“Nenniaw, a word?” Cadogan leaned over the porch rail and beckoned to his kinsman, who sat polishing a metal buckle in the late-afternoon sunshine.

The team leader looked up and nodded, laying aside the buckle and cloth. “Certainly.” He gestured toward the neighboring chair. “Please, join me.”

Cadogan mounted the porch steps of Nenniaw and Blodwen’s neat frame house and took a seat. It was a very warm day, and he pulled at the neckline of his short-sleeved blue linen tunic, hoping for a breeze. Normally, weather quite this hot and humid didn’t arrive until a couple of weeks after midsummer, but this year it had appeared somewhat early, as midsummer was still a week away. The cadlywydd suspected that the real reason why today’s heat felt stifling was due to the stillness of the air. He had already rolled up his pantlegs a couple of turns, and as he sat, he slipped off the light sandals he wore. Still, there was no escaping the heat. Dignity be damned; what I’d like most right now is a swim in the river, he commented silently to Sabar.

{I wouldn’t complain,} remarked the symbiote. {It would save me the trouble of trying to keep us comfortable.}

That doesn’t seem to be working so well at the moment.

{That’s because it isn’t. Let’s get this conversation handled and go have that swim. Better yet, why not invite Nenniaw to swim with us, and talk there?}

You try it, and see what happens. Cadogan chuckled inwardly. Nenniaw was far more reserved about such things than the cadlywydd, and both Cadogan and Sabar knew it. You’d think he could unbend enough to come along if we’re going to do it, but he’s a lot more worried about his image than I am about mine.

{You hang about with nice, sensible Tok’ra who have more important things to be concerned with, that’s why. Anyway, forget I asked. Let’s get on with it, then.}

Cadogan watched as Nenniaw ran his fingers through his sandy, sweat-damp hair, then picked up the cloth he’d been using on the buckle and mopped his brow. A man in his mid-forties, just slightly shorter than Cadogan, he had a lean wiriness and a quick — some would say brusque — manner when dealing with subordinates, although he was always cordial with the cadlywydd, who was not only his superior but also his cousin, if at several removes. Nenniaw had been filwriad of the local Am Rhyddid unit in Llanavon for several years, the only officer of that rank in the village until last autumn, when the rebel movement had begun to gather momentum and personnel. Now Llanavon was home to five smaller units of a dozen personnel each, organized as fast strike teams, along with numerous support personnel and some with more specialized functions, such as Tesni. The strike teams were led by Nenniaw, his brother Dynawd, Celyn, Neirin and a woman named Aeronwy. Each held the rank of filwriad, although in Cadogan’s absence, Nenniaw had seniority, as first among equals.

That was what Cadogan had come to talk to him about. Since drawing Neirin into his cadre of local officers last autumn, the cadlywydd had come to realize that the off-worlder possessed certain skills and training that went far beyond that of any Pridanic officer in the movement, in terms of variety of experience if nothing else. He had figured this out over months of spending time with Neirin, getting a feel for how his mind worked without asking too many overt questions, and also by watching him in action, both in training and in the field. As Cadogan had become acquainted with something of the scope of his new friend’s abilities, he had come to rely increasingly upon him as a resource not only for Neirin’s own team, but for at least the Pridanic element of the Am Rhyddid as a whole. Cadogan regularly detailed him to help train officer candidates and even bade him advise otherwise seasoned officers on occasion. Neirin willingly obliged, under the guise of having honed his skills elsewhere in the movement, before being brought to the district surrounding the cadlywydd‘s headquarters at Dinas Coedwyg. No one questioned his cover story, and the local filwriadau in the district were happy to have his assistance.

But Nenniaw, Dynawd and Celyn were among that group of people who knew the cover story for the fiction that it was, and while Cadogan had heard not a whit of complaint from any of them, he had become increasingly aware of how things might appear to them. To Nenniaw in particular, as he had long held the highest position in the Llanavoni contingent and enjoyed his cousin’s confidence. Cadogan wanted to make certain that he did not feel slighted by the position that Neirin had come to occupy in Cadogan’s own orbit, nor by the trust the cadlywydd placed in him. Not that Neirin had in any way eclipsed or supplanted Nenniaw, but the fact that a newcomer had found favor so quickly when compared to Nenniaw’s years of service to the Am Rhyddid was unlikely to go completely unnoticed.

As Cadogan opened his mouth to speak, Nenniaw picked up the buckle again, turning it in his hands. “It seems I’m to have some new tack tomorrow,” he commented. “Aled mentioned to me today at lunch that his wife Glesig has been making straps for some new gadget that Dubric wants to attach to saddles and have us try out — something you told Neirin to have him make? Apparently Neirin said I was to have the first set of whatever it is. I’ll admit I’m intrigued.”

The cadlywydd closed his mouth for a second, nonplussed. {Well, there’s a problem that may be on the way to solving itself,} commented Sabar.

I’ll give Neirin credit; he seems to be a step ahead here, responded Cadogan silently. They were both aware that Neirin knew Nenniaw’s position in Llanavon; had known it since arriving. Clearly, he’d also picked up on the fact that his own meteoric rise to favor in Cadogan’s eyes might have the potential to lead to friction despite none having been visible thus far, and was taking action of his own to head it off.

Aloud, the cadlywydd said, “They’re an invention from his homeworld, meant to make mounting and riding easier. Gwrthaflau, he calls them. He just explained the idea to me a few days ago, and I told him to have several sets made so that we could try them out. It sounds like he’s chosen to give you the first chance at that.” He smiled at Nenniaw. “I didn’t specify; in fact I rather expected the first three to go to Neirin, Gerlad and myself.”

Nenniaw raised an eyebrow. “Aled said that Glesig had been asked to make four sets of straps for these gwrthflau, whatever they are, and make alterations to several saddles.”

Sabar chuckled silently. {Only one step ahead, Cadogan?}

His host responded with a mental chuckle of his own. Clearly not. Neirin’s taken matters into his own hands here. I like to see initiative in my officers.

Nenniaw watched Cadogan’s face with the look that said he could tell that his cousin was conferring with the symbiote. “What’s on Sabar’s mind?”

Cadogan grinned. “Nothing much, except to say that he looks forward to these himself. I think you’ll like them, Nenniaw. You have to admit, Neirin’s had a few good ideas.” He said the last intending it as a probe of the other man’s attitude.

Nenniaw simply nodded. “He has. I wasn’t sure what to make of him when he first showed up, but he’s definitely become an asset.”

There was no trace of jealousy, animosity or anything else untoward in the filwriad’s tone, and Cadogan prepared to dismiss the matter.

The sound of running footsteps reached them, and both men looked up to see Crinan, one of the Am Rhyddid‘s couriers, racing pell-mell down the street toward Bennaeth House. Cadogan rose, leaning over the porch railing to call out, “Crinan, ho! Over here!”

The young man changed direction at a dead run and fairly flew up the porch steps to stop, red-faced and gasping, before the cadlywydd. “Sir,” he panted, in the lilting Alban accent, “I’ve just come from Emhain by way of Caer Ynys. There’s been an attack at Rath Tulach, near the mines at Clachnabein. A force of thirty Jaffa, under the command of what appeared to be a Goa’uld leader — not Bel, thank goodness, but one of his underlings — took control of the fort and executed the mayor of the town and the mine captain.”

Nenniaw looked at Cadogan, alarmed. “Were either the mayor or the captain directly connected with the local Air Sgàth Saorsa* cell?”

The cadlywydd responded, “No, thank goodness,” at the same time Crinan answered, “No, sirs.”

To Cadogan, the courier added, “Cathmhilidh*, the ceannard* Fearghas from the Rath Tulach cell was away in Ros Mor at the time. I was with him, and we found Jaffa in control of the town and the fort upon our return. Fearghas bade me carry the news to you, and so I went to Caer Ynys. Duthac told me to seek you here.”

{I knew things had been too quiet lately,} grumbled Sabar. {The mines on Galla have been producing below capacity all winter, but that’s to be expected there, notwithstanding what we’ve been diverting. What of those on Emhain?}

Rath Tulach is in Emhain’s southern hemisphere. They’ll be entering autumn now, and won’t have the season to blame. But I thought we’d agreed to leave the Clachnabein mine alone for the present, so as not to raise too much suspicion. Cadogan stood, gesturing for Crinan to take his seat. “Nenniaw, get him something to drink, will you?”

The filwriad nodded and disappeared into the house. Cadogan turned back to Crinan. “Bach*, on what grounds were these executions carried out? Do you know?”

The young man swallowed and shook his head. “I’ve no idea, cathmhilidh. Almost as soon as the ceannard learned of them, and of the Jaffa presence, he sent me off to report the news. Duthac and Sefys have called a meeting at Caer Ynys, and sent me on to tell you.”

Nenniaw reappeared with a cup of water for Crinan, who took it gratefully. Turning to Cadogan, he asked, “I assume this means you’ll be going to Caer Ynys straightaway?”

Cadogan nodded once. “Gerlad and I will leave within the half-hour. While we’re gone, you’re to call a meeting of the local filwriadau and alert them and their units. Send someone to Dinas Coedwyg with the news as well, and my orders placing them on full alert. If things are heating up on Emhain, I want us to be prepared here, in case this is only the first move in a larger plan. Oh, and double — no, triple — the guard at the chappa-ai. If we do get an invasion force of Jaffa by that route, I’d like to at least have the chance of their not getting beyond the compass circle.”

Crinan spoke up again. “Cathmhilidh, shall I go with you to Caer Ynys?”

The cadlywydd patted the courier’s shoulder. “No, bach; you’ve done your duty for the moment. Stay here and bear witness to what happened when the filwriadau meet, and then if you will, you may repeat it in Dinas Coedwyg. After that, it may be best for you to remain on Tir Awyr until we have a better idea what’s happening. Unless Fearghas needed you back right away?”

“No, sir.”

“Fine; then you’ll remain here for now. Also, did the Air Sgàth Saorsa take any action against the Jaffa?”

“No, sir; none while Fearghas and I were away, and on his return, Fearghas felt it best to await your orders. For now, they are simply keeping an eye on the situation.”

“That’s probably best, as I doubt we have enough personnel and resources in place at the moment to oust them if they have control of the fort.” Cadogan abruptly slammed a fist against the porch railing, cursing in Tok’ra. “Mai’tac! I knew something like this was probably coming, but Emhain was the last place I expected it to begin.”