Tor.com is pleased to offer the following excerpt from Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance, book two of The Stormlight Archive.
In The Way of Kings, we were introduced to the remarkable world of Roshar, a land both alien and magical. Roshar is shared by humans and the enigmatic Parshendi, who have been at war with each other for five years. The war has revealed the worst of humanity to Dalinar Kholin, a powerful general, and Kaladin Stormblessed, a troubled slave. But there is more at stake in this conflict than the fate of the peoples involved. As Jasnah Kholin and her ward Shallan Davar discover, their entire world is rushing towards a cataclysm, one that only a long-lost order called the Knights Radiant could possibly prepare them for.
In Words of Radiance these stories will intertwine and develop in thrilling and unexpected directions. The war with the Parshendi will move into a new, dangerous phase, as Dalinar leads the human armies deep into the heart of the Shattered Plains in a bold attempt to finally end it. Shallan is set on finding the legendary and perhaps mythical city of Urithiru, which Jasnah believes holds a secret vital to mankind’s survival on Roshar. Kaladin struggles to wear the mantle of the Windrunners as his old demons resurface. And the threat of the Voidbringers’ return hangs over them all.
Six Years Ago
Jasnah Kholin pretended to enjoy the party, giving no indication that she intended to have one of the guests killed.
She wandered through the crowded feast hall, listening as wine greased tongues and dimmed minds. Her uncle Dalinar was in the full swing of it, rising from the high table to shout for the Parshendi to bring out their drummers. Jasnah’s brother, Elhokar, hurried to shush their uncle—though the Alethi politely ignored Dalinar’s outburst. All save Elhokar’s wife, Aesudan, who snickered primly behind a handkerchief.
Jasnah turned away from the high table and continued through the room. She had an appointment with an assassin, and she was all too glad to be leaving the stuffy room, which stank of too many perfumes mingling. A quartet of women played flutes on a raised platform across from the lively hearth, but the music had long since grown tedious.
Unlike Dalinar, Jasnah drew stares. Like flies to rotten meat those eyes were, constantly following her. Whispers like buzzing wings. If there was one thing the Alethi court enjoyed more than wine, it was gossip. Everyone expected Dalinar to lose himself to wine during a feast—but the king’s daughter, admitting to heresy? That was unprecedented.
Jasnah had spoken of her feelings for precisely that reason.
She passed the Parshendi delegation, which clustered near the high table, talking in their rhythmic language. Though this celebration honored them and the treaty they’d signed with Jasnah’s father, they didn’t look festive or even happy. They looked nervous. Of course, they weren’t human, and the way they reacted was sometimes odd.
Jasnah wanted to speak with them, but her appointment would not wait. She’d intentionally scheduled the meeting for the middle of the feast, as so many would be distracted and drunken. Jasnah headed toward the doors but then stopped in place.
Her shadow was pointing in the wrong direction.
The stuffy, shuffling, chattering room seemed to grow distant. High-prince Sadeas walked right through the shadow, which quite distinctly pointed toward the sphere lamp on the wall nearby. Engaged in conversation with his companion, Sadeas didn’t notice. Jasnah stared at that shadow—skin growing clammy, stomach clenched, the way she felt when she was about to vomit. Not again. She searched for another light source. A reason. Could she find a reason? No.
The shadow languidly melted back toward her, oozing to her feet and then stretching out the other way. Her tension eased. But had anyone else seen?
Blessedly, as she searched the room, she didn’t find any aghast stares. People’s attention had been drawn by the Parshendi drummers, who were clattering through the doorway to set up. Jasnah frowned as she noticed a non-Parshendi servant in loose white clothing helping them. A Shin man? That was unusual.
Jasnah composed herself. What did these episodes of hers mean? Superstitious folktales she’d read said that misbehaving shadows meant you were cursed. She usually dismissed such things as nonsense, but some superstitions were rooted in fact. Her other experiences proved that. She would need to investigate further.
The calm, scholarly thoughts felt like a lie compared to the truth of her cold, clammy skin and the sweat trickling down the back of her neck. But it was important to be rational at all times, not just when calm. She forced herself out through the doors, leaving the muggy room for the quiet hallway. She’d chosen the back exit, commonly used by servants. It was the most direct route, after all.
Here, master-servants dressed in black and white moved on errands from their brightlords or ladies. She had expected that, but had not anticipated the sight of her father standing just ahead, in quiet conference with Brightlord Meridas Amaram. What was the king doing out here?
Gavilar Kholin was shorter than Amaram, yet the latter stooped shallowly in the king’s company. That was common around Gavilar, who would speak with such quiet intensity that you wanted to lean in and listen, to catch every word and implication. He was a handsome man, unlike his brother, with a beard that outlined his strong jaw rather than covering it. He had a personal magnetism and intensity that Jasnah felt no biographer had yet managed to convey.
Tearim, captain of the King’s Guard, loomed behind them. He wore Gavilar’s Shardplate; the king himself had stopped wearing it of late, preferring to entrust it to Tearim, who was known as one of the world’s great duelists. Instead, Gavilar wore robes of a majestic, classical style.
Jasnah glanced back at the feast hall. When had her father slipped out? Sloppy, she accused herself. You should have checked to see if he was still there before leaving.
Ahead, he rested his hand on Amaram’s shoulder and raised a finger, speaking harshly but quietly, the words indistinct to Jasnah.
“Father?” she asked.
He glanced at her. “Ah, Jasnah. Retiring so early?”
“It’s hardly early,” Jasnah said, gliding forward. It seemed obvious to her that Gavilar and Amaram had ducked out to find privacy for their discussion. “This is the tiresome part of the feast, where the conversation grows louder but no smarter, and the company drunken.”
“Many people consider that sort of thing enjoyable.”
“Many people, unfortunately, are idiots.”
Her father smiled. “Is it terribly difficult for you?” he asked softly. “Living with the rest of us, suffering our average wits and simple thoughts? Is it lonely to be so singular in your brilliance, Jasnah?”
She took it as the rebuke it was, and found herself blushing. Even her mother Navani could not do that to her.
“Perhaps if you found pleasant associations,” Gavilar said, “you would enjoy the feasts.” His eyes swung toward Amaram, whom he’d long fancied as a potential match for her.
It would never happen. Amaram met her eyes, then murmured words of parting to her father and hastened away down the corridor.
“What errand did you give him?” Jasnah asked. “What are you about this night, Father?”
“The treaty, of course.”
The treaty. Why did he care so much about it? Others had counseled that he either ignore the Parshendi or conquer them. Gavilar insisted upon an accommodation.
“I should return to the celebration,” Gavilar said, motioning to Tearim. The two moved along the hallway toward the doors Jasnah had left.
“Father?” Jasnah said. “What is it you aren’t telling me?”
He glanced back at her, lingering. Pale green eyes, evidence of his good birth. When had he become so discerning? Storms… she felt as if she hardly knew this man any longer. Such a striking transformation in such a short time.
From the way he inspected her, it almost seemed that he didn’t trust her. Did he know about her meeting with Liss?
He turned away without saying more and pushed back into the party, his guard following.
What is going on in this palace? Jasnah thought. She took a deep breath. She would have to prod further. Hopefully he hadn’t discovered her meetings with assassins—but if he had, she would work with that knowledge. Surely he would see that someone needed to keep watch on the family as he grew increasingly consumed by his fascination with the Parshendi. Jasnah turned and continued on her way, passing a master-servant, who bowed.
After walking a short time in the corridors, Jasnah noticed her shadow behaving oddly again. She sighed in annoyance as it pulled toward the three Stormlight lamps on the walls. Fortunately, she’d passed from the populated area, and no servants were here to see.
“All right,” she snapped. “That’s enough.”
She hadn’t meant to speak aloud. However, as the words slipped out, several distant shadows—originating in an intersection up ahead—stirred to life. Her breath caught. Those shadows lengthened, deepened. Figures formed from them, growing, standing, rising.
Stormfather. I’m going insane.
One took the shape of a man of midnight blackness, though he had a certain reflective cast, as if he were made of oil. No… of some other liquid with a coating of oil floating on the outside, giving him a dark, prismatic quality.
He strode toward her and unsheathed a sword.
Logic, cold and resolute, guided Jasnah. Shouting would not bring help quickly enough, and the inky litheness of this creature bespoke a speed certain to exceed her own.
She stood her ground and met the thing’s glare, causing it to hesitate. Behind it, a small clutch of other creatures had materialized from the darkness. She had sensed those eyes upon her during the previous months.
By now, the entire hallway had darkened, as if it had been submerged and was slowly sinking into lightless depths. Heart racing, breath quickening, Jasnah raised her hand to the granite wall beside her, seeking to touch something solid. Her fingers sank into the stone a fraction, as if the wall had become mud.
Oh, storms. She had to do something. What? What could she possibly do?
The figure before her glanced at the wall. The wall lamp nearest Jasnah went dark. And then…
Then the palace disintegrated.
The entire building shattered into thousands upon thousands of small glass spheres, like beads. Jasnah screamed as she fell backward through a dark sky. She was no longer in the palace; she was somewhere else—another land, another time, another… something.
She was left with the sight of the dark, lustrous figure, hovering in the air above, seeming satisfied as he resheathed his sword.
Jasnah crashed into something—an ocean of the glass beads. Countless others rained around her, clicking like hailstones into the strange sea. She had never seen this place; she could not explain what had happened or what it meant. She thrashed as she sank into what seemed an impossibility. Beads of glass on all sides. She couldn’t see anything beyond them, only felt herself descending through this churning, suffocating, clattering mass.
She was going to die. Leaving work unfinished, leaving her family unprotected!
She would never know the answers.
Jasnah flailed in the darkness, beads rolling across her skin, getting into her clothing, working their way into her nose as she tried to swim. It was no use. She had no buoyancy in this mess. She raised a hand before her mouth and tried to make a pocket of air to use for breathing, and managed to gasp in a small breath. But the beads rolled around her hand, forcing between her fingers. She sank, more slowly now, as through a viscous liquid.
Each bead that touched her gave a faint impression of something. A door. A table. A shoe.
The beads found their way into her mouth. They seemed to move on their own. They would choke her, destroy her. No… no, it was just because they seemed attracted to her. An impression came to her, not as a distinct thought but a feeling. They wanted something from her.
She snatched a bead in her hand; it gave her an impression of a cup. She gave… something… to it? The other beads near her pulled together, connecting, sticking like rocks sealed by mortar. In a moment she was falling not among individual beads, but through large masses of them stuck together into the shape of…
Each bead was a pattern, a guide for the others.
She released the one she held, and the beads around her broke apart. She floundered, searching desperately as her air ran out. She needed something she could use, something that would help, some way to survive! Desperate, she swept her arms wide to touch as many beads as she could.
A silver platter. A coat.
And then, something ancient.
Something ponderous and slow of thought, yet somehow strong. The palace itself. Frantic, Jasnah seized this sphere and forced her power into it. Her mind blurring, she gave this bead everything she had, and then commanded it to rise.
A great crashing sounded as beads met one another, clicking, cracking, rattling. It was almost like the sound of a wave breaking on rocks. Jasnah surged up from the depths, something solid moving beneath her, obeying her command. Beads battered her head, shoulders, arms, until finally she exploded from the surface of the sea of glass, hurling a spray of beads into a dark sky.
She knelt on a platform of glass made up of small beads locked together. She held her hand to the side, uplifted, clutching the sphere that was the guide. Others rolled around her, forming into the shape of a hallway with lanterns on the walls, an intersection ahead. It didn’t look right, of course— the entire thing was made of beads. But it was a fair approximation.
She wasn’t strong enough to form the entire palace. She created only this hallway, without even a roof—but the floor supported her, kept her from sinking. She opened her mouth with a groan, beads falling out to clack against the floor. Then she coughed, drawing in sweet breaths, sweat trickling down the sides of her face and collecting on her chin.
Ahead of her, the dark figure stepped up onto the platform. He again slid his sword from his sheath.
Jasnah held up a second bead, the statue she’d sensed earlier. She gave it power, and other beads collected before her, taking the shape of one of the statues that lined the front of the feast hall—the statue of Talenelat’Elin, Herald of War. A tall, muscular man with a large Shardblade.
It was not alive, but she made it move, lowering its sword of beads. She doubted it could fight. Round beads could not form a sharp sword. Yet the threat made the dark figure hesitate.
Gritting her teeth, Jasnah heaved herself to her feet, beads streaming from her clothing. She would not kneel before this thing, whatever it was. She stepped up beside the bead statue, noting for the first time the strange clouds overhead. They seemed to form a narrow ribbon of highway, straight and long, pointing toward the horizon.
She met the oil figure’s gaze. It regarded her for a moment, then raised two fingers to its forehead and bowed, as if in respect, a cloak flourishing out behind. Others had gathered beyond it, and they turned to each other, exchanging hushed whispers.
The place of beads faded, and Jasnah found herself back in the hallway of the palace. The real one, with real stone, though it had gone dark—the Stormlight dead in the lamps on the walls. The only illumination came from far down the corridor.
She pressed back against the wall, breathing deeply. I, she thought, need to write this experience down.
She would do so, then analyze and consider. Later. Now, she wanted to be away from this place. She hurried away, with no concern for her direction, trying to escape those eyes she still felt watching.
It didn’t work.
Eventually, she composed herself and wiped the sweat from her face with a kerchief. Shadesmar, she thought. That is what it is called in the nursery tales. Shadesmar, the mythological kingdom of the spren. Mythology she’d never believed. Surely she could find something if she searched the histories well enough. Nearly everything that happened had happened before. The grand lesson of history, and…
Storms! Her appointment.
Cursing to herself, she hurried on her way. That experience continued to distract her, but she needed to make her meeting. So she continued down two floors, getting farther from the sounds of the thrumming Parshendi drums until she could hear only the sharpest cracks of their beats.
That music’s complexity had always surprised her, suggesting that the Parshendi were not the uncultured savages many took them for. This far away, the music sounded disturbingly like the beads from the dark place, rattling against one another.
She’d intentionally chosen this out-of-the-way section of the palace for her meeting with Liss. Nobody ever visited this set of guest rooms. A man that Jasnah didn’t know lounged here, outside the proper door. That relieved her. The man would be Liss’s new servant, and his presence meant Liss hadn’t left, despite Jasnah’s tardiness. Composing herself, she nodded to the guard—a Veden brute with red speckling his beard—and pushed into the room.
Liss stood from the table inside the small chamber. She wore a maid’s dress—low cut, of course—and could have been Alethi. Or Veden. Or Bav. Depending on which part of her accent she chose to emphasize. Long dark hair, worn loose, and a plump, attractive figure made her distinctive in all the right ways.
“You’re late, Brightness,” Liss said.
Jasnah gave no reply. She was the employer here, and was not required to give excuses. Instead, she laid something on the table beside Liss. A small envelope, sealed with weevilwax.
Jasnah set two fingers on it, considering.
No. This was too brash. She didn’t know if her father realized what she was doing, but even if he hadn’t, too much was happening in this palace. She did not want to commit to an assassination until she was more certain.
Fortunately, she had prepared a backup plan. She slid a second envelope from the safepouch inside her sleeve and set it on the table instead. She removed her fingers from it, rounding the table and sitting down.
Liss sat back down and made the letter vanish into the bust of her dress. “An odd night, Brightness,” the woman said, “to be engaging in treason.”
“I am hiring you to watch only.”
“Pardon, Brightness. But one does not commonly hire an assassin to watch. Only.”
“You have instructions in the envelope,” Jasnah said. “Along with initial payment. I chose you because you are expert at extended observations. It is what I want. For now.”
Liss smiled, but nodded. “Spying on the wife of the heir to the throne? It will be more expensive this way. You sure you don’t simply want her dead?”
Jasnah drummed her fingers on the table, then realized she was doing it to the beat of the drums above. The music was so unexpectedly complex— precisely like the Parshendi themselves.
Too much is happening, she thought. I need to be very careful. Very subtle.
“I accept the cost,” Jasnah replied. “In one week’s time, I will arrange for one of my sister-in-law’s maids to be released. You will apply for the position, using faked credentials I assume you are capable of producing. You will be hired.
“From there, you watch and report. I will tell you if your other services are needed. You move only if I say. Understood?”
“You’re the one payin’,” Liss said, a faint Bav dialect showing through.
If it showed, it was only because she wished it. Liss was the most skilled assassin Jasnah knew. People called her the Weeper, as she gouged out the eyes of the targets she killed. Although she hadn’t coined the cognomen, it served her purpose well, since she had secrets to hide. For one thing, nobody knew that the Weeper was a woman.
It was said the Weeper gouged the eyes out to proclaim indifference to whether her victims were lighteyed or dark. The truth was that the action hid a second secret—Liss didn’t want anyone to know that the way she killed left corpses with burned-out sockets.
“Our meeting is done, then,” Liss said, standing.
Jasnah nodded absently, mind again on her bizarre interaction with the spren earlier. That glistening skin, colors dancing across a surface the color of tar…
She forced her mind away from that moment. She needed to devote her attention to the task at hand. For now, that was Liss.
Liss hesitated at the door before leaving. “Do you know why I like you, Brightness?”
“I suspect that it has something to do with my pockets and their proverbial depth.”
Liss smiled. “There’s that, ain’t going to deny it, but you’re also different from other lighteyes. When others hire me, they turn up their noses at the entire process. They’re all too eager to use my services, but sneer and wring their hands, as if they hate being forced to do something utterly distasteful.”
“Assassination is distasteful, Liss. So is cleaning out chamber pots. I can respect the one employed for such jobs without admiring the job itself.”
Liss grinned, then cracked the door.
“That new servant of yours outside,” Jasnah said. “Didn’t you say you wanted to show him off for me?”
“Talak?” Liss said, glancing at the Veden man. “Oh, you mean that other one. No, Brightness, I sold that one to a slaver a few weeks ago.” Liss grimaced.
“Really? I thought you said he was the best servant you’d ever had.”
“Too good a servant,” Liss said. “Let’s leave it at that. Storming creepy, that Shin fellow was.” Liss shivered visibly, then slipped out the door.
“Remember our first agreement,” Jasnah said after her.
“Always there in the back o’ my mind, Brightness.” Liss closed the door.
Jasnah settled in her seat, lacing her fingers in front of her. Their “first agreement” was that if anyone should come to Liss and offer a contract on a member of Jasnah’s family, Liss would let Jasnah match the offer in exchange for the name of the one who made it.
Liss would do it. Probably. So would the dozen other assassins Jasnah dealt with. A repeat customer was always more valuable than a one-off contract, and it was in the best interests of a woman like Liss to have a friend in the government. Jasnah’s family was safe from the likes of these. Unless she herself employed the assassins, of course.
Jasnah let out a deep sigh, then rose, trying to shrug off the weight she felt bearing her down.
Wait. Did Liss say her old servant was Shin?
It was probably a coincidence. Shin people weren’t plentiful in the East, but you did see them on occasion. Still, Liss mentioning a Shin man and Jasnah seeing one among the Parshendi… well, there was no harm in checking, even if meant returning to the feast. Something was off about this night, and not just because of her shadow and the spren.
Jasnah left the small chamber in the bowels of the palace and strode out into the hallway. She turned her steps upward. Above, the drums cut off abruptly, like an instrument’s strings suddenly cut. Was the party ending so early? Dalinar hadn’t done something to offend the celebrants, had he? That man and his wine…
Well, the Parshendi had ignored his offenses in the past, so they probably would again. In truth, Jasnah was happy for her father’s sudden focus on a treaty. It meant she would have a chance to study Parshendi traditions and histories at her leisure.
Could it be, she wondered, that scholars have been searching in the wrong ruins all these years?
Words echoed in the hallway, coming from up ahead. “I’m worried about Ash.”
“You’re worried about everything.”
Jasnah hesitated in the hallway.
“She’s getting worse,” the voice continued. “We weren’t supposed to get worse. Am I getting worse? I think I feel worse.”
“I don’t like this. What we’ve done was wrong. That creature carries my lord’s own Blade. We shouldn’t have let him keep it. He—”
The two passed through the intersection ahead of Jasnah. They were the ambassadors from the West, including the Azish man with the white birthmark on his cheek. Or was it a scar? The shorter of the two men—he could have been Alethi—cut off when he noticed Jasnah. He let out a squeak, then hurried on his way.
The Azish man, the one dressed in black and silver, stopped and looked her up and down. He frowned.
“Is the feast over already?” Jasnah asked down the hallway. Her brother had invited these two to the celebration along with every other ranking foreign dignitary in Kholinar.
“Yes,” the man said.
His stare made her uncomfortable. She walked forward anyway. I should check further into these two, she thought. She’d investigated their backgrounds, of course, and found nothing of note. Had they been talking about a Shardblade?
“Come on!” the shorter man said, returning and taking the taller man by the arm.
He allowed himself to be pulled away. Jasnah walked to where the corridors crossed, then watched them go.
Where once drums had sounded, screams suddenly rose.
Jasnah turned with alarm, then grabbed her skirt and ran as hard as she could.
A dozen different potential disasters raced through her mind. What else could happen on this broken night, when shadows stood up and her father looked upon her with suspicion? Nerves stretched thin, she reached the steps and started climbing.
It took her far too long. She could hear the screams as she climbed and finally emerged into chaos. Dead bodies in one direction, a demolished wall in the other. How…
The destruction led toward her father’s rooms.
The entire palace shook, and a crunch echoed from that direction.
No, no, no!
She passed Shardblade cuts on the stone walls as she ran.
Corpses with burned eyes. Bodies littered the floor like discarded bones at the dinner table.
A broken doorway. Her father’s quarters. Jasnah stopped in the hallway, gasping.
Control yourself, control…
She couldn’t. Not now. Frantic, she ran into the quarters, though a Shardbearer would kill her with ease. She wasn’t thinking straight. She should get someone who could help. Dalinar? He’d be drunk. Sadeas, then.
The room looked like it had been hit by a highstorm. Furniture in a shambles, splinters everywhere. The balcony doors were broken outward. Someone lurched toward them, a man in her father’s Shardplate. Tearim, the bodyguard?
No. The helm was broken. It was not Tearim, but Gavilar. Someone on the balcony screamed.
“Father!” Jasnah shouted.
Gavilar hesitated as he stepped out onto the balcony, looking back at her.
The balcony broke beneath him.
Jasnah screamed, dashing through the room to the broken balcony, falling to her knees at the edge. Wind tugged locks of hair loose from her bun as she watched two men fall.
Her father, and the Shin man in white from the feast.
The Shin man glowed with a white light. He fell onto the wall. He hit it, rolling, then came to a stop. He stood up, somehow remaining on the outer palace wall and not falling. It defied reason.
He turned, then stalked toward her father.
Jasnah watched, growing cold, helpless as the assassin stepped down to her father and knelt over him.
Tears fell from her chin, and the wind caught them. What was he doing down there? She couldn’t make it out.
When the assassin walked away, he left behind her father’s corpse. Impaled on a length of wood. He was dead—indeed, his Shardblade had appeared beside him, as they all did when their Bearers died.
“I worked so hard…” Jasnah whispered, numb. “Everything I did to protect this family…”
How? Liss. Liss had done this!
No. Jasnah wasn’t thinking straight. That Shin man… she wouldn’t have admitted to owning him in such a case. She’d sold him.
“We are sorry for your loss.”
Jasnah spun, blinking bleary eyes. Three Parshendi, including Klade, stood in the doorway in their distinctive clothing. Neatly stitched cloth wraps for both men and women, sashes at the waist, loose shirts with no sleeves. Hanging vests, open at the sides, woven in bright colors. They didn’t segregate clothing by gender. She thought they did by caste, however, and—
Stop it, she thought at herself. Stop thinking like a scholar for one storming day!
“We take responsibility for his death,” said the foremost Parshendi. Gangnah was female, though with the Parshendi, the gender differences seemed minimal. The clothing hid breasts and hips, neither of which were ever very pronounced. Fortunately, the lack of a beard was a clear indication. All the Parshendi men she’d ever seen had beards, which they wore tied with bits of gemstone, and—
“What did you say?” Jasnah demanded, forcing herself to her feet. “Why would it be your fault, Gangnah?”
“Because we hired the assassin,” the Parshendi woman said in her heavily accented singsong voice. “We killed your father, Jasnah Kholin.”
Emotion suddenly ran cold, like a river freezing in the heights. Jasnah looked from Gangnah to Klade, to Varnali. Elders, all three of them. Members of the Parshendi ruling council.
“Why?” Jasnah whispered.
“Because it had to be done,” Gangnah said.
“Why?” Jasnah demanded, stalking forward. “He fought for you! He kept the predators at bay! My father wanted peace, you monsters! Why would you betray us now, of all times?”
Gangnah drew her lips to a line. The song of her voice changed. She seemed almost like a mother, explaining something very difficult to a small child. “Because your father was about to do something very dangerous.”
“Send for Brightlord Dalinar!” a voice outside in the hall shouted. “Storms! Did my orders get to Elhokar? The crown prince must be taken to safety!” Highprince Sadeas stumbled into the room along with a team of soldiers. His bulbous, ruddy face was wet with sweat, and he wore Gavilar’s clothing, the regal robes of office. “What are the savages doing here? Storms! Protect Princess Jasnah. The one who did this—he was in their retinue!”
The soldiers moved to surround the Parshendi. Jasnah ignored them, turning and stepping back to the broken doorway, hand on the wall, looking down at her father splayed on the rocks below, Blade beside him.
“There will be war,” she whispered. “And I will not stand in its way.” “This is understood,” Gangnah said from behind.
“The assassin,” Jasnah said. “He walked on the wall.”
Gangnah said nothing.
In the shattering of her world, Jasnah caught hold of this fragment. She had seen something tonight. Something that should not have been possible. Did it relate to the strange spren? Her experience in that place of glass beads and a dark sky?
These questions became her lifeline for stability. Sadeas demanded answers from the Parshendi leaders. He received none. When he stepped up beside her and saw the wreckage below, he went barreling off, shouting for his guards and running down below to reach the fallen king.
Hours later, it was discovered that the assassination—and the surrender of three of the Parshendi leaders—had covered the flight of the larger portion of their number. They escaped the city quickly, and the cavalry Dalinar sent after them were destroyed. A hundred horses, each nearly priceless, lost along with their riders.
The Parshendi leaders said nothing more and gave no clues, even when they were strung up and hanged for their crimes.
Jasnah ignored all that. Instead, she interrogated the surviving guards on what they had seen. She followed leads about the now-famous assassin’s nature, prying information from Liss. She got almost nothing. Liss had owned him only a short time, and claimed she hadn’t known about his strange powers. Jasnah couldn’t find the previous owner.
Next came the books. A dedicated, frenzied effort to distract her from what she had lost.
That night, Jasnah had seen the impossible.
She would learn what it meant.
To be perfectly frank, what has happened these last two months is upon my head. The death, destruction, loss, and pain are my burden. I should have seen it coming. And I should have stopped it.
—From the personal journal of Navani Kholin, Jeseses 1174
Shallan pinched the thin charcoal pencil and drew a series of straight lines radiating from a sphere on the horizon. That sphere wasn’t quite the sun, nor was it one of the moons. Clouds outlined in charcoal seemed to stream toward it. And the sea beneath them… A drawing could not convey the bizarre nature of that ocean, made not of water but of small beads of translucent glass.
Shallan shivered, remembering that place. Jasnah knew much more of it than she would speak of to her ward, and Shallan wasn’t certain how to ask. How did one demand answers after a betrayal such as Shallan’s? Only a few days had passed since that event, and Shallan still didn’t know exactly how her relationship with Jasnah would proceed.
The deck rocked as the ship tacked, enormous sails fluttering overhead. Shallan was forced to grab the railing with her clothed safehand to steady herself. Captain Tozbek said that so far, the seas hadn’t been bad for this part of Longbrow’s Straits. However, she might have to go below if the waves and motion got much worse.
Shallan exhaled and tried to relax as the ship settled. A chill wind blew, over the ship, and windspren zipped past on invisible air currents. Every time the sea grew rough, Shallan remembered that day, that alien ocean of glass beads…
She looked down again at what she’d drawn. She had only glimpsed that place, and her sketch was not perfect. It—
She frowned. On her paper, a pattern had risen, like an embossing. What had she done? That pattern was almost as wide as the page, a sequence of complex lines with sharp angles and repeated arrowhead shapes. Was it an effect of drawing that weird place, the place Jasnah said was named Shadesmar? Shallan hesitantly moved her freehand to feel the unnatural ridges on the page.
The pattern moved, sliding across the page like an axehound pup under a bedsheet.
Shallan yelped and leapt from her seat, dropping her sketchpad to the deck. The loose pages slumped to the planks, fluttering and then scattering in the wind. Nearby sailors—Thaylen men with long white eyebrows they combed back over their ears—scrambled to help, snatching sheets from the air before they could blow overboard.
“You all right, young miss?” Tozbek asked, looking over from a conversation with one of his mates. The short, portly Tozbek wore a wide sash and a coat of gold and red matched by the cap on his head. He wore his eyebrows up and stiffened into a fanned shape above his eyes.
“I’m well, Captain,” Shallan said. “I was merely spooked.”
Yalb stepped up to her, proffering the pages. “Your accouterments, my lady.”
Shallan raised an eyebrow. “Accouterments?”
“Sure,” the young sailor said with a grin. “I’m practicing my fancy words. They help a fellow obtain reasonable feminine companionship. You know— the kind of young lady who doesn’t smell too bad an’ has at least a few teeth left.”
“Lovely,” Shallan said, taking the sheets back. “Well, depending on your definition of lovely, at least.” She suppressed further quips, suspiciously regarding the stack of pages in her hand. The picture she’d drawn of Shadesmar was on top, no longer bearing the strange embossed ridges.
“What happened?” Yalb said. “Did a cremling crawl out from under you or something?” As usual, he wore an open-fronted vest and a pair of loose trousers.
“It was nothing,” Shallan said softly, tucking the pages away into her satchel.
Yalb gave her a little salute—she had no idea why he had taken to doing that—and went back to tying rigging with the other sailors. She soon caught bursts of laughter from the men near him, and when she glanced at him, gloryspren danced around his head—they took the shape of little spheres of light. He was apparently very proud of the jape he’d just made.
She smiled. It was indeed fortunate that Tozbek had been delayed in Kharbranth. She liked this crew, and was happy that Jasnah had selected them for their voyage. Shallan sat back down on the box that Captain Tozbek had ordered lashed beside the railing so she could enjoy the sea as they sailed. She had to be wary of the spray, which wasn’t terribly good for her sketches, but so long as the seas weren’t rough, the opportunity to watch the waters was worth the trouble.
The scout atop the rigging let out a shout. Shallan squinted in the direction he pointed. They were within sight of the distant mainland, sailing parallel to it. In fact, they’d docked at port last night to shelter from the highstorm that had blown past. When sailing, you always wanted to be near to port—venturing into open seas when a highstorm could surprise you was suicidal.
The smear of darkness to the north was the Frostlands, a largely uninhabited area along the bottom edge of Roshar. Occasionally, she caught a glimpse of higher cliffs to the south. Thaylenah, the great island kingdom, made another barrier there. The straits passed between the two.
The lookout had spotted something in the waves just north of the ship, a bobbing shape that at first appeared to be a large log. No, it was much larger than that, and wider. Shallan stood, squinting, as it drew closer. It turned out to be a domed brown-green shell, about the size of three rowboats lashed together. As they passed by, the shell came up alongside the ship and somehow managed to keep pace, sticking up out of the water perhaps six or eight feet.
A santhid! Shallan leaned out over the rail, looking down as the sailors jabbered excitedly, several joining her in craning out to see the creature. Santhidyn were so reclusive that some of her books claimed they were extinct and all modern reports of them untrustworthy.
“You are good luck, young miss!” Yalb said to her with a laugh as he passed by with rope. “We ain’t seen a santhid in years.”
“You still aren’t seeing one,” Shallan said. “Only the top of its shell.” To her disappointment, waters hid anything else—save shadows of something in the depths that might have been long arms extending downward. Stories claimed the beasts would sometimes follow ships for days, waiting out in the sea as the vessel went into port, then following them again once the ship left.
“The shell is all you ever see of one,” Yalb said. “Passions, this is a good sign!”
Shallan clutched her satchel. She took a Memory of the creature down there beside the ship by closing her eyes, fixing the image of it in her head so she could draw it with precision.
Draw what, though? she thought. A lump in the water?
An idea started to form in her head. She spoke it aloud before she could think better. “Bring me that rope,” she said, turning to Yalb.
“Brightness?” he asked, stopping in place.
“Tie a loop in one end,” she said, hurriedly setting her satchel on her seat. “I need to get a look at the santhid. I’ve never actually put my head underwater in the ocean. Will the salt make it difficult to see?”
“Underwater?” Yalb said, voice squeaking.
“You’re not tying the rope.”
“Because I’m not a storming fool! Captain will have my head if…”
“Get a friend,” Shallan said, ignoring him and taking the rope to tie one end into a small loop. “You’re going to lower me down over the side, and I’m going get a glimpse of what’s under the shell. Do you realize that nobody has ever produced a drawing of a live santhid? All the ones that have washed up on beaches were badly decomposed. And since sailors consider hunting the things to be bad luck—”
“It is!” Yalb said, voice growing more high pitched. “Ain’t nobody going to kill one.”
Shallan finished the loop and hurried to the side of the ship, her red hair whipping around her face as she leaned out over the rail. The santhid was still there. How did it keep up? She could see no fins.
She looked back at Yalb, who held the rope, grinning. “Ah, Brightness. Is this payback for what I said about your backside to Beznk? That was just in jest, but you got me good! I…” He trailed off as she met his eyes. “Storms. You’re serious.”
“I’ll not have another opportunity like this. Naladan chased these things for most of her life and never got a good look at one.”
“This is insanity!”
“No, this is scholarship! I don’t know what kind of view I can get through the water, but I have to try.”
Yalb sighed. “We have masks. Made from a tortoise shell with glass in hollowed-out holes on the front and bladders along the edges to keep the water out. You can duck your head underwater with one on and see. We use them to check over the hull at dock.”
“Of course, I’d have to go to the captain to get permission to take one.…”
She folded her arms. “Devious of you. Well, get to it.” It was unlikely she’d be able to go through with this without the captain finding out anyway.
Yalb grinned. “What happened to you in Kharbranth? Your first trip with us, you were so timid, you looked like you’d faint at the mere thought of sailing away from your homeland!”
Shallan hesitated, then found herself blushing. “This is a somewhat foolhardy, isn’t it?”
“Hanging from a moving ship and sticking your head in the water?” Yalb said. “Yeah. Kind of a little.”
“Do you think… we could stop the ship?”
Yalb laughed, but went jogging off to speak with the captain, taking her query as an indication she was still determined to go through with her plan. And she was.
What did happen to me? she wondered.
The answer was simple. She’d lost everything. She’d stolen from Jasnah Kholin, one of the most powerful women in the world—and in so doing had not only lost her chance to study as she’d always dreamed, but had also doomed her brothers and her house. She had failed utterly and miserably.
And she’d pulled through it.
She wasn’t unscathed. Her credibility with Jasnah had been severely wounded, and she felt that she had all but abandoned her family. But something about the experience of stealing Jasnah’s Soulcaster—which had turned out to be a fake anyway—then nearly being killed by a man she’d thought was in love with her…
Well, she now had a better idea of how bad things could get. It was as if… once she had feared the darkness, but now she had stepped into it. She had experienced some of the horrors that awaited her there. Terrible as they were, at least she knew.
You always knew, a voice whispered deep inside of her. You grew up with horrors, Shallan. You just won’t let yourself remember them.
“What is this?” Tozbek asked as he came up, his wife, Ashlv, at his side. The diminutive woman did not speak much; she dressed in a skirt and blouse of bright yellow, a headscarf covering all of her hair except the two white eyebrows, which she had curled down beside her cheeks.
“Young miss,” Tozbek said, “you want to go swimming? Can’t you wait until we get into port? I know of some nice areas where the water is not nearly so cold.”
“I won’t be swimming,” Shallan said, blushing further. What would she wear to go swimming with men about? Did people really do that? “I need to get a closer look at our companion.” She gestured toward the sea creature.
“Young miss, you know I can’t allow something so dangerous. Even if we stopped the ship, what if the beast harmed you?”
“They’re said to be harmless.”
“They are so rare, can we really know for certain? Besides, there are other animals in these seas that could harm you. Redwaters hunt this area for certain, and we might be in shallow enough water for khornaks to be a worry.” Tozbek shook his head. “I’m sorry, I just cannot allow it.”
Shallan bit her lip, and found her heart beating traitorously. She wanted to push harder, but that decisive look in his eyes made her wilt. “Very well.”
Tozbek smiled broadly. “I’ll take you to see some shells in the port at Amydlatn when we stop there, young miss. They have quite a collection!”
She didn’t know where that was, but from the jumble of consonants squished together, she assumed it would be on the Thaylen side. Most cities were, this far south. Though Thaylenah was nearly as frigid as the Frostlands, people seemed to enjoy living there.
Of course, Thaylens were all a little off. How else to describe Yalb and the others wearing no shirts despite the chill in the air?
They weren’t the ones contemplating a dip in the ocean, Shallan reminded herself. She looked over the side of the ship again, watching waves break against the shell of the gentle santhid. What was it? A great-shelled beast, like the fearsome chasmfiends of the Shattered Plains? Was it more like a fish under there, or more like a tortoise? The santhidyn were so rare—and the occasions when scholars had seen them in person so infrequent—that the theories all contradicted one another.
She sighed and opened her satchel, then set to organizing her papers, most of which were practice sketches of the sailors in various poses as they worked to maneuver the massive sails overhead, tacking against the wind. Her father would never have allowed her to spend a day sitting and watching a bunch of shirtless darkeyes. How much her life had changed in such a short time.
She was working on a sketch of the santhid’s shell when Jasnah stepped up onto the deck.
Like Shallan, Jasnah wore the havah, a Vorin dress of distinctive design. The hemline was down at her feet and the neckline almost at her chin. Some of the Thaylens—when they thought she wasn’t listening—referred to the clothing as prudish. Shallan disagreed; the havah wasn’t prudish, but elegant. Indeed, the silk hugged the body, particularly through the bust—and the way the sailors gawked at Jasnah indicated they didn’t find the garment unflattering.
Jasnah was pretty. Lush of figure, tan of skin. Immaculate eyebrows, lips painted a deep red, hair up in a fine braid. Though Jasnah was twice Shallan’s age, her mature beauty was something to be admired, even envied. Why did the woman have to be so perfect?
Jasnah ignored the eyes of the sailors. It wasn’t that she didn’t notice men. Jasnah noticed everything and everyone. She simply didn’t seem to care, one way or another, how men perceived her.
No, that’s not true, Shallan thought as Jasnah walked over. She wouldn’t take the time to do her hair, or put on makeup, if she didn’t care how she was perceived. In that, Jasnah was an enigma. On one hand, she seemed to be a scholar concerned only with her research. On the other hand, she cultivated the poise and dignity of a king’s daughter—and, at times, used it like a bludgeon.
“And here you are,” Jasnah said, walking to Shallan. A spray of water from the side of the ship chose that moment to fly up and sprinkle her. She frowned at the drops of water beading on her silk clothing, then looked back to Shallan and raised her eyebrow. “The ship, you may have noticed, has two very fine cabins that I hired out for us at no small expense.”
“Yes, but they’re inside.”
“As rooms usually are.”
“I’ve spent most of my life inside.”
“So you will spend much more of it, if you wish to be a scholar.” Shallan bit her lip, waiting for the order to go below. Curiously, it did not come. Jasnah gestured for Captain Tozbek to approach, and he did so, groveling his way over with cap in hand.
“Yes, Brightness?” he asked.
“I should like another of these… seats,” Jasnah said, regarding Shallan’s box.
Tozbek quickly had one of his men lash a second box in place. As she waited for the seat to be ready, Jasnah waved for Shallan to hand over her sketches. Jasnah inspected the drawing of the santhid, then looked over the side of the ship. “No wonder the sailors were making such a fuss.”
“Luck, Brightness!” one of the sailors said. “It is a good omen for your trip, don’t you think?”
“I shall take any fortune provided me, Nanhel Eltorv,” she said. “Thank you for the seat.”
The sailor bowed awkwardly before retreating.
“You think they’re superstitious fools,” Shallan said softly, watching the sailor leave.
“From what I have observed,” Jasnah said, “these sailors are men who have found a purpose in life and now take simple pleasure in it.” Jasnah looked at the next drawing. “Many people make far less out of life. Captain Tozbek runs a good crew. You were wise in bringing him to my attention.”
Shallan smiled. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“You didn’t ask a question,” Jasnah said. “These sketches are characteristically skillful, Shallan, but weren’t you supposed to be reading?”
“I… had trouble concentrating.”
“So you came up on deck,” Jasnah said, “to sketch pictures of young men working without their shirts on. You expected this to help your concentration?”
Shallan blushed, as Jasnah stopped at one sheet of paper in the stack. Shallan sat patiently—she’d been well trained in that by her father—until Jasnah turned it toward her. The picture of Shadesmar, of course.
“You have respected my command not to peer into this realm again?” Jasnah asked.
“Yes, Brightness. That picture was drawn from a memory of my first… lapse.”
Jasnah lowered the page. Shallan thought she saw a hint of something in the woman’s expression. Was Jasnah wondering if she could trust Shallan’s word?
“I assume this is what is bothering you?” Jasnah asked. “Yes, Brightness.”
“I suppose I should explain it to you, then.”
“Really? You would do this?”
“You needn’t sound so surprised.”
“It seems like powerful information,” Shallan said. “The way you forbade me… I assumed that knowledge of this place was secret, or at least not to be trusted to one of my age.”
Jasnah sniffed. “I’ve found that refusing to explain secrets to young people makes them more prone to get themselves into trouble, not less. Your experimentation proves that you’ve already stumbled face-first into all of this—as I once did myself, I’ll have you know. I know through painful experience how dangerous Shadesmar can be. If I leave you in ignorance, I’ll be to blame if you get yourself killed there.”
“So you’d have explained about it if I’d asked earlier in our trip?”
“Probably not,” Jasnah admitted. “I had to see how willing you were to obey me. This time.”
Shallan wilted, and suppressed the urge to point out that back when she’d been a studious and obedient ward, Jasnah hadn’t divulged nearly as many secrets as she did now. “So what is it? That… place.”
“It’s not truly a location,” Jasnah said. “Not as we usually think of them. Shadesmar is here, all around us, right now. All things exist there in some form, as all things exist here.”
Shallan frowned. “I don’t—”
Jasnah held up a finger to quiet her. “All things have three components: the soul, the body, and the mind. That place you saw, Shadesmar, is what we call the Cognitive Realm—the place of the mind.
“All around us you see the physical world. You can touch it, see it, hear it. This is how your physical body experiences the world. Well, Shadesmar is the way that your cognitive self—your unconscious self—experiences the world. Through your hidden senses touching that realm, you make intuitive leaps in logic and you form hopes. It is likely through those extra senses that you, Shallan, create art.”
Water splashed on the bow of the ship as it crossed a swell. Shallan wiped a drop of salty water from her cheek, trying to think through what Jasnah had just said. “That made almost no sense whatsoever to me, Brightness.”
“I should hope that it didn’t,” Jasnah said. “I’ve spent six years researching Shadesmar, and I still barely know what to make of it. I shall have to accompany you there several times before you can understand, even a little, the true significance of the place.”
Jasnah grimaced at the thought. Shallan was always surprised to see visible emotion from her. Emotion was something relatable, something human—and Shallan’s mental image of Jasnah Kholin was of someone almost divine. It was, upon reflection, an odd way to regard a determined atheist.
“Listen to me,” Jasnah said. “My own words betray my ignorance. I told you that Shadesmar wasn’t a place, and yet I call it one in my next breath. I speak of visiting it, though it is all around us. We simply don’t have the proper terminology to discuss it. Let me try another tactic.”
Jasnah stood up, and Shallan hastened to follow. They walked along the ship’s rail, feeling the deck sway beneath their feet. Sailors made way for Jasnah with quick bows. They regarded her with as much reverence as they would a king. How did she do it? How could she control her surroundings without seeming to do anything at all?
“Look down into the waters,” Jasnah said as they reached the bow. “What do you see?”
Shallan stopped beside the rail and stared down at the blue waters, foaming as they were broken by the ship’s prow. Here at the bow, she could see a deepness to the swells. An unfathomable expanse that extended not just outward, but downward.
“I see eternity,” Shallan said.
“Spoken like an artist,” Jasnah said. “This ship sails across depths we cannot know. Beneath these waves is a bustling, frantic, unseen world.”
Jasnah leaned forward, gripping the rail with one hand unclothed and the other veiled within the safehand sleeve. She looked outward. Not at the depths, and not at the land distantly peeking over both the northern and southern horizons. She looked toward the east. Toward the storms.
“There is an entire world, Shallan,” Jasnah said, “of which our minds skim but the surface. A world of deep, profound thought. A world created by deep, profound thoughts. When you see Shadesmar, you enter those depths. It is an alien place to us in some ways, but at the same time we formed it. With some help.”
“We did what?”
“What are spren?” Jasnah asked.
The question caught Shallan off guard, but by now she was accustomed to challenging questions from Jasnah. She took time to think and consider her answer.
“Nobody knows what spren are,” Shallan said, “though many philosophers have different opinions on—”
“No,” Jasnah said. “What are they?”
“I…” Shallan looked up at a pair of windspren spinning through the air above. They looked like tiny ribbons of light, glowing softly, dancing around one another. “They’re living ideas.”
Jasnah spun on her.
“What?” Shallan said, jumping. “Am I wrong?”
“No,” Jasnah said. “You’re right.” The woman narrowed her eyes. “By my best guess, spren are elements of the Cognitive Realm that have leaked into the physical world. They’re concepts that have gained a fragment of sentience, perhaps because of human intervention.
“Think of a man who gets angry often. Think of how his friends and family might start referring to that anger as a beast, as a thing that possesses him, as something external to him. Humans personify. We speak of the wind as if it has a will of its own.
“Spren are those ideas—the ideas of collective human experience— somehow come alive. Shadesmar is where that first happens, and it is their place. Though we created it, they shaped it. They live there; they rule there, within their own cities.”
“Yes,” Jasnah said, looking back out over the ocean. She seemed troubled. “Spren are wild in their variety. Some are as clever as humans and create cities. Others are like fish and simply swim in the currents.”
Shallan nodded. Though in truth she was having trouble grasping any of this, she didn’t want Jasnah to stop talking. This was the sort of knowledge that Shallan needed, the kind of thing she craved. “Does this have to do with what you discovered? About the parshmen, the Voidbringers?”
“I haven’t been able to determine that yet. The spren are not always forthcoming. In some cases, they do not know. In others, they do not trust me because of our ancient betrayal.”
Shallan frowned, looking to her teacher. “Betrayal?”
“They tell me of it,” Jasnah said, “but they won’t say what it was. We broke an oath, and in so doing offended them greatly. I think some of them may have died, though how a concept can die, I do not know.” Jasnah turned to Shallan with a solemn expression. “I realize this is overwhelming. You will have to learn this, all of it, if you are to help me. Are you still willing?”
“Do I have a choice?”
A smile tugged at the edges of Jasnah’s lips. “I doubt it. You Soulcast on your own, without the aid of a fabrial. You are like me.”
Shallan stared out over the waters. Like Jasnah. What did it mean? Why—
She froze, blinking. For a moment, she thought she’d seen the same pattern as before, the one that had made ridges on her sheet of paper. This time it had been in the water, impossibly formed on the surface of a wave.
“Brightness…” she said, resting her fingers on Jasnah’s arm. “I thought I saw something in the water, just now. A pattern of sharp lines, like a maze.”
“Show me where.”
“It was on one of the waves, and we’ve passed it now. But I think I saw it earlier, on one of my pages. Does it mean something?”
“Most certainly. I must admit, Shallan, I find the coincidence of our meeting to be startling. Suspiciously so.”
“They were involved,” Jasnah said. “They brought you to me. And they are still watching you, it appears. So no, Shallan, you no longer have a choice. The old ways are returning, and I don’t see it as a hopeful sign. It’s an act of self-preservation. The spren sense impending danger, and so they return to us. Our attention now must turn to the Shattered Plains and the relics of Urithiru. It will be a long, long time before you return to your homeland.”
Shallan nodded mutely.
“This worries you,” Jasnah said.
“Yes, Brightness. My family…”
Shallan felt like a traitor in abandoning her brothers, who had been depending on her for wealth. She’d written to them and explained, without many specifics, that she’d had to return the stolen Soulcaster—and was now required to help Jasnah with her work.
Balat’s reply had been positive, after a fashion. He said he was glad at least one of them had escaped the fate that was coming to the house. He thought that the rest of them—her three brothers and Balat’s betrothed— were doomed.
They might be right. Not only would Father’s debts crush them, but there was the matter of her father’s broken Soulcaster. The group that had given it to him wanted it back.
Unfortunately, Shallan was convinced that Jasnah’s quest was of the utmost importance. The Voidbringers would soon return—indeed, they were not some distant threat from stories. They lived among men, and had for centuries. The gentle, quiet parshmen who worked as perfect servants and slaves were really destroyers.
Stopping the catastrophe of the return of the Voidbringers was a greater duty than even protecting her brothers. It was still painful to admit that.
Jasnah studied her. “With regard to your family, Shallan. I have taken some action.”
“Action?” Shallan said, taking the taller woman’s arm. “You’ve helped my brothers?”
“After a fashion,” Jasnah said. “Wealth would not truly solve this problem, I suspect, though I have arranged for a small gift to be sent. From what you’ve said, your family’s problems really stem from two issues. First, the Ghostbloods desire their Soulcaster—which you have broken—to be returned. Second, your house is without allies and deeply in debt.”
Jasnah proffered a sheet of paper. “This,” she continued, “is from a conversation I had with my mother via spanreed this morning.”
Shallan traced it with her eyes, noting Jasnah’s explanation of the broken Soulcaster and her request for help.
This happens more often than you’d think, Navani had replied. The failing likely has to do with the alignment of the gem housings. Bring me the device, and we shall see.
“My mother,” Jasnah said, “is a renowned artifabrian. I suspect she can make yours function again. We can send it to your brothers, who can return it to its owners.”
“You’d let me do that?” Shallan asked. During their days sailing, Shallan had cautiously pried for more information about the sect, hoping to understand her father and his motives. Jasnah claimed to know very little of them beyond the fact that they wanted her research, and were willing to kill for it.
“I don’t particularly want them having access to such a valuable device,” Jasnah said. “But I don’t have time to protect your family right now directly. This is a workable solution, assuming your brothers can stall a while longer. Have them tell the truth, if they must—that you, knowing I was a scholar, came to me and asked me to fix the Soulcaster. Perhaps that will sate them for now.”
“Thank you, Brightness.” Storms. If she’d just gone to Jasnah in the first place, after being accepted as her ward, how much easier would it have been? Shallan looked down at the paper, noticing that the conversation continued.
As for the other matter, Navani wrote, I’m very fond of this suggestion. I believe I can persuade the boy to at least consider it, as his most recent affair ended quite abruptly—as is common with him—earlier in the week.
“What is this second part?” Shallan asked, looking up from the paper.
“Sating the Ghostbloods alone will not save your house,” Jasnah said. “Your debts are too great, particularly considering your father’s actions in alienating so many. I have therefore arranged a powerful alliance for your house.”
Jasnah took a deep breath. She seemed reluctant to explain. “I have taken the initial steps in arranging for you to be betrothed to one of my cousins, son of my uncle Dalinar Kholin. The boy’s name is Adolin. He is handsome and well-acquainted with amiable discourse.”
“Betrothed?” Shallan said. “You’ve promised him my hand?”
“I have started the process,” Jasnah said, speaking with uncharacteristic anxiety. “Though at times he lacks foresight, Adolin has a good heart—as good as that of his father, who may be the best man I have ever known. He is considered Alethkar’s most eligible son, and my mother has long wanted him wed.”
“Betrothed,” Shallan repeated.
“Yes. Is that distressing?”
“It’s wonderful!” Shallan exclaimed, grabbing Jasnah’s arm more tightly. “So easy. If I’m married to someone so powerful… Storms! Nobody would dare touch us in Jah Keved. It would solve many of our problems. Brightness Jasnah, you’re a genius!”
Jasnah relaxed visibly. “Yes, well, it did seem a workable solution. I had wondered, however, if you’d be offended.”
“Why on the winds would I be offended?”
“Because of the restriction of freedom implicit in a marriage,” Jasnah said. “And if not that, because the offer was made without consulting you. I had to see if the possibility was even open first. It has proceeded further than I’d expected, as my mother has seized on the idea. Navani has… a tendency toward the overwhelming.”
Shallan had trouble imagining anyone overwhelming Jasnah. “Stormfather! You’re worried I’d be offended? Brightness, I spent my entire life locked in my father’s manor—I grew up assuming he’d pick my husband.”
“But you’re free of your father now.”
“Yes, and I was so perfectly wise in my own pursuit of relationships,” Shallan said. “The first man I chose was not only an ardent, but secretly an assassin.”
“It doesn’t bother you at all?” Jasnah said. “The idea of being beholden to another, particularly a man?”
“It’s not like I’m being sold into slavery,” Shallan said with a laugh.
“No. I suppose not.” Jasnah shook herself, her poise returning. “Well, I will let Navani know you are amenable to the engagement, and we should have a causal in place within the day.”
A causal—a conditional betrothal, in Vorin terminology. She would be, for all intents and purposes, engaged, but would have no legal footing until an official betrothal was signed and verified by the ardents.
“The boy’s father has said he will not force Adolin into anything,” Jasnah explained, “though the boy is recently single, as he has managed to offend yet another young lady. Regardless, Dalinar would rather you two meet before anything more binding is agreed upon. There have been… shifts in the political climate of the Shattered Plains. A great loss to my uncle’s army. Another reason for us to hasten to the Shattered Plains.”
“Adolin Kholin,” Shallan said, listening with half an ear. “A duelist. A fantastic one. And even a Shardbearer.”
“Ah, so you were paying attention to your readings about my father and family.”
“I was—but I knew about your family before that. The Alethi are the center of society! Even girls from rural houses know the names of the Alethi princes.” And she’d be lying if she denied youthful daydreams of meeting one. “But Brightness, are you certain this match will be wise? I mean, I’m hardly the most important of individuals.”
“Well, yes. The daughter of another highprince might have been preferable for Adolin. However, it seems that he has managed to offend each and every one of the eligible women of that rank. The boy is, shall we say, somewhat overeager about relationships. Nothing you can’t work through, I’m sure.”
“Stormfather,” Shallan said, feeling her legs go weak. “He’s heir to a princedom! He’s in line to the throne of Alethkar itself!”
“Third in line,” Jasnah said, “behind my brother’s infant son and Dalinar, my uncle.”
“Brightness, I have to ask. Why Adolin? Why not the younger son? I—I have nothing to offer Adolin, or the house.”
“On the contrary,” Jasnah said, “if you are what I think you are, then you will be able to offer him something nobody else can. Something more important than riches.”
“What is it you think that I am?” Shallan whispered, meeting the older woman’s eyes, finally asking the question that she hadn’t dared.
“Right now, you are but a promise,” Jasnah said. “A chrysalis with the potential for grandeur inside. When once humans and spren bonded, the results were women who danced in the skies and men who could destroy the stones with a touch.”
“The Lost Radiants. Traitors to mankind.” She couldn’t absorb it all. The betrothal, Shadesmar and the spren, and this, her mysterious destiny. She’d known. But speaking it…
She sank down, heedless of getting her dress wet on the deck, and sat with her back against the bulwark. Jasnah allowed her to compose herself before, amazingly, sitting down herself. She did so with far more poise, tucking her dress underneath her legs as she sat sideways. They both drew looks from the sailors.
“They’re going to chew me to pieces,” Shallan said. “The Alethi court. It’s the most ferocious in the world.”
Jasnah snorted. “It’s more bluster than storm, Shallan. I will train you.”
“I’ll never be like you, Brightness. You have power, authority, wealth. Just look how the sailors respond to you.”
“Am I specifically using said power, authority, or wealth right now?” “You paid for this trip.”
“Did you not pay for several trips on this ship?” Jasnah asked. “They did not treat you the same as they do me?”
“No. Oh, they are fond of me. But I don’t have your weight, Jasnah.”
“I will assume that did not have implications toward my girth,” Jasnah said with a hint of a smile. “I understand your argument, Shallan. It is, however, dead wrong.”
Shallan turned to her. Jasnah sat upon the deck of the ship as if it were a throne, back straight, head up, commanding. Shallan sat with her legs against her chest, arms around them below the knees. Even the ways they sat were different. She was nothing like this woman.
“There is a secret you must learn, child,” Jasnah said. “A secret that is even more important than those relating to Shadesmar and spren. Power is an illusion of perception.”
“Don’t mistake me,” Jasnah continued. “Some kinds of power are real— power to command armies, power to Soulcast. These come into play far less often than you would think. On an individual basis, in most interactions, this thing we call power—authority—exists only as it is perceived.
“You say I have wealth. This is true, but you have also seen that I do not often use it. You say I have authority as the sister of a king. I do. And yet, the men of this ship would treat me exactly the same way if I were a beggar who had convinced them I was the sister to a king. In that case, my authority is not a real thing. It is mere vapors—an illusion. I can create that illusion for them, as can you.”
“I’m not convinced, Brightness.”
“I know. If you were, you would be doing it already.” Jasnah stood up, brushing off her skirt. “You will tell me if you see that pattern—the one that appeared on the waves—again?”
“Yes, Brightness,” Shallan said, distracted.
“Then take the rest of the day for your art. I need to consider how to best teach you of Shadesmar.” The older woman retreated, nodding at the bows of sailors as she passed and went back down belowdecks.
Shallan rose, then turned and grabbed the railing, one hand to either side of the bowsprit. The ocean spread before her, rippling waves, a scent of cold freshness. Rhythmic crashing as the sloop pushed through the waves.
Jasnah’s words fought in her mind, like skyeels with only one rat between them. Spren with cities? Shadesmar, a realm that was here, but unseen? Shallan, suddenly betrothed to the single most important bachelor in the world?
She left the bow, walking along the side of the ship, freehand trailing on the railing. How did the sailors regard her? They smiled, they waved. They liked her. Yalb, who hung lazily from the rigging nearby, called to her, telling her that in the next port, there was a statue she had to go visit. “It’s this giant foot, young miss. Just a foot! Never finished the blustering statue…”
She smiled to him and continued. Did she want them to look at her as they looked at Jasnah? Always afraid, always worried that they might do something wrong? Was that power?
When I first sailed from Vedenar, she thought, reaching the place where her box had been tied, the captain kept urging me to go home. He saw my mission as a fool’s errand.
Tozbek had always acted as if he were doing her a favor in conveying her after Jasnah. Should she have had to spend that entire time feeling as if she’d imposed upon him and his crew by hiring them? Yes, he had offered a discount to her because of her father’s business with him in the past—but she’d still been employing him.
The way he’d treated her was probably a thing of Thaylen merchants. If a captain could make you feel like you were imposing on him, you’d pay better. She liked the man, but their relationship left something to be desired. Jasnah would never have stood for being treated in such a way.
That santhid still swam alongside. It was like a tiny, mobile island, its back overgrown with seaweed, small crystals jutting up from the shell.
Shallan turned and walked toward the stern, where Captain Tozbek spoke with one of his mates, pointing at a map covered with glyphs. He nodded to her as she approached. “Just a warning, young miss,” he said. “The ports will soon grow less accommodating. We’ll be leaving Longbrow’s Straits, curving around the eastern edge of the continent, toward New Natanan. There’s nothing of worth between here and the Shallow Crypts—and even that’s not much of a sight. I wouldn’t send my own brother ashore there without guards, and he’s killed seventeen men with his bare hands, he has.”
“I understand, Captain,” Shallan said. “And thank you. I’ve revised my earlier decision. I need you to halt the ship and let me inspect the specimen swimming beside us.”
He sighed, reaching up and running his fingers along one of his stiff, spiked eyebrows—much as other men might play with their mustaches. “Brightness, that’s not advisable. Stormfather! If I dropped you in the ocean…”
“Then I would be wet,” Shallan said. “It is a state I’ve experienced one or two times in my life.”
“No, I simply cannot allow it. Like I said, we’ll take you to see some shells in—”
“Cannot allow it?” Shallan interrupted. She regarded him with what she hoped was a look of puzzlement, hoping he didn’t see how tightly she squeezed her hands closed at her sides. Storms, but she hated confrontation. “I wasn’t aware I had made a request you had the power to allow or disallow, Captain. Stop the ship. Lower me down. That is your order.” She tried to say it as forcefully as Jasnah would. The woman could make it seem easier to resist a full highstorm than to disagree with her.
Tozbek worked his mouth for a moment, no sound coming out, as if his body were trying to continue his earlier objection but his mind had been delayed. “It is my ship…” he finally said.
“Nothing will be done to your ship,” Shallan said. “Let’s be quick about it, Captain. I do not wish to overly delay our arrival in port tonight.”
She left him, walking back to her box, heart thumping, hands trembling. She sat down, partially to calm herself.
Tozbek, sounding profoundly annoyed, began calling orders. The sails were lowered, the ship slowed. Shallan breathed out, feeling a fool.
And yet, what Jasnah said worked. The way Shallan acted created something in the eyes of Tozbek. An illusion? Like the spren themselves, perhaps? Fragments of human expectation, given life?
The santhid slowed with them. Shallan rose, nervous, as sailors approached with rope. They reluctantly tied a loop at the bottom she could put her foot in, then explained that she should hold tightly to the rope as she was lowered. They tied a second, smaller rope securely around her waist—the means by which to haul her, wet and humiliated, back onto the deck. An inevitability, in their eyes.
She took off her shoes, then climbed up over the railing as instructed. Had it been this windy before? She had a moment of vertigo, standing there with socked toes gripping a tiny rim, dress fluttering in the coursing winds. A windspren zipped up to her, then formed into the shape of a face with clouds behind it. Storms, the thing had better not interfere. Was it human imagination that had given windspren their mischievous spark?
She stepped unsteadily into the rope loop as the sailors lowered it down beside her feet, then Yalb handed her the mask he’d told her of.
Jasnah appeared from belowdecks, looking about in confusion. She saw Shallan standing off the side of the ship, and then cocked an eyebrow.
Shallan shrugged, then gestured to the men to lower her.
She refused to let herself feel silly as she inched toward the waters and the reclusive animal bobbing in the waves. The men stopped her a foot or two above the water, and she put on the mask, held by straps, covering most of her face including the nose.
“Lower!” she shouted up at them.
She thought she could feel their reluctance in the lethargic way the rope descended. Her foot hit the water, and a biting cold shot up her leg. Stormfather! But she didn’t have them stop. She let them lower her farther until her legs were submerged in the frigid water. Her skirt ballooned out in a most annoying way, and she actually had to step on the end of it—inside the loop—to prevent it from rising up about her waist and floating on the water’s surface as she submerged.
She wrestled with the fabric for a moment, glad the men above couldn’t see her blushing. Once it got wetter, though, it was easier to manage. She finally was able to squat, still holding tightly to the rope, and go down into the water up to her waist.
Then she ducked her head under the water.
Light streamed down from the surface in shimmering, radiant columns. There was life here, furious, amazing life. Tiny fish zipped this way and that, picking at the underside of the shell that shaded a majestic creature. Gnarled like an ancient tree, with rippled and folded skin, the true form of the santhid was a beast with long, drooping blue tendrils, like those of a jellyfish, only far thicker. Those disappeared down into the depths, trailing behind the beast at a slant.
The beast itself was a knotted grey-blue mass underneath the shell. Its ancient-looking folds surrounded one large eye on her side—presumably, would be its twin on the other. It seemed ponderous, yet majestic, with mighty fins moving like oarsmen. A group of strange spren shaped like arrows moved through the water here around the beast.
Schools of fish darted about. Though the depths seemed empty, the area just around the santhid teemed with life, as did the area under the ship. Tiny fish picked at the bottom of the vessel. They’d move between the santhid and the ship, sometimes alone, sometimes in waves. Was this why the creature swam up beside a vessel? Something to do with the fish, and their relationship to it?
She looked upon the creature, and its eye—as big as her head—rolled toward her, focusing, seeing her. In that moment, Shallan’s couldn’t feel the cold. She couldn’t feel embarrassed. She was looking into a world that, so far as she knew, no scholar had ever visited.
She blinked her eyes, taking a Memory of the creature, collecting it for later sketching.
Our first clue was the Parshendi. Even weeks before they abandoned their pursuit of the gemhearts, their pattern of fighting changed. They lingered on the plateaus after battles, as if waiting for something.
—From the personal journal of Navani Kholin, Jeseses 1174
A man’s breath was his life. Exhaled, bit by bit, back into the world. Kaladin breathed deeply, eyes closed, and for a time that was all he could hear. His own life. In, out, to the beating of the thunder in his chest.
Breath. His own little storm.
Outside, the rain had stopped. Kaladin remained sitting in the darkness. When kings and wealthy lighteyes died, their bodies weren’t burned like those of common men. Instead, they were Soulcast into statues of stone or metal, forever frozen.
The darkeyes’ bodies were burned. They became smoke, to rise toward the heavens and whatever waited there, like a burned prayer.
Breath. The breath of a lighteyes was no different from that of a darkeyes. No more sweet, no more free. The breath of kings and slaves mingled, to be breathed by men again, over and over.
Kaladin stood up and opened his eyes. He’d spent the highstorm in the darkness of this small room alongside Bridge Four’s new barrack. Alone. He walked to the door, but stopped. He rested his fingers on a cloak he knew hung from a hook there. In the darkness, he could not make out its deep blue color, nor the Kholin glyph—in the shape of Dalinar’s sigil—on the back.
It seemed that every change in his life had been marked by a storm. This was a big one. He shoved open the door and stepped out into the light as a free man.
He left the cloak, for now.
Bridge Four cheered him as he emerged. They had gone out to bathe and shave in the riddens of the storm, as was their custom. The line was almost done, Rock having shaved each of the men in turn. The large Horn-eater hummed to himself as he worked the razor over Drehy’s balding head. The air smelled wet from the rain, and a washed-out firepit nearby was the only trace of the stew the group had shared the night before.
In many ways, this place wasn’t so different from the lumberyards his men had recently escaped. The long, rectangular stone barracks were much the same—Soulcast rather than having been built by hand, they looked like enormous stone logs. These, however, each had a couple of smaller rooms on the sides for sergeants, with their own doors that opened to the outside. They’d been painted with the symbols of the platoons using them before; Kaladin’s men would have to paint over those.
“Moash,” Kaladin called. “Skar, Teft.”
The three jogged toward him, splashing through puddles left by the storm. They wore the clothing of bridgemen: simple trousers cut off at the knees, and leather vests over bare chests. Skar was up and mobile despite the wound to his foot, and he tried rather obviously not to limp. For now, Kaladin didn’t order him to bed rest. The wound wasn’t too bad, and he needed the man.
“I want to look at what we’ve got,” Kaladin said, leading them away from the barrack. It would house fifty men along with a half-dozen sergeants. More barracks flanked it on either side. Kaladin had been given an entire block of them—twenty buildings—to house his new battalion of former bridgemen.
Twenty buildings. That Dalinar should so easily be able to find a block of twenty buildings for the bridgemen bespoke a terrible truth—the cost of Sadeas’s betrayal. Thousands of men dead. Indeed, female scribes worked near some of the barracks, supervising parshmen who carried out heaps of clothing and other personal effects. The possessions of the deceased.
Not a few of those scribes looked on with red eyes and frazzled composures. Sadeas had just created thousands of new widows in Dalinar’s camp, and likely as many orphans. If Kaladin had needed another reason to hate that man, he found it here, manifest in the suffering of those whose husbands had trusted him on the battlefield.
In Kaladin’s eyes, there was no sin greater than the betrayal of one’s allies in battle. Except, perhaps, for the betrayal of one’s own men—of murdering them after they risked their lives to protect you. Kaladin felt an immediate flare of anger at thoughts of Amaram and what he’d done. His slave brand seemed to burn again on his forehead.
Amaram and Sadeas. Two men in Kaladin’s life who would, at some point, need to pay for the things they’d done. Preferably, that payment would come with severe interest.
Kaladin continued to walk with Teft, Moash, and Skar. These barracks, which were slowly being emptied of personal effects, were also crowded with bridgemen. They looked much like the men of Bridge Four—same vests and knee-trousers. And yet, in some other ways, they couldn’t have looked less like the men of Bridge Four. Shaggy-haired with beards that hadn’t been trimmed in months, they bore hollow eyes that didn’t seem to blink often enough. Slumped backs. Expressionless faces.
Each man among them seemed to sit alone, even when surrounded by his fellows.
“I remember that feeling,” Skar said softly. The short, wiry man had sharp features and silvering hair at the temples, despite being in his early thirties. “I don’t want to, but I do.”
“We’re supposed to turn those into an army?” Moash asked.
“Kaladin did it to Bridge Four, didn’t he?” Teft asked, wagging a finger at Moash. “He’ll do it again.”
“Transforming a few dozen men is different from doing the same for hundreds,” Moash said, kicking aside a fallen branch from the highstorm. Tall and solid, Moash had a scar on his chin but no slave brand on his forehead. He walked straight-backed with his chin up. Save for those dark brown eyes of his, he could have passed for an officer.
Kaladin led the three past barrack after barrack, doing a quick count. Nearly a thousand men, and though he’d told them yesterday that they were now free—and could return to their old lives if they wished—few seemed to want to do anything but sit. Though there had originally been forty bridge crews, many had been slaughtered during the latest assault and others had already been short-manned.
“We’ll combine them into twenty crews,” Kaladin said, “of about fifty each.” Above, Syl fluttered down as a ribbon of light and zipped around him. The men gave no sign of seeing her; she would be invisible to them. “We can’t teach each of these thousand personally, not at first. We’ll want to train the more eager ones among them, then send them back to lead and train their own teams.”
“I suppose,” Teft said, scratching his chin. The oldest of the bridgemen, he was one of the few who retained a beard. Most of the others had shaved theirs off as a mark of pride, something to separate the men of Bridge Four from common slaves. Teft kept his neat for the same reason. It was light brown where it hadn’t gone grey, and he wore it short and square, almost like an ardent’s.
Moash grimaced, looking at the bridgemen. “You assume some of them will be ‘more eager,’ Kaladin. They all look the same level of despondent to me.”
“Some will still have fight in them,” Kaladin said, continuing on back toward Bridge Four. “The ones who joined us at the fire last night, for a start. Teft, I’ll need you to choose others. Organize and combine crews, then pick forty men—two from each team—to be trained first. You’ll be in command of that training. Those forty will be the seed we use to help the rest.”
“I suppose I can do that.”
“Good. I’ll give you a few men to help.”
“A few?” Teft asked. “I could use more than a few.…”
“You’ll have to make do with a few,” Kaladin said, stopping on the path and turning westward, toward the king’s complex beyond the camp wall. It rose on a hillside overlooking the rest of the warcamps. “Most of us are going to be needed to keep Dalinar Kholin alive.”
Moash and the others stopped beside him. Kaladin squinted at the palace. It certainly didn’t look grand enough to house a king—out here, everything was just stone and more stone.
“You are willing to trust Dalinar?” Moash asked.
“He gave up his Shardblade for us,” Kaladin said.
“He owed it to us,” Skar said with a grunt. “We saved his storming life.”
“It could have just been posturing,” Moash said, folding his arms. “Political games, him and Sadeas trying to manipulate each other.”
Syl alighted on Kaladin’s shoulder, taking the form of a young woman with a flowing, filmy dress, all blue-white. She held her hands clasped together as she looked up at the king’s complex, where Dalinar Kholin had gone to plan.
He’d told Kaladin that he was going to do something that would anger a lot of people. I’m going to take away their games.…
“We need to keep that man alive,” Kaladin said, looking back to the others. “I don’t know if I trust him, but he’s the only person on these Plains who has shown even a hint of compassion for bridgemen. If he dies, do you want to guess how long it will take his successor to sell us back to Sadeas?”
Skar snorted in derision. “I’d like to see them try with a Knight Radiant at our head.”
“I’m not a Radiant.”
“Fine, whatever,” Skar said. “Whatever you are, it will be tough for them to take us from you.”
“You think I can fight them all, Skar?” Kaladin said, meeting the older man’s eyes. “Dozens of Shardbearers? Tens of thousands of troops? You think one man could do that?”
“Not one man,” Skar said, stubborn. “You.”
“I’m not a god, Skar,” Kaladin said. “I can’t hold back the weight of ten armies.” He turned to the other two. “We decided to stay here on the Shattered Plains. Why?”
“What good would it do to run?” Teft asked, shrugging. “Even as free men, we’d just end up conscripted into one army or another out there in the hills. Either that, or we’d end up starving.”
Moash nodded. “This is as good a place as any, so long as we’re free.”
“Dalinar Kholin is our best hope for a real life,” Kaladin said. “Bodyguards, not conscripted labor. Free men, despite the brands on our foreheads. Nobody else will give us that. If we want freedom, we need to keep Dalinar Kholin alive.”
“And the Assassin in White?” Skar asked softly.
They’d heard of what the man was doing around the world, slaughtering kings and highprinces in all nations. The news was the buzz of the warcamps, ever since reports had started trickling in through spanreed. The emperor of Azir, dead. Jah Keved in turmoil. A half-dozen other nations left without a ruler.
“He already killed our king,” Kaladin said. “Old Gavilar was the assassin’s first murder. We’ll just have to hope he’s done here. Either way, we protect Dalinar. At all costs.”
They nodded one by one, though those nods were grudging. He didn’t blame them. Trusting lighteyes hadn’t gotten them far—even Moash, who had once spoken well of Dalinar, now seemed to have lost his fondness for the man. Or any lighteyes.
In truth, Kaladin was a little surprised at himself and the trust he felt. But, storm it, Syl liked Dalinar. That carried weight.
“We’re weak right now,” Kaladin said, lowering his voice. “But if we play along with this for a time, protecting Kholin, we’ll be paid handsomely. I’ll be able to train you—really train you—as soldiers and officers. Beyond that, we’ll be able to teach these others.
“We could never make it on our own out there as two dozen former bridgemen. But what if we were instead a highly skilled mercenary force of a thousand soldiers, equipped with the finest gear in the warcamps? If worse comes to worst, and we have to abandon the camps, I’d like to do so as a cohesive unit, hardened and impossible to ignore. Give me a year with this thousand, and I can have it done.”
“Now that plan I like,” Moash said. “Do I get to learn to use a sword?”
“We’re still darkeyes, Moash.”
“Not you,” Skar said from his other side. “I saw your eyes during the—”
“Stop!” Kaladin said. He took a deep breath. “Just stop. No more talk of that.”
Skar fell silent.
“I am going to name you officers,” Kaladin said to them. “You three, along with Sigzil and Rock. You’ll be lieutenants.”
“Darkeyed lieutenants?” Skar said. The rank was commonly used for the equivalent of sergeants in companies made up only of lighteyes.
“Dalinar made me a captain,” Kaladin said. “The highest rank he said he dared commission a darkeyes. Well, I need to come up with a full command structure for a thousand men, and we’re going to need something between sergeant and captain. That means appointing you five as lieutenants. I think Dalinar will let me get away with it. We’ll make master sergeants if we need another rank.
“Rock is going to be quartermaster and in charge of food for the thousand. I’ll appoint Lopen his second. Teft, you’ll be in charge of training. Sigzil will be our clerk. He’s the only one who can read glyphs. Moash and Skar…”
He glanced toward the two men. One short, the other tall, they walked the same way, with a smooth gait, dangerous, spears always on their shoulders. They were never without. Of all the men he’d trained in Bridge Four, only these two had instinctively understood. They were killers.
Like Kaladin himself.
“We three,” Kaladin told them, “are each going to focus on watching Dalinar Kholin. Whenever possible, I want one of us three personally guarding him. Often one of the other two will watch his sons, but make no mistake, the Blackthorn is the man we’re going to keep alive. At all costs. He is our only guarantee of freedom for Bridge Four.”
The others nodded.
“Good,” Kaladin said. “Let’s go get the rest of the men. It’s time for the world to see you as I do.”
By common agreement, Hobber sat down to get his tattoo first. The gaptoothed man was one of the very first who had believed in Kaladin. Kaladin remembered that day; exhausted after a bridge run, wanting to simply lie down and stare. Instead, he’d chosen to save Hobber rather than letting him die. Kaladin had saved himself that day too.
The rest of Bridge Four stood around Hobber in the tent, watching in silence as the tattooist worked carefully on his forehead, covering up the scar of his slave’s brand with the glyphs Kaladin had provided. Hobber winced now and then at the pain of the tattoo, but he kept a grin on his face.
Kaladin had heard that you could cover a scar with a tattoo, and it ended up working quite well. Once the tattoo ink was injected, the glyphs drew the eye, and you could barely tell that the skin beneath was scarred.
Once the process was finished, the tattooist provided a mirror for Hobber to look into. The bridgeman touched his forehead hesitantly. The skin was red from the needles, but the dark tattoo perfectly covered the slave brand.
“What does it say?” Hobber asked softly, tears in his eyes.
“Freedom,” Sigzil said before Kaladin could reply. “The glyph means freedom.”
“The smaller ones above,” Kaladin said, “say the date you were freed and the one who freed you. Even if you lose your writ of freedom, anyone who tries to imprison you for being a runaway can easily find proof that you are not. They can go to Dalinar Kholin’s scribes, who keep a copy of your writ.”
Hobber nodded. “That’s good, but it’s not enough. Add ‘Bridge Four’ to it. Freedom, Bridge Four.”
“To imply you were freed from Bridge Four?”
“No, sir. I wasn’t freed from Bridge Four. I was freed by it. I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything.”
It was crazy talk. Bridge Four had been death—scores of men had been slaughtered running that cursed bridge. Even after Kaladin had determined to save the men, he’d lost far too many. Hobber would have been a fool not to take any opportunity to escape.
And yet, he sat stubbornly until Kaladin drew out the proper glyphs for the tattooist—a calm, sturdy darkeyed woman who looked like she could have lifted a bridge all on her own. She settled down on her stool and began adding the two glyphs to Hobber’s forehead, tucked right below the freedom glyph. She spent the process explaining—again—how the tattoo would be sore for days and how Hobber would need to care for it.
He accepted the new tattoos with a grin on his face. Pure foolishness, but the others nodded in agreement, clasping Hobber on the arm. Once Hobber was done, Skar sat quickly, eager, demanding the same full set of tattoos.
Kaladin stepped back, folding his arms and shaking his head. Outside the tent, a bustling marketplace sold and bought. The “warcamp” was really a city, built up inside the craterlike rim of some enormous rock formation. The prolonged war on the Shattered Plains had attracted merchants of all varieties, along with tradesmen, artists, and even families with children.
Moash stood nearby, face troubled, watching the tattooist. He wasn’t the only one in the bridge crew who didn’t have a slave brand. Teft didn’t either. They had been made bridgemen without technically being made slaves first. It happened frequently in Sadeas’s camp, where running bridges was a punishment that one could earn for all manner of infractions.
“If you don’t have a slave’s brand,” Kaladin said loudly to the men, “you don’t need to get the tattoo. You’re still one of us.”
“No,” Rock said. “I will get this thing.” He insisted on sitting down after Skar and getting the tattoo right on his forehead, though he had no slave brand. Indeed, every one of the men without a slave brand—Beld and Teft included—sat down and got the tattoo on their foreheads.
Only Moash abstained, and had the tattoo placed on his upper arm. Good. Unlike most of them, he wouldn’t have to go about with a proclamation of former slavery in plain view.
Moash stood up from the seat, and another took his place. A man with red and black skin in a marbled pattern, like stone. Bridge Four had a lot of variety, but Shen was in a class all his own. A parshman.
“I can’t tattoo him,” the artist said. “He’s property.”
Kaladin opened his mouth to object, but the other bridgemen jumped in first.
“He’s been freed, like us,” Teft said.
“One of the team,” Hobber said. “Give him the tattoo, or you won’t see a sphere from any of us.” He blushed after he said it, glancing at Kaladin— who would be paying for all this, using spheres granted by Dalinar Kholin.
Other bridgemen spoke out, and the tattoo artist finally sighed and gave in. She pulled over her stool and began working on Shen’s forehead.
“You won’t even be able to see it,” she grumbled, though Sigzil’s skin was nearly as dark as Shen’s, and the tattoo showed up fine on him.
Eventually, Shen looked in the mirror, then stood up. He glanced at Kaladin, and nodded. Shen didn’t say much, and Kaladin didn’t know what to make of the man. It was actually easy to forget about him, usually trailing along silently at the back of the group of bridgemen. Invisible. Parshmen were often that way.
Shen finished, only Kaladin himself remained. He sat down next and closed his eyes. The pain of the needles was a lot sharper than he’d anticipated.
After a short time, the tattooist started cursing under her breath.
Kaladin opened his eyes as she wiped a rag on his forehead. “What is it?” he asked.
“The ink won’t take!” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. When I wipe your forehead, the ink all just comes right off! The tattoo won’t stay.”
Kaladin sighed, realizing he had a little Stormlight raging in his veins. He hadn’t even noticed drawing it in, but he seemed to be getting better and better at holding it. He frequently took in a little these days while walking about. Holding Stormlight was like filling a wineskin—if you filled it to bursting and unstopped it, it would squirt out quickly, then slow to a trickle. Same with the Light.
He banished it, hoping the tattoo artist didn’t notice when he breathed out a small cloud of glowing smoke. “Try again,” he said as she got out new ink.
This time, the tattoo took. Kaladin sat through the process, teeth clenched against the pain, then looked up as she held the mirror for him. The face that looked back at Kaladin seemed alien. Clean-shaven, hair pulled back from his face for the tattooing, the slave brands covered up and, for the moment, forgotten.
Can I be this man again? he thought, reaching up, touching his cheek. This man died, didn’t he?
Syl landed on his shoulder, joining him in looking into the mirror. “Life before death, Kaladin,” she whispered.
He unconsciously sucked in Stormlight. Just a little, a fraction of a sphere’s worth. It flowed through his veins like a wave of pressure, like winds trapped in a small enclosure.
The tattoo on his forehead melted. His body shoved out the ink, which started to drip down his face. The tattooist cursed again and grabbed her rag. Kaladin was left with the image of those glyphs melting away. Freedom dissolved, and underneath, the violent scars of his captivity. Dominated by a branded glyph.
The woman wiped his face. “I don’t know why this is happening! I thought it would stay that time. I—”
“It’s all right,” Kaladin said, taking the rag as he stood, finishing the cleanup. He turned to face the rest of them, bridgemen now soldiers. “The scars haven’t finished with me yet, it appears. I’ll try again another time.”
They nodded. He’d have to explain to them later what was happening; they knew of his abilities.
“Let’s go,” Kaladin said to them, tossing a small bag of spheres to the tattooist, then taking his spear from beside the tent entrance. The others joined him, spears to shoulders. They didn’t need to be armed while in camp, but he wanted them to get used to the idea that they were free to carry weapons now.
The market outside was crowded and vibrant. The tents, of course, would have been taken down and stowed during last night’s highstorm, but they’d already sprung up again. Perhaps because he was thinking about Shen, he noticed the parshmen. He picked out dozens of them with a cursory glance, helping set up a few last tents, carrying purchases for lighteyes, helping shopowners stack their wares.
What do they think of this war on the Shattered Plains? Kaladin wondered. A war to defeat, and perhaps subjugate, the only free parshmen in the world?
Would that he could get an answer out of Shen regarding questions like that. It seemed all he ever got from the parshman were shrugs.
Kaladin led his men through the market, which seemed far friendlier than the one in Sadeas’s camp. Though people stared at the bridgemen, nobody sneered, and the haggling at nearby stands—while energetic—didn’t progress to shouting. There even seemed to be fewer urchins and beggars.
You just want to believe that, Kaladin thought. You want to believe Dalinar is the man everyone says he is. The honorable lighteyes of the stories. But everyone said the same things about Amaram.
As they walked, they did pass some soldiers. Too few. Men who had been on duty back in the camp when the others had gone on the disastrous assault where Sadeas had betrayed Dalinar. As they passed one group patrolling the market, Kaladin caught two men at their front raising their hands before themselves, crossed at the wrist.
How had they learned Bridge Four’s old salute, and so quickly? These men didn’t do it as a full salute, just a small gesture, but they nodded their heads to Kaladin and his men as they passed. Suddenly, the more calm nature of the market took on another cast to Kaladin. Perhaps this wasn’t simply the order and organization of Dalinar’s army.
There was an air of quiet dread over this warcamp. Thousands had been lost to Sadeas’s betrayal. Everyone here had probably known a man who had died out on those plateaus. And everyone probably wondered if the conflict between the two highprinces would escalate.
“It’s nice to be seen as a hero, isn’t it?” Sigzil asked, walking beside Kaladin and watching another group of soldiers pass by.
“How long will the goodwill last, do you think?” Moash asked. “How long before they resent us?”
“Ha!” Rock, towering behind him, clapped Moash on the shoulder. “No complaining today! You do this thing too much. Do not make me kick you. I do not like kicking. It hurts my toes.”
“Kick me?” Moash snorted. “You won’t even carry a spear, Rock.”
“Spears are not for kicking complainers. But big Unkalaki feet like mine—it is what they were made for! Ha! This thing is obvious, yes?”
Kaladin led the men out of the market and to a large rectangular building near the barracks. This one was constructed of worked stone, rather than Soulcast rock, allowing far more finesse in design. Such buildings were becoming more common in the warcamps, as more masons arrived.
Soulcasting was quicker, but also more expensive and less flexible. He didn’t know much about it, only that Soulcasters were limited in what they could do. That was why the barracks were all essentially identical.
Kaladin led his men inside the towering building to the counter, where a grizzled man with a belly that stretched to next week supervised a few parshmen stacking bolts of blue cloth. Rind, the Kholin head quartermaster, to whom Kaladin had sent instructions the night before. Rind was lighteyed, but what was known as a “tenner,” a lowly rank barely above darkeyes.
“Ah!” Rind said, speaking with a high-pitched voice that did not match his girth. “You’re here, finally! I’ve got them all out for you, Captain. Everything I have left.”
“Left?” Moash asked.
“Uniforms of the Cobalt Guard! I’ve commissioned some new ones, but this is what stock remained.” Rind grew more subdued. “Didn’t expect to need so many so soon, you see.” He looked Moash up and down, then handed him a uniform and pointed to a stall for changing.
Moash took it. “We going to wear our leather jerkins over these?”
“Ha!” Rind said. “The ones tied with so much bone you looked like some Western skullbearer on feast day? I’ve heard of that. But no, Brightlord Dalinar says you’re each to be outfitted with breastplates, steel caps, new spears. Chain mail for the battlefield, if you need it.”
“For now,” Kaladin said, “uniforms will do.”
“I think I’ll look silly in this,” Moash grumbled, but walked over to change. Rind distributed the uniforms to the men. He gave Shen a strange look, but delivered the parshman a uniform without complaint.
The bridgemen gathered in an eager bunch, jabbering with excitement as they unfolded their uniforms. It had been a long time since any of them had worn anything other than bridgeman leathers or slave wraps. They stopped talking when Moash stepped out.
These were newer uniforms, of a more modern style than Kaladin had worn in his previous military service. Stiff blue trousers and black boots polished to a shine. A buttoned white shirt, only the edges of its collar and cuffs extending beyond the jacket, which came down to the waist and buttoned closed beneath the belt.
“Now, there’s a soldier!” the quartermaster said with a laugh. “Still think you look silly?” He gestured for Moash to inspect his reflection in the mirror on the wall.
Moash fixed his cuffs and actually blushed. Kaladin had rarely seen the man so out of sorts. “No,” Moash said. “I don’t.”
The others moved eagerly and began changing. Some went to the stalls at the side, but most didn’t care. They were bridgemen and slaves; they’d spent most of their recent lives being paraded about in loincloths or little more.
Teft had his on before anyone else, and knew to do up the buttons in the right places. “Been a long time,” he whispered, buckling his belt. “Don’t know that I deserve to wear something like this again.”
“This is what you are, Teft,” Kaladin said. “Don’t let the slave rule you.”
Teft grunted, affixing his combat knife in its place on his belt. “And you, son? When are you going to admit what you are?”
“To us. Not to everyone else.”
“Don’t start this again.”
“I’ll storming start whatever I want,” Teft snapped. He leaned in, speaking softly. “At least until you give me a real answer. You’re a Surgebinder. You’re not a Radiant yet, but you’re going to be one when this is all blown through. The others are right to push you. Why don’t you go have a hike up to that Dalinar fellow, suck in some Stormlight, and make him recognize you as a lighteyes?”
Kaladin glanced at the men in a muddled jumble as they tried to get the uniforms on, an exasperated Rind explaining to them how to do up the coats.
“Everything I’ve ever had, Teft,” Kaladin whispered, “the lighteyes have taken from me. My family, my brother, my friends. More. More than you can imagine. They see what I have, and they take it.” He held up his hand, and could faintly make out a few glowing wisps trailing from his skin, since he knew what to look for. “They’ll take it. If they can find out what I do, they’ll take it.”
“Now, how in Kelek’s breath would they do that?”
“I don’t know,” Kaladin said. “I don’t know, Teft, but I can’t help feeling panic when I think about it. I can’t let them have this, can’t let them take it—or you men—from me. We remain quiet about what I can do. No more talk of it.”
Teft grumbled as the other men finally got themselves sorted out, though Lopen—one armed, with his empty sleeve turned inside out and pushed in so it didn’t hang down—prodded at the patch on his shoulder. “What’s this?”
“It’s the insignia of the Cobalt Guard,” Kaladin said. “Dalinar Kholin’s personal bodyguard.”
“They’re dead, gancho,” Lopen said. “We aren’t them.”
“Yeah,” Skar agreed. To Rind’s horror, he got out his knife and cut the patch free. “We’re Bridge Four.”
“Bridge Four was your prison,” Kaladin protested.
“Doesn’t matter,” Skar said. “We’re Bridge Four.” The others agreed, cutting off the patches, tossing them to the ground.
Teft nodded and did likewise. “We’ll protect the Blackthorn, but we’re not just going to replace what he had before. We’re our own crew.”
Kaladin rubbed his forehead, but this was what he had accomplished in bringing them together, galvanizing them into a cohesive unit. “I’ll draw up a glyphpair insignia for you to use,” he told Rind. “You’ll have to commission new patches.”
The portly man sighed as he gathered up the discarded patches. “I suppose. I’ve got your uniform over there, Captain. A darkeyed captain! Who would have thought it possible? You’ll be the only one in the army. The only one ever, so far as I know!”
He didn’t seem to find it offensive. Kaladin had little experience with low-dahn lighteyes like Rind, though they were very common in the warcamps. In his hometown, there had only been the citylord’s family—of upper middle dahn—and the darkeyes. It hadn’t been until he’d reached Amaram’s army that he’d realized there was an entire spectrum of light-eyes, many of whom worked common jobs and scrambled for money, just like ordinary people.
Kaladin walked over to the last bundle on the counter. His uniform was different. It included a blue waistcoat and a double-breasted blue longcoat, the lining white, the buttons of silver. The longcoat was meant to hang open, despite the rows of buttons down each side.
He’d seen such uniforms frequently. On lighteyes.
“Bridge Four,” he said, cutting the Cobalt Guard insignia from the shoulder and tossing it to the counter with the others.
Words of Radiance © Brandon Sanderson, 2014