Welcome back to the Way of Kings reread on Tor.com. Since my last article I’ve been busily documenting the ecology of Roshar, and while that’s been illuminating, I must say that it’s good to be back to the work of reading (and rereading (and rereading)) the book itself. Today I will be covering another long chapter, one that further peels back the veil of who these Alethi nobles really are. As such, expect plenty of smack to be talked about Sadeas, by Wit at least. Dalinar also delivers a particularly delicious teardown. I may not be able to resist joining the fray myself.
Chapter 15: The Decoy
Setting: The Shattered Plains
Points of View: Adolin and Dalinar
What Happens: Adolin continues to oversee the cleanup in the aftermath of the chasmfiend attack, which has left the hunting party stranded on a plateau. He walks among his soldiers, passing men harvesting carapace and long lines of the injured. Although there was a route of escape to the east, Dalinar had decided to wait rather than risk extending into Parshendi territory while carrying wounded.
He approaches a group of lighteyes lounging in comfort and leisure, even after the disaster of the hunt. Nearly fifty men died, with close to a hundred more wounded. Adolin feels this loss deeply, as he lost men he knew, but the King had brushed it off. He goes to seek his father.
Dalinar is standing at the edge of the plateau looking eastward, and Adolin can’t help remembering him rebuffing the chasmfiend, Plate glowing. His heroism has earned Dalinar a momentary reprieve in the minds of the other lighteyes, but Adolin fears it won’t outlast weeks of apparent inactivity. He wants more. He goes to give the final casualty report to Elhokar.
Dalinar reflects on the war: six years of siege, six years of the strategy he himself had suggested long ago, not knowing about what would prove to be a crucial factor in the war. The gemhearts changed everything, turning a perfect trap into an extended series of games. He turns away and fights the urge to do Adolin’s job for him as he watches his son move towards the royal pavilion. Although he knows that the blond in Adolin’s black hair is an inheritance from his mother, Dalinar can remember nothing of his dead wife.
To keep himself form interfering, Dalinar examines the dead chasmfiend, picked apart after its gemheart was removed. Most gemhearts are harvested while chasmfiends pupate, an easy process after a fast race and often a hard fight for the right to claim that prize. The gemhearts are what the Alethi and the Parshendi fight for, and since many Parshendi died in these conflicts and they have no means of bringing in reinforcements, the contests are tactically sound.
The gemhearts are also enormously valuable, allowing the highprince who claims one to supply his entire army for months, as well as being phenomenally useful in soulcasting. This, combined with the Vorin teaching that the finest warriors have the most exalted afterlife, keeps the highprinces at each others throats, as much rivals as allies. Dalinar is worried that the purpose of the Vengeance Pact has been forgotten. The Parshendi claimed responsibility for assassinating Gavilar, but in all these years they’ve never said why, and no one but Dalinar seems to care anymore.
Dalinar wonders whether he really believes in the visions that come to him during highstorms. Could they be sent by the Almighty? Could Dalinar Kholin really have been chosen to unite the highprinces? While ruminating, he sees Sadeas step out of the king’s pavilion, and catches a signal from him:
Sadeas caught Dalinar’s eyes, nodding slightly. My part is done, that nod said. Sadeas strolled for a moment, then reentered the pavilion.
Dalinar, knowing that it is time for him to act, and seeing his sons lurking near the king—most likely to spy on Sadeas—Dalinar goes to see his nephew.
As soon as he sees him, Elhokar begins asking his uncle why he hasn’t won as many gemhearts as Sadeas recently. He says that it’s the bridges giving Sadeas his advantage, although Dalinar stiffly contends that his army has won plenty of battles, despite being busy with more important things recently. Sadeas scoffs at this; what could be more important than the war? Elhokar keeps pushing:
“You should switch to bridges like his,” Elhokar said.
“Your Majesty,” Dalinar said. “Sadeas’s bridges waste many lives.”
“But they are also fast,” Sadeas said smoothly. “Relying on wheeled bridges is foolish, Dalinar. Getting them over this plateau terrain is slow and plodding.”
Dalinar points out that the Codes forbid a general order anything he wouldn’t do himself. Sadeas complains that he wouldn’t eat gruel either, but Dalinar holds fast, saying that he would never under the furthest extremity want to enter battle with neither weapons nor armor. Sadeas counters that, when they gave the bridgemen shields, the Parshendi stopped focusing fire on them. They stopped performing their purpose: to distract the Parshendi from targets of actual worth.
Gavilar’s last words flash into Dalinar’s mind. Those words were a quotation from the ancient text The Way of Kings, and another passage from that text comes with them:
“Sometimes,” Dalinar said, “the prize is not worth the costs. The means by which we achieve victory are as important s the victory itself.”
Sadeas looked at Dalinar incredulously. Even Adolin and Renarin—who had come closer—seemed shocked by the statement. It was a very un-Alethi way of thinking.
With the visions and the words of that book spinning in his mind lately, Dalinar wasn’t feeling particularly Alethi.
Sadeas’ rejoinder, however, is very Alethi; winning the contest is worth anything. Dalinar says that this is a war, not a contest, but Sadeas insists that everything is a contest. “All dealings among men are a contest in which some will succeed and others fail. And some are failing quite spectacularly.” Adolin has had enough, and snaps at Sadeas, almost calling him a coward before Dalinar cuts him off and Renarin puts a hand on his arm. Sadeas smirks at Dalinar and offers a further barb:
“One son can barely control himself, and the other is incompetent…The firebrand I can understand…You were once impetuous just like him. But the other one? You saw how he ran out onto the field today. He even forgot to draw his sword or bow! He’s useless!”
Adolin almost summons his blade, but Dalinar insists he will handle it. And he does:
Dalinar turned his attention to Sadeas, speaking very softly, very pointedly. “Sadeas. Surely I did not just hear you openly—before the king—call my son useless. Surely you would not say that, as such an insult would demand that I summon my Blade and seek your blood. Shatter the Vengeance Pact. Cause the king’s two greatest allies to kill one another. Surely you would not have been that foolish. Surely I misheard.”
In the echoing silence of that iceburn, Sadeas backs down. The conversation with the king begins to wrap up, before Wit arrives, mocking Sadeas and putting a verbal test to Renarin, which he passes easily. Sadeas seems to want to kill Wit, but isn’t willing to accept the penalty: the one who kills the King’s Wit must abandon his land and titles.
Before leaving the pavilion, Elhokar asks whether Dalinar has begun looking into an issue he previously asked him about. Adolin is curious, so Dalinar takes him away to show him something. Soon Adolin is holding a long leather strap, the strap which broke and threw Elhokar from his horse during the battle, trying to determine whether it was cut. The king has made it the center of his most recent paranoia. The break is smoother on one side, but an assassination attempt through the strap would be incredibly incompetent. However, even an incompetent assassination attempt must be looked into. Adolin groans that the others see them as Elhokar’s pets, never winning wealth or glory.
Dalinar realizes they’re not talking about the strap anymore, and that Adolin is still thinking about how he held him back from challenging Sadeas, even though they both hate him. Dalinar says that he knows Sadeas better, and they’ll amend that in a moment, but in the meantime should look into the strap, no matter how unlikely an assassination attempt is to be directed against this popular king. He gives Adolin a list of tasks, then takes him to go learn about Sadeas.
Dalinar and Adolin find highprince Vamah, very unsubtly remind him how generous the king is with loaning out his soulcasters, especially to Vamah, who is about to need them for a lot of wood. Vamah gets the message, and leaves in a huff. Dalinar explains how Vamah has been complaining about Elhokar’s soulcasting fees, and that this was a reminder of how much Vamah relied on the king. At this point Sadeas appears, and asks if he carried out his part of the plan. Dalinar asks if Sadeas had told Vamah that he was increasing what he charges for wood. Sadeas has doubled it. Adolin realizes that they planned all of this, from the moment they invited Vamah on the hunt.
They then begin arguing about Elhokar, with Sadeas insisting that it is Dalinar’s rigidity that fosters the king’s paranoia. Dalinar tries to invoke the codes, but Sadeas will have none of it. Dalinar says Gavilar followed the codes, Sadeas asks where that got him, and peaceable discourse breaks down. Sadeas barbs Dalinar further:
“I’ll protect the boy my way,” Sadeas said. “You do it your way. But don’t complain to me about his paranoia when you insist on wearing your uniform to bed, just incase the Parshendi suddenly decide—against all reason and precedent—to attack the warcamps. ‘I don’t know where he gets it’ indeed!”
Dalinar has had enough, and turns to go, but Sadeas holds him back, asking if he’s found why Gavilar wrote what he did. Dalinar has not. Sadeas says he never will, and that trying to is tearing him apart. They leave.
On a small hill, Dalinar tells Adolin about Gavilar’s final words to him, which told him to follow the Codes. Gavilar is the one who showed the Codes to Dalinar, after he began changing. He tells his son that, when the assassin attacked, Dalinar was drunk out of his mind. He reminds him that Sadeas acted as the decoy, trying to draw the assassin away, defenseless as he did so. But the ploy failed, and neither Sadeas nor Dalinar can forgive the other for their failure. So they vowed to protect Elhokar, no matter what. They differ on how to do so. But despite the hate that raises between them, Dalinar knows Sadeas for a brave and cunning man, and wants his son to respect that.
Adolin asks Dalinar to at least consider not trusting Sadeas, and Dalinar says he’ll consider it. Then they talk about the writing, which is a mystery to both of them. Gavilar shouldn’t have been able to write, but they can think of no other explanation for the words found next to his body, the words that still drive Dalinar, the words that led him to The Way of Kings. “You must find the most important words a man can say.”
Elhokar finds the two of them, asking whether the Shardbearers can’t be on their way yet, but Dalinar points out that he doubts Elhokar wants to be running across the plateaus exposed. Elhokar asks whether they’re looking into the saddle girth. Dalinar has, but they haven’t been able to decide whether it was sabotage. Elhokar insists, claiming that Dalinar won’t take the plots against his life seriously. Dalinar protests, saying that this is a poor way to try to kill a man in Shardplate. For a moment, Elhokar looks at them as if with suspicion, then orders them to look further into the strap.
Adolin is shocked by this suspicion, and Dalinar promises to speak to him about it later. The bridgecrew has finally arrived.
Dalinar goes to check on Gallant, enjoying the special bond a Ryshadium forms with its master, and thinking again about The Way of Kings. He thinks of the parable of the king who stopped to carry a heavy stone for a struggling peasant, which he can remember word for word. The book is very poorly regarded in Alethkar for its message of regal humility, but that message is beginning to grow on Dalinar. He turns to head back to the warcamp, thinking about bridgemen:
He turned his mount and clopped up onto the bridge, then nodded his thanks to the bridgemen. They were the lowest in the army, and yet they bore the weight of kings.
Quote of the Chapter:
“You see, Dalinar? The Parshendi are too tempted by the exposed bridgemen to fire at anyone else! Yes, we lose a few bridge crews in each assault, but rarely so many that it hinders us. The Parshendi just keep firing at them—I assume that, for whatever reason, they think killing the bridgemen hurts us. As if an unarmored man carrying a bridge was worth the same to the army as a mounted knight in Plate.”
Yeah, what kind of idiot savage would ever value those two lives equally? Are they really so stupid as to think that we value the lives of our own kind, even in their unweaponized state? Sadeas is such a class act.
Yes, I’m dying to discuss Highprince “Don’t Call Me Shirley” Sadeas, but first I have a little aside about spren. After Sadeas and Dalinar tag-team Vamah, he is livid. Angerspren are boiling up all around him. And it is impossible for anyone not to notice that he’s angry. I’m pretty sure this is one of the root causes of how toweringly unsubtle the Alethi are.
Now, to the meat of the subject. Sadeas takes a beating in this chapter. Adolin nearly cuts his face off, Dalinar icily destroys him, and that’s all before Wit even shows up. According to Wit, Sadeas makes his job too easy: “your very nature makes mockery of my mockery. And so it is that through sheer stupidity you make me look incompetent.” He follows this up with a whore joke, which is somewhat feeble but at least cleverly worded: “I point out truths when I see them, Brightlord Sadeas. Each man has his place. Mine is to make insults. Yours is to be in-sluts.” Wit reminds me of a Shakespearean fool. His language always feels out of place, but in an intentionally crafted way. In this conclave of self-obsessed windbags, Wit is a man with a pointy stick, and he has a lot of deflating to do. That being said, I find his jokes a little tedious. What does everyone else think?
Sadeas definitely goes way too far while provoking Dalinar. You do not mess with that man’s sons, and Dalinar’s response is so delicious. He emanates so much threat, so much promise, without ever saying anything that Sadeas could latch onto. And at the end of it, the entire rejoinder has a graceful exit for Sadeas built in. It’s exquisite to watch.
As is probably clear from my choice of quotation, I am quite convinced that Sadeas deserves everything he gets this chapter. While his military calculus may be sound, and, indeed, his strategies have won him a lot of wealth and have killed a lot of Parshendi, the human cost clearly doesn’t even matter to him. There was no somber cost-benefit analysis there, he just unthinkingly believes that some human lives are worth less than others, and actually finds it quaint that the Parshendi and Dalinar expect him to care about the lives of bridgemen.
Knowing how all this ends, it’s rather painful to watch Dalinar unceasingly defend his respect for Sadeas. He believes in his former friend’s bravery and cunning, and I don’t think he’s wrong that those qualities exist, but they cover up the fact that, at his core, Sadeas is a conventional Alethi. He believes in competition. He believes in winning. He believes in ambition. He believes in himself. And even though he wants Elhokar to be safe, to be protected, he won’t disentangle his own ambitions from that. He won’t protect Elhokar without furthering his own goals. Dalinar is changing while Sadeas is remaining the same, and as he changes Dalinar doesn’t succeed at adjusting his expectations for Sadeas.
Adolin sees Sadeas from his own honor-bound Alethi perspective, but he still sees what he’s about more accurately than Dalinar does. He’s wrong to think that Sadeas only cares about himself, but right not to trust him. One of the problematic traits of Dalinar’s character is that, although he listens to his son, and always agrees to consider others’ points of view, he still possesses so much moral certitude that he always ends up acting on his own instincts instead.
Elhokar’s paranoia seems to be on full display here, but we actually know better. The whole Mystery of the Saddle Strap is just an elaborate loyalty test on his part, which I really don’t think Dalinar deserved to be subjected to. What I do like about this is how easily and skillfully Dalinar slips into detective mode.
I’m fascinated by how quickly and easily Elhokar slipped into a set of “proper kingly behaviors,” considering that he is only the second king in a new dynasty, many generations after his nation was last united. We see in this chapter the traditional ways that he handles his highprinces, letting them bicker amongst each other without letting it touch him, and deals with warfare, not going into battle himself but controlling the use of soulcasters as a tax. Gavilar was inspired to unite Alethkar by the legacy of the Sunmaker. I wonder if that time period is also where Elhokar is drawing his instructions on how to rule from.
This chapter also sees an increase in emphasis on the Codes. We learn that Dalinar received them from his brother, that he follows them obsessively, to the extent that it annoys his son and compatriots, and that they seem to be based on essentially decent values, like not requiring something of your soldiers that you would never do yourself. We also hear the opinion that they are the misguided beliefs of how leaders ought to be, utterly divorced from any reality that ever existed. In my opinion, that’s probably partially true, but that doesn’t mean the codes are worthless. They do act as a major handicap in Dalinar’s political life.
Speaking of, Dalinar is a hopeless politician. Sadeas has maneuvered him to always be the bearer of bad news, and I don’t think Dalinar would ever bother to think about how that is inconvenient. He trusts that it is part of the scheme to protect Elhokar, not realizing how short his end of the stick is.
Perhaps even if he knew, he wouldn’t care. The Codes and The Way of Kings have changed him in huge ways, all of which are wrapped up in his visions. Those visions are building up a weight of foreshadowing. Something for us all to look forward to.
That’s all for this week. Next week, Kaladin!