Aug 19 2010 7:21pm
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.
Please click here if you want to read our third installment, Way of Kings: Chapters 9 & 11
Old friend, I hope this missive finds you well. Though, as you are now essentially immortal, I would guess that wellness on your part is something of a given.
“Today,” King Elhokar announced, riding beneath the bright open sky, “is an excellent day to slay a god. Wouldn’t you say?”
“Undoubtedly, Your Majesty.” Sadeas’s reply was smooth, quick, and said with a knowing smile. “One might say that gods, as a rule, should fear the Alethi nobility. Most of us at least.”
Adolin gripped his reins a little more tightly; it put him on edge every time Highprince Sadeas spoke.
“Do we have to ride up here at the front?” Renarin whispered.
“I want to listen,” Adolin replied softly.
He and his brother rode near the front of the column, near the king and his highprinces. Behind them extended a grand pro cession: a thousand soldiers in Kholin blue, dozens of servants, and even women in palanquins to scribe accounts of the hunt. Adolin glanced at them all as he reached for his canteen.
He was wearing his Shardplate, and so he had to be careful when grabbing it, lest he crush it. One’s muscles reacted with increased speed, strength, and dexterity when wearing the armor, and it took practice to use it correctly. Adolin was still occasionally caught by surprise, though he’d held this suit—inherited from his mother’s side of the family—since his sixteenth birthday. That was now seven years past.
He turned and took a long drink of lukewarm water. Sadeas rode to the king’s left, and Dalinar—Adolin’s father—was a solid figure riding at the king’s right. The final highprince on the hunt was Vamah, who wasn’t a Shardbearer.
The king was resplendent in his golden Shardplate—of course, Plate could make any man look regal. Even Sadeas looked impressive when wearing his red Plate, though his bulbous face and ruddy complexion weakened the effect. Sadeas and the king flaunted their Plate. And . . . well, perhaps Adolin did too. He’d had his painted blue, a few ornamentations welded onto the helm and pauldrons to give an extra look of danger. How could you not show off when wearing something as grand as Shardplate?
Adolin took another drink, listening to the king talk about his excitement for the hunt. Only one Shardbearer in the procession—indeed, only one Shardbearer in the entirety of the ten armies—used no paint or ornamentations on his Plate. Dalinar Kholin. Adolin’s father preferred to leave his armor its natural slate-grey color.
Dalinar rode beside the king, his face somber. He rode with his helm tied to his saddle, exposing a square face topped by short black hair that had gone white at the temples. Few women had ever called Dalinar Kholin handsome; his nose was the wrong shape, his features blocky rather than delicate. It was the face of a warrior.
He rode astride a massive black Ryshadium stallion, one of the largest horses that Adolin had ever seen—and while the king and Sadeas looked regal in their armor, somehow Dalinar managed to look like a soldier. To him, the Plate was not an ornament. It was a tool. He never seemed to be surprised by the strength or speed the armor lent him. It was as if, for Dalinar Kholin, wearing his Plate was his natural state—it was the times without that were abnormal. Perhaps that was one reason he’d earned the reputation of being one of the greatest warriors and generals who ever lived. Adolin found himself wishing, passionately, that his father would do a little more these days to live up to that reputation.
He’s thinking about the visions, Adolin thought, regarding his father’s distant expression and troubled eyes. “It happened again last night,” Adolin said softly to Renarin. “During the highstorm.”
“I know,” Renarin said. His voice was measured, controlled. He always paused before he replied to a question, as if testing the words in his mind. Some women Adolin knew said Renarin’s ways made them feel as if he were dissecting them with his mind. They’d shiver when they spoke of him, though Adolin had never found his younger brother the least bit discomforting.
“What do you think they mean?” Adolin asked, speaking quietly so only Renarin could hear. “Father’s . . . episodes.”
“I don’t know.”
“Renarin, we can’t keep ignoring them. The soldiers are talking. Rumors are spreading through all ten armies!”
Dalinar Kholin was going mad. Whenever a highstorm came, he fell to the floor and began to shake. Then he began raving in gibberish. Often, he’d stand, blue eyes delusional and wild, swinging and flailing. Adolin had to restrain him lest he hurt himself or others.
“He sees things,” Adolin said. “Or he thinks he does.”
Adolin’s grandfather had suffered from delusions. When he’d grown old, he’d thought he was back at war. Was that what happened to Dalinar? Was he reliving youthful battles, days when he’d earned his renown? Or was it that terrible night he saw over and over, the night when his brother had been murdered by the Assassin in White? And why did he so often mention the Knights Radiant soon after his episodes?
It all made Adolin feel sick. Dalinar was the Blackthorn, a genius of the battlefield and a living legend. Together, he and his brother had re united Alethkar’s warring highprinces after centuries of strife. He had defeated countless challengers in duels, had won dozens of battles. The entire kingdom looked up to him. And now this.
What did you do, as a son, when the man you loved—the greatest man alive—started to lose his wits?
Sadeas was speaking about a recent victory. He’d won another gemheart two days back, and the king—it appeared—hadn’t heard of it. Adolin tensed at the boasts.
“We should move back,” Renarin said.
“We are of rank enough to be here,” Adolin said.
“I don’t like how you get when you’re around Sadeas.”
We have to keep an eye on the man, Renarin, Adolin thought. He knows Father is weakening. He’ ll try to strike. Adolin forced himself to smile, however. He tried to be relaxed and confident for Renarin. Generally, that wasn’t difficult. He’d happily spend his entire life dueling, lounging, and courting the occasional pretty girl. Of late, however, life didn’t seem content to let him enjoy its simple pleasures.
“. . . model of courage lately, Sadeas,” the king was saying. “You’ve done very well in capturing gemhearts. You are to be commended.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty. Though the competition grows unexciting, as some people don’t seem interested in participating. I guess even the best weapons eventually grow dull.”
Dalinar, who might once have responded to the veiled slur, said nothing. Adolin gritted his teeth. It was flat-out unconscionable for Sadeas to be taking shots at his father in his present state. Perhaps Adolin should offer the pompous bastard a challenge. You didn’t duel highprinces—it just wasn’t done, not unless you were ready to make a big storm of it. But maybe he was. Maybe—
“Adolin . . .” Renarin said warningly.
Adolin looked to the side. He’d held out his hand, as if to summon his Blade. He picked up his reins with the hand instead. Storming man, he thought. Leave my father alone.
“Why don’t we talk about the hunt?” Renarin said. As usual, the younger Kholin rode with a straight back and perfect posture, eyes hidden behind his spectacles, a model of propriety and solemnity. “Aren’t you excited?”
“Bah,” Adolin said. “I never find hunts as interesting as everyone says they’re going to be. I don’t care how big the beast is—in the end, it’s really just butchery.”
Now, dueling, that was exciting. The feel of the Shardblade in your hand, of facing someone crafty, skilled, and careful. Man against man, strength against strength, mind against mind. Hunting some dumb beast just couldn’t compare to that.
“Maybe you should have invited Janala along,” Renarin said.
“She wouldn’t have come,” Adolin said. “Not after . . . well, you know. Rilla was very vocal yesterday. It was best to just leave.”
“You really should have been wiser in your treatment of her,” Renarin said, sounding disapproving.
Adolin mumbled a noncommittal reply. It wasn’t his fault that his relationships often burned out quickly. Well, technically, this time it was his fault. But it wasn’t usually. This was just an oddity.
The king began complaining about something. Renarin and Adolin had lagged behind, and Adolin couldn’t hear what was being said.
“Let’s ride up closer,” Adolin said, nudging his mount forward.
Renarin rolled his eyes, but followed.
* * *
The words whispered in Dalinar’s mind. He couldn’t rid himself of them. They consumed him as he trotted Gallant across a rocky, boulder-strewn plateau on the Shattered Plains.
“Shouldn’t we be there by now?” the king asked.
“We’re still two or three plateaus away from the hunting site, Your Majesty,” Dalinar said, distracted. “It will be another hour, perhaps, observing proper protocols. If we had vantage, we could probably see the pavilion to—”
“Vantage? Would that rock formation up ahead do?”
“I suppose,” Dalinar said, inspecting the towerlike length of rock. “We could send scouts to check.”
“Scouts? Bah. I need a run, Uncle. I’ll bet you five full broams that I can beat you to the top.” And with that, the king galloped away in a thunder of hooves, leaving behind a shocked group of lighteyes, attendants, and guards.
“Storm it!” Dalinar cursed, kicking his horse into motion. “Adolin, you have command! Secure the next plateau, just in case.”
His son, who had been lagging behind, nodded sharply. Dalinar galloped after the king, a figure in golden armor and a long blue cape. Hoofbeats pounded the stone, rock formations whipping past. Ahead, the steep, spikelike spire of rock rose from the lip of the plateau. Such formations were common out here on the Shattered Plains.
Curse that boy. Dalinar still thought of Elhokar as a boy, though the king was in his twenty-seventh year. But sometimes he acted like a boy. Why couldn’t he give more warning before leaping into one of these stunts?
Still, as Dalinar rode, he admitted to himself that it did feel good to charge freely, helm off, face to the wind. His pulse picked up as he got into the race, and he forgave its impetuous beginning. For the moment, Dalinar let himself forget his troubles and the words that had been echoing in his head.
The king wanted a race? Well, Dalinar would give him one.
He charged past the king. Elhokar’s stallion was a good breed, but it could never match Gallant, who was a full Ryshadium, two hands taller and much stronger than an ordinary horse. The animals chose their own riders, and only a dozen men in all of the warcamps were so fortunate. Dalinar was one, Adolin another.
In seconds, Dalinar reached the formation’s base. He threw himself from the saddle while Gallant was still moving. He hit hard, but the Shardplate absorbed the impact, stone crunching beneath his metal boots as he skidded to a stop. Men who hadn’t ever worn Plate—particularly those who were accustomed to its inferior cousin, simple plate and mail—could never understand. Shardplate wasn’t merely armor. It was so much more.
He ran to the bottom of the rock formation as Elhokar galloped up behind. Dalinar leaped—Plate-assisted legs propelling him up some eight feet—and grabbed a handhold in the stone. With a heave, he pulled himself up, the Plate lending him the strength of many men. The Th rill of contest began to rise within him. It wasn’t nearly as keen as the Th rill of battle, but it was a worthy substitute.
Rock scraped below. Elhokar had begun to climb as well. Dalinar didn’t look down. He kept his eyes fixed on the small natural platform at the top of the forty-foot-high formation. He groped with steel-covered fingers, finding another handhold. The gauntlets covered his hands, but the ancient armor somehow transferred sensation to his fingers. It was as if he were wearing thin leather gloves.
A scraping sound came from the right, accompanied by a voice cursing softly. Elhokar had taken a different path, hoping to pass Dalinar, but the king had found himself at a section without handholds above. His progress was stalled.
The king’s golden Shardplate glittered as he glanced at Dalinar. Elhokar set his jaw and looked upward, then launched himself in a powerful leap toward an outcropping.
Fool boy, Dalinar thought, watching the king seem to hang in the air for a moment before he snatched the projecting rock and dangled. Then the king pulled himself up and continued to climb.
Dalinar moved furiously, stone grinding beneath his metal fingertips, chips falling free. The wind ruffled his cape. He heaved, strained, and pushed himself, managing to get just ahead of the king. The top was mere feet away. The Thrill sang at him. He reached for the goal, determined to win. He couldn’t lose. He had to—
He hesitated, not quite certain why, and let his nephew get ahead.
Elhokar hauled himself to his feet atop the rock formation, then laughed in triumph. He turned toward Dalinar, holding out a hand. “Stormwinds, Uncle, but you made a fine race of it! At the end there, I thought for sure you had me.”
The triumph and joy in Elhokar’s face brought a smile to Dalinar’s lips. The younger man needed victories these days. Even little ones would do him good. Gloryspren—like tiny golden translucent globes of light—began to pop into existence around him, attracted by his sense of accomplishment. Blessing himself for hesitating, Dalinar took the king’s hand, letting Elhokar pull him up. There was just enough room on top of the natural tower for them both.
Breathing deeply, Dalinar slapped the king on the back with a clank of metal on metal. “That was a fine contest, Your Majesty. And you played it very well.”
The king beamed. His golden Shardplate gleamed in the noonday sun; he had his faceplate up, revealing light yellow eyes, a strong nose, and a clean-shaven face that was almost too handsome, with its full lips, broad forehead, and firm chin. Gavilar had looked like that too, before he’d suffered a broken nose and that terrible scar on his chin.
Below them, the Cobalt Guard and some of Elhokar’s attendants rode up, including Sadeas. His Plate gleamed red, though he wasn’t a full Shardbearer—he had only the Plate, not the Blade.
Dalinar looked up. From this height, he could scan a large swath of the Shattered Plains, and he had an odd moment of familiarity. He felt as if he’d been atop this vantage point before, looking down at a broken landscape.
The moment was gone in a heartbeat.
“There,” Elhokar said, pointing with a golden, gauntleted hand. “I can see our destination.”
Dalinar shaded his eyes, picking out a large cloth pavilion three plateaus away, flying the king’s flag. Wide, permanent bridges led there; they were relatively close to the Alethi side of the Shattered Plains, on plateaus Dalinar himself maintained. A fully grown chasmfiend living here was his to hunt, the wealth at its heart his privilege to claim.
“You were correct again, Uncle,” Elhokar said.
“I try to make a habit of it.”
“I can’t blame you for that, I suppose. Though I can beat you at a race now and then.”
Dalinar smiled. “I felt like a youth again, chasing after your father on some ridiculous challenge.”
Elhokar’s lips tightened to a thin line, and the gloryspren faded away. Mentioning Gavilar soured him; he felt others compared him unfavorably to the old king. Unfortunately, he was often right.
Dalinar moved on quickly. “We must have seemed of the ten fools, charging away like that. I do wish you’d given me more notice to prepare your honor guard. This is a war zone.”
“Bah. You worry too much, Uncle. The Parshendi haven’t attacked this close to our side of the Plains in years.”
“Well, you seemed worried about your safety two nights ago.”
Elhokar sighed audibly. “How many times must I explain this to you, Uncle? I can face enemy soldiers with Blade in hand. It’s what they might send when we’re not looking, when all is dark and quiet, that you should be trying to protect me from.”
Dalinar didn’t reply. Elhokar’s nervousness—paranoia, even—regarding assassination was strong. But who could blame him, considering what had happened to his father?
I’m sorry, brother, he thought, as he did every time he thought of the night when Gavilar had died. Alone, without his brother to protect him.
“I looked into the matter you asked me about,” Dalinar said, forcing away bad memories.
“You did? What did you discover?”
“Not much, I’m afraid. There were no traces of trespassers on your balcony, and none of the servants reported any strangers in the area.”
“There was someone watching me in the darkness that night.”
“If so, they haven’t returned, Your Majesty. And they left no clues behind.”
Elhokar seemed dissatisfied, and the silence between them grew stark. Below, Adolin met with scouts and prepared for the troop crossing. Elhokar had protested at how many men Dalinar had brought. Most of them wouldn’t be needed on the hunt—the Shardbearers, not the soldiers, would slay the beast. But Dalinar would see his nephew protected. Parshendi raids had grown less bold during the years of fighting—Alethi scribes guessed their numbers were a quarter their prior strength, though it was difficult to judge— but the king’s presence might be enough to entice them into a reckless attack.
The winds blew across Dalinar, returning with them that faint familiarity he’d felt a few minutes before. Standing atop a peak, looking out at desolation. A sense of an awful and amazing perspective.
That’s it, he thought. I did stand atop a formation like this. It happened during—
During one of his visions. The very first one.
You must unite them, the strange, booming words had told him. You must prepare. Build of your people a fortress of strength and peace, a wall to resist the winds. Cease squabbling and unite. The Everstorm comes.
“Your Majesty,” Dalinar found himself saying. “I . . .” He trailed off as quickly as he began. What could he say? That he’d been seeing visions? That—in defiance of all doctrine and common sense—he thought those visions might be from the Almighty? That he thought they should withdraw from the battlefield and go back to Alethkar?
“Uncle?” the king asked. “What do you want?”
“Nothing. Come, let’s get back to the others.”
* * *
Adolin twisted one of his hogshide reins around his finger while he sat astride his horse, awaiting the next batch of scout reports. He’d managed to get his mind off his father and Sadeas, and was instead contemplating just how he was going to explain his falling out with Rilla in a way that would earn him some sympathy with Janala.
Janala loved ancient epic poems; could he phrase the falling out in dramatic terms? He smiled, thinking of her luxurious black hair and sly smile. She’d been daring, teasing at him while he was known to be courting someone else. He could use that too. Maybe Renarin was right, perhaps he should have invited her on the hunt. The prospect of fighting a greatshell would have been far more interesting to him if someone beautiful and long-haired were watching. . . .
“New scout reports are in, Brightlord Adolin,” Tarilar said, jogging up.
Adolin turned his mind back to business. He’d taken up position with some members of the Cobalt Guard beside the base of the high rock formation where his father and the king were still conversing. Tarilar, scoutlord, was a gaunt-faced man with a thick chest and arms. From some angles, his head looked so relatively small on his body that it appeared to have been smashed.
“Proceed,” Adolin said.
“Advance runners have met with the lead huntmaster and have returned. There are no sightings of Parshendi on any nearby plateaus. Companies Eigh teen and Twenty-one are in position, though there are still eight companies to go.”
Adolin nodded. “Have Company Twenty-one send some outriders to watch from plateaus fourteen and sixteen. And two each on plateaus six and eight.”
“Six and eight? Behind us?”
“If I were going to ambush the party,” Adolin said, “I’d round back this way and cut us off from fleeing. Do it.”
Tarilar saluted. “Yes, Brightlord.” He hurried away to pass the orders.
“You really think that’s necessary?” Renarin asked, riding up beside Adolin. “No. But Father will want it done anyway. You know he will.” There was motion up above. Adolin looked up just in time to see the king leap off the rock formation, cape streaming behind him as he fell some forty feet to the rock floor. Adolin’s father stood at the lip above, and Adolin could imagine him cursing to himself at what he saw as a foolhardy move. Shardplate could withstand a fall that far, but it was high enough to be dangerous.
Elhokar landed with an audible crack, throwing up chips of stone and a large puff of Stormlight. He managed to stay upright. Adolin’s father took a safer way down, descending to a lower ledge before jumping.
He seems to take the safer pathway more and more often lately, Adolin thought idly. And he often seems to find reasons to give me command as well. Thoughtful, Adolin trotted his horse out of the shadow of the rock formation. He needed to get a report from the rear guard—his father would want to hear it.
His path took him past a group of lighteyes from Sadeas’s party. The king, Sadeas, and Vamah each had a collection of attendants, aides, and sycophants accompanying them. Looking at them riding in their comfortable silks, open-fronted jackets, and shade-covered palanquins made Adolin aware of his sweaty, bulky armor. Shardplate was wonderful and empowering, but beneath a hot sun, it could still leave a man wishing for something less confining.
But, of course, he couldn’t have worn casual clothing like the others. Adolin was to be in uniform, even on a hunt. The Alethi War Codes commanded it. Never mind that nobody had followed those Codes in centuries. Or at least nobody but Dalinar Kholin—and, by extension, his sons.
Adolin passed a pair of lounging lighteyes, Vartian and Lomard, two of Sadeas’s recent hangers-on. They were talking loudly enough that Adolin could hear. Probably on purpose. “Chasing after the king again,” Vartian said, shaking his head. “Like pet axehounds nipping at their master’s heels.”
“Shameful,” Lomard said. “How long has it been since Dalinar won a gemheart? The only time he can get one is when the king lets them hunt it without competition.”
Adolin set his jaw and rode on. His father’s interpretation of the Codes wouldn’t let Adolin challenge a man to a duel while he was on duty or in command. He chafed at the needless restrictions, but Dalinar had spoken as Adolin’s commanding officer. That meant there was no room for argument. He’d have to find a way to duel the two idiot sycophants in another setting, put them in their places. Unfortunately, he couldn’t duel everyone who spoke out against his father.
The biggest problem was, the things they said had some real truth to them. The Alethi princedoms were like kingdoms unto themselves, still mostly autonomous despite having accepted Gavilar as king. Elhokar had inherited the throne, and Dalinar, by right, had taken the Kholin Princedom as his own.
However, most of the highprinces gave only token nods to the paramount rule of the king. That left Elhokar without land that was specifi- cally his own. He tended to act like a highprince of the Kholin Princedom, taking great interest in its day-to-day management. So, while Dalinar should have been a ruler unto himself, he instead bent to Elhokar’s whims and dedicated his resources to protecting his nephew. That made him weak in the eyes of the others—nothing more than a glorified bodyguard.
Once, when Dalinar had been feared, men had not dared whisper about these things. But now? Dalinar went on fewer and fewer plateau assaults, and his forces lagged behind in capturing precious gemhearts. While the others fought and won, Dalinar and his sons spent their time in bureaucratic administration.
Adolin wanted to be out there fighting, killing Parshendi. What was the good of following the Codes of War when he rarely got to go to war? It’s the fault of those delusions. Dalinar wasn’t weak, and he certainly wasn’t a coward, no matter what people said. He was just troubled.
The rearguard captains weren’t formed up yet, so Adolin decided to give the king a report instead. He trotted up toward the king—joining Sadeas, who was doing the same. Not unexpectedly, Sadeas frowned at him. The highprince hated that Adolin had a Blade while Sadeas had none; he had coveted one for years now.
Adolin met the highprince’s eyes, smiling. Anytime you want to duel me for my Blade, Sadeas, go ahead and try. What Adolin wouldn’t do to get that eel of a man in the dueling ring.
When Dalinar and the king rode up, and Adolin spoke quickly, before Sadeas could speak. “Your Majesty, I have scout reports.”
The king sighed. “More of nothing, I expect. Honestly, Uncle, must we have a report on every little detail of the army?”
“We are at war, Your Majesty,” Dalinar said.
Elhokar sighed sufferingly.
You’re a strange man, cousin, Adolin thought. Elhokar saw murderers in every shadow, yet often dismissed the Parshendi threat. He’d go charging off like he had today, with no honor guard, and would leap off a forty-foottall rock formation. Yet he’d stay up nights, terrified of assassination.
“Give your report, son,” Dalinar said.
Adolin hesitated, now feeling foolish at the lack of substance to what he had to say. “The scouts have seen no sign of the Parshendi. They’ve met with the huntmaster. Two companies have secured the next plateau, and the other eight will need some time to cross. We’re close, though.”
“Yes, we saw from above,” Elhokar said. “Perhaps a few of us could ride ahead. . . .”
“Your Majesty,” Dalinar said. “The point of bringing my troops along would be somewhat undermined if you left them behind.”
Elhokar rolled his eyes. Dalinar did not yield, his expression as immobile as the rocks around them. Seeing him like that—firm, unyielding before a challenge—made Adolin smile with pride. Why couldn’t he be like this all of the time? Why did he back down so often before insults or challenges?
“Very well,” the king said. “We’ll take a break and wait while the army crosses.”
The king’s attendants responded immediately, men climbing off horses, women having their palanquin bearers set them down. Adolin moved off to get that rearguard report. By the time he returned, Elhokar was practically holding court. His servants had set up a small awning to give him shade, and others served wine. Chilled, using one of the new fabrials that could make things cold.
Adolin removed his helm and wiped his brow with his saddle rag, again wishing he could join the others and enjoy a little wine. Instead, he climbed down from his horse and went looking for his father. Dalinar stood outside the awning, gauntleted hands clasped behind his back, looking eastward, toward the Origin—the distant, the unseen place where highstorms began. Renarin stood at his side, looking out as well, as if trying to see what it was that his father found so interesting.
Adolin rested a hand on his brother’s shoulder, and Renarin smiled at him. Adolin knew that his brother—now nineteen years old—felt out of place. Though he wore a side sword, he barely knew how to use it. His blood weakness made it difficult for him to spend any reasonable amount of time practicing.
“Father,” Adolin said. “Maybe the king was right. Perhaps we should have moved on quickly. I’d rather have this entire hunt over with.”
Dalinar looked at him. “When I was your age, I looked forward to a hunt like this. Taking down a greatshell was the highlight of a young man’s year.”
Not this again, Adolin thought. Why was everyone so off ended that he didn’t find hunts exciting? “It’s just an oversized chull, Father.”
“These ‘oversized chulls’ grow to fifty feet tall and are capable of crushing even a man in Shardplate.”
“Yes,” Adolin said, “and so we’ll bait it for hours while baking in the hot sun. If it decides to show up, we’ll pelt it with arrows, only closing in once it’s so weak it can barely resist as we hack it to death with Shardblades. Very honorable.”
“It’s not a duel,” Dalinar said, “it’s a hunt. A grand tradition.”
Adolin raised an eyebrow at him.
“And yes,” Dalinar added. “It can be tedious. But the king was insistent.”
“You’re just still smarting over the problems with Rilla, Adolin,” Renarin said. “You were eager a week ago. You really should have invited Janala.”
“Janala hates hunts. Thinks they’re barbarous.” Dalinar frowned. “Janala? Who’s Janala?”
“Daughter of Brightlord Lustow,” Adolin said.
“And you’re courting her?”
“Not yet, but I’ve sure been trying.”
“What happened to that other girl? The short one, with the fondness for silver hair ribbons?”
“Deeli?” Adolin said. “Father, I stopped courting her over two months back!”
Dalinar rubbed his chin.
“There have been two between her and Janala, Father,” Adolin noted. “You really need to pay more attention.”
“Almighty help any man who tries to keep track of your tangled courtships, son.”
“The most recent was Rilla,” Renarin said.
Dalinar frowned. “And you two . . .”
“Had some problems yesterday,” Adolin said. He coughed, determined to change the subject. “Anyway, don’t you find it odd that the king would insist on coming to hunt the chasmfiend himself?”
“Not particularly. It isn’t often that a full-sized one makes its way out here, and the king rarely gets to go on plateau runs. This is a way for him to fight.”
“But he’s so paranoid! Why does he now want to go and hunt, exposing himself on the Plains?”
Dalinar looked toward the king’s awning. “I know he seems odd, son. But the king is more complex a man than many give him credit for being. He worries that his subjects see him as a coward because of how much he fears assassins, and so he finds ways to prove his courage. Foolish ways, sometimes—but he’s not the first man I’ve known who will face battle without fear, yet cower in terror about knives in the shadows. The hallmark of insecurity is bravado.
“The king is learning to lead. He needs this hunt. He needs to prove to himself, and to others, that he’s still strong and worthy to command a kingdom at war. That’s why I encouraged him. A successful hunt, under controlled circumstances, could bolster his reputation and his confidence.”
Adolin slowly closed his mouth, his father’s words cutting down his complaints. Strange, how much the king’s actions made sense when explained that way. Adolin looked up at his father. How can the others whisper that he’s a coward? Can’t they see his wisdom?
“Yes,” Dalinar said, eyes growing distant. “Your nephew is a better man than many think him, and a stronger king. At least he could be. I just have to figure out how to persuade him to leave the Shattered Plains.”
Adolin started. “What?”
“I didn’t understand at first,” Dalinar continued. “Unite them. I’m supposed to unite them. But aren’t they already united? We fight together here on the Shattered Plains. We have a common enemy in the Parshendi. I’m beginning to see that we’re united only in name. The highprinces give lip ser vice to Elhokar, but this war—this siege—is a game to them. A competition against one another.
“We can’t unite them here. We need to return to Alethkar and stabilize our homeland, learn how to work together as one nation. The Shattered Plains divide us. The others worry too much about winning wealth and prestige.”
“Wealth and prestige are what being Alethi is about, Father!” Adolin said. Was he really hearing this? “What of the Vengeance Pact? The highprinces vowed to seek retribution upon the Parshendi!”
“And we have sought it.” Dalinar looked to Adolin. “I realize that it sounds terrible, son, but some things are more important than vengeance. I loved Gavilar. I miss him fiercely, and I hate the Parshendi for what they did. But Gavilar’s life work was to unite Alethkar, and I’ll go to Damnation before I let it break apart.”
“Father,” Adolin said, feeling pained, “if there’s something wrong here, it’s that we’re not trying hard enough. You think the highprinces are playing games? Well, show them the way it should be done! Instead of talking of retreat, we should be talking of advancing, striking at the Parshendi instead of besieging them.”
“Perhaps.” “Either way, we cannot speak of withdrawing,” Adolin said. The men already talked of Dalinar losing his spine. What would they say if they got hold of this? “You haven’t brought this up with the king, have you?”
“Not yet. I haven’t found the right way.”
“Please. Don’t talk to him about it.”
“We shall see.” Dalinar turned back toward the Shattered Plains, his eyes growing distant again.
“Father . . .”
“You’ve made your point, son, and I’ve replied to it. Do not press the issue. Have you gotten the report from the rear guard?”
“What of the vanguard?”
“I just checked with them and . . .” He trailed off. Blast. It had been long enough that it was probably time to move the king’s party onward. The last of the army couldn’t leave this plateau until the king was safely on the other side.
Adolin sighed and went off to collect the report. Before long, they were all across the chasm and riding over the next plateau. Renarin trotted up to Adolin and tried to engage him in conversation, but Adolin gave only halfhearted replies.
He was beginning to feel an odd longing. Most of the older men in the army—even those only a few years older than Adolin—had fought alongside his father during the glory days. Adolin found himself jealous of all of those men who had known his father and had seen him fight when he hadn’t been so wrapped up in the Codes.
The changes in Dalinar had begun with the death of his brother. That terrible day was when everything had started to go wrong. The loss of Gavilar had nearly crushed Dalinar, and Adolin would never forgive the Parshendi for bringing his father such pain. Never. Men fought on the Plains for different reasons, but this was why Adolin had come. Perhaps if they beat the Parshendi, his father would go back to the man he had been. Perhaps those ghostly delusions that haunted him would vanish.
Ahead, Dalinar was speaking quietly with Sadeas. Both men wore frowns. They barely tolerated one another, though they had once been friends. That had also changed the night of Gavilar’s death. What had happened between them?
The day wore on, and they eventually arrived at the hunt site—a pair of plateaus, one where the creature would be lured up to attack, and another one a safe distance away for those who would watch. Like most others, these plateaus had an uneven surface inhabited by hardy plants adapted to regular storm exposure. Rocky shelves, depressions, and uneven footing made fighting on them treacherous.
Adolin joined his father, who waited beside the final bridge as the king moved over onto the viewing plateau, followed by a company of soldiers. The attendants would be next.
“You’re doing well with your command, son,” Dalinar said, nodding to a group of soldiers at they passed and saluted.
“They’re good men, Father. They hardly need someone to command them during a march from plateau to plateau.”
“Yes,” Dalinar said. “But you need experience leading, and they need to learn to see you as a commander.” Renarin trotted up to them on his horse; it was probably time to cross to the viewing plateau. Dalinar nodded for his sons to go first.
Adolin turned to go, but hesitated as he noticed something on the plateau behind them. A rider, moving quickly to catch up with the hunting party, coming from the direction of the warcamps.
“Father,” Adolin said, pointing. Dalinar turned immediately, following the gesture. However, Adolin soon recognized the newcomer. Not a messenger, as he’d expected.
“Wit!” Adolin called, waving.
The newcomer trotted up to them. Tall and thin, the King’s Wit rode easily on a black gelding. He wore a stiff black coat and black trousers, a color matched by his deep onyx hair. Though he wore a long, thin sword tied to his waist, as far as Adolin knew, the man had never drawn it. A dueling foil rather than a military blade, it was mostly symbolic.
Wit nodded to them as he approached, wearing one of those keen smiles of his. He had blue eyes, but he wasn’t really a lighteyes. Nor was he a darkeyes. He was . . . well, he was the King’s Wit. That was a category all its own.
“Ah, young Prince Adolin!” Wit exclaimed. “You actually managed to pry yourself away from the camp’s young women long enough to join this hunt? I’m impressed.”
Adolin chuckled uncomfortably. “Well, that’s been a topic of some discussion lately. . . .”
Wit raised an eyebrow.
Adolin sighed. Wit would find out eventually anyway—it was virtually impossible to keep anything from the man. “I made a lunch appointment with one woman yesterday, but I was . . . well, I was courting another. And she’s the jealous type. So now neither will speak with me.”
“It’s a constant source of amazement that you get yourself into such messes, Adolin. Each one is more exciting than the previous!”
“Er, yes. Exciting. That’s exactly how it feels.”
Wit laughed again, though he maintained a sense of dignity in his posture. The King’s Wit was not a silly court fool such as one might find in other kingdoms. He was a sword, a tool maintained by the king. Insulting others was beneath the dignity the king, so just as one used gloves when forced to handle something vile, the king retained a Wit so he didn’t have to debase himself to the level of rudeness or offensiveness.
This new Wit had been with them for some months, and there was something . . . different about him. He seemed to know things that he shouldn’t, important things. Useful things.
Wit nodded to Dalinar. “Your Lordship.”
“Wit,” Dalinar said stiffly.
“And young Prince Renarin!”
Renarin kept his eyes down.
“No greeting for me, Renarin?” Wit said, amused.
Renarin said nothing.
“He thinks you’ll mock him if he speaks to you, Wit,” Adolin said. “Earlier this morning, he told me he’d determined not to say anything around you.”
“Wonderful!” Wit exclaimed. “Then I can say what ever I wish, and he’ll not object?”
Wit leaned in to Adolin. “Have I told you about the night Prince Renarin and I had two days back, walking the streets of the warcamp? We came across these two sisters, you see, blue eyed and—”
“That’s a lie!” Renarin said, blushing. “Very well,” Wit said without missing a beat, “I’ll confess there were actually three sisters, but Prince Renarin quite unfairly ended up with two of them, and I didn’t wish to diminish my reputation by—”
“Wit.” Dalinar was stern as he cut in.
The black-clad man looked to him. “Perhaps you should restrict your mockery to those who deserve it.”
“Brightlord Dalinar. I believe that was what I was doing.”
Dalinar’s frown deepened. He never had liked Wit, and picking on Renarin was a sure way to raise his ire. Adolin could understand that, but Wit was almost always good-natured with Renarin.
Wit moved to leave, passing Dalinar as he did. Adolin could barely overhear what was said as Wit leaned over to whisper something. “Those who ‘deserve’ my mockery are those who can benefit from it, Brightlord Dalinar. That one is less fragile than you think him.” He winked, then turned his horse to move on over the bridge.
“Stormwinds, but I like that man,” Adolin said. “Best Wit we’ve had in ages!”
“I find him unnerving,” Renarin said softly.
“That’s half the fun!”
Dalinar said nothing. The three of them crossed the bridge, passing Wit, who had stopped to torment a group of officers—lighteyes of low enough rank that they needed to serve in the army and earn a wage. Several of them laughed while Wit poked fun at another.
The three of them joined the king, and were immediately approached by the day’s huntmaster. Bashin was a short man with a sizable paunch; he wore rugged clothing with a leather overcoat and a wide-brimmed hat. He was a darkeyes of the first nahn, the highest and most prestigious rank a darkeyes could have, worthy even of marrying into a lighteyed family.
Bashin bowed to the king. “Your Majesty! Wonderful timing! We’ve just tossed down the bait.”
“Excellent,” Elhokar said, climbing from the saddle. Adolin and Dalinar did likewise, Shardplate clinking softly, Dalinar untying his helm from the saddle. “How long will it take?”
“Two or three hours is likely,” Bashin said, taking the reins of the king’s horse. Grooms took the two Ryshadium. “We’ve set up over there.”
Bashin pointed toward the hunting plateau, the smaller plateau where the actual fighting would take place away from the attendants and the bulk of the soldiers. A group of hunters led a lumbering chull around its perimeter, towing a rope draped over the side of the cliff. That rope would be dragging the bait.
“We’re using hog carcasses,” Bashin explained. “And we poured hog’s blood over the sides. The chasmfiend has been spotted by patrols here a good dozen times. He’s got his nest nearby, for certain—he’s not here to pupate. He’s too big for that, and he’s remained in the area too long. So it should be a fine hunt! Once he arrives, we’ll loose a group of wild hogs as distractions, and you can begin weakening him with arrows.”
They had brought grandbows: large steel bows with thick strings and such a high draw weight that only a Shardbearer could use them, to fire shafts as thick as three fingers. They were recent creations, devised by Alethi engineers through the use of fabrial science, and each required a small infused gemstone to maintain the strength of its pull without warping the metal. Adolin’s aunt Navani—the widow of King Gavilar, mother of Elhokar and his sister Jasnah—had led the research to develop the bows.
It would be nice if she hadn’t left, Adolin thought idly. Navani was an interesting woman. Th ings were never boring around her.
Some had started calling the bows Shardbows, but Adolin didn’t like the term. Shardblades and Shardplate were something special. Relics from another time, a time when the Radiants had walked Roshar. No amount of fabrial science had even approached re-creating them.
Bashin led the king and his highprinces toward a pavilion at the center of the viewing plateau. Adolin joined his father, intending to give a report on the crossing. About half of the soldiers were in place, but many of the attendants were still making their way across the large, permanent bridge onto the viewing plateau. The king’s banner flapped above the pavilion, and a small refreshment station had been erected. A soldier at the back was setting up the rack of four grandbows. They were sleek and dangerous-looking, with thick black shafts in four quivers beside them.
“I think you’ll have a fine day for the hunt,” Bashin said to Dalinar. “Judging by reports, the beast is a big one. Larger than you’ve ever slain before, Brightlord.”
“Gavilar always wanted to slay one of these,” Dalinar said wistfully.
“He loved greatshell hunts, though he never got a chasmfiend. Odd that I’ve now killed so many.”
The chull pulling the bait bleated in the distance.
“You need to go for the legs on this one, Brightlords,” Bashin said. Prehunt advice was one of Bashin’s responsibilities, and he took those seriously. “Chasmfiends, well, you’re used to attacking them in their chrysalises. Don’t forget how mean they are when they’re not pupating. With one this big, use a distraction and come in from . . .” He trailed off, then groaned, cursing softly. “Storms take that animal. I swear, the man who trained it must have been daft.”
He was looking across at the next plateau. Adolin followed his glance. The crablike chull that had been towing the bait was lumbering away from the chasm with a slow, yet determined gait. Its handlers were yelling, running after it.
“I’m sorry, Brightlord,” Bashin said. “It’s been doing this all day.”
The chull bleated in a gravelly voice. Something seemed wrong to Adolin.
“We can send for another one,” Elhokar said. “It shouldn’t take too long to—”
“Bashin?” Dalinar said, his voice suddenly alarmed. “Shouldn’t there be bait on the end of that beast’s rope?”
The huntmaster froze. The rope the chull was towing was frayed at the end.
Something dark—something mind-numbingly enormous—rose out of the chasm on thick, chitinous legs. It climbed onto the plateau—not the small plateau where the hunt was supposed to take place, but the viewing plateau where Dalinar and Adolin stood. The plateau filled with attendants, unarmed guests, female scribes, and unprepared soldiers.
“Aw, Damnation,” Bashin said.
I realize that you are probably still angry. That is pleasant to know. Much as your perpetual health, I have come to rely upon your dissatisfaction with me. It is one of the cosmere’s great constants, I should think.
That was how long it took to summon a Shardblade. If Dalinar’s heart was racing, the time was shorter. If he was relaxed, it took longer.
On the battlefield, the passing of those beats could stretch like an eternity. He pulled his helm on as he ran.
The chasmfiend slammed an arm down, smashing the bridge filled with attendants and soldiers. People screamed, plunging into the chasm. Dalinar dashed forward on Plate-enhanced legs, following the king.
The chasmfiend towered like a mountain of interlocking carapace the color of dark violet ink. Dalinar could see why the Parshendi called these things gods. It had a twisted, arrowhead-like face, with a mouth full of barbed mandibles. While it was vaguely crustacean, this was no bulky, placid chull. It had four wicked foreclaws set into broad shoulders, each claw the size of a horse, and a dozen smaller legs that clutched the side of the plateau.
Chitin made a grinding noise against stone as the creature finished pulling itself onto the plateau, snatching a cart-pulling chull with a swift claw.
“To arms, to arms!” Elhokar bellowed ahead of Dalinar. “Archers, fire!”
“Distract it from the unarmed!” Dalinar bellowed at his soldiers.
The creature cracked the chull’s shell—platter-size fragments clattering to the plateau—then stuffed the beast into its maw and began looking down at the fleeing scribes and attendants. The chull stopped bleating as the monster crunched down.
Dalinar leaped a rocky shelf and sailed five yards before slamming into the ground, throwing up chips of rock.
The chasmfiend bellowed with an awful screeching sound. It trumpeted with four voices, overlapping one another.
Archers drew. Elhokar yelled orders just in front of Dalinar, his blue cape flapping.
Dalinar’s hand tingled with anticipation.
His Shardblade—Oathbringer—formed in his hand, coalescing from mist, appearing as the tenth beat of his heart thudded in his chest. Six feet long from tip to hilt, the Blade would have been unwieldy in the hands of any man not wearing Shardplate. To Dalinar, it felt perfect. He’d carried Oathbringer since his youth, Bonding to it when he was twenty Weepings old. It was long and slightly curved, a handspan wide, with wavelike serrations near the hilt. It curved at the tip like a fisherman’s hook, and was wet with cold dew.
This sword was a part of him. He could sense energy racing along its blade, as if it were eager. A man never really knew life itself until he charged into battle with Plate and Blade.
“Make it angry!” Elhokar bellowed, his Shardblade—Sunraiser—springing from mist into his hand. It was long and thin with a large crossguard, and was etched up the sides with the ten fundamental glyphs. He didn’t want the monster to escape; Dalinar could hear it in his voice. Dalinar was more worried about the soldiers and attendants; this hunt had already turned terribly wrong. Perhaps they should distract the monster long enough for everyone to escape, then pull back and let it dine on chulls and hogs.
The creature screamed its multivoiced wail again, slamming a claw down among the soldiers. Men screamed; bones splintered and bodies crumpled.
Archers loosed, aiming for the head. A hundred shafts zipped into the air, but only a few hit the soft muscle between plates of chitin. Behind them, Sadeas was calling for his grandbow. Dalinar couldn’t wait for that— the creature was here, dangerous, killing his men. The bow would be too slow. This was a job for the Blade.
Adolin charged past, riding Sureblood. The lad had gone racing for his horse, rather than charging like Elhokar had. Dalinar himself had been forced to stay with the king. The other horses—even the warhorses— panicked, but Adolin’s white Ryshadium stallion held steady. In a moment, Gallant was there, trotting beside Dalinar. Dalinar grabbed the reins and heaved himself into the air with Plate-enhanced legs, jumping up into the saddle. The force of his landing might have strained the back of a regular horse, but Gallant was made of stronger stone than that.
Elhokar closed his helm, the sides misting.
“Hold back, Your Majesty,” Dalinar called, riding past. “Wait until Adolin and I weaken it.” Dalinar reached up, slamming down his own visor. The sides misted, locking it into place, and the sides of the helm became translucent to him. You still needed the eye slit—looking through the sides was like looking through dirty glass—but the translucence was one of the most wonderful parts of Shardplate.
Dalinar rode into the monster’s shadow. Soldiers scrambled about, clutching spears. They hadn’t been trained to fight thirty-foot-tall beasts, and it was a testament to their valor that they formed up anyway, trying to draw attention away from the archers and the fleeing attendants.
Arrows rained down, bouncing off the carapace and becoming more deadly to the troops below than they were to the chasmfiend. Dalinar raised his free arm to shade his eye slit as an arrow clanged off his helm.
Adolin fell back as the beast swung at a batch of archers, crushing them with one of its claws. “I’ll take left,” Adolin yelled, voice muffled by his helm.
Dalinar nodded, cutting to the right, galloping past a group of dazed soldiers and into sunlight again as the chasmfiend raised a foreclaw for another sweep. Dalinar raced under the limb, transferring Oathbringer to his left hand and holding the sword out to the side, slashing it through one of the chasmfiend’s trunklike legs.
The Blade sheared the thick chitin with barely a tug of resistance. As always, it didn’t cut living flesh, though it killed the leg as surely as if it had been cut free. The large limb slipped, falling numb and useless.
The monster roared with its deep, overlapping, trumpeting voices. On the other side, Dalinar could make out Adolin slicing at a leg.
The creature shook, turning toward Dalinar. The two legs that had been cut dragged lifelessly. The monster was long and narrow like a crayfish, and had a flattened tail. It walked on fourteen legs. How many could it lose before collapsing?
Dalinar rounded Gallant, meeting up with Adolin, whose blue Shardplate was gleaming, cape streaming behind him. They switched sides as they turned in wide arcs, each heading for another leg.
“Meet your enemy, monster!” Elhokar bellowed.
Dalinar turned. The king had found his mount and had managed to get it under control. Vengeance wasn’t a Ryshadium, but the animal was of the best Shin stock. Astride the animal, Elhokar charged, Blade held above his head.
Well, there was no forbidding him the fight. He should be all right in his Plate so long as he kept moving. “The legs, Elhokar!” Dalinar shouted.
Elhokar ignored him, charging directly for the beast’s chest. Dalinar cursed, heeling Gallant as the monster swung. Elhokar turned at the last moment, leaning low, ducking under the blow. The chasmfiend’s claw hit stone with a cracking sound. It roared in anger at missing Elhokar, the sound echoing through the chasms.
The king veered toward Dalinar, riding past him in a rush. “I’m distracting it, you fool. Keep attacking!”
“I have the Ryshadium!” Dalinar yelled back at him. “I’ll distract—I’m faster!”
Elhokar ignored him again. Dalinar sighed. Elhokar, characteristically, could not be contained. Arguing would only cost more time and more lives, so Dalinar did as he’d been told. He rounded to the side for another approach, Gallant’s hooves beating against the stone ground. The king drew the monster’s direct attention, and Dalinar was able to ride in and slam his Blade through another leg.
The beast emitted four overlapping screams and turned toward Dalinar.
But as it did, Adolin rode past on the other side, cutting at another leg with a deft strike. The leg slumped, and arrows rained down as archers continued to fire.
The creature shook, confused by the attacks coming from every side. It was getting weak, and Dalinar raised his arm, gesturing. The command ordered the rest of the foot soldiers to retreat toward the pavilion. Orders given, he slipped in and killed another leg. That meant five down. Perhaps it was time to let the beast limp away; killing it now wasn’t worth risking lives.
He called to the king, who rode—Blade held out to the side—a short distance away. The king glanced at him, but obviously didn’t hear. As the chasmfiend loomed in the background, Elhokar wheeled Vengeance in a sharp right turn toward Dalinar.
There was a soft snap, and suddenly the king—and his saddle—went tumbling through the air. The horse’s quick turn had caused the saddle girth to break. A man in Shardplate was heavy and put a great strain on both his mount and saddle.
Dalinar felt a spike of fear, and he reined in Gallant. Elhokar slammed to the ground, dropping his Shardblade. The weapon reverted to mist, vanishing. It was a protection from keeping a Blade from being taken by your enemies; they vanished unless you willed them to stay when releasing them.
“Elhokar!” Dalinar bellowed. The king rolled, cape wrapping around his body, then came to rest. He lay dazed for a moment; the armor was cracked on one shoulder, leaking Stormlight. The Plate would have cushioned the fall. He’d be all right.
A claw loomed above the king.
Dalinar felt a moment of panic, turning Gallant to charge toward the king. He was going to be too slow! The beast would—
An enormous arrow slammed into the chasmfiend’s head, cracking chitin.
Purple gore spurted free, causing the beast to trump in agony. Dalinar twisted in the saddle.
Sadeas stood in his red Plate, taking another massive arrow from an attendant.
He drew, launching the thick bolt into the chasmfiend’s shoulder with a sharp crack.
Dalinar raised Oathbringer in salute. Sadeas acknowledged, raising his bow. They were not friends, and they did not like one another.
But they would protect the king. That was the bond that united them.
“Get to safety!” Dalinar yelled to the king as he charged past. Elhokar stumbled to his feet and nodded.
Dalinar moved in. He had to distract the beast long enough for Elhokar to get away. More of Sadeas’s arrows flew true, but the monster started to ignore them. Its sluggishness vanished, and its bleats became angry, wild, crazed. It was growing truly enraged.
This was the most dangerous part; there would be no retreating now. It would follow them until it either killed them or was slain.
A claw smashed to the ground just beside Gallant, throwing chips of stone into the air. Dalinar hunkered low, careful to keep his Shardblade out, and he cut free another leg. Adolin had done the same on the other side. Seven legs down, half of them. How long before the beast dropped? Normally, at this stage, they had launched several dozen arrows into the animal. It was difficult to guess what one would do without that prior softening—beside that, he’d never fought one this large before.
He turned Gallant, trying to draw the creature’s attention. Hopefully, Elhokar had—
“Are you a god!” Elhokar bellowed.
Dalinar groaned, looking over his shoulder. The king had not fled. He strode toward the beast, hand to the side.
“I defy you, creature!” Elhokar screamed. “I claim your life! They will see their gods crushed, just as they will see their king dead at my feet! I defy you!”
Damnation’s own fool! Dalinar thought, rounding Gallant.
Elhokar’s Shardblade re-formed in his hands, and he charged toward the monster’s chest, his cracked shoulder leaking Stormlight. He got close and swung at the beast’s torso, cutting free a piece of chitin—like a person’s hair or nails, it could be cut by a Blade. Then Elhokar slammed his weapon into the monster’s breast, seeking its heart.
The beast roared and shook, knocking Elhokar free. The king barely kept hold of his Blade. The beast spun. That movement, unfortunately, brought its tail at Dalinar. He cursed, yanking Gallant in a tight turn, but the tail came too quickly. It slammed into Gallant, and in a heartbeat Dalinar found himself rolling, Oathbringer tumbling from his fingers and slicing a gash in the stone ground before puffing to mist.
“Father!” a distant voice yelled.
Dalinar came to rest on the stones, dizzy. He raised his head to see Gallant stumbling to his feet. Blessedly, the horse hadn’t broken a leg, though the animal bled from scrapes and was favoring one leg.
“Away!” Dalinar said. The command word would send the horse to safety. Unlike Elhokar, it would obey.
Dalinar climbed to his feet, unsteady. A scraping sound came from his left, and Dalinar spun just in time for the chasmfiend’s tail to take him in the chest, tossing him backward.
Again the world lurched, and metal hit stone in a cacophony as he slid.
No! he thought, getting a gauntleted hand beneath himself and heaving, using the momentum of his slide to throw himself upright. As the sky spun, something seemed to right, as if the Plate itself knew which way was up. He landed—still moving, feet grinding on stone.
He got his balance, then charged toward the king, beginning the process of summoning his Shardblade again. Ten heartbeats. An eternity.
The archers continued to fire, and more than a few of their shafts bristled form the chasmfiend’s face. It ignored them, though Sadeas’s larger arrows still seemed to distract it. Adolin had sheared through another leg, and the creature lumbered uncertainly, eight of its fourteen legs dragging uselessly.
Dalinar turned to see Renarin—dressed in a stiff blue Kholin uniform, with a long coat buttoning to the neck—riding across the rocky ground.
“Father, are you well? Can I help?”
“Fool boy!” Dalinar said, pointing. “Go!”
“You’re unarmored and unarmed!” Dalinar bellowed. “Get back before you get yourself killed!”
Renarin pulled his roan horse to a halt.
Renarin galloped away. Dalinar turned and ran toward Elhokar, Oathbringer misting into existence in his waiting hand. Elhokar continued to hack at the beast’s lower torso, and sections of flesh blackened and died when the Shardblade struck. If he rammed the Shardblade in just right, he could stop the heart or lungs, but that would be difficult while the beast was upright.
Adolin—stalwart as always—had dismounted beside the king. He tried to stop the claws, striking at them as they fell. Unfortunately, there were four claws and only one of Adolin. Two swung at him at once, and though Adolin sliced a chunk out of one, he didn’t see the other sweeping at his back.
Dalinar called out too late. Shardplate snapped as the claw tossed Adolin into the air. He arced and hit in a tumble. His Plate didn’t shatter, thank the Heralds, but the breastplate and side cracked widely, leaking trails of white smoke.
Adolin rolled lethargically, hands moving. He was alive.
No time to think about him now. Elhokar was alone.
The beast struck, pounding the ground beside the king, knocking him off his feet. His blade vanished and Elhokar fell face-first on the stones.
Something changed inside of Dalinar. Reservations vanished. Other concerns became meaningless. His brother’s son was in danger.
He had failed Gavilar, had lain drunk in his wine while his brother fought for his life. Dalinar should have been there to defend him. Only two things remained of his beloved brother, two things that Dalinar could protect in a hope to earn some form of redemption: Gavilar’s kingdom and Gavilar’s son.
Elhokar was alone and in danger.
Nothing else mattered.
* * *
Adolin shook his head, dazed. He slammed his visor up, taking a gasp of fresh air to clear his mind.
Fighting. They were fighting. He could hear men screaming, rocks shaking, an enormous bleating sound. He smelled something moldy. Greatshell blood.
The chasmfiend! he thought. Before his mind was even clear, Adolin began summoning his Blade again and forced himself to his hands and knees.
The monster loomed a short distance away, a dark shadow upon the sky. Adolin had fallen near its right side. As his vision lost its fuzziness, he saw that the king was down, and his armor was cracked from the blow he’d taken earlier.
The chasmfiend raised a massive claw, preparing to slam it down. Adolin knew—suddenly—that disaster was upon them. The king would be killed on a simple hunt. The kingdom would shatter, the highprinces divided, the one tenuous link that kept them together cut away.
No! Adolin thought, stunned, still dazed, trying to stumble forward.
And then he saw his father.
Dalinar charged toward the king, moving with a speed and grace no man—not even one wearing Shardplate—should be able to manage. He leaped over a rock shelf, then ducked and skidded beneath a claw swinging for him. Other men thought they understood Shardblades and Shardplate, but Dalinar Kholin . . . at times, he proved them all children.
Dalinar straightened and leaped—still moving forward—cresting by inches a second claw that smashed apart the rocky shelf behind him.
It was all just a moment. A breath. The third claw was falling toward the king, and Dalinar roared, leaping forward. He dropped his Blade—it hit the ground and puffed away—as he skidded beneath the falling claw. He raised his hands and—
And he caught it. He bent beneath the blow, going down on one knee, and the air rang with a resounding clang of carapace against armor.
But he caught it.
Stormfather! Adolin thought, watching his father stand over the king, bowed beneath the enormous weight of a monster many times his size. Shocked archers hesitated. Sadeas lowered his grandbow. Adolin’s breath caught in his chest.
Dalinar held back the claw and matched its strength, a figure in dark, silvery metal that almost seemed to glow. The beast trumpeted above, and Dalinar bellowed back a powerful, defiant yell.
In that moment, Adolin knew he was seeing him. The Blackthorn, the very man he’d been wishing he could fight alongside. The Plate of Dalinar’s gauntlets and shoulders began to crack, webs of light moving down the ancient metal. Adolin finally shook himself into motion. I have to help!
His Shardblade formed in his hand and he scrambled to the side and sheared through the leg nearest to him. There was a crack in the air. With so many legs down, the beast’s other legs couldn’t hold its weight, particularly when it was trying so hard to crush Dalinar. The remaining legs on its right side snapped with a sickening crunch, spraying out violet ichor, and the beast toppled to the side.
The ground shook, nearly knocking Adolin to his knees. Dalinar tossed aside the now-limp claw, Stormlight from the many cracks steaming above him. Nearby, the king picked himself up off the ground—it had been mere seconds since he’d fallen.
Elhokar stumbled to his feet, looking at the fallen beast. Then he turned to his uncle, the Blackthorn.
Dalinar nodded thankfully to Adolin, then gestured sharply toward what passed for the beast’s neck. Elhokar nodded, then summoned his Blade and rammed it deeply into the monster’s flesh. The creature’s uniform green eyes blackened and shriveled, smoke twisting into the air.
Adolin walked up to join his father, watching as Elhokar plunged his Blade into the chasmfiend’s chest. Now that the beast was dead, the Blade could cut its flesh. Violet ichor spurted out, and Elhokar dropped his blade and reached into the wound, questing with Plate-enhanced arms, grabbing something.
He ripped free the beast’s gemheart—the enormous gemstone that grew within all chasmfiends. It was lumpy and uncut, but it was a pure emerald and as big as a man’s head. It was the largest gemheart Adolin had ever seen, and even the small ones were worth a fortune.
Elhokar held aloft the grisly prize, golden gloryspren appearing around him, and the soldiers yelled in triumph.