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Progression of the Chapter:
Shallan is silent and perhaps invisible; her mind goes blank at the tiniest of hints; Helaran returns with a gift; Shallan draws corpses; Helaran insists that she draw safe things; Brightlord Lin Davar shouts; Helaran summons a Shardblade; Lord Davar manages not to reveal the truth; Shallan speaks to stop Helaran from hurting their father, but also manages not to reveal the truth; Helaran leaves; Lord Davar smashes the furniture but returns to sanity and sorrow at the sight of his daughter.
Quote of the Chapter:
Shallan caught mention of her name again. The maids apparently thought that because she didn’t speak, she didn’t hear either. At times, she wondered if she was invisible. Perhaps she wasn’t real. That would be nice.
This scene takes place about a week after Shallan’s twelfth birthday, five months after the events of her first flashback. (Note: This means that she was eleven-and-a-half at the time of that event.)
Start with this:
Her mother and she ... .
Her mother ... .
Shallan’s mind went still. Like a candle suddenly snuffed, she stopped thinking.
When he was around, she could almost pretend ... . Almost pretend ... .
Her mind went blank.
Anything about her mother or the events of that night crosses her mind, and she just stops thinking. In a way, it may be one of the better ways for a child to deal with something like this: block it so thoroughly that dwelling on it or worrying about it is simply impossible. It beats nightmares. Obviously, talking about it with her father and brothers - dealing with the truth - would have been better, but the cultural situation makes that awkward at best, and the personalities make it nearly impossible. If they’d had any real understanding of the spren bonding, the positive aspects of it, the necessity it would soon become; if the whole concept weren’t tainted by the Recreance, the lack of information and the deliberate misinformation about it; if her mother simply hadn’t been involved with a group that demanded her daughter’s death; all the ifs just make this every bit as painful as it’s intended to be.
There's an odd slight coincidence here. In Chapter 17, Shallan was restoring her collection of drawings, slowly replacing the those she’d lost at sea:
Pattern had been right. She could not stop.
Something in her requires the outlet of drawing, even though she'd thought that she didn’t want to draw ever again. In this chapter, she hasn't been drawing (or speaking) since her mother’s death. However, with Helaran’s gift, she begins drawing and speaking again. Just how significant this juxtaposition is isn't obvious. Did drawing help make her able to speak again? Or was it the shock of seeing her brother on the verge of killing her father?
Helaran is painted as Shallan’s 'Ideal Person'. Was he really that wonderful, or is there something wrong with this picture? While Shallan's hero-worship is understandable, aside from the fact that the first glimpse of Helaran in The Way of Kings was one of him slaughtering darkeyed soldiers to reach Amaram, his anger and hatred toward their father brings doubt about his true character into consideration. Concurrently, everyone - including Helaran - was set up to think Lord Davar had been the killer of Shallan's mother; he deliberately allowed it to protect Shallan. If even her mother was willing to kill her for what she was, how could anyone else be trusted with that knowledge? So the brothers weren’t allowed in on the secret. So, if Helaran had learned what she was, might he have turned on her too?
Helaran's sterling character, whether spotless or tarnished, doesn’t really matter in the long run, since he’s dead, but Shallan had him on such a high pedestal that it might come back around to bite her.
There's definitely evidence here that even before 'that night', not everything was copacetic in the Davar home. Shallan’s thoughts about her brothers, and Helaran’s words about Balat, give no indication that their shortcomings are solely a recent thing. The fact that they so easily believe that Lord Davar was the killer doesn’t speak well either/or that they believe that their mother had a lover, for that matter. At the same time, there is evidence that things weren’t terrible; Shallan and her mother had obviously had some fun planning her future wardrobe, and the love between Shallan and her father is equally manifest.
Whatever their past, they’re a mess now.
Regarding the confrontation between Helaran and his father, Helaran completely believes the fiction regarding his mother’s death. Might Lord Davar have told Helaran the truth if Helaran had even had the slightest interest in hearing it? Fortunately, he was at least interested in hearing Shallan, even though she could only manage to ask him not to kill the man who bears all the blame and all the shame for the actions of both mother and daughter.
But, what about his father's reaction to Helaran’s Blade?
He glanced suddenly upward.
(Presumably, in the direction of his study, where he’d placed Shallan’s Blade in the safe ... but this Blade is "different.")
This is the first chapter in Words of Radiance which is graced by two Heralds. Is this significant? Shalash is present as Shallan’s namesake, her Order's patron, and for the drawings she begins again. Might Nalan be present partly as the number two - the sobriquet "Nan" for Helaran is clearly the identifier of the heir - and also for the Skybreakers that Helaran was said to have sought out? Perhaps Nalan-the-Ideal also represents the Justice that no one can face up to, or even knows about; that the event which tore this family apart was not, in fact, the rage-induced murder of a wife and her lover, but the justifiable self-defense of a daughter attacked by her mother.
In Veden society, the birth order of the males is significant, and a title identifying each one’s place in the hereditary line is so much a part of the name that it is sometimes used even amongst family members. At this point, Shallan’s brothers are Nan Helaran, Tet Balat, Asha Wikim, and Van Jushu.
- Paraphrased from Alice Arneson