Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Lightsong continued to poke at his investigations, and Vivenna learned about life on the streets. This week, Siri trades volleys with Treledees, while Vivenna hits rock bottom and gets kidnapped again. Twice. TWICE.
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 Court of Gods
Timing: Indeterminate, but soon after the events of Chapter 36
Take a Deep Breath
Siri sits out on the lawn, using Susebron’s protocol for food-tasting; she doesn’t like seafood very much, it turns out. Treledees arrives, and she ignores him, just because she can. After finishing her current round of taste testing, she grants him her attention. She’s been ignoring his summons to her, on the principle that the God King’s consort shouldn’t get in the habit of obeying anyone else’s demands; he seems slightly amused along with his irritation. Confused by his repeated flashes of amusement as they trade barbs, she suddenly realizes that he’s got a lot of Breath and can read the tiniest changes in her hair color. Oops.
She clamps down on her hair-control, and they discuss pregnancy, spies, Susebron, Peacegiver’s Treasure, religion, Peacegiver, and information. Finally, he asks what it will take to get her to “return” to her wifely duties (she stopped her act so as to get his attention), and she requests that her main serving women be replaced with women of Pahn Kahl. He agrees, clearly assuming her Idrian prejudices are in play, and leaves; she recognizes this as a tempered victory, but at least she has proven that she can manipulate the priests to some extent. She returns to her taste testing.
“I am well aware of the poisonous things your monks teach,” Treledees said, turning away. “The hatred into which you’re indoctrinated. Do you really think that we’d let a woman from Idris confront the God King himself, alone, unwatched? We had to make certain you weren’t intending to kill him. We’re still not convinced.”
“You speak with remarkable frankness,” she noted.
“Merely saying some things that I should have established from the beginning.” They stopped in the shadow of the massive palace. “You are not important here. Not compared to our God King. He is everything, and you are nothing. Just like the rest of us.”
This would be a lot more convincing if they hadn’t cut out his tongue… But Treledees reveals the truth later, when he talks about it being necessary in order to obey Lord Peacegiver’s orders to protect his gift. They don’t really worship the gods, or even the God King, though he stands highest due to holding the treasure. They really worship Peacegiver. Or his command and Breaths, anyway.
According to the annotations, this chapter exists primarily for Siri to control her hair. Partly it’s to show the progress she’s already made, and partly it’s to give her a compelling reason to exert more control than she ever thought she could. Also, this was an unanticipated bonus of the magic system.
Of course, the other major event in this chapter is Treledees finally explaining to Siri (and to the reader) why the priests consider it justifiable to remove the tongue of the baby who is to become the God King. Whether it works for the individual reader or not, the intent is to show that the priests aren’t really evil; they’re just zealous in doing the duty assigned them by the guy who established them and ended the Manywar. We don’t get very many Hallandren viewpoint narratives, so we need some reminders that they, too, have humanly understandable reasons for what they do.
Point of View: Vivenna
Setting: T’Telir slums
Timing: Indeterminate; something more than a week after Chapter 39
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna holds out the single coin she gained from her day’s begging, hoping it will gain her entry as before to the alleyway behind two restaurants; the fresh garbage others are going through smells so good. The man who controls the access turns her away, saying that she needs two bits—but keeping the only one she had. Stunned, dizzy, sick, and starving, she finally stumbles away toward the Idrian slum, knowing she will have no chance for food this day.
Not far into the Highlands, she hesitates at the street of the whores, tempted to join them for the sake of food, warmth, and a dry bed. Horrified, she makes herself keep going, but she knows that she’s close to trying that route soon. She finally reaches the alleyway she’s been using; it is oddly empty, and before she can settle in she realizes that she is trapped by a group of thugs, led by the man who stole her dress that first day. They speak of taking her to Denth; exhausted and overwhelmed, she simply goes with them.
In the street ahead, a black sword in a silver sheath is rammed into the dirt. One thug picks it up and unclasps the scabbard, and Vivenna is hit with another wave of nausea. All the thugs go for the sword; predictably, when the others are all dead, the one who picked it up kills himself. Vasher lowers himself with animated ropes, retrieves Nightblood, and slings Vivenna over his shoulder.
Men cried out, each one scrambling for the sword. The man holding it continued to swing, the weapon hitting with far more force and damage than it should have. Bones broke, blood began to run on the cobblestones. The man continued to attack, moving with terrible speed. Vivenna, still stumbling backward, could see his eyes.
They were terrified.
Scenes like this are a good reminder that Nightblood is really a nasty piece of work, you know? He’s got such a cheerful personification most of the time that he’s hard not to like… until you see this guy’s terrified eyes as he kills his friends and then himself.
In the annotations, Sanderson clarifies what’s going on with Vivenna—that it’s not merely hunger and shock affecting her perceptions. Immediately after arriving in T’Telir, she acquired a stock of Breath which gave her magic-super-vaccination against All The Things, so she has developed no natural immunity to the local crud. When she became a Drab, she promptly acquired a nasty bug which overwhelmed her suddenly weak immune system. So all this dizziness and the surreal effect has a natural cause—and hopefully allows the reader to feel the drawn-out effect, without having to spend more than two chapters dwelling on it.
Also: Nightblood’s name is intentionally similar to the names of the Returned, and he wouldn’t really have to be a sword to function. He’s less a weapon in a sheath, and more a creature on a chain: once you release him, everything about him is deadly.
Snow White and Rose Red
Siri is walking a very fine line, here. As she notes at the end of her chapter, she’s won a victory but at the cost of further antagonizing Susebron’s highest priest. This may not have been the best idea in the world, although it did gain her some valuable information. I’m sure it would feel good to stand up to him and finally not get pushed around so much, though. The fact that she twigged to the way Treledees was reading her uncertainty was rather cool, and (as per the annotations) I loved the incentive that gave her to really gain control.
I was emphatically not pleased with the way she used her new-found leverage, though. While I can’t remember whether or not the Pahn Kahl servants actually working against her in the end (I’ll look it up later), it’s just playing into Bluefingers’s hands. I find myself very frustrated when I know so much more than she does!
As Siri begins to gain agency, Vivenna loses it all. Sick and starving, half delirious from malnourishment and disease, she can barely walk anymore. Some part of her still has the strength of character to be horrified at the thought of becoming a prostitute—better to be tortured and killed!—but like the question of stealing, the pragmatic part recognizes that she would do even that, in the end. She just has to get a little more desperate, even though the last time she ate well was a week ago, and the last time she ate at all was two days past.
Poor girl. She’s so worn down by the deprivation and illness that, when she realizes that she can’t run, she just sits and waits for them to take her away. I can actually understand that, and it gives me more sympathy for her than anything else so far. To have reached a point where there’s simply nothing she can do, surrounded by men far stronger than she could ever have been, you can almost feel the relief at having a final reason to just give up. I’m glad this is the bottom, and she can begin to go up from here.
It’s worth noting that she still clutches the shawl as her most valuable possession. Okay, it’s her only possession, aside from her shift, but it is quite valuable! I get the impression that she almost doesn’t remember why it’s so valuable, but she holds onto it like a lifeline.
Oh, and did you notice? Kidnapped yet again, twice within twenty minutes. Poor child.
As I Live and Breathe
There’s not a lot to say about BioChroma other than the earlier mentions of Treledees reading Siri so easily, but it is a nice little artifact of the magic system. Also, it was really fun watching Treledees grow a little less high-handed as Siri increased her hair control, because all of a sudden he couldn’t read her quite so well.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
Nightblood. Is. Creepy.
This is one of the relatively rare times when the events of the Manywar have a direct impact on our active characters. Yes, of course, the whole history shaped the current situation, but this is different. Treledees talks about the sacred trust they were given, when Peacegiver ended the war Kalad had started, and gave them the Treasure of fifty thousand Breaths, charging them to keep it safe and never use it, in case he should Return and need it. On one hand, it’s hilarious to read things like this:
“We follow the god who came to protect us when your Austre—an unseen, unknown thing—abandoned us to the destroyer Kalad. Peacegiver returned to life with a specific purpose—to stop the conflict between men, to bring peace again to Hallandren.”
Knowing, as we do, that Kalad and Peacegiver are the same person, it’s almost hard to take the priests seriously—and also knowing that Peacegiver was already Returned when he did all that, and is still around and ornery as ever, it’s just funny. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that they don’t know any of that. As far as they can know, Kalad was an evil man who started the Manywar, and Peacegiver was a good man who gave his life to end it. On top of that, Peacegiver gave—gave—this treasure of fifty thousand Breaths to the new ruler of Hallandren, with the charge to keep it safe. While I don’t know, I’m guessing that the first God King was the one who came up with the idea of removing his own tongue to keep himself from risking the betrayal of that trust.
The method may seem bizarre and horrific to us, but if you try to put yourself in their place, you can see how seriously they take their task. Keeping that Breath from being used or lost is their highest, holiest task; even the God King must make a sacrifice to ensure that it is kept safe. Even he must be considered lower than Peacegiver.
I just have one more question. Did anyone ever ask who those fifty thousand people were, whose Breath Peacegiver was carrying around like he owned it all? Not to mention all the Breath it took to create the D’Denir? There were an awful lot of Drabs out there somewhere, three hundred years ago.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. As you may have noticed, preparations for the Oathbringer release are starting to become visible. Keep an eye on the front page; there will be—among other things—a series of refresher articles upcoming, to help everyone get back up to speed on the world of Roshar and the happenings there.