The Fell Gard Codices


Hochelaga thought the Demonstration was amusing, in a petty way, but not as impressive as she’d hoped. She stirred, in the close church air that smelled of sweat and incense, staring at the steep-angled rays of ætheric light filtering through the window. The canons weren’t interested in using language either to tell the truth or to create, but simply to convince. Before long she followed William out of the church.

Once outside, she saw William not far away, with Ulixa, and Gamelyn walking towards them, and also there were the gnome and Kwangrolar and two of the elves, and with them all was what looked like a hob-goblin. Not one of Kate’s. This one was taller, with yellower eyes, and hide armour and a sword. Hochelaga hurried over. “No,” Ulixa was telling William. “Don’t do anything. We have to talk about this. We have to — ohhh — what to do? Gamelyn, are there … rules, customs … about how to treat envoys?”

“Only what rules you choose to make,” said the Dwimmerlaik.

“Can I help?” asked Hochelaga. The hob-goblin grinned a fanged grin at her.

“We’ll have to have another council,” said Ulixa, almost to herself. “We’ll gather everyone who was at the inn before — everyone who hasn’t left.”

“I’ll get Tilde!” said Hochelaga. “Where is she?”

“She was in the woods with Atrahasis,” said Gamelyn. “I’d imagine they’d have finished by now, so they’re probably at the lakeside, washing up.”

“What?” said Ulixa.

“I’ll tell them to meet you at the inn!” cried Hochelaga, and hurried off. She wanted to do something, even though she didn’t have any magic. She knew she would need to dream again before she could work another charm. She wasn’t strong enough to do any more. She was getting stronger, though.

She found Tilde and Atrahasis, near the waterfront as Gamelyn had said. Atrahasis was in the shallows of the lake wearing only his braies, throwing water over himself; he was tall, and very thin, so that the splash of water hardly reached all the way to his head. He laughed. Tilde, lying on the bank with her hair wet, smiled absently and took a long drink from her wine-skin. “Ulixa says there’s to be another council at the inn,” Hochelaga told them as she drew near. Atrahasis nodded, and stepped over to his robes.

“Will there be cake?” asked Tilde. “I’d like some cake.” Atrahasis laughed again as he dressed.

“There’s a hob-goblin,” said Hochelaga.

“That’s not much like cake,” said Tilde. “In fact I’d go so far as to say that in all meaningful essentials, a hob-goblin is pretty much entirely unlike cake.”

“Still,” said Atrahasis, cinching his robe. “Still … we should attend.”

“Oh, go on, then,” said Tilde. “I’ll catch up with you in a minute.”

“All right,” said Atrahasis. He stared down at her. Tilde had another drink of wine. “Very well … well, then … goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” said Tilde. Atrahasis turned and walked away. Tilde looked at Hochelaga. “Was there something more?”

“Well,” said Hochelaga. She shifted from one foot to another, then made herself stop it. “I’d been hoping to talk to you. I don’t know if I should have spoken to you about these things before, but …” she shrugged.

Tilde sighed, and looked out across the water, where the ætheric light played over the ripples and reflected onto the far rock wall. She shifted against the tree trunk. “Well, I’m in a good mood,” she said, pensively. “Or so common stereotypes would have it. What is it, then?”

“It’s … well, it’s several things, really,” said Hochelaga. “What about Ulric, to start with?”

“What about him?” asked Tilde.

“He worships Urthona,” said Hochelaga. “He knows about the world before the world.”

“Who knows what he knows?” said Tilde. She had another drink. “Again, what about it?”

“Isn’t it — doesn’t it matter?” asked Hochelaga.

“Probably,” said Tilde. “I expect we’ll find out in time.” She sighed. “I’m too old to care, Hochelaga,” she said. “I thought I’d moved beyond … oh, well, you know what I’d moved beyond. I told you all that, when the dragons appeared.”

“Yes,” said Hochelaga.

“I thought I’d done with this … part of my life,” said Tilde, waving her wineskin. “Wandering about, a charm here and there … have you ever cast a friendship charm, Hochelaga?”

“No,” said Hochelaga. “I’ve been told it —”

“What?” said Tilde. “What have you been told?”

“That it affects the caster, too,” said Hochelaga.

Tilde nodded vigorously. “Affects. Oh, that’s the word. Affects. To make the spell work, Hochelaga, you have to … enter into the person you’re casting it on. You go back through time with them. You’re there in their memories. You don’t get to know those memories, not quite. Or just the feel of them, the kinds of … the important moments of their life, how they feel about it. The magic makes them think, not that you were there, when those things happened, but those events, they come to have your flavour. So the … subject … sees you as a friend. An old, trusted friend. And you, you know them … you know them.” She looked off to the south. “You know who they are, you feel what they feel … felt. Like what they like, love as they did. What they did … ah, never mind, Hochelaga, I’m too old to be a good teacher.”

“I don’t understand,” said Hochelaga.

“No,” said Tilde, drinking again, “neither do I. Oh, you’d think it’d be fun, to go through it all again, and show a man, or boy, or whatever he is, how to … oh, I’m too old. All the things that were fun once have faded away when I wasn’t looking.”

Hochelaga didn’t know what to say. Happy as Tilde had seemed before, she seemed sad now. Hochelaga didn’t think it was her fault, though she felt like it was, and anyway she didn’t know what to say to make it better. Maybe if she said something different from whatever it was Tilde was talking about — but she wasn’t really sure what Tilde did have in mind. “Do you know a glossologist named Har?” she asked, desperately.

Tilde sat bolt upright, dropping her wineskin. Wine gurgled out onto the grass. “What?” she said. She gathered herself and stood.

“With — with one eye?” asked Hochelaga. Tilde stared at her, mouth open. “I saw him, once, when I was in the, I guess in the Heart of Fell Gard. Sort of. He gave me advice.” Tilde reached toward Hochelaga; then bent and picked up her wineskin.

“I dare not meddle in Har’s affairs,” she whispered. “He is — who he is. And I … I have cast my sole charm, and have no more magic until I dream again.”

“Neither do I,” said Hochelaga. “But … we’ve got to do something, haven’t we?”

Tilde nodded. “I have to go to this council,” she said. “That’s all.” She set off quickly, Hochelaga trailing behind her.

At the inn they found that Alkahest, Geoffrey, Amanos, and Sybil had returned; but not Scholastica, Monoloke, or Enheduanna. Everyone had gathered in the inn-yard, and Alkahest was saying to Ulixa: “We looked for them, of course, but down the southern hall there was a closed door, and behind it was a skrythe — no-one had gone that way. The only other route was into the hob-goblin cave; and we looked, from the entrance, but there were so many of them —”

Ulixa was shaking her head. When she saw Hochelaga she said “Wait a moment,” to Alkahest, and then ran to Hochelaga. “Enheduanna, Scholastica, and Monoloke have been captured by hob-goblins,” she said. “That hob-goblin before was their … ambassador, I guess. Yune’s drinking with him inside, now. Hochelaga, I’d like you to go to the sage Yllaria’s house. Kate is there with the other two hob-goblins, and it’s very important that the ambassador hob-goblin doesn’t find out about them. Do you understand?”

“Of course,” said Hochelaga. “But what can I do?”

“Go to them,” said Ulixa. “Just … whatever Kate finds out, come and tell me. Yune was there. He thought they were about to start talking. Go listen, and if they say anything important, come back to me. All right?” Hochelaga nodded. Ulixa clapped her shoulder, and then went back to Alkahest.

As Hochelaga left the yard she saw Spyrling enter. Sybil hugged the tall youth, leaning against him. “Hey,” said Spyrling. “Where’s Scholastica?” Sybil burst into tears. This is important, thought Hochelaga. She hurried, south into the woods.

At Yllaria’s house, a short old woman opened the door when she knocked. “Hello,” she said. “You’re from Ulixa?”

Hochelaga nodded. “That’s right,” she said. “My name is Hochelaga Trice. May I see Kate, please?”

“Why, of course,” said the woman. She opened the door wider, and waved her in. Kate and the two hob-goblins were perched on high chairs, drinking from what Hochelaga recognised as tea-cups. She hadn’t seen tea-cups in what suddenly seemed like a long while, though it had really only been a few days, and she thought of Master Shiloh with a wave of homesickness. “I’m Yllaria,” the woman said. “Come in, come in. Everyone else has gone back to the inn, I’m afraid.” Hochelaga nodded again.

“They’re having a council,” she said. “But it’s imperative that Kate and the hob-goblins remain here.”

Imperative,” said Kate. “That word means you’re giving orders.”

“No,” said Hochelaga. “This is what Ulixa wants.”

“Well, I’m a princess,” said Kate. “So I don’t have to listen to you.”

“Kate!” said Yllaria sharply. “Who you have to listen to doesn’t depend on who your parents were. If someone has something important to tell you, you should listen.”

“What could she say that’s important?” Kate demanded. “She stood around when my sister was killed!

“I did my best to stop the monsters!” Hochelaga cried.

“Your best doesn’t matter!” shouted Kate. The hob-goblins watched, staring at Hochelaga with unblinking eyes. “What good are you?”

“Kate!” said Yllaria again. “What good is any of us? And who are you to judge?”

“I told you,” said Kate. “I’m a princess.”

“I’m sorry about Domini,” Hochelaga burst out, “really I am, but what could I do differently? Tell me!”

“You could have done something,” said Kate, balling her hands into fists.

Hochelaga was perplexed. “I cast a spell,” she said. “I read a text, and threw comets — I mean, that was as quick as I could, once everything started happening.”

“You mean you’re slow,” said Kate.

“I am not!” shouted Hochelaga. Yllaria sighed.

“I hate to say it,” she said, “but it seems as though Kate doesn’t want to speak with you. Why don’t you go outside, and I’ll call you if there’s any news to bring to Ulixa?”

“Go on,” said Kate. “You’re dismissed.

“What should I do outside?” Hochelaga asked. Yllaria thought for a moment.

“How about instead,” she said slowly, “you go up to the first floor of my tower, where you can read some of my books? Would you like that? I don’t let just anyone in there, you know.”

“What?” said Kate.

Hochelaga nodded. Yllaria took her hand and led her away, to a flight of stone stairs leading upward. “I’m sorry about that,” the sage said. “It’s been very frustrating, you know, trying to get a word or two out of those hob-goblins.”

“I didn’t know Kate hated me so much,” whispered Hochelaga. She felt like she’d failed; Ulixa’d sent her to do a simple thing, and she hadn’t been able to do it.

“Well, that’s Kate’s fault, not yours,” said Yllaria. She led her up the stairs to a cluttered room; desks were scattered with papers and ink-pots, shelves everywhere on the walls were lined with books, some standing and some in stacks. Three small windows let in light from outside, and lamps were lit here and there. “What sort of books do you like?” she asked.

“Do you have any volumes on morphology?” asked Hochelaga. Yllaria laughed. “It’s a branch of linguistics,” said Hochelaga, “about how bits of words, or morphemes, make meaning when they’re put together, and how you get meaning out of sound.”

“Oh, I know what it is,” said Yllaria. “But it’s a word only glossologists use. So is ‘linguistics,’ come to that. Still, I think I have something here that talks about it without using the word itself. I don’t suppose you read Eilenyic?”

“Of course I do,” said Hochelaga. Yllaria laughed her little laugh again; not really a laugh so much as the sound that comes before a laugh.

“Well, say what you will about glossologists, they do give one a marvellous education,” she said. “Here; have you read Hero?”

“A little,” said Hochelaga. “She was blind, wasn’t she?”

“She was blind,” agreed Yllaria. “And wrote marvellously.  Poems about the Monad as the All, you know, and the source of all word use. You should find it fascinating.” She gave Hochelaga a book nearly as large as Hochelaga herself, and sighed. “I don’t know what to do about Kate,” she said. “She is an ugly-tempered child, it seems. Did her sister die recently?”

“Only two days ago,” said Hochelaga. “Though it seems longer. Like everything that happened before the dragons … I don’t know. But I did everything I could, really I did.” She sighed and sat on the floor. “If I were a better wizard, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen,” she said.

“Oh, certain things always happen,” said Yllaria. “Only two days ago, then?”

“It was the same day she was turned into a cobold,” said Hochelaga. Yllaria nodded absently.

“You know,” the sage said, “sometimes the things people think they’re upset about aren’t really what they’re upset about.”

“I know,” said Hochelaga. “But it doesn’t always help to know that.”

Yllaria laughed. “You really are very smart, Hochelaga,” she said, and left.

Hochelaga read for a little while. Hero was a very clever poet, and she said interesting things about words, but Hochelaga thought that the way she wrote about the Monad — which seemed to be like a god, except bigger and more powerful and without any kind of personality or character — was the way an older person wrote. It wasn’t bad. It was just that the kind of melancholy, or bliss, or whatever it was Hero felt, seemed to come from sources that Hochelaga didn’t understand. She closed the book with a snap. She hated that. She hated not understanding things, and knowing that there were certain things she’d only come to feel when she was older and smarter. She knew she had to grow, and grow older, to become better than she was and to be what she wanted to be. But she didn’t want to have to go through the growing. Why couldn’t she just be what she wanted, right now?

Hochelaga wandered over to the window. I sound like Kate, she thought, and then thought she was being unfair. Kate had been brought up a certain way, in a mortal society Hochelaga really didn’t know very much about. Maybe she was normal. Hochelaga stared out, to the thick pine trees near the sage’s tower. She could see the grassy clearing before the eastern cave-mouth, leading to the Chambers of Oak and Holly. She thought about Gryselde and the others, setting out for the Abyss of Stairs and the Nineteenth Court. Hochelaga wished she could have gone with them, though she knew it made no sense. She would have to dream first, and regain the strength to work her charms.

Then, in the clearing, she realised that what she had thought was a shadow was the slumped unmoving form of Ulixa’s corvina.

Hochelaga ran down the stairs, finding Yllaria and Kate and the hob-goblins still sitting with their tea. “I’m sorry,” she said, running to the door. “I think something’s happened. I have to go see. I’m sorry.” She was through the door and out of the house in a moment.

Ulixa had sent the corvina to watch that eastern exit, just as she’d sent Euarchy and Tilde’s orc to the southern exit. If the corvina had fallen — had something come into the cave?

Hochelaga reached the clearing in a moment. The corvina was still breathing, though very slowly. Hochelaga couldn’t wake her. What had happened? There didn’t seem to be any sign of trouble — no, wait. To the south, some of the undergrowth beneath the trees was broken, and —

And was that a body?

Yes. Among the green shoots there was a naked woman. Her throat had been slit, her face had been cut badly, and also between her legs. Hochelaga gasped.

Then, at her gasp, something stirred. A naked man stood up, beyond the woman. He was smeared with her blood. Hochelaga backed away. He followed, with a knife in hand. He was short, and pudgy, and hairy; it was the prophet, Mew.

“What, what happened?” whispered Hochelaga. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to look at him. But she had no choice. He was coming toward her, raising the knife —

She shrieked, and ran.

He stumbled after her. He wasn’t running quickly, yet, but when he did, could he catch her before she got help? If she yelled, would anyone get there fast enough?

Hochelaga turned suddenly to her right, and ran into the dark hall leading away from the cave.

She thought she could hide behind one of the gargoyles lining the hall. She knew she wouldn’t be able to see in the hall, but neither would Mew. She hoped. Was he really after her? Chasing her with a knife? How could it be?

She ran down the hall. Her feet seemed to echo loudly as they slapped against the flagstones. She looked behind her. She saw Mew’s shadow as he entered the hall.

Hochelaga reached out to her side, and banged her right arm into a gargoyle. She almost cried out, but bit her lip and only drew in a long hurried breath. She ducked behind the gargolye, her arm throbbing.

So long as it’s dark, she told herself, he can’t see me. So long as it’s dark, I’m safe.

She heard Mew coming, heard his breathing, long laboured gasps. She hated herself, that she could only run. She hated her weakness, her lack of strength, her lack of understanding. That verse of Hero’s, if she only could have understood it … if that, then she wouldn’t have looked out the window, seen the corvina …

As long as it’s dark I’m safe, she told herself, hunching back further between the gargoyle and the wall. She hated being without magic. She never wanted to be like this, ever again. She heard Mew, right in front of the gargoyle. Right by her. Had he seen her? His breathing moved on. Past her. Further away.

There was a sound well off to her right hand; a door being thrown open. There was a light in the tunnel. Not much, but enough to see by.

She could see Mew stop, and look ahead, and then turn and look behind him —

He saw her, and she screamed. She ran. He turned, to come after her. Someone shouted. Was it Mew? No, someone else was running, and there was a clattering sound like bone. She looked behind her, Mew stumbling after her, and saw skeleton men dancing down the hall towards them both.

She screamed again, and fell. Mew took a few more halting steps forward as she tried to scramble up. “Stop him!” she cried to the skeletons. “Stop him! He killed her! He killed her!” They were all around her —

They were helping her up, gently taking her hand in their finger-bones, and bowing to her. Others had grabbed Mew, who was drooling, his eyes shut.

“What’s happened here?” called Gryselde’s voice.

The sorine was coming down the hall beside Gral. The others were behind her, Hwitwic, Aura — they carried two others, one of them in familiar robes, a glossologist.

Hochelaga gasped. It was all right. Gral, his amulet. The skeletons were on his side. Her side.

She stared at the glossologist, whose hands were bound. They’d taken her prisoner. An adult glossologist, fallen. As happened. As she knew could happen to anyone. Why did it seem to matter?

She was safe. That was all she knew.

Hochelaga let out a breath, and fell back into the comforting arms of the skeletal dancers.


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