Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 21
Caraskand

Welcome to Chapter Twenty-One of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Twenty!

And We will give over all of them, slain, to the children of Eänna; you shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire. You shall bathe your feet in the blood of the wicked.

TRIBES 21:13, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

My Thoughts

The Gods are promising vengeance on the enemies of their people. This is what the Holy War is doing to the Fanim. This is showing us how religion can be used to create such brutal, bloody wars and shows us how that what is happening in the present has happened into the past.

So for context, The Chronicle of the Tusk is the scriptures written around the Tusk, the giant mammoth tusk inscribed with words from the gods (but is actually from the Inchoroi manipulating the humans of Eänna to invade Eärwa and destroy the Nonmen). It resembles the Old Testament in that it appears both as a religious document and a historical document about the men of Eänna. Tribes refers to the five tribes of humans dwelling in Eänna: the Norsirai, the Ketyai, the Scylvendi, the Satyothi (found in southern Nilnamesh and Zeüm), and the Xiuhianni (who didn’t cross the mountains and still live in Eänna).

Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Caraskand

Saubon heads into Proyas’s camp full of elation. He believes Caraskand will be his, the kingdom he’s been craving since the Holy War began. He shouts for Proyas and is shocked when the Conryian prince pulls back his tent flap and reveals himself sick and shivering. Embarrassed, Saubon apologizes. He thought Proyas had recovered. Proyas says that by standing he proves his recovery, though he still is sick. He is impatient, wanting Saubon to come to the point and ask his one question.

Saubon wants to know if Proyas will support his bid to be king of Caraskand if he delivers the city. Proyas asks how. This makes Proyas become more lucid and attentive, a strength rising in him. He promises to support the bid.

Saubon raised his face and his arms to the menacing sky and howled out his battle cry. The rains plummeted upon him, rinsed him in soothing cold, fell between his lips and teeth and tasted of honey. He’d tumbled in the breakers of circumstance, so violently that mere months ago he’d thought he would die. Then he’d met Kellhus, the Warrior-Prophet, the man who’d set him onto the path toward his own heart, and he’d survived calamities that could break ten lesser men. And now this, the lifelong moment come at last. It seemed a giddy, impossible thing.

It seemed a gift.

Rain, so heartbreakingly sweet after Khemema. Beads pattered against his forehead, cheeks, and closed eyes. He shook water from his matted hair.

King… I will be King at last.

Proyas asks Cnaiür why he’s so silent. They’re in Proyas’s pavilion and Cnaiür realizes Proyas has been planning while convalescing. Cnaiür is confused by it, and Proyas points out how Cnaiür changed at Anwurat, wants to know what happened.

Proyas was still sick—grievously so, it appeared. He sat bundled beneath wool blankets in a camp chair, his normally hale face drawn and pale. In any other man, Cnaiür would have found such weakness disgusting, but Proyas wasn’t any other man. Over the months the young prince had come to command something troubling within him, a respect not fit for a fellow Scylvendi, let alone an outlander. Even sick he seemed regal.

He’s just another Inrithi dog!

Cnaiür says nothing. But Proyas presses, asking why he ran and disappeared. He doesn’t know what to say. To admit he went mad. He has spent nights trying to understand what had happened. He has memories of killing a skin-spy with Kellhus’s face, then the beach. “He could remember a thousand different things, but they all seemed stolen, like stories told by a childhood friend.”

Cnaiür had lived the greater part of his life with madness. He heard the way his brothers spoke, he understood how they thought, but despite endless recriminations, despite years of roaring shame, he couldn’t market hose words and thoughts his own. He was a fractious and mutinous soul. Always one thought, one hunger, too many! But no matter how far his soul wandered from the tracks of the proper, he’d always borne witness to its treachery—he’d always known the measure of his depravity. His confusion had been that of one who watches the madness of another. How? he would cry. How could these thoughts be mine?

He had always owned his madness.

But at Anwurat, that had changed. The watcher within h ad collapsed, and for the first time his madness had owned him. For weeks he’d been little more than a corpse bound to a maddened horse. How his soul had galloped!

Cnaiür questions how this is any of Proyas’s business since he’s not a client of Proyas. Proyas counters that he’s an important advisor especially with the loss of Xinemus. Cnaiür belittles himself, but is cut off when Proyas brings up Cnaiür saving him in the desert.

Cnaiür quashed the sudden yearning that filled him. For some reason, he missed the desert—far more than the Steppe. What was it? Was it the anonymity of footsteps, the impossibility of leaving track or trail? Was it respect? The Carathay had killed far more than he… Or had his heart recognized itself in her desolation.

So many cursed questions! Shut up! Shut—

Cnaiür says he saved Proyas to preserve his own station in the Holy War. He regrets the words, realizing it made him sound like he needed Proyas (the truth) as opposed to the dismissal he meant. Proyas looks frustrated then says Conphas called a secret meeting about Kellhus, which Cnaiür hadn’t heard of. Proyas asks if Cnaiür still speaks to Kellhus. He doesn’t. Proyas asks what happened. He says because of Serwë and memories of finding her beaten float up, puzzling him. He thinks of her as his mistake. He doesn’t understand why he took her with them after killing the Munuäti back in the Steppes. It was stupid to take her on the trail even with her beauty. She was a prize lesser chieftains would flaunt. And meanwhile, he was hunting Moënghus.

No. The answer was plain: he’d taken her because of Kellhus. Hadn’t he?

She was my proof.

Before finding her, he’d spent weeks alone with the man—weeks alone with a Dûnyain. Now, after watching the inhuman fiend devour heart after Inrithi heart, it scarcely seemed possible he’d survived. The bottomless scrutiny. The narcotic voice. The demonic truths… How could he not take Serwë after enduring such an ordeal? Besides beautiful she was simple, honest, passionate—everything Kellhus wasn’t. He warred against a spider. How could he not crave the company of flies?

Yes… That was it! He’d taken her as a landmark, as a reminder of what was human. He should’ve known she’d become a battleground instead.

He used her to drive me mad!

Proyas is shocked that it was a woman, that Cnaiür would be so caught up in her. This makes Cnaiür bristle. Proyas then comments about the madness about Kellhus. Though thousands flock to him, the man who knew him longest can’t stand him. Cnaiür reiterates because he stole his woman. Proyas asks if he loved Serwë. Cnaiür considers it. He knows that men beat their sons as proxies for their fathers, but why did they beat their wives. He wonders if he beat Serwë to bruise Kellhus.

Where Kellhus caressed, Cnaiür had slapped. Where Kellhus whispered, Cnaiür had screamed. The more the Dûnyain compelled love, the more he exacted terror, and without any true understanding of what he did. At the time, she simply deserved his fury. Wayward bitch! he would think. How could you? How could you?

Did he love her? Could he?

Perhaps in a world without Moënghus…

Cnaiür declares he owned her. Proyas asks if that’s it? Cnaiür nearly laughs, unable to express “the sum for what he felt.” Proyas is unnerved by Cnaiür’s silence. The Scylvendi responds with being offended by the interrogation. Proyas needs to know the truth. “What would these dogs make of the truth?” Cnaiür thinks. He asks which truth? Cnaiür can’t answer if Kellhus is a prophet. Proyas sits heavily in his chair. He had hoped Cnaiür could. But this isn’t the reason he summoned Cnaiür.

Cnaiür realizes Conphas has approached Proyas about moving against Kellhus. He finds himself wondering why he keeps lying for Kellhus since he doesn’t believe the Dûnyain will honor their agreement. “So just what did he believe?”

Proyas explains that Saubon has exchanged letters and hostages with a Kianene officer named Kepfet ab Tanaj. This man has a grudge against Imbeyan that he’s willing to offer up a section of wall near a postern gate to Saubon’s forces. Cnaiür is surprised Proyas wants his opinion after Anwurat. In fact, Proyas wants more than Cnaiür’s counsel. He wants Cnaiür to go with Saubon, which Cnaiür interprets as he’s the most expendable person Proyas trusts. But Proyas sees that realization and adds he would send Xinemus if he were still here.

Cnaiür studied him closely. “You fear this may be a trap… That Saubon might be deceived.”

Proyas chewed at the inside of his cheek, nodded. “An entire city for the life of one man? No hatred could be so great.”

Cnaiür did not bother contradicting him.

Cnaiür is moving along Caraskand’s walls with Saubon and his men, thinking about how he needs to be useful for Kellhus again, his madness lifting. Saubon grabs his shoulder, grinning. Cnaiür, though respecting Saubon’s fighting skill, doesn’t like or trust him. “The man had, after all, kenneled with the Dûnyain’s other dogs.” Saubon asks, as they are no on the wall, if Cnaiür still doubts him. Cnaiür never doubted Saubon, only Kepfet.”

The Galeoth Prince’s grin broadened. “Truth shines,” he said.

Cnaiür squashed the urge to sneer. “So do pigs’ teeth.”

He spat across the ancient stonework. There was no escaping the Dûnyain—not any more. It sometimes seemed the abomination spoke from every mouth, watched from all eyes. And it was only getting worse.

Something… There must be something I can do!

But Cnaiür has no idea. He knows their agreement was a farce, that Kellhus wouldn’t honor any agreement unless it served his mission. And Cnaiür squandered every tool he had. He didn’t even have his reputation after running at Anwurat. And then it hits him and he gasps aloud, Saubon shooting him a look of alarm. Cnaiür realizes he can keep his silence about Kellhus. The only thing he has left to trade to the Dûnyain.

Saubon leads the force onward. They creep along the battlement to the guard tower. Here they would learn if Kepfet really meant to betray Caraskand. Cnaiür grabs the door, pulls the handle. It opens. Whispering “Die or conquer!” he charges into the tower. The move through the narrow corridors of the gatehouse and they reach a door, light bleeding through along with people talking. Saubon whispers that the God has given him this place. Cnaiür asks how he knows.

“I know!”

The Dûnyain had told him. Cnaiür was certain of it.

“You brought Kepfet to Kellhus…. Didn’t you?”

He let the Dûnyain read his face.

Saubon grin and snort is the answer Cnaiür needs. Then he knocks on the door. A Kianene soldier opens the door and is killed by Saubon. Cnaiür and Saubon charge in, killing the shocked Kianene. Cnaiür sees a youth flee from the room, doesn’t follow. The room secure, Saubon orders the gate to be open. Saubon orders the rest of the gatehouse, including the murder holes, taken. His men yelling, “Die or conquer!” Cnaiür spots the same Kianene boy begging for mercy. Cnaiür hesitates. Then a Galeoth comes up and butchers the youth, saying “Truth shines!” to Cnaiür. Cnaiür kills the Galeoth man in a brutal fashion.

I am stronger!

The twitching thing slouched to the ground, drained across the Men of the Tusk.

Cnaiür stood, his chest heaving, blood streaming in rivulets across the iron scales of his harness. The very world seemed to move, so great was the rush of arms and men beneath him.

Yes, the madness was lifting.

War horns sound across Caraskand. As dawn arrives, wreathed in fog, the citizens of the city crowd the rooftops to see what is happening. They witness smoke in the eastern quarters of the city. They understand what it means. Kianene horseman charge through the street riding down their own people to get to the battle. Soon, the watching citizens see the Inrithi pressing into the city.

Saubon’s men race through the streets to seize the Gate of the Horns. They succeed after fierce fighting. His men are pressed hard, even with his reinforcements coming in through the postern gate. But they hold long enough to open the gates. Athjeäri and his Gaenrish knights charge in first, followed by the Conryians. Proyas is carried in on a litter. This routs the Kianene and the city is lost.

The looting begins. Slave girls are claimed, families are murdered, houses are ransacked. “The Men of the Tusk rifled through ancient Caraskand, leaving behind them scattered clothes and broken chests, death and fire.” They encounter pockets of resistance throughout the city, the greatest in the large market squares and around the important buildings. The Fanim Tabernacles are sacked, all worshipers inside murdered. Children are ripped from their mothers arms and murdered before the women are raped before their dying husbands. “Moved by the God’s own fury, they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of sharp sword.”

The anger of the God burned bright against the people of Caraskand.

The Synthese flies over Caraskand at dawn, watching the city being sacked. He watches Kellhus being chased by the skin-spy Gaörta (Sarcellus) and his brothers. They are trying to kill Kellhus. He flees across rickety roofs. He jumps, leaps, and pirouettes through danger, even landing amid Kianene soldiers and darting away before they can react.

What was this man? Who were the Dûnyain?

These are the questions that needed to be answered. According to Gaörta, the man’s Zaudunyani, his “tribe of truth,” numbered in the tens of thousands. It was only a matter of weeks, Gaörta insisted, before the Holy War succumbed to him entirely. But the questions these facts raises were overmatched by the perils. Nothing could interfere with the Holy War’s mission. Shimeh must be taken. The Cishaurim must be destroyed!

But despite the questions, Kellhus had to be killed for “reasons that transcended their war against the Cishaurim.” The Synthese finds his name, Anasûrimbor, more troubling than his preternatural abilities. The Consult thought the Celmomian Prophecy false, but now that they were so near the “End of Ends” they can’t take chances with Kellhus. “One did not gamble with such things.” They would kill him and seize Cnaiür, Esmenet, and Serwë for questioning. The Synthese sees the skin-spies closing in, things it is over.

The Warrior-Prophet… The Old Name had already decided he would couple with his corpse.

Kellhus is running, thinking the skin-spies are too fast. When Kellhus plunges into a pitch-black basement, the skin-spies hesitate. “All eyes need light,” Kellhus thinks. Here, he makes his stand, drawing his sword and standing motionless in the corner. He hears them enter, spreading out through the darkness.

“I’ve tasted both of your peaches,” the one called Sarcellus said—to mask the sounds of the others, Kellhus realized. “I tasted them long and hard—did you know that? I made them squeal…”

“You lie!” Kellhus cried in mimicry of desperate fury. He heard the skin-spies pause, then close on the corner where he’d thrown his voice.

“Both were sweet,” Sarcellus called, “and so very juicy… The man, they say, ripens the peach.”

Kellhus strikes, killing a skin-spy without making a sound. Sarcellus keeps laughing, saying Kellhus was twice cuckolded. Kellhus guts another while a third screams out that Kellhus plays with them. Sarcellus orders them to use their noses. The dying skin-spy flops and flails, screaming in “demonic voices” as it dies. Just like Kellhus hoped. Then he takes off his robe to use as a scent trap. It works, and he kills two more. Sarcellus attack misses him and then he flees, the last one left alive.

How are such creatures possible? What do you know of them, Father?

Retrieving his long-pommeled sword, Kellhus struck off the living skin-spy’s head. Sudden silence. He wrapped it, still streaming blood, in his slashed robe.

Then he climbed back toward slaughter and daylight.

Ikurei Conphas assails the Citadel of the Dog, the key to holding the city. It’s his first act upon entering the city. Saubon and Gothyelk realizes this and join Conphas in the assault since neither were “so foolish as to leave such a prize to the Exalt-General.” Serge engines used to attack the city walls are brought in to assault the fortification. Saubon takes a Kianene arrow in the thigh during the assault.

But despite fierce Kianene resistance, the Tydonni gain the western wall and dislodge the Kianene, forcing them into the courtyard. But the Tydonni hold and allow reinforcements to follow them up. The Inrithi look on the verge of taking the fortress.

Then came a light more blinding than the sun. Men cried out, pointing to mad, saffron-robed figures hanging between the towers of the black keep. Eyeless Cishaurim, each with two snakes wrapped about their throats.

Threads of unholy incandescence waved across the outer wall like ropes in water. Stone cracked beneath the flashing heat. Hauberks were welded to skin. The Tydonni crouched beneath their great tear-shaped shields, leaning against the light, shouting in horror and outrage before being swept away. The Agmundrmen fired vainly at the floating abominations. Teams of Chorae Crossbowmen watched bolt after bolt whistle wide because of the range.

The Tydonni knights are massacred and routed, fleeing down the ladders or jumping on fire from the battlements. Gothyelk’s standard is consumed. Gothyelk is dragged away mad with grief, his youngest son killed. The Inrithi withdraw and send a message to the Scarlet Spire that the Cishaurim hold the Citadel of the Dog.

Kellhus, still carrying the skin-spy’s head, steps over the corpse of a raped woman to find a perch to survey the city. As he surveys the destruction, he reflects that he is so close to Shimeh and completing his mission.

He dumps out the skin-spy’s head, studying it. He knows sorcery didn’t make them, but created by the Inchoroi “the way swords were fashioned by Men.” He finds this remarkable.

Weapons. And the Consult had finally wielded them.

Wars within wars. It has finally come to this.

Kellhus has given orders to his Zaudunyani since the fight, ordering them to secure the palace he’s in and bring his wives from the camp. Further, he wants the Zaudunyani watching the known skin-spies to act. “They Holy War must be purged.”

The Scarlet Spire’s attack on the Citadel of the Dog begins, their sorcery ripping apart the fortress’s walls. He watches the destruction, the Scarlet Spire Schoolmen floating in the air. Several are killed by Chorae bowmen. “Hellish lights scourged the ramparts.”

The song of the Scarlet Schoolmen trailed. The thunder rumbled into the distance. For several heartbeats, all Caraskand stood still.

The fortress walls steamed with the smoke of burning flesh.

The Schoolmen advance, walking on the “ground’s echo in the sky.” Kellhus thinks they’re searching or waiting for something. Then the Cishaurim attack from the rubble. Sorcery is exchanged, more destruction happens.

Kellhus watched, wondering at the spectacle and at the promise of deeper dimensions of understanding. Sorcery was the only unconquered knowledge, the last remaining bastion of world-born secrets. He was one of the Few—as Achamian both feared and hope. What kind of power would he wield?

And his father, who was Cishaurim, what king of power did he already wield?

The sorcery battle continues. Kellhus ponders “how could words come before?” Then Kellhus spots a surviving Cishaurim fleeing the citadel. The Cishaurim isn’t escaping, Kellhus realizes, but coming for him. Kellhus thinks this might be his father, and grips his Chorae, one of two his Zaudunyani had given him. Kellhus is surprised by this action. But the Cishaurim is too young to be his father. The Cishaurim descends to Kellhus, calling him by name.

“I am Hifanat ab Tunukri,” the eyeless man said breathlessly, “a Dionoratë of the tribe Indara-Kishauri… I bear a message from your Father. He says, ‘You walk the Shortest Path. Soon you will grasp the Thousandfold Thought.”

Father?

Sheathing his sword, Kellhus opened himself to every outward sign the man offered. He saw desperation and purpose. Purpose above all…

Kellhus asked how Hifanat found him. The Cishaurim says that all who serve Moënghus, the Possessors of the Third Sight, can see Kellhus. Kellhus realizes his father controls a faction within the Cishaurim. Kellhus asks his fathers intentions, but Hifanat doesn’t know, saying there wouldn’t be time for him to tell if he did. Kellhus interprets this as his father knowing he’s an assassin and has to be certain of Kellhus’s intentions.

Then Hifanat adds that the Padirajah himself leads the army marching from the south and is almost upon the city. Kellhus realizes that with the Padirajah coming, the Consult attacking, and the Great Names plotting he is being overwhelmed. He wants his father to know that. But the Citadel of the Dog collapses and three Scarlet Schoolmen approach, so Hifanat cannot carry any messages.

“The Whores come,” the eyeless man said. “You must kill men.”

In a single motion Kellhus drew his blade. Though the man seemed oblivious, the closer asp reared as though drawn back by a string.

“The Logos,” Hifanat said, his voice quavering, “is without beginning or end.”

Kellhus kills the man and cuts in half one of his snakes. The other flees into the garden. Smoke rises from the destroyed Citadel of the Dog.

The city burns, but nothing as badly as the Citadel of the Dog. From a hill to the south, Kascamandri ab Tepherokar, the High Padirajah of Kian and all the Cleansed Lands, cries as he watches, his face otherwise hardened. He had refused to believe his son-in-law Imbeyan could lose the city. His eyes prove his beliefs wrong. He tells his Grandees that they shall avenge the city. He fears telling his daughter about her husband even as Imbeyan is killed trying to flee the city. Gotian has Imbeyan’s body hung from a tree.

Esmenet is relieved to see Kellhus in the mansion, rushing to him and embracing him. For her and Serwë, the joy they felt at seeing the city fall was soon banished by the news of the assassination attempt. They learn about “devils” who attacked him. Kellhus chuckles when she asks about that, saying they weren’t devils. She presses him for information.

Kellhus gently pushed her back. “We’ve endured much,” he said, stroking her cheek. He seemed to be watching more than looking… She understood the implied question: How strong are you?

“Kellhus?”

“The trial is about to begin, Esmi. The true trial.”

A horror like no other shuddered through her. Not you! she inwardly cried. Never you!

He had sounded afraid.

Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Bay of Trantis

Achamian stares at the calm waters, reflecting on this could be his life. “Aside from the wonder, there was never any answers.” According to Ajencis, this reflection, termed possessing in dispossession, is the heart of wisdom and “the most reliable mark of an enlightened soul.” Without reflection, “one simply stumbled through a dream.”

Xinemus asks Achamian what everyone sees as their ship sails through the bay. Achamian responds that they see burned ships, the remains of the Nansur fleet destroyed by the Cishaurim. When Iyokus told Achamian about this, it was where “he’d stopped fearing for himself and had started fearing for Esmenet.” He gives a prayer to Kellhus to keep her safe. Xinemus asks for a description of the wreckage.

“The Cishaurim burned everything,” Achamian replied.

He paused, almost overcome by a visceral reluctance to say anything more. It seemed blasphemous, somehow, rendering a thing like this in words—a sacrilege. But then such was the case whenever one described another’s loss. There was no way around words.

He does describe it anyways. They are joined by the ship’s captain, Meümaras. Achamian has liked the Captain since they met in Iothiah. The captain explains how this was out of their way, but he had to see it. Achamian realizes the Captain lost someone in the Nansur fleet. Captains says his brother. Further, tens of thousands of sailors survived the attack because they moored close to shore. But the desert killed them. Their bones litter the beaches for miles. The captain says no one survived.

Achamian stiffened, struck by what was now an old fear. Despite the desert air, a clamminess crept over his skin. “The Holy War survived,” he said.”

The Captain frowned, as though put off by something in Achamian’s tone. He opened his mouth in retort, but then paused, his eyes suddenly thoughtful.

“You fear you’ve lost someone as well.” He glanced yet again at Xinemus.

“No,” Achamian said. She’s alive! Kellhus has saved her!

The captain hopes Achamian is right, but his tone implies he’s not. The captain then says that the there’s never been a greater shedding of blood than the Holy War. “Achamian knew different” and resents the captain’s presence. Xinemus asks why the captain thinks that. Because of Craziness, disease, disastrous, the Padirajah’s new army. Xinemus dismisses it with bitterness.

Achamian now heard dread in Xinemus’s every word. It was as though something horrific loomed in the blackness, something he feared might recognize the sound of his voice. As the weeks passed it was becoming more and more apparent: the Scarlet Spires had taken more than his eyes; they had taken the light and devilry that had once filled them as well. With the Cants of Compulsion, Iyokus had moved Xinemus’s soul in perverse ways, had forced him to betray both dignity and love. Achamian had tried to explain that it wasn’t he who’d thought those thoughts, who’d uttered those words, but it didn’t matter. As Kellhus said, men couldn’t see what moved them. The frailties Xinemus had witnessed were his frailties. Confronted by the true dimensions of wickedness, he’d held his own infirmity accountable.

The Captain brings up rumors of a new prophet, and Achamian leaps at this, asking who it is. The man says someone called Kelah who found water in the desert. Achamian is certain Kellhus lives, which means Esmenet also lives. He’s relieved for both of them, he realizes, almost swooning but is steadied by the captain.

Esmenet and Kellhus. They lived! The woman who could save his heart, and the man who could save the world…

Xinemus is happy for Achamian, saying Esmenet will be joyful at their reunion. Achamian is struck by this moment of compassion from a man who suffered so much. Being reminded of his friend’s pain, anger grows at Iyokus.

“There will be fire when I return, Zin.”

He swept his dry eyes across the wrecked warships of the Imperial Fleet. Suddenly they looked more a transition and less an end—like the carapaces of monstrous beetles.

The red-throated gulls kept jealous watch.

“Fire,” he said.

My Thoughts

Proyas’s men aren’t holding watch in the rain. He thinks of Proyas as soft-hearted. I point this out, because the Great Ordeal has more interaction between these two men and we are already seeing here how Saubon has a low opinion of Proyas.

Great start to the chapter. After a siege that has last about two months (another month has passed since the last chapter, it seems) finally there is a way to break the siege and change the war’s fortunes. Saubon is the one most motivated to get in, to get his dream of being king, makes sense that he’d find it. He wants this badly. Conphas, in his mind, cheated him out of Shigek.

We’re back to Cnaiür. He’s been scarce since Anwurat. Only one POV of him picking up Proyas in the desert. Despite trying to fight it, trying to be of the People, he can’t help liking Proyas and feeling pity for the man as he battles his sickness. He respects Proyas in ways he wouldn’t respect a fellow Scylvendi. This is the last reread post I will write before The Unholy Consult comes out in the states. I am curious what will happen if (or when) Proyas and Cnaiür encounter each other. They’re both heading to the same place leading armies.

The way Cnaiür thinks about the madness he felt sounds like a dissociative break. Where he felt like another person had done those things, hence feeling like his memories were someone else’s tale. It started when he failed to save the woman and her child, that moment when she burned. And then killing the skin-spy and not understanding what was going on there, leading to the moment he knows he’s useless. That Kellhus will kill him. And then didn’t.

I think it’s all of the reasons Cnaiür thinks he might like the desert, recognizing himself in it. The desert has no pretense, no lies making it anything other than what it is. It’s what Cnaiür wishes he could be, truly himself, but can’t. He has to plant the grass of the Steppes over his truth, and it’s such maddening work to keep that grass alive.

Cnaiür, with distance between himself and Serwë, is finally thinking clearly. Just like he did after he realized Moënghus used him as a boy to escape, he now understands just what Kellhus did to him. How despite his best efforts, he was manipulated. Cnaiür is beginning to understand the darkness that comes before, the impulses that despite his best effort, Kellhus manipulated and set into motion.

Men, the memorialists said, often strike their sons to bruise their fathers.” Domestic violence, as Erin Pizzy the founder of the first domestic violence shelter teaches, is something children are taught by their parents. Boys and girls both. They learn it and if they aren’t taught differently, they will go on to beat their spouses and children. If a son’s father beats him, he’s likely to beat his children. If a mother slaps her husband all the time, her daughter’s likely to slap her husband. The Scylvendi understand this.

Cnaiür can’t betray Kellhus, though he’s close, because of Moënghus. As Cnaiür admits here, he loves the man but he also hates him. He has to find him. He’ll do anything to do it. Even continue hoping a Dûnyain won’t betray him.

This Kepfet ab Tanaj is a mirror to Cnaiür. The Scylvendi abandoned his people when they were weak, knowing other tribes would kill them, capture his beloved Anissi, and did not think twice. His hatred was all that mattered. Just like with this Kepfet. This talk of hate spurs Cnaiür into wondering how he can become useful for Kellhus again so he can get to Moënghus.

We need to talk about Bakker’s exclamation point. “Whispering, ‘Die or conquer!’ he slipped…” I know I use too many exclamation points in my writing, but Bakker loves them. He used one as Saubon is whispering! That’s the opposite of when you get to use them, Bakker. Ever since developing my own writing career, I’ve really started to notice the more technical aspects of writing, and every author has their little quirks. Exclamation points are Bakker’s. Still love his writing, but sometimes…

Foeman. I need to remember that word for writing.

Cnaiür shows another moment of mercy and again fails to save the person he spared. But this time he can inflict his anger on the person responsible instead of being forced to flee the Scarlet Spire Schoolmen.

And we see the horror of warfare. The looting. The infliction of wrongs on the conquered motivated by the need to right perceived crimes by the attackers. To take out their frustrations on suffering for so long. It takes real discipline in an army to keep this from happening, and the leaders of the Holy War don’t care to do so.

Moved by the God’s own fury” is how the Inrithi see themselves. They have scapegoated their crimes they commit onto the God, just like we see with the passage from Tribes. This is how they justify their terrible actions. For a human to do harm to another, he just needs an excuse, a lie to tell himself, to justify it. Our tribal nature makes us very prone to in-group, out-group think. And once you believe someone’s in the out-group, it’s easy to do harm against them.

So we have confirmation from the Syntheses that the Second Apocalypse approaches. We’ve only had Achamian’s insistence thus far that it did. But the End of Ends is coming. Also note how the Consult has dismissed the Celmomian Prophecy. In The White-Luck Warrior, a skin-spy tells Mimara that all prophecies, even the false, have to be respected. I have a feeling that Achamian’s appearance has caused the Consult to view any prophecy now as a possibility.

And we get more disturbing sexy times from an Inchoroi as the Syntheses is eager for necrophilia.

So, Kellhus can throw his voice. I bet he’d make a great ventriloquist.

Dûnyain never fight fair. He couldn’t take the skin-spies five-on-one where they could see. But he had trained in the Thousand Thousand Halls of Ishuäl, a dark labyrinth as we see in The Great Ordeal. It is never lit save for certain rooms. There are no markings on the walls, either. Dûnyain have to master navigating through the darkness or be lost in there and perish.

I talked about lack of discipline among the Holy War. Ikurei Conphas is the exception. He has his men disciplined. He ignores lotting the city for taking the vital military target of the Citadel of the Dog.

Having sorcerers hold a fortress is a great plan. As we saw, they let the Inrithi gain the walls before being unleashed, inflicting a great number of casualties. More than if they assaulted the army outside the wall.

Kellhus’s desire for sorcery is verging on true emotion. You can feel the envy he has for it, muted, but there, wondering what he could do with this knowledge.

So Kellhus learns the reason his father summoned him. To grasp the Thousandfold Thought, the goal of the Dûnyain. Based off the “Father?” thought Kellhus has, this is not something he considered. His father is still Dûnyain, still striving for their goals even though he was banished from Ishuäl. In fact he seems to think being away from Ishuäl is the only way to grasp it. Further, he must have failed to grasp it himself because he’s summoned Kellhus. In the process, he has conditioned the ground before Kellhus, manufacturing the Holy War, so Kellhus will be tested. We also see Moënghus has his own Zaudunyani faction, the Possessors of the Third Sight. Something special, something that sets them apart from the other Cishaurim, turning their loyalties from the Solitary God and the Fanim people to Moënghus.

A nice bit of characterization when Hifanat is about to die. Though he knows the necessity, he’s still afraid, his voice quavering.

Kellhus now knows with the consult attacking him, the great names plotting, and the Padirajah’s army about to besiege the newly captured city, there is no escaping the Circumfix. So he prepares Esmenet in the hopes he can survive it. Not only is this the shortest path, but it’s the only one left to him. He’s at his limits of his ability to cope with the situation.

I think we all have that moment Achamian has, wondering how our lives brought us to such a point, baffled by it whether by success or failure.

Great imagery on the destroyed fleet.

Poor Xinemus. To be used that way and not even be able to realize it. You’ve seen compulsion in many fantasy stories, but never one as horrible as Bakker’s. It’s one thing to be compelled to do something, but to not even realize you’re being compelled… It leaves you thinking you are capable of those acts.

Powerful moment for Achamian realizing that Esmenet lives. And that he also cares for Kellhus. But poor Achamian, Esmenet won’t save his heart. She won’t let those emotions come out of him like he needs. She’s moved on to Kellhus. The two people he’s most desperate to see have betrayed him.

We get to see a glimpse of the old Xinemus in that moment of realization and joy for Achamian. A last flicker of a dying fire before being snuffed out entirely.

To keep reading, click here for Chapter Twenty-Two!

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Review: Thief of the Night Guild (Queen of Thieves 2)

Thief of the Night Guild (Queen of Thieves 2)

by Andy Peloquin

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The Night Guild controls all crime in the city of Praamis. This brutal organization trains its members from childhood, pushing them through a gauntlet of pain and torment to harden them and make them hungry to steal, to kill, or do what else the Guild requires.

Ilanna survived their training. Now five years older from the events of Child of the Night Guild, Ilanna puts all her skills towards one task: protecting her young son. A son the Night Guild doesn’t know about. And she plans on keeping it that way. There’s only one way to do it. She’ll have to buy her way out of the Night Guild.

But the Night Guild doesn’t easily let go of useful tools. She will need to pull of a burglary of such prestige, of such wealth, to win her freedom. And Ilanna is nothing if not daring. She has a plan to not only destroy the most dangerous threat to the Night Guild in Praamis but to earn millions.

And it will require doing the impossible.

Peloquin shifts gears with this book. While the last one was more biopic, following GiRL from the age of seven until her early twenties as she has her ups and downs dealing with her rival, the brutal Sabot, this book is a heist thriller through and through. And with all the grimdark fantasy elements Peloquin is so skilled at balancing.

Thief of the Night Guild is a riveting read, keeping you following the intricacies of Ilanna plan as she has to overcome new obstacles, deal with dubious allies, and race against the clock to get everything ready for her window. Because if she doesn’t, more than she will pay the price.

Peloquin is swiftly joining my ranks of must-read fantasy authors.

I was given an ARC, but I liked it so much I bought the story.

You can buy Thief of the Night Guild form Amazon!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 20
Caraskand

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

The vulgar think the God by analogy to man and so worship Him in the form of the Gods. The learned think the God by analogy to principles and so worship Him in the form of Love or Truth. But the wise think the God not at all. They know that thought, which is finite, can only do violence to the God, which is infinite. It is enough, they say, that the God thinks them.

MEMGOWA, THE BOOK OF DIVINE ACTS

…for the sin of the idolater is not that he worships stone, but that he worships one stone over others.

8:9:4 THE WITNESS OF FANE

My Thoughts

The first quote is how men can only see the god through their own, limited views of an infinite being, having to use imprecise metaphors and to see the god as the ultimate king or the ultimate expression of truth, to worship them in how they think they’d want to be worship. The last line about the wise don’t think the God is any analogy. A wise man knows his limitations, that he doesn’t understand everything. And thus realizes, as a finite being, he can never understand the infinite. Not really. So to try, is to shove the God into a hole that he doesn’t fit. This can also connect to Esmenet’s thoughts on the two halves of humans and how we cannot appreciate the full of ourselves or others or even the God. Kellhus says wisdom is recognizing this.

The quote from Fane is similar to the above quote. The Fanim believe in the Solitary God, the one God, not a bunch of lesser beings who are aspects of the god (as Inrithism interprets the polytheism of the Cultic religion of the Tusk). And thus, by worshiping one rock over another, you are putting the god into too fine of categories, putting him in a hole he doesn’t fit. Kellhus is doing this with the Holy War, transferring their worship of the God and the Hundred onto solely himself.

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

Catapults hurl rocks at Caraskand’s walls as siege towers creep forward. The Holy War assaults, crying “Die or conquer!” The Inrithi gain the walls, fierce fighting erupts. However, Imbeyan and his Grandees counterattack and drive the Inrithi back. Very few escape alive. Two more times over the next two weeks, the Inrithi attack and are repelled.

Worse, the plague known as the hollows (to the commoners) and hemoplexy (to the nobles) strikes hundreds. The High Priest of Akkeägni informs the Holy War that “the dread God indeed groped among them with his hemoplectic Hand.” Panic grips the Holy War and many desert into the hills. The healthy launch attacks while the sick huddle in tents. After a week of fevers and chills, a person recovered or fell into a deathlike sleep. Lazarets are organized by the priests. The scent grows terrible. And no one is spared as Cumor, Proyas, Chepheramunni, and Skaiyelt all fall sick within days. 300 die in a single night. And through it all, the rains continue.

Athjeäri returns from scouting and pillaging with “news of doom.” After numerous battles and sieges, crushing Heathens when he can, he captured the Sapatishah of Xerash. He cut a deal with the man for information and learned the Padirajah Kascamandri himself led a host northward.

That night, Prince Skaiyelt, leader of the Thunyeri, dies. Other nobles follow and the physician-priests believe Proyas and Chepheramunni would follow. A fear seizes the surviving leaders. Caraskand stands defiant, their own god Akkeägni hurts them, and a new army advances. The God has turned his back on them far from their homes. The grow desperate.

And for such men questions of why, sooner or later always become questions of who

Sarcellus meets with Conphas. It is the first time they had met formally, though Conphas had seen the Shrial Knight with Grandmaster Gotian. Conphas finds Sarcellus’s white surcoat “improbably clean, so much so that he looked an anachronism, a throwback to the days when the Holy War still camped beneath Momemn.”

Sarcellus just want tot talk about troubling things. Conphas is always interested in that, joking that he’s a masochist. Sarcellus jokes back that council meetings have proved that true.

Conphas had never trusted Shrial Knights. Too much devotion. Too much renunciation… Self sacrifice, he’d always thought, was more madness than foolishness.

He’d come to this conclusion in his adolescence, after perceiving just how often—and how happily—others injured or destroyed themselves in the name of faith or sentiment. It was as though, he realized, everyone took instructions from a voice he couldn’t hear—a voice from nowhere. They committed suicide when dishonored, sold themselves into slavery to feed their children. They acted as though the world possessed fates worse than death or enslavement, as though they couldn’t live with themselves if harm befall others…

Conphas just can’t understand such levels of self-sacrifice. At an intellectual level, he understands about scripture and damnation, which he considers rubbish. He understands people motivated by avoiding damnation, even it it was ludicrous. Because scripture was external, not this internal voice. And hearing voices “made one mad.” He had heard enough hermits in markets to know that fact. And Shrial Knights became fanatics when they hear this voice.

Conphas asks Sarcellus what is the trouble. He answers, Kellhus. Sarcellus starts to talk, implying he and others know something. Conphas asks who the “we” are. This irritates Sarcellus and makes Conphas reevaluate the man, sensing a “whiff of conceit.” Conphas thinks he might be a man of reason. Sarcellus says the we is just him and a few other knights, but not Gotian, They know Conphas tried to assassinate Kellhus. Conphas denies it. Sarcellus says his group shares Conphas’s sentiment, especially after the desert.

Conphas frowned. He knew what the man meant: Princes Kellhus had walked from the Carathay commanding the worship of thousands, and the wonder of everyone, it sometimes seemed, save himself. But Conphas would’ve expected a Shrial Knight to argue signs and omens, not power…

Conphas had found the desert madness. He had shambled on foot with the rest, cursing General Sassotian who commanded the Imperial Fleets. For a while, Conphas even thought “the prospect of death seemed something he merely indulged for decorum’s sake.”

Please, he thought. Who do you think I am?

Then he begins to doubt that until it became a certainty. He realizes that his life’s destination led him to die in a desert. And then he found Prince Kellhus wading in a well, drinking while he died of thirsts. Conphas realizes he is saved by a man he tried to kill. It was galling and ludicrous. And yet, he felt a flutter in his heart. He wondered if Kellhus was a prophet. “The desert had been madness.”

Conphas studies Sarcellus, pointing out the man saved the Holy War, both their lives. Sarcellus says that’s the problem. Before, Kellhus was just another zealot, but now he claims more. And the Holy War is being punished by the Dread God. Half of the knights acclaim Kellhus as the next Inri Sejenus, the other half as the cause of their misery. Division is coming, and someone is needed to preserve the Holy War.

“After you’ve killed Prince Kellhus…” Conphas said derisively. He shook his head, as though disappointed by his own lack of surprise. “He camps with his followers now, and they guard him as though he were the Tusk. They say that in the desert a hundred of them surrendered their water—their lives—to him and his women. And now another hundred have stepped forward as his bodyguard, each of them sworn to die for the Warrior-Prophet. Not even the Emperor could claim such protection. And you still think you can kill him.”

A drowsy blink, which made Conphas certain—absurdly—that Sarcellus had beautiful sisters.

“Not think, Exalt-General… Know.”

Serwë is in labor, in pain, screaming, with Esmenet and a Kianene midwife assisting. Kellhus watches, looking both wise and sad. Esmenet is worried, but his eyes speak reassurances. Still, her apprehension remained. She reflects on how long it had been since Achamian left her.

Not that long, perhaps, but the desert lay between them.

No walk, it seemed, could be longer. The Carathay had ravished her, fumbling with knot and clasp, thrusting leathery hands beneath her robe, running polished fingertips across her breasts and thighs. It had stripped her past her ski, to the wood of her bones. It had spilled and raked her across the sand, like seashells.

It had offered her up to Kellhus.

In the beginning, she was drunk on just walking with Kellhus and Serwë, laughing and talking, sharing their new intimacies. She remembers what it was like in her adolescence “before whoring had placed nakedness and coupling beyond the circle of private, secret things.” Making love to Kellhus and Serwë had transformed sex back to something demure. She feels whole. When Kellhus walks with his Zaudunyani, she and Serwë held hands and joke, laugh, and “plot pleasures.” They hold back nothing because “the bed they shared brooked no deceit.” But when the water failed, did she truly walk in the desert. She remembers becoming a stranger walking in her own body, Serwë a stranger being held in Kellhus’s arms.

Nothing branched in the Carathay. Everything roamed without root or source. The death of trees: this she had thought, was the secret of desert.

Kellhus had asked Esmenet to surrender her share of water in the desert so Serwë wouldn’t lose her baby. She did, watching “him pour her muddy life into a stranger’s mouth.” She understood then that there’s more than just her. Kellhus says she’s the first to realize this. Later, when they reach Enathpaneah and find a river, Kellhus strips Esmenet and bathes her in the water, declaring she is his wife. They crossed the desert. She sees the sun-haloed palms.

They make camp by the river, Kellhus foraging for food, and the three recover while Esmenet feels like they are the only people left alive in the world. That they alone “gazed and understood that they gazed.”

They had become the measure… Absolute. Unconditioned.

When they made love in the river, it seemed they sanctified the sea.

You, Esmenet, are my wife.

Burning, submerged in clear waters—in each other… The anchoring ache.

The desert had changed everything.

Serwë crying out in pain draws Esmenet out of her reflection. Serwë thinks something is wrong, but Kellhus assures her everything’s fine. Esmenet is struck by the fact Kellhus is the Warrior-Prophet. Esmenet has felt like a child being led by the hand her entire life, having no idea where she was going, until now.

But now, after the desert, after the waters of Enathpaneah, she knew the answer. Every man she’d bedded, she had bedded for him. Every sin she’d committed, she had committed for hi. Every bowel she’d chipped. Every heart she’d bruised. Even Mimara. Even Achamian. Without knowing, Esmenet had lived her entire life for him—for Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

Grief for his compassion. Delusion for his revelation. Sin so he might forgive. Degradation so he might raise her high. He was the origin. He was the destination. He was the from where and the to which, and he was here!

Here!

It was mad, it was impossible, it was true.

It makes Esmenet laugh in “joyous wonder.” Before, the holy was distant to her, something she only glimpsed. She hated it and feared it. Not surprising since she was a whore in Sumna. She knew it was hard to reach, witnessing pilgrims who sacrificed what little they had to come to Sumna only to succumb to her charms and sinning with her. And now she was close.

Serwë’s child is born, crying out with strength. Esmenet tells Serwë she has a son and “he isn’t blue.” Serwë laughs and cries while Kellhus exams the child. When Kellhus looks at Serwë, anger strikes Esmenet for an instant. As Serwë holds her child, Esmenet feels grief at her jealousy and flees the tent.

Outside, the tent is surrounded by the men of the Hundred Pillars, Kellhus’s Zaudunyani bodyguards. They protect him from Heathens and Men of the Tusk, “another thing the desert had changed.” Two Galeoth recognize her and greet her with “Truth shines,” discomforted by the obeisance the Zaudunyani show her more and more.

As she hears Shrial Priests blow horns for evening prayers, she wonders why she can’t “give this moment of joy to Serwë.” In the desert, she gave her water. She doesn’t understand why, thinking it is not jealousy since she didn’t feel bitter.

Kellhus is right… We know not what moves us. There was more, always more.

A voice cries out for piteous help, a plague sufferer. He asks for help, begging for her care. He’s lying in his own filth. But she can’t help, saying it’s forbidden, Kellhus comes u behind her, saying the man can’t hear. “They hear only their own suffering.” Like Esmenet, still wondering why she ran. He tells her to be strong, and sometimes she feels strong, feels new. He tells her she is new, reamed by his Father, but her past remains. “Forgiveness between strangers takes time.” She’s struck by how he can always knows her heart, questioning how and then realizes she knew the answer.

Men, Kellhus had once told her, were like coins: they had two sides. Where one side of them saw, the other side of them was seen, and though men were both at once, men could only truly know the side of themselves that saw and the side of others that was seen—they could only know the inner half of themselves and the outer half of others.

Esmenet thought it foolish until Kellhus told her to think about conceited and arrogant behavior. This is why people aren’t themselves, but seek to “secure the good opinion of others.” Because on an instinctive level, they know they aren’t whole, but want to be.

The measure of wisdom, Kellhus had said, was found in the distance between these two selves.

This makes her realize what sets him apart. He could see the whole of both himself and of others. He had closed the distance with his two halves. She realizes he’s inside her, and this brings “wondrous tears” as she rejoices at being his wife. He needs her to be strong because “the God purges the Holy War, purifies us for the march on Shimeh.” She thinks the plague, but he means the Great Names. They are starting to fear him. She realizes he fears “a war within the Holy War” and urges him to speak to the opposition and in them over.

He shook his head. “Men praise what flatters and mock what rebukes—you know that. Before, when it was just slaves and men-at-arms, they could afford to overlook me. But now that their most trusted advisers and clients take the Whelming, they’re beginning to understand the truth of their power, and with it, their vulnerability.”

He says they won’t move yet, but the worse things get, the more likely they will try to kill him. So she says to kill them first. She’s shocked by “the thoughtless ferocity” of her words, but isn’t sorry for saying them. Kellhus laughs, chiding her for saying such words on this night. It reminds her of why she fled, asking Achamian why he left. Then she admits she envied Serwë and feels ashamed.

“You, Esmenet, are the lens through which I’ll burn. You… You’re the womb of tribes and nations, the begetting fire. You’re the immortality, hope, and history. You’re more than myth, more than scripture. You’re the mother of these things! You, Esmenet, are the mother of more…”

Breathing deep the dark, rainy world, she clutched his arms tight against her. She’d known this, ever since the earliest days of the desert, she’d known this. It was why she’d cast her whore’s shell, the contraceptive charm the witches sell, across the sands.

You are the begetting fire…

No more would she turn aside seed from her womb.

Early Winter 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Meneanor coast, near Iothiah

Achamian dreams of Mengedda, the No God asking his question “WHAT DO YOU SEE?” He wakes up without crying out. He’s in a bed, a luxury that once seemed impossible. But after destroying the Scarlet Spire, the Baron Shanipal (Proyas’s representative left in Shigek) took him and Xinemus in as honored guests. They are now in a Kianene villa on the coast. It’s been weeks of convalescing for the pair. Achamian sets out to find Xinemus, who didn’t return to his room last night.

He found himself cursing the Marshal as he searched the rooms. The healthy always begrudged the sick: being shackled by another’s incapacities was no easy thing. But the resentment Achamian suffered was curiously ingrown, almost labyrinthine in its complexity. With Xinemus, every day seemed more difficult than the last.

Achamian feels responsible since Xinemus is his “oldest and truest friend.” That the man sacrificed and suffered to save Achamian only builds on his obligation. But though free, Xinemus still suffers. “Ever day it seemed, he lost his eyes anew.” This makes him accuse Achamian of causing his pain. Achamian would complain that no asked Xinemus to save him, the Marshal responds that Esmi did. Achamian struggles to forgive Xinemus, but it grows harder and harder, making him question how much he truly owed, sometimes thinking the true Xinemus had died.

Achamian cajoles Xinemus to remember who he was, and yet Achamian too has changed. He hasn’t cried for his friend, and Achamian used to cry a lot. He doesn’t cry when waking from the dreams, either. He remembers the act, but it feels hollow. Xinemus appears to need the tears, to know that Achamian was still the weak one, but their roles had reversed and this torments Xinemus more. Achamian mourns for his friend, but can’t weep, like something essential had been cut out of him. Achamian will see Iyokus pay for what happened, thinking hatred had replaced grief in him.

Achamian finds Xinemus drinking on a terrace. As he stares at the drunk, broken man, Achamian reflects on Baron Shanipal’s offer to pay their passage by ship to Caraskand. Achamian needs to go as soon as possible, but he just abandon Xinemus, believing the man would die if left behind. “Grief and bitterness had killed greater men.” Achamian steels himself for the confrontation, but doesn’t know what to say to the drunk man to convince him to leave.

Xinemus talks to the darkness like it’s a leaving thing, demanding where it leads. Achamian still struggles to figure out to say, to explain how he needs to find Esmenet, and knows Xinemus will just yell at him to go and find “your whore” and leave him behind. Achamian is desperate for news about her, he can’t wait to see her, to “smother her with laughter, tears, and kisses.” He believes her alive, knowing she traveled with Kellhus and that he’d protect her. Achamian knows Kellhus will save the world, and he plans on helping the man.

Without thinking, Achamian hastened to him [Xinemus], embraced him.

“You’re the cause of this!” Xinemus screeched into his chest. “This is your doing!”

Achamian held tight his sobbing friend. The broadness of Xinemus’s shoulders surprised his outstretched arms.

Achamian says they need to leave, find their friends. Xinemus agrees, they have to find Kellhus. Despite the emotion, Achamian still hasn’t cried.

Early Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, near Caraskand

Conphas is holding a meeting at the estate he had claimed for his residence outside Caraskand. He stands with Martemus as he watches his guest arrival, reflecting on how everything had changed since he left Momemn. The nobles of the Holy War now look like hardened veterans, united into a new and separate people. The fact they are all wearing Kianene clothing and riding their horses only cements their new tribe

Conphas glanced at Martemus. “They look more heathen than the heathen.”

“The desert made the Kianene,” the General said, shrugging, “and it has remade us.”

Conphas regarded the man thoughtfully, troubled for some reason.

Conphas studies Martemus, continuously wanting to suspect him of treason. But even still, he enjoys the man’s company. Conphas reflects how the Empire and the Holy War will soon part company. But first Caraskand and Kellhus have to be dealt with.

They join the arriving Great Names for the counsel, and Palatine Gaidekki asks why Kellhus isn’t here. Gothyelk notes Saubon, Athjeäri, Proyas (who is sick), and Kellhus’s other “ardent defenders” are also absent. Palatine Uranyanak thought this was a council on Caraskand. Conphas says it is, asking why the city resists. Grandmaster Gotian asks for Conphas to explain.

Not for the first time Conphas realized that they despised him—almost to a man. All men hate their betters.

Conphas asks them why so much misfortune has befallen the Holy War after they survived the desert. Gotian says the God is angry at them. This pleases Conphas. While Sarcellus insists that Kellhus will be dead in a few weeks (Conphas has his doubts) they’d need allies in the aftermath. The number of Zaudunyani is unknown, maybe tens of thousands. “The more the Men of the Tusk suffered, it seemed, the more they turned to the fiend.”

Conphas glared at the assembled lords, pausing in the best oratorical fashion. “Who could disagree? The anger of the God does burn against us. And well it should…”

He swept his gaze across them.

“Given that we harbour and abet a False Prophet.”

Howls erupted from them, more in protest than in assent. But Conphas had expected as much. At this juncture, the important thing was to get these fools talking. Their bigotries would do the rest.

My Thoughts

The hemoplectic Hand of Akkeägni. Makes it sound like the God of Disease has a hundred different hands, each spreading a different disease, doesn’t it. Like a Hechtoncheires sworn to Nurgle (for 40k fans and who know their Greek mythology). Great imagery. Also shows how bad life used to be before modern medicine. Large groups of humans breed diseases, usually from contaminated drinking water. Hemoplexy is probably bubonic plague. The welts sounds like bubo. And we saw in the last chapter the Holy War throwing plague bodies into the city, and it was the bubonic plague victims used in the same way in our own history. There is no disease called hemoplexy. In fact, hemoplex is an iron pill for people suffering from anemia.

Bakker just casually mentions that a major character has the plague, slipped in with three names that don’t seem too important (though Chepheramunni, who we’ve been reminded of existing two chapters back, is).

Athjeäri grew bored with the siege so went raiding, captured a few fortresses, having a grand old time out there. Through the Historical accounts, Athjeäri exploits are always shown, this daring leader. But in the character sections, we see he’s just a young man who hero worships his Uncle Saubon. So it’s not surprising he got bored of the siege. So much waiting. And he just wants to go kill Heathens.

With the final line of the historical section, questions of why becoming questions of who, is the first seed of things turning against Kellhus. Things are going badly for the Holy War, and they need a scapegoat. And I am sure Conphas knows just who to blame.

Yeah, a clean, white surcoat is improbable given the holy war’s predicament. And here’s something interesting about white clothing. You know why wedding dresses are white today? This isn’t that old of a tradition, dating back to Queen Victoria in the mid 1800s. Having a white dress was seen as a symbol of wealth and ease, to wear something so easily stained meant you didn’t have to do anything that would dirty you. She wore a white wedding dress. And as the industrial revolution was underway and cleaning clothes became easier and living conditions improved, women began to follow suit until by the 1900s, anyone could have a white wedding dress.

Conphas doesn’t understand self-sacrifice. I am sooooooo shocked. Interesting that he sees it as madness. After all, why are you harming yourself to do something as ludicrous as helping another? And killing yourself or going into slavery, ridiculous. Yes, listen to the scriptures, pretend that there’s eternal damnation, try not to sin, but do real harm to yourself? Madness. And Shrial Knights are all mad to him. Great characterization into the mind of a narcissist. He has no empathy, so he can’t possibly imagine why people do things beyond him. And he hates it because he doesn’t understand it. Because they hear a voice “he couldn’t hear.” He’s denied this internal voice. The great Conphas.

Conphas is rightly confused why Sarcellus is talking about power and not signs or omens, like a fanatic should. Of course, Conphas doesn’t realize Sarcellus is speaking for the Consult, the ultimate Atheists, a group trying to literally kill the gods and the cycle of damnation. They wouldn’t use religious trappings. And just as well, power is the way to talk to Conphas.

And now the Consult is prepared to move openly against Kellhus. He has bought himself a lot of time, building himself into a position of strength. And we know from his “revelation” early in the book, he knows a test is coming, that he’ll have to sacrifice Serwë and survive the Circumfix to prove himself.

Esmenet’s reflection that the desert stands between her and Achamian is profound. The old Esmenet, the whore, died in the desert. She became the Warrior-Prophet’s wife. Even sex is transformed for her, something that didn’t happen with Achamian. Though she did felt like his wife, she never could get past the fact she was used to whore herself, that she had made sex into something so trivial and mundane. And then becoming an other to herself happened as she wasted away, stripping away everything from her.

The line about deserts lacking trees is a true statement. Desertification happens when trees are cut down and bad framing practices are used. The Mongolian Desert has doubled in size because of China’s poor framing tactics. Plants root soil in place, they trap water, and when they’re gone, there’s no evaporation to feed cloud growth. So the land grows drier and drier, more and more plants die, and there’s less water, so it goes dry. Thus, the desert grows. Or look at the Southwest United States. Once there were forests, but the Anasazi cut them down to build their cliff towns. This changed the climate and it grew arid, their population couldn’t sustain itself and crashed, their growing civilization plunged backward into the surviving tribes of the southwest. Or North Africa. It was once the breadbasket of the Ancient World. The Romans and Byzantines fed their empire with grain from North Africa. But slowly, the Saharan desert grew and grew because of poor framing practices.

We see even Esmenet reduced to selfishness in the desert until she surrendered her water, seeing Serwë, this girl she had come to love and share a sexual relationship in Kellhus’s bed, as a stranger. Then she watched her life pour into Serwë’s mouth, reminding her that there is more to the world than herself.

Kellhus, obviously, calculated that Esmenet would survive this. He needs them both still alive for his plans at this point.

I believe after Esmenet’s “rebirth” in the river when Kellhus declares her his wife, she sees his haloed hands for the first time, but I could be mistaken.

And then we see the profound effect surviving had on Esmenet, on the religious revelation she has while recovering. She survived the harshest place on the planet, she had walked on the edge of death, learned the limits of her humanity and reemerged “enlightened.” Bakker is showing us why the desert often produces religious prophets and preachers throughout history.

Esmenet’s revelation about her life’s goal is, of course, the lies she’s telling herself to justify the misery in her life, the things she’s done, betraying Achamian for Kellhus, selling Mimara into slavery and prostitution. And these are the lies Kellhus has crafted in her to use her for his goals. But at least they make her happy. And that’s why we lie to ourselves, so we can be happy with the things we’ve done.

Serwë having a living child is such a powerful moment.

Kellhus examines the child first, studying it like a Dûnyain would, seeing what its defects might be.

Esmenet is uncomfortable with being shown subservience by followers of Kellhus. She’s not used to it, but she will grow so callous about it she won’t even know it in the future. Familiar makes things comfortable, which makes things ignorable.

It’s envy that drove Esmenet out, not jealousy. She wants to bear Kellhus a son. She’s already stopped using her contraceptive talisman. But there’s also anger at Serwë because the girl slept with Achamian months ago. Interesting she is still holding that grudge even though she’s now sleeping with Serwë’s husband, has abandoned Achamian as dead, and moved on with her life. But it’s still there, and seeing Serwë and Kellhus sharing that look reminds her that Serwë also cheated on Kellhus. Esmenet doesn’t know Kellhus sent Serwë to seduce Achamian.

The coin analogy is great. We often don’t realize how are actions are perceived as others. Just witness someone who goes on national TV and says something they believe is right and just only for everyone else to be horrified by their words, seeing it as disgusting and the person being confronted with how others perceive them. And, of course, we can’t see the mind of the person who said that, we can only react to what they said. What they did. So understanding this duality is wisdom, realizing this fact and thinking more about what you say or do, understanding your not whole but doing what you can to come close.

Now we see Kellhus preparing her for the Circumfix. He needs her to be strong, because once Serwë’s dead and he’s hanging from the tree, Esmenet will have to hold together the Zaudunyani. He’s grooming her for leadership for when he’s not available.

Kellhus, speaking on the truth of power, reminds me of a talk by a behavioral psychologist. Male humans have a natural inclination towards hierarchical structure between their members. On the outside, this appears to be the strongest male seizes control, but that’s not what really happens. Power is elective. The strongest male is only in control so long as the other males allow him, seeing this individual as more virtuous (stronger, smarter, more skilled, more experienced, etc). Now a male can achieve power through pure force, but this can force the other males to rise up and supplant him (revolution). We see this same behavior in chimpanzee tribes, where the most successful dominant males maintain a social structure with the lesser who have allowed elected him. If a male chimpanzee is too authoritarian to the other males, they can (and will) revolt and kill him, choosing another. The Greater Names of the Holy War are beginning to realize this fact. If your soldiers and lieutenants, the people you trust to use fear to keep down the larger population, abandon you, electing to serve another, you also lose your power.

And we have Kellhus admit why he seduced her away from Achamian: he wants her to breed children for him. And, of course, he has her seeing this as an amazing thing. She’s so caught up in the mythos he’s created for himself.

Well, at least this jump of a month when we hop over to Achamian seems to be accounted in the timeline in text properly. Unlike our Holy War spending a month or longer dying of dehydration in the desert.

People tend to know that they’re being a burdened on love ones while sick, and often will try to do what they can, feeling embarrassed that they have to have help, or apologizing for imposing. But when they’re ungrateful, when they’re belligerent and spiteful, it makes it so much harder.

Achamian comes up with self-lie after self-lie to justify abandoning his friend. The fact he doesn’t speaks to his character.

Poor Xinemus. The Scarlet Spire broke him while they only hardened Achamian. Things can never go back, and for Xinemus that’s unacceptable, which only drives him to be harsher and hasher, to get the grief from Achamian he feels he’s owed.

Xinemus drunken rant is so sad, attacking the darkness, his world stolen from him, saying mocking things to try and rationalize his new state as he muddles from one thought to the other. And then for him to hate himself for not being able to see, like through sheer willpower, he could open his eyes. Xinemus’s slow death over this book and the next is one of the most heartbreaking thing, to see such a strong man so utterly broken because he did the right thing. He did the honorable thing. Sadly, the world does not respect either.

Xinemus’s torment drowns out the heartbreak Achamian is in for in the near future as he pines for Esmenet, not knowing the very man he believes will protect her has seduced her away.

Xinemus know hopes that Kellhus can restore his vision, can heal him the way prophets in the past were supposed to be able to. But Kellhus is a fraud.

Martemus is the closest thing Conphas has to a friend. And even a man as narcissistic as Conphas yearns for that relationship. So even though he’s pretty sure Martemus is a traitor, he just enjoys being around the man, talking with him, hearing his blunt observations.

Conphas’s narcissism has caused him to misinterpret why everyone hates and despises him—he’s an asshole. Men can respect and even love their betters. This goes back to male elective hierarchy. Monarchies bypass this, using tradition and custom to give them power, and so long as their soldiers by into it (and Conphas’s soldiers definitely do) they can maintain their power. But such arrogance and poor diplomacy doesn’t build that respect with the other males on the outside or who are being repressed. It is also an example of how wisdom is found between the two halves. Conphas has no inkling to how his outside half is seen by others and does a poor job understanding how other people’s inside halves work.

Conphas does know how to manipulate fear. He’s doing a great job here, using the Holy War’s own religious language (a language he doesn’t subscribe to) as his goad to drive them down the road towards Kellhus’s death.

The pieces are moving into place for the climax of the novel.

To continue on to Chapter Twenty-one, click here!

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