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The Way of Kings Chapter 20 (D)


This early draft chapter corresponds to parts of chapter 18 and all of chapter 22.


Dalinar strode down the hallway of the king’s war palace, booted feet clomping on marble flooring, the sound echoing against stone walls broken by windows on the leeward side. Those windows were the mark that you were living in the stormlands. Inside laits, you could have windows on any side of a building, but here it couldn’t be risked. Shutters could be blown open, glass cracked. Stone was the best protection.

Renarin accompanied him today, along with two scribes and three members of the Cobalt Guard. The former wore sleek gowns after the fashion of Alethi lighteyed women. The latter wore deep blue felt caps and cloaks over silvery breastplates and deep blue trousers. Each was a lighteyes of low rank, able to carry swords for close fighting.

The women were both wives of his officers; Teshav was the ranking of the two. She had streaks of blonde in her otherwise black Alethi hair, which she kept up in an intricate crossing weave. Her pinched face bore a concerned expression. That was normal; she always seemed to need something to worry about.

Dalinar trusted her. Mostly. It was hard to trust anyone completely. Stop it, he thought at himself. You’re starting to sound as paranoid as the king. Still, he’d be very glad for Jasnah’s return. If she ever decided to return.

“Brightlord,” Teshav said, “I can find no corroboration to his majesty’s fears. Nobody reports anyone being near to the saddle or his majesty’s horse. There are no whispers of anyone bragging over the event; usually there’s something, if not from our spies, then from talk among the officers. This time, nothing.”

“The grooms?”

“Say they checked over the saddle,” she said, “but when pressed, they admit that they can’t specifically remember checking the strap. It was a new saddle, not one of his majesty’s favored ones. The most reasonable assumption is that it hadn’t been tested, and it simply broke.” She shook her head. “Carrying a Shardbearer places great strain on both horse and saddle. If there were only some way to tame more Ryshadium….”

“I think you’ll sooner tame the highstorms, brightness. I appreciate your work on this.”

“It is my pleasure to serve, Brightlord. Is there something else you wish of me?”
“Highprince Aladar. He’s begun to talk of taking a short vacation back to Alethkar. I want to know if it’s idle speculation or not.”

“Yes, Brightlord.” Teshav nodded, then withdrew with her ward.

What would it mean if Aladar did want to return? Would Dalinar try to block him? He didn’t trust the highprinces, but at least with them all here, he could keep watch on them. If one of them returned to Alethkar, he could scheme unchecked.

Of course, even a brief visit might help stabilize their homeland. Hadn’t Dalinar complained of the danger Alethkar suffered by having all ten of its highprinces away at war? Shouldn’t he encourage them to spend some time back at their estates?

Which was more important? Stability, or keeping them under his thumb? Blood of my fathers, he thought. I wasn’t built for this politicking and scheming. I was built to hold a sword and charge down enemies.

Renarin turned to watch Teshav leave, beskpeckled eyes curious. He never complained about being ordered to attend his father. Perhaps he found it boring; but until he decided what he wished to do with his life, he would learn the ways of being a highprince, just in case tragedy befell Adolin.

The hallways of the king’s palace were growing more rich by the week. Once, this hallway had been just another soulcast stone tunnel. As Elhokar settled in, he had ordered changes. Windows cut in the leeward side. Marble tiling set into the floor. The walls carved with reliefs, wood trim at the corners. Dalinar and Renarin passed a group of stonemasons carefully cutting a scene of Nalan’Elin, eyes spraying out sunlight, sword of retribution held over his head. Stonecutting was the only visual art that was Masculine instead of Feminine.

Elhokar had shipped in this particular group from Kholinar itself. The king would not order such finery if he weren’t intending to remain here for some time yet. I need to change that. The war had to be won. No more playing. Elhokar had said he could offer a plan; well, he had one. It was bold, but hopefully that would appeal to the young king.

Unite them…

He’d suffered another vision two nights before, during the highstorm. Different, unique, but ending with those insistent words.

He was going mad. That was the best answer. And yet, here he was, trying to do what was demanded.

Because, mad or not, it felt right.

They reached the king’s antechamber, an open room guarded by ten members of the King’s guard, dressed in crimson and gold. Dalinar recognized each face; he had personally organized the King’s Guard, and continued to oversee it.

Highprince Ruthar waited to see the king, brawny arms folded. He wore a short black beard that went around his mouth, but was shaved at the sides, and wore an outfit of bright red and blue silk. The coat was cut short through the bottom and front, and did not button. It was almost more of a vest with sleeves, a token nod to traditional Alethi uniform. The shirt underneath was ruffled and white, and Ruthar’s trousers were loose, with wide cuffs.

Ruthar glanced at Dalinar and sniffed quietly, turning to chat with one of his attendants. He cut off, however, as the guards at the doorway stepping aside and letting Dalinar enter. Ruthar sniffed again. Dalinar’s access to the king galled the other highprinces.

The king wasn’t in his sitting room, but the wide doors to his balcony were open. Dalinar waved for his guardsmen to wait behind, then stepped out onto the balcony, Renarin hesitantly joining him. The light outside was dim. It was evening, near sunset.

The king’s war palace complex sat atop a rock formation overlooking the ten warcamps. It was a tactically sound location, but also one which would be strongly buffeted by storms. That was always a difficult decision. Did one choose to be low and squat to withstand storms, or did one seize the high ground?

In this case, most would have chosen opposite of the king; their warcamps on the edge of the Shattered Plains were unlikely to be attacked, and so the advantage of the high ground was unimportant. The near-walls of the craters not only broke the wind, but offered some protection.

But kings had a tendency to prefer height. Dalinar had encouraged Elhokar to take the position, just in case. The balcony itself was a thick platform of rock cut onto the top of the small peak. It was edged with a railing of iron, and the king’s rooms were a Soulcast dome sitting atop the natural formation, with covered hallways leading to lower tiers on the hillside. Those housed the king’s various attendants: guards, stormwardens, ardents, and distant family members.

Dalinar his own bunker inside his warcamp. He refused to call it a palace.

The king leaned against the ailing with a pair of guardsmen watching a short distance away. The air was sweet with the scents of evening: rockbuds blooming, the air chill with spring air. The warcamp craters were starting to come alight. Ten circles filled with watchfires, cook fires, lamps, and infused gems.

As he so often did, Elhokar stared eastward, stormward, over the camps and toward the Shattered plains. They were dark and black, without light save for the occasional watchpost. From this distance, those were so weak as to seem nothing more than candles.

“Do they watch us, from out there?” Elhokar asked as Dalinar joined him.

“We know their raiding bands move at night, your majesty,” Dalinar said, resting one hand on the iron railing. “I can’t help but think they watch us.”

The king’s uniform had the traditional long coat with buttons on the sides, but it was loose and relaxed, and ruffled lace poked out of the collar and cuffs. His trousers were of a solid red, and were cut after the baggy fashion that Ruthar had shown. It all looked so…informal to Dalinar. Increasingly, their soldiers were being led by a group who spent their days dressed in lace and their evenings attending feasts and parties.

This is what Gavilar foresaw, Dalinar realized. This is why he became so insistent that we follow the Codes.

At first, Dalinar had followed them out of shame for being drunk when his brother was murdered. But now he was beginning to see. Things needed to change. “Nephew,” he said. “You told me I could bring you a plan, a way to change things here at the Shattered plains. Well, I have a proposal for you.”

The king raised an eyebrow.

“I want you to name me Highprince of War.”

Elhokar didn’t laugh; that was a good sign. There hadn’t been a Highprince of War in Alethkar for centuries. The princedoms were too fractured, too untrusting, to be grouped beneath the command of a single man. They obeyed Elhokar as their king, but that unity—reintroduced to them by Elhokar’s father—was still a fragile thing.

“The others would revolt, Dalinar,” the king finally said. “You know they would. They barely accept my leadership. Why come with such a ridiculous request?”

“Look below? What do you see?”

“Warcamps.”

“Cities, Elhokar,” Dalinar said. “Would you have this place become the new capital of Alethkar? This remote backwater has been the king’s seat for five years now! The longer we stay here, the more we drain from our homeland—the more lighteyes move here, the more soldiers come seeking their fortunes, the more of their families they collect. How long until someone decides to strike with a determined campaign against our homeland? With the king, all ten highprinces, and nearly every Shardbearer in the kingdom absent, taking Alethkar would be almost laughably easy!”

“They wouldn’t dare,” Elhokar said. “The Reshi are too frightened and the Vedens too careful. They know the wealth and the Shardblades we’ve found here. They could seize Alethkar for a time, but would face our wrath soon.”

“And you’d abandon the campaign here to recapture your homeland?”

“Of course,” Elhokar said, though he hesitated a moment before saying it.

“We’d have to start all over once we returned,” Dalinar said. “What is more important, Elhokar? The pride of your highprinces, or avenging your father’s death?”

Elhokar fell silent. “They’d assassinate me,” he finally said. “You can’t bring back the old ways. If I tried to exercise that kind of authority over them, I’d be dead within a week’s time.”

“But if we were—”

“No, uncle,” Elhokar said, voice firm. “You don’t even take the current threats on my life seriously.”

Dalinar sighed. “Your majesty,” he said carefully. “I do take threats to your life seriously. My scribes and attendants have looked into the strap. My leatherworkers, think it must have gone without proper oil. Today, I had a report that nobody has taken credit for trying to kill you, even in rumor. Nobody saw anything suspicious, and the grooms didn’t check as closely as they should have. It was worn. It broke.”

No,” Elhokar said. “It was cut, uncle.”

“For what purpose, Elhokar? A fall from horseback wouldn’t kill you!”

“I don’t know,” Elhokar said, face growing red. “You should be trying to find out what their plan was, rather than pestering me with some arrogant quest to become overlord of the entire army!”

Dalinar gritted his teeth. “I do this for you, Elhokar.”

Elhokar met his eyes for a moment, and his eyes flashed with suspicion again.

Blood of my fathers! Dalinar thought. He’s getting worse.

Elhokar’s expression softened a moment later, however, and he seemed to relax. Whatever he’d seen in Dalinar’s eyes had comforted him. But Dalinar could not forget that flash of suspicion.

“I know you try for the best, uncle,” Elhokar said. “But you have to admit that you’ve been erratic lately. The way you react to storms, your infatuation with that book of my father’s…”

“I’m trying to understand him.”

“He grew weak at the end,” Elhokar said. “Everyone knows it. I won’t make his same mistakes, and you should avoid them as well. I would not see you tread his same path, speaking making concessions to our enemies, signing treaties with everyone, preaching the words of a book written by the Lost Radiants.”

“They didn’t write it,” Dalinar said immediately. “It was their inspiration, but Nohadon was its author.”

Elhokar glanced at him, raising an eyebrow. See. You defend it.

Dalinar glanced at Renarin. The quite youth was watching the two of them with interest. What did those eyes see? He always seemed to pick things out of conversations that no other man would notice, yet often missed the most important points at the same time.

“You are getting weak, uncle,” Elhokar said softly, drawing his attention back. “I will not exploit that weakness. But others will.”

“I am not getting weak.” Dalinar forced himself—yet again—to be calm. Was it supposed to be this hard to maintain decorum? “This conversation has gone off path. The highprinces need a single leader to force them to work together. I promise, if I am named Highprince of War, I would see you protected.”

“Like you saw my father protected?”

Dalinar cut off, snapping his mouth closed. To the side, Renarin gasped softly.

Elhokar leaned down on the iron railing. “I should not have spoken that. It was uncalled for.”

“No,” Dalinar said. “No, it was one of the truest things you have said to me, Elhokar. Perhaps you are right to distrust my protection.”

Elhokar glanced at him, growing curious. “Why is it you react that way?”

“What way?”

“Once, if someone had said that do you, you’d have summoned your Blade and demanded a duel! Now you agree with me instead.”

“I…” Why had he reacted that way?.

“My father started refusing duels, near the end.” Elhokar tapped idly on the railing. “I see why you wish for the chance to be Highprince of War, and you may have a point. But the others very much like the arrangement as it stands.”

“Because it allows them to sport against one another. Because it gives them a near-endless sequence of battles, spaced as to not upset their schedule of socializing. Because there are riches to be had without great sacrifice.” Dalinar stepped forward. “If we are going to win, we’ll need to upset them. We’ll need them to start working together, rather than competing against one another. We need to…we need to unite them!”

“Perhaps,” the king said. “Perhaps. If you can show me that the highprinces are willing to work with you, Uncle, then I’ll consider your offer. Go to them, not me. Convince them, and you will convince me. Is that satisfactory?”

Dalinar sighed. It wasn’t what he wanted, but perhaps it was the best he could have hoped for. “Very well.”

“Good,” the king said, standing up. “Then let us part for now. Tonight’s feast approaches, and I still have to hear what Ruthar wishes of me.”

#

The air was still cool as Dalinar and his sons arrived at the feasting basin. His stormwardens projected another few weeks of spring, followed by a return to summer. Hopefully, it wouldn’t turn to winter instead; ice and snow were not welcome additions to the already-precarious plateau fighting.

The king’s feasts always happened outdoors, in a place at the foot of Elhokar’s palace hill. If the stormwardens spoke of a highstorm—or if more mundane weather turned bad—then the feast was canceled. Dalinar was glad for the outdoor location. Even with ornamentation, Soulcast barracks often like caverns, too suffocating and enveloping to house a good feast.

The feast basin was constructed like a group of small stone islands. Wide, circular dining sections rose like large turtle shells from a shallow stream of water. The effect had been fabricated—the king’s Soulcasters had diverted the water from a nearby river to flood the basin.

Almost reminds me of Sela Tales, Dalinar thought as he crossed the first bridge. And the everlake.

There were five islands, and the railings of the bridges connecting them bore delicate engravings. The woodwork was so fine that after each feast, the railings had to be disassembled and stowed, lest highstorm shatter them. Tonight, flowers floated in the slow current. Occasionally, a miniature boat sailed past, bearing an infused gemstone and lighting the flowers around it.

Dalinar, Renarin, and Adolin stepped onto the first dining platform. “One cup of blue,” Dalinar said to his sons. “After that, stay to the orange.”

Adolin sighed audibly. “Couldn’t we, just this once—”

“So long as you are of my house, you follow the Codes. My will is firm on this, Adolin.”

“Fine,” Adolin said. “Come on, Renarin.” The two split off from Dalinar, remaining on the first platform, where the younger lighteyes congregated.

Dalinar continued forward, crossing onto the middle island. This central one was for lesser lighteyes to mingle. To the left and right lay the segregated dining islands—men’s island on the right, woman’s island to the left. The three central platforms, however, were for the genders to mix. One for youths, one for lesser lighteyes, one for those of high rank.

Around him, lesser lighteyes important enough—or favored enough—to be invited took advantage of their king’s hospitality. Soulcast food was mundane and bland, but the king’s lavish feasts always served imported spices and exotic meats. Dalinar could smell it on the air, roasting pork…even chickens. It had been a long time since he’d been served meat from one of the strange, Shin flying creatures.

A darkeyed servant passed, wearing a gauzy red robe, carrying a tray bearing orange crab legs. Dalinar’s stomach grumbled, but he didn’t reach for a shell. He continued forward, weaving around groups of revelers with goblets of wine. Most drank violet, the most intoxicating—but most flavorful—of wines.

Nobody wore uniforms. Some few men wore the small, half-chested coats, but many had given up on pretense, wearing smooth, silk shirts with ruffled cuffs and matching slippers on their feet. The material glistened in the lanternlight, and not a few of them shot glances at Dalinar, appraising him, weighing him.

He could remember a day not so long ago when, at a feast like this, he would have been swarmed by acquaintances and attendants, eager for a fun evening of wine and revelry. Now, nobody approached him. They gave way before him, sometimes reluctantly, but they did not provoke him. Elhokar might think his uncle was growing weak, but his reputation quelled most others.

Still, there were a number of odd looks. Dalinar ignored them, hand resting lightly on the pommel of his arming sword. He was one of the few who wore a weapon.

The revelation he’d made earlier, about the Codes, seemed a simple thing. Why had it taken him so long to see? He’d assumed that the Codes were just about protecting the camp. Always be in uniform, always be armed, never become drunken. Ever vigilant while the under threat of attack.

Yet, if that were the case, the others were right to ignore the Codes. The Parshendi would probably never attack, and if they did, scouts would give warning. So why bother with all of those prohibitions?

Except, it wasn’t just about the threats of attack. It was about something more—it was about giving the men commanders they could rely upon, and about treating war with the solemnity it deserved. It was about not turning a battlefield into a party.

In a way, the Codes were about showing the common soldiers that you were part of what they did. They had to remain on watch, vigilant. So should you.

If a king is seen helping with the load of the poorest of men…. The line sprang into his mind. Perhaps those poorest of men will help him with his own load, so invisible, yet so daunting…

Dalinar froze, standing amidst the revelers, shocked. It made sense, suddenly. The words from The Way of Kings made sense to him.

Blood of my fathers, Dalinar thought. Once, he’d called his brother a fool for seeking wisdom from the sacred text of the Radiants. Now that same text was slipping into his mind unbidden. Maybe he had been listening to the thing too much.

He continued, approaching the bridge to the king’s island. Lantern poles ringed it, burning with blue stormlight. A firepit dominated the center of the platform, deep red coals simmering in its bowels, radiating warmth. Elhokar sat at his table just behind the firepit, and several highprinces ate with him. Tables at the sides of the plateau were occupied by men or women—never both at the same time—dining.


The rest of this chapter is nearly identical to the published version of chapter 22.


|   Castellano