The Fell Gard Codices


As they’d walked, Ulixa had tried to get Otto to tell them about his people, and where they lived. She hadn’t had much luck. The boy’d been terrified, exhausted, and, as a result, always breaking down in tears. He’d seemed frightened of her, too, or of her colour. It was her own bloody-mindedness, she supposed, that kept her from asking one of the others to talk to him.

At any rate, when they came to the end of the wide hall, and found his home, she was really quite unprepared.

It wasn’t the size of the cavern that shocked her, though it was the biggest she’d seen yet in Fell Gard: a rough natural cave, covering several acres, rather wider across than it was deep, and almost a hundred feet up to the ceiling. Still, it wasn’t the scale of the thing that was the surprise, and it wasn’t the ætheric light shining from the roof high above, or the still lake at its western side, or the thick pine forest of tall dark trees that covered more than half the cave floor.

What surprised her was that, just beyond the end of the wide hall, in the northern part of the cave, there was a town, with a church, a manor house, and a scattering of cottages.

As they crossed into the cave, following the laughing boy, two people came forward, sentries. One was a man, perhaps thirty, lean and dark-haired, with a fine fur-lined tunic and a sword at his belt. The other was a woman, younger than Ulixa; she had a drawn sword, a mail shirt, and a shield, and her long brown hair was pulled back like a mare’s tail. They were both fair-skinned Empire folk.

“Halt,” said the man. “Who are — Otto?

“Da! They saved me!” cried Otto.

“We’re friends,” said Ulixa. “Where — what is this place?”

The man knelt and Otto ran to his embrace. “This is the village of Innsdene,” said the man, looking up at them with tears starting from his eyes. “What is your business here?”


Lina watched Roger hold his son and talk to the strangers. Good for him to have Otto back. He’d been quiet and desperate since the boy’d gone missing. After his wife … well.

For herself, talk wasn’t her business. Fighting, yes, talk, no. She was ready to fight, if she had to, she’d been ready to fight anything since they’d all woken up in this place — but she had an idea it wouldn’t come to that, right now. There were twenty of the newcomers, not all of them mortal, neither, but one-to-one they didn’t look like much. She guessed they wanted help.

Also, the Good Boy was with them. She didn’t know what to make of that.

The Morien woman said that they’d wanted to return Otto to his people, and find what lay in this part of the dungeon — dungeon? — and, oh, yes, they wanted help, and to find their friends.

Lina looked over her shoulder. A crowd was gathering from the village.

“Take ’em to the church,” she told Roger. “I’ll get my lord bailiff.”

Roger scowled. “My father —”

“Probably already knows,” she said, nodding to the crowd. “Go on. Wake up Ranulf, and watch them. Elder’s hell, let the whole town in and have them keep watch, if you like.”

Roger didn’t like it, but nodded, frowning. He waved to the odd company and led them toward the church. Lina set off at a trot for the manor house. No, she didn’t know what it meant. But she knew it was full grave. After the deaths they’d already seen these past days, the mystery in the woods … maybe answers were finally coming. Maybe they were about to get out of this place after all. Let it be so.

Behind her, people were flocking to the church.


Elous didn’t know what to make of it all. They were led to a large freestone structure shaped like two overlapping circles; at the centre, where the circles met, a spire rose like a tree, with stone branches holding a large bell and a canopy above carved like leaves. That seemed to be their temple. Otherwise there were a lot of structures with clay walls over a wooden frame, and angled thatched roofs. Most of them maybe fifteen or twenty feet wide, though of varied lengths. Two or three were larger, with second stories, and partly built of stone. No, there was a fourth, a tower rising above the forest trees a little ways to the south. Animals ran around everywhere: cats, small hounds, clucking white birds, four-legged beasts with devils’ horns and tufted beards.

It wasn’t until Elous saw people coming out of the structures that she realised they were homes. She blinked, and tugged at Ulixa’s sleeve. The black woman looked back at her. “Is this how you live?” Elous whispered. “In these … these …”

“Houses?” asked Ulixa. “Yes. Under the sky, though.”

“Why — are those piles of dung near the houses? And wood?”

“Dung is for the gardens. You see, in front of them, or to the side? And firewood … odd the houses are so close together, though.” Ulixa shook her head. “Still, if they were all brought in … I don’t know.”

Elous glanced back as they entered the church. The villagers were watching them, fearful, hopeful, desperate, so many other things. She felt suddenly like she understood Ulixa and the others a little better. She’d heard the tales of the outer world, but hadn’t really believed them; or at least hadn’t been able to imagine what it was like.

But now …

The villagers came into the church behind them, whispering to each other.


Theda felt the holly berries warm between her breasts. It can’t be, she thought. Her heart trembled. The pale girl, with the brown hair. Yes, she thought, it is. The girl. Theda didn’t know how she felt about that.

She went into church with the others. Ranulf was grumbling. Peg had come from the inn, standing, arms akimbo, near the church entrance and glowering at everyone. Everyone: all of Innsdene was coming. They filled up the church, both the oak ring and the holly ring. The guests at the inn were in the holly ring, along with Theda and the rest of the poorer sort. Ranulf led Peg and the inn folk to the oak ring, so of course the Aubrey House went to the oak ring also and so did the House of Annulets Sable, and also the House of the Sage Yllaria.

They, the people of Innsdene, sat on the round benches against the wall, while the new folk had to stand in the centre, in the light of the high windows. The church echoed, as it always did; it sounded like just before a Ring. It smelled like just before a Ring, too. Were they all going to find out what had been happening these past days?

Maybe. Maybe, Theda thought, she would find out, finally, something she’d been wanting to know for much longer. Maybe a shape for her life was about to be made clear. She grinned and rubbed her chest.


“Remember,” Sybil whispered, “it’s a secret.

Spyrling glowered at her. “I know,” he said, like she was an idiot. Actually, she thought, he was the idiot, since he’d almost told that boy Paradox about Alkahest and who she really was. But if he wanted to pretend otherwise now, fine.

She looked at Alkahest, out of habit. But the dwarf had no orders, only looked at the mortals all around them, her face impassive. Sybil was proud of her, even if none of them really understood what was happening. Was a new court always like this?


Roger of the Line Aubrey watched Sir Hugh of the Annulets Sable stand before the newcomers, and say: “You folk have come to Innsdene, asking our shelter. As bailiff of Innsdene I charge you first to explain all you can of this strange place, and who you are.” Roger watched the newcomers; he watched his father, also. Aubrey of the Line Aubrey kept his hawklike face still.

Roger listened as the dark woman told them a story. The crowd gasped at the words Fell Gard. His father had guessed it on the first day. Probably so had Yllaria, to judge by her knowing smirk. All right, then; the worst had come. Let it be, let it be. What now?

The Morien talked about a sorine building a House. The thin man next to her, with the pathetic moustache, said that there were many dangers in Fell Gard. Well, they knew that.

Ah, Minna.

Roger knew he owed these strangers more than he could easily repay. He gripped Otto’s hand tightly. His father would not approve of his sentimentality. Aubrey did not tolerate weakness. Still, Otto deserved praise.

Beside Roger, Aubrey cleared his throat. Sir Hugh gave the unbent old man a haughty look; as Hugh always looked upon him.

“What the woman says has interest,” said Aubrey. “I would like to know, of course, if she is in league with the other of her folk.”

It was a fair question, Roger thought.


“Other?” said Ulixa. “I don’t understand.”

The murmering crowd grew quiet. Gamelyn took her shoulder. Ulixa turned.

In the northern part of the church, the ring of holly, a man was stepping forward. The high stone building was lit only by the ætheric light that filtered through the narrow windows up above, and here and there a candle someone had lit. She had, impossibly, not seen him.

He was one of the kindred. Tall, grey-haired. “I was guesting at the inn,” he said. “And awoke, with the village.”

“Inn?” she mumbled. “There’s an inn … here?”

He laughed. For the first time in too long, she put her hands to her head.

Then one of the tadigemen collapsed.


The way Lina understood it, the way they talked, the frog-thing needed to live in water. Or needed water every so often, or some such. The other one didn’t seem so badly off, but only said, “No, I am different.”

Anyway, if they wanted the thing to live they’d have to put it in the lake. Aubrey wasn’t sure that was a good idea, the little whore’s get. Her lord Hugh, to give him credit, had no second thoughts. “Let it live, for pity’s sake,” he said, disgusted. “If we need it dead … Aubrey, hasn’t there been death enough, of late?”

A low blow. The best kind, she thought.

They set out in a kind of procession, from the church to the water-side, the dark woman carrying the toad-thing. Lina was close by Sir Hugh, her assigned task. There were worse duties; Hugh was an attractive man, if a touch older than she. His thick hair hadn’t yet begun to fall out, and he was strong enough of body. Sad that he was born above her, but that was the way of things. Behind them came the newcomers; behind them, the village of Innsdene.

“We woke here,” Sir Hugh said, “two days ago, I would guess. This damned light never grows or fades.”

“You’d think so,” said the thin man. “Over time, you’ll find it changes. Like your moon, Monelic.”

Hugh grunted. “Well, as it may be,” he said. He pointed to the various houses. “As you see, our homes were brought with us. But they’re not in the same places, one compared to another. They’re too close together, and we haven’t land to grow crops. Yet our gardens are in fruit; we’ve not gone hungry yet.”

“You’ll find the plucked fruit regrows quickly,” said the thin man. Gamelyn, they’d said his name was. “Have you begun to explore around you?” he asked.

Sir Hugh paused before answering. “We went down the wide hall, and found the Good Boy,” he said. “He warned us not to go further … he was right. We’ve been attacked.” He pointed to the goblinkin the newcomers had brought with them. “Things like that, but smaller.”

“And to the west?” asked Gamelyn. “How did young Otto find his way into the western hall? He had to go through the forest —”

“As to that, I can’t say,” Hugh told him. “I will presume his grandfather was lax in his discipline.” The newcomers wouldn’t understand the irony of the statement, of course; but no doubt they could hear it in his voice. Sir Hugh said: “Ulixa, I invite you to attend me in my hall. We will dine, as you have asked, and speak of what our course of action shall be.”

“I,” began Ulixa; but the tall black-feathered bird-man stepped before her. Lina took a step to stand beside Sir Hugh, her hand going to her sword-hilt. Ulixa put her hand on the bird-thing’s shoulder. Was it a guard for her? “I would like that,” she said slowly, “but I pray you, my lord … let me speak, if only for a moment, with my … countryman. I have not seen a face like mine in a very long time. I give you my oath I will come to your hall after, and by your leave I will bring with me Yune, who is respected among the dwarves.”

Lina imagined that the language of courtesy wasn’t natural to the Morien, but she spoke it well enough. Hugh gave a short nod. “Very well,” he said. They had come to the water-line. There was no beach, only rock that led down just below the water, and then a sharp cliff into the dark depths of the lake. The frog-thing roused itself a little; Ulixa set it down, and it slid into the water with a gasp. It swam away, and rolled, and went under the water.

Lina looked at the crow-man, and measured herself against it. It had reach. Still, she had an idea she could take it, if she had to.


It was like someone had let out a breath, Elous decided. Or maybe like all of them had.

Once the business at their church was done, once the tadigeman had been set in the water, it seemed as though everybody was friends. Or had decided to learn to be friends, anyway. The old man, Aubrey, spoke with Gamelyn, inviting him to Aubrey’s home, and when Gamelyn went with him somehow Agneta went along too. Paradox was speaking with the priest Ranulf. The girl Sybil was talking to an old woman somebody had called Yllaria: “Do I recognise a young glossologist?” the old woman asked, smiling slightly. The glumm and gawry flew up to the north wall of the cave; the townsfolk pointed, and some of the children shrieked and laughed. Girls were flocking about Aura, who hovered above the ground, haughty but obviously flattered. Robert set off for the place called an inn, with some of the band — the townsfolk. Wymarc went with him, and Elous trailed after Wymarc.

“Now I have no idea what an inn is doing here,” Robert was saying. To Elous he added, “They’re a place for travellers to stay, and mostly found in cities, and such.”

“You must ask Peg about it,” piped up a girl near them. Not really a girl; she was probably older than Elous herself. She had a smile that Elous liked, confident and a little mad. Her hair was very curly. “Oh, she loves to bore travellers with tales of her kin and how they started as poor farmers and made an alehouse and then an inn … mind, she’ll also talk your ear off about Hugh and the manor house and how dare Baron Toly meddle with a village as does well enough on its own.” Elous laughed. She wasn’t sure why, it wasn’t really funny, but the way the girl said it made it funny. She gave Elous that mad smile. “My name’s Theda,” she said.

Elous didn’t know what to do. Why was she talking to her? Now she was waiting for an answer, it seemed. “I’m Elous,” she said.

Theda stuck out her hand. Elous looked at it, confused. Theda’s other hand reached out, took her right arm, and brought it around so that both of Theda’s hands could clasp it. “There,” she said. “Now we’re friends.”

“Oh,” said Elous. “Good?”

Theda laughed, and linked arms with her, and went with her to the inn, pointing at people and naming them as they went.


“Do I recognise a young glossologist?” asked the old woman.

“Are you asking me?” returned Sybil. “Is that a question meant to be answered?”

“I thought so,” said the sage, laughing gently. What was her name, Yllaria? “Now, you’re native to this place, correct?”

“It’s true,” said Sybil. Yllaria was short, thick, with an enormous bosom, a skull overlarge for her body, and a mane of white hair. There was a gentleness to her voice, but Sybil had the idea that it was a gentleness that could disappear if it had to. There was something in the lines of her face, in the directness of her gaze, that suggested she was not a woman to cross.

“Would you care to speak with me?” asked Yllaria. “I’m a sage by training, you know, and I would very much like to understand your ways. Of course I can also try to explain who we are to you, at the same time.”

“Certainly!” said Sybil. That was what it was about, wasn’t it? Understanding the world. Understanding people. She smiled. “Do you have a … a study?”

Yllaria nodded to the stone tower above the tops of the trees. “Oh, there’s that,” she said, almost dimissively. “My house, and library, you know. You’re more than welcome, if you wish to speak there. I’d like that very much.”

The two of them set out.


Spyrling watched Sybil go off with the old woman. It wasn’t fair. What was he supposed to do, talk to Alkahest? Or, worse, Scholastica?

You’d think it’d feel better, here, he thought to himself. With all the trees, and such. He was supposed to be a vala. That was they’d told him, a vala, like he was some kind of elf. Sometimes mortals were born that way, too, they’d said. It wasn’t like he’d had a choice. So he could feel living things and such. A little, anyway. That wasn’t fair either, since part of the magic of it meant that it wasn’t right for him to wear or use forged metal, so he couldn’t have armour or a real weapon. How was he supposed to survive?

Anyway in a forest he’d thought it’d be like being in some place of power. But he wasn’t feeling it, and everybody was leaving him. Even the townsfolk were going to the inn, or to where Robert was playing his pipes, or where Paradox was talking in front of the church.

“It’s like they’re abandoning us,” he said to Hwitwic. The forest lord stared at him; then turned and walked off into the forest.

Spyrling sighed, and went nowhere in particular.


Michael listened with Ranulf, Ranulf’s long-suffering deacon Anselm, Yllaria’s younger son Baldwin, Nigel of the Line Alwin, and a few others, as the Good Boy began to talk about right and wrong and what he’d learned in Fell Gard. Except, of course, this Paradox was not the Good Boy; he merely looked and sounded like him. And thought like him, too, making of the world a meaning, seeing all about him intimations of some greater message.

As did Michael. How much had he sacrificed to gain wisdom? Listening to Paradox was an assurance that it was in all ways worth it. He heard himself groan, and began to weep.

We will be saved, he thought. The hardest of truths has been stayed! Let it be! He knelt. Ranulf scowled, but Nigel knelt as well.

There was a hand on his shoulder. He looked up, to find Paradox had knelt with them both.


Stink of old ale, stale beer, piss. Stale rushes underfoot, louses scurrying. Chance of finding a tooth, here and there, probably. Wooden tables, knife-scarred. A one-eyed cat, yawning on a three-legged chair, drawn, Robert imagined, by mutual lack. Five yards to a side, the tavern’s drinking-space was large for its kind, but after Fell Gard it seemed tiny. A homely space, Robert decided as he played upon his pipes, the familiar blare in his hands.

A woman about his age joined him on a lute. She’d aged better than he. Grey-haired, smooth-faced, most of her teeth still in her mouth. A certain happy twinkle in her eye, which always made him nervous. Ah but she could play. He went faster, and she kept up with him, and he broke into a wild reel, his cheeks burning, air of his breath becoming music.

Wymarc at a table nearby with the alewife, Peg; talk of the right ways of cooking meat, how green vegetables were not to be trusted and water just made you ill. Elous and Theda together, neither of them sure what was happening. Hodekin alone in the corner, thinking goblin thoughts. Yune with Alkahest and Scholastica, none speaking, a dwarven silence. The rest of the room packed with townsfolk sitting or standing, watching them all; the mortal stink of Innsdene, Oak and Holly love every last one of them.

The woman across from him laughed as the reel ended, and someone clapped her on the back. Somebody else brought Robert a cup of ale, as the townsfolk cheered.

Almost without noticing, he relaxed.


His name was Olujimi, but to those not of the kindred he was Alexander. “We will make a divination and sacrifice later,” he said to her. He had an ifa board in his hands, which he raised to her. A babaaláwo, she thought, stunned. Here? How? “But first you must be aware that there is much that is wrong in this place.”

They sat on his bed, in the long room of the inn. It was a poor mattress, that had been gnawed at by rats and leaked rotting straw. The bed itself was a humble frame of wood strung with rope. To Ulixa — Yejide, she told herself with joy, with a man of the people I can be Yejide again — it was the softest, sweetest thing she had known.

“I think even before we were brought into this Fell Gard,” Olujimi said to her, “there was some wrongness here. It is worse, now. Have they told you? There have been deaths. There is something in the forest. And there is something that comes in our dreams, that watches our sleeping souls.”

Yejide nodded. “Tell me,” she said. “Whatever you can.”


Spyrling wandered around the tavern. Once you got past the outer-world novelty, he decided, people were just as boring in other lands as your own.

Most of the folk of Innsdene were simple enough. Dull. The inn guests he wasn’t sure about, though. There was a troupe from some other court, kingdom, whatever, who spoke a different language and had begun putting on an impromptu show by the inn — on the inn, actually, since they used shadow-puppets and lanterns and such. There was the black man who was speaking with Ulixa. There was some short pasty-faced woman who gave everyone a gorgon’s-eye glare if they got too near. Then there was another man, tall and lean, with receding black hair, a fine silk tunic, and thick moustaches he twirled from time to time without noticing. Spyrling noticed him at the inn, watching the bard singing, and all that; when he left, Spyrling went after him.

He didn’t meant to spy on him, just ask who he was. But outside the inn, he couldn’t find the man. He wandered around the big building, to the opposite side from the one with the shadow-play, and there he almost tripped over the tall man talking with the tadigeman called Reprisal.

Spyrling pulled back around the corner, hearing the tadigeman ask: “You’re not one of these sheep. Are you?”

“No,” said the deep voice of the tall man, “but then you’re not what you appear, either. I think we might discuss … an alliance.”

There was a burbling sound, the tadigeman laughing. “You overreach yourself,” it said. “At any rate, I have had my fill of alliances, and bargains, and such mortal concerns.”

“There is a reason I am here, you know,” said the tall man. “Would you like to hear it?”

A hand clapped down on Spyrling’s shoulder. He almost gasped, but another hand went over his mouth.


“Oh, there’s nothing special about this place!” gasped Nell — Petronella, she’d said, but who ever called her that? she’d wanted to know — as she slammed the mug down on the table, laughing. The ale slopped over near her lute. “Oh!” she cried, as Robert snatched the instrument away from the spill. He handed it back, smiling.

“Surely every place is special,” he said.

Well,” said Nell. “What would you look for, here? It’s only Innsdene.”

“Tell me about Innsdene,” he invited her. She laughed again, not unpleasantly.

“Well, there’s us, that’s me and Peg my sister, that came of the folk that built the inn,” she said. She waited. In that moment Robert knew: he’d bitten off too much, played into her need. Drunk, a little. A little afraid. More hopeful, now, suddenly, because of the rest of them. He knew, he’d seen it before. She was going to talk, and talk, and talk on like it was the saving of her. He just happened to be in the way of it. Nell opened her mouth, leaned forward, eyes looking past him: “And there’s Hugh the bailiff, who thinks he runs the town. There’s Aubrey o’t’Line Aubrey, that’s very rich, and Yllaria who’s very smart, though she’s not really part of us, as she moved here, oh, fifteen years ago, and she and her House are at odds with Aubrey over some betrothal that was broken off not long after that. Ranulf, that’s the priest, doesn’t mind at all since one of the ways they show each other up is with rich donations to his church — you saw the size of it! Well, what else is there? Hm. The four brothers o’t’Line Henry, there’s Robert that’s a smith and works the forge we keep, but his brother Ralph’s a good-for-nothing and drunk after our wine, and the other two neither so good nor so bad. Tice o’t’Line Sunnild’s a wise woman who can set you at ease if you talk to her, but is very poor, and all the time she’s not working her field must look after her idiot sister Edith. There’s Michael o’t’Line Godfrey, they say he cut off his you-knows, manhood, for the worship of the Oak King, and his son Benedict spurns women for being with Edward, who they keep as a servant, and Michael’s too other-worldly to know, though his wife Rosamund who he married when he was too young, well, who knows what she thinks of it. They say that’s the way of it with Hugh’s son Laurence and his squire-servant Edric, but I don’t know the truth.” Nell stopped, laughed, surprised at herself. She sat back. Dizzy. Words and air gone out of her, mostly. She managed: “Is this what you wished to hear, you? I’ve still got most of the town to go through!”

Robert laughed himself. “It’s a start, then,” he said.


Theda thought it’d been a while since she’d been so happy. Talking with Elous felt right, in a way she couldn’t define. And Elous was smiling. Maybe she felt it too. Maybe. The holly berries were still warm.

They were walking through the town. “It’s all up in the air, now,” she told Elous. “The villeins and the freeholders … well, that’s still a little different, who’s free and who isn’t. But the lands aren’t here. A rich villein was worth more than a poor freeholder in the outer world. Now, well! Do you understand?”

Elous laughed. “No,” she said shyly. “Not a word. I think elementals have villeins and freeholders.” She pointed to Aura, still hovering over a crowd of shrieking girls, who were trying to catch at her skirts.

Theda stared at the flying woman. She took Elous’ hand. “Come on,” she said.

“Where?” asked Elous.

“Where do you want to go?” asked Theda.

Elous pointed to the forest. “How about there?”

“We’re not supposed to,” said Theda. She thought: it’s dark there, and we would be alone. “Come on,” she whispered. She felt a thrill down her spine. “Let’s risk it. Shout if you see anything!”


The sage wasn’t what Sybil had expected. She mostly seemed to want to know about how mortals ordered each other around in the dungeon. “If you understand how power flows, you can understand a people,” Yllaria said matter-of-factly. “Well, you’re a glossologist, so I don’t imagine you think the way people live was ordained by the gods.”

“No,” said Sybil. “Um … what do you mean?”

They sat on wooden stools in a high room of Yllaria’s tower, overlooking the forest. Below, there was her household, with her husband and sons and grandchildren. Around them were samples of plants, tomes, and many many notes to herself. The sage looked around. “Well, for example,” she said. She picked up some of the herbs. “Do you recognise this?” she asked.

“Stillwort,” said Sybil.

“That’s right,” Yllaria said. “This defines the way we are in the outer world, though we don’t realise it. Without stillwort women wouldn’t have much control over their blood and births, would they? Though as it is, things could certainly be better. Is the herb common in Fell Gard?”

“Well enough,” said Sybil. She felt uncomfortable.

“You see, in the outer world, women are needed to have babies,” said the sage.

“It works that way here, too,” said Sybil.

Yllaria laughed. “It all seems to worry men who want to build lineages,” she clarified. “That’s why men try to keep women in the home, and why families are organised the way they are, and why certain things are considered natural and others aren’t, and why, oh, why fathers are often spoken of as doers and mothers spoken of as having things done to them, and so forth. It’s why the structures that shape our lives take the forms that they do. What I was wondering —”

“No,” blurted out Sybil. “There’s — I mean, it’s not that simple.” She wasn’t sure why she reacted so strongly. She didn’t like these thoughts, she decided.

“Oh no,” said Yllaria. “Nothing human is simple. But you can see certain shapes, if you stand far enough back. Now, the dungeon is a more dangerous environment than anything in the outer world. So my question —”

“I’m sorry,” said Sybil, standing. “I’m sorry, is — is there something happening in the village?” She leaned out the window.

It looked like people were gathering at the waterfront.


In all, Roger was almost happy. His father had been quiet during dinner, for the most part. Otto was holding tight to his knees. If only Minna —

From what Ulixa had said, and what Gamelyn told them as they ate, these people were heroes. He wondered if they would agree to an expedition into the forest.

Aubrey asked about the outlaws that had bothered Gamelyn’s people before the orcs had come. “Oh,” said Gamelyn, “Lady Godeleva’s band?”

“What?” said Roger.

What?” cried Aubrey.

“Did I — say something wrong?” asked Gamelyn.

Roger watched his father calm himself. He was no lord, Roger knew that well, but he had the qualities of a baron. Of a king. “We have thought,” Aubrey said carefully, “that there may be some connection between the outlaw bands around Innsdene, and Peg’s inn itself. Travelers waylaid … it’s a complex tale. If you can find proof —”

“Master,” whispered Ysaac, pulling at Aubrey’s sleeve. The man was smiling, which meant something violent was afoot.

“You interrupt,” Aubrey reproved. “We’re at table —” Ysaac whispered into his ear. Roger heard something about the lake. Aubrey bolted upright. He waved to Gamelyn and Agneta. “I fear the meal’s done,” he said. “It seems one of your party has met with misadventure.”


Lina came at a run as soon as she heard. A crowd was gathering. She pushed her way through. “By the Holly Queen’s cunt,” she swore.

There it was. The tadigeman, face down in the water, against the side of the underwater cliff. She splashed in and dragged it out. It didn’t move. She threw it down on the ground. “Get the newcomers,” she told the crowd. “Now! Go!”

The crowd broke up as she waved them on. Maybe it didn’t matter if they hurried. Lina looked down at the tadigeman. She didn’t know much about such creatures, but she knew one thing:

Dead is dead.


A long, mournful sound came from the deeps of the pine woods, and echoed over Innsdene. Wordless, it raised your hackles, drilled into your ears. Inside the tavern, Robert recognised it at once. “Hwitwic!” he shouted.

The cry came again, louder and more frightened.


Sybil was already out the door when the shout came. She ran through the forest as the cry echoed through the trees again. Twigs cracked under her feet. The earth was soft, springy. She almost tripped over a root, and wished for a solid stone floor. Her heart was racing. What was happening? Was everyone all right?

Which way was she going? How could you tell, with all these trees? She looked back as she ran. No, the tower was to her left, and that wasn’t what she wanted —

The path turned, and went between two trees, and there was a rock wall.

She was running too fast to stop. That was all right, she put out her hands to catch herself.

Then before she got to the wall the ground ended.

She fell between the wall and a lip of earth. Dirt and moss fell with her. She got up to her hands and knees. A few rays of ætheric light filtered down to show a little hollow, leading back under the roots of the trees.

She saw dead bodies, and bones, and strange elongated skulls.

She began to scream.


Robert ran into the forest, along a curving path. Loam underfoot, the sharp scent of pine. Clean and dark, the forest. “Hwitwic!” he cried. More shrieking now, ahead, a girl; but the cervidwen was silent.

Worried, Robert ran, a shuffling old-man’s trot. Hwitwic was a creature of few words, but much resourcefulness. He’d come to respect the forest lord greatly. If he was in trouble —

Robert stopped, seeing all around in the dark under the trees shadows watching him with bright eyes.


Yejide, Ulixa, ran out of the inn, bad news coming from every side. People were shouting about the dead tadigeman. Robert had gone into the forest after Hwitwic. Kwangrolar and Euarchy were flying back to them, so that was all right, but then she heard a distant scream — a girl, she thought. Maybe Sybil? Where was the boy, Spyrling?

As she thought all this, and looked frantically around every way, she saw a little hunched figure in a shadow under a bulge of rock against the north wall of the cave. When it saw that she’d seen it, it ran.

She knew what it was. She had seen an image of it, on Gamelyn’s palm. It was a darkling, one of the things that lived in the cave by the Abyss of Stairs.

She remembered what Olujimi had told her.

She realised that very wrong things were about to happen.


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