Category Archives: Reread

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.

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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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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Five

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 5
Jocktha

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

To indulge it is to breed it. To punish it is to feed it. Madness knows no bridle but the knife.

—SCYLVENDI PROVERB

When others speak, I hear naught but the squawking of parrots. But when I speak, it always seems to be the first time. Each man is the rule of the other, no matter how mad or vain.

—HATATIAN, EXHORTATIONS

My Thoughts

An interesting pair of quotes. The first one is a rather bleak view on madness. And there’s truth in it. People who allow their delusions to be entertained can only sink deeper and deeper into them, to see them multiplied. This can lead them to be forever lost. Any attempts to snap them out, to punish them for their delusions, only feeds them. Then, in the unflinching fashion of the Scylvendi, the only option to control it is to kill the mad person.

Perhaps a proverb Kellhus should have ruminated about. Conphas and Cnaiür are both mad, and they are both beyond Kellhus’s ultimate control. Cnaiür’s madness keeps him from ever enacting Kellhus’s orders to kill Conphas and nothing short of death can curtail Conphas’s sociopathic narcissism.

Now the second quote speaks to the fact that we’re all narcissistic to some extant (see Conphas and the slave girl in this chapter). We’ve all had that impatient annoyance while listening to someone talk about what you don’t care about while at the same time you’re just eager to tell them what’s important to you (but something they won’t care about). That impulse we have to feel like everything we do has importance fills us. It’s an illusion to keep us going during times of banality. So is Bakker saying we are all mad and therefore the only way to fully control us is with the knife.

Is with power. Force.

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” said Mao. There’s a great deal of truth in that statement.

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

Conphas cannot shake Kellhus’s words, “For some it is a defect carried from the womb.” The feeling, like a bruise on his soul, is a new one for him. He doesn’t understand it or the words Kellhus spoke. While he’s ruminating over it, his army is disarmed. While no incidents happened, it still aggravates Conphas since his normally disciplined men found trouble following basic orders. In the end they looked like “an assembly of half-starved beggars.”

Proyas then calls on any who wish to follow the Warrior Prophet to step forward. After a pause, the first deserters step does. Conphas fears he’ll lose most of his men, but less than a fifth switch sides. He’s ecstatic while Proyas is vexed and castigates the loyal men. They shout that they follow the Lion. Proyas retreats in a fury while Conphas revels in it and “the bruise of his indignities began to fade.” He’s even happier when he learns that he won’t have to march back to Momemn through the desert but that contact was made, via the Scarlet Spire, with his uncle. A fleet of ships will come to Joktha to pick them up.

No matter who threw the number-sticks, it seemed, he [Conphas] owned the results.

Nothing happens on the march to Joktha, which he spent riding lost in thought. His staff holds their distance, only interacting with Conphas when he asks them questions like, “What man doesn’t aspire to godhead?” They answer all man then say only the boldest would voice it. Conphas knows they are being sycophants saying what he wants to hear. Conphas normally hates that since “no command could tolerate sycophants.” He finds himself indulging it since after all he was a defect and not quite human.

The strange thing was that he understood full well what the man had meant. His entire life, Conphas had known he was different. He never stammered in embarrassment. He never blushed in the presence of his betters. He never minced his words with his worries. All around him, men jerked this way and that, pulled by hooks that he knew only by reputation: love, guilt, duty… Though he understood how to use these words well enough, they meant nothing to him.

And the strangest thing of all was that he didn’t care.

Listening to the vain flattery, Conphas realized that his belief didn’t matter, only results. Logic and fats don’t mattered, only their connection to belief and desire. “If it pleased him to think himself divine, then so he would think.” He could do anything if he believed it. So it doesn’t matter what Kellhus does to the world, he’ll just adjust to make it right again. It didn’t matter if he was deformed or if the Consult was real. “It simply did not matter if he did not care.” He’s a unique soul that the world bends around.

“The fiend couldn’t attack you outright,” General Sompas ventured, “not without risking more bloodshed, more losses.” The caste-noble raised a hand against the sun to look directly at his Exalt-General. “So he heaped infamy on your name, kicked dirt across your fire, so that he alone might illumine the councils of the great.”

Even though he knew the man simply flattered him, Conphas decided that he agreed. He told himself that the Prince of Atrithau was the most accomplished liar he’d ever encountered—a veritable Ajolki! He told himself that the Council had been a trap, the product of thorough rehearsal and painstaking premeditation.

So he told himself, and so he believed. For Conphas, there was no difference between decision and revelation, manufacture and discovery. Gods made themselves the rule. And he was one of them.

By the time he reaches Jocktha, the pain of Kellhus’s words have vanished and he believes arriving here is his own will. He surveys the city when he first spies it. The city isn’t built on a defensive spot but beside a natural harbor. He spies the Donjon Palace built on “hazy heights.” They ride through a grove of peppertrees, the fragrance reminding Conphas of his time as Skauras’s hostage. He wants to hold onto those memoirs since “a captive had to always recall those he had mastered, lest he become one of them.” It’s another of his grandmother’s lessons.

The 300 Conryian knights awaiting him don’t bother him, but seeing Cnaiür does. He’s shocked and wonders why Kellhus chose Cnaiür. General Sompas objects, but Conphas says they are just trying to antagonize him into breaking the conditions of his freedom. Sompas starts to objects but swallows it, annoying Conphas. He remembers how Martemus never hesitated because he never feared Conphas. “Perhaps Sompas was the smarter man.” Sompas thinks they are being humiliated by having to submit to a Scylvendi. After reflection, Conphas thinks Kellhus is doing them a favor. Sompas doesn’t understand.

“Of course. He’s returned to me my most precious possession.”

The fool could only stare.

“My men. He’s returned to me my men. He’s even culled them for me.”

“But we are disarmed.”

Conphas looked back at the great train of beggars that was his army. They looked shadowy in the dust, at once dark and pale, like a legion of wraiths too insubstantial to threaten, let alone harm.

Perfect.

He glanced one last time at his General. “Hold on to your worries, Sompas…” He turned back to the Scylvendi, raising his hand in the mockery of a salute. “Your dismay,” he muttered askance, “lends the stamp of authenticity to these proceedings.”

Cnaiür thinks he’s forgetting something as he studies cracks in the marmoreal paving stones. He thinks only an Utemot Chieftain would allow such defects to be shown and not covered. He feels like he did just waking up at Kiyuth as he remembers meeting Conphas last night, how they’d argued, how Conphas tried to provoke him. As he does, Cnaiür struggles to remember who is he.

He starts dreaming he’s walking towards Shimeh, though it looks like the camp of his youth. As he passes through the yurts, he sees all the Utemot as dead and rotting. “They watched him with the parchment eyes of the dead.” He passes his livestock butchered. He’s not surprised. Before the White Yaksh, which he sees as the heart of Shimeh, he finds his feather’s head impaled on a spear. Inside he finds Moënghus has “made a harem of his wives.” He isn’t shocked or angry even as he beats Serwë, Anissi, the others. Their blood unnerves him.

Moënghus looked up from his passion and grinned a broad and welcoming grin. The Ikurei still lives, he said. Why don’t you kill him?

“The time… the time…”

Are you drunk?

“Nepenthe… All that the bird gave to me…”

Ah… so you yearn to forget after all.

“No… not forget. Sleep.”

So why not kill him?

“Because he wants me to.”

The Dûnyain? You think this is a trap?

“His every word is a feint. His every look a spear!”

Then what’s his intent?

“To keep me from his father. To deny my hate. To betray—”

Dream Moënghus points out if Cnaiür kills Conphas, he’s free to go after the Holy War. Cnaiür comes awake and realizes he’s been talking to the Synthese. It cries at him to avenge his People for the Battle of Kiyuth.”

I’m forgetting something.

Days pass. At night, Cnaiür lies with “Serwë” while he tries to understand his circumstances. He needs to deal with Conphas and his soldiers. He has 428 men. They’re outnumbered, but are battle-hardened. They’re not happy about being left behind, so Cnaiür focuses their anger at the Nansur and Conphas. He needs them to be as aggressive as possible. Baron Sanumnis, in charge of the Conryians, is worried. Cnaiür says since Nansur can defeat them “we must strip their will from them.” Cnaiür needs to cow the soldiers before murdering Conphas.

Cnaiür segregates Conphas soldiers, keeping the veterans from the younger ones and making them form camps far enough away from fresh water to keep them busy carrying it to their camp. He has the cavalry units dispersed among the infantry, using the “mutual enmity” between them to help keep unit cohesion down. He orders rumors that Conphas weeps and their officers objected to eating the same rations as the common soldiers. These were “the kinds of rumors that gnawed at every army’s heart.” Conphas is not allowed to leave the city or visit his men, but is allowed to move freely within the walls while Cnaiür “obsessively pondered the man’s murder.” Cnaiür understands the reasons both why he’s chosen and why Conphas has to die (can’t tolerate rivals and he’s the savage Scylvendi).

What tormented him [Cnaiür] was what these understandings implied. If murdering Moënghus was Kellhus’s sol mission, then preserving the Holy War should be his sole concern. Why assassinate Conphas when he need only remove him from the game—as he had? And why use Cnaiür to conceal his involvement, when the consequences—open war with the Empire—would have no bearing on the imminent conquest of Shimeh?

And Cnaiür realized… There was no way around it: the Dûnyain was looking behind the Holy War—past Shimeh. And to see past Shimeh was to see past Moënghus.

Cnaiür assumed he and Kellhus were on a hunt as “a collusion of enemies in pursuit of a greater foe.” Now he’s realizing it’s different. He feels it is a slave collar bent around the entire world with Kellhus and Moënghus at either ends.

He starts to get paranoid, often studying Trinemus and Sanumnis, the two lords with him, wondering if they had secret orders, especially since Trinemus defers to Sanumnis who only seems to watch. He thinks they will arrest him for murdering Conphas, the pair ready to act.

I’ve been sent to murder myself. The thought made Cnaiür cackle. Small wonder Proyas had been so unnerved relaying the Dûnyain’s murderous instructions.

Cnaiür takes the Scarlet Schoolman Sanumnis assigned to him to keep in constant communication with the Holy War as more proof. He is beset on all sides by “mad, unfathomable depths.” Cnaiür orders the Schoolman to study Conphas and his retinue while Cnaiür strides into them, showing off all his Swazond and boasting about killing them. Conphas retorts, starting to boast about how many Scylvendi he raped at Kiyuth when Cnaiür hits him hard. He disarms a Nansur coming to Conphas aid and starts beating the poor man while Trinemus’s soldiers come to hold the rest off. Cnaiür shouts at the Nansur that they will heed him.

“Do not,” Cnaiür said, raising his great banded arms, “Make me the ledger of your folly.”

They shrink like children from him. He then asks which one is the sorcerer. Sanumnis points him out. Cnaiür pulls out his Chorea. The hidden Imperial Saik tries to flee but he is killed by Cnaiür’s Chorae. Cnaiür strides away, marching past the cringing Conphas, not saying a word because “one did not trade words with whipped dogs.” Cnaiür knows this is all posturing, but he learned how important this is from Kellhus.

Later, he rants in his apartments. It never occurred to him that Conphas could have a secret sorcerer with him until Sanumnis arrived. He grows more paranoid, believing he is surrounded by enemies, including Proyas in that group.

He sent me to murder myself!

Cnaiür gets drunk to blunt “the spears that lay hidden beneath every surface.” He’s confused by his hallucinations of Moënghus and the Synthese’s words. He confides everything in “Serwë” even while knowing she’s false. He knows something is wrong with him because he can see himself “as the Dûnyain saw him.” For thirty years, he’s tried to get back to the “tracks of his People” after Moënghus led him out into the metaphorical plains of endless possibility.

Thirty accursed years! These too he understood. The Scylvendi were a forward people—as were all people save the Dûnyain. They listened to their storytellers. They listened to their hearts. Like dogs, they barked at strangers. They judged honour and shame the way they judged near and far. In their inborn conceit, they made themselves the absolute measure. They could not see that honour, like nearness, simply depended on where one stood.

That it was a lie.

Cnaiür realizes he can never be one of the people because the path back has been “trampled.” His kinsmen could sense this and hated him. He was a fool to try and be one. Once Moënghus asked the questions that exposed Cnaiür’s blissful ignorance, he could never get it back. It was so simple for custom and conviction to be overthrown. “That only outrage and accusation could be the only true foundation.

Why? cried his every step. Why? cried his every word. Why? cried his every breath.

For some reason… There must be some reason.

But why? Why?

Though Cnaiür isn’t Scylvendi, their customs and beliefs remain. He can’t escape his People’s belief that what he did was wrong. Shameful. Though he doesn’t care about their beliefs, he’s chained to them. He doesn’t understand. “How could absent things remain?”

There were two pasts; Cnaiür understood that now. There was the past that men remembered, and there was the past that determined, and rarely if ever were they the same. All men stood in the thrall of the latter.

And knowing this made them insane.

Conphas knows that his success or failure comes down to timing. Jocktha used to be part of the Empire, and they remember the escape tunnels built here. “Walls, after all, could be retaken; corpses could only be burned.” He still finds it a stressful experience, rattled by Cnaiür’s violence earlier. He was knocked down as easily as woman or child. It paralyzed him with fear. Conphas thought the barbarian, somehow still smelling of the Steppes, would kill him. He knows Cnaiür wants this because frightened men “thought with their skins.” Knowing this doesn’t alleviate Conphas’s dread.

Conphas only finds release once they tunnel opens out on the other side of the River Oras and he meets up with some of his Kidruhil. They escort him to a rendezvous point chosen by Conphas. He waits while the wind howls. Conphas finds the storm making him introspective and he decides he would be deep instead of flat.

Sompas’s chestnut snorted, shook its head and mane to shoo a wasp. The General cursed in the petulant way of those who keep score with animals. Suddenly Conphas found himself mourning the loss of Martemus. Sompas was useful—even now, his pickets combed the countryside, searching for the Scylvendi’s spies—but his value lay more in his availability than his quality. He was an able tool, not a foil as Martemus had been. And all great men required foils.

Especially on occasions such as this.

Conphas wishes he could forger Cnaiür. Even now, a small bit of dread lurks in him that he can’t get rid of. He wonders if this is what sin feels like. “The intimation of something greater watching.” He wonders if faith was also a stain. That makes him laugh because he feels like his old self is returning. A confused Sompas asks after the laughter, provoking a derisive thought from Conphas even as he notes those they wait on approach.

Conphas takes delight in the confusion of his retinue who don’t know what he’s up to. Conphas had readied for this day, knowing Kellhus would secure his authority. After defeating the Padirajah, no one else but Conphas could challenge Kellhus. Knowing Kellhus would move against him, Conphas made plans without telling his advisers. “The long view could not be trusted to those without vision.”

Sompas is confused then grows alarmed when he realizes that the riders are Kianene and goes to draw sword. Conphas orders him not to saying the only the wicked “would cast out the righteous.” They are shocked, but Conphas knows he can get them to understand since “their resolve was born of mundane earth, not heaven.” Conphas is convinced he could get his men to kill their own mothers for him if he timed it right. He fakes a shared camaraderie with his men and launches into a speech about all the amazing things he’s done as their leader and then contrasts that with their current straits where a False Prophet leads the Holy War and how they won’t reclaim their forefathers stolen land. This demands war, and that requires their hearts.

It all came to their hearts, in the end. Even though Conphas had no clue what “heart,” used in this sense, actually meant, he did know that it could be trusted, like any other well-trained dog. He smiled inwardly, realizing the issue had been decided long before he had spoken. They were already committed. The genius of most men lay in finding reasons after their actions. The heart was ever self-serving, especially when the beliefs served involved sacrifice. This was why the great general always sought consent in the instant of commission. Momentum did the rest.

Timing.

Sompas calls him the Lion and his men lower weapons, giving him respect. “Even worship.” Conphas is riding high on success as he meets with Fanayal ab Kascamandri, greeting him as Padirajah. Conphas is surprised by how low Fanayal bows in response then Conphas is called Emperor.

Cnaiür wanders from his bed, leaving “Serwë” sleeping. The rain has just finished, and he breaths in the scents from his terrace, staring at Conphas’s compound. The Synthese arrival surprises him. The Synthese is perplexed by Cnaiür.

Demons, Cnaiür now knew, had many guises. They were everywhere, mauling the world with their anarchic appetites, outraging with their impersonations. Birds. Lovers. Slaves…

And most of all, him.

Again, the Synthese asks why Cnaiür hasn’t killed Conphas. Cnaiür reflects on how other cultures “revered and reviled” some birds, but the Scylvendi see them as nothing more than signs of the world and food in a pinch. “So what was this thing?” Cnaiür counters Kellhus should be their concern. But the Synthese argues that Conphas wants to stop the Holy War while the Consult wants to use Kellhus to find Moënghus. “He’s the greater threat.”

“Fool!” Cnaiür exclaimed.

“I eclipse you, mortal!” it replied with bird-vehemency. “I am a son of a more violent race. You cannot conceive the compass of my life!”

Cnaiür turned his profile to it, glancing at it sidelong. “Why? The blood that pulses through my veins is no less ancient. Nor are the movements of my soul. You are not so old as the Truth.”

Cnaiür says that the Synthese still underestimates them, not realizing “Dûnyain are intellect.” The Synthese scoffs that he underestimates Kellhus, but Cnaiür says it’s true. Even the Synthese is but a child to Kellhus. And Moënghus has had thirty years to work on the Kianene. But the Synthese boasts of his own power.

Cnaiür cursed and laughed. “Would you like to know what a Dûnyain would hear in your words?”

“And what might that be?”

“Posturing. Vanity. Weakness that betray your measure and offer innumerable lines of assault. A Dûnyain would grant you your declarations. He would encourage you in your confidence. In all things, he would dispense flattering appearance. He would care nothing whether you thought him your lesser, your slave, so long as you remained ignorant.”

Cnaiür spat. “Your true circumstances.”

The Synthese asks what those are. Cnaiür says he is being played. “Like men, power stands high among your native desires.” The Synthese asks how he can act on his own. Cnaiür tells him that the Consult can’t act like nothing has changed, that Kellhus already has figured out their goals and resources. Cnaiür realizes the Consult will meet the Holy War’s fate. They will “strip them the way the People stripped the carcasses of bison.” The Synthese must change tactics and “strike across trackless grounds.” He says that they wait and watch, surrendering the battlefield where they cannot win. They must “become a student of opportunity.”

“Opportunity… for what?”

Cnaiür held out a scarred fist. “To kill him! To kill Anasûrimbor Kellhus while you still can!”

“He is naught but a trifle,” the bird crowed. “So long as he leads the Holy War to Shimeh, he works our will.”

“Fool!” Cnaiür crackled.

This angers the Synthese and he uses sorcery to conjure images of Sranc, Dragons, and more. Cnaiür is unimpressed, clutching his Chorae, and says that Kellhus is learning sorcery. This shocks the Synthese to learn Drusas is teaching him.

It will take him years, you fool…”

Cnaiür spat, managed to shake his head ruefully despite the mad disproportion between the thing before him and the aura of its might. Pity for the powerful—did that not make one great?

“You forget, Bird. He learned my people’s tongue in four days.”

Conphas kneels naked in his apartment, not moving as footsteps approach. He feels confident because he’s emperor. Sompas reports Cememketri, the Saik Grandmaster, has arrived. Conphas says he’ll be there soon. Despite his desperation for information, he’s riding high on his power and has to satiate himself with a Kianene slave girl. As usual, she holds a mirror for him to look at himself while using her. On a whim, he has her turn it around to stare at herself, promising, “Watch, and the pleasure will come…I swear it.”

For some reason the cold press of silver against his cheek fanned his ardour. They climaxed together, despite her shame. It made her seem more than the animal he knew her to be.

He would make, he decided, a far different Emperor from his uncle.

It’s been seven days since he met with Fanayal, and it grates on him he’s a prisoner of a Scylvendi and had to learn about his ascension to the Mantle of the Nansurium from a Kianene. But he refuses to fret over any ill-omens the way his “fool uncle” would. He thinks this ironic twist of fate is the Gods begrudging him. “The timing was all wrong.”

From Fanayal, Conphas learned Ngrau, the Grand Seneschal, is acting as regent awaiting Conphas’s return to hand over power. Though Fanayal assures Conphas his succession is secure, Conphas knows Fanayal needs him to think that so Conphas will save Kian instead of running home to Momemn. Only the fact that returning home meant crossing the desert and that his grandmother killed his uncle deters him. He thinks she did this to bring him home and install her ‘beloved grandson” on the throne. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s murdered an emperor. He reflects on the fact she always was against the plane to betray the Holy War claiming she wanted to protect her “precious soul.” Conphas sneers at a soul as defiled as hers ever could be.

But in the absence of facts to fix them, these thoughts and worries could do naught but cycle round and round, quickened by the mad stakes and the perverse unreality of it all. I’m Emperor, he would think. Emperor! But as things stood, he was a prisoner of his ignorance—far more so than the Scylvendi. And with his Saik Caller, Darastius, dead, there was nothing to be done about it. Save wait.

Finished wit the slave girl, he meets with Cememketri. Conphas makes the old sorcerer wait in supplication, Cememketri observing the Antique Protocol of not addressing the emperor without “explicit consent,” before Conphas speaks and rescinds it. He’s shocked by how aged Cememketri looks and hopes the man will endure. He asks what the Imperial Saik make of circumstances and Cememketri flatters, saying he believes Conphas will truly wield them. This flatters Conphas’s ego, understanding that “able men chafed under the rule of ingrates.” Cememketri’s rise to Grandmaster is impressive given his low background. But Conphas wonders if he can be trusted.

Conphas, unlike his grandfather, recognizes that the Imperial Saik revere their tradition of serving the Emperor. That they alone “honored the old Compactorium” that once bound all schools to the old Cenei Aspect-Emperors.

All men recited self-aggrandizing stories, words of ascendancy and exception, to balm the inevitable indignities of fact. An emperor need only repeat those stories to command the hearts of men. But this axiom had always escaped Xerius. He was too bent on hearing his own story repeated to learn, let alone speak, the flatteries that moved other men.

Conphas assures Cememketri that he’ll use the Saik with “all the respect and consideration accorded by the Compactorium.” He flatters Cememketri more, making the man brighten. They then talk about what happened to Darastius, and discuss how Cememketri was worried when they lost contact with him. Sorcerers can, through dreams, communicate with a person if they know where they sleep in the physical world. This is partly why Xerius was suspicious of the Saik since so many communications pass through them. Talk turns to the Scarlet Schoolman Cnaiür has with him. Cememketri promises to put him under compulsion if Conphas can lure him into a trap and thus avenge Darastius.

Conphas nodded, realizing for the first time that it was Imperial favour he dispensed now. He hesitated, only for a heartbeat, but it was enough.

“You wish to know what happened,” Cememketri said. “How your uncle fell…” He stooped for a moment, then drew upright in what seemed a breath of resolution. “I know only what my Compass has told me. Even so, there’s so much we must discuss, God-of-Men.”

“I imagine there is,” Conphas said, waving with indulgent impatience. “But the near before the far, Grandmaster, the near before the far. We have a Scylvendi to break…” He stared at the Schoolman with bland humour. “And a Holy War to annihilate.”

My Thoughts

Conphas is feeling pain for the first time. Not physical pain, but emotional kind. He cannot rationalize away Kellhus’s blunt words that he is a defect from birth. He can’t ignore them, either. Not with how piercing Kellhus’s insights are. But all it takes to heal his bruised ego is the loyalty of his soldier. How could that level of adoration and defiance not swell a regular person’s confidence let alone a rampant narcissist like Conphas who is back to his old self now, the master of the universe once more.

That is one of the things that makes Conphas so dangerous. He’s a narcissist with an over-inflated opinion of himself. But it’s not too over-inflated. He is a military genius. He understands tactics and the necessity of having men around, like Martemus, who would challenge him or speak plainly. Conphas is just such a sociopath because he doesn’t understand love, guilt, and duty.

His narcissism is astounding. He can rationalize anything to ensure his belief. Reason is slave to desire, and no intellect is chained more strongly than Conphas’s. He chooses to believe the truth that flatters his lies, bending his reason to it. He sees truth and lies as so interchangeable, that he doesn’t care which is reality. He thinks reality is what he believes. Like his uncle, he has the same deluded belief in his own godhood.

Interesting that Conphas compares Kellhus to Ajolki, thinking him a liar. Ajolki, the four-horned god, is a liar and the god of assassins. He’s also the god Kellhus cuts a deal with and we see the results of that at the end of the Unholy Consult.

Donjon is the word dungeon descends from. A donjon is merely the central keep of a castle, the large tower rising up from it. Because towers became associated with imprisonment (i.e. the Tower of London), the word donjon became synonymous with jail and transformed into our modern definition of below-ground cells. The word is still pronounced the same despite the fact the spelling has changed.

The favor is not only that Kellhus has culled their troops but united them in common hatred against Cnaiür. None of his soldiers, all veterans of fighting Scylvendi and raised in a martial culture bent towards protecting their peoples from the savagery of the barbarians, will begin to chafe at their imprisonment. They won’t bond with their jailers. Not with such a hated figure in charge. Conphas’s already loyal force has one more reason to stay committed to him. One wonders what Kellhus’s end game is here.

An Utemot Chieftain wouldn’t care about something as insignificant as cracks in stone. He’s trying to keep himself separate from the Inrithi, A part of him still wants to be of the People even has he’s mostly rejected that identity at this point. That’s what he’s forgetting. Who he thinks he is as he changes into something else.

Cnaiür’s dream is full of his guilt for abandoning his people, for letting Serwë die and leaving Anissi to the mercy of others. He sees all his chattel slaughtered. He knows that his tribe was vulnerable to their neighbors and the Sranc. But he only cared about Moënghus, who has seduced his wives the way the real Moënghus seduced Cnaiür’s mother. He beats them the same reason he always does: shame. They are proxies for himself to be punished because he allowed himself to be seduced by Moënghus and then Kellhus (though not physically, only in pursuit of his vengeance that has lead Cnaiür to the brink of his madness).

Nepenthe comes out of Homer’s Odyssey. It is a drug that banishes grief from a person’s mind. Exactly the purpose that Cnaiür puts it to here. It’s clearly messing with him, keeping him from acting out Kellhus’s orders. This, I think, is why Kellhus’s plans to dispose of Cnaiür and Conphas backfires. The Consult’s interference. The syntheses pushing Cnaiür to kill Kellhus only makes Cnaiür more certain it’s a trap. The syntheses doesn’t fully understand what they’re dealing with, but Cnaiür does. Kellhus has limitations to his predictions. He can’t compute everything. The more variables he has, the harder it becomes for him.

Despite Cnaiür’s swelling madness, his intelligence remains. He understands that killing Conphas will only turn all those Nansur soldiers against him. They’re not loyal to Kellhus. It only shows the force of personality Conphas has. The only one whose men are still his. It’s what makes Conphas so dangerous. He’s a man whose talents can almost back up his ego. If Kellhus wasn’t a Dûnyain, Conphas could.

So we get our first clue that Kellhus has a new plan. He started out just going to assassinate his father, but he’s learned things in the world. Things his brethren in Ishuäl have no understanding of. Things have changed, and now he is adapting his purpose and breaking away from being Dûnyain. He’s been changed by his visions of the future. By what he saw on the Circumfix.

“Men draped assumptions, endless assumptions, about their acts.” Isn’t that the truth. We all like to see what we’re doing as important. Sometimes we add little fantasies, little imaginative touches to give our actions more weight.

I think Cnaiür’s evaluation of the situation correct. But what goes wrong is Kellhus has misjudged Cnaiür’s madness and the fact the Consult is working through him, manipulating him with the Serwë skin-spy. Bakker likes to stress that Kellhus, for all his intelligence, has limitations and makes mistakes. It’s easy to think of Kellhus as this grand chess player and everything is going according to plan. It isn’t. He’s just very, very good at reacting and adapting to his circumstances.

Cnaiür has really broken. He’s drinking now. He’s never shown the need to get drunk to forget pain. But now he can’t control it. Everything is welling out of him. He’s clinging to Serwë even while he knows she’s not the real one. She’s finally giving him what he always wanted from her, what he used to get from Anissi.

Cnaiür’s self reflection on what happened to him is fascinating. The fact that customs and honor and right and wrong are a matter of perspective, to an extent. That we all have our prejudices and act on them without thought until we’re confronted with them. “Ignorance was ever the iron of certainty, for it was as blind to itself as sleep.” Once that ignorance is gone, once that question has wormed into your mind, it’s hard to ignore. Doubt… Nothing is more pernicious than doubt. It can be hard to recover from it, sometimes impossible. Our illusion in the safety around us is fragile. It doesn’t take much to overturn it. “All of it—everything that was man—perched on swords and screams.”

So it is pretty well established our subconscious minds edit our memories of the past. They alter things subtly to blunt traumatic pain. Cnaiür asserts this makes us insane, but it is really a way to cope with tragedy and keep the conscious part of the brain healthy. Cnaiür, of course, is losing his grip on sanity more and more. Thirty years of forcing himself to act Scylvendi, of trying to swallow shame, has only driven him farther from what he craves. And now the realization it’s gone, that he can’t ever have it back, is driving him further in self-destructive madness. Doubt has destroyed him with its question: “Why?” Maybe insanity is waking up from an ignorance so profound you can never go back to the sleep of ignorance, and sleep is such a necessary thing.

Maybe so is ignorance.

It has a very Cthulhu Mythos/existential overtones to it.

It’s interesting seeing Conphas scared. For the first time, he’s truly felt himself mortal. To truly think with his skin. He’s smart enough to know why he’s afriad, but that doesn’t shake it. I know I’ve had moments like that where I know I shouldn’t be afraid, but unable to shake that primal reaction. I was at the Tokyo Tower in Japan. On the observation deck, they have windows in the floor, letting you stand on them and stare straight down. Now I knew those glass windows were built strong enough to support my weight, but… It still turned my bowels to water to do it. And I wasn’t facing Cnaiür, Breaker-of-Horses-and-Men.

In Conphas musing on the world seeming flat most of time and then he deciding it would be deep today, interesting to him, is much like his uncle’s delusions about how much effect he has on the world.

Martemus was the only person in Conphas’s life who spoke straight. Conphas has enough military training to recognize the value of someone questioning and poking at his plans to strengthen them. It’s an interesting characteristic you don’t see in most depictions of a narcissist. It reminds me a bit of the relationship between Griffith and Guts in the manga Berserk.

“Their resolve was born of mundane earth, not heaven.” Conphas’s officers and men are loyal to him without the need of any faith or religious belief. This means he doesn’t have to worry about any religious ethics or religious personage or institution (such as the Holy Shriah or the Warrior Prophet) giving them a different morality than the one he imposes on them.

Conphas almost has a level of manipulation as Kellhus. If he understood the human heart better, he could be a real threat to a Dûnyain. But he only knows how to manipulate his soldiers. Men he’s trained, guided to be in a position to use their cultural heritage to manipulate them to his will, to use the shared darkness that comes before them all. Unlike Kellhus, his lack of understanding “heart” doesn’t let Conphas spread this control beyond his soldiers or others.

It’s an interesting meeting between Conphas and Fanayal, two young men who both find themselves now ruling their own countries. Both are soldiers. Both lead their men into danger, the opposite of the previous rulers. They are both thorns in Kellhus’s sides. As we see in the next series, neither ever submits to him like the rest. They stay defiant to the end.

It doesn’t end well for any of them.

So, it really shouldn’t have come as a shock what Kellhus found in Golgotterath at the end of The Unholy Consult. We see here that the Synthese, one of the last two Inchoroi, isn’t as smart as he thinks. That just because he’s lived for so long doesn’t mean he’s wise, doesn’t mean he understands things any better. The darkness still comes before him and affects him just like it affect Cnaiür. Only he’s aware of it while the Synthese is still chained to custom and culture. And since we learn the Inchoroi are really no more than genetically engineered soldiers, creatures bred for a purpose then stranded on this world, they still seek to fulfill that purpose.

To close the World against the Outside and stop Damnation.

Cnaiür exposes the one flaw in Kellhus’s tactic. So long as you remain ignorant to his chains, he can control you. But when you know, when you understand how he works, it becomes much, much harder. One person knowing, he can still use those around that person (like Serwë) to manipulate, but if everyone knows. If everyone understood, Kellhus would have no power at all. As Bakker has shown us, power isn’t taken, it’s given. It’s given because of honor. Obligation. Custom. Expectation. Fear. Weakness. Apathy. Hope. Worship. Love. Respect. Bribery. We surrender it in so many ways because, in the end, we’d rather someone else make the big decisions while we focus on our own little sphere. Our own little tribe.

10,000 years of human civilization and most of us still don’t see past the “family,” the clan. Their small community.

The reveal at the end of the Unholy Consult in Golgotterath really, really shouldn’t have been so shocking. Bakker explains, through Cnaiür, why the Consult will lose to the Dûnyain. Clearly, they didn’t heed his lesson. The Dûnyain are something new, a novel evolution of thinking, and it’s adapt or die time.

Notice Conphas smiling when called God-of-Men. He’s got all his dreams now, and he’s young enough to make use of it. And what’s the first thing he does with his power? Make one of his most powerful subordinates waits while he fucks a slave girl. Even though he needs information, he’s so excited from his power he has to indulge his desires. He rationalizes it (the intellect is slave to our desire) by believing he needs to have his lusts satiate to be disciplined in the meeting.

Wow, Conphas is truly a narcissist. Having sex while looking at himself in a mirror. Well, he’s the only thing he loves. But then to turn it on the slave girl, to show her that in or core that selfishness exists in all of us. He finds a certain kinship with the slave girl by doing this, making him see her a more than “the animal he knew her to be.” He thinks, no doubt, that this is a magnanimous gesture on his part making her have an orgasm during her rape. He seems to think he’ll be different from his uncle, more in control, and yet enjoying slave girls is something his uncle did, too. Like his uncle, he can’t resist his urges.

Bakker takes the moment to remind us in Conphas’s chapter that Istiya always was against betrayer the Holy War. It’s a reminder to us that she’s probably been a skin spy this entire time.

I like this line of Conphas reflecting on men watching his residence to monitor his comings and going. “…the Conryians were a civilized people, sharing a civilized appreciation for bribes.” Little touches like that always make me smile.

So true about “able men chafing under rule of ingrates.” Nothing like working for an incompetent.

Conphas understanding of the Saik isn’t surprising. They have that same pride a professional army takes in serving their country. And are motivated by that same sense of honor and tradition, or self-aggrandizing stories. Conphas is like a proto-Dûnyain, one who has utterly mastered the darkness that comes before the Nansur but he can’t change that to act differently for other men. It’s why he never could win over the other great names in all their councils even before Kellhus took such a dominating role in it.

Conphas is ever practical. The “near before the far.” It doesn’t matter if the ship will run aground tomorrow if the holes in the bottom aren’t plugged today. Of course, a Dûnyain would be working to fix both.

More pieces are in place as we delve into Conphas and Cnaiür’s character and their dynamics. It’s two intelligent men with radical outlooks on life. It’s interesting watching them maneuver.

Click here for Chapter Six!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Four

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 4
Enathpaneah

Welcome to Chapter Four of my reread. Click here if you missed the Chapter Three!

Like a stern father, war shames men into hating their childhood games.

—PROTATHIS, ONE HUNDRED HEAVENS

I returned from that campaign a far different man, or so my mother continuously complained. “Now only the dead,” she would tell me, “can hope to match your gaze.”

—TRIAMIS I, JOURNAL AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

Both are pretty straightforward quotes on the psychological effects war has on the human pysche. The first quote, from a commentary on religion I believe based on the title, implies it is shame that does that. Shame at the dreadful acts you commit in war that weighs down on you, that destroys your innocence. To survive, you have to kill that child in you or the guilt of what you’re doing will destroy you. PTSD is usually caused by experiencing true malevolence, often malevolence that you cause. That shock of realization that you could kill people in war. It often affects naïve, or people who have preserved their innocent child-self, the worst.

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

Perhaps, Ikurei Xerius III mused, tonight would be a night of desserts.

Xerius watches the Meneanor from his room in the Andiamine Heights, watching the moonlight play on the waves. His paranoia is gnawing at him, worsened by Skeaös’s betrayal. He keeps looking south towards Shimeh and Conphas. His Exalt-Captain, Skala, enters and says Xerius’s mother wants to see him. He agrees to see her.

He drained his bowl of Anpelian red. Seized by a sudden recklessness, he cast it at the southern horizon, as though daring the distances to be anything other than what they appeared. Why shouldn’t he be suspicious? The philosophers said this world was smoke, after all. He was the fire.

He watches the bowl fall and then orders whatever slave finds it and steals it to be flogged. He then enters his bedchambers and warms his hands at a brazier as his mother climbs the stairs from the lower floor. He prepares himself because “only wit, Xerius had learned long ago, could preserve him from Ikurei Istiya.” Instead of wondering why his mother was here, she had become so predictable lately, he instead wondered if she fucked her eunuch, Pisathulas. Feeling his wine, he is attracted to her and wonders how long it had been.

She greets him with proper jnanic form, which startles him and makes him wary. She asks if the Imperial Saik had seen him. He says yes, realizing she must have passed Thassius on her way up. She asks why it wasn’t Cememketri delivering the briefing, but he dodges that, asking what she wants. She wants to know if Conphas sent a message. He’s dismissive, and that makes her angry because she raised Conphas and deserves to know if he’s safe.

Xerius paused, keeping her figure in his periphery. It was strange, he thought, the way the same words could infuriate him at one moment yet strike a tender chord at another. But that was what it all came down to in the end, wasn’t it. His whims. He looked her full in the face, struck by how luminous, how young her eyes seemed in the lantern light. He liked this whim…

Xerius says that Kellhus has accused Conphas, and himself, of plotting to betray the Holy War. Istiya isn’t surprised. Xerius wonders if she had betrayed his plan. He thinks her more than capable of it. She asks what happened. He explains that Conphas has been turned out and ordered to wait at Jocktha for ships to bring him home. She’s relieved, believing his mad plan is finished.

He laughs, asking her if it’s his madness or Conphas’s. Her response to that makes Xerius realizes she’s growing old, her wits not able to keep up with him any longer even as she still arouses him with her beauty. He tells her that Conphas is still in the field. She finds it madness that they would still try to betray the Holy War if they know. “It would be madness!”

He stared at her, wondering how she managed it after so many years.

Xerius says that everyone will think it’s madness. She understands, who would suspect they’d still keep to the plan now. His attraction for her swells. He grows erect for her and finds himself pushing her down to his bed. She doesn’t submit but she doesn’t resist. He wants her tonight, moaning how it’s been so long and how he’s so lonely. He’s so aroused he thinks he’ll prematurely ejaculate as he undresses her.

“You do love me,” he gasped. “You do love…”

Her painted eyes had become drowsy, delirious. Her flat chest heaved beneath the fabric. Somehow he could see through the skein of wrinkles that made a mask of her face, down to the serpentine truth of her beauty. Somehow he could see the woman who had driven his father mad with jealousy, who had shown her son the ecstasy of secrets bundled between sheets.

My sweet son,” she gasped. “My sweet…”

He slides his hand up her leg and reaches her groin, finds her erect. He screams in realization that she has a penis. He throws himself back as his guards burst in. They die dumbfounded. He watches stunned as his mother kills Pisathulas, her giant eunuch, with ease. She grabs a sword and moves like a spider, “her two limbs becoming four with flashing grace.” She kills his Eothic guards as he runs for the door. He burst out, running in slippers and then soils himself. A mad part of him knows his mother would cackle at “her boy shitting his Imperial Regalia…”

Run! Run!”

Somewhere he could hear Skala bawling commands. He vaulted downstairs only to tumble, thrashing like a dog sewn into a sack. Moaning, blubbering, he found his feet, lurched back into a run. What happened? Where were his Guardsmen? Tapestries and gilded panels swam about him. There was shit on his knuckles! Then something bore him face-first into the marmoreal tiles. A shadow upon his back, a dozen hyenas laughing through its throat.

Iron hands about his face. Nails scoring his cheek. A meaty pop in his neck. An impossible glimpse of her—Mother—blood-spattered and disheveled. There was no—

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

A street urchin named Sol is awaken by another urchin named Hertata talking about how Maithanet is going to the docks. Sol sees the excitement in Hertata’s eyes, but fear of the slavers makes him cautious. Slavers always prowl for orphans like them. Hertata is convinced they wouldn’t because of Maithanet. Hertata says Maithanet is sailing.

Why should he [Sol] care for Maithanet? Men with gold rings gave no copper, unless they wanted to stick them. Why should he care for Maithanet, who would just try to stick him if he could? Fucking priests, anyway.

But the tears in Hertata’s eyes… Sol could see he was afraid to go alone.

Despite Sol wanting to sneer at Hertata, and disdainful of other weak orphans who cry at night (like his own younger brother), he agrees. They past beggars lamed by fullers rot, ignoring their jeers. Sol asks if there’ll be food, but there’ll only be petals. Hertata just wants to see Maithanet.

Sol shook his head in disgust. Fucking Hertata-tata. Fucking Echo.

The glimpses Sol catches of the Junriüma’s turrets inspires him. “Even orphans could hope.” Avoiding the Shrial Knights, they circle the Hagerna to reach the streets surrounding the harbor. As they get closer, it starts to feel like a carnival, making Sol scowl less. Loathe to admit it, Sol’s glad they came, surrounded by people having a good time. It makes him wander how long since his father’s murder.

Musicians start playing in the crowd, putting a dance to the orphan’s steps. Sol even starts telling jokes. As the crowds thicken, they run to get ahead and find a great vantage point, weaving through families. As they get closer, after some impromptu wrestling, they find some discarded orange rinds, eating them, which makes both boys even happier. The Summoning Horns blow and Hertata beckons Sol onward. Sol is shocked by Hertata’s courage, the orphan usually scared and cringing. “Why would he risk such a thing?”

And yet there was something in the air, something that made Sol feel uncertain in away he had never felt uncertain before. Something that made him feel small, not in the way of orphans or beggars or children, but in a good way. In the way of souls.

He could remember his mother praying the night his father had died. Crying and praying. Was that what drove Hertata? Could he remember his mother praying?

They find themselves in the crowd pushed towards Shrial Knights. Sol is afraid of the knights, and in awe of them, but Hertata just pokes past them to see the hundreds of knights leading a procession down the street. The knight, gently, pushes them back. As they wait, Hertata repeats all the things his mother had said about Maithanet, how he restored the church, and how he was blessed. Hertata is convinced something great will happen if Maithanet sees him, but when Sol asks what that is, Hertata doesn’t answer. Just as Sol is getting bored and frustrated, the Shrial Procession appears.

He has trouble breathing as he sees Maithanet, a younger man than he expected, wearing simple clothing. Hertata is shouting for the Shriah’s attention as thousands reached “pleading hands” towards Maithanet. So finds himself pointing at Hertata, trying to get Maithanet’s attention on the other boy.

Perhaps it was that Sol alone, of all those lining the avenue, gestured to another. Perhaps it was that Maithanet somehow knew. Whatever the reason, the bright eyes flickered towards him. Saw.

It was the first total moment in his entire life. Perhaps the only.

As Sol watched, Maithanet’s eyes were drawn by his pointing fingers to Hertata, wailing and jumping beside him. The Shriah of the Thousand Temples smiled.

For a breathless moment he held the boy’s gaze, then the Knight’s form swallowed his hallowed image.

“Yessss!” Hertata howled, fairly weeping with disbelief. “Yes-yes!”

Then a slaver appears behind them, grabbing Hertata’s tunic. Hold an orange in one hand, he asks where their parents are in a “predatory good nature.” It’s a new rule that slavers have to ask since they can be hung for stealing “real children.” Hertata lies but Sol can smell his friend’s piss. Sol is already running, abandoning his friend to the fate, saving himself.

Afterward, huddling between stacked amphorae, he [Sol] wept, always throwing a cautious eye to be sure no one could see. He spat and spat, but the taste of range peel would not go away. Finally he prayed. In his soul’s eye he glimpsed the flash of sunlight across jeweled rings.

Yes. Hertata had spoken true.

Maithanet was sailing across the sea.

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

Only forty thousand men of the Holy War remain, but they are undaunted as they march from Caraskand beneath the “slapping banners of Household, Tusk, and Circumfix.” Saubon chose to remain behind, not allowing his subordinates to march. Despite the petitions, Kellhus allows it. Many still march, including Athjeäri. Two thousand Galeoths remain. “They said that Saubon wept as the Warrior-Prophet rode form the Gate of Horns.”

They are greeted by reinforcements who wear the traditional clothing of their lands. They have come after hearing about the siege of Caraskand. All their boasting about coming to save the Holy War die when they witness the survivors. “The ancient customs were observed—hands were shaken, countrymen embraced—but it was all a pretense.”

The original Men of the Tusk—the survivors—were now sons of a different nation. They had spilled whatever blood they once shared with these men. The old loyalties and traditions had become tales of a faraway country, like Zeüm, a place too distant to be confirmed. The hooks of the old ways, the old concerns, had been set in the fat that no longer existed. Everything they had known had been tested and found wanting. Their vanity, their envy, their hubris, all the careless bigotries of their prior lives, had been murdered with their fellows. Their hopes had burned to ashes. Their scruples had been boiled to bone and tendon—or so it seemed.

Out of calamity they had salvaged only the barest necessities; all else had been jettisoned. Their spare manner, their guarded speech, their disinterested contempt for excess, all spoke to a dangerous thrift. And nowhere was this more evident than in their eyes: they stared with the blank wariness of men who never slept—not peering, not watching, but observing, and with a directness that transcended “bold” or “rude.”

They stared as though nothing stared back, as though all were objects.

Not even the highest rank noble could meet this gaze. The newcomers feel less than the survivors, measured by “the length and breadth of what they had suffered.” Tragedy and transformed the survivors into judgment. Because of this, few newcomers dared question the Warrior-Prophet. Those of power, like Dogora Teör, were inducted into the Zaudunyani by Kellhus while Judges befriended those from their own nations and brought them into the faith. Dissidents were separated from each other and the worst, according to rumor, were brought before Esmenet and “never to be seen again.”

The Holy War finds Enathpaneah abandoned by the Kian as they march south. Only the locals remain, none of their overlords to be found. Not even Athjeäri while on his long-ranging scouts could find the enemy, only forts burned in their retreat. Nothing stands between the Holy War and Shimeh. They reach Xerash, a land that figures heavily their religion. “It seemed a thing of awe to at last stand so close to those places named.” Pilgrims go out to visit ruined sites, to witness places the Latter Prophet walked.

At Ebaliol, the Warrior-Prophet climbed the broken foundations and addressed thousands. “I stand,” he cried, “where my brother stood!”

Twenty-two men died in the delicious crush. It would prove an omen for what was to follow.

The people of Xerash have long been seen as evil men, “an obscene race.” A land of brothels and homosexuality. The word “xeratic” had come to mean “sodomite.” The Holy War soon began punishing these people for the “trespasses of others long dead.” Massacres abounded. Kellhus condemns it and censures those responsible, ordering one lord flogged who had his archers slaughter a leper colony. But it was too late and Gerotha, the capital city of Xerash, had burned its fields. “Xerash was closed against them.”

Achamian feels like traveling in Kellhus company through Xerash the same as when he was Proyas’s tutor, noting how when Esmenet’s horse is lamed descending a switchback a dozen knights offered up their warhorses which was “tantamount to giving her their honour, since their mounts were their means of waging war.” Achamian had witnessed a similar thing with Proyas mother. Beyond that similarity, there something that remind him of those younger days despite “the daily battery of riding near Esmenet.” It’s the respect and deference he receives now. He was the Holy Tutor. He no loner walked, but rode. Owning a horse, more than a slave, marked one a noble. He names his horse Noon in memory of his mule Daybreak. He’s given other riches besides, including jewelry that he gives away to of embarrassment at owning. He even has a bed!

Achamian had disdained such comforts during his tenure at the Conriyan court. After all, he was a Gnostic Schoolman, not some “angogic whore.” But now, after the innumerable deprivations he’d endured… The life of a spy was hard. To finally have things, even things he couldn’t bring himself to enjoy, eased his heart for some reason, as though they were balm for unseen wounds. Sometimes, when he ran his hands over soft fabric or yet gain searched through the rings for one he might wear, a clutching sadness would come upon him, and he would remember how his father had cursed those who carved toys for their sons.

Achamian is thrust back into politics. They was the normal “jnanic posturing of the caste-nobles” except when Kellhus is around and then everyone becomes servile to him. But the moment Kellhus’s leaves, they start it back up again. At times, sensing problems, Kellhus would call someone to account and explain their motivations “as though the writ of their hearts had been inked across their faces.” The inner core of Kellhus’s Sacred Retinue lack this sort of politicking. Achamian believes Kellhus has laid bared their hearts to each other. In every other court, politics ruled, which wasn’t surprising, since politics was merely “the pursuit of advantage within communities of men.” The stronger that community, the more vicious the politicking. But “all knives were sheathed” around Kellhus.

Among the Nascenti, Achamian found camaraderie and candour unlike anything he’d known before. Despite the inevitable lapses, they largely approached one another as men should: with humour, openness, understanding. For Achamian, the fact that they were as much warriors as apostles or apparati made it all the more remarkable… and troubling.

Their companionship lulls Achamian into forgetting he’s marching with the Holy War to conquer Shimeh. Only glimpses of Esmenet or a corpse “mute in the surrounding grasses” reminds him of this purpose. During these moments, the familiarity of his time as Proyas’s tutor vanishes into dread.

After a few days, a group of tribesmen known as the Surdu approach the Holy War claiming to be Inrithi and offering to lead the Holy War through secret ways. But Kellhus orders them seized. Under torture, it’s revealed that Fanayal, the new Padirajah, took the tribesmen’s families hostage and ordered them to lead the Holy War into a trap. Kellhus has the men flayed alive. This event reminds Achamian of something from the past, but he can’t place it.

Achamian then realizes it’s not Proyas’s court he’s remembering, but ancient Kûniüri. He’s remembering Seswatha traveling with High King Anasûrimbor Celmomas. Achamian realizes he’s becoming Seswatha and that scares him.

For so long the sheer scale of the Dreams had offered him an immunity of sorts. The things he dreamed simply happen—at least not to the likes of him. With the Holy War, his life had taken a turn to the legendary, and the distance between his world and Seswatha’s closed, at least in terms of what he witnessed. But even that, what he lived remained banal and impoverished. “Seswatha never shat,” the old Mandate joke went. The dimensions of what Achamian lived could always fall into the dimensions of what he dreamed like a stone into a potter’s urn.

But now riding as the Holy Tutor at the Warrior-Prophet’s left hand?

In a way, he was as much as Seswatha, if not more. In a way, he no longer shat either. And knowing this was enough to make him shit.

Achamian is surprised to find the dreams more bearable, with Tywanrae and Dagliash dominating, though he couldn’t find any pattern to them. They still make him wake up crying out, but it’s not as powerful. He wonders if it’s the pain of losing Esmenet and he’s just at his limit of suffering he can endure, but then decides it’s Kellhus because the Warrior-Prophet represents hope that the Second Apocalypse can be stopped.

Hope… Such a strange word.

Did the Consult know what they had created? How far could Golgotterath see?

Predicting the future, according to Memgowa, is more about revealing what men are afraid of then predicting what will happen. Despite knowing this, Achamian can’t resist daydreaming about Kellhus defeating the Consult. “Victory would not come at the cost of all that mattered.” He pictures Min-Uroikas destroyed and all the old names dead without the No-God ever being resurrected. Despite the “opiate glamour” of these thoughts, Achamian is aware that the Gods were perverse and might let the world be destroyed just to punish Achamian’s hubris. Kellhus’s cryptic responses only make things worse. Achamian doesn’t understand why he marches on Shimeh, which Achamian sees as a distraction. “If I’m to succeed my brother, I must reclaim his house,” is his answer. This frustrates Achamian since he sees the Consult as the enemy, that the war isn’t here. Kellhus responds with a smile, treating this like a game, and answers that it is because the war is everywhere.

Never had mystery seemed so taxing.

After a lesson on Gnostic sorcery, Kellhus asks Achamian why he always asks about the future, not what Kellhus has already done. Achamian says because he dreams the future every night and because he’s with a living prophet. Kellhus says that Achamian is unique because he doesn’t ask after his soul like other men. Achamian is speechless.

“With me,” Kellhus continued, “the Tusk is rewritten, Akka.” A long, ransacking look. “Do you understand? Or do you simply prefer to think yourself damned?”

Though he could muster no retort, Achamian knew.

He preferred

Though Achamian is communicating with Nautzera, he’s having trouble making contact, the man’s sleep restless. The power in their relationship has shifted. Though Nautzera, a member of the Quorum, had “absolute authority” Achamian is their only conduit the Anasûrimbor and the mission of their entire order. For the moment, Achamian was the de facto Grandmaster. “Another unsettling parallel.” As expected, the Mandate is in chaos and the Quorum is preparing an expedition to join the Holy War. “Two thousand years of preparation, it seemed, had left them utterly unprepared.” Nautzera has a host of questions about Anasûrimbor from how he can see skin-spies to where he’s from. Lastly, Nautzera questions Achamian’s loyalty.

To this last he answered, “Seswatha.”

Achamian understands Nautzera’s concern, realizing they must question his sanity after being captured and tortured by the Scarlet Spire. “Even now they concocted rationales to relieve him of the burden they coveted.” Despite this, Nautzera does assure Achamian he has the backing of the school and to take pride. Despite this, they second-guess all his actions and think he’s teaching Kellhus too much of the Gnosis.

Tonight, Achamian has contacted Nautzera to relay a message from Kellhus. Nautzera is silent for a bit then finally agrees to hear it. Kellhus message is to remind the Mandate that they are players in the war, not the controls. To “not act out of conceit or ignorance.” Nautzera isn’t happy about this.

What? Does he imply that he possess this war? Who is he compared with what we know, what we dream?

All men were misers, Achamian reflected. They differed only in the objects of their obsession.

He, Nautzera, is the Warrior-Prophet.

My Thoughts

Xerius doesn’t know who to trust any longer, fearing that anyone could be a skin-spy like Skeaös. This is a healthy paranoia. Before, Xerius jumped at shadows, but when his enemies can look like anyone? That is enough to drive anyone mad with suspicions, to question everything. It has to make the world feel unreal.

We see Xerius’s paranoia, his ego, and his cruelly all in the example of him throwing the bowl. He’s paranoid someone will steal it, he has an ego that sees himself as making the world, and then orders whoever does pick it up to be flogged.

“Philosophers said this world was smoke…” The world is ephemeral. It’s hazy. We can’t see it clearly, the distances obscured by the limits of our knowledge. Of course, Xerius has misinterpret it to believe the world is burning and he is what’s causing the fire. That he’s the cause of the smoke instead of someone wrapped up in it, only seeing a tiny bit of it.

So only wit can keep Xerius from being manipulated by his mother. No wonder she has a habit of bringing virgin slave girls as gift to distract him.

Bakker does something sly here by having Istiya ask about Cememketri and then just having Xerius ignore her question and ask her bluntly out of irritation what she wants. It lets us, subtly, now that Cememketri isn’t here doing his duty. So where is he?

Bakker’s dropping more subtle clues that this isn’t the real Istiya, from the way she’s more fixated on the same topic, to how she’s not quite as witty as she used to be and unable to keep up with Xerius.

We’ve had hints of their incestuous relationship, but it overwhelms him, and the skin-spy, being controlled by sex, gets turned on allows itself to be unmasked. It’s one thing for a skin-spy pretending to be a guy to have sex, but when masquerading as a woman, a penis gives away the ruse. What does it say about the consult that they never made female skin-spies. That they only made males, creatures consumed with the need to rut without all that pesky birth and life. The Inchoroi appear to be an entire race of males, using cloning to create new members.

Xerius appears to greatly crave her affection. She controls him by denying it, but showering it on Conphas. She used that love to get him to kill his father, then she uses it to manipulate him in so many different ways. But he’s also grown adept at avoiding it, at recognizing it. But tonight, he’s in a mood to be loved by his mother, and he grows so excited when she appears to reciprocate. My molesting him as a young boy, she has locked him in his development, arresting it into a man who can be quite childish at times. She had a different effect on Conphas.

Such a great scene how it goes from the disturbingly erotic to terrifying deadly in a heartbeat. Xerius is beyond fear, reduced to an animalistic flight as he has to flee his mother transformed into a murderous monster.

I am pretty sure that Istiya was a skin-spy since the story spotted. She is noted as having odd behavior in book one, for instance not supporting Xerius on his plan to betray the Holy War. When the Consult realized their spy, Skeaös, didn’t have the influence to change his opinion, they switched over to his mother. They never just replaced Xerius since he’s never alone. It would be too risky. Then in book two, she presses Xerius for information about what happened in the dungeon with Skeaös, wanting to know what happened, how he was unveiled.

We see in Sol’s a child who is shamed out of childhood by the necessity of survival. He tries to sneer at Hertata, to shame him out of being a child, too. Because those who are weak don’t survive, like Sol’s little brother. But Sol does. As we see at the end of this section. Despite his callousness, he does go with Hertata.

Fuller’s rot… what a said fate to end up just to do people’s laundry. And what does it say about humans that “even cripples despised those poorer than themselves.”

So I was listening to a talk about childhood development and the positive effects that roughhousing has on children’s development. Baby rats have been shown to need this, too. Bigger rats have to let the younger ones win every so often or they smaller ones stop playing. Made me think of Sol letting Hertata tackle him. Losing all the time sucks, so if you win all the time, people might not want to play with you. One of the many social lessons children learn by such play.

We can see the effect faith and hope has on people. Hertata, normally the most timid of children, is taking such a risk going to watch the procession. Beatings or getting caught by slavers could happen to them. He’s not even afraid of Shrial Knights. He’s so desperate to escape his circumstances, he has constructed a fiction that promises him relief, that gives him something to look forward to. Today, it’s come. How will he handle it when it’s all snatched from him?

We never do learn.

The orphans are not “real children.” They’re not protected by laws against slavers and rapist. Like the homeless often are, they pass unseen, ignored by society who’d rather not see them than to feel the guilt of having comfort when someone else is wanting.

Bakker wants to set up a mystery of where is Maithanet going. Is he sailing to confront Kellhus? Is he going someplace else? He doesn’t ask these questions in the section, but they have to be in your mind as a reader. And while doing it, Bakker takes the time to do a little world building and to expand his philosophy about how terrible human beings can be and how we cope with such horrible circumstances. By shaming the child inside of us and killing it.

Going through suffering changes a person. It’s a demarcation between people, separating as great as a mountain. Only months ago, the newcomers to the Holy War would have been no different from the kin they come to join. But events have forged the survivors into something alien.

The survivors have utterly shamed their inner children. They had to. Survival dictated it. Those that didn’t, or couldn’t, perished.

I like the rumor that those brought before Esmenet were “never to be seen again.” I doubt that happens. It’s clear from Esmenet’s previous scene dispensing judgment that she doesn’t condemn people for having doubts. But it’s exactly the sort of rumor that would pop up n an army. A nice touch to Bakker’s world building.

The section about the Holy War march through Xerash is nicely written, conveying the religious awe people experience on pilgrimage combined with that Bakker twist of “twenty two men died in the delicious crush.” And then the religious fervor gets out of hand.

It’s interest how we make the new familiar, relating events in the present to comforting memories in the past. Achamian is doing it here with his realization that traveling as the Holy Tutor is much the same as journey with Proyas’s royal court. He’s even growing used to Esmenet’s presence, even if she’s a daily assault against him, she isn’t wholly defining his universe any longer.

Daybreak, you will not be forgotten.

In the list of treasures, Achamian is given Ambergris. If you’ve never heard of Ambergris, it’s a fascinating thing. It’s a waxy substance that’s found floating on the sea and washes up on the shores. It’s been used in perfumes for thousands of years. And… it’s basically whale vomit. Valuable whale vomit.

The line of Achamian remembering “how his father had cursed those how carved toys for their sons” made me think for a few moments. Achamian grew up so poor, his father never even made toys for his children. Either because the man didn’t have the resources, or just didn’t care. But it made his children want for things they couldn’t have. Which must have made them whine and complain. We know he was an abusive man from other flashbacks. This goes to show why he finds having stuff now so appearing, more even than his life as a spy.

Achamian notes about Kellhus’s inner court what we’ve seen from Esmenet’s POV about how the inner core has had all their petty motivations opened up and this makes them all appear to work in concert. But as we’ve seen, one member of the Nascenti, Werjau, is plotting against Esmenet. So there’s still politicking. But it has to be a lot more subtler because of Kellhus. In a way, Kellhus is making a smarter class of politician by forcing the ambitious in his court to work around him and be suspect, to be subtle and intelligent. To adapt to the changes he brought about. I’m sure Kellhus likes this because he can later use suck cunning.

Seeing Esmenet shocks Achamian the way a corpse does. It also reminds him they’re marching to Shimeh. Seeing her as shocking makes sense, but it reminds him of the purpose because it reminds him who took his wife: the Warrior-Prophet.

Achamian is becoming Seswatha. He’s walked with one Anasûrimbor king and survives that man’s attempt to defeat the Consult and stop the No-God. Somehow, Achamian’s going to have to find the way to defeat the No-God in the sequel series. We’ll see how that unfolds. Looking forward to it. Another parallel is Seswatha had an affair with Celmomas’s wife, and so does Achamian, though Achamian had a relationship with her first and we do not know the circumstances that led to Seswatha cuckolding his friend.

There is the question of why Achamian’s dreams changed. I think it has to do with the fact that Kellhus hypnotizes him and speaks with the Seswatha inside of him. We never do learn what transpired in that section. I always hoped we would… But maybe it’s the face Achamian is living events that were similar to Seswatha that awakened the soul inside of him, opening up more of his memories.

Hope is such a powerful delusion. It’s a survival mechanism that keeps us going and living when things get bad. And things can get bad fast even in modern times. It’s an important thing not to lose.

I wonder if the Consult is kicking themselves since the Circumfix plan has backfired rather spectacularly on them.

Nice bit of foreshadowing about the second series when the Gods, particularly Yatwer, conspire against Kellhus, wanting to punish Kellhus’s hubris because they can’t see the No-God. Though they stand outside of time and can see all events, they can’t see the No-God. All except one.

Kellhus is right. The war is here. The Consult want something in Shimeh and Kellhus has figured it out. But it’s also a threat to him (his father). He also needs to unite mankind, and he can’t have a competing religion on his doorstep. He needs the Fanim as much as the Inrithi to succeed in his new goal: defeating the Consult.

If I was hanging out with a prophet, I’d probably have a lot of questions for the future, too.

Achamian thinking he’s damned lets him focus on the important stuff: saving the world. He sees himself as a martyr, like all the Mandate. “Though you lose your soul, you shall win the world,” is the Mandate catechism. It undermines his identity to see himself as saved. That he’s not sacrificing anything grand. He’s not a martyr any longer if he gets to go to heaven.

Can you ever truly prepare for the cataclysmic? All the preparation are fine, but when faced with world-changing events, you truly don’t know how it’ll effect you, of if your preparations are actually going to do anything useful.

Achamian never loses that loyalty to Seswatha. It’s what drives him through the second series, struggling to understand what Seswatha is telling him through his dreams as he seeks to uncover whether Kellhus is mankind’s salvation or damnation. (Turned out neither, he’s the great man problem taken to its extreme and why you should be leery for following ‘great mean’).

Bakker dives into one of his themes that the rational brain is slave to desires, forever coming up with justifications so we can pursue our desires. Other members of the Mandate want Achamian’s position, so they come up with reasons why he’s insane. Inference to the Purse is a great way to describe it.

Micro managers exist in all times and places. Poor Achamian.

And what a powerful way to end the chapter. The Mandate, thinking this is their war, will want to control everything. Politics infect everything humans do. We cannot escape it. It’s how we deal with the inherent hierarchical structure that exists in the very depths of our brains. All we can do is understand how biology has shaped our minds and then use our ability to think and rationalize to find better solutions for dealing with hierarchical problems than using force or deceit or dirty tricks. By talking. Debates. Using our words openly and honestly.

A transition chapter, ending the Emperor’s story line and seeding Conphas’s plot while doing the same with Maithanet’s. Then with a little Achamian to round it out.

Click here for the next part!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Three

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 3
Caraskand

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

If soot stains your tunic, dye it black. This is vengeance.

—EKYANNUS I, 44 EPISTLES

Here we find further argument for Gotagga’s supposition that the world is round. How else could all men stand higher than their brothers?

—AJENCIS, DISCOURSE ON WAR

My Thoughts

These two quotes are on the arrogance and delusions of men. The Epistle, which I believe is written by Sejenus, refers to the ridiculous idea that the best way to deal with dirty clothing is to dye it the same color as the stain. Vengeance is an equally poor decision that doesn’t get you clean, but only further soils you. If you think it will accomplish anything, you’re mistaken. Then this is backed up by Ajencis quote that all men think they are better than their fellows. “I’m smarter than him, stronger than him, quicker, faster, sexier,” etc. All those little lies we tell ourselves, all those little recriminations that whisper in our soul to boost our ego. These delusions then lead to greater problems.

At the grand scale: war.

Late Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Enathpaneah

Cnaiür is realizing he is a fool, comparing his situation to a greedy Scylvendi who didn’t cull his herd so that his cattle could survive when the dry season comes to the Steppe. Cnaiür’s greed delivered the Holy War to Kellhus. He ponders this sitting in a council chamber watching Kellhus speaking with the other great names. Cnaiür is now constantly accosted by congratulations.

Cnaiür curses himself for looking away every time Kellhus looks at him. He studies Achamian instead, noting the man isn’t “festooned like a slaver’s concubine” like the others. He does notice the look in Achamian’s eye, one Cnaiür recognizes. Like Cnaiür, Achamian can’t quite believe the course of his life. The rest of the great names had been “stripped of the hauteur belonging to their station.” They sit now in silence, no longer bickering.

In the course of a single day, the world these men had known had been struck to its foundation, utterly overturned. There was wonder in that—Cnaiür knew this only too well—but there was an absurd uncertainty also. For the first time in their lives they stood upon trackless ground, and with few exceptions, they looked to the Dûnyain to show them the way. Much as Cnaiür had once looked to Moënghus.

As the last of the Lesser Names hunted seats across the tiers, the rumble of hushed voices trailed into expectant silence. The air beneath the corbelled dome seemed to whine with a collective discomfort. For these men, Cnaiür realized, the Warrior-Prophet’s presence collapsed too many intangible things. How could they speak without praying? Disagree without blaspheming? Even the presumption to advise would seem an act of outrageous conceit.

In the safety of unanswered prayers, they had thought themselves pious. Now they were like boasting gossips, astounded to find their story’s principal in their midst. And he might say anything, throw their most cherished conceits upon the pyre of his condemnation. What would they do, the devout and self-righteous alike? What would they do now that their hallowed scripture could talk back?

Cnaiür almost laughs, but instead spits. He didn’t care what they thought. “There was no honour here, only advantage—absolute and irremediable.” While it lacked honor, it held truth. Cnaiür suffers through the Inrithi’s rituals. As he does, he’s surprised the nobles aren’t jeering like usual, but are weeping. Then he feels the “dread purpose that moved these men.” He remembers their suicidal attack on the Fanim. Starving and dying, facing a large force, they fought with “lunatic determination, enough to shame his Utemot.” He’d witnessed them smiling as they died. He thought these people were the true People of War. Only know does he understand.

Cnaiür had seen it, but he had not understood—not fully. What the Dûnyain had wrought here would never be undone. Even if the Holy War should perish, the word of these events would survive. Ink would make this madness immortal. Kellhus had given these men more than gestures or promises, more even then insight or direction. He had given them dominion. Over their doubts. Over their most hated foes. He had made them strong.

But how could lies do such a thing?

The world these men dwelt within was a fever-dream, a delusion. And yet it seemed as real to the, Cnaiür knew, as his world seemed to him. The only difference—and Cnaiür was curiously troubled by the thought—was that he could, in meticulous detail, track the origin of their world within his, and only then because he knew the Dûnyain. Of all those congregated in this room, he alone knew the ground, the treacherous footing, beneath their feet.

As the Whelming beings, Cnaiür suddenly feels like he is seeing the world from two different perspectives, as if each of his eyes sees something different. He sees the Inrithi perspective of men who just crossed into something profound, cleansed of all their sins, unable, unwilling, to question anything. In the other, he sees it from his own perspective, recognizing how stupid this all was because he “did not stand within the circle of Dûnyain’s deceit.” They weren’t performing a sacred rite but operated a machine like a mill. This was a “way for the Dûnyain to grind these men into something he could digest.” He sees the men the way Kellhus does, as tools.

The Inrithi, Proyas had told him once, believed it was the lot of men to live within the designs, inscrutable or otherwise, of those greater than themselves. And in this sense, Cnaiür realized, Kellhus truly was their prophet. They were, as the memorialist claimed, willing slaves, always striving to bead down the furies that drove them to sovereign ends. That the designs—the tracks—they claimed to follow were authored in the Outside simply served their vanity, allowed them to abase themselves in a manner that fanned their overweening pride. There was no greater tyranny, the memorialists said, than that exercised by slaves over slaves.

But now the slaver stood among them. What did it matter, Kellhus had asked as they crossed the Steppe, that he mastered those already enslaved There was no honour, only advantage. To believe in honour was to stand inside things, to keep company with slaves and fools.

The Whelming ends and Saubon, titular King of Caraskand, is called to account. He refuses to march. He will not relinquish his kingdom even if it damns him. Gotian cries out that Kellhus ordered Saubon to march. Cnaiür hates how unmanly Gotian now sounds. He went from Kellhus’s most vocal opponent to fervent follower. “Such fickleness of spirit only deepened Cnaiür’s contempt for these people.” Saubon refuses to march, claiming he seized this city. Gothyelk points out he had helped. But Saubon does not budge. Chinjosa and Gothyelk mock him while Saubon turns to Proyas for support to his claim. Proyas glances at Kellhus and while he says he won’t break his word to support Saubon’s claim, things have changed.

Cnaiür knows the debate is a sham. Only Kellhus now makes decisions. Everyone turns to Kellhus for his input. Kellhus says that people have to freely chose to make holy war. Saubon realizes that the Dûnyain is forcing Saubon to “choose his own damnation.” Kellhus adds nothing else can be done.

“Strip him of his throne,” Ikurei Conphas said abruptly. “Have him dragged into the streets.” He shrugged in the manner of long-suffering men. “Have his teeth beaten from his head.”

Everyone is stunned into silence by Conphas’s words. He had been silent much of the time, an outcast for being one of the primary conspirator with Sarcellus. “It seemed that his patience had at last been exhausted.” He then remarks that Kellhus should have the power to punish Saubon. Gothyelk calls that insolence and says Conphas doesn’t know what he’s saying. Conphas insists he always does. Then he calls Kellhus a fraud. This promotes outrage while Kellhus only smiles. Kellhus then says, “But this is not what you say.”

It seemed that Conphas sensed, for perhaps the first time, the impossible dimensions of the Dûnyain’s authority over the men surrounding him. The Warrior-Prophet was more than their centre, as a general might be; he was their centre and their ground. These men had to trim not only their words and actions to conform to his authority, but their passions and hopes as well—the very movement of their souls now answered to the Warrior-Prophet.

“But,” Conphas said blankly, “how could another—”

“Another?” the Warrior-Prophet asked. “Don’t confuse me with any ‘other,’ Ikurei Conphas. I am here, with you.” He leaned forward in a way that made Cnaiür catch his breath. “I am here, in you.”

Conphas stammers, “In me,” trying to sneer but it sounds frightened. Kellhus then talks about Conphas’s indecision, how the man doesn’t know how to act now. Kellhus threatens Conphas’s and his uncle’s plans for the Holy War and the Exalt-General is unsure if he should play the sycophant or not. This has led him to try and prove that he is better than Kellhus. “An “obscene arrogance” dwells in Conphas. He believes all men are measured against him. “It is this lie that you seek [Conphas] to preserve at all costs.”

Conphas protests he doesn’t think that. Kellhus asks him how often he thinks of himself as a god. “Never,” he says, nervous. Kellhus then calls out Conphas, saying the man has to lie about who he believes himself to be, a god, “in order to prove” who he is. He has to degrade himself “to remain proud.” Even now, Conphas clings to his self-deception. Outrage explodes from Conphas for being talk to in this way.

“Shame is a stranger to you, Ikurei Conphas. An unbearable stranger.”

Wild-eyed, Conphas stared at the congregated faces. The sound of weeping filled the room, the weeping of other men who’d recognized themselves in the Warrior-Prophet’s words. Cnaiür watched and listened, his skin awash with dread, his heart pounding in his throat. Ordinarily, he would have taken deep satisfaction in the Exalt-General’s humiliation—but this was a different order. Shame itself now reared above them, a beast that devoured all certainties, that wrapped cold coils about the fiercest souls.

Cnaiür wonders how Kellhus can do this even as Kellhus promises Conphas release. For a moment, Conphas appears on the verge of kneeling. And then a mad laugh burst from his lips. Gotian pleads with Conphas to listen to the Prophet. Conphas expression grows blank as Proyas calls Conphas a brother among equals. Their words snap Conphas out of his madness.

Conphas snarls that he’s no “brother to slaves!” He calls them fools for thinking Kellhus speaks the truth about their hearts. Instead, Kellhus uses truth to yoke you into being his slaves. He repudiates them and goes to leave.

Halt!” the Dûnyain thundered.

Everyone, including Cnaiür, flinched. Conphas stumbled as though struck. Arms and hands clasped him, turned him, thrust him into the center of the Warrior-Prophet’s attention.

Kellhus shouts, “Halt!” and everyone flinches, including Conphas. Then he is dragged back before Kellhus. The nobles cry out for his death. For Conphas to be punished. Conphas appears stunned as he faces Kellhus.

Pride,” the Warrior-Prophet said, silencing the chamber like a carpenter sweeping sawdust from his workbench. “Pride is a sickness… For most it’s a fever, a contagion goaded by the glories of others. But or some, like you, Ikurei Conphas, it is a defect carried from the womb. For your whole life you’ve wondered what it was that moved the men about you. Why would a father sell himself into slavery, when he need only strangle his children? Why would a young man take the Orders of the Tusk, exchange the luxuries of his station for a cubicle, authority for servitude to the Holy Shriah? Why do so many give, when it is so easy to take?

“But you ask these questions because you know nothing of strength. For what is strength but the resolve to deny base inclinations—the determination to sacrifice in the name of one’s brothers? You, Ikurei Conphas, know only weakness, and because it takes strength to acknowledge weakness, you call your weakness strength. You betray your brother. You fresco your heart with flatters. You, who are less than any man, say to yourself, ‘I am a god.’”

Conphas whispers denial, shame fills the room. A shame greater than Cnaiür’s hatred for the Dûnyain. In this one moment, Cnaiür witnesses the Warrior-Prophet and not a Dûnyain. “For an instant he [Cnaiür] found himself inside the man’s lies.”

Kellhus orders Conphas to disarm his soldiers and go to Jocktha to await passage back to Nansur. He further adds Conphas was never a Man of the Tusk. Conphas is offended by these words, not the previous. He asks why he should do this. Kellhus stands and says he knows that the Emperor made a deal to betray the Holy War before Shimeh. Conphas shrinks from Kellhus and is caught by the faithful.

“Because,” Kellhus continued, looming over him, “if you fail to comply, I will have you flayed and hung form the gates.” The tenor of his voice was such that the word “flay” and the skinless images it conjured seemed to linger.

Conphas stared up in abject horror. His lower lip quivered, and his face broke into soundless sob, only to stiffen, then break again. Cnaiür found himself clutching his breast. Why did his heart race so?

“Release him,” the Warrior-Prophet murmured, and Exalt-General fled through the entrance way, shielding his face, waving his hands as though pelted with stones.

Again Cnaiür stood outside the Dûnyain’s machinations.

Cnaiür thinks the accusation of treachery something Kellhus invented, unable to believe the Nansur Empire would cut a deal with the ancestral enemies. Cnaiür further realizes everything that just happened was premeditated. “Every word, every look, every insight, had some function. Cnaiür ponders it. It can’t be to remove Conphas since Kellhus could just order his execution. Cnaiür realizes that only Conphas “possessed the force of character” to hold his men’s loyalty. Kellhus couldn’t have competition, but he also couldn’t risk more infighting. That saved Conphas’s life. Kellhus leaves, and Cnaiür watches the Men of the tusk once more with both sets of eyes. The Inrithi think they’ve been forged and tempered of impurities. Cnaiür knows otherwise.

The dry season had not ended. Perhaps it never would.

The Dûnyain simply culled the willful from his herd.

Proyas searches the meeting room for Cnaiür in the wake of Kellhus’s exit. Around him, the nobleman “rumbled amongst themselves, exchanging exclamations of hilarity and outrage” about what had just happened. Proyas notices a shrill cadence to the talk and realizes he feels something is off.

Fear.

Perhaps this was to be expected. As Ajencis was so fond of observing, habit ruled the souls of men. So long as the past governed the present, those habits could be depended on. But the past had been overturned, and now the men of the Tusk found themselves stranded with judgments and assumptions they could no longer trust. They had learned that the metaphor cut both way: to be reborn, Proyas had come to realize, one must murder who one was.

It seemed such a small price—ludicrously small—given what they had gained.

Proyas feels a great deal of guilt for siding against Kellhus and almost murdering “the God’s own voice.” He wishes to undo his actions and can’t. He’s learned that conviction doesn’t equal truth. When two sides of equal fervor fights, one has to be wrong so “what could be more preposterous than claiming oneself the least deluded, let alone privy to the absolution?” When faced with truth, he rejected it for faith. The realization of that had him weeping at Kellhus’s feet. Kellhus had told Proyas not to cry.

“But I tried to kill you!”

A beatific smile, jarring given the obvious pain it contradicted. “All our acts turn upon what we assume to be true, Proyas, what we assume to know. The connection is so strong, so thoughtless, that when these things we need to be true are threatened, we try to make them true with our acts. We condemn the innocent to make them guilty. We raise the wicked to make them holy. Like the mother who continues nursing her dead babe, we act out our refusal.”

Kellhus explains that when you believe without proof, you only have conviction. And leads you to turning your beliefs into a God. By explaining Proyas’s actions, he was absolved “as though to be known was to be forgiven.”

Cnaiür appears before Proyas, the Men of the Tusk flinching out of his way. Proyas realizes something about Cnaiür makes men panic, even the most courageous. He emanated a “feral power” and an “absence of constraint.” Cnaiür always stood ready to do violence. Proyas thinks Cnaiür is insane. As he starts to walk with Cnaiür, blind Xinemus grabs his elbow. Proyas leads both men to a quiet alcove and there asks Cnaiür what he thinks. “That Conphas will laugh himself to sleep.” Cnaiür then adds that Proyas didn’t bring him here to ask about his opinion. Xinemus realizes this is a private conversation and says he’ll leave. Proyas realizes Xinemus came because he has no where else to go. He allows him to stay, saying he trusts him.

Cnaiür realizes Kellhus sent Proyas because of Conphas. Proyas agrees and says Cnaiür is to stay behind at Jocktha with Conphas. The barbarian looks on the verge of “howling rage” before stilling himself and stating: “I am to be his nursemaid.”

Proyas breathed deep, frowned at the solicitations of several passerby. “No,” he replied, lowering his voice, “and yes…”

“What do you mean?”

“You are to kill him.”

Iyokus is brought by a servant to a grove at night, moonlight drifting through the branches. He’s told to wait here. He feels that two dozen Chorae bowman surround him, watching him, ready to kill him.

It was an understandable precaution, especially given recent events.

Iyokus is still off-balanced from his conversation with Eleäzaras earlier today upon his arrival from Jocktha. Iyokus has trouble believing that a prophet controls the Holy War and that the Consult existed. But he believes in a few days of meticulous consideration would let him figure out this new order. “He would not break beneath their weight.”

He was disappointed to find Eleäzaras destroyed and thinks a new Grandmaster should be elected. But first he has a meeting with Kellhus, which is why he is waiting in the garden. He studies some dolmens, ancient remains of a time before Caraskand was built. He laments his order’s disdain of the past, instead focusing on the present. If the No-God is real, he realizes, that will change. The past must be studied. The thought frighten him.

Iyokus senses someone with the Mark approaching him. A sorcerer. He resists the urge to make sorcerous light to see, feeling those Chorae around him. Achamian appears before him, confirming the rumor that he was Kellhus’s vizier and taught him the Gnosis. “There was no end to the absurdities, it seemed.” Iyokus calls out a greeting, knowing this must be hard for Achamian to meet with him.

More shadow than man, Achamian paused some fifteen paces away, gazed at Iyokus through hunched tree limbs. His voice was hard. “If an eye offends thee, Iyokus…”

A bolt of terror struck the chanv addict. What was this? Eleäzaras’s drunken warning rang loud in his ears. “Beware the Mandate Schoolman…”

Iyokus asks where Kellhus is. Achamian says he’s indisposed and Iyokus realizes he was tricked into coming. Achamian reminds him of Iothiah and how he searched for Iyokus during his escape. Fear grips the Scarlet Schoolman. He asks what’s going on, and Achamian says he begged Kellhus to do this. Kellhus said yes. Achamian starts performing sorcery.

Iyokus stiffened. “You begged?”

The fire-coal eyes lowered in an unseen nod. Branches and blossoms were etched blood-red against the greater black. “Yes.”

“Then,” Iyokus said, “I shall not.”

Iyokus knows he’s trapped, just like Achamian had been at the Sareotic Library. He begins singing his defenses. Achamian attacks. Iyokus is desperate as words poured out of him. “Passion became semantics, and semantics became real.” He attacks with lightning that sets trees on fire. Achamian is unfazed and walks forward. Iyokus realizes Achamian toys with him. He summons the Dragonhead, the most powerful of his School’s attack. It breaths fire that does little more than crack Achamian’s wards. Achamian continues advancing.

Iyokus screamed the words, but there was a flash of something brighter than lightning. The pure dispensation of force, unmuted by image or interpretation.

Geometries scythed through the air. Parabolas of blinding white, swinging from perfect lines, all converging upon his Ward. Ghost-stone shivered and cracked, fell away like shale beneath a hammer…

An explosion of brilliance, then—

Cnaiür rides without fear through the dark in the Enathpanean hills around the city. He makes camp overlooking Caraskand. As he stares out at the city he knows he is no longer of the People. He grown past them. He could do anything now. “Nothing was forbidden.” He falls asleep dreaming he is bound to Serwë on the Circumfix and having sex with her. She calls him mad.

“I am yours,” he gasped in an outland tongue. “You are the only track remaining.”

A corpse’s gaping grin. “But I’m dead.”

The words drive him awake. He finds himself naked and curled on the grass. He is disturbed by the dream and then she sees Serwë by the fire looking “like an Inrithi goddess conjured from the flames.” He’s shocked. He tries to breathe. Can’t. She smiles and vanishes into the darkness. He chases after her, crying out her name. He catches glimpses of her painted in moonlight dancing from rock to rock. He’s heedless of the dangers as he stumbles down a steep slope.

You’re mine!” he howled.

She leads him towards the city and vanishes into an olive grove. On the other side, he spots her heading towards the great mounds made by the dead Fanim. His strength leaves him. He’s winded from the long chase. He loses her among the dead but knows she waits.

It seemed he no longer breathed, but could smell the dead as he willed himself up the last fallow slope. The stench soon became overpowering, a sourness so raw, so earthen deep, it clawed convulsions from his stomach. It possessed a flavour that could be tasted only on the bottom of the tongue.

So holy.

Cnaiür throws up before continuing on through the macabre landscape. He finds her with the wagons that were used to bring the dead here. He calls her name and she reveals herself to be a skin-spy. He leaps at her and tackles her to the ground. The fight and she knocks him into a corpse. He rises and the skin-spy just studies him as Serwë’s blonde hair falls away. Cnaiür thinks he’s dead.

Wings flap above. He sees a raven descend and land on a corpse by the skin-spy. Cnaiür is shocked to see it has a human face and speaks with a reedy voice. The Synthese talks about the covenant he has with Cnaiür’s people. Cnaiür says not part of the People. The voice says something binds him to Kellhus, driving Cnaiür to save him and kill the Synthese “child.” Cnaiür says nothing binds him.

“But the past binds us all, Scylvendi, as the bow binds the flight of an arrow. All of us have been nocked, raised, and released. All that remains is to see where we land… to see whether we strike true.”

Cnaiür can’t breath. He feels chewed up. Then the Synthese say he knows whom Cnaiür hunts. Cnaiür accuses it of lying, but the Synthese knows that Cnaiür hunts for Kellhus’s father. “The Dûnyain.”

The Chieftain of the Utemot gazed at the thing, his thoughts battered senseless by the chorus of conflicting passions: confusion, outrage, hope… Then at last he recalled the only track remaining—the only true track—though his heart had known it all along. The one certainty.

Hate.

Growing calm, Cnaiür says it’s over. He’s not leaving with the Holy War when it marches. The Synthese is unperturbed, comparing Cnaiür to a piece in benjuka as being moved, but still useful to be used by the Consult.

Eyes tiny and impossibly old. An intimation of power, rumbling through vein, heart, and bone.

“Not even the dead escape the Plate.”

Achamian finds Xinemus drunk in his quarters, coughing hard. Xinemus asks if Achamian did it, he did, and then Xinemus asks if Achamian was hurt. He wasn’t. Finally, Xinemus asks if Achamian has them. He does.

“Good… good!” Xinemus said. He bolted from his chair, but with the same rigid aimlessness with which he seemed to do everything now that he and no eyes. “Give them to me!”

He had shouted this as though Achamian were a Knight of Attrempus.

“I…” Achamian swallowed. “I don’t understand…”

“Leave them… Leave me!”

“Zin… You must help me understand!”

Leave!”

Achamian is startled and goes to leave. Just as he’s about to, he witnesses Xinemus muttering finally under his breath as he heads to a mirror holding the bloody cloth Achamian handed over. For a long moment “it seemed Xinemus gazed into the phlegmatic pits where his eyes had once laughed and fumed.” Then he opens the cloth and pulls out “Iyokus’s weeping eyes.” Xinemus puts them in his own sockets.

“Open!” the Marshal of Attrempus wailed. He jerked his dead and bloody gaze about the room, pausing for a heart-stopping moment on Achamian. “Ooopen!”

Then he began thrashing through his apartments.

Achamian slipped through the door and fled.

Eleäzaras holds the crying, blinded Iyokus in his room, rocking the man. He asks the man if he still remembers how to see. Iyokus gathers himself, blood trickling like tears down his cheeks. Eleäzaras asks if Iyokus’s remembers the words.

In sorcery, everything depended on the purity of meaning. Who knew what blinding might do?

“Y-yessss.”

“Then you are whole.”

My Thoughts

Accosted by congratulations. The perfect way to describe the feeling when you get praise and know you did not earn it. That squirming guilt in you. Some people are good at ignoring that guilt. Cnaiür, however, knows just how his greed to possess Serwë, to get his vengeance on Moënghus, has left him a herdless fool.

Cnaiür and Achamian both have a lot in common. They both lost the woman they love to Kellhus. They both are dazed by what has happened to them and where they are now. In effect, they are both cuckolds, though we don’t feel that same pity for Achamian that we do for Cnaiür. Achamian never raped and beat Esmenet. He didn’t treat her like an object. Esmenet was never proof of Achamian’s heterosexual prowess like Serwë was for Cnaiür. So how they act is completely different. But both men have had their lives utterly upturned by Kellhus and dragged in his wake.

Cnaiür has only disdain for Achamian. After all, the Breaker-of-Horses-and-Men has a Chorae. He sees no use for Achamian as anything other than a shield of fat for Kellhus to hide behind.

Word of the day “corbelled.” A corbel is “a projection jutting out from a wall to support a structure above it” (The New Oxford American Dictionary). So a corbelled dome is something supported by corbels.

Cnaiür’s observation about what it is like to sit in council with a being you believe to be a god is so on point. How can you argue with God? How can you say he’s wrong? How can you even interpret his commands to fit your outlook, to twist the words around to benefit yourself when he could just say, “Nope, I didn’t mean that.” It has to be overwhelming. No wonder it amuses Cnaiür. He knows the truth.

Having sat through a few Catholic masses, I feel for Cnaiür as he suffers through the “ritual and pageantry.” But these sort of customs bring order and comfort. They’re familiar and keep you locked in a familiar rut. You don’t question when you don’t have to think.

When you can control your doubts, you control your fears. You don’t have to think any longer. Bakker is saying here that this sort of blind faith, the certainty that you know what your doing is so righteous that even if you die, you shall be rewarded, then you don’t need to think. More and more, I am certain the point of this series, the true core of it, is that humans have these incredible brains and we squander them. We waste them in such trivial fashions in so many negative ways. Like muscles not used, we allow our minds to atrophy.

All because we’d rather believe simple lies than complex truth. This is why lies can build something so strong in men. The “fever-dream” simplicity is more appealing than reality.

Cnaiür’s intelligence can give him the power of empathy, but he wars against it. He doesn’t want to pity these men because it reminds him too much of his own weakness. He’s seeing it all play out again, how they have made Kellhus the center of their worlds in the same way as Moënghus. He both understands these men and despise them for their weakness

The religious ceremony, the Whelming, is something Cnaiür notes is a way for the Dûnyain to “grind these men into something he could digest.” In the next series, Kellhus tells Proyas that human souls are the grain with which the gods grind to make their bread. The gods use religion to make souls just right for them to feast on in the afterlife. They use it to prepare them, just like Kellhus is now preparing the Inrithi.

Cnaiür’s musings on the Inrithi’s belief in how they had to submit to greater men’s power is very Nietzschian in its principal. Nietzsche taught that morality existed only to keep us enslaved to religion and society. That is the point of morality. It is the chains that hold civilization together. And that submission is easier when we believe the men we’re submitting to are “great men.” Hence the cult of the “Great Man” who will save us. Whether Obama or Trump in the modern era, people want to submit to this slavery in the belief it will lead to good.

But the truth is, Obama and Trump are no better than you or me. They are just people. Flawed, terrible, broken people. They make mistakes. They commit sins. And yet people have put their faith in these men thinking they will save them.

They can’t.

But it’s a nice deception to have. One most people would rather believe in then reality, and one so seductive in this modern era of social media where some people can just blather their dumb thoughts to the world in a single tweet without spending any time to think about them. We’re throwing off these chains that Nietzsche and Bakker write about, but it’s yet to see if this will truly be a good thing or if we’ll destroy ourselves with nihilism.

Cnaiür is wrong about it being a “fickleness of spirit” in regards to Gotian and the other’s conversion. When humans have their world view so shaken they embrace a new one, they often become fanatics. To prove that they have embraced the “correct truth” they want to prove their virtue. Whether it’s a new convert to Christianity or a person that has embrace veganism, they will be at the most fervent and zealous in these early stages.

Bakker does a nice bit of character reminder with Proyas by showing us that he looks gaunt and old because he stayed on the same starvation diet as his men unlike other great names.

Making decisions with real stakes sucks. It’s easier to let someone else decide, and when that person is distant, like say a deity, you can then interpret their will it to your own wishes while holding that fiction you’re really just following orders. It’s a comfort to people. You can do a lot of horrible things when you’re just following orders. Now poor Saubon isn’t afforded that luxury.

This scene is re-introducing us to the Great Names and the changed dynamics of their meetings now that Kellhus is running things. By having it as Cnaiür’s POV Bakker can write the scene from a passive view point, something reminiscent of third person omniscience, while still giving us character insight into Cnaiür only found with this intimate third-person limited. Cnaiür’s intelligence allows him to decipher many of the subtle dynamics found in the interaction, essentially, making him all-knowing.

Great re-introduction to Conphas with such a callous, imperious decision. Direct. Brutal. Without mercy. Without caring what the others things. Pure Conphas. Note how he’s also described as being the only Great Name to still look like his old self, wearing his Nansur uniform, looking healthy. He didn’t choose to eat the same rations as his man.

Watching Kellhus finally dismantle Conphas is a great scene. He had to get to a position of such overwhelming power to break through the Exalt-General’s pathology. He’s such a sociopathic narcissist he can reinterpret anything to fit his worldview, to hold onto that lie that he is the greatest person who’s ever lived.

When Kellhus talks about pride and how Conphas has long wondered about why men would sell their children into slavery, etc, these are questions Conphas has pondered in the last book. It has got to make him question his doubts in Kellhus’s abilities. But his narcissism is preserving him. It’s the best defense against the Dûnyain. Which sucks, because narcissism is an ugly character defect. Plus, Kellhus can still manipulate you in other ways. But Conphas manages to wiggle through the net in this book and almost ruins things.

Of course, given how powerful Kellhus becomes in this book, he could have easily destroyed Conphas and his army. After all, Achamian did it.

Since all humans are weak in some ways, we admire those who at least appear strong. Who sacrifice. This is why they can inspire us because even if we can’t admit we’re weak, which takes a certain amount of self-honesty not easy to obtain, we want to be better than our baser selves. We want to escape the grip of our weakness in whatever forms they take even as we remain bound to them. Slaves to our baser appetites. Our intellects yearn for freedom. In essence, this is what the Dûnyain have done. But at the same time the conflict between intellect and instinct is what makes us human, sets us apart from the beasts and the machines.

Since the Circumfix, Kellhus is no longer a Dûnyain. He has gone past it. Cnaiür is catching a glimpse of it here. Kellhus’s ordeal broke him. The outside has touched him and allowed him to see past cause and effect After all, he had a vision of the Circumfix near the start of Book 2. The No-God and probably Ajolki are affecting him.

Cnaiür steps out of Kellhus’s machinations and thinks Kellhus lied about the deal the Nansur made with the Fanim. It seems so ludicrous to him that such ancient enemies would cut this deal that he reverts to his normal default method of dealing with Kellhus: don’t believe anything he speaks.

“The Dûnyain simply culled the willful from his herd.” Dûnyain philosophy at its simplest. The shortest path. Whatever doesn’t bring about success is a hindrance. Best thing to do is discarded it.

Change is always scary. It sucks not being comfortable, and you can see the great names trying to mask it with bravado through jokes or serious talk. It’s a survival mechanism to deal with this primal instinct in us that was adapted for more immediate dangers.

Proyas has grown as a character. He’s learned that even though conviction and blind zeal can feel great, doesn’t make you right. And now he’s facing the consequences of that both from Achamian’s return and, of course, Kellhus. It’s made him realize the pitfalls and dangerous of zeal. Doubt has to be allowed to temper excessive actions.

We see Proyas realizing that to become a new person, to be reborn, is a scary thing. It’s the unknown. It stepping outside of comfort. It’s something to be afraid of. And it can make a person resist, to fight against it, to murder to protect their status quo. Like Proyas did with Kellhus when condemning him.

Proyas’s guilt is keeping Xinemus in the conversation. Probably sparked by Cnaiür’s disdainful snort, reminding Proyas that everyone thinks Xinemus is useless now and that’s because Proyas didn’t do the right thing but the easy thing.

“The past cannot be bribed, and the future cannot be buried,” says the Scarlet Spire. This saying is a mirror of itself. The past cannot be bribed, but it can be buried. The future cannot be buried, but it can be bribed. They see the past as something they can’t effect, but they can certainly ignore it. But the future is something bursting with possibility. It’s something you can’t ignore, but you can influence.

Iyokus doesn’t even think for a moment that Achamian is here to get vengeance. Iyokus is a very rational person. He compartmentalizes everything. To him, what happened was business. He understands it might be hard for Achamian, but he doesn’t have a problem with meeting as equals now.

Have to give it to Iyokus. He has to think he was about to die, but he doesn’t beg. He doesn’t plead. He realizes it’s not going to work and faces death with dignity, making a contrast to Achamian who had to beg for this privilege. Iyokus appears to draw strength from this, seeing himself as the better man, the stronger one.

As always, sorcery is described with such poetry and beauty, at odds with the death and destruction it wreaks.

Interesting, Cnaiür had a mad grandmother who thought a crow lived in her chest. There may be a genetic component to some mental illnesses.

Notice how when he thinks he’s free, he thinks there’s no lips he could not kiss. He’s accepting his homosexual desires, no longer going to be restrained by his people’s customs.

This is a nice reveal on Bakker’s part. You think Cnaiür has utterly lost his mind. First dreaming about Serwë, then waking up and seeing her. He’s chasing her. It’s impossible. And then it’s revealed she’s a skin-spy, a fusion of the feminine and the masculine, possessing all the things Cnaiür craves: a beautiful woman who proclaims his manhood’s virility while the true thing he desires lurks beneath. His prize has returned to him and giving him the keys to his revenge on Kellhus.

Not even Cnaiür has a stomach strong enough to walk through a carnal pit.

The Consult never discards a useful piece. They use Cnaiür for the same reason they spared Esmenet. They see the world as a game of Benjuka, the rules ever changing. Bakker has used the game for a metaphor for life many times, and has so thoroughly explained it to the readers he doesn’t need to teach you what they’re talking about here. He already has. Well done.

Achamian is disturbed that Xinemus only asks if he was hurt fighting Iyokus more out of habit than actually really caring. Xinemus is too obsessed with getting his “cure.” He’s cracked. It’s one of the saddest scenes in the series to see this once great and noble man so utterly ruined by the world.

Being blinded doesn’t make Iyokus useless in his chosen profession. He can still use sorcery. He can still summon demons through the Daimos. As we see in the sequel series, especially The Unholy Consult, he gets quite skilled at it, second only to Kellhus. Xinemus, on the other hand, has to deal with the end of his martial career on top of the fact he said things he can never forget, words he was forced to speak that have utterly broken him. He’s beyond repair. He’s mad and suffering. Already the cough that will kill him is ravaging his body.

Even though Achamian dealt out his reciprocal justice, it feels hollow because Xinemus still suffers far more than Iyokus even though both men are now blind.

Click here to read Chapter Four!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Two

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 2
Caraskand

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

I tell you, guilt dwells nowhere but in the eyes of the accuser. This men know even as they deny it, which is why they so often make murder their absolution. The truth of crimes lies not with the victim but with the witness.

—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

An interesting statement. Guilt is a major theme in the novels, from Cnaiür’s guilt he feels seeing the accusation in his kinsmen’s eyes, a constant reminder to his crime, to what Esmenet will start to feel through this novel starting in this chapter. It’s easy for you to pretend you haven’t done something wrong when the proof isn’t being paraded before you. And if you can’t handle that, murder is the final step you can take to undo it.

Unless you want to suck it up and make it right. But taking responsibility is hard for humans. We prefer to blame others and become the victim. But that is a self-destructive act. It warps you, twists you, and eventually leads you to lash out against the world to keep perpetuating your lie.

Late Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Enathpaneah

Cnaiür barrels through Kellhus’s palace, servants fleeing before him as alarms are raised. This angers Cnaiür because he’d saved their prophet. “Didn’t that make him divine as well?” He’s searching for something, asking for directions from a slave woman. Scared, she points at a door.

Her neck felt good in his hand, like that of a cat or a feeble dog. It reminded him of the days of pilgrimage in his other life, when he had strangled those he raped. Even still, he hand no need of her, so he released his grip, watched her stumble backward then topple, skirts askew, across the black floor.

Shouts rang out from the galleries behind them.

He sprinted to the door she’d indicated, kicked it open.

He finds a nursery with a cradle in the center. Everything grows quiet as he approaches with care, parting the hanging gauze to peer down at Moënghus, his son with Serwë. He sees the “penetrating white-blue of the Steppe” in the boy’s eyes and knows it is his son.

Cnaiür reached out two fingers, saw the scars banding the length of his forearm. The babe waved his hand, and as though by accident caught Cnaiür’s fingertip, his grip firm like that of a father or a friend in miniature. Without warning, his face flushed, became wizened with anguished wrinkles. He sputtered, began wailing.

Why, Cnaiür wondered, would the Dûnyain keep this child? What did he see when he looked upon it? What use was there in a child.

There was no interval between the world and an infant soul. NO deception. No Language. An infant’s wail simply was its hunger. And it occurred to Cnaiür that if he abandoned this child, it would become an Inrithi, but if he took it, stole away, and rode hard for the Steppe, it would become a Scylvendi. And his hair prickled across his scalp, for there was magic in that—even doom.

Cnaiür reflects that as the child ages, it’s hungers would grow, branch, in unfathomable ways. “It would become what circumstances demanded.” Cnaiür realizes this is how the Dûnyain see men. As infants that Kellhus understood and could track all the way their hungers would grow. This is what the elder Moënghus did to Cnaiür. He realizes that he was one of the possibilities his son could be molded into it. A memory of intrudes of him burning a Nansur village on a raid and catching a thrown babe on his sword. He jerks back his finger and says the child is not of the land.

Esmenet, “the sorcerer’s whore,” burst into the room. With shrill fury, she advances on him, saying he can’t have the baby. It’s all that’s left of Serwë. She becomes more conciliatory as she explains its the only proof of her life and asks if he would take that away from her.

Her proof.

Cnaiür stared at Esmenet in horror, then glanced at the child, pink and writhing in blue silk sheets.

“But its name!” he heard someone cry. Surly that voice was too womanish, too weak, to be his.

Something’s wrong with me… Something’s wrong…

Guards burst in and she orders them to sheathe their weapons, claiming Cnaiür only came to pay homage to Kellhus’s son. Cnaiür is shocked to find himself kneeling before the crib. “It seemed he had never stood.”

Xinemus asks Achamian what he’s doing as Achamian is packing up his room. Achamian ignores the warning tone in Xinemus’s voice and reminds the blind man he’s moving into the Fama Palace. While doing that, he remembers how Esmenet always teased him when he packed his things. He then thinks she’s a whore and that explains why she’s with Kellhus.

Xinemus presses on why Achamian’s leaving, reminding Achamian that Proyas forgave him. Achamian hasn’t forgiven Proyas. Xinemus asks what of himself. Achamian regards the drunk man, trying to remind himself Xinemus was his only friend. Achamian realizes that Xinemus is accusing Achamian of abandoning him, which angers Achamian. But he finds himself asking Xinemus to come with him and talk to Kellhus. Xinemus doesn’t think Kellhus needs him, but Achamian insists he needs to talk to Kellhus. He turns and finds Xinemus looming over him to his shock.

You talk to him!” the Marshal roared, seizing and shaking him [Achamian]. Achamian clawed at his arms, but they were as wood. “I begged you! Remember? I begged, and you watched while they gouged out my fucking eyes! My fucking eyes, Akka! My fucking eyes are gone!”

Achamian found himself on the hard floor, scrambling backward, his face covered in warm spittle.

The great-limbed man sagged to his knees. “I can’t seeee!” he at once whispered and wailed. “I-haven’t-the courage-I-haven’t-the-courage…” He shook silently for several more moments, then became very still. When he next spoke, his voice was thick, but eerily disconnected from what had racked him only moments before. It was the old Xinemus, and it terrified Achamian.

Xinemus asks Achamian to speak to Kellhus on his behalf. Achamian feels he has no choice and asks what is Xinemus’s question.

Esmenet wakes up to the dawn light. This moment is the only thing similar to her previous life as a whore: waking up into a new day. Only when her mind fully came awake does she remember she’s not a whore, but a queen, with her own slaves, sleeping on muslin, surrounded by luxuries. Today, like every day, she’s pampered by her slaves. They chat in Kianene while combing her hair, massaging her limbs, bathing her body. Esmenet endures it with wonder and always gives them praise. Like her, they have risen high in the hierarchy of their own world as slaves, and she thinks they are as astonished by it as she is.

When they were finished, Fanashila left for the nursery, while Yel and Burulan, still tittering, ushered Esmenet to her night table, and to an array of cosmetics that, she realized with some dismay, would have made her weep back in Sumna. Even as she marveled at the brushes, paints, and powders, she worried over this new-found jealousy for things. I deserve this, she thought, only to curse herself for blinking tears.

Yel and Burulan fell silent.

It’s just more… more that will be taken away.

When she looks in a mirror, she sees herself as beautiful as Serwë now, appearing as an “exotic stranger” to her own eyes. She almost believed she was wroth what people thought of her. She clutches at her love while Yel says she’s beautiful. And then she thinks this is real.

Fanashila returns with Moënghus and his wet nurse Opsara. She talks to Opsara, a slave that Esmenet finds to toe the line of insubordination but who also clearly loves Moënghus, about the baby. After he nurses, she holds him and loves him like her own child, talking about the brother or sister he’ll soon have. She promises to name her daughter Serwë. After a while, she hands over Moënghus to Opsara.

As Esmenet watched them, her thoughts turned to Achamian for the first time since the garden.

Later, she runs into Werjau “by coincidence” carrying a collection of scrolls and tablets towards her official chambers. Her secretaries are at work as Werjau delivers his reports starting with two Tydonni inscribing Orthodox slogans on the wall, men who couldn’t read so were put u to it (Esmenet suspects the Nansur) and orders them flayed.

The ease with which those words fell form her lips was nothing short of nightmarish. One breath and these men, these piteous fools, would die in torment. A breath that could have been used for anything: a moan of pleasure, a gasp of surprise, a word of mercy…

This, she understood, was power: the translation of word into fact. She need only speak and the world would be rewritten. Before, her voice could only conjure custom, ragged breaths, and quickened seed. Before, her cries could only forestall affliction and wheedle what small mercies might come. But now her voice had become that mercy, that affliction.

Such thoughts made her head swim.

She clutches her tattooed hand to her belly, hiding her astonishment, and thinking that only the child in side of her was truth. “A woman knew no greater certainty, even as she feared.” As she holds her belly, she’s convinced she feels divinity in her. That her womb made the trappings of power insignificant. “Her womb, which had been a hospice to innumerable men, was now a temple.” She is holy because of Kellhus.

Werjau then reports that Gothyelk cursed Kellhus three times. She dismisses that, but Werjau objects. But Esmenet points out that Gothyelk curses everyone. If he stops, then it’s something to worry about. She knows, thanks to Kellhus, that Werjau resents her because she’s a woman. Since they both know this, because there are no secrets around Kellhus, it makes their relationship like quarreling siblings instead of enemies. Because Kellhus exposes all their secrets, his inner circle doesn’t fear what others might think about their actions since Kellhus will reveal their motivations. She tells him to continue.

Another Ainoni, Aspa Memkumri, has been murdered. Esmenet asks if the Scarlet Spire is responsible and Werjau says yes. Esmenet wants to meet with the source to find out just what the Scarlet Spire are up to. Then Werjau brings up Earl Hulwarga performing a banned rite, but Esmenet says it’s irrelevant. “A strong faith does not fear for its principles, Werjau.”

The man moved to the next item, this time without looking up. “The Warrior-Prophet’s new Vizier,” he said tonelessly, “was heard screaming in his chambers.”

Esmenet’s breath caught. “What,” she asked carefully, “was he screaming?”

“No one knows.”

Thoughts of Achamian always came as small calamities.

She says she’ll deal with it personally and asks if there is anything else. He answers, only the Lists. The Lists are reports Men of the Tusk give on their associates of any who are acting strange. Those reported are marched, in the hundreds, before Kellhus every day. So far out of thousands one had killed the men sent to arrest him, two had fled, one had been captured, and another was being watched hoping to find more. Esmenet finds it to be a poor solution, but they’d have to risk Kellhus to do better. Over twenty skin-spies Kellhus had identified vanished before they could be taken.

The most they could do, it seemed, was to wait for them to surface behind other faces.

“Have the Shrial Knights gather them as always.”

Afterward, she walks the western terrace while dozens of worshipers watch her. She both enjoys and is made uncomfortable by their adoration. She cast out two crimson veils and laughs as they scramble to grab it. Then she overseas the afternoon Penance. This evolved out of shriving the Orthodox who plotted against Kellhus, but many began returning desiring to be punished for their sins. Now even Zaudunyani attend. She watches the Judges administer the punishment, flogging backs with branches from Umiaki, the eucalyptus tree Kellhus hung from, chanting:

For wounding that which heals!”

For seizing what would be given!”

For condemning that which saves!”

Esmenet finds it unnerving as the punished men watch, seeing sexual ecstasy on many of their faces, expressions she saw many times working as a whore. She spots Proyas in the back. Old anger fills her and she glares at him. He cries after his flogging, and she wonders if he’s sorry for hurting Kellhus or Achamian.

She skips the evening Whelming in favor of a private dinner since Kellhus is busy with preparations for the Holy War’s march on Xerash. She enjoy the company of her body-slaves then checks on Moënghus. Finally, she retires to her private library.

Where Achamian had been recently installed.

Because her and Kellhus’s apartments are at the pinnacle of the Fama Palace, the highest point in Caraskand, they are vulnerable to sorcerous attack because the Art pays “no heed to walls or elevation.” This means Achamian has to reside close to them for protection.

Close enough, she realized, to hear her cries on the wind.

Akka…

She freezes at the door. She finds his presence perilous, threatening to “strip away all that had happened since the Holy War’s march from Shigek.” She questions her actions then, fearing to lose her nerve, raps on the door. She notices her whore tattoo in the process. She fears she’ll find not Achamian but Sumna on the other side, her old apartment, sitting at the window exposing herself to attract customers.

Then she sees Achamian’s face, grizzled and aged, but so real. They stand in silent awkwardness as she realizes he’s alive. She wants to touch him and feel the truth, but stops herself. She remembers watching him depart for the library and wonders what brought him back to her. Then she feels his eyes on her pregnant stomach and she says she’s come to take The Third Analytic of Men. Achamian finds the tome and tries to smile. Then invites her in.

She took four tentative steps past the threshold. The room smelled of him, a faint musk she always associated with sorcery. A ed had been erected where her favorite settee had been—where she had first read The Tractate.

“Translated into Sheyic, even,” he said, pursing his bottom lip in appreciation. “For Kellhus?”

“No… for me.”

She had meant to say this with pride, but it had sounded spiteful instead. “He taught me how to read,” she explained, more carefully. “Through the misery of the desert, no less.”

Achamian had blanched. “Read”

“Yes… Imagine, a woman.”

He scowled in what could only be confusion.

“The old world is dead, Akka. The old rules are dead… Surely you know this.”

He recoils and she realizes it was her tone, not the fact that she’s a woman (something he’s never held against her) that made him scowl. He then touches the book with reverence and asks her to be careful with it. “Ajencis is an old friend of mine,” he says. She takes care not to touch him as she takes it. They lock eyes and she almost murmurs something, a joke or a thanks, like they used to. Instead, she walks away, hugging the book to her breast. She realizes if she’s not careful, their old habits will see them in bed again.

And he knew this, damn him. He used them.

He called out her name, and she paused at the threshold. When she turned, her eyes were forced down by the stricken expression on his face. “I…” he began. “I was your life… I know I was, Esmi.”

She bit her lip, resisted the instinct to deceive.

“Yes,” she said, staring at her blue-painted toes. For some perverse reason she decided she would have Yel change their colour tomorrow.

What does he matter? His heart was broken long before—

“Yes,” she repeated, “you were my life.” When she raised her face, it was with weariness, not the ferocity she had expected. “And he is my world.”

Later, Esmenet rests her head on Kellhus’s chest and says she saw Achamian. Kellhus say it angered her. She protests it wasn’t Achamian who angered her, but Kellhus says it was. She asks why. All he’s done is love her.

“We betrayed him, Esmi. You betrayed him.”

“But you said—”

“There are sins, Esmi, that not even the God can absolve. Only the injured.”

Kellhus tells her this is why she’s angered. She thinks about his words, feeling awakened, as she always does, by his words. She realizes why and says Achamian will not forgive. A frightening indecision feels Kellhus’s look and he agrees with her.

Eleäzaras, Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spire, is surprised to see Iyokus lives. Iyokus looks stunned that Eleäzaras is drunk, his tent full of smashed pottery. Eleäzaras continues that he thought Iyokus dead when Achamian returned. He hoped Iyokus was dead. Eleäzaras then gazes at the Fama Palace.

Iyokus asks what happened. Eleäzaras, in disdain, says the Padirajah is dead and the Holy War prepares to march. They’re almost to Shimeh. But that wasn’t what Iyokus meant. He asks if Eleäzaras believes in the Consult. And he does. “All this time, laughing at the Mandati, and it was we who were the mumming fools,” he answers.

Silence hangs between them like an accusation. Iyokus is stunned, especially in retrospect as he realizes the Psûkhe is too blunt to make skin-spies. Eleäzaras then confirms his belief that Kellhus is a prophet. Eleäzaras had witnessed Kellhus pull out his own heart while begging for it to be a trick. Iyokus objects, but Eli interrupts him and says he’s convinced after speaking to the man himself. He then adds they are damned and finds that another little joke.

“Please,” the man [Iyokus] exclaimed. “How Could you—”

“Oh, I know. He sees things… things only the God could see.” He swung at one of the earthenware decanters, caught it, shook it to the air to listen to the telltale slosh of wine. Empty. “He showed me,” he said, casting it against the wall, where it shattered. He smiled at Iyokus, letting the weight of his bottom lip draw his mouth open. “He showed me who I am. You know all those little thoughts, all those half-glimpsed things that scurry like vermin through your soul? He catches them and holds them squealing in the air. Then he names them, and tells you what they mean.” He turned away once more. “He sees the secrets.”

Iyokus asks what secrets. Eleäzaras tells Iyokus not to worry about him revealing Iyokus’s sexual predilections (boys and broomsticks) but the secrets people keep from themselves. “He sees what breaks your heart.” Iyokus accuses Eleäzaras of being drunk. He tells Iyokus to see for himself. Iyokus snorts and starts to stomp out in an anger. Eleäzaras just goes back to staring at the Fama Palace. He knows Kellhus is in there somewhere.

“Oh, yes, and Iyokus,” he abruptly called.

“What?”

“I would beware the Mandate Schoolman if I were you.” He absently pawed the table beside him, looking for more wine—or something. “I think he plans to kill you.”

My Thoughts

So in the last chapter we had Achamian’s reintroduction to the story. It shows him as someone that spends a great deal of time thinking and pondering, how he’s wracked with anger and grief for Esmenet, how he’s intellect is struggling against his passions. Bakker now shifts to Cnaiür, reminding us that he is a violent man. A rapist. A barbarian. A man who scares the piss out of people. A man who acts like he doesn’t care what people think about him as he does whatever his passions want even as he prickles about how they cower. “Didn’t that make him divine as well?” He’s offended that they don’t show him reverence as he marches through the palace looking for his son.

Cnaiür debate on the fate of his son is the Tabula Rasa argument, that human beings are blank slates that can be molded in any direction. And this is partly true. We’re both products of our nurture, but we’re also products of our nature. We have instincts coded in our DNA, behaviors that we find replicated across the world in a myriad of societies. We have hormones that influence how we act. But we also have brains smart enough to overcome many of these deficiencies. We can condition ourselves to knew behaviors that can be in conflict with our nature. It’s still hotly debated science to this day.

And then we get into the real heart of the series: free will versus determinism. An infant has no free will. They don’t even have conscious thought. That doesn’t start to develop until between two and four along with the child’s social identity. Right now, an infant is merely its hungers, open and honest about them in the only way it can, but crying out for help. Something most humans, regardless of gender, react to, one of those instinctual things like our fear of snakes that lurks in all of us. (Yes, there is a reason snakes and snake-like beings are found in mythologies as agents of chaos and destruction).

So we had our quote about guilt. Cnaiür finds witness in the eyes of the baby before him for the one he so callously murdered years ago. It jerks him out of his thoughts, has him retreat, declare the child isn’t Scylvendi, washing his hands of the babe.

Bakker describes the baby as pink then contrasting it with the blue sheets. Serwë finally had a pink baby, not a blue one. Esmenet surely is remembering that joy in her dead friend’s eyes.

Esmenet has balls. She cows Cnaiür. Of course, he’s off-balanced by guilt and hatred, by this reminder of not only his crime of killing that baby but how he let the original Moënghus use him.

And now we have more guilt from Achamian as he packs. He is fleeing Xinemus. He can’t make amends to his friend for allowing his eyes to be gouged out and Xinemus can’t give him the absolution because of the guilt he feels. They can only hurt each other now.

Poor Xinemus. Utterly destroyed by the cants of compulsion. Not losing his eyes, those are really just the physical proof of his torture, but what the Scarlet Spires forced him to say, moving his soul. To Xinemus, he said things to Achamian he never meant, never would have said, and he can’t get past them. And there’s nothing anyone can do for him except for Kellhus. The Dûnyain could find the words to save him.

But what use is a blind, broken man?

Esmenet quietly endures being pampered. It’s clear she’s not used to it. Not like the Esmenet we see in the next series, far older, who has utterly become the empress. But now, she’s still bemused by it all. Like with other character introductions, Bakker delves into the heart of the character. For Esmenet it is what life has forced her to be. First a whore and now an empress. She’s thrust into events. Other than setting out to find Achamian in book one, she’s never been more than a passive character, letting others drag her along in their wake, even if they’re her slaves.

We also see that she’s afraid she’ll lose it all. That she doesn’t deserve this because deep down she’s still that whore. Despite what Kellhus did to convince her in the last book, her own doubts are bubbling through, probably because of Achamian reentry into her life. He’s a reminder of what she used to be, the witness to her crimes of being a whore and then being his adulterous wife.

Esmenet holds up to the promises of naming her first daughter after Serwë. But Serwa is the opposite of her namesake in every way imaginable except in her love life. But that’s a discussion for The Great Ordeal. (I hope I’ll remember the idea for my comparison between her and her namesake).

Is it coincidence that she ran into Werjau? As we later see, he doesn’t like Esmenet and is plotting against her.

So Kellhus has created a secret police, encouraging his followers to report on each other to the Zaudunyani, and then put Esmenet in charge of it. He is molding her to be a ruler in his absence, knowing she has the intelligence for it, and must see this as something of trivial importance at the same time.

Now Bakker shows us another way she’s grown, how power has given her the agency she’s lacked all throughout her life. And yet despite being mistreated and harmed, she still finds herself doling it out. That to maintain her power, she has to order the suffering of others. Bakker also shows us that her power is a lie. It comes from Kellhus, not herself.

Oh, Esmenet, you are so wrong. Werjau is totally plotting to destroy you. I mean, that plotting goes nowhere. It’s a plot thread that, as I recall, just sort of left dangling and isn’t even addressed in the next series.

This scene with Esmenet giving judgments shows how far she’s come. She’s standing up to her opinions without flinching. She’s handing out pronouncements without flinching even when she knows that she’s condemning some men to death. She’s also guided by Kellhus, so she’s not insecure like other new rulers would be. Werjau is, wanting to punish people for little things that Esmenet knows are inconsequential.

So Kellhus’s new government is already getting its people to report on each other. Dictatorships love this. It makes trusting your neighbors, even your own family members, more difficult. What if they’ll report you? Now Kellhus has a legitimate threat to be reported on, but the system is in place to exploited to give him greater control over the population.

Now we see Kellhus’s religion has evolved into flagellation with sinners coming to be punished for their inequities. Being punished is a way of making penance for sins, for relieving the burden that guilt and stress can cause on us by believing another, more moral force, has removed them from us.

We see the first hint of Esmenet’s guilt when she realizes Achamian can hear her moaning during sex with Kellhus. Her happiness with Kellhus is slowly chipped away by this guilt. Achamian is the witness to her sin.

They’re first exchange is prickly. She’s feeling defensive about what she’s done, and reading is merely what they’re using as a proxy. Achamian doesn’t want to accept it, is confused by it, that she could betray him. And she needs him to understand and forgive her because of her guilt for the betrayal. Hence her: “The old world is dead. The old rules are dead.”

Poor Achamian. He tried, but she realized it. She still cares for him, still can easily fall into that role as his wife despite everything. You can see how she musters derision and scorn for him, trying to rip her heart away from caring for him because of the guilt and the longing she’s feeling. But she can’t do that. He meant to much for her. So she’s truthful about her feelings for him as she rationalizes why she’s with Kellhus now.

So long as Achamian won’t forgive her, she’ll feel guilty. Even though Kellhus forgave her acting as the God, it’s not enough for her. Kellhus is having to do some course correcting here. Achamian’s return is a surprise to him, I think. Not something he planned on. So he moved up his seduction of Esmenet thinking he could use her grief at Achamian’s death. But now it’s proving the wrong method. I firmly believe that Kellhus would have worked on Achamian and Esmenet over time to lead the pair to believe Esmenet needed to be his wife and bear his children. Guilt and anger have complicated his task now and with so many demands on his time, he’s not quite able to do it. Especially not once Cnaiür poisons Achamian against him.

It looks like Eleäzaras is in the bargaining stage of grief. He doesn’t want Kellhus to be a prophet, so he’s begging for what he witnessed with his own eyes to be false. But he saw Kellhus pull out a heart from his chest. All the stress that’s been building in Eleäzaras is breaking him now. He’s drinking. He’s despondent. He’s cracking. And we’ll see just how bad it gets by the end of the novel.

Bakker has shown us how the proud and noble warrior can be destroyed by the world, next he’s showing us the cunning and ambitious sorcerer falling to a similar fate. Eleäzaras could be a villain in another fantasy work, and here he is a broken man, driven to drink because the weight of his ambition is slowly crushing him. He feels guilt for what he’s done to his school.

Click here for the Chapter 3!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Intro

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

Intro

 

I was hooked after the Warrior Prophet. That ending was insane. I wanted to know about the Consult, about the Dûnyain. I wanted to find out what would happen. I wanted Achamian and Esmenet to get back together even while realizing that would never happen. I was still well immersed in my awe for Kellhus. I hadn’t taken the time to really think about him as a character and how utterly horrifying he and the Dûnyain were.

So while The Thousandfold Thought didn’t answer a lot of the greater questions about the series (though its appendices was very informative about the history), it left me reeling. I had to understand what I just read. It was so different from other fantasies. And it didn’t end complete. I mean, the Holy War came to its conclusion, but what about the Consult and its machinations? Was the Second Apocalypse going to happen?

So I was thrilled to hit the internet and discover the fan community. To learn that this was only “Book 1” of a trilogy. That more was coming, I just needed to be patient. Already, the Judging Eye had been announced, though I recall it having a different name once upon a time. I just had to wait. A veteran of The Wheel of Time, I knew how to do it.

Obsess over details. To theorize. To dissect. To come and understand this universe. This whole reread series wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for that obsessive need to understand Bakker’s world. The fact that he creates such a lived-in and unique fantasy setting, so hinging on philosophy, drove me to learn, to question. If Bakker’s skill was less, this series easily would be a confusing mess that no one would care about.

But it was built with love and care. The more I studied, the more certain of that fact I became. It had a message. It had meaning. If you could peel it away, it made you think about your own life, to question your own decisions.

The events are brutal. They’re not fair. But then life is never fair. Despite how much us humans may wish it, how we may bend and contort ourselves to fit this fiction that it could ever be possible, that’s just not the way the world is. We lie to ourselves to protect us from the true darkness that comes before us all.

Let’s embark upon The Thousandfold Thought, the conclusion of the Prince of Nothing Trilogy.

SPOILOR WARNING: Please read the book before any of these posts. This is intended for those who have read ALL the books. I will discuss both the events of the chapter and even their ramification for future events up to and including the Unholy Consult.

Like with the first two books, Bakker opens The Thousandfold Thought with two quotes that aren’t from his own fictitious setting, but from the real world.

In pursuing yonder what they have lost, the encounter only the nothing they have. In order not to lose touch with the everyday dreariness in which, as irremediable realists, they are at home, they adapt the meaning they revel in to the meaninglessness they flee. The worthless magic is nothing other than the worthless existence it lights up.

—THEODOR ADORNO, MINIMA MORALIA

All progression from a higher to a lower order are marked by ruins and mystery and a residue of nameless rage. So. Here are the dead fathers.

—CORMAC McCARTHY, BLOOD MERIDIAN

My Thoughts

Bakker strikes to the core of his series with the first quote. If humans don’t understand why they do the things they do, then it is utterly meaningless. And yet they are happy in it. They revel in it because it is their home. But does it therefore have any worth? And anything that springs from it must be as worthless as the source. But if they understand what they have lost and try to reclaim it, they can do something with true purpose.

And this leads us into the other quote about how decay and entropy break things down. Those who come after always feeling like they are lesser than those who came before. This leaves them with bewilderment which drives an anger they can’t even understand, a “nameless” rage.

This implies a cycle of a culture or a group achieving something and then losing it without understanding what they had because they don’t truly know what they lost. They don’t understand themselves. On generation builds and the other allows it to breakdown helpless to stop it but feeling that impotent rage as they struggle to as they heap new meaning upon the old, rendering it meaningless.

On and on and on.

And that is how Bakker sets the stage as two cultures reach their final clash in the Thousandfold Thoughts. Inrithism and Fanimry collide and one is cast down and destroyed by those who don’t truly understand what they are doing or why they are driven to these acts of brutality.

All except Anasûrimbor Kellhus. The Warrior Prophet channels all of their actions, but it will be into something that is ultimately meaningful? It’s hard to say since in the end, Kellhus fails. His Great Ordeal undone by his own son. It shall fall upon lesser people to in the final third of the series.

People who are as blind to the darkness that comes before as any other world-born.

Let’s embark upon The Thousandfold Thought!

If you haven’t gotten bored yet, click her for Chapter One.

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 1
Caraskand

Welcome to Chapter One of my reread. Click here if you missed the intro!

My heart shrivels even as my intellect bristles. Reasons—I find myself desperate for reasons. Sometimes I think word written is written for shame.

—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

This looks like Achamian is rationalizing why he is doing what he is doing, sharing this information to the world. He has a great deal of shame, after all Kellhus cuckolded him and took his wife. More, for a time, he allowed himself to believe that was a good thing. He accepted it only to learn how utterly he was manipulated by Kellhus. And now he shares it to the world.

Late Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Enathpaneah

There had been a time, for Achamian, when the future had been a habit, something belonging to the hard rhythm of his days toiling in his father’s shadow. His fingers had stung in the morning, his back had burned in the afternoon. The fish had flashed silver in the sunlight. Tomorrow became today, and today became yesterday, as though time were little more than gravel rolled in a barrel, forever brightening what was the same. He expected only what he’d already endured, prepared only for what had already happened. His past had enslaved his future. Only the size of his hands had seemed to change.

But now…

Achamian is walking on Proyas’s rooftop garden, stars glinting overhead. The sounds of celebration “sounding at once melancholy and besotted with joy” rise from the streets below. The Holy War had won, defying the odds. Caraskand was theirs.

Achamian reminds himself that he is a Mandate Schoolman, but he hasn’t spoken to them in such a long time. Since he traveled, it was his responsibility to maintain contact. He knew it was a failure of his duty not to have. He knows the Mandate will demand “impossible things” of him. What would come tomorrow always held him back.

Achamian, using his sorcerery, calls out to Nautzera at Atyersus, the fortress housing his school. He finds Nautzera dreaming of Dagliash on the shores of a vast, inland sea. The reek of decay gags Achamian. Draped from the fortress’s walls are thousands of rotting corpses held in nets. Achamian had dreamed of the Wall of the Dead many times. Seswatha had been captured and held here after the fall of Tyrsë and hung from the wall to “ponder the glory of the Consult.”

Nautzera hangs, wearing the Agonic Collar, dreaming himself in Seswatha’s place. Achamian fights with his own fear. It has been three years since the No-God’s advent. Achamian can feel its presence “looming across the western horizon.”

Achamian tries to reach through to Nautzera but the arrival of a Bashrag, a horrible monstrosity made of three creatures welded together, each limbs three melded into one. As it nails another victim to the wall screaming, the Nonman Mekeritrig appears on the wall saying a single word: “Anguish.”

After a moment, Mekeritrig talks about how anguish and degradation contained salvation. Nautzera, speaking in Seswatha’s voice, calls Mekeritrig by his nonman name, Cet’ingira, asking if he’s progressed that far. That he remembers so little.

A flicker of terror marred the Nonman’s perfect features. His pupils became thin as quill strokes. After millennia of practicing sorcery, the Quya bore a Mark that was far, far deeper than that borne by any Schoolmen—like indigo compared with water. Despite their preternatural beauty, despite the porcelain whiteness of their skin, they seemed blasted, blackened, and withered, a husk of cinders at once animated and extinct. Some, it was said, were so deeply Marked that they couldn’t stand within a length of a Chorae without beginning to salt.

Mekeritrig questions recalling and says he built a great wall, which Nautzera/Seswatha calls an obscenity. “As are all monuments, all memorials,” responds Mekeritrig. He claims they merely proclaim a person’s impotence. He may be immortal, but he’s lived as a mortal. “Your suffering, Seswatha, is my salvation.” Seswatha objects, saying it doesn’t have to be like this. He’s read about the ancient chronicles and knew that Mekeritrig helped out the Norsirai and educated them into greatness. The nonman was never anything like this. This makes Mekeritrig shed a tear as he says “Which is why, Seswatha.”

A cut scarred where a caress faded away. In this simple fact lay the tragic and catastrophic truth of the Nonmen. Mekeritrig had lived a hundred lifetimes—more! What would it be like, Achamian wondered, to have every redeeming memory—be it a lover’s touch or a child’s warm squeal—blotted out by the accumulation of anguish, terror, and hate? To understand the soul of a Nonman, the philosopher Gotagga had once written, one need only bare the back of an old and arrogant slave. Scars. Scars upon scars. This was what made them mad. All of them.

“I am an Erratic,” Mekeritrig was saying. “I do that which I hate, I raise my heart to the lash, so that I might remember! Do you understand what this means? You are my children!”

Seswatha says there has to another way, by, crying, Mekeritrig says there isn’t. So Seswatha begs to be killed. Mekeritrig can’t because Seswatha knows the location of the Heron Spear. Because Mekeritrig loves Seswatha, he’ll torture him and draw forth the “howling Truth of all things.” Then Mekeritrig will remember Seswatha.

With the Cant of Thawa Ligatures, the nonman inflicts pain on Seswatha while soothing him like a child, begging him not to cry. Watching the torture reminds Achamian to make contact with Nautzera. He screams at him that it’s a dream. Realizing this, Nautzera turns form the torture and gasps in shock at the sight of Achamian, believe him dead.

The dreams vanishes and the pair stand in nowhere. They don’t speak with words, but with thoughts. Nautzera wants to know how Achamian live. The Scarlet Spire had them. Achamian can’t speak, feeling like his reasons for not making contact are so petty know. Meanwhile, Nautzera is saying they will get revenge on his behalf. That shocks Achamian to realize that Nautzera was concerned and has compassion. But he ignores that and admits that he has lied to him.

Nautzera is confused, thinking the Scarlet Spire didn’t seize Achamian, but he shows Nautzera his memories of Iothiah, his capture, Xinemus’s torture, and his escape. “Remembered men screaming.” Nautzera is excited by this, saying Achamian’s exploits will be immortalized. Then question the lies. Achamian grows nervous and says that he’s concealed a fact from the Mandate.

A fact?

An Anasûrimbor has returned…

A long pause, strangely studied.

What are you saying?

The Harbinger has come, Nautzera. The world is about to end.

That phrase, the world is about to end, echoes in Achamian’s mind. But any phrase, even that one, can become familiar, robbed of its importance by repetition. That is why Seswatha created the dreams, to remind his followers every night why they fight. Now, finally saying these words, makes Achamian realize he never meant them before. He never understood them. He does now.

Nautzera is shocked. Achamian later realizes that he’d frightened Nautzera the same way it had terrified Achamian months ago when he learned them and “feared himself unequal to the events unfolding before him.”

The world was about to end.

Achamian catches Nautzera up on the events of the last two books since Proyas introduced Achamian to Kellhus and Cnaiür. The only thing he leaves out is Esmenet. Achamian then explains just how Kellhus got the Holy War to follow him so thoroughly after being freed. Because Cnaiür killed the skin-spy, a demon, who had tried to murder the dying Kellhus. Achamian quotes Ajencis: “Men ever make corruption proof of purity.” He talks about how Kellhus unified the Holy War swiftly. Even Conphas knelt and kissed his knee. Sick and starving, they marched out the gates and won an impossible battle. Kascamandri, the Padirajah, killed by Kellhus. And now the Holy War prepares to march on Shimeh. “They’ve all but succeeded!”

Nautzera is confused why Kellhus, if knows about the Second Apocalypse, would continue the war at all. He speculates Kellhus is their instrument, but Achamian disagrees. The Holy War is being purged of the skin-spies. Over a dozen nobles vanished right after Sarcellus’s death and unveiling while two have been captured and “exorcised.” Nautzera is excited, thinking the entire Three Seas will believe the Mandate. Achamian responds: “Either that or burn.” He takes satisfaction in that thought. After being laughed out for hundreds of years, the Mandate were vindicated.

Nautzera is also drunk on the drug of vindication, but he warns Achamian that the Consult will try to assassinate Kellhus and Achamian must protect him. Achamian says “the Warrior-Prophet” doesn’t need protection. Nautzera is shocked Achamian calls him by that title, asking why.

Because no other name seemed his equal. Not even Anasûrimbor. But something, a profound indecision perhaps, held him mute.

Achamian? Do you actually think the man’s a prophet?

I don’t know what I think… Too much has happened.

This is no time for sentimental foolishness!

Enough, Nautzera. You haven’t seen the man.

No… but I will.

Achamian is shocked, asking what he means, wondering if his brother Schoolmen were coming. He doesn’t want them to see his humiliation. Nautzera ignores it, instead asking what the Scarlet Spire thinks. Eleäzaras looks defeated, unable to even stare into Achamian’s eyes. He’s afraid of Achamian because of Iothiah. Nautzera says Eleäzaras will come to Achamian eventually and Achamian is brash, declaring let him try. Nautzera says now isn’t the time for retribution, though he years for it. Things are too important. “Do you understand this?”

What did understanding have to do with hatred?

Nautzera is interested in what Eleäzaras thinks of Kellhus. Does he think he’s a fraud. Achamian isn’t sure, but thinks Eleäzaras wants him to be a fraud. Nautzera wants Achamian to let the Scarlet Spire know that Kellhus is theirs. Achamian says they will have to purchase Achamian. He wants the Gnosis. Achamian reveals Kellhus is one of the few and fears he’ll turn to the Scarlet Spire if denied the Gnosis. Nautzera is not happy to learn that Achamian has known this for so long and isn’t sure he can trust Achamian. Achamian rebukes him with what happened to Inrau. For a moment, Nautzera looks like a small boy full of fear and says that was unfortunate. Achamian then tells Nautzera that Kellhus will be a sorcerer more powerful than any else.

Harness your passions! You [Achamian] must see him as a tool—a Mandate tool!—nothing more, nothing less. We must possess him!

And if the Gnosis is his price for “possession,” what then?

The Gnosis is our hammer. Ours! Only by submitting—

And if the Spires? If Eleäzaras offers him the Anagogis?

Hesitation, both outraged and exasperated.

This is madness! A prophet would pit School against School for sorcery’s sake? A Wizard-Prophet? A Shaman?

Silence hangs between them as all such words of stunning import cause. Achamian agrees with Nautzera at how crazy this was. Worse, he has to “woo and win” the man who stole Esmenet. He fights off the pain as Nautzera agrees that Achamian can teach him the Lesser Cants and the denotories. “Deceive him with dross into thinking you’ve traded our deepest secrets.” Achamian objects, saying that won’t work.

All men can be deceived, Achamian. All men.

Achamian scoffs, saying Kellhus isn’t a man. Nautzera doesn’t care, he just needs Achamian to yoke Kellhus. Achamian says Kellhus is beyond them. Thinking of Esmenet, he blurts out, “He possesses.”

The Men of the Tusk rejoice as the butcher the herds of their enemies. They feast until they are sick. They are no longer divided into Orthodox and Zaudunyani. “They were Inrithi once again.” Conryians tattoo the Circumfix on their arms, while the Thunyeri and Tydonni scar themselves with the symbol. The Galeoth and Ainoni mark their bodies, too. “Only the Nansur refrained.”

For two days, the captured Kianene labor to make a mound of their dead. The carrion birds fight over the bounty. Meanwhile, the Inrithi keep celebrating, some growing ill and even dying from eating too much. On the fourth day, the gathered up their captives, stripped them naked to humiliate them, and forced them to carry great treasures. They marched them to Umiaki, the tree where Kellhus hung with dead Serwë, and had them present their spoils and swear to the Warrior-Prophet. Those who did and cursed Fane were given to the slavers. Those that didn’t, were executed.

When all was finished and the sun leaned crimson against the dark hills, the Warrior-Prophet walked from his seat and knelt in the blood of his enemies. He bid his people come to him, and upon the forehead of each he sketched the mark of the Tusk in Fanim blood.

Even the most manly wept for wonder.

Esmenet is his…” Achamian thinks over and over. “Like all horrifying thoughts, this one possessed a will all of its own.” He can’t shake the pain of her betrayal as he arrives at the Fama Palace. The Zaudunyani functionaries are anxious around him, not because he’s a sorcerer as would be normal, but Achamian feels like they’ve heard so much about Achamian, a man who will fit into their scriptures one day, and mocked him in their thoughts. But now he stands before them, shaming them.

Of course, they knew he was a cuckold. By now the stories of everyone who had broken bread or sawed joint at Xinemus’s fire would be known in some distorted form or another. There were no intimacies left. And his story, in particular—the sorcerer who loved the whore who would become the Prophet-Consort—had doubtless come quick to a thousand lips, multiplying his shame.

As Achamian waits, he realizes that Kellhus would change the world even if the Second Apocalypse wasn’t a threat the way Inri Sejenus would. Achamian realizes this is Year One of a new chapter of mankind.

He observes three other petitioners chatting in a courtyard and is stuck by how prosaic it is. Normalcy had returned so swiftly. Even Kellhus’s new banners, the Circumfix, feel like they’ve always belonged. He realizes someone must have been making these before the battle begun to have so many.

Whoever they were, they had forgotten Serwë. He blinked away images of her bound to Kellhus and the ring. It had been so very dark beneath Umiaki, but it seemed you could see her face arched back in rigor and ecstasy…

An officer of the Hundred Pillars (Kellhus’s bodyguard) kneels before Achamian and says he’s here to bring Achamian to Kellhus. Achamian’s skin tingles as her reflects on the fact Kellhus communed with the God. Achamian knows it to be true because Kellhus speaks words no man could know even if he’s still incredulous of it.

A miracle. A prophet in their midst.

Breathe when you speak to him. You must remember to breathe.

The officer marches Achamian in silence through the palace. Achamian, though nervous, is glad for the silence. He’s beset by conflicting emotions: hatred for a rival and love for an old friend. Fear for the darkness to come, and joy at their recent victory. Even awe fills him.

The eyes of men were but pinholes—no one knew this better than a Mandate Schoolmen. All their books, even their scriptures, were nothing more than pinholes. And yet, because they couldn’t see what was unseen, they assumed they saw everything, the confused pinpricks with the sky.

But Kellhus was something different. A doorway. A mighty gate.

He’s come to save us. This is what I must remember. I must hold onto this!

He’s led to a an orchard where Esmenet strolls with Kellhus. He can’t stop staring at her as she looks so happy and loving beside Kellhus. It’s the first time Achamian’s seen the two together. She’s dressed like a queen and wears a Chorae.

She was Esmenet and yet she wasn’t Esmenet. The woman of loose life had fallen away, and what remained was more, so much more, than she’d been at his side. Resplendent.

Redeemed.

I dimmed her, he realized. I was smoke and he… is a mirror.

The officer kneels, and Achamian does as well, but more because he’s legs give out at the shock then any need to genuflect. He feels like such a fool and fights back against the pain. He feels like he’s suffered so much and only wants one thing to balance his ledgers, her, but he knows “he would ruin it, the way he ruined everything.”

He remembers her words, telling him she’s carrying Kellhus’s child, as he watches her kiss Kellhus on the cheek. His terrible joke he told her when they reunited, “So what will it be the next time I die?” echoes in his mind.

Kellhus watches Achamian and, like Esmenet, he wears a chorea “though he had the courtesy to keep it concealed against his chest.” He tells Achamian he never has to kneel before him. That he is Kellhus friend always. Achamian glances where Esmenet vanished into the shadows, anger filling him. Achamian moves to Kellhus, shocked by the man’s height.

They walk together, Kellhus “effortlessly guiding” him. Kellhus asks after Xinemus, who Achamian admits he’s worried about. Kellhus wants to see him, his words easing Achamian into the rhythms of their old relationship. He even grins at a joke Kellhus tells until he notices the cuts and bruises on Kellhus’s body. Achamian remembers he was tortured and Serwë murdered.

“Yes,” Kellhus said, ruefully holding out his hands. He looked almost embarrassed. “Would that everything healed so quickly.”

Somehow these words found Achamian’s fury.

“You could see the Consult all along—all along!—and yet you said nothing to me… Why?

Why Esmenet?

Kellhus answers that the time wasn’t right, which Achamian knows. He explains that the Mandate would have seized him where now they have to negotiate with him. Then Kellhus continues, revealing he knows Achamian has told them and then asks if they agreed with Achamian’s interpretation that he’s the harbinger. They find it unlikely but, when pressed by Kellhus, admits he’s instructed to pretend to teach the Gnosis and to protect him.

“So you’re to be my bodyguard?”

“They have good reason to worry—as do you. Think of the catastrophe you’ve wrought. For centuries the Consult has hidden in the fat of the Three Seas, while we were little more than a laughingstock. They could act with impunity. But now that fat has cooked away. They’ll do anything to recover what they’ve lost. Anything.”

“There have been other assassins.”

“But that was before… The Stakes are far higher now. Perhaps these skin-spies act on their own. Perhaps they’re… directed.”

Kellhus studied him for a moment. “You fear one of the Consult might be directly involved… that an Old Name shadows the Holy war.”

Achamian does. After a few moments of silence, Kellhus asks if Achamian will give him the Gnosis. Achamian realizes Kellhus knows just how powerful he’ll be with it. Achamian reluctantly says if Kellhus demands it even as he realizes Kellhus knows exactly what Achamian says. Kellhus wants it while recognizing he’ll lose the protection of the Chorae. In the beginning of his training, before he can really use the Gnosis, he’ll still be marked and unable to touch a Chorae. So Kellhus declares Achamian is his Holy Vizier and will live in the palace to protect him, spoken with “the authority of a Shrial Edict.”

Kellhus did not wait for his [Achamian’s] reply—none was needed.

Can you protect me, Akka?”

Achamian blinked, still trying to digest what had just happened. “You will reside here…”

With her.

Achamian isn’t confident he could protect Kellhus from an Old Name while at the same time he feels a “treacherous joy,” thinking this will give him the chance to prove himself to Esmenet and win her back. But Kellhus meant if Achamian could control himself and not kill Kellhus. Achamian answers that if he can’t, “Seswatha can.” Kellhus accepts that and motions Achamian to follow him.

He’s lead to a captured skin-spy bound in chains to an apple tree that’s rotting away in the garden. Kellhus says the tree was already dead. Achamian takes in the sight, asks what Kellhus has learned. This stirs the skin-spy who taunts Achamian that it’s too late while Kellhus says that the skin-spies are directed. Achamian asks if Kellhus knows who is directing them, but Kellhus explains it would take months or more of interrogation to break one. “They’re conditioned—powerfully so.” Achamian believes Kellhus, in time, could break the creature. Achamian believes Kellhus infallible.

For a giddy instant a kind of gloating fury descended upon Achamian. All those years—centuries!—the Consult had played them for fools. But now—now! Did they know? Could they sense the peril this man represented? Or would they underestimate him like everyone had?

Like Esmenet.

Achamian then says Kellhus has to keep Chorae bowmen around and avoid large structures, but Kellhus cuts him off, saying it troubles Achamian to see the skin-spy. Achamian studies the prisoner and wonders why Kellhus bound it in the garden. “It seemed the act of someone who knew nothing of beauty… nothing.” Achamian agrees it troubles him.

“And your hatred?” [asks Kellhus]

For an instant it had seemed that everything—who he was and who he would become—wanted to love this godlike man. And how could he not, given the sanctuary of his mere presence? And yet intimations of Esmenet clung to him. Glimpses of her passion…

“It remains,” he said.

The Skin-spy begins fighting against its chains as though Achamian’s answer provoked it. He steps back, remembering the last time he saw one. Kellhus ignores it and says that men surrender to even while seeking to dominate. It’s in their nature. “The question is never whether they surrender, but rather to whom…” Achamian is confused and Kellhus continues that many men only truly submit to the God to preserve their pride. By kneeling to the unseen, they “can abase themselves without fear of degradation.”

“One,” Kellhus was saying, “can only be tested, never degraded, by the God.”

“You said ‘some,’” Achamian managed. “What of the others?” In his periphery he saw the thing’s face knuckle as though into interlocking fists.

“They’re like you, Akka. They surrender not to the God but to those like themselves. A man. A woman. There’s no pride to be preserved when one submits to another. Transgress, and there’s no formula. And the fear of degradation is always present, even if not quite believed. Lovers injure each other, humiliate and debase, but they never test, Akka—not if they truly love.”

Achamian asks why Kellhus is saying this. Kellhus says Achamian “clings to the hope” that this is Esmenet’s test. She’s not testing him. Achamian demands to know if she’s just degrading him. If they both are.

“I’m saying that she loves you still. As for me, I merely took what was given.”

“Then give it back!” Achamian barked with savagery. He shook. His breath cramped in his throat.

“You’re forgetting, Akka. Love is like sleep. One can never seize, never force love.”

The words were his own, spoken that first night about the fire with Kellhus and Serwë beneath Momemn. In a rush, Achamian recalled the sprained wonder of that night, the sense of having discovered something at once horrific and ineluctable. And those eyes, like lucid jewels set in the mud of the world, watching from across the flames—the same eyes that watched him this very moment… though a different fire burned between them.

Kellhus continues, saying for a while, Achamian was lost. That he had no meaning but his love for her. That he had only her. Achamian wants to murder Kellhus, his mind full of images of Esmenet. With his sorcery, he could kill Kellhus. Then Kellhus says that nothing Esmenet or he can do can undo what Achamian suffered. “Your degradation is your own.” Achamian recoils, not wanting Kellhus to see his emotions as he asks what Kellhus means. Kellhus explains this is Achamian’s test. “You, Drusas Achamian, are a Mandate Schoolman.”

Achamian vomits after Kellhus leaves. He hides in a niche and hugs himself. He’s trying to rationalize Kellhus and Esmenet, pointing out they thought him dead. But he realizes Kellhus should have known he lived.

How could he [Kellhus] not know? How—

Achamian laughed, stared with idiot eyes at the dim geometries painted across the ceiling. He ran a palm over his forehead, fingers through his hair. The skin-spy continued to thrash and bark in his periphery.

“Year One,” he whispered.

My Thoughts

I think we can all relate to that humdrum feel of just living our lives, every day the same as the one before, living in our ruts until something shakes us out of it and sends us reeling. We find comfort in that routine. We try to establish it even in hard circumstances so we can lie to ourselves that we have some amount of control over our existence.

Achamian finally believes Kellhus can survive if he makes contact with the Mandate. Achamian is in his camp now. He may be ordered to do those impossible things, but he won’t do them. Achamian was beaten into strength by his torture at the hands of the scarlet spire.

Ah, Dagliash. It’s a terrible place. The glory of the Consult… Thousands and thousands of corpses draped from a wall, proof of the might of the Consult. Of how they had destroyed Tyrsë and the Great Norsirai Kingdoms of the North.

Mekeritrig.. He was the nonman that Kellhus met in the prologue that showed our Dûnyain that effect could precede a cause. That the Outside was real, magic existed, and the Dûnyain framework wasn’t sufficient to cover everything. He is also the nonman that lead Shaeönanra and his Mangaecca school to the Ark and thus created the Consult.

How does anguish and degradation contain salvation? Because by suffering and debasing himself, by working with the Consult against his own people and helping the very beings that destroyed his race, Mekeritrig has found salvation. He has peered into the Inverse Fire and learned that it is very real. And that the No-God was created to end it. By making everyone else suffer, by destroying them, he shall earn his salvation.

And he has erected this wall as a I reminder. So he can remember that degradation and anguish that buys his salvation. It’s his book, his way of remembering the past. Like all erratics, only pain and suffering can elicit those memories of the past, of those he loved who died thousands of years ago.

Starting a new novel in a series is tricky. How do you catch up the reader? Bakker has a rather detailed “What Came Before” summary at the start of each novel (and you should read it because he’s often less coy in it and makes some things that were ambiguous in the text more clear). But this is a good start. He lays out Achamian’s main dilemma from the last book, shows the dreams of Seswatha, delves into identity and memory (a major theme of the novels), gives you a quick glimpse of what Achamian suffered, then drops that bombshell once more: “The world is about to end.”

Then by having Achamian catch-up Nautzera, Bakker has an excuse to drop some exposition on what happened in the last book in the quick strokes for those who skipped his “What Came Before” section. This part isn’t quite as well done. It’s just a straight plot dump in a few paragraphs, no conversation, but it also gets through it pretty fast. Even as a conversation, I doubt it would have been that great. Best to just get it out of the way and remind readers of what’s happened. When Bakker gets to the new information, he switches back to the conversation, to let it flow better. Authors, remember, if you have to have an exposition dump, have characters talk about, let them explore conflicts, show off their personalities, how they react and act. This lets you make the scene serve multiple purposes.

Every scene in a novel should do one of three things: Plot, Character, or World building. It should drive the plot, develop the characters, and establish the world. Ideally, if you can do two or even all three in a scene, even better.

The Ajencis quote is interesting about corruption giving proof to purity. I have listened to some sociologist, like Dr. Jonathan Haidt, talk about morality and how it is often wrapped around sacred objects and beliefs as much as controlling interactions between people. He postulates that morality came out of disgust behavior. Humans, as omnivorous, face a dilemma. We can eat almost anything, so that means we can explore new things to eat. New animals, new plants, etc. It allowed us to spread out of the tropics were we are adapted to survive without any clothing or technology. This puts a dual nature in us that we both need to seek out new things and yet be cautious of that less we expose ourselves to disease. Racism is probably not fear of others like people think, but this disgust reaction in that we’ve evolved to understand that meeting a new group can lead to new diseases being introduced so there is a part of us that recoils in disgust, no different than seeing a piece of rotten food. But at the same time, we’re driven to seek out novel things. This is the real difference between Conservatives and Liberals. A Conservative wants to protect from outside threats weakening us while a Liberal wants to introduce outside objects to strengthen us. Both are necessary for humans to advance and when one or the other gets too strong, it causes a lot of problems for us. So for a Conservative who has found something that they feel defends from the corrupt, like religion, like a symbol (the US Flag for the Right, or Immigration for the Left in the United States) they make it sacred. And when a human does that (because remember we are predisposed to religious thinking and not scientific thinking) we want to preserve it. And that makes us combative. Makes us rigid in our thinking. Makes us orthodoxy and not want to question these things.

And that leads to conflict.

Achamian is still aching for vengeance on the Scarlet Spires and upon Iyokus in particular. Shame those two didn’t have a seen in the followup series. But the Blind Schoolman was a little busy when Achamian arrived.

What does understanding have to do with hatred? Nothing. Hatred can destroy reason. It can slay objectivity. It can undermine logic. Hatred can cause you to murder what you need the most if you don’t control it. And Achamian has a lot of reasons to hate the Scarlet Spire, but also Esmenet and Kellhus. Stakes are being raised here. The conflicts for the novel are being established.

Nautzera’s greed to possess Kellhus is on display. The Mandate, who have spent so much time suffering for the second apocalypse, now must be the ones to control its defense, through the harbinger. He doesn’t think at all about the world’s good, but the fulfillment of his order’s purpose. He doesn’t think of any other way. And it leads him to do something that he would never have allowed before to keep Kellhus from falling in with their enemies.

Nautzera’s line “All men can be deceived” strikes right to the core of the series. If free will is an illusion, as Bakker’s universe contains, then we’re all deceived. It’s a true statement. Even a Dûnyain who can see so far, can be deceived. Can make mistakes. Can be manipulated in the right way. Just by limiting Kellhus’s information, by controlling it just right, you could deceive him. After all, he never believed in Sorcery, was deceived by the Pragmas into believing cause and effect were inviolable and then saw proof it wasn’t with his own eyes.

I like this mark about the carrion birds still fighting over the feast before them. Even for animals, it’s never enough. They always have to be in conflict with the other species. There is a fiction, a romantic view of nature, that it is in balance. It’s a lie. Nature has never been in balance. If it were, no species would ever have gone instinct. Humans have a need to lie about the nobility of it to punish their own hearts for their weaknesses, for their actions.

Kellhus has brutal style. It’s a new baptism, an inversion of Christianity. Here, the new prophet doesn’t use his own blood to wash clean his followers, but the blood of his enemies. And the fact that it is moving to his followers just underscores human psychology, how we can be manipulated into participating in acts of evil by the in-group/out-group preference we all share. As tribal creatures, we form tight bonds with those closest to us and have trouble caring about those who aren’t apart of that in-group. Our societies have struggled hard to expand the in-group while building tolerance for the out-group, but at our core, in our DNA, this behavior remains and it can be used to do terrible things.

You can’t help but pity Achamian. How terrible it must be to have to help the very people who so betrayed you. It speaks to his character that he sucks up his pain for the fate of the world. It’s only when he learns the truth of what Kellhus is from the Scylvendi that he can no longer do it, no longer trust that Kellhus will save the world.

Achamian thinks that Kellhus won’t be an Ajencis (a great philosopher) or a Triamis (a great leader) but a great prophet. The founder of a new religion. Bakker is telling us something about humans here. Despite the fact Kellhus has the intelligence to be a greater philosophy or leader than Ajencis or Triamis, something Bakker has shown us are the epitome of their two areas in his universe, he goes the religious route to seize power. It’s the shortest path. Humans are hard-wired to create sacred objects and protect them. This goes back to the omnivorous dilemma. When humans find something that works for them, they elevate it. They don’t want it challenge. It usually is religion, which if you look at a lot of old ones you’ll see plenty of commandments about cleanliness and purity (i.e. protecting yourself from diseases and sicknesses). In modern times, with the destruction of so many traditional institutes like religion, people are taking up new ideas and substituting them in its place from politics and political leaders, to movements (progressivism, feminism, socialism, environmentalism) to clinging to the past (southern nationalism, white nationalism) and even intellectual pursuits (like science or skeptical philosophy). This need to create the sacred is ingrained in us, and if you can harness it, you can really control people.

In just a few days, things are normal again. Humans crave that stability “normalcy” brings and are quick to reestablish it when circumstances permit. It’s the anti-fragileness of our species. It’s what lets us survive tragedy and keep going, but only so long as it’s permitted to develop while we’re children.

Poor Serwë, forgotten. Not seen as worthy of being remembered. But like all of us, she’s only truly remembered by those who knew her, cared for her in life.

Eyes as pinpricks is a profound reminder about the limitation of our perspectives. It’s easy for us to forget that we’re not seeing the whole picture. It’s easy to think the best and worst of another person because we’re only seeing them through a few minutes on the news, through a post on social media, through the gossip of our peers. It’s easy to judge without knowing all the facts.

And that only leads to pain and suffering.

Achamian loves Esmenet. Because he can see that she’s better off with Kellhus. That the man gave her more than he ever could. He can recognize that without thinking ill of her. And now we see he wants her back. He’s in denial that he can reclaim her, win back her affections. And he does, but it’s not enough because she’s pregnant and as a mother, she chooses the situation best for her child.

The Dûnyain are good at showing the world they don’t make mistakes, that they are infallible. Even us readers can be tricked into thinking this about Kellhus despite the numerous mistakes he makes over the course of this series. Let alone his miscalculation at the end of the Unholy Consult (no, that was not part of his master plan what happened at the end of that novel.)

I think Achamian is realizing, on a subconscious level, that Achamian had seduced Esmenet. That she, like everyone else, had underestimated Kellhus and didn’t see his ulterior motive to seduce her until it was too late. Perhaps this is just something Achamian wants to be true to protect the pain in his own heart, to try and soften her betrayal by shifting it all onto Kellhus. After all, Achamian now wants to win her back. He can’t hate her, think her false, if that’s the case. He’s starting to come up with rationalizations for his irrational desire for Esmenet. And after all, nothing is more irrational than love. As Bakker showed us earlier in this series, the intellect is ever slave to desire, forced to justify our actions as we pursue what we crave through whatever means the intellect can use.

Achamian realizes that Kellhus doesn’t appreciate beauty. As Kellhus said when Achamian first sees the skin-spy bound to the apple tree that the tree was already dead. To Kellhus, using a dead tree to hold the creature was making use of something now useless. It’s in a convenient spot for him to access. He doesn’t think about the ascetics of it.

I’ve talked about before that hierarchy among men is one of submission. That human leaders don’t really seize power without consent. That they have people, often armed men, who have submitted to them, allowing them to dominate others. And by accepting their submission, the man seeking domination often finds himself submitting to the man who he leads because to maintain their acceptance as the leader, he has to give them something back in exchange, fulfill their wants and desires. So since all men submit, even me and you, to something, choose carefully what it is you’re submitting to. Think about why you’re doing something, understand it. That’s probably Bakker’s most important lesson he teaches in this series: you have a brain, use it critically.

And then he shows us that love is another form of submission, one that opens yourself up to injury and degradation. If you’re partner is playing testing games with you, probably means she doesn’t love you. Always a warning sign. Kellhus is laying the foundation of winning Achamian back to his side. But there’s one major doubt that Achamian has. Kellhus knew he lived and still took what Esmenet offered. It’s this doubt combined with Cnaiür’s revelation that forever shakes Achamian from seeing Kellhus as anything but a manipulator. A cold, calculating man who doesn’t care about the beauty of a garden when it could be more useful as a makeshift dungeon.

This chapter lays the foundation for the central conflict for the major characters of Kellhus, Esmenet, and Achamian and their love triangle, which I’m loathe to use, going forward in this book. Esmenet does still love Achamian, which is why she’ll start feeling guilty about everything, which is why she’ll come so close to abandoning Kellhus for Achamian.

Click here for Chapter Two!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Five

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 25
Caraskand

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

What is the meaning of a deluded life?

AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

My Thoughts

What a powerful quote to end this book on. As we see, all man are deceived by the darkness that comes before them, therefor all men have a deluded life. What is the worth? Does that mean their actions have no value in a deterministic universe? There is a reason that determinism is not a wildly embraced philosophy. Even if it’s the truth of our circumstances, that everything we do was set in motion the moment the big bang happened, most humans reject that idea. We prefer the alternatives, that our conscious will does give us free will. That just because our society and culture, that our friends and acquaintances, put pressures on us to drive our behavior, we still make the decision. Most humans utterly reject the belief that we have no control over our will, that it is an illusion, so we can feel that our actions do have value. That we accomplish something with the minute amount of time we have in this world.

It’s what all the character’s in The Prince of Nothing series wish to believe even as their actions are shown to be at the behest of other forces. Is is better to live a deluded life and be happy? Or be miserable in the mire of nihilistic determinism? Is it better to believe your life has value and meaning then to be an insignificant spec, a tiny cog in a machine as vast as the entire universe?

Maybe being deluded isn’t all that bad.

Late Winter, 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Caraskand

Kellhus is cut down by the Nascenti, pulled away form his dead wife. Kellhus knows he should be too weak to act, but feels something “inexplicable” moving him. He pulls away from Serwë and stands. He’s wrapped in white linen and stumbles away from the tree. The crowds stare at him all and “it seemed he embraced all the Three Seas.” As he Cnaiür and Eleäzaras looks dumbstruck and Gotian staggers forward, Kellhus starts to understand the purpose of his father’s summons: the Thousandfold Thought.

And it seemed there was nothing, no dwarfing frame, that could restrict him to this place, to any place… He was all things, and all things were his…

He was one of the Condition. Dûnyain.

He was the Warrior-Prophet.

Tears roared down his cheeks. With a haloed hand, he reached beneath his breast, firmly wrested the heart from his ribs. He thrust it high to the thunder of their adulation. Beads of blood seemed to crack the stone at his feet… He glimpsed Sarcellus’s uncoiled face.

I see…

“They said!” he cried in a booming voice, and the howling chorus trailed into silence.

“They said that I was False, that I caused the anger of the God to burn against us!”

He looked into their wasted faces, answered their fevered eyes. He brandished Serwë’s burning heart.

“But I say that we—WE!—are that anger!

Kascamandri, the Padirajah of Kian, sent an offer of surrender to the Men of the Tusk, one he thought was generous. If they yield and forswear their false religion, he would make them Grandees among their “idolatrous nations.” He didn’t think it would be accept outright, he was too wise for that, but knew it was a start. He understands the power of his victory if he defeats the Holy War by religious conversion and not by the sword.

The reply came in the form of a dozen almost skeletal Inrithi knights, dressed in simple cotton tunics and wearing only knives. After disputing the knives, which the idolaters refused to relinquish, Kascamandri’s Ushers received them with all jnanic courtesy and brought them directly to the great Padirajah, his children, and the ornamental Grandees of his court.

There was a a moment of astonished silence, for the Kianene could scarce believe the bearded wretches before them could author so much woe. Then, before the first ritual declaration, the twelve men cried out, “Satephikos kana ta yerishi ankapharas!” in unison, then drew their knives and cut their own throats.

The court is horrified. Kascamandri hugs his youngest daughters as they cried. His shaken interpreter says that “the Warrior-Prophet shall… shall come before you…” Kascamandri demands to know who that is, but no one knows. The next morning, the Men of the Tusk form up to fight outside the Ivory Gate, singing. They have chosen to do battle instead of enduring “hunger and disease.” They form up, the Tydonni on the right flank, then the Nansur, the Conryians, Thunyeri, the Ainoni, and the Galeoth. The Kianene allow them to form up, fearing if they attacked too soon, the Holy War would retreat into Caraskand. All those with the strength, even the few women and priest who’d survived, wielded arms and sang hymns. “Some one hundred thousand Inrithi had stumbled form the Carathay, and less than fifty thousand now ranged across the plain.” Another twenty thousand too week remained behind, some cheering from the walls others praying.

Those who formed up on the field take hope in the new banner flying, the Circumfix of the Warrior Prophet. “The glory of it scarcely seemed possible…” War horns sound the advance. The grim Holy War marches to the Kianene who formed up two miles away on the open plains where the Inrithi would expose their flanks.

Songs keened over the throbbing of Fanim drums. The deep war chants of the Thunyeri, which had once filled the forest of their homeland with sound of doom. The keening hymns of the Ainoni, whose cultivated ears savored the dissonance of human voices. The dirges of the Galeoth and the Tydonni, solemn and foreboding. They sang, the Men of the Tusk, overcome with strange passions: joy that knew no laughter, terror that knew no fear. They sang and they marched, walking with the grace of almost-broken men.

When men collapsed, their kinsmen dragged them onward. The Tydonni make first contact with the Fanim, who fire arrows upon them. But they have their great shields and withstood the volley. Anasacer, whose lands were taken by Holy War, “charged with fury” at the Tydonni. At the center, war elephants charge at the Circumfix. But outriders set grass on fire, panicking the mastodons. Still, many trample into the Inrithi.

Soon, the Fanim are charging the entirety of the Inrithi lines, galloping on their horses. Crown Prince Fanayal attacks King Saubon, rampaging through his lines. On the wall, the sick still pray while the battle is obscured by smoke. But they see the Tydonni hold. The few horseman left, riding nags, break the Fanim charge. Athjeäri and his knights, sent to stop any attacks from the hills, found themselves in position to charge the Fanim rear. So Athjeäri took it.

The Fanim fell back in disarray, while before them, all across the Fields of Tertae, the singing Inrithi resumed their forward march. Many upon the walls limped eastward, toward the Gate of Horns, where they could see the first Men of the Tusk fight clear the smoke of the centre and press onward in the wake of retreating Girgashi horsemen. Then they saw it, the Circumfix, fluttering white and unsullied in the wind…

As though driven by inevitability, the iron men marched forward. When the heathen charged, they grabbed at bridles and were trampled. They punched spears deep into the haunches of Fanim horses. They fended hacking swords, pulled heathen shrieking to the ground, where they knifed them in the armpit, face, or groin. They shrugged off piercing arrows. When the heathen relented, some Men of the Tusk, the madness of battle upon them, hurled their helms at the fleeing horsemen. Time and again the Kianene charged, broke, then withdrew, while the iron men trudged on, through olive trees, across the fallow fields. They would walk with the God—whether he favored them or no.

Though driven back, the Kianene were too proud to falter now. Kascamandri, “hoisted by his slaves upon the back of a massive horse,” leads the counter attack. The elephants also regroup, though Yalgrota Sranchammer proves his name by braining one with a single blow. More and more, the Kianene charge the Holy War’s advancing lines. But then the Nansur break through, reaching the Padirajah’s camp. This silences the heathen drums and only the Inrithi’s hymns are heard. The rout begins as Kascamandri is killed by Kellhus. Fanayal escapes, saving his younger sisters and brothers. Some Kianene still fight, but they are butchered by Men of the Tusk who weep because “never had they known such dark glory.”

And in the wake of the battle, some climbed the mastodon carcasses, held their swords out to the glare of the sun, and understood things they did not know.

The Holy War had been absolved.

Forgiven

The surviving Grandees were strung from many-boughed sycamores, and in the evening light they hung, like drowned men floating up from the deep. And though years would pass, none would dare touch them. They would sag from the nails that fixed them, collapse into heaps about the base of their trees. And to anyone who listened, they would whisper a revelation… The secret of battle.

Indomitable conviction. Unconquerable belief.

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

Aëngelas rides with his fellow Werigda across the Plains of Gâl, many weeping when they spotted a track of a small child. They were searching for their missing wives and children for the last two days. They’d returned from a successful raid only to find their families slaughtered or carried off. They ride through the ruins of Myclai, the capital of long dead Akssersia. Aëngelas knew nothing of the “Old Wars” that had destroyed the Ancient North or anything of the nation from which his people were descended. “They dwelt among the unearthed bones of greater things.” They followed the tracks of the Sranc through the ruins. This was a new clan, not the Kig’krinaki nor Xoägi’i whom his people usually fought. This clan was wickeder. Some even rode horses.

Past the ruins, as evening approaches, they found a fire pit and the bones of their children in it. “The Werigda gnashed their teeth and howled at the dark heavens.” They didn’t sleep, so they kept riding. They question what sin they’ve committed against the “man-pummeling Gods?” They travel through two more days “of trembling horror.” Over and over, Aëngelas sees tracks of women and children, the tribes adolescents dead and raped bodies. He remembered his wife’s fear and her premeditation she told him before he left: “Do not leave us, Aënga… The Great Ruiner hunts for us. I’ve seen him in my dreams!”

They find another fire pit, but this time the ashes are warm. They are close. While many want to press on, Aëngelas points out they’re too tired for battle. Arguments break out, men worried whose children the Sranc would next eat. But they force themselves to rest and be ready.

They’re attacked in the night by Srancs. Aëngelas is dragged from his mat. He kills his assailant with a knife, but horses charge around him. He and his men are easily captured. They are driven through the night. He weeps, knowing he would never make love to his wife or tease his sons around the fire. He wonders, “What have we done to deserve this? What have we done?”

By the wicked glare of torchlight he saw the Sranc, with their narrow shoulders and dog-deep chests, surfacing form the night as though from the depths of the Sea. Inhumanly beautiful faces, as white as polished bone; armor of lacquered human skin; necklaces of human teeth; and the shrunken faces of men stitched into their round shields. He smelled their sweet stench—like feces and rotted fruit. He heard the nightmarish clacking of their laughter, and from somewhere in the night, the shrieks of the Werigda’s horses as they were slaughtered.

And periodically he saw the Nonmen, tall upon their silk-black steeds. What Valrissa had dreamed, he realized, was true: the Great Ruiner hunted them! But why?

At dawn, they reach the Sranc camp and are reunited with their surviving loved ones. Aëngelas embraces his wife and his one remaining son. They all cry as they hold each other. “And for an instant he felt hope in the pale warmth of degraded bodies.” This joy is short lived as the Sranc begin killing any men who didn’t find their families and any women or children whose husband hadn’t survived, leaving only those who’d reunited. Then they are separated, men from women and children. Aëngelas is leashed to a spike driven in the ground, unable to reach his wife and son.

And then, for the first time, he heard the question—even though it was not spoken.

An uncanny silence fell across the Werigda, and Aëngelas understood that all of them had heard the impossible voice… The question had resounded through the souls of all his suffering people.

Then he saw… it. An abomination walking through the dawn twilight.

It was half-again taller than a man, with long, folded wings curved like scythes over its powerful frame. Save where it was mottled by black, cancerous sports, its skin was translucent, and sheathed about a great flared skull shaped like an oyster set on edge. And within the gaping jaws of that skull was fused another, more manlike, so that an almost human face grinned from its watery features.

The Sranc writhe in orgasmic pleasure as the Inchoroi passes. The thing stops before Aëngelas while Valrissa sobbed. It sense “the old fire” in Aëngelas. The thing asks if Aëngelas knows what it is. He answers the Great Ruiner.

Noooo, it cooed, as though his mistake had aroused a delicious shiver. We are not He… We are His servant. Save my Brother, we are the last of those who descended from the void…

The abomination loomed over Valrissa. She clutches their son to her breast, tries to ward off the monster. The thing tells Aëngelas to answer his questions. But Aëngelas doesn’t know anything about it. The monster seizes Valrissa, their son crying out as he’s ripped away. Aëngelas screams his wife’s name.

Holding her by the throat, the thing languorously picked her clothing away, like the skin of a rotten peach. As her breasts fell free, round-white with soft-pin nipples, a sheen of sunlight flickered across the horizon, and illuminated her lithe curves… But the hunger that held her from behind remained shadowy—like glistening smoke.

Animal violence overcame Aëngelas, and he strained at his leash, gagged inarticulate fury.

And a husky voice in his soul said: We are a race of lovers, manling…

“Beaassee!” Aëngelas wept. “I don’t knoooowww…”

The thing’s free hand traced a thread of blood between her bosom across the plane of her shuddering belly. Valrissa’s eyes returned to Aëngelas, thick with something impossible She moaned and parted her hanging legs to great the abomination’s hand.

A race of lovers…

“I don’t know! I don’t! I don’t! Bease stop! Beaasse!”

The thing thing screeched like a thousand falcons as it plunged into her. Glass thunder. Shivering sky. She bent back her head, her face contorted in pain and bliss. She convulsed and groaned, arched to meet the creature’s thrust. And when she climaxed, Aëngelas crumbled, grasped his head between his hands, beat his face against the turf.

The cold felt good against his broken lips.

With an inhuman, dragon gasp, the ting pressed its bruised phallus up across her stomach and washed her sunlit breasts with pungent, black seed. Another thunderous screech, woven by the thin human wail of a woman.

And against it asked the question.

But Aëngelas doesn’t know. The Inchoroi says “this thing” made Aëngelas weak before throwing his wife to the Sranc to be raped. Over and over, it asks him the question as it rapes his son and then hands him over to the Sranc as well. Then Aëngelas himself is rapped, and with each thrust, the question is asked in his mind. Over and over.

Until the gagging shrieks of his wife and child became the question. Until his own deranged howls became the question…

His wife and child were dead. Sacks of penetrated flesh with faces that he still loved, and still… they did things.

Always, the same mad, incomprehensible question.

Who are the Dûnyain?

My Thoughts

Even Kellhus is surprised he can stand. He knows his body. Understands what he’s gone through is beyond even the endurance bred into his lineage by the Dûnyain. The outside is touching him right now. Effect is preceding cause, giving him the strength to stand. Is it Ajolki, the God Kellhus makes a deal with in the coming years to fight the Consult? Reality is bending and warping, almost like a topoi has formed around him. Note how he pulls out Serwë’s heart from his chest. He didn’t have that in his hand when he moved from her. This is a true miracle, not sorcerery.

And it’s the moment where Kellhus accepts his duel purpose. He is both a being of intellect, a Dûnyain. But he’s also now a being of faith, embracing his role as the Warrior-Prophet. For he witnesses his own haloed hands. Just like everyone else does when they believe him to be a prophet. The Outside has marked him.

Now he shall use the Thousandfold Thought to defeat the Consult, something the Dûnyain wouldn’t do. Because, as he says in the next book, he is mad. The break down of Cause and Effect has shattered Kellhus’s mind. The Dûnyain, for all their vaulted intellect, have some deficiencies. Their lack of strong emotions makes them vulnerable to outside manipulation. While they have incredible will, they lack the fire to truly defend it, as we see when Kellhus is possessed by Ajolki before the No-God’s sarcophagus (and Bakker has confirmed that it wasn’t Kellhus’s will, but the god taking him over in an AMA on Reddit). They also do not have the world view to deal with the violation of cause and effect. It warps them. We sees this with Kellhus’s son, the Survivor, in the next series.

Now this is an interesting scene to start a chapter with. It’s the climax of the last chapter, what it had built to, and yet he places it at the start of the next. It feels almost divorced from the historical section about the battle, this remote, omniscient third person Bakker slips into to convey broad events. But it’s a signal. Everything has changed in the world.

Kellhus has accepted a new role. He has had his rebirth. He’s wrapped in white, symbolizing that change. He’s, in effect, come back from the dead. And it changed even him. He’s the Warrior-Prophet in truth now, for good or ill. And what follows, the Inrithi’s desperate charge, is a direct result of that. So by undercutting narrative expectations, he instead delineates the importance of what just happened by starting a new chapter with it.

Kascamandri not only thinks himself wise, but it’s smart. Starve these men, get them to capitulate to his religion to save their skin. Men like Conphas would do it, but others wouldn’t. But enough would. However, he doesn’t know a Dûnyain is in there. He’s also counting his chickens, as it were, planning on making them Grandees of their nations. Kascamandri is plotting a Jihad. He has assembled this huge force and just demolished the fighting strength of the Inrithi.

Perfect time to invade and spread Fane, and his own power.

And then Kellhus responds with a terrifying display of power. To get twelve men to kill themselves is something no temporal leader ever can do. It takes the fanaticism of a true belief, one that can subsume a human’s survival instinct, to do that.

Now the last battle of the book unfolds. The desperate march of the Inrithi. They have nothing left to lose now. They need to attack because every day they weaken. And with Kellhus giving them the will to defy the surrender, they spill out. And they fight with zeal. The Fanim thought they were weak. And the secret of battle is that it is a war. Convince your opponent he lost and that you won. Who ever has the most conviction, the strongest belief, shall win. Those who are overconfident do not react well to upsets. It shakes their convictions, shatters their beliefs. It is how such a small, weakened force overcame a well-armed and healthy enemy.

I love how Bakker never calls Kascamandri fat. He has “elephantine arms” or it takes slaves plural to hoist him into a saddle. It’s a nice touch.

What a sad line: “They dwelt among the unearthed bones of greater things.” Here we have a post-apocalyptic tribe reduced back to hunter-gathers, living amid the Sranc-infested north. They’ve existed for two thousand years. And today, the Consult has need of them. They have no idea the “Old Wars” have begun again, and that they number among the first victims.

Man-pummeling Gods.” This gives a good idea how hard life is for the Werigda before this happened. They see the gods as something to be appeased and endured. Entities they had to placate and if they didn’t, they were punished. They fear their world, so have created Gods to personify that fear.

The Great Ruiner. So Kellhus isn’t the only one that’s dreamed of the No-God.

And for an instant he felt hope in the pale warmth of degraded bodies.” This line… What a dreadful thing befalls these people. Just trying to survive amid a world of monsters, nurturing all those small, important things: love, family, hope. And it all gets snuffed out by the cruelty of the Consult. It’s sick and barbaric.

Aëngelas calls the Inchoroi a Xurjranc. This must be a corruption of Ur-Sranc, introduced in the next series. The greater Sranc bread for war different from the vermin that the Werigda would be familiar with. It’s his only frame of reference to call the Inchoroi. I always thought Ur-Sranc was something Bakker didn’t come up with until the next series when he fleshed out the Consult more and how its armies worked. But now… Interesting.

And then this entire thing comes to its sickening end. Aëngelas watching the rape of his wife, and hearing her enjoy it, is like the anime and manga Berserk. When during the eclipse, Guts watches Caska’s rape at the hands of the now demonic Griffin. How she quivered and enjoyed it even as the violation destroyed her mind. And it should be clear to the Inchoroi that these hunter-gathers have nothing to do with the Dûnyain. Have never hard about them, but he’s having fun.

He’s part of a race of lovers. And he’s loving their flesh. He cares nothing about their pleasure, about their suffering, only himself. He’s selfish. His entire race is. That’s what they are. That’s why they’re condemned to damnation. And why they will butcher the entire world, have butchered others, just to free themselves from that fate.

Bakker ends the book showing us exactly why the Inchoroi can’t be allowed to succeed. We’ve heard about them, but to see how they operate in all their visceral depravity contrast that new rebirth. This is what Kellhus has decided to fight by becoming the Warrior-Prophet. Kellhus will do his own harm to do this, cause so many death and suffering, commit so many to damnation on the chance of defeating the Consult.

And in the vein of Grimdark Fantasy, fails.

What a powerful book. The characters suffer so much in this book. They are plunged to their nadir and are changed. Some become stronger like Achamian, some embrace madness like Kellhus, others are destroyed like Xinemus. Bakker has set the stage to end the first of his Three Series story. He’s shown us the world, how it works, and what the stakes are. Now he’ll show us who will be the one to try to save it, how he changes and grows, and I’m not talking about Kellhus.

Achamian. He was strengthened in this book. Will it be enough to stop the No-God once again?

Bakker’s final line of the novel is fitting: “Who are the Dûnyain?”

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