Welcome back to The Way of Kings reread on Tor.com. It’s been kind of a long time since I’ve done this, and the chapters I came back to seem to have driven me slightly insane.
You’re in for a wild ride as I discuss chapters 62 and 63, in which Kaladin becomes an actual for-real war criminal, and I cry softly into my pillow. Oh, also there’s some Stormlight. Enjoy!
Chapter 62: Three Glyphs
Setting: The Shattered Plains
Point of View: Kaladin
What Happens: While waiting for Sadeas’s army to finish crossing a chasm during a plateau run, Moash interrogates him about the prayer tied to his arm. Kaladin isn’t sure if he believes anymore, but his nostalgia for his mother’s simple faith comforts him. Kaladin and Bridge Four have been run ragged by constant plateau runs and nightly chasm duty. Moash is beginning to make noises about attacking Sadeas, since if they’re going to die anyway they might as well take the highprince down with them. Kaladin quashes this, preparing for a desperate scheme which might lead to his death.
Before their approach on the final chasm between them and the chrysalis, Kaladin goes to get his Parshendi-carapace armor from Lopen. At that moment, a soldier approaches and demands water from Bridge Four’s supply. Kaladin knows that if the man gets his way, not only will the other soldiers drink them dry, he will discover the armor and reveal their plot. To prevent this, Kaladin stares the man down, reminding him that if he compromises a bridge during an assault, he’s the one who will have to replace the missing bridgeman. The soldier backs down.
They reach the final assault, the Parshendi already lined up on the opposite plateau. It’s going to be a bad run. Kaladin tells Rock that he’s going to duck out from under the bridge once they start running, and to take over while he’s gone. The order to run is given, and Kaladin dashes out ahead of the bridges, putting on his makeshift armor quickly. As they see him, the Parshendi archers stop singing, palpably outraged. Parshendi consider it a dire sin to disturb their dead, not even moving them from the battlefield. So, Kaladin charging at them wearing their dead as a hat? It doesn’t go over well.
The archers focus all their attention on Kaladin, shooting as often as they can, not even maintaining coordinated volleys. Kaladin inhales Stormlight and dodges between the missiles, which bounce off his shield and armor. The speed and agility granted to him by the Stormlight feels like a natural capacity that his body had long yearned for. One arrow catches his arm, but the wound leaks Stormlight and begins to heal immediately.
Another flight of arrows threatens to take his life, but he watches in awe as they change course in midair to strike his shield instead. He has Lashed his shield without knowing what he was doing, something that he realizes he must have been doing for years.
Kaladin realizes suddenly that the bridge crews have passed him, and are setting their bridges. None of Bridge Four have been wounded, and the cavalry is now in position to relieve them. The distracted Parshendi offer little resistance. Bridge Four closes on him, astounded by his foolhardy but terrifically effective plan. Kaladin looks to Teft, who wordlessly confirms that no one could see him glowing.
Seeing Matal, Kaladin calls his men to fall into line. He watches as Sadeas rides past, and the bridgemen bow. Sadeas tells Matal that Kaladin looks familiar, and Matal confirms that “He is the one from before.” Sadeas muses on the “‘miracle,’” and backhandedly compliments the man for thinking to send Kaladin forward as a decoy.
Once Sadeas is gone, Matal turns on Kaladin, furious. Kaladin reminds that A) he just got the lighteyes promoted, B) stringing him up never worked before, and C) Matal was unlikely to find any other bridgemen crazy enough to pull that distraction scheme. Matal leaves in a huff.
Kaladin muses on the overwhelming success of their plan. All twenty bridges were set, with hardly any casualties. Kaladin must have drawn almost the entirety of the archers’ attention. Moash exclaims that they have to expand this plan with additional decoys, but Rock’s talk of bones reminds Kaladin of Shen. He goes to find the parshman bridgeman, and finds him sitting far away, his “face a mask of pain.” He apparently sat like that as soon as he saw what Kaladin had done. Kaladin feels guilty, but not enough to overwhelm his sense of victory. He sends the bridgemen out to find and aid the wounded.
Kaladin sees his hand shaking, and realizes that he’s in shock. Teft approaches, concerned, and insists that he take care of himself. His powers don’t make him immortal, and the Stormlight only helps his body heal, it doesn’t do the work for him. Teft insists that he let a few others go out to help him draw fire, and Kaladin consents.
Syl asks him if he still feels cursed, and Kaladin admits that he doesn’t. In a way that makes it worse, though. If he was never cursed, his men died because he failed them. She asks him not to feel guilty, and he’s reminded of his father. Kaladin never got the balance of caring right. He doesn’t know how to balance the necessity to do the impossible with the necessity not to feel guilty when he fails.
Bridge Four brings him a wounded man to tend to, and Kaladin starts teaching them how to do basic first aid. He’s interrupted, however, by Lopen’s desperate cries of “Kaladin!” A cluster of Parshendi archers has broken away from the battle to kill the man who mocked their dead. Kaladin tries to spring into action, but he’s exhausted, and he can see death bearing down when something crashes into the Parshendi line. A Shardbearer in gray plate scythes through them, destroying the squad in seconds. The Shardbearer’s honor guard catches up to him, and he raises his Blade to salute Bridge Four, before rejoining the battle.
The men are astounded. They’d been saved by Dalinar Kholin, although Moash insists that he just took an opportunity. Kaladin is less sure. If it was “just an opportunity taken,” why did Dalinar salute him? He turns his mind back to thoughts of escape.
Quote of the Chapter
Sadeas regarded the battlefield. “Well, luckily for you, it worked. I suppose I’ll have to promote you now.” He shook his head. “Those savages practically ignored the assault force. All twenty bridges set, most with nary a casualty. It seems like a waste, somehow. Consider yourself commended. Most remarkable, the way that boy dodged…”
Dickish indeed are the performance reviews in the Hierarchy of Evil! Also, Sadeas, maybe you want to be just a touch more subtle about how you’re pro-death when it comes to bridgemen? Maybe? No? Not a thing you’re willing to do at all? Okay, cool, we’ll do it your way.
How do we feel about Kaladin’s plan? On the one hand, it worked. On the other hand, it only worked because it exploits the most visceral taboo of the enemy culture and massively desecrates the dead. Kaladin was literally wearing the skin of his enemies into battle, knowing that this would be even more disturbing to them than it could normally be expected to be by thinking humans. Storms, Kal, I know the pressures of command weigh heavy on you, but you are wearing a person suit. Are we okay with the fact that, if this setting had war crimes, our hero would be a war criminal?
The more I think about this, the more it bothers me. Kaladin has distinguished himself by being one of the only characters to actually consider the psychology of the enemy. This has been one of our signs that he and Dalinar are, you know, a little better than the Alethi average, and being willing to consider the Parshendi as something more than faceless enemy aliens to slaughter wholesale seems like a prerequisite for protagonist-status in this series. But Kaladin’s reason for learning about the enemy seems to just be to find the best way to use their culture against them. Is Sanderson trying to set Kaladin up as a study of what desperation and hopelessness will drive otherwise good people to do during a time of war? Or is this less carefully considered?
Meanwhile, on Internet:
Friend: well, don’t all of us have a little war criminal inside of us?
me: What? NO!
Friend: let he who has not committed war crimes cast the first stone
me: OKAY LET ME JUST CHUCK THIS STONE
We see the results in Shen, who is psychologically devastated by this tactic. Kaladin tries to be good to Shen, to keep his men from letting their racial prejudices from overcoming them, but he has done far more damage to Shen than any of them. His treatment of the situation makes me feel queasy.
Speaking of the pressures of leadership, Kaladin sure seems capable of snatching psychological defeat from the jaws of victory. I’ve tread this ground what feels like a thousand times by now, so I’ll just say that he should learn to take solace in what small gains he can make.
Kaladin’s sense that his body had always been meant to fight with Stormlight is interesting, and brings back into question the notion of whether Surgebinding is inherent or earned. I assume it’s some of both.
Chapter 63: Fear
Setting: The Shattered Plains
Point of View: War Criminal Kaladin™ by Mattel
What Happens: Back in the chasms, Leyten is carving carapace into armor—yeah, making more armor out of the bones of the dead, that’s still happening. Kaladin smiles because he’s forgotten this is horror-movie stuff and chats about the bridgeman’s background as a
atrocity merchant blacksmith’s apprentice. Leyten apparently took the fall when a piece of armor his master had worked broke and let a lighteyes be wounded.
Kaladin strolls down the chasm to where Teft is walking the men through spear drills. Skar and Moash are the most skilled, and Kaladin recognizes a fevered, all-consuming drive to train in Moash from a dark time in his own life. He waves Moash over and reminds him not to work himself ragged, offering to make him one of the decoys. He tries to draw out Moash’s backstory, and the man says he’s hunting vengeance. Kaladin sympathizes, but says that he still has to be careful. You can’t help anyone if you get yourself killed.
Moash agrees, but points out the difference between them. Kaladin wanted to save someone, but Moash just wants to kill somebody. He won’t say whom, yet.
Kaladin looks over the squad, and thinks for a moment that if they get the dodging and armor right, they might stay decently safe. He wonders if running is still a viable option. Rock approaches, detecting his worry, and they discuss the situation. Rock laughs off the idea of sticking around as bridgemen, and Kaladin realizes he’s right. Even if their squad is now much safer than his unit in Amaram’s army had been, he will still lose two or three men a month. The squad as it’s now composed will be dead within a year. Rock promises to talk to Sigzil about ways to avoid pursuit when they run.
The men call for Kaladin to join them in sparring, but he refuses. Teft says it would be good for morale for him to show his skills, but he says he isn’t ready to pick up a spear again. Teft calls out his fear, and hopes that Kaladin will be ready when the time comes.
Quote of the Chapter:
“I wish to sleep. I know now why you do what you do, and I hate you for it. I will not speak of the truths I see.”
A death-saying. Looks like someone doesn’t agree with Taravangian’s program. Oh, and hey, more atrocities. I need some violet wine, people.
Kaladin is getting cold feet, which is to be expected. Apparently losing slaves is the unmanliest thing a lighteyes can do, and therefore pursuit is certain. It seems to me, however, that he long ago passed the point of no return. While he might lose fewer men with this decoy strategy, he’s putting himself at massive risk in every battle, and now that he’s training additional decoys, his best men will be forced to take his place if he dies. He’s basically insured that if he sticks around and gets killed by the unending barrage of arrows, his carefully trained sub-leaders will go down with him, and the bridge will be helpless almost immediately.
Sanderson has done an excellent job of painting Kaladin into a corner. Escape has become the only reasonable option. But Kaladin is an expert ditherer, constantly afraid of his own capacity. He’s not just afraid that he’ll do too little, he’s also afraid of doing too much. At this point I just want him to do something.
Next week, we hurtle towards endgame.
Carl Engle-Laird acquires and edits original fiction for Tor.com, as well as bringing you news and speculation about the Stormlight Archive. You can follow him on Twitter, here. Ten Stormpoints for whoever tweets the Hannibal reference at him first.