The Fell Gard Codices


Skulls with eye-sockets filled only by weird shadows, by presence and absence: six of them atop six clattering sets of backbones. Six skeletons held together by nothing. No nerve, flesh, brain. Bone touching bone, bones tapping on bone, grinding against bone, turning and swaying. Diccon watched the six skeletons dance their way down the hall after Gryslde and the others. He’d fallen behind all of them when he heard Hochelaga’s shrieks; straining his memory and thinking of the strange turns of the journey below, he hardly noticed the sobbing girl ahead.

Why had he gone? Cunt and arse. So he’d thought. He was no longer certain. He remembered staring at Gryselde as she’d spoken, and remembered lusting for her, in that moment, then and there — the crowd before them, and the rough wood of the table, and the clay walls of the inn, the stink of people and of the battle that had been fought so close by. Plump white birds scratching at the ground and chuckling. He remembered that. Was there something more?

“What has happened?” Gryselde asked; not of him.

What’s happened? Diccon thought. Some horrible thing when I was very young, that I can’t now remember.

The skeletons moved forward, taking hold of the pudgy prophet Mew. He was naked. The girl-wizard was sobbing something about a murder. Gryselde led them all forward and in the Innsdene cave they found the body: a woman, throat cut, her face and genitals slashed. As the terrified little-girl wizard spun her tale — slow at first, weeping, gasping, then faster, eyes closing to recall: Amanos and Geoffrey and their group returned, an ambassador from the hob-goblins, the young bald devil’s prophet a killer — Diccon tried again to remember being a boy. But could not. Only flashes: the plague-demon; a smiling man with blonde or else brown hair; learning to read from a book of thin birch paper. (How did he know those pages were made from birchwood?)

Going to the monastery, with Gryselde and the others, he hadn’t known he was going back — or had he? Hadn’t it felt wrong? Walking under the portcullis, the long straight hall. The entry room where he’d called the light. That moment: His lips, his teeth, shaping sound. Gryselde’s bright staring eyes. Distinctly he saw again the wall carvings, the knots, patterns like vines, like — and why did he think of a tyger? He did not remember. He had never seen a tyger. Surely not. Surely the fiery laughing beasts would have torn him apart.

“We will return to the garden,” said Gryselde. “The Chamber of Oak and Holly.”

“No,” Hochelaga told her. “The inn.” The girl was puzzled, and still terrified. It occurred to Diccon that he ought to feel more for her.

“Why the garden?” asked Achard.

After a moment, Gryselde said: “We have to decide what to do with Mew.” Slumping in the arms of one of the skeletal dancers, the pot-bellied prophet, pale and hirsute, eyes unopened, tossed his head like a man half-sleeping. “We must decide,” Gryselde repeated. Diccon wondered what she feared.

They went: he, her, Hochelaga, Achard, the dwarf, the cervidwen, the sylph, the ratman, the preceptor. The six dancers, grinning and clattering, with Mew and the other two slumbering prisoners.

Diccon could have wept for the missing part of himself. What did he not know? What did he not know that he did not know? What was there he could not think of?

In the Chamber of Oak and Holly the stink of orc shit was almost gone. The valas had begun well. Still: trees hacked down, branches scattered about, the turf all torn up. The dancers set the slumbering prisoners in the glade before the holly tree. Gryselde picked up a thick green bough from the ground, stared at the sleepers, went to one knee beside Mew’s head, set the bough over his crotch, and touched him on the shoulder. His head flopped away from her. She frowned, and shook him. Mew moaned. Then gasped, choked, sat upright. Gasped again, eyes open and bulging. Hwitwic moved forward; Gryselde held up her hand to hold him back; Mew coughed, and began to take deep sucking breaths. Hochelaga turned away. Ygerna set her hands on the girl’s shoulder, and the wizard buried her face against the knight.

Everyone else stood silently, and watched.

“Mew,” said Gryselde. “Bartolomeus. Are you well?”

The man nodded his head quickly. He tried to speak but couldn’t seem to close his mouth or move his tongue. He made a high wordless sound and nodded again. He held up his hands, then planted them on the earth, clenching his fingers and dragging them through the soil. Terrified as Diccon had never seen anyone before.

“Will you tell me what happened?” asked Gryselde.

“Saw,” said Mew. “I saw! Him!”

“Who?” asked the sorine.

“Guh,” said Mew. “God!” He began to weep.

Gryselde stood up. “Aura,” she said. The sylph flew to her. “We may be some time here,” she said. “Get Ulixa and whoever is at her council. We will discuss matters in this chamber. Have them bring the hob-goblin ambassador. And clothes for Mew. See to the hob-goblin prisoners, that they are well, if their guard needs relieving, but do not bring them here.” She thought a moment further, then nodded to the sylph to send her on her way.

As Aura fluttered off Gryselde knelt again to Mew’s right, facing him. Mew bowed his head, not looking at her or any of them but staring at the ground between his feet. He’d discovered the bough, and now held it between clamped-together legs. “Tell me what happened,” Gryselde said, grim.

Mew did not lift his head. Tears started out from under squeezed-shut eyelids. He said: “I had a message for him, and I don’t know what it was, or who gave it to me, or why, and I couldn’t not tell him!” He made a fist, and thumped the ground. His shoulders heaved.

“A message for your god?” asked Gryselde. “Reike?”

Mew nodded. Then threw his head up, and looked around as though surprised. “Reike answered! He told me I would have power in my hands, that I would work a wonder — on him!” He jerked his head.

Diccon didn’t know what he meant at first. Then understood. “Me?” he asked. He took a deep breath. “Well,” he said.

“A miracle? For Diccon?” asked Gryselde. Mew nodded again, a quick frantic shuddering of his head. “What kind of a miracle?”

“He’ll remember — remember — something,” said Mew.

Gral laughed. Gryselde glared at the dwarf, who shrugged. “Yes,” said Diccon. “Yes.” He took a step forward; but Gryselde stood.

“No,” she said. Mew looked up at her, stunned. Diccon paused, his sense of rightness thwarted. “Mew,” Gryselde said, “do you remember a mortal? A woman.”

“I don’t — no,” said Mew. “Who? When?”

For a moment no-one answered. Diccon looked at the others. Bliss and Hwitwic he could not read. Ygerna leaned forward, concerned. Hochelaga turned from the preceptor slowly, to look at Mew. Achard, arms crossed before him and mouth twisted in a half-grin, watched the man. Gral, who’d taken the bloody knife the prophet had held, was scowling at the skeletons and the two sleeping women, one in robes, the other in the light gambeson she’d worn under the mail now settled on Bliss.

“I’m willing,” Diccon said quietly. No-one reacted at all.

Finally Gryselde said to Mew: “What happened? To bring your god.”

“I, uh,” said Mew. He licked his lips, still staring at the ground. “I was preaching to the Murineans.” He fell silent again. Diccon felt a far-off twinge of sympathy. Which surprised him, a little. Of course if what Mew had said was true, then who could judge the man? But that he could feel anything, that surprised Diccon. Like sensation returning after a wound.

“What did you say to them?” asked Gryselde.

Mew took a breath. “I, I, I told them about Reike,” he said. “I don’t — I don’t remember what. They asked me. They asked me. I, I, uh, I spoke to them. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was, it, my father, he said I couldn’t preach, but I could write for him, his sermons, they cheered it, back then, his, uh, his congregations. I, I never told him. I thought they should be cheering me, so I did it, I never told him. When I preached. So I, uh, I’ve done this before, I mean. But I don’t … something happened.”

Achard rolled his eyes and turned away. The ratman, Bliss, asked in Ibia: “Who were they? Who did you speak to?”

Mew looked up, shivering, and shook his head to the ratman. “Uh,” he said in the same language. “There were four, four of them … two women.” He cleared his throat and ducked his head. “I don’t know what happened to them,” he said.

Gryselde looked at Bliss in frustration. Then at Diccon. He started, and began to repeat their words in Wican. As he did Bliss demanded of Mew: “When did you see them last? Where?”

At least, that was what Diccon thought he said; the ratman was speaking quickly. Anyway the prophet said, “In the trees, somewhere. I don’t remember.”

Diccon translated again as Bliss announced, “I must go.” He turned and hurried off as Diccon finished speaking. Gryselde looked as if she might say something, but it was too late, Bliss was gone, and she only stared after him a moment before turning back to Mew, who grabbed her arm, chattering.

“It’s just, as I spoke, the more I told them, the more I could see him. Could see him. He’d lied before. I’d dreamed of him, he’d told me I had far to go. He lied. He said I had shit to go through first. He said if I came down —” Mew slapped his brow, and drew his hand back over his temple. “The war, that was the shit. Angels. Come down, that must have been … when I … chose to … speak … about him.”

“And then?” asked Gryselde. “When he left you?”

Mew shook his head. “I don’t — nothing. I, uh, I slept.” He would not look up at her.

“Gryselde,” said Diccon, “let him work his miracle.” But Gryselde only waved at him to be quiet: too quick a wave, angry or frustrated.

“A woman of Innsdene is dead,” Gryselde told Mew. “You held the knife that killed her.” Mew raised a hand as though exasperated, and let it drop. He would not look at Gryselde, who, stern, bitter, asked: “Did your god demand her life?”

“I don’t remember a woman,” said Mew. “At least not one who wasn’t all-over covered in fur.” He shivered again and quickly said, “Anyway, Reike’s not a, a god. He’s a devil.”

“Yes,” said Gryselde. “We should be careful, then, about the miracles he promises.” Mew hunched his shoulders tight, still not looking up. “Diccon,” Gryselde said. “I must speak with you. Gral, if you and your … dancers … will please watch him. We will return soon.”

Diccon thought quickly. He looked around at the others again. They were all staring at him. How far was he from Mew? Too far. Even if he dashed for the prophet, even if the man was ready to work his miracle — Ah, well, Diccon thought. Ah well ah well. I’ll walk with the woman I lust for, and that’ll be something. He nodded. Not what I want. But something.

No-one said anything as Gryselde led Diccon south. He cast his eyes down at her backside as he went, tried to bring again to mind the thrill of watching her body under her robe, its implied curves. And yet all he could think of was the fat little prophet. Oh, there is something very wrong with me, he thought, that I’d rather be touched now by that servant of divine power, and not this one.

They went south-west into one of the smaller forested rooms. He tensed as they crossed the threshold: the room was full of poisons, yew and nutmeg trees, aconite and belladonna and hemlock. Nothing moved. Only somewhere in the dimness a bat squeaked. Gryselde went on to the next room, larger and filled with fruit trees — apple and plum, walnut and peach, growing thick by each other, branches interlocked, high violet-coloured shadows against the ætheric light above. That light dimmer than before, following the unknowable cycle of the æther: like amethysts winking in the ceiling. Stone walls purple and black, soil black-blue. Diccon found he was divided in himself. Part of him trying, still trying, to recall more of what he had forgotten; and then part aware of Gryselde, her next to him, in the quiet, alone. “How much do you remember?” she asked, suddenly. “Can you tell me what that place was, below us?”

“Lock-Gate,” he said. “The name of the court. Is Lock-Gate.” He shook his head. “The monastery … I lived there, but I don’t remember it,” he said. “I was very young. Very young. I’ve been trying but can’t remember anything more. I never missed, well, missed my childhood. Do you understand?”

“Hmm,” said Gryselde. She led him into the last room of the forest chambers, where they had buried the girl Domini and the outer-world monastic. The one tree in that room, the vast bent black willow, was in perfect health. Either the orcs had not been there or the valas had healed it entirely. Gryselde was silent a moment, staring at the grave-sites.

“The monks of that place,” she said. “They taught you your Ninefold Way?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “They must have.”

“You know it well,” she observed. “Fate and life. How is that?”

“I remember what I was taught, but not how I learned it,” he said. “I remember … I remember that fate is the living law, not abstract doctrine but the principles by which all things grow and flourish.” Gryselde stared at him. He remembered more words: “Life’s shaped by fate’s order. The power to know is part of that order: therefore a part of the order cannot know the whole.” He stopped. He remembered the next words were: any more than it can wholly know itself. Gryselde walked up to him and he could not read her face, that seemed to be under terrible strain; barely pausing, she strode past him. Back to the room of fruit trees.

He followed. Gryselde paused under a pear-tree, plucked a fruit, began to eat it. Diccon realised he was hungry and did the same. “Were there dancing bone-men, in that place?” she asked him, still not looking to him. “When you knew it. Do you remember?”

“There weren’t,” he said at once. He knew that much. “It was my home. It was a happy — or no, it wasn’t a happy place itself, but happy for me. I think.” He waved an arm: I can do no more. “I’m sorry. I would like to remember. Very much.”

Gryselde looked back to the north. He could hardly see her, as she let the remains of the pear drop to the ground. Diccon tried to think how best to get her to agree to the miracle. And wondered if her agreement mattered. At any rate after a moment she said, “I wonder who they were.”

“How’s that?” he asked.

“Those skeletons,” she said. “Who were they in life?” She looked at him. He felt dizzy: were his tutors, even his parents, there in the room to the north?

“No,” he said. He thought of graves desecrated. “It can’t — I’m sure, I’m all but sure, it can’t be.” He remembered the feel of childhood: wrapped in authority, security, certainty. “No,” he said, unsure. Then added: “Have Mew work his miracle. I might remember who they are.”

She looked away to the north again. He saw an expression of hers he had come to recognise: a conscious discipline. “Tell me, what is done with such creatures, in Fell Gard?” she said. “The unrestful dead. The dancers, and the witherlings, and whatever other such there may be. We are taught of them, in my order. And some — some of us have seen them. One must fight them. They are perversions of death. They are cursed, unholy, servants of the Elder King. All of that. But also they are the mortal image wrought by the gods, so worth respect and burial. What do you do with them, here?”

Diccon did not understand why this mattered to her, but nodded. “The mortal image,” he said. “Yes. Damage the image, and you damage the ghost inside the animate body. You’re right, they must be fought. The dead hate the living.”

“Do they?”

“Perhaps they remember life.” What was he saying? He shook his head. “Those that have minds or spirit. Many don’t. The dancers don’t, not most of them.”

“Is it right to command them, as we are doing?” asked Gryselde. “If you believe in life, can you use the dead in this way?”

He held up the remains of his pear; let it fall. “Life must be lived,” he said. Where had he been taught that? “Use what tools are needed in the cause of life.”

“Are they but tools?” she asked. “You wouldn’t eat their flesh. Would you? Then why keep them from their rest? Why make them your — our — slaves?”

“They’re not thinking creatures, so can’t rightly be said to be slaves,” said Diccon. “Besides, what are the dead for, but the use of the living?”

“My god is the god of death,” said Gryselde. “He demands respect.” She turned away, crossing her arms, holding herself.

Diccon thought of something. He grinned. “Thoughtless creatures. Lacking memory. Like me.” He nodded, quickly. “Like I am.”

He wanted to see what she said to that. But she said nothing. He added: “I, at least, can be restored.”

The silence stretched out again. And, just when he thought hope would be rewarded:

“Gryselde?” called another woman.

Diccon and Gryselde both turned to see Ulixa entering the garden with her corvina beside her. “Are you all come?” asked Gryselde. “How many?”

Ulixa and the raven-woman stopped a few yards from them. “Most of us,” she said. “Kezia’s gone down to speak with the underwater elves. That’s what Spyrling said. Anyway Keturah’s gone to get her. Did Hochelaga tell you — Enheduanna —”

“A hob-goblin ambassador,” said Gryselde. “Yes. We will speak with him together.”

“Why did you call us here?” asked Ulixa.

Gryselde drew in a breath. “A woman from the town is dead,” she said, “and Mew might well have killed her. Perhaps while possessed by his devil-god. Perhaps as a sacrifice — I don’t know.”

“That — that’s terrible,” said Ulixa. “Truly. But … I don’t see …”

“I cannot think,” said Gryselde, “that Sir Hugh of the Annulets Sable will take this calmly.”

Ulixa considered this. “Your meeting with him really did not go well, then,” she said.

Gryselde nodded once. “We have an agreement in principle, but nothing’s firm. This matter —” And then Ygerna and Aura entered the cave.

“Tell her,” said the preceptor. But the sylph needed no encouragement, flying up to Gryselde.

“He’s dead!” she stage-whispered.

“Who?” demanded Gryselde.

“Gregory!” said Aura.

“Gregory,” repeated Gryselde, confused.

“The man that was watching the hob-goblins?” asked Diccon.

“They’re gone!” said Aura.

Gryselde sighed, and looked at Ulixa. “Well,” said the other woman.

“What does this mean,” murmured Gryselde.

“A man’s dead,” said Ygerna. She took a breath. “I should have been there. I should have stood guard alongside him.”

“No,” said Gryselde. “But someone should have, it seems.” She shook her head. “Is this connected to the dead woman? Did I misjudge Sir Hugh? Is this his doing? But what would he have to gain?”

“It could be someone else,” said Ulixa.

“Someone in our House?” asked Gryselde. She thought for a moment. “Either the killer was from our House, or from Innsdene, or was an outsider. If the first, we should withdraw ourselves from Innsdene, so that this traitor cannot attack them again. If the latter, we should withdraw, so we are safe. But if the last, we must be present or close by, to protect them.”

“And there are a dozen hob-goblins somewhere near,” said Ulixa.

Gryselde looked from her, to Ygerna, to Aura. “You three,” she said. “Go back, please, to the Chamber of Oak and Holly. I will follow in a moment but must speak further with Diccon first.”

They left; Gryselde stepped up to him as they did and grabbed his upper arm. Diccon stared at her hand as she spoke quickly, whispering. “Ossian recanted thrice,” she said. “Founder of the church, writer of the sagas of the gods. Three times, later in his life, he forswore his words.”

“I don’t understand,” said Diccon.

“Nor had I,” said Gryselde. “Before.” Diccon realised then that all their talk, which he had thought was about him and his memories and the miracle awaiting, was not; it had been, to her, about her. “I spoke overlong with the dragon Nil,” she said, fast and low. She stopped, looked back after Ygerna and Ulixa, started again: “I have spoken with many mortals who do not hold to Oak and Holly,” she said. “With those of different lands, different languages. With mortals of all kinds, even those simple, those touched. But to speak with an elf or a dwarf is different from all of that.”

“Yes,” said Diccon, not following but curious. “Yes. An elf or dwarf is as different to a mortal as cat or hound. Different flesh. Different drives. A different relationship to death.”

“Well,” said Gryselde, “to speak with a dragon, that is as different again. More. They will tell you truth. You see, when you speak to them, a little as they do. All things are not merely pregnant but part of a genealogy stretching ahead and behind. A pattern of utter meaning. All things mean all things. Every choice made for us, if we can but see. If we knew the bitterness, the undoing of ourselves! The way we double back upon ourselves, and our every choice works against us.”

“What?” said Diccon.

“To speak with a dragon is to know a kind of dread,” said Gryselde. She still held his arm, so tight it was becoming numb. “That all the world is filled with meanings that you cannot see. That you do not let yourself see.”

He felt a tightness in his chest. Was she speaking about him? “Tell me what you mean,” he said.

“We are directed by forces beyond ourselves, to us unknown,” she said. “You heard the words of the nightjack and the dragons, on the shore. Who knows in what other plans we figure? Or whose? A devil’s prophet wants to work on you. He promises much. Do you believe him?”

He didn’t like that question. He asked in turn: “Is that what your god of death has told you? Will he give me back my childhood?”

So quietly he could hardly hear her, Gryselde said: “He has told me nothing.” She let go of his arm and he rubbed the sore muscle. She bowed her head in thought. “You lived with monks,” she said. “Monastics. Servants of the gods. Who are not prophets. Why am I not a prophet, Diccon? Why can I not heal?”

“That’s not who you are,” he said. “I don’t know. Is that what you want to be?”

She stared at him. “Is it my part to decide? I blasphemed when I entered Fell Gard, though I think only William noticed. An elf, a dwarf. A wizard. A man who does not believe in Oak and Holly. I said it was for all of us to choose our shapes for ourselves. Nonsense. Only us? Can we trust nothing? Ossian promises we may save each other. The Elder King will taint all the world with sin. But Ossian tells us we may shore up fragments against our ruin. That is our task, to save what is precious, and to keep what is saved secret from the wicked king of the world. Only to let those who have been initiated —” she stopped, still staring at him.

“Initiated?” he said. “Into what?”

She was silent a long moment. “We may speak more of this in the church,” she said, turning away. “On hallowed ground.”

“Oh,” said Diccon. What else could he say? “I really don’t remember the monks,” he told her. “I’m sorry. But Mew’s miracle would help.”

Gryselde said, “We cannot choose to submit to the plan of a devil.”

“No,” said Diccon. “What would that make us?”

She nodded, several times, quickly. “So long as the dancers have a use for us, and so long as we have no absolute proof of what they are, then it would be wrong to destroy them,” she said. “For in that case they have a certain good, and we cannot know if they are evil. But if we learn that they are truly dead mortals they must be laid to rest, and if they come to have no value to us then there is no reason we should risk defacing the mortal image.”

“Yes,” said Diccon. “Of course.”

“Will you go to Innsdene?” she asked, looking at him again.

“Will I?” he asked. “Why?”

“There will be others of our House, who should know of this meeting,” she said.

And I should not be around the prophet with his threatening miracle, he thought. Aloud he said: “Of course.” And he followed her back to the Chamber of Oak and Holly, where many people had gathered.

There had to be two or three dozen, folk of various kinds. Yune, Gral, and Alkahest stood facing a hob-goblin, and two of the dancers were beside the hob-goblin as well, dropped into a cross-legged half-squat. Diccon knew they could leap into their whirling clattering motion at any moment. A number of other folk were close by, watching the dancers themselves — Ulric smiling to himself, Amanos with a sour face, Sybil staring at the ground — but where were the remaining skeletons and their prisoners? Diccon looked around: Tilde sitting sad beside her glowering orc and Atrahasis bending to speak to her; William talking intently to Robert; John of the Inner Book talking to one of the lay brothers of the god called Secga. Gryselde had gone to Ulixa, and both were talking to Stratum. Good enough, Diccon judged. But where were the other dancers? Where was Mew?

He began to move through the crowd. Of course he meant to submit to Mew’s miracle. He had always meant to. The only question was how he would get free to speak to the man — or get the man free to do what needed to be done. Poor Gryselde, he thought sadly, nor is she wrong to fear devils; but we must face them, after all. It’s our fate; and fate is what we cannot choose to escape.

Diccon saw Bliss, speaking to four murineans. Ah, Diccon thought, and went to join them. He was not entirely surprised when the four ratmen turned and came to him first, Bliss staying behind, watching.

“I want to speak with your prophet,” he said to them in Ibia.

“He is waiting,” one of the murineans said. “We know. We saw. You are to be blessed. Come. Come this way.”

They led him into the forest room to the north. The close forest there was filled with apple trees and chestnut trees and red and black maple trees, some newly toppled by the orcs. Underneath the branches of a tall sycamore the four skeletal dancers sat contorted, skulls angled to watch the two sleeping women and Mew. The prophet was now dressed in a brown outer-world sleeveless hooded tunic, a belt around his waist; he sat, staring at the sleeping women intently but with the slack expression of a man who didn’t want other men to know what he was thinking. He started as one of the murineans ran to him, telling him Diccon had come.

Mew stood as Diccon walked over to him. The skeletons sprang up, finger-bones arcing, shaking in warning. Mew grinned weakly.

“Do what you must,” said Diccon.

“Do you — should I say a few words —” said Mew.

“Do what you must,” said Diccon. Mew half-shrugged. He looked at the dancers. A skull tilted to look back.

“Give me your hand,” the prophet said. Diccon reach out his right hand. The dancers drew close. But Mew took it.

Diccon gasped, and fell back —

Through years, and stages of himself, all he knew unwinding —

He remembered the monastery, now. There had been other boys. And the monks, who taught him of life and fate. One’s life was felt to be harmonious the more one kept to the path of fate. The law beyond laws, that law that could not be understood or articulated: find that, and you would find that all was right in your life. For due order would follow.

He remembered every inch of the monastery, now. How could he forget? He remembered that there were other Houses of monks of the same order, and nuns. Elsewhere, lower in Fell Gard.

He remembered learning. He remembered a thirst to know words. He remembered the precious book from which they had taught him letters.

He remembered books of books. He remembered reading, and struggling to understand: What is spirit? What are our own minds, the portion of spirit with which we are best acquainted? We observe certain phænomena. We cannot explain them into material causes. We therefore infer that there exists something which is not material. But of this something we have no idea. We can define it only by negatives. We can reason about it only by symbols.

He remembered the man who had come to the monastery. He had liked the man. He remembered going to him once, when everyone else was asleep —

The man had asked him to come to him —

The man had reached out to him —

Had given him something to drink both sweet and bitter —

Had said: “Go, run away from here, forget this. Forget all about this and grow up. That’s a good lad.”

And he’d done that.

And that was all.

Diccon’s eyes snapped open and he gasped. Gryselde was kneeling beside him. Other people were gathered around: Gral, Bliss.

He remembered, now, back to his childhood. It had been pleasant. And a man had asked him to go away, and he’d gone, and that was all there was.

That was all.

Diccon began to weep. He had remembered what he had forgotten and there was after all no grand mystery and no easy explanation and no lurking horror nor moment of the numinous but only some potion of forgetfulness.

“What happened?” said Gryselde.

“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing at all!”

“I had hoped I might trust you,” said Gryselde.

“You knew you could use me,” said Diccon. “As we do the skeletons. What else could I do but what I did? What did you think I would do?” He glared at Mew. “Your god is a liar. False promises.”

Mew spread his hands, then clasped them over his belly. “I didn’t lie. I don’t even know what he did to you.”

“Nothing,” Diccon said. “Gave no wisdom. Changed me not at all.” He stood, and looked at Gryselde, at the others, under the maple boughs. “I’ll go back to Innsdene,” he said. “Tell whoever’s left to come here.”

Gryselde stared at him. “I think Ygerna will go with you. And Aura.”

“Of course,” he said. “Yes.”

She said: “You don’t have to. If you wish —”

“What does it matter what I wish?” he interrupted. He looked around. North-west, the way back to Innsdene. He sighed. “I can remember now,” he told Gryselde. “What you told me, about how speaking with the dragon made you feel. I remember the word for it: the fear beyond the mind. Para, beyond, noos, mind. Paranoia.

He thought: Now, now I understand what she meant about the bitterness, and the undoing of ourselves. And, so thinking, left.


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