Брендон Сандерсон: Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell

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Брендон Сандерсон Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell
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When the familiar and seemingly safe turns lethal, therein danger lies. Amid a forest where the shades of the dead linger all around, every homesteader knows to follow the Simple Rules: "Don’t kindle flame, don’t shed the blood of another, don’t run at night. These things draw shades." Silence Montane has broken all three rules on more than one occasion. And to protect her family from a murderous gang with high bounties on their heads, Silence will break every rule again, at the risk of becoming a shade herself.

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When George R. R. Martin approached me to ask if I’d be willing to contribute a story to Dangerous Women, I was ecstatic. George is known best for his Westeros books, but he is also an excellent editor, having put together many anthologies. His recent themed anthologies with Gardner Dozois have become something of a “Who’s Who” in the fantasy and science fiction world. It was a real honor to be invited.

After he told me the theme was “dangerous women,” I at first thought of Perfect State, another novella of mine. I had a very rough draft of that done, but hadn’t yet submitted it anywhere for publication. I sent that to George and Gardner, and they felt it wasn’t on theme enough, and asked if I had anything else.

I didn’t, not yet, but something had happened recently that had planted a seed in my mind. I had been involved in some genealogy work, and had run across the name of a Puritan woman named Silence.

That intrigued me. Who would name their daughter Silence, and for what reason? Charity I can get. Faith totally makes sense. But Silence? Perhaps she was late in the birth order, and her parents were really hoping to sleep through the nights this time.

Either way, the name stuck with me.

I’d had the idea for Threnody, the Cosmere world where a group of pilgrimesque people fled the Old World because it was overrun by a terrible evil long ago. It was actually a very early Cosmere world, developed somewhere around 1999 or 2000. (Though the name didn’t get assigned to it until Isaac gave a suggestion upon reading this novella.) Having an intriguing Puritan name and a world that took inspiration from early American history seemed a ready-made match, but then I had to ask myself, how was Silence going to be dangerous?

I was worried that the anthology was going to be stuffed full of women either in the “femme fatal” vein or the “I wear black leather and kick demon butt” vein. I’ve often felt that we, in fantasy, sometimes do a poor job of representing people (both male and female) who are powerful and capable in ways other than their ability to stand in a fight. Yes, giving a woman a sword is one way to make her dangerous, but I resist making every powerful woman into one who has become so by forcing her way into a traditionally male-dominated realm of face-to-face combat.

The world was mostly formed in my head, though over the years I’d added the idea of the shades for various reasons. One was to show off a few hints regarding the Cosmere afterlife, and another came during my initial research for the Stormlight Archive, where I read a lot about classical Hebrew life and philosophy. The original idea for Threnody was to make a system of magical rules with their roots in the Law of Moses and Jewish tradition. (Not mixing meat with milk, not kindling flames after nightfall on the Sabbath, etc.) Many of those rules transformed over the years, leaving their roots behind in the same way that the Stormlight magic system left behind its roots in the fundamental forces of physics. But you can see those hints still having an influence on the tone and setting of this story.

The intersection of these ideas developed into this story, one that soon became one of my favorite Cosmere tales. I hope you enjoy it! (And no, for those searching, Hoid does not make an appearance. Unfortunately, he needed to be somewhere else in the timeline at this point.)

Brandon Sanderson


“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 ply 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 and took a few gulps of his beer. 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.

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