Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Nineteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 5
The Holy Warrior
Chapter 19
Momemn

Welcome to Chapter Nineteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Eighteen!

…even though the skin-spies were exposed relatively early in the course of the Holy War, most believed the Cishaurim rather than the Consult to be responsible. This is the problem of all great revelations: their significance so often exceeds the frame of our comprehension. We understand only after, always after. Not simply when it is too late, but precisely because it is too late.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

Isn’t that just the way it is? Only after the fact do we realize how long we were. By then, it is too late to fix. When we learn something, we always filter it through our personal beliefs and prejudices, putting intellectual blinders upon us. We have to make it something to fit our personal experience.

Late Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Serwë endures another rape from Cnaiür He finishes and rolls off of her, allowing her to turn away and watch Kellhus sitting cross-legged reading a book by candlelight. “Why do you let him use me like this? I belong to you!” Serwë wonders.

Over the last two weeks since their harrowed flight from the Kidruhil, she had recovered, her bruises almost faded, the ringing in her ear gone. She still limps. More importantly, she still carried Kellhus’s baby. “That was the important thing.” Proyas’s physician was surprised to learn she hadn’t lost the baby and gave her a chime to sound to the Outside. But Serwë didn’t need it. “The Outside had entered the world, had taken her, Serwë, as his lover.”

Serwë reflects on moving through the camp and all the warlike men staring at her beauty, wanting her. It thrilled, angered, and frightened her. Some called to her, mostly in foreign tongues, saying crude things. Sometimes she’d meet their eyes and think “I’m the vessel of another, one far mightier and far holier than you!” Most would look a way, but a few were like Cnaiür, emboldened by her defiance.

None dared molest her, however, she was too beautiful, she realized, not too belong to someone of consequence. If only they knew!

Only when she washed laundry at the river did Serwë truly appreciate how large the Holy War was. The banks of the Phayus was lined with women and slaves also doing laundry for as far as she could see while children played games. Serwë is stunned by the size.

I belong to this, she had thought.

And now, tomorrow, they were going to march into Fanim lands. Serwë, daughter of a tributary Nymbricani chieftain, would be part of a Holy War against Kianene!

To Serwë, Kianene was a threatening, mysterious name like Scylvendi. Living with the Gaunum family, she heard it spoke time and time again as the men discussed the political machinations between the Fanim and the Nansur Empire. To her, those distant places weren’t real, not like the gossip she shared with the other slaves. And now those unreal places would become real because events had “swept in cataracts through the narrow circle of her life, and now she walked with men who conferred with Princes, Emperors—even Gods.” Soon she would see all those far off places herself after Kellhus has heroically defeated them.

Kellhus would be the violent hero of this unwritten scripture. She knew this. With inexplicable certainty, she knew this.

But now he looked so peaceful, bent by candlelight over an ancient text.

She goes to Kellhus, asking what he reads, her voice horse and then she cries because of the rape, fearing she is took weak “to suffer him [Cnaiür]” like Kellhus wants. Then she apologizes as she cries, for interrupting his reading. She goes to leave, but Kellhus tells her to stay in her native tongue. “This was part of the dark shelter they had built between them—the place where the wrathful eyes of the Scylvendi could not see.” Hearing her native tongue makes her cry again.

“Often,” he continued, touching her cheek and brushing her tears into her hair, “when the world denies us over and over, when it punishes us as it’s punished you, Serwë, it becomes difficult to understand the meaning. All our please go unanswered. Our every trust is betrayed. Our hopes are all crushed. It seems we mean nothing to the world. And when we think we mean nothing, we begin to think we are nothing.”

Kellhus tells her, “You mean something, Serwë You are something.” He says even her suffering has a crucial role to play. She is stunned to hear this and then cries in his chest, held like a child. When he crying finishes, she feels shame for being so weak and pathetic. As he dabs at her tears, she realized he is also crying.

He cries for me… for me…

“You belong to him,” he said at last. “You are his prize.”

No,” she croaked defiantly. “My body’s his prize. My heart belongs to you.”

How had this happened? How had she been pried in two? She had endured much. Why this agony now? Now that she loved? But for a moment she almost felt whole, speaking their secret language, saying tender things…

I mean something.

Then Serwë realizes her tears have fallen on the book, smudging some of the words. She gasps, fearing she’s ruined it. “Many others have wept over this text,” answers Kellhus. She feels an intimate connection and brings his hand to her naked breast. She asks him to be with her and he finally relents. As she makes love to him, she gasps out in the direction of Cnaiür, glad he can see the rapture on their faces.

And she cried out as she climaxed—a cry of hatred.

Cnaiür lies still, listening to Serwë and Kellhus talking in Nymbricani after they finished making love, the image of “her perfect face, turning to him in anguished rapture” won’t leave his mind. The pair head outside to the campfire, leaving him alone in the dark As they talk, he hears Serwë sounding more mature than he has heard her, giving Kellhus something of her Cnaiür never had.

He lies in the darkness, holding his sword, staring at the flap. He turns his thoughts to the Men of the Tusk. He feels pride at the thought of leading them even though he knows he would really only be an advisor. Then he smirks at the name: Holy War. “As though all war were not holy.” He wonders what Kellhus would make of the Holy War. “Would he make it his whore? Like Serwë?”

Cnaiür knows this is part of the plan to kill Moënghus They need the Holy War to defeat his power. He wonders at his pity for the Inrithi, wanting to warn them when it was necessary for his vengeance for Kellhus to use them. Of course, Cnaiür wonders if Kellhus is lying to him. “Another way to pacify, to gull, to enslave?” What if Kellhus wasn’t an assassin and instead a spy for his father? Cnaiür doubts it is coincidence that Kellhus arrives just in time for the Holy War to march.

Cnaiür was no fool. If Moënghus was Cishaurim, he would fear the Holy War, and he would seek ways to destroy it. Could this be why he had summoned his son? Kellhus’s obscure origins would allow him to infiltrate it, as he already had, while his breeding or training or witchery or whatever it was would allow him to seize it, capsize it, perhaps even turn it against its maker. Against Maithanet.

But Cnaiür doesn’t understand why Kellhus spared him if that was true. Unless Kellhus knew about the dispute between Proyas and the Emperor. He wonders if Kellhus is in contact with Moënghus and wonders if he is like Xunnurit “blinded, chained beneath the Emperor’s heel.” He parts the tent flap, staring at the pair before the campfire. Rage seizes him. He is about to act, to claim Serwë back, when Kellhus moves and Cnaiür realizes he has lost the surprise.

Cnaiür let the flap fall shut, pinch golden light into blackness. Desolate blackness.

My prize…

Achamian walks back to camp in a daze after leaving the Andiamine Heights. He comes back to his sense lying in the dust staring at his tent, Xinemus asleep before the fire, waiting for Achamian “to come home.” But Achamian doesn’t have a home, a place he could call his. He only had friends scattered about the world who “for some unaccountable reason loved him and worried about him.”

He lets Xinemus sleep, tomorrow would be a busy day, and heads into his tent. There he pulls out his parchment map and stares at the name THE CONSULT for a while. The he connects it to THE EMPEROR.

Connected at last. For so long it had simply floated in its corner, more the wreckage of ink than a mane, touching nothing, meaning nothing, like the threats muttered by a coward after his tormentor had gone. No longer. The bitter apparition had bared its knuckled flesh, and the horror of what was and what might be had become the horror of now.

This horror. His horror.

Why? Why would Fate inflict this revelation upon him? Was she a fool? Didn’t she know how weak, how hollow, he’d become?

Why me?

Achamian knows it is a selfish question. The burden of knowledge had to fall on someone. Why not him. “Because I’m a broken man. Because I long for love I cannot have.” Achamian discards that thought. Unrequited longing was simply what it meant to be a man. He wonders when he started wallowing in self-pity and saw himself as a victim. “How had he become such a fool?”

He was chosen by Anagkë, the Whore of Fate, had selected him to carry this burden. He shouldn’t question it. And even if he does, it won’t change anything. He now had the duty to act. But fears creeps in him. Yes, he found the Consult, but what do they want? They were hidden, connected by “the single, tremulous line” to the Emperor which meant nothing except they were connected. He realizes skin-spies must be all over the Three Seas, possibly even in the Mandate.

Suddenly the name, “The Consult,” which had been so isolated from the others, seemed spliced to them in a terrifying intimacy. The Consult hadn’t just infiltrated factions, Achamian realized, they had infiltrated individuals, to the point of becoming them. How does one war against such a foe without warring against what they’ve become? Without warring against all the Great Factions? For all Achamian knew, the Consult already ruled the Three Seas and merely tolerated the Mandate as an impotent foe, a laughingstock, in order to further fortify the bulwark of ignorance that shielded them.

How long have they been laughing? How far has their corruption gone?

He wonders if the Holy War is the Consult and then realizes that Geshruuni, his spy in the Scarlet Spire, was killed and meant to be replaced by a skin-spy. The Consult would know about the secret war between the Scarlet Spire and the Cishaurim, which means Maithanet might be a consult spy, too, explaining how Maithanet would knew about the war between the two Schools. Achamian then looks at Kellhus name, still disconnected from the rest. Then he connects it to the Consult.

The man, Kellhus, who would be his student and his friend, was so… unlike other men.

The Anasûrimbor‘s return was a harbinger of the Second Apocalypse—the truth of this ached in Achamian’s bones. And the Holy War would simply be the first great shedding of blood.

Achamian is dizzy with the realization, his mind flitting to happier memories as he realizes “the Second Apocalypse is here. It has already begun.” And he was in its center. He wants to deny it, but he can’t. He is panicked, having trouble breathing, and tries to think through it, telling himself he is equal to the task. He thinks through what he knows, wondering why the Consult would want the Cishaurim destroyed. Then realizes that the Consult is following him, remembering the man in the market place who “seemed to change his face.” And that he led them to Inrau. And then to Esmenet.

On barges in the Meneanor outside Momemn’s harbor, the nobles of the Nansur meet, talking of “serious things” while their concubines have retreated below to gossip. As they talk, they mock Xerius’s new monument (the obelisk from earlier in the novel), calling it the “Emperor’s Cock.” They stare at the city as they laugh and observe how it has changed.

The Holy War has marched.

It was what they talked about. That and Xerius’s humiliation and how a Scylvendi commands it. The Great Names called Xerius’s bluff, and Conphas now marches with the legions anyways. But the nobles believe with Conphas in the field, the Emperor still might succeed. They toast to the promise of “the Old Empire restored!”

Somewhere distant, the Holy War traveled the roads between ancient capitals, a great migration of sturdy Men and sun-glittering arms. Even now, some claimed they could hear its horns faint through laughing voices and the stationary sea, the way the peal of trumpets might linger in ringing ears. Others paused and listened, and though they heard nothing, they shivered and rationed their words with care. If glories witnessed moved men to awe, glories asserted but not seen moved them to piety.

And Judgment.

My Thoughts

Poor, delusional Serwë Forever used by men, even by the one she loves. And that’s not Kellhus child, Serwë, as much as you might want it to be. Serwë is also the first, but won’t be the last, to see Kellhus as a god.

The Holy War marches with so many camp followers. Ancient and medieval warfare was like this. Soldiers took their wives and families campaigning, plus there were the inevitable prostitutes, slaves, laborers, and craftsman to provide for the host. It is hard not for anyone to be awed by the being a part of the Holy War.

Serwë having trouble imagining the distant places she heard about is real is a nice touch. Places outside our own experience never quite seem real when you only hear about them but don’t know much about them. They may as well be names from stories.

Serwë’s imagination of the Holy War’s future is full of glory, picturing Kellhus as this heroic figure he would be in traditional fantasy. Noble and always doing what was right, defeating the evil Fanim and the shadowy Padirajah. But this isn’t a normal fantasy. Kellhus isn’t noble and heroic. He is a man using the Holy War, subverting it to his purpose and not caring about the consequences others will suffer. There is only the Logos, the shortest way, for Kellhus.

Nothing worse than low self-esteem eating away at you, bringing you low, breaking you as everything gets worse and worse in your life. It’s a terrible, vicious cycle. One Serwë is trapped in and Esmenet spirals around.

Kellhus may use Serwë, but at least his lies bring her comfort. She doesn’t realize his tears are meaningless, just a ploy to manipulate her, but for the first time since her family sold her into slavery, she has worth. And now she is further under his spell. To her, Kellhus loves her and that is a powerful thing.

Serwë takes such joy in cuckolding Cnaiür It channels into her orgasm, rubbing salt into the wound. You can’t blame her for that.

Kellhus continues his manipulation of Cnaiür through Serwë It is the only weapon he has against Cnaiür It drives him out of the pavilion. Kellhus has plans to harness Cnaiür’s possessive love for Serwë He also prepares Serwë, cultivating the defiant streak we saw with her declaring her heart would always be Kellhus’s.

Cnaiür’s idea that Kellhus works for his father and that Moënghus fears the Holy War is flawed. He is describing how a normal human would work. But Moënghus is Dûnyain Kellhus left Ishuäl before Maithanet called for the Holy War. Before even the rumors of it. He left in fall of 4109 and Achamian wasn’t summoned to spy on Maithanet until Midwinter of 4110. So he left months early before rumors of an impending Holy War caused the Mandate to act.

Cnaiür’s paranoia about Kellhus is warranted. Only he is awakened to the threat that Kellhus is. He has to weigh everything on whether he can trust a man who will do anything to achieve his goal. Are their goals the same? Poor guy. He’s already half-mad.

Man, Xinemus is a great friend. I just want to say that.

I think we all, at times, wonder why our friends are our friends. What we’ve done to earn their concern and love.

Achamian comment on the Consult’s name being meaningless “like the threats muttered by a coward after his tormentor had gone” reminds me of Achamian himself. After Sarcellus hit him in the face, way back at the start of the novel when Achamian first arrived in Sumna, our sorcerer mutters how he could have destroyed Sarcellus with sorcery. Achamian does that a few times in the books. But never to the person’s face.

Why me? Don’t we all ask that selfish question? You can’t blame Achamian. He just had his world upturned. But the question always reminds me of David Eddings Belgariad series, where the protagonist asks that question all the time about why he has to save the world. It become a running joke and always makes me smile when I see it in a book.

Unrequited passion drives all of us. We all regret opportunities we didn’t pursue or ones we lost.

Achamian guesses what Simas and Nautzera already know at the start of the novel. Someone (the Consult) has compromised their spies. There can be no doubt that a skin-spy has infiltrated the Mandate.

Now Achamian is getting a taste of Cnaiür’s paranoia. What can he trust? And the idea that the Consult is in control of the Three Seas is terrifying. They clearly are in favor of the Holy War. Who else have they replaced? Not Xerius, but he is never alone or they may very well have. But Skeaös was the next best thing. It is a terrifying thought to realizes Achamian’s enemies might have already won and it is too late to do anything about it because it means fighting all of the Three Seas.

Is Maithanet a Consult spy? We don’t know much about him, except he came from Fanim lands, a faithful Inrithi, and has blue eyes despite being Ketyai (middle-eastern) like the Nansur or Achamian or Proyas. He definitely is suspicious.

I love Achamian trying to think throw his panic. He knows he’s freaking out and it is not productive. And then he hits on it. The Consult wants the Cishaurim destroyed and they have an interest in him. So why do they want them destroyed? What did the Cishaurim do recently that made the Consult fear them? Only one thing has really changed. Thirty years ago, a Dûnyain joined them. If Kellhus spotted a skin-spy after only a few minutes of study, what has Moënghus learned?

Even the most powerful men of the Nansur can’t resit making a dick joke. Bakker is always showing humans as we really are despite whatever airs we might gather or pomposity we might surround ourselves with.

The Holy War has marched. The Consult has been revealed. The Harbinger of the Second Apocalypse has arrived. The first book of Bakker’s metaseries is over.

The Darkness That Comes Before has a lot of work to do, balancing the world building with characterization and plot. Bakker has a world different from most Fantasy settings, eschewing medieval Europe for the Levant and the Byzantium Empire. He has to introduce us to his world, his magic, and the Dûnyain He seeds the story with little nuggets that only gleam once you’ve read far more. With the Darkness that Comes Before, he lays the foundation for the rest of the series. (Which so far numbers two series, this trilogy and its sequel quadrilogy, and one final series which cannot be named for spoiler reasons). Here we learn the philosophy of his series, Bakker brutal look on the darkest part of humans, and how this is a world where Fate might be a real thing, and Achamian may very well have been chosen for a reason.

It is a book that captivated me from the very moment I opened it sitting in the terminal of SeaTac International Airport. The very title caught my attention and just reading through the prologue hooked me. Bakker is a master of characterization and prose.

And we are only beginning to peel back all this series has to offer. Next up, The Warrior Prophet! (Can you guess who the title refers to?)

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Eighteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 5
The Holy Warrior
Chapter 18
The Andiamine Heights

Welcome to Chapter Eighteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Seventeen!

…and that revelation murdered all that I once did know. Where once I asked of the God, “Who are you?” now I ask, “Who am I?”

ANKHARLUS, LETTER TO THE WHITE TEMPLE

The Emperor, the consensus seems to be, was an excessively suspicious man. Fear has many forms, but it is never so dangers as when it is combined with power and perpetual uncertainty.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

While Bakker doesn’t give us a clue what the revelation Ankharlus received, his reaction is similar to what Achamian experiences in this chapter. Finally, after all these years, he has found the Consult in the wake of discovering the harbinger of the Celmomas Prophecy. Of course he’s reeling.

The second quite about Xerius we have seen borne true time and time again. He is a man always afraid, always suspicious, schooled by his mother in all the ways his ancestors died in the palace he lived, all the ways his rule can end. This chapter exists because of that paranoia

Late Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Xerius is shaken after the debacle in the garden and is drinking anpoi, joined by Conphas and Gaenkelti, the Captain of the Eothic Guard. Xerius asks if they have Skeaös and then demands to see him. Gaenkelti thinks that is a mistake. Xerius asks if sorcery is being used, and the Imperial Saik says no. But the man has been trained.

“What do you mean ‘trained’? Spare me your riddles, Gaenkelti! The Empire has been humiliated this day. I’ve been humiliated!”

“He was…hard to take. Three of my men are dead. Four more have broken limbs—”

“Surely you jest!” Conphas cried. “Was he armed?”

“No. I’ve never seen the like. If we hadn’t had extra guards assigned for the audience… As I said, he’s been trained.”

Xerius realized that Skeaös could have killed him at any time and is shaken. Conphas insists it has to be sorcery, which the Saik disagree with. Xerius gets paranoid and asks for another school to confirm, such as the Mysunsai. Gaenkelti has already done this, but agrees with the Saik. He used a Chorae on Skeaös and nothing. Xerius is stunned to learn his most trusted advisor was a spy. He was so sure that Skeaös knew the truth. “The others call me a God, but Skeaös, ah good Skeaös, he knows I’m divine.” in a fit of rage, he begins destroying things while demanding Skeaös is tortured and skinned.

There is silence as he calms down and then Gaenkelti breaches the subject of Kellhus. Xerius orders him to be be watched “Scrutinize him like no other.” Xerius finds satisfaction that even Conphas is disturbed by the events. Xerius dismisses Gaenkelti, after complimenting him, and orders the his chief sorcerer, spy, and augur to attend him. Gaenkelti leaves Xerius alone with Conphas.

Conphas is concerned, wondering just how much Skeaös knows. Xerius will have it tortured out of him and learn who he spies for. Conphas asks after the Holy War and the indenture. Xerius repeats what his mother would have said: “Our own house, Nephew. First, our own house…” Then he tells Conphas to personally summon the Mandate Schoolman in the Holy war.

“Why? Mandate Schoolmen are fools”

“Fools can be trusted precisely because they are fools. Their agendas rarely intersect with your own. These are great matters, Conphas. We must be certain.”

Alone, Xerius looks out from the summit of the Andiamine Heights. He could see far, but never far enough. He will listen to his sorcerer and spymaster squabble then go and see Skeaös himself. He would personally punish Skeaös

Achamian finds walking through Momemn at night, escorted by Conphas and Kidruhil soldiers, a nightmarish journey. At night, the already complex city is a maze. Achamian studies Conphas, self-conscious that he is a portly man when compared to Conphas’s physical perfection, and because the Prince-Imperial is too self-assured because he was “possessed either of a terrible strength or a frightening lack.”

Achamian is shocked Conphas is escorting him, wondering what could have caused the Imperial Nephew to fetch him personally. Conphas won’t say. “I have been sent to fetch not to banter.” The moment he received the summons, Achamian’s has experienced dread. Conphas attitude reminds Achamian just how little people think of his school as nothing more than desperate fools which the powerful avoid.

“Which was why this request was so unsettling. What could an Emperor want with a desperate fool like Drusas Achamian?

As far as he could tell, only one of two things could induce a Great Faction such as the Ikureis to call on him. Either they had encountered something beyond the abilities of their own school, the Imperial Saik, or the mercenary Mysunsai to resolve, or they wished to speak of the Consult. Since no one save the Mandate believed in the Consult any more, it had to be the former. And perhaps this wasn’t as implausible as it seemed. If the Great Factions commonly laughed at their mission, they still respected their skill.

The Gnosis had made them rich fools.

They arrive at the palace and Conphas leads him in. Achamian’s dread is not alleviated, especially when Conphas leads him into the “buried heart” of the mountain the palace is built on instead of the Heights. Achamian’s hesitates. Conphas tells Achamian this does lead to the dungeons. Achamian demands an explanation.

“Mandate sorcerers,” Conphas said ruefully. “Like all misers, you assume that everyone is after your hoard. What do you think, sorcerer? That I’m so stupid as to publicly barrel through Proyas’s camp just to abduct you?”

“You belong to House Ikurei. That’s cause for apprehension enough, don’t you think?”

Conphas realizes Achamian won’t go without answers and says they found a spy and need verification if sorcery is involved. The Emperor doesn’t trust the Imperial Saik and fear the Mysunsai’s “limited talents” won’t be enough. Achamian realizes something has scared them and that is why they sent for him. He agrees to enter.

As they walk, Conphas abruptly brings up Kellhus, shocking Achamian and he wonders if Kellhus is involved. Conphas attributes Kellhus’s cunning swaying the results of the meeting, which Achamian counters as Wisdom. Conphas grows angry and demands an answer to his “simple question.” But the question isn’t simple and Achamian reflects on what little he knows. “An Anasûrimbor had returned.” Achamian asks if this has to do with the spy and Conphas hesitates, thinking.

They truly are terrified.

The Exalt-General snorted, as though amazed he could worry about what a Mandate Schoolman might make of the Empire’s secrets. “Nothing whatsoever.” He smirked. “You should comb your beard, sorcerer,” he added as they continued down the passaged. “You’re about to meet the Emperor himself.”

Xerius, attended by his chief sorcerer Cememketri, Gaenkelti, his spymaster Tokush, the torture Kimish, and Skaleteas, the Mysunsai mercenary. The emperor examines Skeaös bound to the wall in the Truth Room. Skeaös has no fear and “blinked the way a child, awakened in the dead of night, might blink.”

Xerius asks his torturers opinion on Skeaös’s lack of fear, and Kimish answers that he has plied Skeaös already. Kimish has never seen a man like Skeaös Xerius grows impatient with Kimish’s need to play storyteller and demands answers.

Kimish shrugged. “Sometimes it’s better to show than to say,” he said, grasping a small set of pliers fro the rack of tools beside the Counsel. “Watch.”

He knelt and grasped one of the Counsel’s feet in his left hand. Slowly, with the boredom of a craftsman, he wrenched out a toenail.

There was nothing. O Shriek. Not even a shudder from the old frame.

Inhuman,” Xerius gasped, backing away.

The sorcerous all agree that no sorcery is at work. Xerius demands answers. Skeaös replies, but his voice is broken, “like many voices.” Xerius grows dizzy and grabs Cememketri for support. He calls the sorcerer a liar, insisting it must be at use. “This room reeks of it!” He accuse the Imperial Saik of plotting against him but is then caught short by Conphas and Achamian’s entrance. Conphas thinks Xerius’s accusation against the Saik is rash.

Xerius greets Achamian, feeling the need to be gracious when Achamian bowed, touching forehead to the ground. Achamian declares himself “your slave, God-of-Men” and asks what Xerius needs. Xerius brings Achamian forward before Skeaös, showing Achamian off.

The old face remained passionless, but the eyes glittered with a strange intensity.

“A Mandati,” it said.

Xerius looked to Achamian. The man’s expression was blank. And then Xerius felt it, felt the hatred emanating from Skeaös’s pale form, as though the old man recognized the Mandate sorcerer. The splayed body tensed. The chains tightened, link biting against link. The wooden table creaked.

Achamian backs up as Xerius demands to know if it is sorcery. Achamian demands to know who the man is, horror in his voice. Xerius answered and Achamian is in a panic, wanting to know what Skeaös confessed to. Xerius demands his answers. Achamian say there is no sorcery here unless it is invisible to the few. Skaleteas tries to brown-nose, which angers Xerius.

Meta ka peruptis sun rangashra, Chigra, Mandati—Chigraa,” the old Counsel spat, his voice now utterly inhuman. He writhed against his restraints, the old body rippling with thin, greasy muscles. A bolt snapped from the walls.

Achamian is struck dumb while the chains break. Xerius cries for help. Then Gaenkelti died, his neck broken. Conphas is hit with a chain and Tokush was “broken like a doll.” Sorcery is unleashed, Achamian using his Gnosis while Cememketri curses at him.

It is over. Achamian has saved Xerius’s life, leaving Skeaös is charred. Xerius realizes he is alive and safe. Achamian heads to the burned body of Skeaös and demands answers, wanting to know what Skeaös is.

“You are the first, Chigra,” Skeaös wheezed, an ambient, horrifying whisper. And you will be the last…”

What followed would haunt Xerius’s dreams for the rest of his numbered days. As though gasping for some deeper breath, Skeaös’s face unfolded like a spider’s legs clutched tight about a cold torso. Twelve limbs, crowned by small wicked claws, unclenched and opened, revealing lipless teeth and lidless eyes where a face should have been. Like a woman’s long fingers, they embraced the astounded Mandate sorcerer about the head and began to squeeze.

Achamian screams in pain. Xerius is shocked. But Conphas acts, decapitating the creature and saving Achamian’s life. The sorcerer stands, surveys the stunned faces, then goes to leave without a word. Cememketri blocks the way. Bluntly, Achamian says he is leaving. Xerius gives him permission while Conphas gives a look that asks if letting him leave is wise.

“He would have lectured us about myths, Conphas. About the Ancient North and the return of Mog. They always do.”

“After this,” Conphas replied, “perhaps we should listen.”

Xerius is dismissive: “Mad events seldom give credence to madmen.” Exhilaration surges through Xerius. He lives and he knows. He is no longer ignorant about the skin spies. He decides the skin spy must be Cishaurim in origin. Xerius surveys the room, the dead, and counts the cost of purchasing this knowledge. It did not beggar him.

“Perhaps,” Conphas replied, scowling, “but we’re debtors still.”

So like Mother, Xerius thought.

Esmenet hurries through the camp of the Holy War as they celebrate the victory over the Emperor and the impending march. Esmenet waited for Sarcellus to fall asleep before living his camp and heading out into the night. In the heady celebration, men grab her, some just to spin her, others to kiss her or grope her, and one tries to have sex with her, but she punches him in the face, bringing confusion to the man’s face.

She lies, crying and shaken after the encounter, but she regains herself and continues on. She is finally heading to Xinemus’s camp to find Achamian. She hides her tattooed hand, proclaiming her a prostitute, as she moves through the camp.

She finally finds Xinemus’s camp and stares at his banner, imagining Achamian before the fire and how he would burst with joy when he sees her. She imagines hugging him, smelling him, hearing him speak her name, joke about how old-fashioned it is (she was named for the wife of a prophet).

She wiped her eyes. That he would rejoice at seeing her, she had no doubt. But he would not understand the time she’d spent with Sarcellus—especially once she told him of that night in Sumna and what it meant for Inrau. He would be cut, outraged even. He might strike her.

But he would not turn her out. He would wait, as he always did, for the Mandate to call him away.

And he would forgive. As he always did.

She feels pathetic and struggles to gather herself, realizing she was still a mess from her earlier crying. She moves along the canal, spying on the camp, feeling the need to be secretive or “like a misbegotten creature from some nursery tale, one who must hide from lethal light.” She finally spies the fire, but doesn’t see Achamian. She does see Xinemus looking strong and in command, whom she thinks looks like Achamian’s older brother.

So you’re his friend, she thought, both watching and silently thanking him.

She didn’t know anyone else, but spies Cnaiür, hearing about him, and then sees Kellhus and Serwë and realizes he must be the Prince of Atrithau who had the dream. She wonders if Proyas is also with them.

She watched wide-eyed, a sense of awe squeezing the breath from her lungs. She stood, she realized, at the very heart of the Holy War, fiery with passion, promise, and sacred purpose. These men were more than human, they were Kahiht, World Souls, locked in a great wheel of great events. The thought of striding into their midst beckoned hot tears to her eyes. How could she? Awkwardly concealing the back of her hand, instantly branded for what she was by their far-seeing eyes…

What’s this? A whore? Here? You must be joking…

What had she been thinking? Even if Achamian had been her, she would have only shamed him.

Someone, probably Proyas based of the description, gives a sermon about the trials the Holy War shall endure and what the war’s goal is—Shimeh. Then Xinemus intones the High Temple Prayer. Things are sombre when he finishes until the celebration starts up again. She again wants to join them, seeing them as bright and regal, but fears they would vanish. Then Kellhus speaks to Xinemus while looking towards her, then the pair walk at her. She shrinks back and hides behind a tent. The pair urinate into the canal, trading jokes which make even Esmenet smile as she watches. She realizes a friendship has just formed between the two men. As they head back, again Kellhus appears to look at her. But he makes no notice of her and they rejoin the camp.

They seemed good people, Esmenet thought, the kind of people Akka would prize as friends. There was… room between these people, she decided. Room to fail. Room to hurt.

Alone in the darkness, she suddenly felt safe, as she had with Sarcellus. These were Achamian’s friends, and though she did not exist for them, somehow they would keep her safe. A sense of drowsiness embalmed her. The voices lilted and rumbled, shining with honest good cheer. Just a snooze she thought. Then she heard someone mention Akka’s name.

They talk about Conphas summoning Achamian to the Emperor, worried about him. As they talk, she falls asleep and dreams that the stump she leans against is a dead tree holding her emplace. And then someone wakes her up.

Sarcellus. She is scared as he hushes her, not wanting her to make a scene. “This might be hard to explain.” The camp is quiet, almost everyone asleep. She accuse him of following her, but he merely awoke and figured this is where she would be.

She swallowed. Her hands felt light, as though they were preparing of their own volition to shield her face. “I’m not going back with you, Sarcellus.”

Something Esmenet could not decipher flashed in his eyes. Triumph? Then he shrugged. The ease of the gesture terrified her.

“That’s good,” he said absently. “I’ve had my fill of you, Esmi.”

She stared at him. Tears traced hot lines across her cheeks. Why was she crying? She didn’t love him… Did she?

But he had loved her. Of this she was certain… Wasn’t she?

He tells her to go to Achamian because he doesn’t care. She tries to understand his change of mood, wondering of Gotian had commanded Sarcellus to get rid of her. She was the source of much gossip. Her thoughts drift, to the stranger in the market place, to four years ago when the famine came and she grew so skinny and when she almost died. A part of her wants to beg his forgiveness. But she doesn’t. She only stares and he grows impatient and leaves.

Dawn brightens the sky as she heads into the camp and scavenges wine and a crust of bread to eat, feeling like a child awake before her parents or a scavenging animal. She wonders where Akka is. She hears footsteps, turns, and sees Achamian walking towards her, recognizing his portly frame.

As he neared, she glimpsed the five stripes of his beard, then the first contours of his face, cadaverous in the gloom. She stood before him, smiling, crying her wrists held out.

It’s me.

He looked through her, beyond her, and continued walking.

She stands in shock. She had imagined so many different ways their reunion would play out. But not for Achamian to pretend not to see her. Crying, she runs from the camp and trips into the dust. She sobs, demanding why when she came to save him, to tell him about Inrau. Her self-esteem plummets. Why would he want a whore. She pleads to herself that Achamian has to love her while her doubts say no one ever loved you.

“M-m-my d-daughter… Sh-she loved me!”

Would that she hated!… Hated and lived!

She cries on the ground, her thoughts drifting through her memories she sobs, tormented by anguish and guilt. Time passes until she remembers what an old harlot told her many years ago. “That’s why we’re more. More than concubines, more than priestess, more than wives, more than even some queens. We may be oppressed, Esmi, but remember, always remember, sweet girl, we’re never owned.” Esmenet finds comfort in the thought as she realizes Sarcellus and Achamian do not own her. She rises stiffly.

Oh, Esmi, you’re getting old.

Not good for a whore.

She began walking.

My Thoughts

Here we see what a skin spy can do. The Eothic guard are Norsirai (think German or Scandinavian) and are on average bigger than the Ketyai like Xerius, which Achamian, through Esmenet’s ruminations at the end of the chapter, attributes to the greater amount of red meat. The thing called Skeaös kills three of them and injured four more. Skin spies are deadly

Xerius takes it badly learning the truth. Skeaös has been his number one advisor. He knows the true scope of their plan for the Holy War. Xerius has new fears to focus on. He has to learn. He can’t trust anyone in the court.

But a Mandate Schoolman Xerius can trust. They are fools, so he thinks, obsessed with the Consult. But they do not play the game, as the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spire believed until they found the butchered Geshruuni, the Javreh Captain from Chapter 1. A safe bet to confirm even with sending for a Mysunsai Sorcerer. He is so rattled, he sends Conphas personally.

Achamian isn’t sure if Conphas is terribly strong or has a lack in his personality. Conphas is a narcissist. Everything revolves around him and it breeds his arrogance. The fact that he has physical perfection, a tactical mind, and the power as the heir of the Nansur Empire only fosters it. His no doubt sexual relationship with his Grandmother and her shaping of him at a young edge no doubt led to this.

Achamian is not smart enough not to go into the dungeons of Xerius without an answer. Again, the Ikureis’ reputation proceeds them.

Achamian comments that mercenaries are rarely gifted souls from the previous chapter apply to the Mysunsai’s reputation. Of course, Achamian says he himself joins the Holy War for mercenary reasons, but his isn’t for money so maybe that is the difference.

As they walk into the mountain the Andiamine Heights is built upon, Achamian feels its weight above him. That is a creepy feeling if you’ve ever been underground. Of course, we walk into skyscrapers, man-made mountains, and don’t have that same reaction. It is purely psychological and speaks to the deepest fears in all of us—being trapped.

It appears that Conphas wasn’t expecting Achamian to be so perceptive, but a fool easily manipulated. Bringing up Kellhus, out of nowhere, is extremely clumsy, alerting Achamian immediately to the connection. By thinking less of of the Mandate, Conphas underestimates Achamian and gives away too much information.

Skeaös’s strange, many-voiced tone isn’t shocking. He is a mimic. He would be capable of producing the entire range of human speech. He can shape his body so he probably has control over his vocal cords.

Xerius does enjoy it when people give him the respect he needs. He might not understand why he was moved to graciousness, but he wants answers and Achamian is here to deliver. He is showing to the other sorcerers “This is how you treat me, as a god. And then I am benevolent in return.”

The Consult definitely hates the Mandate. Looks like they passed that on to their skin spies. Remember the pleasure Sarcellus took in striking Achamian the day he met Inrau at the tavern. At the time, it’s played off as Sarcellus enjoying beating an arrogant low-caste, but it wasn’t. He enjoyed striking his enemy.

Skeaös had the strength to free himself from the chains. He just didn’t care to until Achamian was there and he saw his enemy. These skin spies are so dangers and powerful. Far stronger than any normal human.

We see the skin spies unveiled now. Like Kellhus speculated, fingers simulating a face. And it is horrifying. Note how Xerius will remember this till the day he dies. I’m sure he will.

Also, the Consult use a from of the Gnosis. They Synthese had the Mark deep on him when Inrau so him. And yet the skin spies are not created by sorcery. They are the first hint we get of the Consult’s other skills.

Xerius is very dismissive of the No God, calling him Mog instead of Mog-Pharau. There you are, dismissing and belittling. No wonder Xerius never discovers the second skin spy in his court until it’s too late.

Conphas is clearly shaken by the events.

Xerius deduction of the Cishaurim is fair. There has been no sign of the Consult for 300 years. Even Mandate sorcerers like Achamian had lost faith in their mandate.

Poor Xerius. He can never have that moment where he feels like a genius. Some one, usually his mother, is there to let the hot air out of his swollen head.

Interesting that the eyes of the dead bull’s head reminds Esmenet of Sarcellus. She knows something is off in the man, smart enough to detect the wrongness but doesn’t have Kellhus trained perception to identify it.

Esmenet has a preference for tall, muscular Norsirai men “muscle trees” as clients. We’ll see this again in the second series.

Esmenet needs secrecy because she’s scared. As much as she wants to see Achamian, she spent that time with Sarcellus and she feels guilty. She knows he won’t understand, will be angry, and she’s delaying the confrontation.

Interesting how she thinks of the World Souls as locked into a great wheel of great events. They are chained to fate. Slaves to the Darkness that Comes Before.

Esmenet’s low self-esteem rears its head again as she gazes at the fire. We’ve all had those moments, outsiders looking at the warm fire, wishing we were included while too afraid to march up for fear of rejection. It is easier to skulk in the shadows and hide.

It is interesting how Kellhus puts her at ease simply by going off with Xinemus and urinating. I wonder what he made of the woman watching them. He felt it was important enough to ease her fright. Was he curious at her purpose in hiding and watching or did he recognize her from Achamian’s talk about Esmenet?

Easement may not love Sarcellus, but she liked that he loved her and to realize how little he cares for her stings her and shakes her up. As a whore, she prides herself on reading men. And she has read him badly. She clings to the idea he was ordered to discard her because of the rumors, it flatters her ego more than the truth that he doesn’t care. But he’s not human, so she wouldn’t be able to.

Esmenet has a lot of guilt over her daughter Mimara’s death. “Would that she hated!… Hated and lived.” We’ll learn more about Mimara’s fate, but it has to do with the famine and Esmenet nearly staving to death.

Poor Esmenet. She picked the wrong time to run into Achamian. He’s in shock from what happened with the Emperor. He does love you, Esmenet.

Esmenet’s realization that she is her own woman, unlike all those others the old whore named. Her profession has given her freedom. She doesn’t have to rely on one man to take care of her, slave to his whim. She can go out and make her fortune, using the men as they use her. She walks off into the camp back to the life she left in Sumna.

What a sad place to leave off Esmenet’s story until book 2, at her lowest point, rejected by both the men she thought loved her.

Click here to continue on to Chapter 19!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Seventeen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 5
The Holy Warrior
Chapter 17
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

My Thoughts

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:

Skeaös…

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.

The. The…

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.

No thought.

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.

“Broken whom?”

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.”

My Thoughts

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!

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Review: Lament of the Fallen (The Last Bucerlari 2)

Lament of the Fallen (The Last Bucerlari 2)

by Andy Peloquin

Reviewed by JMD Reid

B01JJ5CKOU.01.LZZZZZZZThe Hunter is reeling from the events of Blade of the Destroy. The revelation that he is a Bucerlari, a half-demon immortal, and that every time he kills with his magical weapon Soulhunger it feeds the rebirth of the Destroyer. Vowing to never kill, to never feed the or give into his demonic nature, he flees Voramis to find answers to his forgotten past. How is he really? And who is the mysterious Her that haunts the edges of remembering?

Struggling against both his demonic nature and his blades need to constantly kill and feed on the souls of its victims, the Hunter falls in with a female knight and her apprentice. Sir Danna and Visibos are traveling to the city of Malandria, a place where the Beggar God’s temple dominates. For they are both knights of the Beggar God.

Knights charged to eradicate demonkind and their offspring—the Bucerlari.

The Hunter walks a tightrope with his new companions. He cannot arouse their suspicious or they will turn on him. His only choice is to hope they don’t and slip away? But will he? And what answers will he find in Malandria?

Lament of the Fallen is an excellent follow-up to Blade of the Destroyer. The Hunter’s struggle with his demonic nature and the need of the blade are powerful. He doesn’t want to kill, but the world is not so kind to him. Bandits, a cabal of Mages, assassins, and more plague him as he struggles to understand his place in the world and defy his heritage and purpose. He might be destined to help bring back the Destroyer and end the world, but can he defy it?

Peloquin creates an interesting world with fascinating characters and dark setting. The journey of the Hunter is fascinating as he goes from assassin to hero. As he learns whether he is an evil man or if he can choose to be good as he struggles with his “addiction” to murder. The need burning inside him, always eating at his self-control, demanding he stop showing mercy. He stop showing compassion.

It would be so much easier if he just killed his enemies after all.

I am very interested in where Peloquin takes the series next. If you’re a fan of Grimdark Fantasy and compelling characters, than support this well-written, exciting, page-turning indie fantasy! You will be missing out otherwise!

I was given an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.

You can buy Blade of the Destroyer from Amazon. Check out Andy Peloquin’s website, connect on Linked In, follow him on Google Plus, like him on Twitter @AndyPeloquin, and like him on Facebook.

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Sixteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 5
The Holy Warrior
Chapter 16
Momemn

Welcome to Chapter Sixteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Fifteen!

 Those of us who survived will always be bewildered when we recall his arrival. And not just because he was so different then. In a strange sense he never changed. We changed. If he seems so different to us now, it is because he was the figure that transformed the ground.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

I don’t think there’s any doubt who the “he” above is: Anasûrimbor Kellhus. We have already seen how Kellhus can manipulate normal humans through his vast intellect and his ability to read minute micro-expressions and involuntary reactions which reveal a person’s true emotions even when they seek to dissemble. Throughout the various quotes of the Compendium of the First Holy War we have heard of it being transformed or hijacked and we know Kellhus is here to do just that.

Sounds like he succeeds. But how does he do it? And how will people like Achamian change? It is a unique form of foreshadowing to give us foreknowledge of the story to come but painted only in the broadest of strokes. Now the narrative has to fill in those details.

Late Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

The following evening after Kellhus’s arrival, Achamian finds himself studying the men at a campfire, Serwë at his side. Out of her rags, she is a very beautiful woman. Achamian is bemused, studying the man, trying to understand him. The pair share an exchange of greeting and Kellhus smiles.

The man [Kellhus] smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was unlike any smile Achamian had ever seen. It seemed to understand him much more than he wanted to be understood.

Then the revelation struck.

I know this man.

But how does one recognize a man never met? Unless through a son or other kin… Images of his recent dream, holding the dead face of Anasûrimbor Celmomas in his lap, flickered through his soul’s eye. The resemblance as unmistakable: the furrow between the brows, the long hollow of the cheeks, the deep-set eyes.

He is an Anasûrimbor! But that’s impossible…

And yet the times seemed rife with impossible things.

One of those impossible things is the Holy War, which Achamian had only seen its like in his dreams of the Old Wars. Achamian realizes that Kellhus arrival was history walking in the presence. The prophecy echoes through Achamian’s mind. He is shocked to find out the great blood line survived the First Apocalypse. Kellhus has been warned of Achamian and his dreams by Proyas, no doubt in ridicule, but Kellhus is not hasty in his judgment and then makes a joke. Achamian, laughing, finds himself liking the man, put at ease.

Achamian doesn’t have much of a plan in ferreting out information about Kellhus. As a spy, he would only have curiosities and would ask questions, allowing the conversation to flow while searching for what he needed to get his info. He realizes that is not a good method with Kellhus, a species of man Achamian has never met. He finds himself enthralled by Kellhus’s master of his voice. “It seemed to whisper: There’s more than I’m telling you… Only listen and see.

Kellhus can shift gears rapidly, being at once innocent then wise, amused then sorrowful, but Achamian detects no guile in his nature, as though Kellhus was honest with his emotions. Even Kellhus’s eyes, knowing but not judging, stir Awe in Achamian.

They turn to why Kellhus came to the Holy War, Achamian still hoping the man lied.

“You’re referring to the dreams,” Kellhus replied.

“I suppose I am.”

For a brief moment, the Prince of Atrithau regarded him paternally, almost sorrowfully, as though Achamian had yet to understand the rules of this encounter.

Kellhus talks about how the dream awoken him from a repetitive life. And now awakened, he could not ignore it. But had to act. The talk of sleep and love, with Kellhus glancing Serwë Then Kellhus asks Achamian why a sorcerer joined the war. Achamian answer is lame “Because I’ve been directed by my school, I supposed.” Kellhus probes and Achamian speaks about the consult with a slow resentment, fearing ridicule. Kellhus understands.

“Perhaps, Achamian, we’re not so different, you and I.”

How do you mean?”

But Kellhus did not answer. He did not need to. The man had sensed his earlier incredulity, Achamian realized, and had answered it by showing him the irony of one man anguished by dreams denying another man the rapture of his. Suddenly, Achamian found himself believing the man’s story. How could he believe in himself otherwise?

Achamian realizes that there is no ego in the conversation, no rivalries being fenced. There talk had “the character of a voyage.” To Achamian, they are merely discovering new ideas instead of convincing the other who is right. Achamian is no longer suspicious of Kellhus. Since Atrithau is so remote, only Galeoth caravans make the journey there and no Mandate had been in the city for several centuries, there was no way to verify Kellhus’s story. And yet, Kellhus had won Achamian over. He was “a man who moved the souls of those around him.” In their conversations, Achamian found answers to questions he feared to ask. Kellhus reminds him of Ajencis, an “exemplar of Truth.”

Serwë has fallen asleep, head on Kellhus’ lap. He asks Kellhus if he loves her. “Yes… I need her,” is his answer. Achamian can tell Serwë worships Kellhus, which saddens Kellhus. “For some reason, she makes more of me than I am… Others do this as well.” Achamian isn’t surprised, seeing that special something in Kellhus. The Dûnyain finds that ironic.

“And what’s that?”

“Here you possess privileged knowledge, and yet no one believes you, while I possess nothing, and everyone insists that I have privileged knowledge.

And Achamian could only think, But do you believe me?

Kellhus talks about a man who kissed his robe, sounding like he finds it absurd. Achamian understands. Then Kellhus says he believes in Achamian’s mission. This touches the sorcerer, and he tries to joke away his emotion, which leads to talk of Esmenet. Achamian is unnerved by how Kellhus is reading his thoughts. Achamian is curt in his response.

Achamian blamed the silence that followed on those sour words. He repented them but could not take them back. He looked to Kellhus, his eyes apologetic.

But the matter had already been forgiven and forgotten. The silences between men are always fraught with uncomfortable significance—accusations, hesitations, judgments of who is weak and who is strong—but the silences with this man undid rather than sealed these things. The silence of Anasûrimbor Kellhus said, Let us move on, you and I, and recall these things at a better time.

Kellhus then asks for Achamian to be his tutor. Despite a hundred questions, Achamian agrees and Kellhus calls him friend. Achamian feels shy now and is relieved when Kellhus rouses Serwë and they retire for the night. Achamian feels a euphoria as he navigates the alleys of tents to his own.. He feels transformed by his encounter with Kellhus. He doesn’t want to sleep, but finally does and dreams of Anasûrimbor Celmomas’s death and prophecy again. He finds the High King’s voice sounds like Kellhus’s.

One of my seed will return, Seswatha—an Anasûrimbor will return… …at the end of the world.

But what did this mean? Was Anasûrimbor Kellhus in fact a sign, as Proyas hoped. A sign not of the God’s divine sanction of the Holy war, as Proyas assumed, but of the No-God’s Imminent return?

…the end of the world.

Achamian began trembling, shaking with a horror he never before experienced while awake.

Achamian prays to Sejenus to let him die before. He finds it unthinkable, pleading and in denial. He is struck, then, by all those souls sleeping around him dreaming of glory and did not know Achamian’s fears. They were innocences “filled by the heedless momentum of their faith” believing what they did now lay at the center of the world’s events. But that center was Golgotterath.

Later, Achamian felt foolish for his fear and tries to convince himself it is only a coincidence that Kellhus has the same name. Still, Achamian pulls out his “map” of how the great names relate to each other. He ponders Maithanet, fearing he would never know how Inrau died. Then he looks at the consult, scratched to the side, isolated.. He writes Kellhus below “the hated name.”

Cnaiür walks through camp, unsure where to go, while reflecting on his meeting with Proyas and his five Conriyan Palatines to discuss how to outmaneuver the Emperor.

Proud men wagging proud tongues. Even the more bellicose Palatines, such as Gaidekki or Ingiaban, spoke more to score than to solve. Watching them, Cnaiür had realized they all played an infantile version of the same game the Dûnyain played. Words, Moënghus and Kellhus had taught him, could be used hand open or fist closed—as a way to embrace or to enslave. For some reason these Inrithi, how had nothing tangible to gain or to lose from one another, all spoke with their fist closed—fatuous claims, false concessions, mocking praise, flattering insults, and an endless train of satiric innuendos

Jnan, they called it. A mark of caste and cultivation.

Cnaiür endured, even when they turned their attention to him. Cnaiür realizes a hardship he had not anticipated—enduring their “peevish unmanly ways.” He has accepted dealing with Kellhus to get his revenge, but did not realize what else he faced. Cnaiür leaves in disgust when the council ends and stars at the scars, remembering his father teaching him the Scylvendi view of the sky and that the World is a lie, only the People were true. Cnaiür questions why he is here “among the cattle.”

Hearing Kellhus’s voice, and fighting his own demons and memories, he spies on Kellhus as he speaks to Achamian.

Cnaiür had intended to scrutinize what the Dûnyain said, hoping to confirm any one of his innumerable suspicions, but he quickly realized that Kellhus was playing with this sorcerer the way he played all the others, battering him with closed fists, beating his soul down paths of his manufacture. Certainly it did not sound like this. Compared with the banter of Proyas and his Palatines, what Kellhus said to the Schoolman possessed a heartbreaking gravity. But it was all a game, own where truths had become chits, where every open hand concealed a fist.

How could determine the true intent of such a man?

Cnaiür realizes Kellhus is even more inhuman than he thought, having no truth or meaning to them but adopting whatever they need, slithering from idea to idea. He ponders what the Shortest Way leads to.

Cnaiür finds himself watching sleeping Serwë and he fears for her caught in Kellhus’s machinations. He thinks of stealing her away in the night and fleeing away from Kellhus, but he knows they are merely fears leading him away from his purpose—revenge. He feels himself weak again for wanting to depart from the path. Cnaiür tries to convince himself Serwë is nothing while he beats his fist into the dirt. As Kellhus leads the sleepy Serwë to their tent, Cnaiür sees her as a little girl—innocent.

And pregnant.

Kellhus returns after she is asleep and asks Cnaiür how long he’ll lurk in the darkness. Cnaiür said until the sorcerer is gone, since Sclyvendi despise them. Cnaiür finds himself fearing the man physically since their flight and seeing what he can do. So Cnaiür hides his fear with questions, asking why Kellhus is talking to Achamian. Instruction. Cnaiür doesn’t believe and presses. Kellhus asks Cnaiür why his father is in Shimeh. Cnaiür thinks and realizes the possibility Moënghus is Cishaurim, which Kellhus confirms by talking about the dream. Cnaiür had mentioned the possibility when he first met Kellhus but not realized what it meant that Moënghus was Cishaurim.

Cnaiür scowled. “You said nothing to me! Why?”

“You did not want to know.”

Cnaiür ponders it while Kellhus studies him. Cnaiür recognizes something not quite human in Kellhus. Then Cnaiür realizes why he didn’t want to know about Moënghus because that meant he would have to ask Kellhus for information and show ignorance and need—weakness. And that was dangerous around a Dûnyain So Cnaiür instead informs Kellhus that the Mandate do not share their Gnosis with outsiders, ignoring Moënghus entirely. But Kellhus will need it. Cnaiür marches to the pavilion

“Thirty years,” Kellhus called from behind. “Moënghus has dwelt among these men for thirty years. He’ll have great power—more than either of us could hope to overcome. I need more than sorcery, Cnaiür I need a nation. A nation.”

Cnaiür paused, looking skyward once again. “So it is to be this Holy War then, is it?”

“With your help, Scylvendi. With your help.”

Cnaiür knows it is all lies. He enters the tent to rape Serwë again.

The emperor is not pleased to hear from Skeaös, his Prime Counsel, that Proyas has found a Scylvendi and offers him as replacement for Conphas. Xerius has a temper tantrum, railing against Proyas. Skeaös dismisses the possibility that a Scylvendi could lead the Holy War as a joke.

Suspicion enters Xerius and he demands Skeaös look him in the eye (an offense to do so to the Emperor). Xerius wonders what he’ll see. Fear. Xerius is pleased by that.

Achamian has been in a funk since meeting Kellhus. He can’t figure the man out. He keeps trying to use the Cants of Calling to inform the Mandate about Kellhus, and seven times he has stopped himself. He knew he had to, but also knew Nautzera would be convinced, a man who had strong certainties, and would act. Achamian is plagued with doubts, not sure if Kellhus was the harbinger or just a coincidence. Every generation of Mandate had those who were convinced the end was nigh.

Achamian fears the Mandate will seize Kellhus if they learn of him after so many years of inaction. His guilt over Inrau hold him back. Unsure what to do, Achamian asks Xinemus over the breakfast fire, what he makes of Kellhus. Xinemus is unsure, sensing something about the man, but he doesn’t know what to think. Achamian thinks Kellhus is better than most men.

“Most men? Or do you mean all men?”

Achamian regarded Xinemus narrowly. “He frightens you.”

“Sure. So does the Scylvendi, for that matter.”

“But in a different way… Tell me, Zin, just what do you think Anasûrimbor Kellhus is?”

Prophet or prophecy?

“More,” Xinemus said decisively. “More than a man.”

A silence falls, interrupted by the arrival of the Scarlet Spire whose movement through the camps is about to spark off a riot by flying their banner openly, but Achamian realizes the Spire are doing it to put him at ease, to show they are coming openly, risking a riot rather then startling a Mandate Schoolman. Achamian tells Xinemus to get his Chorae anyways. Xinemus is not happy, ordering his soldiers to get ready. He tells Achamian to tell the fool to skulk away. Achamian is hurt his friend blames him for what is happening.

Xinemus’s soldiers push back the rioters as the Scarlet Spire approaches. The Scarlet Spire grow closer, their Javreh slave-soldiers pushing their way through the mob until the reach Xinemus soldiers, then they are through the palanquin they carry approaches Achamian while the mob throws stones, bones, wine bowls, and more.

Eleäzaras, Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spire, steps out, shocking Achamian. The mob falls silent at the sight since he is the third most powerful man in the world, behind the Shriah and the Padirajah. The mob amuses Eleäzaras They exchange greetings, Eleäzaras joking and dismissive. They banter about Scarlet Spire’s jealousy of Mandate Gnosis. Eleäzaras begins insulting Achamian, asking why such a clever man was still I the field, wondering who he offended or if he buggered Proyas as a child. Achamian is shocked by Eleäzaras’s bluntness.

Angry, Achamian asks what the Grandmaster wants, Achamian hoping to learn more about how Maithanet knew the Scarlet Spire warred with the Cishaurim. Eleäzaras claims he just wants to meet Achamian.

“I needed to meet the man who has utterly overturned my impression of the Mandate… To think that I once thought yours the gentlest of Schools!”

Now Achamian was genuinely perplexed. “What are you talking about?”

Eleäzaras knows Achamian was in Carythusal, the Scarlet Spire’s home city. Achamian believes Geshruuni, the Javreh Captain Achamian recruited way back in Chapter 1, has been uncovered and wonders if he killed the man by recruiting him, like Inrau. Achamian shrugs and says the Scarlet Spire’s secret war is out. He fears this is a preamble to Eleäzaras trying to abduct Achamian to learn the Gnosis. Eleäzaras responds that the Mandate secret is also exposed.

That puzzles Achamian. Eleäzaras speaks like the Mandate has a shameful secret. Achamian is confused. Eleäzaras explains how they found Geshruuni dead by chance, dredged up in a fisherman’s net. The Scarlet Spire is disturbed by how Geshruuni was killed, him. Achamian is dismissive, pointing out why he would kill the Mandate’s best spy in the Scarlet Spire in years. Achamian claims Eleäzaras is being played for a fool.

Someone plays both of us… But who?

Eleäzaras glared, pursing his lips as though holding a bitter segment of lime against his teeth. “My Master of Spies warned me of this,” he said tightly. “I’d assumed you had some obscure reason for what you did, something belonging to your accursed Gnosis. But he insisted that you were simply mad. And he told me I’d know by the way you lied. Only madmen and historians, he said, believe their lies.”

“First I’m a a murderer, and now I’m a madman?”

“Indeed,” Eleäzaras spat in a tone of condemnation and disgust. “Who else collects human faces?”

And then stones pelt them from the mob.

The next day, Eleäzaras reflects on the disastrous meeting with Achamian, and the riot he almost caused. He is joined by Iyokus, his Master of Spies. Iyokus reports that there last spy in the Thousand Temples is surely dead. Eleäzaras is worried that he has “delivered the greatest School in the Three Seas to its greatest peril.” Without spies, they don’t know what Maithanet’s intentions are.

“It means we must have faith,” Iyokus said with an air of shoulder-shrugging fatalism. “Faith in this Maithanet.”

“Faith? In someone we know nothing of?”

“That’s why it is faith.”

The decision to join the Holy War was Eleäzaras’s most difficult. But the six trinkets offered by the Shriah were hard to ignore. They meant the Shriah was serious. He offered them vengeance. Eleäzaras orders more resources spent on spies in Sumna. They have to know what Maithanet is up to.

Eleäzaras is reminded of ten-years ago, Iyokus falling wounded against Eleäzaras, their Grandmaster dead along with the Cishaurim. The pair had survived the assassination attack. Despite the years, Eleäzaras remembers that day clearly, haunted by it. Eleäzaras would end their war. The Shriah gave them vengeance, but it was a treacherous gift, forcing Eleäzaras to surrender to the Holy War, to the whims of other men. It was a first for their order.

Their talk to turns to the Emperor and the rumors that Ikurei Conphas received a message from the Fanim after the Vulgar Holy War was destroyed, but its contents are unknown, whether a warning or peace overtures. The fact that Conphas will be the general worries Eleäzaras Iyokus then speaks frankly, saying the Scarlet Spire shouldn’t even be here. They are degraded by this. He pleads with Eleäzaras to abandon it.

You too, Iyokus?

Eleäzaras felt coils of rage flex about his heart. The Cishaurim had planted a serpent within him those ten years ago, and it had grown fat on fear. He could feel it writhe within him, animate his hands with womanish desires to scratch out Iyokus’s disconcerting eyes.

Eleäzaras counsels patience, but Iyokus counters with the riot almost sparked by their supposed allies. If it wasn’t for Achamian stopping Eleäzaras, the Grandmaster would have killed the mob in his anger. Achamian had threatened Eleäzaras indirectly with the Gnosis. It galled Eleäzaras because he knew the Gnosis was superior to his schools lesser magic. The Gnosis was the one thing the Scarlet Spire lacked.

How he despised the Mandate! All the Schools, even the Imperial Saik, recognized the ascendancy of the Scarlet Spire—save for the Mandate. And why should they when a mere field spy could cow their Grandmaster?

Eleäzaras says that while their position is fragile, they will destroy the Cishaurim. Then only the Mandate would stand up to them. “…an arcane empire—that would be the wages of his [Eleäzaras] desperate labor.”

Then Iyokus says they checked the records and found another faceless man was found half-rotted in the delta five years ago. Iyokus believes the Mandate have put aside their “tripe about the Consult and the No-God” and play the game for real. Iyokus believes this changes everything, making the Mandate the strongest school if they are going for political power.

“First we crush the Cishaurim, Iyokus. In the meantime, make certain that Drusas Achamian is watched.”

My Thoughts

Kellhus uses humor to humanize him in Achamian’s eyes. Laughing, Achamian is less troubled and relaxes, finding himself liking Kellhus. Having been warned by Proyas about Achamian, Kellhus must know the threat the Mandate can pose to him. Seducing Achamian is vital to that and Kellhus’s goal of learning the Gnosis. It is efficient to accomplish multiple things at once.

We see Kellhus, as he told Cnaiür on their journey, acting fatherly. To the Dûnyain, normal men are children, and he is here to treat them as such. To bend them to his will with the promise of reward and the threat of punishment.

Kellhus talk of sleep as something that can’t be wanted or forced, the harder you strive, the harder it is to get is so true. Who hasn’t been desperate for sleep. Here Kellhus uses his tactic of telling universal truths to promote his wisdom and remoteness to awe and win over a person.

The way Kellhus seduces Achamian with words, pointing out hypocrisy, sharing a common thing that others are skeptical of, binding them together.

Kellhus and Serwë are complicated. She worships him, believes he is a god, and he is using that, feigning that he is nothing special, and the humility combined with his insights only encourages Achamian to believe it. As Kellhus says, he needs her. She is a beacon, drawing men to Kellhus, showing them that he is special, and then they hear the proof from his own lips all while denying it. No one likes a braggart, a person inflated by his own ego. Does Kellhus love her? Can he even love? Or will he only use her? Bakker has said Serwë is one of the most important characters to the story. We need to pay attention to her and Kellhus’s relationship.

I love Achamian’s selfish “but do you believe me” thought. Bakker is always showing humans for what we truly are. Creatures who strive against our true, selfish nature because we think something better will come form it.

See how dangerous Kellhus is. All Achamian had to do was glance at Serwë while speaking on Esmenet and Kellhus understood Achamian finds Esmi beautiful.

Achamian’s nightmare, his desperate believe that it can’t be, then using logic to explain away fears into self-denial.

Cnaiür can’t even insult the Inrithi without them finding it funny, poor guy. He’s straining. He’s haunted by his past. How long before he breaks?

Cnaiür’s question, wondering how he could ever know Kellhus’s intentions is something you’ll run into later in the series. How can we, the reader, trust a man who uses the truth as a goad, who has no ego but only his mission. He will say or do anything for it. And how do we even know what his mission truly is?

Cnaiür’s obsession with Serwë is one of the reasons she is important to Kellhus.

Cnaiür’s intelligence is shown again, but his fears interfered with him connecting the doubts of his logic about Moënghus being a Cishaurim. But he also understands why Kellhus is seducing Achamian—for the Gnosis.

Well, we’ve had hints that Kellhus would take over the Holy War. Now we have it stated as why he has to. But will it be enough to overcome his father and the Cishaurim?

Even here, telling people he loves Serwë, Kellhus still lets Cnaiür rape her at night. It also proves that Cnaiür, despite what he claims, can’t get Serwë out of his mind.

When the Scarlet Spire comes, I love Xinemus’s comment “They forgot how much they’re hated,” as the riot swells. Achamian’s answer, “Who doesn’t,” is great. Who wants to believe your actually hated? How many people, especially those in power, convince themselves that they are not despised despite the screaming mobs. Look at Xerius and how he acts in his self-deluded word.

Eleäzaras thinks he’s a smart man, but he comes to Achamian so sure he knows the answers that even when he sees the shock in Achamian’s eyes, the man simply believes Achamian is such a skilled liar. An answer should never seek for the question to prove it.

So now we know what the skin spy did to Geshruuni. It cut off Geshruuni’s face so he couldn’t be easily identified then went to assume him. But, of course, Achamian was recalled so the skin spy abandoned that plan to keep following him (as we learned a few chapters back when Achamian spots the skin spy following him in the market). Good thing since the Scarlet Spire found Geshruuni far too early than I think the skin spy intended.

Chanv is a great mystery in the series. A drug that extends your life, sharpens the intellect, but also leads to sterility. It is also said to sap the will, making someone more biddable perhaps. It sounds a lot like spice and no one in the Three Seas knows where it comes from. I suspect the Consult. There goal is too limit human life on the planet. Eleäzaras, despite his other failings, is not dumb enough to use Chanv because he has no idea where it comes from.

We get our first glimpse of Sorcerers fighting in the Eleäzaras remembering the assassination attempt ten years ago. He is suffering from PTSD about it which is driving him to get revenge. He can’t forget. But now he is questioning if he made the right decision, or was vengeance too enticing to resist. His story parallels Cnaiür’s, both allying with something they find anathema to get revenge on a stronger foe.

Iyokus and his eyes being scratched out… Foreshadowing.

So, who in the Ainoni camp has been replaced by a skin spy? Not a lot of prominent candidates to choose from. I love the unintended consequence happening here. The Consult didn’t intend this, but now the Scarlet Spire are convinced our lovable Drusas Achamian is a threat. A dangerous man who cuts off people’s face. Watch out, Achamian.

 

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Fifteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 5
The Holy Warrior
Chapter 14
Momemn

Welcome to Chapter Fifteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Fourteen!

Many have condemned those who joined the Holy War for mercenary reasons, and doubtless, should this humble history find its way into their idle libraries, they will blast me as well. Admittedly, my reasons for joining the Holy War were “mercenary,” if by that one means I joined it in order to procure ends outside of the destruction of the heathen and the reconquest of Shimeh. But there were a great many mercenaries such as myself, and like myself, they inadvertently furthered the Holy War by killing their fair share of heathen. The failure of the Holy War had nothing to do with us. Did I say failure? Perhaps “transformation” would be a better word.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

Faith is the truth of passion. Since no passion is more true than another, faith is the truth of nothing.

AJENCIS, THE FOURTH ANALYTIC OF MAN

My Thoughts

Well, we know what that greater reason was for Achamian, the purpose of the Mandate. And in this very chapter, the harbinger that Achamian has been dreaming about his appeared. He further eludes to the fact that something goes wrong with the Holy War. Something causes it to transform? What? Perhaps Kellhus? Another great point is on mercenaries. Just because they’re fifing for reasons other than faith doesn’t mean they’re not helping. But people like Proyas clearly have an issue with it. It makes them uncomfortable and yet he will use them because he has to.

The second passage goes to the argument between Achamian and Proyas. Proyas even quotes it, though he leaves of the last part of the passage about faith is the truth of nothing since Proyas believes his faith has all the truth he won’t acknowledge the possibility it has not truth. It contrast with Achamian’s faith where he’s willing to doubt and question.

Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Finally, Xinemus leads Achamian to see Proyas. They enter Proyas’s pavilion, Xinemus cautioning Achamian to be formal. Proyas is seeing Achamian just to get Xinemus to shut up about it. “You wielded too much influence over him as a child, Akka, left too deep a mark. Zealous men often confuse purity with intolerance, particularly when they’re young.”

Achamian is surprised that Proyas’s pavilion is only half-unpacked, remembering his student as “fastidious to a fault.” Xinemus explains it as the stress of dealing with the Emperor and his indenture. Proyas has his men out on busy work, “counting chickens” as the Conriyans put it. Things are bad because Proyas is losing the game. Akka has second thoughts, not wanting to further burden Proyas, but they are swept in to see him by a slave. Proyas’s greeting isn’t as welcoming as Achamian hoped.

Undeterred, he presses on. The talk turns to the Holy War and Achamian asks if it is true that Proyas is raiding the valley. Proyas isn’t happy that Achamian is questioning his tactics. Xinemus also isn’t happy that Proyas is raiding, but the Emperor has left them little choice. They hardly have enough grain to eat that they are now raiding Inrithi. Xinemus angers Proyas by objecting to the raiding.

Proyas scowled and waved his hand. “Enough! You says this, while I say that, over and over again. For once I’d rather hear Achamian speak! Did you hear that, Zin. You’ve irritated me that much…”

From Xinemus’s grave look, Achamian gathered Proyas was not joking.

So changed… What’s happened to him? But even as he asked this, Achamian recognized the answer. Proyas suffered, as all men of high purpose must, the endless exchange of principles for advantages. No triumph without remorse. No respite without siege. Compromise after anxious compromise, until one’s entire life felt a defeat. It was a malady Mandate Schoolmen knew well.

Proyas is frustrated by dealing with all the stress of feeding his army, keeping them in line, and trying to outwit the Emperor to deal with “the niceties of jnan.” Achamian realizes this meeting was a mistake, but he presses on and asks his student if he remembers what Achamian taught him. Those recollections are the only reason Achamian is here, answers Proyas. Achamian guides the conversation to why the Mandate would be in the Holy War, why Achamian would be here.

This was the question. When one warred with the intangible, convolutions were certain to abound. Any mission without purpose or with a purpose that had evaporated into abstraction, inevitably confused its own means as its ends, took its own striving as they very thing striven for. The Mandate was here, Achamian had realized, to determine whether it should be here. And this was as significant as any mission. But he could not tell Proyas this. No, he had to do what every Mandate agent did: populate the unknown with ancient threats and seed the future with past catastrophes. In a world that was already terrifying, the Mandate had become a School of fear-mongers.

“Our business? To discover the truth?”

Proyas is not happy to be lectured about truth and have his faith challenged. Achamian merely wants to temper it, reminding Proyas when “we’re most certain, we’re most certain to be deceived.” They move into discussing “troubling possibilities,” Proyas full of sarcasm. Achamian realizes that the Mandate have been crippled by become stale. He doesn’t know how to regain credibility. He opens the possibility the Holy War is not what it seems. Proyas immediately launches into a rant about the Emperor’s lecherous desires to regain his Empire, others who lust for glory, and he has no idea why the Scarlet Spire is involved. Proyas has prayed that the Holy War was more than it seemed, because it seems so base.

But prayers are not enough. Despite that, Proyas clings to the possibility that the Holy War is divine and a good thing. He asks if that is so hard to believe. Achamian concedes it is not. Proyas anger retreats and he apologizes for his outburst and admits this isn’t the best time since “I fear the God tests me.” Achamian questions and learns that Galeoth troops under Coithus Saubon massacred a Nansur village. Achamian asks if Maithanet knows.

Proyas grimaced. “He will.”

Suddenly Achamian understood.

“You defy him,” he said. “Maithanet has forbidden these raids!” Achamian could scarce conceal his jubilation. If Proyas had defied his Shriah…

“I like not your manner,” Proyas snapped. “What care you—” He stopped, as though struck by a realization of his own. “Is this the possibility you wish me to consider?” he asked, wonder and fury in his tone. “That Maithanet…” A sudden gallows laugh. “That Maithanet conspires with the Consult?

“As I said,” Achamian replied evenly, “a possibility.”

While Proyas respects the Mandate mission, knowing about their dreams, he will not allow Achamian to drive a wedge between him and the Shriah. It is blasphemous. Proyas asks if Achamian has any proof. All Achamian has is poor, dead Inrau, which Proyas dismisses since spying would be punished by death. Achamian then says that Maithanet is one of the few, but Proyas already knew and doesn’t care.

What of it?” Proyas repeated. “What does it mean other than he, unlike you, chose the path of righteousness.”

Achamian turns to talking about the intensity of his dreams and how he feels something is happening. But Proyas points out that they are at in impasse. What Achamian believes of the Consult is what Proyas believes of his God. All Achamian has is faith, like Proyas. “Faith is the truth of passion, Achamian, and no passion is more true than another.” Achamian is hurt, realizing he can’t convince his student anymore. Proyas has grown too certain in his faith. He loves his God more than a blaspheming sorcerer. Proyas says they will not speak again.

As Achamian leaves, he asks Proyas to inquire to Maithanet about Paro Inrau and learn if he committed suicide or was executed for spying. Achamian has to know. Proyas asks why. “Because you loved me once.” Then Achamian leaves, grieving for his lost students. Once Achamian is gone, Proyas asks what Xinemus disapproves of this time, his tactics or proprieties in dealing with Achamian. Xinemus disagrees with both.

Ask yourself, Proyas—for once set scripture aside and truly ask yourself—whether the feeling within your breast—now, at this very moment—is wicked or righteous.”

Earnest pause.

But I feel nothing.”

That night, Achamian first dreams of Esmenet and then Inrau crying out “from the Great Black: ‘They’re here, old teacher! In ways you cannot see!’” But then the dream turns to the nightmares. He is on the Fields of Eleneöt and witnesses the Celmomas Prophecy once more, hearing that an Anasûrimbor will return at the end of the world.

Esmenet is shopping in the Kamposea Agora, the great market of Momemn, accompanied by Sarcellus’s two slave girls, Ertiga and Hansa. She had bumped into a handsome officer of the Eothic Guard, and finds herself subtly flirting with the man as he watches her sharp, bending over, revealing parts of her body. But she is irritated by the two body slaves with her.

Sarcellus’s Cepaloran body-slave, Ertiga and Hansa, had spotted the man as well. They giggled over cinnamon, pretending to fuss over the length of the sticks. For not the first time this day, Esmenet found herself despising them, the way she had often found herself despising her competing neighbors in Sumna—particular the young ones.

He watches me! Me!

The man is very handsome, and she can’t get him out of her thoughts as he loiters, watching her. She grows annoyed with the slave girls, and they get petulance when Esmenet asks them a question. The spice-monger grows angry with the girl while showing deference to Esmenet, taking her for the wife of a humble caste noble. Easement realizes that the two girls do not obey her out of jealousy of her relationship with Sarcellus. Instead, she suspect Sarcellus has ordered the two girls to watch her. They wouldn’t let her leave the compound alone. She tries to order the two to go home, but they refuse until the spice-monger beats Ertiga. Hansa pulls Ertiga to safety and they flee.

Esmenet realizes this is the first time she’s been alone since Sarcellus saved her. He was always around a great deal to her, often taking her on trips to see the sights of the city, including the Imperial Precincts.

But he never left her alone. Why?

Was he afraid she’d seek out Achamian? It struck her as a silly fear.

She went cold.

They were watching Akka. They! He had to be Told!

But then why did she hide from him? Why did she dread the thought of bumping into him each time she left the encampment? Whenever she glimpsed someone who resembled him, she would instantly look away, afraid that if she did not, she might make whoever it was into Achamian. That he would see her, punish her questioning frown. Stop her heart with an anguished look…

The spice-monger asks her what she’ll buy, but she has no money on her. Then she remembers the man and feels stirring inside of her. She glances at him and he nods to an alley. She follows, eager to be with the strong man. The moment she reaches him, he’s on her, pinning her, eager for her, but she stops him.

“What?” He leaned against her elbows, searching for her mouth.

She turned her face away. “Coin,” she breathed. False laugh. “No one eats for free.”

“Ah, Sejenus! How much?”

“Twelve talents,” she gasped. “Silver talents.”

“A whore,” he hissed. “You’re a whore!

The man hesitates then agrees until he notices her tattoo marking her as a prostitute from Sumna. He realizes that she’s a “bruised peach” and will only pay twelve copper talents. She agrees, eager for him. They have sex, hard and fast, and she revels in it. He spills in her and then feels guilty, stumbling away and not able to look at her. She takes a moment to find composure, or to fake it, and then she feels dirty. She remembers the syntheses and his black seed. She dropped the money. “Then she fled, truly alone.”

She returns to Sarcellus’s camp and finds him waiting for her. He’s missed her, asking where’s she been. She finds it curious that he smells her. Then he seized her, so fast she gasps. He rips up her gown. She tries to stop him from having sex with her. She wants to wash, aware of the other man’s seed staining her thighs. He then sees the evidence of her encounter in the market. He demands to know who she was with.

“Who what?”

He slapped her. Not hard, but it seemed to sting all the more for it.

Who?

She said nothing, turned to the bedchamber.

He grabbed her arm, yanked her violently around, raised his hand for another strike…

Hesitated

“Was it Achamian?” he asked.

Never, it seemed to Esmenet, had she hated a face more. She felt the spit gather between her teeth.

Yes!” she hissed.

Instead of hitting her, he looks broken and begins to weep, begging for her forgiveness. She is shocked. Then he embraces her, crying and she relents and relaxes. She doesn’t understand how such a confident man could weep after “striking someone like her.” She’s treacherous, adulterate. Sarcellus says he knows she loves Achamian, but she isn’t so sure anymore.

Proyas is joined by Achamian as he watches the sun rise on the edge of the Holy War. Proyas is excited. Everything changes. The debate “of dogs and crows, crows and dogs, would be over.” Achamian is surprised, a week after being told he would never see Proyas, to be summoned to his side. Proyas chastises his teacher while Achamian is grumpy and cut, which Proyas attributes to the the Dreams. Proyas hasn’t summoned Achamian, but a Mandate Schoolman to fulfill the treaty between them and House Nersei. Proyas needs advice, not to be needled. Not today. But Achamian brings up their last discussion, what he had learned form it, and lectures about faith.

“There’s faith that knows itself itself as faith, Proyas, and there’s faith that confuses itself for knowledge. The first embraces uncertainty, acknowledges the mysteriousness of the God. It begets compassion and tolerance. Who can entirely condemn when they’re not entirely certain they’re in the right? The the second, Proyas, the second embraces certainty and only pays lip service to the God’s mystery. It begets intolerance, hatred, violence…”

Proyas scowled. Why wouldn’t he relent? And it begets, I imagine, students who repudiate their old teachers, hmm, Achamian?”

The sorcerer nodded. “And Holy Wars…”

Proyas is unsettled, but he counters by quoting the Tractate about submitting to faith and having no doubts, which only annoys Achamian. Proyas feels he resorted to a shoddy trick, which shocks him since he used the Latter Prophet’s words. Proyas is angered that Achamian judges him.

Achamian asks why he was summoned. Proyas explains about the fugitives that Iryssas, Zin’s nephew, found a few days ago, which include a Scylvendi (yes, Cnaiür, Kellhus, and Serwë). They should arrive at any time. Achamian is shocked that a Sclyvendi would want to join the Holy War, since they see the others as sacrificial lambs to their dead god. The Scylvendi claims to know how the Fanim make war.

Achamian understands why he is here. Proyas hoped to use the Sclyvendi to defeat the Emperor. He presses Achamian if it is possible that he knows how to fight Fanim, and Achamian talks about the Battle of Zirkirta and concedes it is possible, but he still finds it doubtful that a Scylvendi would join.

The Crown Prince pursed his lips, looked out over the encampment, searching, Achamian supposed, for a sign of his dashed hopes. Never before had he seen Proyas like this—even as a child. He looked so…fragile.

Are things so desperate? What are you afraid you’ll lose?

“But of course,” Achamian added in a conciliatory manner, “after Conphas’s victory at Kiyuth, things might have changed on the Steppe. Drastically, perhaps.” Why did he always cater to him so.

Proyas gives Achamian a sardonic grin, realizing what Achamian is doing, but then he spots them and grows excited. Achamian fears Proyas will make a dangerous king because of his ability to go from despair to eagerness so fast. Achamian dread makes him realize with so many warriors round, a lot of people will die, including himself. He spots Xinemus in the approaching group and wonders if he will die. Then Achamian spots the Scylvendi and is shocked. He looks just how they did in his dreams and for a moment, Achamian is confused, thinking he is in ancient times, speaking about how the Scylvendi road for the No-God and sacked Sumna. He finds it so bizarre to see a Scylvendi here, especially after all the drams of Anasûrimbor Celmomas.

He urges Proyas not to tryst the Scylvendi, but all Proyas can see is the enemy of the Nansur, and thus his potential ally. They bicker because Proyas does not like the counsel he’s getting and his words sting Achamian when he realizes Proyas meant to injure. He wants obedience right now.

Proyas then greets Cnaiür congenial. Achamian is worried about Proyas’s ability to change emotions so swiftly, fearing it “demonstrated a worrisome capacity for deceit.” Things are rocky at first, with Achamian whispering advice to Proyas about how to treat with the Sclyvendi. When Achamian learns Cnaiür is Utemot, he is unnerved since an Utemot led them during the Apocalypse.

Proyas nodded. “So tell me, Cnaiür urs Skiötha, why would a Scylvendi wolf travel so far to confer with Inrithi dogs?”

The Scylvendi as much sneered as smiled. He possessed, Achamian realized, that arrogance peculiar to barbarians, the thoughtless certitude that the hard ways of his land made him harder by far than other, more civilized men. We are, Achamian thought, silly women to him.

Cnaiür first claims to be a mercenary, but Proyas doesn’t believe it. Then Cnaiür spins a tale about how his tribe was destroyed by others after Kiyuth. His tribe is no more. Proyas still doesn’t believe that he would join them, but is too eager to find out what the barbarian knows about fighting Fanim to press Cnaiür on his true motives.

Cnaiür, after a little verbal sparring, admits that he fought at Zirkirta and nows how to defeat them. Achamian fears that Cnaiür tells Proyas exactly what he wants to hear. Despite that, Achamian starts paying attention to Kellhus and realizes he is the answer to why Cnaiür Achamian hopes Proyas figures it out, but the young man is too eager to hear about Cnaiür’s fighting ability. Cnaiür is cautious, which Proyas prays, then explains why Cnaiür can trust him. Because Proyas needs the barbarian. Proyas explains about the politics keeping them in place and why he needs Cnaiür as an alternative to Ikurei Conphas leading the Holy War.

When Cnaiür laughs about being “the Exalt-General’s surrogate,” Proyas is puzzled. Achamian sees an opportunity and points out because of Kiyuth, the man must hate Conphas. Proyas asks if Achamian thinks Cnaiür wants revenge. Achamian tells Proyas to ask Cnaiür why he has come and who the others are. Proyas grows chagrined for letting his passion almost dupe him into trusting a Scylvendi without any hard questions. He asks the question and Kellhus steps forward. Everyone stares at him.

“And just who are you?” Proyas asked the man.

The clear blue eyes blinked. The serene face dipped only enough to acknowledge an equal. “I am Anasûrimbor Kellhus, son of Moënghus,” the man said in heavily accented Sheyic. “A prince of the north. Of Atrithau.”

Achamian is stunned, almost at a panic, the Celmomas Prophecy echoing in his head as Proyas questions why Kellhus would be here. How he could have even heard of the Holy War all the way in Atrithau which barley has in contact with the Three Seas.

Hesitation, as though he [Kellhus] were both frightened and unconvinced by what he was about to say. “Dreams. Someone sent me dreams.”

This cannot be!

“Someone? Who?”

The man could not answer.

My Thoughts

Xinemus always has sage words to tell. He has much practical wisdom and is a great foil to Achamian’s more book learning. He is also a very moral person, more so than Proyas for all the man’s piety and faith.

The chicken counting proves very important for Kellhus and Cnaiür. Without that busy work, they would be dead right now.

I feel bad for Proyas as Achamian realizes how compromise is destroying him. He wants to be that good man, but he has to play politics. Having strong principals doesn’t make it easy to compromise them to make necessary deals.

The mandate sound like the our modern media, needing to populate the world with half-truths, to make us afraid so we’ll keep watching. Without fears, whether they have any truth or are blown so out of proportion to make them interesting, the media wouldn’t have anything to report. It is such a toxic cycle.

I think we have our first mention of Coithus Saubon here, the blond beast. His troops causing a massacre is not surprising. Don’t forget about him. Come Book 2 and on, he’ll be playing a far larger role in the story.

Achamian’s jubilation that he might have an opening between Proyas and Maithanet is quickly squashed. Proyas’s faith is very strong, not easily shaken. He is too certain that what he believes is right, and that is a very dangerous thing as our own history has shown. And it doesn’t have to be a religious faith. Any belief, political, economic, social can lead to those ends.

Poor Achamian. He’s just trying to get Proyas to think instead of believe and is getting so much flack. Faith is fine, but it needs to be tempered by rational thought.

Xinemus is not happy about how Proyas treated Achamian, but Proyas is ambivalent. He has gone beyond his tutor, or so he thinks.

I think that Inrau might have actually cried out from the Great Black, from beyond, and spoke to Achamian right there. “In ways you cannot see” is too specific to skin-spies, something Achamian doesn’t know about yet. Given the info of the Great Ordeal and the speculation that something chooses which dream a Mandate Schoolman sees, it is interesting that Achamian has the Calmemunis Prophecy dream right after. Bakker is both reminding us of the dream and possibly setting up a reveal on how the dreams work and the significance of their timing.

Fear of rejection such a powerful motivator, especially when someone’s self-esteem is so low. Poor Esmenet left Sumna to find Achamian and now is too scared of the consequences if he doesn’t want her. Not when she has the comfort of Sarcellus’s camp, which still bewilders her. Of course, she doesn’t know she’s being watched by the consult.

Esmenet can’t help playing the whore. And it sickens her when she’s done. She’s been traumatized by the syntheses’s visit. She doesn’t see herself as having any value. When she returns to Sarcellus, she notices skin-spy Sarcellus’s inhuman properties, though dismisses then. He has to control himself, almost losing it before remembering he supposed to keep an eye on her, not beat her, then he breaks down crying. It works, it makes her keep questioning her love for Achamian. Her self-esteem is very low right now. Explains why she is displaying such self-destructive behavior like provoking Sarcellus.

The irony of Proyas not liking to be judged when he is famous for judging others made me chuckle.

Proyas is shocked that Achamian, a blasphemer, had been to Shimeh. But to Achamian, it was just another place, nothing special like Proyas had made it become. Proyas has obsessed about it so much, he transformed it into something it’s not. And then we’ll see how he acts when he gets to Shimeh.

Achamian is shrewd enough to know that a lot of people have understatement Cnaiür by noticing the number of swazonds adorning his arms.

Cnaiür figures out Proyas’s plan before Proyas can explain it to him, pointing out that, essentially, the Shriah is turning the holy war into a band of mercenaries by “selling” them to the Emperor.

Kellhus speaks in “heavily accented Sheyic” which has to be him faking it because he speaks flawless Sheyic to Serwë. He’s already begun his seduction of the Holy War. He’s planted the first seeds. He has been sent dreams. He’s special.

Achamian is reeling from the revelation. The prophecy that his order has been obsessed with for two thousand years was just fulfilled. The harbinger, which I can safely say is Kellhus, has arrived. The end of the world is upon them. But is Kellhus the end or just the signaled that it’s started?

Click here to continue onto Chapter 16!

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