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A Promise With a Catch

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The messenger was winded as he came to a stop before Elhokar. Adolin watched as he had to bend over and brace himself on his knees to bite out his message. The message left everyone else winded, as well.

“Highlord Amaram has captured the Assassin in White. Highprince Sadeas has summoned him here,” the messenger said. His breathing was heavy and a servant brought him a glass of water even before the king could respond.

Elhokar asked, “What?”

Before the messenger could clarify, Dalinar cut in. “Are you sure, boy?”

The messenger nodded as he drank the water and some of it splashed onto the coat of arms displayed on his chest.

“Is Amaram on his way here now?” Dalinar asked. He crossed his arms and moved so that he was standing to Elhokar’s right, looking for all the world like the king’s own knight. Adolin kept himself back and to the side of the room. This conversation belonged to his father.

“Yes,” the messenger gasped. He wiped his mouth his the back of his arm. “He has the prisoner in custody and is only a few hours behind me, sir. He sent me forward to announce his news and give you warning.”

Highprince Sadeas took that moment to enter the room. He looked cool, composed, and triumphant. It didn’t suit him.

The messenger and staff hurried into proper obeisance as Sadeas stopped before Dalinar and the king. “Have you heard?” he asked.

Dalinar gestured to the messenger. “Yes. Highlord Amaram’s messenger arrived only minutes ago.” He met Sadeas’ eyes. “I do not doubt the message’s veracity if Amaram is the sender, but do you have any knowledge of whether the news is true?”

Adolin chanced a look over to his cousin. Elhokar still looked shocked, his mouth slightly agape as his hands clenched on the arms of his chair. Adolin didn’t see Elhokar managing to be upset about Dalinar’s taking over the questioning any time soon.

“Amaram believes that it is,” Sadeas answered. He turned his head toward Elhokar and inclined it to the least degree still considered proper. “Your Majesty.”

Elhokar managed to shut his mouth and nod in return. “Highprince Sadeas,” he said. Elhokar sounded winded. Adolin respected the composure he had drawn together.

“Adolin,” Sadeas said. He nodded his head in Adolin’s direction in a familiar fashion and Adolin returned the gesture.

“Highprince,” Adolin said, stepping forward slightly. If he had been noticed, it wouldn’t do to look like he was hiding. He stopped slightly behind and to the right of his father.

Sadeas turned his attention back to Dalinar. “I received a message that he had caught the boy and instructed him to come. I apologize that I was not able to deliver the news myself.”

“Of course,” Dalinar said. He shook his head before uncrossing and recrossing his arms. Sadeas was as composed as he had been at his arrival, his hands clasped behind his back. They were a study in contrasts, the two highprinces, and Adolin found his father’s honest agitation a far better response than Sadeas’ cool regard.

“The message stated that a boy in Amaram’s army used what looked like surgebinding to kill a highlord, though Amaram did not specify which.” Sadeas raised a shoulder in a passive shrug. “I can only imagine it was an enemy highlord, or Amaram would be detailing his passing more thoroughly.”

Dalinar nodded. “Amaram is more than honorable. We can take his word.” He paused. “The Assassin in White used surgebinding in his attack six years ago. Does he mean to say the boy has been hiding in his army all this time?”

“That would certainly be an oversight on his part,” Sadeas said. “I suppose we’ll have to see.” He gestured to a chair. “May I wait with you for Amaram and his prisoner?”

“Of course,” Dalinar said.

Adolin winced and looked back at Elhokar. Fortunately, Elhokar still looked nonplussed and unlikely to assert his annoyance, if he felt any.

“We were discussing possible advances,” Dalinar continued. Sadeas having sat down, Dalinar moved back to the chair he had been using, though he moved it slightly so he wasn’t directly between Sadeas and Elhokar. Adolin took this as his own signal to sit back down, as well.

Sadeas nodded. “I see,” he said. “Perhaps we should discuss what we should do with the prisoner.”

“If he killed my father, he will be executed,” Elhokar said. His jaw was clenched and he had crossed his arms over his chest. Adolin was relieved that he had returned to the present.

“Of course,” Sadeas agreed. “I only ask because other than his alleged ability to surgebind, we have no proof of any kind.”

“You fought him, didn’t you, Sadeas?” Elhokar asked. “You have no useful recollection?”

“He fought with skill I’ve never seen before, combining the ancient surgebinding with a shardblade. He was fast, and the lighting was poor,” Sadeas said. “He seemed to be a pale man, from what little I saw, and his eyes may have been blue.”

“How many men can use the skills of the Knights Radiant?” Elhokar asked. “He must be the Assassin in White.”

Dalinar held up a hand. “If one man can, then another can as well.” He paused. “Though it does seem unlikely.”

“No matter,” Sadeas said. “We must find out where he was at the time of the murder and test his skills.” He turned to Adolin. “If we do this, it would be prudent to have the best of our Shardbearers in attendance. Will you handle that?”

Adolin nodded. “Of course,” he said.

“Good,” Dalinar said. “Thank you, Adolin. I agree with this plan.” He nodded at Sadeas. “Test the boy, and judge from there. Adolin, go notify anyone you think best.”

“Yes, father,” Adolin said. He inclined his head to both Elhokar and Sadeas before leaving, making for the dueling grounds.

 

By the time he returned, four competent, trustworthy Full Shardbearers with him, Amaram had arrived. Elhokar, Sadeas, and his father had moved to a larger space and were surrounded by soldiers dressed as kings guards, as well as a good number of the Kholin army.

“Summon your armor,” Adolin instructed, turning to the men he had brought. Each nodded and started the summoning process. When they were finished, Adolin had the guards announce their arrival and entered the receiving space.

Elhokar was sitting in his throne, obviously moved from its usual place for this occasion. Sadeas and his father were seated to either side of the king, both in their Plate, as well. Adolin could see Renarin off to the side of the room and nodded at his brother.

“Brightlord Kholin,” Sadeas greeted. “Would you and your men please spread out to contain the prisoner?”

“Yes, sir,” Adolin answered, gesturing two men to his left and two to his right, positioning himself near his father. He hadn’t been able to see the prisoner when he arrived, as surrounded as he was with heavily armored guards. Next to his father, his view was unobscured and Adolin saw a man in chains next to Amaram. Adolin had been familiar with Amaram for most of his life, as Amaram was a friend of his father’s, though Adolin hadn’t heard of Amaram acquiring a set of Plate. Adolin inclined his head to Amaram and got a fond smile in return.

The man in chains was next to, and slightly behind, Amaram. He was on his knees, looking at the ground, dark, dirty hair covering a dark-skinned face. Even on his knees he was tall, though. His back was straight, his shoulders back, and if he hadn’t been looking down, Adolin would have said he seemed proud. He was wearing what looked like a soldier’s kit, if that kit had been torn and had the crest removed. Without seeing his face, Adolin couldn’t guess as to his age, but he couldn’t have been older than Adolin himself.

“Highlord Amaram has only just arrived,” Sadeas said.

Dalinar nodded at Amaram, then turned to the king.

“Highlord Amaram, your messenger said that you have caught the Assassin in White. Please explain,” Elhokar said. He gestured with one hand, though he remained seated, his perfect posture making him appear more kingly than he usually did.

“Of course, Your Majesty,” Amaram said, bowing to the king. “This man used the same skill that was used to kill the king to kill a highlord. As we all know, the skills of the Radiants have been lost to the years. It can be no coincidence that this man and the Assassin in White possess the same power.”

Elhokar made a sound, though whether it was in agreement or just acknowledgement, Adolin didn’t know. “Who is he?” Elhokar asked.

“He has been hiding as a spearman in my army,” Amaram said. “His name is Kaladin, and his enlistment papers say that he is from Hearthstone.”

Elhokar turned to Sadeas. “Who is the governor of that area?”

“I believe that would be Highlord Roshone.” Sadeas turned to Amaram. “Is that correct?”

Amaram nodded. “Yes, Highprince.”

“Summon him,” Elhokar said. As far as Adolin could tell, Elhokar’s eyes hadn’t left the prisoner since Adolin had entered the room.

Sadeas gestured to a servant with a short message, and then sent him off to summon Roshone. Adolin didn’t recognize the name, though it sounded familiar, like something he had maybe heard once or twice, in passing.

“Tell me what happened,” Elhokar said.

Amaram glanced between the king and Sadeas for a moment before realizing that Elhokar had been addressing him. “Of course, Your Majesty.” He gestured at the prisoner. “The spearman was fighting near me when it happened. A great influx of enemy troops came in and surrounded my soldiers. The spearman used the Radiant’s skill of surgebinding to defeat them and the lighteyed officer commanding them.” Amaran glanced over at the prisoner. “His squad and a great number of my soldiers were killed in the process, though I was able to turn the battle.” The man puffed up a little and Adolin refrained from rolling his eyes. “I won my Shards in that battle,” Amaram said.

“Yes, very good,” Elhokar said. “What did it look like?”

“Well, Your Majesty, I am wearing--”

Elhokar cut him off and glanced away from the prisoner long enough to give Amaram an annoyed look. “Not the Shards, the surgebinding!”

The highlord cleared his throat, shuffling his feet loudly in his Plate. “Yes, Your Majesty. It appeared as though he was flying, going from one location to the next as though he was being pulled to a magnet. It matches the description of surgebinding that I have heard, as well as the power that was used in the late king’s death.”

Elhokar nodded. “Yes.” His eyes were again fixed on the prisoner and he had begun to lean forward in his seat. “And you, prisoner,” he said. “Your name is Kaladin?”

“The men call him ‘Kaladin Stormblessed,’ as he has always had the most unbelievable luck,” Amaram put in.

“I am addressing the prisoner, Highlord Amaram,” Elhokar said, holding up a hand.

There was a short silence before the prisoner said, “Yes.” His voice was steady and audible, like that of an officer on the battlefield. The prisoner did not move, his words addressing the floor. Adolin could have told him Elhokar wouldn’t like that.

He wasn’t sure why he wanted to, but it would have been good advice.

“You will look at me while you are speaking,” Elhokar said, his body sliding forward slightly in his throne, one sharp elbow braced on the right arm to hold his hand aloft and the other pressed flat to the left.

The prisoner looked up, dark brown eyes looking directly at the king. “My apologies, Your Majesty.”

Adolin raised his eyebrows. The prisoner was a darkeyes, but his speech and etiquette were those of a lighteyes. More shocking was the fact that, face revealed, the boy could be no older than Renarin. The prisoner’s face was sharpening, his jaw already a solid line, but the rest of his face still held the curves of youth. He would have a sharp and serious profile when his body had fully matured, if he managed to live that long.

Elhokar ignored the apology. “What have you to say for yourself?”

The prisoner looked momentarily surprised by Elhokar’s question, but steadied himself so quickly Adolin wasn’t sure whether he might have just imagined it. “I did not kill your father, Your Majesty.”

Amaram opened his mouth as if he was going to say something, but Elhokar held up his hand again. “Highlord Amaram, I am still speaking with the prisoner. I will address you by name when I wish for your input.”

“My apologies, Your Majesty,” Amaram said, bowing to the king. There was a flush high on his cheeks, but it seemed more like anger than embarrassment.

Elhokar turned his attention back to the prisoner. “Tell me why I should believe you.”

The prisoner inclined his head respectfully, though Adolin could see a sharpness in his eyes instead of true respect. “Of course, Your Majesty. I was in Hearthstone at the time of the king’s death. Prior to joining Brightlord Amaram’s army at sixteen, I worked as an apprentice to my father.” The prisoner took an extra breath before continuing. “He is the Hearthstone surgeon. We did not hear about the king’s death until later, but I can tell you I was with my father in the surgery that day the king was killed.”

“Your father is not an acceptable witness,” Elhokar said. He drummed the fingers of his left hand on the arm of his chair once, quickly. It was a nervous tic that Adolin hadn’t seen in years.

“No, Your Majesty,” the prisoner agreed.

“Do you have any other witnesses?” Elhokar asked.

“Yes, Your Majesty. We assisted two men from the town that day, and Highlord Roshone came to collect our taxes.” The prisoner adjusted his shoulders slightly and the chains jangled. He had been holding so still that Adolin had almost forgotten that he was chained.

“So Highlord Roshone will confirm that he saw you that day?” Elhokar had narrowed his eyes at the prisoner, but some of the fierceness was gone from his expression.

The prisoner hesitated before responding. “He can, Your Majesty.”

Dalinar held up a hand. “May I, Your Majesty?”

Elhokar seemed startled to hear Dalinar’s voice, but nodded. “You may, Uncle.”

“You say he ‘can,’ not that he will, which was the king’s question,” Dalinar said. “Explain.”

“Of course, Brightlord,” the prisoner said, though Adolin could see him grinding his jaw momentarily before continuing.

He was surprised that no one in the room corrected the prisoner on his father’s title.

When he continued, the prisoner’s voice remained as steady and passively commanding. Adolin didn’t think even he would have been able to maintain that level of composure when faced with his father’s questioning. “Before joining the army, I was courting Brightlord Wistiow’s daughter, who was Brightlord Roshone’s ward. He did not approve, as I am both darkeyed and second nahn.” Second nahn explained his speech, if not his demeanor.

“And you think this will be enough to make a brightlord lie to his king?” Dalinar asked. If they had been alone, Adolin would have winced at his father’s tone.

“No, Brightlord,” the prisoner said. “I simply acknowledge that he has reason to be untruthful, not that he will choose to be.”

Dalinar moved to cross his arms, then stopped, as though he’d just remembered he was in Plate. “I don’t believe you,” he said.

Adolin watched the prisoner, but he didn’t wince or frown. He said, “My apologies, Brightlord.”

“Speak truthfully,” Dalinar said. “In this case alone, we will not charge you for the insult.”

The prisoner paused. Adolin could tell that he was looking directly into his father’s eyes, and that each of them was assessing the other. “Of course, Brightlord,” the prisoner said. “Brightlord Roshone resents being governor of Hearthstone and is incredibly disconnected from his citizens. He blames my father for the death of Brightlord Wistiow and consequently his own placement in Hearthstone. My father has never charged for his surgical services, and our family has always relied on donations. Brightlord Roshone discourages anyone from making donations to force my family into poverty. After he and his son were injured after a whitespine hunt, he further blamed my father for being unable to save his son. In revenge, he had my younger brother conscripted into Brightlord Amaram’s army. My brother was thirteen and ill-suited for war. Brightlord Roshone hates my family. Aside from whatever love he holds for his king, Roshone has nothing to lose by lying. His gain will be having killed both of my father’s sons.”

While the prisoner was speaking, Adolin had watched Amaram grow redder and redder in the face. Neither Dalinar nor Sadeas had shown any reaction, though Elhokar had grown wide-eyed by the accusation. The prisoner himself had kept composed, though if the story was true, Adolin was unsure how he had done so.

If the story was true, Roshone had much to answer to. Sadeas and Amaram, too, as Roshone was under their watches.

There was a short silence after the story. The prisoner was waiting for Dalinar’s response, but Adolin’s father did not appear prepared to make one. Dalinar was watching the prisoner with a thoughtful expression on his face, but did not seem to be inclined to speak.

Sadeas was the one to break the silence. “If this is true,” he said, addressing the prisoner, “then you have my apologies.”

“What do you say happened on the battlefield, then?” Elhokar asked, pulling attention away from both Sadeas and the prisoner’s story.

The prisoner inclined his head. “Of course, Your Majesty. My squad was holding pattern until the enemy troops joined the skirmish. There was a Brightlord Shardbearer among them, and he ran straight through our defenses. Most of my squad was killed in his initial assault. I didn’t know that I could change the direction of gravity. This what you have been calling surgebinding. I have read about it, but I didn’t make the connection between my actions and the ability until Brightlord Amaram arrested me.”

“You read about it?” Elhokar asked. He was giving the prisoner a confused look. Adolin couldn’t say he felt any differently about the information.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” the prisoner said. “My father has a large collection of books on various topics. The Knights Radiant were among the stories included.”

“And you claim that you had never used surgebinding before,” Elhokar said. He was drumming his fingers again.

“That is correct, Your Majesty.” The prisoner’s eyes remained on the king’s. “I had some indication that it might work, but I’d never been brave enough to try. It seemed all I could do to try to save my men.”

“And with surgebinding, you defeated a Shardbearer,” Elhokar said. His eyebrows were furrowed, but he was still leaning forward in his seat, rapt.

“Yes, Your Majesty. Surgebinding and a spear.” The prisoner nodded sharply.

“Do you possess your own Shardblade?” Dalinar asked. Elhokar gave him a look, but Dalinar was staring straight at the prisoner.

Adolin had not stopped to consider that the Shardblades and Shardplate were remnants from the Knights Radiant. He knew it, of course, but he hadn’t quite put the two together. More, if the prisoner had defeated a Shardbearer, those Shards now belonged to him.

The prisoner pursed his lips before responding. It was the most expression Adolin had seen on his face, and he was sure it meant that they might not like his response. “Both yes and no, Brightlord,” the prisoner said.

“Please explain,” Dalinar said. He waved a hand at the prisoner.

“I’ll try, Brightlord,” the prisoner said. “It’s hard to explain. It might be easier if you yourself possess a blade, Brightlord.”

“I do,” Dalinar said.

The prisoner nodded. “The Shardblades that are won are different from when they belonged to the Knights Radiant. For the Knights, the Blades were an extension of their own bodies. They did not need to wait to summon them, and they weren’t always blades.” The prisoner adjusted his weight slightly. “I do not have a won Blade. I have a weapon that can be a blade, but is generally a spear.”

Dalinar looked over to Amaram. “I assume that this has been confiscated?”

Amaram made a sour face. “Unfortunately, it has not. The spearman has refused to produce it.”

“What?” Elhokar asked. His voice was raised and he took an immediate slide further into his seat. Adolin began the count to summon his blade.

“Submit your weapon at once,” Dalinar said. He stood as he spoke, his expression stormy. “You expect us to believe your innocence when you will not even cooperate with the law?”

The prisoner clenched his jaw. “I apologize, Brightlord, but I cannot submit my spear.”

Adolin’s Blade appeared in his hand at the same moment as another winked into existence in his father’s hand. “You must submit your weapon,” Dalinar repeated.

“I would if I could, Brightlord,” the prisoner said. Adolin raised an eyebrow, but kept his Blade ready. “She -- it -- refuses to come.”

“That’s not how it works,” Dalinar said. His voice was low and threatening and Adolin took a step closer to the prisoner.

“I apologize, Brightlord,” the prisoner said, but his face had creased into an expression that more closely resembled frustration than regret. “It’s a difference from a won Shard. I won no Shard to acquire my weapon. It has no independent physical form apart from me. Even if I could give it to you, I would be able to dismiss and summon it with a thought. I will submit to any additional restraint you believe is necessary.”

Dalinar ground his teeth, but Elhokar cut in. “You said she refuses to come. Has your Blade a sex?”

“No, Your Majesty,” the prisoner answered. “Not technically. It is very difficult to explain without a demonstration, and even then it is hard to believe.”

“Fine,” Elhokar said. “I believe those are all of my questions. We will resume after Brightlord Roshone has arrived.” He gestured to the guards. “Triple the prison guards and take him to a cell.”

The Guard Captain bowed to the king. “It will be done, Your Majesty.”

The guards jockeyed the prisoner to his feet and led him out of the room and toward the camp’s jail. Adolin watched them leave even as he dismissed his Blade. That had been -- something. Unexpected.

The interview had been unexpected, and Adolin found himself more curious than he had been in many years.