He who does garrison duty is as much soldier as he that is in the fighting line. — Seneca


Cromwell pushed himself up from the floor of the cavern, rubbing knees gone stiff from prolonged contact with the chilly stone despite his heavy woolen trews. He stood watching as his men continued their game. Llew shook the dice in their leathern cup, then poured them rattling into the center of the circle around which a half-dozen of his fellow Wolves crouched or knelt.

“Ah, of all the luck!” he spat, as several of his teammates cheered and Tathan reached out to scoop up the dice and a handful of copper coins. Tathan and Llew were brothers, but you’d never guess it to look at them, Cromwell mused. Llew was short, wiry and fair, while Tathan was tall, broad and dark-haired. And while Tathan was rarely without his dice, it was Llew who seemed to win most often at the games the Wolves played on downtime.

The cavern was small and tucked back into the hillside around a bend in the passageway leading from the cave mouth. Thus sheltered from the wind outside, it was marginally warmer than the outer tunnel and the presence of ten bodies in close proximity — Pyr had taken his place as guard at the entrance  — made it warmer still. Nonetheless, Cromwell could still see his breath condense in the lamplight as he exhaled. Come evening, provided they were still here, he’d be glad of a fire.

Dicing with his men was a far cry from the self-imposed separation he’d observed over his years with the 121st, but circumstances here were different. Not only were the lines between commander and subordinates far more permeable within the Am Rhyddid than in the Air Force, but he felt a kinship with these men that he’d felt with only two or three out of those who’d made up the Special Tactics unit he’d commanded after the Gulf. Even with Stuart, or Douglas, or with Taylor — Stuart’s predecessor as the 121st’s 2IC — the colonel had kept himself apart, despite sensing that any of the three would gladly have offered him friendship had he but availed himself of the opportunity. Stuart’s efficient and ready help, tinged by a generally-unspoken but detectable curiosity about his taciturn CO, and the quiet concern exhibited by Douglas had made them the closest thing Cromwell felt he had to actual friends during the years after Jack’s capture, but his own deep-seated guilt over what had happened in Iraq had prevented his forging any bonds beyond those essential to functioning in the field or under fire. He’d had the trust and respect of his entire team, though God knew why, and he’d trusted them implicitly to watch his six in a firefight, but off-duty camaraderie was a privilege he’d left to those more deserving of it than a man who’d abandoned his best friend to the enemy.

He knew himself to be different now, too. The past year and a half had given him time to assimilate the effects of his all-too-brief reunion with Jack and the peace they’d made. And despite his worry over the subsequent fate of those he’d left behind on Earth, life among the Pridani had placed its own indelible stamp on his psyche, as had marriage to Tesni. He might not be greatly changed, but it was enough to bring him fully engaged with those around him to an extent he hadn’t been since early in 1991. The thought still left him bemused, that he’d been exiled light-years across space only to come back to himself.

Of course, one thing hadn’t altered, and that was his dislike of situations beyond his control. His capacity for worrying about the people he cared about or for whom he was responsible remained as strong as ever, and right now he was worried about both Coll and Tesni. Coll, because the wisecracking rebel soldier was both under his command and someone he regarded as a friend. And Tesni… Well, now he thought he was beginning to understand what it must have been like for Lisa during the years of their marriage, knowing he was somewhere in harm’s way but helpless to do anything about it except worry. Unlike Lisa, of course, he wasn’t ignorant of the details. If anything, he knew all too well what conditions at the mine were like and how cruel the Jaffa could be if provoked. What he didn’t know was what kind of trouble Tesni might have been walking into… or what he would do if something happened to her.

Flexing his knees as they warmed under the friction of his hands against the woolen breeches, he straightened and made his way to the narrow ledge that served as a sort of seat at one side of the cavern. Armagil sat there, talking quietly with Brioc as their comrades focused on the game in progress. Both men looked up at his approach. “Sir?” said Armagil.

“Don’t mind me,” he replied, easing himself down to join them and tucking his cloak about his legs. “I’ve just had enough of gaming for a bit. Not to mention that Llew has managed to win his share and then some from me.” I ought to have Ris or someone make up a deck of cards so I can teach these guys to play poker, he thought. Then I might have a chance to win it back.

He caught his 2IC’s low chuckle as the young man shifted to make a bit more room. “I told you someone should be watching him.”

Cromwell grinned in spite of his concerns at the moment. “He’s playing fair as far as I can tell, but all I’ve been watching is my pouch grow lighter.” The rebels and their officers earned a soldier’s pay and although most of it came in the form of the housing and sustenance shared by all in the community, some was paid in coin as well. As a team leader, the colonel’s pay was correspondingly higher, but none of them were wealthy men. Not that monetary wealth as a concept had much meaning in the Pridani’s current situation. A slave was still a slave regardless of the contents of his purse, and none among them would ever let another go hungry or unsheltered, be they friend or stranger. Cromwell had ample evidence of that himself from first-hand experience.

A glance at his watch confirmed that several hours had passed since they’d arrived at their temporary shelter. If his experience of his own mining rotations held true, the first day’s shift was generally abbreviated for new arrivals, given that they’d already spent a portion of their day on the road. That meant that Tesni ought to report to Ceinwen before much longer, and Ceinwen in turn would contact him via communicator if possible. This close to the mines, the effects of the nearby concentration of raw naquadah ore could sometimes interfere with communication devices despite the shielding built into them; some property of unrefined naquadah was responsible for this behavior that refined naquadah was less likely to produce. Or at least that was how Cadogan had once explained it to him. Should Ceinwen experience difficulty getting through, she would hike the mile from the edge of the mining camp to the caves in which Cromwell’s team hid. The cadlywydd had been fairly certain that their communicator would receive a signal if they didn’t take it completely within the cavern system, however.

Pyr had charge of it at the moment, being stationed on guard at the cave mouth; whoever took the next shift would also take over babysitting the device. For now, though, Cromwell opted to join him and wait for word from Ceinwen.


Cadogan looked up at the Tok’bel operative standing over him. He’d last seen Sholan across the conference table at Caer Ynys several months earlier, just after Jaffa loyal to Bel’s son Moccas had carried out two executions on Emhain and made off with naquadah ore that had been destined for the planet’s semiannual tribute to Bel. Since that time, of course, he would have simultaneously carried out the duties assigned to him in his role as ‘General Kasol’ in Bel’s military hierarchy and continued to advance the Tok’bel’s effort at hindering Bel’s control of the Five Worlds, including operating a disinformation campaign aimed at preventing Bel’s awareness of the continued existence of any rebel group within his domain, be they human or Tok’ra.

Now ‘Kasol’ had been dispatched to Tir Awyr, for who knew what purpose. Coming hard on the heels of Coll’s having been taken into custody, Cadogan couldn’t help but wonder whether the two events shared some connection. At least with Kasol in charge of the delegation, there might yet be some hope of averting all-out disaster, as Sholan would of course do everything in his power — which was admittedly limited by circumstance — to soften whatever blow he might have been ordered to deal the citizens of Llanavon, at least by whatever measure he could without revealing his own identity and threatening the safety of the entire rebel movement. Cadogan would have to play his own role accordingly, however.

He heard Idris, who knelt beside him, draw breath to speak and hurried to take the reins of conversation. While Idris was aware that the Tok’bel had operatives deep within Bel’s civil and military organizations, he had no way to recognize Sholan as such a one, having never interacted with him or his host directly. As chance would have it, this was the first time that ‘Kasol’ had been sent to visit Llanavon in the seven years since Idris had become clan chieftain.

“My Lord General, is it?” Cadogan feigned unfamiliarity with their visitor’s exact identity — either one. “Praise be to Bel, and all welcome to you as His Emissary. How may we serve you and our Lord in whose Name you have come to us?” He felt Idris tense for just a moment where their shoulders touched. Then his nephew relaxed, obviously realizing that Cadogan knew what he was doing.

{“I am Kasol, General of our Lord’s Army of Might and bringer of both His blessings and His wrath,”} said Sholan, his expression still haughty. Bel posed as a warrior deity, so his emissaries were frequently of a military nature themselves. Centuries ago, before the Wars of the Gods, it had been considered a great honor among humans to be chosen to serve as one of Bel’s soldiers, or as the handpicked vessel of his martial offspring. Needless to say, that belief had died as the internecine fight between Bel and the most powerful of those offspring ended his initial reign and showed him and his progeny to be no gods at all. But Bel ruled his reconstituted realm in the same fashion as of old, and his subjects pretended to go along so as to protect their own interests, including the rebellion itself.

Sholan continued, {“Our Lord Bel the Shining, the Fair Slayer of His enemies and Rewarder of His loyal peoples, has found the tribute of His peoples lacking. Lord Bel reminds you of His mercy, yet also that He demands full tribute of the best you can provide. He has given you a home with all that you need, and shown mercy when your forefathers strayed from His paths and His commandments. Bel took you back unto His bosom and His grace, and made you once more His own. He protects you jealously from all enemies and asks only that you provide Him with that which is necessary to your own protection. How little is the sweat of your brow and the work of your hands to repay His efforts… yet some among you tarry and do not give full measure. I am charged to remind you that this is unacceptable.”}

Cadogan risked a glance at Idris, who shrugged minutely. As the recognized chieftain of Clan Branoc, it was rightly Idris’ place to answer for his people.

“My Lord General Kasol, the people of Llanavon and the surrounding district have worked hard to honor our Lord Bel and to bring full measure of that which is demanded of us in tribute. We continue to do so, and have at this very moment a number of our own populace in service at the mines and in other productive endeavors, for the enrichment of our Lord’s storehouses and his coffers,” said Idris. “What may we offer as proof of our loyalty and our service?”

The general’s gaze bored into them both. {“The continuation of that service. I go next to speak to your brethren in Dinas Coedwyg and Bren Argoed, and on the morrow to those who now labor in the mines. I will tell you the same thing I will tell them: Tribute is due at the summer solstice, less than five greatmoons from now, and full measure will be expected and required. The people of Tir Awyr have not thus far returned less than that, but the same cannot be said for all your brethren.”}

Ah. He’s talking about Emhain, Cadogan commented silently to Sabar. The theft of naquadah from the Emhaini stores by Moccas’ Jaffa would have resulted in a smaller tribute amount. By now Bel was surely aware of his offspring’s predations, but that wouldn’t prevent his prodding his slaves to make up the shortfall. Sholan’s message was clear: Bel was paying close attention to the yield of his mining operations.

{Undoubtedly,} came the symbiote’s reply. {He’s also just made a public statement that the Tir Awyri are thus far still in Bel’s good graces, so I’d say the timing of this visit is only coincidental to what’s happened with Coll. We may be in a position to make a request, if we handle things just right.}

What do you propose?

{You might beg a boon, explaining that one of the locals did not return from the mines and that you fear he’s made some minor infraction that’s caused him to run afoul of the Jaffa there. Ask for mercy on his behalf, as is fitting for such a ‘gracious and merciful lord’ as Bel.}

And what if Coll’s infraction turns out not to have been minor?

{I’m reasonably certain that news would already have been communicated to Bel, in which case this visit would be far less benign than it appears to be.}

Sabar had a point. Still, the thought of asking for something publicly made Cadogan nervous. It wasn’t that Sholan himself would willingly refuse the request, of course. But simply asking in the first place could put the Tok’bel operative in a precarious position. To appear too lenient would be to risk suspicion, and there were not only Jaffa present but also two other Goa’uld who might well report back to Bel. On the other hand, even Bel himself had been known to grant a boon to his subjects on occasion, in keeping with the beneficent image he sometimes liked to project. This image alternated with that of “wrathful deity” often enough that it was well-nigh impossible to know which Bel one might find oneself dealing with on any given day. Cadogan agreed with Sabar’s theory that the neb ankh* — the device used by Goa’uld to prolong both life and youth — led to the well-known mental instability exhibited by those of the highest ranks, as they tended to be the heaviest users of the device. This was the primary reason why Tok’ra eschewed its use.

Still… You’re sure about this? If nothing else, Sabar knew more about the Goa’uld mindset than he did.

{Yes. If you like, I will make the request myself, using your voice.}

Cadogan knew the offer was intended to assuage any doubts he might have about his own handling of the situation or taking responsibility for Coll’s fate, but it was his duty — and his nephew’s — to look after their own. No need; I’ll do it.

Beside him, Idris had bowed his head at Sholan’s words. “Understood, Lord General. We will give full measure, as always.”

Sholan nodded, his face impassive. {“Then the blessings of our Lord will be yours.”}

Cadogan cleared his throat. “Lord General?”

Sholan’s eyes flicked to meet his. The general’s two Goa’uld lieutenants also glanced at him, before turning their attention back to the assembled crowd. {“Speak.”}

“I would beg a boon, if I may… a blessing from our most gracious Lord’s own Emissary.”

The general’s eyebrows rose a fraction. {“You may ask.”}

Cadogan drew a deep breath, ordering his thoughts. “As my cousin bennaeth Idris has mentioned, we have several of our local populace on duty at the mines right now. Several more returned only yesterday from their own labors there. However, one who had been part of the work detail was not among them, and I would like news of his fate. Reports indicate that he may have been detained, in which case I surmise that this was due to some minor infraction. This man has a wife and a family, and I would ask of you that his release be secured and that he be returned to us unharmed. As the chief’s advisor, I will take full personal responsibility for the man’s conduct. His name is Coll.”

He heard a faint gasp from those villagers assembled most closely behind him. Otherwise, silence reigned for a moment. Sholan blinked, his expression still carefully neutral.

Cadogan waited.

Finally, ‘General Kasol’ looked out over the assembled crowd and spoke. {“I can make no promise, but if he has not been harmed and his infraction was indeed minor, I will see this man returned to you. Bel is merciful, and so am I inclined to be today. Remember this when you go to your labors, that you labor to please a merciful Lord, and let this spur your efforts.”}

Without missing a beat, Idris picked up the thread and answered. “On behalf of my clan and my village, I thank you and vow that we will remember the mercy you have shown us today.”

Sholan looked down once more, meeting first Idris’ gaze and then Cadogan’s before giving another rapid blink that signaled his receipt of the message contained in their exchange.

Cadogan breathed an inward sigh of relief. So it seems you were right. I suspect even you had a moment there, though.

{These things are always tricky. But I believe we’ve pulled it off.} Sabar’s mental tone carried its own relieved note. {Sholan’s made it clear that they’ll be going next to Dinas Coedwyg and Bren Argoed, where they’re likely to spend the night before going to the mine. Even Goa’uld and Jaffa prefer to travel overland by daylight if they have the choice, so with any luck, we’ll see Coll back here by tomorrow evening. We’ll have to warn Neirin about Sholan, though. If he sees a party of Goa’uld and Jaffa headed for the mine, he’ll think the worst.}


The mine gallery was softly lit by glowpanels mounted overhead, technology deployed by their Goa’uld overlords to increase yields in the mines by giving the miners adequate light in which to work. Her ancient ancestors would have regarded this as ‘the magic of the gods’, Tesni knew, but modern Pridani recognized technology for what it was, even when it represented advances far beyond what was available to them in their own daily lives.

The Wars of the Gods had thoroughly put paid to the divine attribution of Goa’uld devices and abilities before it was ended, and during the Interregnum that followed, her people and their cousins on all the Five Worlds had come to regard technology as something their erstwhile masters simply possessed in a more advanced form. Little headway had been made in those five hundred years toward understanding the principles underlying the devices left abandoned by the Goa’uld and their Jaffa. The science of Bel’s former slaves, inquisitive as they were, had been nowhere near the level required for that, and Bel’s unfortunate return three centuries ago had put a lid on further attempts. Since the advent of the Tok’bel, however, the scientific knowledge available to the Pridani — and eventually the peoples of Tir Awyr’s sister worlds — had increased dramatically. Not that most everyday folk understood all of it, but those who worked closely with them and their hosts were privy to at least a basic understanding of the principles on which Goa’uld and Tok’ra technology were based, and hedge schools had sprung up that taught quite a lot of factual knowledge about the universe. Tesni herself had learned much of what she knew from her uncle Cadogan.

She paused in digging at the seam of naquadah ore to wipe her face with her sleeve and glanced briefly around at her workmates. Six men and four women comprised her work gang, in which she was the only member from Llanavon. Sorcha was in her gang, though the two of them had found precious little time for chatting since they’d entered the mine that morning.

Somewhere, a gong clanged; the signal to end the work shift. Aboveground, dusk would be gathering as the dayshift workers traded places with the first of two nightshifts. Shouldering her pick and her pail — naquadah ore was brittle and when freed from the parent seam it tended to fracture into small chunks which were then collected in pails — she turned toward the ladder leading down from the section of scaffold where she’d been working.

Sorcha caught up with her as she emptied her nearly-full pail into a cart, then stacked it with several others nearby. They joined the slow-moving line of weary miners filing toward the exit from this particular gallery to the main shaft leading upward. An open-cage elevator — more Goa’uld technology, as its mechanism worked by invisible power rather than by the effort of humans or animals as would have been the case of any such conveyance in operation at a human-controlled mine — would carry them to the surface level where they would emerge within a shallow cave.

As they shuffled forward in line, Sorcha sighed wearily. “Even though this was a shorter shift underground than most, I’m exhausted.” She spoke softly; the miners tended to keep conversation low so as to prevent Jaffa from overhearing. The nearest Jaffa at present was stationed at the head of the line, some thirty feet away, but everyone knew it never hurt to be vigilant. “They’ve had us working at quite a pace some of the shifts, now that a couple of new galleries have been opened up along the seam. Last week two gangs were down here for more than twelve hours with only a single meal break, and I was on one of them. One of my workmates was so worn out and weak with little food that he stumbled and sprained his ankle just as we were about to come off-shift.”

Tesni frowned. “Did he get any treatment?”

Her teammate snorted. “He probably wouldn’t if the Jaffa had their way, but a guy from one of the other shifts — they had us working staggered — saw him fall and came to help. The guard tried to make him stop, but he kept on anyway. Got him to the break area and someone else came to see to his injury. Of course, the Jaffa hauled him away for doing it.”

“The one who first helped him, you mean?”

Sorcha nodded. “Yes. Two Jaffa dragged him away. I heard later they put him in a detention cell.”

Tesni glanced around, but no one was paying them any attention. “Listen, you’re saying you saw it happen? What did this man look like?”

“Tall, kind of gangly… oh, and red-haired.” Sorcha cocked her head.  “Why?”

“I know him; he’s from my village. We wondered why he hadn’t come back with the others. You don’t happen to have heard anything about him since then, have you?”

Sorcha shook her head. “No, not a word. I’d guess they probably still have him behind bars. If the Jaffa here decide they don’t like you, they’ll just stick you in a cell and keep you there until they decide to do something else with you. Or until they get tired of you and let you go.”

Tesni grimaced. “I’ve heard the stories.”

They were nearing the elevator and its Jaffa guards, so the conversation ceased as they boarded the conveyance with several of their fellow workers. When the cage was full, one of the mine’s overseers — this one human rather than Jaffa — closed the gate and pressed a lever. The metal floor beneath their feet vibrated as the cage rose slowly up the shaft.

Lacking anything better to do, Tesni watched the man’s face in profile as they ascended toward the surface. She’d seen him before, on other occasions when she’d done a work rotation here. He appeared to be perhaps forty years old, with dark hair that curled about his ears, half-hiding the small spiral tattoo that coiled its way from just behind his earlobe to the corner of his jawline in faded blue ink. An Alban, then, of the clan Talorc, who marked their firstborn with a spiral at the age of twelve and dedicated them to Bel’s service. Most people on Tir Awyr — and, she knew from Cadogan, throughout Bel’s domain except for those on Bohan — no longer believed Bel to be a god or worshiped him in any but the most ceremonial sense. What deference they did give was largely a matter of appearance and done for the simple expedient of survival in a world where the System Lord still held the reins of power. The vast majority of the population was either neutral, preferring to keep their heads down and just get on with life, or opposed at least philosophically to the Goa’uld lord’s reign. The rebels of the Am Rhyddid and its sister movements came from this latter run of folk, naturally.

But there were still some individuals who did revere Bel as a god, and a few clans such as Talorc which were wholly dedicated to serving him. The balance of power between the other clans left little room for action against Talorc, which might have invited retribution from on high, but relations with the loyalists were chilly and they were left largely to themselves in their line of craggy hills to the northwest where they had lived in isolation even during the Interregnum. This seemed to suit everyone well enough, especially given the existence of the rebel movement was interleaved with local militia training among the lowland folk to hide its activities but little else could be done to disguise it. Clan Talorc was likely aware of the pervasiveness of rebellious sentiment among many of their neighbors but remained insular enough to be unacquainted with the rebel network itself.

The cage reached the top of the shaft and stopped. The man let go his lever and unlatched the gate, swinging it open so the miners could disembark. The air in the shallow tunnel was cold but its freshness was welcome after several hours spent breathing the stale-smelling air of the mine. Outside air did circulate there via a system of shafts, but unless you were right next to one, it smelled of sweat and metal and rock dust, along with the oil used to lubricate the wheels of the carts and lifts used to transport the fractured ore to the surface for processing.

Tesni made her way toward the arched egress, noting the low angle of the light outside. Sunset would be less than an hour away, and she still needed to rendezvous with Ceinwen to make her report.


Cadogan glanced up at the overcast sky as he left the community building with Idris in tow. The bright patch that indicated the sun’s position had shifted far toward the west, and he frowned as he noticed the lengthening shadows cast by the houses they passed on their way back to Bennaeth Bod. ‘General Kasol’ and his party had spent nearly two hours in Llanavon, all told, and had left with a token ‘tribute’ of items intended as a show of the people’s continued ‘worship’ of Bel. The irony of this bit of theatrical window-dressing was not lost on Cadogan, nor on Sabar. Sacrifices were being made in the quest for freedom, even as other ‘sacrifices’ were demanded to hide the fact of that quest.

Immediately after their visitors’ departure, a rather large contingent of the populace had insisted on meeting with himself and Idris in the village hall to discuss the meaning of the visit. Without revealing Sholan’s identity, Cadogan had allowed Sabar to take over for a time and reassure their assembled neighbors that they were in no immediate danger as a result of this unexpected visit. At the conclusion of that meeting, Cadogan had reclaimed control and called a meeting of his local officers, sharing with them and with Idris the fact that a Tok’bel operative had been at the head of the Goa’uld delegation and would do what he could to see their comrade Coll returned to them. Losing half the afternoon to play-acting and half the rest of it to meetings was far from ideal, but he reminded himself that it could’ve been worse. He ignored his growling stomach as they trudged through the slushy square, its snow churned by dozens of passing feet, toward home. Next on the list of things to do was contacting Neirin, after which if he were lucky he might get a chance at a meal before something else decided to demand his attention.

“You know, there are times when it really bothers me to be so little help,” said Idris from beside him.

Cadogan looked at him in surprise. “What do you mean by that?”

His nephew shrugged. “It’s one thing when I’m dealing with the general folk, but then I sit in on one of your meetings with your officers, and I feel ineffective by comparison. Like I want to take some sort of action, but how? You and Sabar, and the other active Am Rhyddid — you all have things you can do to fight Bel and his people directly, but I’m stuck here just trying to manage odds and ends almost the same way I would be if there were no rebellion.”

The cadlywydd shook his head. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t heard the same from Dwynwen and Matho, Idris’ mother and grandfather, so he really shouldn’t be shocked. Even the younger Cynan had said something similar once or twice. Of course, in those days the rebels generally hadn’t seen as much action as at present. Still, even military exercises or the occasional skirmish with a neighboring clan might seem more like actually ‘doing something’ compared to the administrative tasks that were his nephew’s normal duties. History was full of the exploits of warrior-chiefs: more than five centuries of them during the Interregnum and the Wars of the Gods beforehand. Chieftains had become warlords, some fighting on the side of Bel’s offspring for control over this or that portion of land and resources, while others — including Branoc’s line — battled against them. When the Goa’uld left, they’d turned to fighting it out amongst themselves until a basic division of territory had settled into place, as the most powerful consolidated their holdings and became not just chiefs but king and queens. The wisest among them had turned to trade and development rather than to warfare, but there had always remained a military element to keep the peace, with the various clan leaders pledged to their respective rulers.

After Bel returned and reconquered his domain, these monarchies dissolved under the weight of Goa’uld domination, leaving the clans as the major sociopolitical units. Clans still occasionally warred between themselves with sword, arrow and spear, or sometimes with Goa’uld weapons either left over from the ancient wars or provided to loyalist militias by Bel’s restored regime. There was even the occasional isolated confrontation between Bel’s subjects and his Jaffa enforcers. Sometimes these brought retribution and sometimes not, as Bel had long appreciated a bit of fight in his worshipers, in keeping with his chosen role as a warrior deity. That many of his subjects no longer viewed him as a deity was an open secret, and tolerated as long as they remained his servants and gave tribute as required.

Cadogan had grown up reading much the same history as Idris, and remembered being stirred by it. He and his twin sister Aderyn had both gravitated toward the warrior’s path, a perfectly reasonable approach to leadership in their day, though Aderyn had proven much more adept at the concomitant demands of administration than he had. How that has changed over the century since, he reflected. He was sure his sister would be amused. Either way, Clan Branoc had lived in peace with its neighbors for decades now, and Idris had known from an early age that it would fall to him to administer the material possessions and social responsibilities of the clan  and the village of Llanavon while others took the field in service to the rebellion. He wasn’t the first to chafe under the restriction, Cadogan knew, and might well not be the last. Still…

“Idris, your role is as important as anyone else’s, even mine. If you weren’t here to mind things at home, I wouldn’t be able to do my own duty. Aderyn understood this well after our father died.” At the time of Cynan the Elder’s passing, Cadogan was in the field and Aderyn, a warrior herself, was seven months gone with child. She had taken the position of administrative chief, naming her twin as war chief. Technically, he’d remained co-chieftain ever since that day nearly a century ago. “Besides, it isn’t as if I don’t help you — ”

“ — tend the hearth when you’re around?” Idris gave him a lopsided smile. “I know you do, Uncle, and it’s much appreciated, too. Still, it can be frustrating to be in my position, and I worry about Ris in all this. He wants to follow in your footsteps, not mine, and while I know there’s nothing wrong with my particular duty, I know he’ll chafe even more than I do. He’s more wedded to action than I ever have been. Neirin has taken him well in hand and given him good direction, but you know as well as I do that Ris practically worships him and will emulate him too, given half a chance.”

{Berwyn and yourself, all over again,} Sabar interjected silently.

I know.

They stepped across the muddy rut left by a cartwheel. “Time to replace some of these cobbles, come spring weather,” Idris observed.

Cadogan touched his shoulder. “Did you just hear yourself? This is why you’re so valuable in your present role. You see what needs to be done here, even the small details, that keeps everyone else looked after and their surroundings, too.”

“Anyone could notice something like that.” Idris shook his head.

“Certainly anyone could. But you do, and then you arrange to deal with it. Half the time you don’t even need to make a note of it to remember. That’s a gift.”

Idris snorted. “Like your memory isn’t just as good.”

“Ah, but I have help in that regard.” Tok’bel symbiotes had amazing powers of memory, something that Cadogan found extraordinarily useful.

This time his nephew chuckled. “All right, that’s a fair point.”

Arriving at the manor house, they slipped inside and shrugged out of their cloaks, accepting cups of mulled ale from Tegwyn, who had greeted them at the door. “Mother says dinner will be early, as neither of you has eaten since breakfast.”

“Most excellent news,” observed Cadogan appreciatively. “I’ll be in my study until then, annwyl.”

“Mind if I join you?” asked Idris.

“Come on, then,” Cadogan invited, turning toward the stair. “I’m going to contact Neirin via communicator and tell him to expect Sholan and his company, so he doesn’t get his feathers ruffled over seeing them pass by on the road.”

“I’ll bring you up a loaf and some cheese,” Tegwyn called after them as they began to climb the steps to the second floor.

In his study, Cadogan poked the banked fire to life and added another log before moving to the desk, where he opened a drawer, producing his communicator. The device fit easily in the palm of his hand, yet it packed enough power to send a signal to space if necessary. Two identical devices were in the field right now, one with Ceinwen near the mine complex and the other with Neirin at the Wolves’ hideout. Garlen, the Tok’bel’s resident technical genius, had set the Tok’bel’s communicators to a frequency band far outside those normally used or monitored by the Goa’uld and securely encrypted them to guard against both detection and the interception of messages by anyone outside the rebellion.

Activating the device, he joined Idris before the fire, settling into the unoccupied of the two horsehair-upholstered chairs. “Uncle calling Wolf Leader. Are you receiving?” When nothing happened for a moment, he repeated the hail. “Wolf Leader, this is Uncle. Please respond.”

The communicator remained stubbornly silent. Sighing, he tried a different tack. “Vixen, can you hear me? This is Uncle.”

A moment later Ceinwen’s voice issued from the device. “Yes, Uncle, I hear you clearly. I take it Wolf Leader isn’t responding?”

Cadogan shook his head as Idris looked concerned. “No, and that probably means I was wrong about how badly the naquadah ore traces in that cave system might interfere with the signal reception. At least, I hope that’s all it is. Meanwhile, we’ve had a new development…” He went on to explain about the visit from ‘General Kasol’ and the general’s real identity. “He’s agreed to look into the matter and do what he can to free Coll and see that he is returned to us alive and unharmed.”

“Well, that’s certainly welcome news,” came the reply. “If Wolf Leader isn’t receiving your messages, then it’s a safe bet he won’t receive mine. I’ll go to him myself, as soon as She-Wolf has reported to me. Which should be anytime now, I expect.”

Cadogan nodded, shooting Idris a confident look. “Excellent. Please let me know what she reports as well.”

“Will do, Uncle. I’ll be in touch soon.”

Cadogan pocketed the communicator. “I’m annoyed to be proven wrong about those caves, but at least Ceinwen will get a message through.” A knock sounded and he glanced at the doorway to see Tegwyn bearing a small platter that held a loaf of bread, a wedge of cheese, and the cheese knife. She carried it to the small table situated between their chairs. “Thank you, annwyl.”

Tegwyn nodded. “You’re welcome.” She hesitated for just a second before asking, “Everything’s going to be all right, isn’t it?”

“I hope so,” the cadlywydd said honestly.

His young niece appeared to digest this response for a moment. “That’s a fair answer.” She turned toward the door, then looked back over her shoulder. “Dinner will be ready in half an hour.”


The wind rattled branches and brush clustered around the rocky slope near the edge of the mining complex where Ceinwen had come to make her rendezvous with Tesni. “So it was just simple disobedience?” She pulled her cloak more tightly about herself as a chill gust caught its hem. “That’s good news.”

Tesni brushed a stray lock of hair out of her eyes. “Let’s hope so.”

“I have news as well,” Ceinwen began, then went on to explain what she had learned from the cadlywydd. “They’re expected to arrive sometime in the morning. I’m going to go and deliver both messages to Neirin in person tonight.”

“Tell him I send my love.”


Two hours had passed since Cromwell had come to sit with Pyr by the mouth of the cave, and at least one since he’d sent the younger man back to the company of his fellows in the sheltered chamber within. No sense both of them enduring the cold and the stiffening breeze the colonel was certain heralded more snowfall before midnight. He gazed out at the deepening dusk as he fingered the communicator in his pocket. No message had yet come from Ceinwen, and he was beginning to worry. Surely she’d had some contact with Tesni by now?

The entry tunnel was in shadow, a yawning mouth leading to a black throat beyond. Cromwell checked the shielded lantern by his side, reassuring himself that the candle it contained was still lit and large enough to get him through the night if need be. With its tin panel closed, the lantern cast no light save that tiny bit reflected from the hooded opening that fed air to the flame. Sliding the panel open allowed for its light to be directed and controlled, much as a flashlight’s would be. His grandfather had owned a pair of similar lanterns that he recalled using on youthful camping expeditions and once or twice during power outages caused by the summer thunderstorms that had come rolling through the valley.

The crunch of boots on snow brought him back from this reverie. “Neirin?” said a feminine voice.

“I’m here, Ceinwen.” He pushed himself to his feet as she appeared, a darker shadow against the dim twilight reflected from the snow. “Are you having problems with the communicator? Have you spoken with Tesni? What’s happening at the mine?” Even as he asked the questions, staccato, Cromwell realized how keyed-up he actually sounded.

He didn’t care.

Ceinwen joined him in the cave, her own lantern casting just a sliver of light from behind its barely-opened shielding. “My communicator is working fine, but apparently yours can’t pick up a signal from inside the cave. The cadlywydd tried and so did I, and neither of us could raise you. He says most likely there’s too much naquadah in the surrounding rock, and he’s a bit chagrined to have been wrong about his estimate.”

Damn. “I’ll have to position one of my men outside with it, then.” Cromwell tried to think of a spot on the hillside that provided enough shelter from the snow and wind. In this cold and without a fire or other heat source, comm shifts would need to be brief, perhaps only a couple of hours at a time during the day and even less at night.

Ceinwen shook her head. “You could, but it’s only a short hike from the mine to here, so I can carry messages on foot with little trouble. And I have news.”

“I’m listening.”

“First of all, I’ve spoken with Tesni. She’s fine, and sends her love. She’s learned that apparently Coll was arrested for simple disobedience. It seems another miner tripped and twisted his ankle at the end of an extra-long shift, and Coll stopped to help the man. The Jaffa thought at least one of them was slacking, and told Coll to leave the other man alone… but you know Coll. He helped the man anyway, and got tossed into a cell for his trouble. Tesni spoke with a woman who saw it all happen, and while there’s been no other news of him since then, at least it looks like it was typical Jaffa arrogance rather than anything more dire.”

Relief flooded through the colonel, both at the news of his wife’s safety and that Coll was apparently not under suspicion of dissent or disloyalty. The rebel movement’s secret was still safe. “Thank you.”

He saw Ceinwen shiver as a wind gust found its way into the mouth of the cave. “Wait, let’s head back where it’s more sheltered and warmer,” he said, touching her shoulder and drawing her deeper into the passageway, sliding his lantern open as he did so. “My men will be able to build a fire now that the sun’s gone down and the smoke will be hidden. We hunted along the way here, so we’ll have meat in a while. Stay and eat with us before you return to your post.” Together they began to make their way toward the inner chamber. “So what’s the other news?”

“Llanavon was visited by a party of Goa’uld and Jaffa today, and — ”

Fuck! “That can’t be good. What happened?” If Goa’uld were going to start showing up, they were in serious trouble, no matter what Coll’s situation was.

Ceinwen laid a hand on his arm. “Wait; there’s more to the story, Neirin. They were under the command of one General Kasol, who is actually a Tok’bel operative under deep cover in Bel’s military. From the sound of things, Bel is simply trying to intimidate people into additional effort at resource production, and sent a warning to be sure to give full measure at the next tribute. Cadogan thinks it has something to do with Emhain — he said you’d know what that meant.”

Cromwell nodded. “I do, yes. All right, so then what happened? Are they gone now?”

“No. The operative — his name is really Sholan — gave Cadogan to understand that they would be visiting two other settlements and then visiting the mine complex tomorrow. But that isn’t all. Sabar suggested to Cadogan that he beg a boon from Kasol, to be granted in Bel’s name. He asked Kasol to look into releasing Coll for the sake of his family.”

The colonel blinked. “And did Sholan agree?”

“Yes. So the cadlywydd wanted me to warn you that there will be a party of Goa’uld and Jaffa traveling the road to the mine tomorrow, but that you need only to keep hidden so that none of them detect you or your men. If everything goes according to plan, Coll will go free without either you or Tesni having to do anything.”


The morning sun reflected brightly from the snow-covered ground, in sharp contrast to yesterday’s overcast skies. Last night’s additional snowfall had added perhaps an inch of accumulation, but it was light and powdery rather than heavy and damp, and lay along the branches of the trees overhead like a dusting of well-sifted flour.

The scout shifted in his hiding place, shaking loose a bit of the powdery snow which fell onto his cloak. As he brushed it away, he heard the sound of the ring that occupied the center of the stone circle activating. Peering out from the edge of the treeline, he saw what looked like a gout of water rush forward from the ring, only to be sucked back to form a stable, vertical pool. The effect never ceased to amaze him.

From the center of the pool appeared a figure, followed quickly by several more. The scout counted eight Jaffa as they stepped through the ring, before the shimmering ‘surface’ evaporated with a sizzling snap. The one who appeared to be in charge barked an order, and the others formed up with their weapons at the ready. After a moment, the leader gave another command, and the party moved off toward one of several trails leading away from the compass circle. The one they chose led in the direction of the mining complex.

The scout pursed his lips. There were entirely too many Jaffa about for his taste lately. Pocketing the bit of dried meat he’d been about to snack on when the ring had activated, he turned and began to jog up the trail toward Llanavon, breaking into a run after a few steps. The cadlywydd would want this news quickly.