Jul 24 2013 10:00am
Dangerous Women: “Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell” (Excerpt)
We are very excited to be able to preview Dangerous Women, a new anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, and featuring 21 new stories from some of the biggest authors in the science fiction/fantasy field. The anthology is available on December 3rd from Tor Books!
Every morning until July 30th, we’ll be previewing excerpts from the stories, returning you to the world of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Brandon Sanderson’s cosmere, and even Westeros itself. Keep an eye on the Dangerous Women index to keep track of them all.
We begin with “Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell” by Brandon Sanderson, a tale from a dusty, unseen corner of Sanderson’s vast cosmere. Read on, then join Carl Engle-Laird for his review and analysis of the full story.
“SHADOWS FOR SILENCE IN THE FORESTS OF HELL”
“The one you have to watch for is the White Fox,” Daggon said, sipping his beer. “They say he shook hands with the Evil itself, that he visited the Fallen World and came back with strange powers. He can kindle fire on even the deepest of nights, and no shade will dare come for his soul. Yes, the White Fox. Meanest bastard in these parts for sure. Pray he doesn’t set his eyes on you, friend. If he does, you’re dead.”
Daggon’s drinking companion had a neck like a slender wine bottle and a head like a potato stuck sideways on the top. He squeaked as he spoke, a Lastport accent, voice echoing in the eaves of the waystop’s common room. “Why… why would he set his eyes on me?”
“That depends, friend,” Daggon said, looking about as a few overdressed merchants sauntered in. They wore black coats, ruffled lace poking out the front, and the tall-topped, wide-brimmed hats of fortfolk. They wouldn’t last two weeks out here, in the Forests.
“It depends?” Daggon’s dining companion prompted. “It depends on what?”
“On a lot of things, friend. The White Fox is a bounty hunter, you know. What crimes have you committed? What have you done?”
“Nothing.” That squeak was like a rusty wheel.
“Nothing? Men don’t come out into the Forests to do ‘nothing,’ friend.”
His companion glanced from side to side. He’d given his name as Earnest. But then, Daggon had given his name as Amity. Names didn’t mean a whole lot in the Forests. Or maybe they meant everything. The right ones, that was.
Earnest leaned back, scrunching down that fishing-pole neck of his as if trying to disappear into his beer. He’d bite. People liked hearing about the White Fox, and Daggon considered himself an expert. At least, he was an expert at telling stories to get ratty men like Earnest to pay for his drinks.
I’ll give him some time to stew, Daggon thought, smiling to himself. Let him worry. Earnest would pry him for more information in a bit.
While he waited, Daggon leaned back, surveying the room. The merchants were making a nuisance of themselves, calling for food, saying they meant to be on their way in an hour. That proved them to be fools. Traveling at night in the Forests? Good homesteader stock would do it. Men like these, though… they’d probably take less than an hour to violate one of the Simple Rules and bring the shades upon them. Daggon put the idiots out of his mind.
That fellow in the corner, though… dressed all in brown, still wearing his hat despite being indoors. That fellow looked truly dangerous. I wonder if it’s him, Daggon thought. So far as he knew, nobody had ever seen the White Fox and lived. Ten years, over a hundred bounties turned in. Surely someone knew his name. The authorities in the forts paid him the bounties, after all.
The waystop’s owner, Madam Silence, passed by the table and deposited Daggon’s meal with an unceremonious thump. Scowling, she topped off his beer, spilling a sudsy dribble onto his hand, before limping off. She was a stout woman. Tough. Everyone in the Forests was tough. The ones that survived, at least.
He’d learned that a scowl from Silence was just her way of saying hello. She’d given him an extra helping of venison; she often did that. He liked to think that she had a fondness for him. Maybe someday…
Don’t be a fool, he thought to himself, as he dug into the heavily gravied food. Better to marry a stone than Silence Montane. A stone showed more affection. Likely, she gave him the extra slice because she recognized the value of a repeat customer. Fewer and fewer people came this way lately. Too many shades. And then there was Chesterton. Nasty business, that.
“So… he’s a bounty hunter, this Fox?” The man who called himself Earnest seemed to be sweating.
Daggon smiled. Hooked right good, this one was. “He’s not just a bounty hunter. He’s the bounty hunter. Though, the White Fox doesn’t go for the small-timers—and no offense, friend, but you seem pretty small-time.”
His friend grew more nervous. What had he done? “But,” the man stammered, “he wouldn’t come for me—er, pretending I’d done something, of course—anyway, he wouldn’t come in here, would he? I mean, Madam Silence’s waystop, it’s protected. Everyone knows that. Shade of her dead husband lurks here. I had a cousin who saw it, I did.”
“The White Fox doesn’t fear shades,” Daggon said, leaning in. “Now, mind you, I don’t think he’d risk coming in here—but not because of some shade. Everyone knows this is neutral ground. You’ve got to have some safe places, even in the Forests. But…”
Daggon smiled at Silence as she passed him by, on the way to the kitchens again. This time she didn’t scowl at him. He was getting through to her for certain.
“But?” Earnest squeaked.
“Well…” Daggon said. “I could tell you a few things about how the White Fox takes men, but you see, my beer is nearly empty. A shame. I think you’d be very interested in how the White Fox caught Makepeace Hapshire. Great story, that.”
Earnest squeaked for Silence to bring another beer, though she bustled into the kitchen and didn’t hear. Daggon frowned, but Earnest put a coin on the side of the table, indicating he’d like a refill when Silence or her daughter returned. That would do. Daggon smiled to himself and launched into the story.
Silence Montane closed the door to the common room, then turned and pressed her back against it. She tried to still her racing heart by breathing in and out. Had she made any obvious signs? Did they know she’d recognized them?
William Ann passed by, wiping her hands on a cloth. “Mother?” the young woman asked, pausing. “Mother, are you—”
“Fetch the book. Quickly, child!”
William Ann’s face went pale, then she hurried into the back pantry. Silence clutched her apron to still her nerves, then joined William Ann as the girl came out of the pantry with a thick, leather satchel. White flour dusted its cover and spine from the hiding place.
Silence took the satchel and opened it on the high kitchen counter, revealing a collection of loose-leaf papers. Most had faces drawn on them. As Silence rifled through the pages, William Ann moved to look through the peephole back into the common room.
For a few moments, the only sound to accompany Silence’s thumping heart was that of hastily turned pages.
“It’s the man with the long neck, isn’t it?” William Ann asked. “I remember his face from one of the bounties.”
“That’s just Lamentation Winebare, a petty horse thief. He’s barely worth two measures of silver.”
“Who, then? The man in the back, with the hat?”
Silence shook her head, finding a sequence of pages at the bottom of her pile. She inspected the drawings. God Beyond, she thought. I can’t decide if I want it to be them or not. At least her hands had stopped shaking.
William Ann scurried back and craned her neck over Silence’s shoulder. At fourteen, the girl was already taller than her mother. A fine thing to suffer, a child taller than you. Though William Ann grumbled about being awkward and lanky, her slender build foreshadowed a beauty to come. She took after her father.
“Oh, God Beyond,” William Ann said, raising a hand to her mouth. “You mean—”
“Chesterton Divide,” Silence said. The shape of the chin, the look in the eyes… they were the same. “He walked right into our hands, with four of his men.” The bounty on those five would be enough to pay her supply needs for a year. Maybe two.
Her eyes flickered to the words below the pictures, printed in harsh, bold letters. Extremely dangerous. Wanted for murder, rape, extortion. And, of course, there was the big one at the end: And assassination.
Silence had always wondered if Chesterton and his men had intended to kill the governor of the most powerful city on this continent, or if it had it been an accident. A simple robbery gone wrong. Either way, Chesterton understood what he’d done. Before the incident, he had been a common—if accomplished—highway bandit.
Now he was something greater, something far more dangerous. Chesterton knew that if he were captured, there would be no mercy, no quarter. Lastport had painted Chesterton as an anarchist, a menace, and a psychopath.
Chesterton had no reason to hold back. So he didn’t.
Oh, God Beyond, Silence thought, looking at the continuing list of his crimes on the next page.
Beside her, William Ann whispered the words to herself. “He’s out there?” she asked. “But where?”
“The merchants,” Silence said.
“What?” William Ann rushed back to the peephole. The wood there— indeed, all around the kitchen—had been scrubbed so hard that it had been bleached white. Sebruki had been cleaning again.
“I can’t see it,” William Ann said.
“Look closer.” Silence hadn’t seen it at first either, even though she spent each night with the book, memorizing its faces.
A few moments later William Ann gasped, raising her hand to her mouth. “That seems so foolish of him. Why is he going about perfectly visible like this? Even in disguise.”
“Everyone will remember just another band of fool merchants from the fort who thought they could brave the Forests. It’s a clever disguise. When they vanish from the paths in a few days, it will be assumed—if anyone cares to wonder—that the shades got them. Besides, this way Chesterton can travel quickly and in the open, visiting waystops and listening for information.”
Was this how Chesterton discovered good targets to hit? Had they come through her waystop before? The thought made her stomach turn. She had fed criminals many times; some were regulars. Every man was probably a criminal out in the Forests, if only for ignoring taxes imposed by the fortfolk.
Chesterton and his men were different. She didn’t need the list of crimes to know what they were capable of doing.
“Where’s Sebruki?” Silence said.
William Ann shook herself, as if coming out of a stupor. “She’s feeding the pigs. Shadows! You don’t think they’d recognize her, do you?”
“No,” Silence said. “I’m worried she’ll recognize them.” Sebruki might only be eight, but she could be shockingly—disturbingly—observant.
Silence closed the book of bounties. She rested her fingers on its leather.
“We’re going to kill them, aren’t we?” William Ann asked.
“Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell” © Brandon Sanderson 2013
Keep an eye on the Dangerous Women index to keep track of all our excerpts and reviews, and join Carl Engle-Laird for his review and analysis of Sanderson’s “Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell”