The Fell Gard Codices


Ulixa took a step back, raising her dagger. The man joined her and the boy. The ratmen paused.

That was when the creatures from the other room ran into the chamber.

There were four of them, running with the frantic speed of children. They began howling war-cries as they saw the light of the man’s torch. The ratmen turned, but, surprised, did not move quickly enough. Two of the goblin-like things stabbed with their short swords, and two of the ratmen fell. A third goblin-thing ran on without pausing. The fourth leapt toward the boy.

Ulixa, for some reason she could not name — perhaps it was her sense of right behaviour finally manifesting itself — interposed herself between the thing and the boy. But the creature halted even as she was moving. She glanced back. The boy was awake, sitting up, and smiling such a smile as Ulixa had never seen. It reminded her a little of the prophet’s smile, but no, no it did not, this was different, and she could not say why.

Then the ratmen had begun to move, and they fell on the goblin creatures, and in a moment the creatures were killed, slain with brutal efficiency, caught one by one, held, butchered.

And then the ratmen turned back to her.

She dropped her knife. She held up her hands. “Friend,” she said. “I am a friend.” The man beside her said something; it was like the language the dwarf had used, all vowels and sibilants. The ratmen paused. Then the boy was between her and the man, linking his arms around theirs, still smiling.

“Friend,” the boy repeated. He did not sound thankful. Only satisfied, and pleased.

It was then that the others arrived. The ratmen turned. “Murineans!” cried William. “Ratlings!”

“Friends!” cried Ulixa. The ratmen waited. Everyone waited.

“Friends,” said the boy again, and laughed.

Gral said something. The ratmen answered. “They’re willing to parley,” said the dwarf.

“Thank the Graf,” said Gryselde, with some feeling. Ulixa realised that the sorine did not much like death. It was not a paradox, Ulixa thought, so much as a hint toward the working-out of the woman’s selfhood. She decided to ponder it later.

“The ratmen killed those … creatures,” she said.

“Hob-goblins,” said William. “They’re a kind of goblinkin. Weaker and craftier than true goblins.”

“And the thing in the other room?” she demanded. “The eye-beast?”

“It was what’s called a serpentine humour,” said the man with the torch.

“Tell the ratlings we wish them no harm,” the sorine instructed Gral. “Tell them we are new to the dungeon, and wish to leave in peace.”

The dwarf did this, and the ratmen answered. “They say peace does not live here,” Gral told the sorine, “but that they have no cause to fight us, so long as we leave them the boy.”

“I found him here,” said Ulixa. “This room — it’s like where I woke up.”

“Where we all woke up,” said Gryselde. “Tell them we will not force him to come with us. But the choice must be his, and if he wishes to be with his own people, we hope they will accept his choice.” Gral said this to the ratmen, who looked mournfully to the boy. Gryselde said to him, “We are trying, most of us, to make our way from this place. Would you like to join with us?”

The boy considered this. He looked at each of them in turn. Ulixa could not say what it was in his carriage that gave the impression of dignity; he was an adolescent in a simple white shroud. But they waited while he considered. In the end he said: “Yes, I think I would like that. I don’t know what I can do for you. I mean I am afraid I don’t remember who I am, or what gifts may be mine.”

“Do you recall your name?” asked William. The boy shook his head.

“Well, you will have time to choose it for yourself,” said Gryselde. The ratmen hung their heads. Their leader shuffled forward to the boy, holding out a pawlike hand. The boy took it, and stroked it.

“I will remember you,” he said. “I will always treasure your generosity, and your care.” He looked at the other mortals. “They watched over me while I slept.”

The man with the torch cleared his throat. “If you were sleeping,” he said, “how do you know that?” The boy shrugged. “Ah,” said the man. “Well, then.” He was older than her, Ulixa thought, though not by very much.

The ratman hugged the boy, who embraced him in return. The ratman backed away, large tears in his eyes. He said something, and Gral translated: “He says they have a home here. We are not … we are not a part of their home. But there will be no fighting between …”

“Between our two camps,” said the new man. Gral grunted and nodded his head.

“That is well said,” replied Gryselde. “We wish to be friends. Let them tell us what grounds they call their own, and we will swear to that.”

The ratmen discussed this among themselves. At the same time, William was translating all that had been said for Amanos. What was being lost in all this translation, wondered Ulixa.

The ratmen turned and spoke. Gral dug in his pack. “They will draw us a map,” he said, taking out a piece of chalk. They all watched the ratmen draw lines on the ground. These murineans seemed to live in a complex of chambers south of the room where the hob-goblins had been. They did not map these rooms in detail. They drew a passage south-west from the room with the balcony, and indicated in that passage several doors that opened into their chambers. Then they drew more: the hall turned north, widened, shrunk again, passed a door, and joined the room in which they all were standing on its south side. The ratmen had entered the room with the sleeping boy from another passage, which led directly to their chambers. A third passage from the room led back to the chamber where the battle with the hob-goblins had taken place; that was the hallway along which Ulixa had run, so that there was a kind of large triangle which contained the ratmen’s chambers. Ulixa saw that the others took some time to fix it all in their minds. They were not used to situating themselves on a map, she thought; maps were larger things for them, designed to show all the world, or all the stars in the sky, not as those things truly were but as they ought to be.

She noticed that her arm did not hurt anymore, and touching it, found it was healed. Thinking back, she remembered the moment when the pain had vanished: when the smiling boy took her arm in his.

“They say we can pass in the halls around their rooms,” said Gral. “But they will hold the thresholds against us.”

“Can they show us more of the dungeon?” asked Gryselde. Gral asked; the ratmen drew more lines, showing a hall stretching westward from the door in the southern passage.

“They say this is where they came from; up from below,” Gral said. The ratmen draw a hall branching off to the north; then, further west, the original hall splitting in two. Both branches continued on westward until they ended at a large room. Gral nodded as the ratmen continued talking. “They came up from a trap-door in one of those halls,” he said. “That room at the end has a door westward, but they found a trap on it. So they came this way, and found those rooms. They say there is food to the north, along this hall, before the passage splits. They say there is a garden. But the gardeners are fierce.”

“A garden?” asked Enheduanna. “Here? What do they mean?”

“What they say, I expect,” said the man with the torch. He cleared his throat as they turned to him. He was unkempt, with flat greasy black-and-grey hair, a small moustache, and a thin sallow face. His robes were tattered, and hung on him like a scarecrow’s coat. “Gardens do grow here,” he said, defensive.

Gryselde nodded.“I will wish to speak with you later,” she said, “and of course I extend to you the offer I made to the boy. But I feel I must continue with this matter. Well, there are gardens under the earth, then. Can the ratmen tell us any more?”

The dwarf and the ratmen spoke further. Ulixa considered the torch-bearing man. There was something nagging at her; something about the patterns on his brown and ash-grey robes. “No,” Gral said. “They have fled here only recently, seeking sanctuary from below.”

“Very well,” said Gryselde. She bowed to the ratmen. “Then we all may leave in peace, and in friendship. Enheduanna, which way do you think would lead to the noise you heard?”

The elf shrugged. “I couldn’t say for certain,” she said. “I think —”

The new man cleared his throat again. “Pardon me,” he said. “Did you say a noise? Was it, by chance, a sort of, ah, crashing, banging sort of a noise? A slamming noise?”

“I would say so,” answered Enheduanna.

“A battering-ram-striking-a-door sort of noise?” he continued. “Because I was responsible for that sort of a noise a few minutes ago.” They all stared at him. He sighed. “Come along,” he said. “I suppose I’d better explain. You all really are from the outer world, aren’t you?”

“You … are not?” asked Ulric. The other man smiled, and began walking back to the room where the battle with the hobgoblins had begun. Ulixa realised that the patterns on his robes were actually symbols, overlapping like knotwork. Somebody had once worked on the coat very carefully; though that had been some time ago.

“My name is Gamelyn of the Second Turning,” he said. “The hob-goblins were my servants, after a fashion. Or had been. I had no choice in having them as servants. Or indeed in being up here at all.” He sighed. “I suppose now I have made a choice.”

“I am Gryselde,” said the sorine, “a mendicant of holy orders. Will you tell us your story, Gamelyn of the Second Turning?” Gamelyn looked around at all of them. One by one they introduced themselves, except for the quiet smiling boy who could not remember his name.

“Well,” said Gamelyn, “I’ll tell you —”

“Light!” hissed Enheduanna. She pointed. “There!”

They had reached the room where they’d battled the hob-goblins. The door Gamelyn had burst through during the fight was still open to the north. Enheduanna began to run. Gryselde raised her chin, staring after her with a flat glare. “If you will, Gamelyn,” she said, and followed the elf at a quick pace.

They went as quickly as they could. Through the door, down a short hall, into a room, then another hall, then a door splintered in two with Gamelyn’s battering ram beside it. A passage ran to the west. Enheduanna ran down it, and the rest of them followed, and so came to a kind of crossroads, an open square that had two halls joining it from the west and two from the east. The elf had outrun them, and for a moment Ulixa did not know where she’d gone. Then they heard Enheduanna’s voice echoing, crying “Halt!” from the passage north of them, stretching back to the east. They ran after her. Gamelyn was gasping. The boy still smiled.

They found a large room with a hall heading north to a dead end. Enheduanna was running as fast as she could to the dead end, where she paused; as they joined her she found some sort of catch, and the wall slid aside. The elf took a running step through, then paused again. The secret door had opened onto another short east-west passage, with a wall to the east. To the west the passage opened into a room. Enehduanna ran west, then stopped again, and they finally caught up with her. “If there had been a trap,” said Gryselde, but the elf held up a hand.

“Did you see a man, a mortal man, run through here?” she asked. “It’s all right, we won’t hurt you.”

For a moment Ulixa had no idea what was happening. The elf dropped to one knee. Then Ulixa saw two girls hesitantly approaching the torchlight. Younger than the smiling boy, both of them, she judged. The younger might have been the age of the wizard-girl Hochelaga. “We hid,” said the elder. Ulixa saw that they had weapons; the younger clutched a fine dagger, while the older held a battle-axe before her. “He went the other way. Are you — are you a friend of his?”

“No,” said the elf. “We wanted to speak to him, that’s all. What other way?”

“Through the secret door,” said the girl. The elf’s brow creased.

“I chased him through a secret door,” she said.

“The other secret door,” said the girl. She pointed to the far wall of the short eastern passage.

“May I ask who you are?” asked the sorine.

“I’m Domini,” said the older girl. “This is Katherine.” Katherine shook her dagger at them. “Do you — do you have any food?” asked Domini. “I mean — we require food. We’ve been lost for — I can’t say how long. It must be a day. Maybe a day and a night.”

The sorine sighed. “You’d better come with us,” she said.

“Will you take us back to the surface?” asked Domini.

“We will do what we can,” said the sorine. The girl nodded.

It turned out there was another secret door, eastward from the one by which they’d entered. It led into a wide hall leading north and south. They paused, trying to decide which way to go; and so heard a steady, repeated tapping. The lady knight said something. “Yes,” William answered quietly. “That’s water dripping. South of here.”

So they went south, and came to a room with an old dwarf and a strange device in the corner of the room. A wooden frame held two tanks, with water dripping steadily from one to another; from the tank into which water dripped came a kind of rod which connected to gears that themselves were connected to the hands of a large circular dial. The dwarf paid them no notice as they all stared at the thing, though he must have heard them or seen their light. They waited; he only tended to the mechanism, carefully monitoring the dripping of water. Ulixa realised she knew what the thing was. “It’s a clepsydra,” she whispered. “A thief of water.”

“Eh?” said the dwarf. He turned to them, rubbing his hands on an apron before him. A tool belt was at his waist. His beard was long, but patchy. His skin was loose, and his face was a maze of wrinkles. “It steals nothing, I assure you. Nothing. But time. Of course that’s its job.”

Gral said something in dwarven. The other dwarf answered. “But let’s not be rude,” he said. “Or do you mean all these others speak the tongue as well?”

“No,” said Gral. “No, they do not.”

“Well, what are they about, then, eh?” asked the dwarf.

“We’re gathering lost souls,” said William. Ulric laughed.

“We’re seeking a way by which those who wish to may leave this place,” said the sorine. “Are you trapped here?”

“I’m a clockmaster, tall miss,” said the dwarf. He sighed. “I felt it, when the rocks shifted, when this level was made. Oh, I knew. There was a clock here. A clepsydra, your friend named it. Well, here it is, I’ve found it; and I haven’t the water I need to keep it in proper function. What use am I, I ask you?”

“You know the dungeon?” asked Gryselde. “That is certainly of use to us.”

“Well, there’s no going back down for me,” said the dwarf. “Not at my age. I knew that when I came up here.” He sighed again.

Ulixa turned to look back at all of them. The six she’d met above, seven with the lady knight; Gamelyn; the silent boy; the two girls. Herself. “What is one to do with all these people?” she mused. She looked again at Gamelyn. She almost gasped aloud. She knew now what it was she had been trying to tell herself. About his coat; about the symbols on his coat. For among them she now perceived the extended triangle.

“Amanos wanted to defend the empty rooms,” said the sorine. “She will have her chance.” She turned to face all the people. “We all have questions, I think, and some of us have answers. There are rooms near this place which we have scouted, and which seem safe enough. I suggest we make our way there, and sit, and speak. And we will all see what we can learn together, and whether we can leave this place.”

“Well said,” agreed Gamelyn. “Where are these rooms, then?”

“I know,” said Enheduanna. She was standing by the east side of the room. There was a door, and a hallway south of the door. She pointed to the hall. “That way turns back on itself,” she murmured. She pointed to the door. “But this way …” She opened it. There was another hall stretching into darkness. She looked back at them and grinned. She ran lightly through the hall. They followed; and at the far end was another door, which she opened. And they were back in the first room they had found on that floor, with the stairs to the north side and the door Ulixa had unlocked on the east side.

Enheduanna and Gral went off to scout the rooms they’d found to the south and east, to be sure nothing had moved in while they had been gone. Ulixa touched Gamelyn on the arm, and led him back to the west passage.

“I know who you are,” she said quietly.

“I’m sure you don’t,” he said in a normal voice.

“The extended triangle,” she said. “Which dwimmerlaiks must always wear.” She pointed to the sharp-angled triangle, with two of its sides extended past the third, like the horns of some fantastic beast pointing downward. “You are a master of illusion.”

“Ah,” said Gamelyn. “Well, you see, this coat … the truth is I killed the man who owned it, in a good cause, of course, and took it from his body. You can see it’s somewhat the worse for wear.”

“The Gamesters of Shadow always have stories,” she said. He shrugged. “Listen to me,” she said, and then paused, and then said, “I left … my old life some time ago. I wanted to join your order. The dwimmerlaiks. I fell in with thieves, and was initiated into a guild. I learned their secrets, some of them. Then I ran away.”

“You ran away, knowing their mysteries?” asked Gamelyn. “They can’t have been pleased.”

“Listen,” she said again. “Someone in the order … someone I trusted, and thought might be your agent, the agent of the dwimmerlaiks … told me I should be in a certain place, at a certain time. I was. Now I am here, because of that choice. Do you understand?”

“Hmm,” he said. “I assure you, sad as it may be, it’s nothing to do with me.”

She looked at him, and smiled. They were on the edge of the torchlight, half in shadow. It felt correct, or true. It felt right. “As you like,” she said. “When you are ready.”

This was right behaviour, she knew. That suddenly, she knew. She felt it to be true, at the core of her: one makes directed choices in a random world, and in time the world comes to be directed by those choices. Therefore right behaviour may set the world to right. That goal was too lofty for her, perhaps; but the point was that this, now, was only what was right. She could look back across her choices and see that they had led here, to this, that she had said now. There only remained the future, and the working-out of those choices further.

A phase of her life was done. A new one was beginning. The thought pleased her, and she smiled. It was a true smile.

Gamelyn was still considering her when Enheduanna and Gral came back, and they all went off to talk together as one.


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