The Fell Gard Codices


There were, Gryselde knew, certain things that had to happen and certain things she had to do; within those bounds, there was much freedom, and indeed much confusion, but less of both as time went on.

Sir Hugh accepted, however partially, the need for preparations, and ordered his trumpeter to go through Innsdene, rousing the people and calling a muster. Then Gryselde and the knight spoke for a time in his manor hall, and Hugh explained his plans. He would place most of his men-at-arms at the entrances to both the east and north halls, the directions from which, Gryselde assured him, danger threatened; he would also post two more men by the southern hall, with a trumpeter to sound an alert in the event danger threatened there. He refused to allow Gryselde’s House sole responsibility for guarding either the northern or eastern halls. Further, he refused to allow those of the House who would not fight to take shelter in the church or manor. “The people of Innsdene must have priority there,” he said, “and if your House wishes to have the privilege of a separate establishment from the town, then all who choose to belong to the House must be expected to take part in the town’s defense. Which is to say that to gain the privilege one must fulfill one’s responsibility.”

Sir Hugh expected to raise fewer soldiers than Gryselde might have imagined; as it happened, many of Hugh’s companion knights had been away from the town when it had been pulled into the dungeon. He planned on mustering just over a score of fighters, which nevertheless represented most of the able-bodied men of the village, as well as a couple of women trained at arms. Hugh told her he would post half of his men by the wide northern hall, a quarter by the eastern hall, and the last quarter, which he would lead himself, to the south of the church, where they would remain as a reserve. The units by the halls would also be equipped with wooden barricades which the villagers had prepared soon after finding themselves in Fell Gard, pine walls that completely covered the ten-foot-high archways.

“How will your people support me?” Sir Hugh asked, when he had set all these plans out.

“I don’t know,” said Gryselde. “I must speak with my people, especially such of them as are skilled at war. I will find you later, by the church, I expect. We will discuss matters there.”

Sir Hugh was not pleased, but Gryselde insisted that she was not a warrior, and could not answer for the disposition of her forces. In due course, he allowed her to leave.

Gryselde found Tilde waiting outside the manor house. “What’s going on?” the wizard asked. “Why aren’t we taking the goblet to the elves?”

“We must see to the defense of Innsdene first,” Gryselde told her.

“I’m just a foolish wizard, but wouldn’t half-a-dozen skilled elven fighters help a bit in that?” asked Tilde.

“Aura!” cried Gryselde. At once the sylph was at her side. “Find Amanos, Ygerna … Geoffrey, I suppose, to translate … Ulixa … Yune … and John of the Inner Book. Ask them to come to me at the inn-yard. Then, once you’ve spoken with them, find everyone else, all that are of our House, and send them to join us.”

“What about the elves?” demanded Tilde. “The orcs could find them any monent — if they haven’t already.”

Gryselde, of course, had assurances that this was not so. She did not want to think of the nature of these assurances; did not want to remember the dragon, whispering to her of plans and death, setting out for her the shape of what would be.

“The elves must wait,” said Gryselde. “We will go, you and I, when our plans are made.” Tilde stared as Gryselde went off to the council she had called, but in the end trailed along after her.

They talked in the yard surrounded on three sides by the u-shaped inn building, serving-girls and bleary-eyed inn-guests passing by to every hand. On the whole, the talks went more smoothly than Gryselde had expected. Gryselde told them all about Sir Hugh’s plans, and added that she and Tilde would go to the elves as soon as possible, and hopefully bring them back to the cave to help in whatever battle would come. “Atrahasis is known to them,” she said, “but at his age he is slow, while Tilde is at least known to Kezia. Now.  I have no experience with this manner of war. Which of you will take command?”

“I’m no fighter,” said Ulixa. Gryselde nodded.

“No,” she said. “But someone must oversee the non-combatants. I think you are well fit for that. Protect them as best you can. And for the warriors?”

Ygerna bowed to Amanos. “Lady,” she said, “you are better known to this company.” Geoffrey translated, and Amanos nodded.

“Vartha?” asked John, his eyebrows raised.

Ygerna’s action did not please Gryselde; Amanos said something, and Geoffrey translated again. “She says she will take the command, though she warns that it will be difficult to have a commander who speaks a different language from the soldiers,” said Geoffrey. “But it is also good to have a knight with experience of war, and who knows the men and women that are fighting under her.”

“Hmm,” said John.

Geoffrey shrugged. “She wants me for her lieutenant,” he said. Amanos went on. “What are our forces,” Geoffrey asked for her, “and what are we fighting against?”

“Darklings,” said Gryselde. “Perhaps goblins, and goblinkin.”

Geoffrey and Amanos spoke for a moment. “This comes from the prisoner?” Geoffrey asked.

“It is what I have learned,” said Gryselde. “As for our forces — our House, and whoever will fight with us.” She told them of Hugh’s preparations. At that point, fittingly enough, others began to filter into the inn-yard, and as they assembled Amanos was able to begin arranging matters as she wished. Gryselde almost regretted that she had not been forced to say more. Push me, she thought, make me tell the truth. But that would be disastrous. Or so she believed.

The murineans chose to fight alongside the mortals; the caladrius, that was now asleep in a high tree, had healed them, and they wanted revenge if the goblins that had attacked them before should come again. The goblin Hodekin, the one Ulixa had freed with Reprisal, said he would fight with them too. Amanos accepted this, though none of them knew whether to trust him or not. The corvina insisted without words on standing with Ulixa, which was well enough; she and those with her would have a guard. Ulric came to them simply to say that he would remain with the four female cervidwen (four: the one that had gone to the huldrafolk had evidently returned). “The great work is almost complete,” said Ulric.

Gryselde nodded at that. She knew it well. Indeed on that fact all her plans turned, and all her half-truths were based.

Gryselde was surprised to find that relative newcomers like Sybil, Scholastica, and Alkahest volunteered to fight with them; but it was the way of the dungeon, Tilde said. On the other hand, while several of John’s group were warriors, it turned out that only four of the former slaves would fight. Neither former slaves nor former prisoners had weapons, though. As they discussed this matter, the innkeeper, Peg, approached them: “My girls tell me that you’re looking for help,” she said. “We have some arms here. Swords, bows, arrows.” She looked around at them all. “You might also ask the Line Aubrey for support; you returned Otto, Aubrey’s grandson. And Aubrey doesn’t care much for Sir Hugh. I care for Hugh even less. If you need a space for your people, you can have the inn-rooms for cheap.”

That was a help. It would be close in the inn — there were thirty or so of their folk who could not or would not fight — but they could be made to fit, Ulixa was sure. “You must also watch over the darkling that is our prisoner,” Gryselde told her.

“Oh, yes,” muttered Tilde. “We wouldn’t want it to come to any harm. Oops! Any more harm.”

Before Gryselde could ask what she meant, three of the inn-guests came to them, bowing low; two young men and a slightly older woman, perhaps Ulixa’s age. “Excuse our pardonless wordbreak,” began one of the men.

“Interruption,” said the other man. The first man glowered and slapped him.

“We are Vartha,” said the woman. “We are travelling players. We wish to offer our services as translators for our noble countrywoman.”

Amanos had a sour look on her face; but she nodded to this. Then she began to issue orders. Gryselde was more than merely uncomfortable, that a lady not of the faith should have such authority over her people; but she had learned pragmatism long ago, and she saw no better option.

The other inn-guests would not come forward to fight, but Gryselde was proud that the members of her own House took their orders almost without demur. Amanos sent Euarchy to the south, to stand sentry over the southern hall, and report if anything approached from there. Kwangrolar would serve as messenger for a group Amanos would send to the eastern room — the chamber with three doors to east, west, and north. Aura was to be made invisible by Gamelyn, and keep watch down the hall to the north, as Concordia Salus would keep watch to the east while preparations were made in the eastern room. This in turn meant that Hochelaga would have to be out in the open during battle, which troubled Gryselde; but what better choice was there?

Gryselde watched Amanos dispatch orders through Geoffrey and the shadowplayers with efficiency and a curious intensity. Gral, Alkahest, and Yune would go to the eastward room. The three doors in that room all opened inward; Amanos wanted to be able to spike the doors shut. A barricade would be positioned between two of the gargoyle statues, a fall-back position for the people stationed in that room — the dwarves, Kwangrolar, Diccon, William of the Long Road, and the fighters under John of the Inner Book. All of these would have bows.

“We might have to worry about orcs coming from the east,” Geoffrey translated from the hail of her Darvartha words. “If so, we want the archers to soften them up from a distance as much as possible.” He grinned fiercely. “I’d like to give one of the whoresons a shot hand-to-hand, too,” he added to no-one. “Archers to be positioned in the room, then when the orcs or goblins or what-have-you get too close, bar the doors and fall back down the hall to the barricade — then when the enemy gets too close there, fall back to the cave. There’s a clear space right in front of the eastern hall, with no tree cover; that’ll be a good killing ground for the archers. Ah … she says that as dwarves have ætheric sight, they can keep watch to the east and north without a light to give them away. And we’ll keep the hovering lanthorn there under a cover.”

(Gryselde had a sense that this was who Amanos was, that the tactical challenges were natural to her. Gryselde had always thought of herself in a different way; yet listening to the orders, she wondered now if her whole life had not in fact been a series of tactical decisions made one after the other with a blindness to the overall strategy. If that was the case, though, what should her strategy be? And what were the choices before her now? What was she doing wrong?)

William dropped to his knees. “I cannot do this,” he said. “Send me to the north hall, lady, I beg you. If anything should … the lake … do you not see, I can’t leave her?”

Amanos shook her head, but Gryselde overruled her. “Let him go to the north,” she said. “It must be.” Amanos glared at this, but shook her head again and gave in, if only for lack of time to argue.

William therefore was assigned to the north, under Ygerna’s command; with them were Mew, the murineans, Gamelyn (to translate Ibia), and the four former slaves who had chosen to fight: Miles, Giliane, Hamon, and Rose. Amanos herself would remain near Ulric and the cervidwen, with Geoffrey, Monoloke, Hochelaga, Hwitwic, Gamelyn, Hodekin, and the girls Scholastica and Sybil. Alkahest had insisted that bald, smirking Scholastica was a monastic, and a skilled fighter although no more than twelve; Sybil, on the other hand, with Tilde supporting her, insisted that she had a spell which could strike enemies down with a fit of dreaming. She also knew Ibia. Amanos declared again that she hadn’t the time to argue, and allowed them to stay by her, on condition they obey her every order immediately and utterly. Gryselde noted that she did not debate Hochelaga’s place.

“What of the huldrafolk?” asked Gryselde. She remembered their song; she wondered, if she were not so disciplined, so dedicated to the Graf Vaka-Bane, would she have lost her self-control, as others had? But that was a foolish question. She was who she was; and the more the huldrafolk had sung of sex, the more in her mind had grown the image of a grave, that soft bed of earth in which worms were generated.

“Hwitwic says they will not come again,” said old Robert the bard, who was to stay with Ulixa and the others at the inn. “They were threatened before by the beetles, you see. They planned to use the mortals of the village to slay them. For what you expect, they’ll simply hide in their secret places among the roots of the trees.”

Amanos said something more. “Then our plans are made,” translated the female shadowplayer — Surere, her name was. “Now remains only to link ourselves with Sir Hugh and his men.”

Gryselde nodded. “As you do this,” she said, “we will go to bring you elves.”

In fact Gryselde doubted it would be so simple; but she heard behind her Tilde sigh and say “Finally.

The two of them went eastward through the pine woods and down the gargoyle-lined hall, Gryselde carrying a lit torch. Gryselde wished she could re-awaken the gargoyles in the hall, to blast enemies with their curses; but no, she had only been given the word that would neuter them. “I hope those elves are still all right,” Tilde worried beside her.

“I think they will prove to be fine,” said Gryselde.

Tilde glared at her with evident disgust. “It’s a gamble you took with their lives,” she said. “It’s not as though they’re far away. Someone should have gone as soon as we realised what the cup was. Har’s teeth, we shouldn’t even have wasted time looking for you. Sybil, Hochelaga, Atrahasis and I should have gone at once.”

Gryselde shrugged. She resented these charges. The wizard did not know — but Gryselde had chosen not to tell her, so whose fault was that? “Maybe it will prove as well that you did not,” she said.

Maybe is a terrible world,” the wizard said ironically. “Tell me something. When you were alone with that darkling — what did you do to him?”

Gryselde shook her head. “I don’t understand,” she said.

“He barely talked to us,” said Tilde. “Not because he was afraid — he was, but that wasn’t why. He could hardly talk. His kind aren’t made for language, or not the kind that’s … I don’t know, it’s not waking language. But you, you walked in to him and put him to the question and you come out with all this information about a darkling attack, and goblin attacks, and I don’t know what else. What did you do to the poor thing?”

“Maybe less than you expect,” said Gryselde. They passed into the eastern room. The dwarves and others were at work preparing spikes for the east and north doors.

Tilde was staring at her. “Did you get anything out of him?” she wondered. “Or were you playing some game with Hugh? Or do you know all this from somewhere else? Somewhere … where did you go when you fled from the bandits? What happened to the girl, Kate?”

“She will be well,” said Gryselde. Tilde fell silent. Gryselde found herself saddened. Almost, she had been pushed to explain herself; almost, she’d had no choice. Let it be. They went on, silently, and came to a crossroads, halls leading north and west to the elves, or south and west, toward the forest chambers.

Gryselde pointed north; but then a loud cry came from the south-west. Then another cry, and another. Inhuman screams of anger, or pain, or threat. Orc voices. “We should hurry,” she told Tilde.

Now she says it,” grumbled Tilde, running down the hall.

Gryselde followed easily. “Friends approach!” she called out. “We must speak to Entemena!”

“I am here,” a low voice returned from the darkness ahead. They slowed, and the elf strode into their torchlight. He nodded. “You come at a dangerous time,” he said. “The orcs are preparing an attack. They found us a little while ago, and we saw them off with arrows. They’ve since been readying some sort of shield in your forest chambers.” He looked from one to another. “Are there only two of you?” he asked.

“Two, with good news,” said Tilde. She brandished the cup. “We found this to the west. Atrahasis says it will hold your ruby, and nullify its magics — you can carry it safely! You don’t have to stay!”

“Tilde?” cried a low voice. Kezia approached them. She was haggard, pale with pain, and her right arm still did not seem to move properly. “Is this — we have to go, now.” She began to weep. “Tilde, they’re doing something to the trees. They’re … I don’t know …”

“Oh, Kezia!” said Tilde, carefully taking her into an embrace. “It’ll be all right. Oh, wait till you see what’s to the west — a great cave, filled with a forest — it’s lovely, Kez.”

Gryselde watched them. They had not time for such displays, surely. She tried to remember the words precisely. Once you bring the elves their salvation …

“Let’s go,” said Entemena. “To the vault, then.”

Of course. She must act in the present, not lose herself in the past. Was she so bound to what she had been told as to forget this?

The other elves fell into line behind them as they went. Some seemed not to have slept; all of them had bows readied.

In the treasure-room Tilde gave Entemena the goblet. Entemena approached the ruby with caution, holding the cup before him. When he drew within a few steps the ruby leapt into the air, arcing neatly into the red rock of the cup. It fit as though it were all one stone; perhaps it had been, once, and now was again. Entemena stared at the treasure in his hand.

An orcish challenge echoed down the halls. “We go, now,” Entemena said.

“How close was that?” asked one of the elves — Sabium, Gryselde remembered. Another, Amraphel, raced ahead of them down the hall, and then back.

“They’re coming!” he cried. “We can’t go west!”

Gryselde nodded silently. It was falling out as she’d expected.

Tilde elbowed her. “Well done,” the wizard snarled in a whisper.

“Northward,” said Entemena. “Hurry.”

They ran, as he’d ordered, northward, past the place where Enheduanna had killed the skrythe, past the gargoyle that had changed Atrahasis. There was a door leading further north that the elves had not been able to unlock; they therefore had to go eastward some distance, through the black-lined chamber with the bed where Atrahasis had woken as a mortal, along a long hall almost back to the small garden room. They did not hear orcs calling out behind them.

“If they find the treasure-room, that might slow them down,” muttered Tilde. “Orcs love trinkets, and such. But how do we get back to Innsdene?”

“Ulixa and Ulric found their way to the hall north of the cave,” said Gryselde. “We must try that as well.” She pointed to a door ahead of them, on the north wall. “I’ve been this way before. Through there is a room, with a hall northward leading to a cursed temple; but there’s another passageway, leading westward. We can try that, and see where it leads.”

Entemena nodded at this; but as they reached the door, they heard the familiar war-shrieks of goblins. The cries came from the east, toward the garden. Sabium and an elf-woman, Keturah, shouted and fired arrows eastward. Gryselde could not see whether they hit; but more shrieks came, from some distance further away. And then more shrieks; and more. “Too many,” said Entemena. “Let’s go.”

They went north and then west, as Gryselde had suggested. They went quickly; but they could hear the cries of goblins come again, closer. The westward hall led to a larger room from which another hall led west, then turned north.  They hurried along, until they came to a door on the western wall. It opened easily, and they saw another long passageway leading westward. The goblins shrieked behind them; they went west.

They came to a southern passage. “This way,” said Entemena.

“Wait,” Gryselde. “We haven’t gone far enough — this must lead to the locked door we passed.”

Entemena nodded to Amraphel, who hurried south. “Do we have time for this?” muttered Tilde. But in a moment Amraphel was back.

“She’s right,” he told them. They went on, quicker now. Another cry came from behind them.

“Are the goblins following us?” Tilde asked. “They’re usually more … ahm, conservative than that, let’s say.”

“You may say cowardly,” said Entemena. “I don’t understand; but they do not like elves. If they smell us, perhaps —”

“A crossing hall, running north and south,” said Sabium. “Up ahead.”

“Pass it by,” said Gryselde. “There’s a room ahead, and a way north from there. That is the way we must go.”

“How do you know?” demanded Tilde.

“Haven’t you spoken with Ulric, about how he came with the cervidwen?” asked Gryselde, as they went on.

“Haven’t I — no,” said Tilde. “No, I haven’t. Have you?”

“Here is the room the mortal said,” Sabium called back. They went forward and entered it.

The chamber was fifty feet long by forty wide, Gryselde judged, and filled with gold coins. They glittered in the torchlight. No; it was more than the coins, glittering, shifting, slithering —

“Snake!” she cried.

At the same time, to the rear, one of the elves called: “I see them!”

A goblin shrieked.

An arrow from Sabium killed the scitalis snake, and they hurried north, finding a door leading westward. Beyond was a passage leading directly west. They went at a run.

“I don’t — understand,” Tilde puffed, “how — Ulric — could have got through — that room, with the snake. It would have killed him, or he’d have killed it.”

Yes, thought Gryselde. Challenge me. Demand truth.

But the wizard said nothing more.

At the end of the hall ahead, the elves had found a locked door. Lacking any choice, Entemena charged into it with his shoulder, snapping the lock and sending it flying open. There was a hall leading north and south. Gryselde pointed north.

They came to a door on the west wall. She again pointed north, and led them on past the door. None of them questioned her.

“But,” said Tilde, and looked back. The goblins shrieked. “Oh, I don’t like this at all,” she said. She took a quick step closer to Gryselde as they went on. “Why aren’t you telling the truth?” she asked.

“I’ve told all I can,” said Gryselde honestly. “Kate’s life —”

“Yes, yes, I heard the tale back in the library,” said Tilde. “How many people are at risk of dying for her sake?”

“How many will die otherwise? What am I to do?” Gryselde asked her, surprising even herself with the fury in her voice.

“I can’t tell you because you’re not giving me enough information,” said Tilde. “And what do you mean — wait. All this that you said you got from the darkling — do you mean —”

“This door, here,” said Gryselde, as they passed a door in the western wall. The elves in their rear-guard had begun to fire arrows. Goblins shrieked again, this time in pain.

It was, Gryselde thought, foolish for her to ask herself what she was to do. She had already decided it. The future was circumscribed; partly by what she had been told, but mostly by the results of her own choices.

She looked back to all the things she had said and done since she had entered the dungeon. The choices she had made. All that she had accepted; all that she had protested against. It seemed to her now that there were no real choices. There was only one’s character, and how that expressed itself. How could one choose to do other than what was natural to oneself? Even if one did a thing one thought unnatural, that same thinking, that same sense of the unnatural, was in fact natural to the person so thinking and acting. Thus we delude ourselves that we have free will, and that we build ourselves through choices made in time, she thought.

They went westward to a large room with a painting on one wall. Then west again, to a room with an odd set of armour standing on wires in its centre; odd, for it was made of a kind of stiffened leather, and Gryselde had never seen such a thing in the wars she had known. Best to leave it, then, she knew. South, then, down a hall which turned north and west. Past a locked door, and a trap disabled by Ulixa; then in a wide room they went west, and found a boy with a cart.

He nodded to them. “Have no fear,” he said, “I’ll come with you.”

“Who’s this?” said Entemena, confused.

“They call him the Good Boy,” said Tilde.

“He looks like the boy who was with you —” began the elf.

“We know,” said Tilde. She glanced at Gryselde. “Mysteries abound.” The Good Boy smiled.

There were more shrieks — ahead of them.

“Those weren’t goblins,” said Keturah.

“Hob-goblins,” said Entemena.

“We’d better hurry,” said the Good Boy, mildly.

They ran on, along a passage with a bone floor. Gryselde knew what would happen. She knew it all, now, for all the good it did.

The passage opened up on the right to a wide columned hall. Looking north, she could see only the beginnings of the hall, in the torchlight. Sabium shouted, and fired his arrow into the dark. Something down the hall in the darkness shouted in pain. The Good Boy lost his smile. As they ran, they could see forms appear at the edge of the torch-light, chasing them.

“How many of the things are there?” muttered Entenmena.

“Too many,” said Kezia.

This, thought Gryselde as they ran, is where my choices have led me. Goblins, hob-goblins; the elves and Innsdene in jeopardy. And worse to come, and I must betray a man I have thought a friend. The tactics are working. It must be that my strategy is flawed.

How shall I change it?

They came to a wide hall leading south to the Innsdene cave and ran harder. “Hoy there!” Tilde shouted to the cave ahead. “Friends approaching!”

Friends, thought Gryselde. What am I doing to you, friends?

There were cheers from ahead of them. “All right,” gasped Tilde to Gryselde, as they ran past branching passages and doors. “Is there anything you’d like to say now? Anything you’d like to tell me?”

Gryselde thought of her choices one last time.

She remembered the dragon, speaking to her of the goblins and hob-goblins she would bring down on the village of Innsdene, on all those people that she had not yet met. She had almost decided she could not do it, not for Kate alone, when the dragon had said: Now you must be careful, as there are plans within plans in all this. It had told her of some of those plans, of the forces threatening the village, of how they were themselves threatened — oh, how close was the Graf to everyone. One wrong step, and — how much death would there be?

All the night before, while the others had been sleeping, while William had mourned at the water-side, she had pondered what she could do. But she could think of nothing that was certainly better than what the dragon had told her. She could imagine only the many ways in which matters could go wrong. She could imagine only death.

Of what choices was she not letting herself become aware?

She remembered, after first waking, when she had spoken to William, Enheduanna, Gral, Hochelaga, Ulric — let us go and choose our shapes, she had said. Had she chosen, really? Or had a shape been chosen for her?

Gryselde thought about what she had learned. About the choices she had made, most of the time unaware that she was making them; or perhaps not letting herself be aware of them. However wrong I may be, in the end, she thought, however misguided my actions may prove — I am committed. I must continue as I have begun. Let it be. I have done what I have done. I have chosen my path.

And the truth is that, had I to do it all again — I would do nothing different.

There was strength in that thought, she decided.

“Much I would like to say,” she told Tilde as they drew near to the cave entrance. “Nothing I can say.”

Tilde sighed. “Oh, well. Play at mystery, if you like. I admit it seems to have worked thus far.” She took a drink of wine as they slowed, crossing into the cave, among allies. “What’s the harm, then?” she muttered. “I suppose I must trust whatever spoke to you … How dangerous could it be, at this point? What am I afraid of? No, I know what I’m afraid of, that Nil’s involved, but how likely’s that? Eh?”

“How likely do you think?” asked Gryselde, utterly neutral.

Tilde turned to her with a look of utter abject fear.

“If,” said Gryselde carefully, “one could know utterly that what such a creature said was true, and if one was then told not to speak of it —”

Tilde’s face went from fear to incomprehension to dawning realisation, and then to fear again, and Gryselde felt briefly that some moment of choice or action had been made, and she was pleased; but then the goblins came, and they had no time to talk further.


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