Essay for Altered Perceptions
Introduction to the Way of Kings Prime Chapters
Deleted scenes from the 2002 version of
The Way of Kings
Chapter 1: Dalenar 1
Dalenar could see a highstorm approaching. Its clouds crested the horizon like a rising wave, dark, silent. It was still distant, but it would come. Furious and exact, highstorms were as inevitable as the rising sun.
The wood lurched beneath his feet, and Dalenar reached reflexively for the tower’s rail. The battlefield stretched below him, a world of screaming men, metallic rings, and hissing bowstrings.
“When we return,” Elhokar muttered from a short distance away, “remind me to find a towermaster who doesn’t see fit to run over every boulder on the battlefield.”
Dalenar snorted quietly, scanning the battlefield. Spearmen in Alethkar blue held in a tight formation around the advancing tower, protecting the wooden structure and using its momentum to help push them forward as they pressed against the enemy line. Two massive chulls pulled the tower, a fifty-foot construction of wood and steel. The chulls lumbered forward on trunklike feet encased in stone—the great northern beasts used massive, hollowed-out boulders like shells to hide their tender bodies. They didn’t even seem to notice the harnesses at their necks or the men scurrying at their feet.
The tower did its job well. Its two tiers of archers launched volley after volley of missiles at the enemy. Dalenar looked down at the soldiers, wondering what it would be like to be a simple footman facing the enormous structure. The unfortunate men were forced to choose between holding their shields up high to block the death from above, or holding them low to block the spears in front of them. The discarded bodies, left in heaps behind the advancing line, proved that both choices were equally fatal.
“Where is he?” Elhokar said, frowning. The king shone in his golden armor, one of the finest suits of Shardplate in Alethkar. Gold-trimmed with sunbursts on the shoulders and breastplate, the armor was topped by a helm mounted with four intricate spikes. Yet, majestic though it was, the armor looked wrong on the young king. Dalenar still expected a different face to look out from that helm—a face aged with wisdom, not young and untested.
“He’ll come, Your Majesty,” Meridas promised with a smooth voice.
Dalenar frowned, but said nothing. The king had a right to choose his counselors, and while Meridas was lowly of rank, he was still a lord—and a wealthy one. Without Meridas’s merchant fleets, the king could never have moved across the Sea of Chomar in such a short time.
Elhokar didn’t respond. His eyes watched the battlefield, yet Dalenar knew he wasn’t planning strategy. Elhokar only desired one thing from this battle.
And that, unfortunately, left Dalenar to shoulder the bulk of the command. Dalenar turned, waving toward the back of the tower and its small crowd of aides, messengers, and lesser lords—Dalenar’s two living sons among them. A messenger approached, and Dalenar ordered a squad of heavy infantry to the eastern flank, to break a particularly resilient group of Prallan spearmen. The messenger nodded, moving to climb down and deliver the message.
“Where is he?” the king repeated quietly.
Dalenar moved up to stand beside the young king, his armored feet thumping against the wood. Dalenar’s own Shardplate wasn’t as intricate as that of his nephew—he hadn’t sewn it with silks, and it bore few adornments. It suited him, and he had worn it with pride since that day his brother had given it to him, so many years ago.
“The Traitor will commit himself soon,” Dalenar said with a slow nod, speaking over the sounds of fighting a short distance below. “Your sister’s strategy is a good one. The Prallan forces are buckling in the east, and their men fight with the frantic motions of a group demoralized. If the Traitor doesn’t join the battle soon, he will lose the day for certain.”
Elhokar waved a golden hand. “This day was won hours ago.”
“Don’t express the fall, Your Majesty,” Dalenar warned. “Our force is larger, but the Prallans fight on the land of their fathers. Arrogance will serve us nothing but misery.”
Again, Elhokar did not respond. He had a regal face, with a perfect Aleth countenance—dark black hair, almond face, and a distinct chin. In fact, he had more of a traditional noble look than his father had—Nolhonarin’s face had been more flat, his nose wide and blunt. Yet Nolhonarin had been a commander like Alethkar had rarely known.
Dalenar sighed to himself, turning back to the battlefield. What had happened to him? What had happened to the days when he could mourn a man’s falling one day, then drink to his victories the next? Why did he keep looking for the features of the father in the face of the son, and since when did he wonder what it felt like to be a footman in the enemy’s army?
His body felt old, lethargic despite the mystical strength and speed of his Shardplate. There had been a day when he’d sworn by the Tenth Name of the Almighty that he would die with Shardblade in hand, but that had been a day before he’d lost both brother and son on the bleak Prallan highrock.
“There!” Elhokar snapped suddenly, standing upright.
Dalenar followed the king’s gesture. In the distance he could barely make out a large tower rolling onto the battlefield. Lady Jasnah, Elhokar’s sister, had been right—the Aleth offensive had forced the Prallans to commit their towers despite the approaching highstorm.
“He’ll be on that tower,” Elhokar said. With that, the young king hopped up—Shardplate granting him spryness despite its bulk—and threw himself over the side of the tower.
“By the—” Dalenar cursed, leaning over the rail and watching the king drop to the first archer tier below, then leap over its ledge as well.
Dalenar spun, pointing at his sons. “Aredor, come with me. Renarin, hold the tower.”
Renarin, the younger of the two at seventeen, paled visibly at the command. “Father, I—”
“Renarin, we don’t have time for your worries,” Dalenar snapped as Aredor obediently leapt over the tower’s ledge. “You’re the king’s cousin. Hold the west and press the east. I need to try and keep our fool of a king from getting himself killed.”
“Yes, Father,” Renarin said.
Dalenar ignored Meridas’s hostile glare—the clever merchant might be wealthy, and he might have the king’s ear, but he was too low a rank to be given command. Dalenar took a breath, then hoisted his legs over the tower’s rail and leapt off the side.
He plummeted some fifteen feet before landing with a grunt on the archer’s tier, the reinforced wood thumping loudly beneath his feet. His Shardplate softened the brunt of the blow, but his legs still protested the fall. Shardplate notwithstanding, falling from the top of a tower while wearing thirty brickweights of steel was not a casual hop. Gritting his teeth, Dalenar jumped off the archer’s ledge and fell to the second tier, then finally dropped one last time to the ground ten feet below.
Stone cracked beneath his armored feet, and he reached up, steadying himself against the tower as a page approached with Stormwind, his horse. Ahead, he could see Elhokar galloping toward the distant tower, riding directly through the Prallan lines, his honor guard—unmounted, of course—frantically trying to cut their way toward their king. Aredor rode a short distance behind, moving with the swiftness of youth.
Dalenar heaved himself into his saddle, keeping his mutterings about the king to himself, and kicked the beast into motion. The Prallan highrock hills were slick and barren during the summer, their uniform tans and browns broken only by the blood of men. They called the heights Stormlands for good reason—the highstorms had swept the land clean of everything but bleached stone and boulders.
Stormwind—a massive Shinavar beast—snorted as it approached the enemy line. Dalenar reached out his arm to the side and summoned his Shardblade.
It took ten heartbeats. Dalenar counted them as the smoke gathered around his palm, forming into the shape of a sword nearly six feet in length. Smoke became steel at the tenth beat, and the weapon fell into his waiting grasp. It was light and familiar in his hand—it knew him as he knew himself. It had become part of him the day he’d bonded it, and had grown to fit his exact needs. Dalenar’s Blade was a simple and utilitarian weapon, straight and double-edged with little ornament—only a single glyph patterned in the center of the metal. Morn, the glyph of loyalty.
Dalenar quickly overtook the king’s honor guard and galloped into the enemy ranks, his only companion Gelnin, his shieldbearer, who rode on Dalenar’s second horse. The tattered Prallan spearmen were loosely organized, and most of them made way before his charging beast. Those who had the courage to attack a Shardbearer—attempting to win the Blade, armor, and title for themselves—already lay in pieces on the ground, slain by quick strikes from either Elhokar or Aredor.
Dalenar charged through the brown-uniformed ranks, using his mount’s momentum to barrel past the spearmen. A few moments later he broke through the back of their line, then pushed Stormwind in a gallop parallel to the fighting. Elhokar rode ahead, but Aredor had been slowed by an ambitious squad of soldiers. Aredor had been forced to stop and fight them, lest they cut his mount out from beneath him.
Dalenar kept moving, cursing the king as he avoided a group of heavy infantry. Shardblades could cut through steel as easily as lightning cut through the sky, and Shardplate couldn’t be pierced by regular weapons. A determined group of spearmen, however, could eventually wear down even the finest duelist. Youth, rank, and equipment made Elhokar brazen.
The Prallan tower loomed ahead. It was pulled by several teams of men—the Prallans hadn’t the resources to afford chulls. Hissing sounds announced arrows falling from above, and Gelnin moved out in front, deftly blocking what arrows he could. Dalenar was barely gaining on the king—Elhokar rode at an insane gallop toward the tower, without even a shieldbearer to protect him.
Dalenar moved in quickly, galloping his mount toward the tower while the archers were mostly focused on the king. Even still, several of them noticed him, and the arrows continued to fall. As Dalenar approached, he made out a brown banner on the front of the tower—it bore the glyph Jie, the symbol of a man forsaken, the Traitor’s adopted crest.
Suddenly, a galloping horse moved in beside Dalenar. Aredor’s face was urgent as he gestured to the side. “Father, there!”
Dalenar turned, then cursed quietly as he noticed three mounted figures rounding the back of the tower. All three bore glistening armor, and all three rode directly for the king. Dalenar hadn’t seen many Prallan Shardbearers during Elhokar’s three-year campaign—Pralir had been a poorer country even before sheltering the Traitor and inviting Alethkar’s invasion. Apparently, they had been saving some surprises.
“The tower is a ruse,” Aredor said. “The men atop it bear the armor of footmen.”
Dalenar nodded. Elhokar’s hatred for the Traitor was well-known; this wasn’t the first time Elhokar had left the safety of his lines to try and kill his enemy. The king had sworn an oath that no hand but his own would take the head of the Traitor.
“I’ll help the king,” Dalenar said, turning Stormwind. “You move around to the side and try and take down that tower.”
Aredor nodded, breaking off to the right to dodge another swarm of arrows. Dalenar galloped toward Elhokar, hoofbeats beating against the slickrock.
A sudden, inhuman scream sounded ahead of him, and his shieldbearer’s mount toppled to the ground with an arrow in its chest, throwing Gelnin from his saddle. Dalenar barely ducked his own mount to the side to avoid the wreckage, continuing on without a backward glance.
The king stood defiantly on the rocky ground, arrows hailing around him. His horse had fallen, and he was raising his weapon toward the approaching Shardbearers.
An arrow snapped against Dalenar’s shoulder, marring the silver gilding but not even scratching the Shardplate beneath. Dalenar ground his teeth—they had already lost two horses, an incalculable price for Elhokar’s foolishness. If he lost Stormwind to an arrow as well . . .
Fortunately, it didn’t appear as if that would happen. A last hail of arrows fell, several striking the ground around Dalenar, as Aredor reached the tower. The boy had summoned his Shardblade, and the weapon twinkled brightly as he swung it to the side. The Blade sheared through the side of the tower, cutting free an enormous chunk of wood—including the axle of the front side wheel. The tower lurched, the pullmen at the front scattering. Aredor’s weapon flashed again, and the tower tipped to the side, throwing free archers and spearmen alike as it crashed to the stones below.
The cessation of the arrows felt like a weight lifting from Dalenar’s shoulders, and he took a deep breath. Ahead, the three Shardbearers had reached the king. Elhokar’s Shardblade was thinner than Dalenar’s, but far more intricate. In fact, it looked more like a piece of art than a weapon, inscribed with a tenset glyphs and a massive sunburst at its center.
The lead Prallan Shardbearer—a man in dark charcoal Shardplate bearing a crest that Dalenar did not recognize—dismounted and leapt toward the king, a Shardblade glistening in his hands. The other two men pulled backward to wait for the results of the fight, as prescribed by Protocol.
Dalenar charged the nearest of the two, a younger man with no crest on his armor—though he wore one on his cloak. The boy’s Shardplate, in fact, looked beaten and was scarred in several areas—he had probably inherited it recently, his brother or father dead in a duel, and it hadn’t had time to repair itself. The young man’s Blade was simple and nondescript, probably unbonded.
Dalenar tried to ignore the boy’s apparent inexperience—hesitance, even in the name of mercy, brought death. He swung as he charged past the boy, his Shardblade slicing the air. The boy parried deftly, but the move still threw him off-balance; he obviously wasn’t accustomed to mounted dueling. Before Elhokar’s invasion, the lad probably hadn’t seen swordplay outside of courtside duels. A better man than Dalenar would have dismounted and allowed the boy to fight as he was accustomed.
Dalenar spun Stormwind, using the momentum to smash Oathbringer into the boy’s weapon, knocking it aside. His backhand slice took the young man in the neck. There was a clang of metal, Blade biting Plate, cutting and bending the magical steel as only a Shardblade could. The boy’s Plate held, but it was badly scarred. His neckguard was twisted to the side, and the metal of the helm could no longer turn, forcing the boy to watch Dalenar sideways.
Dalenar raised his blade. The boy raised his own, refusing to yield. With an inward sigh, Dalenar nudged Stormwind forward and finished the job. A second blow, placed at the exact angle of the first, broke the already-strained armor. Body and head slid from the horse separately, and the boy’s Shardblade dropped from limp fingers. The weapon hit the ground point-first and sank several feet into the hard stone.
Dalenar lowered his weapon, and a second later Stormwind screamed in pain, throwing Dalenar free as a Prallan spearman rammed his weapon through the beast’s neck.
Dalenar crashed to the ground. He lay dazed for a moment, the sounds of battle distant. Even before his hearing returned, he locked on the sight of a spear descending toward his face.
He raised a desperate hand to block the blow. His hand was empty—he had dropped his Blade. So, instead, he kicked the spearman’s knee with the full power of Shardplate’s Awakened strength. There was a crack and a scream, and Dalenar rolled, sighting Oathbringer beside him, grabbing the weapon as he climbed to his feet.
He came up facing a nervous group of five spearmen. They wore mismatched armor of wood and leather, bearing steel only in their caps and their spearheads. Their faces were desperate—they had been pushed across the Prallan Highlands for the better part of nine months, Elhokar’s armies defeating them at every conflict. They knew that this would be their last battle.
Dalenar stepped backward, eyeing his opponents. The men should have attacked more quickly, while he had been prone. If not then, they should have rushed him at once, while he was still dazed, grabbing for his sword arm or striking at his face. They might have taken him. Their fear, however, held them back, and by the time they rushed forward—a mass of hysterical faces and quivering spears—Dalenar was ready.
He spun, holding Oathbringer in two hands. The first pass sliced the ends off their spears. The second cut down all five in one sweep. Steel, flesh, or wood, it mattered not to the Shardblade.
Dalenar shook the blood from his blade, pausing to throw a glance at the king. Elhokar still fought—his opponent was far more skilled than Dalenar’s had been. Dalenar turned, searching for the final Shardbearer, and found him battling against Aredor a short distance away. Both men were still mounted, and they fought unmolested by outside combatants. The spearmen knew better than to break Protocol by attacking Aredor while he was engaged in a duel.
Dalenar stood for a moment, watching his son. Then he tore his eyes away. Aredor would be all right—the lad was nearly as fine a swordsman as his brother had been, and this wouldn’t be his first battlefield duel. Instead, Dalenar kept a wary eye on the Prallan soldiers. Their line was fracturing in several broad sections, and he was pleased to see a group of blue-uniformed soldiers peek through a short distance away.
Within a few moments, the Prallan spearmen had retreated toward the thick of the battle. Above them, in the distance, the approaching highstorm dominated the sky, its darkness rolling forward like approaching night. It would hit soon. Dalenar turned, his section of the battlefield suddenly quiet as men moved to fight in other directions, leaving the dueling Shardbearers beside the corpse of the fallen tower.
Dalenar caught motion out of the edge of his vision, and glanced toward Aredor’s battle. His son swung, striking his opponent in the chest with a powerful blow, sending the man backward off his horse to crash to the ground, Shardblade dropping from his fingers. Aredor lowered his Blade, and the Prallan raised his hands in a sign of yielding. He would lose his armor and Blade, but would keep his life.
Elhokar, however, wasn’t faring as well. He fought with the smooth sweeping blows of Airform—a dueling stance that had never quite suited him. Elhokar was a man of quick temper and firm strikes, but he had always resisted Dalenar’s suggestions that he study Fireform or Quartzform. Airform was the form of kings, Elhokar had always claimed.
His opponent fought with the careful, misdirecting attacks of Smokeform. The man in brown armor was an obvious master of the style. He struck carefully—never with much force, but each blow weakened Elhokar’s Shardplate. The king’s own blows missed far more often than not.
Dalenar stepped forward quietly, joining his son and the defeated enemy Shardbearer in watching the royal duel. After everything that had happened—the years of accusations, the squabbles on the borders, and the final daring invasion across the thin-necked sea of Chomar—it could all end with a simple stroke of the sword. Elhokar should have known to stay on his tower, to remain where he could not be challenged.
Yet, Dalenar felt it difficult to stoke his frustration. Elhokar’s father had known better, but that was because he had learned better. Nolhonarin had nearly lost his life in a half-tenset foolish duels before learning temperance.
It happened in a flash. Elhokar, off-guard. The man in brown striking. The blow took Elhokar in the head, bending his helm, twisting it to block his vision and throwing him to the ground with its force. Dalenar inhaled quickly, thinking of his own duel just moments before.
And then Elhokar attacked. His blade guided by instinct, his eyes blocked by steel, Elhokar drove his blade upwards as he knelt on the stone. It slid smoothly between the small space beneath his opponent’s breastplate, driving up to the heart. The enemy Shardbearer jerked, then dropped his Blade and toppled backward. The weapon clanged to the ground before Elhokar.
“Your Majesty,” Dalenar said with relief, stepping forward as Elhokar stood and pulled off his helmet. “That was too close a duel.”
The king tossed the mangled helm to the side with an off-handed gesture. “I was always in control, Uncle.”
“Even when you couldn’t see what you were doing?” Dalenar said with a snort.
Elhokar turned toward him, eyes unyielding. “You’re the one who taught me that a true duelist strikes with his soul, not with his eyes. My opponent was a fool.” He turned, obviously considering the topic to be at an end, and regarded the fallen tower. “The Traitor was not here.”
“No, Your Majesty,” Dalenar said, nodding for his son to go and gather the Shardblades of the fallen men. As the spoils of battlefield duels won by men who already had Blades themselves, the weapons would become the property of the king, to be distributed as he wished.
Elhokar frowned, turning toward the battlefield and studying the movements of troops. It was difficult to make much from the mass of brown and blue without the tower’s vantage. Thousands of men, hundreds of squads, fought on the field. They had to get the king back to the safety of their lines before the Traitor’s generals decided to try for his life again.
“What is that?” Elhokar said, pointing with a gauntleted fist. At first, Dalenar worried he had seen another tower. The king, however, was pointing toward a stony hillside at the back of the battlefield, behind the Alethkar line.
Dalenar squinted, trying to make out what had drawn the king’s attention. The darkening sky was making it difficult to see.
“The western flank,” Aredor said, stepping up beside his father, the three Shardblades held carefully before him. “Our line is withdrawing.”
Elhokar cursed. “That move exposes our entire central line! Who is in charge back there?”
“My son,” Dalenar said.
“Renarin? The boy couldn’t duel a blind woman.”
“He’s well-practiced at tactics,” Dalenar said stiffly. “If you’d wanted to appoint someone else, you should have done it before you went dashing off to try and get yourself killed.”
Elhokar turned, his eyes dark at the lack of respect.
Be careful, Dalenar warned himself. This is not your brother. Elhokar is a different man. “We should return, Your Majesty,” Dalenar said, wrestling down his anger. “It is not safe.”
Elhokar waved his hand dismissively at the word ‘safe.’ His honor guard had finally managed to catch up, pushing through a widening gap that was dividing the Prallan army into two separate forces. In the distance, several more Prallan towers were rolling forward into the fray—a final, desperate attempt to turn the battle. However, with the Aleth central line threatened, they could actually make a difference.
Dalenar felt a sudden stab of worry. The battle had nearly been theirs. However, if the Prallans pressed the west, and if those towers held . . .
Renarin, what in the name of the Thoughtgiver are you doing?
The honor guard approached, accompanied by a large group of spearmen and one mounted man. Meridas regarded the corpses and fallen tower with his usual indifference. Dalenar, however, was impressed to see the man approach. Meridas was no Shardbearer—his armor was a simple breastplate of normal steel, and he wore a regular sword at his side. Venturing away from the relative safety of the tower was a brave feat, even if he was accompanied by several hundred soldiers.
“Meridas,” the king said as the counselor bowed deferentially. “Good. I need your horse.”
“Your Majesty?” the merchant asked with concern as Elhokar dismissed his Blade—the weapon disappearing back into smoke—and clinked forward, waving for the tall merchant to dismount.
“Elhokar . . .” Dalenar said warningly.
The king, however, simply raise a forestalling hand. “I’m just going back to the tower, Uncle. I need to find out how much of a mess your son has made of our battle.”
“The scouts discovered an army of Prallans far to the west,” Meridas explained as he dismounted. “I told him to send a messenger for you, but he withdrew the line instead, fearing that we would be flanked.”
Dalenar frowned, finally understanding Meridas’s willingness to enter the field. This wasn’t the loyal vassal braving the battle to seek his king, it was the petulant underling seeking an ear to tell his tale.
“Your Majesty,” Dalenar said, stepping forward. “Wait for Aredor to—”
The king mounted Meridas’s horse, then kicked it into a gallop without a word. Dalenar tried to summon his frustration, but it was growing increasingly difficult. He had sworn his life to defend the son of the brother he had loved. Spears he could block, Shardbearers he could duel, but the boy’s own stubbornness made for an impossible battle.
Behind him, several attendants stripped the Shardplate off the young man Dalenar had killed. He had been no older than Renarin, a boy forced into the role of a man by circumstances and title. Once, hatred and fury had lent Dalenar their power. Now, pity was sapping his strength as steadily as age.
He was so distracted by his unpleasant emotions that it took him a moment to register Aredor’s yell. Dalenar’s head snapped up, turning toward his son, who was leaping atop his horse and summoning his Shardblade.
Dalenar followed his son’s gaze, looking past the frantic honor guard, past the confused Meridas. The king had been unhorsed somehow, and stood, looking dazed, his Shardblade still unsummoned. Above him a mounted figure raised its weapon to strike again. A fourth enemy Shardbearer. Where had he come from?
They were too far away. Aredor couldn’t get to him, and the honor guard had been left behind. Blue-uniformed corpses lay scattered around the two figures—men cut down while Dalenar hadn’t been looking. Other spearmen were running away, or standing stunned. The king . . .
One solitary spearman in blue suddenly dashed across the rocks and jumped at the unnamed Shardbearer. Only one man.
But it was enough. The spearman jumped up with a heroic bound, tossing aside his spear and grabbing hold of the enemy Shardbearer’s waist. The weight threw off the surprised Prallan’s strike, and he missed the king. Unbalanced, the Shardbearer reached desperately for his reins, but missed. He tumbled backward, the brave Aleth spearman hanging stubbornly to the man’s waist.
The king recovered his wits, summoning his Shardblade and backing away. Tensets of footmen, realizing their opportunity, jumped for the fallen Shardbearer, spears raised.
“Where did he come from?” Dalenar demanded, regarding the fallen Shardbearer. The man’s armor was unnaturally nondescript. It bore no scars from battle, but it also bore no crests, silks, or ornamentations. Even the paint had been removed, leaving it a dull-grey color. The man’s face was a mess—the Alethkar spearmen had made absolutely certain that he would not rise to get revenge.
Most strange, however, was his Shardblade. It was not a Blank—it bore the intricacies of a weapon long-bonded. This man had been no recent inheritor. Dalenar had only seen the man alive briefly, but brief assessments were the soul of dueling. This had been a warrior comfortable with fighting on horseback, a man who knew precisely how to strike a standing foe. A man who had managed to unhorse, and nearly kill, Elhokar.
“He came from behind our ranks, Father,” Aredor said quietly. The young man stood beside Dalenar, looking down at the corpse. “I saw him too late—he came riding up the conduit our own forces made when they divided the Prallans. He moved quickly, masking his approach by staying to lower ground. He took down the king’s horse in one blow, then waited until His Majesty rose to make his second strike.”
“He was Prallan slime,” Elhokar spat with a loud voice. He stood a short distance away, still without a helm, waving away healers and attendants. “He ignored Protocol. He attacked me with my Shardblade unsummoned, and then tried to strike me down while I was unhorsed. Strip his armor from him and leave the body to rot with the common men—he wore no crest, so he will receive no lord’s burial.”
Dalenar stood for a moment longer, regarding the dead lord’s gruesome visage, before shaking his head. Whoever he had been, it was probably better for his family—and his legacy—that his disgraceful attack on the king remained unlinked to his name.
In the distance, the Royal Tower and its hulking chulls rolled toward them, though for the moment the barren hillside—the same place where the king had nearly been killed—had become an impromptu center of command. Elhokar’s order, supplemented by suggestions from Lady Jasnah back at the command tent, reorganized the Aleth lines and minimized the damage Renarin’s move had caused. As for the five thousand men Renarin had ordered out to attack the second army, they could do nothing—at least, not until the highstorm had passed.
“My lord?” a hopeful man said. Dalenar turned, regarding a scruffy-bearded spearman with a broad smile and the rank glyph of a fifth footman.
“What is it?” Dalenar asked.
“Well, my lord, I’m captain of the squad who killed the Shardbearer, you see,” the man said eagerly.
Dalenar regarded the fallen Shardbearer again. Traditionally, the armor and weapon would go to the fortunate spearman who had made the kill—instantly propelling him to lordship and Shardbearer status. However, practical experience had long since proven that group efforts were common in defeating a Shardbearer. When it could not be determined who had actually struck the killing blow, the Blade was usually bestowed on the commander of the squad who had performed the deed.
Dalenar shot a look at the king, who was speaking with messengers from the royal tower in a quiet voice, his face growing increasingly angry. At least a tenset footmen stood a short distance away—each one bearing a bloody spear, their eyes eager. No doubt their captain had promised to reward them for their support, once he had the Shardblade.
These were the men who, just moments ago, couldn’t get out of the way quickly enough. They scattered and left the king to his fate. Now they want to claim the reward for themselves.
“Your Majesty,” Dalenar said loudly, drawing the king’s attention from his attendants.
“What?” the king snapped.
“What should we do with this man’s Plate and Blade?”
Elhokar waved a hand uncaringly. “Give them to the captain of the spearmen.”
The captain puffed up at the comment, smiling broadly.
Dalenar frowned. “Your Majesty, might I suggest we give the spoils to the man who saved you, the one who pulled the nameless lord from his saddle?”
Elhokar’s face darkened slightly at the words ‘saved you.’ However, he waved his consent, turning back to his messengers, sending several of them off in various directions.
“Well?” Dalenar demanded, turning to the shocked spear captain. “Where is he?”
“Merin took a blow to the head when he fell from the saddle,” a soldier called. Dalenar pushed his way forward, joining a group of spearmen who knelt around an unconscious form. The king’s savior was surprisingly young—sixteen, perhaps seventeen.
“See that he’s taken to the healers’ tents,” Dalenar said. “Tell them he’s a nobleman now.”
Several soldiers nodded and Dalenar turned, looking upward. The sky seemed to boil with darkness, clouds spawning from one another, creeping forward. A moment later, the highstorm hit.
Dalenar pulled his cloak tight, leaning against the inside of the Royal Tower. The wood groaned behind him, buffeted by the highstorm winds outside. Fortunately, it was only a spring storm. Back at the camp, raincatchers would be gathering the precious water, without which the army would have difficulty surviving on the stormlands. On the battlefield, however, the rain was only an annoyance—one that Dalenar, sitting inside the wooden tower, did not have to deal with. Nobility did have its privileges.
The Prallans should not have committed their towers. The winds, while not as powerful as those of a summer storm, were strong nonetheless. More importantly, the Prallan towers were not well constructed. The Royal Aleth Towers had been designed by the finest architects of Roshar; their tops could be collapsed to make them more squat, and their sides bore ropes to be tied down or held by unlucky footmen. They could survive all but the most furious of storms.
The Prallans were not so fortunate. Their towers had been thrown together hastily to fend against the Aleth advance. They were weak and flimsy. Messengers periodically arrived at the tower door, dripping wet from the storm, telling them of events outside. Over half of the Traitor’s towers—no longer protected behind hills as they should have been—had toppled before the storm’s might. Lady Jasnah’s planning had proven itself once again. Though the battle had looked uncertain for a moment, the time of worry was past—without their towers, the Prallans had little hope of winning the day, despite Renarin’s maneuver.
The fighting had stopped for the moment. Spring highstorms were generally about an hour in length, and they were windy enough—and dark enough—to make fighting inefficient. Those men important enough to stay dry sought refuge inside of towers; the rest were forced to seek what shelter they could in the curves of the land.
Dalenar shivered. It was hard to believe that only a half hour before he had been sweating in his armor. He had been forced to stand in the storm for several minutes while the tower was prepared, and he had grown sodden in the first waves of rain. His armor seemed to draw in the chill of the storm, and was cold against his body. Fortunately, he didn’t have to worry about it rusting—Shardplate was as resistant to the elements as it was to weapons. Dalenar’s own suit had been in the Kholin family for four centuries, and before that it had belonged to a different royal family. In fact, there wasn’t a set that didn’t date back to the Ninth Epoch or before. Even the youngest suits of Plate were nearly a thousand years old—others had lasted for close to two millennia.
They had been crafted by Awakeners to increase a man’s strength, stamina, and agility. Unfortunately, when the Epoch Kingdom craftsmen had made the armor, they hadn’t thought to add some kind of mystical heating power. Dalenar shivered again, grumbling to himself about Awakeners and their general lack of practical understanding.
He leaned forward, trying to warm his hands against the lantern. Around him, generals and lords sat in quiet conference. Elhokar waited impatiently at the far end of the gloomy structure, resting against the side of the tower. He probably would have ridden out into the storm if he’d though he could get away with it.
Renarin sat with his brother, looking even more miserable than Dalenar felt. The boy had borne the brunt of a royal tirade for his problematic decision.
Dalenar shook his head. Somehow, the Traitor had uncovered more troops. By all intelligence reports, the man had been forced to commit every soldier he had to the battlefield. Yet he had found more. By the time his secret flanking army had been discovered, most of the Aleth reserves had already been committed to the battlefield—basic strategy said that when you were defeating your opponents, you wanted to defeat them as soundly as possible. Once Elhokar’s forces had gained the upper hand, most of the reserves had been applied to increase pressure on the Prallans, forcing them to use their towers.
Without reserves, Renarin had decided to withdraw the western line and send it out to face the advancing force. Unfortunately, he hadn’t waited for a complete scouting report before making his move. They didn’t know how many Prallans were out there—the highstorm had hit before the messengers could get an accurate count—yet Renarin had already played their hand. He should have sent more scouts, and sent warning to the king of the approaching force.
Renarin’s maneuver hadn’t been a terrible one, but it had been hasty. It was not a choice Dalenar would have made, but he could see another commander giving those same orders. The king was not as lenient as Dalenar—he was furious about not being informed. Unfortunately, Renarin’s lack of self-confidence only lent fire to Elhokar’s censure.
On the other side of the tower, the king continued to fidget. Dalenar knew the young king well—he wasn’t really mad that Renarin had committed the reserves. Much would have been forgiven if it hadn’t been for a single fact—the scouts claimed that the Traitor himself rode with the flanking force. Dalenar could see Elhokar’s hands twitching, yearning to summon his Blade and attack the man who had killed his father.
Dalenar shook his head. Elhokar needn’t have worried. The entire army knew that the king had sworn to severely punish any man who robbed him of the pleasure of killing the Traitor himself. Renarin’s force wouldn’t attack the Traitor’s banner until the king arrived. Besides, they would have stopped for the highstorm like the rest of the army. Elhokar would have his chance soon enough. Once the storm passed, the king could regain command and ride out to see if the scout reports were true.
The tower creaked one last wooden groan, quivering beneath a final gust of wind, and then all was still. The highstorm had passed.
“Gather my honor guard and find me another horse,” Elhokar said to an attendant, striding toward the door. He paused, looking back. “Move quickly, Uncle, unless you want to be left behind again.”
Water could bring life even to the seemingly barren stormlands. Rockbuds appeared to be simple stones until they sensed water on their shells; with the fall of the highstorm rains, the false rocks split, revealing the delicate petals and thirsty vines that hid inside. The plants opened only after storms, their petals uncurling to lap up a few moments of sun, their vines creeping down to soak in the puddles of rainwater. Tiny, crablike crustaceans scurried from fissures and cracks, digging in the temporary muck and feeding on the exposed plants.
Traipsing across the slick stone, seeing the rockbuds in bloom, made Dalenar think of his home—a land where the plants didn’t need to cower within rocky shells between highstorms. Kholinar, a land where stone walls were covered with blooming polyps, where the boulders were draped in vines and the air was cool with humidity. The highstorms were weak back in the Kholinar Lait—the lowland valley was surrounded with hills just steep enough to protect it from the fury of the winds, yet not sheer enough to bring danger of flash floods.
Once, battle had made Dalenar thirsty for more of the same, but now it seemed only to make him long for the warmth of his hearth. If all went well, he could be back at Kholinar within the month.
Elhokar rode defiantly ahead, crossing the rock on someone’s roan stallion. Around him strode seven thousand troops and a tenset Shardbearers, Dalenar and his two sons included. If the Traitor truly marched with this flanking force, then he would not escape a duel with Elhokar.
Dalenar hustled, his armor clanking as he jogged up beside the king’s horse. His body protested the motion—he had taxed it much these last few weeks, and the remainder of the trip would be even worse. Elhokar rode on one of the last horses in the entire army—the beasts were extremely expensive to import from Shinavar, and even harder to care for in the harsh stormland climate. Even many noblemen had difficulty affording a mount—of the ten Dalenar had brought with him to Prallah, only two remained, and he didn’t plan to risk any more in battle.
“Elhokar,” Dalenar said as he approached the king’s horse, “I don’t like this. We’ve had no word from the force my son sent, and we still don’t know the size of the enemy. We could be marching into an ambush.”
Elhokar didn’t reply. He did, however, have his Blade in hand already. “I sent scouts, Uncle,” he replied. “We will not make your son’s same mistake.”
Dalenar sighed. The stormlands expanded into the distance, endless hills of naked stone broken only by the occasional formation of rock. Directly ahead of them, the stone rose into a moderate-sized butte, steep-sided and formed of dark brown stone. Their last report from the reserve forces placed them a short distance ahead, on the other side of the butte.
Something seemed wrong to Dalenar. They were too far away to see anything, but his conclusions came from instinct rather than sight. His feeling of dread was confirmed by the sight of an approaching scout, running across the hills with an urgent step.
“Halt the column,” Dalenar ordered.
Elhokar eyed him, but did not contradict the order. The seven tensquads pulled to a halt, waiting for the solitary scout to approach.
“What is up there?” Elhokar demanded as soon as the man arrived. “Is there fighting?”
The scout shook his head, puffing for breath. “No, Your Majesty . . . or, at least, it isn’t going on anymore. . . .”
“What?” Elhokar demanded. “What did you see?”
The scout shook his head again, looking confused. “They’re . . . dead, Your Majesty. All of them.”
The scout had not exaggerated. Dalenar stepped solemnly through the field of corpses, blue and brown uniforms intermixed, weapons clutched in dead fingers. The small valley was a scene of absolute carnage. Nothing stirred; even the wind seemed silent, as if the Almighty Himself were hesitant to speak.
The soldiers of their seven tensquads stood at the edge of the battlefield, looking in at the fallen, remaining where the king had ordered them. Only Shardbearers and a few important commanders picked their way across the field, examining the dead.
Dalenar frowned, kneeling beside the body of a fallen soldier—a young spearman in blue. The boy wore the leather skirt and wooden plate armor of the standard Aleth footman. Yet he had not been killed by another spearman—the side of his head had been crushed in. Heavy infantry, then? Most heavy infantry carried hammers, maces, or axes instead of spears. But heavy infantry made up a very small percentage of most armies, and that was especially true of the Prallans, who hadn’t the resources of the Aleth military.
He stood and wandered across the field, examining the fallen—trying to see beyond the faces of the dead, trying to sense the flow of the battle that had claimed their lives. It was immediately obvious that the Prallan force had been larger—far larger. There were at least three brown-clothed corpses on the ground for every blue one.
Over fifteen thousand. . . . Dalenar thought with amazement. How in the name of the Lawbringer did our men stand against such odds?
The valley was hedged on one side by the plateau, and bore a large crack in the ground directly opposite. It would have been possible for the Aleth soldiers to use the columnlike valley to hold a strong line, keeping themselves from being surrounded. But that was a defensive maneuver—even if the Aleths had managed to successfully hold such a formation, they couldn’t have killed so many of the enemy.
Besides, the corpses told Dalenar a different story. They spoke of no defensive formation, but a haphazard offense—a scattered mixing of sides. Very few men on the entire field had been killed by spears—yet nearly all wielded them. Their wounds were washed of blood—as if they had fought and died during the rains of the highstorm.
It didn’t make sense. Even assuming that there had been Prallan survivors, it seemed impossible that so many had been killed by the Aleth force—especially if the Prallan army had contained as much heavy infantry as the damage seemed to imply. It was wrong, all wrong.
There is no way our force did this, Dalenar thought, scanning the battlefield. Even with three Shardbearers, they could not have done this much damage.
Something very strange had happened on this battlefield. The dead whispered to him clues of their struggle, and only one thing made sense. A third force had attacked both of them. But how would such a force have gathered without Elhokar’s scouts locating them, and how had they escaped so cleanly?
They would still be close. “Your Majesty!” Dalenar said. “I want you out of here. Now.”
The king ignored him, stepping over a body, accompanied by Meridas and—by Dalenar’s command—Renarin and Aredor for protection. Elhokar walked through the bodies with an indifference—or, rather, a preoccupation. He was not callous, just determined. His eyes sought one thing.
Dalenar studied the landscape urgently, sensing danger. He saw none, however. The plateau was low, and he could see nothing at its top. He waved over a few scouts and sent them searching anyway. Then he made his way over to the chasm. It was not an irregular feature—the highstorm rains carved out many a gully and fissure in the stone. The sides were sheer, and the bottom contained only rubble. No men had attacked from within its reaches.
“There!” the king cried suddenly. Dalenar looked up to see Elhokar jump over a body and break into a run. Dalenar cursed, forcing himself to follow after, jogging in his Shardplate and trying to be as respectful toward the dead as possible. He kept his eyes up, the sense of danger still keen. Yet no army appeared to attack—if, indeed, a third force had come upon these men in the rains, it had fled quickly to forestall retribution.
Dalenar caught up to the king as Elhokar knelt down to tug at a bloodied banner. It bore the glyph Jie. Beneath it lay a haunting face. He had once been known as Oshlen Reil, though his lord’s name had been stripped from him after his murder of King Nolhonarin. Since that day, Olshen had simply been known as the Traitor.
And he was very, very dead.
“No . . .” Elhokar said, falling to his knees on the bloodied ground, bowing his head.
Aredor nudged Dalenar, pointing to the side. “That one’s Talhmeshas,” he said, pointing at another corpse. Talhmeshas Pralir—king of the Prallan state of Pralir, the nation that had harbored the Traitor and invited Aleth invasion. Dalenar frowned, studying the bodies. Both had been stripped of their Plate and Blades.
Elhokar knelt, stunned, beside the body of the man who had killed his father. Eventually, he picked up his Blade and rammed it into the stone beside the dead man’s face. “All these years,” Elhokar whispered, “fighting. Looking for him. Longing to feel his blood on my Blade . . .”
Dalenar shook his head. At least the king had no one to blame for stealing his vengeance—the man who had killed the traitor undoubtedly lay dead on this field somewhere.
The king looked up with a sudden motion, then stood, sliding his Blade free from its stone sheath. There was . . . danger in his eyes.
Dalenar felt a chill. There was no one to blame, unless—
Elhokar pointed at Renarin. “You took this from me,” he hissed.
Dalenar gritted his teeth, placing his hand on Elhokar’s iron shoulder. “Your Majesty—”
Elhokar shook the hand free with a sharp movement. “Stay out of this, Uncle.” The king raised his blade, falling into Airform’s dueling stance, one foot placed forward, Blade held in two hands.
Renarin took an uncertain step backward—his Blade wasn’t even summoned. Elhokar had been right about one thing; the boy was a terrible duelist. And, despite his shortcomings, Elhokar was one of the finest in Alethkar.
“Elhokar!” Dalenar snapped, stepping between the two. “This is my son!”
Elhokar stood, weapon outstretched. Dalenar had seen such a seething hatred in the young king’s eyes only one other time—the day he had found his father’s body. Finally, he hissed in anger, but dismissed his blade.
“He forfeits his Shardblade,” Elhokar snapped, standing upright. “He drops from Fifth to Thirteenth Lord, and he shall not inherit, even if Aredor should die.”
“What?” Aredor asked incredulously, steeping up to his younger brother’s side. Aredor’s Blade was still out, Dalenar noticed—and unlike his brother, Aredor was quite competent.
“Elhokar,” Dalenar said quietly, stepping up to the king. “This is excessive. The boy only did what—”
“The boy’s leadership made me an oathbreaker,” Elhokar said. “I swore to take the Traitor’s life myself—every man in the army knew that. The soldiers who disobeyed my order are dead, but the responsibility for their act lies with the one who commanded them.”
Dalenar held his tongue, afraid that his response would be unfitting of a nobleman. His hand, however, quivered as he gripped Oathbringer’s familiar hilt.
“It’s not just the Traitor’s death, Uncle. The boy nearly cost us this day’s battle. I will not have him in a position where he can take command again. Either he gives up the Blade now, or he duels me for the opportunity to keep it.”
The wind finally started blowing again, a light breeze, sending a ripple across the tattered cloaks of the fallen men. The Voice of the Almighty, it was called. Dalenar felt it whisper to him—whisper temperance as he gritted his teeth, facing down the son of the brother he had loved so much. Finally, he turned away.
“Do as he says, Renarin,” he said.
“Father, no!” Aredor cried.
Renarin, however, was his normal quiet self as he summoned his Blade. Ten heartbeats passed as a season, and the boy knelt, proffering the Blade. Nolhonarin had presented the weapon to Dalenar on the eve of the boy’s birth, as he had done the day Aredor was born. Renarin had carried it since the day of his charan.
Elhokar took the weapon, then pulled out a steel-handled dagger. He slammed the butt of the dagger against the pommel of Renarin’s Shardblade, knocking free the black opal that formed the pommelstone—the opal was the “shard” of a Shardblade, the object that made it possible to bond weapon and man.
The opal dropped to the stones, clicking softly. Then Elhokar spun, marching from the battlefield. The collected Shardbearers and commanders who had gathered around the scene slowly trickled away, their faces uncomfortable.
Renarin stared down at the opal. Aredor knelt by his brother, his face dark. He would have fought to keep his Blade—he was like his older brother, Sheneres. Determined, unyielding. Sheneres had died at the hands of the Traitor that same night, the night Nolhonarin had died. The boy had died in defense of his king, but there had been no time for Dalenar to seek his own vengeance. Only the king’s revenge mattered. Dalenar was Elhokar’s Parshen. His will was swallowed in that of his king. Such was his duty.
Dalenar turned away from the boys, looking up toward the horizon. He could still see the darkness of the highstorm retreating in the distance.
“Come, Renarin, Aredor,” he mumbled. “We must return to the camp.”