Consult duty, not events. — Walter Savage Landor


Cromwell mounted the steps of the community building that housed local staff offices of the rebellion, pausing to knock snow off his boots before entering. A fresh blanket of white had greeted him and his Black Wolves that morning as they’d gathered for drill. All through the session, he’d kept expecting to hear some muttered comment from Coll ab Eudef in reference to the weather, their exercises or some other item on the lanky redhead’s personal agenda, which changed daily. By now having grown accustomed to the relaxed discipline of the Am Rhyddid compared to that in the U.S. Air Force, Cromwell had long since taken to outwardly ignoring Coll’s gripes, often while laboring to hide a smile he still couldn’t help but feel was inappropriate on the part of a unit commander, no matter how amusing he might personally find his subordinate’s remarks. He often wondered if this were how Colonel Fielding had felt about Jack O’Neill’s penchant for warped humor during their time with his unit back in the mid-Eighties. He could sympathize with his former CO even more strongly now.

But Coll was absent today and had been for the entire week, along with Brioc ap Edar. The two of them had been part of the current rotation of workers who’d gone to labor in the naquadah mines some twenty klicks north of Llanavon, and were due back later this afternoon.

Bel demanded that his slaves work the naquadah mines, of course. On Tir Awyr, there were several active and inactive or exhausted naquadah mines scattered across the continent on which the planet’s Stargate was located, each surrounded at a moderate distance by Pridanic or Alban settlements. The largest active mine was situated some miles north of the stargate, placing it perhaps twelve miles or so from Llanavon. The Pridani rotated work crews so that mining wouldn’t completely wear down any of their people, and Bel’s underlings and Jaffa didn’t particularly care as long as the naquadah ore got mined in adequate quantities. Mining crewmembers generally only worked for one or two weeks in a rotation, although they might do multiple rotations per year. Most Pridani or Albannu who lived within a 30-mile radius of a naquadah mine worked at least one rotation per year, although neither group sent anyone under the age of eighteen on the work crews.

Cromwell had taken a turn in the mines himself on two occasions, and had to admit he wasn’t looking forward to his next. He was by no means claustrophobic, but he still had memories of an uncomfortable time spent exploring and getting lost in a deep cave system as a very young boy. His older brother Nick had been present and gotten them both out without incident, but Cromwell had little interest in spending more time underground than he had to. He’d since seen the inside of his share of shallower caves as an outdoorsy youth and in a military career that had often sent him on black ops into tricky territory. As far as he was concerned, that was plenty for him.

Satisfied that he wouldn’t be tracking snow through the building, he made his way inside, angling toward the fireplace in the main hall and the steaming kettle that hung near the flames. A cup of tea would be just the thing to counter the chill of the wintry air before he retreated to his office to complete the week’s reports. At least there’s a lot less paperwork with this outfit than I had on Earth with the 121st, he reflected. The chain of command here went just one step above him, to Cadogan, and anything needing to be shared with other units or the quartermaster’s office went via Gerlad or direct from Cadogan himself.

It was all so simple here. He could have done his paperwork at home, using the writing desk he kept in the corner of the cottage he and Tesni shared, but he’d been assigned an office here when he’d accepted command of the Wolves, and he figured he might as well use it at least some of the time. Besides, if any of his men or his fellow team leaders wished to speak with him, keeping some semblance of regular office hours was helpful. He’d lately taken to spending a couple of hours there each day immediately before or after drill; outside of those hours, he knew he was easy enough to find either at home, at Bennaeth Bod, or at work on any of the myriad communal chores and activities shared by all of the village’s inhabitants.

He’d barely gotten settled in his office with his tea — I still wish this planet had coffee, he mused — after having exchanged a few perfunctory words with the commanders of two of the other local units, when there came a knock on the doorframe. He looked up to find Brioc there, looking haggard. Rock dust and melting snow matted his brown hair, and there were dark circles beneath his eyes.

Filwriad, I’ve just come from the mines, and we have a problem,” the younger man said without preamble.

Cromwell tried to quell the sinking feeling in his gut. “What is it?”

“Coll’s been jailed. He’s being held under Jaffa guard.”




Sholan pressed the final glyph on the ta’khet and watched as the event horizon formed with a kawoosh before settling into the familiar rippling surface that indicated a stable wormhole. Turning, he motioned his mixed Goa’uld and Jaffa troops forward toward the chappa’ai. Their visits to Emhain and then to Galla had been fairly routine… and thoroughly sickening, if Sholan admitted his innermost reaction. Not that he would ever let that reaction prevent his carrying out his duty; he was far too experienced in undercover operations for that. Still, the visceral reaction persisted — aided and amplified, no doubt, by that of his host.

Emhain had offered its own discomforts for them both, but addressing the population of Galla’s largest mining district as ‘General Kasol’s’ Goa’uld officers and the Jaffa under their purview went from house to house rounding up stragglers who had demonstrated insufficient alacrity in gathering to attend the emissary of their god had been the most difficult for Brice. Several faces in the crowd bore the stamp of his own family. Although none who had known him as a young man still lived here, their children and grandchildren still farmed the land and worked the mines. No Goa’uld would have noticed the resemblance, Sholan knew. Their minds simply didn’t extend to seeing humans that way, nor anyone else. Physical similarities of kinship were something beyond the Goa’uld’s sphere of interest or experience — immaterial in their hosts and virtually nonexistent among the overwhelming hordes of larvae spawned by queens in what had begun as an evolutionary response to the harsh environment of their species’ world of origin.

But Brice knew these people for family, blood of his blood, and had to suffer the effects of seeing them terrorized by warriors wearing the mark of Bel, or berated by the words of his own symbiote. Not that it was truly easy for Sholan to speak thus, but it was part of his job, an unfortunate necessity of maintaining the role that allowed them close access to Bel and his court, and the chance to safeguard the rebellion by assuring the System Lord that no such thing in fact existed. Brice knew this as well, but Sholan could feel the man’s heart break for his people.

As they moved to follow the troops through the chappa’ai, Sholan soothed his host silently. {Remember, the Gallaeci are strong… and we carry out Bel’s orders only so that by doing his bidding we are able to further the rebellion itself.}

I know that, said Brice in the silent mindspeech they shared. But thank you for reminding me anyway. I know this isn’t a whole lot easier on you than it is on me.

Their destination now was Bohan, to report to Bel. After that, Sholan planned to pay a visit to Bel’s other two worlds — Tir Awyr and Arverenem — in the next few days. The rippling surface of the event horizon loomed up at him as he approached. After pausing to draw one more deep breath of Galla’s fresh spring air, he stepped through.




“Do we know why he was taken into custody?” asked Cadogan.

After Brioc delivered the initial news of Coll’s capture, Cromwell had ushered the man into one of his guest chairs and sent someone to Bennaeth Bod to fetch the cadlywydd. Brioc was obviously exhausted; he’d run as much of the way from the mine complex as he could manage and walked the remainder without stopping to rest, he said. While waiting for Cadogan, the colonel had brought his subordinate a mug of tea and a bannock from the tray generally kept in the common room, then fought the impulse to quiz the man right there and then about every detail of what had happened. No, better he should tell his tale once, for Cadogan and myself together, he reasoned, though impatience nearly got the better of him before the cadlywydd showed up barely five minutes after Cromwell first dispatched the runner. Now Cadogan occupied the other guest chair, having refused the colonel’s offer of his own more comfortable seat.

At the cadlywydd’s question, Brioc set his mug down on Cromwell’s desk, though he kept his hands wrapped around its warm surface. Steam from the tea within rose before his face, parting as he exhaled noisily. “Not really. I was working in an upper gallery overlooking the main concourse in that new section they opened about a year ago. I was picking at the ore seam and heard some sort of commotion going on below, but I didn’t look at first. You know how you’re so busy with what you’re doing that you really can’t let yourself be distracted?  Not to mention the foreman for the gang I was assigned to isn’t one of us, if you get my meaning. He can be pretty harsh, and I don’t think he was having a good day.”

Cromwell nodded. He’d run across one or two individuals like that during his own stints at the mine. “So when exactly did you realize the incident involved Coll?”

“Well, at first the only voices I was hearing belonged to Jaffa, and I wanted to keep my nose out of whatever that was about. Keeping my head down, you know? But then I heard Coll talk back to one of them. Couldn’t quite make out what he said over the shouting, and it was the first I knew he was even involved. That made me look, but all I saw was a couple of Jaffa grab him and haul him off down a side tunnel. There was another guy on the floor, holding his ankle, with a couple loads of scrap rock — you know, those big pails they have us carry to the carts? — kind of scattered around like somebody dropped them.”

Brioc paused to brush a lock of matted hair from his forehead, where it was dripping snowmelt into his eyes in the warmth of the colonel’s office. “Anyway, while I was trying to see which way the Jaffa took Coll, someone came and helped the other guy up and half-carried him off toward the break area where we get our meals when we’re underground. Cook keeps a sort of first-aid kit there. I don’t know if the one with the bad ankle got hurt by the Jaffa or what, though. You know how Coll makes those remarks of his. It’s possible he could have said something that the Jaffa overheard and didn’t like, and the other guy just got in the way. Of course, for all I know the other guy got hurt somehow and Coll was trying to help him and the Jaffa didn’t take kindly to it. Coll would still try though, you know? Well, not that any of us wouldn’t, I mean.”

“And you didn’t get a chance to find out exactly what started all of this?” Cadogan asked the question gently, but the note of concern in his voice was unmistakable. Cromwell knew it was aimed at more than just Coll’s safety, although that was certainly one priority.

Brioc shook his head. “Not really. I didn’t get to see any more just then, because the foreman came along and ordered us all back to work, me and the two other guys who’d been watching. I asked, but neither of them saw any more than I did. I found out when I came off-shift that the Jaffa had tossed Coll in a cell down on one of the older levels, but that’s all I know.”

Cromwell could see the worry in Brioc’s eyes as he told his story. The colonel knew that Coll and Brioc were the closest of friends, much as Reiker and Warfield had been in the 121st, or even himself and Jack over their long years spent serving together. Having to leave his best friend behind in an underground cell guarded by Jaffa had to be tearing at the man before him, and Cromwell could sympathize all too well.

“Well, we can hope that he wasn’t taken on suspicion of anything beyond simple disobedience,” Cadogan mused aloud. “If that’s the case it’s obviously a good thing, but either way we can’t just leave him in the Jaffa’s hands. He’s one of our own, for starters, and he’s also a strong man in his prime. That means there’s a chance he might be passed along to Bel’s Goa’uld as potential host, and if a symbiote were to actually query his memories — unlikely, as the Goa’uld generally care nothing for the mind of the host, but not impossible — we’d be in a world of trouble given what he knows.”

Shit; that’s what I was afraid of. Cromwell slammed a fist down on the desk in frustration, making his own mug jump and spilling tea on the cover of the diptych resting beside it. As he pulled his handkerchief from his pocket to wipe up the liquid he said, “Well then, by thunder, let’s get him out of there.”

“We will,” Cadogan assured him. “We obviously can’t just go in and drag him out under the noses of the Jaffa, though. I want to send someone in to get a feel for the situation, determine just what happened and report back so we’ll know what we’re dealing with. Even I don’t know the layout of the security levels of the mining complex; I’ve never been in them, and I haven’t worked a crew rotation since before I blended with Sabar.”

“So who do we send?” asked the colonel.

“I’d like to send Tesni,” replied Cadogan. “She’s our best covert operator when it comes to reconnaissance.”

Cromwell boggled at him. “Are you crazy? When we’ve had one of our people captured already? Out of the question.”

The cadlywydd fixed him with an earnest look. “Neirin, she’s our best operative, and the Goa’uld tend to discount women as any sort of threat. She’s far more likely to get the information we need than anyone else, and far less likely to get into trouble doing it.”

“I am not letting you send my wife in there under these circumstances.” The colonel’s voice was firm.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, filwriad,” said Brioc apologetically. “But Tesni was on the list for one of the next two rotations anyway, so…” He trailed off under the withering glare his CO turned on him.

“Brioc,” said Cromwell, in the low tone he reserved for those times when he knew that to adopt any other would reveal exactly how close he was to losing his cool. “Go home and get some rest. We’re going to get Coll out, but if you want to help, I’ll need you to be fully functional.”

Brioc stood, his face pale. “Yes, sir.” He drained his mug and left.

When he’d gone, Cadogan spoke again. “Neirin, not only is Tesni the best person for the job, but this isn’t your decision to make. For one thing, she’s under my direct command, not yours. For another, while I won’t order her to do this — if she takes the mission it will be as a volunteer — the decision is hers. I don’t know how marriages work on your world, but — ”

The colonel interrupted, something he hadn’t done to a superior officer in a very long time. “Cadogan, it isn’t that, and I hope you know it.”

“Then what is it?” The unspoken challenge was clear from the cadlywydd’s tone.

Cromwell paused, considering. Before Tesni, he’d never been married to another member of the military, though he’d long since grown accustomed to the fact that she, like himself, was under orders in the Am Rhyddid. He’d even dealt — he thought — quite well with her occasional absence for a day or two as she carried out intelligence-gathering missions. What was it that made this situation different?

The answer, of course, was that Tesni’s other missions in the time he’d known her hadn’t taken her into a situation where a direct confrontation with Bel’s Jaffa was likely, at least not with them already potentially ill-disposed toward the local population as they might be at present. Going up against an enemy was his job… did it have to be hers, too? Dammit, I was never the one who was supposed to have to worry about things like that… I was the one who was supposed to go out and deal with whatever problem there was and kick its ass to kingdom come, while Lisa stayed safely at home.

But Tesni isn’t Lisa…

Belatedly he realized that Cadogan was speaking again. “Neirin, I didn’t mean that to sound the way it probably did. But I still want to ask Tesni if she’s willing to take the mission.”

The colonel knew Cadogan was right, just as he knew what Tesni’s answer would be. “Go ahead and ask her,” he said hollowly. “But my Wolves and I are going with her as backup. We can station ourselves just beyond the mine complex, in hiding, and Tesni will take one of the short-range communicators with her. I’ll have one as well, and if she so much as thinks there’s about to be trouble, she needs to call us in to handle it.”

The cadlywydd shook his head. “I don’t want to risk sending a communicator with her. If she’s found in possession of one, it’ll be clear that she’s a spy and that there’s an organization around with access to technology and the means to use it. She’ll have more deniability without one, even if something does happen, and so will the Am Rhyddid.”

Shit. Cadogan was right about that too. “Well, then, we need to set up a system where I’ll have reports by messenger every couple of hours. The messenger doesn’t come, or brings bad news; we go in.”

The cadlywydd nodded. “Maybe not every two hours, but we’ll do our best set up something that will let her make reports on a regular schedule that won’t interfere with the work the Jaffa will believe she’s there to do as a crew member. You’ve worked those crews yourself; you know how the place operates. So does Tesni.”

Cromwell drummed his fingers on the desk. “Fair enough, I suppose. But I want to be on record as saying that I still don’t like this.”

“Duly noted.” Cadogan nodded again. “Right, then. Let’s go and talk to her.”