There is a destiny that makes us brothers:
None goes his way alone:
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back onto our own.
— Edwin Markham
The Goa’uld Bel ruled five worlds. That much Cromwell knew, and the rest was guesswork, as the historian in him tried to piece together how the humans of Bel’s domain had come to be there and from where, precisely, even as he took part in his own small way in an uprising designed to one day free them. It was slow going, but for as long as he found himself among them, he took satisfaction in the thought that he was both doing something useful and ultimately striking a blow against at least one member of the species who had abused and threatened humans since the dawn of their history.
Bel had populated five worlds with various Celtic peoples apparently drawn from mainland Europe and what Cromwell knew as the British Isles, most likely over a couple centuries’ span sometime around two millennia ago. For centuries they served him as slaves, mining what naquadah these worlds possessed, and provided him with other resources as well. Besides the Pridani of Tir Awyr, Cromwell had occasionally encountered Albannu. He had also met what he took to be descendants of Gaulish Celtic tribes on Arverenem, of Gaels including another subset of the Albannu on Emhain, and of Iberian Celts like the Gallaeci, Cantabri and Lusitani among a group from Galla. Yes, he was only guessing, but some of the names these individuals used for their own peoples provided clues. A fifth world existed, Bohan, but he had yet to visit it or, as far as he was aware, meet anyone from there.
The peoples of these five worlds were the “allies” to whom Tesni had referred on that day in Dinas Coedwyg when he’d first met Cadogan. The rebellion led by the cadlywydd and his Tok’ra symbiote Sabar, and aided by Sabar’s Tok’ra colleagues, included groups on all of Bel’s worlds. The colonel also got the distinct impression that Sabar and his Tok’ra friends were somehow out of the mainstream of Tok’ra culture. Not that he understood much of anything about the Tok’ra anyway, but his gut insisted this was the case, based on he knew not what. Call it raw instinct. He spent precious little time interacting directly with the Tok’ra themselves, not even Sabar, who tended to stay in the background whenever Cromwell and Cadogan spoke.
It had taken some time for Cromwell to piece all of this information together, but he’d managed it. By now, he had served for nearly eight months in the rebel movement, most of that time in command of his own small team of Pridani from Llanavon, Bren Argoed and Dinas Coedwyg. The complement of personnel based in Llanavon had swelled by nearly half in Cromwell’s time there, beginning not long after the day Bel’s Jaffa had come through the stargate and attempted to kidnap several village youth and children. The events of that day had only succeeded in moving up Cadogan’s timetable slightly, for the Pridani had already been poised on the cusp of taking their rebellion to the next level and actively denying Bel access to the planet’s resources, meager though they were.
With Llanavon being the closest settlement to the Stargate, it was the logical place to concentrate many of those actively involved in the rebel movement — the Am Rhyddid* — and that influx had naturally led to an increased need for seasoned officers to lead them. Cromwell had become involved in the fight himself almost by default, but he had never expected to be on Tir Awyr long enough to command any portion of its participants. He had expected a search party from Earth to turn up any day looking for him. When first days, then weeks, and eventually over two months went by with no sign that anyone from his home world sought him, the colonel had become anxious, worried about the fate of those who had been in the Gate Room and the control booth when he had at last released his grip on Jack O’Neill’s harness and given himself up to the pull of the gravity well emanating from the wormhole whose event horizon roiled within the Stargate below. Had they survived the blast?
Jack had been right there, suspended along with him over that swirling maw. Cromwell knew that Jack must have been successful in arming the bomb, something he himself had failed to do before a gravity wave had pulled him away from the device and drawn both men closer to the stargate. Surely the bomb’s detonation was responsible for the wormhole’s disengagement from the black hole and subsequent connection here to Tir n’Awyr, spitting Cromwell out essentially into the midst of someone else’s war against the same species who threatened Earth.
Jack had insisted that Cromwell set the explosive device’s timer for twenty seconds; less than the amount of time it would take a man to climb beyond the range of the resulting explosion, especially against the enormous pull of the gravity field. “We won’t make it out,” Cromwell remembered warning his friend. Well, he himself had made it out, he reflected, though in a way he would never even remotely have guessed possible before the fact. But had Jack? Up in the control booth had been that bright young captain – Carter, if memory served – with a sergeant whose name escaped him at the moment but who certainly seemed capable enough, and Teal’c, the massive Jaffa who, along with Carter, served on Jack’s team. With any luck, they had managed to pull Jack to safety in the time between his arming of the device and its detonation. Cromwell just wished he could be certain. But as time passed with no arrival of visitors from Earth, he’d begun to despair of ever finding out.
There had been plenty to keep him occupied, however. Over the course of those initial two months of waiting, it hadn’t taken more than four missions, during which they took further steps to deny Bel the fruits of Celtic labors, before the cadlywydd himself approached Cromwell one day at the conclusion of yet another operation, and asked politely for a moment of his time. As if he would deny the highest-ranking officer in the entire Am Rhyddid a moment. The military discipline ingrained in him over nearly a quarter-century of service wouldn’t have permitted it, even had he wished to decline. Hell, after the briefing when his team accepted assignment as backup for the SGC, he’d given General West — whom he loathed — that much out of duty alone when West had taken him aside to query him on his familiarity with Jack O’Neill. No, the Celts were nowhere near as formal or as stringently disciplined as the U.S. Air Force might be, but it hardly mattered; Cromwell still hewed to the standard to which he’d committed himself as a young man. Moreover, he respected Cadogan on a personal level. Liked him, even. And so he had found himself in the cadlywydd‘s office, being offered a welcome cup of tea to wash the taste of battle from his mouth, and presented with a proposition that gave him pause.
With the influx of personnel to Llanavon, Dinas Coedwyg and the rest of the territory surrounding the Stargate, Cadogan found himself in need of experienced officers to take charge of the teams being formed. Would he, Neirin ab Owein – by now, Cromwell went exclusively by the Pridanic name he’d taken, even in conversation with those who knew and could pronounce his own – would he be willing to lead such a team himself? Oh, yes, the cadlywydd assured him, he was well aware that Neirin would most likely be among them only temporarily, until such time as his compatriots from his homeworld came to find him, but could he see his way clear to help out until then? And yes, of course, his duty to his own world would take precedence such that he would be immediately released to resume it when that time came – but still, for right now, the Am Rhyddid needed people who understood how to train others and to lead them, and it didn’t take much observation to see that Neirin possessed that understanding and ability, regardless of the fact that his prior experience was in another tradition altogether. Form mattered little, especially in light of the present need. So would he consent to take command of one of the small units currently being formed?
To call the request unexpected would have been a gross understatement. Cromwell found himself surprised, bemused, conflicted… and thoroughly curious as to what possessed Cadogan to consider him for such a position when he was an outsider, a stranger still finding his own feet among them while expecting at any time to leave once more.
“Why me?” he asked, echoing the question he’d asked when the cadlywydd had chosen him for that first mission to Arverenem. “Surely you can’t have such a shortage of qualified individuals from among your own people that you would turn instead to the foreigner you’ve picked up?”
Cadogan only grinned. “Neirin, you’ve been one of us for some time now. You live among us and speak our language. You’ve adopted a name in our tradition. We share the same enemy in the Goa’uld. On the day we first met, you fought alongside Nenniaw, Tesni and others, and acquitted yourself well. You’ve continued to do so since then, and I know you’ve already served in the capacity I am asking of you, albeit on your own world. We do have a shortage of qualified people, but even if that shortage were less severe than it is, I would still be asking you to step up, because I know you can do the job and do it well. Tesni has said as much, as has Nenniaw, not to mention that I have watched you myself. If it makes your decision easier, consider this a personal favor to me. Will you help?”
In the end, the colonel agreed, largely out of respect and his genuine liking for Cadogan. The cadlywydd was a good leader, and a fair-minded, generous man who had gone out of his way on a personal level to help ease his transition to life among the Pridani for however long he was to remain. If for whatever reason Cadogan felt that Cromwell could be of use beyond what he was already doing, then he would help, and do so willingly, despite any private doubts he might harbor about his right to take the position offered.
He had been placed in command of a team of operatives, twelve altogether, though the system by which the Pridani rotated people between military duties and other obligations meant that at any given time, only eight were present. Cromwell worked with them much as he had with his team on Earth, which had been of a similar size. They were tasked with a variety of objectives, all aimed at loosening Bel’s grip on the people and resources of Tir n’Awyr and the other four Celtic worlds. From interfering with the collection of naquadah ore extracted from the mines and siphoning a percentage of it off for the rebellion’s own use, to sabotaging technological installations and occasionally spaceships, the rebels were busy, and Cromwell and his men found themselves in the thick of things. As often as not, Cadogan himself was a part of whatever operation was in progress, risking his own life and that of his symbiote alongside their subordinates. The longer Cromwell served with Cadogan, the more he came to respect the cadlywydd, not only as a commander but also as a person.
For his part, Cadogan exhibited a great deal of respect for the solitary foreigner he’d drawn into his officer corps. In military matters, he made it clear that he heartily approved of the way that Cromwell handled his team; even going so far on occasion as to have him advise other, less experienced team leaders. On a personal level, both men moved in much the same social circle — to the extent that Cromwell did so at all — due in part to Cadogan’s relation to Tesni and the colonel’s friendship with her. Cromwell’s habitual reserve often stood in sharp contrast to the Pridanic cultural tendency toward gregariousness, but Cadogan, like his niece, found ways to draw him out and include him in the social life of the community. Their efforts were generally subtle, but over time the net result was that the colonel found himself growing more comfortable with the people among whom he presently made his home.
Cromwell genuinely enjoyed Cadogan’s company. The cadlywydd had a relaxed manner, and while he took care never to pry into the colonel’s past, he was easy to talk to. True to his word, not long after first mentioning gwyddbwyll, he introduced Cromwell to the game. It was another strategy game, similar to chess yet played in a very different configuration, involving a single king piece with a number of defensive pieces, all under the control of one player, and double that number of attackers under control of the other. The board was a seven-by-seven square grid, though pieces moved on the intersection points of the lines, rather than within the squares themselves.
The game’s name in Pridanic was very nearly the same word that in modern Welsh referred to chess itself, a fact that caused Cromwell to wonder exactly what, if any, connection might exist between the two. He knew that chess had originated in India, spreading to Europe by way of Persia, but that occurred long after the timeframe in which he suspected the Pridani of having been relocated from Earth to Tir n’Awyr. Most likely, on Earth the earlier game must have been supplanted by the eastern import that later took on its name. Regardless, he reflected, human culture was rife with such games, especially among societies with any sort of martial bent, and the Britannic tribes were no exception.
Once Cadogan had acquainted him with the game, the two took to playing on something of a regular basis. Tesni, Idris and Ris also took their turns as Cromwell’s opponent and even Anwen and Tegwyn played him on occasion, but the time he spent with the cadlywydd, bonding across the game board with little need for detailed personal discussion, reminded him in some ways of playing chess with Jack O’Neill, on downtime back in the days when they’d served in the same unit. The comparison was bittersweet: on the one hand, it often stirred up in him a mixture of regret and concern which grew with every week that passed with no contact from Earth. On the other, he found himself forging, without truly having meant to, a genuine friendship of the type he hadn’t experienced since those days with Jack.
After Iraq, Cromwell had largely shut himself away from most real connection with others, from the men in his unit to his wife. It had cost him a few friendships and his marriage — well, technically, they’d never divorced but he’d hoped for years that for her own sake, Lisa would move on, though he felt obligated to support her financially until she did. It wasn’t her fault that he’d made a shambles of his life and the life of a friend. He hadn’t seen or spoken to her since shortly after discovering Jack’s imprisonment, however. There’d been problems between them even before the Gulf; what occurred there had been, he felt, merely the final straw as he came out of the experience convinced he had nothing to offer her as a husband, just as he had nothing to offer anyone as a friend. Who needed a friend or a husband whose greatest talent lay in failing people?
He’d vowed never to repeat that failure, with the result that the team of which he’d taken command on his promotion to lieutenant colonel shortly after the Gulf had remained intact for eight years without losing a single man in the field, along the way to racking up a record of successful missions that went largely unrivaled. Cromwell had been promoted again just over halfway through that time, though a spate of reshuffling necessitated by yet another not-quite war conspired to effectively keep him in command of essentially the same complement of men even after pinning on the silver eagle. Through that time, however, he’d avoided forming any bond of a personal nature with either the men under his command or other officers among whom he served. He trusted his men and his fellow commanders, and they trusted him for his ability, though God knew why, but any overtures of real friendship went unanswered, and he made none himself. He’d garnered a reputation over those eight years as a tough, no-nonsense CO, fair but something of a hard-ass, and a decided loner. Nevertheless, he’d had respect. That was more than enough, he decided; in fact, in the private, tightly-guarded inner recesses of his mind, he felt even that to be undeserved.
Now, after being offered the one thing he’d wanted as strongly as he’d despaired of ever getting it — the chance to redeem himself with Jack — and having somehow managed to do so, he was stranded as a direct result on an alien world. Not only that, but he was stranded among a people who seemed to regard the tendency to hold oneself apart as a distinct aberration. On his arrival here, his guard had been down to a degree, and he’d let Tesni slip inside the boundaries he so carefully set under normal conditions. Of course, to have formed a friendship with her, when she was initially the only person with whom he could communicate fully, was perhaps not so surprising. In fact, it had been something of a necessity. The fact that she asked nothing of him and seemed content to remain for the most part ignorant of the details of his past and his interior life made her a lot easier to talk to. Their friendship existed on Cromwell’s own terms, a fact for which he was profoundly grateful.
Cadogan was another story altogether. In large part, the colonel’s relationship with the cadlywydd had its basis in their shared experiences. Both men were command officers, though Cadogan’s responsibilities were clearly far greater than Cromwell’s had ever been. Both had long experience in the field, if under different conditions. Cromwell wasn’t sure how many years Cadogan had spent as an officer before reaching his current position, but the man didn’t appear to be more than five years his senior — surely less than ten — so it couldn’t be much longer than his own service. In any case, the matter of the cadlywydd‘s also being host to the Tok’ra Sabar obviously had a bearing on things, though Cromwell admitted privately that he was still rather fuzzy on how the whole relationship of symbiote to host, and its relative effects on rank and role even worked. Regardless, the subject seemed never to come up in their conversations and it wasn’t really any of his business, the colonel reminded himself. Regardless of the personal friendship that Cadogan insisted on showing him, at the end of the day, the man was still his commanding officer — for now, anyway — and Cromwell would respect his privacy just as the cadlywydd was careful to respect his.
For Cadogan never sought to know more about Cromwell’s past than he’d volunteered; never asked inconvenient questions about his origins or his homeworld, beyond that initial conversation after the Jaffa attack on his second day among the Pridani. It was as if, upon discovering the colonel’s reluctance to discuss the matter, the cadlywydd had decided that it was of no real importance. It seemed that to Cadogan, the important thing about Cromwell was his willingness and ability to help the rebel organization for as long as he was present. That, and finding ways to make him comfortable in what was, after all, an unfamiliar culture. The colonel reflected that Cadogan appeared to have made that his own personal mission, and while the knowledge might have made him vastly uncomfortable less than a year ago, since the events in Cheyenne Mountain, something within him had shaken loose to the extent that he found himself once more able to respond to friendly overtures in a way he’d so long avoided doing.
Through the chilly, snowy winter, Cadogan had spent somewhat more time in Dinas Coedwyg than in Llanavon, and as one of his team leaders, Cromwell had found himself called upon to spend a fair amount of time there himself, along with several of his fellow officers, intent upon training and organizing those under their command, and discussing options for action as opportunity arose. This didn’t mean, of course, that he was absent from the smaller village constantly; in fact, he still spent the bulk of his time there, including nearly all of his downtime, despite the hassle of traveling in wintry weather.
Cadogan likewise spent as much of his own free time, little as it sometimes was, in Llanavon himself. He and Gerlad, his aide, occupied a suite of rooms in the rambling, two-story house that was home to Idris, Anwen and their teenaged offspring. Known to the locals as Bennaeth Bod, it seemed to be something of a family seat, and it was there that Cadogan’s kin — Idris and Anwen, along with Ris, Tegwyn, Tesni, and in some extended kinship configuration the colonel didn’t quite grasp, Nenniaw and his brother Dynawd, with their wives and children — tended to gather regularly for family meals and to interact. They made sure to include Cromwell too, as though he were something of an honorary family member due to both Tesni and Cadogan having taken responsibility for him on his arrival in the community. At first he was uncomfortable with this status, feeling like an intruder. However, neither Tesni nor her uncle would hear of his excluding himself, and over time he came to accept and eventually enjoy having a place among them, although he still found himself mildly bemused by the fact.
It was on one such occasion, in late winter, that he found himself yet again facing Cadogan across the gwyddbwyll board in the small study where the cadlywydd often retreated for privacy when the bustle and hubbub of a house full of kinfolk proved overwhelming. Cromwell was once again mentally comparing the game to his beloved chess, and on a whim, began to describe it. Cadogan listened with interest, and before long offered a suggestion. “I would like to try this ‘chess’, Neirin. If you would talk to one of our local artisans, perhaps even to Ris, who carves wood, or to Dynawd’s wife Glenys, who is a skilled worker in ceramics, it occurs to me that it shouldn’t be difficult to construct the board and the playing-pieces. Then you can teach me, as I’ve taught you to play gwyddbwyll.”
The thought had appeal. Ten minutes later, the colonel found himself seated at the dining table with Ris and Glenys, flanked by Cadogan and Tesni and surrounded by various and sundry other members of the cadlywydd‘s extended family, describing the game he’d learned as a boy and played regularly until roughly nine years ago. He was no artist, but armed with a sheet of paper, a quill and a bottle of ink, he was able to sketch a rough idea of a set of simplified chessmen, explaining what the figures were intended to represent. Ris and Glenys asked questions, clarifying his descriptions, and in the end, assured him that they could create what he was asking for.
And so it was that a month later, on what Cromwell was informed was the festival of the spring equinox, a shallow wooden box, carefully wrought, was brought to the table after dinner had been cleared away, and ceremoniously set between the cadlywydd and himself. Its top was a familiar grid done in contrasting lighter and darker wooden squares, measuring eight-squares-by-eight rather than seven-by-seven as was appropriate for gwyddbwyll. Two drawers in the sides slid out, as on Cadogan’s gwyddbwyll set, and proved to hold ceramic chessmen, nestled in a cushioning of lambswool for protection. The pieces were elegant in their simplicity, bearing only faint resemblance to the intricately shaped ones belonging to Cromwell’s grandfather and father, but their form and function were clear, from king to pawn. One set was glazed in a milky white; the other, a deep charcoal gray.
The colonel was momentarily speechless. He hadn’t been quite sure what to expect when he’d first given his description and the crude sketch that accompanied it, though now it dawned on him that he ought not to be surprised. A great many everyday items used by the Pridani were beautifully made, and clearly that same skill had gone into this.
He glanced over at Cadogan, who was nodding and smiling appreciatively as he examined the white king, and then to Ris and Glenys, who were watching him, apparently waiting for some comment as to their success in replicating what he had described. He blinked and shook his head, reaching out to pick up the black king. It had a comfortable heft, and its glaze reflected the glow of the room’s oil lamps — for it was already past sunset — with a dark sheen, as though trapping some of the light in layers. “This is… Well, it’s impressive,” he said. “You’ve done a beautiful job.”
“Is everything correct?” asked Glenys.
Cromwell expected the chess set to take up residence in Cadogan’s study, as it was the cadlywydd who had requested that it be made. Cadogan wouldn’t hear of it, insisting instead that Cromwell keep it in his cottage. “Neirin, there’s every chance that others will want to learn, too, when I’m not here. I’d hate for you to have to keep coming over to retrieve it. This set belongs to us both, I think, though surely more can be made.” At this, Ris and Glenys nodded, smiling. The cadlywydd continued, “Nevertheless, it is clearly your game. For tonight, though, why not set it up right here and give me my first lesson?”
So Cromwell returned the favor Cadogan had done for him, and taught him to play a favorite game. In the days and weeks that followed, he also found himself teaching Tesni, Ris, and most of the rest of the cadlywydd‘s family. As winter moved into spring, the colonel reflected that while he still held out hope that at some point soon he would in fact see Earth again, the people among whom he of necessity made his current home had managed to make his exile comfortable. Familiar, even, given that he had a job to do that wasn’t terribly different at its core from what he’d done for years already. And now they’d gone to great lengths to bring an element of his former life into his present circumstances. Once again, he found himself moved by their hospitality.
Not that he didn’t still want to go home. He wondered even now whether the reason for his not having been rescued were due to damage to Earth’s Stargate, to the base itself, or merely a matter of no one’s suspecting him to have survived. Alternatively, did they not know what world the gate had connected to, after disconnecting from the black hole? He had no more answers to these questions now than he’d had eight months ago. He was determined to find out, when and if the opportunity presented itself. He would find his own way to do it, however.
For some instinct still prevented him from divulging the identity of his world. One man can keep a secret more effectively than two or three, and the colonel still had reservations about what could happen were it to be known that Earth had recently had trouble with its gate and might therefore be less capable of defending itself against an enemy incursion. When he and his Special Ops team had taken on the job of providing, along with a select few others, Earth’s secondary line of defense should things go awry in Cheyenne Mountain, it had been made quite clear to him by General West at the Pentagon that the potential for disaster was enormous. If whatever had occurred within the SGC after he’d fallen had left the stargate functional but the planet more vulnerable, he had no way of knowing. The last thing he was going to do, if he could help it, was increase in any way the odds in favor of a threat to his homeworld, even if that meant living out the rest of his life elsewhere.
Obviously, he knew that Cadogan, Sabar, and the Pridani represented no threat to Earth; indeed, because of his involvement in their own fight against Bel, they would quite likely prove willing allies. However, he remained certain that the chance of the Tok’ra Sabar actually being able to identify and locate Earth from among the thousands of worlds known to have Stargates was low, even with knowledge of the symbol that Cromwell knew to be associated with his world. It would be like finding a needle in a haystack. After all, if the address for Earth were common knowledge, he suspected there would have been a lot more contact initiated from offworld, once the Stargate had been unearthed and made functional. The very fact that this had not — so far as he was aware — occurred indicated that Earth was long forgotten, except by the Goa’uld themselves, who considered it a target after its inhabitants had managed to kill one of their number and defeat an invasion force belonging to another.
Furthermore, Cadogan and Sabar almost certainly had to be on Bel’s “Most Wanted” list, and if by some chance they were to be captured, Cromwell knew that he didn’t want a Goa’uld to gain access to any information regarding Earth, even second-hand. Not that his own presence among the cadlywydd‘s forces was risk-free, but Cromwell figured he was low-profile enough to avoid being specifically a target for capture, especially since taking a Pridanic identity. He didn’t know much about Goa’uld psychology, but he knew enough to figure that that unlike, say, the Iraqis, they weren’t given to taking numerous prisoners of war. If Bel’s people got the chance to either capture or kill him, he was pretty sure they’d just shoot him and be done with it. If for some reason they did capture him, he knew enough ways to remove himself from either captivity or the picture, and would take action accordingly. But the Goa’uld lord and his minions would likely take far more precautions with the leader of the entire Celtic rebellion than they would with one lowly team leader, and therefore it was best if Cadogan simply knew nothing of Earth.
* Am Rhyddid = in Pridanic, as in Welsh, this means “For Freedom” (am “for, to favor, to want” + rhyddid “freedom, liberty”) and refers to the movement as a whole, primarily the human component but also includes the Tok’ra who are involved. As a related example, the Albannu on Tir n’Awyr and Emhain who are involved in this same movement call it Air Sgàth Saorsa (literally “for the sake of freedom”) or Nar Fuasglaidh (literally “in our freeing”). See what happens when you let language and history geeks write Stargate fanfic? LOL