Welcome back to the Words of Radiance reread! Last week I was on vacation, so I missed the enormous tsunami of comments from you guys, but I’m ready to go back in. Eyes closed, head first, can’t lose! This week I’m covering Chapter Two, in which we are finally reunited with a certain stormblessed sourpuss, and get the hottest tattoo design for summer! (First one to get a Bridge Four tattoo gets points, and also an indelible mark on their body that we take no responsiblity for whatsoever.)
This article will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings and the end of Words of Radiance.
Chapter Two: Bridge Four
Point of View: Captain Kaladin
Setting: The Kholin Warcamp, the Shattered Plains
Symbology: Spears, Talenel
IN WHICH Kaladin breathes; ranks of bridgemen are evaluated and found wanting; a plan for retraining is established; Kaladin insists on his lack of divinity; promotions are awarded; tattoos received, even by Shen; Stormlight proves superior to ink and needle; the purpose of large Unkalaki feet is established, and complaints are thereby quenched; bridgemen are fitted for Cobalt Guard uniforms; Kaladin refuses to admit who he is; and the Cobalt Guard is replaced by Bridge Four.
Quote of the Week:
“Freedom,” Sigzil said before Kaladin could reply. “The glyph means freedom.”
“The smaller ones above,” Kaladin said, “say the date you were freed and the one who freed you. Even if you lose your writ of freedom, anyone who tries to imprison you for being a runaway can easily find proof that you are not. They can go to Dalinar Kholin’s scribes, who keep a copy of your writ.”
Hobber nodded. “That’s good, but it’s not enough. Add ‘Bridge Four’ to it. Freedom, Bridge Four.”
“To imply you were freed from Bridge Four?”
“No, sir. I wasn’t freed from Bridge Four. I was freed by it. I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything.”
This is just about all you need to know to understand the depth and character of Bridge Four’s group spirit. As Kaladin reminds us, Bridge Four was a death trap, and their time there cost them many friends. Hobber himself, the first bridgeman whose life Kaladin saved, spent months injured, with Sadeas trying to starve him to death. But it is these hardships that bind them together. I’m reminded of the legendary Malazan armies from Steven Erikson’s novels. The Bridgeburners and Bonehunters are all the more fearful because they went through a hellish crucible, and their names evoke that crucible.
Chapter Two is a set-up and reminder chapter. Less than a day has passed since the end of The Way of Kings, but Kaladin doesn’t get much of a break between trying to save Bridge Four’s lives and assuming his duties as Dalinar’s personal bodyguard/captain of a battalion of bridgemen. He has a vastly plural number of problems to solve, and a limited number of resources with which to solve them. As such, most of what happens in this chapter is groundwork and maintenance. Lieutenants must be assigned, training orders given to the bridgemen, uniforms acquired.
We’re also reminded in this chapter that Kaladin has a well-earned trust problem. He insists throughout that Dalinar is the man they have to trust, the only chance they have of staying alive and free, but he’s already refusing to show him what he can actually do. Sanderson reminds us quickly that depression and trauma aren’t a one-book problem, and Kaladin is irrationally convinced that anything good the Lighteyes see him to possess will be taken away. Surely nothing bad could come of this certainty.
It’s great to see Bridge Four, independent of Kaladin, taking big steps to maintain their own identity. They decide to tattoo Bridge Four on their foreheads themselves, and reject the label of the Cobalt Guard on their own. This is an important step; anyone who wants Bridge Four to be the Cobalt Guard would have disappointment in their future. Bridge Four is most valuable for its unpredictability. Bridge Four’s commitment to maintaining its identity is more important than any social constructs that might face them, as seen by how they shout down the tattooists objections to marking Shen’s freedom. I’m glad Kaladin is still willing to see things from the perspective of parshmen and the Parshendi, although I wish he’d focused on those issues a little bit more.
I love watching Bridge Four pal around. Their banter is sometimes dour, but then you get Rock and his “big Unkalaki feet” coming in to kick various complainers. And it seems that Dalinar’s warcamp is a place where they’ll finally be respected. The few surviving soldiers have picked up the old Bridge Four salute for them, which is heartwarming to see.
“The ink won’t take!” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. When I wipe your forehead, the ink all just comes right off! The tattoo won’t stay.”
Kaladin sighed, realizing he had a little Stormlight raging in his veins.
Turns out Stormlight beats tattoos every time. His skin healing just pushes the ink right out of his body. Now, I have some questions about whether this is a medically viable situation, but what’s most interesting is the selectivity of the healing process. Kaladin’s healing process sees the tattoo as a hostile wound, but leaves the scar behind. You could argue that this is because he’s had the scar for much longer, but Lopen’s miraculous recovery at the end of the book throws a shadow over that argument.
I’d argue that the Stormlight refusing to heal Kaladin’s slave brand is a matter of self-identity. As we see when he looks in the mirror, Kaladin still sees himself as an escaped slave. He still sees himself as shash – dangerous. As such, the wound doesn’t heal. If that’s the case, this whole magical healing thing is a little touchy-feely for an autonomic process.
This week’s symbols represent Talenel, the Herald of
getting his sorry butt stuck in damnation War. Old Stonesinew’s aspects are Dependable and Resourceful, which describes Bridge Four to a T in this chapter. Talenel may not be Kaladin’s guiding Herald, since I’m pretty sure that’s Jezrien, but I bet they’d get along well. You know, if it weren’t for that whole “broken and insane thing” Taln has going on.
Rind, the Kholin quartermaster, is a “tenner,” a lighteyes on the bottom rung above darkeyed status. Apparently tenners live lives that are more similar to rich darkeyes than not.
That’s it for this week! See you all in the comments.
Carl Engle-Laird is an editorial assistant at Tor.com, where he acquires and edits fiction both for the Tor.com Originals program and for Tor.com: The Imprint. You can follow him on Twitter here. If you ask nicely he might even tell you how to find his Brooklyn Nine-Nine podcast.