The Fell Gard Codices


William arranged them all in a circle. Standing so, backs against the trees, there was just enough room for everyone to fit into the clearing at the heart of the forest chamber. He took his own place, near the high oak, and looked around at all the ring assembled, all the many folk and all the kinds there gathered. “Let there be silence,” he called, uncertain at first in the face of that heterogeneity, but becoming sure as he spoke, even in the brief space of that phrase, from the familiarity of the words: the opening of a Ring. The circle fell still. Then Gryselde, the scripture in her hands, entered from the south and walked across the clearing, through the circle, to the holly tree. She turned to face them all, and began to chant the sacred words, her voice rising and falling, strong and soaring and cutting.

King of Oak,

Queen of Holly,

We pray that you will hear us

And be righteous in your judgments upon us;

And save us from the rough magic we must face.

Let it be so.


“Let it be,” responded the community of the faithful.

Gryselde nodded. The community of the faithful was of six voices: William, Geoffrey, Kate, Paradox, and the glumm and gawry, Kwangrolar and Euarchy — besides the many others that had chosen to attend and watch.

She wondered about the faith of the winged folk, who said they had accepted the revelations of Ossian, but were no part of Ossian’s Church. Well, it seemed in the dungeon all hierarchies and certainties grew confused. Had she herself not been unsure in her faith? But then it was in Fell Gard that her love of the Graf had been rekindled. Perhaps the dungeon was a place where, after challenges and tests, truth was to be won.

She wondered also about Paradox, who had said he thought he remembered holding to Oak and Holly, but holding to something else as well: “As though Ossian’s Revelations were a part of some larger truth,” he had said. What could he have meant?

To everyone assembled, she said: “We shall pray together in silence,” and knelt.

Her wonderings vanished. As she closed her eyes she felt an old certainty, come again.

She began, silently, to pray.


Dear gods, thought Kate, please help.

(Kate wasn’t sure if praying would work. She had her eyes closed, but she could smell and hear so much better now she wasn’t sure it counted.)

Dear gods, my sister is dead. She died here in this room. I want to bring her back. Dear gods, please help me. I am a princess and I will raise many churches to you if you help me in this. I don’t mean that the way it sounds, I mean I’m not trying to buy you.

(She bit her lip, her fang almost tearing the thick skin. She wasn’t doing it right. All she could think of was the patch of ground in the corner where Domini was buried. And the torn-up earth nearby where Domini had fought and died.)

Dear gods, we did wrong to steal the knife and the axe. I repent. So does Domini, I’m sure. But how can she repent if she’s dead?

I pray that you give her back …

I pray …

Please don’t let me become a cobold all the way.

Thank you, gods.


Gryselde said: “We have prayed. Praise the King of Oak and the Queen of Holly.”

William stood, beating the knees of his breeches. He looked around. Enheduanna smiled at him, by his side. There were so many. Almost everyone had chosen at least to watch the Ring, even if they’d never heard of Ossian. Only Amanos, Ulric, Ulixa, and Gamelyn were not a part of their circle. But thanks to Enheduanna, their places were taken by others.

Entemena was watching Gryselde while the elf-lady with him, Keturah, stared at Kezia. A pair of murineans chittered quietly, their rat faces unreadable. And the cervidwens — despite himself he felt a touch of awe, a tingle at the base of his spine, when he looked at them. That morning, while he was helping Gryselde copy out scripture, Enheduanna had gone to tell the elves of the mortals’ rite. Entemena knew the underground tongue, and suggested telling the murineans and the cervidwen. Two of the ratmen had come back with them to watch the service, as an act of diplomacy. But the cervidwen had hardly reacted; and so all were surprised when, just before the service began, he had walked into the forest chamber followed by a line of four females, come from who-knew-where.

It all made William feel strong, this gathering for a Ring; though the service was of the Empire’s text, not the true liturgy of Powys-Terrwyn. The time would come for that, no doubt.

(He was no longer embarrassed for having made the Sign of Holly. Had he not been punished for it, driven into the mad ruby prison?)

Above them all the caladrius shone down. Gryselde raised up the text they had written out from memory, and walked to William. She presented it to him and said: “Now let the lessons of the day be given to us.”

He began to read aloud.


And I saw then the great giving of Rings, that was the Third Union of Oak and Holly.

And the moons and planets were confirmed in their places, and the sun and the earth; and the Houses of the earth were set at peace. Then the Powers made mighty oaths that war would not come again in the heavens, and that they would be good stewards to those that dwelled in the world.

He that was upon his throne said: All the peoples and all the folk may enter our House as they choose, and swear themselves to our service upon these Rings given by the All. Who shall find it easiest to honour this promise? To them let it be as we have sworn.

She that was upon her throne said: All the members of all the nations and all that speak in every tongue may enter our House as they choose, and swear themselves to our service upon these Rings given by the All. Who shall find it most difficult to honour this promise? To them let it be as we have sworn.

This is the Good News of Ossian, as I have read it.


“I have nothing against their beliefs at all,” said Gamelyn. “I just wish they included a belief in breakfast.”

Ulixa laughed. “A Ring is the best breakfast,” she told him. “That’s what they say.” She reached out to take his hand, and led him southward, toward the smallest of the connecting forest chambers. He followed easily. She looked back at him: “They will be reading some while,” she murmured. “I know their habits. But the truth is that they are as alien to me, and I to them, as you are to me. Or I to you.”

Gamelyn tilted his head. “I’ve seen black-skinned folk in the dungeon,” he said. “Mortals, and others. Dwarves. And so forth.”

“I mean neither you nor I are of the Empire,” said Ulixa. They walked together into the small chamber, filled with flowering and fruiting trees. The mosslight overhead filtered through the leaves and branches, a latticework of moonglow and shadow.

“Which empire?” asked Gamelyn.

“Edu,” she said.

“That was the empire of the Invicti, wasn’t it?” he asked. “We know our history, in Fell Gard.”

She laughed. “But you don’t understand it, do you?”

“Maybe,” said Gamelyn. He crossed his arms. “Maybe my seeming not to understand is just a cunning illusion. Did you ever think of that?”

“Edu is a large, flat country,” she said, “with some mighty rivers in it. It’s easy to conquer, to weld into an empire, but so large that all these empires collapse, sooner or later. The Dawn Kings were the peoples that first unified Edu, oh, long long ago, and named it. But they fell, and then the Archons came, and then they fell, and then the Invicti, and then after a long time the Vættir, and then after Ossian preached came the Grey Kings. Each time a different people conquered Edu, they brought a different language, and different gods. You can hear bits of the older languages in each one that followed. Though it’s considered rude or improper by some Empire men now to use words that came from Vitelic, the Invicti tongue. Stupid, since so many of Ossian’s words came from Vitelic.”

She loved the look of him, careful, cautious, absorbing what she said. It was a fine thing, teaching him. Right behaviour, surely. He knew nothing, she thought, of Ossian’s Peregrination, or Queen Ygerna, or Jocund Day, or the Fourth War of the Vættir. And what he had heard of things like the reign of Mars Ultor, or of the great tomb Temenank, or of legendary Karanduniash itself, he would not understand. Well, then; she would teach him.

“So who are you?” asked Gamelyn. “If you’re not one of the Grey Kings. Or Queens.”

“Do I look Grey?” she asked, with a laugh, walking on. “No. The Morien were from a far southern country. We had come north during the reign of the Invicti. When their empire fell there was a sundering of the land. Our home is now far over the sea, and for more than a thousand years we’ve tried to make our home in Edu.”

Gamelyn nodded. “Where are we going?” he asked.

“Just come,” she said, clutching his hand tighter. “I have something to show you.”


A hard road lies before us.

A path of thorns, and stones, and ghosts,

And it is not known that we shall see its end

For death is with us, as he always is.

That is what you told me

And I went

And I have come to be

Here where I was meant to be.


Amanos listened to them chanting, her left elbow on her right wrist, left fist to her mouth. She leaned back against the appletree trunk and stared at Gryselde. This was, technically, no oathbreaking. The sorine had made no promise not to hold a service. Nor had she promised to prevent others from attending, nor even promised not to preach to others. Only not to seek Amanos’ own conversion.

Still it felt wrong. They celebrated the world, which was a place of bondage, a prison for the spirit. Amanos wanted to weep. Did they not feel, in their own flesh, their bondage to the evil principle which moved them like puppets; which could pervert their spirit into ghosts, and drive their corpses to drink the blood of the living?

How could they be so blind?

It did not matter, Amanos thought. The war of good and evil would be fought, one way or the other, and she knew her side. She knew. And she knew her enemy.

Hawklike, she watched Gryselde.


“My friends,” said Gryselde, “I wish to speak to you now of unity, and of faith. And of signs. We are gathered to celebrate the word of Ossian, which tells us that the moons and stars and planets are a sign of a harmony that is on the earth, but which only the gods above us can see. Caught up each in ourselves, we do not know the whole design, but it is there, and if we could see ourselves as the stars do, we would understand it. The world is one, and whole.

“But now we are locked in a place the stars cannot see. We have faced trials, and know that more will come. We fear the enemies around us, and though we have found friends, they have told us there is reason for our fear. And our only way out is to go deeper, to face worse and worse and worse again.

“Still, we have found a sign, here, oak and holly under the earth, come together. Now a sign may be given many meanings. Today let us say, together: it is a sign of hope. Together, in our understanding of the oak and of the holly, we may dream. Of escape; of liberation; of transcendence.”


Euarchy listened as the sorine went on with her sermon. It was lucky, she thought, that she had a better head for languages than Kwangrolar, and knew the Wican liturgy. He was keeping up, but barely. She took his hand.

Now that they’d both slept, and eaten further, and drunk some more, they felt better. She still didn’t know what to do, but at least these groundlings were friendly. Could any of them be agents of Simon Tristam? It didn’t seem so. His enemies, then? She knew the wizard girl was outside such concerns, of course; she and Kwangrolar both had enough experiences of wizards for that. She pondered telling the girl about Simon’s plans, and what the text was really meant for. Someone ought to know; he had to be stopped. But that was knowledge sealed by her oath, her promise not to give her message to any but that one to whom it was meant. The text had been technically outside the oath, but — No, neither she nor Kwangrolar could tell of it. And what good would it do, anyway, to tell a little girl in a dungeon?

For a long time she considered this question and others (what were the forest lord and ladies doing there? This worried her deeply), holding her husband’s hand and wondering about the future, until she saw Gryselde take up a bowl of water, and hold it above her head, eyes closed in silent prayer, thereby signalling one of the great symbols of the faith: the anointing.

With the others of the faithful Kwangrolar chanted:


Lords and ladies above,

Give us shapes for our lives —

The founding and the passing,

The seeing of dreams.

To make of the world a meaning

To open it to the All

From which all things come


“Take you this Ring, in remembrance of the Unions of Oak and Holly,” proclaimed Gryselde. “Let it be so.”

Geoffrey joined the others in line before Gryselde. He knelt when his time came, and closed his eyes, feeling her thumb against his forehead moving in a smooth circle, leaving a trail of cool water. It pleased him, as always. He felt like the old oak king himself, at each anointment. “Let it be,” he said.

Geoffrey opened his eyes. The sorine had moved on to anoint the boy Paradox. Odd that he didn’t think of her as a woman. But then she wasn’t really a woman, he figured. She was a sorine, which was a different thing. Either way, he’d want a woman soon. He wanted one now, but it could wait. Not too long, though.

As for what woman that’d be …

“We shall pray together,” the sorine announced. “Let us recite the prayer called the Opening.”

“Let it be,” Geoffrey said with the others.


Oak and Holly open to me the truth of things

Death and the Kind Lady stay the hardest of truths

Storm and Winter prove me with the test of flesh

Wrath and Love pity my flesh that must fail

Ocean and the Sailor on the Sea bring the word that saves

Dream and Speaker and Poet, Wizard and Masker, open to me the truth in words


Monoloke-under-Geoffrey was very confused. Geoffrey was kneeling. Did that make the woman Gryselde stronger? He didn’t think so. Not that he would challenge Geoffrey. Still. Monoloke liked to know who was master.

He tried to pay attention to the mortals, though his senses were alert for gods. When he’d talked with the old dwarf earlier, the dwarf had said this would be the worship mortals paid to gods. Unseen gods, but gods. Monoloke guessed the mortal gods were present, but invisible. Maybe they were blind. That would explain why the mortals spoke instead of dancing or making sacrifice. Sometimes they made their voices do something he had no word for, so that the sounds went together. Other times they just talked.

If Geoffrey knelt before gods, maybe those unseen gods were stronger than him. But then how could Monoloke know these gods’ orders? He could not. He could only know Geoffrey.

Or could he come to know Geoffrey’s gods? Could these gods make him strong?

It was a powerful idea.

Geoffrey returned to his place in the circle, and the mortals began doing again that thing with their many voices sounding together:


And who are we, in our places?

Every man and woman must face rough magic,

In our time trusting nothing;


Gods and those above gods will them,

These moments that make us mortal:

Our homecomings and leavetakings and final flight.


They had left the forest chambers behind them. They were alone, in the near-darkness; only a little light from the moss behind them let them see each other as silhouettes. “Look,” Ulixa said, and took out the golden key. Even in that faint light, it shone.

“Pretty,” said Gamelyn.

“I found it when we first explored this room,” she said. “I didn’t tell the others. But listen. Do you remember, after Ulric was attacked in the garden?” She drew nearer to him, and put her left hand on his chest. “You said I had to understand that magic was the least of it. You said to me ‘Power is the most of it, but power is an illusion.’ I’ve thought about these things, you know.”

“Really,” he said. He didn’t move.

“You deal in illusions, so you deal in power,” she said. “But that’s not what matters. Is it?”

“It wouldn’t seem so,” he agreed.

She stepped into him, her breasts pressing against his arm. “There’s a keyhole in a wall, I saw it when we were here before. Didn’t you say the solution is always close to the puzzle?”

“What did you think I meant about magic?” he asked.

“There are other things to learn, aren’t there?” she said. “Other ways to fool people. Or please them, maybe?”

“Maybe,” he said.

It was so dark; unsure; exciting. “Set the key to its hole,” she whispered in his ear. “Let’s find what it unlocks.”

“Ulixa,” he said. She took his wrist. He drew back. She froze. “Ulixa,” he said. She heard what was not in the word.

“I,” she said. She felt something building and falling inside her.

It wasn’t fair, she thought, though she knew how foolish the thought was. She had woken up wanting him, and she’d known all the others would be busy with the service. For all that Domini had died, it felt like risk had receded just a little, enough now to be thrilling rather than paralysing. But: “I’ve been,” he said, and paused. “It’s not right,” he muttered. “Not while bonded with a mask elemental. Do you understand? I’m not —” she heard him shift his stance; saw a play of shadows. He’d put up his hands. “I’m not me.

“I see,” she said. It had been stupid. She was old; old enough to know better, surely.

“Listen,” he told her. “Your interpretation … it’s very good. It’s a puzzle we set would-be apprentices. To see what they make of it. You can interpret words in any way. So —”

“Almost any words,” she said. “Almost any way.” She strode past him. He didn’t say anything. She went on until she saw the horns of the cervidwen and realised she’d almost come back to the Ring.

They were praying.


Oak and Holly save us,

Give us words that will turn aside the wicked,

And the Powers who dwell where all is dark.

Oak and Holly teach us,

Give us words that will reveal our true heart’s-ease,

And the wisdom that lives where all is light.

Oak and Holly bless us,

Give us words that will be a show of favour,

Among the creatures who stand all in your grace.


On a branch above, Concordia Salus yawns.

She understands a little of what is happening, thanks to her bond with her familiar mortal. They are showing favour to spirits. She wonders why they are not adoring her? Surely she is more deserving than these gods, about which they make so much noise. But, everyone knows mortals are not renowned for wisdom.

Besides, she is content. Her mortal is growing in art, however slowly. Concordia wreaths her body seven times round with elegant quickness. Art takes its own time; she knows this. And it is blessedly inhuman, as is she. She knows this too.

And she knows her tongue is so exceeding pure that it has in purity what it lacks in music. She begins to bathe. Art is all around them. Art, with all its dangers, and all its ecstasies.

She pauses. Oh, she knows she is being watched, and judged; but she doesn’t care for others’ judgments. Concordia considers god and herself, knowing that she is of the tribe of Tyger. And then continues her sacred ablutions, while the mortals recite words.


We believe in the King of Oak and in the Queen of Holly, and in the courts over which they reign, in which the gods are to be found. We bear witness to the Three Unions of Oak and Holly, and the seed that was grown of the All, and the exile of the Elder King, and the peace that was made and the shaping of the year. We are servants of the gods that dwell in the houses of the moons, and we revere them as our lords. We have taken their Rings, and are companions to their hosts. We believe in the words of Ossian, that revealed these truths to us.

Let it be.


It’s building to something, Agneta deduced. She could tell by looking at the people around her, especially the half-dozen believers. She had no feel for the ceremony herself, of course. This sort of thing affected other people, no doubt, but then other people were mostly fools.

Still, she was where she should be. Let the dwimmerlaik wander around outside the circle. He’d be at her feet before long. That was the way of things. She could almost taste the power of the lower courts. That was what he meant to her: a way deeper into the magic. Deeper into the power.

All she had to do was work her way into this new band, and she’d have all the time she needed to play with him. And Agneta was practised at working her way into bands. Her bad luck that the bands she’d found had never amounted to anything, had always been broken by some stronger force. She’d thought about trying to teach herself some skill, use it to go herself — but no, she knew what she was. Using other people, that was her skill.

She knew she was clever that way. Look at Diccon, grinning at the priestess. He was an idiot; the priestess would use him, if she wanted, or ignore him, if she had no use for him. But Agneta knew better than to be caught like that. She knew how to use people herself. She knew that Elous was hers to use, when most of the others of Conradin’s band hadn’t even known that quiet mousy Elous desired women. It was only a question of the best approach with her — when to be warm, when to snap at her, how to let Elous touch her, lightly, now and again, and then be offended at some other time. Elous would be her creature soon.

Agneta didn’t know what use Elous could possibly be to her; but she took something she considered to be joy in playing with people. Besides, you never knew what you could get out of it.

William went to the priestess, and took up the papers. At last, the interminable ritual was coming to an end.


“This is the Procession of the Word,” said Gryselde.

William took the papers from her. That morning they’d been blank scraps Hochelaga Trice had given them; now they were the faith made concrete, the Word of Ossian. He began to walk, clockwise, around the Ring. He felt the familiar pride within him: this was the jewel in the Ring, the climax of the act. And the Words were in his hands, his to hold; though the source of the Words was not himself, so that he was for the faithful only a sign of the true source of mystery.

He began to sing, as one by one the faithful followed him, and joined the song.


Yune watched the singer make his rounds, the others of his faith following him as he brought the papers back to the sorine. Yune gathered that this was the end of the ritual. He stroked his beard. Well enough, he supposed. At any rate it seemed to have served them.

He returned to his musing. There were too many plots in Fell Gard, he decided. What else was new? His own were progressing nicely. But —

But, but, but.

He looked over at the three new arrivals. He wondered, he did wonder indeed. The wizard was what she was, he judged. But the vala? And the priest’s son? Were they what they seemed, or was there some hidden meaning to it all?

And look what they’d brought. What did that make it, now? A halfjack, a nightjack, a frightjack. Oh, this did not bode well. If what he suspected were true —

New courts always upended things. Always. But this was worse than any he’d seen.


“This marks the closing of the Ring,” said Gryselde. She was satisfied. More than that. She was content, as she always was when the Ring had been said properly, every word, every sound, just so. You could speak the same words on different days, and they would not always feel the same. The outer appearance would be similar, but the inner interpretation, the response of the soul, that would be different. This one had been done well. “We will pause some minutes, I think, and then we will begin to talk together, and plan what we should do next, and where we will go. All of you are welcome. Go, and be at peace.”


The forest lord could feel a change in the air. It was time for him and the females to return to their places. He looked at them. They looked back, silent. They had not found what they had been looking for.

The females had sensed it, with their gifts. There was something lacking in each of the mortals. In their doubts. In their fears. In their faith, that looked to some mystery. Some truth that was missing in them, or not understood.

None of those here deserved the gift; or else they were not ready for it. What to do, then?

They shook their heads, each to each. But —

Before they went to leave, a mortal with white hair came into the clearing, smiling, and he set hands on those that had been hurt the day before, and healed them one after another of all their hurts, while laughing and singing a true song of innocence, about an echoing green.

This one, whispered a female.

This one, agreed another.

This one, confirmed a third.

This one, said the last of them, and they returned to their places, to make their preparations, and wait.


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One Response to “Part 3, Chapter 1: Chanting a Ring”

  1. Perfidius the Rogue

    Lucky old Ulrich! ..maybe. 😀

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