Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, we left Kaladin hanging on the side of a chasm as the highstorm struck. This week, we still leave him hanging, as we return to the Davar estate, one year ago, for Shallan’s final flashback chapter.
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 73: A Thousand Scurrying Creatures
Point of View: Li’l Shallan
Setting: the Davar Estate, Jah Keved
Symbology: Inverse Pattern, Nalan
IN WHICH siblings conspire uneasily; an elder brother cannot be found; increased wealth has not increased happiness; a fiancé arrives unexpectedly; a pouch is fetched; a son confronts his father; a brother and a stepmother are dead; the son draws his sword, and is contemptuously disarmed; poisoned wine is proffered; the son is beaten; the father collapses; a broken Soulcaster is discovered; the father is not dead; a song is sung; a daughter kills her father.
Quote of the Week
Now go to sleep, in chasms deep, with darkness all around you…
Though rock and dread may be your bed, so sleep my baby dear.
Now comes the storm, but you’ll be warm,
The wind will rock your basket…
The crystals fine will glow sublime…
And with a song… you’ll sleep… my baby dear.
It’s come back around. “The lie becomes the truth.” Some part of Shallan acknowledges beyond any shadow of doubt that her father did not kill his wife; that story was a lie. But now it’s become the truth; he’s killed his wife, and it’s too much.
Word of warning: Lots and lots and lots of quotations today. This chapter demands it.
These poor, inept plotters. I can only assume that their inquiries about Helaran were a little too obvious; in any case, Lord Davar knew that they couldn’t find him. What I really wonder, now, is how he knew what had happened. “He found his own death on a battlefield in Alethkar.” On a guess, maybe the Ghostbloods sent word?
At any rate, once he knew they were trying to contact Helaran, his suspicions were raised, and their planning was in vain. It’s probably not surprising; Balat sounds like he’s as good at scheming as he is at everything else: which is to say, not at all. I found it terribly disturbing to read his solution to the atmosphere of the household:
“I’m tired of the fear,” Balat said to her. “I’m tired of being a coward. If Helaran has vanished, then I really am eldest. Time to show it. I won’t just run, spending my life wondering if Father’s minions are hunting us. This way… this way it will be over. Decided.”
He’s tired of the fear and of being a coward… so he’s going to run away? Sure, he’s going to run to the highprince and hope that someone there still cares about the old rumors of murder… but he’s still running away. He’s going to take his fiancé – whose ability to handle the escape I seriously question, and whose presence is completely unrequired for the ostensible mission – from her parents’ comfortable home, and drag her along with him. But he’s going to leave his little sister and his younger brothers in the house with their terrifying father, to face his wrath when Balat’s disappearance becomes known.
Oh, Balat. I pity you, but you’re a weakling and a fool.
Well, it’s too late now. They’ve been discovered, the entire plan tortured out of Malise, and Eylita sent for under some pretext or other. He must have made it sound like he was approving of the marriage? Otherwise, I can’t think why she would actually come. Then again, she’s not all that bright either, so maybe she wasn’t too hard to convince.
And there they all are: Wikim and Jushu hiding outside the door, Balat and Eylita attempting to face it out, Malise dead on the floor, and Lord Davar in a cold, contemptuous fury. He and Shallan are the only ones moderately functional… but she has a pouch of well-aged blackbane.
Last week in the comments, FenrirMoridin observed that “Shallan is colder and more calculating when she is under stress and having to focus on doing something even though what she wants is to curl up into a ball and ride things out.” Ironically, when I saw that comment, I had just finished reading this:
Shallan felt cold as she stepped into the hallway. That coldness… was that panic? Overwhelming panic, so sharp and strong it washed away everything else.
This had been coming. She’d known this had been coming. They tried to hide, they tried to flee. Of course that wouldn’t work.
It hadn’t worked with Mother either.
(This is the point at which they’d just learned that Lord Davar had sent for Eylita.) I’d like to know a little more about that last statement, though I suppose I never will. Was the hiding and fleeing just that one afternoon when they tried to kill Shallan? Or was it built up over time, attempting to hide her Lightweaving from Mother over a period of weeks or months?
Shallan forced herself to her feet. Coldness. Yes, she recognized that coldness inside of her now. She’d felt it before, on the day when she’d lost her mother.
Lord Davar has just collapsed from the drugged wine, and she turns away, believing him dead – by her hand, just like her mother, though she won’t acknowledge the similarity. She thinks of it only in terms of “the day when she’d lost her mother.” (Would she, had she been free to do so, have stashed this in the Closed section of her mind, and only thought of it as “the day when she’d lost her father”?) In the coldness of her panic, she thinks extremely clearly and acts decisively.
Shallan rubbed her thumb across the metal. She couldn’t think. Numbness… shock. That was it. Shock.
I killed Father.
This is just before they realize that he’s coming around; while she considers herself “in shock” she’s really still being all analytical and effective. The earlier observation is accurate: when Shallan panics, she goes cold, and then she does everything skillfully, efficiently, and emotionlessly. Or… not everything:
“Now go to sleep,” she whispered, “in chasms deep, with darkness all around you…”
A lullaby. Shallan spoke the song through her tears—the song he’d sung for her as a child, when she was frightened.
Not quite everything.
One year ago, on the night of the last highstorm before the Weeping (which is not necessarily the same date), Shallan’s life turns inside out once more.
This is the first time we’ve visited the Davar family since the Ghostbloods decided he was worth their active support. For the first time in years, they are not only solvent, but actually wealthy:
“Does it feel odd to anyone else,” Jushu said, “to be this rich? How many deposits of valuable stone are there on our lands?”
We already knew about the Soulcasting of rich stone deposits, but they clearly didn’t. They thought it was just dumb luck that so many were being found. We don’t actually know when Luesh told them the truth of what was going on, or how much truth they had to tell him about their father’s death. There are still a lot of aspects to Shallan’s past that we don’t know. But now we finally know for sure a) how & when the kids got hold of the Soulcaster and b) how it got damaged:
Shallan glanced over to see Jushu pulling something silvery from Father’s coat pocket. It was shrouded in a small black bag, mildly wet with blood, only pieces of it showing from where Balat’s sword had struck.
“Oh, Stormfather,” Jushu said, pulling it out. The device consisted of several chains of silvery metal connecting three large gemstones, one of which was cracked, its glow lost. “Is this what I think it is?”
“A Soulcaster,” Shallan said.
Shallan stood, wiping bloodied hands on her dress, and took the Soulcaster from Jushu. The delicate metal was broken where the sword had struck it.
So, despite all the theorizing, and despite all the times this was used as “proof” that Shallan had killed her father with her Shardblade, it turns out that the fabrial is simply susceptible to ordinary damage from ordinary tools.
Side note: I suspect, personally, that the reason all the wealth isn’t making their father happier is that every favor from the Ghostbloods comes with a price attached, and while he’s free to spend the new wealth on dresses for Shallan and parading for the highprince, it’s still all in service to someone else’s goals. (And there’s Odium, of course.)
Well, this is pretty obvious. The Judge, Nalan, is here to serve justice on Lin Davar, abuser and murderer. And poor little sixteen-year-old Shallan has to be the one to carry out the sentence.
I mentioned all the expectation during the TWoK discussions, that Shallan had killed her father with her Shardblade, and that it was probably self-defense. The truth was… a distinct shock. I could wish for her sake that the expectations had been correct; a sudden death from a Shardblade wielded in self-defense would be bad enough, but this? This is the kind of thing that makes her “It helps if you’re crazy” crack seem all too bitterly true. How could she be anything other than crazy, after this?
Did it really have to be done? Yes, he’d killed Malise, and had he not been poisoned he probably would have killed Eylita and possibly Balat. But once he was down and helpless, was it really necessary to strangle him to death? I can certainly see an argument for it. I can also see an argument against it. Try to be polite to each other when you debate this question.
First, a bit of levity, because we need it now, Balat’s opinion notwithstanding.
Shallan eyed the bundles Balat had been preparing. “Good thing Father never checks in on you, Balat. Those bundles look so fishy, we could make a stew out of them.”
The second is not so much funny, as a brilliant bit of word-painting:
Rain pelted the roof. It sounded like a thousand scurrying creatures looking for a way into the building.
Umm… that’s not creepy or anything, right?
Final notes: Words of Radiance was released exactly two years ago today. Woot! And on a much more sober personal note, my own father passed away five days before the release; this was a very difficult chapter to deal with this week. (Not to worry – there were no parallels. He was 97 years old; I just sat with him for most of his last few days, and sang to him a lot.)
Okay, enough. Play nice in the comments, and then be sure to come back next week so we can finally resolve Kaladin’s cliffhanging. Good thing he has such great upper body strength.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader, and she completely failed to ask any questions at the Calamity signing event. Fortunately, other people asked plenty! Check out Braid_Tug’s report at #30 and sheiglagh’s at #35 and 36 on Chapter 72 of the reread; for more signing reports, check out 17thshard.