The Way of Kings Chapter 15 (D)
This chapter continues the theme from the previous deleted scene, but it also references some major concepts that were changed in the final book. Gemhearts are quite different, “capturing plateaus” is a thing in this war, and Dalinar has a mysterious tattoo…
This chapter also corresponds to parts of chapter 12 and chapter 15 in the published version.
The hunting party eventually approached the final plateau, the place where they would rest while the huntmaster and his men baited the Chasmfiend.
Dalinar had spent most of the ride in thought, disturbed by some of the things Sadeas had said. Was he causing his nephew’s paranoia? Was Dalinar too strict? Why did he follow the Codes, when every other lighteyes in the king’s army scoffed?
On the night Gavilar’s death, the king had only asked one thing of Dalinar. Follow the Code tonight, brother. We may not be at war, but there is something odd upon the winds…
Gavilar retired to his rooms for sleep, and Dalinar had ignored his brother’s request, finding joy in the revelry. The Codes stated that no officer should be drunk on a night when the kingdom was threatened by war. It was a good prohibition.
If you didn’t follow it, you risked spending an evening unconscious on the floor while your brother was murdered.
Dalinar rode up to the next-to-last bridge, holding position at the side as the king and his retinue crossed. Highprince Vamah didn’t look at him, though Sadeas gave him an insufferable smirk. Many of the other lighteyed men wore only the token nods to uniform—small jackets that were open at the front, displaying silk underneath. Those scarves on the neck and wrists were the latest fashion. They were also ridiculous.
The Codes stated that during war an officer was to be in uniform, ready for battle, at all times. And yet, what did it matter? The Parshendi were on the defensive, and had never attacked the warcamps. What redemption could Dalinar think to obtain by following the Code now, five years after it mattered?
Soon, Adolin came trotting up—he’d gone to check the rear guard—accompanied by his younger brother. Lanky Renarin wore a deep blue uniform that was nearly black and rode a bay mare that was dwarfed by Adolin’s massive Ryshadium warhorse. Renarin was the only lighteyes on the hunt who wore spectacles. The others avoided them, as they were considered unattractive.
Dalinar shook his head. When had men in Alethkar begun worrying more about fashion than their ability to see properly?
Dalinar nodded to his sons, froze. A figure in black was riding quickly across the plain behind them. Dalinar tensed, and Adolin—noticing his father’s reaction—turned with a sharp motion, holding his hand to the side as if to summon his Shardblade.
Adolin relaxed a moment later. “It’s all right, father.” His eyes were among the most keen in the camp, and soon Dalinar saw what Adolin had. This man was no threat. At least, not to anything but their egos.
“Wit!” Adolin called, waving to the newcomer. Tall and thin, the King’s Wit road comfortably on a black gelding. He had a long, thin sword tied to his waist—though, as far as Dalinar knew, the man had never drawn it. It was mostly a symbol.
Wit wore a stiff coat and trousers of all black, a color matched by his deep onyx hair. He had blue eyes, but he wasn’t really a lighteyes. Nor was he a darkeyes. He was…well, he was the King’s Wit. That was a category all its own.
Dalinar and his sons waited for the man. Wit reined in when he grew close, wearing one of those keen smiles of his. “Ah, young Prince Adolin!” he exclaimed. “You actually managed to pry yourself away from the camp’s young women long enough to join this hunt? I’m surprised at you.”
Adolin laughed. “I actually invited a few of them along to watch.”
“Oh? And so they’re ahead?”
“Well,” Adolin said, floundering. “Actually, none came. It turns out they each thought I’d invited only them, you see… And, well…”
Wit laughed, then nodded to Dalinar. “Your lordship.”
“Wit,” Dalinar said stiffly.
“And young Prince Renarin!”
Renarin kept his eyes down.
“No words for me, Renarin?” Wit said, amused.
Renarin said nothing.
“He thinks you’ll mock him if he speaks to you, Wit,” Adolin noted. “Earlier, he told he’d determined not to say anything near you.”
“Wonderful!” Wit exclaimed. “Then I can say whatever I wish, and he’ll not object?”
Wit leaned in to Adolin. “You should have seen the night Prince Renarin and I had two days back, walking the streets of the warcamp. We came across these two sisters, you see, blue eyed and—”
“That’s a lie!” Renarin said, blushing.
“Very well,” Wit said without missing a beat, “there were actually three sisters, but Prince Renarin quite unfairly ended up with two of them, and I didn’t wish to malign my reputation by admitting—”
“Wit,” Dalinar cut in.
The black-clad man looked to him.
Dalinar gave him a level glance. “Perhaps you should restrict your mockery to those who deserve it.”
“Brightlord Dalinar. I believe that was what I was doing.”
Dalinar gritted his teeth. There was no call for picking on Renarin. The quiet lad offended nobody. Dalinar opened his mouth to call Wit to his place, but the tall man nudged his horse up beside Dalinar’s.
“Those who ‘deserve’ my mockery are those who can benefit from it, Brightlord Dalinar,” He said softly. “That one is less fragile than you think him.” He winked in an insufferable way, then turned his horse to continue on over the bridge.
Adolin shook his head. “Stormwinds, but I like that man. Best Wit we’ve had in ages!”
“I find him unnerving,” Renarin said softly.
“That’s half the fun!” Adolin said. They crossed the bridge, passing Wit, who had stopped to torment a group of officers—lighteyes of low enough rank that they needed to work in the army and earn a wage. Several of them laughed while Wit poked fun at another.
Dalinar rode on with his sons. At the head of the army, they found the king with his entourage. “Dalinar,” the king called. “Sadeas tells me his army secured another plateau yesterday.”
“He did indeed,” Dalinar said.
“You didn’t mention this?” Elhokar said.
I was under the impression that you paid attention in your morning briefings, nephew, Dalinar thought, but stopped himself. Stormfather. When did I grow this bitter? Wit had put him in a bad mood.
“I’m sorry, your majesty,” Dalinar said. “Brightlord Sadeas’s army has been fighting quite vigorously over the last few months.”
“It’s his bridges,” Elhokar said. “They work more efficiently than yours.”
“I rank second in camp for most plateaus won,” Dalinar said stiffly.
“Yes, but Sadeas was saying that if one looks only at bridges captured this year, you’re last.”
Dalinar gave the other highprince a level gaze. Sadeas just shrugged. They were allies, but they were not friends. Not any longer.
“Your majesty,” Dalinar said. “Sadeas’s bridges cost large numbers of lives.”
“And if by ending the war sooner, those lives end up saving even more lives?” Sadeas asked smoothly.
“The Codes state that a general may not ask a man to do anything he himself would not do. Tell me, Sadeas. Would you run at the front of those bridges you use?”
“I wouldn’t eat gruel either,” Sadeas said dryly, “or cut ditches. The bridge runners serve a very important function. Surely you can’t argue with how effective they’ve been.”
“Sometimes,” Dalinar said, “the costs are not worth the prize. The process by which achieve victory is as important as the victory itself.”
Sadeas looked at Dalinar incredulously. “The prize is worth any cost, Brightlord Dalinar.”
“It is a war,” Dalinar said. “Not a contest.”
“Everything is a contest,” Sadeas said with a wave of the hand. “Any interaction between men is a contest between who will succeed and who will fail. And some are failing quite spectacularly.”
“My father is one of the most renowned warriors in Alethkar!” Adolin snapped, nudging his horse forward.
“Adolin, still yourself,” Dalinar said, waving curtly with a gauntleted hand.
Adolin gritted his teeth, hand to his side, as if itching to summon his Shardblade. Renarin nudged his horse forward—he had watched the exchange with his usual reserved solemnity—and placed a hand on Adolin’s arm. Reluctantly, Adolin backed down.
The boy was too hot-headed sometimes, but that was youth. Dalinar was the one to blame. Adolin could sense the hostility his father felt toward Sadeas, and was confused by the allegiance they maintained at the same time. Dalinar couldn’t blame him. Truth was, he didn’t know how to regard Sadeas himself, half the time.
Sadeas turned to Dalinar, eyes twinkling. “One son can barely control himself, and the other is incompetent. This is your legacy, old friend?”
“Yes. I am proud of them both, Sadeas.”
“The firebrand I can understand,” Sadeas said. “You were impetuous like him once. We both were, I’ll admit. But the other one? The useless one?”
Renarin flushed, looking down. Adolin snapped his head up, eyes alight with anger. He thrust his hand to the side again.
“Adolin!” Dalinar said, meeting the boy’s eyes, making him back down again.
“I believe that is quite enough, Sadeas,” Elhokar said, watching idly from the side, gleaming in his golden Shardplate. He always allowed his highprinces to struggle for influence, as if he believed that it made them all stronger for it. Dalinar couldn’t fault him; it was generally considered the best method of rule.
Oddly, it had begun to itch at Dalinar lately. He looked at Sadeas, feeling an odd longing for earlier days. Days when Dalinar, Sadeas, and Gavilar had been so close. At times, it struck Dalinar as tragic how things had changed between them.
Gather them. Unite them….
“Quite enough, you say?” a new voice added. “I believe that one word alone from Sadeas is ‘quite enough’ for anyone.” Hoofbeats marked Wit riding up to the group astride his midnight black gelding.
“Wit!” Elhokar exclaimed. “You made it!”
“I felt it my duty, your majesty,” Wit said, bowing. “I wouldn’t want you to be taken advantage of during this ride.”
“I’ve been well so far.”
“And yet, still Witless,” Wit noted. “I should hate to think of what would happen should you be in need of insults.”
Insults were supposed to be beneath lighteyes ranked as highly as the king: hence the King’s Wit. Just as one used gloves when forced to touch something vile, the king retained a Wit so he didn’t have to debase himself by lowering to the level of rudeness or offensiveness.
“Brightlord Sadeas,” Wit said energetically. “I’m terribly sorry to see you here.”
“I should think,” Sadeas said dryly, “that you would be happy to see me, Wit. I always seem to provide you with such entertainment.”
“That is unfortunately true,” Wit said.
“Yes. You see, Sadeas, you make it too easy. An uneducated, half-brained serving boy with a hangover could make insult of you. I am left without need to stretch myself. Your nature makes mockery of my mockery. And so it is that through sheer stupidity, you make me look incompetent.”
“Really, Elhokar,” Sadeas said, turning to the king. “Must we deal with this…creature?”
“I like him,” Elhokar said, smiling. “He makes me laugh.”
“At the expense of those who are loyal to you.”
“Expense?” Wit cut in, “Sadeas, I don’t believe you’ve ever paid me a sphere. Though no, please, don’t offer. I can’t take your money, as I know how many others you must pay to give you what you wish of them.”
Sadeas flushed at that, but kept his temper. “A whore joke, Wit?” he asked flatly. “Is that the best you can manage?”
Wit shrugged. “I point out truths when I see them, Brightlord Sadeas. Each man has his place. Mine is to make insults. Yours is to be insluts.”
Sadeas froze, then grew red faced as he worked through the words. “You are a fool.”
“If the Wit is a fool, then it is a sorry state for men. I shall offer you this, Sadeas. If you can speak with your next breath, yet say nothing ridiculous, I will leave you alone for the rest of the day.”
Sadeas frowned. “Well, I think that shouldn’t be too difficult.”
“And yet you failed,” Wit said, sighing. “For you said ‘I think’ and I can imagine of nothing so ridiculous as the concept of you thinking. What of you, young Prince Renarin? Your father wishes me to leave you alone. Can you speak, yet say nothing ridiculous?”
Renarin hesitated, still riding beside his bother. Dalinar grew tense. “Well,” Renarin said, “I believe I’ll just say the words ‘nothing ridiculous.’ Will that satisfy you?”
Wit laughed. “Yes, I suppose it will at that. Very clever. If Brightlord Sadeas should lose himself and finally kill me, perhaps you can be King’s Wit in my stead. You seem to have the mind for it.”
Renarin perked up, which darkened Sadeas’s mood further. Dalinar eyed the highprince; his hand had gone to his sword. Not a Shardblade, but a nobleman’s arming sword. Plenty deadly; Dalinar had fought beside Sadeas on many occasions, and the man was and expert swordsman.
Wit leaned forward. “So what of it, Sadeas?” he asked softly. “You going to do Alethkar a favor and rid it of us both?”
Killing the king King’s Wit was legal. But in so doing, Sadeas would forfeit his title and lands. Most men found it to be a poor trade.
Sadeas slowly removed his hand from the hilt of his sword, then nodded curtly to the king and rode a short distance away, his followers clustered around him.
“Wit,” Elhokar said, “he has my favor. There’s no need to torment him so.”
“I disagree,” Wit said. “The king’s favor may be torment enough for most men, but not him.” Wit winked, turning his horse and riding past Dalinar. “Some men,” Wit said under his breath to Dalinar, “need to be shoved in order to knock them down. Others need be shoved in order to make them stand up.”
He continued on by, and Dalinar turned, wondering at the cryptic words.
“I like him,” Adolin repeated.
“I…might be persuaded to agree,” Dalinar said, rubbing his chin.
Adolin lowered his eyes. “I shouldn’t have lost my temper at Sadeas. I’m sorry.”
“Almighty knows I’ve made the same mistake a few times myself. But remember that our houses are allied. We seek the same goals. Come.”
On the other side of the chasm, they finally arrived at the hunting site. It was a medium plateau, perhaps five hundred yards across. Like most, it was populated by hearty plants accustomed to being exposed to storms. There were some boulders, probably dropped by highstorms—pockets of wind during the storms were said to be able to hurl boulders distances of up to several miles. Almost as if something inside the storm were tossing them about in some tempestuous game.
Moving among the boulders and plans were slugs, crabs, leggins, or other types of cremlings. A snail, about as large as a man’s fist, climbed across an formation of shalebark beside Dalinar. The snail had deep red flesh and a rock-colored shell. Such rough looking things, the snails were. Just slugs with shells.
They were, however, the driving force behind this war.
The snails had many names. Gripaw’s Follies, stigwelks, spherelings. But most people called them by their common name: gemhearts. When allowed to grow to their largest—about the size of a man’s head—these creatures would begin growing a gemstone inside of them. A few years spent herding and caring for them could result in a harvest of wealth.
And to think, Dalinar thought, still riding, they lived here all this time. Within reach. Gemhearts were thought to have gone extinct with the scouring of Aimia. Who could have guessed that another location where they’d live and thrive would be discovered, and so relatively close to the borders of Alethkar?
The gemhearts—and, to an extent, the chasmfiends—were the reason Elhokar had been able to get the ten highprinces to swear a Vengeance Pact. They cared about bringing justice to the Parshendi, but the chance to capture these valuable plateaus—the only place where the snails would thrive and grow to their full size—was of even keener interest to them.
Dalinar kept riding. The snail was too small to have gemstone yet, and likely wouldn’t grow—in the wild—large enough to produce one. It took careful cultivation, and only the plateaus very closest to the Alethi camps currently held herding operations. The Parshendi had a tendency to raid and burn any farms that were built too far out.
As they approached the center of the plateau, they were met by the day’s huntmaster, Bashin. He was a short man with a sizable paunch and a wide-brimmed hat atop his head. He was a darkeyes of the first nahn, the highest and most prestigious rank a darkeyes could have, worthy enough of marrying into a lighteyed family that might need an infusion of wealth. Bashin wore rugged clothing—a leather overcoat and a sturdy, thick-fibered suit underneath, tied at the waist with a dark brown leather belt. He bowed to Elhokar and Dalinar. “Your majesty! Wonderful timing! We’ve just tossed down the bait.”
“Excellent,” Elhokar said, climbing from the saddle. Dalinar joined him, dropping to the stones, Shardplate clinking softly. “How long will it take?”
“Two or three hours is likely,” Bashin said, taking the reins of the king’s horse. “We’ve set up over there.” He pointed toward the next plateau over, which was much smaller than the current one. A group of hunters led a lumbering chull around the perimeter, towing a rope that drooped over the side of the cliff. That rope would carry the bait.
“We’re using pig corpses,” Bashin explained. “And we poured pig’s blood over the sides. The beast has been spotted near a good dozen times; he’s got his nest nearby, for certain. Once he catches the scent of that blood, he’ll make its way up. We’ll lose a group of wild hogs on that plateaus as distractions, and you can set up to begin pelting him with arrows.”
They had brought grandbows: large steel bows with thick cords, almost as large as a ballista. They had such a strong pull that only a Shardbearer could draw them, and they fired shafts as thick as three fingers. They were newer creations, devised by Alethi engineers through the use of fabrial science, and required a small infused gemstone to keep their strings from losing their spring.
Some had started calling the bows Shardbows, but Dalinar didn’t like the term. Shardblades and Shardplate…these were something special. Relics from another time, a time when the Radiants had walked the earth, a time before the War of Loss and the betrayal of the knightly orders.
No science had yielded the secrets of Shardblades. For all the wonder of modern creations, they fell short of these weapons. It made Dalinar want to believe the stories that said Shardblades and Shardplate weren’t creations of science, but something different. Something special, given by the Almighty himself.
In light of that, calling the bows Shardbows seemed arrogant. He found himself glancing at his hand, and the tattoo hidden by his gauntlet. A tattoo he’d not given himself, but had received—against his will—on the day he’d lost memory of his wife.
The huntmaster led Elhokar and Dalinar to a pavilion at the center of the plateau. Here, the attendants and soldiers would be safe to watch the Shardbearers confront and kill the greatshell on the next plateau over. The king’s banner flapped above the pavilion—Elhokar and Dalinar had spotted it earlier—and a small refreshment station had been erected. A soldier at the back was setting up the rack of four grandbows. They were curved and dangerous-looking, with thick black shafts in four quivers beside them.
Dalinar and Elhokar stepped into the pavilion’s shade as Adolin brought the bulk of the army across the bridge. Elhokar’s attendants had already crossed, and were walking to the pavilion, chatting among themselves.
“I think you’ll have a fine day for the hunt,” Bashin said. “Judging by reports, the beast is a big one. Larger than you’ve ever slain before, Brightlord.”
“Gavilar always wanted to slay one of these,” Dalinar said wistfully. “We came here to Natanatan hunting them, actually. But certain discoveries distracted us.”
Bashin nodded. Those ‘certain discoveries’ had been the Parshendi. A tribe of parshmen who somehow existed on their own, without direction.
The chull pulling the bait bleated in the distance.
“It’ll be real important for you to go for the legs on this beast, my lord,” Bashin said. Pre-hunt advice was one of Bashin’s duties, and he took those seriously. That was one of the reasons Dalinar used him. “Chasmfiends, well, you know how nasty they can get. With one this big, use a distraction and come in from….” He trailed off, then groaned, cursing softly. “Storms take that animal. I swear, the man who trained it must have been daft.”
He was looking across at the next plateau. The chull who had been towing the bait was lumbering away from the chasm with a slow—yet determined—chull gait. Its handlers were yelling, running after it.
“I’m sorry, your majesty,” Bashin said. “It’s been doing this all day.”
The chull bleated in a gravelly voice. Something seemed wrong to Dalinar.
“We can send for another one,” Elhokar said, “it shouldn’t take too long to—”
“Bashin?” Dalinar said, feeling an icy chill. “Shouldn’t there be bait on the end of that beast’s rope?”
The huntmaster froze. The rope the chull was towing was frayed at the end.
Something dark—something mind-numbingly enormous—climbed onto the plateau on thick, chitinous legs. Not the small plateau the hunt was supposed to take place, but on the one where Dalinar and Elhokar stood. The plateau filled with attendants, scribes, and unexpecting soldiers.
“Aw, damnation,” Bashin said.