The Fell Gard Codices

 

“Wait,” said Diccon. Gryselde held up a hand for a halt.

The youth stepped forward, pushing the lanthorn beside him. No, thought Gryselde. Not a youth. Do not duck away from it. He is a man. He stares at me as a man does. And does he think I do not notice? Or perhaps he does not care.

They had just left the Innsdene cave; they were in the hall of the quiet gargoyles, which stared blindly down on all of them. Gral was the furthest ahead, then Gryselde beside the knight Achard, then behind Grysdelde was Diccon, with the lanthorn William’s party had found; Hwitwic was next to Diccon, and after them were Ygerna and the ratman. Bliss, he had said his name was. Above them all fluttered Aura. “What is it?” Gryselde asked.

Diccon took a deep breath. “You should know … the reason why my band never went south … nor other bands … some of the stories had it that this part of the dungeon was haunted by demons.”

“That is worth knowing,” said Gryselde. “And are there other stories?”

“Well, yes,” said Diccon, surprised. “I mean … there are many. Ah … there’s a story that the demons were bound by a powerful and wicked wizard, for example. I don’t — you hear many stories. Rumours. How can you keep track of them all? You can’t. I tried, for a while. It nearly drove me mad. They contradict each other.”

“That is why we must go ourselves,” said Gryselde. “To see for ourselves.” She did not like the way those words sounded; too sweet, and too simple. She remembered walking south from Wendland, and how once she had climbed above a rocky hill-crest, and seen before her a green wooded valley, cliffs, mist rising from underground rivers; she remembered coming to know the land, not with eyes alone, but with leg and foot. “Had you heard any legends of hob-goblins, or of a great hall, or dwarves?”

“No,” said Diccon. “No, nothing that obvious. I would have said, I promise you that.”

There is something he does not want to tell me, Gryselde thought, and then thought: No. There is something he does not want himself to know. Something he has willed himself to forget. This worried her. It seemed to her that the things one chose not to remember would make themselves arise at the worst times. Still, she would not undertake to draw out what he insisted on hiding even from himself.

She sighed. “Let’s go on,” she said.

They made their way westward, past the gargoyles, through many halls, to the Chambers of Oak and Holly. Gral drew his sword as they entered the first room. Then he raced forward.

Gryselde followed, Achard behind her. As they entered the main room, she saw three hunched green-skinned things running east, down the hall toward the Abyss. They were fast, leaping like —

“Tadigemen,” cursed Gral. Aura shouted as they all ran after the toadlike things. Gryselde caught up with Gral, and then ran ahead. She reached the stairs down to the Abyss, taking them two at a time. She missed her halberd, she thought. Its weight, its sureness. Vaka-Bane had taught her how to kill using her hands alone; still she would have preferred the weapon, the symbol of her faith. But what of it? She would also have liked to be able to heal with a touch. That too was denied her, by the will of the Graf.

She reached the Abyss ahead of the others. It was too dark to see, but she heard nothing. By the time Diccon arrived with the lanthorn the tadigemen must have been far away.

“They were — like that creature, the dragon,” said Achard.

“They were what the dragon Reprisal pretended to be,” said Gral. “Toad-creatures. That’s all.”

“They’re gone now,” said Gryselde. “Well. We should look for some flight of stairs that will lead us to the nineteenth court.”

They had run out to the wide porch, where maybe only an hour ago Gryselde and Gral and the others of their first group had debated the shape of things to come. Now Gryselde followed the dwarf down the flight of stairs that led away from the porch, to a landing where further stairs led back up — but also where another flight led out a little way into the Abyss and down. Those stairs led to another narrow porch or landing, from which two other sets of stairs led in different directions down and back to the cliff face.

“The stairs are like a maze,” said Ygerna. “Some of them go along the side of the Abyss— and sometimes they continue inside the wall, angling up or down.”

Gryselde rubbed her chin, considering the many ways before them. Endless possibility, she thought.

In the end, they made their way back to the side of the cliff, and then down a flight of stairs to a tunnel leading directly westward. Gral went a little way ahead, and said the tunnel turned into wide, shallow stairs that seemed to descend a long way. “Let us find out where it leads,” Gryselde said. Diccon was staring at her, smiling. Achard was also grinning, though more gently, and not at her; he was looking out into the darkness, his hand on his sword-hilt.

The stairs were surprisingly difficult. They were each only a half-step high, so that one almost tripped with each footfall. Ygerna did trip, or at least stumble, several times. The passage went on before them, sometimes perfectly level, sometimes dropping half-step by half-step, always narrower than most of Fell Gard’s halls and with the ceiling low over their head. As though they had entered a mole’s underground kingdom.

Finally they came to a steeper set of stairs that led them down to a natural cave. The cave forked like two halls, ahead of them and to the side — Gryselde thought they led west and north, but wasn’t sure. We should have brought one of Entemena’s elves, she told herself. The elves were not sure which way was north, here in the dungeon; but they were sure of all directions relative one to another. That would be useful now, she thought. It had seemed to her that they had gone in a straight westerly line so far. But if these halls were all so irregular, and did not follow the straight lines of the court above, how would she be certain which way was west as her party went on? And they had to make their way westward, to find whatever path the hob-goblins used.

If that passage is even on this court, she mused.

“Well,” muttered Diccon, “this looks like the nineteenth court. As I told you, Sorine, the halls are less … shaped. They’re caves, natural rock, for quite some distance northward. And … although I thought …” he shook his head. “There are stories of worked places, here and there.”

“Gral, what do you see?” Gryselde asked the dwarf.

“The northern hall, there, goes on past the edge of my sight,” he told her. He at least does not question our direction, she thought. “The western goes a little way, then widens and turns north.”

“West,” said Gryselde.

The rock of the cave was darker than most of the stone above, but also seemed richer, warmer; there was more colour to it than the grey stone of the twentieth court. Red-brown, mostly, but here and there lighter parts like sand. The roof of the cave was uneven, but not as high as the ceilings of the halls above; fifteen or twenty feet from the floor, Gryselde guessed. The floor itself sank a step here, rose a step there, but on the whole was flat. The walls curved gently; they were boulders big as churches, she thought, and the cave in which they walked happened to be a crack between them. On the whole it all felt old, much older than the halls above them, and indeed older than it had any right to be.

The cave turned northward, as Gral had said, and then a wide passage branched off to the south and west. The cave went on a bit to the north, and then turned directly west. Gral saw nothing down that western passage, but down the southwest way a tunnel led to the right.

“West, I think,” said Gryselde.

Hwitwic said: “Wait.” They all turned to look at him. He nodded his great antlered head. “There is … something … the other way.”

“What sort of thing?” asked Achard, looking from Hwitwic to the murinean. The ratman stared fixedly at the cervidwen.

Hwitwic tilted his head; then shook it, slowly. “I … cannot be sure,” he said.

“But you think there’s something,” said Achard. “Magic?”

Hwitwic thought. “A power … I have known,” he said. “From before … Fell Gard.”

“Well, sir, I have never seen the like of you before I came into this place,” said Achard, grinning, “but I will guess that is woods-magic, or elf-tricks, or some such.”

“Perhaps,” agreed Hwitwic.

“If that’s so,” said Gryselde, “then there might be someone or something you can talk to. So let us try the south-west, and see what we can learn.” She found — now she was honest with herself, now she was examining her conscience — that the thought almost disappointed her. To merely be told of the dungeon, rather than see it for herself.

“What about me?” called Aura. “What should I do?”

“Do as you have been doing,” said Gryselde. “The same for all of us. Let’s go.”

They soon came to a crack in the rock floor, a chasm only a few feet wide. They could not see how far down it went, but even Ygerna in her armour could leap it easily. Once across, Gryselde saw the side-passage Gral had described, a narrower cave leading north-west. “Which way?” she asked the cervidwen; but he only shook his head again.

“There is another branching cave, further along the left wall,” said Gral, pointing ahead of them. “It leads to the south.” He spat. “These caves are too well-angled to be quite true. There is too much order to them.”

“They were made by magic, a hundred years ago,” murmured Gryselde, “and not by the gods, as was the outer earth. Let us go north-west.”

They went; they came to a bulge in the cave where the passage turned directly west and also branched south; and then the lanthorn light died.

“Darklings!” shouted Gral. The murinean chittered something to himself.

Hwitwic murmured something Gryselde could not hear, and the ends of his antlers flickered with green fires. The darkness was lifted, and she could see three little cloaked men running from the western hall with wicked knives drawn, only to stop in surprise — and there was another in the southern branch, and one coming up from behind them, too. “Wait!” she called; but Achard, who must have drawn his sword when the darkness had been set on them, leaped to attack. Gral was with him.

The two of them hacked the first darkling down. Ygerna killed the one to the south. Diccon wounded another —

Ah, my lord, Gryselde thought. But the fight was begun. She waved a hand at the darkling behind her, which paused. For a moment she thought it would run. And then, as the murinean killed the one Diccon had hurt, it leaped toward her.

There was a rush of wind, and Aura flew into the darkling at great speed. It fell, then staggered back to its feet. “Impudent thing!” cried Aura. “Do not assault — my liege!” She was fluttering about, striking it with a knife; the darkling fell beneath her battering and did not move. “Eat earth,” Aura told it, grim and triumphant.

Meanwhile, Gral and Ygerna between them had killed the last of the darklings, Ygerna half-beheading it with a sweep of her greatsword.

“Well-fought, lady!” cried Achard. “And well done, master dwarf!”

“Not a master,” muttered Gral. “Not yet.”

Gryselde sighed and looked around at the dead darklings. Then found herself staring at Hwitwic, who seemed unmoved, unsurprised, and yet saddened. Why did she think this? He had no mortal face, no expression that could be read. Only in his stance, the sag of his shoulders. Did such things mean the same for his kind as for hers? Or did her eyes read in him what was actually present in her alone?

“Are there any more of them?” she said. “Gral —”

The dwarf ran to the west as Diccon went to the lanthorn. With the darklings dead, it was burning bright again. “Poor unfinished things,” Gryselde heard someone say. Hwitwic; the cervidwen, she now saw, had bowed his head.

“What —” she began; but Gral came back to interrupt her.

“There is some hidden door there, maybe, but I cannot find the trick to open it,” he said. “Let me see to the south.”

Gryselde nodded, and he went. “What do you mean?” she said to Hwitwic.

The cervidwen thought for a moment. “They are … incomplete,” he said. “Without full … definition. They are … made of dream. But not … wholly done.”

“They look done to me,” said Achard. “Steel does that, when it takes out your throat. Or so I’m told.”

“I would rather not have fought,” said Gryselde. “Were they fleeing, from the battle before the dragons? Or were they some force that the nightjack chose not to bring into the battle? Or did they have nothing to do with the jack at all?”

“I don’t know,” said Achard.

“Neither do I,” said Gryselde, “and I would like to.”

“The same to the south,” Gral said, returning. “A hidden door I can’t open. This rock is … it is more magic than it seems.”

Gryselde nodded. “Back to the main passage,” she said. “Let us go a little way forward, and see what befalls us. Be wary!”

They were; but they found, as they went further to the south-west, that beyond the southern branch passage the wide hall opened up to a four-way crossing, a thick cross or x. Gryselde directed them north-west, thinking that if they were to find any more darklings, they would be likeliest there. They came to a door on the northern side of the passage, a rough square of wood set in a niche among the jutting rock. It was locked, but Gral soon had it open. A long passage led beyond, back eastward, ending at an angled rock wall. And there was another door to their left, the north.

Gral bent to examine the door, then shouted and drew back. “What is it?” cried Gryselde.

“There was a trap on the door,” Gral said through gritted teeth, drawing his left hand back and forth across his armour, which smoked a little. “It splashed acid on the unwary and foolish. No longer.” He kicked the door open.

Beyond was a passage northward, with a branch to the west. Beyond the branch was the cave widened into a kind of room. Gryselde and the others followed Gral into the space. It was maybe ten yards across, empty except for some of the darklings’ knives, a cloak or two, and a finely-worked iron sceptre set in a niche in the wall. Gral examined it, and said there were no traps.

“Unless,” he added, “the thing itself is a trap.”

Achard said, “Hm,” and took it up. He waited; nothing happened. He shook it in his hand, looked at Diccon and rubbed it perversely, and then laughed and put it in a pack he carried on his back.

“Diccon,” said Gryselde, “do you know what that is?”

He had been staring oddly at the sceptre from the moment the lanthorn’s light first struck it. He still stared at it, sticking out of Achard’s pack. “No,” he said slowly, and then more sure: “No, but who can say? An old sceptre; no doubt there are any number of such things.” He nodded his head.

Ygerna took off her helmet; there was a puzzled look on her face. Gryselde held up her hand. “We go on, then,” she said. “Back to that branching passage.” Ygerna nodded, and set her helmet back. Gryselde looked at Diccon. He was still staring at the head of the sceptre.

The western passage was blocked by a wide and deep stream, twenty or thirty feet long. “How could it arise —” Gral began, then trailed off into grumbling.

They went further back, through the trapped door. Gral turned eastward, and went to the passage’s far end. He stared at the wall, then grunted and shifted a stone. The rock before him slid down into the stone of the floor without a sound. So did a part of the wall to his left. “There,” he said. He pointed ahead of him. “That’s the large south-west hall.” He pointed north. “That’s the way back to where we fought the darklings.”

“They were watching — for us?” asked Ygerna.

Gryselde rubbed her chin. “I doubt it,” she said. “This was a well-chosen place to set a watch-post. But who set them?”

They went back to the door whose lock Gral had picked, and then a little way further to the north-west. They found another door to the east, that opened onto the passage filled with a river; and then after that the north-west passage ended, at bare wall and a water-clock. Gral muttered to himself as he looked at the mechanism.

“What now?” said Achard.

“Hwitwic,” said Gryselde. “Have you felt anything more of that magic?”

The cervidewen shook his head. Gryselde sighed. They went back to the four-way joining of passages. Gral said the south-western passage went on as far as he could see, but that the south-eastern ended at a joining of three passages, one of which went north. “Maybe the branch passage from back behind us,” he said, with a nod north-east.

Gryselde nodded. “We’ll go, and you can look down the other passages,” she said. They went; as they did, she wondered why she had ordered this. There was no point in going back to the east, surely. She was curious, that was all. She wanted to see what was around each corner. Surely only more corners, she told herself. This is no time, and certainly no place, for such … luxury.

At the crossroads, though, Gral said the northern passage did indeed stretch back to the cave-mouth they’d passed before, and that the eastern passage led to yet another joining of four ways, and the south passage —

“Straight lines,” he said, “and — a forge? Can it be?”

Gral set out for the south, as Diccon muttered “Straight lines,” to himself. Gryselde sighed again.

“After him,” she ordered.

“Earthy little man,” muttered Aura.

The elemental was not well pleased by what they found to the south: a large triangular room, far longer than it was wide, stretching south a hundred feet or more. It had been a forge, once. There were furnaces, and anvils, and bars of iron, and great bellows, and vats filled with cold slag, and more such smith-tools than Gryselde could ever recall seeing in one place. All of them now were covered with dust. Some were on the floor, fallen and left undisturbed for — how long? The roof was high, here, and covered in ætheric moss; and the moss covered also some of the ovens, having grown in strands down the walls, and reached parts of the floor. The moss twinkled like stars in the disused chamber. Its light was dimmer than any of the other ætheric mosses Gryselde had seen; a mold more than a moss, perhaps.

Gral, after a long silent look at the forge, grunted. “Mortal work,” he said.

“Someone shaped this room,” said Diccon. “These walls — they were dug out, carved — what fool would disturb the stones of Fell Gard? — Wait!” he cried, as Achard wandered into the forge.

“Why?” said Achard. “The place is dead. And I see ways out, there in the wall, and at the far end —”

Diccon grabbed an iron bar, and threw it like a spear to a clump of moss above an anvil. The moss glittered like some precious stone. When the bar struck it, it gave off a puff of sparkling dust. “Spores,” said Diccon. “Watch.”

The spores whirled in the air, and settled on the bar that had disturbed them. They seemed to latch on to the metal, covering it in flickering silver light. The bar began to glitter with the same unreal shine as the moss. And then it became as a ghost, and then was nothing.

“The spores turn all that is solid into … into æther,” said Diccon. “There are many kinds of ætheric moss, but this … you see how this sort is dimmer than the stuff in the Innsdene cave, or those other forest rooms? It’s more aggressive. Though  I don’t think it’s actually aware. Or no-one has spoken to it, at least. Well, not and got an answer.”

Gryselde nodded. “We go back north,” she said. “Then south-west again. We must find our way further on.”

“Oh dear!” called a voice behind them. “That would not be wise at all!”

They all spun around. Gryselde saw nothing. “Who’s there?” she called. “We heard you. Show yourself!”

For an endless moment nothing happened, in the dim light of the ætheric moss; and then before them was a little man, a foot tall or so, in a brown tunic and cap, with yellow hair and pointed ears and arched brows, and a sack slung over one shoulder. Just as a clump of sugar fades to nothing in water, so from nothing he seemed to come, right before their eyes. “You seem like nice folk,” he said cheerfully. “It would be a shame if you threw your lives away, and that before you had a chance to sample my wares.”

“Who are you?” asked Gryselde. Hwitwic grunted.

“You,” he said. “I knew … you.”

The little man bowed. “And glad I am to meet you, sir!”

“One of the ellyllon,” said Achard. “That’s what you are. Aren’t you?”

“You may say so, if you like,” said the man.

“Is that what you call him?” asked Diccon. “I would say ‘brownie.’”

“If you prefer it, I will not say no,” agreed the little man.

Achard laughed. “Brownie? A simple name. Why not call him ‘blackie’?” he asked, jerking a thumb toward the murinean, who stared at him. Gryselde realised the ratman, not speaking their language, had no idea what was happening.

“Gral, translate for … Bliss,” she ordered. To the little man, she said: “Do you mean to warn us of some danger?”

“I mean to offer you a chance to buy my miracle water,” he said. He swung his sack around and in a trice had pulled out a glass bottle filled with water. “Blessed by a holy man long ago, it was,” he said. “You may buy it from me, and a good price I will give you, I swear to that.”

“A holy man,” muttered Achard. “Selling — you, you’re Peallaidh!”

The brownie, ellyll, or whatever it might be, nodded. “I am that, my friend,” he confirmed.

“I know that story,” said Gryselde. “I heard it, in the north. You were from Powys-Terrwyn —” she stopped, recalling then how it all went.

“Tell it, then,” said Diccon. He smiled at her. Gryselde thought that it had been a while since he had smiled so; since they had come out on the nineteenth court, maybe.

“Oh, well,” said the ellyll, or brownie, “now you’ve begun, you might as well go on.” If he had been mortal, Gryselde would have thought he was flattered. “Powys-Terrwyn, eh? There’s a name I’ve not heard in a while. But it was north of that land, to tell it proper.”

“The story,” said Gryselde, “was that there was a humble farming family, by the shore of Blackswan Lake, that had an ellyll in their house. And the ellyll are a folk that by nature are helpful to mortals, so long as they are not given insult. Therefore this family was well pleased. If their clothes were torn, they would leave them overnight, and they would be mended. Their cows would be milked when they woke up. Their garden weeded. The wheat would be threshed, and piled. And so for all the good deeds the ellyllon did. And they left out milk for him, and little cakes with honey.

“Until there came a time a neighbour said that the wheat was not piled so high or so neat as the year before. And then after that, no matter how much milk or honey was left for the ellyll, it would do no more toil, but instead undid all its good works — scaring the cattle, breaking eggs, and such.”

“It’s true,” said Peallaidh. “I had a temper, then.”

“But this was ages ago,” said Gryselde. “The story is that Randolfus of the Holy Name was travelling in the area, and heard of the family’s trouble. And he came, and he blessed the lake and said ‘If this ellyll is too proud to take the payment of such good folk, let it be bound under the earth in the Elder King’s realm, and there let it beg for the payment of demons, until it has sold all the blessed waters of Blackswan Lake.’ And he blessed the lake, and exorcised the ellyll, and the story was that the family lived well ever after.”

“Well, I can’t speak to that,” said the ellyll, shrugging. “I was down here. Selling water blessed by one of the Holy Names.” He held up a bottle. “For a fair price, if high.”

“But it — it’s not true,” said Gryselde. “It was … it was a story told to explain why Blackswan Lake shrank each year.”

“Well, I’ve been at this for a while,” said Peallaidh, “and truthfully there’s a better market here than you might imagine. This water is quite handy against demons and the walking dead.”

“This was more than five hundred years ago!” said Gryselde.

“If you like,” said the little man. He held up the glass bottle again. “As I was saying. I cannot let you walk away to your death until you have a chance to buy from me this blessed and useful water.”

“Death?” asked Diccon.

“Whoever you are,” said Gryselde, “what do you know of the dangers nearby?”

“Ah,” said the little man. “I tell you what, my lords and ladies. If you buy from me a bottleful of miracle water, I’ll tell you all I know of this place as well.”

“What miracles does your water perform?” asked Achard.

“Blessed by a man of the Holy Name!” crowed Peallaidh. “Demons loathe it, and devils! Pray to it, I have heard, and it may glow with holy light!”

“And what do you ask for it, and for your knowledge?” asked Gryselde.

“Ignorance, my dear,” he told her. “You must give up to me a part of your ignorance.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” said Achard.

“I have spoken with dragons,” said Gryselde. “I know: it may be a wicked wound.”

“Well, I am no dragon,” said the ellyll. “Come, come. For holy water!”

They were all silent. There there was a hissing noise. “The ratman says he will do it,” said Gral.

Gryselde sighed. “No,” she said. “It must be me.”

“I suppose,” said Achard, “thoughts of violence against him would be out place.”

“I suppose,” said the ellyll, “you do not relish being turned into a gnat.”

“It was merely a rumination, I promise you,” said Achard, moving his hand away from his sword-hilt.

Gryselde doubted the ellyll had the power he claimed; but the knowledge? Perhaps.

Or it might be lies. It might be all lies.

There was only one way to know.

“How is this to be done?” she asked.

The ellyll set the bottle on the bround before her. Then he took out from his sack a gemstone, like a ruby but darker; a carbuncle, perhaps. And in his other hand was a metal pin. Hwitwic hissed. “This is … terrible magic,” he said.

“Is it evil?” asked Ygerna.

“… No,” he admitted.

Gryselde held out her hand. “Go on,” she said.

The ellyll stuck the pad of her first finger with the iron pin, and a large drop of her blood oozed out, and fell to the gemstone, which seemed to grow ever-so-slightly.

She realised very many things.

Her forefather was Scaeva the wizard, and she could be as great in wickedry as him, or greater. She was hunted by Black Alys, the closest person to her in all the world; and she herself hunted Alys just as much as Alys her, or she wished to. And she hunted Alys in Fell Gard: in her forefather’s halls, in the realm he had made, among his magic, in the place whose nature was that you might find all that you wished but kill you, maybe, in the finding.

She was relieved, as the rush of revelation faded, that this was all there was for her to know. Indeed almost trembling with joy.

“Well, I can say this,” said the ellyll, tucking his gem and pin back into his sack. “Not so long after this court was made, some monks came to dwell just to the south and west of here. They were monks of the ninefold way, given to life and fate. Now they had something with them, a prisoner whose name I do not know. They were bound under oath to guard that prisoner, and I believe they had fled some war on the third court in which the prisoner was the cause or prize. I spoke with the monks from time to time, you see, as I passed by their home over these years past.

“But some time ago the monks … fell. You saw the forge; they were mad enough to quarry the dungeon, to reshape it along the lines they wanted, believing that their faith would keep them safe. Well, first demons came, and then other things. They finally drew down some power that freed their prisoner. And the prisoner then destroyed them, and reigns now in their place. I tell you I do not know what it is, but I know it is terrible and cruel. And if I were you, I would avoid it, and all those halls of the monks.”

“Monks,” muttered Diccon.

“Hob-goblins,” said Gryselde, dizzy. It seemed that she had forgotten something. That it was better that she had forgotten something. “This … prisoner … former prisoner … does it rule over hob-goblins?”

The ellyll stared at her, and nodded. “Hob-goblins are among the least of its servants,” it said. “Now that is all that I owe you. I’m away; and may be I’ll see you or yours again. Miracle Water, ever for sale.”

And so saying, the little man faded away.

“Are you fit to go on?” asked Gral.

“Yes,” murmured Gryselde. “Yes.”

“Go where?” asked Achard. “Would that be, to the place we were just warned not to go to?”

“Yes,” said Gral.

Achard nodded. “I thought as much,” he said. “But I wanted to be clear.” A grin spread slowly across his face.

“We must be … cautious,” said Gryselde. “Quiet. And so find out what is behind the hob-goblins.” She looked around. “Are you all prepared to go on?” she asked. “Any who wishes may return above.”

No-one wanted to return. So they went forward.

Back to the joining of the four wide passages, then on to the south-west. Gral, then Gryselde and Achard, then Diccon and Hwitwic. As they went, Diccon said “Are you sure you’re all right?”

The hall ahead of them stretched on beyond the wavering lantern-light. There was something, she thought, that she did not want to know. Something she had learned from the ellyll, and made herself forget again.

She wondered what was waiting for them, up ahead.

To Diccon, she said: “All Fell Gard is, is a series of initiations, tests, sacrifices we make for knowledge … knowledge of ourselves. Knowledge that then turns us into … what? Some other thing. We are shaped …” She looked back over her shoulder at Diccon, and made herself stop speaking, as she was muttering without reason. “I am well,” she said. “But you?”

“Me?” he asked, with a laugh.

“Since we came to this court you have been distracted,” she said.

“Wondering about Conradin and the others,” he lied. She knew he lied. He dropped his gaze, unable to look her in the face, and stared briefly at her rump, and his face changed in a way she knew; and so she was not inclined to press the point.

“Ah,” said Ygerna. “I think I stepped —”

Behind them, a portcullis fell from the ceiling, clattering with an echo against the floor below. Aura shrieked.

They waited. Nothing came. Ygerna and Achard, struggling together, could lift the thing a little.

“We go on,” said Gryselde.

And they went, as silent as they could be. The passage was very long. The natural rock walls gave way to worked stone. It was crude, in some ways, not as intricate as the arches and tracery of the twentieth court; but the straight lines made Gryselde feel oddly safe. Sure.

And they were something new.  Gryselde was struck by the joy she felt in seeing these new things, in thinking over the halls she had walked. In thinking about what she had learned. After four days in Fell Gard, did she still want to go wandering the halls, to feel them under her feet, to learn their ways by pacing them out, to know them step by step through the exercise of her own flesh?

Was it bad, if it were so?

She remembered again what the dragon had told her; about her family line. Have I been caught up in the dreams of my forefather? she wondered.

And then she realised, in a flash so intense she nearly vomited, what she had not let herself know when the ellyll had pricked her with his pin: these halls were her father — no, her forefather, her ancestor — his dreams, a second body to house his soul; to walk through them, to see them with her own eyes, to know them in her flesh, was for her to know —

To look upon —

To know —

It is a sin, she thought, oh, it is the worst of sins, this is my father’s corpse that I am penetrating —

No, of course she wasn’t. To say it was to know it was nonsense. Fell Gard was a dungeon, it was —

It was what she wanted

Why did you give me to the ladies of death? Why did you let it be done? Why did you never come to find me?

This is what you deserve!

They came to a large, wide room, ten yards to one side, twenty by another. A hall led away before them to a door. Gryselde looked at it all with loathing. She felt soiled, wicked. She looked at Diccon. She could not help but wonder, if this was what he, if he —

He stared at the walls about them, the shadows at the edge of the lanthorn-light. Patterns carved on the stone; knots of regular angles lines.

Diccon threw back his head and said, loudly, “What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

The words hung in the air, echoing, indeed reverberating; and there came a glow from the walls, racing along those patterns of knotted lines, converging at the ceiling, making there a brightness not like ætheric light but like the sun, warm and golden.

From the south, a bell rang, sounding an alarm.

 

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One Response to “Part 4, Chapter 7: The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes”

  1. Perfidius the Rogue

    Well, it’s been a while since I heard that word.. ellyllon.

    I have the print version of Wirt Sykes’ old book, British Goblins, and that’s where I learned about them; you can read it online if you wish, here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/wfl/index.htm.

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