The Fell Gard Codices


Eight of them had set out from the Forest Chambers, and then later they’d added the six lay canons of Secga. Keeping fourteen people together had been difficult, especially in running from the goblins. But having reached the library, William found they would have to continue on, with Hochelaga, Diccon, Atrahasis, Gryselde, and the woman who called herself a preceptor — that was nineteen, and still there were more. Twenty-seven men and women, by his count, had been liberated from the outlaws. That made forty-six mortals who would have to stay together as best they could; and with them, half-a-dozen murineans. Fifty-two speaking creatures, many wounded, confused, or exhausted.

It might have helped, William thought, if he had any idea what was happening, as such; where it was that they were going. Somewhere to the west, to save Ulixa and the others, he gathered, but how, or from what, or how Gryselde knew whatever it was she knew, were all mysteries.

At least the preceptor, Ygerna, was there. In the dark of the dungeon, the shine of torchlight upon her armour seemed to inspire those around her, giving them a part of her calm.

They organised themselves as best they could, and when they were ready the sorine led the procession along to the room where, the day before, they’d first met the cervidwen. Doors there led north and south, and William expected them to go north, rather than southward, near to the orcs. He worried that they’d encounter that woman Mirabilis again; what if she had allies, and set an ambush for them?

In fact, Gryselde had them all gather in the cervidwen’s room, and then pressed some stone on the western wall, and with a grinding noise a part of that wall slide aside. She led them into a hall angling north and west — the hall where they’d found Gryselde’s dead sister, William realised.

Gryselde and Atrahasis called out as they went forward, to let Entemena and the other elves know of their coming.  Standing where he was, near the back of the long file of people, William could see Entemena come down the hall to speak with Gryselde, but was unable to hear the discussion that followed. “Entemena says the orcs haven’t attacked yet,” Enheduanna told William, able to hear the distant talk. “He feels he and the others can’t come with us; they have no means of carrying the ruby. Without some magical guard —”

“I know,” said William. “I know what that ruby does. But then — can they turn back the orcs, if the orcs attack all together?”

“No,” said Enheduanna.

“Then they’ll flee, if the orcs come?”

“No. That is not who they are.”

“Wait,” said William. “Then, shouldn’t we — well, if we joined with them, to defeat the orcs —”

“We might manage it,” allowed Enheduanna. “If we were very lucky. All of us together — we might accomplish it. But how many of us would remain? We elves love to kill orcs, but we know what they are. Better that Entemena’s people wait, and that we return later, with more help.”

They went down a hall south and west, and then turned directly west. William did not want to think of the elves, standing sentinel in the dark halls, waiting to hear if the orcs should happen to wander toward the treasure they guarded; waiting to hear a sign that their end was coming. He wanted to do something. But what was there to do?

They came to a room with doors to west and north, and William and the explorers watched the rest of the group while Gryselde went westward. That hall was lined with statues of gargoyles, hunched manlike things with bat-wings and horns upon their muzzles; and every one with grey lights shining in their eyes. Gryselde said a word to one of them, and the lights died. She looked back to the room where everyone else waited, and waved them forward. How does she know to do these things? William wondered. And where is her halberd?

Then they came to a high cave, with a forest within it, and somewhere a girl was shrieking.


Sybil slowly got to her feet, feeling herself blush. The bones were not rising. They were dead. Think, she ordered herself, be a glossologist, not a scared little chit. Yes, there were dead things here. And? The bones were old, yellowed. From the shape of the skulls she guessed they were elves. Too bad for them, that was all. Still, better not to investigate on her own. Just in case.

It was easy enough to climb out of the hollow, scrambling up the soft earth, holding on to the roots as she went. She wondered whether whatever had killed the elves was still around; whether it, or they, had heard her shriek.

There was nothing near her when she’d clambered back up to the forest floor, her face and hands and clothes smeared with dirt. She took a shuddering breath. She was now hopelessly turned around. Even if I knew where the village was, she thought, I’d as likely as not get confused again among these columns — trees — whatever they are. But if I follow the wall, I’ll either come to the village or else the waterfront, which itself will lead me back to the village. That’s what I have to do.

And hope I don’t run into anything along the way.

Shivering, she set her left hand on the cave wall, and started to walk.


He awoke, in darkness. They were around him, the females. They had anointed him. He knew; they had shown him, in dreams. He did not know all, of course, not by any stretch, but enough. He knew what they wanted of him.

He nodded. They would not know what to make of the gesture; they were not of his kind. It didn’t matter. They would understand soon enough.

He took up his shield. He took up his weapon.

He led them west, the way they wanted him to go.


Gryselde led them through the forest. William had no idea what to make of it. Even more than in the forest chambers, it felt as though he were out of doors; as though Fell Gard were large enough to hold all the world. Perhaps I have always been in the dungeon, and have only realised it these past days, he thought grimly.

Then, just as he’d begun to accept the forest, they came to the village of Innsdene.

He recognised the place at once. He’d stayed there, on his way through the White Mountains. He recognised many of the buildings, the inn, the manor house, the church — what were they all doing in Fell Gard?

People were gathering to the west, by the shore of a kind of lake. Among them were Ulixa and the others. He saw Euarchy, Kwangrolar, and Aura flying down to the Morien woman. Aura, seeing Gryselde approaching, gave a cry.

The group by the water was maybe twice the size of the one with William.  The two parties came together with many exclamations and questions. Wymarc hugged Diccon, weeping, as Aura danced in the air around Gryselde. A man with long moustaches, accompanied by a woman in mail with a sword at her side, went to stand in front of the sorine, to speak with her. But Ulixa was already talking to Gryselde.

“Hwitwic’s in trouble in the forest, and a few minutes gone a tadigeman who was travelling with us was found dead,” said Ulixa. “And look, look at the water!” Under the still surface, it was black, swallowing the ætheric light from above. “That’s just happened now,” said Ulixa. “I saw a darkling — could it have done this?”

“Maybe,” said Enheduanna. “But — I wonder —” she looked around at the group, and then gave William her bow. “Be ready if I call,” she said.

“What?” he said. She kissed him, hard.

“Live quickly,” she said, and dove into the black water.

“Enheduanna!” he cried.

For a moment the water was still. Then her head broke the surface.

“William!” she shouted, frightened. “Stay back! Stay —”

She gasped as something he could not see pulled her under the water.


Sybil followed the wall until she reached an arch carved into the side of the cave. The wall stretched on beyond the arch. Is this west? she thought. Or — maybe it’s south?

There seemed to be something wrong with the shadows in the hall. There were too many of them, thick against the floor, like overlapping spots of darkness. And they were in the forest, too, among the trees.

She took a step, another; and as she realised that the shadows were not flat against the floor but curved, rounded — at that moment some of them rose up and moved, scuttling around behind her. They weren’t shadows. They were beasts, with the power to resemble shadows.

They’re grim beetles, she thought, shadowy grim beetles.

Her only charm was of no use here. Go back? She remembered screaming at the sight of old bones and bristled at the thought of giving in to her fear again. No. She had another thought. If she dashed forward, right through the creatures, maybe she could catch them by surprise. Then she could keep following the cave wall until it led her back to the village.

Sybil nodded to herself. She looked at the beetles, working out where each of them was, and the best way through them. She nodded again, and took a deep breath.

Then she ran, jumped, and the things were sluggish enough she was past them before they react. And then they were after her, scuttling almost as fast as she could run.

She heard them crawling over root and twig, their shells scraping against tree-trunks. She squeezed between needle-filled boughs, ran, ducked behind a tree, stumbled on a root, ran

She scraped between the cave wall and a tree trunk, and then the wall opened up to a hall on her left. Ahead of her was a stand of trees, three of them, four, tight together. At a glance she could tell she’d never be able to squeeze through, and running around them would bring her back toward the bugs —

No choice for it. She took a breath, and ran down the hall out of the cave.


He went as the females directed. A touch, a wave. No words were said; but then the females could not speak in his language.

They guided him to a room with a grate in one wall, a bloody cap-and-bells lying on the ground, and a great iron cauldron with four heavy gallows-birds perched on its rim. The birds rose into the air with coarse shrieks as he approached.

They flocked around him; he dropped his weapon. They smelled of grease and corpses, of fat and rot, just as he smelled of the anointing oils. One of them flew into his face, clawing at him. He reached out and locked his hands around its neck. Its talons cut deep into his cheeks, near to his eyes.

He tightened his grip, feeling the claws tear at him. The bird’s neck snapped. Its mates flew away, shrieking.

He dropped the dead thing. The females had come forward, to take his weapon and shield. He stood before the cauldron. Straining, he lifted it.

Bent under the weight, bleeding from his face, he led them from the room.


Enheduanna!” William cried.

He ran to the lakeside. He threw aside his bow and her bow and his harp, and splashed into the water. The shore dropped away after a few steps. He fell with a shock, unable to see for the unnatural dark —

He was thrown back, up and out of the lake.

He landed on the shore, soaked and stunned. People were gathering around him, asking questions, talking, he did not care, he did not listen. She had not come to the surface.

Enheduanna!” he cried again. He threw himself forward again.

Again, something he could not see caught him and threw him out of the water.

A third time he cried: “Enheduanna!

But she did not come up from the deeps, did not arise from the water to breathe.

Away back behind him there was a sound of something singing. Somebody nearby shouted. William glanced back, to see beautiful creatures coming out of the forest, chanting a soft, lulling music. They were naked, women most of them with fair hair and stiffened rosy nipples, but here and there tall lean men with curving muscles and thick, lengthening members. All of them were singing. The music was almost tangible, a physical music, a music of the body, lungs and throat and tongue and teeth.

The sound was a caress, everywhere upon his flesh. Where had these singers come from? Who were they? Why were they there? All these questions, and all other questions, were not then important. No: instead he gasped as the song washed over him, as he felt a tide of desire rise.

He could feel sex in that music — they all could, he knew, all those with a mortal body, at least, he could not answer for dwarves or murineans or others. William felt a heat in his balls, his cock; a tightening in the muscles of his groin. He could feel himself beginning to rise, the pleasure of it, his manhood becoming his centre —

Geoffrey ran forward, and grabbed one of the women; shucking his mail shirt and tunic, he pulled down his braies and began to copulate with her, and her singing did not stop. Several further mortals started toward the singers.

At any other time the sheer sensation of it would have caught him, too, would have pulled him into a whirl of lust. He would have gone to them, then, those folk of the forest, as many of those around him were going (even while others shouted at them, or caught at their arms).

But he had seen the woman he loved pulled into danger, perhaps to her death, and he was helpless to go to her. The lust in him was overwhelmed, and mixed strangely, with despair and fear.

He could not go to the singers before him; he could not follow Enheduanna, wherever she had gone; and yet he must do something, must in some way act upon the drives within him.

He took up his harp.


The beetles didn’t follow her into the hall, which was good. But why not?

Here and there in the walls to either side were small niches; and witch-lights, burning without colour. Underneath one she saw a slumped form. The antlered thing, the cervidwen.

She paused before him. He didn’t seem to be in a good way, bleeding in many places — had the beetles gotten to him? In any event, what was there that she could do to help? She’d never seen a creature like him before. “Are you all right?” she asked, in a low voice.

It was a stupid question; but he opened his eyes, and looked at her. “Stay here,” she said. That was stupid too; what else was he going to do? “I’m going to see what’s up ahead. Maybe there’s help.”

She stole down the hall as quietly as she could. She was no monastic, though. She remembered Scholastica, snickering at her attempts to be silent. But anyway nothing came out to challenge her.

Sybil stopped at the corner, and looked carefully around. The hall went forward a few feet, and opened into a rough circular chamber lit by bright pyres of witch-light. At the centre of the chamber was a bulge of stone, like a table or altar. On the stone was a cup, a goblet, made of a star ruby.

Sybil stepped forward, dizzied by the sense of power in the chamber. She was glad now that she’d held on to her charm, that she hadn’t wasted it in the library before. She spoke it, feeling the words, their rhythms, their meanings, the patterns they made. And so feeling, she saw other patterns.

The nature of the charm was to show her the matter of any charms near her. So it was that she saw the magic all about, was aware of all things as patterns of words and meaning; aware of the chains that bound them each to each, the subtle grammars that defined the way they connected one to another, the poetry that made up all the world, all the stones, air, blood, and light. She saw: the walls of Fell Gard, simple declarative statements, almost sentence fragments. The witch-fires, a touch more complex; magic made light everlasting, self-reflexive and with cunning rhythms. The ruby goblet — ah, the magics there, that were old, and complex, and many-tongued; the power of them, the intricacy — to her the beauty of the gemstone was as nothing next to the art of the magic inhering within it, that art wreathed in wisdom and potency, a made thing more precious than all physical matter, a ruby more precious than rubies: it was ambiguous in the best sense, it was startling and precise, it was a beauty that brought her to the edge of weeping.

And, in all, so complex that she could not define it, could not say what it was for. With so much magic within it, surely it had a purpose. But what?

She took it up, knowing at least that there was no trap upon it. What now?


He came, guided by the females, the weight of the cauldron upon him, to a boy that sat upon a cart; like the carts that carried wounded men and shamed prisoners, he thought. Did he know this boy? He could not look at the youth, and turned his head, oddly afraid.

“Have no fear,” said the youth. “Turn away no more: why wilt thou turn away? The starry floor, the watery shore, is giv’n thee til the break of day.”

Oh, but he knew those words.

He looked at the youth, who reached to him; and his injuries were gone.


William played upon the harp and sang the ballad of Lady Quenill. Oh, how he feared that song. It began as the lament of a knightly lady for her dead lover, after the battle in which he had fallen and she with her army had triumphed. And it was such a lament, the song told, that the lover’s ghost came to her, his undead spirit, and together they made love upon the battlefield where he had died; there among ravens and hounds, among the shrieks of the wounded, among the shattered shields and broken spears. And when they had done she was dead as well as he, and together they went up to the Graf Vaka-Bane in the House of Dyst; and though she had not known she would die when the song began, still it was clear that she had come to know in the course of it (ah, but when, exactly? During her lament, or during their fucking?), and had chosen her death, and that was less to be with her lover than to punish him for his unfaithfulness in choosing the Graf before her.

Why did he choose that song, when it was known for the ill luck it brought its singers? He could not say. But in the song, as he sang it then, was all the lust that had been raised in him, all the prickling in his flesh. Also all the fear and shame, at that weakness in his body and at what had befallen his love. And his anger, at his impotence to change himself and his fate; and his sadness, and acceptance, that he was a toy of the gods and of all that he could not control; and above all his confusion, his lack of understanding, that these things should be, that he should live only to suffer.

He sang his love, and his grief. He sang of all that was most mortal. And, being mortal art, his song overwhelmed the enchantment of the forest-creatures.

He sang, and they were silent.


“We’ve got no choice,” Sybil whispered. “Are you ready?”

The stag-man had dragged himself to his feet, and followed her to the edge of the cave. There were some beetles, not far away. Were they clever enough to keep a watch for them, to expect them? Probably not, she thought.

The only thing they could do was run, as fast as they could. Which way, though? Maybe the stag-man could lead her — but he was so slow, and he’d lost a lot of blood from the bites all over his legs and torso. She wasn’t even sure how he was walking.

So how would they find their way to the village?

As though in answer, she heard singing. Several voices, chanting. Then it seemed for a moment that there were two songs over top of each other; and then there was only one. A man, singing at the top of his lungs. It was a terribly sad song. Sybil suddenly wanted to cry.

“That way,” she pointed. “We go that way. All right?”

The stag’s head, with its massive rack of antlers, nodded.

She took his hand, and they ran.

Beetles came scurrying after them, but the things hadn’t been expecting them to come out of the hall — they’re not clever, thought Sybil with relief. If they’d been intelligent she’d have been afraid, but as long as she was smarter than anything around her, she knew things would be all right.

Then she could see the lake on their left, through the trees. They ran past a small structure, a house, and then the trees ended, and there was everyone, standing by the water. A black-haired man she didn’t know was singing, and playing upon a harp. There were a lot of naked people standing a little distance away —

No, she thought, they’re not people at all. As she ran she could see their tails.

Behind her, beetles came scurrying out from the forest. She looked back, and saw there were more of them than she’d realised.


He passed from the wide hall into a cave; into a town, that was set before a forest. He set down the cauldron where the females showed him, by the church. They led him south, into the pine woods.

They came to a group of naked creatures, like to men and women, that were at joy with Robert, the bard. At the approach of the females they ceased their play.

To Robert he said, “I will leave you here if you wish it; but you cannot stay and live.”

The females pointed him onward, to the south, and he did not wait for an answer; but as he went he heard the old man gathering his clothes and pipes behind him.


William grabbed his bow as all the others, awaking from the spell of the music, saw the beetles. He began to fire arrows one after another, tears rolling down his cheeks.

The others had drawn swords; the naked creatures fell back. William saw them for what they were, now, things with tails like cows, and when one of them turned away he saw there was no back to her; that they were hollow, empty, delusive.

Killing the beetles was not so difficult. The things were not strong, and could not stand before men and women with swords. But when that work was done, and William turned to the chanting creatures, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Wait,” said Hwitwic.


The forest lord explained, in his strange, halting, whinnying speech, that the creatures before them were not evil. Sybil hadn’t really thought they were, though of course it was surprising to be confronted with so much nudity, so much — what to say? Unashamed masculinity, she decided. That would do.

Hwitwic said that he had felt something not right in the forest; that was the beetles. The others were huldrafolk, not wicked, but — he said a word in what Sybil assumed had to be his own language. “No … way to speak it,” he said. “They are … as their nature has it. Come now.”

He led them southward. That is, he led some of the warriors southward, to the rest of the beetles. Sybil went with them just to watch. Against men and women in armour, with swords, the beetles were helpless. “There’s a hallway with more of them,” Sybil told the warriors, and showed the way. They went down it, killing the beetles as they went.

After about twenty yards the hall opened out into another large cave. Maybe a hundred feet away there was a green light. “I can see the magic in it,” she said. And she could; the last remnants of the charm she’d cast before were still active. “It’s a candle, held by a withered hand. Oh! There are beetles, scurrying everywhere — oh, I see. Oh, that’s — that’s sickening. The light of it, it makes the beetles. It — oh, gods. They’re being born out of dead — Stop it, please. Stop it. They’ll just — they’ll crawl out everywhere and eat up all the world. Stop it!”

“I will,” said a voice behind them.

“Ulric?” cried the singer.


He walked forward. He knew the crawling things would not harm him. The anointing oils of the females kept him safe.

He walked into the darkness, unafraid. He heard the things all about him. He gave them no mind.

It was what had to be done.

He walked through them, through the dry smell of them and the empty shells, through the rotting dead bodies, until he came to the light. It was a wicked light, a candle of corpse-fat held in a withered hand.

He felt a great satisfaction as he brought his iron mace down upon it, snuffing it out utterly.


Back at the village the four female cervidwen were waiting for them, along with some of the huldrafolk. One of the cervidwen was going with the male huldrafolk, back toward the forest. It seemed to William that the huldrafolk were changing; hair sprouting across their bodies, their temples swelling, as though growing — no, he decided, there was no call for him to think of these things.

There was confusion enough about the cervidwen. Where had they come from? Why had Ulric been with them? And why did he seem so … changed?

But none of this mattered, to William. He felt empty, weak. He had staggered along as the others had killed the beetles, unable even to think of Enheduanna. And now … now …

“What’s happening now?” he asked of no-one in particular.

To his surprise, Hwitwic answered: “They are making peace.”

“Where did the huldrafolk take our people?” one of the villagers asked the cervidwen. Roger, thought William, of the Line Aubrey. “Where’s my wife?”

“It is their nature,” said Hwitwic, “to … open you … to what you want.” He paused. “A few heard their song. They went … the beetles took them. The beetles are dead. The huldra have sworn … they will take no more of you. They only came forward … because of the beetles. That just now had bred enough to threaten the forest.” Roger began to weep. William thought of what that girl, Sybil, had said of the beetles, and shuddered. Hwitwic turned to look at William. “Your coming was timely,” said the forest lord. “If not for your song … who can say how many would be dead?” The cervidwen shrugged. “Now … you are at peace. Rejoice.”

“Hwitwic,” William said. “What’s in the water? Do the huldrafolk know?”

Hwitwic nodded, and shuffled toward one of the women, and then back to him. “Evil,” he said. “An old evil, strong of spell and sword, that they drove under the water long long ago. That is all they will say.”

“Then Enheduanna,” said William. “She —” He shook his head. “She won’t —”

He looked away at the water, for a long moment, feeling a terrible lack.

Then he looked back to the cervidwen. “More, even,” he said. “More than that. We’re all in danger, aren’t we? If what they say is in the water … We’re all in terrible danger.”

Hwitwic stared at him, and said nothing.


Sybil realised that she’d shifted around to see the last of the unchanged male huldrafolk from the front; she angrily looked away. Not that it was wrong, to look. But she didn’t like it when her body, with its drives and desires, tried to undermine her intelligence.

Instead, she looked all around her at the village. Everything seemed to have been settled, but no-one was happy. There were a lot of people, now, around the church, talking to each other quietly.

She realised something was wrong.

“Where’s Spyrling?” she asked. Then, louder: “Where’s Spyrling?

No-one knew.


“Please,” he said. The sylph was puzzled; but, at Gryselde’s command, brought him what he asked from the ceiling far above.

He pointed to the three remaining cervidwen, who had gathered about the cauldron. “Show them,” he said. “It must not touch the hands of any creature that knows of death.” The sylph brought it to the females, and, at their nod, set it into the cauldron.

The darkness had gone from the lake water, and the females, through Hwitwic, had said it was safe to drink. Indeed they had filled the cauldron from it. And then into the water they had added the mixtures of powders and dried herbs they had made: the pastes, and concoctions, and all that was needful for the potion of inspiration which they were preparing.

And now they had the last piece: the ætheric moss. They had seen it before, he knew, when they had set a charm of sleep upon the village sentries, and explored the cave, and found the terrible magics to the south. They had made their plans, then, and found him, and now it all marched onward inexorably toward fruition.

The smell of the brewing potion rolled over him, thick and rich and wonderful. Some of the villagers he had heard whispering, and knew they were not happy that the brewing was being done beside the church; but who could spite the peacemakers, and who would forego the scent of inspiration?

“Ulric,” William said to him, “are you all right?”

He laughed. It was a shadow of his old laugh. “Oh, my friend,” he said. “I am not myself.” He nodded to the cauldron. “That will set me right,” he said.

“What happened to you?” the singer asked.

He watched the cauldron. “I have been harrowed,” he said in the end. “I will receive a gift, William. It is your gift, in part. You felt it earlier, when you sang to the huldrafolk, didn’t you? The power of inspiration.”

“I don’t understand,” said William. “You mean — you’ll become a bard?”

“I don’t know what I shall become,” he said. “That’s the glory of it. Praise Urthona.”

William shook his head.

“Ulric,” the singer said, “after the dragon, when you and I — when I sang and you prayed, and together we healed her — you must understand, I cannot tell you how much what you did meant to me. To her, as well, of course. But that I should have even so much time as I did, with her … that I should be able to know her … oh, I don’t wish to speak of myself. What I mean is that she and I were able to be together, and in love, due to your action, and … and …”

He put his hand on the singer’s shoulder.

Gryselde, nearby, watched them with hooded eyes.


Previous Chapter | Archives | Next Chapter

Comments are closed.

Proudly powered by WordPress. Theme developed with WordPress Theme Generator.
Copyright © The Fell Gard Codices. All rights reserved.