Tragic Tale of the Host Body of Gou'auld System Lord Ra
Diamond in the Rough
The heat rolled in waves across the white stones. The air was filled with the ripple of the waters, the rustle of the breeze through the reeds, and the soft cries of the distant cranes. A gangly, bronzed young man, bare except for a loincloth, lay on his back on the largest rock on the shore. His long fingers twined through his wet, curly, raven hair, his head pillowed in his palms. His chest, glistening with water, rose and fell slowly in a deep, contented sigh and his delicate lips curved upward at the warmth of the sun against his eyelids, cheeks, and body, drying his skin.
A pebble clicked behind him. The young man's smile tightened as he tried to suppress it, and he kept his eyes closed. He listened intently.
He could almost see the shapely bare feet tiptoeing toward him over the shore. He heard the skirt of the hand-woven dress flapping softly against strong legs. He envisioned the winsome figure kneeling down by the water's edge, graceful fingers dipping into the sparkling liquid.
He sprang up. His eyes fixed on the young woman, poised to splash water all over him. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open. She barely managed to yelp before he darted forward, grasped the offending hand and pulled her to her feet. She shrieked as he whirled her around, pinning her arms behind her back. He pressed his face into her long black hair and said snidely:
"You know you can never sneak up on me, Shau'ri."
She shoved back against him and he released her, laughing.
"Thoori!" she scolded, swiping a strand of hair out of her eyes. "I could call my brothers!"
"To do what?"
"To beat you soundly!" she threatened.
"And you know that none of them could ever catch me," he smirked. He paused, watching the light dance off the water and sparkle on her skin. She had a lovely, smooth face with a perfect nose, expressive eyebrows, lips like flower petals and startlingly blue eyes. Thoori had heard many people mention, when Shau'ri was not present, that it was too bad she had "weak" eyes, instead of the black eyes usual to the other Nile people. But Thoori found her eyes fascinating, like chips of the afternoon sky.
"What is it?" she wondered, self-consciously shifting her weight. Thoori blinked.
"I was just imagining being beaten by your brothers," he lied as he stepped back up onto his rock. "I think, if they had an excuse, they would kill me."
"If the sun didn't kill you first," Shau'ri commented, joining him up on the rock.
"What?" Thoori said indignantly, shading his eyes and peering upward.
"You lie out here like a fish being dried," Shau'ri laughed. "You have ever since I've known you."
"The sun is my friend. It makes me strong. You know that, don't you?" Thoori arched an eyebrow at her, grinning wickedly. "You just wanted to look at my muscles."
"No!" Shau'ri retorted emphatically. "I wanted to listen to you sizzling like my mother's meat in a pan!" She shoved him with unexpected force, and he lost his balance. He toppled into the water, splashing spectacularly. Gasping, he surfaced and tossed his soaking hair out of his face. He met Shau'ri's eyes and smiled. Her laughter vanished.
"Thoori---! I know that look!" She shook her finger at him in warning. "Don't you
But it was too late. He leaped up and grabbed her by the arms, then just fell backward, taking her with him into the water. She screamed until they struck the water. The cool current rushed all around his head, but he did not let go of Shau'ri. After an instant of struggle, he pulled her to the surface, both of them sputtering.
"Thoori, you are impossible!" she shoved both hands against his chest, a curtain of dripping hair covering her face. He covered his mouth with his hand, his shoulders shaking, as she flung her hair out of her face and glowered at him. He snorted with the effort of restraining his chortling.
"Forget my brothers!" she declared, sloshing toward him. "I'll kill you my---"
She slipped. She pitched downward. Thoori reacted. He lunged forward and caught her under the arms, though his own feet slid dangerously through the slithering stones. Her hands snatched at his shoulders instinctively and she clung to him. Without thinking, he wrapped his arms around her waist.
Suddenly, nothing was funny. She stopped fighting and just stood there, their eyes locked, the water flowing around their waists. Thoori's heart stopped, then began pounding. His brow furrowed intensely. Her lips parted as if to speak, but she said nothing. Thoori swallowed.
Shau'ri giggled, her face flushing, and she gently extracted herself from his arms.
"I thought you were going to let me fall," she confessed, trying in vain to straighten her chaotic hair.
"I would always catch you," he said fervently. She looked at him, startled, and her brow tightened. He instantly shrugged, looking away.
"Just to give you a fair chance at trying to beat me back to the village."
Her eyes flashed at the challenge.
"I always win."
"I always let you," he shot back. She bared her teeth playfully at him, then leaped toward the shore, splashing wildly. Her feet struck the dry rocks and she took off. Grinning, Thoori chased after.
They pelted down the narrow path through the reeds, following it as it wound through the willowy trees, the fern leaves slapping their legs. Shau'ri let out a ringing laugh and Thoori increased his pace, right on her heels. They climbed a hill and slipped and slid down the other side, kicking up a cloud of dust.
They descended to the outskirts of the encampment, dashing past several white-canvas tents and wooden huts, and dodging ropes and stakes. Their afore-wet feet were now dirty, as were their clothes. Shau'ri skidded to a halt at the entrance of the tallest, grandest tent and whirled on him, panting but grinning triumphantly.
"You were running as fast as you could, I know it," she pointed at him. "You did not let me win."
Thoori was not breathing as hard, and he folded his arms over his chest. He stepped toward her and leaned down until his forehead almost touched hers. She glared back at him with teasing defiance.
"Think what you like," he said. "But you're just lucky that I…" He stopped. He straightened and turned, his arms falling to his sides.
Althar stood there. He was a very tall man with a graying beard that hung down to his belt. He wore long robes and a turban, and his face was like leather. His eyes, like bits of obsidian, saw everything. He was the chief of the tribe. He was also Shau'ri's father.
Athar clasped his hands behind his back.
"Shau'ri," he said quietly. "Go clean up. Your mother was expecting you much sooner. She needs help with the meal."
Shau'ri, instantly meek, nodded and wordlessly entered the tent. Athar turned his eyes to Thoori. Thoori's throat tightened.
"Thoori, I want to speak with you. Come walk with me."
Thoori, ignoring how dirty he was, straightened and came to stride beside the chieftain. Thoori could feel the eyes of other tribesmen following them from the doors of other tents and huts, but he ignored them also. Athar did not speak until they had moved past the last tent.
"Thoori," he began, his voice deep and quiet as distant thunder. "I want you to know how glad I am that you came to us when you were a boy. When the tribe of our brothers was slaughtered, having you, a remnant of them among us, was a great comfort."
Thoori studied the horizon and stepped slowly, weighing Athar's words.
"We have been happy to treat you as a son of the tribe, and you cannot complain of your treatment. The only distinction we have made between you and our sons is that you will receive no inheritance, as this is a tribe that is not your own."
Thoori ducked his head briefly, but this was an old wound and barely panged now. He said nothing.
"But at this point, I can see that another distinction must be made."
Athar stopped and faced Thoori. Thoori also halted, and reluctantly faced the chieftain. Athar's tones lowered.
"You and Shau'ri have been friends since the day you arrived. She has had no closer companion, and neither have you. And that was good for you, as children."
Thoori felt a chill run down his back. He watched Athar's wizened face carefully.
"But you are a young man now," Athar stated. "And Shau'ri is a young woman. A woman fit to be married. But she has rejected every man who has tried to arrange anything with me, and I was not about to force her---I just wondered why. Now I believe I know."
Thoori fought to keep his breath from shivering. His jaw locked. Athar sighed.
"She favors you. But as her father, and as the chief, I cannot allow that. You live here under our hospitality, but you have nothing of your own, and no way to support her, and no inheritance to give your sons. You are very intelligent, Thoori, and I know you see this. I must ask you to stay away from her as much as possible. And if you must speak to her, I know that you will encourage her to marry either Jesphet or Hathtet, both able, strong young men. She would make a good second wife for either of them. I am certain you want what is best for her."
Thoori tried not to choke, and succeeded. But his eyes stung. He gazed steadily into Athar's eyes, unflinching. He clasped his own hands behind his back, and nodded once.
"I am pleased you understand." Athar put a hand briefly on Thoori's shoulder, then turned and started back to the camp.
Thoori's breathing came painfully, and he stood there until the light faded from the sky. Twilight had fallen before he made his way to the small wood-and-thatch hut apace removed from the others---close enough to hear the laughing and music, but far enough that no one could invite him in.
Thoori absently clucked to his three little falcons, tied with bits of leather to a carefully carved stand. They watched him keenly as he moved about the hut, kicking at the threadbare rug. He sat down next to his birds and stroked them, and they pecked at him affectionately, chirping. Next to Shau'ri, these three birds, Ithit, Baret and Razeth, were his world. They hunted for him, as he was not allowed to hunt with the other men, and they gave him someone to talk to during those long nights when he could not sleep. He always seemed to sleep better in the day---the day was filled with comforting sound and warmth. The night was deep, dark and secretive---and lonely. He told his birds everything; all about Shau'ri, and what they had done together that day, and what he planned to become when the tribe finally realized that he was a worthy man.
Tears once again stung his eyes, but he swiped them away. The tribe would never recognize him as a worthy man. Athar was making certain of that. And if the tribe and Athar had their way, Shau'ri would marry Jesphet or Hathtet and have seven sons, and Thoori would fade into obscurity, minding his own business his whole life, and die with as little inconvenience as possible.
Thoori threw himself onto his back and covered his face with his hands, listening to his three pieces of pottery clink together as they swung on bits of twine from the doorway. Ithit clucked soothingly, and the other two made wisely-comforting noises, as if to say "You are always our chief, my friend."
"I know," Thoori whispered. "Do you think you could arrange a marriage for me?"
None of the falcons answered. He grunted and squeezed his eyes shut against the gathering dark.
"I thought not."
The next morning, Thoori left. He had duties leather-working and cleaning fish, but he paid them no mind. Strapping on his only pair of sandals and throwing on a tunic, he trotted up the mountain and disappeared for the whole day.
He only did this once in a while, for it was frowned upon, but he told himself he was doing what Athar had commanded: staying away from Shau'ri. Because in truth, he knew there was no way on earth he would be able to tell her to marry either of the brutish wife-beaters Athar had named.
He sat on a cliff, soaking up the rays of the golden sun, watching the broad, shining Nile river wind its patient way through the valley. It was only at mid afternoon that he finally felt the pangs of hunger and got to his feet, deciding to head back to the camp.
But when he reached the outskirts, he knew something was wrong. He stopped, his sharp eyes darting back and forth. Then he realized it: there were too many people outside for this time of day. It was summer, and the heat was blistering---thus, most of the tribe spent afternoons inside their homes, or by the water in the shade. Instead, the three-hundred some tribespeople were standing in the lanes, chatting and gesturing animatedly. And they were holding things. Thoori squinted to see them better.
They held rich cloths, strings of beads, idols of gold and silver, weapons, jars of incense, and many other valuable items. Traders must have come through while he was away. But his sense of foreboding persisted. Frowning, he cautiously made his way down the hill, listening to the clamor, and ducked inside his hut.
He froze. His birds were gone.
Panicked, he leaped further inside, calling their names, looking behind the wooden box that held all his belongings. Pain racing up and down inside his chest, he went back to the stand, his mind flying---to see that the leather straps had not broken, but had been cut with a knife. Terror overtook him. He clasped his head in his hands, his eyes wide.
"What's wrong, Thoori?" A deep voice issued from outside. Thoori stopped moving. He recognized the tones. They belonged to Jesphet.
"Are you missing something?" This voice was familiar too. It was Hathtet's. Thoori lowered his arms to his sides, and his hands closed into fists.
Slowly, he turned around and calmly strode out of his hut, his jaw set, his eyes cold, though his whole heart was in trauma.
The two brothers---Jesphet closer to the hut, as he was the eldest---stood there, arms folded over their chests. Jesphet was ten years older than Thoori, muscular and tall, and his face was carven and tough. He had heavy eyebrows, humorless eyes and hollow cheeks. Next to him, Hathtet sneered. Hathtet was much younger, and sleeker-looking, with a broader mouth and brighter, more alert eyes. Thoori had always hated them both.
"What are you doing out here?" Thoori wondered, following their example and folding his arms. He knew he did not intimidate them---he was a good head shorter than both of them, and though strong, was slightly built. The brothers glanced at each other incredulously.
"What? We cannot pay a visit to another tribesman?"
"Don't play with me," Thoori warned. "What did you do with my birds?"
"What birds?" Hathtet wondered innocently. Thoori did not answer. His eyes just narrowed. Jesphet chuckled. Thoori's rage flared.
"How dare you?" he snarled. "How dare you come into my hut---"
"Your hut?" Jesphet cut in, narrowing his eyes. "Nothing belongs to you. Only that which we give you."
"You did not give me those birds," Thoori reminded him. "What did you do with them?"
"We sold them," Hathtet said flippantly. "To the traders. To buy something for Shau'ri."
Thoori almost staggered.
"Sold---?" His voice broke.
"We thought you would appreciate it," Jesphet said with sincerity and calmness. "We heard about what Athar said to you, and of course we agree---but Shau'ri deserves something fine to wear, and you could never afford to get her something otherwise. Consider this to be a wedding gift from you."
Thoori stared, going pale.
"Yes, you heard correctly," Jesphet nodded. "Her father has agreed that she should marry me."
Thoori's vision blurred scarlet as agony and fury tore through his chest---and with a sudden surge of strength, he threw himself at Jesphet.
Thoori caught him around the collar of his robe, aiming to fling him down the hill. But Jesphet managed to brace himself and clamped down hard on Thoori's thin wrists with his own iron hands.
Something flashed. A fist cracked against the side of Thoori's face. Pain blasted through his skull and he tumbled backward. He would have hit the ground, but Jesphet caught him by the upper arm, squeezing down hard and then flinging him sideways.
Thoori slammed into the earth and rolled, sand stinging his skin. He fought to stand, his head whirling, but before he could, someone took a fistful of his hair and yanked him up. He yelped, his eyes watering, and he clawed at the hand, which he suddenly saw belonged to Hathtet. Hathtet grinned, then slapped Thoori across the face with wicked force. Thoori's vision flickered. He tasted blood in his mouth.
Hathtet jerked him, afflicting his neck with whiplash, then threw him down. Choking, Thoori lay there shivering, his shaking hands groping through the dust. The brothers' laughter slurred through his head, and he thought he sensed them walk away, but he could not be sure. He just closed his eyes and laid his forehead on his arm, blood dripping down his lips.
The sun was setting when Shau'ri found him. He did not have the energy to evade her. He sat on his rock by the Nile, his arms resting on his knees, gazing blankly at the water. He heard her careful footsteps approaching, but did not turn his head.
"Thoori?" she asked quietly. "Thoori, where have you been all day?"
Thoori did not answer, or turn his head. She came up on the rock and settled down on his left, her shoulder brushing his. For a long while, neither of them spoke. He sensed her lower her head.
"I heard what they did to your beautiful birds," she murmured. Thoori swallowed hard, but said nothing.
"That was wrong of them. And I don't care what Father says---I am not marrying either of those beasts."
Thoori looked at her. She gazed back at him sincerely for an instant, then her expression filled with shock. She reached out and gently took his face in her hands.
"Thoori!" she cried. "What happened?"
He fought them, but tears escaped his control, ran down his bruised cheek and across her fingers. Her eyes brightened with indignation as her fingertips traced his split lip and his swollen right eye.
"They hit you?" she gasped, her voice trembling. He swallowed again and glanced down, filling with shame. His jaw tightened. She did not release him, but made him look up again at her.
"Do not be embarrassed about that," she said firmly. "They are both half again older than you, and there were two of them. That is never fair."
Thoori reached up and took her hands down from his face, but held onto them. Her fingers curled around his. She leaned toward him, waiting for him to speak. He studied their entwined fingers for a long time.
"I am leaving in the morning, Shau'ri."
Her hands tightened.
"I must. Your father said so."
"He told you to leave?" she cried. He shook his head.
"No. But he told me to stay away from you---and how can I possibly do that if you are always so close?" He looked up and met her sky-blue eyes. "I don't have the strength to do that. And I would only disgrace you. That's the last thing I want."
"You would never disgrace me," she insisted, tears of her own brimming.
"I already am."
Neither said anything for a long time. The only sound was the steady river murmuring past, and the chirping of the evening birds. They were both looking at their hands when Shau'ri spoke quietly again.
"Where will you go?"
"I might follow the traders and try to convince them that Ithit, Baret and Razeth were stolen, and to give them back to me."
"They won't believe you," Shau'ri murmured. "You know that."
Thoori's heart sank further at hearing that truth spoken aloud.
She paused, running her thumb across his. Then she lifted her head.
"Then you'll need this." She let go of his hands and reached up to the back of her neck. Thoori frowned, watching her. She unlatched a chain that hung down beneath the front of her dress. She pulled the necklace up and away from her, and let the pendant dangle in front of him. The chain was gold, as was the circular pendant. Thoori took the pendant in his hand and studied it. It had a decorative eye imprinted on it---an eye that seemed to look back at him.
"This is what Jesphet and Hathtet traded your falcons for," she whispered. Thoori let go of it.
"Why would I want that?" he demanded.
"To give to the traders in exchange for your birds," she explained. "It is very valuable. The traders said the eye represented the sun, watching over you."
Thoori stared at it with mixed feelings.
"Please take it, Thoori, if you're really leaving." Shau'ri's voice sounded weak. "And think of me instead of those terrible brothers."
Thoori gazed into her saddened eyes for a long moment. Finally, he nodded. She lifted the necklace and fastened it around his neck. The pendant bumped his breastbone. Then, instead of withdrawing, Shau'ri leaned in, wrapped her arms around him and pressed her face into his neck. Stricken, Thoori wrapped her up tightly, and the two just sat there as the light faded from the sky.
"Don't let anyone see you with that," she finally warned breathlessly.
She pressed a kiss to the side of his face.
And suddenly, her warmth left him, she stood and fled back toward the village, leaving his cheek wet with her tears.
Thoori lay in the dark of his tent, the chain wrapped around his wrist, the pendant resting in the palm of his hand. He had never realized how quiet it could be without the subtle rustling of his birds' feathers. An ache pulsed through him, strong and deep, and it tightened his breathing. There was no way he could sleep.
He was planning to leave the following dawn, without taking leave of anyone. Why would they care? But what he did not know was what would happen after that. He owned nothing but a tunic, cloak, three small jars and a pair of sandals. For necessities other than that, he had always been dependant on the chieftain's family. He knew that he had very little chance of living past four days out on his own. He rolled over onto his back, his breathing shuddering. He was probably going to die. He was afraid of that. But he was also afraid of living in a world where he was so utterly powerless.
The earth gave a small shiver. He frowned, but did not move. The shivering continued, so subtle that someone sleeping would not be awakened by it. Slowly, he sat up, then crept forward and gazed out the front of his hut.
It was very dark---but not as dark as it ought to have been. He lay down again, on his side, listening.
The shivering increased. And then a deep, distant rumble reached his ears. His throat tightened.
A light appeared high in the sky---a bright, white one. It came closer, like a falling star. His heartbeat sped up. The light grew blinding, and the earth was shaking violently now. The wind kicked up, and dust blew through the air.
He heard the tribesmen awaken, calling out to each other, crying out in dismay and confusion. Thoori sat up, never taking his eyes from the light. The next moment, he could distinguish a shape: the falling star looked like a triangular-shaped block, and from it issued a deep and penetrating roar.
It rapidly drew closer, and with widening eyes Thoori beheld how massive it was. It was taller than any mountain he had seen, made of what looked like black stone shot through with lightning. It descended on the outskirts of the encampment like the foot of a giant, blasting the dust away from itself like a storm wind off the sea.
It slowed drastically, and as the tribesmen screamed in terror and fled toward the river, it touched down, sending a ripple through the ground.
Thoori got to his feet. He could feel the dirt trembling beneath him. His forehead creasing intently, he stepped outside, shielding his face from the fierce wind with his hand, and started toward the towering pyramid.
A voice in the back of his head cautioned him, but it was not as strong as what drew him forward. His heart thundered. He bit down. He was not a coward, too afraid to go discern what this was. If it was a gift from heaven, he would be the richer and wiser. If it was a curse that brought swift and brutal death---then the alternative was leaving the tribe at dawn for the desert and dying in four days. Thoori set his jaw and walked faster. Better death now than then.