The Fell Gard Codices


In fragments, Enheduanna remembers:

The wheel of the dance, around and around. Walking a mortal road, with a duty more important than her brief life. Laughter among elves. Seeing him, that first time, his skin grey; iron. On a mountain peak, gowned, myrtle-crowned, she is taught the motions of the lights in the sky: the process of passing time. The dragon breathes, and she burns. Another time, she weeps, seeing a prophet kneel to a king. The long defeat of history.

(In some of these memories she was in a male form. She is female now, and it is easier therefore to use female pronouns; mortal language is often inaccurate at the best of times.)

A memory of long ages ago and more, before mortals began recording history: She sits by the mortal, in the dark by the fire, he wearing his rough cloak of hide with his bone-tipped spear beside him, and she chants a poem about a bird flying through a fire-lit hall, from dark through light into dark, and she makes up the word ‘freedom’ where the mortal’s language is lacking; so she teaches a word, and teaches poetry both at once.

A memory of a few hundred years ago: She wanders upon the battlefield, among the stink, the moans, bent on her grim quest, and wonders why so many of such a long-lived folk would throw their years away for the sake of another man’s kingship; later, after she has died and returned many times, the field would come to be called the Brindlewash, and songs would be written about it, for there the Grey Kings forged their empire.

A memory of greatest importance: a secret meeting in the shadows within the ziggurat called Temenank, in the city of Karanduniash, arguing against the rule of kings, pledging support of elves to the mortals if they will rise and overthrow the tyrant, and obliterate the notion of kingship from the vocabulary of mortals; but it never did come to pass, and so things ran down that much more, and history went on its way.

A hand touches her shoulder.

Enheduanna gasped, and woke, sitting up, feeling the hand clasping her tightly at the upper arm.

Somebody spoke, in a language she did not know. Dwarves. They were dwarves. Three of them, a female and two males. Were they the ones that had struck her down? Her wrists were sore; she had been bound. They had freed her.

The dwarf beside her let her go, and stood and went on somewhere off to her side. The others watched her; leather armour, broadswords, hard and watchful faces. Beyond them there seemed to be a great battle going on. She could hear it. War-cries and sword-play. Dwarves and some sort of goblinkin. A grey-purple light showed her a vast cavern, with strange shadows all about, and a pit at the centre with a rock spire at the pit’s heart; the fight was raging about the centre of the pit, among the rocks and cracks. Bright white fire leaped, and she gasped. There was a dragon.

For herself, she seemed to be well back of the heavy fighting, on a shelf of rock, with stalactites and spindly upthrusting stalgmites all about. Four or five dead hob-goblins nearby. The stink of latrines. She was still in her armour, but did not have sword or bow. “What’s happened?” she said, in the mortal tongue.

“We’re rescuing you,” said the female dwarf in the same language. “Be worth it.” She had the long sideburns of most dwarf women; her hair grew in curls, steel-coloured, and a long thin nose above a thin-lipped mouth.

“Well, you have my thanks,” Enheduanna murmured to her. Enheduanna picked up one of the hob-goblins’ swords. “What do you plan?”

“To kill hob-goblins,” said a second dwarf, tall for his kind, with a flattened nose. “That done, we think everything else should fall into place.”

There was a certain kind of dwarven irony, thought Enheduanna, that, delivered with a straight face and seeming guilelessness, was both honest and dissembling, direct and yet evasive, bleak and yet humorous. Abstractly it was a notable effect; but she had always found, being who she was, that a very little of it was very much more than enough.

“What about this one?” asked the last dwarf, standing over the still form of Scholastica. He was bald, even darker-skinned than most dwarves, with a long rich black beard.

“Take her,” said the woman. “If the hob-goblins wanted them, we want to take them away.” The dwarf nodded, and took Scholastica’s arm as he had taken Enheduanna’s. The girl stirred, then was on her feet.

“There was a mist,” said Enheduanna. “We were separated from our friends. I am Enheduanna. This is Scholastica.”

The girl hissed, “Don’t tell them our names,” but the dwarf woman nodded.

“I am Sarcenne,” she said. “We’re at war with the hob-goblins. We attacked, gained no ground, but my group slipped behind their lines. Now we’re heading back, having learned a little and —” she half-waved to them “— having freed some prisoners. Come quickly, and keep quiet until we reach home. Simple?”

Enheduanna nodded. “Cunts,” muttered Scholastica, but nodded also. They moved quickly, and quietly.

Along the edge of the cave, past latrines and stacked bodies and rubbish-tips. Enheduanna kept pace with the dwarves, and made little more noise than any of them. She thought about her dreams. The Jarnalfar; she had … conspired with him? About something that was more than the two of them. It seemed to her that all those dreams had carried with them a sense of mission. What mission, though?

Brooding upon dreams was unproductive, or at most produced only morbidity and remove. Think on those visions too long, she knew, and you came to see no difference between dreams and the waking life, the memories of which would soon be only dreams themselves. Still the dreams tasked her, so that as she went with the dwarves around the edge of the cavern, in the shadows of the jagged rocks upthrust from the cave floor, all the battle she saw seemed to have the air of dream: knots of hob-goblins, thirteen strong, scurrying back and forth from the central pit. Here and there along the rim were sword-fights, bitter brawls where dwarves seemed to be fighting to gain ro keep footholds against advancing hob-goblins. The lustrous black dragon, whirling about the spire, now blocking the weird indigo light and now shimmering within it. Dwarven chants, echoing among screams. The fights were scrambled, she thought, without order, all lines and plan lost. Then she saw a grim fearsome grim spider, its body almost as big as a horse; and indeed she saw it had a rider, a hunched frightjack, about whom circled terrible overlage crows.

Sarcenne held up a hand for a halt. The jack pointed, and the crows dove, attacking behind the hob-goblin lines. “Your ally?” whispered Enheduanna. Sarcenne shook her head, and pointed. The crows harried a half-dozen goblins, driving them toward the jack, who waited, motionless on the now-still spider. The hob-goblins nearby began to gather.

“Dissension in the ranks,” whispered Sarcenne. “Come. While they’re distracted.”

She’d led them nearly to a recess in the cave wall lip of the pit, which stretched in a rough oval across the cave. The cave itself was made of two overlapping ovals, like one of the mortals’ churches elongated. The pit was where the two ovals overlapped. Sarcenne had taken them to the corner, where it was perhaps possible to leap across it. A group of a half-dozen hob-goblins stood, among corpses of hob-goblins and dwarves; they were staring toward the centre of the cave, where the goblins were now clustered before the jack. For the moment they were hidden from the hob-goblins.

Sarcenne drew her sword. So did the other two. Enheduanna raised the hob-goblin sword. Sarcenne looked at Scholastica, who raised her enpty hands in fists, then shrugged and raised two fingers in an obscene gesture. Sarcenne only looked around at them, all, nodded, turned to the hobgoblins, leapt to attack, and began to chant a war-song.

Enheduanna felt the song in her as she followed Sarcenne. The song seemed to drive her, or to feed some drive that was already in her. At any rate she felt herself exult as she killed one of the hob-goblins, as Sarcenne struck down the leader of the pack, as the dwarven healer killed another. A sword glanced from her scale armour, and the healer took a blow that laid him flat. Enheduanna in turn killed the hob-goblin that had struck him down. Scholastica touched the throat of another, which fell, choking and spitting blood. The last turned to flee, but as he did Sarcenne grabbed him from behind and drove her sword into his back between his shoulder-blades. Then turned cursing to the healer.

“He’s alive,” she said, “but we have to get him to Ylysor or he won’t stay that way.” The other dwarf nodded. “Help me with him,” Sarcenne commanded him.

“I can carry him,” said Enheduanna. She bent, and carefully lifted the wounded dwarf.

Sarcenne nodded. “Follow,” she said. “Hurry.” She leaped the pit, by the wall where it was narrowest, then watched as Enheduanna and the others followed. “Hurry!” she said again. Enheduanna looked behind her. Other hob-goblins were coming at a run.

“You’re a cantatrice, aren’t you?” Enheduanna asked Sarcenne. “When you sang I felt it. Don’t you have any power —” Sarcenne glared at her, then turned and ran.

“What a cunt,” said Scholastica. Enheduanna shook her head and ran after the dwarf.

Dwarves were difficult to deal with, she knew. That was their nature. They lived too long. They ran down, early in those vast lives. The fire inside most living things only flickered within them. They were a sign of how all things in time would run down, would lose their force. Therefore their socieites were over-ordered, hierarchical — Enheduanna almost stumbled, then, because somehow, after the dreams, that seemed to matter.

But they were drawing near now to a knot of dwarves, and Sarcenne hailed them with a great cry. The dozen or so dwarves called back, in the dwarf language, and waved them forward. They guarded a crack in the earth, a passage that sloped downward. Sarcenne led them in. Enheduanna was able to follow, stopped almost double. The passage led to other passages, each of which branched out further; Enheduanna realised there was a web of tunnels, under the cave. Here and there dwarvs hurried through the small passageways, not all of them in armour, some of them youths — children, in fact.

Sarcenne led them along, past sentries and crossways, to a wide hall with a roof high enough for Enheduanna to straighten. A grey-haired dwarf in a golden crown was seated at the far side of the hall, talking angrily in dwarven with other dwarves in armour. He looked up as they came in, and nodded to Sarcenne to speak.

Sarcenne bowed briefly in return and said something in dwarven, then continued in the mortal tongue. “We have come back,” she said, “but Iorkanstayn needs your healing touch.”

“Well,” said the dwarf king, standing. “Bring him forward.” Enheduanna did, and laid the wounded dwarf before the throne. The others dwarves backed away, bowing their heads, as the king stepped down from the throne, and lightly passed his hand over the wounded dwarf’s face. Who then gasped, and awoke, as his wounds closed.

Enheduanna remembered: the tiers of dwarven society narrowed the higher you climbed, until at the top was always a priest-king who could heal or give light or commune with gods. Only the Delvers, the mystics, were outside the structures by which the dwarves lived, and it was said that even they held to a structure of their own. Enheduanna remembered then a moment, in a much richer hall than that, where she had argued with a king among dwarves against adopting the sevenfold degrees that dragons taught — the ranks of neophyte, apprentice, master, and suchlike, that were natural for dragons but to Enheduanna were death or slavery to other speaking creatures.

That had surely been a long time ago. And now?

Now this dwarf chief, Ylysar (an honoured name among dwarves, she remembered, but could not remembered why it was so honoured or how she came to know it), nodded to her and said mildly: “What then is your story?” Head high, she told him briefly what had happened since she had come to Fell Gard, and how it was that she and Scholastica had come to be held prisoner. At the end Ylysar said to Sarcenne: “Were there other prisoners? These mortals she spoke of?”

“No mortals,” said Sarcenne. “There was a corvinus, and some of the spindly Eloi, but we could not get to them; they were in the centre of too many hob-goblins.”

The king nodded, running his fingers absently through his beard. “What else did you find?” he asked Sarcenne.

Sarcenne told him then details of the hob-goblins’ positioning and numbers: “Perhaps two hundred and fifty, in all,” she said. “What seemed important is that there are goblins among them now. Not many, six or ten. They seemed to have joined them when they sent warriors south earlier. Now as we returned, we saw the frightjack return. And he was gathering the goblins before him, as prisoners. I guess from this that the goblins came from somewhere else, and tried to assume command of the hob-goblins, using the secret words they know which the hob-goblins must obey. Those words will not work on jacks, and so the frightjack has come to set everything in order again.”

The king nodded again. “We are being thrown back from the spire,” he said. “There was a cobold seen there, fighting with the hob-goblins.”

“That could be Monoloke,” said Enheduanna. “One of the mortals insisted on having a cobold retainer.”

“The goblinkin are born slaves,” muttered one of the dwarves by the king.

“Slaves, do you say?” said Ylysar sharply. “They are only slaves because they cannot all be master. That is what they dream of, and if we let them they will set themselves up as masters of all of us here.” He looked back at Enheduanna, then glanced to Scholastica. “There is much I would like to ask you, in more peaceful times,” he said. “Now all I can ask is: will you fight for us?” And to Sarcenne: “Are you ready to return to battle?”

Sarcenne knelt. “I am,” she said. “May I see my son, first?”

“You may,” said the king, and then turned again to Enheduanna.

“I am glad to fight goblinkin,” she said. “I have done so in many more lives than I can count.”

“They’re a bunch of limp dicks,” said Scholastica. “I like squashing them.”

The king raised an eyebrow, then nodded. “Go to the spire,” he said. “Sarcenne will show you. We are struggling to make our way through to the rest of our people. Iorkanstayne will have to stay here, and recover further. But Mocyrkalff can go with you.”

The third dwarf of Sarcenne’s company nodded. He was tall, for a dwarf; almost five foot, and correspondingly broad. His head and beard was a tangle of coal-black hair, his nose was flattened and spread half across his face, and a cruel scar wound its way across his left brow. “We will give you the spire, my lord,” he said. “There are, as Sarcenne said, only ten or twelvescore hob-goblins in the way.”

“And the dragon?” asked the king.

Mocyrkalff gave a dismissive puff of breath, poh. “Well, a dragon,” he said.

“Go on,” said the king. “As soon as you can. Find Keyrn, and report to him.”

“He still directs the assault on the spire?” asked Sarcenne.

“Or he’s dead,” said the king. “Either way, you should find him. You have leave to go.” Sarcenne bowed, and they left.

“Do these tunnels lead us where we must go?” asked Enheduanna, hunched over. Scholastica, hardly taller than a dwarf, had no difficulty.

“They lead all through the walls of the pit, and beneath it,” said Sarcenne. She was leading them quickly, and it seemed to Enheduanna they were passing many dwarf children. “You saw the stone shining with purple light in the spire? It is the omphalos, the anchor-stone for the new court. Our nation dwells on the nineteenth court, and a Delver came to us and said a new court would be made, and here was where the omphalios would be. So we made our way through the nineteenth court, to just under where the omphalos would be. When the court was made, we came up to study the stone, and do it honour.”

Scholastica laughed. “You worship a rock?”

“Rock will last longer even than us,” said Sarcenne. “Much longer than you, mortal girl soon-to-die. Well, so it was for a day or so, and then the hob-goblins came. We fought them, but there were very many. Prisoners told us that they came from a city, which we knew nothing of. We sent out runners to other nations — but then the stone of Fell Gard shifted, and those of us in this cave were separated from the rest of our nation.”

“The stone shifted?” said Enheduanna. “How is that possible?”

“I have no idea,” said Sarcenne.

The passage turned, and widened. A small cave stretched ahead of them, filled with perhaps two dozen oddly-quiet infants and children, and some wounded warriors. Enheduanna realised it was a kind of creche. Sarcenne spoke briefly to one of the warriors, who pointed. She made her way past the children. Scholastica and Mocyrkalff waited at the door. Enheduanna, curious, followed Sarcenne, who reached a tiny child. The child said “Aa,” with a dwarf’s seriousness. He already had the beginnings of a rich beard. Sarcenne knelt before him, and embraced him.

“I must go,” Enheduanna heard her whisper. “I must go. Powers willing I will return. If I do not you must griow strong and kill my killers. Farewell again. I love you.”

Sarcenne stood and walked away without a look back. Enheduanna stood still, watching her. She grabbed Enheduanna’s wrist as she passed, and led her out of the creche. “We have to retake the base of the spire,” she murmured. “There is a road there the hob-goblins have … they burst out of it like waters forced up from below. It is our only hope for finding our way back to the rest of our kind. For saving the children that were trapped here when the dungeon changed.

“How many are you?” Enheduanna asked. “Against the hob-goblins.”

“A hundred,” said Sarcenne. “Now? A hundred. There were more of us … but then there were many more hob-goblins, then. They keep coming. We must find a way, elf.”

“Lead on,” said Enheduanna. Sarcenne set off down another set of tunnels. Enheduanna could hardly tell one tunnel from another; but it was given to dwarves to be at home under the earth in a way that elves were not. Enheduanna had not felt closed in, constrained, since the first few hours in Fell Gard; but in those tunnels it was very different from elsewhere in the Master Dungeon. Still she could bear it a little while.

(She wondered how long it had been bearing on her, the enclosure of the dungeon. How much she had not wanted to acknowledge it. She felt now as if she had been looking for distraction. As if William — no, it was more than that, surely. Ah, but what the dragon had said, about the Iron Elf — no, no, that was a dragon, never wholly to be trusted. And she thought, now, after her dreams in the light of the omphalos, she thought there was something more to her relationship with that Iron Elf.)

Enheduanna followed Sarcenne, musing to herself on these matters. As they went, deeper and deeper, she saw more other dwarves — some of them badly hurt. “Why was your healer with you, when you went behind the hob-goblin lines?” she asked Sarcenne.

“How keep him back?” asked Sarcenne. She grabbed a nearby mail-clad dwarf and said something in the dwarf language. He answered; Sarcenne told Enheduanna and Scholatica “This way.”

Down a tunnel, turn, then along another, then down a steep descent. The tunnel ended at a cave mouth, opening onto the pit floor. Enheduanna could see the shadow of the spire arising, could see mist covering the pit floor. A grey-haired dwarf stood scowling at the spire. A battle was raging at the base of it. Two dozen dwarves, maybe, against many more hob-goblins. The fighting seemed to break into smaller melees, then gather again into a larger pitched fight, then break again; a cycle of its own, thought Enheduanna, like sea-waves against rock. The ground was so uneven, the walls of the pit so riddled with caves, individual fighters would break away to set an ambush or sneak around behind an enemy — and then when they turned to stand and fight, that point of violence would seem to attract others, and then it would become a centre of engagement.

“Master Keyrn,” said Sarcenne. “You know the mortal tongue? These are two fighters we’ve freed.”

The older dwarf grunted. “You see what’s happening,” he said. He looked at Enheduanna and Scholastica, and grunted again. “I suppose neither of you are initiates,” he said.

Scholastica laughed. “Of the demon queen of bloodstones,” she said.

“Can you summon her to help?” asked Keyrn.

“Fuck no,” said Scholastica.

“Then that’s no help. Elf?”

“I reject initiation,” said Enheduanna. She hadn’t known she would say that until she did; but then when she did it felt right. Yes; reject system, class, initiation, hierarchy.

That, she realised, with a clarity that reached to the core of her, was who she was, and though he had forgotten it, for a while, as elves are wont to forget themselves, still, as always, in time, the true self reasserts itself.

Keyrn spat. “Sarcenne, there’s an opening into the spire there — you see it? We’re trying to take it back. We had the spire before, then lost it. Get it again. Do what you can. I wish I could give better orders.”

“Why not get the fuck out, form up, come at them again?” asked Scholastica. Keyrn glared at her.

“Come on,” snapped Sarcenne, and trotted out into the pit. Enheduanna ran after her, then Scholastica. Then Sarcenne dropped back, to say: “If we form up, they form up, and there’s more of them than us. We’re better, one-to-one. We have to keep them off-balance. Ask no more questions. Kill things.”

There were aspects of dwarven philosophy, thought Enheduanna, with which she was not altogether comfortable.

As they neared the spire, breaking stride to run around and past the knots of fighters between them and the needle of rock, Sarcenne said: “You. Elf. You reject initiation?”

“It is fit only for dragons,” Enheduanna said. The dwarf grunted.

“There’s a dragon around here somewhere,” she said. “You can debate with it, if you like. For now, delvers help you.”

Then they were in the fighting beside the spire. They struck with surprise, and a hob-goblin fell to Enheduanna. Mocyrkalff roared. Sarcenne began to chant, and Enheduanna felt again the mad glee her song inspired. The hob-goblins fell; and for a moment Enheduanna could see the entrance into the spire, a rough arch.

And then a familiar shape appeared in the arch.

“Fuck!” yelled Scholastica. “Look what’s here!” But she wasn’t pointing to the spire. Enheduanna turned, and saw the frightjack step out from the side of the pit.

It waved a hand —

Enheduanna felt again a wave of fear sweep over her, felt herself drowning in her own panic. Sarcenne stopped singing, and screamed, and ran. Scholastica ran.

Enheduanna thought, no.

She remembered her dream. She remembered the mortals, huddling in the darkness under the ziggurat. The famed tomb. “The king will try to scare you,” she said. “He will try to awe you with his assumed majesty. Majesty. What is that? It is a word. Who is he? He is a mortal, like yourselves. And what does it mean to be a mortal? It means only that the king is one that will die, and he will be no more or less than any of you when you are dead. Do you see this, all around us? This tomb called Temenank? All it means is that he knows he will die. It is a sign of his mortal nature. A sign he is no more than any of you.”

She had seen a frightjack die.

She rejected the fear; she rejected the awe, the majesty, the terror.

All around her, though, the dwarves were running. She killed a hob-goblin, who had turned to chase Sarcenne. A voice spoke to her, from the spire.

“Give up,” he said. “You are fighting strength. A strength far greater than your own.”

“That,” she told Monoloke, “is the only thing worth fighting.”

She turned, and ran after the dwarves.


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