Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Read Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson: Chapter Twelve

On November 17, 2020, The Stormlight Archive saga continues in Rhythm of War, the eagerly awaited fourth volume in Brandon Sanderson’s #1 New York Times bestselling fantasy series.

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Chapter 12
A Way to Help

One of my pleas is for artifabrians to stop shrouding fabrial techniques with so much mystery. Many decoy metals are used in cages, and wires are often plated to look like a different metal, with the express intent of confusing those who might try to learn the process through personal study. This might enrich the artifabrian, but it impoverishes us all.

—Lecture on fabrial mechanics presented by Navani Kholin to the coalition of monarchs, Urithiru, Jesevan, 1175

 

As they arrived at Urithiru, Kaladin wanted nothing more than to vanish. To go someplace where he wouldn’t have to listen to everyone laughing. There were a hundred of them together, mostly squires of the various Windrunners who had once been his team.

Kaladin didn’t have many squires left—none, unless you counted Dabbid and Rlain. Rock didn’t have a spren either, but he… had moved on to something else. Kaladin wasn’t sure what it was, but he didn’t call himself a squire.

Rlain would soon have a spren, and would finally be able to move on too. Dabbid had gone on the mission today to help Renarin deliver water and supplies to the townspeople. He’d never recovered from his battle shock, however, and didn’t have Radiant powers. He wasn’t so much a squire as someone Kaladin and the others looked after.

The rest had all ascended to at least the Second Ideal. That made them more than a squire, but not yet a full Radiant—having bonded a spren, but not yet having earned a Blade. They were all so jovial as they walked together across the Oathgate plateau, and Kaladin didn’t begrudge them their mirth. They were dear to him, and he wanted them to laugh.

Yet at the moment, he couldn’t imagine anything more painful than the way they all tried to cheer him up. They sensed his mood, though he hadn’t spoken to them regarding his… relegation? His retirement?

Storms. It made him sick to think about it.

As they walked, Lopen told him a particularly bad joke. Skar asked him for a sparring session—which was his way of offering help. Normally Kaladin would have agreed. But today… sparring would remind him of what he’d lost.

Sigzil, showing admirable restraint, told him that battle reports could wait until tomorrow. Storms. How bad did he look? Kaladin did his best to deflect them all, pasting on a smile so wide it felt like it cracked his skin.

Rock kept his distance, carefully ignoring Kaladin. Rock generally did have a better sense of his true mood than most. And Rock could see Syl, who—fretful as she buzzed around Kaladin—eventually zipped off. She caught a current nearby, flying into the air. She found flight as reassuring as he did.

I need to be careful not to let this break her, he thought. Keep up a strong front for her, for all of them. They shouldn’t have to be in pain because of how I feel. He could do this gracefully. He could fight this one last battle.

They crossed the open field of stone before the tower city. Kaladin almost managed to keep walking without staring up at the tower. He nearly didn’t feel a shock of dissociation at its immensity. He spent only a split second in disbelief that something so grand could exist. Yes, these days the tower was practically mundane.

“Hey,” Leyten said as they reached the tower entrance. “Rock! Got any stew for us maybe? For old times’ sake?”

Kaladin turned. The word “stew” pierced the cloud.

“Ah, coming up to the beautifully thin air makes you suddenly think straight!” Rock said. “You remember the glories of good cooking! But… this thing cannot be today. I have appointment.”

“It’s not with the surgeons, is it?” Kara called. “Because I don’t think they can do anything about your breath, Rock!”

“Ha!” Rock said, then bellowed a laugh, going so far as to wipe a tear from his eye. Kara grinned, but then Rock held out his hand. “No no, you think I am laughing at what you said? Airsick! I’m laughing because you thought that to be funny joke, Kara. Ha! Ha!

Kaladin smiled. A real smile, for a moment.

Then they started to break apart into small clusters, usually a Knight with their squad of squires. His friends all had their own teams now. Even Teft was pulled away by one of the groups, though his squires had been in Bridge Thirteen—and they had stayed behind to guard the ship. In fact, many of them had become Radiants themselves. Kaladin wasn’t certain how many squires Teft had left.

Could Kaladin do as Dalinar wanted? Could he stand being highmarshal of the Windrunners without going into the field? Being a part of their lives, but not being able to help them, fight alongside them?

No. A clean break would be better.

A few groups invited him to go with them, but he found himself turning them down. He stood tall, like a commander should, and gave them the nod. The captain’s nod that said, “You run along, soldier. I have important things to be about, and cannot be bothered with frivolity.”

Nobody pushed him, though he wished that one of them would. But these days, they had their own lives. Many had families; all had duties. Those who had served with him in the early days still wore their Bridge Four patches with pride, but Bridge Four was something they used to belong to. A legendary team already passed into myth.

Kaladin kept his back straight, his chin high, as he left them and strode through the nowfamiliar corridors of the tower city. Lined with entrancing patterns of different shades of strata, the tower had sphere lanterns lining most major hallways—locked, of course, but changed regularly. The place was starting to feel truly lived in. He passed families, workers, and refugees. People of all walks, as varied as a goblet full of spheres.

They saluted him, or stepped aside for him, or—in the case of many children—waved to him. The highmarshal. Kaladin Stormblessed. He kept on the proper face all the way to his rooms, and was proud of himself for it.

Then he stepped inside and found an empty nothingness.

His were the quarters of a highlord, supposedly luxurious and spacious. He had little furniture though, and that left it feeling hollow. Dark, the sole light coming from the balcony.

Every honor he’d been given seemed to highlight how vacant his life really was. Titles couldn’t fill a room with life. Still, he turned and closed the door with a firm push.

Only then did he break. He didn’t make it to the chair. He sank down with his back to the wall beside the door. He tried to unbutton his coat, but ended up bending forward with his knuckles pressing his forehead, digging into his skin as he hyperventilated, gasping in deep breaths of air while he trembled and shook. Exhaustionspren like jets of dust gleefully congregated around him. And agonyspren, like upside-down faces carved from stone, twisted and faded in and out.

He couldn’t cry. Nothing came out. He wanted to cry, because at least that would be a release. Instead he huddled, knuckles pressing against the scars in his forehead, wishing he could shrivel away. Like the eyes of a person struck by a Shardblade.

In moments like this—alone and huddled on the floor of a dark room, tormented by agonyspren—Moash’s words found him. The truth of them became undeniable. Out in the garish sunlight, it was easy to pretend that everything was all right. In here, Kaladin could see clearly.

You’re just going to keep hurting…

His entire life had been a futile effort to stop a storm by yelling at it. The storm didn’t care.

They’re all going to die. There’s nothing you can do about it.

You could never build anything that lasted, so why try? Everything decayed and fell apart. Nothing was permanent. Not even love.

Only one way out…

A knock came at his door. Kaladin ignored the sound until it became insistent. Storms. They were going to barge in, weren’t they? Suddenly panicked that anyone should find him like this, Kaladin stood up and straightened his coat. He took a deep breath, and the agonyspren faded.

Adolin pushed his way in, a treasonous Syl on his shoulder. That was where she had gone? To fetch Adolin storming Kholin?

The young man wore a uniform of Kholin blue, but not a regulation one. He’d taken to having embellishments added, regardless of what his father thought. While it was sturdy—a little stiff, starched to maintain neat lines—its sleeves were embroidered to match his boots. The cut left the coat longer than most—a bit like Kaladin’s own captain’s coat, but more trendy.

Somehow Adolin wore the uniform, when the uniform had always worn Kaladin. To Kaladin, the uniform was a tool. To Adolin it was a part of an ensemble. How did he get his hair—blond, peppered black—so perfectly messy? It was both casual and deliberate at the same time.

He was smiling, of course. Storming man.

“You are here!” Adolin said. “Rock said he thought you were heading for your room.”

“Because I wanted to be alone,” Kaladin said.

“You spend too many evenings alone, bridgeboy,” Adolin said, glancing at the nearby exhaustionspren, then grabbing Kaladin by the arm—something few other people would have dared.

“I like being by myself,” Kaladin said.

“Great. Sounds awful. Today, you’re coming with me. No more excuses. I let you blow me away last week and the week before.”

“Maybe,” Kaladin snapped, “I just don’t want to be around you, Adolin.”

The highprince hesitated, then leaned forward, narrowing his eyes and putting his face up close to Kaladin’s. Syl still sat on Adolin’s shoulder, her arms folded—without even the decency to look ashamed when Kaladin glared at her.

“Tell me honestly,” Adolin said. “With an oath, Kaladin. Tell me that you should be left alone tonight. Swear it to me.”

Adolin held his gaze. Kaladin tried to form the words, and felt of the ten fools when he couldn’t get them out.

He definitely shouldn’t be alone right now.

“Storm you,” Kaladin said.

“Ha,” Adolin said, tugging him by the arm. “Come on, Brightlord Master Highmarshal Stormface. Change your coat to one that doesn’t smell like smoke, then come with me. You don’t have to smile. You don’t have to talk. But if you’re going to be miserable, you might as well do it with friends.”

Kaladin extracted his arm from Adolin’s grip, but didn’t resist further. He grabbed new clothes—tossing aside the ones he’d been fighting in. He did, however, shoot Syl another glare as she flew over to him.

“Adolin?” Kaladin said as he changed. “Your first thought was to get Adolin?”

“I needed someone you couldn’t intimidate,” she replied. “That list at best includes three people. And the queen was likely to transform you into a crystal goblet or something.”

Kaladin sighed and walked out to join Adolin, lest the highprince think he was dallying. Syl eyed Kaladin as she walked in the air alongside him, keeping up with him despite her dainty steps.

“Thank you,” Kaladin said softly, turning his eyes forward.

***

Adolin made good on his promise. He didn’t force Kaladin to say much. Together they made their way to the Ten Rings, a section of the tower’s central market where the merchants had agreed to lay their shops out according to Navani’s plan. In exchange they got a deal on taxes and knew guard patrols would be frequent and courteous.

Rows of wooden storefronts here made neat, orderly streets. The shops were of similar sizes and dimensions, with storage and housing on top. The place felt quaint, an island of order contrasting the more organic, chaotic feeling of the rest of the Breakaway market—where after a year, many people still used tents instead of permanent structures.

Admittedly, it did feel strange to have rows of permanent structures built in the middle of a several-stories-high interior room. The oddest part to Kaladin was that the most upscale shops—catering to the richest of the lighteyed families—had refused Navani’s invitation exactly as the seedier shops had. Neither wanted to agree to her oversight. The rich shops were all outside the market, in a series of rooms along a hallway nearby.

The upshot was that while the Ten Rings wasn’t terribly upscale, it was reputable—two concepts that weren’t necessarily the same thing. Adolin’s favorite winehouse was called Jez’s Duty. He’d forced Kaladin to join him there on more than one occasion, and so the interior was familiar. Themed after a stormshelter—though no such thing was needed here in the tower—it had fabrial clocks on the walls that listed when a storm was happening in Alethkar, and held a daily vigil for the kingdom. An ardent even visited and burned glyphwards.

Barring that, it could be a raucous place—more of a tavern than a winehouse. Adolin had a reserved booth at the rear. It was a mark of pride that the highprince frequented this location rather than more upscale winehouses.

That was the sort of thing Adolin did. Nobody bowed when he entered; instead they cheered and raised cups. Adolin Kholin wasn’t some distant brightlord or general who sat in his keep and pronounced edicts, tyrannical or wise. He was the type of general who drank with his men and learned the names of every soldier.

Dalinar disapproved. In most cases Kaladin would have as well. But… this was Adolin. He’d have gone mad if he’d been forced to remain aloof. It went against every traditional Alethi protocol of leadership, but Adolin made it work. So who was Kaladin to judge?

As Adolin went to greet people, Kaladin made his way around the perimeter of the room, noting the larger-than-usual crowd. Was that Rock over there with his family, drinking mugs of Horneater mudbeer?

He said he had an appointment tonight, Kaladin remembered. Indeed, some kind of celebration seemed to be going on. A few other Windrunners and Radiants he knew were in attendance, though not many. Mostly it seemed to be common folk. Perhaps a higher than normal percentage of soldiers.

Syl took off to begin poking through the room, looking at each table. Though he’d once seen her fascination as childlike, he’d evolved on that idea. She was just curious, desirous to learn. If that was childlike, then everyone needed more of it.

She was fascinated by human beings. In a room like this one, Kaladin would often find her standing on a crowded table—unseen by the occupants—head cocked as she tried to imitate the mannerisms or expressions of one person or another.

Adolin’s booth was occupied by a young woman with long dark hair wearing trousers and a buttoned shirt, her long white coat hung on the peg nearby. She had her hat on, the widebrimmed one with the peaked front.

“Veil,” Kaladin said, sliding into the booth. “We going to have you all night, or will Shallan show up?”

“Probably just me,” Veil said, tipping back her cup to reach the last of her drink. “Shallan had a busy day, and we’re on Shattered Plains time, not Urithiru time. She wants a rest.”

It must be nice, Kaladin thought, to be able to retreat and become someone else when you get tired.

It was sometimes difficult to treat Shallan’s personas as three distinct people, but it was what she seemed to prefer. Fortunately, she tended to change her hair color to give the rest of them cues. Black for Veil, and she’d started using blonde for Radiant.

A young barmaid came by, refilling Veil’s cup with something deep red.

“And you?” the serving girl asked Kaladin.

“Orange,” he said softly. “Chilled, if you have it.”

“Orange?” the girl said. “A man like you can stomach something stronger. It’s a party! We’ve got a nice yellow infused with peca, an Azish fruit. I’ll—”

“Hey,” Veil said, putting her boots on the table with a thump. “The man said orange.”

“I just thought—”

“Bring him what he asked for. That’s all you need to think about.”

Flustered, the girl scampered off. Kaladin nodded to Veil in thanks, though he wished people wouldn’t stick up for him quite so zealously. He could speak for himself. As long as Dalinar followed the strictest interpretation of the Codes of War, so would Kaladin. And barring that… well, his friends knew. When Kaladin was in one of his moods, alcohol—for all that it seemed it would help him forget his pain—always made the darkness worse. He could use Stormlight to burn off the effects, but once he had a drink or two in him, he often… didn’t want to. Or felt he didn’t deserve to. Same difference.

“So,” Veil said. “I hear your mission went well? An entire town stolen right out from underneath their storming noses? The Mink himself rescued? Heads will roll in Kholinar when Odium hears about this.”

“I doubt he cares much about one town,” Kaladin said. “And they don’t know we got the Mink.”

“Regardless,” Veil said, lifting her cup to him.

“And you?” Kaladin asked.

She leaned forward, taking her boots off the table. “You should have seen it. Ialai was basically a skeleton, withered away. We’d defeated her before we arrived. But it sure was satisfying to bring her down.”

“I’m sure.”

“Pity someone murdered her,” Veil said. “I’d have enjoyed watching her squirm before Dalinar.”

“Murdered her?” Kaladin said. “What?”

“Yeah, someone offed her. One of our people, unfortunately. They must have been bribed by someone who wanted to see her dead. That’s a secret, by the way. We’re telling everyone she killed herself.”

Kaladin glanced around.

“Nobody will hear in here,” Veil said. “Our booth is isolated.”

“Still. Don’t discuss military secrets in public.”

Veil rolled her eyes, but then she shook her head, and her hair blended to blonde and she sat up straighter. “Do get a full report from Dalinar later, Kaladin. There are oddities about the event that trouble me.”

“I…” Kaladin said. “We’ll see. You share Veil’s opinion that Shallan is fine? She merely needs a rest?”

“She is well enough,” Radiant said. “We’ve found a balance. A year now, without any new personas forming. Except…”

Kaladin raised an eyebrow.

“There are some, half-formed,” Radiant said, turning away. “They wait, to see if the Three really can work. Or if it could crumble, letting them out. They aren’t real. Not as real as I am. And yet. And yet…” She met Kaladin’s eyes. “Shallan wouldn’t wish me to share that much. But as her friend, you should know.”

“I’m not sure if I can help,” Kaladin said. “I can barely keep a handle on my own problems these days.”

“You being here helps,” Radiant said.

Did it? When Kaladin was in moods like this, he felt that he would bring only darkness to those around him. Why would they want to be with him? He wouldn’t want to be with him. But he supposed this was the sort of thing Radiant had to say; it was what made her distinct from the others.

She smiled as Adolin returned, then shook her head, hair bleeding to black. She leaned back, relaxed. How nice it must be to transform into Veil, with her laid-back attitude.

As Adolin was settling down, the barmaid returned with Kaladin’s drink. “If you decide you want to try that yellow…” she said to Kaladin.

“Thanks, Mel,” Adolin said quickly. “But he doesn’t need anything to drink today.”

The barmaid gave him a radiant smile—married man or not, they still treated him that way—and floated off, seeming encouraged by the fact that the highprince had spoken to her. Although he’d basically given her a reprimand.

“How’s the groom?” Veil asked, getting out her dagger and balancing it on the end of her fingertip.

“Befuddled,” Adolin said.

“Groom?” Kaladin asked.

“Wedding party?” Adolin said, waving toward the room of festive people. “For Jor?”

“Who?” Kaladin asked.

“Kaladin,” Adolin said, “we’ve been coming to this place for eight months.”

“Don’t bother, Adolin,” Veil said. “Kaladin doesn’t notice people unless they’ve pulled a weapon on him.”

“He notices,” Adolin said. “He cares. But Kaladin’s a soldier—and he thinks like one. Right, bridgeboy?”

“I have no idea what you mean,” Kaladin grumbled, sipping his drink.

“You’ve learned to worry about your squad,” Adolin said. “And to cut out extraneous information. I’ll bet Kaladin could tell you the age, eye color, and favorite food of everyone serving beneath him. But he’s not going to bother with remembering the names of the bar staff. Father’s the same way.”

“Well,” Veil said, “this is real fun and everything, but shouldn’t we be moving on to a more important topic?”

“Such as?” Adolin asked.

“Such as who we’re going to fix Kaladin up with next.”

Kaladin about spat out his drink. “He doesn’t need fixing up with anyone.

“That’s not what Syl says,” Veil replied.

“Syl used to think human children came out through the nose in a particularly violent sneeze,” Kaladin said. “She is not an authority on this topic.”

“Mmm,” their table said, vibrating with a soft buzzing sound. “How do they come out? I’ve always wondered.”

Kaladin started, only now realizing that Pattern dimpled part of the wooden tabletop. Pattern didn’t go about invisibly as Syl did, but somehow infused the material of objects nearby. If you focused on him now, you’d see a section of the tabletop that seemed to be carved into a circular pattern—one that somehow moved and flowed, like ripples in a cistern.

“I’ll explain babies later, Pattern,” Veil said. “It’s more complicated than you’re probably imagining. Wait… no. Ask Shallan to explain. She’ll love that.”

“Mmm,” the table said. “She changes colors. Like a sunset. Or an infected wound. Mmm.”

Adolin relaxed, resting his arm along the back of the bar seat—but not putting it around Veil. The two of them had a weird relationship when Shallan was wearing Radiant or Veil. At least they seemed to have mostly gotten over the part where they acted like lovesick fools all the time.

“The ladies have a point, bridgeboy,” Adolin said to him. “You have been extra sulky since Lyn broke up with you.”

“This isn’t about that.”

“Still, a fling couldn’t hurt, right?” Veil said. She nodded her chin toward one of the passing barmaids, a tall young woman with unusually light hair. “What about Hem over there? She’s tall.”

“Great. Tall,” Kaladin said. “Because we both measure roughly the same in inches, we’re sure to get along. Think of all the tall-person topics of conversation we could engage in. Like… Hmm…”

“Oh, don’t be sour,” Veil said, smacking him on the shoulder. “You didn’t even glance at her. She’s cute. Look at those legs. Back me up, Adolin.”

“She’s attractive,” he said. “But that blouse is terrible on her. I need to tell Marni that the house uniforms here are dreadful. They should at least have two different shades to match different skin tones.”

“What about Ka’s sister,” Veil said to Kaladin. “You’ve met her, right? She’s smart. You like smart girls.”

“Is there really anyone who doesn’t like smart girls?” Kaladin said.

“Me,” Veil said, raising her hand. “Give me dumb ones, please. They’re so easy to impress.”

“Smart girls…” Adolin said, rubbing his chin. “It’s too bad Skar snatched up Ristina. They’d have been a good match.”

“Adolin,” Veil said, “Ristina is like three feet tall.”

“So?” Adolin said. “You heard Kaladin. He doesn’t care about height.”

“Yeah, well, most women do. You’ve got to find someone who matches him. Too bad he screwed up his chance with Lyn.”

“I didn’t…” Kaladin protested.

“What about her,” Adolin said, pointing as someone new entered the tavern. A couple of lighteyed women in havahs, though they probably weren’t of high rank if they were visiting a winehouse frequented by darkeyes. Then again, Adolin was here. And things like nahn and rank had been… strangely less divisive this last year, under Jasnah’s rule.

One of the two newcomers was a younger woman with a luscious figure, accentuated by the tight havah. She had dark skin and red lips, clearly brightened with lip paint.

“Dakhnah,” Adolin said. “She’s the daughter of one of Father’s generals, Kal. She loves talking strategy—she’s acted as scribe in his war meetings since she was fourteen. I can introduce you.”

“Please don’t,” Kaladin said.

“Dakhnah…” Veil said. “You courted her, didn’t you?”

“Yeah. How’d you know?”

“Adolin dear, swing a Herdazian in a crowded room, and you’ll hit six women you courted.” She narrowed her eyes at the newcomer. “Those aren’t real, are they? She pads, right?”

Adolin shook his head.

Seriously?” Veil said. “Stormfather. To get mine that big I’d have to eat six chulls. How do they feel?”

“You’re making assumptions,” Adolin said.

She glared at him, then poked him in the shoulder. “Come on.”

He turned eyes toward the ceiling and pointedly took a drink, though he smiled as she poked him again. “This is not a topic for gentlemen to discuss,” he said with an airy tone.

“I’m neither gentle nor a man,” Veil said. “I’m your wife.”

“You’re not my wife.”

“I share a body with your wife. Close enough.”

“You two,” Kaladin said, “have the strangest relationship.”

Adolin gave him a slow nod that seemed to say, You have no idea. Veil downed the rest of her drink, then upended the empty cup. “Where’s that storming barmaid?”

“You sure you haven’t had enough?” Adolin asked.

“Am I sitting up straight?”

“A vague approximation.”

“There’s your answer,” she said—sliding out of the booth by moving over him in a maneuver that involved a lot of her touching a lot of him—then went picking through the crowd for the barmaid.

“She’s in rare form today,” Kaladin noted.

“Veil has been cooped up for a month, pretending to be that woman in the warcamps,” he replied. “And Radiant stressed greatly about their mission. The few times we managed to meet, Shallan was practically crawling up the walls with tension. This is her way of letting loose.”

Well, if it worked for them…“Is Ialai Sadeas really dead?”

“Unfortunately. Father already has armies moving to the warcamps. Initial reports say her men have offered articles of surrender; they must have known this was coming…” He shrugged. “Still makes me feel like I failed.”

“You had to do something. That group was getting too powerful, too dangerous, to leave alone.”

“I know. But I hate the idea of fighting our own. We’re supposed to be moving on to better things. Greater things.”

Says the man who killed Sadeas, Kaladin thought. That wasn’t common knowledge yet, so he didn’t speak it out loud in case someone was listening.

Their conversation lapsed. Kaladin played with his cup, wishing for a refill, though he wasn’t about to go fighting through the crowd to find one. People were taking turns cheering for Jor—and as the groom himself passed by, Kaladin realized he did recognize the man. He was the house bouncer, an affable fellow. Syl was riding on his shoulder.

Veil’s quest ran long. Kaladin thought he spotted her over at one corner, playing a game of breakneck for chips. He was surprised there was anyone left in the city who would still play against Veil.

Eventually, Adolin scooted a little closer. He had his own drink, an intoxicating violet—but he’d barely made his way through half the cup. He no longer strictly followed the Codes, but he seemed to have found his own balance.

“So,” Adolin said, “what’s going on? This is more than just what happened with Lyn.”

“I thought you said I didn’t have to talk.”

“You don’t.” Adolin took a sip, waiting.

Kaladin stared at the table. Shallan often carved parts of it, so the wood here was etched with small but intricate art projects—many of them half finished. He ran his finger across one that depicted an axehound and a man who looked remarkably like Adolin.

“Your father relieved me of active duty today,” Kaladin said. “He thinks I’m… I’m not fit to see battle any longer.”

Adolin let out a long exhalation. “That storming man…”

“He’s right, Adolin,” Kaladin said. “Remember how you had to pull me out of the palace last year.”

“Everyone gets overwhelmed in a fight sometimes,” Adolin said. “I’ve gotten disoriented before, even in Shardplate.”

“This is worse. And more frequent. I’m a surgeon, Adolin. I’ve trained to spot problems like these, so I know he’s right. I’ve known for months.”

“Very well,” Adolin said. He nodded curtly. “So it is. What are we going to do about it? How do you get better?”

“You don’t. Dabbid, the guy in my crew? The one who doesn’t talk? Battle shock, like mine. He’s been like that since I recruited him.”

Adolin fell silent. Kaladin could see him sort through potential responses. Adolin was many things, but “hard to read” would never be one of them.

Fortunately, he didn’t make any of the expected comments. No simple affirmations, no encouragement for Kaladin to cheer up or soldier on. The two of them sat quietly in the loud room for a long pause. Then eventually, Adolin spoke. “My father can be wrong, you know.”

Kaladin shrugged.

“He’s human,” Adolin said. “Half the city thinks he’s some kind of Herald reborn, but he’s only a man. He’s been wrong before. Terribly wrong.”

Dalinar killed Adolin’s mother, Kaladin thought. That news was out, spread wide. The city had all either read, listened to, or been told about Dalinar’s strange autobiography. Handwritten by the Blackthorn himself, it wasn’t quite finished, but drafts had been shared. In it Dalinar confessed to many things, including the accidental killing of his wife.

“I’m not a surgeon,” Adolin said. “And I’m not half the general my father is. But I don’t think you need to be removed from combat, at least not permanently. You need something else.”

“Which is?”

“Wish I knew. There should be a way to help you. A way to make it so you can think straight.”

“I wish it were that easy,” Kaladin said. “But why do you care? What does it matter?”

“You’re my only bridgeboy,” Adolin said with a grin. “Where would I get another? They’ve all started flying away.” The grin faded. “Besides. If we can find a way to help you, then maybe… maybe we can find a way to help her.” His gazed drifted across the room, toward Veil.

“She’s fine,” Kaladin said. “She’s found a balance. You’ve heard her explain how she thinks she’s fine now.”

“Like how you tell everyone you’re fine?” Adolin met his eyes. “This isn’t right, how she is. It hurts her. Over this last year I’ve seen her struggling, and I’ve seen hints that she’s sliding—if more slowly now—toward worse depths. She needs help, the kind I don’t know if I can give her.”

Their table hummed. “You are right,” Pattern said. “She hides it, but things are still wrong.”

“What does your surgeon’s knowledge say, Kal?” Adolin said. “What do I do?”

“I don’t know,” Kaladin said. “We are trained in dealing with physical ailments, not in what to do when someone is sick in the mind, other than send them to the ardents.”

“Seems wrong.”

“Yeah, it does.” Kaladin frowned. He wasn’t totally certain what the ardents did with mentally ill patients.

“Should I talk to them?” Pattern asked. “Ardents for help?”

“Maybe,” Kaladin said. “Wit might know some way to help too. He seems to know about all kinds of things like this.”

“Surely you can give some advice, Kal,” Adolin said.

“Let her know you care,” Kaladin said. “Listen to her. Be encouraging, but don’t try to force her to be happy. And don’t let her be alone, if you’re worried about her…”

He trailed off, then shot Adolin a glare.

Adolin smirked. This hadn’t just been about Shallan. Damnation. Had he let Adolin outsmart him? Maybe he should get something stronger to drink.

“I’m worried about you both,” Adolin said. “I’m going to find a way to help. Somehow.”

“You’re a storming fool,” Kaladin said. “We need to get you a spren. Why hasn’t an order picked you up yet?”

Adolin shrugged. “I’m not a good fit, I guess.”

“It’s that sword of yours,” Kaladin said. “Shardbearers do better if they drop any old Shards. You need to get rid of yours.”

“I’m not ‘getting rid’ of Maya.”

“I know you’re attached to the sword,” Kaladin said. “But you’d have something better, if you became Radiant. Think about how it would feel to—”

“I’m not getting rid of Maya,” Adolin said. “Leave it, bridgeboy.” The finality in his voice surprised Kaladin, but before he could push further, Jor showed up to introduce his new bride, Kryst, to Adolin.

And, mark Kaladin as the fourth fool if Adolin didn’t immediately pull out a gift for the pair. Adolin hadn’t merely shown up at his favorite winehouse on the night of a wedding party, he’d come ready with a present.

Veil eventually tired of her game and found her way back, more than a little tipsy. When Adolin joked about it, she made a wisecrack about being lucky she was Veil, “because Shallan really can’t hold her alcohol.”

As the evening progressed, Syl returned to proclaim she wanted to take up gambling. Kaladin felt increasingly glad for what Adolin had done. Not because Kaladin felt better; he was still miserable. Yet the misery did lessen around others, and it required Kaladin to keep up a semblance. To pretend. It might be a front, but he’d found that sometimes the front worked even on himself.

The balance lasted for a good two hours, until—as the wedding party started to wane—Rock stepped up. He must have spoken to Adolin and Veil earlier, as they slipped out of the booth as soon as they noticed him, leaving Rock and Kaladin to speak in private.

The look on Rock’s face made Kaladin’s stomach churn. So, the time had arrived, had it? Of course it would happen today, of all days.

“Lowlander,” Rock said. “My captain.”

“Do we have to do this today, Rock?” Kaladin said. “I’m not at my best.”

“Is what you said before,” Rock said. “And before that.”

Kaladin braced himself, but nodded.

“I have waited, as you asked, though these Shards from Amaram for my people gather dust in their box,” Rock said, his large hands pressed to the tabletop. “Was good suggestion. My family was tired from travel. Best to spend time, let them know my friends. And Cord, she wanted to train. Ha! She says Horneater traditions and Alethi traditions to be foolish. First Shardbearer among my people was not nuatoma, but young woman.”

“It could have been you, Rock,” Kaladin said. “Either with those Shards you won, or as a Radiant with your own spren. We need you. I need you.”

“You have had me. Now, I need me. It is time to return, my ula’makai. My captain.”

“You just said your traditions were foolish.”

“To my daughter.” Rock pointed to his heart. “Not to me, Kaladin. I lifted the bow.”

“You saved my life.”

“I made that choice because you are worth that sacrifice.” He reached across the table and rested his hand on Kaladin’s shoulder. “But it is no sacrifice unless I now go, as is right, to seek justice from my people. I would leave with your blessing. But I will leave either way.”

“Alone?”

“Ha! I would not have anyone to talk to! Song will go with me, and younger children. Cord and Gift, they wish to stay. Gift should not fight, but I fear he will. It is his choice. As this is my choice.”

“Moash is out there, Rock. He might attack you. If you won’t fight… your family could be in danger.”

This gave Rock pause, then he grinned. “Skar and Drehy both said they wanted to see my peaks. Perhaps I will let them help fly my family, so we do not have to walk all across stupid lowlands. Then we will have protection, yes?”

Kaladin nodded. It was the best he could do—send an escort. Rock seemed to wait for something… and Kaladin realized it might be an offer to go with them. To see the Horneater Peaks that Rock had so often bragged about. The large cook never could get his stories straight. Was the place a frigid wasteland or a lush and warm paradise?

In any case… maybe Kaladin could go. Maybe he could fly off to adventure. Take Rock to his home, then stay—or simply run away, find a battle somewhere. Dalinar couldn’t stop him.

No. Kaladin dismissed the thought immediately. Fleeing would be the action of a child. Plus, he couldn’t go with Rock. Not merely because of the temptation to flee, but because he doubted he could hold back if Rock gave himself up to justice. The Horneater had been deliberately quiet about what punishment his people might impose as a consequence for his actions, but Kaladin found their entire tradition of birth-order-based roles in life stupid. If Kaladin went, it would be to undermine his friend’s decision.

“I give my blessing, Rock,” Kaladin said. “Both to you going, and to any who wish a short leave to accompany you. A Windrunner honor guard—you deserve that and more. And if you do encounter Moash…”

“Ha,” Rock said, standing. “He should try to come for me. That will let me get close enough to put hands on his neck and squeeze.”

“You don’t fight.”

“That? Is not fighting. Is exterminating. Even cook can kill rat he finds in his grain.” He grinned, and Kaladin knew him well enough to realize it was a joke.

Rock held out his arms for an embrace. “Come. Give me farewell.”

Feeling like he was in a trance, Kaladin stood. “Will you return? If you can, after?”

Rock shook his head. “This thing I have done here with all of you, he is the end. When we meet again, I suspect it shall not be in this world. This life.”

Kaladin embraced his friend. One final, crushing Horneater hug. When they pulled apart, Rock was crying, but smiling. “You gave me back my life,” he said. “Thank you for that, Kaladin, bridgeleader. Do not be sad that now I choose to live that life.”

“You go to imprisonment or worse.”

“I go to the gods,” Rock said. He held up his finger. “There is one who lives here. One afah’liki. He is powerful god, but tricky. You should not have lost his flute.”

“I… don’t think Wit is a god, Rock.”

He tapped Kaladin’s head. “Airsick as always.” He grinned, bowing in a sweeping, deferential way Kaladin had never seen from him before.

Following that, Rock retreated to meet Song at the door, and left. Forever.

Kaladin slumped into his seat. At least he wouldn’t be around to see Kaladin removed from his post. Rock could safely spend the rest of his days—short or long—pretending that his captain, his ula’makai, had remained strong all his days.

Excerpted from Rhythm of War, copyright ©2020 Dragonsteel Entertainment.


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