No one of this nation ever begs, for the houses of all are common to all; and they consider liberality and hospitality amongst the first virtues. — Gerallt Gymro, aka Gerald of Wales, 12th century Welsh clergyman
Tesni and Cromwell spent roughly an hour and a half standing guard over the little thicket in which the children from Llanavon were hidden. Tesni had retrieved the zat’nik’tel that Ris had used, and hooked it through her belt as Nenniaw had done. Cromwell still had to suppress the urge to shudder every time he thought of the disintegration of the victims of a third shot from the weapon. Intellectually, he knew that once the victim was dead, as resulted from being receiving two bolts in quick succession, it hardly mattered what happened to the corpse, but just the very idea that an entire person could be made to simply vanish like that unnerved him.
“Excuse me.” The quiet words from behind him drew his attention. Turning, he saw Tegwyn standing there, her hand outstretched. In it was the challenge coin he had given her that morning, before leaving for Dinas Coedwyg. “I made sure not to lose this, but you should take it back now,” the girl said shyly.
Cromwell took the coin. “Thank you for keeping that safe. It — ”
“It is important to you. I can tell,” she said. “I also wanted to thank you for pushing my brother out of the way when the Jaffa shot at him. I am sorry you were hurt in doing so.”
The colonel shook his head. “It was minor, really. The cadlywydd could have left it alone.” What he didn’t bother trying to explain was that he had tried — and failed — to push Ris away before he’d had a chance to fire at the Jaffa holding Tegwyn and the others captive, lest he miss and strike her or one of the other kids. She didn’t need to carry that thought, at least not right now. If Ris hadn’t fired, he might not have been fired upon in turn. Tesni and Nenniaw could have dealt with the Jaffa, with Cromwell’s own help once Ris was safely out of the way. Nevertheless, things had shaken out the way they did, and he supposed what mattered most at present was that not only had Ris survived, but every single one of the kids who were captured was unhurt, and none had been taken away through the stargate. Everything else could be dealt with later. He was determined to have a talk with Ris once they were all back in the village, however. He didn’t doubt for one moment that he might have to stand in line to do so, but the boy would have to learn of his error and take steps to avoid similar mistakes in the future. If that meant being chastised by a half-dozen people, including a foreign stranger, so be it.
Once the scouts had returned from Llanavon, bringing with them reinforcements to remain on guard at the compass circle and announcing that it was safe to bring the children back to the village, Cromwell and Tesni, together with Nenniaw, Cadogan and Gerlad, set out for Llanavon with the children. After reassuring his own son — who had indeed been among the captives — that he would return later, Dynawd remained at the compass circle, with the first watch set there.
Upon their arrival at Llanavon, the children were whisked off by grateful parents, while Cadogan and his officers, minus Dynawd but including Celyn, presided over a meeting in the shade of the same patio where dinner had been served the evening before. Also in attendance were a large number of the village’s residents, clearly members of whatever militia comprised a good-sized percentage of Llanavon’s adult population. Now that he was aware of the true situation regarding the Pridani, their circumstances, and their resistance to the Goa’uld, Cromwell understood his own suspicions and reactions from the previous day. The village and its inhabitants had reminded him of a guerilla stronghold because that was essentially the case here. The presence of entire families only added an extra complication to the picture. As he sat with Tesni at a table not far from where Cadogan stood to address the gathered villagers, recollections of Nicaragua and Afghanistan kept surfacing, and he struggled as his mind insisted on overlaying the memories onto his current surroundings. He finally succeeded in pushing them back into a remote corner of his mind, and turned his focus to the cadlywydd‘s comments and the questions from the locals. As long as he was stuck here, he knew he would need to be aware of everything that could affect his situation, and the situation into which SG-1, or whichever team might be sent to find him, would arrive.
Word had come from Bren Argoed that the quartet of Jaffa who had shown up there had been killed, thanks to the early warning provided by the runners Cadogan had sent from Dinas Coedwyg. That left only the eight who’d gone north toward the mines, and even now they were being tracked, and would with any luck, be dispatched before they reached their intended destination. Cromwell paid close attention throughout the meeting, and found he could follow most of what was said without need for interpretation. The longer he spent listening to Pridanic, the easier it became to understand, and he was coming to rely less and less on Tesni’s help. The language really wasn’t so far removed from Welsh as he had originally thought. Mostly, it was a matter of learning slightly different pronunciations for what were essentially familiar words. The overall structure and vocabulary were similar enough that he could follow the majority of what he heard, unless it was very fast. He also found himself noticing what must be common contractions in use. They were somewhat different from the ones he’d learned from his grandmother, which made sense given the different set of sounds that Welsh and Pridanic had evolved for familiar words, which quite naturally led to different ways of forming contractions. Nevertheless, he was developing a catalogue in his mind of these differences, and he only had to ask Tesni to clarify things a few times during the proceedings.
When it was over, most of the attendees broke up into small, conversational knots, many drifting off into the village. Cadogan himself retired to a corner table with a small handpicked group including Nenniaw, Celyn and two of the men from Dinas Coedwyg, along with the ever-present Gerlad. Clearly this was a meeting of senior officers with their commander. Cromwell noticed Ris sitting alone at a table in the opposite corner of the patio, intent on some small object in his hands. Catching Tesni’s eye, he said, “After what happened in the woods with those Jaffa, I think I would really like to have a talk with your nephew. I know that your uncle is probably going to do the same, and it might not be my place, being an outsider, but some things really do bear repeating. There’s so much that could have gone wrong that I doubt the boy realizes half of it.”
She nodded. “You have as much right to speak to him about his mistake as anyone, Frehnk. In fact, you have more. If Ris had not been where he was, doing what he was doing, you would not have been injured saving his life. You could have been killed, and the responsibility would have been his.”
Cromwell shook his head. “That’s not what concerns me when I say there’s a lot that could have gone wrong out there today. Ris risking his life the way he did was a bad idea, but anything I might have done is part of the job I was trained to do. The problem isn’t the boy putting me in danger, Tesni; it’s the fact that he did it to his sister and those children, and that’s part of why I jumped him. Except I was trying to get at him before he fired, once I saw what he was about to do. Shooting at those Jaffa with Tegwyn and the others right there was an unacceptable risk to take. I don’t care how long he’s been practicing with that zat’nik’tel; he can’t possibly have known he wouldn’t hit one of them instead of the Jaffa he was aiming for. I’d have been afraid to try it myself, even with a weapon I’ve been using for years.”
Tesni nodded. “If the cadlywydd had been present to see it happen, he would have some harsh words on the subject, I am sure. He likely will anyway. However, since you were there, it is definitely something you ought to speak to Ris about. I had planned to, but I think it might mean even more coming from you. Ris has already taken his share of criticism from me lately, but I get the impression he respects you despite having just met you, and perhaps he will listen to you more closely for that.”
Cromwell shrugged. “Well, I don’t know why that would be true, but I’m going to talk to him regardless. He seems like a bright boy, and a good one. But if he doesn’t learn to think before he acts, he’ll continue to be a danger to himself and others.” The colonel levered himself up from the bench, wincing as abused muscles protested. Between fighting the gravity well back in the SGC — was it really only yesterday? — followed by the time spent on horseback, the events at the stargate, and his ongoing sleep deficit, he was really beginning to hurt something fierce. Sitting still for the past hour or so had only added to the problem by making him stiff. Cromwell felt around in his pocket for the vial of willow bark tincture Tesni had given him in Dinas Coedwyg, hoping he hadn’t managed to smash it in the course of the afternoon. It was still there, whole and stoppered. Tesni noticed it in his hand as he pulled it out, and poured a splash of cider from the pitcher into his empty mug. Gratefully, he tipped several drops into the cider and drained the mug, even though he knew it wasn’t going to do nearly as much good as he’d like. Picking up the pitcher, he refilled the mug. The local hard cider didn’t seem terribly strong, but at this point he hoped it might relax his muscles a bit, anyway.
Tesni touched his arm lightly. “Do you want my help in translating, or do you think you can manage without me? I’m happy to help, but if you think it will be better to speak with him on your own, I understand.”
Cromwell considered this. On the one hand, a man-to-man talk was probably ideal; but on the other, he still wasn’t certain enough of his skill at Pridanic to be confident of getting his message across effectively without Tesni’s presence at least as backup. “I’d appreciate your help, just in case. Unless you have other things you need to do?”
She shook her head. “No, and certainly nothing more important than this. Ris is my nephew, and this is a conversation that is definitely for his own good.”
Ris looked up at their approach. The object on which he’d been so focused was, Cromwell saw, a small wooden figure of a bird, still in progress as Ris whittled it from a piece of wood using a small knife. He was reminded of his Uncle Jim, who’d spent countless hours whittling all sorts of small animal figures and other objects at family gatherings in his boyhood, to the fascination of himself, his brother and their cousins.
Ris laid his project on table, and his knife beside it. Cromwell reached for the bird. “May I?” he asked. The youth nodded. Picking it up, the colonel examined it closely. Ris appeared to be a talented artisan for one so young. The figure was clearly that of a woodpecker, clean-lined and graceful, with tiny details of feathers and markings worked into the soft wood.
Placing the bird back on the table, he offered the boy a smile. “Very nice. You do good work.”
Ris smiled back tentatively. “Thank you.” He watched as Cromwell and Tesni took seats. It was clear he expected some sort of repercussion from the events of the afternoon.
Cromwell was about to lead off when Tesni spoke. “Ris, you owe our guest an apology again.”
He shot her a look. “I already told you my thoughts on that, Tesni.” Turning to Ris, he said, “This isn’t about apologies, son. But we do need to talk.”
Ris shook his head. “My aunt is right. I do owe you an apology, and my thanks. I don’t remember much after I was struck by that firebolt, but I saw later that you were hurt, and Tegwyn told me how it happened, because she watched it. I’m sorry to have put you in that position. I do appreciate what you did, though.”
The colonel fixed him with a stern look. “I’m just glad you weren’t killed, because you easily could have been. Ris, do you know why I tackled you in the first place? It wasn’t because you were about to get shot by a Jaffa; I didn’t even see him take aim. I was hoping to keep you from firing at the Jaffa at all.”
The boy’s eyes grew round. “Why?”
“Ris, think about who was right next to them. If you’d missed the Jaffa, who would you likely have hit?”
He watched as realization dawned, the youth’s face registering the precise moment the horror of the thought hit him. “I… I wasn’t even thinking of that.”
“Exactly my point. If you’re going to get involved in a firefight — not that you have any business doing that just yet — you have to be aware of everything around you, as much as you possibly can, and you have to let that information guide your actions, even if you only have an instant to think. Otherwise, you’re either going to get yourself killed, or get someone else killed who isn’t your enemy, or maybe even both. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”
Ris nodded mutely.
“Good. Now, who’s been teaching you to use a zat’nik’tel, anyway?”
Tesni broke in. “Dynawd trains everyone on the zat and on the use of the ma’tok, starting at the age of fifteen and a half. Ris began to learn just before midsummer.”
Cromwell shook his head. The kid’s not even sixteen yet? He looks older. Either way, he’s too goddamn young to be doing what he was trying to do.
Ris was speaking. “I’m one of the best in the class. Dynawd even said so.”
The colonel snorted. “Okay, so maybe you’re one of the best at, what, shooting at a target? Fine. That might be part of why you managed to hit the Jaffa and not your sister or any of the other children. But you’ve got a lot to learn about actual fighting of any sort, I can tell you that much. Between last night and what I saw today, you don’t do too well when it comes to matching your actions to your situation or to what’s going on around you, for one thing. Or to your opponent, either. Last night is a perfect example, because I was going to win that fight regardless. I was training for that kind of thing long before you were born, and I’ve got size on you. The first might not be obvious to someone without the right background or experience, and you don’t have either one, but the second is something anyone can see. Sure, you can take on someone bigger, and even beat them, but only if you know what you’re doing. You clearly don’t. The fact is, son, if I had wanted you dead right then, you most likely would be.” He watched as Ris swallowed hard, but the boy said nothing. After a moment, Cromwell continued. “What you did today… Where did you even get a weapon, and what made you follow those Jaffa? How did your parents, or somebody else, not stop you?”
“The zat belongs to my father, and I know where he keeps it. My mother and my father were both busy trying to hide some of the other children so the Jaffa wouldn’t take them too. And I knew that someone had to try to keep them from taking my sister away!” There was defiance in the youth’s voice now.
Cromwell massaged his forehead. So he found his father’s weapon, took it, and managed to slip out of the village somehow, without running into Celyn and his people. And then he caught up with the Jaffa just when all hell was about to break loose.
Tesni looked at Ris, an expression of disapproval on her face. “You realize you are in a lot of trouble, don’t you? With your mother and father, with the cadlywydd most certainly, and probably with Nenniaw as well, not to mention Dynawd. Celyn, too.”
“I was only trying to help, Aunt Tesni.”
“I know that, but instead you nearly got killed, could have gotten Tegwyn or someone else from the village killed, and could have even gotten someone who is a guest here” — Tesni gestured at Frank — “killed. None of that is ‘helping’.”
“I’m sorry.” Ris looked down at the table, his voice soft. “Really, I am.”
Cromwell spoke again. “Ris, there were already people working on keeping the Jaffa from taking anyone offworld. I want you to promise that from now on, you’re going to do what you’re told, and if you haven’t been told to go tearing off after Jaffa or anyone else with a zat, you won’t. Obviously, Dynawd has you and your classmates in training because you will eventually be expected to help defend your village and maybe more than that, but I’m guessing that if you haven’t already begun to learn it, you will soon be taught that there are people whose job it is to decide what is to be done, and tell you what your part in it is. It’s your job to listen to them and do the task you’re given, even if that task sometimes is to wait while somebody else acts.” He watched the youth’s face, and held up a finger when he appeared ready to protest. “I know that part isn’t easy. I still have a hard time with it myself when it’s my turn to wait and I’d rather be doing something. Trust me, the people under me don’t like it much either. But sometimes it’s necessary.” And then once in a while it’s a really bad idea, he mused, thinking of Iraq, and a rescue mission that General West had never permitted him to carry out. But that’s a whole different topic for a whole different day, so we won’t go there just now.
Ris was watching him. “I guess so. I’ll try to remember that.”
“See that you do.” The colonel glanced up to see a lanky man approaching, accompanied by a short, slight woman. Both wore expressions of displeasure, aimed directly at the teenaged boy in front of him. Must be his parents.
Tesni confirmed this a second later, as she stood, touching him lightly on the shoulder. “Here comes my brother Idris, with Anwen, his wife.” she said quietly. As the couple reached the table, Cromwell rose also, noting that Ris looked apprehensive. Well, hell, he knows he’s in trouble.
Tesni made introductions, and the boy’s parents nodded gravely when she explained the colonel’s role in the events of the afternoon. “I’m sorry my son caused you difficulty,” said Idris.
“Not to worry,” Cromwell assured him. “I’m just glad he’s all right. It was a near thing. If Cadogan didn’t have that healing device, he wouldn’t be.”
Idris nodded. “Our uncle has saved more than a few in his day. In any case, I thank you that Ris was only injured rather than killed. Even Cadogan cannot raise the dead, nor can Sabar.”
The colonel shrugged, discomfited. “I did what I had to, and it wasn’t just for your son’s safety.” At the other man’s puzzled look, he glanced at Ris, and then back to the boy’s father again. “I think Ris ought to explain that to you himself.”
Tesni, bless her, picked up on his tactic. “Frehnk, it looks like the cadlywydd will be free soon. Will you come with me to speak to him?” Again, she touched his arm at the elbow, making as if to steer him across the patio toward the far corner where Cadogan indeed appeared to be drawing his staff meeting to a close. “Please excuse us,” she said to her brother and sister-in-law. With that, they left Ris to the mercy of his parents.
As they crossed the patio, Tesni murmured, “So I was right. You do have command of others, wherever you are from. I guessed as much.”
The colonel nodded. “A small number of men, not many at all.”
“Still. You understand.” She gave him a sidelong smile. “Nenniaw will come to respect you for that, if he doesn’t already after today.”
He shook his head. “I doubt I’ll be here long enough for it to be an issue. Someone is likely to come looking for me at any time. And that’s something that I must discuss with your uncle and those under his command, given the guard now placed at the compass circle. My people will arrive with no idea what to expect, and there may be a Jaffa with them.”
Tesni halted at his words, her touch this time drawing him to face her. “A Jaffa?”
“Yes, but one who has renounced the Goa’uld he once served, and now fights against all Goa’uld, the same as do your people and the Tok’ra. He has joined my people in our own fight. I don’t know much about him personally other than that, but he is an ally, and under the command of a close friend of mine. I want to make sure that no one jumps to conclusions when seeing him.”
“A rebel Jaffa.” Cromwell could see her wondering at the concept. “Yes, the cadlywydd must be informed of this immediately.”
They resumed their pace toward the corner where Cadogan was now standing, clasping arms with each of his officers in turn, in what the colonel was beginning to recognize as a traditional Pridani greeting and leave-taking. Arriving just as the cadlywydd turned back to the table to retrieve the mug from which he’d been drinking tea, Tesni spoke first. “Uncle, a word with you?”
The older man looked up with a smile for his niece. Dust and smoke still smudged his features somewhat, despite a hasty moment with basin and towel before the meeting, and he wore the look of someone who would be enormously glad of a half hour to himself just to regroup and gather his thoughts. Cromwell could certainly relate, having felt that way himself on any number of occasions after completing a mission. Nevertheless, the Pridani leader’s manner was cordial as he responded, “Certainly.” He gestured for them to be seated and joined them, thanking Gerlad as the aide took his empty mug away to be refilled. “What can I do for you?” He favored the colonel with a smile as well, adding. “Nice work earlier, by the way. I see that Tesni’s judgment was correct, and I’m glad of your help.”
“I’m glad I could help. When the Jaffa got hold of those kids…” Cromwell didn’t need to finish the sentence; the other man’s expression said everything necessary. “Anyway, I’m the one who really needs to speak with you.” How do I approach this without revealing too much? he wondered. Some instinct told him it might still be unwise to mention anything that could definitively pin down the identity of his home world before an SG team arrived. “Ah, you’ll recall, I hope, that I came here by accident, and I expect a team of people from my world to come looking for me?”
Cadogan nodded. “I do indeed, and I’ll admit I’m curious to know more of your story.”
Cromwell pursed his lips. “I actually can’t tell you much more, because even I’m not completely certain how it happened.” That much was true, at least technically. He’d never expected to survive his fall through the Stargate, and the fact that he had still amazed him.
Fortunately, Cadogan seemed inclined to take his statement at face value. “Gate malfunctions are rare, but they can lead to… unusual situations,” he agreed. “Are you certain your friends will know where to find you? Perhaps if you can tell me what world you are from, I can help you.”
The colonel shook his head. “Not only do I not know the symbols for its gate address, but I have no idea what name your people would call my world, even if you might know of it at all, which I rather doubt.” He could have shown the cadlywydd the symbol he’d been told was unique to Earth, but that same instinct that prompted him to caution prevented him from doing so. This was still an unknown situation, and if for whatever reason Earth’s defenses were compromised due to the loss of the iris, or other damage that might have occurred after his fall into the wormhole, the last thing anyone at the SGC needed was unknown and unexpected visitors accessing their gate. Better to wait a while for the SGC to send a team for him, even if that meant he didn’t get home right away. If a long enough time went by without anyone showing up, he would take that to mean they didn’t know where to look or that he might have survived, in which case he would then take matters into his own hands. For right now, however, he could afford to wait. Besides, he told himself, what are the chances he can even help me? From what I understand, there are thousands, perhaps millions, of gates on as many worlds. No, the only way I’m getting home is if someone comes looking for me. I just hope they hurry up.
Cadogan shook his head. “A pity. Still, you clearly have something on your mind you wished to speak with me about?”
“Yes, actually. You’ve placed the compass circle under guard, which is a wise move. Is this going to be a long-term thing?”
The cadlywydd nodded. “I think it’s best, at least for the foreseeable future. When Bel doesn’t get his tribute, his slaves, or even his Jaffa back from Tir Awyr, he will know that something is afoot here. That’s fine, since it was going to happen soon anyway.” Gerlad returned at that moment with a fresh cup of tea, which Cadogan took with a word of thanks before turning back to his conversation with Cromwell. “You’ll pardon me, I hope. That was a lot of talking earlier, and my throat is still dry.” He sipped at the tea, then continued with his original line of thought. “Bel’s unlikely to send ships here to investigate or retaliate, because at the moment, our operatives have seen to it that he is, shall we say, a bit lacking in those resources.” A grin. “He doesn’t have many ships to begin with, as he doesn’t need them, given that the chappa’ai system suffices for most transport. And as of yesterday, he has a half-dozen fewer ships than he had before. No, any action he takes against us here will be through the chappa’ai itself, which is why we will keep it heavily guarded.”
Cromwell nodded. “That’s fine. Where it concerns me, or rather, my situation, is that obviously anyone arriving here from my world will encounter your guards. A team from my world will be friendly, and will try to communicate, but if they are met right away by an armed guard, I worry about the potential for misunderstandings. They do travel armed, and on the alert for any trouble.”
The older man shook his head. “My people won’t harm them if it is clear they come with peaceful intent. Dynawd is a good commander, and anyone else who would be put in charge at the chappa’ai at any time will be as well. Those with poor judgment don’t get positions of responsibility under my command, so you needn’t worry on that account.”
“No one’s going to shoot first and ask questions later, is that what you’re telling me?” Cromwell was just a bit skeptical. The cadlywydd was making one hell of a promise.
Cadogan smiled. “Not unless whoever comes through the gate is Goa’uld or Jaffa. And I plan to have one Tok’ra in every guard rotation. We’ll know if a Goa’uld comes through.”
The colonel didn’t pretend to understand that last statement, but it was the first sentence that was problematic. “Actually, you’ve touched on my concern. My people are opposed to the Goa’uld just as strongly as yours are, and fight them and their Jaffa when we encounter them. But there is one Jaffa I know of who has renounced his allegiance to the Goa’uld he formerly served, and he has allied himself with the people of my world against all Goa’uld. He serves under the command of a close friend of mine, who may be leading the team of people sent to look for me. So it is possible that when my friend comes looking for me, this Jaffa will be with him.”
The cadlywydd‘s eyes widened. “A rebel Jaffa? I’ve heard rumors of their existence, but no more than that. Jaffa are far too dependent upon their Goa’uld masters to rebel. They face certain death without a supply of prim’ta to sustain them.” He fell silent for a moment, as though following some internal conversation. Belatedly, Cromwell realized that he probably was, given that he hosted a Tok’ra symbiote. Clearly, he’d given both entities food for thought.
Cadogan spoke again. “Even any Jaffa who might entertain doubts about the godhood of their masters, and I don’t doubt that a few such individuals exist, are unlikely to turn openly against them. The risk would be too great for them to take willingly.”
“This one has. I’ve met him, and he has sworn to oppose all Goa’uld. He’s a good man.”
“Hmmm.” Cadogan’s expression was thoughtful. “I’m going to have to give this some consideration. In the meantime, I’ll send someone to inform Dynawd, and I’ll make the situation clear to Nenniaw and Celyn as well, since those three will have command of the guard rotations, at least for the time being. They’ll be told to be very careful with anyone arriving through the gate who isn’t immediately recognizable as belonging either to our own people or to Bel. Will that do for now?”
Cromwell nodded. “Fair enough, and thank you. Oh, and I can give some idea of what my people will look like, in terms of appearance and uniform, since then yours will at least have some way to identify them.” He outlined the basic appearance of an SG team, giving just enough information to identify them without going into more detail than was necessary.
It was the cadlywydd‘s turn to nod. “All right, then; I’ll see this gets passed along. I’m glad you came to me with it now; I’d hate to have had anything untoward happen. I don’t want any harm to come to your friends if it can be avoided, as long as avoiding it doesn’t endanger my own people. You understand my position in that regard, I’m sure.”
“I do.” I just hope that what we’ve discussed is enough to avoid problems, on both ends.
“Well, then. For as long as you remain among us, you are a guest. Normally, we wouldn’t put guests to work like that” — here Cadogan grinned again — “but as you can see, today was quite an exception. Again, my thanks for helping out. You’re obviously no stranger to the field, and I appreciate your actions with regard to Ris, as well.”
“Ah… about that. It wasn’t quite the way it might have looked. When I tackled him, I was trying to prevent his firing on the Jaffa, because the children were right there and I was afraid he might hit one of them instead. I was just a bit too late to stop him, though.” Cromwell shook his head. “So while I may have kept him from taking a direct hit, it wouldn’t have happened at all if he hadn’t tried that stupid stunt in the first place — or if I’d been a bit faster.”
“Oh, trust me; I’m going to talk to him. And I’m glad to know the details. Ris is somewhat… well, overenthusiastic, for want of a better term.”
“Rash, I’d call it.” The colonel realized they were firmly on common ground. “I’ve, ah, already had a talk with him myself, for that matter. I hope you don’t mind my taking the liberty,” he added, fully aware that he’d have said something to the youth regardless.
Cadogan chuckled. “Not at all. He’s likely to hear it from several people, and the more he does, the more good it will do him. I don’t know what you’re used to, but we’re fairly informal around here. You’re certainly not overstepping anything in saying whatever you said to him, as far as I’m concerned. Besides, his actions clearly endangered you too. That alone would give you the right.”
“I’m glad we agree.”
The cadlywydd gave him another smile. “I know you’re probably feeling a bit out of step here, but don’t worry. Like I said, you’re a guest, and from what I’ve seen, a useful one at that. Let Tesni get you settled, and relax.” He turned to her. “You’ve found some decent accommodation for our friend, I assume?”
“He spent last night under my roof, but for a longer stay, he would be more comfortable in better quarters,” she replied. “There is an empty dwelling at the moment, since Aled and Glesig wed last week.”
“Do it. If Nenniaw had other plans, send him to me.” Cadogan looked Cromwell over critically, noting the charred and torn shirt. “I think we can find you some decent clothing as well. You’re about my size, or close enough.” He looked at Tesni again. “You know that chest in my room at Bennaeth Bod? There’s a blue tunic, and a brown one; give him those. Both pair of blue trews, as well. And anything else he requires. I’ll be going back to Caer Ynys tomorrow, at least for a few days, and probably have more clothing there than I need. I can spare a few of the things I keep here.”
The colonel protested. “I don’t need — ”
Cadogan smiled. “Yes, you do, and custom demands it of us. Of me, if nothing else. Frank — I am pronouncing that correctly, aren’t I?”
“Well, Frank, there is a concept we call guest-right, and I’m surprised no one has explained it to you yet. A man, or woman, may arrive as a stranger among us, but barring some dire misbehavior on the part of the guest, we count ourselves obligated to provide for his or her basic needs, including food, shelter, and if necessary, clothing. It is the same in any village, town or other settlement among our people. You arrived here with the clothes on your back, and moreover you ruined them in the service of our own cause. We’d be pretty poor hosts if we didn’t remedy that, don’t you think?”
“Honestly, I — ” Cromwell began again. Damn it, I don’t need charity.
The older man cut him off. “Hear me out, if you would. I don’t know whether you’ll still be here tomorrow, or the day after, and from the sound of things, neither do you. But you were one of us today, and we take care of our own. I’m responsible for your involvement; if I hadn’t agreed to it, you’d still be in Dinas Coedwyg right now. That makes you my responsibility overall, but even if you weren’t, you’re a guest of the village as a whole, and you have been since the moment you were brought within its walls. Do I need to explain myself further?”
Jesus. “I suppose not.”
Cadogan chuckled. “Good, because that’s all I’ve got, anyway. Let Tesni show you where you’ll be staying, and where to get cleaned up. She’ll get you something to wear, and give you a chance to settle in. Because whether you’re going to be here for a day or a month, you may as well be comfortable.”
Cromwell had the distinct feeling he’d just been outmaneuvered by an expert, but at this point, he didn’t feel inclined to continue arguing. He thanked Cadogan and allowed Tesni to show him to the small cottage — essentially the mirror image of her own home — where he would be staying. Perhaps the most inviting thing about the place was that it was furnished, including a fairly comfortable-looking bed, even devoid as it was of any bedding at the moment. When Tesni excused herself to go and retrieve the clothing the cadlywydd had so generously offered, along with some other items she said she could obtain for him, the colonel decided to try to make up a bit more of the sleep he’d missed in the past couple of days.
It was his last coherent thought for several hours.