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Brightlords and Blades

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Dalinar couldn't put his finger on what was bothering him as he escorted Navani to the exit of his headquarters. The routine planning session had gone well, the varied attendees dispersing to their tasks or beds as personal schedules dictated. Nothing anyone said had jarred or surprised him, so it might be nothing; his eyes longed to close and let his sleeping mind piece any puzzles together for him. He kissed Navani good night, accepting her scolding laughter with a sense of warmth. She was still grieving for Jasnah, but it weighed on her a little less tonight.

"I'm for bed. Please see Brightness Navani safely home." he told his bridgemen guards

"Yes, Brightlord." the older of the pair said, saluting smartly.

That was it. The words had been perfectly innocent and correct, which was why he'd taken so long to notice the change: "I'll see it done, Brightlord." Not the captain's usual form of address; something was wrong.

 Dalinar turned toward the hall deeper into the bunker, seeking the room Navani had commandeered and turned into a engineer's paradise. Three of the four walls had been covered in polished slate for use with chalk and charcoal sticks, and Captain Kaladin had diffidently asked permission to use one to do some logistical calculations after the meeting broke up. Navani had started at the odd request, but granted it easily.

 "Come in, come in." answered his soft knock. The captain's coat lay neatly folded across the back of a chair, a note of precision amid the chaos of papers and scraps left by Navani's artifabrians. Kaladin had pushed back his shirt sleeves to reveal corded muscles, but his grip on the chalk was delicate as he drew it along the dark slate. Three complex glyphs marched up the wall, depicting a flower rising from the flames of a broken pillar or plateau. Dalinar took a moment to pick out the basic glyphs from the calligraphy:  Faith, Memory, Hope. "Almost done, just put it on that empty corner."

"Captain?" Dalinar asked.

The soft glide of chalk halted. Dark brown eyes swiveled to look at him before finishing the last line of Hope's petals. "Brightlord?" he saluted sharply.

"What's this?"

"Reya asked me to design a grieving tattoo for her in exchange for fetching some food. I'm famished, so it seemed a fair trade." Kaladin motioned at the slate on the far wall, half covered in numbers and mathematicians' symbology. "Calculating the weight and caches for next week's bandit patrol should be pretty straight forward- just like calculating dosages. Rind's wife had the amounts and weights in tables already, bless her."

Dalinar stepped closer to the board of numbers, noting the simple but well-shaped glyph pairs labeling different numbers. The captain was clearly accustomed to writing for himself. "I've seen for myself your skill in field medicine, but this seems more advanced than battlefield care."

Hesitation. "My father is a surgeon; I was his apprentice before I became a soldier." he glanced at the spear leaning in the corner, near to hand as always.

"Have you ever had our chicken curry?" a bouncy female voice asked at the door swung open. The maid Reya carried a tray with several covered dishes and a carafe of steaming orange wine. "Housekeeper makes the best chicken curry, and Lise added some of her roasted crispmelon and tai fruit when I said it was for you, Captain. The tubers are Sina's recipe, but it's her free day so Lise is claiming them, too."

Kaladin cleared more space on the table for the tray. "I see the conspiracy to fatten up the bridgemen continues."

"Oh, not you, Captain." her smile was all teeth. "You never needed help filling out your uniform."

He blushed, "I- well."

"Cook is still determined to match you with one of her girls." she continued. "An unmarried captain is almost a crime, and if the tenner girls are slow off the mark, the better for us."

Kaladin glanced at Dalinar, but the highprince motioned at the girl, unwilling to interrupt. "In my old warcamp, getting assigned to honor guard was good for the purse but death to a man's romantic prospects. No one wanted to get too attached to a man focused on keeping someone else alive."

Reya nodded. "Still mostly true, but you're stormblessed. Even highstorms can't kill you, what chance to assassins or parshendi have? Besides, rumor is you're learning the sword so that Prince Adolin can eventually make you a shardbearer without any of the other officers getting too upset. So you can kill the Assassin in White next time, rather than just running him off."

The blush drained off Kaladin's face, replaced with a theatrical mask of despair. "That's about as likely as the one where I'm secretly Highprince Roion's distant cousin, based on the irrefutable evidence that we are both tall and over-protective of our soldiers." He rolled his eyes skyward. "I'm learning the sword to better counter swords, not because I want one of my own."

"But a shardblade-"

"No." he shook his head sharply. "Do you like this design?" he motioned at the glyphs.

"Oh, that was fast." She stepped closer to the captain, but turned demurely to regard the slate. "Hope is a bloom. That's-" she reached out, but stopped before touching the design, careful of the dust. "That's perfect. I have no talent for art, or symbolism. Not like this." she turned a smile on Kaladin. "Are you certain you're not highprince Roion's cousin?"

"I think my parents would have mentioned it." Kaladin stepped around the maid, lifting up a blank sheet of paper. "We were second nahn, before you ask. If you like it I can copy it out for you and give it to the night cook with the dishes."

"I could keep you company while you eat. I don't have any other duties tonight."

Kaladin jerked his chin toward Dalinar. "You see..."

"Oh! Brightlord! I'm sorry. I didn't see you there. I'll be going." Reya bobbed him a deep curtsy, shooting a glare at the captain, who blandly thanked her again for the food before she could flee the room.

The captain looked intently at the tray of food, then at Dalinar.

"By all means, Captain, eat." Dalinar said, moving to a chair opposite the tray, careful not to knock any of the engineers'... things... off the table.

"Thank you." Kaladin set to, systematically checking each dish before starting with the curry.

"You don't like the name Stormblessed, do you?" Dalinar asked after a minute of watching food disappear.

"No, I don't feel blessed. It's like the four-legged one-eyed axehound named Lucky. 'Congratulations on not dying yet, the world will try harder next time.'" he reached for the wine carafe, pouring the orange liquor into the glass and a tin cup produced from his belt pack, pushing the glass toward Dalinar.

Dalinar smiled, "But you do answer to it."

"I can't escape it. They called me that before... before everything. When I was in Amaram's army; 'Squadleader Kaladin, he's stormblessed.' Nothing I was doing then was supernatural or miraculous, just sound tactics and discipline. But no. Only divine intervention kept my soldiers alive when others died, not proper training, teamwork or medical attention. Those things anyone could learn and use." he stabbed a piece of chicken with more vigor than necessary. "Don't apply your logic to my soldier's superstition, you over-educated, uppity brat. Being the youngest of the squad leaders did not help. No one takes you seriously at eighteen."

Dalinar tried to recall life at 18 weepings. He'd been leading a company in his father's army against incursions from other highprinces' landlords, but primarily learning from his father's veteran generals the arts of strategy and command. "How old are you?" he asked, taking the glass of wine the captain had poured for him.

"Twenty."

Dalinar coughed the wine out of his lungs with only a little difficulty. "Twenty?" he accepted the napkin and studied the captain's face. His life had aged him greatly; Dalinar had judged him weeping or so older than Adolin, not Renarin.

"Yes." the captain said, then turned his attention back to the food in front of him.  He ate with a systematic determination, not the rush to feed a gaping maw Dalinar associated with men his age.

"Prince Renarin is progressing well with us, Brightlord." Kaladin said after most of the curry had been conquered. "It's been helpful to have another man besides Sigzil who can read glyphs, even if Renarin's tend to the slightly  lopsided. I plan to put him in charge of the patrol schedules in a week or so, if-"

"Soldier, have I betrayed you?" Dalinar asked.

He flinched at the words, a flash of pain gone in a blink. "No sir."

Dalinar waited, letting the moment stretch without releasing the young man's gaze. He watched as determination wavered and solidified three times before the captain lost his grip on his expression and dropped his eyes. Pain returned.

"What I feel is not what you've done. You've kept all your promises. I'd hoped-" he stopped, laying his eating knife and spoon carefully to either side of the plate. "I'd hoped you could save me."

"Save you." Dalinar stared at Kaladin. With his head bowed, the hair normally obscuring the slave brands fell away. Sas Nan and Shash. Why did he not get the bridgemen's freedom tattoo?

Kaladin lifted his hands side by side, then moved his fingers to draw a glyph in the air. "It was the reverse of what had happened with Amaram- you publicly gave up a shardblade to save my men; he'd killed my men to keep his theft a secret." his hands stopped, "But the Almighty didn't send you to save me from my fears. He's dead."

Dalinar grabbed for Kaladin's wrist. "How do you know that?"

"In Highstorms, I dream. The Stormfather sometimes speaks to me." he pulled his arm slowly from Dalinar's grip. "I don't have any proof, but that was how I knew about the Assassin."

"Which is proof enough."

"It would be if we trusted each other."

"What?" Dalinar half-rose from his seat. "I trust you with my life, my sons' lives, to protect the King himself!"

"Yes, because I've proven I can do that." Kaladin snapped, then subsided, sinking down into his chair. "I will fight shardbearers and king killers to protect you. In return you suffer my rudeness and anger and look after my men. And I'm grateful for that.  But you still made a murderer head of the Knights Radiant."

"I investigated your claims, but many men, light eyed and dark, confirmed what Amaram told me. I can't throw aside many years of trust on one man's word, against so many." Dalinar said, returning to his own seat. "I know what was done to you would make anyone distrustful, but Amaram has been a good friend for years."

"The worst of 'what was done to me', sir, was done by your old friends."  A whisper that cut across Dalinar's mind, stopping the words and refocusing his attention on the youth across from him. Kaladin cut a roasted crispmelon slice into precise quarters, his hands steady and sure despite the hitch in his breathing. Kaladin flicked his eyes up to look at Dalinar, then down again, before pushing two sections of the melon toward him.

Dalinar stood from the table, ignoring the offered fruit. "I'll let you finish eating, soldier."

"Please…. Sir?" the captain's voice cracked a little.

He strode toward the door. "The customary address is Brightlord, Captain."

Dalinar heard something behind him break before the reply came. "Yes, Brightlord."

Chapter Text

Kaladin rolled the spear shaft across the back of his hand as he stepped through the turn and block, whipping himself and the spear into a straight stab that covered half the length of the ceiling.

Did the windrunners of long ago have katas like this? he wondered, shaking off the tears that had gathered under his chin. They slid down his cheeks, still too much a part of him for the ground to reclaim until they would normally fall, but caught by conflicting forces, they instead wobbled and accumulated until he snapped his head around or lashed himself sideways. He'd have to tell Sigzil about it- hopefully that would balance wasting his stormlight on katas instead of tests. Proper tests using the engineers' clock, weights, and calibrated gem stones as he's intended before-

He lashed himself to the far wall and began a series of attacks and parries, alternating walls every few steps as he worked he way back toward the door, staying carefully above the worktables as he flipped from wall to wall. The glyphs for Reya's tattoo mocked him from the slate- hope blooms? No. Hope dies.

Lashing himself back to the ceiling, he rolled and launched himself into the most demanded kata he knew- he sank into his body, feeling every muscle and tendon pulling and pushing as he moved. Kaladin danced and did not think.

  "Adolin asked me to make sure you didn't leave before he got food."

 Kaladin froze. How do these storming princes keep sneaking up on me? He composed himself, then turned to face Renarin. The younger prince wore his Bridge Four uniform and a perfectly polite expression- it just seemed strange from this perspective. Kaladin dismissed his lashing and flipped back to the floor. "Did he say why?" he asked with what he hoped was equal calm.

 "Father asked him to."

 "Oh." Kaladin felt the wood of the spear shaft strain under his grip and forced himself to put it back in the corner. He reached into his belt pouch for some spheres, pushing stormlight back into them for later use. "I think Reya gave me the last of his favorite tubers."

 "He may steal your leftovers." Renarin said after a moment.

 Kaladin looked down at the abandoned plates, the crispmelon slices and the half-full glass of wine. He could feel the wretch staring up at him. He could sink back into that numbness and feel nothing, care about nothing. He could let the cold spread from his heart to quench the anger in his gut and freeze the tears in his eyes. Just stop. Put down the bridge, cover his eyes and rest. How long had he been running? How hard had he trained, to protect yet another brightlord who cared only for reputation and appearances? Working to protect a friend who would betray his oaths for vengeance. Making excuses to the others who pushed at him to reveal his secret-- the secret that would make others hate or fear or idolize him-- and leave him even more alone and isolated from the world than he already was. But if he stopped, then Syl would leave, and he couldn't let that happen. Who would drag him back from that ledge?

 "Storms, Bridgeboy, it's just some tubers." Adolin said.

 Kaladin started back from the table, raising the hand full of spheres as if they could protect him from the Princeling.

 Adolin's usual smirk was missing, replaced by a look Kaladin didn't know how to interpret as the prince put down his own tray of food and cocked his head at his brother. Renarin blinked, then nodded. The pair moved to either side of Kaladin, pulling at his elbows until they were all sitting against the wall. He resisted instinctively when Adolin tried to pull his head down to his shoulder, but then imagined Syl's glare and let himself be moved. Renarin waited for them to settle, then leaned on Kaladin's other side, surrounding him with Kholin princes.

  It was warm.

 


Bridgeboy didn't cry for very long- from the state of his eyes, he'd already burned through a small puddle. Adolin moved from petting his hair to untangling it with his fingers - he needed a brush and some thread, he could recreate some of Deeli's patterned braids with hair this thick. How does he not get grief from father about his hair? Adolin smoothed it out again.

 After a few long minutes Renarin got up and retrieved both trays of food, settling down across from them. Kaladin sat up, but didn't shrug Adolin's arm off his shoulders- it was only a little awkward, since a lot Bridgeboy's height was in his ridiculous legs. He reached for a quartered crispmelon, offering a slice first to Renarin, then to Adolin. He was excessively pleased when they both accepted, slumping back against Adolin's side with a sigh.

  Adolin started on his own crispmelon while Renarin packed some flatbread with curry for him. "Thanks." he said as he finished licking his fingers clean and took the one-handed meal. They remained like that, mostly quiet, while Adolin and Renarin ate from Adolin's tray. Eventually Kaladin emerged from his stupor and began rolling balls of mashed tubers around pieces of tai fruit and then through the curry remains, creating sweet-salty-spicy abominations. Barbarian. Adolin managed to save some of the tubers from this fate with some swift spoon raids, only to have his own tai fruit liberated by Renarin, the traitor.

 Adolin couldn't let that pass unopposed.  

 The tuber spheres are actually pretty good, Adolin was forced to admit to himself after a second one got shoved into his mouth. Bridgeboy was no slouch at wrestling, but Adolin had won out in the end and now feasted on his spoils from atop his foe's back.  Renarin sat in smug indolence on one of the benches, plate of untainted fruit and spiced sweet abominations secured against filching.

"So." Adolin said as he finished the last bite. "Father sent me to ask about your highstorm visions, but that can wait. I want to know about Amaram and Radiants."

 "Princeling, get off me." Kaladin growled.

 "Bridgeboy, answer my question." Adolin said.

 Adolin yelped as a half-familiar chill flooded his body and the world lurched. He hit the ceiling with a grunt, staring up- down?- at the glowing, smirking bridgeman leaning over him.

  "Amaram isn't a Radiant." He hissed. "I am."

  "Oh." Adolin said, looking past Kaladin and his glowing eyes to Renarin, who was looking up (down?) at them with a worrying lack of worry. His brother ate another bit of fruit and quirked an eyebrow at them. "I suppose this is one of the initiation requirements for Bridgeboy's battalion?"

 "No." Kaladin said, pulling Adolin to his feet with unnatural ease. The ceilings were high enough that Adolin would have to reach a little to touch Renarin's bench- he did so, just to confirm this was really happening. "You two are the first outside the original Bridge Four to see." Kaladin coughed, "Aside from the Assassin... and a lot of Parshendi... and some scouts who saw me flying over the plains the other night... and your father might have seen the glow at the Tower, but he'd been hit in the head so I'm not sure if he noticed. He never mentioned it."

"You're not very good at keeping secrets, are you?"

"It's easy when people don't bother to look at me." He grabbed Adolin at the shoulder and hip. "See how your stormlight is fading? The Lashing runs out when it does, so pay attention and with practice you can land on your feet."

 Adolin watched as the wisps faded, his coat shifting back toward the ground for a tiny moment before they were falling. The bridgeman's arms tightened around him as they flipped in midair, folding and twisting to change their orientation. He wobbled on his feet when they hit the ground, but couldn't fall out of that grip. "I can't imagine why people don't want to stare at your face, Bridgeboy. Some people think stormwalls are fascinating."

Kaladin shoved him at Renarin's bench, snatching up a dun heliodor from the table and somehow breathing his stormlight into it. "Lighteyes don't see Guards, we're like furniture. It's shocking enough when we speak. There's be a mass panic if we started flying in public."

"BridgeFour always carries infused spheres." Renarin said, "Lopen called it the Captain's luck."

"The day Lopen learns to fly, the whole war camp is going to know about it."

"So, Father picked the wrong man to head the Radiants." Adolin sat next to Renarin, not hiding behind him at all. "If Amaram could do that, he'd have said so."

Kaladin growled again, kneeling to gather the empty dishes. "He picked a murderer to head his Knights Radiant."

"Can you tell us what happened?" Renarin asked, reaching out to take one of the trays. "It's important."

Bridgeboy put the empty tuber's dish on his tray and sighed, slumping back to the floor. "I've been beaten for telling even parts of this story, and no one has ever believed it." he closed his eyes, "No one."

 "We will." Renarin said, nothing but conviction in his voice.

 Adolin listened as Kaladin spoke of Amaram's army and his spear squad and bribes, so many bribes paid to different people just so they would do their jobs. He started to form a question, but was answered before he could speak- "Yes, I do appreciate being in an army that doesn't run on bribes: I hardly know what to do with my pay anymore. I'm telling you this so that you'll understand my mindset going into that battle. I'd long sense stopped caring about winning pointless skirmishes. I wanted to keep my men alive, so I bent rules, carried bandages, and bribed people."

 Adolin nodded. It didn't surprise him that Sadeas' armies would be rife with corruption, even under Amaram.  Renarin asked about details of the battle as Kaladin described it- the perspective of a squadleader was very different than a commander or general, and though Bridgeboy wasn't the most dramatic storyteller, he was good at explanations.

But then the shardbearer arrived on the field, and Kaladin's voice became a hollow echo as he described the slaughter of his wounded and his sergeant, the mad decision to give chase... how bravely, foolishly, loyally his squad followed him into death's jaws.

The actual fight with the shardbearer was buried under a litany of the dead. By the time Kaladin said "And so I stabbed him through the eyeslit." Adolin and Renarin had bracketed him again- Renarin had out his box, but leaned against Kaladin's left side- an unusual amount of physical contact for him.

"And then I left."

"Wait, you didn't take the blade?" Adolin asked, shocked.

"No." Kaladin spun on him, displacing Renarin. "Is it so hard to believe I didn't want the blade that had just slaughtered my men? That I didn't want to touch it?" he lept to his feet and began pacing, seven rapid steps from wall to wall. "Those blades are life and death, and you hold them in your hands and understand nothing. No one should have so much power without restraints; but that's the epitome of Alethi ambition- to have so much power that no one can challenge you." he snatched up a piece of chalk and began drawing glyphs on an empty slate, broad lines forming into shapes Adolin didn't immediately recognise. His eyes were a blazing blue though the rest of him wasn't glowing. "No one is worthy of that- no one can be. All you can do is the least possible harm, all you can do is restrain yourself- live by a code. To choose life over death, to save instead of destroy.

"But Amaram- he could not conceive that I truly did not want it." Kaladin continued, still drawing. "I tried to give it to Coreb, he was the best fighter of my surviving men, he'd care for the others once he was lighteyed. But Brightlord Amaram," he spat the words "couldn't accept that. He's planned for it, all he had to do was nod and his officers beat me and murdered my men. Cut them down while I begged, screaming at them to stop. He explained that it was for the best, since he'd trained in the blade. Alethkar needed strong shardbearers, and Amaram couldn't have us telling the truth about who killed the sharbearer. He would sacrifice a few darkeyed spearmen for the greater good. And he just knew I'd change my mind in a few days. Because what man would refuse the power of a Shardblade?" Kaladin barked a harsh mockery of a laugh. "Me, he would spare, because I'd saved his life. He could name me a deserter and sell me into slavery, because no one would believe a single slave."

Adolin looked back for Renarin's reaction, but his brother was staring at the pattern of glyphs rapidly covering the wall- was that the double-eye?

"He was right about that- I was beaten for speaking the truth. It took a lot of beatings for me to learn to shut my mouth- about that, at least. I never really learned how 'show proper respect' to you lighteyes." He turned and gave Adolin a tiny smile, a bare quirk of his lips.

Adolin gave him a smile in return, though he felt rather odd listening to this diatribe about the evils of shardblades. He'd always felt that his blade was a gift, a tool that along with his shardplate allowed him to accomplish greater things than he could unaided. "Really? I thought I was special, bridgeboy, now I hear you treat all the lighteyes that way."

"You are special, Princeling. I haven't given anyone else a nickname." He turned back to the slate and drew two more glyphs, completing the side-ways hour-glass of the Double Eye, the sign of the Radiants. He circled the winged-sword in the upper right corner, "This is the first order of the Knights Radiants, the Windrunners. That's what I am learning to be. I don't know if there are others out there." he motioned at the other nine symbols. "I hope so. I don't think I can fight a desolation on my own."

Adolin snorted. "You think I'm going to sit out a Desolation? How else will I prove that I can kill more voidbringers than you, Bridgeboy?"

"I want to help, too." Renarin said, clicking his box closed and looking up at the wall of glyphs.

"Of course." Kaladin and Adolin said together, then looked sharply at each other.

"We're Kholins- we don't shirk." Adolin said, laying his hand on his brother's elbow, encouraging.

"We're Bridge Four. We're all in this together." Kaladin added, "Even you, Adolin. You know the secret, you're inducted."

"What? No."

"Too late to back out now. You're ours, Princeling."

Renarin smiled. "The stew was a lot better than I expected, Adolin. I think you'll like it."

"Nooooooo."

Chapter Text

Kaladin glanced from where Adolin was preparing to issue his challenge to Highprince Sadeas to where Highlord Amaram sat among the stunned lighteyes- the murderer would have to wait, Kaladin had someone more important to take care of. He shifted his weight onto his left leg and then made an over-dramatic wincing jerk, clutching for his foot as if in sudden pain. Both of his feet did still hurt- his stormlight had run out before the bones could heal completely, but adrenaline had shoved it down into the recesses of his mind while unguarded shardblades were seeking his vulnerable flesh.

The gesture had the desired effect, attracting Renarin's attention away from the sand of the arena. The slender prince hurried over, offering his shoulder with only a hint of the hesitation that accompanied most physical contact. "Help me to the preparation room?" Kaladin asked, and Renarin nodded.

Adolin spared them a glance as they passed, but his attention was rightly on Sadeas and the purpose of this exercise in spectacular madness. Kaladin could leave him to it- they wouldn't be fighting Sadeas as a team.

Renarin led them through the hall with its frescoes and the armoring room, pulling Kaladin into the private chamber set aside for meditation and reflection. Bridge Four had reported that Adolin always spent some time in here before duels, but Kaladin had never seen it himself. The simple stone bench and altar with unlit candles surprised him, though the stormlight lamps with their bright diamond broams and the blade-thin hole in the floor reminded him of where he was.

"Do you need more stormlight?" Renarin asked once the door closed, helping him sit on the bench.

"Yes, but that's not why I got you in here." Kaladin said, bracing himself for a difficult conversation. He felt a fool for not noticing the signs sooner, but he needed more information before he could voice the theory forming in his mind. "Renarin, does your shardblade scream when you touch it?"

Blue eyes snapped up from the box Renarin had pulled from his pocket, then back down again with a twitch. "No sir."

Kaladin didn't need Syl to tell him that was a lie. "When I caught Relis' blade, she screamed in my mind. Just screamed, I couldn't hear any words. She wasn't screaming about me killing her- they must save that for the one's they're bonded to."

Renarin paused in mid box-click, but refused to say anything. Kaladin breathed in the light from a single lamp and held his breath while he waited for the last of his injuries to heal. Syl slid in under the door as a tiny whirlwind, swirling up to his shoulder before resuming her girl shape- the Prince's eyes followed her movement before returning to his box. Syl settled herself on Kaladin's shoulder, seemingly content to wait.

Renarin still hadn't spoken when the last of the stormlight evaporated from Kaladin's skin. "It sounded like Syl's voice. Does your blade scream with the voice of your spren?"

"Y-yes. No. They- they both scream." Renarin said without lifting his eyes from the intricate box.

Syl stirred, her insubstantial heels drumming on his shoulder beneath her skirt. Kaladin took two slow breaths before saying anything. He needed to do this right, but there wasn't going to be a better time. "Renarin, do you trust me?"

Renarin considered the question for less than a breath, his voice unexpectedly firm on the answer. "Yes. I do."

"Break your bond with that shardblade. Right now." Kaladin did not let any doubt or question into his tone.

Renarin stared at him, blues eyes wide and a little wild, but a few breaths later the shardblade appeared on the floor between them, gem in the hilt flashing once before going dun.

Kaladin stood and stepped carefully over the thing on the floor, using the same gentle tugs as the Kholin brothers had used on him the night before, until Renarin stepped away as well. They turned their backs on the altar and slumped back onto the bench, Renarin hunched his shoulders and tucked his chin down against his chest as he tried to make himself as small as possible. Kaladin carefully laid his arm across the younger prince's shoulders, acutely aware that he was overstepping himself, but Renarin didn't pull away, instead turning to hide his face in Kaladin's shoulder. "I'm sorry I didn't understand what was wrong sooner- I'd never actually touched a shardblade until today."

"I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I was going mad." the words were a bit muffled, but clear.

"It's the blade that's wrong." Syl said before Kaladin could speak. "Not you or your spren." her tone was encouraging. "In fact, you must be wonderful too, since you have a spren friend. We are very choosy about who we bond to."

Renarin lifted his face to regard her without pulling away from Kaladin's side. "What?"

"This is Sylphrena." Kaladin smiled as she made a formal curtsey and giggled. "Syl's an Honor Spren- but just as mischievous as her windspren cousins."

"This is when you say it's an honor to meet me." Syl confided to Renarin. "I don't show myself to just anyone."

Renarin's mouth turned upward despite the wetness of his eyes, the smile small but unforced. "It is an honor to meet you, Lady Sylphrena." He furrowed his brow in a moment of concentration, one hand sliding around Kaladin's back and slipping the lacquered box into his coat's outer pocket. A pattern of rippling light, like the speckles cast by a prism in the sun, appeared on the walls around them. The lights moved slowly, a rotation with Renarin in the center.

Syl laughed and whirled into the air as trail of glowing leaves and grass. "Hello! We're so glad to meet you." her face appeared for a moment amidst the leaves for a moment to give Kaladin a pointed look. "Bow, stupid." she hissed.

Kaladin inclined his chin and shoulders toward the greatest concentration of light specks. "Be welcome."

The specks gradually increased speed and pulled away from the walls, spiraling together until they formed the rough impression of a person drifting gently toward them. Kaladin felt Renarin tense as Syl resumed her girlish form and ran down an invisible flight of steps to embrace the tiny figure, but the spren returned the hug with obvious enthusiasm.

Oh dear. Kaladin, Renarin's standing at the Honor Chasm, and Glys can't convince him to step away. Kaladin was sure that only he could hear Syl this time.

"It is such a relief to find another surgebinder who I'd be glad to have stand beside me." Kaladin said, letting the wonder and anticipation he felt bleed into his tone. The two spren reverted to a swirl of lights and a trail of leaves and were chasing each other around the ceiling, ephemeral voices drifting down to their bonded. He squeezed Renarin's shoulder, not too hard. "I was a little worried it was just me and the Assassin."

Renarin's hand on his waist tightened and his chin dropped, hiding his face again. "I'm no warrior, not like you are. I've been trying, but I-" he trailed off, fingers of his free hand drumming against his thigh in nervous tension.

"Have other talents, like thinking before you act and understanding politics." Kaladin added, certain that in the very near future, such skills would be vital. "The world has a great many war-mongers capable of taking lives, but far fewer who know the words to prevent wars or the medicines to save lives."

"You know both." Renarin's tone was nearly accusatory.

Kaladin shook his head. "I'm no diplomat, and even with Shallan and Adolin explaining it to me, I'm still not sure how this duel was supposed to disarm Sadeas' attempts to undermine your father."

"You're a healer and a warrior." Renarin clarified, tone still sharp as he pulled away from Kaladin. "You call it field medicine, but even our master surgeon was impressed when I asked him about what you'd said. And just now you fought against two Shardbearers at once and they couldn't touch you. You caught Relis' blade with nothing but your hands, you-"

"Stormlight-"

"Stormlight didn't let you do what you just did- If stormlight made a weakling into a warrior, I'd be one." Renarin's voice rose until he was nearly shouting, rising from the bench, his fists clenched and pressed together in front of his heart.

"You're not a weakling, Renarin. Damnation! You carried that screaming abomination of a shardblade everywhere for a week, summoned it, even- I couldn't bear to touch one for more than a moment." Kaladin didn't let himself shout, though part of him wanted to. "Stormlight doesn't make you into what you're not- it makes you more of what you already are." He felt quite sure of that even as he spoke the words. "Stormlight didn't make me into horseback rider- it improved my balance so that it was a little easier to learn. Same with learning the sword- I thought I'd pick it up as easily as I did the spear, but that's not what happened. And as for healing- I wish I could give stormlight healing to others. I'd march straight down to the barracks and heal Hobber's legs and just face the consequences when everyone found out."

Renarin lowered his hands, fists relaxing as he leaned forward. "Stormlight can heal Shardblades?"

"I healed my arm the night the assassin attacked." Kaladin put his hand to the shoulder of the arm in question. "I had to shove it through, like pushing something against a current, but it worked. That's what scared Szeth away, I think."

"You have to teach me about healing." Renarin said, voice suddenly urgent. "Please, I want to help Hobber too but I don't know what I'm doing and I'm- I don't want to hurt anyone by accident. But you know how bodies work. You can teach me, like you taught the rest of Bridge Four."

"You can heal?" Kaladin stared at the prince, shaken.

"Glys says I can learn to. If I can keep to the oaths." Renarin said, a worry line forming across his forehead.

Kaladin rose from the bench and hugged the shorter man tight, spinning them both around. He'd thought that the flight he'd had with Sylphrena was the most glorious thing a spren bond could grant a person, but Healing. That was amazing. He decided that Renarin needed to know that. He pulled back a little, arms still on the prince's shoulders. "Healing, real healing? Renarin that is- you are- so much more valuable than another sword or spear could ever be. That's wonderful! And of course I'll teach you. I wish you'd asked sooner. I haven't had time to do much more training with Bridge Four since you joined us."

"Rock's taught me a little bit, mostly about antiseptic and bandages, since he's the closest thing you have to a logistics officer." Renarin said, his hands coming up to rest on Kaladin's forearms, but not pushing him away. "And about how you used to pull a lot of weeds while on rock collecting duty."

"That and triage are the most useful things for battlefield care." Kaladin said, "But there's a lot more than that to being a surgeon. Anatomy, the different systems that make the body work, diseases and medicines and-" he let out a breath and smiled at Renarin. "I imagine you spent a lot of time at lessons when you were younger?" At Renarin's nod he continued, "Well, I studied medicine under my father almost every day starting when I was eight years old until I left for the army when I was fifteen- and that was just to pass the tests to be accepted to study in Kharbranth. I'm going to try to condense it to the essentials, but it's a lot to take in."

"I said I'd work hard when I joined Bridge Four." Renarin reminded him. "And I know you'll be a good teacher. We'll figure it out and get Hobber back on his feet."

"You going to teach my brother the fine art of dancing between shardblades, Bridgeboy?" Adolin asked from the door, which he'd apparently opened silently at some point in last few moments. The dancing lights of Glys blinked out of existence as Renarin jumped and stepped out of Kaladin's grip, but Syl whirled down onto Kaladin's shoulder, haughty defiance in every line of her body. Adolin's eyes tracked the motion and he grinned. "Hello Miss Windspren. I saw you dancing in the arena, too."

"Her name is Sylphrena, and she's an Honor Spren." Renarin said before either Kaladin or Syl could react, his tone a bit offended at Adolin's sudden interruption of their conversation.

“I’m honored.” Adolin gave Syl a formal bow. “I’ll be dueling Sadeas in an hour, since he had to send for his shardplate. Father wants to talk to you, Renarin, and the King wants you back out in the Arena, Kaladin Stormblessed.”

Renarin jerked a bit at the mention of his father, but pulled himself straight and marched out the back door without looking at or speaking to either of them or the armorers and attendants in the main room. Adolin turned to watch him go, lifting an eyebrow at Kaladin.

“We had a talk, cleared up a few things but not everything. We’ll all talk after you duel Sadeas.” Kaladin said. “What does the King want with me?”

Adolin grinned. “You are a valiant warrior who proved himself before the Almighty and the king. What do you think he wants.”

“The King wants me to...challenge someone?” Kaladin blinked. “I thought that Right of Challenge was for, what was it, ‘a light eyed warrior’ or some claptrap. And I don’t have a real sword anyway.”

“The King wants to grant you a Boon, for your magnificent dodging- he’s giving you a gift, not letting you claim a right above your public station. I think it’s something to keep everyone occupied and interested while we wait for Sadeas’ shards to get here, and to show his benevolence.” Adolin spoke the last word with a certain rolling inflection that wasn’t quite sarcasm.

“Could I-”

"You can't challenge Amaram. Not Yet.” Adolin cut him off. “Not without revealing your glowy secret. Better think of something else or Elhokar might try to give you one of the King's Blades. And it would be awkward to explain why you don't want it." Adolin sighed. “Are you sure there aren’t any lovely ladies you need to impress, Bridgeboy?”

“The ones who are going to be impressed, already are.”

"Are you preening because I called your dodging magnificent?"

"What? No. Why should your opinion matter to me, Princeling? Your dodging is passable at best." Kaladin gave him the same condescending smile Adolin gave him during horseback riding sessions. “Your shardplate looks like the shattered plains, not very flattering. Oh, but what’s this? My uniform is still intact.” he patted the edges of his open coat, brushing off a few specks of sand from the arena.

Adolin cocked his head and snorted, “Only you would think that our boring old uniforms were in any way superior to shardplate.”

“My boring old uniform doesn’t need a steady diet of stormlight to stay functional. Another thing to talk about later, though.” he took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. “Time to go get a present from a king.”

"Don't knock anyone over in your rush."

"Shut up, you knew what you wanted to ask for." Kaladin grumbled as he headed for the door.

Kaladin emerged from the preparation area slowly to allow his eyes to adjust to the glare of sun and sand. A wave of shouts and cheers arose from the dark eyed seating, calls of "Stormblessed" and "our Captain" cutting through the clamor. He lifted his hand in salute to them, then turned to check on the men he'd assigned to watching the approaches- several jerked and resumed their proper positions as his gaze landed on them. He suspected that every last one of them would be able to describe the duel if pressed. It was a spectacle, beyond even what they'd planned. Kaladin let his gaze pause for a moment on Shallan Davar, sitting with High Prince Sebarial and his mistress, drawing furiously.

He blinked, scrubbing his eyes quickly and looking again- the strangely shaped spren was still hovering near the girl's head, the inky black swirls of its spheroid form turning to a luminous shade of garnet as they passed through a few loose curls of Shallan's hair.

"There he is!" Syl crowed, whirling around his head in her excitement. "Glys said there was a Cryptic helping him protect Renarin, which is amazing because... I don't remember, but it is amazing!" she landed back on his shoulder but didn't sit. "We should go talk to them."

"We have to talk to the king first, or we'll hurt his feelings, and who knows what sort of tantrum he'd throw to make his displeasure clear to us." Kaladin muttered, turning again and aiming his steps toward the judge's seat, where the king waited.

"I'm going to make sure he doesn't escape this time." Syl declared, "My cousins will escort you to the king." She spiraled down from his shoulder toward the ground before she streaked upward and dimmed her light, the better to sneak up on Shallan's Cryptic Spren, he guessed. Half a dozen normal windspren took up orbits around him, ribbons of blue and silver light that stirred his hair and coat as he crossed the arena. He could hear the spren laughing as the crowd noise softened and grew more general, as even the lighteyes felt compelled to comment to their neighbors So much for humility. The spren slowed to slowly drifting bubbles and leaves when he finally halted in front of Elhokar. Behind the king, Kaladin saw Renarin approaching his father, gaze turned down despite the straight line of his back We both have a lot to work on.

The King raised his hand for silence and the audience quieted. "Captain Kaladin Stormblessed, we have witnessed again today your valor and skill as a warrior. Rare indeed is the man with the courage and conviction to to what you have done. It far exceeds the duty of even the most dedicated guard," Kaladin could see the family resemblance as Elhokar and Dalinar both fixed him with glares to quell any protests of the description, "And Exemplifies the highest virtues of the Alethi- Courage, Cunning, and Skill at Arms. In recognition of your accomplishments and example, I grant you a Boon, Captain."

Kaladin's mind froze as Amaram stepped up to Dalinar and Renarin behind the King's shoulder, and he dropped into a formal bow buy a moment to think and to force his eyes away from the Murderer reaching for Renarin's slender shoulders. "You can't challenge Amaram. Not Yet." He held tight to Adolin's words, reminding himself that he wasn’t a slave that no one would believe, not anymore.

But maybe I can seek justice for another wrong. he rose from the bow and reset his stance, pitching his voice to carry without shouting at the king. "Your majesty, your words are too grand, but I thank you for them." he paused for half a breath, focusing on the King's encouraging nod and ignoring the brightlords behind him. "I ask for your aid in helping a friend find justice, not at the end of a shardblade, but under the law."

I can’t let you kill him, Moash. Kaladin thought at his absent friend. But I’ll see what I can do.

Chapter Text

Brightlords and Blades

Chapter 4: Duelist

 Renarin's shardblade was gone from the meditation chamber when Adolin returned to it, and he felt oddly relieved. The way his brother treated his weapon would have earned him a stern reprimand if Zahel or their father had seen it, and Adolin knew that his brother was in no shape for it, especially not after the seizure that had struck him in the arena. The attacks left him quiet and shaken for a days each time they struck, and the circumstances of this one were the worst Adolin could remember.

  A Last Clap  the prince shook his head, wishing there was some way to record the memories of the spectators so he could see it for himself. His armorers had helped him into Renarin's plate after his own was deemed too cracked and drained to repair fully before his next match, and they'd told him about what he'd missed while pinned beneath Jakamav's weight.  What was Relis screaming about? Murder? I'll make Bridgeboy explain tonight.   Adolin decided, nodding to himself.    After my victory dinner.

 Against a single shardbearer not blessed with mystical powers, he felt justified in his confidence.

 Adolin paused, returning to the thought.  Sadeas had better not have magical powers too!  he glared at the glowing diamond spheres in the wall lamps in accusation; several were dun. Sadeas had been a fine duelist, good enough to  have done this to the late highprince Yanev during the unification, but he was no Radiant or Assassin in White.

    Unfortunately  I can't demand HIS head .  But Father wasn't prepared to end his old friend's life just yet, instead aiming to disarm Sadeas politically. Forcing the treacherous eel of a highprince to lose face and his shards would have to do for today.

 Adolin held his hand out and counted his heartbeats, thrumming slow and steady. "We'll win Oathbringer back," he said as his own unnamed blade dropped into his hand, giving the blade a light flick to shed the droplets of condensation. He knelt before the bank of candles, settling the blade into the groove he'd made in the floor before the first duel. "Then we'll make father take him back. Somehow. He's refused to take any of the other blades you and I have taken, but Oathbringer's different. I mean, that’s symbolism , and proof he didn’t make a bad deal-"

A sharp rapping on the chamber door cut into his thoughts.

 "What is it?" he called, annoyed

 The door opened and Bridgeboy slipped inside, one hand cupping something. "Eth brought this for you."

 Adolin started to rise, but Kaladin waved him back, hopping over the bench with flippant ease and tipping his hand to pour the delicate chain into the palm of Adolin's left gauntlet. Adolin released his blade and the gauntlet on his right hand to run his bare fingers over the silvery metal, each link was wrought in the shape of a tiny whirled sea shell.

 "For luck?" Kaladin asked.

 Adolin nodded, tugging his breastplate until it came free from his backplate enough for him to tuck the chain into a pocket sewn into the chest of his arming jacket. He reset his plate and when he looked back up he caught the former bridgeman staring at his shardblade and smiled. "You sure you don't want one?"

 Bridgeboy stared blankly at Adolin's face for a long moment before blinking back to reality. "No. I mean, yes, I am sure that I don't want one. None of the ones I've seen are meant for me," he nodded at Adolin's blade. "Not like you're meant for each other. Anyway, we need to talk later."

 "Yes we do," Adolin let his irritation show. "I don't know what you said to Renarin, but I don’t-"

 "Until you do know, you should wait to get angry," Kaladin cut him off. "Focus on Sadeas, we'll explain everything later tonight," his face and tone softened. "It's much better news than you think."

 Adolin gave him a skeptical look but decided to take the advice about focus- this duel would be the most important he'd ever fought.

 Kaladin nodded when Adolin didn't argue. "I'd wish you luck with Sadeas, but I doubt you'll need much."

 "That's almost a compliment, Bridgeboy."

 “Oh, you are good, Princeling,” Kaladin said, his eyes alight with uncommon mischief. “So good that I’ve decided you’re the one who’s going to help me beat the Assassin in White for keeps, rather than just running him off,” He clapped Adolin’s arm. “We’ll start training day after tomorrow- the barracks ceiling is plain soulcast stone, so even if you manage to put a hole in it with your skull we won’t be breaking anything important.”

 “You cremling,” Adolin blustered, but he didn’t stop the smile he felt pulling at his lips.

 “So original,” Kaladin said. “I suppose if I want original insults I'd better go sit with your betrothed."

 At Adolin's half serious glare he hurried on. "Ease off, I find her annoying, not alluring. Better her insults than whatever your father and Amaram might have to say," He glanced aside, thoughts going somewhere else.

 Adolin waited.

 After a few moments Kaladin straightened up and looked Adolin square in the eye, holding out his hand. "Thank you. I would have called him out if you hadn't reminded me how politically suicidal that would be."

 Adolin traded grips with him. "You're welcome. Even you wouldn't be doing anyone any good from inside a cell."

 He nodded. "Stay strong, you take light with you into darkness," A strange expression crossed Kaladin's face, confusion and an odd satisfaction blending for a moment before he released Adolin's hand and rose to go.

 Adolin remained kneeling on the stone floor, suddenly very aware of his own heartbeat. And the blade in his other hand.

 


 "You're looking quite radiant today, Brightness Shallan."

 Shallan looked up from her sketch of Captain Kaladin "Boots" Stormblessed to the man himself, beaming down at her with an uncharacteristic smirk.

 The expression was probably explained by the strangely humanoid windspren who had tracked Pattern back to her and then stayed to torment him. Pattern had shared a string of complaints about her and her presumed Knight- a Windrunner- that had startled them both in its strength and coherence- the Spren's memories of Shadesmar were usually too vague to be of much use, but his description of stiff-necked intransigence and hierarchy didn't seem to match the attitude of this spren. She had made a formal curtsy when Pattern called her an "air-headed, disobedient honorspren brat" and continued her pursuit with what Shallan would have called a giggle.

 The WIndspren broke off her game of hide and seek to perch on Kaladin's shoulder, transforming for an instant into an undulating ribbon and spinning around him before reforming as a girl of blue light. Shallan blinked to take a Memory as the eternally grumpy man actually smiled at his Spren.

 "Thank you," She said before the voice of caution could cheat her of the quip, "but you should see me at knight- I positively glow."

 "That would be storm-lightening to see, I'm sure," He said, the smile turning into something like a challenge, and motioned at the empty bit of bench beside her. "Do you mind if I sit? I'm in the mood for some cryptic discourse."

 "Denying you the chance to exercise your true calling as a sunshade pains me, but I imagine you'll serve just as well as a wind -break, provided I don't run you off." She settled her sketchpad on her knees and patted the bench.

 "But where would I journey, with no destination in mind?" He asked, carefully pulling out his long coat as he sat so that it wouldn't impede his ability to turn freely in place. "So, spectacular enough?"

 "I'm disappointed you never managed to dodge such that they hit each other, but I suspect that only happens in novels."

 “It’s possible, but easier against poorly trained soldiers,” He shrugged.

 Shallan attempted one of Jasnah’s skeptical looks, eyebrow raised. “Am I to assume you have arranged such scenes before, but chose not to? Captain, I am disappointed.”

 Kaladin shot her an incredulous look, his face darkening again, but he answered the question anyway. “Bootness, I used to be a squadleader in a the army of a highlord, fighting conscripts and border raiders back in Alethkar,” He grumbled, rubbing at his forehead with the back of one hand and looking away. “I hate them, but these lighteyes have had real training. Making them look like fools is harder than it looks.''

 She reached across to pat his arm reassuringly with her freehand. “You did fine.”

 The Scowl was back in full force, but before he could retort Highprince Sebarial asked for an introduction, and they both returned to polite words and expressions. There would be time for a proper argument later.

 


 “It’s time.”

 Adolin repeated the words the guard has used to summon him from the meditation chamber. They were the right words. It was time to put an end to Sadeas’ attack on his father. Time to put the other highprinces on notice- the Kholin house had united the princedoms in name years ago, and the Kholins would see them united in truth, come storm or damnation itself. Father would lead them against whatever darkness was coming and Adolin would prod the stragglers into stepping along smartly.

 The sun was still strong overhead, but the hour of waiting had move the shadows closer to directly below him. Despite his large breakfast, Adolin found himself looking forward to lunch.

 Sadeas was waiting for him, but whatever his opening insult was, Adolin couldn’t  hear it over the cheers and calls from the darkeyes’ seating. He smiled as Sadeas’ face, normally rather red, grew even hotter. No cheers had greeted his entrance.

 A quick glance around let Adolin locate the people most important to him and those he needed to watch. Father and Renarin sitting with the King; Amaram sitting with Sadeas’ wife Ialai; Shallan, who gave a small wave of her free hand and a wide smile, and Kaladin who sat beside her. His attention was on something Adolin couldn’t see but at the noise he turned and met Adolin’s gaze. He flicked his eyes around the arena before nodding- he would keep watch for the Assassin in White while Adolin dealt with the betrayer in red.

 Adolin returned his focus to his opponent and noticed that Sadeas’ helm had a new set of ornaments welded to it, the general effect was something like a chasmfiend’s multiple pincers, but not quite. It took Adolin a moment to realize they’d been designed to mimic the hooked point and crossguard of Oathbringer, his father’s sword.

 Adolin growled.

 “Don’t be too hasty, young Kholin,” Sadeas said, a knowing smile fixed on his face. “This is what you’ve been wanting, isn’t it? An opportunity to put me in my place for all the insults and slights? You should savor it.”

 “It’s not about the insults, Sadeas,” Adolin said. “It’s about your lies, your betrayals, and your obstructions on the path to a strong and unified Alethkar. You betrayed my father and my men. That’s why we’re here.”

 “I don’t know why I’m surprised; of course your father’s madness has infected you,” Sadeas mused. “You probably even believe it yourself. No, dear Adolin, this is about what it has always been about- the fight, the contest of wills, the competition between me and the Blackthorn. But the Blackthorn I knew is dead. Instead Dalinar sent you.”

 “Be glad he did, Sadeas. I’m just playing by his rules. If it were up to me I just kill you and be done with it,” Adolin wanted to bite the words into spikes and fling them at the highprince’s eyes.

 “Would you truly?” Sadeas mocked, flipping the visor of his helm down on an unnerving smile. A few breaths later Oathbringer fell into his hand, dripping condensation like tears.

 


 “I hate Sadeas for many good reasons and a few bad ones, but I have to admit he’s good at sneering,” Highprince Sebarial said, flipping his hand toward the ring. “That sword is six feet long and he still managed to make that salute a sarcastic insult to all that is honorable .”

 Kaladin nodded. “Sadeas killed his honor, probably with the same knife he eats with- I doubt it was very big or put up much of a fight.”

 The cranky old highprince chuckled. “I heard he gave you to the Highstorm and the Stormfather sent you back. Any truth to that?”

 Kaladin turned to regard Sebarial, but saw only the same bland curiosity as when he’d asked -not demanded- his name. “It took me ten days to recover, not three.”

 Something between satisfaction and wicked glee lit the old man’s eyes. “And you ran off the Assassin when he showed up again?”

 Kaladin wanted to frown- this sort of talk seldom led anywhere he wanted to go, but something in the tone of the question made him want to know what the notoriously rude highprince was going to say next. “Yes,” he said.

 Instead Sebrial just grunted, something between an acknowledgement and a harumph, but behind his eyes was something else, some idea moving beyond a complaint, but he wasn’t going to give it voice until he was good and ready.

 Kaladin returned the grunt and turned his attention back to the duelists, who had finally finished their circling in favor of trying to kill each other.

 


The Thrill

 

Adolin saw the coming attack in Sadeas’ posture and moved with calm speed- deflecting the first strike and countering the follow up before he could bring his blade back into line, forcing the arrogant highprince to step quickly to regain his balance. He stepped back again, but it wouldn’t be for long this time, Adolin knew.

  Not long now. Finally Adolin had this squirming, poisonous eel of a man where he wanted him. No more polite fictions, no more letting taunts about his father’s Codes go unanswered. No more false alliances for the good of the kingdom. This was for the good of the kingdom. It was right to bring Sadeas’ out under the sun and beat him into submission. Adolin felt a rush of strength flowing into his limbs as he reset himself for Sadeas’ next attack.

 “Why so cautious?” Sadeas sneered. “You’re not going to bare your throat for the slaughter like your weakling brother, are you? Pathetic. If you want out of your father’s shadow you’ll have to do better than this .”

 Adolin’s mind barely registered the last half of the insult. He was bringing his blade around with fluid aggression the moment the slime mentioned Renarin. I’m going to kill him- shut his mouth for good this time.

 The Thrill sang as he and Sadeas began to clash in earnest, the chime of blades and the sound of his own blood all he let himself hear.

 


 “Do you see that?” Kaladin hissed, voice low but hot in her ear.

 Shallan nodded tightly, Blinking once and flipping to a new page in her sketchpad. She didn’t have to look closely at the drawing to know it would show more than the physical realm. “What sort of spren is that?” she included Pattern, Kaladin, and Kaladin’s spren Syl in the question.

 “Bad,” Syl landed on the sketchpad, stomping the charcoal representations of the angry red webs forming around the duelists. When Shallan’s pencil passed through her translucent skirt she whirled back up to Kaladin’s shoulder, the better to stomp him instead.  Pattern only buzzed a worried agreement, sliding up the bench and onto Kaladin’s long officer's coat.

 Out of the corner of Shallan’s eye, Sadeas was wreathed in the pulsing mass, somehow visible through and complementing his red and tasseled shardplate. But it was the lines clinging to Adolin’s form that worried Shallan- they seemed to be growing. It wasn’t visible to everyone else in the arena, or there would be a murmur about it.

 “We’ll just have to hope he throws it off, we can’t jump into the middle of this duel,” Kaladin whispered after a moment.

 “What?” Shallan asked, still focused on the duelists battering at each other.

 “Syl, distracting him right now is a bad idea. Can’t you- Oh fine! You’ll do what you want anyway!” he threw up hands as the windspen streaked away, disappearing in the brightness of the sun on the sand. “Storming woman,” Kaladin muttered, and Pattern buzzed his agreement.

 Shallan shook her head and kept her pencil moving, hoping to reveal more of the unseen conflict playing out in the arena.

 


Of Battle

 

"Yes, Adolin!" Sadeas urged him on even as he set to a furious defense. "Do what your father no longer can! Seize the princedom, take the power, strike your enemies down!"

 Some part of Adolin's mind thought it was ironic that Sadeas was urging him to strike down his enemies, as the one he'd like most to kill was Sadeas himself, but the Thrill racing through his veins made that part of himself distant and easily ignored. Strength flowed through his limbs, urging him faster, to strike and to kill. Victory would taste like his enemy's blood and oh so sweet.

 "Yes, seize the power! It's what you   want , all you have to do is take it!" Sadeas exulted as they dived into a series of attacks and counters that sent their blades into a continuous cacophony of sound. “Take it!”

  No.  Adolin felt the strength drain out of his limbs as his rage died. His blade tilted down as he suddenly felt cold.   That is not what I want.

 Sadeas saw the moment of hesitation and turned his retreat into a counter assault, blade lashing forward in the powerful strokes of Ironstance. "No! You fight, Adolin Kholin. It's what you were born to do. Show me the Blackthorn lives!" Sadeas smashed Oathbringer into Adolin's vambrace, leaving a spiderweb of cracks in both that piece and the smaller pieces that connected to the elbow.

 Adolin raised his blade between himself and Sadeas' next attack, falling into the defensive patterns of Vinestance as he tried to sort through the revulsion churning his stomach.   I don't want to be Highprince, not now, it's too soon. I don't want it.

 "What  do  you want?" a small voice asked, and Adolin saw the honorspren, a intense blue streak that danced between him and Sadeas, stop for a moment before him.

 "I want..." Adolin struck aside Sadeas' next blow, feeling some strength return- not the wild hunger of the Thrill, but something cooler, a wind rising from the chasms with the scent of life and death entwined. "I want to protect my family," he said, and shifted his weight forward, changing his grip on his nameless blade.

 Sadeas growled and redoubled his effort. "No! This is a duel, a battle to kill, for power!"

 "I want to protect my men and my house and everyone I love!" Adolin shouted, and his blade sang as he brought her around to break Sadeas' rhythm of attack. Windstance sweep and Vinestance footwork, he took the attack to Sadeas.

 "You're *wrong*, Sadeas. You hate and destroy and kill and call it strength!" he snaked the tip of his blade beneath the hooked guard of Oathbringer's hilt in a move that he wouldn't have considered possible, but his blade seemed eager to execute. He rotated the blade as he thrust, destroying the plates of Sadeas' gantlet with series of audible pops and a billow of pale stormlight.

 Sadeas danced backward before the blade could kill his hand, but he held Oathbringer with a hand now bared to the sun. He switched hands, bringing the shardblade up into an adaptation of smokestance, his bare hand held back and protected away from his opponent. They began to circle each other again, probing for weaknesses. "The strength to destroy is the only strength that matters." Sadeas said. "Without that a man is nothing but prey, hiding behind better men. Worthless. Weak.   Pathetic . "

 Adolin knew the argument Sadeas was making. He had heard variations of it in readings from Alethi philosophers and religious texts and never questioned it, but Sadeas turned it sour in his ears.

 And then Adolin remembered something his mother had taught him when he was young, before he'd even begun formally training with a sword.

 He had been given a child-sized replica blade as a gift and attacked some fat pottery urns with it, breaking them into many pieces. His mother had scolded his carelessness, and when he protested that they were only ugly pots, had forced him to help as the servants cleaned up the pieces.

 The next day they had taken the broken bits to a local potter. The woman had pieced together the pots from the shards that had been mixed together in his careless rampage, a process that had taken agonizing hours during which Adolin was not allowed to do anything but sit quietly and watch. The potter reassembled the vases with careful application of metalized crem and re-fired them; the special crem with the metal flakes mixed in was pretty, but there was no hiding that the pots had been broken.

 "Remember this," his mother had said. "Remember how much time it took to fix what a moment of carelessness broke. Anyone can break and destroy, Adolin. But strong men, men like your father, they are also strong enough to protect us. I want you to grow up that strong, so you remember this, understand?"

 Adolin had promised.

 He'd included learning to protect in his request when he petitioned swordmaster Zahel a year later, along with honoring tradition and his father. But in time he'd found other reasons. His growing love of the forms themselves and the tactics of dueling had overshadowed why he'd begun the study. By the time he'd declared Dueling as his Calling, the art was its own reward. The first destructive rampage was long forgotten.

 Adolin had listened to books declaiming strength of arms among the highest of virtues, and the Ardents who told him his birth gave him inherent glory. Little in his life made him question any of it. But hearing Sadeas speak of destruction as the only worthy strength- that reminded him of broken pottery, and the solemn promise he'd given his mother.

 "You don't know anything about real strength, Sadeas," Adolin said as he began a windstance attack pattern, punctuating the long sweeps with his denials. "The strong build. The strong protect. The strong are loyal and care for their people."

 Sadeas shuffled back, deflecting the tip of Adolin's blade with the back of Oathbringer. He put every bit of derision he had into his next taunt. "Still you parrot your father's nonsense. Why I expected better of you, Adolin, I don't know."

 "Because you're wrong! My father wants to change Alethkar into something better, and you're a relic who can't see that there is more at stake than your ego!" The words seemed to bubble up from inside him, a truth Adolin hadn't thought about in his drive to beat Sadeas at his own game. He changed the rhythm of his attacks, mixing strikes from different stances into a barrage of blows. The strength from earlier wasn't surging any longer, but he could feel it bolstering his endurance, letting him continue at a pace he normally reserved for short bursts.

 Sadeas wasn't visibly tiring either, but even leaning on the Thrill and with the assistance of his shardplate, he wasn't as fast as Adolin. Sadeas' left gantlet shattered under the crystalline ridges of Adolin's blade and Oathbringer dropped, puffing to mist as it struck the dueling ring sands. Adolin followed the disarm with a pommel blow to the man's head, cracking the shardplate there and staggering the venomous highprince.

 Sadeas started to say something, but failed to raise his hand in surrender. Adolin switched his blade to his left hand, the better to counter if Sadeas managed to re-summon Oathbringer before Adolin made his last point.

 "And you're wrong about me," Adolin stepped in dangerously close, staring Sadeas in the eyes through their eye-slits. "I'm not like you, and I don't want what you want."

 He saw no understanding there, only the rage and bloodlust of the Thrill. So Adolin slammed the crest of his helm against Sadeas' face, shattering his helm into vapor and knocking the man sprawling.

 Adolin moved to stand at the man's head, ready to strike him down if he tried to summon Oathbringer again. He held the point of his blade a hand span over Sadeas' face, the demand for surrender obvious.

 "End it, damn you," Sadeas hissed. "Finish what you started, Adolin Kholin. I will not be defeated by someone with no stomach for blood."

 "Yield," Adolin growled. "My father didn't want me to kill you because it would cause more chaos than discrediting you. That is the only thing that is saving your life right now. I suggest you take advantage of it."

 Sadeas sneered- the expression looked ridiculous from where Adolin was standing, like a petulant child trying to stare down an adult.  "Or you'll talk me into submission?"

 "My father has been displeased with me before, he'd get over it," Adolin said, letting the edge of hate he still held for this man color his tone.

 Sadeas growled, but Oathbringer appeared beside him in the sand.

  Good enough for now.  Adolin raised his eyes to the judge’s stand as Lady Istow called his victory.

 

Chapter Text

"For me? You wasted a royal boon on me?" Moash stared at Kaladin, then his jaw hardened. "You think that this is going to change what happened, Kal?"

"No. We can't change the past. But I'm hoping we can find some sort of real justice for your grandparents, instead of blind vengeance," Kaladin said. He hooked his toes on the simple stool in the corner of his room and pushed it toward his friend.

Moash caught the stool the same way, dragged it behind him and sat, clearly reluctant. "What exactly did you ask for?"

"The king pledged 'to help your friend find justice and peace.' The friend I meant is you." Kaladin sat on the edge of his bed- the simple table he used as a desk was covered in papers, ledgers, and glowing gemstones. Adolin had donated two amethysts the size of Kaladin's circled thumb and forefinger to his stormlight cache and their violet light dominated the diamond and sapphire broams Kaladin had collected. He really should get a glass bowl or goblet to use as a lamp.

"By the public announcement of my grievance, you ensured I can't help kill him, which would have brought me plenty of peace." Moash’s tone was mostly accusatory, with a hint of something else Kaladin couldn’t quite identify.

"I promised to protect him,” Kaladin reminded his friend, “I can't let you kill him, no matter how justified you feel."

Moash growled and made a negating gesture, slamming one hand against the other. "He's a weak king, he should be replaced."

"So your new friends say, but if Dalinar wanted to be king, he would be,” Kaladin countered. “Killing the king now would just lead to the kingdom collapsing into war- Sadeas and the other highprinces are willing to let Elhokar be their figurehead, but they'd rebel against Dalinar in the same position."

"Because he'd be more than a figurehead!"

"He'd be fighting a civil war if he tried to be anything else, and we cannot afford a civil war right now!"

Moash rolled his eyes. "And we could twenty years ago?"

Kaladin shook his head—the unification wars had been before he was born, and had not come into his district, since Highprince Sadeas was an ally of the Kholins at the time, but he’d heard about them from other soldiers and slaves since he left Hearthstone. "With the Stormfather thundering about a Storming Final Desolation and cryptic messages about an Everstorm carved into the walls, we don’t need a war between the damned lighteyes to make things even worse. Haven't you been paying attention to the strange things happening around us? Elhokar isn't the best king, but he listens when the people around him talk. I can't let you kill him, Moash."

"He killed my grandparents!" Moash shouted, rising from his seat to get in Kaladin’s face. “Why can’t you understand that!”

Kaladin refused to look away, matching Moash glare for glare. "I understand that, but killing him won't bring them back. Killing him won't change what happened. But it can get you executed."

"I don't care!”

"You may not, but I do!” Kaladin sucked in a hard breath, and let the stormlight amplify his words as he stood and forced Moash to step back. “You’re my friend, you’re important to me and I won’t lose you to this! I will not, Moash.”

Moash stared at him, brown eyes shocked out of anger for a moment at least. After what seemed like an eternity, he looked from Kaladin's face to the diminished glow from the table. Kaladin felt guilty for the waste and moved to re-infuse the Stormlight into the gems.

"Can I punch him in the face instead?" Moash asked once the light was no longer streaming from Kaladin's skin and they’d both sat back down.

"Only if you can do it faster than I can intercept you." Kaladin felt a puckish smile forming on his mouth and smoothed it away. "At the very least he owes you an apology, which will sit about as well with him as sour wine on pickles."

"An apology?! From that..." he paused to consider. "An apology from the hapless King of Alethkar, to Moash of Bridge Four?" Moash seemed torn between outrage and amusement of his own. "In public?"

"I think you'd have to negotiate pretty well to get that much of a concession." Kaladin admitted. "I doubt he'd do it in front of an arena crowd or make a proclamation, but you could ask for witnesses- that's reasonable."

"I don't want to be reasonable, Kal!" Moash found his anger again.

"What happened to your family was completely unacceptable and should not have happened. They had rights that were ignored because someone was embarrassed and hoped the problem would just go away if they dragged their feet long enough." Kaladin held up a hand, as Moash looked like he wanted to shout his rage to the Tranquiline Halls. "A proper memorial to your Grandparents could be the implementation of a system to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else."

Moash opened his mouth, then closed it. "What?"

"In Azir, they have clerks and inspectors who review the cases of every person who is imprisoned to ensure that the law was followed," Kaladin explained, "Sigzil was telling me about it- if the Inspectors find that someone was imprisoned unlawfully, they can force a retrial, or in cases of blatant abuse, throw out the charges and free the prisoners immediately."

"And if someone bribes the inspectors?" Moash asked, "Like Sigzil says someone must have bribed the judge at the duel?"

Kaladin sighed. "The inspectors will be human, and so corruptible, but there might be some way to minimize it, perhaps by how the inspectors are selected." He held up both his hands as Moash looked ready to ask another question. "It's just an idea, not a plan. The sudden implementation of a new judicial review bureaucracy is probably beyond what a royal boon covers anyway, but I'd like to put the idea in Elhokar's head that there are other ways to be a good king than just war mongering and parties."

Moash leaned in, tipping the stool forward on two legs and speaking softly, as if to a small child. "Kal, it's not your responsibility to teach the king how to do his job. He's not a new recruit for Bridge Four."

Kaladin matched his posture, tone equally gentle. "Moash, the last time I focused only on saving Bridge Four, I got strung up to meet the Stormfather face to face." He didn't stop or raise his voice when Moash flinched back at the reminder of that terrible punishment. This was important. “We have to be better than that. We have to prove that what the lighteyes call honor is wrong."

Moash stared at him. "Why do you always do this? Always question everything easy and come back with a different answer?"

"Because if doing what is right was easy...” Kaladin reached for the right words, “If it was easy, even the lighteyes could do it."

Moash let out an wry chuckle. “For you Kal, I’ll see what he has to say.”

Kaladin smiled, and felt hope rising in his heart.