The Fell Gard Codices


Enheduanna watched William take a good length of rope from his pack and throw an end down into the pit. He seemed surprised by the pull on it: “Oak and Holly,” he gasped, “how much do little girls weigh, in these dark times?” Groaning, he stumbled forward. Enheduanna caught him around the waist and drew him back. William coughed in surprise. She felt his body through her mail. He’s right, she thought, this is too much weight for a girl.

Gral, kneeling by the side of the pit, said, “She’s found a friend.” Ulric, Ulixa, and the sorine gripped the rope and helped to pull. And so when the lady knight emerged from the pit, Hochelaga on her back — a gold circlet upon the girl’s head, Enheduanna noticed — they were not surprised. She let William go, keeping a hand on his shoulder; he looked at her, and she smiled. “This is Amanos,” announced Hochelaga. “She’s a knight of the Sceadu. Of Shivartha.” The knight took off her bucketlike helm, showing a delicate face and nut-brown hair. She said something Enheduanna did not understand. “She doesn’t speak our language,” Hochelaga added.

William said something to the knight. She answered, surprised. Soon the two were speaking quickly. William pointed at each of them, naming them in turn. Hochelaga was telling the sorine what had happened in the pit; something about a ghost, and finding a secret crown. Enheduanna watched William and the knight. She was young for a mortal, thought the elf.

“The pit was covered by a counter-weighted door,” Gral was telling Hochelaga. “Once you fell through, it closed back up. Well-made and quiet. The stone is heavy enough Ulric could not hear you inside the pit, nor you him outside.”

“Why did the wizard who made this place build so many traps in it?” asked Hochelaga. “Just to catch us? And how does he know how to build them, anyway?”

“A fine question,” growled the dwarf. “We thieves have our mysteries. The secrets of our craft. Well, the wizard must know them too. But do not ask me why he lays traps in his house, for I cannot say.” He snatched up the tools he had used to wedge the trap-door open. It closed without a sound.

“Lady Amanos would like to know what we intend,” said William. The knight spoke some more, and looked around at them all, her chin high.

“Firstly,” said the sorine, “Hochelaga, meet Ulixa. She was also caught in this dungeon. Ulixa, is that map the same as the one in your chamber?”

“I think so,” said the older woman. “I could not rightly swear to it.” The sorine nodded.

They had not known what to make of Ulixa, when they had woken up and seen her, with Ulric bent over the burning silver. It had seemed to Enheduanna that William and Gryselde had been shocked by the woman in some way she didn’t fully understand, were wary of her; but Gryselde had said, stiffly, that Ulixa was welcome to accompany them, as they were seeking souls in jeopardy within the dungeon called Fell Gard. For a moment Enheduanna had thought that the dark woman would refuse; but no, she had looked around and simply told them she would go with them.

Enheduanna watched her now watching them as the knight said something angrily. William cleared his throat. “The Lady Amanos demands passage from this place,” he said. “In the strongest possible terms.”

“You may tell her that this is Fell Gard, and what that means,” said Gryselde. Enheduanna watched, curious, trying to remember the ways of mortal hierarchies, as William spoke gently to the knight. The knight responded, still angry.

“The Lady Amanos,” William told them, “states that if need be she will lead us in quest of a way from here.”

Gral laughed. “Will she?” asked Gryselde.

“I call on you to say this to her,” said Ulric. William’s head jerked around; all of them turned. Enheduanna almost jumped. There was a quality in his voice that had not been there before. Ulric raised a hand, and said: “As she is a noble knight, who is faithful to the ideals of chivalry, and of service to the good of all, I call on her to demonstrate true humility and join us poor folk. We are not of her church nor of her people. But elsewhere in this dungeon are innocent souls who suffer from their captivity, and we are seeking not escape for ourselves alone, but the liberation of all. More, I swear that I will do my utmost to lay waste this wicked place and overthrow the cruel wizard that is its master; and to the Lady Amanos I say that this is a fit quest for a good knight. Howbeit, I beg her to acknowledge our company, and follow the sorine with us to rescue the oppressed.”

The words almost did not matter. Enheduanna knew there were many kinds of music, and listening to Ulric’s voice almost she wept, and felt her heart grow large in her breast. There was conviction and force in his speech, and the crashing hymns of angels. As William repeated his words Ulric lowered his hand slowly; the knight reached out, almost unwilling, to clasp it. She spoke, and William said, “She swears to be one of us, so long as we uphold the right, and seek to guard the innocent.” The knight looked at the sorine, and said something more. “She says it is not right for her to do honour to Oak and Holly,” William translated, “but if the sorine will not seek her conversion to, ah, heathen doctrine, if you don’t mind, if the sorine will not seek her conversion, she will accept for the moment the judgement of the company, and follow her. But this also she does only insofar as we keep to the right.”

Gryselde nodded, and said nothing. “Well,” said Enheduanna, “the question remains. What are we to do?”

William said: “Sorine, you asked Ulixa about the star-map in the room where she woke.” He pointed to the map upon the wall. “I have been a wanderer some years, and watch the stars from habit. I can say that the one there is the same as the one in the chamber where the rest of us woke. And they’re the same stars as shone over us all last night.”

“It seems to me,” said the sorine, “that the best thing to do, for a start, would be to return to the chamber where Ulixa awoke, and be sure of that map. If the Lady Knight is amenable.”

This sounded sensible; and so Enheduanna led the way back eastward, hearing them come behind her as she went. William spoke quietly with the knight, while Ulric explained to Hochelaga what had happened to them. Enheduanna herself remembered the moments after the ceiling block had fallen; the bats, driving them down the hall, and then … then she had been caught, in her own memories. It had been the same for all of them; and none of them had been prepared to speak much of it once Ulric had freed them. Then they had gone looking for Hochelaga, accompanied by the quiet dark woman who watched them all. The dwarf had found the hidden pit. And there they were.

But as she led the way along the hall she remembered waking — for it had been most like waking up from a dream — and seeing that sceptre burning before her eyes, in a way that silver did not naturally burn. And before that moment … She remembered remembering. All those moments without song. Her father and mother abandoning her; as they must, as was the way of things, but she hadn’t known it then, at that terrible time. Or the shadow that had stalked her, the night she first hunted: the Jarnalfar. How she had failed to bring him down with her bow. The unreliability of memory was the curse of the elf-folk; but she remembered well how to use her weapons, and remembered the wickedness of his kind, the shuddersome curse laid upon them.

And remembered too the command given her while she was spellbound by the sceptre: submit to the master of Fell Gard. But no, she would not do that. She could not accept a future locked away in a hole under the earth. Her life was too brief as it was.

Around the corner from the sceptre’s niche the passage continued. A narrow hallway curved out from the left-hand wall; Ulixa said that was the way to the room where she had woken up. To the south, though, they could see the passage end where stairs led down deep into darkness. Enheduanna and Gral both had the ætheric sight of their peoples, and so could see some distance in the dark; but the stairs stretched further than the fifty feet or so either of them could make out.

They followed the curving hall; at a certain place Ulixa stopped them. “There was a stone here,” she said, “here, on this bulge in the wall. I took it as a lucky charm.” She reached into a pocket of her coat. There were many pockets, Enheduanna noticed, worked cunningly into the garment; some must have been very deep. Ulixa took out a small rock. They gathered round to see: it was worked with a strange design.

“It’s a scarab,” said William. “A carved stone, as you see. A kind of … sign, I suppose, of the Dawn Kings. I don’t know what they used them for. I suppose it could be enchanted.”

“I don’t understand this place at all,” said Ulixa. The curving hall led them to another odd-angled room. The star-map there was indeed the same as the others. The room was otherwise bare. William repeated to Amanos, in her language, all that had been said. Most of the others examined the map; Enheduanna watched William, thinking.

Eventually Gryselde said, “We will have to look further for answers. The door west of the sceptre, leading south. Let us try that.”

They went back around the corner to the door in the southern wall. It opened onto a hall that went a little ways further south and ended in another door; that door opened onto another hallway, again leading south, but this one ended at the foot of a flight of stairs. Enheduanna, Gryselde, and Gral began to make their way up the stairs. Torches lit the way. The stairs climbed up, and up, and up further. The ceiling was low over their heads, so that the stairwell felt confining after the wider passages below. The others came after them, some ways back. And then the stairs suddenly ended, at a wall of blank stone. “I don’t understand,” said Enheduanna.

Gral laughed. “No plan,” he said. “I told you. There is no reason to magic.”

“Search them,” suggested Gryselde. “Look for a hidden passage, a trap. Anything.”

The dwarf grunted and began to examine the stone; Enheduanna descended back to the others. She took William by the shoulder, and led him further down the stairs. The knight, Amanos, watched them, but did not follow.

“What is it, Enheduanna?” asked William as they went. She did not answer until they were almost out of sight of the others, still twenty or thirty feet from the base of the stairs.

“What do you know of elves?” Enheduanna asked William quietly.

“I know you are a magical people,” he said, matching her tone. “You are a race of song.”

“Do you know how we are born?” she asked. “How we are made?” William shifted his stance. He bent his neck back to look her in the eye; then dropped his gaze, to stare straight before him, at her chest; then dropped it further to his feet; then looked back up at her. “I have heard … different stories,” he said.

“An elf is music,” she said. “We are sung into existence. We live brief lives, William. We must live quickly. One year we have; no more.”

“One year?” he asked. She nodded. “Only that? How do you … how can it be?”

“We live quickly,” she said. And she took his head in her hands and kissed him deeply on the lips.

For a moment he answered her kiss; then he broke away. His hands caught at her wrists. She drew back. He looked up the stairs, toward the others. She did not. Why should she care for them, at that moment?

“One year,” he said. “Lady Enheduanna … how old are you?”

“One month ago my father and mother sang me to life,” she said. “I have seen thirty days; and also I am ancient, and can remember times before your people had mastery of fire or iron. A song dies when it is not sung; it lives again when you sing it again. You are a singer, William. You know. When you hear a nightingale it is the same nightingale that sang to emperor and clown when the Invicti reigned. We are like them. We are not born for death.”

“You … you remember these things?” he asked.

“Like a dream,” she said. “Poorly, like shadows.” She touched his face. “It is of no matter.”

“You will age,” he said, “what is that, seven years in a month —”

She set a finger to his lips. “No,” she said. “Oh no. I was as you see me when I was made. I will not age. Only I will pass away, in time.”

“Wait,” he said, catching at her hand again. “If that’s so … then you are not a woman, as I have known women.”

She laughed. “I told you. I am a song. You are a wandering singer; and what is it you sing of?” She kissed him again, and took him in her arms. He did not seem to know what to do. “You are a singer,” she whispered in his ear. “Will you sing for me? Will you tell me that I am fair?”

“Enheduanna,” he whispered. “You are beautiful as the Queen Moon on her throne.”

“Ah, William,” she whispered, and —

“It has been said before,” a harsh voice said. “It has all been said. And by better speakers.”

They broke apart, and both looked first up the stairwell; and then realised that this voice was new, and came from below them, in the corridor at the base of the stairs. From where they stood they could not see the speaker. “Who’s there?” called William, drawing his sword as Enheduanna took up her bow. “Name yourself!”

“And if I do not?” asked the voice. It seemed weary; and sinister in a way she could not name. “Will you and your companions come at me, waving your swords and crying your war-cries?”

“I will come at you for doubting my words to my lady,” said William. Enheduanna felt a rush of pleasure in her at his words; but not so much that her fingers trembled as she set an arrow to her bow-string.

“Ah,” said the voice. “And if I stood at the head of a horde of goblins? What then?”

William began to climb down the stairs, slowly. She followed, step by step, and heard the others coming behind them. “If I must,” said William, “but I would call you first to meet in fair combat, you alone and I alone.”

“Really?” asked the voice. “And if I were, let us say, a werewolf — what then?”

“Then I would fight you,” said William, “even if you were a hell-hound.” Enheduanna drew her arrow back. The others, by her, had their weapons ready.

“And,” said the voice, “if I were, oh, a thurse — would you still fight?”

“Even if you were a giant,” said William. “Even if you were — oh.”

“Yes,” said the voice, and she could see it now, and almost gasped herself. “And if I were a dragon, little singer — what then, eh?”

At the base of the stairs, a hidden door on the west wall of the corridor was now open. And in the corridor before them was a creature as long as a man, but winged, serpentine, with claws and horns like white quartz, its body covered in purple scales with white striations.

It was a dragon, and it looked up at them with the cold calm of the reptile.

None of them screamed. The thing was too fearsome. There was a bright flickering light deep in its throat. All eight of us, thought Enheduanna, in the small space of the stairwell. She remembered dragons, vaguely. She remembered the flame of their breath, the heat, the pain, dying — ah, but she remembered something more than that.

“I invoke the covenant!” she cried.

The dragon closed its jaws with a snap. It glared at her. “Do you?” it demanded. “Do you really? Do not think you will escape. Rather your death will be slow, and not a quick ending by fire.”

“I invoke the covenant,” said Enheduanna. “And a third time I say it: I invoke the covenant.”

The dragon opened and shut its great jaws, gnashing its teeth at them. It coiled its neck back. “Then what do you sacrifice, questioner?” it hissed.

“What is happening?” asked Ulixa.

“The covenant,” said Hochelaga. “That’s very clever.”

“The dragons swore to a covenant before the world was made,” said Enheduanna. “Any creature speaking to a dragon, that was not taking part in any violent action against it, may make a sacrifice and ask three questions.”

“What if the dragon does not know the answer?” asked Gryselde.

“They always do,” said Enheduanna. “Always. That is the magic. That is the covenant. They may not know before the question is spoken; when it is done, they will speak, not knowing what they will say, and answer truly.” Gral began to sidle off to the side, his broadsword out. The dragon watched him.

“Gral,” said Enheduanna. “You can do nothing now. You cannot move to attack him, or the covenant will be broken.” William set down his sword. He took out his harp; and he said some quiet words to the knight.

“But you can get answers to three questions,” said Ulixa. “That is good.”

“What will you sacrifice?” demanded the dragon. “Choose now, or the covenant will be void.”

“I am an elf,” Enheduanna said. “What have I to sacrifice, what that is of value to me, but my memories?”

“I will take the memories of your parents,” said the dragon. It opened its mouth; a thin jet of pale flame leaped from its throat, and curled through the air like a whip to strike Enheduanna in the skull. For a moment she was surrounded by a halo, and then it was gone, and she no longer could remember the singers who had given her form.

“Ask your questions,” said the dragon.

Enheduanna nodded, gasping. “I will say this first. I know your kind. You are a Carnelian Dragon. You are concerned with what is eternal, and what persists through all alternatives and might-have-beens. You, therefore, best of all know what it is that you have taken from me. Therefore my first question is: what is the nature of this place?”

“The question is too broad,” protested the dragon.

“You know what you have taken,” said the elf.

“Ah, well,” said the dragon. “This place is most often called Fell Gard by mortals. It was, and is, made by magic. Its heart was created fifteen hundred years ago, and every century since the stars align and it grows. New stairs appear, leading to new halls and rooms and traps and treasure and all other needed furnishings — even burning torches. All created by magic, out of the nightmares of the wizard Scaeva who first made this place. Some creatures appear in the halls as well, as some appeared when the dungeon was first made. Others are pulled in from above. Some there are below who are descended from the first creatures of Fell Gard; there are empires in the bowels of the dungeon. There is no easy egress from this place, though the wise and the mighty have their secrets, and in the lower levels are some magical portals which may lead you out. Nothing is certain. Now those that have magic in their marrow, like elves and dragons, are naturally drawn deeper down; we are not natural creatures, like mortals, and we do not think like them or have narrow needs as they do, for food or … whatever else. We only feel a pull to magic, to dreams, to things of old time; to those things that are in part of the æther, though few of you will understand that. Well, we are pulled to the mighty powers that drive Fell Gard and its expansion, which are in the chambers of that rotted old heart. The most powerful creatures are thus the farthest below; the weakest are above.

“That is the nature of Fell Gard. It is a prison for many, a home to some, and it was designed to raise its maker to godhood. There is your first answer.”

Enheduanna considered this. It didn’t seem to help. What could she ask the dragon to keep it from killing them? “Why are you here?” she asked.

“I was commanded to be,” it said. “You may know, elf, that we dragons have our mysteries, and mine, as you have said, is the mystery of the carnelian. I was told by a past master to be in a certain place, at a certain time, and be brought in to the dungeon as it grew. There is a legend that says that when Fell Gard grows, three items of power are to be found on the new level. I was to find those items, and bring them to my masters. That is the second answer.”

“My third question,” she said, and paused, and thought I have to, and asked: “Is the one I seek in the dungeon, and where?”

“Yes, he is,” said the dragon, “and that is all the answer the covenant requires, and that is my third, and now there comes an end.”

And it opened its mouth to breathe its hot flame.


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