Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Fifteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 15
Shigek

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

Where the holy take men for fools, the mad take the world.

PROTATHIS, THE GOAT’S HEART

My Thoughts

What an interesting quote. Holy probably refers to organized religion. Protathis is saying they view men as fools to be taken advantage of. Which is definitely what Kellhus is doing. See the Synthese quote about the Holy War making their own leather. But the mad see the world differently. They see it as a surrogate for their madness, lashing out in different ways. As we see with Cnaiür when we delve into his characters psyche.

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shigek

Cnaiür reaches the Ainoni, seeing the infantry retreating, shattered, some stripping off their armor to run faster, others just sitting in shock. But he doesn’t know where the knights are. He sees the Kianene riding uncontested without the reserves challenging them.

Cnaiür felt a sharp pang in his throat. He clenched his teeth.

It’s happening again…

Kiyuth.

Only this time he was Xunnurit. He was the arrogant mule!

And then Cnaiür realizes the encampment is vulnerable. That Serwë is vulnerable. He rides to the east.

Martemus watches the Prophet (Kellhus) fight Conphas’s assassins. In a heartbeat, the first Nansur is dead. In the second, the other. Only the Zeumi sword-dancer, wielding a massive tulwar, faces him and laughs, calling Kellhus a “civilized man.”

Without warning, he sent the tulwar whooshing through the air around him. Sunlight flashed as though from the silvered spokes of a chariot wheel.

Now standing, the Prophet drew his strange, long-pommeled sword from his shoulder sheath. Holding it in his right hand, he lowered its tip to the ground before his booted feet. He flicked a clot of dirt into the sword-dancer’s eyes. The sword-dancer stumbled back, cursing. The Prophet lunged, buried his sword point deep into the assassin’s palate. He guided the towering corpse to the earth.

He stood alone against a vista of strive and woe, his beard and hair boiling in the wind. He turned to Martemus, stepping over the sword-dancer’s body…

Illuminated by the morning sun. A striding vision. A walking aspect…

Something too terrible. Too bright.

Martemus stumbles back in fear, going for his sword. But Kellhus reaches out and grabs the man’s sword arm, calming him. Kellhus explains that Skauras has sent units to attack the Swazond Standard. Martemus looks out at the battle, seeing no battle lines and only chaos. The Conriyans, led by Proyas, look doomed. Then he notices the camel-mounted Khirgwi charging towards them, ululating war cries.

We must flee!” he [Martemus] cried.

No,” the Warrior-Prophet said. “The Swazond Standard cannot fall.”

But it will!” Martemus exclaimed. “It already has!”

The Warrior-Prophet smiled, and his eyes glittered with something fierce and unconquerable. “Conviction, General Martemus…” He gripped his shoulder with a haloed hand.

War is conviction.”

The Ainoni knights are panicked and confused. They are surrounded by horse archers, being hit from every side. Some charged through the enemy and broke free. Others get lost and are picked off. “Death came swirling down.” Other Fanim, led by the Tiger, charge through the broken infantry to hit the Ainoni command. General Setpanares is killed, but King Regent Chepheramunni made a miraculous escape.

The Inrithi who are fighting in the center have broken through the lines as they routed the Shigeki conscripts, many thinking they’ve won the day, don’t hear the horns signaling retreat. “Not once did the thundering drums of the heathen falter.” The Grandees of Khemema and tens of thousands Khirgwi attack them. Proyas is cut off from his infantry, retreating his knights to a mud-brick village. The Thunyeri fight in shield-wall circles, surprising the Fanim with their stubbornness. The battle has dissolved into dozens of smaller fights as the Holy War is cut off from each other.

Overcome by dismay, many knights charged alone, only to be unhorsed by arrows and trampled into dust.

Cnaiür rides through the camp looking for Serwë. People are screaming, thousands of them, as he searches. The Fanim are burning parts of the camp to disheartened the army while they capture the rest for plunder “especially the kind that wriggled and screamed.” He is desperate to find Serwë.

He kills two Fanim in the camp, charging through them with ease. He runs into a horde of camp-followers—a mix of wives, children, whores, slaves, scribes, and priests. They panic at the sight of him. Then Cnaiür spots the Kianene moving through the camp, searching and looting.

Cnaiür looked down, startled. A young woman, her leg slicked in blood, an infant strapped to her back, clutched his knee, beseeching him in some unknown tongue. He raised his boot to kick her, then unaccountably lowered it. He leaned forward and hoisted her before him onto his saddle. She fairly shrieked tears. He wheeled his black around and spurred after the fleeing camp-followers.

He heard an arrow buzz by his ear.

Kellhus stands before the charging Khirgwi, his hair and robe billowing in the wind. He tells Martemus to say down, and he can only watch stunned. Kellhus dodges their arrows “curious dance, at once random and premeditated, leisurely and breathtakingly quick.” Martemus is hit in the leg and collapses. He believes himself about to die and shouts for Kellhus to run.

Cnaiür’s horse flags as it gallops through the camp, fleeing the Kianene shouting after. Arrows his by and he holds the woman and her child to his chest. He overtakes the other fleeing camp-followers then rides away, knowing they chase him. All the Kianene have hard of the Skafadi with the heathens. He screams Zirkirta as a battle cry, firing his own bow back at them.

Kianene cut him off, forcing him to turn his ailing horse. He’s in the Nansur part of camp, and glad that they pitch tents in orderly fashion. In the chase, Cnaiür is struck by the fact the woman’s baby isn’t crying, marveling that even “infants knew when to be calm.”

More and more Kianene race after him. They corral him towards a large tent. He throws the woman from his horse and tosses her knife to cut through the tent and yells at her to run.

Veils of dust swept over him.

He turned, laughing.

He draws his weapon and fights the men. He kills them while demanding which of them will murder Cnaiür urs Skiötha, most violent of all men. He is wild, fearless as he kills, mocking them, boasting about killing their fathers and brothers at Zirkirta.

A piercing, feminine cry. Cnaiür glanced back, saw the nameless woman swaying at the entrance of the nearest tent. She gripped the knife he’d thrown her, gestured with it for him to follow. For an instant, it seemed he’d always known her, that they’d been lovers for long years. He saw sunlight flash through the far side of the tent where she’d cut open the canvas. Then he glimpsed a shadow from above, heard something not quite…

Several Kianene cried out—a different terror.

Cnaiür thrust his left hand beneath his girdle, clutched tight his father’s Trinket.

For an instant he me the woman’s wide uncomprehending eyes, and over her shoulder, those of her baby boy as well… Somehow he knew that now—that he was a son.

He tried to cry out.

They became shadows in a cataract of shimmering flame.

Kellhus flashes back to when he was five and first stepped outside of Ishuäl, led by Pragma Uän. He, with the others his age, are led out holding onto a rope and into the forest. The boys wander to grow accustomed to the chaos of the outside, the sounds, the smells, the shapes, and colors. But despite how new it was, Kellhus is more eager for why there here, knowing Pragma Uän teaches the ways of limb. Battle.

What do you see?” the old man finally asked, looking to the canopy above them.

There were many eager answers. Leaves. Branches. Sun.

But Kellhus saw more. He noticed the dead limbs, the scrum of competing branch and twig. He saw slender trees, mere striplings, ailing in the shadow of giants.

Conflict,” he said.

Uän asks for an explanation, and Kellhus says the trees war for space. That is what Una is here to teach them. To be like trees, branching out in every direction until they cover the sky. They attack at all directions and not just one. Then Uän shows it, using a quarterstaff and ordering the five-year-olds to attack him. Kellhus is having fun, finding delight in getting knocked back, and wonder in watching the old man dance. “Not one touched his legs. Not one so much as stepped into the circle described by his stick.” He had owned his space.

In the present, Kellhus faces the Khirgwi charge. He raises his sword, ready to defend his circle with Dûnyain steel.

Cnaiür breaks away from his charred horse. He’s surrounded by ash and smoke and scorched meet. He retrieves his hot dagger from the nameless woman’s burned corpse and begins walking. The Scarlet Schoolmen walk the skies, killing the Fanim with fire and lighting.

And he thought, Serwë…

Cnaiür moves through the confusion of the camp on foot, grateful to his father’s Chorae for saving his life a second time. Soon he finds Proyas’s pavilion and then the one he shared with Kellhus. He grows fearful, wondering if Serwë had fled of if she was taken. And then he hears her shriek followed by the sound of Kellhus’s voice. That shocks him so much, he almost collapses. He is confused as he creeps forward, drawing a knife in shaking hand. He enters to see her badly beaten, “Kellhus” naked and standing over her.

Without thinking, Cnaiür slipped into the gloom of the pavilion. The air reeked of foul rutting. The Dûnyain whirled, as naked as Serwë, a bloody hand clamped about his engorged member.

The Scylvendi,” Kellhus drawled, his eyes blazing with lurid rapture.

I didn’t smell you.”

Cnaiür struck at his heart. Somehow the bloody hand flickered up,g razed his wrist. The knife dug deep just below the Dûnyain’s collar bone.

Kellhus staggered back, raised his face to the bellied canvas, and screamed what seemed a hundred screams, a hundred voices bound to one inhuman throat. And Cnaiür saw his face open, as though the joints of his mouth were legion and ran from his scalp to his neck. Through steepled features, he saw lidless eyes, gums without lips…

The thing struck him, and he fell to one knee. He yanked his broadsword clear.

But it had vanished though the flap, leaping like some kind of beast.

The Ainoni knights are forced to stand and fight on foot as their mounts are killed, Kianene racing around them. They force the Kianene to pay for every inch of ground gained, throwing back charge after charge to the Fanim’s shock who are “astounded by these defeated men who refused to be defeated.”

The Khirgwi fight with wild abandon. Proyas is encircled. The Thunyeri make a fortress of their shield-wall. At the sight of the smoke burning the Inrithi camp, many of Skauras’s staff think they have victory. Until the Scarlet Spire arrive. The Fanim survivors of the sorcery enfilade flee into the Inrithi reserves, led by Gotian, and are massacred.

The Imperial Kidruhil come to the Ainoni rescue, driving back the attackers. With the Kidruhil, the Ainoni charge up the slope. Kellhus stand holds off the Khirgwi long enough for reinforcements to arrive. The drums of the Fanim fall silent, overrun by Inrithi knights as Saubon and Gothyelk’s men break through enemy lines and reach the Kianene camp.

The Fanim host falls apart. Crown Prince Fanayal and the Coyauri are chased south by the Kidruhil. The Ainoni finally take the slopes height, forcing more Kianene to flee. The Khirgwi flee southwest pursed by the iron men into the desert.

Hundreds of Inrithi would be lost for following the tribesmen too far.

Serwë tries to go after the wounded “Kellhus,” screaming that he’s hurt and needs her. Cnaiür stops her, saying it wasn’t him. She calls him mad. Cnaiür says he’s taking her away, she’s his prize. She calls him mad again, saying Kellhus told her everything. He hits her and she collapses, demanding to know what Kellhus has said.

She wiped blood from her lip, and for the first time didn’t seem afraid. “You you beat me. You your thoughts never stray far from me, but return, always return to me in fury. He’s told me everything!”

Something trembled through him. He raised his fist but his fingers would not clench.

What has he said?”

That I’m nothing but a sign, a token. That you strike not me, but yourself!”

I will strangle you! I will snap your neck like a cat’s! I will beat blood from your womb!”

Then do it!” she shrieked. “Do it, and be done with it!

He calls her his prize, that he owns her. But she says she’s his shame. He demands answers, and she tells him that he beats her for submitting, the same way he submitted. “For fucking him [Kellhus] the way you fucked his father!”

She collapses, and he finds her so beautiful even beaten. Numb, he asks her what else. But she’s sobbing. She grabs a knife, putting it to her throat. He sees the swazond on her forearm, and knows she has killed.

You’re mad!” she wept. “I’ll kill myself! I’ll kill myself! I’m not your prize! I’m his! HIS!”

Serwë…

Her fist hooked inward. The blade parted flesh.

But somehow he’d captured her wrist. He wrenched the knife from her hand.

He left her weeping outside the Dûnyain’s pavilion. He stared out over the trackless Meneanor as he wandered between the tents, through the growing crowds of jubilant Inrithi.

So unnatural, he thought, the sea…

Conphas finds Martemus sitting cross-legged beneath Cnaiür’s standard and surrounded by “ever widening circles of Khirgwi dead,” staring at the sunset. Conphas cuts down the standard with his sword. Martemus says Kellhus isn’t dead. Conphas finds that a pity, then asks if Martemus remembers their conversation after Kiyuth. He does and remembers that Conphas said war is intellect.

Are you a casualty of that war, Martemus?”

The sturdy General frowned, pursed his lips. He shook his head. “No.”

I worry that you are, Martemus.”

Martemus turned away from the sun and studied him with pinched eyes. “I worried too… But no longer.”

Conphas questions why. Martemus says he watched Kellhus kill all these heathens until they fled in terror. “He’s not human.” Conphas points out neither was Skeaös. Martemus just says he’s a practical man. Conphas studied the corpses around them, Anwurat burning in the distance.

He [Conphas] gazed back into Martemus’s sun. There was such a difference, he thought, between the beauty that illuminated, and the beauty that was illuminated.

You are at that, Martemus. You are at that.”

Skauras ab Nalajan has dismissed all his servants and followers, sitting alone at a table drinking wine. He is reflective as he awaits the Inrithi in a room atop one of Anwurat’s turrets. He hears the battle below.

Though he was a pious man, Skauras had committed many wicked acts in his life—wicked acts were ever the inescapable accessories of power. He contemplated them with regret and pined for a simpler life, one with fewer pleasures, surely, but with fewer burdens. Certainly nothing so crushing as this.

I have doomed my people… my faith.

He reflects on how good his plan was, faking a break in the center so he could attack their left flank. He thinks Conphas must have figured it out. “Old enemy. Old friend—if such a man could be anyone’s friend.”

He produces his agreement with the Nansur Emperor. The word of Ikurei Xerius is the only hope for his people, another old foe and old friend. He burns it to keep the rest of the Inrithi from finding the evidence. He watches it burn while a verse of scripture flashes through his mind. He drinks his wine as the Inrithi batter down his door. He wonders if his people are all dead. Only him.

In the depths of his final, most pious prayer to the Solitary God, he didn’t hear the fibrous snapping of wood. Only the final crash and the sound of kindling skating across tiled floor told him that the time had come to draw his sword.

He turned to face the rush of strapping, battle-crazed infidels.

It would be a short battle.

Serwë awakens cradled by Kellhus. Her first words are for her child, who is fine. Then she asks how she angered him. He explains it was a demon with a counterfeit face. And it clicks in her head, all the little things that were off. She feels such shame, realizing she had sex with it, cheating on Kellhus. She communicates without words to Kellhus as she falls apart.

You were faithful.”

She turned to him, her face crumpling.

But it wasn’t you!

You were deceived. You were faithful.”

He wipes her tears and her blood. She stares into his eyes for awhile, wondering how long she could stare. Forever? He answers her yes. Then she tells him that Cnaiür came to take her. Kellhus says he told Cnaiür he could.

And somehow she knew this too.

But why?

He smiled glory.

Because I knew you wouldn’t let him.”

Kellhus wonders how much the Consult has no learned. He uses hypnotizes Serwë with “patience no world-born man could fathom” into a trance called the Whelming. He interrogates her for everything that happened, then he wipes her memory of the incident.

He leaves her asleep and heads into the celebrating camp and towards the sea and Cnaiür’s camp pitched on its shores. He ignores those who call after him. He has one tasks to complete. He reflects on his study of Cnaiür, the deepest he’s ever made, how his pride and intelligence made him difficult to manipulate, which when combined with his knowledge of the Dûnyain, makes it worse. Moënghus surrendered too much to Cnaiür. “Of all world-born men, Cnaiür urs Skiötha was awake…”

Which was why he had to die.

Kellhus has found that the majority of world-born men adhere to custom without “thought or knowledge.” They never asked why. But Cnaiür is different, choosing to adhere to custom, to prove that he chose this set of beliefs out of others. He has spent thirty years beating himself into the mold of a Scylvendi. And his people could always tell, smelling the wrongness about him.

Thirty years of shame and denial. Thirty years of torment and terror. A lifetime of cannibal hatred… In the end, Cnaiür had cut a trail of his own making, a solitary track of madness and murder.

It is why he is such a ferocious warrior, since Scylvendi see war as worship. He had to be the greatest, most pious of them. Every man he kills is a surrogate for Moënghus. If he can’t kill the right man, then the man in front of him will do.

But despite his understanding of Cnaiür, Kellhus couldn’t control him because of his knowledge. Kellhus once thought Cnaiür would never surrender. And then they found Serwë. He used her as his proof he followed his people. “Cnaiür fell in love, not with her, but the idea of loving her.” Because it meant he couldn’t love Moënghus or his son. Then it was easy for Kellhus to dominate Cnaiür. He seduced her, forcing Cnaiür to relieve his own seduction. Kellhus used contradicting passions, which he had learned world-born men were vulnerable to, to make him obsessed. Then Kellhus took away his obsession and now he would do anything to get it.

And now the usefulness of Cnaiür urs Skiötha was at an end.

Kellhus climbs a dune and sees Cnaiür camp trampled. Kellhus fears he’s too late, that Cnaiür has fled. But then he hears “raw shouts.” He follows the noise and finds Scylvendi standing naked in the waves washing to shore.

There are no tracks!” the man screamed, beating the surf with his fists. “Where are the—”

Without warning, he went rigid. Dark water swelled about him, engulfed him almost to his shoulders, then tumbled forward in clouds of crystalline foam. He turned his head, and Kellhus saw his weathered face, framed by long tails of sodden black hair. There was no expression.

Absolutely no expression.

Cnaiür wades to shore, shouting about how he betrayed his race and father for Moënghus, talking to Kellhus like he’s the father. Kellhus realizes he can’t read Cnaiür. The Scylvendi keeps talking about how he followed you, how he loved you. Kellhus draws his sword and tells Cnaiür to kneel.

The Scylvendi fell to his knees. He held out his arms, trailing fingers through the sand. He bent his back to the stars, exposing his throat. The Meneanor surged and seethed behind him.

Kellhus stood motionless above him.

What is this, Father? Pity?

He gazed at the abject Scylvendi warrior. From what darkness had this passion come?

Strike!” the man cried. The great scarred body trembled in terror and exultation.

But still, Kellhus couldn’t move.

Cnaiür shouts over and over for Kellhus to kill him, grabbing the blade and pulling it to his throat. But Kellhus says no and gently pries Cnaiür’s grip form the sword. Cnaiür grips Kellhus head, almost breaking his neck. Kellhus isn’t sure if it was luck or Cnaiür’s instinct that stopped it. But just a little more, and he will die.

Cnaiür drew him close enough for him to feel his humid body heat.

I loved you!” he both whispered and screamed. Then he thrust Kellhus backward, nearly tossing him back to his feet. Wary now, Kellhus rolled his chin to straighten a kink from his neck. Cnaiür stared at him in hope and horror…

Kellhus sheathed his sword.

Cnaiür rips hair from his head as he raves about Kellhus’s promise. But Kellhus watches, unmoved. “There were always other uses.”

The Sarcellus skin-spy leaves the camp and enters an old ruin, not caring about what it might be. The Synthese arrives and notes he is wounded. The skin-spy explains about Cnaiür and that the wound doesn’t impair him. The Synthese asks for a report, and the skin-spy says he’s not Cishaurim but Dûnyain.

Tiny grimace. Small, glistening teeth, like grains of rice, flashed between its lips. “All games end with me, Gaörtha. All Games.”

Sarcellus became very still. “I play no game. This man is Dûnyain. That’s what the Scylvendi calls him. She said there’s no doubt.”

But there is no order called ‘Dûnyain’ in Atrithau.”

No. But then we know he’s not a Prince of Atrithau.”

The Synthese begins to think Kellhus is a real Anasûrimbor, but a remnant of the Old Seed that survived. The skin-spy wonders if the Nonmen could have trained him, but the syntheses is dismissive. They have spies in Ishterebinth and know what Nin-Cilijiras is up to. The syntheses suspects that the Dûnyain is a “stubborn ember” of Kûniüri that survived, like the Mandate. But this ember survived in the shadow of Golgotterath, which is worrying. The skin-spy further adds that Kellhus means to claim the Holy War. The Synthese wants to know who the Dûnyain are, what their plans, and how he can see skin-spies.

He orders the skin-spy to indulge Kellhus, though he doesn’t see him as that much of a threat now that Achamian has been “removed from the game.” But the skin-spy is worried. Kellhus’s power grows. He is called the Warrior Prophet. The Synthese is amused how Kellhus “leashes these fanatics with leather of their own making.” Then he asks if Kellhus preaches a threat to the Holy War’s goal. He hasn’t, yet. The skin-spy is ordered to watch, but if Kellhus seeks to stop the Holy War, he has to be killed. He is only something curious. The Cishaurim are their foe.

Yes, Old Father.”

Gleaming like wet marble, the white headed bobbed twice, as though in some overriding instinct. A wing dropped to Sarcellus’s knee, dipped between his shadowy thighs… Gaörtha went rigid.

Are you badly hurt, my sweet child?”

Yessss,” the thing called Sarcellus gasped.

The small headed tilted backward. Heavy-lidded eyes watched the wingtip circle and stroke, stroke and circle. “Ah, but imagine… Imagine a world where no womb quickens, where no soul hopes.”

Sarcellus sucked drool in delight.

My Thoughts

We have spent the last book and a half with Cnaiür. He was the only one that saw the mistake of following Xunnurit’s plan. Bakker has built him up to be this amazing general that will lead the Holy War. And his first time out, he is outsmarted. He has made a serious blunder in underestimating his enemies tactics. And this time, it is Kellhus that saw it. Kellhus the novice at war.

And now Cnaiür chooses a woman over his duty. A very human thing to do, and something that the Scylvendi would look down on him for. And the Inrithi. He’s in command and he’s fleeing.

Now we see Kellhus in action. The sword-dancer was built up to be a credible threat, a skilled man with that massive blade. He’s big and graceful. And Kellhus defeats him with a flick of the sword. It reminds me a lot of Berserk when Guts fights Griffith the first time.

As the Khirgwi charge, Kellhus has taken Cnaiür’s lessons to heart. He understands that once again he has to take a risk to achieve his plans, like with telling Saubon to punish the Shrial Knights. We know there is a limit to how many men he can fight with. We learned this during book 1 while the Nansur cavalry chased him and Cnaiür. And now he faces a charge of thousands of soldiers.

And then Martemus sees him as the Warrior-Prophet and the halos appear. I can find no instance in the book where people talk about him having haloed hands before this. Martemus hasn’t heard about it, and now he sees it. It’s hard to say mass illusion is causing this. Something from the Outside is definitely affecting Kellhus. He’s had one vision showing him the future. People are seeing halos about his hands. Looking forward to the Unholy Consult and finding out more about the metaphysics going on here. (Hopefully, it’s elucidated in there.)

Also note, Kellhus wears his sword on his back like it were a Chinese blade. I haven’t noticed any one in the Three Seas described wearing swords that way. It’s a nod to the fact that Kellhus is a D&D monk at his most basic. From catching arrows, to being good at hand-to-hand fighting, to wearing his sword in such a far east fashion amid the more Mediterranean cultures of the Three Seas.

Poor Ainoni. They take it hard in the chapter. They are presented as very effete civilization, but their soldiers are actually written as very good and skilled. They were just the nation that was in the wrong position. But good thing Chepheramunni made his escape. It’s so surprising. And such a great, subtle clue from Bakker, something readers will overlook until the reveal that Chepheramunni is a skin-spy. Probably that body the Ainoni found years ago without a face mentioned in book 1.

Quite the reversal has happened in the battle now. The Holy War is losing badly. With this type of story, with Bakker already undermining many tropes of Fantasy fiction, it’s easy to imagine them losing, that the story could have a great reversal in the fortunes, making Kellhus’s mission even harder.

Cnaiür has a moment of pity, something he doesn’t usually feel. But he’s consumed with panic for Serwë. He has to find her and can’t. And now there is this other woman that needs help. He can save her. So he does. This being Grimdark Fantasy, it doesn’t have a happy ending. No tearful reunion with the wife and her husband. They don’t even live.

Just more victims of the brutal reality of war.

Martemus should have stayed down as the Khirgwi attacked.

Cnaiür rides away from the camp-followers to lure the Kianene away from them. They say you only can truly know a man when he’s under pressure, how he reacts when things are bad, and Cnaiür… Cnaiür our violent barbarian makes a number of compassionate decisions in this frantic section. He could have charged through the camp-followers, using their presence to slow down the Kianene even for a few seconds.

We see Cnaiür’s death wish appear as he demands which one will murder him.

And then the woman repays his compassion with her own. She could have fled, but she calls for him to join her. It might not have made a difference. The Scarlet Spire might still have killed her. Bakker draws it out as Cnaiür sees her death. He feels such compassion for the woman, such love. He even sees the child as his own. He wants to save them.

Can’t.

Another failure for Cnaiür.

So we can see just how different Dûnyain children are. They are not allowed outside until they’re five. And when they do, they have to acclimatized to all the sensations their superior intellects are drinking in, giving them time to adjust. Kellhus had this same reaction when he left as an adult, bemused by nature for weeks. But, still, even a young Dûnyain boy is eager to learn fighting, just like any other group of boys who find sticks will start playing battle.

So we see even as a child, Kellhus had a keener intellect than others. He is at the pinnacle of the Dûnyain breeding program. Not surprising considering he has the Anasûrimbor bloodline. And there is good evidence that Nonman blood is found in their veins. That the only successful known mating between human and Nonman may have occurred in the family’s history.

Love the fact that the Dûnyain children are still children. They are having fun trying to get to Uän. They haven’t had all their emotions destroyed and beaten down, yet. Though the Dûnyain are working on it. No mention of girls, though. Whale Mothers…

We see a taste of Cnaiür’s skill when he encounters fake Kellhus. Skin spies are inhumanly fast, but he managed to stab this one. It tried to deflect, but not fully, knocking the knife up only a few inches but it might have saved the skin spy’s life (do they have hearts?).

In the Ainoni stand, we see the Fanim surprised that these men refuse to be defeated. They have conviction, holding them strong even as they are surrounded and on the verge of being overwhelmed. Bakker had Cnaiür talk about this last chapter, but now he is once again showing us about conviction and its power. This will be important for the end of the novel.

Conviction has changed the tide of battle. Kellhus held the standard, keeping up hope in the Inrithi. The Ainoni held out long enough for Conphas to come to their aid and that turned the tide of battle. He heard the horns sounding retreat and acted. We also have the Scarlet Schoolmen were deployed for the first time, foiling the Fanim plan to demoralize the Inrithi.

Such a powerful scene between Serwë and Cnaiür. We have Cnaiür’s character laid open, all the times he thought as he beat her that he was trying to save her from Kellhus, and the realization here that he failed. That she would rather die than be apart from Kellhus. That she would let him beat her and still love him. All he can do is save her life.

He goes to the sea. The trackless sea. It’s an unnatural steppe to him. But it’s the closest thing he has to home. It’s like his perception of himself. Something broken, something wrong, something that wants to be of the People, but isn’t. He often goes to the sea when in turmoil. He has good memories with his own father at the shore of an inland sea, too.

Conphas and Martemus’s scene is so subdued. Conphas is clearly drained by the battle, without much of his usual self-delusional thoughts and actions. It’s perfunctory the way he cuts down the banner. And then his chat with Martemus, so flat. He understands that Martemus is blinded by Kellhus’s “illumination.”

And then Bakker switches gears to Skauras, the crushing despair on him as he realizes his people are doomed unless the word of the Nansur Emperor can be trusted. It is their only hope now for the Nansur to betray the holy war and stop it short of Shimeh. You feel a great deal of pity for the man. He’s been this wily enemy, this cagey general for so long, the great obstacle in the path of the holy war. Then seeing him drinking his last cup of wine as he awaits his death is so humanizing.

And his reflection on how evil acts are the hallmark of power… So true. Keep that in mind, for those who want to change the world. “Power comes from the end of the gun,” said Lenin.

Whelming. A trance where voice can overwrite voice. Or a place where one soul can overwhelm another.

We get more reflection into Kellhus and his view on men, and Cnaiür. Plus how Moënghus messed up with Cnaiür. But, then, Moënghus hadn’t come upon his grand plan. He was just trying to survive. I doubt Moënghus even thought Kellhus would encounter Cnaiür or that Cnaiür would prove as troublesome when he summoned Kellhus.

Most people never ask why things are the way they are around them, just taking for granted. Most people in Bakker’s world are not philosophers. Bakker, a philosopher, clearly holds that the only way to be truly free is to be a philosopher, to question the why of things.

I still don’t know why picks is a racial slur for Ketyai by Norsirai. They think them unclean, but I am still missing the connection.

We saw Cnaiür’s need for surrogates a few chapters back when it talks about him raiding Fanim villages, killing and pillaging to satiate his true desire.

We see the power of obsession. The way it can drive humans to acts they wouldn’t think themselves capable of. Even knowing the outcome, it can be hard to fight an obsession.

So we get this scene, Cnaiür utterly mad, knowing his death has come, and ready for it. He wants it to be over. His prize is lost. She’s utterly Kellhus’s. He can’t keep pretending any longer that he doesn’t love Moënghus. He can’t find the tracks. He’s hopelessly lost. He’s broken, defeated.

And Kellhus feels pity. The second time he’s felt an emotion. Once for Serwë, now for Cnaiür. And that pity works on him. As we have seen in previous quotes, the intellect is always slave to our passion. We will always find reasons to justify our actions for our desires. Kellhus found his. “There were always other uses.” His passions are shriveled, barely there, but they do exist. There is a glimmer of humanity.

Which might be the only thing that stops Kellhus from siding with the Consult. But, he might still side with them. Oh, the Unholy Consult… Can’t wait for July!

We get a little more insight into skin-spies and how they function. They are creatures of the moment. They don’t care about the past. Its’ all about who they are pretending to be right now. A thing without a past is a thing without identity.

Gaörtha is the skin-spy who in book 1 is following Achamian around, the one he spotted trailing him in the marketplace in Momemn.

And then we see the worry in the Synthese that his spy might not be reliable. Kellhus had planted those seeds that the first Sarcellus had been close to betraying the Consult. Looks like they have found fertile ground.

More interesting, the Synthese recognizes the name Dûnyain. We don’t know much about them before they became modern Dûnyain. They were ascetics and looking to escape the world after it ended.

And now we get confirmation that the Consult wants the Cishaurim, in particular, destroyed. That this is why they support the Holy War and why their skin-spies in the imperial palace (Skeaös and Empresses Dowager) are against Xerius’s plans to betray the Holy War.

And then we end with the Consult’s true goal.

Damn, this was a long chapter. And so much happened at it. We learn so much about the Consult, we see Serwë finally standing up to Cnaiür after being conditioned by Kellhus, we see the turn of battle and the death of the Fanim who was the symbol of their enemy, Skauras. The Holy War stands triumphant while Kellhus has another emotion. This is one of the best chapters in the series. He weaves through so many different scenes, propels so many different plots forward, has so many character moments.

Great writing.

Click here for chapter sixteen!

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Review: Gates of Fire and Earth (Game of Fire 2)

Gates of Fire and Earth (Game of Fire 2)

by Autumn Brit

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Bek’sah of the Ashanti cares nothing for the other peoples of Myrrah, willing to sacrifice all for his ambition to free his people from the goddesses curse and reclaim the power long denied him. But to do that, he needs to cross over into the Spirit World.

Lavinia, Darag, Niri, Ria, and their friends will do anything to stop that. The Gate of Water is closed, but three more are still open. The cost to sealing the Fire and Earth gates will be high, but it is better than the Ashanti wiping out all life.

War has once again come to the world, and the elementals will have to unite like they never have to face the dark threat of the Ashanti. Friends are divide and enemies now have to unite as the world is thrown into chaos.

Autumn Brit throws us right back into the action with Gates of Earth and Fire. After the buildup of book one to the explosive new war that descends on the peoples of Myrrah, Book 2 is action-packed. The Ashanti have never been more powerful. The series only gets better as she peels back more layers of her worldbuilding and advances the plot in new and exciting directions.

Brit builds on her past four books in this world to catapult the pace of this book forward. The characters have to race against time to deal with the mad Bek’seh. The series continues to be an excellent Indie fantasy read full of vibrant action and delightful characters as they struggle with new and dire threats.

I can’t wait to see how Brit will resolves this in the final book! But I am eagerly awaiting it!

You can buy Gates of Fire and Earth from Amazon!

I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review, though I had planned on buying it before the author sent it to me and have preordered it.

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Review: Happy Hour in Hell

Happy Hour in Hell (Bobby Dollar Book 2)

by Tad Williams

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Bobby Dollar (Doloriel to the heavenly host) is an earthbound angel, an advocate fighting to keep souls out of hell. After the events of the first novel, his life has been shaken up. He found love in the arms of the demon Casmira, Countess of the Cold Hands.

But she’s gone, taken back into hell by the Eligor, one of the Dukes of Hell out of jealous possession. Unable to let her go, Bobby embarks on a dangerous journey into hell itself. He will do anything to save Caz, even lose himself to an eternity of torment.

And even if he survives the trip through the layers of hell and finds her, he will have to contend with one of its most powerful ruler.

Williams paints a very bleak and disturbing hell. Like Dante before him, he takes you into the darkest pits. But Bobby, unlike Dante, doesn’t just witness the suffering and torment. He lives it. He has to experience the horrors day after day as he treks across its layers and meets its inhabitants. Williams shows the lives of those damned to suffering, how they survive, how they are tormented, how their dystopic societies work. Everything wears down the spirit and you suffer it with Bobby.

It is powerful writing and a great follow-up to the Noir detective novel of the first book. Williams takes his world into the fantasy quest with seamless effort. The journey through hell is one of the most macabre that I have written, with imagery that will haunt you. It is clear the author put a lot of effort into his imaging of how Hell would function, from its different classes of people, each with their own motivations and dreams, to the vagarious ways they are tormented.

Happy Hour in Hell is a dark, disturbing, and powerful read. Fans of Urban Fantasy need to check out his series and understand why Tad Williams is a huge name in the world of fantasy literature.

You can buy Happy Hour in Hell from Amazon!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 14
Anwurat

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

It is the difference in knowledge that commands respect. This is why the true test of every student lies in the humiliation of his master.

GOTAGGA, THE PRIMA ARCANATA

The children here play with bones instead of sticks, and whenever I see them, I cannot but wonder whether the humeri they brandish are faithful or heathen. Heathen, I should think, for the bones seem bent.

ANONYMOUS, LETTER FROM ANWURAT

My Thoughts

The student, to earn his teacher’s respect, has to overcome him. Kellhus definitely did this with Achamian. He surpassed him with ease and Achamian respected him greatly. And as we see in this chapter, Cnaiür is humiliated when Kellhus spots what Skauras is doing before Cnaiür. And, of course, when it is too late to stop it. Note, also, that this is from the Prima Arcanata. This is a Schoolman book. It seems to be imploring its students to push the bounds of sorcery, to discover new things to surpass their teacher and strengthen their school, whichever school this text is from.

The letter shows us the grim realty of what the war has done and yet how the innocent children can still play. They haven’t been wholly corrupted. Like in the previous chapter when Achamian saw the children playing beneath the corpses hanging in the tree, the contrast of innocence with brutality. Then you throw in some color commentary on racism with the “bent bones” lines, to hammer home how tribal humans are. Plus, this is the fortress that we ended last chapter on preparing for a siege. It foreshadows the Inrithi victory (otherwise, why is this Inrithi writing home from here).

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shigek

Conphas lets Martemus cool his heels as he reads intelligence reports in his command pavilion. Activity bustles around him in the Nansur camp as they prepare for the coming battle with the Fanim tomorrow.

Such a battle! And he—he! the lion of Kiyuth!—would be little more than a subaltern…

No matter, it would be salt for the honey, as the Ainoni were fond of saying. The bitterness that made vengeance sweet.

Conphas tells Martemus that he will represent the Nansur at Cnaiür’s side in the coming battle. Martemus asks if there are more instructions and Conphas wonders why he hadn’t stripped Martemus of his rank and sold him as a slave. He explains that he doesn’t trust Martemus anymore and actually trusts Cnaiür, in matters of war, far more. Martemus doesn’t protest but just asks why he was chosen with “stoic curiosity.” Conphas finds it such a waste that he has lost Martemus.

“Because you’ve unfinished business.” Conphas handed several sheets to his secretary, then looked down as though to study the next sheaf of parchment. “I’ve just been told the Prince of Atrithau accompanies the Scylvendi.” He graced the General with a dazzling smile.

Martemus said nothing for a stone-faced moment.

“But I told you… He’s…he’s…”

“Please,” Conphas snapped. “How long has it been since you’ve drawn your sword, hmm? If I doubt your loyalty, I laugh at your prowess. No. You’ll only observe.”

Conphas has hired three assassins, two Nansur and a Zeumi sword dancer, the latter whom Conphas thinks is a generous gift from his uncle. He then orders Martemus to bring back Kellhus head, using his general cloak as a sack. Conphas isn’t sure if he sees horror or hope in Martemus’s eyes.

The Inrithi horns sound at dawn and “the men of the Tusk rose certain of their triumph.” They form up on the South Bank to crush their enemy, knowing the God walks with them. Orders are barked as men assemble. Prayers are uttered, wine drunk, and bread broken. Wives and prostitutes say their farewells. The Fanim assemble on the horizon before the fortress of Anwurat. The Inrithi, each to their own culture, shout their cries as they prepare for battle while “a hundred hundred banners fluttered in the morning wind.”

Cnaiür ponders the trade he made with Kellhus last night, the knowledge of war for Serwë. He stands with Kellhus and a group of officers and messengers on a small hill. From here, he will command the battle, the newly made Swazond Standard fluttering over him.

Cnaiür stares in wonder at the Holy War assembled before him and the Fanim facing them. He reminds himself he is of the Land, a Scylvendi. He surveys their deployment, looking for weakness. Kellhus moves to his side, putting Cnaiür on his guard and again questioning the trade. He had spent the night screaming at the sea, demanding why he made the trade for “a bauble found on the Steppe.” He reflects on all he had given up over the last month: honor for vengeance, leather for silk, yaksh for a pavilion, the Utemot for the Inrithi. He was Battlemaster. King-of-Tribes.

Part of him reeled in drunken exultation at the thought. Such a host! From the river to the hills, a distance of almost seven miles, and still the ranks ran deep! The People could never assemble such a horde, not if they emptied every yaksh, saddled every boy. And here he, Cnaiür urs Skiötha, breaker-of-horses-and-men, commanded. Outland princes, earls and palatines, thanes and barons in their thousands, even an Exalt-General answered to him! Ikurei Conphas, the hated author of Kiyuth!

What would the People think? Would they call this glory? Or would they spit and cruse his name, give him to the torments of the aged and the infirm?

He reflects that all battle was holy, that defeating the Fanim would be a victory. He imagines them finally embracing him even as he realizes they would laugh as he hears his uncles words said at Kiyuth: “Yours is the name of our shame!” He ponders how they would react if he destroyed the Inrithi and returned with Conphas’s head.

“Scylvendi” Moënghus said from his side.

That voice!

Cnaiür looked to Kellhus, blinking.

Skauras! The Dûnyain’s look shouted. Skauras is our foe here!

Cnaiür focuses on defeating Skauras. He feels fear, wanting more time, knowing that his usefulness for Kellhus is about to end. He knows he is a threat to Kellhus and he has given up the last of his leverage. But there is nothing he can do to delay it. The Inrithi are ready for he battle. He gives the order to march.

Kellhus fixed him with shining, empty eyes.

Cnaiür looks away to the army. It moves forward, the horses trotting ahead, the ranks of infantry following. The Fanim drums pound as they wait.

The Dûnyain loomed in his periphery, as sharp as a mortal rebuke.

What was this trade he had made? A woman for war.

Something is wrong.

Behind him, the Inrithi lords began singing.

The Inrithi knights outpaced the infantry as they cross the field. They are moving faster and faster. The Fanimry fire arrows. Men and horses die. They lower lances as they charge the heathens. They shout war cries born of hatred. They clash with the Fanim.

The sermon was simple.

Break.

Die.

Serwë is alone, avoiding the other camp-followers praying in the encampment. She doesn’t see the point, having already kissed Kellhus and watched him ride off. Instead, she boils a tea Proyas’s physician-priests prescribed her for her pregnancy. She’s not afraid but confused why Kellhus risks himself especially in the wake of Achamian’s loss. It made her realize they weren’t on a pilgrimage “to deliver something [Kellhus] Holy.” Now she realizes that Kellhus might vanish, too.

But this thought didn’t so much frighten her—the possibility was too unthinkable—as it confused her. One cannot fear for a God, but one can be baffled over whether one should.

Gods could die. The Scylvendi worshipped a dead god.

Does Kellhus fear?

That too, was unimaginable.

Her water boils just as she thinks she heard something. She grapples with the kettle, using sticks to pull it out of the fire, when she feels a hand touch her belly. Kellhus is holding her from behind, though he seems shorter. Kellhus is horny and needs her, which makes her wonder why he chose her instead of any other woman. She asks why he needs her now. Isn’t he worried about the battle. But he worries only for her.

“Everywhere Cnaiür turned, he saw glory and horror.” He stands with his cheering retinue trying to watch the battle. He finds the battle happening too fast. There is so much going on as across their lines, the Inrithi engage the Fanim. Cnaiür’s planning is working. He had deduced the Fanim tactics so far and his preparations, having the Nansur use rafts as improvised ramps, is working. But dust obscures the Ainoni, and that worries him.

He begins to instruct Kellhus, talking about how this battle will be one by penetration and not envelopment. But he trails off as the dust clears enough to let him see the Ainoni are withdrawing. The Kianene hold the heights. This worries him, but Kellhus asks if this is how you crush your foe by assaulting their flanks or rear.

Cnaiür shook his black mane. “No. This is how you convince your foe.”

“Convince?”

Cnaiür snorted. “This war,” he snapped in Scylvendi, “is simply your war made honest.”

Kellhus acknowledged nothing. “Belief… You’re saying battle is a disputation of belief… An argument?”

Cnaiür keeps looking to the south as he explains about how attacking flanks and rears are arguments to convince the enemy they lost. “He who believes he is defeated is defeated.” Kellhus states that “conviction makes true” in battle.

As I said, it is honest.

Skauras! I must concentrate upon Skauras!

Cnaiür’s nervousness causes him to send a messenger to General Setpanares, commanding the Ainoni, to find out who defeated them even while knowing the battle will be over before the messenger can return. He finds the Nansur and Thunyeri are making fast progress up the makeshift ramps. Skauras reserves approach from the west and is worried about their numbers. He sends a message to the Conriyans while thinking everything is going to plan elsewhere.

Cnaiür points to the Galeoth and tells Kellhus to see how Skauras frustrates Saubon. Kellhus sees the delaying tactic. Cnaiür explains that the Galeoth and Tydonni possess shock, which the Fanim can’t stand up against, so they will use their cohesion and speed to d a defensive envelopment. Kellhus understands that an over-committed attack risks exposing flanks. Something the Inrithi are prone to do But, as Cnaiür says, their superior heart (conviction) saves them.

Their Conviction,” Kellhus said.

Cnaiür nodded. “When the memorialists counsel the Chieftains before battle, they bid them recall that in conflict all men are bound to one another, some by chains, some by ropes, and some by strings, all of different lengths. They call these bindings the mayutafiüri, the ligaments of war. These are just ways of describing the strength and flexibility of a formation’s angotma. Those Kianene the People would call trutu garothut, men of the long chains. They can be thrown apart, but they will pull themselves together. The Galeoth and Tydonni we would call trutu hirothut, men of the short chain. Left alone, such men would battle and battle. Only disaster or utgirkoy, attrition, can break the chains of such men.”

The Fanim scatter and Cnaiür explains a leader must always be reevaluating the battle. Kellhus asks if the south [my Kindle edition says north, but Cnaiür then looks southward, so I think this is a mistake] worries Cnaiür. He says no but then is “struck by an inexplicable apprehension of doom.” The Ainoni knights are retreating but the infantry are advancing. He lectures about how infantry will often drift to the right, betraying a lack of discipline or an act of deception to draw an enemy attack. Cnaiür is still confident things are going to plan. He goes on to saying that a general can tolerate no disbelief in his men that they will lose while he questions what the Ainoni general is now doing. Kellhus comments that disbelief spreads. Cnaiür knows that if men have conviction, they can die to the last, as Nansur Columns have in fighting Scylvendi in the past. Kellhus grasp that this is what a rout is, a loss of conviction, like what the Fanim suffered at the Battleplain. Cnaiür agrees, which is why a general has to be ready for that moment of decision. Cnaiür still worries over the Ainoni. He doesn’t understand why General Setpanares had withdrawn his horses. The Fanim were losing everywhere else save to the south.

Cnaiür glanced at Kellhus, saw his shining eyes study the distances the way they so often scrutinized souls. A gust cast his hair forward across his lower face.

“I fear,” the Dûnyain said, “the moment has already passed.”

Serwë can hear the fighting as “Kellhus” fucks her. He feels different in her and he tells her he is different for her. She is wracked with pleasure. He grabs her hair as she rides him, telling her to talk. She asks about what.

“Speak of me…”

“Kellhhhhussss,” she moaned. “I love you… I worship you! I do, I do, I do!”

“And why, sweet Serwë?”

“Because you’re the God incarnate! Because you’ve been sent!”

He fell absolutely still, knowing he’d delivered her to the humming brink.

Serwë aches for her climax, riding “Kellhus” faster, coming closer and closer, when he asks about Cnaiür and his hatred towards him. She says Cnaiür fears you and knows he will be punished. Serwë notices more differences, but is too lost to her pleasure to think about them.

His hand closed about the back of her neck… How she loved this game!

“And why does he call me Dûnyain?”

Cnaiür demands to know what Kellhus meant about the decision, thinking Kellhus seeks to deceive. Kellhus says he has studied the Kianene devices and though the dust prevents him, and Cnaiür, from seeing their patterns, he can see their shapes and has counted them, then compared them to the list of Sapatishah’s client Grandees. He tells Cnaiür that across most of their lines, only a fraction of the Kian face them.

Cnaiür jerked his gaze yet again to the souther hills and knew, from heart to marrow, that the Dûnyain spoke true. Suddenly he saw the field through Kianene eyes. The fleet Grandees of Shigek and Gedea drawing the Tydonni and Galeoth ever farther west. The Shigeki multitude dying as they should, and fleeing as everyone knew they would. Anwurat, an immovable point threatening the Inrithi rear. The then southern hills…

“He shows us,” Cnaiür murmured. “Skauras shows us…”

“Two armies,” Kellhus said without hesitation. “One defending, one concealed, the same as on the Battleplain.”

Cnaiür sees the Kianene second army charging at the Ainoni infantry while around him, the Inrithi celebrate seeing the Nansur and Thunyeri have broken through and routed the Shigeki. Cnaiür thinks them fools as he realized Skauras the Shigeki to scatter the Holy War.

A great ache filled Cnaiür’s chest. Only Kellhus’s strong grip saved him the humiliation of falling to his knees.

Always the same…

Martemus stands conflicted, watching Cnaiür and Kellhus speak. He finds it outrageous that a Scylvendi leads and questions why Conphas would want Kellhus killed instead. Martemus would gladly die to kill Cnaiür. He grapples with that question.

Because, General, he’s a Cishaurim spy…

But no spy could speak such words.

That’s his sorcery! Always remember—

No! Not sorcery, truth!

As I said, General. That is his sorcery.

Martemus watched, unmoved by the prattle around him.

The shouts draw Martemus attention to the battle. He sees the Heathens routing and feels pride for the Nansur columns. Then he sees Cnaiür’s posture and realizes, thanks to his years as a soldier, that something had gone wrong. Cnaiür screams for the retreat to be sounded. Everyone is astonished, some calling Cnaiür a traitor. Weapons are drawn while Cnaiür keeps roaring to look at the south. Kellhus is on his side, insisting that the retreat must be sounded. Then Cnaiür rushes to his horse and races south. Others follow while Martemus turns to the assassins, nodding at them.

For a heartbeat, Prince Kellhus caught his look. His smile held such sorrow that Martemus nearly gasped. Then the Prophet turned to the distances seething beneath his feet.

The Ainoni infantry begin breaking under the Fanim charge. The Ainoni knights counter-charge, crashing into the Fanim, killing many and sending them into retreat. The dust clears revealing Crown Prince Fanayal and his Coyauri cavalry charging in, massacring the van of the Ainoni knights. Other knights are confused, unable to see in the dust as horse archers attack their flanks and rears.

Serwë huddles in pain as “Kellhus” beats her. She cries out to know how she displeased him, saying she loves him. He keeps beating her while asking “What have I planned for the Holy War?”

Martemus watches the fighting with Kellhus and the three assassins, the only ones now by the Swazond Standard. He sees the Ainoni infantry rout out of the dust cloud. Already, Conphas is reforming his columns to face the new threat. “The Nansur were old hands when it came to surviving Fanim catastrophes.” Kellhus ignores the assassins, sitting with his back to them studying the battle.

The Prophet seemed to be…listening.

No. Bearing witness.

Not him, Martemus thought. I cannot do this.

The first of the assassins approached.

My Thoughts

Right away, we are thrown into Conphas’s thoughts, seeing him stew because Cnaiür leads. But Conphas has his plans. He continues to plot. His ego is too great to be crushed down for long. To preserve his own self-image, he has to continuously lie to himself whenever he suffers these defeats. Like we all do to some extant.

When you read the first book, I doubt any would have thought Martemus and Conphas could have such a falling out. Martemus is the man who was prepared to assist Conphas in a coup against the Emperor. He was the one to suggest it to Conphas, in fact. Martemus once said he would rather defend the Nansur Empire than the Tusk, putting national identity above religion. And then Kellhus has twisted him into a new man.

Kellhus battle garb has elements of all the major nations of the Inrithi, showing he is not of any of their nations but of all of them. It’s a subtle thing, easy to overlook.

Love Cnaiür’s thoughts on his current circumstance. Promise of vengeance, effeminate silks, prince’s pavilion, unwashed Utemot. He embraces the rudeness and poverty of his own people and resenting the wealth he has now. But he knows his people won’t care that he is commanding this huge force. Even if all war was holy. He isn’t of the People, despite how much he wants to be. He hasn’t been since Moënghus if he ever truly was.

And then we see just how good Kellhus is at reading people. The moment Cnaiür entertains fantasies of butchering the Inrithi, Kellhus, pitching his voice to sound like Moënghus, reminds the Scylvendi of their true purpose and how Skauras has to be defeated so Cnaiür can get his vengeance.

You have to love how human Cnaiür is. The panic he is feeling, trapped, cornered by his obsessive need to own Serwë, to prove he is of the people. But he doesn’t want to give up his leverage with Kellhus, but he has to. He’s made his deal and now he has to lead. He’s cornered and he sees only his death. He starts to be self-reflective but forces it away to make himself into the ideal Scylvendi.

Cnaiür is warring with himself. His madness is growing.

Bakker’s imagery of the Inrithi knights charging is beautiful and poetic. “Hatred clamped tooth to tooth” “wall of heathen, who barbed the distance like a hedge of silvered thorns” and “outstretched like great, fluid arms the holy warriors embraced their enemy.” And then the next three lines. So powerful.

Serwë’s thoughts are interesting. If Kellhus is a god then she shouldn’t be afraid for him even though she really wants to be. She’s grappling with it in her own way. She can’t let her fear take over because it will shatter the illusion she’s constructed in her mind that he is God. She, like Cnaiür, is fighting to keep her own self-identity intact against the intrusion of the world.

Skin-spies greatest defect, they can’t change their height. Even Serwë notices that right away, though she finds a rationalization for it, thinking he’s standing in a hole. Serwë has no idea about skin-spies. Anyone would find a mundane answer instead of “an evil assassin made by dark genetics by a race of space rapist is impersonating the man I love and believe is a god.”

Cnaiür talking to Kellhus about tactics and how war is an argument to convince your enemy that he has lost is great to read. Especially when he talks about how different men are connected by ropes and chains of varying lengths and strengths, showing how their psychology and identity plays a huge role in how they will act in battle.

The moment Kellhus tells Cnaiür the moment of decision has passed, Kellhus has outstripped him in tactics. He has learned all Cnaiür has to offer and seen more clearly, understand events far better.

In the Serwë sex-interrogation scene, we learn so new facts about skin-spies: they can’t change their height, they can’t change their penises, and they can’t change their scents. This scene also serves to show us insight into the Inchoroi and how they operate. Like with the Synthese interrogating Esmenet in book 1, they default to sex. We see this again at the end of the novel. The Inchoroi, after all, are a “race of lovers.” But the skin spies have their lust tied to their aggression, like the Sranc do, and eventually the skin-spy turns to other pleasures with Serwë, something the Inchoroi creators appear never needing to do to get answers.

And there is Cnaiür’s humiliation, just like the quote at the start of the chapter starts. He has failed to match wits with Skauras. Kellhus has outstripped him.

Truth is his sorcery. To chain with truth instead of lies is always more powerful. Conphas has it right about Kellhus. He’s the only person in the Holy War seeing a danger from Kellhus, even if it is the wrong danger. His ego is just too great. It’s very brilliant storytelling from Bakker. It would be so easy for Kellhus to have everyone under his domination, but than where were the stakes. So Bakker created the perfect character to resist it, and set him up so we understood him and it makes so much sense that he opposes Kellhus.

There, at the end of Martemus’s POV, after giving the assassins the order, he caught Kellhus’s gaze. That look of sadness forever severed Martemus’s loyalty to Conphas. Notice how he now longer thinks “Prince Kellhus” but now “Prophet.” His conflict is over. His loyalties are no longer divided.

Bakker slips in a little more reinforcement about Conphas’s skill. He, too, has realized that catastrophe has hit and is doing what he can to salvage the fight. He is an interesting character. He is very arrogant but he can actually back up his arrogance with actual talent. You cannot deny his skill as a general or for politics.

So it is an interesting place to end it. While the chapter appears to be cliff-hanging on Kellhus being in danger, we know he has fought greater odds than those three with ease. The real threats are to Serwë and the Holy War itself. For Martemus, though, the cliffhanger is Kellhus’s doom. His loyalties are no longer divided and he has to stop this. The most loyal man in the Nansur army has betrayed his Exalt General.

Truth is such a powerful tool.

Click here for Chapter Fifteen!

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Review: The Dirty Streets of Heaven

The Dirty Streets of Heaven (Bobby Dollar Book 1)

by Tad Williams

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Bobby Dollar (Doloriel to the heavenly host) is an earthbound angel, an advocate fighting to keep souls out of hell. After so many years living on Earth, he’s grown bitter, disillusioned, going through the motions in the never ending contest between Heaven and Hell.

When a soul comes up missing on his watch, everything changes. Never has a soul been lost, and Bobby Dollar has to figure out what’s going on before he takes the fall. Has Hell stolen the soul out from under heaven’s nose or is something even worse going on? And worse off, the new guy is asking questions. With the help of Sam, Bobby’s best friend and fellow angel, and a cast of colorful characters, Bobby will have to ask the right questions to figure out what is going on.

Bobby Dollar will have to dodge ancient demons, sultry femme fatales, and angry Lords of Hell to uncover the secret that may shake the foundation of Heaven and Hell.

The Dirty Streets of Heaven is a classic Noir detective story. You have our bitter, borderline alcoholic protagonist in Bobby, people who should be on his side but he can’t quite trust, bad buys who may or may not be out to kill him, women who can’t be trusted, a macguffin to recover, and a conspiracy to unravel. And all set in the sunny streets of San Jude in the bay area. A modern take on the noir story complete with a fantasy patina.

Williams has created a rich mythology for his war between Heaven and Hell. It is clearly thought out with plenty of new revelations to come on how it all works and the secret war being waged beneath the noses of regular mortals. The same care he puts into his other works is on display here. Form the noir to the urban fantasy elements, Williams balance them all perfectly to make an exciting tale keeping the pages turning and you wanting to find out what’s next.

If you’re a fan of Urban Fantasy, Noir, and good writing, then you need to check out this series!

You can buy The Dirty Streets of Heaven from Amazon.

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Thirteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 13
Shigek

Welcome to Chapter Thirteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Twelve!

Men are forever pointing at others, which is why I always follow the knuckle and not the nail.

ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

A day with no noon,

A year with no fall,

Love is forever new,

Or love is not at all.

ANONYMOUS, “ODE TO THE LOSS OF LOSSES

My Thoughts

It’s true that humans like to cast blame on others especially when we’re at fault. The knuckle part confuses me. I keep pointing my fingers and my knuckles are in the same direction. So this analogy is partly eluding me, though the gist, appears, not to follow those that are accusing. What it’s point has to do with this chapter is also escaping me.

The second one is far more clear, dealing with all three of the POV’s we get. Esmenet and others are dealing with Achamian’s “death” at Iothiah. The poem encapsulates exactly what she is feeling. Then we have Proyas grappling with his love and affection for his teacher and giving it up for politics. And last, mad Cnaiür, dealing with two loves, his betrayal at Moënghus hands and his need to possess and protect Serwë. The love that drives him to give Kellhus what he wants.

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shigek

Esmenet is woken out of a dream of swimming with Achamian by Kellhus. At first, she thinks it is Achamian, her thoughts still sleepy. She rolls over and sees Kellhus with a grave expression on her face.

“What—” she started, but paused to clear her throat. “What is it?”

“The Library of the Sareots,” he [Kellhus] said in a hollow voice. “It burns.”

She could only blink at the lamplight.

“The Scarlet Spires have destroyed it, Esmi.”

She turned, looking for Achamian.

Proyas is struck by the Xinemus’s desperation for Achamian as he meets with him two days after the news of Achamian’s abduction reached them. He orders Therishut’s to be found and arrest before riding to Iothiah to meet with Eleäzaras. But the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spire claimed they found a hidden group of Cishaurim. They lost two of their own in the fight. Proyas was skeptical, asking for their remains. Eleäzaras claims they are destroyed. He realizes it was futile. The Holy War would soon cross the Sempis and fight Skauras. They would need the Scarlet Spire. “The God demanded sacrifices.”

Xinemus demands Proyas use everything in his power to free Achamian. Proyas scoffs, asking what power does he have over the Scarlet Spire. Xinemus says a council, but Proyas asks what purpose it would serve.

“Purpose?” Xinemus repeated, obviously horrified. “What purpose would it serve?”

“Yes. It may be a hard question, but it’s honest.”

“Don’t you understand?” Xinemus exclaimed. “Achamian isn’t dead and gone! I’m not asking you to avenge him! They’ve taken him, Proyas. Even now, somewhere in Iothiah, they hold him. They ply him in ways you and I cannot imagine. The Scarlet Spires! The Scarlet Spires have Achamian!”

Proyas clings to his faith, using it to prop up his decision to abandon his friend. He tries to reason with him, but Xinemus grows angry, insulting Proyas, calling him ungrateful. He is wild with anger, demanding Proyas remember that Achamian was his teacher, the man who shaped his education. Proyas tries to get Xinemus to calm down, to remember Proyas’s rank, but Xinemus doesn’t care He will be heard.

“As inflexible as you are,” the Marshal grated, “You know how things work. Remember what you said on the Andiamine Heights? ‘The game is without beginning or end’ I’m not asking you to storm Eleäzaras’s compound, Proyas, I’m simply asking you to play the game! Make them think you’ll stop at nothing to see Akka safe, that you’re willing to declare open war against them if he should be killed. If they believe you’re willing to forsake anything, even Holy Shimeh, to recover Achamian, they will yield. They will yield!”

Proyas stood, retreated from his sword-trainer’s furious aspect. He did know how “these things” worked. He had threatened Eleäzaras with war.

He laughed bitterly.

Proyas asks Xinemus if he is mad, put an a sorcerer before his God. Xinemus is disgusted, saying Proyas still doesn’t understand. Proyas demands what there is to understand. Achamian is a blasphemer. Unclean. “If blasphemers kill blasphemers, then we’re saved oil and wood.” Xinemus flinches from those words and realizes Proyas will do nothing. Proyas order Xinemus to also do nothing. The Holy War prepares to cross the river.

“Then I resign as Marshal of Attrempus,” Xinemus declared in a stiff voice. “What is more, I repudiate you, your father, and my oath to House Nersei. No longer shall I call myself a Knight of Conriya.”

Proyas felt a numbness through his face and hands. This was impossible.

“Think about this, Zin,” he said breathlessly. “Everything… Your estates, your chattel, the sanctions of your caste… Everything you have, everything you are, will be forfeit.”

“No, Prosha,” he said, turning for the curtains. “It’s you who surrender everything.”

Then he was gone.

The reed wick of his oil lamp sputtered and fizzled. The gloom deepened.

It strikes Proyas then as he realizes Xinemus, the man he had leaned on through all the stress of the Holy War, was gone. And he realizes what he has done. How he has failed his old mentor. He almost grieves as he prays to the God, “I know you test me!”

“Two bodies, one warmth.” Esmenet reflects on Kellhus’s description of love as she watches Xinemus. He looks desperate, telling her he’s done what he could. But she pleads with him he has to do more. He tries to explain about the impending assault, and she understands.

He meant the issue of Drusas Achamian had been conveniently forgotten, as all intractable and embarrassing matters must be. How?How could now know Drusas Achamian, wander through his precincts, and then pull away, whisked like sheets across dry skin? Because they were men. Men were dry on the outside, and wet only within. They couldn’t commingle, weld their life to another in the ambiguity of fluids. Not truly.

Esmenet offers to sleep with Proyas as a bribe, but Xinemus tells her no. But she has to do something. Xinemus asks her why she isn’t staying with Kellhus and Serwë. Kellhus had moved his camp to Proyas after Xinemus renounced his rank. Esmenet had groveled to Kellhus to save Achamian, even trying to seduce him, but Kellhus has more than just Achamian to worry about, he has everyone.

The Holy War. The Holy War. Everything was about the fucking Holy War!

What about Achamian?

But Kellhus couldn’t cross Fate. He had a far greater whore to answer to…

She tells Xinemus she has to wait here so Achamian can find her if he returns. She kept his tent just where he had left it. Xinemus’s ex-soldiers treat her with respect, calling her the “sorcerer’s woman.” Xinemus doesn’t think it’s good. Iryssas, now in command, will march his soldiers. It could be dangerous. She says she’ll manage. He tells her to stay safe. And she asks him what he’s going to do. He tells her in a hopeless voice he’ll search. She says she’s coming with him, but instead he just gives her a dagger and tells her to be safe. Then she notices that Dinchases and Zenkappa wait in the distance. They join Xinemus as he rides away vanishing as she cries into her arms.

When she looked up, they were gone.

Helplessness. It women were hope’s oldest companions, it was due to helplessness. Certainly women often exercised dreadful power over a single heart, but the world between hearths belonged to men. And it was into this world that Achamian had disappeared: the cold darkness between firepits.

All she could do was wait… What grater anguish could there be than waiting? Nothing etched the shape of one’s impotence with more galling meticulousness than the blank passage of time. Moment after moment, some dull with disbelief, others taut with voiceless shrieks. Moment after gnashing moment. Bright with the flare of agonized questions: Where is he? What will I do without him? Dark with the exhaustion of hope. He’s dead. I am alone.

Days past as she waits. The Holy War packs up around her. She waits “alone in the midst of their absence.” The ground is scarred by their passage. She sits before Achamian’s tent and cries his name, saying it’s safe for him now. They all left. She makes her own “silent inquiries” without hope. She thinks of her dead daughter. She stares at the Sempis not sure if she will kill herself. Esmenet was a whore, and they know how to wait. And she keeps whispering the same thing.

It’s safe now, my love. Come out.

It’s is safe.

Cnaiür has spent his days since leaving the marshal’s camp with Proyas, either talking or following his orders as they prepare to fight Skauras again. He is preparing on the South Bank of the Sempis. Cnaiür recognizes Skauras’s cunning in how he abandoned the North Bank, knowing he couldn’t defend it. He burned all the boats but spared the granaries and orchard. Saubon thinks Skauras didn’t have time, but Cnaiür knows Skauras did it because seizing those food would slow the Holy War, giving him more time to prepare. The others, even Proyas who listened to much of Cnaiür’s advice, have trouble believing Skauras is a threat. Cnaiür asks Proyas if he thinks his victory is assured. Proyas does because “my God has willed it.”

“And Skauras? Would he not give much the same answer?”

Proyas’s eyebrows jumped up, then knitted into a frown. “But that’s not to the point, Scylvendi. How many thousands have we killed? How much terror have we struck into their hearts?”

“Too few thousands, and far, far too little terror.”

Cnaiür explains how his people tell stories to know the Nansur columns and read their lines, and how Conphas switching banners caused their defeat, “telling us a false story.” Proyas grows angry, saying he know how to read a battle line. Cnaiür asks what he saw on the Battleplain. Proyas doesn’t know, he couldn’t recognize most of the enemy units. Cnaiür recognized them all. Only two-thirds of the Kianene great houses fought, and several of those were token troops. After the Vulgar Holy War’s massacre, the Padirajah and many heathens were dismissive of the Holy War. But they won’t make that mistake. Every soldier rides to Shigek. “They will answer Holy War with Jihad.”

Proyas is won over and supports Cnaiür in the next meeting, but only Conphas agrees until captive Fanim confirm the Scylvendi’s predictions. Famed Fanim names approach. Everyone agreed, the Holy War had to cross the river as soon as possible.

“To think,” Proyas confided to him [Cnaiür] afterward, “that I thought you no more than an effective ruse to employ against the Emperor. Now you’re our general in all but name. You realize that?”

“I have said or offered nothing that Conphas himself could not say or offer.”

Proyas laughed. “Save trust, Scylvendi. Save Trust.”

Though Cnaiür grinned, these words cut him for some reasons. What did it matter, the trust of dogs and cattle?

Cnaiür eagerly throws himself into the preparations to assault the South Bank. He relishes it. He was bred for war. He scouts for the best landing spots and questions captives as preparations are made. He only saw Kellhus at Proyas’s councils. His days were the same, but not his nights. He never camps in the same spot. He often counts the Conryian fires “like an idiot child” because his father once told him that counting fires counts your enemies. He looks at the stars, wondering if they are his enemy. And he broods on Serwë and Kellhus. He repeats his reasons for abandoning her over and over, but can’t stop thinking of her, burning for her.

He remembered pretending to sleep while listening to her sob in the darkness. He remembered the remorse, as heavy as spring snow, pressing him breathless with its cold. What a fool he’d been! He thought of the apologies, of the desperate pleas that might soften her hatred, that might let her see. He thought of kissing the gentle swell of her belly. And he thought of Anissi, the first wife of his heart, slumbering in the flickering gloom of their faraway hearth, holding tight their daughter, Sanathi, as though sheltering her from the terror of womanhood.

And he thought of Proyas.

On the worse nights he hugged himself in the blackness of his tent, screaming and sobbing. He beat the earth with his fists, stabbed holes with his knife, then fucked them. He cursed the world. He cursed the heavens. He cursed Anasûrimbor Moënghus and his monstrous son.

He thought, So be it.

A good night for Cnaiür is heading into a Shigeki village, kicking in doors, killing anyone while screaming “Murder me and it stops!” It never does. “He would take what compensation he could.”

It took a week before he found the perfect spot for the landing. Of course, only Proyas and Conphas agreed, hating the marshy terrain which would hinder their horses. It will also hinder Fanim horses. At a council, Cnaiür explains his reasons, reminding that at Mengedda they learned the Kianene were faster, so they will always assemble first and attack before the Holy War is ready. However, they also learned their infantry is strong. And the Marsh isn’t deep and its passable for their soldiers. “As much as you pride your mounts, the Kianene pride theirs more.” They won’t dismount and fight. They will yield the marsh. Cnaiür predicts he will withdraw back to the fortress of Anwurat, ceding ground and horses. Gothyelk asks how Cnaiür can know. “Because Skauras is not a fool.” Conphas agrees while insulting Cnaiür at the same time.

Cnaiür imagined cutting his pampered throat.

This secures Cnaiür’s reputation, which enamors him with the Inrithi nobles. The Ainoni and their wives are the worse, propositioning him all the time, one even sneaking into his tent. He almost killed her.

Cnaiür ponders Skauras, knowing the man is fearless and a severe disciplinarian. He was organized and had the respect of men who outranked him, such as Fanayal the Padirajah’s son. The man is canny and mischievous. He realizes, thanks to Conphas’s stories, that Skauras would see the battle more as a demonstration, that after underestimating the Holy War at Mengedda, he would show them to be fools. This worries Cnaiür, and he tells Proyas. He wants the Scarlet Spire with the host. Proyas protests that Eleäzaras will resist, the Scarlet Spire wait for Shimeh where the Cishaurim gather.

Cnaiür scowled and spat. “Then we have the advantage!”

“The Scarlet Spires, I fear, conserve themselves for the Cishaurim.”

“They must accompany us,” Cnaiür insisted, “even if they remain hidden. There must be something you can offer.”

The Prince smiled mirthlessly. “Or someone,” he said with uncommon grief.

Cnaiür often inspects the preparation, the soldiers calling him “Scylvendi” as a title of respect and fame. He stares across the river, knowing Skauras prepares. Finally, it has come. Before dawn, the Holy war embarks on barges and rafts. Cnaiür crosses with Proyas, noting Xinemus’s absence which he finds strange. Kellhus is with them. Cnaiür has watched Kellhus yoke thousands with only his words, as he watched him yoke Serwë. He can’t bear to watch any longer.

Cnaiür had always known Kellhus’s capabilities, had always known the Holy War would yield to him. But knowing and witnessing were two different things. He cared nothing for the Inrithi. And yet, watching Kellhus’s lies spread like cancer across an old woman’s skin, he found himself fearing for them—fearing, even as he scored them! How they fell over themselves, fawning, wheedling, groveling. How they degraded themselves, youthful fools and inveterate warriors alike. Imploring looks and beseeching expressions. Oh, Kellhus… Oh, Kellhus… Staggering drunks! Unmanly ingrates! How easily they surrendered.

And none more so than Serwë. He watched her succumb, again and again. To see his hand drift deep between Dûnyain thighs…

Fickle, treacherous, whorish bitch! How many times must he strike her? How many times must he take her? How many times must he stare, dumbfounded by her beauty?

He watches the far bank, the Fanim scouts tracking them. The soldiers are nervous, and laughter and jokes breaks out until someone fell into the water, his armor dragging him down. That sobers him up while the watching Fanim now laugh and jeer.

Proyas joins Cnaiür at the prow, his “too-forward camaraderie” betraying his fear. He mentions how Cnaiür avoids Kellhus. Cnaiür snorts. Proyas reveals that Kellhus told him about their issues with Serwë. It gives Cnaiür the perfect explanation, a Dûnyain explanation, for his avoidance. Proyas asks what the Scylvendi believe, what are their Laws. He believes that Proyas’s ancestors killed his god and therefore bear a blood-guilt, so he worships vengeance. Proyas asks if that’s why is people are called the people of war.

“Yes. To war is to avenge.”

The proper answer. So why the throng of questions?

“to take back what has been taken,” Proyas said, his eyes at once troubled and bright. “Like our Holy War for Shimeh.”

“No,” Cnaiür replied. “To murder the taker.”

This answer alarms Proyas, reminding him who Cnaiür is. “I like you much better, Scylvendi, when I forget who you are.” Cnaiür doesn’t care. He’s already studying the bank as he reminds himself “I am of the People!”

As they enter the delta channels, Cnaiür wanders what Skauras is thinking as his scouts report. Had he anticipated the marsh landing, feared it? But only mosquitoes harass the flotilla. They spend the night on the barges. Cnaiür finds himself yearning for battle as his boredom mounts. The next day, the Holy War marches reaches the salt marshes, the men dragging the barges forward. Cnaiür is energized, hacking reeds with the others. They reach the bank and solid ground. Cnaiür scouts forward with Proyas and Kellhus. “As always, the Dûnyain’s presence made his heart itch, like the threat of a blow form unseen quarters.”

They step out of the marsh onto a pasture, Anwurat on the horizon. Skauras had yielded the ground as Cnaiür predicted. Ingiaban calls the Fanim fools. Cnaiür ignores that, not surprised to find the Dûnyain studying, knowing it was too easy.

The Holy Assembles and pitches camp for the night. The Inrithi sing, and he scoffs as they pray. “War for them wasn’t holy.” It was only a means to Shimeh. Darkness ends their revelry as they see the enemy campfires lighting up the horizon while drums beat. At council that night, Cnaiür is declared their battlemaster, Conphas storms out. Cnaiür accepts without word, conflicted. They even have a own banner stitched for him.

Later, Proyas finds him standing in the darkness staring at the fires. There are a lot. Proyas suddenly seems so young and frail, seeing their enemy’s numbers. Suddenly, Cnaiür realizes the “catastrophic dimensions” of the conflict. Nations, faiths, and races would be destroyed. He wonders how this young man, barely more than a boy, would fare. “He could be my son,” thinks Cnaiür who then promises to beat them. He feels guilty afterward, scoffing at reassuring an Inrithi, reminding himself he shouldn’t care about these people. He is Scylvendi. He stares at the sea, remembering being with his father at the shores of the Jorua Sea doing the same. He can’t remember what his father had said. He sets to sharpening his sword and isn’t shocked when Kellhus arrives.

Kellhus studies Cnaiür’s face and for the first time, he doesn’t care thinking, “I know you lie.” Kellhus asks if they’ll win. Cnaiür snorts, saying Kellhus is the Great Prophet being asked that question. Cnaiür then asks about Serwë.

“Serwë is well… Why do you avoid my question?”

Cnaiür sneered, turned back to his blade. “Why do you ask questions when you know the answer?”

Kellhus said nothing, but stood like something otherworldly against the darkness. The wind whipped smoke about him. The sea thundered and hissed.

“You think something has broken within me,” Cnaiür continued, drawing out his whetstone to the stars. “But you are wrong… You think I have become more erratic, more unpredictable, and therefore more a threat to your mission…”

He turned from his broadsword and matched the Dûnyain’s bottomless gaze.

“But you are wrong.”

Kellhus nods in agreement. Cnaiür doesn’t care. Then Kellhus says he must learn War during the battle. Cnaiür refuses. Kellhus promises to give him Serwë. Cnaiür drops his sword. He asks why he would want the Kellhus’s pregnant whore. She’s Cnaiür’s prize and pregnant with his child.

Why did he long for her so? She was a vain, shallow-witted waif—nothing more! Cnaiür had seen the way Kellhus used her, the way he dressed her. He’d heard the words he bid her speak. No tool was too small for a Dûnyain, no word too plain, no blink too brief. He’d utilized the chisel of her beauty, the hammer of her peach… Cnaiür had seen this!

So how could he contemplate…

All I have is war!

Cnaiür knows he is surrendering the last bit of use he has, that Kellhus will no longer need him. He will only have Kellhus’s word, and how can you trust the word of a Dûnyain? But he will have his prize. After worship, he will take “what compensation he can.”

My Thoughts

What a powerful way to start the chapter on the heels of the last. And Esmenet’s reaction, so human. She’s not understanding right away, she’s still half-asleep, and she’s turning to Achamian even though he’s not there. She’ll have to readjust to that fact.

This, right here, is why I love Xinemus. He doesn’t care about anything right now but saving his friend. Yes, guilt is propelling him, but Xinemus is the type of guy who would have done this anyways. And Proyas doesn’t want to come clean to Xinemus that he already tried his suggestion. That he failed to save Achamian. Instead, he hides behind his faith, pretending not to care, growing angry, saying careless words.

And Xinemus makes his choice. He let Achamian’s blasphemy drive a wedge in their friendship, the opening the at let all this happen. No longer. Xinemus is going to go save his friend no matter what. It’s a classic fantasy trope. And, of course, fails spectacularly.

Esmenet’s desperation is so clear. She’s in the bargaining stage of grief, willing to do anything to get Achamian back. And there’s Xinemus, giving her the same lame excuses as Proyas. He is doing what he can, but without his rank, he doesn’t have a lot of power.

It’s heartbreaking hearing tell Xinemus she can’t leave her camp. She still has hope he’ll return. She has to cling to that. She’s not done grieving. She hasn’t hit acceptance.

In other fantasy stories, Esmenet would have been accepted by Xinemus. She would have grabbed a spear and kicked-ass. Bootstrap Feminism is how Bakker has described this trope. This isn’t a power fantasy story. No one but Kellhus really kicks ass, and he is so alien, so inhuman, it’s not something you the reader can experience wish fulfillment through. Esmenet is an intelligent woman, but she doesn’t know how to fight. And, as we see, it didn’t matter. She wouldn’t have made the difference. She would just have been used to hurt Achamian.

Bakker gets a lot of criticism for how women are treated. He’s just writing about human history and experience. Our species has survived and dominated by protecting women from danger, often through cruel means to keep them subservient, so they can be protected in a very tribal fashion. Warriors in this series will have no qualms rapping women of their enemy and then die protecting their own wives and mothers and sisters. This is very true to our own history. We are a very tribal species. It’s very easy for us to care about those in our tribe and hate those who aren’t.

Esmenet’s rumination on helplessness, on how women are powerful around the hearth but out in the wild, that’s where men have their power, is rooted in the self-same survival strategy our species employed. Protect the women because they have the eggs that produce the next generation. Eggs are scare, and sperm is abundant, so men can be sacrificed by the tribe to achieve this. Warfare stems from this principal. It is survival at its most brutal, where scores of young men are sent out to die while the women are kept behind safe to produce the next generation. It seems doubly cruel to us modern humans because we are moving out of this tribal mentality, technology allowing us to reach a point where we do not have to protect our women from the dangers of the world, but can allow them to join us, no longer forced to be protected. It’s a rather remarkable shift in outlook for our species that has come about in a very short amount of time.

Bakker’s description of her grief, of the endless moments of waiting and waiting, of her hope dieing, of almost bipolar mood swings from despondent blankness to manic shrieks, is poignant. He does a great jog of capturing it.

It is safe now, my love. Come out.” Such sad, desperate, almost mad words. She is mired in grief, lost in it.

It’s been awhile since we had a good Cnaiür section. Listening to him explain to Proyas that believing your god will ensure your victory is not a good strategy. He needs to open his eyes to the reality that the Fanim are not beaten. They’ve retreated. They suffered a defeat, but that’s not the same thing by far. Especially not for a people that are used to retreating as a battle strategy. Their hit-and-run tactics are now being used in a strategic fashion. They hit the Inrithi and have run to a new possession to hit them with a new battle all over again. And they will keep retreating, whittling down the Inrithi, and destroy them. It’s not a philosophy the Inrithi, with their emphasis on heavy infantry and cavalry are familiar with. Bakker has a great grasp on tactics and strategy and how philosophy of your tactics influences the psychology of your troops.

Bakker is really driving home the Crusaders versus Muslim thread with Holy War versus Jihad line.

Conphas agreeing with Cnaiür should have been a warning sign to the other Great Names that the Scylvendi is right. Conphas hates Cnaiür, but the man knows both the Fanim and the war. Despite being an ass, I would listen to his opinion in these regards.

And I love how Bakker just drops all these Great Fanim names on us, peppering in the text the names we need to be on the watch for later on. They don’t really matter, but on subsequent rereads just seeing all his world-building play out with these minor characters is fascinating.

Cnaiür likes Proyas. He might not realize it, but that’s why his ultimate betrayal, knowing that the Holy War is being used, is why Proyas’s words about trust “cut him.” That despite trying to believe the Inrithi are just “dogs and cattle” it’s hard to maintain that belief while interacting with Proyas on a day-to-day basis. This, more than any other way, is how prejudices are broken. Telling someone not to be racist doesn’t work as well as just having that person interact with someone different, to work together, to “witness” their humanity.

Stars being enemies. Considering that the Inchoroi came from the stars, maybe.

Cnaiür going over his reasons for abandoning Serwë over and over is something we all do when we try to convince ourselves of something we know isn’t true. We lie to ourselves, and if we repeat that lie, we’ll often believe it. But he’s not. He can’t get Serwë out of his head. She is his proof of manhood, that he isn’t a “faggot” like his people believe. That he doesn’t desire Moënghus even after the man’s betrayal. He needs Serwë. She’s his wife’s proxy, the woman he does love, but not as much as he love/hates Moënghus.

Cnaiür definitely is crazy. Fucking the earth is not something sane men do. It’s like the earth is a proxy for Moënghus, and he’s just channeling all his anger and lust for the man into it, violating the soil. A good night for Cnaiür is attempting suicide by another. But he’s the breaker-of-men and none can put him out of his misery.

How it must eat Conphas up having to support Cnaiür in council because he knows the Scylvendi has found just what the Holy War needs. I love the terse fantasy of Cnaiür. A simple line, conveying how simple Cnaiür passions are. He wants to have Serwë’s love, wants to see Anissi, and really wants to hate-fuck Moënghus.

Those Ainoni quotes about wives peppered through the book give background to the persistence of the Ainoni women in pursuing Cnaiür.

And for politics, Proyas sacrifices Achamian. For the Holy War, he gives up the life of a man he, though he pretends otherwise, loves and respects.

I mentioned how prejudice is best erased by familiarity, note how Scylvendi is now a term of respect instead of a curse. Of course, it still annoys Cnaiür.

Cnaiür says he doesn’t care for the Inrithi, but he does. He sees himself in them, the youth seduced by Moënghus. It angers him because it’s happening all over again. Notice, in the midst of watching Serwë succumb we get this line: “To see his hand drift deep between Dûnyain thighs…” Not “her hand” but his. Cnaiür’s hand drifting deep between Moënghus’s thighs.

Cnaiür is giving Proyas the proper answers for his people, but he doesn’t quite believe them. He still questioning them. It makes him try even harder to be normal, to not be different. To follow the mountain passes of tradition instead of the trackless steppes.

Cnaiür is shocked he’s declared battlemaster. Notice he’s too conflicted to feel pride or embarrassment. There’s no anger here. He wants to be apart of these men, but his own prejudices, his own desire to be “of the People!” holds him back.

For a moment, Cnaiür lets himself belong with Proyas, feeling fatherly affection. We forget that Proyas is barely an adult, maybe twenty. He’s young. But then the guilt hits Cnaiür afterward for not being one of the people. He shouldn’t care. He keeps hardening himself, forcing himself to be this idealize Scylvendi, never realizing that the other men of his tribe probably think the same thing. Cnaiür is constantly acting and doesn’t realize so is everyone else, being whom they think the world expects them to be.

And now Kellhus springs his trap. He has baited it so well, first letting Cnaiür grow so attached to her, realizing that she is his symbol of being a proper Scylvendi, his prize he claimed in battle, the woman he lusts for (not Moënghus). He seduced her away, twisting the knife, forcing Cnaiür to only want her more, to want to protect her from Kellhus, violently at times. He beats her like he would a child, trying to get her to understand. And now, now he can have her. He can have his Prize. Kellhus has been very patient.

Worse, Cnaiür knows and still does it. He will take “what compensation he can,” enjoy her for as long as he can before Kellhus kills him. He knows this, he accepts it. At least it’ll be an end, he can die like one of the People.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Fourteen!

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