Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Eighty

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Welcome back, y’all. It’s Thursday again, so here we are! This is a weighty chapter: pain and agony, but also beauty and humor. Weird combo, eh? It’s Kaladin’s only POV in Part Four. (The rest of his arc is told through the eyes of his Bridge Four companions.) There’s a brutal nightmare, a ray of hope, a plunge into despair, brightness, an elegant Cryptic, and Wit’s story entry for this book. Come on in and join the discussion!

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.

In this week’s discussion we briefly address the existence of non-human Shard Vessels, if you consider that a Cosmere spoiler?

Heralds: Jezrien (Jezerezeh, Yaezir, Ahu), Herald of Kings. Windrunners (Adhesion, Gravitation). Protecting/Leading. Role: King.

Joker, Wild Card.

A: It seems probable that Jezrien represents the Windrunners here, given how much Kaladin thinks about his connection to the wind. The Wild Card, of course, is for the major role played by Wit in this chapter, and it’s quite possible that his role in protecting Kaladin might contribute to the Jezrien choice.

Icon: Banner and Spears, for Kaladin’s sole Part Four POV

Epigraph:

The singers first put Jezrien into a gemstone. They think they are clever, discovering they can trap us in those. It only took them seven thousand years.

A: Kalak seems a bit contemptuous here, and that makes me wonder: Just how long were the Heralds aware that Cognitive Shadows, like spren, could be trapped in gemstones? The Fused obviously have known about taking over a gemheart for at least 7000 years, and were undoubtedly aware of hosting spren in their gemhearts long before that. (At least, I assume that taking different forms by hosting different spren was part of their way of life since their original creation…) When did the concept of actually trapping the spren develop? And how is trapping such an entity in a gemstone different from hosting it in a gemheart? What keeps them from leaving? I want to know—how is the process different, and why is the result different?

Chapter Recap

WHO: Kaladin
WHEN: Somewhere between 1175.4.8.2 and 4.9.2 (After the fight at the Well and Dalinar’s rescue, but before Dabbid gets help from Rlain, Venli, and Lift.)
WHERE: Urithiru

(Note: For the “when” notations, we are using this wonderful timeline provided by the folks at The 17th Shard.)

RECAP: Kaladin struggles through a nightmare, set in a hostile place where the wind hates him, suffering bruises, abrasions, and even broken bones. He finally sees a non-lightning light ahead, and knows he needs to reach it. As the landscape betrays him by turning to quicksand (quickcrem?) at the last moment, a glowing arm reaches out from the light and pulls him in. His rescuer is none other than Wit, who informs him that it’s a dream and neither one of them is actually in this place. But there’s a fire, and Rock’s stew, and warmth, and Kaladin asks for a story. Wit obliges (after his initial shock) with the titular story of “The Dog and the Dragon,” aided by his Cryptic spren Design. Kaladin finds the ending a terrible letdown, and scolds Wit for it. After a brief lecture on the purpose of story, and Kaladin unwittingly working through the meaning of the story, Wit relents and gives a more hopeful ending, then encourages Kaladin that while life will have ups and downs, there will be better times than this. Kaladin returns to the nightmare, but refreshed and hopeful.

Chapter Focus—Bruised and Broken: The Brutal Nightmare

Kaladin existed in a place where the wind hated him.

A: This seems to be a theme of the nightmare itself, and… wow. It repeats so many times, emphasizing how painful that is for Kaladin. We’ll talk about this more in a minute.

He remembered fighting in the market, then swimming through the well. […] He’d climbed the outside of the tower. Because he’d known that if he fled, he’d leave Dabbid and Teft alone. If he fled, he’d leave Syl—maybe forever. […] Dalinar’s voice.

A: This is pretty much all we get of what happened to Kaladin. I can’t find that we’re ever told whether he made his way back by himself, or whether Dabbid found him and helped him. On a bet, since Dabbid doesn’t think about helping him, I’d say Kaladin probably managed to find his way back in a complete haze; it may well have been so buried in nightmare that he can’t remember it himself. On top of that, he has absolutely no idea how long this has lasted, though we know the whole thing is about a week.

P: I’ve often wondered how Kaladin got back to the hidden room. But him finding his way back on his own makes more sense than Dabbid just happening upon him.

A: In normal circumstances, I’d easily believe that Syl or the Sibling led Dabbid to Kaladin—but Syl is lost down by the Well, and the Sibling has withdrawn with what sanity they have left.

Without quoting all the places where the hateful wind is mentioned, let’s pull out one, and talk about why it hurts so much.

Each time the wind spoke, it broke something inside Kal. Ever since he could remember—since childhood—he had loved the wind. The feel of it on his skin meant he was free. Meant he was alive. It brought new scents, clean and fresh. The wind had always been there, his friend, his companion, his ally. Until one day it had come to life and started talking to him.

Its hatred crushed him. […]

He’d left Syl alone, to lose herself because he’d gotten too far away. He’d abandoned the wind.

A: He’s already feeling guilty about abandoning Syl, even though he didn’t really have a choice once she escaped through the top of the Well and he didn’t. Here, in this nightmare, he equates Syl and the wind, and so there seems to be a sense of “she hates me and I deserve it” mixed with a feeling of betrayal that the wind has turned from a constant friend to a bitter enemy. Absolutely brutal twisting, and I don’t know how Odium and Moash know exactly what the keys are. Perhaps Moash simply provided Connection, Odium sent the hatred, and Kaladin’s own mind provided the specifics. Honor knows he’s got enough fears, worries, and misplaced guilt to create some horrific stuff.

P: What better way to punish a Windrunner than to turn the wind against him? But yes, I imagine much of it is what’s already in his mind. And he would especially have guilt about Syl after Words of Radiance, when he almost lost her completely.

A: Oh, good point. He failed her once before, and now fears he’s actually destroyed her. If it’s his own mind forming the substance of the nightmare, that guilt and fear could be the reason that his beloved wind has turned against him. (And if Odium can see enough of his mind to put pressure on specific aspects, that would make a world of sense too.)

He was… somewhere barren. No sign of rockbuds or vines in the flashes of terrifying light. Only endless windswept, rocky crags. It reminded him of the Shattered Plains, but with far more variation to the elevations. Peaks and precipices, red and grey.

A: As always, I wonder if this is a real place used as a setting for the nightmares Odium sends. I’ve kind of assumed it might be Braize, but I don’t really know. It does sound an awful lot like the description Raboniel gives Navani a few chapters from now, though. “[…] the place is barren, devoid of life. Merely a dark sky, endless windswept crags, and a broken landscape. And a lot of souls. A lot of not particularly sane souls.” So… maybe the same? At least it’s a landscape Odium would know well.

P: Odium is horrible enough to send a vision of Braize to Kaladin. He’s using Moash’s idea of trying to get Kaladin to kill himself, after all. What better landscape to induce sheer hopelessness?

Sometimes he could see a little, though there was no light source he could locate. Merely a persistent directionless illumination. Like … like another place he couldn’t remember.

A: My best guess is that he’s recalling Shadesmar, or some part of it, though it doesn’t sound quite right. Thoughts? Has he had other visions? My brain won’t find those references right now…

P: I don’t believe he has, no. And he very well could be remembering Shadesmar, but he’s so completely out of it that it’s not clear to him.

Kal pushed off the wall, struggling against the wind. Figures appeared. Teft begging to know why Kal hadn’t rescued him. Moash pleading for help protecting his grandparents. Lirin dying as Roshone executed him.

A: Talk about misplaced guilt! These didn’t happen, and couldn’t happen; he did rescue Teft (at least for now); he was still a kid and didn’t know Moash when his grandparents needed protection; he saw Roshone die, and Lirin is still alive. But… nightmares don’t care about reality, do they?

P: Nightmares certainly don’t care. Especially not one engineered by an insane god.

[…] as soon as he reached the top, the wind reversed and blew him from behind, casting him down the other side. He landed on his shoulder, scraping up his arm as he slid across the stone.

Hate. Hate. Hate.

A: So brutal. And it just keeps going, until he’s a concussed mess of broken bones and non-functioning pieces. It’s so heartbreaking to read, and it all seems so real you (or at least I) forget that it’s a nightmare and he’s probably not actually bruised, broken, and bleeding. It’s certainly real to him in the moment.

P: Yes, the pain he feels is real and the despair he feels is real. And I hate Moash so, so much.

A: SO much. I wonder if he gave Odium insight into how Kaladin feels about the wind? Snake.

Was it time? Time to finally let go?

He forced himself to look up. And there—in the distance along the bottom of the chasm—he saw something beautiful. A pure white light. A longing warmth. The sight of it made him weep and cry out, reaching for it.

Something real. Something that didn’t hate him.

He needed to get to that light.

A: And all the readers said YES. YES YOU DO. (Was anyone skeptical of the light? I don’t think I was—it was such a relief to see it!)

P: I wasn’t skeptical, it very much felt like a port in a storm to me.

He was just ten feet away. He could…

Suddenly, Kaladin began to sink. He felt the ground change, becoming liquid. Crem. […] As he sank away, Kal realized that the light had never been there for him to reach. It had been a lie, meant to give him a moment of hope in this awful, horrible place. So that hope could be taken. So that he could finally. Be. Broken.

A: AAAAAAAHHHHH. This was so horrible, and the worse for having that moment of hope as he moved toward the light! Sanderson was being absolutely beastly to the reader here. IMO.

P: That’s one word. This dream of his is so, so brutal. It’s painful to read.

A glowing arm plunged into the crem, burning it away like vapor. A hand seized Kaladin by the front of his vest, then heaved him up out of the pool.

A: And then, BOOM. Hope again. Maybe? (At this point, it would not be beyond belief to find that this was Odium pulling him out of the crem just to torment him with something else…)

P: Especially with a glowing arm. That feels very Odium-esque.

As it stepped back, the figure drew in color, the light fading away, revealing… Wit.

A: Okay, who guessed this? I certainly didn’t. Should have? Maybe? But definitely didn’t.

P: I did not guess, but I did cackle with sheer, unadulterated delight once he was revealed.

He put a hand to his head, realizing he didn’t hurt any longer. In fact, he could see now that he was in a nightmare. He was asleep. He must have fallen unconscious after fleeing into the tempest.

A: Honestly, this was a huge relief. Yes, it was a nightmare. No, he’s not actually injured. Whew. He wonders what kind of fever he must have, to give him such nightmares—and as we’ll find out soon, he does indeed have a terrible fever as his body tries to fight off the infection from Raboniel’s knife wound. Still, I can’t help thinking that it’s more a matter of Odium taking advantage of his weakened state to make things much worse, not just fever-driven nightmare.

P: Thank Honor that reason reasserted itself in that moment… that he came back to himself. He was so beaten down to have thoughts of being done again.

Wit looked up at the tumultuous sky far above, beyond the chasm rims. “This isn’t playing fair. Not fair at all…”

A: I have to think that this unfairness is the only reason Wit risked intervening. If it’s really Braize, then at least the Heralds and the Fused agreed to… something… to end up there. Kaladin didn’t sign up for a term in Damnation, and for Odium to give him nightmares of being there is really beyond the pale.

P: And of course, Wit knows that Odium is responsible for the dream. He would.

“Wit?” Kaladin asked. “How are you here?”

“I’m not,” Wit said. “And neither are you. This is another planet, or it looks like one—and not a pleasant one, mind you. The kind without lights. No Stormlight ones, gaseous ones, or even electric ones. Damn place barely has an atmosphere.”

P: You’ve got to be right about it being “Braize,” right?

A: I’m almost certain. (And if so, some people will see this as foreshadowing that Kaladin will become a Herald eventually. I’m hoping it’s foreshadowing that no one will ever have to come here again.)

P: I’m right there with you on this.

“I have to go back out into that?”

Wit nodded. “I’m afraid it’s going to get worse, Kaladin. I’m sorry.”

“Worse than this?”

“Unfortunately.”

“I’m not strong enough, Wit,” Kaladin whispered. “It has all been a lie. I’ve never been strong enough.”

P: It’s heartbreaking that he sees himself as weak rather than having overcome seemingly insurmountable horrors. My therapist would tell me to look into a mirror right about now.

A: (Interestingly enough, this is a lesson Adolin is also trying to get Shallan to learn. We’ll talk about that more in a few weeks, iirc.)

“You… agree?” Kaladin asked.

“You know better than I what your limits are,” Wit said. “It’s not such a terrible thing, to be too weak. Makes us need one another.”

A: As I say frequently, I’m not always sure how much to trust Wit. But it’s undeniable: He knows human nature very well, and has some very profound insights to share. When he wants to.

P: That he does. His scenes with Kaladin and Shallan are some of my favorites, and so full of emotion. Okay, I’m getting verklempt… talk amongst yourselves.

A: He seems to care more about the people on Roshar than we’ve seen elsewhere—although that might be more a matter of him getting involved with their lives in ways we haven’t seen on other planets. Most places, he just checks in, does a little minor steering effort, and pops back out. Roshar… he lives here for extended periods, apparently, and he really does seem to care—particularly about Kaladin and Shallan—and Jasnah in a different way.

“If I can’t keep fighting? If I just… stop? Give up?”

“Are you close to that?”

“Yes,” Kaladin whispered.

“Then best eat your stew,” Wit said, pointing with his spoon. “A man shouldn’t lie down and die on an empty stomach.”

A: Ulp. I’m… not sure if that’s profound or snarky. Or both. Or something else altogether. Unexpected, in any case.

P: I almost feel like he’s using reverse psychology on Kaladin. So that Kaladin comes back by saying he’s not going to lie down and die!

A: Yeah… He is good at making Kaladin stop and think, and decide to be stubborn again.

A little light, a little warmth, a little fire and he felt ready to walk out into the winds again. Yet he knew the darkness would return. It always did.

P: Bruised and broken, indeed. The darkness does always return. But as Kaladin learned in his dream, and in the immortal words of David Draiman of Disturbed, “Sometimes darkness can show you the light.”

“I can’t keep this bubble up much longer, I’m afraid,” Wit said. “He’ll notice if I do—and then he’ll destroy me. I have violated our agreement, which exposes me to his direct action. I’d rather not be killed, as I have seven more people I wanted to insult today.”

P: I’d also rather you weren’t killed. But what agreement does he have with Odium? Am I forgetting something?

A: I don’t think we know yet. He will hint at it again in the chapter when he and Jasnah work out the terms Dalinar is supposed to lay down for the Contest of Champions, where naming Wit as “contractual liaison for Honor” will allow him to aid them openly. So… something in ancient history binds Wit from interfering in certain ways? I’m betting it has something to do with the Shattering itself, and his role in the events surrounding that singular Event. Like… he can’t interfere directly with anything the Shards are doing, and they can’t harm him by their direct action. Just my guess, though.

“I will not lie by saying every day will be sunshine. But there will be sunshine again, and that is a very different thing to say. That is truth. I promise you, Kaladin: You will be warm again.”

P: This is in response to Kaladin saying Wit told him it would get worse. And he said it would get better, and then it would get worse, and then it would get better again. And he’s right, that is life and we can move past the worst times and be warm again. Sometimes we just need a little help from our friends.

A: This is such a lovely ending, even though Kaladin has to re-enter the nightmare storm immediately afterward. It’s so hopeful, and above all, Kaladin needs hope. Don’t we all?

Brilliant Buttresses

“Wit?” Kaladin finally said. “Do you… maybe have a story you could tell me?”

Wit froze, spoon in his mouth. He stared at Kaladin, lowering his hand, leaving the spoon between his lips—before eventually opening his mouth to stare slack-jawed, the spoon falling into his waiting hand.

“What?” Kaladin asked. “Why are you so surprised?”

“Well,” Wit said, recovering. “It’s simply that… I’ve been waiting for someone to actually ask. They never seem to.”

A: Bahahahaha! Be honest: Did anyone not crack up at that one?

P: I loved this moment. Finally, someone asks him! And the mental image of Wit sitting there in shock, his spoon in his mouth, is just too funny.

“I will now share it with you.”

“All right…” Kaladin said.

“Hush. This isn’t the part where you talk,” Wit said.

P: I absolutely adore Wit. I don’t care what anyone says, he’s hilarious! And I love it when he says “This isn’t the part where you talk” later on, too.

A: So funny here!! I mean… I don’t always trust Wit, even though I really want to. But he will never not be absolutely hilarious in this mode.

“Oh, is this the place where I talk?” Kaladin said.

“If you wish.”

“I don’t wish. Get on with the story.”

A: Honestly, I was so grateful for these laugh-out-loud moments. The first part of the chapter was so horrible, and the story is… pretty emotional, so the moments like this one would always surprise me into laughter—and I needed the laughter!

P: Brandon is pretty skilled at balancing the darkness with levity.

Spren and Shadesmar

A: So… Wit is hilarious on his own, but when you throw Design into the mix…

The Cryptic held up a flute, and Kaladin recognized it.

“Your flute!” he said. “You found it?”

“This is a dream, idiot,” Wit said. “It’s not real.”

“Oh,” Kaladin said. “Right.”

“I’m real!” the Cryptic said with a musical, feminine voice. “Not imaginary at all! Unfortunately, I am irrational! Ha ha!”

P: Now this is a bit harsh, considering Kaladin’s horrible dream, out there just waiting for him. But then, maybe Wit is still salty over Kaladin losing his flute.

A: A little harsh, perhaps, but also a humorous reminder of their situation. It’s possible he really wants Kaladin to be aware that this is all a dream: not just the bubble of light, but the whole nightmare outside as well. It’s not real, and hanging on to that knowledge may be the thing that gets Kaladin through.

Oh, and he’s totally salty over the loss of his flute.

P: And oh, Design… never change, love.

A: I got a kick out of her “not imaginary, but irrational.” Math jokes FTW. If you math, you get it; if not, it’s just… cryptic. (I’m pretty sure Sanderson hasn’t actually laid out what formulas each of the Cryptics represent, but it would be fun to know if there are any he has decided.) Anyway, Design is a hoot.

The Cryptic waved again. “I get annoyed easily!” she said. “It’s endearing.”

“No it’s not,” Wit said.

P: I think Design is the perfect spren for Wit!

A: Oh, absolutely. He needs a spren that can tweak his nose the way he does everyone else.

“Don’t spoil stories!” Wit said.

P: Right there with you, Wit! Spoilers are anathema.

A: Oddly enough, I know people who feel the same way she does: They want to know the ending, so they know if it’s worth bothering to read the story. There are even a few times where I’ve found a certain level of sympathy with that (though I still don’t really want spoilers); it’s just frustrating to slog through a storytelling style you dislike, only to have the ending be a complete letdown. (I’ve learned that if I dislike the style, I probably won’t like the ending either, so I’ve finally given myself permission to not finish books. Big move for me.)

P: Same! I’ve finished books I loathed because I felt like I should finish what I started, but I don’t do that anymore. If I’m not digging it, I don’t finish it.

Arresting Artwork—The Dog and the Dragon

A: We usually use this section for the illustrations in the book, but I’ve recently been reminded that storytelling is also art, and this story is absolutely an arresting bit of artwork.

“The door has a wheel on it, but the sign bears no name. If you find the place and wander inside, you’ll meet a young man behind the bar. He has no name. He cannot tell it to you, should he want to—it’s been taken from him. But he’ll know you, as he knows everyone who enters the inn. He’ll listen to everything you want to tell him—and you will want to talk to him. And if you ask him for a story, he’ll share one. Like he shared with me. I will now share it with you.”

A: I’m almost sure this is a reference to something… Homage to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time? Kote, from Pat Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles? Both? Something else? Does anyone know? (ETA: According to Peter Ahlstrom, it’s a reference to something from the WoT fandom, not WoT itself, and not KKC. So… for what that’s worth. At least it is, as it seems, a reference to something else.)

P: Peter… you tease.

But yes, it made me think of Kote, too.

“But when this dog stared at the dragon and heard the mighty boast, he came to a realization. Today, he had encountered something he’d always wished for but never known. Today he’d seen perfection, and had been presented with a goal. From today, nothing else mattered.

“He was going to become a dragon.”

P: Such a lofty goal for our spunky little mutt.

A: And he has no idea, of course. As it should be.

“You look silly and stupid. Go back to being a dog.’

“They left the dog to stare at his writing as rain began to fall, washing the words away. He realized they were correct. He had failed to speak with the proud and powerful voice of the dragon.”

The image of the dog in the rain felt far too familiar to Kaladin. Far too personal.

P: Oof. Kaladin knows what it’s like to be beaten down.

A: As usual, Wit’s stories put his audience right there in the main character’s mind. Kaladin has spent so much time feeling like he’s failed to reach his loftiest goals, and he doesn’t even realize what he has done. Which, of course, he’ll realize (regarding the dog) in a bit.

“But there was still hope,” Wit said. “If the dog could just fly.”

A: Just a bit on the nose there… because we don’t know anyone else who is longing to fly, or anything. (But really, it’s such a part of the story you almost don’t think about how it relates to Kaladin and how much he wants to fly again. Even he doesn’t notice it.)

“That night, the family set a place for the little dog at their table and gave him a sweater to keep him warm, his name written across the front with letters he could read. They served a feast with food the dog had helped grow. They gave him some of the cake celebrating the birthday of the child whose life he had saved.”

P: Not gonna lie, I cried the first time I read this story.

A: Oh, yeah. Definitely cried. Bless that little dog…

“Can you tell me the real ending?” Kaladin asked, his voice small. “Before I go back out?”

Wit stood and stepped over, then put his hand on Kaladin’s back and leaned in. “That night,” he said, “the little dog snuggled into a warm bed beside the fire, hugged by the farmer’s children, his belly full. And as he did, the dog thought to himself, ‘I doubt any dragon ever had it so good anyway.’”

He smiled and met Kaladin’s eyes.

P: This is a much better ending than the first one where the dog realizes that he’s a failure for not becoming a dragon.

A: It is. And yet… Kaladin needed to hear the other ending first. It made him fighting mad because, as he said, “that dog was a storming hero!” He needed to work it through for himself: Yes, the dog “failed” at becoming a dragon, but that was never going to happen anyway, right? (Thanks, Design…) What he learned and accomplished along the way, and what he actually ended up doing, were worth far more than the lofty but impossible notion. Once Kaladin got through that sequence, he was ready to hear the real ending—the one where the dog realizes that what seems to be “settling for less” can be far, far better than the big dream.

Further musing: There have been several mentions along the way of needing other people, of not being strong enough, etc. Now Wit tells a story of an unattainable goal, ending with a far different but better result. It seems that, however subtly, this is leading Kaladin toward his Fourth Ideal, where he accepts that he can’t fix everything for everyone. Am I seeing things that aren’t there, or is this… leading?

Cosmere Connections

“I know of just one on Roshar,” Wit noted, “and she prefers to hide her true form. This story isn’t about her, however, or any of the dragons I’ve met.”

A: I’m not sure if we’ve gotten any more solid confirmation than this, but I take it as solid enough: Cultivation’s vessel is a dragon. I know it had been a topic of speculation for a while, so it was nice to get this. Also, where’s the artwork???

P: I NEEEED artwork!

A: For anyone wondering… (and this is all extra-textual, not spoilers for any of the books) We’ve been told for a long time that not all of the Shards’ Vessels are human. We’ve also been told that there were three equally sapient races on Yolen, the original home of life in the Cosmere. There were humans, there were Sho Del (about whom we know almost nothing), and there were dragons. We’ve seen letters between Hoid and Frost, one of those dragons. Some have speculated (not sure of the basis) that Edgli, the Vessel of Endowment on Nalthis, might be a dragon. The bold statement that there is actually a dragon on Roshar… well, who else could it be but Cultivation?

Okay, it could be anyone, since Cosmere dragons are shapeshifters, just like the kandra could be almost anyone. But Cultivation’s Vessel (I’m really going to have to work on remembering her name!) seems the most likely.

 

We’ll be leaving further speculation and discussion to you in the comments, and hope to join you there! Next week, Paige and Lyn will be back with chapter 81, a flashback to the very earliest days of the War of Reckoning. (Alice will be dealing with graduation week…)

Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids. The daughter survived Senior Thesis, as did her parents—and no finals when you have straight As. Now on to the next steps: senior getaway trip, and Commencement.

Paige resides in New Mexico, of course. She can’t wait to go watch some baseball this summer. Go, Yankees! Links to her other writing are available in her profile.

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