Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought
by R. Scott Bakker
The Final March
Welcome to Chapter Seventeen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Sixteen!
Faith, they say, is simply hope confused for knowledge. Why believe when hope alone is enough?
—CRATIANAS, NILNAMESHI LORE
Ajencis, in the end, argued that ignorance was the only absolute. According to Parcis, he would tell his students that he knew only that he knew more than when he was an infant. This comparative assertion was the only nail, he would say, to which one could tie the carpenter-string of knowledge. This has come down to use as the famed “Ajencian Nail,” and it is the only thing that prevented the Great Kyranean from falling into the tail-chasing skepticism of Nirsolfa, or the embarrassing dogmatism of well-nigh every philosopher and theologian who ever dared scratch ink across parchment.
But even this metaphor, “nail,” is faulty, a result of what happens when we confuse our notation with what is noted. Like the numeral “zero” used by the Nilnameshi mathematicians to work such wonders, ignorance is the occluded frame of all discourse, the unseen circumference of every contention. Men are forever looking for the one point, the singular fulcrum they can use to dislodge all competing claims. Ignorance does not give us this. What it provides, rather, is the possibility of comparison, the assurance that not all claims are equal. And this Ajencis would argue, is all that we need. For so long as we admit our ignorance, we can help to improve our claims, and so long as we can improve our claims, we can aspire to the Truth, even if only in rank approximation.
And this is why I mourn my love of the Great Kyranean. For despite the pull of his wisdom, there are many things of which I am absolutely certain, things that feed the hate which derives this very quill.
—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR
Achamian, ever the doubter, goes on to talk about how ignorance is the state of man. That despite the belief systems of both philosophers and theologians, they simply things too much. The world is too complicated to be reduced to a “singular fulcrum they can use to dislodge all competing claims.” We’re forever battling with ideas that threaten our own cherished ideals, and that can lead to real fights. The ability to look at everything and compare different ideas is how we fight against our biases. It is what we should strive for and usually fail at doing. And even saying that, Achamian admits he can’t do it. He hates Kellhus. He’s writing his compendium to reveal that Kellhus is a fraud.
The Compendium of the First Holy War is his singular fulcrum against the mythos Kellhus has crafted around himself.
This leads to our first quote. It’s saying faith is ignorance, but if it were that simple, why would you need it if you could just hope your right. Faith is more than believing in some higher power. It’s the faith that when you step on the ground, it will be firm. It’s the faith that when you press on your brakes, they’ll work. Faith comes out of knowledge. Blind faith is a danger. Faith without scrutinizing it, without testing it, is a weak faith.
Achamian has had his faith in Kellhus tested. He has scrutinized it. He has found it wanting.
Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh
Achamian is remembering soaring in the grasp of the Ciphrang. It flies unsteadily, crying out in pain. It’s bleeding and descending in a spiral. When Achamian awakens, he’s lying by the sea amid reeds. He wonders where his brothers are. He thinks he’s a child and expects his fisherman father to shout at him.
Then something was dragging him, drawing him across the sand; he could see the clots where his blood blackened it. Dragging him, a shadow leaning against the sun, drawing him down into the darkness of ancient wars, into Golgotterath…
Into a golden labyrinth of horrors more vast than any Nonmen Mansion, where a student, who was more a son, gazed at him with horror and incredulity. A Kûniüric Prince, just beginning to fathom his surrogate father’s betrayal.
He dreams he is Seswatha is telling Nau-Cayûti that his lover is dead or ruined beyond saving. Nau-Cayûti, betrayed, is horrified to learn that Seswatha lied to him. He’s utterly betrayed because “Sessa” was the only one who believed.
“Because I couldn’t succeed,” Achamian said. “Not alone. Because what we do here is more important than truth or love.”
Nau-Cayûti asks why they are here. To find the Heron spear. As he does, he turns and sees a little girl’s face that looks like Esmenet’s. The girl speaks, but it is a mature woman’s voice that comes out from it. He hears the sound of the sea and thinks he’s dying.
He doesn’t die. He comes awake after spending days feeling like he “rolled, as though he had been bound to a great spinning wheel, only a small portion of which breached the surface of hot, amniotic waters.” A woman and her daughter tends him. He has nightmares of the last Apocalypse as he suffers through fevers. When they break, he is able to take in the fisher hut he’s recovering in and he feels like he’s in his childhood home. He falls into a dream of riding in the chariot with the Kyranean High King.
For years now, an inexplicable sense of doom had hung upon the horizon, a horror that had no form, only direction… All Men could feel it. And all Men knew that it bore responsibility for their stillborn sons, that it had broken the great cycle of souls.
Now at last they could see it—the bone that would gag Creation.
An army of Sranc and Bashrag swarm before the No-God, the mighty whirlwind. “A great winding rope sucking the dun earth into black heavens, elemental and indifferent, roaring ever nearer, come to snuff out the last light of Men.” Twilight descends as the Sranc fall to their knees, not caring that they are getting slaughtered. Through all their throats, the No-God speaks.
WHAT DO YOU SEE?
“What,” Anaxophus said, “do you see?”
Seswatha gaped at the High King. Though the man’s tone and expression were entirely his own, he had spoken the selfsame words as the No-God.
“My Lord High King…” Achamian knew not what else to say.
The surrounding plains writhed and warred. As tall as the horizon, the dread whirlwind approached, the No-God walked, so vast it made gravel of Mengedda’s ruin, motes of men.
I MUST KNOW WHAT YOU SEE
“I must know what you see…”
The painted eyes fixed him, honest and intent, as though demanding a boon whose significance had yet to be determined.
“Anaxophus!” Seswatha cried through the clamour. “The Spear! You must take up the Spear!”
This isn’t what happens…
The No_God comes closer with Achamian screaming at Anaxophus to use the Spear. Entire legions of Sranc are caught up in the whirlwind, hurtling around it. Anaxophus keeps repeating the No-God’s questions. “WHAT AM I?” The No-God is closer. It’s ripping into the human army. Achamian realizes it’s too late, feeling the wind ripping at his skin.
Strange… the way passion flickered out before life.
Horses shrieking. Chariot tipping.
TELL ME, ACHAMIA—
He bolted awake, crying out.
The woman rushes to him. He grabs her too hard and keeps her from pulling away. He uses her to stand while she cries out in pain. He’s holding her too tight but can’t let go. A man rushes in and punches Achamian. Stunned and lying on the ground, Achamian doesn’t remember the actual blow, just the man yelling while the wife pleads. Naked, Achamian stands up. He wraps himself up in a rough blanket and leaves the couple. Their daughter watches him from where she cringes behind a wall.
He turned and, as fast as he could manage, fled across the shore.
Please don’t kill me! he wanted to cry out, though he knew he could burn them all.
He began walking east, to Shimeh. It seemed the only direction he knew.
Achamian trudges down the beach as the morning sun rises. The warm waves lap at his feet. He only takes a few breaks, including to make a staff from driftwood, tie a rope about his blanket, and to check his leg. It’s cut. The demon had injured Achamian before he cast his Skin Wards, keeping the demon from killing him. The fourth time he stopped, he notices his reflection in a tidal pool and sees the symbol of Fane drawn on it. He finds himself loathe to wash away the charm so only rinses out his beard.
He heads from the beach on his walk to the city. The heat grows away from the ocean. He finds signs of the battle then the camp of the Holy War. He walks through the battlefield and entered the Massus Gate. He pauses at the sight of a Scarlet Schoolman turned to salt. He then climbs up to the Juterum and sees no one until he reaches the Heterine Wall. Two Conryians who know Achamian kneel and cry, “Truth shines!” They want his blessing.
He spat on them instead.
He approaches the First Temple. Nearby, the Ctesarat, the home of the Cishaurim, is smoking ruins. He finds thousands of Inrithi crowding around it. He leans on his staff as the Men of the Tusk part for him, recognizing him. “He stood at the centre of the world—teacher to their Warrior-Prophet.” He ignores their cries and, before entering the temple, glares and laughs at them.
Inside the gloomy temple, everyone is kneeling amid the outer pillars. “The marble soothed his bleeding feet.” He feels hollow inside and only feels alive because he breathed and still has lice. He feels he’s about to die. He hears someone speaking “stern proclamations” and recognizes Maithanet’s voice. He glimpses him introducing Kellhus as the High King of Kûniüri and the Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas.
The words winded Achamian as surely as a father’s blow. While the Men of the Tusk leapt to their feet, crying out in rapture and adulation, he staggered against one of the white pillars, feeling the cool of engraved figures pressed against his cheek.
What was this hollow that had so consumed him? What was this yearning that felt so like mourning?
They make us love! They make us love!
Achamian is lost in his thoughts and doesn’t realize for a bit that Kellhus is speaking. He’s drawn forward “irresistibly, inevitably.” He passes the lords dressed in looted Fanim clothing. Kellhus is declaring that he is rewriting everything “Your books, your parables, and your prayers, all that was your costume are now nothing more than childhood curiosities.” He is hear to bring them Truth, a new beginning.
Achamian keeps limping forward and as he reaches the end he cries out that Kellhus is declaring the “old world dead!” People gasp. The last figures part revealing the splendor of the “Holy Court of the Aspect-Emperor.” Maithanet is dressed in his golden robes. Proyas, Saubon, and the other surviving Great Names appear radiant. Nautzera stands to represent the Mandate. The growing Ministrate look glorious in the “fraudulent station.” Iyokus even stands “as pale as glass” dressed as in Eleäzaras’s garb.
He saw Esmenet, her mouth open, her painted eyes shining with tears that spilled… a Nilnameshi Empress once again.
He could not see Serwë. He could not see Cnaiür or Conphas.
Neither was Xinemus anywhere to be found.
But he saw Kellhus, sitting leonine before a great hanging Circumfix of white and gold, his hair flashing about his shoulders, his flaxen beard plaited. He saw him drawing the nets of the future, just as Scylvendi had said, measuring, theorizing, categorizing, penetrating…
He saw the Dûnyain.
Kellhus agrees with “Akka.” Achamian leans on his staff and says Kellhus speaks of apocalypse. Kellhus says it is not that simple and adopts a pose of good humor, inviting Achamian to sit at his side. Then Esmenet burst from the dais and false weeping before Achamian. She stares up at him, begging with her anguish.
“No,” Achamian said to Kellhus. “I’ve returned for my wife. Nothing more.”
A moment of crushing, monolithic silence.
Nautzera is the first to object, ordering Achamian to obey. Achamian ignores him and stares at his wife, holding out his hand and calling her by his pet name. He notices that her pregnancy is showing for the first time.
Kellhus simply… watched.
Nautzera shows menace as he admonishes Achamian. Ignoring Nautzera, Achamian continues to beg, holding out his hand to Esmi.
This was the only thing that could mean anymore.
“Akka,” she sobbed. She glanced about, seemed to wilt beneath the rapt gazes that encircled them. “I’m the mother of… of…”
So the hollow could not be shut. Achamian nodded, wiped the last tear he knew he would ever shed. He would be heartless now. A perfect man.
She begs with him, reminding him about the world. He remembers his joke. “What will it be the next time I die?” He seizes her wrist and exposes her whore tattoo. People shout, but no one moves to grab him. Esmenet even shouts for everyone to leave him alone. Achamian renounces his position as the Holy Tutor and Vizier to Kellhus. Then he renounces being a Mandate Schoolman calling them “an assembly of hypocrites and murderers.” Nautzera shouts that Achamian will be killed. No one can practice sorcery outside of the schools. Achamian cuts him off.
“I renounce my Prophet!”
Everyone is in an uproar. Achamian waits for it to calm as he stares at Kellhus. “Nothing passed between them.” Then Achamian glances at Proyas who looks older. Achamian sees in Proyas’s eyes they could have a reconciliation. But it’s late.
“And I renounce…” He trailed, warred with errant passions. “I renounced my wife.”
His eyes fell upon Esmenet, stricken upon the floor. My wife!”
“Nooo,” she wept and whispered. “Pleeaaase, Akka…”
“As an adulteress,” he continued, his voice cracking, “and a… a…”
His face hardening, he marches away. Everyone is dumbstruck and angry. He can hear Esmenet weeping as the crowd parts for him. Finally, Kellhus shouts Achamian’s name.
Kellhus. Achamian did not condescend to turn, but he did pause. It seemed the future itself leaned inscrutable against him, a yoke about his neck, a spear point against his spine…
“The next time you come before me,” the Aspect-Emperor said, his voice cavernous, ringing with inhuman resonance, “you will kneel, Drusas Achamian.”
Retracing his bloody footprints, the Wizard limped on.
I wonder if Bakker has ever read Tad Williams amazing Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy (or tetralogy if you read in paperback). In the third book, the main character is attached to a water wheel and spun around for days and days, dunked into water, brought back up. The imagery with Achamian describing his recovery reminded me of it. Maybe not. I know GRR Martin attributes the trilogy as a big influence of his ASOIF series. If you like Bakker, I’d check out Tad Williams. It doesn’t have the grimdark feel, but it has some powerful moments in it and is a partial deconstruction of normal fantasy tropes.
We’re seeing Achamian’s first dream that’s different. Where things aren’t happening the way they should. There have always been variations in the dream, minor differences that probably come from the fact that memories are never quite precise. That Seswatha dreaming in them doesn’t remember everything correctly, but we’re seeing a major deviation. It’s right after Achamian was unconscious and the Synthese promising to tell the boy a secret. It is possible that Achamian’s shifting dreams are not caused by Kellhus’s hypnotism, but something Aurang did to the unconscious Schoolman. Some glamour or spell.
Not wiping off the sign of Fane is the first hint at what Achamian is up to. Spitting on the Conryians is another. He is done with Kellhus and his religion. He has learned the truth and he’s here to satiate his ego.
Serwë, Cnaiür, Conphas, and Xinemus. Why those four names? Serwë and Xinemus, sure, they are Achamian’s friends. Cnaiür was once an ally, but Conphas? What do they have in common? They are all Kellhus’s failures. The proof he’s not a true prophet. He couldn’t save his wife, he couldn’t win the loyalty of the man who knew him longest, he couldn’t win the trust of his bitterest enemy, and he couldn’t heal a man blinded by the cruelties of the world.
Heartless. Perfect man. Achamian thinks Kellhus is a perfect man because Esmi is choosing him in the end, so he’s trying to become him. To flee the emotions that Kellhus can’t ever really feel. It’s a natural reaction. He has to grieve losing Esmenet all over again. If the demon hadn’t come, maybe, but she had days of Kellhus working on her, making her understand that she has her child to think about. A mother has to choose what’s best. I can understand it. It sucks.
And what an end to the series, Achamian, our protagonist, leaving behind everything in angry defiance. He has learned the truth and he won’t comprise any longer. He gave up Esmenet for the greater good, but know he’s learned that Kellhus is a fraud. That He’d seduced Esmenet away. I don’t know what passed between Esmenet and Kellhus, but I almost think the way she was pleading with Achamian that they could have still had their relationship, in private. However, he would be cuckolded over and over. He would have to watch as she still went to his bed to bear his children. She would be his Empress.
As we see in the next series, Esmenet’s feelings for Kellhus are not passionate. They have a comfort with each other grown by the two decades that pass, but she regularly cheats on him with younger men. She embraces the power and privileged that he’s given her. She ensures that Achamian isn’t punished for both his defiance and the book he’ll write. Kellhus loves her, but he couldn’t ever get true love from her, only worship.
Esmenet made the choice that was in her best interest. Achamian did the same. He’s done sacrificing for the world. It left him with nothing. He had Esmenet twice and both times he “died.” If the demon hadn’t carried him off, I still doubt she would have left Kellhus, but maybe things would have turned out differently. Though Iyokus accidentally saved his life, the blind Scarlet Schoolman once again robbed Achamian of happiness.
I remembered being shocked that the story ended here. Not only had the Consult//Second Apocalypse plot didn’t any resolution, but there was also still a good hundred pages of the book. I was expecting more. And while the Holy War resolution was great, I wanted to get to the true story.
Like with Game of Thrones, the Consult and No-God is the true threat. All of this has been necessary for Kellhus to gain the power to deal with it, but he still needed it. So I was glad that there more out there. That he was writing two more series. I was eager for the Judging Eye (which didn’t even have a title) to come out. I couldn’t wait for the Aspect-Emperor Series to come.
Luckily, I had that glossary. It helps explain a lot (like who Anasûrimbor Ganrelka was and how did he relate to Anasûrimbor Celmomas and Nau-Cayûti). It explains a lot about the Nonmen and the Inchoroi. Gives a great deal of background information.
I still have no clue what the Nail of Heaven is. That really bugs me. It might be a satellite in a geosynchronous polar orbit (which sounds impossible, but fantasy). There is a cryptic line in the second series that I need to keep an eye out which makes it sound like the Nail of Heaven preceded the Inchoroi by a few years. It’s bright as moonlight though.
Well, The Thousandfold Thought has come to an end. We’ve learned a lot that we need to remember going forward:
The Dûnyain are not infallible. They can make mistakes. Their predictions can be flawed.
The Outside is real. There are demons. Events can precede their cause. The Darkness that Comes Before is not an absolute in this world.
True Dûnyain, when shown incontrovertible truth that Damnation is real and they are going to suffer, will see the logic in the Consult’s plan and side with them, preferring oblivion upon death to eternal torment.
The Consult is searching for the Dûnyain through the north.
The Prince of Nothing has come to its end. Let the Aspect-Emperor commence.
“Retracing his bloody footprints, the Wizard limped on.”
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