Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 2: The Warrior Prophet
by R. Scott Bakker
The Third March
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
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…
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.
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?
“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.
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.
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.