Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. — Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The first thing Cadogan felt upon exiting the chappa’ai was the sting of rain whipped by strong winds. At least it wasn’t a blizzard, he mused. He’d visited Emhain’s Dardin district often enough in deep winter to have developed a marked distaste for the harshness of its seasonal storms.

{Not that this rain is going to be much better,} observed Sabar silently.

No, but I’m still glad we’re doing this in autumn rain instead of knee-deep snow, Cadogan replied. As long as the roads aren’t too muddy, I won’t complain. A month from now, it might have been a different story. Emhain’s year was slightly longer than Tir Awyr’s, resulting in correspondingly longer seasons. The difference was pleasant from mid-spring to late autumn, but at Dardin’s latitude the winters could seem interminable to anyone who hadn’t been born and raised here.

They heard the event horizon sizzle out of existence, and Gerlad quietly took up station beside them as Cadogan glanced about the small flagstoned plaza surrounding the chappa’ai. Seven Pridanic rebels were ranged about its perimeter, scanning the landscape with weapons at the ready. The eighth was just completing a circuit of the plaza, the hood of his cloak pushed back despite the rain to reveal close-cropped steel-gray hair.

“Look sharp,” barked Neirin to his men. “Just because we don’t know there are Jaffa nearby, that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be.”

A chorus of voices responded smartly. “Yes, sir.”

The filwriad nodded as he approached Cadogan and Gerlad, who had stopped next to the ta’khet that occupied a pedestal in the plaza’s center. “We’ve secured the area,” he reported. “But I don’t mind telling you I’ll be a lot happier once we get away from the gate and on the road to Rath Tulach. Ceannard Fearghas is expecting us this afternoon, isn’t he?”

“That’s what Sefys and Duthac arranged.” Cadogan pulled at the hood of his own cloak as the wind threatened to rip it from his head entirely. All of them were getting soaked, and from the look of the sky, the rain wouldn’t be letting up anytime soon. “No sense hanging about here. Let’s get on with it.”

In good weather, it was perhaps an hour’s march from the chappa’ai to Rath Tulach, the fortified town that had been briefly and mysteriously occupied by a small force of Jaffa three months ago, under the command of an unknown Goa’uld leader possibly allied with Lord Moccas, one of Bel’s own sons who appeared to have designs on his father’s territory. In today’s waterlogged conditions it took significantly longer, but at last they arrived at the fort and were received into warmth and dryness.

The smells of wet wool and hot mulled ale filled the room where the visitors from Tir Awyr had been taken. Gerlad bustled off to confer with one of Fearghas’ officers, and Cadogan spread his own cloak next to his aide’s on a drying rack beside the broad hearth on which blazed a roaring fire. As he moved to rub his hands together before the flames, Neirin approached him with two mugs of ale. Cadogan took one and thanked him, wrapping chill fingers around the vessel’s warm surface.

The filwriad grunted acknowledgment, applying himself to his own restorative mug. He then stared at the fire for a moment before turning to his commander, his face thoughtful. “Now that we have members of the rebellion in position here as the mayor and the mine captain, what do you think are the chances we can begin to make a real difference for the Emhaini Albannu?” The Jaffa strike force had executed both the previous mayor and the mine captain for reasons that still weren’t clear, although privately Cadogan suspected it had been merely a show of force, a suspicion with which Sabar concurred. Whatever the original intent, however, the executions had provided the Am Rhyddid — or the Air Sgàth Saorsa, as the rebel movement was known in the Alban tongue in use on Emhain — with the opportunity to fill both positions with individuals who were committed to the cause of freedom.

“Fairly good, I’d say,” replied Cadogan. “It’ll take time, of course. We’ll have to move very slowly and subtly, so as to avoid any of Bel’s officials taking notice, or Bel himself. And then there are Bel’s Jaffa, who aren’t exactly dim either. But we should be able to divert some of the mines’ output to our own cause, and we may find ways to place the blame on Moccas for certain things.”

“Everything takes time, Cadogan. I understand that.” Neirin took another sip from his mug, turning once more to watch the flames crackle and leap. When he spoke again after a moment, there was a note in his voice that the cadlywydd felt hard-pressed to identify. “I’ve had to wait for things often enough in my life, and some of them were pretty important.” His face was in profile, but Cadogan thought he caught a shadow passing over his friend’s eyes. It was gone in an instant, leaving something else in its wake. “At least they were important to me,” Neirin continued, more softly this time. “This is important to a lot more people, though.”

“That’s why we’re here.” The cadlywydd reached out to clasp Neirin’s shoulder. The other man didn’t pull away, the way he sometimes had early on in his time among them, before he’d grown accustomed to Pridanic ways which included touch as a matter of course in conversation. By now, it was hard to tell that Neirin was anything other than a Pridano born and bred. His accent, never strong to begin with, had long since disappeared and he appeared to have adjusted his body language to match. While still somewhat less gregarious and open than most Pridani, the difference was minor and left him only slightly removed from the average. Cadogan still occasionally wondered about his friend’s mysterious origins and past, while at the same time he marveled over the monumental effort it must have taken for Neirin to adapt so completely to his new role and the culture in which he found himself.

From the corner of his eye, Cadogan noticed motion at the doorway. Turning his attention in that direction, he saw Gerlad enter the room, accompanied by ceannard Fearghas, leader of the Rath Tulach rebel cell. Fearghas was a stocky man of perhaps forty or so, with dark hair and pale gray eyes. He moved like a cat, quickly and fluidly; as though any obstacle his environment presented were little more than a minor annoyance, a futile challenge which he sidestepped without ever seeming to deviate from his course.

Obviously spying Cadogan speaking with Neirin before the fireplace, Gerlad and Fearghas approached them. “Greetings, cathmhilidh,” said Ferghas in Pridanic laced with a mild Alban brogue, using his own tongue’s translation of Cadogan’s title. “And to you, too…?” he continued, turning to Neirin.

Cadogan introduced them. “Fearghas, this is filwriad Neirin ab Owein, whose Black Wolves accompanied me today.” Y bleiddiau du was the name Neirin’s men had come to call themselves over the past year, in keeping with the local tradition of each team adopting a name they felt was descriptive of them, or inspired them in their duties. Their leader had seemed mildly amused by this at first, or perhaps by his men’s choice, but there was no disputing the fact that the Wolves were one of the most accomplished Am Rhyddid units in the Dinas Coedwyg district, relative to the short time they’d been in existence.

Fearghas clasped arms with Neirin in the standard warrior’s greeting. “Well met, Neirin. Welcome to Rath Tulach.”

“Well met, Fearghas, and thank you.” Neirin inclined his head slightly in the customary half-nod that accompanied Pridanic greetings.

Fearghas turned back to Cadogan. “Our latest intelligence is that the increase in Jaffa guards at the mines has tapered off, and the mines are now guarded at nearly the same level as before the recent incident,” he said without further preamble. “Seoltach, our captain of the mines, thinks we can begin diversion of ore sometime this winter, when production has slowed and the guard are generally reduced even more.”

As Fearghas spoke, they moved toward the long table around which Neirin’s Wolves had arranged themselves, sipping at mulled ale and enjoying the warmth of the fortress after their chilly, damp trek from the chappa’ai. Relaxed but alert, they watched as their leader approached with Gerlad, Cadogan and the ceannard. Armagil, newly promoted to rhaglaw and placed second in command under his filwriad, sat nearest to the fire. From the look on the younger man’s face, he had been listening to the entire conversation. Armagil had extraordinarily sharp ears, and Cadogan didn’t doubt that he’d caught most of what his superiors had said thus far.

“Won’t that be noticed and lead to the miners being punished?” Neirin wore a look of concern as he asked the question, and Cadogan knew it was twin to his own expression.

“Domhnall and I were discussing that while we waited for Fearghas,” put in Gerlad. “According to him, Seoltach has already arranged for some adjustments to be made to both strength and scheduling of the mining crews in order to cover up the diversions. They’ll be slight, but enough to maintain production at a level that will allow the rebellion to absorb a share of the mines’ output while still providing Bel with enough naquadah to avoid the appearance of anything unusual.”

Fearghas nodded. “Gerlad’s right. Seoltach is Domhnall’s brother-in-law, and half his family works in the mines, as do most of Domhnall’s own kin. The majority of the work gangs there are led by one or another of their folk, and they’ve got this all figured out. I don’t expect we’ll run afoul of Bel or his underlings on account of output.”

“Fair enough,” acknowledged Cadogan. “Your people here are certainly more familiar with the local situation than we are.” He set his empty mug on the table and reached for a large covered pitcher that wore a quilted jacket. The spicy scent of hot ale rose as he poured. “I was under the impression you’d called me here to discuss more than your miners’ workload, though. What else did you have in mind to tell me?”

Fearghas chuckled as he picked up an empty mug for himself and plied the pitcher Cadogan had set down, topping off Neirin’s and Gerlad’s mugs and then filling his own. “You’re aware that Bel’s operation doesn’t just transport ore offworld in its raw state, of course. There’s a facility for preliminary processing at Doireglas, just downriver from Clachnabein, where the largest mine is situated.” He glanced at Cadogan as if seeking confirmation that the cadlywydd recalled these facts.

Cadogan gave a nod. “Yes, I’ve been there.” He turned and commented to Neirin, “It isn’t more than a couple of miles upriver from here.”

The ceannard grinned. “Well, since Rath Tulach and the Clachnabein mines have come under new management recently, we’ve decided it’s time the facility at Doireglas had a similar change. That’s where your man Neirin and his Wolves come in, if they’ll take the mission. It’s probably better that someone other than locals do the job, to keep familiar faces unconnected with the operation. That way, Bel’s officials will be far less likely to hold our people in suspicion when we go to place some of our own folk in charge afterward. At present, we have them convinced that everyone hereabouts is completely loyal to Bel, and we aim to keep them thinking that for as long as possible.”

Cadogan saw Neirin raise an eyebrow as the ceannard mentioned him and the Wolves, though he said nothing, deferring instead to his commander. Cadogan knew that Neirin trusted him. It was a mutual trust; Neirin would no more fail him on a mission than Cadogan would willingly send him and his team on a fool’s errand. Both men had long since taken each other’s measure and knew what to expect. Cadogan shot Neirin a look that said, ‘The choice to take this mission or not is yours, but I want to know more before anyone decides anything.’ A nearly imperceptible nod of the filwriad’s head let him know the message had been received and understood.

This wasn’t a discussion to have in front of the Wolves, however. Laying a hand on Fearghas’ shoulder, the cadlywydd steered him away from the table. Still silent, Neirin kept pace a mere step from his commander’s side, while Gerlad took up station on the other side of the Emhaini ceannard. Making for an empty table at the far corner of the room, Cadogan waited until they were out of range of even Armagil’s sharp hearing before addressing Fearghas. “Before I’ll commit personnel to this operation, I’ll need to know the exact details.”

Fearghas nodded as they reached the vacant table. “Naturally.” He set his cup down and slid into a chair as his visitors did likewise. Fixing Cadogan with an earnest gaze, he continued, “To be honest, there are a couple of ways we can do this, and I was hoping to get your opinion on the best method out of the ones we’ve come up with.”

Cadogan made no comment beyond a raised eyebrow as Gerlad took up the discussion. “Cadlywydd, Fearghas tells me his craftsmen have managed to reproduce Jaffa armor in secret. They’ve made only a few suits of it, but the thought was to perhaps use it to disguise some of our own warriors for this mission, or for others in the future. Some of his men are fluent in Goa’uld speech, and as long as they wear the armor of Jaffa, could likely pass among them undetected.”

{Now this is an interesting idea,} Sabar noted to his host. {That would only remain the case until they encountered Goa’uld, though, since adults can detect the presence of even immature symbiotes.}

True, allowed Cadogan. Still, in a place like Clachnabein or Doireglas, often only Jaffa are present anyway, along with human slaves. Bel doesn’t seem to station his Goa’uld functionaries in places like that on a regular basis. That only happens on Galla, and as far as I can tell, only because the shipyards are there.

Glancing up, he noticed his companions watching him silently, clearly aware that he was in conversation with the Tok’bel symbiote. “Sabar finds the idea intriguing, and so do I. How many suits of the armor do you have available?”

“At present, six,” Ferghas told him, grinning. “My people have been busy.”

“It certainly sounds that way,” Neirin commented. “The Jaffa who raided Rath Tulach this summer — did they wear the same armor as Bel’s own Jaffa?”

The ceannard gave another nod. “Yes, they wore the Ram’s helm, just as we’ve always seen. And when they showed their faces, they bore the sign of the Ram on their foreheads. We all thought they were Bel’s forces until Sefys and Duthac later informed us that Sabar was certain they must belong to Lord Moccas.” Fearghas inclined his head in Cadogan’s direction. Sefys’ host Duthac, of course, was Emhaini himself and often chose to serve as the direct liaison between the Tok’bel and his homeworld’s rebels.

Cadogan spoke again. “Let me make sure I understand your plan. You want to send in six of your men, disguised as Jaffa, to start a fight with Bel’s Jaffa in the hope that Moccas will be blamed?”

Fearghas grinned again. “Yes, and then a mixed force made up mostly of your Black Wolves” — a nod in Neirin’s direction — “and a few of our own fighters will strategically battle the ‘invaders’ so as to appear loyal followers of Bel. In the course of action, they should manage along with the disguised men to kill off those among the Doireglas administrators who are true loyalists. With luck we can then replace those individuals with people who support our cause, as was done with both the mayor of Rath Tulach and the captain of the Clachnabein mines. The confusion of ‘foreign’ Jaffa, unfamiliar human fighters and general mayhem should be enough to throw off any suspicion of organized rebellion among the local population. The Wolves will of course disappear afterward, while our own people will claim no knowledge of who they were or where they came from, suggesting that Bel may in fact have more loyal followers than were previously known. Our people will pretend gratitude toward these ‘loyal minions’ afterward.”

Neirin spoke again, his voice gruff. “What did you plan to do with the false Jaffa? They’d have to at least appear to be killed, and I don’t like the idea of risking your own men that way.”

Fearghas spread his hands. “I’ll admit, that’s the part I’m still working on. We haven’t settled on a firm timeframe to stage all of this anyway. Today was meant merely as a first meeting to assess our options and present them to the cathmhilidh and whomever he saw fit to include when I passed the message that a highly-skilled team from offworld would be needed.”


All eyes turned to Gerlad, who had spoken the single word. “Zat’nik’tels,” he said, gesturing. “One shot stuns, but in the confusion it would seem as though they’d been killed. We could arm our fighters with zat’nik’tels for the battle.”

“They’ll have to look as though they don’t really know how to use them, though,” cautioned Cadogan. “And be able to explain where they got them.”

Gerlad nodded, looking thoughtful. “I know. But I’m sure we can come up with some explanation. If our men showed up initially with just human weapons and kept the zats hidden until later in the fight, they could probably claim to have found them on Jaffa corpses in the confusion.”

“And in the meantime, the ones in disguise are being shot at with staff weapons and possibly shot twice with zats by Bel’s own Jaffa,” said Neirin darkly.

Cadogan attempted to soothe the filwriad. “That’s a possibility in any action, Neirin,” he reminded his friend. “The armor will provide some protection in any case, and —”

The cadlywydd’s words were interrupted by a loud crash from the far end of the room. Turning to look, he saw the door through which they’d all entered bounce back from the wall against which it appeared to have been flung by the figure who now sprinted across the chamber to stop, panting, before Fearghas. Out of the corner of his eye, Cadogan saw the Wolves rise almost as one from the table about which they had been lounging just a moment ago. His gaze flicked toward Neirin again and he saw the filwriad make a subtle staying gesture in his men’s direction. An instant later, Armagil’s voice could be heard ordering the Wolves to hold.

The man who had entered drew a sobbing breath, followed by another. Finally regaining control over his lungs, he delivered his report. “Your pardon, ceannard Fearghas, but we’ve just had word that there are Jaffa fighting Jaffa at the processing facility.”

{Wait, what? At Doireglas?} Sabar asked silently.

Cadogan opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off by Fearghas, who had a different question. “Do they all wear the sign of the Ram, or are there more than one group?”

The young man before them shook his head. “All wear the Ram’s horns, but it appears to be a pitched battle, and the leader of the Jaffa garrisoned at Doireglas was heard to swear an oath against Moccas.”

The ceannard rose to his feet as the messenger finished. “It sounds as if Lord Moccas has decided to do a portion of our work for us,” he said, glancing about at Neirin, Cadogan and Gerlad. “The question now is how we can use this to our advantage.”