The Fell Gard Codices


It was a strange sight, Gryselde thought, and yet it had a delicate, almost allegorical beauty: the caladrius standing on the chest of the alicorn cat, shining. The cat began to stir, and as the cat awoke so did Hochelaga. Whereupon the bird fluttered over to Aura, and shone down on the sylph.

No-one else had fallen, but several of them were hurt. The swordswoman seemed to be tending to Kezia, while Ulric, himself wounded, was healing Gamelyn and Kate.

“Are you well?” Gryselde asked him as he turned away, limping across the clearing. She walked beside him. She was no healer, no prophet; but —

Ulric smiled at her, his wide smile that seemed always to be looking through you to eternity: “I am hurt in the body,” he said, “but healthy in the soul. I had been doubting, I must admit it, since I had suffered the blindness of Urizen. But now, now I see the image of truth new born; doubt is fled.”

“Well and good,” said Gryselde, “but take care you are healed of your own hurts.” She took his arm, as he laughed gently and generously. “You were not at the Ring,” she said. “I know you do not accept Ossian. But will you stand with his worshippers?”

“I own myself an admirer of Ossian equally with any other poet whatever,” he told her. “All religions are one.” Gryselde frowned. He went on: “The religions of all nations are derived from each nation’s different reception of the poetic genius, which is everywhere called the spirit of prophecy.” They had come to the greybeard with the bagpipes, sitting with his back to a tree trunk; even sitting, he was a bear of a man. Ulric nodded to him. “Do you know that, sir?” he called.

“I had not heard it before,” said the man. “But I’ll affirm it.” Ulric clasped his hand, and the man drew a deep breath, and smiled at Ulric, his wounds healed.

“You spoke of Mystery,” said Ulric. The greybeard nodded.

“It’s a favourite of mine, among my lines,” he said.

Your lines?” asked Ulric.

“I am the Sorine Gryselde, and this is Ulric of the Given Word,” said Gryselde. “Who are you?”

“My name’s Robert of the Word Inverse,” said the old man, smiling gently in his beard. “But that’s not who I am, is it? I was a clerk, an illuminator of manuscript. Then there came a star, that seemed to fall upon me, and brought with it the spirit of Hero, the blind lady of verse. So now, as for what I am, I have become an ancient bard, wandering the lands.” His eyes were bright, and seemed to imply more than he said; but Gryselde could not say what the implication was.

“Which lands?” asked Gryselde. “The White Mountains?”

“There, and wherever the Wican tongue is spoken,” he said.

“Then you three are not native to Fell Gard,” said Gryselde.

“Oh, no,” said Robert. “We awoke here, not having seen each other before.” Gryselde looked around. The swordswoman and the cervidwen were with Kezia; Keturah, Hochelaga, and many of the others had gathered close to them. “Hwitwic said we had to go down to find our way out,” said the old bard. “And I wanted to see what this dungeon of legend held. And so we went.”

“Hwitwic is the woman?” asked Ulric.

“The cervidwen,” said the bard. “Come, we will all speak together.”

He led them to the other two, past the curious crowd. “Sorine Gryselde, Ulric of the Given Word, here are Hwitwic the Seeker, and Lady Ygerna of the White Hands,” said the old man. The white hands were a device on the knight’s shield, a pair of open hands reaching out or perhaps giving a gift. The woman herself was tall and lean, with sharp features and auburn hair. Her blade was a greatsword, which she held before her with its point resting on the earth, her own gauntleted hands on its crossguard, which had been worked to resemble holly leaves. There was an air of calm to her; perhaps for that reason, Gryselde found it was comforting to be near her, in her presence. She did not trust the feeling, but it was undeniable.

And: the cervidwen, with stick-like runes cut into his antlers, watched, unreadable in his cloak of skins.

“Lady Ygerna,” said Gryselde. “Are you of any court of Edu?”

“I serve the right, and King Simon Tristram,” she said. Her voice was oddly gentle. “I was caught up in this … place. We were seeking a way forth. I fear I drew the attention of the demons you fought for us.”

“Why?” said Gamelyn. “What did you do?”

Ygerna shook her head. “They were evil,” she said simply. “I knew it … do you know how it is, when you are aware of wickedness, and you cannot let it pass?”

“I think it was not a question of what she did,” Kezia said. “But what she is.” The vala stood. She seemed now unhurt. “This lady is not simply a knight,” she told them all. “She has the healing touch of a true preceptor.”

“A preceptor?” repeated Gryselde, astonished. Ygerna bowed her head.

“I have had the honour of being given that title,” she said. “I have never sought it.”

“You wouldn’t,” said Gryselde. “If that is what you are.”

Euarchy looked back and forth between them, and then around at the awed faces of Kate and Elous and all the rest. “What is a preceptor?” she asked. “I do not know that word.”

“A preceptor’s the best knight in the world!” said Kate.

“One who lives the precepts of knighthood,” said Gryselde. “One who is righteous, in the depths of their soul.”

Ygerna ducked her head in embarrassment. “One can only do what seems best,” she said quietly. “I am sure of nothing.”

Atrahasis cleared his throat. “I have heard of Seekers,” he said. He glanced at Gryselde. “You mort — one might call them ‘cunning men’ or ‘witches,’ though almost all the forest lords deserve those names. I wish I could sing your language, Hwitwic, but I cannot; still, I might understand it, if you wish to tell me what you are seeking.”

And the forest lord said, in a clear though guttural voice: “Secrets.”

“Hwitwic has many tricks,” said the ancient bard. “Language not least among them.”

“We are making a House here,” said Gryselde. She told them what she had told the others, and extended to them the chance to join the company, if they wished it. “We are seeking books,” she said, “called the Fell Gard Codices. We believe they will show the path out of this place.”

“I wish to join you, then,” said Ygerna at once. “And you have helped us; I am in your debt.”

“As for me,” said the bard, “I think it is right for me to be here, as well. We’ve found that the three of us … are too few, alone.”

Hwitwic said simply “I will stay,” and sat, crosslegged, among the trees. Kezia began speaking to him in his strange, grunting language. Ulric and the bard walked off together, speaking intently. Hochelaga and Kate began asking the knight question after question: what quests had she done? What tournaments had she seen? What was it like, to be a preceptor?

Gryselde had another matter she wished to deal with. She walked off, her hands clasped behind her back, to the youth called Paradox, who had hung back from the discussion. “Are you well?” she asked him.

“Oh, always,” he said.

She nodded. “Your smile is different,” she told him.

“I have learned something about myself,” he said. “Those creatures …”

He paused, thinking of what to say; she told him, “You were very brave.”

“Not really,” he said absently. “I wish … but I suppose it makes no difference. I realised that I was like them. It shook me. — I’ve been lazy, haven’t I? Ulric is hurt. I will go to heal him.”

He set off toward the prophet. “What do you mean?” Gryselde asked him. “Why do you fear you’re like those demons?”

“Oh, I’m not afraid,” he said, smiling, and went to Ulric.


Mew actually didn’t want to see his father again. He wasn’t sure he’d want to see him even if he were alive. He definitely did not want to see him now he was dead. Only what if the death had been a trick? It’d be just like the cunning bastard. No, if the body was there, he’d have to see it, and damn it for himself.

So he’d told Warin that yes, he’d like to see the old man, and they’d set off, warily, Tilde drunkenly muttering “The High Crypt,” over and over.

Mew knew how she felt. He’d always thought the place was just a legend. “It’s supposed to be where the fabled dead of Fell Gard are laid to rest,” he explained to the others. “With its own hidden order of monks or priests who gather the bodies, and bring them to the Crypt. I never believed it.”

“Why?” asked Warin.

“No offense to you,” he said, “but I didn’t see how anybody could be stupid enough to risk their life for the sake of dead bodies.” Tilde rolled her eyes. He shrugged. “Well, that’s what I thought,” he said.

“And you were wrong,” said Tilde. “What does that tell you?”

“That there are people in the world who aren’t as clever as I am,” he answered, proud of himself for the response.

“One of them’s walking right beside you,” Tilde pointed out.

Mew looked at Warin, who was unreadable. “No offense,” he said again.

“Where is this crypt?” asked Enheduanna. They had gone east from Warin’s temple, then north past a large bell he had said he rang as part of his devotions; now they were in an empty room with doors to west and north.

“We must go in a winding way through the halls,” Warin told them, “for there are hob-goblins near. It is easier to pass them by than deal with them. Come.”

“What about the war you mentioned?” asked Mew, as they went. “Shadow against shadow, death against death. What did you mean about that?”

“That is what I have seen,” said Warin. “Those were the words given me in my meditations.”

“And you saw my father being killed in this war?” asked Mew.

“No,” said Warin. “As I say, we have him in the High Crypt.”

They came in the end to a ladder set in one wall, that reached up through a chimney in the rock of the ceiling above. “Here,” said Warin. “Of course we have other ways of reaching the Crypt, but this was the nearest.”

“Wait,” said Enheduanna. “If the High Crypt is above this court … is it not new-created?”

“No,” said Warin. “It is always set above the rest of Fell Gard. That is its nature. It shifted, when the new court was made. Now: I can take only one of the living into the Crypt at any given time, and then only one who is kin, or the dearest living soul, to the dead above. Come, Bartolomeus, if you are coming.”

“Wait, again,” said William. He looked up the ladder. Mew looked with him. The ladder stretched away above them into darkness. Who knew where it led? And what was waiting up there? The Crypt was perfectly defensible from this entrance. Mew could see it at once: the others wouldn’t be able to come after him, if anything went wrong.

“No harm will be done to you in the Crypt,” said Warin. “I swear upon the Mystery you will leave it as full of life, and as healthy of body, as you come to it.”

“Are you sure you want to do this, Mew?” Tilde asked softly.

“What?” he answered. “Climb up to a legendary tomb with a priest of death I’ve only just met? By the hells, what could go wrong? Just — Warin, just tell me one thing?”

“What’s that?” asked the prophet of the Mystery.

Mew paused. “If the Crypt holds the honoured dead of Fell Gard, like you said … what’s my father doing there?” he asked in the end.

“Perhaps you did not know him so well,” murmured the priest, and began to climb.

“All right,” said Mew. He smiled at the rest of them. He could play the dare-devil. “Let’s see if I’ve run out of luck.” There: fine last words, if they had to be.

“Why are you doing this, Mew?” asked Tilde.

“Don’t know,” he said. “Here’s one way to find out.” He started climbing. Even better last words, he thought.

He climbed quickly, trying to get away from Tilde’s question; which, truth be told, he could not answer.


It was a long way to the top.

Eventually, Mew heaved himself, panting, up into a large room with horizontal niches cut into the walls. Each niche was a dead man’s resting-place. He saw skeletons clad in armour and fine robes, clutching swords, and books, and shields. He also saw spiderwebs up in shadows of the ceiling, and huge dark forms moving among them. Light came from silvery fires, halos around crowned skulls.

Beside him was a figure in a heavy cloak, a cowl covering its face.

“This is the Master of the High Crypt,” said Warin. The Master said nothing, but Mew had the strong sense that it — he? she? — was looking at him. Warin knelt to the Master, and kissed the hem of his robe. The master had hands like a mortal, Mew realised. He felt a little better until he saw how pale and bloodless they were, and how pointed and claw-like were the nails.

Warin stood. “This way,” he said, leading Mew to the north. It was very quiet in the Crypt. Mew was not much of a prophet, he knew, but he could sense the spirits around them. Some of the dead are restless, he thought. There were ghosts, in that Crypt, and more than ghosts.

They turned down a hall to the west, and then the hall grew suddenly to a width of forty or fifty feet, with two rows of great columns stretching up to a ceiling far, far overhead. (A hundred feet? More?) The walls were lined with tombs, stretching all the way up out of sight, with narrow steps cut into the stone beside them. Mausolea arose from the floor, marble and black granite. Gargoyles sneered down at Mew. Winged statues ignored him. It was disturbingly silent in that vast space, and the slight scuff of his steps echoed grotesquely.

Warin led him along the wide hall, in the shadows of the tombs, to a kind of altar between the sepulchres, lit by half-a-dozen of the quietly-burning skulls. Up ahead, Mew could see the tunnel widen yet further, ending in a chamber that seemed to be filled with inhuman skeletons of a size he did not want to contemplate. He stared at the far room for several seconds nevertheless, before making himself look at the body on the altar.

It was Denys, his father. The frightjack’s creatures had torn out his throat, and ripped his face half off. His robes were strangely untouched (had the Order of the High Crypt restored them?): dark crimson, worn and patched. The soles of the shoes were worn almost through. Yes; it was Denys.

Mew reached out to him. He didn’t want to. But he had known the man too long; and now he felt all the years they’d shared. As a boy he had not known his father, until one day Denys had come and taken him. Mew had never seen his mother since. Would she want to know Denys was dead? Would she be sad? He remembered his father telling him tales of his adventures, places he’d wandered; later, Mew would learn how many of them were lies — or, at least, learn that enough of them were lies that he couldn’t believe any of them. But they had been good stories while they were being told. He remembered his father teaching him how to wander, how to drift, how to be idle: just like Reike, just like the aimless devil himself.

“I suppose you’re loitering on your way down to Reike’s hell right now,” muttered Mew. “I wonder how long it’ll take you to get there.”

And then his father sat up, but it wasn’t him, only a silver-blue light in the shape of his father, and Mew screamed.

Oh, I’ll be a little while yet, said his father’s ghost.

“Father,” whispered Mew. “You’re — you’re —”

I know, he said. He chuckled, a thin sound that, lacking air and breath, was a mockery of laughter. But we are prophets, boy. We can lay ourselves to rest, or the reverse, if we want to, by the nature of our faith.

“Did — did you know about the High Crypt?” asked Mew. “Did you know you had a place here? You never told me.”

His father’s ghost smiled. A man has to have some secrets.

“Do I have a place here?” he asked.

That, said the ghost, will be determined by the course of your life. Your brothers are not here, you see, and there are reasons for that. But it is good to see you, boy. I knew you hadn’t been killed. Whether I’d see you again — ah, that was the question.

“I’m, I’m honoured,” said Mew.

Why? said the ghost.

“Well … that out of all the living … you wanted to see me,” said Mew.

There are reasons for that, said Denys.

“I’d hope so,” said Mew.

You should know certain things, said his father. Plans are afoot, wheels within wheels. It all goes back to Scaeva, and the bargain that made Fell Gard. The wizard’s at the centre of it all, but even he doesn’t understand how his every move sends shudders through the dungeon — and into the outer world. Now everything may be about to come crashing down around us.

“And you want to stop it?” asked Mew.

Ha! Not really. I want to profit out of it, said the ghost.

“How can — you’re dead,” said Mew. “How do you profit when you’re dead?”

You avoid the hell your actions have prepared for you, said Denys. If I were to meet Reike now, why, that would be unpleasant. But give me a bit of time …

“So that’s what this is about,” muttered Mew. “I always — did you plan this? Did you plan to die, just so that you could get out of hell?”

You know me better than that, said the ghost. I never plan. I stumble on things, and make the best of them. Denys chuckled again, or tried to. Besides, I don’t think I deserve to go to hell. What did I ever do? I’m not a bad fellow, not really.

“You cheated people,” said Mew. “You lied to them. You lied to my mother, and took me without asking. You never cared about anything but yourself.”

All true, agreed Denys. And no worse than most men. But this is beside the point —

“What about what you did to me?” demanded Mew. He found he was truly outraged.

What was that? asked his father, seeming honestly surprised. I didn’t beat you overmuch, and I raised you, when I could.

“You lied to me all the time,” said Mew. “And you, you’d abandon me, and go off wandering, and I never knew when you’d come back!”

I follow a devil, said the ghost.

“Didn’t you think about who you left me with?” Mew asked. “Didn’t you know … there were long times … I had to do things to survive, and things of which I am not proud. Did you ever think about that?”

Are you not proud of them because you didn’t enjoy them, or because you did? asked the shade of his father. Ah, well, it’s all in the past now, I suppose. He laughed. So am I!

“Stop it!” said Mew. “Do you have something to say to me or not?”

Oh, yes, said his father.

“Are you going to say you’re sorry?” demanded Mew.

For what?

“For my life! For stealing me from my mother, for, for, for teaching me to worship a demon, for … everything!” Mew stared at the ghost. “Where do you want me to begin? I’m a terrible person, I’m a failure, and it’s all your fault!”

Denys shrugged. What I have to tell you is nothing like that.

“No?” said Mew.

No. It’s about the war that’s building, and why I was killed, and the secret power trying to take control of the new court.

Another story. Another set of lies. His father, the vagabond outcast good-for-nothing, always claiming to be caught up in events that would make Fell Gard tremble. It hadn’t stopped even now that he was dead. “Oh,” said Mew. “Oh, is that all. Well, why didn’t you just tell Warin or someone, and have him find me? If you’re so wise. Why drag me up here when you’ve got nothing more to say to me than you ever had when you were alive?”

His father’s ghost sighed. It had always been an irritating sign, a way by which his father let him know how exasperated he was with him. Now that he was dead, and had no air or breath, it was worse: more horribly false, in some way.

You should be smart enough to understand, Mew, said Denys.

“Well, I’m not,” he said. “I’m not smart enough. All right? I’m not what you want. I’m a disappointment. So just, you just say what you want, and then I’ll go, and leave you alone forever, and you’ll never have to deal with me again!”

Mew, said his father patiently, I meant that you should be smart enough to understand — if we’ve brought you here to tell you something, it’s because we don’t want you to remember it until you need to. I’m sorry, boy, but you will have a message to deliver.

“All right,” said Mew. “If it’ll let you rest. Who’s it for?”

You still don’t understand, said Denys. You won’t remember having the message until you meet the recipient. Just … try not to die before your time.

“What?” said Mew, staring at his father’s ghost. Then he understood, too late, and whirled around; but the Master of the High Crypt had come up silently behind him, and clutched him with iron strength by his right arm and left shoulder.

Mew reached out, with his one partly-free hand,  and clawed at him. The Master did not seem to notice; but Mew threw back the hood. He froze at what he saw, and his stomach seemed to drop away from beneath him as he realised how much trouble he was in, and how he was never going to get away.

Briefly, he screamed.


Mew blinked, and let go of the ladder.

“Are you all right?” asked William.

“Oh,” he said. “Yes. Yes, I’m fine. Sorry. I was … the climb tired me.” He rubbed his forehead. It had been more than that, he realised; he’d been in a daze. He could hardly remember anything of the climb back down. What was the last thing he remembered?

“What did you find up there?” asked Geoffrey.

“Dead people,” said Mew. He blinked. “Lots of dead people,” he muttered. “Nothing that matters, I guess.”

“Is Warin coming?” asked Enheduanna.

“No,” Mew told her. “No, he’s staying above.” William said something to Amanos; she answered. He shrugged.

“Well, if there is nothing to fear from this High Crypt, we shall go on,” he said.

“Onward,” Mew agreed cheerfully.

“Did the prophet have anything more to say about the war?” asked William. Mew shook his head.

“No,” he said. “Well, general things. Wheels within wheels. It all goes back to Scaeva.” Was it Warin who had said that? He seemed to remember — what did he remember? Shouting at his father’s body? Yes, that sounded like him.

“Did you find your father, Mew?” asked Tilde.

Mew let out a long breath. “Well, I saw him, if that’s what you mean,” he said. “I never really found the man out when I was alive. I don’t know why I thought I’d understand him better now he’s dead. I suppose … I don’t know.”

“Death is natural,” said Enheduanna, “but it is not easy. I am sorry for your loss.”

“The funny thing,” said Mew, “is that it restores my faith.”

“Is that so,” murmured William.

“Oh, yes,” said Mew. “I think of him, up there … and I’m convinced now that I will meet the devil that made me, sooner rather than later. Isn’t that strange?”


Gryselde was sitting upon the stairs, watching the Abyss and contemplating Paradox’s words, when Euarchy came to her. “There is a messenger,” she said. “A mortal. He came from the north.” Gryselde rose, and went into the forest chamber. A scarred man in battered mail stood in the clearing. He had a sword at his side.

“Greetings,” said Gryselde. “All are welcome in our House.”

The man nodded his head, tersely. “Thank you, then,” he said. “I have a message.”

“From whom?” asked Gryselde. The man scratched his face.

“Well,” he said. “It’s not for you, Sorine, I can tell you that.”

Gryselde tilted her head. “Is it for anyone in this chamber?” They were all there, in clusters, watching. The man turned his head, looking at each of them.

“Yes,” he said. He took several steps toward the group by Ygerna, and knelt; but not to the preceptor. “Princess Katherine of Aurelium?” he asked.

Princess?” repeated Ulixa, astounded.

“That’s me,” said Kate, taking a step toward him.

“Amanos said as much,” Gamelyn reminded her.

“I thought William had mistranslated,” Ulixa whispered.

“How did you know?” Kate asked the man.

“I have a message for you, Your Highness, from Lady Godeleva of the Falcon Rising, a knight of the kingdom of Wessick,” he said. “She bids me tell you that she is aware of your plight, and how you have been changed. She says that she knows how to undo the curse, and make you a princess again. She invites you to come to her to speak of these things. If you wish it.”

“I do!” said Kate. “I do!”

“Then I will guide you to her,” said the scarred messenger.

“How did your lady know of her, and of us?” asked Gryselde.

The messenger shrugged. “I do not know all my lady’s ways, Sorine,” he said.

Gryselde sighed. “Katherine,” she said. “I counsel you not to do this.”

“I have to,” whispered Kate.

Gryselde turned to the scarred messenger. “We will gather a party to go with her.”

The man cleared his throat. “Owing to our straitened circumstances in the dungeon, my lady begs Your Highness’ pardon for being unable to support your full retinue. She commands me to say that you may bring with you one of your retainers as an ambassador, but only one.”

Gamelyn laughed.

“Oh, my dear,” whispered Wymarc.

“This is unwise,” warned Yune.

“I have to do it,” said Kate. “I have to, don’t you all see? Besides, I can take one of you with me. That’s right, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Your Highness,” said the messenger. “Who will it be?”

Kate looked around at all of the group, and made her choice.


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One Response to “Part 3, Chapter 4: Unlooked-for Messages and Acts of Faith”

  1. Perfidius the Rogue

    Mew! Kate! Nooo!

    That better not have been the Crypt Keeper up there, in the High Crypt. 😉

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