6 – Bridge Four, 9 – Damnation, 10 – Stories of Surgeons, 11 – Droplets
Kaladin’s arrival at the Shattered Plains is exactly the opposite of all his childhood dreams. He is not a soldier anymore — he’s a bridgeman. At first he suspects he’ll be a woodworker, but soon the truth of a bridgeman’s place on a battlefield, becomes terrifyingly clear, as he’s sent to battle (shoeless and shirtless) carrying a bridge on his shoulders with a squad of ~30 other men. The men carry their bridge for hours and hours, helping the army cross wide, deep chasms; the cuts in the earth are what give the Shattered Plains their name. After hours running at the back with no view ahead of him, Kaladin is moved to the front of the bridge by his new sergeant, a lean one-eyed man named Gaz, who sneers and calls Kaladin “lordling” as he directs him to the front-and-center spot. At first he’s pleased to finally be able to see where he’s running to, but soon he realizes what is happening.
“Talenelat-Elin, bearer of all agonies. It’s going to be a bad one, they’re already lined up. It’s going to be a bad one!”
To his horror, the bridge crews are forced to run directly at the enemy army to set their bridge onto the final plateau, while the Parshendi cut them down with thick hafted arrows. The bridgeman around Kaladin drop like flies, and struggles to set the bridge. He flees the front line, collapsing out of bow shot and falls unconscious. Kaladin’s windspren wakes him up with an ethereal slap to the face before the rest of the army leaves him behind. Possibly feeling appreciative, and maybe a little curious about why she would do this, Kaladin decides to ask if she has a name…
“A name,” the windspren said “yes I do have a name.” She seemed surprised as she looked at Kaladin. “Why do I have a name?” […] She was in the shape of a young woman, complete with flowing skirt and delicate feet. “Sylphrena, […] Syl” the spirit said. She cocked her head, “That’s amusing. It appears that I have a nickname.”
After donning the vest and sandals of a dead bridgeman, Kaladin is ordered by Gaz, the bridge sergeant, to make his way back to bridge four and help carry it back to the warcamps, obviously not please that he’s survived. In just a few weeks, Kaladin and one other man are all that remain of the crew from his first day in bridge four. He is struggling to understand Highprince Sadeas’ battle tactics, struggling to make sense of his horrible, inhumane new life as a bridgeman, but isn’t able to get answers out of anyone. The bridgemen don’t speak to one another, don’t learn each other’s names, and most of them spend their days huddled inside the barracks or out in the lumberyards, just waiting for the horns that call the army to battle.
Syl is very concerned about Kaladin, and reveals that she’s been following him around for far longer than he had first assumed. She doesn’t remember those times clearly, but she knows that he’s in trouble. A new bridgeman recruit– short, skinny, with dark eyes and hair, catches Kaladin’s attention.
“Tien?”, he whispered, taking a step forward. He stopped shaking himself. No, Tien was dead. But this newcomer looks so familiar, with those frightened black eyes. It made Kaladin want to shelter the boy. Protect him.
He realizes how hopeless this instinct is, how hopeless his situation is. Syl suddenly informs him that she is leaving, because she can’t watch him waste away anymore. She promises to try and come back to him, but knows it will be difficult, and that away from him she could “lose herself”. She zips away, and Kaladin succumbs to numbness. The boy who reminded him of Tien dies in the next bridge run, and Kaladin breaks down and sobs, overwhelmed by the cumulative losses he’s suffered in the last 8 months.
In Chapter 10 – Stories of Surgeons, we see Kaladin (Kal) at just ten years old, assisting his father in surgery. Lirin is a serious, short, balding man who is feared by the others in their village of Hearthstone because of his “odd profession”. That fear doesn’t stop them from coming to him when they’re in need, but Kal already understands that his family is apart from the rest of the town, and that the other villagers find what Lirin does “unnatural”. Kal is obviously very smart, but he’s a child and just wants to fit in with other boys his age, and dreams of one day going to war to fight for the King. Lirin is training Kal to follow in his footsteps as Hearthstone’s surgeon, and planning to send him to Kharbranth once he turns sixteen, and emphasizes to Kal that there are better things for a man to do with his life than kill.
We come out of Kaladin’s flashback on the same day that Syl has left him, and a highstorm is just ending. He makes his way out of the barrack, through the lumberyard, and past Gaz. The bridge sergeant begins harassing Kal until he confesses he’s going to “the honor chasm”. He leaves his sandals and vest, and makes his way to the edge of a deep crack in the earth, where bridgemen who want to end their suffering periodically throw themselves into the abyss. He reflects on his life, his choices, feeling the kind of clarity only experienced by those who are ready to die.
“You were right Father. You can’t stop a storm by blowing harder. You can’t protect men by killing others. We should all become surgeons. Every last one of us…”
Suddenly, as Kaladin is about to step over the chasm and fall with the rain, Syl appears. She’s carrying a cluster of leaves, the same kind of poisonous leaves Kal had back in the slave wagon. She doesn’t know why she’s brought them, she just thought they would make him fight again like he did when he had them before. He doesn’t understand why she cares, or even how she cares about him, but she does. She remembers him seeking out untrained boys in the army and trying to shield them, and she wants him to fight again, to care again.
Something snaps in Kaladin, and he stalks away from the honor chasm full of determination. He immediately man handles Gaz, then bribes him, and then claims the position of bridgeleader. He makes his way back to the barracks and harasses each member of bridge four until they tell him their names. He sits down to plan, repeating the names until he’s memorized them, and vows to protect these men from their fates.
What do you think of the landscape of the Shattered Plains? How are the plants, the creatures, the way the environment and the weather work different from ours?
It’s so interesting! The grass pulls away when it’s scared and sometimes it seems like things move as though they were underwater. I was very curious about what sorts of “life” the shardblade would cut through, after being introduced to the scenery more thoroughly.
Syl is becoming more complex very quickly. What are your theories behind the changes in her?
She is! She’s changing by the day! She did say that she seems to regress when she’s not near Kaladin, so he must be the key. I wonder if it has something to do with how lucky he is..
Kaladin seems to think he has a dark cloud over his head, Syl disagrees. Whose side are you on?
I can understand how Kaladin may seem that he’s been suffering some extreme bad luck recently. But… he does seem to be rather lucky. He *is* still alive, after all.
7 – Anything Reasonable, 8 – Nearer the Flame
We begin to learn more about why Shallan has formulated this crazy plan of stealing a priceless holy artifact from a member of the Alethi royal family. Apparently Shallan’s father was in possession of one, and was using it to create new mineral deposits on their family’s lands. It had been damaged on the night her father had died, and though she and her brothers had it fixed by a jeweler, he father’s former advisor had not been able to make it function. Their family has an overwhelming amount of debt, and her father had made some enemies before he died who would soon come looking for him.
Shallan is determined to convince Jasnah to take her on as a ward, and begins forming a plan for how to accomplish this goal. She makes her way to the Conclave, a huge room that preceeds a giant underground library, and asks to wait for Jasnah inside the reading alcove the princess has reserved for herself. Shallan sits and tries to unwind, sketching the Memories she’s taken throughout the day. She decides to write a persuasive essay for Jasnah, explaining the gaps in her education, and arguing that her deficits only make her more appreciative of an education and therefore more worthy of a wardship. Girl can argue.
While she is sitting and waiting for Jasnah to return, a young man enters. He introduces himself as brother Kabsal, an Ardent, a voluntary slave who acts as a priest of the Vorin religion. He has come to call after Jasnah, to convert her to Vorinism. Shallan is caught off guard by his amiable and relaxed nature, and by the fact that she thinks he’s handsome. They talk, he flirts, and he assumes that she is part of the princess’s entourage. Shallan takes an inordinate amount of blame for this small misunderstanding, and doesn’t settle down until he asks a favor of her in return. She promises to deliver his message to Jasnah, and he departs, not waiting for her to return.
Soon after Kabsal leaves, Jasnah arrives looking very ticked off, and proceeds to dismiss Shallan quite harshly before she is able to present her arguments. Shallan is so flustered, she forgets all of her spheres/money inside the goblet where she was using them for light. One of Jasnah’s servants soon finds Shallan, huddled in a hallway trying not to cry, and invites her back into the alcove. Jasnah apologizes for acting so harshly, and Shallan boldly asks the woman what she thought of her letter. Jasnah, having not seen it before that moment, reads intently and finally commends Shallan on her ploy. Impressed by Shallan’s persistence, Jasnah grants her the opportunity to petition for wardship again once the gaps in her knowledge have been filled, and dismisses her.
Shallan leaves the Conclave feeling defeated. The offer was generous, but she’d never have the chance to take it. Yalb, the sailor who accompanied her into the city, swoops in with a spectacular pep talk, and convinces her to try one more time. She decides to try and study in Kharbranth, and present herself to Jasnah again before she left the city. Shallan makes her way, with Yalb’s help, to a book merchant who is condescending enough to push Shallan over the edge and make her lose her temper, giving him a good verbal lashing. He tries to swindle her and overcharge her for the books, but Yalb gives an Oscar-worthy performance playing a rival merchant, and drives the man’s prices down to a more reasonable level. Yalb helps Shallan lug her newly purchased books back to the Conclave, where she asks to rent a reading alcove adjacent to Jasnah’s so that she can begin studying.
Before she can even read one word, Jasnah enters and says tiredly, “I’m never going to be rid of you, am I?” Shallan panics, but the rage that the princess displayed earlier is gone. She accurately guesses Shallan’s plan to study quickly and present herself again. Jasnah asks Shallan to hand over her satchel, and methodically unpacks and lays out each item inside, taking note of the drawing supplies, journals full of sketches and notations, and the very small amount of spheres left in her money pouch.
“At first meeting I took you for a rural opportunist, seeking only to ride my name to greater wealth. […] There is undoubtedly some of that in you. But we are each many different people, and you can tell much about a person by what they carry with them. If that notebook is any indication, you pursue scholarship in your free time for its own sake. That is encouraging. It is perhaps the best argument you could make on your own behalf. If I cannot be rid of you, then I might as well make use of you.”
Sounding exasperated and a little impressed, Jasnah sends Shallan off to collect her belongings from The Wind’s Pleasure, and bring them to the rooms King Taravangian has granted her. With that, step one of Shallan’s insane plan is now complete. Now, it’s time to start planning the difficult part — stealing the soulcaster and not getting caught.
For having never left her home town before, Shallan has crafted a very bold plan for herself to execute, don’t you think? Despite that, she proves to be a very skilled conversationalist/arguer. What is your favorite conversation she’s had in these chapters and why?
I love her banter with the dockmen and Yalb, but I think my favorite exchange of hers was with the merchant. Yalb didn’t even give her any heads up before making a huge scene, and yet she was able to jump in and realize what’s going on and get that discount! I love seeing that relationship with Yalb really pay off. Plus, she was handling him well from the beginning… “The body needs many different foods to remain healthy. And the mid needs many different ideas to remain sharp. Wouldn’t you agree? And so if I were to read only these silly romances you presume that my ambition can handle, my mind would grow as surely as your sister-in-law’s stomach.”
We’ve learned a little bit more about Ardents and Vorinism from these chapters, and learn that Shallan is particularly devout. Do you foresee Jasnah’s ‘heresy’ having an impact on how Shallan sees/experiences religion?
I think that, while Jasnah may not be devout, she will probably be quite knowledgeable about many different religions. She suggested books written by even the Parshendi, whom Shallan thought were essentially barbarians, which makes me thinks she is more inclined to be interested in all people’s cultures and religion. And I think Shallan’s apprenticeship will lead her to learn a lot more than she intended to learn. Hopefully that means Shallan will be amenable to her horizon being broadened.
What are your favorite curses or idioms so far? (I’m quite fond of ‘Kelek’s Breath!’)
Stormfather! Storm off. And, not quite a curse, “By Vedeledev’s golden keys, Brightness!”