The Fell Gard Codices


Once the flying woman had woken, they returned together to the others — the glumm and gawry being eager to join them, once matters had been explained — and asked Yune about his clock. “Is there water at this place you’ve found for us?” he asked. “Yes? Then it would be a fine site for the clock. I can set it working easily enough. If young Gral and you others will help me to carry it, perhaps we could take it on the way.”

“What is this word, ‘clock’?” Gral heard Enheduanna whisper to William.

“It comes from the land of Powys-Terrwyn, and means bell,” the singer answered her. “The Invicti took it, and made it a sign for any made thing that measures time. It passed into the tongues of the Vættir and then the Grey Kings, because there is no better word for what it means.”

The mortals decided that it would, in fact, be possible to retrieve the clock on the way to the gardens of which the sorine had spoken. As they planned their route, Domini and Kate insisted they proceed south from the clock room, rather than north and through the secret door westward: “The outlaws that were brought into Fell Gard with us were to the north,” said Domini. “We were hiding from them when you found us.”

While they spoke Gral thought about killing things, and wickedness; he thought about demons.

Soon enough they went, mortals and elves and dwarves and cobolds and glumm and gawry and sylph, more than twenty of them now. The elves, the sorine, and Ulixa were in front; the lady knight, Domini, and the girl-cobold were to the back, with Gral and Yune at the very rear. When they all came to the clock, Yune took the mechanism to pieces. He distributed the parts among the company, reserving the two heavy water tanks for himself and Gral.

The large party went on, moving slowly, frequently pausing to search for traps or hidden doors. At the back of the group, Gral found that he and Yune were largely ignored.

“Master,” he said in the dwarven tongue, “I have learned about the amulet.”

After the clockmaster had told him of his father, while most of the others were sleeping, Gral had done as the clockmaster had suggested. Or as he had implied. That amulet should stand you in good stead, Yune had told him. See if you can learn more about it. And so Gral had, by demanding answers from the demons in his pack.

He hadn’t tried, before. Partly because the mortals had always been about. But it was also true that Gral had seen no reason for haste, until the clockmaster’s hint. So after they had spoken he had asked questions of the demons: the minikins, Yune had called them. They had told him certain things about the amulet. And then they had begun to speak of Yune.

“The amulet, eh?” asked the clockmaster. “And what have you learned?”

No, the demons had hissed together when he had ordered them to tell him of the amulet. So he swore at them, and ordered them by the amulet’s power to speak. They shrieked, as if the thing had hurt them. He again ordered them to speak and tell no lies, and after a moment the first said It commands demons and all other spirits. It is Jussion, the Amulet of Subjection Quintessential.

It is one of three, said the second.

All made by the wizard Scaeva, long and long ago, said the third.

Why? he asked.

Who can say? the three said together. What mortal knows? And what demons? Not we.

You say one of three, but what are the other two? he asked. Amulets as well, with the same power?

A golden circlet, that summons spirits, said the first demon. Vocath, the Coronet of Obtestation Noumenical.

A stone, that gives freedom, said the second. Ablatis, the Scarab of Velleity Allodial.

All lost, long ago, concluded the third.

Then how have they returned now? he asked. He did not realise till later that he had confirmed for them that the other two things had been found; perhaps it didn’t matter.

How many legends in the dungeon have been thought to be destroyed? asked the first demon.

And how many have returned, years and centuries later? asked the second.

And so these; that are lost only to be found; and, being found, now might topple the kingdoms of the deeps of Fell Gard, or draw the wizard Scaeva from his lair, answered the third.

And how did you come to seek them? he asked.

At this question they hissed, but he clutched tight the amulet, and forced them again to answer.

They said: We were called forth by a goblin, priest of the goblin-god Rhehvv, and made by him to seek for three treasures on a new-made manor of Fell Gard. He did not know what they were. Who then was his master? We know not. We know nothing more.

So they had said; and then they had gone on.

Do you think your clockmaster did not know the truth of Jussion? the first of them had whispered at him, with her tiny serpent’s tongue.

Why do you think he had you learn it of us? the second had said.

It is because he wants you to deal with demons, concluded the third. You are to barter your soul for what we might offer.

Silence, Gral had commanded them, and closed them up again in his pack. But he did not return again to the old clockmaster, not at once. Time enough, he had thought, for him to speak more with Yune later, after he had pondered what he had learned. It seemed to Gral now that he had erred in thinking this. In Fell Gard, he realised, you could not always expect more time.

He told Yune what the demons had said. “I do not understand,” he said, “how these goblins could have been created, or brought into the dungeon, above the … manor … on which I woke, and known at once to find these magics. Or who it was that set them after such treasure.”

“Hmm,” said Yune.

“Do you grasp this, clockmaster?” asked Gral.

Yune laughed. “Did your demons tell you to ask me? Did they hint that I knew more than I had said?”

“They … suggested … something of the sort,” admitted Gral.

“We must beware of trusting our demons,” said Yune. “But of course I know more than I can now tell you, Neophyte.”

Gral ducked his head. “Of course.”

“Do you wish to know more?” asked Yune.

“Whatever you may please to tell me,” said Gral. “You have clarified my task in Fell Gard. Can you help me further along my way?”

“Of course,” said Yune. “What I mean is: what initiation are you prepared to accept?”

Gral stared at the old dwarf.

“Clockmaster,” Gral said finally, “It is said, ‘In the Deep Dark delved for wisdom / The prophets of the people, in holy passion.’ Could this Fell Gard be so dangerous as the Dark the prophets dared? No. I will take what initiation you will give me, into whatever Mysteries you will.”

“Well said,” Yune told him, “but don’t be fooled. Initiation may come at any moment, and may be harsh. Also: within Fell Gard there are creatures, indeed spirits, quite as dangerous as any within the Deep Dark.” He sighed. “Remember,” he said, “the Witch-wrights were all of them Past Masters, some of them Grandmasters. Some of them … well, they were well-schooled in lore, and knew how to call on the same Powers as the Delvers found in the Deep Dark. And then Scaeva … Hmm. Well, we shall talk on this more at a more fit time. For now … Do you know, this is where I entered this court? The portal to the æther is here. Hmm, hm.” Yune took a hand from his clock, and raised it in the air, his fingers curiously bent. He closed his eyes. Then opened them, and smiled absently at Gral. They went on, through a room, and then south for a distance, carrying the tanks of the water clock. Gral glared at the girl-cobold before them. “Tell me,” said the clockmaster at last, “you have a sling. I saw you use it on the way to the cobold cave. But in all I have heard of your travels up to this point, it was said that you used a sword to fight your enemies. Why?”

Gral tried to shrug, under the weight of the tank. “I prefer the sword to the sling,” said Gral. “It is more likely to kill, I find.”

“More likely to kill you, as well,” said Yune. “With the sling, you stay a distance away from your enemy. Why do you hate so strongly, young Gral?”

“Do I?” asked Gral. “I could not say why.” They entered into a strangely-lit chamber, with many green growing things. The mortals paused, as many of them were surprised. The gawry and glumm took several fruits, and ate with signs of great hunger. Eventually, they all moved on, north-west.

When they were underway again, Yune spoke: “You hate goblins and cobolds more even than most of our folk do. And you do not care for mortals, either, I think.”

“They’re fools,” said Gral. “Did you hear, when the halfjack begged our help — he claimed the cobolds had taken his sister, to rape her. As if cobolds would desire a mortal. As if they could breed together.”

“Stranger things have happened,” said Yune. “But that’s not foolishness; or not quite. He was thinking like a mortal, it’s true, but then he was talking, for the most part, to mortals.”

“I don’t understand,” said Gral. He looked behind him. The knight and cobold-girl and the others were well ahead of them, but he felt oddly as if he were not alone with the clockmaster, as if they were three and not two.

Yune sighed. “Ah, how to say it?” he asked rhetorically. “Mortals … are not like us, Gral. They live tragically short lives. And they breed — what did you say, like nothing under earth? Well, the urge to mate is a greater force among them than it is for most speaking creatures, and certainly than for us. It is more often in their thoughts, or at least their feelings. So they use the act of coitus for more than pleasure or breeding. They may send messages with it. They express emotion with it; and not desire alone, or even love. Like beasts, they use it to mark dominance, or status. And by forcing it on one another, they use it as an expression of hate, or power.”

Gral spat. “Should I like them better, knowing this?”

“It’s only a part of them,” said Yune. “You see how they have taken in the glumm and gawry?”

“Surely any speaking creature would do as much,” said Gral. “Now I must wonder if it is because they saw them unclothed. Do you think they would have looked with lust on creatures not of their kind?”

“Well, perhaps, but that’s not my meaning,” said Yune, annoyed. “Only that kindness is not unknown to them. Do you hear something behind us?” They stopped, and listened, and looked; but there was nothing.

Then Gral saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and turned to see a dwarf, wholly naked, step out from the stone of the wall. The veins of his flesh were silver and gold, and his eyes were the colour of iron. “A Delver?” gasped Gral. He set down the water tank. He asked: “Who shall know the mysteries of stone?”

The dwarf stared at him, silent.

“No,” said Gral. “No Delver. You are some fraud. Die for it, then!” He drew his sword and leaped to the other dwarf —

— He was elsewhere, alone, without a tool or weapon. He was upon a narrow path, in a vast natural cave. A wall stretched above him on his left; below him it fell as a cliff, and there was darkness to his right and above and below. Back along the path, higher up, was the society of dwarves, was language and kinship. Further down, ahead, were demons and ghosts. Further down was wisdom. Further down was his goal. How long since he had eaten? Since he had drunk?

What was time, where there were no clocks?

He went down the path. There were fires, and flying things, and great wyrms with shining scales, glistering in the darkness. He went on. The path broke from the wall: a narrow strip of stone, a thin bridge, above an abyss whose ending he could not see.

Three naked women, giants with horns and serpents’ tongues, rose from the chasm; they loomed above his path, tall enough to take him up in a single hand. They hissed, and promised him truths in exchange for his soul. What else had he come for, if not this?

For a deeper wisdom. He passed them by.

The path became stairs, descending toward the floor of a vasty cave. There was a fire, far below him. He went on.

As he came he saw shadows dancing, around the dancing flames. Closer he drew, and then they were not shadows. They were goblinkin: cobolds, hob-goblins, true goblins, and the huge lean pale things called bogeymen with their long fingers for strangling. They were all his enemies; his road led to them, and he unarmed and naked. He did not doubt he would die. But this was the path of wisdom, and he could not return above without having found enlightenment in the Deep Dark. He went on.

And what they did to him, then, as he came among them, there in the dark place far below the surface of things, below root and below water, what they did was terrible. For they clapped him on the back, and took him by the hand, and led him into their dances. And they whirled him about the fire, and laughed with him, and gave him their goblin cider to drink, that was the fermented juice of their strange goblin fruit, that he also was made to eat.

And though the drink did not fog his mind, it would have been mercy if it did; for as he was spun about, half-willing, half-not, but all unwanting, he felt himself beginning to change, to become one of them, and to understand the fell secrets of goblins.

He knew the taste of murder. He knew the madness and joy of the god called Rhehvv. He knew what it was to be a nightmare. He knew the tongues of goblins, and their histories, and their lusts; and he knew (what was most terrible) their dreams, and their place in the Fell Gard, and how therein they had dealt with dwarves —

He turned then and ran, for he knew he could stand to learn no more, could face no more of this hard wisdom. For what was hardest was this: that there was now a part of him that wanted to be with them, to turn his face from the histories of dwarves, to live in the Deep Dark, to drink there, and to die there and be buried under those thick blankets of earth and stone.

He ran weeping, that had never run before nor wept; and behind him they laughed —

— as he ran into their fire.

He burned. What else to say?

The fire did not caress his body; it did not embrace him; it did not twine about his limbs. It burned, that was all, and he understood then the dishonesty of language, that saw ‘fire’ and ‘burning’ as metaphor, that imagined it could signify emotion or passion. Ah, no: to burn was to burn. It was to feel pain. It was to become ash.

It was to have the body crack and fail, to have it become meat fit for the eating.

This was what he understood for a moment; and, as he died in the heat of those terrible goblin fires, as his flesh weakened, a thought came to him —

— and there was a shadow he did not know, that dwelt deeper down than he had known could be, a thing of the uttermost dark, and the thought was of the shadow —

— and he agreed to it, he acknowledged it, a ritual, a formality: he could not have done other: it was fated, in the path of who he was laid down outside of time: this of him that was curiously eternal, beyond fires and goblins —

— and then in the fire he laughed, and the goblins shrieked to see it, and fed the flames with their fruit, and he only laughed further, for now that he knew, now that he understood this shadow that was his own and that stretched away before him as shadows always do and that promised more out of the darkness than the false fires could ever bring and promised also a truer fire (that must exist, for the shadow to have been cast) — oh, now that he understood these things, what was there to do but laugh? Though the goblins did not understand, nor could such as they ever know; only they heard him laugh, and did not see how all of them that had been in him — that delusion forced on him by their delusive fruit, of his complicity with them; their insistence upon his identity with their own nature, that was meant to limit his own selfhood — had been burned away in their own fires, leaving ash and shadow, the very truth of him; and so they fed their fruit to the fires to strengthen the heat, and thus the fire grew, and caught at them, and, maddened, they gave more to the fires, gave even themselves, their every part and even their infants, and the fires raged, and he laughed, for well he knew now that the peace of the shadow was beyond the snapping and mocking of this puny flame.

And, in time, when all its fuel was spent, when the goblins and goblin fruit had all been utterly consumed, the fire shrank into itself and died; and only a waste remained, which he now understood to be the inevitable end of all fires and nightmare.

So it was that, alone, changed, he went on into the Deep Dark, to find the profound wisdom of the shadow; to seek a truer light; to become, as he was meant to be, wholly ash and rock, shadow and flame.

“No,” he heard Yune say. “No, I think he’s well. He slipped. Ah, there, see? He’s stirring. No; remain still, Gral. Still, I tell you!” Gral blinked, but did not move as Yune knelt beside his head. The old clockmaster bent over him. Gral could see mortals standing near; they must have thought the clockmaster was searching for some wound.

Dazed, Gral understood. The Delver that was no Delver. The feeling that there was another with him and Yune: when you’re with people, and you think there’s one more person than you can count. So the witch-girl had said.

The dwarf he had seen had been no Delver, but an egregore. A more powerful one than the mortal Geoffrey had fought, perhaps; or else one that had more power over dwarves, as it drew from dwarven stories. The stories of the Delvers, the prophets who went into the waste places under the earth and returned with secret knowledge, with Mystery. Yune was a master of the Mysteries; he knew the nature of an egregore, no doubt, knew how to call one and how to bind one. Well enough. But what had it all meant?

Gral heard the ritual phrases whispered in his ear: “You have been to the depths and returned, Delver into the Mysteries. I charge ye now these three things: to say to the unready no word of what you now know, to wisely use the wisdom entrusted ye, and to show due obeisance to those that have delved deeper through the dark. Swear to these things upon Father Stone, and rise, Apprentice.”

“I so swear,” muttered Gral.

He stood. Yune smiled at him. The mortals did not seem to know what had happened.

Neither did he. Was this initiation? Truly?

So soon? So unexpected?

Was it meant to be so joyful?

Truly, was it meant?

Smiling to himself, feeling freed in no way he could define, he took up the water tank, and followed the clockmaster.


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