If you are going through hell, keep going. — Winston Churchill


For the second time today, Cromwell wished mightily for binoculars. Peering through the gap in the fir branches, he and Brioc monitored events in the camp below the hillside. The second Jaffa party had entered the camp moments ago, and been quickly intercepted by two leather-armored guards. Now one of those guards had brought the leader of the second party to confer with Sholan, and things looked tense. Meanwhile, four Jaffa in leather moved a pair of horse-drawn carts across the forecourt, angling toward the storage building where Cromwell knew naquadah ore was kept.

“On your toes, gentlemen,” he cautioned his team. “We don’t know which way this thing’s going to break.”

Sholan suddenly raised his weapon as a shimmering field enveloped him. The Jaffa brought his staff to bear, firing at the group on the dais. Cromwell saw Ceinwen leap over the edge with Coll in tow. They disappeared into the crowd as it scattered. The Jaffa who’d shot first fell under a hail of energy bolts and disappeared from view as chaos erupted. His fellows, cut off from easy exit by the carts, opened fire on the guards leading the horses. The animals squealed in fear and one bolted, hauling the cart along with it while its handler dodged out of the way and fired at the other party. He was joined by two of the mine’s human overseers who came running from the direction of the storehouse, brandishing zats.

That tears it. Cromwell turned from the scene and addressed his men. “All right, time to move. We’ve got Jaffa fighting Jaffa, so my guess is this new bunch belongs to Moccas. The workers are scattering, and none of our people in that compound right now are armed with Goa’uld tech. We’ve got three objectives: protect our people, give Sholan any help he needs, and get all of our folks out of there before anybody starts asking too many questions. Right now both Jaffa and human staff are shooting, so we can probably count on the confusion for cover if we don’t take too long.”

As he spoke, he’d started downslope, followed by his men and keeping to the shadows cast by the trees and the hillside itself. He issued further orders as he went, dividing the Wolves into twos and threes, with the intention to scatter them throughout the chaos once they reached the courtyard. “Whatever you do, don’t let yourselves get on the wrong side of Sholan’s people or the mine staff,” he cautioned. “Brioc, you’re with me. The rest of you, fan out. Rendezvous at the cave, with everyone you can grab.” That meant traveling a little over a klick cross-country, but it was better than having everyone stick too close to the action while they waited for stragglers.

By now they’d reached level ground just behind the admin block. “See you all on the outside. Go.”


Ignored after their captive had been taken in hand by the Jaffa, Iolo and his companion Llyr had remained standing near one side of the dais. They watched as the Emissary judged the anghrediniwr. It didn’t matter what treaty existed between her clan and Talorc, Iolo mused; at least not to Llyr. Clan Talorc remained true to the Shining One and carried out his worship as best they could in this benighted age. Since his triumphant return in Iolo’s several-times-great grandsire’s day, Bel appeared less frequently to his faithful than the ancient legends claimed he was wont to do before the Wars of the Gods. Perhaps this was why most other folk now regarded Bel not as a god but as a mortal being, albeit something vastly more than human. They despised him, giving their service and their gifts reluctantly, begrudging the very Lord who had delivered their ancestors to this fertile world the fruit of their labors upon it.

Iolo knew this to be a great sin. The priests reminded his people at every turn that they and a small handful of other clans scattered over the face of this world and her sisters were all that kept the flame of faith alive and that one day Lord Bel would see fit to judge the Unbelievers in fury and in purifying fire. But it was not the place of Clan Talorc and the other faithful to take a god’s vengeance into their own hands. This had been the firm instruction of Divine Emissaries since before Iolo’s birth, including the one who now occupied the dais, surveying the woman who knelt before him. Talorci might fight for honor in the name of Bel when war bands clashed, for war had always been the holiest sport among Pridani and Albannu alike since the days when their forefathers walked the byd cyntaf — the First World — and Bel himself would reward those whose glory in battle was freely offered Him. Outside the bounds of the blessed game, however, it was not given to mortal men and women to claim the agency of divine will, not even the faithful of Talorc.

This Iolo believed. Llyr, however, was another story. He was a fanatic, even by the standards of the priesthood. Not that Iolo had qualms about seeing an infidel brought to face an Emissary. It had been his suggestion to seize the woman, although he was sure that if he’d said nothing, Llyr would have suggested it himself with his next breath. Still, there was something unsettling about the gleeful glitter Iolo saw in the old priest’s eyes as he’d watched her forced to her knees in the frozen mud. Clan Branoc was one of the most respected clans in the neighboring district, and they or their allies might well seek redress should the sport of war find their band pitted against one of Talorc’s own. Old Llyr loved to play with danger, but Talorc sent its surplus youth to court the blessings of warfare, while the priests fed temple fires and waited for news.

The Emissary had ordered the girl brought up onto the dais, and as she was led to stand beside another prisoner, a leather-clad Jaffa captain approached the Emissary. Iolo had not caught whatever words they exchanged, but as the Jaffa hurried off a moment later, Iolo’s gaze had followed him and he’d noted a knot of fully-armored and helmeted Jaffa milling about the compound’s forecourt, inside the main gate. When the captain returned he’d brought one of their number, helmet retracted to reveal blond hair so pale as to be almost white.

Something in this new Jaffa’s demeanor set Iolo’s teeth on edge, though he couldn’t have begun to explain why. A moment later the Jaffa opened fire with his ma’tok, and reflex made Iolo duck. As the attacker fell, shot by the Emissary, the impact dislodged the zat’nik’tel at his belt. It bounced off the ground before coming to rest a few feet way.

Time and action blurred as Iolo tried to process what he’d just seen. Jaffa firing on the gods or their messengers was something out of legend or history, not an event he’d ever expected to witness first-hand. Beside him, Llyr gave a wordless cry and leapt forward, ducking past running bodies — Jaffa and human — to grasp the fallen weapon and tuck it into his belt. “Come, boy! They whose leader attacked the messenger of Bel must die!” He made as if to charge the forecourt, but wheeled as another firebolt narrowly missed him, leaving an acrid tang in the air.

Iolo saw their erstwhile captive and her fellow prisoner leap from the dais and disappear into the panicked crowd as it dispersed. Llyr must have seen them as well, for he changed course yet again. “This way!” he shouted, and plunged into the scattering throng. Iolo hesitated, then reluctantly followed. He was unsure what connection Llyr had made between the attack they’d just witnessed and the prisoners, but unwilling to let the old man stray too far out of sight.



Sholan registered K’amot’s shout but was far too busy to respond. As the foreign Jaffa opened fire, Sholan had zatted his exposed head twice, killing him. Saldah, in charge of the mine’s complement of Jaffa, was clearly taken by surprise but recovered almost immediately and begun shouting orders to his own forces.

An instant later, staff and zat bolts from the direction of the main gate had announced the entry of the fallen one’s squad into the fray. Due to the location of the dais, Sholan and his two deputies quickly found themselves in the general crossfire as the intruders seemed to concentrate their efforts upon his party. His own Jaffa guard had quickly closed ranks, but not before both of his Goa’uld deputies had returned fire. The addition of a panicked crowd of humans screaming and jostling to escape further complicated matters. Sholan thundered commands with full-voiced authority of a System Lord’s emissary and general, but these went largely ignored by the human laborers — not that he was surprised, given what he knew of the Pridani and the Albannu.

{General!”} K’amot called again. {“Tulka’an’s been hit.”}

Sholan suppressed the urge to curse out loud. Not only was he the only member of the party to possess a kara’kesh with a personal shield function, but he also carried the party’s only tael’kesh, the healing device used by Tok’ra and Goa’uld alike. His most pressing task just at present was to be seen attempting to maintain order, however, not to mention that as a Tok’ra he had no great interest in saving the life of any Goa’uld.

Still, he turned to see to his deputy, stepping over one of the party’s five Jaffa, who had fallen to the dais with a smoking rent in his breastplate. Tulka’an lay motionless, the left side of his head a blistered and charred mass of flesh. The damage continued down his neck where it disappeared beneath his armor. K’amot knelt over him, and Sholan reluctantly extended his shield to encompass all three temporarily. A zat blast sneaked past their quartet of Jaffa to sizzle against the shield, sending ripples across his field of vision as it dissipated. The shield wavered a moment in the wake of the discharge. That isn’t going to hold for long, observed Brice.

Realizing his host was most likely right, Sholan retracted the shield’s boundaries until they conformed once more to the limits of his own person. He reached for the healing device at his belt, but another blast lit up his shield again, and he turned to extricate himself from the little knot of Jaffa surrounding his deputies. Right now he needed to know what was going on more than he needed to render aid. Tulka’an, assuming he was still alive, would have to heal his host body by himself or wait until later when Sholan had time to tend him, or possibly for transport back to Bohan and the ministrations of a sarcophagus. While he might regret the loss of an easily-managed lackey, beyond that he would not grieve the death of a Goa’uld.


As the first Jaffa fell to the ground, the crowd began to scatter. Tesni saw Ceinwen leap off the dais, dragging Coll with her, then lost sight of both in the press of bodies — armored and otherwise — near its base. She looked left and right, trying to locate the other Llanavoni rebels who had come along on the current work rotation. Aeddon stood perhaps a dozen feet away, mouth open in shock. As she watched, he quickly closed it and looked about. Catching sight of Tesni, he arrowed in her direction. Cornan and Enfys appeared at her elbow mere seconds later. “What’s going on?” asked Cornan.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” Tesni retorted, steering all three toward the sorting-house as a trio of leather-armored Jaffa pelted past them in the direction of the dais. All around them the facility’s other Jaffa were bellowing orders and trying to herd the workers toward the mine entrance, with little success amid the chaos. She saw the same tattooed man who’d operated the lift yesterday struck by a random energy bolt and fall writhing to the ground, his eyes wide with shock.

A hasty sprint brought Tesni and her comrades to the relative shelter of the sorting-house. Half a dozen others had already taken refuge there. “What’s happening? Who are these other Jaffa?” asked a young man who looked as though he might be all of eighteen and on his first work rotation. Dusty brown hair fell across his forehead, half-obscuring one eye, and he brushed it aside only for it to fall back again.

“Hush, Cynwric, and keep away from the door,” urged an older man.

“Aye, tad.” The youth scuttled backward to huddle between his father and another man who might be an uncle, if resemblance were any indication.

Tesni and her companions formed a knot in one corner of the building, away from its other occupants. Crouching on the floor next to one of the sorting tables, they conferred in whispers.

“I want to know what’s happening, too,” Aeddon said. “Obviously the Emissary doesn’t care much for these new Jaffa. Might one group or the other be the same ones that showed up on Emhain last fall?” Knowledge of that encounter had filtered through the rebel ranks in Llanavon afterward.

“Well, it isn’t the Emissary’s group, I can tell you that much,” Tesni whispered back. “According to Ceinwen, they visited Llanavon yesterday. The Emissary is known as General Kasol, but my uncle says he’s really a Tok’bel agent who’s been deep undercover for years. I imagine the other Goa’uld with him are genuine, though.”

“Which still doesn’t tell us who these other Jaffa are,” put in Enfys.

“I know who they are,” said a masculine voice as two more bodies slipped into the circle. Ceinwen looked disheveled but otherwise unharmed, while Coll wore an oddly satisfied expression. “That blond Jaffa was at Doireglas. Couple of them were fighting with their helmets open that day; I’ve no idea why. Anyway, I remember him because he took a shot at Cadogan and didn’t miss, then disappeared in the thick of things. Son of a dog finally got what he deserved just now.”

“So they don’t belong to Bel, then?” Enfys wanted to know.

Coll nodded. “That’s my guess. We made a show of fighting on Bel’s side at the time, as cover, yet this one shot the cadlywydd. He must’ve belonged to Moccas.”

“Enough speculation,” said Tesni. “Whatever’s happening, once it’s over the Emissary’s going to have to deal with you two. Coll, I know my uncle had asked him to find a way to pardon and free you, and he agreed. But it’s anyone’s guess how a fight like this could change what he feels he can do without arousing suspicion. And certainly there’s little he could’ve done to let Ceinwen go, so we’d best get you both out of here. I don’t fancy sticking around myself, either.”

Aeddon goggled at her. “What do we do, shoot our way out? And with what?”

Ceinwen patted the leather satchel she carried slung on a strap across her torso. “I was going to hide my tech if anyone got too close, but I thought I could get away before those hunters grabbed me. Turns out they were in such a hurry to present me to the general that they didn’t bother to do a thorough search beyond taking my bow, quiver and dagger. I’ve still got a zat.”

Cornan snorted. “Right, and we won’t look at all suspicious.”

Ceinwen shook her head. “It’s a free-for-all out there. Some of the staff have zats too, especially the Talorci. I saw one hit on the way here, and another grabbed his weapon and ran off firing it. If we can make ourselves look as though we’re trying to defend this place from Moccas’ Jaffa, we can probably get to the perimeter and disappear into the hills.”

“All right, you have a zat. What do the rest of us have?”

With a pointed glance at Cornan, Tesni reached up and plucked a wad of fabric from the table above. It was one of the close-woven sacks used for collecting the smallest chunks of naquadah-rich ore so they wouldn’t go astray during transport. “We use these.” She began to twist and knot the empty sack as she spoke, leaving a shallow cup between the two largest knots. “We’ve all hunted with slings, or used them in target games. Ore chunks are dense enough to do some damage when they strike, maybe even through armor if they hit between the plates. Besides, we’re mostly just trying to look like we’re defending the mine, and we only have to keep it up long enough to get out of here. I expect we’ll have a pack of Wolves helping before long.”

Ceinwen nodded assurance. “Without a doubt.” Even if the cadlywydd hadn’t gotten a warning to them, she knew the moment any of Neirin’s men spotted the second party of Jaffa he’d have laid plans to intervene if necessary.

“One more thing,” said Tesni. “There are seven others here from Llanavon, and I don’t want to leave them behind. Even if those eight Jaffa aren’t the vanguard of a larger force, there’s no telling what conditions will be like here when all is said and done. We may not be able to save everyone, but if we can get our own out of harm’s way, we will.”


Cromwell and Brioc crouched low as they made their way around the side of the administration building. At the corner, they peered out at the unfolding situation. The new Jaffa, the ones wearing heavy armor, had dispersed the moment their leader had been hit, but finding their main egress blocked by carts, horses and angry guards, they hadn’t run far. Instead, apparently realizing just how badly outgunned they were by the combination of Sholan’s group and the mine’s complement of Jaffa, they had scattered and sought the best cover they could find, with varying degrees of success. Two hid behind carts, while others simply dove to the ground and fired at anything that moved.

The first shots had been like a flame to dry grass. The crowd of assembled workers had quickly turned into a stampede of terrified people trying desperately to reach the safety of the nearby buildings, and at the same time the mine’s lightly-armored contingent of Jaffa headed towards Sholan and the invading Jaffa, struggling through a churning tide of panicked humans.

Moving as quickly as he dared and keeping his head down, Cromwell dashed across the gap between the admin block and the low wall separating it from the rest of the compound. Brioc followed, both of them fetching up against the wall’s base. The colonel peered over its top, trying desperately to catch a glimpse of a familiar face within the chaotic sea of humanity seeking shelter, and seeking one face in particular. Staff blasts flew in every direction across the complex and the horses that pulled the naquadah carts, big powerful animals that reminded him of Clydesdales he’d seen back on Earth, were spooked. As he watched, one reared in its traces, dancing sideways and tipping the cart dangerously before coming back down again with a thud of heavy iron-shod hooves and a crash of wheels.

He looked again, knowing he had to be analytical and dispassionate if he were to get his team, Tesni and himself out of this mess intact, now that the variables had shifted. The new Jaffa he supposed were most likely soldiers of Moccas seemed to be putting up a valiant defense in lieu of flight, and a quick scan of the entire compound suggested why: They were greatly outnumbered, and unless they could whittle down their opposition and force the remainder into cover or at least make them keep their heads down, any attempt to fall back would end with them all being slaughtered. Unfortunately, this also meant they weren’t being too discriminating about who they shot, as long as it wasn’t one of their own number.

For the dozenth time he hefted the zat, passing it from hand to hand before clasping its serpentine body firmly in his right. “Did you see where Coll and Ceinwen went?”

“No, filwriad, only that they disappeared into the crowd,” Brioc replied.

“They’ve probably found shelter by now. Keep your weapon handy, but conceal it as much as you can. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, and we don’t know how many of those workers are with us.”

Cautiously, he and Brioc moved out from behind the wall. The crowd had thinned considerably, but many people remained in the courtyard, huddled in clumps or sheltering wherever some structure or object provided cover. A staccato of energy bursts punctuated every few steps they took as the Jaffa incursion force traded fire with the mine’s defenders. A foolhardy effort if ever there was one, thought Cromwell. Unfortunately, I’m the guy who has to worry about collateral damage.

As they worked their way across the compound at an angle designed to keep as much distance between themselves and the thick of the confrontation, he kept a sharp eye out for the familiar faces from Llanavon, or any other members of the Am Rhyddid. The rest of his men would be doing likewise, under orders to gather their comrades and safeguard them. The Wolves had the advantage here, knowing the General’s true allegiance and having been forewarned of the approach of intruders. It did not make for absence of fear, but Cromwell felt the knowledge gave him some control over the situation. Some was not the same as enough, however. He had no idea where Ceinwen and Coll had disappeared to. And where was Tesni?


Sholan scowled as he tried to pick off one of the foreign Jaffa. All seven had scattered and taken cover upon seeing their leader killed. There was no telling what they hoped to accomplish, outnumbered as they were, but clearly they were unwilling to return to their master with empty hands. He supposed their training held it better to die fighting than to fail in their assigned task. They seemed to be focusing most of their fire on his own party, rather than on the more lightly-armored Jaffa who oversaw the mine. They weren’t shooting directly at him, of course, but at his four remaining guards who were in turn doing what they could to protect K’amot and the injured Tulka’an.

He swore as he realized he’d lost track of at least some of the intruders. Quickly, he counted those whose positions he was still sure of either due to visual contact or based on the source of fire toward his own position, and came up with four. That meant three were somewhere loose in the compound. A visual scan of the courtyard failed to indicate their whereabouts, and gave him cause for concern. If none of Moccas’ Jaffa — he felt certain now of their origin — were willing to return alive to their god, he would oblige them. Live prisoners could be questioned, which ran the risk of jeopardizing the careful web of disinformation he and Jiru had spun over recent years to blame the results of rebel activity on Moccas. Execution was an option, should the invaders be captured by the mine’s own guard and brought to him, but Sholan preferred to avoid that particularly noisome task if he could. Better that all seven emulate their leader by conveniently perishing in battle.

Two human figures moved across the courtyard, their motions appearing deliberately calculated in contrast to the mayhem that dominated the scene. As he watched, they paused to crouch beside an overturned handcart while one of the mine’s leather-clad Jaffa traded fire with an unseen opponent — one of the missing trio, surely — who must be located somewhere near the sorting facility, to judge by the trajectory of the energy bolts. The other humans in the area scattered, amid shouts and screams. The pair beside the cart remained still, and after the spate of firing ceased, the more broadly-built of the two cautiously raised his head, seeming to engage in a brief reconnaissance of their surroundings before touching his companion on the shoulder and gesturing with an air of command. Together, they left their temporary shelter and continued off at a tangent to their original route.


The shooting had stopped, or at least that portion closest to the sorting house had ceased. Tesni could still hear weapons fire from farther away, the bursts forming a staccato background to the worried muttering of the miners who’d taken shelter in the building. Their number had grown over the past few minutes as others arrived, including four more of the group from Llanavon. That left only seven unaccounted for.

Clutching her improvised sling, Tesni patted the sack she’d hung from her belt and filled with chunks of ore and detritus to use as ammunition should it become necessary to fight. She risked a glance outside the building, peering around the doorframe to scan the immediate area. It appeared they were in the clear for the moment. “Come on,” she urged her companions. “Let’s move while we can.”

She tucked a fist-sized rock into the sling as she stepped outside. The courtyard had not emptied entirely of miners; small knots of three or four huddled in spots. Jaffa in leather armor patrolled the open space, appearing to ignore them in the search for intruders. Handcarts and other equipment were strewn throughout, forming a haphazard obstacle course.

The Llanavoni, joined by several of the other miners who’d hidden in the sorting-house, made their way toward the far side of the compound in twos and threes, moving along the periphery where buildings provided at least potential shelter. Tesni kept a sharp eye out for trouble. As they reached the stable she heard the whickering of horses surely made nervous by the sounds of fighting. The wide door was open, and she paused at its edge, signaling those behind her to halt as well. The sounds from within grew louder, and she peeked around the edge of the doorframe. A lone Jaffa in metallic armor stood in one of the box stalls, struggling to hold a large bay cart-horse by the halter. He wore his helmet retracted, likely in an attempt to calm the animal. The horse was having none of it, however, rearing and plunging as the boards shook. Its neighbors, nearly a dozen beasts of similar size, whinnied and stamped.

Tesni felt pressure at her shoulder. A glance back showed Cynwric behind her. The young man, along with his father and uncle, had elected to join them in their bid for escape. Exchanging sign and countersign had shown both older men to be members of the Am Rhyddid cell in Tarren Môr, a coastal village some twenty miles distant.

Before she could caution Cynwric to stay back, a figure appeared in silhouette at the far door of the stable. Stepping inside, it resolved into a Jaffa, clad in the leather armor of the mine’s guard. He raised his ma’tok, aiming at the Jaffa still struggling with the horse. From his firing angle, the bolt would likely take out both animal and intruder. Tesni tensed as she heard the weapon activate preparatory to firing. The armored Jaffa heard it too, and spun around to face the guard.

“No!” cried Cynwric from behind her. The guard’s reaction to the sound destroyed his aim and the bolt arrowed upward toward the ceiling, missing his quarry by several feet. The horse reared and broke free. It bolted for the far door, knocking the guard aside in its haste to be anywhere else, and disappeared. The Jaffa who’d been holding onto its halter had been forced against the side of the box to avoid being struck by hooves the size of dinner plates. He levered himself away from the planks, glancing upward as he did so. His eyes widened and he whirled, deploying his helmet panels with a metallic hiss. Striding swiftly to where the guard lay unmoving, he stepped over the leather-clad form and exited the stable.

The scent of smoke reached Tesni’s nostrils at the same time crackling registered from above, making her look upward. That wild staff blast must have set the hayloft alight! Even as the thought occurred, she saw flames licking at the building’s roof. “Everybody, move out,” Tesni called to her group of rebels and laborers. “The stable’s on fire! That may bring more guards, but the confusion should cover our escape.”

Cynwric pressed past her, into the structure. “Get out here!” she cried after him.

“We have to save the horses!” he shouted back through the wisps of smoke that were already curling through the air from the conflagration above as hot, expanding air drove the fire’s exhaust down as well as upward.

He wasn’t wrong, she knew. No rational person would abandon animals to a burning building if it could be helped. “Go!” she shouted at the others before turning back to the door. Filling her lungs with the clear air of outdoors, she plunged in after him. The stable’s interior was filled with the screams of terrified horses, and fast becoming grey with smoke. Cynwric was working his way along one row of box stalls, unlatching doors as he went and checking to be sure the creatures within weren’t tied by their halters. “Hah!” he shouted at a dappled grey who seemed frozen in place by fear. “Go, yer thick-headed clod!” A smack on the haunch sent the horse on its way, and a fit of coughing racked the youth as he moved on to the next stall.

Tesni set to work on the opposite row, thankful the stable was only half-occupied. The horses she liberated needed no such encouragement as Cynwric had doled out to their comrade. Each thundered for the door and clear air just as soon as she’d opened its enclosure.

At the far end of the row, she spared a glance for the Jaffa guard who lay half-trampled in the straw. His neck was bent at an unnatural angle, his limbs carelessly askew like a discarded rag doll’s. Clearly he would put up no alarm or pursuit. The tip of his ma’tok had been partially flattened, likely by multiple hooves, and wasn’t likely to fire in that condition. She knelt to relieve him of the zat’nik’tel slung in a loop on his belt. As she stood, Cynwric approached with a gray sack over his shoulder. He peered about the smoke-filled gloom, probably checking to be sure they hadn’t missed any horses. She’d already checked, and knew they had not. It was too bad about the wagons and carts, but they could be replaced at a cost less dear than lives. “Come on,” she rasped, stifling the urge to cough though her lungs heaved, and grabbed him by a handful of woolen sleeve. “They’re gone, and it’s time we were, too.”

Outside, she blinked eyes streaming from sunlight and smoke. “Where did you find that?” she asked, pointing to the sack.

“Tripped over it just outside one of the stalls, and thought it might be important,” Cynwric answered. He set it down and opened it, revealing naquadah ore. “Well, that explains why it’s so heavy for its size.”

“We’ll take it with us.”

Aeddon, Enfys and Cornan appeared then, holding two older men by the arms. Still blinking away tears, Tesni recognized Cynwric’s father and uncle. “We didn’t think you needed anyone to keep track of inside,” said Aeddon, “so we kept them with us and came around here. Ceinwen’s taken everyone else onward, and we’re to rendezvous on the far side of the dormitory.”

“You can let go now,” observed the thicker of the two men — Dylan, Cynwric’s father — acerbically. “We’re not about to run in after him now that he’s come out.” As his arms were released, he nodded toward Tesni. “Many thanks to you for seeing to his safety, chwaer.”

Rounding on his son, he continued, “And as for you, are you trying to put me in an early grave?”

“No, Tad. But the horses — ”

Tesni fell in on Cynwric’s right as Dylan clapped a meaty hand on his son’s shoulder, steering him after Aeddon, who’d taken the lead. “Aye, and I suppose I can’t blame you for that, given all that Mael and I taught you,” agreed Dylan. “For that matter, any man would’ve done the same, like as not, and you’ve been of age these three months now. So I’ll say no more… this time.”

“I’ll say only one thing,” offered his brother as the group continued putting distance between themselves and the burning stable. “I’d like to know where Ysbryd’s gone off to after knocking down that Jaffa. I don’t care about the cart as much, but I’m not keen to lose him.”

“Ysbryd?” Tesni raised an eyebrow, coughing. “That big bay’s named for something as insubstantial as a phantom?”

Cynwric shot her a sheepish grin, his teeth white in the soot-besmirched face. “I named him. When he was born, he was small for the breed. And sneaky — as a foal he’d creep up behind you so quiet you wouldn’t even know he was there, and then shove his nose into your back to get your attention. I trained him from a colt — well, me and my tad and Uncle Mael here.”

They rounded the side of the building and broke into a jog. Worried-looking staff, both human and Jaffa, passed them enroute toward the fire, shouting in alarm, but only one even bothered to look their way: Eiluned. “The horses are out!” Tesni called to her as they passed. The staff would have to fight the fire lest it spread, but she knew the Jaffa would make the humans do the most dangerous work and there was no need for anyone to risk their skin going inside the building.

“Thank you!” The overseer didn’t even break stride.

“One of us?” asked Mael.

“Keep it under your cap,” Tesni cautioned him. Only a handful of people were aware of Eiluned’s true loyalties. It was safer that way.

Wind-borne smoke began to fill the compound, cutting visibility to just a few feet and slowing their progress. The musical poing! of a zat discharging at close range set Tesni’s heart to thudding as a shape emerged from the haze, resolving itself into an armored Jaffa. The bolt missed whatever its intended target had been, instead splashing against the ground in a puddle of liquid light. Glowing red eyes in the ram’s-head helm appeared to focus on Tesni herself, or someone in close proximity. “You will give us what is ours,” said the Jaffa as more shapes appeared.


Cromwell threaded his way through the confusion of bodies in the compound. Some were mobile; others were not. Brioc kept pace beside him. Somewhere in this chaos, Tesni and the other Llanavoni must be engineering their own escape, but without weapons save Ceinwen’s zat — if she still had it — they were sure to need backup. Every misgiving he’d entertained since Cadogan first suggested sending his wife into this place crowded the colonel’s thoughts at once.

Brioc gripped his arm. “Look!” he said, gesturing. The flow of traffic through the compound had changed; mine staff and the leather-clad Jaffa were altering direction to converge on a spot near the facility’s rear. A glance told him why. Thick smoke rose upward, and Cromwell caught a lick of flame.

“Has to be the stable,” he said. Had Moccas’ Jaffa deliberately set it alight to serve as a distraction?

A shifting wind began to carry smoke across the compound, threatening to obscure his vision. He managed to make out a number of figures moving against the flow, away from the fire, and traveling in a group. Cromwell recognized Ceinwen at point with Coll behind her, helping to shepherd half a dozen or so mine laborers. Brioc’s expression confirmed that he’d seen them as well, and together they moved to intercept.

Ceinwen looked relieved to see them when they reached her. “I wondered when you and your Wolves might show up, Neirin. Did Cadogan — ”

“Yes. We’re spread out and looking to get everyone away to rendezvous at the cave. Have you seen Tesni?”

In answer Ceinwen nodded toward the dormitory building just ahead, half-hidden by the smoky haze. “She’ll meet us there with another group. Come on.”

She pressed forward, and Cromwell fell into step beside her. He took note of the zat in her hand. “You’re armed. Is anyone else?”

“Slings. No tech.”

Damn. “Where did you last see Tesni and her people?” he asked as they veered to give a wide berth to the armored corpse of a Jaffa missing half of his ram’s-headed helm — and of the head within.

“The stable. She and a young man went in to turn out the horses when it caught.”

The colonel scowled. “And you left her there?”

“She ordered me to get these others away. I left Aeddon, Cornan and Enfys with her, plus two other men and the youth.”

He didn’t like it, not one bit. Something must’ve shown on his face, for Ceinwen went on, “You may argue with her all you like, Neirin, but I haven’t the rank.”

He glanced back toward Brioc, a few paces behind them with Coll at his side. “You stay with them, and I’ll meet you at the dormitory.” Before anyone could protest, he added, “Don’t worry. That’s my job.”

Cromwell set out back along their line of travel, keeping a sharp eye out despite the drifting smoke that obscured their surroundings from moment to moment. Before he’d gone more than forty paces, he heard a zat burst at close range. At almost the same instant the wind shifted yet again, clearing a patch of air around him to reveal a Jaffa in full armor training a zat at a small knot of humans, Tesni among them. She was armed, but two friendlies blocked her line of fire. Her eyes met Cromwell’s just as he raised his own zat to take aim, and he saw her mouth open, though no sound issued. Instead, he heard the sound of a ma’tok being primed.

A second Jaffa appeared in the corner of his vision, the staff weapon leveled directly at Cromwell. “Obi-tan,” he ordered. “Halt.”


A gust of wind blew smoke directly into her face, and Ceinwen rubbed at her streaming eyes. As her vision cleared, a figure emerged from the smoky air, stepping into their path and brandishing a zat’nik’tel. She recognized the elder of her two erstwhile captors. Where had he found the weapon?

“Halt!” he ordered, as his young companion appeared just beyond him, looking vaguely uncomfortable. “By what power have ye brought an enemy to confront the Emissary of Bel? I’d thought ye merely an unbeliever, but now I see ye prove a worse infidel, in league with false servants!”

“These traitorous Jaffa,” she said coldly, “are not my allies.”

His face twisted in a sneer. “Be that as it may. Your god has not finished judging you. Come now, and answer to his Emissary.”

All patience evaporated, and Ceinwen squeezed the triggering mechanism on her own weapon. “Judge that, you old fool,” she said as the priest fell backward. She stepped closer and shot him again, then eyed the younger man. “Go,” she said quietly. “Or you’re next.”

The young man swallowed, his gaze darting from Ceinwen to the dead priest and back again. He wavered for an instant, then turned and fled.


Cromwell’s blood froze as the Jaffa with the zat fired again. An unfamiliar-looking man next to Tesni fell, stunned by the blast, as his companions leapt into motion. Reflexively, the colonel triggered his own zat, dropping to the ground and rolling away even as he heard the ma’tok discharge and a wave of heat crisped the air above him. He came up into firing position just in time to see the nearer Jaffa fall heavily, enveloped in rapidly-dissipating blue energy, ma’tok clattering to the ground. But I shot at the other one!

A glance back at his line of fire showed Tesni just lowering her own zat. Somehow, she’d managed to get off a shot at the one with the ma’tok just as Cromwell stunned the one she couldn’t. Savagely, he finished the nearer one with a second shot, then paused to scoop up his staff before joining his wife as she dispatched the other Jaffa. “Let’s get out of here,” he said without preamble as he passed the ma’tok to Aeddon.

Another unfamiliar man and a youth who couldn’t have been more than eighteen were already lifting the downed man. “He’ll be all right; he’s just stunned. Have you got him? Can you carry him?”

“Yes, sir,” said the elder of the two as they hoisted their comrade. Cromwell caught an impression of family resemblance before he turned back to his wife.

“All right, let’s move out.”