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The Way of Kings Prime: Jeksonsonvallano

One of the big differences between the 2003 version of The Way of Kings and the published version was a massive restructuring of timelines. With Szeth, where he began in the old version is a combination of what became the prologue and the epilogue of his storyline in the new version. This happened across the board—for instance, Taln showing up in the epilogue of the book used to happen in the prologue. What happens at the end of Kaladin’s flashback sequences in the published version was right near the beginning of where his story began in the old version.

For many reasons, I felt the book needed to be restructured so that I could dig into the character personalities in a different way. So in these scenes you will see things that are reminiscent of the ending of The Way of Kings as it’s published. I suggest perhaps staying away from this until you’ve read the book.

Jeksonsonvallano, Truthless of Shinavar, stood at the edge of the lush Veden chamber, watching the savages enjoy their party. They paid him little heed—while his people were uncommon in the desolate lands of the east, there were often a few in most large cities. He held his cup, but did not drink from it. Even after nearly ten years exiled in the uncivilized lands of Jah Keved and Alethkar, he had not grown accustomed to the Kanaran people’s overly sweet wines.

The room, like most of its kind, was formed of stone blocks. The people tried to hide their desecration of the rock—using rugs and woven mats for the floor, and hangings for the walls. Jek was careful not to rest his back against the stones as he watched; he might have been Truthless, but he was not a blasphemer.

He still wasn’t certain at the reason for the festivities. However, he had traveled to Veden City several times, and it seemed that the nobility of the country needed little excuse to throw a celebration. Apparently, this time they regarded the Aleth victory in Prallah as one of their own, even though they had sent very few men to the endeavor. That was another trait of the easterner mentality—they often took credit for achievements that were not their own.

Jek’s attention was focused on the far side of the room, where the Veden king sat in his throne. Jek had been watching the man all evening, comparing rumors with facts. What he saw gave him little hope. King Ahven Vedenel was an idiot of the highest degree, a man with the mind of a child. King Ahven watched over the feasting nobility with wide, innocent eyes, drinking wine from his goblet and smiling foolishly. When he spoke, his words were slurred with the dullness of one touched in the head.

The true king, then, was the man who stood beside Ahven. As self-important as he was bald, Karathach was often dubbed the Lord Puppeteer in whispered rumors. Jek’s observations, however, left him with little respect for the man’s manipulative abilities. It wasn’t difficult to play puppeteer over a king who hadn’t the wits of a child.

Jek had seen enough. He nodded to his companions—a group of merchants who had, for a price, allowed Jek to join their company—and slipped from the room. He needed to retire early if he was going to be awake in time to assassinate King Ahven in the early morning.

Jeksonsonvallano, Truthless of Shinavar, knelt in the darkness and laid a quiet hand on the granite, mouthing the fourteen curses against a people who forced him to desecrate holy stone.

Yet, there was no other way. It shamed him, but he barely even noticed any more. When he had first come to the lands of the east, he had tried to find ways to keep from walking on the stone. He would stand on rugs and ride in hand-drawn carriages. Eventually, he had been forced to admit his hypocrisy. Beneath the rug was stone. Beneath that stone, more stone. Wherever he walked, whether it be inside or outdoors, his feet desecrated the rock. There was no regular soil in this blighted land.

Jek stood. The night was cool, yet still arid. He longed for the enfolding humidity of his homeland. That was not to be, however. He was Truthless—his lot was to walk the stones, knowing every step brought him damnation. And so it would be.

He scuttled along the palace wall in the darkness. Though savages, the eastern people did have some impressive attributes. Their skill with textiles and dyes far outmatched that of his own people. The seasilk bodycloth he wore was stronger, yet lighter and more flexible, than any wool outfit from Shinavar. It was colored the deepest of blacks, its natural sheen roughed to prevent it from glistening in the starlight. Were he still a member of the Halantentan, the clothing would have been the envy of the entire clan.

He paused beside a stone post on the wall, crouching down, eyeing palace guards and their lanterns. The savages liked to build outward, rather than upward. In Shinavar, the palace of one so wealthy would have been a tenset stories in height, constructed to show the power of the clan leader. However, stone was not meant to be used for building homes—it resisted cutting and smoothing, wishing to remain in its natural form. It was too heavy for much stacking. The difficulty didn’t permit the construction of tall buildings—the savages had to use massive support pillars to achieve even a single story.

The Veden palace was of typical design. It spread out across a shallow stone plateau at the center of Veden City. Built of five wings, it was a labyrinth of hallways and chambers. During the party he had attended earlier, Jek had spent as much time as possible scouting his pathways. Complex though the palace was, it betrayed one major flaw—consistent with most of its kind in the east.

Important men liked windows.

Jek climbed over the side of the wall, slinking down its side, using the two sides of a corner to keep himself from falling too fast. He crouched at its base, then scuttled across the courtyard. A quick grapple with handholds, and he was up once again—this time on the roof of the palace. The stone was unnaturally flat beneath his unshod feet, worked and scarred by the hands of men. He stole across the top of the building, aiming toward the back wall.

The savages were fools. Their nobles always slept in the same room, and didn’t even try to disguise which room that was. Look for the largest, best-protected room in the building, and one would find the lord of the household. It was fortunate that the savage eastern assassins were as incompetent as their lords; otherwise, the land would have been depopulated of noblemen long before.

Two guards stood on the outside balcony, their lanternlight blinding them to the darkness. Even if they had been without light, they probably wouldn’t have thought to look upward—even though that was the most obvious path to the king’s chambers.

Jek shook his head. Sixteen years, and he had yet to find a true challenge in these lands. He wondered if the savages even realized how fortunate they were—if they’d been more civilized, the clans would have attacked them long ago. As it was, however, Truth forbade the attacking of children, women, and non-warriors. By common Shin consent, all easterners fell into the first category.

That prohibition, unfortunately, no longer applied to Jek. He was Truthless.

The first guard died with Jek’s stiletto in his back. The second guard turned with a look of shock, opening his mouth to scream as his companion slumped to the ground. Jek leaped forward, grabbing the soldier by the neck, cutting off his cry of surprise. Jek whipped out his chokecloth, spinning behind the man and wrapping the cloth around his neck. The guard got in a single claw at Jek’s arm before a twist of the chokecloth sent him to join his companion.

Jek rested the body quietly against the stone landing. He felt slightly less guilty about killing them than he did others. The soldiers carried swords—they were noblemen of the Vedenel house, self-professed warriors. According to Truth, any man who wished to be a warrior could die like one, should he make that choice.

The door was wooden—created, undoubtedly, through savage misuse of sacred arts, for there were no trees in the east to provide wood. The keys were on one of the guards’ belt. Jek used them in the lock, opened the door, and crept inside.

It was darker within than without. Jek moved through the room, quickly making out the black blot of the bed against the far wall. There, only for a moment, did he give himself pause. During his years in exile, he had been forced to kill non-warriors of all types—women, children, craftsmen, and servants. Yet, he had never performed this one heresy: the murder of one whose mind had been taken by the Shanalakada. The Idiot King was more than just a child, he was a child with no opportunity. An invalid.

The bitter taste in Jek’s mouth was nothing new. This is your punishment, he thought, forcing himself forward. This is your shame. You have no Truth remaining.

He stopped before the bed to perform the deed—only to find it empty.

Immediately, his senses became alert. Instincts trained through hours of practice beneath his father’s tutelage took control of Jek. He spun, rolling across the ground to avoid attack, and scrambled for the door. As he reached it, a voice whispered in the darkness.

“If you leave, you will just have to return to try again.”

Jek froze, crouching beside the wall, seeking the concealment of darkness and searching for the one who had spoken. The voice had been familiar—the words misformed and dull.

On the other side of the room, a light flashed—the hood being removed from a lantern. The soft glow revealed the Idiot King seated at a table. He wore a loose sencoat of dark materials and a pair of easterner pants—very wide at the cuff and baggy through the legs.

“You have come to kill me,” King Ahven said. “It is curious that you would run so easily. What of the precise efficiency I have heard regarding Shin assassins?”

A trap? It was a strange one, then. No guards, no bows. Just a fool and a table. Jek rose, still on guard, regarding the king carefully. A fool he might appear, and a fool he might sound, but his words were not those of an idiot.

“What manner of man are you?” Jek asked.

“You will have to move closer to the light,” the king said. “Otherwise I won’t be able to see your words.”

Jek frowned, suspicious. Ahven sat patiently. See my words. . . .

Jek stepped forward into the light—like a warrior of his people, he wore no covering on his face. “You’re deaf,” he said, “not an idiot.”

The king’s smile was subtle—thin lipped, barely expressive. “To most, you’ll find that the two are the same.”

Jek reached down, sliding his stiletto from its sheath. He would play the king’s game no longer. Idiot or genius, deaf or mute, he had been ordered to kill this man. He was Truthless—a tool, like his knife. He would do as commanded.

“Ah, the infamous Shin sense of honor,” Ahven said. “What do you call it? Salahkep?”

“That is not a word you may use,” Jek hissed, dashing forward, weapon reflecting lanternlight.

Ahven seemed amused as he reached over and pushed the lantern to the side, revealing an object sitting hidden behind it. A decapitated head.

Jek stumbled to a halt, eyes wide. The head was that of the Veden Nobleman Randach, House Davar—the very man who had held Jek’s Bondstone. The man who had sent Jek to kill the king. . . .

Ahven rested his hand nonchalantly on the table, unfazed by the grisly object at his side.

Randach was dead. Jek’s Bondstone . . . if no one had it, then he was . . .

Ahven reached out and dropped a small object onto the table. A simple chunk of rock—not smoothed, worked, or etched. Blue turquoise, one of the most sacred of stones. This chunk was natural, as it had fallen. Its cracks and faces were deeply familiar to Jek.

“Master,” he said, falling to a regretful knee.

“Indeed,” Ahven replied.

“Master . . .” Jek said, looking up. “I ask you. Return my Bondstone to me. Declare my penance finished, and allow me to return to my clan.”

“I think not,” the Idiot King said. “At the very least, I believe you owe me two guards.”

Jek bowed his head again. “What are your orders?”

“Head up, assassin,” Ahven reminded in his deaf-man’s voice. “I must see your lips.”

Jek raised his head.

“You will travel to the south, to Windhollow. Seek out the palace of Talshekh Davar, and kill his wife and children.”

Talshekh Davar—head of House Davar, one of the three High Families that ruled Jah Keved. “He knew nothing of the attempt on your life,” Jek said.

“This is not about revenge, assassin,” Ahven said, dark eyes reflecting the lanternlight. “I have . . . another purpose. Kill the Davar family, but leave Talshekh himself alive. Then return to me here.”

Jek closed his eyes. Another slaughter. He had been so close . . . four masters, now, and the Shanalakada had not seen fit to release him from his penance. Perhaps they never would.

He rose, bowing to the Idiot King, then left the room on silent feet.

|   Castellano