Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Nineteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 19
Enathpaneah

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

What vengeance is this? That he should slumber while I endure? Blood douses no hatred, cleanses no sin. Like seed, it spills of its own volition, and leaves naughty but sorrow in its wake.

HAMISHAZA, TEMPIRAS THE KING

…and my soldiers, they say, make idols of their swords. But does not the sword make certain? Does not the sword make plain? Does not the sword compel kindness from those who kneel in its shadow? I need no other god.

TRIAMIS, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

The first quote not only talks about the pointlessness of violence, since it doesn’t stop hatred or have any redemption, but equates it to indiscriminate sex. Something we see with the Consult and their creations, that bestial rutting and bestial hungers are one and the same, and that they inflict humans to their own woes. The author is lamenting how he has clearly done violence and it hasn’t satiated him. He has to live with the consequences after murdering the target of his anger. “That he should slumber…” indicates this, to me.

And, as we see, Achamian goes on his own vengeance here, hunting Iyokus. But it doesn’t change anything. Nor when he does get his vengeance on Iyokus for Xinemus in the next book.

The next quote reminds me of Marx’s “Power comes from the barrel of a gun.” The potential to do violence is true power, not something ephemeral like beseeching unseen gods. When you hold a sword, that gives you power to “compel kindness from those who kneel in its shadow.” Triamis, a famed conquering Emperor, is quite blunt and holds few illusions about where true source of power lies in: fear. And if you don’t think this is true, ask yourself why you obey laws, even ones you find stupid. Because the government employees many, many men with guns. And they will use violence to compel you in the end.

Late Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Enathpaneah

Proyas wakes up hearing rustling leaves and gurgling water before remembering he’s in the desert, the sun shining in his eyes, a headache throbbing. He calls out to his body slave, but someone tells him his slave is dead. It is Cnaiür, badly sunburned and dehydrated like Proyas. Proyas asks what happened.

The Scylvendi resumed digging at the leather wrapped about his scarred knuckles. “You collapsed,” he said. “In the desert…”

“You… You saved me?”

Cnaiür paused without looking up. Then continued working.

The Holy War drifts “like reavers come from the furnace” into the villages and forts of Enathpaneah, walking out of the desert. They kill every man, woman, and child they find, burn every structure.

There were no innocents. This was the secret they carried away from the desert.

All were guilty.

They wander in scattered bands, marked by the horrors they suffered. “And their swords were their judgments.” Approximately 300,000 marched into the desert, 3/5ths combatants. 100,000 marched out. Almost all combatants. None of the Great had died despite the high casualty rate. “Death had drawn circles, each more narrow than the last, taking the slaves and the camp-followers, then the indentured caste-menial soldiers, and so on. Life had been rationed according to caste and station.”

For generations the Khirgwi would call their route saka’ilrait, “the Trail of Skulls.”

The desert road had sharpened their souls into knives. The Men of the Tusk would lay the keel of another road, just as appalling, and far more furious.

Late Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

Achamian wonders how long he’s been tortured. But he couldn’t be broken. Not because of his own strength, but Seswatha. At Dagliash, Seswatha had been tortured by the Consult, and the Scarlet Spire were amateurs. Despite their “merciless cunning,” the Scarlet Spire have never realized they tortured two souls, and Seswatha was forever out of their reach.

Whatever they do, I remain untouched. The heart of the great tree never burns. The heart of a great tree never burns.

Two men, like a circle and its shadow. The torture, the Cants of Compulsion, the narcotics—everything had failed because there were two men for them to compel, and the one, Seswatha, stood far outside the circle of the present. Whatever the affliction, no matter how obscene, his shadow whispered, But I’ve suffered more…

Time passes. Iyokus brings out a man (Xinemus), badly tortured, begging Achamian to tell them. Iyokus talks about treading new ground while Xinemus howls about being able to take no more. Iyokus explains how Xinemus came to rescue Achamian, and that’s when the sorcerer realizes who the broken man is. Iyokus wants to find out how far Achamian’s indifference will go. Achamian can only watch as Xinemus is blinded, his eyes gouged out by a Javreh soldier. As Achamian cries out in pained horror, Seswatha whispers in his soul: “I know not this man.”

Iyokus tells Achamian, speaking Schoolman to Schoolman, that Achamian will never leave alive, but Xinemus can. If Achamian cooperates. Iyokus gives his word. Achamian believes him. But Seswatha doesn’t care. Iyokus sees it, decrying Achamian’s “fanatic stubbornness.” He gives the order.

“Nooooo!” a piteous voice howled.

A stranger convulsed in sightless agony, soiling himself.

I know not this man.

A nameless cat is prowling an ally for food, noting how it was five years old but had never eaten humans until recently. “Every day, with the piety born of his blood, he padded, crept, and prowled along the same circuit.” Today, he has found something new. He isn’t hungry (especially since it doesn’t have blood), just curious about it. The cat attacks, leaping on the Wathi doll. That was a mistake. The Wathi doll kills the cat, tasting its blood.

Late Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Caraskand

Caraskand is a city that sits on the route linking the lands sound of the desert to Shigek and Nansur. It started as a waystation, and for thousands of years had seen all manner of trade goods move north and south. It grew over the centuries, once even ruling its own small empire. Triamis I (greatest of the Ceneian Aspect-Emperors) raised her walls. Now Caraskand is a great city like Momemn. She is also a proud city.

Proud cities do not yield.

The citizens are scared. The Holy War survived despite the Padirajah’s proclamation, and they were here, “no longer a terrifying rumour from the north.” Day by day, they see the smoke of burning villages come closer, the stream of refuges growing larger. Panic seized the city, and Imbeyan the All-Conquering, could not calm them. After all, Imbeyan had fled after the defeat at Anwurat and 3/4th of Enathpaneah’s Grandees lay dead. People speak of the Holy War’s figures in frightened tones: Saubon the blond beast, Conphas the tactician who destroyed the Scylvendi, Athjeäri the wolf, the Scarlet Spire who routed the Cishaurim, and Kellhus the Demon False Prophet. Despite the fear, they don’t talk of surrender. Few flee. They know they have to resist. It is the will of the Solitary God. You didn’t flee your father’s punishment.

To be punished was the lot of the faithful.

They crowded the interiors of their grand tabernacles. They wept and prayed, for themselves, for their possessions, for their city.

The Holy War was coming…

Late Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

Achamian has been hanging for a while and didn’t even realize Iyokus was there until he spoke. Iyokus talks to him about the Holy War’s current state, telling of how the Padirajah had made plans in case he lost the Battle of Anwurat (a sign of intelligence). He has used the desert as a weapon, saying how the assumption the Kianene fleet would lose against the Empire’s was in error. They used the Cishaurim to destroy the Imperial fleet. Achamian asks about the Holy war.

“Nearly destroyed. Innumerable dead lie across the sands of Khemema.”

Esmenet? He hadn’t thought her name for a long while. In the beginning, it had been a refuge for him, reprieve in the sweet sound of a name, but once they brought Xinemus to their sessions, once they started using his love as an instrument of torment, he’d stopped thinking of her. He’d withdrawn from all love…

To things more profound.

Iyokus says that the Scarlet Spire have losses and his mission is being recalled. Achamian asks what the means for him while thinking about Esmenet. Iyokus says Achamian’s torment is over. Then, after hesitating, adds that he was against seizing you. He has done this before, and knows it to be futile and distasteful. Iyokus further adds he believes that Achamian is being truthful when he says the skin-spy wasn’t Cishaurim. Achamian says Iyokus will know it for truth one day.

“Perhaps. Perhaps… But for now, my Grandmaster has decided these spies must be Cishaurim. One cannot substitute legends for what is known.”

“You substitute what you fear for what you don’t know, Iyokus.” Iyokus regarded him narrowly, as though surprised that one so helpless, so degraded, could still say fierce things. “Perhaps. But regardless, our time together is at an end. Even now we make preparations to join our brethren Beyond Khemema…”

Achamian has a moment of insight, realizing Iyokus was anxious. Then Iyokus, admitting that though religion isn’t a big deal for sorcerers, he is giving Achamian the courtesy to prepare himself for death. In a few days, he and Xinemus both will be executed. Though the words were strange, Achamian recognizes Iyokus isn’t saying this to be cruel. Achamian asks if Iyokus will tell Xinemus as well.

The translucent face turned to him sharply, but then unaccountably softened. “I suppose I will,” Iyokus said. “He at least might be assured a place in the Afterlife…”

The sorcerer turned, then strode pale into the blackness. A distant door opened onto an illuminated corridor, and Achamian glimpsed the profile of Iyokus’s face. For an instant, he looked like any other man.

Achamian thought of swaying breasts, the kiss of skin to skin in lovemaking.

Survive, sweet Esmi. Survive me.

Late Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Caraskand

The Holy War begins gathering around Caraskand “flushed by their atrocities.” Unlike Shigek, Caraskand defends her walls. The siege begins, surviving priests gathering the faithful, the Names hold councils and “the investiture of Caraskand was planned.” Proyas parlays with Imbeyan, demanding the city’s surrenders. He promises to spare lives of Imbeyan’s family and of the citizens. Imbeyan laughs at him, claiming “what the desert had started, the stubborn walls of Caraskand would see completed.”

The siege begins, sappers building tunnels, siege engines built, outriders sent to scout and plunder the countryside. The Inrithi sing songs and priest lead processional marches around the city. The heathens mock from the walls.

For the first time in months, the Inrithi saw clouds, real clouds, curling through the sky like milk in water.

Talk buzzes at the Holy War’s campfires, turning from tales of the desert towards their goal of Shimeh. Caraskand is seen as the gateway to the Sacred Lands. They were close, saying “After Caraskand, we shall cleanse Shimeh.” Saying the name rekindled their fervor. In the hills, the masses gather to hear Kellhus’s sermons. They believe he delivered them from the desert. Thousands become his Zaudunyani. The Nobles begin to fear Kellhus, realizing he now commands a large host, as big as any of theirs. It begins to rain as the Holy War prepares their siege. Fast floods drown men. Sapper tunnels collapse. The earth becomes muddy. The winter rains had come.

The first man to die of the plague was a Kianene captive. Afterward his body was launched from a catapult over the city’s walls—as would be those who followed.

Late Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

Mamaradda, the Javreh Captain, decides to kill Achamian first. He finds killing a sorcerer to be thrilling, even arousing. He didn’t connect this to him being a slave for sorcerers. He enters the chapel where Achamian hangs, the man swaying back and forth. Then he hears scraping.

He saw something small crouched at the edge of the Circle… A cat? Scratching to bury piss? He swallowed, squinted. The rapid scrape-scrape-scrape whined bright in his ears, as though someone filed his teeth with a rusty knife. What?

It was a tiny man, he realized. A tiny men bent over the Uroborian Circle, scraping at the arcane paint…

A doll?

Mamaradda goes for his knife, seized by terror. Achamian looks at him, the circle now broken. Sorcerous lights explode around Mamaradda. He flinches and then its gone. He’s untouched. Then he remembers that he holds a Chorae and laughs. The tripods lighting the room are knocked over, burning coals spill across his face, into his mouth. In pain, he drops his Chorae. His heart explodes, his body ripped asunder by Achamian’s sorcery.

Vengeance roamed the halls of the compound—like a God.

And he [Achamian] sang his song with a beast’s blind fury, parting walls from foundation, blowing ceiling into sky, as though the works of men were things of sand.

And when he found them, cowering beneath their Analogies, he sheared through their Wards like a rapist through a cotton shift. He beat them with hammering lights, held their shrieking bodies as though they were curious things, the idiot thrashing of an insect between thumb and forefinger…

Death came swirling down.

Achamian feels them scrambling to organize a defense. He knows they feel the horror of the guilty as he kills them. He destroys cohorts of Javreh. When he feels a Chorae approach, he brings the building down on them. He laughs, almost drunk with mad destruction. He “spoke to the two Scarlet Magi who assailed him, uttered intimate truths, Fatal abstractions.” He kills them and keeps going.

Seswatha was free, and he walked the ways of the present bearing tokens of ancient doom.

He would show them the Gnosis.

When Iyokus feels the first tremble through the palace, he knows what it means. He thinks of Eleäzaras, remembering how he said this would go badly. He only has six other Schoolmen with him and 250 Javreh, all scattered through the compound. After the Sareotic Library, he was no longer convinced it was enough to deal with a Mandate sorcerer even if they were prepared.

We’re doomed.

Over the long years of his life, the chanv had rendered his passions as colourless as his kin. What he felt now was more the memory of a passion rather than the passion itself. A memory of fear.

But he has hope. There are 12 Chorae here, plus himself. Out of envy for the Gnosis, Iyokus had studied the “great labyrinth” or sorcery, going down the forbidden branch of Daimos. He wonders how the “War-Cants of the Ancient North” would do against it. He summons Ciphrang, a type of demon.

From the safety of his circle of symbols, Iyokus gazed in wonder at the sheeted lights of the Outside. He looked upon a writhing abomination, scales like knives, limbs like iron pillars…

“Does it hurt?” he asked against the thunder of its wail.

What hast thou done, mortal?

Ankaryotis, a fury of the deep, a Ciphrang summoned from the Abyss.

“I have bound you!”

Thou art damned! Dost thou not recognize he who shall keepeth thee for Eternity?

A demon…

“Either way,” Iyokus cried, “such is my fate!”

Achamian bellows for Iyokus, killing Javreh as he searches the palace. Dust billows as he destroys walls and brings down the ceiling. He hears Iyokus laugh, finds him surrounded by wards. Iyokus attacks, distracting him as the demon attacks. It crashes into Achamian’s wards, perching on it, hitting them. With each blow, Achamian coughs blood. He uses an Odaini Concussion Cant to throw the Ciphrang back, then searches for Iyokus. But he’s running. Achamian sends a spell after, destroying a wall. But the demon attacks again.

Achamian charred its crocodile hide, ribboned its otherworldly flesh, smote its elephantine skull with ponderous cudgels of stone, and it bled fire from a hundred wounds. But still it refused to fall. It howled obscenities that cracked rock and rifled the ground with chasms. More floors collapsed, and they grappled through dark cellars made bright by flickering fury.

Sorcerer and demon.

Unholy Ciphrang, a tormented soul thrust into the agony of the World, harnessed by words like a lion by strings, yoked to the task that would see it freed.

Achamian endured its unearthly violence, heaped injury after injury upon its agony.

And in the end it grovelled beneath his song, cringed like a beaten animal, then faded into the blackness…

Achamian walks naked through the ruins “a husk animated by numb purpose.” He passes the corpses of those he kills. He finally finds Xinemus chained and sitting in his own filth weeping that he can’t see. He grabs Achamian’s cheeks.

“I’m so sorry, Akka. I’m so sorry…”

But the only words Achamian could remember were those that killed.

That damned.

When they finally hobbled from the ruined compound of the Scarlet Spires into the alleys of Iothiah, the astonished onlookers—Shigeki, armed Kerathotics, and the few Inrithi who garrisoned the city—gaped in both wonder and horror. But they dared not ask them anything. Nor did they follow the two men as they shuffled into the darkness of the city.

My Thoughts

Firstly, let’s talk about the passage of time. It jumped from Early Autumn to Late Autumn from the last chapter to this. As near as I can tell, Bakker uses (as an example) Early Autumn, Mid Autumn, and Late Autumn to give time. It seems that indicates a three month season, following our own twelve month calendar. It implies that it’s been two months of wondering in the desert for the Holy War. We could be charitable and say it was the end of the first autumn month and now the start of the third, so a month and a week. But what about Xinemus? He’s captured in early autumn and only appears to Achamian in late autumn. I can’t believe Iyokus would wait more than a month to use Xinemus against Achamian. A few days of torture to break the Marshal at most. Still seems a little too long. But Bakker might not be as anal about tracking dates in his fiction as I am.

When we last left off the Holy War, dehydration had caused everyone to become selfish, to stop helping loved ones, save for Kellhus carrying Serwë. But we now see at least one other person held on, Cnaiür revealing the fact he likes Proyas as much as he tried to pretend he didn’t.

We see what the desert did to the men of the Holy War. They killed slaves and camp followers, they abandoned their loved ones so they could survive. They had suffered and been so warped and are still in that survival mode. No room for compassion.

Let’s do some math on the numbers given. If 3/5ths of 300,000 souls of the Holy War were were warriors, then there was 180,000 combatants. So 120,000 were camp followers. Let’s say most of the 100,000 who survived means some 5,000 camp followers lived (5% of the total survivors, all wives, priests, or useful craftsmen). That means 48% of the combatants (85,000) perished in the march and 96% (115,000) of the camp followers.

Then we have the interesting quote about the Khirgwi finding skulls for generations? Is this a subtle clue from Bakker that the world isn’t going to be destroyed at the end of the series? There’s only been a generation between this series and the Aspect-Emperor. It seems to indicate that the Consult’s current bid, the Second Apocalypse, would have to be thwarted for this line to be possible for generations to continue on finding skulls.

It is so sad seeing Xinemus broken by torture.

And Seswatha does not give a fuck. This is a powerful protection for the Gnosis. That could be Esmenet there and Achamian would be unable to give away the power. I really, really want to know what happens in that later scene when Kellhus hypnotized Achamian and spoke to Seswatha!

And hi Wathi doll. I see you’re on the move. And Bakker, not only gives us some cat motivation, reminds us that, yes, curiosity did indeed kill the cat.

Then Bakker drops off into the historical, describing the history, and giving us some of its geography, of the city that the climax of the novel will inhabit.

Hey, they heard of Kellhus. And the way the Holy War has operated thus far, I’d be terrified too of they showed up.

To be punished is the lot of the faithful. Very true. If you know any devout Christians, there is a streak of persecution complex in them. They expect the world to oppress them, giving proof of their belief that all men are evil and that the world conspires to destroy God’s plans.

The Padishah is a smart guy to plan for defeats. And using Cishaurim on the Nansur fleet was briliant. There would be no defenses for the fleet. All the Chorae would be with the Holy War, and besides, that wouldn’t stop boats from being ripped apart, just let you live so you could drown in the waters. What a battle that must have been.

If you’re wondering how Iyokus could know so much about what has happened to the Holy War in the desert when it would be impossible for them to send messengers back across the waste, it’s simple: sorcerers can communicate through their dreams. We know the Mandate and the Imperial Saik do this, so there’s no reason the Scarlet Spire don’t know this as well. (And I believe in the third book, Conphas compromises the Scarlet Spire Magi that’s being used to keep track of what he’s up through dreams).

Of course Achamian retreated from love. He had to to survive. Like the men in the desert abandoning wives and brothers. He was forced into an animal-like situation, forced to become one to live. And for what? Nothing. The Scarlet Spire got nothing out of him. It was all so pointless.

Politics always get in the way of the truth. Truth can be an inconvenient for any movement, really, whether social, religious, or political.

Iyokus shows some compassion here. He truly did not want to hurt Achamian, he objected to this from the beginning. But he follows orders and does distasteful tasks. And note the bitterness of knowing you are damned and there is nothing to be done about it. Is it any wonder some men sided with the Inchoroi and formed the consult?

Investiture of Caraskand. Such an interesting choice of word. It means to invest a person with a high rank or honor. Also, the action of putting on clothing or robes. And yet Bakker is using here to mean to conquer the city. Why? Because the Holy War is about to “honor” the city with Inrithism and robe her in fanatic violence.

Throwing plagued bodies into a city has been done in our world. The Ottomans through plagued bodies over the walls in their conquest of Asia Minor. This helped to spread the Black Death through Europe. It’s a harsh method of warfare.

Weather is such an important influence in warfare. Never forget about it if you’re writing it. Weather can be a foe or a blessing for the various sides.

Achamian used indirect attacks on the Javreh, knocking over the tripods. Sorcery can’t touch you if you hold a Chorae, but that won’t stop a sorcerer from using the magic to throw something at your or drop a roof on your head.

In Achamian’s escape, Bakker shows us just how outmatched the Angogic sorceries are for the Gnosis. They overpowered Achamian the first time because they were prepared and the building collapsed on him. This time, he is hitting them before they can react. And it’s savage, brutal, and Bakker doesn’t shy away from that in his language used.

We see again how Bakker shows Chorae as having gravity that distorts the “fabric of the onta,” what the sorcerers see, how they mark the world and each other. If Chorae are black holes, then it makes sense how they negate sorcery. The sorcery falls into the Chorae. It so warps the fabric of the onta, there is no path for the sorcery to travel but into the Chorae. In a black hole, every direction you travel (up, down, right, left) will lead you to the black hole’s center.

Love how Achamian “spoke to the two Scarlet Magi.” He’s just having a debate with them, but his arguments have physical consequences, and they just don’t have the education to deal with his rhetoric.

And we see that Achamian is so broken, he’s let Seswatha out, either the soul of Seswatha is in control as we saw during the interrogations, or that Achamian is imagining himself as Seswatha, either consciously or because of his exhaustion and disorientation.

An interesting conversation between Iyokus and the Ciphrang. The demon chastises him for this. And we get confirmation that, yes, if you summon a demon, you get to be tortured by said demon for eternity. But Iyokus, resigned to eternal damnation, doesn’t care. He just wants to live a little longer. After all, he wants to put off death for as long as possible. (We see this later with the Nonmen in The Great Ordeal).

A sorcerer fighting a flaming demon while they fall. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it.

Well, Iyokus, looks like Gnosis trumps Daimos. Though it bought Iyokus the time to flee.

And then we get the sadness of the broken Xinemus, begging for Achamian’s forgiveness. He’s been compulsed, and as we later learn, that is a terrible thing to do to someone. When you make a person do something with compulsion, they believe they did it willingly. Since Bakker is describing a fully materialistic universe in which free will is an illusion, and that everything a human does is caused by stimuli that has shaped that person from birth, So when you violate that causality and insert an artificial effect on a person, the illusion of free will still makes a person feel like what they did was of their own volition. And what the Scarlet Spire forced Xinemus to do has broken him utterly.

Achamian is free. He’ll be heading back to Esmenet and we’ll see just how good Kellhus is at manipulating people.

Click here for the next chapter!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Eighteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Third March
Chapter 18
Khemema

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

To piss across water is to piss across your reflection

KHIRGWI PROVERB

My Thoughts

So the Khirgwi are the desert nomads (who dwell in the very desert the Holy War is about to cross) and befouling water is such a taboo in such a harsh place. If they’re like Bedouin in the real world, then oasis would even be places were fighting wouldn’t happen, set aside because of the sacredness of water. So to piss in water, to them, is to soil their lives, to make things worse for themselves. Like the phrase never piss upwind in our own culture.

And so to see them poison water shows how desperate they are to stop the Holy War. They are, literally, pissing on themselves because survival has driven them so far.

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Southern Shigek

The Holy War heads south into “the furnace plains of the Carathay Desert.” A place called the “Great Thirst” by the Khirgwi. On the first night camping, Athjeäri returns with his men from scouting, all exhausted and dehydrated. All they found were polluted waters. The heat forced them to travel by night. But the Great Names believe the pack mules and Emperor’s fleet would keep them watered. Athjeäri is not convinced. The next evening, the Holy War marches with their camp-followers, people making jokes about marching at night.

The Khirgwi raid them around midnight, charging on camels and “bearing the truth of the Solitary God and His Prophet on the edges of sharp knives.” They hit the supply train, slicing open bladders of water then retreat. The Holy War continues on, meeting up with the Nansur fleet, getting fresh water. By night, they attacked by the Khirgwi in bloody raids.

On the seventh day, the Imperial fleet fails to arrive at the next rendezvous. A council is called, and Conphas is accused of betraying them until he points out that, he, too is stuck in the desert without water. So the Holy War waits a night and a day. The fleet doesn’t arrive. Conphas argues a squall might have put them off course, but Kellhus says the Kianene had waited until now to unleash their fleet. The desert is a trap they marched into.

Two days later, the bulk of the Greater and Lesser Names accompanied the mule trains across the hills to the sea, and stared dumbfounded by its empty beauty. When they returned form the hills, they no longer walked apart from the desert. Sun, stone, and sand beckoned to them.

Water was rationed by caste, severely. People were executed for hoarding. Conphas suggests heading for Subis, an oasis too big to poison. He says they can reach it, but only if they abandon the mules, slaves, and camp-followers. Proyas asks how. The Holy War kills them. Slaves, whores, merchants, and slavers. Only priests, wives, and useful tradesmen were spared.

That night the Inrithi marched blank-eyed through what seemed a cooling oven—away from the horror behind them, toward the promise of Subis… Men-at-arms, warhorses, and hearts had become beasts of burden.

When the Khirgwi found the fields of heaped bodies and strewn belongings, they fell to their knees and cried out in exultation to the Solitary God. The trial of the idolaters had begun.

The Holy War breaks apart while marching south and hundreds are killed by the Khirgwi raiders. The Great and Lesser Names grow desperate the next day. They know water has to be out there. The Khirgwi must get it form some where. So their scouts, like Athjeäri, head off to find them and “disappeared into the wavering distances.” Only Detnammi and his men don’t return. The rest were driven back by the Khirgwi and the heat. Worse, they found no wells, the desert featureless to the.

The water has almost runs out before Subis is reached. Horses are now butchered save those belonging to the Great Names. The Cengemi footmen mutiny, wanting all horses slaughtered. They want water shared equally. They are put down. Dehydration grows worse. Men die. Others don’t even notice attacks, stumbling in a fugue. Subis becomes a name of hope, more so than God. Another day and still they haven’t reached it. People mistake mirages for it, racing out into the desert until they die.

Subis… A lover’s name.

The Men of the Tusk stumbled down long, flinty slopes, filed between sandstone outcroppings that resembled towering mushrooms on thin stems. They climbed mountainous dunes.

The village looked like a many-chambered fossil unearthed by the wind. The deep green and sun silver of the oasis beckoned with its impossibility…

Subis.

The Men of the Tusk charge at the oasis, passing the abandoned village, and in the oasis, dead and bloating, they find the missing Detnammi and all five hundred of his men. The Khirgwi had found a way to poison Subis. But the Holy War didn’t care. They drank the befouled water, throwing up, and then drinking more. Hundreds were crushed in the rush, more hundreds drowning. The Great Names struggled to restore order. The bodies were removed, water distributed. Detnammi and his men were denied funeral rites for riding straight here to save themselves. Chepheramunni, King-Regent of High Ainon, posthumously strips the man of his rank.

Their thirst satiated, the Holy War begins to worry about disease. Cultic physician-priests of Akkeägni (the god of pestilence) warn of the symptoms to come but can’t do much more than pray, having abandoned their pharmaka. Soon, everyone is sick, from mild chills to diarrhea and vomiting. The Great Names know they can’t reach Enathpaneah without the fleet. Scouts are sent to the coast to find it. They don’t. Conphas and Saubon come to blows often, the rumors of the Empire’s betrayal growing. With no other choice, the Holy War continue marching south.

Either way, Prince Kellhus said, the God would see to them.

The Men of the Tusk abandoned Subis the following evening, their waterskins brimming with polluted water. Several hundred, those too sick to walk, remained behind, waiting for the Khirgwi.

The sickness spreads. Those without friends are abandoned to await the Khirgwi. The army shuffles. They now say Enathpaneah like they had Subis. Diarrhea kills the most, dehydrating them more than their ration replenishes. Proyas appears impossibly strong, walking and letting his horse die of thirst, refusing to water it while his men died.

Followed by two beautiful women, Prince Kellhus spread words of strength. They didn’t merely suffer, he told men, they suffered for… For Shimeh. For the Truth. For the God! And to suffer for the God was to secure glory in the Outside. Many would be broken in this furnace, that was true, but those who survived would know the temper of their own hearts They would be, he claimed, unlike other men. They would be more…

The Chosen.

Men follow him everywhere, begging for his attention. Only he can laugh and give thanks. His words were like water. On the third night, he orders his Zaudunyani to dig in a certain spot. Ultimately, they dig fourteen shallow pools of muddy water that “were sweet, and unfouled by the taste of dead men.” The Great Names find Kellhus laughing, standing in water, handing it out, saying “The God Showed me!” They Holy War digs more wells, find more waters. They spend several days here, letting the sickest recover while the Great Names argue over Kellhus. “The desert, Ikurei Conphas warned, had made a False Prophet of Fane as well.”

The Khirgwi think the Holy War has given up, waiting to die. They attack and are slaughtered. Entire tribes are eradicated. The survivors flee. But food has finally run out for the Holy War. With full waterskins, they march once more. But now they sing hymns, many to the Warrior-Prophet. They march “unconquered and defiant.” So far, the Holy War had lost 1/3 of its soldiers since they left Momemn.

Evening of the second day, they see clouds. They realize it is a sandstorm. Their flimsy tents rae blown away and they have to endure it. Hundreds are found buried when it’s over while others were left “wandering like stunned children” across the changed desert. Losing many shelters to the storm, they are forced to march because they have no protection against the sun. Arguments on which way to march are held, some wanting to return to Kellhus’s wells, but Conphas points out they’re likely buried. He claims they are within two days of water. Kellhus agrees with him, which surprises some. They continue marching for Enathpaneah.

Water is rationed. Dehydration sets in. The last of the horses die. Gothyelk collapses and his sons carry him, sharing their water with him. When night falls, they keep marching, stumbling. The cool night air doesn’t bring relief. No one talks. “They formed an endless procession of silent wraiths, passing across Carathay’s folds.” Soon, the Holy War loses its discipline, units breaking apart into solitary wanders.

The morning sun was a shrill rebuke, for still the desert had not ended. The Holy War had become an army of ghosts. Dead and dying men lay scattered in their thousands behind it, and as the sun rose still more fell. Some simply lost the will, and fell seated in the dust, their thoughts and bodies buzzing with thirst and fatigue. Others pressed themselves until they’re wracked bodies betrayed them. They struggled feebly across the sand, waving their heads like worms, perhaps croaking for help, for succor.

But only death would come swirling down.

Men are dying. They aren’t thinking any longer, just walking. Family bonds are broken as loved ones are abandoned. “Each man had become a solitary circle of misery that walked and walked.” Everything is gone, even the voice of Kellhus. They only had the trial. And they died in the thousands.

Esmenet stumbles as she walks beside Kellhus. He is carrying Serwë in his arms. Esmenet finds that so triumphant. Then he stops. She sways and grows dizzy, but he helps her. She wants to lick her lips, but her tongue is too swollen. And he grins at her, somehow healthy.

He leaned back and cried out to the hazy roll and pitch of distant green, to the wandering crease of a flashing river. And his words resounded across the compass of the horizon.

“Father! We come, Father!”

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

Xinemus and his two loyal men, Dinch and Zenkappa, are hiding the corpse of a Javreh, the slave soldiers who guard the Scarlet Spire. Xinemus is annoyed by Dinch and Zenkappa’s joking banter, not taking their missions seriously. It hurts him to realize they don’t care about Achamian’s life.

But if they failed to grasp the importance of their task, they were well aware of its lethality. To skulk like thieves among armed men was harrowing enough, but in the midst of the Scarlet Spires…

Both were frightened, Xinemus realized—thus the forced humour and empty bravado.

They are stalking through the Scarlet Spire base in Iothiah, the palace of a dead Ceneian Governor, to rescue Achamian and “undo what I’ve done.” They are hoping it is nearly empty with the Holy War marching into the desert, those remaining unable to properly defend such a huge place. Xinemus hopes Achamian is here, reckoning they wouldn’t have taken them south. “The road was no place to interrogate a Mandate sorcerer, especially when one marched with a prince such as Proyas.” He finds it heartening that they had left some behind.

If he [Achamian] wasn’t here, then he was very likely dead.

He’s here! I feel it!

Xinemus clutches his Chorae as if it “were holier than the small golden Tusk that clicked at its side.” He had two others, which he gave to his men. It is why he hasn’t attempted this with more of his men. He hopes that the sorcerers are asleep and they can creep in and out. He reminds his men that the Chorae must touch bare flesh, to hold them in fists. He expects wards to guard the place.

They enter the palace through the stables, finding a maze of empty rooms and hallways. Sometimes they hear voices and they hide. They pass sleeping slaves. “Each door they opened seemed hinged upon a precipice: either Achamian or certain death lay on the far side.” They gambled over and over while fearing the Scarlet Spire.

After some time, Xinemus began to feel bold. Was this how a thief or a rat felt, prowling at the edges of what others could see or know? There was exhilaration, and strangely enough, comfort in lurking unseen in the marrow of your enemy’s bones. Xinemus was overcome by a sudden certainty:

We’re going to do this! We’re going to save him!

Dinch suggests searching the cellars, reasoning if they’re torturing him, it’ll muffle his screams. Xinemus hates the thought but sees its logic. They descend “into pitch blackness” They’re blind, huddled close together, and then see a moving light. They spot a sorcerer ahead with an arcane candle. Their fear swells. The sorcerer pauses, looking in their direction like he had smelled something. But then he scowls and walks on, not seeing them in the dark. Xinemus wants to follow him.

Witnessing the face, the sorcerous light, now made their every step sing with peril. The only thing keeping Dinchases and Zenkappa behind him, Xinemus knew, was a loyalty that transcended fear of death. But here, in this place, in the bowels of the Scarlet Spire stronghold, that loyalty was being tested as it had never been tested before, even in the heart of their desperate battles. Not only did they gamble with the obscenely unholy, there were no rules here, and this, added to mortal fear, was enough to break any man.

They reach a door. They open It quietly and enter a large room, feeling as though “they were entombed in dread night.” They enter it when a voice speaks out that still there hearts: “But this will not do.” Light erupts around them. They are surrounded by a dozen Javreh, half with aimed crossbows, and all armed and armored.

Stunned, his thoughts reeling in panic, Xinemus lowered his father’s great sword.

We’re undone…

There are three Scarlet Magi, including the one they spotted. Their leader (Iyokus) admonishes Xinemus and his men while the marshal frantically thinks of a way out. Iyokus revels it was the Chorae that betrayed them since sorcerers can feel them. Sounding defiant, Xinemus demands to know where Achamian is.

“Wrong question, my friend. If I were you, I should rather ask, ‘What have I done?’”

Xinemus felt a flare of righteous anger. “I’m warning you, sorcerer. Surrender Achamian.”

“Warn me?” Droll laughter. The man’s cheeks fluted like fish gills. “Unless you’re speaking o inclement weather, Lord Marshal, I think there’s very little you could warn me about. Your Prince has marched into the wastes of Khemema. I assure you, you’re quite alone here.”

“But I still bear his writ.”

“No, you don’t. You were stripped of your rank and station. But either way, the fact is you trespass, my friend. We Schoolmen look very seriously upon trespass, and care nothing for the writ of Princes.”

Humid dread. Xinemus felt his hackles rise. This had been a fool’s errand.

But my path is righteous…

Iyokus orders them to drop their trinkets. With the crossbows aimed at them, they have no choice. They surrender. Then Iyokus consumes Dinch and Xinemus in sorcerous fires. Xinemus is thrown to his knees by the heat. Their shrieks die, leaving only burning heaps behind.

On his knees, Xinemus stared at the two fires. Without knowing, he’d brought his hands up to cover his ears.

My path…

Xinemus is seized by the Javreh, forced to face Iyokus. He reveals he knows that Xinemus is Achamian’s closest friend. He realizes he’ll be tortured to hurt Achamian and that he has failed his friend again. Iyokus continues, saying Achamian has been telling lies, so they want to know what he has told Xinemus. Then they’ll see if Achamian will surrender the Gnosis. “If he values knowledge over life and love…”

The translucent face paused, as though happening across a delicious thought.

“You’re a pious man, Marshal. You already know what it means to be an instrument of truth, no?”

Yes. He knew.

To suffer.

At the destroyed Library of the Sareots, Achamian’s Wathi Doll escapes the ruins. It had taken weeks for it to find its way free. But now it has a mission. “Someone had spoken its name.”

My Thoughts

Got to love Bakker’s description of the desert, starting off, of course, with something as crass as dung beetles and the mirth they bring.

The Kianene plan is great. They are using the terrain to their advantage. The Carathay has to be crossed. There aren’t enough ships to transport around, and that’s dangerous anyways. And now the Holy War is trapped. They wait until they are seven days in before attacking the Nansur fleet. They can either march back, losing many, or press on, losing more but hoping they will find something, water, hope, the fleet.

Either way, the Kianene benefit.

It’s a brutal decision to save the holy war. To put to death all those camp followers (including those friendly whores Esmenet knew). It is a terrible decision. A horrible one. But they are seven days into the desert. They wouldn’t have made it back to Shigek alive with all those people. The entire Holy War would perish. Morality vanishes when survival is at stake.

Bakker describing the thirst is so powerful, especially the apathy as they near death. Not even caring when they’re being attacked. Their bodies are giving out beneath the desert. Things are so dire. Even though Bakker is writing this part in his remote, historical style, you can still feel the emotion, the stakes of everything. You don’t get insight from any POV characters, but you can imagine how Esmenet, Serwë, Proyas, Cnaiür, and even Conphas are suffering. You wonder how badly is affecting Kellhus. After all, he’s still human. He needs water. Even his will and breeding will give out.

Hi Chepheramunni. Haven’t heard your name in a while. And that’s about to be important. This is very clever on Bakker’s part. He gives us this Ainoni nobleman, Detnammi, as a scout, shows us how humans can be so selfish in survival situation by having him abandon his duty and heading for Subis. This greed only further harms the Holy War. And then Bakker can use Detnammi’s posthumous punishment to remind us about the ceremonial Chepheramunni again without arousing any curious eyebrows. Of course, Chepheramunni would denounce such a traitor. The Holy War’s hope was taken away from them by Detnammi. It hits Bakker’s themes on human behavior and acts as a reminder to readers about a minor character about to have more of an impact on the plot. This is great writing, accomplishing so much with one little plot line.

The God would not be satisfied.” That is a curious line Bakker drops here about Akkeägni and how he’ll now inflict pestilence. It’s such a bleak look at the gods. The Cultic priests seem to have a real good grasp on the gods on how evil they truly are. We see this in the second series with the high priestess of Yatwar (Blanking on her name) and the information Kellhus uncovers venturing into the outside. When Fane called the Gods demons, he was absolutely right.

Marching into the desert with poisoned water is not great. Vomiting and diarrhea just dehydrate you faster, forcing you to drink more befouled water. And yet what choice do you have? You’ll definitely die without it. This is the crucible that shapes the Holy War into the fanatical army that follows Kellhus in the end. This makes brothers out them all.

And more references to the Nail of Heaven. Really want to know what this is and why it’s in a stationary position over the North Pole. There is one reference in the Great Ordeal to it arriving three years ahead of the Inchoroi crashing onto the planet. Is it a satellite? How’d they get it in a stationary position? In real world physics, a satellite can only be in a Geo-stationary orbit over the equator.

Good for Proyas. He is, mostly, a good man, but one forced to do some bad things by politics and his faith.

Then we see Kellhus using this to his advantage, making all these promises about salvation, saying how they will be better than others, flattering their egos and making them more and more fanatical about him.

You can always count on Conphas not to buy Kellhus’s BS.

Losing only 1/3 of their fighting strength after two major battles and the march across the desert in impressive. Of course, the full numbers of the Holy War have lost far more with the death of the camp followers.

More powerful imagery from Bakker on the sandstorm attacking the Holy War. “A new calligraphy of dunes was scrawled about them.”

Love the imagery of the footmen kicking their lords dead horses. I would be pissed, too. Horses need more water a day than a human. Those men had friends that had died because those horses were watered. Bakker always keeps the human in his text.

The horror of the march only mounts. The dehydration, the death. Without shelter from the sun, they’re loosing even more now, baked. Thousands are dying instead of hundreds. They stop thinking, just marching. They’ve truly become animals know, the intellect vanished. Not even Kellhus is speaking. “Gone was the voice of the Warrior-Prophet.” Even bonds of love and family break now.

And, of course, the return of Bakker’s favorite phrase (or a variant): “But only death would come swirling down.

Esmenet finds the sight of Kellhus carrying Serwë triumphant because he is the only one left caring about anyone. As we see in the preceding paragraphs, husbands aren’t helping their wives, and men are abandoning their brothers. It’s all about saving yourself now. The animal has wholly taken over them, but he’s still carrying someone. To Esmenet, it’s an act of love.

A shame Kellhus is doing it for his plans. He needs Serwë. He knows the Circumfix is coming. He needs to have a wife to be killed as part of his test. And he can’t afford for that wife to be Esmenet. He’s saving Serwë’s life now to sacrifice her later.

Javreh come from the Sranc Pits. That sounds interesting. Are the Ainoni capturing Sranc or are the Javreh purchased from slavers that operate on the frontier. There’s a lot of weird stuff with the Ainoni, like the mysterious Chanv.

Humor probably came about in humans because of men hunting in the distant path. In dangerous situations, stalking prey with primitive weapons that forced them to get up close and risk life and limb, demanded human males work together instead of competing. And humor and joking banter is one of the ways that eases the tension, the stress, and breeds camaraderie. We still do it today.

Xinemus’s guilt is driving him to this act of bravery. You can almost feel his desperation. He’s sneaking into the Scarlet Spire’s nest with only two other guys. It’s foolish, he knows it, but he has to do it. He can’t let his friend rot. Xinemus is my favorite character in the series for a lot of reasons, but this is one of them.

Interesting that Bakker turns the Chorae into an instrument of faith, one more important in this moment to Xinemus than his actual symbol of faith. He knows the Chorae works to stop sorcery.

The exhilaration Xinemus feels sneaking through the palace is no doubt a mix of adrenaline and the fact he is growing used to stalking. And it is hard to fear what is familiar. As the fear dwindles, complacency grows, and thus a bold feeling. He’s realized he’s gone this far without getting caught, he’s figured out how to do this, and he has confidence. It’s a trap in situations like this.

And there’s the fear again when the spot the sorcerer. They are reminded of the true stakes. Complacency has fallen away. They all want to flee, but Xinemus is ignoring his survival instinct out of love and guilt for Achamian, and his two men are doing it out of love for Xinemus. This, right here, shows you so much of Xinemus’s character. He has earned these men’s love and loyalty. He didn’t buy it. He didn’t scare it out of them.

Iyokus describes Chorae in the way a scientist will often describe how gravity warps spacetime. That Chorae’s greater weight distorts the sheet of reality more and more.

And Xinemus is struck by such a profound lesson: just because what you are doing is good doesn’t mean you’ll prevail. In another story, Xinemus would find a clever way to escape, to cause a distraction, take down the Javreh, make the sorcerers flee because they have Chorae. But things don’t work like that in this story. Things are, sadly, far too realistic.

The crushing realization hits Xinemus. He has utterly failed. He has gotten his men killed and knows he and Achamian will both suffer for it. This is the last time we see Xinemus as that strong man. In many ways, he dies here but only he keeps living, broken, shattered, debased.

And worse, Bakker shows us Achamian’s true instrument of freedom breaking free of the library and coming to save him. The Wathi Doll. Xinemus could have done nothing and Achamian would have been freed.

Way to twist the knife, Bakker.

Through a tiny mine, whose only ore was the debris of knowledge.” What a sad line to read about the destruction of so much knowledge.

It was a short chapter, but a powerful one, from the suffering of the Holy War to the peril of Xinemus.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Nineteen!

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