Well, hello again! Good to see you all back with us today, as we travel back in time to the early days of the Kholin campaign to unify Alethkar. Today we’re reading Dalinar’s first flashback, when he was a terrifying teen. We’ll meet an old friend for the first time, as well as one who was a friend and became an enemy. Oh, and we’ll see where Dalinar got the nickname Blackthorn.
Reminder: we’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the ENTIRE NOVEL in the reread and the comments. If you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.
WHO: Young Dalinar
WHERE: somewhere in Alethkar, and probably not in Kholin lands
WHEN: Indeterminate day in 1139 (34 years ago)
We start off Dalinar’s first flashback on a battlefield. Dalinar and his elites charge into battle, Dalinar seeking a challenge—and the elusive Thrill. He finds said challenge in an armored brightlord with whom he engages in a bloody battle. Dalinar loses his shield and suffers a broken nose, but wins the day. As he issues orders to his men, he is struck from behind by an arrow. He manages to capture the would-be assassin and, thanks to the man’s impossibly good accuracy and strength, offers him a place in his elites.
Threshold of the Storm
Herald: Talenel in all four spots: patron Herald of the Stonewards, associated with the Divine Attributes of Dependable and Resourceful, and the role of Soldier. He is sometimes called the Herald of War, or Stonesinew.
Alice: Well, Dalinar plays Soldier for all he’s worth here. He also shows a certain amount of resourcefulness, though I wouldn’t so much say dependable. He seems to be a bit erratic, in fact.
Lyn: Yeah, Herald of War is certainly fitting for this one.
Icon: Inverse Kholin Shield, which we’ll see in the book on each flashback chapter.
A: For anyone new to the rereads who didn’t already pick up on this, the flashback chapters use the focus character’s normal icon, but in the negative. For Dalinar and Shallan, this turns out to be black on white; Kaladin’s was less obvious, since it was only the banner that changed to black on white instead of its normal grey on black.
A good fight was about momentum.
A: The word momentum is used four times in this chapter: twice in conscious thought, and twice with regard to an object’s movement. Dalinar is thinking specifically in terms of the battle, but it’s also characteristic of the campaign he and Gavilar are waging on the other princedoms. For this first while, it’s all about momentum.
Stories & Songs
Dalinar danced, shaking off his bloodied blade, feeling alert, excited, but not yet alive. Where was it? Come on.…
An emotion stirred inside Dalinar. It was a fire that filled the pit within.
Something thrummed inside Dalinar, the pulse of the battle, the rhythm of killing and dying. The Thrill.
Dalinar kept moving, fighting off the dull sense of … nothingness that often followed a battle. This was the worst time. He could still remember being alive, but now had to face a return to mundanity.
He was done living for the day. It would be weeks, maybe months, before he got another opportunity.
A: This is clearly not Dalinar’s first experience with Nergaoul, since he’s actively Thrill-seeking in this scene. It seemed apparent from the Midnight Essence vision (WoR Ch. 19) that at one time, the Radiants knew that the Thrill needed to be controlled; still, I’m not sure if that’s evidence that they knew it was related to an Unmade. Even if they did, though, by Dalinar’s lifetime, the Unmade are bogeymen to frighten children, and in Alethkar, the Thrill is something to be eagerly sought. No wonder the princedoms were always fighting and no one wanted to stop. Odium had to be happy about that—an entire nation who adored his minion.
L: The whole concept of Nergaoul and the Thrill is just fascinating to me. I wonder if the Unmade are partially analogous to the seven deadly sins—wrath for Nergaoul, gluttony for Ashertmarn… we don’t really see enough of any of the others to be able to see if there’s more of a pattern, but it’s interesting to consider.
A: Oh, nice! I would bet that concept influenced the Unmade, at the very least. It makes so much sense.
A: As a complete rabbit trail, the affinity of the Alethi for Nergaoul makes me wonder—it seems so logical—if each of the Unmade would find a specially sympathetic home in one of the old Silver Kingdom areas. Doesn’t that seem like a cool theory? Since there are only nine Unmade, the Shin would be the ones without an Unmade “patron,” of course. Then, as a parallel, the same should apply to the Heralds, but we don’t have any evidence for that. And … well… there is actually no evidence for the first part, either, so… So once again, I think I’m on the track of something clever, and then I fall down a rabbit hole, and Sanderson’s gone off the other direction. That man just never does what I expect him to, I tell you.
Bruised & Broken
A: Dalinar is around 19 here, and they’ve been going at this unification gig for… I don’t know, a couple of years now? Dalinar has already developed a Reputation; he’s a fearsome fighter in his own right, but when he gets the Thrill all up in his blood, he’s terrifying. He’s not exactly a sociopath, but he can’t be exactly right in the head, either, the way he loves to kill. Or can he? Is this simply what you get in a society that places soldiers at the pinnacle of religious and social standing?
L: I think it’s to be expected in this society. If violence is revered, then men who cause it will be lifted up and praised. It’s hard to have empathy and understanding for such a society, but if this is all they know, all they’ve been brought up on… They don’t know any better, because they’ve never seen anything else as worthy. They sort of remind me of the Klingons, a bit. It’s all about battle for Klingons. Honor, too, which Dalinar is… lacking… at this point, but the similarities are striking nonetheless.
Squires & Sidekicks
Torol Sadeas—resplendent in golden yellow Shardplate that had already been washed clean—pushed through a cluster of officers. The red-faced young man looked far older than he had a year ago. When they’d started all this, he’d still been a gangly youth. No longer.
A: Interesting to have this episode, where Dalinar and Torol were comrades-in-arms, right after the scene where Dalinar was the only person who was sorry Torol was dead.
Also, does this imply that a) Sadeas was with them from the very beginning and b) they’d only started a year ago? That could answer my earlier question.
L: I always got the impression that Sadeas had been one of the founding members. Which makes his eventual betrayal all the worse. ::whispers:: He was a snake and he totally deserved that knife through the eye.
A: ::whispers back:: I know, right?
“Brightlord!” Thakka said, kneeling, shielding Dalinar with his body. “Kelek! Brightlord, are you—”
A: Thakka shows up here for the first time, and will only appear in one other chapter, but he seems to have been one of Dalinar’s best men. That’s some pretty amazing loyalty, right there.
He seized the archer and hauled the fellow to his feet, noting the blue tattoo on his cheek.
A: Hello there, Teleb. From this day on, every time we meet him, Teleb will be seen as completely loyal to Dalinar. In fact, his wife Kalami is later seen as one of Dalinar’s most trusted scribes, though we don’t know whether that’s because Teleb married one of the Kholin scribes or if she was already one of the family members Thakka would be rounding up immediately following this action.
L: I’ll have a comment about that “rounding up of family members” bit later on.
A: Teleb is identified several times by the blue tattoo on his cheek, which signifies that he’s an Oldblood, descendant of a dynasty that ruled Alethkar before the lighteyes became the designated honchos. (On a guess, that might have been in the time of the Recreance, since it seems probable that lighteyes-in-general came to power because the ones who bonded the post-Recreance Shardblades became the lighteyes.) Anyway, Teleb is descended from kings, but it doesn’t seem to matter any more.
L: He’s also a complete and total BOSS. Shooting a longbow accurately three hundred yards is damn impressive. I’ve seen archers hit targets at a hundred yards at renaissance faires, but THREE hundred? Man’s a beast! I looked up the record for English longbows and three hundred yards isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but to do so accurately? I would have tried to recruit him, too! (I suppose it should be noted that Roshar yards and Earth yards aren’t strictly the same, but… seeing as how I’m not sure how the differences in gravity and such would play out either, I’ll leave that analysis to the mathematicians among you in the comments.)
Places & Peoples
Drive forward and convince your enemies that they’re as good as dead already. That way, they’ll fight you less as you send them to their pyres.
L: Interesting to see a mention of Alethi burial tradition here. It’s very fitting for such a warrior-like culture. Like the Vikings.
A: In such a rocky land, burial in the ground would be virtually impossible on a wide scale, so it makes sense that they’d use cremation instead. But I’ll admit, my first thought was that it would be just like them to find the fastest way to “send them to the Tranquiline Halls.” Poof—up in smoke.
Tight Butts and Coconuts
The archer gasped and stared at Dalinar. He expected he was quite a sight, covered in soot from the fires, his face a mask of blood from the nose and the cut scalp, stuck with not one but two arrows.
“Dalinar, are those arrows? Stormfather, man, you look like a thornbush!”
A: I included the first quotation to give the visual, and the second to give Sadeas’s comment. Keeping in mind that the arrows were black, this is most likely the origin of the Blackthorn. I suppose in one sense, I can see why Sadeas preferred this Dalinar to the thoughtful one who saw visions and followed the Codes. Given Sadeas’s tastes in general, the slaughter-plunder-and-pillage version would be easier to deal with.
L: And, as we stated earlier, would be more in-line with traditional Alethi societal norms.
“Oh, Dalinar. What would we do without you?”
L: I really appreciate Dalinar’s black humor here. He probably didn’t mean it as such—it comes across as very matter-of-fact. But I chuckled.
A: Hmm. Does Dalinar have a sense of humor?
“Why…” the man said from within his helm. “Why us?”
“Don’t know,” Dalinar said, tossing the poleaxe back to Dym.
“You … you don’t know?” the dying man said.
“My brother chooses,” Dalinar said. “I just go where he points me.”
A: So you could call this an amazing, unquestioning loyalty to his adored brother, and it would be mostly true. Given the rest of the chapter, though, it seems obvious that loyalty to his brother is strongly reinforced by his desire for the Thrill. If not for that, would he be so unquestioning about the brutality of the campaign?
L: I don’t think he’s particularly loyal at all. It’s more that Gavilar is giving him an outlet for his bloodlust, so of course he’ll do what he says. He’s the axehound following along after his master because his master throws him meat from time to time. Later on we do see a little loyalty in that Dalinar doesn’t kill him, but even so, it doesn’t read to me as loyalty or brotherly love so much as not wanting the responsibility of rule if he did kill him. Young!Dalinar is a totally different man from the one we know and love.
A: Quite true. He seems to enjoy the fighting and the killing in equal measure, even while he’s still waiting for the “high” that the Thrill will bring, and as you say, Gavilar’s campaign gives him an outlet for that. IIRC, Dalinar really did love his brother, but it’s not loyalty that keeps him from questioning the methods, anyway.
He’d have to talk to the man, reinforce that in striking at Dalinar earlier, he’d shot an arrow at an enemy. That was to be respected. If he tried something against Dalinar or Sadeas now, it would be different. Thakka would already be searching out the fellow’s family.
L: Wow. I have to appreciate how completely and totally ruthless Dalinar is. In war, there can be no half-measures. I’ve studied enough history and strategy to appreciate this. But to so nonchalantly “win” the fealty of those under your command by threatening their loved ones is going a bit far. I guess no one ever told him that you win more with the honey than the stick!
A Scrupulous Study of Spren
Flamespren danced among them. And, like a spren himself, Dalinar charged through the smoke, trusting in his padded armor and thick boots to protect him.
A: I would expect to see the flamespren in a burning field, but please enlighten me as to how Dalinar is “like a spren” here! Unless he’s just romanticizing himself or something, I just don’t see it.
L: Yeah, I don’t see it either. None of the spren we have seen so far have been particularly warlike. Unless… maybe he means that he’s being nimble and agile? Most spren are sort of ephemeral, other-worldly. Moving in ways that defy natural laws.
A: That’s about the only explanation that makes sense!
Anticipationspren—like red streamers growing from the ground and whipping in the wind—clustered around them.
A: These are drawn by the men of the town who are trying to gather up and repel Dalinar’s attack. Seems to me like they might as well be “dreadspren” or “adrenalinespren.” Yikes!
L: I wonder if they were being affected by the Thrill too? Otherwise I don’t see how they could be anticipating (which, to me, has a positive connotation) what is charging towards them! Nergaoul does have a sort of… area-of-effect nature, right? Does it/he need to be somewhere nearby to affect people, or is his presence omnipresent to the whole continent?
A: There’s evidence that it has an area of effect; it’s pretty big, but not half-a-continent worth. We’re shown the effects lessening on the Shattered Plains, and subsequently strengthening in Jah Keved. So there’s a high probability that soldiers on both sides of these battles were affected, but I don’t know how pervasive it is in any given army. I have the impression that not everyone is affected.
A single awespren burst around Dalinar, like a ring of blue smoke. “Stormfather! Thakka, before today, I’d have bet you half the princedom that such a shot wasn’t possible.”
A: I guess he was impressed, eh? (Okay, yes, I was too. I’ll admit it.)
They weren’t an honor guard. Dalinar didn’t need guards. These were simply the men he considered competent enough not to embarrass him.
A: Cocky, aren’t we?
L: Well… not without reason. He is that good.
Though some of his men were overwhelmed by the smoke or heat, most stayed with him.
L: Dalinar’s complete and total disregard for the men in his command is a stark contrast to Kaladin’s personality. They’re almost polar opposites here, which is really interesting given that Dalinar in this scene is the same age that Kaladin was when we first saw him protecting the boy he’d just pulled into his squad. It’s a credit to Sanderson’s writing ability that even with this callous treatment of others, we don’t completely hate him. Yet.
A: Yet. Also, good catch on the same ages; I hadn’t thought about that.
L: Well, this week’s chapter didn’t have quite as much meat for us to sink our teeth into as the last few, but next week’s should be fun. We’ll be covering Chapter Four – Oaths. Feel free to join us in the comments here or, if you prefer nested comment format, over on the Stormlight Archive subreddit.
Alice is currently enjoying a midwinter break that actually feels like midwinter, even without snow. It’s cold out there! Staying indoors by the fire to work on various writing projects seems like a fine idea.
Lyndsey will probably be hanging out primarily over in the Reddit discussion thread from now on—her username is Kaladin_Stormblessed there (weird, it’s almost like she’s a huge fan of Kaladin, or something). If you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her work on Facebook or her website.