The Fell Gard Codices


The wind took William by surprise; startled, he saw the ruby flying toward him, and stretched out his hands to stop it —

Then he’d caught the massive gemstone, even as he was thinking, The wretched sylph, and to his surprise there was something else in his thoughts; or at any rate he was thinking something else, except it was not he that was doing the thinking. And he was laughing. No; again, not he. He was not laughing, but a mind that was using his voice, a mind that was using his mouth, a mind that was rejoicing in the feel after a long weary time of blood and bone, of flesh and muscle, of eyes and tongue.

For a moment he had a sight of it, of her, of him. A figure tall as the clouds, forcing him down into some other place. A giant clad in embroidered robes, with a sword buckled at his or her side; on the head of the figure was a crown of silver and gold, in the form of snakes biting each the other’s tail. It seemed to William there was a woman’s full breast on the left side of the body, but not the right. The hair of the giant was long and very like the rays of the sun. The face was lean, elven, and in the eyes was madness. For a moment William saw into the thoughts of the giant as the giant saw into him; then by some force of will, by the weight of long years, it forced him out, away, and into a crimson prison.

Like a man waking from a dream William opened his eyes to a world that was all of red: everywhere faceted ruby, shining within itself. He was in the hall of a palace like none he had ever seen, with columns taller and slimmer than he had thought possible, and wide windows of translucent red-tinted stone. For a moment he thought of the new cathedral of Misseldon, with its impossible walls of glass, but these were yet higher. Sculpture-work was everywhere in the palace, lions, crowned dragons, misshapen little men, fiery serpents, women with wings and women with scales. All of them of ruby, sprouting from ruby columns, peering from ruby walls, arising from ruby floors. Outside the windows —

No, he would face that later.

William ran his hands over himself. He seemed whole, and he did not hurt. He wore his own clothes; he touched the poor job he had done sewing up the cut in his shirt from the witherling’s attack two days before, and then the rents from the more recent fight. He found he did not have his sword or bow or shield or other gear with him. And found also that he did not want to think of where he must be.

Still, he knew, suddenly, to his shame, and there was no avoiding it: his spirit, his will, his heart, had been weaker than the giant he had faced. He had wrestled with it, soul to soul. And lost. And been forced into — this place. (He knew what it was; but he did not want to know.)

Unwillingly, he went to the windows.

He saw fountains, of red milk and what he thought was red quicksilver, set here and there in geometric rose-gardens. The gardens stretched away to far mountains, over the tips of which floated intricate crowns. William saw suns and moons overhead, with faces in their centres; also ruby-coloured crows, eagles, and a great fiery bird he could only imagine was a phoenix. Among the birds, he noticed, were some with the heads of kings. Unreal: he thought it was all unreal, too planned and perfect. As he watched, he could see creatures moving in the gardens. Bearded men and robed virgins, dragons clutching eggs. Serpents and sages, he thought. I am in the cursed ruby. What am I to do?

He had heard of such a thing. There was a song about Lailoken, the wizard that ran mad in the woods; how he had been tricked by Heledd into sending his soul into a standing stone, and how whoever then passed near could be possessed by him, and their own soul set into the stone until the wizard grew weary or was forced out by some greater power. It was said that Lailoken had made a home for himself in the stone, and had shaped it into a cave of wonders.

Well, thought William, this is not Powys-Terrwyn. And whatever that was that I saw, it was not Lailoken. The thought did not comfort him. He had been beaten so easily by the giant. And if the giant had been bound here, how could he hope to escape when his strength seemed so much the lesser? Then, if escape meant another struggle against the giant — how could he hold out any hope at all?

He left the windows; left the hall, through high double-doors. It had been too long since he had been under a sky, even if it was all of red. But outside, in the regular ruby gardens, he found that nothing and no-one would speak to him. William called out to the first man he saw (his skin ruby-red, his hair glittering ruby strands, his clothes seeming ruby-stiff but also moving like fine silk); there was no answer. Nor from the women, who passed him by without a glance. Nor would the dragons — larger than the ones he had spoken with — deign to notice him. He wandered among the hedges of the garden, and wondered what was to be his next move. He looked back at the spires of the great palace. It was huge, symmetrical, fourfold; perhaps there was a secret within it somewhere, some weakness of the giant, but how long would it take him to find it?

And meanwhile, he thought, my own body is being used by another. He was a ghost, a spirit lacking flesh, an idea without true form, an image of what he was: an illusion aware of itself. It was a terrible sensation of powerlessness he felt, in that silent crimson garden, and he did not know what he should do. He was not of a mind to surrender. But how could he fight? And if he did find a way to challenge that giant again, what could he do, against the strength of soul and long years that he had felt force him into this ruby other-land?

William came to a stone furnace, with a fire blazing beneath it. He looked around, but saw no-one tending the flame. What did the furnace hold? Some secret? He reached to the heavy door, and threw it open.

At once a ruby lion with a mane like fire leaped out, roaring. William stepped back, but before he could turn to run the beast ducked its head, and said, “I am in your debt, sir.”

“Are you, then?” asked William.

“I am,” said the lion, gravely. “As you see, I am the Red Lion, a symbol of the mystic ore of iron called magnesia, or, the magnet. You may call me Magnus. Now by certain operations I might be made into the stone that is the great aim of the spagyric art; but the operators in this case were no true adepts, sir, and so you have saved me from an eternity of fruitless heating in the stone egg. And for that, I thank you.”

“The spagyric art,” murmured William. “That was the word of the Archons for … alchemy?”

“Most assuredly, sir,” said the lion, now sitting regally. “We are all alchemists, here.”

“Of course you are,” said William. “And how came you to be here?”

“As with all the matter you see about you,” said the lion, “I was a creation of Enlilitu, the Perfected Androgyne.”

“And who is that?” asked William.

“That is quite a story, sir.”

How was one to speak to a talking lion? But then, how to speak to a dwarf, or a dragon? Or an elf? Only as though you spoke to a mortal, he had found, though it was wise not to forget that they were something other than that. He said therefore: “I’m a man that cares for story. I’d hear this one. But first, if you like, you could tell me what is a perfected androgyne. The second word sounds like an Archon, or at any rate Eilynic, word.”

“It is,” said the lion. “It means ‘man-woman.’ The Androgyne, knower of the secrets of men and women, is a symbol of the perfection of the Philosopher’s Stone. Once Enlilitu was an elven lady; she became an androgyne by her mastery of art, thus Perfected. Have you not heard of her?”

William shook his head. “I know little of the history of the elves. Though I am learning.”

“Do you not know the history of Fell Gard?” asked the red lion.

“Only, as it were, from the outside,” said William. “This Enlilitu was a great force within the Master Dungeon, then?”

“Sir, Enlilitu was a great wizard, as well as master of arms, and ruled an empire,” said Magnus the lion. “After becoming Perfected, she-he built a kingdom in the lower courts, which he-she ruled for many years, based on alchemy and wisdom.”

“Now I have heard that elves live for only a year,” said William. Magnus nodded his heavy-maned head.

“It is so,” he said, “but the Philosopher’s Stone, of course, gives eternal life.”

“Was … her-his … rule just?” asked William.

“He-she was powerful, and extended her-his rule far over many domains and estates,” said the lion. “To some, he-she was a saviour. To others, an oppressor. Is that not always the case? At any rate, there came a great battle, with much working of fearsome magic, and his-her spirit was bound into a great gem, and cast out into the æther. That was a very long time ago, and even longer in here, where time flows slowly.”

“The gem has reappeared within Fell Gard,” said William. “In a new court.”

“Ah, yes,” said the lion. “New-made courts will pull to them many things of magic and old time.”

“Well,” said William, “your mad Emperor-Empress is now in my body; and I do not know what my friends will do, for if she-he is truly a great wizard, then who can stand against him-her?” He paused, thinking. “Would it offend you,” he asked the lion, “if I were to ask for your aid in returning to myself?”

“No, sir,” said Magnus, “for truth is impartial. I am not sworn to Enlilitu.”

“Fairly spoken,” said William. “Let us walk a while, then, and you can unriddle for me these things that I see in this garden.”

As it turned out, although the lion had much to say, William found little that was of use. Magnus gave a gloss to the many allegorical images of the gardens — a peacock with a king’s head, an egg taller than a man with a flaming sword struck deep within it, a tree in whose branches a wolf prowled and whose fruits were suns and moons and moons with rings about them. All of them made of ruby, and shining with their own light. They, and their explications, seemed to hint at much alchemical wisdom; but nowhere in that wisdom was matter that could defeat Enlilitu. William found his attention wandering.

It was all very nearly beyond his grasp. Not merely the alchemical ruby prison, not merely the garden of alchemy; but Fell Gard itself. The size of it, the spread of it. The ceilings higher than a church steeple. The stairs longer than a great lord’s tower. The silence, the lack of horses whinnying or of bells marking the hours; and the noise, the echoes from stone walls of rats or bats or nameless things.

And all the things within the dungeon, too, this ruby not least. He had spoken with dragons; he had sung for them, and they had spoken to him of his art. What was he to do with that? He was the favoured of an elf-maid. How could that be?

William wondered if the magic of the dungeon was at work on him. Before the mist, before Fell Gard, he had seen gold coins; four of them, at four different times in his life. But to find a hoard of them? And then, when the fool of a sylph had disturbed the cursed vault, he had thrown them at her, thrown them away. Now he was in an alchemic wonderland, and not mad. He did not know what to make of all that he had seen: oak and holly together, elemental spirits, prophets with a healing touch, dwarves and goblins and a Morien woman. Already it seemed he had lived more magic than told of in all the songs he knew. No, that was not right. But it was true that there were an unnatural number of stories in Fell Gard.

In his life he had travelled far more than most, all across what had once been Edu. He had seen gryphons circling above a hilltop, once. He had seen standing stones, raised by giants at play. He had seen shadowy grim hounds, kept by a lord as hunting-dogs. And of course in Powys-Terrwyn of old he had known the gifts of the Druids. Had he not seen them himself, the teachers and law-givers who dwelt in wild groves and solitary places, who could call the fire into the head or banish the soul to another body? Yes, of course. He knew them. But a dragon? Never. And the wizard-child Hochelaga … he knew that true wizards kept to themselves, or else consulted sometimes with kings, or dukes, or whoever proved worthy to enter their chambers. Now he was in a place where at any moment a dwimmerlaik could appear out of a portal to the æther.

He had never sought out danger. The deep forests, where the goblins and elves were said to make war, he shunned. And the fens where imps and will-o’-the-wisps played. And the mountains where the trolls and hell-hounds sported. He had seen hell-hounds once, from afar, black dogs wreathed by white flame; he had no wish to see them closer. The world was full of magic, he knew, and creatures that had magic in their marrow. But not so many as lurked in Fell Gard. It felt, he thought, as though he had entered some new order of existence, some new world. Even the cause of Powys-Terrwyn seemed no longer as pressing as once it had. And this, though all that had ever driven him in his life was his pride in his land. His people were descended of the Hartummim that were the lost nation of the Dawn Kings. He had a part to play in the ages-old secret war with the Seshtau. And now? Had he been changed so greatly by the dungeon?

Perhaps. The prophet had healed him of hurts done by the witherlings and goblins; healed him so well that he had not even the memory of pain, his mind as unscarred as his flesh. Did all magic work so? Changing you and changing even your perception of yourself, so that you did not know how much you had been changed? Was this why he had lost to Enlilitu? Because of an unknown change, in some part of himself? Or because he knew he was changing, losing his centre?

What then was there to trust?

He stopped, having come to a crossroads and seeing at its centre a statue of familiar form.

“Ah,” said Magnus. “Now that is strange, sir, for I swear to you I have never seen it here before.” “

“I would not imagine so,” said William. He went forward, slowly, feeling — only then, after all he had seen — that he was in a dream.

“Do you understand its meaning, sir?” asked Magnus. “Can you tell me what it symbolises?”

The statue was of a smiling Enheduanna, worked in ruby, drawing her longbow.

“I wish that I could,” William said to Magnus, running his hand along the arm of the sculpted elf. One part of him wondered if it hinted at a dark history; had she, in some past life, been a servant of Enlilitu? Or had they known each other in a life before Enlilitu had become Perfected? — But the greater part of him shunned those mysteries, and was content to look upon her face, and feel his heart leap up.

“You have told me of the matter of the garden,” William said to Magnus. “But what of the true secrets of Enlilitu?”

“I do not understand you,” said the lion.

“She-he is a wizard,” said William. “A wizard is a creature of language, and of words, and of writing. Where does he-she write? Where are her-his books of lore?”

“Why …” said the lion. He drew a paw up to his muzzle, as if to cover his confusion. “I imagine they would be in the tower, sir. The castle where you awoke. But they are not true knowledge. Tarry here a while longer, in the gardens of philosophy. Surely all will eventually become clear.”

“I will not,” said William. “I must go. Will you accompany me, Magnus?”

The lion stretched his jaws in a catlike yawn. “If I must,” he said. “Come; I will show you the way.”

They made their way back through the garden to the many-towered palace at the heart of the grounds. The fields seemed to William to vanish, like a knot unravelling, so that they were almost at once before the palace’s great doors. On the broad stairs leading up to the doors was a harp such as he had never seen, all of ruby, with glistening red strings. He took it up. Its tone was pure and beautiful.

“Where could this have come from?” he asked the lion.

“I cannot say, sir,” said the lion. “I have never seen the like before.”

William nodded. “Let us go on,” he said.

Magnus led him through the palace, at a quick pace. Up broad stairs, along narrow clerestories, through rooms filled with monuments and relief carvings. To a high tower, and along a winding stairway. Finally to a space before a high door; where a great coiling dragon, ten yards long or more, writhed and glared at them as they came. “Go back,” said the dragon. “This place is barred to you.”

“I shall not,” said William.

“You have no sword, with which to command me,” said the dragon.

“No,” said Magnus, “but he has me, sir!” And the lion leapt at the great dragon, which, surprised, fell back from the door.

“Magnus!” cried William.

“Go, sir!” the lion cried back. “You may leave this fellow to me, I warrant you!”

William scrambled past the battle, and into the next room. He went to close the door behind him; as he did, he saw the dragon trap the lion within its coils, and squeeze him until he did not move. The dragon glared at William, who did not spend the time to curse it, and instead shut the door and barred it.

He found himself in a cramped but high-ceilinged room, lined with shelves everywhere but for a narrow window. There was a desk, and several slim ladders reaching up to shelves on every hand. On the desk was a book marked with a rune. William went to open it; then, at a second thought, stood back, picked up a long pointing stick, and used it to open the book. A puff of fire incinerated the book.

Behind him, the dragon threw its weight against the door.

One by one, he tried other books in the chamber. Some were incinerated; others released foul clouds of smoke; yet others flickered with red lightning. Some, when opened, flared with light and showed blank pages. A few, in the end, did have legible writing, black scars against fine ruby pages; and a few of those were written in languages William could read, mostly Vitelic, the tongue of the Invicti. But what he could read he did not understand.

Behind him, the door shuddered under the dragon’s assault.

Mostly the books were histories, about the dynasties of obscure empires that had risen and fallen in the deep courts of Fell Gard. He noticed, as he read, urgent references to books of power called the Fell Gard Codices, which seemed to hold all the secrets of the vast dungeon. But they had been lost, said the histories, scattered long before. (William felt an obscure dread, reading these things; as though wheels were turning wheels, like a mill grinding. As though he had been meant to read these books, and not by Enlilitu. By whom, then?)

Behind him, the door cracked.

William closed his eyes. He took up the harp he had found. The books had been no use, after all. What was he to do?

He played the harp.

A voice asked: “Have you found what you looked for, sir?”

William opened his eyes. Magnus sat before him, proud and unharmed. The door splintered.

“Why, yes,” he told the lion, in a moment of understanding.

He played again upon the harp, and the walls of the palace fell away.

The dragon was thrown back in a wind that did not touch William or Magnus. The palace around them crumbled, though the floor they stood on remained steady in the air. In the gardens far below oak and holly trees sprouted, and the patterns changed or were lost.

The trapped soul shapes their prison, thought William.

“What does this mean?” cried the red lion.

“That I have the power of my art,” said William. “Magnus! You are a symbol of art, by which I spoke to myself truths that I had forgotten. I had learned about Enlilitu when I wrestled with him-her in my mind. Through you I learned again the androgyne’s history. I lost, when we fought before, for she-he is a wizard and schooled in such things. But I am a bard, Magnus, and I know the ways of the soul that trump the mind. Can you feel him-her, still?”

“Yes,” said Magnus. “I told you, did I not, sir, that time flows slower in here?”

“You did,” said William. “Now I am going to call her-him back, and I will wrestle with him-her again.”

“Indeed, sir,” said the lion. “I feel her-his approach. I think he-she is very angry.”

“And I am not,” said William. “Nevertheless, or therefore, I shall win.” William looked up. A giant shape loomed dark against the horizon. It was the shadow of Enlilitu. William felt himself begin to rise, growing to meet it.

“How do you know, sir?” called the lion, far below him now. “How do you know you will win?”

“I have seen it,” said William. All sound in the ruby prison died away. His voice was loud in his ears. “I have seen the heart of me, Magnus! I have wandered in the philosopher’s garden, and among those forking paths I have found what I can trust! I have seen her, standing at a crossroads!”

But is this so, sir, he seemed to hear Magnus ask inside himself, or the part of him that had made Magnus; is this so, or is it your art to believe this, by the power of which art you may defeat the strength of Enlilitu?

To this part of himself he asked: Is there a difference, between myself and what my art makes of me?

The wind whirled around him. He began to sing. The shadow loomed large in the sky like a thunderhead, and he grew to meet it, singing.

And they wrestled, again.


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.