Written for the Teal'c Ficathon, to answer Paian's request for Ishta, backstory, angst, and no S/J.
"Nightfall will not occur for several hours," Ishta said, from her position deeper in the underbrush. There was no accompanying rustle of branches, since she knew how to be still when required. Until now, Teal'c had thought that she knew how to be silent when required, but apparently that was not the case.
After a few moments, her voice crept up behind him again--no, not crept, Ishta had no creeping in her. Arrived, with no fanfare, but no hesitancy either, pitched just loud enough to be heard over the rushing stream below. "Since we will be unable to proceed until that time, perhaps now is the time for us to say things that should be said."
"Will you be silent, woman?" Teal'c asked, entirely reasonably.
"Will you?" Ishta came back. "I have heard a great deal over the past three days about foolishness and recklessness, and have not been listened to in return. Any of my warriors would tell you I have been uncommonly patient."
Teal'c watched smoke rise from the chimneys of the town below, letting the old stillness that had once been kel-no-reem settle into his ankles, his knees, his fingertips. If it would only have risen to his mind he would have been grateful, but such peace had eluded him since Ishta's message had arrived. There was a litany in the back of his head and had been since that moment: My son, my son, my son.
A man at peace would have been able to keep silence, allow his back to turn away Ishta's words until she was quiet as well. Teal'c could not. "You send my child out into danger on the word of a girl, and then you speak to me of patience? Patience would have counseled you otherwise."
"Kar'yn is young, but she is a warrior grown, and her plan was a good one. Your son, who is no child, agreed, and if the idea had been his to begin with rather than hers you would not speak of its foolishness!" Ishta's voice was still low, but there was anger in it now. It often came back to the issue of womanhood with her, and it was not that Teal'c had no sympathy--Ishta and her women had suffered much--but at the same time, it was often tiresome.
He let stillness settle into him again before replying, as calmly as he could. "If my son were not more than a week overdue, I would hold my peace. As he is, it seems evident that the plan was, indeed, a poor one."
Ishta shifted behind him, the first movement she had made in some time. "We do not know that they are any more than delayed."
"Yet we are here."
"Kar'yn and Rya'c are dear to me," Ishta said, and that Teal'c believed, unfortunately.
"And thus," he said, "you wished to indulge them--"
Shockingly, she cut him off. "Enough! We of the Hak'tyl do not forget our sisters and brothers who still suffer underneath the Goa'uld, no matter what this High Council of yours would prefer." Teal'c bristled--the Council, too, was a point of contention between them--but she continued on without pause. "It was Rya'c who had contacts on this planet from his work with the man you entrusted with his life when he was younger than he is now. It was Kar'yn who remembered that it is not only among the men of the Jaffa that rebellion may be sown, and that at times the subjugated must be shown a weapon in a woman's hand before knowing that they can take up arms themselves. Their plan was neither unwise nor ill-conceived, and I am thankful that your son has learned to judge what is said rather than the form of she who says it!"
"Yet his judgment has led us here," Teal'c said again.
The silence stretched out for five seconds, ten, half a minute, before Ishta said, smooth as a blade coming down, "At times, I am unsurprised that your wife did not return to your bed." And then at last, other than the stream rushing on its way, there was quiet.
When considering the ways in which this day might end, Teal'c had not pictured sitting in a sauna with his son and his daughter-in-law and the woman who, every time he saw her, drove him mad in one way or another.
That was not a complaint. A heated sauna would have been even better, but it would also have been unwise. Whatever Rya'c and Kar'yn believed, they were not vacationing.
"But I do not need you here, Rya'c," Kar'yn was saying, all earnestness. The Hak'tyl preferred a more martial mode of dress, and so it was strange to see her in the long skirt and tunic favored by the Jaffa wives of this town. "If you go, I will gain a great deal of sympathy. And if you stay, you will be expected to go to war soon, as soon as the bridge is rebuilt and the chappa'ai can be reached."
"Where will they think I have gone? We must not arouse suspicion that we are anything but true believers in the Goa'uld."
"Leave a trail to the river." Kar'yn smiled, a teasing note creeping into her voice. "They will think you have swum it to escape from me, and I will curse my untrustworthy, deserting husband for all to hear."
Rya'c leaned in and took one of her hands in his, distressed. "But the plan was not to leave you here alone, and I would be a poor husband if I deserted you." He looked over to where Teal'c sat for just an instant, then, with a tiny flinch, let his gaze slide on past him to Ishta. "Do you not agree?" he asked, resolutely not looking at Teal'c himself.
"You believe that there is enough value in remaining to take the risk, Kar'yn?" Ishta asked.
"It is not desertion if she wishes you to go," Teal'c added, before Kar'yn could speak.
She turned his gaze on him, grateful. "Yes. See, Rya'c, your father is wise. You can return with them on the ship. I will remain until the floods subside, and then come back through the chappa'ai as we planned. This will give me more time with Shasa and Tir'nal, perhaps even enough time to convince others here of the rightness of our cause. These women do not love their chains, I swear, even those who still believe."
"But there is danger in every day you stay here," Rya'c said, stroking his thumb across the back of her hand.
"More importantly," Ishta inserted smoothly, "you have not answered my question, Kar'yn. When we spoke before your departure, your plan was to make contact with the wives of the warriors Rya'c knew, and then set neutral ground for further meetings. Why has your thinking changed?"
Kar'yn looked away, running a finger down the side of the single lantern lighting the room and throwing shadows on the wall. "I can help them on their journey. I am more sure of my path than they are. And they have become friends, I do not wish to leave them--"
"--and I will not abandon Kar'yn--"
"Enough!" Teal'c said, more loudly than he should have. "We are not speaking of the desires of our hearts. We are discussing wise decisions, to be made mindfully, as befits grown warriors."
"And yet you are here," Rya'c said. Then he seemed to hear himself, and looked down, face apologetic. "We did not mean to worry you, father, truly."
"Will you hear me, Kar'yn?" Ishta asked. The younger woman nodded and raised her chin, meeting Ishta's eyes. "Your desire to be of assistance reflects well on you. Have your friends here requested that you stay?"
"I will offer--"
"The answer is no, then. Rya'c, given the choice to remain here with Kar'yn or depart with her, which would you choose?"
"I would trust Kar'yn's judgment," he said promptly, sharing a smile with his wife.
"I am beginning to think Teal'c is correct in some of his concerns," Ishta said. "I do not hear deep thought in this. I would say that Kar'yn should speak with this Shasa, and if she then sees a more specific reason to stay, she can offer it when she and Rya'c join us at the tel'tak tomorrow. Teal'c? Does this seem wise to you?"
Teal'c understood that Kar'yn was one of Ishta's people, inclined to listen to her before any other. And as they could be prickly at times, he had held his peace and his breath, hoping that Ishta would not disagree with him as to the best course of action. It was, thus, a great relief to discover that Ishta had not succumbed to the temptation to coddle them. "It does."
Both of the children protested, but in the end they stepped outside for a moment and came back in united in acquiescence. Or possibly in a plot not to acquiesce--after all, the point of stepping outside had been to converse privately--but Teal'c felt sure that they knew he and Ishta would not leave without them, and hopeful that they would have enough sense not to court trouble by forcing him to return to town in order to fetch them.
He and Ishta had not entered the town until quite late, and so by the time they left the birds were in full song, and the first blue light of dawn was appearing on the horizon. They moved swiftly and silently through the patchwork of fields surrounding the settlement. The effects of haphazard care from Jaffa used to leaving the finer points of agriculture to their lost slaves were obvious, but they were green at least, and Teal'c was briefly tempted by the first strawberries. Dakara had no seasons, but it was clementine time on Earth. He would have to remember to purchase a box when he returned.
Once they had come up the hill and into the forest, Ishta said, "So, it was not necessarily an unwise plan after all."
"I would not say that," Teal'c replied. "Still, I am glad that our fears were unwarranted." He paused for a moment. "And I would be a liar if I said I had never taken such risks."
"Yes," she said, "I know." Teal'c did not do her the dignity of turning to see Ishta's expression, but he could imagine it all the same. She was not afraid of the knife, that one. Speaking of which...
"You understand my concern as well, that the heart can lead one astray. I am not saying that they are not well matched, but they are very young."
"You loved late," Ishta said, not quite a question.
They had spoken of Drey'auc, and evidently Rya'c had as well, for he had not spoken to Ishta about their estrangement at the end. Neither, for that matter, had they spoken of Shau'nac. "I loved when I was Rya'c's age. She was a priestess, and so it was forbidden. I did not court Drey'auc until I was told to marry." She had been much younger, a tumble of dark hair glimpsed across a courtyard, the challenge of a woman who had refused more than one warrior, and Teal'c had needed a wife. She had not welcomed him back into her bed after Fro'tak, but they had made their peace about his leaving by the end, and she had been a good wife for many years.
Drey'auc had never gone to war with him. For the first time in a very long life, as he walked through the woods with Ishta, he thought perhaps that had been a loss. Or at least that his inability to picture it was a loss; she had been home and hearth and mother to his child, and her fierceness had been a point of possessive pride. They had not been... partners. Not in that way. Maybe they could have been, in a different time.
Which was not to say Ishta should have allowed Rya'c and Kar'yn to wander off alone. Still, it was good, if perhaps also strange, that they were together. Not for the first time, Teal'c wished that Drey'auc had lived to see their freedom. She could have come to Dakara, given him counsel--she had always had a talent for cutting through unnecessary worries, and no patience for dithering--
Ishta had held her tongue, and for once, Teal'c felt a need to fill the silence, or maybe it was just a need to make her understand. "I loved her, but she was not as... whole, as she could have been. Now that we are free, things will be different, for Kar'yn, and for Rya'c, and I am glad of it."
It was as much of an apology as he could bring himself to give, or an explanation, at least. He did not pause, or turn, though he was tempted, because it suddenly mattered a great deal to him that Ishta believed him. There was no response for ten strides, and then Ishta sighed, deep and tired.
"I hope that you are right," she said, and they went on down the ravine without speaking, over the stream and into the tel'tak to wait for their children.
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