The Way of Kings Chapter 18 (D)
This early draft chapter corresponds to parts of chapter 15 and chapter 18. You may notice that some lines appearing in the final book are here spoken by other characters.
Four hours after the hunt, Dalinar and the others still waited on their plateau. The mound that had been the chasmfiend lay immobile in the dimming evening light. It had destroyed the bridge leading back to the warcamps. Fortunately, some soldiers had been trapped on the other side, and they’d gone to fetch a bridge crew.
Dalinar’s surgeons tended the wounded. Perhaps his army could have found their way back to the warcamps by another route, but that would have taken as much time as waiting. With so many wounded, the bridge crew was a better choice.
Dalinar stood with gauntleted hands clasped behind his back, cloak fluttering out behind, facing eastward. The Shattered Plains spread before him, a landscape broken and rent. Somewhere out there was the mythical center of the plains, where the Parshendi made their base camp.
Five years, they had fought. The Parshendi supply dumps must have been enormous. They’d prepared for this war. They’d killed Gavilar, then retreated here to use these Herald-forsaken chasms like hundreds of moats and fortifications. The Parshendi could leap extremely far. They knew this would be the perfect place for them to hold.
How long had these plains stood? Had they been whole, once? Were these furrows like the wrinkles on an aged man’s face, growing with the advancing years? Those cliff sides were so steep, that they didn’t seem like natural rock formations.
These plains are like the promises of men, he thought. Neither breaks accidentally. Something happened here. Just like it happened to the honor of the Alethi nobility.
Grim thoughts for a grim time.
Faint laughter tinkled across the plateau. Dalinar turned to the side; Elhokar’s attendants had set up in the pavilion, enjoying wine and refreshments, the comforts offering reason Elhokar to stay and wait. The massive open-sided tent was stained violet and yellow, and a calm wind tugged at the thick canvas. A highstorm might arrive tonight, the Stormwardens said. Almighty send that the army was back to the camp by then.
What was he to make of what he’d seen? Did he really think that the Almighty himself had spoken to him? Dalinar Kholin, the Blackthorn, a brutal warlord who had abandoned his brother to assassination?
Sadeas was in the pavilion, speaking animatedly. He had removed his helm, revealing a head of thick black hair that curled and tumbled around his shoulders. How many hunts had he and Dalinar been on, back when Gavilar lived? Even then, Sadeas had been fond of fashion; many men had foolishly assumed that made him weak. True, Dalinar had been the one with the reputation a duelist and a warrior, but that was only because Sadeas had been more cunning. He’d wanted to be known as someone you could talk to, persuade.
The visions seemed to call for Dalinar to bring the highprinces together. To do what Gavilar had always dreamed of doing, of forging Alethkar back into a single kingdom, rather than ten loosely connected princedoms.
Did you somehow send these visions to me, brother? Dalinar wondered. That was foolishness. Likely, there was a simpler reason for the things he saw. The reason men whispered of: that he was simply overtaxed of mind, and seeing things that weren’t there.
Suddenly, Dalinar noticed something. Sadeas and Vamah were there, in the pavilion, but where was the king? He felt an irrational moment of panic. Elhokar! Was he safe?
Of course he was. Dalinar’s eyes quickly found the king just outside the canopy. He stood as Dalinar did, looking eastward over the Shattered Plains. He looked so regal in his golden Shardplate, his cape fluttered behind him in the calm breeze.
Sadeas is right. I am paranoid. Dalinar still hadn’t been able to rid himself of that worry. It was remnant of a night five years ago, when he’d found his brother dead. The Assassin in White.
I’m sorry, brother, he thought, remembering the words they’d found scrawled in blood beside the King. You must find the most important words a man can say…
It was a quote from The Way of Kings, the book Gavilar had taken to studying in the months before his death. But what did the quote mean? Dalinar had listened to the book’s words time and time again, yet the meaning eluded him.
He avoided the other question, whether his brother had learned forbidden writing. Things had been…odd around Gavilar near the end.
Best not to think too much on that night. Dalinar crossed the plateau, his steel boots crunching against the stone, and stepped up beside the king. Elhokar was so determined, so driven sometimes. He didn’t think about costs, only about objectives, which was why he applauded Sadeas’s use of bridges.
He wasn’t a bad man. There were many worse. And if he didn’t live up to his father’s legacy…well, that was more the fault of the father’s success than the son’s failure.
“You look thoughtful, Uncle,” Elhokar said.
“Just considering the past, your majesty.”
Elhokar looked back across the plains. “The past is irrelevant. I only look forward.”
If that were true, Dalinar thought, we wouldn’t be fighting this war.
“I sometimes think I should be able to see the Parshendi,” Elhokar said. “I feel that if I stare long enough, I will seek them out, find where they are so I can challenge them. I wish they’d just fight me, like men of honor.”
“If they were men of honor,” Dalinar said, clasping his hands behind his back, “then they would not have killed your father as they did.”
“Why did they do it, do you suppose?”
Dalinar shook his head. “That question has churned in my head, over and over, like a boulder tumbling down a hill. Did we offend their honor? Was it some cultural misunderstanding, perhaps?”
“A cultural misunderstanding would imply that they have a culture. Primitive brutes. Who knows why a horse kicks its rider or an axehound bites its master? I shouldn’t have even asked.”
Dalinar didn’t reply. He’d felt that same distain, that same anger, in the months following Gavilar’s assassination. He could understand Elhokar’s desire to dismiss these strange, wildland parshmen as nothing more than animals.
But…he’d seen them during those early days. Interacted with them. They were primitive, but not brutes. Not stupid. We never really understood them, he thought. I guess that’s the crux of the problem.
“Elhokar,” he said softly. “It may be time to ask ourselves some difficult questions.”
Elhokar looked at him sharply, proud face outlined in gold by the enveloping helm. “You’re not talking about giving up again, are you?”
“I never suggested that,” Dalinar said, meeting the king’s gaze. “And I do not intend to. But I also will not keep silent —it is my honor and my duty to ask you difficult questions. For the good of Alethkar.”
Elhokar held his gaze for a moment, then seemed to relax. “Very well. Ask.”
“How much are we willing to give, in order to get vengeance?”
“Everything,” the king said immediately.
“And if it costs the things your father worked for? Do we honor his memory by undermining his vision for Alethkar, all to get revenge in his name?”
The king fell silent.
“You pursue the Parshendi,” Dalinar said. “That is good. But you can’t let your passion for them blind you to the needs of your kingdom. The highprinces worry me. The Vengeance Pact has kept them channeled, but what will happen once we win? Will we shatter back into what we were before? I think we need to find a way to forge them together more, to unite them. We fight this war as if we were ten different nations, fighting beside one another but not together.”
The king didn’t respond immediately. He turned away from Dalinar, seeming distracted by something.
“You think I’m a poor king, don’t you, Uncle?” he finally asked.
“What?” Dalinar said. “Of course not!”
“You always talk about what I should be doing, and where I am lacking. Tell me truthfully, uncle. When you look into this helm, do you wish you saw my father’s face instead?”
“Of course I do,” Dalinar said.
Elhokar’s expression darkened.
Dalinar laid a gauntleted hand on his nephew’s shoulder. “I’d be a poor brother if I didn’t wish that Gavilar had lived. I failed him—it was the grandest, most terrible failure of my life. I let that bastard Shin slaughter him while I drank and laughed. It is the type of mistake I’ll never make again.”
He held Elhokar’s expression, raising a finger. “But just because I loved your father does not mean that I think you a failure. Alethkar itself could have collapsed at Gavilar’s death, but you organized and executed our counter-attack. You are a fine king. I simply offer advice for more that could be done.”
The king nodded slowly. “You’ve been listening to readings from that book again, haven’t you?”
“You complain about my dogged pursuit of the Parshendi,” the king said. “And yet, you pursue just as persistently in your own way. It’s been five years. Do you really expect to find something now? Some meaning my father left behind?”
Dalinar didn’t respond.
“There is no hidden clue or meaning, Uncle. My father was dying. He spoke some random thought. A quote from that tarnished book.”
He ‘spoke’ some random thought? Dalinar thought. He wrote it. Either that, or the assassin did. Elhokar didn’t like to confront the idea that his father might have known how to write.
“The book is…a curious work,” Dalinar said, removing his hand from Elhokar’s shoulder. “I still don’t know what to make of it. Is it a collection of stories? A discussion on how men should act? Or is it something deeper? I feel that if I study longer, see past the pages, I can decipher what Gavilar meant for me to know….”
“You sound like him, you know,” Elhokar said.
“My father. Near the end. When he began to act…erratically.”
Dalinar blushed. “Surely I’m not so bad as that.”
“Perhaps.” Elhokar’s eyes narrowed. “But this is how he was. Talking about an end to war, fascinated by the Lost Radiants, insisting everyone follow the Codes…”
Dalinar remembered those days—and his own arguments with Gavilar. What honor can we find on a battlefield while our people starve? the king had once asked him. Is it honor when our lighteyes plot and scheme like eels in a bucket, slithering over one another and trying to bite each other on the tails?
Dalinar hadn’t been surprised when Gavilar had been killed; he’d been surprised that the knife hadn’t come from one of the other highprinces. Gavilar had never been popular, but at least he had always been respected—up until the end, when the strange notions had taken over his mind.
“I’m not trying to get you to retreat,” Dalinar said firmly. “Leave a battlefield with an enemy still in control? The shame would destroy us.”
Elhokar nodded in agreement.
“But what I am doing is asking you to consider. There has to be a better way to approach the war.”
“Sadeas already has a better way already. His bridge methods other the last six months have captured twice as many plateaus as any other of the Highprinces.”
“Capturing plateaus is meaningless,” Dalinar said. “All of this is meaningless if we don’t come closer to defeating the Parshendi. You can’t tell me that you enjoy watching the Highprinces squabble over gemhearts, practically ignoring our real purpose of being here.”
Elhokar fell silent, looking displeased.
“Elhokar,” Dalinar said, “we need to stop playing. You know I’m right.”
“I don’t know it,” Elhokar said. He released a breath. “But you may have a point. If you can come up with a better way, I will listen.”
Finally, Dalinar thought. “I’ll do just that. Give me a few days.”
“You have them.”
Metal footsteps ground on the rock behind. Dalinar turned, steeling himself as he recognized Sadeas. The round-faced, ruddy-cheeked man carried his helm under his shoulder, letting down the dark curls of his hair. He and Dalinar exchanged a suffering nods, and Sadeas turned pointedly toward the king. “Your majesty. Can we not be on our way? I’m certain that we Shardbearers could leap the chasm. You and I could be back to the warcamps.”
“Dalinar won’t leave his men,” Elhokar said with a dismissive wave of the hand.
“He wouldn’t have to join us.”
“True,” Elhokar said, turning to look over his shoulder. “But there’s something I’ve been waiting for…”
Dalinar followed his gaze. Adolin was approaching. Like Sadeas, the lad still wore his Shardplate save the helm. That exposed a head full of shoulder-length blonde and black hair, wet with sweat and sticking up at a dozen different directions. He had a handsome face, something he hadn’t gotten from Dalinar. The Blackthorn hadn’t ever been known as handsome, not even when he’d been young. His nose was too wide, his face too blockish. He was a soldier, and looked like one.
“Father,” Adolin said, approaching, “can I speak to you for a moment?”
“What is it you wish to say, cousin?” Elhokar said. “Is it about the task I gave you?”
Task? Dalinar thought.
Adolin met the king’s gaze levelly. Like Dalinar, Adolin was of the Second dahn. He was required to show the king deference, but he was not required to bow.
Peace, son, Dalinar thought to Adolin. The demands of honor were often more strict than those of law or rank. Elhokar needed to be able to trust his family, at least, to show him respect. There was already far too much talk about Elhokar’s youth and recklessness.
Adolin, wisely, nodded in deference. “I didn’t want to offend, your majesty. I just wanted to get my father’s opinion before bothering you.”
Good lad, Dalinar thought.
“You needn’t worry about that,” Elhokar said. “Speak. What did you discover?”
Adolin took a deep, calming breath. He held up a gauntleted fist, opening it, revealing a two pieces of hogskin leather. “Father, his majesty asked me to inspect his saddle.”
“You saw how I broke free during the fight,” Elhokar said. “The entire saddle came off.”
Dalinar and Sadeas nodded.
“Well,” Adolin said, sounding hesitant. “These pieces are the two broken sides of the king’s main saddle strap. It…well, it looks like the strap might have been cut.”
Dalinar frowned, reaching for the strap pieces, but Elhokar moved first, snatching the two lengths of leather. “I knew it!” the king said, holding them up and inspecting them.
“Curious,” Dalinar said, thoughtful.
To the side, Sadeas gave Dalinar a covert eye-roll. He thinks we’re being paranoid.
And, well, maybe he was right. “How certain are we that it was cut?” Dalinar asked.
“Not very,” Adolin said. He stepped up to the king and ran his finger along the ripped portion of strap. “The tear is smoother along one side. Like it was cut and weakened, so that it would rip when there was too much stress on it.”
“I think I can see it,” Elhokar said, nodding.
Dalinar took the straps, pinching the pieces of leather between gauntleted fingers. He could see what Adolin was talking about, but he couldn’t decide if it really had been cut, or if it was just a function of the way the strap had ripped.
“I keep telling you, Uncle,” Elhokar said softly. “Someone is trying to kill me.”
“This doesn’t mean anything,” Dalinar said, glancing at Sadeas. “We don’t even know if the strap was cut or not.”
“It was,” Elhokar said. “They want me. Like they got to my father.”
“Surely you don’t think the Parshendi did this.”
“I don’t know who did it.” Elhokar frowned. “Perhaps someone on this very hunt.”
What was he implying? The majority of the people on this hunt were Dalinar’s men. Was he saying that they had tried to kill the king?
“Your majesty,” Dalinar said frankly, “you rode the horse the entire way here. You’d have noticed if someone sneaked underneath and cut at the saddle straps.”
“You don’t believe me,” Elhokar said flatly. “You never believe me.”
Dalinar took a deep breath. “I’m not saying that. I’m saying that you shouldn’t leap to conclusions. I’ll look into it, but this would be a terribly awkward way to try to kill you. A fall from horseback won’t even bother a man wearing Plate.”
“Yes, but during a hunt?” Elhokar said. “Perhaps they wanted the chasmfiend to kill me.”
“We weren’t supposed to be in danger from the hunt,” Dalinar said. “We were supposed to pelt the greatshell from a distance until it was weak, then ride up and butcher it. You’d never have been in danger.”
Elhokar narrowed his eyes, looking at Dalinar. Dalinar felt a shock. It was almost like…almost like the king was suspicious of him!
The look was gone in a second. Had Dalinar imagined it? Stormfather! he thought. A healthy sense of suspicion was important in a king. But in Elhokar, that sense seemed increasingly backward. He was suspicious when he should have been skeptical, yet rushed heedless into danger when he should have been wary.
From behind, Vamah began calling to the king. Elhokar glanced at him and nodded. “This isn’t over, uncle,” he said, turning back to Dalinar. “Look into that strap.”
Elhokar motioned to Sadeas, and the two of them moved over to the pavilion, armor clinking.
“Sorry,” Adolin said softly. He held the strap up, looking at it by the light of the late afternoon sun. “I was hoping you’d have a better way to present it to him.”
“You did what you could.”
“It does seem like an awfully strange way to try to kill a Shardbearer,” Adolin said. “But I could swear this looks cut… Do you think one of the highprinces may have tried something?”
“Maybe,” Dalinar said. “But I doubt it. So long as Elhokar rules, they get to fight in this war their way, adding wealth in their pockets with each plateau won. He doesn’t make many demands of them. I think they like having him as their king.”
“Men can want the throne for no other reason than the distinction.”
Dalinar nodded. “When we return, see if anyone has been bragging too much of late. Also, check to see if Rioin is still bitter about Wit’s insult at the feast last week.” Wit himself had been caught on the other side of the chasm, and had returned with the group fetching the bridges. “Have Talata go over the contracts Bethab sent for the use of his chulls. In previous contracts, he’s tried to slip in language that would imply that he has preference in succession. He’s been bold ever since Brightness Navani left.”
“Stormfather, but this kind of thing makes my head hurt,” Dalinar said. “I sometimes wish I could just pound some sense into the lot of them.”
“You could, you know.”
“No,” he said sighing. “I couldn’t.” They were at war with an external foe; the Codes had been placed to keep the Alethi lighteyes from squabbling while fighting an external foe.
For nearly twenty years, the ten Highprinces had been kept from going to war with one another. First by Gavilar’s leadership, and now by the Vengeance Pact. Dalinar would not upset that to satisfy a foolish itch.
“Tale the strap,” Dalinar said. “Have a leatherworker back in camp look it over, then talk to our stable hands. See what they can tell you.” He hesitated. “And double the king’s guard. Just in case.”
Adolin nodded. They were the king’s house. By tradition—tradition few men bothered to follow anymore—the king’s defense was on their shoulders. The youth turned, watching the king accept a cup of emerald wine from Sadeas.
Adolin’s eyes narrowed. “Do you think—”
“No,” Dalinar interrupted.
“Sadeas is an eel,” Adolin said.
“He protects the king,” Dalinar said. “Don’t let your personal dislike of him cloud your ability to reason friend from foe.” He looked at the pavilion. “I know how Sadeas thinks. He likes Elhokar, which is more than can be said of most of the others. He’s the only one of the lot that I’d be certain I could trust the king’s safety to.”
Adolin sighed. “Very well.”
“Good,” Dalinar said, noticing something in the distance to the west. “Go, return to your troops. I think I see that bridge crew coming.”
Adolin moved off to do as told, Plate clinking. The armor still bore web-like cracks across the breastplate, though it had stopped leaking Stormlight. The armor would repair itself, with time. It would reform even if it was completely shattered.
Adolin was right to be way of Sadeas. Dalinar hadn’t forgiven the highprince—Dalinar might have lain drunk while Gavilar died, but Sadeas had been the one to suggest the doomed plan to lead away a body-double. Sadeas had fled, pretending to be Gavilar while the king himself fought for his life, alone.
That guilt forged them together. Dalinar stood, hands clasped behind his back, watching Sadeas, Vamah, and Elhokar. Vamah—who had been so bitter before—now laughed with Sadeas as if nothing had happened.
Elhokar’s comments about Gavilar set him thinking. Was he acting like his brother? Erratic? Weak?
Oddly, he found himself thinking about the things Gavilar had once said. Is this it? the former king’s voice returned to him. We maneuver and scheme, Dalinar, daggers held carefully behind our backs while we paint smiles on our faces. We lead our people to war after war. For glory. For honor. But for who’s glory, and who’s honor?
Is this really what the Almighty wants?
Speeches like that one had made him sound weak to his soldiers. He had seemed infatuated by times when there had been peace, times when the Lost Radiants had been known as the Knights Radiant instead.
Dalinar’s eyes flickered to his gauntleted left hand.
The Code, the old ways, had been Gavilar’s first step toward achieving whatever mysterious goals had driven him. And then there was that book, the book that the Radiants had held as their holy text.
Treat men fair, and expect like treatment, he’d once said. The example of a man’s life is more important than the deeds he accomplishes. It was a quote from The Way of Kings.
Foolishness. It sounded like pure foolishness. Act like the book taught, and you’d just be taken advantage of. What was the good of that? Besides, the Radiants had been just as corrupt as everyone else. Their sacred book was nothing more than a bucket of white paint, used to make the order look pretty and keep people from seeing their insides.
Dalinar sighed and strode across the plateau, passing the corpse of the mighty chasmfiend. Rockbuds had split and sent out vines to lap up the blackish purple blood. Cremlings scuttled about, feeding off their fallen, gargantuan brother. A few of the soldiers harvested the carapace from the beast’s breast; there were uses for such things.
He checked on Gallant, who was being cared for by grooms. The horse’s scrapes had been bandaged, and he was no longer favoring his leg. Dalinar patted the large stallion on the neck, looking into those deep black eyes. The horse seemed…ashamed. “It wasn’t your fault you threw me, Gallant,” Dalinar said in a soothing voice. “I’m just glad you weren’t harmed too badly.” He turned to the groom. “Give him extra feed this evening, and two crispmellons.”
“Brightlord,” the youthful groom said. “Yes sir. But…he won’t eat extra food, if we give it to him.”
“He will tonight,” Dalinar said, patting the Ryshadium’s neck again. “He only eats it when he feels he deserves it, son.”
The lad seemed confused. Like most of them, he thought of Ryshadium as just another breed of horse. A man couldn’t really understand until he’d had one accept him as rider. It was like wearing Shardplate; an experience that was completely indescribable.
“You’ll eat both of those crispmellons,” Dalinar said, pointing at the horse. “You deserve them.”
Gallant blew out between his lips, making a blustering noise.
“You do,” Dalinar said. “You strong enough to carry me?”
The horse blew out again, seeming content. Dalinar nodded to the groom. “Thank you, son. I’ll take him now.”
Dalinar swung into the saddle. The bridge crew was pushing its bridge the gap between plateaus. It was one of Sadeas’s crews, constructed from a mix-match of human refuse. Foreigners, deserters, thieves, and slaves. Dalinar probably shouldn’t have been bothered by how they were treated; they deserved their punishment. Still, the frightful way Sadeas chewed through them put Dalinar on edge. How long would it be before he could no longer populate the bridge crews with those who deserved this fate? Did any man, even a deserter, deserve such a fate?
I once saw a spindly man carrying a stone larger than his head upon his back, Dalinar thought, a passage from The Way of Kings coming to his head unbidden. He stumbled beneath the weight, shirtless beneath the sun, wearing only a loincloth. He tottered down a busy thoroughfare. People made way for him. Not because they sympathized with him, it seemed, but because they feared the momentum of his steps. You cannot stop one such as this.
The monarch is like this man, stumbling along, the weight of a kingdom on his shoulders. Many will give way before him, but so few seem willing to step in and take hold of the stone, to help carry it. They do not wish to attach themselves to the work, lest they condemn themselves to a life full of extra burdens.
I left my carriage that day and picked up the stone, lifting it for the man. I believe my guards were embarrassed. One can ignore a poor wretch with no shirt doing such work, but few can ignore a king participating in the same. Perhaps we should switch our places more often. If a king is seen helping with the load of the poorest of men, perhaps those poorest of men will help him with his own load, so invisible, yet so daunting.
It had been one of Gavilar’s favorite passages. Even so, Dalinar was surprised that he could remember it word for word. He turned Gallant and clopped up onto the bridge, then nodded his thanks to the bridgemen. They were the lowest in the army, and yet they bore the weight of kings.
Yes, he thought, dissatisfied. Sadeas’s treatment of them is despicable. The Codes had a purpose. How could a man expect soldiers to follow him if they knew he hid behind his armor and rank? Wasn’t that true cowardice?
Stormfather, he thought with shock. I am beginning to sound like Gavilar. Elhokar is right.
Behind him, the main body of troops began to cross the bridge beneath Adolin’s command. The lad had replaced his helm, and he directed from horseback, speaking with a firm voice to the captains and sergeants, letting them carry out the details. Just like Dalinar had taught him. Many men would assume that a withdrawal like this to be a simple thing, but that would be a mistake. They had wounded to care for and a king to protect. If the Parshendi had been waiting for an ideal time to strike, this would be it, when the sun was near to setting and the troops were tired.
The king rode out after the first squadron of troops, Wit having returned, and now riding at his side. Sadeas, Dalinar noted, rode behind, where Wit couldn’t get at him. He shouldn’t have had to worry; the King’s Wit was only supposed to abuse who incurred the king’s disfavor.
This Wit was particularly zealous. Nobody was safe around his tongue; he even made subtle remarks about the king himself, which was downright odd. Ordinarily, Dalinar would have expected Wit to have been assassinated by now. But he had, remarkably, survived for months.
I don’t even know which family he came from, Dalinar realized. Even though he’s been here for…. How long had it been? A year? Dalinar generally ignored the Wits, as they seemed to like making sport of him in particular.
There was something different about this one. His mind was more keen, his tongue more sharp. He treated the position like it had been long ago, dressing in muted colors, eschewing the colorful costumes of his more recent predecessors. This Wit did not juggle, sing, or dance. He was not a court bard. He was a sword, crafting insults, speaking in the place of the king.
Dalinar gestured toward Adolin, then pointed, indicating that he intended to ride on ahead. Adolin waved in acknowledgement from the middle of the group of advisors and captains, and Dalinar rode Gallant on.
Before long, a horse approached from behind. It trotted up beside Gallant, bearing Renarin. The youth’s legs were tied to the saddle, just in case he slipped from it and fell. Renarin bore one of his characteristic expressions, eyes forward, staring as if at nothing. Some people thought him emotionless, but he was just frequently preoccupied. Renarin did show emotion, you just had to know him well to spot it. For instance, the flash of guilt he displayed—eyes quickly darting away, shoulders slouching—when he glanced at Dalinar.
“Why did you rush into the battle like that?” Dalinar asked. “I thought you knew better.”
Renarin looked down again, but he surprised Dalinar by responding. “And what would you done, Father, if it had been me that was in danger?”
“I don’t fault your bravery, I fault your wisdom. Stormfather, son! What if you’d had one of your fits?”
“Then perhaps it the monster would have swept me off the plateau,” Renarin said bitterly, “so that I could stop being such a useless drain on everyone’s time.”
“Don’t say such things,” Dalinar said sharply. “Not even in jest.”
“You taught your sons to be honest, Father. My words weren’t jest.”
“You aren’t useless.”
“I can’t fight.”
“Fighting is not the only thing of value a man can do.”
“Maybe not,” Renarin said, “but little else matters when your homeland is at war.” The youth’s hands tightened on his reins.
Youth, Dalinar thought. I still see him that way, though he’s nearly to his twentieth summer. It was too easy to fall into the habit of dismissing Renarin because of his quiet nature and his physical ailments.
“You are right, of course, Father,” Renarin finally said, speaking in that quiet voice of his. “I am not the first son of a hero to be born without any skill in warfare. The others all got along. So shall I. Likely I will end up as citylord of a small town. Assuming I don’t tuck myself away in the Devotehood.”
“You may make your own decision,” Dalinar said firmly, guiding Gallant around a cluster of winterbloom polyps, their black spines raised to the wind. Many a lighteyed family pressed their unwanted sons or daughters into Devotehood service, where they would be away from the public eye. But Dalinar had hesitated.
A second son didn’t inherit, but he was a good insurance in case something happened to the first. And if the first son survived…well, then, the second son should be able to decide his own path in life. The first gained riches and position, but had his path chosen for him. The only thing the second son got was freedom. Dalinar would not take that way.
He understood. He was a second son himself.
“You are a good father,” Renarin said suddenly, looking at him. “When I saw you on the field, knocked down, I just…well, I had to move. Sometimes, I wish I could go with you into battle like Adolin.”
“He has his talents,” Dalinar said, “and you have your own. Don’t malign what the Almighty gave you, son.”
Renarin sighed, but nodded.
How would I react, Dalinar thought, if I were forbidden to fight? Kept back with the women and the merchants each time the horn was called? They’d given up on teaching Renarin the sword soon after his first few attempts. His fits grew more frequent when he was excited or stressed. Beyond that, he was often tired, and unable to work for long periods.
Dalinar would have been bitter, particularly against Adolin. In fact, Dalinar had often been envious of Gavilar during their youths. Renarin, however, was Adolin’s greatest supporter. He all but worshipped his elder brother. And he was brave enough to run into the middle of a battlefield where a nightmare creature was smashing spearmen and tossing aside Shardbearers.
That one is less fragile than you think him, Wit had said.
Dalinar cleared his throat. “Perhaps it is time to try training you again in the sword.”
Renarin glanced at him. “My constitution—”
“Won’t matter a bit if we get you into a set of Plate and give you a Blade,” Dalinar said. “This armor can make weak men strong, and a Shardblade is nearly as light as air itself.”
“Father,” Renarin said flatly, “I’ll never be a Shardbearer. You yourself say that Blades and Plate we win from the Parshendi must go to the most skilled warriors.”
It still bothered Dalinar that the Parshendi—barbarians, Elhokar called them—somehow had access to Shards. Where had they found them? Those weapons were one of the great mysteries of this war, perhaps as daunting as Gavilar’s assassination.
Dalinar had defeated three Parshendi Shardbearers during his fighting on the Shattered Plains. He’d shocked the others by delivering them up to Elhokar for gifting to a worthy soldier. That was how Sadeas had gotten his Plate.
“None of the other highprinces give up their spoils to the king,” Dalinar said. “And who would fault me if—for once, I made a gift to my son?”
Renarin displayed an unusual level of emotion, eyes opening wider, face eager. “You are serious?”
“I give you my oath, son. The next Blade and Plate I capture will go to you.” He smiled. “To be honest, I’d do it simply for the joy of seeing Sadeas’s face when you become a full Shardbearer. Beyond that, if your strength is made even to others, I expect that your natural skill will make you shine.”
Renarin sat back on his horse, looking shocked but excited. Shardplate wouldn’t stop the fits, even if it did make up for Renarin’s blood-weakness. It was entirely possible that the boy would still prove to be a poor warrior, and if that were the case, Dalinar would have to take the Shards and give them up to a someone who could actually use them.
But Renarin would have a chance. Dalinar would see to it. I know what it’s like to be a second son, he thought, overshadowed by an older brother you love yet envy at the same time. Stormfather, but I do.
I still feel that way.