The Fell Gard Codices

Part 3, Epilogue 2: Steps Taken

September 19th, 2011


His eyes open: Lailoken breathes. Again enfleshed. Blood, bone, tongue; air and words. His stone at his back.

He stands. The river crashes, cascades, in flood. Snowmelt running. It is yet spring, Woldmonath or thereabouts. Dusk or dawn — no, dawn, there is the sun in the east, hiding behind clouds like a three-months’-embryo lurking in the womb. What is about him? Only what ever was, there in that place. The tall standing stone, rune-carved. The river. The forest; spiring pines, maples in bud, oaks brooding and pondering green. Chill mist. The fell. This is Powys-Terrwyn, his home. The standing stone his prison, where his lust and foolishness has trapped him.

Only for a time he is free, has usurped the flesh of some luckless traveller. Who is he, now? His hands are strong. There is no ache in his bones. He is naked; that’s strange. Did the man strip to sleep? Was he a fleeing slave, harried into the woods? (Lailoken is hungry. There is a boiling in his belly. He has learned — now, too late — to ignore wants of the flesh. He must, or moving from body to body would drive him mad, inconstant, now a lecher and now a sodomite, now ascetic and now a glutton. Time as a mere spirit has given him this much: identity apart from the body. Or so he thinks.)

Lailoken whistles. The soil of his native land parts. His gear arises from the earth. Lailoken dons robe, belt, boots; the golden ring upon the littlest finger of his left hand, the knotwork amulet about his neck, the brazen bracelet upon his right wrist. All these things worked round about with charms. He hardly feels himself until he has taken them all up again.

He takes a breath, then, for the pure pleasure of it. He smells the soil, the damp of the crashing river and the mist, the heaviness of the pine. There are no birds singing, not in that place, by his stone; there are no hunting animals.

It seems to him that there is a touch of brimstone flavouring the air.

Be it so, be it not. Lailoken knows he will not be long in this body; he never is. Or not long as he thinks of the word. In time the body’s soul will awaken, will stir, will throw him off, as a warhorse throws a squire to seek its noble knight and true master. Until then, he is at liberty.

He decides to learn a little of what is transpiring in the world.

He takes a step forward. As he does he thinks he sees some shadow step from behind a tree.


The boots of Lailoken are known in fable. They are travellers’ boots. They take him where he will, at a pace. If he wishes to see the most beautiful woman in the world, they will take him to her bedchamber, though it be guarded by champions and gryphons. If he wishes to take a gemstone from a rich man’s vault, they will bring him there, through stone and earth. All he has to do is walk. Who can follow such a man?

Nevertheless Lailoken feels there is someone behind him, as he steps forward to a tower chamber. He does not wish to be seen and so he is not, though there are two people in the chamber. One is a man under a crown; he is forty or more, trim and not over-large, his eyes red and his fine hair brown. The other is a boy in a long gown, and though he seems only a few years old he carries himself with the pride and knowledge of age. (Lailoken remembers his own youth, when he knew so much more than all the world around him. How could you not laugh, to see a king in pomp riding to his inglorious death, and he not knowing it? Lailoken remembers defeating bards in rhyming-contests; remembers prophesying, over the strife of green-skinned giants. — What is there in this boy to bring again these thoughts?)

The room has rich fittings; tapestries hang upon the walls, swaying in the morning breeze. It is brighter here than in Powys-Terrwyn. There is a bed, made up, with a hide covering upon it. There is a wooden desk, with quills and ink-pots. There are books, that affectation of those without memory. Lailoken sees no marks upon the papers, as though paper and ink are for show, a mockery, for the satisfaction of an idea of what the wise must have.

The men speak the Auberch language. Lailoken knows it, though it has been long years since last he heard its sounds and shapes, and it has changed much. He listens as he wanders out upon the terrace.

“The stars,” says the older man. “What did they tell you, last night?”

“They are coming,” says the boy. His voice is not thin or uncertain. Lailoken cannot say what it is, precisely, but it is not a boy’s voice.

There is silence behind him for a moment. The castle is built above a cliff, and he looks out over miles and more. There are high mountains to the south, rock and snow; the White Mountains, perhaps, if this is one of the kingdoms of Auberk-land. A river winds from the mountains, passing the castle far below; a valley spreads out to east and west, filled with rich fields. Peasants are at work. Lailoken notices that not oxen but horses are yoked to their ploughs, with an ingenious soft collar. There are always changes, time upon time.

“When?” the king asks.

“Before the year’s done,” the boy tells him.

“I cannot rebuild Edu in a year,” says the king.

“No mortal army can do as much,” agrees the boy.

“Yet I must protect my lands and people.”

“They will come from the sea. There will be much death.”

“Well, then.” There is a note of finality in the words. “We are confirmed in what must be done. However … monstrous … it may be.” Lailoken turns, to see the king stride to the door.

The boy tilts his head to look at Lailoken, unafraid. Lailoken is not sure that his eyes are mortal.

Before he or the boy can speak, another man walks through the wall. No, not a man. Lailoken knows a devil. He knows this rake-thin duke of hell, with his many-coloured hair, his fop’s clothes, his perfumes and his face-paint.

Lailoken takes a step back.


He wants to go somewhere there is magic, and he is secure in his power. He wants to go somewhere there is no magic, and there is no power to fear.

It is dawn, or just past. The sun is rising. A Ring is being chanted, somewhere nearby. Lailoken hears the song at the ritual’s end. A man is sitting before a low house, looking out across a gently-sloping land to far purple-and-blue hills. He is an older man, and scarred. Sheep wander about, and a crook leans by the door of the house.

Lailoken smells the herb-garden and midden-heap, feels the warmth of the rising sun. The sheep bleat gently. The sitting man looks off into the distance, and the side of his mouth slips upward into the hint of a smile.

“You’re not with your neighbours,” a voice calls from nearby. The sitting man turns.

“I have no right to take part in a Ring,” he says simply. “I have killed too many men and women. Often in your service.”

There’s something afoot. Lailoken senses it as the other man rounds the corner of the house. There is magic here. This man is young and not young. He’s skin and bones, his hair long and white, his flesh pale, half an albino. As though he had been washed in some lye that bleached all colour from him. He wears a fine suit of mail that flashes in the sun, and over it a tabard bearing the sign of a manticore. “Take up your sword,” he says. “Come and kill for me again.”

The sitting man looks away with a laugh like a stutter. “I can’t,” he says.

The standing man nods. “You’re not surprised that I’ve come to you, though.”

The sitting man squints off toward the sun. “I don’t believe you’re real. I think you’re an evil sign of my past. I’m arguing with a ghost.”

“No,” says the other man. “I’ve returned, to claim my throne. Difficult to believe? Still, it’s true.”

“Well,” says the sitting man. “I swore my oaths, but that was very long ago. I am not what I was.” He sighed. “I want nothing more to do with poisons and swords. I’ll do no more rapes, nor midnight murders bold.”

“You must,” the other man tells him. “I need you, again.”

The sitting man shakes his head. “The Manticore, needs me? Surely not.” He looks away, at the wandering sheep. “What do you know of need? Where were you when your kingdom needed you? Your sister, she was here. She led us against the Weeping King. You —”

“I had found my way into Fell Gard,” says the Manticore. The two men are silent. Lailoken decides he must hear out this dialogue.

“Once I might have understood that,” says the sitting man. He shrugs, a rolling of his shoulders. “My beliefs abandoned me.”

“Do you mean to say you believed in me?” asks the Manticore. “I thought you believed in nothing.”

“I believed I believed in nothing,” says the sitting man. He is silent for a moment. “I believed in myself,” he says. “I believed in my own strength. I believed that good and evil were only words … believing in nothing is believing that nothing’s something, if only something to believe in.”

“You’ve turned philosopher,” the Manticore tells him, “and learned my habits. Go, make words mean their opposites!”

“What’s the opposite of king?” asks the sitting man.

“Fool,” says the Manticore. The other man nods.

“Then you’ve preceded me,” he says.

The Manticore laughs. Lailoken hears other folk laughing, as they come from the Ring. “Well, suit yourself,” he says. “Live here, nowhere, far from temptation. I had thought you would like to be involved in the games of power, as of old.” The sitting man makes no reply. “Your daughter showed no hesitation,” says the Manticore, turning to go.

The sitting man stands, his head snapping around. “Mirabilis?” he cries.

The Manticore whirls back, striding to the older man. “Oh yes,” he says. “She is in Fell Gard now.”

The two men stare at each other, faces inches apart. The older man breaks, stumbling, and collapses to sit. “You planned this,” he murmers. One of his sheep brushes by him.

“This is a greater game than rebellion,” says the Manticore. “Swear to me again. I’ll tell you all.” The older man falls forward, into the muck, his hands to his head. The Manticore watches, smiling a little. A woman walks around the side of the house.

She is tall, in trousers and a rich padded tunic with many fine chains of gold and silver upon it. Her colours are red-purple and black, like winestains and fresh blood against night. There is a patch over one eye: she cannot see to the right. Her sword has a tarnished silver hilt, and a hunting-horn made from unicorn’s ivory is slung on her shoulder.

Where there is Merrynight there must be Mockshadow, thinks Lailoken, and where there is Mockshadow —

He turns away, and takes a step.


Lailoken wants to go somewhere there are people, where the devils will not take him alone. He wants to be by himself, and shun people.

He steps into the bell-tower of a great minster, high above a city. Smells salt in the air. Gulls shriek; their shit has coated the stones all about him. To the south he sees a field of blue. White sunlight sparkles on the water. This is one of the southern cities, perhaps even Ager Verbenarum — but no, this place is not old enough for that. Tens of thousands of people, all about him; it is a startling thought.

Stand far above a city, above the stink and noise, and you can almost imagine it is an exciting or attractive place. Lailoken sees rows of houses, huddled before streets. By the water the high masts of ships, sails furled. Wells here and there, at crossroads. The noise of a marketplace.

Closer to hand, he realises that he does not understand the architecture around him. The Ossianic church — the thieves of the true religion, who took their gods from the Country of the Mighty — always built their worship-houses in a pattern of two overlapping circles. This church seems much like that, but it bristles with stone outcroppings. Defensive works? Lailoken realises he is much, much higher than he should be. He realises that the thin arcs of stone reaching from the body of the church to gargoyle-topped pillars are buttresses, taking the weight of the stonework. It’s an audacious conceit, he must admit.

There are shouts below him, a hue and cry. A man runs through a crooked street, throwing away a bloody knife. Lailoken can’t see where he’s coming from.

“What’s happened?” he asks a nearby seagull as it lands, and whispers a word after that.

The gull squawks. “The fucker’s stuck a knife up the arsehole of William of the Tall Ships,” it said. “That’s done for the sad shit. All William’s power won’t bring him a pissing-while more of life.”

“Was William a king?” asks Lailoken, idly watching.

“Naw, screw that,” cries the gull. “He’s a cocksucking merchant. Has his arselicking titles — head of polders, is mayor when he wants it.”

Lailoken nods, watching the crowd chasing the killer. He does not know what a polder is. The murderer ducks into a house just before a mass of people run around a corner. In moments there’s a throng in the square below the church.

And then a movement on one of the buttresses catches Lailoken’s eye. Stepping out from behind the gargoyle atop the buttress is a cloaked and hooded figure. It is tall and broad. The arms of the cloak are long, so that Lailoken cannot see the figure’s hands, and the hood is over the face so that nothing mortal can be known of it.

But then, of course, it isn’t mortal at all. Lailoken knows his demons.

— and where there is Mockshadow, then there you will find Mumchance.

He takes a step as far away from the south of Edu as he can.


He stumbles on the hillside.

It’s cold, and the ground is hard. Ahead of him there is a battle swirling before the gates of a small castle. It’s very bright, there in the north. He recognises the place, almost: Castle Glum, the northernmost of the fortifications of Wendland. It’s been rebuilt. There’s still a wooden wall about the base of a hill, but now the hill’s topped by a thick stone tower.

He dined there once, years before, on his way back from some business among the Koïvut. The food was humble, but the castle’s lord was more than respectful. It angers him, to see this war against a place where he once was received well. He decides he will stop it; for he is a wizard of old time, and he has great might.

He says words.

Ice falls from a clear sky on the attacking army, hail and sleet and rain that freezes as it comes. The defenders retreat, to the still, calm castle overlooking the fray. The attackers are blinded, as the hail drives them to their knees. Those who try to stand slip and fall.

Lailoken whispers more words.

There is fire, then.

When it’s finished there is no more battle. And Lailoken knows he is not alone, upon the hillside. He looks off, through the hills to the west, toward Powys-Terrwyn. Then turns to the three dukes of hell, above him on the slope. “You have sought me,” he says. “You have found me. Are we to battle, now that I have fully woken?”

“By no means!” laughs Mockshadow. “Only, we had hoped for some little gratitude from you.”

“Is it gratitude you want?” Lailoken asks.

“We’ve done you a favour,” says Merrynight, her red lips smiling, promising, seducing. “We have given you —” a flick of her eyes, head to toe and back “— that body.”

Mumchance watches, and says nothing.

Lailoken laughs. “I had always thought that devils schemed to steal souls,” he said, “not give bodies as presents.”

“Every moon waxes and every moon wanes,” says Merrynight.

“Your generosity is overwhelming,” says Lailoken. “I must thank you. The flesh seems … strong.”

“It is, it is,” says Mockshadow. “Oh, I’ve wrestled with it myself, I promise you. Now, it could be yours for as long as you like.”

Lailoken looks to the battlefield; to the castle. Men and women are slowly coming out to the killing ground. “Does it have no soul?” he asks. “No-one to dispossess me?”

Mumchance reaches into the folds of his — or hers, or its — cloak and takes out an animal. He throws it to the hard earth before Lailoken. It is a tattered thing, gargoyle-like, its head overlarge, an embryo ripped from its natural fleshly cage; its skin is scaled and purple, it has one horn on its left temple, it has bat-wings. “That is the soul for the body,” says Merrynight. “It was a worshipper of mine —”

“— of ours —” says Mockshadow, smiling.

“— named Bohemond of the Town Hauksby,” Merrynight continues. “Under circumstances that need not be described at this moment, I —”

“— we —”

“— acquired his body as well as his soul. Well, I thought, what am I —”

“— we —”

“— to do with a mortal body? And then Mumchance reminded all of us —” (a glance here to Mockshadow) “— about our great friend Lailoken, reft of his own body long since, and imprisoned in a stone prison. And we devils do sympathise with the unjustly imprisoned, do we not?”

“I have never been a friend of yours,” Lailoken says. He feels it is important to make this point. Merrynight smiles, a smile to match Mockshadow’s; Mumchance nods. Lailoken realises he has walked into their trap.

“No,” says Mockshadow. “And yet see what you have done here. You are more our creature than you know.”

“Perhaps,” says Merrynight, “we should then speak of what you might do for us, to compensate us for the body we have provided you. Then we could become friends, couldn’t we? Once grounds for mutual trust had been established.”

“I see,” says Lailoken. “And what do you want?”

“We want you,” says Mockshadow, “to enter Fell Gard, the Master Dungeon. We have various pressing matters underway therein, you see. Now, we, being who we are, can naturally move in and out of Fell Gard, but you are one of the few creatures of the outer world who can enter the dungeon, in those remarkable boots of yours. I fear you will find they will not help you to leave.”

“And what will I do in that place?” asks Lailoken.

Mockshadow nods to the mewling soul on the ground. “Take up Bohemond,” he says. “He’ll be our … agent … with you. Then walk into Fell Gard; we will meet you there, and tell you what must be done next. Otherwise … well, I’m sure Bohemond would like his life back. Of course, if you do as we say, you may keep that flesh for as long as you like. It’s all up to you, really.”

They watch him. He looks around. The harsh beauty of the north, every line of the ground sharp. The light pure, in some way he cannot define.

He takes a step, to Shivartha where a troupe of shadowplayers in a mountain town are making ready for the night’s performance. He draws a deep breath of the thin air, feeling his chest rise and fall.

He takes a step, to Ager Verbenarum. He looks upon the old mosaics of fallen Emperors with eyes sharp enough to pick out one tile from another.

He takes a step, to the ruins of the city of Karanduniash, where the great tomb-tower of Temenank had fallen thousands of years before. It’s sunlight, and the ghouls are not about. The winds howl about the silent stone houses. Grass has begun to grow upon the wide prairie. It is springtime.

He takes a step, back to Castle Glum. The devils are gone. Bohemond’s soul remains. He picks it up.

He takes a step, into Fell Gard.


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One Response to “Part 3, Epilogue 2: Steps Taken”

  1. Perfidius the Rogue

    Don’t do it, man!

    ..damn, too late.

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