The Fell Gard Codices


Gamelyn watches.

He is by nature a watcher, like much of his clan. In the shadows of the garden, under the boughs of the lilac-tree, he observes, a lit torch in hand, while the riddle wraps tighter round his brain, ourobouros-like. He sees: Ulric falls, by the will of the jailer-god called Urizen. He sees: the priest that has blasted Ulric with the curse withdraws, blessed by time. He sees: these curious outer-worlders follow the priest, Enheduanna and William firing arrows that are far too slow to find their target.

For Gamelyn this priest’s celerity is not a surprise. Time is an illusion, though it is an illusion of which he is keenly aware, and which he can hardly escape.

The priest moves quickly along the garden’s winding brick paths, quickly past honeysuckle and tomato, past lily and eglantine; moves quickly because time is different for him. Gamelyn has seen such magic before. The others chase the priest. Ulric rises, blinded, and they do not realise what has happened to him. Gamelyn sees it. Seeing is his business; also how to thwart sight, to beguile the eyeball.

He thinks: I stand, day-bright, shining. It is the riddle, obtruding upon his thoughts. It is a word-charm that binds him. The charm he had in his head, for the making of images, is gone; the creative freedom that could play upon key words to make a spell is no longer his. To have a charm driven from your mind, to have a mind that cannot hold a charm, that is the worst fate for all magic-wielders. He has lost his magic. He has lost all.

Gamelyn knows it is a trick of the mind, but it is a trick of which he is keenly aware, and which he can hardly escape.

He can almost see it. The unknown city, of towers and spires and glass windows. An island city: The river-waves wash ashore at all sides. He should know it. Or no, that is the charm upon his mind. The spell. It makes him think the place is familiar; but it is an illusion. Who better to know than he?

Gamelyn takes a step. Ulric has flung out a hand. The caladrius, which had fluttered away when the prophet had fallen, now returns to him. “This way,” Gamelyn murmurs, “move among the giant towers and many crossing streets. Woods and cliffs and paths.”

Ulric speaks. Gamelyn cannot hear him. Gamelyn’s not sure, really, where he’s going; it is a function of which he is not conscious.

But Gamelyn knows (what he is sure the surface-worlders don’t) the meaning of the word unconscious, that was made up by his kin of Twarid, the thirteenth court, a long time ago. He knows that it is a part of the self larger than the conscious, waking part; that it is what makes dreams; and it is that part of us that recognises the pattern of story; also that part of us that makes the mistakes by which we give ourself away; and also too the store-room of memories and sense-impressions from which we are barred by our own mental inacuity — the gold of past time, the treacle-tasting moments of infancy, all those incidents in all those gardens from which we are outcast or else depart of our own will. Gamelyn knows these things, and lets that part of himself guide their steps, and so finds himself taking the blind prophet’s hand and leading him inerrantly after the other four (north, west, north again through an open door, then west) to a wide hall that the sightless prophet anathematises as a temple to Urizen, a Power Gamelyn’s never heard of before. He’s surprised to find it has to do with a Power he knows, at least in part.

Gamelyn’s seen the symbols arrayed in this temple before, most of them. There’s a geometer’s compass, a mason’s square. Three domes up above, and quadrate patterns worked into the stone of the floor. False lancet arches on the walls, opening onto nothing but rock. Altars, upon one of which is a book bound in iron and a book bound in brass. Some symbols he does not know: sculptures of an old man with a long beard shaping a world. And the same man riding in a chariot. Nor has Gamelyn seen anything similar to the white hangings like sails, sewn with gold thread to show a mysterious involuted polyp-like tree.

(He thinks of some of the temples he has known in Fell Gard, the places of power; this temple is small, fifty feet or so long. The walls are worked in rough straight lines, as though it were a collection of standing stones, dolmens and menhirs making a barrow under the earth. The ceiling reaching up in tiers above to — what? Twenty yards? More? Candles are lit on high; enough to cast an uncertain glimmering over the actions below. I am my own two arms, am myself light-bearer.)

Still: he knows (by reputation) Aufyn, the elephantine bishop, who according to legend dwells in a cathedral that is the malformed genitals of some vast infernal creature, its doors opening into an endless dark echoing nave, its spire rising beyond the limits of vision. In which place that high aristocrat of hell refines his hierarchies. The compass and square his symbols, the triple dome and quadrate shape, the books of iron and brass. It has been suggested (in the whispers of radical theologians, in half-surviving fragments of texts in mouldering books, in the visions of castrated flamens) that Aufyn’s parody of terrestrial religion extends so far that he worships some distant master as his god, a lord above lords, a king of order and strength. Could that be this Urizen? It is certain that Aufyn has sub-devils beneath him, a parody of all the prophets and priests and flamens of mortal men. He sends them out into the world, so it is said, to wander the courts of Fell Gard; his dekyns and benysons like sorines and friars. But there is not such a creature here, only a mortal man that has sold the most precious part of himself for a few scraps of power, as men are wont to do.

How many temples has Gamelyn seen, very like this one? How many wicked priests? Most priests are wicked, in the dungeon; how to believe in a god of good, when trapped in the pit? Gamelyn has come to know all the leading devils of hell. One can say as much, he has always maintained, of any man who lives long enough; he has also said that the difference between him and those others is that he can put names to those infernal snickering dukes, and all the mercenary demon princes too, who mock the enfleshment of us, our incarnation, the meat and the bone and how willingly we become each other’s butchers.

None of which is important. None of which finds him a solution to crossing streets, to homes and churches with windows of glass.

“What is happening?” whispers Ulric. The old prophet grips Gamelyn’s shoulder, fingers digging like claws. “What do you see?”

“Woods and cliffs and paths,” says Gamelyn. It’s true, too, he can see them, now. Or almost. Almost. High above a city.

“What do you see?” repeats Ulric, fingers clutching tighter.

His father, teaching him the ways of the dungeon. Beating him if he sets foot out of doors. Because you must teach the young quick as you can, or they will not live to grow old. Three brothers dead before the age of five. He learned.

“The priest is laughing at them,” says Gamelyn. “He’s calling something forth. Some demon.”

“Oh, this is no holy place,” says Ulric.

“No,” says Gamelyn.  Why, as he thinks of his riddle, does he imagine some other way to see? As though light like the moons or sun (am myself light-bearer) could come from glass, could be made steady, as though maybe the answer to the riddle involves some city of wizards, light-masters (I stand, day-bright, shining; awaiting death).

Before him the priest of hell calls up a grimbler. It is not so powerful a demon. This place is not great in its wickedness, it is new-fledged in cruelty: only a grimbler, then, fluttering in a haze of soot and ink-black smoke up, up, and then swooping down. The others hardly move, as though they’ve never seen the like before. Maybe they haven’t. “It is more solid than it looks,” he calls out. Enheduanna fires an arrow and hits it. Another arrow misses, because the demon’s fallen back more than the elf expected. In fact it’s fallen right to Gryselde, who impales it on her halberd, just as William fires an arrow and strikes the priest of Aufyn. The river-waves wash ashore at all sides.

Gamelyn has had enough experience with such compulsions to know how to order his thoughts. He tries again to remember those moments of his past which he felt most strongly. It doesn’t help.

Setting off, his parents dead, to find the court from which they came. The journey through the dungeon. He was thirteen. He was never not afraid, then.

The first time he stepped through a portal to the outer world. The sun, which he had never seen, but which felt right, its warmth and light touching some part of him he never knew of. The green all around him, the many greens, more than in any garden he had ever seen. The smells.

His Acceptance by the community of the faithful in the Exarch. Being covered in dust from the dungeon floor, and being washed in the waters of a flowing river, pale eyeless fish floating by his face. He was raised up, and told he would be known, now, and if the Deliverer came again to Fell Gard he would be taken up for good from its halls. Of course later there were the portals, so in truth the whole affair of god and history was a charade. An illusion.

Was it escape to reach the outer world from the dungeon, or escape to return to the dungeon from the outer world?

I am the sign of faith —

Ulixa stabs the priest with her knife. The demon’s loosed thick black smoke all through the temple. Gamelyn’s outside the smoke, but he knows what it tastes like; greasy, unwholesome. William is not moving, cursed by the priest.

There is a lot of fighting, and swinging of weapons.

The smoke vanishes; the elf has run the demon through with her sword, expelling it from the Real.

The priest runs. Gamelyn, seeing this, reaches out with his knife and gives the skinny old man a deep cut on the hip as he tries to pass by. The other man falls.

The priest babbles, then, seeking to surrender. Gryselde and the others consider this.

Gamelyn thinks of his induction into the Gamesters of Shadow. Blindfolds, bright lights, oaths and mummery; finally he had said, enough, I will have no more of this, it is nonsense. They had applauded him, and told him that that was the secret of initiation into the Solidarity of Dwimmerlaiks, the recognition of nonsense for what it was. They told him that he was the quickest ever to see this.

Of course they had lied there as well.

Gamelyn drives his knife through the eye of the priest and into his brain. It kills the man instantly.

I remember a death —

There is some discussion of his action. Gryselde, in particular, seems outraged. It’s all a distraction. He can almost see the images resolving, reaching harmony: an unreal city.

He mutters to the outer-worlders that this is the only thing to do with prisoners. You can’t keep them. They eat your food, use your resources, and what good are they? Unless you can ransom them. But who would pay ransom for this little priest?

They aren’t satisfied, but then how rarely are things ever wholly satisfactory.

He wanders after them as they search the area, all except Ulric, who kneels in the temple praying to a god Gamelyn does not know, struggling to purify the space. The drowsy caladrius watches him. I am the sign of faith. The temple itself holds candles, a geometer’s compass, and a small font of foul water. They find other things in other places. There is a curious doll in a small room east of the temple; the outer-worlders have never before seen porcelain, out of which the doll’s face and unblinking eyes are made, and comment on its beauty. Then, in one of the rooms they’d run through to reach the temple, they find the morlocks’ living chamber — and he must explain to them that the white beasts that had attacked them in the garden that first time are called morlocks, a slave race some wizard or dragon created who-knows-how-long-ago, violent and yet still drawn to menial labour, which would be why they were tending the garden. There is paper in their bedding on which is written the keywords of a charm, and also there is what he thinks at first are pale gemstones but actually are silver dice set with bloodstone pips.

The dice, Gamelyn realises, are important.

It is the shape of them. Aristarchan solids. He gives Gryselde the torch and takes them from the elf’s hands. He has to explain. He does, walking back to the garden and then westward. Moving in many crossing streets. The shapes of them. High towers. A pyramid, a cube, a double-pyramid, pentagons, triangles set in star patterns. Four, six, eight, twelve, twenty sides. William remembers something; Gamelyn lets him explain, the old philosopher of the archons, the spiritual geometry of the perfect shapes, each representing one of the five forces that between them make up the seven elements. William half-remembers, he mistakes a fact here and there, he embroiders what he does not know, he makes it a better tale than it truly is, and of this habit Gamelyn thoroughly approves.

Gamelyn finds himself imagining the cube unfolding to an unbalanced cross-shape. It seems significant. He cannot imagine why.

At the stone door, he puts the dice one by one into the five recesses where a keyhole might have been. They fit perfectly.

The door swings open.

He is hoping he will find an answer. He is hoping that solving a small riddle will give him the answer to the larger riddle, the big riddle, the only question that now matters: what am I, that I am my own two arms?

Instead the door opens onto a large treasure vault. There are hundreds of coins, in loose piles; bronze, silver, gold. There is a golden pendant set with a small perfect ruby. There is a symbolic rune-carved cedarwood spear with a silver head. There are agates and turquoises scattered everywhere. There is a silver ring near his feet set with small pearls; he kicks it across the room. It’s all useless.

A trio of winged three-foot-high women come fluttering on wings fine as soap-film, diaphanous gowns fluttering around them. “Who are you,” they ask, “and what are you doing here?”

Gryselde begins to answer them. Gamelyn says: “I am looking for the answer to a riddle.” Everybody then is silent. Gamelyn recites the riddle. He says: “Do you know? Tell me. Tell me.”

But of course they don’t, it’s not their concern, their task is other; they preen themselves to the outer-worlders, puffing themselves up as sylphs are wont to do. Listen to them talk and you would think they moved all the air for all the dungeon. But the outer-worlders seem never to have seen an air elemental before, and are fascinated. High above the woods and cliffs and paths. For a moment he imagines the city as hell, the spires as Aufyn’s cathedral-lair; no, surely that’s not right —

“I have the answer,” comes a whisper beside him. The others have moved slightly ahead, speaking to the sylphs. Gryselde has the torch high before her. Gamelyn has let himself drift well behind. Ulixa is watching him, as she so often does, but it is not her who has spoken. Who else, then? Gamelyn looks to his left.

He sees a faceless mask, with a small shadow behind it.

“Do you,” he says. “Do you have the answer? Truly?”

“I do,” says the shade. The mouth of the mask does not move; it never will, he knows. “Free me from those sylphs, who are harsh mistresses,” it whispers.

“I’m not like these other mortals,” he says. “I know you.”

“Do you?”

“A shade,” he says, “a mask elemental. You will want to join with me. I know the cost.”

It says nothing, but waits.

What is there to say? What is there to do?

I stand, day-bright, shining; awaiting death.

“Very well,” Gamelyn tells it. He takes up the mask. The shadow vanishes behind it. One of the sylphs shouts at him to stop. He sets the mask on his face.

For a moment he is looking through the eye-holes of the mask. Then he is looking through another pair of eyes. Then he has internalised the elemental.

He sees the answer.

He never would have guessed it, of course. It is a cheat, unfair, impossible. But he knows it now.

He can see it.

Gamelyn can see the city. He cannot understand it. He does not know what race has made it, or the magics he sees in its streets. But he watches it, weeping through the mask he does not wear but has taken inside himself.

The sylphs are complaining: “We must have our slave back,” they say. Gryselde says they will ask Gamelyn to return him, but of course the sylphs know that cannot be, for the elemental is a part of him now. “We will hold the man here without food or water until he dies, and then our slave will be free to return to us,” explains one of the sylphs.

“I cannot accept that,” says Sorine Gryselde.

The sylphs shrug. “Then we must do battle,” they say. “Begin when you like.” (Sylphs, of course, are unserious, and for all the unending wars of the elemental kingdoms they still do not properly understand violence or permanent injury or how to conduct themselves.)

It is a short fight. The sylphs are clever enough to blow out the torch at once, but they are very minor elementals, and still largely flesh; the elf misses with one arrow, and then adjusts for the powers of their winds and kills two. Then William’s singing echoes in the darkness. Enheduanna’s voice tells them that the last sylph is captivated.

Gamelyn stands in the darkness and weeps for the perfection of his answer.

What am I, he thinks. He knows: I am an answer. A thing seen from one angle, unknown. Seen from another, known. Perceptions are illusions. Words are illusions. Where is the essence of a thing to be found? Nowhere. But a thing may be caught by a pattern of words, self-referential symbols, and so identified, and so known. He knows, now; he has that answer.

The torch is lit again. The others have surrounded the sylph, and William ceases playing and the sorine speaks to her.

There is a kind of illusion Gamelyn knows he has, in part. William and Enheduanna have more. The sorine, when she wants, and Ulric, when he wants, have as much of it as anyone he has ever known. It is the illusion that they are part of you; that, when they speak to you, you are the most important all of things to them, and that they know you fully and value you. It is the illusion of their own importance. It is the illusion that they are leaders, that their natural place is at the head of a company; and so perfect is the illusion that it is not an illusion at all. It is an illusion that they barely suspect they create, and could not say how. It is an illusion, but though it is an illusion of which he is keenly aware, it is one which he can hardly escape.

The sorine speaks to the sylph and says that they had no desire to kill her sisters, and that they do not want to kill her, and that they want amity, and similar high-minded things, and when she is done the sylph casts herself at the sorine’s feet and takes her as her liege. Which the sorine had not expected and perhaps does not understand. He’ll explain it to her, later. He begins to walk, eastward to where he must give his answer.

He feels the elemental in him. A mask elemental bonded to an illusionist. A shade and a Gamester of Shadow. What will happen?

What always happens when an elemental bonds to a mortal soul. Certain parts of him will become stronger. Certain parts weaker; flatter. He will wax and also contrariwise he will wane. He will become broader. More … well, more elemental.

It is a price worth paying. He has his answer.

He walks, and behind him the others come, the sylph with them. Some of them go to fetch Ulric and his caladrius; you shouldn’t divide forces in the dungeon, he knows, but it’s not worth the time to explain, not now. He has his answer. He makes his way along to the speaking gargoyle: “Knowledge, and truth, and power,” it says.

Gamelyn kneels, his arms spread wide.

He tells it the answer.

The riddle loses its hold on his mind. In its place his charm back, the half-made poem he would improvise into a working; he understands it better, now, and he can imagine a second charm, he can hold them both in his head at once. He understands more of the secrets of illusion.

He feels the elemental within him. And weeps; for what he now understands he will lose, what he has given up for the meaningless answer to a petty riddle, what he was driven to sacrifice for knowledge, and truth, and power, and just how little of those things he has won.

Gamelyn’s eyes are full of tears. His hands claw at the dungeon floor.

His fingers sting from the solidity of unyielding stone.


Previous Chapter | Archives | Next Chapter

Comments are closed.

Proudly powered by WordPress. Theme developed with WordPress Theme Generator.
Copyright © The Fell Gard Codices. All rights reserved.