The Fell Gard Codices


Aloof stands Hwitwic, and eyes the fray. His allies strike down the foe. Whereupon come two mortals more, and with them a corpse-that-walks. Now one of the mortals casts a spell, and Hwitwic’s friends fall a-dreaming. Though Hwitwic knows, for he can scent it, that one of the sleepers is shamming, awaiting who-knows-what, being wise of war.

Hwitwic is behindward, not in the battle. Therefore he is not afflicted by the visionary sleep. (It is a magic he knows well. He wonders, as often he does, what it is that they see who are caught in it. What glimpses of future or past? What does their fancy show to their spirits?) Hwitwic knows: a burden’s devolved upon him. It is for him to take action against these mortals and their corpse.

Ah, but another yet stirs. Aura, that was in the air, was eke beyond the spell’s reach. Now she shrieks, and assails the wizard. Beset by her tiny fists, the wizard cries out. Covers her skull with her long-fingered hands.

The corpse-walker, that is called witherling by mortals, turns and reaches for the sylph. It will kill her.

Hwitwic, like all his kind, thinks battle most often fruitless. Or say the fruit of war is death. Then war is a very orchard. And orchards are things of mortals, fenced round and planted in even rows. Hwitwic is a lord of the forest. So his kind were named by elves, before words were made. Therefore he will not be found within the even ranks of that orchard’s bone-white tree-trunks, nor for him the clatter of those skeletal branches.

Yet Hwitwic, standing in the shadows, among the smells of battle and slumber, knows that he long since abjured a lord’s title for the humble and potent name of Seeker.

He therefore steps forward —

Now Gral, who being a dwarf knows nothing of sleep and little of death, arises and drives his long metal knife well through the walking corpse, shattering it so that it truly dies.

So Hwitwic turns himself to the other mortal, who smells of the devil Gástgeníthla the Persecutor of Souls. Hwitwic has a thorn in his hand.

As he brings his hand about he remembers the gift of thorns. The old female, that had taught him Seeking. She was not well pleased by his oath to go. Had she not taught him lore? Had she not shown him much, set him on the path of the seeking of secrets? Still he went, because he felt he had to, and though she felt his going to be futile still she gifted him with thorns.

The mortal withdraws, and Hwitwic’s ill-timed blow misses; the thirsty thorn cannot catch at her blood-drops. Now the wizard draws a knife; now the lady of Gástgeníthla raises a whip, which cracks in the air. She is as untrained in war as he, perhaps. Though he knows these symbols.

There are tales of Gástgeníthla’s whip: that makes bones to dance, that binds spirits to their old worm-ridden homes, that makes night to fall. The whip of Gástgeníthla is an image of tyranny. So the death-devil rules its kingdom. And so therefore all its servants are armed, with lesser whips.

The wizard cries out on them all, fleeing the sword of the dwarf and the pummeling of the Sylph. Hwitwic wonders where are her potent charms; what the art, that yields to battering? For himself he draws nigh the servant of Gástgeníthla in her coat of iron chain. Again his blow misses her.

The Sylph ascends above the futile stabbings of the wizard. The whip of Gástgeníthla cracks before Hwitwic, but does not touch him.

Gral drives his sword deep through the enchanter. Hwitwic touches the thorn to the brow of the whip-wielder. Both women fall.

Hwitwic steps to the wizard, that is now dying. He sits beside her, sets a poultice-soaked bandage upon her wound, stanches the flow of blood. That smell of copper, of iron. He smells life in her, yet.

“What are you doing?” demands the dwarf.

Hwitwic sits back, and to the rough shapes of language sets tongue and lips: “No reason … now … for death.”

“My mistress is dead!” wails the Sylph. “This is her third death, and who knows but it may be the last?”

The dwarf spits. “Sleep is not death,” he says. “It is an image of death only.”

“What is the difference between an image and the thing itself?” demands the Sylph.

“She will … rise,” says Hwitwic. “I will … wake them now.”

From body to body he moves. A touch, a touch: they stir. The spell is not a great working. They are not so deep into dream. They arise. Hwitwic resumes his stillness, and watches.

Gral tells them what has been done. Achard looks to him: “You’re a better man than I, friend,” he says. “I’d have let the bitch die.”

Mutters the dwarf: “That was my thought.”

Hwitwic wonders if either of them know the weight of words. It’s not that they’ve called themselves killers. But the dwarf has identified himself as a thinker. And Achard has named himself a friend. All things can be named all things, of course. But for a speaking creature to name a thing is to establish for that creature a bond of word and fact. How to think on a thing, then, without the name you have given it?

“Whatever his reasons,” says the sorine, “we now have prisoners. As two separate alarms have been given, and we do not know what awaits us ahead, I say we bind them, take them with us, and return to Innsdene to question them.”

“A moment,” says Achard. He bends to the priest of the death-devil. He pulls her iron shirt from her, and sets it on himself. “Better,” he says.

Hwitwic presents them with leathern thongs. The prisoners are bound.

He’d set out, that time long before, with all he’d thought needful. Thorns, and thongs, and hides; iron knife, and whispering dust, and candles of many colours. Some of them he held still. Who could say but they might be of use?

He has seen, in a rain-puddle held in a lightning-cracked trunk, shadows of what will be. Death; that is always what comes. More than his death, the death of his kind. This was the secret the old Seekers kept. Hwitwic hopes, vainly, to overcome the times that will be. To find out the secrets of futurity. Therefore he set out upon his road. Therefore, as he had glimpsed darkly beforetimes, he came to Fell Gard. Now what will be next?

The prisoners bound, the mortals heft them. Gryselde and Achard take the death-woman. Diccon and Ygerna the wizard. The dwarf goes before them, Hwitwic behind, with Bliss, while the Sylph flies above them.

So it is that they find the Night Elf.

Hwitwic had been taught by the aged female since he had been very young. She had given to him the properties of herb and root. He had stood upon a crag while the stars reeled round him, and he knew their paces. The moons were no mysteries, nor did he shun the standing stones. He knows the many small things the fox knows, and the one great thing the hedgehog knows.

Hwitwic also knows the Night Elves, called also Silent Elves and the Naught Elves, that are among the most fearsome and not least powerful of the many tribes of elves. And therefore when he and his allies come to that long wide hallway to the east and the Abyss of Stairs, and there within it coming to westward is such an elf, he gives a low groan as warning. He knows there’s danger. He smells death.

They all stop, then. The elf comes forward.

She’s tall, as are all her kind. She wears a crown of white fire, above her purple robes. Her hair’s dusk’s dark lavender; her skin midnight’s blue; her eyes the deep grey that hints at dawn. She says no word. That is not the way of the Silent Elves. She waves her hand; upon the floor of the cave there appear small images of the eight of them and their prisoners and of the elf, and the model mortals lay the model prisoners before the model elf.

“I don’t understand,” says Gryselde. “Who are you?”

The elf frowns.

She sets a finger to the cave wall, and letters of fire appear thereon: I am Elisheva. Set my allies down and come with me.

“I suggest instead that you come with us,” says Gryselde. Hwitwic could tell her: You argue in vain. But his throat is narrow; mortal language, with its strange sounds, sticks in it. He’s not made for their speech.

Words were a secret he’d had to learn.

He had taken up the dangerous quest in search of knowledge, knowing he might find death or worse. He had gone through the forest until he had come to a mortal parth. A road, as it was named. He’d set out upon the road. It was said that the first creature you saw upon the road would be your tutor in the secrets of mortals. Secrets where what he’d very much wished to know, then as now. Secrets, and names.

He had met a mortal, that had called herself glossologist. It was an unlikely meeting, she had admitted; but he had told her — once she had given from her word-hoard, taught him speech — that such things came about often, on the road-quests of his people. So he had learned mortal language, that first time, and then alone, and with wiser Seekers, that knowledge was confirmed in him, by sacrifice and pain. (As the wizard had told him, laughing, truth from another world: “Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain, for they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain.”)

Before Hwitwic, Gral draws his sword. The elf disappears. The smell of bone and murder is stronger.

The mortals let their captives drop, and begin to take out their weapons. The hallway bursts into fire all about them.

“Illusion!” cries Hwitwic. That word he rips from his jealous throat, that keeps sounds clutched tight. But the others scream, and throw themselves forward or back; only he and Gryselde are unmoved.

Hwitwic closes his eyes, and meditates.

He does not care for battle. It is bred into him to run, as needed. The nature of Fell Gard’s to do with battle. He must acclimate, or be destroyed.

It therefore comes to him that as Silent Elves control the seeming of things, then what is seen must not be trusted; nor what is unseen disbelieved. Why would she come to them alone, seeming unarmed? But if she were not alone —

Ah, that smell of death.

He opens his eyes and strides forward to grab the screaming dwarf.

“Gral,” he says. “Command … with amulet!”

Nearby, Gryselde strikes at nothing. But no, she has touched some tangible being.

“Nothing to command, Delvers damn you!” swears the dwarf.

Hwitwic holds out his hand. “I will … deliver you … from pain,” he says. Gral glares at him.

Something cuts Hwitwic deeply in the side. The coat of hides saves his life. He does not move, even as he bleeds.

Gral’s eyes narrow as he hands over the amulet.

Hwitwic concentrates upon the magic thing. Hwitwic had ever known he would be a Seeker; also had ever known it would not come so easily. That was not what it was to Seek. They had tried to turn him away, those other speakers. With hurtful words, then with violence. He had stood it all, and persisted.

So it had fallen out that they had taken him into their circle, and upon a moonlit night as the wolflike wind howled they had set flickering candles upon the antlers they had made to grow over-fast from his brow. They had cut the antlers deep, through the tender velvet, drawing lines upon him. It had been terrible.

Later, he had sought it out again, of his choosing, and upon those same antlers they had etched the ogham alphabet he had craved of the glossologist, secret letters of an obscure meaning.

This commanding of spirits is nothing so bad.

He can see them, through the amulet’s power. He usurps control of them, ordering them to turn their swords from his friend.

Before him, the Silent Elf appears. She touches him —

It is said the Naught Elves can, themselves unknowing, draw from your mind that image that will most affect you. What you fear, or desire, or what can destroy you. These things they might show, an they wish it.

Therefore Hwitwic sees an army of orcs, a tide of fire. They bring the destruction of all his kind. There are many armies, or one army divided on itself; this he cannot see. Only at the head of one group of warriors rides a glossologist (he thinks), a mortal (he thinks) upon an eight-legged horse; he has one eye, and ravens and wolves accompany him. Behind him, in a slave’s iron collar, is Hwitwic himself.

Is this truth, or illusion?

He understands what he sees. He realises then that this is what he most fears. For it is the way of fighting against prophecy that prophecy will fight back, and ever has the greater weapon, that is all the future. Say it then: that in seeking to save his kind, he will ensure their end. By seeking out the secret of evil to come, will he bring that evil down on his kind? Has he already done so? Is he the cause of his own hope’s end?

He does not know. He can not know.

Nevertheless he totters under the weight of the insight; as though wounded by his understanding of his own fear.

Behind him the fires vanish. The skeleton dancers, with swords in either hands, appear. He is hurt, terribly hurt, and bleeding. The sharp smell of his own blood covers all.

He is slow to order the skeletons after the elf, that flees.

“What was that?” asks Achard.

“Inevitability,” Hwitwic says. The word is not hard to speak; that is irony.

He returns the amulet to Gral, and so it is with a dozen skeleton men guarding them, their joints clattering as they step and leap, that they return to Innsdene.


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