Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, a date went in various unexpected directions. This week, Adolin goes forth to fight a duel that was supposed to be spectacular, but turns out to be a very different spectacle than he’d planned.
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and any other Cosmere book that becomes relevant to the discussion. The index for this reread can be found here, and more Stormlight Archive goodies are indexed here.
Click on through to join the discussion!
Chapter 56: Whitespine Uncaged
Point of View: Kaladin, Adolin, Dalinar
Setting: The Dueling Arena
Symbology: Spears, Chach
IN WHICH the entire cast arrives at the dueling arena to watch the big event, with Amaram flaunting the Knight Radiant cloak; Syl pleads with Kaladin not to let Amaram ruin him; Moash is insubordinate. Adolin speaks briefly to his Blade, then joins Navani and Renarin; they discuss the terms of the match; he forgot Mother’s chain, but once arrayed in his Plate, Adolin walks out and awaits his opponents; there are FOUR of them. Dalinar is furious at the fast one Sadeas has pulled on them, but it’s all in the dueling conventions. Adolin agrees to the match, cursing himself for a fool; he hears Zahel’s voice giving him encouragement and advice; he moves to the attack, and it’s clear that all four opponents do indeed fear him; he fights incredibly well, but against four, he is soon bested; as they finally surround him, beating on his Plate and preventing him from signaling surrender, he realizes they intend to leave him dead or crippled. Dalinar asks to borrow Elhokar’s Blade, and Sadeas eggs him on; Elhokar shows unexpected insight in stopping him; Renarin steps into the arena. Relis makes it clear that Renarin will be killed if Adolin tries to surrender; the judge has clearly been Nobbled. She refuses to stop the fight; Renarin begins an epileptic seizure, while Adolin fights marvelously but hopelessly; Dalinar challenges the spectators to help, and turns to Amaram, who looks away like the rat he is; Kaladin takes a spear and jumps into the arena.
Quote of the Week
“They’re scared of you.” Zahel’s voice, drifting again above the crowd. “Do you see it in them? Show them why.”
Adolin hesitated. Relis stepped forward, making a Stonestance strike. Stonestance, to be immobile. Elit came in next, hammer held wardingly. They backed Adolin along the wall toward Abrobadar.
No. Adolin had demanded this duel. He had wanted it. He would not become a frightened rat.
Show them why.
Adolin attacked. He leaped forward, sweeping with a barrage of strikes at Relis. Elit jumped away with a curse as he did so. They were like men with spears prodding at a whitespine.
And this whitespine was not yet caged.
Every time I read it, this scene takes my breath away. As noted in the following paragraphs, it’s one against four, but it’s the four attracting the fearspren. If this were a duel without Shards, Adolin would have won; in the first few minutes Relis would have been dead and Elit maimed, with Adolin still untouched. But of course, they all have Plate, and so they recover. But it almost worked.
Also? The “Whitespine Uncaged” is totally, solely Adolin. There’s no one else in this fight. And he’s awesome.
I was actually planning to break with tradition and do two chapters this week, because when I was rereading, I couldn’t stop at the end of the chapter. I figured I’d just do the whole fight at once, because everyone will talk about the whole fight anyway, right? Except I changed my mind. There is a lot in this chapter to deal with, so I’m going to request right up front that we try to hold off on discussing the events of the next chapter until we get there. Give this chapter its due.
To start with, let’s just get Kaladin’s issues out of the way. Every time he sees Amaram, he loses control, to the point that Sylphrena is begging Kaladin not to let Amaram ruin him. Juxtaposed against that unreasoning* antipathy, Moash lets slip that he’s met with Graves & Co. again, against Kaladin’s direct order, because he’s so confident that Kaladin will eventually agree that Elhokar ought to be removed. At this point, Kaladin is angry at Moash for that assumption, angrier that he disobeyed a direct order, disturbed by the implication that he just might refuse to obey further orders, and annoyed with himself for not having dealt with this already. I’m annoyed about that, too, because next time he considers the question, things will have changed. Considerably.
Back to Adolin. The conversation with Navani is unsettling in retrospect. Due to the terms of the duel—that it would go until surrender, rather than specifying a number of broken Plate sections—Navani can already see that they’re going to try to cripple Adolin… and in a few pages, that’s exactly what they attempt to do. When he realized that he forgot Mother’s chain, to my surprise that turned out to me more like a warning that something bigger was going to go wrong, rather than causing Adolin to be off balance. And four opponents was definitely “something bigger.”
I had completely forgotten that Brandon gives us the full explanation of the loophole here, with Sadeas’s tacit admission that he knew all about it, despite his claim to neutrality.
“Two?” Sadeas asked. “When was it said that he would fight two?”
“That’s what he said when he set up the duel!” Dalinar shouted. “Paired disadvantaged duel, two against one, as per the dueling conventions!”
“Actually,” Sadeas replied, “that is not what young Adolin agreed to. Why, I have it on very good authority that he told Prince Relis: ‘I’ll fight you and whomever you bring.’ I don’t hear a specification of a number in there— which subjects Adolin to a full disadvantaged duel, not a paired duel. Relis may bring as many as he wishes. I know several scribes who recorded Adolin’s precise words, and I hear the highjudge asked him specifically if he understood what he was doing, and he said that he did.”
It’s all “I heard” and “they say” but he knows too much about it. I’m convinced that he was involved in putting it together. He was probably the one who bought the judge, too. (Speaking of which, it seems apparent that she had the authority to call the duel any time she chose—for example, if she thought that one of the participants was in danger of injury beyond the bounds of appropriate dueling risk. Like what was happening here. She wasn’t required to stop it according to the conventions, but she could have. She didn’t.)
Back to Sadeas and his probable involvement, he digs in later with that whole “The Blackthorn I once knew” garbage, trying to inflame Dalinar to the point that he’ll just jump in and go for it. That was probably his goal all along. Which brings up one of the rare times Elhokar does anything to show that he has the makings of a king, however well buried he keeps such hints on a normal basis:
Elhokar caught him by the arm, standing. “Don’t be a fool, Uncle. Listen to him! Do you see what he’s doing? He obviously wants you to go down and fight.”
Dalinar turned to meet the king’s eyes. Pale green. Like his father’s.
“Uncle,” Elhokar said, grip tightening on his arm, “listen to me for once. Be a little paranoid. Why would Sadeas want you down there? It’s so that an ‘accident’ can occur! He wants you removed, Dalinar. I guarantee that if you step onto those sands, all four will attack you straight out. Shardblade or none, you’ll be dead before you get into stance.”
Dalinar puffed in and out. Elhokar was right. Storm him, but he was right.
This is one of those rare times that almost seem to justify Dalinar’s confidence in Elhokar’s ability to be a good king.
About the duel itself, it’s amazing. Four against one, and Adolin actually holds his own for a time. Once they manage to surround him, of course, it should be all over; he acknowledges it and tries to yield, and the cremlings refuse to allow that. They’re going to either kill or cripple him, and they’re all four—including his “friend” Jakamav—in on this. The judge is clearly not going to intervene until it’s just too late to prevent some “accidentally” crippling blow. And then Renarin steps in.
That boy. I’ve got nothing but admiration for him, no matter how he feels about his performance. A Blade that screams every time he summons it, no time to put his Plate on, but he walks out there to give whatever aid he can, even if it’s only to distract one of the “duelists” and give Adolin half a chance. I know there are a lot of people who find Renarin grating (including Shallan), but I have a lot of respect for him.
Of course, this brings up the moment of honesty from Relis, wherein he flatly states that this duel is not about honor. He’s out to punish Adolin—presumably for embarrassing his cousin?—and makes it quite clear that if Adolin doesn’t stay out here for the beatdown that will obviously end with him maimed or dead, Renarin will receive that fate instead. Coward. In spite of all his haughty words, he clearly knew that he couldn’t beat Adolin in a fair fight. He had to get two of the best duelists in the country to help him, even though he was supposed to be the dueling champion himself. (As backhanded compliments go, that’s a doozy!) He’s a coward and a bully, and I will love to see it rebound on his head next week.
As for Jakamav… As the old saying goes, with friends like that, who needs enemies? Better yet, the old rejoinder: with friends like that, who needs friends? Wimp. Political convenience overcomes conscience.
Finally, as Adolin’s Plate begins to lose pieces, leaving him vulnerable to the Blades, this:
Dalinar turned upon the stands full of spectating lighteyes. “You can watch this?” he shouted at them. “My sons fight alone! There are Shardbearers among you. Is there not one of you who will fight with them?”
He scanned the crowd. The king was looking at his feet. Amaram. What of Amaram? Dalinar found him seated near the king. Dalinar met the man’s eyes.
Amaram looked away.
Some “Knight Radiant” you are, dude. You couldn’t even begin to be a true Radiant.
It’s really set up so that there’s no good solution for the Kholins—it looks like at least one of them is going to die, no matter what they do, and even the king can’t stop it. Honor is dead.
* “Unreasoning” does not mean “unreasonable,” for the record. There’s plenty of reason for Kaladin’s attitude, but when he sees Amaram, he stops reasoning altogether.
The day after the menagerie date. Twenty-eight days remain.
Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?
Well, of course we know who Zahel is, and we’ve met before. It’s not exactly a major issue, but until I can get to that Warbreaker reread, can anyone tell me how Zahel is making his voice audible to Adolin in the midst of all the shouting and clashing? I can’t remember. I love that he’s doing it, though, and that he’s trained Adolin well enough that with so few words, Adolin can sort out a whole new strategy in a matter of seconds. They’re afraid of you. Show them why.
Chach watches over this chapter alone, and I can think of half a dozen reasons. I just wish I knew which was the right one. Kaladin is in his role as Guard. Adolin is also Guard, in one sense, as well as being Brave and (again in one sense) Obedient. Chach is so often associated with chapters which focus on Adolin, if it weren’t for that Edgedancer Blade I want him to restore, I’d still insist he’s destined to be a Dustbringer.
Words of Radiants
Twenty-three cohorts followed behind, that came from the contributions of the King of Makabakam, for though the bond between man and spren was at times inexplicable, the ability for bonded spren to manifest in our world rather than their own grew stronger through the course of the oaths given.
—From Words of Radiance, chapter 35, page 9
Well, that’s a mouthful. I’m not entirely sure what the cohorts from the King of Makabakam have to do with anything, but there are two significant truths stated here: (1) the bond between man and spren is at times inexplicable; (2) bonded spren increase in their ability to manifest in the Physical Realm as the Knight-in-training progresses through their Ideals. The second is primarily a confirmation of what we already suspected. The first, though… the first is a 2×4 reminder that we really don’t have anything resembling solid knowledge about what triggers a bonding and what its development will necessarily look like for any of our budding Radiants.
In total, he had forty men on duty.
None of them would be worth a drop of rain if the Assassin in White attacked.
There. That ought to keep us busy until next week, when we’ll finish off this duel. You know, one way or another…
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. She’s also part of the facebook group “Storm Cellar—Brandon Sanderson Fans” which y’all are welcome to join for more generalized conversation.