The Fell Gard Codices


Ulric opened his eyes. There was a very bright light before him. He recalled the pain in his skull, the fall. He thought he had walked down a long hall, and fallen again. All he could see was splendour.

At the heart of the white light there was a bird, that had landed upon his chest, and now looked him full in the face. As he stared at it Ulric felt himself grow stronger, felt the hurt fade until it was wholly gone. The bird flew up into the air. Ulric stood, and it whirled around his head and landed on his shoulder. It was like a lord’s falcon, but its talons did not hurt him, and though it shone like the sun its light did not hurt his eyes.

“Are you well?” asked Gryselde, quietly, on her knees nearby.

“Never better!” he said. It was true. More: he was happy. Like Jocund Day, that danced on the misty mountain-top. “Where are the rest of us?”

“Scattered,” said the sorine, standing. She took up her halberd. “My gifts are not for captaining others, I fear.”

Filled with health, Ulric almost laughed. “We are none of us in known lands,” he said. “Come; let us find where they all have gone.”

“Do you know what bird that is?” she asked, as he opened the door before him.

“No,” he said. “And I am not of a mind to question it. So long as it chooses to keep our company, so long I will welcome it. Which way, do you think?”

The sorine sighed. “Right,” she said. “East.” They went east, their way illuminated by the bird’s great light; the passage soon ended, splitting south and north. There was a grinding noise southward. They followed the sound, and came to a pit whose walls were closing against each other. As they, and their light, drew closer, they heard weak cries for help. Ulixa was in the pit, trying to climb the wall back to the passage. She had come much of the way, but could find no hand-hold for the last few feet.

Ulric lay down so that he bent at the waist into the pit. The sorine knelt on his legs for an anchor. He stretched his arms out, and Ulixa caught them. He drew her up, as the bird flew about. She scrambled over the lip of the pit, and lay flat upon her back, breathing heavily and in pain. The bird perched on her chest, and stared her in the face. She gasped. “What is it doing?” she asked.

“Healing you,” he said.

“A caladrius,” she said, wonder-filled. “You have found a caladrius bird.” It took to the air again, circling about, shining; then again landed on Ulric’s shoulder.

“You know what it is?” asked Gryselde.

“My father was a doctor,” said Ulixa. “A healer … he told me of the caladrius. They are rarely seen now. Once they were kept by kings. They were beyond price. They can — they take the hurts of others into themselves, and turn them to light.”

“They eat pain?” the sorine asked.

“If you like,” said Ulixa. “They turn their faces from those who must die. They are symbols of Thane Rodor, the brightness of heaven, and of his love for the earth. So the Vættir said. Rodor’s equivalent in the courts of Oak and Holly would be … the Oak King himself, maybe?” She looked around. “Where is Gamelyn?”

They found him along the northern branch of the passage. He was sitting before a gargoyle, not unlike the ones that had moved on the arch near the stairs, but all of brass. His mouth was stretched as though he was in pain, but the caladrius showed no interest in him. He muttered to himself over and over: “I remember a passing,” and sometimes “I am my two arms, am myself light-bearer.” Ulixa called his name but he did not answer. Ulric pulled him away from the gargoyle. He came willingly enough, his lips moving, his eyes unfocused. What was the matter with the man?

“Can you hear me?” Ulixa asked him. “Can you hear?”

“I … yes, I … stand, day-bright, shining. I can hear you.” Gamelyn shook his head. “I don’t have an answer. I don’t understand it. Once a man was also a god. It’s a riddle. I have to find the answer.”

“We all have to find William and Enheduanna,” said Gryselde. “Come with us. We can return and solve your riddle later.”

“No!” said Gamelyn. “I must answer it! My voice, my words! Or I will lose … everything.” He looked to Ulixa. “You understand, don’t you?”

“Of course,” she said.

“But surely you don’t have to answer it this moment,” said Gryselde. “William is a Goliard. He knows many stories. He might have advice.”

Gamelyn nodded, shortly; then nodded again. They went back along the hallway, Ulixa leading the dwimmerlaik to a passage running north and south. Gryselde pointed south. “We came from that direction,” she said. “Enheduanna chased something she saw; William chased her, with the torch. Somehow, in the darkness, the rest of us were confused and separated.”

“We know they’re not back the way we came,” said Ulric, “therefore they must be to the north.” As he spoke, there was a crash beyond the northern door. He took out his mace. He glanced back to see that Gryselde had readied her halberd, and Ulixa had stepped in front of Gamelyn, her knife held before her. He nodded to them, strode north, and opened the door.

William of the Long Road stood on unsteady legs, terribly wounded in his chest and scalp, his sword in his right hand and a lit torch in his left. Two witherlings lay before him, burning brightly. “Ah,” said William, and coughed blood, and said, “would that you’d arrived a minute earlier.” So speaking, he collapsed to the floor.

And the caladrius flew to him, staring him in the face.

The bird’s light grew brighter and brighter, and as Ulric went to the singer William’s hands closed. He stirred and woke. The bird lay on his chest; and then curled up, its head under its wing, and was still. “Is that,” breathed William, “a caladrius?”

“It is,” said Ulixa. “I think it’s gone to sleep.” She laughed, a single laugh: “It’s full.”

“Where’s Enheduanna?” asked Gryselde, taking up the torch and handing it to Gamelyn, who held it without seeming to notice the weight or light.

William scrambled to his feet, cradling the bird, who was sound asleep. Ulric took it from him, and William threw open a door on the east side of the room: “Enheduanna!” he cried.

They felt the pull from the other side of the door at once. As though some vast mouth was drawing a deep breath; and there was such a mouth, an opening in the air, with mist and silver light beyond. Enheduanna was halfway to it, gripping an arch to keep from being pulled all the way in. “William!” she cried. “It’s the ætheric portal!”

“Gamelyn, can you close it?” demanded Gryselde.

“Hmm?” asked Gamelyn, slowly turning his head to look down the hall. “A portal,” he whispered. “No … but maybe … gateway to another world?”

“Can you close it?” said Ulixa. “Do you know how?”

Enheduanna shouted. Her fingers slipped. William ran into the hall, half-sliding from the pull of the portal. He reached the arch, caught it, and grabbed the elf’s hand just as her grasp on the arch gave way.

“Oh!” said Gamelyn. He made a sign. The portal closed. “They’re not uncommon,” he mumbled. “Not common either, I suppose …”

“I saw him,” said Enheduanna. “The Iron Elf. He escaped again.”

“From this moment,” said Gryselde, “we must not allow ourselves to be separated. William, you ran off with our only light. We all have to learn new ways of being in this place. New habits.”

Ignoring her, William shouted “What’s wrong with you?” to Gamelyn. “She could have been killed, or taken Ossian-knows-where!”

“Hmm,” said Gamelyn. “I think … I’m under a compulsion. Ah … a sign of faith … no … it’s like a curse.” He bit his lip. “A cursed god?” he murmured. “A curse upon a city …”

“He failed to answer a riddle, and was cursed,” said Ulric, understanding at last. “We must find an answer for him.”

William sighed. “Let’s hear it,” he said.

Gamelyn recited his riddle; it was a poem Ulric did not understand. Not wholly. “Well,” said William. “That could … or rather … hum.” He thought. “You know,” he said in the end, “I have no notion what that could mean.”

“Do you know of a god that truly died?” asked Gryselde.

“Oh, certainly,” said William. “Many of them. Vættir gods, mostly; their sagas tell of wars between gods, with much death. The very first of them begins: ‘There came a time when the old gods died!’ — and then all this world is what came after. But none of those gods were also men. The Invicti said their Emperors became gods when they died. But up to that time, their apotheoses, they were mortal. The Archons wrote of a Monad, a single god that had nothing to do with men … maybe the lady knight would know. The Vartha, the Sceadu, are one of the people that tell of the demiurge, a sort of reversal of the Archons’ single god, an evil creator that fashioned the world as a prison for spirit.” William shook his head. “And then there are the Dawn Kings, and the gods taught men by monsters, and … Well, I have no answer in my lore. I’ve heard many riddles, but none like this one.”

Gryselde sighed again. The sorine, thought Ulric, had an extensive vocabulary of sighs. “If I recall truly,” she said, “directly ahead of us, at the end of this hall, is the door Gamelyn and his hob-goblins broke when they first arrived here. We should recover their battering-ram. Then … let us go to investigate the room the murineans spoke of, west of the halls where they climbed up to this … court. As we go, we can discuss the riddle.”

They did; but came to no conclusion. Gamelyn carried the ram absently, as he now did every other thing. Ulric watched him, stroking the caladrius. Gamelyn would walk where he was pointed, answer questions, and do what had to be done, if it were told to him; but he was distracted, and his eyes either moved restlessly, seeking an answer that did not exist, or else glazed over for long periods so that Ulric doubted he could really see before him at all.

They passed the decaying corpse of the serpentine humour. The singer paused by the shapeless thing, and bent to take something out of the muck. “Now this is an emblem of some truth,” he said, “but who can say what?” He showed Enheduanna what he had found, and then gave it to her. It was a small golden arrow, with a tip of red garnet.

They went westward from the murinean halls, but this time ignored the passage leading north to the garden. Instead they went further west, where the passage forked into two parallel halls. The south passage led to a trap-door, and then beyond to a dead end, where William, searching the wall, caused a fine-meshed net to drop from the ceiling. That was no harm done; and they returned and tried the north passage, which also held a trap-door, but which went on to lead them to a library.

Ulric had heard of libraries, of course, but of course had never seen one. He had never been a true priest, nor even a mendicant friar. But the legends of the bookrooms of the Invicti, even of the Grey Kings — who had not heard of such things? And the glossologists were said to have great libraries on all subjects; but who would pay the price to share such knowledge?

This library was a square room, forty feet to a side, lined with shelves. On the shelves were tall thick dust-covered books. William ran into the room, as did Gamelyn. “Wait,” called Gryselde. William stopped. Gamelyn went to the nearest shelf and began to pull book after book from the shelves, flipping them open with one hand to read them by the light of the torch in the other. Gryselde sighed again. William shrugged and began examining the books the dwimmerlaik discarded.

“Strange,” he said. “The writing is even, more so than you’d expect from the most precise monks.”

“You can read?” asked Gryselde.

“I am well-schooled,” he said. Gamelyn laughed.

“What they sent me for,” he said. “Treasure. Knowledge, and truth, and power. Here it is. Here it is! This was what they wanted. Who cares for it?”

Enheduanna looked at the books he threw away. “Once I could read,” she murmured. “In another life. But I have forgotten how.”

“What are all these books?” asked Ulixa.

“All manner of thing,” said William. “Here is a treatise on magic, here one on plants. Here is one on the motions of the moons and planets. Here is a selection of Hero’s verse.”

“It must be in here,” muttered Gamelyn. “Every riddle an answer.”

“There’s a door on the west wall,” said Gryselde. “Ulixa, the murineans said something about a trap. What do you see there?”

The dark woman went to the door. After a few minutes, in which Gamelyn irritiably flipped the pages of book after book, she pointed to the ceiling. “If we try to open it,” she said, “the roof will collapse. The room will be buried. I might be able to disable the working of it. But then I also might set it off.”

“Leave it,” said Gryselde. She looked around. “I think also we should leave this place for the moment. The light of the caladrius is helpful, but we have so few torches.”

“No!” cried Gamelyn. “No. It’s the pattern of the dungeon. Every answer must be close at hand. That’s the magic of it. To every lock a key. To every riddle an answer.”

“All right,” said Gryselde. “But there are other places to look. We must go while we have light. We can return, later.”

“Light,” repeated Gamelyn. “I have a charm for light. It … no, no, I do not have it yet. Tomorrow. I will sleep and dream it.”

“Yes,” said Gryselde. “Right now, we must look elsewhere.”

Ulric was listening to them, but not carefully. He had taken up a book Gamelyn had discarded. He set it in his pack. It was a volume named Fearful Symmetry. Which was a phrase of the holy William of the Name Blake. What could it mean? Later, he promised himself. Later, by torchlight or by Gamelyn’s witch-light if he must, he would read. Reading was not natural for him; every letter and every word was a struggle. But there was wisdom, sometimes, in struggle.

They made their way back east, and then north to the garden. Three passages led out of the place, one to the west, two to the north-west. Gryselde decided to examine the western path first. It brought them to a door; beyond the door was a large empty room, with two more doors, one to the south and another to the west. Enheduanna pointed to the south door. “That should not be there,” she said. “On the far side of that wall is the library. And there was no door there.”

“Perhaps it was hidden, on the other side?” asked William. Enheduanna shrugged. She did not seem convinced by the notion.

“Well,” said Ulric, “if Ulixa will cast her gaze over it, I will open it, and we can see.” Ulixa found no sign of a trap; Enheduanna stood across from the door, an arrow to her bow, while William and Gryselde gathered behind him, ready. He smiled on them, handed Ulixa the caladrius, then turned to the door and opened it.

Ulric found an impossible sight. He saw a huge cavern, stretching far beyond the light of the caladrius and the torch. He stared for a moment; and then he saw movement, in the darkness. Bats. Huge bats; for a moment he was caught, remembering the grim bats above. These were greater than those, and seemed wronger —

They shrieked, and he almost puked over himself in fear. They were unnatural, he thought, unnatural grim bats —

William took the door from his strengthless hand, slammed it shut, and threw himself against it. “Is there a lock?” he cried.

“No matter,” muttered Gamelyn. “Must be a portal.”

“Like the ætheric portal?” asked Ulixa.

“Ah … no and yes,” said Gamelyn. “Not to the æther. But to somewhere else in the dungeon. So you saw a space you couldn’t see … they won’t be able to open it from the other side. Usually. Ah … glass windows as portals? What manner of city could have so many glass windows?”

William was still braced against the door. When no impact came he slowly stepped away. “How do you know about windows?” he asked Gamelyn. “What use are they down here?”

“You’d be surprised,” said Gamelyn, and then refused to say any more. Ulixa returned the still-sleeping caladrius to Ulric, and they went to the room’s other door.

It led to a short passage, which ended at what seemed to be a carved stone door, set under an elaborate lintel. In place of a keyhole were several oddly-angled recesses. “A strange relief-work,” commented the elf.

Gamelyn shook his head. “Not relief,” he said. “Haven’t you learned anything? To every door a key. Somewhere.” Muttering to himself, holding the torch high, he began to walk back east.

“Sir,” said Ulric. “This place … is full of wonders.” He took as long a stride as he could, and another, to catch up to the murmuring dwimmerlaik. “How does one live among them? Behind any door could be … anything, good or ill. Possible or impossible.”

Gamelyn glanced at him, rubbing his chin. “I can almost see it,” he muttered. “A city, an island city, high towers, glass walls. That’s life, prophet. Anything can happen, at any time. It’s a long improvisation. A riddle posed us. Our answer — how can we answer? Eh? How answer?”

For a moment Ulric had no idea how to respond to that question; then something struck him. “The works of the holy William of the Name Blake speak of a figure called Jesus the Christ, who was all virtue and acted from impulse, not rules; he was crucified, and after death became the invisible God called Jehovah. His cross had two arms.”

“Who is this William?” cried Gamelyn, grabbing Ulric’s arm.

“He wrote sacred fantasies,” said Ulric. “Great epics of unreal cities … Golgonooza, Jerusalem, London. But none on an island —” And, he thought, he wrote of the creation of the world; of the making of the human body. Of the demented reason, sealed within its own dark caves, exploring its prison, pace by pace. Just as we are doing. Ulric felt a chill descend upon him. He understood, then; the poet had foreseen all these things, if only poetically. Something terrible is about to happen.

Gamelyn let his arms drop. “No, no. Not quite right. I can feel it. Close. The crucified man-god.”

Gryselde sighed. “Let’s return to the garden.” So they did; but in the garden they discovered a mortal man waiting for them.

He was not surprised by them, or at least showed no sign of it. “My children,” he said. “So you have found me. That is well.”

“Who are you?” asked the sorine. Ulric shuffled forward behind her. He did not like the look of this man, who was rake-thin and old, with a great grey beard. For a moment he could not say why. Then he saw the image of the geometer’s compass, stitched on his habit.

“I am an agent of the moral law,” said the old man. “I bring you the revelation writ in books of brass.”

“Urizen!” spat Ulric. He stepped forward.

“The Great Architect and first-born son of Light,” said the other man. “Do you not know Him?”

“I am an agent of the Creative Imagination!” declared Ulric.

“But wait —” said William; only the other man was raising a hand to Ulric.

“Then I curse you with blindness,” he said, and laughed, and began to run to the north.

Ulric shouted, raised his hands to suddenly-sightless eyes, and, for the second time, fell among the paths of the garden.


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“Give yourselves up,” Jeroen shouted, “or I slit the girl’s throat.”

One Response to “Part 2, Chapter 6: The Limits of Vision”

  1. Perfidium the Rogue

    “ his chains, black, deadly bound..”

    Blake sure gets around! 😛

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