The Fell Gard Codices


“I am Bohemond of the Town Hauksby,” said the tall man to the agar, “and I am a priest of the dukes of hell, their majesties Merrynight, Mockshadow, and Mumchance.”

Hochelaga thought the man was maybe as old as Ulixa. The bones of his chin and cheeks were very prominent, and she thought he looked ugly. “He didn’t call you!” she shouted to the daimon. “I did!”

The sea around the giant shape of black water surged in an endless maelstrom, white froth flying in the pale light of the false moon above. The agar said: “I must discover your desires, and choose between them.”

“I have told you the names of my masters,” the priest said to the agar, a hand out before him, as though luring the daimon into dialogue. “They are the triune rakes of hell, the toll-takers of the road to excess. They have brought me here. They have promised me a kingdom. It will be a kingdom of orgy and midnight murder, and riot and sweet seduction. This will happen. I have seen it. My master has shown me. Here in Fell Gard I have met Jeroen Halfjack and Geoffrey of the County Thorngate, as he promised me. We have enslaved cobolds, we have turned them against the followers of the follower of the Graf Vaka-Bane. As he showed me. Now I am here. The kingdom must come. I call you to provide it, agar. I call you to deliver what was promised.”

“Mortals never speak what they most desire,” said the agar.

“Why would we not?” demanded Bohemond.

“You will not let yourselves speak it,” the agar answered. “Your understanding of your selves is limited.”

Bohemond laughed. “I will dare anything, say anything,” he said. “Limits are for lesser men.”

“Say what you see, then,” said the agar, raising a hand. Bohemond dropped to his knees.

“Oh,” he gasped. His mouth moved, like he was fighting his own throat. Hochelaga heard him, though he was not talking aloud. I am again among the purple blossoms of Verbenarum that night o that night first I attended the mysteries I did not know I did not know! The sweet wine the pleasure! He brought his hands together between his legs. I did I knew! He seemed to shrug himself forward, bending at the waist, so that his rump was in the air. His hands were beneath him, his right shoulder and right cheek against the sand. Hochelaga realised Bohemond was weeping. And she still heard him, as though she were listening to him think to himself. It was something the agar was doing, she realised, making him think out in words whatever it was that he wanted. Hochelaga thought it was obscene and ugly and also stupid and also petty, and she wondered if that was normal for very private things. Merrynight’s vine-heavy breath on my cheek the pain I will kill him for it! I will kill him! Bohemond gasped; his body heaved in spasms, as though pushed from behind in a mad rhythm, fast, faster, faster again, and then he stopped, and screamed, and: “Oh, no! No!” he shrieked, the veins in his throat bulging. He choked, gasped. Hochelaga heard: Ah — I see it — a kingdom a kingdom for me under the earth — ah master! Master!

Bohemond collapsed against the sand, sobbing freely. He was white and shuddering. “Revenge,” rumbled the agar. “Power. Old wants. Strong; but it is a hopeless cause. Vengeance against devils is self-defeating; they are already in hell, and wish only to make you one of them. That is my rede, though you will not take it.” The agar turned to Hochelaga. “Will you speak of your desire?”

Hochelaga thought quickly about what she had seen. It seemed that the agar had made the priest realise something frightening about himself. It could probably do the same to her. But what choice did she have?

“I — I demand your aid,” said Hochelaga. Was that right? Was she too imperative, or too cringing? That was the difficulty in dealing with spirits: finding the tone they would respond to. “My friends are fighting cobolds. I require your aid in saving them.”

“What would you have me do?” asked the agar. “Shall I craft a destiny for them? Would you wish that?”

Hochelaga hesitated. “I don’t know,” she said. “Couldn’t you just make a magic sword, to kill the cobolds?”

The agar laughed. “No,” it said. “For I can see what you want.” It waved a hand. She was elsewhere.

She was in another hall, in a different kind of dungeon. It was a kind of passage that led around a wide central shaft like a well, and she could see other levels above and below her. On the upper levels she thought she could see windows. Another hall led away behind her. It was very noisy in that place, sounds she had never heard before, and it was lit with light she did not understand; it was not fire-light, it was brighter than that, and it was everywhere, even on the signs all about her. She did not know what the walls were made of, and the floors were unnaturally smooth flagstones. There were little cubicles all along the walls; or no, they were shops, merchants’ showrooms. There were people around her, mortal men and women, but wearing clothes such as she had not seen, could not have imagined. Their skins were many different colours. Some of the women wore trousers and many of the men were clean-shaven. They all seemed to be rich, sleek with fat. None of them at all were scarred or maimed, as though their country had never known war.

She did not understand what she was seeing. She did not know the smell in the air, which was a little like pitch or tar but different. She could not tell what fabrics the clothes on the people around her were made from, or even of what manner of stone the hall was formed.

And yet it was all very familiar.

Then the vision was gone, and it was like Hochelaga was waking up. She thought: that was the city of my dreams. The notion shocked her. She had never seen the city from within, only from above, as though looking down from a high place. “There,” said the agar, “that is all you want; and it does not have to be made, for it exists already. May be you’ll find it; but that’s not my concern. Ah, but what’s this?”

(For a moment she wondered if the agar was right, if she did want her city more than she wanted to save the lives of the others. She hoped not. But she felt, she was afraid, maybe it understood her better — then she decided it wasn’t worth thinking about, and anyway somebody new had come out from the passage behind her.)

It was the smiling boy who could not remember his name, walking out from the dungeon. The agar stared at him, and then said — and in its voice, thought Hochelaga, was real confusion —“Who are you?”

“I don’t know,” said the boy. “I don’t remember.”

“How did you come here?” demanded the daimon.

“I stepped into the summoning circle,” the boy said. “It seemed like the best idea, at the time. Hochelaga, the cobolds I scared off before have returned. Gral and Lady Amanos are fighting hard, and so is Domini, but they’ll fall before long.”

“I do not feel your desire,” murmured the agar. “What do you want?”

“Nothing,” he said, smiling.

“Then you hold no interest for me,” said the daimon.

Hochelaga watched them speaking, thinking to herself as quickly as she could. The agar wants to make something, she told herself. It wants to make something that somebody wants. But it’s not satisfied with what it’s found we want. So I have to figure out what I want, I mean what I really want, and also why it’s a want that it couldn’t see, or anyway why it’s a want that’s bigger than wanting the city.

Put like that it sounded simple.

So what did she want, really? She looked from the smiling boy to the agar. The agar was reaching for Bohemond of the Town Hauksby, who was still curled on the sand weeping. “Power is a banal want,” rumbled the agar. “But may be I will find a way to make of it a new thing. Will you have it?”

Hochelaga realised that the daimon was about to grant the priest’s wish for a kingdom of his own. She didn’t know exactly what that would look like, but she was sure it wouldn’t be good. What was she supposed to do? Briefly, Hochelaga wondered what the word banal meant. Then she realised what she had to say. “There is something I want!” she shouted. “Agar! There is something that I want!”

“I have already seen your dreams,” said the agar to Hochelaga.

“Yes,” said Hochelaga. “But, you see, I am a glossologist. I have studied to make things real by using words. I mean that I’ve studied the relation between things and words, and words and dreams. So you did not see all my wants, because they are wants of language, not of dreams.”

“Your waking part, the language-shaping part, is the very smallest part of you,” said the agar. “The part that dreams is far larger.”

What was she supposed to say to that? “I am very small,” she said, “but I have read large books. Don’t you see, the part of me that uses language shapes the world with magic.” There; that was true, anyway. And there was something else. “Doesn’t my language-using part also help shape the dreaming part of me with language? For I have spoken, in dreams.”

“All this is true,” said the daimon. “What, then, do you want that is of more moment than an empire? What shall I make of language?”

“A name,” said Hochelaga. She pointed to the smiling boy. “He does not remember his true name. I ask you to make one for him to use.”

The daimon considered the boy. “That,” it said, “is an intriguing challenge. A name. How long as it been since I have been called to make one of those?”

The agar raised its head, and seemed to be deep in thought. Well, thought Hochelaga, that means Bohemond won’t have his empire. It doesn’t help Lady Amanos and the others, though.

“A name for one such as he,” rumbled the agar. “I must do it. What a challenge it is.”

“Wait,” said Hochelaga. “Who is he?”

The daimon didn’t seem to notice. “I name thee,” said the agar to the boy. “Not with thy true-name, that is of old; but with a use-name new-forged, made of my making. I name thee in the style of the mortals that speak in the tongue of she that called me to her, and that name is Paradox of the Good Act.”

“It is a fair name,” said the boy. He raised his head suddenly, and spun to look back to the passageway behind them.

Well, all right, thought Hochelaga, but that doesn’t really help Lady Amanos and the others. Does it? Something else occurred to her. “Do you have a name?” she asked the agar.

“I do not,” it said.

“Then I will give you one,” she said. “I name you,” and she thought for a moment, and then the name was just there, floating in her head: “Ahuntsic,” she said.

The agar roared with laughter. “It is fairly done,” it said, “and in return I give you a charm in your head, Hochelaga Trice, and as it was you that called me, I give you also a dream that once you had. Love her, and treat her well.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, but she could feel it in her head, the charm, the words, the poetry and power. But also the boy was no longer smiling, for the first time since she had met him. She was going to ask him why, but then there was a sound of wings, and a weight on her shoulder. Oh, and she knew what it was. She knew. She could feel it in her soul. It was what she had hoped for. It was what she had always hoped for but had given up on with many tears after so many failed summonings —

“Hochelaga,” said the boy, “we have to go. Now.”

“Ah, why so swift?” crooned a voice from the dark passage. The boy took Hochelaga’s wrist and stood between her and the passage. A man strolled out onto the sand; or she thought it was a man. His hair was long, and there were many colours in it. He was skeleton-thin, his skin pale. His clothes were a shimmering gold, slashed to show velvet and silk lining, blood-red and purple. He wore an oversized codpiece that turned up at the end. He smelled of thick oversweet perfume. His face was made up, his lips smeared with red. “Oh, Hochelaga, I do so hope to get to know you better. Of course I know your name already. Do you know mine? Can you guess it? No?” He waved a hand. The agar bowed to him. Bohemond saw the new man, and his eyes grew very wide. He crawled over the sand, weeping and sobbing. “I am Merrynight, Hochelaga,” said the new man. “I am a duke of hell.” Bohemond threw himself forward, to kiss his feet. Merrynight, staring at Hochelaga, raised one foot, and set it on the back of Bohemond’s head, grinding his face into the sand so the man could not breathe.

“Get thee hence,” said the boy — said Paradox of the Good Act. “She is not for you.”

“No, little one,” agreed the demon prince. “Not now, anyway. Not right now.” He smiled at her, and she felt dirty deep inside herself. “But soon, eh, Hochelaga? Soon.” He twisted his heel upon Bohemond’s head. The man in mail tried to cough, but the sound was smothered by the white sand. Merrynight said: “I had come only to take this my servant; but now I think perhaps I shall tell you some secrets, Hochelaga. Would you like that? To hear true things of the masquerades in hell? Of the secret desires of your fellows, that only devils know? Of what you want most, and what you will be prepared to give for it, and who you would gladly hurt?”

“I don’t want to hear these things,” she whispered. “Let us go! Ahuntsic, let us go from here!” Nothing happened. Merrynight laughed.

“But, my dear,” he said, “the shattering of innocence is my specialty. Oh, I must speak, and my tongue will slide through the cleft of your ear to break the thin film of your virtue. For the truth —”

“Let us go!” cried Hochelaga, turning to the agar. To Ahuntsic. No, she realised, the other way. I’m the one who is actually in control! “I send you away!” she shouted. “I called you, and I dismiss you now! I abjure you, Ahuntsic of the agar!”

“I depart!” it cried, and —

— Lady Amanos had fallen on the ground. Her face was turning blue. Two things that were half jackal and half shadow were savaging Domini, who had dropped her axe and was trying to cover her face. Three cobolds were dead in the chamber, but six more were menacing Gral, who was bleeding from a cut in his arm. Hochelaga marvelled just a moment at how little time had really passed and then leaped from the circle, shouting her new charm. She opened her mouth as she finished, and breathed out flame.

It was very weak; nothing like a dragon’s fire. But as it washed over the cobolds, they screamed. Two of them fell dead. The others ran. But the jackal-things attacking Domini now turned toward Hochelaga. She faced them, but the charm was gone from her head. They licked their doglike chops, their fangs glittering.

And something fluttered past Hochelaga, something that she felt inside herself; and Hochelaga could see it — her — for that moment visible as she attacked in a flutter of wings. She impaled one of the jackals, which fell dead. The other howled, and ran, as did the goblins. She flew after the running jackal and killed that one, too.

“What is it?” whispered Domini, as she returned to Hochelaga and began to lick the girl’s hand. Hochelaga picked her up, and she purred.

“It’s an alicorn cat,” said Paradox. “See the wings, the horn. It’s … a kind of familiar spirit, I think.”

“She’s the best kind of familiar spirit!” Hochelaga shouted. “Yes you are.” She stroked the brindled fur of the cat, which preened and fluttered her wings and began to fade back to invisibility. Hochelaga passed her hand over the horn that sprouted from the centre of the cat’s forehead, trying to get the cobold’s blood off. Gral, watching her, spat and took up his axe and left the room.

“Joy of it,” he called over his shoulder. “I have cobold throats to slit.”

“Well,” said Paradox. Hochelaga looked at him. He cleared his throat, and asked: “What’s her name?”

“Concordia,” she said at once. “Her name is Concordia Salus. Isn’t it?” The cat purred. “But, Paradox,” she said, “who are you? Why did the agar talk to you the way he did?”

“I don’t know,” said Paradox of the Good Act. “I don’t remember.”

He smiled.


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