The Fell Gard Codices


They argued with the scarred messenger and demanded answers, but he gave them nothing more. Kate was impatient, and bored. Once she asked if they could torture the man until he told them what she wanted to know. The messenger smiled, and said that he himself had not been given the secret of curing her. Lady Godeleva kept it close.

So it was obvious to Kate that she had to go with him, and once she had chosen Ygerna to accompany her she didn’t understand why they didn’t leave at once. But the rest of them tried to bargain with the scarred man, and get him to set a place for them to meet this Lady, or else agree to let Ygerna keep her weapon, or at least give them a matching hostage. He refused all these things.

He also refused to tell them anything about how Godeleva knew about Kate, or where Godeleva was in the dungeon, or how he had known where to find them. Only once did he even seem surprised, when Ulixa wanted to know what he had done with the cervidwen that lived in the room to the north, and the messenger had no idea what she meant. At another point — when Diccon asked why they should believe him that Godeleva knew how to change Kate back, and the messenger only shrugged and said they were free not to — Kate wondered herself; but she thought that if Godeleva knew about her in the first place, and knew where to find her, then she probably knew what the messenger claimed. Kate hoped she did, anyway.

All this time, as one after another of them asked him question upon question upon question, Gryselde stood aside, whispering with Ygerna and Gamelyn and Hochelaga and some others. Kate waited by the messenger until she couldn’t stand it anymore. “We have to go,” she said loudly. “We should go now!

It was true, she thought, that she was still a princess, and they should all listen to her. She hadn’t minded earlier when they’d said that Gryselde should make the decisions, because she understood that this would only be for a short time, until she was old enough to be Queen, she guessed. Still, there were rules to things. After all, if Fell Gard was in the White Mountains, and the White Mountains were ruled by Aurelium, and she was a princess of Aurelium, then she was a princess of Fell Gard. That only made sense. Maybe Lady Godeleva understood this.

Anyway, it was clear that Kate was the most noble person there. Gryselde must have agreed. “There is little else to be said,” she told the messenger with one of her sighs. “I charge you to see to the safe-keeping of both the princess and the knight.”

“We will do all that is in our power,” the messenger said. “But this is a dangerous place. Isn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Gryselde, “and we here are dangerous people. See that you and your lady remember that.”

The messenger bowed to her, and took Ygerna’s sword, and the three of them left.

They went north some way. The messenger had told the truth about one thing, anyway: the cervidwen was no longer in his chamber. “You’re very young,” said Ygerna suddenly.

“You’re hardly much older,” said the scarred man.

“No,” agreed Ygerna, “but I have heard of the Lady Godeleva. She has been declared a wolf’s head, and lives outside the law.”

“She still keeps a fine household,” said the messenger. Ygerna nodded.

“It must be a struggle,” she said. “To find food, to maintain her companions. And now to have been brought into Fell Gard.”

“Must it?” asked the messenger, smiling.

“Is it so fine a thing, to be her servant?” asked Ygerna. “You have a choice. And those people behind us have done well by me.”

The messenger nodded. “So it would seem,” he agreed, “for here you are, walking into the unknown for the sake of a child — even if she is a princess.”

“Ygerna’s a preceptor,” Kate told him. “She wouldn’t abandon me in my time of need.”

“Preceptor?” asked the scarred man, almost laughing. “Truly?”

“Truly,” said Ygerna, seeming sad.

They were approaching the small garden room. Kate could smell the water and green things. The fruit stink sickened her; it made her feel the way rotted meat used to make her feel, more or less. The strange thing, she realised, was that she could smell other things as well. Ygerna and the messenger, obviously, but people, too. Ulric, Diccon, Gryselde, Robert the bard, Hochelaga. Why did it seem normal for her to tell people apart by smell? “Well,” said the messenger, “I’ve heard of preceptors, but never really believed in them. At any rate, Lady, I’m content in Godeleva’s service. And I do think she does right, as best she can. A sentence of outlawry is not always handed down out of justice.”

They entered the garden room. Kate could smell mortals nearby, very strongly, the tang of their sweat. “No,” agreed the preceptor, “but sometimes it is. And in either event, the outlaw knight is no longer a knight, and can suffer no greater shame. Being known therefore to all as false and treasonous, what cause would they have to act nobly?” Then as Kate and Ygerna and the messenger left the garden, Kate heard something. There were shouts, and the sounds of —

“What’s that?” cried Ygerna. The messenger did laugh now, as he led them through the hall beyond.

“Not all your friends have the honour of a preceptor, I’d warrant,” he said. “But I have friends, too.”

A man in a mail shirt came running from the garden room. “You were followed, my — you were followed. Three men. We shot some arrows at them, and they fell back quick enough.”

“Well done,” said the messenger. He reached up to scratch at the scar near his eye. “Let’s go,” he told Ygerna and Kate. “Knighthood,” he said as they went, the new man with them, “is a matter of noble birth, and cannot easily be washed away.” He led them through a door, then to the right and through another.

“Knighthood may be conferred for good deeds,” said Ygerna.

“True,” said the messenger, “but it is four generations before the taint of common blood is washed out of a lineage. Godeleva comes from a noble line on her father’s side, and her mother’s as well.”

“A knight is not made good and valiant by their ancestors,” said Ygerna.

“No. But one’s forefathers are a model, an image for one’s own conduct. Or a challenge, if you like, to live up to those that have come before you. Without that, how can anyone hope to do right?”

The passage opened up into a room Kate knew. It was a kind of crossroads. Two passageways left the room on the west side, two on the east, and one angled away to the north. She and Domini had first woken up in Fell Gard not far from there, and she knew the halls east of that room fairly well. “Lady Godeleva of the Falcon Rising turned to violent ways, setting her men on travellers and such, when her House denied her an inheritance as was their right according to the laws of their country,” said Ygerna of the White Hands. “What do you think Lady Godeleva’s ancestors would say of her, truly?”

“That there’s much —” began the messenger; but Kate realised what was coming. She knew the smell, like coal and ashes and mushrooms.

“Wait!” she cried. “Don’t you smell — hear — goblins!”

“What?” said the messenger, confused. From the east, close by, came a goblin’s war-shriek. The messenger and his man drew their swords, as three goblins ran into the room.

“Go, my lord!” cried the other man.

The messenger took hold of Kate’s shoulder, and began to pull her north at a run. “Give me my sword!” ordered Ygerna. “I’ll fight alongside your man!” The messenger said nothing, but continued to run. Kate ran with him. After a moment so did Ygerna. Some moments later a scream came from behind them. Kate looked back, though she knew she shouldn’t. The man from the garden was dead, cut down by the goblins who were now coming after them.

He’d gained them several seconds, though. They ran, past a thin passage to the north-east, then a wider passage south-west. Kate knew where they were going.

And sure enough, in a few moments they’d run into the huge room where she’d first woken up in the dungeon. There’d been dozens of people sleeping all around her, back then. She guessed the scarred man had probably been one of them. She’d woken Domini, and the two of them had roused an old woman who’d said the sleeping people were evil, and they should run and hide. So they had, until they’d met Enheduanna and the others. Now Domini was dead, and Kate herself was something far different than she had been, and she’d come back to the big room filled with evil men and women.

As they entered the room, archers moved to the entryway behind them, and shot arrows down the hallway. The shrieks of the goblins were cut off. The room’s south-eastern wall had to be more than a hundred feet long, Kate thought, and three halls ran out of it; they’d come out of the southernmost entrance. Another hall ran out of the shorter opposite wall, to the north-west. There were lit torches mounted on brackets, and a lot of people. Maybe two dozen were in coats of mail. Some near the east wall were groaning or screaming in pain, bleeding from many wounds, with rough bandages around them. One of them was missing an arm. About a dozen slaves in poor tunics moved around the wounded, with ewers of water. Against the western wall were another dozen people with their hands bound, watching. Most of those people wore clothes that seemed fine and well-made, but which had become ragged and soiled. Kate could smell sweat and pee and blood. The smell of blood made her feel funny, tingly and almost hungry.

The messenger strode over to a tall woman with black-and-white hair tied back into a long tail. Her face was lean, and her thin lips were set in a grim line. She was surrounded by men and a few women in mail, who backed away as the scarred man approached. “Mother,” said the messenger, “what’s happening?”

“Mother?” repeated Ygerna.

“Goblins,” said the older woman. “They came from the west.” She handed the messenger a helm. “I have no idea what they want. They will not talk, only attack. We’ve turned them back twice. After the first assault I gathered us all here. If worst comes to worst, we can fall back to the north.”

“That would bring us close to —” began the messenger.

“I know,” said the woman. “But I’m not sure how many of these Elder-cursed goblins we have to deal with.” She looked at Kate. “I take it you, at least, met with success.”

“Princess Katherine of Aurelium,” said the messenger, “I present to you my lady mother, Godeleva of the Falcon Rising. Mother, here is Katherine, and here is Ygerna, a preceptor.”

The woman stared at them. Her eyes were wide, but not with surprise or fear. In fact her gaze was very steady, like her father’s best generals, and somehow made Kate nervous. “I wish I could entertain you under better circumstances,” said Lady Godeleva.

“Circumstances!” cried a hunchbacked old man nearby. “Chances, lances, romances! Dances, glances, entrances! Manses, expanses, advances!

“Shut the fool up,” ordered Godeleva of the Falcon Rising. Someone tried to punch the old man, who scuttled away, cackling.

There was a gasp next to Kate. It wasn’t very loud; she wouldn’t have heard it if she’d still been fully mortal. But she didn’t see who had made it. It seemed to have come from near Ygerna, but Kate didn’t think it had been the preceptor. There was a sound like whispering, then, and Ygerna said: “That’s why you wanted her, isn’t it? A marriage.”

Godeleva stared at her. “Correct,” she said, after a moment. “But this is not the time to discuss such matters.”

“What do you intend?” asked Ygerna.

“Now? To kill the goblins,” said Godeleva. “After? I will worry about that then.”

“I beg of you to tell me how I can regain my true form,” said Kate very carefully, pronouncing the f-sounds very nearly as well as when she had been a mortal, even though her teeth cut her lips.

“Later,” said Godeleva curtly. She nodded to the messenger, her son. “Tend to them,” she said, and went off to speak to some of her warriors.

“Later when?” Kate shouted after her.

“Not too long,” said the messenger. “Before we’re married. I hope.”

“Married?” asked Kate. The scarred man nodded.

“I’m Richard of the Falcon Rising,” he said. “Her son.”

“Her bastard,” said Ygerna. “I’ve heard of you, too, a little. Was there any truth in your promise to cure the child?”

Instead of answering, he asked her: “You’re from one of the Auberkish kingdoms, aren’t you?”

After a moment, Ygerna said: “From Logronek.” Kate didn’t see what this had to do with anything.

“When my mother was just a squire, she was held prisoner in Logronek,” Richard told her. “This would be about, oh, nine months before I was born.”

Ygerna stared at him. “I’m very sorry,” she said, “but I don’t see how that justifies anything.”

Richard shook his head. “Well,” he said, “at any rate, we do intend for my bride to be fully mortal.”

“Who says you’ll marry me?” whispered Kate. Richard smiled at her, not cruelly.

“It’s the way of the world,” he said. “A maid must have a man.” He looked at Ygerna. “I don’t know if that’s true of preceptors.”

“Maybe I don’t want to be mortal,” said Kate. “Maybe I want to stay a cobold, rather than marry you!”

Richard chuckled. “Ah, that’s the spirit,” he said. “Sadly, there are many things in life about which we have no choice.”

“Is this how your ancestors built your lineage?” asked Ygerna.

“This is a marriage,” said Richard, surprised. “Who can choose their spouse? A marriage is a matter of property, and titles, and such. We’re not commoners, she and I. It may be true in other circumstances that this marriage would be beneath her. Still, once we make our way out of the dungeon, then I will be the hero who returned her to her true self, and rescued her from the fabled Fell Gard. Those are no mean accomplishments.”

“You have a way out?” blurted Kate. Richard smiled his oddly gentle smile.

“We know a man who knows a way,” he said. “Or a thing like a man, at any rate.”

Kate heard more whispering while he talked, but there was no-one around them. Ygerna asked: “Even if you were a hero, would that be enough? If you will marry for property and position, your deeds are of no account. Is this, all this, the household into which the princess of Aurelium will marry? Two, perhaps three dozen warriors; some slaves; some prisoners?”

“We’ll ransom the prisoners once we’re out of Fell Gard, of course,” said Richard. “That was what we’d always intended, but … here we are.”

“It was this creature with a way to escape Fell Gard who told you about Kate, wasn’t it?” asked Ygerna. “What power is it?”

Richard didn’t quite laugh, but almost. “I’d better not tell you that.”

“Will it upset your mother?” asked Ygerna.

“Amuse yourselves,” said Richard, his voice rough. “I have goblins to fight. Don’t forget you’re prisoners.” He strode off toward Lady Godeleva.

Ygerna sighed. She seemed worried. “There’s something strange about all this, is what I think,” Kate announced.

“Indeed,” said Ygerna. She stared at nothing, and then turned to gaze at the prisoners, and then looked away.

“What I mean,” Kate went on, “is that Domini and I know — knew — anyway, we wandered all around the halls and rooms south of here. So … the goblins came out of the north-eastern passage in the crossroads-room, didn’t they?”

“Yes,” said Ygerna. “Why?”

Kate took a breath. “If they were retreating from attacking Godeleva’s men near here, then they were going southward, right?”

“Yes,” said Ygerna. “Some of them must have turned westward as they ran.”

“But that’s what I mean,” said Kate. “There’s no way to go westward, and end up in the hallway they did, unless they went through two different secret doors. One to the west, and then one to the south. They had to have known those doors to have attacked us at the crossroads.”

“Then … the goblins know the secrets of this court?” asked Ygerna. “They know its shape … that is strange.”

“They’re going to come back, aren’t they?” asked Kate. “They’re going to attack … these goblins almost killed us before, me and Amanos and Gral and everyone.”

“They will probably attack,” said Ygerna. “But when they do, we might find a chance to escape. We’ll have to run very fast. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” said Kate.

“Good,” said Ygerna. She sighed, as though furious with herself. “There is something foolish I must do.”

“What is it?” asked Kate. Ygerna went over to one of the prisoners, a dark-haired woman.

“You,” said Ygerna. “I know what you are.”

“What am I, then?” asked the woman, raising her eyebrow.

“You’re my enemy,” said Ygerna. “You are my opposite.”

“Thank you for that information,” said the woman coolly.

“It could not surprise you,” said Ygerna. “You must have known me, as well.”

“Must I?” said the woman.

“Have you nothing to say for yourself?”

“What is there to say? I have my morals, as you have yours. We happen to live in a world where one’s moral beliefs are sometimes given force by magic, or gods, or devils, or whatever you like. We shall see who is stronger.”

“It’s not a question of strength,” said Ygerna.

“It’s always a question of strength,” said the other woman.

“I know you cannot be without gifts,” said Ygerna. “If you wanted … I don’t understand you.”

“And there is the difference between us,” said the other woman. “I understand you perfectly.”

“No,” said Ygerna. “The difference is that I know what I do not know. You think you know what in fact you do not.”

“A logic puzzle?” asked the other woman.

“Meditate on it, if you like,” said Ygerna. She walked away. Kate went with her. She found a patch near a wall, away from the prisoners, and crouched. Ygerna put her hand on Kate’s shoulder. Kate realised Ygerna was shivering, as though very cold.

“Are you all right?” Kate whispered.

“Oak and Holly save us,” whispered Ygerna quickly under her breath, “give us words that will turn aside the wicked, and the powers that dwell where all is dark.” She made the Sign of Holly, and drew a shuddering breath. “I have never met a more evil mortal.”

“Where do you know her from?” asked Kate.

“I don’t know her at all,” said Ygerna. She sat against a wall, her eyes unfocused, tears dripping down her face. “I have never seen her before now.”

“But all that you said,” started Kate, and then didn’t know how to finish.

Ygerna was silent for a moment. Then she stood. “I’m sorry,” she said. As she did, bloodied warriors began to run into the room from the south-eastern passage.

“They’re coming!” cried one of the men. “We couldn’t hold!”

“Be ready,” Ygerna warned Kate.

“Yes,” said Kate. “But the other thing … you can tell me. I mean, I’d like to know. If you want.” Ygerna smiled at her, sadly, but as though cheered by what Kate had said. I’m not a cobold to her, thought Kate. And then thought, no, I am, but it doesn’t mean anything. To her I am just exactly the person that I really am, and she loves me for it. She felt warm, and safe. Ygerna was strong.

“I have been told that I am a preceptor,” she said. “But I don’t understand what that means. I don’t think very many people do. I … I have been told that I’m a good person. I am reluctant to believe this. Only sometimes I know things. Do you think there can be … an opposite to a preceptor? Someone naturally and wholly wicked?”

“Like a black knight?” asked Kate.

Ygerna looked up, thinking, trying to find words. “An un-preceptor, a, a …I don’t know. I don’t understand myself, or what I am, and I have chosen to make an enemy where I perhaps did not need to. No, I needed to. You can’t … stand aside.”

“You did right,” said Kate. “You must have. You’re a preceptor, and you’re better than anyone else.”

“But, Kate, I’m not any better than anyone else,” said Ygerna, sounding almost helpless. “I’m not a particularly good person. I try to do what seems right to me, but it’s so difficult, and so often I think I get things wrong, I just … oh, I don’t know.”

“It’s all right,” said Kate, patting her wrist with a clawed hand.

“It’s not,” said Ygerna. “There is a right and a wrong in the world, and the difference between them is not very difficult to understand. Why then is it so hard to be sure, so easy to doubt?”

Kate tried to think of an answer, but couldn’t. She was saved from having to say anything by Richard coming to Ygerna. He held up her sword. “Will you swear not to wield this against us, and to yield it up once I or my mother command it?”

“Yes,” said Ygerna. “I swear it upon the Three Unions.”

“Very good,” said Richard. “Knowing what you are, I trust your oath.” He laughed and threw her the sword. “Make use of it for the house of the Falcon Rising,” he said. He left and went to the prisoners, to the woman Ygerna had called her enemy. He tossed her something, a coin or ring, maybe. “And you may have this back until we call for it again,” Kate heard him say. “My mother has a soft heart for her old loyalty. But don’t presume on it.” He returned to Ygerna. “Come.”

Kate followed them. Archers were firing down the easternmost hall, which she knew went southeast and then turned northeast. Kate could see goblins charging around the corner. The archers were taking a terrible toll of them, but the goblins kept coming, as though in a frenzy, so many, using their own dead as shields, that the arrows only slowed their advance and could not stop them.

Lady Godeleva drew her sword. So did Richard and Ygerna and the warriors around them. “Fight!” cried Godeleva. “Throw them back! We will not yield these halls!” Then the goblins were on them.

Godeleva and Richard stood at the entrance to the hall, as the archers ran. For a minute Kate thought the two of them might hold the goblins back. They were ferociously skilled fighters, in full armour, and no more than three goblins could come against them at once, in the narrow corridor. Kate saw Richard’s sword almost lazily lick out and crack a goblin’s skull. Godeleva cried “Wessick and the Manticore!” and killed another.

But then, of course, the goblins ran up the walls, their naked feet gripping the stone. They ran right over the heads of the outlaw knights, and into the large chamber. The archers fired at them, desperately.

A goblin fell from a wall, dropping thirty feet to land with a sick crunch. More came, three, six, a dozen. A goblin leaped at Ygerna, who was too slow to dodge. The goblin’s blade chopped into her armour. She stumbled back, but her return stroke killed the thing. Kate ran to help, but a goblin leaped toward her. For a moment she saw it falling through the air right for her, its sword ready to fall in a killing stroke.

Domini, thought Kate.

Then the goblin impaled itself on a halberd.

Gryselde threw the corpse aside, at another goblin that was about to attack the prisoners.

“What!” cried Kate.

Everything was confusion. The outlaws were running. Godeleva and Richard were pointing to the northern hall and yelling, directing their men to take up their wounded and go. Ygerna had drawn her sword, standing before the prisoners, whose bonds were gone. “For freedom!” she cried. “Here is the path! You slaves! Prisoners! Come to freedom!”

A goblin went to attack Ygerna. Gryselde killed it. Kate did not understand what the sorine was doing there.

Another goblin attacked Kate. She dodged, and swung a clawed hand at it, and another, and then bit it on the arm. It howled, and she tore its throat out with a claw.

She looked at it fall. She felt very far away. It didn’t really happen, she thought. Except it had. She tasted the goblin’s blood in her mouth. It had all happened so fast.

Something in her stomach, in her skin and bones, was happy.

Then there was another goblin, that had come up on her while she was distracted and not fighting. It raised its blade —

And a yowling Concordia Salus was all over it.

Gryselde fell back to stand before Kate. “A charm from the dwimmerlaik!” she told her. “I was with you, invisible, all the way. Concordia too. We’ve freed the prisoners. Now we’ll return together.”

“The garden,” said Kate. “There were archers —”

“We knew they’d have watchers,” said Gryselde. “So Gamelyn suggested we make it look as though we had sent followers after you.” The sorine tried to lead Kate toward the south-easternmost hall. Ygerna was shouting, directing the prisoners and slaves, and any outlaws who’d listen, the same way.

“Freedom!” cried Ygerna. Kate ran toward her. The dark-haired woman got to the preceptor first.

“Will you take me with you, too?” the woman asked.

Ygerna looked at her for a moment. Then nodded. “All of you!” cried Ygerna to the prisoners and the slaves, and even to the few remaining bandits. She took a torch from the wall. “All of you! Go! Take this light! I will follow.”

Ygerna pointed; they ran. The woman touched her on the arm as she passed, and smiled. Kate could just hear what she said to Ygerna: “The difference between us, preceptor, is that you make people feel safe, and you want to make them feel safe. I make them afraid, and I want to make them afraid.” And then she had run on her way.

Kate looked back. Lady Godeleva was at the northern end of the hall, acting as a rear-guard along with her son. Archers behind them fired into the room, driving the goblins back. The goblins were gathering in the north-east of the room, one of them calling out orders. “Come on!” Gryselde called to Kate.

Kate glanced at Ygerna, who left, with Concordia on her shoulder, to follow the prisoners down the most southerly of the entrances to the big room. Kate bit her lip and ran toward Godeleva. “Wait!” she cried. “Lady Godeleva! Lady Godeleva!” A big goblin tried to attack Kate, but slipped in the blood all over the floor. Kate dodged around him and reached the knight. “How will I get back to normal?” she shouted. “How? Who told you?”

Godeleva laughed, and shouted “Your dreams, child!” Then she ducked away, down the northern hall.

Kate took a step after her. But someone caught her arm.

It was Gryselde. “We have to go,” said the sorine. “Now!”

She dragged Kate back through the room. The goblins saw them, and charged, shrieking. Gryselde started to run, and Kate with her, though she could not help looking back northward. They passed three outlaws, who had been driven away from the rest by the fighting. Gryselde killed the last goblin facing them and cried “Come!”

They ran down the hall, past the branching passage to the south-west, and then Kate shouted “Wait! They’re ahead, too!” She could see the goblins, running along the walls and ceiling.

“Back!” cried Gryselde. “Down the other hall!”

They retreated quickly, into the south-west passage. One of the bandits paused: “No!” he cried. “Not that way! The —” He screamed, as a goblin fell on him and killed him. Gryselde knocked it back with a sweep of her halberd, and Kate killed it by clawing its belly. She didn’t know how she knew to do that; but she did it.

“Go!” cried Gryselde. They went, the goblins after them. They’re playing with us, thought Kate. Three, four, five goblins were chasing them, shrieking. They came to a room. There were hallways out of it to left and right, but to the left — the west — more goblins were coming. Kate had no idea where they’d come to. They ran right.

Then Kate screamed. She was the only one who could see it, she knew right away; it was sitting in the eastern hall, watching them, and the torchlight hadn’t reached it. It opened its mouth, as though yawning —

Kate leaped on Gryselde, and knocked her down to the floor. Above them pale silvery fire roared. The outlaws died, burnt to a crisp. The goblins died, reduced at once to ash. Everything above them, as they lay on the floor, was annihilated.

“Well, then,” said the dragon. “And who are you?


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