The Fell Gard Codices


The cobolds drew up, hissing, their swords readied, as Amanos and Geoffrey came forward. Gral followed a step behind the mortals. Domini could see five cobolds. Three before, two in back. Domini gripped Odilo’s axe tightly, and remained behind Gral, as Amanos had ordered. I will honour your weapon, Odilo, she thought. You’ll see. You should have given it to me in the first place. You’ll see.

She did not let herself think about how the shadowy jackal had clawed her. She did not let herself think about the blood. Paradox had healed her. It was over with. Even the memory of pain was gone. The axe, that was all. She had to concentrate. It was a large weapon for her, though she was quite tall. It did not weigh so much, not really, five pounds or perhaps six, just like any axe. It was always surprising to her, every time she lifted it, every time she swung it, how light it was. She would prove it always should have been hers. She would not think of pain now gone.

The cobolds breathed out their blue smoke. Amanos coughed a little but did not flinch, while Geoffrey snorted out a great bull’s breath that blew the bad air away from him. But then the cobold before the big black-bearded man dropped his heavy knife and threw himself forward, wrapping his arms around Geoffrey and trying to drag him down to the ground. That gave room for two of the cobolds to attack Amanos. They ran at her, less interested in cutting her than in driving her to the side, separating her from her allies.

“Amanos!” shrieked Domini as the knight fell against a wall and then to the ground. But Amanos didn’t seem to have been hurt; the next moment she was up again, and Geoffrey had easily broken free of the cobold holding him —

— but the two cobolds behind them had run forward. Gral slashed at one with a sword, growling, but missed. They’re not trying to fight, thought Domini. They’re running — where? Past the barricades, toward the others. To Hochelaga, and Paradox, and Yune, and “Kate!” she shouted, swinging Odilo’s axe. “Run!”

Domini missed. The cobolds ran past her. She took a step after them. Wait. She was a squire. Duty required more of her. She stopped and turned.

But the other cobolds were running away, too. Amanos and Geoffrey each struck one down as they turned their backs. Gral started after the last. “Wait!” ordered Geoffrey in Sceadu — Darvartha, Domini corrected herself by rote, it is properly Darvartha, the language of the people, only Empire men call it the land of the Sceadu — and then, when the dwarf didn’t slow, repeated himself in Wican, the Grey Kings’ tongue. “They’ll have traps and ambushes set,” he said. “We fight them here, where we want them. They’ll be back, no fear.”

“Two of them went for the others!” cried Domini. Without a word Amanos began to run after the cobolds. Domini ran after Amanos.

They’d sent Yune, Paradox, Hochelaga, and Kate back to the round room with a torch of their own. The torch was still lit. Domini could see it as they got closer. They must be all right, then, she told herself. They must. Let it be!

But all was confusion in the round room. The twisted statue in the centre watched unmoved as Paradox helped Yune to his feet and Hochelaga whirled around, her dagger before her. Meanwhile, Kate —

“Where’s Kate?” yelled Domini.

“They took her,” said Hochelaga. “Two cobolds came running through here. We didn’t expect them. I’m sorry. One of them took Kate.” She pointed to the western hall. “They went that way.”

Domini had already taken the torch from its bracket by the time Hochelaga had finished. Amanos was waiting by the west hall and they set out at once. “Wait!” cried Geoffrey behind them. They did not. Domini felt a surge of love for the knightly lady before her.

Domini could see in the torchlight that the western hall led to a door, which was shut, but halfway along another passage led south. As they ran west they heard a shriek from their left. Amanos led Domini down the southern hall, which they had not yet explored. It went ten yards before opening into a large room. Another cry came from ahead of them and to their left, roughly south-east. Behind them Geoffrey was shouting, “Wait, you fools!”

One passage from the large room led south, but another led south-east. They took it, and found a room where a passage from the north-east joined theirs. To the south, at the far edge of the flickering light, there was movement: blue-black in the faint light, cobolds gathered around a wall. Domini shouted and ran toward them, swinging Odilo’s axe as best she could with one hand. “Kate!” she shouted.

There was an answering shout, she thought; then, before she could catch them, the cobolds were through the wall, which had opened just long enough to admit them before sliding back into place. Amanos raced to the wall, and ran her hands along it, and found some catch or spring that opened the door. “Oak and Holly and the Erl-King’s shadows!” Geoffrey was shouting back behind her in Wican. “I tell you, wait, girl!” But the wall had opened. Domini ran through.

She ran on, down the hall behind the secret door, Amanos with her, and they came to another door, which Amanos opened, and again they ran on through —

— men behind them were moving to attack.

No, Domini realised, they weren’t men, not quite. They were dressed in long coats of mail, and they held swords, but their faces were dead, the skin tight and withered. Their eyes were white and they stank like they’d been pickled. Amanos cursed, turning back, and ran her sword through the face of one of them. The other reached out for her. Domini tried to attack it with Odilo’s axe, but she was not used to the weapon and the torch in her other hand meant she couldn’t swing it properly.

Then Geoffrey burst through the door, limping from the cut in the leg the cobold had given him when he was bound, and one hammering blow of his sword crushed the thing’s chest. It collapsed. “I told you,” he said in Darvartha. “Ambushes. Traps.” He looked down at the thing he’d killed. “Puppets and shadows, what are they?” he murmured.

“Witherlings,” said Hochelaga, coming behind him with the second torch. The dwarves and Paradox followed her. “I metfought beforetime.”

“The cobolds knew they were here,” said Geoffrey. “They led you to them.”

“Well, what do we do?” demanded Domini. “We can’t leave her with the goblinmen!”

“Nor can we aid her if we get ourselves killed chasing them,” said Geoffrey.

“The girl’s right,” said Amanos. “Are we to give up her sister to monsters?”

Geoffrey said nothing, but let out a breath and raised his left hand to his chin, and ran his fingers through his beard and moustaches. Then he said, as if to himself, “Well, it’s a little girl.” He shook his head and dropped his hand from his chin. “The cobolds have a hearthome,” he said. He nodded, again as though to himself. “I know where it is,” he continued. “In that cave is a magic pool, and something they look to as a god.” He looked at Amanos, with a jagged grin. “I will lead you there. We will kill the cobolds, and save the girl.” Geoffrey nodded to Domini. “We will save her.”

“I go with,” said Hochelaga. “For understand magicpool!”

“We all go,” said Amanos. “There are too few bladewise to divide our forces. We go as one. Tell them, Domini.”

She did. None of them seemed surprised. But Yune said: “Would it not be wiser to wait for your fellows to return?”

“How long?” asked Geoffrey. He shrugged. “Maybe the cobolds’ll have sacrificed her by then. Better to go now.”

“It would be tragic if they kill her, of course,” said Yune. “But …”

“But?” asked Domini.

“But in Fell Gard, such things happen,” the old dwarf completed.

“It’s my sister,” said Domini. “It’s Kate.

Yune nodded. “I could not tell you how much death I have seen. I hope your sister is well. But I wept out all my tears long, long ago, and I cannot pretend my eyes are not now forever dry. Do you understand?”

“My eyes are not so crippled, not yet,” said Paradox of the Good Act. “And if indeed yours are, then what is there left for you in life?”

Yune raised a hand. “Oh, I will see this out, if that is to be the way of things,” he said. “As well with you as alone. Gral? Will you use your knowledge of the mysteries to find what traps may be laid for us?”

Gral scowled. “If you will it, clockmaster,” he said.

“It’s for a girl’s life,” said Geoffrey. “Think on that, little man.”

“Ah, and will she not be raped, in the way of your friend’s imaginary sister?” sneered the dwarf.

Geoffrey shrugged. “I had no part in his stories.”

“Well, I say this,” Gral told him. “Piss over my head, and I will cut off whatever sad tool you use for the pissing.”

“They are arguing and swearing at each other,” Domini said to Amanos. The knight went to stand between them.

“Which way do we go?” she asked Geoffrey.

The big man pointed. “East, then a longhaul north,” he said. “I will have something to show you, too, along the way.”

“As you like,” said Amanos. “Domini, tell Gral he must be in the lead. Geoffrey and I will be behind him. You must safeguard the others, and follow a few yards behind us.”

“But I —” Domini started, and then stopped. She is to be my lady, she reminded herself. She remembered watching the Thane of Ambervale when her father forbade him to take his men to the hills in a campaign to seek out the bandits that had destroyed the Abbey of the Mark and taken the Thane’s dear friend, the Abbot. The Thane had wept great tears into his red-grey beard; but he had obeyed. And was it not said that Sir Ives went to battle against his brother, the crafty Sir Reynard, at the command of Queen Ygerna? If Domini was really to accept Lady Amanos as her patron, then she must follow her every order. And this, after all, was not so dire.

She took her place as the Lady said, and they started out westward. When the hallway ended, another passage crossing it so as to make a T-shape, they paused some time as Gral studied the junction before announcing it free of traps. They went north from there maybe ten yards before Domini heard a crack of stone on stone. Gral cursed, and Amanos and Geoffrey both stepped back, Amanos raising her shield. Domini ran forward. There was another crack, and she saw a stone fall from where it had been driven against the eastern wall. She realised someone was attacking them with a sling.

On the west side, the hallway opened up into a room. Domini couldn’t see the far wall. Gral had taken out a sling of his own and was whirling it around his head. “Go back,” said Amanos. “Watch the others.” Gral released the stone. There was a squeal of pain in the darkness to the west. The dwarf grunted, satisfied.

Domini ran back to Yune, Hochelaga, and Paradox. “An attack,” she said. “I don’t think there are many of them. We wait here. But watch out in case they come at us from behind.”

“I wish I —” started Hochelaga, and then stopped herself and shook her head. “Oh, well, it doesn’t matter,” she said, and then, patting the great leather satchel she always carried with her, added in a whisper: “But I’ll be a good enough wizard someday.”

Domini didn’t know what to say to the witch-girl. Partly that was because she found herself wishing the cobolds had taken Hochelaga instead and left Kate alone. It annoyed Domini that she couldn’t stop turning over the idea. If you can’t cast a charm, what use are you? she wanted to shout.

Instead she glared at Paradox, who still had a small smile on his too-handsome face. There was something strange about the boy, who was just about her age. She didn’t like the way she felt around him, she decided. He hadn’t done anything when the cobolds had attacked, not really, only healed her afterwards, her who really had fought. And then he’d healed Geoffrey when Amanos had asked him, but he’d said he couldn’t heal anyone else after, not till the stars were right again. She asked him: “Why don’t you have a weapon? Were you a slave?”

“I don’t remember,” he said.

“You could have taken one of the swords from the dead cobolds,” Domini said. “Are you afraid to fight?”

“It would be wrong,” he said.

“What do you mean by wrong?” she demanded. “We’re fighting to get my sister back!”

“It would be wrong,” he repeated.

She scowled at him. “You are scared,” she said.

He shrugged, still smiling. “If you stand at the edge of a deep chasm,” he said, “are you afraid to throw yourself over? Or do you just know it’s the end, if you do?”

“It’s not the end if you fight,” she said. “It’s stopping the end, for somebody else.”

“It can be both,” he said. “Whether you know it or not.”

Domini was about to shout at him — she wasn’t sure what — when Amanos came back to her. “The road seems clear,” she said. “There were but one or two, with slings and slingstones. Geoffrey thinks they were trying to lead us along westward. He says we continue north. We will pass a hallway off to the northwest, and then he says he has something to show us at a second passage a little further on.” Amanos went back to join Geoffrey without waiting for Domini to acknowledge her.

They went north. Ten yards, then twenty. They came to the first branching passage, and went on. They came to the second. “Here,” said Geoffrey. “You see it, there?”

“Is that,” started Amanos, and then something whipped out of the darkness into Domini’s hair. She felt it scrabbling over her skull, and she shrieked.

Amanos and Geoffrey were back to her in a moment. She could feel the thing pulling at her hair, crawling over her scalp. “Wait,” said Geoffrey. He grabbed her hair, and a moment later let go. Whatever it was had that had been in her hair was gone. Domini, hardly breathing, touched the top of her head. “A bat,” said Geoffrey. “That’s all. It doesn’t look like you were bit.”

“No,” said Domini. She hated the way she sounded right then. Like a little girl. It was embarrassing. The others were fighting cobolds and she’d been scared by a bat, like she was a baby and not a king’s daughter. She could feel herself blushing, which only made her more embarrassed.

“What see downhall?” Hochelaga Trice asked.

“Running freshwater,” said Amanos. Geoffrey nodded.

“We’d send our men — cobolds — to get some each day, and some fish, too,” he said. “They didn’t like doing it. They thought it was unlucky. Kept falling in, or were spiderbit, or what-have-you.” He grinned. “Domini found out about that, hey? Usually if there were many of them, nothing bad came.” He looked at Domini, who was still rubbing her head. “Tell me,” he said, “how’d you come by that axe? It’s wellmade.”

“She is a princess of Aurelium,” said Amanos. “How did you come by your sword and mailcoat?”

“I made them,” said Geoffrey. “A princess? Married, yet?”

“No,” said Domini. “I’m a fourth daughter, and sixth child living.”

“Still,” said Geoffrey. “A fit bedwarmer for a king.” He grinned at Amanos.

“I will decide that,” Domini told him firmly. “Now we should find Kate.”

Geoffrey laughed. “Yes, Lady,” he said. He looked around at all of them, and back at Amanos. “A seemingstrange place, this Fell Gard,” he said, “where all estates are levelled. You and I and the Princess are all in a common situation.”

“But she and I together outnumber you,” said Amanos. “Lead the way.”

“The dwarf first,” said Geoffrey. The dwarf muttered something about fortune and fate, and started off to the north.

They came to a fair-sized room, a score of feet along one side and twice as much along the other, with halls leading off to every hand. They had come in at the south-east corner; Geoffrey pointed to a hall in the south-west. “There,” he said. “That way, down to a corner. Then a door. Then we pass through two rooms.” He shrugged. “They could be waiting anywhere. But this is the best, it meseems.”

“Have Gral go on,” Amanos told Domini, but Hochelaga said:


The wizard-girl went to the south wall, where there was a recess shaped like a circle, like a relief carving. She took something out of it. “What is it?” asked Domini. Hochelaga held it up. It was a piece of glass cut in a circle.

“It’s a lens,” she said. She held it before her eye. “Huh. I don’t see anything special through it. Some wizards have devices called spectacles made out of things like these. They use them to correct their vision.”

“I don’t understand,” said Amanos. Hochelaga shook her head as Domini translated.

“It doesn’t matter, I guess,” Hochelaga said; but she tucked the lens into one of her pouches.

They went south, and around the corner, and to the door. The room beyond was very large, and for a moment Domini thought there was a battle in it, as well, but it was only a painting along one wall done with more-than-natural art. Hochelaga said it was an Invicti magic called perspective, and that the painting itself was a thing called fresco that the Invicti did, but that it showed a war of the Grey Kings from a thousand years after the Invicti had fallen. Domini didn’t understand, and didn’t care. She found she didn’t like Hochelaga, who was almost as young as Kate but talked like she was wiser than Domini and knew more.

Anyway they went through an arch at the corner, and into another room; the arch on that side was made out of tusks of ivory, thirty feet high. No-one knew what kind of beast had such tusks, not even Hochelaga. A door led out of the narrow room, and into a hall leading east. They went along and passed a way branching off to the north. A little further on the passage ended, but there was another door in the north wall. Gral bent to study it.

“We go through this door, and down a hall to another door, which leads into a room,” Geoffrey told them. “We take a door out of the room to the north, and along another hall. And that will bring us to a large cave, their home, which is where I guess they have taken the girl. Their god lives there.”

“Do you have advice for us, when we come to this cave?” asked Amanos. “How do we fight them?”

“There can’t be many left,” said Geoffrey. “And they’re not that tough. We can wade into them. One thing is good for us. There’s a kind of white fire on the waters of the pool. So we can see in their cave.”

“The door is clear,” said Gral. Domini told Amanos, and then translated for Gral and the others what Geoffrey had said. Gral spat, and returned to the door. He pushed it open, and they went north.

The next door was about ten yards down a hallway. Gral bent over it. Amanos and Geoffrey watched, and so did Domini, from a few yards back. When Hochelaga screamed, Domini was right beside her.

Domini spun around to find that the wall had opened. It was another secret door, and cobolds were reaching out for the wizard-girl. Without thinking Domini called for Amanos, and leaped in to the attack, swinging Odilo’s axe.

The axe-blade caved in the skull of the cobold. She felt it in the haft, the crack of bone. The cobold’s blood sprayed across her. It was not like she’d expected, somehow.

Then Amanos was there. Another cobold stabbed her, catching her wrist where the sleeve of her armour had lifted. The knight gasped, and killed the thing. The cobolds ran away down the secret passage. Domini suddenly felt very excited and wanted to chase them; but her lady was wounded. “Are you hurt, Lady Amanos?” she asked.

“I will live,” she said. “And you, you did well, here, Domini.”

“Thank you, Domini,” said Hochelaga, and bowed her head briefly.

Domini nodded back, and stared at the dead cobold. One of them dead, she thought. Kate, if they have hurt you, I will kill them all, with my good axe. I promise. No, it had not felt as she might have guessed. It was not like fighting a mortal man or woman. It was more like fighting a nightmare.

“There’s a death for you,” said Yune. She didn’t understand what he meant. But she was happy. Honour to your weapon, Odilo, she thought. I told you. It always should have been mine. Now I have begun to prove it.

It all felt very sweet.

Then they went through the north door, through the room beyond, through another door and down a hall, and found the cave of the cobold god; and her flesh crawled in horror at what she saw.


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