It is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for the purposes of spying, and thereby they achieve great results. — Sun Tzu, The Art of War


Cadogan and Gerlad stepped through the chappa’ai, exiting a moment later into the welcome coolness of Caer Ynys. Ah, that’s much better, Cadogan commented, in a relieved tone. The temperature within the Tok’bel base was markedly more comfortable than the sweltering heat wave that Llanavon was experiencing. Next to them, Gerlad mopped his brow with a handkerchief.

{Indeed it is,} agreed Sabar. {All in all, though, I wasn’t so desperate to cool down that I wanted to have to come here and deal with a crisis. I’d still have rather had that swim.}

Sefys was present in the arrival chamber, and inclined his head in greeting. {“I took the liberty of calling a meeting as soon as Crinan reported what occurred on Emhain,”} the Tok’bel second informed him. {“I have also taken steps to make contact with our operatives among Bel’s court and his military.”} The Tok’bel had infiltrated Bel’s hierarchy decades earlier, and currently had several operatives in deep cover at various levels, including one or two quite close to the Goa’uld lord and functioning on occasion as advisors.

Cadogan nodded, ceding control to Sabar, who said, {“Have you had word from any of them?”}

{“Not yet, although our messengers only went out perhaps two hours ago. I imagine it may take some time.”} Sefys fell in beside Sabar as the Tok’bel leader began striding down the tunnel that led toward his quarters, Gerlad following a step or two behind. {“I’ve also sent messengers to Arverenem, Galla and Bohan to contact Tok’bel on those worlds and recall them for this meeting. I expect we should see arrivals beginning sometime in the next hour.”}

{“Very well,”} said Sabar. {“We’ll convene when enough have arrived so that details should only need to be gone over once or twice. Make it two more hours, I’d say. In the meantime, I’m going to have a bath and then review recent intelligence reports. If any of our deep cover operatives should arrive or send word, come and get me immediately.”}


Cromwell fidgeted uncomfortably as a drop of sweat traced a path between his shoulderblades. He reached for the mug of water that rested before him on the table and drank, glancing around at the flushed faces of the others in attendance. Having been alerted by Ris, whom Nenniaw sent as a runner to gather the filwriadau, Cromwell had left off writing that week’s unit report and hastened to meet with Nenniaw and his other fellow officers to hear Crinan’s account of what had transpired on Emhain. They were not the only ones in attendance; word spread that something dire had occurred and by the time Nenniaw convened the meeting, Tesni and a number of other local personnel had gathered as well.

The first table was occupied by officers: Cromwell himself, Dynawd, Celyn, Aeronwy and Nenniaw listened as Crinan addressed those gathered. The young man fairly paced in the open space at one end of the communal dining shelter where the meeting had convened, recounting the events that had unfolded on Emhain. A table away, Tesni sat with Idris and Anwen. Cromwell caught her eye, saw the concern with which she absorbed Crinan’s account. It was likewise mirrored in her brother’s expression; Idris listened gravely as the courier told his tale.

As Crinan concluded, Aeronwy spoke up. She was a tall woman of about forty, dark-haired and grey-eyed, with a quick mind and a direct manner. Originally from Bren Argoed, she had come to Llanavon in the first influx of additional personnel that had followed the Jaffa attack not quite a year ago, and had been placed in charge of a strike unit around the same time as Cromwell had been put in charge of his own rebel team. Addressing Nenniaw, she asked, “What are our plans should a similar force of Jaffa and Goa’uld come here intent on the same sort of thing we just heard about?”

The senior filwriad cleared his throat. “Well, for one thing, we should have far more warning than they had on Emhain. The cadlywydd has ordered the number of personnel on guard at the compass circle tripled, from six to eighteen, and I’ve added two runners as well. If a force does come through the gate, the guard might have their hands full, but the runners will bring warning to us here and also to Dinas Coedwyg. We won’t be caught unaware.”

Aeronwy nodded, satisfied for the moment. Cromwell held up a hand. Nenniaw turned to him. “Neirin?”

“Do we know for sure whether the Goa’uld on Emhain are aware of the existence of a local rebel group? Is there any chance this could be related to that knowledge, or conversely, that they may in fact be unaware and that this attack came about for some other purpose entirely?”

Nenniaw turned to Crinan with a questioning look. The young man cleared his throat and spoke to Cromwell directly. “Sir, I couldn’t say for certain, but based on what I was told by eyewitnesses, there were several local officers of the Air Sgàth Saorsa near the front of the crowd when the townspeople were ordered to gather and watch the executions. Yet none of the invaders even so much as glanced at them.”

The colonel absorbed this. “Uh-huh,” he said. Turning back to Nenniaw, he asked, “That almost makes me think they had no knowledge of the presence of rebels in the settlement. What I worry is that finding a large armed contingent on guard at the stargate could serve to alert anyone coming through that there is something to be concerned about here. We could be tipping them off to our presence when they might otherwise be ignorant of it.”

Nenniaw shook his head. “I suspect they already know something is up here on Tir Awyr. Remember, we kept sixteen Jaffa, and whatever they’d been sent to obtain, from getting back to Bel last year. That alone is enough to tell him that his forces met with resistance.”

“True. Then again, in that case, why has there been no retaliation against us here? Other than the scheduled tribute days, we haven’t seen so much as a single Jaffa, and the ones who did come to collect tribute acted like there was nothing out of the ordinary.” Cromwell remembered the two occasions, built into the Pridanic calendar as holy days when offerings were made, upon which a small force of Jaffa had appeared and accepted tribute with much ceremony, bearing loads of naquadah ore and other items away through the stargate. On those two days, the guard contingent placed in the compass circle had been altered slightly in number and composition so as to appear to be nothing more than the ceremonial honor guard that had always been on hand to welcome the servants of their god. Both times, the Jaffa had come, led by Setak, Bel’s First Prime, accepting the “offerings” in the name of their lord, and then bearing them away without even a hint that they suspected anything untoward. Cadogan and Sabar had insisted that appearances of normalcy be kept up as long as possible so as to defuse any suspicions on the part of Bel or his people, but Cromwell was more than a little surprised that the tactic had worked. Based on what Cadogan had told him privately, the cadlywydd was a bit surprised as well.

“That’s a very good question, and I intend to bring it up with Cadogan when he returns, but for the moment we’ll keep an augmented guard at the gate. You may wish to bring up your own concerns with him as well, and I’ll be interested to hear his response,” Nenniaw told him, nodding. Glancing up and down the table, he asked his officers, “Does anyone else have questions?” There were none, and he turned to the rest of the assemblage. “Anyone else?” A chorus of mutterings met his words, but no one spoke up.

The meeting adjourned a few moments later, with instructions for all personnel not scheduled for guard duty to remain on alert. Nenniaw expected Cadogan back sometime in the evening, he said, and would likely convene another meeting of his officers at that time, to provide updates.

Nenniaw sent Celyn off to Dinas Coedwyg with Crinan, to repeat there essentially the same meeting that had just concluded. The remainder of the Llanavoni contingent filtered out of the dining shelter in threes and fours, conversing quietly. Tesni came to join Cromwell as he finished giving some instructions to Armagil and sent the young man off to complete his assigned tasks.

“Something just doesn’t feel right about this whole thing,” she murmured.

“You’re telling me,” he agreed. “I hope your uncle is able to bring more information when he comes back from Caer Ynys. The situation just doesn’t make sense. Why would almost three dozen Jaffa and a Goa’uld show up on Emhain out of the blue, execute two people with no reason given, and then hunker down in place, doing nothing? And why would the disappearance of twenty-six Jaffa here almost a year ago cause no discernible reaction? Something very strange is going on.”


Sabar looked up and down the table at the assembled Tok’bel operatives. {“Say that again,”} he said to the tall, swarthy figure who had spoken.

A little more than two hours after his arrival at Caer Ynys, the Tok’bel leader had convened a meeting of all the operatives who had thus far returned to the base, including those who had come from the Celtic worlds of Arverenem and Galla. Perhaps the most surprising attendees, however, were two operatives from Bohan who had not been to Caer Ynys personally in quite some time. Sholan and Jiru had spent years deep undercover in Bel’s inner circle, beginning under the guise of minor functionaries and rising to the point where each now served on occasion as an advisor to the Goa’uld lord. They would return to their cover identities and positions upon the conclusion of this meeting. Sabar knew he was fortunate that his messenger Talar — also under cover of a secret identity by which he was known to the Goa’uld in Bel’s domain and therefore able to move more or less freely among them — had been able to make contact with the pair so quickly, and that they had been able to slip away to Caer Ynys for a few hours.

Sholan shook his head. {“I’m serious. Bel believes the rebel movement to be defunct. Moreover, he believes it has been that way for several years. Our disinformation campaign has been more successful than we’d expected.”}

{“Then who does he blame for the sabotage of six ships at Galla last year?”} Sabar wanted to know.

Jiru fielded the question. {“Bel does have enemies among the Goa’uld. He believes that one or more of them may be working against him, desirous of taking over his territory. Possibly his captor from the time of the Interregnum, or at least an ally, but he also suspects one of his own offspring. Enough of them briefly ruled their own little fiefdoms around that time, after all, and he fears that one or more of them may have designs on regaining old territory, or possibly his entire domain.”}

Sabar gave Jiru an appreciative look. {“You planted that idea in his mind to deflect suspicion from us?”}

Jiru shook his head. {“No, the idea is all his own. We simply played upon it and encouraged it.”}

{“Either way, I’m impressed.”}

Sholan spoke again. {“Bel is rather… untrusting when it comes to certain other Goa’uld. More than most, I would say. It is merely fortunate that we’ve been able to turn that to our own purposes.”}

{“Highly fortunate, I’d say,”} Sabar agreed. {“At the very least, it explains why the force that went to Emhain appears completely oblivious to the presence of the local rebels at Rath Tulach. Who is the Goa’uld in charge of them, and for what purpose was the attack carried out?”}

Sholan’s expression grew concerned. {“I have no information regarding that at all, I’m sorry to say. Until our messenger contacted me, I was completely unaware of such an occurrence.”}

He glanced at Jiru, who shrugged. {“Nor was I aware of it,”} stated the other operative.

Sabar drummed fingers on the table, a habit he’d picked up from his host. {“See what you can find out,”} he said. {“I’ll have Talar remain on Bohan, in the city outside of Bel’s palace, so that you may contact him when you know something.”} Bohan was the world where Bel had made his home since returning to reclaim the Five Worlds not quite three centuries previously, after a five-hundred year absence that was still not fully explained.

Sholan and Jiru inclined their heads. {“As you wish,”} Sholan intoned, echoed by his colleague.

{“One more thing, while I have you here,”} said Sabar. {“What can you tell me of Bel’s reaction to the loss of twenty-six Jaffa on Tir Awyr last year?”}

His operatives shared another confused look. Jiru turned to Sabar. {“We have no knowledge of that event. Perhaps you could enlighten us?”}

All right, now I’m confused, Cadogan commented silently.

{It isn’t just you,} his symbiote told him. Aloud, Sabar said, {“Nearly eleven months ago by Tir Awyr’s calendar, twenty-six Jaffa came through the chappa’ai. They broke into squads, with some attempting to abduct children and youth from at least one nearby village while a group of eight headed for the mines. Am Rhyddid forces engaged them, and all twenty-six were neutralized. Are you telling me that this escaped Bel’s notice, or merely yours?”}

Sholan spread his hands, his expression baffled. {“Forgive me, Sabar, but I truly have had no information on any of this. How certain are you that they were actually Bel’s Jaffa?”}

{“They were marked with the sign of the ram’s horns upon their foreheads, and wore the armor of the ram. If they were not in service to Bel, then they were cleverly disguised to appear as though they were.”} Sabar stood, leaning forward with his hands upon the table. {“Who else might they have served, if not Bel himself?”}

Sholan looked uncomfortable. {“It appears that Bel’s concern with regard to a rival may not be entirely without foundation.”}

Sabar fixed him with an intense look. {“Go on,”} he invited.

Sholan’s discomfort increased visibly. {“You understand that until now this was only rumor, with virtually nothing to support or confirm it, but Bel’s suspicions center on one potential rival in particular: Lord Moccas, one of his own offspring. Moccas held Arverenem briefly after the coup that deposed Bel nearly eight centuries ago and brought about the Interregnum. Rumor has it that after abandoning Arverenem, he attached himself to the court of another low-level Goa’uld lord and found favor there, hoping to be given control of more than one or two planets of his own. Supposedly, he has not been given the sort of holdings he feels he deserves, and has turned a jealous eye toward his father’s domain. This was the rumor which formed the basis for our disinformation project, in which we deflected blame for recent blows against Bel away from our own movement and onto an external enemy… but we honestly thought it no more than baseless gossip, fueled by Bel’s own distrust of his offspring since the coup.”}

{“And now?”}

Jiru added his own thoughts. {“Moccas is said to have his own corps of loyal Jaffa, and may well have the means to mount small incursions into Bel’s territory, but until now we didn’t think he had the motivation. Perhaps we were wrong.”}

Sabar took his seat again. {“So you’re suggesting that the Jaffa we killed on Tir Awyr may not have been Bel’s at all?”}

Sholan nodded. {“It would explain why no one close to Bel was aware of the loss of any Jaffa in action.”}

{“Hmmm. I suppose their armor could have been altered, and their tattoos as well, to make it appear as though they were in Bel’s service.”} The Tok’bel leader’s expression turned thoughtful. {“If Moccas has his own people operating right under Bel’s nose, that could even explain what’s happening on Emhain. The question then becomes: what do we do about it, and is there a way to turn it to our advantage against Bel without running the risk of any of the Five Worlds actually falling under Moccas’ control?”} It was a longstanding tactic of the Tok’ra to play one Goa’uld against another, as a means to preventing any of them from gaining too much power. While Sabar had long ago grown tired of this as a primary means of action against their enemy, he nevertheless understood that it could be a useful tool in the fight to wrest control of the Celtic worlds from their overlord. If Bel and Moccas could be made to weaken one another, it might be possible for the Am Rhyddid and the Tok’bel to defeat both.

He outlined this thought process to his operatives. {“I want to investigate this possibility as fully as we can,”} he instructed them. {“We may have just discovered the weapon we need.”}