Jul 29 2010 6:26pm
The Way of Kings, Chapters 9 and 11 (Excerpt)
Please click here if you want to read our first installment, Way of Kings: Prologue, Prologue and Chapters 1-3.
Please click here if you want to hear our second installment, Way of Kings: Audio Chapters 4-6.
We’re skipping chapters 7, 8, and 10 because we want to focus on Kaladin’s storyline for this preview. For more of Shallan’s story, grab the book on August 31st.
“Ten people, with Shardblades alight, standing before a wall of black and white and red.” —Collected: Jesachev, 1173, 12 seconds pre-death. Subject: one of our own ardents, overheard during his last moments.
Kaladin had not been assigned to Bridge Four by chance. Out of all the bridge crews, Bridge Four had the highest casualty rate. That was particularly notable, considering that average bridge crews often lost one-third to one-half of their number on a single run.
Kaladin sat outside, back to the barrack wall, a sprinkle of rain falling on him. It wasn’t a highstorm. Just an ordinary spring rain. Soft. A timid cousin to the great storms.
Syl sat on Kaladin’s shoulder. Or hovered on it. Whatever. She didn’t seem to have any weight. Kaladin sat slumped, chin against his chest, staring at a dip in the stone, which was slowly collecting rainwater.
He should have moved inside Bridge Four’s barrack. It was cold and unfurnished, but it would keep off the rain. But he just . . . couldn’t care. How long had he been with Bridge Four now? Two weeks? Three? An eternity?
Of the twenty-five men who had survived his first bridge deployment, twenty-three were now dead. Two had been moved to other bridge crews because they’d done something to please Gaz, but they’d died there. Only one other man and Kaladin remained. Two out of nearly forty.
The bridge crew’s numbers had been replenished with more unfortunates, and most of those had died too. They had been replaced. Many of those had died. Bridgeleader after bridgeleader had been chosen. It was supposed to be a favored position on a bridge crew, always getting to run in the best places. It didn’t matter for Bridge Four.
Some bridge runs weren’t as bad. If the Alethi arrived before the Parshendi, no bridgemen died. And if they arrived too late, sometimes another highprince was already there. Sadeas wouldn’t help in that case; he’d take his army and go back to camp. Even in a bad run, the Parshendi would often choose to focus their arrows on certain crews, trying to bring them down one at a time. Sometimes, dozens of bridgemen would fall, but not a single one from Bridge Four.
That was rare. For some reason, Bridge Four always seemed to get targeted. Kaladin didn’t bother to learn the names of his companions. None of the bridgemen did. What was the point? Learn a man’s name, and one of you would be dead before the week was out. Odds were, you’d both be dead. Maybe he should learn names. Then he’d have someone to talk to in Damnation. They could reminisce about how terrible Bridge Four had been, and agree that eternal fires were much more pleasant.
He smirked dully, still staring at the rock in front of him. Gaz would come for them soon, send them to work. Scrubbing latrines, cleaning streets, mucking stables, gathering rocks. Something to keep their minds off their fate.
He still didn’t know why they fought on those blustering plateaus. Something about those large chrysalises. They had gemstones at their hearts, apparently. But what did that have to do with the Vengeance Pact? Another bridgeman—a youthful Veden with reddish-blond hair—lay nearby, staring up into the spitting sky. Rainwater pooled in the corners of his brown eyes, then ran down his face. He didn’t blink.
They couldn’t run. The warcamp might as well have been a prison. The bridgemen could go to the merchants and spend their meager earnings on cheap wine or whores, but they couldn’t leave the warcamp. The perimeter was secure. Partially, this was to keep out soldiers from the other camps—there was always rivalry where armies met. But mostly it was so bridgemen and slaves could not flee.
Why? Why did this all have to be so horrible? None of it made sense. Why not let a few bridgemen run out in front of the bridges with shields to block arrows? He’d asked, and had been told that would slow them down too much. He’d asked again, and had been told he’d be strung up if he didn’t shut his mouth.
The lighteyes acted as if this entire mess were some kind of grand game. If it was, the rules were hidden from bridgemen, just as pieces on a board had no inkling what the player’s strategy might be.
“Kaladin?” Syl asked, floating down and landing on his leg, holding the girlish form with the long dress flowing into mist. “Kaladin? You haven’t spoken in days.”
He kept staring, slumped. There was a way out. Bridgemen could visit the chasm nearest the camp. There were rules forbidding it, but the sentries ignored them. It was seen as the one mercy that could be given the bridgemen.
Bridgemen who took that path never returned.
“Kaladin?” Syl said, voice soft, worried.
“My father used to say that there are two kinds of people in the world,” Kaladin whispered, voice raspy. “He said there are those who take lives. And there are those who save lives.”
Syl frowned, cocking her head. This kind of conversation confused her; she wasn’t good with abstractions.
“I used to think he was wrong. I thought there was a third group. People who killed in order to save.” He shook his head. “I was a fool. There is a third group, a big one, but it isn’t what I thought.”
“What group?” she said, sitting down on his knee, brow scrunched up. “The people who exist to be saved or to be killed. The group in the middle. The ones who can’t do anything but die or be protected. The victims. That’s all I am.”
He looked up across the wet lumberyard. The carpenters had retreated, throwing tarps over untreated wood and bearing away tools that could rust. The bridgeman barracks ran around the west and north sides of the yard. Bridge Four’s was set off a little from the others, as if bad luck were a disease that could be caught. Contagious by proximity, as Kaladin’s father would say.
“We exist to be killed,” Kaladin said. He blinked, glancing at the other few members of Bridge Four sitting apathetically in the rain. “If we’re not dead already.”
“I hate seeing you like this,” Syl said, buzzing about Kaladin’s head as his team of bridgemen dragged a log down into the lumberyard. The Parshendi often set fire to the outermost permanent bridges, so Highprince Sadeas’s engineers and carpenters were always busy.
The old Kaladin might have wondered why the armies didn’t work harder to defend the bridges. There’s something wrong here! a voice inside him said. You’re missing part of the puzzle. They waste resources and bridgeman lives. They don’t seem to care about pushing inward and assaulting the Parshendi. They just fight pitched battles on plateaus, then come back to the camps and celebrate. Why? WHY?
He ignored that voice. It belonged to the man he had been.
“You used to be vibrant,” Syl said. “So many looked up to you, Kaladin. Your squad of soldiers. The enemies you fought. The other slaves. Even some lighteyes.”
Lunch would come soon. Then he could sleep until their bridgeleader kicked him awake for afternoon duty.
“I used to watch you fight,” Syl said. “I can barely remember it. My memories of then are fuzzy. Like looking at you through a rainstorm.”
Wait. That was odd. Syl hadn’t started following him until after his fall from the army. And she’d acted just like a regular windspren back then. He hesitated, earning a curse and a lash on his back from a taskmaster’s whip. He started pulling again. Bridgemen who were laggard in work were whipped, and bridgemen who were laggard on runs were executed. The army was very serious about that. Refuse to charge the Parshendi, try to lag behind the other bridges, and you’d be beheaded. They reserved that fate for that specific crime, in fact.
There were lots of ways to get punished as a bridgeman. You could earn extra work detail, get whipped, have your pay docked. If you did something really bad, they’d string you up for the Stormfather’s judgment, leaving you tied to a post or a wall to face a highstorm. But the only thing you could do to be executed directly was refuse to run at the Parshendi.
The message was clear. Charging with your bridge might get you killed, but refusing to do so would get you killed.
Kaladin and his crew lifted their log into a pile with others, then unhooked their dragging lines. They walked back toward the edge of the lumberyard, where more logs waited.
“Gaz!” a voice called. A tall, yellow-and-black-haired soldier stood at the edge of the bridge grounds, a group of miserable men huddled behind him. That was Laresh, one of the soldiers who worked the duty tent. He brought new bridgemen to replace those who’d been killed.
The day was bright, without a hint of clouds, and the sun was hot on Kaladin’s back. Gaz hustled up to meet the new recruits, and Kaladin and the others happened to be walking in that direction to pick up a log. “What a sorry lot,” Gaz said, looking over the recruits. “Of course, if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be sent here.”
“That’s the truth,” Laresh said. “These ten at the front were caught smuggling. You know what to do.”
New bridgemen were constantly needed, but there were always enough bodies. Slaves were common, but so were thieves or other lawbreakers from among the camp followers. Never parshmen. They were too valuable, and besides, the Parshendi were some kind of cousins to the parshmen. Better not to give the parshman workers in camp the sight of their kind fighting. Sometimes a soldier would be thrown into a bridge crew. That only happened if he’d done something extremely bad, like striking an officer. Acts that would earn a hanging in many armies meant being sent to the bridge crews here. Supposedly, survived a hundred bridge runs, you’d be released. It had happened once or twice, the stories said. It was probably just a myth, intended to give the bridgemen some tiny hope for survival. Kaladin and the others walked past the newcomers, gazes down, and began hooking their ropes to the next log.
“Bridge Four needs some men,” Gaz said, rubbing his chin. “Four always needs men,” Laresh said. “Don’t worry. I brought a special batch for it.” He nodded toward a second group of recruits, much more ragtag, walking up behind.
Kaladin slowly stood upright. One of the prisoners in that group was a boy of barely fourteen or fifteen. Short, spindly, with a round face. “Tien?” he whispered, taking a step forward.
He stopped, shaking himself. Tien was dead. But this newcomer looked so familiar, with those frightened black eyes. It made Kaladin want to shelter the boy. Protect him.
But . . . he’d failed. Everyone he’d tried to protect—from Tien to Cenn—had ended up dead. What was the point?
He turned back to dragging the log.
“Kaladin,” Syl said, landing on the log, “I’m going to leave.”
He blinked in shock. Syl. Leave? But . . . she was the last thing he had left. “No,” he whispered. It came out as a croak.
“I’ll try to come back,” she said. “But I don’t know what will happen when I leave you. Things are strange. I have odd memories. No, most of them aren’t even memories. Instincts. One of those tells me that if I leave you, I might lose myself.”
“Then don’t go,” he said, growing terrified.
“I have to,” she said, cringing. “I can’t watch this anymore. I’ll try to return.” She looked sorrowful. “Goodbye.” And with that, she zipped away into the air, adopting the form of a tiny group of tumbling, translucent leaves.
Kaladin watched her go, numb. Then he turned back to hauling the log. What else could he do?
The youth, the one that reminded him of Tien, died during the very next bridge run.
It was a bad one. The Parshendi were in position, waiting for Sadeas. Kaladin charged the chasm, not even flinching as men were slaughtered around him. It wasn’t bravery that drove him; it wasn’t even a wish that those arrows would take him and end it all. He ran. That was what he did. Like a boulder rolled down a hill, or like rain fell from the sky. They didn’t have a choice. Neither did he. He wasn’t a man; he was a thing, and things just did what they did.
The bridgemen laid their bridges in a tight line. Four crews had fallen. Kaladin’s own team had lost nearly enough stop them.
Bridge placed, Kaladin turned away, the army charging across the wood to start the real battle. He stumbled back across the plateau. After a few moments, he found what he was looking for. The boy’s body. Kaladin stood, wind whipping at his hair, looking down at the corpse. It lay faceup in a small hollow in the stone. Kaladin remembered lying in a similar hollow, holding a similar corpse.
Another bridgeman had fallen nearby, bristling with arrows. It was the man who’d lived through Kaladin’s first bridge run all those weeks back. His body slumped to the side, lying on a stone outcropping a foot or so above the corpse of the boy. Blood dripped from the tip of an arrow sticking out his back. It fell, one ruby drop at a time, splattering on the boy’s open, lifeless eye. A little trail of red ran from the eye down the side of his face. Like crimson tears.
That night, Kaladin huddled in the barrack, listening to a highstorm buffet the wall. He curled against the cold stone. Thunder shattered the sky outside.
I can’t keep going like this, he thought. I’m dead inside, as sure as if I’d taken a spear through the neck.
The storm continued its tirade. And for the first time in a year, Kaladin found himself crying.
“Three of sixteen ruled, but now the Broken One reigns.”
—Collected: Chachanan, 1173, 84 seconds pre-death. Subject: a cutpurse with the wasting sickness, of partial Iriali descent.
The highstorm eventually subsided. It was the dusk of the day the boy had died, the day Syl had left him. Kaladin slid on his sandals— the same ones he’d taken from the leathery-faced man on that first day—and stood up. He walked through the crowded barrack.
There were no beds, just one thin blanket per bridgeman. One had to choose whether to use it for cushioning or warmth. You could freeze or you could ache. Th ose were a bridgeman’s options, though several of the bridgemen had found a third use for the blankets. They wrapped them around their heads, as if to block out sight, sound, and smell. To hide from the world.
The world would find them anyway. It was good at these kinds of games. Rain fell in sheets outside, the wind still stiff. Flashes lit the western horizon, where the center of the storm flew onward. This was an hour or so before the riddens, and was as early as one would want to go out in a highstorm. Well, one never wanted to go out in a highstorm. But this was about as early as it was safe to go out. The lightning had passed; the winds were manageable. He passed through the dim lumberyard, hunched against the wind. Branches lay scattered about like bones in a whitespine’s lair. Leaves were plastered by rainwater to the rough sides of barracks. Kaladin splashed through puddles that chilled and numbed his feet. That felt good; they were still sore from the bridge run earlier.
Waves of icy rain blew across him, wetting his hair, dripping down his face and into his scruff y beard. He hated having a beard, particularly the way the whis kers itched at the corners of his mouth. Beards were like axehound pups. Boys dreamed of the day they’d get one, never realizing how annoying they could be.
“Out for a stroll, Your Lordship?” a voice said.
Kaladin looked up to find Gaz huddled in a nearby hollow between two of the barracks. Why was he out in the rain?
Ah. Gaz had fastened a small metal basket on the leeward wall of one of the barracks, and a soft glowing light came from within. He left his spheres out in the storm, then had come out early to retrieve them. It was a risk. Even a sheltered basket could get torn free. Some people believed that the shades of the Lost Radiants haunted the storms, stealing spheres. Perhaps that was true. But during his time in the army, Kaladin had known more than one man who had been wounded sneaking around during full storm, looking for spheres. No doubt the superstition was due to more worldly thieves.
There were safer ways to infuse spheres. Moneychangers would exchange dun spheres for infused ones, or you could pay them to infuse yours in one of their safely guarded nests.
“What are you doing?” Gaz demanded. The short, one-eyed man clutched the basket to his chest. “I’ll have you strung up if you’ve stolen anyone’s spheres.”
Kaladin turned away from him. “Storm you! I’ll have you strung up anyway! Don’t think you can run away; there are still sentries. You—”
“I’m going to the Honor Chasm,” Kaladin said quietly. His voice would barely be audible over the storm.
Gaz shut up. The Honor Chasm. He lowered his metal basket and made no further objections. There was a certain deference given to men who took that road.
Kaladin continued to cross the courtyard.
“Lordling,” Gaz called.
“Leave the sandals and vest,” Gaz said. “I don’t want to have to send someone down to fetch them.”
Kaladin pulled the leather vest over his head and dropped it to the ground with a splash, then left the sandals in a puddle. That left him in a dirty shirt and stiff brown trousers, both taken off a dead man.
Kaladin walked through the storm to the east side of the lumberyard. A low thundering rumbled from the west. The pathway down to the Shattered Plains was familiar to him now. He’d run this way a dozen times with the bridge crews. There wasn’t a battle every day—perhaps one in every two or three—and not every bridge crew had to go on every run. But many of the runs were so draining, so horrific, that they left the bridgemen stunned, almost unresponsive, for the days between.
Many bridgemen had trouble making decisions. The same happened to men who were shocked by battle. Kaladin felt those eff ects in himself. Even deciding to come to the chasm had been difficult.
But the bleeding eyes of that unnamed boy haunted him. He wouldn’t make himself go through something like that again. He couldn’t.
He reached the base of the slope, wind-driven rain pelting his face as if trying to shove him back toward the camp. He kept on, walking up to the nearest chasm. The Honor Chasm, the bridgemen called it, for it was the place where they could make the one decision left to them. The “honorable” decision. Death. They weren’t natural, these chasms. This one started narrow, but as it ran toward the east, it grew wider—and deeper—incredibly quickly. At only ten feet long, the crack was already wide enough that it would be diffi cult to jump. A group of six rope ladders with wooden rungs hung here, affixed to spikes in the rock, used by bridgemen sent down to salvage from corpses that had fallen into the chasms during bridge runs.
Kaladin looked out over the plains. He couldn’t see much through the darkness and rain. No, this place wasn’t natural. The land had been broken. And now it broke the people who came to it. Kaladin walked past the ladders, a little farther along the edge of the chasm. Then he sat down, legs over the side, looking down as the rain fell around him, the droplets plunging into the dark depths.
To his sides, the more adventurous cremlings had already left their lairs, scuttling about, feeding on plants that lapped up the rainwater. Lirin had once explained that highstorm rains were rich with nutrients. Stormwardens in Kholinar and Vedenar had proven that plants given storm water did better than those given lake or river water. Why was it that scientists were so excited to discover facts that farmers had known for generations and generations?
Kaladin watched the drops of water streaking down toward oblivion in the crevasse. Little suicidal jumpers. Th ousands upon thousands of them. Millions upon millions. Who knew what awaited them in that darkness? You couldn’t see it, couldn’t know it, until you joined them. Leaping off into the void and letting the wind bear you down . . .
“You were right, Father,” Kaladin whispered. “You can’t stop a storm by blowing harder. You can’t save men by killing others. We should all become surgeons. Every last one of us . . .”
He was rambling. But, oddly, his mind felt clearer now than it had in weeks. Perhaps it was the clarity of perspective. Most men spent their entire lives wondering about the future. Well, his future was empty now. So he turned backward, thinking about his father, about Tien, about decisions. Once, his life had seemed simple. That was before he’d lost his brother, before he’d been betrayed in Amaram’s army. Would Kaladin go back to those innocent days, if he could? Would he prefer to pretend everything was simple?
No. He’d had no easy fall, like those drops. He’d earned his scars. He’d bounced off walls, bashed his face and hands. He’d killed innocent men by accident. He’d walked beside those with hearts like blackened coals, adoring them. He’d scrambled and climbed and fallen and stumbled.
And now here he was. At the end of it all. Understanding so much more, but somehow feeling no wiser. He climbed to his feet on the lip of that chasm, and could feel his father’s disappointment looming over him, like the thunderheads above.
He put one foot out over the void.
He froze at the soft but piercing voice. A translucent form bobbed in the air, approaching through the weakening rain. The figure lunged forward, then sank, then surged higher again, like it was bearing something heavy. Kaladin brought his foot back and held out his hand. Syl unceremoniously alighted upon it, shaped like a skyeel clutching something dark in its mouth.
She switched to the familiar form of a young woman, dress fluttering around her legs. She held in her hands a narrow, dark green leaf with a point divided in three. Blackbane.
“What is this?” Kaladin asked.
She looked exhausted. “These things are heavy!” She lifted the leaf. “I brought it for you!”
He took the leaf between two fingers. Blackbane. Poison. “Why did you bring this to me?” he said harshly.
“I thought . . .” Syl said, shying back. “Well, you kept those other leaves so carefully. Then you lost them when you tried to help that man in the slave cages. I thought it would make you happy to have another one.” Kaladin almost laughed. She had no concept of what she’d done, fetching him a leaf of one of Roshar’s most deadly natural poisons because she’d wanted to make him happy. It was ridiculous. And sweet.
“Everything seemed to go wrong when you lost that leaf,” Syl said in a soft voice. “Before that, you fought.”
She cowered down, kneeling on his palm, misty skirt around her legs, drops of rainwater passing through her and rippling her form. “You don’t like it then? I flew so far . . . I almost forgot myself. But I came back. I came back, Kaladin.”
“Why?” he pled. “Why do you care?”
“Because I do,” she said, cocking her head. “I watched you, you know. Back in that army. You’d always find the young, untrained men and protect them, even though it put you into danger. I can remember. Just barely, but I do.”
“I failed them. They’re dead now.”
“They would have died more quickly without you. You made it so they had a family in the army. I remember their gratitude. It’s what drew me in the first place. You helped them.”
“No,” he said, clutching the blackbane in his fingers. “Everything I touch withers and dies.” He teetered on the ledge. Th under rumbled in the distance.
“Those men in the bridge crew,” Syl whispered. “You could help them.” “Too late.” He closed his eyes, thinking of the dead boy earlier in the day. “It’s too late. I’ve failed. They’re dead. They’re all going to die, and there’s no way out.”
“What is one more try, then?” Her voice was soft, yet somehow stronger than the storm. “What could it hurt?” He paused.
“You can’t fail this time, Kaladin. You’ve said it. They’re all going to die anyway.”
He thought of Tien, and his dead eyes staring upward.
“I don’t know what you mean most of the time when you speak,” she said. “My mind is so cloudy. But it seems that if you’re worried about hurting people, you shouldn’t be afraid to help the bridgemen. What more could you do to them?”
“I . . .”
“One more try, Kaladin,” Syl whispered. “Please.”
One more try. . .
The men huddled in the barrack with barely a blanket to call their own. Frightened of the storm. Frightened of each other. Frightened of what the next day would bring.
One more try. . . .
He thought of himself, crying at the death of a boy he hadn’t known. A boy he hadn’t even tried to help.
One more try.
Kaladin opened his eyes. He was cold and wet, but he felt a tiny, warm candle flame of determination come alight inside him. He clenched his hand, crushing the blackbane leaf inside, then dropped it over the side of the chasm. He lowered the other hand, which had been holding Syl. She zipped up into the air, anxious. “Kaladin?”
He stalked away from the chasm, bare feet splashing in puddles and stepping heedlessly on rockbud vines. The incline he’d come down was covered with flat, slatelike plants that had opened like books to the rain, ruffled lacy red and green leaves connecting the two halves. Lifespren— little green blips of light, brighter than Syl but small as spores—danced among the plants, dodging raindrops.
Kaladin strode up, water streaming past him in tiny rivers. At the top, he returned to the bridge yard. It was still empty save for Gaz, who was tying a ripped tarp back into place.
Kaladin had crossed most of the distance to the man before Gaz noticed him. The wiry sergeant scowled. “Too cowardly to go through with it, Your Lordship? Well, if you think I’m giving back—”
He cut off with a gagging noise as Kaladin lunged forward, grabbing Gaz by the neck. Gaz lifted an arm in surprise, but Kaladin batted it away and swept the man’s legs out from under him, slamming him down to the rocky ground, throwing up a splash of water. Gaz’s eyes opened wide with shock and pain, and he began to strangle under the pressure of Kaladin’s grip on his throat.
“The world just changed, Gaz,” Kaladin said, leaning in close. “I died down at that chasm. Now you’ve got my vengeful spirit to deal with.” Squirming, Gaz looked about frantically for help that wasn’t there. Kaladin didn’t have trouble holding him down. There was one thing about running bridges: If you survived long enough, it built up the muscles. Kaladin let up slightly on Gaz’s neck, allowing him a gasping breath. Then Kaladin leaned down further. “We’re going to start over new, you and I. Clean. And I want you to understand something from the start. I’m already dead. You can’t hurt me. Understand?”
Gaz nodded slowly and Kaladin gave him another breath of frigid, humid air.
“Bridge Four is mine,” Kaladin said. “You can assign us tasks, but I’m bridgeleader. The other one died today, so you have to pick a new leader anyway. Understand?”
Gaz nodded again.
“You learn quickly,” Kaladin said, letting the man breathe freely. He stepped back, and Gaz hesitantly got to his feet. There was hatred in his eyes, but it was veiled. He seemed worried about something—something more than Kaladin’s threats.
“I want to stop paying down my slave debt,” Kaladin said. “How much do bridgemen make?”
“Two clearmarks a day,” Gaz said, scowling at him and rubbing his neck.
So a slave would make half that. One diamond mark. A pittance, but Kaladin would need it. He’d also need to keep Gaz in line. “I’ll start taking my wages,” Kaladin said, “but you get to keep one mark in five.” Gaz started, glancing at him in the dim, overcast light.
“For your efforts,” Kaladin said.
“For what efforts?”
Kaladin stepped up to him. “Your efforts in staying the Damnation out of my way. Understood?”
Gaz nodded again. Kaladin walked away. He hated to waste money on a bribe, but Gaz needed a consistent, repetitive reminder of why he should avoid getting Kaladin killed. One mark every five days wasn’t much of a reminder—but for a man who was willing to risk going out in the middle of a highstorm to protect his spheres, it might be enough.
Kaladin walked back to Bridge Four’s small barrack, pulling open the thick wooden door. The men huddled inside, just as he’d left them. But something had changed. Had they always looked that pathetic?
Yes. They had. Kaladin was the one who had changed, not they. He felt a strange dislocation, as if he’d allowed himself to forget—if only in part— the last nine months. He reached back across time, studying the man he had been. The man who’d still fought, and fought well.
He couldn’t be that man again—he couldn’t erase the scars—but he could learn from that man, as a new squadleader learned from the victorious generals of the past. Kaladin Stormblessed was dead, but Kaladin Bridgeman was of the same blood. A descendant with potential. Kaladin walked to the first huddled figure. The man wasn’t sleeping— who could sleep through a highstorm? The man cringed as Kaladin knelt beside him.
“What’s your name?” Kaladin asked, Syl flitting down and studying the man’s face. He wouldn’t be able to see her.
The man was older, with drooping cheeks, brown eyes, and close-cropped, white-salted hair. His beard was short and he didn’t have a slave mark. “Your name?” Kaladin repeated firmly.
“Storm off ,” the man said, rolling over.
Kaladin hesitated, then leaned in, speaking in a low voice. “Look, friend. You can either tell me your name, or I’ll keep pestering you. Continue refusing, and I’ll tow you out into that storm and hang you over the chasm by one leg until you tell me.”
The man glanced back over his shoulder. Kaladin nodded slowly, holding the man’s gaze.
“Teft,” the man finally said. “My name’s Teft.”
“That wasn’t so hard,” Kaladin said, holding out his hand. “I’m Kaladin. Your bridgeleader.”
The man hesitated, then took Kaladin’s hand, wrinkling his brow in confusion. Kaladin vaguely remembered the man. He’d been in the crew for a while, a few weeks at least. Before that, he’d been on another bridge crew. One of the punishments for bridgemen who committed camp infractions was a transfer to Bridge Four.
“Get some rest,” Kaladin said, releasing Teft’s hand. “We’re going to have a hard day tomorrow.”
“How do you know?” Teft asked, rubbing his bearded chin.
“Because we’re bridgemen,” Kaladin said, standing. “Every day is hard.”
Teft hesitated, then smiled faintly. “Kelek knows that’s true.”
Kaladin left him, moving down the line of huddled figures. He visited each man, prodding or threatening until the man gave his name. They each resisted. It was as if their names were the last things they owned, and wouldn’t be given up cheaply, though they seemed surprised—perhaps even encouraged—that someone cared to ask.
He clutched to these names, repeating each one in his head, holding them like precious gemstones. The names mattered. The men mattered. Perhaps Kaladin would die in the next bridge run, or perhaps he would break under the strain, and give Amaram one final victory. But as he settled down on the ground to plan, he felt that tiny warmth burning steadily within him.
It was the warmth of decisions made and purpose seized. It was responsibility. Syl alighted on his leg as he sat, whispering the names of the men to himself. She looked encouraged. Bright. Happy. He didn’t feel any of that. He felt grim, tired, and wet. But he wrapped himself in the responsibility he had taken, the responsibility for these men. He held to it like a climber clung to his last handhold as he dangled from a cliff side.
He would find a way to protect them.