The Fell Gard Codices


Hochelaga was walking over to join Ulric by the map when the trap-door opened below her. She fell into darkness as the door snapped back into place.

She had enough time, as she fell, to compose and recite a quick charm of flight. She was too young for it to really work well, of course. But she was strong enough that at least she slowed down her fall so that it didn’t hurt when she landed. That was all right.

Only it was pitch dark when she touched ground. She guessed she had fallen quite far. “Ulric!” she shouted. “Ulric!”

She listened, straining to hear something from above. There was nothing. No, wait, there was, but it wasn’t up above. A jingling, like Ulric’s mail. Somebody was down in the dark with her.

Well, she reasoned, if they wanted to hurt her, there wasn’t much she could do. Casting the charm had left her dizzy. Not that she was going to fall over — she wasn’t a baby — but she wouldn’t be able to work another spell until she’d had some good sleep. She could only hope whoever was there was friendly. Maybe they knew a way out. “Hello?” she called.

A hand grabbed her, and yanked her off her feet. She was slammed against a wall, then shoved on her stomach on the floor. She gasped as the breath was driven out of her, then cried out in pain as a terrible weight drove into the small of her back. Something took one of her arms and wrenched it around behind her. A metal edge, a blade, pushed against the skin of her neck.

She shrieked, more from fear than hurt. Somebody yelled at her, with words she didn’t know. She shrieked again. Later, she’d look back and realise that the only reason she didn’t pee herself was that she didn’t think of it. If that made sense.

Whoever was on top of her shouted again, in the strange language. It was a woman. “I don’t know!” Hochelaga cried out. “I don’t know what you want! Please, please let me up!”

Surprisingly, the woman did. The weight lifted from Hochelaga’s back; the sword from her neck. Whoever-it-was said something, quieter. Hochelaga lay still for a moment, sniffling, then rolled over. She still couldn’t see anything.

Then she heard: Isn’t she wicked?

Maybe it wasn’t right to say that she heard it. It was more than just one of her own thoughts, though. It had the timbre of a voice, a man’s voice. “Who’s there?” she asked.

The woman said something.

“Who are you?” Hochelaga asked the voice. “Can you speak to her for me?”

Once, I could have, said the voice. But not now. Don’t cry out, little girl. But look.

A light appeared, a wavering blue-silver glow. It came from a man, sitting above himself; anyway, the shape of the man that was full of light was above the man’s regular body. The regular body had its neck cut halfway through, and a spray of blood was all around it and against the wall. Hochelaga could see besides that: she could see that they were in a room about fifteen feet to a side, and she could see the woman who had pushed her down before. She was tall and strong, and spattered in blood, dressed in mail with plates of metal strengthening it. She had a longsword and shield that she raised as the light grew, and a spear slung on her back. A helmet sat on the ground by her feet. A wide belt ran about her hips, supporting a heavy scabbard: a knight’s belt, Hochelaga realised. And the knight shouted at the glowing man, who laughed sadly and looked at Hochelaga. You see? he asked.

“Oh,” said Hochelaga. “You’re a ghost.”

“Atu,” said the lady in armour, looking at Hochelaga and pointing carefully to the dead man with her sword. “A-tu!” She was fierce, but Hochelaga still didn’t understand what she meant.

Yes, said the dead man in Hochelaga’s head. I’m a ghost. But I don’t want to hurt you.

“You can’t, anyway,” she said, with what Master Shiloh called ‘disinterested precision.’ “I mean, you’re a lesser revenant. You can’t do much. You’re probably drifting away into the æther even now.”

The dead man reached out to her. The warrior lady took a step toward them.  It’s so, the ghost said. But I know I can give you power. I know it.

“Not really,” she said. “Well, I guess you could if I let you possess me. I mean you could work charms through me. But that’d just be using my own power, and it’d burn me up. Why are you here? As a ghost, I mean.”

Is it not clear? asked the ghost. He pointed to the lady knight, who raised her sword. I must haunt her. She killed me!

“Atu!” growled the knight.

She will kill you, too, the ghost said. Hochelaga looked at the knight, who looked back at her over the sword. The knight said something. Hochelaga didn’t understand. Which was very frustrating, since Hochelaga knew she could figure out any language, if she had enough time. Let me take you over, said the ghost. It’s the only way to save us both.

“Did you kill him?” Hochelaga asked the knight in a whisper. The knight said something, and motioned brusquely with her sword.

With no mercy, with no warning, said the ghost. She will kill you next. She is a killer, and that is what she does.

Hochelaga backed away from the woman with the sword. The woman watched Hochelaga calmly. She had grey eyes, and a scattering of freckles. Did killers have freckles? Hochelaga felt that was wrong, but couldn’t think of a reason why. She felt her shoulders touch the wall behind her. “We should think about how to leave this pit,” she said. “Do you have any rope?” She turned and pretended to climb, first up the face of the face of the wall and then hand-over-hand up a rope. “Rope?” she asked again.

The knight shook her head. I could have climbed those walls, said the dead man, but she can’t. I could have climbed up, and got help for her. But she chose to kill me. I tell you, that is who she is. Let me take you over, and I can climb us both out.

“No,” said Hochelaga. “I have friends. They’ll find me.” She thought: But they’re not my friends, really. They’re just people I met. They don’t care about me. She remembered the sorine, her promise. How could she believe it? People didn’t mean that sort of thing.

The knight growled something that sounded like some kind of warning. The ghost sneered at her. To Hochelaga he said: Child, if you care about justice, let me do this. Then I will climb you out of this pit. You will be safe. I will leave you then, I swear it.

“But she’s a knight,” whispered Hochelaga.

A knight of the Sceadu, said the ghost. A knight of shadows who hates all the world. She is a puppet. That is the proudest boast of the Sceadu.

“I can’t decide something like that,” said Hochelaga. “It’s too … too big. I’m not a master. I can’t decide.” She sat down and drew her legs up before her and wrapped her arms around them. “It’s not right.”

The knight said something. Ah, child, said the ghost, I wish that I could make this judgement easier. But there come to all of us choices that must be made. I know. Take my hand. Let me in. It will be easy.

“I can’t,” Hochelaga whispered. She began to cry again. She hated crying, and how she felt, and having other people look at her while she cried. But she knew what she had to say, even though she wanted to agree with the ghost. “I’m sorry,” she said, “really I am, but you’re already dead, and there’s nothing I can do about that. And this lady is still alive, and even if she’s a bad person maybe she can get better. I’m sorry.”

There was silence, then, except for her sobbing. Then after a time the voice again: Let me in. This is a terrible place. And the only ways out are past monsters you can’t imagine. You’re a very clever girl, but you cannot outsmart them.

“The Masters sent me here,” she said. She was pleased, a little, that she didn’t let herself blubber. “They sent me. I’m supposed to be here. This is what I deserve.”

No-one deserves what is coming, said the ghost. I don’t know how I know that. But I know it.

“Ætheric knowledge,” mumbled Hochelaga. “It’s what you get when you’re no longer corporeal. You can see magic and such things edgewise. But it’s not real knowledge. It’s not like you had to learn it.”

But it’s true, said the ghost. Isn’t it?

“It could be,” she said. “It could … I could …” What? What could she do?

Together we can find a way through, said the ghost, echoing her thoughts. You and I. I have the sight and knowledge. You have life. And I can give you treasure. I know there is a great prize here in this pit, and without it you will not live long. But you won’t be able to find it on your own.

Hochelaga buried her head in her knees. What was the right thing to do? If she agreed to what the ghost wanted, then the knight would die. But she felt it was probably true that she couldn’t survive in the dungeon on her own. Maybe the others up above could help her. But where were they? Where was Master Shiloh, or Master Bleyse, or any of them? She couldn’t trust them. She couldn’t trust any of them. She knew that. So what should she do?

And if she didn’t choose soon the ghost would discorporate, lost to whatever world was beyond the æther. Which meant that even not making a choice was making a choice, and that didn’t seem fair.

She told herself: So make a choice, then. Well, you’re supposed to be smart. Even Mistress Grainne says so. Said so. Anyway. If you’re smart then you have to use your intelligence, because that’s what you can rely on. That’s what Master Bleyse said. So think. What do I know about ghosts? What can I think of that can help me decide whether to do what he asks or not?

And of course once she put it to herself like that, she knew exactly what she had to do.

Hochelaga stood up. The ghost was still above his body. That was correct; a spirit as minor as he would be bound to his corpse. There wasn’t much he could do, really, unless a living person gave him willing access to their soul. Hochelaga took a quick step, and the knight sprang to her feet, and she took another, and the knight was reaching for her, had grabbed her arm, but Hochelaga threw out her other hand, and the ghost didn’t understand, and her hand passed through his flesh, his cold ghostly side —

— and she saw him, no she was seeing through his eyes, she was a boy, he was a boy, working a field, she could smell the dung he was using to make the earth rich, felt him coming off the field and rubbing his hand laughing in his brother’s hair, she could see the field later, all green, and then still later feel the boy’s muscles as he reaped the harvest by the side of his father and the rest of them, grinning and then that joke about reaping maidenheads, and later in the day sweating and aching and working, and there were feelings she did not understand about women, and a girl shrieking, and then it was the next year and he was off to war, and she was killing men and the sword shuddered and twisted in her hand as it struck bone, and the stink of blood was everywhere, richer than the dung of the fields but dirtier, anyway he was a sergeant now and his purse jingled with silver, and drinking, and they knew he was a hard man, and then he was with his lieutenant at the court of the great Simon, who was called Tristram, the Weeping King, and there was a ring given to him, and then later with a cloth over his eyes he was taking an oath, but not to the king, and men were teaching him words and skills, how to hide and climb and open what was sealed, and then some time later he was with three other men on the roads to the kingdom of the Sceadu, and he was watching one of their puppet-shows, the tall shadows dancing, and then he was at their court with the other men, and then he was alone on a road to the White Mountains, hurrying on horseback, and oh, the mountains arose to the sky, white-capped, and then he was among them and camping, looking behind him, hard to see in the rising mist, and he woke, and the sword cold unstoppable cutting deep his neck —

Ah, he said. Hochelaga was dazed, hanging in the knight’s grasp. The knight shook her, and shouted something. She was so dizzy she hardly noticed. And the ghost continued to talk, that strange voice in her head that lay over every other sound or sensation. That was my life. You know it now, don’t you? Now a little bit of me will always live on in you. And you know now that I can teach you the secrets of the dead; and then you would be a master. You would be a master of masters. Only let me have my justice.

“No,” she said. “No!” It had been more than she expected. She was trembling. She shouldn’t have done it. He was right, about the memories now being part of her. She’d see them again in her dreams, she knew. And she knew him. He was wicked, just by the way, not caring about people around him, so doing to them what he pleased.

He had stolen something, and been killed for it. Was that just? She didn’t know. The knight had been sent to capture him or kill him. A king had sent her. Was that just? Did it matter? Hochelaga knew him. And she knew if he got into her soul he would not let her go, not if he could ever help it.

I saw into you, too, he said. I know you. Hochelaga Trice. Help me, Hochelaga. Please.

“I’m not going to do what you want,” she said.

The ghost was silent for a few seconds. Then he said: You have to, Hochelaga … I’m going to die. I can feel the pull … Hochelaga. You can save me. Only you. Save me! He reached out for her, unable to move from his body. She shrieked and turned away, wrapping her arms around the knight’s waist. Gently her arms were pulled open by gauntleted hands. She was crying again. She knew her face was all red. I’m going to die, said the ghost. You’re killing me.

“You’re already dead!” she screamed.

Hochelaga, he said again, please. Oh by Oak and Holly! Please! You know it was true, what I said about the treasure here, you need it and only I can show it to you, Hochelaga you need me, without me you have nothing —

“No,” said Hochelaga, and swallowed her tears, swallowed the whole idea of tears. “I saw that, too. I didn’t see everything you know, but I saw that. I wondered how it was you’d come back as a ghost. Magic power, below you.” She looked up at the knight, and kneeled before her. “Please,” she said, “I need something from you.” She held her hands before her, and swallowed again the hot choking thing in her throat, and pointed with a trembling finger to the spear slung on the knight’s back. “Please,” she said. “Just for a moment. Please.”

The knight stared at her. Then unslung the spear. The knight stared a moment more. She held out the pointed end of the spear to Hochelaga, her sword raised to strike. Hochelaga carefully took the spear.

Hochelaga you are a foolish little bitch, said the ghost. That was why they sent you here. They sent you away. They did not want to be cursed with a wicked whore of a girl like you.

“Maybe,” whispered Hochelaga. “I don’t know. I don’t know …” She stepped to the body, with the spear before her. She set the butt end of the spear against the corpse’s side and pushed it back. The ghost was shouting obscenities at her. She knew how to concentrate. She knew it. She did not listen to his words for her organs of generation or what she did with them. She did not listen.

“Only what’s true is true,” she said, softly. She made a pattern on the stone with the spear, putting weight there, there, and there. And a little panel in the floor slid back, a smaller pit inside the larger pit, and there was a circlet of gold inside it.

She dropped the spear and took up the crown. The ghost vanished.

Something left with him. Like the way you felt before a storm; it was gone, now, out of the air. The feel of the darkness had changed. She realised: although she still had fragments of his memory inside her like the broken surface of a pool in heavy rain, ripples and glints running one into another — she did not know his name.

The knight said something. Hochelaga froze.

It was entirely dark, in the pit.

There came a sound she could not at first place. Then she realised that it was a sword being slid into a sheath. The knight said a few words more. She seemed to be asking a question.

“I guess we can try to talk?” Hochelaga answered, uncertain. “Do you want to teach me your language?”

It was really only a few minutes later that the trapdoor above them was opened, and she saw Ulric and the others looking down at her. Hochelaga was almost disappointed. She’d figured out the main phonemes of the knight’s language, and, starting with Amanos’ name and her own and the word ‘atu’ for ghost, was beginning to understand its genders and declensions. She was almost ready to build a proper vocabulary.

Oh, well, she thought, there’ll be time for that when I’m older.

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