Welcome to Rathalas, everyone. Such a lovely place… This week on the Oathbringer Reread, we return to the city where, once upon a time, Dalinar showed mercy to the wife and the young son of his adversary. Sadly, in Alethkar, such signs of humanity are not often reciprocated.
As you may have noticed, we decided to break up the two chapters after all; it was just too much to cram into one week. Sorry, not really very sorry at all.
Reminder: We’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the entire novel in each reread. This week, there is no wider Cosmere discussion, but we definitely make references to later events. If you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.
WHEN: 1162 (About eleven years ago)
Dalinar and a company of his elites charge off after the suspicious caravan reported by the scouts. As they catch up, Dalinar notices a number of small inconsistencies, but doesn’t put it together until his momentum has carried him right into the landslide ambush. When he regains consciousness, he realizes that Tanalan’s men will want to retrieve his Shards; he lets them do the spade-work, then springs up to confront them with a live Shardbearer instead of a dead one. Oops. When they’re all dead, he makes his way by star-reckoning back to the Rift, determined to destroy Rathalas once and for all.
Truth, Love, and Defiance
Title: Only Red
Dalinar saw only red.
… Behind him lay a pile of corpses with burned eyes, piled high around the hole where Dalinar had stood, fighting against them.
AA: This moment comes from the aftermath of the ambush, when Dalinar begins to return to sanity after his Thrill-berserker fight with Tanalan’s men. In retrospect, it’s pretty obvious that this is connected to the red associated with Nergaoul, though we didn’t know as much about it at the time.
AP: It doesn’t let up until the end of Chapter 76 either. It’s a long burn.
Nalan (Skybreakers, Judge, Just and Confident, Vapor, Smoke/Fog) and Talenel (Stonewards, Soldier, Dependable and Resourceful, Talus, Rock/Stone)
AA: Well, there are just all sorts of things going on here. For the first chapter, Nalan as judge doesn’t really make a lot of sense, unless you view Dalinar as a sort of Judgement Descendeth Upon Thee figure. The one other thing I’m seeing is his (too late) putting together all the clues that add up to “It’s a trap!”
AP: Judgement as divine retribution fits for sure. Dalinar is also overconfident when going right into the ambush.
AA: Talenel is everywhere, though. Dalinar as soldier. The soldiers who go with him. The rocks that fall on them. Dalinar’s resourcefulness in letting the enemy dig him out for his Shards, only to destroy them all. And of course, his long march back to the Rift, going cross-country to avoid searchers. I have to wonder if the Thrill is, perhaps, akin to the “madness” associated with Taln. (For reference, there is a madness associated with each of the Heralds, but that list isn’t public. In fact, so little is known about them that we have no clue whether “madness” means a mental illness, or something linked to an Unmade, or… what. No clues.)
Kholin Glyphpair, inverse for a Dalinar flashback
Two fires burned inside him. First the energy of the Plate, lending power to each step. The second fire was the Thrill.
AA: Hello there, Unmade. So… interesting to meet you here.
AP: It’s so interesting to me to go back and reread this section, knowing what we do now about the Unmade. It’s so obvious that the extreme battle lust is supernatural in origin, but I completely missed it the first time around. Since we have so much “battle magic” associated with the Shardplate and Shardblades, I didn’t even think about the Thrill in supernatural terms. I had put it more in the category of a “runner’s high” or an adrenaline surge, when obviously it’s much more than that.
The Thrill seemed to transform within him as he ran, soaking into his tiring muscles, saturating him. It became a power unto itself. So, when they crested a hillside some distance south of the Rift, he felt somehow more energetic than when he’d left.
AA: Okay, this is weird. Is Nergaoul feeding Dalinar Voidlight? Or Stormlight? How is this working?
… All around him, Tanalan’s men’s eyes seemed to glow. They gathered and grinned at him; he could see the Thrill thick in their expressions. … Blood streaming down the side of his face, Dalinar grinned back at them.
AA: Just in case anyone needed the reminder, Nergaoul doesn’t really choose a side. If the Thrill can dominate both sides, so much the better for him. I’m curious, though; Dalinar is one man with a Shardblade and badly damaged Shardplate, fighting against a large-ish group of men with normal swords and armor. Does his extra connection to Nergaoul, nurtured by Odium all these years, make a difference in the outcome of this fight? Obviously even damaged Plate is better than nothing, and a Shardblade is far more effective than anything the others have, but if they stood back and just threw rocks at him for a while, would that have worked better? Or… is Odium/Nergaoul playing tricks here? Is the same Thrill that apparently strengthens Dalinar responsible for making the Rifters throw themselves at him and get slaughtered instead of taking a more prudent approach?
AP: I do think the extra connection that was fostered does make a difference, as well as the base skill level of the fighters involved. I think the Thrill interferes with rational decision making for sure. Throwing rocks and a wounded enemy is much less satisfying to a bloodlust monster than a risk taking last stand.
Drained, he bound the worst of his wounds, then grabbed Oathbringer and set it on his shoulder. Never had a Shardblade felt so heavy.
He started walking.
Along the way, he discarded pieces of Shardplate, which grew too heavy. He’d lost blood. Far too much.
The Thrill returned to urge him on. For this walk was a fight. A battle.
AA: Same question occurs… is the Thrill feeding him Investiture somehow? And further… he’s not a Radiant yet. How is he able to use Stormlight or Voidlight at this point? Or is Nergaoul somehow giving him strength directly?
AP: I think the latter. Those who are healed by Stormlight/investiture don’t have to be able to access it themselves. This seems similar. Somehow the Unmade is fortifying Dalinar so that he can go out and keep fighting.
AA: Oh, good point! It’s not necessary for Dalinar to be healing himself. In fact, he may not necessarily be healing much at all; he’s just getting supernatural strength from the Unmade.
In that darkness, shadowed figures seemed to accompany him. Armies made of red mist at the corners of his vision, charging forces that fell to dust and then sprouted from shadow again, like surging ocean waves in a constant state of disintegration and rebirth.
AA: Aside from being seriously creepy, this seems so very much like some of the imagery from the Thaylen Field battle. In that far-future event, the red fog is much in evidence, plus Shallan makes a lot of Illusory soldiers. I’m not sure how parallel this is supposed to be, but the similarity is strong.
AP: It’s definitely meant to be a parallel. Reading this passage after knowing what Nergaoul’s influence looks like makes it really obvious what’s happening here.
AA: As a side note… this is the most fun part of doing an in-depth reread. You actually stop and think about things like this, and you discover connections that were impossible to see on the first read. The battle on Thaylen Field didn’t necessarily remind me of this flashback, but rereading this scene now irresistibly reminds me of the later scene.
Relationships & Romances
Evi, comforted by Brightness Kalami, was weeping, though Ialai studied the table full of maps.
AA: Minor rabbit trail… Obviously Ialai wouldn’t be as emotionally affected by Dalinar’s presumed death as Evi would; Ialai’s husband is right here, and her role is to help evaluate the plans and logistics. I can’t help wondering what Navani would have been doing—either as Gavilar’s wife, or if she had married Dalinar instead.
“Dalinar?” Evi stood up. “Husband?” She stepped forward, toward the table.
Then he turned toward her, and she stopped. Her unusual, pale Westerner skin grew even more starkly white. She stepped backward, pulling her hands toward her chest, and gaped at him, horrified, fearspren growing up from the ground around her.
Dalinar glanced toward a sphere lantern, which had a polished metal surface. The man who looked back seemed more Voidbringer than man, face crusted over with blackened blood, hair matted with it, blue eyes wide, jaw clenched. He was sliced with what seemed to be a hundred wounds, his padded uniform in tatters.
AA: I love this moment, in a weird way. Seeing Evi’s reaction to the physical appearance of her husband gives it much more impact. But I have to ask again, referring back to the previous flashback where Evi said, “Do not feed it”—does Evi sense the influence of the Unmade here? Is she reacting solely to Dalinar’s appearance, or can she see Nergaoual’s presence in him? I can’t prove it, but I have a strong suspicion that it’s the latter.
“You shouldn’t do this,” Evi said. “Rest. Sleep, Dalinar. Think about this. Give it a few days.”
AA: Poor Evi. Dalinar listened to her earlier, and it gave Tanalan the opportunity to reinforce the ambush set-up. It’s not her fault, of course; Dalinar himself acknowledged that Tanalan had set it up far in advance, and it never depended on attempting to negotiate. But he blames her anyway, and would rather follow Sadeas’s approach than Evi’s now.
AP: It’s not just that. At this point, he is so under the influence of the Thrill that he is unable to stop and take a break to think it through. He’s thoroughly committed now.
Oh, and someone take my wife to her tent so she may recover from her unwarranted grief.
AA: And that’s the last time we’ll see Evi alive. But we’ll talk about that next week.
AP: Oh Evi, sigh. It’s really horrific from her point of view. She knows her husband is a warrior, but she has rarely had to confront that evidence so directly. I absolutely give her credit for attempting to take action within her moral code. But we will look at how horribly wrong that goes next week…
Diagrams & Dastardly Designs
Sadeas, a traitor? Impossible. He had supported Gavilar all along. Dalinar trusted him. And yet…
AA: And yet… scarcely a single reader doubted that Sadeas could be a traitor, and I’m betting a high percentage of us believed the story completely. Seeing this in a flashback has a very mixed effect; at this point in time, Sadeas was still loyal to the Kholins, but we know he got over that eventually. It does put a slightly different spin on that conversation, back in The Way of Kings, where Dalinar tells Adolin that Sadeas is still loyal to Elhokar and is to be trusted, even though they hate each other. I wonder how much of Dalinar’s assumption of Sadeas’s loyalty comes from having suspected him at Rathalas and been proven wrong.
AP: Yep, I was completely taken in by it right until the last second.
Ahead, down the hill and at the mouth of a canyon, a frantic group was scrambling to arms.
AA: Or maybe a not-so-frantic group pretending to look frantic…
His momentum wouldn’t let him stop now. Where was the enemy Shardbearer?
Something is wrong.
AA: Ya think?
Why would they put on Sadeas’s colors if they’re a secret envoy bringing contraband supplies?
AA: Now’s a fine time to wonder.
He saw no sign of a Shardbearer as the enemy gathered above. And … those uniforms …
He blinked. That … that was wrong.
This … this was a trap. …
Sadeas was not a traitor. This had been designed by the Rift and its highlord to lure Dalinar in, then drop stones to crush him. …
AA: It’s plot-convenient, but it’s also totally believable. Dalinar trusted his scouts; it didn’t occur to him that they could do a good job for a long time and then turn on him. The set-up, for all the minor inconsistencies, was eminently plausible, and Dalinar (especially with the Thrill energizing him) just couldn’t put together the clues until it was too late.
A fire ignited inside him.
You have been betrayed, Dalinar. Listen. He heard voices—men picking through the wreckage of the rockslide. … Stones scraped, and the burden upon him lightened. The Thrill built to a crescendo. The stone near his head rolled back.
AA: Try to ambush the Blackthorn, would you? Good luck with that!
It really should have worked, though. Even Plate can’t be counted on to keep you alive when a mountainside falls on you. Why did it fail? Was it just a matter of a few seconds’ timing so that he wasn’t hit by as much rock as they intended? Sheer luck? Or was it the Thrill working to keep Odium’s future champion alive?
AP: Plot device, Mr. Frodo! Really though, it’s an unpredictable trap. Huge risk, but huge reward with plate and a blade if it succeeds. And (seemingly) low risk to Tanalan if it failed, because his city was already under siege. He sure misjudged that one…
“We sent a team of scouts to inform you as soon as Tanalan turned on us and cast our soldiers off his walls. Our force reported all men lost, an ambush…”
“You sent the same scouts,” he whispered, “who first spied on the caravan, and reported seeing a Shardbearer leading it?”
“Yes,” Teleb said.
“Traitors,” Dalinar said. “They’re working with Tanalan.”
AA: Here’s where a little, insignificant line from Chapter 71 suddenly becomes a Big, Important Note: “I sent a scout team to tail them, men who know the area…” Men, in other words, who had families locally, who could be induced to betray Dalinar for money or for the lives of their families. Possibly, men who had “joined” the Kholin forces exactly for such an opportunity.
“They used my name to betray you,” Sadeas said, then spat to the side. “We will suffer rebellions like this time and time again unless they fear us, Dalinar.”
Dalinar nodded slowly. “They must bleed,” he whispered. “I want them to suffer for this. Men, women, children. They must know the punishment for broken oaths. Immediately.”
AA: It’s… not incomprehensible. As noted, they were betrayed by their own scouts, and using the name of a loyal ally. Their anger is understandable. The extent of their anger, though… understandable or not, it’s indefensible. The escalation is just wrong. You know the old saying, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”? People have made snarky jokes about it being a quick way to a sightless, toothless world, but that’s because we leave out the context. In context, part of the point is that the punishment can only be as severe as the crime. You’re not allowed to kill someone who knocked out your tooth and call it “justice”—that’s how you get the old “Hatfield and McCoy” scenario. So here, in response to a betrayal and the ambush of Dalinar and his company of elites, they set out on an unjust retribution: the destruction of the city and all its inhabitants. Not merely the fighting men, not just the highlord or even his family, but all the people. Men, women, children, babies, elderly, those who have no defense, even those who might disagree with their highlord’s refusal to join Gavilar. No opportunity for anyone to surrender. Dalinar and Sadeas are going to “teach them a lesson.” “Make them an example.” Militarily, and particularly in Alethi culture, I would imagine it “makes sense” in its way. But it’s still wrong.
AP: Even within Alethi culture it’s wrong and goes against the honor codes. There are not allowances to kill an entire city full of non-combatants. It also shows the relationship between Dalinar and Sadeas in a greater depth. When you’ve been committing war crimes together, Dalinar’s abrupt and complete personality change has to come as quite a shock to Sadeas. It’s very difficult for the reader to reconcile this version of Dalinar with the honorable general we know from the prior books. I’m sure it would be even more difficult for in-world characters to do the same.
AA: I still believe Sadeas was an utter slime, but seeing this side of Dalinar, and the way they worked together on these campaigns—you’re right, it makes Sadeas’s attitude toward him in The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance much more understandable. It’s a fascinating parallel: Most readers sympathize with the Dalinar we grew to appreciate in the first books, and have a hard time with past!Dalinar. For the Alethi, it’s the reverse: They appreciated the Blackthorn and have a hard time with Code-following Dalinar. (I love the way Sanderson twists my perspectives sometimes…)
“I promised Tanalan that his widows would weep for what I did here, but that is too merciful for what they’ve done to me.
“I intend to so thoroughly ruin this place that for ten generations, nobody will dare build here for fear of the spirits who will haunt it. We will make a pyre of this city, and there shall be no weeping for its passing, for none will remain to weep.”
AA: Dastardly designs indeed. Well, not exactly dastardly, since that implies cowardice as well as malice, but this escalation is malicious and unwarranted. In my (not-at-all-humble) opinion.
AP: And again worth repeating that we know he’s under the strong influence of an Unmade here, and it shows how powerful that influence is. We know that Dalinar is a well accomplished general, and this is incompatible with the degree of retribution shown here.
Squires & Sidekicks
The elites who accompanied him were the product of years of planning and training. Primarily archers, they wore no armor, and were trained for long-distance running. Horses were magnificent beasts…
For today, however, he didn’t need horses. Men were better suited for long-distance running, not to mention being much better at scrambling over broken hillsides and uneven rocks. This company of elites could outrun any harrying force he’d yet to meet. Though archers, they were proficient with the sword. Their training was unparalleled, and their stamina legendary.
AA: I just wanted to quote this for the record. It’s one of the few glimpses we get into the matured version of the berserker crew Dalinar had begun to pull together back in the first flashback chapter of this book. Back then, it was pretty much “whoever can keep up with me.” Now, they’re highly trained specialists in various areas, so he has different groups to call on for specific situations. It’s pretty impressive, really.
Tight Butts and Coconuts
AA: In the “curses” department, I was amused by this one:
“Stormfather,” one of them said, stumbling back. “Kelek and the Almighty himself!”
AA: Given what a sight Dalinar must have been when he made it back to the camp, I’d say the reaction is probably justified, but the triple callout makes me snicker a little.
A Scrupulous Study of Spren
He turned to the side, where Oathbringer protruded from a rock where he’d stabbed it. The … gemstone on the pommel was cracked. That was right. He couldn’t dismiss it; something about the crack had interfered.
AA: I love the casual mention of the gemstone’s importance in bonding a Shardblade. Probably everyone here remembers already, but sometime in the decades after the Recreance, when the worst of the fighting had died down, those who held the Shardblades began to decorate them. On Roshar, the best decorations always involve Stormlight, which means gemstones, so inevitably someone discovered that with a gemstone in place, he could make a Blade so much his own that he could summon and dismiss it at will. Now we learn that damage to the gemstone damages that bond.
Night fell, and he threw off his last piece of Shardplate, leaving only the neck brace. They could regrow the rest of it from that, if they had to.
AA: This might be a weird place for the quotation, but the way my brain is working today, it makes the most sense. Is the neck brace a significant piece from which to regrow the Plate, or is it just the easiest to carry in his current condition? I really would like to know more about the process of regrowing Plate. How do the spren (presumably) decide which part to return to? Is it just the piece that’s got the most Stormlight, or do some pieces have higher priority than others? So many things I want to know…
AP: I think the plate can be regrown from any piece. And a gorget is a pretty easy piece to carry. It’s a consistent weight on the shoulders/neck, and isn’t taking him conscious effort to carry since it’s not impeding his movement like a cracked arm or leg piece.
AA: I’m pretty sure you’re right about that. I couldn’t find the WoB, but I know there’s one about two people using competing pieces of Plate to try to regrow the set, and what would happen. So Dalinar is assuming that his people will regrow his set from the neck piece before anyone finds any of the bits he dropped in the woods and beats him to it. Also, that does make a lot of sense as the piece to keep, when you say it that way.
- Momentum. A fight was all about momentum.
AA: Nice callback to the first flashback in Oathbringer!
Well, oof. That was a whole lot of painful. I do apologize for the last-minute change from two chapters to one, but it really was necessary. We’ll be back next week for the battle… and its aftermath. Chapter 76, one of the most agonizing in the book, coming right up.
Alice is enjoying the arrival of what appears to be genuine spring weather. She hopes not to have a Rosharan weather effect and suddenly get winter again.
Aubree is recovering from JordanCon, aka the Ribbon Wars. Can’t wait to do it again next year!