."

He swallowed hard. "I do not think I can make such a promise, my love."

She pulled away, her body trembling and lips quivering. "Why not?"

"I fear that I might not be able to keep such a vow." He raised her hands to his lips and kissed them. "Would it be enough to promise that I will try?"

Her body sagged in relief as she continued to clutch his hands. "Yes, my husband. It will be more than enough."

Ry'ac pulled his hands free and gently placed one on each side of her head. He slowly pulled her toward him until their lips met in a gentle kiss. He kissed her again and again, each one longer than the last, their fervor building with each one.

Just as things were about to get more interesting, a voice sounded behind them. "I do not believe that Dr. Brightman would sanction such a strenuous activity at this time, my children."

The two jumped apart like a couple of teenagers caught necking in a parked car. "F-f-father," stuttered the young husband. "We did not hear you come in."

Teal'c smirked, his eyebrow raised in a familiar gesture. "I am not surprised. Your attentions were clearly…elsewhere."

The married couple blushed deeply, but Kar'yn came to stand in her husband's embrace nonetheless. Ry'ac attempted to act nonchalant, but failed miserably. "Was there something you required, Father?"

"He merely wished to ascertain whether both of you were still breathing," answered Bra'tac, who had stepped into the room beside Teal'c.

Just as suddenly, the old master's smile disappeared. "You have settled your differences?"

The husband and wife exchanged adoring looks. "We have," confirmed Ry'ac, never taking his eyes from his wife.

"That is indeed good news," agreed Teal'c as he stepped closer to his son. "Perhaps you should lie down."

Picking up on his father's suddenly somber tone, the young man warily climbed back into the bed. Once settled, Ry'ac demanded answers. "You have more news."

Teal'c nodded, a grave expression on his face. "Koreysa has been found murdered in her tent. The guards posted outside claim to have neither seen nor heard anything out of the ordinary."

Kar'yn reached for Ry'ac's hand once more. "What effect will this have on Da'ar's trial?"

The two older Jaffa shared a long, knowing look, causing Ry'ac's gut to clench in fear. "What have you not told us?" he demanded.

After a slight nod from Teal'c, Bra'tac turned to the young couple. "Da'ar has escaped from the cell where he was being held. A teltac is missing and there is no sign of him, nor of any of the guards."

"Did the guards help him escape?" demanded Ry'ac.

Bra'tac shook his head. "I personally picked the Jaffa assigned to this task and would have staked my life on their loyalty. However, given recent occurrences, I regret that I cannot say with complete certainty that none of them were involved."

"Are there others missing?" asked Kar'yn.

"At least a dozen," confirmed Teal'c. "Possibly more."

"So what now?" asked Ry'ac.

"Now," answered Bra'tac. "Now we get you well enough to return to Dakara and identify any remaining conspirators."

"And we continue the search for Da'ar," added Teal'c. "No matter how long it takes."

*~*~* End *~*~* 

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