The Fell Gard Codices


He opened his eyes. Where was the pain? The bitch-knight had caught him with her spear; he’d fallen, cracked his head on the stone floor … there had been pain, and he couldn’t keep awake … Where was he? Still on the ground, near the wooden barricade, his hands behind him … his mail was gone, the familiar weight. Whoever had taken it had left him the padded under-shirt —

“Geoffrey of the County Thorngate,” said the little rock-man before him. A dwarf, thought Geoffrey; he’d heard tales of their kind. The mail was in a loose pile behind him. “We’ve brought you back from the edge of death to do as we say. Bohemond of the Town Hauksby has been taken by his master. Jeroen Halfjack’s fled into the deeps of Fell Gard. As for your jackals and cobolds —” the dwarf leered, and waved before him a broadsword dripping with gore the colour of the summer sky an hour after the sun had set. “I have killed them all,” he said. “I have slit all their throats. Now you will make an oath, and tell us what we wish.”

There was but one thing to do, and Geoffrey did it. He laughed, such a laugh as he from time to time felt trapped within himself, like he’d swallowed the sun. Geoffrey laughed long and loud, letting it go free. “I’ll swear no oath to a man I can piss over,” he told the dwarf.

The dwarf’s eyes blazed. He changed his grip on his sword, and stepped forward. Geoffrey tried to bring his hands before him, tried to stand. His wrists and ankles were bound. Then a hand clasped the dwarf’s shoulder. The little man stopped, glaring at him. “Ask him if he’ll swear to me,” he heard a voice say in Darvartha. “Or must I leave him bleeding again?”

It was the bitch-knight that had stuck him with the spear. “Vartha!” he shouted, and in her tongue he promised her: “I’ll give you another dance! Free my hands, and I’ll teach you to fear them!”

“You had an opportunity,” she said. “And here you are.” She was tall, Geoffrey thought, but he doubted she was overly strong. Young, even pretty. That’d last until he got his hands on her. “Tell us about the dungeon,” she said, “or we leave you at a crossroads, bound, for whatever finds you first.”

He glared at her, planning out what he was going to do to her the moment he was free. A thought came to him through his anger. “You’ve tended my wounds,” he growled. “You want something.”

“They want to know about the dungeon,” said a youth near the knight, not speaking Vartha. He wore no armour, and didn’t seem to carry a weapon. “How far in it have you explored? How did you come to fight with the cobolds?”

Geoffrey scowled at him, and said nothing.

“What are you hiding?” asked the knight. “You can tell us, and we will free your hands. You can join us. Fight with us, feast with us. We have given you painease already. Will you swear?”

Geoffrey spat in the face of the dwarf.

The knight held the dwarf back, with difficulty, and the boy shouted at them, and there seemed to be a girl calling from somewhere, in a room up ahead where torches were. They all went back to that room, leaving him outside the barricade. He tried to think of what to do next. He twisted around on the floor, and lay still.

If they had told the truth about Bohemond, Jeroen, and the cobolds, then he really wasn’t hiding anything. Nobody would come to rescue him. But the other cobolds, they’d come to kill him, if he was left alone like this much longer. He could hear the knight and the boy and whoever else speaking, in that room not far away. All he had to do was shout out to them.

No. He wouldn’t yield to the bastards. Not like this. Not on their terms.

They’d said Jeroen had fled. Would the halfjack come back for him, maybe? As soon as Geoffrey thought it he knew it wouldn’t happen. Not Jeroen. Geoffrey knew the sort of man the halfjack was, even if he wasn’t really a mortal man. Geoffrey was a man, and he’d seen men enough in his time. Oak and Holly, he ought to have, he was near forty. And maybe, he thought, not to get much older.

It had been Jeroen that kept the three of them together. He’d known this place. Well, what he had said had sounded good. A kingdom. A kingdom! He could fight his way to fortune, this time. Like he should have done when he was a younger man. There’d be all the fighting he wanted, in Fell Gard.

Geoffrey shut his eyes, and tried to listen. No point trying to watch for the cobolds. He knew how hard it was to see the little shits even with good light, never mind a few glints from a torch ten yards away and in another room. No. He had to try to hear them coming.

It had been Jeroen that’d had the idea to take the cobolds for slaves. Geoffrey’d have been happy just to kill them, when they found them in that strange cave. But Jeroen had reckoned that if you killed the right one, killed their leader, then most of the others would follow the killer. They loved strength, Jeroen had said, just like all the goblinkin. Be strong, and they’d love you, too.

It had worked, up to a point. He’d made his challenge. As the three of them had guessed, the cobolds couldn’t refuse, there before the eyes of their god. He’d killed the chief. Him, with his own hands. It had been a good fight. Some of the cobolds had followed them, just like Jeroen had said they would. A little under half, maybe. But others had thought they were stronger than any mortal, and their factions had followed them; there had been a little war in that cave, and then the hideous god had strode out of the water — that fight hadn’t had a clear winner. He hated fights like that. The way a fight should end, either you were the one left standing, blood all over you, or else you were left dead or passed out, and if you lived you knew you’d lost but still given it your all. He’d learned that when he was young.

Hadn’t it been a fight that got him up to Ogre Mountain in the first place? Ekur, the cursed peak, the quarrymen called it. Those bastard quarrymen had laughed at him. He’d taught them better. Of course every time they drank together, they laughed, and he fought them. Mostly he won. That last time he’d beat them bloody and set out, still drunk, to fight their fables, too. They’d said when the wandering stars were lined up the way they were, you could open a misty gate on Ogre Mountain, the peak called Godsblood, and go walk a fearful road to riches and women and a kingdom of your own and every earthly treasure, if you were ready to fight through all of hell: all of the hidden lands under the skin of the earth where the dead wandered and all the demons and devils with them.

He smiled, remembering how he’d felt when he’d heard that. Like something inside him had fallen into place. No, like a dream was coming real. Anyway he’d gone to get his mail and sword, and set out, and walked all that night and the next day and part of the night after that. And then the mists came, and he slept, and he woke and there were Bohemond and Jeroen with all his plans.

Ha! What did he need Jeroen’s plans for? He had killed a chief before the eyes of a god. Even if it was a stunted god of cobolds.

Geoffrey heard a noise behind him and stopped thinking. He kept himself from tensing. They had to believe he was asleep. He listened hard as he could. A shuffle of a foot, sliding across stone. Another. Two of them. That would be difficult. Another footfall: they were getting close.

Wait for it, he told himself.

Another footstep.


Another —


He rolled on his shoulders, coiling his body. With his bound hands flat on the floor he pushed with all his strength, snapping his legs out in a vicious kick. Cobolds weren’t so strong. He reckoned he could cave in some ribs if he hit right.

But he missed. One cobold shifted aside, and the other was too far back. The close one ducked in with his short sword. Geoffrey tried to arch away, but he took a cut on the side of his belly. The other drew closer, nervous, waving his blade. The one with blood on his sword hissed.

Geoffrey grinned.

He drew his legs back, cat quick, twisting as he did. His ankles were bound, but he could bow his legs enough to get them round the cobold’s neck. They didn’t know how fast he was. They never knew. He carried on the movement, twisting further, flipping himself around and driving the cobold’s head into the stone floor, snapping its neck. The other one drew closer.

“Come on!” he shouted. “Come on!”

It did, swinging wildly. He tried to kick, but the wound in his side twinged and threw him off. The cobold saw this and cut his leg. Geoffrey growled and tried to shift his legs for another kick. But the cobold moved in closer, and lifted its sword to stab at him again.

He threw his upper body forward as hard as he could, snapping his neck down at the last moment to smash his skull into the cobold’s. It cried out, and fell. He threw himself around and to hell with the pain, taking up the sword the thing had dropped. He convulsed up and down on top of the cobold. The sword in his bound hands rose and fell, sinking into its flesh. In moments he was covered in its foul deep blue blood and the thing was dead.

He sat up. He was shaking more than he liked. First, he thought, first, free my hands. He did this, sawing the cords or cloth or whatever they’d tied him with against the sword edge. Next, he thought. Free my feet. He did this. It was easier. Now, he thought. The wounds. How bad?

Not bad, he decided. He could stand and put weight on his leg, though it was bleeding freely. The cut in his side was painful, but not serious. If he healed well …

But how to heal well in the dungeon?

He sat back against a wall. What now? There were still … what, at least ten more cobolds, a dozen, somewhere around. Those two would have been scouts, sent to see if there was a hidden trap. He grinned to himself. Now they knew. But what about the rest of the cobolds? He was going to have to kill them sooner or later. Should he go on, alone, and do it now, or …


Geoffrey thought of the first real battle he’d been in.

He’d always been strong as a boy, strong enough that he’d been taught smith-work, but fast and nimble too. So he was always in fights. Because he was strong, and he loved his strength. And how else could you get stronger? How else could you test yourself? The older he’d got the more they respected him, the men of Baron Rollo’s estate; oh, and the women too. He could work harder, do more, than any of them. Breaking the earth, planting, reaping, any of it. Then they’d called him away to battle, for he was Baron Rollo’s man, and Baron Rollo had been called by King Herlouin of Ashmere to war against King Simon Tristram of Logronek. So he went, and he was in one great battle. He’d thought there’d be more fighting, and he’d thought it would be …

He’d found he did not take orders well. He’d found that fighting in an army meant fighting in a wall of men, and found that fighting as part of a wall meant fighting by men who were not as good at fighting as he was; not that he’d had any training, but he had his strength and swiftness, and he had something else. The way some men had a knack for setting bones and healing others, and some men had a knack for song or poetry, he had a knack for war. He’d found that out at the River Sejant. He had survived, others had died. But as well as he’d fought, it had been a defeat for his side.

The truth was that the fight had only become a real fight, to him, when the men around him had died. It had been something else before. He’d been part of something larger, with men beside him, shield to shield, struggling for them as much as himself, and them struggling for him as well.

He’d hated it.

He loved fighting, yes, but not like that. Not as a part.

He’d gone back to Thorngate, and lived his life as he had before. It seemed strange now. But there was his mother to care for, of course. And he had thought he did not want to leave his home. No, that was not true. He had wanted to go out into the world. But not as a soldier. Nor on his own, fleeing his lord. But mainly, he thought, he had wanted to stay, then, just a little more than he’d wanted to go. He loved the earth. Working with it. Almost as much as he loved to fight.

Ah, well, what was the point of looking back? Let it be. He’d stayed, and he’d gotten older. His mother had died, in time. He’d been just about thirty. Time went on. He’d tilled the soil, year in and year out, under seven moons, and also he’d got himself a forge and went back to smith-work; he made himself a mail shirt and a sword, for no reason he could have said. He went to serve his lord when he was called, working his land or helping guard a cart sent off to another manor. And sometimes he went to drink with the quarrymen, and they always wanted to test him. So it had gone. The women lately had been less willing than before, maybe, and he was not quite as strong, not quite as quick, as he had been twenty years ago or fifteen. But he was here, now, in Fell Gard.

When they’d woken up it had been Jeroen who had spoken, who had calmed them all, who had told them stories about this place. A man can make a kingdom here, he’d said. If he’s clever enough. Strong enough. He can win gold. He can win treasure. There is wild magic in this place, that he can turn to his own good.

Geoffrey had spoken a long time with Jeroen. Bohemond had prayed, and said he knew why he was there. Maybe, thought Geoffrey, I knew too. Maybe he had always known, maybe it had been knowing that sent him off drunk into the mountains and kept him walking through the headache the next day. That had been leaving his lord’s lands, as much as if he’d set off to make his fortune in Ager Verbenarum or Thumona or any other great city; by doing so he had become an outlaw.

What Jeroen had said, all that about founding a kingdom. About becoming a great lord under the earth. About winning treasure, and returning above, if he wanted to. All that talk had woken something in Geoffrey, something he’d thought had been smothered after the River Sejant, something that he’d thought went away for every man when they grew up and found that the things they’d dreamed about as boys were petty things after all, and that having them wasn’t worth the effort.

He was past the greater part of his life, probably. He knew he was going to die. Not soon, maybe, but he knew what all men knew once they’d lived to the second half of their lives: they would have an ending. He hadn’t known that at the River Sejant, but somewhere, somehow, that fact had settled in to the hindpart of his mind. He was going to die; but he yet had a chance to die a king.

All right, then, he thought, sitting and bleeding in the dark hall. What should he do now, to win his kingdom?

There was but one thing to do. And he did it.

Leaving the cobolds’ swords, he walked past the barricade into the torchlit room. They were waiting for him, three of them. He wasn’t surprised; they had to have heard the fight.

“Two of the cobolds are dead,” he said. “There are maybe a dozen more out there. They’ll come to kill all of you. They don’t care for mortals. I will fight in your company.”

“We have no more healing for you,” said the knight. “I would give it if we did.”

Geoffrey grinned. “Then you’re an easy woman to convince,” he said. “The best kind.” He went to the mail shirt, still loose on the floor. He took it up and began to put it on. None of them moved.

“I have not said you can join us,” she said. “We were watching. The dwarf was about to run out to kill the cobolds himself when you attacked them. Did you know?”

He laughed then. Not a great laugh, but a true one, at least. “And how would he have helped me?”

“I gainsaid him,” she said. “I told him to wait. You seemed to want to fight. Also I thought you wanted to find how you’d fare.”

“What think you?” he asked. He turned to her, the confortable weight of the mail settling on his shoulders, his arms, the front of it against his knees. He put up the coif. “Did I do well?” She stared at him. Pretty, yes, and young. He let his grin fade, and began planning new things he would do with her.

“Others of us soon will return,” she said. “Then —”

Geoffrey nodded. “Six of you,” he said. “We watched.” He looked around at them. He tried to think how to say what he had to say in Vartha. No, Darvartha; Vartha was the people, Darvartha was the language of the people. “It meseemed we should attack while there were so few of you. Jeroen wanted to try to fool you into forthfaring against the cobolds we could not conquer.” He would have said They will not wait for your friends but the point was made for him when the dwarf, staring down the hall past the barricade, raised a hand.

“Cobolds,” the little man said in the Grey King’s tongue, Geoffrey’s own native language. “Many of them.”

“Well?” asked Geoffrey. “How many of you can fight? Not enough.”

The knight threw him his sword. “I am Lady Amanos,” she said. “This is my squire, Domini. Gral is the dwarf. Betray us and I shall be your downfall.”

Geoffrey grinned again. He took his sword. “I will be true,” he told her. “I have a kingdom to win.”

Still grinning, he turned. The cobolds were at the barricade.

The fight began.


Previous Chapter | Archives | Next Chapter

Comments are closed.

Proudly powered by WordPress. Theme developed with WordPress Theme Generator.
Copyright © The Fell Gard Codices. All rights reserved.