The Fell Gard Codices


“Up!” cried Ulric. Hochelaga was sprawled on the floor, where William had pushed her out of the way of the stone. Ulric grabbed the girl and hauled her to her feet. “Now run!” he shouted, pulling her back down the hall.

The black bats were whirling around just above their heads, their squeals echoing. Hochelaga screamed. Ulric ducked his head, and raised his shield above the girl. The bats came at them, fangs glittering. They ran. Ulric growled as one of the shadowy bats clawed at his face. The thing was small, its wings a few inches across; but it hurt. And there were many more, much larger, and he knew in his bones they were unclean unnatural things.

“Watch yourself!” Ulric cried to Hochelaga. She crouched as he swung his shield up, slapping at a bracket that held one of the torches on the wall. The bats cut his face cruelly, and slammed into his mail. Two of the large ones were circling toward him; half a yard long those ones looked, their wings four feet across or more.

And then he’d knocked the torch loose. The flame guttered as it fell to the floor, but the pitch-coated wood kept burning. He took it up and waved it around his head. The bats fell back. “Go!” he roared. “Hochelaga! Run! Run!” He reached out to push at the shivering girl, who stumbled down the hall. He followed, with torch and shield.

At the corner they turned back into the wider hall, where the ceiling rose up thirty feet or higher above them. “Keep going,” he gasped. They ran on. Or she ran; he shuffled, cursing the old wound, the pain in his leg. O, visit justice on my head, he prayed, but not upon her, not for my failings.

One of the great bats swooped down toward them. He could not see it all, even with the torch before him. It was made half out of shadow, he thought. Its face, though, oh, that he could see, black and pink, piglike, fanged. He swung the torch, striking it on the muzzle. It fell to the floor, but picked itself up. He and Hochelaga kept running.

Ulric paused at the branch corridor; but Hochelaga said “No, keep going!” She caught his hand, and tugged him along. After a moment he realised what she was thinking. They would be safe behind the door up ahead. If they could reach it.

They ran, and the bats chased them, squealing. He spun the torch around, driving them back. The bats whirled in the air, glaring at them. Unclean, unnatural, he thought again. It frightened him to look at them. They were more batlike than true bats, like an emblem on a knight’s shield.

Then, with the door perhaps two dozen feet away, one of them caught at his wrist, and bit deep. Blood flowed. And he dropped the torch.

Weak old man, he chastised himself. He swept his shield through the air, trying to swat the things down. But there were too many. They drove at him; he dropped his shield and covered his face with his gauntlets. The things were relentless, slamming into his body as though mad. The mail kept their fangs and claws from shredding his flesh, but their hurtling bodies knocked him down. They flocked around, and he felt them scuttling upon him, pushing at his arms and hands, trying to find a place to latch on —

And then there was a great crashing noise, and they were scattered. Ulric crawled forward, gathered himself, half-stood, and hobbled ahead until a brimstone stink met his nostrils. He collapsed, and the door shut behind him.

He gasped, and rolled over to lie on his back. The girl stared down at him, anxious. “Are you all right?” she asked.

“I will be well,” he told her.

“You have a cut on your face,” she said.

“Nevertheless,” Ulric answered. “Did you open the door?”

She nodded. “I thought the trap might have set itself again, like a latch that always locks,” she said. “I pushed it with a torch, from the side.”

He laughed. “You’re very clever,” he said.

“I’m a glossologist,” she told him, as if that explained it. “But I don’t understand those bats. What were they were doing up there? I guess there must be some kind of chimney above the stone block. Otherwise how would they eat? Unless maybe it was part of the trap, and time was magically stopped until the block fell.” He turned his head. She was looking at him with her face twisted in worry. Her lips were trembling. “Do you think that could be? Because that’s powerful magic. I can’t do anything like that. Maybe if I were older.”

“Hush,” he said, “hush. No, I think it was nothing like that. Do not multiply terms unnecessarily. It must be as you say, that there was another way out of that space.” Ulric drew himself up to sit. “But then also they were not ordinary creatures.”

“What were they?” she asked.

“Grim bats,” he said. “There are some natural animals that can be transformed, and become magical. When they do, they are called grim beasts. Grim beasts are of three kinds, the shadowy, the fearsome, and the uncanny. Those, I think, were shadowy grim bats.” He sighed. He felt the pain now in his face. But ah, what was a little more pain?

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Hochelaga asked.

“Oh, yes,” he said. He smiled on her. He knew well how to smile. But she seemed only a little mollified.

“Were you hurt, before?” she asked. “William said something about walking dead men.”

“Ah, do not you worry,” Ulric said. “No, I was not hurt.”

“Because you healed William and Gral,” she said. “So you can heal yourself, too, can’t you?”

“I heal no-one,” he said. “It is Urthona, the Creative Imagination, who acts as he will.”

“I don’t know that god,” said Hochelaga. Odd how she did not blink as she stared at him, as though evaluating him, or his words. “He must be a stupid god if he doesn’t heal his worshippers, but other people instead.”

“He is not a god,” said Ulric. “He is something greater, and he resides in every mortal’s dark dreams.” He could have said more. He could have said You are young, and think it is right for us to be healed of our pains. But those of us who are older know we deserve our hurts, for the many we have inflicted in our times. He might have said that; but she would not have understood. Worse, what if she did?

Hochelaga had turned away, and was staring at the smoke rising from the crack in the floor. “I wish I knew more about alchemy,” she muttered. “What do you think we should do?”

Ulric sighed. “We must dare the bats again,” he said, “or else we may never find the others.”

Hochelaga nodded. They waited a moment more. No noise came from the corridor beyond. Ulric opened the door from the side, with a torch; there was another loud crash; and they set out together, he with shield and torch in hand.

The bats were gone from the hallway, fled back to their lair, Ulric guessed. Or had they gone after the others? At any rate he and the girl made their way to the fallen stone with no difficulty. Once there, though, he could not think what to do next. The stone was far too massive to lift; and though it didn’t quite reach up to the ceiling, that narrow space, wide enough for the bats to pass, would not admit a man. Could Hochelaga fit through? But then how to get her up there? He called out, for Gryselde, for William, but there was no answer. He put a hand on the stone. What to do, old man? he challenged himself.

“I could shrink it,” said Hochelaga. “But I’d have to dream a charm for that. It’d probably take a few hours.” Ulric looked back at her. He had never heard of a wizard-child, and he had heard many things, in his long years. But she spoke of charms like a true glossologist. “Maybe we should look down the other passageway,” she suggested. “It could go around the rock and join up on the other side.”

It was a fair idea. What else was there to do, really? They returned to the western passage; it turned north after two dozen feet or so, and rapidly grew wider. Then wider again, before ending at a wall. The angles of that part were familiar: “It’s like the room we woke up in,” said Hochelaga.

“Yes,” he said. “On the wall — do you see it? Another sky-map.” He drew closer to look at it. It was a mosaic: Invicti work, he thought. He had seen such things, once, when he had dared visit the sacred city of Ager Verbenarum. No, he would not think of that; he concentrated on the map of the sky, that showed the monsters and gods hidden among the stars. “There is the Unicorn,” he murmured. “There’s the Hourglass, the Quill … the Gryphon … the seven moons, the thirteen planets … did the glossologists ever have you study the stars, Hochelaga?”

There was no answer.

Ulric turned. “Hochelaga?” he repeated. But the child was gone. “Hochelaga!” he cried, louder. There was no answer. He held the torch high. Where was she? She could not have run all the way back down the long, wide hall. But he saw now a narrow passage, angling off south and west. It would join the passage where the stone had fallen, just as she had hoped. He understood: she had run ahead, to try and find the others. Foolish, in such a place. He did not see her; but the passage went on beyond the torchlight. He ran in, quick as his leg would let him.

Soon he reached the passage’s end, a stone wall. Hochelaga was not there. Ulric set the torch in an empty bracket to his right. He felt the bracket twist oddly as he did. And the wall before him slid aside.

Ulric stepped out. He was just past the fallen stone. “Hoch—” he began to cry; but something killed the sound in his throat. There was a wrongness here. He felt it, but could not say how, and of a sudden there was a fear in him. He looked above the fallen stone. No bats. No. This fear was not of that sort.

He closed his eyes; opened them. The narrow passage stretched away eastward. He felt his ribs close around his heart. He rubbed the broken manacle on his left hand. There was a wicked presence, a twisted power. A shadow moved, down the hall. It was a man, or woman, coming toward him.

“Who’s there?” he called out. His voice was harsh. How often had he heard it so? How often, in the bad old days of his life? A memory came to him, of preaching to some peasants in their fields, speaking with authority of Oak and Holly; he was feeling it again, the moment when he knew he had them, that they believed in him, and he would get from them whatever they had to give, food and carefully-hoarded coins and maybe the body of a girl. How he’d had the words then, and how his voice had shaped them. How he had lied. How he had felt, the fire in his veins.

“You can speak?” came a voice back. “You’re alive?” A woman; she moved closer. He saw dark skin, shining in the low light of the torches. Hair like spikes, her head like a star. One of the Morien peoples, a woman, older than the sorine, above thirty, he guessed. She had a sword in one hand, and wore an overlong leather coat.

Ulric was lost in memories for a moment. The old Morien man; he had broken his skull to steal his books. That had been a long time ago. But that was who he was. Had he forgotten? “Oh, I am alive,” he said. His voice seemed to echo strangely, now, down the long halls of the years. As it had when he had met Betryse. Had he not said those words to her, then, Oh I am alive? There were chains upon his spirit. The past bound him. His own selfhood bound him.

“Are you sure?” the girl asked. “Your gods be with you, but you don’t look well.”

“No,” Ulric said. “Can’t you feel it? Does it not chill your soul?”

She shook her head, slowly. “I have no idea what you mean, sir.”

“Have you seen a girl, a child?”

“No,” she said. “Only — well, there was a dwarf, back among the statues, if that is what you mean. Where am I?”

“Statues?” he asked. A memory came: The city of Ager Verbenarum, the monuments in the summer sun, hating them because they were so much older than he. And another: a fallen road-marker in the shape of a warrior, wreathed on that spring day in violets, the first moment in his youth that he knew that he too would die. And another: the fallen temple of the Archons, a beautiful woman of stone, half her face shattered, and how he had laughed at the weakness of gods. This is not right, he thought. I am being sealed in my own past.

The Morien girl was pointing back along the hall. “Four of them,” she said. “A dwarf, and I thought there was an elf, a man, and a sorine. At the corner. But listen. Where am I? What is this place?”

He began to walk along the hall. “You woke in an odd-angled room?” he said. “There had been a mist?”

She followed him. “Yes,” she said. “I don’t know the White Mountains well. Do mists often rise, here?”

“Don’t you feel it?” he whispered. “The book of iron. Clouds of death. The icy waters of Jordan, freezing the brain.” It was stronger now, that terrible force. It grew with every step down the hall.

“The waters of what?” she asked. “Are you sure you’re well?”

“Father of Jealousy, hypocrite weeper,” he muttered. “No. I am not well. Tell me what is your name.”

“Ulixa,” she said. “What is happening here? You, you sound as though you are going to war.”

He paused. A hall led off to his right. He passed it by. “No,” he said. “Only to a struggle. But we all struggle, against ourselves. Against the shapes we have chosen.” The sorine’s words: Let us go, then, and choose our shapes. But some of us have already chosen, my sister, not all of us are young. Oh, it was much stronger, now, the unclean sense.

He had a vision of himself, as an aged conqueror; he sat on a throne, administering justice. A book of brass before him. Justice for his enemies; for her killers. It felt sweet. “Ah no,” he muttered. “I will not assent. I will not.”

“What?” said Ulixa.“I don’t understand what’s happening. The mist — I slept. Isn’t that strange? I woke up, and I was in a room with a … it was a map of the stars. Well, there was only one way from the room, and I took it. I came to the corner just up ahead, and the statues — do you see them?”

“I do,” he said. There they were, as Ulixa had said. The four of them, standing unmoving, where the corridor turned south. They were looking at a place on the wall, a space beneath an arch, covered in cobwebs.

He saw himself, then, in times to come. He knew: those times could have either of two shapes, and only two.

He could continue his foolish nonsensical path. He would die, then, in these tunnels. Perhaps by a goblin, perhaps by a dragon, perhaps in some ghastly trap. He would die, and it would mean nothing.

Or he could yield himself to the master of Fell Gard. He could join the dead things and the monsters of this intricate labyrinth. And gain justice.

These were his choices, and only these.

All futurity is bound in a vast chain, he thought, but no, those were not his words. He touched the broken manacles, right hand to left wrist, left hand to right wrist.

No, he thought. No. We are not bound.

And he thought: If I die, here, for nothing? Then I die.

“I will reject you,” he said.

“Not me, surely,” said the woman, with a nervous laugh.

“Listen to me,” he said. “I was given a book. A set of scriptures. A man gave them to me. Perhaps he was an angel, or a devil. But these are great books of prophecy, and they tell how the fourfold man Albion fell and was divided by his reason, that tried to usurp dominion. We must beware that fall. We must beware repeating it in our own persons. But we cannot reject our reason, not without rejecting our selves. What then to do?”

“I don’t know,” said Ulixa.

“Ah, neither do I,” said Ulric. He reached out with the torch, and touched the fire to the webs. They burned away, revealing a sceptre of silver in a niche in the wall. “But we must wake ourselves from slumbers of cold abstraction,” he said. He dropped the torch and his shield. He took up his mace and stepped forward.

He had a moment’s vision. A glossologist. A wizard. In his hands the iron book of war. Fell Gard is a prison for corrupted reason, Ulric thought as he watched the wizard watching him, caverns of the fallen eternal Urizen. It is a prison. The wizard nodded, and knew him, utterly. And Ulric knew the dungeon. Knew it held blameless souls, that were put through pain. Knew that it had been shaped by godlike power, heedless of hurt inflicted on others.

To pit himself against such force…

What could he do?

He brought the mace down on the head of the sceptre. Again, and again. Soft silver bent; then glowed with red heat; then in a moment it was immolated, leaving only a patch of ash on the stone.

Behind him the dwarf, the elf, the man, the woman, began to move: four living things.

Fell Gard, he thought, must be destroyed.


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2 Responses to “Part 1, Chapter 3: The Weakness of Gods”

  1. David

    Is this Urizen related to William Blake’s Urizen? Intriguing!

  2. Matthew

    David: That’s what I’m thinking. I’ve been hugely affected by Blake’s writing — I’d like to think he’s an influence, though it may be pretentious to say so myself. At any rate, it seemed like a good idea to bring his work into the story, and use the story and the fantasy to perhaps get a new angle on Blake’s own imaginative writing and worldview. You’ll see a bit more about this as the story goes on.

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