The Fell Gard Codices


While they waited for the man selfnamed a devil’s prophet to return from the High Crypt, Amanos lit a torch and explored eastward. The hallway ran along ten yards or more, then turned northward and ended after another ten yards. The torchlight faintflickered on the far wall, making a gloomy countryside of black hills and nightshaded fields. She took a step forward. The shadows did not disappear as she brought the eyebright torch closer, but if anything grew sharper, insisting on the reality of the gloomworld.

She could see the rockveins in the wall. Above the rock the shadows moved, making a dreamcountry such as you saw, sometimes, when you fell into sleep; a country which, without moving yourself, appeared to unfold around you, endless, so that you knew it to be real. It seemed like the darklands, that trapped souls doomed to rebirth. But it was no more than a stageplay of shadowpuppets. She knew this. Amanos touched her spearhead to the wall. The dreaming shadows continued their play, ignoring the weaponpoint. She turned away. It is a falseseeming, she told herself, and strode back to the others.

They were still waiting, the singer and elf speaking quietly to each other in the Empire’s tongue. The cobold stared at Geoffrey, who, crouching, grinned toothsomely at her as she walked back. The fat wizard had her hand on the ladder, looking up after the prophet. The dwarf was silent, hands behind his back, glaring at the stonefloor.

“I’ll see what’s to westward,” she told the singer. “Give a cry if Mew returns. And tell the wizardwoman that there is a falseseeming shadowplay on the wall to the east.” William bowed his head. A nod; it hardly seemed her due. But then she was outnumbered, and few of them spoke her language. She must learn Wican. And then what? Take her place as one voice among many? Madness. It was clear madness to say that all speaking creatures had a voice, the wicked and wellmeant alike. A just kingdom determined who deserved a voice, who was knightly and nobleborn, and gave them responsibility in accordance with their gifts. The hollyoak sorine understood this, even if she was reluctant to build her House accordingly. Well, she would either come round, or the House would collapse.

Amanos heard footfalls behind her, as she walked westward. She looked back. Geoffrey. He nodded to her, grinning.

She thought again: I am alone, and the bestborn of the company is the princess of Aurelium; and I have failed her, and seen her sister die.

Perhaps twoscore feet from the ladder was an archway in the north wall, leading to a large room. A stone table held a chessboard with men set on it, here and there. Beyond, wide whitemarble stairs led down, Abyssward. She wandered in the room, her spear ready.

Behind her a noise; she turned back to see Geoffrey by the chessboard. “You play?” he asked, with a handwave to the board.

“Of course,” she said. “I wonder whose game this is.” She examined the pieces, thinking of strategies, moves.

Geoffrey grunted. “A game for knights,” he said. “We should all learn it now, maybe.”

“You fancy yourself a king,” she said. “I remember.”

Geoffrey laughed. “When I was the coboldchief? You still begrudge me that moment?”

“It was a betrayal,” Amanos told him. “I will not forget.”

“When the dwarf taletold it, yesterday,” said Geoffrey, “I swore an oath. Do you remember? I stood up, of my own freewill, and said I had done as seemed to me right. But that now I felt it was with Gryselde’s band that my fate lay.”

“I remember,” she said. “And I know that you will uphold your oath so long as you think you may gain by it, no longer.”

He did not appear angry. “And you?” he asked. “You’d prefer to follow the coboldchild rather than an elected chief?”

“The coboldchild is a princess,” she said, “and I would rather follow a king.”

Geoffrey crossed his arms. “We heard in Ashmere that the Vartha follow a king who is no king.”

She sighed, contemplating the chessboard. “What means lineage and nobility, to me?” she asked herself aloud.

“I don’t follow,” said Geoffrey. She turned to look at him.

“Understand, then,” she said. “We Vartha know that the world was made by a devil called Demiourgos, the Craftsman, to trap spiritstuff in flesh.”

Geoffrey grunted. “You’re known for a darkminded and unhappy people.”

She took a step toward him; another. He uncrossed his arms, and stared, his eyes ferocious, angerfilled. No; not anger. What? Fire. “We are puppets,” she said. “All of us. Our flesh tugs us, now here, now there. Until we die, and go to either the good or evil principles.”

“Principles? Your gods have no names?” he asked.

“They have secret names,” she said. “As does our king. Who is the sign below of the good principle above; who cannot marry, or have to do with women, or eat meat.”

Geoffrey laughed. “A sad king, who can do nothing with his power,” he said.

“He has no power,” she said. “Once he did. But not now. The power of the king was taken long ago by his warchief; then his by the elder warchief. In the palaces of Shivartha nothing is as it seems. All faces there are masks, bound by spiderwebs of thought. But I am sworn to the king’s service.”

“A trueborn knight?” he asked.

“No!” she said. She turned back to the chessboard. “My father was a sergeant. My mother less. My father did well by war, and retired with an estate. So he equipped me with horse, mail, and all that becomes a knight. King Soromapatha took me to his service, out of memory for my father’s deeds.”

“Well, then?” asked Geoffrey.

Amanos was silent for a moment. She went to stand above the chessboard, looking down on the array of rooks, bishops, kings, and queens. And knights. “Once it was everywhere true that a knight could be of any birth,” she said. “Now it is in Shivartha as the Empire lands. A knight must be noble; must have a lineage. The king himself is one of the few householders who will ennoble the baseborn.”

“So now you are noble, and a fighting lady,” said Geoffrey.

She laughed, with no humour. “That is my name,” she said. “I chose it when I was made knight, and my old name was no longer mine. I was the king’s own, and the king’s alone.”

“Amanos,” said Geoffrey, and then in Wican: “Lady of War.

“That is who I am,” she said. “I serve a powerless king, and I am scorned as a commoner by men who call themselves knights, but never hold a sword, and give money to their liegelord instead of due warservice.”

“And you took their part in council,” said Geoffrey. “You spoke to us as they would have.”

Slowly, like a tolling bell, she shook her head. “They are not wrong,” she whispered. “A nation must have order. Who can give order but the highest? From the good principle down to the humblest beetle, and then down to the evil principle, is there not an order to all things that we cannot perceive?”

Geoffrey grunted. “When I make myself a king,” he said, “will you serve me as a knight?” She stared at him. He laughed. “By the Oak King’s cock,” he said, “we’re not in Shivartha, or the Whitemountains, or anywhere but the place we are. We are in Fell Gard, and here in the underearth we make ourselves what we wish it. I will make myself a king. Every bit as much a king as Herlouin of Ashmere, or your king of Shivartha, or as Good King Ultor, or whoever you like. What will you do, then?”

“You have no lineage,” she said, “and who will recognise your kingdom?”

“Time will tell,” he said easily.

“I will not forswear my oath to my king, most especially for you,” she said. “I am promised to return to him — but never mind.” She threw back her head. “I must get out of this dungeon. I must.”

He laughed again. “Fool,” he said, with no anger. “You want to go back to your life that was. Why not lookforth to see what you can get from this new place? What is there on the outside that you can’t find here?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “What is there to fear, on the outside?” She bowed her head. “What to fear?” she repeated in a whisper. She felt her heart race, her breath catch, and knew she had to move or else be weepinglost. She reached to a piece on the chessboard. “Black bishop takes white knight,” she said, shifting the chessman, knocking over his foe.

As soon as she removed her hand, a little man made of wood, no more than a foot high, appeared across from her, contemplating the board. He seemed made of a tree root. He took up the white knight, then pushed a pawn forward a space. Amanos could not move. Then he took his hand from the piece, and opened his mouth as though about to scream. She clawed for her sword —

Geoffrey was there, and one swordswing cut the little woodman in two. “A mandrake,” he said. “If it had screamed, we’d have been in trouble.” He grinned. “Maybe dead.” He reached for the chessboard.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I want to see what happens,” he said. “What piece do I move?”

“The black horse, there,” she said. “Ahead two, left one.” He did.

And when he took his hand away, a squat thing, halfman and halftoad, was across from them. It reached out and moved a black piece, then stared at them, surprised. Geoffrey rose with a gasp, and it jumped at him. One of its webbed hands hit his face and cut him; Amanos realised the thing had claws hidden among its fingerwebs.

Amanos lashed out with her sword, slashing the creature’s throat. It made a horrible sound and fell, spattering blood across the floor. In a moment it was still. “What is it?” she asked. It looked like a short man, that was half a frog, with thick mottled green skin, and a bloated head from which bulged round eyes.

“Oak and Holly,” cursed Geoffrey, “I couldn’t move! Until the damned thing had finished — finished its turn.”

“I have no need to play at chess with a cursed board,” said Amanos. Geoffrey stood, staring at the board. “Come,” she said. “Or will you fight, motiveless?”

Almost, she thought he would play on; but after a moment he turned to go with her. He grunted. “Don’t know the rules,” he said.

She led him back to the others. “Lady,” William greeted her as they returned. “Tilde has examined the falseseeming. She says it is an illusion, perhaps a byblow of the High Crypt.” His elf spoke to him, pointing to the dark blood on her armour. “Lady,” he said, “what has happened?”

“There is a summoning magic,” she said. “How did your elf not hear us swordfighting?” The singer turned to the elf and asked her something; the elf answered, seeming baffled; the wizard spoke. The singer nodded.

To Amanos he said, “Tilde tells us that noise is unsure in Fell Gard. Sometimes it travels well. Other times one hears nothing of what is near.”

“Good that we know this now,” said Amanos dryly.

It was not long after, thankfully, that the devil’s prophet returned. He said there was nothing of interest in the Crypt above, and could offer no further explanation for the warportents the other priest had given them. So they set off.

They explored carefully the halls the priest had shown them. Mostly the rooms thereabouts were empty. Once, just to the north of the entrychamber, they found a storeroom filled with flour, saltmeat, and fruit preserves. Another time, they opened a door to find a coffinshaped room filled with skeletons, three of which rose to attack; the skeletons’ movements were a dance, that set their bones clattering, and the fat prophet blubbered invocations to his devil as they fought them. Whether his pleas had any effect or not, the skeletonmen fell once their skulls had been knocked from their backbones, by William and Gral and Geoffrey. So, thought Amanos, who had not had a chance to get through the door to the room before the fight was over, another fable is shown to be true, in Fell Gard. She had heard of the things called the dancers, the skeletons that capered through oldwives’ tales and ghoststories, that were said to prance at the orgies of demons and nighttime things. She remembered being a child, and how once after her mother told her a story about them she had been unable to sleep for all the night through, but lay in bed wideeyed staring at the moons.

They came to a door northward. Enheduanna heard sounds behind it. William was unsure what to do. They all retreated and had a whispered talk. “I will open the door,” Amanos said, “if the wizard will call out in the language of this place.” William explained this to the rest of them. “Geoffrey,” said Amanos. “There is room before the door for two fighters.”

“So there is,” he said. He shrugged, and accompanied her. They assumed their places — the two of them by the door; the dwarf and cobold behind them; William and the elf some paces back, arrows nocked; the prophet and wizard yet further back, with the lantern, where the passage bent westward. Amanos nodded, and threw the door open.

The wizard cried out in the slithering underearth language. There were six of the toadmen in the room beyond, and they paid the wizard no nevermind but attacked at once. No chance, then, to fall back behind the bows. It was a swordfight again.

They cut down the first two things easily, which leaped toward them, like frogs. Then another pair came through the doorway. Amanos was struck hard on her helmet, twice. Dizzied, she dropped her sword. She heard Geoffrey give a painfilled grunt as the things clawed at him as well.

Amanos took some steps back. She felt the fear rise in her again. No, she thought. No, I won’t have it.

Gral stepped up to replace her beside Geoffrey. The dwarf struck down one of the toadmen. Another came forward.

Earlier, when she had killed the thing over the chessboard, she had acted without thinking. But now —

Gral cursed and stumbled, bleeding. Geoffrey killed another.

Amanos took up her spear and leaped forward. What is there to fear? she thought.

The thing that had hurt Gral was turning to flee, she realised as she killed it.

The last of them was running, too, rather than fight. She threw her spear and killed that one, as well.

“Well thrown,” said Geoffrey. Did he mean to wordwound her?

“It would have warned others,” she said.

“No doubt,” he said.

William said something, sounding sad. The wizardwoman said: “Tadigemen.”

“Tadigemen,” Geoffrey repeated to Amanos, and listened as the wizard went on. “There is a story that says they were once mortalmen, changed by some nameless evil they worshipped,” he told her.

“Well,” she said, “these ones are dead, now.” She took up her spear.

The things had dwelt in a long room; twenty-five yards across, she thought, though only about twenty feet from north to south. Only! she thought, mocking herself. I am becoming too used to Fell Gard. A hall ran directly north at the far eastern end of the room; at the west, near a trickle of water that had made a deep puddle on the floor, a door opened on a long hall that (they soon found) ran back to the storeroom. Also near the western end of the room, a hall angled northeast, ending with three doors, ahead and to each side.

The westernmost of those doors turned out to lead to another long passage; Enheduanna killed a bird that was flying about, that William named a skrythe, and they found the hallway ended in a small chamber just north of the storeroom they’d found before encountering the dancers. The second door, northeast, opened on a large, empty room whose far wall held a metal grate through which a piece of a largeseeming cave could be seen. A bed of fungi was just before the grate, pale mushrooms with wide flat heads flopped to the side; lichen covered the bars of the grate.

That left the eastern door. If it was a door, and not some highwrought joke. It had a handle, but no lock; and yet it would not open. On the centre of the door was a silver design set into the wood, of a great halfopen eye.

The wizardwoman stared at it, trying, Amanos gathered, to puzzle out what it meant. They all stood near her, waiting. Geoffrey took Amanos’ elbow. She withdrew it, and looked at him.

“You’re afraid,” he said.

She looked around. But William was halfway to the end of the hall, keeping a lookout with a torch highheld. “You’re afraid of being afraid,” said Geoffrey. “I should have realised. It was that frightjack. That spell he put on us.”

Amanos didn’t answer. “By the Elder King!” said Geoffrey. “It’s magic, you can’t … it doesn’t matter, you understand? Look at the dwarf. The little man’s not said two words since then.” He shook his head. “Which is some good.”

Still Amanos didn’t answer. What to say?

“It means nothing,” he said. “It’s magic. Not natural. Not truefelt. It’s not who you are, or any of us.” He paused. “I was afraid myself.”

“You’re not a knight,” said Amanos. “What is the wizardwoman saying?”

The plump woman was pointing at the eye, explaining something to those that spoke her language. Geoffrey shrugged. “Blood magic, she says. It’s a bad sign. Somebody’s got to cut themselves, and smear the eye with blood. She says it’s a foretoken of sorrow within.”

“A curse?” asked Amanos. Geoffrey repeated the question to the wizard, who answered.

“No,” Geoffrey told Amanos. “Not usually. Just … illfortune inside, some sadness.”

Amanos nodded. “What is there to fear?” she asked. She cut her thumb on her swordblade and rubbed her thumb on the silver eye.

Her blood slowcrawled across the wood and silver to gather in the pupil of the eye, which seemed now a real thing; and it turned, and looked at her, and closed, and began to weep long tears of blood.

The door opened.

Beyond was a room, perhaps twoscore feet to a side. The left and right walls were not noteworthy. But the walls across from them held eight narrow lancet windows; and beyond those windows there was the wide outerworld.

Sunlight was in that room, and the thick air of springtime. The wizard spoke. “The windows are not to be crossed, Lady,” said William. Amanos nodded; she knew it, somehow.

They all crossed to the windows, almost unwillingly, staring. The singer went to a window that showed a great warhost on the march. The elf to a window overlooking a forestglade, where it seemed stars were in the trees, and a court of tall, graceful elfmen and elfwomen was gathered. The wizardwoman to a weird city of jewelled palaces and silver domes, of towers all glassglittering and spires of puregold; a man stood on a balustrade overlooking it all, toothtearing his lip. The cobold warily approached a window onto uttermost dark. So did the dwarf; but a different window. Mew went to a window that seemed to look onto a garden chamber, and a middleaged woman that walked within it. Geoffrey went to a window, crossed his arms, and laughed; he was looking onto a village, near an unused forge.

Amanos, for her part, watched all of them, and then strode right to the window that looked into the Palace of Constellations, where King Soromapatha oversaw his court. The barons had all gathered, Amanos saw, as they rarely did; from this she knew some wickedness was afoot. She could see Lord Shrimanar, Lord Gedathebor, Lord Shangak, all of them schemers, enemies of her and Soromapatha. This was not well.

The King nodded to a herald, who read out: “It is the judgment of this court that the recreant knight, the Lady Amanos, be expelled from all orders and colleges of knighthood, and that she be henceforth no knight but a knave. By cause of her great treason it is the King’s will that when found, she be hanged and quartered.”

Amanos cried out, and threw her spear through the window.

It burst into white flame as it passed the windowsill, and blew back at her as ashes.

She watched as her squire, Philipos, brought forth a pair of silver spurs that represented her knighthood. They were cut from their boots, and thrown to the floor.

Her tabard was brought forth and ripped into pieces; her colours, that were the colours of King Soromapatha, torn and ruined.

Her secondbest sword, in her finest scabbard, that both had once belonged to her father, was then brought forth. The sword was drawn, and Shrimanar struck it on the floor until it was shattered, and then set his mailed heel upon it so that it broke further. The sound seemed to Amanos to echo in her ears a very long time.

At last, she turned away from the windowscene. The others had all left their own windows into whatever darklands they had separately seen. They were by the door, or out of it. Amanos looked back, and saw the sitting of the court continue.

Should she wait there, while the others forthfared into Fell Gard?

Should she throw herself through the window, and burn in whitefire?

She laughed. This was surely now her life. The underearth.

She turned, and left the room, past a confused Geoffrey.

The eye on the door had reopened. She stared at it. To overcome the fear of fear, she thought, sometimes, maybe, no action is needed. Only to watch, as what you fear most comes to pass.

The door shut itself behind them as they left.

Well, what did it matter? Perhaps what she had seen was a falseseeming, in which case, there was nowhit of change for her.

Perhaps it was true. In which case fear was gone, for what was there left to dread?

There was fire in her, souldeep. She knew that she had now another mission before her in Fell Gard.

She would seek a way to return to her king, to deliver unto him what she had recovered from the thief. But before she left, she would seek some dreadful magic that would give her revenge upon the barons and the court. Something that would leave them shattered and utterly ruined.

For that was what was just: they to destroy her in her absence, and she, being absent, to find matter with which to destroy them. And may their souls rot in the darklands. They played their games; but in truth were puppets of grander players than they dreamed. She, though; she now was free, in Fell Gard. Free of fear, and also of earthly power.

Fearlessly, she walked on into Fell Gard.


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