The Fell Gard Codices


Paradox of the Good Act found that he was not afraid of death.

He didn’t seem to be afraid of most things, he thought absently (while the goblins spread through the room, running up the walls, crying their war-shrieks). But he was made very sad by quite a lot. He was grieved to see Geoffrey’s pain as the big man was cut on an arm; and grieved to see him kill the goblin that had wounded him. It was all, all very sad, Paradox thought, as the goblins closed around them. Their deaths would be a tragedy. But it seemed clear to Paradox that, just as staged tragedies had a power that could not be defined or explained, so every life and death had a meaning that also could not be easily summed up.

A goblin ran toward him, howling. Paradox watched, and could not keep from smiling. It occurred to him that everyone around him was fighting, and that he could, as well. He had a moment to think about this. He remembered Domini, mocking him for not fighting the cobolds. Nevertheless, as the goblin closed, he chose not to raise a hand. That would be the ending to his own tragedy, if tragedy it was.

Paradox had a moment to wonder how he knew about tragedies before the goblins started to die.

Two goblins near him dropped, and there were arrows in their backs. He looked past them and saw Sorine Gryselde drive her halberd-blade through another goblin. He saw the prophet, Ulric, clad in a new cloak that Paradox felt had some significance he did not understand, crush a skull with his mace. He saw William attack a goblin, turning it away from the girl Hochelaga. And Paradox heard the whisper of elf-arrows flying through the air, heard goblins scream and fall —

It was all very sad. Nevertheless, he smiled. You had to, in the face of the world; which, if it was sad, still had much good in it.

Then a host of dead mortal men (their skin white and bloodless, their eyes and mouths filled with blue light, their mail coated in dust and cobwebs and moss) were attacking as well. Some of the goblins — there were more of the things than Paradox had realised — fell under the dead men’s axes, but the rest began to run for the western passage. The dead mortals turned to pursue them. Paradox was disturbed by those men. There is something missing, he thought. There is some feeling I ought to have … But he could not say what. Something like what he had felt in the cobolds’ cave. Something like what he felt when he drew close to the dwarf. A feeling like passing a slaughterhouse. A sense …

The goblins fell under a hail of elven arrows as they fled. Paradox saw Enheduanna and three other elves enter the room, shooting arrows at the fleeing goblins. “Wait!” called the sorine. “Stop! They have broken off the fight!” The elves paid her no mind. But the dead men chasing the goblins began to fade. “Stop,” repeated the sorine. Too late; the goblins had all been killed.

“There’s one still here,” said Enheduanna, drawing her sword. For a moment Paradox didn’t know what she meant.

But Domini did, of course: “No! Please!” she shouted. “That’s my sister! That’s Kate!” Enheduanna paused.

“It’s true,” said the cobold girl, in something like mortal speech.

“Those men — were they spirits? Where did they go?” asked Paradox of the Good Act.

“Where do any of us go, who never were?” asked Gamelyn, ambling into the room.

Hochelaga sighed and rolled her eyes. “Oh. The dwimmerlaik. I guess that was why they made no noise. You were only making a visual illusion, with no sound.”

“It was no illusion,” said Paradox. “I saw goblins die.”

“They believed their senses, and died of it,” said Gamelyn. “As one does. Now, as regards the criticism of the aural component of the illusion, it’s a well-known fact that the dryhtné are largely silent. Further, I —”

“Anyway, we’re happy to see you,” interrupted Hochelaga. “Really we are.” She sat down and put her head in her hands. “Have you found a safe place for us?” she asked, without looking up.

“A better one, anyway,” said Gryselde. “And we have been through much to find it. Now if you are well we shall gather ourselves, and —”

“Pardon me, but who’s this?” asked William, jerking a thumb toward Geoffrey. At the same moment, a sylph fluttered into the room. Clockmaster Yune harumphed at the sight.

“What’s that?” asked Ulixa, pointing to Concordia Salus, the alicorn cat, who was washing herself free of the blood of the goblin she had killed. The cat froze, glared at her, and faded into invisibility.

Amanos said, “Tell them, Domini. This is Geoffrey of the County Thorngate. He attacked us with two other men, who have died or fled. He fought with us to save Domini’s sister. Tell them.”

The girl repeated the knight’s words, as she so often did, then took a breath, and added, “As you see, Kate has been changed. There — there were cobolds —” she stopped. Kate put a clawed hand on her sister’s arm.

“If I may,” said Yune, and then gave a brief account of what had passed while the others had been gone. Paradox listened, but was distracted when he realised that Gral was slitting the throats of the dying goblins and cobolds.

“Wait,” said Paradox. “Wait!” But it was too late. The dwarf, grimly efficient, had killed all those that might have survived. Paradox wandered among from corpse to corpse, seeking hope; finding none. If I still had any healing in me, he thought — but why think such things? He did not, and that was all there was to that.

Paradox saw Gral approach Geoffrey, who kneeled between the last two cobolds. The mortal was working to stanch the flow of blood from one of the blue-black creatures. “What are you doing?” Gral asked.

Geoffrey shook his head. “I think I can keep this one alive,” he muttered.

Gral nodded, and drove his sword into the cobold’s throat. “I doubt it,” he said, as Geoffrey recoiled from the spray of night-blue blood.

“Fuck you, little man,” said Geoffrey, standing and drawing his sword. Amanos shouted at him to put the weapon away.

“Come, then,” jeered Gral. “You’re half-dead. I’ll carve you like —”

“No!” shouted the sorine. “No. There has been enough, for now. Enough death. Do you hear? Enough. Listen. We have found chambers near a large garden. It is a place that will be a home for us, for a time. We will go there together. Now. We will talk further there.”

Ulric went to Geoffrey. “You’re in a bad way, friend,” said the prophet. “I may be able to heal you.”

“Not me,” said Geoffrey. He pointed to the other dying cobold near him. “That one.” Gral spat. Paradox found his heart going out to the big man. Yet also he realised he sympathised with the dwarf. Not with Gral’s hatred, but with who he was, the chain of circumstances that had shaped him and left him filled with such spleen and disgust. Paradox thought: Who am I to think I would be more merciful than he, if I had lived his life? Ulric prayed over the cobold; and it — he? she? — stood up and went to Geoffrey and stood by him as they all began to determine an order in which to walk the halls of Fell Gard.

And then one of the new elves said: “What’s that?”

Everyone was quiet, and listened. Paradox heard nothing, but Enheduanna nodded. “Someone’s calling for help,” she said.

“Lead us,” said Gryselde. “— Not all of us. William, Gral, Gamelyn, if you please.” Amanos twisted her lips, and gave a brief nod of her head.

“I as well,” insisted Ulric. The sorine did not argue.

“I’ll come too,” said Paradox on impulse.

“Will you fight, boy?” demanded Gral.

“You may need someone to run a message, or hold your torch for you,” said Paradox.

“As you like,” said Gryselde, “but no-one else.”

“And on your own head be it,” said Gral to Paradox.

They followed the elves, back to the room with the stairs down to this court, as those native to the dungeon called the level. The rest of them could hear the faint calls by then.

“Didn’t there used to be doors here?” asked Gamelyn of no-one in particular.

“We took them for barricades,” said Gral, going to the north-west doorway. He grunted. “I can see him,” the dwarf reported. “A mortal man. I see no blood, but he has fallen on the far side of the arch. The gargoyles still move there. They are looking at us.” William brought his torch close to the entry onto the hall. Paradox could see small jewelled eyes glittering in the dark; could hear the slight scrape of stone on stone.

“Will they attack us?” asked one of the male elves.

“We don’t know,” said William. “Gamelyn?”

“Haven’t a clue,” said the dwimmerlaik promptly. Paradox stared at the gargoyles. Were they living creatures, or only things invested with magic? He could not tell.

“Well, we know what must be done,” said Ulric, striding forward.

“Wait!” cried the sorine; but he passed under the arch, and the gargoyles only glared at him. “Well, after him, then,” said the sorine with a sigh. “One at a time, I think.” They followed the prophet under the arch; the gargoyles glowered at them, and waved their clawed hands, but did not attack.

The mortal had fallen at a point where the passage branched off to the left, leading to a door. The hall continued ahead of them and turned right.  “He’s not wounded,” murmured Ulric. “I think he needs water.” The man was of middle years, Paradox judged, maybe younger. He wore a simple white garment that hung on him in close folds like a gown. It was no cloth that Paradox knew. And yet it seemed oddly familiar to him.

“Euarchy,” the mortal muttered, half-waking. “Euarchy. Help … Euarchy.”

“We will help,” said the sorine. “Ease yourself.”

William cleared his throat. “There’s light on the other side of that door.” He pointed down the left hall. “See it? The door’s outlined, very faintly.”

Sorine Gryselde told Ulric, “Help this man. Gral, with me, please.” Paradox waited with the prophet and the fallen man, and watched as the dwarf went to the door, Gryselde behind him. The dwarf hunched over to study it for some minutes, placed his ear against the wood, then straightened and whispered to the sorine. They walked back to the others. Gryselde said: “There is no trap or lock. Nor did he hear noise on the far side. Ready yourselves.” The elves, including Enheduanna, set arrows to their bowstrings. Two of them in front knelt, so the two behind would be able to fire above their heads. Gral took out his sword, and joined William just behind the elves. Gamelyn whistled cheerfully, and went to the end of the hall, to stand by Ulric and Paradox. Gral glared at the man, who paid him no mind and observed the scene with interest. The sorine, at the door, pounded on it with her fist. “Hello!” she called. “Greetings!” There was no answer. She nodded to the elves, and opened the door.

Paradox glimpsed a small room beyond. A ball of firelight seemed to hover in the middle of the chamber. Shards of quartz and crystal were scattered about on the floor; agate, lapis lazuli, chalcedony, turquoise. In the glittering riot of colour something moved, shining.

Gryselde paused for a moment before crying out: “A snake!” She moved back against the wall of the passage, and the elves shot arrows into the room. The sorine waited, then looked again. She nodded, and waved them forward. Paradox saw as the rest of them went forward that the snake, now motionless and riddled with arrows, had shining scales, distracting and entrancing.

“I’ve heard of such creatures,” he heard William mutter. “The serpent called scitalis, which can fascinate watchers.”

“What’s this?” asked Enheduanna. She reached up with her bow to the ball of fire. She drew the bow downward, and after a moment Pardox realised she had hooked a sphere made of plates of horn, perhaps a foot or foot-and-a-half across. The fire was held within it, shining brightly through the translucent horn. When Enheduanna took her bow away, the sphere remained motionless in the air.

“That,” called Gamelyn, “is good luck.” He walked down the hall to lean against the doorframe. He nodded to the sphere. “It’s a hovering lanthorn,” he said. “Very useful. It’s magical, of course. It needs no fuel, and it moves where you push it. And as you see, it will stay where you leave it; meaning you can have light, and both your hands free.”

Enheduanna touched it warily. “It’s not warm,” she said.

“As I said,” Gamelyn told her, “magical. The only problem is that there’s no way to douse it, without bursting the sphere. Which doesn’t break easily. Still, worth having.”

Beside Paradox, Ulric said “Ah.” Paradox turned to see that the fallen mortal’s eyelids were fluttering. They opened fully, and he looked up at Ulric in pain or distress. He gripped the prophet’s hand. “Help,” he said.

“I don’t understand,” said Ulric. Paradox was confused. He thought of how Amanos and Gral and some others seemed to talk one to another only through other people. Was this like that?

“Help,” said the fallen man, in a different way. “Please, must to help.”

“Yes,” said Ulric. “Yes!” He laughed, and clapped the fallen man on the shoulder. “That’s what we’re here for, friend!”

The others began to come down the hall, William carefully pushing the lanthorn before them. Ulric and Paradox helped the man get to his feet. “Please, must to help,” he said again. “Euarchy. Wife. Also … sick? Thirst?”

“Why, lead us to her,” said the prophet.

“Wait,” said Gryselde. “Is she far? Are there enemies?”

“Close,” said the man. “No … no hurt. I hear … sound? I come, call help.” He nodded. “Name Kwangrolar. Come, please, help Euarchy.”

“Lean on me,” said Ulric, “and show us the way.”

Enheduanna went beside the prophet and the sick man; then Gryselde and Gral, Paradox and Gamelyn, and the other elves behind them. Kwangrolar guided them down the hall and through several turns to a room. “She, worse than me,” he said. “Very sick. Weak.”

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” muttered Gamelyn. “Another mouth to feed.”

“Better to feed it, if we can,” murmured Paradox in return.

“I’ll give her your share of the food, then,” said Gamelyn. Paradox nodded. Gamelyn scowled; and they came to a door.

Kwangrolar opened the door, and they found a room twenty feet wide and about twice as long. About ten feet off the ground a kind of ledge swelled out of the walls; lying on the ledge was a woman in the same sort of garment as Kwangrolar wore.

For a moment Paradox had no idea how they would get her down from the ledge. This was maddening, because it seemed to him that there ought to be a way. That he used to know a way; that there was something within him that could have done it. Normally he did not worry himself about the past he did not remember, any more than he worried about the future he could not avoid. But this particular forgetting, for a sharp moment, was distracting.

The great tragedy, he knew, the tragedy so great it would drive him mad if he thought on it, was how powerless he was; how powerless any of them were. How far short his means fell of his willingness to help. So often all he could do was smile, and be sad.

He realised then that though he did not remember who he was, he knew that he wanted to help. That he was there, in Fell Gard, to help. Who he was to help, he did not know; perhaps everyone. But that was his mission.

And who, he wondered, had given him that mission?

All this came to him in a moment. Then Kwangrolar stretched, and flexed. What Paradox had assumed to be thick seams in his clothing straightened out, so that he saw they were bone; what had seemed to be cloth was a kind of second skin. It straightened, stretching from rib to rib. It ran all down the man’s sides and up over his head, like a kind of halo around his body. Then Kwangrolar fluttered the skin, and Paradox realised it was a set of wings. He realised also this was no mortal, not quite. Under the wings he was nude, hairless, subtly different in his muscles and skeletal shape. He launched himself into the air.

Paradox almost gasped. He almost wept. He could not remember why. But that sight; that image; a winged man, in flight to help another — it touched him, deeply, and he felt within himself an assent, an acknowledgement, a great yes that he wanted to cry aloud, and if he could not remember why still he knew at least that he saw here a sign in the phenomenal world of some truth that preceded the existence of which he had memory.

Kwangrolar took up his wife, and returned to them. The rest of them were all silent, stunned. Ulric kneeled by the woman as Kwangrolar set her down. “Glumms?” said William. “Are you glumms?”

The flying man indicated himself. “Glumm,” he said. He pointed to his wife. “Gawry,” he said.

“You have heard of them?” asked the sorine.

“I know some old songs that tell of a race of winged mortals,” said William. “But no more than the name.”

The winged man gave them to understand that they were messengers, who had been caught by the mist. (Paradox nodded at this. Winged messengers. That felt right, to him.) They had been driven by great feral birds from the chamber where they had woken, and in the dark had stumbled into this room. They had tried to explore the dungeon, but had met fierce monsters and cruel mortal men, from whom they had escaped only by quick flight.

“Other mortals?” asked William.

“We know there are other mortals,” said Gryselde. “Enheduanna chased one yesterday. If one can say ‘yesterday’ without the sun to mark time.” She thought for a moment.

Gamelyn elbowed Paradox. “What are you smiling about?” he whispered.

For a moment Paradox was about to say that he didn’t know; that he did not remember. Then he realised that, in fact, he did. “Why not?” he said. “If the world is sad, still it has much good in it.” He looked up at Gamelyn; and smiled. The dwimmerlaik scowled again.

Gryselde said: “We should ask Domini and Kate about the outlaws they said were brought into the dungeon with them. Also … Gral, do you think your clockmaster would approve of taking his clepsydra with us?”

Gral shrugged. “Ask him,” he said; and so they did.


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