The Fell Gard Codices


As the good and evil spirits began to battle on the shore before the dragon Reprisal, the darklings advanced toward Gral over bare rock where the pale fires of Nil had left flickering patches of flame. Beyond them, to the south, past the ring of fire still surrounding Nil, Gral saw that the mortals, elves, and huldrafolk did not run, not quite, though they took some steps back under the trees. They did not dare to break and flee, perhaps; or it might be that the majesty of the spiritual powers, or indeed the majesty of the war those powers fought, held them bound. Gral did not know. He was not subject to the magics of that war. The scarab called Ablatis preserved him from all spiritual magics. About him were serpents and eagles, fires of many colours and lightning-blasts, hoar-frost and a driving wind. There was darkness, and also there was light. There was singing on the wind, the high hymns of angels; and also the whispers of demons insinuating beneath them. He stood at the centre of all these things, and was untouched by them.

He saw a winged bull with a man’s head battle one of the giants with its head twisted round backward. He saw a glittering hound tear at some invisible demon; saw black blood spray from the air, and fall as corrupt black ice to the shore. A group of quick winged things whirled around small fanged blue-skinned beasts. A beautiful genderless creature driving a chariot rode to war against a monster of filth and rusted iron. Grimblers and minikins and toadeaters were everywhere, and leading troops of winged youths and maidens against them were the Good Boy and Paradox of the Good Act.

Gral could not have imagined the many forms of the spirits about him. He had been taught some of the tales learned by Delvers in the Deep Dark; but their lore was always richer in enumerations of the wicked creatures and things of the pit than in the counting of the bringers of good news. It seemed to Gral, though, that there were about as many of the good sort as the wicked, there on the beach. He wondered what that signified. He had not meant to bring through armies, as such; had meant in fact nothing at all, had hoped only to raise some force that could match the great mist-cloaked dragon. Perhaps he had succeeded, but these spirits were turned one against another, all hopelessly at war.

And who was he to wish it otherwise? It seemed to Gral, in those first seconds of the war, that these struggles and flights had begun before the world itself was made, and that they were a part of the essence of creation itself.

Above those armies, though, yet loomed the dragon Reprisal. Gral glared at the vast dark thing, which itself ignored him, contemplating for a moment the spirits that danced and fought before it. Gral knew that, having summoned those powers with the coronet Vocath, he must now turn them to his purpose, and use again the amulet Jussion, that had bound his demons since his entry into Fell Gard. But how? He could feel the might of these spirits; perhaps there were among them powers to match Reprisal, but Gral knew he was not great enough of soul to command them. What hope was there, then?

One, perhaps.

“Paradox!” Gral cried, gripping the amulet. Paradox, with his white-feathered wings and a flaming sword, flew to him.

“You must let me go to the fight,” he said. For once he was not smiling.

“We are all about to die by Reprisal’s fire,” said Gral. “You must go to the most powerful of your kind, and convince them to attack the dragon.”

“We cannot do that and keep up the fight against the demons,” said Paradox.

Gral shrugged. “Nevertheless,” he said. “This is my command. That you tell it this. And then you may choose freely what’s best — save lives, or make war.”

Paradox nodded his head, and flew away. A moment later — such speed the spirits commanded — Gral saw a winged bull and a lion-headed man with a flaming greatsword arise to the dragon. Two of them, thought Gral; would they be enough?

Perhaps. Reprisal roared, and raised its wings; the angels were specks of light within its mist. Their fires grew, and the dragon took to the air above the lake. Flames and lightnings flickered as the angels fought the terrible beast.

But: on the shore, a mortal-seeming demon, with fiery eyes and horns, crowed like a cock and waved its fellows forward. Gral thought a note of despair entered the angels’ hymns. And yet the good spirits pushed back, toward the dragon, briefly breaking the demons in a charge born of desperation.

Gral stepped further in to shore, away from the worst of the fighting. And only then realised that the darklings were advancing, were nearly upon him. The tides of the spirits’ war had divided him from them, until that moment. But they were coming — slowly, as though the flickering dragonflame they passed, and the lights of the angels before them, were painful; but they came.

They want the coronet, amulet, and scarab, thought Gral. Their master-jack is thirsty for more magic; for more power.

Gral laughed. Of course; the jacks would not fear Reprisal’s violence. The dragon was their creature. Therefore Gral now stood alone against some dozens of darklings. What was there that he might do? Nothing that he could see. He could not command enough of the spirits to make any difference in this fight. Still, Gral decided even if he must die, he was not of a mind to have the magic of the artifacts he held pass to the jacks.

Gral looked to the war of spirits; he saw that the demons had only feigned to fall back, and had lured the angels forward so as to surround them. Gral concentrated on his amulet, and commanded an angelic wheel of flame to turn from the fight and pass before him, so that the darklings quailed; as they did Gral called Paradox back to him.

“Listen to me,” Gral told Paradox. “This is what you must do.”

As Gral gave him his orders, Reprisal screamed, battling angels; but Nil remained silent, behind a high circle of its own white fire.


There was no sense of burning; but for William it was as though his head split open. It seemed as though a world spilled out of him, a world he had not known existed; with all its lands and seas, all its cities and castles, its moons and dungeons. And in the making of these things he remade himself, and that new world he had made was part of him, and though it had broken him in its making still now it was itself raw, newborn. And so within Nil’s fire William felt himself to be shattered, and remade, and shattered, and remade, and it was with surprise that he looked down at himself and saw his flesh and form untouched.

It was all in his mind. It was all come out of his mind.

He took a step forward. The world changed around him, there in the fire. He could see it: the cliffs and streams; the mists and moors; the lakes and swamps and fells. It was not a true world, and yet it was a world that was intimately familiar. William understood: all these things he saw were a part of him, or had been — they were the worlds he had seen once, and then outgrown, or grown away from. The world as he had lived it when he was Cai ap Mervyn. The world he had seen when he first set out on the long road. And wreathed around them the worlds he had made, in his songs and verse; what he had understood then, that he had shaped into the art of his past.

He understood Kezia’s babbling, her mad singing. There was so much matter pressing upon him, demanding to be made real again, so many of his old themes, and so much that was new, that he had never dreamed of, or at least never dreamed he’d dreamed of. What wonder that Kezia had retreated? He would not even be able to stand what she had, he was sure.

Beside him, Jeroen Halfjack stumbled, and fell away. William thought he heard him screaming. Had the halfjack gone forward? Would he gain the dragon’s wish? If he did — then would William need to persist in this hard path? Surely, William thought, he could not go much further now, in any event.

Unless there was matter in his lore to help him. But what was there that he had ever learned that was of use here?

Nothing. He thought: If I am Cai ap Mervyn of Powys-Terrwyn alone, I must be consumed by these fires, and not even reach the dragon to stand before him. I must be greater than that, and use … what?

Whatever William of the Long Road has learned in Fell Gard the Master Dungeon.

He thought then of the ruby world of Enlilitu the Perfected Androgyne; the world that was in every way a construction as unreal as these he found himself shaping out of himself — or no, say not unreal, for it was a kind of reality; a reality of art, a mental construction. Was there space within that alchemical world, then, for these other ones?

William closed his eyes, against the dreams spilling from him, against the fires flickering all about, and tried to imagine a place of red ruby calm, big enough to contain all his dreams.

“This way, sir!” cried a familiar voice.

His eyes snapped open. “You?” he cried.

“Have I not wrestled with dragons for you before, sir?” cried Magnus, the red lion. “I cannot do quite so much now, but I can lead you through the dragon’s fire, if you wish it. I can bring you to true art.”

“Yes,” said William. “Yes!” He ran to the lion, and Magnus raced away before him. He followed it. For how long he could not say. Perhaps it was a fair distance;  perhaps only a few steps. Though the fires seemed to grow before William, he did not feel the flame.

Then ahead of him the fires began to fade. He could see the great dragon Nil, glimmering and vast. Magnus stood at the edge of the flames: “Fare you well, then, sir,” said the lion. “But be wary as well; for you will remember that when you found me, I was locked within a furnace. Now the question you must answer is: were it better to be burned within that stone and iron prison — or were it better to be locked in the cold and dark forever?”

“Thank you, Magnus,” gasped William, and stumbled onto the bare cold rock before Nil.

Someone reached a hand to him.

“You?” said William again. “I didn’t expect you, here.”

“Perhaps I’m only an image of myself,” said Gamelyn. “Here, take my hand, and find out.” William grasped the offered hand. Gamelyn hauled him to his feet.

“Real enough for me,” said William. “How did you get through the fire?”

Gamelyn made a sour face. “It is more illusion than real,” he said. “It plays with fantasy, with the sense of the world, with what we know to be true and what we know must be false … oh, I had no problem at all.”

“Then you’ve spoken to the dragon,” said William. “You have suffered for the wish?”

Gamelyn sighed. “Ah,” he said. “In truth … William, I was not sure what to do. That fire behind us is the flame of fantasy; what the dragon threatens will be … what? Inspiration. Truth. I don’t know if I can face it.” Gamelyn turned to him. The man’s eyes were unfocussed in a way that William thought was not right. “I heard the magic of your song, before, by the north entrance,” he said. “I hadn’t a chance to tell you then, but it touched me. It reminded me … of certain things.” Gamelyn shook his head, as though clearing it. “William,” he said, “I fear that the mask elemental is too much a part of me. I fear the shadow will not stand the dragon’s flame, not again. And I fear that if it dies, I will die.”

“I don’t understand,” said William. “If you’ve come so far —”

“I am my own mask,” said Gamelyn. “I know that, now; the elemental … was an inevitability. An … illusion.” He shook his head again. “Go on,” he said. “You can trust your art more than I can mine.”

William looked at Nil. The dragon did not glance at them; it stared at Reprisal — or so William thought, for he could not see the other dragon. “It is a poison cup you give me, smiling,” he muttered. “I will go, Gamelyn, but if I fall, you must follow.”

“I will die if I do,” said Gamelyn.

William went forward, to stand before Nil. It was like standing before a castle’s keep; before a cathedral. “I am here,” he called. “I will stand your flame, as you challenged.”

The dragon said not a word, but turned to him and opened its mouth (and everything inside William turned to fear at the sight of that great gullet) and breathed fire.

William screamed.

What he had felt before, in the ring of flames, had been his own creation. But this, this was the inspiration of a dragon, that was greater than any mortal dream; and it overcame him utterly. It did not scald him, did not burn him, but maddened him.

All William knew then was the fire in the head. And it seemed to him that the fire remade him, not with the inspiration that came from within, but with the inspiration that was without: the grammar of the world that was, that could be reworked into poetry.

He was a wand of hazel, taken from a tree.

He was a silver-scaled trout, leaping in a river.

He was a stag, his tines etched with letters.

What was he, that his cool head should be set aflame?

What could he do?

Only what he ever must do; what he felt to be right and truest to himself.

He opened his mouth, and sang.

He fit the dragon’s shapes into words; words into patterns. Alliteration and rhyme. Rhythm. Images, repeated with variations. For a spirit such as Nil’s, that profound soul that was in its essence magic, things themselves were an alphabet, and the alphabet was no mere set of symbols. Words were truth, not signs alone pointing to other things. William understood Gamelyn’s fear: the dragon was too true to know art.

And yet for William art was all. Therefore he sang, improvising a song of his life, mixing knockabout balladry with snatches of chanted epic and even Ossianic hymns, balancing the verse forms and stanzas. Gamelyn, he thought, was after all wrong: in this place, the fantastic was the only salvation.

William sang; and, singing, showed Nil how to abstract itself. How to fit words into a pattern of stresses; how to set sounds in order. And in doing this make them greater. The terrible sympathy the dragon had learned from the potion of inspiration was sublimated into sound and sense. Alchemised into language.

Magnus’ question returned to him: were it better to be burned within that stone and iron prison — or were it better to be locked in the cold and dark forever?

The answer, of course, was that it was better to seek escape; or gain liberation from a passing bard.

And yet also as William sang, he knew that as a singer he himself could not escape the truth. That for the song to have meaning, to accomplish its aim, to serve Nil as a structure for his inspiration, he must make it, and sing it, less out of the facts of biography than out of the felt truth that was in him. Perhaps that was what the shadows of Falcate had meant when they had spoken of the need for him to find a form. Perhaps not. William knew that if he did not adhere to the truth of himself he would be lost again among the shifting shapes he had seen: hazel wand, silver trout, drifting smoke. That truth must be his anchor, or else he would be swept up in his own song and be forever lost.

Easily said; but what was the truth of him?

But this is why one works art; to learn the truth of oneself. And this is why great art must be unsparing, for to make it is to slay one’s cherished illusions.

He was not Cai ap Mervyn, not any longer. He was not what he now sang of: was not the boy that had been, was not the child of his parents, was not the youth that had wandered in the wastes of the land, was not the student of druids. Nor was he the William of the Long Road that had been; not the spy with a false name, not the passer of messages, not the ambassador in secret. He was not, in short, what he had always imagined himself.

Whenever he had slept under a hedge in the rain; whenever he had sat far from the lord’s table in hall; whenever he had been shoved aside, or set on by bandits while walking the roads, or rousted from his playing and cuffed about the head and sent on his way — all those times he had told himself it was worthwhile, that he was not what he appeared to those around him, that he had a secret purpose, a hidden value, that he was really Cai ap Mervyn of Powys-Terrwyn. That the cause of Powys-Terrwyn was holy and right, and that his disguise as a penniless wanderer was only some period of exile before he would come home to his rightful land and be welcomed as a bard-king.

As he sang, William wept, for he saw that it was not true, and that he only ever had been a fool who had never understood the actuality of his life.

Let it be so, he sang. Let all his past life be a sacrifice to the present. Let him live, now, here, in Fell Gard, and let him be a singer before dragons. Let him be the lover of an elf-maid, let him be in love with a woman that is a song, let him be loved of the song and the singer, let him be one with this woman that is a story out of story. Let all that’s past be now false, though a falsity that must still be a part of him and weigh on him, and let him learn what he is. Let all he had once loved and had once prayed for be sacrificed; let only his song be all of him.

The song ended. The fire died.

William stumbled, empty.

“What is your wish, bard?” asked Nil.

And so it was that simple: he had accomplished his task, he had won through. He had only to claim his reward. But to claim it, he must first frame it in words. What should he say?

He thought, madly, that he might wish for all his past back; that he might wish again all those comforting dreams he’d once had. That he might wish for the ascension of Powys-Terrwyn among the nations of the earth. Ah, but no, he could not do that, and it tore at his heart to know this.

He would not reshape his past, or force it into false life. Nor did he want to shape his future by the dragon’s magic. No; he knew too many tales of wishes misapplied. He wondered, even, if he had the right to demand a wish. He wondered if his own wish could ever be delivered to him as he imagined it; if it came by the power of Nil, then would the acting-out of the wish not be a function of Nil’s inspiration?

What, then? What did he wish for? The dragon waited, to learn; to hear this choice, that would define who he was.

William told him.


And then, for Gryselde, it seemed suddenly so very simple.

Her House was retreating into the woods; the elves were confused, kneeling before Kezia, who babbled half in speech and half in song. The war between the angels of the Courts of Oak and Holly on the one hand and the servants of the Elder King on the other was being won by evil. As she watched, the angels gathered into a knot to resist the demons all about them; Gral was left alone, defenseless, upon the plain. Paradox, that had been by him, left his side to take to the air. And the darklings, approaching the fight, all turned to Gral, who sneered at them.

From the air beside her Gryselde heard a voice asking: “Amanos has captured the enemy mortals at the church. What shall we do, my lady?” Aura, Gryselde realised, our invisible messenger. Gryselde understood then what she had always known: that, for some reason, she had established herself at the head of a House, and that, therefore, she had a responsibility to do right by it.

Whereupon it was clear what she had to do.

“Go to Amanos and the others,” Gryselde said. “Go to Tilde, and everyone that was in our reserve or in our eastern force — tell them to come join us, here. Whether they will fight or watch, they deserve to be present at this finish.” Then, turning to the others, to the elves and huldra and murineans and to all of her house, she cried out: “Forward! All of you! With me! To Gral! To the angels! We cannot flee the dragon, we cannot flee the demons, we can only fight, or die!”

Alone, weaponless, she ran forward.

Why had she not done this before? — No, the time had not been right before. Only now. Now when it was clear what there was to fight for; what she could do, what they all could do.

She ran past the halfjack, groaning among the flames on the rock. The nightjack, among his darklings, turned as she came — but the small cloaked figures went on past him, toward Gral.

She did not know who was behind her, if anyone. She would show no uncertainty. She would not look back.

She ran to the nightjack, who did not avoid her, but waited. Gryselde went to lay her hand upon him as she had been shown in her Order; they had been taught the many ways to bring a body to the Graf Vaka-Bane, with a touch alone: here to collapse the throat, here to shatter the backbone. But the nightjack slipped away from her strike, and then waved a hand, which passed through her head as though one or another of them were not real at all.

Gryselde fell, dreaming.

She wasn’t fully asleep. But all the world about her, the darkling army on the nighted shore, became distant. She felt herself stumble and fall, and she fell very slowly and forever.

She saw Alys rising, from burning Hallowchant.

Why? Gryselde wept, again. Why did you bring this upon us?

For you, Alys said, as she always did, as she had, that first time. I meant to save your life. Oh, child, I have died; and I have been chosen by the Graf himself, and I will put an end to all the Dark Robes. And you will be last of them for the great love I bear you.

How had Gryselde borne the great horror that had fallen on her heart, then? How could she bear it again, now? O perfidy of dreams, she thought, to afflict me thus.

She lay on the shore, eyes open, hearing the waves rolling in and out like her heart; hearing the rattle of stones caught in the waves stirred by the battle of the spiritual armies. A knot of darklings descended upon Gral.

She saw Alys setting a crown on Prince Gunnar’s head. What will King Valgard think? Gryselde wondered.

She wondered, as well, as she had for so long, why Alys had said what she had. What was Gryselde to her? What was Gryselde’s life, that Alys had agreed to crown the prince; had brought the King’s might down on Hallowchant?

What, Gryselde wondered as she ever did, had she done, that Alys had felt compelled to meddle with crowns on her behalf?

Was it Alys, or she herself, that had betrayed Hallowchant?

Had she brought ruination on her House?

It was a nightmare.

Open-eyed, Gryselde rolled over, restless sleeper, like a pebble caught in the tide, and saw Enheduanna running across the shore. The elf had followed her. And others as well.

Kezia was behind Enheduanna, and the water-elves behind her. The huldrafolk with them. Ygerna. Entemena. The murineans. Hochelaga, running supernaturally fast, demons flittering behind her. Some of John’s prisoners, running with screams and mad cheers. Some of the slaves, running in silence.

All of them had followed; and for what? For battle. For loss. For death. She had built a second House, only to bring it as well to ruin.

When we dream our souls are raised to the Houses of the Gods, she had told someone once; not long ago. She wanted at that moment on the darklings’ plain to submit to her dreams; to arise among Monelic and Dyst, among Runstæf and Modstathol.

And then she thought: No. Hallowchant is only truly ruined if I turn from its teachings. Which is to say: if I abandon it.

She remembered the Rule. She remembered that the body could be mastered.

She saw Paradox descend beside Hochelaga. Something passed between them. Hochelaga broke and ran, back southward toward the trees. Good; the girl was out of the war.

She saw Mew and Atrahasis and Wymarc and the canons of Secga standing under the pines, uncertain. She saw the boy Spyrling with them, and an old woman she did not know. All this was good; the Household had many parts to it.

Where was Ulixa? The corvina was in the trees, seeming to search for her.

Coming at a run from the east were Diccon, Hwitwic, Yune, Alkahest, Hodekin —

There is no peace, thought Gryselde, nor end to responsibility.

Gryselde summoned herself back from the Houses of the Gods.

She arose. The nightjack leaped for her again, but Gryselde swayed away from him and struck back herself. The jack spun away — as she had planned, for the blow had been a feint. But when she drove her other fist into the jack’s throat, instead it seemed to pass as through a mist. The nightjack dissolved into a cloud, and drifted away to reform a little further back, on the shore.

Gryselde decided there was no reason to attack it further, and ran to Gral.

The water-elves and huldrafolk had pushed the darklings back northward. Entemena had led three elves to the darklings around the dwarf, and scattered them. Gral was lying slumped on the sand. The lights and fires of the spiritual war to the west played crazily over his form. He was bleeding and beaten, but rolled up to look at her as she came to him.

“I thought we were too late,” was all she could think to say. “I thought —” I thought I had made my choice too late, she almost said.

“They were looking for the magic I’d held,” said Gral. He spat blood. “Pawing at me. Fools. I passed those powers on.”

“What?” said Gryselde. “To whom?”

“To Paradox,” said Gral.

Gryselde looked at the war of spirits, in which the angels were now entirely hemmed in by the laughing demons. How foolish, she thought, to imagine that any mortals might have a role to play among the struggles of those powers. One could only wait, and see in the resolution of their war what one’s own fate would be. And if, as it seemed, evil would win? Then what was there to do but resolve what one could before that happened? “Weren’t you afraid he would be struck down?” asked Gryselde.

“Yes,” said Gral. “Therefore I told him to pass the objects on in his turn.”

Gryselde looked at him. He grinned.

To the north, Hwitwic and Diccon and the rest joined the fight against the darklings. To the south, Nil’s fires died away, and William walked forward, Gamelyn beside him.


Hochelaga ran. The demons had finally left her alone to go fight in the big war, and the spell she’d cast before was still working, and so she ran faster then she ever had, faster than she could have without magic. She knew it was important. She knew what Gral and Paradox had trusted her with. There had been no-one around her to tell, when Paradox had come to her; and he must return to his fight. She was alone, now. Even Concordia was still stuck in the tree.

She scrambled along the shore, past a hut, through the woods, and in moments was at the wall of the cave, with the hall to the cup room before her.

Had anybody seen her run? She had no idea. But with all the angels and demons flying about, there was nowhere else in the cave to go — and where beyond the cave could be safe?

Something came crashing through the trees behind her. She looked back.

It was the halfjack, risen from the shore. He was chasing her.

Hochelaga whispered some words, and pointed past him, and fled.

She scrambled into the cup room. It was empty. Then she heard a noise from behind her. She spun.

Jeroen Halfjack was advancing down the hall.

“I saw you,” he said. “You with your jewelry. With the dwarf’s items of power. If we had known what he had we never would have bothered with our farce of goblins and orcs and outlaws. Only taken the three together. Yet you don’t use them. Why?” Hochelaga backed up against the stone altar. “I think you’re too weak to call the spirits,” said the halfjack. “I think you don’t have the will to control what you call up. Stop me if I err.” He took a step forward. “I will use them,” he promised. “I will call up all of hell. And I know you cannot stop me.” He gave a wheezing laugh. “We know you all, know your dreams,” he told her. “You have one charm, and that’s more than most little girls. But it’s not enough to get you out of this trouble, not when all you can do with it is run a little faster, a little longer.”

“You’re right,” said Hochelaga.

Behind Jeroen Halfjack, there was a sudden motion. Jeroen turned too late.


Ulric brought his mace down into the halfjack’s skull. The man dropped, unconscious. Ulric looked at Hochelaga, whose voice he had heard whispering words in his ear, telling him to meet her in the cup room, begging his aid. “If I had only one spell, that wouldn’t be enough,” said Hochelaga to the insensate jack. “But when I woke up today I read and read and found I could hold a second charm in my head after all. So I was able to call for help.” She looked at Ulric. “I’ve been caught up in it,” she told him. “Like Gamelyn said. I’m part of the story.”

“Oh, my poor little girl,” said Ulric. He led her from the cave. Outside awaited angels; three of them.

“Here they are,” said Paradox.

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” said a lion-headed angel. There seemed nothing of ferocity in him at all, but yet Ulric felt awe when he looked upon him. The angel held out his arms; Hochelaga ran to him.

“Do I know you, sir?” asked Ulric.

“I am of the Kherubim,” said the lion-headed angel, setting Hochelaga on the back of a winged bull with a man’s head. “Perhaps we have met, elsewhere in the shadowlands. Come, Ulric. It is all reaching an end now.” He held out a hand.

“I have heard,” said Ulric, “that angels are so vain as to speak of themselves as the only wise.”

“Will you weep both night and day?” asked the Kherubim. “Then I’ll wipe your tears away.”

“I know those words,” said Ulric. “They were written by the holy William of the Name Blake. And I know that the poem tells me that I should not hide my heart’s delight.” He stared at the lion-headed angel, who had not dropped his hand. “Do you not see,” said Ulric, starting into tears, “I have no idea what that now is?”

“Come,” said the angel. “Let us find out.”

Slowly, diffidently, Ulric took the angel’s hand; and mounted the bull angel, and together they flew off, toward the dragons to the north.


Enheduanna saw William walk away from Nil. The fires died. The armies of spirits paused their war. The angels fighting Reprisal dropped away from the dragon, which turned to Nil. (Paradox, Enheduanna saw, went to one of the angels; and they flew away at a great speed to the south.)

Enheduanna did not care about any of these things, because William had survived. She ran to him.

They held each other. Above them, the dragons spoke; and though Enheduanna thought only of William, she felt those words echo through her, felt them in her bones.

“Will you come with me?” asked Reprisal.

“No,” said Nil.

“Is your inspiration so weak?” demanded Reprisal.

“Judge for yourself,” said Nil. It made a sign. There was a great shout from the hosts of angels and demons.

They began to wink out, one by one, like stars at dawn.

“I have been reborn from myself as what I was: a grandmaster of the Empyrean,” said Nil. “You were only ever a grandmaster of Mist. My power has always dwarfed yours. You have an understanding of love that I do not; now I have an understanding of inspiration that you do not. Well, you have made your choice, Reprisal. All along you have made your choice. You have taken your oath, and given your name. But I have sworn to fulfill a wish, and so now you must go. I will stay.”

“This is not to be borne, Nil,” said Reprisal.

“It is merely what must be,” said Nil.

“I love you,” said Reprisal, a grating roar of a phrase, that in its tremulous cadence held a note of sadness. “Let us be true to one another. To our history. Or shall we fight, upon this plain?”

“What is it to be true?” asked Nil. “What there is in the world is less than may be seen in dreams. Not this minor sea, nor this darkling plain, nor the ignorant armies clashing upon it, nor this beach by the water, is so beautiful as dream; therefore none of it can be as true. Dream of me, Reprisal, if you wish it.”

Nil made a sign; Reprisal gave a melancholy, long roar; and was gone, just as the angels and demons were one by one winking into nothing. As it faded it reached out a claw, and took up the nightjack, who faded with it.

“It’s gone,” muttered Gamelyn. “Is it over, then?” He looked around, at the crowd under the trees, at the last of the battle with the darklings. “Where’s Ulixa? Ulixa!” He wandered away, calling for her.

Enheduanna and William, holding each other, stared at Nil; who shrank down until it was only as large as it had been when it had first appeared, and drunk the potion of inspiration. And yet when it turned an eye upon them, they saw within it all the power and dreadfulness that it had possessed when it had loomed at its greatest size.

“I have expended much of my power, working these banishments,” it said, as the darklings to the north, battling the elves and huldrafolk, one by one gave up the fight and fled. “Now comes time I will fulfill the rest of your wish. Ah, but wait.”

As the last of the angels and demons faded from the beach, a winged bull flew to them, upon its back Hochelaga Trice and Ulric of the Given Word. A lion-headed angel was with it, and the Good Boy, and Paradox of the Good Act. They landed, and Hochelaga and Ulric dismounted as Gryselde and Gral — who had been nearby on the beach — joined them.

“William,” whispered Enheduanna as they approached. “What did you wish for?”

“Enheduanna,” he said, “after facing Nil’s fire … after that, I had no wit left …”

“What did you wish for?” she repeated.

“I wished that Nil would follow its inspiration,” said William.

Enheduanna looked at the dragon. “But what is that inspiration?” she wondered.

“It said,” William told her, “its inspiration was for endings.”

“Well,” said the Good Boy to Paradox. “It’s time for your choice. Will you come with us, or …” He didn’t finish the sentence; as though he were embarrassed.

“No,” said Paradox. “No, I’ll stay.”

“You know what that must mean,” said the lion-headed man. Paradox nodded his head, once.

“I understand,” he said, gravely.

“Let it be,” said the tall angel; and he faded away. The Good Boy embraced Paradox; then he, with the winged bull, faded as well.

“What happened?” said Enheduanna. “Paradox, are you all right?”

He had set his hand over his heart, with a dismayed look on his face. “Oh, yes,” he said. “But the beating of my heart is different.”

She looked at his wings; at the flaming sword he still carried. “You’re still an angel,” she said.

“In part,” he said. He smiled; weakly. “Only in part.”

“Listen to me,” said Nil. “All you mortals.” The demons and angels were gone; the darklings had retreated. Still, for the moment the remnants of the House under the trees had not come forward, and the warriors to the north had not fallen back. Gamelyn had wandered off to find Ulixa; it was only the seven of them — the six of them that had woken together in Fell Gard, thought Enheduanna, and Paradox as well.

And the dragon grandmaster.

Nil seemed very tired. “William of the Long Road wished for me to follow my inspiration. This I have done and will do, for that is the nature of the oath that I swore. I study the mysteries of the Empyrean, which persist; but my inspiration, I think, is that things are defined by their ending, or their limitations, or what they are not. I will consider this. But for the moment I know: I am inspired to make an ending. I do not know what that will mean for the future. But for now I have brought some ending to this strange confrontation. Well; I drank the potion of inspiration seeking wisdom, and William has guided me to some partial understanding of what this inspiration is; therefore now I will share pieces of wisdom with all of you. For I know that you six — I do not speak here of him that once was an angel — you six entered the dungeon together, and therefore are bound together in ways which I will not now discuss. You will either live to learn it on your own, or else fall along the way.

“These things I say to each of you, that you may have an ending, for a moment; as each ending is an opening of something further. Gral. Alkahest’s home is not far from the Abyss of Stairs, but on the twelfth court, which is named Kol; she is your niece, and you have many others in Fell Gard. Hochelaga. The city you see in your dreams is not truly the city you are named for; but your namesake haunts that city, and is a mystery to them, a locus for their own dreams, a start of their history. Ulric. The world written of by your William Blake is real; his London and Jerusalem exist — in another sphere, and also in the dreams of Hochelaga, for her city is in his world. Gryselde. The bloodline of Scaeva many generations ago intermarried with the royal line of Powys-Terrwyn.” Gryselde hardly reacted at this, Enheduanna noted, but William gasped, slightly, and turned his head to her. “William,” said Nil. “You will not remember that you sang to me of Falcate the Carnelian Dragon; but you did. You have revealed much of yourself to me. I will tell you that there must have been a purpose to a dragon being in the place where you found him. The Carnelian School will be seeking you; you are not done with dragons yet. And Enheduanna. I will not tell you your lover’s name, but I will say that you will find him, for the moment, on the tenth court, Silver Athrir. Of course he may reach some other home by the time you come to him.”

“Wait,” said Enheduanna. She paused as the dragon turned to her. “I, I don’t understand,” she whispered, in the face of that unmortal gaze. “My lover is here, with me.”

“I mean the Iron Elf that has pursued you,” said Nil. “That has followed you. That has known you for long ages, in your lives past. Do you not know your own song, elf? Then you must learn it.”

Enheduanna gasped and dropped to her knees. William fell with her, holding her tight.

It could not be true. It had to be true.

“That is my ending for you,” said Nil. “It is a partial ending, but such, I suspect, is ever the case. Now it may be that I will do more for you, in future. There will be a cost, I promise you, if so. For now I will return to the home I have made on this court. Do not trouble me further.” It turned an eye toward Gryselde. “Only if you find, below, any work of magic art that I wish … I will have it. Fare well.”

So saying, Nil took to the air; and, flying above the spire of the church, wheeled to the north, and flew out of the cave.

Enheduanna slowly got to her feet, leaning on William. From south and north others came to them, shouting, happy, cheering. “It’s over!” someone cried. “It’s really over!”

“No,” whispered Enheduanna. “No. Only a chapter.”

“Nil knew,” said William. “A partial ending.”

Enheduanna laughed bitterly, surrounded as she was by folk that laughed for joy. “It knew,” she said. “It knew indeed. How much more?” She looked at him. “William,” she said. “You know that you … that I love you.”

“I love you, Enheduanna,” he said. “That is one of the few things I am sure of. That love brought me out of a ruby otherworld. It saw me through a dragon’s fire. I love you and I will be with you, whatever we find in the tunnels below.”

She embraced him. There were cheers, that after a moment surprised her; when she let him go, William turned to bow. Enheduanna looked about. There was such an odd mingling of peoples on that shore, and almost all of them, it seemed, happy. Why not? They were going to live. Robert was blowing on his bagpipes. Sybil had her arms wrapped around Spyrling. Elous wandered among the crowd, looking lost and gazing toward the church while Mew tried to attract her attention. Yune was speaking intently to some old woman she did not know. A water-elf was looking with awe on Atrahasis. Ygerna was speaking to Paradox and to a black-skinned man, gesturing to where the war of spirits had taken place. Diccon was by Gryselde, acting out some battle of his or hers. Enheduanna could not keep herself from smiling.

What matter the truth of her song? There was more to it than the dragon had hinted, she felt; more or other than love. What? She would find out in due time. For the moment, what was there to do, but live quickly?

And then she saw coming toward them from the woods the corvina; and, alongside her, hobbling, enraged —

“Where is that damned dwarf?” cried Ulixa.


Tom Patch blubbered in the dark of the church, kneeling before the lady knight and the big man beside her; his hands bound behind him, the knights of the Falcon Rising glaring at him scornfully — ah, but what could they expect? He was only a fool.

“Let me go,” he said. “Oh, Tom begs you, Tom Patch that’s a poor man and a fool, an addlepate and a ninny, a mooncalf and a jackanapes. But he’ll be good! He swears it, he does, upon the stones of Fell Gard, upon stairs and cracks, upon water-drips and smoking torches, upon the bugs in the dust and the bats that eat bugs and the goblins that gobble the bats and bugs together —”

Then it was as though everyone took a breath; and everyone let it out at once. The people by the window began to cheer.

“They’re gone!” someone shouted, and:

“It’s done!” cried another.

People began to spill out of the doors of the church. There were cries of joy outside.

The young lady knight said something to the big man beside her, who nodded. “All right, you folk,” he said to the prisoners. “You’re off to Sir Hugh. You get to have justice done upon you.”

The outlaws, all bound, just as Tom was, were got to their feet, prompted by the big man and by townsfolk with swords and knives. They shuffled out the church doors.

“Ah, please, lady,” Tom cried to the girl-knight. “Tom was never one with these! They found me here, you ask any one of them!”

Behind him the big man laughed. “She doesn’t even speak the language, fool,” he said. “On with you, now. Sir Hugh gets to judge what to do with you. Do your begging to him.”

“Yes, my master,” said Tom, cowering. “Yes, it is as you say. Oh I am a fool indeed.”

Tom knew he could abase himself before this Hugh; knew he would find a place in this strange town. Not a high place. Not a respectable place.

But then he was only a fool.

And they had never thought to wonder where he had come from, old Tom Patch, when the knights of the Falcon Rising had found him. Never thought to wonder what a creature like him was doing in the dungeon; how it came about that there in the depths of Fell Gard they had found a fool. A jester. A buffoon. An addlepate, a ninny, a mooncalf —

A jack-an-apes.

He had stayed with the falcon knights when they’d fled the goblins; yes, so that with a word here and a glance there he might lead them where Jeroen Halfjack had wanted them. They never knew.

His brothers had failed, Tom thought, but oh, there were more where those came from. The master would hardly notice this loss. His plans would go on. And was there room in them for old Tom?

There was. Indeed there was. But how much room for all this noble company of Innsdene? What would the master want with them? And what would he have Tom do to them, in his time?

Who could say?

Tom whistled a jaunty air, and left the church along with all the rest of the town, to begin his new life; for however long his master wished it.


Previous Chapter | Archives | Next Chapter

Comments are closed.

Proudly powered by WordPress. Theme developed with WordPress Theme Generator.
Copyright © The Fell Gard Codices. All rights reserved.