Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Dalinar received a surprise or two that he badly needed. This week, he has his first actual conversation with a Listener since his brother was killed, and learns more surprising new notions.
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 79: Toward the Center
Point of View: Dalinar
Setting: The Shattered Plains
Symbology: Kholin Glyphpair, Chach
IN WHICH Dalinar muses on recent revelations; Rlain is interviewed by his commanding officer; mysteries of the Listeners are uncovered; Rlain’s fears for his people are honored; he agrees to help Dalinar for their sake.
Quote of the Week
“You answer me when I ask,” Dalinar said. “But not the others. Why?”
“You’re my commanding officer,” Rlain said.
“I…” The man looked down at the ground, shoulders bowing. He raised a hand to his head, feeling at the ridge of skin just where his skullplate ended. “Something is very wrong, sir. Eshonai’s voice… on the plateau that day, when she came to meet with Prince Adolin…”
“Eshonai,” Dalinar prompted. “The Parshendi Shardbearer?” Nearby, Navani scribbled on a pad of paper, writing down each word spoken.
“Yes. She was my commander. But now…” He looked up, and despite the alien skin and the strange way of speaking, Dalinar recognized grief in this man’s face. Terrible grief. “Sir, I have reason to believe that everyone I know… everyone I loved… has been destroyed, monsters left in their place. The listeners, the Parshendi, may be no more. I have nothing left….”
“Yes you do,” Skar said from outside the ring of guards. “You’re Bridge Four.”
Rlain looked at him. “I’m a traitor.”
“Ha!” Rock said. “Is little problem. Can be fixed.”
Unhappy Rlain. He went in good faith to do a hard task, in service to the survival of his people—and now it seems to have all been in vain. The people of his birth are no more; they have become what they had for centuries sacrificed their heritage to avoid. He feels a traitor to the people of his new loyalty, those who accepted him and gave him fellowship.
Fortunately, his new people refuse to abandon him, and his new commander vows to help save what may be left of his race. Still, it’s a hard place to be. I do hope he becomes a Windrunner squire, at least!
Off the Wall
Q: For what essential must we strive? A: The essential of preservation, to shelter a seed of humanity through the coming storm. Q: What cost must we bear? A: The cost is irrelevant. Mankind must survive. Our burden is that of the species, and all other considerations are but dust by comparison.
—From the Diagram, Catechism of the Back of the Flowered Painting: paragraph 1
I may be jumping to conclusions, but this would seem to imply that either Taravangian was not, at the time of this writing, aware of humanity on other worlds, or that his understanding of the conflict assumed Roshar as the last defense of the Cosmere. I lean toward the former; it seems possible that seven-or-so years ago (whenever he had That Brilliant Day) he may not yet have been aware of the worldhoppers. There is one hint that he may have become aware of something odd about either Hoid or Mraize, but it’s not solid.
Also? Totally EJM approach. The end, according to the Diagram, justifies any and every means.
In the for-what-it’s-worth department, Taravangian noted in TWoK that the Death Rattles first came to notice well before Gavilar’s assassination—in fact, at about the time he first made contact with the Parshendi. It is a commonly-held assumption that Taravangian went to the Nightwatcher after Gavilar’s death, but we also know that he uses the Death Rattles to update, interpret, or guide the use of the Diagram. It doesn’t prove Taravangian had already written the Diagram when the Death Rattles began, but there may, perhaps, be a correlation.
Repeating the cut text for emphasis,
Dalinar felt as if he were trying to stop a dam from breaking, all the while not knowing where the leaks were actually coming from.
This chapter gives a deep sense of teetering on the brink of something, with Dalinar the one responsible for the next step that may save them all, or plunge them all into chaos. He’s received startling information about the Radiants actually re-forming, plus Jasnah’s belief of the Voidbringers returning, and he’s fitting both of those into the visions he’s been receiving. With the discovery of red-eyed Parshendi, his own observation confirms the return of terrible foes who had been thought to be mere legend and folk tale. The world is shifting around him, and he has to try to hold it all together as best he can.
Into this mess walks Rlain: thought to be a parshman, revealed to have been a spy, and now returned as a warrior whose former leaders have betrayed him. He brings further evidence that the legends are, in fact, all too real.
“You spoke of the Parshendi,” Dalinar said. “This has to do with the red eyes?”
“What does it mean, soldier?” Dalinar asked.
“It means our gods have returned,” Rlain whispered.
“Who are your gods?”
“They are the souls of those ancient. Those who gave of themselves to destroy.” A different rhythm to his words this time, slow and reverent. He looked up at Dalinar. “They hate you and your kind, sir. This new form they have given my people… it is something terrible. It will bring something terrible.”
Yeah, that’s not ominous or anything. We still don’t know for sure who/what their gods are, though it’s reasonable to assume the Unmade are part of it somehow. This seems to imply that perhaps the Unmade were once people (of whatever race) who chose to join Odium.
Speculation: Some group of people, perhaps a part of the Listeners of 5 or more millennia ago, chose to join with Odium against Honor and Cultivation—and, by extension, against humanity. Even, perhaps, because of the “invasion” of humanity onto Roshar. They gave themselves over to his purposes, with the result that some of them lost all but meager scraps of their cognitive selves, while others were Unmade from their physical forms as they became vessels for Odium’s Splinters.
Feel free to maul that around; there will be further discussion of the subject when we hit Chapter 81 in a couple of weeks.
In any case, it’s clear now—to Dalinar as well as to the reader—that the new stormform, purpose-driven by the old gods, does not bode well for his army and his prior hopes for a peaceful solution. Rlain’s words here make it eminently clear that they are The Enemy in a new and dreadful way.
The tensions in this chapter are starting to run high; clearly, we’re approaching the Avalanche. At the beginning, it’s noted that they’re all restless, partly due to discovering the red-eyed Parshendi, and partly due to the anticipation of an attack at any time. Rlain’s information obviously adds to that, but he also brings in a separate note of tension: the parshmen. While the slaveforms themselves may not care much, a dullform notices and remembers far more—and a warform, remembering, is very much not pleased at the Alethi treatment of his race.
Despite such displeasure, he has returned to Dalinar’s army with information about the stormforms, and it serves to emphasize the depth of his apprehension for his people. He’s willing to accept as necessary the destruction of all those who have taken stormform, but he’s clearly troubled by the thought of what they may have done to the elderly and the children, and any others who chose not to take the stormform.
Dalinar, honorable man that he (now) is, simply accepts another burden in his struggle to protect the innocent and save the world from the coming Desolation.
Bridge Four does the same thing, but in a different way: they very forthrightly insist that Rlain is Bridge Four, his load is their load.
Rlain looked at him. “I’m a traitor.”
“Ha!” Rock said. “Is little problem. Can be fixed.”
Have I ever mentioned that I adore Rock?
By the way, it’s worth noting that General Khal, Renarin, Aladar, and Roion are the ones off in another tent going over tactics, while Dalinar focuses on Rlain. It seems an odd mix of planners. The question—not that it really matters—is whether Renarin is part of that meeting because he has something to contribute, or because Dalinar wants him listening and learning. Most readers will probably lean toward the latter, but I’m developing a suspicion that people in-book may have overlooked Renarin’s tactical and strategic understanding due to his reluctance to speak out.
Dalinar leaned forward, clasping his hands before him. “The countdown?” he asked.
“Three days away,” Navani said. “Three days before Lightday.”
So little time. “We hasten our pace,” he said.
Inward. Toward the center.
Ars Arcanum/Ars Mechanica
It’s interesting to note that Rlain doesn’t actually explain how his people change forms—merely that they do. It’s also interesting to note this exchange from the JordanCon RAFOlympics:
Q: When a Parshendi changes forms, are they taking different spren into their gemhearts?
A: When a Parshendi changes forms, they are….[carefully] entering into a symbiotic relationship with a new spren. [laughter] That’s the answer you’re going to get. That’s a RAFO.
So he wouldn’t deny the gemheart suggestion, but also refused to confirm it. Nice try, though.
Chach stands alone over this chapter, and it’s a poignant statement. The Guard, brave and obedient. If that doesn’t describe Rlain in this scene, I don’t know what does! It also describes Adolin, standing on guard very nearby in case his father is in any danger; Teleb, guarding the erstwhile prisoner; Skar and Rock, guarding their fellow bridgeman; Dalinar, facing the challenge of guarding his world from the coming Desolation—including the innocent members of the race that has turned back to serving the Desolation. Definitely teetering.
Adolin was betrothed to a member of the Knights Radiant.
Two interesting little notes in this section. One is that Dalinar has apparently stopped thinking of it as merely a causal betrothal, even though we haven’t seen them go through any further formalities. It’s just “betrothed.” Two, it doesn’t appear to cross his mind that Shallan’s impending Radiantness might affect the situation. Given that he learned at the same time that said Radiantness was a large part of Jasnah’s rationale in putting the betrothal forward, I suppose that makes sense. Maybe?
It might also be worth noting that we haven’t seen Dalinar wonder how Adolin might react when he learns that his betrothed is a Lightweaver-in-training. Then again, there are a few other things going on just now, which some might say have a legitimate ability to draw his attention away from his son’s romantic entanglements…
The tent flaps parted and Adolin ducked in, escorting Navani. She hung her stormcoat on the rack beside the flap, and Adolin grabbed a towel and began drying his hair and face.
Heh. In our world, we have raincoats. On Roshar, they have stormcoats.
There. That ought to keep us busy until next week, when more Parshendi and a king will be encountered.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader, and is still recovering from her first JordanCon. Also, a head cold. Oh well.