The Fell Gard Codices


The Ring was long since done, and Anselm was sweeping out the church, as was his responsibility, when he saw the newcomers moving toward the inn. He’d watched earlier from the church door as the winged lady Aura, in her film-like silks, had fluttered one way and another through the cave’s endless night: like a scudding cloud before the moons, sleeves and flowing dress as burnished mist in the ætherial glow from above, her body within a shadow hinting at substance, the whole a dialogue of light and dark. He’d stared awhile, before turning away to sweep again, thinking of death speaking to the gods; but now he saw, as he whisked dust out over the threshold, that Aura had been summoning all those of her company. Watching unmoving at the western door of the church he saw them one by one walking from all the places she had flown, toward the inn — then out of sight, to the inn-yard beyond.

Some of the folk of Innsdene were with them, he saw: Theda hand-in-hand with Elous, Roger o’t’ Line Aubrey keeping company with that yellow-haired woman. Anselm was surprised at how much he wanted to follow as well. For some reason he remembered again that mad scramble in the church, before the dragons and the angels had come. It had happened so very fast. The lady knight, entering through the western door, through this door where he now stood. She had been in pain. And … what had he done, then?

He looked at the broom. He remembered sweeping the church, day after day. Each day since he had come to Innsdene, five years before — no, six. He had hoped to be given some challenging post, somewhere he could demonstrate his talent for disputation; he had been given Innsdene, the Church of Ælfwyn Fausta of the Holy Name, and Ranulf. Now they were in Fell Gard, and still Ranulf had him sweeping. And he was right; Ranulf was right. Someone had to sweep the church. And Anselm was the deacon. It was his responsibility. He thought again of the Graf Vaka-Bane, speaking to the gods, telling them of duty and what was to come.

He turned away from the church door. He drew the broom across the stones.

Anselm thought: I have seen angels. There was no gainsaying that. Even Ranulf could not deny them. And yet Anselm had not been surprised at their coming and their battle. It was as though he had foreseen them without knowing it, them and so much more, perhaps in sleep. Angels; dragons; so many things, here in Fell Gard, terrifying and latent, monsters and treasures hinting at the will of gods, a riddle that if answered might lead even to — what? The Fourth Union, perhaps. So one might devoutly hope. And he, he that was now among all these things, he was simply a short stout man that was young but no longer a youth. A loyal deacon, he swept up the church where, before, at his touch, flesh had dreamed itself to health.

In the Ring of Holly he dropped to his knees, melancholic.

“King of Oak, Queen of Holly,” he murmured. “I pray you, send to me a sign, speak to me … only speak … what shall I do?”

He waited, head bowed. Nothing happened.

Of course there was no need for a miracle. It was only up to him; to stand on his own legs, and cross the church threshold, and go to Peg’s inn. If he so chose. If he abandoned his sweeping.

Anselm wept. Silently, without moving. He felt tears overfill his eyes. He felt a drop of warm water upon his knee. He knew: to go to the inn was wrong. He had duties that he could not abandon. No, not even after what he had done, there in the church, before the folk of Innsdene. He had blessed the knight, and laid hands upon her armour, and she had been — but no, let it be; no, no, he had duties.

But what duties, he asked himself. If Ranulf was not present, as indeed he was not, then did his deacon not have the duty to see what befell nearby?

Why would that duty eclipse his duty to the church? he asked himself.

Because events at the inn are happening now and will not be there later, he answered, while the church will remain, and may be swept at a later time.

Anselm thought this over. He could see no argument against it. He remembered his dream: the labyrinth he must run.

Carefully, he set the broom down and, hurrying across the soil of the cave floor, went to the inn that was now so very close to the church. Where was Ranulf?

Not at the inn-yard, Anselm found. No; but how many others were. How many folk of all kinds. All the newcomers, there in the light of torches set on stands: the lady knights, and the singers young and old, and the stag-man, and the goblinkin, and the dwarves, and the elves — and the fat glossologist was arguing with one of the elves, who was about to fight her, her orc, which itself scared Anselm just to look at — well, they were all there. He had never thought to see such a company in his life. The tall elf-folk in white armour; the folk of the dungeon, in their silken tunics; the bird-man black as coal; the southern priest, John of the Inner Book, and his noble followers in their tattered finery of bright reds and blues; the black-eyed rat-men with shocking pink ears and hands; a brindled cat with wings and a horn on its brow; so many others, chattering in languages he could hardly count.

Seeing all of them gathered there he thought of the Ring, the gathering of all the folk of Innsdene (and some more beside — the winged folk had been there, clothed, thank Oak and Holly; and that girl Elous had been there with Theda, and John of the Inner Book). Ranulf had had tears in his eyes. They all had. They had seen angels. They had spoken with angels. Whatever danger they were in, in Fell Gard, they knew there was not terror and fear alone. There was hope, and beauty, and what was called sublime.

(Anselm had learned the word during his schooling at university. He was fascinated by it, as he was fascinated by how words were built up out of other words, so that one word was a dialogue of meaning in itself. ‘Sub’ meaning under, ‘lime’ from the Vitelic for lintel, the beam of a doorway; and so the sublime was what lay beyond the threshold. What had not been understood, or what was beyond one’s experience. It was a new word, recently discovered in an old Vitelic text. Ranulf did not approve of it, as he did not approve of so much of the new learning. But they were in Fell Gard, itself a name built of age on age: ‘fell’ from the Auberch, ‘gard’ from the Vættir, the two together showing the tides of years and empire that had rolled over the Wican people before the Grey Kings established Ossian’s reign. Language could not be separated from story and the past. Anselm did not understand why Ranulf refused to accept this.)

Ranulf’s tears: Anselm had never seen the old man like that, not since he’d been sent to Innsdene. He’d never heard a story about Ranulf being like that, and he knew Ranulf had been in Innsdene a very long time. Ranulf was old, and Anselm was never sure if he was hard-crusted or merely hollow. But after the dragons had gone and it was all done, Anselm had seen him lay hands upon the men who had been wounded by the goblin’s knives, and bring them back almost from death. Just as John of the Inner Book had brought back one of his men.

And Anselm had seen the bright shining bird descend from some ledge far above, to sit upon Benedict’s chest and look at him till he arose, unhurt. Here in this place there were great hurts and strange healing graces. Here there were prophets: those that stood before the gods. Anselm thought of old Ranulf, healing with a touch. Becoming a prophet. But hadn’t he done it himself? Had Oak and Holly not gifted him with prophecy, too? Or was he fooling himself? Did prophecy come from belief? If so, did you have to believe a certain way? Or did the gods select their prophets at whim? Anselm wondered if his faith was truly the kind that could work miracles. He believed that the gods showed themselves through reason, through dialogue.

But what was prayer, if not a dialogue with all that was beyond words?

He drew closer to the crowd. Nobody told him to go away. He still didn’t see Ranulf anywhere. He did see the piper, Robert. “What’s all this?” he asked the old singer, who shrugged.

“I don’t know,” said the greybeard. “I saw folk set off from the room with Oak and Holly. Well, I was there to worship, and so I saw them return, a wild look to them. They had two half-dead goblinkin with them, and told us all we were in danger. Saving two elves that remained to watch in that chamber, they led us back here. Ah, Gryselde’s got something to say.”

Gryselde was the sorine that led them, Anselm remembered. He saw her at the front of the crowd, speaking with Peg; pointing and nodding. “Is it all right for me to hear it?” he asked.

“I suppose that’s why she’s speaking out in the open,” said the old singer. Anselm looked behind him. Other people were coming. People from the town. He looked back to the front, where the Sorine was watching the yard, arms folded before her.

“Like death before the gods,” said Anselm. Robert laughed.Anselm watched Peg nod to the sorine, then turn and enter the inn.

He was about to ask the old piper what would happen, but heard the man speaking to someone else: “It’s a story in one of Ossian’s poems.” Anselm turned, surprised that anyone would not know about The Word of Death, to find the stag-headed man staring at him. The forest lord loomed over Robert, the runes cut into his horns deep shadows. Anselm said nothing as Robert continued, in the smooth words of a man used to expounding doctrine: “Ossian was a poet long ago, who wrote twenty-two noble poems that tell of the making of all things, and of the wars of the gods in the times before mortal men. Ossian tells us that before the first of these wars, the god of death, Graf Vaka-Bane, spoke out before the assembled armies of the gods and their servants, the dwarves and elves and giants and dragons. He spoke to them about duty. He knew, you see, he knew that great strife and pain was coming, as it did through three terrible wars, and a fourth that is still ongoing. And he said that it fell to every living and divine creature to do their part, the duty that was laid upon them, until he came to them and gave them their freedom. His wife is the lady of fate, you know, Gravine Orlæg, and so Vaka-Bane knows all these things, and all that will be. Vaka-Bane promised the gods and their followers that though there would be strife through the long years of the future, for such is the nature of creation and of fallen time, still at the end of all things those that did right and did as they were bound would bring about a final union in which all that was lost would be saved.”

Anselm watched the stag-man listening to Robert. He did not move, and Anselm could not read his feelings. When Robert was done the forest lord raised his head, away from Anselm to stare at the front of the inn-yard. He said nothing and paid no more attention whatsoever to Robert or Anselm. Anselm followed the stag-man’s gaze, and saw that Peg’s girls had brought a table out from the inn, and were placing it before the crowd.

“He’s a deep one,” Robert whispered to Anselm. “But as good a creature as I know.”

Anselm might have asked Robert more about the forest lord, but the table was now in place and Sorine Gryselde stepped up to stand on it. Anselm realised that Lina was up at the front, near Gryselde; Lina’s arms were crossed, and she had that scornful smile she always had whenever she looked at anyone who could read.

“Listen to me, please,” Gryselde called out. “Listen! Please!” Slowly the noise of the inn-yard dropped away. The sorine said: “I have come from speaking with Sir Hugh. We have decided some principles for how our House will relate to Innsdene — but we have learned that there are far more important matters to discuss.” She nodded, and stepped down.

One of the lady knights clambered awkwardly up onto the table. It was the one that made you feel better, when you looked at her. Anselm suspected she was a preceptor; he’d heard about them, and their affect. The heavy table creaked but did not break under the weight of her, and her armour. The knight reached back down, carefully, and pulled the little goblin up onto the table with her. She said: “After the battle ended, after the dragons had gone, some of us went out to try to find other people to help, as we thought the town was safe.” She paused. She looked about at the crowd. “Not far from here,” she said, “we found a city of hob-goblins.”

She stopped, and there was a brief silence, then the sound of indrawn breaths, and then shouted questions. Above the questions one bright voice echoed clear: “You also found a talking piece of dung!” shouted the flying girl.

“Ah, did someone just fart?” bellowed a little rocklike man with an onyx earring. “Hum, it’s awfully airy here!”

“Aura!” snapped the sorine. “Stratum, I beg your patience. Everyone! We will answer your questions, I promise you! Let Ygerna speak!”

The knight turned to the little goblin. “Your roy — Kate,” said the knight. “Please.” Anselm, stunned, attended carefully. Before being drawn into Fell Gard he had never seen any of the goblinkin, though of course he’d heard stories of them: of terrible things done in the night. To be close to a whole city — what would this one say?

“I went into the city,” began the goblin, or whatever it was. “I went to the court of their queen. Some of the hob-goblins who were fighting here, earlier, had gone there. They know about this place!”

Ygerna nodded. Kate hopped down as the crowd began to talk, and then Ygerna slowly followed. Gryselde smoothly stepped back up to the table. “We must prepare to defend Innsdene again,” she said. “I’m sorry. I wish I could give you rest. All I can say is that we do not know if they will attack. I would like to discuss this matter further with some of you inside. But I thought all of you should know.”

“How many are there?” someone shouted.

“Very many,” said Gryselde. “But recall: we, all of us, we have faced dragons.” The crowd stilled a moment. The sorine looked around at all of them. She did not have the air of the knight, Anselm thought. For worse or for better. “We will all do what we must,” she said. “All of you — I can only ask that you be ready.”

Anselm shivered. What was he to do? Clearly, find Ranulf and tell him what had been said. That was his duty. Is it? he asked himself. Or is my duty to learn as much as I can of this city? Having chosen to be here, must I not therefore follow my choice through to the end? He thought about this as a few further questions were shouted: what weapons did the hob-goblins have, what other creatures were with them, where were they, who would say what to do next? There were few sure answers, except to say that the city was beyond the room of Oak and Holly, and that there would be councils held to determine the best course of action. Anselm watched, listened, and when the sorine stepped down from her table found he had himself determined upon his own course.

As the crowd began to disperse, some of them going through into the inn’s main room, Anselm joylessly wandered around the side of the building. This has to be done, he told himself. He found the kitchen door, and knocked.

It opened, a little. Nell stuck her head around the edge. Anselm was wary. He never really knew how to talk to gossipy old Nell. Everyone in town would know he was inside the inn by the time he’d left; but that didn’t matter, that wasn’t the problem. It was just that when you spoke to her, even when you ended up thinking that you’d got what you wanted, you sometimes found she’d got round you in some way you hadn’t really noticed. “Anselm!” cried Nell. “Doesn’t Ranulf have you cleaning up the church?”

“My chores there are done for the moment,” he said. “I thought — it sounded as though there was matter to discuss, here.”

“Oh, well, I wouldn’t know about that,” said Nell with a toss of her head. “I think the sorine and her folk want to be alone, to talk. Why don’t you fetch Ranulf? Maybe they’d have something to say to him.”

“I don’t know where he is,” said Anselm honestly. “Will you let me in, Nell?”

“Well,” she said, “I don’t know if that would be right.”

“Nell,” he said. “You know who I am. Would I do anything that was irresponsible?”

A question in a dialogue might be misleading. It was well to keep one’s wits about one.

“Poor Anselm,” she said, pity in her voice. He wondered if she would make his choice for him. “Well … I suppose I could let you in. Maybe I should, really, you being deacon. Only, would you tell me something?”

“Certainly,” he said.

“What makes Ranulf happy?” she whispered. “Really happy?”

“I don’t know,” Anselm said, surprised. “I’ve never seen him happy. The prospect of universal annihilation, perhaps.”

Nell scrunched up her face. “What? I said I’d let you in, Anselm of the First Word, so don’t you play your little games with me!”

“No,” he said. “Of course not.” But what would he tell her? Even if he could think of something, would he be doing right by Ranulf to spread it about? Ah, but wait. He knew what to say that was no real secret. “Do you know what makes him happy?” he said. “The church. The scale of it. The bigger he can make it, and the … cleaner … the more proper, the tidier. That matters to him, very much.”

Nell’s face relaxed into a smile. “There,” she said. “That was simple, wasn’t it? Come in, then, come in.”

He went through the long kitchen, to the door onto the main room. He stopped before the threshold, in the shadows by the open door. There was something like a score of them, in the room beyond. Lina was with them, watching with her odd smile. But beyond her … Anselm wondered if the inn had ever held folk of so many different kinds. There were some elves, a male and two females. The older male dwarf and the female. The little man with the earring, who looked something like them but was not of their kind. The bird-headed man, next to the Morien woman. And ratmen. Two of them, as well. Sorine Gryselde, the fat lady wizard, the little girl wizard, the big black-bearded man, the young singer, the sallow-faced man in the embroidered robe, an old man he did not know, a young man who was smiling at the sorine, John of the Inner Book, a man dressed as a brother of Secga of the Tongues, the blond-haired woman that had been with Roger o’t’Line Aubrey — who also was there, watching — and, finally, the lady knight who had not spoken in the courtyard. The one from the church, that he had touched and, he thought, it had seemed, that he had healed.

They were questioning one of the little goblins. Another goblin was translating the questions, and the first goblin’s answers. The little goblin was named Robyn, Anselm gathered, and there seemed to be something to do with some war to the north between her people and some dwarves. Not a goblin, thought Anselm. Robyn is the traditional name of the hob-goblin, that was what the fireside stories said. Was he then caught up in some old gossip’s tale?

They finished the questioning as he watched, keeping to the shadows of the kitchen. “Well, what do we know, then?” asked Sorine Gryselde, turning from the hob-goblin.

“Not as much as I’d like,” muttered the big man. “How many of them, their battle-plans —”

“Too many to fight,” said Kate.

“We’re going to have to fight them, sooner or later,” said the big man. “Or give up this cave.”

“These dwarves,” said the young singer. “If we ally with them —”

“We don’t know how many of them there are,” said Gryselde, “or why they’re fighting. Geoffrey’s right. There are too many things not known.”

It occurred to Anselm that what she had said in the inn-yard was nothing more or less than the truth. Innsdene was in danger, again. It could be attacked at any moment. If he truly had powers given by Oak and Holly —

The sallow-faced man in his robe with many symbols cleared his throat. “I’d like to know how these hob-goblins are managing to carry on a fight over such a distance. The city’s afar off that way, south and east. The battle is somewhere north —”

“And west,” said one of the elves. “I saw them, come out of a hall from the west, and then down the wide bone-floored hall.”

“Firstly, that’s a lot of ground to control,” said the sallow man. “And are they moving their forces back and forth through it? Then why haven’t we seen them? And why are doing this? Yes, goblinkin and dwarves don’t like each other — but they’re making quite an effort, it seems. To win what?”

The sorine said, “Kate, when you heard the hob-goblin speak to his queen — he said that he chased two mortals southward?”

“Yes,” said the translator-goblin.

The sorine looked to the male elf. “Odd he didn’t mention you and your people, Entemena. — And you’re sure they kept the murineans as slaves, Kate?”

“Yes,” repeated the little blue-skinned goblin. Anselm remembered the old stories. Could this ‘Kate’ be a cobold?

“You said there was no slavery in Fell Gard, Gamelyn,” the sorine said to the sallow man.

“I said it didn’t work,” he told her. “I didn’t say people didn’t keep trying it.”

Anselm wondered what to make of them. They seemed to have accepted all these things, however provisionally. Was this what he must take on, as well, this wild talk of goblins and such?

The old man said, “Stratum, Kate — you say the hob-goblin city opened onto the Abyss of Stairs? And that they were … oriented … towards the Abyss?”

“True,” said the little man with the earring. “They trade through the stairs, ho, ha, they hire out as mercenaries and such. The passage onto this court — hum, that’s nothing to them.”

“What are you thinking, Atrahasis?” asked the sorine. She was still; hardly seemed to move; but Anselm found his eye constantly returning to her.

“If we haven’t seen them in these halls,” said the old man slowly, “is it possible … they haven’t been in these halls? Could there be a bridge across the Abyss, on the nineteenth court? And then could they know a way along, down there?”

“Huh,” said someone.

“When you’ve eliminated the impossible,” said the fat wizard, “whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

“What?” said the big man. The wizard waved her hand.

“It’s a saying among glossologists,” she said. “Diccon, your band knows this area. What do you think?”

“Truthfully,” said the young man, “we’d only recently returned hereabouts. We were fleeing — well, it doesn’t matter, I suppose, but we didn’t know all the powers that had taken over since we were last here. It could be as he says.”

Gryselde sighed. “May be,” she repeated. “There are too many may bes. We have to learn more, and perhaps find a way to speak to these dwarves. We should select a party — two parties. One to scout the Abyss, and find the bridge, and travel the nineteenth court. The other to go north, and west, and try to find this battle-ground.”

“We’re most of us healed up and ready for more,” said the big man. “Be nice to have a rest, but if it doesn’t work out that way —” he shrugged.

“But what of the prophets?” asked the old dwarf. His manner was mild, but his stare was unyielding. “How much grace remains in them, to heal you again if anything should go amiss on these expeditions?”

“Ulric’s exhausted,” said the young singer. “I saw him heal the hob-goblins, Robyn and — what’s her brother’s name, Kate?”

“Robin,” said the translator-goblin. “All hob-goblins are named Robin.” The singer rolled his eyes.

“All the prophets are exhausted,” said Gryselde. “Even the caladrius was seen to heal one of the townsfolk, I understand. Still.”

All right, thought Anselm. Now. All right.

“May I speak?” he asked, stepping forward.

Yes. To engage in dialogue.

He crossed into the main room, as they all turned. The sorine looked at him. “Who are you?” she asked. “What are you doing here?”

“I am Anselm,” he said. “I’m the — I’m a priest. A deacon.” Lina laughed, but said nothing. “I — I was in the yard, and heard you. If you need a priest, I could be that for you.”

He had not known he meant to say that, not really, though thinking about it he didn’t know what else he could have meant to say; and anyway then he heard himself saying it. Dialogues could be unpredictable, he realised. Words came from somewhere deep inside you that you did not see.

“Can you heal another with a touch?” asked the sorine.

“He did before,” said the big man. He nodded to the lady knight. “Fixed Amanos.”

“I must thank him for that,” murmured the sorine.

“He’s a good man,” said Roger of the Line Aubrey. Anselm hadn’t expected that.

“It was — I’d never done anything like that before,” said Anselm. “In the church. Nor had Ranulf, I’m sure of it. But here … I don’t understand it, but … he and I have become different somehow.”

“You’ve become prophets,” said the sallow man. “It happens.”

How does it happen?” asked the sorine. “Gamelyn. How does one become a prophet, in Fell Gard? I am a sorine. Why do I not have the healing touch?”

Gamelyn, the sallow-faced man, shifted uncomfortably. “These are questions about the approach to truth,” he said. “You know I’m not the best one to turn to for that.” He sighed. “All that I know, really, is that the dungeon … the further into it one goes, the deeper, the more we are … flattened? The more we become roles, not people. Maybe. Does that make sense?”

“No,” said the sorine.

“Well,” said Gamelyn, “let’s say, then, that you chose a path —”

The main door of the inn-room was flung open. Ætheric light flooded into the inn-room. “Anselm!” bellowed Ranulf.

There he was, silhouetted against the milky light; short, a bit stout, his red curls going grey, his face creased with scowl lines. And the Good Boy was beside him. No; not the Good Boy. The other one. Paradox of the Good Act.

“Ranulf,” said Anselm, quietly.

“You were to tidy the church,” said Ranulf.

“Sir,” said the dark-haired young singer; but the sorine put a hand on his arm.

“It seemed to me,” said Anselm, “that there were other responsibilties.”

“Anselm, is it?” said the sorine. “You must understand — the agreement I have with your Sir Hugh is that anyone who would belong to our House must explore Fell Gard. If you choose to assist us, you will expose yourself to danger, not just now, but at least until we find a way out of the dungeon.”

“But this is nonsense!” cried Ranulf. “You, join them? Anselm, I know you. You’re not a hero, or a warrior. You do what you do, and do it well enough, I suppose. We don’t need more than that. You don’t, certainly. Listen to the sister; leave it alone.”

“How did you know I was here?” asked Anselm. “Did Nell tell you?”

“It hardly matters,” said Ranulf.

“No,” agreed Anselm. “Ranulf … I am here because I have realised what my responsibility really is. I saw someone in danger, and I went to help them, not knowing, I didn’t understand — I found I had power to help them, and with that power must come responsibility. Do you see that?”

“No,” said Ranulf. “You keep yourself to yourself, and leave their business to them.” Ranulf gave a half-nod to the sorine. “No disrespect, Sorine.”

“My responsibility is to her House, Ranulf,” said Anselm.

“Responsibility,” sneered Ranulf. “A weighty word with you, Anselm. But this is not that, surely. No … no, this is only what you want, isn’t it? You’ve found responsibility where you want it to be. If you cared, boy, you’d know that we can’t trust ourselves to see what’s right for us to do. Any of us.” He glared around the room, as though challenging any of them to disagree with him. “We must suffer correction from others, and do what we are taught is right.”

“Ranulf,” said Anselm, “I had a dream that told me that this is right.”

Ranulf nodded. “We certainly mustn’t do as our dreams bid us. That is self-indulgence.”

“But what if there is a rightness to our dreams beyond what anyone else can see?” asked Anselm. “What if they are our responsibilities?”

“Always dialogues,” said Ranulf, almost sorrowful. “Well, I’ll not bandy words. I’ve told you what your choice is, and you do what you must. I’ll say no more.” He turned and strode away.

“Charming fellow,” said the old dwarf. “Almost dwarven, really.”

“I was just thinking that,” said the big man.

“Are you sure of this choice?” asked the sorine.

Anselm nodded, in the flickering light of the inn-fire. “I promise you solemnly to be of your House, and do all I might to aid you.” He paused. “Do I — need a sponsor, or some such?”

“No,” said the sorine. “We will accept you. So long as you do right by us. If you are prepared to venture into Fell Gard’s halls.”

“I am,” said Anselm.

“Well then,” said the singer. He looked around at the room. “And who is there to go with him?”

They were all silent, considering the question.

Anselm waited for their answer, knowing now that his responsibility did not extend so far, and being satisfied, as he would not have been before, with the knowledge of its limits.

He had found his proper place, for the moment; and that was enough.


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