Rhythm of War – Brandon Sanderson

Of course the Parshendi wanted to play their drums. Of course Gavilar had told them they could. And of course he hadn’t thought to warn Navani. “Have you seen the size of those instruments?” Maratham said, running her hands through her black hair. “Where will we put them? And we’re already at capacity after your husband invited all the foreign dignitaries. We can’t—” “We’ll set up a more exclusive feast in the upper ballroom,” Navani said, maintaining a calm demeanor, “and put the drums there, with the king’s table.” Everyone else in the kitchens was close to panicking, assistant cooks running one direction or another, pots banging, anticipationspren shooting up from the ground like streamers. Gavilar had invited not only the highprinces, but their relatives. And every highlord in the city. And he wanted a double-sized Beggar’s Feast. And now … drums? “We’ve already put everyone to work in the lower feast hall!” Maratham cried. “I don’t have the staff to set up—” “There are twice as many soldiers as usual loitering around the palace tonight,” Navani said. “We’ll have them help you set up.” Posting extra guards, making a show of force? Gavilar could always be counted on to do that. For everything else, he had Navani.

“Could work, yes,” Maratham said. “Good to put the louts to work rather than having them underfoot. We have two main feasts, then? All right. Deep breaths.” The short palace organizer scuttled away, narrowly avoiding an apprentice cook carrying a large bowl of steaming shellfish. Navani stepped aside to let the cook pass. The man nodded in thanks; the staff had long since stopped being nervous when she entered the kitchens. She’d made it clear to them that doing their jobs efficiently was recognition enough. Despite the underlying tension, they seemed to have things well in hand now—though there had been a scare earlier when they’d found worms in three barrels of grain. Thankfully, Brightlord Amaram had stores for his men, and Navani had been able to pry them out of his grip.

For now, with the extra cooks they’d borrowed from the monastery, they might actually be able to feed all the people Gavilar had invited. I’ll have to give instructions on who is to be seated in which feast room, she thought, slipping out of the kitchens and into the palace gardens. And leave some extra space in both. Who knows who else might show up with an invitation? She hiked up through the gardens toward the side doors of the palace. She’d be less in the way— and wouldn’t have to dodge servants—if she took this path. As she walked, she scanned to make certain all the lanterns were in place. Though the sun hadn’t yet set, she wanted the Kholinar palace to shine brightly tonight. Wait. Was that Aesudan—her daughter-in-law, Elhokar’s wife—standing near the fountains? She was supposed to be greeting guests inside. The slender woman wore her long hair in a bun lit by a gemstone of each shade.

All those colors were gaudy together—Navani preferred a few simple stones themed to one color—but it did make Aesudan stand out as she chatted with two elderly ardents. Storms bright and brash … that was Rushur Kris, the artist and master artifabrian. When had he arrived? Who had invited him? He was holding a small box with a flower painted on it. Could that be … one of his new fabrials? Navani felt drawn toward the group, all other thoughts fleeing her mind. How had he made the heating fabrial, making the temperature vary? She’d seen drawings, but to talk to the master artist himself … Aesudan saw Navani and smiled brightly. The joy seemed genuine, which was unusual—at least when directed at Navani. She tried not to take Aesudan’s general sourness toward her as a personal affront; it was the prerogative of every woman to feel threatened by her mother-in-law. Particularly when the girl was so obviously lacking in talents. Navani smiled at her in turn, trying to enter the conversation and get a better look at that box. Aesudan, however, took Navani by the arm.

“Mother! I had completely forgotten about our appointment. I’m so fickle sometimes. Terribly sorry, Ardent Kris, but I must make a hasty exit.” Aesudan tugged Navani—forcefully—back through the gardens toward the kitchens. “Thank Kelek you showed up, Mother. That man is the most dreadful bore.” “Bore?” Navani said, twisting to gaze over her shoulder. “He was talking about…” “Gemstones. And other gemstones. And spren and boxes of spren, and storms! You’d think he would understand.

I have important people to meet. The wives of highprinces, the best generals in the land, all come to gawk at the wild parshmen. Then I get stuck in the gardens talking to ardents? Your son abandoned me there, I’ll have you know. When I find that man…” Navani extricated herself fromAesudan’s grip. “Someone should entertain those ardents. Why are they here?” “Don’t ask me,” Aesudan said. “Gavilar wanted them for something, but he made Elhokar entertain them. Poor manners, that is. Honestly!” Gavilar had invited one of the world’s most prominent artifabrians to visit Kholinar, and he hadn’t bothered to tell Navani? Emotion stirred deep inside her, a fury she kept carefully penned and locked away. That man.

That storming man. How … how could he … Angerspren, like boiling blood, began to well up in a small pool at her feet. Calm, Navani, the rational side of her mind said. Maybe he intends to introduce the ardent to you as a gift. She banished the anger with effort. “Brightness!” a voice called from the kitchens. “Brightness Navani! Oh, please! We have a problem.” “Aesudan,” Navani said, her eyes still on the ardent, who was now slowly walking toward the monastery. “Could you help the kitchens with whatever they need? I’d like to…” But Aesudan was already hurrying off toward another group in the gardens, one attended by several powerful highlord generals. Navani took a deep breath and shoved down another stab of frustration.

Aesudan claimed to care about propriety and manners, but she’d insert herself into a conversation between men without bringing her husband along as an excuse. “Brightness!” the cook called again, waving to her. Navani took one last look at the ardent, then set her jaw and hurried to the kitchens, careful not to catch her skirt on the ornamental shalebark. “What now?” “Wine,” the cook said. “We’re out of both the Clavendah and the Ruby Bench.” “How?” she said. “We have reserves.…” She shared a glance with the cook, and the answer was evident. Dalinar had found their wine store again. He’d grown quite ingenious at secretly draining the barrels for himself and his friends.

She wished he’d dedicate half as much attention to the kingdom’s needs. “I have a private store,” Navani said, pulling her notebook from her pocket. She gripped it in her safehand through her sleeve as she scribbled a note. “I keep it in the monastery with Sister Talanah. Show her this and she’ll give you access.” “Thank you, Brightness,” the cook said, taking the note. Before the man was out the door, Navani spotted the house steward—a white-bearded man with too many rings on his fingers—hovering in the stairwell to the palace proper. He was fidgeting with the rings on his left hand. Bother. “What is it?” she asked, striding over.

“Highlord Rine Hatham has arrived, and is asking about his audience with the king. You remember, His Majesty promised to talk with Rine tonight about—” “About the border dispute and the misdrawn maps, yes,” Navani said, sighing. “And where is my husband?” “Unclear, Brightness,” the steward said. “He was last seen with Brightlord Amaram and some of those … uncommon figures.” That was the term the palace staff used for Gavilar’s new friends, the ones who seemed to arrive without warning or announcement, and who rarely gave their names. Navani ground her teeth, thinking through the places Gavilar might have gone. He would be angry if she interrupted him. Well, good. He should be seeing to his guests, rather than assuming she’d handle everything and everyone. Unfortunately, at the moment she … well, she would have to handle everything and everyone.

She let the anxious steward lead her up to the grand entryway, where guests were being entertained with music, drink, and poetry while the feast was prepared. Others were escorted by master-servants to view the Parshendi, the night’s true novelty. It wasn’t every day the king of Alethkar signed a treaty with a group of mysterious parshmen who could talk. She extended her apologies to Highlord Rine for Gavilar’s absence, offering to review the maps herself. After that, she was stopped by a line of impatient men and women brought to the palace by the promise of an audience with the king. Navani assured the lighteyes their concerns were being heard. She promised to look into injustices. She soothed the crumpled feelings of those who thought a personal invitation from the king meant they’d actually get to see him—a rare privilege these days, unless you were one of the “uncommon figures.” Guests were still showing up, of course. Ones who weren’t on the updated list an annoyed Gavilar had provided for her earlier that day.

Vev’s golden keys! Navani forcibly painted on an amicable face for the guests. She smiled, she laughed, she waved. Using the reminders and lists she kept in her notebook, she asked after families, new births, and favorite axehounds. She inquired about trade situations, took notes on which lighteyes seemed to be avoiding others. In short, she acted like a queen. It was emotionally taxing work, but it was her duty. Perhaps someday she’d be able to spend her days tinkering with fabrials and pretending she was a scholar. Today, she’d do her job—though a part of her felt like an impostor. However prestigious her ancient lineage might be, her anxiety whispered that she was really just a backwater country girl wearing someone else’s clothing. Those insecurities had grown stronger lately.

Calm. Calm. There was no room for that sort of thinking. She rounded the room, pleased to note that Aesudan had found Elhokar and was chatting with him for once—rather than other men. Elhokar did look happy presiding over the pre-feast in his father’s absence. Adolin and Renarin were there in stiff uniforms—the former delighting a small group of young women, the latter appearing gangly and awkward as he stood by his brother. And … there was Dalinar. Standing tall. Somehow taller than any man in the room. He wasn’t drunk yet, and people orbited him like they might a fire on a cold night—needing to be close, but fearing the true heat of his presence.

Those haunted eyes of his, simmering with passion. Storms alight. She excused herself and made a brief exit up the steps to where she wouldn’t feel so warm. It was a bad idea to leave; they were lacking a king, and questions were bound to arise if the queen vanished too. Yet surely everyone could get on without her for a short time. Besides, up here she could check one of Gavilar’s hiding places. She wound her way through the dungeonlike hallways, passing Parshendi carrying drums nearby, speaking a language she did not understand. Why couldn’t this place have a little more natural light up here, a few more windows? She’d brought the matter up with Gavilar, but he liked it this way. It gave him more places to hide. There, she thought, stopping at an intersection.

Voices. “… Being able to bring them back and forth from Braize doesn’t mean anything,” one said. “It’s too close to be a relevant distance.” “It was impossible only a few short years ago,” said a deep, powerful voice. Gavilar. “This is proof. The Connection is not severed, and the box allows for travel. Not yet as far as you’d like, but we must start the journey somewhere.” Navani peered around the corner. She could see a door at the end of the short hallway ahead, cracked open, letting the voices leak out.

Yes, Gavilar was having a meeting right where she’d expected: in her study. It was a cozy little room with a nice window, tucked away in the corner of the second floor. A place she rarely had time to visit, but where people were unlikely to search for Gavilar. She inched up to peek in through the cracked door. Gavilar Kholin had a presence big enough to fill a room all by himself. He wore a beard, but instead of being unfashionable on him, it was … classic. Like a painting come to life, a representation of old Alethkar. Some had thought he might start a trend, but few were able to pull off the look. Beyond that, there was an air of … distortion around Gavilar. Nothing supernatural or nonsensical.

It was just that … well, you accepted that Gavilar could do whatever he wanted, in defiance of any tradition or logic. For him, it would work out. It always did. The king was speaking with two men that Navani vaguely recognized. A tall Makabaki man with a birthmark on his cheek and a shorter Vorin man with a round face and a small nose. They’d been called ambassadors from the West, but no kingdom had been given for their home. The Makabaki one leaned against the bookcase, his arms folded, his face completely expressionless. The Vorin man wrung his hands, reminding Navani of the palace steward, though this man seemed much younger. Somewhere … in his twenties? Maybe his thirties? No, he could be older. On the table between Gavilar and the men lay a group of spheres and gemstones.

Navani’s breath caught as she saw them. They were arrayed in a variety of colors and brightness, but several seemed strangely off. They glowed with an inverse of light, as if they were little pits of violet darkness, sucking in the color around them. She’d never seen anything like them before, but gemstones with spren trapped inside could have all kinds of odd appearances and effects. Those … they must be meant for fabrials. What was Gavilar doing with spheres, strange light, and distinguished artifabrians? And why wouldn’t he talk to her about— Gavilar suddenly stood up straight and glanced toward the doorway, though Navani hadn’t made any sound. Their eyes met. So she pushed open the door as if she had been on her way in. She wasn’t spying; she was queen of this palace. She could go where she wished, particularly her own study.

“Husband,” she said. “There are guests missing you at the gathering. You seem to have lost track of time.” “Gentlemen,” Gavilar said to the two ambassadors, “I will need to excuse myself.” The nervous Vorin man ran his hand through his wispy hair. “I want to know more of the project, Gavilar. Plus, you need to know that another of us is here tonight. I spotted her handiwork earlier.” “I have a meeting shortly with Meridas and the others,” Gavilar said. “They should have more information for me.

We can speak again after that.” “No,” the Makabaki man said, his voice sharp. “I doubt we shall.” “There’s more here, Nale!” the Vorin man said, though he followed as his friend left. “This is important! I want out. This is the only way.…” “What was that about?” Navani asked as Gavilar closed the door. “Those are no ambassadors. Who are they really?” Gavilar did not answer. With deliberate motions, he began plucking the spheres off the table and placing them into a pouch.

Navani darted forward and snatched one. “What are these? How did you get spheres that glow like this? Does this have to do with the artifabrians you’ve invited here?” She looked to him, waiting for some kind of answer, some explanation. Instead, he held out his hand for her sphere. “This does not concern you, Navani. Return to the feast.” She closed her hand around the sphere. “So I can continue to cover for you? Did you promise Highlord Rine you’d mediate his dispute tonight of all times? Do you know how many people are expecting you? And did you say you have another meeting to go to now, before the feast begins? Are you simply going to ignore our guests?” “Do you know,” he said softly, “how tired I grow of your constant questions, woman?” “Perhaps try answering one or two, then. It’d be a novel experience, treating your wife like a human being—rather than like a machine built to count the days of the week for you.” He wagged his hand, demanding the sphere. Instinctively she gripped it tighter.

“Why? Why do you continue to shut me out? Please, just tell me.” “I deal in secrets you could not handle, Navani. If you knew the scope of what I’ve begun…” She frowned. The scope of what? He’d already conquered Alethkar. He’d united the highprinces. Was this about how he had turned his eyes toward the Unclaimed Hills? Surely settling a patch of wildlands—populated by nothing more than the odd tribe of parshmen—was nothing compared to what he’d already accomplished. He took her hand, forced apart her fingers, and removed the sphere. She didn’t fight him; he would not react well. He had never used his strength against her, not in that way, but there had been words. Comments.

Threats. He took the strange transfixing sphere and stashed it in the pouch with the others. He pulled the pouch tight with a taut snap of finality, then tucked it into his pocket. “You’re punishing me, aren’t you?” Navani demanded. “You know my love of fabrials. You taunt me specifically because you know it will hurt.” “Perhaps,” Gavilar said, “you will learn to consider before you speak, Navani. Perhaps you will learn the dangerous price of rumors.” This again? she thought. “Nothing happened, Gavilar.

” “Do you think I care?” Gavilar said. “Do you think the court cares? To them, lies are as good as facts.” That was true, she realized. Gavilar didn’t care if she’d been unfaithful to him—and she hadn’t. But the things she’d said had started rumors, difficult to smother. All Gavilar cared about was his legacy. He wanted to be known as a great king, a great leader. That drive had always pushed him, but it was growing into something else lately. He kept asking: Would he be remembered as Alethkar’s greatest king? Could he compete with his ancestors, men such as the Sunmaker? If a king’s court thought he couldn’t control his own wife, wouldn’t that stain his legacy? What good was a kingdom if Gavilar knew that his wife secretly loved his brother? In this, Navani represented a chip in the marble of his all-important legacy. “Speak to your daughter,” Gavilar said, turning toward the door.

“I believe I have managed to soothe Amaram’s pride. He might take her back, and her time is running out. Few other suitors will consider her; I’ll likely need to pay half the kingdom to get rid of the girl if she denies Meridas again.” Navani sniffed. “You speak to her. If what you want is so important, maybe you could do it yourself for once. Besides, I don’t care for Amaram. Jasnah can do better.” He froze, then looked back and spoke in a low, quiet voice. “Jasnah will marry Amaram, as I have instructed her.

She will put aside this fancy of becoming famous by denying the church. Her arrogance stains the reputation of the entire family.” Navani stepped forward and let her voice grow as cold as his. “You realize that girl still loves you, Gavilar. They all do. Elhokar, Dalinar, the boys … they worship you. Are you sure you want to reveal to them what you truly are? They are your legacy. Treat them with care. They will define how you are remembered.” “Greatness will define me, Navani.

No mediocre effort by someone like Dalinar or my son could undermine that—and I personally doubt Elhokar could rise to even mediocre.” “And what about me?” she said. “I could write your history. Your life. Whatever you think you’ve done, whatever you think you’ve accomplished … that’s ephemeral, Gavilar. Words on the page define men to future generations. You spurn me, but I have a grip on what you cherish most. Push me too far, and I will start squeezing.” He didn’t respond with shouts or rage, but the cold void in his eyes could have consumed kingdoms and left only blackness. He raised his hand to her chin and gently cupped it, a mockery of a once-passionate gesture.

It was more painful than a slap. “You know why I don’t involve you, Navani?” he said softly. “Do you think you can take the truth?” “Try for once. It would be refreshing.” “You aren’t worthy, Navani. You claim to be a scholar, but where are your discoveries? You study light, but you are its opposite. A thing that destroys light. You spend your time wallowing in the muck of the kitchens and obsessing about whether or not some insignificant lighteyes recognizes the right lines on a map. “These are not the actions of greatness. You are no scholar.

You merely like being near them. You are no artifabrian. You are merely a woman who likes trinkets. You have no fame, accomplishment, or capacity of your own. Everything distinctive about you came from someone else. You have no power—you merely like to marry men who have it.” “How dare you—” “Deny it, Navani,” he snapped. “Deny that you loved one brother, but married the other. You pretended to adore a man you detested—all because you knew he would be king.” She recoiled from him, pulling out of his grip and turning her head to the side.

She closed her eyes and felt tears on her cheeks. It was more complicated than he implied, as she had loved both of them —and Dalinar’s intensity had frightened her, so Gavilar had seemed the safer choice. But there was a truth to Gavilar’s accusation. She could lie to herself and say she’d seriously considered Dalinar, but they’d all known she’d eventually choose Gavilar. And she had. He was the more influential of the two. “You went where the money and power would be greatest,” Gavilar said. “Like any common whore. Write whatever you want about me. Say it, shout it, proclaim it.

I will outlive your accusations, and my legacy will persist. I have discovered the entrance to the realm of gods and legends, and once I join them, my kingdom will never end. I will never end.” He left then, closing the door behind him with a quiet click. Even in an argument he controlled the situation. Trembling, Navani fumbled her way to a seat by the desk, which boiled over with angerspren. And shamespren, which fluttered around her like white and red petals. Fury made her shake. Fury at him. At herself for not fighting back.

At the world, because she knew what he said was at least partially true. No. Don’t let his lies become your truth. Fight it. Teeth gritted, she opened her eyes and began rummaging in her desk for some oil paint and paper. She began painting, taking care with each calligraphic line. Pride—as if proof to him—compelled her to be meticulous and perfect. The act usually soothed her. The way that neat, orderly lines became words, the way that paint and paper transformed into meaning.

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