“Secrecy, once accepted, becomes an addiction.” – Edward Teller, Hungarian-born American theoretical physicist (January 15, 1908 – September 9, 2003)


Sunlight found a gap in the overcast as Sholan led his party out of the forest on the trail that led from Bren Argoed toward the mine complex several miles distant. Light glaring off the snow-covered landscape caused him to squint slightly as his host’s pupils rushed to contract. Not even the enhanced reflexes of a longtime host were instantaneous, he observed wryly.

After delivering the same basic message to the residents of Dinas Coedwyg and Bren Argoed as he’d given in Llanavon, ‘General Kasol’ and his mixed Goa’uld/Jaffa team had remained overnight in the latter settlement. Privately, Sholan suspected their presence meant that few of the village’s residents had slept well last night, and he shared his host’s pity for them. Not that he and Brice had passed the most peaceful of nights themselves, given their mutual concern over potential events of the morrow and how to handle the situation of the Llanavoni miner who’d been jailed by the mine’s Jaffa guards for transgressions yet unknown. It would be necessary to present the appearance of stern discipline even while meting out mercy in lieu of what most Goa’uld might well regard as the justice due one who’d disobeyed his masters. Cadogan had placed them in a tricky spot, although Sholan was certain that Sabar had prompted this action or at least been involved in the decision behind it. The Tok’bel leader rarely did anything without good reason, so there was little for it but to endeavor to carry out his request as well as possible short of risking Sholan’s own cover and that of the Tok’bel as a whole.

He knew the jailed man was in all likelihood a rebel operative, a member of the local Am Rhyddid cell based in Llanavon, and the cadlywydd‘s bid to secure his release an attempt at minimizing the odds that his imprisonment might somehow compromise the movement’s secrecy. Had Bel not happened to dispatch him to call on Tir n’Awyr just now, Sholan felt certain Sabar and his host would have sought other means to free their man.

A mile or so of travel brought the party to the juncture of their current path with one leading west toward Llanavon. Here the two merged to form a slightly broader road that arrowed straight for the mines, crossing an expanse of gently rolling terrain Sholan knew was largely occupied by pasturage and crops during the summer months. In winter, however, it was a bleak and lonely place.

He paused, noting the frozen wheel ruts half-buried under the previous night’s fresh snowfall. The snow made it impossible to pick out the imprint of feet or hooves and thus the direction of travel, but Sholan surmised he was likely seeing marks left by the return of the mining party of which Cadogan had spoken. A scan of the landscape revealed nothing amiss, and he set off along the main roadway, motioning his companions to follow.



Tesni stepped carefully over the muddy slush pooled just outside the sorting facility’s doorway where a gap between two flagstones had filled with snowmelt and churned earth, presenting a hazard to unwary feet. Shielding her eyes against the bright sunlight, she made her way toward the women’s sanitary facilities — little more than a squat hut built of grey stone blocks and roofed with thatch, set hard against the mining complex’s perimeter.

Just beyond the structure, the landscape rose in a scrub-covered hillside. The evergreen of low bushes contrasted with the grey of loose rock and the reflective white of snow, producing a broken pattern that provided effective cover for Ceinwen, who materialized silently as Tesni rounded the corner of the hut. Plucking at the hood of her grey-green cloak, she whispered, “News?”

Tesni shook her head. “Nothing yet,” she replied, her own voice pitched low. “I’m working aboveground at the moment, and when I get a chance I intend to question Eiluned discreetly. Haven’t yet had the opportunity to catch her alone, though given that we’re supposed to have visitors today, I hope Cadogan’s plan works and Coll goes free without incident.”

Ceinwen nodded, tucking back a curl of fair hair that had escaped from her hood. “Even if he does, I’ll wager things are likely to get a bit complicated around here after that. I was on rotation myself the last time Bel sent any sort of Goa’uld delegation here, several years back. You’d have thought the entire place was being run by a collection of nervous cats once they left. Be glad you’ll only have five more days before returning home.”

“They can’t pass quickly enough.” Tesni drew her cloak tighter, shivering slightly; it was chillier here in the shadow of the building than in direct sunlight. “I should get back to work before someone wonders what’s taking me so long.”

“Yes, do.” Ceinwen turned to slip back into the cover of the scrub, then glanced back over her shoulder. “I’m going to try and observe Kasol’s — Sholan’s — visit from up among the trees here, but in case I can’t, I’ll need you to meet me at shift change and tell me what happened.”


Sholan halted, surveying the snowy landscape. Now no more than a mile and a half from the mine complex, he’d noted only occasional signs of human passage other than the wagon ruts that were a more-or-less continuous feature of the route they traveled. A few faint lines of footprints had either crossed or diverged from the road, indicating the presence of hunting parties or the inhabitants of the few isolated farms that surely dotted these parts if the local inhabitants followed the same pattern as Brice’s own people.

Another such trackline diverged here, barely visible beneath the latest snow cover and running in the direction of a sparsely-wooded hillside whose crest was topped with a denser growth of forest. Although the faintness of the tracks made it difficult to tell with any certainly how many pairs of feet had passed this way, Sholan estimated there had to have been at least five. {Hunting party, or something else?} he asked Brice.

It could easily be a hunting party, his host replied. And if not… well, would you really be surprised if Cadogan has a squad stationed in the area in case of trouble?

{Not at all.} Sholan glanced at the hillside again before looking up at the sky. The sun had completed roughly one-half of its steady climb toward the zenith. {Time to pick up the pace and complete the mission.} He turned to the rest of his party and gestured sharply, then set off once more in the direction of the mine.



From his vantage point in the cover of the trees near the hilltop above the cave entrance, Cromwell watched the figures clustered along the road move out. At least Sabar’s Tok’bel colleague wouldn’t have to engage in damage control over the discovery of an armed Pridanic party in hiding just off the road.

The colonel’s sigh of relief condensed in the frosty air, and he shivered, rubbing knees once more gone stiff from the cold. Countless landings in drop zones scattered around the globe — Earth’s, not this world’s — had been bound to take their toll sooner or later, he supposed, though he’d not experienced too much trouble until after one particularly difficult drop about three years ago, when Warfield had ‘chute trouble and managed to careen into him just before landing, entangling them both in the lines and bringing them down hard. Riker had harassed his buddy over it after the mission, while Cromwell had nursed sore knees in characteristic silence, brushing off the concern of Sergeant Douglas, the team’s medic.

Not for the first time, he wished for a pair of binoculars so that he might have gotten a closer look as the visitors passed by. While Tok’bel technology surely included such devices or something similar, he was less certain about the state of Pridanic optical science. He’d seen the occasional pair of spectacles in use among the general populace and had also been made aware, via a book from Cadogan’s library, of the existence of simple refracting telescopes. However, he’d yet to see an example of even a simple spyglass in field use on any of the Celtic worlds, let alone an honest-to-God pair of binocs. After more than one exercise or mission he’d mulled over the idea of suggesting them. After all, it wasn’t as if the native tech could be all that far off from developing such an apparatus independently. But the problem of how to couch the idea in such a way as to avoid raising yet more questions regarding his origins had stayed his tongue. He also wondered whether there might be some specific reason why Sabar had not seen fit to introduce the concept himself, by way of Cadogan.

Knowing the likely reaction of his Wolves should they become aware of the presence of Goa’uld and Jaffa visitors had presented Cromwell with a dilemma. His instinct for sharing information on a strictly need-to-know basis had prompted him to keep the knowledge of Sholan’s identity to himself after Ceinwen’s revelation. After all, he’d reasoned, limiting the number of people who knew the Tok’bel even had a highly-placed operative within Bel’s military staff — let alone who that operative was — meant greater security both for Sholan and the other Tok’bel, and for the rebellion overall. If all went well the Wolves would never need to know that ‘General Kasol’ was on their side.. He’d cautioned Ceinwen to keep the news to herself during dinner and only afterward taken Armagil aside and shared the information with him, both as a courtesy between officers and in case everything went off the rails. Aside from a few low-voiced words exchanged over tea before dawn while the rest of the team slept, they’d not spoken of Sholan or his party since last night.

Overruling his 2IC’s brief protest, he’d laid out his plan: He and Armagil would say nothing of the off-world visitors, merely instructing the others to remain hidden in the inner chamber from two hours past dawn through the main part of the day, on the pretext of Ceinwen’s having noticed the presence of other hunting parties camped in the area the night before and that too many armed Pridani too close to the mine complex might arouse the suspicions of its resident Jaffa guardians. He and Armagil would divide the morning’s watch between them, alternating comms duty on the hillside and guarding the cave mouth.

Reflexively, he felt in his belt pouch for the communicator Cadogan had sent with him, running his fingers over its smooth surface as though it were a worry-stone. He’d taken the mid-morning comms watch himself, hoping for a glimpse of this Sholan, so he could fix the operative’s image in his mind. His own desire to actually lay eyes on the general was, he told himself, merely a hedge against something altering his original plan, although he had to admit privately to a touch of curiosity as well. Three hours of waiting in the morning chill had rewarded him with a glimpse of the Tok’bel spy and a dull ache in both knees.

Releasing the communicator, he dug in his pouch for the small vial of willow-bark tincture before realizing he’d left it in his pack, down in the cavern below. Pursing his lips and squinting against the glare of sun on snow, the colonel watched as the visitors rounded a shallow bend in the road to disappear behind a neighboring hill. He checked his watch, counted sixty seconds in his head, checked again, then stood and made his way downslope to the cave mouth where Armagil waited. As he ducked beneath the low overhang that sheltered the entrance, his 2IC held out a hand to take the communications device, ready to begin his own turn at comms watch. “I’d have come up to you in a few more minutes,” the younger man commented.

“I know, but better only one of us moving around out there just now, on the off chance someone in that party had doubled back for whatever reason. Less chance of being noticed.” Cromwell carefully avoided any mention of the other reason for his hasty return.

Brioc approached just as he finished speaking. “Noticed by whom?”

“Hunters, probably the ones Ceinwen spotted yesterday,” said Armagil without missing a beat. “I thought you and the others understood you were to keep to the inner chamber. You carried that reminder yourself when you went off guard duty three hours ago.”

Brioc shook his head. “Begging your pardon, sirs, but things are getting a wee bit close back there, if you catch my meaning. And in any case, I’m not sure I understand exactly why it is we’re worried about being spotted by a hunting party. They’re our own folk after all, aren’t they?”

Armagil met Cromwell’s eyes in a wordless exchange. The younger officer was already on record as disliking the use of subterfuge in dealing with their own personnel, and despite his long-standing commitment to secrecy, Cromwell found he couldn’t really blame him. Adding in the fact that the Am Rhyddid simply did not operate in the same manner as the US Air Force only served to heighten his internal conflict. These men trusted him. Reciprocity was not only a courtesy, he realized, but a requirement if he was to continue this command. At the very least, he felt he owed Brioc something, given that it was his best friend in Jaffa captivity.

He cleared his throat and fixed Brioc with a stern gaze. “Fine. You’ll keep this to yourself, understood?”

Brioc nodded.

“There are Goa’uld in the area.” Brioc started, opening his mouth to speak, but Cromwell held up a hand to stay his tongue. “I’m not finished. Ceinwen brought word last night that the Tok’bel have a spy embedded in Bel’s military hierarchy. That operative happens to be in charge of a delegation of Goa’uld and Jaffa currently visiting this world. They visited Llanavon yesterday, and cadlywydd spoke with him. Under the guise of begging a boon from the emissary of Bel, he requested the operative’s help in freeing Coll. Speaking as Bel’s emissary, the operative agreed to do so as a gesture of ‘divine’ benevolence. We may not need to do anything at all.”

He watched Brioc digest this information. “Why did you not share this with the men, filwriad?”

“Security reasons. The fewer who know about the Tok’bel operative, the better. Less risky for him, and for the movement. But if I told them there was a Goa’uld contingent snooping around and didn’t make them aware it was actually led by an ally, you know as well as I do what their reaction would be.”

Brioc glanced at Armagil, who shrugged minutely.

Turning his attention back to the colonel, he said, “I see.” Brioc’s voice was tight. “I understand about secrecy, Neirin. We’ve kept our movement out of Bel’s awareness since my grandfather’s time, you know. But not sharing something this important with your men… ” He trailed off, clearly searching for the right words to convey his thoughts.

“If you’ve kept the rebellion secret that long, Brioc, then surely there’ve been many secrets not shared openly throughout the ranks,” Cromwell pointed out.

“True, but… ” Brioc shook his head. “Neirin, I’m aware you aren’t from around here. I was there the day you arrived, remember, and I’m pretty sure you aren’t even from Tir ‘nAwyr. You haven’t much accent these days, but what you do have isn’t from any settlement I’ve encountered, and I’ve spoken to folks from all over the Northern Lands.”

Cromwell considered this. He knew Brioc’s past; knew he had seafaring kin to whom he’d been apprenticed when he was not much older than Ris. Once, over cups of ale at the Leaping Stag, Brioc had related how he’d spent roughly three years on trading ships that plied the ports of this world’s northern hemisphere where the bulk of its population was concentrated, most of them around the Nghanol Mor or Central Sea, before concluding that the life of a sea trader didn’t quite suit him and returning to Llanavon.

“I grew up pretty far from any seaport, Brioc,” he said truthfully. “Anyway, what does that have to do with what we’re talking about?”

“Your accent’s wrong for the south, too,” the other man went on. “Wherever you’re from, it isn’t on this world. Given that, I understand you may be used to a different way, but our way is to trust the folk who have your back. For all that you’re an officer and I’m not, we’re on the same team and so are the men in that chamber.” He jerked a thumb toward the passageway. “You’ve led us through danger and back out the other side, and we’ve hauled you out of harm’s way more than once ourselves. If there’s something you know that might affect our mission, don’t you think we deserve to know about it?”

Cromwell’s jaw clenched. Armagil had given him much the same argument last night, albeit in abbreviated form and without the commentary regarding his origins. The colonel understood only too well where both men were coming from. Hell, hadn’t he experienced his own set of problems as a result of the heavy veil of secrecy expected of him during his years of service on Earth? His marriage had unraveled as a result of it, and then there was the time Jack had risked his life in orbit while virtually no one on the ground had any inkling the planet was even in danger…

But damn it, there was good reason to keep secrets. Wasn’t there? “Supposing something should happen to one or more of you,” he said, his gaze sweeping from Brioc to Armagil and back again. “Supposing it landed one of our number in a position to be taken prisoner — like Coll — or worse yet, taken as a host? The Goa’uld would potentially have access to anything you knew, but you can’t give up knowledge you don’t have.”

Brioc had gone pale at the mention of Coll. Now his eyes glittered dangerously. “Neirin, do you think you know that better than we do? I still think we deserve to be aware of things that affect our mission, and it’s up to us to deal with the contingencies presented in the event of possible capture. Besides, according to the Tok’bel, when the Goa’uld take a host they hold the host’s consciousness in such disdain that they rarely bother sifting through the contents of his or her mind. If it were otherwise, I doubt there’d still be an Am Rhyddid to concern ourselves with. You can ask Cadogan about that if you like.”

“Brioc,” began Armagil.

“By thunder!” Brioc rounded on his comrade. “I know you’re second in command, and we all take orders from Neirin, but you’ve been in this movement for years. You know how we’ve always done things.”

Armagil glanced from his teammate to his CO, clearly torn between loyalties. Cromwell found he couldn’t blame the younger man, having been in the same position more than once in his own career. On the other hand, he wasn’t accustomed to having his orders questioned openly, not even under the admittedly relaxed discipline with which the rebels operated. He knew it wasn’t at all unheard-of, and in fact had witnessed such things directly during his time among them. He’d even questioned Cadogan’s own plans himself on occasion. But he ran a tighter unit than most of his fellow filwriadau and his reputation reflected that. For someone like Brioc, who’d been on his team since he’d taken command, or Armagil — who was himself an officer through Cromwell’s own recommendation — to engage him in this manner was out of line.

Or is it? asked a nagging voice in the back of his head. You aren’t on Earth anymore, and these people obviously play by different rules.

He shoved the thought aside. Tempers were high right now and with good reason, but that was no excuse to take unnecessary risks. “Both of you, stop. And that’s an order.”

Silence reigned for a beat. He drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, willing himself to the patience needed to speak calmly. “I understand your protests, and they are duly noted. For right now, however, we do this my way. Brioc, I’ve told you what’s going on as a courtesy. You will keep the knowledge to yourself until or unless I instruct you otherwise. Are we clear on this?”

Brioc nodded. “Aye, filwriad.”

Armagil echoed the nod. “I’m sorry, sir.”

“No apology necessary. You’ve done nothing wrong.” Cromwell held out the communicator. “You’re on comms duty; get up there.”

Brioc interrupted, his tone conciliatory. “Neirin, I had a short shift earlier; I’ll take this one. I could use some time alone anyway.”

Cromwell eyed him for a moment before handing over the device. “Fair enough. I’ll send someone to relieve you in two hours.”



“Uncle to Wolf Den.” Silence followed, broken only by the crackle of the fire in the study’s hearth. Cadogan frowned at the communicator before keying its transmitter and speaking into it again. “Wolf Den, this is Uncle. Please respond.”

There was a pop as sparks shot upward from the flaming logs, but the device in his hand remained stubbornly quiet. By thunder, now what’s the problem?

{Good question.} The frustration in Sabar’s tone mirrored that felt by his host.

You don’t suppose that second Jaffa team has reached those caves yet and found Neirin and his team, do you? I shouldn’t think they’ve moved that quickly in just this short a time.

{I doubt it,} Sabar reassured him. {Give it a few moments, and we’ll try again. In the meanwhile, let’s contact Ceinwen.}



The small vibration from her belt pouch roused Ceinwen from her contemplation of the snowy landscape surrounding the mine complex. Except for her brief meetings with Tesni at the perimeter of the camp and her excursions to the Black Wolves’ lair in the old pilot mining works a mile away, she’d spent most of the past two days hidden among the trees at the top of the hill just behind the women’s facilities. Wearing a grey-green cloak whose weave formed a mottled pattern intended to blend in with her surroundings, she’d felt relatively invisible, provided she remained still. More than one Am Rhyddid operative owned a cloak like this for use on spying missions.

Drawing the communications device from her pouch, she activated it. Cadogan’s voice issued from its speaker, just loud enough to be heard. “Uncle to Vixen.”

She pressed the key that would allow her to respond, then spoke softly into the pickup. “This is Vixen. Go ahead.”

Her blood ran cold as the cadlywydd explained that a second troop of Jaffa had arrived through the door-between-worlds and appeared to be headed toward the mine. “You’ve informed the Wolves of this, surely?”

“No, I haven’t been able to raise them yet,” Cadogan replied. “I’ll try again in a moment, but if I can’t make contact, I’ll need you to carry the message.”

“Aye…” Ceinwen froze as she heard the snap of a twig behind her. She’d been sitting just inside the edge of the wooded area, looking downslope toward the mining camp. It was virtually unheard-of for a hunting party to venture this close to the mine. Had she been spotted by the camp’s Jaffa guards, and someone been sent to apprehend her?

She thumbed the communicator’s controls to standby and risked the motion involved to glance over her shoulder, but the dense branches of the surrounding trees — she’d taken shelter tucked up against a stand of fir — impeded her view. The communicator vibrated again, but she ignored it, listening intently to her surroundings. She heard another snap, sounding closer than the previous one. Could be Jaffa, she thought, but then it could be anything, even just some animal.

The sound of voices reached her then. “You’d think we’d find more than rabbits, hey? The anghredaduniaid dare not hunt this close to the mine, so there ought to be deer.” The speaker was male, youngish-sounding, and had a slight tendency to swallow the final consonant of his words. That and his use of the archaic and somewhat pejorative term for unbelievers indicated that he belonged to Clan Talorc.

He was answered by a second voice, also male. “It’s been a thin winter for everyone, Iolo. Even the deer, or we’d not be hunting so far afield ourselves.”

Ceinwen sat motionless, wondering whether there were only the two of them. Few Pridanic or Alban hunters came within a mile or so of the mining camp, preferring to give it a wide berth. Seeming to sense that the area immediately surrounding the camp was a place of relative safety, local game tended to congregate there. In lean times Clan Talorc, the Bel loyalists who lived in relative isolation amid a ridge of low mountains some miles to the northwest, occasionally sent parties to hunt in what was thus effectively a small game preserve passively guarded by the presence of the Deceiver’s Jaffa minions.

That it had also served as her hiding place for the past two days now placed her in a precarious position. If she moved from the spot where she sat, it was likely she’d be heard and followed, the sound of her passage causing them to mistake her for a deer until they drew close enough to realize she was human — which would lead to its own set of problems. If she remained in place, there was a chance the hunters might veer off in another direction without ever knowing she was here. She opted to sit tight and hope.

The communicator vibrated again, and she shut it off. Cadogan might fear the worst, but if she spoke now those fears would be made manifest. Better to let him only think she’d been captured.



Brioc turned the conversation with Neirin over and over in his mind as he sat watching the road. It wasn’t as if he didn’t understand the need for secrecy. By thunder, the Am Rhyddid had operated securely for generations squarely under the nose of the Deceiver and his lackeys, not to mention the small minority of loyalist clans inhabiting Tyr ‘nAwyr. They must be doing something right. Likewise, the Tok’bel had escaped notice for ninety years now, since his great-grandfather’s day. But every man in the cavern below was sworn to the rebel cause and would dispatch himself to the grave before revealing intelligence to the enemy. Surely Neirin must know that?

He wondered on occasion where Neirin hailed from. In his brief career as a sea trader’s apprentice, Brioc had encountered nearly every accent found on Tir ‘nAwyr. He had a gifted ear for such things, and it had been clear to him from the first that Neirin was not from this world. The cadlywydd had quickly placed under orders everyone who knew of the man’s arrival — Brioc had been attached to Celyn’s team at the time and was among those who’d fought at the compass circle against Jaffa they now surmised had actually belonged to Moccas — instructing them to engage in no open speculation about the origins of the mysterious stranger who’d acquitted himself so admirably in the fray. Obviously Cadogan found the man useful enough to have brought him in from wherever he’d found him, despite the necessity of acclimating him to local ways before putting him in charge of a team. Neirin himself virtually never spoke of his homeworld, which indicated to Brioc that he’d likely left some tragedy behind him. Either that, or he’d spent so long undercover that the habits of deep secrecy had become ingrained.

Brioc supposed that might sufficiently explain Neirin’s extreme reluctance to share information even with his men. The principle of ‘need to know’ was something they all understood, even if right now he and Neirin disagreed over who had that need and why. Regardless, the filwriad was a good commander, and loyalty demanded obedience.

The communications device tucked into his belt pouch vibrated, interrupting Brioc’s thoughts. He withdrew it, tapping a control, and Cadogan’s voice issued from the speaker. “Uncle to Wolf Den.”

Was that a trace of agitation coloring the cadlywydd‘s normally calm tone? “Wolf Den here; go ahead.”

Moments later, he scrambled down the hillside and into the cave. Armagil shot him a questioning look that was rapidly supplanted by surprise as Brioc blurted, “We’ve got trouble. There’s a second squad of Jaffa possibly headed this way, and Ceinwen just dropped out of contact as Cadogan was speaking with her.”

Upon reporting the same thing to Neirin in the inner chamber, Brioc watched his commander’s face go through at least three different permutations of worry. “Sir, if you don’t mind, I think we — ”

“Two minutes. Gather your gear, and I’ll address everyone at once,” Neirin said sharply.