The Fell Gard Codices


Olujimi sat cross-legged on his bed, contemplating the divination board and the words he’d had for Yejide. Ulixa. He wished he’d had something better to tell her. But truth was truth. He lifted his right hand to his neckalce. It felt cold; uncomfortably so.

He heard someone else enter the long room. He looked up; it was the wizard, the other guest at the inn, who had been pulled into Fell Gard with the rest of them. Irkalla, remembered Olujimi. He blinked, and that quickly he was not Olujimi, but Alexander.

“Can we talk?” asked Irkalla. She was even paler than the other mortals of that country; like a dead thing with all the blood out of it. Her hair was black, and hung lankly down to her shoulders. She wore a fine indigo robe, and silk gloves laced with silver. She was very short.

“Of course,” said Alexander. Irkalla nodded.

“They’ll be done downstairs soon,” she said. “What happens then I don’t know. I wondered if you had an idea what they’ll do.”

“Because I spoke with Ulixa?”

Irkalla shook her head. “Because you’re some kind of priest.”

“Some kind,” said Alexander, smiling.

“A prophet, if you prefer,” said Irkalla. “What do you think’s going to happen?”

“I might guess,” said Alexander. “But I have no real insight.”

“No?” said Irkalla. “Are you not a prophet, after all?”

Alexander sighed. “People have called me a number of things,” he said.

“I can imagine,” said Irkalla.

“Can you?” he asked. He stared at her face. There was something very strange about her. “Forgive me, but are you mortal?” he asked.

She did not answer, but stared at him in such a way that he knew he had made a mistake. She sat on her bed, across from him.  “Do you think you’re a wise man?” she asked.

“I can’t really say,” he told her.

“You must know,” she said. “Do you give guidance to people?”

“I try.”

“Then do they feel your guidance is good?”

He laughed. “Guidance means that you listen to a person, and let them speak; and they will sooner or later give themselves guidance. Is that wisdom? To listen, and not to ask?”

Irkalla stared at him. “It’s sometimes wise not to ask people about their past, yes.”


The lake extended further back than you realised when you saw it from the surface. The western wall of the cave ended a few feet below the water-line, opening onto a submerged grotto where Ithream’s people lived. Keturah had marvelled at their home; rocks grown over with vines and weeds and lichens, shaped into palaces and bowers. Silver fish had drifted about as they swam to Ithream’s tower, and a large turtle had passed them, watching with old and slow eyes. The waters were cold, of course, and there was no natural light; but then, elves had ætheric vision, so the darkness did not matter.

Keturah listened as Kezia explained to Ithream what the vala had learned about the hob-goblin city, all three of them floating above the spires of his High Home. “You are in danger in this place,” she concluded.

Ithream said: “The hob-goblins have not attacked us in a very long time. Why would they do so now?”

“Is this so?” asked the vala. “Truly?”

Ithream began to answer; and then stopped. “I don’t understand,” said Keturah.

“I have two memories,” said Ithream. “All of us … we dream twice over.”

“This is a new court,” said Kezia. “And that is the way of such courts. I can almost remember it myself … that was a long time ago.”

“I don’t understand!” Keturah repeated.

Kezia smiled. “A court is fashioned out of the æther,” she said, “but it is created with all its history in place. Even the memories of those that were made —”

“Stop,” said Ithream.

“But where did —” began Keturah.

“Stop!” said Ithream. “You are saying — our memories are false. Our history is a lie. The great wars and evils we thought were true — are a fiction, made by the will of the wizard Scaeva!”

Kezia opened her hands, the underwater equivalent of a shrug. “I say only what seems to me to be the truth,” she said.

“But where did they come from?” asked Keturah. They both looked at her. “These elven souls,” she said. “Are — how could they —”

“When an elf dies in Fell Gard,” said Kezia, “their spirit remains in the Master Dungeon, and is reborn therein. Ithream and his people are among those that died within Fell Gard, some time ago. But were reborn only a few days —”

“No!” cried Ithream. “It must not be!”

“Then if I die in Fell Gard,” murmured Keturah, “my spirit will be bound here …”

“Go,” said Ithream. “Both of you, go. My people must discuss this.”

“I am vala,” said Kezia. “It is my duty to give you guidance.”

“You have given us too much already,” said Ithream. “Go; if the hob-goblins threaten, we will do as we must, when we must.”

So they went; but Keturah was greatly disturbed by what she had learned. The darkness of the water was now oppressive, and the shadows of the rocks seemed to threaten her. How would she ever escape?


“Perhaps,” said Alexander. “But the past will out, you see? To understand where we are in the present, we must … accept our past. Though we may not understand it.”

Irkalla stirred. “These are words,” she said. “Fine-sounding; meaningless.”

“What are you looking for?” he asked.

She smiled, thinly, and waited a moment before answering. “Maybe you’re right,” she said. “Let people guide themselves. Was I upset when you asked about my ancestry? Yes. You were right. I’m looking for my father, priest.”


Aubrey of the Line Aubrey nodded his head, vigorously, repeatedly. “Very good,” he said. “And Roger is with them, in the inn? Very good.” He smiled to Otto. “Your father is doing well.” Otto smiled back, uncertain. Good; the child had learned not to presume too much.

They were all in Aubrey’s hall, on the second story of his manor. Not that it was truly a manor; not that he had a noble title, not that he had the powers of Hugh the bailiff. But what he had he had, and he knew he would have more, before he was done. He would leave his children a legacy to be proud of, despite all the forces against him. There were, after all, many ways to a title.

Aubrey looked at Ysaac, who had brought the news of events at the inn. “And?” he asked.

“And I have one of the outlaws,” Ysaac acknowledged. “If Hugh —”

“I’ll worry about Hugh of the Annulets Sable when I must, and not a second before,” said Aubrey. “Bring the outlaw.”

Ysaac bowed, and left the room, and a moment later brought a hooded, bound man into the hall. “Run along,” Aubrey whispered to Otto, who fled. Obedience; the child had learned that, too. Finally. Aubrey nodded to Ysaac, who removed the man’s hood. “Your name,” said Aubrey.

“Are you the bailiff?” asked the outlaw. Aubrey nodded again to Ysaac, who punched the man in the head, twice.

Aubrey waited till the man stirred again, and said, “I am not the bailiff, nor is this a court of law. Answer me fairly and quickly, and perhaps you need not see a court. I mean that in the best sense. Answer me poorly, and I will make you suffer. Now. Your name.”

The bound man thought about it. “Richard,” he said finally. “Of the Falcon Rising.”

“Good,” said Aubrey. “I have heard of your family. Are you surprised? I know about the injustice done your mother. I know about her support for the Manitcore, those years ago, and her disinheritance, and … well, you must after all know much more of it than I. To start with: what business have you had with Peg of the Mountain Inn?”

This was the crucial point, Aubrey thought. Richard looked about him.

“What do you want to hear?” he asked. Ah, thought Aubrey, who knew when a man was broken, and when a man was broken even when he told himself he wasn’t — when, for example, he thought he was being crafty.

“I want to hear what you’ll tell Hugh of the Annulets Sable, when he tries you and puts you to the question,” said Aubrey. “If he tries you. If we cannot find an alternative.”

“An alternative?” said Richard.

“Your lady mother is still a prisoner, isn’t she?” asked Aubrey. “Oh, yes. There are alternatives. You could be saved, she could be saved — this is a promising situation for your most noble house.”

“Is it?” asked Richard.

Aubrey let his smile show. “Or you might find your line snuffed out, if you’re not careful. If Hugh lets his justice have his way. I assume you have no children — you’re not married, yet, are you, Richard? No. No, I had thought not.” It was all falling into place. He clapped the confused knight on the shoulder. “This is a very promising situation indeed; for all of us.”


“That is a common want,” Alexander said.

Irkalla waved a hand as though brushing at a fly. She stared at him, her eyes flat and seeming dead. “I know you are a priest. I don’t know your doctrines.”

He shrugged. “Do right.”

“Are you a fool?”

“Do right on earth to be united with your spiritual body in … heaven, I suppose you would say.”

She continued to stare; it was draining to look at her. “What is right?” she asked.

“If that question could be easily answered,” he told her, “there would be no need for priests.”


“So you see,” said Gregory, “we’ll have to fight. Again.”

They were all of them sitting in the forest clearing where they’d slept earlier. Achard of the White Rook nodded, smiling. Not that there was anything to smile about, but if you had the choice, why not? Poor Thomas looked glum at Gregory’s news. Joya patted his hand.

“I’ve had too much fighting,” said Martin of the Hooded Falcon. “I just — I almost died. I could feel the orc’s spear right through me. If John hadn’t been there … I could have died.”

“I’m ready to fight,” said Achard, staring up to the bright cave roof.

“No,” said Martin, nettled, “you never cared about taking a spear up inside you, did you?”

Achard grinned lazily. “Why, now you’ve had a taste yourself, I suppose you’ll be wanting more,” he said. “Well, I’ll give you some whenever you like.” Martin flushed and stood. Achard kept smiling. Martin stalked away, off into the forest. Well, let him go; they were all too close, by this time, to try to pretend to be other than what they were. That was what Achard thought, anyway. Whether Martin agreed or not was his own look-out.

Gregory sighed. “I saw the hob-goblin city, Achard. There are too many to fight.”

Achard snorted. “I saw dragons, Gregory. And orcs, and I can hardly count what all else. And here I am, here we are, still alive. With a prophet as one of us. And a preceptor. And glossologists. And … need I go on? Let’s fight. Let’s keep fighting. It’s fun! Let’s see where it gets us.”

Clara laughed; but Gregory turned away from Achard’s grin. “This was more than any of you asked for,” murmured Thomas. “I’m so sorry.”

“No!” cried Joya. “Don’t be! We’re — we’re safe, now. Anyway we’ve been rescued from the outlaws, and — and all we have to do is get home, and be married!”

“Oh, he’s right, your grace,” said Achard. “This is all more than any of us asked for. But we’ve our duty to you; and we’re friends beside, you know that. No, I’ll fight. I’ll fight until we’re free.”

“I want to join them,” said Ingrith suddenly. Her small mouth was set, like a bloody wound in her pale face. “It’s what’s right.”

Achard laughed. “You know you’ve not got the training for that,” he said. “Now I’ve been readied for it, by training and by inclination. Let fighters fight, my lady.”

“Achard,” said Thomas. “Do you believe in John? In the new learning?”

Achard wanted to answer with a joke; but it was Thomas’ way to be serious enough, and open enough, that making a joke of him somehow made a joke out of your own self. Perhaps that was why Achard liked Thomas; he gave him reason to be serious, and something worth being serious about. Not for the first time, he found himself envying Joya.

“John talks about the spirit of love,” he said aloud. “I believe in that. I believe it’s worth fighting for.” He stood up. “By your leave,” he said, “I’m going to go find myself a fight.”


“Are good and evil so difficult to understand?” asked Irkalla. “Or will you tell me they are illusions?”

“No,” he said. “We do not believe in good or evil. Not as you mean those words. What is right is important. That can mean many things.”

Irkalla leaned forward. “I will tell you what I believe,” she said. “I believe that good and evil exist, and are in conflict always and everywhere. Also I believe that it does not matter to me. I believe that if you insist strongly enough on doing evil, it becomes good.”

Alexander, shocked, found he had nothing at once to say to that.


She found him in the woods. She was not looking forward to speaking to him; but it had to be done, and better there, really, away from any audience. Perhaps she would be more successful this time than last.

“Pardon me,” said Ygerna. “I would like to — could you, please, would you tell me your name?”

The tall lean man tilted his head back, and stared at her. She could not say what was in that look; lordliness, perhaps, or contempt. Wariness, or fear. Challenge or threat. “Why should I speak with you?” he asked. He was in his cloak, which she now saw covered fine plated mail wrought of black iron. That terrible smell was everywhere. The stink of demons.

“I know what you are,” said Ygerna, quietly. “You must know what I am.”

“Must I?” he asked. Just as Mirabilis had. Were they connected? Or was it the nature of what they were, that they should echo each other, their responses limited, uncreative?

Then it was her responsibility to find a better way to deal with him. “I only want to say that we don’t have to be enemies,” she said. “We are not necessarily in conflict.”

“What do you know of my purposes?” he sneered.

“Nothing,” she said, honestly. “But I know that we are all in danger. Immediate danger. You could help us. You might be a hero. If you wanted to be.”

“Why would I have any interest in that?” he asked. “My name is Nicodemus of the Burning Book, preceptor. Learn it. I am fated for greatness, and you had best not stand in my way.”

He turned, and stalked away, back toward the inn. I have failed, thought Ygerna, watching him go, failed again, and in the same way. Limited. Uncreative.

The others were emerging from the common room. She followed Nicodemus back toward the inn, but did not try to speak with him again.

What was there to say?


Finally, Alexander said, “You’re very young, aren’t you?”

“Do I look young?” Irkalla asked.

“I hadn’t thought so,” he said. “But …”

“How good a judge are you of my kind?” she asked.

“What do you mean by kind?” he asked in return.

Irkalla smiled.


“I wonder what she’s doing in there,” said Scholastica.

“Probably taking charge,” said Spyrling.

“I don’t know,” said Sybil. “Ever since Paradox brought us up to this court, Alkahest’s been different. I think it’s Yune. Something about him.”

“Maybe I should kill him,” said Scholastica, pacing up and down.

They were sitting against the north wall of the cave, or at least Spyrling was, his back against the rock, his legs straight out before him. Sybil, sitting cross-legged before him, stared at his skinny ankles. “You did your duty,” Spyrling said to Scholastica. “She came back safe. We’re all safe. The dragons are gone.” Scholastica leered at him. He sighed.

“That knight didn’t seem worried about Alkahest being safe, from what you said,” muttered Sybil. “Anyway … we should figure out how to get her back home.”

“I’m staying,” said Spyrling.

Scholastica paused in her pacing. “What?” said Sybil.

“Those forest chambers need me,” said Spyrling. “Can’t leave Kezia to heal them all on her own.”

“Oh, it’s the forest you’re worried about,” said Sybil. “Not Kezia. Not her at all.” Spyrling smiled in a way she didn’t like.

“You swore an oath,” said Scholastica, very seriously and child-like.

“I’ve sworn different oaths, to different people,” said Spyrling. He looked at Sybil, and then back to Scholastica. “This one takes precedence. She’s a vala, and now she doesn’t have a community … I have to stay with her. To help.”

“Help with what?” asked Sybil.

Spyrling’s smile spread. “You know. Fertility magic. Making things grow.”

Scholastica gave a bark of laughter. “How to spread your seeds!” It wasn’t right, for someone her age to say that, thought Sybil. She stood, and kicked Spyrling in the thigh, hard. He gasped in pain as Scholastica laughed again.

“Alkahest’s our friend,” said Sybil. “You’re going to abandon her to go play with an elf girl!”

“You didn’t have to kick so hard,” he grumbled. “That hurt, Sybil.”

She turned, and ran toward the inn, away from him. He was a fool anyway. And Scholastica just liked hurting people, and watching them be hurt. What did she care for either of them? If they didn’t care, why should she?


“I think you’re very young,” said Alexander, “and I think you are looking for something from me, but you don’t want to say what it is. Nor do I know enough to guess.”

Irkalla’s stare changed; some muscle in her face shifted. “I want you to tell me why we’re in Fell Gard,” she said. “How’s that, to begin with? Tell me that. And what we should do, now that we’re here.”

“Support each other,” he said at once. “Trust one another, when we have no reason to.”

She laughed. “Do you know what I hate, priest? Alexander. What I hate more than anything?”

“I have no idea,” he said.

“Illusion,” she told him.


“Hush,” said Tice. “Hush, Edith. It’s just Clement of the Line Alwin. You remember Clement.”

“Yah,” said Edith. Tice chose to interpret that as agreement.

Tice didn’t know what she was going to do. They’d come back from church to find arrows everywhere and blood and dead things. Bodies like mortals, but bigger, and blue. Orcs, she’d heard they were called. She had to clean it all up, and then make some dinner for her and Edith from the fruits in the garden, and then — what would they do? There wasn’t enough food in the garden to last them. Their fields weren’t big, weren’t big at all, but were all they had. Tice had sat down in her doorway to think about this; and then Edith had begun to scream, because someone — Clement — was coming.

(Poor Edith. With all the talk now about prophets and miracles, Tice wondered if Edith could be helped. Probably not. Better not to begin hoping. That was what life had taught her, and taught her well: don’t hope for a miracle. Just go out and work hard, and believe that everything around you was a miracle, good or ill. Everything.)

“Hello, Tice,” said Clement, suddenly shy around her, as he always was. It was touching, in a man his age, like her in the fourth decade of a life well-lived but hard. “Have you heard?”

“Probably not,” she said with a sigh. “What’s the news, then?”

“Nigel carried a message from Lina at the inn to Hugh,” Clement told her. “There’s more out there. Hob-goblins and such. We have to be ready for another attack.”

Another?” she said. “Oh, Clement, Oak and Holly save us, and by the Three Unions, how many will we have to face?”

Clement shrugged. “I thought you should know,” he said. He looked around, clearly unsure what to say. Tice felt a little sorry for him, as she always did. Clement was so sturdy, so steady. “How’s Edith?” he asked.

“Oh … well,” said Tice. “She’s well. Aren’t you, Edith?”

Edith smiled, looking at something only she could see. “Yah,” she said.

People always asked about her. Tice always said she was fine. What else was there to say? They didn’t really want to know, what Edith felt or what Tice felt. Best just to say ‘fine’ and get on with things, because it wasn’t as though anyone could actually do anything.

Tice wasn’t one of those folk, like Nell at the inn, who loved to talk just to hear talk. What good did talking do? She believed in Oak and Holly, in all the scriptures of Ossian; that was enough.

“Well,” said Clement. “I guess I’d better get back to my house. If there’s — I mean, I want to be with them. In case.”

“That’s good thinking,” said Tice.

“— Tice,” said Clement. “You know, if you need to — if you want to — we can make room for you, at our house.”

She didn’t laugh. That wasn’t who she was, really, though sometimes you saw things and it was as though you were very far away and everything was so small. “And for Edith?” she asked.

“Her too,” said Clement. “I guess — I mean, I’m sure. Her too.”

“Thank you,” said Tice. She was suddenly almost on the edge of tears. They were trapped in a cave in a dungeon, and she had an idiot sister to look after, and there were dead orcs in her garden, and Ossian-knew-how-many hob-goblins about to fall on all their heads. She just wanted things to be the way they were, with Peg and Hugh and the Line Aubrey sniping and gossiping at each other, and she working in her fields till she was sick, and coming home to Edith, and to be out in the sun as much as she liked. “Thank you,” she said again. “Maybe, Clement, you know … maybe.” She sighed. “We’ll have to see what happens, won’t we?”


“Illusion in general, or an illusion in specific?” Alexander asked.

“In general,” she asked. “The deliberate creation of a false effect.”

“Have you been lied to?” asked Alexander.

“Not more than once, by any one person,” she said. “What I mean is that the truth is important to me. I will tell you the truth. I knew to come to Innsdene. I knew something would happen, there. I didn’t expect — this.”

“What did you expect?” he asked.

“My father,” she said.

“But you didn’t find him here,” said Alexander.

She smiled, again.


“What?” said Mew. “What do you want? Go away, or I — I’ll — I’m a prophet!”

It wasn’t the most intimidating thing he could have said, he supposed. Mew knew how to get in with people by making himself seem funny and weak and stupid. The problem was that when you did that, that tended to be what you became. If you hadn’t actually been that to start with. So, funny and weak and stupid was what he was, and none of that was any good in a crisis.

Especially when you were dealing with creatures who didn’t laugh.

There were four of the ratmen — murineans, he should probably say, since two of them seemed to be females. Not that you reacted to them like you did to women. Or not much. They were near the north exit of the cave, where he’d run away when the hob-goblins had come. Now even more hob-goblins were going to come, and Mew wondered where he’d run to this time.

“We want a god,” said one of the males in Ibia. “Tell us of your god.”

“What?” he said.

They looked at each other. The male who’d spoken said, “We were slaves. Now we are free. Free people have their own gods. We do not want the hob-goblins’ dream-god.”

“Well, you don’t want to hear about mine,” Mew said.

“We want a god,” said one of the females. “We saw you, before.”

“Well, so what?” he blustered. “I said, you don’t want to hear it. Reike doesn’t do anything, you don’t get anything out of it. You pray and you spread his word and you’re not answered. That’s why I ran.”

The murineans looked confused. “You have healed,” said the first ratman.

Mew sighed. “So what?” he asked. “Other people I can heal. That’s what I mean. Whatever it is he gives you the power to do — is just stuff that doesn’t matter anyway. That’s why he lets you do it.”

“Tell us,” said the ratman. “Tell us more.”

Mew threw up his hands. He thought about Reike. For some reason whenever he did he could only see his father’s face. “No,” he said. He thought that was the principled thing to do. No, he wouldn’t lead anybody else into his father’s church.

The ratman knelt before him. “Tell us,” he said.

Another knelt. “Tell us, prophet,” he said.

Wait, thought Mew.

The two females knelt.

Mew thought: This has possibilities. Sure, they were just rat-people. But … if he started with them, couldn’t he get a temple going, here on this court? Then maybe he could lure, or convert, some of the villagers. That Elous that he’d been speaking to the other day … maybe she’d be interested.

Mew began to tell the murineans about Reike.


“Are you suggesting —” began Alexander.

Irkalla took out a knife. “Why do you imagine I’ve been speaking to you?” she asked. “I’ve known all along.”

“Do I look like I could be your father?” he asked.

She smiled.

“Ah,” he said. “Illusion. I had thought you were speaking metaphorically. Your father is a dwimmerlaik?”

“Is he?” she asked him.

“What else?” he asked. “Some sort of glossologist?”

She stood. “Is that a joke?” she asked.

He remembered Nicodemus collapsing, asleep. “No, of course, you’re a glossologist,” he said. “I beg your pardon. Then I am — some sort of magic-using creature, and my skin is not really my skin.” He touched the necklace, its chill. “Irkalla, is this important enough to you to kill for?”

“That is what I decided,” she said, “some time ago.”


“It worked,” said Giliane. “I mean, I fought, with a sword in my hand.”

“Did you?” asked Walter. “Rumour has it you were all a-dream at the bard’s singing.”

Giliane flushed. “That’s something else,” she said. “The point is, we fought, and lived to tell — we won, Walter! Now Richard and Godeleva and the rest are prisoners!”

“Osmer!” cried Adhelina.

“Forget Osmer,” said Giliane. “He’s forgotten you. Live for yourself.” Giliane looked around the clearing at all of them. Miles and Hamon were with her, supporting her. It was important to her to get the others to understand what their choices were, now.

She didn’t want to think about the actual fighting. Not really. The confusion. The relief, watching the elves shoot arrows out into the darkness, thinking they wouldn’t have to do anything after all. William, singing, the sound so sweet — then everyone was running, oh, and Richard of the Falcon Rising was right there —

That had been bad. That had been very bad.

But Richard had paid no attention to her, or anyone, and made right for the church. And then the goblins had come after him — she’d have been lost, then, she knew. Oak and Holly bless the preceptor, that had rallied them all. They’d protected the folk of the inn. They’d done right by others. What else was there to do?

“You can all do it,” she said, looking around at all of the former slaves. “Don’t listen to Walter. They’ll train you. They’ll … they’ll feed you.” She was sure of it, if what Ygerna said was true. “We can help them, we can help ourselves,” she said. “We don’t have to be slaves.”

Walter puffed out his cheeks, and blew the air out between his lips. “It seems to me,” he said, “that we stopped being slaves when Richard ran away before the goblins.”

“Then stop acting like a slave,” said Miles.

“I’ll act as I wish —” said Walter; just as Rose came running into the woods.

“They’re coming out,” she said. “At the inn. They want to talk to everyone. I think they want more warriors — folk to go exploring!”

“I’ll go,” said Giliane. She glared around at Walter and the rest. “The rest of you do what you like. Well, you have the freedom to do that anyway.”

For a moment there was silence. Giliane turned to go, with Miles and Hamon and Rose. Then Constance said: “Wait. I’m coming with you.” And then there were five of them.

Which was something.


“So you have come to kill me?” he asked. “Now, after four days in Fell Gard?”

“I only knew now,” she said.

“How could that be,” he said, and then he saw the answer. “Irkalla. Wait. I know what you have — I know. I understand.” He took off his necklace. “It’s this.” Her face was utterly still; that was how he knew he was right. “Do you know what this is?” he asked. “Did they tell you, whoever gave you the magic to find it? It is a sign of membership in a group to which I have no wish to belong. I am a spy, Irkalla, and I am plotting against your father.”

She didn’t kill him. “Do you understand me?” he asked. “The past — the past shapes us. It is what makes us who we are. It has brought me here. I am trying to save a people who have no love for me. Even Ulixa does not know this. But now you must tell me about your father; and to explain why, first I must tell you about me.

“You look at me and you think I am one of the Morien people. That is not so, not really. The Morien were brought here hundreds of years ago. I am from their home country. I was not born in these lands. You must understand that.”

That was how he began, unveiling the truth about his past that he had hidden for so very long. It was not what he would have chosen to do, perhaps. But it was what had to be done.


“You,” said Gral. “I want to speak with you.”

“Greetings, master dwarf,” said the old woman. “Or apprentice. Or whatever you are.”

Gral had found her at her cabin, where she’d kept Spyrling. “Yune is busy,” he said. “I want you to tell me what the plans are of the mortal king Simon, who threatens Fell Gard.”

She whipped her head about, looking in every direction; she pushed down against nothing with one hand, quieting him. “Don’t talk about it, fool!” she whispered. “Assassins are everywhere. That lady knight of yours would slit your throat if she heard. Worse, she’d slit mine.”

“Amanos?” asked Gral.

The old woman was puzzled. “Is that her name? The one who speaks with the Auberch accent. Ygerna, I thought it was.”

“Who are you?” demanded Gral. She sighed, and waved him into her hut. She went to stand beside one of the windows, and looked out at an angle.

“Your clockmaster told you I was a thief, I suppose,” she muttered. Gral nodded. “Nothing more?”

“He wants me to learn things for myself,” said Gral.

“He wouldn’t tell you?” asked the old woman. Gral said nothing. She laughed. “He wants to humble you,” she said. “Maybe I’ll explain it … if you swear an oath to do me no harm, and tell no-one yourself. Swear it upon Father Stone, and upon the Secrets of Gold and Lead.”

“How do you know about those?” he asked, suspicious. She laughed again.

“You know what I was,” she said. “I was … ah, I was great, once.” Gral thought about this. Was this what the clockmaster wanted? It had to be. He had said not to kill her. “Well?” she challenged.

“Tell me your name, first,” he said.

“Molle,” she said. “Molle of the City Verbenarum.”

It was not that the oath was unreasonable, thought Gral. It was that he resented being bound to a mortal; even if she would die soon enough of her own flesh.

But what choice had he?

None that he could find. “I swear upon the Secrets of Gold and Lead to do you no harm by my hand, and to tell no-one what you will tell me, so long as you live,” he said.

“Think I’m an idiot, do you?” she asked. “No. Properly.”

“I swear upon the Secrets of Gold and Lead to do you no harm, and to tell no-one what you tell me,” he said.

“Better,” she said. She sighed. “Do you understand mortal empires?” she asked. “How they work?”

“There is one empire that rises and falls, under different kings,” he said.

“Well enough,” she said. “Now, there’s a mortal king, Simon Tristram, who wants to make a new empire. He has an advisor, an unnatural boy — well, never mind that. He thinks he has reason. Kings always do. But there are secrets to making an empire. You can’t do it without blood. And monsters. Many monsters.

“When you look at the names we mortals have for monsters, you maybe see patterns. Some are from the Archons. Khimera. Unicorn. Harpy. Others are from, say, the Vættir. Thurse. Troll. Well. This is how you make an Empire. You forge it with monsters. You draw monsters from out of nightmare, and you give them names, and you use them to conquer. That is what Simon Tristram is planning. He will create new races of monsters, and drive them across the Empire lands, and re-forge Edu. Horrors not yet imagined will come from his dreams of power. — And people wonder why I went mad.”

“What is all that to Fell Gard?” asked Gral.

“When he draws these monsters … from wherever it is they come,” said Molle, “they pass through here. They take form here, first. If his plans come to pass, there will be a plague of monsters in Fell Gard. It’s happened before. It will happen again. We’re all going to die, if he has his way.”

“We’re all going to die, in the end, anyway,” said Gral.

Molle looked from the window to him. “There’s some activity out front of the inn, I think,” she said. “You’d better see what it is. Tell no one, Gral, or you and I both will end up dead, and that very soon; not in the end at all.”


“So you see,” Alexander concluded, “Simon Tristram is the only hope for all these lands. And that is why I am working against your father, and his terrible allies.”

Irkalla nodded, slowly. “There’s no way around it, is there?” she muttered. She put her knife away.

“You accept what I have said?” he asked.

“It all fits,” she said. “What you have said, with what I have learned about my father from … other sources. I believe you.” She took a deep breath. “Then we share an aim. We both want to kill my sire.”

“How did you learn about the necklace?” Alexander asked her.

She held up her hands. “My gloves. I won’t go into the story of how I acquired them. But they told me when the power came.” She stared at the silver around his throat. “He’s in Fell Gard, isn’t he?”

“It may not be him,” cautioned Alexander.

“It’s him,” she said. “I’ve chased him too long. I can feel it. That was why I had to be here — wait, what’s happening?”

There was noise from below; people gathering, at the front of the inn. “Irkalla,” he said. “Why didn’t you attack me at once? When you thought I was your father. Why the … discussion of philosophy?”

“I wanted to see what you’d say,” she said. “If you had been him. I never spoke with him, you see. He left my mother before I was born. I’ve never known him; and I thought I should speak with him at least once before I killed him.”

“I’m sorry,” said Alexander. “Some men are brutes.”

“Oh, he’s not a man,” said Irkalla. “He’s a troll. That’s why I hate illusion; like all trolls, he’s a master of the art. His name is Boyg-Etnedal, but he also at times appears as a female named Gullveig-Heith. Come; let us go see what is afoot downstairs.”

Together, they went.


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