The Fell Gard Codices


The hob-goblins sat at the edge of the torchlight, and seemed to grin at him. It was a trick of the light playing on their fangs, Gregory told himself. The same way their red eyes glittered in odd colours; not red only but now gleaming copper and now gold.

“Do you understand me, any of you?” he asked.

The hob-goblins sat, silent, their fangs glittering.

After the stag-man had put the little blue-skinned things all to sleep, and the gnome Stratum had been rescued, Gregory had waited, standing over their sleeping bound forms, as the others went in search of the hob-goblins’ city. He had watched them twitch in their sleep, like pieces of night grown weary and set dreaming. His wakefulness had felt unnatural, in that temple lit by unnatural fires. He had tried to meditate on them: the slumbering goblins in the place of worship of death. If they were an emblem, he could not decide what they represented. They were too like a dream themselves, hinting at too many meanings — how find one clear message in all their echoes? He could not even read the expressions on their faces.

When the preceptor and the others had returned, grim-faced and pale and accompanied by two more of the hob-goblins, Hwitwic had said the sleepers could be carried without their being woken; and so Gregory and the others had brought them — carried carefully in arms, or slung over dwarven shoulders — to the small room south and west of the Innsdene cave, where, Gregory had heard, a magic cup had been found. Then, while the stag-man and the old minstrel watched the sleeping things, Gregory had gone back to see the city for himself. He had insisted, since there was some aspect to the others’ faces he had misliked; and the fact they had not spoken of it, moving the hob-goblins. So he had seen the city, and then gone to Thomas and the rest to tell them what he’d seen. John of the Inner Book had not been with the group, and that was perhaps a pity, as the rest of them had not understood. Achard had gone off to seek some other battle. Martin had grasped it, but that was only because he’d nearly died — would have died, if not for John. If not for John’s power.

Gregory had always known John was a special man; but not like that.

Now Gregory had returned to watch the hob-goblins again, alone. He wanted to speak to them. They would not answer him, not in any way he understood. “I saw your city,” Gregory told the hob-goblins, squatting before them. “You won’t remember. We carried you here. Then I went back, with the Preceptor. I had to see it. Do any of you understand me?”

The hob-goblins did not move, but watched him with their bloodlike eyes. Gregory thought of all the stories he’d ever heard of things that lived in the darkness beyond firelight.

The Preceptor hadn’t wanted to return to the city. Gregory understood when he saw it: lights here and there, fires among the shadows, and the hob-goblins — so many of them. He had not thought there were so many monsters in all the world, and there they were, right in front of him. Who could fight them all? Yet one must fight. Though there were too many — and although it was said all their females fought too, there would be aged and infants; then if they were beaten, what to do with all them? Raise them as slaves? But these were monsters.

Gregory stared at the hob-goblins. Did they feel, as mortals did? He could not tell, from their faces. Perhaps they were grinning, after all. Perhaps they were happy, for some reason he could not know. It had seemed to him to be important, for some reason, to speak to them. As if he could learn from them. As if they could tell him … what?

He heard someone behind him.

He turned, standing, his hand going to his sword-hilt. But it was only John of the Inner Book.

John’s hands were clasped behind him, his head bowed in thought. His black cloak wrapped tight about his lean form. For a moment in the shadows Gregory could hardly see his face; then John raised his head. Pale and weatherworn, as always, his neat black beard angling in straight lines down to his chin. The hollow of his cheeks, the grey of his eyes seeming both dark and yet burning bright: a trick of the torches. “Gregory,” he said, as though from a distance.

“I came back,” Gregory said. “I chose to watch them. I …” He shrugged. “Are you,” said Gregory, “that is — do you know …” He shrugged again. “I’d wanted to speak to them, somehow.”

John nodded. Gregory felt, as he had so often before, the presence of the tall priest; though now it seemed bleaker, somehow more melancholic or dangerous. Some men were like that: you knew their moods not through what they said and did, but what they were. “Of course you did,” murmured John. He looked around, up and behind him, at nothing Gregory could see. “Perhaps I will try as well.”

“Do you know their tongue?” asked Gregory.

John smiled in a way Gregory had not seen before, only for a moment. “I can speak, and see if they understand.”

“Is that why you’re here?” asked Gregory.

He thought for a moment John wouldn’t answer; again, the priest was staring at nothing. “I have had a dream,” he said at last. Gregory nodded, not understanding. He wanted to ask: Will it be all right? What are we to do? “Now,” said John, “I have it in mind to speak of my dream.”

Gregory sat. “Magister,” he said with all solemnity, “I would be blessed to hear your parables.”

John looked at him for a moment. The odd smile had returned. Then John began to talk, and Gregory found himself fascinated by his voice.


In my dream there is a Shadow King in the Heart of Fell Gard named Malisende of the Broken Word. Though a woman, she is not to be named queen. That is not the form of words for her. I see her fortress, that is a tomb. Dust-choked, bone-scented. A huntsman of dull and servile nature returns there, that she had sent forth days since. I follow him within, breathing the perfume of rot.

There is her court in full assembly, a hunting-party ready. Her marshal’s a duke of ghosts, his breath stinking of blood, his skin quartzlike, waxlike. The pages all ghouls, skin hanging in parchment-like folds, rent here and there, bone glinting. Werewolves the hounds at her feet.

Malisende herself: in black mail set with plates of blackened steel. The sword named Tragedy’s End at her side. A crown of twisted iron. Beneath it her helm, conical above her mail coif, open-faced, but there’s no face to be seen. Only shadow, eyeless. I hear her demand of the huntsman: “What have you learned of the quarry?”

I realise just as a huntsman in the outer world goes to find the prey before the lord and lady ride out to take it, so here. And all the stages of the hunt are to follow, as I shall tell you. Malisende, from the outer world, recreates here what she knew in life.


“But,” Gregory said. The hob-goblins shifted, as though silently sneering. John raised an eyebrow. “What,” Gregory said, then paused, overwhelmed by questions. “What is a Shadow King?” he finally decided.

“A powerful wicked dead thing,” answered John. “You will hear more as my dream continues.”


“We looked for Monoclonius all through the Heart,” her hunter says, “but met with no sign of him until finally in Fabulae Videntur we spoke with a mortal man, all cloaked, and this man said he would show us his home, and was good as his word.”


Gregory said, “What’s Fabu —” but John held up a finger; he fell silent.


Again from her throne of burning coal, brimstone-scented, Malisende speaks: “Who was this stranger who did your work for you?”

The huntsman says: “I do not know. He told us he would come to us when we hunted, and explain how to kill Monoclonius.”

Malisende is still awhile. As dry bones, or true death. Her thoughts inward, as is her way. Then she says: “I well know how to hunt. I’ve done all that’s needed to kill the father of unicorns.”

To this, the huntsman bows. I watch Malisende command a gateway be opened. Wicked words are whispered. Space is rent, violated. She and her fearsome marshal and all her hunters and hounds pass to a garden, far elsewhere; I with them. Among lillies and cypresses, among yews and red poppies, they make ready for the chase and while they arm themselves she watches, sword bare before her. Who can say her thoughts?

Readied, her huntsmen describe the lay of the halls, maze of vault and chamber in that fifth court of Fell Gard, which is named Fabulae Videntur. She gives orders: let the hounds lurk here, and here, till the quarry be driven to them. The first huntsmen set out from the garden, her watching after them, and I by her. So we see a grey-cloaked man enter the garden.

Unwise or anyway unafraid he strides toward Malisende, watched by huntsmen and hounds. She waits. He halts before her. She says: “You have come to your death.”

This man says, “Your hunt would not now be here had I not shown your huntsman the lair of the father of unicorns. In fact I have come to join the hunt, and teach you how to kill Monoclonius.”

Malisende says, “You are highly daring, but a natural fool.”

To which he answers: “That I am not, but I will play at it, if you give me license. You will not take Monoclonius without my advice. For which, you must give me the prize at his unmaking; his horn.”

Malisende’s no more inclined to this than any lord of the outer world would be inclined to undo the hierarchy of the unmaking. Here as anywhere the allocation of the hunt’s rewards to the court are ritual, signs of favour and disfavour. She says, “You wear a Guiser’s Cloak, hiding your face and name before a Shadow King. That alone’s worth death.”

The man in the grey opal-like cloak holds out his left hand, glint of silver between his fingers. Malisende draws back. But motions to the coin he holds. A hunter catches at the cloaked man, binds him, sets him a-horseback. Takes the coin, which he lets go uncaring. I see upon the disc a woman’s face embossed, looking always rightward at nothing. None vexed, Malisende makes her preparations, has her marshal sound his slug-horn, lets loose the chase.

Past glowering basilisks we race, riding the blazing-eyed red-gaunt bat-winged coursers of hell; and through the forest where Monoclonius makes his home among rings of grey mushrooms, among mossbearded erdgeists endlessly weaving, among the hundred-foot trunks of trees for which we have no name, all in a cave big as night with diamonds in its ceiling that glitter as stars. He is gone, but her werewolves catch his scent. On we go after him, past the ghost of a harpy that clutches at us with its substanceless talons until Malisende commands that her marshal bring down the virgin eagle with one of his arrows made of dreams. And along rough halls, so that we come to another ghost, a sad man under a crown, whose face is like the face of the coin and upon whom Malisende gazes curiously as she rides him down; then we are in a miles-wide cave that reaches high, up even to the court of Cursed Farewells, and in that great hall there had been war between bull-headed men and the flying women called winged victories. All of them now dead, the smell of butchery and murdered kine thick there as an ocean, and among corpse-thieves and carrion things the devil princes arguing over the remains briefly think to bar our way till Malisende slays one with her blade of purpled steel. We race on, far from the battlefield, following the howling of our wolflike men, and we come to a flood of black water white-capped and frothing in which roll spears and rocks and dead men — still nothing daunted, Malisende leads us in at a gallop, and we find it is untrue, a false image hiding a garden. It is named Burd’s Land, and there is a cedar grove, with alders and weeping willows and unmoving oaks, and a king and queen of elves, and their warriors. Thus tricked into battle by Monoclonius, we fight them and some are killed, us and they, and among them the hunter that holds the cloaked man. He is lost to us now as we go onward into a long hall lined with windows that open onto our nightmares; I see hell, and the Elder King, and grinning Reike in his coat of many shapes. Then we’re past that, and come to the hundred-sided cathedral church called Century, worship-place for minstrels and all such as they who do not love the Shadow Kings.


“But,” said Gregory, struggling to follow, “but then … you lost the cloaked man? Who was he?”

“I can only say what I saw in my dream,” John told him.

“Then that Reike, who you saw with the Elder King,” said Gregory. “Who was that?”

“Reike is a devil,” said John. “A very devil.” He was silent a moment, then added: “In his coat who can see him draw near? He wanders everywhere. And where he is, there is hell, nor is he away from it. Devils are concerned with freedom; rebelling, they’re bound, as punishment. So they rebel more, and are more bound. Reike, like all of them maybe, is driven by unknown laws, laws of his flesh, his being; and knowing he is driven, lies. But the lies — are they not part of those laws?”

“I don’t know,” said Gregory, when it was clear John meant to ask him the question. “I don’t understand.”

“No,” said John. “Well, to resume my dream.”


Malisende, canny to the ways of unicorns, knows that Monoclonius will not seek sanctuary within the cathedral, as that’s not his nature; he’s tried to trick us into a pit of our enemies. She’ll not force the church. Instead lefthandwise we circle through the halls all around, and how long this hunt has been I cannot now say, as though in the elven garden or in this circling years have passed, and so a greybeard giant, chin in hand, stumbles into our path, his three dead daughters strung over his shoulder, and at sight of us cries: “Fie”! and “Foh!” and takes up his bloody spear to wave it at us, and I think this is some mockery I don’t understand, a unicorn’s joke. After he’s dead we continue to a wide hall with pillars of gold and silver, fretwork around the pillars and wreaths of seeming-flowers that are emerald leaves and ruby petals; high arches lead down the hall, their keystones diamonds and carbuncles, and at the end of the arches there is a tall window made of chips of every kind of precious stone, sapphire and topaz and amethyst and many more, the light of the setting sun behind it, and something lives in the window so that the shapes the coloured stones make move, and hint at — what? Some creation, some story. Malisende shatters it. Beyond there is an abbey, and with surprise I recognise as they flee from us the Unknown Monks, who legend says hold great secrets of the dungeon: the Kind Children, the imprisoned Exile, the Ring of Mists, and for all I know the Fell Gard Codices themselves.


“The Fell Gard Codices,” repeated Gregory. “But those are the books Sorine Gryselde is looking for. Aren’t they? Who are these monks? And this Exile, and the ring —”

“The Exile,” said John, “is a long story, which I must tell you.”

And so he did, though it took him some time. Gregory listened, not understanding how John had come to know it all.

At length that story ended, and John said, “Now, to return to my dream.”


The monks are too fast, and not our quarry. The wolves lead us on through the halls, baying. We pass magic words, written on walls in unspoken languages. Alphabets of old time. Spiritual tongues. Stars and circles; fictions of wizardry. More of them as we go, script thicker upon the stones of the court. Droplets of dark fluid glitter: some ink is ash and gum, some is oak gall and green vitriol, all of it browning with age. There is redness, also, vermilion mixed with egg-whites. Runes and seals and planet-signs. Words and more words. They spiral along the walls, taunting us. It seems to me that they are a story, our story, our hunt. The words are more real than the stone they are written on. Our tale’s told, here. And we are told. We are become legend, become story — but here where the path branches, where we rush on toward climax and catastrophe, other lines of text join and other stories intersect with ours, our narrative grows denser, the plot twists, language and ink writhing underfoot in sigils and magic squares, so I can hardly say where language ends and I begin, and I have a moment of recognition: we are caught. Parts of the dungeon are elemental in nature, filled with fire and water, earth or air. Or dreams. Or masks. Or ink, which is magic. These things take many forms. Here, the storylines spiralling on before us, here is one such place, and we have been drawn into tale. We are becoming text, to be interpreted to others. Therefore now around us race other forms, other readings of our selfhoods, wandering down the many paths to hell. Beside Malisende is herself: many selves, and she cannot kill them all, not this time. She sees this. She reaches down and beheads one of her wolves. Blood sprays upon the walls, the floor. The text is obscured. The act of violence obliterates the word. It is a sacrifice that bars the gods from descending, wards off meaning, lays waste the land, lets us ride on. Our shadows are gone. Then we ride into a cavern that is all shadow. It is another old battlefield where once ink and masks struggled. Where the dukes and margraves of elementals rode to war against each other. On one hand shadow. On the other, ink; magic. Shades against inklings. At the centre of the cave is a terraced rise, and all about is shadow and ink, the aftermath of war: where the script spirals into a terrible density of self-referential symbol. We are drawn toward those wells of meaning. They will swallow us into their depths, where we’ll be lost in their old arguments. Rushing past them we find ourselves atop the rise, darkness all about, black masses of old disputation. Our horses struggle against their pull, sliding down toward them. They will be our end. There is a horizon within such things which, once past, one cannot recross; one’s steps curve, distorted unknowing, all references themselves twisted, so that to be caught in dead history and ink is to be lost forever.


“That can’t —” whispered Gregory. He rocked forward, no longer sitting but kneeling before John. “Magister, I beg you — I don’t, what do you mean, how are these things possible? These texts, these, these fables! It is — they’re too — what does it mean?

The hob-goblins behind him snickered. He could hear them. John looked at them, one by one, and they were silent. The priest said, “We from the outer world, as those in Fell Gard name our home, do not I think appreciate the many fables and histories that the dungeon holds; nor the way those things can follow one another or intrude on one another. We do not appreciate the metaphysical weight of the magics of Fell Gard. We, still new to this place, are new as well to the shock of the magical, the impossible. We must learn what it is to see the marvellous; not to reject it, nor to diminish it by seeking to understand it or grasp its latent power, but simply to accept it as an emblem by its nature incomprehensible, representing a greater mystery — we must learn to meditate on what we have never seen before, and allow it to work upon our souls and understanding. We will therefore allow ourselves to grow to meet the impossible rather than shrink that impossibility to our sense of the world.

“Who, after all, are we, new to this place? We do not know its names or focal points, not the Echoing Crypts of Arkus Kemmany nor the Nine Shuddering Labyrinths of Dematavin. We do not see the miles-wide caves lit by sunlike lights, pegasi flying like distant shadows, the floor a dryad-filled forest. We do not know the swell of the Sunless Sea, and would be shocked to find its bays and coasts spread across different courts, much less see the coral palaces under its surface or speak with the intelligences that lurk in its shadows. We do not know what it is like to stumble into a trap-door, to slide will-we or nill-we down and down and down further to a new court, to monsters and magic previously unknown, to fall, truly to fall, out of one story and into another.”

John fell silent, staring at him. That, clearly, was his answer. Geoffrey rocked back. Had his question been answered? He didn’t know, couldn’t think. Couldn’t say what more he wished.

John began speaking again.


In my dream I see Malisende turn to her marshal, and, swiftly, deftly, skin him. His marble flesh, bloodless, she cuts into pages. It is in her power to wither those sheets, to make of his breast parchment. Those wells of ink, dense, textual, they that drew us, are now themselves drawn: black ink leaps to page, filling it with quarrel, debate, dispute. She lets the parchments fall and we tread them under our hooves; the ground opens, and we ride into the terrace, into halls of worked stone. We have found a labyrinth. Ink-scored passages twist into each other. Patterns recur. Choice is an illusion. We find we are caught in this ominous tract, mazed, and cannot find a way forth. Text bleeds into text. There are lies in every word. We are trapped, our souls bound. We mutter, helpless, we must name the letters that we pass, name each and every one as we circle round and about these halls; we’re caught in a spell. Are the halls matter, are they stone, or are they only a plan of themselves, made of language? If so then we are abstract as they. They are our epitaphs.

Malisende will not have this. She drives Tragedy’s End into the wall beside her. The stone ages; becomes dust. The words don’t fade but fall in on themselves, whirling about the years and watches that the sword brings them. They crash into each other, spark one against another, birth fire. In moments there’s an inferno before us, and the hunt has paused. Where shall we go?

Malisende takes from her quiver an aged paper. She stares at it a moment. I see a ribbon with a seal pendent; there is a face on the seal like the ghost Malisende rode down near the start of the hunt. She tears the seal from the paper and throws the paper into the fire. Then the seal after it. She is a dead thing, knowledgeable of magic, understanding the nature of sacrifice. The parchment means something to her; is a part of her. What is it? I don’t know. But to burn it is as good as to chop off her own head. The fires flare up, and the words all about us are finally incinerated, erased by the purifying element of flame.

Malisende leads us on through the fire and into a market hall, where mer-things from the depths of sunless seas deal verdigrised treasures from ages-old shipwrecks for ripe red cherries: treasures of art for fruit at the moment of its ripeness. Her wolves are lost, here. Where’s the scent? She motions; her skinless marshal acts; a figure’s taken, plucked from the marts of the sea-children, a familiar figure in a shining-grey cloak, now wearing a fine set of white leather boots.

“Where?” says Malisende. He points with his left hand. She has him set on the steed behind her. We go; the wolves catch the scent. The skinned marshal blows the horn. The hunt’s on again.

“I know Monoclonius’ ways,” says the man in the Guiser’s Cloak. “I knew where he’ll lead you. I know where he’ll go. And what you must do when you find him.”

We are riding through unfixed halls; the walls and columns now grey, now crystal, now amber, now lanthorn-panes through which an uncertain light warmly shines. “Tell me why you are concerned with my hunt,” commands Malisende.

He says: “That’s my business, to do with my own history with the father of unicorns.”

She commands again: “You will tell how you knew of my hunt.”

To which he: “I will tell you how I found the coin I gave you, which is what you wish to know.”

And, “Is it?” she asks, though it is not truly a question.

He, less sure: “Isn’t it? At least, it’s all bound together. As stories so often are. I want to see Monoclonius dead. That’s a story, to do with a woman I love but who is no longer in the world. I looked for a way by which this could be done.”

We are riding through one of the attercoppes’ webs, led by the sure-scented hounds. The spider-things, shrouded in their nets and counting their gold, die as we pass. And Malisende asks the cloaked man: “How is it you were led to me?”

He tells her, “I read of you in the Fell Gard Codices.”

To which she: “The Codices are a fable.”

He answers, “At least one of them is a fable in which I have read. Tell me if this is false. You were born to King Hugh the Devoted, one of the Wican line since called the Grey Kings. When you were a girl you were told the story, or fable, of another Malisende, your kin of many years gone. And that Malisende could not draw a unicorn to her brothers’ hunt, so was believed to have committed a betrayal with a man, so died, and later was proven only to have taken a man’s ring. The story taught you how men see women, how sons are treated and how daughters, and how Ossian’s texts are read. You weren’t surprised when your younger brothers were groomed for the throne, or when talk of lineage revolved around their possible heirs. You’d have no part of it and so joined the College of Heralds, removing yourself from the inheritance of the Grey Kings. But your brothers died and so your younger sister, Angaret, became queen.

“As a herald one day it came to you to deliver a message to Angaret, telling her that your cousin, the Duchess of Logronek, planned to rise in rebellion. You made your way westward, through the White Mountains, to the Godsblood, or Ogre Mountain. And there you were pulled into Fell Gard. A long time then you sought to escape. You did, at the price of self-slaughter, becoming a king among shadows. But by then it was too late to deliver your message. Now you reign in the Heart of Fell Gard; and every hundred years when the Master Dungeon grows, it draws into itself men and women of your line, they that would have been kings if not for your failure, and you hunt them through all the dungeon, be they ancient or infant. Not so?”


“Then,” said Gregory, unable to restrain himself further, “this is that Malisende? You dreamed of her?

“So it would seem,” answered John. “Listen further.”


By this time we are riding through a grassy garden tended by dreaming young giants, ninefold nightmares. They pace out symbols in the turf and grass; each pace measured to the inch, they tread their geometries, marking star-signs by occult rules. Malisende is silent. I watch her, for it seems to me that upon her all things turn. She’s the cause of the hunt. She is our ruler, we her instruments. Still, I cannot read her. Her face shadow. She’s dead.

But at last she says: “Do you think I do not know you?”

He answers: “I think you do well to seek revenge on Monoclonius for the first Malisende.”

And she: “There is more on his head than that, young father of many sons. But the greater a king, the less they act out of choice.”

I don’t understand this exchange. But I haven’t time to think on it. There’s a turn — an opening — and there is a crack in the stones of Fell Gard, a crevice extending far overhead, and arising from the ground of the crevice is a dark tower. Stones cast upon stones like black mist or tottering thunderheads. It’s the tower of the Storm Elves.


“Storm Elves?” said Gregory. John raised his brows.

Gregory took a breath to speak. What did he want to say? The name. Storm Elves. It was both right and wrong, that name.

He had seen the elves here in Fell Gard, that one lady that had thrown herself into dark water, and then those that arose from the waters later, and then after that those that had come just before the goblins had attacked. Elves were like the stories of themselves. Tall, and graceful, and their speaking voices like music. Wise, it seemed, and creatures of magic. What was the old saying? Magic in their marrow. To say, then, in the face of that, simply ‘Storm Elves’ — it seemed, like nothing else about them, to lack art.

“Yes?” said John.

But was that so? Storm Elves. Things of the tempest. As in a dream he had a glimpse of a tall, severe shape, a hand raised and lightning flickering in its fingers. Rain about it — him — and mail light as mist and strong as hail. Elves that raced upon the wind. The unseen hosts in the nighttime blast. To think of them so was to feel the raw stuff of fable. To feel like a child, listening to a nurse’s tale. With a child’s unchoosing tyrannous insistence upon its dreams. Could a thing be both artless and inspired?

“Please,” said Gregory, “continue.”

“Elves are not like you and me,” John told him. “They are changeable. And often one household, or other group, finds some magic, or makes some compact, or finds their own way, to some transformation. And so there are many kinds of elves. Iron Elves. The Silent Elves. Storm Elves. You see?”

Gregory nodded, though he did not. John looked around him, and resumed the story.


The castle of the Storm Elves, or that castle that I saw in my dream, is tall and changes in little ways as I watch it. Crenellated turrets twist about its top. It is silent, lifeless as the sky. The hounds lead us to it. How are we to get in? A third time I hear the marshal’s horn. The castle opens before us, walls whirling away as wind-blown mist. We ride into the warm dark.

Space is confused, stretched, we ride too far for the distance the castle might have held. There’s a smell like spring. Then they come at us, out of the sky, with a thunderclap to deafen us. Elf-shot precedes them, glittering. Their swords are cold rain. Malisende is not slowed, nor are we others. Their weapons haven’t power against us. There’s such a howling, then.

We come to the tower’s great hall. It’s dry as old skulls and church-dust. Against a far wall is a couch of black silk shot with gold. Upon the couch is the King of Storm Elves, grey and thin as rainfall, and by him is Monoclonius.

The Father of Unicorns is taller than any horse, even the hell-horses we ride. His horn is a lengthy twist of silver and gold. He has a goat’s curling beard. A lion’s flowering tail, silver-coloured, and the legs of a deer. About his left rear leg is a manacle, with a broken chain, sign of his captivity by Helren and his escape, of his pride and his spiritual purity.

The storm about us subsides, and there is a tension, as though we are caught by some great eye.

Malisende reaches into her saddle-bag, takes out a ring made of bone, and dismounts.

She holds out her hand. The ring, chipped, unlovely, sits on her palm. Monoclonius, who it seems wants to bolt, cannot. Instead takes a side-step closer to her, nostrils flaring, flat teeth bared, rolling eyes wide, silent, sensing the ring and death.

Malisende takes a step forward.

The king of Storm Elves raises a hand, and a blue ball of fire appears in his palm. The fire leaps from his hand to hers and wreaths the ring a moment before bone becomes ash. On the instant, Monoclonius is away.

Too late, Malisende raises Tragedy’s End. The Storm Elves take flight, racing upward, their tower arising with them, the dark of it. Malisende only watches.

For some time there’s silence. The elves are gone and the hunters do not wish to move. At last her marshal approaches her. “Should we return?” he asks. She turns her faceless head, and with the grace of a practiced killer whirls her sword and drives it through his heart. As he falls she catches his head and takes up his skull and crushes it in her hands.

I think, in my dream, of princes I have known; they, who have more to their names, and have never known the lacks that you and I have borne, are, like children or the heroes of old, greater in all their emotions and must express them in violence. How much more so for a Shadow King, that is involved with death and magic?

“The hunt’s not yet failed,” says the cloaked man.

There is stillness again. She does not look to him or take up her sword. He does not move.

But at length he says, “Will you follow me?”

Now she turns to him. What will she do?


“But I don’t understand,” Gregory burst out. “What, why would Monoclonius —”

John raised a hand. One of the hob-goblins snickered. Gregory glared at it, his hand going to his sword. “Listen, then,” John said.


Malisende commands, “Tell me what you think.”

The cloaked man spreads his hands. “What I think? I think that Monoclonius was the steed of Ac King of Oak during the Elder War, but was tricked by Helren the Elder King and so slew his true love, Karibu the Giver of Blessings. He mourns her still, and he and all his kind seek for any lady that, like Karibu, has passed under no man’s harrow, has danced between no man’s fires, and has taken no man’s ring yet will give one herself. I think you know this.”

Malisende interrupts the flow of words, asks: “Do I not have a woman’s form?” In my dream it seems to me that the man in the cloak does not know how to answer, for how is he to number the parts of irony in her words? “I took an infant’s head,” she tells him, “and stripped the skull and cut my ring from its eye-socket. So made my ring for myself.”

“It’s not in the nature of kings or shadows to make,” says the cloaked man. “Still, if you made one, you can make another. I will show you where.”

So we all mount, in my dream, and he leads us. Past armies in white armour and grey woolen cloaks, battling about a church where the mouths of gods bellow marching-orders. A company of trumpeters fouls a fountain of clear water. Heavy trees tower over our head; the armies struggle over land, this forest-cave, who shall be recognised, who shall rule; their lord and map-maker watches the war, his axe, enchanted, knowing, whispering secrets. The cloaked man guides us through, and on into a vast room stretching above our heads and under our feet, fires and water far below, and all that space filled with steam-clouds and smoke, with red light and sparks. Like all that part of Fell Gard it has been used for a thousand years and more — for I know that though this dream is all matter that has passed years ago, there had been many more years before that since the dungeon had been made.

This place had once been an arena, and then after another people had taken the place by war it was used as a forge by a wicked witch-wright, and then later another, more desperate, people had opened a flood into the space; and the enchanted fires still burn, under the waters. All about us, and in tiers along the wall above, are furnaces, and anvils, and wooden beams, and hammers, and tongs, and lead-lined gutters to carry slag, and piles of black coal, and ash that makes the air taste of grit, and very many pipes, and bellows large as thurses. You must imagine this not like forges you know, for it’s much larger, but also more intricate, a workshop of art and craft.

“I have heard of this place,” says Malisende.

“You have the tools here to make a ring,” the cloaked man tells her. “You have silver. You have the coin I gave you.”

Malisende says nothing, but strides forward, among the smoke. I follow. I watch her as she goes, as she steps among the fires, and takes out the coin, and I see her stare at the face upon it, and I see now that written around the edge of the coin is ‘Angaret,’ and I have time to see no more before she takes a hammer and shatters the coin, which she forges again into a thin ingot and then forces the ingot into a circle. And so has made a ring, unbalanced and ugly, but round and fit for any finger.

She returns to the cloaked man. “Bring me to Monoclonius,” she says. “I’m weary.”

There is irony, perhaps, in the fact that he leads us, and at once, by direct and straight roads to a temple of Reike.


“What is ‘irony’?” Gregory asked. “You have used that word twice, but I have never heard it before.”

There was a change in the quality in the silence around him that he could not measure. John’s finger traced the line of his short black beard down his jaw to his chin. “Irony refers to one who, intending a certain thing, unwittingly brings about the reverse,” he said. “Sages are enamored of the word. What I have told you is is a very attenuated form of irony. Reike is a devil, who’s master of winding ways. One would think the approach to his temple would be by some circuitous route; and usually it is, but in this case, not so. There is also irony in that Monoclonius is to be found in a place of demons. And that he is uncovered in Reike’s home; for Reike is a concealer, not a revealer. He goes where he will and takes what form he likes and shapes his speech to his hearers. I should tell you that all angels and devils speak all tongues at once, so everyone who hears them understands them, but Reike, that tricky fool, shapes his tongue to mimic the voice of living souls. As though he were playing some part upon a stage.”

“Was the cloaked man Reike?” asked Gregory. “Did Malisende know it?”

“What?” said John, startled. “No! Listen. Here is how the dream unfolded.”


First I must tell you that the place was no temple, but what the Invicti called a fanum, or fane. We think that men and women in the past were very like us, though not knowing of Ossian. We think they dressed like us, fought like us, ate like us, spoke in their tongues as we speak in ours. This is not and was not so. When Fell Gard was made, it was in the time of the Invicti. The first men and women in these halls spoke Vitelic and worshipped the line of Emperors. There are some in the dungeon worship them still, I have learned, though it is faith oddly changed with the passage of time.

The fanes of the Invicti took many forms. That of Reike is in a vast hall whose floor is covered in grass and mosses and broken into a series of descending concentric terraces; at the centre of these terraces is a rectangular courtyard paved in black bricks, holding a temple and altar. One descends to the courtyard through a labyrinth of ankle-high freestone walls. The temple has no walls, but thirteen towering dark red marble pillars rise up to support a steep black slate roof. At the heart of the temple is the altar, a pile of rocks topped with a brass offering-bowl. There is a fire deep within the rock-pile; you can see the glitter of it through cracks, here and there, though there are no flames or smoke. As we come, we see Monoclonius standing by the altar, his colour so flawless he seems in those shadows to glow. He can’t move, for Malisende holds her new silver ring.

It seems sudden, that the play of events should find its climax so simply, as though in mockery of itself. The ritual’s rushed, the sacrifice already done. But there’s an insistence to brutality, which must have its way.

Monoclonius does not move. Malisende approaches him, stepping over the tiny walls of the unnoticed labyrinth. The cloaked man follows her. We others remain behind. We’re not needed, we are extraneous, a silent chorus.

“Let it be,” Malisende murmurs. Monoclonius takes a step back, then forward, the dull clacks of his hooves echoing from the bricks.

She reaches the sanctuary. Monclonius watches her, frozen. The cloaked man pauses, then follows Malisende between the uprising columns. Malisende holds her left arm out from her body, shakes it, her mail jingles: “Are these rings not enough?” she asks. There seems to be something in the question, but I can’t place it. She draws Tragedy’s End left-handed, holding the blade like a dagger.

Abruptly, she kneels. She’s motionless, her back straight, left arm lifted, right arm before her with hand flat holding the plain silver ring. Monoclonius takes a careful step toward her, snorts, takes another.

“The grim law,” she says, voice low and even. And, “O, fathers.”

Monoclonius is very still, dark eyes wide, staring at her.

He kneels, then, and stretches his head forward, careful of his horn, bending his neck, placing his head in her lap.

And Malisende sets the silver ring upon his horn, and stands.

She steps back from him.

“I’ve done with you,” she says. “You are emancipated.”

And the cloaked man says, “What’s that?”

Loudly, Malisende says, “The hunt is finished.” The cloaked man steps forward to stand beside her.

“Kill him, then,” he says.

She answers: “What need have I to kill him?”

The question hangs, as though echoing. The cloaked man turns his head, to stare at Monoclonius.

The father of unicorns bellows, rears, thrusts his horn at Malisende’s bosom.

She twists aside. Tragedy’s End rises, falls. There’s a terrible spray of blood.

“Take your horn,” she tells the cloaked man over the fallen body of Monoclonius, twitching and bleeding. “If you can.” She calls to us. The horn sounds.

The cloaked man races forward as we ride. He takes out a knife, and in a moment the horn is off Monoclonius’ still forehead, and in his hand. “Take him!” cries Malisende. “Kill him!”

“I can tell you,” he says, covered in the unicorn’s blood,“why.”

She only laughs, sound lacking mirth.

“Then I’ll you this,” he says as we come with hounds and bared swords: “From the Queen of Burd’s Land I recovered my boots.” And he takes a step.

And then he is gone, as though he had never been.

That is the end of the hunt for Monoclonius, father of unicorns. And for all I know Malisende may have led her hunt on, seeking further prey. But that was all that I saw in my dream.

And so I awoke.


John fell silent.

Gregory sat back. “Is that — I don’t understand,” he said. “Who was the man in the cloak?”

“Who indeed,” murmured John.

“What was his plan?” asked Gregory. “How did he escape Malisende?”

John stirred. He rose, and walked past Gregory to consider the hob-goblins. They were all silent, staring at him. “He escaped by way of the boots, of course,” said John. “Traveller’s boots. There is a kind of magic travelling, you see. Tales tell us of a wizard’s boots … there are many such, in Fell Gard, that move you from place to place at a step. Well, he has his magic, and is there any more to say?”

“But what does it all mean?” asked Gregory.

“Mean?” asked John. “What does anything mean?”

Gregory shook his head. “All things have meaning. You taught me that, Magister.”

“Did I?” asked John. “Did I teach you that meanings change, depending —” he raised his head again, and looked back past Gregory, into a point in the air, or else at nothing at all “— on your point of view? And depending on what else you know. So that often understanding can only come too late. Too late you find out you were not the hero. You were a minor part. A messenger. A beggar. Comic relief. Or else you were a villain, after all.”

“Forgive me, Magister,” said Gregory. He felt as though he had failed. Had he? Was this all some test? “I … I don’t understand your dream.”

“Well,” said John, walking behind the hob-goblins. “Dreams are like that.” He took out a knife. “Sometimes we don’t understand them until it’s too late. Do we, boy?”

Gregory raised his hands to his head. He did not understand anything. Not what John meant. Not the obscure sense of threat in the air. Why he had felt better when the hob-goblins glared at him, or when they were laughing, than now when they were watching him unsmiling. “Why did you tell me this dream?” he burst out.

John bent. “Maybe I wasn’t talking to you.” The knife flashed. The hob-goblin sprang to its feet.

“Magister, beware!” cried Gregory, himself standing and drawing his sword.

“Yes, yes,” said John, freeing the next hob-goblin, and the next.

Gregory raced at the first creature, who retreated, oddly silent. Its mates were standing now, free. “Magister,” he said. “Get behind me.”

John laughed, for a reason obscure to Gregory. “No,” he said.

Gregory realised that the voice was not the voice of John of the Inner Book.

Then the thirteen hob-goblins closed in on him, and bore him to the ground before he could scream.

And, as he died, he heard the voice that was not John’s speak, but he could not hear what was said, not all of it, he could only understand a fragment.


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