Welcome back to The Way of Kings reread on Tor.com. Last week we saw Kaladin bedridden after surviving his trial by highstorm. Though he’d come through the hurricane, his wounds and fever kept his men in suspense as to whether he would survive. This week, their fears are relieved as Kaladin emerges into the bright sunlight of the living world once more. But can he find a way to share their joy, or will the twin burdens of the hopeless present and the tragic past bring the wretch back?
In today’s reread I’ll cover chapters 40 and 41. Read on for more of Kaladin’s depression, Lirin’s medical know-how and attempted malpractice, and the beginning of Sigzil’s expositional career.
Chapter 40: Eyes of Red and Blue
Setting: The Shattered Plains, Sadeas’s warcamp
Point of View: Kaladin
What Happens: Kaladin emerges, blinded and blinking, into the daylight world outside Bridge Four’s barrack. After an unknown time spent tossing and turning in the throes of fever, he is weak and confused. Most bewildering of all, to his mind, is the basic fact of his survival. He goes looking for his men, and is surprised to find them carrying out the rigorous bridge practice regimen he’d set out, even in his absence. When Moash, running at the front of the bridge, notices Kaladin he stumbles to a stop, almost toppling the entire crew. Soon the bridgemen are all walking towards Kaladin, reverent expressions on their faces.
Kaladin breaks the tense mood by pointing out their sloppy response to Moash stopping. When he smiles, they’re on him, laughing and celebrating his return to health. Kaladin tries to join in, but soon loses himself in memories of the highstorm. He remembers Syl in her warrior form, the nearly deadly conditions, the huge, mysterious face, and the deathspren. He asks how long he’d been out, and can’t believe that it’s only been ten days. That’s not nearly enough time for his wounds to have healed.
The men fill him in on what’s happened while he was out, then go back to their celebrations. They now seem to regard Kaladin with something approaching worship. As he ponders what he’s gotten himself into now, knowing that his prediction that he would survive is dangerously like prophecy and that Sadeas would be furious to know he survived, a horn announces a bridge run, and Bridge Four is on duty.
Kaladin, too weak to carry the bridge, joins Lopen and Dabbid on water-carrying duty. When they reach the battle, he watches it instead of resting, trying to figure out Sadeas’s tactics. Now that he knows that “bridgemen aren’t supposed to survive,” things make more sense; there are too many bridges and the Parshendi are too disorganized and rough to realize that they’re being baited. Rock and Sigzil join him, and Kaladin asks why the Parshendi fight. Rock says it’s because they aren’t fond of the idea of being beheaded by vengeance-crazed Alethi, but Sigzil has a more sophisticated answer: They fight because they need the gemhearts, even though their numbers are dwindling from the skirmishes. Therefore, they must have Soulcasters, and must need gemhearts for food.
Kaladin then asks why the bridgemen can’t have shields, and explains that they’re left undefended to draw Parshendi attention. Sigzil calls this a foolish waste of troops, but Kaladin points out that protecting the time and money invested in trained soldiers makes it far from foolish.
Back at the camp that night, Kaladin watches as the men talk and laugh while waiting for Rock’s nightly stew. He can’t share their happiness. He knows that all his previous struggles have been misguided. He could never have convinced Sadeas to value bridgemen as soldiers. It’s insane to try to save bridgemen by carrying bridges well, because carrying a bridge means being marked for death intentionally. His men trust him now, but that only sickens him. He doesn’t want to be their false hope, and doesn’t know how to perform another miracle for them. Kaladin can feel the wretch he left behind rising inside him, fed by the knowledge that he is going to fail his men.
Maps, one of the bridgemen, rises and makes an impromptu speech. He tells the men that it’s a special night, since Kaladin is back, and there’s good food coming, if Rock ever finishes fussing over the meal. Then he surprises the Horneater by tossing him a present: a razor and shaving kit. Rock tears up and flees the campfire, letting the hungry bridgemen descend upon his unguarded stew.
After a moment of consideration, the men crowd the stew pot. Instead of joining the press, Kaladin goes over to Sigzil, the only other man hanging back. Sigzil reveals himself to be an educated man, then tells Kaladin that the men suspect him to secretly be noble-born. After some confusion over terminology (their shared language has no word for “noble” that doesn’t imply “light of eye”) and insistence on Kaladin’s part that he’s just a common man, he presses for Sigzil’s story. Sigzil speaks cryptically, saying that he tried and failed to kill someone, and that he had a master once.
Sigzil says that Kaladin is right about the bridgemen being doomed, and tells him a story of Marabethia. He says that condemned criminals there can choose to be hung over the bay with cut cheeks as bait for greatshells. If they survive for a week they can go free, but none ever do. This has led to an expression, “eyes of red and blue,” which describes men who prefer false hope to reality.
Sigzil praises Kaladin’s work, comparing it to giving medicine to a sick man to ease his death. It’s small comfort for Kaladin. Before he can think more about it, though, Rock bursts out, having shaved his beard into a strange sideburn arrangement. He offers the razor to everyone, and some take him up on his offer, but Kaladin can’t see the point. He sees the world pressing down on him, and knows he’s falling into depression.
Quote of the Chapter:
Sigzil hesitated. “Yes,” he finally said. “Among my people, it is not a sin for a male to be keen of mind.”
“It isn’t a sin for Alethi either.”
“My experience is that you care only about wars and the art of killing.”
“And what have you seen of us besides our army?”
“Not much,” Sigzil admitted.
Is Sigzil wrong? Not entirely. Pursuing fulfillment through the life of the mind is stigmatized for Alethi men, and all stigmas in Alethi society have their roots in religious tradition. However, I read this exchange as a gentle reminder from Sanderson. We are being offered a biased cross-section of Alethi culture. It’s easy enough to forget, when surrounded by violent and ignorant soldiers, that there is more to the Alethi than this. Dalinar manages occasional wisdom and frequent nobility, for example. Kaladin and Lirin both attempt to practice learned arts. The Azish man still isn’t wrong.
Oh hi, depression. Why don’t you make yourself comfortable? We’ve got some big Kaladin-shaped bean bags for you to sink right into.
Kaladin is beset by a lot of strange circumstances in this chapter. First, there’s the fact that he’s not dead, like he should be, but instead has healed his broken ribs in just ten days. Not only did his men keep up their training in his absence, showing that his lessons sunk in, but now they all seem to worship him as a magical miracle man. His men are actually happy, and see hope for the future. But, simultaneously, the scales have fallen away from his eyes and he’s beginning to understand Sadeas’s evil tactics. He knows his plan was doomed from the start.
So, in a way, Kaladin has it worse than ever. He’s earned the respect of his men in circumstances that were totally beyond his control and which he doesn’t know how to replicate. He’s earned the attention of Sadeas. He has no plan. How much more terrible is it for him to be sinking into depression while surrounded by people who have learned how to be happy again from him?
All of this would be bad enough without all Kaladin’s stormlight-related changes. He just can’t deal with the things that are happening to his body!
I like when characters are competent, and this is a chapter of competence. Kaladin displays his ability to analyze the battlefield. Sigzil shows off his ability to tell stories as well as the related talent of analyzing foreign cultures. Seriously, it’s really great to see him examine the Parshendi and come to conclusions based on the premise that they’re rational beings. Rock cooks up a storm, Maps practices speechifying, and the crew in general shows how well it’s doing at forming a coherent unit. I love that they promoted Kaladin to captain when the higher-ups made Rock squadleader.
How great is it to watch Sigzil try to explain the concept of non-lighteyed nobility to Kaladin? You know a culture is committed to an idea when it shapes their very language. The idea that people with dark eyes could be the equals of people with light eyes is practically untranslatable.
In this chapter, Kaladin is willing to assign a huge amount of moral weight to his potential failure to save lives. The next chapter is all about that question.
Chapter 41: Of Alds and Milp
Location: Hearthstone, Five and a Half Years Ago
Point of View: Kaladin
What Happens: Kaladin pushes past a hysterical Laral to join Lirin in the surgery room. Kaladin leaps to assist his father, Hesina and Tien taking auxiliary roles or fleeing, respectively. Roshone and his son Rillir have gotten themselves terribly wounded while hunting whitespines. Rillir has been pierced through the torso, his leg hanging by a few tendons.
Kaladin washes out Rillir’s stomach wound so his father can examine it. Lirin probes the wound, grows even sterner, then turns away to tend to Roshone instead. The citylord protests, but Lirin coldly explains that his son is dead. There is nothing he can do to help him except ease his pain. He has Kaladin doze the furious lighteyes with dazewater, then apply it to Rillir to ease his passing.
The two extract the shards of whitespine tusk from Roshone efficiently, while Lirin complains about the folly of going hunting for such dangerous creatures. As if it weren’t enough to send half the town to the war. Before removing the last shard, Lirin’s scalpel hovers over Roshone’s femoral artery. If he cut it, Roshone would be dead in minutes. He looked up at his son, then pulled back his scalpel, removed the last shard, and began to close the wound. “Behind them, Rillir had stopped breathing.”
Later that day, Kaladin watches the blood-red sunset, thinking about blood, eyes, and nobility. When his father joins him, he tells Lirin that he saw inside a man. Specifically, he saw inside his father, saw a man who would have let Roshone die if Kaladin hadn’t been there. He demands to know why he didn’t let him die, or even kill him.
Lirin says he couldn’t, because he’s not a killer. “Somebody has to start. Somebody has to step forward and do what is right, because it is right.” He wants to be better than the lighteyes, to reawaken human decency, and for his son to do the same. Kaladin, on the other hand, thinks he should have let Roshone die.
Lirin tells him to go inside and get some rest so he could be ready when Alds and Milp, the darkeyed men who accompanied Roshone’s hunting party, are brought back. Kaladin doubts this will happen; the men are surely dead by now. He thinks about whether he would have killed Roshone, and thinks he wouldn’t. But he doesn’t feel like he had any obligation to help, either. He realizes that his father is wrong about him. He’s nowhere near as gentle or averse to death as his father suspects. He discovers that he could kill, when necessary. “Some people—like a festering finger or a leg shattered beyond repair—just needed to be removed.”
Quote of the Chapter:
“I work under three guidelines, Roshone,” Lirin said, forcibly pressing the lighteyes down against his table. “The guidelines every surgeon uses when choosing between two patients. If the wounds are equal, treat the youngest first.”
“Then see to my son!”
“If the wounds are not equally threatening,” Lirin continued, “Treat the worst wound first.”
“As I’ve been telling you!”
“The third guideline supersedes them both, Roshone,” Lirin said, leaning down. “A surgeon must know when someone is beyond their ability to help. I’m sorry, Roshone. I would save him if I could, I promise you. But I cannot.”
They have formalized rules of triage! I’m going to be over here, swooning. You’ll have to excuse me.
Let me pull out the parallels between these two chapters. First, the dazewater, which seems to be some kind of ether or chloroform. Kaladin gives Rillir what Sigzil said he was giving the bridgemen: a medicine to ease the pain of the dying. I find that linking detail subtle but powerful. Chapter 41 also continues the investigation of lack of action. In the present, when it comes to his men, Kaladin would feel as culpable letting them die as if he were actually killing them himself. But in the past he saw a moral distinction between killing Roshone and letting him bleed out. This might be a contradiction, but I think it’s more likely that Kaladin sees his men as a voluntary obligation he took on. He has the ability to preserve life, and is obligated to preserve the lives of those who he chooses to take care of, but he doesn’t feel an obligation to help those who he morally disapproves of. I’m not totally sure this position is morally tenable.
It’s fascinating that Kaladin discovers his capacity to kill in the context of surgery. More evidence, I believe, for Kaladin’s healing/killing duality.
Finally, let me just say that I love the way this chapter’s name works. It’s named after Alds and Milp, two men who lost their lives because of Roshone’s capriciousness, and the two characters don’t even make it to the surgery. They’re never seen in the text, except as names attached to people who are never coming home.