As we reach the last of the third set of Interludes in our Rhythm of War reread, we return to one of the most controversial characters: (former) King Taravangian. He’s having an emotional day, with all the angst that brings him; to further mess with him, he receives a visit from Renarin and Szeth-in-disguise. Since neither conversation goes the way he’d planned, he ends the chapter in tears. Does this make him more sympathetic? Or… not really? Come on in and join the discussion; we’ll talk about that.
Reminder: We’ll be discussing spoilers for the entirety of the series up until now. If you haven’t read ALL of the published entries of The Stormlight Archive (this includes Edgedancer and Dawnshard as well as the entirety of Rhythm of War), best to wait to join us until you’re done.
This week doesn’t really address wider Cosmere questions.
Heralds: Palah (Pailiah, Paliah). Truthwatchers (Progression, Illumination). Learned/Giving. Role: Scholar.
Nalan (Nale), Herald of Justice. Skybreakers (Gravitation, Division). Just/Confident. Role: Judge.
A: Honestly, my best guess is that these two are here for their respective Knights Radiant—Palah for Renarin the Truthwatcher, and Nalan for Szeth the Skybreaker. Otherwise, I can’t really see what Taravangian has to do with either of them in his fuddled state of mind.
Icon: The Vine King denotes an emotional-Taravangian POV.
WHEN: 1220.127.116.11 (Maybe; the 17S timeline puts this on the same date as Interlude 7, and it might well be. I’m still a little doubtful of the actual date, but we’ll roll with it for now.)
WHERE: Laqqi, Emul—coalition war headquarters city
RECAP: Taravangian wakes, stupid and aching. He’s particularly stupid this day, unable to even think of basic things like checking for fresh food before eating the stale leftovers. He carefully reviews the notes he wrote while he was smarter, just in case he needs that today. Turns out he does, because he has visitors. Renarin is first, hoping he can help Taravangian “find his way back” from the lost state he’s in. Unprepared, Taravangian doesn’t know how to respond, and Renarin leaves promising to return if his visions show him anything that will help. His guard stays, though, and demands to know why Taravangian requested an Oathstone. It takes a minute, but Taravangian finally sees that it’s Szeth inside the disguise, and jumps immediately into trying to convince him to use his sword against Odium. Szeth categorically refuses to be manipulated and walks away. Taravangian is sad.
Chapter Chatter—Taravangian’s Terrors
A: You could almost feel sorry for the man; the state he’s in this week reminds me of advancing senility. He can’t remember why he asked for things, he can’t remember why things he wrote down are important, he can’t even remember that there is fresh food in the other room. The saddest part is that he’s aware of his lack.
On the other hand… smart Taravangian is such a nasty piece of work that I can’t really feel too bad about him being in this state. At least when he’s “stupid” he’s human; when he’s smart, he borders on demonic.
(Worth wondering about: Just how smart was he when he wrote on the side of the drawer the other day? Was it one of those days that Mrall would have determined he was too smart to be allowed to make critical decisions? Or just an average sort of smart, the kind where he could understand the Diagram but couldn’t be trusted to modify it? He notes in later Interludes that, while his intelligence still varies from day to day, there’s a general downward trend so that his smart days are more like his former average days, and only smart by comparison with his increasingly stupid days. We really don’t know how strong that effect is just yet.)
Dumb. How dumb was he? Too… too dumb. He recognized the sensation, his thoughts moving as if through thick syrup. He stood. Was that light? Yes, sunlight.
A: Like I said, you can almost feel sorry for him. The worst of the COVID brain fog wasn’t nearly that bad (at least for me). It takes him some serious thinking to work out that there’s sunlight coming through an unboarded window because Dalinar ordered that he be allowed more light.
P: The COVID brain fog wasn’t that bad for me, either, but it was frustrating nonetheless. But yeah, it’s no wonder that “smart” Taravangian hates “dumb” Taravangian.
Though I still don’t feel sorry for him when he’s dumb. I feel like I need to make that perfectly clear.
A: Fair enough. I sort of pity anyone in this state, but on the whole, Taravangian made his own bed, and I’m okay with letting him lie in it. Even the dumb part.
He went back into his bedroom. Unhooked the drawer with the instructions. Slowly read them.
He laboriously copied them into the notebook. They were a list of things he needed to say if he could meet Szeth alone.
A: Aaaand… say goodbye to sympathy. Gah. When he was “smarter,” he wrote instructions to himself on the side of a drawer, since he didn’t have any paper. Now he’s got paper (as requested from Dalinar in the earlier Interlude). Once he finally realizes why he asked for the paper, he copies the notes into his little notebook, trusting absolutely in the “wisdom” of his “smart” self. Ugh. Wherever “smart” is on the scale these days, he was smart enough to make plans to manipulate Szeth, and write them all down in case he was having a dumb day when he had the chance. Which brings back all the dislike of the manipulative serpent he really is.
Gotta say, though, it’s bizarre to watch one borderline insane person trying to manipulate another.
P: Yeah, I’ll mention how much I hate that Szeth allowed himself to be manipulated, but he’s not exactly thinking straight when he’s around Taravangian.
A: It’s understandable, even though I find it irritating, you know? Given what Taravangian put him through, it’s no wonder he goes a little buggy around his former master… but I wish he were better at being on his guard without being so easily manipulated by his emotions.
Several times, the words “Don’t talk to Dalinar” were underlined. In his current state, Taravangian was uncertain about that. Why not talk to him?
Smarter him was convinced they needed to do this themselves. Dalinar Kholin could not be entrusted with Taravangian’s plans. For Dalinar Kholin would do what was right. Not what was needed.
A: I probably don’t really need to express my frustration with this viewpoint again, do I? ::sigh:: I mean, I appreciate hearing that yet another person believes Dalinar will always do the right thing these days; even if we all know he can make mistakes, at least he tries to do what is right. So far, so good… but Taravangian intends to do things that are, even in his own eyes, morally unjustifiable, because he thinks he knows what is “needed.” I suppose that’s what comes of being your own god?
P: One of the many reasons why I despise Taravangian. He’s so sure of himself despite how horrible his choice was. So sure it was the only way, so sure that only he could see what was right and what was necessary. Oh, the arrogance. Tsk.
Didn’t they understand? He made their lives difficult. But he lived the difficulty. He wasn’t trying to be a problem.
People took their minds for granted. They thought themselves wonderful because of how they’d been born.
P: And he thinks himself wonderful because what, Cultivation touched him? Because he was dangerously brilliant for one day? Because he thinks he’s smarter than everyone else even when he’s not at his smartest?
What have you done, Cultivation?
A: And that’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question… What has she done? Will it turn out to have been a blessing or a curse? Whichever it is, the effect will be on a cosmic scale.
“Traitor!” a voice called into the room. “You have a visitor!”
Taravangian felt a spike of alarm, his fingers shaking as he closed and gripped the notebook. A visitor? Szeth had come? Taravangian’s planted seed bore fruit?
P: I’d forgotten about the planted seed comment but it’s good to know that he only asked for the Oathstone to draw Szeth to him. I mean, not good, considering how things will go with Taravangian and Szeth later. I hate that Szeth allowed himself to be manipulated.
A: So far (as we’ll talk about below) he hasn’t manipulated Szeth into anything beyond coming to see him, but we all know it won’t stop there. As does Szeth, so one wonders why he came anyway. But at least now we have confirmation on why he was asking for the Oathstone-looking rock; he really did just want to provoke Szeth into this visit. (Which, as per a couple of weeks ago, I’d forgotten, but several of our friends pointed out in the discussion. Speaking of brain fog…)
He hadn’t prepared for this. Renarin. Their quiet salvation. Why had he come? Taravangian hadn’t prepared responses in his notebook for this meeting.
A: I really like this. I like Renarin coming to visit him, and I like that Taravangian hadn’t expected it or planned for it. (Maybe I just like it when Taravangian missed things?) But Renarin is such a gift to the world.
P: It’s interesting that he calls Renarin “their quiet salvation.” I think our boy’s gonna have a pretty big role to play as things progress.
A: Oh, for reals. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I agree—it will be big. I love the phrasing of “their quiet salvation”—it has such a portentous ring. Taravangian has already figured out that Renarin’s presence obscures Odium’s future sight, so it’s probable he’s just thinking that this allows him to work out his plan with Nightblood. I don’t think he’s quite realized that Renarin’s visions can have a much wider effect than that.
“I see your future, Taravangian. It is dark. Not like anything I’ve seen before. Except there’s a point of light flickering in the darkness. I worry what it will mean if that goes out.”
A: What does that mean?? Okay, the darkness is pretty understandable; Taravangian has given up on almost everything, because he sees the Diagram as more or less having fulfilled its purpose, and certainly that he’s fulfilled his purpose. But that point of light flickering in the darkness… is that the possibility that he will return to Team Honor, or that he will destroy Odium? I’m wondering, now, whether the events at the end of this book keep that point of light flickering, or put it out.
P: Frankly, I’m rather dying to know, too. Not that we’ll find out from Renarin, not when everyone thinks Taravangian is dead.
But I’m not sure that flicker means anything good. It’s possible that it’s your second guess, just his potential to kill Rayse, take up the shard, and be even more dangerous as Odium than Rayse was.
A: I wonder when everyone else will find out that Taravangian is the new Odium… Well, I wonder a lot more than that, but this is probably not the place to get into it!
P: I’m hoping that he’ll slip and say something that will tip Dalinar off.
“You are in darkness, Taravangian, and my father thinks you are lost. I lived through his return, and it taught me that no man is ever so far lost that he cannot find his way back. You are not alone.”
P: Oh, my sweet summer child. Taravangian is too far lost. You are remarkable, Renarin, but as your visions at the battle of Thaylen City showed, you don’t see everything as it’s going to happen. You aren’t omniscient. Do remember that.
A: I think that Renarin was right in a way—no one is ever so far lost he can’t be found again. But Taravangian was proud of being too far lost—he was so self-righteous in his “I’ll be the bad guy so that everyone else can be good” schtick that he doesn’t—can’t—even want to find his way back. Repentance and redemption are contrary to everything he’s done for the last seven years; he’s just not interested. And I’m not quite sure whether that’s more sad or repulsive.
Regardless, Renarin believes there is still hope for Taravangian, and the blessed boy promises to come tell him if the visions show him anything that might help.
P: Honor love our Renarin. I wish he’d been right.
Taravangian watched Renarin walking away, wishing he had the courage to call after the boy.
Foolish emotions. Taravangian was not lost in darkness. He had chosen this path, and he knew precisely where he was going. Didn’t he?
A: Hah. Not even a little bit, dude.
P: Nope. Not even an inkling.
“He is wrong,” the guard said. “We can’t all return from the dark. There are some acts that, once committed, will always taint a man.”
P: Szeth is spot on, here. Dalinar will always be tainted, Szeth will always be tainted, and Taravangian… wow, you all know how I feel about him.
A: Tainted for sure, though that’s actually not quite the same thing as irredeemable. But for these two, in a sense it is. Taravangian doesn’t want to be redeemed, and Szeth is convinced that he can’t be. (I think that has something to do with the Shin religion, or the traditions associated with being Truthless: You bear the responsibility/blame for all the things the holder of your Oathstone tells you to do. Szeth may have concluded that he’s not and never was Truthless, but he spent so many years thinking of himself as bearing the blame for all that stuff that he can’t let go. I suspect that eventually he’ll conclude that the people who falsely named him Truthless are actually the ones who bear the blame, and I kind of hate to imagine what he’ll do to them.)
P: Yeah, I don’t know that he’ll ever find peace.
A: Yeah. I don’t really see it happening; he’s got too much painful baggage, and any solutions I can see him trying will only bring more grief.
“Why? Why do you seek an Oathstone? I will not follow your orders again. I am becoming my own man.”
“Do you have the sword?” Taravangian asked. […] “The sword. Did you bring it?”
P: Szeth is so preoccupied with the idea of Taravangian wanting an Oathstone to somehow control him again, that he completely misses Taravangian’s urgency when he asks about Nightblood. Ding ding ding… Pay attention, dude! *sigh*
A: And it’s not like Taravangian could possibly have been any more obvious about it. He doesn’t even pretend to care about anything but the sword once he realizes the guard is Szeth. Nothing like talking past each other!
It’s a weird conversation to watch. While Szeth keeps obsessing over not obeying his former master, Taravangian keeps obsessing over Szeth’s sword. Still, what he says is not wrong. The Diagram didn’t anticipate Nightblood, Odium does fear it, and yes, that fear is thoroughly justified.
“My stone… was always only a stone… My father said…”
“Your father is dead, Szeth,” Taravangian said.
P: So much for emotional Taravangian. Just maliciously drop that bomb right on poor Szeth, who you helped to screw up so badly.
A: I’m not sure he was smart enough to be malicious; he just reacted to Szeth’s “distraction” by dismissing it as irrelevant. In some ways, emotional-T is every bit as oblivious to what’s going on with other people as intellectual-T was. It makes me wonder if that aspect is less about his capacities and more that he was always a self-obsessed git. “If it’s not important to me, it’s not important. Get over yourself.” Or in this case, “Stop talking about what your father said, he’s dead and irrelevant.”
Not exactly the way to gain Szeth’s cooperation… though I’m not sure that’s possible anyway. Szeth is so paranoid about being manipulated by Taravangian he can’t even hear anything else. The weird thing is that he knows the hypothetical Oathstone would mean nothing, but he still couldn’t resist coming and telling Taravangian that.
No! “Listen,” Taravangian said, going off script, ignoring the orders of his smarter self. “Give Dalinar the sword.” […]
Smarter Taravangian claimed he didn’t want to work with Dalinar because it was too dangerous, or because Dalinar wouldn’t believe. Those lies made dumb Taravangian want to pound his fists at his own face out of shame. But the truth was more shameful.
A: I was a little confused by this, but I think what he’s saying is that smart-T’s claims about Dalinar (as stated here) were lies, and the truth is what he thought earlier—that Dalinar would do what was right instead of what was necessary. If that’s the case, I’m glad he’s still got enough conscience to realize the shame of it, even if he doesn’t have the courage to act on the realization.
P: Yes, when he’s being emotional, he is aware of the horrific things he’s done and feels that shame. But I’m not sure I think he’s too much a coward to do anything about it, I think that he just doesn’t want to do anything about it because it’s so necessary in his mind.
A: True. Even in his emotional state, he thinks his brilliant-day-self is the epitome of perfection; shame, honor, right, wrong all have to be subjected to “necessary” as defined by that man.
“I should have realized I wouldn’t be able to understand the way your mind works. All I can do is refuse.”
A: Well, I’ll agree with Szeth on this: He’ll never understand the way Taravangian’s mind works. I’ll also say that’s not a bad thing… Much as I get frustrated with the over-simplicity of Szeth’s obsessive behavior, I’m glad he’s not weasel enough to understand Taravangian.
P: I almost wish we had a weasel who could have possibly anticipated how awful this man is.
A: I’m just glad Taravangian and Sadeas didn’t team up. They’d have really been a prize pair.
Bruised and Broken
There were more notes in the book about how to manipulate Szeth. Taravangian read them, and the words made him hurt. Hadn’t this man been through enough?
P: As I said, you put him through much of that, you snake. (I really wanted to use a word other than snake!) He’s literally thinking about manipulating Szeth while also thinking that he’s been through enough. If that doesn’t show you how screwed up Taravangian is, I don’t know what to tell you.
Because Szeth has been through enough. I hope Brandon eventually gives him some peace.
A: The fact that Taravangian changes his mind and doesn’t use those tools against Szeth, and instead attempts to simply seek help, is one of the few glimmers of hope I see for him in this scene. Of course he doesn’t actually acknowledge that the “enough” Szeth has been through was at his own hands, but at least he stops. For now.
We’ll be leaving further speculation and discussion to you in the comments. As always, feel free to add anything we left out, because we can never address everything. Now we launch into Part Four, which brings back Adolin and Shallan’s story, leaving Dalinar, Jasnah, and the Emuli campaign on the back burner for a while. Navani’s arc continues, as does Venli’s arc and flashbacks; Kaladin’s arc will mostly be seen from the perspective of other Bridge Four members. Next week we’ll do Chapter 73, which is one of Venli’s flashbacks, and it promises to be a painful one.
Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids. She is currently immersed in her daughter’s high school production of Beauty and the Beast; the show opens tonight!
Paige resides in New Mexico, of course, and she is ready for some baseball! Links to her other writing are available in her profile.