I’ve recently done a re-read of Short Sun and one of the things I’m noticing is that Wolfe will have a protagonist project for us a terrible development, a terrible development that easily could have occurred, but then retracts it: didn’t happen. He makes it so that we are hit with terror, but are then allowed some soothe-down. There are more than a handful of instances where for example a character says they would have killed someone, often someone related to them, but for the presence of another, or for a gun not quite being able to them at the time. They never seem to be… “just kiddings,” either. “Har, Har. Just kidding!” No, they are not that. If they had occurred, I think just as one famous reader of Wolfe stopped reading his “WizardKnight” when Wolfe went graphic with how human women gives birth to baby-giants, many might not have continued on. Wolfe would have lost more readers. For example, it’s not just Horn or Hide who contemplate killing beings we’ve come to like — Horn tells us that when his son Sinew first appeared, if the circumstances had been different, he would have shot him (Horn was convinced Sinew was intent on not only slaying him but Nettle and his brothers as well, and so was prepared to pre-empt his murders by killing him beforehand) — but Silk as well: late into the trilogy he tells us that his need to keep sacrificial rituals done in a customary form, meant that he would have given serious consideration to sacrificing Oreb, if only a proper knife was available for him. He doesn’t think he would have done it, but if the knife had been avaible to him, even just seeing him with the knife giving serious consideration to suddenly slitting Oreb’s throat, would have stopped many readers from reading onwards. “At this point, after so much time with your friend — you might just up and dispatch him?!” Michael Andre-Driussi has written that the Silk everyone really wanted was the one left behind on the whorl, the Silver-Silk “Silk” they never got, not the one Horn ultimately retrieved, who was a massively messed up middle-aged man. Interesting intuition on his part there.
The wedding that terminates “Return to the Whorl,” where hundreds of inhumi attack a wedding party, is unfolded for us initially as something that readily could have gone the other way: that is, where rather than the inhumi being slaughtered on mass, the wedding-party would have been. This is the first paragraph of the sequence: “Wijzer gave the bride. Her dress was a simple one of white silk with a white lace veil, but her pearls and her beauty set the manteion buzzing. Gyrfalcon came, with an armed bodyguard of twenty men. If he had not, things would almost certainly have gone very differently, and we would not be writing this.”
The attack occurs because Silk, giving little regard to the fact that the fact of his currently existing at all owed to Horn’s giving his own life to him, wants to give an inhumi, to give Juganu, a good chance to slay him (he speculates he might live after being fully drained by Jugano, but likely not.. fate would decide). Not for having done an act upon him, but for the manner in which he did it, he expected Jugano would pursue him and successfully drain him of most of his blood. “I opposed it, Your Cognizance, in such a way as to stir up Juganu’s ill will as much as possible.” Each hand warred with the other, twisting and tearing. “I didn’t—I’ve searched my conscience on this, Your Cognizance. I didn’t imagine that Juganu would enlist hundreds of his kind for a public attack.”
The trustworthiness of Silk’s conscience is suspect here. He’s already previously — we were witness to him doing so — throughly searched his conscience and informed even those closest to him, namely, Maytera Mint, that despite all appearances, despite all logic, he is not in fact Silk… when in fact somewhere deep inside him is the awareness that, no, he in fact is. He can’t access that truth… of his being Silk, because he can’t live with the fact of having been the source of Horn’s death. So why would we accept that he would be capable of searching and finding truths that again his conscious mind could not tolerate. Truths like actually wanting to make sure not only that he died, but that he had company to share him in death… that he had a family to join him. (Silk had already informed us he was aware this was once a custom, a custom practiced in parts of the whorl –in Grandecitta, specfiically — where when important people of his position dies, his entire funeral party… or maybe it’s just all his wives, is/are murdered to join him into death and guarantee he’s not alone.)
So if Gyrfalcon’s heavily-armed bodyguard of twenty had not arrived with him, without it being so lethal, not only would a huge wedding party have been slain by the inhumi, but it might well have been according to Silk’s unconscious designs. Wolfe puts forward his own “red wedding” sequence as a possibility, but withdraws it to spare our sharing Nettle’ reaction to Horn-Silk as someone who had arrived back to her only to bring back to her, death. We can, after the fact, fiddle with what Silk’s “one-hand-battling-the-other-hand” meant, if it had any correspondence to other of Wolfe’s protagonists who have parts of their brains who hate them, or who hate all humanity, for the fact that though it was at first projected out, we were spared the disaster.