Throughout Words of Radiance, a lot of Kaladin's arc is dedicated to his struggle to come to terms with Elhokar's incompetence as king. He listens sympathetically to Moash's arguments about why the world would be better without Elhokar around, he feels enraged when he finds out about Elhokar's involvement in "the Roshone affair" (and therefore, that Elhokar is indirectly responsible for Tien's death,) and so on. As his feelings towards Elhokar grow darker, Syl warns him various times that what he's doing and feeling is not right, but the bond never breaks.

Then, when there's a assassination attempt out on the Shattered Plains, Kaladin is actually trying to do the right thing and protect Elhokar, but is unable to do anything due to sabotage (by no fault of his own,) and somehow that breaks his bond and "kills" Syl? I've never quite understood what it was Kaladin was doing wrong at that moment that constituted breaking his oath as a Radiant.

  • At that moment, nothing, it was just that they finally lost touch with each other, maybe because he lost consciousness.
    – Mithoron
    Feb 21 '19 at 19:53

He broke his oath by making conflicting promises. The Nahel-bond breaks when Kaladin strains it trying to save his life

Kaladin gave conflicting oaths: to protect Elhokar and to help Moash. Giving conflicting oaths is apparently something that hurts the Nahel bond, at least when it forms with honorpren.

She scrunched up her face. “I don’t want to force you to do anything. You have to do what you think is right.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do!”

“No. I don’t think you are.”

“Fine. I’ll tell Moash and his friends that I’m out, that I’m not going to help them.”

“But you gave Moash your word!”

“I gave my word to Dalinar too. . . .”

She drew her lips to a line, meeting his eyes.

“That’s the problem, isn’t it,” Kaladin whispered. “I’ve made two promises, and I can’t keep my word to both.” Oh, storms. Was this the sort of thing that had destroyed the Knights Radiant?

What happened to your honorspren when you confronted them with a choice like this? A broken vow either way.

Words of Radiance

The bond gets weaker in an insidious way, with Syl acting more inattentive and childlike. What happened when Kaladin falls into the chasm is that he tries drawing stormlight. That's when he hears Syl scream in his head, like that act was too much of a strain in the weakened bond.

As the bridge fell out from beneath him, Kaladin reached for Stormlight.

Nothing. Panic surged through him. His stomach dropped and he tumbled into the air.

The fall into the darkness of the chasm was a brief moment, but also an eternity. He caught a glimpse of Shallan and several men in blue uniforms falling and flailing in terror.

Like a drowning man struggling toward the surface, Kaladin thrashed for the Stormlight. He would not die this way! The sky was his! The winds were his. The chasms were his.

He would not!

Syl screamed, a terrified, painful sound that vibrated Kaladin’s very bones. In that moment, he got a breath of Stormlight, life itself.

Words of Radiance

It's only after this that Kaladin doesn't find Syl.

If only he could find Syl. Everything would be better if he could see her again, if he could know that she was all right. That scream . . .

Words of Radiance

  • In my opinion, more specifically, Kaladin began breaking his oath given to Syl. She acccepted his words near the end of Path of Kings, I will protect those who cannot protect themselves. His willingness to fulfill those words is her literal lifeline to him.
    – Radhil
    Feb 22 '19 at 0:06
  • 1
    From Oathbringer we learn that it is more about perception than fact. A part of him thought that he was breaking his oath by helping Moash/letting Elokhar die. Hence he had broken his oath. Aug 9 '19 at 15:14

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