Under previous masters, he’d demanded his wages be given to him. They had always found ways to cheat him— charging him for his housing, his food. That’s how lighteyes were. Roshone, Amaram, Katarotam … Each lighteyes Kaladin had known, whether as a slave or a free man, had shown himself to be corrupt to the core, for all his outward poise and beauty. They were like rotting corpses clothed in beautiful silk.
Jasnah was also a rationalist, a woman with the audacity to deny the existence of the Almighty himself based on her own reasoning. Jasnah would appreciate strength, but only if it was shaped by logic.
At first, the darkeyed commoners enjoyed the novelty of owning him. Slaves were far too expensive for most, and parshmen were even more valuable. So having someone like Szeth to order around was quite the novelty. He cleaned floors, sawed wood, helped in the fields, and carried burdens. Some treated him well, some did not.
But they always got rid of him.
Perhaps they could sense the truth, that he was capable of so much more than they dared use him for. It was one thing to have a slave of your own. But when that slave talked like a lighteyes and knew more than you did? It made them uncomfortable.
Those stares— stunned and hostile though they were— were part of what kept Kaladin going. He also ran to work out his frustration, that boiling, churning pot of anger within. Anger at himself for failing Tien. Anger at the Almighty for creating a world where some dined in luxury while others died carrying bridges.
It felt surprisingly good to wear himself down in a way he chose. He felt as he had those first few months after Tien’s death, training himself on the spear to forget.
“What’s happening to me? What am I?”
“I don’t know. Does it matter?”
“I don’t know what I am either. A bridgeman? A surgeon? A soldier? A slave? Those are all just labels. Inside, I’m me. A very different me than I was a year ago, but I can’t worry about that, so I just keep moving and hope my feet take me where I need to go.”
Though many hated their lives, they still clung to them with white-knuckled fervor.
Need. That word had strange effects on men. Some ran when you used it. Others grew nervous. Teft seemed to long for it. He nodded, muttering to himself, but stayed with them as they went on.
“You are a kind man, Dalinar Kholin,” Navani said, that same sly smile on her lips as she sat back in the cushioned chair. “I’m afraid that I’m compelled to find you fascinating.”
“My sense of honor makes me easy to manipulate,” Dalinar said, eyes forward. Dealing with her was not something he needed right now. “I know it does. No need to toy with me, Navani.”
She laughed softly. “I’m not trying to take advantage of you, Dalinar, I—” She paused. “Well, perhaps I am taking advantage of you just a little. But I’m not ‘toying’ with you. This last year in particular, you’ve begun to be the person the others all claim that they are. Can’t you see how intriguing that makes you?”
“I don’t do it to be intriguing.”
“If you did, it wouldn’t work!” She leaned toward him. “Do you know why I picked Gavilar instead of you all those years ago?”
Blast. Her comments— her presence— were like a goblet of dark wine poured into the middle of his crystal thoughts. The clarity he’d sought in hard labor was quickly vanishing. Did she have to be so forward? He didn’t answer the question. Instead, he picked up his pace and hoped that she’d see he didn’t want to discuss the topic.
It was no use. “I didn’t pick him because he would become king, Dalinar. Though that’s what everyone says. I chose him because you frightened me. That intensity of yours … it scared your brother too, you know.”
He said nothing.
“It’s still in there,” she said. “I can see it in your eyes. But you’ve wrapped armor around it, a glistening set of Shardplate to contain it. That is part of what I find fascinating.”
He stopped, looking at her. The palanquin bearers halted. “This would not work, Navani,” he said softly.
Why is it you trust my daughter so much when others almost universally revile her?”
“I consider their disdain for her to be a recommendation,” he said.
“She is a heretic.”
“She refused to join any of the devotaries because she did not believe in their teachings. Rather than compromise for the sake of appearances, she has been honest and has refused to make professions she does not believe. I find that a sign of honor.”
Navani snorted. “You two are a pair of nails in the same doorframe. Stern, hard, and storming annoying to pull free.”
“I would not have you studying this if there were no point to it,” Jasnah said, opening up another of her own books. “Too many scholars think of research as purely a cerebral pursuit. If we do nothing with the knowledge we gain, then we have wasted our study. Books can store information better than we can— what we do that books cannot is interpret. So if one is not going to draw conclusions, then one might as well just leave the information in the texts.”
“Well,” Taravangian said, “I must say that you make your points quite effectively. I don’t accept them, though.” “My intention is not to convert, Your Majesty,” Jasnah said. “I am content keeping my beliefs to myself, something most of my colleagues in the devotaries have difficulty doing.
Soldiers, Kaladin thought. Is that how I think of them?
They didn’t fight. But yes, they were soldiers. It was too easy to underestimate men when you considered them to be “just” bridgemen. Charging straight at enemy archers without shields took courage. Even when you were compelled to do it.
“Why do the people try so hard to please him?” Kal asked of his father’s back. “They never reacted this way around Brightlord Wistiow.”
“They do it because Roshone is unappeasable.”
Kal frowned. Was that the wine talking?
Kal’s father turned, his eyes reflecting pure Stormlight. In those eyes, Kal saw a surprising lucidity. He wasn’t so drunk after all. “Brightlord Wistiow let men do as they wished. And so they ignored him. Roshone lets them know he finds them contemptible. And so they scramble to please him.”
“That makes no sense,” Kal said.
“It is the way of things,” Lirin said, playing with one of the spheres on the table, rolling it beneath his finger. “You’ll have to learn this, Kal. When men perceive the world as being right, we are content. But if we see a hole— a deficiency— we scramble to fill it.”
“He’s not interested in you. Not in any of the ways you think. In particular, this isn’t about your soul. It’s about me.”
“That is somewhat arrogant of you,” Shallan said, “don’t you think?”
“Only if I’m wrong, child,” Jasnah said, turning back to her book. “And I rarely am.”
“We wanted to say something,” Rock said. “Is from all of the men. Most wouldn’t come out. Highstorm coming, and—”
“It’s all right,” Kaladin whispered.
Teft nudged Rock to continue.
“Well, is this. We will remember you. Bridge Four, we won’t go back to how we were. Maybe all of us will die, but we’ll show the new ones. Fires at night. Laughter. Living. We’ll make a tradition out of it. For you.”
Am I a monster or am I a hero? Did I just slaughter four men, or did I stop four murderers from walking the streets? Does one deserve to have evil done to her by consequence of putting herself where evil can reach her? Did I have a right to defend myself? Or was I just looking for an excuse to end lives?”
“I don’t know,” Shallan whispered.
“You will spend the next week researching it and thinking on it. If you wish to be a scholar— a true scholar who changes the world— then you will need to face questions like this. There will be times when you must make decisions that churn your stomach, Shallan Davar. I’ll have you ready to make those decisions.”
He’d never been an optimist. He saw the world as it was, or he tried to. That was a problem, though, when the truth he saw was so terrible.
“Damnation can take them all,” Lirin said, pulling out the first sliver of tusk. Behind him, Rillir fell still. “Isn’t sending half of us to war enough for them? Do they have to seek death even when they’re living in a quiet township? Roshone should never have gone looking for the storming whitespine.”
“He was looking for it?”
“They went hunting it,” Lirin spat. “Wistiow and I used to joke about lighteyes like them. If you can’t kill men, you kill beasts. Well, this is what you found, Roshone.”
I’m going to fail them, Kaladin thought, squeezing his eyes shut. Why try?
Wasn’t he a fool to keep grasping as he did? If only he could win once. That would be enough. As long as he could believe that he could help someone, as long as he believed that some paths led to places other than darkness, he could hope.
“You will find wise men in any religion, Shallan, and good men in every nation. Those who truly seek wisdom are those who will acknowledge the virtue in their adversaries and who will learn from those who disabuse them of error.
Is it their bridgeman training? Kaladin wondered. Or is it their passion? He had given them a chance to fight back. That kind of opportunity changed a man.
Watching them stand resolute and capable in stances they had only just been taught, Kaladin realized something. These men— cast off by the army, forced to work themselves near to death, then fed extra food by Kaladin’s careful planning— were the most fit, training-ready recruits he’d ever been given.
By seeking to beat them down, Sadeas had prepared them to excel.
“When I fought in Amaram’s army,” Kaladin said, “I dreamed about joining the troops at the Shattered Plains. Everyone knew that the soldiers left in Alethkar were the dregs. We imagined the real soldiers, off fighting in the glorious war to bring retribution to those who had killed our king. Those soldiers would treat their fellows with fairness. Their discipline would be firm. Each would be an expert with the spear, and he would not break rank on the battlefield.”
To the side, Teft snorted quietly.
Kaladin turned to Moash. “Why do they treat us so, Moash? Because they know they should be better than they are. Because they see discipline in bridgemen, and it embarrasses them. Rather than bettering themselves, they take the easier road of jeering at us.”
But what could be worse than being granted great power, yet still being too weak to save those he loved?
At times, it seems to me that to be human is to want that which we cannot have. For some, this is power. For me, it is peace.
Dalinar took a deep breath, then forced himself to open his arms and pull back. “If you had hoped to soothe my worries for the day, then this didn’t help.”
She folded her arms. He could still feel where her safehand had touched him on the back. A tender touch, reserved for a family member. “I’m not here to soothe you, Dalinar. Quite the opposite.”
“Please. I do need time to think.”
“I won’t let you put me away. I won’t ignore that this happened. I won’t—”
“Navani,” he gently cut her off, “I will not abandon you. I promise.”
She eyed him, then a wry smile crept onto her face. “Very well. But you began something today.”
“I began it?” he asked, amused, elated, confused, worried, and ashamed at the same time.
“The kiss was yours, Dalinar,” she said idly, pulling open the door and entering his antechamber.
“You seduced me to it.”
“What? Seduced?” She glanced back at him. “Dalinar, I’ve never been more open and honest in my life.”
“I know,” Dalinar said, smiling. “That was the seductive part.” He closed the door softly, then let out a sigh.
Blood of my fathers, he thought, why can’t these things ever be simple?
And yet, in direct contrast with his thoughts, he felt as if the entire world had somehow become more right for having gone wrong.
“I suppose it’s too much to ask for you to not feel guilty,” Navani said. “Can’t you let yourself bend, just a little?”
“I’m not certain if I can. Particularly not now. Explaining why would be difficult.”
“Could you try to? For me?”
“I … Well, I’m a man of extremes, Navani. I discovered that when I was a youth. I’ve learned, repeatedly, that the only way to control those extremes is to dedicate my life to something. First it was Gavilar. Now it’s the Codes and the teachings of Nohadon. They’re the means by which I bind myself. Like the enclosure of a fire, meant to contain and control it.”
Ahead, the last of Sadeas’s army was bunched along the chasm, crossing. The staging plateau was nearly empty. The sheer awful audacity of what Sadeas had done twisted at Kaladin’s insides. He thought what had been done to him had been horrible. But here, Sadeas callously condemned thousands of men, lighteyed and dark. Supposed allies. That betrayal seemed to weigh as heavily on Kaladin as the bridge itself. It pressed on him, made him gasp for breath.
Was there no hope for men? They killed those they should have loved. What good was it to fight, what good was it to win, if there was no difference between ally and enemy? What was victory? Meaningless. What did the deaths of Kaladin’s friends and colleagues mean? Nothing. The entire world was a pustule, sickeningly green and infested with corruption.
Navani stepped out into the late-afternoon sunlight, feeling its heat on her skin. She walked up to her attendants. “Brushpen,” she said to Makal, who carried a satchel with Navani’s possessions. “The thickest one. And my burn ink.”
The short, plump woman opened the satchel, taking out a long brushpen with a knob of hog bristles on the end as wide as a man’s thumb. Navani took it. The ink followed.
Around her, the guards stared as Navani took the pen and dipped it into the blood-colored ink. She knelt, and began to paint on the stone ground. Art was about creation. That was its soul, its essence. Creation and order. You took something disorganized— a splash of ink, an empty page— and you built something from it. Something from nothing. The soul of creation.
She felt the tears on her cheeks as she painted. Dalinar had no wife and no daughters; he had nobody to pray for him. And so, Navani painted a prayer onto the stones themselves, sending her attendants for more ink. She paced off the size of the glyph as she continued its border, making it enormous, spreading her ink onto the tan rocks.
Soldiers gathered around, Sadeas stepping from his canopy, watching her paint, her back to the sun as she crawled on the ground and furiously dipped her brushpen into the ink jars. What was a prayer, if not creation? Making something where nothing existed. Creating a wish out of despair, a plea out of anguish. Bowing one’s back before the Almighty, and forming humility from the empty pride of a human life.
Something from nothing. True creation.
Her tears mixed with the ink. She went through four jars. She crawled, holding her safehand to the ground, brushing the stones and smearing ink on her cheeks when she wiped the tears. When she finally finished, she knelt back before a glyph twenty paces long, emblazoned as if in blood. The wet ink reflected sunlight, and she fired it with a candle; the ink was made to burn whether wet or dry. The flames burned across the length of the prayer, killing it and sending its soul to the Almighty.
She bowed her head before the prayer. It was only a single character, but a complex one. Thath. Justice.
“They’re worthless, you know,” Sadeas said. “You’re of the ten fools, Dalinar Kholin! Don’t you see how mad you are? This will be remembered as the most ridiculous decision ever made by an Alethi highprince!”
Dalinar didn’t look back. He walked up to Kaladin and the other members of Bridge Four. “Go,” Dalinar said to them, voice kindly. “Gather your things and the men you left behind. I will send troops with you to act as guards. Leave the bridges and come swiftly to my camp. You will be safe there. You have my word of honor on it.”
He began to walk away. Kaladin shook off his numbness. He scrambled after the highprince, grabbing his armored arm. “Wait. You— That— What just happened?”
Dalinar turned to him. Then, the highprince laid a hand on Kaladin’s shoulder, the gauntlet gleaming blue, mismatched with the rest of his slate-grey armor. “I don’t know what has been done to you. I can only guess what your life has been like. But know this. You will not be bridgemen in my camp, nor will you be slaves.”
“What is a man’s life worth?” Dalinar asked softly.
“The slavemasters say one is worth about two emerald broams,” Kaladin said, frowning.
“And what do you say?”
“A life is priceless,” he said immediately, quoting his father.
Dalinar smiled, wrinkle lines extending from the corners of his eyes. “Coincidentally, that is the exact value of a Shardblade. So today, you and your men sacrificed to buy me twenty-six hundred priceless lives. And all I had to repay you with was a single priceless sword. I call that a bargain.”
Everyone looked as exhausted as Kaladin felt, but nobody spoke of turning in. He could see why, now. Being together, eating Rock’s stew, listening to the quiet chatter while the fire crackled and popped, sending dancing flakes of yellow light into the air …
This was more relaxing than sleep could be. Kaladin smiled, leaning back, looking upward toward the dark sky and the large sapphire moon. Then he closed his eyes, listening.
Three more men were dead. Malop, Earless Jaks, and Narm. Kaladin had failed them. But he and Bridge Four had protected hundreds of others. Hundreds who would never have to run a bridge again, would never have to face Parshendi arrows, would never have to fight again if they didn’t want to. More personally, twenty-seven of his friends lived. Partially because of what he’d done, partially because of their own heroism.
Twenty-seven men lived. He’d finally managed to save someone.
For now, that was enough.
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson