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Forests of the Heart
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Forests of the Heart

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Author: Charles de Lint
Publisher: Tor, 2000
Series: Newford: Book 8
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Contemporary Fantasy
Fairytale Fantasy
Mythic Fiction (Fantasy)
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Synopsis

In the Old Country, they called them the Gentry: ancient spirits of the land, magical, amoral, and dangerous. When the Irish emigrated to North America, some of the Gentry followed...only to find that the New World already had spirits of its own, called manitou and other such names by the Native tribes.

Now generations have passed, and the Irish have made homes in the new land, but the Gentry still wander homeless on the city streets. Gathering in the city shadows, they bide their time and dream of power. As their dreams grow harder, darker, fiercer, so do the Gentry themselves--appearing, to those with the sight to see them, as hard and dangerous men, invariably dressed in black.

Bettina can see the Gentry, and knows them for what they are. Part Indian, part Mexican, she was raised by her grandmother to understand the spirit world. Now she lives in Kellygnow, a massive old house run as an arts colony on the outskirts of Newford, a world away from the Southwestern desert of her youth. Outsider her nighttime window, she often spies the dark men, squatting in the snow, smoking, brooding, waiting. She calls them los lobos, the wolves, and stays clear of them--until the night one follows her to the woods, and takes her hand....

Ellie, an independent young sculptor, is another with magic in her blood, but she refuses to believe it, even though she, too, sees the dark men. A strange old woman has summoned Ellie to Kellygnow to create a mask for her based on an ancient Celtic artifact. It is the mask of the mythic Summer King--another thing Ellie does not believe in. Yet lack of belief won't dim the power of the mast, or its dreadful intent.

Donal, Ellie's former lover, comes from an Irish family and knows the truth at the heart of the old myths. He thinks he can use the mask and the "hard men" for his own purposes. And Donal's sister, Miki, a punk accordion player, stands on the other side of the Gentry's battle with the Native spirits of the land. She knows that more than her brother's soul is at stake. All of Newford is threatened, human and mythic beings alike.

Once again Charles de Lint weaves the mythic traditions of many cultures into a seamless cloth, bringing folklore, music, and unforgettable characters to life on modern city streets.


Excerpt

1

Los lobos

El lobo pierde los dientes más no las mientes,
The wolf loses his teeth, not his nature.
—Mexican-American saying

Like her sister, Bettina San Miguel was small, slender woman in her mid-twenties, dark-haired and darker-eyed; part Indio, part Mexican, part something older still. Growing up, they'd often been mistaken for twins, but Bettina was a year younger and, unlike Adelita, she had never learned to forget. The little miracles of the long ago lived on in her, passed down to her from their abuela, and her grandmother before her. It was a gift that skipped a generation, tradition said.

"¡Tradición, pah!" their mother was quick to complain when the opportunity arose. "You call it a gift, but I call it craziness."

Their abuela would nod and smile, but she still took the girls out into the desert, sometimes in the early morning or evening, sometimes in the middle of the night. They would leave empty-handed, be gone for hours and return with full bellies, without thirst. Return with something in their eyes that made their mother cross herself, though she tried to hide the gesture.

"They miss too much school," she would say.

"Time enough for the Anglos' school when they are older," Abuela replied.

"And church? If they die out there with you, their sins unforgiven?"

"The desert is our church, its roof the sky. Do you think the Virgin and los santos ignore us because it has no walls? Remember, hija, the Holy Mother was a bride of the desert before she was a bride of the church."

Mamá would shake her head, muttering, "Nosotras estamos locas todas." We are all crazy. And that would be the end of it. Until the next time.

Then Adelita turned twelve and Bettina watched the mysteries fade in her sister's eyes. She still accompanied them into the desert, but now she brought paper and a pencil, and rather than learn the language of la lagartija, she would try to capture an image of the lizard on her paper. She no longer absorbed the history of the landscape; instead she traced the contours of the hills with the lead in her pencil. When she saw el halcón winging above the desert hills, she saw only a hawk, not a brujo or a mystic like their father, caught deep in a dream of flight. Her own dreams were of boys and she began to wear makeup.

All she had learned, she forgot. Not the details, not the stories. Only that they were true.

But Bettina remembered.

"You taught us both," she said to her abuela one day when they were alone. They sat stone-still in the shadow cast by a tall saguaro, watching a coyote make its way with delicate steps down a dry wash. "Why is it only I remember?"

The coyote paused in mid-step, lifting its head at the sound of her voice, ears quivering, eyes liquid and watchful.

"You were the one chosen," Abuela said.

The coyote darted up the bank of the wash, through a stand of palo verde trees, and was gone. Bettina turned back to her grandmother.

"But why did you choose me?" she asked.

"It wasn't for me to decide," Abuela told her. "It was for the mystery. There could only be one of you, otherwise la brujería would only be half so potent."

"But how can she just forget? You said we were magic—that we were both magic."

"And it is still true. Adelita won't lose her magic. It runs too deep in her blood. But she won't remember it, not like you do. Not unless…"

"Unless what?"

"You die before you have a granddaughter of your own."

* * *

Tonight Bettina sat by the window at a kitchen table many miles from the desert of her childhood, the phone propped under one ear so that she could speak to Adelita while her hands remained free to sort through the pile of milagros spilled across the table. Her only light source was a fat candle that stood in a cracked porcelain saucer, held in place by its own melted wax.

She could have turned the overhead on. There was electricity in the house—she could hear it humming in the walls and it made the old fridge grumble in the corner from time to time—but she preferred the softer illumination of the candle to electric lighting. It reminded her of firelight, of all those nights sitting around out back of Adelita's house north of Tubac, and she was in a campfire mood tonight. Talking with her sister did that, even if they were a half continent and a few time zones apart, connected only by the phone and the brujería in their blood.

The candlelight glittered on the small silver votive offerings and mad shadows dance in the corners of the room whenever Bettina moved her arm. Those shadows continued to dance when the candle's flame pointed straight up at the ceiling once more, but she ignored them. They were like the troubles that come in life—the more attention one paid to them, the more likely they were to stay. They were like the dark-skinned men who had gathered outside the house again tonight.

Every so often they came drifting up through the estates that surrounded Kellygnow, a dozen or so tall, lean men, squatting on their haunches in a rough circle in the backyard, eyes so dark they swallowed light. Bettina had no idea what brought them. She only knew they were vaguely related to her grandmother's people, distant kin to the desert Indios whose blood Bettina and Adelita shared—very distant, for the memory of sea spray and a rich, damp green lay under the skin of their thoughts. This was not their homeland; their spirits spread a tangle of roots just below the surface of the soil, no deeper.

But like her uncles, they were handsome men, dark-skinned and hard-eyed, dressed in collarless white shirts and suits of black broadcloth. Barefoot, calluses hard as boot leather, and the cold didn't seem to affect them. Long black hair tied back, or twisted into braided ropes. They were silent, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes as they watched the house. Bettina could smell the burning tobacco from inside where she sat, smell the smoke, and under it, a feral, musky scent.

Their presence in the yard resonated like a vibration deep in her bones. She knew they lived like wolves, up in the hills north of the city, perhaps, running wild and alone except for times such as this. She had never spoken to them, never asked what brought them. Her abuela had warned her a long time ago not to ask questions of la brujería when it came so directly into one's life. It was always better to let such a mystery make its needs known in its own time.

"And of course, Mamá wants to know when you're coming home," Adelita was saying.

Usually they didn't continue this old conversation themselves. Their mother was too good at keeping it alive by herself.

"I am home," Bettina said. "She knows that."

"But she doesn't believe it."

"This is true. She was asking me the same thing when I talked to her last night. And then, of course, she wanted to know if I'd found a church yet, if the priest was a good speaker, had I been to confession…"

Adelita laughed. "iPor supuesto! At least she can't check up on you. Chuy's now threatening to move us to New Mexico."

"Why New Mexico?"

"Because of Lalo's band. With the money they made on that last tour, they had enough to put a down payment on this big place outside of Albuquerque. But it needs a lot of work and he wants to hire Chuy to do it. Lalo says there's plenty of room for all of us."

"Los lobos."

"That's right. You should have come to one of the shows."

But Bettina hadn't been speaking of the band from East L.A. Those lobos had given Lalo's band their big break by bringing them along on tour as their support act last year. The wolves she'd been referring to were out in the cold night that lay beyond the kitchen's windows.

She hadn't even meant to speak aloud. The words had been pulled out of her by a stirring outside, an echoing whisper deep in her bones. For a moment she'd thought the tall, dark men were coming into the house, that an explanation would finally accompany their enigmatic presence. But they were only leaving, slipping away among the trees.

"Bettina?" her sister asked. "¿Estás ahi"

"I'm here."

Bettina let out a breath she hadn't been aware of holding. She didn't need to look out the window to know that the yard was now empty. It took her a moment to regain the thread of their conversation.

"I was just distracted for a moment," she said, then added, "What about the gallery? I can't imagine you selling it."

Adelita laughed. "Oh, we're not really going. It's bad enough that Lalo's moving so far away. Chuy's family would be heartbroken if we went as well. How would they be able to spoil Janette as much as they do now? And Mamá…"

"Would never forgive you."

"De veras"

Bettina went back to sorting through her milagros, fingering the votive offerings as they gossiped about the family and neighbors Bettina had left behind. Adelita always had funny stories about the tourists who came into the gallery and Bettina never tired of hearing about her niece Janette. She missed the neighborhood and its people, her family and friends. And she missed the desert, desperately. But something had called to her from the forested hills that lay outside the city that was now...

Copyright © 2000 by Charles de Lint


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