Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Siri arrived in T’Telir, observed by Vasher and Lightsong. This week, she enters the God King’s palace and is readied for her husband.
This reread will contain spoilers for all of Warbreaker and any other Cosmere book that becomes relevant to the discussion. This is particularly likely to include Words of Radiance, due to certain crossover characters. The index for this reread can be found here.
Click on through to join the discussion!
Point of View: Siri
Setting: the God King’s Palace
Timing: Immediately following Chapter 5
Take a Deep Breath
The moment Siri steps from her carriage in Chapter 6, she is surrounded by servants attempting to hustle her away; she delays long enough to send her Idrian escort home to her father. Terrified, she is hurried down twisting corridors until she is hopelessly lost, finally emerging into a bathing room. Here she is undressed, measured, and bathed by her array of servants. During the bath, she is startled and embarrassed by the entrance of Havarseth, Susebron’s head scribe, commonly known as Bluefingers because of the ink staining his fingers. He is there to oversee her preparations and make sure she is ready on time. Making allowances for her Idrian modesty, he nonetheless proceeds with instructions on how she is to treat the God King, mostly remonstrances about not offending him in any way on pain of death.
Bathing complete, Siri is led to another room, where the servants begin to work on her nails and her hair. Not eager to sit through an extended session of combing out tangles, she demonstrates the uniqueness of the Royal Locks, cutting her hair off and regrowing it to about waist length in a matter of moments. A bemused Bluefingers departs while the women finish Siri’s makeup, then returns with a court healer to make sure she’s a virgin and doesn’t have any STDs. It’s humiliating, but she puts up with it, knowing there is no choice. After finishing the examination, though, the healer shocks Siri with a comment that makes her realize he is an Awakener, throwing her back into terror. Finally, the men leave and the serving women approach with what turns out to be her wedding gown. Siri is amazed when they bring her a mirror: Her makeup, hair, and gown are perfectly done in a way that she’s never seen before, a form of color and beauty completely foreign to her Idrian upbringing.
Escorted from the room to a new corridor where Bluefingers awaits her, she stands before the impressive entrance to one of the God King’s sleeping chambers. With a few final instructions and reminders not to offend the God King, he wishes her good luck; she steps into the room.
“Just… try not to touch him too much.”
Siri frowned, clenching and unclenching her increasingly nervous hands. “How exactly am I going to manage that? We’re going to have sex, aren’t we?”
This moment of unintentional (on Bluefingers’s part, anyway) levity in the midst of all the fear-inducing instructions on her conduct… Well, the laugh was needed, because the rest of it was infuriating. I’m reasonably sure both reactions were intended by the author; it works on me every time, even knowing what happens later.
The annotations are brief, touching on writing the opposite gender, wedding night awkwardness, nudity, and the Royal Locks. The aspect I personally enjoyed the most was his approach to writing a woman: At first, Brandon says, he was terrible at writing women, so he practiced a lot. Eventually, he was able to shift his focus:
I don’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write a woman now.” I sit down and say, “I’m going to write Siri.” I know who Siri is, so I can see through her eyes and show how she reacts.
Another fun fact: The Royal Locks, while part of the world-building, purposefully don’t have much to do with the plot. They provide validation for Hallandren’s eagerness to have a bride for the God King from the old royalty, but mostly they are just for fun in the way they make Siri and Vivenna different from everyone around them.
Snow White and Rose Red
This chapter is all about Siri, with her impressions of the God King’s palace and its denizens (except for the one at the top). Terrified and alone, she’s growing up fast.
Right off, she follows through on her earlier resolution to send her escort home immediately, even though it leaves her completely alone among strangers. I was so proud of her! (Also furious at the priest and servants who wouldn’t even allow her the dignity of standing still to say farewell, but that’s for another section.) It was also rather clever of her to give her escort a mission—a reason to do what they wanted to do, so they didn’t feel like they were abandoning her when they obeyed.
The majority of the chapter seems to involve being subjected to one unaccustomed or humiliating experience after another, but she does manage a fair amount of self-control anyway. For example, she allows the servants to do the things they are required to do, without making it difficult for them for the most part. Some of her obedience is naturally due to fear, but some of it really seems to be an attempt to behave responsibly and to fulfill the role she holds, for the sake of her people.
When she’s finished with the bathing and they start on the decorations, she gets a perfect chance to prove that she really is something special: She has the servant cut off all her hair, then … regrows it to shoulder length. With another small display of increased maturity, as she asks about the appropriate length, and Bluefingers states that flowing hair is favored, especially among the goddesses:
Part of her wanted to keep the hair short just out of spite, but she was beginning to realize that such an attitude could get her killed in Hallandren.
What I think I’m seeing is that she has learned all the lessons about comportment and such, and has a lot more self-control than she lets on. It’s just that up until now, she deliberately played the part of the irresponsible little sister—it was more fun, and it irritated people, and she enjoyed yanking their chains. Not that it was entirely calculated, but it was intentional. Now… well, she knows perfectly well how to behave properly, and yanking chains in this palace could have far worse consequences than it did in Idris.
As I Live and Breathe
This chapter doesn’t contain any actual Awakening, but Siri’s reaction to the healer brings up a major Idrian misconstruction of Breath and Awakening. The healer makes a comment about the quality of her Breath, and she suddenly recognizes the aura of heightened color around him as marking an Awakener. She goes into a quiet panic, fearful that he might decide to steal her Breath:
It was wrong to take the Breath from another person. It was the ultimate in arrogance, the complete opposite of Idris philosophy. Others in Hallandren simply wore bright colors to draw attention to themselves, but Awakeners… they stole the life from human beings, and used that to make themselves stand out.
The perverted use of Breath was one of the main reasons that the Royal line had moved to the highlands in the first place. Modern-day Hallandren existed on the basis of extorting the Breath of its people. Siri felt more naked now than she had when actually unclothed. What could this Awakener tell about her, because of his unnatural life force? Was he tempted to steal Siri’s BioChroma? She tried to breathe as shallowly as possible, just in case.
It’s interesting to observe the misunderstanding of how transferring Breath works. We were shown in the Prologue that it’s impossible to steal Breath; it must be initiated by the giver. Idrian teaching, whether through ignorance or deliberate misguidance, is in error, and Siri really believes that this healer, or a priest, or the God King, could choose to steal her Breath at any time.
The purpose of acquiring Breath is apparently not understood any better. Last week, there was passing mention of why a person might purchase enough Breath to reach the first Heightening: extended lifespan, increased life sense, ability to see Breath auras and distinguish Awakeners, and in a pinch, the ability to do a little Awakening. All very practical benefits, really. Contrast, then, Siri’s assumption that it’s done primarily for ostentation. While this makes it very conveniently oppositional to Idrian values, it’s just not true. Not that she’d find the practical aspects appealing, either, but it doesn’t seem she’s even aware of them. She thinks solely in terms of how ostentatious it is.
Treledees, fortunately, goes away after the opening scene, so we can deal with him later. This leaves Siri with a bunch of female servants clothed in blue and silver, the healer clothed likewise, and the scribe Bluefingers, who wears brown. Siri, raised in Idris, apparently sees them all as people first, and servants second. (Like, who does that?) Idrians seem to be a fairly egalitarian society for a medieval setting: Despite being a princess and knowing that she was socially above everyone but her own family, Siri never seems to think of anyone as being of lesser value than herself.
In Hallandren, social status seems to be much more important. Take Bluefingers’s puzzlement over Siri’s reaction to a man watching her bathe:
The man with the ledger hesitated, looking down. “Is something wrong, Vessel?”
“I’m bathing,” she snapped.
“Yes,” the man said. “I believe I can tell that.”
“Well, why are you watching?”
The man cocked his head. “But I’m a royal servant, far beneath your station…” he said, then trailed off. “Ah, yes. Idris sensibilities. I had forgotten.”
As far as he’s concerned, he’s so far below her station that she shouldn’t even think of him as a man; he should be considered about as masculine as the bathtub. But Siri sees a man first, and a scribe second. Oddly enough, the fact that she’s the princess and they are the servants doesn’t stop either Bluefingers or her attending women from chivvying her until she does what they want.
I suppose you can explain their attitude by noting the furthest extreme of this Hallandren emphasis on social strata, though:
“I cannot stress this point enough. I realize that you are accustomed to being a very important person. Indeed, you still are that important—if not more so. You are far above myself and these others. However, as far as you are above us, the God King is even farther above you.”
They have to ignore her protests or delays, because they have an obligation far more important: the will of the God King. What Bluefingers actually believes is a subject for a much later chapter, but for now, the servants really, really believe all the things he tells her are true. She must be careful to treat him properly, not to speak, not to touch him unnecessarily, not to offend him in any way, on pain of death for herself and war for her people.
Well. Ain’t that jist a ducky way to start married life.
Oh, look!! It’s the traditional bath scene! ::snicker:: For those unfamiliar, there’s been a lot of groaning among the Wheel of Time fan community over the number of pages spent on the baths of the “supergirls,” particularly in the middle-to-later books. It made me chuckle to have Brandon throw in a bathing scene right in the beginning of this book.
Whatever Robert Jordan’s purposes were, though, Brandon used this scene to set up Siri’s overwhelming feeling of being intimidated, humiliated, and terrified all over again. Which makes this last quotation stand out, to me, as one moment of warmth amidst all the fear, as the women finish dressing her:
It took several minutes for the women to get the ties done up right, the folds situated correctly, and the train even behind her. All this so that it can be taken off again in a few minutes, Siri thought with a detached sense of cold irony as a woman approached with a mirror.
Where had all that color come from? The delicately red cheeks, the mysteriously dark eyes, the blue on the top of her eyelids? The deep red lips, the almost glowing skin? The gown shone silver upon blue, bulky yet beautiful, with ripples of deep, velvet cloth.
It was like nothing she’d seen in Idris. It was more amazing, even, than the colors she’d seen on the people in the city. Staring at herself in the mirror, Siri was almost able to forget her worries. “Thank you,” she whispered.
And then the cold returns, as she’s led off—though much more respectfully—to where Bluefingers awaits her in the hall, with instructions that are utterly demeaning: She is to enter the room, remove all her clothing, kneel with her head to the floor, and wait for Susebron to knock on the post to summon her—as if she’s so far below him that he need not treat her as a human being at all.
Yes, since this is a reread, we know why this is “necessary”—but I can’t see it as even remotely appropriate to ever, ever treat anyone this way. Every hackle I have goes straight up when I read these instructions. Grr. I also have to wonder (and maybe we find out; I don’t remember) whether Bluefingers is deliberately making this more humiliating than was strictly required, to keep Siri off balance and disinclined to think of Susebron as a person.
And on that happy note… that’s it for the blog—now it’s time for the comments! Join us again
next week correction: in two weeks (December 1), when we will cover Chapter 7 (and its annotations), in which Siri enters the God King’s bedchamber, and we are introduced to the politics of the Court of Gods via Lightsong and Blushweaver.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan.