“Tough Times All Over” (Excerpt)

Rogues is a thrilling collection of twenty-one original stories by an all-star list of contributors, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois! Get it June 17th from Random House.

If you’re a fan of fiction that is more than just black and white, this story collection is filled with subtle shades of gray. Authors Gillian Flynn, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Cherie Priest, Garth Nix, and Connie Willis, as well as other masters of literary sleight-of-hand, will plunder your heart—and yet leave you all the richer for it! And George R. R. Martin himself offers a brand-new A Game of Thrones tale chronicling one of the biggest rogues in the entire history of Ice and Fire.

Below, read an excerpt from Joe Abercrombie’s “Tough Times All Over,” set in his Circle of the World. And be sure to check out our non-spoiler review of the story, plus reviews of other stories from the Rogues anthology!

 

 

Tough Times All Over

 

Damn, but she hated Sipani.

The bloody blinding fogs and the bloody slapping water and the bloody universal sickening stink of rot. The bloody parties and masques and revels. Fun, everyone having bloody fun, or at least pretending to. The bloody people were worst of all. Rogues every man, woman and child. Liars and fools, the lot of them.

Carcolf hated Sipani. Yet here she was again. Who, then, she was forced to wonder, was the fool?

Braying laughter echoed from the mist ahead and she slipped into the shadows of a doorway, one hand tickling the grip of her sword. A good courier trusts no one, and Carcolf was the very best, but in Sipani, she trusted… less than no one.

Another gang of pleasure-seekers blundered from the murk, a man with a mask like a moon pointing at a woman who was so drunk she kept falling over on her high shoes. All of them laughing, one of them flapping his lace cuffs as though there never was a thing so funny as drinking so much you couldn’t stand up. Carcolf rolled her eyes skyward, and consoled herself with the thought that behind the masks they were hating it as much as she always did when she tried to have fun.

In the solitude of her doorway, Carcolf winced. Damn, but she needed a holiday. She was becoming a sour arse. Or, indeed, had become one and was getting worse. One of those people who held the entire world in contempt. Was she turning into her bloody father?

‘Anything but that,’ she muttered.

The moment the revellers tottered off into the night, she ducked from her doorway and pressed on, neither too fast nor too slow, soft boot heels silent on the dewy cobbles, her unexceptional hood drawn down to an inconspicuous degree, the very image of a person with just the average amount to hide. Which, in Sipani, was quite a bit.

Over to the west somewhere, her armoured carriage would be speeding down the wide lanes, wheels striking sparks as they clattered over the bridges, stunned bystanders leaping aside, driver’s whip lashing at the foaming flanks of the horses, the dozen hired guards thundering after, streetlamps gleaming upon their dewy armour. Unless the Quarryman’s people had already made their move, of course: the flutter of arrows, the scream of beasts and men, the crash of the wagon leaving the road, the clash of steel, and finally the great padlock blown from the strongbox with blasting powder, the choking smoke wafted aside by eager hands and the lid flung back to reveal… nothing.

Carcolf allowed herself the smallest smile, and patted the lump against her ribs. The item, stitched up safe in the lining of her coat.

She gathered herself, took a couple of steps, and sprang from the canal-side, clearing three strides of oily water to the deck of a decaying barge, timbers creaking under her as she rolled and came smoothly up. To go around by the Fintine bridge was a quite the detour, not to mention a well-travelled and well-watched way, but this boat was always tied here in the shadows, offering a short cut. She had made sure of it. Carcolf left as little to chance as possible. In her experience, chance could be a real bastard.

A wizened face peered out from the gloom of the cabin, steam issuing from a battered kettle. ‘Who the hell are you?’

‘Nobody.’ Carcolf gave a cheery salute. ‘Just passing through!’ and she hopped from the rocking wood to the stones on the far side of the canal and was away into the mould-smelling mist. Just passing through. Straight to the docks to catch the tide and off on her merry way. Or her sour arsed one, at least. Wherever Carcolf went, she was nobody. Everywhere, always passing through.

Over to the east, that idiot Pombrine would be riding hard in the company of four paid retainers. He hardly looked much like her, what with the moustache and all, but swaddled in that ever-so conspicuous embroidered cloak of hers, he did well enough for a double. He was a penniless pimp who smugly believed himself to be impersonating her so she could visit a lover, a lady of means who did not want their tryst made public. Carcolf sighed. If only. She consoled herself with the thought of Pombrine’s shock when those bastards Deep and Shallow shot him from his saddle, expressed considerable surprise at the moustache, then rooted through his clothes with increasing frustration, and finally, no doubt, gutted his corpse only to find…nothing.

Carcolf patted that lump once again, and pressed on with a spring in her step.

 


Excerpted from Rogues, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Copyright © 2014 by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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