Welcome back to The Way of Kings reread on Tor.com. Recently we’ve been relentlessly teasing you with excerpts from Brandon Sanderson’s second volume, Words of Radiance. While the excerpts are over, the teasing has only just begun, and I encourage all Stormlight fans to watch Tor.com on Tuesday for a special Words of Radiance opportunity, organized by yours truly.
In the meantime, our journey through The Way of Kings continues. This week I cover Chapter 55, in which Kaladin holds a ridiculous amount of money.
Chapter 55: An Emerald Broam
Setting: The Shattered Plains
Point of View: Kaladin
What Happens: Kaladin stands on a plateau on the Shattered Plains, watching as Parshendi forces surround Sadeas’s army. He’s sure this will “mean a miserable return trip.” Rock runs up to him and directs his attention to something unexpected: A second army approaching the plateau. The others identify it as the army of Dalinar Kholin, late to the assault because of their slow, mechanical bridges. Kaladin dismisses his bridgemen’s talk of Dalinar’s honor, saying he should tell them the story of Amaram someday.
As they watch, Dalinar’s army joins the battle, and it slowly becomes clear that this is an intentional act of cooperation between the two armies. Kaladin briefly considers whether Adolin Kholin, who he saw defend a whore in Sadeas’s warcamp, could be “genuinely selfless in his defense of the woman,” but he pushes the thought aside. The battle won, the Bridgemen lead the two armies back to the camps.
Later that day, having been assigned chasm duty due to how quickly the assault team returned to camp, Kaladin and his men scour the dead for weapons, boots, and spheres. His team has already made an amazing discovery: An emerald broam, the highest denomination of currency, in the pocket of a lighteyed officer. Also in that corpse’s clothes was a bag of chips and marks worth even more than the one precious broam.
The bridgemen have found a fortune that, without serious ingenuity, they will never be able to spend. Many ideas for how to extract the spheres are brought up (but what if we ate them???) and discarded (they literally have guards watching the latrines), but for the moment none of them are sufficient.
As Kaladin wracks his brain for ideas, Maps pesters Sigzil to show off his Worldsinging skills. He grudgingly agrees, but most of the bridgemen want to hear folk tales, which is not in his job description. Kaladin asks about the city he saw in his dream vision, which Sigzil identifies as Sesemalex Dar. He tells them all about that city, in fascinating detail, but Kaladin is mostly interested in the fact that what he saw in his visions were real. Something magical is happening to him, and it’s growing more and more difficult to deny.
Sigzil begins talking about how different weapons are valued by the nobles of other cultures. In Emuli, for example, the most noble weapon is the bow and arrow, as it allows its wielder to remove himself as far as possible from the crass act of violence. Kaladin asks if Sigzil knows how to use a bow, and if any were found among the dead, but the answer to both questions is no. He sets the bridgemen to gathering spears, but Teft points out how useless spears will be down in the chasms when it comes time to fight up above.
Syl flies towards Kaladin and tells him that she found a group of Parshendi bodies, and she thinks they have bows among them. Bridge Four heads in that direction, but when Kaladin begins the scavenging, Shen, the Parshman bridgeman, hurtles toward him. Teft puts him in a headlock, but Kaladin asks that he be let go. Apparently Parshmen always react violently to humans handling their dead. Kaladin says that they have to scavenge anyway, but asks them to treat the dead with respect, as Shen is one of them and it’s going to make him upset.
Sigzil locates a horned Parshendi shortbow, and Maps a string, and Kaladin reveals the next step of his plan. He wants to shoot an arrow into the bridge above, with a bag of spheres attached. The problem is, none of the bridgemen profess any skill with the bow. When Teft asks how hard it could be, Rock reveals a surprising amount of knowledge. Kaladin is suspicious, but lets the other bridgemen try to come up with ever worse plans until Rock is goaded into intervening. The Horneater takes the bow, shoots a test arrow, and declares that they will take only five spheres, because any more would be too heavy.
The jubilant mood of the bridgemen is interrupted when the idea comes over them that any one of them, especially Shen, might sell the rest out to Gaz. Kaladin quashes this line of thought, saying that they had enough to worry about without focusing on paranoia. “We’ve faced death together. We have to trust each other. You can’t run into battle wondering if your companions are going to switch sides suddenly.”
The men are placated. Syl lands on Kaladin’s shoulder and asks if he wants her to watch the others anyway. He nods.
Rock shoots the sphere-laden arrow directly towards the bridge, where it lodges and holds fast. The men cheer, and Kaladin claps him on the shoulder, but Rock insists once again that he will not use his skills to fight. Kaladin accepts this, and accepts Lopen’s earlier offer to covertly buy rope from one of his near-infinite supply of cousins. His plan is beginning to come together.
Quote of the Chapter:
He had lost Dallet and the others of his original squad in Amaram’s army. Did he think to compensate for that by training a new group of spearmen? Was this about saving men he’d grown to love, or was it just about proving something to himself?
Ohhhh Kaladin. Even when you’re trying to do right by people you have to constantly question yourself. It’s great that he (and Sanderson) are drilling deep into his motivations, but this time I feel like the guy could cut himself some slack.
I’ll get to the meat of the commentary in a second, but first, let me just say that I sincerely hope Lopen never ever runs out of cousins. He has a cousin for every occasion. He’s basically got a Batman utility belt full of cousins. Cousinman.
So much of this chapter is about trust. Seeing Dalinar and Adolin makes Kaladin whether he could ever trust a lighteys (still no.) Bridge Four is starting to trust each other enough to open up about themselves. Now that Kaladin has shown his men his combat skills, they’re willing to show each other what they can do. Sigzil, Teft, and Rock all show off skills that are deeply connected to their lost lives. And Kaladin intervenes when the trust among his crew is threatening to dissolve. He stops them from thinking they have to police each other, keeps them working as a team with the simple knowledge that, if one of them is going to sell the rest out there’s not really anything they can do to stop that.
And, of course, he doesn’t actually trust them enough to refrain from sicking Syl on them. I think that Kaladin does trust his men, but he also can’t ignore how easy it is to fall back into the worst version of yourself. He can’t trust them to be stronger than he is, and he doesn’t know who they’d be if they broke again.
I love how Sigzil never backs off on telling the Alethi that their Vorin culture is less universal than it seems. The way he adds his intellectual agenda to his infodumps makes them feel much more organic and interesting. I love getting details like the Emuli monotheistic worship of Jezrien out of him.
On that note: Jezrien as Stormfather? Does that mean the guy from the Prelude turned into Skyface?
Rock is the most jovial Bridgeman (except maybe for Lopen), and one of the first to open up emotionally to Kaladin. He’s open about Horneater culture, and firm in his beliefs and taboos. He absolutely refuses to fight in Kaladin’s revolt. But his knowledge of archery, his unwillingness to speak of that shameful facility, hints at a fascinating secret.
I bet that all of you are salivating to figure out why Parshmen and the Parshendi get so ticked off when you mess with their dead, right? I know I was. Kaladin always steps up when it comes to Shen, pushing his men a step further towards accepting him despite being a Parshman. I think that speaks well of him.
Well, that’s all for this week. Check back next week for Dalinar antics, and don’t forget to look out for a Words of Radiance surprise on Tuesday.
Carl Engle-Laird is the editorial assistant for Tor.com, where he acquires and edits original short fiction. He is also the resident Stormlight Archive correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter here.