The Fell Gard Codices


Richard was looking through the pile of old swords they’d found in the room they called the armoury, dreaming of finding some lost relic, when he heard the shriek.

He tilted his head, listening. It hadn’t been the gargoyle’s alarm. A mortal’s voice; one of the slaves, he thought. Let it be. No concern of his. Richard drew a sword out of a dusty scabbard, and considered the blade. Too short for his comfort, he decided. He sheathed the sword and threw it back.

Richard thought then that it was just possible the shriek might have been one of the prisoners. If harm came to one of them, there’d be the Elder King’s own time of it, once they got out of the dungeon. Hardly noble to allow harm to come to one’s hostages in honourable captivity. Even if one were formally an outlaw. Especially if an outlaw, in fact.

He growled at nothing, clapped his helmet on his head, took the torch down from the cresset where he’d placed it, and went to see what had happened. A shriek came again, or half of one. Richard followed the sound, as best he could in the echoing hallways. Ahead to the crossroads; right to another crossroads; right again — and there before him was a fool.

“Tom,” said Richard to the bent man in motley, “I heard a shout. Two shouts.”

“True, true,” said the old man, not looking up at him. “Ah, but hasn’t Old Tom Patch heard it all before, many a time? Shouts and weeping and all that makes a world. Ha. Is the young master going to put a stop to it? Old Tom, he thinks not.”

“Old Tom must tell me what it was, or eat a foot of steel,” said Richard, the helmet sending sour echoes of his voice dinning in his ears. He half-drew his sword, and slammed it back into the scabbard.

The fool shrugged. Richard scowled. They’d found the old man — greybearded, hunchbacked, baldpated, lips twisted in a permanent sneer — when they’d woken up, almost three days ago, now; or it felt like three days, at least. Tom was half-mad, clearly someone’s jester, and knew a few of the secrets of the place in which they’d found themselves. Nowhere near enough, or so Richard thought. “What new shouts and shrieks and mad cries have you brought into the dungeon?” Tom asked. “Ain’t there enough, as ’tis? Well. These shouts, young master, you’ll find on ahead, and maybe with them another, a ‘Henry,’ or an ‘oh, no, I beg you’ —”

Richard struck the old man in the mouth with the back of his right gauntlet. Tom nodded, and slouched back. Richard stalked onward.

The hall ahead bent left, turning half back on itself, and widened to perhaps twenty feet in width. The floor was split crosswise by a chasm a dozen feet wide; a stone bridge spanned the chasm. On the far side, where the hall turned again to the right and narrowed, was a junkpile with a lectern, broken thumbscrews, and other trash. On the bridge a man was raping a woman. The man was Henry of the North Marches, Richard thought, but he could not see who the woman was.

The man — Henry — stopped as Richard drew near. He jumped to his feet, pulling up his breeches and yanking his tunic back down over them. He grabbed his sword-belt as the woman crawled away, one leg of her torn braies binding her hands behind her, another stuffed in her mouth. She was one of the slaves, Richard saw. Henry drew his sword. “What’ve you come for, boy?” he demanded.

“Are you mad?” Richard said. “Put up your blade.”

“I’ll do as I like,” growled Henry. The tip of the sword wavered. “We’re locked away under the earth. Your mother’s led us into hell.”

“She’s led us out of worse than this,” said Richard, “and will again.” Henry licked his lips, nervous. “Put up your sword and we won’t speak of this after,” Richard told him.

Henry began to laugh. “Oh, won’t we, then?” he asked. “You’re lost in your mother’s dreams, boy. You want to fight over this tattered little thing?”

“I don’t care about the girl,” said Richard. “But you’ve drawn on your better. Put away your sword.”

“We’re all outside the law, here,” said Henry, gasping with laughter. “That’s what we are. Let it be. I’ll do as I like!” He took a step toward Richard.

Richard struck first, dropping the torch, drawing and slashing in one motion. His steel glittered in the maddened light, and Henry’s throat was opened. The man reeled as his blood sprayed out before him, and he dropped from the bridge into the chasm.

Richard took up the torch, quick enough that it stayed lit, and slapped the slave with his blade. “Next time try not to yelp,” he muttered. The woman stared at him. He cut the leg of her braies binding her, wiped his blade clean on the leg, and dropped the cloth into the chasm. Then he left the girl, and went to the junkpile. Richard moved half a set of stocks out of the way, lifted a grate from the floor, and grunted in satisfaction when he saw the head that belonged to a nearby statue. The statue was a winged gargoyle — like the thing a few halls over that asked questions, and gave gold and gems if answered truly, but screamed your ears off at any false answer. This one held a cup and a bowl. When Richard set its horned head back on its misshapen shoulders, fires flared up in cup and bowl, and then died away to reveal wine and — what was it this time? Chicken, in a powder douce, of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg — cloves, too, he smelled. He took the cup from the gargoyle’s hand. “Your health,” he said, raising the cup to it, and drank deeply. The gargoyle’s head toppled again from the shoulders in a sick nod, and rolled into the junk pile, as it always did.

It had been Old Tom that’d shown them how to approach the thing. If you didn’t toast it when it gave you food and drink, then shooting stars would fly from the cup and bowl instead. Poor Roger had found that out the hard way. But now they knew, and Richard was fascinated by the magic of it. You heard of such things in stories; but to find it yourself? To see magic before you, and feel the heat and grease, and taste the sweetness, and let it fill your belly?

He threw the chicken to the slave-girl and drank off the wine. At least he and the rest of his mother’s band were eating well. He set the cup and bowl back and returned the way he’d come. But instead of going left at the crossroads, back to the armoury, he went straight ahead, and came to the large triangular room that served as their barracks. Two of the walls were thirty yards long; the third was longer. The ceiling arched up above them, vaulted in some way he didn’t understand. It seemed impossible that it should stand, with no columns to support it. Perhaps it was magic. The scale of the whole chamber seemed impossible, to say nothing of the dungeon beyond.

The low bonfire in the centre of the chamber was burning steadily. Slaves in rags huddled against the far wall. Against the wall to his right, thirteen prisoners sat in chains, and glowered at the two dozen men and women dicing near the fire and cheering a wrestling match. Gold coins and gems were scattered about, near cloaks and weaponry. All seemed well.

He’d wanted to look them over; to see if something more was brewing, if Henry’s insubordination hinted at a greater treason. Clearly they were all on edge. The other day, some of the band had tried to get two of the slaves to fight to the death. And he’d had to stop one of the men from knifing a captive over some insult or other. He was sure Henry’s was not the first rape, either. Where would it go from here? How much worse would it get?

One of the prisoners hobbled over to him. A woman, not much older than he was. Dark curling hair and a full figure. She’d surrendered without a fight, he remembered. What was her name? “Richard,” she whispered. “Of the Falcon Rising. Your mother is Godeleva, the famous knight. No, you don’t have to speak. Only you should know — look in my scabbard. The tip is false. It hides a ring. Which bears the sigil of the Manticore.” She smiled.

Richard nodded, but said nothing. He did not let himself react to her words. He went to the mound of goods taken from the prisoners. He found the scabbard. As she had said, its tip opened; and a delicate golden ring fell out from a hidden compartment. That, he thought, is how much worse it can get. And yet also he could not keep from feeling a thrill: Oak and Holly. The sign of the Manticore. Here? He looked back. The woman was still smiling.

She would keep. Rather than speak to her he went to find his mother. He found Godeleva of the Falcon Rising in the large room she had taken for her own, that had seemed to once be a shrine to some god of the goblinkin. She’d had her fighters overturn the altar, which she now used as a kind of desk; as he approached she was sitting on it, sharpening her sword.

“Mother,” he said. “One of the prisoners had this in her gear.” He showed her the ring. She stopped sharpening the sword for a moment; then resumed.

“Do you think this matters?” she asked, softly. “The Manticore vanished long ago. If many still bear his sign … it is out of memory, no more. No, this means nothing.” She stood, and took up a torch. “Still, it’s good you’ve come. Follow me.”

She led him out of the room, away from the barracks hall. Richard took off his helmet as they went. “Henry of the North Marches attacked me,” he said. “I had to kill him. His body fell into the chasm, so no-one knows. No, that slave, Constance, she knows. But she won’t speak of it.” He turned the helm over in his hands. “We’re losing our grip,” he said, looking into the empty eye-slit.

“It hasn’t been three days,” said his mother. She led him to the left.

“Still,” he said. “They’re not trained knights.”

“I’ve noticed,” she said, with her bitter crooked smile.

“We have to lead them,” he said. “Go deeper into the halls around us, establish ourselves … Find something for them. Some battle.”

“They’ve met one awful thing out of fable already,” Godeleva said. “They know, whatever path they take … there are others, out there. Skeleton men. Wizards. Elves. What else? This is Fell Gard, Richard. You know the tales of this place.”

“Tales,” he said. He clutched the hilt of his sword. “Let me prove them, true or false. So what if Osmer saw an elf? Elves die. Let me go hunt.”

Godeleva laughed. “Odd that you should say as much,” she told him. “If I were to let you wander off alone, or even with some of the band, why, then you’d die, my only son. Any of us would die. With twice as many fighters, all true knights, we’d still be over-matched, in Fell Gard. But …”

She paused, grinning. They were near the false stairs, now, that led down to nothing.

“Well, then?” he asked, when he could stand it no more.

“In Fell Gard it is said any of us may find our heart’s desire,” she told him. “That anything we may dream of is somewhere within its halls and chambers. Here. We’ve had a messenger come to us.” She took an old, crumbling piece of parchment from her belt, on which was scrawled fresh black ink in a looping script. Richard noticed grains of drying-sand clotted on the ink as she handed the message to him. He read:


to those of the outer world all due salutations

we of night & dream knowing all wants & desires can to you present what most you wish most truly & may most aid you & for this are & will be wanting only the slightest of aid & that of nothing to you seeking only a lost cup from our table all of ruby & if you agree to this then return one of your ilk with this poor messenger & all shall be clear & so that you know in this place are trapped a daughter & another daughter of Geoffrey King of Aurelium to whom we may lead you

this writ by the hand of one named Jack of Jack a son him of Jack also son & c


“Is it a trick, do you think?” Richard asked.

“I have been pondering that,” his mother said, wearily. “Maybe. But why?”

“Worth looking into,” Richard muttered. He raised his left hand to scratch at the scar under his eye, and reread the paper.

He could feel his lady mother considering him as he did. He knew that look: her head tilted against her right shoulder, her mouth a firm line. “My heart says that I should send Edith or Alina to deal with this,” she said. “My head says that I should send you.”

“You have never been ruled by your heart,” he said. She nodded, once. He wanted to say: I’m full eighteen years old, mother, you should have no fear for me. But no, that would shame her and him, both. “Where is the messenger?” he asked.

“I concealed him from the others,” she said. “No reason they should know of this until I will it.” Looking at him, she raised her voice: “Come,” she called. “My son is here.”

Out of the darkness of the false stairwell came a short, hunched figure, wrapped in a tattered cloak. Richard stared at the thing, fascinated. It was not a mortal, he knew that at once. Something in the way it moved. Something in the face, so far as he could see its face under its black hood. The eyes bugging out, and too pinkish. The nose overlarge, beaklike. “What are you?” he murmured. The thing whispered to him. He strained to hear; but he wasn’t sure whether it was even speaking Wican.

“That’s the most you’ll get from him,” said his mother. “If it is a him.” She shrugged. “I leave it to you. Go with it; or do not.”

“Oh, I will go,” Richard said. He nodded to the little man. “Where do we go to?”

The creature waved to him, and set out, back the way Godeleva had led him. His mother gave him her torch. “Oak and Holly keep you, my son,” said Godeleva of the Falcon Rising. Richard smiled. As she had taught him: The world changed in a blink. Strike quick. Strike sure.

“Mother,” he said, “I go to make our fortunes.” He tossed her the Manticore’s ring.

The little man led him back past the armoury, and then toward the room where there once had been a water-clock (and who had taken it? Richard wondered). They’d set guards well before the clock room; but the little man waved as they drew closer, and the guards’ torches went out,as did his own. Or so Richard thought at first. But no; there was a quality to the dark that was more than the absence of light. He heard his men calling out to each other, afraid: I am in the presence of rough magic, he thought, and said nothing to them. He felt a small gnarled hand, dry as dust, take his own and lead him forward. He went; after a moment the hand slipped from his, and the fire on his torch returned again as though it had never been gone.

The little man led him through one of the secret doors Osmer had found. Where the elf had chased Osmer. But the little man led Richard on with no sign of worry. Richard wondered, then, if they would come to where they had seen — what had his mother said, a beast out of fable? He recoiled in his mind from the thought of the thing. But all was silent, and the little man led him swiftly further on, and on.

Richard tried to remember the ways they went — along, and right, and then along to a door, and so into a room with two dead men burned to ashes. (He wondered if they were two more that had met the beast. But no, the bodies were not so wholly burnt.) Then left and through another door. Along some way, and then slightly leftward, and then through another hidden door. And along a straight hallway, until the little man waved a halt, and bent to open a trapdoor.

He led Richard down a ladder beneath the trapdoor, which Richard had to climb carefully, holding the torch. They went down a very long way. Rather than go on to the ladder’s end, though, the little man waved for him to stop in mid-descent, and then hopped from the ladder to a small passage in the wall nearby, a natural crevice down into the earth around them. The little man motioned to Richard to follow.

“You want me to jump?” asked Richard. He looked down. There was no sign of a floor below. The passage was near; but he was in full mail. The little man waved again. Richard shook his head. “All right,” he said. He took a breath, readied himself, jumped.

He landed on the lip of the passage. He bent forward, to shift his weight — but it wasn’t enough, he felt himself falling back — then the little man grabbed his sword-belt, pulling him on.

He collapsed with a crash to the passage floor. The little man caught up the torch. Richard lay still for a moment. Then he drew a breath, and pushed himself to his feet. He took the torch back. “Ahead,” he said. The little man nodded, and led him on.

The passage curled and twisted and sloped unevenly, now one way and now another, so that Richard was not sure if they were climbing up or down. But in time it opened on a vast cave, extending far beyond the light of the torch. He was surprised to see that the cave had its own light, a sickly green glow that seemed to come from a large gemstone set in the celing.

Then the stone turned to look at him, and he saw it was an eye; and he did not know if he was awake or caught in a mad dream.

The little man led Richard on, whispering something he did not understand. Ahead, in a depression in the centre of the cave, more little men were waiting for him. And there was a throne of purple crystal, he saw, with three tall men standing by it, and they each one had on their shoulders the heads of great toads.

Richard made himself walk on, without pause or shudder. He was a knight.

Upon the throne sat a man who was part shadow, as it seemed to Richard, or anyway was not wholly there, not complete, or not to be touched. His eyes were large, and like still pools on which shone the light of the First Moon. He wore robes of fine dark silks.

The little man brought Richard before the throne, and bowed low. Richard bowed himself. The man did not speak. “My lord,” said Richard.

The throned man gave no reply.

“I have come in answer to your — to the letter that one bore,” Richard said, pointing to the little man. “If you —”

Whereupon his head whirled, and he felt himself sag, and fall —

He was in the Rookery, his mother’s retreat high in the White Mountains. They had been outlawed, his mother was explaining to him, because they had stolen a red ruby goblet.

Mother, who is my father? he asked.

The Manticore, she said. You must find the goblet. You are a knight. Here is your sword.

It was a long sword that he put on, an arming-sword, and it became a part of his body. He drew it and fought in the practice-yard. His grandfather watched him. He hadn’t been outlawed yet.

It’s too late, said his grandfather. You have to find the ruby goblet. His grandfather shook his head, as he always did: your mother can’t inherit it, even though it’s hers by right. Everything goes to your uncle.

I will find the goblet and give it to her, he told his grandfather, as I am a true knight. No, wait, I will give it to my uncle. Mother, who is my father?

King Simon Tristram, the Weeping King, who took me by force when I was younger than you are now, said his mother. Don’t worry. He won’t find us in the Rookery. We can base ourselves there, and raid the surrounding country. I have no grudge against my brother; we can take from Walding’s lands, or we can raid Innsdene, or other such places. Here is a Manticore ring.

I must go to find the ruby goblet, mother, he said. Also I must kill Henry.

He left the rookery and was riding through a forest. Then he realised that the forest was underground, and felt foolish. He got off his horse, and a little man in a black cloak took him by the hand.

They ran from elves that chased them and came to a triangular room. Gargoyles watched them, smirking. He heard a clock dripping. One of the gargoyles had a ruby cup. He went to take it.

But there were many halls and rooms between him and the cup. In one room was a sorine of death. He touched her with his sword and killed her. In another room was a dwarf. He killed it. In another room was a Morien woman. He killed her and fucked her, because he wanted to see what colour her private parts were. In another room was a prophet who said they were all delusive shadows. In the next room was a lady knight like his mother, with a lance. In the room after that was a big man he thought looked like his father. There was a winged man and winged women and men and women who had never ever seen sunlight and there was a little girl wizard, and he killed all of them and so at last he came to the ruby cup, which he took.

Give it to me, said his mother.

Who is my father? he asked.

Jack, son of Jack, said his mother.

That is not true, he said, for I am a man and a knight though a bastard, and that is your doing mother and what I am you have made me, and why did you? Why? And where is the magic that will make me over again?

He realised his penis was hard, though he felt no lust. It had swollen up as long as a lance. There was a distant pleasure, but he was bleeding. A great drop of blood fell from him, slowly, turning in the air. It was a ruby.

Give me the cup, said his uncle, and I will catch your blood. His uncle sat on a stone of purple rock.

He gave his uncle the cup.

His uncle set the ruby cup to catch the falling ruby.

Somewhere, someone was laughing.

He woke, gasping.

“Well done,” a voice said. Richard spun around, standing. He clawed at his sword. But it was not the man on the throne speaking, or the three tall men with toad heads. It was another man, thinner than him, older, with bright blue eyes and fair hair. His clothes were fine, but ragged. His features were chiseled, all sharp lines. Richard paused, and looked to the throne. The seated man stared at him with his overlarge eyes, and said nothing. “He doesn’t talk much,” said the other man, nodding to the figure on the throne. “But then, that’s what I’m here for.” He considered Richard, like a painter looking over nearly-finished work. He broke into a grin. “Smile, boy,” he said. “You’ve done it. You’ve won. You’re about to get everything you ever wanted. All of it. And all you have to do is listen carefully to what I say, and do just as I tell you. And your mother, too.”

“And who are you, then?” asked Richard. “Who are you, to command a knight, and the Lady Godeleva?”

The man’s smile disappeared. “My name is Jeroen,” he said. “Jeroen Halfjack. And I’m the man half in league with death, who will give you a princess for wife.”


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