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Title: Bra'tac and the Jaffa Alphabet Soup - T is for Tales
Season: PreSeries through the Early Seasons
Spoilers: Minor for The Serpent's Lair
Warnings: Bra'tac uses an insulting word. In Goa'uld.
Synopsis: Daniel is not the only one who learns about a culture through tales.
Disclaimer: I don't own any Jaffa, nor do I own SG-1. I borrow them for my amusement and the amusement of others, I treat them nicely, and put them back where I found them. It propheteth me not, except inasmuch as I treasure my reviews.




T is for Tales


Although the Goa'uld guarded their power and control jealously, it took them only a few centuries to learn that it was necessary for their Jaffa to know how to read, write, and perform mathematical calculations, and so, five generations after the Jaffa race was created, Ra insured that the priests and priestesses of his Jaffa knew how to read and write and calculate, and that they in turn would teach this skill to the children of all Jaffa. Soon the other System Lords followed suit, and it didn't take long for at least a minimal education to be universal among the Jaffa.

Given that all Jaffa could read and write, someone like Daniel might have expected that Jaffa knowledge and tradition would have been written down, and passed from generation to generation in archive form. That was not the case. To assume that was to forget that the Jaffa were slaves, with cruel and capricious masters, living lives where anyone could be a spy or a snitch, ready to betray their fellow Jaffa to curry favor with their Goa'uld masters. No, the Jaffa, blessed with exacting and capacious memories, transmitted culture and history through tales. Women spun their stories as they gathered to work, the songs, the stories, and the many hands lightening their loads. The men gathered in tents in the evenings, tired from a long day's battle or exercise, replete with a good meal, snacking desultorily on fruit and dried snacks, drinking their richly spiced drinks, served hot or cold, depending on the season.

Bra'tac could still remember with crystal clarity the first night when he was allowed to follow silently behind his father into the men's tent, to feast with the men and older boys and stay for the storytelling to follow. He knew that he was to keep to his place near the outside walls of the tent, and not to attract notice by wiggling or making noise. If his discipline was not up to the task, chastisement would be administered, and he would not be able to return to the men's tent until his trainers deemed him more ready. He crept quietly to the back of the tent, and sat down among the other boys, the youngest there. He watched the other boys and took his cues from them, and listened to the hum and the rumble of the conversation of the warriors gathered around the brazier in the center of the tent.

When the evening meal was finished and cleared away, the small bowls of dried delicacies and fruit were brought out and scattered within reach of all along with the pitchers of sweet, spicy gra'cheh, and the tale telling began. The first tale, as always, went to Apophis' First Prime, Tenshon, who told a lengthy and intricate tale of how a Jaffa, a valiant but as-yet undistinguished warrior of Apophis, followed the orders of the First Prime despite all difficulty and danger that this entailed, and won through to gain the notice of his superiors, which ultimately led to his becoming First Prime himself. That the young warrior had been Tenshon himself was the twist at the end that surprised no one, not even Bra'tac. He would have been deeply disappointed at the poor quality of the entertainment that he had longed to hear for so long if all the stories had been like that one, but things got better from there. Tenshon, he was to learn later, had not gotten to be First Prime through his gift for storytelling, and his tales were inevitably heavy-handed exhortations to obedience in the ranks.

Bra'tac's own father was given the honor of telling the second tale, in honor of the first feasting of his young son. He told the tale of Kheb, naming the symbols to get there, and emphasizing that it was forbidden to dial them, on the orders of the gods. The penalty for dialing it was death, slow and terrible, but worse, it was said, was the suffering of those who took their impurities with them to Kheb. That the suffering was not described, or even known, but more to be feared than the ultimate wrath of one of the gods made it all the more fearsome. It was said that the delights were as wondrous as the punishment was terrible, and that Jaffa who fought with valor, who kept their honor, and made their souls pure would be rewarded in Kheb, traveling the second path, through free and honorable death. Only those who died free, it was said, could follow the second path to Kheb, but it was a tale, his father said, only a tale told around a campfire.

There were other stories that night, but Bra'tac, his young body tired with hard training, his stomach full, did not remember them, because he could not stay awake, and soon he was curled up on the pillow he was sitting on, so sound asleep that he did not wake when his father picked him up and carried him home.

But that was only the first night of many such nights. With time and the increasing stamina that growth brought, he was able to stay awake late into the night, and many and varied were the tales he learned by heart. It did not take him long to learn to look beyond the surface details to search for the reason the tale was told, to learn to weight the value of the teaching by the character of the teller, and to see the subtle undercurrents, the metaphorical winks and nods, the things brought forward and the things left out, the ways in which the tales were veiled references to things which could not be told. Storytelling was an art with the Jaffa, so whether the tales were solemn or ribald, full of action or quiet and subtle, with a few memorable exceptions, they held the attention of the audience, all the better to impart their lesson. There were tales of Jaffa who outwitted their god, usually Ra, Sokar, or Setesh, since they were sworn enemies of Apophis. There were tales of gods who were weak or fallible (never Apophis!). There were tales of success in courting, brilliance in battle, cleverness in meeting a god's demands, these last often involving Apophis. There were tales of strange climates and the things necessary to survive them, stories of strange or fearsome creatures, and tales of the struggles and stratagems of the gods themselves, all mixed with songs, and jokes, and good natured boasting and ribbing. Bra'tac listened, and learned, and in time he joined in, gathering knowledge and wisdom until that proud day when he first earned the honor to tell the first tale. He chose the tale of how the Jaffa Gontar asked the question that Heru'ur could not answer, and he watched the faces of those gathered around, looking for which eyes met his, and which were cast down, who was listening, and who was letting their mind wander.

Naturally, when he came to know SG-1, he eagerly anticipated the moment by their campfire when he could hear the stories of the Tau'ri. Their tales would tell him much about their race, their strengths, their blindnesses, and their hearts. Intrigued by the presence of a woman in the ranks of the Tau'ri warriors, he asked Captain Carter to speak first, and she shared the stories of Molly Pitcher who lived many generations earlier, when - even among the Tau'ri - women were not commonly warriors, yet she had stepped in when needed, and fought among the men until victory was won. A second tale was the story of a woman surgeon, Mary Edwards Walker, who won something called the Congressional Medal of Honor for her services as a surgeon and as a prisoner of war during a Tau'ri civil war. The concept of a civil war was strange to Bra'tac, as it did not exist in his world, but the ending of slavery was indeed a noble cause for battle. It pleased him that all Tau'ri could now die free, and he said so, noticing immediately when the Tau'ri exchanged a look of discomfort.

"Not all Tau'ri," said O'Neill, reluctantly.

"Slavery is illegal everywhere," said Daniel Jackson, "but there are still people held against their will and forced to do the bidding of the people that hold them. We are not perfect."

"I had not thought so," said Bra'tac.

O'Neill was not best pleased, and by his glare, he found Daniel Jackson and Bra'tac equally at fault. Soon after it was time for watches to begin and the rest to retire for the sleep that the frail Tau'ri bodies required, so the tale telling ended for that night. Because Teal'c had the first watch, and Bra'tac's need for kel'no'reem was not urgent, he asked instead what had prompted Teal'c to throw in his lot with the Tau'ri.

"O'Neill," he answered, living up to his longstanding reputation for brevity.

Bra'tac waited for some time before gently chiding, "That is a name, Teal'c, and not a tale. I wish to know what it is that made you choose that time, and that place."

But in spite of the fact that Teal'c could be a gifted storyteller when he chose, his tale of a refusal to bow gracefully, and a look in O'Neill's eye, of strength in fragility left Bra'tac unsatisfied. Teal'c's rebellion was a good thing for all Jaffa, a spark that might yet become a flame, but the beginnings were a slender thing indeed for something so momentous, although there was something in the Hasshak's irreverence and sarcastic wit that intrigued Bra'tac too.

The tales that Daniel Jackson chose to tell the next night required much thought before Bra'tac could see their significance, although when he did, he thought that the young man had chosen well. He too told two tales, the first, which he called an "origin myth" was the story of the first man and first woman, their making, their life in a garden called Eden, and their being cast out by their god, described as an only god, all knowing and all powerful. Bra'tac had heard many gods claim that, and he doubted it for the god of the Tau'ri too. But that was not the point. The point was that all Tau'ri carried within them this story of rebellion, of choosing to defy their god, and yet living free. Their god allowed them the choice, and given delightful captivity, or a diminished life in freedom, they chose to be free. The second was "just a folk story" of someone named Duffy and an evil overlord named the Devil, who had the power not just to torment a being's body, but his very soul. Bra'tac was so caught up in finding the Devil to be too easy to fool, an unworthy opponent, that he missed the message at first. The Devil had all the power, and against him Duffy was weak, but he used his skills and his mind, and in the end he triumphed. Daniel Jackson was telling him that the Tau'ri were not cowed by power, that even the weak could prevail, that according to the Tau'ri, it was not honorable battle and purity worthy of Kheb that mattered, but ultimate victory. Daniel Jackson's tales told Bra'tac much, but as with all tales, only when he listened for the deeper meaning.

O'Neill resisted telling a tale around the fire, or at least any tale of deep meaning. He told of a few humorous incidents, minor mishaps and inconveniences on previous bivouacs with other teams, foolish things that he and others had done as raw recruits, and sights he'd seen and dishes he'd eaten in various places around his world, but nothing like the tales of Captain Carter and Daniel Jackson. They were warrior's jokes and traveler's tales, nothing more. Bra'tac did not make First Prime on his stunning good looks alone, though, and he was willing to bide his time. At last, strung out on a line of march, largely out of the hearing of the others, O'Neill finally shared two tales which satisfied the old warrior.

The first was a stirring tale of battle, the story of 300 Spartan warriors facing the 10,000 warriors of Persia. They fought a delaying action, and they died, saving the freedom of their fellow Greeks. It was a satisfying tale, and it told him that in spite of what he feared based on Daniel Jackson's tales, the Tau'ri indeed bred warriors, and that this man understood warrior brotherhood in the way that he and Teal'c understood it, and that the Tau'ri would die free, rather than submit.

Bra'tac asked for a second tale, and for a long time O'Neill was silent. Finally he asked Bra'tac if he remembered the story of the Garden of Eden? This was needlessly insulting of O'Neill. Did he think that just because he was over 100, his mind was failing him?

"No," said O'Neill, with a frown. "It's just that he told you the beginning of the story, but not really how it turned out," and he told a confusing tale of how a man, half Hasshak, half god, had died slowly nailed to a wooden cross, giving his life that all Tau'ri could be allowed to be free of their god's rules and enter Heaven, which sounded like the Tau'ri equivalent of Kheb. "Greater love hath no man than this, that he shall lay down his life for his friends," he said in conclusion.

Now Bra'tac was heartily confused.

"So you extol self-sacrifice, and yet when I offered it on Apophis' vessel, you said that it was a bad plan!" he said.

"Of course it was a bad plan! There were things we could do that would allow us to live to fight another day! Giving up is just wrong!" he said, with none of the deference and respect that a Jaffa would have given someone of Bra'tac's status. He rubbed one of the strange black Tau'ri half-gloves over his face, took off his cap, scratched under it, and replaced it, clearly at a loss as to how to explain.

Bra'tac thought back over what O'Neill had said.

"Captain Carter teaches of the bravery of the female. Daniel Jackson teaches of the value the Tau'ri place on cleverness and knowledge. You speak of love," he said. "You think that it is the bonds between you that will allow you to vanquish the Goa'uld."

"That and this," O'Neill said, lightly tapping his loud projectile weapon he wore strapped to his chest, with his right hand. Bra'tac had to admit, though it was a tasteless weapon, it was very effective.

Bra'tac smiled, and nodded, and the two warriors proceeded in silence. The Tau'ri had given him much to think of, and Bra'tac began to craft in his head the tales he would tell, the way he would share and interpret the stories he had heard for a select few he knew to be loyal to the cause, and what bits of information he could carefully craft to sound out the hearts and minds of others, to swell the ranks of the Free Jaffa. It was good to share tales. Tales would be the lifeblood of the rebellion.

***************

The entire collection of Bra'tac and the Jaffa Alphabet Soup offerings is here on Live Journal.

***************

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
aelfgyfu_mead
Jun. 25th, 2012 01:00 pm (UTC)
Well done! It's very believable that Jaffa would prefer to share their stories orally than to write them down, and that they'd develop a sophisticated oral culture.

The oral culture of SG-1 might be less sophisticated, but the tales still fit—and reveal—their tellers.
thothmes
Jun. 25th, 2012 06:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

My stepfather is Palestinian, and the Arabs have had a very long tradition of literacy, because the reading of the Koran requires it, among other reasons, but his family's history is purely an oral tradition. My maternal uncle did a college paper on oral tradition and used my stepfather as a case study, and found that even without symbiote assisted memory, he could go back 6 generations in his family tree. Oral history has power!
aelfgyfu_mead
Jun. 25th, 2012 07:04 pm (UTC)
Wow—that's fascinating! I know almost nothing about my own family history, which is a source of ongoing embarrassment, and I really ought to remedy it. To think of someone keeping that all in his head just amazes me.
thothmes
Jun. 25th, 2012 07:28 pm (UTC)
My mother-in-law was taught by her mother that a lady knows by heart her maternal line back for five generations. Even though both my grandmothers had inherited fairly extensive genealogies, I had to admit that I was no lady. I could only make it four generations by heart, and those all individuals I had met, save one, my great-grandmother's mother, who appeared in a memorable picture that had been on display in my home for my entire life. Fortunately, in spite of having to memorize the information in childhood, my mother-in-law thought the stricture was more quaint than discriminating!

I just thought it was fascinating that my mother-in-law's mother was an Army general's daughter, who grew up in a heavily male-dominated culture, on bases around the nation and the world, and yet her definition of a lady involved matriarchy.
lolmac
Jun. 25th, 2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
Oh, lovely indeed! Yes, Jack would tell about Thermopylae.

BTW -- you have Anubis instead of Apophis in the story.
thothmes
Jun. 25th, 2012 06:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

And nice catch! I've changed all the Anubises to Apophises. Sigh. This is not the first time I've done that. Beloved Husband didn't notice either, and so it went up that way. Most of my mistakes are homophone mistakes (hear-here there-they're-their) where I know the difference but my fingers don't, and spell checkers never see those.
lolmac
Jun. 25th, 2012 06:45 pm (UTC)
As long as you didn't become apoplectic over it (or apocalyptic, either).
thothmes
Jun. 25th, 2012 06:48 pm (UTC)
Fortunately, it didn't require Anubi a new beginning, so I didn't have to nuke and start over.
(Deleted comment)
thothmes
Jun. 25th, 2012 06:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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In mourning or rejoicing, be not far from me.

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But your embraces
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To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
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Up in the morning's no for me,
Up in the morning early;
When a' the hills are covered wi' snaw,
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

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Moss covered paths between scarlet peonies,
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