Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 2: The Warrior Prophet
by R. Scott Bakker
The Third March
Welcome to Chapter Twenty-Three of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Twenty-Two!
For Men, no circle is ever closed. We walk ever in spirals
—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR
Bring he who has spoken prophecy to the judgment of the priests, and if is prophecy is judged true, acclaim him, for he is clean, and if his prophecy is judged false, bind him to the corpse of his wife, and hang him one cubit above the earth, for he is unclean, an anathema unto the Gods.
—WARRANTS 7:48, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK
No circle is ever closed. This is a statement on the relativity of truth, that as men we never find it. We’re always searching for it, spiraling ever closer or away, but we never find it, never form that complete circle of thought. There’s always a new argument, a new way to look at it, a different facet of “truth” to find. Why this quote, because look at the next one where we have a passage on judging the truth of prophecy. And it is black and white. It is the opposite of the skepticism that Achamian has always subscribed to.
It condemns two people to death.
The Tusks punishment on false prophets is harsh. I mean really harsh. If you look at the Old Testament you’ll find being put to death a punishment for being a false prophet, for daring to speak in the name of God, but you don’t have them putting your wife to death in the process. I feel this is the Inchoroi’s hand at work, this needless cruelty, this delight in torment that they breed into their servant-races like the Sranc and skin-spies.
Late Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Caraskand
Eleäzaras is shocked by what he finds in Chepheramunni’s sickroom. Count-Palatine Chinjosa holds him to steady him. Eleäzaras stumbles to the bed, the room thick with the scent of rot and death, and gazes at the dead ruler of Ainoni.
Chepheramunni’s head lay beneath the congregated candles, but his face…
It was nowhere to be seen.
Where his face should have been lay what resembled an overturn spider, its legs clutched in death about its abdomen. What had been Chepheramunni’s face lay unspooled across the knuckles and shins of steepled limbs. Eleäzaras saw familiar fragments: a lone nostril, the haired ridge of an eyebrow. Beneath he glimpsed lidless eyes and the shine of human teeth, bared and lipless.
And just as that fool Skalateas had claimed, nowhere could he sense the bruise of sorcery.
Chepheramunni—a Cishaurim skin-spy.
Eleäzaras is overwhelmed by the sight. The room spins around him. Chinjosa asks what this means and Eleäzaras things they’re doomed, that he’s led his School to its death. He reflects on the disasters the school has suffered from Anwurat to Iothiah, and now trapped in the city. And now he learns that the Cishaurim knew all their plans. He says they’re doomed. Chinjosa objects, saying the abomination is dead, the Gods have removed him.
Horrified, Eleäzaras suddenly wonders if Chinjosa is really Chinjosa. But the man’s warlike strength pulls Eleäzaras back from despair. He agrees the skin-spy’s death is a blessing while realizing there could be other skin-spies. He tells Chinjosa not to tell anyone, orders the head removed, the body burned all while cursing Achamian for not breaking and telling his secrets.
Achamian and Xinemus “walked the ways of twilight” from the port city of Jocktha to Caraskand. They pass the enemy camp and can feel the Cishaurim’s “plucked eyes” searching for them. Achamian feared they’d be discovered, that the shadows hiding them would be revealed by the Cishaurim. But they aren’t.
Gaining the walls, they revealed themselves beneath a small postern gate. It was night, and torches glittered between the battlements above. With Xinemus slumped against him, Achamian called to the astonished guards: “Open the gates! I am Drusas Achamian, a Mandate Schoolman, and this is Krijates Xinemus, the Marshal of Attrempus… We have come to share your plight!”
“This city is both doomed and damned,” someone shouted down. “Who seeks entry to such a place? Who but madmen or traitors?”
Achamian paused before answering, struck by the bleak conviction of the man’s tone. The Men of the Tusk, he realized, had lost all hope.
“Those who would attend their loved ones,” he said. “Even unto death.”
After a pause, the outer doors burst open and a troop of hollow-cheeked Tydonni seized them. At long last they found themselves inside the horror of Caraskand.
Esmenet weeps, holding baby Moënghus, as she stares at the forms of Kellhus and Serwë hanging from an ancient eucalyptus tree called Umiaki. She begs for Kellhus to wake up while she reflects what happened. She’d witnessed Gotian strip Kellhus naked, whip him bloody with cedar branches, and then bound him to Serwë’s nude corpse “ankle to ankle, wrist to wrist, face to face.” Then they strapped them to a bronze ring which they hung, upside down, to the tree. “Esmenet had wailed her voice to nothing.”
Now they spun in slow circles, their golden hair mingling in the breeze, their arms and legs sweeping out like those of dancers. Esmenet glimpsed ashen breasts crushed against a shining, armpit hair twisted into horns, then Serwë’s slender back rolled into view, almost mannish because of the deep line of her spine. She glimpsed her sex, bared between outspread legs, pressed against the confusion of Kellhus’s genitalia…
Serwë… Her face blackening as the blood settled, her limbs and torso carved in grey marble, as perfect in form as any artifice. And Kellhus… His face sheened in sweat, his muscular back gleaming white between lines of angry red. His eyes swollen shut.
“But you said!” Esmenet wailed. “You said Truth can’t die!”
But Serwë was dead and Kellhus dying. Holding Moënghus, Esmenet flees.
Cnaiür remembers Kellhus’s last message to him: “Remember when you recall the secret of battle.” He’s stalking through the Inrithi, who all fall silent because they know he is the breaker-of-horses-and-men. He didn’t need heralds or banners to announce him. His mere presence did it.
He’s conflicted, trying to drive Kellhus’s words from his mind as he stalks around Csokis, the temple complex where Kellhus is hung dying. He hardly notices the crowds watching as he wars with himself. He doesn’t care about any threats or curses as he pushes through the crowd. Only the sight of the eucalyptus tree arrests his attention. He can’t see Kellhus or Serwë from this distance in the dark.
He asks if Kellhus still lives, but he only gets bewildered looks in response. So he keeps plowing forward through the crowd until he reaches the Shrial Knights. He’s stopped and Cnaiür scowls, still unable to see Serwë and Kellhus. Then a procession of Shrial Knights with torches illuminates a silhouette, not sure if it’s hers or Kellhus.
The forward ranks of Inrithi began shouting, some in rapture, others in derision. Through the uproar, Cnaiür heard a velvety voice, spoken in timbres only his heart could hear.
“It’s good that you’ve come… Proper.”
Cnaiür stared in horror at the figure across the ring. Then the string of torches marched on, and darkness reclaimed the ground beneath Umiaki. The surrounding clamour subsided, fractured into individual shouts.
“All men,” the voice said, “should know their work.”
Cnaiür shouts out that he came to watch Kellhus suffer and die. People give him strange looks. The hallucination of Kellhus asks why he would want something. Cnaiür responds that Kellhus betrayed him. Kellhus asks how. “You need only speak!” Kellhus says Cnaiür makes too much of him, worse than the Inrithi. But Cnaiür responds that only he knew what Kellhus was and only he could destroy him. As he did. Kellhus reminds him of Moënghus, that they can still hunt him.
Cnaiür stood breathless, as motionless as a horse-laming stone hidden among the Steppe grasses.
“I’ve made a trade,” he said evenly. “I’ve yielded to the greater hate.”
“Yes! Yes! Look at her! Look at what you’ve done to her!”
“What I’ve done, Scylvendi? Or what you’re done?”
“She’s dead. My Serwë! My Serwë is dead! My prize!”
“Oh, yes… What will they whisper, now that your proof has passed? How will they measure?”
“They killed her because of you!”
Laughter, full and easy-hearted, like that of a favorite uncle just into his cups.
“Spoken like a true Son of the Steppe!”
Cnaiür snarls that Kellhus mocks them when a hand seizes his shoulder, telling him to cease his madness and speaking in his tongue. Cnaiür breaks the man and batters him to the ground while Kellhus asks who would dare mock a murder. Cnaiür screams Kellhus killed her. But Kellhus says Cnaiür did when he sold him out. Cnaiür screams it was to save his son. He sees Serwë dying again in Sarcellus arms and then hears a baby crying. Cnaiür screams they were supposed to kill the whore, Esmenet.
The crowd starts attacking Cnaiür know. He fights back, but is getting pummeled while Kellhus calls him weeper. Suddenly, the mob is fleeing another man, tall and fighting his way to Cnaiür. The man asks if Cnaiür lost his wits while Kellhus says, “You murdered Serwë.”
And suddenly, the stranger became Coithus Saubon, dressed in a penitent’s shabby robes. What kind of devilry?
“Cnaiür,” the Galeoth Prince exclaimed, “who are you speaking to?”
“You…” the darkness crackled.
Cnaiür shook free of the man’s firm grip. “This is a fool’s vigil,” he grated.
He spat, then turned to fight his way free of the stink.
Achamian’s thoughts are full of Esmenet as five Tydonni knights escort him and Xinemus through Caraskand. He can almost smell her, her hear gasp out in pleasure, feel her body against him. He’s so close to being reunited with them.
The knights escorting Achamian refuse to say much of what’s happening, not trusting the two strangers yet, but treat them with courtesy. As they pass through the city, Achamian recognizes the hopelessness he sees in the inhabitants, the same looks he saw in his dreams after Anasûrimbor Celmomas died at the Field of Eleneöt or at the Plains of Mengedda awaiting the No-God. “The look of horror and fury, of Men who could only exact and never overcome.”
The look of Apocalypse
Whenever Achamian matched their gazes, no threat or challenge was exchanged, only the thoughtless understanding of exhausted brothers. Something—demon or reptile—crawled into the skulls of those who endured the unendurable, and when it looked out their eyes, as it inevitably did, it could recognize itself in others. He belonged, Achamian realized. Not just here in Caraskand with those he loved, but here with the Holy War. He belonged with these men—even unto death.
We share the same doom.
Because of Xinemus, they move slow to Proyas’s camp. As Achamian is hopeful for his reunion with Kellhus, Esmenet, and even Proyas, he ponders his declaration on the walls of being a Mandate Schoolmen. He realizes he hasn’t said those words aloud in a long time. He isn’t sure he’s even is one because he is scared of contacting Atyersus. He hasn’t even let them know he escaped captivity. Even his reasons for refusing to contact them dwindled in his captivity.
Because I am no longer one of them.
For all the ferocity with which he defended the Gnosis—to the point of sacrificing Xinemus!—he’d forsaken the Mandate. He’d forsaken them, he realized, even before his abduction by the Scarlet Spires. He’d forsaken them for Kellhus…
I was going to teach him the Gnosis.
That makes him breathless. More than Esmenet awaits him. The threat of the Second Apocalypse also does. He finds himself callous, not wanting to care about the world. He just wants to be Drusas Achamian and be reunited with his wife Esmenet. “Like so many things in the aftermath of Iothiah, the rest seemed childish, the tropes in an over-read book.”
As they walk, Xinemus brings up their trip through the shadows, making Achamian at first think the man now regretted his acceptance of sorcery, something Xinemus before Iothiah never would have. But instead, Xinemus says that even blind he could see the Cishaurim. “I saw them seeing!”
“You did see,” he [Achamian] said carefully, “in a manner… There’s many ways of seeing. And all of us possess eyes that never breach skin. Men are wrong to think nothing lies between blindness and sight.”
“And the Cishaurim?” Xinemus pressed. “Is that… Is that how they—”
The Cishaurim are masters of this interval. They blind themselves, they say, to better see the World Between. According to some, it’s the key to their metaphysics.”
Xinemus has more questions, but Achamian says no isn’t the time, glancing at their escorts. They reach the compound where Anmergal, the leader of their escort, reports Proyas’s people agreed to take them in “despite their better judgment.” People only sneak out of Caraskand, not in. Before Achamian can answer, he orders his men to leave while Proyas’s men appear “from the darkness.” They are led inside and escorted to Proyas.
Despite his emaciated appearance, Achamian still thinks Proyas looks the same. Xinemus asks what’s going on and Achamian says it’s Proyas. The prince stares at Xinemus like a man shaking off sleep and asks what happened. Achamian can’t answer, suddenly angry. Proyas asks again with more command, and Achamian tries to explain how the Scarlet Spire took Xinemus’s eyes when Proyas hugs the Marshal as a sobbing child seeking comfort.
A moment of fierce silence passed.
“Zin,” Proyas hissed. Please forgive me! Please, I beg of you!”
“Shhh… It’s enough to feel your embrace… To hear your voice.”
“But Zin! Your eyes! Your eyes!”
“Shush, now… Akka will fix me. You’ll see.”
Achamian flinched at the words. Hope was never so poison as when it deluded loved ones.
Then Proyas begs for Achamian’s forgiveness, calling him “Old Teacher.” Achamian hears the words, but feels too far from Proyas. He can’t forgive him because not only is his heart hardened but he has retreated. He can’t see Proyas as only his student. He also sees him as a murderous fanatic. “How could he [Achamian] think these men were his brothers?” Instead, he says he’s not his teacher.
Proyas squeezed shut his eyes. They were hooded in the old way when he opened them. Whatever hardships the Holy War had endured, Proyas the Judge had survived.
Then Achamian asked where Esmenet and Kellhus, the only other people beside Xinemus who “possessed any claim to his heart.” Only they matter. Proyas stiffens, realizing they haven’t heard. Achamian suddenly can’t breath, asking after Esmenet. Proyas says she’s safe while Xinemus asks after Kellhus. Proyas hedges, saying much has happened. Then, when pressed, he says Kellhus is dead.
Cnaiür is in the great bazaar of Caraskand, the open area a skeletal reminder of the steppes reclined against a dead horse. He is remembering Serwë, replaying their conversation when he gave her a Swazond after she killed the Nansur soldier in book one. “Such a dear fool, that girl. So innocent.” He then speaks traditional words of a groom to her memory as he prepares to slit his own throat.
Kellhus is “bound to a circle,s winging from the limb of a dead tree.” He feels Serwë’s corpse against him. When a fly crawls across her face, he exhales to blow it away, thinking he has to keep her clean.
Her eyes half-open, papyrus-dry.
Serwë! Breathe girl, breathe! I command it!
I come before you. I come before!
Bound skin-to-skin to Serwë.
What have I… What? What?
A convulsion of some kind.
No… No! I must focus. I must assess…
Unblinking eyes, staring down black cheeks, out to the stars.
Kellhus madness continues. He begs for his father to make her breathe, he keeps saying he’s one of the condition. He’s weary, he can’t do this any longer. He tries to focus on what’s going on, but he’s grieving that they killed his wife. But a part of him instead says “I gave her to them.” He falls into dreams and sees a man “seated, shoulders crouched like an ape, legs crossed like a priest.” A tree with forking branches overs the night sky while the sky revolves around the Nail of Heaven. Kellhus can only stare at the figure and the tree as night and day passes.
Framed by the wheeling heavens, the figure spoke, a million throats in his throat, a million mouths in his mouth…
WHAT DO YOU SEE?
The silhouette stood, hands clasped like a monk, legs bent like a beast.
Whole words wailed in terror.
The Warrior-Prophet woke, his skin tingling against a dead woman’s cheek…
Father! What happens to me?
Pang upon pang, wresting away his face, beating it into a stranger’s.
The Zaudunyani recognize Achamian as a friend of their prophet. He’s escorted by Gayamakri, one of the Nascenti, to see Esmenet. He’s dazzled by the palace they walk through. In his head, he’s rehearsing a joke to tell Esmenet. “From a sorcerer’s tent to a caste-noble’s suite… Hmm,” he thinks, imagining her laughing. “So what will it be the next time I die? The Andiamine Heights?”
As they walk, Gayamakri says Esmenet was probably sleeping. It’s been hard for her. This makes Achamian feel silly for thinking of jokes when Serwë is dead and Kellhus dying. She would need him to comfort her instead. But then suddenly Gayamakri begs Achamian to save Kellhus. Achamian promises to try, the man thanks him while crying. Not sure what to do, Achamian helps the man stand saying he needs to see Esmenet before he can anything. Gayamakri runs away, leaving Achamian at Esmenet’s doors.
He stands before the door imagining their reunion, holding her while she cries. How he’ll tell her everything, and that he’ll take her as his wife for real, not caring about the rules against it. “He almost laughed with joy.” Instead of knocking, he enters her chambers “the way a husband might.”
He walks through her suite full of riches. Her bed is large, the sheets “knotted as though by passion.” He even spots a private garden. His joke grows in his mind. He’s excited to see her but wondering where she is.
Then his eyes found her on the far side of the room, curled up on a small couch with her back to the doors—to him. Her hair looked longer, almost purple in the gloom. Her loose gown had fallen, revealing a slender shoulder, both brown and pale. His arousal was immediate, both joyous and desperate.
How many times had he kissed that skin?
Kissing. That was how he would awaken her, crying while kissing her naked shoulder. She would stir, thinking he was a dream. “No… It can’t be you. You’re dead.” Then he would take her, with a slow, fierce tenderness, wrack her with voluptuous rapture. And she would know that at long last her heart had returned.
I’ve come back for you Esmi… From death and agony.
He approaches her when she bolts upright awake. She looks around, frightened, then sees him, shocked. She becomes a stranger to him, looking the way he remembers the first time he saw her years ago in Sumna. “There was a breathless moment between them.” He whispers her name as she looks horrified for a heartbeat. But then she rushes to him. They hug each other tight. She sobs, saying he was dead as he tries to sooth her and tell her everything will be alright. He tries to kiss her, but she won’t let him.
Instead, she begs him to save Kellhus. This confuses Achamian. He asks what she means as the realization builds in him. He tries to rationalize away his fear that she loves Kellhus now but it grows harder and harder the more she begs him to save Kellhus. He sees it in her face that she’s betrayed him. She tries to tell him but she’s crying to hard to speak.
Her face was now dead, in the way of those who must carve distances, cut wide what was once close.
Don’t say it! Please don’t say it!
He looked about the extravagant room, gesturing with his hands. He tried to laugh, then said, “S-some sorcerer’s tent, eh?” A sob knifed the back of his throat. “Wha-what will it be next time I die? The Andi… Th-the Andiamine…” He tried to smile.
“Akka,” she whispered. “I carry his child.”
Whore after all.
Achamian is thinking about how he escaped Iothiah as he moves through the crowd to see Kellhus at the tree. He wants to make the tree he hangs from burn, to kill the man who seduced his wife. But there are Chorae bound to the Circumflex, protecting Kellhus.
He creeps closer and sees Serwë’s corpse pressed against Kellhus, the pair slowly rotating. He wonders how this happened. As he breathes in the smells of death and the sweet scent of the eucalyptus, he hears hymns and dirges for the Warrior-Prophet “calling out the same godless prayer.” He hugs himself, wondering how this happened again.
He lifted his face, raised chin and brow to his hate. Tears streamed down his cheeks.
“How? How could you betray me like this? You… You! The two people—the only two! You kn-knew how empty my life had been. You knew! I c-can’t understand… I try and try but I can’t understand! How could you do this to me!”
He imagines Esmenet having sex with Kellhus, the Warrior-Prophet asking how Esmenet could even stand sleeping with Achamian. He imagines her answering because he fed her and paid her gold. He wasn’t you. Savage anger surges through Achamian. He rants at Kellhus that he could burn the treacherous dog with his sorcery.
Damn you…” he gasped. He couldn’t breathe. Where was the air to breathe?
He rolled his head, like a boy whose anger had been striped hollow by hurt. He beat an awkward fist against dead leaves.
He looked around numbly, and wiped at his face with a half-hearted sleeve. Sniffled and tasted the salt of tears in the back of his throat…”
“You’ve made a whore of her, Kellhus… You’ve made a whore of my Esmi…”
And then Kellhus speaks, saying Achamian’s name and says “he” knew Achamian would come. This shocks Achamian into silence. He’s angry that Kellhus is ruining his moment by speaking. But then Kellhus says he can see them and Achamian realizes he’s talking about the Consult. He then says that the No-God returns and is just as Achamian claims.
“Lies!” Achamian cried. “Lies to spare you my wrath!”
My Nascenti… Tell them to show you what lies in the garden.”
“What? What lies in the garden?”
But the shining eyes were closed.
A grievous howl echoed across the Kalaul, chilling blood and drawing men with torches to the blackness beneath Umiaki. The ring continued its endless roll.
Proyas is awakened by the dawn’s light. Shame floods back as he remembers last night and his reunion with Achamian and Xinemus. He feels guilty for their suffering. It takes him a few minutes to realize Achamian is in his bedroom, watching. He’s shocked, asking what his teacher wants. Achamian asks if Proyas knew about Kellhus and Esmenet. Proyas admits he know, but figured Kellhus would be dead. Achamian just says she’s lost to him with “exhausted resolve.” Then Achamian asks about Xinemus, who is sleeping one room over.
Achamian pursed his lips. “Did he [Xinemus] tell you?”
“About his eyes?” Proyas looked to the outline of his feet beneath the vermilion covers. “No. I hadn’t the courage to ask. I assume that the Spires…”
“Because of me, Proyas. They blinded him as way to coerce me.”
The message was obvious. It’s not your fault, he was saying.
Proyas raised a hand as though to pinch more sleep from his eyes. He wiped away tears instead.
Damn you, Akka… I don’t need your protection.
Achamian tells how the Scarlet Spire are scared about the Cishaurim and they were the reason he was captured. Proyas isn’t surprised seeing how Eleäzaras hasn’t wanted to take to the field. Achamian makes a joke that has Proyas laughing and feeling comfortable, slipping back into their old roles. But this makes Proyas feel worse because they can only achieve this when both are exhausted and scared. Silence follows.
Then Achamian said, “Kellhus cannot die.”
Proyas pursed his lips. “But of course,” he said numbly. “I say he must die, so you say he must live.” He glanced, not without nervousness, at his nearby work table. The parchment sat in plain view, its raised corners translucent in the sun: Maithanet’s letter.
“This has nothing to do with you, Proyas. I am past you.”
The tone as much as the words chilled Proyas to the pith.
Proyas asks why Achamian is here. Achamian responds only Proyas will understand. Proyas guesses it has to do with Kellhus being an Anasûrimbor and starts being derisive of Mandate beliefs when Achamian cuts him off, saying when Proyas mocks his beliefs its the same as mocking him. Achamian asks when has he ever done that about Proyas’s beliefs. Proyas swallows his rebuke and instead says Kellhus is judged. Achamian reminds Proyas of King Shikol who’d condemned Inri Sejenus. Proyas is frightened to be remembered in the same as that man who made such a mistake. Proyas claims he is right. “It all came down to Truth.” Achamian wondered if Shikol thought the same.
“What?” Proyas exclaimed. “So the great skeptic thinks a new prophet walks among us? Come, Akka… It’s too absurd!”
These are Conphas’s words… Another unkind thought.
Achamian isn’t sure if Kellhus is a prophet, but he knows he can’t die. Proyas then admits he knows there’s something special about Kellhus. He didn’t want to believe Conphas and the others that Kellhus was the reason for the Holy War’s string of recent misfortune because the Gods punished them. Achamian asks why Proyas did side against him. It was the Scylvendi, the man who knew Kellhus the most, and yet hated him. Achamian shrugs, thinking it only Cnaiür’s love for Serwë. Proyas thought so, too, but he felt there was more. The man was too complicated for that to be the reason.
Achamian makes a joke about Cnaiür’s thin skin. Then Proyas continues his story, saying how Cnaiür is as extraordinary as Kellhus and he’s glad he’s on the Holy War’s side. Proyas then tells how he pressed Cnaiür again about his dislike of Kellhus. Cnaiür told him to see Kellhus and that was when Proyas found Esmenet in Kellhus’s bed. Proyas couldn’t dismiss Conphas’s arguments. He didn’t support it, afraid of open war between the Orthodox and Zaudunyani. But when Conphas brought a witness who claimed that Atrithau had no prince and Cnaiür confirmed it. They debate Cnaiür’s motives for possibly lying when Achamian asks how Serwë could be executed. How Proyas let that happen.
“Ask Gotian!” Proyas blurted. “Trying them according to the Tusk was his idea—his! He thought it would legitimize the affair, make it seem less like… less—”
“Like what it was?” Achamian cried. “A conspiracy of frightened caste-nobles trying to protect their power and privileged.”
They argue for a moment on whether it was done for faith or power but Proyas cuts it off, saying he didn’t just condemn Kellhus for no good reason and it’s done. “Prophet or not, Anasûrimbor Kellhus is dead.” But Achamian points out he never said Kellhus is a prophet, just that he’s the world’s only hope. Proyas realizes this is about the Second Apocalypse. Asks if Achamian believes Kellhus is Seswatha returned.
“He’s more!” the Schoolman cried with alarming passion. “Far more than Seswatha, as he must be… The Heron Spear is lost, destroyed when the Scylvendi sacked ancient Cenei. If the Consult were to succeed a second time, if the No-God were to walk again…” Achamian stared, his eyes rounded in horror.
“Men would have no hope.”
Proyas had endured many of these small rants since his childhood. What made them so uncanny, and at the same time so intolerable, was the way Achamian spoke: as though he recounted rather than conjectured. Just then the morning sun flashed anew between a crease in the accumulating clouds. The thunder, however, continued to rumble across wretched Caraskand.
Achamian then reminds Proyas that he had once asked if Achamian had more than dreams. Proyas does. It was the night Achamian asked him to write to Maithanet. Achamian then fetches an object. Proyas stares at it as Achamian yells at him to study it then send riders to the Great Names. Proyas recoils at what he sees, wanting to hide in his blankets. He realizes that Achamian would never relent. “And of course not: he was a Mandate Schoolman.” Then Proyas remembers his letter from Maithanet.
Certainty in doubt. That was what was holy! That!
Proyas gets out of bed and grabs the letter, showing it to Achamian. The sorcerer is shocked to read the Shriah’s words that Proyas should assist him. “The impossible always left the deepest marks on the soul.”
Achamian set the sheet upon his lap, though he still pinched the corner with his thumb and forefinger. The two men shard a thoughtful gaze… Confusion and relief warred in his teacher’s eyes.
“Aside from my sword, my harness, and my ancestors,” Proyas said, “that letter is the only thing I brought across the desert. The only thing I saved.”
“Call them,” Achamian said. “Summon the others to Council.”
Gone was the golden morning. Rain poured from black skies.
It’s late winter, so we must be in a new month. The siege was said to go on for weeks and weeks, so this tracks.
So, I really thought Chepheramunni died early in the novel. But we’re finally here in all its shocking revel. He’s been in the background for the entire novel, always mentioned in the most casual ways, reminders that he’s around, keeping him in our thought. The real Chepheramunni was probably the corpse found faceless in the marsh a few years ago.
Eleäzaras continues cracking. This is a bad blow to a man already buckling under the strain of his decision. He’s a smart man, if blinded by his own prejudices the way any human can be, and this is catastrophic. To think his enemy has been privy to his counsels. To his decisions. Makes him wonder at all those other deaths. All those precious sorcerers killed at Anwurat, the lose of Ainoni’s skilled general.
And then to realize anyone can be a skin-spy would make a man as paranoid as Emperor Ikurei Xerius.
So Achamian must be using some sort of Gnosis to hide them as they journey to Caraskand on foot. It appears to use shadows in some way. I think this is the only time in the entire series this is used. It almost sounds like they’re walking through another dimension. I never noticed that detail before. “There was no food in this place, no life-giving water, and their bodies, which they carried across their backs the way one might carry a corpse, suffered horribly.” Like they’re walking through the Plane of Shadows from D&D. But it’s something detectable by other sorcerers in the real, especially the Cishaurim.
Powerful imagery of Kellhus and Serwë hanging from the tree, bound to the circumflex. And all Esmenet can do is wail in impotent fury. All the power she thought she gained, lost. Circumstances have stripped her bare. Now all she can do is witness. And that’s too much for her to bear.
Cnaiür’s madness continues. I do like the description of the eucalyptus tree, a generally positive image because of the medicinal qualities of its leaves, seen as an upside down tree, that the branches are really its roots. Which means the tree’s been uprooted. It’s dying. Dead.
So it’s not shocking that Cnaiür is hallucinating Kellhus’s voice. It’s obviously Cnaiür’s guilt at getting Serwë killed. He sided with Conphas to free Serwë from Kellhus, not to get her killed. She’s his proof. He needs her to cling to his identity as a Scylvendi just like he once needed Anissi. He’s adrift, so far from his people, and Serwë is his only anchor. An anchor he cut free to drown Kellhus not realizing he could never get it back from the depths of the ocean.
Cnaiür tries to say he traded Serwë’s life for his son, but that’s another lie. He wanted them both, as pointed out by shouting that they were supposed to kill the whore. I suspect that Proyas stepped in and saved Esmenet’s life. Or maybe Sarcellus decided to kill Serwë.. After all, he was interrupted in his fun with Serwë last time by Cnaiür and the Consult might still wish to use Esmenet.
Poor Achamian. He’s so eager to see Esmenet, and you know it’s not going to be the reunion at all what he thinks. It’s actually the most cliché thing in Bakker’s story. The man who goes through an ordeal, is believed dead, and clings to returning to his lover as the only thing to get hope. Only to return and find his lover has moved on, mourned his lost, and found another. Of course, Esmenet moved on very fast thanks to Kellhus’s manipulation. It’s only been a few months, not a year or longer like it usually would be.
And then we have Achamian finding kinship with those who’ve suffered. It reminds me of the Band of Brother miniseries. There’s a soldier, trained with Easy Company from the beginning, but was wounded on D-Day and doesn’t rejoin them until after the Battle of the Bulge. He’s suddenly a stranger to these guys he knew for years. He’s an outsider because he doesn’t have that look. He didn’t suffer with them in the Ardennes in foxholes, starving, freezing, shelled day in and day out. It’s reversed here. Suddenly these men have suffered as Achamian has in his dreams, in his other life.
Achamian, and maybe Bakker, is saying family is the true importance. If Achamian hadn’t put all that other stuff ahead of Esmenet, he never would have been parted from her. Instead, their reunion takes a long, long time.
Bakker gives us hints at the Psûkhe and what makes it different from other sorcery. Their ability to see between sight and blindness, to view the metaphysics of the world without the distraction of real sight, allows them to better forge the work of the God with sorcerery, to make something undetectable to other sorcerers.
Achamian has sees one Kianene in Caraskand, a slave in Proyas’s house. What happened to the others? Probably a lot dead from starvation, from the brutalities of the Men of the Tusk. As the Holy War starves, they would keep any food for themselves. They probably are constantly raiding homes for more scraps, killing any who defend what food they have for themselves and their families.
Achamian’s anger is not shocking at all. He knows, through Xinemus, that Proyas abandoned him. That’s not something easily forgotten even if Achamian might want to.
Poor Xinemus. The fact that he could see something while walking through the shadows has given him this false hope that Achamian can fix him. The man is lost, drowning. Not even reuniting with his surrogate son, Proyas, can save him.
Achamian cares for only three people in the world now. One he allowed to suffer and the other two betrayed him. He’s in for a rough time.
Cnaiür contemplates joining Serwë, his bride, in death, killing himself the same way Sarcellus killed her.
Kellhus is feeling the strongest amount of emotions ever. He is drowning in guilt as he slowly dies. He is delusional, thinking he can make Serwë breathe. He wants to keep her clean. He saw this coming. He had a vision of this. He tried to avoid it, but couldn’t. All he could do was make sure that Esmenet wasn’t the wife murdered. Because she had a use beyond the Circumflex if he survives. He even argues with himself, the logical part of him pointing out that he “gave her to them.” The logical part of Kellhus sacrificed Serwë. But the kernel of emotions, those weak passions he has, cared for Serwë, as much as he could. Just as he cares for Esmenet as much as he can as we see in the later books. His first ever emotion we see from Kellhus is outrage at Serwë’s rape. And now he’s gotten her killed. Has to stare at her face. Kellhus has slowly been going mad over the book confronted with the breaking of cause and effect because of beings in the outside, the “Gods,” who exist outside of time.
Then he dreams and runs into the No God. The figure sits before a tree that branches out across the sky. Trees represent all the possibilities of life, the decisions that cause probability to branch over and over. It represents the Dûnyain’s probability trance. Every time Kellhus descends into the trance, he’s trying to figure out which branch is the one he needs to follow. And here is the tree with the No-God. All those possibilities. What if they all lead to the No-God’s return without him. Notice how he is doing nothing but standing, watching. This is where Kellhus makes the decision to save the world. As Moënghus points out in the next book, Kellhus went mad. And that madness is the desire to save the world from the No-God and the real Gods.
All because he let Serwë die. All because he ventured down a path that led to him sacrificing one of the two people he cared for. And like any good Dûnyain, he’ll do anything to achieve that goal as we see in the next series.
Achamian wants to make Esmenet laugh. That’s what he’s thinking about. He loves her laugh, loves seeing her with joy in her eyes. It’s the most important thing to him right now.
Bakker really drags out the truth that Esmenet has moved on to Kellhus for Achamian. He lets us see his hope, his joy, his longing. The fantasies that play out in his head (like they play out in ours), imagining how their reunion will go. And, like with all fantasies, reality never matches up.
And then he meets her and he just wants to hold her, but she just wants him to save Kellhus. Achamian is a smart guy. He has that sickening dread of realization, that growing hurt that swells in his heart. He knows that she betrayed him, but he doesn’t want to hear it. He wants to live in his fantasy. But she pops it. She’s having his child. And anger crashes through him. “Whore after all.”
And to make it worse, she’s pregnant. Not even with Achamian did she give up her contraceptive totem, her whore’s shell. But she did for Kellhus. She gave more of herself to Kellhus then she did to Achamian. And in such a short amount of time, a few months versus the years of their relationship.
Achamian’s rant beneath the eucalyptus tree is heartbreaking. He’s grieving. He’s angry. He wanted so much to return to Esmenet only to find that she’s already moved on, pregnant, and with Kellhus… He’s too hurt to even understand how Esmenet thought him dead. That she had to move on with her life. Yes, her moving on happened faster than normal, but that was because of Kellhus because Kellhus had written Achamian off. The sorcerer was gone so there was no point in trying to maintain that relationship by staying away from Esmenet. I’ve always assumed Kellhus would one day work on the couple and get Achamian to understand why letting Kellhus take Esmenet as his wife would be for the good of the world. He almost does it in the next book until Cnaiür tells Achamian the truth about Kellhus.
“You’ve made a whore of her, Kellhus.” This ties back in with that imagination he has previously of Esmenet claiming to always have been a whore to Achamian. It’s how they started, but by the end, she was his wife. But now his memories of all their times together are poisoned. He can’t help but imagine she only tolerated him and now moved on to someone better. He probably thinks she doesn’t care about Kellhus either. Just using him. It’s a very easy hole for men to plunge into when they are betrayed by a woman, especially if they leave him for someone with more status. Often men feel like that’s all they are to their women, just an ATM. And one she’ll abandon if the money stops flowing. And so when that does happen, it can really poison men towards women. For women, it’s youth and beauty, and a woman whose abandoned by her husband for a younger, prettier wife will have this same poisoning.
Even dying, Kellhus can still manipulate. Of course, he is telling the truth. He did see the No-God. He’s seen what a threat he is. He needs to survive to do something about it. And Achamian appears to be the only one to do it. Now it’s interesting, who is this “he” that Kellhus speak of. Who told Kellhus that Achamian would appear. Kellhus couldn’t have predicted Achamian appearing. He had stopped considering the sorcerer in any of his probability trances.
This is another breaking of causality. Something outside of time told Kellhus Achamian would come. Perhaps Ajolki. Kellhus caught a deal with that God as we learn at the end of the Unholy Consult. I think Ajolki sent Kellhus that “revelation” early on in the novel and is showing Kellhus other things.
Achamian is still being the parent with Proyas, trying to alleviate Proyas’s guilt by shifting it to himself. And it’s true. Achamian does feel guilty about Xinemus’s eyes. He could have given up the Gnosis, but didn’t. But Proyas’s doesn’t want his guilt taken away. He’s angry at Achamian for trying which just makes him feel worse.
The role reversal between Proyas and Achamian is great reading. Achamian is the assertive one, the one cutting off, the one speaking about faith and scripture, while Proyas is trying to tear it down. He’s smart enough to realize it and that disturbs him, but he’s condemned Kellhus. To change his mind know would be to admit he was wrong. That’s hard to do.
Proyas throws the guilt of Serwë’s death, which he is culpable in, all on Gotian. Like Proyas wasn’t in those councils. Like he didn’t give support to the entire endeavor.
So what does that mean for the world with the aftermath of The Unholy Consult if only Kellhus could give them hope? The final series of Bakker’s Second Apocalypse, The No God, will be very interesting to read.
Before the Scarlet Spire captured him, you could never have believed that Achamian would do the things he does in the second series. But now, seeing him in his interactions with Proyas, the determination, the fact he doesn’t care about how he appears, putting his mission to save the world above everything else. He learned what mattered in his torture. His mission and Esmenet.
And he lost Esmenet.
And then everything changes. Achamian pulls out the head of the skin-spy Esmenet showed him off-screen after Kellhus sent Achamian to her. Bakker is being coy, hiding what it is other than it’s covered in soil, building up the suspense in the readers. Everything is kicking off. You can feel that suddenly, all these scattered crumbs through out the novel have led us to this moment. To the climax of The Warrior Prophet!
Want to read the next part, click here for Chapter Twenty-Four!