The following is a draft chapter of Brandon’s unfinished novel Mythwalker from 2001. Brandon later repurposed some elements of this story into Warbreaker, Mistborn, and The Way of Kings.
“This is the glorious rebellion?” Devin asked unenthusiastically.
They had spent most of the night hiding from Sserin patrols, and had waited for light to actually seek out Skeer’s rebellion army. Now that they had arrived, Devin wondered why they had even bothered.
The ‘army’ was a collection of ten or twelve pathetic-looking tents and a single firepit. About thirty men lounged about the camp, but they were decidedly unimpressive. Their beards were dirty enough to appear gray instead of white, and their clothing was torn, stained, and drab. In fact, the entire camp had a worn-down, unkempt look to it.
“Men, I have returned!” Skeer announced, leading the way into the small clearing. “The rebellion lives on!”
Devin frowned, watching the men below. They didn’t look particularly happy to see Skeer—they looked more surprised than anything else. Several of them stood up, looks of shock on their faces. Not a few of those looks turned to sneers when they realized who was approaching.
Devin frowned—something definitely wasn’t right about the camp. All of the men were armed, but the weapons were poorly maintained. Even after only a week in the Guard, Devin knew the proper way to care for a sword and armor—it was one of the first things the scrants had been taught. The men looked like they had seen some battle—there were scars, missing eyes, and the like. However, they didn’t have the disciplined feel of Guards.
These men don’t look like revolutionaries, Devin thought suspiciously. They look like . . . thugs.
“Come on,” Skeer urged, waving for Devin and the others to follow.
“This doesn’t look good, son,” Hine noted from beside him.
“I agree,” Devin mumbled. “But we don’t have many other choices, do we?”
Hine didn’t reply, shooting suspicious looks at the revolutionaries.
Down below, an enormous Eruntu man pushed his way out of one of the tents. He was so tall, in fact, that at first Devin thought he might be a Kkoloss. His beard was white, however, proving his true station. Still, he was broad of chest and well muscled—so well muscled, in fact, that he might have taken the Kkell Oath.
“Skeer?” the large man asked with surprise.
“Yes, Quin, it’s me!” Skeer announced, walking over to slap the man companionably on the shoulder. “You thought I was gone, didn’t you? Well, you can abandon plans to rescue me—I’ve escaped on my own!”
The man didn’t not look very pleased with the announcement. His eyes fell on Devin and the others, and he sized them up with calculating eyes—especially the four Guards. After a moment of inspection, Quin’s eyes moved to look over the other three Eruntu.
“These have decided to join the rebellion,” Skeer informed, waving toward Devin and the others. “The boy there is Devin—a master swordsman who has proved quite useful to us. It was worth my incarceration simply to find him—you should see the boy fight!”
Quin stood quietly for a moment. “Come, Master Skeer,” the large man finally said with a rumbling voice reminiscent of a thunderstorm, “tell me of your escape. The rest of you, feel free to partake of our hospitality,” Quin continued. “You must be hungry after what you’ve been through.”
The large man gestured toward a boiling pot of stew that didn’t smell very appealing to Devin. Then he led Skeer into his tent.
The Guards and revolutionaries stood regarding one another for a tense moment. Then Hine and the others turned to Devin, questioning looks on their faces. Ix followed them, standing beside Hine—who he had taken a liking to—and trying to mimic the large Guard’s stance.
“Do as you wish—I’m not in charge of you,” Devin told them.
The men continued to regard him.
Devin sighed. “Fine. Go and eat.”
The men nodded. All of them but Hine walked down to serve themselves bowls of stew. The three other non-Guard Eruntu followed them, staying close to the soldiers.
“What about you?” Devin asked of Hine.
“I go where you go,” he said simply.
Devin rolled his eyes. However, he didn’t feel like dealing with the man, so he turned and regarded the group.
“What’s going on here?” Devin whispered to himself.
“They don’t look like revolutionaries, do they, son,” Hine agreed.
“This is very confusing, friend Devin,” Ix noted. “Why would they not be revolutionaries? That is what friend Skeer calls them.”
Hine shot a look at Ix. The Guards steeped apprehensively around the shadowling, but since Devin appeared to have accepted him, they hadn’t said anything.
“Should I be hungry?” Ix asked quietly, leaning close to Devin.
“When was the last time you ate?” Devin asked.
“The day before, when the prison guard gave us lunch,” Ix said.
“Then yes, you probably should.”
Ix nodded. Then, in a louder voice, he said, “I am hungry. Being human, that happens to us. I shall go eat now.” With that, he marched down toward the firepit. Conversations grew quiet as the revolutionaries noticed him, and several men made wardings against evil. However, many of them ignored him—they were too busy watching the three Guards.
The Guards sat in a quiet, tense group. They ate their stew slowly, never taking their eyes off the rogues around them.
Devin looked up at Hine. The older warrior was regarding the camp. For some reason, he felt he could trust this man—Hine had a simple honesty about him that put all around him at ease.
“What do you make of this?” Devin asked.
“I’m not sure, son,” Hine admitted. “I’m skeptical of this rebellion, however.”
“Agreed,” Devin said.
Down below, Ix was watching the Guards eat. The shadowling tried to duplicate the other men’s motions exactly, hunching over just like them, trying to raise his spoon to his lips at exactly the same angle, and at exactly the same time, as the others.
“I’ll bet this Quin doesn’t like you very much, son,” Hine noted.
“Why do you say that?” he asked.
Hine shrugged. “A hunch,” he said.
Devin frowned. However, his growling stomach made a complaint, and eventually he decided to join the others at the firepit. Hine followed, serving both himself and Devin a bowl of stew.
Devin accepted the food gratefully, sitting next to the other Guards as he ate. However, his mind soon drifted from the camp, haunting images of what he had seen the day before rising in his mind. Now that he had actually had an opportunity to think about the events, he realized just how horrible they had been. He had expected to see death while in the Guard, but he had never imagined such a grisly display. The worst thing about it had been his helplessness—he had watched the Captain and Tekke die, unable to do more than scream in denial. And then, there was the darkest deed of them all—the one perpetrated by Devin’s own hands. The murder of the innocent Skaa.
Devin ate quietly, brooding over his thoughts. The stew tasted even worse than it smelled. It was burned, and the saltmeat was incredibly strong.
Soon his thoughts strayed to another disturbing topic. In addition to the scenes of death, Devin was forced to confront the disruption of his beliefs. His gods, the Kkoloss, had fallen. There was no avoiding this fact. They had not only acted unjustly, they had been downright evil. And the perpetrators weren’t just any Kkoloss either—they were the King and his heir, the leaders of House Sserin. There had even been an Archpriest in attendance.
It was unavoidable—Kkoloss weren’t as perfect as Devin had been led to believe. In a way, it made sense. They were people, after all. Why shouldn’t some of them be bad, just as some Eruntu were bad?
The thought was blasphemous. However, Devin didn’t spend much time worrying about the transgression. He had slain three Kkoloss—that alone had given him enough Ki-Ssu to damn him a thousand times over. A few blasphemous thoughts would be like tossing pebbles onto a mountain.
Skeer and Quin spent about an hour in their conference. When they finally emerged, Devin quickly realized that Hine’s prediction was right. Quin did not like him. The large man regarded Devin with a look that bordered on outright hostility. He masked it with a false smile, however, as he approached Devin.
“Apparently, we owe you a great debt, boy,” Quin said, pausing just beside the firepit. “You’ve returned Skeer to us. We were lost without his leadership.”
Devin frowned uncertainly. He couldn’t remember a time in his life when someone had actually disliked him. He’d always been too average to be noticed, either for good or for ill. He’d never realized what a blessing that had been—he could feel the hatred and envy seething from this large man.
I’m a threat, Devin realized. He knows Skeer is a fool, but he fears that I’ll undermine his authority.
Unfortunately, never having had to deal with such utter distaste, Devin didn’t quite know how to react.
“The pleasure was mine, Quin,” Devin said slowly. “I always try to help those whom I can.”
“Skeer tells you he has offered you a place in the rebellion,” Quin said, leaning down slightly to regard Devin.
“He has,” Devin admitted. Why does he hate me so? I’m just Devin. I’m not a threat to anyone.
Tell that to the three Kkoloss you slaughtered, another part of his mind answered.
“Well, boy,” Quin declared in his rumbling voice, “everyone who joins the rebellion has to start at the bottom, and everyone has to do their part.”
“That makes sense,” Devin said hesitantly.
“Good,” Quin said. “I have the perfect job for you. Our cook-boy ran off a number of weeks ago; you’ll fill that position nicely.” Quin smiled broadly, looking into Devin’s eyes with a smirk.
He doesn’t expect me to accept it, Devin realized. The job was obviously considered demeaning.
“That sounds fine,” Devin said, rising.
Quin raised an eyebrow. “You’ll have to cook all three meals of the day, and make certain you have enough that we can come back for seconds. The men need to be fed.”
“I understand,” Devin replied simply.
Quin frowned slightly. “All right then. You start tomorrow,” he finally said, then he turned and mumbled something to one of his companions, and they retreated back to his tent.
“You don’t have to let him push you around like that, son,” Hine counseled quietly. “You could take him easily.”
“I don’t want to make trouble, Hine,” Devin informed, contemplating a second bowl of stew. However, the awful taste dissuaded him.
“If you say so, son,” Hine mumbled, watching Quin’s tent with suspicion.
“We’re guests here, Hine,” Devin reminded. “What he said makes sense—I’m new, and I’m obviously little more than a child. The assignment is a good one. Besides, maybe I’ll like cooking.”
Devin regarded the ingredients with a frown. They were nothing like the neat, orderly cupboards his mother had maintained back home. In Talla’s kitchen, everything had been kept in its proper place. Here, the ingredients were in all thrown haphazardly in a messy pile of barrels, boxes, and sacks.
Saltflour leaked from a half-empty bag, and the box of cured saltmeat smelt of ale. Spices and vegetables lay strewn about without any care for cleanliness. Of course, in all, there was much more food than Devin had ever seen back home. He wondered where the rebels had obtained it—the box of saltmeat alone was probably worth a great deal.
“Well, it’s all yours now,” said Den—the man who had been in charge of cooking before Devin. He was a short, tired-looking man with an odd lisping voice. He seemed quite eager to be rid of the cooking duty. Apparently, the men hadn’t been very satisfied with his efforts.
“Wait,” Devin said as the man began to turn around to go.
Den turned his sleepy eyes Devin’s direction. “What?” he demanded.
“Um, do you have a recipe or something you could give me?” Devin asked weakly.
Den snorted. He picked up a cup of water. “You take some of that,” he said. He grabbed a bit of dirty flour and threw it into the cup, “add some of this, and some of this,” he continued, grabbing a piece of meat, “then put in some of those,” he said grabbing a desiccated carrot and dropping it in the cup. “Then you mix them together and cook it for a while,” he said.
Devin’s body began to shiver. Oh no, not again! He thought with despair as the wave of cold washed through his body, ending in his head, which began to tremble.
Devin withstood it as best as he could. He’d assumed that the seizures were over—he’d only felt them a single time after the fighting the day before. Apparently his assumption had been wrong. His head shook so much, his neck began to hurt.
The attack ended a second later, and Devin exhaled quietly. Den was regarding him with apprehensive eyes.
“You aren’t sick, are you?” the short man demanded.
“I don’t know,” Devin said truthfully.
The man backed away uncertainly, leaving Devin to his cooking.
Devin sighed, turning back to his pile of ingredients. Despite Quin’s words on ‘everyone doing their part,’ the general attitude of the camp seemed to be one of laxness. The rebels lounged around, some playing games of coins, others dozing, but none seemed to be doing anything useful—with the exception of Hine, of course. The old warrior stood washing the bowls from the previous day’s meal, Ix helping quietly.
Devin reached for the flower, deciding he might as well follow the ‘recipe’ Den had given him. However, he paused.
I should cook the meat first, he thought. But, how did he know that?
He moved uncertainly at first, but gained more confidence as he worked. He started to boil the meat in a small pot, and started cooking the vegetables in a separate one. He knew almost instinctually which spices to add to which pot, even though he didn’t even know what half of them were.
I need cleanwater, Devin realized. The stew wouldn’t taste half as good without something to dull the taste of the salt. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like the men were in the habit of collecting rain. Or, if they did collect it, the probably drank it immediately.
Devin regarded his pots, a thought occurring to him. He filled a medium-sized cauldron with water, then set an oversized lid on it. Eventually, the cauldron began to boil, and he tipped the lid a little to the side. Water began to trip out, and Devin set a pot below to trap the escaping water.
“Cooking water, boy?” Quin said, chuckling as he passed. “I’m sure that will be appetizing.”
Devin ignored the man, instead concentrating on his work. He made cakes out of the flour, then mixed a gravy out of the meat. When the vegetables were ready, he added them—with some more spices he didn’t recognize. Then, finally, he added a potful of cleanwater and put the lid on to let the entire thing boil.
It’s going to be horrible, Devin realized with a sigh. He’d added spices randomly; he had no idea how to cook. But, he realized, it couldn’t possibly be worse than the previous day’s meals.
He let the stew cook for a good while. Somehow, he knew exactly when it would be ready.
The first rebel raised the spoon to his lips. The tension of the camp was palpable as he tasted the stew. Men stood holding their bowls with hesitant hands, waiting to see their test subject’s reaction. All was quiet save the forest sounds.
“Hess!” the first man exclaimed. “This is fabulous!”
As soon as the announcement was made, the hesitancy was abandoned. Suddenly it seemed as if hundreds of bowls were coming from hundreds of directions, all demanding Devin’s attention. He filled them as quickly as he could, and Hine quickly stepped to his side, helping in the effort to feed the rebels just as valiantly as he would have aided an overwhelmed companion on the battlefield.
Soon all of the men were munching contentedly on chunks of stew. Devin wiped his brow with a slight smile. He had, of course, tasted the stew—and had been amazed at how wonderfully it had turned out. He had been worried, though, that his own opinion was biased. What would have happened if that first man hadn’t decided in Devin’s favor?
“By the God of Demons, son!” Hine mumbled, tasting his own stew for the first time. “They’re right. This is really good. Where did you learn to cook?”
Devin shook his head, serving himself and sitting with the other soldiers. “Honestly, Hine, I think it was just luck. I threw some ingredients together, and this is what came out.”
Hine gave him a look that didn’t seem very believing, then continued to eat, dipping his biscuit into the stew.
“This really is good, sir,” Meeve, the youngest of the Guards, praised. “Even my Grams didn’t cook this good.”
Devin smiled. “I doubt that, Meeve,” Devin said. “You came from one of the orchard villages, didn’t you?”
The boy nodded. “Komo village.”
Devin nodded to himself—Komo village had been about a half-day’s journey from his own home town. Meeve was an eager type—he almost reminded Devin of Tekke. He was much younger, however—probably just fourteen. He had the same stumpy legs, however, and the same nervous energy. But unlike Tekke, Meeve wasn’t very confident in himself. The boy was always looking around self-consciously, as if convinced that he was in a place he didn’t really belong.
“You really shouldn’t have let me stay, sir,” Meeve said, looking down at his bowl of stew. “I took last place in the race, you know. I’d never have been in the Guard, except for the fact that they took everyone.”
Devin snorted. “I took last place too, Meeve,” he said. “Or, at least, I was assigned last place. Don’t worry about it too much.”
Meeve looked up with surprise. “You?” he asked. “That’s not—uh, I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to disagree.”
Devin snorted. “Don’t worry about it. And, you really don’t have to call me sir. I’m nothing more than your cook.”
Meeve didn’t look up from his bowl, but he did seem to eat a little more confidently after the exchange.
Devin turned to the other two Guards, Voko and Ralan. Voko was rather muscular—even for a man who’d taken the Kkell Oath—and was balding, though he was only about five feet tall. Ralan, on the other hand, had a more average robustness about him. He was strong, as per the Kkell power, but he didn’t look as overwhelmingly muscular as some of the others.
“So, what is your story?” Devin wondered. “How did you two end up here?”
“I can answer that, Dev,” Voko said. He wiped his hand across his bald head, as if to smooth back hair that wasn’t there. “It was my fault, really. We kind of disobeyed orders.”
“Kind of?” Devin asked.
“Well,” Voko admitted, “kind of blatantly. Not to speak poorly of the Chosen, Dev, but some of those Kkoloss ‘generals’ have the battle smarts of a dead mule. When they first come on, they’re allowed to run lesser Games as practice. The lesser Games aren’t too big—only a couple of dozen men on each side—so the losses aren’t very great. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of the couple dozen, if you understand me.”
“Ah,” Devin said, nodding and taking another bite of his stew. It again shocked him with its flavor—had he really created something so delicious?
“Anyway, this one battle came along,” Voko continued. “We were unfortunate enough to get assigned to a general who’d never fought a single battle. He was Fifth Sept, and only about twenty years old—that’s really young for a Kkoloss. So, he knew as much about warfare as Ralan here does about knitting. He put us in a line, and ordered us to attack the enemy head-on. Now, I don’t know if you understand warfare much, Dev, but they had three lines of men—swords, pikes, and bows. We just had our one, poorly spaced line of hammermen. They would have cut us apart. We’d have been dead, sacrificed up on the altar of a scrant general.”
Ralan nodded his agreement.
“So,” Voko continued, “as soon as we were out of yelling distance, Ralan and I split the group in two and attacked from the rear. The other general was pretty new too, so we easily flanked them.” Voko moved to gesture, an act that made him drop his spoon—and bowl of stew—onto the ground. He groaned, moving to pick up the mess and serve himself another bowl.
“And you won the battle?” Devin asked when he sat back down.
“Of course,” Voko said modestly, dipping into his new bowl. “And then we got yelled at for disobeying orders.”
“Makes sense,” Hine mumbled. “You’re a Guardsman. You should have done what you were told.”
Voko snorted. “That’s easy to say when you’re not staring down a line of archers, Hine,” he said.
Ralan nodded enthusiastically.
“We probably would have been all right,” Voko added with a smile. “If Ralan hadn’t gotten mad.”
Devin raised an eyebrow. The second warrior didn’t seem like the aggressive type. “What did you do?”
Ralan paused in his eating, then he nodded toward Voko, who was snickering quietly to himself—he snickered so hard, in fact, that he dropped his spoon again. Devin frowned—this Voko certainly was the clumsy type.
“What did he do?” Devin asked again.
“He punched the general’s horse,” Voko explained.
Devin couldn’t help smiling. “He did what?” Devin asked.
“Well, he couldn’t punch a Kkoloss,” Voko explained. “So, instead, he punched the horse. Or, at least, that’s my guess.”
Devin frowned. “Your guess?”
“Ralan’s a mute, Dev,” Voko explained, pointing to the taller man. Ralan raised his head, showing a scar on his neck. “He can’t say a word.”
“Ah,” Devin said nodding. “So, the Kkoloss threw you two in prison for punching the horse?”
“Unfortunately,” Voko added, “horses have a tendency to buck when they get smacked in the face—especially when the one smacking them has the Sserin Kkell power. We’re lucky the Lord only broke his leg—if he’d been killed, we probably would have found ourselves executed right then. As it was, we got the privilege of waiting for a trial to get slaughtered. Oh well. It worked out in the end, didn’t it?”
“I suppose,” Devin admitted, watching Voko eat. The squat, overly muscular man moved clumsily, gripping his spoon awkwardly.
“I must say,” Hine commented from beside him. “I’m impressed.”
“With the stew?” Devin asked. “Really, it wasn’t that much.”
Hine shook his head, stuffing the last biscuit in his mouth. “It’s good, but that’s not what I meant.”
Devin raised an eyebrow.
Hine nodded his scruffy-bearded head toward the rest of camp. Devin followed the gesture, looking over the camp, but couldn’t find what the older soldier was indicating. The rebels sat around, munching on stew, but little looked out of the ordinary.
“I still don’t see,” Devin said.
Hine grunted, licking the last of the stew from his bowl. “They’re happy,” he informed.
Devin regarded the group skeptically. “They don’t look very happy, Hine,” he replied. “They look about the same as yesterday.”
Hine shook his head. “Yesterday they ate poorly. Today they ate well. For men like this, that’s about all that matters. Look, he sees it.”
Devin followed Hine’s nod. Quin stood beside the cooking cauldron like a massive, twisted juniper. He held a bowl in his hand, and there was a sour look on his face—the look of someone who had tasted something extremely bitter. Or, perhaps, the look of someone who had tasted deliciousness where foulness had been expected. Quin scanned the camp, his lips turning down even further as he looked over his men.
And, as Devin looked more closely, he realized that Hine was right. The men were more happy—or, at least, they seemed less irritable. He had assumed their comfort meant that they were getting used to the newcomers. However, the food could have had something to do with it.
Hine snorted quietly to himself. “It was a clever move, son. When the food was bad, the cook was probably the least-liked man in the camp. That’s why Quin gave you the job. He didn’t figure you’d actually be able to make something palatable.”
Devin smiled ruefully. “This wasn’t what I was trying to do, Hine. I just wanted to try and fit in—really.”
Hine shrugged, but his eyes were disbelieving. “You’ve put yourself into a perfect position of power. One thing you learn in the Guard, son—soldiers’ loyalty can be purchased through their stomachs.”
Devin cringed slightly. However, as he did so, his eyes met Quin’s. There was anger in the man’s face—anger and hostility.
I can’t even cook well without facing jealousy? Devin thought with frustration.
Hine chuckled to himself. “The best part is,” he confided, “he won’t dare remove you now. The men wouldn’t suffer it. Now he’s only got two choices—he’ll either have to pretend you’re doing a poor job, or he’ll have to just try to take credit for the food by pointing out he’s the one who put you in the position.”
As if in response to Hine’s comment, Quin set aside his bowl, forcing a thin smile to his lips. “It appears my appointment was an intelligent one,” he proclaimed to no one in particular. Then his look turned stern. “However, boy, you’ve still failed in your duty. I warned you that you needed to provide enough food for second servings, but there’s barely enough here for a first one.”
With that, Quin flipped his bowl aside and marched back to his tent.
“Hum,” Hine grunted. “He did both. Interesting.”
There was a rustling from one of the other tents, and a tired-looking Skeer stepped into the light. He wandered over to the cauldron and served himself a bowl of stew, then made his way toward Devin’s group. He took a bite, then frowned.
“Something’s different about this stew,” he noted. “It’s . . .”
“Good?” Hine filled in.
“Not salty enough,” Skeer finished with a frown. Then he noticed Devin. “Oh, sorry lad. I didn’t mean to complain. It is your first day, though—you’ll get the hang of it eventually.” The lanky man took a seat beside Hine and unstoppered his canteen, then poured some saltwater into the bowl and mixed it around.
“Much better,” he noted. “Where’s Ix?”
“He went to check our trail and make certain we weren’t followed,” Devin said.
“Really?” Skeer asked. “That sounds a bit proactive for the little fellow.”
Devin smiled. “He informed me that, as a human, he was worried about pursuers, because that was the sort of things that humans worried about. Then he wandered off.”
Skeer shook his head. “There’s no reason to be worried about pursuit. I picked this place—there’s no way it will be discovered.”
Devin raised an eyebrow—the clearing looked just like any other one they had passed in the forest. Why would it be any better hidden? Of course, he had admittedly little experience with forests.
Ix returned to camp a few minutes later. He helped himself to some stew, then joined the increasingly large group sitting around Devin. The others made room for him, though more than a few shot him dark—or confused—looks.
“There is a disturbance near the field of combat,” the shadowling informed in his even voice. “But there are no signs of anyone searching for us. I have decided that we are probably safe.”
“That won’t last,” Hine mumbled. “We’re too dangerous.”
Ix took a bite of his stew. Then he looked down at it, regarding the food with slightly uncertain eyes.
“It tastes good,” Hine told him.
“Ah,” the shadowling said, continuing to eat. “This is very delicious, Devin. Thank you for preparing it. I am still worried about being pursued.”
“Surely they’ll come for us sooner or later,” Devin agreed, the memory of his blasphemous killings rising to his mind’s eye.
Skeer shrugged, eating his stew. “I keep telling you, they’re not going to find us.”
“You’d better be right,” Hine grumbled. “If they do find us, we die.”
Devin shivered slightly at the proclamation. Suddenly, the delicious stew didn’t seem like as much of an accomplishment.