The Fell Gard Codices


Yune watched as the rest of them arranged themselves. The elf sat where she could look along the passage heading to the north-west, young Gral sat at the threshold of the room to the north-east, and the singer set his torch by the archway opening to the south. So all the ways into the room were covered. When the youngest girl asked what they were watching for, the elf said they feared the coming of goblins from above. “Goblins are cowards,” Gral advised them. “They’ll find their brothers dead, and retreat, and wait, and then advance again, and wait. To say nothing of whatever might come to them from the other sides of their lair. We will have time to speak and rest. Even to sleep.”

The mortal woman in the black gown had the odd group form themselves in a circle. The woman in armour didn’t care for that, but she took a place with the others. Most of them sat against one wall or another. The black-gowned woman explained then that she thought it would be best if each of them in turn introduced themselves, and gave their story, and how they happened to come to the place called Fell Gard, and share their knowledge. So they did that, and it was fascinating for Yune, as he hardly understood anything that most of them talked about.

The woman said she was a sorine, which apparently was a kind of wandering religious. She had been told by her god to go to a certain place, the White Mountains, and then had been taken from that place when the dungeon had expanded. Yune listened to her describe the adventures she and some others had found on what seemed to be a manor above this new court; it was strange hearing the House of Creation described by those new to it. He remembered a word he had learned once, long ago: foreigner. That was what they were, all of them. They did not even know what to be surprised at; the smallness of the manor where they had waked, or the appearance of a dragon therein. (He made a note to himself of the Carnelian Dragon’s presence; that would have to be looked into, at some point in the not-too-distant future, before many decades had passed.)

The singer, prophet, wizard girl, and elf described much the same general course of events, and of course so did Gral. But Yune found himself trying to decipher the first parts of their stories, the parts before they came to Fell Gard. It was after the singer had spoken, and as the prophet was talking of his life — he had wandered lost, he said, before finding Urthona, and Yune did not understand why he insisted on the tautology of ‘wandering lost’ — that it ocurred to him that in their world wanderers were not always exiles, and maybe not in constant danger. Still, to judge by the way they spoke of their experiences, their lives seemed unusual.

The wizard girl’s story he understood better, but then did not understand how the others reacted to what she said. Her tale was simple; wizards had brought her up, and taught her, and sent her to the White Mountains, and there the dungeon had caught her. But the way she spoke of magic seemed utterly strange to the others. As though it were a rare part of life. They were always stopping her with a question: But did your tutors truly ride on gryphons? Did they actually speak to each other through scrying-crystals? How did they call the spirits of the dead to answer their questions? — as though none of them had ever seen such things.

And then the elf. Yune’s people, who endured, had ever distrusted the flighty elf-folk, who could not even be trusted to die properly, but must always halfway return in later bodies. But the mortals, especially the children, hardly seemed to know what to do with her; as though they were not used to elves. Then again, they seemed to act much the same way toward him, and Gral, and also the dark-skinned mortal woman. At any rate, this Enheduanna spoke about a sinister figure that had watched her for all her life, and who would not speak to her, and who she believed had betrayed her people. “Was this one of the Jarnalfar?” Yune asked, and was rewarded with a surprised nod. Well; she would find enough of those in the House of Creation, if she lived long enough to reach their courts.

Then Gral spoke, and he described being part of a guild of thieves, and being sent to the White Mountains in search of treasure. Yune knew there had to be more to it, and decided he would speak with the youngling later.

The woman with skin dark as a dwarf told a story in which she was the daughter of a scholar, and had married, but bore no children, and then ran away. Yune understood the outline of events she described, but not the way she felt about these things. Some of it had to do with the way her people viewed marriage. But also she did not seem to dread childbirth, or consider how vulnerable it made her and her husband. Her father seemed not to be a warrior, nor had he raised her as such. Running away, she had joined a group of thieves; that much Yune understood. On some errand for this group she had come to the White Mountains, and been caught.

Then the knight Amanos began to speak; and the singer William to translate her words into their oddly-accented version of the Grey Kings’ tongue; and then the other girls said something in the knight’s language. The knight cried out, and the three of them spoke quickly, and all their tales came out, as the girls moved back and forth from language to language. The knight’s story was understandable, that she had sought a thief who had come to her lord’s court as part of a diplomatic mission, and eventually killed him here in the House. But the girls, that was stranger. As far as he could understand, they lived in a court between courts, or kingdoms was their word, one court being the court of the knight, called by the others Sceadu, or by her Shivartha, and then the other being courts that had once been part of the fallen Empire. The word fallen confused him greatly, until he realised that for them it was only a poetic image; the empire of the Grey Kings had not in fact suffered a cave-in, but had simply disintegrated under the pressure of war, as happens. This agreed with what he had heard of the outer world, where the Empire was now a series of little counties. He had not previously grasped how the lack of walls could affect the shape of politics.

As for the girls themselves, they had played a prank on some boys of their own manor, or castle, by taking their most prized weapons — this seemed more than a prank, to him, but so be it, they had fled to the mountains, and met bandits; they had run, a mist had risen, they had slept, and when they woke they were in Fell Gard. They had wandered the halls, hiding from everything, including the bandits, who also had been taken by the dungeon. They were very hungry and thirsty. The singer, William, who had been sewing up a rent in his tunic, at once dove into his pack and gave them food, and what water he had left. Yune noted this generosity, and the way they took his gifts without question. It seemed to him that there was some distance between the knight and the girls and all the rest of them. It was in the way they stood, or the way they expected the others to listen to them. In the way that they spoke as though they did the rest a favour in speaking to them; as though they were condescending to them. The girls spoke mostly to black-gowned Gryselde, Yune noticed. The knight did not. No doubt it was significant.

The smiling boy did not remember anything.

Then Gamelyn described his life. He claimed to be a dwimmerlaik, of a weak clan of the thirteenth court; well, maybe. For some reason the dark woman was shocked by what he said, noted Yune. Gamelyn said he had been sent through the æther with some of his family’s servitors to investigate the new court, for according to legend books and other items of power could be found in such new-made halls. Well, again, maybe. They asked him any number of questions: were there many mortals in the dungeon? How did they live? Were they organised into nations? Yes, well enough except when they died, and some of them some of the time. Yune listened to Gamelyn try to describe his experience of the Master Dungeon. It could not be predicted, he said. You never knew when a monster from a lower court might emerge to destroy all you knew. Nor did you know when you might trigger some trap, unknown for ages, or find a secret chamber, or even blunder into a hidden manor. Yes, nations were formed; families united, groups of individuals happened together. But they fell apart, soon, under the pressures of the dungeon. Yune thought it was all well enough said.

Then it was his turn.

He told them that he was a clockmaster. He always had been. He did not tell them all that meant. Only that all his life had been dedicated to clocks and the passage of time. He was known in many parts of the dungeon. He had been there when it had been shaped.

“In the time of the Invicti?” asked William of the Long Road. “That was … well, it was more than a thousand years gone.”

“A thousand five hundred and seventy-six years,” he said. Gral raised his head. Ah, good, he thought; a suspicion was confirmed. “Ten months, three weeks, four days. I was caught up in this place at the moment of its creation. I have wandered about ever since, keeping the clocks right. Not that there are many clocks, here.”

“How have you lived so long?” wondered Hochelaga. “Are you a fighter?”

He laughed. “Not even in my younger days,” he said. “But a clockmaster commands a certain respect, you know.” He nodded. They did not seem to believe him. Well, what could he do? It was the truth.

“Why are you up on this new-formed level?” asked Enheduanna. “And how did you make your way here?”

“By level you mean court?” he asked. “Many manors, roughly aligned on the same plane?” They seemed confused. “A manor being, well, a connected set of rooms and halls,” he explained. “At any rate, I came because I knew there would be a clock, or many clocks. There always is, somewhere on a new court. I can feel them. And it is dangerous, below. When a new court comes, there is … turbulence, you see. Well, I am not young, and have not been for a long time. I thought, perhaps it is time I accepted my place and rose up far from the heart of things. Normally I would come by way of stairs; but this time it happened that I found an ætheric portal, perhaps the same one Master Gamelyn used.”

“Portal?” repeated Ulric. “Then the way you came is still open?”

Yune shrugged. “It opened as I passed through it,” he said. “Perhaps it could be made to open again, from this side.”

“Would other things from far below use it to come here?” asked the sorine.

“They might,” he said. “But I doubt it. The sort of legends Master Gamelyn was sent here to seek are not widely believed, so far as I know. Few think that a new court will hold magics of great power, or that sort of thing. Although for some I suppose outer-world folk might be easy food.”

“Why would a new level, or court, hold power?” asked Gryselde. “If the court was just created, who would have left magic or any such thing in the new place?”

“It would be pulled in from the æther, or else it would have been created there,” Yune told her. They did not seem to understand. “A court is not created new,” he said. “Or, yes, it is, but all the signs of age are created with it. Cobwebs, and bones, and suchlike. And, also, coins and cloaks and clocks; whatever you might think you’d find in a place long lived-in, you see? Often that means magic, as well as living things.”

“You mean that the dungeon … creates life?” asked the elf.

“Only when a new court is created,” said Yune. “And rarely language-using creatures. Although it happens.”

“Are they real, then?” asked one of the girls. “Really alive, I mean?”

“They exist and move in time,” he said. “What else is it to be real?”

“That depends on what you mean by real,” said Hochelaga. “But magic like that … the spells behind it …”

“There’s a reason why a place like Fell Gard has only been made the one time,” Yune said.

“This ætheric portal,” said William. “Can you use it to leave the dungeon?”

“Oh, no,” he answered. “The dungeon exists in its own sphere of the æther. You can go from place to place within it, but not beyond.”

“No easy way out,” murmured the sorine.

“I wish I could tell you more,” he said.

“I appreciate what you have given us,” she said, and then looked around the room. “All of you. But now we had better decide on a course of action. Of course all of you who wish are welcome to remain with us —”

The knight began speaking quickly, William hard-pressed to keep up his translation. “She says she’s been considering these matters,” he said. “She agrees we need food, water, light, and —” he blushed slightly; the two girls who understood the knight giggled “— she doesn’t know about you, Sorine, but she would like to find stillwort within the month. She, ah, she suggests we divide into two groups, one the young and their guardians, who will hold this area, waiting in the round room to the south to flee if the goblins come, while another party of explorers seeks a more secure location, and all that is needful. They could begin with the garden the murineans spoke of. She says she will guard the children, as is her duty as a knight, to watch over those of lesser station. Also she recommends that Gral stay with her, as he can see through darkness, but Enheduanna join the other party, and also Ulixa. The sorine could command the explorers. Oh, and Ulric should remain behind, rather than put at risk the healing he can give.”

Gryselde considered this. “It is all good sense, I think,” said the sorine. “Yet perhaps Ulric should go with the explorers, lest one of them die for lack of that healing. Ulric?”

“I would see what else is about,” said the smiling white-haired mortal. “Later, maybe, I will stay, and sing for the children songs of innocence.”

The sorine nodded. “And you, William?”

The singer bowed. “Now we have two others who can translate for Lady Amanos,” he said. “I would join you, and look about the place.”

The sorine nodded again. “Gamelyn, are you willing to guide us?”

“As best I can,” he said. “I don’t know much of this level. We had only just arrived, when I, ah, seized my opportunity to exchange my prospects for something better.”

The sorine nodded for the third time; she had a distinctive manner of doing so, Yune noticed, an efficient acknowledgement of what she had heard, accepting what had been said while also in some way claiming it for herself. “I will ask you to come with us, and Hochelaga to stay behind,” Gryselde said.

“No!” cried Hochelaga. “I want to go with you! What good’s a dwimmerlaik? He can’t do anything real!

“What a dear little girl,” muttered Gamelyn, plucking at his sleeve. “With all the traditional politeness of a wizard, too.”

“Gamelyn understands magic, just as you do,” said Gryselde. “And what if something steps out of the summoning circle?”

“Nothing can step out of it,” said Hochelaga. “That’s the point of the circle!”

“The sorine is right, child,” said Ulric. “Amanos may need advice on magic, and other things.”

Yune noticed that the illusion-maker was also put among men and women the sorine could, up to a point, trust. But why say so, if it did not need to be said?

Many of the mortals were tired; they arranged themselves in watches, and for the most part those not watching slept. The elf and her singer went to speak privily. The dark woman would have had words with the dwimmerlaik, but in moments he was snoring. Dwarves, of course, do not sleep, and Yune was not surprised when Gral came over to speak with him.

“Who shall know the mysteries of stone?” Gral asked, to which Yune gave the true and traditional ritual response:

“He that dares the deep dark.”

Gral nodded, and sat by him. “Grandmaster of clocks,” he said, “you heard my story before. It’s as much as any of them know. There is more to be told. After the mists fell away, and I found myself in Fell Gard, I explored a little from the chamber in which I found myself. I discovered a room with an amulet in it. See, this here. Then I was myself discovered, by these three.” He opened his pack. Inside were three minikins. They glared up at him. “I found they obey me, as I guess because I hold the amulet. But what are they?”

“Demons,” said the clockmaster. “Very minor ones. But demons.” Gral closed his pack.

“Is it right for me to command them?” he asked. Yune felt sympathy for the young man; uncertain, close-mouthed, surrounded by big folk.

“It depends on what you will have them do,” said the clockmaster.

“I want to kill Scaeva,” said Gral, quite serious. Yune did not laugh; but he felt himself smile, knew the lines on his face were crinkling. The young one continued: “It was what they sent me here to do, my masters. I’m sure of it.”

“Why so sure?” asked Yune. “What did they tell you, exactly?”

Gral shook his head. “I was trained to fight,” he said. “I was taught to draw out mortals who profane our secrets. And then kill them. Why was I sent here, if not to draw out the worst of all of them?”

Yune nodded, cogitating. He stopped himself. “Have so many mortals learned the mysteries, then?” he muttered. “Have they not all died, passed like the seasons of the upper world?”

“They breed like nothing under earth,” said Gral. “More, they have made unions called guilds, in many of their larger warrens, where they teach other crafts of all sorts. And they have guilds for thieves, and these thieves keep our mysteries — our understanding of locks and traps and such — as their own. Some of us are taught how to pretend to be a thief, so that we can get close to these mortal thieves, and slay them and all their guilds. I was one such. But my masters told me to go to the White Mountains.” He shrugged. “Here I am. Why else but to kill Scaeva?”

Yune sighed. “You must understand,” he said, “not all is as it seems. Or, sometimes a thing is as it seems, and then is not at the same time.” He cogitated again. “How far have you been initiated?” he asked.

Gral squared his shoulders; perhaps he did not realise it. “I am a neophyte, fully accepted,” he said.

“Hmm,” said Yune, calculating what he could say and what he could not. “Look at this place,” he said at last. “Look at the ceilings, the patterns of the vaulting, the distance between the arches. Do you think mortals could have wrought this? It was we dwarves.”

“Why?” asked Gral.

“Not only mortals may profane dwarven secrets,” said Yune. Gral obviously did not at first understand; then by his face it was plain he did.

“Dwarves betrayed dwarves?” he whispered.

Yune shrugged. He smiled, sadly. “Mortals have pilfered some of our secrets; and, so what? To use our craft on locks and traps and suchlike things is profane, and wrong. But that dwarves — masters! — should conspire with a mortal to make this House of Creation …”

“Why?” whispered Gral again. He was at the edge of tears.

“Why does any speaking creature betray his own?”asked Yune, with unfeigned weariness. “They thought they would gain by it. Power, I suppose. Well, I cannot say I know of any good that has come to them yet.”

“They still live?” demanded Gral.

“They are difficult to reach, to kill,” said Yune. “And in the House of Creation they are not without power. They are forever cursed, they are exiles everywhere. They are traitors to the mysteries. But no, those Witch-wrights are not without their terrible power.” He sat back. Then leaned forward, smiling. “That is why you were sent to this place, I deem.”

“I will find them,” said Gral. “I will slay them. I promise it.”

What more to tell him? wondered Yune. He rubbed his thinning beard. “That amulet should stand you in good stead,” he said, as though lost in thought. “If you can command other spirits, more powerful … it could be useful. See if you can learn more about it; there are legends that float about the dungeon, of old magics … have you ever heard of a dwarf named Gyol?”

“I have heard of Gyol,” said Gral. “Why?”

Ah, well done, Gral, thought Yune. Play it close. “I have heard him named as chief of the Witch-wrights. Of the betrayers of Father Stone.”

Gral stood up. “He is my father, Past Master. I have never known him. I suppose I was conceived only a little while before this House of Creation was made. I have been told … Gyol is my father. Now I promise you I will kill him.”

Gral went away, to consider what he had learned. Yune sat back against the wall. It had gone well, he decided. Briefly, he wondered what else he should have told him — why Gral and the others had woken on a manor above the new court; how the goblins had brought the manor of their own to link to it; the true power of the amulet, if it were combined with the other two items, the scarab and the circlet. Yune had a disquieting thought. Hadn’t the child Hochelaga such a circlet on her head, a plain band of gold? He wondered if he should warn her. It was the right thing to do. From a certain perspective. From others …

He decided he would think on it. When he had time. With luck, it would wait a few years. Without luck … well, then they were all dead anyway, weren’t they?


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