The Fell Gard Codices


The first thing Amanos did was have Gral examine all the passages and rooms they had to protect. He found a trapdoor in a hall, set stoneflat in the floor; it opened to a ladder, that led down a long shaft far beyond sight. They used it for disposing of their dung and urine.

For her second action she had Gral remove the doors in the stairroom from their hinges, and also the door that had led to the room where they had found Yune; thus four doors. Now three halls led away from the rooms they were holding, one westward from the south chamber, one northwest, and one northeast. The south passage was their escape route, toward the ratmen, and Amanos decided it was to be kept clear. But in each of the two north halls she had the passagespace narrowed, by erecting barricades made from the doors and the old shelves they had found in one of the rooms. They were poor fortifications. But they were strongseeming, she hoped, to those who did not know the truth of them.

Those things done, she had Gral take a post watching to the northwest for goblins, while the clockmaster looked northeast for anything that might come. Amanos posted herself in the southern roundroom, where she had ordered the children to stay; except, of course, for wideeyed Domini, who was ordered to keep company with her everywhere, to speak for her in the shortword tongue of the Grey Kings. The girl still carried the battleaxe she had stolen.

A bracket in the roundroom held the torch, eyebright the fire; the children needed the light, so let the dwarves who could see in darkness take the north posts, and she would be a sureguard there in the south. She toothtore the inside of her cheek, thinking what to do next. This was her honourduty. Her command. She was not oathbound. Nor did she wish it. No; she did wish it, in that she wished to be shieldarm to the helpless, and so conform to the ideal. Still. She did not like taking the orders of a hollyoak priestess.

Amanos decided these thoughts were selfindulgence. Best to focus on strengthening the position further.

“Lady?” said Domini. “How old were you when you decided to become a knight oathbound?”

She answered, thinking of her warplans: “Young. I was a second sister, and upbrought for it.”

“Were you a page?” asked the girl. “And a squire?”

“Yes, both,” Amanos told her. “I was welltrained.”

“And you fight with the men?” asked Domini. “I mean, you give them orders?”

“Some, yes,” Amanos said. She looked around. Domini was before her, hands clasped, while Kate sat against the near wall, watching. Hochelaga was on the far side of the room, quietspeaking with the smiling boy, who said not a word. “As duty has it.”

“Are there many lady knights in Shivartha?” asked Domini. Amanos steadystared at her.

“Do you as a lady of Aurelium ask me to give you the disposition of the soldiery of Shivartha?” she asked. Domini blushed and ducked her head. Amanos nodded. “Then why do you want to know these things?”

“She’s sore because Adalbert and the rest tease her,” said Kate.

Domini shushed her sister. Amanos shook her head. “What is tease?” she asked.

“Umm … wordwound,” said Kate. Amanos nodded. “Because she wants to be a fighter. A knight like you.” Domini shushed her sister again.

“Domini,” Amanos said, and stopped. She felt a deepyawning pit within her. She knew what the girl felt, but had no idea how to speak to her. How bad had she seen? “For whatever you do, or anyone does, there will be those who will gainsay you,” she said. “You must set them aside, and know your honourduty to your liegelord.” She considered her next words. “Some men are guided by fear,” she decided to say.

“Adalbert isn’t afraid of her,” said Kate. Amanos shrugged.

“There must be women to give birth,” she said to Domini. “Making life is a task only we can do. But it is not the only task we may choose, nor the only worth doing.”

“Lady, will you teach me to fight?” Domini blurted. She blushed, and asked, “Can I be your squire?”

Amanos smiled. “You are quick to follow a woman you have known less than a day,” she said.

“I have wanted all my life to be a knight,” said the girl. “I think — is it not said a knight must be quickdaring?”

“A knight must also be able to equip herself,” Amanos said. Domini straightened her back.

“We said that we came from the Castle of the Rifts,” she said. “We did not say who we were.”

“Oh, don’t, Domini,” said Kate. “Please.

Domini told Amanos: “My father is King Geoffrey of Aurelium.”

Amanos kept her face calm. But she felt a thrill inside, and was tempted to oathbind the girl right there. Did she know what her offer meant? “Is it so,” she said aloud. “But listen.” She paused. What to say? All of it; or else the oath would mean nothing. She sighed. “Firstly. The oath of the ladyknights of Shivartha is different from that of Aurelium. I know this. Aurelium is like the lands of Edu in this way, and so Aurelians must swear not to have ado with men. Vartha swear not to have children. This seems easier, but is harder. The Aurelian may take a foster-child. The Vartha may not. You will have neither son nor daughter to be your support in old age. Instead you are sworn into the household of your lord or lady; your oath is to your liege, and so you will fight for your liege, and the liege will support you when you can no longer fight.” Domini was silent, thinking. That was good.

“Secondly,” said Amanos, but then Yune cried something.

Amanos turned, her hand going to her swordhilt. “He says a man comes from the northeast, alone,” Domini told her.

“Come,” said Amanos at once. “Think on this later.” She took up her helmet and a torch — one of the few precious torches left them — and lit it, then headed north. The north passage from the roundroom led to a wider hall that also stretched north; to the west was the chamber with the starcircle on the floor, and to the east the passage with the trapdoor led to another room. North she went, to the chamber with the passage back to the stairs. Gral watched her, silent. A space to the right led to the last of their rooms, where Yune was looking along the hall leading northeast. He pointed as she and Domini arrived.

Yune said something, and Domini told her: “He says it’s a sadseeming man.” A voice called from the hallway beyond the barricade. “It’s a cry for mercy,” said Domini. The voice cried out something more, and Domini wrinkled her face in confusion.

Then Amanos heard, in her own tongue: “Help! Mercy, aid!”

She strode with her torch to the barricade, and then beyond. A man was staggering slowly down the hall. He was bleeding from a cut on the side of his head, and another at his hip. “Who are you who calls out in the language of shadows?” she demanded.

“Darvartha?” cried the strange man. He was only a little older than her, she thought, and handsome in an almost unnerving way; his eyes bright, his hair fair. “Thank the puppetmasters, then! Listen to me. Listen. My sister. She was taken. Cobolds. They have her now. Oh I beg you give me aid.”

Amanos heard Domini murmuring to Yune, translating what the new man said. “Where did this happen?” she asked. “How long ago?”

“A few minutes, I think,” he said. “Hurry. I can fight, still.”

She waved him on to the barricade. “Come with me. Come. Domini, fetch Gral. Tell Yune to relieve him — no. Tell Yune to oversee the rest of the children. He should keep watch to the north, and at any illseeming sign lead them all westward. Come and sit, man. Tell me your story. What is your name?”

“Jer — Jeroen,” he said. “Please, my lady.” She led him into the dim chamber. Domini had run off. But Hochelaga Trice had come from the roundroom. Amanos pointed, ordering her back.

“I stay,” said an outraged Hochelaga. “Magic need might.” Amanos shook her head, but Jeroen was speaking.

“We woke up in a room off that way,” he said, pointing. “We had been travelling in the Whitemountains. There was a mist. We couldn’t keep openeyed … and then we were here. Where is this place?”

“Later,” said Amanos. “Enough to say it is very dangerous. When was this that you woke?”

“A day ago, or two. Difficult to say.” Jeroen shook his head.“Lady, the cobolds — please! My sister!”

“I understand,” she said. Gral and Domini entered the room behind her. “But I must hear what you can tell me before I decide what’s best for her. Is she, are you, thirsty? Hungry?”

He shook his head, slowly. “There is a stream, swiftrunning, with fish,” he said. “But there are monsters everywhere. We were driven away from it. That was — I don’t know, some time ago. Then the cobolds found us. There were … four of them, I think, maybe five. We tried to fight. Lady, I am not a warrior. They took her. By the strings and shadows, they have taken her! They … please, help me save her, before they, they ravish her. I beg you!”

Domini had been translating for Gral; he let out a bark of laughter. Amanos looked back at him. He glared at her, and shook his head. “Tell me where this happened,” she said. “Domini, tell Gral what he says; the dwarf is to go where he directs, and see if he can spy on these cobolds. He is to find out if there is a trail to their home, and whether there are more.” Domini repeated this to the dwarf, who shook his head, and set his jaw.

Jeroen said that up the northeast hallway there was a crossroads, and a passage southeast to a room where other halls led away in various directions. He said that he and his sister had been yet further to the east. The cobolds had come from the south. When he had done, and Domini had repeated it all to Gral, Amanos looked to the dwarf, and nodded to the hall. The dwarf said something, and glared at her, but set out. “He thinks this is foolswaste,” whispered Domini.

“It is not for him to judge,” said Amanos. “It is my honourduty.”

Jeroen sat against a wall, and bowed his head. “I thank you for your actions, mylady,” he said. “I — ah, Lynelle!” He began to sob.

“Tell me,” she said, sitting by him, “are you of Shivartha?”

She had hoped to distract him from his sorrow, and keep him from being weepinglost. He lifted his head, tears on his cheeks. His eyes glistened. “We are traders,” he said. “Of a trading household. Borderfolk. Shivartha, Aurelium, the former lands of the Grey Kings. What used to be Edu.”

“You speak all their languages, then?” she asked. He nodded. She gestured to the south. “We have found others,” she said. “People lost in these halls. When we recover your sister, you will both be welcome here.”

“Lady, what is this place?” he asked again. Amanos sighed.

“It is Fell Gard,” she said. His face fell. He whipped his head around, staring to all points. “We will find a way out,” she said.

“No man escapes Fell Gard,” he said. He paused. “Lady … will you protect me? Protect both of us?”

She nodded. “I am a knight,” she said. “I am oathbound to lead all in my charge through the world of shadows. I see no reason that should be any less true in this underearth than in the daylight.”

“Well, bless you, then,” he said. His lips twitched, almost a smile; she thought he would be beautiful if he smiled, though he was but a poor trader. “I am sorry,” he said. “I know your folk take no blessings from the puppetmasters. But I give you my own thanks.”

“It is enough,” she said, then caught herself: “But no thanks are due for honourduty.”

The two girls had been whispering to each other; Domini translating for Hochelaga. Now Domini asked: “What’s a halfjack? Because Hochelaga says —”

Before Amanos could begin to think of an answer, Jeroen leaped to his feet. “Yes!” he cried. “Yes, I am Jeroen Halfjack!”

Amanos was standing herself. “A halfjack is a man not truemortal,” she said.

“My mother was taken by a jack,” he said, quickly, passionately. “My sister and I were twins. Our mother turned us out, we grew up together, we became traders. We have the heritage of jacks. My fortune is out there. Somewhere in the world. Lady, can you feel it? Here we are in Fell Gard, a name out of the past. What waits for us?” To Domini he said: “Jacks are magic. They’re men that are not men, but sometimes are heroes. Halfjacks are the children of jacks by mortal women. We are fated. Every halfjack has a fortune, a birthright, a chance for greatness. We adventure around till it finds us. This must be mine.” He turned back to Amanos. “Fell Gard! The treasures of the immortal wizard Scaeva! His gold and wonders! Oh, Amanos, this is almost too grand for me!”

She wondered whether, if she had not known he was a halfjack, she would have been swayed. “Halfjacks are honeytongued,” she said.

“But not always liars, for all that,” he said. “Amanos … lady … what have we found here?” He took a step toward her. She set her hand on her swordhilt. He stopped, and spread his hands. “I am weaponless,” he said, “emptyhanded. I am no fighter. But you —”

“Silence,” she ordered.

“Imagine,” he said.

“Silence!” she ordered again. He dropped to his knees.

“Lady, I am dependent on you,” he said. “To return my sister to me. To fight for me. But I tell you I will remember you, if you let me. When I come to my true estate.” Hochelaga said something. Jeroen Halfjack stood, and turned to her.

Domini began: “Hochelaga says —” but was unable to complete the thought. From the northeast passage came Gral’s voice, shouting. The dwarf himself came running into the room a moment later. “Treachery!” Domini cried. “Cobolds —”

Jeroen Halfjack moved suddenly, grabbing Hochelaga, his right arm around her chest. He straightened his left arm and a knife fell into it which he put to her throat. All jacks are lefthanded, thought Amanos. “Let me be,” he warned them.

Gral was shouting again. “Cobolds led by a warrior are coming,” said Domni, staring at Jeroen.

“Watch him,” Amanos ordered, and went to see.

“Give yourselves up,” Jeroen shouted, “or I slit the girl’s throat.” The torchlight went only a bit past the barricade. She could see shapes running toward her. Her sword was at her side, her spear at her back.

“Hochelaga,” Amanos cried. “Magic, yes or no?”

“Yes!” shouted Hochelaga. Amanos smiled. They were almost on her.

“Now!” she cried. Hochelaga shouted a word. Amanos took up her spear. A mailclad man was running toward her at full speed. She braced the spear against the floor to the side of the barricade. Behind her Jeroen shouted. The mailclad man was moving too fast to stop or get out of the way. He drove himself onto the spear. The blade did not break the metal of his coat but something inside him cracked and he gasped and fell, spitting pink froth. She drew her sword as the cobolds, running behind him, reached her.

She knew cobolds were goblinkin, but had never fought them before. They had dark blue skin and yellow eyes, and were lean, longarmed, with short knives. There were too many of them, six, eight, ten. Then Domini was beside her, swinging the fine battleaxe. A cobold fell to the blade, screaming. They screamed like men. “Go!” shouted Amanos. “Run!”  But there were too many. If they turned they would be knifed in the back —

Then the barricades fell, forward, against the cobolds, who backed away in confusion. Gral; he had thrown the doors down. Amanos grabbed Domini’s hand. “Run!” she ordered.

“Jeroen,” Domini gasped as they fled back eastward, “went out that way — back toward the stairs —”

“Yune!” Amanos shouted. “Run! Domini, tell them run!”

Domini screamed something at topmost breath.

They ran through the entryway to the room just north of the roundroom. “Here we stand,” she said to Gral. “We must hold them, for the others.” The dwarf grinned. He understood perfectly. He pointed to the right side of the doorway, and went to stand on the left, broadsword bared. Amanos stood where he had pointed. Domini went to stand by her. Blue blood dripped from her axe. The smell of blood was thick; it smelled like man’s blood. Also there was another smell in the air, she thought, but she had no time to think on it. “No,” said Amanos to Domini.

“I will be your squire,” the girl said. The dwarf spoke. Domini said, “He says to hold your breath fighting them.”

“Why,” began Amanos, but there was no time for an answer.

The first two cobolds ran through the doorway. One died with Gral’s sword in its back. Amanos stabbed the other, but it did not fall. She remembered Gral’s warning and held her breath as it coughed at her, and a puff of blue smoke drifted around her head. Gral struck the cobold down, a brutal skullcracking blow, but two others ran through the door. A knifestrike glanced from a plate of her mail, and then a second. She had to hold her breath again as the cobold breathed the smoke over her. By now all its fellows had joined it. There were five of the blue manlike things. Too many, with Domini not knowing how to fight. She will die as a squire, thought Amanos.

Then the cobolds stopped; as one, they looked south; and then such fear came over them as Amanos had never seen in any living thing, and they ran north. She turned to the south, to find the quiet smiling boy standing in the entrance to the roundroom.

He spoke, and Domini translated: “They’ll be back. I felt I should come to help, if I could. Yune and Katherine are safe.”

“How,” began Amanos, and then stopped. “Yune and Katherine? What about —” She realised that the light, which she had thought came from the torch in the roundroom, came also from the west. From the chamber with the starcircle. The summoning circle. “Ah, no,” she said.

She ran west. The others came with her. As she had feared: Hochelaga, seeming oddly shrunken, sat in the circle, which now flamed in its every line with red fires. The incense was burning before the girl, and her eyes were closed.

They walked to the edge of the circle. None of them dared cross it. “She said a word, and shrank out of the halfjack’s hands,” said Domini. “When he ran north, she took the torch from me. I guess she lit the incense from it and came in here. What’s she doing?”

“She is a wizard,” said Amanos. “And she imagines she can control the forces within that circle.”

“She thinks she is saving us,” said the boy, smiling.

Gral backed away from the threshold, barking a warning. “Someone’s coming,” said Domini; and then a moment later five swordbearing figures stood at the threshold of the room. Four were cobolds, who advanced straightaway, and with them Amanos saw two doglike things, shadowy jackals, slink into the room. The fifth was another mailclad man; he wore a tabard above his armour, like a vestment, with three masked faces upon it. He had a longsword before him.

“You have placed yourself in the way of destiny,” he said in Darvartha, eyes flicking about, counting up all of them. “I call the names of the devils that are my masters: by Merrynight, Mockshadow, and Mumchance, you all will die.”

“That,” said Amanos, “remains to be proven.” She raised her sword, and nodded. “When you will,” she said.

The agent of hell moved into the chamber.


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One Response to “Part 2, Chapter 5: Knights and War”

  1. Perfidium the Rogue

    Ooh, I *like* it! The cobolds’ breath combined with the spelling of their name makes me think of cobalt and radioactivity – the kinds of cloud that make you want to run like billy-o. And the devil-sworn fellow; what next from him?!?

    Keep at it. 😀

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