Category Archives: Reread

Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Three

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 23
Caraskand

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

For Men, no circle is ever closed. We walk ever in spirals

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

Bring he who has spoken prophecy to the judgment of the priests, and if is prophecy is judged true, acclaim him, for he is clean, and if his prophecy is judged false, bind him to the corpse of his wife, and hang him one cubit above the earth, for he is unclean, an anathema unto the Gods.

WARRANTS 7:48, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

My Thoughts

No circle is ever closed. This is a statement on the relativity of truth, that as men we never find it. We’re always searching for it, spiraling ever closer or away, but we never find it, never form that complete circle of thought. There’s always a new argument, a new way to look at it, a different facet of “truth” to find. Why this quote, because look at the next one where we have a passage on judging the truth of prophecy. And it is black and white. It is the opposite of the skepticism that Achamian has always subscribed to.

It condemns two people to death.

The Tusks punishment on false prophets is harsh. I mean really harsh. If you look at the Old Testament you’ll find being put to death a punishment for being a false prophet, for daring to speak in the name of God, but you don’t have them putting your wife to death in the process. I feel this is the Inchoroi’s hand at work, this needless cruelty, this delight in torment that they breed into their servant-races like the Sranc and skin-spies.

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

Eleäzaras is shocked by what he finds in Chepheramunni’s sickroom. Count-Palatine Chinjosa holds him to steady him. Eleäzaras stumbles to the bed, the room thick with the scent of rot and death, and gazes at the dead ruler of Ainoni.

Chepheramunni’s head lay beneath the congregated candles, but his face…

It was nowhere to be seen.

Where his face should have been lay what resembled an overturn spider, its legs clutched in death about its abdomen. What had been Chepheramunni’s face lay unspooled across the knuckles and shins of steepled limbs. Eleäzaras saw familiar fragments: a lone nostril, the haired ridge of an eyebrow. Beneath he glimpsed lidless eyes and the shine of human teeth, bared and lipless.

And just as that fool Skalateas had claimed, nowhere could he sense the bruise of sorcery.

Chepheramunni—a Cishaurim skin-spy.

Impossible.

Eleäzaras is overwhelmed by the sight. The room spins around him. Chinjosa asks what this means and Eleäzaras things they’re doomed, that he’s led his School to its death. He reflects on the disasters the school has suffered from Anwurat to Iothiah, and now trapped in the city. And now he learns that the Cishaurim knew all their plans. He says they’re doomed. Chinjosa objects, saying the abomination is dead, the Gods have removed him.

Horrified, Eleäzaras suddenly wonders if Chinjosa is really Chinjosa. But the man’s warlike strength pulls Eleäzaras back from despair. He agrees the skin-spy’s death is a blessing while realizing there could be other skin-spies. He tells Chinjosa not to tell anyone, orders the head removed, the body burned all while cursing Achamian for not breaking and telling his secrets.

Achamian and Xinemus “walked the ways of twilight” from the port city of Jocktha to Caraskand. They pass the enemy camp and can feel the Cishaurim’s “plucked eyes” searching for them. Achamian feared they’d be discovered, that the shadows hiding them would be revealed by the Cishaurim. But they aren’t.

Gaining the walls, they revealed themselves beneath a small postern gate. It was night, and torches glittered between the battlements above. With Xinemus slumped against him, Achamian called to the astonished guards: “Open the gates! I am Drusas Achamian, a Mandate Schoolman, and this is Krijates Xinemus, the Marshal of Attrempus… We have come to share your plight!”

“This city is both doomed and damned,” someone shouted down. “Who seeks entry to such a place? Who but madmen or traitors?”

Achamian paused before answering, struck by the bleak conviction of the man’s tone. The Men of the Tusk, he realized, had lost all hope.

“Those who would attend their loved ones,” he said. “Even unto death.”

After a pause, the outer doors burst open and a troop of hollow-cheeked Tydonni seized them. At long last they found themselves inside the horror of Caraskand.

Esmenet weeps, holding baby Moënghus, as she stares at the forms of Kellhus and Serwë hanging from an ancient eucalyptus tree called Umiaki. She begs for Kellhus to wake up while she reflects what happened. She’d witnessed Gotian strip Kellhus naked, whip him bloody with cedar branches, and then bound him to Serwë’s nude corpse “ankle to ankle, wrist to wrist, face to face.” Then they strapped them to a bronze ring which they hung, upside down, to the tree. “Esmenet had wailed her voice to nothing.”

Now they spun in slow circles, their golden hair mingling in the breeze, their arms and legs sweeping out like those of dancers. Esmenet glimpsed ashen breasts crushed against a shining, armpit hair twisted into horns, then Serwë’s slender back rolled into view, almost mannish because of the deep line of her spine. She glimpsed her sex, bared between outspread legs, pressed against the confusion of Kellhus’s genitalia…

Serwë… Her face blackening as the blood settled, her limbs and torso carved in grey marble, as perfect in form as any artifice. And Kellhus… His face sheened in sweat, his muscular back gleaming white between lines of angry red. His eyes swollen shut.

“But you said!” Esmenet wailed. “You said Truth can’t die!”

But Serwë was dead and Kellhus dying. Holding Moënghus, Esmenet flees.

Cnaiür remembers Kellhus’s last message to him: “Remember when you recall the secret of battle.” He’s stalking through the Inrithi, who all fall silent because they know he is the breaker-of-horses-and-men. He didn’t need heralds or banners to announce him. His mere presence did it.

He’s conflicted, trying to drive Kellhus’s words from his mind as he stalks around Csokis, the temple complex where Kellhus is hung dying. He hardly notices the crowds watching as he wars with himself. He doesn’t care about any threats or curses as he pushes through the crowd. Only the sight of the eucalyptus tree arrests his attention. He can’t see Kellhus or Serwë from this distance in the dark.

He asks if Kellhus still lives, but he only gets bewildered looks in response. So he keeps plowing forward through the crowd until he reaches the Shrial Knights. He’s stopped and Cnaiür scowls, still unable to see Serwë and Kellhus. Then a procession of Shrial Knights with torches illuminates a silhouette, not sure if it’s hers or Kellhus.

The forward ranks of Inrithi began shouting, some in rapture, others in derision. Through the uproar, Cnaiür heard a velvety voice, spoken in timbres only his heart could hear.

It’s good that you’ve come… Proper.”

Cnaiür stared in horror at the figure across the ring. Then the string of torches marched on, and darkness reclaimed the ground beneath Umiaki. The surrounding clamour subsided, fractured into individual shouts.

All men,” the voice said, “should know their work.”

Cnaiür shouts out that he came to watch Kellhus suffer and die. People give him strange looks. The hallucination of Kellhus asks why he would want something. Cnaiür responds that Kellhus betrayed him. Kellhus asks how. “You need only speak!” Kellhus says Cnaiür makes too much of him, worse than the Inrithi. But Cnaiür responds that only he knew what Kellhus was and only he could destroy him. As he did. Kellhus reminds him of Moënghus, that they can still hunt him.

Cnaiür stood breathless, as motionless as a horse-laming stone hidden among the Steppe grasses.

“I’ve made a trade,” he said evenly. “I’ve yielded to the greater hate.”

Have you?”

“Yes! Yes! Look at her! Look at what you’ve done to her!”

What I’ve done, Scylvendi? Or what you’re done?”

“She’s dead. My Serwë! My Serwë is dead! My prize!”

Oh, yes… What will they whisper, now that your proof has passed? How will they measure?”

“They killed her because of you!”

Laughter, full and easy-hearted, like that of a favorite uncle just into his cups.

Spoken like a true Son of the Steppe!”

Cnaiür snarls that Kellhus mocks them when a hand seizes his shoulder, telling him to cease his madness and speaking in his tongue. Cnaiür breaks the man and batters him to the ground while Kellhus asks who would dare mock a murder. Cnaiür screams Kellhus killed her. But Kellhus says Cnaiür did when he sold him out. Cnaiür screams it was to save his son. He sees Serwë dying again in Sarcellus arms and then hears a baby crying. Cnaiür screams they were supposed to kill the whore, Esmenet.

The crowd starts attacking Cnaiür know. He fights back, but is getting pummeled while Kellhus calls him weeper. Suddenly, the mob is fleeing another man, tall and fighting his way to Cnaiür. The man asks if Cnaiür lost his wits while Kellhus says, “You murdered Serwë.”

And suddenly, the stranger became Coithus Saubon, dressed in a penitent’s shabby robes. What kind of devilry?

“Cnaiür,” the Galeoth Prince exclaimed, “who are you speaking to?”

You…” the darkness crackled.

“Scylvendi?”

Cnaiür shook free of the man’s firm grip. “This is a fool’s vigil,” he grated.

He spat, then turned to fight his way free of the stink.

Achamian’s thoughts are full of Esmenet as five Tydonni knights escort him and Xinemus through Caraskand. He can almost smell her, her hear gasp out in pleasure, feel her body against him. He’s so close to being reunited with them.

The knights escorting Achamian refuse to say much of what’s happening, not trusting the two strangers yet, but treat them with courtesy. As they pass through the city, Achamian recognizes the hopelessness he sees in the inhabitants, the same looks he saw in his dreams after Anasûrimbor Celmomas died at the Field of Eleneöt or at the Plains of Mengedda awaiting the No-God. “The look of horror and fury, of Men who could only exact and never overcome.”

The look of Apocalypse

Whenever Achamian matched their gazes, no threat or challenge was exchanged, only the thoughtless understanding of exhausted brothers. Something—demon or reptile—crawled into the skulls of those who endured the unendurable, and when it looked out their eyes, as it inevitably did, it could recognize itself in others. He belonged, Achamian realized. Not just here in Caraskand with those he loved, but here with the Holy War. He belonged with these men—even unto death.

We share the same doom.

Because of Xinemus, they move slow to Proyas’s camp. As Achamian is hopeful for his reunion with Kellhus, Esmenet, and even Proyas, he ponders his declaration on the walls of being a Mandate Schoolmen. He realizes he hasn’t said those words aloud in a long time. He isn’t sure he’s even is one because he is scared of contacting Atyersus. He hasn’t even let them know he escaped captivity. Even his reasons for refusing to contact them dwindled in his captivity.

Because I am no longer one of them.

For all the ferocity with which he defended the Gnosis—to the point of sacrificing Xinemus!—he’d forsaken the Mandate. He’d forsaken them, he realized, even before his abduction by the Scarlet Spires. He’d forsaken them for Kellhus…

I was going to teach him the Gnosis.

That makes him breathless. More than Esmenet awaits him. The threat of the Second Apocalypse also does. He finds himself callous, not wanting to care about the world. He just wants to be Drusas Achamian and be reunited with his wife Esmenet. “Like so many things in the aftermath of Iothiah, the rest seemed childish, the tropes in an over-read book.”

As they walk, Xinemus brings up their trip through the shadows, making Achamian at first think the man now regretted his acceptance of sorcery, something Xinemus before Iothiah never would have. But instead, Xinemus says that even blind he could see the Cishaurim. “I saw them seeing!”

“You did see,” he [Achamian] said carefully, “in a manner… There’s many ways of seeing. And all of us possess eyes that never breach skin. Men are wrong to think nothing lies between blindness and sight.”

“And the Cishaurim?” Xinemus pressed. “Is that… Is that how they—”

The Cishaurim are masters of this interval. They blind themselves, they say, to better see the World Between. According to some, it’s the key to their metaphysics.”

Xinemus has more questions, but Achamian says no isn’t the time, glancing at their escorts. They reach the compound where Anmergal, the leader of their escort, reports Proyas’s people agreed to take them in “despite their better judgment.” People only sneak out of Caraskand, not in. Before Achamian can answer, he orders his men to leave while Proyas’s men appear “from the darkness.” They are led inside and escorted to Proyas.

Despite his emaciated appearance, Achamian still thinks Proyas looks the same. Xinemus asks what’s going on and Achamian says it’s Proyas. The prince stares at Xinemus like a man shaking off sleep and asks what happened. Achamian can’t answer, suddenly angry. Proyas asks again with more command, and Achamian tries to explain how the Scarlet Spire took Xinemus’s eyes when Proyas hugs the Marshal as a sobbing child seeking comfort.

A moment of fierce silence passed.

Zin,” Proyas hissed. Please forgive me! Please, I beg of you!”

“Shhh… It’s enough to feel your embrace… To hear your voice.”

“But Zin! Your eyes! Your eyes!”

“Shush, now… Akka will fix me. You’ll see.”

Achamian flinched at the words. Hope was never so poison as when it deluded loved ones.

Then Proyas begs for Achamian’s forgiveness, calling him “Old Teacher.” Achamian hears the words, but feels too far from Proyas. He can’t forgive him because not only is his heart hardened but he has retreated. He can’t see Proyas as only his student. He also sees him as a murderous fanatic. “How could he [Achamian] think these men were his brothers?” Instead, he says he’s not his teacher.

Proyas squeezed shut his eyes. They were hooded in the old way when he opened them. Whatever hardships the Holy War had endured, Proyas the Judge had survived.

Then Achamian asked where Esmenet and Kellhus, the only other people beside Xinemus who “possessed any claim to his heart.” Only they matter. Proyas stiffens, realizing they haven’t heard. Achamian suddenly can’t breath, asking after Esmenet. Proyas says she’s safe while Xinemus asks after Kellhus. Proyas hedges, saying much has happened. Then, when pressed, he says Kellhus is dead.

Cnaiür is in the great bazaar of Caraskand, the open area a skeletal reminder of the steppes reclined against a dead horse. He is remembering Serwë, replaying their conversation when he gave her a Swazond after she killed the Nansur soldier in book one. “Such a dear fool, that girl. So innocent.” He then speaks traditional words of a groom to her memory as he prepares to slit his own throat.

Kellhus is “bound to a circle,s winging from the limb of a dead tree.” He feels Serwë’s corpse against him. When a fly crawls across her face, he exhales to blow it away, thinking he has to keep her clean.

Her eyes half-open, papyrus-dry.

Serwë! Breathe girl, breathe! I command it!

I come before you. I come before!

Bound skin-to-skin to Serwë.

What have I… What? What?

A convulsion of some kind.

No… No! I must focus. I must assess…

Unblinking eyes, staring down black cheeks, out to the stars.

Kellhus madness continues. He begs for his father to make her breathe, he keeps saying he’s one of the condition. He’s weary, he can’t do this any longer. He tries to focus on what’s going on, but he’s grieving that they killed his wife. But a part of him instead says “I gave her to them.” He falls into dreams and sees a man “seated, shoulders crouched like an ape, legs crossed like a priest.” A tree with forking branches overs the night sky while the sky revolves around the Nail of Heaven. Kellhus can only stare at the figure and the tree as night and day passes.

Framed by the wheeling heavens, the figure spoke, a million throats in his throat, a million mouths in his mouth…

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

The silhouette stood, hands clasped like a monk, legs bent like a beast.

TELL ME…

Whole words wailed in terror.

The Warrior-Prophet woke, his skin tingling against a dead woman’s cheek…

More convulsions.

Father! What happens to me?

Pang upon pang, wresting away his face, beating it into a stranger’s.

You weep.

The Zaudunyani recognize Achamian as a friend of their prophet. He’s escorted by Gayamakri, one of the Nascenti, to see Esmenet. He’s dazzled by the palace they walk through. In his head, he’s rehearsing a joke to tell Esmenet. “From a sorcerer’s tent to a caste-noble’s suite… Hmm,” he thinks, imagining her laughing. “So what will it be the next time I die? The Andiamine Heights?”

As they walk, Gayamakri says Esmenet was probably sleeping. It’s been hard for her. This makes Achamian feel silly for thinking of jokes when Serwë is dead and Kellhus dying. She would need him to comfort her instead. But then suddenly Gayamakri begs Achamian to save Kellhus. Achamian promises to try, the man thanks him while crying. Not sure what to do, Achamian helps the man stand saying he needs to see Esmenet before he can anything. Gayamakri runs away, leaving Achamian at Esmenet’s doors.

He stands before the door imagining their reunion, holding her while she cries. How he’ll tell her everything, and that he’ll take her as his wife for real, not caring about the rules against it. “He almost laughed with joy.” Instead of knocking, he enters her chambers “the way a husband might.”

He walks through her suite full of riches. Her bed is large, the sheets “knotted as though by passion.” He even spots a private garden. His joke grows in his mind. He’s excited to see her but wondering where she is.

Then his eyes found her on the far side of the room, curled up on a small couch with her back to the doors—to him. Her hair looked longer, almost purple in the gloom. Her loose gown had fallen, revealing a slender shoulder, both brown and pale. His arousal was immediate, both joyous and desperate.

How many times had he kissed that skin?

Kissing. That was how he would awaken her, crying while kissing her naked shoulder. She would stir, thinking he was a dream. “No… It can’t be you. You’re dead.” Then he would take her, with a slow, fierce tenderness, wrack her with voluptuous rapture. And she would know that at long last her heart had returned.

I’ve come back for you Esmi… From death and agony.

He approaches her when she bolts upright awake. She looks around, frightened, then sees him, shocked. She becomes a stranger to him, looking the way he remembers the first time he saw her years ago in Sumna. “There was a breathless moment between them.” He whispers her name as she looks horrified for a heartbeat. But then she rushes to him. They hug each other tight. She sobs, saying he was dead as he tries to sooth her and tell her everything will be alright. He tries to kiss her, but she won’t let him.

Instead, she begs him to save Kellhus. This confuses Achamian. He asks what she means as the realization builds in him. He tries to rationalize away his fear that she loves Kellhus now but it grows harder and harder the more she begs him to save Kellhus. He sees it in her face that she’s betrayed him. She tries to tell him but she’s crying to hard to speak.

Her face was now dead, in the way of those who must carve distances, cut wide what was once close.

Don’t say it! Please don’t say it!

He looked about the extravagant room, gesturing with his hands. He tried to laugh, then said, “S-some sorcerer’s tent, eh?” A sob knifed the back of his throat. “Wha-what will it be next time I die? The Andi… Th-the Andiamine…” He tried to smile.

“Akka,” she whispered. “I carry his child.”

Whore after all.

Achamian is thinking about how he escaped Iothiah as he moves through the crowd to see Kellhus at the tree. He wants to make the tree he hangs from burn, to kill the man who seduced his wife. But there are Chorae bound to the Circumflex, protecting Kellhus.

He creeps closer and sees Serwë’s corpse pressed against Kellhus, the pair slowly rotating. He wonders how this happened. As he breathes in the smells of death and the sweet scent of the eucalyptus, he hears hymns and dirges for the Warrior-Prophet “calling out the same godless prayer.” He hugs himself, wondering how this happened again.

He lifted his face, raised chin and brow to his hate. Tears streamed down his cheeks.

“How? How could you betray me like this? You… You! The two people—the only two! You kn-knew how empty my life had been. You knew! I c-can’t understand… I try and try but I can’t understand! How could you do this to me!”

He imagines Esmenet having sex with Kellhus, the Warrior-Prophet asking how Esmenet could even stand sleeping with Achamian. He imagines her answering because he fed her and paid her gold. He wasn’t you. Savage anger surges through Achamian. He rants at Kellhus that he could burn the treacherous dog with his sorcery.

Damn you…” he gasped. He couldn’t breathe. Where was the air to breathe?

He rolled his head, like a boy whose anger had been striped hollow by hurt. He beat an awkward fist against dead leaves.

Damn-you-damn-you-damn-you…”

He looked around numbly, and wiped at his face with a half-hearted sleeve. Sniffled and tasted the salt of tears in the back of his throat…”

“You’ve made a whore of her, Kellhus… You’ve made a whore of my Esmi…”

And then Kellhus speaks, saying Achamian’s name and says “he” knew Achamian would come. This shocks Achamian into silence. He’s angry that Kellhus is ruining his moment by speaking. But then Kellhus says he can see them and Achamian realizes he’s talking about the Consult. He then says that the No-God returns and is just as Achamian claims.

“Lies!” Achamian cried. “Lies to spare you my wrath!”

My Nascenti… Tell them to show you what lies in the garden.”

“What? What lies in the garden?”

But the shining eyes were closed.

A grievous howl echoed across the Kalaul, chilling blood and drawing men with torches to the blackness beneath Umiaki. The ring continued its endless roll.

Proyas is awakened by the dawn’s light. Shame floods back as he remembers last night and his reunion with Achamian and Xinemus. He feels guilty for their suffering. It takes him a few minutes to realize Achamian is in his bedroom, watching. He’s shocked, asking what his teacher wants. Achamian asks if Proyas knew about Kellhus and Esmenet. Proyas admits he know, but figured Kellhus would be dead. Achamian just says she’s lost to him with “exhausted resolve.” Then Achamian asks about Xinemus, who is sleeping one room over.

Achamian pursed his lips. “Did he [Xinemus] tell you?”

“About his eyes?” Proyas looked to the outline of his feet beneath the vermilion covers. “No. I hadn’t the courage to ask. I assume that the Spires…”

“Because of me, Proyas. They blinded him as way to coerce me.”

The message was obvious. It’s not your fault, he was saying.

Proyas raised a hand as though to pinch more sleep from his eyes. He wiped away tears instead.

Damn you, Akka… I don’t need your protection.

Achamian tells how the Scarlet Spire are scared about the Cishaurim and they were the reason he was captured. Proyas isn’t surprised seeing how Eleäzaras hasn’t wanted to take to the field. Achamian makes a joke that has Proyas laughing and feeling comfortable, slipping back into their old roles. But this makes Proyas feel worse because they can only achieve this when both are exhausted and scared. Silence follows.

Then Achamian said, “Kellhus cannot die.”

Proyas pursed his lips. “But of course,” he said numbly. “I say he must die, so you say he must live.” He glanced, not without nervousness, at his nearby work table. The parchment sat in plain view, its raised corners translucent in the sun: Maithanet’s letter.

“This has nothing to do with you, Proyas. I am past you.”

The tone as much as the words chilled Proyas to the pith.

Proyas asks why Achamian is here. Achamian responds only Proyas will understand. Proyas guesses it has to do with Kellhus being an Anasûrimbor and starts being derisive of Mandate beliefs when Achamian cuts him off, saying when Proyas mocks his beliefs its the same as mocking him. Achamian asks when has he ever done that about Proyas’s beliefs. Proyas swallows his rebuke and instead says Kellhus is judged. Achamian reminds Proyas of King Shikol who’d condemned Inri Sejenus. Proyas is frightened to be remembered in the same as that man who made such a mistake. Proyas claims he is right. “It all came down to Truth.” Achamian wondered if Shikol thought the same.

“What?” Proyas exclaimed. “So the great skeptic thinks a new prophet walks among us? Come, Akka… It’s too absurd!”

These are Conphas’s words… Another unkind thought.

Achamian isn’t sure if Kellhus is a prophet, but he knows he can’t die. Proyas then admits he knows there’s something special about Kellhus. He didn’t want to believe Conphas and the others that Kellhus was the reason for the Holy War’s string of recent misfortune because the Gods punished them. Achamian asks why Proyas did side against him. It was the Scylvendi, the man who knew Kellhus the most, and yet hated him. Achamian shrugs, thinking it only Cnaiür’s love for Serwë. Proyas thought so, too, but he felt there was more. The man was too complicated for that to be the reason.

Achamian makes a joke about Cnaiür’s thin skin. Then Proyas continues his story, saying how Cnaiür is as extraordinary as Kellhus and he’s glad he’s on the Holy War’s side. Proyas then tells how he pressed Cnaiür again about his dislike of Kellhus. Cnaiür told him to see Kellhus and that was when Proyas found Esmenet in Kellhus’s bed. Proyas couldn’t dismiss Conphas’s arguments. He didn’t support it, afraid of open war between the Orthodox and Zaudunyani. But when Conphas brought a witness who claimed that Atrithau had no prince and Cnaiür confirmed it. They debate Cnaiür’s motives for possibly lying when Achamian asks how Serwë could be executed. How Proyas let that happen.

“Ask Gotian!” Proyas blurted. “Trying them according to the Tusk was his idea—his! He thought it would legitimize the affair, make it seem less like… less—”

“Like what it was?” Achamian cried. “A conspiracy of frightened caste-nobles trying to protect their power and privileged.”

They argue for a moment on whether it was done for faith or power but Proyas cuts it off, saying he didn’t just condemn Kellhus for no good reason and it’s done. “Prophet or not, Anasûrimbor Kellhus is dead.” But Achamian points out he never said Kellhus is a prophet, just that he’s the world’s only hope. Proyas realizes this is about the Second Apocalypse. Asks if Achamian believes Kellhus is Seswatha returned.

“He’s more!” the Schoolman cried with alarming passion. “Far more than Seswatha, as he must be… The Heron Spear is lost, destroyed when the Scylvendi sacked ancient Cenei. If the Consult were to succeed a second time, if the No-God were to walk again…” Achamian stared, his eyes rounded in horror.

“Men would have no hope.”

Proyas had endured many of these small rants since his childhood. What made them so uncanny, and at the same time so intolerable, was the way Achamian spoke: as though he recounted rather than conjectured. Just then the morning sun flashed anew between a crease in the accumulating clouds. The thunder, however, continued to rumble across wretched Caraskand.

“Akka…”

Achamian then reminds Proyas that he had once asked if Achamian had more than dreams. Proyas does. It was the night Achamian asked him to write to Maithanet. Achamian then fetches an object. Proyas stares at it as Achamian yells at him to study it then send riders to the Great Names. Proyas recoils at what he sees, wanting to hide in his blankets. He realizes that Achamian would never relent. “And of course not: he was a Mandate Schoolman.” Then Proyas remembers his letter from Maithanet.

Certainty in doubt. That was what was holy! That!

Proyas gets out of bed and grabs the letter, showing it to Achamian. The sorcerer is shocked to read the Shriah’s words that Proyas should assist him. “The impossible always left the deepest marks on the soul.”

Achamian set the sheet upon his lap, though he still pinched the corner with his thumb and forefinger. The two men shard a thoughtful gaze… Confusion and relief warred in his teacher’s eyes.

“Aside from my sword, my harness, and my ancestors,” Proyas said, “that letter is the only thing I brought across the desert. The only thing I saved.”

“Call them,” Achamian said. “Summon the others to Council.”

Gone was the golden morning. Rain poured from black skies.

My Thoughts

It’s late winter, so we must be in a new month. The siege was said to go on for weeks and weeks, so this tracks.

So, I really thought Chepheramunni died early in the novel. But we’re finally here in all its shocking revel. He’s been in the background for the entire novel, always mentioned in the most casual ways, reminders that he’s around, keeping him in our thought. The real Chepheramunni was probably the corpse found faceless in the marsh a few years ago.

Eleäzaras continues cracking. This is a bad blow to a man already buckling under the strain of his decision. He’s a smart man, if blinded by his own prejudices the way any human can be, and this is catastrophic. To think his enemy has been privy to his counsels. To his decisions. Makes him wonder at all those other deaths. All those precious sorcerers killed at Anwurat, the lose of Ainoni’s skilled general.

And then to realize anyone can be a skin-spy would make a man as paranoid as Emperor Ikurei Xerius.

So Achamian must be using some sort of Gnosis to hide them as they journey to Caraskand on foot. It appears to use shadows in some way. I think this is the only time in the entire series this is used. It almost sounds like they’re walking through another dimension. I never noticed that detail before. “There was no food in this place, no life-giving water, and their bodies, which they carried across their backs the way one might carry a corpse, suffered horribly.” Like they’re walking through the Plane of Shadows from D&D. But it’s something detectable by other sorcerers in the real, especially the Cishaurim.

Powerful imagery of Kellhus and Serwë hanging from the tree, bound to the circumflex. And all Esmenet can do is wail in impotent fury. All the power she thought she gained, lost. Circumstances have stripped her bare. Now all she can do is witness. And that’s too much for her to bear.

Cnaiür’s madness continues. I do like the description of the eucalyptus tree, a generally positive image because of the medicinal qualities of its leaves, seen as an upside down tree, that the branches are really its roots. Which means the tree’s been uprooted. It’s dying. Dead.

So it’s not shocking that Cnaiür is hallucinating Kellhus’s voice. It’s obviously Cnaiür’s guilt at getting Serwë killed. He sided with Conphas to free Serwë from Kellhus, not to get her killed. She’s his proof. He needs her to cling to his identity as a Scylvendi just like he once needed Anissi. He’s adrift, so far from his people, and Serwë is his only anchor. An anchor he cut free to drown Kellhus not realizing he could never get it back from the depths of the ocean.

Cnaiür tries to say he traded Serwë’s life for his son, but that’s another lie. He wanted them both, as pointed out by shouting that they were supposed to kill the whore. I suspect that Proyas stepped in and saved Esmenet’s life. Or maybe Sarcellus decided to kill Serwë.. After all, he was interrupted in his fun with Serwë last time by Cnaiür and the Consult might still wish to use Esmenet.

Poor Achamian. He’s so eager to see Esmenet, and you know it’s not going to be the reunion at all what he thinks. It’s actually the most cliché thing in Bakker’s story. The man who goes through an ordeal, is believed dead, and clings to returning to his lover as the only thing to get hope. Only to return and find his lover has moved on, mourned his lost, and found another. Of course, Esmenet moved on very fast thanks to Kellhus’s manipulation. It’s only been a few months, not a year or longer like it usually would be.

And then we have Achamian finding kinship with those who’ve suffered. It reminds me of the Band of Brother miniseries. There’s a soldier, trained with Easy Company from the beginning, but was wounded on D-Day and doesn’t rejoin them until after the Battle of the Bulge. He’s suddenly a stranger to these guys he knew for years. He’s an outsider because he doesn’t have that look. He didn’t suffer with them in the Ardennes in foxholes, starving, freezing, shelled day in and day out. It’s reversed here. Suddenly these men have suffered as Achamian has in his dreams, in his other life.

Achamian, and maybe Bakker, is saying family is the true importance. If Achamian hadn’t put all that other stuff ahead of Esmenet, he never would have been parted from her. Instead, their reunion takes a long, long time.

Bakker gives us hints at the Psûkhe and what makes it different from other sorcery. Their ability to see between sight and blindness, to view the metaphysics of the world without the distraction of real sight, allows them to better forge the work of the God with sorcerery, to make something undetectable to other sorcerers.

Achamian has sees one Kianene in Caraskand, a slave in Proyas’s house. What happened to the others? Probably a lot dead from starvation, from the brutalities of the Men of the Tusk. As the Holy War starves, they would keep any food for themselves. They probably are constantly raiding homes for more scraps, killing any who defend what food they have for themselves and their families.

Achamian’s anger is not shocking at all. He knows, through Xinemus, that Proyas abandoned him. That’s not something easily forgotten even if Achamian might want to.

Poor Xinemus. The fact that he could see something while walking through the shadows has given him this false hope that Achamian can fix him. The man is lost, drowning. Not even reuniting with his surrogate son, Proyas, can save him.

Achamian cares for only three people in the world now. One he allowed to suffer and the other two betrayed him. He’s in for a rough time.

Cnaiür contemplates joining Serwë, his bride, in death, killing himself the same way Sarcellus killed her.

Kellhus is feeling the strongest amount of emotions ever. He is drowning in guilt as he slowly dies. He is delusional, thinking he can make Serwë breathe. He wants to keep her clean. He saw this coming. He had a vision of this. He tried to avoid it, but couldn’t. All he could do was make sure that Esmenet wasn’t the wife murdered. Because she had a use beyond the Circumflex if he survives. He even argues with himself, the logical part of him pointing out that he “gave her to them.” The logical part of Kellhus sacrificed Serwë. But the kernel of emotions, those weak passions he has, cared for Serwë, as much as he could. Just as he cares for Esmenet as much as he can as we see in the later books. His first ever emotion we see from Kellhus is outrage at Serwë’s rape. And now he’s gotten her killed. Has to stare at her face. Kellhus has slowly been going mad over the book confronted with the breaking of cause and effect because of beings in the outside, the “Gods,” who exist outside of time.

Then he dreams and runs into the No God. The figure sits before a tree that branches out across the sky. Trees represent all the possibilities of life, the decisions that cause probability to branch over and over. It represents the Dûnyain’s probability trance. Every time Kellhus descends into the trance, he’s trying to figure out which branch is the one he needs to follow. And here is the tree with the No-God. All those possibilities. What if they all lead to the No-God’s return without him. Notice how he is doing nothing but standing, watching. This is where Kellhus makes the decision to save the world. As Moënghus points out in the next book, Kellhus went mad. And that madness is the desire to save the world from the No-God and the real Gods.

All because he let Serwë die. All because he ventured down a path that led to him sacrificing one of the two people he cared for. And like any good Dûnyain, he’ll do anything to achieve that goal as we see in the next series.

Achamian wants to make Esmenet laugh. That’s what he’s thinking about. He loves her laugh, loves seeing her with joy in her eyes. It’s the most important thing to him right now.

Bakker really drags out the truth that Esmenet has moved on to Kellhus for Achamian. He lets us see his hope, his joy, his longing. The fantasies that play out in his head (like they play out in ours), imagining how their reunion will go. And, like with all fantasies, reality never matches up.

And then he meets her and he just wants to hold her, but she just wants him to save Kellhus. Achamian is a smart guy. He has that sickening dread of realization, that growing hurt that swells in his heart. He knows that she betrayed him, but he doesn’t want to hear it. He wants to live in his fantasy. But she pops it. She’s having his child. And anger crashes through him. “Whore after all.”

And to make it worse, she’s pregnant. Not even with Achamian did she give up her contraceptive totem, her whore’s shell. But she did for Kellhus. She gave more of herself to Kellhus then she did to Achamian. And in such a short amount of time, a few months versus the years of their relationship.

Achamian’s rant beneath the eucalyptus tree is heartbreaking. He’s grieving. He’s angry. He wanted so much to return to Esmenet only to find that she’s already moved on, pregnant, and with Kellhus… He’s too hurt to even understand how Esmenet thought him dead. That she had to move on with her life. Yes, her moving on happened faster than normal, but that was because of Kellhus because Kellhus had written Achamian off. The sorcerer was gone so there was no point in trying to maintain that relationship by staying away from Esmenet. I’ve always assumed Kellhus would one day work on the couple and get Achamian to understand why letting Kellhus take Esmenet as his wife would be for the good of the world. He almost does it in the next book until Cnaiür tells Achamian the truth about Kellhus.

You’ve made a whore of her, Kellhus.” This ties back in with that imagination he has previously of Esmenet claiming to always have been a whore to Achamian. It’s how they started, but by the end, she was his wife. But now his memories of all their times together are poisoned. He can’t help but imagine she only tolerated him and now moved on to someone better. He probably thinks she doesn’t care about Kellhus either. Just using him. It’s a very easy hole for men to plunge into when they are betrayed by a woman, especially if they leave him for someone with more status. Often men feel like that’s all they are to their women, just an ATM. And one she’ll abandon if the money stops flowing. And so when that does happen, it can really poison men towards women. For women, it’s youth and beauty, and a woman whose abandoned by her husband for a younger, prettier wife will have this same poisoning.

Even dying, Kellhus can still manipulate. Of course, he is telling the truth. He did see the No-God. He’s seen what a threat he is. He needs to survive to do something about it. And Achamian appears to be the only one to do it. Now it’s interesting, who is this “he” that Kellhus speak of. Who told Kellhus that Achamian would appear. Kellhus couldn’t have predicted Achamian appearing. He had stopped considering the sorcerer in any of his probability trances.

This is another breaking of causality. Something outside of time told Kellhus Achamian would come. Perhaps Ajolki. Kellhus caught a deal with that God as we learn at the end of the Unholy Consult. I think Ajolki sent Kellhus that “revelation” early on in the novel and is showing Kellhus other things.

Achamian is still being the parent with Proyas, trying to alleviate Proyas’s guilt by shifting it to himself. And it’s true. Achamian does feel guilty about Xinemus’s eyes. He could have given up the Gnosis, but didn’t. But Proyas’s doesn’t want his guilt taken away. He’s angry at Achamian for trying which just makes him feel worse.

The role reversal between Proyas and Achamian is great reading. Achamian is the assertive one, the one cutting off, the one speaking about faith and scripture, while Proyas is trying to tear it down. He’s smart enough to realize it and that disturbs him, but he’s condemned Kellhus. To change his mind know would be to admit he was wrong. That’s hard to do.

Proyas throws the guilt of Serwë’s death, which he is culpable in, all on Gotian. Like Proyas wasn’t in those councils. Like he didn’t give support to the entire endeavor.

So what does that mean for the world with the aftermath of The Unholy Consult if only Kellhus could give them hope? The final series of Bakker’s Second Apocalypse, The No God, will be very interesting to read.

Before the Scarlet Spire captured him, you could never have believed that Achamian would do the things he does in the second series. But now, seeing him in his interactions with Proyas, the determination, the fact he doesn’t care about how he appears, putting his mission to save the world above everything else. He learned what mattered in his torture. His mission and Esmenet.

And he lost Esmenet.

And then everything changes. Achamian pulls out the head of the skin-spy Esmenet showed him off-screen after Kellhus sent Achamian to her. Bakker is being coy, hiding what it is other than it’s covered in soil, building up the suspense in the readers. Everything is kicking off. You can feel that suddenly, all these scattered crumbs through out the novel have led us to this moment. To the climax of The Warrior Prophet!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Two

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 22
Caraskand

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

For all things there is a toll. We pay in breaths, and our purse is soon empty.

SONGS 57:3, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

Like many old tyrants, I dote upon my grandchildren. I delight in their tantrums, their squealing laughter, their peculiar fancies. I willfully spoil them with honey sticks. And I find myself wondering at their blessed ignorance of the world and its million grinning teeth. Should I, like my grandfather, knock such childishness from them? Or should I indulge their delusions? Even now, as death’s shadowy pickets gather about me, I ask, Why should innocence answer to the world? Perhaps the world should answer to innocence…. Yes, I rather like that. I tire of bearing the blame.

STAJANAS II, RUMINATIONS

My Thoughts

Both quotes are about the hardships of life, that we have only a finite amount of time before it’s taken from us. The second quote deals more into the guilt of actions. Stajanas II (based off the II) was a ruler, and all rulers have to make terrible decisions. He clearly regrets his. He’s made some that he wishes to undo, so know he yearns to shelter his grandchildren from that same pain. He wishes for a world without suffering, a world that answers to goodness. A delusion that helps to ease his own turmoil.

A world that answers to innocence sounds like many fantasy series of the past, the ones full of hope and idealism, of heroes incorruptible, of clear delineation of good and evil. But our world, like this book series, isn’t that. The world does not answer to the innocence. But we can always try to make that happen. We can protect children from the world for a time before they have to discover harsh realities and the “million grinning teeth” hungry to rip them apart.

And as we see in this chapter, the only innocent character in the series also couldn’t be protected from the “million grinning teeth.”

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

The morning after the siege, smoke hangs over Caraskand. The dead pile the streets and burned tabernacles. A horn awakens the Men of the Task, but not one to start the expected day of “repentance and sombre celebration.” The alarm sounds.

Kascamandri I, Padirajah of Kian, arrives with his host.

The Great Names muster their forces, but it’s difficult, their men scattered through the city. Gothyelk is in mourning for his son, the Thunyeri shattered into feuding clans with the death of their leader, Prince Skaiyelt. Even the Ainoni feud as Chepheramunni lies dying. The Fanim seize the Holy War’s camps, including stockpiled food and the siege engines. The sick left behind are massacred. Those still outside the walls flee for the city as the Holy War prepares to defend Caraskand’s walls. Worse, they learn Imbeyan had burned the city’s granaries to die provisions and whatever supplies the Citadel of the Dog held were lost to the Scarlet Spire’s assault, the fortress still burning.

Kascamandri watches his army envelop the city. After ignoring the Holy War and idling in the “fleshpot sanctuaries” of his palace, he realizes the Inrithi are not hapless in war like he thought. So he raised a host “worthy of his jihadic fathers.” He rallies the survivors of Anwurat and adds the southern grandees to them, fielding as many soldiers as the Holy War. Fresh troops with proper equipment. That evening, his army makes its assault, hoping to find the Inrithi disorganized. They use Inrithi ladders and siege towers, and batter at the gates with the Holy War’s own rams. But the Iron Men hold the wall.

When the sun finally set, the Men of the Tusk greeted the darkness with both relief and horror. For they were saved and they were doomed.

Proyas listens to Fanim drums beating while standing the battlements with Cnaiür. He peers at the Kianene army that “teemed across the landscape, dragging Inrithi wares and shelters to immense bonfires.” They mass at the same spot the Holy War chose to make their assaults on the city. He can’t believe this is happening, remembering the rapture of Caraskand’s fall, then the crushing despair of the Padirajah’s appearance. He first thought it “a catastrophic mistake, that everything would resolve itself once the chaos of the city’s ransacking passed.” Proyas feel they are so close to Shimeh, believing Caraskand’s smoke could be seen fro the holy city. He asks Cnaiür for his estimate of the enemy strength. Cnaiür says it doesn’t matter.

Unnerved by the man’s turquoise gaze, Proyas turned back to the smoke-grey vista. Yesterday, while the dimensions of the disaster slowly unfolded, he’d found himself asking why over and over again. Like a wronged child, his thoughts had stamped about the fact of his piety. Who among the Great Names had toiled as he’d toiled? Who’d burned more sacrifices, intoned more prayers? But now he no longer dared ask these questions.

Thoughts of Achamian and Xinemus had seen to that.

It is you,” the Marshal of Attrempus had said, “who surrender everything…”

But in the God’s name! For the God’s glory!

Proyas says the size matters, they have to find some way out of this mess. Cnaiür agrees. Proyas then asks if Cnaiür trusts Conphas’s count on the food, which Cnaiür does. Proyas is less sure, since he’s a good liar. “We’ll have to wait… See if he stays fat while we grow thin.” Proyas is angered how Cnaiür can bait him at times like this. Cnaiür then continues, explaining about how the Holy War spent weeks starving. It doesn’t matter if Conphas hordes food. They have to strike now with the Scarlet Spire before the Cishaurim can be assembled. The Holy War has to attack. Proyas already tried, but Eleäzaras says they’ve already suffered needless losses, which Proyas scoffs at, balancing a dozen sorcerers against a hundred thousand faithful souls.” He wishes all wars to be so bloodless.

Cnaiür says they are doomed then. Proyas mutters about them being cursed, that the God is punishing us. He wonders if Conphas is right about Kellhus. And then Proyas realizes he is floundering, like other man have in times of crisis. Despite knowing this, it doesn’t give him strength. Knowing it only makes it worse. Proyas then admits that Gotian, Gothyelk, and others are calling Kellhus a False prophet. They’ve asked for Proyas’s help to move against him.

“You would risk a war within these walls? Inrithi against Inrithi?”

Proyas swallowed, struggled to shore up his gaze. “If that’s what the Gods demands of me.”

“And how does one know what your God demands?”

Proyas stared at the Scylvendi in horror.

Proyas begin to cry, the burdens of everything too much. All the battles, the deaths, his sickness, and abandoning Achamian and Xinemus. “The two men he respected most in the world, given up to the Holy War.” Not enough. He’s never good enough. He then begs for Cnaiür to tell him what to do.

Now it was the Scylvendi who looked horrified.

“Go to Kellhus,” the barbarian said. “But I warn you”—he raised a mighty, battle-scarred fist—“secure your heart. Seal it tight!” He lowered his chin and glared, the way a wolf might…

“Go, Proyas. Go ask the man yourself.”

Kellhus strokes Esmenet’s cheek as she sleeps, staring at the signs of her pregnancy, his blood continuing on. He learned from Achamian that “only sons could conquer death.” Kellhus wonders if his father is dying, prompting the summons.

Esmenet wakes up, asking him what’s going on. Then Proyas bursts in “without warning” struggling with two guards. Proyas is shouting, telling Kellhus to order his men to stand down. Kellhus does and focuses his senses on Proyas, realizing the man is desperate, but the “wildness of his passion made the specifics difficult to ascertain.” Kellhus realizes Proyas needs to know if he’s a false prophet or not. He asks Proyas whats wrong.

But the Prince’s eyes had found Esmenet, rigid with shock. Kellhus instantly saw the peril.

He searches for excuses.

An interior porch had been raised about the doors; Proyas took an unsteady step toward the railing. “What’s she doing?” He blinked in confusion. “Why’s she in your bed?”

He doesn’t want to understand.

Kellhus says she’s his wife, but Proyas grows angry at that. Kellhus deduces that Proyas heard the rumors but gave him the benefit of the doubt. Kellhus tries to explain how the desert changed them, but Proyas is angry. That’s Akka’s wife. He loved her. He was Kellhus’s friends. Kellhus claims Achamian would want this. Which only angers Proyas more, questioning that Achamian would want “his best friend fucking the wo—” Esmenet cuts him off, angry that he’s speaking about Achamian to her. That sets him back. Kellhus sees an opportunity in Proyas’s passions, opened by horror.

“But you already know,” Kellhus said. “Of all people, you’ve no right to judge.”

The Conryian Prince flinched. “What do you mean?”

Now… Offer him truce. Show him understanding. Make stark his trespasses…

“Please,” Kellhus said, reaching out with word, tone, and every nuance of expression. “You let despair rule you… And me, I succumb to ill manners. Proyas! You’re among my dearest friends…” He cast aside the sheets, swung his feet to the floor. “Come, let us drink and talk.”

But Proyas had fastened on his earlier comment—as Kellhus had intended. “I would know why I’ve no right to judge. What’s that supposed to mean, ‘dear friend’?”

Kellhus drew his lips into a painted line. “It means that you, Proyas, not we, have betrayed Achamian.”

Horror strikes Proyas. Kellhus knows he must move carefully. Proyas disagrees. Kellhus says Proyas accuses them [Kellhus and Esmenet] because he knows he’s the one responsible, that he betrayed Achamian when he cut his deal with the Scarlet Spire. Proyas makes an excuse, saying no one knows what happened to Achamian. Kellhus presses, saying Proyas does know. He can see it. But Proyas stumbles back, shouting Kellhus sees nothing. Kellhus knows he’s close.

“Of course I do, Proyas. How, after all this time, could you still doubt?”

But as he watched, something happened: an unforeseen flare of recognition, a cascade of inferences, too quick to silence. That word…

Proyas asks how can he doubt when the Holy War is on the verge of annihilation. Kellhus shifts gears, putting on a Xinemus-like smile and says the God is testing the Holy War but hasn’t passed sentence. “How can there be trial without doubt?” Kellhus urges Proyas to open his heart to the truth.

“Open my…” Proyas trailed, his eyes brimming with incredulous dread. “He told me!” he abruptly whispered. “This is what he meant!” The yearning in his look, the ache that had warred against misgivings, suddenly collapsed into suspicion and disbelief.

Kellhus realizes Cnaiür warned him and realizes he should have killed Cnaiür after all. Angry, Proyas demands if the “great Warrior-Prophet” has doubts or fears for the future. Kellhus looks to Esmenet, sees her crying, and takes her cold hand.

“No,” he [Kellhus] said.

I do not fear.

Proyas was already backing out of the double doors, into the brighter light of the antechamber.

“You will.”

The days passed with the starving Men of the Tusk defending Caraskand’s Triamic Walls, proving that the emperor who raised them, Triamis I, had proved his detractors right when he said: “No Man can conquer the future.” Even as the Kianene curse their enemies as another sortie is beaten back, they can only “marvel at their [the Inrithi’s] desperate fury.” Athjeäri even leads raids to hamper enemy sappers. But their doom was obvious “as only men stalked by famine could know.”

At the same time, the plague of hemoplexy died down, with Chepheramunni lingering at death and others dying. The funeral pyres burn but “more and more they took casualties, and not the sick, as their fuel.” As famine grows, the god Bukris stalking the city, the men hunt cats, dogs, and rats for food. Horses are butchered. Leather boiled and eaten. “When the horns sounded the harnesses of many would swing like skirts, having lost their straps and buckles to some steaming pot.” Starving men wander the streets and rumors persist about cannibalism. New sicknesses arrive, brought on by famine, teeth lost to scurvy, dysentery afflicting cramps and diarrhea.

The debate about Kellhus intensifies with Conphas, Gothyelk, and Gotian condemning him as False Prophet. “Who could doubt the God punished them?” Only Inri Sejenus could be their prophet. Proyas no longer defends Kellhus, but holds his tongue. But still none move against Kellhus, his Zaudunyani now numbering in the tens of thousands. Riots break out and Inrithi kill each other as people take sides, even against lords, brothers, and countrymen. Only when the horns sound did they put aside their differences. “They roused themselves from the torpor of disease and sickness, and they battled with a fervour only those truly wracked by the God could know.” To the Kianene, it appeared dead men held the walls, their hate manifesting as wights.

Caraskand, it seemed, named not a city, but misery’s own precinct. Her very walls—walls raised by Triamis the Great—seemed to groan.

The palace Kellhus lives in reminds Serwë of her time as a concubine to House Gaunum. But here she reclines in luxury, her “pink son” cradled to her breast. Kellhus surprises her from behind and she asks what he’s doing here. He says much happens and asks after Esmi.

It always seemed so strange to hear him ask such simple questions. It reminded her that the God was still a man. “Kellhus,” she asked pensively, “what’s your father’s name.”

She asks after his father’s name, and he has to make up a lie why his father is named Moënghus despite the King of Atrithau, his supposed father, is named Aethelarius. Serwë then declares her son to be named Moënghus. Though she says it as a statement, it’s really a question. Kellhus agrees. She then asks about what kind of man his father is. “A most mysterious one.” She asks if he knows his son is a prophet. Kellhus isn’t sure.

Serwë, who’d grown accustomed to cryptic conversations such as this, smiled. She blinked at the tears in her eyes. With her child warm against her breast, and the breath of the Prophet warmer still across her neck, the World seemed a closed circle, as though woe had been exiled from joy at long last. No longer taxed by cruel and distant things, the hearth answered to the heart.

A sudden pang of guilt struck her. “I know that you grieve,” she said. “So many suffer…”

He lowered his face. Said nothing.

“But I’ve never been so happy,” she continued. “So whole… Is that a sin? To find rapture where others suffer?”

“Not for you, Serwë. Not for you.”

Serwë gasped and looked down at her suckling babe.

“Moënghus is hungry,” she laughed.

Two soldiers named Rash and Wigga are talking about how Wigga saw Kellhus’s child at the public anointing. The other soldier missed it. Wigga comments on how dark the child’s hair is, surprised since Kellhus and Serwë are blondes. Cnaiür appears, demanding to know the child’s name. They stare at the wild figure before them, more myth than man. Wigga says its Moënghus.

The air of menace suddenly vanished. The barbarian became curiously blank, motionless to the point where he seemed inanimate. His manic eyes looked through them, to places far and forbidding.

A taut moment passed, then without a word, the Scylvendi turned and walked into the darkness.

Sighing, the two men looked to each other for what seemed a long time, then just to be certain, they resumed their fabricated conversation.

As they’d been instructed.

Kellhus has doubts, wanting another way. In the Probability Trance, he can’t see any farther because “all the lines were extinguished, either by disaster or by the weight of excess permutations.” He’s worked hard, but now only Saubon still supports him. While Proyas hasn’t condemned him, he’s ignored all of Kellhus’s overtures. Things only worsen between Zaudunyani and the Orthodox. Worse, the threat of more Consult attacks limits his movement.

Meanwhile, the Holy War died.

You told me mine was the Shortest Path… He’d relived his brief encounter with the Cishaurim messenger a thousand times, analyzing, evaluating, weighing alternate interpretations—all for naughty. Every step was darkness now, no matter what his father said. Every word was risk. In so many ways, it seemed, he was no different from these world-born men…

What is the Thousandfold Thought.

Esmenet finds him, and he asks her how. She just gives him a grin of “pure mischief.” Though she’s also concerned. She says Werjau told her. Kellhus notes the man fears women. Then she almost falls and Kellhus is surprised by “a sudden shortness of breath” before she caught herself, almost falling to her death. Esmenet then declares that Werjau fears her before she laughs and hugs them looking out over the city and the world.

She knows… She knows I struggle.

“We all fear you,” Kellhus said, wondering at the clamminess of his skin.

She comes to comfort.

“You tell such delicious lies,” she murmured, raising her lips to his.

Kellhus’s nine senior disciples, the Nascenti, arrive at dusk. Esmenet watches them from the shadows. They seem more upset than usual. She knows that they, as the administrators of the Zaudunyani, no more about the Holy War’s problems than she does. They fall silent as Kellhus enters, Serwë behind him, a retinue of guards around them.

Esmenet cursed herself for catching her breath. How could he make her heart pound so? Glancing down, she realized she’d folded her right hand over the tattoo marring the back of her left.

Those days are over.

Esmenet greets her husband and sits to his right. He’s dressed like a warrior, a mix of Galeoth and Ainoni styles which Esmenet suspects Serwë had a hand in. Kellhus says all gathered here are “branches of me” and they know what moves them. As he speaks, Esmenet reflects on the differences between this serious meeting and her old life in Xinemus’s camp, full of “mirth and mischief.” She misses Achamian holding her too tight. She imagines that even then, she must have loved Kellhus and Serwë secretly, like she didn’t know about it. She remembers the last time she saw Xinemus and his two men, wondering what happened to them.

Had he found Achamian.

She suffered a moment of gaping horror… Kellhus’s melodic voice retrieved her.

Then Kellhus says Esmenet is his second, to be obeyed when he’s not around. This shocks them and she realizes “old bigotries die hard.” Werjau says it sounds like Kellhus fears being taken from them. Then Esmenet realizes they aren’t shocked that a woman is put above them, but that Kellhus fears his own death, which he doesn’t contradict. Fear strikes her. Serwë squeezes her hand, the girl trembling in shock. “The lunatic dimensions of Serwë’s belief had always baffled and troubled Esmenet.” It’s so great, her belief feels unmovable. Esmenet thinks that this belief, this love for Kellhus, is what lets her share him with Esmenet. The Nascenti argues, some wanting to fight, others to negotiate. With a look, Kellhus silences them.

It frightened her [Esmenet] sometimes, the way he effortlessly commanded these men. But then it could be no other way. Where others blundered from moment to moment, scarcely understanding their own wants, hurts, or hopes, let alone those of others, Kellhus caught each instant—each soul—like a fly. His world, Esmenet had realized, was one without surfaces, one where everything—from word and expression to war and nation—was smoky glass, something to be peered through…

He was the Warrior-Prophet… Truth. And Truth commanded all things.

She stops herself showing joy that she was here at the right hand of “the most glorious soul to have walked the world.” She lies with Truth. To her, this is beyond a gift. Werjau gets angry at her smiling. Kellhus says it’s because she can see what Werjau can’t. Esmenet doesn’t feel the same, thinking she daydreamed like a teenager in love. But she feels something in the air and wonders what she sees.

Her skin tingled. The Thanes of the Warrior-Prophet watched her, and she looked through their faces, glimpsed their yearning hearts. To think! So many deluded souls, living illusory lives in unreal worlds! So many! It both boggled her and broke her heart.

And at the same time, it was her triumph.

Something absolute.

Her heart fluttered, pinioned by Kellhus’s shining gaze. She fell at once smoke and naked flesh—something seen more through and something desired.

There’s more than me… More than this—yes!

“Tell us, Esmi,” Kellhus hissed through Serwë’s mouth. “Tell us what you see!”

There’s more than them.

“We must take the knife to them,” she said, speaking as she knew her Master would have her speak. “We must show them the demons in their midst.”

So much more!

The Warrior-Prophet smiled with her own lips.

“We must kill them,” her voice said.

The skin-spy Sarcellus heads to Conphas’s pavilion after receiving a message speaking of an imminent threat. He pushes through starving men, begging for food. He barrels through them. Normally, he didn’t begrudge the beggars because he could kill them and satiate his other hungers.

Besides, they were apt reminders of what Men were in truth.

Pale hands reached from looted silks. Piteous cries seed through the gloom. Then, in the gravelly voice of a drunkard, a rag-draped man before him said, “Truth shines.”

This surprises Sarcellus. He turns on the speaker and sees iron eyes. The man says truth doesn’t die. Sarcellus thinks it’s robbery, but the man shakes his head. Then Sarcellus understands it’s a Zaudunyani. The man smile momentarily frightens the skin-spy. Then he remembers what he is and gets an erection, calling them slaves and growing arrogant with what he is, asking if they know what he is.

“Dead,” someone said from behind.

Sarcellus laughed, sweeping his gaze over the necks he would break. Oh, rapture! How he would shoot hot across his thigh! He was certain of it!

Yes! With so many! This time…

But his humor vanished when his look returned to the man with the iron eyes. The face beneath his face twitched into a vestigial frown… They’re not af—

Oil suddenly drenches him, dousing his would-be assassins. He calls them fools, saying they’ll burn with him. But that’s the plan. The iron-eyed man leaps at Sarcellus as a flaming arrow sets him alight. “The thing called Sarcellus howled, shrieked with its entire face.” Horror fills him. As they burned, the iron-eyed man whispers “Truth…”

General Martemus watches Conphas, thinking him looking like a child as he sleeps. The general is here to kill Conphas on Kellhus’s orders.

Martemus had spent most of his life following commands, and though he’d unstintingly tried to execute each and every one, even those that proved disastrous, their origins had always haunted him. NO matter how tormented or august the channels, the commands he followed had always come from somewhere, from someplace within a beaten and debauched world: peevish officers, spiteful apparati, vainglorious generals… As a result, he had thought that thought, so catastrophic for a man who’d been bred to serve: I am greater than what I obey.

But the command he followed this night…

Martemus believes obeying this commands is more than worship or prayer, it was a lesson from Kellhus. He raises the knife. He already pictures his commander dead, wondered how the army would react when he’s found. Martemus thinks that he has wanted to do this for so long. Tells himself to strike now.

Conphas wakes up, shocked. “Truth,” declares Martemus and strikes. But Sarcellus, roasted, unable to keep his face closed, stops him, smacking away the blade. Snarling curses at Kellhus, the skin spy kills Martemus.

Conphas is shocked to see Martemus’s head sever from his neck. In fear, he scrambles back from the death, shocked by the death of his general. He realizes Sarcellus killed him and thinks he’s having a nightmare. Still stunned, he asks what happens.

“Belonged to him,” the voice from the dark corner said.

“Prince Kellhus,” Conphas said in dawning recognition. Suddenly he understood all that he needed to know: a battle had just been fought—and won. He grinned in relief—and wondrous admiration. The man had used Martemus! Martemus!

And here I thought I’d won the battle for his soul!

Conphas asks for light, but Sarcellus tells him not to, saying he was also attacked. This irks Conphas. It’s his tent. Conphas starts to object, but Sarcellus says they have to act now or the Holy War is lost. Conphas realizes Sarcellus was burned, smelling roasted pork. Sarcellus races out to the balcony. Conphas, calling for guards, follows. He doesn’t find Sarcellus, only notices Martemus’s blood on his body. He returns to his guards, telling them to hurl Martemus body at the Kianene then send for General Sompas. “The truce had ended.” The guards asks about what to do with the head.

“No,” Ikurei Conphas said, slipping into a robe held out by one of his haeturi. He laughed at the absurdity of the man’s head, which lay like a cabbage near the foot of his bed. It was odd how he could feel so little after all they suffered together.

“The General never leaves my side, Triah. You know that.”

Fustaras, a Proadjunct in the Selial Column of the Nansur army, is on a mission for General Sompas with several others. “When children go astray, they must be beaten.” He’s a “Threesie,” a veteran who’s enlisted three times. The senior NCOs that form the “stubborn heart” of any unit. “They were men who saw things through.” Him and the others with him enter an area Zaudunyani gather. They find a judge and asks him is said about truth. The man answers, “That it shines.” holding his cudgel, Fustaras asks if instead bleeds.

The man’s [the judge’s] sparkling gaze darted from Fustaras’s eyes to the club, then back. “That, too,” he said in the rigid manner of someone resolved to master their quailing heart. He pitched his voice so those nearby could hear. “If not, then why the Holy War?”

Thinking the judge too clever, Fustaras clubs him to death. His men form up around him as they are mobbed by so many Zaudunyani. He has doubts about the plan now, bur remembers he’s a Threesie. He yells defiance but is struck by a rock. It dazes him. His men are cut down around him. He’s more confused, General Sompas promising an easy task. But then a Thunyeri “with three shriveled Sranc heads jangling between his thighs” crushes his throat before a spear is rammed through his back.

The wounded Sarcellus has spent the last three days hiding “unable to close its face for pain.” As it stomps through a burned out tabernacle kicking charred skulls, it’s reminded of the Plains of Agongorea covered in snow, remembering how soothing those winds were. But that snow was far away. As far as Holy Golgotterath. While the fire burns so near. He curses Kellhus over and over. The Synthese arrives, asking if he suffers, calling Sarcellus by his skin spy name Gaörta. Sarcellus looks at it, studying its inscrutable face.

In the shell of the Old Father… Aurang, Great General of the World-Breaker, ancient Prince of the Inchoroi.

Sarcellus cries out that it hurts. He’s told to savor it. “A taste for what is to come.” The skin spy pleads and blubbers as the Synthese says he failed. The Holy War will perish. Sarcellus is terrified, knowing what failure means, but compelled to obey the Architect. He tries to shift the blame on the Cishaurim.

Fault, Gaörta?” the Old Father said. “The very poison we would suck from this world?”

Sarcellus begs for forgiveness. He’s given one more task “in the name of spite.” Sarcellus will do anything. The Synthese orders Sarcellus to make sure Kellhus is killed with the Holy War. No longer does Sarcellus think about snow to cool his burning flesh. Vengeance will soothe him.

Now,” the palm-sized expression grated, and Gaörta had the sense of vast power, ancient and hoary, forced through a reed throat. Here and there, small showers of dust trailed down the broken walls.

“Close your face.”

Gaörta obeyed as he must, screamed as he must.

Cnaiür crumples Proyas’s missive in his hand as he strides through Proyas’s residence in the city. Spotting a discarded orange peel in a pile of dust, his hunger compels him to eat it. As he does, he’s minds in turmoil that Kellhus would name his son Moënghus. He believes Kellhus did this to gall Cnaiür, to remind him who to hate.

He reaches Proyas and is angry to be summoned by words, reminding the man he can’t read. Proyas apologizes, trying to regain his composure, and says that his guests have made claims and wants Cnaiür to confirm it. The Scylvendi realizes Conphas is in the room. He hadn’t even noticed and thinks his madness lifts. He barks, demanding to know what he wants while also noticing Sarcellus is with them. Sarcellus, it seems, has word from Atrithau.

Cnaiür stared at the man [Sarcellus], for the first time noticing the bandages about his hands and the odd network of angry red lines across his sumptuous face. “Atrithau? But how is that possible?”

Sarcellus spins a story about three men who say they knew a fourth, conveniently dead in the desert, who claims Kellhus is lying. King Aethelarius has no living children. Kellhus is a pretender. As he speaks, Cnaiür notes the obvious pain Sarcellus is in. Then Cnaiür asks what these men want. Conphas gets annoyed. Proyas says there might be a way to prosecute Kellhus as a False Prophet without causing civil war. Cnaiür asks why he’s needed. Proyas trust him.

Cnaiür swallowed. Outland dogs! someone raged. Kine!

For some reason a look of alarm flickered across Conphas’s face.

Proyas refuses to trust hearsay on such an important matter, which irks Sarcellus. Cnaiür studies the Shrial knight, reminded of fighting the thing that looked like Kellhus. This makes him think of Serwë, “first wife of his heart.”

I will have her! someone within him wept. She belongs to me!

So beautiful… My proof!

Suddenly everything seemed to slump, as though the world itself had been soaked in numbness and lead. And he realized—without anguish, without heartbreak—that Anasûrimbor Moënghus was beyond him. Despite all the hate, all his tooth-gnashing fury, the blood trail he followed ended here… In a city.

We’re dead. All of us…

If Caraskand was to be their tomb, he would see certain blood spilled first.

But Moënghus! someone cried. Moënghus must die! And yet he could no longer recall the hated face. He saw only a mewling infant…

“The man you call Prince Kellhus is an impostor… A prince of nothing.”

Saubon sits upon Imbeyan’s throne as the King of Caraskand, even though his mighty and ostentatious throne room, in the Sapatishah’s Palace, feel like a hovel. But it didn’t matter, because he was king. Kellhus asks why he was summoned. Saubon warns him that he has to flee. Kellhus can’t because of the besieging army and won’t abandon his followers.

“But you must! They will condemn you. Even Proyas!”

“And you, Coithus Saubon? Will you condemn me?”

“No… Never!”

“But you’ve already given them your guarantees.”

“Who said this? What liar dares—”

“You. You say this.”

“But… But you must understand!”

“I understand. They’ve ransomed your city. All you need do is pay.”

Saubon pleads for understanding, saying it’s not that way. But Kellhus explains how Saubon has acted for “the trappings of a tyrant” just like his father. Kellhus asks who Saubon fled to after being beaten. Saubon objects he never was beaten and Kellhus deduces it was Kussalt. He then asks what was worse, Kussalt dying or learning the man hated him.

“Silence!”

“All your long life, no one has known you.”

“Silence!”

“All your long life you’ve suffered, you’ve questioned—”

“No! No! Silence!”

“—and you’ve punished those who would love you.”

Saubon slapped burly hands about his ears. “Cease! I command it!”

“As you punished Kussalt, as you punish—”

Silence-silence-silence! They told me you would do this! They warned me!”

“Indeed. They warned you against the truth. Against wandering into the nets of the Warrior-Prophet.”

Saubon asks how Kellhus could know this, struck by woe. Kellhus says it is Truth. Saubon curses the truth. Kellhus asks about Saubon’s soul. He’s willing to be damned. He embraces damnation. He would accept it all the pain and suffering “to be King for a day!” He would even pluck out God’s eye. His words echo as he falls to his knees. Soldiers come running. But Kellhus isn’t there. Saubon realizes he never was, but he’s still haunted by his guilt, imagining Kellhus is beating him.

For days, every sunrise and sunset, Esmenet would leave a bowl of water for Kellhus as he spends his time “lost in whatever worlds he searched in his trances.” She also left him food, though he only wanted water. She would watch him, feeling like a child kneeling before an idol offering sacrifices. But he touched none of the food. Then one dawn, he was gone. In a panic, she rushes through the palace and finds him joking with Serwë.

Serwë asks Esmi to bring her Moënghus. So relieved she doesn’t object and fetches the baby and “found the winter blue of his eyes unnerving.” When she returns, Kellhus reveals the Great Names want to parley.

He mentioned nothing, of course, about his mediation. He never did.

Esmenet is fearful, saying this parley is meant to be a trap. Serwë is confused by this, saying “Everyone loves Kellhus.” But Esmenet objects and says that he is hated by many. They want to see him dead.

Serwë laughed in the obvious way of which only she seemed capable. “Esmenet…” she said, shaking her had as though at a beloved fool. She boosted little Moënghus into the air. “Auntie Esmi forgets,” she cooed to the infant. “Yeeesss. She forgets who your father is!”

Esmenet watched dumbstruck. Sometimes she wanted nothing more than to wring the girl’s neck. How? How could he love such a simpering fool?

“Esmi…” Kellhus said abruptly. The warning in his voice chilled her heart. She turned to him, shouted Forgive me! with her eyes.

But at the same time, she couldn’t relent, not now, not after what she had found. “Tell her, Kellhus! Tell her what’s about to happen!”

Not again. Not again!

Kellhus tells her that he has to. They can’t go to war with the Orthodox. But she begs him that the Holy War, the city, is meaningless compared to him. She knows this is too important “for selfish grief” but she’s lost everyone else she loves. She reminds him of Akka’s belief that he’s “the world’s only hope.”

“Sometimes, Esmi, we must cross death to reach our destination.”

She thought of King Shikol in The Tractate, the demented Xerashi King who’d commanded the Latter Prophet’s execution. She thought of his gilded thighbone, the instrument of judgment, which to this day remained the most potent symbol of evil in Inrithidom. Was this what Inri Sejenus had said to his nameless lover? That loss could somehow secure glory?

But this is madness!

“The Shortest Path,” she said, horrified by the teary-eyed contemptuousness of her tone.

But the blond-bearded face smiled.

“Yes,” the Warrior-Prophet said. “The Logos.”

Serwë watches, dumbstruck, as Gotian condemns Kellhus as a False Prophet and pretender to the warrior-caste. He is condemned to be “scourged in the manner decreed by Scripture.” She holds her sobbing son, surrounded by Kellhus’s bodyguards who face the Shrial Knights. She looks at the multitude on the verge of war.

It seemed a thousand half-starved faces cried a thousand hungry things. Accusations. Curses. Laments. The air was flushed by humid cries. Hundreds had gathered within the ruined shell of the Citadel of the Dog to hear the Warrior-Prophet answer the charges of the Great and Lesser Names. Hot in the sun, the black ruins towered about them: walls unconsummated by vaults, foundations obscured by heaped wreckage, the side of a fallen tower bare and rounded against the debris, like the flanks of a whale breaching the surface of a choppy sea. The Men of the Tusk had congregated across every pitched slop and beneath every monolithic remnant. Fist-waving faces packed every pocket of clear ground.

Instinctively pulling her baby tight to her breast, Serwë glanced around in terror. Esmi was right… We shouldn’t have come! She looked up to Kellhus, and wasn’t surprised by the divine calm with which he observed the masses. Even here, he seemed the godlike nail which fastened what happened to what should happen.

He’ll make them see!

Violence is on the cusp of breaking out. The Great Names even look nervous as the mobs began skirmishing. One man breaks through the Hundred Pillars to knife Kellhus, only for Kellhus to disarm him “as though he were a child.” As Kellhus holds the man by the neck with one hand, silence spreads out from him. Serwë is confused why they would risk Kellhus’s anger.

“What is it that you fear?” the Warrior-Prophet asked. His tone was both plaintive and imperious—not the overbearing manner of a King certain of his sanction, but the despotic voice of Truth.

Gotian says the God’s punishment for harboring a false prophet. Kellhus says they fear their power fading as his rises. “You wouldn’t tolerate even the God to possess your Holy War.” He tries to implant doubt in their actions. But Conphas screams for silence. Kellhus asks Conphas what he hides.

“His words are spears!” Conphas cried to the others. “His very voice is an outrage!”

“But I ask only your question: What if you are wrong?”

Even Conphas was dumbstruck by the force of these words. It was as though the Warrior-Prophet had made this demand in the God’s own voice.

“You turn to fury in the absence of certainty,” he continued sadly. “I only ask you this: What moves your soul? What moves you to condemn me? Is it indeed the God? The God strides with certainty, with glory, through the hearts of men! Does the God so stride through you? Does the God so stride through you?”

Silence descends. Serwë cries in triumph, believing they see it. Then Sarcellus quotes from the Tusk about how both good and evil things speak to men’s heart, confusing them. Kellhus responds with a quote that Truth cannot be denied.

Possessed by a beatific calm, Sarcellus answered: “Fear him, for he is the deceiver, the Lie made Flesh, come among you to foul the waters of your heart.”

And the Warrior-Prophet smiled sadly. “Lie made flesh, Sarcellus?” Serwë watched his eyes search the crowds, then settle on the nearby Scylvendi. “Lie made flesh,” he repeated, staring into the fiend’s embattled face. “The hunt need not end… Remember this when you recall the secret of battle. You still command the ears of the Great.”

“False Prophet,” Sarcellus continued. “Prince of nothing!”

With those words, the Shrial Knights attacked. Men are cut down as the watching mob joins them. Serwë holds her baby and Kellhus’s sleeve in disbelief that it’s over. In moments, the Shrial knight are upon them. Kellhus fights back, killing a knight who attacks him, his punch so powerful the knight’s head ruptures like a melon. Gotian yells at them to stop. A knight then grabs her. But he’s cut down, killed by Cnaiür. Serwë is shocked at that.

The Shrial Knights back down from their assault on Kellhus. Gotian demands Kellhus yield to be scourged while Serwë rips herself free of Cnaiür’s grasp. She reaches Kellhus’s side, pressing herself and her child into him. She begs him to yield. To not die in this place.

She could feel her Prophet’s tender eyes upon her, his divine embrace encompass her. She looked up into his face and saw love in his shining, god-remote eyes. The love of the God for her! For Serwë, first wife and lover of the Warrior-Prophet. For the girl who was nothing…

Glittering tears branched across her cheeks. “I love you!” she cried. “I love you and you cannot die!”

She looked down at the squalling babe between them. “Our son!” she sobbed. “Our son needs the God!”

Rough hands pull her back. She shrieks that Kellhus is The god. Sarcellus grabs her, asking to Gotian, “According to Scripture?” Gotian agrees. Cnaiür objects, saying she has an infant. Serwë is so confused. Cnaiür is a dark blur in her tear-stained vision. Gotian says that doesn’t matter.

“My child!” Was there desperation, pain in the Scylvendi’s voice?

No… not your child. Kellhus? What happened.

“Then take it.” Curt, as though seeking to snuff further mortification.

Someone pulled her wailing son from her arms. Another heart gone. Another ache.

No… Moënghus? What’s happening?

Serwë shrieked, until it seemed her eyes must shimmer into flame, her face crumble into dust.

The flash of sunlight across a knife. Sarcellus’s knife. Sounds. Celebratory and horrified.

Serwë felt her life spill across her breasts. She worked her lips to speak to him, that godlike man so near, to say something final, but there was no sound, no breath. She raised her hands and beads of dark wine fell from her outstretched fingers…

My Prophet, my love, how could this be?

I know not, sweet Serwë…

And as sky and the howling faces beneath darkened, she remembered his words, once spoken.

You are innocence, sweet Serwë, the one heart I need not teach…”

Last flare of sunlight, drowsy, as though glimpsed by a child stirring from dreams beneath an airy tree.

Innocence, Serwë.

The limb-vaulted canopy, growing darker, warm-woolen like a shroud. No more sun.

You are the mercy you seek.

But my baby, my—

My Thoughts

The Holy War anticipated a “day of repentance.” Which sins are they repenting? The guilt of the massacre they performed while taking the city, or do most of the Holy War only expect to pray for other sins, not seeing what they did as wrong at all.

Does not look good for the holy war. Bakker sets it up elegantly. The Padirajah arrives before the Holy War can regroup and mount a defense outside the city, to at the very least bring in their supplies and destroy their own siege engines. Now the very weapons they used on Caraskand’s walls will be used against them. And they have no food. They’ll starve. It looks hopeless for the Holy War.

Of course Sirol, the Padirajah’s youngest daughter, weeps at the burning mastodons. Humans would rather weep for an animal than their fellow species dying by the hundreds. It shows how we’re so desensitized to human death, even in modern times thanks to media. It also shows how sheltered his daughter is. Humans who spend time around livestock are not nearly as emotional about animals as those who by their meat from the supermarket.

Also shows the arrogance of the Padirajah. He ignored the Holy War all this time, and now that he realized he can’t ignore them any longer, he brings his daughters with him on the campaign. He expects to win just like he expected to win at Mengedda and at Anwurat. It’s clear he loves his daughters, cares for them greatly (last chapter he did not look forward to telling his daughter her husband Imbeyan is dead).

The relief and horror quote is great. Humans want to survive, will keep fighting and fighting even if they’re only bough themselves a little more time. It’s like in the show Babylon 5 where John Sheridan is talking about standing on the edge of the cliff with the choice of staying and dying or jumping. You should jump because you might always learn to fly before you hit the ground. He does exactly that when faced with the situation. And while he didn’t learn to fly, he was caught.

I think we’ve all had that Proyas moment, getting such bad news that we can’t believe it happened, that we first want to deny it. The first stage of grief. It’s not just about mourning a dead one. Losing a job or an opportunity, beset by an illness, all of it can send us down that path.

Proyas is realizing his piety and belief that made him better is childish because he realizes others have suffered too. The child is selfish. That’s one of the defining trait. They can’t see past themselves. They haven’t learned to care for others needs. It’s something humans do for survival, to build communities and tribes, small bands of trusted people. And that means thinking about other’s and what they go to, as well.

Cnaiür is right. The Holy War has to take the initiative. They have to force a breakout, and to do that, they need to surprise the Padirajah’s army. Hit them with the Scarlet spire, fight their way free. It’s the end of the Holy war’s mission, but they might live to see their homes.

Proyas is utterly crushed and broken by the weight of everything. How worse to know it and still be unable to do anything, like drowning when you know how to swim but it doesn’t matter. You’re just too tired to keep kicking.

Cnaiür is horrified because he respects Proyas. Likes him. And now to see him so broken, weeping. Just like Cnaiür does. The same weakness Cnaiür hides in himself on display before him. And then he betrays Kellhus, armoring Proyas against the Dûnyain. Out of compassion. In the Unholy Consult, I wonder if Cnaiür felt the same, seeing the broken, dying Proyas in the pavilion.

As I read this passage, I’m thinking of the same Proyas at the end, broken by Kellhus, sinking into madness for his God, doing everything he can for Kellhus. He gave up his humanity for his God, and still wasn’t enough.

I hate Kellhus even more after reading that book.

An interesting moment from Kellhus. His vestigial emotions are bubbling up. He claims he loves her in the Unholy Consult, that is why he doesn’t kill Kelmomas. Maybe he does. She’s carrying his son right now, the only way for immortality. But that doesn’t stop him from using her, from making her miserable in the end, from taking her from a man that could truly love her and giving her only the illusion of it. Because even if Kellhus loves her in his own, stunted way, she learns the truth about what he is and can never believe it, especially not with the way he acts.

So in the Proyas and Kellhus exchange, we see how Kellhus isn’t infallible in numerous ways. He’s caught abed with Esmenet by the one person who needed to be eased into this new reality: Proyas. It’s unanticipated and “without warning.” Then he makes the mistake by using doubt, a word that Achamian always uses with Proyas, which forces the skeptical part of Proyas back up, focusing it on the betrayal to his mentor he is witnessing. Then Kellhus is blind-sided by Cnaiür’s interference. He didn’t anticipate Cnaiür doing that at all. Now Proyas is wholly lost to him without proving he’s a prophet.

Despite knowing that the Circumflex is coming, Kellhus doesn’t have enough emotions to be afraid of what will most likely lead to his death. This probably explains why he’s getting touch emotional with pregnant Esmenet and the knowledge that the only true immortality is through offpsrings. He’s facing his imminent death and doesn’t see a way out of it, even if he kept Proyas’s aid.

He only has to hope for a miracle. See, Kellhus is already crazy. I think all the Dûnyain are, they just don’t realize it. But Kellhus’s madness is accelerated by learning that effect can precede cause. That miracles can happen. The Shortest Path is now to prove himself a prophet, and only a true miracle, something he can’t fake, can do it.

Triamis I had a lot of practical wisdom. You can never conquer the future. That’s why people have to think about their actions and not just assume the status quo will continue. Say, if you don’t mind passing laws that will affect your political enemies because you can’t envision your political enemies gaining power one day and using those very laws on you.

It is not going well for the Holy War. Just when it seemed likes nothing worst can happen, it does. But still they fight. Desperation to live keeps them going. They have come so far, survived the desert. These are the men who don’t give up. Those who did perished a long time ago.

Serwë has a pink son. Not a blue baby.

Serwë has a lot of detractors. I’ve always liked her. People hate her naivety, her innocence. They see in her what we’ve all lost, what the world has stolen from her. She, like Xinemus, are our most stock fantasy characters. Those people from other, more romantic tales of the fantastic. Ones full of hope and optimism. With clear delineations between good and evil. And she’s stranded in this murky, gray, brutal world of Grimdark Fantasy. And like Xinemus, it ends badly for her. She’s not fit for this world. She’s got too much of us in her. Too much of what we secretly yearn for. Such simple joy and happiness even while the world burns around her, unburdened from the stresses of life.

She’s free. For now.

Another clue that Kellhus does love Esmenet, and probably Serwë, is his sudden fear when she almost falls to her death. Kellhus’s first emotion as an adult was for Serwë. And he’s feeling others with Esmenet and the child she carries. His child, which is why Serwë’s pregnancy doesn’t stir these feelings him him. But I do think he loves Serwë. The guilt for her death, and subsequently learning of her damnation, I believe is one of the things driving his actions in the next series. If such an innocent girl like her is damned, then something really has to be done about it.

He loves Esmenet, but she doesn’t really love him. We see that when Achamian returns, how it conflicts her, eats at her. And while she ultimately chooses to stay with Kellhus because of her pregnancy, she never stops loving Achamian and only grows to hate Kellhus more as she realizes what he did to her and those around him.

But with Kellhus’s weak emotions, does that even bother him? Her hatred? Her love for Achamian? We got so little POV of Kellhus in the last series. So little insight into him. I think that’s the greatest shame of The Aspect Emperor Series. Bakker had to keep us out of Kellhus’s head to keep us from guessing his motivations, about what would happen in Golgotterath there at the end. And yet we don’t get to know anymore about his character, not really, after the Thousandfold Thoughts. He’s a cipher that’s impossible to truly puzzle out from the outside.

Kellhus has an Ainoni style beard and Galeoth styled hair. A mix of Norsirai and Ketyai, showing he’s for the two different races of the Holy War.

Kellhus speaks to his followers like a cult-leader, love-bombing them by telling them how special they are. Flattery is such a hard thing to resist.

Esmenet almost realized that she never had confirmation of Achamian’s death, and it fills her with horror. Why? Because she knows, deep down, that she betrayed their love, tossed it aside for something new.

We see Esmenet take her first steps to become Empress, giving counsel. She’s so smart, she realizes just how Kellhus is manipulating her, how even Serwë’s voice is really coming at Kellhus’s manipulation. He’s molded her for this moment, and she surrenders utterly to him. Because she believes in him. It’s not romantic love Esmenet has for him, it’s worship. Adoration. It’s delusional.

Just like Serwë’s. Only that girl never had her delusions of Kellhus’s shattered.

Kellhus turned Martemus, one of the most loyal men in the series, the Xinemus in Conphas’s retinue, into an assassin. He led him down a road by first appearing as more than men, then helping Xinemus to understand that he’s better than the men who gave him commands, then even Conphas. That he had more worth than following the orders of a narcissist. Then Kellhus just had to build that into resentment, into murderous hate and unleash him.

In other stories, Conphas would have done something that galled Martemus. Something that went beyond the general’s moral code. An act too far across the pale, or something personal. But that never happens.

Conphas narcissism is on full display. Martemus is the closest thing he had to a friend, and learning that the man betrayed him, came to kill him, and now is dead has no negative effect. He has the sense of relief at surviving and admires the skill Kellhus said, like one general admiring the tactics of his rival. Especially one he just “beat.” Notice how Conphas thinks he won though he did nothing. If Sarcellus hadn’t survived his own assassination, Conphas would be dead.

So Kellhus’s last ditch effort to advert the Circumfix has failed. Readers like to believe Kellhus is infallible. That he doesn’t make mistakes, but he does. He has weaknesses that Bakker puts in the text, and those weaknesses come to matter in the Unholy Consult. He can plan and strategize, but no one can predict how something as messy as combat will fall out.

Fustaras has all the hallmark of that gruff NCO trope. Which Bakker subverts by the man getting terrified when it all goes wrong, shocked that the plan of marching into the heart of Zaudunyani territory and attacking their judges (which are their priests) wouldn’t result in the massacre.

Fault is the poison the Consult wishes to cleanse from the world. Fault is sin. Fault is condemnation. Fault is blame. It’s answering for your actions. And in this world, those actions mostly lead to damnation. This maybe the first real clue we get about the Consult’s motivations in the book. (It’s all so jumbled up when you learn what information after reading the books so many times).

We can see Cnaiür’s madness is still lurking. He’s still trying to be of the People, and Proyas’s admittance of trust is a further reminder that Cnaiür likes the man as a friend. But he shouldn’t. He’s “kine,” prey for the hunter.

First wife of my heart.” Serwë has become a proxy for Anissi. She was his proof to manhood before but also the on he could be weak with. He didn’t have to be the perfect Scylvendi with her. Serwë never gave him that no matter how hard he tried. Perhaps this is what drove him to be more and more harsh with her, to mold her into what he needed her to be. But she refused. She instead let Kellhus mold her. Just like Moënghus did with Cnaiür. In a way, Cnaiür tried to be Dûnyain with Serwë but his anger and madness thwarted his attempts at communication, at forming that connection he had with Anise. But he still wants her, needs her. And he needs his son. He can’t hate Moënghus any longer. Because it’s his son now.

And he’s found his way to get it all back.

Despite how bad everything is going, Saubon is happy. He got what he wanted. He won’t be king long at this rate. But he’ll hold it for as long as he can.

Well, Saubon, you will be damned. Maybe not for what you did by betraying Kellhus, but by all the acts of your life. You will suffer an eternity of torment, buried in the mud of Mengedda, wracked by your guilt.

Kellhus was never there, he’s hallucinating out of guilt. Perhaps he had this conversation with Kellhus, or perhaps he’s spent enough time with the Dûnyain to know the sort of words he would say, the Truths that Saubon tries so hard to deny in his heart. But Truths he knows because of Kellhus before.

Also notice it is Kellhus beating him at the end of this section. “But the gold-ringed fists kept falling. They would never stop.” No longer is he haunted by his actual father’s beatings, but by the metaphysical beatings of the prophet he’s betrayed, as seen by the haloed hands administering his current beatings.

We see Kellhus is deep in the probability trances for days trying to find a way out. He doesn’t.

Esmenet finding baby Moënghus’s eyes unnerving is a subtle reminder to who his real father is.

Serwë’s faith in Kellhus is absolute. I’ve often wondered about what Serwë did to earn damnation. And I think this is it. She put her faith in a man and not in one of the gods. She believed in Kellhus, and it earned her damnation for it. Perhaps this is part of what motivates Kellhus in his plan going forward. After all, he ensured she’d die so Esmenet would live in case Kellhus survived crossing death to reach his destination.

Esmenet spells it out though. Kellhus has found the Shortest Path. Submitting to the Circumflex. Just like he saw in a vision at far earlier in the novel. Possibly given to him by Ajolki, the horned god. The god of murder. The trickster.

Then we do the literary equivalent of the smash cut to Kellhus being condemned. As a reader, you expect Kellhus to somehow talk his way out of this, to plead his case, to win over his enemies. And it is taken away, witnessed from the one person who has the most faith in Kellhus: Serwë.

All things both sacred and vile speak to the hearts of Men, and they are bewildered, and holding out their hands to darkness, they name it light.” This quote from the Tusk is very telling. The Inchoroi wrote the tusk, twisting the beliefs of the humans to their own end. This maybe one of their verses put in there to muddy the waters even more by making sacred and vile equals.

And even in the midst of his last attempt to stop the circumflex, Kellhus is planting the seeds for Cnaiür’s intervention. After all, the Scylvendi is about to lose his prize, the reason he betrayed Kellhus to begin with. And at the hands of another “lie made flesh” like he fought at Anwurat.

Innocence is slain, throat slit, her blood allowed to pour out like dark wine. The heroine of a thousand fantasy stories, the beautiful maiden who’s the lover of our hero, executed. Condemned to torment for believing in him. Seduced by the Dûnyain’s lies.

But she had one child born pink.

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 21
Caraskand

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

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

TRIBES 21:13, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seemed a gift.

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

King… I will be King at last.

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

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

He’s just another Inrithi dog!

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

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

He had always owned his madness.

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

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

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

So many cursed questions! Shut up! Shut—

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

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

She was my proof.

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

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

He used her to drive me mad!

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

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

Did he love her? Could he?

Perhaps in a world without Moënghus…

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

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

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

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

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

Cnaiür did not bother contradicting him.

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

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

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

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

Something… There must be something I can do!

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

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

“I know!”

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

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

He let the Dûnyain read his face.

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

I am stronger!

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

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

Yes, the madness was lifting.

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

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

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

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

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

What was this man? Who were the Dûnyain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he climbed back toward slaughter and daylight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weapons. And the Consult had finally wielded them.

Wars within wars. It has finally come to this.

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

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

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

The fortress walls steamed with the smoke of burning flesh.

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

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

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

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

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

Father?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kellhus?”

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

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

He had sounded afraid.

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

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

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

“The Cishaurim burned everything,” Achamian replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The red-throated gulls kept jealous watch.

“Fire,” he said.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foeman. I need to remember that word for writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great imagery on the destroyed fleet.

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

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

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

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

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 20
Caraskand

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

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

MEMGOWA, THE BOOK OF DIVINE ACTS

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

8:9:4 THE WITNESS OF FANE

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not think, Exalt-General… Know.”

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

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

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

It had offered her up to Kellhus.

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

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

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

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

They had become the measure… Absolute. Unconditioned.

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

You, Esmenet, are my wife.

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

The desert had changed everything.

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

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

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

Here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are the begetting fire…

No more would she turn aside seed from her womb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conphas regarded the man thoughtfully, troubled for some reason.

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

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

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

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

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

He swept his gaze across them.

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serwë having a living child is such a powerful moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Nineteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 19
Enathpaneah

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

What vengeance is this? That he should slumber while I endure? Blood douses no hatred, cleanses no sin. Like seed, it spills of its own volition, and leaves naughty but sorrow in its wake.

HAMISHAZA, TEMPIRAS THE KING

…and my soldiers, they say, make idols of their swords. But does not the sword make certain? Does not the sword make plain? Does not the sword compel kindness from those who kneel in its shadow? I need no other god.

TRIAMIS, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

The first quote not only talks about the pointlessness of violence, since it doesn’t stop hatred or have any redemption, but equates it to indiscriminate sex. Something we see with the Consult and their creations, that bestial rutting and bestial hungers are one and the same, and that they inflict humans to their own woes. The author is lamenting how he has clearly done violence and it hasn’t satiated him. He has to live with the consequences after murdering the target of his anger. “That he should slumber…” indicates this, to me.

And, as we see, Achamian goes on his own vengeance here, hunting Iyokus. But it doesn’t change anything. Nor when he does get his vengeance on Iyokus for Xinemus in the next book.

The next quote reminds me of Marx’s “Power comes from the barrel of a gun.” The potential to do violence is true power, not something ephemeral like beseeching unseen gods. When you hold a sword, that gives you power to “compel kindness from those who kneel in its shadow.” Triamis, a famed conquering Emperor, is quite blunt and holds few illusions about where true source of power lies in: fear. And if you don’t think this is true, ask yourself why you obey laws, even ones you find stupid. Because the government employees many, many men with guns. And they will use violence to compel you in the end.

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

Proyas wakes up hearing rustling leaves and gurgling water before remembering he’s in the desert, the sun shining in his eyes, a headache throbbing. He calls out to his body slave, but someone tells him his slave is dead. It is Cnaiür, badly sunburned and dehydrated like Proyas. Proyas asks what happened.

The Scylvendi resumed digging at the leather wrapped about his scarred knuckles. “You collapsed,” he said. “In the desert…”

“You… You saved me?”

Cnaiür paused without looking up. Then continued working.

The Holy War drifts “like reavers come from the furnace” into the villages and forts of Enathpaneah, walking out of the desert. They kill every man, woman, and child they find, burn every structure.

There were no innocents. This was the secret they carried away from the desert.

All were guilty.

They wander in scattered bands, marked by the horrors they suffered. “And their swords were their judgments.” Approximately 300,000 marched into the desert, 3/5ths combatants. 100,000 marched out. Almost all combatants. None of the Great had died despite the high casualty rate. “Death had drawn circles, each more narrow than the last, taking the slaves and the camp-followers, then the indentured caste-menial soldiers, and so on. Life had been rationed according to caste and station.”

For generations the Khirgwi would call their route saka’ilrait, “the Trail of Skulls.”

The desert road had sharpened their souls into knives. The Men of the Tusk would lay the keel of another road, just as appalling, and far more furious.

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

Achamian wonders how long he’s been tortured. But he couldn’t be broken. Not because of his own strength, but Seswatha. At Dagliash, Seswatha had been tortured by the Consult, and the Scarlet Spire were amateurs. Despite their “merciless cunning,” the Scarlet Spire have never realized they tortured two souls, and Seswatha was forever out of their reach.

Whatever they do, I remain untouched. The heart of the great tree never burns. The heart of a great tree never burns.

Two men, like a circle and its shadow. The torture, the Cants of Compulsion, the narcotics—everything had failed because there were two men for them to compel, and the one, Seswatha, stood far outside the circle of the present. Whatever the affliction, no matter how obscene, his shadow whispered, But I’ve suffered more…

Time passes. Iyokus brings out a man (Xinemus), badly tortured, begging Achamian to tell them. Iyokus talks about treading new ground while Xinemus howls about being able to take no more. Iyokus explains how Xinemus came to rescue Achamian, and that’s when the sorcerer realizes who the broken man is. Iyokus wants to find out how far Achamian’s indifference will go. Achamian can only watch as Xinemus is blinded, his eyes gouged out by a Javreh soldier. As Achamian cries out in pained horror, Seswatha whispers in his soul: “I know not this man.”

Iyokus tells Achamian, speaking Schoolman to Schoolman, that Achamian will never leave alive, but Xinemus can. If Achamian cooperates. Iyokus gives his word. Achamian believes him. But Seswatha doesn’t care. Iyokus sees it, decrying Achamian’s “fanatic stubbornness.” He gives the order.

“Nooooo!” a piteous voice howled.

A stranger convulsed in sightless agony, soiling himself.

I know not this man.

A nameless cat is prowling an ally for food, noting how it was five years old but had never eaten humans until recently. “Every day, with the piety born of his blood, he padded, crept, and prowled along the same circuit.” Today, he has found something new. He isn’t hungry (especially since it doesn’t have blood), just curious about it. The cat attacks, leaping on the Wathi doll. That was a mistake. The Wathi doll kills the cat, tasting its blood.

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

Caraskand is a city that sits on the route linking the lands sound of the desert to Shigek and Nansur. It started as a waystation, and for thousands of years had seen all manner of trade goods move north and south. It grew over the centuries, once even ruling its own small empire. Triamis I (greatest of the Ceneian Aspect-Emperors) raised her walls. Now Caraskand is a great city like Momemn. She is also a proud city.

Proud cities do not yield.

The citizens are scared. The Holy War survived despite the Padirajah’s proclamation, and they were here, “no longer a terrifying rumour from the north.” Day by day, they see the smoke of burning villages come closer, the stream of refuges growing larger. Panic seized the city, and Imbeyan the All-Conquering, could not calm them. After all, Imbeyan had fled after the defeat at Anwurat and 3/4th of Enathpaneah’s Grandees lay dead. People speak of the Holy War’s figures in frightened tones: Saubon the blond beast, Conphas the tactician who destroyed the Scylvendi, Athjeäri the wolf, the Scarlet Spire who routed the Cishaurim, and Kellhus the Demon False Prophet. Despite the fear, they don’t talk of surrender. Few flee. They know they have to resist. It is the will of the Solitary God. You didn’t flee your father’s punishment.

To be punished was the lot of the faithful.

They crowded the interiors of their grand tabernacles. They wept and prayed, for themselves, for their possessions, for their city.

The Holy War was coming…

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

Achamian has been hanging for a while and didn’t even realize Iyokus was there until he spoke. Iyokus talks to him about the Holy War’s current state, telling of how the Padirajah had made plans in case he lost the Battle of Anwurat (a sign of intelligence). He has used the desert as a weapon, saying how the assumption the Kianene fleet would lose against the Empire’s was in error. They used the Cishaurim to destroy the Imperial fleet. Achamian asks about the Holy war.

“Nearly destroyed. Innumerable dead lie across the sands of Khemema.”

Esmenet? He hadn’t thought her name for a long while. In the beginning, it had been a refuge for him, reprieve in the sweet sound of a name, but once they brought Xinemus to their sessions, once they started using his love as an instrument of torment, he’d stopped thinking of her. He’d withdrawn from all love…

To things more profound.

Iyokus says that the Scarlet Spire have losses and his mission is being recalled. Achamian asks what the means for him while thinking about Esmenet. Iyokus says Achamian’s torment is over. Then, after hesitating, adds that he was against seizing you. He has done this before, and knows it to be futile and distasteful. Iyokus further adds he believes that Achamian is being truthful when he says the skin-spy wasn’t Cishaurim. Achamian says Iyokus will know it for truth one day.

“Perhaps. Perhaps… But for now, my Grandmaster has decided these spies must be Cishaurim. One cannot substitute legends for what is known.”

“You substitute what you fear for what you don’t know, Iyokus.” Iyokus regarded him narrowly, as though surprised that one so helpless, so degraded, could still say fierce things. “Perhaps. But regardless, our time together is at an end. Even now we make preparations to join our brethren Beyond Khemema…”

Achamian has a moment of insight, realizing Iyokus was anxious. Then Iyokus, admitting that though religion isn’t a big deal for sorcerers, he is giving Achamian the courtesy to prepare himself for death. In a few days, he and Xinemus both will be executed. Though the words were strange, Achamian recognizes Iyokus isn’t saying this to be cruel. Achamian asks if Iyokus will tell Xinemus as well.

The translucent face turned to him sharply, but then unaccountably softened. “I suppose I will,” Iyokus said. “He at least might be assured a place in the Afterlife…”

The sorcerer turned, then strode pale into the blackness. A distant door opened onto an illuminated corridor, and Achamian glimpsed the profile of Iyokus’s face. For an instant, he looked like any other man.

Achamian thought of swaying breasts, the kiss of skin to skin in lovemaking.

Survive, sweet Esmi. Survive me.

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

The Holy War begins gathering around Caraskand “flushed by their atrocities.” Unlike Shigek, Caraskand defends her walls. The siege begins, surviving priests gathering the faithful, the Names hold councils and “the investiture of Caraskand was planned.” Proyas parlays with Imbeyan, demanding the city’s surrenders. He promises to spare lives of Imbeyan’s family and of the citizens. Imbeyan laughs at him, claiming “what the desert had started, the stubborn walls of Caraskand would see completed.”

The siege begins, sappers building tunnels, siege engines built, outriders sent to scout and plunder the countryside. The Inrithi sing songs and priest lead processional marches around the city. The heathens mock from the walls.

For the first time in months, the Inrithi saw clouds, real clouds, curling through the sky like milk in water.

Talk buzzes at the Holy War’s campfires, turning from tales of the desert towards their goal of Shimeh. Caraskand is seen as the gateway to the Sacred Lands. They were close, saying “After Caraskand, we shall cleanse Shimeh.” Saying the name rekindled their fervor. In the hills, the masses gather to hear Kellhus’s sermons. They believe he delivered them from the desert. Thousands become his Zaudunyani. The Nobles begin to fear Kellhus, realizing he now commands a large host, as big as any of theirs. It begins to rain as the Holy War prepares their siege. Fast floods drown men. Sapper tunnels collapse. The earth becomes muddy. The winter rains had come.

The first man to die of the plague was a Kianene captive. Afterward his body was launched from a catapult over the city’s walls—as would be those who followed.

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

Mamaradda, the Javreh Captain, decides to kill Achamian first. He finds killing a sorcerer to be thrilling, even arousing. He didn’t connect this to him being a slave for sorcerers. He enters the chapel where Achamian hangs, the man swaying back and forth. Then he hears scraping.

He saw something small crouched at the edge of the Circle… A cat? Scratching to bury piss? He swallowed, squinted. The rapid scrape-scrape-scrape whined bright in his ears, as though someone filed his teeth with a rusty knife. What?

It was a tiny man, he realized. A tiny men bent over the Uroborian Circle, scraping at the arcane paint…

A doll?

Mamaradda goes for his knife, seized by terror. Achamian looks at him, the circle now broken. Sorcerous lights explode around Mamaradda. He flinches and then its gone. He’s untouched. Then he remembers that he holds a Chorae and laughs. The tripods lighting the room are knocked over, burning coals spill across his face, into his mouth. In pain, he drops his Chorae. His heart explodes, his body ripped asunder by Achamian’s sorcery.

Vengeance roamed the halls of the compound—like a God.

And he [Achamian] sang his song with a beast’s blind fury, parting walls from foundation, blowing ceiling into sky, as though the works of men were things of sand.

And when he found them, cowering beneath their Analogies, he sheared through their Wards like a rapist through a cotton shift. He beat them with hammering lights, held their shrieking bodies as though they were curious things, the idiot thrashing of an insect between thumb and forefinger…

Death came swirling down.

Achamian feels them scrambling to organize a defense. He knows they feel the horror of the guilty as he kills them. He destroys cohorts of Javreh. When he feels a Chorae approach, he brings the building down on them. He laughs, almost drunk with mad destruction. He “spoke to the two Scarlet Magi who assailed him, uttered intimate truths, Fatal abstractions.” He kills them and keeps going.

Seswatha was free, and he walked the ways of the present bearing tokens of ancient doom.

He would show them the Gnosis.

When Iyokus feels the first tremble through the palace, he knows what it means. He thinks of Eleäzaras, remembering how he said this would go badly. He only has six other Schoolmen with him and 250 Javreh, all scattered through the compound. After the Sareotic Library, he was no longer convinced it was enough to deal with a Mandate sorcerer even if they were prepared.

We’re doomed.

Over the long years of his life, the chanv had rendered his passions as colourless as his kin. What he felt now was more the memory of a passion rather than the passion itself. A memory of fear.

But he has hope. There are 12 Chorae here, plus himself. Out of envy for the Gnosis, Iyokus had studied the “great labyrinth” or sorcery, going down the forbidden branch of Daimos. He wonders how the “War-Cants of the Ancient North” would do against it. He summons Ciphrang, a type of demon.

From the safety of his circle of symbols, Iyokus gazed in wonder at the sheeted lights of the Outside. He looked upon a writhing abomination, scales like knives, limbs like iron pillars…

“Does it hurt?” he asked against the thunder of its wail.

What hast thou done, mortal?

Ankaryotis, a fury of the deep, a Ciphrang summoned from the Abyss.

“I have bound you!”

Thou art damned! Dost thou not recognize he who shall keepeth thee for Eternity?

A demon…

“Either way,” Iyokus cried, “such is my fate!”

Achamian bellows for Iyokus, killing Javreh as he searches the palace. Dust billows as he destroys walls and brings down the ceiling. He hears Iyokus laugh, finds him surrounded by wards. Iyokus attacks, distracting him as the demon attacks. It crashes into Achamian’s wards, perching on it, hitting them. With each blow, Achamian coughs blood. He uses an Odaini Concussion Cant to throw the Ciphrang back, then searches for Iyokus. But he’s running. Achamian sends a spell after, destroying a wall. But the demon attacks again.

Achamian charred its crocodile hide, ribboned its otherworldly flesh, smote its elephantine skull with ponderous cudgels of stone, and it bled fire from a hundred wounds. But still it refused to fall. It howled obscenities that cracked rock and rifled the ground with chasms. More floors collapsed, and they grappled through dark cellars made bright by flickering fury.

Sorcerer and demon.

Unholy Ciphrang, a tormented soul thrust into the agony of the World, harnessed by words like a lion by strings, yoked to the task that would see it freed.

Achamian endured its unearthly violence, heaped injury after injury upon its agony.

And in the end it grovelled beneath his song, cringed like a beaten animal, then faded into the blackness…

Achamian walks naked through the ruins “a husk animated by numb purpose.” He passes the corpses of those he kills. He finally finds Xinemus chained and sitting in his own filth weeping that he can’t see. He grabs Achamian’s cheeks.

“I’m so sorry, Akka. I’m so sorry…”

But the only words Achamian could remember were those that killed.

That damned.

When they finally hobbled from the ruined compound of the Scarlet Spires into the alleys of Iothiah, the astonished onlookers—Shigeki, armed Kerathotics, and the few Inrithi who garrisoned the city—gaped in both wonder and horror. But they dared not ask them anything. Nor did they follow the two men as they shuffled into the darkness of the city.

My Thoughts

Firstly, let’s talk about the passage of time. It jumped from Early Autumn to Late Autumn from the last chapter to this. As near as I can tell, Bakker uses (as an example) Early Autumn, Mid Autumn, and Late Autumn to give time. It seems that indicates a three month season, following our own twelve month calendar. It implies that it’s been two months of wondering in the desert for the Holy War. We could be charitable and say it was the end of the first autumn month and now the start of the third, so a month and a week. But what about Xinemus? He’s captured in early autumn and only appears to Achamian in late autumn. I can’t believe Iyokus would wait more than a month to use Xinemus against Achamian. A few days of torture to break the Marshal at most. Still seems a little too long. But Bakker might not be as anal about tracking dates in his fiction as I am.

When we last left off the Holy War, dehydration had caused everyone to become selfish, to stop helping loved ones, save for Kellhus carrying Serwë. But we now see at least one other person held on, Cnaiür revealing the fact he likes Proyas as much as he tried to pretend he didn’t.

We see what the desert did to the men of the Holy War. They killed slaves and camp followers, they abandoned their loved ones so they could survive. They had suffered and been so warped and are still in that survival mode. No room for compassion.

Let’s do some math on the numbers given. If 3/5ths of 300,000 souls of the Holy War were were warriors, then there was 180,000 combatants. So 120,000 were camp followers. Let’s say most of the 100,000 who survived means some 5,000 camp followers lived (5% of the total survivors, all wives, priests, or useful craftsmen). That means 48% of the combatants (85,000) perished in the march and 96% (115,000) of the camp followers.

Then we have the interesting quote about the Khirgwi finding skulls for generations? Is this a subtle clue from Bakker that the world isn’t going to be destroyed at the end of the series? There’s only been a generation between this series and the Aspect-Emperor. It seems to indicate that the Consult’s current bid, the Second Apocalypse, would have to be thwarted for this line to be possible for generations to continue on finding skulls.

It is so sad seeing Xinemus broken by torture.

And Seswatha does not give a fuck. This is a powerful protection for the Gnosis. That could be Esmenet there and Achamian would be unable to give away the power. I really, really want to know what happens in that later scene when Kellhus hypnotized Achamian and spoke to Seswatha!

And hi Wathi doll. I see you’re on the move. And Bakker, not only gives us some cat motivation, reminds us that, yes, curiosity did indeed kill the cat.

Then Bakker drops off into the historical, describing the history, and giving us some of its geography, of the city that the climax of the novel will inhabit.

Hey, they heard of Kellhus. And the way the Holy War has operated thus far, I’d be terrified too of they showed up.

To be punished is the lot of the faithful. Very true. If you know any devout Christians, there is a streak of persecution complex in them. They expect the world to oppress them, giving proof of their belief that all men are evil and that the world conspires to destroy God’s plans.

The Padishah is a smart guy to plan for defeats. And using Cishaurim on the Nansur fleet was briliant. There would be no defenses for the fleet. All the Chorae would be with the Holy War, and besides, that wouldn’t stop boats from being ripped apart, just let you live so you could drown in the waters. What a battle that must have been.

If you’re wondering how Iyokus could know so much about what has happened to the Holy War in the desert when it would be impossible for them to send messengers back across the waste, it’s simple: sorcerers can communicate through their dreams. We know the Mandate and the Imperial Saik do this, so there’s no reason the Scarlet Spire don’t know this as well. (And I believe in the third book, Conphas compromises the Scarlet Spire Magi that’s being used to keep track of what he’s up through dreams).

Of course Achamian retreated from love. He had to to survive. Like the men in the desert abandoning wives and brothers. He was forced into an animal-like situation, forced to become one to live. And for what? Nothing. The Scarlet Spire got nothing out of him. It was all so pointless.

Politics always get in the way of the truth. Truth can be an inconvenient for any movement, really, whether social, religious, or political.

Iyokus shows some compassion here. He truly did not want to hurt Achamian, he objected to this from the beginning. But he follows orders and does distasteful tasks. And note the bitterness of knowing you are damned and there is nothing to be done about it. Is it any wonder some men sided with the Inchoroi and formed the consult?

Investiture of Caraskand. Such an interesting choice of word. It means to invest a person with a high rank or honor. Also, the action of putting on clothing or robes. And yet Bakker is using here to mean to conquer the city. Why? Because the Holy War is about to “honor” the city with Inrithism and robe her in fanatic violence.

Throwing plagued bodies into a city has been done in our world. The Ottomans through plagued bodies over the walls in their conquest of Asia Minor. This helped to spread the Black Death through Europe. It’s a harsh method of warfare.

Weather is such an important influence in warfare. Never forget about it if you’re writing it. Weather can be a foe or a blessing for the various sides.

Achamian used indirect attacks on the Javreh, knocking over the tripods. Sorcery can’t touch you if you hold a Chorae, but that won’t stop a sorcerer from using the magic to throw something at your or drop a roof on your head.

In Achamian’s escape, Bakker shows us just how outmatched the Angogic sorceries are for the Gnosis. They overpowered Achamian the first time because they were prepared and the building collapsed on him. This time, he is hitting them before they can react. And it’s savage, brutal, and Bakker doesn’t shy away from that in his language used.

We see again how Bakker shows Chorae as having gravity that distorts the “fabric of the onta,” what the sorcerers see, how they mark the world and each other. If Chorae are black holes, then it makes sense how they negate sorcery. The sorcery falls into the Chorae. It so warps the fabric of the onta, there is no path for the sorcery to travel but into the Chorae. In a black hole, every direction you travel (up, down, right, left) will lead you to the black hole’s center.

Love how Achamian “spoke to the two Scarlet Magi.” He’s just having a debate with them, but his arguments have physical consequences, and they just don’t have the education to deal with his rhetoric.

And we see that Achamian is so broken, he’s let Seswatha out, either the soul of Seswatha is in control as we saw during the interrogations, or that Achamian is imagining himself as Seswatha, either consciously or because of his exhaustion and disorientation.

An interesting conversation between Iyokus and the Ciphrang. The demon chastises him for this. And we get confirmation that, yes, if you summon a demon, you get to be tortured by said demon for eternity. But Iyokus, resigned to eternal damnation, doesn’t care. He just wants to live a little longer. After all, he wants to put off death for as long as possible. (We see this later with the Nonmen in The Great Ordeal).

A sorcerer fighting a flaming demon while they fall. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it.

Well, Iyokus, looks like Gnosis trumps Daimos. Though it bought Iyokus the time to flee.

And then we get the sadness of the broken Xinemus, begging for Achamian’s forgiveness. He’s been compulsed, and as we later learn, that is a terrible thing to do to someone. When you make a person do something with compulsion, they believe they did it willingly. Since Bakker is describing a fully materialistic universe in which free will is an illusion, and that everything a human does is caused by stimuli that has shaped that person from birth, So when you violate that causality and insert an artificial effect on a person, the illusion of free will still makes a person feel like what they did was of their own volition. And what the Scarlet Spire forced Xinemus to do has broken him utterly.

Achamian is free. He’ll be heading back to Esmenet and we’ll see just how good Kellhus is at manipulating people.

Click here for the next chapter!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Eighteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Third March
Chapter 18
Khemema

Welcome to Chapter Eighteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Seventeen!

To piss across water is to piss across your reflection

KHIRGWI PROVERB

My Thoughts

So the Khirgwi are the desert nomads (who dwell in the very desert the Holy War is about to cross) and befouling water is such a taboo in such a harsh place. If they’re like Bedouin in the real world, then oasis would even be places were fighting wouldn’t happen, set aside because of the sacredness of water. So to piss in water, to them, is to soil their lives, to make things worse for themselves. Like the phrase never piss upwind in our own culture.

And so to see them poison water shows how desperate they are to stop the Holy War. They are, literally, pissing on themselves because survival has driven them so far.

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Southern Shigek

The Holy War heads south into “the furnace plains of the Carathay Desert.” A place called the “Great Thirst” by the Khirgwi. On the first night camping, Athjeäri returns with his men from scouting, all exhausted and dehydrated. All they found were polluted waters. The heat forced them to travel by night. But the Great Names believe the pack mules and Emperor’s fleet would keep them watered. Athjeäri is not convinced. The next evening, the Holy War marches with their camp-followers, people making jokes about marching at night.

The Khirgwi raid them around midnight, charging on camels and “bearing the truth of the Solitary God and His Prophet on the edges of sharp knives.” They hit the supply train, slicing open bladders of water then retreat. The Holy War continues on, meeting up with the Nansur fleet, getting fresh water. By night, they attacked by the Khirgwi in bloody raids.

On the seventh day, the Imperial fleet fails to arrive at the next rendezvous. A council is called, and Conphas is accused of betraying them until he points out that, he, too is stuck in the desert without water. So the Holy War waits a night and a day. The fleet doesn’t arrive. Conphas argues a squall might have put them off course, but Kellhus says the Kianene had waited until now to unleash their fleet. The desert is a trap they marched into.

Two days later, the bulk of the Greater and Lesser Names accompanied the mule trains across the hills to the sea, and stared dumbfounded by its empty beauty. When they returned form the hills, they no longer walked apart from the desert. Sun, stone, and sand beckoned to them.

Water was rationed by caste, severely. People were executed for hoarding. Conphas suggests heading for Subis, an oasis too big to poison. He says they can reach it, but only if they abandon the mules, slaves, and camp-followers. Proyas asks how. The Holy War kills them. Slaves, whores, merchants, and slavers. Only priests, wives, and useful tradesmen were spared.

That night the Inrithi marched blank-eyed through what seemed a cooling oven—away from the horror behind them, toward the promise of Subis… Men-at-arms, warhorses, and hearts had become beasts of burden.

When the Khirgwi found the fields of heaped bodies and strewn belongings, they fell to their knees and cried out in exultation to the Solitary God. The trial of the idolaters had begun.

The Holy War breaks apart while marching south and hundreds are killed by the Khirgwi raiders. The Great and Lesser Names grow desperate the next day. They know water has to be out there. The Khirgwi must get it form some where. So their scouts, like Athjeäri, head off to find them and “disappeared into the wavering distances.” Only Detnammi and his men don’t return. The rest were driven back by the Khirgwi and the heat. Worse, they found no wells, the desert featureless to the.

The water has almost runs out before Subis is reached. Horses are now butchered save those belonging to the Great Names. The Cengemi footmen mutiny, wanting all horses slaughtered. They want water shared equally. They are put down. Dehydration grows worse. Men die. Others don’t even notice attacks, stumbling in a fugue. Subis becomes a name of hope, more so than God. Another day and still they haven’t reached it. People mistake mirages for it, racing out into the desert until they die.

Subis… A lover’s name.

The Men of the Tusk stumbled down long, flinty slopes, filed between sandstone outcroppings that resembled towering mushrooms on thin stems. They climbed mountainous dunes.

The village looked like a many-chambered fossil unearthed by the wind. The deep green and sun silver of the oasis beckoned with its impossibility…

Subis.

The Men of the Tusk charge at the oasis, passing the abandoned village, and in the oasis, dead and bloating, they find the missing Detnammi and all five hundred of his men. The Khirgwi had found a way to poison Subis. But the Holy War didn’t care. They drank the befouled water, throwing up, and then drinking more. Hundreds were crushed in the rush, more hundreds drowning. The Great Names struggled to restore order. The bodies were removed, water distributed. Detnammi and his men were denied funeral rites for riding straight here to save themselves. Chepheramunni, King-Regent of High Ainon, posthumously strips the man of his rank.

Their thirst satiated, the Holy War begins to worry about disease. Cultic physician-priests of Akkeägni (the god of pestilence) warn of the symptoms to come but can’t do much more than pray, having abandoned their pharmaka. Soon, everyone is sick, from mild chills to diarrhea and vomiting. The Great Names know they can’t reach Enathpaneah without the fleet. Scouts are sent to the coast to find it. They don’t. Conphas and Saubon come to blows often, the rumors of the Empire’s betrayal growing. With no other choice, the Holy War continue marching south.

Either way, Prince Kellhus said, the God would see to them.

The Men of the Tusk abandoned Subis the following evening, their waterskins brimming with polluted water. Several hundred, those too sick to walk, remained behind, waiting for the Khirgwi.

The sickness spreads. Those without friends are abandoned to await the Khirgwi. The army shuffles. They now say Enathpaneah like they had Subis. Diarrhea kills the most, dehydrating them more than their ration replenishes. Proyas appears impossibly strong, walking and letting his horse die of thirst, refusing to water it while his men died.

Followed by two beautiful women, Prince Kellhus spread words of strength. They didn’t merely suffer, he told men, they suffered for… For Shimeh. For the Truth. For the God! And to suffer for the God was to secure glory in the Outside. Many would be broken in this furnace, that was true, but those who survived would know the temper of their own hearts They would be, he claimed, unlike other men. They would be more…

The Chosen.

Men follow him everywhere, begging for his attention. Only he can laugh and give thanks. His words were like water. On the third night, he orders his Zaudunyani to dig in a certain spot. Ultimately, they dig fourteen shallow pools of muddy water that “were sweet, and unfouled by the taste of dead men.” The Great Names find Kellhus laughing, standing in water, handing it out, saying “The God Showed me!” They Holy War digs more wells, find more waters. They spend several days here, letting the sickest recover while the Great Names argue over Kellhus. “The desert, Ikurei Conphas warned, had made a False Prophet of Fane as well.”

The Khirgwi think the Holy War has given up, waiting to die. They attack and are slaughtered. Entire tribes are eradicated. The survivors flee. But food has finally run out for the Holy War. With full waterskins, they march once more. But now they sing hymns, many to the Warrior-Prophet. They march “unconquered and defiant.” So far, the Holy War had lost 1/3 of its soldiers since they left Momemn.

Evening of the second day, they see clouds. They realize it is a sandstorm. Their flimsy tents rae blown away and they have to endure it. Hundreds are found buried when it’s over while others were left “wandering like stunned children” across the changed desert. Losing many shelters to the storm, they are forced to march because they have no protection against the sun. Arguments on which way to march are held, some wanting to return to Kellhus’s wells, but Conphas points out they’re likely buried. He claims they are within two days of water. Kellhus agrees with him, which surprises some. They continue marching for Enathpaneah.

Water is rationed. Dehydration sets in. The last of the horses die. Gothyelk collapses and his sons carry him, sharing their water with him. When night falls, they keep marching, stumbling. The cool night air doesn’t bring relief. No one talks. “They formed an endless procession of silent wraiths, passing across Carathay’s folds.” Soon, the Holy War loses its discipline, units breaking apart into solitary wanders.

The morning sun was a shrill rebuke, for still the desert had not ended. The Holy War had become an army of ghosts. Dead and dying men lay scattered in their thousands behind it, and as the sun rose still more fell. Some simply lost the will, and fell seated in the dust, their thoughts and bodies buzzing with thirst and fatigue. Others pressed themselves until they’re wracked bodies betrayed them. They struggled feebly across the sand, waving their heads like worms, perhaps croaking for help, for succor.

But only death would come swirling down.

Men are dying. They aren’t thinking any longer, just walking. Family bonds are broken as loved ones are abandoned. “Each man had become a solitary circle of misery that walked and walked.” Everything is gone, even the voice of Kellhus. They only had the trial. And they died in the thousands.

Esmenet stumbles as she walks beside Kellhus. He is carrying Serwë in his arms. Esmenet finds that so triumphant. Then he stops. She sways and grows dizzy, but he helps her. She wants to lick her lips, but her tongue is too swollen. And he grins at her, somehow healthy.

He leaned back and cried out to the hazy roll and pitch of distant green, to the wandering crease of a flashing river. And his words resounded across the compass of the horizon.

“Father! We come, Father!”

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

Xinemus and his two loyal men, Dinch and Zenkappa, are hiding the corpse of a Javreh, the slave soldiers who guard the Scarlet Spire. Xinemus is annoyed by Dinch and Zenkappa’s joking banter, not taking their missions seriously. It hurts him to realize they don’t care about Achamian’s life.

But if they failed to grasp the importance of their task, they were well aware of its lethality. To skulk like thieves among armed men was harrowing enough, but in the midst of the Scarlet Spires…

Both were frightened, Xinemus realized—thus the forced humour and empty bravado.

They are stalking through the Scarlet Spire base in Iothiah, the palace of a dead Ceneian Governor, to rescue Achamian and “undo what I’ve done.” They are hoping it is nearly empty with the Holy War marching into the desert, those remaining unable to properly defend such a huge place. Xinemus hopes Achamian is here, reckoning they wouldn’t have taken them south. “The road was no place to interrogate a Mandate sorcerer, especially when one marched with a prince such as Proyas.” He finds it heartening that they had left some behind.

If he [Achamian] wasn’t here, then he was very likely dead.

He’s here! I feel it!

Xinemus clutches his Chorae as if it “were holier than the small golden Tusk that clicked at its side.” He had two others, which he gave to his men. It is why he hasn’t attempted this with more of his men. He hopes that the sorcerers are asleep and they can creep in and out. He reminds his men that the Chorae must touch bare flesh, to hold them in fists. He expects wards to guard the place.

They enter the palace through the stables, finding a maze of empty rooms and hallways. Sometimes they hear voices and they hide. They pass sleeping slaves. “Each door they opened seemed hinged upon a precipice: either Achamian or certain death lay on the far side.” They gambled over and over while fearing the Scarlet Spire.

After some time, Xinemus began to feel bold. Was this how a thief or a rat felt, prowling at the edges of what others could see or know? There was exhilaration, and strangely enough, comfort in lurking unseen in the marrow of your enemy’s bones. Xinemus was overcome by a sudden certainty:

We’re going to do this! We’re going to save him!

Dinch suggests searching the cellars, reasoning if they’re torturing him, it’ll muffle his screams. Xinemus hates the thought but sees its logic. They descend “into pitch blackness” They’re blind, huddled close together, and then see a moving light. They spot a sorcerer ahead with an arcane candle. Their fear swells. The sorcerer pauses, looking in their direction like he had smelled something. But then he scowls and walks on, not seeing them in the dark. Xinemus wants to follow him.

Witnessing the face, the sorcerous light, now made their every step sing with peril. The only thing keeping Dinchases and Zenkappa behind him, Xinemus knew, was a loyalty that transcended fear of death. But here, in this place, in the bowels of the Scarlet Spire stronghold, that loyalty was being tested as it had never been tested before, even in the heart of their desperate battles. Not only did they gamble with the obscenely unholy, there were no rules here, and this, added to mortal fear, was enough to break any man.

They reach a door. They open It quietly and enter a large room, feeling as though “they were entombed in dread night.” They enter it when a voice speaks out that still there hearts: “But this will not do.” Light erupts around them. They are surrounded by a dozen Javreh, half with aimed crossbows, and all armed and armored.

Stunned, his thoughts reeling in panic, Xinemus lowered his father’s great sword.

We’re undone…

There are three Scarlet Magi, including the one they spotted. Their leader (Iyokus) admonishes Xinemus and his men while the marshal frantically thinks of a way out. Iyokus revels it was the Chorae that betrayed them since sorcerers can feel them. Sounding defiant, Xinemus demands to know where Achamian is.

“Wrong question, my friend. If I were you, I should rather ask, ‘What have I done?’”

Xinemus felt a flare of righteous anger. “I’m warning you, sorcerer. Surrender Achamian.”

“Warn me?” Droll laughter. The man’s cheeks fluted like fish gills. “Unless you’re speaking o inclement weather, Lord Marshal, I think there’s very little you could warn me about. Your Prince has marched into the wastes of Khemema. I assure you, you’re quite alone here.”

“But I still bear his writ.”

“No, you don’t. You were stripped of your rank and station. But either way, the fact is you trespass, my friend. We Schoolmen look very seriously upon trespass, and care nothing for the writ of Princes.”

Humid dread. Xinemus felt his hackles rise. This had been a fool’s errand.

But my path is righteous…

Iyokus orders them to drop their trinkets. With the crossbows aimed at them, they have no choice. They surrender. Then Iyokus consumes Dinch and Xinemus in sorcerous fires. Xinemus is thrown to his knees by the heat. Their shrieks die, leaving only burning heaps behind.

On his knees, Xinemus stared at the two fires. Without knowing, he’d brought his hands up to cover his ears.

My path…

Xinemus is seized by the Javreh, forced to face Iyokus. He reveals he knows that Xinemus is Achamian’s closest friend. He realizes he’ll be tortured to hurt Achamian and that he has failed his friend again. Iyokus continues, saying Achamian has been telling lies, so they want to know what he has told Xinemus. Then they’ll see if Achamian will surrender the Gnosis. “If he values knowledge over life and love…”

The translucent face paused, as though happening across a delicious thought.

“You’re a pious man, Marshal. You already know what it means to be an instrument of truth, no?”

Yes. He knew.

To suffer.

At the destroyed Library of the Sareots, Achamian’s Wathi Doll escapes the ruins. It had taken weeks for it to find its way free. But now it has a mission. “Someone had spoken its name.”

My Thoughts

Got to love Bakker’s description of the desert, starting off, of course, with something as crass as dung beetles and the mirth they bring.

The Kianene plan is great. They are using the terrain to their advantage. The Carathay has to be crossed. There aren’t enough ships to transport around, and that’s dangerous anyways. And now the Holy War is trapped. They wait until they are seven days in before attacking the Nansur fleet. They can either march back, losing many, or press on, losing more but hoping they will find something, water, hope, the fleet.

Either way, the Kianene benefit.

It’s a brutal decision to save the holy war. To put to death all those camp followers (including those friendly whores Esmenet knew). It is a terrible decision. A horrible one. But they are seven days into the desert. They wouldn’t have made it back to Shigek alive with all those people. The entire Holy War would perish. Morality vanishes when survival is at stake.

Bakker describing the thirst is so powerful, especially the apathy as they near death. Not even caring when they’re being attacked. Their bodies are giving out beneath the desert. Things are so dire. Even though Bakker is writing this part in his remote, historical style, you can still feel the emotion, the stakes of everything. You don’t get insight from any POV characters, but you can imagine how Esmenet, Serwë, Proyas, Cnaiür, and even Conphas are suffering. You wonder how badly is affecting Kellhus. After all, he’s still human. He needs water. Even his will and breeding will give out.

Hi Chepheramunni. Haven’t heard your name in a while. And that’s about to be important. This is very clever on Bakker’s part. He gives us this Ainoni nobleman, Detnammi, as a scout, shows us how humans can be so selfish in survival situation by having him abandon his duty and heading for Subis. This greed only further harms the Holy War. And then Bakker can use Detnammi’s posthumous punishment to remind us about the ceremonial Chepheramunni again without arousing any curious eyebrows. Of course, Chepheramunni would denounce such a traitor. The Holy War’s hope was taken away from them by Detnammi. It hits Bakker’s themes on human behavior and acts as a reminder to readers about a minor character about to have more of an impact on the plot. This is great writing, accomplishing so much with one little plot line.

The God would not be satisfied.” That is a curious line Bakker drops here about Akkeägni and how he’ll now inflict pestilence. It’s such a bleak look at the gods. The Cultic priests seem to have a real good grasp on the gods on how evil they truly are. We see this in the second series with the high priestess of Yatwar (Blanking on her name) and the information Kellhus uncovers venturing into the outside. When Fane called the Gods demons, he was absolutely right.

Marching into the desert with poisoned water is not great. Vomiting and diarrhea just dehydrate you faster, forcing you to drink more befouled water. And yet what choice do you have? You’ll definitely die without it. This is the crucible that shapes the Holy War into the fanatical army that follows Kellhus in the end. This makes brothers out them all.

And more references to the Nail of Heaven. Really want to know what this is and why it’s in a stationary position over the North Pole. There is one reference in the Great Ordeal to it arriving three years ahead of the Inchoroi crashing onto the planet. Is it a satellite? How’d they get it in a stationary position? In real world physics, a satellite can only be in a Geo-stationary orbit over the equator.

Good for Proyas. He is, mostly, a good man, but one forced to do some bad things by politics and his faith.

Then we see Kellhus using this to his advantage, making all these promises about salvation, saying how they will be better than others, flattering their egos and making them more and more fanatical about him.

You can always count on Conphas not to buy Kellhus’s BS.

Losing only 1/3 of their fighting strength after two major battles and the march across the desert in impressive. Of course, the full numbers of the Holy War have lost far more with the death of the camp followers.

More powerful imagery from Bakker on the sandstorm attacking the Holy War. “A new calligraphy of dunes was scrawled about them.”

Love the imagery of the footmen kicking their lords dead horses. I would be pissed, too. Horses need more water a day than a human. Those men had friends that had died because those horses were watered. Bakker always keeps the human in his text.

The horror of the march only mounts. The dehydration, the death. Without shelter from the sun, they’re loosing even more now, baked. Thousands are dying instead of hundreds. They stop thinking, just marching. They’ve truly become animals know, the intellect vanished. Not even Kellhus is speaking. “Gone was the voice of the Warrior-Prophet.” Even bonds of love and family break now.

And, of course, the return of Bakker’s favorite phrase (or a variant): “But only death would come swirling down.

Esmenet finds the sight of Kellhus carrying Serwë triumphant because he is the only one left caring about anyone. As we see in the preceding paragraphs, husbands aren’t helping their wives, and men are abandoning their brothers. It’s all about saving yourself now. The animal has wholly taken over them, but he’s still carrying someone. To Esmenet, it’s an act of love.

A shame Kellhus is doing it for his plans. He needs Serwë. He knows the Circumfix is coming. He needs to have a wife to be killed as part of his test. And he can’t afford for that wife to be Esmenet. He’s saving Serwë’s life now to sacrifice her later.

Javreh come from the Sranc Pits. That sounds interesting. Are the Ainoni capturing Sranc or are the Javreh purchased from slavers that operate on the frontier. There’s a lot of weird stuff with the Ainoni, like the mysterious Chanv.

Humor probably came about in humans because of men hunting in the distant path. In dangerous situations, stalking prey with primitive weapons that forced them to get up close and risk life and limb, demanded human males work together instead of competing. And humor and joking banter is one of the ways that eases the tension, the stress, and breeds camaraderie. We still do it today.

Xinemus’s guilt is driving him to this act of bravery. You can almost feel his desperation. He’s sneaking into the Scarlet Spire’s nest with only two other guys. It’s foolish, he knows it, but he has to do it. He can’t let his friend rot. Xinemus is my favorite character in the series for a lot of reasons, but this is one of them.

Interesting that Bakker turns the Chorae into an instrument of faith, one more important in this moment to Xinemus than his actual symbol of faith. He knows the Chorae works to stop sorcery.

The exhilaration Xinemus feels sneaking through the palace is no doubt a mix of adrenaline and the fact he is growing used to stalking. And it is hard to fear what is familiar. As the fear dwindles, complacency grows, and thus a bold feeling. He’s realized he’s gone this far without getting caught, he’s figured out how to do this, and he has confidence. It’s a trap in situations like this.

And there’s the fear again when the spot the sorcerer. They are reminded of the true stakes. Complacency has fallen away. They all want to flee, but Xinemus is ignoring his survival instinct out of love and guilt for Achamian, and his two men are doing it out of love for Xinemus. This, right here, shows you so much of Xinemus’s character. He has earned these men’s love and loyalty. He didn’t buy it. He didn’t scare it out of them.

Iyokus describes Chorae in the way a scientist will often describe how gravity warps spacetime. That Chorae’s greater weight distorts the sheet of reality more and more.

And Xinemus is struck by such a profound lesson: just because what you are doing is good doesn’t mean you’ll prevail. In another story, Xinemus would find a clever way to escape, to cause a distraction, take down the Javreh, make the sorcerers flee because they have Chorae. But things don’t work like that in this story. Things are, sadly, far too realistic.

The crushing realization hits Xinemus. He has utterly failed. He has gotten his men killed and knows he and Achamian will both suffer for it. This is the last time we see Xinemus as that strong man. In many ways, he dies here but only he keeps living, broken, shattered, debased.

And worse, Bakker shows us Achamian’s true instrument of freedom breaking free of the library and coming to save him. The Wathi Doll. Xinemus could have done nothing and Achamian would have been freed.

Way to twist the knife, Bakker.

Through a tiny mine, whose only ore was the debris of knowledge.” What a sad line to read about the destruction of so much knowledge.

It was a short chapter, but a powerful one, from the suffering of the Holy War to the peril of Xinemus.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Nineteen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Seventeen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 17
Shigek

Welcome to Chapter Seventeen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Sixteen!

In terror, all men throw up their hands and turn aside their faces. Remember, Tratta, always preserve the face! For that is where you are.

THROSEANIS, TRIAMIS IMPERATOR

The Poet will yield up his stylus only when the Geometer can explain how Life can at once be a point and a line. How can all time, all creation, come to the now? Make no mistake: this moment, the instant of this very breath, is a frail thread from which all creation hangs. That men dare to be thoughtless…

TERES ANSANSIUS, THE CITY OF MEN

My Thoughts

Both these quotes are on the importance of the mind, on thinking, one written by the conquering emperor Triamis who puts it in a very physical and literal way by saying how it is our very instinct to protect our brains and that is important. Because our brains, our thoughts, are who we are.

The second is lamenting on how men squander the potential of their mind. And while poets are trying to describe this seeming contradictory that our lives follow a line and yet at the very moment you read this sentence you have the illusion that it is a point. That the present is all that matters. But the future is what comes next, and what you think, what you do, determines what happens. And if you’re not thinking about it, well, it is a thin thread, so easy to snap.

Proyas didn’t think when he sacrificed Achamian. He traded his present view of himself, as righteous, and allowed him to die. And now he learns that Achamian is important to the head of his faith. That if he had truly been a good person, helping his friend even if he were a blasphemer, the man wouldn’t be dead.

Ultimately, this chapter is about having brains and using them to think. Not to just live, not to just have faith in something else and accept what it tells you, but to use the mind that god or evolution or space aliens or whatever you believe in gave you.

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

As Esmenet walks back from laundering clothes, she reflects on the next phase of the Holy War. She knows that the Kianene have killed all the camels before retreating and so far scouts have only found poisoned wells in the desert, hoping to make a barrier out of the desert. But the Great Names plan to march along the coast, using the Imperial Fleet would carry their water, keeping them alive to Enathpaneah. She reflects on Kellhus making a joke about Serwë carrying everything, including his child. His manner is warm, teasing and one “Esmenet had learned to love long ago.”

Esmenet had laughed, at the same time realizing she’d be traveling even farther from Achamian…

She wants to ask Kellhus if there was any news from Xinemus even while fearing what it would be. She doesn’t, knowing Kellhus would have told her. That night, they cook dinner, Kellhus sitting between the two women while he continues teasing Serwë about the upcoming march through the desert. As he does, Kellhus accidentally brushes Esmenet’s breast.

The tingle of inadvertent intimacy. The flush of a body suddenly thick with a wisdom that transcended intellect.

For the remainder of the afternoon, Esmenet found her eyes plagued by a nagging waywardness. Where before her look had confined itself to Kellhus’s face, it now roamed over his entire form. It was as though her eyes had become brokers, intermediaries between his body and her own. When she saw his chest, her breasts tingled with the prospect of being crushed. When she glimpsed his narrow hips and deep buttocks, her inner thighs hummed with expectant warmth. Sometimes her palms literally itched!

Of course, this was madness. Esmenet needed only to catch Serwë’s watchful eyes to recall herself.

That night, while Kellhus is gone and she’s lying down beside Serwë, the pregnant girl says she would share Kellhus. Esmenet becomes nervous while protesting the girl has nothing to fear. No Serwë says she’s not afraid of losing him. “All I want is what he wants.” Esmenet asks if Kellhus wants her, but Serwë laughs that off. She suddenly feels guilty, thinking of Achamian, and says it will never happen.

Kellhus is gone until the next night when he returns with Proyas. Esmenet hates him, and tries to avoid him, knowing he refused to help Achamian and stripped Xinemus of his rank for wanting to. But then she hears him speak and realizes he, too, suffers in grief for Achamian and she feels a kinship with him. “That, she knew, was what Kellhus would say.”

As they eat, Esmenet studies Proyas and Kellhus as they talk, noticing how Proyas acted, the way he deferred and yet remained aloof. She understands why Kellhus doesn’t allow his followers around, knowing Great Names like Proyas would be disturbed. “Those at the centre of the things were always more inflexible, always more invested, than those at the edges.” Kellhus was starting a new center.

During a silence, Esmenet asks after Cnaiür. Proyas says he doesn’t see him much. The barbarian was no longer giving counsel. He even rejected being declared Battle-Celebrant after the victory, Kellhus having given him all the credit of saving the day. Proyas thinks Cnaiür finds it unbearable liking Inrithi. He then leaves. Esmenet feels ashamed for driving off Proyas. She finds shame to be “her characteristic stink.” She apologizes to Kellhus and questions why she is even here. She is polluted and yet is staying with Kellhus. Her whore tattoo permanently marks her. It will never go away. “The seed she could rinse away, but not the sin!” She flees to Achamian’s tent.

Kellhus comes to her tent, and she hates that she hoped he would. She tells him she wished she were dead. “So do many.” Kellhus was always honest and she wishes she could follow. She goes on to say she’s only loved two people, both dead.

“You don’t know my sins, Kellhus. You don’t know the darkness I harbour in my heart.

“Then tell me.”

They talk for hours and she grows calm, emotionless as she tells him about the many men she’s been with. “All of them punishing her for their need.” How it was so monotonous. One man after another. She was first whored out by her father at eleven or twelve, the start of her punishment. And then she turns to her daughter.

And her daughter… How old had she been?

She had thought her father’s thoughts, she explained. Another mouth. Let it feed itself. The monotony had numbed her to the horror, had made degradation a laughable thing. To trade flashing silver for milky seed—the fools. Let Mimara be schooled in the foolishness of men. Clumsy, rutting animals. One need only pay with little patience, mimic their passion, wait, and soon it would be over. In the morning, one could buy food… Food from fools, Mimara. Can’t you see child? Shush. Stop weeping. Look! Food from fools!

Kellhus asks if that was her name, Mimara. And she realizes she could say it to him, but never to Achamian. Then she begins crying. She is hugged to Kellhus’s chest. “They were dead. The only ones she’d ever loved.” When her crying subsides, she realizes her hands on her on his lap and feels him harden. For a moment, everything is silent. Then she jerks her hand away.

Why would she poison a night such as this?

Kellhus shook his head, softly laughed. “Intimacy begets intimacy, Esmi. So long as we remember ourselves, there’s no reason for shame. All of us are frail.”

She looked down to her palms, her wrists. Smiled.”

She thanks him and he leaves. She masturbates afterward, cursing the entire time, until she falls to sleep.

Proyas receives a message from the Shriah. Proyas is truck by how even the scroll-case, covered in tiny Tusks, is a message that this is sermon. He ponders what Maithanet wants before he breaks the seal and reads it. When he sees it’s about his last letter, guilt strikes him. Achamian had begged him to write Maithanet to inquire about Inrau’s “suicide.” It shocked Proyas he had even did it, but he felt kinship with Inrau. “How could he not pity him, a good man, a kind man, hunting fables and wives’ tales to his everlasting damnation.” Proyas never expected a reply, but he was the heir to Conryia.

Shame feels him as he reads for sending such a “trivial” matter to the Shriah. And shame for feeling ashamed of doing Achamian a favor. Maithanet’s letter says that Inrau was a suicide and they believe because of his association with Achamian. Maithanet quotes scripture to reinforce his position that Achamian is to blame. He was still perplexed, and says his response will also baffle Proyas. He explains that since the Holy War has allied with the Scarlet Spire to defeat the Cishaurim, it is important that Proyas assists Achamian, compromising his piety for the greater good like Maithanet did when striking his deal with the Scarlet Spire.

Proyas is stunned, wondering what was so important about Achamian. And then that it was too late to do anything now that Achamian is gone.

I killed him…

And Proyas suddenly realized that he’d used his old teacher as a marker, as a measure of his own piety. What greater evidence could there be of righteousness than the willingness to sacrifice a loved one? Wasn’t this the lesson of Angeshraël on Mount Kinsureah? And what better way to sacrifice a loved one than by hating?

Or delivering him to his enemies…

He thinks of Esmenet’s grief, feeling guilty, and uses anger to deflect. This leads him to pondering sin and how a man’s actions either elevate or condemn him. And Achamian had been a sorcerer. He damned himself, just like Esmenet had by being a whore. He tries to rationalize it’s not his judgment but the Tusk. But the shame doesn’t go away. Doubt creeps in. Doubt had been Achamian’s main lesson.

Doubt, he would say, set men free… Doubt, not truth.

Beliefs were the foundation of actions. Those who believed without doubting, he would say, acted without thinking. And those who acted without thinking were enslaved.

That was what Achamian would say.

Proyas recalls a time when he told Achamian he wanted to be a Shrial knight. Why asked Achamian. Proyas wants to kill heathens. Achamian calls him foolish, asking him how many faiths are there are and condemning him for murdering someone on “the slender hope that yours is somehow the only one?” Proyas is certain his is. Achamian challenges Proyas that it’s not a choice between two faiths but between faith and doubt.

“But doubt is weakness!” Proyas cried. “Faith is strength! Strength!” Never, he was convinced, had he felt so holy as that moment. The sunlight seemed to shine straight through him, to bathe his heart.

“Is it? Have you looked around you, Prosha? Pay attention, boy. Watch and tell me how many men, out of weakness, lapse into the practice of doubt. Listen to those around you, and tell me what you see…”

Proyas did as Achamian asked, watching men from soldiers to priests to ambassadors. And while he saw them hesitate, he never heard them say those three difficult words: I don’t know. Proyas had asked Achamian why they are so hard to say.

“Because men want to murder,” Achamian explained afterward. “Because men want their gold and their glory. Because they want beliefs to answer to their fears, their hatreds, and their hungers.”

Proyas could remember the heart-pounding wonder, the exhilaration of straying…

“Akka?” He took a deep, daring breath. “Are you saying the Tusk lies?”

A look of dread. “I don’t know…”

Those words got Achamian banished from teaching Proyas. Achamian knew it would happen, but did it anyways. Proyas is confused about that, why he would “sacrifice so much for so few words.” And then he realizes why. Achamian thought it worth the cost to teach Proyas this lesson because he loved Proyas. He loved Proyas enough to lose his position and reputation. “Achamian had given without hope of reward.” To make Proyas free.

And Proyas had given him away, thinking only of rewards.

The thought was too much to bear.

He tries to rationalize it, saying he did it for Shimeh and the Holy War. But the letter from Maithanet makes that much harder. The Shriah wants him supported. And then he remembers Achamian arguing that the Holy War wasn’t what it seemed. Something that now concerned the shriah. Proyas wonders if it has to do with Kellhus. He had meant to write the Shriah about him, but couldn’t He wasn’t sure if fear or hope caused him to wait. But Proyas finds it ridiculous that the Holy War for the Latter Prophet would birth the “Latter Latter Prophet.” So Proyas thinks it must be something else. “Something the Shriah thought beyond his [Proyas] tolerance of his ken.”

Could it be the Consult?

Proyas remembers a conversation with Achamian at Momemn where he talked about the intensity of his dreams, that something was happening. Proyas finds it absurd, reasoning that if the Mandate couldn’t find the Consult, how could the Shriah. He turns his thoughts to the Scarlet Spire, knowing Achamian was watching them. He grows frantic, pulling at his hair, demanding to know why.

Why couldn’t this one thing be pure? Why must everything holy—everything!—be riddled by tawdry and despicable intent.

He sat very still, drawing breath after shuddering breath. He imagined drawing his sword, slashing and hacking wildly through his chambers, howling and shrieking… Then he collected himself to the beat of his own pulse.

Nothing pure… Love transformed into betrayal. Prayers bent into accusations.

This was Maithanet’s point, wasn’t it? The holy followed upon the wicked.

Proyas realizes he isn’t the moral leader of the Holy War. He’s just another piece on the benjuka plate and he doesn’t know the rules. He doesn’t know anything. Despite the recent victory, he feels so weak.

Tired, wanting to rest, he instead composes a reply to the Shriah. Tomorrow, the Holy War marched into the desert. He feels like a boy as rights, remembering good times as Achamian’s student. He cries as he completes the first sentence of his “baffled reply”

…but it would seem, Your Eminence, that Drusas Achamian is dead.

Kellhus watches Esmenet as the camp prepares to arch into the Khemema Desert. With Kellhus are his fourteen senior Zaudunyani (the Tribe of Truth, his followers) to remind them of their purpose as they set out on their mission. “Beliefs alone didn’t control the actions of men. There were also desire, and these men, his apostles, must shine with that desire.” Esmenet knows he watches, laughing with two of the Zaudunyani.

He watches everyone, each “a riotous font of significance.” He sees Ottma fumbling before Serwë’s beauty, Ulnarta’s faint racism to black-skinned Tshuma, the way three others defer to Werjau. He notes how Werjau asserts his dominance over the others.

Kellhus calls out Werjau, asking to what he sees in his heart. Werjau answers joy while Kellhus knows he “sees, and he doesn’t see.” Then Kellhus asks what them what he sees. Werjau looks down. A Galeoth answered with Pride. Kellhus then makes a joke to cut through the anxiety and relax them with laughter. Kellhus would not let Werjau, or others, posture in the group. Kellhus knows they enjoy his presence because “the weight of sin was found in secrecy and condemnation.” By stripping that away, taking away their self-deception and shame, they “felt greater in his presence, both pure and chose.”

Kellhus flashes back to his training in Ishuäl with Pragma Meigon. They are deep beneath Ishuäl within the Thousand Thousand Halls. The room is exceedingly well lit, the only place in the labyrinth that is, and it is full of shackled men, each naked and bound to boards in a circle, the skin flayed from their faces to reveal their muscle structure. This is the Unmasking Room.

Kellhus is feeling fear despite Meigon reassuring him they’re harmless. He asks what they are. Exemplary defectives retained for the “purpose of education” for young Dûnyain. He leads Kellhus to one, telling him to study and memorize their faces, then draw them. He explains how the face has forty-four muscles that work together to produce every “permutation of passion.” Each figure shows different emotions, using neuropuncture to keep them locked in their expressions. Something the Dûnyain learned centuries ago.

“Neuropuncture,” the Pragma continued, “made possible the rehabilitation of defectives for instructional purpose. The specimen before you, for instance, always displays fear at a base-remove of two.”

“Horror?” Kellhus asked.

“Precisely.”

Kellhus felt the childishness of his own horror fade in understanding. He looked to either side, saw the specimens curving out of sight, rows of white eyes set in shining red musculatures. They were only defectives—nothing more. He returned his gaze to the man before him, to fear base-removed two, and committed what he saw to memory. Then he moved on to the next gasping skein of muscles.

“Good,” Pragma Meigon had said from his periphery. “Very good.”

Back in the present, Kellhus studies Esmenet and “peeled away her face with the hooks of his gaze.” He notes how she has twice found excuses to walk to her tent and draw his attention. She keeps glancing at him, making sure he’s watching her. Though they hadn’t had sex yet, Kellhus knows she wanted him and wooed him. “And she knew it not.”

For all her native gifts, Esmenet remained a world-born woman. And for all world-born men and women, two souls shared the same body, face, and eyes. The animal and the intellect. Everyone was two.

Defective.

One Esmenet had already renounced Drusas Achamian. The other would soon follow.

The next morning, Esmenet watches the Holy War march into the desert on a rise. She stands beside Serwë. The host of soldiers and camp followers stretches out of her sight. She looks to Shigek and says goodbye to Achamian in her thoughts. Then she strikes out, walking among the strangers, ignoring Kellhus calling after. She ignores the looks and muttered words, the men who see her as a whore. “She sweat and suffered and somehow knew it was only the beginning.”

She rejoins Kellhus and Serwë that evening around a meager fire. Kellhus asks about her walk, and she immediately feels shame and apologizes. But he says she doesn’t have to, she’s free to walk where she wants. Then asks again.

“Men,” she said leadenly. “Too many men.”

“And you call yourself a harlot,” Kellhus said, grinning.

Esmenet continued staring at her dusty feet. A shy smile stole across her face.

“Things change…”

Kellhus then asks her why “God holds men higher than women?” She shrugs, women are in men’s shadows who are in Gods’ shadows. He asks her if she thinks that. She replies, Some men, indicating Kellhus. She then realizes only Kellhus. She never stood in anyone else’s, not even Achamian. So Kellhus asks her if all men are overshadowed, why is she less than a man? She laughs, certain he plays a game and says that’s just how it is everywhere. “Women serve men.” She then says most women are simple, like Serwë while more men are educated. Wise.

“And is this because men are more than women?”

Esmenet stared at him, dumbfounded.

“Or is it,” he continued, “because men are granted more than women in this world?”

She stared, her thoughts spinning. She breathed deeply, set her palms carefully upon her knees. “You’re saying women are…are actually equal?”

Kellhus asks why men pay gold to have sex with women. She answers out of lust. Kellhus then says is it legal. She says no, but they can’t help themselves. Kellhus responds that they have no control over their desires and she makes a joke about being a “well-fed harlot” to prove him right. He then asks why men herd cattle. She’s confused and begins answering so they can slaughter them and then she realizes what he is saying.

“Men,” Kellhus said, “cannot dominate their hungers, so they dominate, domesticate, the objects of their hunger. Be it cattle…”

“Or women,” she said breathlessly.

The air prickled with understanding.

He then sites the example of a tributary race, like Serwë’s, speaking the language of their conquers just like women speak the language of men. This is why Esmenet fears growing old, because she sees herself as men see her. It’s why she preens and postures, molds herself to please men. She becomes so motionless as she listens to him talk about how she has degraded herself to please men, how she does things for coins. How the fact she knows she’s damned, that she has no dignity, lets her keep doing these acts. He asks, “What love lies beyond sacrifice?” She’s crying now.

“You speak the tongue of your conquerors…” Kellhus whispered. “You say, Mimara, come with me child.”

A shiver passed through her, as though she were a drumskin…

“And you take her…”

“She’s dead!” some woman cried. “She’s dead!”

“To the slavers in the harbour…”

Stop!” the woman hissed. “I say no!”

Gasping, like knives.

“And you sell her.”

Esmenet tells Kellhus everything as he holds her, how a famine had swept through Sumna, how she was so hungry that she was giving men blowjobs just to eat their seed. How she came to hate her daughter, “the filthy little bitch,” who cried and begged for food, sending Esmenet out into the street “all because of love.” And how the slavers were growing fat and the coins she received. Coins that lasted less than a week. She weeps in his arms, in his absolution.

“You are forgiven, Esmenet.”

Who are you to forgive?

“Mimara.”

She wakes up confused, lying beside Kellhus. She’s conflicted about that, part of her guilty part of her excited though she reminds herself they didn’t have sex. She only cried. For a while, she lies beside him, feeling his heartbeat. He wakes up and they feel the intimacy growing. Serwë sleeps beside them, and Kellhus tells Esmenet to be quiet so not to wake her. Then he’s on her, his hand sliding up her thighs, and she exults that finally he was taking her.

No one would call her harlot any more.

My Thoughts

What does Esmenet fear learning from Xinemus now? That Achamian is dead, or that he is alive and she’s been moving on, abandoning him? That she’s beginning to love again.

Notice the power of a simple “accidental” touch on behalf of Kellhus, bringing Esmenet one step closer to her seduction. First he was a prophet, then he was her friend, and now he’s a prospective lover. All done by his friendly banter, his comforting presence, and his constant presence around her.

We see more of Esmenet’s intelligence as she dissects the interaction between Kellhus and Proyas. She has picked up on a lot of Kellhus’s teachings about human behavior and is using them, understanding the political dynamics that what Kellhus has begun, being a prophet, will eventually lead to a problems with those at the current “center” of everything.

Kellhus gives Cnaiür credit for figuring out the trap. He can’t let Cnaiür’s skill as a tactician get undermined. He needs to keep him propped up for now. Kellhus has risen along with Cnaiür, and Proyas, Kellhus’s best ally, has sponsored them both, become their patrons. If Cnaiür is embarrassed or shown to have failed, it would look poorly on Proyas and thus Kellhus.

Poor Esmenet. While shame can be a good motivator when there’s cause, when you’ve done something wrong, she hasn’t. She’s just been told that what she’s done to survive is wrong while the men who pay her are absolved. They’re not condemned, just her. And it is to Achamian’s tent she flees. Someone else who is a sinner that cannot be absolved.

It’s sad she finds Kellhus always honest.

When Esmenet talks about how she whored her own daughter out, the way her father had done to her, is one of the most heartbreaking things in the world. How she had rationalized it. How years of being a whore had so degraded her that she no longer felt the horror her daughter did. How she’s so pragmatic about it. “Food from fools.” And now the guilt, combined with the other thing she did with her daughter. She knows it was wrong in the wake of her daughter’s “death.” How it eats at her.

The irony of Esmenet saying all those she loved are dead is that neither Achamian or Mimara are dead.

And notice how Kellhus uses this moment of comfort to add another bit to his seduction, creating that deep intimacy between them then taking advantage of her absent movement to bring the physical, the sexual, to the front.

Maithanet is good at manipulating with a scroll-case.

Proyas is such an interesting character. His faith has warped him, forcing him to destroy his relationship with Achamian even as he doesn’t want to. He loves Achamian, truly, but he also fears for his own soul. Too much virtue is itself a vice. (I’m paraphrasing a quote from someone here, can’t remember who.) And Proyas displays that with his piety causing destructive problems.

Notice how Proyas feels guilty for causing Esmenet grief then immediately rationalizes it away with that emphatic “She’s just a whore!” Using his piety to shift his guilt away, to alleviate his own pain. Very common thing for humans to do. But then he runs smack into Achamian being a sorcerer and uses that same reason justify sacrificing him, which he is now learning was a bad call.

Doubt, skepticism, is very important. This is why science uses the peer-review process to evaluate discovery. Any properly motivated researcher can find the facts to support his goal. You need someone who is properly motivated in disproving (doubting) the result to discover whether or not real truth was uncovered or just results that flattered the researcher’s own bias. Truth without doubt leads to orthodoxy. It leads to religion, even if it’s not called that.

Wonder what happened to Proyas’s older brother? He must have died to make Proyas the heir.

Faith untempered by doubt is a very dangerous thing. And it doesn’t have to be faith in a religion, but faith in a political belief, in a scientific truth, faith in a perspective on power dynamics in society. Any of those are dangerous and destructive. We have brains. Use them.

The recollection Proyas has with Achamian talking about doubt is amazing. Such truth found in there. Confirmation bias is ingrained in all of us. We cherry-pick everything in our lives to conform with our own beliefs. And thanks to social media, it’s getting worse. When you can block people whom you disagree with, when you can only visit blogs or follow people on twitter that believe what you do, then you don’t even hear those contradictory statements. You can curate the information you receive to prop up your beliefs, to receive the answers you want instead of the truth.

Proyas has got some nice line of reasoning on Maithanet’s support for Achamian. What else could it be but the Consult? But why would the Shriah believe in the Consult. Everyone in the Three Seas are sure they are gone. How could he know?

How did Maithanet know about the Scarlet Spires secret war with the Cishaurim? Maithanet lurks in the background for so much of the books, with little hints and clues sprinkled here and there, a great mystery that quickly is forgotten because more immediate things are happening in the book. It’s well done. It all makes sense when you learn the truth, and that’s important with mysteries. They have to hold up to scrutiny or they’re a cheat.

Why can’t anything be pure, Proyas? Because the actions of humans are involved.

Proyas was so close to the truth, and then he just couldn’t believe it. He had to go with something familiar, something that confirmed to his own beliefs on how the world worked, and rejects the Consult idea.

It’s sad watching Proyas grapple with the grief and guilt of his part in Achamian’s death. His illusions are shattered. He knows he’s not a moral person like he always believed. Achamian had given without hope of reward, Proyas had done the opposite. He took to get his reward.

So we see the Zaudunyani know. They have a name. A shared purpose. The start of Kellhus’s cult and his temporal power.

Werjau… His first mention. Remember this asshole for later. Not how he’s the one that some of the others are already deferring to. Bakker is setting him up to be a leader in the Zaudunyani right from the beginning. Note how Kellhus doesn’t want Werjau posturing, but we’ll see he never quite learns that lesson. Something Kellhus will lament. If he’s not on top of people, they backslide.

It is, perhaps, Kellhus greatest weakness. He doesn’t have the time to micromanage everyone.

We get our first taste of the true horror of the Dûnyain next in the Unmasking Room. Such a mundane place for such a horrific spot. Here we see those Dûnyain who didn’t succeed, lobotomized and kept alive to let students study facial expressions. We’ll learn more Dûnyain horrors (whale mothers) in later books. This is a brutal illustration that the Dûnyain purpose is dehumanization, to strip out emotions, to make “men” devoid of passions.

And then how Kellhus puts aside his own “childish” horror (because feeling emotions is childish for the Dûnyain) and understands. This is his fate if he can’t learn to control his passions. So he does. He rationalizes that the man is defective, therefore worthless, and his emotions fade. He’s turned a human being into an object.

And then he peels back Esmenet’s face, seeing her as nothing more than those tortured men he studied as a child. Defective. But a defective he needs. One he needs to seduce. One he can “rehabilitate” to a new purpose. And already the “animal” part of her is eager for the seduction. Now her intellect just had to abandon her love for Achamian and surrender to Kellhus.

Last time Esmenet stared at the Holy War, Achamian was with her. And now she admits it. He’s gone. She has to move on, literally and figuratively. She’s hit acceptance in the grieving process.

For anyone who thinks Bakker is not a feminist or is a misogynist should read Kellhus comments about men domesticating women like they have cattle. Kellhus often speaks Bakker’s own beliefs. Bakker, frankly, is more of a misandrist than he is a misogynist. He has a low opinion of men. We all mold ourselves to please those around us. Women make themselves look beautiful to attract a mate while men work for status and power for the same reason—women are valued for the beauty, men for their wealth. Kellhus is leaving that part out either on purpose, to aid in his molding of Esmenet, or because Bakker is espousing his own beliefs here.

That revelation that Mimara didn’t die of a disease, but that Esmenet sold her to the slaves while they were both starving is heartbreaking. Starving people start to lose compassion. They become driven to do things they would never do while fed. They abandon people. Their survival instincts kick in, driving them to do what it takes to live. And it gets harder and harder to fight that selfishness. And then you’ll do something you can never forgive yourself for.

If you’ve ever hard of Grave of the Fireflies, original a novel and then made into a movie by Studio Ghibli, it’s a true story about a brother and sister, just children, orphaned in Japan by World War II. At the end of the war, they are living with an abusive aunt. They runaway and live in the woods. At first, they’re happy. But soon the starvation sets in. The older brother, who is maybe 10, tries hard to keep them alive. But, first the sister dies and then he dies. Or that’s how the novel goes. In the real story, the brother lived. And the guilt he felt for getting them in this mess, for not saving his sister when they were starving and for living when she died, compelled him to write their story and symbolically kill himself by having his own character die.

Esmenet wakes up feeling guilty and excited for lying next to Kellhus, the last vestige of her relationship with Achamian and her excitement to start a new one. If Achamian were truly dead, this would be healthy. But he’s not, and it’s only been a few weeks. On top of that, she’s being manipulated. So it’s really the opposite.

Then it happens. Kellhus makes his move. He has welded an intimacy between them, he has guided her through the process of grieving for Achamian, making room for her to love another, and then he takes advantage of her. And as she has sex with him, she think she won’t be a harlot ever again. That he sees her as an equal. That she doesn’t have to be his whore.

Instead, she’s his broodmare. As we see in his POV, she is defective. But good thing you can find a use for defectives. He’s rehabilitating her.

This is a powerful chapter, from seeing Esmenet’s true guilt, the thing that has haunted her all this time, revealed. How her guilt for Mimara has made her feel motherly towards Serwë even as she fought her own jealousy towards the girl’s beauty. And even though Esmenet did this monstrous thing, you understand why. That desperation. That horrible circumstances. “Let her feed herself.” How many parents have thought similar thoughts, when angry, when tired, when weary but still having to attend to their children. Those small, dark flashes that pop up in all of us. None of us, I’d dare say, have been as starving as Esmenet.

And the sad part, Kellhus using it to seduce her. Even forgiving her in Mimara’s name. And, for those who’ve read the next series, you know Mimara has not forgiven.

And with that, we’re done with the Holy War’s second march. The third, and hardest, march is before it. The desert awaits. That’s a very symbolic place, the desert. A place where men are transformed into prophets in our own mythologies.

Click here for Chapter Eighteen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Sixteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 16
Shigek

Welcome to Chapter Sixteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Fifteen!

Men never resemble one another so much as when asleep or dead.

OPPARITHA, ON THE CARNAL

The arrogance of the Inrithi waxed bright in the days following Anwurat. Though the sober-minded demanded they press the attack, the great majority clamored for respite. They thought the Fanim doomed, just as they thought them doomed after Mengedda. But while the Men of the Tusk tarried, the Padirajah plotted. He would make the world his shield.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

The first quote is talking about the equalization that death brings. Because all men must die. And what is sleep, but the dress rehearsal? The surrendering to the darkness? In sleep, as Esmenet notes as she gazes on Serwë, the real person comes out. And that real person is the same flawed human being as everyone else. Equals in sleep and in death.

First, this quote reminds us that Achamian isn’t dead. He’s still in this story. He must be because he survived to write about these events. The next is just a commentary on humans (and the readers) who like to see things in simple terms. We conquered the Fanim. They must be crushed this time. But they’re not. They’re still plotting. Just remember that in these days of partisan politics, one side declaring victory forever over the other. It’s never that simple.

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

Achamian suffers the dreams of Seswatha’s life. He is before the gates of Golgotterath, armies of Sranc and Bashrag drawn up before it. He thinks it is about to yield, to be defeated. A horn is sound. The Sranc attack like “a tide of spiders.” They clash against the armies of the Northern Norsirai, the might of High Kûniüri accompanied by Nonmen from Ishterebinth. Seswatha is certain of their victory.

Achamian would relive all eighteen years of that delusion.

Dreams drawn from the knife’s sheath.

And when he awakened, to the sound of harsh shouts or the patter of cold water across his face, it would seem that one horror had merely replaced another. He would blink against torchlight, would dully note the bite of chains, a mouth stuffed with rank cloth, and the dark, scarlet-robed figures that surrounded him. And he would think, before succumbing to the Dreams once gain, It comes… the Apocalypse comes…

Iyokus and Eleäzaras stand around him, talking about how easy it is to render men so helpless. Iyokus points out so can schools, which brings a sharp question from Eleäzaras. They notice Achamian watching them and Iyokus says he needs time to recover before questioning can begin again.

Esmenet cries when she sees Kellhus and Serwë, both haggard, approach her. She runs towards Kellhus, hugging and kissing him. She sobs that she is going mad, but he says it is only grief. Kellhus “seemed a pillar of comfort.” Then she hugs a crying Serwë, who she has missed her.

Esmenet regarded the girl with sorrow. Her left eye was bruised black and cherry and an angry red cut poked from beneath her hairline. Even if Esmenet had the heart—and she had none—she would wait for Serwë to explain what had happened. With such marks, asking demanded lies, and silence afforded truth. That was the lot of women—especially when they were wanton.

Serwë appears healthy beside that, and Esmenet has many questions about how her pregnancy is progressing. She remembers her own “joyous terror” at being pregnant. Esmenet says Serwë must be hungry, which she denies which only makes Esmenet and Kellhus laugh—she was always hungry these days “as a pregnant woman should be.”

For a moment, Esmenet felt the old sunshine flash from her eyes.

Esmenet is happy to see them, missing them as she mourns Achamian. Kellhus notes that she is at the same fire in Shigek as when the army left. Serwë realizes it, shocked. Esmenet is silent, feeding the fire, which she had been obsessed over.

She could feel Kellhus’s gentle scrutiny.

“Some hearths can’t be rekindled,” he said.

“It burns well enough,” Esmenet murmured. She blinked tears, sniffled and wiped at her nose.

“But what makes a hearth, Esmi? Is it the fire, or the family that keeps it?”

“The family,” she finally said. A strange blankness had overcome her.

Kellhus says that he and Serwë are that family. She protests she has to say here and wait. He repeats that “we are that home.” And that ended it.

Over dinner, Kellhus talks about the events of the last week. She finds herself lost in his story about the battle. She is struck by how this great prophet could concern himself with a whore. She smiles, which makes Kellhus happy. He finishes the story and everyone falls silent. She stares at the sky, frightened by its “murderous indifference.” Her thoughts turn to Achamian. Kellhus has heard from Xinemus who still searches.

“So there’s hope?” [asked Esmenet.]

“There is always hope,” he said in a voice that at once encouraged and deadened her heart. “We can only wait and see what he finds.”

Esmenet couldn’t speak. She glanced at Serwë, but the girl avoided her eyes.

They think he’s dead.

She has tried not to hope, but she can’t think him dead. She struggles with it and Kellhus changes the subject, offering to teach her how to read. That makes her cry because it is the one thing she has always wanted to do.

Achamian transitions from dreaming of Seswatha’s torture at Dagliash into his present torment at the hands of the Scarlet Spire. The face of Mekeritrig becomes Eleäzaras, disorienting him. Eleäzaras is happy Achamian is conscious and aware. They feared they killed him. Eleäzaras laments the Library’s destruction.

Achamian realizes he is naked and chained, suspended in the air by his wrists to the ceiling and ankles to the floor. It is at that moment, he realizes that he is dead, the Scarlet Spire has captured him. He pisses and shits himself, which only makes Eleäzaras laugh and quip. The laughter from the others is uneasy. Achamian panics and fights against his chains, thinking about Esmenet.

Eleäzaras laments that “there is too much certainty here.” Achamian knows he’ll be tortured for the Gnosis, and Eleäzaras knows that he won’t surrender it and will rather die. “We’ll be left with yet another useless Mandate corpse.”

Achamian knows it is true. It is his duty to die to protect the Gnosis. The Angogic Schools, like the Scarlet Spire, were never tutored by the Nonmen Quya, so don’t know the more powerful Abstractions, but only the weaker Analogies. Achamian remembers he is stronger, a philosopher while they were merely poets. “I will see you burn!” he promises.

Eleäzaras says this time is different. Events are tumultuous. To prove his point, he removes Achamian’s gag and let him speak without using Compulsion. He does point out the Uroborian Circle drawn around Achamian. It will keep any sorcery from being cast in it by causing pain. Achamian has seen it, too. “The Scarlet Spires, it seemed, possessed many potent poetic devices.” Achamian asks where they are. They are still in Iothiah before. Then he studies the Uroborian Circle.

It didn’t seem a matter of courage, only a giddy instant of disconnection, a willful ignorance of the consequences.

He said two words.

Agony.

Achamian shits himself again as agony shots through him. His blood burns. And then passes out into Seswatha’s nightmares.

Eleäzaras stares at Achamian and though he’s naked, chained, and unconscious, finds him threatening. Iyokus calls Achamian stubborn, implying it was to be expected. Eleäzaras agrees, angry at the delay. And though he would love to have the Gnosis, he needed to know the truth of the Cishaurim skin-spy and Achamian’s connection to them. Worse, because of Achamian, the Scarlet Spire had lost their advantage in numbers gained after the Cishaurim’s casualties at Mengedda. He killed two and then six more fell at Anwurat. It was because of Proyas’s threat of avenging Achamian that Eleäzaras had sent in his sorcerers. He can’t afford to bleed his school.

Eleäzaras can’t help but remember fighting Achamian, lusting for the Gnosis and hating the Mandate for hoarding it. Once he had information on the Cishaurim, he would have Achamian tortured for the Gnosis. Maybe it would work this time, a gamble as significant as destroying the Cishaurim.

That, Eleäzaras decided, was Iyokus’s problem. He could not fathom the fact that certain rewards made even the most desperate gambles worthwhile. He knew nothing of hope.

Chanv addicts never seemed to know anything of hope.

Esmenet crosses the river with Serwë, both sharing a saddle on the same horse. Esmenet is impressed by Serwë’s horsemanship, but she shrugs and says she’s Cepaloran. “She’d been born astride a saddle.” Esmenet bitterly thinks it means born with her legs spread wide. On the other side, she peers across the river and realizes she won’t return, the river is a barrier even though she can swim. Kellhus tells her “The world looks south.”

They return to the Conryian cap and she’s shocked to find Kellhus accepting people calling him the Warrior Prophet. Serwë finds it wonderful, and so does she. He is the Warrior Prophet. She suddenly feels jealous that Serwë is Kellhus’s woman, not her. She instantly feels shame for those thoughts, reminding her Kellhus is helping her for Achamian’s sake.

Esmenet had told herself she feared returning because it would stir too many recollections. But losing those recollections was what she truly feared. Her refusal to leave their old camp had somehow rash, desperate, pathetic… Kellhus had shown her that. But remaining had fortified her somehow—or so it seemed when she thought about it. There was the clutching sense of defensiveness, the certainty that she must protect Achamian’s surroundings. She’d even refused to touch the chipped clay bowl he’d used for his tea that final morning. By describing his absence in such heartbreaking detail, such things had become, it seemed to her, fetishes, charms that would secure his return. And there was the sense of desolate pride. Everyone had fled, but she remained—she remained! She would look across the abandoned fields, at the firepits becoming earthen, at the paths scuffed through the grasses, and all the world would seem a ghost. Only her loss would seem real… Only Achamian. Wasn’t there some glory, some grace in that?

Now she moved on even though it means abandoning Achamian. That makes her cry as she pitches his tent next to Kellhus’s much larger pavilion. She feared things would be awkward, but Kellhus is to generous and Serwë innocent for that. She is welcomed. They make her laugh or share her sorrow. Serwë bounces between obliviousness that Esmenet is grieving to being devastated that Achamian is gone. Partly it’s her pregnancy causing mood sings, but it also makes Esmenet wonder if Serwë and Achamian were together more than that one night. It makes her bitter towards Serwë, which makes her feel guilty thinking Achamian would be disappointed in her. She can’t sleep remembering things she said to Serwë.

On her third night, she’s awoken by a crying Serwë and, feeling like a tired mother, hugs her. Serwë begs Esmenet not to steal Kellhus from her. She says Esmenet is so beautiful and smart. She can’t speak to him like Esmenet can. Esmenet protests that she loves Achamian and she has nothing to fear.

Esmenet had thought herself sincere, but afterward, as she nestled against Serwë’s slender back, she found herself exulting in the thought of Serwë’s fear. She curled the girl’s blond hair between her fingers, thinking of the way Serwë had swept it across Achamian’s chest… How easy, she thought, would it yank from her scalp?

Why did you lie with Akka? Why?

Guilt hits her the next morning, remembering a proverb: “Hatred was a rapacious houseguest, and lingered only in hearts fat with pride.” But her heart is thin. Esmenet watches Serwë sleep, so innocent and beautiful. She realizes that in sleep she saw Serwë’s true face. And her vulnerability. “The sleeping throat was easily cut,” according to a Nilnameshi proverb.

Was this not love? To be watched while you slept…

She was crying when Serwë awoke. She watched the girl blink, focus, and frown.

“Why?” Serwë asked.

Esmenet smiled. “Because you’re so beautiful,” she said. “So perfect.”

This makes Serwë happy and the pair start laughing and joking while Kellhus shakes his head “as perhaps a man should.” Now Esmenet treats Serwë nicer, their friendship deepening even as she wonders what Kellhus sees in Serwë. It had to be more than her great beauty because he saw “hearts, not skin.” And Serwë’s heart seems flawed.

But now Esmenet wondered whether these very flaws held the secret of her [Serwë’s] heart’s perfection. For she’d glimpsed that perfection while watching her sleep. For an instant, she’d glimpsed what only Kellhus could see. The beauty of frailty. The splendour of imperfection.

She had witnessed, she realized. Witnessed truth.

Kellhus acknowledges her insight without words. Later, he helps her with her reading. He gave her The Chronicle of the Tusk as a primer. Holding it filled her with dread. She could feel her own judgment. She told him she doesn’t want to read a book that condemns her and calls her filthy. He responds with “What does it say, Esmi.” So she struggles to read it.

That night, she falls asleep without crying for Achamian. She wakes up alert and too early, moonlight flooding through her open tent. Then she realizes Sarcellus is lying beside her. She is surprisingly calm, wondering how long he had been watching her. He asks her if she ever told Achamian and she says no. She asks what you want, which is her. He then tells her Kellhus is a fraud. At that moment, she realizes she meant nothing to Sarcellus, she was just a thing and not his lover. It hits her hard as fear grows in her. She orders him to leave. But he says he has gold. She says she’ll scream.

He clamps a hand over her mouth and places a knife at her throat. He warns her that just like Achamian has died, so to will the prophet. He asks whom she will bed next for food, calling her an old whore. Out of fear, she pisses herself, crying. He only mocks her for it.

Sarcellus smirked, removed his hand.

She shrieked, screamed until it seemed her throat must bleed.

Then Kellhus is holding her and takes her to the fire. She explains what happened while crying. The commotion dies down while Kellhus says he’ll complain to Gotian but doubts anything will happen. He was a Knight-Commander “and she was just a dead sorcerer’s whore.” Esmenet feels so week and pathetic, wondering how that happened, then gets angry at Achamian for leaving her.

In her tent, Kellhus promises Sarcellus won’t return. It’s here that she confesses that she lied to Akka about what happened to her in Sumna, how the Consult came to her and that she knew Inrau hadn’t killed him. And now she can’t tell him. Kellhus asks what this has to do with Sarcellus and she doesn’t know. Kellhus explains that she thought she loved Kellhus, even compared him to Achamian.

“I was a fool!” she cried. “A fool!” How could she be such a fool?

No man is your equal, love! No man!

“Achamian was weak,” Kellhus said.

“But I loved him for those weaknesses! Don’t you see? That’s why I loved him!”

I loved him in truth!

“And that’s why you could never go to him… To go to him while you shared Sarcellus’s bed would be to accuse him of those very weaknesses he couldn’t bear. So you stayed away, fooled yourself into thinking you searched for him when you were hiding all the while.”

She asks how he knows this. Because no matter how much she lies to herself, she knows the truth. It’s why she hid the truth from Achamian, because you feared he would hate you. She feels so dirty, and knowing Kellhus sees it feels her with shame. She tells him not to look at her. But he does and “it fills me with wonder.” Those words stilled her. He leaves her, but she can still feel his touch.

The next evening, Esmenet is reading from The Chronicle of the Tusk while Kellhus cooks in her place. She was reading the old “Tusk Laws,” many replaced by the Latter Prophet, when she comes across a difficult word. She sounds it out and realizes it is whore. “Suffer not a whore to live, for she maketh a pit of her womb.” Anger surges through her as she spits the verse at Kellhus.

Kellhus gazed back, utterly unsurprised.

He’s been waiting for me to reach this passage. All along…

Give me the book,” he said, his tone unreadable.

She does. And with his knife, he scraps away the ink of the passage. Esmenet is stunned, barely able to understand what he had done. Then he hands it back, asking if it were better “as though he’d just scraped mould from bread.” She can’t touch the book now, saying he couldn’t do that. It’s holy scripture. It’s the Tusk.

“I know. The warrant of your damnation.”

Esmenet gawked like a fool. “But…”

Kellhus scowled and shook his head, as though astonished she could be so dense.

“Just who, Esmi, do you think I am?”

Serwë chirped with laughter, even clapped her hands.

“Wh-who?” Esmenet stammered. It was the most she could manage. Other than in rare anger or jest, she’d never heard Kellhus speak with…with such presumption.

“Yes,” Kellhus repeated, “who?” His voice seemed satin thunder. He looked as eternal as a circle.

Then Esmenet glimpsed it: the shining gold about his hands… Without thinking, she rolled to her knees before him, pressed her face into the dust.

Serwë’s hiccups and Kellhus laughing draws her up and tells her it is time for dinner. But she is still shaken. She realizes that everything now comes from him. That he is everything, everywhere. A god. And then it hits her what he had done. He had freed her from damnation. He had redeemed her.

He scraped the passage clean!

Then she thought of Achamian.

Cnaiür is wondering through the alleys of Heppa haunted by the voices of his people accusing him of being a weeper. A faggot. A Galeoth spots him, saying he is the first disciple of the Warrior-Prophet. He doesn’t know who the man is talking about. Cnaiür has forgotten about the Dûnyain. Flashes of his seduction at Moënghus’s hands shake through him. He reminds himself he is of the people even while wondering how he ended up where he was. Memories assault him. He is a child running from his father’s hut holding something broken he tries to put back together.

Someone. He was forgetting to hate someone.

My Thoughts

In Achamian’s dream of the Great Ordeal, notice how Seswatha thinks Golgotterath is about to yield, the Consult’s defeat at hand. That same arrogance that the Inrithi felt after Anwurat and Mengedda.

The eighteen years of delusion was how long the Great Ordeal (the original, and not the one in the sequel series) besieged Golgotterath before the No-God was unleashed.

Sad quote about being abused from Esmenet. She suspects that Kellhus must have beaten her, for being wanton, implying that Kellhus must have found out that Serwë had seduced Achamian months back. There is no outrage from Esmenet, just acceptance.

We see Kellhus’s seduction of Esmenet begin. First by convincing her that he and Serwë are her family, too, and that she should be with them. Then he begins to undermine her hope in seeing Achamian alive, convincing her he is lost, dead, so she’ll let go of him. All under the guise of a comforting friend. But Kellhus needs her intelligence. He has plans forming, plans that go beyond killing his father.

Achamian, you could have really made her happy by teaching her to read.

Then we caught to Achamian’s interrogation. Brilliant transition from the torment of the Consult against Seswatha into what he knows he’ll face here. Of course he panics. Anyone would.

I do love how Bakker uses language to explain the differences in sorcery. The Angogic Sorcerers can’t just make something burn, they need to summon a flame first. But the Gnosis understand the essence of something, can conjure it in abstraction, and just immolate you. There’s an interesting analogy, poets versus philosopher. A poet seeks to describe emotions, to conjure its effects in his reader while the philosopher seeks to understand the very existence of the emotion, its essence.

We see our first indication that magic can be drawn to cause effect. I imagine an Uroborian Circle has some connection with the branch of sorcery that creates the Chorae, the Aporos.

I love Achamian testing the circle. It’s like, fuck it, might as well try. It’s going to suck. Let’s get it over with. Because, maybe, they didn’t do it right.

Oh, Eleäzaras. Maybe you should have cut your loses with Achamian and given him back to Proyas. Eight dead so far because of this mad plan of yours. But Eleäzaras is under a great deal of stress. He’s one of the most powerful men in the world, and we’re seeing him cracking under the weight of actions, gambling the very future of his school to get vengeance.

Chanv, the mysterious drug that lets you live longer, sharpens your intellect, and makes you infertile. Oh, and it kills hope. And no one knows where it comes from. My bet is the Consult created it. Killing hope is certainly a giveaway, and the infertile part. That’s how they destroyed the Nonmen.

The world looks south.” Another subtle nudging from Kellhus for Esmenet to forget Achamian. He’s to the north, across the river that is now a barrier to her.

Esmenet is a lot like Leweth from the first book prologues. He had retreated from the world to hold to the remembrance of his wife, to not let others change how he feels. Esmenet wanted the same, to hold onto Achamian. Now thanks to Kellhus’s help, she’s moving on. Of course, Achamian isn’t dead. There is still hope for him. It’s only been a few weeks after all.

So, what did Kellhus do or say that put such a fear in Serwë that Esmenet would steal Kellhus? Because it is this conversation that lays the foundation for the two women sharing Kellhus. The next step in his seduction. Remember, Kellhus will come at you wearing the face of your friend, your spouse, your enemy, or even a stranger.

Oh, Esmenet, everyone’s heart is flawed. You are all those things you think of with Serwë. You are vain about your appearance. You can be petulant and peevish, and you make dirty jokes with the best of them.

So Sarcellus was testing Esmenet, finding out how committed she was to Kellhus. Maybe she could be a spy. But she screamed, so he learned very committed considering he held a knife to her throat. She will not betray Kellhus. He thinks she did betray Achamian because she sold him out back in book 1. But Achamian told her to do that to protect herself.

Achamian cared about her.

She know is thinking about Achamian as dead. She no longer cries in grief before falling asleep. Now she’s moving into the anger stage of grief. She is moving on, guided by Kellhus. It’s tragic because we know Achamian, through the book he later writes about the holy war, isn’t dead.

Shame and fear can be such a destructive emotions when they keep you from trusting in the person you loved. And now Esmenet gets to have the guilt of never telling Achamian that Inrau didn’t kill himself. (Though she might later on, I can’t remember)

Suffer not a whore to live, for she maketh a pit of her womb.” The exact words the priest cried back in book 1 before Esmenet was stoned.

Telling someone they are not damned in a world where that is a very real thing is powerful. And here’s the real horribleness about the soteriology of Bakker’s world: there is no way to keep yourself from being damned for some people. Being a whore, damned. Being a sorcerer, damned. Being a murderer, damned. There is no chance to change it. Achamian can never change his own damnation. There is no redemption for him, for Esmenet. As we learn, even Serwë is damned when she dies. That sweet, innocent girl. Bakker’s religion draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition, but departs in it in some extreme ways when it comes to damnation.

So it is hard not to feel the joy Esmenet feels even knowing it is a lie. Because he is not a prophet. And she is not saved just because he declared it. Otherwise, Serwë wouldn’t have been damned when he died. And, as we learn in the sequel series thanks to the judging eye, that sorcerers are still damned.

Next, notice she thinks of Kellhus as an eternal circle. And then she can see the halos about his hand. At this moment, she truly believes he is a prophet to her core. The halos are manifestation of that eternal circle. I think this is a crucial clue to the mechanism that produces these halos in the world.

And now Cnaiür is having a complete mental breakdown. He must have some form of schizophrenia because he is having auditory and visual hallucinations. That final paragraph is interesting, Cnaiür as a boy fleeing from his father’s yaksh and his wrath. He has something broken. He tries to put them together. But it’s someone sad and beautiful. Is this Serwë? He wants to save her and can’t. And, of course, he’s forgetting his hatred of Moënghus. He’s completely lost right now, drowning in the scars of his past.

Click here for Chapter Seventeen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Fifteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 15
Shigek

Welcome to Chapter Fifteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Fourteen!

Where the holy take men for fools, the mad take the world.

PROTATHIS, THE GOAT’S HEART

My Thoughts

What an interesting quote. Holy probably refers to organized religion. Protathis is saying they view men as fools to be taken advantage of. Which is definitely what Kellhus is doing. See the Synthese quote about the Holy War making their own leather. But the mad see the world differently. They see it as a surrogate for their madness, lashing out in different ways. As we see with Cnaiür when we delve into his characters psyche.

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shigek

Cnaiür reaches the Ainoni, seeing the infantry retreating, shattered, some stripping off their armor to run faster, others just sitting in shock. But he doesn’t know where the knights are. He sees the Kianene riding uncontested without the reserves challenging them.

Cnaiür felt a sharp pang in his throat. He clenched his teeth.

It’s happening again…

Kiyuth.

Only this time he was Xunnurit. He was the arrogant mule!

And then Cnaiür realizes the encampment is vulnerable. That Serwë is vulnerable. He rides to the east.

Martemus watches the Prophet (Kellhus) fight Conphas’s assassins. In a heartbeat, the first Nansur is dead. In the second, the other. Only the Zeumi sword-dancer, wielding a massive tulwar, faces him and laughs, calling Kellhus a “civilized man.”

Without warning, he sent the tulwar whooshing through the air around him. Sunlight flashed as though from the silvered spokes of a chariot wheel.

Now standing, the Prophet drew his strange, long-pommeled sword from his shoulder sheath. Holding it in his right hand, he lowered its tip to the ground before his booted feet. He flicked a clot of dirt into the sword-dancer’s eyes. The sword-dancer stumbled back, cursing. The Prophet lunged, buried his sword point deep into the assassin’s palate. He guided the towering corpse to the earth.

He stood alone against a vista of strive and woe, his beard and hair boiling in the wind. He turned to Martemus, stepping over the sword-dancer’s body…

Illuminated by the morning sun. A striding vision. A walking aspect…

Something too terrible. Too bright.

Martemus stumbles back in fear, going for his sword. But Kellhus reaches out and grabs the man’s sword arm, calming him. Kellhus explains that Skauras has sent units to attack the Swazond Standard. Martemus looks out at the battle, seeing no battle lines and only chaos. The Conriyans, led by Proyas, look doomed. Then he notices the camel-mounted Khirgwi charging towards them, ululating war cries.

We must flee!” he [Martemus] cried.

No,” the Warrior-Prophet said. “The Swazond Standard cannot fall.”

But it will!” Martemus exclaimed. “It already has!”

The Warrior-Prophet smiled, and his eyes glittered with something fierce and unconquerable. “Conviction, General Martemus…” He gripped his shoulder with a haloed hand.

War is conviction.”

The Ainoni knights are panicked and confused. They are surrounded by horse archers, being hit from every side. Some charged through the enemy and broke free. Others get lost and are picked off. “Death came swirling down.” Other Fanim, led by the Tiger, charge through the broken infantry to hit the Ainoni command. General Setpanares is killed, but King Regent Chepheramunni made a miraculous escape.

The Inrithi who are fighting in the center have broken through the lines as they routed the Shigeki conscripts, many thinking they’ve won the day, don’t hear the horns signaling retreat. “Not once did the thundering drums of the heathen falter.” The Grandees of Khemema and tens of thousands Khirgwi attack them. Proyas is cut off from his infantry, retreating his knights to a mud-brick village. The Thunyeri fight in shield-wall circles, surprising the Fanim with their stubbornness. The battle has dissolved into dozens of smaller fights as the Holy War is cut off from each other.

Overcome by dismay, many knights charged alone, only to be unhorsed by arrows and trampled into dust.

Cnaiür rides through the camp looking for Serwë. People are screaming, thousands of them, as he searches. The Fanim are burning parts of the camp to disheartened the army while they capture the rest for plunder “especially the kind that wriggled and screamed.” He is desperate to find Serwë.

He kills two Fanim in the camp, charging through them with ease. He runs into a horde of camp-followers—a mix of wives, children, whores, slaves, scribes, and priests. They panic at the sight of him. Then Cnaiür spots the Kianene moving through the camp, searching and looting.

Cnaiür looked down, startled. A young woman, her leg slicked in blood, an infant strapped to her back, clutched his knee, beseeching him in some unknown tongue. He raised his boot to kick her, then unaccountably lowered it. He leaned forward and hoisted her before him onto his saddle. She fairly shrieked tears. He wheeled his black around and spurred after the fleeing camp-followers.

He heard an arrow buzz by his ear.

Kellhus stands before the charging Khirgwi, his hair and robe billowing in the wind. He tells Martemus to say down, and he can only watch stunned. Kellhus dodges their arrows “curious dance, at once random and premeditated, leisurely and breathtakingly quick.” Martemus is hit in the leg and collapses. He believes himself about to die and shouts for Kellhus to run.

Cnaiür’s horse flags as it gallops through the camp, fleeing the Kianene shouting after. Arrows his by and he holds the woman and her child to his chest. He overtakes the other fleeing camp-followers then rides away, knowing they chase him. All the Kianene have hard of the Skafadi with the heathens. He screams Zirkirta as a battle cry, firing his own bow back at them.

Kianene cut him off, forcing him to turn his ailing horse. He’s in the Nansur part of camp, and glad that they pitch tents in orderly fashion. In the chase, Cnaiür is struck by the fact the woman’s baby isn’t crying, marveling that even “infants knew when to be calm.”

More and more Kianene race after him. They corral him towards a large tent. He throws the woman from his horse and tosses her knife to cut through the tent and yells at her to run.

Veils of dust swept over him.

He turned, laughing.

He draws his weapon and fights the men. He kills them while demanding which of them will murder Cnaiür urs Skiötha, most violent of all men. He is wild, fearless as he kills, mocking them, boasting about killing their fathers and brothers at Zirkirta.

A piercing, feminine cry. Cnaiür glanced back, saw the nameless woman swaying at the entrance of the nearest tent. She gripped the knife he’d thrown her, gestured with it for him to follow. For an instant, it seemed he’d always known her, that they’d been lovers for long years. He saw sunlight flash through the far side of the tent where she’d cut open the canvas. Then he glimpsed a shadow from above, heard something not quite…

Several Kianene cried out—a different terror.

Cnaiür thrust his left hand beneath his girdle, clutched tight his father’s Trinket.

For an instant he me the woman’s wide uncomprehending eyes, and over her shoulder, those of her baby boy as well… Somehow he knew that now—that he was a son.

He tried to cry out.

They became shadows in a cataract of shimmering flame.

Kellhus flashes back to when he was five and first stepped outside of Ishuäl, led by Pragma Uän. He, with the others his age, are led out holding onto a rope and into the forest. The boys wander to grow accustomed to the chaos of the outside, the sounds, the smells, the shapes, and colors. But despite how new it was, Kellhus is more eager for why there here, knowing Pragma Uän teaches the ways of limb. Battle.

What do you see?” the old man finally asked, looking to the canopy above them.

There were many eager answers. Leaves. Branches. Sun.

But Kellhus saw more. He noticed the dead limbs, the scrum of competing branch and twig. He saw slender trees, mere striplings, ailing in the shadow of giants.

Conflict,” he said.

Uän asks for an explanation, and Kellhus says the trees war for space. That is what Una is here to teach them. To be like trees, branching out in every direction until they cover the sky. They attack at all directions and not just one. Then Uän shows it, using a quarterstaff and ordering the five-year-olds to attack him. Kellhus is having fun, finding delight in getting knocked back, and wonder in watching the old man dance. “Not one touched his legs. Not one so much as stepped into the circle described by his stick.” He had owned his space.

In the present, Kellhus faces the Khirgwi charge. He raises his sword, ready to defend his circle with Dûnyain steel.

Cnaiür breaks away from his charred horse. He’s surrounded by ash and smoke and scorched meet. He retrieves his hot dagger from the nameless woman’s burned corpse and begins walking. The Scarlet Schoolmen walk the skies, killing the Fanim with fire and lighting.

And he thought, Serwë…

Cnaiür moves through the confusion of the camp on foot, grateful to his father’s Chorae for saving his life a second time. Soon he finds Proyas’s pavilion and then the one he shared with Kellhus. He grows fearful, wondering if Serwë had fled of if she was taken. And then he hears her shriek followed by the sound of Kellhus’s voice. That shocks him so much, he almost collapses. He is confused as he creeps forward, drawing a knife in shaking hand. He enters to see her badly beaten, “Kellhus” naked and standing over her.

Without thinking, Cnaiür slipped into the gloom of the pavilion. The air reeked of foul rutting. The Dûnyain whirled, as naked as Serwë, a bloody hand clamped about his engorged member.

The Scylvendi,” Kellhus drawled, his eyes blazing with lurid rapture.

I didn’t smell you.”

Cnaiür struck at his heart. Somehow the bloody hand flickered up,g razed his wrist. The knife dug deep just below the Dûnyain’s collar bone.

Kellhus staggered back, raised his face to the bellied canvas, and screamed what seemed a hundred screams, a hundred voices bound to one inhuman throat. And Cnaiür saw his face open, as though the joints of his mouth were legion and ran from his scalp to his neck. Through steepled features, he saw lidless eyes, gums without lips…

The thing struck him, and he fell to one knee. He yanked his broadsword clear.

But it had vanished though the flap, leaping like some kind of beast.

The Ainoni knights are forced to stand and fight on foot as their mounts are killed, Kianene racing around them. They force the Kianene to pay for every inch of ground gained, throwing back charge after charge to the Fanim’s shock who are “astounded by these defeated men who refused to be defeated.”

The Khirgwi fight with wild abandon. Proyas is encircled. The Thunyeri make a fortress of their shield-wall. At the sight of the smoke burning the Inrithi camp, many of Skauras’s staff think they have victory. Until the Scarlet Spire arrive. The Fanim survivors of the sorcery enfilade flee into the Inrithi reserves, led by Gotian, and are massacred.

The Imperial Kidruhil come to the Ainoni rescue, driving back the attackers. With the Kidruhil, the Ainoni charge up the slope. Kellhus stand holds off the Khirgwi long enough for reinforcements to arrive. The drums of the Fanim fall silent, overrun by Inrithi knights as Saubon and Gothyelk’s men break through enemy lines and reach the Kianene camp.

The Fanim host falls apart. Crown Prince Fanayal and the Coyauri are chased south by the Kidruhil. The Ainoni finally take the slopes height, forcing more Kianene to flee. The Khirgwi flee southwest pursed by the iron men into the desert.

Hundreds of Inrithi would be lost for following the tribesmen too far.

Serwë tries to go after the wounded “Kellhus,” screaming that he’s hurt and needs her. Cnaiür stops her, saying it wasn’t him. She calls him mad. Cnaiür says he’s taking her away, she’s his prize. She calls him mad again, saying Kellhus told her everything. He hits her and she collapses, demanding to know what Kellhus has said.

She wiped blood from her lip, and for the first time didn’t seem afraid. “You you beat me. You your thoughts never stray far from me, but return, always return to me in fury. He’s told me everything!”

Something trembled through him. He raised his fist but his fingers would not clench.

What has he said?”

That I’m nothing but a sign, a token. That you strike not me, but yourself!”

I will strangle you! I will snap your neck like a cat’s! I will beat blood from your womb!”

Then do it!” she shrieked. “Do it, and be done with it!

He calls her his prize, that he owns her. But she says she’s his shame. He demands answers, and she tells him that he beats her for submitting, the same way he submitted. “For fucking him [Kellhus] the way you fucked his father!”

She collapses, and he finds her so beautiful even beaten. Numb, he asks her what else. But she’s sobbing. She grabs a knife, putting it to her throat. He sees the swazond on her forearm, and knows she has killed.

You’re mad!” she wept. “I’ll kill myself! I’ll kill myself! I’m not your prize! I’m his! HIS!”

Serwë…

Her fist hooked inward. The blade parted flesh.

But somehow he’d captured her wrist. He wrenched the knife from her hand.

He left her weeping outside the Dûnyain’s pavilion. He stared out over the trackless Meneanor as he wandered between the tents, through the growing crowds of jubilant Inrithi.

So unnatural, he thought, the sea…

Conphas finds Martemus sitting cross-legged beneath Cnaiür’s standard and surrounded by “ever widening circles of Khirgwi dead,” staring at the sunset. Conphas cuts down the standard with his sword. Martemus says Kellhus isn’t dead. Conphas finds that a pity, then asks if Martemus remembers their conversation after Kiyuth. He does and remembers that Conphas said war is intellect.

Are you a casualty of that war, Martemus?”

The sturdy General frowned, pursed his lips. He shook his head. “No.”

I worry that you are, Martemus.”

Martemus turned away from the sun and studied him with pinched eyes. “I worried too… But no longer.”

Conphas questions why. Martemus says he watched Kellhus kill all these heathens until they fled in terror. “He’s not human.” Conphas points out neither was Skeaös. Martemus just says he’s a practical man. Conphas studied the corpses around them, Anwurat burning in the distance.

He [Conphas] gazed back into Martemus’s sun. There was such a difference, he thought, between the beauty that illuminated, and the beauty that was illuminated.

You are at that, Martemus. You are at that.”

Skauras ab Nalajan has dismissed all his servants and followers, sitting alone at a table drinking wine. He is reflective as he awaits the Inrithi in a room atop one of Anwurat’s turrets. He hears the battle below.

Though he was a pious man, Skauras had committed many wicked acts in his life—wicked acts were ever the inescapable accessories of power. He contemplated them with regret and pined for a simpler life, one with fewer pleasures, surely, but with fewer burdens. Certainly nothing so crushing as this.

I have doomed my people… my faith.

He reflects on how good his plan was, faking a break in the center so he could attack their left flank. He thinks Conphas must have figured it out. “Old enemy. Old friend—if such a man could be anyone’s friend.”

He produces his agreement with the Nansur Emperor. The word of Ikurei Xerius is the only hope for his people, another old foe and old friend. He burns it to keep the rest of the Inrithi from finding the evidence. He watches it burn while a verse of scripture flashes through his mind. He drinks his wine as the Inrithi batter down his door. He wonders if his people are all dead. Only him.

In the depths of his final, most pious prayer to the Solitary God, he didn’t hear the fibrous snapping of wood. Only the final crash and the sound of kindling skating across tiled floor told him that the time had come to draw his sword.

He turned to face the rush of strapping, battle-crazed infidels.

It would be a short battle.

Serwë awakens cradled by Kellhus. Her first words are for her child, who is fine. Then she asks how she angered him. He explains it was a demon with a counterfeit face. And it clicks in her head, all the little things that were off. She feels such shame, realizing she had sex with it, cheating on Kellhus. She communicates without words to Kellhus as she falls apart.

You were faithful.”

She turned to him, her face crumpling.

But it wasn’t you!

You were deceived. You were faithful.”

He wipes her tears and her blood. She stares into his eyes for awhile, wondering how long she could stare. Forever? He answers her yes. Then she tells him that Cnaiür came to take her. Kellhus says he told Cnaiür he could.

And somehow she knew this too.

But why?

He smiled glory.

Because I knew you wouldn’t let him.”

Kellhus wonders how much the Consult has no learned. He uses hypnotizes Serwë with “patience no world-born man could fathom” into a trance called the Whelming. He interrogates her for everything that happened, then he wipes her memory of the incident.

He leaves her asleep and heads into the celebrating camp and towards the sea and Cnaiür’s camp pitched on its shores. He ignores those who call after him. He has one tasks to complete. He reflects on his study of Cnaiür, the deepest he’s ever made, how his pride and intelligence made him difficult to manipulate, which when combined with his knowledge of the Dûnyain, makes it worse. Moënghus surrendered too much to Cnaiür. “Of all world-born men, Cnaiür urs Skiötha was awake…”

Which was why he had to die.

Kellhus has found that the majority of world-born men adhere to custom without “thought or knowledge.” They never asked why. But Cnaiür is different, choosing to adhere to custom, to prove that he chose this set of beliefs out of others. He has spent thirty years beating himself into the mold of a Scylvendi. And his people could always tell, smelling the wrongness about him.

Thirty years of shame and denial. Thirty years of torment and terror. A lifetime of cannibal hatred… In the end, Cnaiür had cut a trail of his own making, a solitary track of madness and murder.

It is why he is such a ferocious warrior, since Scylvendi see war as worship. He had to be the greatest, most pious of them. Every man he kills is a surrogate for Moënghus. If he can’t kill the right man, then the man in front of him will do.

But despite his understanding of Cnaiür, Kellhus couldn’t control him because of his knowledge. Kellhus once thought Cnaiür would never surrender. And then they found Serwë. He used her as his proof he followed his people. “Cnaiür fell in love, not with her, but the idea of loving her.” Because it meant he couldn’t love Moënghus or his son. Then it was easy for Kellhus to dominate Cnaiür. He seduced her, forcing Cnaiür to relieve his own seduction. Kellhus used contradicting passions, which he had learned world-born men were vulnerable to, to make him obsessed. Then Kellhus took away his obsession and now he would do anything to get it.

And now the usefulness of Cnaiür urs Skiötha was at an end.

Kellhus climbs a dune and sees Cnaiür camp trampled. Kellhus fears he’s too late, that Cnaiür has fled. But then he hears “raw shouts.” He follows the noise and finds Scylvendi standing naked in the waves washing to shore.

There are no tracks!” the man screamed, beating the surf with his fists. “Where are the—”

Without warning, he went rigid. Dark water swelled about him, engulfed him almost to his shoulders, then tumbled forward in clouds of crystalline foam. He turned his head, and Kellhus saw his weathered face, framed by long tails of sodden black hair. There was no expression.

Absolutely no expression.

Cnaiür wades to shore, shouting about how he betrayed his race and father for Moënghus, talking to Kellhus like he’s the father. Kellhus realizes he can’t read Cnaiür. The Scylvendi keeps talking about how he followed you, how he loved you. Kellhus draws his sword and tells Cnaiür to kneel.

The Scylvendi fell to his knees. He held out his arms, trailing fingers through the sand. He bent his back to the stars, exposing his throat. The Meneanor surged and seethed behind him.

Kellhus stood motionless above him.

What is this, Father? Pity?

He gazed at the abject Scylvendi warrior. From what darkness had this passion come?

Strike!” the man cried. The great scarred body trembled in terror and exultation.

But still, Kellhus couldn’t move.

Cnaiür shouts over and over for Kellhus to kill him, grabbing the blade and pulling it to his throat. But Kellhus says no and gently pries Cnaiür’s grip form the sword. Cnaiür grips Kellhus head, almost breaking his neck. Kellhus isn’t sure if it was luck or Cnaiür’s instinct that stopped it. But just a little more, and he will die.

Cnaiür drew him close enough for him to feel his humid body heat.

I loved you!” he both whispered and screamed. Then he thrust Kellhus backward, nearly tossing him back to his feet. Wary now, Kellhus rolled his chin to straighten a kink from his neck. Cnaiür stared at him in hope and horror…

Kellhus sheathed his sword.

Cnaiür rips hair from his head as he raves about Kellhus’s promise. But Kellhus watches, unmoved. “There were always other uses.”

The Sarcellus skin-spy leaves the camp and enters an old ruin, not caring about what it might be. The Synthese arrives and notes he is wounded. The skin-spy explains about Cnaiür and that the wound doesn’t impair him. The Synthese asks for a report, and the skin-spy says he’s not Cishaurim but Dûnyain.

Tiny grimace. Small, glistening teeth, like grains of rice, flashed between its lips. “All games end with me, Gaörtha. All Games.”

Sarcellus became very still. “I play no game. This man is Dûnyain. That’s what the Scylvendi calls him. She said there’s no doubt.”

But there is no order called ‘Dûnyain’ in Atrithau.”

No. But then we know he’s not a Prince of Atrithau.”

The Synthese begins to think Kellhus is a real Anasûrimbor, but a remnant of the Old Seed that survived. The skin-spy wonders if the Nonmen could have trained him, but the syntheses is dismissive. They have spies in Ishterebinth and know what Nin-Cilijiras is up to. The syntheses suspects that the Dûnyain is a “stubborn ember” of Kûniüri that survived, like the Mandate. But this ember survived in the shadow of Golgotterath, which is worrying. The skin-spy further adds that Kellhus means to claim the Holy War. The Synthese wants to know who the Dûnyain are, what their plans, and how he can see skin-spies.

He orders the skin-spy to indulge Kellhus, though he doesn’t see him as that much of a threat now that Achamian has been “removed from the game.” But the skin-spy is worried. Kellhus’s power grows. He is called the Warrior Prophet. The Synthese is amused how Kellhus “leashes these fanatics with leather of their own making.” Then he asks if Kellhus preaches a threat to the Holy War’s goal. He hasn’t, yet. The skin-spy is ordered to watch, but if Kellhus seeks to stop the Holy War, he has to be killed. He is only something curious. The Cishaurim are their foe.

Yes, Old Father.”

Gleaming like wet marble, the white headed bobbed twice, as though in some overriding instinct. A wing dropped to Sarcellus’s knee, dipped between his shadowy thighs… Gaörtha went rigid.

Are you badly hurt, my sweet child?”

Yessss,” the thing called Sarcellus gasped.

The small headed tilted backward. Heavy-lidded eyes watched the wingtip circle and stroke, stroke and circle. “Ah, but imagine… Imagine a world where no womb quickens, where no soul hopes.”

Sarcellus sucked drool in delight.

My Thoughts

We have spent the last book and a half with Cnaiür. He was the only one that saw the mistake of following Xunnurit’s plan. Bakker has built him up to be this amazing general that will lead the Holy War. And his first time out, he is outsmarted. He has made a serious blunder in underestimating his enemies tactics. And this time, it is Kellhus that saw it. Kellhus the novice at war.

And now Cnaiür chooses a woman over his duty. A very human thing to do, and something that the Scylvendi would look down on him for. And the Inrithi. He’s in command and he’s fleeing.

Now we see Kellhus in action. The sword-dancer was built up to be a credible threat, a skilled man with that massive blade. He’s big and graceful. And Kellhus defeats him with a flick of the sword. It reminds me a lot of Berserk when Guts fights Griffith the first time.

As the Khirgwi charge, Kellhus has taken Cnaiür’s lessons to heart. He understands that once again he has to take a risk to achieve his plans, like with telling Saubon to punish the Shrial Knights. We know there is a limit to how many men he can fight with. We learned this during book 1 while the Nansur cavalry chased him and Cnaiür. And now he faces a charge of thousands of soldiers.

And then Martemus sees him as the Warrior-Prophet and the halos appear. I can find no instance in the book where people talk about him having haloed hands before this. Martemus hasn’t heard about it, and now he sees it. It’s hard to say mass illusion is causing this. Something from the Outside is definitely affecting Kellhus. He’s had one vision showing him the future. People are seeing halos about his hands. Looking forward to the Unholy Consult and finding out more about the metaphysics going on here. (Hopefully, it’s elucidated in there.)

Also note, Kellhus wears his sword on his back like it were a Chinese blade. I haven’t noticed any one in the Three Seas described wearing swords that way. It’s a nod to the fact that Kellhus is a D&D monk at his most basic. From catching arrows, to being good at hand-to-hand fighting, to wearing his sword in such a far east fashion amid the more Mediterranean cultures of the Three Seas.

Poor Ainoni. They take it hard in the chapter. They are presented as very effete civilization, but their soldiers are actually written as very good and skilled. They were just the nation that was in the wrong position. But good thing Chepheramunni made his escape. It’s so surprising. And such a great, subtle clue from Bakker, something readers will overlook until the reveal that Chepheramunni is a skin-spy. Probably that body the Ainoni found years ago without a face mentioned in book 1.

Quite the reversal has happened in the battle now. The Holy War is losing badly. With this type of story, with Bakker already undermining many tropes of Fantasy fiction, it’s easy to imagine them losing, that the story could have a great reversal in the fortunes, making Kellhus’s mission even harder.

Cnaiür has a moment of pity, something he doesn’t usually feel. But he’s consumed with panic for Serwë. He has to find her and can’t. And now there is this other woman that needs help. He can save her. So he does. This being Grimdark Fantasy, it doesn’t have a happy ending. No tearful reunion with the wife and her husband. They don’t even live.

Just more victims of the brutal reality of war.

Martemus should have stayed down as the Khirgwi attacked.

Cnaiür rides away from the camp-followers to lure the Kianene away from them. They say you only can truly know a man when he’s under pressure, how he reacts when things are bad, and Cnaiür… Cnaiür our violent barbarian makes a number of compassionate decisions in this frantic section. He could have charged through the camp-followers, using their presence to slow down the Kianene even for a few seconds.

We see Cnaiür’s death wish appear as he demands which one will murder him.

And then the woman repays his compassion with her own. She could have fled, but she calls for him to join her. It might not have made a difference. The Scarlet Spire might still have killed her. Bakker draws it out as Cnaiür sees her death. He feels such compassion for the woman, such love. He even sees the child as his own. He wants to save them.

Can’t.

Another failure for Cnaiür.

So we can see just how different Dûnyain children are. They are not allowed outside until they’re five. And when they do, they have to acclimatized to all the sensations their superior intellects are drinking in, giving them time to adjust. Kellhus had this same reaction when he left as an adult, bemused by nature for weeks. But, still, even a young Dûnyain boy is eager to learn fighting, just like any other group of boys who find sticks will start playing battle.

So we see even as a child, Kellhus had a keener intellect than others. He is at the pinnacle of the Dûnyain breeding program. Not surprising considering he has the Anasûrimbor bloodline. And there is good evidence that Nonman blood is found in their veins. That the only successful known mating between human and Nonman may have occurred in the family’s history.

Love the fact that the Dûnyain children are still children. They are having fun trying to get to Uän. They haven’t had all their emotions destroyed and beaten down, yet. Though the Dûnyain are working on it. No mention of girls, though. Whale Mothers…

We see a taste of Cnaiür’s skill when he encounters fake Kellhus. Skin spies are inhumanly fast, but he managed to stab this one. It tried to deflect, but not fully, knocking the knife up only a few inches but it might have saved the skin spy’s life (do they have hearts?).

In the Ainoni stand, we see the Fanim surprised that these men refuse to be defeated. They have conviction, holding them strong even as they are surrounded and on the verge of being overwhelmed. Bakker had Cnaiür talk about this last chapter, but now he is once again showing us about conviction and its power. This will be important for the end of the novel.

Conviction has changed the tide of battle. Kellhus held the standard, keeping up hope in the Inrithi. The Ainoni held out long enough for Conphas to come to their aid and that turned the tide of battle. He heard the horns sounding retreat and acted. We also have the Scarlet Schoolmen were deployed for the first time, foiling the Fanim plan to demoralize the Inrithi.

Such a powerful scene between Serwë and Cnaiür. We have Cnaiür’s character laid open, all the times he thought as he beat her that he was trying to save her from Kellhus, and the realization here that he failed. That she would rather die than be apart from Kellhus. That she would let him beat her and still love him. All he can do is save her life.

He goes to the sea. The trackless sea. It’s an unnatural steppe to him. But it’s the closest thing he has to home. It’s like his perception of himself. Something broken, something wrong, something that wants to be of the People, but isn’t. He often goes to the sea when in turmoil. He has good memories with his own father at the shore of an inland sea, too.

Conphas and Martemus’s scene is so subdued. Conphas is clearly drained by the battle, without much of his usual self-delusional thoughts and actions. It’s perfunctory the way he cuts down the banner. And then his chat with Martemus, so flat. He understands that Martemus is blinded by Kellhus’s “illumination.”

And then Bakker switches gears to Skauras, the crushing despair on him as he realizes his people are doomed unless the word of the Nansur Emperor can be trusted. It is their only hope now for the Nansur to betray the holy war and stop it short of Shimeh. You feel a great deal of pity for the man. He’s been this wily enemy, this cagey general for so long, the great obstacle in the path of the holy war. Then seeing him drinking his last cup of wine as he awaits his death is so humanizing.

And his reflection on how evil acts are the hallmark of power… So true. Keep that in mind, for those who want to change the world. “Power comes from the end of the gun,” said Lenin.

Whelming. A trance where voice can overwrite voice. Or a place where one soul can overwhelm another.

We get more reflection into Kellhus and his view on men, and Cnaiür. Plus how Moënghus messed up with Cnaiür. But, then, Moënghus hadn’t come upon his grand plan. He was just trying to survive. I doubt Moënghus even thought Kellhus would encounter Cnaiür or that Cnaiür would prove as troublesome when he summoned Kellhus.

Most people never ask why things are the way they are around them, just taking for granted. Most people in Bakker’s world are not philosophers. Bakker, a philosopher, clearly holds that the only way to be truly free is to be a philosopher, to question the why of things.

I still don’t know why picks is a racial slur for Ketyai by Norsirai. They think them unclean, but I am still missing the connection.

We saw Cnaiür’s need for surrogates a few chapters back when it talks about him raiding Fanim villages, killing and pillaging to satiate his true desire.

We see the power of obsession. The way it can drive humans to acts they wouldn’t think themselves capable of. Even knowing the outcome, it can be hard to fight an obsession.

So we get this scene, Cnaiür utterly mad, knowing his death has come, and ready for it. He wants it to be over. His prize is lost. She’s utterly Kellhus’s. He can’t keep pretending any longer that he doesn’t love Moënghus. He can’t find the tracks. He’s hopelessly lost. He’s broken, defeated.

And Kellhus feels pity. The second time he’s felt an emotion. Once for Serwë, now for Cnaiür. And that pity works on him. As we have seen in previous quotes, the intellect is always slave to our passion. We will always find reasons to justify our actions for our desires. Kellhus found his. “There were always other uses.” His passions are shriveled, barely there, but they do exist. There is a glimmer of humanity.

Which might be the only thing that stops Kellhus from siding with the Consult. But, he might still side with them. Oh, the Unholy Consult… Can’t wait for July!

We get a little more insight into skin-spies and how they function. They are creatures of the moment. They don’t care about the past. Its’ all about who they are pretending to be right now. A thing without a past is a thing without identity.

Gaörtha is the skin-spy who in book 1 is following Achamian around, the one he spotted trailing him in the marketplace in Momemn.

And then we see the worry in the Synthese that his spy might not be reliable. Kellhus had planted those seeds that the first Sarcellus had been close to betraying the Consult. Looks like they have found fertile ground.

More interesting, the Synthese recognizes the name Dûnyain. We don’t know much about them before they became modern Dûnyain. They were ascetics and looking to escape the world after it ended.

And now we get confirmation that the Consult wants the Cishaurim, in particular, destroyed. That this is why they support the Holy War and why their skin-spies in the imperial palace (Skeaös and Empresses Dowager) are against Xerius’s plans to betray the Holy War.

And then we end with the Consult’s true goal.

Damn, this was a long chapter. And so much happened at it. We learn so much about the Consult, we see Serwë finally standing up to Cnaiür after being conditioned by Kellhus, we see the turn of battle and the death of the Fanim who was the symbol of their enemy, Skauras. The Holy War stands triumphant while Kellhus has another emotion. This is one of the best chapters in the series. He weaves through so many different scenes, propels so many different plots forward, has so many character moments.

Great writing.

Click here for chapter sixteen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 14
Anwurat

Welcome to Chapter Fourteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Thirteen!

It is the difference in knowledge that commands respect. This is why the true test of every student lies in the humiliation of his master.

GOTAGGA, THE PRIMA ARCANATA

The children here play with bones instead of sticks, and whenever I see them, I cannot but wonder whether the humeri they brandish are faithful or heathen. Heathen, I should think, for the bones seem bent.

ANONYMOUS, LETTER FROM ANWURAT

My Thoughts

The student, to earn his teacher’s respect, has to overcome him. Kellhus definitely did this with Achamian. He surpassed him with ease and Achamian respected him greatly. And as we see in this chapter, Cnaiür is humiliated when Kellhus spots what Skauras is doing before Cnaiür. And, of course, when it is too late to stop it. Note, also, that this is from the Prima Arcanata. This is a Schoolman book. It seems to be imploring its students to push the bounds of sorcery, to discover new things to surpass their teacher and strengthen their school, whichever school this text is from.

The letter shows us the grim realty of what the war has done and yet how the innocent children can still play. They haven’t been wholly corrupted. Like in the previous chapter when Achamian saw the children playing beneath the corpses hanging in the tree, the contrast of innocence with brutality. Then you throw in some color commentary on racism with the “bent bones” lines, to hammer home how tribal humans are. Plus, this is the fortress that we ended last chapter on preparing for a siege. It foreshadows the Inrithi victory (otherwise, why is this Inrithi writing home from here).

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shigek

Conphas lets Martemus cool his heels as he reads intelligence reports in his command pavilion. Activity bustles around him in the Nansur camp as they prepare for the coming battle with the Fanim tomorrow.

Such a battle! And he—he! the lion of Kiyuth!—would be little more than a subaltern…

No matter, it would be salt for the honey, as the Ainoni were fond of saying. The bitterness that made vengeance sweet.

Conphas tells Martemus that he will represent the Nansur at Cnaiür’s side in the coming battle. Martemus asks if there are more instructions and Conphas wonders why he hadn’t stripped Martemus of his rank and sold him as a slave. He explains that he doesn’t trust Martemus anymore and actually trusts Cnaiür, in matters of war, far more. Martemus doesn’t protest but just asks why he was chosen with “stoic curiosity.” Conphas finds it such a waste that he has lost Martemus.

“Because you’ve unfinished business.” Conphas handed several sheets to his secretary, then looked down as though to study the next sheaf of parchment. “I’ve just been told the Prince of Atrithau accompanies the Scylvendi.” He graced the General with a dazzling smile.

Martemus said nothing for a stone-faced moment.

“But I told you… He’s…he’s…”

“Please,” Conphas snapped. “How long has it been since you’ve drawn your sword, hmm? If I doubt your loyalty, I laugh at your prowess. No. You’ll only observe.”

Conphas has hired three assassins, two Nansur and a Zeumi sword dancer, the latter whom Conphas thinks is a generous gift from his uncle. He then orders Martemus to bring back Kellhus head, using his general cloak as a sack. Conphas isn’t sure if he sees horror or hope in Martemus’s eyes.

The Inrithi horns sound at dawn and “the men of the Tusk rose certain of their triumph.” They form up on the South Bank to crush their enemy, knowing the God walks with them. Orders are barked as men assemble. Prayers are uttered, wine drunk, and bread broken. Wives and prostitutes say their farewells. The Fanim assemble on the horizon before the fortress of Anwurat. The Inrithi, each to their own culture, shout their cries as they prepare for battle while “a hundred hundred banners fluttered in the morning wind.”

Cnaiür ponders the trade he made with Kellhus last night, the knowledge of war for Serwë. He stands with Kellhus and a group of officers and messengers on a small hill. From here, he will command the battle, the newly made Swazond Standard fluttering over him.

Cnaiür stares in wonder at the Holy War assembled before him and the Fanim facing them. He reminds himself he is of the Land, a Scylvendi. He surveys their deployment, looking for weakness. Kellhus moves to his side, putting Cnaiür on his guard and again questioning the trade. He had spent the night screaming at the sea, demanding why he made the trade for “a bauble found on the Steppe.” He reflects on all he had given up over the last month: honor for vengeance, leather for silk, yaksh for a pavilion, the Utemot for the Inrithi. He was Battlemaster. King-of-Tribes.

Part of him reeled in drunken exultation at the thought. Such a host! From the river to the hills, a distance of almost seven miles, and still the ranks ran deep! The People could never assemble such a horde, not if they emptied every yaksh, saddled every boy. And here he, Cnaiür urs Skiötha, breaker-of-horses-and-men, commanded. Outland princes, earls and palatines, thanes and barons in their thousands, even an Exalt-General answered to him! Ikurei Conphas, the hated author of Kiyuth!

What would the People think? Would they call this glory? Or would they spit and cruse his name, give him to the torments of the aged and the infirm?

He reflects that all battle was holy, that defeating the Fanim would be a victory. He imagines them finally embracing him even as he realizes they would laugh as he hears his uncles words said at Kiyuth: “Yours is the name of our shame!” He ponders how they would react if he destroyed the Inrithi and returned with Conphas’s head.

“Scylvendi” Moënghus said from his side.

That voice!

Cnaiür looked to Kellhus, blinking.

Skauras! The Dûnyain’s look shouted. Skauras is our foe here!

Cnaiür focuses on defeating Skauras. He feels fear, wanting more time, knowing that his usefulness for Kellhus is about to end. He knows he is a threat to Kellhus and he has given up the last of his leverage. But there is nothing he can do to delay it. The Inrithi are ready for he battle. He gives the order to march.

Kellhus fixed him with shining, empty eyes.

Cnaiür looks away to the army. It moves forward, the horses trotting ahead, the ranks of infantry following. The Fanim drums pound as they wait.

The Dûnyain loomed in his periphery, as sharp as a mortal rebuke.

What was this trade he had made? A woman for war.

Something is wrong.

Behind him, the Inrithi lords began singing.

The Inrithi knights outpaced the infantry as they cross the field. They are moving faster and faster. The Fanimry fire arrows. Men and horses die. They lower lances as they charge the heathens. They shout war cries born of hatred. They clash with the Fanim.

The sermon was simple.

Break.

Die.

Serwë is alone, avoiding the other camp-followers praying in the encampment. She doesn’t see the point, having already kissed Kellhus and watched him ride off. Instead, she boils a tea Proyas’s physician-priests prescribed her for her pregnancy. She’s not afraid but confused why Kellhus risks himself especially in the wake of Achamian’s loss. It made her realize they weren’t on a pilgrimage “to deliver something [Kellhus] Holy.” Now she realizes that Kellhus might vanish, too.

But this thought didn’t so much frighten her—the possibility was too unthinkable—as it confused her. One cannot fear for a God, but one can be baffled over whether one should.

Gods could die. The Scylvendi worshipped a dead god.

Does Kellhus fear?

That too, was unimaginable.

Her water boils just as she thinks she heard something. She grapples with the kettle, using sticks to pull it out of the fire, when she feels a hand touch her belly. Kellhus is holding her from behind, though he seems shorter. Kellhus is horny and needs her, which makes her wonder why he chose her instead of any other woman. She asks why he needs her now. Isn’t he worried about the battle. But he worries only for her.

“Everywhere Cnaiür turned, he saw glory and horror.” He stands with his cheering retinue trying to watch the battle. He finds the battle happening too fast. There is so much going on as across their lines, the Inrithi engage the Fanim. Cnaiür’s planning is working. He had deduced the Fanim tactics so far and his preparations, having the Nansur use rafts as improvised ramps, is working. But dust obscures the Ainoni, and that worries him.

He begins to instruct Kellhus, talking about how this battle will be one by penetration and not envelopment. But he trails off as the dust clears enough to let him see the Ainoni are withdrawing. The Kianene hold the heights. This worries him, but Kellhus asks if this is how you crush your foe by assaulting their flanks or rear.

Cnaiür shook his black mane. “No. This is how you convince your foe.”

“Convince?”

Cnaiür snorted. “This war,” he snapped in Scylvendi, “is simply your war made honest.”

Kellhus acknowledged nothing. “Belief… You’re saying battle is a disputation of belief… An argument?”

Cnaiür keeps looking to the south as he explains about how attacking flanks and rears are arguments to convince the enemy they lost. “He who believes he is defeated is defeated.” Kellhus states that “conviction makes true” in battle.

As I said, it is honest.

Skauras! I must concentrate upon Skauras!

Cnaiür’s nervousness causes him to send a messenger to General Setpanares, commanding the Ainoni, to find out who defeated them even while knowing the battle will be over before the messenger can return. He finds the Nansur and Thunyeri are making fast progress up the makeshift ramps. Skauras reserves approach from the west and is worried about their numbers. He sends a message to the Conriyans while thinking everything is going to plan elsewhere.

Cnaiür points to the Galeoth and tells Kellhus to see how Skauras frustrates Saubon. Kellhus sees the delaying tactic. Cnaiür explains that the Galeoth and Tydonni possess shock, which the Fanim can’t stand up against, so they will use their cohesion and speed to d a defensive envelopment. Kellhus understands that an over-committed attack risks exposing flanks. Something the Inrithi are prone to do But, as Cnaiür says, their superior heart (conviction) saves them.

Their Conviction,” Kellhus said.

Cnaiür nodded. “When the memorialists counsel the Chieftains before battle, they bid them recall that in conflict all men are bound to one another, some by chains, some by ropes, and some by strings, all of different lengths. They call these bindings the mayutafiüri, the ligaments of war. These are just ways of describing the strength and flexibility of a formation’s angotma. Those Kianene the People would call trutu garothut, men of the long chains. They can be thrown apart, but they will pull themselves together. The Galeoth and Tydonni we would call trutu hirothut, men of the short chain. Left alone, such men would battle and battle. Only disaster or utgirkoy, attrition, can break the chains of such men.”

The Fanim scatter and Cnaiür explains a leader must always be reevaluating the battle. Kellhus asks if the south [my Kindle edition says north, but Cnaiür then looks southward, so I think this is a mistake] worries Cnaiür. He says no but then is “struck by an inexplicable apprehension of doom.” The Ainoni knights are retreating but the infantry are advancing. He lectures about how infantry will often drift to the right, betraying a lack of discipline or an act of deception to draw an enemy attack. Cnaiür is still confident things are going to plan. He goes on to saying that a general can tolerate no disbelief in his men that they will lose while he questions what the Ainoni general is now doing. Kellhus comments that disbelief spreads. Cnaiür knows that if men have conviction, they can die to the last, as Nansur Columns have in fighting Scylvendi in the past. Kellhus grasp that this is what a rout is, a loss of conviction, like what the Fanim suffered at the Battleplain. Cnaiür agrees, which is why a general has to be ready for that moment of decision. Cnaiür still worries over the Ainoni. He doesn’t understand why General Setpanares had withdrawn his horses. The Fanim were losing everywhere else save to the south.

Cnaiür glanced at Kellhus, saw his shining eyes study the distances the way they so often scrutinized souls. A gust cast his hair forward across his lower face.

“I fear,” the Dûnyain said, “the moment has already passed.”

Serwë can hear the fighting as “Kellhus” fucks her. He feels different in her and he tells her he is different for her. She is wracked with pleasure. He grabs her hair as she rides him, telling her to talk. She asks about what.

“Speak of me…”

“Kellhhhhussss,” she moaned. “I love you… I worship you! I do, I do, I do!”

“And why, sweet Serwë?”

“Because you’re the God incarnate! Because you’ve been sent!”

He fell absolutely still, knowing he’d delivered her to the humming brink.

Serwë aches for her climax, riding “Kellhus” faster, coming closer and closer, when he asks about Cnaiür and his hatred towards him. She says Cnaiür fears you and knows he will be punished. Serwë notices more differences, but is too lost to her pleasure to think about them.

His hand closed about the back of her neck… How she loved this game!

“And why does he call me Dûnyain?”

Cnaiür demands to know what Kellhus meant about the decision, thinking Kellhus seeks to deceive. Kellhus says he has studied the Kianene devices and though the dust prevents him, and Cnaiür, from seeing their patterns, he can see their shapes and has counted them, then compared them to the list of Sapatishah’s client Grandees. He tells Cnaiür that across most of their lines, only a fraction of the Kian face them.

Cnaiür jerked his gaze yet again to the souther hills and knew, from heart to marrow, that the Dûnyain spoke true. Suddenly he saw the field through Kianene eyes. The fleet Grandees of Shigek and Gedea drawing the Tydonni and Galeoth ever farther west. The Shigeki multitude dying as they should, and fleeing as everyone knew they would. Anwurat, an immovable point threatening the Inrithi rear. The then southern hills…

“He shows us,” Cnaiür murmured. “Skauras shows us…”

“Two armies,” Kellhus said without hesitation. “One defending, one concealed, the same as on the Battleplain.”

Cnaiür sees the Kianene second army charging at the Ainoni infantry while around him, the Inrithi celebrate seeing the Nansur and Thunyeri have broken through and routed the Shigeki. Cnaiür thinks them fools as he realized Skauras the Shigeki to scatter the Holy War.

A great ache filled Cnaiür’s chest. Only Kellhus’s strong grip saved him the humiliation of falling to his knees.

Always the same…

Martemus stands conflicted, watching Cnaiür and Kellhus speak. He finds it outrageous that a Scylvendi leads and questions why Conphas would want Kellhus killed instead. Martemus would gladly die to kill Cnaiür. He grapples with that question.

Because, General, he’s a Cishaurim spy…

But no spy could speak such words.

That’s his sorcery! Always remember—

No! Not sorcery, truth!

As I said, General. That is his sorcery.

Martemus watched, unmoved by the prattle around him.

The shouts draw Martemus attention to the battle. He sees the Heathens routing and feels pride for the Nansur columns. Then he sees Cnaiür’s posture and realizes, thanks to his years as a soldier, that something had gone wrong. Cnaiür screams for the retreat to be sounded. Everyone is astonished, some calling Cnaiür a traitor. Weapons are drawn while Cnaiür keeps roaring to look at the south. Kellhus is on his side, insisting that the retreat must be sounded. Then Cnaiür rushes to his horse and races south. Others follow while Martemus turns to the assassins, nodding at them.

For a heartbeat, Prince Kellhus caught his look. His smile held such sorrow that Martemus nearly gasped. Then the Prophet turned to the distances seething beneath his feet.

The Ainoni infantry begin breaking under the Fanim charge. The Ainoni knights counter-charge, crashing into the Fanim, killing many and sending them into retreat. The dust clears revealing Crown Prince Fanayal and his Coyauri cavalry charging in, massacring the van of the Ainoni knights. Other knights are confused, unable to see in the dust as horse archers attack their flanks and rears.

Serwë huddles in pain as “Kellhus” beats her. She cries out to know how she displeased him, saying she loves him. He keeps beating her while asking “What have I planned for the Holy War?”

Martemus watches the fighting with Kellhus and the three assassins, the only ones now by the Swazond Standard. He sees the Ainoni infantry rout out of the dust cloud. Already, Conphas is reforming his columns to face the new threat. “The Nansur were old hands when it came to surviving Fanim catastrophes.” Kellhus ignores the assassins, sitting with his back to them studying the battle.

The Prophet seemed to be…listening.

No. Bearing witness.

Not him, Martemus thought. I cannot do this.

The first of the assassins approached.

My Thoughts

Right away, we are thrown into Conphas’s thoughts, seeing him stew because Cnaiür leads. But Conphas has his plans. He continues to plot. His ego is too great to be crushed down for long. To preserve his own self-image, he has to continuously lie to himself whenever he suffers these defeats. Like we all do to some extant.

When you read the first book, I doubt any would have thought Martemus and Conphas could have such a falling out. Martemus is the man who was prepared to assist Conphas in a coup against the Emperor. He was the one to suggest it to Conphas, in fact. Martemus once said he would rather defend the Nansur Empire than the Tusk, putting national identity above religion. And then Kellhus has twisted him into a new man.

Kellhus battle garb has elements of all the major nations of the Inrithi, showing he is not of any of their nations but of all of them. It’s a subtle thing, easy to overlook.

Love Cnaiür’s thoughts on his current circumstance. Promise of vengeance, effeminate silks, prince’s pavilion, unwashed Utemot. He embraces the rudeness and poverty of his own people and resenting the wealth he has now. But he knows his people won’t care that he is commanding this huge force. Even if all war was holy. He isn’t of the People, despite how much he wants to be. He hasn’t been since Moënghus if he ever truly was.

And then we see just how good Kellhus is at reading people. The moment Cnaiür entertains fantasies of butchering the Inrithi, Kellhus, pitching his voice to sound like Moënghus, reminds the Scylvendi of their true purpose and how Skauras has to be defeated so Cnaiür can get his vengeance.

You have to love how human Cnaiür is. The panic he is feeling, trapped, cornered by his obsessive need to own Serwë, to prove he is of the people. But he doesn’t want to give up his leverage with Kellhus, but he has to. He’s made his deal and now he has to lead. He’s cornered and he sees only his death. He starts to be self-reflective but forces it away to make himself into the ideal Scylvendi.

Cnaiür is warring with himself. His madness is growing.

Bakker’s imagery of the Inrithi knights charging is beautiful and poetic. “Hatred clamped tooth to tooth” “wall of heathen, who barbed the distance like a hedge of silvered thorns” and “outstretched like great, fluid arms the holy warriors embraced their enemy.” And then the next three lines. So powerful.

Serwë’s thoughts are interesting. If Kellhus is a god then she shouldn’t be afraid for him even though she really wants to be. She’s grappling with it in her own way. She can’t let her fear take over because it will shatter the illusion she’s constructed in her mind that he is God. She, like Cnaiür, is fighting to keep her own self-identity intact against the intrusion of the world.

Skin-spies greatest defect, they can’t change their height. Even Serwë notices that right away, though she finds a rationalization for it, thinking he’s standing in a hole. Serwë has no idea about skin-spies. Anyone would find a mundane answer instead of “an evil assassin made by dark genetics by a race of space rapist is impersonating the man I love and believe is a god.”

Cnaiür talking to Kellhus about tactics and how war is an argument to convince your enemy that he has lost is great to read. Especially when he talks about how different men are connected by ropes and chains of varying lengths and strengths, showing how their psychology and identity plays a huge role in how they will act in battle.

The moment Kellhus tells Cnaiür the moment of decision has passed, Kellhus has outstripped him in tactics. He has learned all Cnaiür has to offer and seen more clearly, understand events far better.

In the Serwë sex-interrogation scene, we learn so new facts about skin-spies: they can’t change their height, they can’t change their penises, and they can’t change their scents. This scene also serves to show us insight into the Inchoroi and how they operate. Like with the Synthese interrogating Esmenet in book 1, they default to sex. We see this again at the end of the novel. The Inchoroi, after all, are a “race of lovers.” But the skin spies have their lust tied to their aggression, like the Sranc do, and eventually the skin-spy turns to other pleasures with Serwë, something the Inchoroi creators appear never needing to do to get answers.

And there is Cnaiür’s humiliation, just like the quote at the start of the chapter starts. He has failed to match wits with Skauras. Kellhus has outstripped him.

Truth is his sorcery. To chain with truth instead of lies is always more powerful. Conphas has it right about Kellhus. He’s the only person in the Holy War seeing a danger from Kellhus, even if it is the wrong danger. His ego is just too great. It’s very brilliant storytelling from Bakker. It would be so easy for Kellhus to have everyone under his domination, but than where were the stakes. So Bakker created the perfect character to resist it, and set him up so we understood him and it makes so much sense that he opposes Kellhus.

There, at the end of Martemus’s POV, after giving the assassins the order, he caught Kellhus’s gaze. That look of sadness forever severed Martemus’s loyalty to Conphas. Notice how he now longer thinks “Prince Kellhus” but now “Prophet.” His conflict is over. His loyalties are no longer divided.

Bakker slips in a little more reinforcement about Conphas’s skill. He, too, has realized that catastrophe has hit and is doing what he can to salvage the fight. He is an interesting character. He is very arrogant but he can actually back up his arrogance with actual talent. You cannot deny his skill as a general or for politics.

So it is an interesting place to end it. While the chapter appears to be cliff-hanging on Kellhus being in danger, we know he has fought greater odds than those three with ease. The real threats are to Serwë and the Holy War itself. For Martemus, though, the cliffhanger is Kellhus’s doom. His loyalties are no longer divided and he has to stop this. The most loyal man in the Nansur army has betrayed his Exalt General.

Truth is such a powerful tool.

Click here for Chapter Fifteen!

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