Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Seven

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Seven

Sakarpus

Welcome to Chapter Seven of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Six!

…conquered people live and die with the knowledge that survival does not suffer honour. They have chosen shame over the pyre, the slow flame for the quick.

—TRIAMIS 1, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

This is very applicable considering were delving back into Sorweel. He has survived. This was something his father couldn’t do. Harweel had chosen honor over suffering the shame of living with the aftermath. Now Sorweel has to. He faces that slow pain, having to live with it every day. It’s so much, he’s suicidal. He wishes he didn’t survive because it has stripped away his self-delusions about his heroic nature.

Early Spring, 19 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), Sakarpus

In the aftermath of Sakarpus’s fall, the soldiers of the Ordeal marvel at the large flocks of storks that cover the hills. None could agree with what they meant since every people viewed storks differently. Kellhus merely forbade them from behind hunted because the Sakarpi considered them holy. They guard them against predators while collecting their droppings to use as fuel since wood was scarce. Several soldiers are executed for hunting the birds before the Men of the Ordeal learn to live with them. They even began to see them as holy.

Meetings are held and preparations made for the march, overseen by the “all-seeing eyes of their Aspect-Emperor.” There is some trepidation. They are on the edge of the Lands of Men. From here, only Sranc rule. King Saubon was heard saying, “Men are more lamb than lion.” They had two-thousand miles of wildness to cross and they know the march will be bloodier than fighting the Consult.

That is why the New Empire has prepared for a decade, gathering resources. Even now, a road is being constructed from Sakarpus to Oswenta to allow the fast transportation of the supplies they would need. They would live on amicut, what the Scylvendi survive on while campaigning. With them would travel herds of sheep and cattle. Still, this wouldn’t be enough food. They would have to hunt as they traveled. Legendary Imperial Trackers had scouted these lands at great cost of life to map the terrain they would cross. They would have until Winter to reach Golgotterath. If they failed to do so, they would die in the northern winter.

Then there are the Sranc. Though they’ve had their numbers decimated by the Bounty, there are still unknown thousands, maybe millions, the Ordeal will face. Forced to divide their forces to forage to survive will weaken them against his threat. They can’t anticipate how the Consult will employ the Sranc, if at all. Their odds of surviving are slim.

For all these reasons, Sakarpus was vital. They didn’t just need her Chorae Hoard. They needed the people here to be cooperative. They didn’t crush them with the rod but offered hands of friendship. If the Sakarpi rebelled, it would disrupt their supply lines and delay their departure.

This was how the fateful decision was made to place the young King of Sakarpus, Sorweel, in the care of the Aspect-Emperor’s two eldest sons, Moënghus and Kayûtas.

“When he becomes a brother to them,” his Arcane Holiness explained to his old friends, “he will be as a son to me.”

Moënghus and Kayûtas enter Sorweel’s room without much fanfare. Kayûtas speaks flawless Sakarpic and tells Sorweel that he’s riding in his command tomorrow. Moënghus merely snags leftovers from Sorweel’s plate and fixes “Murderous blue eyes” on Sorweel. The young King makes a joke bringing a growling laugh from Moënghus who answers in Sheyic. Kayûtas turns this into his own joke that makes Sorweel smile, losing his first battle.

They’re hunters, he [Sorweel] told himself, sent to run down my heart.

The weight of the defeat is crushing Sorweel. He has trouble sleeping thinking, “I am a king of widows and orphans.” He replays the defeat in his mind over and over, knowing he’s a prisoner. Despite his sleepless nights, they’re also his reprieve from everything. He can remember his father clearly at night, especially talking about his dead mother. Sorweel’s days are different. He is the puppet king holding court. It’s a theater. He plays at ruling at Kellhus’s command while knowing it’s a betrayal of his people.

He learned that he lacked the ability to do and to believe contradictory things. Where a nobler soul would have found consistency in his acts, he seemed to find it in his beliefs. He simply believed what he needed to believe in order to act as his conquerors wished him to act. While he muddled through the schedule his foreign secretaries arranged for him, while he sat in their perfumed presence, it seemed that things were as the Aspect-Emperor claimed, that the world turned beneath the shadow of the Second Apocalypse, and that all Men must act of one accord to preserve the future, no matter how much it might offend their pride.

All Kings answer to holy writ,” the godlike man had told him. “And so long as that writ is otherworldly, they willingly acknowledge as much. But when it comes to them as I come to them, wearing the flesh of their fellow man, they confuse the sanctity of obeying the Law with the shame of submitting to a rival.” A warm laugh, like a dear uncle admitting a harmless folly. “All men think themselves closer to the God than others. And so they rebel, raise arms against the very thing they claim to serve…

Against me.”

Whenever Sorweel is before Kellhus, he’s overwhelmed by awe for him, he believes that his father’s pride had interfered with his duty to his people. It was all a mistake. But when Sorweel leaves Kellhus’s presence, the memory of his father’s warning that Kellhus is a demon return. He feels like an idiot for succumbing once more and remembers his father’s last words that Kellhus needs Sakarpus and Sorweel. The young king is confused about his father’s words would mean the Great Ordeal is a sham. All these people have been tricked. “It seemed impossible that so many could be so thoroughly deceived.”

When King Proyas’s tells Sorweel of Kellhus’s miracles, it’s so honest. Sorweel wonders if he’s being stubborn like his father, refusing to see the truth. By day, he sees signs of his father’s mistake everywhere. But at night, he is free of it all and his father’s words, his presence, surrounds him. He even pretends to hold conversations with his father.

At night, the young King could simply close his eyes and refuse. This was the secret comfort of orphans: the ability to believe according to want and not world—whatever it took to numb the ache of things lost.

I miss her too, Da…

Almost as much as I miss you.

A slave fetches him the next morning. He’s relieved that the farce of pretending to be king is over. He’s leaving Sakarpus. He pretends it’s a simple outing but knows he’s abdicating, abandoning his people.

More than walls had been overthrown with the coming of the Aspect-Emperor.

Sorweel looks ahead, afraid to meet the gazes of his countrymen, as the slave leads him out the Herder’s Gate. As he leaves the strong walls that had stopped the No-God, he can’t believe his people’s naivety. How could the Aspect-Emperor be stronger? Then he thinks of his father dying on those walls. They reach the camp and pass through the maze of tents. The Men of the Ordeal are getting ready to leave, hardly giving him a glance. Sorweel sees men from every nation as the silent slave leads him on with confidence.

Before meeting the Aspect-Emperor, Sorweel would have thought it impossible that one man could make an instrument of so many disparate souls. The Sakarpi were a sparse people. But even with their meager number, not to mention common language and traditions, King Harweel had found it difficult to overcome their feuds and grudges. The more Sorweel pondered it, the more miraculous it seemed that all the Men of the Three Seas, with their contradictory tongues and ancient animosities, could find common purpose.

Everywhere he looked, he could see it, hanging slack in the windless morning: the Circumfix.

Wasn’t there proof in miracles? Isn’t that what the priest said?

Sorweel realizes he can get lost in the vast numbers of the Great Ordeal and be anonymous. It’s comforting. That’s shattered when he spots Tasweer, the son of a High Boonsmen, being led in chains. This shocks Sorweel and he remembers seeing Tasweer in the battle. The prisoner glares with sullen anger at everyone and Sorweel looks away. Tasweer sees him. He’s at first shocked. Then he begs Sorweel to fight back. To resist. He’s clubbed down by the escorts.

As had happened so many times since the city’s fall, Sorweel found himself divided, struck into two separate soul, one real, the other ethereal. In his soul’s eye, he slipped from his saddle, his boots slapping into wheezing mud, and shouldered his way past the Conryians. He pulled Tasweer to his knees, held his head behind the ear. Blood pulsed from the captive’s nostrils, clotted the coarse growth rising from his jaw. “Did you see?” Sorweel cried to the broken face. “Tasweer! Did you see what happened to my father?”

But the bodily Sorweel simply continued after his guide, his skin porcelain with chill.

“Noooo!” pealed hoarse into air behind him, followed by raucous laughter.

The young King of Sakarpus resumed his study of the nonexistent weather. The true horror of defeat, a kernel of him realized, lay not in the fact of capitulation, but in the way it kenneled in the heart, the way it loitered and bred and bred and bred.

The way it made fate out of falling.

Finally, Sorweel is led to the northern edge of the army where horseman are running drills on horses similar to the small, hearty breeds of Sakarpus. He’s taken to a nearby command tent. Passing soldiers call out in greeting, but Sorweel doesn’t understand their words. Are they insults or greetings? The command tent has the Kidruhil heavy cavalry’s banner. The guard nods and lets Sorweel and the slave enter.

Inside, Anasûrimbor Kayûtas lounges at a table with a secretary writing on papyrus. Kayûtas studies the papers on the table, ignoring Sorweel. The slave kneels and leaves. After a few more moments, Kayûtas says Sorweel is wondering if it was an insult or not to have a slave fetch him. Sorweel says it’s an insult.

A handsome smirk. “I fear no court is so simple.”

Kayûtas drinks water while Sorweel trembles, uncomfortable standing before “the son of a living god.” Kayûtas looks so much like his father down to “the same unnerving manner.” Everything seems deliberate, decided beforehand. However, it’s not quite as over-awing as Kellhus. Kayûtas still feels mortal. He could bleed.

Kayûtas, knowing the Sakarpi hate useless pleasantries, says they’ll dispense with jnan and speak honestly. Sorweel agrees to Kayûtas’s relief. He tells Sorweel that his people’s obedience is needed, so the Great Ordeal needs Sorweel. Kayûtas then speaks Sorweel’s fears that this conversation is just to trick him into betraying his people. He gives a guarded answer.

“Perhaps,” Kayûtas repeated with a snort., “So much for not measuring tongues!”

A dull and resentful glare.

Kayûtas says he’ll keep speaking plain. He says while he’s not a sorcerer, he has Kellhus’s talent at languages and can read people’s souls through their faces. Maybe not as good as Kellhus, but he can see Sorweel’s anguish. Kayûtas thinks Sakarpus’s defiance is idiotic but understands it. He just won’t commiserate, treating Sorweel the way Harweel would. “Men weep to wives and pillows.” That comment makes Sorweel wonder if spies watch him sleep.

Kayûtas then continues he’s not happy having to hold this conversation with Sorweel or has this task, given to him by Kellhus. He hates politics and wishes his and Sorweel’s relationship was an honest one. But Kayûtas will obey his father, who’s a God.

He [Kayûtas] paused as though to leave room for Sorweel to reply, but the young King could scare order his thoughts, let alone speak. Kayûtas had been every bit as direct as he had promised, and yet at the same time his discourse seemed bent to the point of deformity, charged with a too-penetrating intelligence, pleated with an almost obscene self-awareness…

Who were these people?

Kayûtas says he can see sedition and vengeance in Sorweel’s eyes. He also sees that Sorweel struggles with whether Kellhus is a demon or the Savior of Mankind. Kayûtas understands this doubt and asks Sorweel to be open-minded because the proof will come. And, if they survive, their conversations might be different.

Sorweel stood rigid, braced against the sense of futility that whelmed through him. How? was all he could think. How does one war against foes such as this?

Kayûtas then says he has to learn Sheyic, the instructor already chosen, since he’s now a captain of the Kidruhil’s Company of Scions with Kayûtas his general. He asks if Sorweel is okay with this and he asks if he has a choice. Kayûtas says as a son of a warlike people riding into battle will let Sorweel find out what sort of kin he is. Otherwise, he can stay a puppet in Sakarpus.

He scares understood what was happening, so how could he know what he should or shouldn’t do? But there was heart to be found in the sound of resolution. And besides, he was developing a talent for petulant remarks. “As I said,” Sorweel replied, “what choice.”

Anasûrimbor Kayûtas nodded, rather like a field surgeon regarding his handiwork, Sorweel thought.

It is enough that I obey…

Kayûtas says the slave, Porsparian, that brought Sorweel shall be his teacher in Sheyic until a proper instructor can be found. Sorweel is then given the slave’s writ of bondage. This shocks Sorweel while Kayûtas says he knows Sorweel will care for the slave. Sorweel feels numb and retreats, but is stopped.

“Oh, yes, and one final thing,” he [Kayûtas] said to the papyrus. “My elder brother, Moënghus… Beware him.”

The young King tried to reply but came to a stammering halt. He grimaced, breathed past the hammering of his heart, then tried again. “Wh-why is that?”

“Because,” Kayûtas said, his eyes still ranging the inked characters, “he’s quite mad.”

Sorweel leaves confused at what he should do. He feels the full weight of the Great Ordeal and knows Sakarpus is nothing compared to the New Empire’s might. These men saw Sorweel’s people as shit-herders. He feels a blankness reach through him and is beset by loneliness. Porsparian comes up to him. Sorweel starts to speak, but tears cut him off.

The old man gawked in voiceless alarm. He grasped Sorweel’s forearms and gently pressed the writ against the padded fabric of his tunic. And Sorweel could only think, Wool, her stands the King dressed in woolen rags.

I failed him!” he sobbed to the uncomprehending slave. “Don’t you see? I failed!”

The old Shigeki gripped him [Sorweel] by the shoulders, stared long and hard into his anguished eyes. The man’s face, it seemed, was not so different from the writ Sorweel held against his breast: smooth save where scored with lines of unknown script, across the forehead, about the eyes and snout, as dark as any ink, as if god who had carved him had struck too deep with the knife.

Sorweel asks what he’s to do. The man just nods, his eyes fixed on Sorweel. This calms him and “the roaring in his ears fell away.” Porsparian leads Sorweel to his tent. It holds a cot and a mat for the slave. He spends sits in a daze for hours at Porsparian, hardly noticing when his belongings are brought. Then he clutches his father’s torc, a relic of Sorweel’s family.

Near dusk, King Proyas arrives and says some encouraging words in Sheyic that fail to rouse Sorweel. Proyas gazes at Sorweel like he recognizes his past in the young king. The slave stays bowed the entire time. When he leaves, Sorweel sits with his slave in silence, thinking. He can hear the evening bustle outside. The sound of someone pissing outside their tent causes Sorweel to smile at his slave. They share a moment of absurd laughter.

Porsparian lights a lantern and fetches Sorweel dinner after that. While waiting, he just stares at the burning lamp wick, thinking the flame is pure and almost believes that “burning was the most blissful of death of all.” Sorweel has no appetite and gives it to his slave after some convincing.

He thought it strange the way Men did not need to share a language to speak about food.

After accepting, the slave digs at the floor and forms a ritual mouth in the earth in the middle of the tent. He exposes the black soil and places the bread in it. Sorweel thinks it’s a trick of the light when the mouth closed. The slave is satisfied and then eats the meal with the “crude honesty of a Saglander.” It makes Sorweel feel sad. He then realizes how different he is from this slave and yet they share in this, neither talking since they don’t speak the same language.

Nothing needed to be spoken because all could be seen.

A fit of generosity seizes Sorweel, and he pulls out Porsparian’s slave papers. “What did it matter, he thought, when he was already dead?” Sorweel finds freedom in loss, but Sorweel grows nervous. When Sorweel goes to burn it, Porsparian snatches, cursing at Sorweel. For a moment, Sorweel thinks the slave will hit him, but Porsparian just puts out the flames burning the paper. They face each other, the king confused and the slave defiant.

“We are free people,” Sorweel said, warring against a renewed sense of dread and futility. “We don’t trade Men like cattle.”

The yellow-eyed Shigeki shook his head in a slow and deliberate manner. As though relinquishing a knife, he set the writ onto the mussed blankets of Sorweel’s cot.

Then he did something inexplicable.

Covering his finger in soot, he traces sickle over his heart and says “Yatwer” over and over. Sorweel is confused. Porsparian grabs Sorweel’s arm and turns his hand over, forming the king’s hand into a cup. The slave kisses his palm and a tear falls on Sorweel.

It seemed to burn and cut all at once, like something molten falling through snow.

Then the slave uttered a single word in Sakarpic, so sudden and so clear that Sorweel nearly jumped.

War…”

Sorweel is awed that even slaves in the Ordeal have powers. As Porsparian sleeps, Sorweel stares at his blistered palm through the night. The slave snores. As night deepens, the silence outside makes him feel like his tent is all there is. In a moment of absolute silence, he asks death to take him, the closest he’s come to prayer since his father’s death. A sound after that disturbs him. It grows, loud and rippling around him. For a moment, he thinks it’s the Ordeal butchering his people before he realizes its the storks all crying out like they always do every year. His people believe they each sing to a different star, praying for their hatching goslings. This makes him think of his mother and he falls asleep. He thinks about his mother taking him to the Viturnal Nesting. He was awed to see all those storks.

Do you know they come here, Sorwa?”

No, Mama…”

Because our city is the Refuge, the hinge of the Worldly Wheel. They come here as our forefathers once came, Darling…”

Her smile. It had always seemed the world’s most obvious thing.

They come so that their children might be safe.”

He wakes up to his father weeping for Sorweel’s mother. Sorweel tells his dad that she still watches over them. This straightens his father. He turns to face him and Sorweel recoils from the sight.

The ghost of Harweel turned its burned head, revealing a face devoid of hope and eyes. Beetles dropped from the joints of his blasted armour, clicked and scuttled in the dark.

The dead, it grated without sound, cannot see.

At dawn, the Ordeal breaks camp. A large team of ox drags a huge wagon to the top of a hill. It’s a massive construct, reinforced with iron plates. Slaves unfurl the felt covering the frame and reveal a cylinder of iron with the script of the Tusk copied on it. This is the Prayer Hammer. A eunuch strikes it once at the command of the High-Priest, ringing the Interval. Everyone turns to the North. The Thunyeri break the silence with curses to the Sranc and Consult. Then the entire Ordeal is hurtling their defiance at Golgotterath, repeating Thunyeri curses. They all picture the destruction of the dread fortress. They believe their victory is assured.

Hur rutwas matal skee!

Hur rutwas matal skee!

The Interval rings again. Then Kellhus appears walking across the sky shining like the sun. He looks messianic. Cries of adoration rise from the host to him, people raising hands to touch him. He begins speaking to them, telling them to take hold of his light as they head into the shadows. The sun rises as he speaks. Everyone falls to their knees in adoration, crying “for the light had come to them…”

And the sun had followed.

“AMONG ALL PEOPLES, ONLY YOU HAVE TAKEN UP THE YOKE OF APOCALYPSE. AMONG ALL PEOPLES, ONLY YOU…”

The Sakarpi are shocked, realizing that the Great Ordeal really was marching for Golgotterath. That their conquest wasn’t part of Unification Wars. They witnessed the Aspect-Emperor’s majesty. None mocked him. Instead, they listened to him even though he speaks a foreign tongue. They realize they’re witnessing history like something from The Sagas.

The day the Great Ordeal marched beyond the frontiers of Men.

The proudest Sakarpi think the Ordeal are fools and will die, but after watching the massive army march north, many are listening to the sermons of the Judges left behind. Many of them have embraced the Circumfix, full of awe and disdain for those who refuse to believe. “Pride, the Judges had told them, was ever the sin of fools.”

That night they knelt for what seemed the first time, gave voice to the great unanswered ache in their hearts. They held their Circumfixes hot between moist palms, and they prayed. And the chill that pimpled their skin seemed holy.

They knew what they had seemed, what they had felt.

For who could be such a fool as to mistake Truth?

My Thoughts

Denied hunting the birds, the Men of the Ordeal (and I keep wanting to type Men of the Tusk FYI), rationalize their decision not to kill these annoying birds because they must be holy. Their reasons have given shape to their illogical actions so it harmonizes with their sense of self.

Bakker sets out the problems facing the Great Ordeal (NOT the Holy War, which I also want to type), letting us know what dangers and trials they’ll face on the march. Nothing that comes will be surprising save in the level of its brutality.

Kayûtas can speak flawless Sakarpic. I think he’s the closest Dûnyain of all the children, he just didn’t get the magic genes. But he can pull off the charisma, has a gift for language. Serwa is probably the next closets, and she does have some emotions but Kellhus made sure they didn’t develop properly.

We see that Sorweel’s depressing surrender to the events and how he just allows himself to slip into the role of a puppet king. It is a precursor to becoming Yatwer’s Narindar. Her puppet. He’s someone that goes with the flow. Malleable. No wonder Kellhus sees his seduction as something easy to accomplish.

Since we can only know ourselves, it’s easy for us humans to think we’re better than everyone. We know why we’re doing the things we are. Why they are right because they must be right to us. That is the danger for those who don’t have any introspection. They will do so much harm thinking it’s the right thing to do without even realizing they’re pursuing their own selfish greed. Satiating their lusts for power or domination or control.

We see the pressure on Sorweel. The demands to conform. To want to accept the consensus. He thinks that if everyone else believes something is true then it is, but that’s a logical fallacy. The Appeal to Consensus. But it’s a powerful one. It works on you. When you see yourself as the only one plagued with doubts, it’s easy to forget that all those confident people are like you. Their inner turmoil is hidden away. They, too, want to conform. It’s an insidious social pressure that molds humans to act like the in-group.

Sorweel is facing the reality of being a rebel. In defying conquerors. We all believe we would resist, but most of us would adapt. Try to continue our lives without conflict and survive. We might fantasize about it, but when actions are required, we would keep on walking like Sorweel. His imagination is the way the “conquered prince” trope would play out in other fantasies.

We see Kayûtas doing classic Dûnyain tactics. Making Sorweel uncomfortable, asking direct questions to make the king reveal his biases and perceptions, then Kayûtas remarking that he doesn’t like things the way they are. All arranged so perfectly.

Sorweel claims he honest conversation and, of course, almost immediately reveals he doesn’t want that at all by giving a guarded response. He’s nervous here, cagey. He is suspicious of being trapped into betraying his people while Kayûtas is doing the Dûnyain thing of being open and honest, giving real truths to win trust.

Kayûtas laments that the two can’t be friends because of politics, wishing it wasn’t in the way. Words designed to lower Sorweel’s guard. To work to make their friendship a “reality.” Kayûtas even admits to his own weakness, an offering of trust designed to reciprocate an equal action from Sorweel.

I think we are seeing the start of Sorweel’s steps into becoming Narindar here. He’s realizing Kayûtas is acting. It’s a level of sophistication that should be beyond a naïve, young man like Sorweel. He’s being visited by his father weeping about his dead mother, and the slave who is about to introduce Sorweel to the Dread Mother has lead him to this room. In fact, Porsparian guided Sorweel “unerringly” through the camp.

Right before Sorweel breaks down and cries with Porsparian, he feels something reach through him. Then he cries before the follower of Yatwer who guides him on his first steps of the Dread Mother’s plans. As he calms down, the roaring in his ears dwindles. Nannaferi heard roaring in her ears when Yatwer spoke to her.

Fire is such a simple thing. It burns. Sorweel’s life used to be simple, now it’s so complicated. He seems to wish he died with his father on the wall. It would be easier than surviving, which ties in with the epigram for this chapter.

Sharing food with his slave. Something so simple, no language is needed. Sorweel finds comfort in it. Then we see the first overt sign of Yatwer in this storyline with the offering of food. That was no trick of the light, though Bakker is playing with us still, creating the doubt.

“Nothing needed to be spoken because all could be seen.” In other words, language is the source of lies.

We have a contrast between the Dûnyain using words and seeming honesty (though we know you can’t trust Kayûtas’s motivations and reasons for his manipulation). Then we have the slave, not able to speak a word Sorweel can understand, and forges an actual connection between the pair. Open and honest.

Sorweel feels dead. He wishes he was dead. And now he’s going to symbolical sacrifice the writ of bondage to set Porsparian free through the same sort of “loss” that Sorweel is feeling.

I never realized just how suicidal Sorweel is in the beginning. He wants to burn. He begs for death to take him. Surviving and realizing he’s not the strong, heroic man who can defy the evil empire that has conquered his people is too much for him. It’s shattered his illusions of himself and the strength o his people while the actions of Kellhus makes him doubt his father’s courage, seeing it stained with pride and arrogance.

He yearns to be that child with his mother again. He’s having the painful transition into adulthood realizing his parents, or his father, is just as flawed as he is.

Not sure if this is really his father’s ghost or not. I don’t think it is. I think it’s just a nightmare. His fear that his father isn’t what he thought and he’s even being robbed of the comfort of his mother. Perhaps this is Yatwer preparing him for what she needs since he’s now been claimed by her.

“For who could be such a fool as to mistake Truth?” I love the last line of this chapter. Those who believe Kellhus is a god think he must be. That it’s Truth. They think they can recognize it, but humans are terrible at it. The new converts in Sakarpus think those who don’t believe are full of pride even as they take pride in their new religion and use it to elevate their own sense of self-superiority over their neighbors.

Click here for Chapter Eight of the Reread!

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Six

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Six

Marrow

Welcome to Chapter Six of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Five!

Ask the dead and they will tell you. All roads are not equal. Verily, even maps can sin.

—EKYANNUS 1, 44 EPISTLES

What the world merely kills, Men murder.

—SCYLVENDI PROVERB

My Thoughts

The first quote, while talking about how every life is different, also has that last part about maps sinning. Maps are something made by men. And for it to be a sin, then it was made to lead you astray. To take you down the wrong path. It is probably a warning against false teachers of scripture, since it is from one of the holy books, I believe.

Either way, it is telling you that you can’t just trust what others tell us.

Then we come to the Scylvendi proverb that reinforces this. The world is random. It’s chance. Yes, you might die because of a disease or because you got lost in the woods. Exposure can kill you. Even a hungry beast can kill you, but it’s not done out of intent. But men know what they’re doing and still kill. Murder is the act of taking a life when you don’t have the right.

Murder is all about the intent.

Both of these quotes are about how men are different from the world. From the natural chaos of things. They are warnings to be wary. Fitting since we are heading into meeting the Skin Eaters, rejoining them in story after their introduction in the prologue. These are dangerous men. Men who murder.

But it is Achamian who is their map. And it is Achamian who is knowingly leading these men on a trip that will get them all killed.

Early Spring, 19 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), the River Rohil

Achamian is hobbling through the forest to Marrow. It is a settlement that Geraus, his slave, goes to buy supplies. It is also the outpost that the Scalpoi use. Here they set out into the wilderness to collect their bounties of Sranc scalps and then return to sell them. He knows of the place from Geraus’s tales, the slave always reveling in talking about what he saw there for days after his return. The man spoke of the place as dangerous, where buying a bag of beans was a dangerous affair. Geraus would boast of his caution. Survival was a great virtue to him and one he passed on to his children. Not attracting attention was important for a slave.

No different than a spy, Achamian could not help reflecting.

Achamian is slipping back into the man who used to wander the three seas. It had been twenty years since he’d settled down at his tower, but he’s already thinking of his journey and reflecting on how nothing had really changed. Then he finds himself missing Geraus and his family. Though Achamian owned them, it’s not the convenience his slaves gave him he misses, but their presence he missed. He will never see them again.

It made him feel like a weepy grandfather.

Perhaps it was good, this suicidal turn his life had taken.

He stares down at Marrow as it creeps along the escarpment’s base, hacked out of the woods that surrounded it. It looks like a wound on the earth. It’s dark when Achamian reaches it. He reads graffiti by the light of the Nail of Heaven. The writings are crass like scribbles on a bathroom stall. He passes armed and armored men, drunk and many bloody. They are wild men. The Scalpoi who’ve come from across the world to earn money and redemption by killing Sranc. They stare at him, and he huddles, knowing that these brutal men risk everything, so in town, they have given themselves greater licenses to excessive behavior. As he passes them, he realizes despite their origins, from nobles to slaves, they are all the same here: consumed by their hungers. “What had made these men wild wasn’t the wilderness, or even the mad savagery of the Sranc, it was the inability to trust anything more bestial in one another.”

Fear, he told himself. Fear and lust and fury… Trust in these, old man. It seemed the only commandment a place such as Marrow could countenance.

He passes taverns and opium dens. A man beats another man to death. A prostitute begging for his custom. There is no order here. He clutches his knife handle. There’s an Imperial Custom House, a reminder that this is still, technically, civilization. Kellhus’s civilization. He even finds a temple to Yatwer holding a ceremony. Through it all, he tries not to think of Mimara.

He reaches the Cocked Leg, the inn Geraus mentioned. It’s a loud place and reminds Achamian of a more vicious version of the “great polyglot cities” he visited as a spy. But this place is too small to lose yourself in anonymity, but still holds that promise of licentious freedom.

A night in such a place could have a million endings, Achamian realized. That was its wonder and horror both.

He gets the worst room in the inn, mistaken for a pauper. That amuses him and he feels more and more a spy. He heads down to the common room, hoping to be lucky while ignoring the bloodstains decorating the wall.

Achamian is shocked to find another sorcerer in the common room. And an old one given the “black and blasted depth of his Mark.” There is also a Chorae. Achamian could see the Mark on his own hands or in reflections of his face, but he never really notices it. He’s used to it. The other sorcerer’s mark makes Achamian feel “young with fear.”

He swallows it and goes to the barkeeper, a Tydonni named Haubrezer. Achamian introduces himself and is called old and a pick, a racial slur for a Ketyai. That stings, which surprises Achamian. He then drops Geraus’s name, which Haubrezer recognizes. Coming to Marrow has always been the plan, only Mimara’s news accelerated it. Haubrezer points Achamian towards the group of Scalpoi with the sorcerer and the Chorae. Achamian isn’t happy about it. Asks if there’s another group.

“Ho. No mean Scalpoi, those. They the Veteran’s Men. The Skin Eaters.”

“The Skin Eaters?”

A sour grin, as though the man had been starved of the facial musculature needed to pull his lips from his teeth. “Geraus was right. You hermit, to be sure. Ask anyone here around”—he gestured wide with a scapular hand—“they will tell you, ya, step aside for the Skin Eaters. Famed. The whole River knows. They bring down more bales than rutta—anyone. Ho. Step aside for the Skin Eaters, or they strike you down. Hauza kup. Down but good.”

The three men appear more dangerous than the other. They sit alone from the others. Achamian examines them and asks if he needs an introduction. Haubrezer says not from him.

Achamian is hyperaware of his surroundings as he heads to the men. The mix of nations reminds him of the Holy War. He thinks of Kellhus and his determination increases. Achamian understands that he’s meeting with dangerous men. Mercenaries who killed for coin. Achamian knows how to pretend to be weaker because the thinks he knows how to deal with these men.

His first heartbeat in their presence told him otherwise.

The sorcerer and the older man study Achamian, but their leader keeps staring at his wine. He asks if the main is Kosoter “Ironsoul” and Captain of the Skin Eaters. There is a silence that isn’t from surprise. The Captain drinks then studies Achamian. He has the eyes of a man who’d survived the horrors of the First Holy War.

“I know you,” was all he [Kosoter] said in a voice with a hint of a papyrus rasp.

The older man, acting as a second, tells Achamian to address Kosoter as Veteran before making a joke how that’s the Law. Achamian ignores him and says he would know him from the First Holy War. He gets interrupted by the older man who says he’s Sarl. Achamian interrupts him to tell Kosoter he wishes to hire them. Sarl keeps asking for his attention. Finally, Achamian gives it to him. Sarl says Kosoter isn’t a man for haggling. Sarl will handle the negotiations. Achamian asks if Sarl makes the decisions. Sarl laughs and says he just sings what Kosoter tells him. He bows to Kosoter who is now studying Achamian with “something poised between curiosity and malice.”

Achamian snorted dismissively. This was one thing he didn’t miss about the civilized world: the addiction to all things indirect.

Achamian again says he needs to “contract” their company. Sarl says that’s strange since there are no more wars, save the war against the Consult and the Sranc, so mercenaries don’t exist. Achamian is off-balanced by Kosoter’s scrutiny and Sarl’s gibbering. It’s deliberate to put him off-balance.

Achamian says he needs scalpers not mercenary, for a journey. Sarl understands this means heading into the wastes. He finds this interesting and asks where Achamian needs to go in the North. Achamian has dreaded this question. He sighs and gets over answering it.

“Far…” He [Achamian] swallowed. “To the ruins of Sauglish.”

Another spittle-flecked spasm of laughter, this one carving every vein, every web of wrinkles in succinct shades of purple and red. He [Sarl] even yanked his wrists together as though bound, shook up and down, fingers flicking. He looked to the scowled mas as though seeking confirmation. “Sauglish!” He howled, rolling his face back. “Oh ho, my friend, my poor, poor lunatic friend!” He reclined back in his chair, sucking air. “May the Gods”—he shook his head in a kind of astonished dismissal—“keep your bowls warm and full and whatever.”

Something in his look and tone said, Leave while you still can…

Anger seizes Achamian. He wants to use sorcery to kill the man, but Kosoter’s Chorae and the sorcerer’s deep Mark stops Achamian. Sarl’s mirth faces and Kosoter finally speaks, asking what’s in Sauglish. This shocks Sarl and fear seizes him, clearly misreading what Kosoter wants. Achamian realizes Kosoter’s words always cause this reaction.

Achamian asks Kosoter what he knows of it and realizes that answering a question with another is a mistake. However, he doesn’t flinch away from the man’s hard gaze but matches it. He holds it, sounds echoing around them. It’s a contest not just of dominance, or respect, but of everything.

I am the end of you, the eyes in his [Kosoter’s] eyes whispered. And they seemed a thousand years old.

Achamian could feel himself wilt. Wild-limbed imaginings flickered through his soul, hot with screams and blood. He could feel tremors knock through his knees.

Sarl advises Achamian to just answer Kosoter’s questions. Achamian does, saying he is going for the Coffers. Sarl wants Achamian to explain what that means. Instead, Achamian is unnerved by Kosoter’s gaze which embodies “Scrutiny incarnate.” This doesn’t feel right to Achamian. Next, he realizes he has to make Kosoter think he has other options so he says he’ll find someone else. Feeling sick to his stomach, he goes to leave.

“You’re the Wizard,” Lord Kosoter called out in a growl.

The word hooked Achamian like a wire garrote.

Kosoter says he remembers him from the Holy War. That Achamian had taught Kellhus. Achamian asks why that matters. Kosoter blinks for the first time and says, in flawless Sheyic, that he’s a Mandate Schoolman so he can definitely find the Coffers.

“So much the worse for you,” Achamian said. But all he could think was how… How could a scalper, any scalper, know about the Sohonc Coffers. He found himself glancing at the leather-cowled man to the Captain’s left. The sorcerer. What was his School?

“I think not,” Lord Kosoter said, leaning back. “There’s scalpers aplenty in Marrow, sure. Any number of companies.” He hooked his wine bowl with two calloused fingers. “But none who know who you are…” His grin was curious, frightening. “Which means none will even entertain your request.”

The logic of his claim hung like an iron in the air, indifferent to the swell of background voices. Truth was ever the afterlife of words.

Achamian is shocked. Sarl starts making a joke that makes the hooded sorcerer laugh. Achamian recognizes what the sorcerer is as Sarl continues on with his Anus Leaf joke, which is mocking Achamian for being a charlatan trying to scam them.

The Captain watched him [Achamian] with imperturbable care.

They were right, he [Achamian] realized. Derision was all he could expect here in Marrow—or even worse. The Skin Eaters were his only hope.

And they had already struck him down.

Achamian drinks the wine given him, shaking, while Sarl cows about Achamian wanting to loot the Coffers. Achamian says it was the hooded sorcerer who told Kosoter about the Coffers. But he realizes that this is wrong and that the Captain doesn’t play games of words. Sarl calls the mysterious sorcerer Cleric.

The cowl remained motionless. The Captain resumed staring into his wine.

“You should hear him in the Wilds,” Sarl exclaimed. “Such sweet sermons! And to think I once thought myself eloquent.”

“And yet,” Achamian said carefully, “Nonmen have no priests.”

“Not as Men understand them,” the black pit replied.

Shock. Its voice had been pleasant, melodious, but marbled with intonations alien to the human vocal range. It was as though the tones of a deformed child had been woven into it.

Achamian asks if Cleric’s from Ishterebinth. The Nonman doesn’t remember, but he knows he’s been to Ishterebinth went it was called another name. Next Achamian asks who his Quya Master was. Cleric can’t remember.

Achamian licked his lips in hesitation, then asked the question that had to be asked of all Nonmen. “What can you remember?”

“Things. Friends. Strangers and lovers. All of them heart-breaking. All of them horrific.”

“And the Coffers? You remember them?

An almost imperceptible nod. “I was at the Library of Sauglish when it fell—I think. I remember that terror all too well… But why it should cause me such sorrow, I do not know.”

Achamian remembers Seswatha’s dreams of Sauglish’s fall. He’d fled the destruction weeping. While Mandate Schoolmen like Achamian lived two lives, theirs and Seswatha’s, Nonmen had lived thousands of years. Cleric had been alive when human civilization first arouse. And he’d witnessed all the years that separated Achamian from Seswatha. Achamian almost feels whole.

He asks Cleric’s name, prompting Sarl to curse. Incariol answers Cleric. He says it’s not his own name. Achamian didn’t recognize it and is unnerved. “How could any mortal fathom such a cavernous soul?” Achamian declares him an Erratic.

“Am I? Is that what I am?”

How did you answer such a question? The creature before him [Achamian] had lived so long his very identity had collapsed beneath him, dropping him into the pit of his own lifetime. His was a running-over soul, where every instance of love or hope or joy drained into the void of forgetfulness, displayed by the more viscous passions of terror, anguish, and hate.

He was an Erratic, addicted to atrocity for memory’s sake.

Sarl accuses Achamian of calling Cleric mad, but Cleric agrees. Sarl tries to wave that away, but Cleric says, “Memories make us sane.” Sarl exclaims, “Sermons!” He has a manic smile and gloated over proof of his assertion. He then goes on to talk about how Cleric once told them about the greatest treasure. This was how they learned about the Coffers hidden beneath the Library of Sauglish which were destroyed. The Coffers has become a pseudonym to hope, a way of saying that “unluckiest of words” without saying it.

“And now, here you are, as sure as Fate.”

There was something, Achamian decided, altogether too mobile about the man’s expressions.

Sarl then asks Achamian, as an educated man, what he thinks about coincidence. Does he think things happen for a reason? Achamian can only give a half-hearted smile and a perplexed look. Sarl laughs as if to say Achamian does believe in Fate.

Achamian did his best not to gape. He had forgotten what it was like, the succession of trivial surprises that was part and parcel of joining the company of strangers. In the company of strangers it was so easy to forget the small crablike histories that held others together and set you apart.

But this was no trivial surprise.

Achamian reflects that the journey from Marrow to Sauglish would be months of crossing the Sranc-controlled wilds of Kûniüri. Several times, the Mandate has lost expeditions to reach Sauglish or Golgotterath. Achamian is using the Great Ordeal to draw the Sranc to them but knows there will still be dangers. He’s unnerved how he planned on using the Coffers to induce the scalpers and that these ones already lusted for it. He wonders if this could be coincidence

Sarl says this must be the Whore of Fate’s doing, which means everyone is about to be fucked. He’s trying to deter Kosoter. It’s clear Sarl hasn’t. Achamian realizes then that he’s already struck an agreement Kosoter and how they seemed now to be partners. Achamian wonders if he’s a Skin Eater now.

Should he be grateful? Relieved? Horrified?

“I remember…” the blackness wrapped by the cowl said. “I remember the slaughter of…”

A peculiar sound, like a sob thumbed into the shape of a cackle.

“Of children.”

“A man,” the Captain grimly noted, “has got to remember.”

Achamian has a regular dream of Sauglish that night. The Wracu (dragons) leads the assault, burning. Seswatha and his fellow Sohonc brothers are in the sky singing Gnosis. They’re above their sacred Library. They unleash “psalms of destruction.”

Lines of brilliant white mapped the gaping spaces, striking geometries, confining geometries, light that made smoke of hide and fury. Rearing back to bare claws and spew fire, the dragons plummeted into the arcane glitter, shrieking, screaming. Then they were through, bleeding smoke, some writhing and convulsing, one or two toppling to their deaths. The singing became more frantic. Threads of incandescence boiled against iron scales. Unseen hammers beat against wings and limbs.

Then the Wracu were upon them.

In this moment, Seswatha becomes Achamian and he panics as the dragons rip apart the “antique Schoolmen.” He looks around, seeing the Sranc crossing the plains while the No-God whirls behind them, a monstrous whirlwind dominating the horizon. Around him, the greatest School, the Sohonc, died. It’s more like Achamian is remembering these events then witnessing them. He can see the civilians killing themselves as the Sranc have broken through the walls. Fathers and mothers kill their children to “save them from the fury of the Sranc.” Through it all, they cry out to the “heavens shut against them.” The No-God gets closer.

Their High-King was dead. The wombs of their wives and daughters had become graves. The greatest of their thanes and chieftain-knights, the flower of their armed might, had been struck down. Pillars of smoke scored the distance across the earth’s very curve.

The world was ending.

Like choking. Like drowning. Like a weight without substance, sinking cold through him, a knife driven from the snow, even as he fell slack into its bottomless regions. Friends, brothers, shaken apart in grinning jaws. Strangers flailing in fiery blooms. Towers leaning like drunks before crashing. Sranc encrusting distant walls, like ants on slices of apple, loping into the maze of streets. The cries, shrieks, screams—thousands of them—rising like steam from burning stones. Sauglish dying.

Hopelessness… Futility.

Never, it seemed, had he dreamed a passion with such vehemence.

The Sohonc are driven back to their Library. Ballistae manage to kill a few lesser dragons. Skafra, an ancient Wracu, swoops in to attack. Achamian thinks he’s coming for him, but Skafra attacks the Holy Library. He sets it on fire. Achamian watches in horror as it burns. He’s confused, wondering where Seswatha is. How he’s dreaming without him.

He bolts awake, panting in terror. He hears Mimara’s words echoing in his mind that he’s become a prophet of the past.

The next day, Sarl takes him to join Cleric, Kosoter, and another Skin Eater named Kiampas. He’s the sergeant, using his fists to keep everyone in line. He definitely looks like a soldier. Clean-cut and fit. He’s a planner, and he’s not at all pleased with the current goal. He asks for details, like when Achamian needs to reach them. He lies and says it has to be the end of summer, claiming the Wards are tied to the position of heavenly bodies. Kiampas is dismayed and says it’s impossible. Kosoter overrides him.

Kiampas paled, seemed to glance down in unconscious apology. Though he was cut of different cloth entirely, Achamian wasn’t surprised to see him sharing Sarl’s reaction to the chest-tightening rarity of their Captain’s voice.

Kiampas thinks and says they should follow the Holy War out of Galeoth, but Achamian says they have to go along the other side of the Osthwai Mountains. Kiampas thinks that’s insane since it means moving through Sranc territory. But Achamian is a fugitive. It’s too dangerous to cross Galeoth. He says Kosoter knows why. Kiampas, hearing no objecting from Kosoter, believes Achamian. He then points out that Sakarpus has fallen and, thus, they’ll be crossing the New Empire no matter what. Achamian employs jnanic courtesy to Kiampas to show he respect his opinion.

Something told him [Achamian] he would need allies in the weeks and months to come.

Achamian explains that the Great Ordeal is the only reason this will work. The host clears the way, but they won’t cross the army’s path. The Ordeal will be ahead of their party. Kiampas isn’t convinced. He points out hosts move slowly. Achamian adds that Sauglish is out of the way and he says their odds are good of not encountering anyone.

Kiampas nodded with slow skepticism, then leaned back, as if retreating from some disagreeable scent.

The smell of futility, perhaps.

The next morning, the sixty or so Skin Eaters muster. They have an eclectic collection of armor, weapons, nationalities, and background. Only their fear of Kosoter and a “deep spiritual fatigue” unite them. Sarl tells them what they’re going to be up to while Kosoter studied the horizon with Cleric at his side. The nearby sound of rapids reminds Achamian of the way the Holy War cheered on Kellhus. Sarl tells them this will be a longer slog and will take more than a year in the “pit.” But he talks about the Coffers, and that has some murmuring in hope, others seeming to say it like it’s about time, and others as if it’s a holy place, like Shimeh to the First Holy War, begging to be liberated. Only this one can be split into shares.

A lie carved at the joints.

Sarl keeps talking and the mad discipline of the Skin Eaters keeps them silent. If he hadn’t met Kosoter, Achamian would have been surprised. Sarl then says that they have until tomorrow morning to decide. After that, it’ll be desertion, and Cleric will hunt them down. Sarl calls out the rule of the slog: “The knee that buckles pulls ten man down.”

Achamian realizes that though these Skin Eaters are similar to the battle-hardened men at the end of the First Holy War, but these men are vicious instead of ruthless. Numb instead of hard. And most of all hungry. Not driven. They’re ultimately mercenaries, if ones as fierce as the Sranc. Kosoter seems to have the same opinion of his men. He and Achamian are both Veterans of the First Holy War. It’s almost a kinship between them. That troubles Achamian.

That night, Sarl passes word from Kosoter that the renown of the Skin Eaters is from Kosoter. The men are just Scalpoi. Achamian asks Sarl if he believes that. Sarl says he’s been with Kosoter since the wars against the Orthodox and followed him out here. Kellhus himself named Kosoter Ironsoul. But Sarl says Kosoter’s still mortal, only something “watches through him.” Sarl adds, in a crazed way, Achamian should respect Kosoter.

Achamian looked down to his soaked hand. The wine had run from his fingers as thick as blood.

To think he had worried about the Nonman’s madness.

Not that Cleric doesn’t worry him. However, all these fears were canceling each other out. And he would be useful with his sorcery because “there were few powers in the world that could rank a Nonman Magi.” Kosoter used him for a reason.

Only thirty Skin Eaters show up for muster the following morning. Sarl is thrilled, though Achamian isn’t sure why, and Kosoter impossible to read. After this, they spend the next few days gathering supplies. Achamian surrenders his gold to finance things that impresses the average Skin Eaters. They were hungry to make an even greater fortune. Convincing someone to take the first step was always the hard part, now that they believed they can make it, their eager to set off.

How could they know Achamian had no expectation of return? In a sense, leaving the Three Seas was the real reason. He might no longer be a Mandate Schoolman, but his heart belonged to the Ancient North all the same. To the coiling insinuations of the Dreams…

To Seswatha.

Kiampas, one night, tells Achamian the Skin Eaters always are boisterous and celebratory beforehand. Achamian asks before a slog. No, before anything involving blood. Sorrow fills Kiampas, a regret that he knows this isn’t right. This makes Achamian feel the weight of all those lies he told to trick these men. He wonders how many he’ll get killed to learn the truth of Kellhus.

How many pulses had he [Achamian] sacrificed?

Are you doing this for the sake of vengeance? Is that it?

Achamian is drowning in guilt and is reminded by the innkeeper’s warming. “Stand aside for the Skin Eaters.” They don’t suffer fools.

One night, Achamian dreams as Seswatha. He’s talking with High King Anasûrimbor Celmomas who says he has built a refuge. At the same time, Achamian marvels over how he knows this is a dream and yet is Seswatha unaware of Achamian’s presence.

How could it be? How could he feel all the ferment of a free soul? How could he live a life for the first time over and over?

Celmomas has built it in case the war goes wrong. Seswatha is surprised, not worry which Celmomas is plagued with, but speaking it aloud. This is before Celmomas leads the Great Ordeal to attack Golgotterath. Apocalypse wasn’t happening. Seswatha realizes Celmomas worries on the No-God, saying the name as it no more than a distant fear, not a horror.

How did one relive such ancient ignorance?

Celmomas is worried the No-God is as dangerous as the Quya say and they waited too long. Seswatha is certain they haven’t. Celmomas says he can only trust Seswatha. Achamian remembers making love to the queen. Celmomas makes an unexpected move and changes the rules of Benjuka, clouding the game with uncertainty. This almost relieves Achamian. Celmomas then says he made a place for his family to survive. Ishuäl. Achamian bolts upright, desperate to know where it could be.

The truth of men lay in their origins. He knew this as only a Mandate Schoolman could. Anasûrimbor Kellhus had not come to the Three Seas by accident. He had not found his half-brother waiting as Shriah of the Thousand Temples by accident. He had not conquered the known world by accident!

Below his room, the Skin Eaters sing and cheer their upcoming bloodshed. He sits on the bed, peering down at the men through the gaps in the floorboard. Kosoter isn’t here, but Sarl is. Achamian sees Sarl as the problem, the man refusing to remember he’s an old man, unlike the other Skin Eaters. Young and brash with no thought of their mortality. Eager to “fuck or to kill under the guise of whim.” As he studies them, he knows he will kill hundreds or thousands in his quest.

However many fools it took to find Ishuäl.

They leave the last outpost of civilization the next morning. They are entering a chaotic world as treacherous as the Cleric’s soul. The climb up the escarpment out of Marrow hard for Achamian, but he thinks that’s proper.

All passages into dread should exact come chastising toll.

Mimara watches Marrow from the outskirts, knowing it would be deadly for her to enter. She’d soon be raped, beaten, and turned into a whore who’s dressed up like her mother. She’d service every Scalper for miles. Memories of her slavery are never far from her. She thinks about the other girls like her. She remembers how she was found by her mother’s men dressed as the Holy Empress “emptied save for a sip.” Esmenet had ordered the Worm, a slum in Carythusal, razed and every man in it killed.

But it was never clear just whom Mother was avenging.

Mimara has been waiting for Achamian on the far side of Marrow for him to emerge, abandoning her mule. She watches scalpers come and go as she spies on the town. From the hillside, it looks like a toy. “She watches the coming and going, the ebb and flow of miniature men and their miniature affairs.” She realizes men are the same the world over, but humans forget that. This gives them the illusion that they’re seeing something new. Only now does she realizes this truth she’s always known.

She dares no fire. She hugs herself warm. From lips of high-hanging stone, she watches and waits for him. She has no other place to go. She is, she decides, every bit as rootless as he. Every bit as mad.

Every bit as driven.

My Thoughts

We’re primed for Marrow before we arrive with Geraus’s stories.

Though Achamian had owned Geraus, his wife, and children as slaves, they were also the only companions he had. Their relationship really was more of one of master and servant, or employer and employee. And Achamian doesn’t come off as a bad employer. They had become his surrogate family, and now he leaves them behind. I always wonder what happened to Geraus, Tisthana, and their children, but they pass out of the story. No longer needed. Still, I wonder what became of their lives. Where they went. Will they survive what’s coming?

Do you ever wonder about minor characters like this?

A suicidal turn to Achamian’s thoughts. He doesn’t expect to survive this madness, but he’s obsessed with the truth and this his one chance.

The Nail of Heaven is bright enough to read by. And it’s not the moon. WTF is it!

“What had made these men wild wasn’t the wilderness, or even the mad savagery of the Sranc, it was the inability to trust anything more bestial in one another.” When society breaks down, this is what men become. Who we hang out with has a great deal of influence on who we are. If you hang out with successful people, you’ll find success. Hang out with people who just sit around smoking pot all day, well, don’t be surprised if you do the same. And if you find yourself in a world where you can’t trust anyone, you’ll only feed the problem.

“A moment of silence, far too thick to connotate shock or surprise.” This is what comes after Achamian asks Kosoter if he’s the Captain of the Skin Eaters. It’s Bakker’s subtle clue that there is something else at play here. These men are here for a reason. They met with an Imperial Messenger in the prologue. Now they have not just any nonman with them, but King Nil’giccas. Kellhus has made a deal with Nil’giccas, and Achamian is that payment.

I have speculated before that Kellhus might want Achamian to uncover the truth of his origins, to demystify the Dûnyain after Kellhus accomplishes his goal of defeating the No-God and closing the Outside his way. An end to superstition that he used to accomplish his goal. He puts the pieces in place for Achamian to succeed while also making a deal with Nil’giccas who has gone erratic. This allows Kellhus to put his plan into motion to neutralize Ishterebinth on his flank with his daughter.

Kosoter is letting Sarl speak, probably to see how Achamian handles it. Judging the man, both curious about him and brimming with hatred. Probably because Kosoter is a true believer. That was why he was chosen for this task. It is possible he was sent here years ago by Kellhus, an agent in place for when the time came to activate him.

Achamian tried to be intimidating. Tried to hold Kosoter’s terrible gaze. And while our sorcerer has been through a lot, he’s not someone who is so mired in darkness to be able to hold Kosoter’s gaze. Ironsoul is the Abyss. As we’ll later see, he’s so damned he appears like a living demon. This is a man who’s committed atrocities and sees little hope for salvation, even with Kellhus’s promise to him. In fact, to find that salvation, he’ll have to walk deep into hell to get it.

It’s also here that Sarl has no idea about Kosoter’s mission from Kellhus. Only the Captain, and probably Nil’giccas, know what’s going on here. That’s why Sarl is shocked the captain is entertaining Achamian.

Sometimes in a negotiation, you have to show you’re willing to go elsewhere. Kosoter can’t have that.

Achamian doesn’t want to go with the Skin Eaters, but he’s convinced by their argument. Sarl’s mockery is a counterbalance to Kosoter’s indifference. From them, he is seeing what he’ll get from others. Well, who knows if he would. He didn’t actually try to interview another company, so the sales technique worked. They got the better of Achamian and he knows it.

Kosoter has won their first battle.

Achamian is testing to see if Cleric is an Erratic. He’s already losing memories, a bad sign, and if he can only remember pain, then he can’t be trusted. He’ll lose himself and inflict damage so that he relive that pain. Of course, he has Achamian before him. A stand-in for Seswatha. Someone that will let Nil’giccas remember.

In Cleric, Achamian has found someone who understands, someone that helps him feel intact.

“Memories make us sane.” They are what tether us to the real world. To the continuation of our life and help us make sense of our present circumstances. They give us the context to understand the world around us. If that is severed, we would be confused. Befuddled. We might lash out. We wouldn’t even know it was wrong to lash out. We’d act in ways that would seem insane to those who had their memories.

Achamian is wondering if this is Fate, not realizing that his meeting with Kosoter is part of Kellhus’s plan. It makes sense then why it feels so serendipitous that the barkeeper sent them to Kosoter who just happens to be here when Achamian arrives.

Kosoter’s comment after Cleric talks about the slaughter of children makes me think he massacred Fanim children in the Holy War. He’s after redemption, after all. He knows he went way, way too far in the war. He committed atrocities. It’s turned him into a monster, and yet he still wants redemption.

Not surprising Achamian has a normal dream of Sauglish after all that talk of it. He might even be controlling this to some extent, hoping to spot Cleric in it.

It’s so sad to see parents killing children to spare them pain. We know what’s coming from the Sranc, so I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same. Death is coming. There’s no escaping it. Hope has died in Sauglish. All that’s left is pain and despair.

The connection between Achamian and Seswatha is breaking down. This might explain why he starts dreaming of Nau-Cayûti soon. That, perhaps, Kellhus’s hypnotism to unshackle the restrictions on Achamian to teach him Gnosis have unfettered Seswatha further from Achamian.

Yes, Achamian, you are going to need friends and allies. Things are going to get bad with the Skin Eaters.

The cataracts, rapids on a river, sound like cheering soldiers. Not the Skin Eaters. They’re not cheering, are they?

“In the pit” reminds me of modern soldiers who will describe being deployed in a warzone as being in the suck or the shit.

“A lie carved at the joints.” A lie that bends men to a new path? Or a lie that weakens men, because cutting at the joints would do that.

Kellhus had met Kosoter years ago. Called him Ironsoul. Chose him for this mission years and years ago. That name, Ironsoul, tells us what Kellhus has convinced Kosoter he is. A man who won’t break from his mission.

Thirty Skin Eaters… It’s easy to forget there were that many of them in the beginning.

I think Achamian is doing this to prove to Esmenet that he’s right and she was wrong to say with Kellhus. This is some twisted way to win her back. He just needs to show her what he is, but she already knew and chose to stay with him anyway.

As Achamian dreams, he’s faced with the illusion of free will. While he knows he’s dreaming, Seswatha doesn’t. Seswatha will do the same things over and over again as if he’d never done them. He has no choice in a deterministic world. All his actions are down to biology, culture, how he was raised, how his environment has shaped his thoughts. His reactions will be the same in the exact same set of circumstances every time.

By living Seswatha’s life over and over again, Achamian is experiencing the reality of determinism, of the Darkness that Comes Before.

How interesting for Achamian, a cuckold, to dream of being the seducer. He definitely feels guilt at dreaming of Seswatha and the queen’s affair.

Why would the rules become so convoluted that the outcome could no longer be anticipated almost relieve Achamian? In real life, he’s playing against Kellhus. He hopes he’s made an unexpected move that can’t be predicted.

Only he hasn’t.

“All passages into dread should exact come chastising toll.” Remember this, Achamian, at the end of the trip through Cil-Aujas.

I think it’s clear why Esmenet burned the Worm. It’s both for her daughter’s rapes and her own guilt in selling Mimara. That’s rage she unleashed. True pain she’s trying to expedite from her soul through the inflicting of suffering on others.

We get an interesting contrast with Kelmomas and Mimara as she watches the men like termites moving in and out of their mound. She realizes that men are the same everywhere. Kelmomas, however, realizes that he’s a God and better than them. On is rightfully scared by them, the other thinks he can control them.

And where did Mimara get the food? She was starving before Achamian came down from his tower. Now she’s snuck off after him. Did he give her food to see her home thinking she would go? I can’t believe Achamian didn’t see this move on her part coming.

She sat outside your tower for DAYS, Achamian.

She is the source of conflict coming up. Her presence is temptation to these violent men. It’s not just Achamian, either, that will pay for her actions. Kosoter will, too.

Want to read more, click here for Chapter Seven!

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

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