In the last installment of the Stormlight Grimoire—my in-depth exploration of the many magical systems at work in Brandon Sanderson’s epic saga The Stormlight Archive—I compiled all the information I could get my hands on about Surgebinders and the Knights Radiant, paying special attention to the Windrunners. This week, however, I want to go even deeper. The Way of Kings’ primary plot arc follows Kaladin’s transformation into a Windrunner, so we’ve theoretically seen every step in that process. I’m going to carefully study the conditions of his transformation, especially his exposure to the highstorm, and see if I can sketch out what it takes to become a Windrunner. This article, like every article in the Stormlight Grimoire, will contain heavy spoilers for The Way of Kings.
Over the course of this inquiry, I’ll be keeping a careful eye out for the attributes associated with Jes, the first ordinal number and the one that I believe is most strongly associated with the Windrunners. Those elements are: Sapphire and the color blue, zephyr and wind, inhalation, translucent gas and air, and the qualities of protecting and leading others. All of these elements are apparently associated with the Herald Jezrien.
Before the Storm:
We know that Syl was watching Kaladin long before she first appeared to him, especially during his time in Amaram’s army. From this I think it’s reasonable to conclude that his actions during this time are relevant to his eventual destiny. At many points before the storm Kaladin displayed minor capacities for various Lashings, some instinctive inhalation of Stormlight, and innate battle prowess. So, the question we have to ask is, how did Kaladin draw the attention of Sylphrena and set himself on the path of the Windrunners.
The turning point in Kaladin’s life was when he decided to join the army, not to seek glory, but in order to protect his younger brother, Tien. From that point on he made it his mission to protect the men he served with and those who came under his command. He embodied the divine attributes of protecting and leading in countless ways and on countless occasions.
We see Kaladin fight in the first chapter, and the visual effects in that battle are interesting: “He spun between the last two, his spear a blur, wielding it like a quarterstaff. For a moment, Cenn thought he could see something surrounding the squadleader. A warping of the air, like the wind itself become visible.” This is an imperfect preview of the incredible display of Kaladin’s power and skill in the final chapters of The Way of Kings, and it shows that Syl must have been watching then. She was certainly watching when Kaladin refused the Shardblade he had won.
This, I believe, was the next major step on Kaladin’s path. Sylphrena hates shardblades. She says they feel wrong to her, and that not having one makes a man better. And Kaladin, even without any factual knowledge, came to agree with her. After watching Shardbearers effortlessly slaughter his men, he grew filled with disgust for those inhuman weapons. And, after saving Brightlord Amaram and being offered both Plate and Blade, he turned them down, asking that they instead go to empower his soldiers. We know this is a central moment in Kaladin’s early magical development by Word of Brandon.
From that point on, Syl paid special attention to Kaladin, and the two eventually developed a friendly relationship. This connection empowered Kaladin and restored Sylphrena’s mind, and the two maintained an active dialogue about the nature of honor and responsibility. This bond of mutual reliance and respect culminated when Kaladin was sentenced to the mercy of the highstorm.
During the Storm:
Kaladin goes into the highstorm with nothing but the clothes on his back, a single sphere, and Sylphrena. The last thing he did before the storm came was to bet on his own survival for the sake of his men. He promised them that he would survive, knowing that if he did, they would treat it as a miracle. This means that, at the moment he went into danger, he was utterly focused on embodying the protecting and leading attributes. The sphere was a skymark, a bit of sapphire contained in glass. This, too, is related to Jes. The sphere saved his life in the storm: he drained the stormlight that filled it so that his body could heal from its wounds.
Directly before the sphere filled with Stormlight, Kaladin saw a giant face in the storm. He sees it again later, when he first has a highstorm-inspired vision. I believe this face may have been a shattered part of Honor, but whatever it was, it seems very likely that it is the source of Stormlight. Kaladin associates the face with the Stormfather, a figure associated in turn with Jezrien. The Stormlight that blossoms in this moment is described as blazing “with blue fire,” a color that is also associated with Windrunners.
After the Storm:
Kaladin began to notice his powers more and more often. He was told the First Ideal of the Knights Radiant, accepted that he was manifesting powers and that he wanted to grow in strength to protect his men, and started actively exploring his abilities. These measured steps forward, however interesting they may be, have less magical significance than his actual moment of transformation. So, let’s examine that.
Kaladin achieved full status as a Windrunner at the battle of the Tower, when he rushed to save Dalinar and his armies from Sadeas’s betrayal. He was spurred to action both by his own principles and by Syl’s discovery that she was, in fact, not a windspren but an honorspren. He led Bridge Four in a full assault on the Parshendi forces, but when his men drew the attention of Parshendi archers, he gathered a massive amount of Stormlight and leapt to their defense. Throughout this sequence, Syl continually pressed him to know the words, as a matter of life and death. At the last moment, he did remember, and spoke the Second Ideal of the Knights Radiant: “I will protect those who cannot protect themselves.”
Speaking these words unleashed a huge amount of power, transforming Kaladin’s abilities and making him a nearly unstoppable force on the battlefield. The combination of speaking the words and embodying what they mean through action gave him metaphysical force, in that moment. Knowing, understanding, and accepting the purpose of the Windrunners is the final step in becoming one. However, all the things that came before, from refusing the tools of wanton death and being exposed to the highstorm while holding a sapphire, also seem to be essential.
If this seems unbelievably complicated and multi-faceted, that’s because it most definitely is. Some steps might be omitted, but I doubt it. Luckily (or unluckily) for the people of Roshar, we have Nohadon’s word for it that other spren are less picky than honorspren. It might be much easier to join other orders of the Radiants. It’s also significant how many of Kaladin’s moments of trial are mirrored by Dalinar. Both refused Shardblades. Both have had contact with the intelligence in the highstorms. It may be that Dalinar is well on his way to becoming a Windrunner himself.