Review: Call of Water

Call of Water (Elemental Realms Book 2)

by H.L. Burke

Reviewed by JMD Reid

B01ENLPJEI.01.LZZZZZZZIt’s been three years since Lands of Ash and Karvir, transformed into a fire-elemental-like charred, and his family have settled down with Brode and his little sister Pet. The world is peaceful again. When Karvir and his youngest daughter Trea, now on the cusp of womanhood, venture to a nearby town, a pair of travelers changes everything for Karvir’s family.

Eanan and Gabrin had fled the Fire Elementals to islands off the sea and have returned to find the Evermirror, a portal to the Water Elementals. While the Fire Elementals have been driven to their own realm, three other elemental races are out there. The pair want to find allies. And when Quilla, Karvir’s oldest daughter, begins hearing a strange voice talk to her, she is driven to find out, leaving her family behind to join Eanan and Gabrin on their quest.

But Karvir’s not going to let his daughter run off. With Trea and Brode, he sets off to bring his daughter home. But danger lurks. Alana, servant of the Earth Elementals, fears the Water Elementals return. She and her ruthless band will do anything to prevent Quilla, Eanan, and Gabrin from reaching the Evermirorr.

Elemental war again threatens the peace of the world.

Call of Water is a great follow-up to Lands of Ash. Burke expands the scope of her world, introducing us to the Water and Earth Elementals and illuminating the history of her world. It is a fast-paced story with plenty of action and youthful romance. Family, again, dominates the theme of this book with the entrance of Eanan to the story, Karvir’s father-in-law and she skillfully uses the plot to explore the relation of fathers with their growing daughters.

An excellent read and I am eager for Burke’s next entry into the series!

You can buy Call of Water on Amazon!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Seven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Emperor
Chapter 7
Momemn

Welcome to Chapter Seven of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Six!

The world is a circle that possesses as many centres as it does men.

Ajencis, the Third Analytic of Men

My Thoughts

Humans are very self-centered creatures. It’s right there in the word “self-centered.” I always do love Bakker’s philosophy he adds to the stories. Always making you think.

Early Autumn, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Conphas, accompanied by Martemus, is making his triumphal return to Momemn. He pauses at the Xatantius Arch, showing one of the previous empire’s great victories. Conphas thinks that by defeating the Scylvendi, he has outshined Xatantius. Beyond the Arch is the Scuäri Campus, a parade ground filled with Imperial Soldiers, representing every column of the Imperial Army. They are dressed in ceremonial armor and arrayed in neat phalanxes. Past the Campus was the Allosian Forum, the base of the Andiamine Heights.

Conphas saw his uncle awaiting them, a distant figure framed by the Forum’s might columns. Despite the imperial pageantry, he looked small, like a hermit squinting from the entrance of his cave.

Is this your first Imperial Audience-of-State?” Conphas asked Martemus.

The General nodded, turned to him with a faintly doddering air. “My first time in the Imperial Precincts.”

Conphas grinned. “Welcome to the brothel.”

Gilgaöl Priest, as customary, brought out basins of water. They smeared lion’s blood on his arms, while praying, cleansed his symbolic wounds. Conphas is surprised when Shrial Priest come out, anoints him with oil, and draw the tusk on his forehead in palm wine. They give him the title, Shield-of-the-Tusk. Conphas understands why his uncle did this. The Scylvendi were heathens like the Kian and thus his victory was part of the Holy War. Conphas thinks Skeaös must be behind such a smart idea.

The elation Conphas felt after winning the Battle of Kiyuth was quickly lost by the journey back to Momemn. Conphas intended to line the road back to Momemn with Sclyvendi heads, but his cartographers argued about the exact distance back to capital and thus the proper spacing of heads. The Imperial Saik got involved, thinking that they knew better than the cartographers. This argument culminated in the murder of Erathius, an outspoken cartographer. The culprit could not be found, so Conphas exploited a loophole in the Martial Code to flay the most vocal individual of both factions.

Worst, when Conphas finally reached Momemn the day before, he found the capital surrounded by the Holy War. Instead of being greeted by adoring masses, a mob of Inrithi rioted and a pitch battle erupted. Conphas learns from an Imperial Officer about how his uncle is only supplying enough grain to keep them from starving until the Indenture is signed. The negotiations over the Indenture had turned bitter.

The Emperor,” the officer concluded, “is most heartened by your arrival, Lord Exalt-General.”

Conphas had nearly cackled aloud at that. The return of a rival heartened no emperor, but every emperor was heartened by the return of his army, particularly when he was besieged. Which was essentially the case. Conphas had been forced to enter Momemn by boat.

And now, the great triumph he’d so anticipated, the all-important recognition of what he’d wrought, had been overshadowed by greater events. The Holy war had dimmed his glory, had dwarfed even the destruction of the Sclyvendi. Men would celebrate him, yes, but the way their celebrated religious festivals in times of famine: listlessly, too preoccupied by the press of events to truly understand what or whom they celebrated.

How could he not hate the Holy War.

Finally, Conphas and Martemus cross the Campus, the soldiers kneeling as they pass. Behind him, Conphas’s bodyguard were bringing his captive while others lined his progress with Sclyvendi heads. Conphas looked for Istiya, his grandmother, but couldn’t see her. He knew she was there. Istiya had shaped Conphas to the man he was today, prepared him for greatness. Conphas suspected she was behind the trumped up charges against his father to make sure there would be no interference in Conphas taking the throne should Xerius die. Because of her efforts, everyone has seen him as the Imperial Heir, and even if Xerius had a son that “didn’t drool or require diapers into adulthood” nothing could overturn that perception.

She [Istiya] had done so much that he could almost love her.

As Conphas approaches his uncle, he sees the crown of Shigek on his brow. No emperor has worn the crown since Shigek was lost to the heathens three centuries ago. Conphas thinks his uncle is presumptuous. Conphas thinks his uncle fears him and means to kill him. Conphas has become to powerful and is a threat. Conphas knows his uncle desires to control the Holy War, to reclaim the provinces lost, and to be remembered as a great Statesman-Emperor like Caphrianas the Younger. As long as Conphas convinces Xerius he is still useful to that goal, Xerius won’t touch him.

He had always hated his uncle—even as a child. But for all the contempt he bore him, he’d learned long ago not to underestimate him. His uncle was like those uncommon drunks who slurred and staggered day after day yet became lethally alert when confronted by danger.

Conphas wonders what Xerius is thinking, and asks Martemus his opinion. Martemus points out that Conphas knows him better. Conphas asks if he should be afraid. Martemus answers yes. Conphas knows that Martemus speaks truthfully, so wants to know why he thinks Conphas should be afraid. Martemus answers if he was emperor he would fear Conphas. What emperors fear, emperors kill is provincial wisdom. Conphas disagrees. Xerius has feared Conphas for years, but only new fears provoke Xerius to murder because he fears everybody.

Martemus points out that Conphas now has the armies loyalty. Every soldier on the parade ground would fight for him. That is something new for Xerius to fear. Conphas is stunned to realize that he could rebel right here and now and begins to consider it. Conphas disagrees because of the Holy War. Martemus asks if the emperors greed will outweigh his fear. Conphas thinks it will. Martemus thinks its a gamble and will throw his lot in with Conphas.

As they climb the stairs to where Xerius waits, Conphas begins to consider rebellion. Conphas is a planner, but he knows that sometimes opportunities must be seized. As Conphas reaches his uncle, he realizes his ceremonial dagger could kill Xerius. He greeted by his uncle and he fails to kneel and kiss Xerius’s knee. Conphas has made the decision to kill him and have his men secure the capital.

Conphas presents his captive, Xunnurit, the former King-of-Tribes. Xerius is pleased, promising to blind Xunnurit and chain him to his throne like the High Kings of Kyraneas did in the past. Conphas spots his grandmother and notices something is different about her.

Conphas catches Martemus gaze and nods. Conphas is patiently waiting the moment when Xerius will embrace him so he can strike and kill his uncle. Conphas brings up the fact the Holy War attacked his men. Xerius is dismissive, saying the matter has been concluded. Xerius says tomorrow they will go upriver to see his new monument and tells Conphas to be patient, that this isn’t the Kiyuth and things are not as they seem. Conphas is baffled by that statement.

As though the matter were utterly closed, Xerius continued: “Is this the general you speak so highly of? Martemus, is it? I’m so very pleased he’s here. I couldn’t ferry enough of your men into the city to fill the Campus, so I was forced to use my Eothic Guard and several hundred of the City Watch.”

Though stunned, Conphas replied without hesitation, “And dress them as my … as army regulars?”

Of course. The ceremony is as much for them as for you, no?”

His heart thundering, Conphas knelt and kissed his uncle’s knee.

The next day, Xerius, Istiya, and Conphas are on the Imperial barge heading up the River Phayus to see Xerius’s new monument. Istiya is impatient and Xerius is pleased by her annoyance. The monument is going to be transported to the capital down the river today from the basalt quarries of Osbeus.

The entire trip, Istiya has been fawning over Conphas, telling him all the sacrifices she had made for him, including an albino lion who’s hide she has made into a cloak for him. “A suitable gift for the Lion of Kiyuth.” Conphas plays along with his grandmother’s flattery, thanking her and crediting her with their success. Xerius finds the entire exchange grating and knows Istiya does it to annoy him. Istiya proclaims Conphas to be greater than any Exalt-General in the empire’s history.

What is she trying to do? Istiya had always goaded him, but never had she pressed her banter so close to sedition. She knew Conphas’s victory over the Scylvendi had transformed him from a tool into a threat. Especially after the farce at the Forum the previous day. Xerius needed only to glimpse at his nephew’s face to know that Skeaös had been right. There had been murder in Conphas’s eyes. If not for the Holy War, Xerius would have ordered him cut down on the spot.

Istiya had been there. She knew all this, and yet she pushed further and further. Was she …

Was she trying to get Conphas killed?

Conphas is uneasy at his grandmother’s statement and Xerius wanders if he really is uneasy, or if Conphas and Istiya plotted together. The barge suddenly strikes a bar in the river, getting stuck. Xerius berates the captain who looks scarred to death. Conphas is enjoying the embarrassment this causes Xerius. Xerius orders the Captain to man the oars as punishment. The barge remains stuck and Xerius decides they’ll await his monument’s arrival here.

Skeaös suggest they await the arrival of the monument from the aft galley of the barge. While Skeaös points out that this will allow a breathtaking view of the passing monument, Xerius knows Skeaös is saving the Emperor from being witnessed by his subjects on a stuck boat.

As they wait, Conphas makes small talk, asking how Xerius’s new wife, Conphas’s half-sister, is doing. Xerius answers she is satisfactory. Istiya points out she hasn’t had a child yet. Xerius shrugs, saying he already has his heir. Angrily, Istiya says their won’t be an inheritance left. Xerius is surprised by his mother’s directness, attributing it to age, and warns her. Conphas intercedes, saying she means the Men of the Tusk, who the empire is on the brink of open war with.

Istiya wants to know what Xerius plans are, pointing out the other Houses of the Congregate are worried. Xerius deflects her question. Xerius says Calmemunis has agreed to sign the Indenture tomorrow. Istiya asks what of Tharschilka and Kumrezzer, and Conphas is sure they will sign if Calmemunis does. Conphas knows the Men of the Tusk thing God is on their side and have no fear of the Fanim. Conphas’s realizes the first to arrive are the greediest and want to get their share of Fanim lands before anyone else arrives.

Istiya is horrified as Conphas explains these three lords will march right away, that until their liege lords arrive, they command the Holy War. Istiya demands Xerius not provision them. Xerius disagrees, he wants them to march. Conphas suggest the slaves be dismissed. Once they are private, Conphas asks if a deal has been made with the Padirajah.

Struck mute by astonishment, Xerius gaped at his nephew. How could he have known? Too much penetration, and certainly too much ease of manner. At some level, Xerius had always been terrified of Conphas. It was more than just the man’s wit. There was something dead inside his nephew. No, more than dead—something smooth. With others, even with his mother—although she to seemed so remote lately—there was always the exchange of unspoken expectations of the small, human needs that crotched and braced all conversation, even silences. But with Conphas there was only sheer surfaces. His nephew was never moved by another. Conphas was moved by Conphas, even if at times in mimicry of being moved by others. He was a man for whom everything was whim. A perfect man.

But to master such a man! And master him he must.

Flatter him,” Skeaös had once told Xerius, “and be transformed into part of the glorious story that he sees as his life.” But he could not. To flatter another was to humble oneself.

Xerius demands to know how Conphas has learned of the agreement, threatening to send him to the Tower of Ziek. Conphas answers, it’s what he would do. The Kian need to know the the empire is not fanatics. Xerius doesn’t but it and demands again to know who told him. Conphas reveals Skauras told him. Conphas has maintained communication with his court since Conphas had spent time there as a boy as a hostage.

Istiya warns Conphas that Skauras is canny and would sow dissension amongst them. Istiya states the Dynasty is the most important thing, and Xerius is reminded of her when he was a boy, repeating that same phrase. Conphas states he is not a fool, to be tricked by Skauras. Istiya tries to reason with Conphas at the folly of allowing the first of the Holy War to be massacred by the Kian. Xerius states the empire will sacrifice the Holy War to get back the lost provinces.

Conphas finally understands. The first to arrive, other than those three greedy lords, are the vulgar masses. To lose a rabble of untrained fighters would just save the Holy War bellies to feed. It would also teach the other lords and the Shriah to fear the Fanim and thus their dependence of the empire would grow.

Istiya thinks its madness, they have the chance to destroy the Kian and instead Xerius plots with them. Conphas points out that Maithanet controls the Holy War now. He has done all he can to geld the empire by inviting the scarlet spire. Istiya demands to know what Xerius plans after the “herd is culled.”

What then? Our Shriah learns fear. Respect. All his mummery—all his sacrifices, hymns, and wheedling—will have been naught. As you said earlier, Mother, the Gods cannot be bribed.”

But you can.”

Xerius laughed. “Of course I can. If Maithanet commands the Great Names to sign my Indenture, to swear the return of all the old provinces to the Empire, then I will give them”—he turned to his nephew and lowered his head—“the Lion of Kiyuth.”

Splendid!” Conphas cried. “Why didn’t I see it? Thrash them with one hand in order to soothe them with the other. Brilliant, Uncle! The Holy War will be ours. The Empire will be restored!”

Desperately, Istiya asks for Skeaös opinion. Skeaös evades, saying its not his place to speak. Istiya flatters him, saying while she doesn’t like him, he gives sound counsel. Skeaös remains silent, and Istiya understands, saying Skeaös fears for his life, but she is an old woman and no longer cares. What Xerius has said so far doesn’t sound like enough payment to the Kian. Istiya wants to know where the useful part of the Holy War fails.

Xerius just says things go wrong in war. Istiya understands, the Holy War will fail before it reaches Shimeh. Xerius just shrugs and turns to the river as his monument floats by, a massive obelisk for the temple-complex of Cmiral.

His thoughts leaped. I will be immortal …

He returned to his settee and reclined, consciously savoring the flares of hope and pride. Oh, sweet godlike vanity!

Like an immense sarcophagus,” his mother said. Always, the asp of truth.

My Thoughts

Conphas is a narcissistic sociopath. He keeps Martemus around because the man wasn’t a sycophant. “Flattery was beneath his [Martemus] contempt. If the man said something, Conphas knew, it was true.” How could a man as great as Conphas imagines himself to be not find Martemus’s praise intoxicating. Conphas has to earn that praise. His reaction to the Holy War is to pout about how it spoiled his glorious arrival.

Martemus is the epitome of the practical soldier. While he doesn’t think in plots and intrigues, it is he who sees the potential of the assembled army. His simple statement almost caused Conphas to seize the throne for himself at that moment. This has always been a problem for empires, when your generals command your soldiers loyalty and then realize that they could make themselves into emperors.

Luckily for Xerius, Skeaös is not an idiot. The replacement of Martemus’s troops with Eothic Guards was brilliant. One of my favorite moments in the book. Conphas is reminded that Xerius is not out of moves yet and if Conphas wants to be emperor, he needs to stay in his uncle’s graces until then.

Xerius is also a bit of a narcissist. Maybe that comes with being an emperor and everyone telling you how important you are every walking moment. He’s very juvenile the way he wants to show off his new toy and annoyed about Istiya and Conphas not being nearly as excited as he was. Xerius, however, finds something wrong with Conphas personality, acknowledging that at least Xerius has some empathy, as opposed to Conphas who just cares about himself.

More hints that something has changed with Istiya. She seems very keen on the Holy War succeeding versus the Empire prospering by taking advantage of the Holy War. We also see why Xerius constantly refers to his mother as the “old whore.” The revelation that she would molest him as a youth would definitely skew that relationship. One wonders if she did the same to Conphas. This might explain his narcissism. During their banter, there may be hints of a more intimate relationship. Conphas compares her tutelage to having sex with women during his teenage years.

It is odd how Istiya, who is always talking about the dynasty, balks at the plan. This will strengthen the Empire while weakening their enemies. Instead, she’s afraid for her soul and death. This is the woman that convinced her son to murder her husband because he would make a better Emperor and who was behind the plot that saw Conphas’s father (her other son) to be executed just to make the succession clear for her skilled nephew. And yet she has serious issue with the plan. A plan Conphas, who is a brilliant tactician, finds great merit in.

Xerius paranoia shines in this section. The moment he fears there is a leak in his plan, he threatens Conphas with torture.

Xerius and Skauras agreement is interesting. Both get something, the Fanim get to survive and the Empire gets to recover some lost land. But not all of it. Shimeh was part of the Empire in the past. The Kian also get to satisfaction of stopping the Holy War from reaching their goal. A lot still needs to happen, and this new Shriah is very shrewd. This truly is a gamble for the Empire. If Xerius fail, the Holy War could very well be used to destroy him.

Istiya, of course, has to get the last word.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Eight.

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Six

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Emperor
Chapter 6
The Jiünati Steppe

Welcome to Chapter Six of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Five!

 It is said: a man is born of his mother and is fed of his mother. Then he is fed of the land, and the land passes through him, taking and giving a pinch of dust each time, until man is no longer of his mother, but of the land.

—Scylvendi Proverb

and in Old Sheyic, the language of the ruling and religious castes of the Nansurium, skilvenas means “catastrophe” or “apocalypse,” as though the Sclyvendi have somehow transcended the role of peoples in history and become a principle.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My Thoughts

Bakker gives us some insight into both the Sclyvendi world view and how the Nansur Empire views them. The Scylvendi equate manhood with being completely divorced from his mother. He has left her behind and found a new mother, the land.

As we learned in the last chapter, whenever the Scylvendi tribes unite, an empire dies. No wonder their name has become synonymous with catastrophe the way the Vandals became synonymous with destruction to the Romans.

Early Summer, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Jiünati Steppes

Cnaiür urs Skiötha approaches the King-of-Tribes and other clan leaders on a ridge overlooking the Nansur’s army. Cnaiür studies the group, half-expecting to hear insults and snide comments thrown at him.

Why would they disgrace me like this?

But he was not a child. He was the many-blooded chieftain of the Utemot, a seasoned Sclyvendi warrior of more than forty-five summers. He owned eight wives, twenty-three slaves, and more than three hundred cattle. He had fathered thirty-seven sons, nineteen of the pure blood. His arms were ribbed with the swazond, ritual trophy scars, of more than two hundred dead foes. He was Cnaiür, breaker-of-horse-and-men.

I could kill any of them—pound them to bloody ruin!–and yet they affront me like this? What have I done?

But like any murderer, he knew the answer. The outrage lay not in the fact of his dishonour but in their presumption to know.

The chiefs all were dressed mismatched armor, looking like they came from a large variety of nations and ages. Some wear Kianene helmets, marking them veterans of Zirkirta. “Only their scarred arms, stone faces, and long black hair marked them as the People—as Scylvendi.” Xunnurit was elected King-of-Tribes.

Cnaiür watches a warrior fire an arrow and realizes they measured distances and were planning the assault without him. Cnaiür rides up and looks down at the Nansur. They were camped on the banks the River Kiyuth and were building fortifications. When Cnaiür first saw the Nansur army digging in on the Steppes, it filled him with anger. Now, he feels foreboding.

Cnaiür demands to know why he wasn’t summoned. Xunnurit, with “undisguised contempt” says he was. There had been instant dislike between Cnaiür and Xunnurit when they met five days ago. Cnaiür states it would be juvenile to attack. The rest of the chiefs murmur disapproval. But Cnaiür’s many swazond demanded respect. Xunnurit disagrees with Cnaiür, saying the Nansur defile the hallowed land. He asks if Cnaiür wants to parlay and pay tribute to Conphas.

Cnaiür wants to wait. To starve out Conphas and force him to attack the Scylvendi out of desperation instead of attacking Conphas on the ground of his choosing. The older chiefs, Cnaiür observed, saw the wisdom in his words. Xunnurit was unimpressed, demanding to know what Cnaiür would do if he found his wife being raped in his yaksh. Attack at once, or wait for a better tactical situation. Sneering, Cnaiür says this is different. Xunnurit asks, if this is what the memorialist tell them.

It wasn’t so much the man’s cunning that shocked Cnaiür as the realization that he’d underestimated him.

Xunnurit’s eyes flashed with triumph. “No. The memorialist say that battle is our hearth, earth our womb, and sky our yaksh. We’ve been violated, as surely as if Conphas had quickened our wives or cracked our hearthstone. Violated. Desecrated. Humiliated. We’re beyond measuring tactical advantage, Utemot.

Cnaiür points out eight years ago at Zirkirta, the tribes feel back from the Kianene, slowly bleeding them, before crushing them. Xunnurit tries to protest that this is different, and Cnaiür asks how this battle can be like a hearth, and not like Zirkirta where patience was practiced. Oknai One-Eye, Chieftain of the Munuäti, points out that the droughts began soon. Herds must be taken to summer pastures. The Scylvendi cannot wait long. Xunnurit jumps on this, pointing out Conphas’s large baggage train he brought. He might be able to last six months.

Cnaiür sees the worry in the other chiefs eyes. To long from away presented many hazards: herds could die, slaves revolt, wives wander, or for northern tribes (like Cnaiür’s), Sranc. Cnaiür realized, even if the others knew it was foolish, the pressure to act swiftly were to great. All eyes turns to Cnaiür.

Had Ikurei Conphas intended this? It would be easy enough, he supposed, to learn the different demands the seasons placed on the People. Had Conphas deliberately chosen the weeks before the summer drought?

The thought dizzied Cnaiür with its implications. Suddenly, everything he had witnessed and heard since joining the horde possessed different meanings: the buggery of their Scylvendi captives, the mocking embassies, even the positioning of their privies—all calculated to gall the People into attacking.

Cnaiür says Conphas has brought all these supplies to fight a war of patience. Xunnurit exclaims, that is why they must attack, before hunger forces the People to disband. Cnaiür disagrees, he plans to wait until hunger forces the People to attack him. Xunnurit mocks him, saying the Utemot are far removed from imperial lands and do not know the political situation. Conphas has grown to popular. The Emperor sent him hear to his death.

Cnaiür, in disbelief, retorts the cream of the Imperial Army is here. The elite cavalry, Norsirai auxiliaries, and even Eothic Guard. The Empire must have been stripped to assemble this host. Xunnurit disagrees, the memorialist speak of other Emperors who did this. Cnaiür points out the current Empire is besieged and could not afford to lose this army. Xunnurit jumps at this. Once this army is destroyed, they could sweep the Nansur Empire, like their fathers of yore. Cnaiür continues his protest, but the others begin mocking him.

Cnaiür could smell it then, the good-humoured camaraderie that amounted to little more than a conspiracy to mock one and the same man. His lips twisted into a grimace. Always the same, no matter what his claim to arms or intellect. They’d measured him many years ago—and found him wanting.

But measure is unceasing…

Cnaiür continues to try to reason with them. He explains that Conphas has gambled on the People making the mistake of attacking his fortifications. He is counting on the People to do what they always have done. The only way to defeat him, is to not play his game. To wait. Xunnurit openly mocks Cnaiür now, calling him “Time-killing Cnaiür.” The other chiefs join Xunnurit laughter. Their laughter falters under Cnaiür’s murderous glare. Nervously, Xunnurit says tomorrow they “shall sacrifice an entire nation to the Dead-God.”

The next morning, Cnaiür prepares for battle. He wonders why Conphas had provoked the People. The were fractious by nature, and few things could unite them. Invading the steppes is one way. Conphas had just created a great threat for the Empire and Cnaiür knew all was not as it seemed. Cnaiür could not grasp Conphas’s goal for doing this.

Cnaiür leads his tribe up the ridge, looking down at the lines of the Imperial Army, forming up in phalanxes between the river and their fortifications. Calvary were poised to harass any Sclyvendi crossing the river. Horns blared, and soldiers pounded weapons on shields. Cnaiür studies the assembled Imperial Army and is unsurprised to see them deployed between their camps and the river, instead of at the river. This would change the Scylvendi battle plan.

Cnaiür is startled out of his thoughts by Bannut, his uncle. Bannut wonders why the deployed so far from the river, allowing the People to charge them once they cross. Cnaiür thinks Conphas wants a decisive battle. There will be no room to maneuver once they cross the river. Bannut thinks the Nansur are mad, and Cnaiür remembers the Kianene had tried a similar tactic at Zirkirta and failed. Cnaiür doesn’t think Conphas is mad though. He sends Bannut to find out what Xunnurit wants the Utemot to do. Bannut takes Yursalka, who married Xunnurit’s daughter, with him.

Xunnurit signals the assault. As the Scylvendi ride their horses to the river, Bannut and Yursalka return from Xunnurit. They inform Cnaiür the Utemot are to take the southernmost ford and form up before the Nasueret Column, the Ninth Column. They are rumored to be the best. Cnaiür thinks Xunnurit means for the Utemot to be killed.

The Scylvendi begin to ford and drive back the Imperial Skirmishers. The first to cross began to fire arrows at the Columns while the rest of the Sclyvendi cross. The Utemot cross, and form up before the Nasueret. Conphas allows the Sclyvendi to assemble without contest. Horsehair signals were passed, and the Sclyvendi made ready to charge.

Bannut informs Cnaiür he will be measure today. Cnaiür is surprised that the old warrior would bring up old wounds and furiously confronts him. Bannut says this is the best time to revisit the past. Worries beset Cnaiür, but there was no time to think. “The pilgrimage had ended; worship was about to begin.”

Signals are sent, and the Scylvendi begin their assault. When they reach the Nansur bow range, they charged. Arrows fall on the Utemot and some died. Before them, pikes were readied to meet their charge. “War and worship!” is the Utemot battle cry. A pike takes Cnaiür horse in the chest and he dives off his mount.

The Nansur ranks were unbroken, and his kinsmen died. Cnaiür glanced behind him, expecting to see the second wave of Utemot and saw his tribesmen watching the slaughter from safety. Cnaiür realizes treachery and searches for Bannut. He finds him fighting with a Nansur soldier and Cnaiür kills the soldier with a javelin. Cnaiür demands to know what is going on. Bannut answers, they made a deal with Xunnurit.

Killed you! Killed the kin-slayer! The weeping faggot who’d be our chieftain!”

Horns blared through the uproar. Between heartbeats, Cnaiür saw his father in Bannut’s grizzled face. But Skiötha had not died like this.

I watched you that night!” Bannut wheezed, his voice growing more pinched with agony. “I saw the truth of what”—his body cramped and shook about a wracking cough—“what happened those thirty years past. I told all that truth! Now the Utemot will be delivered form the oppression of your disgrace.”

You know nothing!” Cnaiür cried.

I know all! I saw the way you looked at him. I know he was your lover!”

Cnaiür is shocked to learn his people think he is gay and a weeper. Cnaiür boasts of all the men he has killed, more than any other. “I’m the measure of disgrace and honour. Your measure!” Cnaiür yells, as he strangles Bannut, like a slave, until he dies. Cnaiür grabs his sword and rallies the few Utemot left alive from the charge.

The Nansur ranks advanced and charged Cnaiür his men. Cnaiür kills the first soldier and, in the Nansur “womanish tongue,” demands to know who’s next. Cnaiür continues to taunt and kill the Nansur soldiers, fighting with a feverish skill. The soldiers envelop Cnaiür and his Utemot, but they falter before the ferocity of the Scylvendi. More Scylvendi charge into the ranks of soldiers. Finally, the Nasueret Column breaks and flee.

While his tribe cheered their victory, Cnaiür climbed a low knoll to survey the battle. The Nansur camp was already burning, and several columns were isolated from the center. Cnaiür sees chaos at the center. Xunnurit has been pressed back to the river by Eothic Guards and other columns Cnaiür does not recognize. Cnaiür looks for the Kuöti and Alkussi tribes and sees them on the wrong side of the river being attacked by Kidruhil, elite cavalry. Cnaiür spots a perfectly formed column bearing the standards of the Nasueret.

Cnaiür is confused. The Utemot had just routed the Nasueret, so how could they be marching to the north? And Cnaiür was sure the Kidruhil were on the right flank of the Nansur formation, a position of honor, not across the river. Balait, Cnaiür brother-in-law and someone he respects, brings him a fresh horse and tells him they need to reform to strike again.

Something is wrong, though. Cnaiür explains that Conphas has conceded the flanks to the Scylvendi and to hold the center. He had used false banners to trick the Scylvendi into thinking the best soldiers were on the flank, not the center. Balait thinks Conphas means to kill Xunnurit and those throw the People into confusion. Cnaiür disagrees, saying Conphas is to smart for that. Cnaiür studies the battle, trying to figure out Conphas’s plan.

Cnaiür realizes Conphas’s plan. The Scylvendi had deployed their Chorae bowman behind their center. Conphas has either destroyed them or routed them and is now free to unleash a School upon the Scylvendi. Cnaiür tells Balait to flee. From the sky, descended two dozen Imperial Saik Schoolmen who unleash sorcery on the Munuäti. The entire battle was a trap to deny the Scylvendi their Chorae. Cnaiür grabs his Chorae from beneath his breastplate.

As though walking across the back of roiling smoke and dust, a Schoolman drifted toward them. He slowed, floating the heights of a tree-top above them. His black silk robe boiled in the mountain wind, its gold trim undulating like snakes in water. White light flashes from his eyes and mouth. A barrage of arrows winked into cinders against his spherical Wards. The ghost of a dragon’s head ponderously ascended from his hands. Cnaiür saw glassy scales and eyes like globes of bloody water.

The majestic head bowed.

He turned to Balait, crying, “Run!”

The horned maw opened and spewed blinding fire.

Teeth snapped. Skin blistered and sloughed. But Cnaiür felt nothing, only the warmth thrown by Balait’s burning shadow. There was a momentary shriek, the sound of bones and bowels exploding.

Around Cnaiür lies the cooked remains of many Utemot. Cnaiür routs. He spots Yursalka fleeing with a band of Utemot. Yursalka ignores Cnaiür’s cries for help. The Kidruhil begin to fan out and harry the routing Scylvendi. Cnaiür continues to run, reaching the river, and sees Yursalka and the Utemot on the other side. Cnaiür struggles to cut off his armor so he can swim the river, when he is struck in the head and is knocked unconscious.

When Cnaiür awakes, he lies in the river mud. It is night, and Cnaiür hears group of Nansur’s combing the dead for loot and killing any survivors. Cnaiür buries his Chorae in the mud beneath him, smears some dried blood on his face from a corpse, and fills his mouth with mud. When the looters reach him, they think he’s dead and quickly loot his body, moving on.

Cnaiür passes out again, and when he awakens it is morning. The first thing he does is dig up his Chorae. Cnaiür climbs up the riverbank and surveys the battlefield. He realizes the Nansur have humiliated the Scylvendi on their own territory. Anger fills Cnaiür. He had warned the chiefs and they had laughed at him. Cnaiür realizes they were all dead. The Scylvendi had been massacred. The People of Lokung, vengeance made flesh and bone, dead.

And by the Nansur! Cnaiür had fought too many borderland skirmishes not to respect them as warriors, but in the end he despised the Nansur the way all Scylvendi despised them:as a mongrel race, a kind of human vermin, to be hunted to extinction if possible. For the Scylvendi, the mention of the Empire-behind-the-Mountains summoned innumerable images of degradation: leering priests groveling before their unholy Tusk; sorcerers trussed in whorish gowns, uttering unearthly obscenities while painted courtiers, their soft bodies powdered and perfumed, committed earthly ones. These were the men who had conquered them. Tillers of earth and writers of words. Men who made sport with men.

Cnaiür begins to weep, and remembers the accusation of Bannut, that he was a weeper and a faggot. Cnaiür realizes his suspicions these thirty years were correct. His people had secretly hated him and slandered him behind his back. Cnaiür begins to scream out loud at his demons.

Cnaiür’s outburst is interrupted by the sound of voices. Cnaiür deduces that two officers approach. They are Martemus and Conphas. Conphas is explaining to Martemus why his plan worked. Conphas had studied the Scylvendi, reading everything he could find on them. He even had agents steal records from the Fanim. Conphas learned that in thousands of years, the Scylvendi battle tactics have not changed. “The Scylvendi are just as philosopher Ajencis claimed: a people without history.”

Martemus points out that any illiterate people would be without history. Conphas explains that even illiterate people would change over the years. But the Scylvendi are two obsessed with custom. Martemus thought Conphas’s plan was folly, and only his faith in Conphas kept him loyal. Conphas and Martemus banter about whether Conphas should fully explain his plan. Cnaiür begins to formulate plans on how to murder the pair. Finally, Conphas explains why they won.

As I said, the Scylvendi are obsessed with custom. That means they repeat, Martemus. They follow the same formula time and again. Do you see? They worship war, but they have no understanding of what it truly is.”

And what, then, is war truly?”

Intellect, Martemus. War is intellect.”

Conphas spurts his horse ahead and Martemus follows. Cnaiür hears Conphas order Martemus to collect all the Scylvendi heads. Conphas plans on lining the road to the capital of with spiked heads.

Cnaiür wonders what to do now. The Scylvendi were dead, and Cnaiür lies down amongst them. He remembers the death of his father, Skiötha. Like many other times, the leaders of the Utemot were gathered in the White Yaksh of the clan chief. A blonde Norsirai man, found abandon on the steppes and taken as a slave, challenges Skiötha to a wager. Skiötha is taken aback by a slave challenging him, speaking his name. Cnaiür had a role to play, and asks his father if he’s scared. Skiötha, stung, asks the slave his wager.

And Cnaiür is gripped by the terror that he might die.

Fear that the slave, Anasûrimbor Moënghus might die!

Not his father—Moënghus …

Afterward, when his father lay dead, he had wept before the eyes of his tribe. Wept with relief.

At last, Moënghus, the one who had called himself Dûnyain, was free.

Some names mark us so deeply. Thirty years, on hundred and twenty seasons—a long time in the life of one man.

And it meant nothing.

Some events mark us so deeply.

Cnaiür flees the battlefield under the cover of dark, haunted by the dead.

My Thoughts

Wow, you do not often get barbarians with an inferiority complex. The entire chapter is Cnaiür paranoid about people talking behind his back, making fun of him. Thinking everyone knows the truth that he murdered his father to became the Utemot Chieftain through dishonour. And then, in the midst of battle, to find out just how much his people hate him. To learn that they knew the entire shameful story. Cnaiür had conspired with his male lover to assassinate his father. To the Scylvendi, nothing could be worse.

And then through shear, hateful determination, Cnaiür has thrived as Chieftain. He has slain all rivals. Cnaiür so hates himself for what he did, he constantly strives to prove how great a Scylvendi he is. He has more swazond than any other. He is the greatest Scylvendi warrior. And yet, all that battle prowess is not enough. He is still the “faggot weeper” to his people. Nothing he does will ever change that.

When Cnaiür sees Conphas’s army, he senses something is off. He wants a siege, but the Scylvendi people clearly are not a patient group. The young burn with the anger at what Conphas has done to them: defiled both their holy steppes as well as their captured comrades. The Scylvendi are arrogant. For two thousand years, no army has ever stood up to all the clans united. And never on the steppes.

In the battle, we see why the Scylvendi are so feared by the Nansur. We have Cnaiür and the small handful of Utemot that survived the first charge, all on foot, fighting in a circle and driving back the soldiers. They are so effective that Yursalka can no longer hold back the rest of the Utemot, who charge in and rout the soldiers. That hateful determination of Cnaiür really comes into play here. He’s not going to let his tribes treachery kill him.

And then we see why sorcerer’s are really hated and feared. Once their Chorae bowman are scattered, it takes only two dozen Imperial Saik to massacre the Scylvendi. It is a rout. Every man for themselves. In an hour, the power of the Sclyvendi is destroyed, perhaps to never rise again.

Cnaiür is one of the most complex characters I’ve read in genre fiction. A man combining wild passions and deep intellect. A violent man. A man who has driven himself mad trying to be what his people expect and still is rejected because the harder he tries, the weaker they see him. He has completely buried his true self with who he believes he should be.

No wonder he screams at his demons.

The battle scenes are immerse, putting you into the thick of it, the horror and the smells, the screams and the fear. Bakker understands ancient warfare and the tactics of the steppe hordes from our own world. The Sclyvendi fight like the Scythians against the Romans. The first battle of the Holy War has been fought and one by the Ikurei Dynasty.

The introduction of Conphas talking with his general, Martemus, is a great and hearing Cnaiür’s anaylsis confirmed demonstrates his intelligence. The two have a great back and forth. Martemus is a commoner who rose through the ranks of the army. Conphas almost treats him like an equal, and Conphas eventually confides his plans and explains his actions to Martemus. I also think its great that the People of War were brought done by careful scholarship and understanding war.

War is Intellect,” says Conphas. Remember those words when we get to the end of the novel.

We learn from Martemus, that he, and by extension the army, only followed Conphas on this crazy plan because he had faith in him. Now that Conphas has done the impossible, destroyed the Scylvendi threat for decades to come if not permanently, the army will be even more loyal. Emperor Ikurei should watch out. History shows that ambitious general with the armies loyalty can take an emperor’s throne.

And finally, we have mention of the story set out in the prologue. The Dûnyain have reentered the tale. Thirty years ago, Anasûrimbor Moënghus had passed through Utemot land. From what we saw with Kellhus and Leweth in the prologue, it must have been child play for Moënghus to seduce Cnaiür and use him against his father. Moënghus would not only need to escape the Utemot, but would need safe passage through the rest of Scylvendi lands. The Dûnyain are amazing fighters, but not even they can take on hundreds by themselves.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Seven!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Five

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Emperor
Chapter 5
Momemn

Welcome to Chapter Five of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Four!

The difference between the strong emperor and the weak is simply this: the former makes the world his arena, while the latter make it his harem.

Casidas, The Annals of Cenei

What the Men of the Tusk never understood was that the Nansur and the Kianene were old enemies. When two civilized people find themselves at war for centuries, any number of common interests will arise in the midst of their greater antagonism. Ancestral foes share many things: mutual respect, a common history, triumph in stalemate, and a plethora of unspoken truces. The Men of the Tusk were interlopers, an impertinent flood that threatened to wash away the observed channels of a far older enmity.

Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My Thoughts

Casidas quote has a lot of truth in it from a historical perspective. The problem with hereditary rule is no matter how great the founder, one of his heirs will be an idiot. History abounds with weak rulers who messed up their own countries. Nero comes to mind, Nicholas II, John Lackland, Theodora, etc. And then there are the great kings of history: Julius Cesar, Alexander the Great, Catherine the Great, Charlemagne, Cyrus the Great, Justinian. So the question is, what type of emperor is Xerius?

The question is answered by his behavior and self-importance.

I like how Bakker uses Achamian’s quotes to provide background so it won’t have to intrude in the narrative. It explains everything about the relationship between Xerius and Skauras, preparing us for the end of the chapter, and gives a historical perspective of events. Like I’ve said before, the Holy War has a lot in common with the Crusades, with the Nansur Empire standing in for the Byzantium Empire, who in our world had lost the Middle East and North Africa to the Muslims conquests and hoped to use the Crusades to regain their lost territory.

It did not work out well for Byzantium. They managed to linger on for another four hundred years until the Ottomans and their cannons struck down the famed Walls of Constantinople. We’ll see how well it works out for the Nansurs.

Early Summer, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Emperor Ikurei Xerius III sits in his audience hall waiting for the arrival of Lord Nersei Calmemunis, Palatine of Kanampurea, and cousin of Prince Nersei Proyas (whom we met in Chapter 3). Months have passed since the Holy War has been called, and thousands have arrived in Momemn to fight. These first arrivals were “low-cast freeman, beggars, and non-hereditary Cultic priest.” Nersei Calmemunis is the first of the Great Names to arrive. The Lords of the Inrithi would be the “keel and rudder of the Holy War.” Xerius intended to be the pilot.

While waiting, Xerius asks his Prime Counsel, Skeaös, if there was word of his nephew, Conphas. Skeaös answers no, but assures Xerius everything is going to be fine. Xerius orders Skeaös to address the court.

With a swish of his silken robes, the wizened Counsel turned tot he other functionaries assembled about the dais. For as long as Xerius could remember, he’d always been surrounded by soldiers, ambassadors, slaves, spies, and astrologers … For as long as he could remember, he’d been the centre of this scuttling herd, the peg from which the tattered mantle of Empire hung. Now it suddenly struck him that he’d never looked into any of their eyes—not once. Matching the Emperor’s gaze was forbidden to those without Imperial Blood. The though horrified.

Save for Skeaös, I know none of these people.

Skeaös instructs the court on how important this audience is. The Nansur Empire is the gateway of the holy war. While Xerius cannot tax or bar the Holy War, he can influence them. Today, Xerius must reveal nothing because the fate of his Empire is at stake.

Nersei Calmemunis enters the court. Xerius is suddenly filled with nerves and looks up at the sparrows that next and fly in the vaults of the court. The sight of the birds always calms his nerves. Grandiosely, Xerius greets Calmemunis. Calmemunis informally greets the emperor (after Conryian fashion) and inquires how Conphas’s war against the Scylvendi to the north is going. Xerius dismiss Calmemunis question, saying it is a simple expedition against the Scylvendi and nothing compared to the Holy War.

Xerius spies revealed that Calmemunis was feuding with Proyas, and the emperor needles Calmemunis with this information (forgetting that he was supposed to seduce Calmemunis, not harrass him, but Xerius’s anger at the informal greeting rules his actions). Calmemunis angrily denies the rumors. Xerius decides Calmemunis is an idiot and will be easily influenced. Finally, Xerius presets Calmemunis with his Indenture.

The Indenture states that the Nansur Empire has long fought the Kiani tribesman and has lost many provinces to them. In exchange for signing the Indenture and agreeing to return imperial land, Xerius will provide provision enough for any lord and his force to march south. Calmemunis is outraged, saying the Shriah said nothing about returning land to the Nansur Empire.

Xerius points out the great cost in supplying the Holy War and that the Nansur Empire needs to be repaid for that service. Calmemunis splutters in the outrage of having to give up whatever heathen lands he conquers.

The stocky officer at his [Calmemunis] side could bear no more. “Sign nothing, Lord Palatine! The Shriah, I wager, has heard nothing of this either.”

“And who would you be?” Xerius snapped.

“Krijates Xinemus,” the man said briskly, “Lord Marshal of Attrempus.”

“Attrempus … Attrempus. Skeaös, please tell me why that name is so familiar?”

“Certainly, God-of-Men. Attrempus is the sister of Atyersus, the fortress that the School of Mandate leases to House Nersei. Lord Xinemus, here, is a close friend of Nersei Proyas”—the old Counsel paused for the briefest of instants, no doubt to allow his Emperor to digest this significance of this—“his childhood sword trainer, if I’m not mistaken.”

Xerius realizes Proyas was not stupid enough to trust Calmemunis and sent Xinemus to babysit. Xerius rebukes Xinemus for breaking protocol. Xinemus ignores Xerius, and reminds Calmemunis they were warned the Emperor would try to play games with the Holy War. Calmemunis is furious when he realizes this. Angrily, Xerius orders Calmemunis to sign his indenture or he and his men will starve.

Calmemunis is incensed that Xerius would twist the Holy War to his own gains. Xerius begins to speak, when bird shit hits his face. Outraged, Xerius orders the Captain of his Eothic Guard, Gaenkelti, to kill the birds. Archers fire at the birds, and arrows and dead sparrows rain down amongst the court. Xerius is delighted to see Calmemunis and his retinue dodging arrows. Soon, all the sparrows are dead or dying.

An impaled sparrow had plopped onto the steps midway between him and the Palatine of Kanampurea. On a whim, Xerius pushed himself from his throne and trotted down the steps. He bent, and scooped up the arrow and its thrashing message. He studied the bird for a moment, watched it convulse and shudder. Was it you, little one? Who bid you do this? Who?

A mere bird would never dare offend an emperor.

He looked up a at Calmemunis and was seized by another whim, this one far darker. Holding shaft and sparrow before him, he approached the dumbstruck Palatine.

“Take this,” Xerius said calmly, “as a token of my esteem.”

Calmemunis and Xinemus storm out of the audience chamber. Xerius rubs at the bird shit on his cheek and wonders aloud what it means. Skeaös thinks he means Calmemunis reaction to the Indenture, and Skeaös reminds Xerius they expected resistance at first. Angrily, Xerius refers to the bird shit on his face.

“Good fortune,” Arithmeas, his favorite augur and astrologer, called out. “Among the lower caste, to be … ah, shat upon by a bird is a great cause of celebration.”

Xerius wanted to laugh, but he could not. “But being shat upon is the only fortune they know, isn’t it?”

“Nevertheless, there’s great wisdom to this belief, God-of-Men. Small misfortunes such as this, the believe, portend good things. Some token blight must always accompany triumph, to remind us of our frailty.”

His cheek tingled, as though it too recognized the truth of the augur’s words. It was an omen! And a good one at that. He could feel it!

Again the Gods have touched me!

Xerius is relieved, and Arithmeas talks about an excellent conjunction between the star Anagke (Xerius star, the Whore of Fate) and the Nail of Heaven. Xerius motions for Arithmeas to follow him out onto the terrace. The palace was built on the Andiamine Heights and all of Momemn is laid out before the Heights. Xerius looks out at the city and asks Arithmeas if he will own the Holy War. Nothing is certain, answers the augur who then gives Xerius instructions on sacrifices to increase the odds. After Arithmeas finishes, Xerius’s mother walks up and dismiss the augur.

As the augur leaves, Xerius asks Arithmeas if he should wash his cheek. The augur says not for three days. Ikurei Istiya, Xerius mother, mocks him for listening to the babbling fool. Xerius notices something odd about her behavior lately and thinks she finally “glimpsed the divinity that dwelt within him.”

Istiya believes Xerius plan is stupid and doomed to failure if he can’t even get Calmemunis, an idiot, to sign it. She believes the Empire will be better off aiding the Holy War.

“Has Maithanet bewitched you as well, Mother? How does one bewitch a witch?”

Laughter. “By offering to destroy her enemies, how else?”

“But the whole world is your enemy, Mother. Or am I mistaken?”

“The whole world is every man’s enemy, Xerius. You’d do well to remember that.”

Istiya turns to Skeaös and asks him what he thinks of Xerius avarice. Xerius protests. Istiya explains it is avarice to try to assassinate Maithanet just because Xerius didn’t own him. And more avarice to try to destroy the Holy War because again Xerius doesn’t own it. Xerius objects, saying he doesn’t mean to destroy the Holy War. Istiya points out that fanatical, hungry, and warlike men are at his doorstep. They may raise arms against the Empire.

Xerius thinks how few provinces are still under his control, all those lost in the south to the Kian, and those in the north not settled for fear of Scylvendi raids. “Empire was the prize, not the wager.” Xerius explains to Istiya he plans on providing enough food to the Men of the Tusk to keep them from starving, but not enough to provision a march. Istiya asks what if Maithanet orders him to provide provisions. Xerius points out if he provisioned Calmemunis, the idiot would march immediately, certain he could destroy the Fanim. Maithanet will pretend to be angry but will secretly be thankful that Xerius’s plot allows time for the armies to gather. Why else did Maithanet set Momemn and not Sumna as the rally. Istiya asks Xerius if he is being used by Maithanet then.

Xerius no long underestimated Maithanet. The Nansur empire is doomed and Maithanet knows it. He fears the Scylvendi Tribes uniting and riding on the Empire. This was how the Kyraneas Empire and the Ceneian Empire had fallen two and one thousand years ago respectively. Xerius was certain Nansur would fall, and the Sclyvendi would retreat like they always did. Then nothing would stop the Kian from taking over the Nansur lands, including Sumna, the Thousand Temples, and the Tusk.

Istiya changes tactics and points out the lords will ignore you Indenture once they have taken the heathen lands. Xerius agrees but believes the Indenture will be useful. Istiya thinks about it and realizes that Xerius will use the Indenture to protect from Shrial censure when he reconquers land taken from the heathen by lords who signed his agreement. Istiya asks if that is why he sent his nephew, Conphas, to his death against the Scylvendi.

Finally, Xerius sees her true motive. Xerius has long suspected she means for Conphas, Xerius nephew and heir, to be a reformer for the empire. Istiya continues, saying to prosecute a war against the Men of the Tusk, he would need manpower. The Sclyvendi threat must be dealt with to free up the soldiers garrisoned in the north. Istiya calls his plan mad. Xerius says it is daring.

Daring?” she cried, as though the word had unlatched something deranged within her. “By the Gods, how I wished I’d strangled you in your cradle! Such a foolish son! You’ve doomed us, Xerius. Can’t you see? No one, no High King of Kyraneas, no Aspect-Emperor of Cenei, has ever defeated the Scylvendi on their ground. They are the People of War, Xerius! Conphas is dead! The flower of your army is dead! Xerius! Xerius! You’ve brought catastrophe upon us all!”

“Mother, no! Conphas assured me he could do it! He’s studied the Scylvendi as no other! He knows their weakness!”

“Xerius. Poor sweet fool, can’t you see that Conphas is still a child? Brilliant, fearless, as beautiful as God, but still a child …” She clutched at her cheeks and began clawing. “You’ve killed my child!” she wailed.

Xerius is panicked, and turns to Skeaös for reassurance. Skeaös says that Xerius has made a wager, and only time will tell. Xerius begins to calm himself down, reassuring himself that Conphas knows what he is doing. Xerius turns to his court, and sees fear. He tells them that men are frail and fallible but that he is Emperor, Divine. The court fall to their knees, but Istiya still protests, asking what happens when Conphas fails and the Sclyvendi come.

Xerius calls her old and fearful, her beauty withered away. Istiya, in a rage, tries to strike him but is restrained by her eunuch, Pisathulas. She shrieks that she should have killed him. Xerius orders her taken to her room and physicians to attend her.

After Xerius reassures his court again, Skeaös tells Xerius an emissary from the Fanim has been sent in reply to Xerius request for a parlay. A Cishaurim. Everyone grows fearful at the mention of the heathen Sorcerer-Priest.

The meeting with the Cishaurim emissary is in a small courtyard. Xerius clutches his Chorae in his fist. Cememketri, the Grandmaster of the Imperial Saik, has joined him. Two other Imperial Saik sorcerers and twelve Chorae crossbowmen guard the emperor.

The Cishaurim is escorted in by the Eothic guards, the elite soldiers who guard the palace. Xerius is unnerved by the Cishaurim’s eyeless gaze. A serpent, like stories said, was wrapped around the Cishaurim’s neck. Xerius asks Cememketri if he sees the mark of sorcery on the Cishaurim. Cememketri sees no mark.

The Cishaurim introduces himself as Mallahet. Cememketri breaks protocol and tells the emperor to leave at once because Mallahet is second only to the Heresiarch, and only because a non-Kianene is barred from leading the Cishaurim. Skeaös agrees, saying he will conduct the negotiation. Xerius ignores them, and greets Mallahet. Gaenkelti orders Mallahet to kneel before the Emperor, but Mallahet objects, a Fanim kneels only to the Solitary God. Xerius suspends Protocol for the occasion.

Mallahet summons the image of Skauras, the Sapatishah-Governor of Shigek, to negotiate. Xerius is offended the the Padirajah is not negotiating himself. Skauras replies that Xerius is not important enough to concern the Padirajah. Skauras knows of Xerius schemes to wrest the Holy War and thinks it will fail, that Conphas will lose to the Scylvendi.

Eight years earlier, Skauras lost three sons in an expedition against the Sclyvendi at Zirkirta. Xerius informs Skauras that Conphas won’t lose like he did. Skauras concedes Conphas may succeed, but that won’t change anything. Xerius still will not get control of the Holy War. Xerius will sell Maithanet his Imperial Saik in exchange for his Indenture being signed.

Skauras laughs and reveals that he knows more of Maithanet’s plans then Xerius does. Maithanet has already allied with the Scarlet Spire. Skeaös calls Skauras a liar, but Cememketri points out why would he lie. The Fanim would rather negotiate with us then Maithanet.

Xerius points out the Fanim are doomed regardless of who possess the holy war. Skauras is glad that Xerius understands they both are negotiating from weakness. A new plan begins to form in Xerius head around Calmemunis.

To Men of the Tusk you and your people are little more than sacrificial victims, Sapatishah. They speak and act as though their triumph is already inked in scripture. Perhaps the time will come when they respect you as we do.”

Shrai laksara kah.”

You mean fear.”

Everything now hinged on his nephew, far to the north. More than ever. The omens…

As I said—respect.”

My Thoughts

Ikurei Xerius III was no fool.”

Xerius believes he is not a fool. He thinks he understands the limits of his intellect and ability, but his actions are another matter. He is a weak ruler, one who will make a “harem of the world.” The problem, though, is he is just smart enough to be dangerous and egotistical to believe he is infallible. Look at the way he rationalizes everything into his own belief in his divinity and how everything will be all right. His Counsel, Skeaös, is intelligent and spends a lot of effort checking Xerius’s impulses, even if he fails. The rest of Xerius court are a bunch of sycophants who would not question Xerius’s decision. Look at the swiftness Gaenkelti obeyed. He didn’t hesitate to have his archers fire arrows in the room. It’s lucky no one was injured or killed. Not that Xerius would have cared.

The Nansur Empire is in a similar position to the Byzantine Empire during the crusades. At the time, they have been holding back the Islamic Caliphate for several hundred years. When the Crusades were called, the Byzantines unsuccessfully tried to get the Crusaders to return their land to them. Of course, this was after the Great Schism, and the Roman Catholic church had named the Eastern church apostate. The Byzantines were actually cutting deals with the Islamic nations because they trusted them over the western Crusaders.

Xerius’s relationship with his mother is very dysfunctional. He is both attracted to her and repulsed by her. She is in her sixties now, but still possess the grace of a younger woman. Xerius and Istiya constantly needle each other, and he is paranoid she is plotting with Conphas. Paranoia is not a good trait in any ruler, nor is an Oedipus complex. As usual, Bakker has to go to the disgusting and/or creepy side of human behavior. As the story unfolds, we see just how incestuous it gets.

Calmemunis stupidity will only continue to grow. But we did get the introduction of Xinemus, one of my favorite characters. Greed motivates Calmemunis. He wants the opportunity to carve out his own lands outside of the future rule of his cousin, Nersei. Nersei, according to rumors, had him whipped for impiety. I don’t blame Calmemunis for not wanting to be under that guy’s thumb. Nothing worse then zealotry and power. But we’ll have time to talk about that later as Proyas takes a larger role in the story.

Bakker’s use of titles are great. He has palatines, which historically was a title granted by a sovereign and were representatives of the king, but in this world seem to act more like dukes. Aspect-Emperor is another great title. And then the Kianene titles Sapatishah and Padirajah sound like a mix of Persian and Indian titles.

The last scene were Xerius spars/negotiates with Skauras is great. Skauras’s loathing of Xerius seeps through, but he has no choice but negotiate with him. The combined might of the Inrithi Nations is more than Kian can face. How terrible it must be to put your fate in the hands of a bitter enemy. The Drusas quote from the start of the chapter works so well here. Everything we need to know about the relationship between Skauras and Xerius is in that quote.

Also, Mallahet is a foreigner. I wonder where he might be from, originally…

Several instances, Xerius notes differences in the attitudes of both his mother and Skeaös. “The old ingrate, Xerius was convinced, we becoming as bad as his [Xerius’s] mother.” In this series, any change in behavior should be noted and observed.

And Xerius has a plan. He thinks he is best when under pressure. For his empire’s sake, Xerius better be right.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Six!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Four

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The Sorcerer
Chapter 4
Sumna

Welcome to Chapter Four of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Three!

To be ignorant and to be deceived are two different things. To be ignorant is to be a slave of the world. To be deceived is to be slave of another man. The question will always be: When, when all men are ignorant, and therefore already slaves, does this later slavery sting us so?

—Ajencis, the Epistemologies

But despite stories of Fanim atrocities, the fact of the matter is that the Kianene, heathen or no, were surprisingly tolerant of Inrithi pilgrimages to Shimeh—before the Holy War, that is. Why would a people devoted to the destruction of the Tusk extend this courtesy to “idolaters”? Perhaps they were partially motivated by the prospect of trade, as others have suggested. But the fundamental motive lies in their desert heritage. The Kianene word for a holy place is si’ihkhalis, which means, literally, “great oasis.” On the open desert it is their strict custom to never begrudge travelers water, even if they be enemies.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My Thoughts

The quote from Ajencis ties into what the Dûnyain says in the prologue and is one of the themes of the series. So long as men are ignorant, they are slaves to what came before. When someone lies they can get you to believe things that are wrong, to do things for the wrong reasons, I can see how that could be a type of slavery. And of course it would sting more, because being lied to is a purposeful act. The world doesn’t conspire to enslave with ignorance. It just happens.

The Achamian quote just provides some background on the Kianene and a great way to add world building. Water is a big deal to the Kianene. Their Cishaurim sorcerer-priests are known as the Water-Bearers of Indara.

Section 1

The Holy War of the Inrithi against the Fanim was declared by Maithanet, the 116th Shriah of the Thousand Temples, on the Morn of Ascension in 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk. The day had been unseasonably hot, as though the God himself had blessed the Holy War with a premonition of summer. Indeed the Three Seas buzzed with rumors of omens and visions, all of which attested to the sanctity of the task that lay before the Inrithi.

Word spreads through the Inrithi nations of the Holy War. The Shrial and Cultic priests preach against the Fanim. In markets and taverns, people gossiped about which lords have declared for the Holy War. Children play at Holy War. The faithful proclaimed their desire to cleans Shimeh and kneel where the Latter Prophet walked.

The lords declared themselves Men of the Tusk and summoned their knights. Trivial wars were forgotten and lands were mortgaged. Great fleets of ships gathered to take the armies to Momemn were the Holy War was to gather.

Maithanet had called, and the entire of the Three Seas had answered. The back of the heathen would be broken. Holy Shimeh would be cleansed.

My Thoughts

I always like these sort of omniscient overviews of an area. It lets us see how people are reacting to the Holy War. Loved the veterans in taverns arguing who’s lord was more pious. And this is a rather telling quote about the piety of the average man: “The Thousand Temples issued edicts stating that those who profited from the absence of any great lord who had taken up the Tusk would be tried for heresy in ecclesiastical courts and summarily executed. Thus assured of their birthrights, princes, earls, palatines, and lords of every nation declared themselves Men of the Tusk.”

Their self-interests protected, they do not have a problem joining the holy war. A shrewd move on the part of Maithanet. For someone who is such a holy person, he has a shred understanding of the true nature of humans.

Mid-Spring, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

Esmenet watches Achamian sniff a prune before eating it and is reminded of her dead daughter sniffing an apple. The apple’s vendor saw the tattoo an Esmenet’s left hand and she knew he wouldn’t sell to a prostitute. Esmenet told her daughter no. Esmenet’s eyes tear up at this memory as regret for her dead daughter, Mimara, fills her.

Achamian had been staying with Esmenet for a while now. Long enough for them to almost feel married. Esmenet realizes that being a spy is a lot of waiting and Achamian waited here. They had fallen into a routine and would spend the day talking and joking. Eventually, a customer would arrive and Achamian, slightly hurt, would leave to get drunk. When he returned, he would try to appear happy and a pang of sadness would strike Esmenet.

What was it she felt? Many things, it seemed. Pity for him, certainly. In the midst of strangers, Achamian always looked so lonely, so misunderstood. No one, she would often think, know him the way I do. There was also relief that he’d returned—returned to her, even though he had gold enough to buy far younger whores. A selfish sorrow, that one. And shame. Shame because she knew that he loved her, and that every time she took custom it bruised his heart.

But what choice did she have?

Achamian would never enter her room if he thought she had a customer. Once, she was badly beaten and just crawled to bed afterward instead of waiting at the window for Achamian. In the morning, she found Achamian sleeping in front of her door. She knew then that he loved her.

Theirs was a strange marriage, if it could be called that. A marriage of outcasts sanctified by inarticulate vows. A sorcerer and a whore. Perhaps a certain desperation was to be expected of such unions, as though that strange word, “love,” became profound in proportion to the degree on was scorned by others.

Achamian tried to find the man that hurt her, and though she protested that this was part of business, she was secretly thrilled. Esmenet suspects he still searches for the man. Esmenet thinks Achamian wants to murder all her customs. Achamian wants Esmenet to himself, but Esmenet has to continue seeing her clients because Achamian will eventually leave her and her regulars will have found new prostitutes.

There is a knock at the door and Inrau enters the hovel. Inrau has important news and is afraid he may have been followed. Achamian tells Inrau not to worry, even priests visit prostitutes and no one will think it unusual. Inrau, uncomfortable with this subject, asks Esmenet for confirmation.

“They’re much like sorcerers that way,” she said wryly.

Achamian shot her a lock of mock indignation, and Inrau laughed nervously.

Esmenet sees the childlike qualities of Inrau and understands why Achamian fears for the young man. Inrau’s news is the Scarlet Spire has joined the Holy War. Inrau heard this from an Orate of the College of Luthymae. Maithanet offered six Chorae as a gesture of good will and the College controls the Temple’s Chorae and had to be told the reason.

Achamian is excited by this news and starts to explain the Scarlet Spire to Esmenet. Achamian likes to explain things, even if his audience knows the information. His explanation is interrupted by his realization that the Temples gave six Trinkets to a School of blasphemers. Esmenet ponders why she loves Achamian and thinks when she is with Achamian, her small, sordid world becomes so much larger.

Trinkets. This reminded Esmenet that despite the wonder, Achamian’s world was exceedingly deadly. Ecclesiastical law dictated that prostitutes, like adulteresses, be punished by stoning. The same, she reflected, was true of sorcerers, except there was just one kind of stone that could afflict them, and it need touch them only once. Thankfully, there were few Trinkets. The world, on the other hand, was filled with stones for harlots.

Inrau asks why Maithanet would pollute the Holy War with the Scarlet Spire. Achamian explains that a School would be needed to fight the Cishaurim. The forces of Kian would protect the Cishaurim from Chorae troop. The Scarlet Spire is the best school for the task. Inrau hates the Scarlet Spire, and Esmenet knows the Mandate hate the Spire for their envy of the Gnosis. Ikurei Xerius III, the Emperor, has been trying to co-opt the Holy War using his control of the Imperial Saik. Maithanet has blocked this attempt by allying with the Scarlet Spire.

Then a question occurred to her.

“Shouldn’t—“ Esmenet began, but she paused when the two men looked at her strangely. “Shouldn’t the question be, Why have the Scarlet Spires accepted Maithanet’s offer? What could induce a School to join a Holy War? They make for odd bedfellows, don’t you think? Not so long ago, Akka, you feared that the Holy War would be declared against the Schools.”

There was a moment of silence. Inrau smiled as though amused by his own stupidity. From this moment on, Esmenet realized, Inrau would look upon her as an equal in these matters. Achamian, however, would remain aloof, the judge of all questions. As was proper, perhaps, given his calling.

Achamian explains about what he learned about the Scarlet Spires secret war against the Cishaurim. This is their chance to conclude the war. Another reason is none of the schools understand the Psûkhe, the metaphysics of the Cishaurim. All the schools, Mandate included, are terrified by not being able to see Cishaurim sorcerery. Esmenet asks why that is so terrifying. Achamian criticizes her question and, annoyed, Esmenet asks Inrau if this is what Achamian is like when he teaches.

“You mean fault the question rather than the answer” Inrau said darkly. “All the time.”

But Achamian’s expression darkened. “Listen. Listen to me carefully. This isn’t a game we play. Any of us—but especially you, Inrau—could end up with out heads boiled in salt, tarred, and posted before the Vault-of-the-Tusk. And there’s more at stake than even our lives. Far more.”

Esmenet is shocked by the reprimand. She had forgotten the depths of Achamian. She remembers holding him in the night as he dreams, crying out in strange languages. Achamian tries to confront Inrau on the possibility that Maithanet has connections to the Consult. Inrau flares up with anger, saying Maithanet is worthy of devotion and this is just a fool’s errand.

Esmenet realizes something important as they argue. Achamian sees the expression on her face and realizes she has an insight and asks her what it is. Esmenet points out the Scarlet Spire hid their war from the Mandate for ten years, how did Maithanet find out? Achamian agrees with Esmenet, Maithanet would never approach the Scarlet Spire unless he knew they would agree. Inrau argues the Thousand Temple could have learned the same way Achamian had. Achamian concedes Inrau’s point as a small possibility, but thinks Maithanet needs to be closely watched.

Inrau looked momentarily at Esmenet before turning his plaintive eyes to his mentor. “I can’t do what you ask … I can’t.”

“You just get close to Maithanet, Inrau. Your Shriah is altogether to canny.”

“What?” the young priest said with half-heated sarcasm. “To canny to be a man of faith?”

Not at all, my friend. Too canny to be what he seems.”

My Thoughts

They way women are treated in the three seas is appalling. The fact that Esmenet thinks getting beaten by a customer is just part of business and that she has absolutely no legal recourse is terrible. And the fact that her remembering of scripture says that adulteress get stoned to death, which it makes it sound like the man committing adultery with her gets off with either no or a less sever punishment. We also are given the comparison with whores and sorcerers. They are both outcasts in society, but useful outcasts. Even in Sumna, the center of this worlds equivalent to the Catholic church, Esmenet makes a living selling her body to priests, pilgrims, and soldiers.

In the last chapter we got Achamian’s view on their relationship. He suspects that her affection is just an act, that she pretends to care for him because that’s what she does for a living. Here we learn that she does love Achamian, but she knows that he will leave her eventually. His mission is more important than their relationship. She has to keep seeing her customers to be able to survive. It’s sad.

Esmenet’s banter with Achamian’s morning bowel movements is hilarious.

Esmenet’s life is so dreary that she loves it when Achamian visits, and may be what she loves about the man. When he is around, he tells her of far off places, of intrigue of lords. She gets to vicariously live through his stories.

Inrau’s blushing realization that priest visit prostitutes is funny. Particularly when Esmenet compares them to sorcerer’s.

Achamian must trust Esmenet. He has no problems discussing Mandate business in front of her with Inrau. He also respects her opinion. He knows she is intelligent. It is a terrible shame that Esmenet never was able to receive an education. She has a keen mind and is the first to realize the implications of Inrau’s news.

Esmenet’s insight on Maithanet and the Scarlet Spire is troubling. How does Maithanet know? There’s a lot of suspicious things going on with him. He’s one of the Few, but without the Mark of ever practicing sorcery, he came from Kian, and he knows of the very secret Scarlet Spire-Cishaurim war.

Late Spring, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

Inrau is in the Hagerna, reeling from a secret he has learned about the Shriah. Inrau is conflicted by his faith and the debt he owes Achamian for saving his life when he left the Mandate. How can he repay Achamian by risking his own life? It seem wrong to Inrau. He feels he should give another gift, but obligation compels him

Conflicted, Inrau heads to the Irreüma, where small shrines to the Cultic gods resided. Inrau goes to shrine of Onkis, the Singer-in-the-Dark, a goddess of knowledge. Inrau cries before her. Inrau wonders if Onkis would forgive him for returning to the Mandate.

The idol was worked in white marble, eyes closed with the sunken look of the dead. At first glance she appeared to be the severed head of a woman, beautiful yet vaguely common, mounted on a pole. Anything more than a glance, however, revealed the pole to be a miniature tree, like those cultivated by the ancient Norsirai, only worked in bronze. Branches poked through her parted lips and swept across her face—nature reborn through human lips. Other branches reached behind to break through her frozen hair. Her image never failed to stir something within him, and this is why he always returned to her: she was this stirring, the dark place where the flurries of his thought arose. She came before him.

Inrau leaves on offering of food. Everything cast a shadow on the Outside, where the Gods moved, including his offering. He pulls out his list of ancestors and prays to them for intercession. Inrau cries out for the goddess to answer him and is met with only silence. Inrau thinks he should run.

The silence is broken by the sound of flapping wings up in the clerestory. Thinking it is a sign from Onkis, he heads up stairs to investigate. He wonders onto a balcony, exited that Onkis was communicating with him.

“Where are you?” he whispered.

Then he saw it, and horror throttled him.

It stood a short distance away, perched on the railing, watching him with shiny blue eyes. It had the body of a crow, but its head was small, bald, and human—about the size of a child’s fist. Stretching thin lips over tiny, perfect teeth, it smiled.

Sweet-Sejunes-oh-God-it-can’t-be-it-can’t-be!

A parody of surprise flashed across the miniature face. “You know what I am,” it said in a papery voice. “How?” can’t-be-cannot-be-Consult-here-no-no-no

Cutias Sarcellus, the Knight-Commander from the last chapter, steps out of the shadows with another Shrial Knight and explains Inrau is Achamian’s student. Inrau is stunned that Sarcellus is consorting with a Consult Synthese. Inrau whirls to flee and is cut off by a second Shrial Knight: Mujonish. Inrau sees the signs of sorcery on the bird, the Synthese, binding a soul to the vessel.

“He knows this form is but a shell,” the Synthese said to Sarcellus, “but I don’t see Chigra within him.” The pea-sized eyes—little beads of sky blue glass—turned to Inrau. “Hmm, boy? You don’t dream the Dream like the others, do you? If you did, you would recognize me. Chigra never failed to recognize me.

Inrau realizes prayers are useless and struggles to remember his Mandate training. He asks what the Synthese wants to buy time. The Synthese answers the same thing Inrau was doing in Maithanet’s apartment; overseeing our affairs. The two Shrial Knights and the Synthese close upon Inrau. Inrau remembers his training.

Inrau sense Mujonish looming behind him. Prayer seized his tongue. Blasphemy tumbled from his lips.

Turning with sorcerous speed, he punched two fingers through Mujonish’s chain mail, cracked his breastbone, then seized his heart. He yanked his hand free, drawing a cord of glittering blood into the air. More impossible words. The blood burst into incandescent flame, followed his sweeping hand toward the Synthese. Shrieking, the creature dove from the railing into emptiness. Blinding beads of blood cracked bare stone.

He would have turned to Sarcellus, but the sight of Mujonish stilled him. The Shrial Knight had stumbled to his knees, wiping his bloody hands on his surcoat. Then, as though spilling from a bladder, his face simply fell apart, dropping outward, unclutching

No mark. Not the faintest whisper of sorcery.

Distracted, Inrau is struck by Sarcellus. Inrau tries to use ghostly wards but they are useless. Sarcellus has a Chorae. Sarcellus grabs Inrau and touches the Chorae to his cheek. Part of Inrau’s cheek turns to salt. Inrau focus on the Synthese and prepares to unleash another attack on it. The Synthese conjures light that breaks through Inrau’s wards and pierces Inrau’s chest.

Inrau is drowning in his own blood. The Synthese watches him die. Inrau thinks of Achamian and of Onkis, struggling to breath. Inrau collapses and is hauled up to his knees by Sarcellus and brought face to face with the Synthese. The Synthese taunts him, saying he is an old name and could show him the Agonies. Inrau asks, “Why?”

Again the thin, tiny smile. “You worship suffering. Why do you think?”

Monumental rage filled him. It didn’t understand! It didn’t understand. With a coughing roar, he lurched forward, yanking his hair from his scalp. The Synthese seemed to flicker out of his path, but it wasn’t its death he sought. Any price, old teacher. The stone rail slammed against his hips, broke like cake. Again he was floating, but it was so different—air whipping across his face, bathing his body. With a single outstretched hand, Paro Inrau followed a pillar to the earth.

My Thoughts

Goodbye, Inrau. You did not deserve to die.

Whatever Inrau learned in searching Maithanet’s quarters had nothing to do with the Consult. My first read through that’s what I actually thought. But, Inrau is surprised to see the Synthese. If he learned Maithanet was connected to the Consult, this would not be surprising. Inrau killed himself to avoid torture, but also because he realized the Synthese did not know what he knew about Maithanet and thought it was important to prevent the Consult from learning and to protect Achamian.

Inrau makes a good point on debt repayment. If you saved someone life and they owe you, how can they repay that back with their own death. It defeats the purpose of saving the person in the first place.

Inrau revealed more of these abominations hiding in the Shrial Knights. Sarcellus referred to the Synthese as Old Father, implying the Synthese created him. We have our confirmation that the abominations are skin spies and why Sarcellus took such delight in hitting Achamian—the Mandate are his enemy.

Poor Inrau. You went out swinging though. And ripping out a monsters heart and turning his blood into liquid flames, that was pretty badass. Not bad for a guy who never actually used sorcery before. Shame Sarcellus had his Chorae.

Careful readers will note that Inrau did not die from being touched by a Chorae. A Chorae turns a sorcerer into salt, but the speed at which it does depends on how much sorcery they have performed. Inrau had only just now used Sorcery for the first time. He had been trained right to the point of using sorcery, but never crossed the line. Achamian would be killed almost instantly, and nonman sorcerers, like the one we meet in the prologue, could have his skin turned to salt just coming near a Chorae.

Achamian feared this would happen. He hadn’t been told of the spy in Atyersus. An Old Name is in the Synthese. It is a construct, like the abominations, and the Old Name’s soul is projected onto it. It does limit the creature’s sorcery, which is why it points out it still has the power to hurt Inrau.

Click here to head on over to Chapter 5!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Three

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The Sorcerer
Chapter 3
Sumna

Welcome to Chapter Three of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Two!

 If the world is a game whose rules are written by the God, and sorcerers are those who cheat and cheat, then who has written the rules of sorcery?

Zarathinius, A Defense of the Arcane Arts

My Thoughts

That is a very good question. I wonder if Bakker will ever draw back the curtains on his universe. It seems to run on belief of the inhabitants of the planet. They believe in the supernatural, and the supernatural exists. But still, who wrote the rules for magic?

Early Spring, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, En Route to Sumna

On a boat in the storm tossed Sea of Meneanor, Achamian awakens from a Seswatha Dream. The dream is of a battle during the Apocalypse where the dragon Skafra fought Seswatha. It takes a moment for Achamian to separate the sounds of the storm from his dream of battle. Up on deck, the Nroni sailors prey to Momas, Aspect of storm and sea, and God of dice.

The boat reaches Sumna safely. From the ships railing, Achamian watches a pilot boat guide the ship to the docks. Achamian looks out at the great city and could see the Hagerna (Vatican) and rising in the center the Junriüma where the Tusk rested.

He [Achamian] could feel the tug of what should have been their grandeur, but they seemed mute in the distance, dumb. Just more stone. For the Inrithi, this was the place where the heavens inhabited the earth. Sumna, the Hagerna, and the Junriüma were far more than geographical sites; they were bound up in the very purpose of history They were the hinges of destiny.

Achamian remembers the awe Inrau spoke of this place and how Inrau’s enthusiasm alienated Achamian. This was why Maithanet should be feared: he spread certainty. Achamian could never understand how belief in the mysterious God could lead to an absence of hesitation.

The ship’s captain joins Achamian at the railing, and warns him about going into the city. The Nroni people had grown used to the Mandate, but they still were Inrithi and had to deal with the contradiction of helping heresy.

“They never know what we are,” Achamian said. “That’s the horrible fact of sinners. We’re indistinguishable from the righteous.”

“So I’ve been told,” the man [captain] replied, avoiding his eyes. “The Few can see only each other.” There was something disturbing about his tone, as though he probed for the details of some illicit sexual act.

Achamian remembers seeing processions of Mandate Schoolman as a child. He would watch them in awe, thinking these were the men of the Sagas. Mere months of training dispelled Achamian of this fantasy. Sorcerer’s were no different then fishermen, save the scale of their worries. The captain appears relieved to be called away by his crew which hurts Achamian a little.

Achamian’s thoughts turn to the Three Sea’s comparison between sorcerer’s and poet’s, which Achamian finds absurd. No sorcerer can create with his words, his only destroy.

“It was as though men could only ape the language of God, could only debase and brutalize his song. When sorcerers sing, the saying went, men died.”

And Mandate Schoolman are anathema amongst their own kind. The other schools are jealous of their possessing of Gnosis. Before the Apocalypse, the Great Schools of the North were taught sorcery by the Nonman Magi, the Quya. Achamian needed to remember that compared to most people, he was like a god, and that is why they hated them. Hate enough to fuel a Holy War.

The Chronicle of the Tusk, holy scripture of the Inrithi, recorded the migration of the Men of Eärwa in the distant past. The Ketyai tribe brought the Tusk to Sumna and the place has been sacred ever since, drawing pilgrims. Achamian finds Sumna more crowded then ever and learns that Maithanet has called the faithful and will reveal the object of the Holy War. Achamian realized the Quorum most have known this and had omitted it to manipulate him into coming to Sumna.

Later on, Achamian is lying in bed with Esmenet in her hovel. Achamian is have a relapse of the Fevers, a disease he contracted six years earlier and is not contagious. Bitterly, Esmenet says that is the same year her daughter died. They are silent for a while.

Esmenet is a prostitute in Sumna that Achamian had met. She was the first person Achamian had sought out when he arrived. The four years since he had last seen her, had changed her. She was more weary, her humor gouged by small wounds. Achamian confides in Esmenet his plans for Inrau. Esmenet was always good at nursing both the loins and the heart.

“I’ve spent my entire life among those people who think me mad, Esmi.”

She laughed at this. Though born a caste menial and never educated—formally anyway—Esmenet had always possessed a keen appreciation of irony. It was one of the many things that so distinguished her from the other women, the other prostitutes.

“I’ve spent my entire life among people who think me a harlot, Akka.”

Achamian smiled in the darkness. “But it’s not the same. You are a harlot.”

Esmenet giggles girlishly, which makes Achamian think this is just her act, that they really aren’t lovers, but that he’s just another client. Achamian asks if she thinks he is mad to believe in the Consult. She hesitates, before answering that she believes the question of the Consult exists. Achamian changes the subject back to Inrau. Esmenet says the two of them make a sad couple: the sorcerer and the harlot.

The next morning, Achamian finds Inrau in a tavern. Startled, Inrau warns Achamian to leave. Shrial Knights, holy warriors of the church, sit at a nearby table. Achamian greats Inrau warmly, letting Inrau know he is posing as his uncle. Achamian then tells Inrau the Mandate need him to spy on Maithanet.

“But you promised, Akka. You promised.

Tears glittered in the Schoolman’s eyes. Wise tears, but filled with regret nonetheless.

“The world has had the habit,” Achamian said, “of breaking the back of my promises.”

Inrau objects. Maithanet is more the Achamian can understand. Some worship him, though he says Maithanet wishes only to be obeyed. That’s why Maithanet took his name, from mai’tathana. Inrau sees the confusion of Achamian face and explains it is Thoti-Eännorean (language of the Tusk) for instruction. Achamian wanders what the lesson is.

Achamian asks if Inrau is not troubled by Maithanet’s effortless rise. Inrau is thrilled. Maithanet is clearing out the corruption from the Thousand Temples. Achamian asks what Inrau will do if Maithanet declares against the Schools. Inrau is conflicted and Achamian finds his opening.

Achamian asks why Inrau, a Shrial priest, would go against the Tusk and the teachings of the Latter Prophet. Inrau replies the Mandate are different then the other schools. Inrau respects the Mandate mission and would grieve at Maithanet’s choice.

“Grieve? I don’t think so, Inrau. You’d think he’s mistaken. As brilliant and as holy as Maithanet may be, you’d think , ‘He hasn’t seen what I’ve seen!’ ”

Inrau nodded vacantly.

Achamian continues, Maithanet is the first Shriah in centuries to reclaim the preeminence of the Thousand Temples amongst the Great Factions. Every faction wants to know how Maithanet will instruct them with his Holy War. All of the Great Factions have sent their spies to minimize or exploit this Holy War. Achamian reminds Inrau the Mandate stand outside such petty concerns. It is an old spy trick, to make your recruit see it not a betrayal but a greater fidelity.

Achamian points out this is the best place for the Consult to be hidden. Achamian has conjured a story where Inrau is the only one who can save the Thousand Temples from the Consult. Inrau is almost convinced when the Shrial Knights in the tavern recognize him. Achamian tells to let him do the talking.

Lord Sarcellus, a Knight-Commander of the Shrial Knights, approaches the table and greets Inrau. Sarcellus asks if Inrau is being bothered by Achamian. Achamian plays the role of Inrau’s angry uncle, sent here by Inrau’s mother to chastise him. Achamian acts drunk and provokes Sarcellus. Sarcellus backhand’s Achamian, throwing him to the ground. Achamian cries out “murder!” and the tavern erupts in chaos. Sarcellus grabs Achamian and calls him pig.

Sarcellus lets Achamian go and rejoins his fellow knights. Inrau helps Achamian up and asks if he’s okay. Achamian assures him he’s fine. Achamian asks Inrau if he saw how he had worked Sarcellus to get him to leave. As Inrau pours Achamian another bowl of wine, a rage suddenly takes Achamian.

“The furies I could have unleashed!” he spat, low enough to ensure he couldn’t be overheard. What if he comes back? He glanced hurriedly over at Sarcellus and the other two Shrial Knights. They were laughing about something. Some joke or something. Something.

“The words I know,” he snarled. “I could have boiled his heart in his chest!”

Another bowl quaffed, like burning oil in his frigid gut.

“I’ve done it before.” Was that me?

Several days later, Achamian is standing in central square of the Hagerna with a massive crowd, waiting to hear Maithanet’s announcement about the Holy War. Inrau had agreed to spy without the use of cants. Not all of the Few became sorcerers. Some became priest and joined the College of Luthymae and used the “gift” to war against the schools. They would see the mark of sorcery the Cants would have left on Inrau and killed him.

The most the Compulsion would do was purchase time—that, and break his [Achamian’s] heart.

Perhaps this was why Inrau had agreed to be a spy. Perhaps he’d glimpsed the dimensions of the trap fate and Achamian had set for him. Perhaps what he’d feared was not the prospect of what would happen to him if he refused, but the prospect of what would happen to his old teacher. Achamian would have used the Cants, would have transformed Inrau into a sorcerous puppet, and he would have gone mad.

Days later, Achamian is the great square before the Thousand Temples awaiting the new shriah. The Summoning Horns blow and Achamian is reminded of Sranc war horns. A parade priests led Maithanet through the throng. Maithanet had come from the deep south, through the heathen lands of Kian. Maithanet’s outsider status helped him seize power. He was outside the corruption and the Inrithi loved him for that. Achamian wanders if the Consult figured this out, crafted Maithanet to fulfill this role. Maithanet begins his sermon, denouncing Fanimry as an affront to the God. Achamian finds himself moved by Maithanet’s voice.

“These people, these Kianene, are an obscene race, followers of a False Prophet. A False Prophet, my children! The Tusk tells us that there is no greater abomination than the False Prophet. No man is so vile, so wicked, as he who makes a mockery of the God’s voice. And yet we sign treaties with the Fanim; we buy silk and turquoise that have passed through their unclean hands. We trade gold for horses and slaves bred in their venal stables. No more shall the faithful beat down their outrage in exchange for baubles from heathen lands! No, my children, we shall show them our fury! We shall loose upon the God’s own vengeance!”

Maithanet declares Holy War upon the Fanim faith. The Cishaurim have made their den at the sacred heights of Juterum. The Faithful will take back Amoteu, the Holy Land, Shimeh, the Holy City of Inri Sejunes, and the Juterum, where the Ascension took place. The masses erupt in cheers.

Achamian’s fever strikes, and he has trouble standing as Maithanet speaks. The crowd, thinking he is having a religious experience, lifts him up and began bearing him forward to Maithanet like a mosh pit. Others in the crowd who also swooned are likewise being carried forward. Achamian is brought to the front and finds himself face to face with Maithanet’s retinue. Achamian recognizes one of the men with Maithanet as Prince Nersei Proyas of Conriya, his former student.

Proyas recognizes Achamian with disgust. Achamian tutored Proyas for four years in the non-sorcerous arts. Before either men can speak, Proyas is pulled aside and Maithanet stands before Achamian.

The multitudes roared, but an uncanny hush had settled between the two of them.

The Shriah’s face darkened, but his blue eyes glittered with … with …

He spoke softly, as though intimate: “Your kind are not welcomed here, friend. Flee.”

And Achamian fled. Would a crow wage war upon a lion? And throughout the pinched madness of his struggle through the host of Inrithi, he was transfixed by a single thought:

He can see the Few.

Only the Few could see the Few.

Proyas watches Achamian flee and is stunned and furious at seeing him here. Maithanet grabs Proyas’s arm and says they need to speak. Maithanet has Proyas follow Gotian, Grandmaster of the Shrial Knights, through the Junriüma. As they walk, Proyas can’t get over his outrage at a sorcerer, even one he loved once, here in this holy place. Gotian leads Proyas to the Tusk, a great horn of mammoth ivory carved with the scriptures.

Proyas falls to his knees and thanks Gotian for bringing him here. Proyas begins to pray. Maithanet joins him and Proyas sees Maithanet as his new teacher. Maithanet leads their conversation towards those who would pervert the Holy War. Proyas answers the Emperor and the Schools.

The Shriah turned his strong bearded profile to him, and Proyas was struck by the crisp blue of his eyes. “Tell me, Nersei Proyas,” Maithanet said with the voice of edict. “Who was that man, that sorcerer, who dared pollute my presence?”

My Thoughts

Momas being the god of both sea and storm and dice is interesting (and amusing). Of course the patron god of sailors would be both about the sea and gambling, because even in modern times, sea voyages can be a gamble. Weather can change, ice bergs can drift, etc.

Sorcery in Bakker’s world is interesting. It is a sin because it cheapens the voice of the God. It uses the God’s power, but not for anything useful, but only to cause destruction. To mar the world with their imperfect use of that power. The religion of Bakker’s world is an interest mix of Judeo-Christian-Islam and paganism.

With the Tusk you have very Old Testament commandments, concepts of sin and damnation, mixed with near-east pantheism. Hundreds of gods and goddess, idolatry, temple prostitutes with the priestess of Giera, sacrifices, etc.

Then along comes Inri Sejunes who preaches something like the New Testament. The concept of all the gods and goddess are in fact the God made manifest in different aspects is like a hundredfold version of the trinity of Christianity. INRI is an acronym in Latin for Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum (Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews), which the roman soldiers wrote on Jesus’s cross when he was crucified.

And lastly comes Fane, wandering out of the Carathay Desert. Preaching a new version of the God—the Solitary God. Fane rejects the multitude of gods and goddess, saying there is only one God and he is not split into multiple aspects. Like Muhammad, Fane rejects the “trinity” of the previous religion. The desert tribesmen of Kian are converted and take the Holy City of Shimeh (Jerusalem), leading to the present Holy War which resembles the medieval crusades in many ways (including how Nansur [the Byzantines] clash with the War later in the story).

Achamian as one of the Mandate’s spies, is almost always in the company of men who fear and revile him. Whether they know he is a sorcerer or not. No wonder Achamian is jaded, to be constantly reminded because of his “gift” he is damned. Achamian has to take insults from lesser men, knowing full well the damage he could reek if he wanted to.

Esmenet is an interesting character. An intelligent, strong-willed woman born in a world that sees her as nothing more than an object to sate men’s lust. Women in the three seas fall into one of three role: the wife, the harlot, or the priestess (who practice temple prostitution). Women are marginalized and thought of as less then men. Esmenet is an underdog and you can’t help rooting for her.

Achamian and Esmenet’s relationship is very schadenfreude. They enjoy each other’s company on several levels. But, Esmenet’s occupation always causes a painful rift between them. Achamian always wonders if its the real Esmenet he is with or the act she puts on for her clients. Esmenet is hurt by the wary distance Achamian keeps her at because he is unsure.

Achamian’s fevers remind me of malaria. If you survive malaria untreated, or if the treatment fails to kill the parasite, you can have recurrences of malaria. The parasite can lay dormant in the liver for years. Malaria is also not contagious, like the Fevers Achamian has.

Inrau still seems to be his innocent self. He is as enamored by Maithanet as everyone else is. And on the surface, Maithanet seems great. He’s cleansed the heart of religion from its petty corruption, broke the church free from the yoke of the Nansur Emperor. What’s not to like? Oh, wait, he appeared out of know where from the south. The faithful Inrithi who walked out of heathen lands. That’s not suspicious. And now he calls a Holy War against the very place he just left. Oh, and he’s one of the Few and has blue eyes, not a Ketyai trait.

Achamian’s handling of Sarcellus is great. I love how he momentarily regrets having so many teeth as he provokes Sarcellus. There is also something sinister about Sarcellus. Bakker describes his white Shrial uniform to almost have no shadows, but Sarcellus face seemed to have more shadows then normal.

“How I’ve longed to do that pig,” the man [Sarcellus] whispered.

On a reread, the words Sarcellus hisses when he grabs Achamian are significant. In all, I love this scene. As a writer, I love a scene that serves multiple purposes. At once this introduces Sarcellus, a character important as the story develops, gives us a taste of his character (an asshole) while at the same time demonstrating Achamian’s quick wits and skill at acting. He manipulates Sarcellus into dismissing him, “playing his levers.”

Manipulation is a major theme of this series. The way Achamian uses his words to “open a safe place” to lead Inrau into betrayal is well handle. I’ve read that the CIA found there are four reasons why men turn spies on their country, organization, or faction. Money, Ideology, Coercion, Ego. Inrau is Ideology while earlier Geshruuni was definitely Ego. If someone is going to spy for Ideological reason, it means his handler [Achamian] would need to keep Inrau focused on that Ideology. To re-frame the betrayal in the terms of that Ideology.

Maithanet’s words in his sermon are so powerful, even jaded Achamian finds himself being moved by them. “Such a voice. One that fell upon passions and thoughts rather than ears, with intonations exquisitely pitched to incite, to enrage.”

In this chapter we meet both of Achamian’s former students. Nersei Proyas core dilemma is introduced here—he wants the world to be holy, and it’s not. What is it with Achamian’s former students and becoming faithful Inrithi?

Click here to go onto Chapter Four!

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