Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Seventy-Seven

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Welcome back to the Stormlight Archive Rereadings of all the things! This is a big, big chapter, flashback though it is. About the same length as the prologues, this is our sole flashback to the day of the treaty feast, and some of the incredible events that led up to the assassination. Voidspren, and Heralds, and betrayals, and slaves, and Honorblades… It’s a doozy of a chapter, so come on in and let’s discuss it.

Reminder: We’ll be discussing spoilers for the entirety of the series up until now. If you haven’t read ALL of the published entries of The Stormlight Archive (this includes Edgedancer and Dawnshard as well as the entirety of Rhythm of War), best to wait to join us until you’re done.

In this week’s discussion we also address some peripheral aspects of the Mistborn series, in Cosmere Connections. Mostly, it’s about the kind of other-planet magic in use, and some speculation about who might be involved. Nothing very plot-spoilery, but if you haven’t read the Mistborn series, you might want to skip that section.

Heralds: Nalan (Nale), Herald of Justice. Skybreakers (Gravitation, Division). Just/Confident. Role: Judge.

A: I’d say Nalan’s presence is enough justification for his placement on this chapter, but there are a lot more moments of judgment, justice (or lack thereof), confidence (or lack thereof), and even a bit where Nale declares Venli “not guilty” in advance, under the Alethi laws. So… yeah. There he is, cracked though he may be.

Icon: The Sisters (flashback).

Chapter Recap

WHO: Venli
WHEN: 1167.10.7.3 (the day of the treaty feast)
WHERE: Kholinar palace

(Note: For the “when” notations, we are using this wonderful timeline provided by the folks at The 17th Shard.)

RECAP: Following Ulim’s orders, Venli seeks out a location on the top floor of the palace where Ulim’s contact is supposed to have left Voidspren-containing gemstones. Instead, they find a message that Axindweth has left and they’re on their own. Ulim freaks out and takes off, leaving Venli to be discovered by a guard and taken to an officer, where she is to be detained until the treaty is signed and the feast is over without incident. Just as she’s starting to feel a little independence, Ulim zips in, panicking about Heralds in the palace—and followed very shortly by Nale himself. Prepared with local law enforcement authority as usual, Nale commandeers Venli and, after a brief questioning, instructs her to find a particular slave in the market for the purpose of assassinating Gavilar.

Chapter Chatter—Venli, Ulim and Changing Plans

She breathed quietly, trying hard not to let the majesty of this human building overwhelm her. Ulim assured her that her people had built equally grand structures once, and they would again. They would build such amazing creations, this palace of Kholinar would look like a hut by comparison.

A: It’s interesting to contrast this with her thoughts back in Chapter 14, when she’s headed to the big meeting with the Nine. Here, she’s just overwhelmed by the size and grandeur of the palace, compared to the ancient ruins where her people live. IIRC, this trip is her first time seeing a human city. Seven years later, she’s thinking how much the Fused have improved the place, with sweeping lines and open spaces replacing the blocky fortress effect. (Okay, honestly, the way she described it I’d probably like the Fused architecture better too.)

P: I feel like I need some art to picture what the Fused have done to the Kholinar palace. But no matter how grand it may be now, I think I would have liked it as it was, too.

It’s definitely her first time in a human city, that we’re aware of anyway, and I don’t blame her for being overwhelmed.

Planning with Ulim, that she liked. Being famous for revealing warform, that she loved. This creeping about though…

A: Ah, yes. Venal Venli. (And no, I don’t think that was accidental.) She’s feeling persecuted because Ulim insists that she go fetch the gemstones his contact is supposed to have left for him. Much as I hate to say it, he’s right, since he can’t carry objects, and while I sympathize with her nervousness, I’m still irritated at her “all the glory, none of the work” attitude. It shows up several times in this chapter.

P: I also think she’s genuinely nervous about being where she’s not supposed to be. She doesn’t want to get caught sneaking about. And also doesn’t want to do the work.

A: True. She doesn’t like doing the work, but you’re probably right that she’s more upset about the possibility of getting caught. She doesn’t have much idea what the humans might do to her.

However, she found herself questioning more now that Ulim had left her gemheart. […] Why was Ulim so eager?

[…]

But what was she to do? She’d started this boulder rolling down the cliff. If she tried to stop it now, she’d be crushed.

A: As a contrast to the previous quote, though… Again, it comes up several times: When Ulim is not with her, she does start to think again. She likes being all special, but at least there’s still some part of her that’s aware of the manipulation, and even aware that his plans might not be best for her people.

P: Still, she wants fortune and glory far too much to directly question him or defy him in any way.

“So unless you want me to find someone else to be the greatest among your people, do what I say.”

A: GAAAAAHHHHH. Again. His manipulation is so blatant it’s really annoying to see her give in to it—especially since she knows perfectly well what he’s doing. She’s just willing to be a tool, all for the promise of fame and adulation. Gah. I don’t know which of them annoys me more.

P: As much as Venli annoys me in the early days, I think I’m more put out by Ulim when he manipulates her. He’s an ancient being and she’s little more than a child. Even when she knows she’s been manipulated, even if she knows it’s not okay, she is not going to stand up to him.

“You said coming here would intimidate your people. Is that happening? Because from what I’ve seen, they seem to be enjoying themselves! Planning to feast and laugh, maybe get into storming bed with the humans!”

[…] They should have been terrified by all the parshmen—the enslaved singers—in the palace. Instead, Venli’s people seemed curious.

A: Sigh. I suppose I have to give Axindweth this much: She successfully identified the one of the listeners who would be most useful to their plans. Someone with a little influence, as an apprentice Keeper of Songs, and likely to soon succeed to the primary role with greater influence—but also someone whose emotions make her easy to manipulate, as the envious younger sister to a lauded explorer. It’s kind of appalling that Venli, especially as Keeper of Songs, knows her own people so little, and believes that they must all be as fearful and envious as herself.

P: I’m probably harping on this but I feel that she’s so malleable because she’s so young. Despite her position as apprentice to the Keeper of the Songs, as you said she’s jealous of Eshonai and that’s a relatively childish emotion. All that to say that yes, Axindweth picked the perfect target.

A: It’s always a little weird to remember her actual age. The sisters are considered—and treated as—adults in their culture, and I forget that they are very young, and also are not… well, sophisticated, I guess. Easy prey for someone with Axindweth’s experience.

In truth, she found the man’s actions surprisingly rational. Keeping her close would stop anything she might have planned—and if she truly was a lost guest, he wouldn’t be in any real trouble for holding her for a few hours.

A: I found this an interesting moment of understanding for Venli; it’s one of the few times she’s registered that the humans are really very like the listeners, if you look past the surface. It also, of course, only happens when Ulim isn’t around. Not that it was likely to have happened much anyway, given her personality, but there is this one little hint of how she could someday become the person who’s able to work with Lirin and Hesina.

P: Good point. Young Venli is far removed from who she becomes later in the series and Rhythm of War Venli is like a different person altogether.

Venli found herself attuning Praise unexpectedly. It was… nice to be alone. Lately, Ulim had always been around. She began thinking about how she could clean this up. Go talk to the Five. Maybe—despite how much it hurt to admit it—go ask Eshonai for advice.

Unfortunately, Ulim soon zipped in through the open door as a trail of red lightning.

A: We’ve mentioned this a number of times, but… is this independent thinking getting more frequent? Or are we just seeing it a little more as it becomes relevant to the narrative? Either way, it’s kind of cruel on the author’s part; it makes me feel that with just a little different input at the right time, she could have been a better person earlier, and maybe not given her people to Odium so freely. But that wouldn’t have suited the story, so… I guess it’s irrelevant, eh?

P: I think this is all a tease by Brandon to show us how close she could have been to being better and making different choices.

“It’s an old trick, Ulim,” she said. “Everyone—humans, listeners, and apparently gods—deep down suspects that every failure is their own. If you reflect blame on them, most people will assume they are responsible.”

“Maybe I gave up on you too easily,” he said.

A: Umm…. ugh. I keep griping about how Ulim manipulates Venli, but she’s fairly effective with manipulation herself. Correct me if I’m wrong, but she was already pretty good at this before Ulim came along, right? I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse that she falls for Ulim’s tricks so readily.

P: Yeah, you’re right that she has always been manipulative in her own right. But I also think she’s learned a thing or two from Ulim over the years.

Ulim crackled with lightning, then moved up her arm, toward her gemheart. She hesitated to let him in. [… ]

He began to vibrate energy through her. You were so clever, Venli, tricking Nale. This is going to work. You and me. This bond. […]

We came here to make your people see how dangerous the humans are. But they are foolish, and you are wise. You can see how much of a threat they are. You need to show them.

“Yes,” Venli said. That was her plan.

Ulim slipped into her gemheart.

A: This is after the conversation with Nale, which we’ll deal with below. Oh, it’s so infuriating to see this. She can see what he’s doing, and she can resist—right up until he distracts her with a combination of flattery and the vulnerability of her people, and ::poof:: he’s in again. Ugh.

P: He’s just so slimy. You can practically hear him thinking what a fool she is even as he convinces her into taking him in again.

“A war would… likely mean the deaths of thousands,” Venli said, attuning Anxiety. The rhythm felt small and weak. Distant. “On both sides.”

Your people will be restored to their true place as rulers of this entire land, Ulim said. Yes, blood will spill first. But in the end you will rule, Venli.

A: Stinking dirtbag weasel.

P: And to know the whole time that he’s planning on giving her body to a Fused is just infuriating.

A: Right? He knows perfectly well what her end is likely to be—just like the rest of the listeners—and thinks it’s completely appropriate to “traitors.” But he’s perfectly happy to lie to her about it. Gah.

Bruised and Broken—the Herald’s Insanity

“Listen, there are Heralds in the palace tonight. … They’re not dead. You have no idea how royally, colossally, incredibly ruined we are. I saw Shalash first and followed her—then ran across not only Kalak, but Nale. I think he saw me. He shouldn’t have been able to, but—”

A: Bahahahaha! I love seeing Ulim in a panic. Love. it.

Also, yes, confirmation, Shalash was just here. That missing statue is not because she was here recently; she’s here today. We already saw Kalak and Nale, of course. And Jezrien, out drinking in the beggars’ corner of the gardens. I suppose it’s possible that one of the women Eshonai saw with Gavilar and Taravangian might be another Herald. And of course there’s my old theory that Liss is a Herald, maybe Chana… But I’m pretty sure there can’t possibly be more than six, and that’s a stretch. Might only be four.

P: It is good to have confirmation that Shalash was there on that night.

And I love seeing Ulim out of sorts, as well. I want Nale to squash him like a bug.

A: PLEASE.

The newcomer was an imposing figure with deep brown skin and a pale mark on his cheek […]

He looked at Venli, then pointedly at Ulim—who groaned.

A: LOL. Yeah, Ulim, I think he sees you… Although that does raise the question of why Nale can see a Voidspren who’s trying not to be seen.

P: That’s the thousand broam question, isn’t it?

He stepped forward, placing something on the nearest scribe’s desk. “This is a seal of deputation. I have legal jurisdiction in this land, as granted by your king.”

A: Of course he does. Insane he may be, but he’s hard over on getting legal jurisdiction everywhere he goes. As we have seen before. I do find it interesting that he continues to work by means of local laws, even though he’s spoken his Fifth Ideal and “become the law.”

P: It is odd to think that he sees himself as the law yet he abides by the laws of the land he’s in. And fully takes advantage when he can, like now.

“Hello, Ulim,” the man said in a soft, steady voice.

“Um… hello, Nale,” the spren said. “I… um. I didn’t expect to see you here. Um, today. Anytime, actually… Ever… How is, ah, Shalash?”

“Small talk is unnecessary, Ulim,” Nale said. “We are not friends. You persist only because I cannot destroy spren.”

A: Yeah, well, Navani will be working on that in a few years… And also, does Nale know all the Voidspren by name? I suppose he’s had 7000 years to learn them, but… wow.

P: I think that Ulim is maybe a special case. And wouldn’t it be nice to have Venli destroy Ulim?

A: Oh, I’d love to see that. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving spren.

Ulim hopped onto her shoulder and grabbed hold of her hair. “Go ahead,” he whispered. “But don’t tell him anything. I am in so much trouble…”

A: Good. Though it doesn’t seem to come to anything in the end, more’s the pity.

P: The arc’s not over yet. I’d love to see that storming Voidspren get his due.

So cold. A voice with no rhythms, and no human emotions. Yet those words… He was raving. Perhaps it wasn’t that he measured time differently, but that he was addled? Though she’d been considering telling him the truth, that instinct retreated before his dead words.

She might not trust Ulim completely, but she certainly couldn’t turn to this Herald instead.

A: This is right after Nale has been talking, half to himself, about how the Voidspren could possibly have accomplished a return, when he knows Taln hasn’t yet given in to the torture. Given what we know, everything he’s saying actually makes sense, but it would certainly sound like raving to Venli. (Of course, he is kind of raving even if it does make sense; he’s just got a semi-coherent form of insanity. Or something.)

I wonder what would have happened if she’d told him the truth. Fascinating thought…

P: As scarily nutty as Nale is, I can’t help but feel for him a little. The guilt, the thousands of years of existence with no relief—it’s no wonder they’re all insane.

“Do not blame us,” Venli said, “for your failure.”

Nale kept his eyes forward. “So, Gavilar’s plan is working. The fool. He will destroy us all. […] He lures us with promises, then breaks them by seeking that which I told him was forbidden! Yes. I heard it tonight. The proof I need.”

A: I quoted this mostly for the foundation it provides two other quotes (though we addressed one in the previous section). Even though Nale seems to ignore it at the moment, it was quick thinking on Venli’s part to reverse the blame here. And, of course, he’s thinking out loud to work his way through to a “legal” justification to permanently stop Gavilar.

P: Very clever of her to put it back on the Heralds.

I wonder how the Alethi would react to knowing that a Herald was ultimately responsible for Gavilar’s death. That would shake some people up, yeah?

A: Whooooo boy. That would be wild. Not so much of a shock to the Kholin family, with their current level of contact with the Heralds, but for most people, that would be a real stunner.

“I believe I must offer you a service, listener. The king is planning to betray your people.” […]

“I have legal jurisdiction here to act on behalf of the king,” Nale said. “I cannot, however, take specific action against him. Tonight I found reason to have him killed, but it will take me months of planning to achieve the proper legality. […] I give you this knowledge, sworn by a Herald of the Almighty. You have proof that he is conspiring against you, and may act.”

A: So bizarre. When he really wants something, he’ll use whatever convoluted reasoning process he needs to find a legal means of accomplishing it. This one is a doozy, but he gets there in the end. The odd part of it is that while Nale is over here giving Venli legal permission to assassinate Gavilar, at roughly the same time, Gavilar is up in Navani’s study giving Eshonai a cultural reason to do the same thing.

P: Maybe he feels that with the Fifth Ideal, he can manipulate any law to fit what he feels is the right or just thing to do.

A: Also, Nale the “Herald of Justice” set up the entire War of Reckoning which killed tens of thousands of people and brought Odium’s forces to Roshar. That whole thing is squarely his doing.

P: He is. And the listeners paid the price for it.

A: That’s what infuriates me about his role. Did Gavilar need to be stopped? Well, probably. Did it have to be done this way? Absolutely not. Only an insane Herald would fail to realize that using the “Parshendi” to kill the Alethi king would result in the Alethi war machine attempting to wipe out an entire people. And of course those people would turn to anyone they could find to defend themselves… even the Voidspren, who are obviously trying to make their own connections and will be delighted with this development.

I mean, yes, the Voidspren were working to get across the space between worlds, and would probably have gotten there eventually. However… A sane Herald might have seen the potential to bring the listeners and the humans together to stand against Odium; at the very least, a sane Herald would have tried to prepare the humans for a Desolation. Even a slightly insane Herald could have done the assassination himself; after all, Fifth Ideal, “I am the law” and all that. But no, he has to use someone else to do his dirty work, and start a war right off the bat.

“The man who can help you is a slave for sale in the market. […] The slave you want is the sole Shin man among the crowd.” […]

Nale looked at Ulim on her shoulder. “This Shin man bears Jezrien’s Blade. And he is expertly trained in its employ.” He looked back to Venli. “I judge you innocent of any crime, using provision eighty-seven of the Alethi code—pardon of a criminal who has a more vital task to perform for the good of the whole.”

A: Oh, hai, Szeth…

Is it just me, or is it really creepy that Nale specifically tells a freaking Voidspren that Szeth has Jezrien’s Honorblade, and instructs that Voidspren and a singer to go find him and set him to kill a human king? So much for protecting the humans… (Okay, yeah, Gavilar was meddling with things way above his pay grade, but still. Setting his old enemies to kill the one who’s supposed to be an ally? Yikes.)

P: I think he’s just so far gone that he can’t see the ridiculousness of what he’s doing. Or, even scarier, he’s not quite that far gone and he knows how ridiculous it is, but he doesn’t care.

A: So on top of triggering a war before the Desolation even gets started, Nale is deliberately bringing an Honorblade into play, borne by someone who will do whatever his master instructs him. And we all know how that will turn out. I wonder how Szeth would feel about Nale if he knew about this.

P: Ooh, that would be interesting, for Szeth to find out how Nale was involved. Would he try to kill him like he tried to kill Taravangian?

A: ::gulp:: Wow. He just might. (I’m half expecting Navani’s discovery to be the end of most of the Heralds anyway, but I have to admit I’d kind of like to see Szeth bring justice to Nalan…)

Cosmere Connections

“Axindweth says she’s been discovered,” he said. “She’s a very specific and rare kind of specialist—the details need not concern you—but there is apparently another of her kind in the palace. An agent for someone else. They found her and turned the human king against her. She’s decided to pull out.”

A: Mild spoilers for Mistborn here.

We already mostly knew this, since Axindweth was the one who gave Venli the gemstone Ulim was living in, but yes, his “contact” is a Terriswoman and Feruchemist (or Ferring)—and who knows who she’s working for out here. She may well be connected to Kelsier/Thaidakar and the Ghostbloods, but I don’t think we have proof of that, do we? Most likely, the “agent for someone else” is the steward called Gereh, another Feruchemist/Ferring (but not necessarily Terrisman, maybe?), who might be working for the Sons of Honor. Or not. He might be working directly for Sazed, or the Seventeenth Shard, or… who knows.

FWIW, Axindweth could presumably use Connection to speak other languages, and Gereh could use… something… to change his appearance. I don’t think Feruchemy lets you do Lightweaving, does it?

P: Considering what happened to the steward in Urithiru, I doubt he was working for the Ghostbloods, unless he wronged them in some way and Mraize was exacting vengeance.

A: Yeah, Gereh wasn’t likely connected with the Ghostbloods. Axindweth… maybe.

 

We’ll be leaving further speculation and discussion to you in the comments, and hope to join you there! Next week, we’ll be back with chapter 78, in which Shallan contacts Mraize, Adolin consults with his inkspren tutor, and they discover the identity of the High Judge.

Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids, and is getting buried in the crazy level of activity that comes with the end of senior year. Senior prank, senior skip day, senior thesis presentation, senior getaway, graduation… Also, Go Yankees!

Paige resides in New Mexico, of course. Links to her other writing are available in her profile. Go Yankees!

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