The warcamps were enormous. All told, there were over a hundred thousand troops in the various Alethi camps, many times the population of Hearthstone. And that wasn’t counting the civilians. A mobile warcamp attracted a large array of camp followers; stationary warcamps like these on the Shattered Plains brought even more.
Chapter 17 keeps us moving in the line of Kaladin trying to win over the members of Bridge Four. Following his morning workout with the wooden beam he visits the camp apocathery to see if he can procure a little bit in the way of first aid supplies to help the Bridge Four members whenever the need arises. He figures that given his past as a surgeon-in-training that is one thing he can provide as bridge leader that previous bridge leaders could not. The trouble is that even with having just gotten paid that morning by Gaz he cannot afford the supplies he was hoping for. Instead he winds up with nothing more than some re-sterilized bandages and some stitching materials. Kaladin had hoped to get his hands on some decent antiseptic because that would literally mean the difference between life and death for most bridge crew injuries.
While paying for the meager supplies he is able to afford Kaladin notices that the spheres he had in his pocket seem to have gone dark. When he received them from Gaz earlier in the morning they were full of Stormlight, but now they aren’t. He’s not sure what could have caused that type of thing to happen, but at least he is still able to use them as currency once the apocathery checks that they are indeed real. I think that the author is trying to tell us something with this odd little happening regarding the spheres. We know from earlier that Szeth can absorb Stormlight into himself and use it to fuel his various magical powers. Is Kaladin going to have some powers of his own that haven’t been revealed as of yet? I sure hope so.
The bridgemen worked hard. It wasn’t just because of threats of beatings—they ran so hard because they wanted to arrive at the target plateau before the Parshendi did. If they did so, there would be no arrows, no death. And so running their bridges was the one thing the bridgemen did without reservation or laziness. Though many hated their lives, they still clung to them with white-knuckled fervor.
Later that afternoon Bridge Four is called on yet another plateau run. Kaladin had hoped that they would get lucky before having to make another run, but luck was not with him. Bridge Four goes about its normal business on the way to the battle but Kaladin makes a point of staying upright during the crossings when everyone else normally slumps to the ground. It’s hard for him to do after such a grueling morning workout, but he manages, if only barely. When Bridge Four arrives at the assault plateau the Parshendi have already arrived and Kaladin makes another move to try to win the bridge crew over. Instead of taking his rightful (and customary for the bridge leader) slot at the back of the bridge, he instead takes the front-center position where he is most likely to be killed. Kaladin feels that if he can show he’s willing to take the hardest job then perhaps some of the others won’t disrespect him as much.
Kaladin survives the assault run just fine, but several other Bridge Four members do not. But, instead of leaving them to die while the army is in combat, Kaladin runs to gather up all of the crew members who are still living. He drags them back to a safer location and begins triage for their injuries. One of them dies almost immediately, another has a horribly broken leg. A third is in the throes of battle shock, and the fourth has serious, but survivable injuries. Nobody helps Kaladin at first, but soon Rock and Teth jump in to retrieve the last couple of crew members still showing life. Three of the four make it back to camp in varying states of wellness. Kaladin makes it his mission to ensure that none of those three die now that he has gone to the effort of saving them.
Despite all of his work throughout the day nobody really turns to Kaladin’s side, but he can sense that he has earned a little bit of respect from Rock and Teth at least just by making the attempt to save the injured members of the bridge crew. Kaladin realizes that it’s going to be hard to win them all over, but that little tiny glimpse of success is enough to keep him going.