The Fell Gard Codices


The two passages running from the room with the stairway angled to meet each other, and where they joined a third passage led away — to the northwest, if the elf was right. Like the first passages, the new one was wide enough for two or perhaps three tall men to stand side-by-side. It stretched for well above ten yards, perhaps twenty, to an oaken door with a black iron latch and bands. Gryselde led the others down the hall toward the door. She had never seen such halls, or such stonework. Columns set in the walls blossomed into knotlike patterns on the vaulted ceiling; in the low ruddy torchlight those patterns seemed almost to move, curving up into darkness. The passage, like the rooms before, had not been built but carved out of the earth. The lines not quite straight, the angles not quite true, the grey rock of the walls worked but uneven, made up of cracks, of lumps and bulges, casting shadows that shuddered in the torchlight. The rooms had been large as a lord’s hall, and the ceilings higher. Add to that a passage such as they were in — could it really be all under the ground?

And who were they, moving through that dim place? What to make of these folk? Gryselde looked back at them as they hurried along the passage, naming them again to herself, one by one, fixing them in memory. What did she see, really?

Ulric: the man had to be above fifty, but lean and hard, with a force in him that leaped out his eyes and kept his mouth bent in a strange beatific grin. Now and again his lips moved silently, miming a word or phrase. He limped, she noticed; and his robes of fine grey wool, that once had been rich, were now tattered, the embroidery falling away here and there. She could see cracked manacles at his wrists. His pack, really a sack with straps on it, was bulky and seemed to hold a great weight. On his shield was a strange painting of a star descending to a naked man’s foot. What did it mean? Where had he got his fine mace? What authority did it symbolise, that had been given to him?

Gral: Once, at a lord’s manor, she had seen a dwarf, got up in motley. Like Gral, he had been less than four feet tall, with no hair on his head but a curling beard the colour of dead ashes, and skin that looked like dark veined rock. That dwarf had done a fair job of miming jollity; this one could grin away all good humours, and when not grinning still his face was twisted in a sneer. Gral was younger than that other dwarf, she thought, if human signs of age had meaning for dwarves, who were said to live for ever. He wore a padded gambeson, a thick jacket of quilted linen made for his size. He had seemed to know well how to use the two-foot dwarven broadsword at his side. His eyes slid about, searching everywhere, trusting nothing.

William: A tall man, six foot at the least, and slightly awkward under a bulky pack. Her age, twenty or else a year or so to one side or the other, voice soft and sweet. His skin was pale, his face sharp at nose and chin, his hair long and dark — he had doffed his helmet for a well-worn wide-brimmed hat. His cloak was green, equally worn, and his boots seemed on the edge of collapse. He had an unstrung bow in his hand.

Hochelaga: The child was not ten years old; eight, perhaps. But she did not complain. Her black hair reached to her waist, above heavy black robes. A wide belt held mostly-empty pouches, and scrolls stuck half out of a satchel over her shoulder. Her eyes seemed overlarge for her face; as Gryselde looked at her, she rolled those dark eyes up to look back. Her face did not change its unsmiling expression. Gryselde looked away.

Enheduanna: Gryselde had heard stories of the elf-folk. What was one of them doing here? She was near seven feet tall, lean but strong, her hair white as starlight but her face unlined and her skin like pale marble. Her cloak too was white, made of a cloth Gryselde could not name, and seemed to shine in the dimness; no dust or grime could touch it. She carried one of the curious elf-bows, covered with strips of horn, and under her cloak wore scale armour made of the purple bronze of the elves.

And were they all truly in the Fell Gard together? Gryselde let her left hand drift along the stone of the walls, feeling their solidity, their dry weight. Let it be so. Every man and woman must face rough magic, in their time. She knew that, but had forgotten.

She knew also that death was with them; but death always was. As ever, she took comfort in the knowing.

The door at the end of the passage was thick and sturdy, but had no lock. Gryselde opened the door and led them into the room beyond. It was a space of bare stone, several yards to a side, with a narrow crack in the floor from which came a smoke that smelled faintly of brimstone. There was another door on the right wall — the north wall, if Enheduanna was correct. Ulric and Gral moved toward it, but Gryselde said, “Wait.” She turned to the elf. “Watch the hall, I pray you. If you see goblins come around the corner, then we must run. But I think we should speak a little, before we go on.” She stepped deeper into the room, and turned to look back at the others.

“What’s there to say?” asked Enheduanna, moving to the door. She opened it a crack and stared along the hall. “We are in a hole in the ground. We must find a way out. Perhaps these goblins are guarding it.”

“If this truly is Fell Gard, the Master Dungeon, the mountain-house called Ekur … then we should not expect a way out,” said William, sitting against a wall. He began to string his bow. “It is said: ‘And forth there fare none, from Fell Gard’s halls.’ — I am a follower of the Bishop Golias, and know some of the tales of this place. If this place is indeed that one.”

“Your mortal bishops mean nothing to me,” said Gral. “But I tell you this is Fell Gard.” William waved a hand.

“What do you know of Fell Gard?” asked Gryselde. “Either of you.” Gral crouched, sullen; William sang:


The wizard Scaeva once of old

A mountain hollow’d out,

With rooms, and chambers shadow-fill’d,

He fashioned a redoubt. His pits and traps and murder-holes

The mountain’s tunnels scarred;

Its halls he filled with fiends and beasts,

And named the place Fell Gard.


“Well, there are many ballads of Fell Gard,” William said. “They say that this evil wizard, Scaeva, made by his art a great dungeon of underground tunnels, for what reason I do not know. There are songs that say he meant, somehow, to slay a God. This was in the time of the Invicti, when mortal men did not worship Oak and Holly.

“The stories say that Fell Gard has grown with the years, and that now it is as great under the earth as the Empire was above it. Also that mortal men and women have been caught by it, like doves by hawks. I mind there may have been mention in the songs of a soul that now and again escaped the Master Dungeon, but I cannot say how that came to be. All tales agree: there are terrors in Fell Gard. Also treasures, and magic.” He strummed the bow like a single-stringed harp, and lifted his shoulders in a half-shrug. He set the bow down, and began to rummage in his pack. “I have no notion what to do, facing this. Perhaps Master Dwarf knows better.”

“I was not born when Fell Gard was made,” said Gral. “No. I know nothing of it. Or only this: it was made by wizardry. There is no pattern to it. No reason to the plan of its halls.”

“And a way out?” asked Ulric. The dwarf was silent.

“You see, this is a problem,” Enheduanna said. The dwarf shrugged. “Aside from whatever dangers this place holds,” she continued, “we will need food and water before long.”

“If there are living things in Fell Gard, then there must also be food and water in Fell Gard,” said Hochelaga. “That’s logic.”

Gral laughed. “What do monsters eat?” he asked. “Why, they whet their fangs on the bones of elves and old men, to chew the flesh of little girls.”

“Now, calm yourself, sir,” said Ulric. The old man had set his pack on the ground. “Let us consider this another way. What if we were not the only ones caught? What if other souls are wandering these halls, lost as we are?”

“What if there are?” asked William. He had taken out a folded gambeson of his own from his pack, along with a set of leather greaves. He unfolded the gambeson as he spoke, which had been wrapped around the frame of a harp. He looked over the harp carefully, drew a hand along its strings, then began to buckle the greaves on his legs.

“Why, then, should we not try to find them, and give aid?” asked Ulric. “The more of us are together, the better we’ll stand whatever tests we find here, whether this be Fell Gard or no.”

“You mean we should look for the monsters?” asked Hochelaga Trice.

“I agree with him,” said Enheduanna, without turning away from the door. “But I must say this. I came to the White Mountains because I was hunting a man; an elf. If I was caught in this place, it’s likely he was as well. And he is a villain. If others have been caught — how will we know to trust them, or not?”

“How do we ever know to trust another?” asked Ulric.

“Not to be indelicate,” said William, “but how do we know we can we trust each other, here in this room?”

Gral laughed.

Hochelaga burst into tears.

“Listen to me,” said Gryselde. “I am a sorine of Vaka-Bane. Do you all know what that means?” She looked around at them all again. “Enheduanna, you did not know the word ‘sorine.’ It means that I am a mendicant of holy orders. I follow the Graf Vaka-Bane, who is a high noble at the court of Holly, where Gods are vassals and our blessed ancestors are ring-bound companions to the throne. Vaka-Bane is the Graf to which all kings must bow. He is Death. Here, do you see this hafted weapon I hold? It is his sign, an old blade from the time of the Grey Kings.

“It is my duty to travel about, here and there in the world, to preach and do the bidding of death. I ease the passing of some; I shrive others of the impurity of handling the dead; but the most sacred of my commissions is at those times when I have the honour of witnessing a soul’s final moment in this world. It is those moments that unite us, for it is those moments that make us mortal.

“Now I came to the White Mountains at the bidding of the Graf Vaka-Bane, who spoke to me in a dream. He told me that a hard road lay before me, and it was not certain that I should reach its end; but that if I did, I should attend to a great death. That is what he told me; and so I went to the White Mountains; and so I have come to be here. And I know now that this is the place I was meant to be.”

“That’s well for you,” said William. “I was only a traveller on a road.”

Gryselde raised her open hand. “I understand,” she said. “But I tell you that the fact we are all here is because the Gods, and those above the Gods, have willed it so. Moments of magic come to every man and woman, in their lives, not to wizards alone; and if to some they come as wonderful treasure, to others they are cruel tests. Yet to most they are a sign of change. So together we will look for escape. And we will look for other souls trapped with us. But what will we become, here, as we do? Shall we fail, and meet death? Or, in dying, shall we be heroes?” She shrugged. “If this is Fell Gard, the hierarchies we have known all our lives do not now apply. We must shape ourselves. Let us go, then, and choose our shapes.”

Ulric bowed his head to her. But William, a little shocked, said, “Well, Sorine, I will certainly go with you, but I tell you now I want only to escape this place, and will not hesitate to leave it, if I can find a way; for I am not eager to see more dead men that walk.”

“I want to go home too,” said Hochelaga quietly. “But the wizards told me about this place. They prepared me. I don’t want to be here, but I guess I’m supposed to be. Oh, I don’t know.”

Gral laughed. “A little girl is braver than you, singer,” he said.

William waved at him. “Whisht!” he said. “You, girl, Hochalaga — what was it those wizards told you, exactly?”

Hochelaga turned her dark eyes on the Goliard. “That I would find myself in a dark place under the earth,” she said, “and that there would be monsters and many frightening things. But that it was where I had to go, to become what I might be.”

“And what’s that?” asked William. “A wizard?”

“I am a wizard,” she said. “But they say I can be a great one.”

“Do you want that?” asked Gryselde. Hochelaga gazed at her. She did not blink enough, the sorine thought.

“I don’t know yet,” she said. “But I think so. Which means I will go with you. I think you are right. About shaping ourselves.”

“Well, I am with you, Sorine,” said Enheduanna. “Dwarf?”

Gral spat. “I am a thief,” he said. “You should be aware of that.” He shrugged. “But it is true, that many can stand threats better than one. I will walk with you a ways. What choice do I have?”

After that there were only a few practical matters to decide. Enheduanna and Gral could both see without light, and as nobody knew whether all the dungeon would be torch-lit, they seemed the best choices to scout ahead. And they were quiet when they walked, for Enheduanna’s armour was elf-crafted. Gryselde’s devotions had taught her to move in harmony with her surroundings; quietest of the mortals, she would be third. Behind her would go Hochelaga and William, and then Ulric behind them. William had put on his gambeson over his tunic, and Ulric had donned a suit of mail he took from his pack: “Well, I am slowest of all you swift young folk,” he said, “so you must all swear to leave me, if the need arises. No, I pray it will not; but it might. Swear it.” They did, if only to humour him. But some of them, thought Gryselde, took the oath more seriously than others. And who, she wondered, would find it easiest to honour the promise?

Those things done, they approached the north door of the room, weapons readied. “Well,” said Enheduanna, “let us begin.” She opened the door.

There was a very loud noise.

The air seemed to push at all of them. The elf was knocked down with a cry. The door slammed around on its hinges. Gryselde, half-deafened, barely heard it. She brought up her halberd; but there was nothing at which to strike.

Gral was laughing. “What was that?” demanded William.

“A trap!” cried the dwarf. “Oh, I recognise it. A mystery of the master wrights!”

“Enheduanna, are you well?” called Gryselde.

“Yes,” said the elf, rising easily. Her white cloak was still pure and shining. “Only startled. Shall we go?”

Enheduanna looked back to Gryselde. Gryselde nodded. Then wondered why she did so; was it her place to make such decisions? But there, it was done, and the elf left the room, the dwarf a pace or three behind her. “Quickly,” muttered William, “in case the goblins heard.”

Gryselde nodded, again. Rough magic, she thought. Bear it, then, and go forward. And they went, faster.

The corridor led away to the north, still wide enough that two or three might have gone abreast. Gryselde hurried ahead, to walk only a bit behind the dwarf. They were silent, quick and careful. After perhaps a hundred feet a passage branched off to the left, while further ahead, maybe fifteen yards away, the passage they were in turned to the right, eastward. They could also see that the passage left turned to the north after two or three dozen feet. The dwarf and elf looked at her.

“Ahead,” she said, and they continued on to the north. How did this happen? she wondered. It was not her place to give commands. She was a mendicant of holy orders. She walked the narrow path through life, a solitary among the world, a sister only among her sisters oath-bound. Let it be. And yet so often it seemed that others yielded ground to her, without her noticing she had asked for it. It must be a flaw in my presence, she decided. I shall correct it in future.

At the corner they paused, as the others caught up. The eastward corridor was narrower, five feet across, she guessed, less in some places and with the ceiling much lower, but still with lit torches on the walls. Again, Enheduanna set out, Gral behind her, and Gryselde by Gral.

After a few feet Gral touched her arm. She glanced at him. “You have come to the Master Dungeon to see a death,” he whispered. She had to bend down to hear him.

“Yes,” she replied. They continued down the hall.

“A big death,” Gral whispered again. “An important death.”

“Yes,” she said again. The dwarf scowled at something on the floor; looked away; looked at her. They continued walking. She thought she saw another side corridor up ahead. “So when you say we could become heroes,” said the dwarf, “you are saying you may have come here to watch us die.”

Before she could answer, there was a shout behind them and the grind of stone on stone. She spun around, setting her halberd. William was jumping forward. Above him a giant block was dropping from the ceiling.

“William!” cried Enheduanna as the stone crashed to the floor. But William was safe; the stone had fallen behind him, so large it blocked the passage. Ulric and Hochelaga were on the other side.

Then, from the empty space where the stone had been, there came shrieking, squealing, backbone-shivering cries, and a flock of black shadows flew into the hall and dove at them with fangs wide.


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