They slept intwelve beds all in one room; and when they went to bed, the doors wereshut and locked up; but every morning their shoes were found to bequite worn through as if they had been danced in all night; and yetnobody could find out how it happened, or where they had been. Then the king made it known to all the land, that if any person coulddiscover the secret, and find out where it was that the princessesdanced in the night, he should have the one he liked best for hiswife, and should be king after his death; but whoever tried and didnot succeed, after three days and nights, should be put to death.
He was well entertained, and in the eveningwas taken to the chamber next to the one where the princesses lay intheir twelve beds.
There he was to sit and watch where they went todance; and, in order that nothing might pass without his hearing it,the door of his chamber was left open. The same thing happened the second and third night: so the kingordered his head to be cut off. After him came several others; butthey had all the same luck, and all lost their lives in the samemanner. Now it chanced that an old soldier, who had been wounded in battle andcould fight no longer, passed through the country where this kingreigned: and as he was travelling through a wood, he met an old woman,who asked him where he was going.
He was as well received as the others had been, and the king orderedfine royal robes to be given him; and when the evening came he was ledto the outer chamber. Just as he was going to lie down, the eldest ofthe princesses brought him a cup of wine; but the soldier threw it allaway secretly, taking care not to drink a drop.
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Then he laid himselfdown on his bed, and in a little while began to snore very loud as ifhe was fast asleep. And as for this soldier, even if I had not given himhis sleeping draught, he would have slept soundly enough. When they were all ready, they went and looked at the soldier; but hesnored on, and did not stir hand or foot: so they thought they werequite safe; and the eldest went up to her own bed and clapped herhands, and the bed sank into the floor and a trap-door flew open.
The soldier wished to take away some token ofthe place; so he broke off a little branch, and there came a loudnoise from the tree. That never happenedbefore. Then they came to another grove of trees, where all the leaves were ofgold; and afterwards to a third, where the leaves were all glitteringdiamonds. And the soldier broke a branch from each; and every timethere was a loud noise, which made the youngest sister tremble withfear; but the eldest still said, it was only the princes, who werecrying for joy.
So they went on till they came to a great lake; and atthe side of the lake there lay twelve little boats with twelvehandsome princes in them, who seemed to be waiting there for theprincesses. One of the princesses went into each boat, and the soldier steppedinto the same boat with the youngest. Their relationship, if it could even be called such a thing, had been awkward since she had said those terrible things to him back on the Shattered Plains. Despite the stress she was under Shallan knew that her conduct had no excuse. Yet here he was despite all of that, asking her to dance. When she accepted his earnest and determined expression did not change but the weariness of his eyes lessened and his shoulders relaxed.
Shallan smiled at him and offered her hand. Jakamav once thought fighting was like dancing. How could he not when he had watched Adolin in the duelling ring and sparred with him in the training grounds? After so many years it almost felt like a dance they shared together, each parry, block, dodge and thrust so practiced and fluid.
It became a dance, of a sort. Then war came and the illusion was all but shattered. Fighting was not like dancing. Anyone who used dancing as a comparison for fighting had clearly never seen battle. It was brutal, primal and whatever grace it possessed was not that of beauty but of violence.
The reality of it all tasted bitter.
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Sigzil was no stranger to being stuck to the sides of a chasm wall when Kaladin had enough of tests. Dancing on the side of the wall together, the movements over exaggerated and somehow conveying sarcasm, was a new one though. If anyone saw they would say the outburst of emotion was uncharacteristic of Jasnah Kholin. Jasnah herself would be inclined to agree had she not been wrapped up in the moment and the emotion. Too long. So she held Shallan tight in an embrace, her heart squeezing itself up into a knot.
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They were alive and they were together again… Jasnah could allow uncharacteristic displays of emotion and dance for such an occasion. It would be the first time they went through the whole dance together without Adolin murmuring the cues and steps softly under his breath. The next time he performed this dance it would be with someone shorter than him with a daintier, uncalloused hand pressed against his own.
The thought of the feasts and balls where he would be expected to dance with others made him tense and uncomfortable. Pushing down the unpleasant thoughts to the corner of his mind Renarin focused instead on the present comfort and familiarity of Adolin, who smiled at him without judgement and with unconditional love as they stepped forward to begin the dance. It got to a point where they could move through the katas together in perfect synchronicity. Moash felt a certain closeness to Kaladin in those moments as they moved through the chasms together with twin weapons in perfect harmony.
It spoke to a familiarity he had not felt in a long time, trapped in the husk of helplessness and anger that was a bridgeman. Kaladin freed him of that—of the helplessness if not the deep seeded anger. Kaladin tried to keep his murderous thoughts to a minimum as Shallan found her place in line opposite him. She grinned at him, harmlessly teasing and threw a wink that made him sigh with mock annoyance and true frustration.
Why he allowed her to drag him out here onto the dance floor he did not know.
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Something kept him from turning tail and running back to the comfortable sidelines. The dance was not like those he grew up watching during festivals. This was about elegance; perfectly Alethi. Shallan and Kaladin moved with the grace of youth and life, conveying passion and exuberance through their movements, making it up as they went and creating something beautiful. Despite his better judgement he had become transfixed by her smile and found himself smiling at her in turn with sore cheeks. Later, when he would have time to reflect, Adolin would liken flying to dancing.
In the heat of the moment it had been a matter of life and death as they burst through the clouds and into the void of a star-filled sky with hands clasped tight and skin wet with rain.
Syl whirled around them in a ribbon of light as they swirled and tumbled higher. For one weightless moment the adrenaline and fear seemed to slip away as they crested, Kaladin arcing over him in an effortless twist. He would never admit how the sight of Kaladin with his fierce gaze and the confident control had stolen his breath.
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