Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before
by R. Scott Bakker
The Holy Warrior
The Andiamine Heights
Welcome to Chapter Seventeen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Sixteen!
The event itself was unprecedented: not since the fall of Cenei to the Scylvendi hordes had so many potentates gathered in one place. But few knew Mankind itself lay upon the balance. And who could guess that a brief exchange of glances, not the Shriah’s edict, would tip that balance?
But is that not the very enigma of history? When one peers deep enough, one always finds that catastrophe and triumph, the proper objects of the historian’s scrutiny, inevitably turn upon the small, the trivial, the nightmarishly accidental. When I reflect overmuch on this fact, I do not fear that we are “drunk as the sacred dance,” as Protathis writes, but that there is no dance at all.
—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR
Wow, there is a lot to unpack in this epigraph. For one thing, Bakker is setting up how monumental the events in this chapter will be, and not only the maneuvering between the Emperor and Proyas on who will lead the Holy War, but the simple glances exchanged between Kellhus and Skeaös. Something so small changes everything. Bakker’s discussion of how history focuses on the big events, great wars, great loss of life, great upheavals, and how those are really called by such mundane things is epitomized by Kellhus studying Skeaös. Or in our world, how a plane can crash and kill 300 people because a maintenance worker didn’t tighten a bolt properly.
Or even the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand that was the final catalyst to World War 1. The original attempt failed. The Duke and his wife escaped to safety and one of the assassins escaped. He went to a cafe, ordered lunch, to gather himself, to think what to do next. Meanwhile, the Duke wanted to visit the hospital and see the people injured in the bombs that went off meant for him. On the way to the hospital, his driver made a wrong turn and passed in front of that cafe. The assassin, seeing his target delivered, attacks. An entire generation of men in Europe would die in the trenches because of that wrong turn.
Achamian final line about being drunk while the sacred dance, meaning that the gods are in control but we are to besotted in our own vices to notice and how he fears that no fate actually governs anything. He fears it is all so pointless.
Late Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn
Kellhus walks with Cnaiür, Xinemus, and the five Conryian Palatines behind Proyas through the Andiamine heights, Proyas bouncing between elation and anxious by turns. Currently, he is elated, sure his plan will work. Proyas plays down the grandiose palace to the Scylvendi, fearing Cnaiür will be overawed. Cnaiür responds by spitting, which Proyas warns would be a bad idea to do before the Emperor.
A week had passed since they had joined the Holy War and secured the hospitality of Nersei Proyas. In that time, Kellhus had spent long hours in the probability trance, assessing, extrapolating, and reassessing this extraordinary twist of circumstance. But the Holy War had proven incalculable. Nothing he’d thus far encountered could compare with the sheer number of variables it presented. Of course, the nameless thousands who constituted its bulk were largely irrelevant, significant only in their sum, but the handful of men who were relevant, who would ultimately determine the Holy War’s fate, had remained inaccessible to him.
That would change in a matter of moments.
Today, the matter of who would lead the Holy War and if the Emperor’s Indenture had to be signed would be settled. Before Xerius, all parties would plead their case and respect the judgment of the Shriah’s representative. “One way or another, the Holy War was about to march on distant Shimeh.” Kellhus does not care which side wins since everyone acknowledges Conphas as a brilliant tactician. Kellhus only cares that the Holy War gets him to Shimeh. Kellhus ponders if war is his father’s lesson.
Xinemus cracks a joke about how the Emperor will react to Cnaiür’s presence. Cnaiür has little patience for this. Kellhus and Cnaiür both understand this is his trial, but Kellhus will also be judged through him. Kellhus assesses how much humiliation in these “games” Cnaiür can endure for vengeance.
“The game is never over,” Proyas asserted. “The game is without beginning or end.”
Without beginning or end…
Kellhus was eleven when he first heard that phrase during his training from Kessriga Jeükal, a Pragma (senior Dûnyain). Kellhus is frighted. He arrives and gazes at the trees on the mountain slope and feels the sun. Jeükal asks if Kellhus drunk his fill of water, which he has.
“The Logos is without beginning or end, young Kellhus. Do you understand this?”
The instruction had begun.
“No, Pragma,” Kellhus replied. Though he still suffered fear and hope, he had long before overcome his compulsion to misrepresent the extent of his knowledge. A child had little choice when his teachers could see through faces.
“Thousands of years ago, when the Dûnyain first found—”
“After the ancient wars?” Kellhus eagerly interrupted. “When we were still refugees?”
The Pragma strikes Kellhus hard, drawing blood from his nose. It was a lesson. “Among the Dûnyain, everything was a lesson.” Pragma instructs that interruptions are a weakness of emotion, rising from the “darkness that comes before.” The Pragma continues his lecture, explaining that the Dûnyain only knew one principal of the Logos.
“That which comes before determines that which comes after.”
Two thousand years, and the Dûnyain have never found a violate of cause and effect. This principal is without beginning or end because it is apart from time, it can never age like a man or mountain. They then began talking about what separates men from beasts, despite men being born and dying.
Because like beasts, Man stands withing the circuit of before and after, and yet he apprehends the Logos. He possess intellect.”
“Indeed. And why, Kellhus, do the Dûnyain breed for intellect? Why do we so assiduously train young children such as you in the ways of thought, limb, and face?”
“Because of the Quandary of Man.”
Man is not in control of his actions, compelled by appetites that rise “from the darkness of his soul” even though he understands Logos. To solve the Quandary of Man, he has to be freed of “bestial appetite.” To abandon emotions and command how cause creates effect. “To be the perfect instrument of the Logos and so attain the Absolute.” Kellhus explains how he is not a “perfect instrument” because he has emotions “afflicted by passions.” He does not know the source of his thoughts, which the Dûnyain call “legion.”
Kellhus is about to enter his most difficult part of his “Conditioning: the mastery of the legion within.” If he does, he can survive the Labyrinth.
“This will answer the question of the Thousand Thousand Halls?”
“No. But it will enable you to ask properly.”
In the present, Kellhus and his companions arrive at the Emperor’s Privy garden, and intimate location after the grandeur of the rest of the palace. Here the lords gather, drinking and eating as they politic Kellhus begins his study. Most of the gathered lords are impressed by Cnaiür’s “feral strength,” seeing him for the first time. Kellhus reflects on Proyas and his mix of doubt and certitude, realizing that though Proyas was a man of faith, he was trained to be suspicious by Achamian, forcing Kellhus to “move at tangents” when manipulating him. Kellhus comments that the other lords seem nervous.
“And why not?” Proyas replied. “I bring them a Prince who claims to dream of Shimeh and a Scylvendi heathen who could be their general.” He glanced pensively at his fellow Men of the Tusk. “These men will be your peers,” he said. “Heed them. Learn them. To a man they’re exceedingly proud, and proud men, I’ve found, aren’t inclined to make wise decisions…”
The implication was clear: soon their lives would depend upon the wise decisions of these men.
Proyas then points out the notable lords. Prince Coithus Saubon, leader of the Galeoth an able military leader but defeated by Conphas. Saubon and will aid Proyas if he can get something out of it; his nephew Athjeari, Earl of Faenri. Kellhus observes about Saubon: “He fears nothing more than the estimation of other men. Proyas points out Hoga Gothyelk, leader of the Ce Tydonn, a great warrior but also a pious man, implying Gothyelk is on Proyas’s side. The old man upbraids three of his many sons for being drunk. Kellhus reads deeper into Gothyelk’s behavior, realizing the old man is here to find redemption for some crime. “He’s come to die. Die cleansed.” Next is Chepheramunni, King-Regent of High Ainon wearing a mask, which Kellhus enquirers on.
“The Ainoni are a debauched people,” Proyas replied, casting a wary glance at their immediate vicinity. “A race of mummers. They’re overly concerned with the subtleties of human intercourse. They regard a concealed face a potent weapon in all matters concerning jnan.”
“Jnan,” Cnaiür muttered, “is a disease you all suffer.”
Kellhus asks about jnan. Proyas has a hard time defining it beyond quoting an author and shrugs “simply something we do.” Kellhus thinks on how little men know about themselves. Proyas changes subject, and points out Incheiri Gotian, Grandmaster of the Shrial Knights and the man who will be Maithanet’s proxy. Kellhus notes that Gotian “does not feel equal to his burden” and that he “yearns to be moved… Moved by someone more holy than he.” Kellhus plans on convincing Gotian he is that holy thing. Next Proyas points out Prince Skaiyelt of Thunyerus and a huge man named Yalgrota. The Thunyerus are the only lords girded for battle. Kellhus cracks a dick joke about the giant which annoys Cnaiür
Proyas laughed aloud, but Cnaiür’s ferocious eyes seized Kellhus. Play these fools if you must, Dûnyain, but do not play me!
“You’re beginning,” Proyas said “to remind me of Xinemus, my Prince.”
Of the man he esteems above all other.
Kellhus notice that the Thunyerus carry shrunken sranc heads as fetishes. Proyas explains that the Thunyerus are recent converts to Inrithism only in the last fifty or so years. They are very zealous, but because they are the northernmost people, they war with sranc constantly Proyas dismisses them as uncouth barbarians who don’t know the rules and have no business here. Cnaiür points out he is the same, and Proyas is confident Cnaiür will change minds.
At that moment, a Scylvendi is brought out in chains, naked, emaciated, tortured, his eyes gouged out. Kellhus asks who is is while Cnaiür spits, watching the guards chain the prisoner to the emperor’s seat.
“Xunnurit,” he [Cnaiür] said after a moment. “Our King-of-Tribes at the Battle of Kiyuth.”
“A token of Scylvendi weakness, no doubt,” Proyas said tightly. “Of Cnaiür urs Skiötha‘s weakness… Evidence in what will be your trial.”
The narrative returns to Kellhus’s training as a boy before the Logos. He is instructed to repeat: “The Logos is without beginning or end” until told to stop. He sits down before the Pragma and begins. He is puzzled at first. It was easy. The words soon lost all meaning. Then he is instructed to say it within his thoughts.
This was far different and, as he quickly discovered, far more difficult. Speaking the proposition aloud had braced the repetition somehow, as though propping thought against his organs of speech. Now it stood alone, suspended in the nowhere of his soul, repeated and repeated and repeated, contrary to all the habits of inference and drifting association.
Kellhus notices his face grows slack “as though the exercise had somehow severed the links shackling expression to passion.” He grows tense in waves as something within him balks, fighting the repetition. As he repeats, the sun moves across the sky. He wars with “Inchoate urges reared from nothingness, demanding thought.” But he keeps repeating.
Long afterward, he would realize this exercise had demarcated his soul. The incessant repetition of the Pragma’s proposition had pitted him against himself, shown him the extent to which he was other to himself. For the first time he could truly see the darkness that had preceded him, and he knew that before this day, he had never truly been awake.
When the sun sets, Kellhus is told by the Pragma that every time the sun rises he shall “cease repeating the last word of the proposition.” Kellhus understands. He passes through the night, struggling with his passions. He feels at times drunk. His emotions “howled within him—like something dying.”
Then the sun broke the glacier, and he was dumbstruck by its beauty. Smouldering orange cresting cold planes of shining snow and ice. And for a heartbeat the proposition escaped him, and he thought only of the way the glacier reared, curved like the back of a beautiful woman…
The Pragma leapt forward and struck him, his face a rictus of counterfeit rage. “Repeat the proposition!” he screamed.
Back in the present.
For Kellhus, each of the Great Names represented a question, a juncture of innumerable permutations. In their faces, he saw fragments of other faces surfacing as though all men were but moments of one man. An instant of Leweth passing like a squall through Athjeari’s scowl as he argued with Saubon. A glimpse of Serwë in the way Gothyelk looked upon his youngest son. The same passions, but each cast in a drastically different balance. Any one of these people, he concluded, might be as easily possessed as Leweth had been—despite their fierce pride. But in their sum, they were incalculable.
They were a labyrinth, a thousand thousand halls, and he had to pass through them. He had to own them.
What if this Holy War exceeds my abilities? What Then, Father?
Cnaiür asks “Do you Feast, Dûnyain?” noticing Kellhus’s scrutiny. Kellhus reminds the Scylvendi they have the same mission. Kellhus is pleased things are working out better than he predicted, by claiming he is a prince it had secured him “almost effortlessly” among the lords. Proyas treated him like a prince, so did the others. His claim to dreams granted him a more perilous position, and though people interpreted him differently (disbelief, belief, or problematic) they all accorded him the same position.
For the people of the Three Seas, dreams, no matter how trivial, were a serious matter. Dreams were not, as the Dûnyain had thought before Moënghus’s summons, mere rehearsals, ways for the soul to train itself for different eventualities. Dreams were the portal, the place where the Outside infiltrated the World, where what transcended men—be it the future, the distant, the demonic, or the divine—found imperfect expression in the here and now.
But it was not enough to simply assert that one had dreamed. If dreams were powerful, they were also cheap. Everyone dreamed. After patiently listening to descriptions of his [Kellhus’s] dreams, Proyas had explained to Kellhus that literally thousands claimed to dream of the Holy War, some of its triumph, others of its destruction. One could not walk ten yards along the Phayus, he said, without seeing some hermit screech and gesticulate about his dreams.
“Why,” he asked with characteristic honesty, “should I regard your dreams any different?”
Dreams were a serious matter, and serious matters demanded hard questions.
Perhaps you shouldn’t,” Kellhus had replied. “I’m not sure I do.”
Kellhus’s reflectance to believe his own claim to prophethood secured him his position. He pretends to act like a compassionate, cross father when people bow to them. When they beg his touch, he lifts them up and chides them for bowing to another. By feigning he wasn’t a prophet, men like Proyas and Achamian, entertain the possibility he might be. Kellhus would never claim it, but would create the circumstance to make it true. Then those who watch in secret would also be swayed, unable to doubt him any longer.
Kellhus would step onto conditioned ground.
So many permutations… But I see the path, Father.
A young Galeoth perches on the emperor’s seat by chance and when he realizes everyone watches him, strikes poses in mockery of the Empire, bringing laughter. Not long after, the Emperor with Conphas and Skeaös, enters. He sits on his chair and adopts the pose the young man used to mock him, bringing more laughter. This angers Xerius. It takes Xerius several moments to regain himself. During that time, Kellhus studies Xerius’s retinue, noticing Conphas’s arrogance, the fear among the slaves, the disapproval of the Counsels, and one face that catches his attention.
A different face, among the Counsels… a troubling face.
It was the subtlest of incongruities, a vague wrongness, that drew his attention at first. An old man dressed in fine charcoal silk robes, a man obviously deferred to and respected by the others. One of his companions leaned to him and muttered something inaudible through the rumble of voices. But Kellhus could see his lips:
Kellhus studies the man, allowing his thought to slow, shedding his persona he maintains to others, retreating until his thoughts were entirely focused on the old man’s face. “He became a place.” Kellhus detects no blush reflex, a disconnect between the man’s heartbeat and face. Five heartbeats have passed and Kellhus has to pull out of his deep thought because the Emperor was about to speak.
What could this mean? A single, indecipherable face among a welter of transparent expressions.
Skeaös… Are you my father’s work?
Back to Kellhus’s narrative. He is repeating the phrase missing only the final word. He keeps his concentration, soiling himself. The Pragma pours water across his lips and Kellhus “was merely a smooth rock embedded in moss and gravel beneath a waterfall.” The sun climbs high then sinks towards night. Over and over he witnesses the sun rise, shortening the phrase. As time passes faster for Kellhus, his thoughts work slower as he whispers only “The Logos.” He sees himself himself dwindling to a point, “to the place where his soul fell utterly still.” Then the sun rises and he repeats “The. The. The.”
And it seemed at once an absurd stutter and the most profound of thoughts, as though only in the absence of “Logos” could it settle into the Rhythm of his heart muscling through moment after moment. Thought thinned and daylight swept through, over, and behind the shrine, until night pierced the shroud of the sky, until heavens revolved like an infinite char riot wheel.
A moving soul chained to the brink, to the exquisite moment before something, anything. The tree, the heart, the everything transformed into nothing by reception, but the endless accumulation of the same refusal to name.
A corona of gold across the high slopes of the glacier.
…and then nothing.
In the present, Xerius greets the assembled men then notices Cnaiür and greets him by name. Xerius is proud to show off his captured Scylvendi but Cnaiür is dismissive. “He is nothing to me.” Xerius is still confident that he would make a fool of Cnaiür and asks if he nothing because he is broken.
Ikurei Xerius paused. “This dog here. Xunnurit, King-of-tribes. Your king…”
Cnaiür shrugged, as though puzzled by a child’s petty caprice. “You have broken nothing.”
There was some laughter at this.
The Emperor soured. Kellhus could seen an appreciation of Cnaiür’s intellect stumble to the forefront of his thoughts. There was reassessment, a revision of strategies.
He’s accustomed, Kellhus thought, to recovering from blunders.
Xerius continues on, talking about breaking a man is meaningless, but a people is something else. Cnaiür doesn’t respond and Xerius brings up Conphas’s victory over the People of War. Cnaiür again doesn’t respond. Xerius asks if Cnaiür was broken at Kiyuth. “I was”—he [Cnaiür] searched for the proper Sheyic term—“schooled at Kiyuth.” The emperor asks what he learned.
Conphas. Cnaiür learned about Conphas and explains where the general had learned his various tactics. Cnaiür learned “that war is intellect.” That shocks Conphas and silences the Emperor. He needs to show Cnaiür as incompetent to prove that Conphas was worth the price of the indenture. Coithus Saubon wants the debate to end, the Great Names have decided. But it is up to Gotian to make the decision and Gothyelk asks the Shrial Knight what missives Maithanet has given him. Xerius protests it is too soon. Need to interrogate Cnaiür out more. But the others cheer for Gotian.
Xerius adapts and demands Gotian to decide if he wants a heathen to lead the Holy War. “Would you be punished as the Vulgar Holy War was punished on the Plans of Mengedda?” Proyas counters that Cnaiür would advice the great names. Xerius is disgusted with the ridiculousness of that. He protests how Cnaiür is a blight on the Holy War. Blasphemy. Proyas schools Xerius on using such language and how ridiculous it is coming from the impious Emperor.
Finally, Conphas speaks, and people quiet. He talks of Scylvendi with a great deal of familiarity, saying how they are heathens without gods, different from the Fanim. He points at Xunnurit’s swazond.
“They call these scars swazond,” he [Conphas] said, as though a patient tutor, “a word that means ‘dyings.’ To us, they are little more than savage trophies, not unlike the shrunken Sranc heads that the Thunyeri stitch onto their shields. But they’re fare more to the Scylvendi. Those dyings are their only purpose. The very meaning of their lives is written into those scars. Our dyings… Do you understand this?”
Conphas stirs apprehension in the Great Names. He then says Xunnurit is “a token of their humiliation.” He says Cnaiür is here for vengeance, to plot the destruction of the Holy War. Conphas looks to Proyas. “Ask him what moves his soul.”
Kellhus studies Skeaös again, trying to read the man like he can every other person in the room. Skeaös baffles him. He sees only mimicry in Skeaös. Then he realizes that Skeaös has muscles anchored to different bones.
This man [Skeaös] had not been trained in the manner of the Dûnyain Rather, his face was not a face.
Moments passed, incongruities accumulated, were classified, cobbled into hypothetical alternatives…
Limbs. Slender limbs folded and pressed into the simulacrum of a face.
Kellhus is surprised and questions how it is possible, turning to Sorcery and remembering his fight with the Nonmen. Sorcery was grotesque “like the scribblings of a child across a work of art.” Kellhus can see sorcery and there is none in the skin spy He wants to know who Skeaös is. Skeaös notices the scrutiny and “the rutted brow clenched into a false frown.” Kellhus nods back, pretending embarrassment at being caught looking. Xerius sees the exchange, however, and is alarmed but doesn’t now Skeaös’s face is false. As this happens, everyone turns to Cnaiür for his answer. He spits at Conphas.
In the past, Kellhus sits without thought, the “boy extinguished. Only a place.” It was almost a place outside of cause and effect. The Pragma studies Kellhus then produces a knife and throws it at Kellhus. The place that was Kellhus grabs the knife out of the air. This triggers the place to collapse back into a boy. Into Kellhus.
I have been legion…
In his periphery, he could see the spike of the sun ease from the mountain. He felt drunk with exhaustion. In the recoil of his trance, it seemed all he could hear were the twigs arching and bobbing in the wind, pulled by leaves like a million sails no bigger than his hand. Cause everywhere, but amid countless minute happenings—diffuse, useless.
Now I understand.
In the present, Cnaiür responds and criticizes that Inrithi hearts can’t be used to measure Scylvendi. That you think Xunnurit is bound to Cnaiür by blood and therefore he wants vengeance. But he is Scylvendi, which is why he puzzles them. “Xunnurit is not a shame to the People. It is not even a name. He who does not ride among us ins not us. He is other.” So to the Sclyvendi, Xunnurit’s degradation is not theirs so it doesn’t need to be avenged. Then Cnaiür says that the Nansur should be sounded out. Conphas protests that their heart is known.
The argument turns back to Nansur motives, with Saubon pointing out the hypocrisy of Conphas accepting the Scarlet Spire, which are just as blasphemous, as Cnaiür Saubon turns Conphas’s arguments on him, forcing him to comprise and weaken his position. Proyas asks why the Empire provisioned the Vulgar Holy War if they knew he was doomed.
Kellhus realizes that the Empire were behind the Vulgar Holy War’s destruction. Before, Kellhus did not think it mattered who owned the Holy War, but know realizes that the Empire is a threat to it and therefore to his mission.
“The question,” Conphas ardently continued, “is whether you can trust a Scylvendi to lead you against the Kianene!”
“But that isn’t the question,” Proyas countered. “The question is whether we can trust a Sclyvendi over you.”
Conphas pleads with them, calling it madness that they wouldn’t trust the Nansur over Cnaiür But it is the Nansur’s fault that they need Cnaiür because of the Indenture. Conphas tries to protest that the land belongs to the Nansur Empire, stolen from them by the heathens. Proyas calls it “God’s land” and asks if the Empire should be put against scripture.
“And who are you, Proyas, to ask this question?” Conphas returned, rallying his earlier claim. “Hmm? You who would put a heathen—a Scylvendi, no less!—before Sejenus.”
“We are all instruments of the Gods, Ikurei. Even a heathen—a Scylvendi, no less—can be an instrument, if such is the God’s will.”
Everyone turns to Gotian and asks what Maithanet says. Kellhus detects that Gotian is still undecided. He asks Cnaiür why he came. The Scylvendi says for the “promise of war.” Gotian dismisses that, there are no Sclyvendi mercenaries. Cnaiür is disgusted. He would never sell himself. If he needs, he seizes. He then explains his lie about the Utemot being destroyed. Cnaiür turns to Kellhus and says he learned outlanders could have honor because of him. And when he learned Kellhus had “God-sent dreams” he accept his wager.
Everyone looks on Kellhus and he debates acting or letting Cnaiür continue. Gotian asks on the wager. Cnaiür answers that this would be a war unlike any other. Cnaiür says he is still Scylvendi, that they are all boys playing at war.
“War is dark. Black as pitch. It is not a God. It does not laugh or weep. It rewards neither skill nor daring. It is not a trial of souls, not the measure of wills. Even less is it a tool, a means to some womanish end. It is merely the place where the iron bones of the earth meet the hollow bones of men and break them.”
Cnaiür has been offered war and he accepts. He will not mourn their loses or celebrate their victories. But he will fight and suffer and kill Fanim with them. The crowd is stunned and then the elderly Gothyelk speaks of his experience and that he’s “learned to trust the man who hates openly, and fear only those who hate in secret.” He trusts Cnaiür and glowers at the Empire. Saubon is also in agreement that Cnaiür speaks wisdom. But Gotian is still undecided, fear gripping him that he’ll make the wrong decision in Maithanet’s name and destroy the Holy War.
So Kellhus speaks of his dream. He doubts what they mean, but then goes on to outline the decision before him. You have Cnaiür leading the war or bind yourself to the interest of the Empire. “Which concession is greater?” Kellhus knows that from now on, the Great Names will look at him as someone who has every right to speak as their equal. He continues, bringing up the shady acts of the Empire in provisioning the Vulgar Holy War and letting it be destroyed versus trusting a murdering Scylvendi. “In my homeland, we call this a dilemma.” Everyone but Xerius and Conphas laugh or smile. Kellhus has side-stepped Conphas’s prestige by making the comparison between Cnaiür and Xerius, making them seem equally untrustworthy. Kellhus can vouch for Cnaiür, but no one can vouch to him.
“So let’s assume that both men, Emperor and Chieftain, are equally untrustworthy. Given this, the answer lies in something you already know: we undertake the God’s work, but it’s dark and bloody work nonetheless. There is no fierce labor than war.”
Everyone stands on the brink. Gotian makes the realization that with the Empire they concede the wages of their labor in addition to the other issues of trust both men share. Conphas realizes the weakness in Kellhus’s argument too late to make a difference because Gotian has already opened his canister and produced two messages. He pics one and opens it.
He has chosen to trust Cnaiür and the Emperor is ordered to provision the Holy War by the “authority of the Tusk and Tractate, and according to the ancient constitution of Temple and State.” Everyone cheers as Gotian speaks about faith, but the men of the tusk are too busy celebrating to listen, eager to march.
As the celebration rages, Kellhus notes Xerius ordering for Skeaös to be taken, fearing the man hides treason. Skeaös is led away by a pair of guards and Kellhus wonders what they would discover. “There had been two contests in the Emperor’s garden.” Xerius has fear and rage in his face, believing Kellhus is part of Skeaös’s treachery. Kellhus realizes the Emperor searches for a reason to seize him, too. He tells Cnaiür they have to leave right now because: “There has been too much truth here.”
I do love how Proyas explains the Nansur’s need to have such colossal works, like their palace or Xerius’s obelisk, forever living in the shadow of the greater Ceneians and Kyranaens civilizations of near and far antiquities.
Kellhus ambivalence to who wins is not surprising. Either end fulfills his mission. He has no loyalty to Nersei Proyas whose soldiers rescued him from the Nansur.
Kellhus has used the probability trance to try and predict the Holy War. His father has had 30 years to learn about all these men, to perform his probability trance. It is no coincidence that Kellhus arrives just as the Holy War is ready to take the field. All these events dance to Moënghus’s tune. So what is his mission?
The Dûnyain, as horrific as they are in their stripping of humanity from their sons and turning them into living logic machines, are always fascinating. I relish any chance we get to see of them. Here we have a young Kellhus still feeling emotions but learning to control them while his teachers seek to stamp it out.
The Dûnyain’s ancestors “forgot” about the supernatural to pursue the Logos. They denied those that came after valuable knowledge. With the Celmomas’s Prophecy, we see an effect preceding the Cause of Kellhus arrival at the end of the world. “You cannot raise walls to that which is forgotten.”
The Absolute. The goal of the Dûnyain to be free of emotion. Not even Kellhus has attained it since he is still moved by the faintest of emotion: the outrage he feels for Serwë, the way he holds onto Cnaiür even when killing Cnaiür in the Mountains was the safer route.
The Dûnyain consider emotion an “affliction.” Sad. They are a monstrous people. As “cool” as Kellhus is, the more you study the books the more Bakker shows how horrific the Dûnyain are. On the others side of the coin are the Consult, a race of lovers, of beings who revel in their “bestial appetites.”
Proyas telling Kellhus to learn the other lords is ironic. That’s what Kellhus does.
Coithus Saubon will play a large roll to come in the story, note that he is the seventh son of the King of Galeoth. A man with little chance to become king. Note him being describe as a “mercenary.” One of those Achamian talked about in the previous chapter’s epigraph. Kellhus’s observation about Saubon comes from a simple flush and quickened heartbeat. And Saubon’s nephew, who grows an infamous reputation over the next two books as a raider.
Proyas is dismissive of the Ainoni. That is always a dangerous thing. When you are dismissive you see a person or group as less, easy to underestimate and thus be caught by surprise. As he said, Ainoni are a race of mummers, especially their King-Regent.
Kellhus plan with Gotian, providing the divine to move him, will bear fruit in book 2.
Classic Cnaiür when Proyas points out Yalgrota’s scrutiny. Cnaiür doesn’t brag when he states he will fight and beat Yalgrota. Cnaiür is not threatened by the huge man.
Kellhus is making progress on his seduction of Proyas. Poor guy. Kellhus has big plans for Proyas.
Xunnurit being blinded is something the Byzantine Empire did to valuable prisoners. Another connection between it and the Nansur Empire.
We go back to the training. By repeating the same phrase over and over, Kellhus has to war with urges of both his emotion and body, demands upon his soul that try to compel it to act without Kellhus even realizing it. Learning that, he can now understand and be free of his inner beast, on the path to being a self-moving soul—the Absolute.
The Pragma fakes rage when he hits Kellhus at the first sunrise. And Kellhus reads it in his face. When he started his training, Kellhus knows he can’t read faces, and yet he is already picking it up. Of course the Pragma had to fake it, he has gone through this process and has divorced himself, mostly, from his emotions.
Kellhus is certain that learning to master these men is something his father wants him to achieve. But Kellhus assesses himself and wonders if he can. In another, this would be called doubt, but for a Dûnyain, it is merely truth. He knows his abilities and the task before him is daunting for a Dûnyain to do.
Dreams as a way to train for different eventualities is an interesting outlook. So the Dûnyain believed they have purpose. Do they teach their adepts to lucid dream? To make use of it? Or to reject it as more cause trying to affect them out of the darkness?
Serious matters demand hard questions is very true. Take heed, readers, if you want to assert something that matters, make sure you can answer hard questions. Don’t run from them, don’t dismiss the questioner, but answer them and if you’re answers are lacking, then refine your argument. It will only make your position stronger.
Interesting that why Kellhus realizes that the young Galeoth predicting how the Emperor would sit had premeditated him which was “the most galling insults. In this way even an Emperor might made a slave.” Kellhus realizes this but doesn’t know why. Rare that Kellhus doesn’t understand something. Xerius is a slave because he is forced to change his posture, his plans, and bow to peer pressure, a slave to the darkness that comes before which has conditioned him to act in this manner. A free soul would not have cared that others laughed.
When Kellhus studies Skeaös he loses his personhood nothing more than “a blank field for a single figure.” This is the skill he is being taught in his training flashbacks. At the end of his training, Kellhus becomes “a place.”
When Kellhus is repeating only the, he mentions the tree. Trees are a common symbol of possibility in the books. They forever branch in many directions. The fight for control of their space, to condition the world in their favor. Kellhus often notices trees.
As you can see, Kellhus is coming close to being a self-moving soul. He is chained at the brink, almost at the Absolute. And then he has no thoughts. He has transitioned to become a Dûnyain As we see in the previous sequence when Kellhus retreats to nothing, not even a person, to consider the old man. This trial is the foundation of the Dûnyain probability trance, what Kellhus is attempting to do by predicting how all those myriad of people will react, to figure out the shortest path to harnessing the Holy War and kill his father.
Which is exactly what his father wants, as seen by Kellhus constantly speaking to his father in his thoughts. Not directly, but in abstract, staging the question is this what Moënghus expects of me. It this what he his teaching me. Conditioning me.
Love Cnaiür talking about Conphas’s tactics and then the moment he reveals to Conphas he listened to his conversation with his Martemus back at Kiyuth. Kellhus ignores that shock, needing to pay attention to the real game.
Love the irony of Xerius bringing up the Vulgar Holy War that he manipulated into marching to their deaths and then using religious language to shame them not to choose Cnaiür Politics are great. The lies people tell to get their true agenda.
Conphas does a great job with the truth to convince the Great Names. He explains just who the Scylvendi are. And he is right, Cnaiür is here for vengeance, just not against the Inrithi.
Kellhus in a few minutes has just penetrated the Consult’s greatest asset—their skin spies. Only a few other characters, like Conphas, has even noted something strange in skin spies. Esmenet saw something with Sarcellus and Conphas with Skeaös and the other skin spy in the imperial court. Both are intelligent characters.
Kellhus depiction of sorcery as child scribbles on a work of art is a great metaphor for what the Mark is. Why sorcery bruises the world. Because it is grotesque. It is sloppy. It doesn’t come close to creation. Except for the Cishaurim somehow do a better job with their scribbles. This is why there works aren’t seen by the Few. Kellhus is one of the Few, like his father. He can become a sorcerer. And sorcery is all about the Purity of Meaning according to Akka. A man with no emotions and an intellect beyond even the smartest human… What can Kellhus do with it?
Skeaös and Kellhus, both putting on fake expressions as they look on each other. Masks. Neither man honest in the least. What a great metaphor for politics.
When Kellhus is only a place, no thought, and catches the knife, he collapses like a probability waveform in quantum mechanics. He was all things and nothing until acted upon. Then he became something again. He was close to the absolute. Almost apart from cause and effect, almost separate from the Darkness that Comes before. And his lesson, that most cause create effects that are unimportant in the backdrop of the million other causes and effects. But the knife flinging at his neck was a cause not to be ignored.
Cnaiür no longer rides among the Scylvendi. He never really has. He has always walked trackless steppes. His kin sensed this which is why he had to be so strong, so violent, to control them. But he uses this to win over the Inrithi, speaking like a Scylvendi. Pretending.
The Nansur’s scheming and plotting really bites them in the ass when everyone else would rather trust the heathen barbarian over them. It is a satisfying moment in the book.
Cnaiür says he never would sell himself, and yet he did to Kellhus for vengeance. He did not seize, like he claims he would, but bargained.
When Kellhus gives his speech, he uses Cnaiür’s language about war in it, parroting it and changing it enough to sound original. The shortest path once again. It is also a rather clever move changing the debate entirely. Conphas is a known general, but if you can’t trust the Empire he fights for over Cnaiür, what does that matter.
Love how the “pious men of the tusk” are too busy celebrating to listen to all of Massenet’s message beyond the part that gave them the victory they wanted.
And we’ve heard about Xerius’s paranoia and here it rears up. Trusted Skeaös undone because Kellhus stares at him too much. And now Xerius’s paranoia is focused on Kellhus. More problems for our Dûnyain
What a chapter. From Kellhus’s training, the unmasking of a skin spy, and Cnaiür chosen to be the general of the Holy War.
Let’s talk about Skeaös. Through all the book he and Xerius’s mother have objected to the plan of destroying the Holy War. Skeaös is now a revealed to be a pawn of the Consult. So why do they want the Fanim destroyed. What do they fear? Well, if Moënghus is a Cishaurim as Kellhus deduces, then he should also spot skin spies. What a shock that must have been to the consult to have their perfect spies undone. Not even the Mandate have detected them (remember, someone is telling the Consult about the activities of their agents as discussed between Simas and Nautzera in chapter 2, though they don’t know who the spy is).
Want to read on, click here for Chapter 18!