Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 2: The Warrior Prophet
by R. Scott Bakker
The Second March
Welcome to Chapter Twelve of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Eleven!
…the ends of the earth shall be wracked by the howls of the wicked, and the idols shall be cast down and shattered, stone against stone. And the demons of the idolaters shall hold open their mouths, like starving lepers, for no man living will answer their outrageous hunger.
—16:4:22 THE WITNESS OF FANE
Though you lose you soul, you shall win the world
We get Fanim theology to start us off. The “demons” are the hundred gods of the Tusk. Whenever you hear a Fanim speak about demons, that is who they mean. Now most of this is just the Fanim’s goal, to destroy them because they follow the Solitary God. But it is interesting that “outrageous hunger” is mentioned. We learn in the second series just what the gods hunger for and why it’s outrageous. The Hundred feed on human souls. It’s very possible that damnation exists because the Hundred require it to be fed. Even those that are saved may still be gnawed on by their patron god. I am eager for the Unholy Consult to shed more light on the matter of Damnation and the role the gods play in it.
The Catechism is to remind us both what the Mandate gain by condemning themselves to damnation. If the Mandate lose the Gnosis, they lose their power, their ability to defend the world. And then in this chapter, Achamian realizes that they don’t have to lose their souls because of Kellhus. It is that promise that will seduce even the sorcerers to follow Kellhus before this is all over.
Because when you know you are damned, it is a powerful motivator. Just ask the Consult.
Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shigek
Xinemus is not pleased to be cornered by Therishut, a Conriyan baron from the frontier with High Ainon. He finds the man to be untrustworthy, but Xinemus is too polite to be rude and ignore him. Xinemus is known to love books and Therishut seeks to flatter by telling him the famed Sareotic Library was taken intact in Iothiah by the Galeoth. This confuses Xinemus. He hard the Ainoni took it. But Therishut is adamant. Xinemus’s patience is tried as Therishut continues, saying a friend of his found a manuscript speaking on the Gnosis was found in the library, questioning what that is.
This brings Xinemus up short. He asks what interest Therishut’s friend has in the matter. Therishut reveals his friend is a caste-merchant who is cataloging the library since it is rumored Saubon will sell it off to raise money. Xinemus tells Therishut to heed his station and not consort with caster-merchants.
But rather than take offense at this, Therishut smiled wickedly. “Surely, Lord Marshal,” he said in a tone devoid of all deference, “you of all people.”
Xinemus blinked, astonished more by his own hypocrisy than by Baron Therishut’s insolence. A man who sups with sorcerer castigating another for currying favour with a merchant? Suddenly the hushed rumbled of the Conriyan camp seemed to buzz in his ears. With a fierceness that shocked him, the Marshal of Attrempus stared at Therishut, stared at him until, flustered, the fool mumbled insincere apologies and scurried away.
Xinemus heads to his pavilion, pondering his friend of many years, and the difference in their caste. He wonders how many others thought of this. And since his friendship with Achamian has been strained, her thinks Achamian heading to this library “studying blasphemy” would be a good thing.
Esmenet is not happy that Achamian is leaving, feeling that he’s abandoning her. He’s packing to leave to the library. They’re arguing over it, Esmenet not understanding why he’s leaving. He says it’s a library, but she doesn’t care. And he admits he needs time to think, to be alone.
The desperation in his voice and expression shocked her into momentary silence.
“About Kellhus,” she said. The skin beneath her scalp prickled.
“About Kellhus,” he replied, turn back to his mule. He cleared his throat, spit into the dust.
“He’s asked you, hasn’t he?” Her chest tightened. Could it be?
He doesn’t answer right away, then feigns ignorance, repeating her question back at her. She responds “To teach him the Gnosis.” And then Esmenet realizes why Achamian has been haunted since the Wathi Doll incident. It wasn’t his fight with Xinemus. Days ago, she had spoken with Xinemus, trying to patch things up, speaking of Achamian’s dreams and fears about Kellhus. She realizes that for Xinemus, things had broken in their friendship. So instead, she tried to cheer Achamian up with little things. “The hurts of men were brittle, volatile things.” Achamian always claimed men were simple, only needing women to “feed, fuck, and flatter them.” She knew that wasn’t true of Achamian. So she waited for their friendship to mend. It hadn’t occurred to her that Kellhus was the problem. After all, he was holy. And sorcery wasn’t. Achamian had once said Kellhus would be a god-sorcerer.
She asks how that’s possible, how can a prophet speak blasphemy. He faces her “his face blank with hope and horror” and says he asked him that. Kellhus denies being a prophet, offended and hurt by Achamian’s claim.
A sudden desperation welled in Esmenet’s throat. “You can’t teach him, Akka! You mustn’t teach him! Don’t you see? You’re the temptation. He must resist you and the promise of power you hold. He must deny you to become what he must become!”
“Is that what you think?” Achamian exclaimed. “That I’m King Shikol tempting Sejenus with worldly power like in The Tractate? Maybe he’s right, Esmi, did you ever consider that? Maybe he’s not a prophet!”
Esmenet stared at him, fearful, bewildered, but strangely exhilarated as well. How had she come so far? How could a whore from a Sumna slum stand here, so near the world’s heart?
How had her life become scripture? For a moment, she couldn’t believe…
Esmenet asks Achamian what he thinks. He doesn’t answer, only repeats her question. She stares at him, though losing her anger. He sighs and says the Three Seas are not ready for the Second Apocalypse. The Heron Spear is lost, there are more Sranc now than in Seswatha time, and most of the Chorae are lost. “Though the Gods have damned me, damned us, I can’t believe they would so abandon the world…” He thinks Kellhus is more than the Harbinger, that he’s their savior. But she objects to her prophet learning sorcery.
“Is blasphemy, I know. But ask yourself, Esmi, why are sorcerers blasphemers? And why is a prophet a prophet?”
Her eyes opened horror-wide. “Because one sings the God’s song,” she replied, “and the other speaks the God’s voice.”
“Exactly,” Achamian said. “Is it blasphemy for a prophet to utter sorcerer?”
Esmenet stood staring, dumbstruck.
For the God to sing His own song…
She begs him not to go, and he says he needs to think. She feels they think so well together. “He was wiser for her counsel.” She doesn’t understand why he’s abandoning. Then she remembers seeing him with Serwë, thinking he’s “found a younger whore.” She demands to know why he does this. Why he opens his up the labyrinth of his thoughts to her but refuses to guide her through it. He laughs at that. And she presses that he does hide because he’s weak, but he doesn’t have to be. She urges him to reflect on Kellhus’s teachings.
He glanced at her, his eyes poised between hurt and fury. “How about you? Let’s talk about your daughter… Remember her? How long has it been since you’ve—”
“That’s different! She came before you! Before you!”
Why would he say this? Why would he try to hurt?
My girl! My baby girl is dead!
“Such fine discriminations,” Achamian spat. “The past is never dead, Esmi.” He laughed bitterly. “It’s not even past.”
“Then where is my daughter, Akka?”
For an instant he stood dumbstruck. She often baffled him like this.
Self-loathing fills her, driving her to cry. And then she grows angry, blaming Achamian for it. He apologizes for his words. And then says that she doesn’t understand what the Gnosis is to the Mandate. He would forfeit more than his life if he shared it. She begs him to teach her, to make her understand. To do this together. But he can’t tell her because he knows what she’ll say. But she says he doesn’t. He keeps packing. He looks so poor and lonely, and she thinks of Sarcellus handsome and perfect, making her feel guilty. Achamian continues that he’s not leaving her. He could never do that.
“I see but one sleeping mat,” she said.
He tried to smile, then turned, leading Daybreak away at an awkward gait. She watched him, her innards churning as though she had dangled over unseen heights. He followed the path eastward, passing a row of weather-beaten round tents. He seemed so small so quickly. It was so strange, the way bright sun could make distant figures dark…
“Akka!” she cried out, not caring who heard. “Akka!”
I love you.
The figure with the mule stopped, distant and for a moment, unrecognizable.
Then he disappeared beneath a strand of black willows.
Achamian reflects on why intelligent people are less happy. They are better at arguing away at truth than accepting them. It’s why he’s fleeing both Kellhus and Esmenet. As he walks along the Sempis, he reflects. It hurt Achamian that his friend is essentially banishing him from the fire with this talk of the library, even if it’s temporary. He tries to swallow it, remembering the Tusk saying “There is no friend more difficult than a sinner.” Achamian, unlike other sorcerers, rarely thought about damnation.
He reflects on his training, where he would embrace any blasphemy because he was damned, particularly mocking the Tractates with his friend Sancla (who died three years later). They would quote passages, making fun of them. They read a passage about doing good deeds. If you do good deeds in exchange for something, they’re not good deeds. You have to give without expecting to receive anything back. You can’t be selfish. And if you do, you get salvation. Which Sancla rightly points out is a reward. “Essentially Sejenus is saying, ‘Give without expectation of reward, and you expect a huge reward!’” He then goes on further, the best thing is to never give then you’ll never be selfish. This means that the Mandate, who have condemned themselves to damnation to save the world, are the only true selfless ones.
Everything had changed because of Kellhus. Achamian thinks about his damnation a lot. He had doubts before, tormenting himself because he believed that the many contradictions in scripture proved the prophets were just men. He could go round and round on different ideas without an answer.
But then of course the question could never be answered. If genuine doubt was in fact the condition of conditions, then only those ignorant of the answer could be redeemed. To ponder the question of his damnation, it had always seemed, was itself a kind of damnation.
So he didn’t think of it.
But now… Now there could be an answer. Every day he walked with its possibility, talked…
Prince Anasûrimbor Kellhus.
He didn’t think Kellhus could actually tell him the answer if he ever had the courage to ask. He didn’t think Kellhus “embodied or exemplified the answer.” Achamian knew his damnation depended on “what he himself was willing to sacrifice.” Only his actions would answer the question. It both horrified him and filled him with joy. Because he knew the possibility of salvation was real for him. The Mandate catechism said he would lose his soul, but he didn’t have to. He realizes how his life had lacked hope before. “Esmenet had taught him how to love. And Kellhus, Anasûrimbor Kellhus, had taught him how to hope.” And he would hold them both tightly.
Last night, Kellhus had come to Achamian and asked for the Gnosis. Achamian balked at it. It was unthinkable to each someone outside his school. He wasn’t sure he could teach it, that the Seswatha controlling his sleeping soul would let him. He wonders if the Seswatha in him knows what is going on. Never in his school’s history had a sorcerer of rank betrayed the Gnosis. It was what allowed them to survive, kept them from being a minor school. His brothers would fight to extinction to prevent it and he would be cursed for sharing it.
But what was this other than greed or jealousy? The Second Apocalypse was imminent. Hadn’t the time come to arm all the Three Seas? Hadn’t Seswatha himself bid them share their arsenal before the shadow fell?
And wouldn’t this make Achamian the most faithful of all Mandate Schoolmen?
Achamian knows Kellhus is special. In months, the man had learned a lifetime of knowledge. He spoke more truths than Ajencis and preached better than Sejenus. He drafted new logics. And in his hands, the Gnosis would be even more powerful.
Glimpses of Kellhus, striding as a god across fields of war, laying low host of Sranc, striking dragons from the sky, closing with the resurrected No-God, with dread Mog-Pharau…
He’s our savior! I know it!
But what if Esmenet were right? What if Achamian were merely the test? Like old, evil Shikol in The Tractate, offering Inri Sejenus his thighbone scepter, his army, his harem, his everything save his crown, to stop preaching…
Kellhus would be a Shaman, a sorcerer and prophet, if Achamian surrenders the Gnosis. And now he feels it is madness to even do it. Two thousand years none of his brethren had. “Who was he to forsake such tradition?” He watches young boys playing, so innocent and wonders when that would end or if they would meet Kellhus. Then he spots a corpse nailed to a tree above the boys. He flinches, debating cutting it down. Remorse hits him and he thinks of Esmenet, wishing her to be safe. Achamian continues on and “wrestled with impossibilities.”
The past was dead. The future, as black as a waiting grave.
Achamian wiped his tears on his shoulder. Something unimaginable was about to happen, something historians, philosophers, and theologians would a argue for thousands of years—if years or anything else survived. And the acts of Drusas Achamian would loom so very large.
He would simply give. Without expectation.
His School. His calling. His life…
The Gnosis would be his sacrifice.
Achamian reaches Iothiah and finds lots of Ainoni around. He even senses Scarlet Spire sorcery in the distance. But then he meets Galeoth horsemen, to his relief, and they give him directions to the Sareotic Library and said it was in their people’s hands. By noon, he is at the library, nervous. He fears that the same rumors that have brought him have brought the Scarlet Spire. He fears bumping into them during his search.
The possibility, Achamian reflects, of Gnosis scrolls being in here has merit. The Library was ancient, and during the Ceneian Empire all books brought into Iothiah had to be surrendered to the library so a copy could be made. And, since the Library was run by priests and then later controlled by the Fanim, no sorcerers had been allowed in before. Other scrolls had been found over the years, scrolls the Mandate jealously seized. Achamian questions searching here because Kellhus has changed everything.
He speaks to the guards and learns no one has entered, very few have even cared except for a “few thieving merchants.” But Achamian says he is a chronicler for Proyas and they let him in. He leaves his mule outside, gathers his belongings, and heads in. As he enters, ignoring a Galeoth racial slur, he feels excited. He’s eager to discovered more than just the scrolls but other works of lost antiquity.
Achamian searches through the “warren of pitch-black hallways that smelled of dust and the ghost of rotting books.” It saddens him. The Fanim had spared the library but not maintained it. The vast majority ruined. He does find new books, including a lost Dialogue of Ajencis, as he searches. He grows tired after awhile, taking a break to eat, thinking of Esmenet and missing her.
He did his best not to think of Kellhus.
He replaced his sputtering candle and decided to read. Alone with books, yet again. Suddenly he smiled. Again? No, at last…
A book was never “read.” Here, as elsewhere, language betrayed the true nature of the activity. To say that a book was read was to make the same mistake as the gambler who crowed about winning as though he’d never taken it by force of hand or resolve. To toss the number-sticks was to seize a moment of helpless, nothing more. But to open a book was by far the most profound gamble. To open a book was not only to seize a moment of helplessness, not only to relinquish a jealous handful of heartbeats to the unpredictable mark of another man’s quill, it was to allow oneself to be written. For what was a book if not a long consecutive surrender to the movements of another’s soul.
Achamian could think of no abandonment of self more profound.
He read, and was moved to chuckle by ironies a thousand years dead, and to reflect pensively on claims and hopes that had far outlived the age of their import.
He wouldn’t remember falling asleep.
Achamian dreams of the dragon Skuthula dueling Seswatha. The fires are just washing over his wards when suddenly the dream becomes the “blackness of open eyes.” He comes awake, struggling to remember where he is for a moment. And then he realizes what has woken him up—his Wards of Exposure. He knows the Scarlet Spires has come from him.
He launches into action, feeling them closing in from various directions. He wonders why. For the Gnosis? He thinks it is folly of them to abduct him during the middle of the Holy War. Then he thinks of skin-spies and realizes this is a trap. He was lured here. “This was actually happening!” He hides his satchel beneath scrolls then retreats into his alcove and sets his words “Luminescence sheeted the air before him, like the glare of sunlight across mist.”
Dark muttering from somewhere amid the teetering queues—skulking, insinuating words, like vermin gnawing on the walls of the world.
Then fierce light, transforming, for a heartbeat, the shelves before into a dawn horizon… Explosion. A geyser of ash and fire.
The attack hits him. He feels the heat, but his wards hold. Eleäzaras commands him to yield. Achamian calls him a fool, asking how many times the Scarlet Spire have tried to steal the Gnosis. Eleäzaras repeats he is doomed and should surrender. Achamian pleads for him not to do this, thinking of the stakes for the world.
But Achamian had whispered secrets to his first attacker. Five lines glittered along the gorge of blasted shelves, through smoke and wafting pages. Impact. The air cracked. His unseen foe cried out in astonishment—they always did at the first touch of the Gnosis. Achamian muttered more ancient words of power, more Cants. The Bisecting Planes of Mrseor, to continuously stress an opponent’s Wards. The Odaini Concussion Cants, to stun him, break his concentration. Then the Cirroi Loom…
Dazzling geometries lept through the smoke, lines and parabolas of razor light, punching through wood and papyrus, shearing through stone. The Scarlet Schoolmen screamed, tried to run. Achamian boiled him in his skin.
The Scarlet Spire hasten to coordinate their own attacks into a Concert. Achamian asks Eleäzaras how many more he’s willing to lose trying to capture him. Achamian is attacked. His wards groan as fire and thunder assault him.
He struck back with Inferences and Abstraction. He was a Mandate Schoolman, A Gnostic Sorcerer-of-the-Rank, a War-Cant Master. He was as a mask held before the sun. And his voice slapped the distances into chair and ruin.
The knowledge of the library is destroyed as Achamian fights with the Scarlet Spire. There are seven of them. Storms fire lightning bolts and dragon heads breath fire at him. He fights the Great Analogies “shining and ponderous” with Abstractions. He kills another Scarlet Spire, crumbling his “ghostly ramparts.”
As Achamian sings to strengthen his wards, the floor beneath him collapses from the “cataracts of hellfire.” He tries to keep fighting, but the jarring impact sends him reeling. They are above him now “Hanging as though from wires”, hammering his wards. “Sun after blinding sun set upon him.”
On his knees, burned, bleeding form the mouth and eyes, encircled by heaped stone and text, Achamian snarled Ward after Ward, but they cracked and shattered, were pinched away like rotten linen. The very firmament, it seemed, echoed with the implacable chorus of the Scarlet Spires. Like angry smiths they punished the anvil.
And through the madness, Drusas Achamian glimpsed the setting sun, impossibly indifferent, framed by clouds piled rose and orange…
It was, he thought, a good song.
Forgive me, Kellhus.
Therishut lands border on High Ainon. This is a very subtle red flag that I am sure most readers missed on the first read through. He’s chumming the waters for the Scarlet Spires to bait and trap Achamian. And then we get another red flag with Xinemus believing Ainon captured Iothiah. And now a lost manuscript on Gnosis is found. It’s quite the trap the Scarlet Spire has baited.
Xinemus has pushed down his convictions long enough, ignoring the “sin” of his friend for as long as he could. It was easier when Achamian didn’t flaunt it, and then we had the Wathi Doll. And now…things have changed. And here is the perfect way to get rid of him, even for only a few days. It’s natural. We all have our prejudices in some form, finding certain activities or behaviors distasteful, but also not wanting to ruin friendships, so we ignore them. But they can build, fester, cause us to distance ourselves from our friends.
And here is the end of the honeymoon period between Achamian and Esmenet. The world is separating them just like she feared. He’s leaving her behind. Of course she fears abandonment. She can’t understand why she couldn’t go with him. After all, just because she’s illiterate doesn’t mean she can’t learn anything from a library.
And then Esmenet realizes why. She knows Achamian well.
Esmenet has completely bought into Kellhus’s lies. He’s ensnared her well. It’s sad watching Kellhus manipulate the lives of these characters with such cold calculation. They think he’s their friend, their prophet even, but he’s none of those things.
So why are sorcerers automatically condemned? I really can’t tell you. Maybe the Hundred don’t like sorcerery or the power it represents. Or maybe damnation is based off the belief of all the humans living, shaped by the Hundred through prophets (and those are real, we’ll meet people in the next series definitely under the influence of the Hundred able to perform miracles). Maybe it’s because of the Tusk. It says sorcerers are blasphemers. And we know that before the Tusk there were prophets who were sorcerers called Shamans. And there are good indication that the Tusk was written by the Inchoroi to get the humans to cross the mountains into Eärwa and destroy the Nonmen. Maybe they added that sorcery is blasphemous to weaken humans when it came time to destroy them. Hopefully, Bakker will answer these questions. I have a feeling he will. His metaphysics are well thought out.
We have our first real hint that Esmenet’s daughter is still alive. That she didn’t die of famine, that’s just the delusion guilt has driven Esmenet to embrace. Achamian clearly knows the truth and usually tiptoes around it.
Achamian disappears under black willows. He heads into darkness. So much will have changed for the both of them when he reemerges.
Achamian’s own doubts are sabotaging his relationship with Esmenet. He lied to her. If he truly wanted to think only on Kellhus, he would take her with him. But he needs more than that. His slip up with Serwë is still weighing on him. Especially with Kellhus twisting that dagger to prod him to surrender the Gnosis.
Achamian and Sancla’s talk about doing good deeds to be saved from damnation is a selfish act that would negate the good deed. Humans are rarely truly altruistic. We all do nice things, yes, but we do them because we get some reward from them, something we value. We help a friend out because we want to maintain the friendship. We give to our significant others because it gives us pleasure to see them happy. We sacrifice for our children because we take pride in seeing them grow up and succeed. And, thus, any theology that promises you salvation in exchange for doing good has major problems.
Doubt is a horrible, pernicious thing sometimes. It can gnaw away at you. But it also makes you question things, and that’s important to. Faith needs doubt to temper it, to keep it from becoming zealotry. But there are limits to how good it is. And now poor Achamian is suffering from it worse than usual.
As the philosopher David Hume said, desire rules our reason, so our reason is slave to our desires. We can justify anything, making excuses for what we do what we want. Achamian has found a reason to betray his school by being an even better Mandate. It’s not a betrayal now, but an expectation. Something Seswatha would want him to do. And thus, guilt has been assuaged. His reason has been enslaved to his desire and provided him justification to teach Kellhus.
And then doubt hits Achamian again. Just when his faith in Kellhus is swaying, doubt gnaws at him, forcing him to ask questions, to temper and answer them.
Interesting how Achamian equates the innocence of the two boys holding hands, wondering how long before they would be pressured to see that as weakness as they grow up, then equating Kellhus to guarding such innocence. To preserving it.
And then thinking about Esmenet dying is the final thing that compels Achamian to surrender the Gnosis. Kellhus should not let him go on this journey. But Kellhus knew Achamian needed to leave. And our Dûnyain can’t see all outcomes. He has no idea to suspect a Scarlet Spire trap. The Scarlet Spire hasn’t even entered into any of Kellhus’s true plans.
Tension builds as Kellhus enters the library. You can just feel it building. The trap is closing. This section of the story is one of my favorite in the entire series.
I’m trying to remember what ever happened to Daybreak the mule. I assume someone claimed him after Achamian’s capture.
Achamian wants to cackle when he enters. He is someone that values knowledge, and there is so much here. What happens next is such a tragedy on so many levels. Makes me think of ISIS over in the Middle East blowing up historical sites.
Sometimes Bakker, like all authors, inserts his own beliefs into his writing. And why not, it’s his. Achamian’s musing on literature and not just the gamble you take on it being good but the fact you are sinking into the works, letting someone else’s ideas take root in you, is something profound. Something Bakker clearly enjoys. Not surprising, I’ve yet to meet an author that didn’t love to read.
“He wouldn’t remember falling asleep.” This line struck me as something so profound and so mundane at the same time. Because when he awakes, everything will change for Achamian. His life will never be the same. He will lose that love and hope he vowed to hold onto earlier in the chapter. And not because he let it go, because it was taken from him.
Achamian launches into action. For all his self-doubt and constant questioning, when his Wards of Exposure trip, he prepares himself for battle. We have heard Achamian think in his head that he could, basically, kick everyone’s ass but was holding back. We see this is no idle threat. For the first time in the series, Bakker shows us what his sorcerery really is. We’ve gotten glimpses before. No longer.
Bakker’s sorcery is as poetic and beautiful as it is violent and destructive.
We see now the difference between sorcerers. Achamian’s attacks are direct. He doesn’t have to create “analogous” that then perform spells. He doesn’t have to create a small storm to fire lightning or make a dragon’s head to breath fire. He just reaches into the mathematics of the universe, harnesses it, and attacks them directly. He uses the Abstract idea of fire or lightning. Or light. His wards are ethereal instead of actual walls like the Scarlet Spire. They sent eight to capture him, and he kills one before they are even able to fight back properly. He holds them off, killing more. And he only looses because the floor collapses beneath him, failing from the heat and attack of the Scarlet Spire.
And Bakker really makes you think Achamian dies here. And his last thoughts aren’t of Esmenet, but of Kellhus. He had vowed to sacrifice the Gnosis to give Kellhus what he needs to save the world, and the Scarlet Spire have destroyed that possibility. They have doomed the world in Achamian’s mind. “The stakes” he thought about they first attack him. They don’t understand the stakes. They don’t understand what their meddling will cause.
All I can say, Achamian, you put up one helluva a fight. For a book and a half, he thought himself weak. But he was strong here. As Kellhus predicted, he needed shaping. And the Scarlet Spire are the smiths wielding that hammer.
If you want to keep reading, click here for Chapter Thirteen