Of all those in the army close to the commander none is more intimate than the secret agent. — Sun Tzu, The Art of War


They found Tesni in the great room at Bennaeth Bod, where Cadogan had left her helping Idris organize work rosters for the coming spring planting, now only a month or so away. One end of the long dining table was spread with papers and open diptychs. Idris left off reading names from the big ledger containing a record of everyone who currently lived in the village as they entered.

Cadogan dropped into a seat at his nephew’s elbow and swiftly explained the situation as Neirin paced restlessly before the front windows. He had scarcely finished outlining what he wanted Tesni to do when she answered, “Yes, of course, Uncle. How soon do you want me to leave?”

Cadogan glanced over his shoulder to Neirin, who had paused in mid-circuit and now stood with his hands clasped behind his back, watching his wife’s eyes. Turning back to his niece, he said, “I want you to know this isn’t an order, Tesni. If you’re volunteering, that’s one thing, but I’ll understand if you’d rather I send someone else.”

Tesni’s eyes had followed his own, and remained locked on her husband as she said, “I understand that, Uncle, but I am volunteering to take this mission.” Cadogan watched her face as some unspoken message passed between herself and Neirin. She gestured then, motioning toward the seat next to her. “Oh, do come and sit down, Nye. We’re going to tackle this together, so let’s get our plans in place.”

Neirin joined them, visibly striving to banish any expression of the reluctance he so clearly felt. “You’re sure about this?” he asked her.

“Neirin.” She said nothing but his name, her face a study in tender exasperation.

He stared back for a moment, then blinked, squaring his shoulders and shrugging them as if the woolen tunic he wore were suddenly tight. “Right,” he said at last, then turned to Cadogan. “Let’s have this plan.”

Cadogan dispatched Idris to retrieve a fresh diptych from his study. “You may as well fetch my data tablet, too,” he called toward his nephew’s retreating back.

Standing, he moved to the sideboard and poured two fresh cups of tea from the jacketed pot that stood there, safely out of the clutter that occupied the table. Returning to the table, he deposited one in front of Neirin, then cleared aside the papers Tesni and her brother had been using. The planting roster could wait. “Neirin and his Wolves will be your backup,” he told Tesni, “and I have in mind to send Ceinwen verch Dilys as the go-between. The next rotation of crew are scheduled to go to the mine tomorrow, and sending you in with them is the best option, since it will seem routine and you shouldn’t attract any undue attention that way.”

Tesni nodded, reaching to clasp Neirin’s hand where it rested on the table next to her own. “That makes sense. I’d like to suggest equipping Ceinwen and Nye with communicators. That way even if the weather turns foul, there won’t be any delay in reporting and she won’t have to spend as much time going back and forth in it.”

Cadogan nodded. “That was my thought as well. I wouldn’t dare send one in with you, although I would if I thought it wouldn’t increase risks all the way around.”

“No, you’re right about that,” Tesni assured him. She glanced at her husband and squeezed his hand. “I can meet Ceinwen frequently if she’s stationed just outside the perimeter near the far end of the miner’s camp, where the women’s facilities are. The terrain there is rocky, with brush and plenty of places for cover, so she won’t have to go too far away to get out of sight and use her communicator. It’s winter; with a hooded cloak she’ll appear to be just another female miner stepping out to answer to nature at the beginning or end of a shift.”

“Meaning you’ll report in every eight hours?” Neirin still looked unhappy as he asked the question, but at least he was cooperating like the professional he so obviously was. Not that Cadogan had truly expected less, once the logistics of the situation had fully sunk in.

“Yes. You know how the shift schedules work there: eight hours belowground, eight up top in the sorting house, eight for dinner and sleep.” Tesni looked up as Idris returned, his arms laden with the items Cadogan had requested. He placed them on the table, in the space Cadogan had cleared, then resumed his seat.

“I take it my sister’s first order of business will be to find out why Coll was jailed,” he said. “What will you do if it turns out he’s suspected of plotting rebellion?”

Cadogan pursed his lips. “I’m holding out hope it isn’t anything like that at all,” he said. “Based on what little Brioc was able to tell us, it appears more likely that he either made some sarcastic comment in the hearing of a Jaffa guard who didn’t take kindly to it, or else that he was punished for stopping work to help an injured man and angered them that way. But there’s only one way to find out for sure, which is why we’re sending Tesni in to learn what she can.”

“And if I find they do suspect?” asked Tesni. “How shall I proceed?”

He massaged his forehead. Sabar, that question is for you as much as it is for me. Care to answer it?

{We aren’t ready yet for all-out war, I know that much,} the symbiote replied silently. {Mai’tac! And I don’t suppose we have time to go to Caer Ynys and call a Council meeting tonight, either.}

If we have to, we have to.

{What, fight a war? Or call a Council meeting?}

Three faces were looking at him expectantly, and Cadogan felt the weight of the world settle upon his shoulders. Fivefold, in fact, since any open hostilities on Tir Awyr would almost certainly have repercussions across Bel’s entire domain. “Let’s just say that Sabar and I are reviewing the situation and our options. We’ll probably need to travel to Caer Ynys and meet with the Tok’bel Council tonight or tomorrow.”

{Actually, it might be best if we save that until we have a better idea of what the situation really is,} Sabar suggested. {Contingency plans are one thing, but panic is another and I’m of a mind to say I’d rather go into any meeting with more information than we have right now.}

Good point. Aloud, Cadogan said, “For right now, I want to focus on getting the intelligence. If we’re compromised, we’ll have to do damage control at least. But if we’re not, or at least not yet, then the focus shifts to getting Coll out of there without changing that.”

Neirin’s expression grew even more serious. “You make it sound as if we won’t be getting him out if the Jaffa have already twigged to the possibility that he’s part of an organized rebel movement.”

The burden on Cadogan’s shoulders grew even heavier. “If that’s the case, Neirin, we might not be able to.”




Dim light greeted his vision as he opened his eyes. His body ached, bruised from its impact with the wall as the Jaffa had thrown him bodily into this cell.

Coll gathered the threadbare blanket more tightly around himself, trying to ward off the chill air. He estimated he’d been here for a day and a half, perhaps two days. In that time he’d seen another being only thrice, when a Jaffa guard would bring him a meager portion of food, empty the slop bucket, and refill the oil reservoir in the lamp that burned in its niche in the wall of the corridor, opposite the bars of his cell door.

It was hard to keep track of time underground, though the fact that his stomach had begun to growl indicated that it had been several hours since his last meal. It was quiet down here, too; he was apparently the only prisoner occupying the detention area. What that meant, he could scarcely guess. The contingent of miners from Llanavon had been due to be released from their labors less than two days after he’d been taken, and he wondered whether they’d returned home yet. Coll imagined the reactions of his wife and son at his absence from the group… and filwriad Neirin’s probable reaction as well.

There were footfalls in the corridor, the sound of Jaffa boots on stone growing closer…




Cromwell fiddled with the stylus, tapping it against the frame of the diptych in which he’d been inscribing notes. After the initial briefing downstairs in the manor’s great room, he and Cadogan had retreated to the latter’s study to work on their plans for the Wolves’ part of the mission in more detail. He watched as Cadogan poured more tea into his mug from the fresh pot he’d made, then paused with the pot poised over the colonel’s, a questioning look on his face.

“Sure, go ahead. Thanks.”

The cadlywydd filled Cromwell’s mug, then set down the pot and gestured at a point on the map he’d spread between them on the end of conference table, where it caught the wan winter sunlight from one of the room’s glazed windows. “All right, you’ll be able to hole up here with little likelihood of detection. That puts you just about a mile from the mine complex, within easy reach of Ceinwen as she carries messages, and close enough to get there quickly if you’re needed.”

Cromwell peered at the map, tapping his finger on the spot Cadogan indicated. “Isn’t that the strange rock formation in that one hillside just off the main road?”

Cadogan nodded. “It’s actually the head of an old abandoned pilot works put in when there was a push on to expand the mine complex, before it was discovered that reaching the ore from that direction would be complicated by the presence of an aquifer feeding some of the warm springs in the area. That’s why everything remains concentrated at the main site, because the tunnels there bypass the branch of the aquifer. I’ve seen charts of what’s underground in that area, courtesy of a Tok’bel operative who was able to liberate copies from the office of Bel’s minister of resources.”

“You’re telling me we’ll be hiding out in a cave.” The colonel suppressed the urge to sigh. “All right then. It puts us in close range, which is all I care about.”

He sipped at his tea, then glanced down at the mug. “How long did you let this steep, anyway? It has almost an astringent aftertaste.” He was used to the mint-based blend of tea that Tesni preferred and generally brewed, which they’d been drinking downstairs. It had a more delicate flavor than what he’d just been given, although the two were similar.

Cadogan cleared his throat. “Ah, I should have warned you. This isn’t what I usually make when you and I are sharing. You’ve got my daily tonic there.”

The colonel looked askance at his cup. “I suppose that explains the medicinal taste.”

Cadogan chuckled. “I forgot about that part, since I scarcely notice it anymore. Sorry about that.”

“No, no… It actually isn’t bad. Just not quite what I’d been expecting, that’s all.” Cromwell turned his attention back to the map. “So we’ll head out there just behind the mining party, and make camp in the cave. I hate the idea of being stuck without a fire, but I don’t think we’ll dare to build one for fear of advertising our presence.”

“Actually, if you’re careful you can probably manage one if you go far enough back inside, so the light of it isn’t visible from outside. I’ve been in there before, years ago with Nenniaw and Gerlad when we were scouting some possible places to cache weapons and the like, and several yards in from the entrance the passage curves and then widens. There’s a side chamber there, and a spot in the ceiling that functions as kind of a natural chimney. After dark, which is when you’d need a fire most anyway for warmth, no one passing by would notice smoke rising from the hillside. Even if someone were to see it during the day and check, you can simply pose as a hunting party. They’ve been known to camp there on occasion.”

“All right then. We’ll just have to make sure we bring the appropriate weapons and tools along to carry out that particular charade.” Cromwell sipped again at his tea, finding the aftertaste less noticeable now that he was expecting it. “How’s Ceinwen going to handle her situation?”

In answer, the cadlywydd rose and moved to where a large chest sat beneath one of the study’s windows. “The Tok’bel have small crystalline devices called net’ik that can generate enough heat to keep a person warm even in subfreezing temperatures,” he explained, lifting the lid and rummaging within. “I have one myself, and I’m going to send it with Ceinwen, since she’ll be in a position where she won’t be able to build a fire.” He withdrew a fabric-wrapped object perhaps eight inches by four and carried it back to the table after shutting the chest.

“Ah.” Cromwell tucked his stylus back into its slot and closed the diptych, watching with interest as Cadogan undid the wrapping. The net’ik resembled a brick-shaped piece of translucent amber with rounded edges, gathering and holding light near its surface, while its depths seemed murky. The cadlywydd tapped each of its four long surfaces in a sequence, and the interior of the device began to glow with a soft orange light.

At a gesture from his friend, Cromwell reached out to lay a hand on the device, feeling its surface grow warm. It stabilized at a comfortable temperature after a moment. “Seems the Tok’bel have thought of everything.”

Cadogan smiled. “Well, we — they, I should say, though as a host I’m as much a part of their society as Sabar is — anyway, the Tok’ra have been running operations in all kinds of environments for centuries. We’ve got the technology to do a lot of things, and we Tok’bel aren’t afraid to deploy some of it here either. Perhaps more so than the other Tok’ra, or at least differently.”

Now that was interesting. Cadogan rarely talked about his symbiote’s more mainstream cousins, and Cromwell had carefully avoided the subject himself, unsure of how it would be received or to what extent their existence was even known among the various human cultures that littered the Milky Way. Unwilling to invite more curiosity about his own origins, he had left the topic of Tok’ra/Tok’bel relations strictly alone in conversations with the cadlywydd unless the latter brought it up. Even given this current instance, the colonel could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times the subject had been mentioned, and he was still puzzling out exactly what it was that set the Tok’bel apart.

There was a knock. Cromwell looked up to see Tesni framed by the doorway, her hand poised against the oaken door that Cadogan habitually left open except when a full staff meeting was in session. “I’ve just come from speaking with Ceinwen,” she said, making her way across the room to join them at the table. “She’s prepared to leave at first light along with the rest of the mining crew. We have our plans in place for me to make reports, and everything’s ready on our end.”

Cadogan tapped the net’ik’s sides in sequence again and passed the device to Tesni, along with its wrappings. “Give this to Ceinwen in the morning. You know how to use it, so show her before you set off, and bid her carry it in her rucksack.”

Tesni nodded. “I will.” She turned to Cromwell. “I’ll see you at home in a while, then?”

“Once I’ve finished here and then briefed my men.” He reached out to take her hand, squeezing it gently. “Go and do what you need to do.”

He spent a few more moments with Cadogan after Tesni left, before the cadlywydd dismissed him to see to his men. “I know you have a lot on your mind, Neirin, but get some sleep tonight,” urged Cadogan. “Remember what you told Brioc? You don’t need me to tell  you the same thing.”

“No, you’re right. I am going to pay a visit to Nerys before I call it a day, though.” Nerys was Coll’s wife, and duty compelled the colonel to assure her personally that every effort was being made to bring him home safely. With a twinge, he remembered the last time he’d made a promise like that, immediately after learning that Jack had survived and was being held prisoner by the Iraqis. Sara had known he’d do everything he could. If only General West had let me…

With an effort, he stopped his mind from racing down that track of speculation as he levered himself out of the chair, suddenly weary. That was ten years ago, he reminded himself sternly, and this time he had the full support of his commanding officer, rather than the cold indifference exhibited by West. Cadogan regarded his men as family, not expendable ciphers, and that meant Coll would be coming home alive and well if there were any possible means to accomplish it.

“Would you like me to come with you?” Cadogan’s offer caught Cromwell off-guard and he blinked, meeting the cadlywydd’s eyes and seeing there the same concern he knew must surely be visible in his own.

He considered. On the one hand, having Cadogan along might be helpful, and he certainly appreciated his CO’s support. On the other… “This is something I have to do myself.” He caught himself shrugging, trying to ease his shoulders as though the burden of responsibility were a physical one, bearing him down beneath its weight. “Coll is under my direct command, and… ” He struggled suddenly, casting about for the words to frame what was churning within his mind.

Cadogan waved him off. “I understand, Neirin. I’ll probably visit her myself this evening, but you do what you need to on your own. It may be just as well if she receives two visits, anyway. This can’t be easy for her, nor for Bryn and Olwen.”

Cromwell nodded, relieved at his friend’s understanding. “Thank you. By your leave, then?” He took a step toward the doorway.

“Go on. I’ll see you in the morning.”




As expected, the Wolves had been ready to march to the mine complex on a moment’s notice and free Coll by force. Brioc was in attendance despite the shadows beneath his eyes, and told his story to his teammates. Cromwell finished by laying out the plan he and Cadogan had devised, then ordering all of them to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for the morrow. Brioc he took aside after dismissing the rest, and walked him to the doorstep of the home he shared with his wife Creirwy and their children. “Get to bed. I’m going to need you at your best come morning.”

He clasped Brioc’s shoulder, then turned away in the direction of Coll’s home, still pondering what to say. His boots made a crunching sound in the ice-rimed snow as he cut across the square in the gathering dusk, and his thoughts whirled with a mixture of scenes. Some originated in decade-old memory, while others were the product of imagination regarding the Jaffa’s motives in imprisoning Coll.

Nerys’ face was pale when she answered his knock. “Filwriad Neirin. Please, come in.”

Cromwell let himself be ushered into the house, taking care to wipe the snow from his boots before stepping off the mat. “Nerys, I — ”

He was interrupted by Bryn, who looked up from the hearthrug where he sat with his younger sister and the puppy Cromwell knew they’d named Gwyli, shortened from gwyliwr, meaning ‘sentinel’. It was a good name for a watchdog. “Filwriad, my father is all right, isn’t he?”

Cromwell’s gut clenched as Charlie’s words played again in his mind. My daddy’s going to be okay, isn’t he, Uncle Frank? Charlie had been five years old to Bryn’s nine, but the look on Bryn’s face could have come straight from Charlie’s. Cromwell had reassured his best friend’s son ten years ago… and he’d been right, even if he’d been denied the chance to be the instrument of Jack’s return. Charlie’s father had come home alive and as well as the Air Force’s medical and psychiatric staff could make him, even if events had cost Cromwell Jack’s friendship until nearly three years after Charlie’s death…

Savagely, he pushed the memory aside, moving to kneel on the hearthrug where the red-haired boy sat with a brindled puppy and a wide-eyed four-year old girl. “Bryn, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that he comes home safe. Me, and the rest of the Wolves. We’re leaving at dawn, and I promise you, if we can get him out of there we’re going to do it.”

Glancing up, he saw that Nerys had moved to the fireside, watching him. “Thank you, Neirin,” she said, her voice calm. He could see the tension in her eyes, and wondered what that steadiness of voice cost her. Sara had been the same way, wearing a veneer of stoicism for the sake of her son, but with her concern and worry evident to Cromwell despite his reassurances. “I know you’ll do the best you can, you and the others.”

He felt like a supplicant, kneeling there before her with the burden of this family’s future on his shoulders. It wasn’t his fault that Coll had been jailed; the man had been active in the rebel cause for years before Cromwell’s arrival on this world. Nevertheless, Coll was his responsibility now, and he would make every effort to see that Nerys had her husband back safely, and the children their father.

“We will, ma’am. You have my word.” He stood, bearing the weight of their gaze. “Is there anything you need right now?”

Nerys shook her head. “No, we’ll be all right, Neirin. I know you must have things to do, plans to make… ” She trailed off for a moment before continuing. “Go and do what you have to do, and don’t worry about us.”

Somehow any answer he might make seemed insufficient. He managed a nod, clasping her shoulder before moving toward the door. “We’ll bring him back,” he said.

She nodded in response. “I know.”


Outside, the shadows had deepened in the few moments he’d spent with Coll’s family. Cromwell made his way along the street by lamplight spilled from the windows of those houses fortunate enough to have glazing, turning at last onto the walk that led to his and Tesni’s cottage. Here, too, lamplight from within cast golden pools upon the snow in the dooryard. The cottage might not be the largest, nor nearly as well-appointed as Bennaeth Bod, but the woman who lived here was sister to one chieftain and niece to another, and so its front windows boasted glass panes.

He paused, watching as Tesni moved before one window, folding a traveling cloak — the same grey-plaid one she’d worn on their visit to Dinas Coedwyg the day after he arrived. Tomorrow, his wife would go to the mines not just as a laborer but as a spy, and into a situation fraught with who-knew-what kind of danger, depending on the circumstances surrounding Coll’s imprisonment. The thought chilled him in a way none of her previous missions had ever managed to do. As he stood there musing on that fact, Tesni looked up and noticed him. A moment later, the front door opened. “Why are you standing around in the snow? Come in and have dinner.”




The eastern sky was paling to grey as false dawn lit the overcast, but torches and lanterns were still a necessity. Cromwell finished lighting a lantern and hung it on its hook, then rubbed his hands together in the chill air as he turned to Tesni, who was showing Ceinwen how to use the net’ik. The device was glowing now, and he reached out to warm his fingers against its smooth surface.

Tesni smiled briefly, the expression wiping the tension from her face for a moment. “Where are your gloves, cariad?”

“In my pocket. I just want to get my hands warm before I put them back on.” Cromwell estimated the temperature to be somewhere in the upper twenties Fahrenheit; below freezing but not far below. Winter might only have a month to go, but that didn’t mean it was going to relax its frozen grip any sooner than necessary.

Satisfied that his fingers were warm enough, he withdrew them from the device’s surface and began pulling on his gloves. There were footsteps behind him, and a moment later he heard Cadogan’s voice. “Is everyone ready to go?”

Ceinwen tapped the net’ik to deactivate it, then swaddled it once more in its wrappings before stowing it in her rucksack and hoisting the pack to her shoulders. “Yes sir, I’m ready,” she said.

“So am I,” added Tesni. “We’re just waiting for the rest of the mining contingent, and the sunrise.”

“My men and I will set out half an hour behind them,” said Cromwell.

“Better make it closer to an hour,” the cadlywydd suggested. “The miners’ cart isn’t likely to move terribly fast along a winter road, and your Wolves cover ground pretty quickly. If you want to appear as just a hunting party rather than catching up to and mixing with the miners, you’ll need to give yourself some distance.”

Cromwell nodded, even though the idea of waiting any longer chafed. Cadogan was right; although traversable by carts and wagons in wintertime, the road would nevertheless dictate a slower pace, while his men were trained to move quickly whether mounted or on foot. They’d be on foot for this mission. “That makes sense, I suppose. Very well, then; we’ll wait an hour.”

The sun made a bright spot behind the cloud layer just above the horizon as the miners set out some fifteen minutes later, the draft horses’ harness jingling in the frosty air. Cromwell watched as the cart disappeared around a bend in the forest road, the turned to find Armagil at his elbow. “Did you need something?” he asked his second-in-command.

“No, sir,” replied the younger man. “I just came to tell you that the others are ready and awaiting your orders.”

Cromwell turned away from the village gate, drawing his young rhaglaw with him. “At the moment, we’re holding for an hour on the cadlywydd’s order. We need to give the mining party time to make the main road and get a head start, then we can masquerade a lot better as a hunting party. In the meantime, we can enjoy the warmth of indoors while we have it, I suppose.”

An hour later, they were on the road, clothed and armed as typical late-winter hunters out for game to supplement the villagers’ diet. Had anyone been watching, they wouldn’t have noticed the zat’nik’tels carefully hidden beneath cloak and coat, nor the short-range, encrypted communicator Cromwell carried in his belt pouch. He bore a quiver of arrows and a longbow strapped to his back, as did his men, and was grateful for having taken the time to re-familiarize himself with bowhunting the previous autumn. The disguise was not without true function, either, as they would be reliant on game for much of their sustenance while waiting what could be several days for their next move, once they were in position.




Cadogan stretched his legs beneath the desk and tapped a control on the data pad in his hands. Information scrolled across its screen in Tok’ra script, and he added an annotation here and there at Sabar’s prompting. After eight decades together they worked in such a seamless partnership that Sabar was just as likely to leave his host in control of their shared body while doing recordkeeping and other work, and merely dictate, especially when they were on Cadogan’s homeworld.

He reached for the mug of tea that rested on the blotter and took a sip. Now that he’d been so recently reminded of it by Neirin, he caught the slight astringency in its flavor. He’d been drinking this particular blend daily for well over thirty years and scarcely noticed the taste anymore. {Neither do I,} Sabar admitted.

There was loud knocking from below, followed by the sound of the front door opening and excited voices, one of them Anwen’s. A moment later, footsteps clattered on the stairs. {A messenger already?} Sabar wondered silently.

Not from the mines; it can’t be. They’ve only been gone five hours. That’s barely enough time to get there and get set up. Certainly not enough for Tesni to have any real news yet, surely?

A young woman appeared in the doorway; Cadogan recognized her as one of the scouts who still watched the compass circle, hiding just inside the woods to observe who came and went via the chappa’ai. She was out of breath, panting as if she’d run the entire way from the circle. “Come in, sit down,” he ordered, rising from behind his desk and crossing to guide her into the room and settle her in a chair. “Deep breath; that’s it. Now another.”

She drew a third shaky breath before uttering, “News.”

“What news?”

A fourth breath, held just long enough to steady her, and she blurted out, “Goa’uld, I think. Three of them. And five Jaffa. They’re on their way here.”