In Those Final Moments
Another name was written with care, alongside many others he didn’t recognize and whose history he would never know. He was a scribe. A simpleton in most cultures, revered in others, and fortunately for him this was one of the latter, for it had saved his life.
“You!” He tensed, waiting for the crack of a whip and the feel of hard leather as it bit into his back, as was the treatment deserved of a junior under the king’s care. This time, though, he was treated to the foul stench of the palace senior guard as he leaned over his shoulder and all but sunk his nose into his ear. “You… have been summoned. Bull duty. You’re gonna love listening to them wails. Mostly mothers and their brats today. You got a mother, boy?”
“No,” he whispered, careful to keep his chin dipped to his chest, the nape of his neck exposed. He’d learned early on in his captivity that exposing his neck in this fashion to a higher caste member guaranteed you’d at least live another day. He had, so far, lived many.
“No mother, eh? Perhaps you were the bastard son she tried to expose? Or maybe she’s been to the bull already.” The guard pulled away a fraction and smacked his lips, spraying him with spit. “Hmm… yep… bet she tasted mighty fine. All sweet and fatty.”
He bobbed his head in supplication as he gathered his writing tools and journal, sliding from his stool and away from the guard, and out into the heat of the day.
He was Daniel – a name he said to himself over and over every day. But to the people of Tarthos, he was Leksos of the Scribal Caste, under King Thantos the Mighty. A long name that meant nothing but fear and death to most who spoke it.
Off in the distance, past row after row of white tents with their crest banners flapping wildly in the stiff breeze, the Colosseum rose to dominate the landscape. There was a crowd gathered at her massive gates that formed a long and busy line along the road that led from the palace. Vendors wove in and out the crowd, selling this and that, food and drink… sometimes small souvenirs in the likeness of the king.
Daniel patted his satchel to reassure himself that he had gathered up all he’d need.
All he’d need…
Fear was a constant here, but on some days when his chores were light and his master was in a good mood, he could almost relax. On other days like today, the fear renewed itself, punctuated with memories of the last bull day he had attended.
Teal’c had gone first. King Thantos – self proclaimed as being the most just in the kingdom – had no love of the Goa’uld and, unless they chose to attack this world from the skies, any patrols sent through the Stargate were dealt with swiftly. Teal’c didn’t stand a chance.
In a way, his death at the end of a spear, in the heat of an attack they weren’t prepared for and definitely weren’t expecting from their latest trading partners, was probably one of the noblest ways the big guy could go.
Of Sam… Daniel had no idea. Teal’c’s appearance with SG-1 guaranteed there would be no trade. They were instantly judged as enemy, and when the fight was done and the dead and dying lay scattered around the ‘gate, SG1 was utterly defeated. Sam was taken as a trophy and they never saw her again, although Daniel heard rumors that she’d overpowered her new master and had been flogged to death in front of the rest of his lesser wives. A lesson to be taught for disobedience.
Jack was another matter altogether, and the reason why Daniel’s steps to the Colosseum were measured by grief and anxiety. The Colosseum walls loomed large over him, and on each rise, spaced evenly around the top pier of the massive complex, a figurine of a bull stood guard over the waiting crowd. Here bulls were as revered as cats were to the Egyptians. Perhaps even more so.
Guards at the Colosseum gates spotted him coming through the crowd, his scribal robes of bright red and striped in white and royal blue made him stand out, and pushed back the crowd to let him pass. He nodded his thanks with his gaze cast to the ground.
The smell hit him and he had to swallow hard to stop from throwing up. Oddly enough, and he knew this as certainly as he had witnessed the event, the smell reminded him of one of Jack’s famous Friday night barbeques, where the meat was not so much cooked as burned. Only this time beef wasn’t on the menu.
A broad walkway led to the main arena, but that wasn’t his destination. He turned to the left and went through a small doorway and up a narrow flight of steps to a landing that held a small chair and table. The view from this height was amazing and he could easily imagine himself at some gladiatorial battle in Ancient Rome, only there were no gladiators here, save for the guards that stood watch over prisoners gathered near a massive dais in the center of the arena.
Daniel took his seat and set out his quill and journal, using every fiber of his being not to look at the prisoners. Around him, the crowd drew nervous in anticipation; waving banners depicting King Thantos’ crest and chanting his name over and over.
A horn sounded, the crowd cheered as one and then fell deathly silent, save for an occasional murmur from the stalls. Somewhere above and behind him, King Thantos would be sipping the kingdom’s finest red wine and snacking on grapes and cheese, with one or more of his lesser wives lounging about his legs, anticipating the day’s promised display of death.
“Scribe!” came a shout, and Daniel took up his quill. Each name would be read out and notated, as was the ritual here. For a time he had tried to recollect every name he wrote down, like he was trying to preserve their physical existence, but as the weeks bled into each other, counting the dead seemed easier than trying to remember.
A rush of heat came up to meet him from the arena floor, and despite trying his best not to look, he knew he had no choice. This was how it was for Jack, and so how it would be for these poor souls, whose only crime was to be at the mercy of a king that wanted nothing more than to be entertained. For Thantos, it was far easier to kill off those who couldn’t contribute to his wealth then it was to have to feed them.
Daniel looked up and out across the arena to the massive bronze bull sitting atop a stone dais at its center. The creature was almost two stories high and approximately fifty feet long from nose to tail, and the fire under its belly had only just been lit.
The arena was silent, save for the wails of children as they clung to their mother’s legs or were held tight in loving arms. There was no beating of chests here, no pleas for clemency. They were today’s entertainment, a means to an economic end. Provide or die… and so they would die. These women had accepted their fate with a dignity that Thantos would never understand.
Daniel remembered the day Jack died, because there was no way he could forget watching him walk in to the arena with his head held high, defiance etched on his face. And how their eyes met just seconds before he was shoved up the walkway to the top of the bull and pushed into its waiting belly. Nor how the bull was cold on this day, and how he was forced to watch as the pyre was lit and the wood slowly stoked high and higher. Thantos didn’t want a quick death for the traitor who would dare bring a Jaffa to his world. No, he wanted Jack to die slowly, and he wanted to hear the bull roar.
He shivered at the memory and then quickly stiffened his muscles to try and calm himself. It was the roar of the bull that scared him most of all. The last death knell for those trapped in its boiling body. A tiny tube on the inside of the beast fed fresh air to the victims, and most, as fear overwhelmed them, tried to suck in as much as they could. Instead all it served to do was to send out a loud but low trumpeting noise that resembled the cry of a bull. Sweet music to the king’s ears.
Thantos got no such pleasure the day Jack died.

The End


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