During his recent Shadows of Self tour, Brandon Sanderson read an in-progress excerpt from the third Stormlight Archive book, and we’re pleased to share it with you now! If you missed Brandon on tour this time, be sure to keep an eye out for future events—who knows what extra goodies await us all!
The excerpt below is from the beginning of the book’s first flashback chapter, when Dalinar is a young man. It contains no spoilers for either The Way of Kings or Words of Radiance, so dive right in!
Rockbuds crunched like skulls beneath Dalinar’s boots as he charged across the burning field. His elites tromped behind him, a handpicked force of soldiers both lighteyed and dark. They weren’t an honor guard. Dalinar didn’t need guards. These were simply the men he considered competent enough not to embarrass him.
Around him, rockbuds smoldered. Moss—dried from the summer heat and long days between storms this time of year—flared up in waves, setting the rockbud shells themselves aflame. Dalinar charged through the smoke, trusting in his padded armor and thick boots to protect him. Flamespren, like tiny people made of fire, danced from one burning patch to the next.
The enemy—pressed by his armies from the north—had pulled back into this town just ahead. Dalinar had held himself back, with difficulty, from entering that initial clash. He’d known the real fighting would take place in the town.
He hadn’t expected the enemy to—in a desperate move—fire this plain, burning their own crops to block the southern approach. Well, no matter. The fires could go to Damnation for all Dalinar cared. He led his men in a charge, and though some were overwhelmed by the smoke or heat, most stayed with him. They’d crash into the enemy from the south, pressing them between his men and the main army.
Hammer and anvil. His favorite kind of tactic: the type that didn’t allow his enemies to get away from him.
As Dalinar burst from the smoky air, he found a few lines of spearmen hastily making ranks on the southern edge of the town. There were remnants of a wall, but that had been torn down in a contest a few years back. Dalinar had forgotten the town’s name, but the location was ideal. A large ridge to the east made a natural break from the storms and had allowed this place to sprawl, almost like a real city.
Dalinar screamed at the enemy soldiers, beating his sword—just a regular longsword—against his shield. He wore a sturdy breastplate and helm along with iron-lined boots. The spearmen ahead of him wavered as his elites roared from the smoke and flame, shouting a bloodthirsty cacophony.
A few of the spearmen dropped weapons and ran. Fearspren, gobs of violet goo, wriggled up en masse around the enemy rank. Dalinar grinned. He didn’t need Shards to intimidate.
He hit the spearmen like a boulder rolling through a grove of saplings, swinging his sword and sending limbs into the air. A good fight was about momentum. Don’t stop. Don’t think. Drive forward and convince your enemies that they’re as good as dead already. That way, they’ll fight you less as you send them to their pyres.
As he waded among them, the spearmen thrust spears frantically—less to try to kill him, more to try to push away this madman. Their ranks collapsed, and many of the men turned their flanks to Dalinar’s men, focused only on him.
Dalinar laughed, slamming aside a pair of spears with his shield, then disemboweling one man with a sword deep in the gut. The man dropped his spear in panic, trying to grab at his entrails, and his allies backed away at the horrific sight. So Dalinar came in swinging, catching the two off balance, killing them with a sword that bore their friend’s blood.
Dalinar’s elites decimated the now-broken line, and the real slaughter began. Dalinar pushed forward, keeping momentum, shearing through the ranks until he reached the back, breathing deeply and wiping ashen sweat from his face. A young spearman fell before him, crying, screaming for his mother as he crawled across the stony ground, trailing blood. Fearspren mixed with orange, sinewy painspren all around.
Dalinar shook his head, picking up a fallen spear and striding past the youth, slamming it down into the boy’s heart as he passed. Men often cried for parents as they died. Didn’t matter how old they were. He’d seen greybeards do it, same as kids like this one. He’s not much younger than I, Dalinar thought. Maybe seventeen. But then, Dalinar had never felt young, regardless of his age.
His elites filled in behind him, having carved the enemy line in two. Dalinar danced, shaking off his bloodied blade, feeling alert, excited, but not yet alive. Where was it?
A larger group of soldiers hiked down the street toward him, led by several officers in white and red. Dalinar could see from the way they pulled up, alarmed, that they hadn’t expected their spearmen to fall so quickly.
Dalinar charged. His elites knew to watch, so he was followed by a force of fifty or sixty—the rest had to finish off the unfortunate spearman ranks. Fifty would do. The crowded confines of the town would mean Dalinar shouldn’t need more.
As he neared this newer force, he focused his attention on the one man riding a horse. The fellow wore plate armor obviously meant to re-create Shardplate, though it only of common steel. It lacked the beauty, the power, of true Plate. He still looked like he was the most important person around. Hopefully that would mean he was the best.
The man’s honor guard rushed to engage, and Dalinar felt something stir inside him. Like a thirst, a physical need.
Challenge. He needed a challenge, storm it!
He engaged the first member of the guard, attacking with a swift brutality. Fighting on the battlefield wasn’t like in the dueling arena; Dalinar didn’t dance around the fellow, testing his abilities. Out here, that sort of thing got you stabbed in the back by someone else. Instead, Dalinar slammed his sword down against the enemy, who raised his shield to block. Dalinar hit in a series of quick, powerful strokes, like a drummer pounding out a furious beat. Bam, bam, bam, bam!
The enemy soldier didn’t have an opportunity to mount a counterattack. He clutched his shield over his head, putting Dalinar squarely in control. Dalinar kept hitting as he raised his own shield before him and shoved it against the man, forcing him back until he stumbled. The man’s shield shifted, letting Dalinar’s sword come down at an angle and bite him in the upper arm.
The shield dropped completely. This man didn’t get a chance to cry for his mother.
Dalinar let his elites handle the others; the way was open to the brightlord. Not old enough to be the highprince. Some other important lighteyes? Or…didn’t Dalinar remember something about a son mentioned during Gavilar’s endless planning meetings? Well, this man certainly looked grand on that white mare, watching the battle from within his helm, cape streaming around him.
Dalinar pulled up, swiping his sword eagerly, breathing in and out. The foe raised his sword to his helm in a sign of challenge accepted.
Dalinar raised his shield arm and pointed, counting on at least one of his strikers to have lived and stayed with him. Indeed, Jenin stepped up, unhooked the short bow from his back and—as the brightlord shouted his surprise—shot the horse in the chest.
“Hate shooting horses,” Jenin grumbled as the beast reared in pain. “Like throwing a thousand broams into the storming ocean, Brightlord.”
“I’ll buy you two when we finish this,” Dalinar said as the brightlord fell backward, tumbling off his horse. Dalinar dodged forward around flashing hooves and snorts of pain, seeking out the fallen man. He was pleased to find the enemy rising.
Dalinar came in swinging. The brightlord managed to get his sword up, but Dalinar batted it away, then dropped his own shield completely and came in with a two-handed power swing, intending to knock the lighteyed soldier back down. Fortunately, the man was good enough to recover his stance and intercept the blow with his shield.
They probably heard the subsequent crack all the way in Kholinar. Indeed, it vibrated up Dalinar’s arms.
Momentum. Life was about momentum. Pick a direction and don’t let anything—man or storm—turn you aside. Dalinar battered at the brightlord, driving him backward, furious and persistent. The man withstood it admirably, and managed a surprise feint that caught Dalinar off guard. It let the man get in close to ram Dalinar with his shield.
Dalinar ducked the blow that followed, but the backhand hit him solidly on the side of the head, sending him stumbling. His helm twisted, metal bent by the blow biting into his scalp, drawing blood. He saw double, his vision swimming.
The brightlord, smartly, came in for the kill. Dalinar swung his blade up in a lurching, full-shouldered blow, slapping the brightlord’s weapon out of his hands.
In turn, the brightlord punched Dalinar in the face with a gauntlet—and Dalinar’s nose crunched.
Dalinar fell to his knees, his vision blurry, sword slipping from his fingers. His foe was breathing deeply, cursing between breaths, winded by the short—frantic—contest. He fished at his belt for a knife.
An emotion stirred inside of Dalinar. A fire that filled the pit within. It washed through him and awakened him, bringing clarity. The sounds of his elites fighting the brightlord’s honor guard faded, metal on metal becoming clinks, grunts becoming like a distant humming.
Dalinar grinned. Then the grin became a toothy smile. His vision returned as the brightlord—who had just retrieved his knife—looked up and started, stumbling back. He seemed horrified.
Dalinar roared, spitting blood and throwing himself at the enemy. The swing that came for him seemed pitiful and Dalinar ducked it, throwing his shoulder against his foe and shoving him backward. Something thrummed inside of Dalinar, the pulse of the battle, the rhythm of killing and dying.
He knocked his opponent off balance, then reached for his sword. Dym, however, hollered his name and tossed him a polearm, with a hook on one side and a broad thin axe on the other. Dalinar seized it from the air and spun, ducking the brightlord’s swing. At the same time, he hooked the man around the ankle with the axehead, then yanked.
The brightlord fell in a clatter of steel. Before Dalinar could attack further, unfortunately, the honor guard became a bother. Two had managed to extricate themselves from Dalinar’s men, and came to the defense of their brightlord.
Dalinar caught their sword strikes on his polearm and twisted it around, backing away and slamming the axehead into one man’s side. Dalinar ripped it free and spun again—smashing the weapon down on the rising brightlord’s head and sending him to his knees—before coming back and barely catching the remaining guard’s sword on the haft of the polearm.
Dalinar pushed upward, holding the polearm in two hands, sweeping the guard’s blade into the air over his head. He stepped forward until he was face to face with the fellow. He could feel the man’s breath.
Dalinar spat blood from his shattered nose into the guard’s eyes, then kicked him in the stomach. He turned toward the brightlord, who had scrambled—again—to his feet and now was trying to flee. Dalinar growled, full of the Thrill, and swung the polearm in one hand, hooking the spike into the brightlord’s side, and yanked, dropping him a third time.
The brightlord rolled. He was greeted by the sight of Dalinar slamming his polearm down with two hands, driving the spike right through his breastplate and into his chest. It made a satisfying crunch, and Dalinar pulled it out bloodied.
The blow seemed a signal of sorts, and the honor guard and other soldiers finally broke before his elites. Dalinar grinned as he watched them go, gloryspren popping up around him like glowing, golden spheres. Damnation, it felt good to best a force larger than your own.
The Thrill, unfortunately, dwindled. He could never seem to hold on to it as long as he wanted. Nearby, the man he’d felled groaned softly. Dalinar stepped over, curious, kicking at the armored chest.
“Why…” the man said from within his helm. “Why us?”
“Don’t know,” Dalinar said, tossing the polearm back to Dym.
“You… You don’t know?” the dying man said.
“My brother chooses,” Dalinar said. “I just go where he points me.” He gestured toward the dying man, and Dym rammed a sword into the hole in the breastplate, finishing the job. The fellow had fought reasonably well; no need to extend his suffering.
Another soldier approached, handing Dalinar his sword. It had a chip in it the size of a thumb right in the blade. Looked like it had bent as well.
“You’re supposed to stick it into the squishy parts, Brightlord,” Dym said, “not pound it against the hard parts.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Dalinar said, tossing the sword aside as one of his men selected a replacement from among the fallen of high enough rank to have one.
“You…all right, Brightlord?” Dym asked.
“Never been better,” Dalinar said, then sucked blood up through his broken nose. Hurt like Damnation itself.
His men formed up around him, and Dalinar led the way further down the street. Before too long, he could make out the bulk of the enemy still fighting up ahead, harried by his army.
He halted his men, contemplative.
Thakka, captain of the elites, turned to him. “Orders, sir?”
“Raid those buildings,” Dalinar said, pointing at a line of homes. “Let’s see how well they fight while they see us rounding up their families.”
“The men will want to loot,” Thakka said.
“What is there to loot in a hovel like this?” Dalinar said with a shrug. “Soggy hogshide and old rockbud bowls?” He pulled off his helm to wipe the blood from his face. “They can loot afterward. Right now I need hostages. There are civilians somewhere in this storming town. Find them.”
Thakka nodded, shouting the orders. Dalinar reached for some water. He’d need to meet up with Sadeas, and—
Something slammed into Dalinar’s shoulder. He caught only a brief sight of it, a black blur that hit with the force of a roundhouse kick. It threw him down, and pain flared up from his side.
“An arrow?” he said, blinking as he found himself lying on the ground. A storming arrow sprouted from his right shoulder, with a long, thick shaft. It had gone right through the chain.
“Brightlord!” Thakka said, kneeling, shielding Dalinar with his body. “Kelek! Brightlord, are you—”
“Who in Damnation shot that?” Dalinar demanded.
“Up there,” one of his men said, pointing at the ridge above the town.
“That’s got to be over three hundred yards,” Dalinar said, shoving Thakka aside and standing. “That can’t—”
He was watching, so he was able to jump out of the way of the next arrow, which dropped a mere foot from him, slamming against the stone ground. Dalinar stared at it, then started shouting. “Horses! Where are the storming horses!” Had the fires delayed them?
No, fortunately. A small group of soldiers had guided them more carefully across the fields, but had caught up by now. They came trotting forward as Dalinar’s order was passed, bringing all eleven horses. Dalinar had to dodge another arrow as he seized the reigns of Fullnight, his black gelding, and heaved himself up into the saddle.
He galloped back the way they’d come in, trailed by ten of his best men. There had to be a way up that slope… There! A rocky set of switchbacks, shallow enough that he didn’t mind running Fullnight up them. Dalinar was more worried that by the time he reached the top, his quarry would have escaped.
He eventually burst onto the top of the ridge; an arrow slammed into his left shoulder, going straight through the breastplate, and nearly throwing him from the saddle.
Damnation! He hung on somehow, clenching the reins in one hand, and leaned low, watching ahead as the archer—still a distant figure—stood upon a rocky knob and launched another arrow. And another. Storms, the fellow was quick!
Dalinar jerked Fullnight to one side, then the other, feeling the thrumming sense of the Thrill return, driving away the pain. Hooves made a clatter on stone as another arrow zipped past his face, dangerously close. Ahead, the archer finally seemed to grow alarmed, and leaped from his perch to flee.
Dalinar charged Fullnight over that knob a moment later, jumping the horse after the fleeing archer, who turned out to be a man in his twenties wearing rugged clothing. Dalinar had the option to run him down, but instead galloped Fullnight right past and kicked the archer in the back, sending him sprawling. Dalinar pulled up his horse, then turned it about to pass by the groaning archer, who lay in a heap amid spilled black arrows.
Dalinar’s men caught up as he climbed roughly from the saddle, an arrow sprouting from each shoulder. He seized the archer, who had finally struggled to his feet and was scrambling—dazed—for his belt knife.
Dalinar turned the fellow about, noting the blue tattoo on his cheek. The archer gasped and stared at Dalinar, covered in soot from the fires, his face a mask of blood from the nose and the cut scalp, stuck with not one but two arrows.
“You waited until my helm was off,” Dalinar demanded. “You are an assassin. You were set here specifically to watch for me.”
The man winced as Dalinar gripped him hard—an action that caused pain to flare up Dalinar’s side. The man nodded.
“Amazing,” Dalinar said, letting go of the fellow. “Show me that shot again. How far is that, Thakka? I’m right, aren’t I? Over three hundred yards?”
“Almost four,” Thakka said. “But with a height advantage.”
“Still,” Dalinar said, stepping up to the lip of the ridge. He looked back at the befuddled archer. “Well? Grab your bow!”
“My…bow,” the archer said.
“Are you deaf, man?” Dalinar snapped. “Get it!”
The archer regarded the ten armed elites on horseback, grim-faced and dangerous, before wisely deciding to obey. He picked up his bow and a few arrows, then stepped hesitantly over to Dalinar, giving one glance to the similar shafts that were stuck into him.
“Went right through my storming armor,” Dalinar muttered, shading his eyes. To his right, the armies clashed down below, and his main body of elites had come up to press at the flank. The rearguard had found some civilians and was shoving them into the street.
“Pick a corpse,” Dalinar said, pointing toward an empty square where a skirmish had happened. “Stick an arrow in one, if you can.”
The archer licked his lips, still seeming confused. Finally he took a spyglass off his belt and studied the area. “The one in blue, near the overturned cart.”
Dalinar squinted, then nodded. Nearby, Thakka had climbed off his horse and had slid out his sword, resting it on his shoulder. A not-so-subtle warning. The archer contemplated this, then drew his bow and launched a single black-fletched arrow. It flew true, sticking into the chosen corpse.
“Stormfather,” Dalinar said, lowering his hand. “Thakka, before today, I’d have bet you half the princedom that such a shot wasn’t possible.” He turned to the archer. “What’s your name, assassin?”
The man raised his chin, but didn’t reply.
“Well, either way, welcome to my elites,” Dalinar said. “Someone get the fellow a horse.”
“What?” the archer said. “I tried to kill you!”
“Yes, from a distance,” Dalinar said, letting one of his men help him up onto his horse. “Which shows remarkably good judgment, since the ones I get close to tend to end up very dead. I can make good use of someone with your skills.”
Dalinar nodded toward the town below, where the beleaguered enemy army was—at long last—surrendering. “Not anymore. Looks like we’re all allies now!”
* * *
For the full tour experience, you can watch Brandon read the Dalinar chapter excerpt during his recent appearance at Google!