The Fox by Sherwood Smith




  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Acknowledgements

  PART ONE

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Chapter Twenty-six

  Chapter Twenty-seven

  Chapter Twenty-eight

  Chapter Twenty-nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-one

  Chapter Thirty-two

  PART TWO

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Chapter Twenty-six

  Chapter Twenty-seven

  Chapter Twenty-eight

  Chapter Twenty-nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-one

  Chapter Thirty-two

  Chapter Thirty-three

  Chapter Thirty-four

  Chapter Thirty-five

  Raves for The Fox

  “In this lively, accessible follow-up to Inda, Smith dares to resolve several plot lines, in defiance of fantasy sequel conventions. Smith deftly stage-manages the wide-ranging plots with brisk pacing, spare yet complex characterizations and a narrative that balances sweeping action and uneasy intimacy.” —Publishers Weekly

  "The achievement of this writer is only getting more remarkable. Here we have nation within nation, layers of history, and a real sense that there are kingdoms and empires on several continents, with complex interactions among them, and wide variation in their cultures. Every group has its own history, its own objectives, its own grievances. And Smith handles the relationships and machinations among them so deftly that you don’t realize you’re being given a course in politics. Though the international politics is deftly handled, what matters most is that the personal stories are believable and compelling. In the past few months I’ve started reading more than a dozen fantasy novels or series; I haven’t reviewed them here because they were, to put it kindly, a waste of my time, and I didn’t bother finishing them. By contrast, I didn’t want The Fox to end. I savored every paragraph and continued to live in the book for days afterward. I keep thinking that if I write a good enough review, the publisher or author will relent and let me read the next volume early. Like now. Please.”

  —Orson Scott Card

  “Pirates and plotters fill this swashbuckling sequel to Inda. This is a middle novel in this series, but it’s full of action, adventure and delightful, larger than life characters, and manages a sneakily sudden, uplifting twist at the end that provides a satisfying conclusion despite looming disasters.”

  —Locus

  ALSO BY SHERWOOD SMITH:

  INDA

  THE FOX

  KING’S SHIELD

  Copyright © 2007 by Sherwood Smith.

  All Rights Reserved.

  DAW Books Collector’s No. 1410.

  DAW Books Inc. is distributed by Penguin Group (USA).

  All characters in the book are fictitious.

  Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

  The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  First Paperback Printing, July 2008

  DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED

  U.S. PAT. AND TM. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES

  —MARCA REGISTRADA

  HECHO EN U.S.A.

  .S.A.

  http://us.penguingroup.com

  Acknowledgments

  With hearty thanks to Elizabeth Bear, Beth Bernobich, Marjorie Ferguson, Danielle Monson, and with a full bow, scrape, and doff of the plumed chapeau to Hallie O’Donovan, Rachel Manija Brown, and Tamara Meatzie for efforts above and beyond. Music: Pandora.com has provided an endless soundtrack.

  Last note: those who like appendices (timelines, ship terms, glossary, and historical background, etc.), you can find all these things on my Web page at www.sff.net/people/ sherwood/inda.html.

  PART ONE

  Chapter One

  IN Sartorias-deles’ long history, only once have we seen pirates enjoy the protection of the strongest naval power in the world. The summer of the year 3910, some of the most notorious pirates made increasingly daring raids— such as Gaffer Walic’s attack on a trade convoy not two days outside of Khanerenth, which had once possessed the leading pirate-fighting navy in the southern seas.

  They won after an extremely hard night of fighting, and thus were more angry than triumphant, more weary than celebrative as they transferred their (few) prisoners and what cargo hadn’t been destroyed in the battle.

  On Walic’s flagship Coco, one of the prisoners woke to a crashing headache. When he moved his head, his stomach heaved and bile scalded the back of his throat. He whispered the Waste Spell, and the burn vanished.

  He let out a slow, shuddering breath as sweat cooled on his forehead.

  The relief lasted three heartbeats. Someone was whispering into his ear. “Wake up, wake up. Inda, listen. You have to wake up.”

  Marlovan! The language of home.

  “Inda. You must act stupid. Gaffer will be calling for you soon. Hear me? Act stupid.”

  Inda opened his eyes. His headache crashed again. He could barely see. A shaft of slanting sunlight filtering through shrouds outlined in ruddy morning color the contours of sharp-cut cheekbones and jawline, a straight shoulder, an arm. Green eyes. Familiar green eyes.

  “Who are you?” he mumbled through bruised lips.

  “Fox.”

  “I know you,” Inda observed. Memory images cut through the pain-haze like shards of glass: the fight on the deck of the trade ship he’d been hired to protect, surrounded by the fallen; more and more pirates swarming on board.

  Those derisive green eyes—the last thing he saw before being struck unconscious with the hilt of a knife.

  Struck, not killed.

  And wasn’t there an older memory? He could not think.

  “We met at my home,” Fox whispered in an urgent undervoice. “Before you started the academy. But you must not know me here. Nor use your name. Or Marlovan. Gaffer Walic came after you—you call yourself Inda Elgar, right? He wanted to sell you to the Venn. He thinks you died on the
trade ship.”

  “Gaffer . . . ?” Inda began, but even that hurt.

  “Walic. Captain. He wants more hands, but not leaders, understand? Indevan Algara-Vayir is dead. You are not from Iasca Leror. You did not lead the marine defense band.”

  Inda stared, in far too much pain to catch the sense of that swift run of words. “My band. Some are alive?”

  “A handful. Look at me. Listen. We need you,” Fox whispered, fighting impatience and desperation.

  Walic would be sending someone to fetch them soon. And he was right: above on the captain’s deck Walic stirred, his mood of irritation twisting inexorably into anger. He said to his first mate, “Where are my prisoners?”

  Footsteps thumped on the captain’s deck above; Fox put his lips to Inda’s ears, forcing himself to speak distinctly. “We need you. To take this ship.”

  A command snapped from the gangway forced Inda’s awareness outward: he’d been dumped into the waist of the pirate ship.

  Fox’s breath was warm on his ear. “Remember. No Marlovan or even Iascan. Just Dock Talk. And stupid.”

  Hands hauled him to his feet. Worms of white-hot agony shot through his arms and his bad wrist; his hands were bound behind his back.

  He was pushed toward a ladder and up, the thrusting hand steadying him on the climb.

  He shuffled onto the captain’s deck. Sunlight struck Inda’s eyes like heated needles. He closed his eyes. Mistake. He stumbled over a coiled rope. Guffaws were the first sign of trouble, a sign that the interview with the captain was meant to be entertainment.

  “Well now!” Gaffer Walic’s voice was a clear tenor, almost as melodic as Tau’s. Had Tau survived?

  The pirate captain addressed someone in an undertone. Then in Melaeri-accented Sartoran, employing the drawling accents of an aristocrat, he added, “My first mate insists we’ve uncovered the mastermind behind our late adversaries. ”

  Laughter.

  A woman answered in far less refined Sartoran, “No wonder we gutted ’em. Watch! He’s gonna trip over the bucket!”

  Inda glanced down, realized he wasn’t supposed to understand, and so he forced himself to trip over the bucket. Only those long lessons in falling kept him from breaking an arm, but even so the strain when he was yanked to his feet made him bleat in pain.

  The captain switched back to Dock Talk. “Well, Fox. You fetched him. What do you say?”

  “Stupid as a post, but fights well. Useful as a hand.”

  Another voice, lower, angry, cut in. “That’s the one I saw commanding the action. I know it.”

  Inda stood with his eyes closed; his stomach lurched.

  Fox spoke again, in harsh Dock Talk but with a Marlovan precision to his consonants that chilled Inda’s nerves. “He was relayin’ orders. You was seein’ him doin’ it, Varodif, through yer glass. But we was seein’ the tall, yellow-haired turd speakin’ ’em, before he was cut down.”

  “Yellow-haired turd?” the captain drawled. “Might that be the Marlovan prince we made this entirely too expensive journey to find? Who cut him down?” His voice was light, almost sweet, which did not account for the sudden silence, so complete a silence that Inda was for the first time aware of the song of wind through sails, the whine of rope and wood, the wash-lap-lap of the sea against the hull.

  Yellow-haired turd—the memories flitted like angry bats. Kodl, their leader (though not their commander, hard as he tried), falling. Dun the Carpenter, who had always fought shield arm position at Inda’s left trying to protect Inda even with a sword stuck through his chest. Both of them had been yellow-haired.

  Dizzy with pain, with guilt and sorrow, Inda opened his eyes again.

  The pirates stood in a circle facing the captain, who lounged in an armchair on his deck. The sun shone behind him, a glaring halo outlining the silhouette of a short, burly man.

  “I’ll find out who, my children,” the captain said. “We missed quite a price for him. It comes out of your share if you had a reason, and out of your skin if you were clumsy.”

  Again the silence, so the captain said, “Stupid will do for us, even if he don’t command ships full of warriors. Put him over there with the new recruits. Let’s have the next.”

  Inda was guided to one side, the bindings on his wrists loosened so his numb hands fell useless to his sides. Without having said a word of agreement, Inda became a pirate.

  At first it seemed easy.

  That changed fast.

  From the forward hatchway Rig, one of the marine defense band, was brought up. His hair was matted and sticky with blood, dull red in the bright sun, his face bruised. Two fingers bent in a way that made Inda’s guts heave yet again.

  “We like,” the captain drawled, “the young ones who can be trained, who take orders. Join or die.”

  Inda tensed. He could not say, Join! There’s a secret plan— So what could he say?

  “Quiet.” Fox whispered. “Do. Not. Give. Us. Away.”

  Inda groaned, his body trembling. A finger-press at his elbow sent white lightning through him, and when he could see again, it was to meet Rig’s bleak gaze, a look he would interpret and reinterpret for the rest of his life.

  Rig spat on the deck. “You shit-stinking soul-eaters killed my brother—”

  That was as far as he got. A pirate ripped a blade across his neck. Inda closed his eyes, but was not spared the sickening sound or the thud when Rig fell to the deck.

  Walic sighed. “Why, Nizhac? He would’ve added splendidly to the meager number reserved for my evening’s entertainment. ”

  The pirate pointed at the wad of spit on the deck, and the captain tsked. “Too reckless, my friend. Silent, and I like that, but far too reckless. We would have begun by making him lick it up.” Inda could see the captain’s profile now. The man seemed about forty, fleshy face, hair cut close to his head, a style that looked peculiar to Inda, but was the current aristocratic fashion in Colend. He wore a long brocaded coat embroidered with gold thread that gleamed in the sun, and he sported a huge gold hoop at one ear. “Next.”

  Inda finally comprehended that he was not the first to join. A few steps away one of his newest recruits trembled, huge shoulders hunched, black hair hanging tangled over a face drawn in misery and shame. He’d joined to save his own life.

  Pirates shoved forward three more of Inda’s marine defenders. The first two did not look his way but the last stared at him, a white-lipped, narrow-eyed glare of contempt that was all the stronger because it was provoked by fear.

  “Well?” the captain asked. “We have much to do. I need crew, and I need entertainment after a night of exertion. Which are you to be?”

  They didn’t answer. Some of the crew shifted stances, looking seaward or avoiding others’ eyes; though Inda thought he was alone in shameful guilt, there were in fact other reluctant pirates who had joined just to stay alive.

  “Any others?” Gaffer Walic asked.

  “Four,” someone called.

  Gaffer sighed, waving a hand to and fro. “Bring ’em.”

  Guiding Thog, Uslar, and Dasta, and half carrying Mutt—who’d suffered a broken ankle in his fall off a mast—was a thin young man whose facial contours released another squealing bat of memory. That sharp chin, the defined cheekbones below a wide flat forehead, the mouth like the upper angle of a triangle revealing prominent front teeth—that rat face had to belong to a Cassad— the former ruling family of Iasca Leror! There couldn’t be anyone so like them wandering the world. Inda remembered this face hovering just past Fox’s shoulder just before Fox brained him.

  The Cassad did not look Inda’s way as he led the last of Inda’s band behind the three who had refused to join the pirates.

  The three the captain had been considering. All tall, muscular, and few as they were, this band of the dead Marlovans had taken far too many of his own crew. He glanced up at the fire damage, the many arrows bristling over his ship. Yes, they were good indeed. “You know you can change your mind,”
the captain addressed the three.

  “I hate pirates,” the third said, as he had when first hired by Inda and Kodl. “Fight them, yes. Join them, be damned first.”

  “Not before we get a night’s fun out of hearing you change your mind, over and over,” the captain retorted, thinking, So much for mercy. He twitched his gaze to small, frail-looking Thog. “Well? Join or die. I hear you’re wonderful with a bow. I can use such talent.”

  The Chwahir girl hated pirates, that much Inda knew about her. He held his breath, waiting for the inevitable, as her black, enigmatic eyes flicked Inda’s way. He saw in that glance both accusation and question, a question Inda could not answer: even if it was habit for his band to turn to him for commands, he could no longer command.

  But he could beg. “Please.” He shaped the word with his puffy lips, not sure if she understood, remembering that cry of hers as Tau pulled her from the wreckage of the mast, Let me die! He shaped the word again, Please, though he expected her to turn away in scorn.

  All she saw was the movement of his bruised lips and the agonized squint of his eyes. Was there meaning in the way he stared at her?

  Memory wheeled through her mind, distant as seabirds against the vast sky. Her heartbeat thrummed in her temples. Pirates, loathed pirates, but not the Brotherhood— and not them, the ones she hated even worse than the Brotherhood. She longed to have Jeje there, to hear her sensible voice, and then she remembered Jeje saying one night, How strange it is that we can’t get our own hearts and brains to agree, so why should others agree with us? This wants Tau (smacking her chest) but this (smacking her forehead) chooses Inda.

  Thog glanced down, straight into Uslar’s frightened black eyes. She knew that he, and maybe Mutt, waited for her to choose for them. They were too young, too bewildered, and Mutt too hurt, to do anything but follow her lead. She did not have the right to choose death for them.

  She said to Uslar and Mutt, “For now.”

  “What’s that?” the captain drawled. “Speak up.”

  Thog faced him, squaring her bony shoulders. “I won’t shoot at anyone from home.”

  The captain gave one mirthless guffaw. “The Chwahir runt is the only one with the guts to demand conditions. I don’t intend any raids on Chwahirsland anyway, platterface—that’s Brotherhood cruising ground these days.” He looked up at Dasta. “And you?”

 
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