Category Archives: Reread

Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Fifteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 15
Shimeh

Welcome to Chapter Fifteen of my reread. Click here if you missed the Chapter Fourteen!

If war does not kill the woman in us, it kills the man.

—TRIAMIS I, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

Like so many who undertake arduous journeys, I left a country of wise men and came back to a nation of fools. Ignorance, like time, brooks no return.

—SOKWË, TEN SEASONS IN ZEMÜ

My Thoughts

Wow, there are two quotes that don’t on the surface seem to have anything to do with each other. So let’s figure it out. The first one, I think, refers to fear. War doesn’t kill the fear in you. That sense of being weak and frail and helpless against a world where everything is out to get you. The masculine part, the strength, the nobility, the belief in your superiority can easily be destroyed by what happens in war. It’s a pretty sexist statement, but fitting with the sort of ancient setting of the books.

So it brings us to this other quote. The Holy War, like going to any war, is an arduous journey. You’re going to come back changed. You’re going to see the behavior that used to think of as manly, all the false boasting, the bravado, all the things you thought you were before war killed them and think those who still possess them are foolish.

This chapter is all about how war and the journey have changed the characters. Esmenet is no longer the whore. Achamian no longer believes in the Mandate’s mission. Eleäzaras is bent only on revenge and doesn’t care about anything else. Proyas finds himself disappointed and doubting his faith in ways he never had.

Kellhus is no longer wholly Dûnyain.

Another way to look at the man and woman quote is to look at the Dûnyain versus Inchoroi. Intellect versus Emotion. If man represents raw intellect and woman raw emotion, then war kills rationality. It kills logic. It leaves only wounded hearts. As we see in Kellhus, his monolithic logic has been nudged ever so slightly by emotion. He has had the man in him not killed, but wounded. Bleeding. Pain and loss and love have seeped in to feel the void, shifting his actions ever so slightly.

Enough that he rejects his father.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Morning. The beginning of the world’s slow bow before the sun.

It is time for the Holy War to attack Shimeh. The city awaits them as the sun rises behind it. Preparations are made for the final assault of the Holy War.

Kellhus wanders through Kyudea searching for the one tree in it. He passes ruins swallowed by the grass. Here a “wrecked city had been swamped by the swells of an earthen sea.” Kellhus realizes this city once had been as great as Shimeh. Now shepherds brought sheep to shelter here in storms.

Glories had dwelt here once. Now there was nothing. Only overturned stone, the whisk of grasses beneath the wind…

And answers.

“‘There is but one tree,’” the old man had said, his voice not his own, “‘and I dwell beneath it…’”

And Kellhus had struck, cleaving him to the heart.

Achamian feels utterly betrayed by Cnaiür’s revelation. Achamian had tried to protest to Cnaiür that he wasn’t like the others. “I don’t believe for my heart’s sake!” Cnaiür only shrugged and told Achamian that Kellhus would “concede you your concerns” and foster trust with Achamian. “Truth is his [Kellhus’s] knives, and we are all of us cut!” Achamian wanders dazed through the camp, clutching his “ink-blooded parchment.” He doesn’t see or hear the people bowing and calling him “Holy Tutor.” A knight singing a hymn of Kellhus, Take My Hand, catches Achamian’s attention. The knight falters off, growing angry with embarrassment for Achamian witnessing his raw emotion.

Achamian passes others kneeling and praying before Judges while the Circumflex is painted across shields, worn around necks, and embroidered on banners. “The entire world seemed to rumble with devotion.”

How had this happened?

Achamian reflects on what Kellhus had said about how kneeling to the God “was to stand high among the fallen.” After all, servants of kings often act in their stead, so a pious man can think the same of his own actions. He realizes serving is just another way to glut. To be self-centered by glutting on even the world while claiming to serve a higher power. Achamian still objects that he is Kellhus’s slave.

But my soul is my own!”

Laughter, dark and guttural and vicious, as though all sufferers, in the end, were no more than fools.

He prizes no thought higher.”

Achamian had found certainty in Kellhus, despite losing Esmenet to him. He’d even made his torment a kind of proof. So long as his charge pained him, he told himself, it must be real. He did not, as so many did, belief for flattery’s sake. Seswatha Dreams assured him his importance would be more a thing of terror than pride. And his redemption had been a thing too… abstract.

To love one who had wronged him—that was his test! And he had been rooted—so rooted…

The world spins around Achamian. He feels everything rushing towards Shimeh. Cnaiür’s words pummel him, assaulting him as he struggles to understand. “Ask yourself, sorcerer… What do you have that he hasn’t taken?”

He [Achamian] much preferred his damnation.

The Fanim on Shimeh’s walls watch four massive siege-towers waiting to assault their city. Unlike the Fanim thought, the Holy War didn’t need weeks to ready for an assault. They were forming up right now to do it. The Fanim drums sound from the heights of the Juterum and the Holy War blares trumpets in answer.

Small knots of Inrithi approach. At first, the defenders think it is a parley, but their nobles disagree. Archers are ready the forty or so formations of six men. The Fanim realize they are sorcerers, each protected by three heavy crossbowmen and two armored men with large basketwork shields. Alarm rings through the Fanim.

As though answering a pause in conversation, an otherworldly chorus droned out from the approaching formations, not so much through the air as under the scorched crops and razed structures, and up through the bones of Shimeh’s mighty curtain wall. The engines cast the first of the firepots. Eruptions of liquid flame revealed the Wards curving about each cadre. A cloud swallowed the sunlight, and as one the defenders saw the foundation of spectral towers.

True horror struck then. Where were Indara’s Water-bearers?

Officers cut down their men trying to flee as the sorcerers stop fifty lengths out. A few arrows burst into smoke on against their wards. Then the sorcerers step into the air.

There was a collective intake of breath along the battlements…

Then glittering light.

Proyas watches as his men haul the siege-tower they named Tippytoes across the field from a joke Gaidekki had made. Proyas shudders as his siege-tower almost tips over but is righted. He’s nervous. Ahead, sappers had made a path, filling in irrigation ditches and other barriers. It leads right to Shimeh’s “white-and-ocher walls.”

Sister, another siege-tower, trundles to the left, matching Proyas’s progress. Inside both, ballistae await to assault the walls as the towers close the distance. They were both “miracles of engineering” designed by Kellhus. The city’s trebuchet’s answer, hurtling massive boulders that fall short of the siege-towers. Sister pulls ahead and Gaidekki boasts he’ll “wash up the blood” so Proyas doesn’t slip.

The Scarlet Spire begins their assault. Proyas washes it, feeling “numb as great gouts of flame washed across the barbicans.” Next, the siege-towers began firing their ballistae at the defenders as Proyas orders shields. They are within range of enemy archers. They begin taking fire, the world dimming from the number of arrows arching down at them.

Proyas is now huddling behind his shield, unable to focus on anything as the arrows rain around him. Flaming pots began striking his tower. Sister catches fire while Tippytoes takes a hit from the trebuchet. The tower shakes but doesn’t fall over or collapse. The sister takes a firepot at the upper deck, setting knights on fire. Proyas thinks Gaidekki is dead only to hear the man calling for him. The man appears out a small window smiling. Then he’s killed by a trebuchet stone.

Proyas is stunned at how fast death happened. Tippytoes lumbers on, the sky growing black with smoke. The Sister burns while his siege-tower comes closer and closer to the wall. He can see the First Temple on the sacred heights.

Shimeh! He thought. Shimeh!

Proyas lowered his silver war-mask, glimpsed his stooped kinsmen doing the same. The flying bridge dropped, its iron hooks biting the battlements. Tippytoes was tall enough to kiss after all.

Crying out to the Prophet and God, the Crown Prince leapt into the swords of his enemy…

Kellhus finds the tree. It couldn’t be missed at the edge of a hill, a twin to the tree Kellhus hung from during the Circumfix. He exams the old tree, the bark eaten by worms. He can hear distant thunder from Shimeh. There is an opening hacked into the roots of the tree, revealing faint staircases descending into the dark.

He [Kellhus] pressed his way forward, descended into the belly of the hillside.

Cnaiür reins his horse to a stop, spotting carrion birds and horseless riders. Cnaiür and the skin-spies examine the carnage they find. Though they haven’t reach Kyudea, where “the fat fool” said Kellhus traveled, Serwë insists they are on the Dûnyain’s trial. “She could smell him.”

After speaking with Achamian, Cnaiür feels a strange intensity to his actions. “A vigor he could only identify with hate.” He knows Kellhus travels to see Moënghus. He feels that impulse as he examines the dead Kidruhil, likely men hunting for Cnaiür, that Kellhus had caught by surprise and slaughtered. One of the skin-spies says they smell Fanim and aren’t sure this is Kellhus’s work, but Cnaiür is certain because “only one had time to draw his weapon.”

War, she [Esmenet] realized—war had given the world to men.

They had fallen to their knees before her, the Men of the Tusk. They had beseeched her for her blessing. “Shimeh,” one man had cried. “I go to die for Shimeh!” And Esmenet did, though she felt foolish and so very far from the idol they seemed to make of her; she blessed them, saying words that would give them the certainty they so desperately needed—to die or to kill. In a voice she knew so well—at once soothing and provoking—she repeated something she had heard Kellhus say: “Those who do not fear death live forever.” She held their cheeks and smiled, though her heart was filled with rot.

How they had thronged about her! Their arms and armour clattering. All of them reaching, aching for her touch, much as they had in her previous life.

And then they left her with the slaves and the ill.

Some called her the Whore of Sumna, but in reverent tones like they thought of her namesake from The Chronicles of the Tusk. She wonders if she’ll be only a reference “buried among holy articles.” Would she be Esmenet-the-other, the Prophet-Consort, or the Whore of Sumna?

She hears the battle begin. She can’t stand the sound and retreats into the Umbilica which his empty save for a few slaves and a single guard of the Hundred Pillars. It’s quiet in here, the Holy War seems “impossibly distant, as though she listened to another world through the joints of this one.” She finds herself in her chambers staring at the bed where she sleeps with Kellhus. She lays down on it surrounded by her books and scrolls, not reading, but just touching them, treating them like “a child jealous of her toys.” She counts them.

“Twenty-seven,” she said to no one. Distant sorceries cracked faraway air, made the gold and glass settings hum with their rumble.

Twenty-seven doors opened and not one way out.

“Esmi,” a hoarse voice said.

For a moment she refused to look up. She knew who it was. Even more, she knew what he looked like: the desolate eyes, the haggard posture, even the way his thumb combed the hair across his knuckles… It seemed a wonder that so much could be hidden in a voice, and even greater wonder that she alone could see.

Her husband. Drusas Achamian.

Achamian asks her to come with him. She agrees, ignoring Moënghus crying. She’s forever following.

The battle progresses. The Scarlet Spire unleashes their sorcerery on the battlements. They breathe dragon fire over the Fanim, roasting them. Stones fracture. The gate’s foundations buckle. Smoke and dust billows.

At long last, the Scarlet Spires marched.

Kellhus descends deeper, using a lantern, whose origins he doesn’t recognize, that waited for him. He realizes these ruins are not human. The way the drafts move through it causes his soul to calculate possibilities “transforming inferences into space.” It reminds him of the Thousand Thousand Halls of Ishuäl. He keeps going, seeing statuary’s carved into the walls. They are everywhere, stacked on each other, and he realizes this is the work of Nonmen.

He notices a trail “scuffed across the hide of ancient dust.” The person who left this trail has a stride identical to Kellhus’s his. He follows his father’s footsteps. He gains insight into the difference of Nonmen culture from Men. He ignores branching paths, following the track. He passes through a library, storerooms, bedrooms, more. He studied everything he passed and knows he “understood nothing of the souls for whom these things were natural and immediate.

He pondered four thousand years of absolute dark.

As the trail passes, by necessity, friezes and sculptures, Kellhus finds himself moving around them to study them, “heeding some voice from nowhere.” He realizes the Nonmen were obsessed with cutting their living forms into dead stone. They had turned the mansion into their Temple. “Unlike men, These Nonmen had not rationed their worship.” He thinks it speaks to their terror.

Collapsing possibilities with every step, Anasûrimbor Kellhus followed his father’s trail into the blackness, his lantern raised to the issue of artisans, ancient and inhuman.

Esmenet wonders where Achamian is taking her. He doesn’t speak as he leads her from the encampment and Shimeh. She finds herself feeling like they were their odd selves: “the sorcerer and his melancholy whore.” She even held his hand.

What harm could come of it?

Please… keep walking. Let us flee this place!

Only once they were outside the camp does she truly pay attention to Achamian and his appearance. She realizes he’s leading her to the very place where Kellhus waited last night. He breaks the silence, saying she didn’t come to Xinemus’s funeral. She says she couldn’t bear it. She feels guilty for missing out on the funeral for Achamian’s only friend even with what happened to her that night. She asks the customary platitude. He leads her farther in silence before making the customary response.

The sound of the battle is distant. She finds herself studying this place in the light of day, drinking in the details she missed last night. She wonders again what she’s doing. A flash of fear shots through her, and she wonders if Achamian seeks revenge for what she did to him. She finds herself angry that he hadn’t fought for her. She demands to know why they are here.

Achamian is oblivious to her anger and says she wanted her to see the camp of the holy war from a height. She stares out across the empty camp to the walls of Shimeh where the battle rages. Metal flashes on the rampart. Proyas’s siege-towers had arrived. Smoke rises from the Massus Gate. Above it all looms the First Temple.

She raised a balled fist to her brow. Perhaps it was some trick of scale or perspective, but it all seemed so slow, as though it happened through water—or something more viscous than human understanding.

Nevertheless, it happened…

She cries out that they have taken the city and are winning. She feels horror and awe. She reflects on everything she had endured to reach here. The battles. The pain. The atrocities committed. She feels it all as she stares at Achamian.

But he shook his head, his eyes still fixed on the vista before them. “It’s all a lie.”

Confused, she asks what he means. She sees the same blank numbness in his face she saw when he returned from death. He tells her “The Scylvendi came to me last night.”

The Fanim drums beat as the Javreh slave-soldiers charged the ruins of Massus Gate. The Scarlet Spire has entered Shimeh. Their soldiers fan out through the narrow streets, cutting down civilians in their way.

Ptarramas the Older was the first to die, struck in the shoulder by a Chorae as he pressed his cadre forward. He fell to the street, cracked like statuary. Bellowing arcana, Ti sent flocks of burning sparrows into the black windows of the adjacent tenement. Explosions spit blood and debris across the street. Then, from the ruins of the outer wall, Inrûmmi struck the building’s westward face with brilliant lightning. The air cracked. Burnt brick walls sloughed to the ground. In an exposed room, a burning figure stumbled over the lip of the floor and plummeted to the ruin below.

Eleäzaras enters the city, inspecting his school. He wanted to fight the Cishaurim in a head-on fight, but they Seökti, their High Heresiarch, is denying them. He sees the warren of the city stretching to the Juterum and feels Chorae around them, waiting to strike.

Everywhere. Hidden enemies.

Too many… too many.

“Fire cleanses!” he cried. “Raze it! Burn it all to ash!”

Yalgrota Sranchammer leads the Thunyeri though the Massus Gate after the Scarlet Schoolmen. His men race through the devastation of sorcery. On the wall, Proyas and his men are fighting on the ramparts. To the south, the Ainoni led by Chinjosa sees the Fanim flee before their siege-towers get in place. The Thunyeri spill through the city, not finding any defenders.

Soon the Kianene and Amoti were dissolving in panic. Everywhere they looked, they saw chain-armored myriads, loosed like blond wolves into the streets.

As Kellhus moves through the Nonmen mansion, his lantern runs out of fuel. Instead of finding darkness, a faint light comes from the sound of falling water. He presses on, not using sorcery to announce his presence. The sound of water grows louder while mist coats his skin. The light grows brighter. He uses touch to feel the floor to make sure he still followed his father’s path.

He finds a balcony overlooking a large cavern, a mighty waterfall plummeting below. Near where it lands, braziers burn beside an oily pool. He descends stairs, passing more “pornographic reliefs.” The stair spirals around the falls, passing “horns” that thrust into the waterfall to collect the water and transport it elsewhere. He passes signs of an ancient battle fought near the bottom.

“They gathered here in the hundreds,” a voice called across the gloom, clear despite the ambient rumble. “Even thousands, in the days before the Womb-Plague…”

A Kûniüric voice.

Kellhus paused on the steps, searched the gloom.

At last.

From the darkness, as Kellhus reaches a pool surrounded by squatting statues, the voice continues, saying, “Bathing was holy for them.” Kellhus examines the voice and finds it “seamless and inscrutable.” It sounds just like his own. He circles the pool and finds Moënghus sitting behind one of the sheets of water pouring from the statues. Moënghus says the fires are for Kellhus. Moënghus doesn’t need them. He’s lived in the darkness for a long time.

Achamian is scared by how calm Esmenet is as she repeats that Kellhus uses everyone. “Don’t you mean he uses me?” Achamian admits he’s still struggling to understand it, but he thinks Kellhus wants intelligent children.

“So he breeds. Is that it? I’m his prized mare?”

“I know how hateful these words must—”

“Why would you think that? I’ve been used my whole life.” She paused, glared at him with as much remorse as outrage. “My whole life, Akka. And now that I’ve become the instrument of something higher, higher than men and their rutting hunger—”

“But why? Why be an instrument at all?”

“You speak as if we had a choice—you, a Mandate Schoolman! There’s no escape. You know that. With every breath, we are used!”

He asks why she sounds so bitter at being used as a “prophet’s vessel.” She cuts him off, because of you. She says that he’s clinging to the fact she loved him, and it’s hurting her because he refuses to let go. He points out he asked, she came. That makes her silent for a while. She then pretends that she already knew this information, but Achamian, ignoring the Holy War, knows it’s a lie. She asks how he knows.

“Because you say you love him.”

The Scarlet Spire “laid waste to all before them.” They incinerate everything. A few “adept Watchers” move across the sky, the rest of the seventy-four move on the ground, sheltered by the Javreh. They step over the dead. “The whole world seemed rendered in luminous bloods and abyssal blacks.” The First Temple and the Ctesarat loom over them.

The Fanim ran before them, like flame-maddened beasts.

The Ciphrang are flying above Shimeh, the one place that gives them “reprieve from spikes of terrestrial congestion.” Zioz, Setmahaga, and Sohorat are flying as high as possible. The Voice calls them back. They plummet towards the war-torn city of Shimeh. The envy all the mortal “raping, murdering, warring.” They want to devour all of that, but the Voice controls them, hurting them until they obey and land on the First Temple.

Inside, they sensed the Cishaurim. They are ordered to attack, the Voice telling them they’ll be safe from Chorae only amid the Cishaurim. They rip through the roof and descended on a dozen Cishaurim. Psûkhe assaults them. They kill, ripping away heads. Then a loud voice yells, “Demon!” The newcomer is old but appears powerful. The Voice tells them to flee.

Setmahaga fell first, struck in the eye by an absence affixed to the end of a stick. An explosion of burning salt…

Flee!

Then Sohorat, his slavering form caught in torrents of light, screamed.

Zioz leapt into the clouds.

Return me, manling! Throw off these chains!

But the Scarlet Schoolman was obstinate.

One last task… One more offending eye…

Water falls around Kellhus. Moënghus begins talking about how Kellhus found that humans were like children and thus believe the same as their fathers. “Men are like wax poured into moulds: their souls are cast by their circumstances.” It’s why Fanim are not born to Inrithi and vice versa. If you raised an infant with Fanim, you get Fanim. The same infant given to Inrithi parents, you get Inrithi.

“Split him in two, and he would murder himself.”

Moënghus’s face thrust through the waterfall at seemingly random, like he was just readjusting his posture. Kellhus knows it’s all premeditated. “For all the changes wrought by thirty years in the Wilderness, his father remained Dûnyain…” Kellhus stands on “conditioned ground.” Moënghus continues that even though this is obvious, men don’t realize that anything comes before them. “They are numb to the hammers of circumstance.” They think they have free will. This leads them to rely on their intuition and get mad at people who disagree with them because they think they know “absolute truth.”

“And yet part of them fears. For even unbelievers share the depths of their conviction. Everywhere, all about them, they see examples of their own self-deception… ‘Me!’ everyone cries. ‘I am chosen!’ How could they not fear when they so resemble children stamping their feet in the dust? So they encircle themselves with yea-sayers, and look to the horizon for confirmation, for some higher sign that they are as central to the world as they are to themselves.”

He waved his hand out, brought his palm to his bare breast. “And they pay with the coin of their devotion.”

Esmenet throws back Achamian words in his face, pointing out he surrendered his “precious Gnosis” as easily as she surrendered her body. She wants to hate him as she says this. He agrees and she presses him, asking why would a Mandate Schoolman go against his school. He begins by saying because of the Second Apocalypse and she jumps at that.

“The very world is at stake and you complain that he makes weapons of all things? Akka, you should rejoi—”

“I’m not saying he’s not the Harbinger! He may even be a prophet for all I know…”

“Then what are you saying, Akka? Do you even know?”

Two tears threaded his cheeks.

“That he stole you from me! Stole!”

She is disdainful, claiming she feels worthless. Saying that Achamian says he loves her, but always treated her like she was a whore. Before she can say that word, he cuts her off by saying she’s only seeing her love for Kellhus. “You’re not thinking of what he sees when he gazes upon you.”

A moment of silent horror.

Esmenet then protests that you can’t trust a Scylvendi and Achamian demands to know what Kellhus sees in her. She finds her self shaking as she says, “He sees the truth!” She finds him hugging her.

He whispered into her ear. “He doesn’t see, Esmi… He watches.”

And the words were there, at once deafening and unspoken.

…without love.

She looked up to him, and he stared at her with an intensity, a desperation, she knew she would never find in Kellhus’s endless blue eyes. He smelled warm… bitter.

His lips were wet.

Eleäzaras lets out a mad cackle as he stares out at the ruins of Shimeh. He feels this strange, dark enjoyment “like watching a hated sibling struck at last.” He feels drunk now. High. Sorcerous battle rages around him. Buildings are destroyed. Lightning and fire unleashed.

The Grandmaster cackled as the wave of dust rolled over him. Shimeh burned! Shimeh burned!

A sorcerer, Sarothenese, reaches Eleäzaras and says he is pressing them too hard, wasting their energy on mindless destruction. Eleäzaras just wants them to kill, not caring about anything else. His subordinate pleads with him to conserve their strength for the Cishaurim.

For some reason, he [Eleäzaras] thought of all the slaves who had swallowed his member, of clutching tight silken sheets, of the luxurious agony of release. This was what it was like, he realized. He had seen them, the Men of the Tusk, filing back from battle, matted in blood, smiling with those terrifying eyes…

As though to show those eyes to Sarothenese, he turned to the man, held out a hand to the sulfurous calamity before them.

“Behold!” he spat contemptuously. “Behold what we—we!—have wrought.”

The soot-stained sorcerer stared at him in horror. Lights flashed across his sweaty cheek. Eleäzaras turned back to the exult in the wages of his impossible labour. Shimeh burned… Shimeh.

“Our power,” he grated. “Our glory!”

Proyas stares in shock from the top of Shimeh’s walls as the dark clouds rising up from the ruins. The First Temple feels so close to him even with though Fanim soldiers are between him and the Sacred Heights. Despite his awe for the Holy Sight, he is stunned by the destruction the Scarlet Schoolman are wreaking upon the city. Proyas shouts at a Schoolman, demanding to know what they are doing. They’re destroying Shimeh.

That gets the Schoolman’s attention and he is mad, saying they are fighting the Cishaurim and have to be so indiscriminate because of the Chorae lurking out there. He doesn’t give a shit about Holy Shimeh. The man’s vehemence shocks Proyas.

The sorcerer before Proyas began singing as well. A sudden wind bellied his gaping sleeves.

And a voice whispered, No… not like this.

Moënghus continues his lecture on how circumstance mold men, and that is what power is. He then asks what is about men that makes them this malleable. He answers it for Kellhus, saying he learned this lesson fast when he saw them all in a “circle of repeating actions, each one a wheel in the great machine of nations.” If men stop obeying, then leaders stop leading. To be a king, a man “must act accordingly.” If a man thinks he is a slave, he acts like one. Like Moënghus already had, Kellhus had learned that men have hierarchies and expect people to act in whatever role circumstance has handed them. “This is what makes them emperors or slaves.”

“Nations live as Men act,’ Moënghus said, his voice refracted through the ambient rush of waters. “Men act as they believe. And Men believe as they are conditioned. Since they are blind to their conditioning, they do not doubt their intuitions…”

Kellhus nodded in wary assent. “They believe absolutely,” he said.

Achamian leads Esmenet by the hand towards the ruined mausoleum. She’s smiling and crying. He finds her beautiful before the smoke rising from Shimeh. He leads her inside and they kiss with passion. They are on the ground. He realizes this is wrong.

And he knew—they both knew!—what it was they were doing: blotting one crime with another… But he couldn’t stop. Even though he knew she would hate him afterward. Even though he knew that was what she wanted…

Something unforgivable.

She’s crying, moaning something he can’t hear. He feels this terror beating through him even as he hikes up her dress. She’s squirming on the ground then she gasped that Kellhus has to love her and will kill them. Then he plunges into her.

The defenders of Shimeh flee the sorcerous fire, cursing the Holy War and wondering where their Padirajah and the Cishaurim are. Smoke fills the city. The Conryians hunt down routed shoulders, putting them to death. In a square, they defenders regroup and reform to face the Conriyans. They threw up barriers. However, after a few assaults, they are broken again and flee farther into the city. “Death came Swirling down.”

But the Prince pulled Ingiaban aside.

“What is it?” the burly Palatine said, his voice ringing through his war-mask.

“Where are they?” Proyas asked. “The Fanim.”

“What do you mean?”

“They only pretend to defend their city.”

Kellhus studies what little he can see of his father as Moënghus continues talking about how Kellhus acted, saying as a Dûnyain, he had no choice but to “master circumstance.” So he set about taking control of the Holy War by making their beliefs the focus of his study. “It was axiomatic.”

“You realized those truths that cut against the interests of the powerful were called lies, and that those lies that served those interests were called truths. And you understood that it had to be this way, since it is the function of belief, not the veracity, that preserved nations. Why call an emperor’s blood divine? Why tell slaves that suffering is grace? It is what beliefs do, the actions they license and prohibit, that is important. If men believed all blood was equal, the caste-nobles would be overthrown. If men believed all coin was oppression, the caste-merchants would be turned out.

“Nations tolerate only those believes that conserve the great system of interlocking actions that make them possible. For the worldborn, you realized, truth is largely irrelevant. Why else would they all dwell in delusion?”

Thus, Kellhus claimed to be a noble to receive the benefits of the position. This way he could command instead of being commanded. Now Kellhus had to figure out the next lie to take him from equal to their master.

Achamian and Esmenet writhe in passion, their bodies remembering how to please each other. It’s wild. Unbridled. She cries as she kisses him.

You were dead!”

I cam back for you…”

Anything. Even the world.

Akka…”

For you.”

Esmi. Esmenet. Gasping and crying out…

Such a strange name for a harlot.

The mist creates false tears flowing down Moënghus’s cheeks as he continues his explanation of Kellhus’s actions. Kellhus saw that belief was just another hierarchy for humans with their own levels. Religious ones are at the top, proven by the Holy War’s existence. “The actions of so many could be pitched with single purpose against so many native weaknesses: fear, sloth, compassion…” Kellhus thus studied their scriptures and understood how Inrithism worked. Since it was pinned to the unseen, to the God, doubting the faith meant doubting their creator. It acts as the base for all other relations of power. The arbiter of all mankind. “The servant shakes his fist at the heavens, not his master.”

His father’s voice—so much like his own—swelled to seize all the dead Nonmen spaces.

“And here you saw the Shortest Path… For you understood that this trick, which turns the eyes of the oppressed skyward and away from the hand that held the whip, could be usurped to your ends. To command circumstance, you must command action. To command action, you must command belief. To command belief, you need only speak with the voice of heaven.

“You were Dûnyain, one of the Conditioned, and they, with their stunted intellects, were no more than children.”

Scouts watching Shairizor Plains were the first to see movement. The Lords of the Holy War had searched for Fanayal and his army but hadn’t found it. They realize he must be in the city and will attack their flank out of Shimeh’s eastern gate. They are ready for this with defenses deployed along the River Jeshimal.

The Fanim had, instead, undermined the walls of Shimeh. “Walls meant nothing, their bright-eyed Padirajah assured them, when Schools went to war.” With Psûkhe sorcery, a section of the walls is destroyed and out charges Fanayal and his horseman, racing across Shairizor Plains.

The sound of heathen drums suddenly redoubled.

Moënghus continues explaining how Kellhus became the Warrior-Prophet by convincing “them [the Holy War] that the distance between their intellect and yours was the distance between the World and the Outside.” If he succeeded, they would give him complete control and their devotion. It wouldn’t be easy to execute but was clearly the only way. So Kellhus “cultivated their awe” by telling them things he shouldn’t know by reading their hearts. He “showed them who they were” while simultaneously exploiting their weaknesses.

“You gave them certainty, though all the world is mystery. You gave them flattery, though all the world is indifference. You gave them purpose, though all the world is anarchy.

“You taught them ignorance.

At the same time he did this, Kellhus feigned to be humble. He didn’t claim to be special or different. He sprinkled out his revelations to many, giving them pieces of his machine, then let the masses assemble it. That way, they figured out revelation on their own and came to the conclusion that he was their Prophet.

However, Moënghus continues that this wouldn’t be enough. Though the powerless don’t care who stands between them and “the God,” those with power did. “To rule in the name of an absent king is to rule outright.” The nobles would resist. A crisis would happen. Moënghus stands and steps through the water. His empty eye sockets stare into Kellhus’s eyes.

“This,” the eyeless face said, “was where the Probability Trance failed me…”

“So you did not anticipate the visions?” Kellhus asked.

His father’s face remained absolute and impassive.

“What visions?”

Eleäzaras stands in the midst of the inferno he and his mage cadres had crated of Shimeh. He stares at the Juterum, eager to find the assassins. They are so close to it. He’s eager for it.

The Cishaurim had sent their invitation, and they had come. After innumerable miles and deprivations—after all the humiliation!—they had come. They had kept their end of the bargain. Now it was time to balance the ledgers. Now! Now!

What kind of game do they play?

No matter. No matter. He would raze all Shimeh if he had to. Upend the very earth!

He orders his school to fight even as he’s warned that there are lots of Chorae nearby. He dismisses them, claiming they are held by the dead buried by the rubble of the buildings they destroyed.

The world about him seemed black and hollow and glittering white. Kellhus raised his palm. “My hands… when I look upon them, I see haloes of gold.”

Scrutiny. Calculation.

“I have not my eyes with me,” Moënghus said, and Kellhus understood instantly that he referred to the asps used by his Cishaurim brethren. “I walk these halls by memory.”

For all the signs he betrayed, this man who was his father could be a statue of stone. He seemed a face without a soul.

Kellhus continues, asking if the God speaks to Moënghus. He doesn’t, which Kellhus finds curious. Moënghus asks where the voice comes from. Kellhus doesn’t know. He only knows the thoughts aren’t his. Moënghus dips into the probability trance and concludes that Kellhus has become deranged by what he suffered. Kellhus concedes it’s a possibility. Moënghus continues that it wouldn’t benefit Kellhus to deceive him unless Kellhus has come to actually assassinate him. Kellhus asks if his father apprehends that.

Scrutiny. Calculation.

“You do not have the power to overcome me.”

“But I do, Father.”

Another pause, imperceptibly longer.

“How,” his father finally said, “could you know this?”

“Because I know why you were compelled to summon me.”

Scrutiny. Calculation.

“So you have grasped it.”

“Yes… the Thousandfold Thought.”

My Thoughts

This was one hard chapter to summarize. I just wanted to copy and paste everything Moënghus says. It’s Bakker writing out the philosophy of the Dûnyain in one place. How they think. How they go through problems. How they see the world. How Bakker does, too.

The end is about to begin. The final battle dawns. You can feel this chapter building towards those climaxes. The Holy War assembling, Kellhus searching for that tree where his father awaits, and Achamian grappling with the revelation that he is Kellhus slave.

By thinking himself free, he doesn’t question the chains wrapped about his soul. Kellhus wants everyone blind to that truth. Cnaiür thought he could be chaotic and not be controlled. He was wrong. Achamian thought he served the Mandate and the world by helping Kellhus. He, too, is wrong. And now he has to come to terms with it.

By serving Kellhus, Achamian had taken a perverse pride in his sacrifice of Esmenet. He was showing how virtuous he was. That he was putting the world ahead of his own pain. That he was serving something that mattered. He glutted on it and now he realizes how false it was. How manufactured. That it was all lies. He prefers damnation because he’s now in a living hell.

Can’t blame those Fanim for running. We’ve seen how destructive sorcery is in this series. The demon attack has caused havoc among the Cishaurim, giving the Scarlet Spire the freedom to assault the walls without fear of them or the Chorae bowmen.

A tense section with Proyas on the siege-tower and the slow lumber towards the enemy wall with everyone in the city wanting to take you out. Then just like that, Gaidekki is killed. Smiling. A cold, impersonal death. The type of war is filled with.

The only tree in Kyudea is a twin to Umiaki back in Caraskand. Kellhus is facing another test, one just as dire and important as that. Trees are symbolically linked with Dûnyain from the very beginning of the story. Kellhus was bemused by trees branching in all their directions when he first left Ishuäl. When he learns to fight, he was trained to be a tree warring in every direction at once. Trees represent different paths. That one can travel to reach the sky. Every choice leading to more and more decisions, each more fragile, thinner, more ephemeral the way the probability trance must become when Kellhus plots out how events might happen and what he can do to influence them.

The dead Kidruhil makes me think back to Kellhus racing as a jackal on the plain. This might have been when he killed these men. Or maybe it was such an insignificant moment to Kellhus, Bakker doesn’t even bother giving us a hint of it in his POV.

War is the territorial fighting of animals taken to the most extreme. Not one pack or herd fighting another, but tribes and nations with a level of regimentation and ferocity not found with our animal cousins. We took it to the extremes and seized our planet. We exerted our will upon it and shaped it. To do so, you have to overcome your survival instinct and all manner of innate programming that keeps you from wanting to actually kill another. You have to believe there’s a reward, that you have nothing to fear, that you’re doing the right thing, that you’re fighting monsters.

War is belief. And that feverish belief gave humans the world.

Esmenet is lost. We see this focused in her surrounding herself by what she gained as Kellhus wife: books. They are the thing she most values. Learning to read allowed her to continue that passion her character has always had to hear stories. Look back to book one where she talks about her preferred clients as a whore: travelers. Men who had gone places, seen things beyond her little section of Sumna. Now that she’s traveled, she’s learned that books can take her into the past, into new ideas, into far-flung lands.

But right now it won’t change her inner turmoil that she doesn’t love Kellhus like she thought. She’s floundering. And then Achamian walks in and she thinks of him as first her husband. When he invites her to go with him, she doesn’t hesitate. She ignores crying Moënghus to go to him.

Kellhus trip through the mansion is, literally, on conditioned ground. He’s following the path his father left for him. These are Kellhus’s last steps as a Dûnyain. After this, he will have utterly diverted, forming his own path from his father and the rest of his people. As he follows these steps, he makes minor deviations to admire the Nonmen sculptures. He responds to “some voice from nowhere.” A Dûnyain shouldn’t be listening to a voice “from nowhere.”

Esmenet finds herself angry he hadn’t fought for her. She wants to be valued by Achamian, especially now that she’s realized she never really loved Kellhus. That she still loves Achamian, and now she realizing that what they had she can’t get back, even though she wants it so badly now. She wants them to leave the Holy War.

But she’s pregnant.

It’s a powerful moment as she stares at Shimeh. This is what they all suffered for. Will it be worth it in the end? Can it be once she learns the truth that has broken Achamian?

Eleäzaras’s fear that has been building over the course of the last two books is now unleashed in all its paranoia. He’s out of control. He just ordered his men to attack indiscriminately because they are surrounded by “hidden enemies.” This is more than he can handle.

Kellhus’s touch can detect disturbed dust. Dûnyain…

The battle is no doubts from when men wiped out the Nonmen from this mansion. There were many such pogroms run against them.

Now we come to it. Moënghus at last. Even now, reading this for the dozenth time, that tingle of excitement races through me. Bakker has built us up to this moment for the last three books. The goal of the series.

We have three different battles underway in this part. Kellhus versus Moënghus. The Holy War versus the Fanim. Achamian versus Kellhus’s manipulation. The Thousandfold Thought, Shimeh, and Esmenet are the stakes. Bakker cuts between them, moving from the opening salvos to the clashes as we cut from Achamian’s first attack, “Because you say you love him.”

So we learn that demons turn to salt when killed in their attack and that there is an old Cishaurim you do not want to mess with. Then Bakker is setting up the foreshadowing for what happens to Achamian and Iyokus’s revenge. A nice little scene that gives us some insight into the Daimos and how it works.

Moënghus remains Dûnyain, but not Kellhus.

We are getting into how Dûnyain sees the world. Moënghus’s first wards part is reiterating what we’ve read this entire time, the cliff-notes of the series. It’s about humans, especially how self-centered we are. I’m a writer, and taking criticism is hard. There’s a part of me that instantly reacts with the nasty impulse that they are wrong, mistaken. I have to batter it down and try not to fall into the trap of confusing my “narrow conditioning for absolute truth.”

Achamian’s doubt in this conversation, on just what Kellhus is, is what compels him to embark on his long journey in the next series as much as his desire for Esmenet. He needs to prove that losing Esmenet was truly worth it, I think. He has to know if Kellhus really is a prophet and the savior of the world.

“He stared at her with an intensity, a desperation, she knew she would never find in Kellhus’s endless blue eyes.” A powerful line. Esmenet realizes right here Kellhus can never love her. There’s that quote earlier in this novel about how a man without passion is safe, but he also can never love. Achamian might hurt her, but he can also love her. Kellhus can just watch her.

And if she wasn’t pregnant…

So Eleäzaras has completely snapped. He’s gone battle mad, knows it, and doesn’t care. He is beyond responsibility. It’s easier now just burning and destroying. It takes no effort to destroy. To tear down. To ruin. You can do it in moments, breaking something that could have taken days, weeks, months, or years to build.

Proyas is having more and more of his illusions shattered. He saw the Holy War as saving Shimeh, but they have to destroy it to take it. This crisis will send Proyas to his darkest moment until, well, we get to the end of The Unholy Consult.

There is a great deal of truth in what Moënghus is talking about to Kellhus about how the world works. It’s the social contract. In a functional, liberal society like ours, there’s a great deal more flexibility in roles and moving, but we still expect people to do certain things, to have certain responsibilities, in their roles. Society, companies, families, organizations, and more can punish and coerce those who buck it. It can be used to enslave or to empower. The Dûnyain have their own belief on how it should be used.

Esmenet is still clinging to the belief that she loves Kellhus and he loves her. She has to do something to prove it. She has to do something to prove it by making him react emotionally. If Kellhus loved her, he will be hurt by her adultery. At the same time, she will now feel guilty for hurting Kellhus instead of Achamian. She hopes to be free of Achamian. Will she? Does she know what she truly wants? Even knowing this, Achamian wants her too much. He can’t help himself.

A slave to the Darkness that comes before.

I have no idea what a Wellkeeper is. I thought it was a reference to the Cishaurim, but then Bakker names them as Water-bearers. Maybe it’s a reference to Chorae archers. The Amoti are burning in sorcerers fires and dying. They need relief. This word is only referenced in this one spot in this novel.

The way Moënghus talks about Kellhus makes it sound like the more you follow logic, the less free will you have. His father talks about how Kellhus “had to master circumstance.” He had to take control of the world. “It was axiomatic.” For all that the Dûnyain attempt to become self-moving souls, they have merely replaced one set of custom that guides them for another: the Logos.

Then Kellhus makes a choice. He goes against his conditioning. He is influenced by something beyond this world and acts on it.

We get more biting insight into human behavior. We all let our biases cherry pick the information we take in. What we agree with, we embrace. What we disagree with, we throw away. It’s hard to break this habit. To be truly open. This delusion is how we can all work together. It’s what allows our society to function. Humans are innately creatures of hierarchy. We always arrange ourselves into them, and the behaviors that lead to the greatest stability in that arrangement are the ones to be prized.

Back to Achamian and Esmenet. All Achamian wants is her. He doesn’t care about the world. It’s his motivation. I think exposing Kellhus in the second series is all about proving that he was right to put Esmenet before the world. Ahhamina wrote his History of the Holy War and went on that vast journey to prove he was correct.

That he was the center of the world like all us humans think.

Moënghus lists compassion as a weakness with fear and sloth. Insight into Dûnyain’s thoughts. They have divorced themselves from emotions. It is compassion, though, that has broken Kellhus from the mold. That first outrage he felt at Serwë being raped by Cnaiür way back in book one. The horror he felt at being chained to her dead body, the guilt as he wanted to take back his actions that lead to her death. Compassion is the root of love, not lust, but that desire to help those you care for. To act in selfless ways. But to a Dûnyain, it is the Will to Power that matters. They are the “übermench” of Nietzsche. The super-men.

Let’s not forget, this entire series started out with Nietzsche being quoted.

Faith without doubt is a big problem. When you’re told not to question, but obey, you’re being controlled. You should absolutely question things. You shouldn’t just blindly followed what you’re trained. One thing I’ve never seen the Dûnyain do in their training is the question what they’re told. The flashbacks we get of Kellhus is of him answering questions, but not challenging his teacher’s principals. He accepts that they know what is correct and acts on them. It leads to a predictable life. After all, Moënghus has figured out everything Kellhus would do before he ever summoned him. He created the circumstances that would force Kellhus to become the Warrior-Prophet and lead the Holy War to Shimeh.

A smart plan from Fanayal. Kellhus didn’t see it coming. He had his men ready to defend a sally from the Eastern Gate, not an attack onto the Ainoni Plain. Kellhus can be fought by being erratic and doing out of the box thinking because Kellhus in very much in the box. Tactics that are less than advantageous, ones that pose greater risks, can be useful at first. Of course, Kellhus will adjust with his new data, but it shows the Dûnyain aren’t omniscience.

Ignorance is the most powerful tool of the Dûnyain. Once you know what they are capable of, it becomes vastly more difficult for them to manipulate you. They have to use proxies, trade for things you value, make you dependent in other ways. This we saw with Cnaiür. If everyone knows these things, it’ll become vastly more difficult. Of course, I imagine if everyone mistrust a Dûnyain, they could work that mistrust to their advantage, but… it would be harder.

Ignorance is the same tool the Consult is using.

It’s true. When you’re powerless, isn’t it better to choose your master than have one chosen for you? It doesn’t bother you if Kellhus is in charge versus Proyas or Conphas. It’s even better because you believe in him. You gladly serve him. But when you have power, well, that’s different. Who wants to give that up?

We’ve come to know the Dûnyain so well through Kellhus that even though Moënghus gives no reaction to and asks a simple question, you can feel his shock at Kellhus revelation. He did not anticipate Kellhus hearing a voice. This wasn’t part of the plan. This was something not part of the Dûnyain philosophy.

Kellhus has strayed from the Conditioned Grounds.

Eleäzaras comes off as a spoiled child. He wants his vengeance so bad. He’s swept up in it, crushed by the stresses and now just wants his release. He’s denied it. So he’s being petulant. He doesn’t care about the cost. Nothing matters to him, not even his school.

A face without a soul… Dûnyain. That is a powerful statement of what they are. They have cut out what it means to be human. But Kellhus, he’s seeing the halos. Those who believe in him as the Warrior-Prophet see it. When they doubt, like Achamian, it goes away. Kellhus is seeing them. He’s believing that he can change things. He’s affected by the outside because of Serwë and Esmenet. Both these women touched his soul. It’s barely there, an atrophied thing, but as we see in the next series, he does care in his own, fumbling, impotent, ineffective way.

If you think Kellhus is lying about the halos, notice the opening of his passage: “The world about him seemed black and hollow and glittering white. Kellhus raised his palm.” Glittering white. Where is that coming from? The weak torch barely illuminating anything? Or the halo around his hand that he now talks about.

What a way to end the chapter. The Thousandfold Thought. What the Dûnyain have been trying to achieve forever. Moënghus couldn’t get it, so he manufactured a way for his son to get it but giving him this mighty task, forcing him to use his Probability Trance to its fullest with real stakes. No theory now. Real-world application.

Only Moënghus didn’t count on interference coming from outside of cause and effect.

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

To save the world, Ary must die!

Ary, a young man scarred by his past, is thrust into the dangers of the military. But he carries a deadly secret: the dark goddess’s touch stains his soul.

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

He must hide the truth from the other marines and the woman he loves. Can Ary survive the dangers of service and the zealous assassin plotting his death?

Are you ready for the action, danger, romance, and betrayal exploding across the skies Above the Storm!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 14
Shimeh

Welcome to Chapter Fourteen of my reread. Click here if you missed the Chapter Thirteen!

Some say I learned dread knowledge that night. But of this, as so many other matters, I cannot write for fear of summary execution.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

Truth and hope are like travelers in contrary directions. They meet but once in any man’s life

AINONI PROVERB

My Thoughts

Wow, those are some quotes. The one is foreshadowing. Clearly, Achamian is going to learn something that he’s too terrified to write. Mind you, this is in his heretical book after he’s already rejected Kellhus and gone into voluntary exile. Even Achamian knows not to put what he learns. Even reading this the first time, you can only imagine the truth he learned.

Which leads us to the Ainoni proverb that truth and hope are so rarely meet up that you get it once in a lifetime. It implies that hope is built on lies, on self-fabrication. That the truth doesn’t care about what sustains you. And when you learn that truth, it can kill that hope. However, once in a blue moon, they compliment each other.

Will it happen here?

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Esmenet dreamed that she was a prince, an angel fallen from the dark, that her heart had beaten, her loins had ached, for tens of thousands of years. She dreamed that Kellhus stood before her, an outrage to be blotted, an enigma to be dissected, and above all a burning question…

Who are the Dûnyain?

She awakes confused about who she is for a few moments. Then she doesn’t find Kellhus beside her, but she’s not surprised. She feels a “sense of finality in the air.” A dread has been building in her since reading The Sagas. She’s felt strange desires since her possession, seeing memories of the Inchoroi flooding her mind. Those desires, while alien in origin, still were hers. Kellhus tried to comfort her while questioning her, telling her what Achamian had already explained about Xinemus and his compulsion. Kellhus says that she was Aurang for a bit, which is why she felt like all those dark lusts were hers. He even says that is why Aurang tried to provoke Kellhus to kill her so she wouldn’t retain any of his secrets. But she argues that she felt them too strong. That they were her desires.

“Those desires weren’t yours, Esmi. They only seemed to be yours because you couldn’t see where they came from… You simply suffered them.”

“But then, how does any desire belong to me?”

She thought the dread building in her was knowing Xinemus was dying. She tried to convince herself after she learned of his death, but couldn’t. It was “too obvious for even her to believe.” Then Achamian moved out, giving her a new lie. But it, too, faded when she beheld Shimeh and believes they all will die here.

She dresses and learns Kellhus is wandering the camp without an escort. Once, Esmenet would have been fearful. No longer. She knows the Holy War is the safest place for him now. She heads out looking for him, moving through the nighttime camp, finding some still awake carousing or drinking. She bumps into an Ainoni and realizes he’s a former customer before she reunited with Achamian. She realizes from his smirk that he takes pride in having bedded the Prophet-Consort, revealing that Esmenet’s belief she had controlled her activities a lie. He grabs her arm, drunk, clearly looking to enjoy her again.

“Do you know who I am?” she said sharply.

“Yes,” he repeated, his manner lurid. “I know you…”

“Then you know how close you stand to death.”

A look of dank puzzlement. She advanced and struck him with an open palm.

“Insolent dog! Kneel!”

He stared, stunned, unmoving.

“Kneel! Or I’ll have you flayed alive… Do you understand?”

Terror breaks through his drunkenness. He blubbers for forgiveness. She contemplates having her agents find the man. Different ways he could be punished flash through her. She knows it’s petty, but she revels in them. She normally hated “the brutality that her new station had forced upon her.” She isn’t sure why she feels this way if it was his shame or his delight. “Or was it the mere fact that she could do these things?” She feels giddy knowing she’s Kellhus’s “vessel.”

She climbs the hills over the Meneanor Sea, thinking, and comes across Kellhus staring at Shimeh. He’s atop the ruins and contemplates joining him, but thinks it’s too risky considering she’s pregnant. Instead of seeming lonely, he dominates the situation as always. Without even glancing at her, he says she’s worried that he’s getting distant like he was before the Circumfix. She thinks he’s doing something dangerous, though she admits she’s trying not to. She asks why he’s here. He says he has to leave soon then offers her a hand.

With ease, he hauls her up to join him on the narrow ruin. She is dizzied by it and holds him, savoring his presence “as she always did.” She asks where is going. He answers Kyudea, which was the twin city to Shimeh, destroyed a long time ago. She mutters, “Your father’s house.”

“Truth has its seasons, Esmi. Everything will be made clear in due course.”

“But, Kellhus…” What did it mean that they had to assail Shimeh without him?

“Proyas knows what must be done,” he said decisively. “The Scarlet Spire will act as they see fit.”

Desperation welled through her. You can’t leave us.

“I must, Esmi. I answer to a different voice.”

She realizes it’s not her voice. “The things that moved her simply didn’t touch him.” She feels that they are moving through the heavens. He feels like a stranger to her. “The son of something terrible.” She asks if Akka should go with him as protection. Kellhus says he has to go alone and that he’s beyond needing Achamian for defense. Esmenet points out Achamian will want to know where he goes and Kellhus smiles and nods in that knowing way and says Achamian’s already asked. His levity makes her want to try, though she isn’t sure why. She finds herself kneeling before him, “playing out in pantomime what others did.”

No matter where they turned, men found themselves encircled by greater things. Usually, they ignored them. And sometimes, moved by pride and base hunger, they warred against them. But either way, those things remained just as great, and men, no matter how lunatic their conceit, remained just as small. Only by kneeling, by offering themselves as one might offer the haft of a weapon, could men recognize their place in this world. Only by submitting could they recognize themselves.

There was rapture in submission. The vulnerability of another towering overhead—precarious, like letting a stranger touch one’s face. The sense of profound communing, as though only those who acknowledged their insignificance could themselves be acknowledged. The relief of surrender, the disburdening that accompanied the yielding of responsibility.

The paradoxical sense of license.

Everything grew silent. She finds this moment euphoric and arousing. He laughs, helps her stand, and says he loves you. Though a part of her “gushed like an adolescent,” the old whore in her watches with “callused eyes.” She says she knows and he says she afraid, as all man are. She claims she can’t survive without him.

Hadn’t she told Akka the same thing?

He touches her pregnant belly and says he can’t without her. Then he kisses her. She holds onto him, not wanting to let go of him even as he looks away from her to Shimeh. She’s desperate and he knows.

“Fear for the future, Esmi, not me.” Fingers combed through her hair, drew tingling lines across her scalp. “This flesh is but my shadow.”

Kellhus reflects on how far he had come from Ishuäl and thinks he hears someone shouting his name. “How far had he come?” He had departed for Kyudea after sending Esmenet back to camp. He walks through hills and starts talking to the world, saying he knows the world can hear him. Wind answers him. He asks what he was supposed to do when they only attend “to what lies before their eyes.” If it doesn’t make them happy, they hurt it. They entrust “things unseen” to the world. The wind dies.

“What was I to do? Tell them the truth?”

He stooped, pulled a twig from the straps of his right sandal. He studied it by the moonlight, followed the thin, muscular branchings that seized so much emptiness from the sky. Tusk sprouting from tusk. Though the trees about him had died seasons previously, the twig possessed two leaves, one waxy green, the other brown…

“No,” he said. “I cannot.”

The Dûnyain had sent him into the world as an assassin. His father had imperiled their isolation, had threatened Ishuäl, the great sanctuary of their hallowed meditations. They had no choice but to send Kellhus, even knowing that they served Moënghus’s ends… What else could they do?

He reflects how he had mastered the three great weapons: faith, war, and sorcery. “He was Dûnyain, one of the Condition.” He followed the Shortest Path and yet “he had come so far.” He remembers weeping against Serwë’s corpse on the Circumfix. Thinking that, he takes off running across the broken ground.

He ran. Not once did he stumble, nor did he slow to determine his bearings. His ground was his… Conditioned.

Everywhere, all about him, one world. The crossings were infinite, but they were not equal.

They were not equal.

In the night, Kianene and Amoti hear a sound “like tapestries being beaten” moving across the sky. A shadow crosses the First Temple. Something inhuman watches. “It drank with its eyes, while its soul dreamed a million years.” It hates where it is, feeling like it is being cut.

Thorns. Its every glimpse speared like thorns.

The stone is weak. We could wash it away…

Do nothing, the Voice replied. Just watch.

They know we are here. If we do not move, they will fund us.

Then test them.

The creature is a Ciphrang named Zioz. It comes across a Cishaurim and attacks it, ripping the soul from the manling’s body and throwing the corpse to the ground. It thinks they are weak, but the voice says there are others. The Ciphrang speculates it might die, but the voice says Zioz is too strong.

Perhaps you will die with me… Iyokus.

Achamian feels “a pendulous absence” circling him and thinks he should wake up. He is dreaming he is Seswatha vomiting in the bowels of Golgotterath while Nau-Cayûti watches. The pair is still moving through the “endless dark” as they climb through new horrors.

Seswatha had heard rumors of the horrors of this place, speaking with Nil’giccas and hearing his account of fighting through the “horrid immensity of the Incû-Holoinas.” The Nonmen said 1 in a 100 Inchoroi died in the Ark’s crash, but they still had thousands left. Nil’giccas had warned the Ark “was an ingrown world.” A maze. You always have to be on guard in it.

Nau-Cayûti spots a light. They douse theirs and creep towards it across eons of detritus and filth. There is a swelling clamor. The passage leads to a mighty void, a great space. They are looking down upon a city in the bowels of the ship. “The steaming heart of Golgotterath.”

He [Achamian] should be awake.

He keeps dreaming of Seswatha staring at what he realizes is the hold of a vast ship where the city has been built in it. “Structures of mortise and hacked stones climbed their foundations, crusting their sides like stacked hornets’ nests, not dwellings but open cells, squalid and innumerable.” In it, they see human captives toiling amid Bashrag and Sranc while others. There are “open-air harems” where men, women, and children are used. Achamian again thinks he should be awake.

Screams and roars echo as Nau-Cayûti slumps in horror realizing that the woman he’s here for is down there. He attacks Seswatha demanding to know where she is. Achamian struggles awake at his point, realizing that his wards are trying to wake him up. He claws to consciousness and finds a Chorae dangling over his head.

“Some time ago,” the Scylvendi grated, “during all the empty hours thinking, I understood that you die as I do…” A tremor passed through the hand holding the string.

“Without Gods.”

Eleäzaras is watching the Ctesarat Tabernacle, the heart of the Cishaurim power, from his tent, Iyokus beside him. There are circles of blood painted around them. Tomorrow, he thinks, they will face their “mortal enemy.” Eleäzaras can’t hold back anything. He is employing demons. Iyokus retorts that the Cishaurim flee the Ciphrang. They have no Chorae up there but are summoning those who bear them to deal with the Ciphrang.

That was what Eleäzaras wants, for the “Snakeheads” to pull away some of the Chorae guarding the wall to defend them from Ciphrang, giving the Scarlet Spires a better chance in the assault tomorrow.

However, he disagrees with using such a powerful demon, a Potent, when a Debile would have worked. He thinks Zioz is becoming too strong. Iyokus is dismissive, saying all is well. Eleäzaras wonders how he’d become so cowardly and accuses Iyokus of recklessness.

Iyokus turned to him. Blood soiled his bandages where they pressed against his translucent cheeks.

“They must fear us,” the man said. “Now they do.”

Achamian is both terrified by waking up to Cnaiür and the Chorae and shocked, thinking he must still dream. Cnaiür demands to know where Kellhus is. Achamian begins to say he doesn’t know, but Cnaiür says he lies, that Achamian is his protector.

Please…” he gasped, tried to cough without raising his chest. The Chorae had become unbearable. It seemed his heart might crack his sternum, leap into its absence. He could feel the stinging of his skin about his right nipple, the beginnings of the Salt. He thought of Carythusal, of Geshruuni, now long dead, holding a Trinket above his hand in the Holy Leper. Strange how this one seemed to have a different… taste.

I was never meant to escape.

Achamian feels Cnaiür’s murderous rage. The Scylvendi warns he won’t give Achamian another chance. Achamian tries not to panic as he manages to tell Cnaiür that he won’t betray Kellhus. Achamian says he’s willing to die.

Cnaiür thinks then offers a trade. Achamian is shocked by this as Cnaiür puts away the Chorae “like a child with a well-practiced toy.” Relief floods him but he’s still confused and frightened. Achamian asks what they will trade and notes there are a man and woman in the shadows behind Cnaiür.

“Truth.”

This word, intoned as it was with exhaustion and a profound, barbaric candour, struck him like a blow. Achamian pressed himself onto his elbows, glared at the man, his eyes wild with outrage and confusion.

“And what if I’ve had my fill of Truth?”

“The truth of him,” The Scylvendi said.

Achamian says he knows the truth, but Cnaiür cuts him off, spitting out he knows nothing. Like the rest of the salves. Achamian protests his freedom, but Cnaiür says he is because “all men are slaves.” Cnaiür says Kellhus is Dûnyain with such hatred in the word. It’s a curse, the way Achamian thinks of the Consult. Achamian has never heard the word but knows it means Truth in a dead tongue.

“The tongue is not dead,” Cnaiür snapped, “and the word no longer means ‘truth.’”

Achamian remembers the first time met Cnaiür, Serwë, and Kellhus, and realizes that they lied. Cnaiür didn’t come on a wager. Achamian has to know if Kellhus also lied about dreaming of the Holy War. Cnaiür wants to know where he is, but Achamian insists on the Truth not willing to “barter untested wares.”

The barbarian snorted, but it didn’t strike Achamian as an expression of derision or contempt. There was a pensiveness to the man, a vulnerability of movement and manner that contradicted the violence of his aspect. Somehow Achamian knew that Cnaiür wanted to speak of these things, as though they burdened him in the way of crimes or powerful grievances. And this realization terrified him [Achamian] more thoroughly than any Trinket ever could.

Cnaiür explains that Kellhus wasn’t sent, but summoned, that he’s not unique, and nor is he a savior. He’s a slaver. The blood drains from Achamian’s face. He doesn’t understand, but Cnaiür continues on explaining how the Dûnyain have bred themselves for millennia until humans were “little more than children to them.” Achamian listens as Cnaiür explains it all. Achamian finds it too “naked not to be true.” He listens to Cnaiür talk about his experience with Moënghus, how Cnaiür helped to murder his own father while claiming he wasn’t willing.

“They see our thoughts through our faces—our hurts, our hopes, our rage, and our passion! Where we guess, they know, the way herdsmen can read the afternoon’s weather in the morning sky… And what men know, they dominate.”

Cnaiür continues his story how he helped Moënghus kill his father. To Achamian, only Cnaiür and the Chorae exist. Cnaiür explains how Kellhus’s “every heartbeat” wars against the world. He conquers and makes men into his dog.

“They make us love! They make us love!”

Kellhus runs through the wilderness. Jackals start running beside him. He outruns them and he seems to hear them ask who he is. He calls them their master as he runs off into the night. He begins laughing, though the humor was foreign to him. He finds saying “your master” amusing.

Achamian is shocked by Cnaiür’s words after the barbarian leaves. He is bewildered by what he is learning. Off-balanced, he struggles to think. He knows that Cnaiür plans to kill Kellhus, Achamian’s “final, greatest student.” Despite that, he has betrayed Kellhus even after seeing that one of the figures with Cnaiür is “dead” Serwë. A skin-spy.

You gave him up. The Warrior-Prophet… You told the barbarian where he goes!

Because he lies! He steals what is ours! What is mine!

But the world! The world!

Fie on the world! Let it burn!

“The beginning!” he cried. Please.

Achamian pulls out a fresh paper and redraws his map of events, the one he lost to the Scarlet Spire. He stares at Inrau’s name after writing it, feeling grief. Then he writes “THE CONSULT” in violent strokes. He gave up Kellhus to the Consult.

When he finished, it seemed he held the very same parchment he had lost, and he pondered the identity of things, the way words did not discriminate between repetitions. They were immortal, and yet they cared.

He crosses out THE EMPEROR and replaces it with CONPHAS. Achamian knows he has to warn the Holy War of the threat marching from the West. He adds new lines to the map, things he’s learned since escaping the Scarlet Spire. In a steady hand, he adds DÛNYAIN and connects it to KELLHUS. Then, as if spurred, he writes Kellhus’s father, MOËNGHUS. “The man who summoned him [Kellhus] to the Three Seas…”

He dipped his quill into his inkhorn, his hand as light as an apparition. Then, as though crowded forward by dawning apprehension, he slowly wrote,

ESMENET

against the top left margin

How had her name become his prayer? Where did she fall in these monstrous events?

Where was his own name?

He studies his completed map, unaware of how long. The Holy War rouses around him. He feels like a ghost searching for a secret in the ink. All these important institutes representing the world. Representing prophets and lovers.

There was no pattern to these breathing things. There was no encompassing thought to give them meaning. Just men and their warring delusions… The world was a corpse.

Xinemus’s lesson.

He connects all the names to SHIMEH, the “bloodthirsty city.” He draws the line last to Esmenet’s name, knowing that she needed the city more than any other except, perhaps, Achamian. After drawing it, he keeps drawing it over and over until, in a frenzy, he rips through the vellum.

For he was sure that his quill had become a knife…

And that flesh lay beneath the tattooed skin.

My Thoughts

Aurang is compared to a fallen angel. The Inchoroi are rebelling against the Outside. They don’t want to follow the rules but want to their own thing. They think they’re right. Prideful.

Esmenet’s having the same issue as Xinemus. She felt those desires of Aurang as her own. Even though Kellhus explains it to her, she still feels that violent lust for rape.

How can you have a sense of identity after something like that? Where you became someone else and felt everything they do. Where their desires were your desires. What does it say about yourself? How can you trust anything after that?

After that, she’s having more illusions shattered from the knight she encounters about her own sexuality. She thought she was taking from men when she was selling her body, but to a man, spreading seed is a primal motivation. He takes pride in having done it to a woman so powerful. To protect her ego, she has to lash out, to prove that she’s not that woman any longer. That she’s risen above him. She has every right to be angry though she’s shocked by how quickly she came to ordering his death. How much the power has already changed her. We all have those dark impulses in us. Murder lurks in every human’s heart, but we usually control those impulses. We are ashamed of them, often pretending we don’t have them. She is in a position to exercise those impulses, and she knows it. It’ll be a test of her character going forward how she wields that ultimate power.

She calls Achamian “Akka” to Khellus. She’s starting to realize she doesn’t love Kellhus. The possession has eaten away at her worship. She’s realizing that her voice doesn’t move him. Her concerns are not his. That’s not good for a healthy relationship. Then he seems like a stranger to her, something dangerous, and she instantly asks about Akka.

She kneels in supplication before her husband and thinks she’s just imitating worship, that she’s his wife. But this is not something a wife does. Not in a real relationship. She’s prostrating herself before her prophet.

More doubt seeps into Esmenet. She’s seeing Kellhus like a whore now, too. She’s growing cautious around him even as he’s manipulating her to get that giddy, lovey-dovey response. Then the realization that she had told “Akka” the same things as Kellhus. That she meant these words for another.

She holds onto him with desperation because the lie is slipping from her that she loves him. She was only infatuated and never formed anything deeper. How can she when Kellhus’s emotions are as shallow as they come.

Kellhus is almost praying to the world. To the Darkness that Comes Before. He isn’t sure if he’s doing the right thing. He is having doubt, but he can’t see any other way. Just like the Dûnyain who sent him despite the fact they were doing what Moënghus wanted. “What else could they do?” Not even the Dûnyain, even Kellhus, are self-moving souls. They are still bound by cause.

Now we’ll see what effect all those causes have had on Kellhus. How they have changed him from the standard Dûnyain. How the Outside has affected him. He’s like Cnaiür. He’s been nudged from the Dûnyain tracks onto something else.

Kellhus remembers weeping. He’s feeling it. That he’s not wholly Dûnyain any longer. His mission has changed. He has come to a decision as he takes off running across that he know thinks as his. He knows longer is following the Conditioned path of his father, but one of his own choosing.

What a cool way to introduce demon summoning. From the point of view of the demon thrust into this world and constrained by reality. It hurts it and has to obey the voice. It knows who summoned it, and is eager to hurt the summoner. Rumor has it, the Ciphrang you summon get to play with you in the Outside.

Iyokus, it’s going to suck when you die.

Then we switch to the dream of the true horrors of Golgotterath, the slaves, the rape-pits. It’s disturbing. It is a place of true evil. A true Hell, the place the Inchoroi want to escape from experiencing they have unleashed on those they dominate. It is a place where reprehensible atrocities are committed in the name of satiating selfish desires. That is all the Inchoroi are. They don’t control themselves. If they can brutalize you, they will and enjoy it.

Achamian wakes up from one form of danger to another. To another man who doesn’t control his desires. Cnaiür seizes what he wants, kills men to get it, and brutalizes those when he needs to satiate his mad urges.

We get just a tease about Ciphrang. Two different classifications. Potent and Debile. I hadn’t heard of that word before, debile. It’s an archaic word for feeble, where our word debility originates from. Interesting to call one Potent and the other Feeble. Such a glimpse into this one bit of magic. I’ll have to pay attention to the end of The Unholy Consult when Ciphrang are next employed in the series.

“I was never meant to escape.” A curious thought for Achamian to have at this moment. To escape the Scarlet Spire? Probably. Kellhus never expected to see him, moving into the seduction of Esmenet from him, causing all sorts of problems when Achamian returned. I am convinced Kellhus would have tried to convince the pair that it was only right for Esmenet to be Kellhus’s queen, instead it gave Achamian that wedge of anger that ultimately led him to reject Kellhus and for Esmenet to never surrender her love for Achamian but only to bury it beneath her infatuation with Kellhus.

Or, perhaps, Achamian thinks he should have died that day in the tavern of Carythusal, when Geshruuni spared him. He can’t think that he will escape the fate of the Chorae a second time. Not with Cnaiür looming above him.

This meeting is great between Achamian and Cnaiür. The reversal. The bewilderment. The discussion of Truth and what Kellhus is. The Dûnyain spared Cnaiür out of pity when he witnessed the man’s madness on the beach. Kellhus, a good Dûnyain, should have killed him. But even then, he was splitting off from Conditioned Ground.

Of course, Cnaiür wants to speak. Who likes to swallow a secret. Especially one that causes such harm. Cnaiür, for all his hatred, has come to like Proyas as a friend. He hates what Kellhus is doing and, clearly, he has had his fill of it. He’s out for vengeance. He’s ready to unburden himself. It’s like his deathbed confession. Time to get his sins off his chest before he crosses the threshold.

“What men know, they dominate.” There is so much truth in that sentence. The crux of humans. We crave knowledge so we can make order out of chaos. We seek to dominate everything around us for stability. Familiarity. So then we can indulge in our desires. Our passions. We take nature and divide into plots. We take plants and cultivate them into crops. We’ve breed beasts into pets and livestock. We tamed the atom because we understood it.

Kellhus running with jackals right after we have Cnaiür compare humans as dogs eager to obey their Dûnyain master out of love. A loyal pack trained to obey.

For the first time since Inrau’s suicide, Achamian begins acting like a proper Mandate. He’s had his faith in Kellhus destroyed. He was manipulated by Kellhus all this time to not report in on him. So he put aside his map. He didn’t use it. Now he’s redrawing it, seeing the new state of the world.

He understands as he connects Esmenet’s name to Shimeh why she has fallen to Kellhus. The promise of salvation. That same promise, of being freed from the sin of sorcery, had enraptured Achamian, too. Remember back in book two when Kellhus scraped away the ink in the scripture that condemned harlots like Esmenet. How she wept. How she surrendered to him thinking it was love, but it was really worship.

Shimeh is the representation of the lie of Kellhus’s divinity. He has promised them salvation and then lead them to commit terrible acts. They are murdering their fellow men out of a delusion. They are slaves to Kellhus and the darkness that comes before him.

Esmenet is his slave. She’s Achamian’s prayer, and Kellhus stole her. Now that the truth is revealed, Achamian realizes just how utterly betrayed he was by Kellhus.

Click here to continue on to chapter fifteen!

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

To save the world, Ary must die!

Ary, a young man scarred by his past, is thrust into the dangers of the military. But he carries a deadly secret: the dark goddess’s touch stains his soul.

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

He must hide the truth from the other marines and the woman he loves. Can Ary survive the dangers of service and the zealous assassin plotting his death?

Are you ready for the action, danger, romance, and betrayal exploding across the skies Above the Storm!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Thirteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 13
Holy Amateu

Welcome to Chapter Thirteen of my reread. Click here if you missed the Chapter Twelve!

What frightens me when I travel is not that so many men possess customs and creeds so different from my own. Nay, what frightens me is that they think them as natural and as obvious as I think my own.

—SERATANTAS III, SUMNI MEDITATIONS

A return to a place never seen. Always it is thus, when we understand what we cannot speak.

—PROTATHIS, ONE HUNDRED HEAVENS

My Thoughts

So the Sumni Meditations leads me to believe that Seratantas III was a Shriah. We all hold our beliefs as if they are truth, and it is hard when they are challenged. It’s terrifying to meet people who think the opposite of you. It can cause you to retreat into echo chambers (like the ones social media is creating for us these days), to quarantine ourselves in little spheres safe from dangerous ideas. It makes us insular. It makes us fanatics.

If we can’t face these fears, then we will never change. We will never grow. We will stay mired in beliefs that might do more harm than good.

This also ties into to Kellhus musing on how he trained the Holy War, giving them new customs so that they’ll act the way he wants.

The second quote’s a little denser. How can you describe a place you’ve never been? How can you know when you’re even there. If you can’t speak of something that you understand, it’s impossible to describe. To share. To experience. This might feed into the first quote and the dangers of staying in your insular area. You can’t speak those truths that maybe, just maybe, are lurking inside of your soul.

Or I’m completely spinning my wheels here. Protathis’s quote is… intriguing. He’s referenced a second time in the chapter proper, but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with this excerpt.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Atyersus

Nautzera, the Mandate Schoolman, is drawn by shouts from his studies in the Rudiments Library at Atyersus, the Mandate fortress. He spies some initiates pointing at the sea where fifteen ships are anchored at the mouth of the harbor all flying the Tusk. This throws the Mandate into a frenzy of activity and panic. Nautzera joins the Quorum atop the Comoranth Tower to observes the fleet. Nautzera thinks it is a blockade from the Thousand Temples to keep them for heading to Shimeh. “Did the Shrial ingrates think themselves a match for the Gnosis?” wonders Nautzera.

Simas wants them to attack, arguing the Second Apocalypse might have begun and that this is a Consult attack trying to keep them from reaching Kellhus. Nautzera councils that it would be folly to “act in ignorance.” Before they come to an agreement, a rowboat is launched from the fleet and the Quorum, over Simas objects, agreed to at least parlay.

Soon, slaves are carrying Nautzera and the others on palanquins to the docks, descending down the switchback from their fortress. Nautzera studies the boats, wondering just who and why they’re here. They reach the quay, crowded with soldiers and adepts. They assemble up just as they realize who is on the boat. It reaches the docks and five Shrial knights (each carrying Chorae) form up around the Holy Shriah. Maithanet, too, wears a Chorae.

Smiling with radiant warmth, the man [Maithanet] studied their faces, raised his eyes to the dark bastions of Atyersus behind them… He lunged forward. Then somehow—his movement had been too quick for surprised eyes to comprehend—he was holding Simas by the base of the skull.

The air was riven with sorcerous mutterings. Eyes flared with Gnostic light. Wards whisked into shimmering existence. Almost as one, the members of the Quorum fell into a defensive posture. Dust and grit trailed down the sloped sides of the jetty.

Simas had gone limp as a kitten. His white-haired head lolling against the fist bunched at the base o his neck. The Shriah seemed to hold him with impossible strength.

The Quorum demand that Maithanet releases him while he explains that by holding “them” just so, it incapacitates them. Nautzera demands answers. He hadn’t summoned words or retreated. He places himself between the Shriah and the Mandate while Maithanet says if they’re patient, Simas’s “true aspect will be revealed. Nautzera notices something is wrong about Simas and orders silence.

“We learned of this one through our interrogations of the others,” Maithanet said, his voice possessing a resonance that brushed aside the alarmed prattle. “It’s an accident, an anomaly that, thankfully, its architects have been unable to recreate.”

It?

“What are you saying?” Nautzera cried.

Thrashing slack limbs, the thing called Simas began howling in a hundred lunatic voices. Maithanet braced his feet, rocked like a fisherman holding a twisting shark. Nautzera stumbled back, his hands raised in Warding. With abject horror, he watched the man’s oh-so-familiar face crack open, clutch at the skies with hooked digits.

“A skin-spy with the ability to work sorcery,” the Shriah of the Thousand Temples said, grimacing with exertion. “A skin-spy with a soul.”

And the grand old sorcerer realized he had known all along.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Proyas reigns up his horse and stares at Shimeh for the first time. He’s shocked by the “dismaying sense of banality” he feels upon witnessing it. Before now, Shimeh had seemed “a monument so terrible with holiness that he could do naught but fall on his belly when confronted by its aspect.” He doesn’t feel that now. He just stares at it, wondering if seeing a dream come to life was always this disappointing.

Then the tears come before he realizes it, followed by the pain of Xinemus’s death, remembering his promise to describe the sight to his mentor. He grieves until he regains himself. He’s not the only man crying, but only he cries for Xinemus. The others are feeling that reverence Proyas expected. They cry out in prayers.

The words swelled with deep-throated resonance, became ever more implacable and embalming as horseman after horseman took them up. Soon the slopes thrummed with cracked voices. They were faithful, come with arms to undo long centuries of wickedness. They were the Men of the Tusk, bereaved and heartbroken, laying eyes on the ground of countless fatal oaths… How many brothers? How many fathers and sons?

May your bread silence our daily hunger…”

Proyas joined them in their prayer, even as he grasped the reason for his turmoil. They were the swords of the Warrior-Prophet, he realized, and this was the city of Inri Sejenus. Moves had been made, and rules had been changed. Kellhus and the Circumfixion had hamstrung all the old points of purposes. So here they stood, signatories to an obsolete indenture, celebrating a destination that had become a waystation…

And no one knew what it meant.

Proyas realizes that Shimeh wasn’t holy before this, but was made holy by all who died, Xinemus included, on the long road here. “There was no working back from what was final.”

Uranyanka, the Palatine of Moserothu, leads Kellhus to a vantage point to stare across the Plains of Shairizor to Shimeh, the city sprawls across it from the sea, surrounded by walls. At long last, the Holy War has arrived.

Some fell to their knees, bawling like children. But most simply stared, their faces blank.

Names were like baskets. Usually, they came to men already filled, with refuse, banalities, and valuables mixed in various measures. But sometimes the passage of events overthrew them. Sometimes they came to bear different burdens. Heavier things Darker things.

Shimeh was such a name.

They had come from across Eärwa, suffered much, to arrive here. “Now, at last, they apprehended the purpose of their heartbreaking labour.” For some, they wonder how Shimeh could ever be worth what they suffered.

But as always, the words of the Warrior-Prophet circulated among them. “This,” he was said to have said, “is not your destination. It’s your destiny.”

The Holy War visits all those shrines and relics they’ve read about. Then they notice the Juterum, the Holy Heights, where the Later Prophet had risen to Heaven. On that spot lies “the cancer they had come to excise.”

The great tabernacle of the Cishaurim.

Only as the sun drew their shadows to the footings of the man-eyed walls did they abandon the hillsides to strike camp on the plan below. Few slept that night, such was their confusion. Such was their wonder.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Amoteu

General Biaxi Sompas is obsessed over the threat Conphas delivered. If Sompas doesn’t re-capture Cnaiür, every last member of Sompas’s family will be burned alive. Sompas knows that Conphas could do it, but isn’t sure he’d dare? Xerius wouldn’t have. The Biaxi family possess too much power. However, despite this, Biaxi believes Conphas will do it because “Who would raise arms against the Lion of Kiyuth?” The army sided with Conphas over Kellhus.

Sompas forces his down to his captain, a sorcerer, and eleven Kidruhil. They are no longer the hunters, but are being hunted. Early on, he split his forces to better find Cnaiür, and it is proving a mistake as they move through the foothills of the Betmulla Mountains. He realizes he’d panicked, driven by the fear of Conphas’s warning, and had spread himself out too soon. Day after day, they find more groups of his men slain. He’s breaking under the stress because, “Demons hadn’t been part of the bargain, Saik or no Saik.”

Captain Agnaras is arguing they’ve gone too far towards the Holy War or the Fanim. They are in Amoteu now and are in danger. However, Sompas presses on through the forest they ride through, not caring. Suddenly, Captain Agnaras orders a halt in a clearing. They start pitching camp, none look at Sompas. They ignore him.

Very little was said.

When the sorcerer slipped away to relieve himself, Sompas found himself joining him. He was not quite willing things to happen anymore—they just… happened.

I have no choice!

The pair are pissing side-by-side when the sorcerer talks about how this was a disaster and how he’s going to write a report. Sompas kills him with “such a naughty knife.” He returns to his soldiers. He can understand them, unlike a sorcerer.

“He had no choice. It simply had to happen.”

His entire family existence is on the line. He realizes he has failed to recapture Cnaiür, so he must kill Conphas. He plans on reaching the Holy War and betraying Conphas’s plans to Kellhus. He even has thoughts of becoming emperor. After all, it was terrible that the Ikurei’s plotted with the Fanim. “The more Sompas had considered it, the more it seemed that honour and righteousness bound him to this course.” Realizing he has no choice, he feels calm at his decision. He then pretends to be worried about the sorcerer, but no one else cares.

As he warms his hand, she realizes that his men are waiting for the chance to slit his throat, their faces too blank. Sompas feels he has to speak with great care to survive, asking who guards the perimeter while his panicked thoughts tell him to run. Shouts erupt, soldiers crying out there’s something in the trees. Captain Agnaras yells to be quiet. They grow tense, weapons drawn, waiting. They stare at the trees, waiting.

Then they heard it: a rasp from blackness above. There was a small rain of grit, then bark twirled across the clearing.

“Sweet Sejenus!” one of the cavalrymen gasped, only to be silenced by barks of anger.

There was a sound, like that of a little boy pissing across leather. A sizzling hiss drew their attention to the main fire. It seemed all their eyes focused upon it at once: a thread of blood unwinding across the flames…

Something crashes into the flames. It’s the sorcerer, Ouras. His corpse has landed on the campfire, scattering coals and frightening the horses. Before Agnaras can cry orders, the Serwë skin-spy drops into the middle of them “falling like rope.”

All Sompas could do was stagger backward. He had no choice…

Agnaras dies. More follow as the Serwë skin-spy fights, “blonde hair whisked like silk in the gloom, chasing a pale face of impossible beauty.” His men fall back from her when more attack, including Cnaiür, looking mad and beyond human. As Sompas realizes he’s the last one standing, surrounded, he’s glad he relieved his bladder earlier. But they don’t kill him.

“She saw you murder the other,” the Scylvendi said, whipping spattered blood into a smear across his cheek. “Now she wants to fuck.”

A warm hand snaked along the back of his neck, pressed against his cheek.

That night Biaxi Sompas learned that there were rules for everything, including what could and could not happen to one’s own body. These, he discovered, were the most sacred rules of all.

Once, in the screaming, snarling misery of it all, he thought of his wives and children burning.

But only once.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Many of the Holy War bathe in the River Jeshimal the next day in an “impromptu rite of penance,” believing they are now cleaned. Others are unnerved by the mocking size of the Tatokar Walls around the city.

We’re given a history lesson about how Shimeh grew so large, from a small city during Inri Sejenus’s time, to a massive cityscape turned fortress by a Nansur emperor, to the Kianene rulers who glazed the walls and added the eyes painted upon the wall to remind the Inrithi that “the Solitary God does not blink.” The men debate about those eyes, some with curiosity, others are enraged by them. It made the city seem like “some great and unfathomable beast, like a vast, ramshackle crab sunning onshore after crawling up from the deep.” It makes some feel nervous.

Who knew what living things might do?

Meanwhile, Kellhus thinks he will see his father soon.

Where there had been many voices, many wills, now there was but one. With the Logos he had sown, and now with the Logos he would reap.

Kellhus turns from Esmenet to face the Council of Names, his hands radiant. More than them throng the hills to watch them. He stands midway down the slope, Shimeh positioned behind him to halo his body. He seems both eagerness and caution in their expressions. Even the Scarlet Spire have come if nervously. Eleäzaras keeps glancing at Achamian. Kellhus begins his sermon, saying he sees them now as the Tribe of Truth, watched over with pride by the ghosts of the fallen.

There could be no forgetting. They had paid for this moment in terror and blood.

Kellhus declares that they shall reclaim “my brother’s house.” He remembers the last three years since he left Ishuäl’s Fallow Gate, all those possible futures that almost overwhelmed him. “With every step he murdered alternatives, collapsed future after future, walking a line too thin to be marked on any map.” Once, Kellhus believed that he walked his own line, made his own decisions, but now realizes that “the ground he traveled had been Conditioned through and through.” Thirty years, his father had prepared his steps so that “even here, his [Kellhus’s] every decision, his every act, confirmed the dread intent of the Thousandfold Thought.”

Kellhus continues his speech, reminiscing about the council before the Emperor, joking how they were all fat then. They laughed. “He was their axle, and they were his wheel.” He talks about Proyas’s contest with Xerius over the indentured, how Proyas had to sully is faith for politics. “For your entire life you yearned for a bold God , not one who skulked in scriptoriums, whispering the inaudible to the insane.” Kellhus looks around the room, calling out others, giving them insights to make them weep while holding back the truth that Kellhus sees, like with Proyas: “Now you rail at the old habits and mourn the toll of the new.”

This exercise had become a custom of his [Kellhus’s]. By calling out the truth of a few faces, he made them all feel known—watched.

He continues, saying everyone had their reasons for coming to Shimeh—to conquer, boast, find glory, atonement—and then asks if any came for “Shimeh alone?” Silence descends save for their heartbeats. “It was as though their breasts had become ten thousand drums.” He repeats his question.

What he [Kellhus] wrought here had to be perfect. There had been no mistaking the words of the old man who had accosted him in Gim. The sails of the Mandate fleet could appear any day now, and the Gnostic Schoolmen would not yield their war lightly. Everything had to be complete before their arrival. Everything had to be inevitable. If they had no hand in the work that they witnessed, they would be that much more reluctant in advancing their claims. “Your father bids me tell you,” the blind hermit had said, “‘There is but one tree in Kyudea…’”

The question was whether the Men of the Tusk could prevail without him.

Kellhus says none did because they are humans, “and the hearts of men are not simple.” He says men, unable to fully express their emotions, pretend that their words are their passions. They make the complicated simple, but that doesn’t exist.

To speak was to pluck the lute strings of another’s soul. To intone was to strum full chords. He had long ago learned how to speak past meanings, to mine passion with mere voice.

He says humans are conflict and think that’s bad, something they have to defeat. But it’s the simple truth that no one does anything for pure reasons. Nothing is done “for the love of the God alone.” This shames his audience and he continues, pointing out the selfish reasons for why people act the way they are. He then asks if that makes them sinful or “unworthy.”

That final word rang like an accusation.

“Or does it mean that you are Men?”

Only the wind is heard. He smells their stink seasoned with perfumes. He finds himself standing for a moment “within a great circle of apes, hunched and unwashed, watching him with dark and dumbfounded eyes.” He then pictures himself at the heart of them as he knows the words to make them burn and “grind down their cyclopean walls.” He knows how to wield them by speaking “from the darkness that came before me.” He wonders what it means to use them as puppets, and if that mattered if “they were wielded in the name of the God?”

There was only mission.

He continues that there is no “undiscovered purity lying obscured in our souls.” He says even God is conflict. That means that humans are war. The Holy War fills the air with battle cries. Almost everyone, even Esmenet, is affected. All save for Achamian who “stood part from the spectacle.” Kellhus quotes from the Book of Songs that “war is heart without harness” then Protathis, saying, “war is where the gag of the small is cut away.” He points out that you only find peace when fighting. “War is our soul made manifest.”

He [Kellhus] held the Holy War in the palm of his intent. The Orthodox had all but dissolved away in the face of his manifest divinity. As his Intricati, Esmenet had effectively silenced the remaining dissenters. Both Conphas and the Scylvendi had been removed from the plate…

Only Achamian yet dared look at him in alarm.

Kellhus says tomorrow they will take Shimeh, and he, “the Prophet of War,” will be their reward. He had trained them for months to “recognized without realizing.” Proyas is the one who voices what everyone’s understanding: Kellhus won’t be there for the fight.

Kellhus smiled as though caught withholding a glorious secret.

“Every brother is a son… and every son must first visit my father’s house.”

Again the look from Achamian. Again the need to subdue the man’s endless misgivings.

The Lords of the Holy War agree they have to assault the city. They can’t starve it out. They are dismayed that they have to do it tomorrow without Kellhus. They are assured by Kellhus that their enemy is reeling from disasters and they have to strike first. They had scouts scouring the land around them because the locals claim that there Fanayal is regrouping and has reinforcements or that the Holy War will prevail. The Great Names don’t know what to believe while Kellhus says that these are all rumors planted by Fanayal to sow discord. “He makes noise to obscure truth’s call.”

In the end, they decide to attack Shimeh’s west wall and take the Juterum as fast as possible. They have to defeat the Cishaurim with haste. There is squabble on whether the Scarlet Spire should lead the attack or not, which leads Kellhus to admonish them and says that points of honor don’t matter now. Just success. The Holy War begins its preparations for their assault. As the night wears on, soldiers are troubled by the haste of it, though they all just want it to end.

And as the fires went out, leaving only the most stubborn and thoughtful awake, the skeptics dared argue their misgivings.

“But think,” the faithful retorted. “When we die surrounded by the spoils of a long and daring life, we will look up to those who adore us and we will say, ‘I knew him. I knew the Warrior-Prophet.’”

My Thoughts

Have to like the panic conveyed by the Mandate leadership in such a hurry to get together that some are still garbed for sleep and another is wearing dirty clothes. But the sight of the Thousand Temples on the doorstep would send any School into an uproar.

Hi Simas. Interesting that you want the Mandate to attack. He’s behind a lot of the stuff that sent Achamian into motion spying at the start of the series.

This is a plot twist! Maithanet’s last appearance on screen was way back in Book 1 where he told Achamian to flee and asked Proyas about the man. Then we got his letter, which showed him interested in protecting Achamian. We’ve gotten hints that he’s more than he seems. He came from the south, has the skin of Kianene, but has blue eyes like a Norsirai. He’s young and can see skin-spies. Who is he?

It’s a great mystery that Bakker set up from the beginning, and this scene only heightens it.

There was a definite change in Simas. Nautzera was surprised in book one at how ruthless the quiet man was vis-a-vis using Achamian and Inrau. Then he still had good eyesight despite his age. Now he’s unmasked as the first, and only so far, skin-spy who can use sorcery.

Have to love Maithanet’s clam here. Definitely has Dûnyain blood in him.

And then it all clicks for Nautzera. All those little clues Bakker seasoned into the earlier books are paying off now. What a great sequence. It has you wondering where this sequence is going. Makes you ask even more questions.

Yes, Proyas, reality always disappoints compared to dreams and fantasy. Ask any author. It’s always perfect in your mind, then you never can find the words to quite capture what you pictured when you type sequences of bytes into your word processor program.

Proyas’s grief comes across so believable. The way it can just sweep over you as you are reminded about something of your passed loved one. A promise unfulfilled, impossible to ever complete, a wound that will remain on his heart.

Bakker does a great job setting the mood of the Holy War as they gaze on Shimeh. He has a great skill for conveying the reactions of armies and peoples, mixing in enough variation along with his understanding of psychology to be a treat.

Destiny… Kellhus knows to appeal to men’s self-inflated sense of worth. Even the lowliest slave wants to believe they are the center of the universe.

So we have the Cishaurim building their tabernacle on the sight of a holy sight. It’s like the Mosque of the Rock built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. A nice historical allusion to draw upon, since the three Monotheistic religions are the foundation of Bakker’s fictitious religious.

Bakker has said throughout the books that power is given to the person in charge. You don’t claim it, you just convince others to hand it to you. So when they stop permitting you to lead, you find yourself in Sompas’s situation. Impotent. He’s so crushed by the dread that he can’t even object. He knows it’s over, that his men have rebelled. He took then farther than their social contract would allow. And just like that, it’s broken.

I want to talk pronouns. I don’t often critique Bakker, but sometimes he needs to adjust his pronoun usage: “When the sorcerer slipped away to relieve himself, Sompas found himself joining him. He was not quite willing things to happen anymore—they just… happened.” So we have Sompas followed by “himself” than “him.” Now that him should refer to Sompas, but it’s actually referring to the sorcerer. Then it’s followed by the next sentence starting with “He.” You can infer it’s pointing to Sompas, but it could be the sorcerer. Maybe the sorcerer who’s not willing things to happen any longer. It’s probably Sompas since it’s his POV, but… It muddy things.

The social contract is broken again with Sompas this time between him and his commander. He was loyal until Conphas pushed him too far. Threatening to wipe out the man’s entire family. His entire house. That’s not something he’s willing to let happen. He no longer is giving Conphas power but is switching over to another: Kellhus. Will his men let him?

Conphas is another person that doesn’t understand that power is given. He thinks it comes from within himself.

To cope with all of this stress, Sompas has just given up any personal responsibility in his action. The strain has broken Sompas. It’s easier pretending your actions aren’t your own fault. Just the way life goes. It’s a fatalistic and nihilistic view.

Bakker shows us in the final moments what Sompas was really scared of, not his family dying, but the loss of his power. He would burn if he failed. He would die if he didn’t return. He really didn’t care much about the others. It was all about his ambition, after all, we saw flashes of him imagining being emperor himself.

Wow, silting your own harbor to force people to come to your city on foot can’t be the best decision for trade, but the Kianene did just that to shame the pilgrims coming to Shimeh by forcing them to walk beneath those towering, unblinking eyes on the wall. It’s a nice bit of world building. I always like when Bakker goes off on this historical tangents. I write fantasy, and it can be hard to just drop so much exposition like this, but when Bakker’s in his “Historical Oration” sections, it just fits. It’s an interesting style he’s cultivated.

“Who knew what living things might do?” That’s the thing you never can predict. How will a living creature, especially a human, react. I used to play D&D as the DM (dungeon master, the person running the scenario and controlling all the NPCs and monsters), and my players rarely reacted in ways I could predict. Sometimes, they would go off in baffling directions or utterly stun me with their decisions. It made things fun for the game, but in real life, with real stakes…

Kellhus is seeing his halos now. Interesting.

Even Kellhus has been manipulated without realizing it until he spoke with that beggar man. When he realizes just what his father has prepared for him. The Holy War was created for Kellhus to use, as we’ll see. It would have all gone according to Moënghus’s plan except for one thing: Kellhus went insane.

He felt emotions. Love. He “broke” on the Circumfix. A trial so great his Dûnyain conditioning couldn’t prepare him for it. He felt guilty for allowing Serwë to die. Empathy formed, and it’s that empathy that has caused him to make a different choice from the other Dûnyain. He’s broken their mold and doesn’t act like they do when they learn the Outside is real and that Damnation is their future.

Kellhus tactic of calling out a few people during these meetings and exposing their inner thoughts not only lets everyone feel “known,” but allows him to minimize the mental energy that “knowing” all those thousands of people would require. The shortest path.

Kellhus needs the Holy War to perform without him. Not just for today, but the future. He can’t be everywhere in his plans that he’s already forming. He has to mold them and unleash them. So he needs to sound them out and ready them like he will later do with Proyas over the course of the next series.

Such truth in Kellhus’s statement about how we humans want to make things simple, when everything is actually complicated. We boil things down to bold statements. We want to “love without recrimination, to act without hesitation, to lead without reservation.” But it’s a fiction we use to make the world easier to understand, including ourselves.

Why does Kellhus think about wielding the Holy War in the name of the God? He then says everything is about his mission. But is his mission still the same now? He questions what it means that he’s done this and then muses if he does it for the right reason, it’s fine. It’s for his mission.

What is his mission now? If it’s not to kill his father, what has it become? We know from the next series what it is, though we have to wait a long time for the picture to become clear.

Achamian stands apart because he knows what Kellhus is doing. He knows Kellhus is manipulating them, that it’s an act. It can’t affect him now. He’s armored against this form of manipulation, but, of course, Kellhus had found a new way to puppeteer Achamian.

Those two quotes from The Book of Songs and Protathis are interesting, they’re about passions being unleashed to their fullest. No restraint on the beast within us. On our hearts. We cut the gags that keep our darkest impulses from crying out. We let our passions charge unrestrained.

If you ever think Kellhus is infallible, right now he thinks Cnaiür and Conphas are DEAD. That Cnaiür went through with the command and perished in the backlash. He hadn’t realized how badly things have gone with that plan. Kellhus made a mistake with that plan, and now Conphas marches with an army to stop the Holy War at Shimeh.

Kellhus is troubled by Achamian still not fully on board, but he doesn’t have time to deal with him. Tomorrow, he sees his father and the Holy War assaults Shimeh without him. He’s trained his army of dogs, and now it’s time to unleash them.

Click here for chapter fourteen!

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Twelve

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 12
Holy Amateu

Welcome to Chapter Twelve of my reread. Click here if you missed the Chapter Eleven!

Death, in the strict sense, cannot be defined, for whatever predicate we, the living, attribute to it necessarily belongs to Life. This means that Death, as a category, behaves in a manner indistinguishable from the Infinite, and from God

—AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

One cannot assume the truth of what one declares without presuming the falsity of all incongruous declarations. Since all men assume the truth of their declarations, this presumptions becomes at best ironic and at worst outrageous. Given the infinity of possible claims, who could be so vain as to think their dismal claims true? The tragedy, of course, is that we cannot make declarations. So it seems we must speak as Gods to converse as Men.

—HATATIAN, EXHORTATIONS

My Thoughts

Interesting quotes. They are both about the limitation of knowledge. We, as living human beings, cannot see beyond our material world. We cannot understand what lies beyond the boundary of our universe because we can never observe it. We cannot understand what happened before the big bang because it precedes all cause. We cannot study parallel realities because we cannot leave our own. We cannot understand what happens after death because we are still alive.

The second quote narrows the limitations of knowledge further. You cannot know all the knowledge that every other human possesses, only your own. Which means any truth you declare may be voided by the knowledge another person has. Because of this (even the author of this passage is guilty of it by stating this to be a truth), we can never speak with one hundred percent authority on a subject.

Despite that, we fake it.

We pretend to converse as Gods with all the conviction of omniscience. Remember that next time you hear some speak with absolute conviction. Maybe they’re right, or maybe they’re idiots. Interesting quotes to proceed Kellhus’s first meeting with the Consult proper.

Both quotes are more profound since Achamian will be dealing with the death of Xinemus and his latent guilt for Inrau while Esmenet is confronted with the death of her relationship. That she doesn’t love Kellhus but worships him as a good. She can’t ever know Kellhus like she could know Achamian.

Early Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Amoteu

Incû-Holoinas, the Nonmen had called it. The Ark-of-the-Skies.

After his victory over the Inchoroi, Nil’giccas had ordered a census of the vessel, the results of which were recorded in the Isûphiryas, the great annals of the Nonmen. Three thousand cubits in length, over two thousand of which were buried with the prow in the mangled depths. Five hundred in width. Three hundred in depth…

It was a many-chambered mountain, wrought in a gold-gleaming metal that could not be scored, let alone broken. A city rolled into the warped planes of some misbegotten fish. A ruin that the world could not stomach, that the ages could not digest.

And, as Seswatha and Nau-Cayûti discovered, a great, gilded crypt.

Seswatha and Nau-Cayûti wander the horrific Ark, finding crumbling bones of humans, Nonmen, Sranc, Bashrag, and others. Seswatha is having trouble comprehending the horror of the place. Intellectually, he knows he’s in the place where the “Inchoroi, in their wickedness, had gnawed at boundaries between the world and the Outside for thousands of years” but it still has him reeling. He can feel damnation nearby. The place had become a topoi, where “hard lines of reality had become shading.” He can hear inhuman moans and groans. They catch glimpses of thing that Achamian notices disturbs Nau-Cayûti. He keeps whirling to spot them but failing.

This is Achamian dreaming as Seswatha, relieving the past as he and Nau-Cayûti wander the “mouldering passage, wondering where his hope had at last guttered out.” Achamian ponders how they can escape even if they find their goal.

He could feel them, piling labyrinthine into the distances above and below him, the consuming hollows. IT seemed hell itself roared inaudible about them.

This place.

Nau-Cayûti thinks that they are passing bones. He’s hugging himself as “though shielding nakedness from blowing ice.” Achamian, as Seswatha, says that some believe the Ark was made of flesh and bone, that it birthed the Inchoroi. They call themselves “Children of the Ark” and Nonmen “Orphans.” Nau-Cayûti realizes that this place is a “dead womb.”

Nau-Cayûti peered through the surrounding gloom. “Obscenity,” he muttered. “Obscenity. Why, Seswatha? Why would they bring war against us?”

“To close the world,” seemed all he [Achamian] could muster.

To seal it shut.

Nau-Cayûti gets agitated, fearing for the life of his lover. Achamian lies that she’s still alive. They press on with Achamian (Seswatha) fearing they’re doomed. He follows after “the greatest light of the dynasty that called itself Anasûrimbor.”

The greatest light of men.

Kellhus thinks that he has crossed the world to reach his Father, following the Shortest Path. He plots out his next move, picturing the world beyond the manor house and it’s gardens. He imagines traveling over the Shairizor Plains. He is preparing to face his father when he something intrudes on trance.

Without warning, the drafts became humid with the scent of jasmine and feminine lust. He heard bare feet—her bare feet—pad over marble. The bruise of sorcery was plain, almost rank, but he didn’t turn to acknowledge her. He remained perfectly still, even when her shadow fell across his back.

“Tell me,” she said in ancient Kûniüric, both fluid and precise, “what are the Dûnyain?”

Kellhus bent his thought backward, yoked the legion that was his soul. Likelihood chased likelihood, some to fruition, others to extinction. Esmenet, entwined in boiling light. Esmenet bleeding, broken at his feet. Words, winding and forking, calling out apocalypse and salvation. Of all his encounters since leaving Ishuäl, none demanded more… exactitude.

The Consult had come.

Kellhus replies the Dûnyain are just men. Aurang, possessing Esmenet, doesn’t believe that. He watches as Aurang inserts fingers into Esmenet to draw out the seed Kellhus spilled in her earlier, tasting it, calling it bitter. Kellhus thinks it’s a provocation.

He [Kellhus] turned to her, drew her into the cauldron of his attention. Fluttering pulse. Shallow breath. Beads of sweat breaking into threads. He could smell he skin tingle in the night air, the residue of salt. He could even see the swelling of her breasts, the heat of her womb. But her thoughts… It was as though the string between her face and soul had been severed and resfastned to something both sleek and alien.

Something not human.

Kellhus, acting like a father, admonishes Aurang that he’s beyond the Consult’s power. Aurang asks how can Kellhus know that when he’s ignorant of Aurang. Kellhus notes pride as Aurang laughs, mocking whatever silver of knowledge Achamian possessed about the Inchoroi. Aurang says, “I’ve looked across the void and blotted your world by holding a fingertip.” As he speaks, Kellhus notes the lust that reminds him of a Sranc’s “rutting frenzy for blood” and skin-spies growing erect at violence.

So similar.

They were the template of their creations, he realized. They had implanted their own carnal longing, made their own appetite the instrument of their domination.

“So what are you, then?” Kellhus asked. “What are the Inchoroi?”

“We,” she cooed, “are a race of lovers.”

Kellhus expected this answer from Achamian’s descriptions. Kellhus feigns sorrow and asks if this is why the Inchoroi were damned. Aurang answers they were “born for damnation’s sake,” saying that they’re very nature is their sin. For enjoying sex, Aurang has to “heave and scream in lakes of fire?” Kellhus might not know how great Aurang’s intelligence is, but he understands that Aurang “counted grievances.” Just like all souls did, he put himself at the center of everything. Kellhus says that is the nature of the world.

Aurang mocks that Kellhus, as a prophet, can rewrite damnation. Kellhus says he can’t, it’s impossible. Aurang says there is a way.

“So you would destroy the world?” [asked Kellhus.]

She shuddered, her body afire with arousal. She lowered her buttocks, crossed her legs about her fingers. “To save my soul, hmmm? So long as there are Men, there are crimes. So long as there are crimes, I am damned. Tell, Dûnyain, what track would you follow? What would you do to save your soul?”

Kellhus picks up the word track, knowing Cnaiür has been tutoring Aurang. Kellhus regrets not killing Cnaiür. Aurang continues, talking about how sex is everything, the rest is a murmur farce to achieve it. “It all comes to love in the end.” Aurang saunters to Kellhus, talking how despite “love is the way,” the demons they call Gods to declare it a sin. Aurang wants to save its soul.

She reached out to trace his lips with a shinning fingertip. Esmenet, burning for congress. For all his breeding, all his conditioning, Kellhus could feel the ancient instinct rise… What kind of game?

He caught her wrist.

“She doesn’t love you,” she said, tugging her wrist free. “Not truly.”

The words jarred—but why? What was this darkness?

Pain?

“She worships,” Kellhus found himself replying, “and has yet to understand the difference.”

Kellhus wonders how keen was its intelligence while Aurang praises Kellhus for stealing the holy war. Kellhus realizes he’s being baited into boasting about how he claimed the Holy War. Kellhus says he needs the Holy War to defeat his father, given Moënghus’s thirty-year head start. Aurang doesn’t believe Kellhus, saying he’s his father’s heir instead. At the same time, sorcery fouling the air, it grabs Kellhus’s manhood. This confuses him. He wants to screw the possessed Esmenet and realizes he’s hiking up his own robe, letting Aurang touch him directly.

“Tell meeee,” she moaned again and again, and though Kellhus knew to be her words, he found himself hearing, Take me…

He lifted her with ease, spread her across the settee. He would pin her to the deep! He would plunge and hammer until she howled for release!

Who is your father? a voice whispered.

Aurang’s drawing him to Esmenet’s sex while asking what Moënghus’s plans are. Kellhus is unable to keep quiet and gasps, “To make manifest the Thousandfold Thought…” At that moment, he sees through the spell at the soul “old and hoary and rotted” lurking in Esmenet’s eyes.

Sorcery!

The Ward was simple—one of the first Achamian had taught him—an ancient Kûniüric Dara, proof against what were called incipient sorceries. His words racked the sultry air. For a moment the light of his eyes shone across her skin.

The darkness faltered and the shadow fell from his soul. He staggered back two steps, his phallus wet and chill and hard. She laughed as he covered himself, her voice guttural with inhuman intonations.

Bait it.

“Across the world in Golgotterath,” Kellhus gasped, still stamping out the coals of his manic lust, “The Mangaecca squat about your true flesh, rocking to the mutter of endless Cants. The Synthese is but a node. You are no more than the reflection of a shadow, an image cast upon the water of Esmenet. You possess subtlety, yes, but you haven’t the depth to confront me.”

Kellhus reflects on Achamian’s lessons, that Aurang would have its abilities restricted to glamorous and compulsions. “The great shout that was its true form, the Schoolman had said, could be heard only as whispers and insinuation at such a distance.” Angry, Aurang taunts Kellhus to kill it (and by proxy, Esmenet). Kellhus finds himself growing aroused as he retreats. He feels the past as a weight, drawing him into “the current of passing events.” Kellhus realizes that it is boredom and repetition that “rendered the aged immune to the press of events.”

Aurang keeps taunting, saying Kellhus can’t kill “this pretty shell.” He can’t kill what he loves. Kellhus draws his sword and, Aurang asks what man would kill his wife. “A Dûnyain,” answers Kellhus.

She stopped above the blade, close enough to pinch the tip between the toes of her right foot. She glared with ancient fury. “I am Aurang. Tranny! A son of the void you call Heaven… I am Inchoroi, a raper of thousands! I am he who would tear this world down. Strike, Anasûrimbor!”

Kellhus reached…

…and saw himself through the obscenity’s eyes, the enigma who would draw out his father, Moënghus. Kellhus reached, though with fingers lacking tips, palms without heat. He reached and he grasped…

Kellhus seizes Aurang’s soul, feeling its ancient memories of past atrocities. He learns the Inchoroi are a race with “a hundred names for the vagaries of ejaculation, who had silenced all compassion, all pity, to better savour the reckless chorus of their lust.” They have gone from world to world, plundering. It was a life so whole that only Kellhus and the Dûnyain were new and unprecedented. It wonders who the Dûnyain are and how they came from the shadow of Golgotterath. How could Kellhus enslave a holy war? The Consult especially hates that he’s an Anasûrimbor, their old enemy thought destroyed.

And Kellhus realized there was only one question here: Who were the Dûnyain?

They fear us, Father.

“Strike!” Esmenet cried, her arms back, her shining breasts pressed forward.

And he did strike, though with the flat of his palm. Esmenet sailed backward, rolled nude across the tiles.

Kellhus says the No-God speaks in his dreams, that the Consult failed him at Mengedda. Aurang calls it lies as Kellhus says the No-God comes for the world. Aurang begs Kellhus to strike or fuck her. This time, the “lustful glamour fell from him.” Kellhus declares Aurang defeated.

And for the first time she replied according to his anticipations.

“Ahhhh… but there are as many battlefields as there are moments, Dûnyain.”

Pause. The cycling of possibilities.

“You’re a distraction…” Kellhus said.

Kellhus realizes they are going after Achamian, willing to do anything to deny him the Gnosis. Aurang taunts that it is too late, Achamian is dead.

A skin-spy, appearing as Fanashila, steps out of a false panel in the wall, crammed in a space that had contorted her body. She kills Opsara, which arouses the skin-spy. Then she becomes Esmenet as she approaches Achamian’s quarters, tying a Chorae she carried about her neck. It enters Achamian’s room, hoping he was asleep.

He’s not. His wards had alerted him. It pretends to cry as it stands in the doorway. Achamian studies her, smelling terrified, asking if that’s Esmi. She lets her clothing drop away, revealing her naked breasts. He asks what she’s doing, saying Chorae are now forbidden. She claims Kellhus ordered her to wear it. He asks her to remove it. She does, dropping it, then steps into the moonlight, moaning that she loves him.

“No… this is wrong! He’ll know, Esmi! He’ll know!”

“He already knows,’ it said, crawling onto the foot of his bed.

She could smell his hammering heart, the promise of hot blood. There was such fear in him!

She keeps begging even as she crawls over him. Then her fist plunges down, crushing Achamian’s throat only for the illusion to fall away and reveal Captain Heörsa “thrashing in his very own death throes…”

The Dûnyain had outwitted them.

Traps within traps, the thing called Esmenet carelessly thought. So beautiful…

In what passed for its dying soul.

Someone calls Achamian as he is still dreaming of moving through the Ark with Nau-Cayûti, who is begging to know where “she” is. Achamian is worried his shouts will bring Golgotterath down on them while Nau-Cayûti calls him a liar.

That voice intrudes, speaking about Zin. Then Achamian comes awake and finds Proyas over him. He saying Zin is asking for him. Achamian, “without any real comprehension,” bolts out of bed. He still feels like he’s in the Ark and not Proyas’s tent. Proyas steadies him and they share a look, standing face to face. “For so long the Marshal of Attrempus had stood at their borderlands, guarding the frontier across which the doubt of one had warred with the certainty of the other.” Achamian realizes the distance between them was an illusion and clasps Proyas’s hand.

“I did not mean to disappoint you,” Proyas murmured.

Achamian swallowed.

Only when things were broken did their meaning become clear.

Kellhus is holding Esmenet as she sobs, crying out that she does love him. Outside, the Hundred Pillars are searching for the Synthese. Kellhus know all they will find is Captain Heörsa’s corpse. It played out just like Kellhus anticipated. They wouldn’t try to kill him. “So long as they knew nothing of the Dûnyain, the Consult were trapped in the pincers of a paradox: the more they needed to kill him, the more they needed to learn him—and to find his father.” So they went for Achamian.

Kellhus did not know if Esmenet would remember what happened. She did. She remembers speaking those words like they were her own, begging for him to believe her that she does love him. He agrees with her.

Quivering lips. Eyes parsed between horror and remorse. Panting breath. “But you said! You said!”

“Only,” he lied, “what needed to be heard, Esmi. Nothing more.”

“You have to believe me!”

“I do, Esmi… I do believe.”

She clutched her cheeks, scratched welts across them. “Always the whore! Why must I always be the whore?”

He looked through her, past her bewildered hurt, down to the beatings and the abuse, to the betrayals, and beyond, out to a world of rank lust, shaped by the hammers of custom, girded with scripture, scaled by ancient legacies of sentiment and belief. Her womb had cursed her, even as it made her what she was. Immortality and bliss—this was the living promise all women bore between their thighs. Strong sons and gasping climax. If what men called truth were ever the hostage of their desires, how could they fail to make slaves of their women? To hide them like hoarded gold. To feast on them like melons. To discard them like rinds.

Was this now why he used her? The promise of sons in her hips?

Dûnyain sons.

He realizes that he can’t undo this hurt. As she begs to be held by him, he understands that this is the beginning of the pain she will bear because of him.

Achamian wonders why he doesn’t feel much when things are happening, but only later upon reflection, does he experience emotions. He reflects on when the Pederisk, the Mandate recruiter, came to his hovel to claim him as a boy. Achamian’s father refused, saying both they boy was a good fisherman and,”more importantly, Achamian was his son.” His father was beaten for his defiance while a selfish coldness, the type only “children and madmen are sometimes capable” grips him.

He [Achamian] had gloated

Before that day, Achamian would never have believed his father could be so easily broken. For children, hard-hearted fathers were elemental, more deity than human. As judges, they seemed to stand beyond all possible judgment. Witnessing the humiliation of his father produced the first truly sorrowful day of his life—as well as a day of triumph. TO see the great breaker broken… How couldn’t this transform the proportions of a young boy’s world?

“Damnation!” his father had screeched. “Hell has come for you, boy! Hell!”

Only afterward, as they trundled up the coast in the Schoolman’s cart, would he cry, overwhelmed by loss and delinquent regret.

Far, far too late.

He’s pulled from this thoughts by Xinemus’s weak, rasping words saying he sees where he’s going. Achamian asks what he sees, humoring him since Xinemus is blind. Xinemus sees nothing. Achamian says he’ll describe Shimeh “through the eyes of a sorcerer”

Sickness wreathes around Xinemus. Achamian kneels and wipes at his friend’s brow. He wants to flee the lung-plague killing his friend, fearing for his own safety. Xinemus coughs for a while, making unmanly sounds. Soon it passes, and Xinemus says the rules have changed between them. Achamian doesn’t understand. Xinemus explains once it was Achamian waiting for Xinemus to return from councils.

Again Achamian couldn’t think of anything to say. It was as though words had come to their end, to the point where only impotence and travesty could follow. Even his thoughts prickled.

“Did you?” the Marshal abruptly asked.

“Did I what?”

“Did you ever win?”

Achamian says no, but then adds, someday he may be Xinemus at Benjuka. Xinemus disagrees because Achamian tries to hard but is caught off by coughing, unable to finish his point. Then he starts ranting how he sees nothing. He gags, cough blood, thrashes. When it passes, he begs Achamian to leave.

“Leave… me…” his friend gasped. “Leave me… be…”

“This is no time for pride, you fool!”

“Nooooo,” the Marshal of Attrempus whispered. “This… is… the… only…”

And then it happened. One moment his complexion was mottled by the pallid exertions only the dying can know, and then, as quickly as cloth soaking water, it went purple-grey. A cooler air settled through the canvas spaces, the quiet of utterly inert things. Lice thronged from Xinemus’s scalp onto his brow, across his waxy face. Achamian brushed at them, twitched them away with the numb fastidiousness of those who deny death by acting otherwise.

Achamian promises to bathe Xinemus with Proyas in the river. He watches his friend, feeling the weight of this moment. The lice crawl onto his skin, finding a new host. He realizes Xinemus is dead and screams out his pain. “And though his cry reached out across the plains, it fell far short of Shimeh.”

Achamian remembers playing Benjuka with Xinemus in better times while Xinemus explains why he always loses. Achamian tries so hard. Achamian picks up the stone piece that doesn’t match the other silvers. It annoys Achamian to play with it.

Why do I get the stone?

Achamian doesn’t sleep. He’s summoned with Proyas to see Kellhus, but he refuses to go. He rebukes Proyas for doing it, using words so harsh guards draw weapons. Achamian flees into the night and wanders “the dark ways of the Holy War.” His thoughts drift through mundane questions, latching onto anything save “that which might drive the wedges of madness deeper.”

Then, as dawn brightened over the promise of Shimeh in the east, he made his way to the fortified villa. He climbed the slopes ad passed unchallenged through the gates, and finally found himself walking the overgrown garden, heedless of the burrs and claws that snarled his robes, of the nettles that inflamed his skin. He waited below the veranda that fronted the main apartments—where his wife moaned about the cock of the man he worshipped.

He waited for the Warrior-Prophet.

Kellhus, saying Achamian looks terrible, snaps Achamian out of his daze. He’s frightened for Esmenet and asks after her. Kellhus says she’s sleeping but suffered greatly. Achamian thinks Kellhus looks like Nau-Cayûti. Achamian’s anger crumbles “as a child’s might before a mother or a father.” He asks Kellhus why he didn’t heal Xinemus. This shocks Kellhus for a heartbeat, he recovers, but “Achamian’s ears roared with such violence that he heard nothing of Kellhus’s reply, save that it was false.” The awe Achamian once felt for Kellhus is gone. He sees only coldness in Kellhus.

How?

And somehow, unaccountably, Achamian knew that he was truly awake—perhaps for the first time. No longer was that hapless child in this man’s gaze.

Achamian pulled away—no horrified, just… blank.

“What are you?”

Kellhus’s gaze did not falter. “You filch from me, Akka… Why?”

“You are not a prophet! What are you?”

Achamian witnesses a change in Kellhus. Expression dies in him. Kellhus says, in a dead voice, “I am Truth.” Achamian struggles to understand, feeling panicked, horrified. Kellhus forces Achamian to stare at the rising sun. Achamian is choking, held up by the throat. He struggles. When he’s released, Achamian begins preparing cants to kill Kellhus and die in the process.

But the voice would not relent.

Does this mean the sun is empty?”

Achamian paused, turned his face from the grass and scree, squinted at the figure looming above.

Do you think,” a voice crackled across every possibility of hearing, “the God would be anything other than remote?”

Achamian lowered his forehead to the biting weeds. Everything spinning, slumping.

Or do I lie, in that, since I am all souls, I choose the one that will turn the most hearts?”

Achamian is crying, feeling like he’s a child before his abusive father, begging not to be hit. He is terrified, thinking he’ll be good. He feels the guilt of getting Inrau and Xinemus killed. He weeps for them while The Warrior-Prophet held Achamian’s hand

Tomorrow,” he [Kellhus] said, “we march on Shimeh.”

My Thoughts

What a way to start this chapter. To show us where Aurang comes from. With a dream of Seswatha and Nau-Cayûti delving into the Ark, the mighty spaceship that brought the Inchoroi to this world. It’s crash so disrupted them, they lost so much in the impact, that they couldn’t repair it. The Inchoroi, so it seems, who survived weren’t the engineers. They were the soldiers. That was why it took them forever to the No-God running. Needed humans to help them out there beyond the fact that they couldn’t find the right soul to power its operating system.

Cubits. Very biblical measurement there. Not sure what the length is in Bakker’s, but traditionally it was the length of the king’s forearm. So it wasn’t a precise standard of measurement.

There are some great, visceral passages about the Ark and its contents. What have the Inchoroi been doing to make all the bones and detritus? For thousands of years, they’d hoarded and lived in this crashed ship mostly buried in the ground. It’s accumulated not just waste, but literal suffering. What a terrible place to be taken. It makes you wonder what has driven Seswatha and Nau-Cayûti in here.

Why does Achamian, as Seswatha, feel shame during his conversation with Nau-Cayûti, because he’s lying to him. We get that later. He needs to save the world and to do that he has given Nau-Cayûti false hope that he can save his lover.

I think we get some fatherly moments with Seswatha and Nau-Cayûti in this passage since the following series hints pretty clearly that Seswatha may be Nau-Cayûti’s true father. He also sees him as the salvation of mankind when Nau-Cayûti is actually is damnation.

When Aurang arrives, Kellhus immediately contemplates killing Esmenet. It is the shortest path. If he’s focused on only killing his father, his mission as a Dûnyain, he shouldn’t even hesitate. But he instead realizes he has to be very careful here. He wants to protect. He sees beyond killing his father. He has a new mission now. The Circumfix has broken him from being a Dûnyain. He has felt emotions, if weekly. He needs Esmenet as more than just a breeder.

Kellhus has come to love her.

Where there are Men, there are crimes. This takes us back to the very start of the series. The opening with the last survivor of Ishuäl reflecting on it after the bard had raped him, wondering if there can be a crime when the world had ended. Right there is the Inchoroi’s goal. They don’t want to go to damnation and are unwilling to bend to the outside. So they will exterminate the collective unconsciousness that has birthed the outside. It’s very rare that you can find a group bent on annihilating a world and also have a motivation that makes sense.

What would you do to save yourself from eternal damnation if you knew it was your fate?

Right there, with that jar of pain on hearing that Esmenet doesn’t love him, something Kellhus knows, he is feeling that stirring of emotion. Pain and love. It’s faint, but it’s there. Perhaps for the first time, he recognizes it. He felt similar for Serwë once. They are stains of emotions upon Kellhus’s soul. It’s not much, but it’s what allows him to side-step the pure Dûnyain logic. Why he doesn’t side with the Consult like every other Dûnyain would.

Now we see the power of the Inchoroi’s enchantments and how they can get people so horny they cooperate even while being violated. The reek of sorcery gives us a clue how they inspire such lust in a person. As we saw at the end of the Warrior Prophet, it’s impossible for a normal human to resist. Now Kellhus is falling prey to it. Even knowing he’s being manipulated, he’s losing. He’s feeling true lust for the first time.

We’re witnessing the first battle of the Second Apocalypse right here.

Kellhus doesn’t have experience dealing with true lust. He’s feeling it for the first time, and he’s realizing his lack of repetition with it, with dealing with emotions, is a weakness of his. It’s something that will allow the events of the Unholy Consult’s climax to happen.

The No-God was probably speaking to Kellhus during the Circumflex. It’s possible the No-God still is talking to Kellhus. Perhaps the No-God senses Kellhus is a potential component to activate it, though not that he will activate it.

It takes Kellhus some time to decipher Aurang, but by the end, Kellhus is predicting how Aurang will behave. In one encounter, maybe 10 minutes, Kellhus has already understood how Aurang thinks. So don’t be surprised by what is found at Golgotterath at the end of the Unholy Consult.

And now we see the full trap. It’s a devious plan, sending a skin-spy to him as Esmenet. But one that Kellhus was prepared for. No wonder Achamian smelled terrified. Heörsa had to know what was coming.

Love how the skin-spy really doesn’t care that the trap fell. It got to kill somebody and watch them die.

Get a little tease on how Seswatha convinced Nau-Cayûti to go into Golgotterath.

What a poignant scene between Kellhus and Proyas, finally coming together as they both realize what they lost. It’s powerful in its understatement. The naked truth laid bare with that final line of his section.

And there we have Esmenet in denial that she loves Kellhus and it isn’t about worship. He confirms it with his lie to her. He told Aurang the truth, because Aurang knows it, too. He’s studied regular humans for a long time. He understands them. It’s Dûnyain that Aurang doesn’t understand.

Poor Esmenet. Always the whore. She can’t escape her past, try as she might. It’s the darkness that comes before her. I have so much sympathy for Esmenet. She did what she had to survive, she’s trying to escape that past, and it clings to her.

I think this is where Kellhus realizes he loves Esmenet. Through this encounter, as he sees her pain from how he used her. He already felt the guilt of using Serwë, whom I think Kellhus loved ever since he witnessed her rape at the hands of Cnaiür, he just never noticed it. His passions are so weak, it’s only when he hurts them, like a nonman erratic, that he feels anything. When he uses them and sees the consequences is it enough for him to stir those stunted feelings.

It’s often on reflection that we can see things more clearly. That we can understand the import of what happened. When we’re in the middle of events, we don’t understand the significance. We can’t because the future hasn’t happened yet. We don’t know what the consequences are, what it meant. It can change how we felt.

Pederisk. There’s a Greek reference. It’s one that used to mean teaching young boys but got twisted through slander by the Spartans against the Athenians, suggesting it was a sexual relationship, too. Nothing in the text, here, however, suggest that save that Sorcerers and Whores are said to be similar. Like we see Esmenet, and women, are cursed because of their womb, sorcerers are cursed because they can see Creation a little more clearly.

It’s so heartbreaking to watch Xinemus die. He still has some of that pride, not wanting to be seen weak even as he’s utterly broken by the torture. A shell of a man dying of a sickness. Weakened and destroyed by events. Achamian is dealing with those selfish impulses we all have, those ones that hate being imposed upon as he tries to give comfort to his friend in these last moments. And then… it’s over.

Xinemus is gone, his last words talking about how in his final moments, he needed to be proud. To be who he used to be. That was the most important thing to him, to get back to whom he was before the compulsion. Nothing did it. Not vengeance. Not the Warrior-Prophet. Now it’s too late.

Nice call back to that game of Benjuka from Book One.

I think Achamian really surprised Kellhus with his question on why he didn’t heal Xinemus. It wasn’t what he was prepared to deal with, but to give comfort over a death. He recovers almost instantly. Maybe Kellhus is more shook up by this night’s events and realizing he loves Esmenet that he betrayed himself at that moment.

Achamian saw the truth of Kellhus, but Kellhus recovered. He embraced it. He realized he was unmasked, so he used it. He took the shortest way, acting like the remote, all-knowing God to keep Achamian on his side this time. But how much longer can he do that? Where can Kellhus go from here now that he’s abandoned the pretense to Achamian that he’s a soul who loves? Achamian knows it was all a deception.

A powerful chapter all around. One of the best in the series.

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Eleven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 11
Holy Amateu

Welcome to Chapter Eleven of my reread. Click here if you missed the Chapter Ten!

Of all the Cants, none better illustrates the nature of the soul than the Cants of Compulsion. According to Zarathinius, the fact that those compelled unerringly think themselves free shows that Volition is one more thing moved in the soul, and not the mover we take it to be. While few dispute this, the absurdities that follow escape comprehension altogether.

—MEREMNIS, THE ARCANA IMPLICATA

As a miller once told me, when the gears do not meet, they become as teeth. So it is with men and their machinations.

—ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

My Thoughts

What we see about the cants just reinforces what was discussed in the previous chapter about the soul. Free will is an illusion. It is the Darkness That Comes Before that manipulates us, and the Cants seize the soul and provide it with a new “past” of circumstances that then allow it to behave in a different way. But the soul can’t recognize that it’s been changed. That the circumstances that preceded it have shifted because it cannot stand apart from those circumstances. Everything in Bakker’s works follows the belief that in a materialistic universe, there can be no “self-moving soul.”

Then he adds the supernatural, the Outside, to it and plays with the premise of violating causal with something from behind it. As he does here with Compulsion.

When gears teeth don’t meet the they aren’t working properly. They don’t do what they’re supposed to do. I’m not sure Bakker’s analogy is as good as he thinks or I’m missing something from it (since gears have teeth on them that interlock and allow them to work properly), but he appears to be implying that men and their machinations only cause problems to the world. They disrupt things.

Early Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Xerash

Two years ago, the Shriah had called the Holy War. From across the three seas, the men came. Now they march from Gerotha through a “subdued land.” None in Xerash defy them. The peoples all submit, offering their food stores, and their daughters, willingly to appease the “Lords of the Holy War.” Newcomers join the Holy War from the sea, shocked by the changes to their kinsmen’s “strange garb and implacable stares.” The Holy War takes few casualties and the soldiers “recalled their old humour” as their burdens lessened.

Unlike other places, there were few atrocities committed since Kellhus made it clear that the “Inrithi either kept or betrayed his word with their actions.” He doesn’t need the Xerashi’s love, only their trust.

While the Kianene have abandoned Xerash, Athjeäri is fighting them in Holy Amoteu. He’s discovering that the Kianene are burning all the wood to deny Holy War siege engines. Athjeäri does what he can, but he’s taking causalities with every raid. “Though he possessed daring in excess, he lacked the manpower required to secure his position.” He writes letters asking for help while Kellhus tells him to be patient and urges the Holy War to march faster.

Ten days after Gerotha’s fall, something “peculiar” happenes. Though accounts varied, all agreed Kellhus spoke with an “old blind man” that somehow was missed by the Hundred Pillars who kept away any who might harm Kellhus. Esmenet feared he was a Cishaurim. Proyas wrote his own eyewitness account in a letter to his father, describing Kellhus dismounting to talk with the man, asking who he is. The man answers, “One who has something to whisper into your ear.”

This provokes alarm as Kellhus asks why the man has to whisper only to him. The man says his words are a doom and Kellhus will kill him. People shout that it’s a Cishaurim trick, but Kellhus listens, kneeling to let the old man whisper. When the man finishes, Kellhus beheads the old man and orders the Holy War to make camp nearby. When pressed, Kellhus would not explain what he was told.

What did the old fool whisper? [wrote Proyas.]

The Inchoroi Aurang reflects on when he was spear bearer for Sil, who led the Inchoroi after they crashed on this world, and the other might deeds he’s done, like riding on Wutteät (Father of Dragons), and their great wars with the Nonman culminating in the Womb-Plague. He was young thing before all his grafts had “sapped his monumental frame.” He thinks they would have won, but Sil was impatient. It led them to being scattered and hunted. It was to men that gave the Inchoroi their “second age of glory.” Men figured out how to “resurrect their aborted designs” leading to him being Horde-General to the No-God. He remembers burning the Great Library of Sauglish. He butchered the Norsirai.

So how had it come to this? Bound to a Synthese, like a king to a leper’s robes. Frail and fugitive. Skulking about the fires of a roused enemy. There had been a time when the screams of thousands had heralded his coming.

He circles a compound surveying the land. He stares to the east where Shimeh, “the very heart of the mannish world” lay. He sees the signs of past countries in the compound, the “furtive mark of their [men’s] generations.” He reflects that he’s older than all of it. He lands in the courtyard where the skin-spies, his children, had left their horses. They come to him and grovel “their groins slick form their victims.”

He reflects how the Consult once thought the strange metaphysics of Psûkhe allowed the Cishaurim to unmask the skin-spies. It Is why they needed the Holy War to succeed. They couldn’t allow half of the Three Seas to be “immune to their poison.” It was why they acted against Xerius, trying to stop his plan to betray it. Now Aurang knows it is the Dûnyain, Anasûrimbor Moënghus, responsible for it all. He sees more in Kellhus’s than a son “hunting for his father.” Even if the Mandate didn’t have their prophecy, Aurang hated the Anasûrimbor bloodline. He fears what Moënghus has done in Shimeh the last thirty years when Kellhus claimed the Holy War in one.

Despite the rank disorder of his soul, the Scylvendi had been right about one thing: these Dûnyain had seized too much already. They could not be allowed the Gnosis as well.

Aurang, his hoary soul wrenching at the seams of the Syntheses that house him, smiled an odd, bird-twitching smile. How long since his last true contest?

The skin-spies gather, unveiling their true faces. He tells them to prepare this place, and one named Ûssirta how he can be certain that Kellhus will stop here. Aurang explains how Kellhus will pause here before entering the plain, learning from Cnaiür that Kellhus won’t be over-eager to march into the plain so close to his goal like a normal man. He will take time to plan.

Men. They had been little more than packs of wild dogs during the First Wars. How had they grown so?

A skin-spy named Maörta asks if “it” approaches. Aurang considers his skin-spies then says that he’s already made a sacrifice to lull Kellhus into thinking he’s uncovered their plot so he won’t be suspicious. They will catch him unaware because “there is treachery in his wife’s heart.”

They would test the limits of this Prophet’s penetration. They would deny him the Gnosis.

The skin-spy gurgles as Eleäzaras says to Esmenet they found him by probing his face with pins. He doesn’t like how clever she is, that she has power over him. He drinks from his wine bowl. Nor is he pleased that she’d learned so fast that the Scarlet Spire had found a skin-spy. He wouldn’t underestimate her again, realizing she’s more than a whore and has true skill at organization.

She was attractive, though. Well worth rutting… To do to her what they had done to that thing’s face. Yes, very attractive

He reflects that they had hardly begun studying the skin-spy when Esmenet had “just walked in” accompanied by Werjau (Eleäzaras thinks, but he was pretty drunk and isn’t sure) and four of the Hundred Pillars, all of them with Chorae. She does it like she has no idea that they’re the Scarlet Spires and they answered to know one especially not a woman. Iyokus says they would have shared once they finished their interrogation.

Whether this was true or false, of course, depended entirely on the information extracted.

Esmenet is doubtful that they would have share, which Eleäzaras isn’t happy she realized and is reminded Shimeh is only days away. He feels the weight of fear at facing the Cishaurim and Shimeh. He’s upset because serving Kellhus wasn’t what he agreed to with Maithanet. That the Mandate being right wasn’t part of the bargain.

How could they have been so deceived? And now to be bent upon murder, to have their knife drawn, only to discover that they had no motive… except self-preservation.

What have I done?

The Scarlet Spire’s privy council has argued over whether they should abandon the war or continue. They are shocked to learn about the Consult and the fact that a skin-spy ruled High Ainon “in their [the Scarlet Spires] name.” They can’t agree and need “decisive leadership—something that their present Grandmaster clearly lacked.” He feels their destruction is coming. Even Iyokus is arguing with him despite the blinded man keeping his position as Master of Spies at Eleäzaras’s insistence. Iyokus doesn’t want to submit to Kellhus, but Eleäzaras doesn’t see how he can treat with Kellhus from a position of strength because “He reads our souls in our faces.” Kellhus can deduce what Iyokus has told Eleäzaras just by asking a question. Iyokus is dismissive of that fact.

There was strength in ignorance, Eleäzaras realized. All his life he had thought knowledge a weapon. “The world repeats,” the Shiradic philosopher Umartu had written. “Know these repetitions, and you may intervene.” Eleäzaras had taken this as his mantra, had used it as the hammer with which to pound cunning into his wit. You may intervene, he would tell himself, no matter what the circumstance.

But there was knowledge beyond hope of intervention, knowledge that mocked, degraded… gelded and paralyzed. Knowledge that only ignorance could contradict. Iyokus and Inrûmmi even believe simply did not know what he knew, which was they though him castrate. They didn’t even believe.

Perhaps it was inevitable that the Intricati appear here and now. That the Warrior-Prophet intervene.

Esmenet, the Intricati, demands to know why she wasn’t summoned. Iyokus says it’s a school matter. She questions that, and Eleäzaras says they are the ones who will face “the Snakeheads,” implying the skin-spy is connected to the Cishaurim. She has “the temerity to step closer” and snap that the skin-spies aren’t Cishaurim and implies the Scarlet Spire is being treacherous. He gets mad, demanding why he’s even speaking to a woman. That infuriates her and he feels fear draining away his contempt. He feels hopeless and apologies.

He wonders what has happened to him. “When would this nightmare end.” He hates how a “caste-menial whore” smiles in triumph, outraging Iyokus. He realizes he’s losing his position as Grandmaster if he doesn’t act like one.

What did I do wrong? something churlish cried within.

She orders the skin-spy handed over since it has no soul for Cants to compel. It’s a royal command. He realizes Iyokus won’t obey. To maintain power, he has to act. He thinks how sweet it would be to fuck the warrior prophet’s woman. As she continues speaking in Kellhus’s name, he asks if she used to be Achamian’s woman. He knows the truth, but wants to hear her say it.

The room goes silent, save for the skin-spy’s dripping blood, as she stares in shock. He points out the irony since he ordered Achamian’s kidnapping which lead to Esmenet achieving her high position. She responds with, “More men should take credit for their mistakes.”

Eleäzaras tried to laugh, but she continued, speaking as though he were nothing more than a creaking pole or a barking dog. Noise. She continued tell him—the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires!—what he had to do. And why not, when he so obviously had abandoned decisions?

Shimeh was coming, she said. Shimeh.

As though names could have teeth.

Esmenet is caught in a downpour, running to reach the safety of her tent. In the warmth, Kellhus and Achamian await her, though Achamian turns back to the skin-spy she claimed from Eleäzaras. It is chained to the central pole, nude. Signs of torture mars its skin. She shudders, realizing how much damage Iyokus inflicted on the creature and realizing Achamian suffered the same for longer.

It mutters Chigra and other words in its language with Achamian talking about its curling face-fingers a reflex caused by being captive. She faces the skin-spy, trying to look tough while feeling foolish, thinking everyone sees through her act.

Was this how it was for others of high station? Perpetual fear? From everything, every word, every act, the consequences hung so heavy, swung so far and deep. The Consult is real.

Kellhus admonishes Achamian, saying he’s thinking of the skin-spies as men when they’re not. They don’t have a “self to hide.” They steal their personalities, and thus are only shells. “The mockery of souls.” Achamian implies that’s enough o replace a human. Kellhus agrees, his words foreboding. Suddenly, Esmenet goes to Kellhus, making sure he’s between her and Achamian. She’s feeling dizzy.

Kellhus asks who the skin-spy impersonated. She says a Javreh slave soldier, one of their Chorae archers (who are reputed to be the best shots in the world). She reveals the skin-spy was exposed by his lover, another Javreh. The Scarlet Spire used pins to probe the face, which Kellhus says is effective but impractical method to implement on everyone. As Kellhus moves from her, she feels naked beofre Achamian.

Achamian speculates they thwarted an assassination attempt. Esmenet realizes that this fear of making mistakes is never going to leave people like her. She says the Consult knows he’s vulnerable to Chorae now. Achamian adds that it this was a gamble, since the Scarlet Spire will scrutinize their Chorae archers the most. Kellhus says it implies the Consult is desperate.

She’s reminded living back in Sumna when Achamian and Inrau were discussing Maithanet’s alliance with the Scarlet Spire. That was the first time men had listened to her. So she adds to the present conversation, saying the Consult would do anything to keep him from gaining the Gnosis.

Chigraaaaaaaa,” the thing wheezed. “Put hara ki zurot…”

Achamian glanced at Kellhus before turning to her with uncommon boldness. “I think she’s right,” he said, gazing with open admiration. “Maybe we can breathe easy, or maybe not. Either way, we should probably keep you cloistered as much as possible.” Though the patronage of his look should have offended her, there was apology in it as well, a heartbreaking admission.

She could not bear it.

The skin-spy, chained up in the tent, knows it was a pawn sacrificed for the “Old Father’s” plan. Despite this, it also knows it won’t be abandoned, that it would be saved despite the air-tight security Kellhus has implement. These two contradictions it could “mull in what passed for its soul without any offense to consistency.”

There was but one measure, one Truth, and it was warm and wet and bloody. The mere thought of it sent spasms through its member. How it yearned! How it ached!

At the right moment, it cries out in its language at a pitch higher than any “mannish ear” could hear. A signal that lets his brothers know that the plan is succeeding.

The Holy War leaves Gim and enter Holy Amoteu. They walk in a land whose names and peoples they grew up reading about in the scriptures. They felt like they’d “come home. At the Anothrite Shrine, seven drown in the mad press to bathe in the holy waters. Every day’s march brought them closer and closer to their goal.

Shimeh, it seemed, lay impossibly near. Shimeh!

Like a shout on the horizon. A whisper become voice in their hearts.

A few days to the east, Fanayal leads his men to hunt Athjeäri, knowing his numbers dwindle. He plots an ambush with a full group of Cishaurim, which disgusts the High Heresiarch Seökti. They attack and though outnumbered, Athjeäri fights head on. “Despite the ferocity of the Inrithi, the situation was hopeless.” Athjeäri is killed by a youth. The Galeoth manage to retrieve Athjeäri’s body from the Fanim at a large cost of life and flee. They find reinforcements only a few hours away led by Lord Soter. Only twenty survived.

The nobles are somber. Kellhus declares Athjeäri Battle-Celebrant and speaks the rite without practice. He then gives a sermon how Inri Sejenus came after the Apocalypse to heal the world while he came before the catastrophe to prepare the world for it. They burn Athjeäri’s body with full ceremony.

The dirges of the Galeoth echoed long into the night.

Finally, the Holy War has crossed the Jarta Highlands but their mood is somber. But they are soon heartened to walk through the lands of Inri Sejenus’s birth. Only Shimeh lies before them. They arrive at an abandoned Nansur villa. Though there is daylight left, Kellhus calls a halt while the others are eager to march on to Shimeh.

Denying them, he took up residence behind the fortified walls.

Esmenet and Kellhus are making love, her on top, “welded to him in singular bliss.” She’s happy for this and thanks him after they climax since she doesn’t get to touch him much anymore. She watches him pant but knows he is not winded. “He was never winded.” She admires his body as she savors the memory of their passion.

As she lies in this room, she thinks back to when the Nansur ruled here, thinking that a long dead Patridomos had coupled here, too. She wonders what he would think of the Kianene, “an obscure desert people,” ruling so much of the world. “Not just individuals but entire ages, she realized, could be innocent or dreadful.”

She thought of Serwë. The perpetual anxiousness returned.

How had the joy of her new circumstances become so elusive? In her old life, she had often quizzed the priests who came to her, and in her darker moods she had even presumed to school them in what she saw as their hypocrisy. With some, those unlikely to return, she had asked what could be missing from their faith for them to find solace in whores. “Strength,” they sometimes answered; several had even wept. But more often than not they denied missing anything at all.

After all, how could they be miserable, when Inri Sejenus had claimed their hearts?

“Many make that mistake,” Kellhus said, standing at the side of the bed.

As he stands over her, she wants him to take her again. But he continues saying that they think you can’t be miserable if you have faith, so they fake that they aren’t, thinking that the others look happy, but they’re the only ones who are weak. “In the company of the joyous they become desolate” then blame themselves. She protest saying she has him, his child. He says he’s the answer not the cure. She starts crying, confused. She clutches him begging for him to take her again.

This one thing I can give…

“There’s more,” he said, drawing back the sheets and placing a shadowy hand upon her belly. “So much more.”

His look was long and sad. Then he left her for Achamian and the secrets of the Gnosis.

Esmenet can’t sleep after Kellhus leaves, catching “fragments of arcane voice that surfaced from the stonework around her.” She drowses, thinking about her pains, like Achamian’s “death” and Mimara’s “death.”

Nothing stayed dead in her life. Her past least of all.

“Walking between Wards is easy,” a voice hummed, “when their author practices other arcana.”

She bolts awake and sees a tall, handsome man over her. She feels a stirring of lust then notices that his shadow “had hooked wings.” She bolts from the bed and presses to the wall as he says he thought paying twelve talents was an outrage, referencing their last encounter in Sumna. Before she can scream, he presses his naked body against her naked back while covering her mouth.

He wanders why some “peaches” are better than others, asking if “the bruises can be swayed away?” He wonders if it’s the peach or the “vendor,” implying his skill is what makes her more enjoyable. She feels a surge of lust, wants him to be in her even as she knew his form is an illusion.

“My children,” he said, “only imitate what they see…”

She whimpered into his suffocating hand—tried to cry out even as her legs slackened to the touch of his probing fingers.

“But me,” he murmured in a voice that ran tickling over hers skin, “I take.”

My Thoughts

Kellhus’s actions at Gerotha, though brutal, have achieved the results he wanted so long as the Holy War doesn’t commit atrocities. A ruler above all must be trusted. Whether love or hated, a ruler who can’t be trusted is one to be feared. A capricious man like Xerius, whose mercurial whim dictated his actions, engendered much terror in his people. They couldn’t trust him to do more than brutalize them. A hard ruler, like Kellhus, can be trusted to keep his word. If he says you won’t be harmed, you won’t. If you break his rules, you can trust him to punish you just as he said. In the end, people prefer predictability over justice.

Doesn’t sound good for Athjeäri. His boldness is catching up to him. He penetrated too deep too many times. His luck is running out.

Interesting to have this quote from Proyas’s letter. These broad, 3rd person omniscient scenes always feel like you’re reading the historical account of the events years later, and having Proyas’s letter quoted in it only reinforces that. It’s an interesting choice on Bakker’s part.

Aurang has grafted his real body so many times he can’t move. Interesting. It’s an insight into the Inchoroi and how they work. They can modify their bodies through grafts. It’s how they gained sorcerery and how they can even talk. They didn’t have mouths before meeting the Nonmen. We get some names dropped here that we’ll see in The White-Luck Warrior, too.

All his great deeds, and he’s stuck as a tiny bird, a glorified messenger serving men who had figured out all their old tech and activated it. Resurrected the No-God once, created the skin-spies. Done things with Tekne Aurang never knew how to do.

Good to see Aurang is finally listening to Cnaiür. He’s using Kellhus’s own logic against him. The problem with doing the shortest, most efficient action is if your opponent can figure that out, he can use it against you. Will it be enough.

Aurang, of course, knows Esmenet is “treacherous.” She gave up Achamian to him without any hesitation back in book 1. Of course, Aurang didn’t know that Achamian told Esmenet to cooperate with any who came asking. He did that to protect her, knowing if she played the whore, they wouldn’t bother hurting her. It worked.

What will Aurang do to her this time? Nice bit of tension here.

Eleäzaras is drinking again even as he wants to hate-fuck Esmenet. He clearly doesn’t like a woman this clever. He’s never encountered it before, and it’s one more thing pressing in on his crumbling world. Nothing is at all as he planned. He’s led his school on a path that may destroy them and he doesn’t have the fortitude to withstand the pressures. It’s an interesting story line. The master manipulator and schemer, so powerful and confident at the start. Another archetype, like Xinemus, broken by the events of the Holy War.

Nothing like showing Esmenet’s power to have her walk into the heart of the Scarlet Spire with only four guys with her. All Eleäzaras can do is fume in humiliation at how low his school has fallen with the advent of Kellhus.

Eleäzaras unraveling is continuing. He is drowning in despair. He sees no way out but to press on and hope they don’t die. He knows he can’t challenge Kellhus. Iyokus doesn’t understand, like anyone else who hasn’t been before Kellhus and been stripped bare. It’s an interesting character arc to explore, the pressure of leadership and how it can destroy a person.

That bitterness pervades Eleäzaras. He doesn’t want to face the consequences of his actions, not even bending before Esmenet’s authority, let alone the greater consequence of dragging his school into this war.

Now he’s lashing out, asking about Achamian. He doesn’t have any power over her other than wounding her soul. So that’s what he does. He’s too weak to submit, his pride too great. His fear too strong. So he hurts her the way his own pride is wounded.

Nice come back from Esmenet, and an interesting one. Since she sees it a mistake that landed her there. Is she wondering what her life would have been like if it didn’t happen?

Well, Eleäzaras, you tried to have balls, but you’ve lost all your confidence. You are so shaken by events, by the fear of catastrophe that you might have lead your school to, you’re crushed.

A nice note of pity from Esmenet for Achamian and what he’s suffered while he was captured. Her walls holding back her true feelings are crumbling more and more.

Esmenet realizing that people posture, even when they have power, while inwardly they wonder if their frauds. If people see through them. Worse, if she appears weak, there could be real consequences. She has to force herself to act like something she’s not. And if you force yourself to do something, soon your brain adopts to it and it’s no longer an act. You can grow accustomed to anything.

Esmenet smiled when Kellhus chided Achamian. For a moment, I believe, she was feeling those days at camp when they sat around the fire. When she was still Achamian’s wife. Now she’s feeling that attraction to Achamian and is afraid, fleeing to Kellhus to shield her.

Weeper is a nice pejorative for Chorae bowmen. We’re seeing the start of Aurang’s plan here. This skin-spy was supposed to be caught. It was supposed to make Kellhus aware of this vector of assassination, skin-spies using Chorae. Note how the skin-spy was exposed by his lover. It wasn’t a good enough mimic.

That was a good moment for Esmenet, back in book one when men listened to her. And it’s so heartbreaking. She’s an intelligent woman. Maybe that comes to why she loves Achamian. He listened to her. And so does Kellhus.

And then we get confirmation from the skin-spy that this was a ruse. While it’s nice to get a skin-spy POV, and we learn about their ability to hear ultrasonic sounds and use that as communication, it might not be a needed seen. A careful reader would have guessed he was supposed to be captured from Aurang’s POV. Either way, it’s well written.

Damn, Athjeäri finally goes down. His exploits have been fun to read. He’s bold and wild and reckless, and it finally caught up with him. Killed by a youth, but then he himself wasn’t that old to begin with. A young man, Saubon’s nephew, eager for conquest and glory. He found glory, the sort of immortalization only youth can give through death.

Just like Aurang predicted, Kellhus waits at the villa to survey the plains instead of rushing headlong into the plains. The problem with always doing the most logical thing, following the shortest way, is its predictability.

Kellhus doesn’t have much time for Esmenet. He has impregnated her. Though he does love her in his own stunted way, he doesn’t need the physical intimacy she does. He just needs her on his side and be willing to be his breeder. I doubt he cares if she takes lovers (which she does) so long as she doesn’t have children. I doubt he’s even jealous that she loves Achamian.

Esmenet is not getting attention and she has Achamian back in her life. She’s starting to feel the difference between the two men. She’s aching to find what she’s missing. Kellhus, of course, reads her like an open book, telling her what he has to.

The hand on the belly. What he wants her for. What the Dûnyain use women for: breeding. He could soothe her tears, but that won’t help him with his mission. He loves her, but he can’t keep her happy. Trying to do that, ultimately, leads to Kellhus’s failure.

Nothing stays dead in her life then… Hey, it’s Aurang, the syntheses, back again. Her life as a prostitute back from the dead.

As we seen in the other times the Inchoroi interact, they give such pleasure with their touch it overwhelms the mind. We also learn that this body is an illusion, but one with substance. Esmenet has been told about this, how else did she know that this was an illusion. She can’t fight it though. No human can.

One of the best cliffhangers in the entire series. Bakker often doesn’t end chapters on such powerful hooks. His chapters are almost like short stories, telling complete arcs that then flow into another instead of cutting so swiftly in mid-scene like this.

Click here for Chapter 12!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Ten

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 10
Xerash

Welcome to Chapter Ten of my reread. Click here if you missed the Chapter Nine!

Souls can no more see the origins of their thought than they can see the backs of their heads or the insides of their entrails. And since souls cannot differentiate what they cannot see, there is a peculiar sense in which the soul cannot self-differentiate. So it is always, in a peculiar sense, the same time when they think, the same place where they think, and the same individual who does the thinking. Like tipping a spiral on it side until only a circle can be seen, the passage of moments always remains now, the carnival of spaces always sojourns here, and the succession of people always becomes me. The truth is, if the soul could apprehend itself the way it apprehended the world—if it could apprehend its origins—it would see that there is no now, there is no here, and there is no me. In other words, it would realize that just as there is no circle, there is no soul.

—MEMGOWA, CELESTIAL APHORISMS

You are fallen from Him like sparks from the flame. A dark wind blows, and you are soon to flicker out.

—SONGS 6:33, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

My Thoughts

So, Memgowa appears to be saying that we have an illusion of self. That our “soul” our consciousness isn’t real, but a byproduct of observing the world and rooting through the various causes that effect us. It is shackled to the present, to your belief that it’s in your head. The religious quote reinforces that, saying the soul is just sparks from God and will flicker out fast. That’s ephemeral. Almost accidental, like any spark falling from a fire.

A byproduct of combustion.

This feeds into the theme of the book of determinism. That the universe is material, everything is predetermined, and the only way to change that is for the supernatural to bleed through the outside. Memgowa appears to be in the Dûnyain camp of no outside, but as we can see from this world, the Chronicle of the Tusk may have a better explanation, in this universe, for the concept of self. That it is a spark from the outside, an accidental guttering, that lands in a human host, perceives the world for a time, thinks it is real and important, than flickers out by that dark wind, becoming smoke that drifts back to the Outside.

These quotes are to prime us with the conversation Achamian and Kellhus have in this chapter on the nature of souls, the God, and sorcery with Bakker taking the stance that the soul is real where, I think, the above quote is a more atheistic take on self-awareness, a peep into Bakker’s own views, perhaps.

Early Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Xerash

Several days after the siege of Gerotha started, the Scarlet Spire arrives. The city, as Kellhus promises, surrenders almost immediately thereafter, the embassy bringing the heads of the loyalist, including Captain Hebarata. This does not appease the Great Names. Kellhus, speaking harshly, says the Gerothans need to make a sacrifice to “atone for and to warn against what had happened.” They defied him for four days, so they have until dawn to kill 4 out of 10 of their number.

That night, while the Holy War celebrated, all Gerotha screamed. Dawn’s light found her walls slicked in blood, their entire circuit ornamented with severed heads, thousands of them, either bundled in fishing nets or strung through the jaw along hanging ropes of hemp. When the heads were counted, it was found that the Gerothans had exceeded their measure by 3,056.

In all of Xerash, no city, town, or fortress would bar her gates against the Holy war again.

As this happens, Athjeäri enters the Sacred Lands, the first Lord of the Holy War to reach Amoteu. He plunges in, finding the people “treacherous and supportive by turns.” Though they are Fanim, they hate the Kianene and think their side is losing. Athjeäri battles deeper, visiting holy sites while evading or defeating the soldiers Fanayal sends after him.

Hurall’arkeet, the desert men began to call him—the “Wind Has Teeth.”

Finally, on the Day of Palms, the iron-clad knights rode into Beseral, the ancestral home of the Latter Prophet’s now-extinct line. Though the Inrithi mission had fled long ago, many Amoti gathered to cheer the haggard wayfarers.

For such hearts, they told one another, had to be holy.

Esmenet and Kellhus walk before Achamian through Gerotha, the pair talking like he’s not even there. The “Toll of Days” has been paid and now the Sacral Retinue toured Gerotha to be “seen, Achamian imagined, as to inspect his [Kellhus’s] prize.” Esmenet gives on update on Joktha she received from the Scarlet Spire, saying Cnaiür has it under control.

Achamian could only watch and listen with dismay and admiration. It was a marvel to see her thus. There was her appearance, of course, her hair pinned in a jeweled brace, her gown—a Kianene chiton—sewn for the courts and pleasure gardens of the White Sun Palace in Nenciphon. But there was her bearing as well. Upright. Guileless. Penetrating and ironic. She was a match, and an easy one at that, for her new-found station.

It made breathing difficult. I have to stop this!

He remembers how it was when it was just him and Esmenet, how he could touch her and now Kellhus “had become the centre, the way station that all must cross to find one another.” He feels a “heartbroken beggar” following along behind them, wondering why she called him strong.

Kellhus comments that Eleäzaras had insulted Esmenet, and she say a whore. Kellhus tells her she needs to expect these insults since she is unfamiliar to them. After she makes a quip, bringing a laugh from Kellhus, he talks about how men think primarily “in terms of things, not relation.” He explains this is why men think gold, not belief, makes coins valuable. Esmenet realizes he is talking about herself, saying men can’t understand that she has value to the Warrior-Prophet as more than a whore.

A sliver of sunshine flickered across her, and for an instant everything about her, from the pleats along her chiton to her red-painted lips, gleamed silk. The two of them seemed something otherworldly in that moment—too beautiful, too pure, for the dingy brick and unkempt hearts that surrounded them.

Esmenet makes a dick joke, and Achamian feels pain hearing her speak in “the old way.” He’s not sure why though. Kellhus jokes with her, speaking how men see gold and dicks the same way because they make it relevant, even Eleäzaras.

Shaking his leonine head, the Warrior-Prophet laughed to the heavens. And though Achamian could feel the laughter’s contagion, its preternatural demand to celebrate things great and small, grief struck all breath from him. Anasûrimbor Esmenet glanced about, her look shy with joy. Her eyes clicked away the instant she met his desolate gaze.

She took her husband’s hand.

The Lords of the Holy War gather in the ruins of Xerash’s palace, Charaöth waiting on Kellhus. Achamian is on the periphery, surprised that Charaöth wasn’t destroyed by the Kianene. To the Inrithi, it is an evil place, the “very heart of malevolence” while, Achamian later learns, the Kianene see it as a holy place. He feels the weight of evil king Shikol who once ruled from here, a man Achamian’s mother would threaten him with as a child.

Achamian is trying to ignore Esmenet, who is sitting nearby. As the crowd grows quiet, and Achamian thinks Kellhus has arrive,d he spots a sorcerous bird (the Synthese). Then Kellhus enters and Achamian senses the Mark on him. “It dirtied him [Kellhus] somehow, even as it augured an unthinkable future.” The bird has Achamian unnerved. He wonders if it’s from the Consult or if it’s “scarlet mischief.”

Kellhus starts with a sermon about how here Shikol condemned Kellhus’s “brother,” Inri Sejenus. He talks about how they are finally treading “the very ground of scripture.” He bids the lords to reflect on their journey, on all that they had conquered to reach here. Achamian sees “the disc of ethereal gold, the halo” about Kellhus’s right hand. He is reaching towards the horizon where they will march a final time to Shimeh, saying, “Even now we rewrite the scripture of this place!”

The Great and Lesser Names, who had watched rapt, erupted in shouts of ardour and worship. And Achamian could not but wonder what they must sound like to the Gerothans skulking the alleys below. The mad conquerors…

Kellhus says that the Men of the Tusk are something new, something better than before. That they are “the God’s own knife, cast in the crucible of plague, thirst, and starvation.” In the middle of his exhortation of them, he trails off and says men like to boast, asking who hasn’t “whispered lies in a maiden’s ear” Everyone laughs as he abandons his oration, shifting from the Warrior-Prophet to the Prince of Atrithau, their peer and drinking buddy now. He switches back to talking about war and doom and the glory of their task, saying it will “outshine that belonging to any of our forefathers.” He says they are giants. Which rings thunderous applause. Even Achamian is swept up, shedding tears, confused by his emotions. Even Esmenet cries.

“So who?” Kellhus bellowed through the trailing thunder. “Who is this menial who speaks as King?”

Sudden silence. The buckled stone, with its lattice of weeds and grasses, seemed to hum. The Warrior-Prophet held out both shining hands—a welcome, an appeal, a breathtaking benediction. And he whispered…

I am.”

Achamian reflects, as Kellhus dismounts the dais and motions for a prayer to begin, how men submit to hierarchy wherever they go. Kellhus, however, overturns all that wit his own hierarchy. Achamian thinks the world is bending around Kellhus and imagines Esmenet sleeping with him, and is suddenly afraid she’ll be destroyed by Kellhus as Achamian recognizes Kellhus is a prophet.

So what did that make of Achamian’s hate?

Achamian doesn’t join the discussion as the conquest of Amoteu, the lands around Shimeh, are plotted. The Holy War has one last march to make. He feels like everything is so surreal, noting how civil it is. No one’s bickering is “fueled by wounded or overweening pride.” Kellhus had ended that. They were his “unto death.” There were disagreements, of course, but no one is judged for dissenting. A Kellhus says, “where was Tyrant, the clear-eyed need fear no oppression.” The order of the march is determined, with the Thunyeri leading the van. Not even Kellhus knows what the Fanim plan, though the Scarlet Spire expect that the Cishaurim will fight in Shimeh instead of abandoning it. They expect Fanayal to either contest their march or retreat to the city. There, he would give fight. Everyone can feel that both the Cishaurim and Kian would win or lose. Kellhus says they must march now.

“We diminish,” he [Kellhus] said, “while they grow.”

Achamian’s gaze wanders, somethings to Esmenet who receives reports from functionaries, to Werjau, Gayamakri, and the other Nascenti standing behind Kellhus. Achamian realizes that the Holy War, starting off as a “migratory invasion led by a raucous council of chieftains” had become an emperor’s court. They no longer led, but advised Kellhus like generals. This has caused the rules to change, just like they did in benjuka. He finds it absurd.

Near sunset, Achamian has a head ache and he yearns for that bird he spotted to be prelude to a Consult attack so he could do something. Then the council ends. He feels Esmenet watching him, but he can’t approach her because others do. Proyas, however, does. Things are awkward at first, with Proyas clearly uncomfortable. He tells Achamian he should see Xinemus. Though he hasn’t asked for Achamian, he talks about him. Achamian says he has to protect Kellhus, his sharp retort angering Proyas. Achamian thinks Proyas is broken now and as Proyas argues he can visit, Achamian finds himself punishing Proyas by refusing. Achamian realizes he still bears old grudges he can’t help but seek payment for. Proyas repeats the request and leaves in bitterness. Achamian, feeling numb, watches with a blank mind at the interactions around him, feeling suddenly alone.

He knew nothing of his family, that this mother was dead. He despised his School almost as much as his School despised him. He had lost every student, in one way or another, to the blasted Gods. Esmenet had betrayed him…

He coughed and swallowed, cursed himself for a fool. He called out to a passing slave—a surly-looking adolescent—told him to fetch some unwatered wine. See, he thought to himself as the boy ran off, you have one friend. His forearms against his knees, he stared down at his sandals, frowned at his untrimmed toenails. He thought of Xinemus. I should see him…

A shadow fell on him and he knows it’s Kellhus. He asks if it’s time. Kellhus said soon. Achamian dreads their nightly lessons on the Gnosis. It unnerves him to witness Kellhus make intuitive jumps in logic with the War-Cants. He fears how much Kellhus “so effortlessly outran his [Achamian’s] ability to compare or categorize?”

Kellhus asks what troubles Achamian, and he almost says, “What do you think?” but instead asks why would he attack Shimeh when Golgotterath is the enemy of the world. Kellhus says Achamian is tired and suggests canceling the evening’s lesson, but Achamian interrupts. He’s fine. “Sleep and Mandate Schoolman are old enemies.”

Kellhus nodded, smiled sadly. “Your grief… It still overcomes you.” For some treacherous reason Achamian said, “Yes.

Though most have left, some watch from “a discreet distance,” waiting on Kellhus. He waves them away and soon Achamian is alone with him. They sit in silence while a cool wind blows around them. Achamian feels like he’s hiding from his father as a child. A part of him can’t believe Shikol once inhabited this place.

Kellhus talks about how he used to hear only noise from the world, but now there is a voice. This makes Achamian shiver. For a moment, Achamian sees the halos around Kellhus’s hands while Kellhus looks to the horizon.

“Tell me, Akka,” Kellhus said. “When you look into a mirror, what do you see?” He spoke as a bored child might.

Achamian shrugged. “Myself.”

A teacher’s indulgent look. “Are you so certain? So you see yourself looking through your eyes, or do you simply see your eyes? Strip away your assumptions, Akka, and ask yourself, what do you really see?”

“My eyes,” he admitted. “I simply see my eyes.”

“Then you don’t see yourself.”

Achamian stares dumbfounded as Kellhus grins and asks where he is if he can’t be seen. Achamian says he’s here, and Kellhus asks where that is. Achamian is confused as Kellhus asks how he can be here when Kellhus is here and Achamian is there. Achamian realizes Kellhus is playing word games.

Kellhus nodded, his expression at once cryptic and bemused. “Imagine,” he said, “that you could take the Great Ocean, in all its immensity, and fold it into the form and proportion of a man. There are depths, Akka, that go in rather than down—in without limit. What you call the Outside lies within us, and it’s everywhere. That is why, no matter where we stand, it’s always here. No matter where we dare treat, we always stand in the same place.”

Metaphysics, Achamian realized. He spoke metaphysics.

“Here,” Achamian repeated. “You’re saying here is a place outside place?”

Kellhus begins talking how a body is merely the place where a soul breaches into the world. This means that they are in the same metaphysical space because, as Achamian splutters in realization, Kellhus is saying they’re the same person. Kellhus says there is only one Soul “breaching the world in many different places” while failing to recognize itself. Achamian thinks this is “Nilnameshi foolishness.”

“This is just metaphysics,” he said, the very instant Kellhus whispered, “This is just metaphysics…”

Achamian is shocked, not sure if he had spoken those words of if Kellhus had spoken through him. He starts to realize Kellhus must be him, “How else could he know what he knows.” Then Kellhus asks why some people can “work miracles,” sorcery, and other’s can’t. Achamian starts to explain but then realizes he doesn’t, that he’s ignorant like every other sorcerer. Despite that, he gives the answer that it’s about “meanings.” He doesn’t know why it is that the “meanings are different” for some. Kellhus then asks if love means the same thing to Achamian.

Reward the intellect and punish the heart. It was always the same with Kellhus.

“What are you saying?”

“That the meaning is different because what it recollects is different.”

Esmenet.

Achamian starts to ask if sorcerers are recalling something and then realizes what Kellhus means, this one soul. Kellhus presses him, asking him what he can remember “that might make miracles of mere words?” Achamian, confused, thinks of his fight with the Scarlet Spire at Iothiah. He wonders how could a “mere man say such things” and reshape the world.

“We kneel before idols,” Kellhus was saying, “we hold open our arms to the sky. We beseech the distances, clutch at the horizon… We look outward, Akka, always outward, for what lies within…” He splayed a hand against his chest. “For what lies here, in this Clearing that we share.”

Achamian says the ubersoul is the God that is looking out “from behind all our eyes.” Kellhus says all humans are God, that the God watches the world through everyone’s eyes. Humans just forgot that, have become detached before the “immensities of the world.” But the Few are those who haven’t forgotten as much as others. He remembers a moment during the battle when he’d performed sorcery beyond even Seswatha’s ability. He wonders who he’d been at that moment.

“To speak sorcery, Akka, is to speak words that recollect the Truth.”

“Truth,” Achamian numbly repeated. He understood what Kellhus said, he knew, and yet something within him refused to grasp. “What truth?”

“That this place behind our face, though separated by nations and ages, is the same place, the same here. That each of us witnesses the world through innumerable eyes. That we are the God we would worship.”

Achamian has the feeling he was the God staring through eyes of different people. Suddenly, the Cants of Calling and Compulsion make sense, along with Seswatha’s dream. Kellhus continues, saying Achamian has thought himself an outcast, making him bitter and ready to castigate those who hate him. He’s lived in shame even while believing he was better than those who spat at him. Achamian would demanded to know “why must I be damned.”

And Achamian thought, He is! He is me!

Kellhus smiled, and somehow—impossibly—Achamian saw Inrau in the iridescent cast of his [Kellhus’s] look. “We are each other.”

But I’m broken… Something’s wrong with me!

“Because you’re a pious man born to a world unable to fathom your piety. But all that changes with me, Akka. The old revelations have outlived the age of their intention, and I have come to reveal the new. I am the Shortest Path, and I say that you are not damned.”

Just as he’s seized by this awe, the old Mandate Catechism whispers in his mind, adding doubt, but Kellhus keeps talking, explaining how a sorcerer “works miracles because they recall the God.” That’s what the Mark is, the flawed re-creation of the Few who are unable to perfectly recollect “the God’s voice.” They lack all the angles the God has to see, all the “thousand eyes that look out from this clearing we call ‘here.’”

Achamian asks about the Cishaurim. Kellhus explains that by blinding themselves, they can’t see this world which allows them to better recollect what the God’s see. This allows them to “recall the tone and timbre, the passion of the God’s voice—to near perfection—even as the meanings that make up true sorcery escape them.”

And there it was: the mysteries of the Psûkhe, which had baffled sorcerous thinking for centuries, dispelled in a handful of words.

The Warrior-Prophet turned to him, clutched his shoulder with a shining hand. “The Truth of Here is that it is Everywhere. And this, Akka, is what it means to be in love: to recognize the Here within the other, to see the world through another’s eyes. To be here together.

His eyes, luminous with wisdom, seemed unbearable.

Kellhus says this is why Achamian suffers because Esmenet was here but has now turned away. Achamian asks why he’s telling him this. “Because you are not alone.”

Fanashila believed slavery agreed with her. She enjoys her new life as Esmenet’s servant. It’s an easy life, and had the benefits of giving her power among the other slaves. “How could the freedom to chase goats compare with this?” We get a taste of the slave hierarchy, with those like Opsara who were part Kianene and thought themselves better than the others.

The only part she really doesn’t like is kneeling in worship while a Shrial Priest gives a sermon in a language she only knows little. She hates praying to the idols, which she finds grotesque like Ajokli, or made her blush like Giera. Though the priest call them “Aspects of the God” Fanashila knows they’re demons. Still, she prays “just as she was told.” Sometimes, she’ll notice the little signs of her true faith peeking through and it makes her silently repeat her word’s faith.

One for the Unbeliever… One for the Unseeing Eye…

This, she decided, had to be enough. What harm could there be in praying to demons, when the Solitary God commanded all? Besides, the demons listened… They actually answered their prayers. Why else would the idolaters be the slavers and the faithful the slaves?

At night, she sleeps in a large tent with the other slave women. Some who cause trouble, or are beautiful, are taken away and don’t always return. “But as far as Fanashila was concerned, they brought it on themselves.” She believes as long as she obeys, she’ll be rewarded. When it’s her turn to be taken away one night, she clings to the belief that she was obedient and will be fine, that Lady Esmenet will protect her.

Koropos, a freed Inrithi slave and now overseer, doesn’t answer her questions. She thinks she’s being taken to someone’s bed. She thought they wouldn’t dare rape and despoil her because Lady Esmenet protected her.

She’s brought before Werjau, which shocks her. She kneels and he asks her, in a gentle voice, about a rumor. She doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but relief sweeps through her. She likes gossiping.

Werjau smiled down at her, stood so perilously near she could smell the sour of his crotch. He brought a callused thumb to her chin. She shuddered as he traced the outline of her lips.

“That they are lovers still,” he said. Though his gaze remained remote, something seemed to… smirk in his tone.

Fanashila swallowed, afraid once again. “They?” she asked, blinking tears. “Who?”

“The Prophet-Consort and the Holy Tutor”

My Thoughts

Well, we see a typical Dûnyain solution to the siege and the rest of the war. By making the Gerothans punish themselves for defiance, he has shown everyone else in Xerash not to defy him. And it worked. He found the shortest way to conquer the area and probably saved more lives than would be killed if had to conquer them all, but… this sort of greater good philosophy, the ends justify the means, is not a great solution to the worlds ills.

Bakker takes a moment to show us that Xerash (the land of evil) and Amoteu (the Holy Land of Inri Sejenus) are so alike, the people so close in custom and appearance, the terrain flowing without any demarcation from one to he other, that Athjeäri doesn’t even notice it. Bakker’s showing us that these beliefs are as fictitious as the dividing line between these two people. Like a spiral set on a side appears to be a circle; it’s not real.

Athjeäri’s march is how legends are formed. You can see it as the people cheer him. Even if the Holy War fails, the Amoti and Kianene will talk about him. He’ll grow to such heights that in a thousand years, it won’t be a band of five hundred, but a small company made up of Athjeäri and his few loyal retainers who fight against odds. To the Kianene, they’ll be remembered as great villains, but to the conquered Amoti, perhaps they’ll be seen as symbols of resistance. And, in the present, of course, they’re being cheered because everyone loves rooting for the underdog when he’s winning.

We have an update on Uranyanka and his blasphemy and sedition. Does this matter? I will try to pay attention to this name.

Poor Achamian. How torturous it has to be to serve the man who stole your women then have to see them chatting (speaking of political matters is Kellhus and Esmenet’s small talk) in marital serenity. He’s trying to move on, but can’t.

More insight into Kellhus about how people, especially men, think. Men, as a whole, are more into things than women are (always exceptions, of course). Men think things have value in them based on what they do, not what you believe them to do. To the powerful, like Eleäzaras, she’s just a woman, a companion to bring comfort, a vessel in which to pour in seed and create strong sons. They can’t see her as an object that has the value Kellhus believes she has, just like they can’t realize the coin is only valuable not because of what it is, but because of what they believe.

The reason hearing Esmenet make the dick joke disturbs Achamian is the contrast. He’s trying to see her as the Empress, the consort to the Holy Prophet, to let her go. To see her as something greater than him. Something he’s not worthy to behold, but that Kellhus is, then he’s reminded that she’s a common-born whore. Just like he’s the common-born son of a fisherman. That banter used to their way of talking, and now she shares it with Kellhus.

Right before Esmenet takes Kellhus’s hand is the first time Achamian thinks of her as Kellhus’s wife, Anasûrimbor Esmenet. I did a search of the ebook’s text, and this is the only time in the ENTIRE novel she is addressed this way. Seeing her laughing and joking, a real woman and not the ideal, has proven to Achamian that she is lost.

Lurid tales written about people by their enemies sometimes have a ring of truth in it. Maybe Shikol wasn’t “making sport” with children in the middle of his throne room, and yet there looks like a bed might have been there. Right in the middle of the room. Maybe something else happened there that provided the foundation. Or maybe not. It’s Bakker showing us how the official narrative, like who Kellhus is, might not be the reality. But there has to be some kernel of truth to be there to lay that foundation.

“Scarlet mischief”… What a nice way to frame the Scarlet Spires schemes. To Achamian, concerned with Apocalypse, their petty plots are just mischief. Something petty and childish going on while the adults conduct real business.

For a moment, Achamian is swept up in the belief and sees the halos, then he loses it, thinking everything is mad as he imagines what the people of the city must think of these fanatics. Achamian’s mind is schooled to question everything.

Kellhus is working the crowd. Getting them pumped, then reminding them not to boast too much. They have done great things, but they can’t let themselves over exaggerate. Because, as he says, “War watches through our eyes.” They are doing great works. He is making them feel good about the evils they are committing on their “holy” war.

Kellhus uses even the location to his effect, bringing up evil King Shikol judging Inri Sejenus and taking his place after getting the entire crowd pumped up with how awesome they are. He fought a great battle here and triumphed.

Bakker starts the section of the war council talking about how men submit to hierarchies, then we have Achamian realizing that the hierarchy of the Holy War has shifted to an imperial court, everyone adopting their new roles and following the new roles, even him, as the vizier.

Pettiness can destroy any relationship if we let it. It can be so easy to do.

Uranyanka’s story progresses in the background. Achamian doesn’t get why the Ainoni are laughing at him kissing Kellhus’s knee, but we learned previously that he’s given up his blasphemy. Clearly, he’s making a public declaration.

Feeling alone in a crowd is the worst thing. Poor Achamian. Lost Inrau and Proyas to the Thousand Temples and Kellhus to his own prophethood. His women left him, his mule is dead. He needs to write a Country-Western song.

Achamian feels like a petulant child now after his angry flareup at Kellhus. He sees Kellhus as his father, imagines hiding from him. Why? Notice Kellhus says that strange line about Achamian being tired, telling him to go to bed. It puts Achamian in the place of a child and he reacts accordingly. Kellhus has manipulated the darkness. Cause and effect.

The voice Kellhus hears is very real. He heard it on the Circumfix, and I think he heard it earlier in his trance where he saw the future, which is I think the first time the outside touched him. Perhaps that was Ajokli molding Kellhus to be his avatar, perhaps it was the No-God reaching out to someone who could activate it. Either way, he saw the heart. No way Kellhus could have predicted pulling Serwë’s heart out of his own chest. He might have seen the Circumfix that early, but performing an actual miracle? No.

And it was a miracle. He did pluck Serwë’s heart out of his chest. A topoi had formed there and the outside bled through.

Okay, the we are all one soul thing failing to recognize each other is an interesting concept, but I don’t think that’s how Bakker’s world truly works. We see that in the Outside souls are still separate entities. They feed on each other. Enslave each other. We get this from demons that are summoned feed on each other. That’s what the gods do. And the No-God sucks in souls, stealing them. That’s it’s purpose to end the Outside and allow souls to find oblivion instead of damnation. Kellhus is spinning this tale to convert Achamian into a believer. To break through Achamian’s doubt. He’s doing it through metaphysics, by manipulating him into a state of mind and then using sorcery as his Truth to anchor his lie to.

Great observation on Bakker. Words, of course, have their denotation, their dictionary definition, but they also have their connotation, what they imply. Those connotations can shift over time, leading to words having archaic meanings. Gay used to be a word that meant happiness and joy. Over the years, it shifted its meaning until using it in that way sounds inappropriate to us because the word know conjures those who are homosexual, particularly men. Decimate is another. It used to mean to kill a tenth of something, a fraction, whereas know it means to utterly destroy something. Other words, like love, have so many shades of meaning to just one person, let alone to other English-speaking people who have to use that one word to cover such a vast array of feelings, emotions, and relationships. It can never have a meaning that is the same for every single person unlike, say, pebble.

Kellhus is speaking of a very Luciferian doctrine. The idea that all humans are God. Have that potential for divinity and can achieve it through enlightenment. At the same time, he’s speaking the truth about sorcery. That it is recollecting the divine, not the God in the sense of Inrithism, but the Absolute that the Dûnyain seek. That all-encompassing knowledge. The Pleroma, the light of creation, from Gnosticism in our own world. Whether souls, including the gods like Yatwer and Ajokli, are truly bits of one ubersoul or not, sorcery works on tapping into the memory of the Absolute Truth, the Absolute Knowledge of the Universe, of Creation itself, and therefore can change it. It’s not done well, hence the Mark. Though Psûkhe, thanks to its reliance on emotion, does a better job of mimicking it.

A theme of Bakker’s is that neither pure intellect or pure emotion is good. We get the extremes of the Dûnyain and the Inchoroi from those two extents. But Psûkhe, knowledge fused with emotion, allows the creation of miracles so perfect they are indistinguishable from reality.

There is just so much truth in the lies that Kellhus is spinning to capture Achamian. This one soul theory is allowing Achamian to re-frame his existence into a new way of looking at things and realizing he’s not damned. And in that, though, his rational doubt is working against the faith Kellhus is creating in him.

Interesting that Kellhus, even with the Metagnosis, still has the mark. He never sees the world through all the angles. And we know that the miracles of the Gods, like what Yatwer works on Psatama in the next series, don’t bear the mark. The Hundred, whether true gods or demons, can clearly see the world better than Kellhus.

They can deceive Kellhus.

Kellhus is doing all of this to help Achamian get over his grief. He needs Achamian to accept Esmenet’s loss, but also understands the man has to get through his grieving processes. Kellhus did something similar with Esmenet in the last book. He had to overcome the guilt she felt for loving again and for moving on. For leaving the here of Achamian for a new here.

What a profound comment on human nature. It’s not the bondage that humans have a problem with, it’s the conditions. Fanashila has to serve Esmenet, but she’s not demeaned or humiliated. She’s not beaten or coerced. She gets perks. It’s not drudgery like being “free” would give her.

This is one of the first mentions of Ajokli we get, and it’s not of him with the four horns like in later books, but him with his head on a his dick. Maybe Bakker made a mistake, or maybe he’s showing us the more trickster and mischievous elements of the god then his assassin persona we see in the next book.

Not all religions can survive being enslaved. If you believe your God is all powerful and then your enemy wins, well, that’s a knock to faith. Fanashila is holding onto what she has, but she’s finding contentment in her new life.

Koropos was a freed slave. Now he’s in charge of slave, returning on his enemy what happened to him. It’s a subtle thing on the cyclical nature of human behavior and how these patterns can lock us into problems for generations.

So Werjau is maneuvering against Esmenet. But as far as I know, this is never brought up again in the books. He never acts on this. It never impacts the plot. This is like some story thread that wasn’t fully excised from the book. I’ll pay attention going forward. Maybe I’m wrong and there’s something subtle here, but I think this is the one time in this trilogy of a plot thread that doesn’t matter.

Click here for chapter eleven!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Nine

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 9
Joktha

Welcome to Chapter Nine of my reread. Click here if you missed the Chapter Eight!

In the skins of elk I pass over grasses. Rain falls, and I cleanse my face in the sky. I hear the Horse Prayers spoken, but my lips are far away. I slip down weed and still twig—into their palms I pool. Then I am called out and am among them. In sorrow, I rejoice.

Pale endless life. This, I call my own.

—ANONYMOUS, THE NONMAN CANTICLES

My Thoughts

The person speaking sounds like an Erratic to me, though his words were collected by a Human or perhaps humans translated the Erratic’s words into a human tongue. Note the emphasis on what the person is doing. It is all present tense. He lives in the present because the past is fading. The Horse Prayer comes from far away. He is running, searching, but all he finds is sorrow. And he enjoys that, because in sorrow he can remember his past life, those he loved and knew. Immorality is a “pale endless life.”

It is an intriguing quote to start a chapter with. It’ll make us think about the skin-spies. They move like the Nonman, but they don’t even have a past. They leave forever in the present, slipping from one identity from another. There life is endless and not just pale, but colorless.

This is an appropriate quote because, more than anything, this chapter is about the skin-spies.

Early Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Joktha

Cnaiür awakes feeling older. It reminds him of a time he woke one time while out on the Steppes and discovered that someone had, in ancient times, carved a relief into a cliff he slept beneath. It depicted a king celebrating his victory including a captured Scylvendi “from another age.” As Cnaiür comes to, he hears a man (Conphas, though Cnaiür doesn’t realize this) speaking, saying he felt pity at the end of the Battle of Kiyuth. Then he amends and says he felt regret seeing the myth of the Scylvendi destroyed. “The world became weaker.” It lead Conphas to realize he could defeat any obstacle.

Cnaiür realizes he is lying bound on the ground . Cnaiür is still coming out of his concussion from his severe beating. Conphas rants how Cnaiür meant nothing, that only Kellhus should be the “sole object of the Empire’s concern.” Conphas realizes that fixating on Cnaiür was a mistake because “What are the abuses of flesh compared with glory?” Cnaiür thinks there is no glory. Conphas laments all the casualties he took taking Jocktha, knowing Cnaiür was behind the costly tactics of the defenders. He “almost” wished Cnaiür commanded at Kiyuth so Conphas could vanquish him, a god defeating a demon. Conphas says they are kin.

“Are you,” Cnaiür rasped, “a god?”

The man [Conphas] stood, looked at him [Cnaiür]. Points of lantern light rolled like liquid across the figures worked into his cuirass. His voice possessed a shrill edge. “I know you love me… Men often beat those they love. Words fail them, and they throw their fists into the breach… I’ve seen it happen many times.”

Cnaiür rolled his head back, closed his eyes for pain. How had he come to be here? Why was he bound?

“I know also,” the man continued, “that you hate him.”

Him. There could be no mistaking the word’s intensity. The Dûnyain. He spoke of the Dûnyain—and as though he were his enemy, no less. “You do not want,” Cnaiür said, “to raise arms against him…”

“And why would that be?”

Cnaiür turned to him, blinking. “He knows the hearts of men. He seizes their beginnings and so wields their ends.”

Conphas gets mad, accusing Cnaiür of succumbing to the religion. Conpha is angry because he thought he’d found a peer in Cnaiür, admitting he even thought of making Cnaiür his Exalt-General. Cnaiür is still confused as Conphas rants why he couldn’t elevate Cnaiür to such a rank because the army would mutiny, but he thought with Cnaiür he could “eclipse even Triamis.”

Now Cnaiür realizes who is before him. Memories come back to him as he notices a “god with a beaten face.” Cnaiür laughs, stunning Conphas. Cnaiür realizes the man was sincere about thinking Cnaiür was his brother, his equal. This makes Cnaiür laugh more, insulting Conphas, saying, “Your heart is shrill and your soul is plain.” He calls it a stupid idea. Conphas is too weak to be his brother. Conphas kicks Cnaiür in the head. He only laughs as Conphas retreats leaving the tent. Cnaiür feels himself “slipping between immensities—the earth that pressed so cruelly against his battered frame and the commotion of men and their fatal purposes.”

At last, something deep laughed within him. At last it ends.

General Sompas enters and cuts Cnaiür’s bonds, telling Cnaiür his Chorae is on the table. Sompas reveals he’s a skin-spy taking Cnaiür to Serwë. The skin-spy has no problem leading Cnaiür out of camp even though he’s wearing a captain’s uniform. Conphas’s discipline holds, and the soldiers know “Biaxi Sompas was his man.”

“Is it always this easy?” Cnaiür asked the creature.

“Always,” it said.

In the blackness beneath a stand of carob trees, Serwë and another of her brothers awaited them, along with eight horses laden with supplies. Dawn had not yet broken when they heard the first of the horns, faint in the distance behind them.

Conphas, hunting Scylvendi, is feeling terror a “word he had always regarded from the outside.” He doesn’t understand how Cnaiür makes him feel this way. He reflects that his race has an obsession with the Scylvendi despite their hatred, their imagination fired by their mystique. Because the Scylvendi have beaten the Nansur so many times, its made the Scylvendi seem more manly. Conphas sees that in Cnaiür, just like his soldiers who were afraid to fight him earlier at Jocktha. He was like Gilgaöl, the God of War, given flesh.

And now, after wrestling him to the ground like some lunatic bull, after the wonder of capturing him—capturing War!—he had simply vanished.

Cememketri said it wasn’t sorcery, and suggested “Faceless Ones” as they call skin-spies, especially since some soldiers reported seeing Sompas freeing Cnaiür. Learning that one had killed his uncle has caused Conphas to admit that they are not Cishaurim since it made no sense for them to kill their secret ally. However, he can’t quite believe that they’re from the Consult. He wonders if the Second Apocalypse was on them.

Terror. How could he not be terrified?

All this time Conphas had assumed that he and his uncle had stood at the root of all that happened. No matter how the others plotted, they but thrashed in the nets of his hidden-designs—or so he thought. Such errant! All along, others had known, others had watched, and he hadn’t the slightest inkling of their intentions!

What was happening? Who ruled these events?

Not Emperor Ikurei Conphas I.

Conphas’s realization that he isn’t alone, but has men who followed him, thinking that the “ability to cede voice and limbo to the will of another” was mankind’s great genius. To follow allowed them to join together and extend power, and since he was the Emperor, he controlled it. If things are simple, he could handle it. And he would start with Cnaiür. He imagines “killing a son of his ancestral enemy” was the first step to restoring the Emperor. He sees himself as a mighty as the rulers of old.

No wonder the savage had laughed!

Conphas thinks the Gods are behind this, resenting them like you’d resent “children of a different father.” He questions why he spared Cnaiür, struggling to under stand “what vice or vanity” stopped him. He cries for Sompas and asks if he’d like to be the Exalt-General.

The ingrate [Sompas] swallowed. “Very well, God-of-Men.”

How he [Conphas] missed Martemus and the cool cynicism of his gaze. “Take the Kidruhil—all of them. Hunt down this demon for me, Sompas. Bring me his head and that shall be your title… Exalt-General, Spear-of-the-Empire.” His eyes narrowed in menace as he smiled. “Fail me and I shall burn you, your sons, your wives—every Biaxi breathing. I shall burn you all alive.”

Serwë’s “preternatural vision” guides Cnaiür’s party through a woods at night. They need to put as much distance as possible before the sun comes up. Despite his beating, Cnaiür draws on a reserve “as inexhaustible as lust or fear.” His mind wanders and then he realizes Serwë is cradling his head on her lap and tending to his wounds.

She smiled and a ragged breath stole through him. There was such sanctuary in the lap of a woman, a stillness that made the world, with all its threshing fury, seem small instead of encompassing, errant instead of essential. He winced as she dabbed a cut above his left eye. He savored the sense of cool water warming against his skin.

When he reaches up to caress her face, he notices his bloody knuckles. He feels his wound sand coughs up blood. He mumbles that he’s forgetting something. Serwë agrees, saying its the one he hunts. “The murderer.” He then says he’s the murder and rants about how men just “ape their fathers” in an unbroken chain back to the beginning. But he’s free of his people’s customs.

She studied him for a moment, her perfect face poised between thought and moonlight. “Yes… like the one you hunt.”

What were these shallow creatures?”

“You call yourself my lover? You think yourself my proof? My prize?”

She blinked in dread and sorrow. “Yes…”

“But you are a knife! You are a spear and hammer. You are nepenthe—opium! You would make a haft of my heart, and brandish me. Brandish me!”

Another skin-spy asks what about him. At first, Cnaiür thinks the skin-spy is Moënghus, then he realizes it’s Kellhus. The fake-Kellhus asks what he is, and Cnaiür is confused by this madness, now thinking the skin-spy is Moënghus as it presses Cnaiür for an answer. Cnaiür wonders how long Moënghus has been building his power. His hate fills him as they press him for answers.

“The one,” Cnaiür grated, “that I hunt.”

“Yes,” Serwë said from behind. “The murderer.”

“He murdered my father with words! Consumed my heart with revelation!”

“Yes…”

“He set me free.”

Lust for Serwë surges through him. She opens her “fake-face” and reveals her true one. They kiss with her spider-like “fingers” hugging him. “As though within a fist, she held him to her hot mouth.” He lifts her up as “Moënghus” says they must flee. Horns sound.

Cnaiür and his group press their horses hard, knowing Conphas won’t spare him again. Worse, Conphas has already sent troops south to keep any word of Conphas’s resurgence from reaching the Holy War, meaning they had foes before and behind them. As they ride, Cnaiür learns that the skin spies are “the Last Children of the Inchoroi” and are “Keepers of the Inverse Fire” though they grow confused when he asks them what that means. They don’t complain about anything except their lusts for “unspeakable congress” and that they are falling. They trust Cnaiür because the syntheses “made them his slaves,” claiming to be his loyal dogs.

They carried, Cnaiür could see, the spark of the void within them. Like the Sranc.

Cnaiür realized that while men where like tress, capable of branching in many different directions, the skin-spies were “spears concealed in the thickets of human activity.” This gives them a poetic beauty to Cnaiür as he both envies, loves, and pities them. He talks and learns “Serwë” was a Scylvendi two hundred years and has been many people since. He asks who it she now.

“I am Serwë… your lover.”

By the third night, it’s clear Conphas is not giving up. He studies their campfire and is disturbed by the number. It’s a large patrol and he’s worried that the Nansur know he’s not fleeing to Caraskand and Saubon and has to eventually turn east for the Holy War. This means there will likely be soldiers hoping to cut them off. “It would be like shooting arrows in the dark, certainly, but his [the Nansur commander’s] quiver looked deep.” Serwë kills a goatherd who surprised them the next day. Unable to bury him, they are forced to carry his body, tiring their horses more. Soon vultures circle them. That night, they burn the body and keep going for another week, avoiding men save a village which “they plundered for sort and supplies.” One night, Cnaiür makes new swazonds for the men he killed then rants his madness at the skin-spies followed by weeping. The skin-spies don’t judge him, lacking humanity.

The pursuers continue and Cnaiür starts thinking as the Nansur as the abominations, not the skin-spies he rides with. He questions if he is insane, no longer sure what the word even means. The Scylvendi cut the throats of those who went “feral in the manner of dogs and horses,” seeing it in the same way while the Inrithi blamed it on demons. He remembers Achamian’s explanation (early in the Warrior Prophet) about how madness was “a point where the Outside penetrated the world” caused by men breaking from “the trials of the world.”

At the time, Cnaiür had been less than impressed. He had despised the sorcerer, thinking him one of those mewling souls who forever groaned beneath burdens of their own manufacture. He had dismissed all things him out of hand. But now, the force of his demonstration seemed indisputable. Something other inhabited him.

It was peculiar. Sometimes, it seemed that each of his eyes answered to a different master, that his every look involved war an loss. Sometimes it seemed he possessed two faces, an honest outer expression, which he sunned beneath the open sky, and a more devious inner countenance. If he concentrated, he could almost feel its muscles—deep, twitching webs of them—beneath the musculature that stretched his skin. But it was elusive, like the presentiment of hate in a brother’s glare. And it was profound, sealed like marrow within living bone. There was no distance! No way to frame it within his comprehension. And how could there be? When it thought, he was…

Cnaiür understands that he is exactly what Achamian described. Madness came either from something diving, making prophets, or the demonic, making men like Cnaiür. It matches up to Cnaiür’s perceptions. “The problem, of course, was the Dûnyain.”

He contradicted all of it.

Cnaiür had watched Kellhus herd men’s thoughts like sheep, using their emotions to goad and prod them. He did it all with “mundane word and expression.” Kellhus acted like the Outside couldn’t breach the world, that causality couldn’t be violated. With that “elementary assumption” he had dominated the Holy War. Cnaiür reels from the insight as he feels he is in two different worlds, one without the Outside and one with it. It’s comforting to be mad because something from the Outside crept in, but in a world without it, a closed world, the idea is horrifying. Cnaiür rejects that world, clinging to the fact that “there had to be more.”

Besides, he couldn’t be mad, he decided, because he possessed no origins. He had kicked free of all earth. He didn’t possess a past. Not really. What he remembered, he always remembered now. He—Cnaiür urs Skiötha—was the ground of what came before. He was his own foundation!

Laughing, he thought of the Dûnyain and how, upon their fatal reunion, this would overthrow him.

He tried to share his thoughts with the skin-spies but they could only offer “the simulacrum of understanding” because they lack any depths. He’s a bottomless hole. They are just biological machines, not alive, lacking souls. “They dwelt utterly within the world.”

And for no reason, his love of them—his love of her—became all the more fierce.

More days passes and they near the Betmulla Mountains. The sight reminds him of how he abused Serwë in the Hethantas and thinks hew as a fool for hurting her, a “free man trying to make himself a slave of his people.” He never could find the words to speak to her. Now he tells Serwë that they conceived their child in a place like those mountains.

They loose a horse in the rough terrain. They march into the night, the skin-spies preternatural sight guiding them. Cnaiür thinks their pursuers can’t catch up to them at this pace. The next morning, the skin-spies run down a deer and kill it. It proved a mistake to cook it as Serwë warns that men come, smelling them when the wind shifts. Two skin-spies vanish into the trees as he hears the sounds of approaching horses.

Cnaiür sprints at the Kidruhil, knowing Serwë would follow. The skin-spies attack from the trees, lifting men out of their saddles, and throwing their bloody bodies back down, panicking the soldiers. They retreat form them trees and drew their bows, which Cnaiür realizes are similar to Scylvendi and they use the same horsebow tactics as his people. Serwë jumps before Cnaiür, using her body to shield him. Now wounded, Serwë keeps being a human shield as the Kidruhil encircle them.

Somehow, Serwë was in front of him. For an instant she stood, a poised beauty, arms out, flaxen hair gleaming in the mountain sun—

She danced for him.

Shielding, leaping, striking. She kept her back turned to him, as though in observance of some ritual modesty. Her sleeves snapped like leather. Shafts clattered across the platform. Others buzzed about his shoulders and head. She dipped, rolled her arms about. A shaft appeared in the palm of her hand. She kicked, swung her heel down from her raised knee. A shaft jutted from her calf. The fletching of two more materialized in her back. She cartwheeled, kicked an arrow away even as three others thudded into her chest and abdomen. She cycled her hands outward, batted away four in succession, threw her head back, thrust out her arms, caught one in the back of her right hand. Another in her left forearm.

She jerked her head to the left. An arrowhead popped from the back of her neck. She whimpered, as a little girl might.

But she never ceased moving. Blood flew out in beads and lines, flashed in arcs beneath the sun.

Cnaiür can’t look away from Serwë’s dance. “His prize.” The Nansur retreat. Serwë slumps to the ground and stares at him before she pitches forward dead. He rushes to her, crying out in horror. “When he shook her, her perfect face fell apart.” He is numb, the battle over, the other skin-spies wounded but alive.

“We must bury her,” he [Cnaiür] called.

Serwë helped him.

My Thoughts

I’ve said this in the reread before, but it holds true: never meet your heroes. Well, also never meet your mythical enemies either. Reality is never as impressive as story and imagination. There is an illusion that all those people who came before us were stronger, wiser, tougher. And maybe they were, but they were also still human. Still weak and frail and prone to foibles and mistakes as us. But the further removed we are from them in space and time, the more their deeds can shine. It might have to do why the glamour and mystique of pop star has fallen so much in modern time from the glitz and glamour of the golden age of movies to the present where a drunk rich girl can have as much fame. Social Media lets us know people in a different, though equally false, way.

Conphas narcissism has allowed him to internalize his rape at Cnaiür’s hand and turn it back to bolster himself. It’s a rather impressive bit of psychology. He’s sitting at the center of a narcissistic black hole. Once past the event horizon, all paths in a black hole, every directions of travel, bends back to the center. That is why light can’t escape. Conphas is just like that, twisting any criticism or affront to his person back to enhance his own self-inflated opinion of himself.

Okay, Bakker, sometimes you need to look at your pronouns. “The man stood, looked at him strangely” is a sentence where the man appears to looking at himself (the man is Conphas and theNhim is Cnaiür). He’s a little looser with his pronouns then he should be. Just a nitpick that could produce a cleaner prose to read.

Wow. Conphas has interpreted that Cnaiür must love him because he beat him. Narcissistic black hole.

Kellhus brings Cnaiür back into focus. And not even mentioned by name. Just him. He still doesn’t realize he’s talking to Conphas, but he knows the conversation now. Kellhus makes sense to Cnaiür at this moment when his brain is shrugging off a concussion.

Conphas’s delusions have reached a peak. Cnaiür must be an equal. After all, Cnaiür beat him, raped him, dominated him. To preserve his self-importance, Conphas has to pour Cnaiür into the mold of Conphas’s personal reality. He’s convinced himself it is true, that Cnaiür will be thrilled to be his Exalt-General and serve a magnificent god. After all, Cnaiür “loves” him. Petulant, childish anger follows this rejection. First lashing out like a spoiled brat than running away to those who pamper him, his general staff.

Cnaiür is just ready to die. He thinks it’s coming and welcomes it.

Conphas’s disciplined his soldiers so well, they just obey his officers. Those soldiers probably came up with a theory on why General Sompas wore a different uniform, maybe debating it until the uproar happens.

If you wonder about this mystique of the Scylvendi Conphas muses on, just think about Navy SEALs or Spartan Hoplites or Zulu Warriors or Samurai. Groups festishized for their battle prowess until the man who did those acts is swallowed by the myth of them. And when they’re your enemy, when they keep beating you, it makes you feel better putting them at an even higher pedestal. Then it doesn’t harm your ego. This is exactly what Conphas did in miniature with Cnaiür, playing out their race’s history of the Scylvendi raping and beating them over and over, shattering their Nansur pride.

Conphas’s narcissism is stretching to its limits now. This shows us why such powerful people reject the idea of the Consult. Because it is something stronger than them, and their egos, especially a with man like Conphas, can’t allow that. Great characterization from Bakker. As he’s on the moment of panic, Conphas finds a new way to prop up his ego while simultaneously showing off something important: working together is one of the things that helped humans dominate our world. His black hole is working hard to bend everything, even Cnaiür’s mocking laughter, in on his narcissism.

I miss Martemus, too, Conphas.

I just want to add that I love the world preternatural and am always delighted to come across it in a book.

Interesting that lust or fear are shown to be inexhaustible. They are the two most base emotions that push and pull us. It’s another way of saying fight or flight. What’s fighting, if not defending what your existence to pass on your genes. Lust is survival. But so is fear. Both are necessary to see a species, if not an individual, survive.

Cnaiür is noticing that the skin-spies aren’t real people, just very good parrots at mimicking speech. They are like an AI that could pass a Turing Test (which we’ve achieved) even as the computer doesn’t understand the emotions behind it. The skin-spy just has a great deal of understanding on how to fake conversations by drawing on its database to assemble coherent sentences that sound like human speech and responses. Skin-spies only truly understand lust and violence, the most base of emotions. They fake the rest. She can never be Serwë, but will Cnaiür care?

Is this the first mention of the Inverse Fire in the story? What’s interesting is that the skin-spies don’t understand what it means to be the Keeper. They are programmed to say it, repeating their phrases, but they don’t have the knowledge to explain it. They only pretend to be autonomous creatures. They truly are chained by the Darkness that Comes Before.

Interesting that they skin-spies are Cnaiür’s slaves. Perhaps that’s how he survived. We know one is still hanging around him twenty years later.

Two hundred years the Consult has been working to ready the world for the Second Apocalypse and then along comes Moënghus and disrupts centuries of planning. No wonder they leaped at the chance to use the Holy War against him.

They [emphasis mine] plundered the village for sport and supplies.” Cnaiür pillaged that village for fun with the skin-spies. Not the first village he’s massacred, but this time he’s not gripped by his madness.

The explanation that madness is something from the outside possessing a person is interesting. In a way, madness that breaks from the effects of the Darkness that Comes Before. They no longer respond to the world the way they should. Their minds have broken and something new, something alien, has crept in and altered how they work. I watched the movie Shutter Island last night, and a woman who drowned her own kids talked about how she had this bug crawling across her mind, tugging on her wires. She was aware that her madness wasn’t her, that it was something at once external to her core identity but still internal, trapped inside her skull, making her do things she didn’t want to do.

I think Bakker is showing us the true source of Cnaiür’s madness. He “possessed no origins.” Like the Dûnyain, Cnaiür has kicked free of the Darkness that Comes Before. He has made himself other than the rest of his neighbors. Something different. His mind works in different ways, it isn’t directed by the past as much as it should. It makes his thoughts aliens from other humans. Other. Where Kellhus only pretends to be normal at the surface level, Cnaiür does the opposite and tires to shove himself back onto those tracks he abandoned. The pair are foils and opposites of each other, both mad in their own ways, but one embraces logic the other emotion. Order versus chaos.

The skin-spies say they are Cnaiür’s faithful dogs, but they’re more like wolves and he’s their alpha. Bakker shows us this by having them hunt a dear like a pack of carnivores, showing us what they truly are.

Now the skin-spies are like apes, attacking from the trees, as violent as chimpanzees as they kill the Nansur soldiers.

We’ve seen someone catch arrows before. Kellhus did it, but he didn’t get hit. It is a good way to show that Kellhus just edges out a skin-spy on reflexes (though not strength), as we’ve seen in his past fights with them

Though Serwë only mimics being human, something we the reader know now from this very chapter, we are seeing her death through Cnaiür’s eyes. We are seeing his perception of her, so we find ourselves moved by her beauty and dedication to protect him, an almost maternal gesture on her part. The skin-spies claimed to be Cnaiür’s dogs, and she proves it here.

What a way to end the chapter. Cnaiür grieving over one Serwë only for a new one, who was moments before one of Serwë’s “brothers,” helped him bury the old one’s corpse. Identity is meaningless to the skin-spies. They are only surface level, but Cnaiür, in his madness, doesn’t care. It only matters that he has a Serwë with him. He grieves one while welcoming another. Just like he grieved the original and then found solace in her mimic’s arms.

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Eight

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 8
Xerash

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

To merely recall the Apocalypse is to have survived it. This is what makes The Sagas, for all their cramped beauty, so monstrous.

Despite their protestations, the poets who authored them do not tremble, even less do they grieve. They celebrate.

—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

I really thought I had read this quote earlier in the series, but it must have just stayed with me. It’s a true statement about Achamian’s psychology. We have seen this over and over throughout the books. It’s the criticism of the soldier who fought in war and saw the truth versus the romantic who doesn’t comprehend just what happened. So, what does that have to do with his chapter?

“Apocalypse could feel so light” is something Esmenet thinks when she first picks up the Saga. This is exactly what Achamian is saying with his quote. Reading about the past makes you remote from it. It’s how humans can repeat the horrors that have come before because the farther removed we get from events, the less impact they have. The more likely they’ll be repeated. Communism killed more people in the 20th century than the Nazis did between Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and others. Yet you’ll find educated people today talking about the merits of the system because they’ve only read about it, not lived through its horrors.

Then we go to the next paragraph where Esmenet has her own Saga tattooed on her hand. She’s lived being a whore, but for everyone else who sees it, they can’t understand the poverty, smell, degradation, and simplicity of her past life. Especially not surrounded by her new reality. People will write poems about her. They will celebrate her past, showing how she was redeemed by their prophet. They will not tremble or grieve.

Early Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Xerash

The scattered Holy War, split up on Kellhus’s orders, converge on Gerotha with the Ainoni Lord Soter being the first to arrive. He marches straight to the city’s gate, soon nicknamed the Twin Fists, to parley. The citizens are scared of atrocities. Lord Soter laughs, withdraws, and begins the siege. Kellhus, Proyas, and Gotian arrived the next day. Kellhus convinced an embassy from the city, demoralized by being abandoned by their ruler who already fled, to surrender the city without condition.

The following morning found the men of the Gerothan embassy strung from the battlements of the great gate, their entrails sagging to the foundations. According to the defectors who managed to escape the city, there had been a coup that night, led by priests and officers loyal to their old Kianene overlords.

The Men of the Tusk began preparing their assault.

Kellhus rides forward to demand answers. A veteran called Captain Hebarata curses him and rants about the Solitary God’s vengeance. Kellhus levels an ultimatum saying, “From this day I count!” The cryptic statement troubles every one.

Meanwhile, Athjeäri continues his patrols. The young earl takes prisoners and learns that the Kianene are seeking to defile Inrithi holy sites to provoke the Holy War. Talking to his captains, Athjeäri decides “if any man should be provoked to rashness, it should be Coithus Athjeäri.” It begins the start of Athjeäri’s Pilgrimage. However, they are too late to stop the shrine of Muselah from being destroyed.

Upon that ground they swore a mighty oath.

Back at Gerotha, the rest of the Holy War has arrived. They see the city as weak since they have made no sorties to test for weakness. Hulwarga and Gothyelk wan to attack immediately. But Kellhus wants them to wait. “Where hope burns bright, patience is quickly consumed.” He says the city will surrender on its own.

On the fourth day of the siege, Esmenet begins reading The Sagas. Before she does, she hears music playing in the background. She’s dealing with morning sickness. Her her body slaves, she learns that it’s a group of three male slaves showing off their skills. Fanashila wants to marry a handsome one, asking for Esmenet’s permission. That makes her feel sad as she gives it. She visits Moënghus and sees his eyes are blue like Cnaiür and feels guilty for not missing Serwë even while thinking of her own baby. Afterward, she has various meetings, including with Werjau to hear his “Summary of Reports.” It felt “deceptively routine” to her. She learns that Uranyanak, a man who Esmenet wants arrested for sedition but whom Kellhus says is too important, continues to curse him.

Her duties as Intricati busied her long into the afternoon. She had grown accustomed to them enough to become bored, especially when it came to administrative matters. Sometimes her old eyes would overcome her and she would find herself gauging the men about her with the carnal boredom of a whore sizing up custom. A sudden awareness of clothing and distance would descend upon her, and she would feel inviolate in a way that made her skin tingle. All the acts they could not commit, all the places they could not touch… These banned possibilities would seem to hang above her like the hazing the canvas ceilings.

I am forbidden, she would think.

Why this should make her feel so pure, she could not fathom.

After a meeting with Proyas, which always feel awkward because he still grieved “their earlier animosity” and another meeting with Werjau, she found herself free to do what she wants: reading The Sagas. She’s learned to enjoy reading, even hungering for it. She gathers them with the same “miserly feelings she harbored towards her cosmetic chests.” But books don’t hide her fear of aging, they allowed her to “so see more.”

“You’ve learned the lesson,” Kellhus had said on one of those rare mornings when he shared her breakfast.

“What lesson might that be?”

“That the lessons never end.” He laughed, gingerly sipped his steaming tea. “That ignorance is infinite.”

She asks how he could know, and makes a joke about his divinity, causing her to throw a pillow which instantly fills her with wonder for “throwing a pillow at a prophet.” She opens her chest containing her library, books she packed up from Caraskand. She sifts through them and feels apprehensive when she finds The Sagas. Feeling foolish, she scoops it up, marveling that “Apocalypse could feel so light.” As she starts reading, she notices her whore tattoo.

It seemed a kind of charm or totem now—her version of an ancestor scroll. That woman, that Sumna harlot who had hung her legs bare from her window, was a stranger to her now. Blood joined them, perhaps, but little else. Her poverty, her smell, her degradation, her simplicity—everything seemed to argue against her.

She reflects on how all her current power would make “the old Esmenet weep for wonder.” She’s second in power behind Kellhus. Men like Eleäzaras and Proyas have to bow to her. “She had rewritten jnan!” Kellhus promised her this and more. She also is a woman of faith now, not the “cynical harlot.” The old her couldn’t have faith, not with how many priests had bought her services.

The old Esmenet would never accept an understanding indistinguishable from trust.

She even carries a “destiny within her womb.” The greatest change, though, is the knowledge she gained. Through Kellhus, she had her world rewritten and understood the “twin darknesses of custom and appetite.” It had outraged her until she found her faith.

The world indeed held miracles, though only for those who dared abandon old hopes.

With a deep breath, Esmenet dives into the scroll, reading one of those “works familiar even to illiterate caste-menials.” To her, the Ancient North, the No-God, the Apocalypse, and the Ordeal were just curious stories, not anything real. Achamian rarely talked about The Sagas, and when he did, he bad-mouthed them. To him they were “like pearls strung across a corpse.” Achamian always spoke of those events with a “thoughtless, first-hand immediacy” that chilled her. Compared to that, The Sagas became something foolish to her and she like-wise would bad-mouth them to others while feeling smug because of her inside information. Despite this, she knows almost nothing about what The Sagas contained and is shocked to learn it’s a collection of different works from different authors, a mix of epic verse and prose.

She had no idea where Kellhus had obtained the scroll, but it was very old, and as much painted as inked—the prize of some dead scholar’s library. The parchment was uterine, soft and unmottled. Both the style of the script and the diction and tone of the translator’s dedicatory seemed bent to the sensibilities of some other kind of reader. For the first time she found herself appreciating the fact that this history was itself historical. For some reason she had never considered that writings could be part of what they were about. They always seemed to hang… outside the world they depicted.

She feels strange reading it on her marriage bed and finds herself carried away. She realizes reading “made gauze of what was immediate, and allowed what was ancient and faraway to rise into view.”

Infected by a kind of floating wonder, she fell into the first of The Sagas.

She feels it’s a curiously erotic experience reading someone’s else thoughts. She feels an intimate connection with the author. Then she realizes the book is talking about her husband’s ancestor, Anasûrimbor Celmomas. The past suddenly feels so close to her through Kellhus and Achamian’s dreams. She’s shocked to learn that there was history before the First Apocalypse. A lot of history, things she never had heard of. She reads and learns Celmomas II was born with a stillborn brother.

After this, the strange intensity that had nagged everything, from the mere thought of reading The Sagas to the weight of the scrolls in her palm, took on the character of a compulsion. It was as if something—a second voice—whispered beneath what she read. Once she even bolted from the bed and pressed her ear to the embroidered canvas walls. She enjoyed stories as much as anyone. She knew what it was to hang in suspense, to feel the gut of some almost-grasped conclusion. But this was different. Whatever it was she thought she heard, it spoke not to some climactic twist, nor even to some penetrating illumination—it spoke to her. The way a person might.

The next four days would be haggard. Jealousy, murder, rage, and doom before all… The First Apocalypse engulfed her.

Esmenet reads about the rule of Celmomas, the last Kûniüric High King (and the guy who gave the Celmomas Prophecy about the Harbinger’s return), how he was warned by Seswatha, via though Nonmen sorcerers of Ishterebinth, that the Mangaecca School (Consult forerunners) were investigating Min-Uroikas and trying to activate the Inchoroi technology, including the No-God. Seswatha’s Long Argument convinced Celmomas to act, though it was too late.

We’re given an overview how the various sagas see Seswatha, from a wise counselor to a scheming foreigner to a lunatic refugee. We get the first reference, I think, to the great Chorae Hoard at Sakarpus. We learn he was the Bearer of the Heron Spear.

Hated or adored, Seswatha was the pin in the navigator’s bowl, the true hero of The Sagas, though not one cycle or chronicle acknowledged him as such. And each time Esmenet encountered some variant of his name, would clutch her breast and think, Achamian.

As she goes about her day, she’s haunted of the images The Sagas conjured of the brutalities and atrocities committed by the Sranc and other servants. A war that engulfed everything “even the unborn.” She realizes that this is what he dreams night after night. “Each night, he literally relived the No-God’s dread awakening, he actually heard the mothers wail over their stillborn sons.” It makes her think of his mule, Daybreak, and what that name meant to him. A “poignant hope.” She realizes she never knew and feels guilty that she, a whore, didn’t realize he was “debased by hungers vast, ancient, and rutting.”

You are my morning, Esmi… my dawn light.

What could it mean? For a man who lived and relived the ruin of all, what could it mean to awake to her touch, to her face? Where had he found the courage? The trust?

I was his morning.

Esmenet felt it then, overpowering her, and in the strange fashion of moving souls, she struggled to ward it away. But it was too late. For what seemed the first time, she understood: his pointless urgency, his desperation to be believed, his haggard love, his short-winded compassion—shadows of the Apocalypse, all. To witness the dissolution of nations, to be stripped night after night of everything cherished, everything fair. The miracle was that he still loved, that he still recognized mercy, pity… How could she not think him strong?

She understood, and it terrified her, for it was a thing too near to love.

She has a dream of floating over a dark sea, fighting to keep from being dragged beneath it. She is tossed and turned by it and she sees Achamian in the current his arm “waved dead in the current.” Kellhus wakes her up and she clings to him, crying out that she doesn’t want to share him. He doesn’t want to share her.

His words remind her of her kiss with Achamian. Though she never told Kellhus, he knew but didn’t talk about it. She alternates why he hasn’t questioned her and cursing herself. It confuses her when he had drawn out her other flaws. She feared to ask while reading The Sagas. The images it conjures of destruction haunt her. “She watched it all from afar, more than two thousand years too late.” It’s the darkest thing she’d ever read, and Achamian relived it every night.

And though she tried to beat the words from her heart, they rose nonetheless, as cold as accusatory truth, as relentless as earned affliction. I was his morning.

As she nears the end of her reading, she finds Achamian soaking his feat in a river. She feels a moment of gladness and urges to make a joke, to sit down, and fall into that old relationship with him. This frightens her.

It was his fault for dying! If only he had stayed, if only Xinemus had said nothing of the Library, if only her hand hadn’t lingered in Kellhus’s lap… She felt his heart hush for terror.

Esmi, he said the night of his return from the dead, “it’s me… Me.”

She watches him sitting stun, ignoring the boisterous contest of a group of Thunyeri showing off for a group of women. Esmenet feels like she woke up from a “devious nightmare” that mimicked real life. That she hadn’t betrayed Achamian and could cry out his name.

But it was no dream.

She has memories of Kellhus touching her body while Achamian begs and pleads with her. They clash in her. She sees all those moments she betrayed him with Kellhus as she remembers the horror in Achamian’s eyes. She is horrified that she could betray Achamian like this. She things she’s not capable. Then she remembers she sold her daughter into slavery. Clutching her pregnant belly, she fled, leaving a survivor of the Apocalypse to grieve “his single trust” and to mourn “the whore, Esmenet.” That night, she finished The Saga, and wept as she finished it.

She wept and she whispered, “Akka.” For she was his world, and all lay in ruin.

Achamian is dreaming that he’s in Golgotterath, the Ark-of-the-Skies with Nau-Cayûti, the son of King Celmomas. As he dreams, he hears someone calling his real name, begging for him. They have spent days in the dark, “too terrified to dare any light.” They are using the sapper tunnels the Sranc built during Celmomas’s siege of Golgotterath that “dissolved in acrimony and cannibal pride.”

Who would dare what Seswatha and the High King’s youngest son now dared?

The distant voice asks Achamian to wake up as in the dream, he and Nau-Cayûti have reached a postern that leads into the Ark itself, the entrance at a strange angle since the Ark didn’t crash level. Sranc lounge outside of it. Seswatha things it’s madness to continue, but the woman Nau-Cayûti loves in here. He will save her and leaps across a gap to a smaller entrance. The voice continues to intrude and Achamian comes awake.

Akka, you’re dreaming...

A spark of light, frail and glaring.

“Please…”

At first she seemed an apparition before him, a glowing mist suspended in void, but as he blinked, he saw her lines drawn off into darkness, the lantern illuminating her oval face.

“Esmi,” he croaked.

He’s confused that she’s there, that his Wards hadn’t awakened him. He’s still clutched by “the horror of Golgotterath.” He sees she’s been crying, but she flinches when he tries to hug her, reminding him who she’s with. He asks her why she’s there, and she has to tell him something.

Her face crumpled, then recomposed. “That you are strong.”

She fled, and once again all was dark and absolute.

The Synthese flies through the night. “Urgency did not come easily to such an ancient intellect.” It is introspective, though thoughts are limited by being in the construct. It has been thousands of years since they had a true contest. Kellhus has upset all their plans and the Holy War has been “reborn as an instrument of unknown machinations…” It is shocked that Kellhus, a vermin, could be so cunning.

Golgotterath would not be pleased with this new disposition of pieces. But the rules had changed.

There were those who preferred clarity.

My Thoughts

Back to war and the Historical scope with the siege of Gerotha. We can see just how badly shaken the Fanim are. The Kianene have abandoned their subject people, the Xerashi, and this has demoralized the leadership. Belief is everything in war, and they believe they’ve lost. But the fanatics in there aren’t about to give up with out a fight. This leads to Kellhus cryptic threat and the “hope” of the people that they need to surrender if they want to survive. This will consume their patience with the coup and… the city will surrender itself. He’s applying his knowledge of humans to the group level.

I think Esmenet sees something in young Fanashila. She sees herself in the girl, the way the girl has no control over her life. Esmenet was lucky to marry over her social status, but this girl can only marry another slave.

Deceptively routine… Interesting. We know Werjau is maneuvering against Esmenet. Nice bit of foreshadowing for something that goes no where.

Some people like to bitch about their bosses but are happy when given importance. They might never like the boss, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do their job properly. Kellhus is the type of boss that doesn’t have an ego so it doesn’t bother him if people curse him.

Esmenet is still that same whore as before, but now she sees herself as elevated, better than all the others because of Kellhus. She’s reveling in this knowledge. It’s a self-deception that makes her feel special, pure. Something she hasn’t been in a long time, not since she was a child before her father raped her. Last chapter, Xinemus said she smelled horny, well, she is horny a lot of the time it seems. She always enjoyed sex as a whore. She always tried to own her pleasure, which is why her encounter with the Synthese in book frightened her because she didn’t own her pleasure that time. She was just a puppet being controlled through bliss and rapture. She still owns her pleasure. She feels her attraction and can control who gets it more effectively than before. For now, she thinks that’s only Kellhus so by denying her desires she reaffirms her special status as Kellhus’s wife. She’s reinforcing her own identity the way we all do.

Esmenet thinks she’s old, but in our society she would be seen as young. She’s only in her late twenties right now. But when you marry at fourteen or sixteen, that’s a woman that would have a few kids in their society.

Even to a Dûnyain, ignorance is infinite.

Kellhus does a good job keeping Esmenet believing in his divinity even while playing the role of her lover. While Kellhus may care for Esmenet in his own stunted way, he has to pretend to be what Achamian is natural. It makes him seem human to Esmenet, keeps her invested in the relationship.

Yeah, it’s hard to believe in a religion when the priests of it violate its teachings by paying to have sex with you.

It’s sad hearing Esmenet talk about her faith. She’s merely traded one dogma’s darkness for another. No longer is custom binding her, but Kellhus. There is no escape in this world from cause and effect, not even for the Dûnyain. That is their goal. To attain the Absolute, to become a self-moving soul. Perhaps Kellhus found this at the very end of The Unholy Consult. His son certainly did. We’ll have to wait for the final series to find out.

That’s a nice touch. How Esmenet would feel smug because she knew about the Apocalypse from Achamian, her “doorway to the past.” Don’t we all get that when we know something that someone doesn’t. Something secret and of seeming great important. Then we get to explain and talk like we have any idea what we’re discussing when it’s truly just second or third-hand information were passing off as truth. Why?

Because we get that dopamine rush in our brain, and that makes us feel good.

The Sagas are a mix of literary styles, much like Bakker’s Second Apocalypse series, from the limited 3rd person and intimate POVs to the “prose chronicles” of the historical settings.

Anyone who has ever seen an illuminated, medieval bible can appreciate how a work can itself be historical divorced from what the contents are about. It makes you wonder about the person who produced a book that is as much a work of art as the contents of the writing.

You don’t become an author without loving reading, so never be surprised to have passages in a book talking about how books carry you away to another world. Make the world gauzy is a nice metaphor from Bakker.

Celmomas was a twin whose brother died in childbirth. His namesake, Kelmomas, has a similar relationship with a twin brother. It’s an interesting literary device to have these two character mirror each other. But both have vastly different fates.

I’ve had books do this to me like The Sagas do to Esmenet. Consume me. Leave me thinking, locked in a world, transported from my own to ponder things that shouldn’t bother me, but did. Words that affected me to my core and shook my foundations.

So, the Heron Spear… What happened to it? If you didn’t know, it’s a powerful laser brought by the Inchoroi and the only weapon that could kill the No-God. Seswatha got his hands on it. The Scylvendi, supposedly, carried it off after looting a city, its fate unknown. Another laser is seen at Golgotterath, but it’s not the same one as the Heron Spear, its light a different color. After the events of The Unholy Consult, I hope someone can find it.

What’s a navigator’s bowl you’re asking? A compass. The earliest ones were bowls of water with the needle floating on it pinned to the bottom.

Esmenet is beginning to realize what Achamian truly felt for her. She’s gaining empathy for him. An empathy she’s warred against since he returned since he was the proof of the crime she committed with Kellhus, the betrayal she tries to forget because he threatens her current happiness. She meant more to Achamian then she can ever mean to Kellhus. She’s trying to deny what she’s feeling, because it’s her love for Achamian rising up again, no longer buried by grief, mourning, acceptance, and her newfound happiness. In other stories, this would be the shift of her working back towards Achamian. To having their reunion at the end of this novel. It comes so close…

But she’s a mother. And that’s more important to her then being a woman.

I am sure Kellhus has his reasons not to pry at Esmenet about Achamian. Perhaps he needs Achamian to feel there is some hope of getting Esmenet long enough to gain the Gnosis from him? Perhaps he needs her to fully feel her love so he can cut it out of her in a whole and clean manner.

She lists all the things she’s angry about: him dying, him leaving, Xinemus bringing up the library that lead Kellhus away, and her hand lingering in Kellhus’s lap, awakening her to new possibilities. If only she hadn’t let herself be seduced, she would be sitting with Achamian the way she used to, his morning once again. That’s what she’s truly angry at herself about. Allowing herself to love someone else.

Nau-Cayûti fell in love with a woman that wasn’t his wife. His wife was jealous. She plotted with the Consult, arranging for the girl to be kidnapped. Seswatha than used this to convince Nau-Cayûti to steal into Golgotterath and retrieve the Heron Spear. They are successful, though the girl isn’t found… intact. Like any myth, going into the underworld, into Hell, to save a loved one never works out for the hero. Nau-Cayûti returns home to his wife and she gives him a poisoned drink. Everyone thought he died, but he was left in a paralyzed stupor, buried alive, then dug up by the Consult and taken to Golgotterath to become the No-God. Perhaps stealing the girl was the first attempt to capture Nau-Cayûti and he managed to escape, so they went with Plan B.

Bakker employs a subtle way to show when Achamian wakes up. “Akka, you’re dreaming…” It switches from italics to normal in mid sentence, making that transition.

“That you are strong.” This is the only way that Esmenet can tell Achamian right now that she still loves him. She can’t admit the truth to herself. Not when Kellhus’s child grows in her belly. Not when she thinks she loves the Warrior-Prophet, the God Incarnate.

And we end with the even the ancient enemies of the world, these beings who are the equivalent of Sauron and Morgoth from Tolkien’s legerdemain, are realizing that Kellhus is a true threat. No more taking their time. That has only allowed him to take command. They have to listen to the Scylvendi. This is tacked onto a chapter all about what the Synthese and the Consult has already done, giving us more glimpse into the horrors of the last Apocalypse. It tells us what the stakes are via Esmenet’s fresh eyes. It’s no coincidence he appears here at the end of a chapter focused on her since she’ll be the next “benjuka plate” where the contest will be held.

If you want to read more, click here for Chapter Nine

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Seven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 7
Jocktha

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

Every woman knows there are only two kinds of men: those who feel and those who pretend. Always remember, my dear, though only the former can be loved, only the latter can be trusted. It is passion that blackens eyes, not calculation.

—ANONYMOUS LETTER

It is far better to outwit Truth than to apprehend it.

—AINONI PROVERB

My Thoughts

Wow, those are some quotes. But they really boil down to this: you can only be hurt by someone you love. And you can’t really love someone who pretends. So that guy who’s just faking it, he doesn’t really care, so he’s not going to inspire any real emotions, whether good one or bad ones. So what does that say about Esmenet. Only Achamian can hurt her? That she can’t actually love Kellhus because he fakes it (and the moment Esmenet realizes that Kellhus fakes it, her passion for him is lost).

Still, what a depressing thing to say. Makes you wonder who this anonymous woman is. Someone abused. Someone whose known a lot of men in her life. This letter says you can either have love and fear, or safety and emptiness.

The proverb does come off as very Ainoni. They are ones who like to shape reality to their liking. Better to find a work around to an unpleasant truth, then understand it. It’s easier on your conscience. It’s two interesting quotes to start the chapter with. On the surface, the second quote could be about the first one with a woman who outwits the truth about the two types of men. But these quotes are both about Cnaiür.

Cnaiür is a man who has passion. He blackens the eye. He’s not Kellhus. He doesn’t calculate. This is also why Esmenet falls out of love with Kellhus and stays in love with Achamian. Achamian never hits her, but he has passion for her. Kellhus doesn’t have passion, but he does have safety. And it’s for that safety that Esmenet stays. The second quote relates to Cnaiür at the end when he realizes by trying to outwit Truth, Kellhus, he instead apprehends it. But that doesn’t matter, because it leads to his capture.

Early Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Jocktha

Cnaiür is eating in the privy dining hall of the Donjon Palace, noting how this place feels not only Fanim, but Kianene. He’s dining with Conphas and his generals plus the two nobles on loan from Proyas. They all are taking pains not to rub knees, a problem with Kianene tables requiring you to sit on cushions.

Conphas mentions lights were seen on Cnaiür’s terrace a few nights ago with Sompas providing half-hearted support, leading Cnaiür to think Sompas isn’t happy Conphas agreed to dine with Cnaiür. Meanwhile, Conphas is waiting for Cnaiür’s answer. Cnaiür ignores it, drinks wine, and notes Conphas still has bruises from his beating. He notes how Conphas had his “wardrobe dragged across the desert, Cnaiür mused, spoke volumes.”

Cnaiür had ostensibly summoned Conphas and his Generals here to discuss the arrival of the transports and the subsequent embarkation of his Columns. Twice now, he had quizzed the man on the matter, only to latter realize afterward that the answers the fiend provided only made apparent sense. But in truth, he cared nothing for the transports.

Conphas presses that the lights were “unnatural,” still waiting for Cnaiür’s answer. Refusing didn’t get the message through to Conphas since men like him “did not embarrass.” They do fear, though. As Cnaiür drinks his wine, he approaches Conphas, noting the man’s canny eyes, his cleverness, but also his worry. He’s spooked by this sorcerer. Cnaiür’s not surprised by that.

Was this, he wondered, how the Dûnyain felt?

Cnaiür wishes to speak about Kiyuth. As Conphas eats in the “effete twin-fork manner of the Nansur caste-nobility.” Cnaiür senses an elated manner about him. Conphas thinks he’s won. Cnaiür asks what Conphas would have done if Xunnurit didn’t attack. Conphas claims the genius of his plan was Xunnurit had to attack. Trinemus doesn’t understand but Sompas explains how Conphas used the demands of the seasons on the Scylvendi’s herds, how they would react to their fellows being raped, and then he brings up their arrogance but trails off looking at Cnaiür. General Imyanax takes it up, explaining how the Scylvendi see buggery as the “greatest of obscenities.” Cnaiür notes how the other generals reacts while Conphas is mater-of-fact about saying he did it.

For a long moment no one dared utter a word. Devoid of expression, Cnaiür watched the Exalt-General chew.

“War…” Conphas continued, as though it were only natural that men should hang on his enlightened discourse. He paused to swallow. “War is no different than benjuka. The rules depend on the moves made, no more, no less.”

Before he continued, Cnaiür said, “War is intellect.”

That gives Conphas pause, realizing that Cnaiür must have been among the dead when he talked to Martemus about his tactics after the battle. Conphas asks Cnaiür didn’t try to kill him, though Cnaiür believes he could have. Cnaiür says he was tangled up in thick grass and couldn’t move. Everyone else in the room feels the danger from Cnaiür save Conphas, who makes a joke about how “the field was mine.” No one laughed. Cnaiür orders everyone to leave.

At first no one moved—no one even breathed. Then Conphas cleared his throat. With an intrepid scowl he said, “Do it… do as he says.”

Sompas began to protest.

“Now!” the Exalt-General barked.

After they leave, Cnaiür stares at him. Conphas realizes if Cnaiür was the King-of-Tribes, Conphas would have lost. Cnaiür hints he would have then conquered the Empire. Cnaiür almost feels wonder as her realizes Conphas is just a boy, not the Lion of Kiyuth. He was in Cnaiür’s power now, another neck “as slender as any Cnaiür had broken.”

The Exalt-General pushed back his plate, turned to him in a manner at once jocular and conspiratorial. “What is it that resides in the hearts of hated foes, hmm? Save the Anasûrimbor, there’s no man I despite more than you…” He leaned back with a friendly shrug. “And yet I find this… unlikely repose in your presence.”

“Repose,” Cnaiür snorted. “That is because the world is your trophy room. Your soul makes flattery of all things—even me. You make mirrors of all that you see.”

Conphas laughs it off and doesn’t want to beat around the bush. Cnaiür slams his knife into the table and declares that this is the truth of the world. Conphas manages to “maintain his facade of good humour” despite his fear. Cnaiür say it is fear that moves Conphas, though Conphas tries to deny it but is cut off by Cnaiür cuffing him hard.

“You act as though you live this life a second time!” Cnaiür leapt into a crouch upon the table, sent plates and bowls spinning. Eyes as round as silver talents, Conphas scrambled backward through the cushions. “As though you were assured of its outcome!”

Conphas cries for Sompas, but Cnaiür hits him in the back of the head. He then bends Conphas over the table. Cnaiür undoes his belt then smashes Conphas’s face “against its own reflection” a few times. The watching slaves cringe and weep.

“I am a demon!” he cried. “a demon!”

Then he turned back to Conphas shuddering on the table beneath him.

Some things required literal explanation.

Cnaiür wakes up the next morning, hung over, and cleans himself of the “blood and soil smeared across his thighs.” Out the window, he sees the Nansur ships had arrived. He leaves and finds a captain named Troyatti, part of a group called the Hemsilvara (Scylvendi’s Men) who ride with him, to send word to ships that they harbor chain will be lowered only after they are searched, then he wants Conphas and his officers assembled on the Grand Quay. He orders the captain to make sure Ikurei is captured. Troyatti asks what worries Conphas. Cnaiür wonders if he can trust Troyatti and decides he can, saying the fleet arrived too soon like it was “dispatched before Conphas’s expulsion.” Cnaiür fears they hold reinforcements.

“Think of Kiyuth… The Emperor only sent a faction of the Imperial Army with Conphas. Why? To guard against my kinsmen, when they have been ruined? No. He saved his strength for a reason.”

The Captain nodded, his eyes bright with sudden understanding.

“Secure Conphas, Troyatti. Spill as much blood as you have to.”

Cnaiür rides to the Grand Quay and his men take fishing boats out to the Nansur boat while Sanumnis arrived with more soldiers. Soon, Cnaiür learns that while three of Conphas’s generals were found, Conphas and Sompas were somewhere in the city, looking for a physician to treat Conphas after he was beaten last night. Cnaiür orders the city sealed. Cnaiür’s nervousness is spreading by the time the Nansur officers are brought. Cnaiür threatens them if the transports are not empty. This angers them and General Areamanteras implies he knows what Cnaiür did to Conphas.

Scowling, Cnaiür approached the General, pausing only when he towered over him. “What did I do?” he asked, his voice strange. “There was blood when I awoke… blood and shit.”

Areamanteras fairly quailed in his shadow. He opened his mouth to answer, then tried to purse away trembling lips.

“Fucking swine!” Baxatas cried to Cnaiür’s immediate right. “Scylvendi pig!” Despite his fury there was fear in his eyes as well.

Cnaiür demands to know where Conphas is. Baxatas won’t meet his gaze. The boats he sent out to the waiting transports are now signaling. The ships are empty. By that afternoon, the ships are in the harbor, but Cnaiür keeps the gates shut because Conphas still hasn’t been found. Tarempas, the Nansur admiral, claims they had unexpectedly favorable winds.

Word comes that the Nansur Columnaries are rioting and protesting because they know the ships have arrived but they aren’t boarding. It grows worse when they learn Conphas has escaped. They are assembling outside the gate before a thin line of a hundred Conryian knights. Cnaiür says not to fight them, they are too outnumbered, and not to be concerned since they lack weapons and siege equipment and are not forming up as soldiers.

Troyatti brings word of a tunnel they found leading out of the city. Conphas had escaped. Cnaiür orders the search canceled and the tunnel collapsed. He feels something is wrong. “After so long with the Dûnyain, he knew the smell of premeditation.”

This would not be another Kiyuth.

Something… something…

Cnaiür abruptly rides to the Donjon Palace and finds Saurnemmi, the Scarlet Schoolman. He asks the man if he can burn the ships from the distance. They are interrupted by a signal horn blasting from the walls. He orders the Schoolman to burn the ship and rides for the walls. He gains the walls, joining Baron Sanumnis, and sees Nansur reinforcements marching from the hills, both Kidruhil cavalry and infantrymen.

“You’ve doomed us,” Sanumnis said in his periphery. His tone was strange. There was no accusation in his voice. Something worse.

Cnaiür turned to the man, saw immediately that Sanumnis understood their straits all too well. He knew that the Imperial transports had set ashore in one of the natural harbours to the north of the city, and there disembarked who knew how many thousands—an entire army, no doubt. And he knew, moreover, that Conphas could not afford to let even one of them escape alive.

Sanumnis complains that Cnaiür didn’t kill Conphas. Cnaiür feels week again as he says he’s no assassin. Sanumnis relaxes and they have a moment of understand before Cnaiür has intuition and glances at the harbor where he sees flashes of sorcery, realizing there are Imperial Saik Schoolmen on the transport. Cnaiür realizes someone has to survive so orders their four Chorae bowmen to kill a sorcerer and make them afraid. “With no infantry to prise their way, they’ll be loath to advance. Sorcerers are fond of their skins.”

Cnaiür is only giving the order to give hope to Sanumnis and his men that they are foiling Conphas’s plan, when in reality Cnaiür believes the Schoolmen are just to keep them from escaping by sea while Conphas forces through the main gate. But it helps with his men’s morale. Then Cnaiür says under cover of dark, they will withdraw from the city and attack the forces, bleeding them. To inflict as many casualties as possible upon them. Saying these words sparks something in Sanumnis and Cnaiür must fan it. He turns to the soldiers, telling them that the Nansur will grant no quarter because they can’t afford the Truth to escape.

He [Cnaiür] let these words ring into silence.

“I know nothing of your Afterlife. I know nothing of your Gods or their greed for glory. But I do know this: In days to come, widows shall curse me as they weep! Fields shall go to seed! Sons and daughters shall be sold into slavery! Fathers shall die desolate, knowing their line is extinct! This night, I shall carve my mark into the Nansurium, and thousands shall cry out for want of my mercy!”

And the spark became flame.

“Scylvendi!” they roared. “Scylvendi!”

Later that night, Cnaiür waits with his soldiers while the Nansur’s outside prepare for their assault while the Imperial Saik stay on the ships, controlling the harbor. The defenders have been busy destroying knocking down walls in the warren of tenements outside the main gate, turning it into a confusing labyrinth. His men wait dispersed through it to lie in ambush.

This was not, Cnaiür realized, what the Dûnyain would do.

Either Kellhus would find a way—some elaborate or insidious track—that led to the domination of these circumstances, or he would flee. Was not that what had happened at Caraskand? Had he not walked a path of miracles to prevail? Not only had he united the warring factions within the Holy war, he had given them the means to war without.

No such path existed here—at least none that Cnaiür could fathom.

Cnaiür wonders why he isn’t fleeing by himself instead staying with these “doomed men.” Kellhus had taught Cnaiür that he was “enemy of all.” He had only “coincidental interests” with these men. Cnaiür stood “beyond origin or outcome.” He was beyond everything and stood “nowhere.” Troyatti asks what amuses Cnaiür. “That I once cared for my life.”

The attack begins. The gates are battered down by sorcery. The Nansur’s march in rank by rank, following their training to “strike hard and deep, cut upon your enemy’s flank, sever him from his kinsmen.” This leads the Nansur into Cnaiür’s ambush. They fall on the infantrymen’s flanks from both sides, hacking deep into the middle of their ranks only to retreat into the ruined buildings.

The battle that followed was unlike any Cnaiür had experienced. The pitch of night struck in the hues of sorcerous light Catching unawares and being so caught. Hunted and hunting through a labyrinthine slum then warring in open streets, hilt to hilt, spitting blood form one’s teeth. In the dark, his life hung from a thread, and time and again only his strength and fury saved him. But in the light, whether by moon or, more likely, the burning of nearby structures, the Nansur flinched from him and attacked only with the haft of their spears.

Conphas wanted him.

Cnaiür had not the arms for the swazond he earned that night.

As the night goes, Cnaiür loses more men, including Sanumnis and Troyatti. He finds himself down to three Conryians and six Thunyeri. They make their last stand in a ruined Fanim Tabernacle. They fight and kill until Cnaiür stands with a lone Thunyeri while “the dead formed a skirt of tangled limbs across the steps below them.” The Thunyeri takes a spear in his throat. Alone, Cnaiür roars “Demon!” as they try to kill him. He kills them, iron to their “rotted leather.”

He was of the People.

Without warning, the Nansur relented, crowded back into the shields of those behind, away from the advance of his dripping aspect. They stared in horror and astonishment. All the world seemed afire.

“For a thousand years!” he grated. “Fucking your wives! Strangling your children! Striking down your fathers!” He brandished his broken sword. Blood spilled in loops from his elbow. “For a thousand years I have stalked you!”

He throws away his broken sword and grabs a spear, killing a soldier. Conphas is in the background now, screaming for them to take Cnaiür. They surge at him and beat him down like “howling apes.” After he’s captured, he’s brought before Conphas whose face is still bruised and swollen from Cnaiür’s. However, Conphas’s eyes are the same. He says Cnaiür is no different from Xunnurit

And as the darkness came swirling down, Cnaiür at last understood. The Dûnyain had not sent him to be Conphas’s assassin…

He had sent him to be his victim.

My Thoughts

Interesting that Cnaiür knows Conphas is stalling, but then so is Cnaiür. He just has to kill the man, but is putting it off, inadvertently giving Conphas a lifeline.

Of course Conphas is spooked by the possibility of another sorcerer since he believes he has Cnaiür’s Scarlet Schoolmen under compulsion.

Well, Cnaiür, reading people like books is how the Dûnyain see the world. Feel… well, that’s a word they don’t really know since they murder their emotions or end up lobotomized.

Biaxi Sompas, coming from a rival family, has been won over by Conphas’s prowess. He’s like a fresh religious convert who usually number among the most zealous. He was raised seeing the Ikurei’s as the bad guys only to learn how amazing Conphas is, which means he has to be the most fervent in showing his support.

Once again, Bakker reminds us of Conphas’s intelligent with him figuring just how Cnaiür must have heard that phrase. This is followed by Bakker showing us how Conphas’s narcissism has handicapped him because he can’t sense the danger, only that he sees a chance to belittle Cnaiür, clearly taking his excuse of being knotted in grass as a weakness in the man.

You know what they say, never meet your idols. In a way, Cnaiür has obsessed over Conphas, too, adopting his war is intellect motto. Unlike Moënghus, Conphas is a man Cnaiür can best, not the mighty Lion of Kiyuth that was somehow more than human. Of course Cnaiür is disappointed.

More cutting observation from Cnaiür on Conphas’s narcissism. People see what they want to see in someone’s actions.

It takes a very self-deluded arrogance and narcissism to go through life like nothing will hurt you. To forget that suffering and misfortune comes to us all. We cannot keep the chaos of the world from intruding upon the order of our lives forever.

Nice touch on Bakker, making the table mirror-smooth as a motif then having Cnaiür bash Conphas’s head into his own refection, driving home the man’s narcissism.

Well, I guess raping Conphas is a “literal explanation” about the powerlessness Conphas truly is at the moment.

If you don’t know what a harbor chain is, they’re real things. It’s a long, thick chain that is stretched over the mouth of a harbor and can be raised. Ships can’t pass it. The most famous of these chains would be the one across the Bosphorus at Constantinople

I generally think Bakker is an author who sets things up and remembers about all the diverse groups. So it’s weird that suddenly the Hemsilvara, these young Conryian men who hero worship Cnaiür and to whom he had taught them about being Scylvendi until right now when he needs to use this character versus one of the other Conryians. His first mention, in this book, is at the start of the dinner in this chapter. They could have been mentioned earlier in the book, even explaining what the Hemsilvara where before this moment. This should have been fixed in rewrites as it strikes me as, while writing the rough draft, Bakker realized he needed this character and his background then forgot to seed it into the earlier part of the manuscript. It’s a little nitpick that doesn’t from the rest of the story.

Cnaiür does not remember the previous night. He had raped a man and probably didn’t like how much he enjoyed it and, to protect his identity, forgot he had done something so blatantly homosexual.

Nice bit of subversion. We’re expecting the transports to be full, and clearly Conphas knows this will be expected. But he’s fled, using is own assault last night as an excuse to vanish from his lodgings. Cnaiür knows something is up, but he has no idea what.

Cnaiür, despite teaching Conphas fear, despite all his care, was outmaneuvered. Just like he was at Anwurat. Cnaiür is a great tactician and a keen intellect, but that doesn’t mean he can’t mistake. Just like despite Kellhus’s intelligence, he can’t make mistakes. Bakker is reminding that while at the same time building the tension. You know the trap is about to be sprung, but will Cnaiür see it and counter it in time.

The narrative shifts from Cnaiür being in power to how he’s Cnaiür getting out of this alive.

Ultimately, fear ruled Cnaiür. He was afraid of killing Conphas because it would mean he no longer had any use to Kellhus. Therefore, Cnaiür would lose his only path to Moënghus and vengeance. Not killing Conphas definitely has lead to that path. Good thing the Consult is throwing him a lifeline.

Nothing like being the underdog and thinking you did something to the giant enemy. It could give Cnaiür’s forces the morale that might allow some of them to survive.

Great speech from Cnaiür. We’re going to die, but we’re going to make them pay. Get them angry. Get them mad at the situation. Then give them an enemy to destroy.

His plan is great. The Nansur are rigid soldiers designed to fight on open battlefield. So he gives them asymmetrical warfare, hitting the disciplined soldiers in their flanks then not standing to fight. It’s a great plan, but he doesn’t have the numbers to prevail. So it’s why they’re just turning it into a bloodbath, a final fuck you to the Nansur and Conphas.

“Cnaiür had not the arms for the swazond he earned that night.” Great world building allows you to have lines like that to say, “Cnaiür killed a lot of men.”

“He was the People.” Cnaiür has embraced being Scylvendi. He’s going to die killing the Nansur. This is the only way he can feel like a Scylvendi: killing. Murdering. Butchering.

Conphas’s eyes are the same. All he’s been through hasn’t changed him at all. He is the only character not to change at all. Even Kellhus changes. That’s some commentary on a true narcissist right there.

So Cnaiür thinks this is all to Kellhus’s plan, and maybe it is, but I have my doubts. If Achamian hadn’t stepped up to stop the Nansur army, because Cnaiür survived this and revealed the truth to Achamian, then the Nansurs would have fallen on the Holy War. Kellhus probably would have prevailed, but it’s better to have Cnaiür just kill him here. It’s possible an all options prove beneficial. But Kellhus isn’t fallible. He made mistakes. He got lucky with giving Saubon his blessing. And he got lucky that he survived the Circumfix. He didn’t see how to get passed it, only that he needed to get passed it to win. He gambled and paid off. But Cnaiür, he sees Kellhus as near omnipotent.

And we end this chapter with a variant of Bakker’s favorite expression “darkness came swirling down” instead of death.

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Six

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 6
Xerash

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

Of course we make crutches of one another. Why else would we crawl when we lose our lovers?

ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

History. Logic. Arithmetic. These all should be taught by slaves.

ANONYMOUS, THE NOBLE HOUSE

My Thoughts

Well, aren’t these two interesting quotes to have paired up? The first one is a truth we all know. One of the reasons to have a lover is to have that person to support you, to lean on them when things go bad. But when they’re gone, well, you end up like Drusas Achamian learning to walk all over again.

The second quote’s a bit more… interesting. It’s anonymous, which makes me think the person who wrote this might very well be a slave. It’s titled “The Noble House” which implies this is a critique on the nobility, another reason why the author is anonymous. Either he doesn’t want anyone to know he wrote it, or he was killed for writing it and his name was lost to history.

So why would you want a slaves to teach those three subjects? Well, these three subjects are at the core of the scientific world view. They are places were you don’t want to let grandiose ideas or the ego invade. I had trouble understanding this quote, the only connection I can make is to either Achamian teaching Kellhus Gnosis (logic at its purest). Achamian is definitely a lesser person to Kellhus, a slave to Kellhus’s words and manipulation, just like all men are slaves to the darkness that comes before.

Early Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Xerash

The Holy War marches south. At Kellhus’s command, they spread out to forage along the way despite their spoils from defeating the Padirajah. The Fanim are not resisting the advances. Villages and towns are surrendering. The Inrithi, wearing looted clothing and weathered by the southern sun, look more Fanim themselves save for their weapons an armor.

They had been transformed, and in ways that struck far deeper than mere accouterments. The men Achamian recalled, the Inrithi who’d marched through the Southron Gates, were but the ancestors of the men he saw now. Just as he could no longer recognize the sorcerer who’d wandered into the Sareotic Library, they could no longer recognize the warriors who’d marched singing into the Carathay Desert. Those other man had become strangers They might as well have brandished weapons of bronze.

The God had culled the Men of the Tusk. Over battlefield and desert, through famine and pestilence, He had sifted them like sand through His fingers. Only the strongest or most fortunate survived. The Ainoni had a saying: breaking enemies, not bread, made brothers. But being broken, Achamian realized, was more potent still. Something new had arisen from the forge of their collective suffering, something hard and something sharp. Something Kellhus had simply lifted from the anvil.

They’re his, Achamian would think, watching their grim ranks file across ridge and hillside. All of them. So much so that if Kellhus were to die…

Achamian spends the majority of his time in the Sacral Retinue or in the “canvas warrens” of the Umbilica, keeping within arms reach of Kellhus to protect him against a Consult assassination attempt. “Kellhus’s ascendancy threatened far more than it had already exacted.” The marching gives little opportunity to interrogate the skin-spies, but no torture Kellhus devices nor Achamian’s Cants of Compulsion work. “The things convulsing in the fecal darkness,” always haunt Achamian afterward.

Achamian couldn’t decide what unnerved him more: their many-fingered faces clenching and unclenching, or the hallowed calm with which Kellhus regarded them. Never, not even in his Dreams of the First Apocalypse, had he witnessed such extremes of god and evil. Never had he felt more certain.

Achamian attends all meetings with the Scarlet Spire, which are “strange, bumbling affairs.” Eleäzaras is drunk all the time, making him seem like a boy who realizes how in over his head he is. With Shimeh looming, the Scarlet Spire is being led by a man terrified of losing against the Cishaurim. Achamian finds him pitying the man “they way those of hale constitution pity those of weak in times of sickness.” The Holy War has tested all men, and it broke Eleäzaras. Iyokus never attends the meetings, which Achamian was thankful for. “As much as he [Achamian] hated the man, as much as he had wanted to kill him that night in the Apple Garden, he could do no more than exact a fraction of what he was owed.” When Achamian watched the Hundred Pillars remove Iyokus’s eyes, he found himself feeling unworthy of passing “final judgment” because only murder was absolute. He only did it for Xinemus.

Achamian observes Kellhus throughout the days as he deals with the mundane matters of organizing a host on the march. It allows him to witness again and again the ‘prodigious depths of Kellhus’s intellect.” He hears Kellhus recite verbatim missives delivered days ago. He could recall every mundane detail which causes other men, especially Gayamakri, the Seneschal-Secretary, to wonder in awe at their good fortune. These sorts of meetings soon begin to bore Achamian. He would be lost in thought, fading into the background.

In spite of his lack of interest, the absurd gravity of his charge was not lost upon Achamian. Sometimes, during moments of boredom, an odd sense of detachment would overcome him as he watched Kellhus. The surreal glamour would fall away and the Warrior-Prophet would seem as frail as the warlike men about him—and far more lonely. Achamian would go rigid with terror, understanding that Kellhus, no matter how godlike he seemed, was in fact mortal. He was a man. Was this not the lesson of the Circumfixion? And if something were to happen, nothing would matter, not even his love for Esmenet.

A strange zeal would creep through his limbs then, one utterly unlike the nightmare-born fervour of Mandate Schoolmen. A fanaticism of person.

To be devoted to a cause alone was to possess momentum without direction or destination. For so long, wandering had been his twilight mission, beaten forward by his dreams, leading his mule down road and track, and never, not once, arriving. But with Kellhus all this had changed. This was what he could not explain to Nautzera: that Kellhus was the incarnation of the abstraction that gave their School purpose. In this one man lay the future of all mankind. He was their only bulwark against the End of Ends.

The No-God

Achamian thinks he’s glimpsed Kellhus’s halo on occasion, envying those like Proyas who do see them. There are times that, despite his hatred, Achamian believes he would die for Kellhus. But he can’t sustain that fervor. Doubts creep in, attacking his belief that he could even protect Kellhus.

Esmenet is another distraction. Sometimes she rides on a horse, growing more comfortable with the act. She often seems a stranger to him with her “acts of mannish boldness” as she gives orders. She’s at her most feminine to Achamian when carried in her palanquin, but he only glimpses of her on those days when she talks to Kellhus as he rides beside her. Achamian wants to call to her. “He almost never saw her eyes.” Only at night, during camping, does he meet her in public spaces, trading cordial nods. At first he thought her behavior cruel to harden her heart into hating him, but then he realized she did it for both their sake. Everyone knows their past relationship, so if she’s nice to him, it will remind others that she once was his.

On their fifth night, Achamian finds Esmenet in his chambers. His ardor for her is crushed as she came only to speak about Kellhus’s security. She acts the empress to him, and he finds himself playing along, feeling their new circumstances both absurd while impressed by her intelligence. He’s even proud of her, thinking she’s always been better than him.

Where others were simply walls to him, Esmenet was an ancient city, a maze of little streets and squares, where he made his home. He knew her hospices and her barracks, her towers and her cisterns. No matter where he wandered, he always knew that this direction led here and that direction there. He was never lost, though outside her gates all the world might confound him.

He knew the habit of lovers, their inclination to make scripture out of self-deception. There was little difference, he often thought, between the devotional verse of Protathis and the graffiti that marred the bathhouse walls. Love was never so simple as the marks with which it was written. Why else would the terror of loss come upon lovers so often? Why else would so many insist on calling love pure and simple.

Achamian realizes that he failed Esmenet by not helping with her burdens, all the “innumerable horrors” she had endured. He encouraged her to dismiss them with anger instead of supporting her. “He shrank from the work of understanding,” and thus failed her.

Small wonder she’d failed him in turn. Small wonder she had… succumbed to Kellhus.

Kellhus… These were the most selfish—and therefore the most painful-thoughts.

Esmenet, through commenting on how men treat their cocks (talking to them, boasting, cursing, cajoling) that she believed “men, far more than women, were other to themselves.” This talk disturbed Achamian especially as he remembers their time together.

Women were windows through which men could peer into other men. They were the unguarded gate, the point of contact for deeper, more defenseless selves. And there had been times, Achamian could now admit, when he feared the raucous crowd that scrutinized him through her almost guileless eyes. All that had consoled him was the fact that he was the last to bed her, would always be the last.

And now she was with Kellhus.

Why was this thought so unbearable? Why did it cramp his heart so?

Some nights, Achamian ponders Kellhus, knowing that the Warrior Prophet will start demanding not just the sacrifice of a lover from others, but of their lives. Though Achamian had lost Esmenet “he had gained his soul.” Right? Other nights all he can think about is Esmenet gasping in pleasure beneath Kellhus, reaching heights of ecstasy Achamian never gave her then picturing her making jokes about his less-than-satisfactory penis. Sometimes he just longed for her “as he’d never longed for anyone or anything.” He believes, desperately, that if he can hold her, she would be his again.

Then it hits him one night: she conceived a child with Kellhus. She never gave up her contraceptive whore’s shell for him. “She had never even mentioned the possibility of children.” He realizes neither had he.

With this recognition, something either broke or mended within him; he could not tell which. The following morning he sat at one of the slave fires, watching two nameless girls tear up stalks of mint for tea. For a time he stared in a blinking stupor, still awakening. Then he looked past them, where he saw Esmenet standing in the near distance with two Nascenti in the shadow of dark horses. She caught his eyes, and this time, rather than nod without expression or simply look away, she smiled a shy and dazzling smile. And somehow he just knew…

Her gates had been closed. She was a direction his heart could no longer go.

Boredom leads Achamian to visit Proyas, the “idea of annoying another struck him as justice.” He’s shocked to find Esmenet also visiting. Things are awkward as memories of Xinemus’s fire—where they used to tease Kellhus, Esmenet was still his woman, Xinemus still had eyes, and Serwë still could laugh—rears in Achamian. He tries to leave, but a drunken Xinemus with “antagonistic good nature only inveterate drunks could muster” tells him to stay. Esmenet agrees, voice strained, motivated by a pity for Xinemus rather then desire to see Achamian.

Achamian can’t help but notice how beautiful she looks now, no longer the “lovely weed” when she was his wife. Only Xinemus doesn’t act awkward as a slave collects dinner plates. Finally, Proyas asks after the lessons Achamian gives Kellheus, which confuses Achamian considering what the lessons were about.

Yes, with…” He [Proyas] shrugged, as if unsure of their old ways of referring. “With Kellhus.”

Simply speaking the name became something like twisting a tourniquet.

Achamian brushed at his knee, even though he could see nothing that blemished them. “Good.” He did his best to sound lighthearted. “If I somehow live to write a book about these days, I’ll call it On the Varieties of Awe.”

Drunk Xinemus claims Achamian stole his title. Esmenet asks what his title is, Achamian wincing at her sharp tone. “Blind as he was, Xinemus saw slight everywhere,” and was pricklier than Cnaiür. Xinemus proclaims his title of his book is, “On the Varieties of Ass.” Everyone laughs.

Achamian looked from face to beaming face, pressing away tears with his thumb. Memories flooded him. For a moment it seemed that Esmi need only reach out and clasp his hand, press the pad of her thumb against the nail of his own, and everything would be undone. Everything that had happened since Shigek.

All of them are here… all the people I love.

Xinemus explains how his sense of smell is so keen know he can tell that Proyas thought he ate mutton last night, but it was goat. Esmenet laughs so hard, she’s rolling on her back. Xinemus says you see beauty but “there’s truth in what we smell.” Everyone’s laughter trails off.

Truth!” Xinemus cried with savagery “The world stinks of it!” He made as though to stand up, but rolled back onto his rump instead. “I can smell all of you,’ he said, as if in answer to their shocked silence. “I can smell that Akka’s afraid. I can smell that Proyas grieves. Can smell that Esmi wants to fuck—

Enough!” Achamian cried. “What’s this madness? Zin… who’s this fool you’ve become?”

The marshal laughs and claims he’s the same man just “minus my eyes.” Achamian wonders how Xinemus got like this. The blind drunk continues saying now he doesn’t live with men but dwells “with asses.” No one laughs.

Achamian thanks Proyas for his hospitality and stands to leave. Proyas sits broken and as “silent as the grave.” Achamian realizes Proyas punishes himself by caring for Xinemus. Kellhus has “rewritten the regrets of many, many men.” Xinemus coughs and Achamian realizes he’s getting sicker. Sneering, Xinemus tells Achamian to flee. Esmenet offers to walk back with him while he wonders, “What’s happened to us?”

Be sure to ask her,” Xinemus growled as they hurried to the threshold, “why she’s fucking Kellhus.”

Zin!” Proyas cried, more in terror than anger.

His thoughts buzzing, is face burning, Achamian turned to his former study, bu tin his periphery he could see that Esmenet had turned to him, blinking tears. Esmi…

Xinemus asks if only the blind man can see what is obvious. Proyas gets annoyed, vowing to tolerate Xinemus’s affliction but won’t tolerate blasphemous. Xinemus mocks him, calling him “Proyas the Judge.” Xinemus then quotes a passage from the Tractate about Inri Sejenus healing a blind man name Horomon, a story synonymous with revelation.

Xinemus turned from Proyas to Achamian, as though from a lesser to a greater enemy. “He cannot heal, Akka. The Warrior-Prophet… He cannot heal.”

Achamian still feels the cramped madness from the pavilion after he leaves. He tries grinning at Esmenet to fake relief, but she’s staring off into the darkness. Xinemus’s words echo in Achamian’s head. He and Esmenet walk in darkness through the camp. He remembers holding her hand, hates himself for the longing. “How could he walk in the midst of so much dread wonder and yet feel the tug of her.” He tries to remind himself the Apocalypse is coming. Esmenet ends the silence by asking what happened to Xinemus. It shocks Achamian and makes walking with her more difficult. When he doesn’t answer, she gets angry.

You think the question stupid?” Esmenet snapped. “You think—”

No, Esmi.”

There had been too much honesty in the way he spoke her name—too much pain.

You… you’ve no idea what Kellhus has shown me,” she said. “I too was Horomon, and now—the world that I see, Akka! The world that I see! The woman you knew, the woman you loved… you must know, that woman was—

He couldn’t bear those words, so he interrupted. “Zin lost more than his eyes in Iothiah.”

She asks what he means and starts to talk about the Cants of Compulsion then stops. She reminds him she’s the Master of Spies and needs to know these things. He understands that, but knows she’s doing this because “the estranged always resorted to talk of third parties.” It allows her to talk to Achamian without being either insincere or to delve into their problem. Achamian explains how Cants of Compulsion work, how souls are not compelled but possessed. He talks about how the Scarlet Spire used Xinemus against him. He sees the way her look changes, she’s growing skeptical, thinking he’s fishing for sympathy. He tells her he’s not.

Then what’s your point?” [asked Esmenet.]

He beat down the anger that welled through him. “The great paradox of the Compulsions is that their victims in no way feel compelled. Zin sincerely meant everything he said to me, he chose to say them, even though others spoke the words.”

In the past, people always challenge how such a thing is possible, question it. Not Esmenet. She just wants to know what Xinemus said.

He [Achamian] shook his head, graced her with a false smile. “The Scarlet Spires… Trust me, they know which words wield the sharpest edges.”

Like Kellhus.

There was compassion in her eyes now… He looked away.

She presses him and he finally admits: “He said that pity was the only love I could hope for.” Only she can understand why that truly hurts him. He wants to hold her, kiss her. Instead, he keeps walking and finds “peevish relief in the way she obediently followed.”

Achamian further explains that by saying things without hope of forgiveness, he can no longer filter his thoughts. Esmenet is surprised by that since it’s been months since the torture.

Blinking, Achamian looked to the sky, saw the Round of Horns glittering in an arc over the northern hills. It was an ancient Kûniüric constellation, unknown to the astrologers of the Three Seas. “Think of the soul as a network of innumerable rivers. With the Cants of Compulsion, the old banks are swamped, dikes are washed away, new channels are cut… Sometimes when the floodwaters recede, things resume their old course. Sometimes they don’t.

Esmenet asks if the old Xinemus is dead, but Achamian isn’t sure if he is. Achamian’s isn’t even sure what he’s even saying. He grabs her “forbidden hand” and she doesn’t resist. He pulls her to her, shocked she’s so light, and feels her wrap around himself “as she had a thousand times.”

They kissed.

Then she was fighting him, striking him about the face and shoulders. He released her, overcome by rage and ardour and horror. “N-no!” she sputtered, beating the air as though fending off the mere idea of him.

I dream of murdering him!” Achamian cried. “Murdering Kellhus! I dream that all the world burns, and I rejoice, Esmi, I rejoice. All the world burns, and I exult for love of you!”

She stares in shock as he begs to know if she loves him. She doesn’t deny it, and instead says Kellhus knows her like any other. This makes Achamian realize that he was wrong. He does have something to offer you. Frantically, he says Kellhus “knows everyone, Esmi.” He keeps saying it while, still tasting her on his lips. She back away shouting that Kellhus loves her. He can’t put into words his feelings and she flees while he gathers himself. Then he realizes they’re not alone. The watching men look away as he gazes in fury at them.

That night, he beat the matted earth in fury. He cursed himself for a fool until dawn. The arguments were assembled and were defeated. The reasons railed and railed. But love had no logic.

No more than sleep.

When he sees her next, she only has a blank expression, like the kiss never happened. Nor do soldiers come to arrest him, reminding Achamian just who Kellhus is. This isn’t him against another man but him against a nation. “There would be no outburst of jealous rage, no confrontations, only cloaked officials in the night, discharging their writ without passion.” It reminds him of behind a spy. It doesn’t surprise Achamian that Kellhus neither sends anyone nor mentions it since Kellhus needs Achamian too much (the bitter explanation) and because that Kellhus “understood, that he too mourned the contested ground between them.”

How could one love one’s oppressor? Achamian didn’t know, but he loved nonetheless. He loved them both.

Every evening, Achamian meets with Kellhus in what is nicknamed the Scribal Room. Achamian was charged by the Mandate to protect Kellhus from the Consult, but Kellhus doesn’t seem to care about them. Sometimes Achamian felt Kellhus “tolerated him out of courtesy, as a way to built trust with a formidable ally.” Teaching Kellhus the Gnosis is something different that fills Achamian with “wonder and terror.”

From the very first time, even as far back as Momemn, there had been something remarkable about Kellhus’s company. Even then he’d been someone whom others sought to please, as if they grasped without knowing what it meant to stand tall in his eyes. The disarming charisma. The endearing candour. The breathtaking intellect. Men opened themselves to him because he lacked all these deficiencies that led brother to injure brother. His humility was invariable, utterly disconnected from the presence of other men. Where others crowed or fawned depending upon whose company they kept, Kellhus remained absolute. He never boasted. Ne never flattered. He simply described.

Such men were addicting, especially for those who feared what others saw.

Achamian reflects on how he and Esmenet had watched Kellhus grow to “struggle with truths that everyone else had secretly accepted.” They witnessed his humanity, how even has his power grew, even as he became the “Voice and Vessel” to save the world, he remained himself. He never took for granted his power and never required more than his due. “It just so happened all the world fell within the circle of his authority.”

Achamian sometimes finds himself joking with Kellhus like nothing had changed, not even losing Esmenet. Invariably, something would knock him out of the illusion and Kellhus would become something like he were “a kind of lodestone made flesh, drawing things unseen yet palpable into his orbit.” Sometimes, during these moments, Achamian glimpses the halos.

To sit in his [Kellhus’s] presence was overwhelming enough. But to teach him the Gnosis?

To allow Kellhus to retain the protection of the Chorae for as long as possible, they start with everything short of actual Cants. All the language and philosophical pinnings that gird sorcerery. Normally, he would also teach the denotaries, basic Cants to develop a students “intellectual flexibility” first. He can’t with Kellhus because that will Mark him. So he starts with Gilcûnya, the Nonman tongue used for Gnostic Cants. “This took less than two weeks.”

To say that Achamian was astonished or even appalled would e to name a confluence of passions that could not be named. He himself had required three years to master the grammar, let alone the vocabulary, of that exotic and alien tongue.

He starts teaching Kellhus the philosophy of Gnosis, the Aeturi Sohonca (Sohonc Theses). Without these, the “Cants were little more than soul-numbing recitations.” Sorcery depends on meaning, and that depends on “systemic comprehension.” He explains how a word can have different meanings, or connotations, that can varied from person to person, and group to group. He uses love as an example. The feelings of love for a parent are different than for a lover or a friend. An older man and a teenage boy can both suffer heartbreak, but the “former is tempered by loss, learning, and a lifetime of experience, while the latter knows only lust and ardour.”

He [Achamian] could not help but wonder in passing what “love” had come to mean for him? As always, he dispelled such thoughts—thoughts of her—by throwing himself into his discourse.

Sorcery requires “preserving and expressing the pure modalities of meaning.” Kellhus realizes that this is why they use Gilcûnya as their lingua arcana. Kellhus figuring something like this out doesn’t surprise Achamian. He confirms that the “sheer otherness of Gilcûnya serves to insulate the semantics of sorcery from the inconsistencies of our lives.” He adds the Angogic use a debased form called High Kunna for the reason.

To speak as the Gods do,” Kellhus said. “Far from the concerns of Men.”

He explains about the Persemiota, a meditative technique not needed for the Mandate because of Seswatha inside them. Then he teaches the Semansis Dualis, the final step before damnation (at least until Kellhus came around). He talks about the two halves of sorcery, what you speak (the utteral) and what you think (the inutteral). “Since any single meaning could be skewed by the vagaries of circumstance, Cants required a second, simultaneous meaning, which, though as vulnerable to distortion as the first, braced it nonetheless, even as it too was braced.” Kellhus grasp this immediately, coming up with his own analogy. According to Achamian, thinking one thing and saying another is the hardest step, and why you can’t just hear a Mandate Schoolmarm speak his cants to steal the Gnosis.

Kellhus nodded. “Has anyone experimented with further inutteral strings?”

Achamian swallowed. “What do you mean?”

By some coincidence two of the hanging lanterns guttered at the same time, drawing Achamian’s eyes upward. They instantly resumed their soundless illumination.

Has anyone devised Cants consisting of two inutteral strings?”

Though Achamian has heard of a legend of the nonman Su’juroit the Witch-King using the “third phrase, Achamian lies and says it’s not possible. Achamian is frightened by the possibilities Kellhus could work and is reminded of the time he participated in an assassination, delivered the poison to slave which resulted in four people dying.

As always with Kellhus, Achamian needed only to gloss the various topics, and then only once. Within the course of single evenings Kellhus mastered arguments, explanations, and details that had taken Achamian years to internalize. His questions always struck to the heart. His observations never failed to chill with their rigor and penetration. Then at last, as the first elements of the Holy War invested Gerotha, they came to the precipice.

Kellhus beamed with gratitude and good humour. He stroked his flaxen beard in an uncharacteristic gesture of excitement, and for an instant resembled no one so much as Inrau. His eyes reflected three points of light, one for each of the lanterns suspended above Achamian.

So the time has finally come.”

Achamian wants to teach basic Wards, but Kellhus wants the Cant of Calling. Achamian wants to objects, but knows he shouldn’t. He begins to teach the utterals for the Ishra Discursia, “the most ancient and most simple of the Gnostic Cants,” but finds himself unable to speak. Kellhus realizes Seswatha has stopped him, deducing that this is how the Mandate protected the Gnosis. Achamian looks helpless at Kellhus. He truly wanted to teach Kellhus, and now feels shamed that he can’t. It reminds him of Xinemus’s torture.

Kellhus wants to speak with Seswatha, which shocks Achamian. Then Kellhus draws a dagger which reminds Achamian of the type of knives his father used to debone fish. “For a panicked instant Achamian thought that Kellhus meant to debone him, to cut Seswatha from his skin, perhaps the way physician-priests sometimes cut living infants from dying mothers.” Instead, Kellhus hypnotizes Achamian by reflecting light from the dagger into his eyes in a captivating fashion.

He feels something inside of him that restrained him in a “manner more profound than chains or even inhumation.” He knows he speaks, but doesn’t remember what he says. He feels always on the edge of something and then he is out of it. Confused, he starts to ask Kellhus what happened, but is silenced. Kellhus tells him to repeat the spell. This time Achamian speaks the utteral and than the inutteral. Achamian is disoriented by how easy he spoke them then he waits, hovering “between hope and horror.” It took Achamian seven months to master speaking one thing and thinking another, and he started with the denotaries. He knows Kellhus will do it on the first try.

Silence, so absolute it seemed he could hear the lanterns wheeze their white light.

Then, with a faint otherworldly smile upon his lips, Kellhus nodded, looked directly into his [Achamian’s] eyes, and repeated, “Iratisrineis lo ocoimenein loroi hapara,” but in a way that rumbled like trailing thunder.

For the first time Achamian saw Kellhus’s eyes glow. Like coals beneath the bellows.

Terror seizes Achamian. He wonders what Kellhus’s limits are. “What did it mean for a prophet to sing in the God’s own voice.” He wonders if that would make Kellhus a shaman of old. Or was he a god.

Yes,” Kellhus murmured, and he uttered the words again, words that spoke from the marrow of existence, that resonated at the pitch of souls. His eyes flashed, like gold afire. Ground and air hummed.

And at last Achamian realized…

I have not the concepts to comprehend him.

My Thoughts

Have a call back to book 2 when Achamian and Esmenet gained a height to see the entirety of the Holy War. Kellhus has denied Achamian this just like he’s denied Achamian his wife.

We have Achamian musing on the truth any soldier knows. United in a purpose and thrust into dire circumstances binds men together. They have to work together for their survival, it’s one massive pressure on their behavior, and it forever changes them. Kellhus was then in the right position, thanks to his gamble with the Circumfix, to benefit from that united suffering binding the Holy war.

Further, we see this same level of suffering being used by Kellhus with the Great Ordeal on their march to Golgotterath, especially with the final march across the Fields of Appalling. And that last line, if Kellhus were to die… Well, we’ll see how that third and final series goes.

Achamian mistakes “good and evil” for “pure intellect and pure hunger” the two extremes of humans, both of which Bakker shows us are not “good” or “healthy” behaviors.

We can never know how true stress, true dangers, true survival will place on us. Those who seem strong will break and those who seem weak will withstand. Eleäzaras and Xinemus are examples of the former, two different forms of strength, one perceived as bad one as good, but both crumbled. Achamian and Esmenet would be examples of the later. And then some, like Serwë, just live in a dream world until they die.

Murder is about the only thing you can do to a person where you can’t make amends, can’t apologize, can’t try to do something to make it right. Achamian is giving Iyokus that chance to do that because, as always, Achamian is very self-reflective. He sees the selfishness of his action and can’t allow himself to embrace that sort of confidence retributive justice requires.

We witness the slow seduction of Achamian. How Kellhus would “seem as frail as the warlike men about him” at times, tugging on the compassion inside of Achamian. He is making Achamian see him as vulnerable, something that needs the sorcerer’s protection from the outside world. From the Consult. Kellhus needs Achamian willing to teach him, to surrender the Gnosis to him or he’ll lose against the Consult eventually.

The Halos are more than a mass hallucination. They have to be. Kellhus is touching the outside in some ways. It’s bleeding into him, and those who believe in him see it. Achamian’s doubts keep him from wholly believing in anything. He’s always questioning, which might be way he’s only getting glimpses. He sees them for a moment then they’re gone. Kellhus might very well be a nascent god. Perhaps he will be a god, and since the gods stands outside of time ultimately, capable of seeing its beginning and end, this might just be a manifestation of that. At the end of the series while he died, he didn’t get captured by Ajolki. Kellhus’s soul escaped whatever bargain he made with the trickster god. We’ll have to see what Bakker does with this going forward in the third series.

Achamian never seeing Esmenet’s eyes is a subtle hint that she’s avoiding looking at him.

If you didn’t know it, you can train yourself to hate people. You can also do the opposite. Dwelling on something over and over again bends your thoughts and makes it a truth to your mind. Our brains are quite plastic and malleable.

Bakker again shows us that Achamian doesn’t just want Esmenet back out possessiveness, but he truly cares for her. He’s proud of her growth as a person even though it came at the expense of their relationship.

I think Achamian is coming down on himself too hard here. He doesn’t know the full picture of what Kellhus can do. How he can manipulate. He’s feeling like he deserve this now. That he’s blaming himself for what happened, shifting the blame away from Esmenet. He does this because he still cares for her and the alternative is to hate her. Better to hate himself. It’s a selfish action nonetheless, and these are the ones we always do and always regret.

Men don’t like thinking about the previous sexual experiences of their female partner. It’s a direct comparison of one man’s manhood to another. No guy wants to think his partner is wishing he was someone else. Then it also gets into the reproductive strategies human males employ. Due to the long development period of human children, a decade or so before they can start to be self-sufficient outside the 9 month gestation period, is longer than any other animal, especially when you compare us to species the same size. Elephants don’t take that long to reach independence and they have a lot of growing to do. This in the vast majority of human history (not the little sliver the industrial revolution has brought about in the last two hundred years) has required most women to be tied to the home to raise her children. She needed to a provider. Men responded with the strategy of peer-bonding, building a relationship with a woman as a long term strategy to ensure your offspring thrive. It’s why men can be very possessive about their women. In this case, knowing that you’re the last to ever bed her is important thought. You’ll see that men rarely seek divorce. Even men who cheat on their wives. As an aside, adultery is usually triggered, in men, by the second reproductive strategy: if a woman is offering sex and not asking for commitment, why not reproduce with her? It’s a very basic and primal instinct in men. A hard one for a man to avoid. For a single woman, that sort of behavior, in the past, was quite risky. If she has a child before establishing peer-bond, it makes it harder for her to find a man willing to build that commitment. Once a woman has that commitment, she might engage in a reproductive strategy of cuckoldry if she finds a more suitable man to have a child with and then trick her peer-bonded mate into raising another male’s child or even trading up to a better provider though divorce. (Now these are evolutionary pressures that affect us at a very subconscious and primal levels and we can exhibit self-control over them since humans can override many instinctive behaviors.)

Achamian goes through the various stages of grief, bouncing between them, trying to rationalize why Esmenet is with Kellhus, trying to bargain that if she just gave him one last chance, the anger at imagining Kellhus pleasing her more than him. It all burns through him. Until he hits on children. The one thing she gave Kellhus and not him. Because he never asked. He realizes then that he never fully committed to their relationship. So she always held that one thing back. The one thing that would fully entangle her with him.

“Simply speaking the name became something like twisting a tourniquet.” It would seem to Achamian that Kellhus’s name is both something painful but also life-saving. Having a tourniquet applied hurts, but it’s better than dying, or finding damnation and allowing the world to be destroyed by the No-God.

All the people Achamian loves are at Proyas’s fire. Kellhus isn’t there, just Esmenet, Proyas, and Xinemus. This laughter, this one moment of the past is all the remains of who the four used to be. Because none of them are the same people. They all changed by the burdens of the Holy War. Proyas, Achamian, and Esmenet found new strength, but not Xinemus…

Who does Esmenet want to fuck though? Kellhus, probably. Xinemus is calling her a whore as we see in his comment when she and Achamian leave.

Xinemus sees himself as the same man because of the Cants of Compulsion. The Scarlet Spire broke him by making him say things he would never say, but he believes he could. To Xinemus, he has an unbroken line of self from before his capture to now, but that’s not true. He’s like a computer program. A computer can’t understand that someone added new code to it that changed its behavior because it can’t understand that any tampering happened. Bakker is saying that’s really all humans are.

Biological machines with delusions of free will.

Esmenet blinking back tears. The truth hurts her because she still loves Achamian, but Kellhus is new, he swallowed up her life, and she has no perspective about anything. She will soon, though.

I remember Xinemus being eager to reach Kellhus earlier. He had such hope he’d get his eyes back. But Kellhus couldn’t heal him nor could stealing Iyokus’s eyes fix the problem. He’s disillusioned and that adds a little more doubt nibbling at Achamian. Kellhus is being spread so thin. He can’t keep deceiving everyone.

Further, the story that Xinemus tells is a parable about revelation. If Kellhus cannot heal, does that mean he cannot reveal? As we see in the Judging Eye, Achamian is still damned for being a sorcerer despite Kellhus’s “revelation” to the contrary.

Through Achamian, Bakker is showing something about humans. It’s so hard for us to care about what’s not in our immediate life. It’s hard to care about suffering in other countries, even in our own, if it doesn’t directly impact us. On an intellectual level, we can care, but on an emotional level which could motivate us to truly act, it scarcely touches us. It’s how we’re wired. Things are not truly real to us unless they’re in our immediate life. I know England is a real place, but do I believe that. Truly? Inside of me. I know it, but… Well, it’s the same with Achamian. Esmenet is right here, it’s hard to care about the Apocalypse when he’s hurting; when the woman he loves is with another man.

Esmenet reacts with anger to Achamian’s pain at losing her and immediately tries to justify it. She feels the guilt, which prompts her intellect to reason away her pain so she won’t feel it any longer. A very human reaction.

How Compulsion works in Bakker’s universe highlights one of the themes of the books: that free will is an illusion. And here is a concrete, irrefutable proof. Through Compulsion, a sorcerer steps into the darkness that comes before and guides it to affect you and you can’t tell the difference. To your mind, it responds that stimuli like any other and keeps up the facade of free will. Esmenet, surrounded by Kellhus, has had her eyes opened to free will to an extant, and thus doesn’t challenge this assertion by Achamian and doesn’t fearing what it means for her own decisions.

The moment Achamian admits what Xinemus said, he gets pity from Esmenet, proving the Scarlet Spire correct.

Achamian, I believe, was trying to tell Esmenet that she, ultimately, wasn’t special to Kellhus, no more than Achamian was. Because Kellhus knows everyone unlike Achamian, who cares only for her. He doesn’t know anyone but her. However, she says that Kellhus loves her (and in his own stunted way, Kellhus does love Esmenet). Note that she doesn’t say she loves Kellhus. Nor did she deny her feelings for Achamian. She even allowed herself, for a brief moment, to embrace him. She didn’t resist until after the kiss began. Then she’s angry. Like Achamian, she’s trying to use logic to justify why she’s with Kellhus and not Achamian, and can’t. Because love has no logic.

Over the rest of the book, we see her realizing the truth about who she really loves, not just who she was manipulated into caring for. However, that maternal part of her drives her to make the decision best not for herself, but for Kellhus’s child growing in her womb.

Kellhus has opted for dealing with Achamian by taking the noble, “This just sucks that while everyone thought you were dead (but really had no proof) we mourned you and then hooked up; I mean, it was like a month or two, and so that’s weird to swoop in so fast, but, I think this sucks, too” route. It’s effective against Achamian.

Not really surprising you can love your oppressor. After all, most of us love our parents.

This quote Achamian has that “Kellhus merely tolerated him out of courtesy, as a way to built trust with a formidable ally” is a very good sounding of who Kellhus truly is. Achamian is picking up on some of it. Perhaps Kellhus is stretching himself to thin and the observant Achamian is gleaming hints of Kellhus’s true nature. Perhaps it’s deliberate, to have Kellhus have a certain aloof air.

Who doesn’t like to be seen as someone admirable in the eyes of a man above you in social standing, someone who appears noble and good and caring and friendly. As Cnaiür says, the Dûnyain enslave you with love.

We get to see the requirements of seeing the halos from Achamian through those few times he glimpses them. It’s when he stops seeing Kellhus as a human being with whom he joked and laughed with and instead feels the divine, the Outside, shining out of Kellhus. I am convinced these Halos are a hint that Kellhus will ascend to some form of Godhood. If any soul could join the Hundred in power, it’s Kellhus. And since the Hundred see time in its entirety instead of just inhabiting the present, it’s possible that people see these almost topoi-like halos shining from Kellhus because they are glimpsing his future as an entity as close to deityhood as you get in the Three Seas. A being on par with Ajolki or Yatwer. For those who worship him, who align their souls into his sphere of influence and are drawn to him to be devoured the way the Hundred do to the souls of their worshipers, you get to see the halos.

The denotaries is why Inrau could use sorcery in book one even though he wasn’t really Marked. He was just about to step into that and apparently knew all the principals but left before every uttering one before that moment he killed the skin-spy. Perhaps he was struggling to master the utteral and inutteral and in this moment of fear, it all clicked for him.

Or it’s a plot hole and, like any good fan, I’m writing the story for Bakker.

If you ever needed more proof that Bakker has had a Ph.D. in philosophy, look no further into how he made it the central component of his magic system. Meaning is at the heart of philosophy.

There’s a reason the Greeks had four different words for love agape (unconditional love, universal love, like of God for his creation), Eros (sexual love or intimate love), Phillia (friendship, brotherly love), and Stroge (usually that parent/child love familiar love). English, however, put all our eggs into one word and it has to do a lot of work with so many shades of meaning to it.

Bakker’s not the only author I’ve seen use the ancient language to preserve the “pure modalities” of a word from the constant shift and slide of a living language. I know Butcher uses that in his Dresden Files Universe.

“To speak as the Gods do. Far from the concerns of Men.” This is the rabbit hole philosophers can fall down, lost in their own philosophy and losing sight of the day to day grind of living.

Achamian realizes what he is handing Kellhus in this moment. I wonder if this is why Seswatha balked and stopped Achamian from teaching Kellhus anything else. For it’s after this that Achamian can’t talk about the Gnosis. Maybe it was just teaching Kellhus the actual utterals and inutterals that did it, but Achamian didn’t have any problem teaching the philosophy underpinning Gnosis, something that the Mandate, thanks to Seswatha, has denied to the Angogic Schools even under torture. I think the Seswatha inside Achamian felt his fear and responded by locking down any additional information.

“He [Kellhus] stroked his flaxen beard in an uncharacteristic gesture of excitement, and for an instant resembled no one so much as Inrau.” In the last book, Kellhus identified Achamian’s relationship with Inrau, deduced the youth’s mannerisms, and then uses it to manipulate Achamian into teaching him. And here, at the cusp of learning the Gnosis, Kellhus pulls out all the bells and whistles to apply as much manipulation on Achamian as possible. Especially after he just freaked Achamian out with his question on the second inutteral.

And now Kellhus has the Gnosis. I always wondered what Kellhus said to the soul of Seswatha dwelling inside of Achamian. I have no doubts that it is the reason the dreams have changed for Achamian and no one else. The version of Seswatha inside of him knows that the harbinger has come. It unlocks information for Achamian after that.

Then we have the reveal, Achamian using the Cant of Calling, which I believe is the same one he uses for teleportation by adding a second inutteral. I suspect Kellhus has already figured this out, or has a theory about it based on his understanding of Gnostic Philosophy that Achamian taught him. He already sees the potential of the ability to teleport and wants it over any other. And even if he hadn’t know he could use it to teleport, he still chooses the ability that allows communication. Not defenses or attacks, but something that lets him speak to others.

Words, after all, are Kellhus’s deadliest weapon. And now he can wield them with an arcane edge.

If you want to read more, Click here for Chapter Seven!

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