Home > Rhythm of War (The Stormlight Archive #4)(3)

Rhythm of War (The Stormlight Archive #4)(3)
Author: Brandon Sanderson

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 from Aesudan’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.

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