Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Vasher and Lightsong each suffered their own form of torture. This week Vivenna and Nightblood seek Vasher, Lightsong learns more of his history, while Siri and Susebron are the rope in a tug-of-war between the real priests and the fake ones.
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: Vivenna, Vasher, Siri, Vivenna, Lightsong
Setting: T’Telir slums, the God King’s Palace
Timing: The following morning
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna approaches a beggar, seeking information about disturbances in the city. For the price of a colorful handkerchief, he suggests that she look near the wharf of the Third Dock slums.
Vasher realizes it’s morning, after a night’s torture. Although experienced at it, he knows he can’t last forever. Believing that there’s still good in Denth somewhere, Vasher suggests that torturing him isn’t all that fun, and won’t bring Shashara back. Denth agrees, and picks up a knife.
Siri is rushed through hallways by the priests as she tries to figure out who is attacking the palace—not Idris, anyway. Suddenly the white in her dress begins to refract, and they enter a room where Susebron is surrounded by priests and soldiers—who no longer seem concerned about touching their God King. She demands that Treledees tell her what’s going on; to her surprise, he finally answers her. The truth is that a group of Lifeless has attacked the palace, but the he doesn’t know who is behind it.
As the priests and soldiers consult on the best way to get out of the palace to avoid being surrounded, Bluefingers enters to say that the reinforcements Treledees had ordered aren’t coming. After a moment’s thought, Treledees picks up the sword of a wounded soldier, sends half of the soldiers to accompany Bluefingers, Susebron, and Siri, and prepares to distract their pursuers with the remaining soldiers and priests. This seems according to her plan with Bluefingers, but something feels wrong to Siri. She remembers Lightsong’s advice, and tries to think who else in Hallandren might seem ordinary and might benefit if Hallandren and Idris got involved in a conflict. She finally registers that if the priests were willing to sacrifice themselves to protect Susebron, they couldn’t have been planning to kill him, and suddenly it falls into place. Bluefingers, realizing that she’s figured it out, takes off at a run, leaving Siri, Susebron, and Treledees to try to find a way out that doesn’t involve a trap.
Vivenna easily identifies the location she’s seeking—the building is surrounded by a whispering crowd. It doesn’t take long to decide that Vasher isn’t here, but as she turns away, she hears Nightblood’s voice in her head, calling her to come get it. She dashes into the building and enters the room that has black smoke coming from under the door, to find four dead bodies and a cheerful Nightblood. Sickened by it all, she barely listens to Nightblood’s chatter until it mentions that Vasher is hurt. Now holding her full attention, the sword says that Vasher went to the God King’s palace to get Vivenna’s sister, but was stopped by VaraTreledees, a.k.a. Denth, Shashara’s brother. It can’t understand why Denth threw him in the water, but Vivenna doesn’t care. Wrapping Nightblood in a dirty blanket from the room, she and the sword head for the Court of Gods.
Lightsong sits staring, not responding to Llarimar. Blushweaver’s death has confirmed everything he ever thought about “godhood”—that they have no actual power to do anything about anything—and he is furious with everyone who insisted that they were gods. Mostly he’s furious with himself for being unable to save Blushweaver. Llarimar finally breaks an awkward silence by telling Lightsong the truth of their past. Lightsong was a scribe, and Llarimar was a priest disillusioned by the pettiness and politics of the Court. Then Lightsong died rescuing Llarimar’s daughter—the girl he sees in his dreams, his favorite niece. Llarimar lost all hope and faith … and then Lightsong Returned.
“You were a scribe,” Llarimar said quietly to the damp air. “And you were one of the best men I’d ever known. You were my brother.”
“And then you died. Died rescuing my daughter. That’s the girl you see in your visions, Lightsong. The description is perfect. She was your favorite niece. Still would be, I assume. If you hadn’t…” He shook his head. “When we found you dead, I lost hope. I was going to resign my position. I knelt above your body, weeping. And then, the Colors started to glow. You lifted your head, body changing, getting larger, muscles growing stronger.
“I knew it at that moment. I knew that if a man like you were chosen to Return—a man who had died to save another—then the Iridescent Tones were real. The visions were real. And the gods were real. You gave me back my faith, Stennimar.”
He met Lightsong’s eyes. “You are a god. To me, at least. It doesn’t matter how easily you can be killed, how much Breath you have, or how you look. It has to do with who you are and what you mean.”
This was so good. While I still can’t think of them as actual deities, I can certainly understand Llarimar’s (and hence others’) renewed belief in the Iridescent Tones. Like the Shards on other worlds, Endowment holds part of the deific powers. Those she touches, and so obviously, would definitely be given a higher place in society, whether they all deserve it or not.
The first part of the annotations cover a handful of minor notes about Vivenna and Old Chapps, plus a little clarification on how Nightblood’s mind works. This is followed with a short piece on the fact that Vasher is saving his strength, and that Denth is frustrated with the torture almost as much as he’s frustrated with his life. The bulk of the notes are dedicated to the process of creating just enough—and the right kind of—confusion regarding who is behind the war movement; Siri’s growth in both perceptiveness and self-control; and finally, Lightsong finally acting like what he’s been claiming all along—that he’s useless.
Point of View: Siri, Vivenna, Lightsong, Siri
Setting: The God King’s Palace
Timing: The following morning
Take a Deep Breath
Huddling near the front entrance, the priests and soldiers decide they might be able to get out. If they can reach the city, Treledees is sure that the people will rally around Susebron. In the interests of coming clean before he dies, apparently, Treledees tells Siri a bunch of stuff she’s already figured out—that they don’t believe she can get pregnant, that they already have a child, that they’re planning to make him the new God King. He’s completely stunned by her accusation that they’re going to rob Susebron of his Breath and kill him, though: he only needs to pass on Peacegiver’s Treasure, and then he can retire and live as long as he wants in peace. Any time an infant Returns, the priests take it as a sign that the God King has done his duty and should be allowed to be finished with the burden.
Inadvertently or not, Treledees also reveals that any of the gods—and especially Susebron—would be able to use extra Breaths to Awaken, if they chose to stockpile them. Siri accuses Treledees of keeping the gods from realizing what they could do—keeping them ignorant of their potential; he says they only do what they must to protect the Treasure.
A noise from the next room reminds them that they don’t have time to chat, and Siri realizes that she didn’t ask the critical question soon enough—Treledees doesn’t have time to tell her how Susebron can pass on his Breath without speaking. Lifeless soldiers burst through two doors, and when they throw open the third, Bluefingers is waiting with more Lifeless. Siri and Susebron can only watch helplessly as the soldiers and the priests are slaughtered to the last man; Susebron puts Siri behind him, back to a wall, when Bluefingers steps around the Lifeless and summons her.
Vivenna finds that the Court of Gods is closed to all comers, no matter how much Breath they hold, and wonders what Vasher did the night before to create such a stir. As she turns away, Nightblood advises her to just go around the side like Vasher—he never asks to enter. She follows the sword’s directions, waiting until a patrol passes, then Awakening a tapestry to lift her to the top of the wall—where, of course, she’s instantly spotted. She has the tapestry deposit her inside the wall, and runs for the palace. Nightblood can feel Vasher’s presence, and gives Vivenna an image and location. The entrance is well guarded, and as she considers possibilities, more soldiers approach from behind. She flings the blanketed sword at the group in front of the building, and as they focus on it, she dashes past them and to the side. Using her Awakened clothing, she climbs the side of the palace, glancing down to see the soldiers, still fighting over Nightblood, moving into the palace. Nightblood continues to send her directions on which room Vasher is in, but as Vivenna climbs, arrows start to hit the wall near her. Protected by her Awakened cloak and strengthened by her Awakened sleeves and leggings, she keeps climbing.
Lightsong sits in his cage, overwhelmed by the events of the last hours. As the group of priests confer on the other side of the room, he finally realizes what had been bothering him: to his fifth-Heightened senses, the color of their skin is, consistently, slightly off from the normal Hallandren skin tone. Abruptly it all comes together: though they wear the right robes, they are not priests at all. They’re Pahn Kahl, and they’ve played the entire Court for fools.
Siri tries to get Bluefingers to explain what’s going on, but he ignores her. Eventually, her badgering wins the response that he’s sorry for her pain, but the Idrians and the Hallandren both treated his people badly in the Manywar. Suddenly Susebron punches a Lifeless, motioning Siri to run. She instead tries to grab Bluefingers, but in moments the Lifeless have both of them under control. A Pahn Kahl man in priests robes informs Bluefingers that they have tested Lightsong’s Command phrases, and have changed it. Bluefingers acknowledges this, and tells them to order the Lifeless to march on Idris.
He looks morose, and when Siri challenges him, he explains that his friends who now hold the Command phrases will send the Lifeless to Idris, with orders to destroy everything there, and then will kill themselves so that no one can stop the assault. His men then haul Susebron away to the dungeon; eventually, they will stage a scene in the Lifeless barracks so it looks like Susebron was murdered by Idrians, that Lightsong and Blushweaver sent the Lifeless in retribution, and were then killed by Idrian rebels. Any Pahn Kahl scribes who survive will confirm the story, and no one will try to hold back from the war. Bluefingers believes that the Idrians will do better than most people think, but they have to want to fight—and Siri realizes with horror that plans to use her death and that of her supposed baby to draw the Idrians into an all-out war of hatred. All of it will be based on lies, and no one will suspect that it was designed by that quiet province to the south.
An arrow snapped against the stone beside her, making her jump. Several guards below had bows.
Colors! she thought, pulling herself up to the next block. She heard a whoosh behind her, and cringed, feeling as if she should have been struck, but nothing happened. She pulled herself up onto the block, then twisted around.
She could just barely see a corner of her cloak holding an arrow. She started, grateful that she had Awakened it. It dropped the arrow, then returned to normal.
Handy, that, she thought, climbing up the last block.
Hah. I’d almost forgotten about the cloak. Handy, indeed!
Siri is in command of herself and others, Treledees is lying again—he knows how Susebron could have a child—but he does intend to tell her how to pass on Breath without speaking; Sanderson apologizes for leaving the methods for a sequel; Treledees was not lying about letting Susebron live in peace as long as he want. The priests show themselves to be dedicated to Susebron. Vivenna is bad at sneaking; Yesteel is finally mentioned in the text; Nightblood has a Connection to Vasher from having fed off his Breath in the past. The men distracted by Nightblood are Denth’s mercenaries; the rest of the Court is a chaos of priests trying to protect their various gods; Bluefingers is frustrated because they’re all in his way. Lightsong’s recognition of the fake priests is valid, and this is the only place they’re seen. Bluefingers is right that Idris would do well, mostly because the Lifeless were sent with no support or planning, but also because they would have support from other nations and Yesteel would make more Awakened swords and it would all be very, very bad.
Snow White and Rose Red
Siri and Vivenna have finally both grown out of their youthful weaknesses and have developed into strong women with genuine power. They still have their moments, of course—they aren’t perfect—but they’ve grown up. A lot.
Siri has learned to control herself—as evidenced by her hair—and can convey anger, authority, and command when she needs to. There are a couple of places where she lapses into fear and helplessness, but they’re short-lived and she refuses to be that person. (Given the situation, a little fear and helplessness is pretty understandable….) She can’t command the Lifeless, unfortunately, but at least she manages to get some answers out of Treledees and Bluefingers.
Vivenna, on the other hand, is no longer interested in authority and command; she’s more concerned with competence and autonomy. (It was pretty funny, though, when she was telling the beggar that she’d lived among them because she thought it was important to know what it was like. Sure, Vivenna. Your choice all along.) In any case, her Awakening of the clothing she borrowed from Vasher is super effective, whether it’s due to her skillz or to the clothing retaining an imprint. She manages to not only get into the Court over the wall, she climbs up the side of Susebron’s palace using her enhanced “fingers” and “legs,” all the while protected by her cloak.
And she hears Nightblood in her head, even from a distance. That’d be frightening.
As I Live and Breathe
Vivenna is the only person who actively uses Awakening in these chapters, but we do get a bit of solid clarification from Treledees regarding the enormous amount of Breath Susebron holds. Most of it is already understood by the reader—or at least the rereader—but that’s mostly because we’ve had more chances to learn than either Siri or Vivenna alone. To spell it out, then, there are differences in the kinds of Breath Susebron has (which we’ve only seen elsewhere in Denth and Vasher, and we didn’t know it at the time with them). He’s got his own Divine Breath, just like all Returned, which grants him the fifth Heightening. He’s also got Peacegiver’s Treasure—the mass of 50,000 Breaths which Peacegiver gave to the first God King and which has been handed down the line intact. On top of those, he’s got the extras of the two or three Breaths per week which are given him, after using the one-per-week necessary to stay alive. Presumably he’s only required to pass on the 50,000 to the infant, leaving him with his single Divine Breath and somewhere around 3000 extras. He could live a good while on those…
Well, we finally learn a little more about these Pahn Kahl characters, and the distinctives they possess. First of all, their skin coloring is slightly different than the Hallandren, We can infer from this that they haven’t intermarried much, or the slight difference would be gone, right? Second, we learn that they are associated with a peaceful, quiet province to the south of Hallandren. Third, we can infer from what Bluefingers says, along with what we learned from Hoid, that the problem probably goes back a long way before the Manywar. To some degree, it goes back about six hundred years, to the time when the rest of the world “discovered” this area. That’s a long time to hold a grudge.
Does it stand up to the believability test? I suspect different readers have different answers to this question, but overall, I’d say it does—with the caveat that people do some very stupid things for reasons that don’t seem justifiable to anyone but themselves. While I don’t think the Pahn Kahl have a grievance valid enough to set the world at war, I can believe that they think they do. I can also readily believe that they could be short-sighted enough not to realize just how bad it would be, and that they themselves would be damaged or destroyed by the resulting carnage.
In Living Color
Let’s see… we have Vasher and Denth, busy being enemies but not much else this time. We have Lightsong, angry at the world for calling him a god and angry at himself for being exactly what he always claimed to be. And we have Susebron, watching and thinking, and only once lashing out in the hope that his beloved can escape—which she doesn’t, of course.
More interestingly, we have Lightsong’s history. Not quite all of it (that will come next week), but enough to know that he had died to save someone else, and Llarimar perceives his Return as a reward for such courage.
Then there’s the snippet of background for the God Kings buried in what Treledees tells Siri. From the wording, I now wonder whether the Returned infant had to be stillborn or not. I get the impression that he doesn’t—just that he has to be an infant. And to answer a question someone asked many weeks ago, it would appear that there have only been four infant Returns in Hallandren in the last three hundred years. Or at least only four that the priests found out about. There’s a critical part of my brain that wonders where they came up with the notion that the Return of an infant is the sign to change God Kings; it’s not like there have been that many! So I’ll suggest an in-world answer: perhaps the first God King dreamed it, explained it to the priests, and established it as orthodoxy.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
Most of the interesting things to say about Nightblood have been said already, so I’ll just point out the strength of its ability to reach Vivenna’s mind. It can even, apparently, see through her eyes, since it can tell her which window leads to Vasher based on her position, though it is busy in the lower level of the palace, well out of reach and view. That’s a little… creepy… How does it get this access to her mind? Is it because of her Returned ancestry, or does it just get to decide who it can touch? I suppose we’ll have to wait for the sequel to learn any more about this.
See you in the comments!
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. In Oathbringer news, the gamma read is complete and the copy-edited manuscript sent in. Closer it comes, and closer; the tour stops have been announced, and the review articles will be coming shortly.