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The Stormlight Archive: Words Of Radiance

Linked by Paul Ciano on November 13, 2017

Like Shallan, Jasnah wore the havah, a Vorin dress of distinctive design. The hemline was down at her feet and the neckline almost at her chin. Some of the Thaylens— when they thought she wasn’t listening— referred to the clothing as prudish. Shallan disagreed; the havah wasn’t prudish, but elegant. Indeed, the silk hugged the body, particularly through the bust— and the way the sailors gawked at Jasnah indicated they didn’t find the garment unflattering.

Jasnah was pretty. Lush of figure, tan of skin. Immaculate eyebrows, lips painted a deep red, hair up in a fine braid. Though Jasnah was twice Shallan’s age, her mature beauty was something to be admired, even envied. Why did the woman have to be so perfect?

Jasnah ignored the eyes of the sailors. It wasn’t that she didn’t notice men. Jasnah noticed everything and everyone. She simply didn’t seem to care, one way or another, how men perceived her.

No, that’s not true, Shallan thought as Jasnah walked over. She wouldn’t take the time to do her hair, or put on makeup, if she didn’t care how she was perceived. In that, Jasnah was an enigma. On one hand, she seemed to be a scholar concerned only with her research. On the other hand, she cultivated the poise and dignity of a king’s daughter— and, at times, used it like a bludgeon.

“That’s odd,” Syl said, landing on Kaladin’s shoulder again. “He looks so angry.”

“When I took over the bridgemen,” Kaladin said softly, “they were caged animals who had been beaten into submission. I brought back their fight, but they were still caged. Now the doors are off those cages. It will take time for Moash and the others to adjust.”

They would. During the final weeks as bridgemen, they’d learned to act with the precision and discipline of soldiers. They stood at attention while their abusers marched across bridges, never uttering a word of derision. Their discipline itself had become their weapon.

They’d learn to be real soldiers. No, they were real soldiers. Now they had to learn how to act without Sadeas’s oppression to push against.

“Sir.” Kaladin stood up straight again and saluted. It felt good to do that, to stand at attention, to find a place. He wasn’t certain if it was the good feeling of remembering a life he’d once loved, or if it was the pathetic feeling of an axehound finding its leash again.

“I know . . . little of humans,” Pattern said. “They break. Their minds break. You did not break. Only cracked.”

She continued her washing.

“It is the lies that save you,” Pattern said. “The lies that drew me.”

“Is that all that’s bothering you?” Syl asked.

“What else would be?”

“Amaram and Dalinar.”

“It’s not a big deal. Dalinar Kholin is friends with one of the worst murderers I’ve ever met. So? Dalinar is lighteyed. He’s probably friends with a lot of murderers.”

“Kaladin . . .” Syl said.

“Amaram’s worse than Sadeas, you know,” Kaladin said, walking around the storage room, checking for doorways. “Everyone knows that Sadeas is a rat. He’s straight with you. ‘You’re a bridgeman,’ he told me, ‘and I’m going to use you up until you die.’ Amaram, though . . . He promised to be more, a brightlord like those in the stories. He told me he’d protect Tien. He feigned honor. That’s worse than any depth Sadeas could ever reach.”

“Bridgeman,” Adolin called. “You’ve decided to start using proper titles for people? Didn’t you call my father ‘sir’?”

“He’s in my chain of command,” Kaladin said, turning back. The simple answer seemed the best.

“And I’m not?” Adolin asked, frowning.

“No.”

“And if I give you an order?”

“I’ll comply with any reasonable requests, Brightlord. But if you wish for someone to fetch you tea between bouts, you’ll have to send someone else. There should be plenty here willing to lick your heels.”

Adolin stepped up to him. Though the deep blue Shardplate added only a few inches to his height, he seemed to tower because of it. Perhaps that line about licking heels had been brash.

Adolin represented something, though. The privilege of the lighteyes. He wasn’t like Amaram or Sadeas, who brought out Kaladin’s hatred. Men like Adolin just annoyed him, reminding him that in this world, some sipped wine and wore fancy clothing while others were made slaves almost on a whim.

Demid, Venli’s once-mate, had started a movement where people who wanted to transform waited inside buildings until the storm had been going for a while. They only stepped out once the initial burst of fury was past. That was risky, as you never knew when the point of transformation would come.

Eshonai had never tried it. The storms were violent, they were dangerous, but they were also things of discovery. Within them, the familiar became something grand, majestic, and terrible. She did not look forward to entering them, but when she had to, she always found the experience thrilling.

Renarin said that Adolin was unfair toward the bridgeman captain, but there was something strange about that man. More than his attitude— the way he always acted like by talking to you, he was doing you a favor. The way he seemed so decidedly gloomy at everything, angry at the world itself. He was unlikable, plain and simple, but Adolin had known plenty of unlikable people.

Kaladin was also strange. In ways Adolin couldn’t explain.

Feeling the rush of the Stormlight within him, Kaladin grinned. Syl streaked along beside him, laughing. The closer they got to the top, the narrower the chasm became. Kaladin slowed, then stopped.

Syl streaked out in front of him, zipping out of the chasm as if leaping from the mouth of the cave. She turned about, a ribbon of light.

“Come on!” she called to him. “Out onto the plateau! Into the sunlight!”

“There are scouts out there,” he said, “watching for gemhearts.”

“Come out anyway. Stop hiding, Kaladin. Be.”

Lopen and Rock whooped below in excitement. Kaladin stared outward at the blue sky. “I have to know,” he whispered.

“Know?”

“You ask me why I protect Dalinar. I have to know if he really is what he seems, Syl. I have to know if one of them lives up to his reputation. That will tell me—”

“Tell you?” she asked, becoming the image of a full-size young woman standing on the wall before him. She was nearly as tall as he was, her dress fading to mist. “Tell you what?”

“If honor is dead,” Kaladin whispered.

Syl landed on his chest, taking the form of a young woman. She put hands on her hips.

“What?” he asked.

“That was pathetic.”

“Agreed.”

“Maybe you’re taking it a little too quickly,” she said. “Why not try to jump onto the wall without a running start?”

“The assassin could do it this way,” Kaladin said. “I need to be able to fight like he does.”

“I see. And I suppose he started doing all of this the moment he was born, without any practice at all.”

Kaladin exhaled softly. “You sound like Tukks used to.”

“Oh? Was he brilliant, beautiful, and always right?”

“He was loud, intolerant, and profoundly acerbic,” Kaladin said, standing up. “But yes, he was basically always right.”

I could Lash myself upward, he thought, and fall into the sky forever.

But no, that was how an ordinary person thought. A skyeel didn’t fear falling, did it? A fish didn’t fear drowning.

Until he began thinking in a new way, he wouldn’t control this gift he had been given. And it was a gift. He would embrace this.

Adolin turned back around and asked after her day. Kaladin listened with half an ear, studying Shallan, trying to pick out any knives hidden on her person. She blushed at something Adolin said, then laughed. Kaladin didn’t really like Adolin, but at least the prince was honest. He had his father’s earnest temperament, and had always been straight with Kaladin. Dismissive and spoiled, but straight.

This woman was different. Her movements were calculated. The way she laughed, the way she chose her words. She would giggle and blush, but her eyes were always discerning, always watching. She exemplified what made him sick about lighteyed culture.

You’re just in an irritable mood, part of him acknowledged. It happened sometimes, more often when the sky was cloudy. But did they have to act nauseatingly cheery?

Wit seemed genuinely surprised. “You unified the kingdom, Dalinar. You did a good work, something that was sorely needed.”

“This is unity?” Dalinar asked, waving a hand back toward the scattered remnants of the feast, the departing lighteyes. “No, Wit. We failed. We crushed, we killed, and we have failed miserably.” He looked up. “I receive, in Alethkar, only what I have demanded. In taking the throne by force, we implied— no we screamed— that strength is the right of rule. If Sadeas thinks he is stronger than I am, then it is his duty to try to take the throne from me. These are the fruits of my youth, Wit. It is why we need more than tyranny, even the benevolent kind, to transform this kingdom. That is what Nohadon was teaching. And that is what I’ve been missing all along.”

He bears the weight of God’s own divine hatred, separated from the virtues that gave it context. He is what we made him to be, old friend. And that is what he, unfortunately, wished to become.

“You are really intent on beating yourself up, aren’t you?”

His father had said the same thing time and time again. It was who Kaladin was. Did they expect him to change?

“We’ll be fine,” Shallan said. “You’ll see.”

That darkened his mood further.

“You still think I’m too optimistic, don’t you?” Shallan said.

“It’s not your fault,” Kaladin said. “I’d rather be like you. I’d rather not have lived the life I have. I would that the world was only full of people like you, Shallan Davar.”

“People who don’t understand pain.”

“Oh, all people understand pain,” Kaladin said. “That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s . . .”

“The sorrow,” Shallan said softly, “of watching a life crumble? Of struggling to grab it and hold on, but feeling hope become stringy sinew and blood beneath your fingers as everything collapses?”

“Yes.”

“The sensation— it’s not sorrow, but something deeper— of being broken. Of being crushed so often, and so hatefully, that emotion becomes something you can only wish for. If only you could cry, because then you’d feel something. Instead, you feel nothing. Just . . . haze and smoke inside. Like you’re already dead.”

He stopped in the chasm.

She turned and looked to him. “The crushing guilt,” she said, “of being powerless. Of wishing they’d hurt you instead of those around you. Of screaming and scrambling and hating as those you love are ruined, popped like a boil. And you have to watch their joy seeping away while you can’t do anything. They break the ones you love, and not you. And you plead. Can’t you just beat me instead?”

“Yes,” he whispered. Shallan nodded, holding his eyes.

“Yes. It would be nice if nobody in the world knew of those things, Kaladin Stormblessed. I agree. With everything I have.”

He saw it in her eyes. The anguish, the frustration. The terrible nothing that clawed inside and sought to smother her. She knew. It was there, inside. She had been broken.

Then she smiled. Oh, storms. She smiled anyway.

“You sent him to the sky to die, assassin,” Kaladin said, Stormlight puffing from his lips, “but the sky and the winds are mine.”

Paul Ciano

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