The Fell Gard Codices


Ygerna knew she was by nature choleric, which was to say wrathful. Evil angered her. But when it did she would think: how can I be sure what is evil? And then she would be angry at her own uncertainty, and also at her own hasty judgement. She wanted to be good, but what was good supposed to be?

Therefore when the cat led her through the halls to the garden room, and then stopped her, and flew about the chamber in confusion, Ygerna of course felt herself get angry; but, with long experience of her own nature, knew to divert that anger to more profitable ends.

She listened for soundss of pursuit. None. She looked at the garden, closely; no danger that she could see, but there were signs of some recent disturbance, she judged, ivy torn away from one wall and what looked like drops of blood upon the path. And mixed with the scent of thyme and lilac there was a fading stink, like —

— well, say it: like the woman who was her enemy.

She looked over the men and women with her. Two dozen, perhaps a bit more; thirteen former prisoners, the rest servants or slaves. “Give me a sword,” one of the male prisoners called out. “Let me go pay back those whoresons! By your leave.”

“Where are we going?” one of the women wanted to know. The prisoners burst out into a babble of many voices; the slaves wept, or looked about in confusion. Ygerna’s enemy stood aside, her arms folded, smiling and watching.


Mirabilis couldn’t keep from smiling. The idiot preceptor had led them the wrong way. There was a lesson in that, she thought. To start with: don’t trust a cat. And more profoundly: trust no one. And above all: there is no right way, only the way you make for yourself.

She almost laughed as the petty-knights and fops and unbroken maids began to babble in the silvery ætheric light. The poor preceptor was so confused, staring vacantly at all of them.

Then one of the prisoners spoke up. The foreign priest, of course: John of the Inner Book. He was formidable, she had to admit. Very tall and very lean, his skin leathery, his hair black; his eyes light blue or grey, striking against the rest of him. No surprise he had been the one with the wit to take the torch from the preceptor when they had all run from the goblins. “Brothers and sisters, let the lady knight be,” he said. Very soft, his voice. And yet it cut through the rest of the gibbering. He had that knack, for being heard with minimal effort, for being felt. For being feared, Mirabilis thought. She respected that, though of course she did not fear him herself. He did not move, standing under the flickering light of the torch he held. “Let her guide us.”

“She set herself up as leader,” Mirabilis said. “Where’s she think she’s taking us?”

“I have friends,” the knight said. “I thought they were in this direction. They must have gone elsewhere. Follow me, I beg you all.”

The cat flew back to the west, and the preceptor set out after it. Mirabilis considered going her own way. But no, she’d come this far; and there was still the contract to deal with. She’d see what she could get out of these overprivileged fools. And perhaps from the preceptor’s friends, as well. Who knew? Maybe even the preceptor herself … and wouldn’t that be a rich prize, if she could manage it?

Intrigued, she went off after the others. Not following, as such. Never that. But her path lay in the same direction as theirs for a little longer yet.


The cat led Ygerna back westward. She was worried they’d encounter the goblins again, but no, the cat flew south and then eastward. They went down a long hall, past a trap-door, and came to a library; an empty room with dusty books on the shelves, and a few more books scattered here and there on the floor. A torch was burning in a bracket, and Ygerna smelled burning pitch mixed with mildew. Three of the sorine’s House were in the library: the girl Hochelaga, and two of the men.

“Concordia!” cried Hochelaga, holding her arms out for a hug. The cat flew right toward her, past her arms, and perched on her head. Hochelaga stumbled, and went back to the books she’d been reading under her torch. Some that she had already examined were beside her, set in a circle she’d chalked on the floor with a star inside it, and it seemed to Ygerna that shadows moved within that circle in a way that was not right; she smelled it again, that unnatural stink. The tall man that carried their own torch set it in a bracket nearby, and stepped back from the island of light the two brands together made in the room.

“Where’s Gryselde?” asked the young man. What was his name again?

“I don’t know,” Ygerna told him. “We were separated. Kate’s with her. I thought I should get these folk to safety, and then go back for them. Are the others —”

“There is no safety,” said the old man. “Not any more.”


It was, Mirabilis thought, really too funny.

The idiot preceptor’s idiot friends had been driven from their sanctuary by a pack of orcs. Who knew where they were now? “If we wait,” the old man insisted, “they’ll find us sooner or later. But on the other hand, while Ulixa knows where we are, we don’t know where she’s gone.” The little girl had her nose buried in the books, stacks of them set under the torch. Mirabilis noticed that one of the books within the magic circle had bloodstones set in its rotting leather binding.

She gave no sign of what she had seen. “Why should we bother?” Mirabilis asked. She knew she was sneering; she couldn’t help it, really. ‘Sneering’ was what the world called it when you couldn’t keep from smiling at the stupidity all about you. Why should she even try not to sneer? The superior person had a right to her pleasures. Had a right, in fact, to everything she could take for herself. “Here we are,” she went on, “and some of us are knights. Aren’t we? We can use the preceptor’s sword to cut limbs from the trees in the garden, and make cudgels for ourselves. Then we fight our way back to the room the bandits used for an armoury. If we’re armed properly, we’ll manage a better showing than that outlaw rabble, and put the goblins to flight. From there it’s just a matter of finding a way out. Who’s with me?”

Nonsense, of course, but it sounded fine. She thought she might be able to argue them around, but then:

“There will be no attack,” said the sorine, walking through the eastern door.


Once Gryselde had arrived Ygerna felt keenly her own inadequacies. The sorine seemed utterly unsurprised by what she’d found; but with a simple statement, and complete self-confidence, assumed control of the situation. She stepped forward into the torchlight, while the former prisoners and slaves watched from the shadows beyond; she named herself, and invited everyone to give their own names. Atrahasis, Diccon; the old man, the young one, who was grinning madly now the sorine was back — Ygerna marveled at the loyalty she could inspire. Ygerna learned then that her enemy’s name was Mirabilis.

“My name is Thomas of the Crossed Roads,” said one of the younger prisoners. He was perhaps fifteen, or a little older, slim and fair-haired. “I and my chaplain, John of the Inner Book, were travelling with these friends in the White Mountains, when we were captured by the outlaws. We were taken to a citadel of theirs, and then — we found ourselves here.”

“We were going to be married!” burst out one of the girls. She reached out and took Thomas’ hand; the boy had a smile at once melancholic, sheepish, and regretful. He had not meant to reveal the marriage, Ygerna realised. Why would he be dishonest?

The rest of them gave their names; some were knights and were boastful, others had been servants of the outlaws and were unsure or frightened. It seemed that those who were not servants were all of the same party, students under the priest John, and had gone together into the mountains for the wedding he was to celebrate between his master Thomas and the girl named Joya of the Dawn Stars. How many of them, Ygerna wondered, were lying for some reason of their own, or not saying something that needed to be said? She looked at Mirabilis, who was grinning at her. Why had she been with this party?


The sorine gave a little talk after the introductions had been done. She was trying to make a House, she said. A House, in Fell Gard, made up of survivors from the outer world, and dungeon folk like Diccon. Mirabilis could almost admire the ambition, but doubted a sorine had the willingness to shed blood that one would need to survive in Fell Gard.

“Don’t you think you’re doomed to fail?” she said, as though idly. Where could she lead this situation, she thought; and, how could she work her way to the bloodstone book? (Should she try for the book? — But yes, yes, she should, entertain no doubt, doubt was for the weak.)

“How so?” said the sorine.

“In Fell Gard,” Mirabilis told her, “we see the true state of nature — brutal war of all against all.” She looked to Diccon. “Is this not so?”

“Yes and also no,” he said. “In some ways, in some places. But —”

“The superior creature fights their way to what they want,” she overrode him. “There’s a purity to that. Strength must be served, and mortals make a community only when their betters force them. You will have to hand down laws, and punish, and force those below you to do what you want — and meanwhile fight those not of your House every moment.”

“I will do what I must,” said the sorine.

Mirabilis did not expect the preceptor to speak: “Within reason, surely,” said the knight to the sorine. As if hating her own words, she went on: “There are speaking creatures already in Fell Gard … if this is their home, we must acknowledge that.”

(How to get the book out of the circle, that was the problem. Mirabilis watched the shadows while the others talked. Did she dare risk trying it herself?)

“We have the right to seek a better life,” said the sorine. “Indeed, to make it for ourselves. I want us all to be safe. If you will follow me, I will lead you to a place where we can be safer than we are now.”


John of the Inner Book watched them talk. He knew the others were waiting for him to intervene. Their eyes were on him, in the darkness, though he paid them no mind. When the sorine spoke of safety, however, he decided it was time to speak up. He took a step toward the torches, out of the darkness.

“Do you think we are in danger at this moment?” he asked.

“No,” said the sorine. “In fact, I believe we should wait here a little longer, as there are others of my House who are coming this way. When they have joined us, we should go on at once.”

“Where?” asked the knight who had saved them. The sorine sighed.

“In time,” she said, “I will be able to explain.”

“As we have some time now,” said John, “perhaps you might begin.”

The sorine told them a story of how she and some others had explored the dungeon, and begun the House she dreamed of. As she spoke, the little girl, bored, looked through the books all about, pointing one or another out to the old man and the young. But the slaves of the outlaws, most of them women, listened as the sorine talked. Some of them seemed hopeful. Some of them were uninterested.

And his own odd flock? None of them had told exactly who they were, or why they had all come together, or Thomas’ origin. Not even Joya was that unwise, thankfully. Although all noble, they listened respectfully to the sorine’s tale. They would take their cue from him; and, of course, from Thomas. Who would follow John’s lead.

(There was also Mirabilis to think about, who was not truly one of them. No, not one of them, at all. What if she gave away who they all were? Worry about that when it happens, he decided. He reminded himself: One controls oneself only, and should seek nothing more. So long as that control is absolute, what more is needed? Believe that the best will come, though all experience says that the worst is inevitable.)

When she had done, John said: “It seems your House is in great difficulty, Sorine. You are scattered in small groups across the dungeon; indeed you are on the point of extinction, so far as I can see.”

“And yet here I am,” she said. “Wait to see if William and the others I have named reach this room.”

“You have not said where you went, after you were separated from us when the goblins attacked the outlaws,” said Lucius of the Yellow Leaves.

“No,” said the sorine. “I have not. I ask you to trust me that I have reason.”

“Let us say your people return,” said John suddenly. “Let us say your House re-forms. What do you want of us? What do you expect us to contribute? And what should we look for, from your people?”

“Safety,” she said at once. “And a community, that can do together what no one person can do for themselves.” Mirabilis laughed at this. “We can share work, and explore, and find the Fell Gard Codices, and therefore find a way out of the dungeon,” the sorine concluded.

“And how do you expect to keep your House harmonious?” John asked. “What if, let us say, some members have a quarrel from their lives outside the dungeon?”

“If they cannot exist peacefully within the community, they must be banished,” she said.

Further discussion was interrupted by the arrival of a group of ratmen.


Mirabilis watched Gryselde step forward, her hands open, and take the forepaws of one of the rat-things. Others, Mirabilis noticed, were hurt; bleeding, limping. Diccon spoke to them, haltingly, as the slaves and fops backed away from them into the darkness beyond the torchlight. Mirabilis knew the tongue a little herself: Ibia, the language of the things under the earth. The ratmen seemed to be saying something about enemies.

Mirabilis saw that Hochelaga was distracted by the newcomers, and took a step closer to the book. The bloodstones set in leather seemed to wink at her, in the torchlight. The slaves and fools in the dark watched her. They are helpless, she thought. Power is here for me alone, if I will reach out to take it.

“Did you scribe that circle, child?” Mirabilis whispered.

“Yes,” said Hochelaga. “Those books are magical, so I thought it would be safer to have them bound like that. I suppose that was good, since one of the books seems to have called some kind of shadow-demons. The others might have texts in them, I’m not sure.”

“You’re not sure if they have magic?” repeated Mirabilis. “What sort of power is that, that leaves you unsure?”

The girl frowned. “Magic isn’t power,” she said. “It’s — you can’t know, because a text has to work you. A charm has to inspire you. So … well, sometimes you know right away, because of the way it’s made. But sometimes …” she hunted for words. “It’s difficult to explain,” she concluded.

“Power,” said Mirabilis, “always makes itself felt.” She thought she knew, now, what to do.

Had she not been told that she would find signs? Of course there would be a price for the power she’d been given. But she never meant to pay it. No, she would take that power, and turn it against —

“Goblins!” said Diccon. “They’ve driven the murineans out of their homes. They’re very near.”

“It seems we should go on,” said John of the Inner Book.

“No,” said Gryselde. “I tell you friends are coming. They won’t be long, now, I’m sure of it.”

Mirabilis turned, and laughed. “Will they arrive before or after these goblins?” she asked. She saw the sorine’s face clearly in the torchlight; it was unreadable. Mirabilis knew her own would be in shadow, with the torches behind her head.

“We can flee westward, if they are too many,” said Gryselde.

Mirabilis snorted. “So we can be killed by the orcs that drove your friends away,” she said. The ratmen watched them, wordless, confused.

“We will go north, not south,” said Gryselde. “I know what halls we must take.”

“How do you know this?” Mirabilis demanded. She pointed at Gryselde. “Did someone tell you this, when you abandoned your Kate?”

“I did not abandon her,” said Gryselde softly.

“And yet, she’s not here,” Mirabilis said. “Diccon … if someone in some group of yours, one of your bands, if they leave the band, and then come back to you acting strangely … what would you think?”

“What do you mean?” he asked. She knew he knew.

“Might they be under the domination of something else?” she asked. “Some power, some magic?”

“Nonsense,” said Gryselde.

“It’s possible,” Diccon allowed, “but I don’t — I mean, it’s not, well, it’s not common.”

“I trust Gryselde,” said Ygerna suddenly, stepping fully into the light. There were gasps in the shadows; by some trick of the torchlight the plates of her armour seemed to gleam.

Mirabilis laughed. “You? You were asking her what right she had to build a House in Fell Gard!”

“Nevertheless, I believe she means well,” said Ygerna.

“That … would not necessarily overcome an enchantment,” said Atrahasis.

“Mirabilis is trying to divide us,” said Ygerna.

“Why?” asked John. Mirabilis smirked.

“I could never know,” whispered Ygerna. “And yet, for reasons I cannot fathom, she wants us dead.” She looked at Mirabilis. “Don’t you?”


“Why would I want that?” Mirabilis asked her, sneering; a smile that boded no good, that had no humour or warmth or fellow-feeling behind it, only joy in someone else’s suffering.

Ygerna knew that Mirabilis meant the question not for her, but for the other people in the room, to make them doubt, to make them think the way Mirabilis did. Her every statement since they had come to the library had been a rhetorical play for the people around them. To what end, Ygerna did not know, other than to make them question only what Mirabilis wanted questioned and nothing else. For herself, Ygerna did not think it mattered who was listening; she could only speak the truth as best she understood it. “I think that is who you are,” she said to Mirabilis. “I wish it wasn’t so. I wish I could help you.”

“I don’t need help,” Mirabilis snapped. “Don’t insult me.”

“It was no insult,” said Ygerna. “We all need help, from time to time.”

“The ratmen will come with us when we go,” said Gryselde. “We will help them. Diccon, tell them this, please.” The prisoners and servants in the dark beyond the torchlight watched Diccon stumble through the slithering Ibian words.

With us?” said Mirabilis. “And if they turn on us? They’re rats, for pity’s sake! How can we trust them?”

“I want no death,” said Gryselde softly, as Diccon spoke. “I want no war. And yet here we are. What can I do, but what I think to be right for everyone around me? What can I do, but try to protect the innocent?”

“No one is innocent,” Mirabilis said.


The time had come, Mirabilis decided. Best make her play. “No one is innocent!” she cried again. “Especially not these — rats!” She grabbed one of the ratmen by the shoulder, twisted, and threw him through Hochelaga’s circle. Books flew everywhere; the bloodstone-bound volume was knocked away from the scribble on the floor. Shadows wrapped themselves around the fallen rat-thing. Hochelaga shrieked. Gryselde ran to the fallen murinean.

The other ratmen moved to take Mirabilis, but she was too fast, grabbing the bloodstone book. The torchlight flickered. “We all have our sins,” she said, as shadows whirled about her, and then bowed to her. “We all know this! In the eyes of heaven, no mortal soul deserves any better than a painful death, and that is what they give us, every one, sooner or later. We are villains, all of us, every one! Your only hope —” why was she saying this? It was not what she meant to say. She passed her hand over the cover of the book, over the warming stones — “Your only hope is to be the greatest villain you can be.” Well, she thought, it is true, what I have said. Bitter as the truth always tastes.

“Death is a comfort,” said Gryselde, kneeling by the murinean. She stared at Mirabilis. “And we are all the heroes of our own stories, so long as we wish it.”

Mirabilis looked around her, smiling, at the people she could not see. The raped and broken slaves. The boy-knights who dreamed of killing things, telling themselves it would be in the cause of right. The girls who had been taught to want husbands and babies, and thought these things were their own desires. The foolish and the weak, the privileged and the impotent, the self-regarding brutal and the self-pitying beaten: her audience, upon whom she would exert her will.

A shadowy hand crept over Mirabilis’ shoulder, to embrace her. Another shadow crawled along the wall. She could feel them, these shadows, their snivelling traitorous spirits. The sparks of red in the green of the bloodstones shone bright as a sunset. “We are heroes only if we have power,” she said. “And we do, we have this magic, now! Let us go, fall upon the goblins, and have done with them! Then we can build a House, such a House as will make Fell Gard tremble!”

It was all nonsense, what she was saying. The truth was that she didn’t care about her words. The truth was that she had sworn to Sigwarynye, devil-queen of bloodstones, to lead seven souls or more to death, or else forfeit her own soul. And now the goblins and the shadows would let her do that, easily.

But then the real truth of that was that she didn’t care about reasons, either. She’d have done anyway all that she had done, contract or no. Because she was a villain. Because she had chosen to be a villain, and because she was strong, acting of her own will, where these others sat in the darkness and only watched, and listened to her, and let her shape them. Because she was not like them, she would control them. Because she felt like it. Because she could.

And because she had no doubt she could convince them, while they doubted everything, she knew she would succeed.

So she thought. She’d never know if she was right; no-one would.

The preceptor stepped forward, wordless, and set her hands on the book, to wrest it away from Mirabilis. It burst into flame. Neither of them felt it. The flames were not of the physical world. They were fires of the spirit, and Mirabilis could feel Ygerna’s spirit, through the medium of the book; could feel the war between who they were.

No-one else could reach them, now, as the fires grew around them. Mirabilis would not yield the book. Why should she? She had all the power. The shadows were still there, among the white fire and green fire and blue fire. The shadows passed over the knight; a shadowy hand took off her helm, other hands wrapped themselves round her throat, talons drifted across her face toward her widening eyes. Mirabilis laughed, knowing she’d won, seeing no hope in those eyes, no certainty. No strength.

The eastern door opened.


Ygerna heard the door open behind her. More people — who? She didn’t know. It reminded her: she was fighting for more than herself. She tried to focus her will, her determination, her sense of justice, her outrage — but the more she did this the more the shadows seemed to grow about her, choking her. The selfhood of Mirabilis oppressed her, the shadows would kill her. Let them come, she told herself. It didn’t matter, she would fight! For they were wicked, and she was standing in defense of the innocent! Let it be!

The shadows grew around her, and covered her eyes, and plucked at her lids. She thought: what is right, truly? And she realised, horrified, there in the heart of spiritual struggle, surrounded by shadows — that she really did not know.

Certainly she was doing what she thought was right. And yet what did that mean? She almost threw up when she realised she could not say. Why was Mirabilis that much more wrong than anyone else? If she meant to kill the goblins, but the goblins planned to kill all the mortals — what was evil, there?

Who was to judge?

Ygerna realised that belief in an absolute good and evil was at the foundation of who Mirabilis was; she believed in evil so that she could say she had chosen it.

And along with that, Ygerna realised that she herself was stuck in a more radical uncertainty, and wanted only to do what was best for everyone.

And what was that?

She had no answer.

She realised that all she knew was that she knew nothing.

There was a burst of light as the fires around them burned brighter, hotter, and the shadows fled, and Mirabilis shrieked.

Ygerna felt the book crumble into ash, and somehow also she felt Mirabilis fall back, away from her.

She looked about. Little flickers of fire were everywhere on the stones of the floor, and for the first time she could see all the library, all the people watching her. Young and old, male and female. Scars and wrinkles and eyelashes and cheekbones; all the faces, of all the different people that had led their different lives, the lights shining upon them all. Only Mirabilis had a shadow still wrapped about her.

Behind her, an elf-maiden and dwarf and cobold and several mortals stood, stunned, by the western door.


Mirabilis knew when she was beaten. Gryselde, holding Hochelaga on the floor, knew it too. “Give over,” she said, as Mirabilis stumbled to the western door, the shadow crawling behind her. “Swear oaths to us! You don’t have to go alone!”

At the door, Mirabilis laughed. “I know what I am,” she called to Gryselde. “I have ceased to justify my deeds to myself. Oh, I am determined to prove a plain-dealing villain! And I tell you it is better to rule among the demons of the low courts, than to serve in the holy House of your dreams!”

So saying, she ran into the darkness to the west.


“Let her go,” said Gryselde. Ygerna stared after her, feeling a profound sense of waste. As when she read a story where everyone died at the end.

“No,” said a pudgy man behind her, with receding hair and a bright yellow tooth. “That — I saw just a bit, but — we should go after her, kill her now.”

Gryselde sighed. “There is the right and the wrong of it to weigh,” she said, “but the truth as well is that we haven’t time. I was told that when you all came to the library we should go westward at once. Ulixa and the others are in danger, and only we have a chance to save them. I cannot say how I know. Believe me, I pray you, that Kate’s life is at stake. We must go westward, and we must go now.” So saying, she led the way to the western door.

“Wait,” said one of the new mortals. “We came — we were told there would be a library —”

“You will have time to examine it later,” said Gryselde. “Now, we must go! Come along!”

Ygerna remembered: “Sorine,” she said. “I thought — I would like to look for the man Ulric. I could join you — wherever you’re going.”

“We will see Ulric soon,” said Gryselde. “I can promise you that.” She sighed again. “I wish I could tell you all that I know,” she said. “There are reasons I cannot. The choice is simple: we go westward, now, this moment, or our friends will die. What shall we do, then?”

There were times, Ygerna thought, when it felt good to have a simple choice before you.

“To the west!” she cried, drawing her sword.

And, indeed, after rather more talk than the sorine liked, they went.

On the way, Ygerna fell into step beside a tall man with dark hair and a harp on his back. “You’re William?” she asked. “The singer?”

“That’s so,” he allowed.

“I’m a friend,” she said. “Of your — of the sorine’s House. I’m a knight. A — some say a preceptor. I —”

“A what?” he asked.

“Tell me,” she said, “as you are a poet and tale-teller — is it true we are all heroes? That is, each in our own tales, at least?” Am I a hero? she wanted to ask. I, who do not know right from wrong, who defeated a villain, somehow, only because, it seems, of the magnitude of my own lack of conviction?

“Ah?” William said, and thought about it. “I suppose I would agree with that,” he said. “Yes, if you like. Though it’s also true that to other people we’re each supporting characters, villains …” he looked ahead to the elf-maiden: “… love interests, thank the gods.”

She might have been satisfied, if that had been all; but he added: “It all depends on your point of view, I suppose.”

Ygerna sighed. William looked at her, puzzled.

“You do not know,” she said, remembering her fear of the moral choices she could not understand, confirmed in nothing but her uncertainty, “how terrible these words are.”


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One Response to “Part 3, Chapter 13: Power in Flames and Shadows”

  1. Perfidius the Rogue

    ‘I don’t know’ is always a bloody good start.


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