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Four Hours for Bridge Four

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Come me boys and heave with me
Forever bridgemen will we be
Never to see our children and wives
Nor escape the plains with our lives

Numuhukumakiaki'aialunamor braced his shoulders against the struts, braced his feet against the rocky ground, and braced himself for the archers lining up ahead of them. Brightlord Sadeas would send no word to his family, but he hoped they would somehow know, and mourn for him—their son, brother, husband, father. He accepted it. He stood at the front of the bridge. He would die.

"You're in my spot, Rock."

Everything changed with those four words. Too shocked at first to respond, he moved to make room for the madman with an apathetic shrug. They charged. The bridge shuddered and jolted as men dropped. He blindly tripped over bodies. The weight bore down on him, but he dragged himself forward with the momentum of the leader. What else could he do?

They stumbled to a stop. Heaved. The bridge landed with a crash. He bolted for shelter before more arrows could find him. There, a cleft in the plateau. Others had the same idea and followed him, scurrying into his hiding place like cremlings fleeing a boot. Curiosity, more than care, forced him to look back.

There was Kaladin, kneeling at the front of the bridge, still alive, eyes wild, his side staining red. The madman bolted to someone laying flat on the ground with an arrow through the leg. He scooped his arms under the wounded man and dragged them both to the hollow. Despite his shock, Rock moved to catch the man as Kaladin shoved him into the hiding place. The youth spun and sprinted onto the battlefield. Another injured person retrieved. Kaladin turned again. How many had they lost? Would the lowlander try to save them all?! Impossible.

Rock stared in disbelief as Kaladin stumbled with the third fallen bridgeman. Exhaustion would kill him if the arrows didn't. Rock owed the wounded nothing. But their leader lead the bridge. Who else accepted that risk? That mafah'liki flitted around his head. Rock owed Kaladin his life. Reluctantly, he pulled himself out of the hollow. The others didn't protest and didn't follow. Rock hurried across the field, ducking to make a smaller target of himself, and lifted the wounded bridgeman to his shoulder. An arrow whizzed past his ear.

"Airsick lowlander," he growled. "Crazy." But he returned the man to the crater anyhow.

When their leader collapsed into the hollow, Rock noticed the tears of frustration. He didn't remember the last time he'd noticed things.

"Four more," Kaladin made out between gasps, "I have to…"

An older bridgeman that Rock recognized as the one running next to him in the back spoke up, naming the others who remained on the field. Kaladin grimaced at his own wound as he tried to stand again. They knew he could save no more on his own. Rock owed the wounded nothing. He owed everything to Kaladin.

"Idiot. Stay here. Is alright. I will do this thing." The words surprised him, but they sounded right. "Guess I'm an idiot too." He muttered and hauled himself out of the hollow again.

The older bridgeman followed behind him, pointing out the next target. Arrow volleys stopped as the army met the Parshendi, but they didn't stop to watch the battle. The first ones they found lay motionless, but the last still spasmed. Together they dragged the wounded one back to the hollow. Someone had started a fire. Another was holding a knife. Kaladin wrapped bandages around the gaping wound—where in damnation had he got those? He muttered under his breath as he healed, pleading for survival. When he finished his work and collapsed, it was the older one who moved to his side with a waterskin.

Awe and helplessness warred in Rock's mind. This man, he tried so hard. This kindness could move the peaks themselves if it found a fulcrum. But here?

"This thing, it will do no good. Gaz will not let us bring the wounded back," he said, hating the words even as he spoke them. He wanted desperately to cling to the hope that this helped. No. He traveled to the shattered plains on a futile hope and look where that'd got him.

"I'll take care of Gaz," was all Kaladin answered.

And somehow, he did.

Though he paid his debt, he followed Kaladin's lead after that. Before, it was an obligation, but now, he wanted to help. The mafah'liki, he came to decide, marked him for greatness. Kaladin need rations and spheres? He grumbled, but he shared. His old self showed itself again, eating away at the hollow shell he'd become. Shame that he couldn't make proper Horneater food, but he more than anyone knew the importance of meals with friends. He did not complain over stone-gathering duty. He did not protest when the odd mafah'liki led him to chull dung. Perhaps it knew of his past errors and meant to teach him a lesson. He did not protest staying up late to harvest the sap. In fact, he enjoyed that night. He hadn't intended to share his past, but when Kaladin asked, he answered. There was a strange comfort in reliving the tragedy through a story. When he shared his true name, he remembered his fondness for the familiar rhymes. The poems came naturally after that. He recited them under his breath as he worked to remember the names of his wife and children.

His mood was as foul as any other's the day their assignment changed to chasm duty. Kaladin's scowl was as dark as the bottom of the pit where they searched, and Teft's disagreeable gibes about his homeland needled him. When Kaladin pointed out the gaff, he only half-joked in challenging the lowlander to a duel in the alil'tiki'I fashion. The work stank, but he determined to laugh for their sake anyhow. He tried to hide his surprise when Dunny answered Kaladin's bait into the conversation, but smiled, still more shocked and pleased when it turned out the lad could sing. The chasm's gloom didn't choke so close after that. He sang when he cooked. When they trained, he caught himself stringing together poetic insults at Gaz to the beat of their movements. Did the bridge weigh less today? The next verse spoke of his family, the one he would never see again, and the one heaving alongside him.

Four hours / Carryin' our load
Four hours / Sloggin' in the rain
Four hours / No, we won't be bowed
Then, four hours / 'til it starts again