The Fell Gard Codices


Atrahasis watched with some dread as the cervidwens left. The forest lords were grand creatures; but they had their own obsessions. And their own powers. Then again, perhaps they were no concern of his, not any more. He could no longer even speak their language.

He heard the song begin, then, the song he could no longer sing. His new and old heart nearly broke at the beauty of it. Around him the mortals stopped whatever they were doing — chatting, or stretching, or laughing with each other — and turned to look. So did he, after a moment, and slowly took step after painful step toward the sound, which he knew the mortals (the other mortals) would never do.

Kezia led the song, of course. Enheduanna, Entemena and Keturah — devout, obsessed Keturah — were on three sides of her, and their voices rose as one, and rose, and rose, as no merely mortal or animal sound could rise. William of the Long Road stood stock-still not far from Enheduanna; Atrahasis clapped him on the shoulder as he reached the man, and passed him. William would understand, now, a little of what it meant to be drawn to the elf-folk. A little of what it was to be an elf; Atrahasis realised that it was only in listening to the song that, for a moment, ever so slightly, the veil that seemed to be upon his senses was lifted, and he felt, or remembered, what he had heard and scented and seen when he had been as they were.

Then the song was done. Behind Atrahasis and William the mortals (the other mortals, he reminded himself again) resumed their activities; rather than join them, the two men approached the elves, who observed their coming. Atrahasis realised he was weeping. He had not known mortal eyes could weep so easily, with no knowledge of what they were doing.

“Yes?” asked the vala. He cleared his throat.

“I had never heard the song from this … perspective?” he said. “Is that the right word?”

Entemena took Kezia’s arm and whispered in her ear. The vala drew a breath that was a little gasp. Atrahasis noted the perfect beauty of her throat and lips, as they moved, drawing in air; it was so very different from what he saw of himself, now, and his own imperfect flesh. “I cannot help you,” she said, with some pain. “I am only a novice. I am so very sorry.”

He made himself smile. “There’s no cause,” he said. “I am not your … responsibility. Here, shall we all walk together?” He put out his hands, and Entemena took his left and Kezia his right; Enheduanna locked arms with William, who still seemed dazed. Keturah clasped her hands behind her back, and glanced from Kezia to Enheduanna to Atrahasis. It seemed to him now that her face, which he had always thought too long and narrow, was a perfection of its own, the sunset of her hair a beauty instead of a sad deviation from the white-gold locks of someone like Entemena or Kezia — who themselves were both, to him, utterly dazzling. What a sense of beauty I have been given, he thought. What a knowledge of contrasts.

“What was that?” whispered William as they walked on, drifting southward through the trees. Atrahasis could barely hear him.

“That was our Ring,” said Enheduanna, teasing him. “You did well to stand where you did; it’s not something most mortals choose.”

“It was so beautiful I near to died,” he told her. She nodded her head.

“How are you, Atra?” asked Entemena.

“I did not know how mortals ached,” he answered frankly. “But I suspect this is age, Entemena. It is a terrible torture. But perhaps it’s worth it, for ten whole years of life.”

“It’s incredible,” Entemena admitted. “Tell me, though, what happens when you die? Will you return to the song, or … as the mortals …” Entemena groped for words, but could find none, and shrugged. Atrahasis shook his head.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Like the mortals themselves, I don’t know what will happen when I die.” He smiled, a little. “There is some little suspense in it. But it seems so very far off.”

“It’s so … un-elven,” said Keturah. “How will you fill your time, Atrahasis?”

He shook his head again. “With living,” he said, weary. “How else?”

They passed through the small room to the south-west, and went on south-eastward to the last of the forest chambers. “There’s a passage to the east,” said Kezia suddenly, breaking the silence that had descended upon them. “Does it lead to the Abyss?”

“No,” said William. “To a door, which opens into a large dark chamber, filled with overlarge beetles.” He shuddered, and glanced at Enheduanna. “You were exploring the stairs when we found that out, I think. We decided that they can’t get through the door on their own, and so serve us as watchdogs. Watchbeetles.” He shrugged.

Kezia tilted her head to the side, listening. “Is that a bell?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Enheduanna.

Atrahasis heard nothing. “I don’t hear anything,” said William.

“It’s some distance away,” said Enheduanna. “Through the door. Ah, and there’s Gryselde calling us back to talk about the dungeon.” Atrahasis and William glanced at each other. The singer raised his shoulders and dropped them, half-smiling.

They walked back, and found everyone selecting places to sit and talk. Gryselde had her back to the holly tree, and watched as the others formed a rough circle before her; it seemed to Atrahasis more relaxed in some way than the same circle they had made while standing. The ratmen were gone, but Entemena asked if he and Keturah might stay, to which Gryselde gladly assented. They, Atrahasis, Enheduanna, and William found places at the south end of the circle, so that William could translate for Amanos; though Geoffrey and Kate were both near the lady knight as well. The elves knelt, backs straight. So did Atrahsis, but after a moment he found the pose … unnatural, he decided, unnatural was the word, though it pained him to think it. He had not yet learned the best way for his body to sit for a long period of time, and so looked around at the mortals. Amanos and Geoffrey were half-squatting, as though ready to spring at any moment. Gryselde sat calmly, her legs crossed. Hochelaga sat with her legs out flat before her, her upper body leaned back and braced on her arms. Diccon was flat on his stomach next to Gryselde, looking up at her with a half-smile. William sat with his knees drawn up and his arms resting upon them. Atrahasis decided to try that pose. It felt good enough.

“Well,” said Gryselde, “we all have questions, I think. And we have to decide what to do next.” Amanos said something loudly, and Geoffrey laughed.

“She wants to know who’s in charge,” he said.

“And by what right,” added William.

“Why, none should have dominion by right,” said Ulric at once. “For every thing that lives is holy! What need have we of a tyrant crown’d?”

“None, but with this many people somebody’s got to direct events,” said Tilde. She drank from her wineskin. “Just quicker that way.”

“Which only returns us to the question of how —” began Gamelyn before Ulixa interrupted him:

“Vote,” she said. There was a pause. “Some of the southern city-states are republics,” she said. “That’s what they do. So do we, we Morien folk.” It was a fair proposition, thought Atrahasis. Among elves one was guided by the half-memories of earlier lives, so that one knew or sensed who was fitted for what role. But mortals had no such means of understanding.

“I wouldn’t know who to vote for,” said Euarchy. “We don’t know you, really.”

“That —” began Gryselde.

“Let it be so!” cried Ulric. “Is it not a part of the ancient liberties of the Wicans, that they chose their kings in parliaments? We shall have no king, but we are as fine a parliament as may be!”

Amanos shouted something in response. Geoffrey nodded. “She says that’s making a choice itself,” he said.

“She is a knight, Katherine is a princess,” said William, translating as Amanos went on. “There are … religious leaders … there is respect due to age. What principles will guide us? Will we really say that every voice is equal to every other?” He cleared his throat. “It’s a fair question,” he admitted.

“There are too many of us, too different, to do otherwise,” said Enheduanna.

“If everybody votes, then everybody gets to choose their principles,” said Ulixa.

Amanos went on; Geoffrey grunted, and said: “The leader will choose the ends of the people. Are we looking for a way out of Fell Gard, or to found some House, or what are we about? Who will decide these things?”

“Lacking a clear consensus of principles, or any means of imposing them by force, what is there to do but vote?” asked Yune. “Or does Amanos have another idea?”

Amanos shook her head at this, and spoke again. “She says that choosing this vote means accepting a principle, whether we know it or not,” said William. “But if this is the general will, she will not oppose it, on this day at least.”

Gryselde nodded. “This should be a vote only for the day,” she said. “Who can say how matters will stand later? She is not wrong about this matter of principles; only it will take much debate before we may frame who we truly are as a band, and that is for a later time. For now we should determine who is to lead for the moment, and then plan our next course of action.”

“Well, I will vote for Gryselde, who seems to have led well thus far,” said Yune. “Will anyone else stand with me?”

“I will, clockmaster,” said Gral at once.

“And I,” said William, at which Enheduanna voted for Gryselde as well. Diccon said that he would vote for her, if his choice counted.

“Wait,” said Atrahasis. “Perhaps we should go around … in this circle … and let each make their choice; or if they would rather not vote, then say that instead.” He paused. The others seemed to accept this. Gryselde sat watching him. “I will vote for Kezia,” he said, and looked to his right. (It was odd how every time he went to do anything, it was with his right side. As an elf he had been right-handed, but the preference was stronger now.)

Entemena abstained, Enheduanna and William repeated their votes, and Amanos surprised people by voting for Yune. Geoffrey voted for himself, and the cobold was for Geoffrey as well, as Yune confirmed. Kate didn’t want to think about it (they discussed whether a child should vote, and decided there was no fair way for her to be denied, as she was a part of the community), while Gamelyn thought for a while and then voted for Ulric. Ulric voted for William. Agneta decided not to vote, but Elous voted for Gryselde. Kwangrolar voted for Gryselde, and after thinking carefully, so did Euarchy. Hochelaga voted for Atrahasis, to Atrahasis’ considerable surprise, and added that Concordia Salus voted for herself. Tilde voted for Kezia. They had to explain voting to Aura, who voted for Gryselde and said that she did not see what other choice there was. Gryselde voted for William, Diccon for Gryselde, Mew for Kezia — at which point Tilde insisted on changing her vote to Hochelaga — and Yune for Gryselde. Yune muttered something to Gral, and clapped him on the shoulder; Gral stood up then and proclaimed that he was voting for Amanos, who had led them well, and if they didn’t care for it they were a pack of fools. He spat and sat down. Wymarc voted for Gryselde, and Paradox confused them by voting for Elous. Ulixa voted for Gryselde, and Kezia for Enheduanna. Keturah looked as though she were about to rise to vote for Kezia, but Entemena stared her down. And that was it; Gryselde was their leader, for the day, at least.

Nothing had changed, maybe, but it felt like they had done something. “Well,” said Gryselde, looking in no wise pleased by the need for the peculiar ceremony, “I must thank those of you who voted for me, and hope I will not be too bitter for the rest of you. I think we must decide today what our plans are, and how we shall go about exploring Fell Gard, and by what means we can hope to go deeper into the dungeon. But to do this, I at least must know more about the nature of the place. Therefore first I would like to ask some questions of those of you who have lived your lives here.”

Tilde belched slightly. “Ask away!” she said, her words a little slurred. “I can tell you that Merrynight, Mockshadow, and Mumchance set a fine table, but have better wine; and that the Emperor of Salamanders cooks all his meat almost to ash. I can say that the Shadow Kings are better at chess than backgammon, though it’s worth your head if you lose at either one. Oh, and that the teqquloth are not as vile as their reputations have it, and actually are quite charming fellows. Is that what you mean?”

“Of a sort,” said Gryselde.

“That’s all lies!” shouted Mew.

Gryselde held up a hand. “Wait,” she said.

“No, he’s right,” said Tilde. “The teqquloth really are a lot of miserable moody beggars.”

“Listen,” said Mew, “you meet people, sometime, and they like to tell you about, you know, all the things they’ve done in the lower courts, and it all sounds grand. But they’re lying. I mean, she’s not even a good liar!”

“How would you know, Mew?” Tilde asked. “Who is a good liar, then?”

“This is not to the point,” said Gryselde firmly. “What we must know are such things as, how stable is the dungeon, and do parts of it collapse? Does the air remain fresh?” She sighed. “How are we to find meat, milk, honey, light, wool, linen … many other things. Above all, how large is Fell Gard?” She looked at Gamelyn, and then to all the others who were native to the dungeon. “I had thought it occupied perhaps all the space of the mountain called Ekur. I suspect now that I am wrong. Is it larger? If so, how large?”

“No-one’s ever measured it, that I know of,” said Yune. “Many, many miles to a side. More. Hundreds of miles?”

Hundreds?” repeated William.

“Thousands, I’d say,” suggested Tilde. “The mountain’s only a kind of gateway, we think.”

Enheduanna elbowed William. “You said, as large below the earth as your empire was above it,” she reminded him. “When we first met.”

“Yes, but … I thought it was poetic imagery,” he said. “Is every court of that size?”

“Effectively,” said Gamelyn. “But not every part of every court is accessible from the court itself. You might have to go up and down stairs to get to some areas. Do you understand?”

“Like going from white to white on a chessboard,” said Hochelaga. “If chessboards were one above the other, and I guess offset a little. You’d go up to come back down again.”

“But wait,” said William. “Are there guides to the shape of the dungeon?”

“Do you mean songs? Travellers’ tales?” asked Gamelyn.

“I mean books,” said William, “called The Fell Gard Codices.”

The dungeon-folk were visibly shocked, each of them. Yune was first to speak: “There is a fable of such books,” he said.

“Grimoires of the wizard Scaeva, that told all of the secrets of the dungeon,” said Tilde. “They were scattered long ago.”

Grimoires. Atrahasis had his grimoire, still, that had been translated with all his other gear to the bed where he had woken as a mortal. But he could no longer read it properly. The fragments of language no longer sparked in him the proper sort of meditative trance; which was to say that they no longer inspired a charm. And that therefore he was no longer what he once had been, on a level more profound than that of the flesh. For all that Atrahasis knew that life as a mortal was merely different from his old ways, and not in itself to be feared, still there was no doubt something had been taken from him, and he did not know in what way to properly define himself.

He listened with half an ear as the dungeon-dwellers tried to remember the tales of the Codices; each knew the books had been written by Scaeva, and lost long ago, but there was no consensus on what had happened to them (stolen by jealous gods; thrown onto the ætherial plane by a cabal of dragons; scattered when a kingdom was overrun by giantfolk). It was the sort of confusion Amanos — and Gryselde — had feared, the squabble of many voices. Eventually Gryselde said that no useful purpose was being served, and urged them on to other topics.

What fabric were the clothes of the dungeon-folk woven from? she wanted to know. Where did it come from, and where did their swords and armour come from, as well? The clothes were spidersilk: “There are spider-beasts on many courts,” said Gamelyn. “Some folk keep them, and breed them; some, even some mortals, have become friends with them.”

And the weapons and armour and other goods of daily life? “Magic, sometimes,” said Tilde. “More often than you might think. Magic that makes the mundane.” The glossologist took a drink of wine. Atrahasis thought about irony; there was magic everywhere about them, an everyday life built out of magic, but in this place he had lost his own wizardry. The glossologist went on to say that some basic goods were also made by hand, particularly on the upper courts, and circulated in a sporadic trade. Trade, she explained, often came about through the hiring of mercenary companies; the uppermost courts were fragmented, inhabited by bands of dozens of mortals, or sometimes a hundred or two or three, that warred interminably on each other — and, she said, from time to time some of the more daring of these bands would hire themselves out as mercenaries to the powers of the deeper courts.

The outlaws and the dwimmerlaik tried to explain this further. From the nineteenth to the fifteenth court, they agreed, these bands of mortals and goblinkin and such wandered and warred perpetually, fighting each other over lands and food and magic. At the same time they also struggled against grim beasts and the other creatures of Fell Gard; witherlings and skeleton men and demons and many others. From roughly the fourteenth court down to the tenth were the middle courts, where kingdoms and powerful families of mortals made politics upon each other and struggled to survive the odd horrors of those levels — gargoyles and sphinxes and stranger things. Then the next few levels were the lower courts, where the most powerful of the mortal domains were ruled by wizard circles and legendary heroes, and where such monsters as giants and trolls and thurses were to be found. The final few courts were the Heart of Fell Gard, the dungeon as it was originally created; it was said the wizard Scaeva wandered those halls, among archdevils and demon princes and dragon grandmasters, among erdgeists and phoenixes, among unicorns and the grim dice-players Death and the Night-mare Life-in-Death.

Atrahasis stretched out his aching legs as Gryselde asked about the physical structure of the dungeon; did the ceiling ever fall, or walls crumble? Not in most of the dungeon, it seemed, unless someone foolishly tried to make a new doorway or hall. It was unlucky to meddle with the dungeon, or so it was held; and difficult, as what had been made by magic needed magic to change it.

“Also!” cried Tilde. “Don’t forget not all the dungeon looks like —” she waved a hand indicating the walls of the chamber around them. “There are caves, some large enough to hold cities. And parts of the dungeon are made of, oh, ice, or metal; or else they’re flooded, and defined by walls of coral; or perhaps someone once took over an area of several miles and made it a vast ossuary … well, you never know, is all.”

Gryselde asked how, in all this variety, they could be sure of light and air and heat. Yune said that air, heat, the solidity of the dungeon stone, and the flow of the waters that ran under its halls were all provided by elementals bound by Scaeva or his minions. Light, on the other hand, was needed by almost solely by mortals. Therefore its presence was a sign of the existence of mortals close by; or at least a sign that something wanted to create that impression. At any rate, on the uppermost courts there were torches, sometimes, and lanthorns; also ætheric moss. In the middle courts and below, powerful prophets could bring everlasting light with a wave of their hands. “My father could do that,” said Mew, but Tilde didn’t seem to believe him.

Gryselde nodded. “We will need to look for light, then. But also for other kinds of food and drink. Milk, for example. Do folk in Fell Gard keep goats?”

“Bless you, whatever for?” asked Wymarc.

“Milk,” said Gryselde.

“What does that — I don’t understand,” said Diccon.

“Do you drink milk?” asked Ulric.

“Of course,” said Wymarc.

“Then where do you find it?” asked Ulric.

“Easy!” cried Tilde. “A mother’s dugs!”

“A fountain,” said Gamelyn. “Where else?”

“A fountain?” repeated Enheduanna.

“Well, what’s strange?” asked Diccon.

“Fountains in the outer world are water,” said Gryselde.

“What,” said Diccon, laughing, “all of them?”

“Just water,” said Gryselde.

Gamelyn shook his head. “Here, fountains can be water, milk, honey … wine … blood, acids …” He shrugged.

“Beer?” asked Geoffrey.

“I suppose,” said Gamelyn.

Geoffrey laughed and sat back. “Truly, this is a paradise under the earth,” he said, with a shake of his head.

“You must understand,” said Gamelyn, “magic is everywhere, here.”

“Yes!” cried Tilde. “Fell Gard is made of magic. Therefore within it, magic is omnipresent.” She looked at Hochelaga. “What does that mean? Not ‘omnipresent,’ I know you know the word. But that Fell Gard is full of magic.”

“That it is full of the matter of story?” answered Hochelaga.

“Mm-hmm,” said Gamelyn. “And the story can catch you up. It’s said that this is the case especially with those new to Fell Gard. But it can happen to any of us. At any time, without us noticing. We begin a journey, and the magic makes of us … it makes stories of us all. It’s an illusion, of course. Still …”

“It turns people into legends,” said Tilde, almost to herself. “Where’s the illusion in that, eh?” Then she answered her own question: “The illusion is that it comes without cost.”

“I don’t understand,” said Enheduanna.

Gamelyn let out a long breath. “I have studied the mysteries of the dwimmerlaik for years,” he said. “I have learned much, been initiated through various levels … but I only ever could hold one charm in my head. Then, I met the gargoyle. And I gave him an answer, and that suddenly I had two.” He sat back. “This morning I woke up, and I felt three of them within me … I can feel them still, dancing in my mind.” He rubbed his temple. “It’s happening. It may be happening to all of us. We’re changing. Fell Gard is changing us.”

Yes, thought Atrahasis, and had he himself not changed greatly already? He felt a hollow in him where once he had known a charm; where once he had felt the play of language. No, this was not a matter of his definition of himself, or not of that alone. Nor was it a question of the new flesh, or his confused senses, or any of the things he had used to distract himself. There was a part of him that was now simply lost.

“This sounds baleful,” said Gryselde.

“Sorine,” said Gamelyn, “if you want to descend deeper into Fell Gard, as you have said, then this is what has to happen. It’s not wholly sinister. We will become greater, in many ways, if the stories are true.”

“So long as we keep testing ourselves,” said Tilde. She took a drink. “It’s the only way to learn,” she said. She began to cry.

As Atrahasis thought about this, Amanos said something. “What monsters are there, exactly, in the lower courts and elsewhere?” translated Geoffrey. He grunted. “Aye, that would be worth knowing. What kinds of terrors haunt this place?”

Gamelyn shrugged. “Who can say? Hundreds, thousands of kinds of creatures: beasts, demons, the un-dead, goblinkin, giantfolk, chthonic hybrids, all you can imagine.”

Amanos said something more. Geoffrey smiled, in that burning, unnerving, challenging way he had. “All right, then, she says,” he told them, “so what are we to do now?” Amanos continued. Geoffrey grunted, and said: “This council was held to determine our next course of action. The knight wants to know what that will be. Will we try to make the sorine’s House in the dungeon, or else dedicate ourselves to seeking escape, or to helping others, or what is our aim? Or are we only fellow-travellers, each with our own desires?”

This, thought Atrahasis, was a dangerous question. He knew that the different people in the band had different ideas on what they wanted to do. How could you ask them to determine a common end? There was no consensus.

Although there was one thing he could suggest. Given all that had been said, there seemed to him to be a clear course of action. But to put it before them … what would he have to admit? To them and to himself?

Who was he, truly?

“We had decided not to discuss our principles,” observed Gryselde.

Amanos spoke some more. William said: “She says she wants only to know what we intend to do right now. Should we explore, and if so, where? And what are we looking for?”

“The means to destroy Fell Gard,” said Ulric. There were cries from several of the dungeon-dwellers.

“That’s … you see, this is my home,” said Mew.

“We just want to leave,” said Euarchy. “We have oaths.”

“Well, this is why we should all look for a way out,” said William.

“Not all,” said Enheduanna. “I am hunting an elf who is in Fell Gard, somewhere.”

They began talking, each to each; he could not focus on the words for the chatter. “Listen to me,” Atrahasis cried, almost before he knew what he had done. “Listen!”

It seemed he had made his choice. He clambered to his feet as they turned to look at him.

“I know what we must do,” said Atrahasis. “I know. We should have this aim: to find the Fell Gard Codices of which the singer spoke. Books that tell all the secrets of Fell Gard! If we have them, then we can find our ways out; we can find who will need help, perhaps, and what we should do for them; all the things we do not now know shall then be made clear. Once we have the books, we will know what to do, and how to do it. All of us then may pursue our several aims.”

“Then you think we should concern ourselves wholly with exploration?” asked Gryselde.

“I think some of us must explore, and delve into the dungeon,” he said. “I think also we must establish a House, as you have said, to support them, and take in others lost here. I think this House must be a school, where we learn from each other, our languages and histories and who we are. A school where we will learn to read the Fell Gard Codices.”

“If the books exist,” said Gamelyn.

Tilde laughed. “Don’t you know,” she said, “haven’t you learned, if you want it badly enough, you will find it in Fell Gard.”

“He’s right, though,” said William. “If these books are real, they’re what each of us is looking for.”

“How will they guide me to the Iron Elf I seek?” asked Enheduanna.

“That’s part of the magic, according to the stories,” said Tilde. “The Codices are one with the dungeon, and so always accurate about what is in it, and where; or, some say, they are the dungeon itself, the words out of which the magic that is Fell Gard is made. Either way, they’ll tell you where all things are within the dungeon.”

“Then this seems to establish principles, does it not?” asked Gryselde, looking at Amanos. “Principles based on learning. We explore, and also create a House. Is there anyone who will disagree with this?”

They were all satisfied; except Yune asked: “Then in this school, Atrahasis, you will be a teacher?”

Atrahasis took a deep breath. “No,” he said. “I can teach less than others, I think. I am more learner than teacher.” He walked across the circle of the group to stand before Hochelaga. “I was a wizard, once,” he said. “I have ten years before me, to learn to be a wizard again. I have seen you work your spells, and I hope you will teach me how to read the books of magic. Will you take me as your pupil?”

“I would like to learn about magic also,” said Diccon, seeming surprised to hear himself say it.

Hochelaga stared up at Atrahasis, and glanced at Diccon, and looked back at Atrahasis. “I can teach you what I know,” she said. “I guess. If Tilde will help me. And I suppose the dwimmerlaik. But it takes time to learn.”

“Not always, in Fell Gard,” said Tilde.

“I have time,” said Atrahasis. “Oh, but I have time.”

And so it was decided; and they knew who they were, then, at least for the moment; and, at least for the moment, if not for the next ten years, so did he.


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