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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Fifteen

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Fifteen

Condia

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

If the immutable appears recast, then you yourself have been transformed.

—MEMGOWA, CELESTIAL APHORISMS

My Thoughts

This is a Zeumi aphorism. From the name, Memgowa, and Celestial, a word that we hear in regards to their civilization.

It’s talking about how if you see the world differently, if you see something you thought was monolith is something else, then it hasn’t changed, you have. It very much is observation dictates reality. It reminds me how they have that game they play at court where people play out the gossip about themselves to make the lie into Truth.

Postmodernists would love Zeumi.

Then we have Sorweel who appears to have been recast when he wasn’t. He has been transformed in a way Kellhus cannot see.

Spring, 20 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), Condia

It’s morning and Sorweel is watching Porsparian make a fire to cook their breakfast. Sorweel is trying to figure out the slave who is now as frightening to Sorweel as Kellhus. The King flinches, expecting to be struck. Porsparian is not “meek nor innocent nor powerless.” Porsparian is delighted to make the fire. Sorweel fakes a grin and brushes where the soil was smeared on his face.

Somehow, simply thinking her name, Yatwer, had become a premonition. And it shamed him. She was the Goddess of the weak, the enslaved, and now she was his.

Eskeles shows up, muttering how he dreamed about the Library of Sauglish again. Sorweel is tired of hearing of his dreams. Then Zsoronga shows up though no Obotegwa, forcing Eskeles to act as translator. Sorweel finds that annoying because Obotegwa has become his friend’s voice. Eskeles’s translation reminds Sorweel that there’s a rift between him and his friend that keeps them from communicating. And, of course, Zsoronga does not trust Eskeles so he doesn’t speak freely. Sorweel feels like it’s the early “dark days when all he could understand were the recriminations of his own voice.”

They go to the Umbilicus where Kellhus holds court. Things are subdued in the camp instead of the normal carnival feel it has. The men are all sleeping in or lounging around breakfast fires because they have nothing to do today.

Sorweel found himself staring at a young Galeoth warrior laying between guy-ropes with his eyes closed, his head propped on the tear-shaped shield he had lain against his pack. He was stripped to his waist, and his skin shone as white as a child’s teeth. A pang of envy struck the young Kin gas deep as a stabbing. After weeks of fear and indecision, he now knew that he, Varalt Sorweel III, was simply an ordinary fool, no wise, no stronger, than the next man. He had been born with the gifts of the mediocre, and yet here he was, stranded in the role of a captive king. He was cursed, cursed with the toil of pretending, endlessly pretending to be more.

Cursed to war, not across plains as heroes do, but within the wells of his soul—to war as cowards do.

Today was but one more example.

No one knows why Kellhus has declared today a day of rest, but Sorweel and Zsoronga, and only them from the Company of Scions, have been called to the Council of Potentates, the senior officers of the Great Ordeal. Eskeles is along to be Sorweel’s interpreter. Sorweel finds himself more excited than afraid to see Kellhus. “It all seemed a gaggle of voices, nagging, warning, accusing, a chorus of contradictions.” He feels pulled by Yatwer and Porsparian, Achamian’s book and Zsoronga, his father, and Kayûtas inhuman perception, Eskeles’s fanaticism. All these ideas are burying his heart. He feels like he’s a dead man going through the motions.

And he was about to face the Aspect-Emperor—Anasûrimbor Kellhus!

He was about to be discovered.

As they head into the Umbilicus, Sorweel notices the Circumfix and realizes how the symbol of “wickedness and revulsion” was now “innocuous and commonplace.” People are flowing into the meeting room. Sorweel wants to tarry, but Eskeles doesn’t let him. Men from every nation of the Tree Seas are here. He feels like a country bumpkin in his Sakarpic clothes while Zsoronga walks with confidence “as a man should, as though what set him apart also set him above.” Everything about his clothes and posture screams out his prestigious heritage while Sorweel feels his communicates “ignorance, poverty, crude manners, and foolish conceits.”

He feels bullied by the strangers, their words insults that he can’t understand. He tries to rally his pride by raising “defensive contempt.” He tells himself that he was better than them. They didn’t even speak his language. They’re animals.

But he knew these thoughts for what they were: the shallow posturings of a boy. He could feel it in the way his eyes flinched from the glare of others, in the empty bubbles that crept through his bones.

He’s jostled into the Umbilicus and pauses to gape. Men push past him. He hears the Sheyic insult “Shit-herder” directed at him. This is the largest tent he’s ever been in, and he’s used to camping out on the Pale. It was bigger than his father’s hall. Eskeles is ecstatic, saying how he had dreamed of the events like this, but now he’s witnessing it with “living eyes.” Sorweel pretends to be distracted as he hates how he agrees with the sorcerer. It feels seditious to do that. Zsoronga has a guarded expression like Sorweel’s own. “The look of a boy striving to pass unnoticed in the company of men.”

Sorweel feels something is in the air, but isn’t sure what it is. Then he realizes it’s belief. The shared faith in Kellhus has brought this diverse group of men together and united them. It “defined them to their unguessed core.”

Here was belief, rendered sensuous for its intensity, made palpable in lilting voices and shining eyes.

Sorweel had known he marched in the company of fanatics, but until now he had never… touched it. The fever of jubilation. The lunacy of eyes that witnessed without seeing. The smell of commitment, absolute and encompassing. The Men of the Circumfix were capable of anything, he realized. They would weary, but they would never pause. They would fear, but they would not flee. Any atrocity, any sacrifice—nothing lay outside the compass of their possibility. They could burn cities, drown sons, slaughter innocents; they could even, as Zsoronga’s story about the suicides proved, cut their own throats. Through their faith they had outrun their every scruple, animal or otherwise, and they gloried in the stink of it—in the numbing smell of losing oneself in the mastery of another.

The Aspect-Emperor.

He wonders how Kellhus can “command such mad extremes in men.” He remembers that Kellhus makes men children. Sorweel then wonders if the world is about to end. As he ponders these thoughts, he studies the room. He then notices a tapestry that appears strange and he realizes it has sorcery on it to make shapes move in it.

He turns his attention to the two Exalt-Generals sitting on the dais. King Proyas looks refined and King Saubon glares. There’s something miserly about King Saubon “as if he had won his stature at too great a cost.” He’s always remembering what he paid. The Grandmasters of the Major Schools sit at a table. Sorweel spots the beautiful Anasûrimbor Serwa who looks too young.

“Striking, no?” the Mandate Schoolman continued in a lowered voice. “The Aspect-Emperor’s daughter, and the Grandmistress of the Sawayal Compact. Serwa, the Ladywitch herself.”

“A witch…” Sorweel murmured. In Sakarpic, the word for witch was synonymous with many things, all of them wicked. That it could be applied to someone so exquisite in form and feature struck him as yet another Three Seas obscenity. Nevertheless, he found his gaze lingering for the wrong reasons. The word seemed to pry her open, make her image wanton with tugging promise.

“Ware her, my King,” Eskeles said with a soft laugh. “She walks with the Gods.”

That line is a quote from a Sakarpi tale about a king who tried to seduce the god Gilgaöl’s mortal daughter and was cursed, his line ending. It surprises Sorweel that Eskeles knows this. Then he remembers the Schoolman is a spy.

He then notices Serwa’s brothers, Kayûtas and Moënghus, sits on the other side of the table with other Southron generals. According to Zsoronga, Moënghus isn’t really Kellhus’s son but the child of his first wife and a Scylvendi wayfarer.

At first this struck Sorweel as almost laughably obvious. When the seed was strong, women were but vessels; they bore only what men planted in them. If a boy-child was born white-skinned, then his or her father was white-skinned, and so on, down to all the particularities of form and pigment. The Anasûrimbor couldn’t be Moënghus’s true father, and that was that. It had been a revelation of sorts to realize the Men of the Circumfix, without exception, overlooked this plain fact. Eskeles even referred to Moënghus as a “True Son of the Anasûrimbor” forcefully, as though the willful application of a word could undo what the world has wrought.

But another glimpse of the madness that had seized these men.

The Interval is sounded and the stragglers enter, growing loud as the late-comers look for a place to sit. If it wasn’t for Sorweel’s fear of being revealed, this would be like Temple service. Eskeles then asks him what Sorweel sees in the other’s faces. The question is so strange that he feels he’s being mocked, though Eskeles has a friendly expression. Still alarmed, he blurts out, “Gulls and fools!” This just brings a chuckle from someone “too familiar with the ways of the conceit not to be amused.”

As the Interval sounds again, people start turning towards the tiers as though a will seized it. Sorweel doesn’t see the light right away, but then he notices a star that seems to resolve and grow into substance. “Skirts of gloom fell from the tented heights.”

A sloped landscape of faces—bearded, painted, clean-shaven—watched.

Seven heartbeats of soundless thunder.

Blinking brilliance… and there he was.

Kellhus appears sitting cross-legged while floating in the air, his head bowed. He has a halo around his head. Awe passes through the crowd. He tries to remember his father’s face as he reminds himself that Kellhus is a demon.

But the Aspect-Emperor was speaking, his voice so broad, so simple and obvious, that gratitude welled through the young King of Sakarpus. It was a beloved voice, almost but not quite forgotten, here at last to soothe the anxious watchers, to heal the sundered heart. Sorweel understood none of the words, and Eskeles sat slack and dumbstruck, apparently too overawed to translate. But the voice—the voice! Somehow spoken to many, and yet intended only for one, for him, for Sorweel alone, out of the hundreds, the thousands! You, it whispered. Only you… A mother scolding cracked into laughter by love. A father’s coaxing crimped into tears by pride.

And then, just when the music wholly captured him, the assembled Lords of the Ordeal crashed into with a booming chorus. And Sorweel found himself understanding the words, for they belonged to the first thing Eskeles had taught him in Sheyic, the Temple Prayer…

As the prayer is spoken, Anasûrimbor’s voice can still be heard distinct from them. Sorweel finds himself wanting to pray. He feels sinful for not joining them and sees Zsoronga looking as resistant as if they were both the fools “not because they dared stand in the company of kneelers, but because being a fool consisted of no more than being thought so by others.”

The singing ends and one of the Nascenti order everyone to raise their faces and look at Kellhus. Sorweel realizes he has to look at Kellhus and nowhere else. Everyone seems to hold their breaths. It’s intense. Everyone’s hopeful and afraid as they all (except the two demon heads) look at Kellhus. Kellhus begins floating around the room staring into people’s faces, everyone tracking his progress. Sorweel is relieved when Kellhus zooms off to the far side of the room. Though everyone has a slightly different expression, all of them are confessing. “Grown men, warlike men, wept in the wake of their sovereign’s divine passage…”

The Aspect-Emperor paused.

The man beneath his gaze was an Ainoni, or so Sorweel guessed from the styling of his square-cut beard, ringlets about flattened braids. He sat on one of the lower tiers, and rather than descend, the Aspect-Emperor simply tilted in his floating posture to stud him. The rings of light about his head and hands gilded the man’s face and shoulders with a patina of gold. The caste-noble’s dark eyes glittered with tears.

Kellhus speaks to the man, Ezsiru, about how his family is loyal, especially his father Chinjosa. He then says that Ezsiru needs to make up with his father. “You do not understand the difference between the infirmities of youth and the infirmities of age.” Ezsiru is punishing his father the way he had been as a child. Kellhus asks if a father can discipline his son with the rod, which he can. But can a child do the same to the father? No.

“Love him, Ezsiru. Honour him. And always remember that old age is rod enough.”

Kellhus moves on to the next one, going from man to man. “And in each case, nothing more than some human truth was summoned forth, as though the Anasûrimbor need only look into the face of one who stumbled to get every man in attendance upon sure footing.” All Kellhus speaks is Truth, and it baffles how a demon can be miraculous. Sorweel’s heart races and fear clutches about his chest as Kellhus comes closer and closer to Sorweel. When he’s almost on Sorweel, he looks at someone in the level behind him.

Impalpotas, habaru—”

“Impalpotas,” Eskeles said with a quaver, “tell me, how long has it been since you were dead?”

Everyone gasps as Impalpotas just smiles like he’s “a rake caught wooing a friend’s daughter.” It’s at odds with the situation. Then Impalpotas explodes at Kellhus before he is caught in lines of sorcery, his sword falling from his hands. Everyone is crying out in outrage. Swords are drawn. Kellhus’s voice cuts through the noise as he reveals that Impalpotas is a skin-spy.

The Shigeki assassin had sailed out around the Aspect-Emperor and now floated behind his haloed head, a brighter beacon. The light that tattooed his skin and clothes flared, and his limbs were drawn out and away from his body. He hung, a different kind of proof, revolving like a coin in open space. He panted like an animal wrapped in wire, but his eyes betrayed no panic, nothing save glaring hate and laughter. Sorweel glimpsed the curve of his erect phallus through his silk breeches, looked away to his sigil-wrapped face, only to be more appalled…

For it flexed about invisible faults, then opened, drawn apart like interlocking fingers. Articulations were pried back and out, revealing eyes that neither laughed nor hatred, that simply looked, above shining slopes of boneless meat.

Rishra mei..” the Aspect-Emperor said in a voice that sounded like silk wrapped about a thunderclap. “I see…” Eskeles’s murmured in reedy tones, “I see mothers raise stillborn infants to blinded Gods. The death of birth—I see this! with eyes both ancient and foretold. I see the high towers burn, the innocents broken, the Sranc descend innumerable—innumerable! I see a world shut against Heaven!”

Everyone cries out in fear and fury. They are picturing their families killed and peoples destroyed and scream their defiance. Kellhus continues to talk about cities burning, the Tusk broken, and that the No-God walking. This makes them all groan. He points at the skin-spy and tells them “Behold!” and “See!” He dismembers the skin-spy with Gnosis and “a curtain of slop raining to the ground.” A breathless silence falls on them, things seeming normal again. “It had happened, and it had not happened.”

And then Kellhus continues moving around them like nothing happened. He is close to Sorweel. He fills his vision. The demons “puckered sockets” stare at Sorweel. He hopes that Kellhus picks Zsoronga. But Kellhus tops before Sorweel. His heart pounds, his fears almost overwhelming him. “What would he see?”

How would he punish?

“Sorweel,” a voice more melodious than music said in the tongue of his fathers. “Sad child. Proud King. There is nothing more deserving of compassion than an apologetic heart.”

“Yes.” A noise more kicked out of his lungs than spoken.

Never!

Kellhus asks if Sorweel repents his father’s defiance. Sorweel lies that he has while thinking Kellhus is a demon. Kellhus smiles like an old friend and declares Sorweel a Believer-King and departs. Sorweel is confused. He feels like he’s in the open sky as everyone smiles at him. Eskeles good naturally mocks him for calling the others Gulls and Fools. What follows is a council that Sorweel doesn’t care much about. Eskeles is overjoyed that Sorweel is saved.

Against a desolate backdrop, Zsoronga simply watched, speaking not a word.

Sorweel returns to his tent alone. He feels numb but free, no longer beset by fears. He drinks in all the sight and finds himself awed by the Great Ordeal. “There were simply too many warriors from too many nations not to be astonished in some small way.” In this moment, as he sees men looking back at him with hostility, indifference, and friendliness that they’re just Men. What made them believed, how they were all united behind a singular goal, that made them seem different.

It was at once glorious and an abomination. That so many could be folded into the intent of a single man.

The Calm slipped from his heart and limbs, and the mad rondo of questions began batting through his soul. What had happened at the Council? Did he see? Did he not see? Did he see and merely pretend not to see?

How could he, Sorweel, the broken son of a broken people, shout hate beneath the all-seeing eyes of the Aspect-Emperor, and not be… not be…

Corrected.

He touches his cheek where the mud had been smeared and thinks about Yatwer. He finds Porsparian back at camp. He’s been attending to Sorweel’s meager possessions, the tent even washed. He realizes this is “The High Court of the Sakarpic King.” Sorweel asks Porsparian what did he do, addressing him as a servant for the first time. This alarms Porsparian. He shouts at him to tell. He struggles to ask a simple question in Sheyic and manages to spit out, “What you do?” Porsparian is confused and Sorweel repeats it as he rubs at his cheeks in pantomime.

Like a flutter of wings, Porsparian’s confusion flickered into a kind of perverse glee. He grinned, began nodding like a madman confirmed in his delusions. “Yemarte… Yemarte’sus!”

And Sorweel understood. For the first time, it seemed, he actually heard his slave’s voice.

“Blessed… Blessed you.”

My Thoughts

It’s interesting how Sorweel flinches from Porsparian much like an abused child fearing his parent’s hand. As near as I can remember, there’s not a hint that Harweel ever abused Sorweel. He comes off as a good father. There’s something skittish about Sorweel, though.

And Eskeles is dreaming about what Achamian is obsessed about. Makes you wonder how this whole Soul of Seswatha works. The memories are imprinted by the heart of Seswatha held back in their stronghold (I’d love to find more about this).

“He [Sorweel] was cursed, cursed with the toil of pretending, endlessly pretending to be more.” That’s a big theme of Bakker’s work. How people present masks to the world. To change how we behave around others. The curse of humans is that we can only see the mask other people show and they can never see the true us. We are forever sundered from the truth of each other. Sorweel doesn’t realize this is everyone pretending to be what they need to be, pushing down their own impulses to adapt to the expectations of their neighbors or risk ostracization of being different.

“In his heart, words simply accumulated, piled one on top of the other.” The world is overwhelming young Sorweel. He has not had the life experience to withstand this and it is crushing him. It would crush many of us. It’s how he differs from the typical protagonist of other books who would rise to meet them.

Sorweel has the mindset of a loser. If you don’t know this about us humans but when you lose a challenge of dominance, it causes a decrease of serotonin levels in your brain. This leads you to feel lesser than what beat you. Makes you feel ashamed and less likely to challenge again. While winning increases serotonin. This is a very primitive reaction, one that can be found in creatures as ancient as lobsters who have similar serotonin levels that dictate confidence and weakness. Sorweel has been crushed. His people decimated. His father unmade. He has all the signs of low serotonin levels. Thinking he’s worse than his victors, that he can’t compare to them. That they’re better than he is.

Belief is a powerful motivation. I’ve been reading stuff about the Soviet Union and something struck me. It was talking about wedding practices, which were completely secular, and yet the new bride and groom were expected to lay flowers at a memorial to Lenin. Though the Soviet Union professed atheism, they believed in Lenin and his Socialist Paradise. It defined them. On his birthday, I believe, or the nearest Saturday to it, every worker was “encouraged” to work on their day off for no pay to show their support to the State and the Communist Party. The USSR abounded with religious sentiments masked under secular trappings to motivate the people to work hard for their country and not question their leadership. To trust them like the peasants of old trusted their priests and noblemen.

So this is interesting. Gilgaöl has a mortal daughter. That’s rather fascinating. We’re seeing that old, pagan polytheism that Inrithism has all but buried in the Three Seas. And it’s very Indo-European paganism. Greek, Old German, Latin, etc. This is the start of our love story between Sorweel and Serwa. The very classic of falling in love with the evil tyrant’s daughter and winning her heart while defeating her father.

Interesting that Sorweel sees the halo. This implies that at some level, he believes in Kellhus’s divinity. In the last series, people only started seeing the halos when they believed in him. It’s not around his hand, but his head, though. So that is different. Maybe it has to do with Inrithi Sejenus having haloed hands versus the more pagan beliefs of Sakarpi.

Despite how much he fights, Sorweel is caught up in it. He would end up a Believer-King without Yatwer’s intervention. He believes Kellhus is divine. Maybe a demon, but that’s still divine.

They [Sorweel and Zsoronga] were the fools here, not because they dared stand in the company of kneelers, but because being a fool consisted of no more than being thought so by others.” This is how good people stand by while bad things happen. It might even be a group who all think it’s wrong but don’t realize it and think they are alone. That need to conform to the group is a strong evolutionary pressure on our behavior.

Chinjosa. That name is definitely familiar to me. He must have been one of the Ainoni notables. I do recall a general who was quite skilled and helped hold things together during the disastrous battle at Mengedda, perhaps.

It’s good that Kellhus doesn’t believe in abusing the elderly. I have a feeling poor Chinjosa is suffering from some sort of dementia or Alzheimer. He’s become like a child and, clearly, it sounded like he was a brutal discipline to his son. That’s the effectiveness of Kellhus, he often gives great advice that can lead to positive change.

Kellhus’s speech about what he sees coming if they fail is what we get to look forward to in the next series!

It’s safe to say after reading the rest of this series, Yatwer deceived Kellhus. You can get hints that words were being forced out of Sorweel.

Sorweel is on his first steps of a Narinder. An assassin for Yatwer to kill Kellhus. It’s such a simple story. It’s been played out over and over again, and yet Bakker will turn it on its head as Sorweel is turned into a pawn for a Goddess who is blind to what is going on. His life is destroyed for nothing.

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

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

You’ll love this beautifully creative dark fantasy, because James Reid knows how to create characters and worlds you’ll grow to adore.

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Fourteen

Cil-Aujas

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

The world is only as deep as we can see. This is why fools think themselves profound. This is why terror is the passion of revelation.

—AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

My Thoughts

What an interesting quote to start the chapter of Achamian’s company moving through Cil-Aujas.

I think we all have met people who think they are smarter than they are, who believe they know everything, or think the pretentious and inane things they are posting on Twitter (cough Jayden Smith cough) are mind-blowing. Now, the second half of this quote about terror being revelation’s passion is the intriguing part.

It implies, to me, that terror is what drives revelation. The fear of the unknown drives us to want answers. To have the darkness revealed to be something that we can understand. The fool will latch onto ideas that are not logical. The divine, for instance.

Bakker uses REVELATION. That carries the connotation of Moses and the Burning Bush. God telling you what’s up. The fool, terrified of what is around him, latches onto anything to make his fears lessen. Any explanation that their small minds see as profound. Even if it is shallow.

So, how does this fit into the chapter?

Well, we definitely have a lot of small minds heading into a place of sheer terror. Let’s not even consider the fact that it’s a topoi that has trapped the souls of the Nonmen murdered by treacherous humans and that hell itself is bleeding into the place. Just being underground is unnerving. If you’ve ever been in a cave or a mine shaft, it can creepy with all that stone over your head. And you do not know what darkness is until you find yourself in a lightless mine shaft. When I was a boy scout back in New Mexico, we went into an abandoned cinnabar mine on a camping treat. Most of us had flashlights. I did not. Everyone turned theirs off.

It was a complete darkness and it had weight. It was terrifying, and I knew there were people around me that had light sources.

Then we take into account the messed up stuff that’s about to happen and, as I assume we’ll see, we’re going to find scalpers (cough Sarl cough) making up stories to explain the strange things. The horrors. They will latch onto a revelation to carry them through the darkness.

And now reading the chapter, it’s a perfect quote because revealing what is really going on only inspires terror and threatens to break the Skin Eaters.

Spring, 20 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), south of Mount Aenaratiol

Age. Age and darkness.

The Chronicles of the Tusk is the measure of something ancient to humans, but now in Cil-Aujas, the Skin Eaters are discovering a place older than the language of the Tusk. “Here was glory that no human, tribe or nation, could hope to match, and their hearts balked at the admission.” Achamian sees it in their eyes. All their boasting is now proving lies.

Cil-Aujas, for all its silence, boomed otherwise.

The company is moving through a subterranean. The trails after the Cleric and Achamian who both have sorcerous lights before them to illuminate the dark. Every sound brings cringes. Every inch of wall is covered in images, the tunnel hacked out of the mountain.

It was the absence of weathering that distinguished the hall from the Gate. The detail baffled the eye, from the mail of the Nonmen warriors to the hair of the human slaves. Scars striping knuckles. Tears lining supplicants’ cheeks. Everything had been rendered with maniacal intricacy. The effect was too lifelike, Achamian decided, the concentration too obsessive. The scenes did not so much celebrate or portray, it seemed, as reveal, to the point where it hurt to watch the passing sweep of images, parade stacked upon parade, entire hosts carved man for man, victim for victim, warring without breath or clamour.

This is Pir-Pahal, a room memorializing the Nonmen’s war with the Inchoroi. Achamian spots the traitor Nin’janjin (the guy who gave sold immortality to the Nonmen) and Cû’jara-Cinmoi. Even Sil, the Inchoroi King, is shown holding the Heron Spear which makes Achamian stumble. Mimara is unnerved by the sight of the Inchoroi. Achamian realizes, remembering the Great Ordeal marches for Golgotterath, that the war shown here has never ended.

Ten thousand years of woe.

Achamian explains that the Nonman carved their memories into the walls to last as long as they. Many are not happy that Achamian broke the “sacred” silence. They head deeper, covering miles. Then they come across a gate carved with a pair of wolves. These are more totemic than past carvings, each wolf carved three times to show them flowing from three different emotions to capture a living creature in stone. The writing here is Auja-Gilcûnni, the First Tongue. So ancient, not even the Nonmen can read it which “meant this gate had to be as ancient to Nonmen as the Tusk was to Men.” Achamian’s excitement quickly dwindles. He feels light-headed. He feels something here.

Something abyssal.

The gate swam in the Wizard’s eyes, not so much a portal as a hole.

Cleric increases his light’s brightness and tells them all to kneel. The Skin Eaters are shocked as Cleric kneels. The Nonman looks at them and shrieks at them to Kneel. Sarl, looking amused, can’t believe Cleric is serious.

“This was the war that broke our back!” the Nonman thundered. “This… This! All the Last Born, sires and sons, gathered beneath the copper banners of Siöl and flint-hearted King. Silverteeth! Our Tyrant-Saviour…” He rolled his head back and laughed, two lines of white marked the tears that scored his cheeks. “This is our…” The flash of fused teeth. “Our triumph.”

He shrunk, seemed to huddle into his cupped palms. Great silent sobs wracked him.

Embarrassed looks are traded by the humans. Everything looks strange, too, the shadows not lining up. Maybe a trick of the light or maybe not. “It was as if everyone stood in the unique light of some different morning, noon, or twilight.” Only Cleric, though, looks like he belongs here. Lord Kosoter kneels at Cleric’s side, putting his hand on the Nonman’s back and whispers to him. Sarl looks shocked by the intimacy of their captain’s action. Then the Nonman hisses out, “Yessss!”

“This is just a fucking place,” Sarl growled. “Just another fucking place…”

All of them could feel it, Achamian realized, looking from face to stricken face. Some kind of dolour, like the smoke of some hidden, panicked fire, pinching them, drawing their thoughts tight… But there was no glamour he could sense. Even the finest sorceries carried some reside of their artifice, the stain of the Mark. But there was nothing here, save the odour of ancient magicks, long dead.

Then, with a bolt of horror, he understood. The tragedy that had ruined these halls stalked them still. Cil-Aujas was a topoi. A place where hell leaned heavy against the world.

Achamian says this place is haunted but is cut off by Kiampas telling everyone to shut up. This is a dangerous place. All those companies had vanished in here. They might have Cleric and a guide, but that doesn’t mean they can’t lose control. They need to be ready to fight. It’s “a slog, boys, as deadly as any other.” Xonghis agrees from the rear. He picks up the bone of a dead Sranc that’s been eaten. More bones little the floor like “sticks beneath silt.” Lord Kosoter still whispers to Cleric, but the words sound hateful, complaining of a “miserable wretch.” Achamian stares at the wolves towering over the black hole and feels something.

When he blinked, he saw yammering figures from his Dreams.

A scalper asks what eats Sranc. At that moment, they realized that all the other companies saw this portent and still march on deeper. “Never to be seen again.” Then Galian wants to know why the gates have no doors.

But questions always came too late. Events had to be pushed past the point of denial; only then could the pain of asking begin.

They sleep near the Wolf Gate, Achamian’s light glowing down on them to “provide the illusion of security.” Kiampas arranges sentries while Cleric sits alone. Lord Kosoter falls asleep immediately, though Sarl sits beside him muttering insanely. Achamian sits by Mimara who stares at his light. She asks if he can read the script. He says no and she mocks his knowledge. He says no one can read it and realizes she’s teasing him.

“Remember this, Mimara.”

“Remember what?”

“This place.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s old. Older than old.”

“Older than him?” she asked, nodding towards the figure of Cleric sitting in the pillared gloom.

His momentary sense of generosity drained away. “Far older.”

They grow silent while Mimara stares at the Cleric. She asks what’s wrong with him. Achamian realizes he’s afraid to even think about Cleric let alone talk about him. He’s an Erratic and “every bit as perilous as traveling these halls, if not more so.” It reminds Achamian just how far he’ll go to unmasks Kellhus and all the lives he’s willing to risk. He tells her to hush and that Nonman has better hearing. He is irritated by Mimara’s presence. She threatens his twenty years of work, risking all “for a hunger she could never sate.” She switches to Ainoni and asks him to speak in a tongue he doesn’t know. He asks her if she was taken to Ainoni.

The curiosity faded from her eyes. She slouched onto her mat and turned without a word—as he knew she would. Silence spread deep and mountainous through the graven hollows. He sat rigid.

When he glanced up he was certain he saw Cleric’s face turn away from them…

Back to the impenetrable black of Cil-Aujas.

Achamian drams of the Library of Sauglish burning. Skafra, a dragon, swoops over it. Only it’s not Seswatha he’s dreaming as. It’s himself hanging all alone in the skies. “Where was Seswatha?”

The next day, they find a boy’s mummified corpse huddled like a kitten against the wall. There are offerings to Yatwer around his body meaning he had been here for a while. Soma added a coin and prays in his native tongue. He then looks to Mimara to see if she saw his “gallantry.” Achamian warns her to watch out for Soma. This is the first time they’ve spoken since last night. He finds it absurd considering the circumstances but “the small things never went away, no matter how tremendous the circumstances.” She disagrees saying it’s the quiet ones you have to worry about. Those men bide their time. She learned that in the Ainoni whorehouse. As they speak, some of the scalpers are arguing over who and how the child had died, sparking a sense of normalcy to the group.

The group continues. The scalpers, weirdly, start talking about which “trades were the hardest on the hands.” In the end, deciding to count feet, that fullers had it the worst spending their day in piss. (The ammonia in stale piss is used to wash clothes and the fullers mash the clothes up with their feet). Soma claims he saw a no-armed beggar. No one believes him since he always is telling stories. Galian has to outdo him saying he saw a headless beggar. That brings some laughter. Pokwas tells more chokes and everyone is laughing.

Judging by her expressions, Mimara found the banter terribly amusing, a fact not lost on the scalpers—Somandutta in particular. Achamian, however, found it difficult to concede more than a smile here and there, usually at turns that escaped the others. He could not stop pondering the blackness about them, about how garish and exposed they must sound to those listening in the deeps. A gaggle of children.

Someone listened. Of that much he was certain.

Someone or something.

Cleric, Lord Kosoter at his side, leads them through a labyrinth of the underground city. Some passages are straight or others are serpentine. The place smells of a tomb but the air is more than breathable, though “something animal within him cried suffocation.” He figures it’s the lack of sky and not his earlier fear. Soon, the joking falls into silence.

Water roars and they entered into a large room with a waterfall. Cleric leads them into a shrine. There are animals on the friezes that look more like demons to the scalpers. “It wasn’t monsters that glared from the walls, he knew, but rather the many poses of natural beasts compressed into one image.” The Nonman used to be obsessed with time especially “the way the present seemed to bear the past and future within it.”

Long lived, they had worshiped Becoming… the bane of Men.

The company refills their waterskins while Achamian drags Mimara around the room to stare at all the images. There are indents worn into the wall from Nonmen foreheads. Mimara asks what they pray to. He spots Cleric standing with his head bald, before a statue of a Nonman on a throne. The Nonman is speaking in his language to the statute, not praying. Achamian starts translating what he says. He is speaking to the king, saying how strong and mighty he is and then asking, “Where is your judgment now?”

The Nonman began laughing in his mad, chin-to-breast way. He looked to Achamian, smiled his inscrutable white-lipped smile. He leaned his head as though against some swinging weight. “Where is it, eh, Wizard?” he said in the mocking way he often replied to Sarl’s jokes. His features gleamed like hand-worn soapstone.

“Where does all the judgment go?”

Then without warning, Cleric turned to forge alone into the black, drawing his spectral light like a wall-brushing gown. Achamian gazed after him, more astounded than mystified. For the first time, it seemed, he had seen Cleric for what he was… Not simply a survivor of this ruin, but of a piece with it.

A second labyrinth.

Mimara asks who the Nonman on the throne is. He says the greats of their kings, Cû’jara-Cinmoi. She asks how he can tell since they all look exactly the same. He says they can tell the difference between each other. She asks how he knows, though. He points out it’s written on the throne. He cuts off her next question, saying he has to think. He’s worried since their lives are in an Erratic’s hand. “To someone who was not only insane but literally addicted to trauma and suffering.” Cleric says he’s Incariol, but Achamian still wonders who he is and “what would he do to remember.”

Kuss voti lura gaial, the High Norsirai would say of their Nonmen allies during the First Apocalypse. “Trust only the thieves among them.” The more honourable the Nonman, the more likely he was to betray—such was the perversity of their curse. Achamian had read accounts of Nonmen murdering their brothers, their sons, not out of spite, but because their love was so great. In a world of smoke, where the years tumbled into oblivion, acts of betrayal were like anchors; only anguish could return their life to them.

The present, the now that Men understood, the one firmly fixed at the fore of what was remembered, no longer existed for the Nonmen. They could find its semblance only in the blood and screams of loved ones.

Beyond the shrine, they move through a residential area. They soon find a thoroughfare that moved through the heart of the mountain. Seswatha had walked through them two thousand years ago and Achamian mourns what was lost. They are walking through the part of the mansion where the Nonmen had built their palaces and shown off their riches. Now it’s all ruined and the scalpers finally realize the scale of the place and how vulnerable they are to attacks.

They camp for the night, a few of the more adventurous poking around the nearby streets but staying within the sorcerous light. They start making camp, the scalpers sleeping in armor. Achamian finds himself with Galian and Pokwas. They ask him questions, clearly the pair had worked to corner him to get some answers out of the sorcerer. They’re eager to know about dragons and if one lived in here.

“Men have little to fear from dragons,” he [Achamian] explained. “Without the will of the No-God, they are lazy, selfish creatures. We Men are too much trouble for them. Kill one us today, and tomorrow you have a thousand hounding you.”

Galian asks if any dragons live and he says they certainly do. Many survived and they’re immortal. Galian presses and asks if you wander into its lair. The Wizard answers that they would just wait to leave. Especially if they think you have strength. Galian is still not convinced but Pokwas gets mad and says they’re not wild animals who would attack not knowing they’re a mistake. Dragons are smart. Achamian confirms that. He feels a reluctance to speak. Not shyness but, he soon realizes, shame. He didn’t want to be like the scalpers. Worse, he didn’t want their trust or admiration, which he’s now earned because they “risked their lives for his lie.”

Pokwas then asks what happened to the Nonmen, clearly worried about Cleric. Achamian is confused since he’s told this but Galian asks why their race has dwindled. Achamian grows angry at the belief of these men and snaps about how their Tusk calls Nonmen “False Men.” They’re cursed and their ancestors destroyed many of the Mansions out of religious fervor. Pokwas is confused, saying the Nonmen were already broken when the Five Tribes crossed the mountains. What did that to them. Achamian says the Inchoroi, and Galian asks if he means the Consult.

Achamian stared at the man, not quite stunned, but speechless all the same. That mere scalper could mention the Consult with the same familiarity as he might mention any great and obvious nation seemed beyond belief. It was a sign, he realized, of just how profoundly the world had changed during his exile. Before, when he still wore the robes of a Mandate Schoolman, all the Three Seas had laughed at him and his dire warnings of the Second Apocalypse. Golgotterath. The Consult. The Inchoroi. These had been names of his disgrace, utterance that assured the mockery and condescension of any who might listen. But now…

Now they were religion… The holy gospel of the Aspect-Emperor.

Kellhus.

Achamian explains that this was before the Consult and talks about the thousand-year-long war between the Nonmen and the Inchoroi. Achamian finds himself feeling the same awe as the scalpers as he discussed this in Cil-Aujas. “Voices could stir more than the living from slumber.” This causes Achamian not to be long-winded but concise, speaking about the Womb-Plague and the “bones of the survivors’ immortality.” Galian, it turns out, had trained for the Ministrate so knew much of this. As he spoke, he would keep an eye on Mimara. She’s talking with Soma. He’s very sociable and absurdly confident, the effects of his caste-noble upbringing. If they were at a king’s court, he would be a fawning courtier. Though he seems harmless, Achamian won’t let his guard down around the scalpers.

Galian asks why he hunts Sranc. He can’t imagine it’s the money since they all spend what they make in vice right away. Galian says Xonghis leaves his money with the Custom House. Pokwas cuts off Galian’s explanation saying Xonghis will never spend it.

But Galian was shaking his head. “Your question, sorcerer, is not so wise. Scalpers scalp. Whores whore. We never ask one another why. Never.”

“We even have a saying,” Pokwas added in his resonance, accented voice. “‘Leave it to the slog.’”

Achamian smiled. “It all comes back to the slog, does it?”

“Even kings,” Galian replied with a wink, “shod their feet.”

They then start talking about mundane stuff, arguing over inane things in “good-natured rivalry.” Just a way to pass the time. Achamian thought it strange that Cil-Aujas would be the host to such petty words after all these eons. “Perhaps that was why the entire company seemed to fall mute sooner than their weariness merited.” They can tell there are ears that are listening. Soma looks disappointed when Mimara settles down to sleep beside Achamian, like she had every night since joining the scalpers. This night, the pair end up sleeping face to face which feels uncomfortably intimate to Achamian and doesn’t bother Mimara. It reminds him how Esmenet could sit around casually nude talking about sex the way a professional would his craft.

“So many calluses where he had only tender skin.

Mimara is awed by how much effort it took to carve all those images. He says that they only started piling all those images on each other when they began forgetting. It’s their history. She asks why not paint a mural and he says they can’t see paintings. She frowns. She might get angry easy but she looks like she’ll be fair with what he says. “The Nonmen may resemble us, Mimara, but they are far more different than you can imagine.” She finds that frightening.

An old warmth touched him then, one that he had almost forgotten: the feeling carrying another, not with arms or loves or even hopes, but with knowledge. Knowledge that made wise and kept safe.

“At last,” he said, closing eyes that smiled. “She listens.”

He felt her fingers press his shoulder, as though to poke in friendly rebuke but really just to confirm. Something swelled through him, then, something that demanded he keep his eyes shut in the presence of sleep.

Had had been lonely, he realized. Lonely.

These past twenty years…

Achamian dreams of High King Celmomas telling Seswatha about Ishuäl where Celmomas’s “line can outlive me.” Seswatha thinks it’s not needed, confidence in the Ordeal being successful. They even have Nil’giccas, the Nonman king, with them. Seswatha asks if he stocked it with beer or concubines, and he says seeds. The High King smile falls and he says he hadn’t wanted to believe Seswatha, but now that he does believe. But he trails off, saying it’s just a premonition that has him worried.

This concerns Seswatha and says a king’s premonitions should “never be taken likely.” They are then interrupted by a young Nau-Cayûti who jumps into his father’s lap. Celmomas jokingly cajoles his son by saying, “What warrior leaps blindly into the arms of his foe?”

The boy chortled in the grinding way of children fending fingers that tickle. “You’re not my foe, Da!”

“Wait till you get older!”

The boy fights off the tickles. Achamian starts laughing, calling the boy a wolf. Nau-Cayûti finds a scroll in his father’s pocket and asks if it’s for him. Nope. It’s a “great and powerful secret” for Uncle Seswa. The boy begs to give it to Seswatha and, humoring his son, Celmomas agrees. The boy runs over and climbs into Seswatha’s lap saying, “Tell me, Uncle Seswa. Tell-me-tell-me! Who’s Mimara!”

Achamian bolted from his blanket with a gasp…

…only to find Incariol kneeling over him the deep shadow. A line of light rimmed his scalp and the curve of his cheek and temple; his face was impenetrable otherwise.

The Wizard made to scramble backward, but the Nonman clasped his shoulder with a powerful hand. The bald head lowered in apology, but the face remained utterly obscured in shadow. “You were laughing,” he whispered before turning away.

Achamian could only squint, slack-mouthed.

As dark as it was, he was certain that Cleric had sobbed as he drew away.

Achamian wakes up feeling far older. Every bit of him aches. He is envious of the Skin Eaters moving about with ease as they readied to depart. Worse, he’s horrified to realize he is in fact in Cil-Aujas and it wasn’t a dream. He feels the weight of the earth over him. Mimara asks him three times what’s wrong and “he decided he hated the young.” He envies their strength and their “certainty of ignorance.” He imagines them dancing happily down the halls while he limps after them. So make it worse, Soma treats him like a mule needing to be goaded. He snaps at him and regrets it as people laugh and feels a petty satisfaction for his retort even as he wonders if he’s getting a cold.

This does drive him into picking up his stuff. As he falls into the rhythm of marching, he relaxes and his mood improves, proving an old aphorism “one need only walk to escape them.” As he walks, he struggles to remember what Seswatha knew about Cil-Aujas, building a map in his mind. But it’s hazy. Even when Seswatha had been here, the place had been mostly abandoned. Still, Achamian thinks Cleric knows where they’re going. He feels they’re closer to the northern exit.

Within a watch, they leave behind the residential area and are back in the tunnels covered in friezes. This opens into a huge room that’s dark presses in, squeezing the party close together out of nervousness. Still, though it’s unnerving, Achamian feels relieved because this must be the Repositorium where the Nonmen “had shelved their dead like scrolls.” This proves Cleric knows where they’re going because Achamian knows where this place lies.

It takes time to cross the distance seeing nothing but the dust around their ankle. At one point, Cleric stops them and they just stand there listening to nothing. Not long after, they pass bones lying scattered. They’re so ancient they crumble. Evidence of a battle that had been fought here. Sarl laughs to cheer up his “boys” but no one responds.

Suddenly, they find a slop of debris blocking them. This is surprising to Cleric who starts talking with Kosoter. They can’t tell how big this obstruction is. Asward, one of the Scalpers, begins to babble in fear. Sarl watches as Galian and Xonghis try to talk the man down looking ready to kill the panicking man for breaking the Rule of the Slog.

Tired and annoyed, Achamian simply walked into the blackness, leaving his sorcerous light hanging behind him. When Mimara called out, he simply waved a vague hand. The residue of death stirred no horror in him—it was the living he feared. The blackness enveloped him, and when he turned, he was struck by an almost gleeful sense of impunity. The Skin Eaters clung to their little shoal of light, peered like orphans into the oceans of dark. Where they had seemed so cocksure and dangerous on the trail, now they looked forlorn and defenseless, a clutch of refugees desperate to escape the calamities that pursued them.

This, Achamian thought to himself, is how Kellhus sees us…

Knowing his voice chanting the words of sorcerery from the dark would frighten them, he wants to remind the scalpers who he was. He conjures the Bar of Heaven. A light so bright it revealed the entirety of the room. “The ruined cemetery of Cil-Aujas.” This reveals the debris before them is the collapsed ceiling. “The way was barred.” Lord Kosoter doesn’t seem pleased as the light goes out. Kiampas orders them to pitch camp though it was impossible to say if a day had passed.

Mimara grabs Achamian arm and, greedily, asks to learn that. He realizes she’s going to pester him for hours with her questions. For the first time, he feels like her interest is genuine and not angry calculations. “To be a student required a peculiar kind of capitulation, a willingness not simply to do as one was told, but to surrender the movements of one’s soul to the unknown complexities of another’s.” To let yourself be “remade.” He can’t resist being a teacher despite his misgivings.

But it’s not the time. He gently tells pushes her aside because he has to speak with Cleric and find out if the Nonman knew another way out or if they had to head back the way they came and abandon his mission. Worse, if Cleric pretends he knows a way or isn’t remembering things right, they will most likely die. As he’s explaining this to Mimara, Lord Kosoter grabs Achamian, pissed at the wizard’s antics.

It was impossible not to be affected by the man’s dead gaze, but Achamian found himself returning his stare with enough self-possession to wonder at the man’s anger. Was it simple jealousy? Or did the famed Captain fear that awe of another might undermine his authority?

Mimara comes to Achamian’s defense, asking if they should have just stumbled about blind. Lord Kosoter glances at her, making Mimara pale in fear. Achamian, however, agrees to not do anything else like that. Lord Kosoter maintains the stare for a few more heartbeats then glances at the Wizard and nods. Not at Achamian’s concession, but that Mimara will suffer in his place.

Your sins, the dead eyes whispered. Her damnation.

The scalpers sit around their fires. Lord Kosoter ran her whetstone across his sword, acting indifferent “as though he sat with a relative’s hated children.” The chatter is quiet, more whispers between people sitting beside each other. No one talks about their dire circumstances. Soon, though, everyone is quiet and stares at Cleric.

He suddenly stands up and says he remembers. Achamian thinks he means how to get them through Cil-Aujas but then he sees how the others react. Sarl is staring at Achamian and not Cleric as if to say “Now you shall understand us!”

“You ask yourselves,” Cleric continued, his shoulders slumped, his great pupils boring into the flames. “You ask, “What is this that I do? Why have I followed unknown men, merciless men, into the deeps?’ You do not ask yourself what it means. But you feel the question—ah, yes! Your breath grows short, your skin clammy. Your eyes burn for peering into the black, for looking to the very limit of your feeble vision…”

His voice was cavernous, greased with inhuman resonance. He spoke like one grown weary of his own wisdom.

Fear. This is how you ask the question. For you are Men, and fear is ever the way of your race questions great things.”

He speaks of a wise man, though he’s not sure if it was a year or a thousand years ago. He asked the wise man why humans feared the dark. The wise man says it’s because the darkness is “ignorance made visible” and men prize ignorance but only so long as they do not see it. Cleric sounds accusatory, a preacher castigating his flock. He explains how Nonmen find the dark holy, or they used to “before time and treachery leached all the ancient concerns from our souls…” Galian is shocked, asking about that. Cleric smiles.

“Of course… Think on it, my mortal friend. The dark is oblivion made manifest. And oblivion encircles us always. It is the ocean, and we are naught but silvery bubbles. It leans all about us. You see it every time you glimpse the horizon—though you know it not. In the light, our eyes are what blinds us. But in the dark—in the dark!—the line of the horizon opens… opens like a mouth… and oblivion gapes.”

Though the Nonman’s expression seemed bemused and ironic, Achamian, with his second, more ancient soul, recognized it as distinctively Cunoroi—what they called noi’ra, bliss in pain.

“You must understand,” Cleric said. “For my kind, holiness begins where comprehension ends. Ignorance stakes us out, marks our limits, draws the line between us and what transcends. For us, the true God is the unknown God, the God that outruns our febrile words, our flattering thoughts…”

He trails off. Only a few scalpers look Cleric in the eye. Most stare at the fire, the only thing making a sound. Then Cleric asks if they now understand why this journey is holy, a prayer. No one even breathed. “Have any of you ever knelt so deep?” After a few heartbeats, Pokwas asks how can they pray to something they don’t understand. Cleric scoffs at there being prayer. There is only worship of “that which transcends us by making idols of our finitude, our frailty…” He trails off and slumps.

Achamian fights his scowl. “To embrace mystery was one thing, to render it divine was quite another.” The words are too close to something that Kellhus believed and different from Nonmen mystery cults. Achamian can’t believe he’s never heard of Incariol before considering the depth of Cleric’s mark and how there are only a thousand or so Nonmen left alive.

Sarl makes a joke about the Nonmen’s god swallowing them while Lord Kosoter had spent the sermon sharpening his sword “as though he were the reaper who would harvest the Nonman’s final meaning.” Finally, he finishes and sheaths his sword. The fire makes his bearded face look demonic.

A sparking air of expectancy—the Captain spoke so rarely it always seemed you heard his voice for the first vicious time.

But another sound spoke in his stead. Thin, as if carried on a thread, exhausted by echoes…

The shell of a human sound. A man wailing, where no man should be.

With a new Bar of Heaven lighting the Repositorium, the scalpers search for the source of the cry. Cleric had pointed at the direction of the sound. No one speaks as they march in a line. They spend almost a watch walking. The darkness grows as they get further from the light. They don’t speak, sword and shields at the ready.

And the might Repositorium gaped on and on.

They find a man kneeling and staring at the Bar of Heaven. They encircle him, nervous. He doesn’t seem aware of them. He is covered in blood. Sarl yells at them to form a perimeter. Achamian, holding Mimara behind him, and the Captain approached with the other officers. Mimara notes the madman is holding onto a woman’s severed hand. Kiampas recognizes the man as a member of the Bloody Picks. That makes the men flinch then he croons to the severed hand that he had promised her light.

Xonghis asks what happened. The man is confused and Xonghis presses for more, asking about Captain Mittades. The man starts to stutter, struggling to speak, then babbles about how it’s too dark to see the blood. “You could only hear it!” the man cries. Sarl asks who he heard dying.

“There’s no light inside,” the man sobbed. “Our skin. Our skin is too thick. It wraps—like a shroud—it keeps the blackness in. And my heart—my heart!—it looks and looks and it can’t see!” A shower of spittle. “There’s nothing to see!”

He begins having a seizure and rants how you can only see by touch, waving the woman’s hand. He held onto Gamarrah’s hand. He never let go of her. He shrikes that he held on. Lord Kosoter rams his sword through the madman. The severed hand rolls away from the dead man’s grip.

Lord Kosoter spat. In a hiss that was almost a whisper, he said, “Sobber.”

Sarl’s face crunched into a wheezing laugh. “No sobbers!” he cried, bending his voice to the others. “That’s the Rule. No sobbers on the slog!”

Achamian glances around. Cleric stands with his mouth open as if tasting the air and Xonghis and Kiampas have expressionless faces Achamian wants to fake. He knows something is wrong. He tells Xonghis to cut the man open. Achamian needs to see his heart, the madman’s words echoing in his mind. Sarl orders Xonghis to do it while Lord Kosoter watches. He uses his heavy knife to crack open the ribs and then cuts out the heart. As he washes it, he suddenly stops and notices a scar or suture. He pushes it open.

A human eye stared at them.

Sarl curses and stumbles back. Xonghis carefully puts it on the man’s stomach as Kiampas asks what is going on. Achamian looks at Cleric and asks if he remembers the way. Cleric, after a moment, says yes while Kiampas wants to know what is going on and how Achamian knew. He answers, “This place is cursed.” Kiampas is not satisfied. He wants answers. Achamian starts to explain.

“What happened here—”

“Means nothing,” Lord Kosoter grated, his voice and manner as menacing as the dead eye watching. “There’s nothing here but skinnies. And they’re coming to shim our skulls.”

That settles matters. They don’t discuss it, but they all knew something had happened. Sarl keeps stalking about how Sranc had killed the Bloody Picks, but the Skin Eaters had Lord Kosoter and two “light-spitters.” He continues about how this is the “slog of all slogs” and nothing will stop them from getting to the Coffers.

Certainly not skinnies.

However, those who saw the heart trade worried looks. They can feel the threat of this place now. Mimara clutches at Achamian’s hand. She stares upward at the dark ceiling and seems young and fragile. He notices her skin is lighter than Esmenet’s and wonders who Mimara’s father was and why she had overcome the whore-shell’s magic to be born.

They would survive this, he told himself. They had to survive this.

They head back, the men left behind to watch the pack animals had worked themselves into a fright. Sarl and Kiampas orders them to ready to march despite how everyone is exhausted. “There would be no more sleep in the Black Halls of Cil-Aujas.” Hell is invading.

Achamian is hesitant to dispel his bar despite how maintaining it takes some concentration. As they ready to leave, Mimara asked what this is but he says nothing and releases the Bar of Heaven. Sarl then announces the plan he and Lord Kosoter had come up with, saying odds are this place is huge and they won’t run into what killed the Bloody Picks, but they’re marching “on the sharp.” They’ll march like ghosts.

These words, Achamian was quite certain, had been directed at him.

The walk around the collapse and leave it behind. Mimara presses him for answers on the eye. She saw no Sorcery. He asks what she knows of the Plains of Mengedda and what the First Holy War found there. She talks about how the earth vomited the dead. He is momentarily remembering how he and Esmenet fled the Plains and camped by themselves. They had loved each other.

And declared themselves man and wife.

He says this place is like Mengedda. She makes a sarcastic remark like that explained anything. He explains how the boundary between here and the Outside are breaking down and that this is a topoi. “We literally walk the verge of Hell.” She doesn’t immediately answer and he thinks he silenced her.

“You mean the Dialectic,” she said after several thoughtful steps. “The Dialectic of Substance and Desire…”

Achamian is shocked to hear her say that phrase and sarcastically says she’s read Ajencis. That work was one of the philosopher’s great treaties on metaphysics. He saw the difference between the World and the Outside was in degrees. “Where substance in the World denied desire—save where the latter took the form of sorcery—it became ever more pliant as one passed through the spheres of the Outside, where the dead-hoarding realities conformed to the wills of the Gods and Demons.” Mimara starts talking about how Kellhus had encouraged her to read from his library. She thought she could be like her father. She’s looking for pity but he feels bitter and asks who that would be.

They walked without speaking for what seemed a long while. It was odd the way anger could shrink the great frame of silence into a thing, nasty and small, shared between two people. Achamian could feel it, palpable, binding them pursed lip to pursed lip, the need to punish the infidelities of the tongue.

Why did he let her get the best of him?

As they walk through the Repositorium, Achamian wonders if they’re not walking deeper into hell. He distracts himself by thinking about what he’s read about the Afterlife both from the Tusk and other treaties. He even wonders if Kellhus truly went into the Outside as rumors suggest. The entire time, Mimara walks beside him and he could ask her if Kellhus truly has the severed heads of demons hanging from his belt. If he asked, it would heal the hurt, but he had tried not to learn her opinions. “The simple act of asking would say much.”

Instead, he rubbed his face, muttering curses. What kind of rank foolishness was this? Pining over harsh words to a cracked and warped woman!

Mimara breaks the silence by saying Achamian doesn’t trust the Nonman. He adopts an expression of “annoyance and mystification.” It’s his “Mimara-face.” But he realizes she’s making the overtures of peace. He tells her, brusquely, it’s not the tame. He’s shocked she could care about that given what was happening around them. He thinks this makes her seem crazier. That’s the problem. She’s smart but her personality is broken. She doesn’t give up and asks if it’s his Mark that makes Achamian afraid.

Achamian instead mumbles a song from his childhood. He misses those innocent times as Mimara says when she glimpses Cleric out of the corner of her eye he appears “like something monstrous, a shambling wreck, black and rotted and… and…”

Horror at her words focuses her attention on him. She gives him a helpless look, failing to better describe. Then he asks her is she can “taste his [Cleric’s] evil.” She always not always. Then he continues on that he sometimes looks that way to her as well. She asks if he sees the same.

He shook his head in a way he hoped seemed lackadaisical. “No. What I see is what you see typically, the shadow of ruin and decay, the ugliness of the deficient and incomplete. You’re describing something different. Something moral as opposed to merely aesthetic.” He paused to catch his breath. What new madness was this? “What antique Mandate scholars called the Judging Eye.”

He watches to see if that pleases her but he sees concern. She’s been worried about this for a while. She asks what it is. He tells her that she sees sin. He starts laughing. She grows indignant at that. He is laughing at the irony of her having this power and being Kellhus’s step-daughter. She proves that Kellhus has lied about the Old Law being revoked. He remembers the Mandate Catechism: “Though you lose your soul, you shall gain the world.”

“Think,” he continued. “If sorcerery is no longer abomination, then…”Let her think it was this, he told himself. Perhaps it would even serve to… discourage her. “Then why would you see it as such?”

Achamian realizes they’ve stopped walking and the Skin Eaters have left them behind. He can just see them at the edge of his light, Cleric’s even dimmer. He’s alone with Mimara. “Silence sealed them as utterly as the blackness.” She admits that she knows there’s something wrong with what she sees. It’s not how any book she’s read described the Mark. She explains that “when I see it, it burns so… so… I mean, it strikes me so much deeper than at any other time.” This feeling is too strong not to have been recorded. She thought something was wrong with her. Achamian is shaken by not only having her show up but that she can see the damnation of sorcery. He thought the Whore of Fate had left him alone.

“And now you’re saying,” she began hesitantly, “that I’m a kind of… proof?” She blinked in the stammering manner of people find their way through unsought revelations. “Proof of my stepfather’s falsity?”

She was right… and yet what more proof did he, Drusas Achamian, need? That night twenty years ago, on the eve of the First Holy War’s final triumph, the Scylvendi Chieftain had told him everything, given him all the proof he would ever need, enough to fuel decades of bitter hate—enough to deliver these scalpers to their doom. Anasûrimbor Kellhus was Dûnyain, and the Dûnyain cared for naught but domination. Of course he was false.

It was for her sake that the Wizard trembled. She possessed the Judging Eye.

He remembers that night where they had sex and how sordid it was. He sees her as a pale image of her mother that he’s delivered unto this torment. He says they have more immediate concerns. Cleric. She doesn’t agree but he has to be careful how he tells her about her ability. As he does, he sees the irony that he has to protect everyone from Cleric’s madness while leading everyone to their deaths. He tells her he’s Ishroi, a noble. She can tell he’s hiding something because he’s talking about his fears to her, something he doesn’t do.

He tells her how Ishroi are remembered in history. He’s never heard of Incariol, not even in the Nonmen’s Pit of Years. She glances to Cleric’s light in the distance, making the Skin Eaters shadows moving in the dark.

They had traveled past the point of study grounds.

Resigned, she says the Judging Eye is a curse. Achamian can feel fate driving him forward. He’s not in control of what’s happening. He feels trapped by them. He says he only knows legends about it. Instead of answering, he points out they’re getting left behind. Then they realize Sarl is in the dark watching them. He says they’ll speak later. Mimara glares “naked fury” at Sarl.

Wanting to head off any confrontation, he tells her to take his light. She’s shocked, but he says she can “grasp it with your soul, even without any real sorcerous training…” She should already feel the possibility of doing it.

For the bulk of his life, Achamian had shared his calling’s contempt of witches. There was no reason for this hatred, he knew, outside of the capricious customs of the Three Seas. Kellhus had taught him as much, one of the many truths he had used to better deceive. Men condemned others to better celebrate themselves. And what could be easier to condemn than women?

But as he watched her eyes probe inward, he was struck by the practicality of her wonder, the way her expression made this novelty look like a recollection. It was almost as if women possessed a kind of sanity that men could only find on the fir side of tribulation. Witches, he found himself thinking, were not only a good thing, they could very well be a necessity. Especially the witch-to-be before him.

She can feel it. Sarl just watches, and Achamian is grateful that he has a chance to explain this to her. He says it’s the Surillic Point, a small Cant. He explains how she can focus on it, how to take it, as if she was walking together with it. For a while, it’ll be difficult, but she’ll get used to it “like any other reflex.” She grabs it and almost trips in her excitement. Then she marches past Sarl not hiding her contempt as she heads to catch up with the others with grace.

And she glowed, the old Wizard thought, not only against the stalking black, but against so man memories of harm.

Achamian moves to Sarl, the pair falling more and more into darkness, and asks what the man wants. It’s a message from Lord Kosoter. Achamian fights the urge to punch the man, a common reaction when he’s near Sarl. The message is that Achamian is too honest and arrogant. Achamian repeats those words. “There was something deadening about the discourse of fools.” He’s losing patience. Sarl then says he and Achamian are “learned men” which he scoffs out. Sarl bemoans his diplomacy being met with rudeness. He then explodes, snarling, “Fine fucking words spoken to fine fucking fools!”

Achamian believes Sarl is a threat. That the man is mad. He contemplates killing him with sorcery. Sarl berates Achamian for lighting up the Repositorium. Lord Kosoter knew what this place was and didn’t need Achamian scaring the men. The darkness was a shield. Sarl then tells Achamian to remember the first rule.

There was reason in what he was saying. But then that was the problem with reason: It was as much a whore as Fate. Like rope, you could use it to truss or snare any atrocity…

Another lesson learned at Kellhus’s knee.

He asks what is the first rule. “The Captain always knows.” Achamian realizes that Sarl worships Lord Kosoter. It disgusts Achamian to be marching with fanatics again. Achamian shouts belligerently asking if Sarl thinks he can intimidate him. He’s a Holy Veteran like Kosoter. “I have spat at the feet of the Aspect-Emperor himself!” He has his Gnosis and Sarl thins to threaten him. But Sarl just says you’re outside your expertise. “This is the slog, not the Holy War…” or a school. He explains their survival depends on all of them having resolve. Achamian risks breaking the men and dragging them all down. This is his only warning.

Achamian knew he should be polite, conciliatory, but he was too weary, and too much had happened. Wrath had flooded all the blind chambers of his heart.

“I am not one of you! I am not a Schoolman, and I am certainly not a Skin Eater! This is, my friend, is not your—”

His anger sputtered, blew away and outward like smoke. Horror plunged in.

Sarl takes a few more steps before he realizes that they’re not alone. He asks what it is. In the past, Achamian has tried to tell people what it’s like seeing the Mark, how he could see more. It’s hard to describe. Right now, he’s sensing something. He looks down and feels all the miles of tunnels beneath them. He can sense them because something is moving through them. A “constellation of absences” travels them.

Chorae…

Tears of God, at least a dozen of them, borne by something that prowled the halls beneath their feet.

The riot of thought and passion that so often heralded disaster. The apprehension of meaning to be had where no sense could be found, not because he was too simple, but because he was too small and the conspiracies were too great.

Sarl was little more than a direction in the viscous black. “Run!” the Wizard cried. “Run!”

My Thoughts

First off, we have gone to Spring and now it’s no longer the 19 New Imperial Year but 20. However, it’s still 4132 of the Tusk. So it looks like these calendars have different new years.

We all like to boast. We are rarely confronted with the situation that proves us liars. Skin Eaters are realizing they are not the biggest bads strutting around the land.

We see Sarl trying to deny this place is special, but they are all feeling it. This leads us to the chapter’s epigram. Small men like Sarl are feeling the terror. It’s going to feed the passion of revelation. What will they make of it? Right now, Sarl is clinging to the fact that places weren’t special. He’s refusing to see the things like the weird way the light only seems to fall naturally on Cleric. Only he belongs. This place recognizes the humans as interlopers.

The quote about questions always come too late is great. They’ve jumped into a situation and only now are asking questions they should have before. But it’s too late. They’re in the topoi. They’re about to walk through hell. “Terror is the passion of revelation.” Questions are only asked when fear gives you pause.

Achamian is as dangerous to the scalpers as the Nonman is. That’s why he doesn’t want to think about Cleric being an erratic. He’s using the scalpers and leading them to their deaths. Mimara, too. His obsession is as insane as Cleric’s madness.

Now that is an interesting dream. Achamian, not Seswatha, dreaming of the past. I suspect this is the effect of the topoi. It can cause weird stuff.

“…the small things never went away, no matter how tremendous the circumstances.” If there’s one thing 2020 has taught me is the truth of that statement.

The quiet ones are always thinking. They’re simmering. Bottling up their emotions.

We see that Soma, though, is taking interest in Mimara. The Skin-Spy must be figuring out she’s needed for the prophecy. (Which one, I don’t recall ever getting an answer on this, but I need to reread the later books more).

“Long-lived, they had worshiped Becoming… the bane of Men.” I am honestly not understanding what Bakker means here. The Nonmen worship Becoming. They worship the entirety of existence. The past, present, and future. They see it all at once. They want to be it all. Men don’t want to think about the future. Not really. We live in the present. We forget the past, remembering only the good stuff, and we don’t think about the future so we can do the things in the present we know are bad for ourselves.

Cleric is like a second labyrinth because he’s a Nonman, which means how he thinks is inscrutable to a human. Then he’s an Erratic after that, so even Cleric doesn’t know his own mind. He’s lost, forgotten so much that he has lost himself.

Nonmen kill because then they will remember the person they’ve killed since the betrayal will be a trauma, and those they remember after everything else has gone. It’s messed up. Cruel. They are a dead race that is just taking such a long time in dying. It’s a terrible thing the Inchoroi did to them. They killed all the women (there never seem to be female Inchoroi besides maybe their Ark), and let the men live forever to slowly become like the Inchoroi: living only for bestial needs.

Lazy dragons. It’s a good reason why they aren’t out marauding. Too much work. It sounds exhausting to me. I’d be there with those dragons.

Achamian has lived all his life with the Consult being the Mandate’s secret. What they war against and what they’re mocked for believing. Now these unlettered scalpers know about it. Know enough to ask if the Inchoroi are the Consult. That would be surreal for anyone. He has been out of the loop for twenty years. It’s like when you’re mom knows what a Karen is. Things have changed.

“Even kings […] shod their feet.” That reminds me of the origin of high-heeled shoes. There was a time, especially at the Parisian court, where a symbol of power was wearing ridiculous shoes that were not comfortable to walk in for any length of time. Men, including the king, would wear high heels to show that they didn’t have to walk around all day like the commoners.

I like this bit about Nonmen not being able to see paintings. It shows how human and Nonmen brains work differently. They have no trouble seeing an image carved to show different poses all at once as a complete entity where it seems chaotic and abstract to humans, but the ability to see shapes on flat surfaces is impossible. Pareidolia, it seems, doesn’t exist for Nonmen. Pareidolia is what lets humans see shapes in flat or flat-seeming objects like clouds or stains on the wall or a collection of oils on a canvas. Pareidolia is also what lets us read, though. So clearly the Nonmen had a way to read that used some other principal. Or, perhaps, the simplicity of their alphabet or syllabary they use is easy for them to tell apart.

I think the moment that Mimara pokes him in the shoulder they’ve become that father and daughter relationship they have for the rest of the series. He’s her step-father. Of course, it’s Bakker, so she’s pregnant with his kid. But it’s that moment where he stops being lonely. He’s missed out on his family for twenty years, what he had with Esmenet for these few months.

A father telling his son that when he’s an adult, they might be enemies. Sons have to rebel against their fathers to find their own way. They can war with each other. Maybe it never comes more to arguments, but when you’re dealing with royalty, well, sons have deposed fathers before.

So, Achamian’s dreams are blending with Seswatha’s. I am convinced Kellhus hypnotizing Achamian to speak with Seswatha broke down the walls between them. So Achamian’s desires are guiding what Seswatha dreams about and now it’s getting worse and worse. We’ll see Achamian dream as Nau-Cayûti.

I’d be terrified of walking up to a crazy Nonman over me. How long has it been since Cleric laughed? Erratics can only laugh in madness, not out of the simple joy brought about by a child’s innocence. Who wouldn’t cry deprived of those memories?

I think a watch is a few hours.

“…fear is ever the way your race questions great things.” Cleric’s quote feeds right back to our epigram from Ajencis. Fear is how we react. It’s how we’re controlled. How governments get us to go against our best interest, how media beats us into the path of knowledge they want to master. Fear is ingrained in us, our survival instinct that can be so easily twisted and abused by the callous, the greedy, and the sociopaths. Fear is what keeps the scalpers from asking themselves why they’re doing this insanity. Fear of being different. Fear of consequences of questioning why they’re doing this insanity. Fear of losing out on all the treasures of the coffers. Achamian has lied to them. He’s a merciless man leading them all to their deaths for his selfish goals.

Humans like not knowing how things work but we hate to have this pointed out to us. Every day, we use devices we do not know how they work, eat food that we do not know how they were manufactured, and receive news without understanding how the journalist crafts their narratives. We like ignorance. Being blissfully unaware just how blissfully unaware we truly are about how the world works around us. Politics, media, culture, food production, manufacturing practices, and more. That wise man was right about us humans.

The Nonmen believed in oblivion after death. This appears to be the same thing that the Inchoroi and the Dûnyain Mutilated are after. Even Kellhus, perhaps, wants oblivion. But Kellhus doesn’t want to commit genocide to achieve. Neither do the Nonmen, interestingly. At no time did they try to wipe out the humans who’s collective belief created Damnation for the entire universe.

Cleric is speaking almost Dûnyain theology. A departure from Achamian knows about the Nonmen mystery. This is another clue that Kellhus has been in contact with the Nonmen, Cleric in particular. Who is, of course, the King of Istherebinth. The last great Nonman who has fallen finally into being an Erratic. He was then placed in Achamian’s path for his mission.

Why does Kellhus want Achamian to succeed at his mission? I suspect that Kellhus always intended to die at Golgotterath. He just didn’t die the way he planned. Achamian was supposed to be the start of breaking down the mythology of Kellhus after he had accomplished his mission of ending Damnation. Or, so I think.

The Nonmen knew the direction the shout came from. Humans would have a hard time in such a vast space with all the echoes. Bakker doesn’t point this out, but it’s a nice bit of world-building about Nonmen. They like living underground. They’re a blend of dwarves and elves, so having the ability to deal with echoes would be useful.

Really want to know how long a watch is. An hour? They’re creeping along, but still, how far away was that shout if they’ve walked an hour and not found the source.

I remember reading this part the first time and finding a human eye on the guy’s heart was freaky. Bakker had really captured the eeriness of being underground. The fear and terror of the unknown and then throws somebody horror in to ramp up the tension. They’ve gone too deep and are now trapped with something evil.

Light-spitters. What a great slang for sorcerers in this world.

Mimara clutches at Achamian’s hand. Just as the woman Gamarrah had held to the dead Pick’s hand. Makes you think if the same will happen to Mimara. Nice bit of writing there. Subtle but it can eat at the back of your mind and ramp up the tension.

Achamian is really starting to see Mimara as a daughter as she holds his hand. We also see that Mimara is a fighter. She survived the birth control that should have prevented her conception.

I would be a bad wizard if I had to maintain a spell the same way as holding a number in my mind for more than a few minutes.

“Where substance in the World denied desire—save where the latter took the form of sorcery—it became ever more pliant as one passed through the spheres of the Outside, where the dead-hoarding realities conformed to the wills of the Gods and Demons.” This is probably one of the clearest descriptions of Bakker’s cosmology of his afterlife system. Substance versus Desire. And topoi, then, is where the two meet.

You could say it is the difference between Intellect and Passion. Dûnyain versus Inchoroi. And where do they meet? The No-God. The goal both the Mutilated and the Consult work towards.

I think Mimara represents everything Achamian lost when Esmenet chose Kellhus. His family. Mimara wants him to be her father, but he’s bitter because she’s not really his father. They’re both broken by Esmenet in different ways and though they get close, they can’t help but hurt each other, either.

We have our first hint of the Judging Eye from her. Seeing how damned Cleric is, when she describes what she sees out of the corner of her eye.

I think sorcery is still damned because not enough people truly believe that. I think normal people might have heard it, but in their hearts, they don’t. Most probably never really have. All those millions of peasants that just are trying to survive, many of them in the grip of old cults like the Yatwerians.

When Achamian sees Mimara as a “pale image of her mother” right after thinking about the night they had sex, he realizes she’s pregnant. It’s her destiny to have a stillborn child because she possesses the Judging Eye.

Sarl and Achamian both think the others are fools, though for a different reason. Sarl’s all about survival, and Achamian does things that endanger it because he has his Gnosis. Lighting up the Repositorium, for instance, could have drawn so much death on them if the place is full of Sranc. Sarl, of course, acts as the jester to prod and cajole and prick at people to keep them off-balance so Lord Kosoter can maintain his control. Both men have their reasons for doing things.

“There was reason in what he was saying. But then that was the problem with reason: It was as much a whore as Fate. Like rope, you could use it to truss or snare any atrocity…” This reminds me of an epigram from the first series that, essentially says, Reason is the slave to Desire. We use reason to rationalize the acts we do no matter how evil so that we can live with the fiction that we’re not evil and are doing nothing wrong.

People can be strong, but take them out of what they know, they can become weak. The intelligent foolish. And in those circles, the foolish can suddenly become wise. It’s easy for the arrogant to think they are the master of all their circumstances, but they’re not.

This was a great chapter of building tension from all sources. Cleric’s growing threat, Lord Kosoter, and the topoi around them.

If you want to read more, click here for Chapter Fifteen!

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

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When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Thirteen

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Thirteen

Condia

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

Damnation follows not from the bare utterance of sorcery, for nothing is bare in this world. No act is so wicked, no abomination so obscene, as to lie beyond the salvation of my Name

—ANASÛRIMBOR KELLHUS, NOVUM ARCANUM

My Thoughts

So we have Kellhus’s justification for why sorcerery is cool these days. And, if I understand the rules of this world, if enough humans believe this, it will happen. We know the Inchoroi wrote the Tusk to make their task easier, and before the Tusk there were Shamans. Prophets and Sorcerer both. But then the Tusk comes along and condemns them. It’s the dominant belief, and now Sorcery is damned. However, I don’t think Kellhus accomplished his goal of actually making sorcery not damnable. Too many people still believe the opposite. Either way, he is convincing the Few that they are not going to be damned and that’s all he cares about.

Now, how does this quote relate to the chapter? Well, Sorweel is getting to know his new tutor in this chapter. A Mandate Schoolman. He’s dealing with something he considers an abomination. This is to give us the start of the New Empire’s view on it versus Sorweel’s, which he’ll be grappling with.

Is Kellhus God and thus able to make that proclamation?

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

Sorweel’s people despise scholars, calling them hunched ones and see it as a disease. None are weaker than a “hunched one.” Sorweel’s new tutor isn’t just a hunched one but a Three Seas Schoolman. This is a problem. Sorweel believes the Tusk that “sorcerers were the walking damned.” Still, he has always been secretly fascinated with sorcery. He wonders, “What kind of man would exchange his soul for that kind of diabolical power?”

As a result, Eskeles was both an insult and a kind of illicit opportunity—a contradiction, like all things Three Seas.

Not long after the day’s march started, Eskeles would begin teaching Sorweel Sheyic. It’s mind-numbing tedium. He comes to dread these lessons. He even asks Zsoronga to hide him, but the Successor-Prince betrays Sorweel, wanting to be able to speak to Horse-King without going through Obotegwa. Sorweel finds Eskeles strange. He’s fat by Sakarpi standards but there are fatter men in the Great Ordeal. Despite wearing silk and leggings, his robe is open leaving his chest exposed to the cold. But he never seems cold. He’s a friendly and merry man. He’s hard to dislike despite being a sorcerer and a Ketyai.

Eskeles learned Sakarpi while being a Mandate spy posing as Three Sea traders to the city. He says it was a dreadful time. Sorweel thinks because it doesn’t have “Southron luxuries” but it’s because of the Chorae horde. He calls them trinkets.

“Trinkets?”

“Yes. That’s what we Schoolmen like to call them—Chorae, that is. For much the same reason you Sakarpi call Sranc—what is it? Oh, yes, grass-rats.”

Sorweel frowned. “Because that’s what they are.”

Despite his good humour, Eskeles had this sly way of appraising him [Sorweel] sometimes, as if he were a map fetched from the fire. Something that had to be read around burns.

“No-no. Because that’s what you need them to be.”

Sorweel understood full well what the fat man meant—men often used glib words to shrink great and terrible things—but the true lesson, he realized, was quite different. He resolved never to forget that Eskeles was a spy. That he was an agent of the Aspect-Emperor.

Sorweel discovers learning another language is hard as he discovers grammar for the first time. He learns how his own language is constructed so he can then learn how others are. He pretends to be aloof (he is with a hunched one) but is disturbed how he could know grammar without knowing it. “And if something as profound as grammar could escape his awareness—to the point where it had simply not existed—what else was lurking in the nethers of his soul?”

So he came to realize that learning a language was perhaps the most profound thing a man could do. Not only did it require wrapping different sounds around the very movement of your soul, it involved learning things somehow already known, as though much of what he was somehow existed apart from him. A kind of enlightenment accompanied these first lessons, a deeper understanding of self.

It still was boring. Luckily, even Eskeles would tire of it by afternoon. Then Sorweel could satisfy his own curiosity. All save the one that fascinated him the most: sorcerery. He learned about the various people of the Great Ordeal. As he did, Sorweel realized that Eskeles “discussed all these people with the confidence and wicked cynicism of someone who had spent his life traveling.” And, despite being vain, Eskeles wasn’t arrogant. He’s honest about the strengths and weaknesses of each nation.

Finally, after several days, Sorweel dares to ask about Kellhus, starting with an abridged version of the emissaries to Zeüm who slit their throats. He’s awkward as he wants to know what Kellhus is. Eskeles nods as if he had worried this question would come up and tells Sorweel to come with him. Since the Kidruhil ride on the front of the left flank, it doesn’t take the pair long bore they are riding ahead of the host. They climb a knoll from where the plains stretch to the horizon, the land looking dead. No longer the green of the lands to the south. Eskeles point out and asks what is out there. He peers out and then sees the great herds of elk that cover the plains in countless numbers. Then Eskeles turns and points back at the Great Ordeal and asks what that is. He turns back and is confused. He sees countless men stretching back to the horizon.

“The Great Ordeal,” he heard himself say.

“No.”

Sorweel searched his tutor’s smiling eyes.

“This,” Eskeles explained, “this… is the Aspect-Emperor.”

Sorweel keeps staring at them but he doesn’t understand. Eskeles says there are many ways to divide up the world, saying this part belongs to this man and so on. But what if you did that with his thoughts. Where does a man’s idea begin and end? Sorweel’s brain hurts, still confused. Eskeles dismounts and starts fishing in his mule’s rump pack. He produces a small vase. Sorweel is dismissive of it as “another luxury of the Three Seas.” Eskeles tells him to come and then searches for a stone rising out of the grass. He calls the vase a philauta used for sacramental libations. As he raises it, Sorweel sees little golden tusks on it and hears something rattling inside. Sorweel flinches when Eskeles shatters it on the stone. He tells Sorweel to stud the various pieces. Eskeles picks a splinter up.

“Souls have shapes, Sorweel. Think of how I differ from you”—he raised another splinter to illustrate the contrast—“or how you differ from Zsoronga,” he said, raising yet another. “Or”—he plucked a far larger fragment—“think of all the Hundred Gods, and how they differ from one another, Yatwer and Gilgaöl. Or Momas and Ajokli.” With each name, he raised yet another coin-sized Fragment.

“Our God… the God, is broken into innumerable pieces. And this is what gives us life, what makes you, me, even the lowliest slave, sacred.” He cupped several pieces in a meaty palm. “We’re not equal, most assuredly not, but we remain fragments of God nonetheless.

He asks Sorweel if he understands. The boy does. More than he wanted. “The Kiünnatic Priests had only rules and stories—nothing like this.” Eskeles makes too much sense. He wants to object, but he can’t. Eskeles continues his lesson by asking what is the Aspect-Emperor. He gathers up a chipped replica of the original that had been inside rattling around.

“Huh?” The Schoolman laughed. “Eh? Do you see? The soul of the Aspect-Emperor is not only greater than the souls of Men, it possesses the very shape of the Ur-Soul.”

“You mean… your God of Gods.”

Our God of Gods?” the sorcerer repeated, shaking his head. “I keep forgetting that you’re a heathen! I suppose you think Inri Sejenus is some kind of demon as well!”

Sorweel feels embarrassed and says he’s trying to understand. Eskeles says they’ll discuss Inri Sejenus and says Kellhus is soul is the same shape as the God. He prompts Sorweel to say, “He is the God in small…” That terrifies Sorweel saying it. Eskeles is proud and says this is why people cut their throats for him and all these tens of thousands march behind him. “Anasûrimbor Kellhus is the God of Gods, Sorweel, come to walk among us.” This causes Sorweel to collapse to his knees. He feels fragile, on the verge of falling apart.

Eskeles continues how sorcerers used to be damned. “We Schoolmen traded a lifetime of power for an eternity of torment… But now?” Sorweel thinks of his father being killed by sorcery and wonders if Harweel is still burning from it because sorcerery is damned. However, Eskeles’s eyes are full of “uncompromising joy.” It’s the look of someone who has been rescued. He speaks with worship now.

“Now I am saved.”

Love. He spoke with love.

He keeps thinking that Kellhus is God walking among them as he eats his meal with Porsparian. “Men often make decisions in the wake of significant events, if only to pretend they had some control over their own transformations.” So Sorweel decides to ignore it, as if being rude to Eskeles would stop the process. Then the youth laughs but it peters out.

Then he finally decided to think Eskeles’s thoughts, if only to pretend they had not already possessed him. What was the harm of thinking?

As a boy, he once found a poplar seed beneath a bush. He would watch it as it slowly grew, destroying the bush in the process. When his city fell, it had become a big tree and he realizes, “There was harm in thinking.” He feels what Eskeles has spoken is true. The Mandate Schoolman’s explanation makes too much sense. That even Sorweel is a piece of God. He realizes this is why the Kiünnatic Priests had demanded Kellhus’s missionaries to be burned.

Had they been a bush, fearful of the tree in their midst?

As he lies beneath his blankets, he relieves his first meeting with Kellhus and fears that he’ll come to believe in Kellhus like the others.

When he wakes up, he feels relief instead of a clutch of fear. For a moment, there is only silence and then the Interval tolls for morning prayers. Soon there are drills and his pony is finally responding to Sakarpic riding commands. He has no problem with the drills this morning and is called Horse-King.

When chance afforded he leaned forward to whisper the Third Prayer to Husyelt into the pony’s twitching ear. “One and one are one,” he explained to the beast afterward. “You are learning, Stubborn. One horse and one man make one warrior.”

He suddenly feels shame. He’s not a man since he never has, and never will, go through his Elking. “A child forever without the shades of the dead to assist him.” He glances at the wonder of the Great Ordeal and feels small.

Later, as he’s riding with Zsoronga and Obotegwa, he asks what the Successor-Prince thinks of the Ordeal. Zsoronga thinks it’s their end. Sorweel asks if Zsoronga thinks their goal is a real one. The Ordeal believes it. He’s not sure how Sorweel sees it from his one city, but Zeüm is a nation mightier than any other and he’s never seen anything like this. No Satakhan could ever have gathered so many and marched them to the world’s end. This event will be “[r]ecalled to the end of all time.” After some silence, Sorweel asks what Zsoronga thinks of the Anasûrimbor.

The Successor-Prince shrugged, bunt without, Sorweel noticed, a quick glance around him. “Everyone ponders them. They are like the mummers the Ketyai are so found of, standing before the amphitheater of the world.”

Everyone thinks he’s a Prophet or God. Sorweel asks but what does Zsoronga think. He quotes the treaty Kellhus made with Zsoronga’s father. Kellhus is the “Benefactor of High Holy Zeüm, Guardian of the Son of Heaven’s Son.” Sorweel presses for a real answer. Zsoronga asks what Sorweel thinks about Kellhus.

“He’s so many things to so many people,” Sorweel found himself blurting. “I know not what to think. All I know is that those that time with him, any time with him whatsoever, think him some kind of God.”

As Zsoronga confers with Obotegwa in their tongue, Sorweel realizes that Zsoronga is a spy and he, Sorweel, is but a distraction to the Successor-Prince. Zsoronga looks at Sorweel like the Successor-Prince wants the Horse-King to be a trustworthy ally.

Finally, Zsoronga asks if Sorweel’s heard of Shimeh’s fall in the First Holy war. Sorweel shrugs and says not much. Zsoronga brings up Achamian’s “forbidden book.” Zsoronga explains that Achamian had been Kellhus’s teacher and that the Empress had been Achamian’s wife, stolen from him by Kellhus. He adds how Achamian declared Kellhus a fraud and a liar. Sorweel has heard something of that. Achamian only lives because “the love and shame of the Empress prevent his execution.” Zsoronga laments that while his book rings true, it’s also the bitter account of a cuckold that casts doubt on it. Still, Sorweel has to know if Achamian thought Kellhus a demon but learns he doesn’t. Sorweel begs to know exactly what Achamian, pleading his friendship with Zsoronga to get the Successor-Prince to speak.

The Successor-Prince somehow grinned and scowled at once. “You must learn, Horse-King. Too many wolves prowl these columns. I appreciate your honesty, your overture, I truly do, but when you speak like this… I… I fear for you.”

Obotegwa had softened his sovereign’s tone, of course. No matter how diligently the Obligate tried to recreate the tenor of his Prince’s discourse, his voice always bore the imprint of long and oft-examined life.

Still, Sorweel wants to know what Achamian wrote. Zsoronga finally answers him that Kellhus is a mortal man with a vast intellect that makes others seem children. Sorweel presses for more. Zsoronga says, “The important thing, he [Achamian] says, isn’t so much what the Anasûrimbor is, as what we are to him.” Sorweel is frustrated by the answer. He urges Sorweel to remember what being a child was like and how you believed nursemaid’s tales and your emotions always were on your face. How adults had molded you. Kellhus is the adult and everyone is a child.

Zsoronga dropped his reins, waved his arms out in grand gesture of indication. “All of this. This divinity. This apocalypse. This… religion he has created. They are the kinds of lies we tell children to assure they act in accord with our wishes. To make us love, to incite us to sacrifice. This is what Drusas Achamian seems to be saying.”

These words, spoken through the lense of wise and weary confidence that was Obotegwa, chills Sorweel to the pith. Demons were so much easier! This… this…

How does a child war against a father? How does a child not… love?”

This dismays Sorweel and shames him, though he realizes Zsoronga feels the same way. Sorweel then asks what Kellhus’s true goal is. Achamian never said, though Zsoronga fears they’ll learn by the end.

Sorweel dreams of his father arguing with Proyas from the earlier chapter when Proyas came to parley. They are feuding about bondage. Proyas says there is slavery that sets one frees, which Harweel denounces, “So says the slave!” Harweel shouts while burning. Sorweel thinks, “How beautiful was his [Harweel’s] damnation.”

Porsparian wakes Sorweel from his nightmare and soothes the prince. He tells the uncomprehending slave he saw his father burning. Porsparian’s touch feels grandfatherly and comforting. He asks if his father is damned. “A grandfather, it seemed, would know.” Porsparian forms the feminine face of Yatwer in the dirt of the tent floor. He then rubs dirt on his eyes and prayers, rocking back and forth “like a man struggling against the ropes that bound him.” The sun rises, lighting up the tent as the slave keeps praying. Porsparian’s movement grows jerky. Violent. He spasms and convulses. Worried, Sorweel leaps to his feet and cried out in concern.

But he feels the ritual’s rules demand he not interfere, so he just watches. Porsparian is writhing on the ground like he’s being beaten. Then, he suddenly springs upright and pulls his dirty hands from his eyes. They are stained red. Then he looks down.

Gazed at the earthen face.

Sorweel caught his breath, blinked as though to squint away the madness. Not only had the salve’s eyes gone red (a trick, some kind of trick!), somehow the mouth pressed into the soil face had opened.

Opened?

There’s water pooled in the mouth that pours into Porsparian’s palm, his eyes no longer red. “Muck trailed like blood from the pads of his [Porsparian’s] fingers.” Sorweel backs away. Suddenly, the slave seems made of river mud. He says this is spit to keep face clean. It will hide him. Suddenly, Sorweel understands that the Old Gods are protecting him. He closes his eyes and the mud is smeared on his cheeks. “He felt her spit at once soil and cleanse.”

A mother wiping the face of her beloved son.

Look at you…

Somewhere on the plain, the priests sound the Interval: a single note tolling pure and deep over landscapes of tented confusion. The sun was rising.

My Thoughts

Grass-rats. I do like that name for Sranc. Sorweel, is of course, right. We give glib names to terrible things. Or grand things. We like to minimize. Like America and England like to call the Atlantic “the Pond” as if it was just this small thing separating our two countries.

There is a lot of things humans do without thinking about it. Language is the most unique trait of our species. No other creature on earth has language. They can communicate, but even the gorillas and chimpanzees who have been taught sign language can only string together a few words to form a very basic idea. They can’t speak with the complexity and nuance of grammar. This is hard-coded into human beings when we’re young. English, despite its large vocabulary, has had its grammar flattened to an extent. You would not realize this if you only spoke English, but our complicated grammar is simple compared to a many other languages. Some can have such a complexity to it only native speakers can ever grasp its nuance. It actually seems the more a language is spoken by only a small group of people, the more and more complicated it becomes.

While Sorweel has this vast revelation about knowledge, I know when I studied German, I didn’t have any profound epiphany on the nature of reality. However, it does tie into the greater theme of the Second Apocalypse: how little men understand why they do the things they do. Language has always been a large part of the series. Just notice the appendix at the end of The Thousandfold Thought that shows the family tree of the languages of men. It also ties into the fact that sorcerery requires learning another language that buffers the purity of meaning from the way a spoken language drifts and meanders. Words change so drastically, sometimes in a generation, and can come to mean even their opposites or something wholly alien.

Eskeles has a mule like Achamian. He’s very much a surrogate for that role, teaching Sorweel while during a holy war. Only Sorweel is the opposite of the Young Prince trope that Kellhus was. Neither one of them fulfill the trope but subvert it in different ways. Sorweel never avenges his father. He dies a failure. Though, he did get the princess before the end. I think that decision is one of the reasons Serwa behaves as she does during the climax of the Unholy Consult.

We can see Eskeles’s disregard for wealth and comfort. He breaks a rather expensive looking vase without thought to teach a lesson to his pupil. Eskeles might dress in silks and be fat, but he’s a man that has lived without much and understands how possessions can weigh you down.

Ideas have no boundaries. They spill from person to person. You can’t contain them. Can’t segment them. They spread as new people encounter them and embrace them or discard them. It is honestly why the idea of “Cultural Appropriation” is such a problem. The very act of strangers coming together rubs off some of their cultures on each other. It morphs and mutates and changes into new ideas (or bad ones). The more human cultures mix and exchange, the more advancements we make. Strangers can see what is common to one group in a new light and make a breakthrough in so many different areas. Haven’t you ever been stuck on a problem only for “fresh eyes” to easily spot what you’re missing?

And now we see Baker reinforcing for us, the readers, on his world’s metaphysics. Reminding us that the God is broken into an innumerable amount of pieces, each one inside of a person and peering out through their eyes. This is why his sorcery works. Those who can use sorcery are better able to see with “God’s Eye”. It’s also how Mimara’s Judging Eye works. Destroying this Oversoul is the goal of the Consult and the Inchoroi. With it gone, so are the effects of its existence.

Namely Damnation.

Eskeles speaks with all the conviction of the newly converted. There are none more fervent than those who have abandoned their past belief in favor of a new one. To have so changed their identity takes something powerful on their psyche, so they will really embarrass the new belief. If it’s a dangerous belief, this can be bad. As Dr. James Lindsey describes it, religions can come in two flavors. Those that look up and those that look down. A religion that looks up is one that’s about self-improvement. Being a better person. A religion that looks down is concerned with making sure your neighbors are being virtuous. You could say Jesus’s teachings are an upward-facing religion but many have turned it into a downward-facing one and used it to unleash horrors like the Inquisition or the Witch Hunts. Or the Teutonic Knights’ crusades in Eastern Europe.

The poplar metaphor is fairly obvious. That’s how ideas can work. If they get past your defenses, they can sprout and change you. It can be painful, but once it starts it’s hard to stop.

The Great Ordeal will be recalled until the end of time. But who will recall it? Given how this series ends, will there be anything left? We’ll have to wait and see for the third series.

Zsoronga sees the Dûnyain as performing. That’s very interesting. He comes from a culture that enjoys performing and acting differently in their day to day life. It makes him suspicious of everyone’s actions, I assume. Doubly so of a man claiming such inhuman piety. Sorweel’s answer to that Kellhus mummers (theater acting) is on point.

I do like the added bits of the problem with going through a translator. The words just don’t have the same effect coming from another’s mouth. And why should they? Another person can’t mimic the passions of the person for whom they’re speaking.

Zsoronga’s quote about the lies we tell children in regards to a religious holy war should probably let you know Bakker’s thoughts on religion. We lie to our children to control them, and religion lies to adults for the same reason. Kellhus is just really good at lying.

“How beautiful was his [Harweel’s] damnation.” Sorweel dreams of his father’s damnation was beautiful. His father had never surrendered to Kellhus. Had never succumbed to Kellhus. Sorweel, the perpetual child, has to his new father and that shames him to no end. So he dreams of his father’s defiance and sees it as beautiful. A stubbornness to refuse to bend no matter the cost.

Notice how the mud is like blood on Porsparian’s fingers. We’ve seen in the ritual creating the White Luck Warrior the importance of menstrual blood in Yatwerian rites. And it does hide him. Even Kellhus is fooled. It just doesn’t work. We hear a lot about Narindar, holy assassins, and that is what Sorweel is. He’s being used by Yatwer to kill Kellhus. Another young man being sacrificed.

Sorweel mentions how he’ll forever be a child. That’s how Yatwer is treating him.

Want to keep reading, click here for Chapter 14!

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

You’ll love this beautifully creative dark fantasy, because James Reid knows how to create characters and worlds you’ll grow to adore.

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Twelve

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Twelve

The Andiamine Heights

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

Little snake, what poison in your bite!

Little snake, what fear you should strike!

But they don’t know, little snake—oh no!

They can’t see the tiny places you go…

—ZEÜMI NURSERY SONG

My Thoughts

This seems pretty clearly speaking about Kelmomas. The nursery rhyme is being dismissive of the little snake. What poison is in your bite? What fear should you strike? But this snake can go places you can’t suspect, just like Kelmomas. He moves through the palace with impunity. He slithers around and, though he’s a child and shouldn’t be feared by adults, he is killing those who stand between himself and his mother.

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

Kelmomas knows instantly that his father has returned by how people are acting. It’s a lot of subtle clues, from the Guards’ increased alertness to Apparati running around breathless. He didn’t make the connection consciously until he learned the Yatwerian Matriarch had pissed herself.

He’s come to console Mother, the secret voice said.

Kelmomas reacts badly to this. He works on his model of Momemn while wanting to deny this reality that Kellhus was here. He’s always reluctant to think about him. To plot against him. Not fear. But he finally has to face reality and heads to his mother’s apartments. He hears Inrilatas “ranting about the Gods,” his voice broken from years of shouting. He never stopped raving. He has to pass Inrilatas’s door to reach his mother’s rooms. He reaches the door and slows his breath to hear Kellhus telling Esmenet to keep Theliopa at her side. Esmenet asks if he fears skin-spies.

Their voices possessed the weary burnish of a long and impassioned conversation. But the roots of his father’s exhaustion stopped short of the deeper intonations that warbled in and out of his discourse. A heart teasing hum, and a kind of ursine growl, far too low to be consciously heard by Mother. These spoke from something as unwinded as it was inscrutable, an occluded soul, entirely hidden from lesser ears.

He manages her, the voice said. He sees through her face the way you do, only with far more clarity, and he shapes his voice accordingly.

How do you know? Kelmomas asked angrily, stung by the thought that anyone, even Farther, could see further than him. Further into her.

Kellhus says the Consult will grow increasingly desperate as the Great Ordeal marches nearer. They will use everything they have so Theliopa should stay with Esmenet all the time because only she and Maithanet can see the skin-spies. Kelmomas loves stories of skin-spies and their “wicked depredations.” He loved seeing that one getting flayed alive, though he was careful not to let Mother know that. Kelmomas knows he can see skin-spies, too, but he’ll keep it a secret. Hoping to find one and spy on it. “What a game it would make!”

He wondered who was faster…

Mother is horrified that the Consult will attack the Andiamine Heights. Kellhus says it makes sense to distract him. “But nothing distracts you,” complains Esmenet. In this moment, Kelmomas realizes his mother knows what Kellhus is. As Kellhus says he’s leaving, Kelmomas hears the pain in his mother’s voice. He’s about to burst in to comfort her but his secret voice stops him, saying he’ll be recognized by Kellhus. The voice can’t be sure how much Kellhus sees, but Kelmomas needs to be with his mother, wanting to be hugged and kissed by her.

He’s the root, the voice replied, and you’re but the branch. Remember, the Strength burns brightest in him.

For reasons Kelmomas was entirely unable to fathom, that dropped his hand like lead.

The Strength.

Kelmomas runs. But not in flight. He has a plan. He steals a silver skewer while matronly slaves ruffle his hair and give condolences for his dead brother. He plays with them before running off. He can’t get into the Imperial Audience Hall. Luckily, a balcony door is open and he climbs up to it. From here, he can look down at his mother’s seat. This unnerves him. It’s a reminder that no matter how powerful you are, someone can be higher.

He slides down a tapestry and then mounts the Mantle, the seat of his father’s power. He wants the sparrows to come. He waits a while until one gets caught in the net. He doesn’t have a stone, though, but all he has is a skewer.

The world he walked was far different from the world walked by others. He did not need the voice to tell him that. He could hear more, see more, know more—everything more than everybody save his father and maybe his uncle. His sense of smell, in particular.

He smells his mother’s scent and his uncle. It’s the Matriarch’s piss that attracts his attention. He breathes it in. It excites him in a primal way. He then darts to the balcony behind the thrones. The moon’s out over the Meneanor Sea. The dark sea is ominous. It’s too vast and trackless to be known, even for Kellhus.

Ever did Men drown in blackness, even in sun-spliced waters.

He jumps off and avoids the sorcerous Wards with ease since he’s one of the few. He dodges the Pillarian Guard without any effort. The problem is the Eothic Guard. They have a lot of bowmen and they’re very good at hitting things. Saubon sponsors archery contests to find new recruits for the guard. Only the Agmundrmen from Galeoth are better. So Kelmomas is risking getting feathered. Though the risk sounds fun, he doesn’t actually want to hit.

It was no easy task, culling risks from possibilities.

He skulks across the roofs, using every trick he can to keep from being seen. He fights against a savage grin. He revels in the fun of creeping past Guardsmen without making a sound. He eluded them, enjoying being behind them in the dark and unseen. One nearly spotted him, but he keeps his body motionless. Once he was past, the thrill of almost getting caught rushes through him. He wants to cry out in glee. The rest of the guards “stared out in utter ignorance of their ignorance.” It felt like he existed in a different world from them. He could do anything. Then he feels like he’s testing them. “What if he were a skin-spy?” They fail to spot him, and that angers him and decides on what they should learn. “The darkness, he wanted to tell them, was not empty.”

He soon reaches the guest apartment. He feels like that crossing without being seen was both impossible and inevitable. He feels like he broke the world with his actions. That amuses him to no end.

He leaps into a hay pile and wiggles through it. He watches slaves from within it while a group of drunk Kidruhil harasses the workers. A horse is pulling a wagon. Kelmomas times his movement with the horse’s hooves hitting the cobblestones. He jumps beneath one of the horses and clings to its belly, becoming an extension of the horse and enters the Batrial Campus, the guest compound, unseen. He soon drops to the ground and lets the wagon roll over him. He darts to his destination, smelling the Matriarch’s scent.

He follows the trail, thinking it’s like what a worm would make. He hears a guard’s heartbeat around the corner. He takes a single heartbeat to peek around the corner and memorize the hallway and the guard before the Matriarch’s door. He’s not one of the palace guards. Kelmomas starts “crying” and runs around the corner to the guard. The Yatwerian sentry goes to comfort the boy, revealing himself to be a father and used to soothing children. He bends down.

Kelmomas stepped into the fan of his [the guard’s] multiple shadows.

“Come, now, little man—”

The motion was singular, abrupt with elegance. The skewer tip entered the sentry’s right tear duct and slipped into the centre of his head. The ease of penetration was almost alarming, like poking a nail into soft garden soil. Using the bone along the inner eye socket for leverage, Kelmomas wrenched the buried point in a precise circle. There was no need, he thought, to mutilate geometry as well.

The man falls to the ground, Kelmomas using the man’s dead weight to pull the skewer free. He lives for a moment or two longer. Then Kelmomas takes the man’s knife and goes through the unlocked door. A body slave, sleeping on the floor, rouses, waking up three more. He steps between them, slashing with precise strikes to kill them without being splashed by any of their spurting blood. “To walk the cracks between heartbeats.”

The Matriarch was quite awake by the time the little boy slipped into her bedroom. “Tweet!” he trilled. “Tweet-tweet!” His giggling was uncontrollable…

Almost as much as her shrieking.

Esmenet is outside the Matriarch’s quarters. She doesn’t want to see the woman’s corpse. She’s seen enough death in her life. She says they’ll wait here to Phinersa and Captain Imhailas. She sometimes thinks he’s too decisive while Phinersa is too fretting. She feels like Imhailas is always controlling urges he doesn’t even realize he has. He’s always standing close to her, wanting her even though he knows it’s wrong. A sin. As a prostitute, she knows that a man who feels guilty about his actions is more dangerous than the one who doesn’t. “What had the strength to seize also had the strength to choke.”

Maithanet arrives, stepping with care to avoid blood. He’s dressed plainly, the clothing revealing the strength he has, a reminder that he can “break necks with ease.” He has come from the Cmiral temple-complex. To maintain separation of the political and the spiritual, he never stays in the palace. He asks after Kellhus and his opinion. Esmenet snaps at Maithanet, revealing Kellhus left right before the murders were discovered. She then asks how a cult could do this, even Yatwer’s cult.

Maithanet suggests a Narindar, the legendary Cultic assassin. Esmenet presses Maithanet, saying he doesn’t believe that. He doesn’t know what happened other than this was a shrewd move. Sharacinth was the only way they had to seize control of Yatwer’s cult from within or creating a civil war. Phinersa notes Sharacinth is now Yatwer’s weapon.

Esmenet had concluded as much almost the instant she had stepped into the blood-splattered antechamber earlier that night. She was going to be blamed for this. First the rumors of the White-Luck Warrior, then the Yatwerian Matriarch herself assassinated while a guest of the Empress. The bumbling preposterous of it mattered not at all. For the masses, the outrageousness of the act would simply indicate her fear, and her fear would suggest that she believed the rumours, which in turn would mean the Aspect-Emperor had to be a demon…

This had all the making of a disaster.

She orders this to be covered up, but from the nervousness of her subordinates, they know it’s too late. She sighs, resigned. Imhailas declares they should take go on the attack. Up until now, he hadn’t made himself noticed, certain he would be blamed for the assassin getting through. Maithanet agrees but says there might be another possibility about what happened. As they speak, she stares at the dead. It feels surreal that they are holding their “council of war” before the corpses whose lives had been extinguished.

But then, she realized, the living had to forever look past the dead—on the pain of joining them.

She wants the crime investigated by someone with interrogatory. Maithanet suggests a Patriarch of another cult like Yagthrûta, who is “as rabid as his Patron God when it comes to matters of ritual legality.” He’s the leader of Momian’s cult and greatly respected for his piety and honesty. He’d even crossed the Meneanor in a skiff to show his faith. And as a barbarian, no one thought he was a Shrial or Imperial agent. Esmenet likes it and wants them to find Nannaferi. Imhailas agrees, wanting her dead to defang the cult. Esmenet is annoyed by the “inane adages” he always says. Usually, she likes them, not minding because he does it to impress her, but it doesn’t feel appropriate right now.

Phinersa doesn’t have anything new to add other than they think Nannaferi is in Shigek. Hard to say with Fanim raiding across the River Sempis. Esmenet grimaces, and he flinches. Fanayal ab Kascamandri sudden aggression is both annoying and effective. He’s severed the overland routs to Nilnamesh and so attacking fortified towns with a Cishaurim. It was “precisely the kind of confusion the Mother-Supreme needed.”

Weakness, she realized. They smelled weakness, all the enemies of the New Empire, be they heathen or Orthodox.

Phinersa says they’ll need to issue arrest warrants to capture her. Then she’ll be tortured. She isn’t sure and turns to Maithanet wondering if Sharacinth’s murder can be blamed on internal Cult feuds to give the pretext to order Nannaferi’s arrest. Maithanet advises caution and suggests consulting Kellhus.

Esmenet felt her look harden into a glare.

Why? she sound herself thinking. Why doesn’t Kellhus trust you?”

She says they need to prepare for riots and infiltrate the cult. She wants the Imperial Precincts secured to keep any more assassinations from happening. She wants to have the palace prepared for a siege and then orders the Acrong Columns recalled. Everyone is stunned by her sudden burst of orders. She shouts at them which startles them into action. She thinks Phinersa glanced at Maithanet to get confirmation before obeying.

So many looks. So many qualms. It was always the complexities that overwhelmed us. It was always the maze of others that robbed us of our way.

My little boy is dead.

She presses down her misgivings and asked Maithanet if he thinks skin-spies killed Sharacinth. He answers, “I find this turn… incalculable.” Esmenet is reminded of the “septic reaches of Caraskand” and the First Holy War. She is convinced this is the work of the skin-spies as Kellhus has warned her.

My Thoughts

We see Kelmomas’s jealousy on full display as he spies on his mother and Kellhus. He’s that little snake that is creeping around. Not even Kellhus appears aware that he’s there. Probably because he’s exhausted by traveling so far. There are limits even for Kellhus in what he can handle.

His childishness is still on full display with his fascination of skin-spies, not caring about the danger the pose for him and his family. He wants to play with one. Find out who’s the best little snake at crawling around the palace. It’s a game we’ll see him play with the White Luck Warrior in the next two books.

Kelmomas’s childishness is warring with his Dûnyain half. The secret voice claims to be Samarmas, but really it is his Dûnyain logic battling against the human half of him. That part that just wants his mother all to himself.

“When he reached the final pillar, it unnerved him to see that he look down on the Mantle and his mother’s seat.” Kelmomas has his first brush with the concept he’s better than his mother. He’s afraid of this. If he ever crosses that line, he’ll lose his mother as something he can love. He’ll lose what little humanity he has, and he’s not ready for that. If he had grown up, I can imagine him killing Esmenet when he reached maturity.

There’s something I don’t think I ever noticed or paid attention to that Kelmomas is one of the few.

I like that Bakker keeps Kelmomas playing children’s games. Just fucked-up and deadly ones.

The darkness is never empty. That goes into the central thesis of the entire series: our actions are defined by the Darkness that Comes Before. All those things we are unaware of in our past. In those around us. All the thousands and thousands of stimuli that we experience every day that shape our perception and actions. Men like to think they can ignore what they can’t see.

Always a mistake.

No, we don’t want to mutilate geometry, do we, Kelmomas? That line as he’s scrambling the guard’s brain to make sure he’s dead made me chuckle.

So we started his journey with him wanting to kill a sparrow trapped in the netting above the throne room. He can’t get to it since he only has a silver skewer. Then he finds another “sparrow” to kill, the Matriarch. He tracks her and then “tweets” like a bird in mockery as he kills her.

Bakker uses Kelmomas to show us just how much security is at the Andiamine Heights to show that even a child Dûnyain struggles to sneaks around. No wonder Esmenet is so disturbed by the assassination. If they could reach the Matriarch, they could get to anyone. This is the start of Esmenet’s paranoia that Kelmomas will use to turn her against Maithanet.

Reality means that we can’t let grief keep us from living. From acting. Especially in disaster, you have to keep moving. Keep surviving. The dead are gone. You’re still going.

Is this the first mention of the god Momian? He wasn’t in my custom dictionary for the series. Apparently, he’s the god of law. And, interestingly, this is the first cult to have a Thunyeri reach the highest level of authority. Most must be dominated by Nansur and other Ketyai races. It shows the cult respects law more than politics.

So, it has been six months since I have worked on this. I’ve had a crazy time. I’ve been doing a podcast, promoting my new fantasy series Secret of the Jewels, and then I had to move in August. So, I’m trying to get back into the habit of working on this every day! Back to the commentary!

We see more of Esmenet’s doubts with Maithanet already falling into place. The foundation of their conflict is growing especially when she thinks (and I believe it’s her imagination) that Phinersa glances at Maithanet. Kelmomas’s schemes starting to bear fruit.

Maithanet has no clue who killed Sharacinth. It’s an irrational act. He doesn’t have the data to know that Kelmomas is acting in such ways so he can’t see why this happened. He can’t see any motivation to kill her. Not with the capability of getting into the palace and out so cleanly.

Boy, I finished my reread in less than 10 minutes. I was so close to the end of the chapter.

We see the seeds of doubt getting planted in Esmenet’s mind about Maithanet. She sees this as skin-spies so clearly, yet he has no idea what happened. He can’t calculate this event. These are the hooks Kelmomas will use to drive the wedge between his mother and all those taking away her attention. Killing Sharacinth is just one step in that.

Besides the fun he had doing it, of course. He has too much emotion. That’s what makes him so much dangerous. Kellhus’s intellect with Esmenet’s emotions. Well, the emotions of a child, which are always feral and wild things that need to be nurtured and guided so they become well-adjusted adults.

If you want to read more, click here for Chapter Thirteen!

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

You’ll love this beautifully creative dark fantasy, because James Reid knows how to create characters and worlds you’ll grow to adore.

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Eleven

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Eleven

The Osthwai Mountains

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

Since all men count themselves righteous, and since no righteous man raises his hand against the innocent, a man need only strike another to make him evil.

—NULL VOGNEAS, THE CYNICATA

Where two reasons may deliver truth, a thousand lead to certain delusion. The more steps you take, the more likely you will wander astray.

—AJENCIS, THEOPHYSICS

My Thoughts

So Cynicata makes me think of cynic. And that is certainly a cynical view of people. And it’s so true. We are all the heroes of our own story, and we are all too quick to look at someone else and “strike” them. Make them evil. We’ll use bigot, or racist, or homophobic. Quick labels to let us feel comfortable in our moral superiority so we can maintain the fiction that we’re not just as evil as the man we labeled.

This leads us into the second quote which is about following delusional ideas. Going too far down the path of an idea can lead to so many problems. Look at any philosophy embraced by a nation-state or a tribe or a religion and see where it can go.

If you believe what we do, you’ll be saved. It’s moral for us to save unbelievers. So it’s moral for us to force them to believe so we can save them.

Currently, the Skin Eaters think they’re going to find riches at the Coffers. They need to reach the Coffers by midsummer. To do that, they have to get over the mountains now. But the passes are snowed in. So let’s go through the haunted and cursed Nonman mansion that scalpers disappear in all the time. We’re the Skin Eaters. We’re better than other Scalpers. We’ll be fine.

A bad idea leading to disaster combined with their moral superiority that they are better Scalpers than others. We see this at the end of the chapter with Sarl asking why the Skin Eaters hadn’t come to Cil-Aujas.

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

The Scalpers have named the mountain ahead Ziggurat. They don’t know its real name. Cleric might have even forgotten that it is called Aenaratiol (Smokehorn), but Achamian remembers. Beneath it lies Cil-Aujas, the Black Halls. At the time, Achamian was willing to do this out his desperation to reach Sauglish by midsummer. But now he’s remembering that it’s a dangerous place. Only Golgotterath is worse.

The Skin Eaters have their own theories about the Black Halls, making up their own tales to explain Cil-Aujas had fallen. Achamian knows the truth and begins telling him that it was refugees who caused its downfall. He has the Bitten listening with the intensity of children, especially Xonghis. More than the Bitten join them. Even Sarl and Kiampas gather. Mimara sits beside him while the fire burns bright before them.

He talks about the Nonmen and how great they were back when Men were savages. Before the Tusk had been written. Back then, Cû’jara-Cinmoi had been their greatest king. But the wars with the Inchoroi left him broken, unable to resist the Five Tribes of Men who entered the world. Then he speaks of the First Apocalypse.

“If you want to look at the true ruin,” he said, nodding to the barren knoll where the Captain sat alone with his inhuman lieutenant, “look no further than your Cleric. Reduced. Dwindled. They were once to us as we are to Sranc. Indeed, for many among the Nonmen, we were little more.”

He talks about the Meöri Empire, the White Norsirai kingdom that ruled the wilderness on the other side of the mountains. What the Scalpers called the Long Side. Crushed by the No-God, their hero Nostol led his people to Cil-Aujas ruled over by its king, Gin’yursis. They join together and the two made a stand at Kathol Pass and stopped the Consult form crossing the mountains for a year. Despite their alliance, Nostol and his Meöri people came to hate the immortal and angelic Nonman. They coveted the Nonmen’s glory and used scriptures from the Tusk to justify their greed.

There are three versions of the tale. In one, Nostol and his thanes seduced the Emwama concubines, human slaves used by the Nonman as substitutes for their dead wives. He hoped this would spur the Nonmen to retribution. A pretext he could use to attack them back. Nostol was said to have personally impregnated sixty-three of them.

“Talk about farting in the queen’s bedchamber!” Pokwas exclaimed.

“Indeed,” Achamian said, adding to the chorus of laughter with the mock gravity of his tone. And there are no windows in the deeps of Cil-Aujas…”

In the second version, Nostol merely seduces Weyukat, the Nonman King’s favored concubine. She had twice gotten pregnant with Gin’yursis’s child but miscarried. Still, that was better than most. So when she comes up pregnant, he thinks it’s his. If she has a daughter, it could mean the salvation of the Nonman race. Instead, she gives birth to a child named Swanostol. The king killed the babe and Nostol had his outrage.

In the final version, Nostol ordered his men to seduce the Nonmen nobility and create friction and passion. Achamian thinks this one is the correct version since all this happened in a year, and that’s not feasible for all these pregnancies and births to occur. He also has seen scraps from Seswatha’s dream that bears it out. However, they all end in the same way.

War.

In the darkness of the underground mansion, the Nonmen sorcerers unleashed their Gnosis on men bearing Chorae. It was a bloody fight. At the end, drenched in gore, Nostol and slain Gin’yursis and sat on the dead king’s throne. He wept and laughed at his deed.

“With courage and fell cunning,” Achamian said, his face hot in the firelight, “Men made themselves masters of Cil-Aujas. Some Nonmen hid, only to be found in the course of time, but hunger or iron, it mattered not. Others escaped through chutes no mortal man has ever known. Perhaps even now they wander like Cleric, derelict, cursed with the only memories that will not fade, doomed to relive the Fall of Cil-Aujas until the end of days.”

Galian says he’s heard this story. It’s why Galeoth are “cursed with fractiousness” since they’re descendants of Nostol’s people. However, Achamian says that Gin’yursis cursed all men, blaming them all for what happened.

“We are all Sons of Nostol. We all bear the stamp of his frailty.”

The next morning, they continue on with little conversation. They are approaching the Ziggurat with trepidation. They follow the hilly Low Road around the mountain’s base, the trees growing more and more scraggly. By noon, the Ziggurat dominates the sky. “They tramped onward in a kind of stupor.” Not even Mimara is drawing eyes as the weight of that height presses on them. The mountain is impossible to ignore. “The Skin Eaters, each in their own way, seemed to understand that this was the prototype, what tyrants aped with their God-mocking works, mountains into monument, migration into pageant and parade.” The mountain is too old and vast for any word to capture it.

The mountains proclaim that they are small. They keep advancing and soon, as noticed by Sutadra, they are walking an ancient road. Instead of being good news, it only troubles them more. The weight of history rises around them. “There was comfort in a simple track, Achamian supposed, an assurance that the world they walked did not laugh at them.”

After a few hours, they round a bend and see the entrance. A tall wall gouged into the mountain. They have reached the Obsidian Gate. They gather beneath it, dwarfed by its size. They are not prepared for the stories. They stare at it “like emissaries of a backward yet imperious people trying to see past their awe.”

Nothing bars the way into the abandon mansion. Every bit of the walls is carved with images of the Nonmen. From warriors fighting beasts to captives. Even in ruins, the scale of the carvings, its grandeur and detail, beggars them. This is something beyond human skill.

For the first time, Achamian thought he understood the crude bronze of Nostol’s betrayal.

Mimara asks what they are doing. Achamian thinks they are reflecting on mankind. Then Xonghis points to one pillar carved with the markings of other scalper companies. They gather around and see which companies have braved it. The most recent one belongs to the Bloody Picks who left a fortnight ago. They remember the member of that company they passed on the way here.

The following silence persisted longer than it should. There was a heartbreak in this furtive marks, a childishness that made the ancient works rising about them seem iron heavy, nigh invincible. Scratches. Caricatures with buffoonish themes. They were so obviously the residue of a lesser race, one whose triumph lay not in the nobility of arms and intellect, but in treachery and the perversities of fortune.

Kiampas spots the High Shields sign and says he’s right, they did die in there. Sarl disagrees, saying they died on the Long Side. Then Sarl scratches the Skin Eaters’ sign on it. Sarl then asks why they waited so long to come here. The Skin Eaters were legends as was this place. It was fate they should meet. “Such was the logic.”

His [Sarl’s] face pinched into a cackle. “This is the slog of slogs, boys!”

Cleric just enters the gate and starts turning before yelling, “Where are you.” He is disgusted no one guards the gate. He seems old and frail, confused. Only the strength of his Mark reminds Achamian of his power. Ironsoul claps a hand on Cleric’s shoulder.

“They’re dead, you fool. Ancient dead.”

The cowled darkness that was his face turned to the Captain, held him in eyeless scrutiny, then lifted skyward, as though studying the lay of illumination across the hanging slopes. As the gathered company watched, he raised two hands and drew back, for the first time, his leather hood. The gesture seemed obscene, venal, a flouting of some aboriginal modesty.

He turned to regard his fellow scalpers, smiling as if taking heart in their astonishment. His fused teeth gleamed with spit. His skin was with and utterly hairless, so much so that he looked fungal, like something pulled from forest compost. His features were youthful, drawn with the same fine lines and flawless proportions as all his race.

The face of a Sranc.

Cleric acknowledges reality. He’s crying and laughing.

Night falls. There’s not much fuel for a fire here, so the entire company shares one. It’s a miserable night with only Sarl’s mad declarations rising above muttered conversations. Fear is palpable, especially when some claim that the carved images are changing in the flickering camp light. Sarl mocks them by claiming he saw one turn into something sexual. This makes them all laugh as Sarl ensures dread is kept at bay.

Achamian keeps glancing at Cleric, realizing that the ruined mansion and the Nonmen are the same. Both as “old as languages and peoples.” Mimara leans against him unlike her mother who liked to hold his hand. She speaks with Soma. Achamian starts listening to their conversation. Soma says she acts like a lady of noble birth, but she replies that her mother was a whore. Soma shrugs, not caring. He’d burned his ancestor list. She asks, mockingly, if that frightens him. He asks how. She points to the others and says they’re vicious men who have some record of their fathers, an unbroken line of fathers. He asks why that should be frightening.

“Because,” Mimara said, “it means they’re bound to the unbroken line of their fathers, back into the mists of yore. It means when they die, entire hosts will cast nets for their souls.” Achamian felt her shoulders hitch in a pity-for-the-doomed shrug. “But you… you merely wander between oblivions, from the nothingness of your birth to the nothingness of your death.”

“Between oblivions?”

“Like flotsam.”

“Like flotsam?”

“Yes. Doesn’t that frighten you?”

Achamian starts scowling at the Nonmen friezes. The hundreds watching them. It’s like proof of souls. That sends him to stare at Cleric again. Nonman returns the stare. It’s sparked by an exhausted kinship and is broken without “rancour or acknowledgment.” Then he hears Soma admit it does frighten him. Mimara says of course it does. Soon, all taking dies down. Men find their bedrolls.

Few slept well. The black mouth of the Obsidian Gate seemed to inhale endlessly.

In the morning light, the ruins are more sad than scary. Still, they ate in silence. They force a semblance of normalcy to calm their nerves. The fire burns out, forcing Achamian to boil water for his tea with sorcerery. Xonghis speaks with Kosoter than they enter the “Black Halls of Cil-Aujas with nary a commemorating word.”

Achamian, with Mimara at his side, gives a final glance at the sky before he follows the others in. He spots the Nail of Heaven which “twinkled alone in the endless blue, a beacon of all things high and open…”

A final call to those who would dare the nethers of the earth.

My Thoughts

Smokehorn does not fit with a mountain that’s a flat top like a Ziggurat. Horns are pointy. It makes me wonder why the Nonman would choose that. Is it a shield volcano that blew its top off and the nonman saw that? A smoking horn and now it has crumbled to a flat top? Maybe the story will explain it and I’m speculating needlessly.

Wonder if we’ll ever find that missing tribe. Norsirai, Ketyai, Satyothi, and Scylvendi. One, I believe, is missing. Some think they stayed over on the other side of those mountains in Eänna and didn’t enter Eärwa.

We get a very classic tale, two races coming together to stand up against the darkness. They prevail, but instead of ending in a great and enduring friendship like in many fantasies, Bakker turns it to the dark. To the twisted ambitions and frailty of the human soul. Men are ever jealous of those greater than them and scheme to pull them down into the muck. We see it all the time in our world under the guise of “progress.”

The story also reminds me of the Fall of Gondolin in the Silmarillion. An underground city betrayed and destroyed out of jealousy. Though it was an elf jealous of a human. Still, we see that same sort of tragedy that was common in the ancient tales and has fallen out of favor in modern times.

I think it’s clear why the last story survived. What warrior wants to be remembered as a seducer of other men when they could boast of cuckolding their enemy and stealing their future as well as their lives.

Some great description to the lead up to the Obsidian Gate and then its carving. Bakker really captures the epicness. As someone who lives in the sight of Mount Rainier, which looms the way the Zigurrat does, I understand what he’s describing.

It always does feel like what the people did before us is more impressive than today. More grand. More profound like each generation of man has grown more buffoonish. And now you have these men faced with the works of a long-lived race. Even before the Womb Plague, the nonman had long, long lives. They had the time and patience to build such monuments.

And all the scalpers can do is shitty graffiti.

Hubris is something you have to watch out for. Sarl is full of it. The Skin Eaters are the best, so they’ll do what all these other companies failed to do.

Erratics are Nonmen with Alzheimer. In that moment, Cleric was in the past. He can’t tell the difference. It’s sad. He’s losing himself. The only problem, he has a young body and powerful sorcery. That’s what makes the Erratics so dangerous.

The description of Cleric is haunting. Especially that last part: the face of a Sranc. It’s one of those parallels with Lord of the Rings. The orcs were elves twisted into monstrous beasts. The Sranc were based on the Nonmen. We also get hints that the nonmen are some sort of fungal-based life. Not mammalian at all. Not sure if that’s true. They can reproduce with humans. In the real world, that would mean they were very close genetically. Even if the breeding is rare, it can happen. But this is fantasy where you get cross-species reproduction all the time.

Interesting that Soma, our skin-spy, talks about destroying his ancestor list. Mimara explains to us that it means for their culture. That your ancestors look out for you in the afterlife and make sure you’re not lost. But the Consult wants oblivion. That is what they want there to be when they die. They don’t want to suffer for eternity. In fact, it’s the same goal that Kellhus will be working for. But he just doesn’t want to destroy the world to do it. My theory, anyway.

It’s so anticlimactic as they finally enter the ruins. After a night of stress, the reality of their worries is underwhelming. Almost a disappointment. Little do they know…

Okay, the Nail of Heaven is bright enough to be seen in daylight. I really, really want to know what this is.

Click here for the next part!

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

You’ll love this beautifully creative dark fantasy, because James Reid knows how to create characters and worlds you’ll grow to adore.

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Ten

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Ten

Condia

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

Look unto others and ponder the sin and folly you find there. For their sin is your sin, and their folly is your folly. Seek ye the true reflecting pool? Look to the stranger you despise, not the friend you love.

—TRIBES 6:42, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

My Thoughts

You are not better than you’re enemy or someone you dislike. You have all the same flaws and issues they have. You’re not as good as you think you are. If you want to understand yourself, the darkness you’re capable of, you have to look at others and realize that you are just as capable of the acts they commit as they are.

This quote fits this chapter because in a complete stranger, Sorweel finds his reflection. He and Zsoronga are both atheists when it comes to Kellhus. They don’t believe in him. They both share the same sin. We see Sorweel getting reprimanded and warned against this by Kayûtas in their meeting.

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

The Istyuli Plain sprawls across the center of Eärwa. Long ago, it once held the White Norsirai tribes, men who looked down on their western cousins who built the great Norsirai Nations. “The fewer the roads the harsher the codes,” was a proverb of the Kûniüric peoples. The Sakarpi people still remember those tribesmen and call this plain in honor of them: the Cond.

There is no hint of the Cond remaining. They didn’t build cities but destroyed them. In the Three Seas regions, people in antiquity rose and fell and were replaced by other men. Not here. The Cond was replaced by Sranc. The army finds vast heaps of bones and tracts of grown torn up in search of grabs, but their enemy is not to be found. The Great Ordeal starts believing these lands can be reclaimed King Hoga Hogrim (nephew to King Gothyelk from the last series) has a stone Circumfix planted in the Condian earth and builds it into a ring fortress the height of three men.

Afterwards, the Aspect-Emperor himself walked amount the exhausted men, remitting their sins and blessing their distant kith and kin. “Men make such marks,” he said, “as their will affords them. Behold! Let the World see why the Tydonni are called the ‘Sons of Iron.’”

The Great Ordeal has not broken apart like an army of their size should. They’re too large to march effectively together. They need to spread out to forage for food and to feed their study horses on the grasses of the plain, but there’s a sloth that holds them. They want to stay together and stretch out the supply train from Sakarpus as far as possible. A stream of wagons travels behind them, struggling to catch up each day with the host and deliver the food. Going slow, for now, is a benefit. Besides, the Imperial Trackers say the Cond couldn’t support them even if they did break up it on hundreds of smaller forces. They need to reach the richer lands of eastern Kûniüri to forage properly. So they creep forward, making at best fifteen miles a day. Rivers are the worst obstacle, but their fords were mapped and their flooding behavior studied for years. Still, those fords are bottlenecks. Some rivers take three or four days to cross “banks no more than a stone’s throw apart.” But these delays were planned.

In the councils, it is worried that the Consult might poison the rivers. This is a real threat along with the consult massacring all the game. Both King Saubon and King Proyas, the Exalt-Generals, know how terrible running out of food and water will be after the First Holy War. Things could go bad for the army in days. For the regular soldiers, they just wonder about the absence of Sranc. They aren’t worried that this is a trap, because who could trick Kellhus, but are eager to kill them. Gossip is traded about the outriders who have killed Sranc already. Though they complain the way all soldiers do about the conditions, they haven’t forgotten they march to save the world and protect their loved ones.

And the God himself marched with them, speaking through the mouth, glaring through the eyes of Anasûrimbor Kellhus I.

They were plain men—warriors. They understood that doubt was hesitation, and that hesitation was death, not only on the field of war, but on the field of souls as well. Only believers persevered.

Only believers conquered.

Doubts plague Sorweel every time he stares at the Great Ordeal. He feels his people are nothing compared to the purpose. That he’s “the son of another Beggar King.” He stares out at the host as it encompassed the entire plain they crossed. So many people it appears as if the ground moved.

The Great Ordeal. A thing so great that not even the horizon could contain it. And for a boy on the cusp of manhood, a think that humiliated for more than it humbled.

What honour could dwell in a soul so small?

Though the Company of Scions that Sorweel belongs to is officially the elites of the Kidruhil, but in reality, it’s a ceremonial unit. It is made up of sons of foreign kings sent as hostages or as observers. These are not Men of the Ordeal or even soldiers. Belong to them conflicts Sorweel. Part of him is eager to fight, but he feels like he’s betraying his people by riding beneath their conqueror’s banner. He feels pride at times in his uniform which leads to more guilt.

For as long as he could remember, Sorweel had always thought betrayal a king of thing. And as a thing, he assumed, it was what it was, like anything else. Either a man kept faith with his blood and nation, or he didn’t. But betrayal, he was learning, was far too complicated to be a mere thing. It was more like a disease… or a man.

It was too insidious not to have a soul.

He feels it’s like spilled wine seeping through the cracks of his soul. Even a small betrayal leads to more and more while it deceives with reason, urging him to pretend to be a Kidruhil. It seems wise to do, but it’s a trap that leaches resolution from him. Pretending turns into being. He tried to be strong and cling to his guilt, but it’s hard.

Though the Scions are the smallest of the Kidruhil’s companies, barely a hundred, they stand out like silver amid the others. Their lack of faith makes them anathema to the others. They receive contempt from the troopers

But if the Scions were an outcast within the Kidruhil, then Sorweel was even more an outcast within the Scions. Of course everyone knew who he was. How could any Son of Sakarpus not be the talk of the Company, let alone the son of its slain king? Whether it was pity or derision, Sorweel saw in their looks the true measure of his shame. And at night, when he lay desolate in his tent listening to the fireside banter of the others, he was certain he could understand the questions that kept returning to their strange tongues. Who was this boy who rode for those who murdered this father? This Shit-herder, what kind of craven fool was he?”

On the sixth day, a black-skinned man comes into Porsparian’s tent. He is Obotegwa, the Senior Obligate of Zsoronga, who is the Prince-Successor of High Holy Zeüm. The man prostates himself. Sorweel is shocked, both from seeing a dark-skinned Satyothi in person and by how the man acts. Sakarpus never trained him on how to handle foreigners and their customs. Even more bewildering, Obotegwa speaks Sakarpic. “So he [Sorweel] did what all you men did in such circumstances: he blurted.” Sorweel asks what the man wants. Obotegwa is delivering an invitation to visit Zsoronga.

Sorweel agrees. He doesn’t know much about black men other than they come from Zeüm. He had noticed Zsoronga, the man standing out in his retinue of other dark-skinned men. Zsoronga holds himself with the power of his position, but he didn’t need to shout it out. He has a natural nobility that others respond to.

Porsparian seems agitated by the invitation, but Sorweel is too nervous to ask why. He has another unfamiliar circumstance to navigate. He doesn’t know what to expect or even how he will react. He feels like a coward, wondering how his amazing father could have given birth to “a boy who would weep in the arms of his murderer!”

I am no conqueror.”

Worry piled on recrimination. And then, miraculously, he found himself stepping through the canvas flaps into the bustle of the camp. He stood blinking at the streaming files of passers-by.

Obotegwa turned to him with a look of faint surprise. After leaning back to appraise the cut of his padded Sakarpic tunic, he beamed reassurance. “Sometimes it is not so easy,” he said in his remarkable accent, “to be a son.”

The pair moved through the bustling camp. It’s overwhelming. Prayer calls echo around them. Banners hang limp in the dead air. Obotegwa comments that it is “a thing of wonder.” Sorweel asks if it is real. Obotegwa laughs and says Zsoronga will like him. As they walk, Sorweel glances south to Sakarpus. They have ridden beyond the lands of his people into the Sranc Wilds. He tells Obotegwa his people never would come this far. Obotegwa tells him he has to speak in his Master’s voice. Sorweel points out he spoke as himself earlier.

A gentle smile. “Because I know what it means to be thrown over the edge of the world.”

Sorweel realizes Sakarpus is no longer an island in the wild but an outpost at the edge of the world. They are no longer special. His people have lost so much. These are weighty thoughts for the short walk and soon are at Zsoronga’s pavilion. It’s large and elaborate. He sees what he later learns are the Pillar of Sires, what Zeümi pray to.

Prince Zsoronga is relaxing and Obotegwa introduces Sorweel. He has to communicate through Obotegwa translating. Zsoronga welcomes Sorweel and tells him to appreciate the luxuries. These stand in defiance of Kellhus’s orders for spartan living in the field. Sorweel sits down stiffly and is told to relax. Despite the language barrier, he and Zsoronga start bonding and laughing.

They chat but soon run out of small pleasantries. Zsoronga tries to gossip about the other Scions, but Sorweel doesn’t know anyone. The only thing they share is the Aspect-Emperor. Through Obotegwa, Zsoronga describes the first time emissaries from Kellhus came to his father’s court. Zsoronga was a child and watched in awe. He had heard rumors of Kellhus, and Sorweel comments that was the same at his court. This gives them more to bond over.

Zsoronga says how he grew up on tales of the First Holy war and the Unification Wars. It always felt distant until Nilnameshi fell. That southern country is Zeüm’s gateway to the Three Seas. He talks about how a fortress called Auvangshei was rebuilt. It once guarded the Ceneian Empire against Zeüm a thousand years ago

All Sorweel knew about the Ceneian Empire was that it ruled all the Three Seas for a thousand years and that the Anasûrimbor’s New Empire had been raised about its skeleton. As little as that was, it seemed knowledge enough. Just as his earlier laughter had been his first in weeks, he now felt the true gleam of comprehension. The dimensions of what had upended his life had escaped him—he had foundered in ignorance. The Great Ordeal. The New Empire. The Second Apocalypse. These were little more than empty signs to him, sounds that had somehow wrought the death of his father and the fall of the city. But here at last, in the talk of other places and other times, was a glimmer—as though understanding were naught but the piling on of empty names.

Zeüm, as Zsoronga explains, only worries about Sranc. They have no other enemy since the Ceneian Empire fall. He then talks about how his people worship events and keep detailed ancestor lists, with each person having their own book revered by their descendants, that chronicle their mighty deeds in the afterlife. “Mighty events, such as battles, or even campaigns such as this, are what knot the strings of our descent together, what makes us one people.”

There was wonder here, Sorweel realized, and room for strength. Different lands. Different customs. Different skins. And yet it was all somehow the same.

He was not along. How could he be so foolish as to think he was alone?

Zsoronga then realizes the same thing since Sakarpus has stood unconquered for three thousand years like Zeüm. Like Sorweel, the name ‘Aspect-Emperor’ is carved on Zsoronga’s soul. It’s hard to believe one man can be so powerful. In this moment, Sorweel realizes it was ignorance, not his father’s pride, that had caused their defeat.

Zsoronga resumes his story about how the fortress Auvangshei being rebuilt had affected High Holy Zeüm. Some are eager for the coming war, wanting their own glories, while others are afraid of being conquered. Zsoronga’s father had been the former until the emissaries came. Sorweel asks what happened, feeling a kinship with Zsoronga. Three men came, two Ketyai and a Norsirai. Zsoronga’s father, the Satakhan, glares at them. In unison, they say, “The Aspect-Emperor bears you greetings, Great Satakhan, and asks that you send three emissaries to the Andiamine Heights to respond in kind.” The Satakhan asks what they mean.

The Prince held the moment with his breath, the way a bard might. In his soul’s eye, Sorweel could see it, the feathered pomp and glory of the Great Satakhan’s court, the sun sweating between great pillars, the galleries rapt with black faces.

“With that, the three men produced razors from their tongues and opened their own throats!” He made a tight, feline swiping motion with his left hand. “They killed themselves… right there before us. My father’s surgeons tried to save them, to staunch the blood, but there was nothing to be done. The men died right there”—he looked and gestured to a spot several feet away, as though watching their ghosts—“moaning some kind of crazed hymn, to their last breath, singing…”

Three suicides were the Aspect-Emperor’s message, daring the Satakhan to prove he has that same power. Sorweel asks if he did. Zsoronga says he had been hard on his father but understands his choice now. Even if his father could have found three fanatics willing to do that barbaric act, would they have stayed true or would they have balked at the final moments? Then his father would look weak. Even if he didn’t send the men, it would make him appear unfit to rule. Sorweel suggests Zsoronga’s father should have marched to war.

Zsoronga says he thinks it was a trap. That was why Auvangshei was rebuilt to put his father in this bind, pointing out that Kellhus broke Sorweel’s people, who survived the Second Apocalypse, in a morning. It’s not an accusation of weakness, just a statement. Sorweel realizes that Zsoronga, and all other unbelievers, ask the same question.

Who was the Aspect-Emperor?

After that, treaties were signed, his father was seen as weak, and Zsoronga became a hostage “pretending that I ride to war.” Sorweel asks if the prince would prefer his people’s fate. Zsoronga says no, but when he’s angry, he sometimes envies those who died fighting.

For some reason, the hooks of this reference to his overthrown world caught Sorweel where all the others had skipped past. The raw heart, the thick eyes, the leaden thought—all the staples of plundered existence—came rushing back and with such violence he could not speak.

Prince Zsoronga watched him [Sorweel] with an uncharacteristic absence of expression. “Ke nulam zo…”

“I suspect you feel the same.”

Sorweel does

He finds friendship with Zsoronga. Company to soothe his loneliness. He can acknowledge this, bunt not the fact he felt such relief just sharing with another. “A true Horselord, a hero such as Niehirren Halfhand or Orsuleese the Faster, viewed speech with the high-handed distaste they reserved for bodily functions, as something men did only out of necessity.” His people found strength in solitude, hence their nickname the Lonely City. Sorweel had emulated it, but it had only led him to depression since his father’s death. He had been so lonely keeping his thoughts to himself. It had almost driven him mad and then speaking with Zsoronga had saved himself. His only fear was that Zsoronga would see him as a crude Norsirai.

That he would be returned to the prison of his backward tongue.

But that didn’t happen. He rides with Zsoronga the next day. They trade banter and he joins the Brace, as Zsoronga’s bondsmen are called. It’s Sorweel’s first good day in weeks. Or would have been if not for their commander, Captain Harnilias (or Old Harni). He delivers a summons to Sorweel to see Kayûtas as the camp is erected. This is the first time Sorweel’s spoken with Kayûtas since their first meeting, though he’d glimpsed him often. He always found himself eager for Kayûtas’s attention instead of acting aloof or sneering. Kayûtas should be like any other man.

Only that he wasn’t. Anasûrimbor Kayûtas was more than powerful—more even than the son of the man who had killed King Harweel. It was as if Sorweel saw him against a greater frame, a background deeper than the endless emerald sweep of the Istyuli Plains.

As if Kayûtas were more an expression than an individual. A particle of fate.

Sorweel realizes Kayûtas can see through his “mask of pride.” How can he fight that if all his secrets are known? Panic swells through him know. He doesn’t want to be noticed now. He is quickly in the command tent. It’s austere, holding only what is necessary. Kayûtas sits at his table, his sister sitting beside him. Moënghus lurks behind them. Serwa studies him with a look of amusement. She says something to Moënghus behind her, a comment about Sorweel. Moënghus glares while Kayûtas snorts in laughter. Sorweel grows embarrassed. He feels like a boy and wonders if they make everyone feel this way.

Kayûtas asks how Porsparian is working out. Sorweel says it’s fine, feeling like they know he’s holding back. Porsparian’s praying over the mouths in dirt unnerves him. Kayûtas says that’s good and explains that a Mandate named Eskeles will be his tutor in Sheyic, teaching Sorweel as they ride. He agrees and asks if there’s anything else. Serwa and Moënghus are studying him, making him feel so self-conscious.

He was a king! A king! What would his father say, seeing him like this?

He laughs and says something in Sheyic. Then tells Sorweel that’s it. He also adds that there are those people who watch for those who take insolence into sacrilege. This jerks Sorweel’s faze up from his feet to stare at Kayûtas. Serwa studies him. Kayûtas admonishes him, saying that while Sorweel is a king, in the army, he’s a soldier and he’ll follow the rules. He says you’ll kneel before him and his siblings, though as a king, he can look them in the eye. But with his father, he has to bow his forehead to the ground. “All men are slaves before my brother.” Though the words are gentle, it’s a reprimand. Sorweel says he understands.

“Then show me.”

Before he can stop himself. He kneels while begging his father for forgiveness. Kayûtas is pleased, adding he knows it’s difficult. Then he lets Sorweel stand. He does but keeps looking down. Kayûtas then, off-handily, mentions he’s made a friend with Zsoronga.

The young King’s shock was such that he paid no heed to his expression. Spies! Of course they were watching him… Porsparian?

“I have no need of spies, Sorweel,” the Prince-Imperial said, snatching the thought from his face. He leaned back and with a gentle laugh added, “My father is a god.”

My Thoughts

Men have to leave their mark where they go. On the pioneer trails, like the Oregon Trail, that settlers used to travel to the Western United States over a hundred years ago, you’ll find places where they carved their names into rocks, graffiti to mark that they passed here. That they lived. Why wouldn’t the Great Ordeal do the same?

In the last series, Bakker talked about how war is about belief. So long as your soldiers believe they’re winning, they will suffer horrendous casualties. When that changes, they break and there is nothing you can do about it. So only believers conquer. And these men believe in Kellhus. They believe in their mission.

Life is never simple, Sorweel. We all do things that we feel terrible about but can’t help ourselves. We know we should be better, but it’s so easier to just go with the flow. It’s hard to be the rock thrusting out of the warrior.

So two chapters ago, Achamian meets his new companions. They are men that have friendship only on a skin level. Sorweel is about to meet two true friends in Obotegwa and Zsoronga. Especially Zsoronga.

Sons are always measuring up to their father. Most of the time, you feel like you can never measure up. It’s escaping the shadow of your father that is stepping into adulthood. But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes fathers cast an exceptionally long shadow. Sorweel lost his before he had made that transition and under circumstances that are outside of his control.

Obotegwa comes off as genuine. I like the character. RIP.

Having your own idols at odds with the rest of the Great Ordeal is a big statement that Zsoronga is no believer. We’ve had comments that believers persevere. They conquer. Sorweel is not a believer. He’s cast adrift. Zsoronga isn’t a believer in the Great Ordeal’s task. It makes me wish I could remember Zsoronga’s fate in the Unholy Consult. Either way, it’s foreshadowing that Sorweel is not going to succeed.

Zsoronga’s people revere history itself, which is what binds a people together. This probably explains a lot why they have existed as one country, mostly. The Chinese have always revered philosophy more than religion. Sorweel recognizes this truth. His people have had their shared history of being survivors of the Second Apocalypse, outlasting everyone else.

That history has now been shattered. What does that mean for Sakarpus?

Sorweel’s realization that strangers are just like him is how in-group/out-group preference is shattered. Humans are humans. Our customs might differ, but at our core, we’re all the same. It’s a powerful moment to realize it. The foundation of two friends who can’t even speak the same language.

Who is the Aspect-Emperor? That’s the central question of Achamian’s storyline. And here we are with Sorweel asking the same questions.

Yes, Sorweel, the Dûnyain makes everyone feel his way.

We see ample evidence of Kayûtas ability to read Sorweel in this chapter. The admonishment about him crossing the line because he’s a king comes right after he gets mad at himself for acting so submissive. Then the ending with the spy. The whole point of this conversation is to put fear in him. The tutor is merely the excuse to dress him down.

He also meets Serwa. He’s noticed her, but he hasn’t started his infatuation with her yet. He sees her as an aunt, an older woman instead of someone his own age.

Click here for Chapter Eleven!

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To save the skies, Ary must die!

If you love the works of Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, R. Scott Bakker, and Steven Erikson, then check out my first ever Fantasy novel!

You do not want to miss out on this awesome adventure!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Nine

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Nine

Momemn

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

A beggar’s mistake harms no one but the beggar. A king’s mistake, however, harms everyone but the king. Too often, the measure of power lies not in the number who obey your will, but in the number who suffer your stupidity.

—TRIAMIS I, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

So, pretty self-evident. Rulers’ mistakes (or politicians passing ill-thought-out laws) cost their people. This is an Esmenet chapter, so it primes you to watch what she does. What decisions will she make in this chapter that will cause others to suffer?

Let’s read and find out!

Well, I read this chapter and I thought this was referring to Esmenet. But the only decision she makes is to leave Kelmomas in favor of her audience with Sharacinth. It’s hard to call that a mistake. She doesn’t know he’s a homicidal homunculus pretending to be a little boy. Whether or not Sharacinth lived or died, would not stop Nannaferi cementing her control over the Yatwerians via such a blatant demonstration of the Dread Mother’s power.

So is it Nannaferi the leader? No. She doesn’t make a decision. She’s just Yatwer’s puppet. So is this a critique on Yatwer? A lot of people are about to suffer from her actions. And she is making a mistake in opposing Kellhus.

Kellhus doesn’t appear to make any mistakes here, either.

Honestly, the only mistake is Esmenet with Kelmomas and trusting him. It’s going to lead to him becoming the No-God. That’s a lot of people suffering.

Of course, there will be real mistakes that are made in this storyline ending in Esmenet and Maithanet feuding. Either way, this is a quote that we should pay attention to.

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

Her face seemed numb for tingling.

Kelmomas asks his mother if Samarmas hears them. She’s clutching tight to his hand as she says, yes because he’s a god’s son. She has her cheeks marked with a line of her dead son’s ashes. She would do this every full moon until she no longer wept.

Even now, she could feel his residue across her cheeks, burning, accusing, as though transmuted, Samarmas had become antithetical to his mother, a kind of poison that her skin could not abide.

As though he had become wholly his father’s.

She has to wear these because the tradition goes back thousands of years as she inters her son’s ashes in the High Royal Ashery in the Temple Xothei. She doesn’t get to keep him in her household’s shrine. This makes her grief public and not “tender and private.” The mobs have gathered to watch her procession to the temple. It’s a “seething carnival of mourning and anticipation.” Even in the bowels of the temple, she can hear them.

What would they say when they saw that her cheeks were dry? What would they make of an Empress who could not weep for the loss of her dearest child?

They pass niches for those interred here, including Ikurei Xerius and Conphas. Theirs are unadorned. She finds it ironic to put her son’s ashes by Conphas. She ignores the offerings left before his urn.

Someday, she thought, all her children would rest in this immobile gloom. Static. Speechless. Someday, she would reside here, cool dust encased in silver, gold, or perhaps Zeümi jade—something cold, for all the substances that Men coveted were cold. Someday the heat of her would leach into the world, and she would be as dirt to the warm fingers of the living.

Someday she would be dead.

She feels relief at the thought and is shocked by it. She sways and is on the floor before she realizes it. Kelmomas watches. She tries to smile. He seems vulnerable like his dead brother. Then he spoke and asks her if Samarmas hears them. She sees her dead son lying broken on the spear he’d landed on every time she sees Kelmomas. The boy clarifies that he means when he thinks things, does Samarmas hear them. He starts crying and she hugs him. She feels like her soul has been split in half, one half grieving with Kelmomas, the other numbed and confused.

How could she protect him? And if she could not, how could she love him?

She laid her head across his scalp, blew at the hairs stuck to the seal of her lips. Her cheeks were wet, but whether the tears were her own she could not tell. No matter. The mob would be appeased. Her Exalt-Ministers would be relieved, for the Yatwerian matter had become far more than a Cultic nuisance. Who would raise voice or hand against a bereaved mother? And Kellhus…

She was so tired. So weary.

“The dead hear everything, Kel.”

Iothiah…

A life lived, no forgotten.

And in its place…

A man in a small room is confused as he stares at a young woman nursing an infant. She grows concern at him and calls him love, asking if he’s fine. She says he looks like he’s dreaming. He gets up and heads to an open doorway and walks outside. He reaches the gate. The baby is crying now as the woman rushes after him, asking what he’s doing. She keeps asking if she did something wrong. He batters her from him and keeps walking.

Two hundred and fifty-seven years before, a Shigeki builder had saved twenty-eight silver talents by purchasing brunt brick form farther up the River Sempis, where the clay was riddled with sand. Aside from the tan hue, the tenement he raised was indistinguishable from the others. Over the course of the following centuries, the flood-waters had twice risen high enough to lave the southernmost pylons. Though the damage appeared minimal, sheets of material had fallen from the base of outermost support, lending it a gnawed looked, which for some reasons, seemed to attract urinating dogs.

It toppled exactly when it should, drawing with it an entire quadrant, collapsing four floors of apartments and crushing all the unfortunates within. There was a roar, a collective peal of screams punched into silence. Afterwards, dust sweeping out and up. The earthen clap and tinkle of raining bricks. The streets packed with shouting passers-by

The woman and her infant were gone.

A life forgotten…

The man walks away, threading through a crowded market place without ever once jostling someone, taking the perfect path. He spots an old woman begging and marches up to her. She looks no different than the other wretches in the temple’s shadow. A poorly thrown coin at the beggar causes her to look up at the right moment and see the man. He helps the old woman stand. She has childish awe on her face and identifies herself as Nannaferi.

The pulse and fork of blood. A voice so close the speaker could not be seen. The pulse and fork of blood behind this place…

“I am the White-Luck… I walk. I breathe.”

Nannaferi says they are siblings while quivering like a girl just past menarche. He wipes away her tears for “a life forgotten.” He calls her beautiful.” She sheds more tears for “what stood in its [a life forgotten’s] place.”

Momemn…

Esmenet, gazing at her stand mirror, glimpses Kelmomas lurking in the corner of her room. She’s thinking about plans, hardly noticing her reflection. She’s gazed at herself too many times for her appearance to hold her attention. She is about to meet with Hanamem Sharacinth, the Yatwerian Matriarch. Kelmomas is spying on her and she pretends not to see him. She remembers how Samarmas and Kelmomas had played this game before. Grief grips her. Finally, she acknowledges her son. He doesn’t answer her right away and she dismisses her body-slaves. Then she asks him where his nursemaid Porsi is before remembering that the woman had been scourged and fired. When he still doesn’t answer, she turns back to her appearance, making sure her clothing is perfect.

“I c-can be Sammy…”

She heard these words more with her breast it seemed than her ears. A flush of cold about the heart. Even still, she continued to face the mirror.

“What do you mean? Kel, what are you saying?”

Our children are so familiar to us that we often forget them, which is why the details of their existence sometimes strike us with discomfiting forces. Either because she watched him through the mirror or in spite of it, Esmenet suddenly saw her son as a little stranger, the child of some unknown womb. For a moment, he seemed too beautiful to be…

Believed.

Kelmomas cries that if Esmenet wants him to be Samarmas he will be. Heartbreak fills her, and she realizes she’d been selfish in wallowing if she was truly mourning Samarmas or not. She tries to speak but is too choked as Kelmomas continues that he looks just like his twin. She rushes to him and sees how her “circles of self-pity” had let her ignore Kelmomas’s pain. Though she grieved, she also knew the truth that children died in a cruel world. She had an internal strength to weather it, but she realizes that Kelmomas has lost himself and doesn’t understand.

I’m all he has left, she thought, stroking his fine, golden hair.

Even still, something dark in her recoiled.

Children. They wept so much.

Esmenet is in the Imperial Audience Hall. It hasn’t changed, other than the banners, from when Xerius was emperor. She remembers something Kellhus told her: “Monuments were as much prayers as they were tools, overreaching arrested in dwarfing stone.” It proves the men like to look strong especially when dealing with Gods. Esmenet is going to need this for her audience with Sharacinth.

She sits on her throne in the center of all the frozen pageantry. Behind her, the sunlight streamed over her, forcing people to see her against the bright sky, especially at sunset when the sun is setting behind her. It makes her feel more powerful as they squint to stare at her. Above, birds fluttered. Some would get caught in a net to keep them from nesting in the rafters. They would struggle to escape, their shill shouts hurting the ears and not inspiring compassion. Sometimes, at night, she would let Samarmas help free the trapped birds.

Orisons (an archaic word for prayer) rise from the galleys, singing praise to Kellhus. This announces the Matriarch’s arrival. Thinking of Samarmas now makes her think of Kelmomas whom she left sobbing and begging her to stay while promising he would be Samarmas.

We l-love you, Mom-mommy… So-so m-much…”

Hearing him use “we” still makes her emotional. But she can’t afford this as Hanamem Sharacinth, the figurehead of the Cult of Yatwer, approaches. Despite custom saying Sharacinth should dress in poverty, she has wealth on her. Maithanet is accompanying her. As the orisons fade, the pair reach them. The Matriarch kneels and addresses her. Esmenet tells her to rise, saying they’re all “children of the Ur-Mother.” The Matriarch agrees and rises. For a moment, she glances at Maithanet as if questioning why he’s not helping her stand then remembers who he is. She’s used to being around subordinates and has trouble showing deference. She acts defensively.

Esmenet bluntly asks about the White-Luck Warrior. Sharacinth isn’t surprised that this is why she’s here. She says she’s heard the rumors. Esmenet calls it treason and Sharacinth agrees. Esmenet is annoyed that Sharacinth speaks to her as an equal. The Matriarch didn’t even offer condolences. Esmenet swallows it and presses Sharacinth for information.

A calculated pause. Sharacinth’s eyes seemed bred to bovine insolence, her lips to a sour line.

Esmenet struggled to draw breath around her outrage. Arrogant ingrate! Treacherous old bitch!

Was this what she had imagined all those years ago, sitting on her sill in Sumna, enticing passers-by with a glimpse of the shadows riding up and down her inner thighs? Knowing nothing of power, Esmenet had confused it with its trappings. Ignorance—few things were so invisible. She could remember staring at the coins she had so coveted, those coins that could ward starvation or clothe bruised skin, and wondering at the profile of the man upon them, the Emperor who seemed to stand astride her every bounty and privatization. To hated. Not feared. Not loved. These were passions better spent on his agents. The emperor himself had always seemed… far too far.

She remembers her life as a whore as she tried to imagine what I was like for Ikurei Xerius III to sit here and she can’t quite understand how she got here. She thinks once when she showed Samarmas a silver coin and asked who was on it. He couldn’t even though it was herself on the coin. She feels grief now. It’s easy picking at her wound to find the pain. She hopes her makeup hides it as she presses Sharacinth for what she’s heard about the White-Luck Warrior. She answers that she’s heard many rumors.

It’s obvious that the plan of honoring the prideful Sharacinth with an audience to swell her ego and make her pliable is not working. Esmenet changes tactics and rebukes Sharacinth, and receives a sneer in answer. This sends terror through her, one only someone with a position of power can feel. A reminder that one day someone else will be in charge. Sharacinth has reminded Esmenet that power “came down to recognition.”

It was all naked force otherwise.

Maithanet roars at Sharacinth with the force of his position. She begins to talk back to him when she is seized by fear. She wheezes as a bright light appears above her. It spirals outward, too bright to look at. Esmenet shields her eyes with her forearm. When she looks again, Kellhus has appeared just as she remembers him, the two demon heads dangling from his belt. He descends to the ground, his presence almost shaking the building. Sharacinth stands stunned while Maithanet kneels. Esmenet doesn’t stare at her husband as he takes his place to her right. She projects confidence like she knew this would happen. She can’t let anyone know it surprises her.

With a mild rebuke that carries the penalty of death, Kellhus asks why she’s standing. She throws herself sobbing to the floor, begging for his forgiveness. He asks if she’ll oppose the sedition and blasphemy. She wails yes.

“For make no mistake, I shall war against you and yours.” The grinding savagery of his voice swallowed the entirety of the hall, battered the ear like fists. “Your deeds I shall strike from the stones. Your temples I shall turn into funeral pyres. And those that still dare take up breath or arms against me, I shall hunt, unto death and beyond! And my Sister, whom you worship, shall lament in the dark, her memory no more than a dream of destruction. Men shall spit to cleanse their mouths of her name!”

The old woman shook, arched back as if gagging in terror.

“Do you understand what I say, Sharacinth?”

Yessssh!”

He tells her to obey Esmenet and Maithanet and to stop being a figurehead but claim the leadership of the Cult then root out the faction opposed to him. It seems like the entire world is behind Kellhus as he orders Sharacinth to hunt down Psatama Nannaferi and end her. Sharacinth begs for Nannaferi. He roars at her demanding if she would offend him in his house. She shrieks and pisses herself. The world seems to return to normal and Kellhus moves to Sharacinth and tells her to taste the air, for her every breath is at his mercy. He tells her not to embrace humiliation and the “shrill poison” of conceit. He tells her to embrace the life he offers her.

Esmenet had heard these words so many times they should have seemed more a recitation than something meant, an incantation that never failed to undo the knots of pride that so bound men. And yet each time, she found herself sinking through the surface, floating utterly submerged. Each time, she heard them for the first time, and she was frightened and renewed.

Over the years, her husband had ceased being many things to Esmenet. But he was a miracle still.

Sharacinth begs forgiveness over and over. Kellhus asks Maithanet to comfort her. He does while Kellhus turns to Esmenet and holds out his hand. She takes them, And he teleports them from the throne room to their quarters where he immediately collapses in exhaustion. She barely gets him to their bed. He calls her wife as he rolls onto his back. She asks how many times he teleported. He can only travel to where he can see, from horizon to horizon. “Many,” he answers.

Simple, her soul whispered. I must make things simple.

“You came…” she began, shocked to find she was already crying. “You came as s-soon as you heard?” She knew this could not be true. Each and every night Mandate Far-Callers spoke with him in his dreams, appraised him of all that happened on the Andiamine Heights and elsewhere. He had come because of the situation with the Yatwerians, because of Sharacinth. Not because of his idiot son.

There were no accidents with Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

She cries in his arms that they’re cursed. He catches her eyes and says it’s only misfortune. She finds his words to be a drug. She protests that the White-Luck is just that then adds Mimara has run away and can’t be found and now Samarmas is dead. She adds people celebrated his death. Kellhus cuts her off to tell her to do no reprisals over that. The Yatwerians are not a people who can be massacred. They are spread across the entire Three Seas, impossible to root out. He says only the Great Ordeal and conquering Golgotterath matters. He talks about how other problems might seem important. She cuts him off to protest their son is dead.

Her voice pealed raw across the polished stone hollows.

Silence. Where for others the lack of response augured wounds scored or truths too burdensome to ignore or dismiss, for her husband it meant something altogether different. His silence was always one with the world about it, monolithic in the way of framing things. Without exception it said, Hear the words you have spoken. You. It was never, ever, the mark of error or incapacity.

Which was why, perhaps, she found him so easy to worship and so difficult to love.

He then speaks her name with such warmth and compassion that she starts crying. He tells her that he doesn’t expect her to take comfort in the Great Ordeal’s importance but to know that it has taken precedence over even the collapse of the New Empire or the death of their son. For a moment, staring into his eyes is liking staring into her own. She understands this. He knows her better than herself and, in fact, had already known the words he told her. “His tone had told her so.”

She asks how much tragedy must happen and he says all of it so long as the world isn’t destroyed. She beats on his chest and asks why the Gods hunt Kellhus. Why they want to stop him unless they want toe Second Apocalypse.

She had chosen Kellhus over Achamian. Kellhus! She had chosen her womb. She had chosen power and sumptuous ease. She had chosen to lay her hand upon the arm of a living god… Not this! Not this!

Kellhus has knows Maithanet has explained this to her, but she is still confused. He talks about how they are different from others, thinking about the future and walking the Shortest Path through the Thousandfold Thought. The Gods are jealous Kellhus has this task. She hears his inhuman voice that had conquered not only the entire world but “first her thighs and then her heart.”

She thought of that final afternoon with Achamian, the day that Holy Shimeh fell.

She sobs that she doesn’t have the strength for this and asks him to put Maithanet in charge. He’s half-Dûnyain. He can handle it. Kellhus says she is strong and Maithanet has his task as Shriah. She demands why her.

“Esmi, you have my love, my trust. I know that you have the strength to do this.”

He says the White-Luck will break against her. She asks how he can know. He cups her face in a haloed hand. He says her fear and grief and regret makes her pure.

Iothiah…

“Cursed!” Nannaferi cried. “Cursed be he who misleads the blind man on the road!”

All old voices failed in some manner; they cracked and they quavered, or they dwindled with the loss of the wind that once empowered them. But for Psatama Nannaferi, the breaking of her voice, which had once made her family weep for its melodic purity, seemed to reveal more than it marred, as though it were but paint, hoary and moulted, covering something furious and elemental. It struck over the surrounding clamour, reached deep into the packed recesses of the Catacombs.

The Charnel Hall is packed with hundreds and lit by torches. Smoke ripples across the ceiling. She curses the thief who steals from those and causes starvation. As she speaks, she’s standing naked and wrinkled, her body covered in white sigils. She’s covered in sweat. Before her on a “slave’s chair” sits the White-Luck Warrior. She then curses the murderer who kills his brother as she parts her legs. Period blood runs down her thighs. She stands proud, showing off the strength of her womb. She is fertile once more. People weep at the miracle. Everyone is roaring as she next curses the whore for choosing “gold over seed, for power over obedience, for lust over love!” She smears her palm in period blood and raises it before the crowd.

“Cursed be the false—the deceivers of men! Cursed be the Aspect-Emperor!”

There are pitches of passion that are holy simply for the intensity of their expression. There is worship beyond the caged world of words. Psatama Nannaferi’s hatred had long ago burned away the impurities, the pathetic pageant of rancour and resentment that so often make folds of the great. Hers was the grinding hatred, the homicidal outrage of the betrayed, the unwavering fury of the degraded and the dispossessed. The hatred that draws tendons sharp, that cleanses only the way murder and fire can cleanse.

And at long last she had found her knife.

She approaches the White-Luck warrior and marks him with a line of period blood across each cheek. These are the wurammi, the counterpart to the lines of ash mourning mothers wear. She preaches about how those in the shadows are always giving because they are weak. But Yatwer knows why the weak are the ones abused. Why the strong do “everything save kill!” She mounts the White-Luck Warrior and impales herself on his penis.

“Because without Givers,” she shouted in a voice hoarse for passion—doubly broken, “there is nothing for them to take! Because without slaves, there can be no masters! Because we are the wine that they imbibe, the bread that they eat, the cloth that they soil, the walls that they defend! Because we are the truth of their power! The prize they would conquer!”

And she could feel it; he the centre of her, and she the circumference of him—an ache encircled by fire. Hoe and Earth! Hoe and Earth! She was an old crone splayed across a boy, her eyes the red of blood, his the white of seed. The crowd before them bucked and heaved, a cauldron of avid faces and sweat-slicked limbs.

“We shall stoke!” she moaned and roared. “We shall foment! We shall teach those who give what it means to take!”

It’s important that he’s young and the father of only one child. He was not yet broken by the world but not at his full strength either. She says that they will no longer just be the “sea that drowns” but the “knife that cuts.” The White-Luck is their knife. As she rides him, the earth kicks like an unborn child in the womb. As she does, she feels his strength filing him. She’s growing young while he becomes older. His youth is transformed into a man worn by the years while she becomes firm and fair. The pair reach their climax.

Beaten and battered she had been tipped in libation. And now the dread Goddess raised her, a bowl cast of gold.

A vessel. A grail. A cup filled with the Waters-Most-Holy. The Blood and the Seed.

“Cursed!” she shrieked in a singer’s heart-cutting voice, high and pure, yet warmed by the throngs, a never-diminishing pool that was passed from palm to palm. She watched the Ur-Mother’s children mark their cheeks with the red line of hatred…

“Cursed be he who misleads the blind man on the road!”

My Thoughts

Esmenet’s guilt is on full display. It’s why she can’t stand having her son’s ashes on her because it reminds her that she was too busy running the kingdom and not paying attention to her son like a mother should have. Now Samarmas has become like Kellhus, something she rebels against. It’s one of the biggest insights into just how much she has come to hate Kellhus over the years.

Who is leaving offerings to Conphas’s ashes? No idea. But it’s also very East Asian. Leaving food is a common thing in Japan and China. I was at the temple where the Forty-Seven Ronin are buried with their lord and his wife. Though they died in 1702, their descendants are still leaving offerings to this day. Cans of Asahi Beer, lit incense, and canned salmon from Hokkaido. If you ever go to Japan, visit the Sengakuji Temple.

Esmenet’s going to outlive most of her children. By the end of this series, Samarmas, Theliopa, and Inrilatas are dead. Serwa is badly wounded. No idea if Kayûtas is alive or dead. Kelmomas is the No-God. Is there anything left of him?

If the dead hear everything, then she must feel even guiltier for feeling this revulsion to Samarmas. In death, he’s become a Dûnyain. No longer human. What she’s always feared. Now she’s afraid Kelmomas will suffer the same fate. He’ll stop being human become something inhuman.

And with that, we switch to the White-Luck Warrior. A young man with a young wife and a new child who has just forgotten everything. He’s about to die with his wife. His life is about to be over, but now Yatwer has possessed him. She has stolen everything from him to make him into the perfect warrior. Beyond a mere Narindar.

We see how the gods see the world. They know the history of everything at once. The history of the building, the man who throws the coin badly, are all known to Yatwer at once. She can guide him through the marketplace because she knows where everyone is going to move because, to her, it’s happened, is happening, and will happen all at once. She delivers the White-Luck Warrior to Nannaferi. At this point, the readers have to understand the Gods are real and are moving against Kellhus.

“Our children are so familiar to us that we often forget them, which is why the details of their existence sometimes strike us with discomfiting forces.” Bakker is addressing the reader using present tense with this sentence before turning it back to Esmenet. He’s including himself in it. This is probably something he’s realized with his own children (I suspect he’s a father, but I do know he’s married).

Kelmomas plays Esmenet like his fiddle. He gets her out of her inward grief and gets her to channel it to him so he can be at the center of her world again. After all, he killed Samarmas to have her all to himself. He can’t let her own pain steal her away either.

Even still, she finds his grief a burden “Children. They wept so much.” She can’t find herself morning for Samarmas because he feels to Dûnyain to her know that he’s dead. It’s like Kellhus has stolen another of her children.

Monuments are like prayers and both overreach. They both seek to go beyond the mortal life. A monument will outlast the man who erected it. A prayer reaches to the Outside to sway a divine being into intervening on this world. They’re both grasping beyond our reach.

Kelmomas failed to capture her attention. He sprung on her right before her audience. This is a test. But she goes with obligation and goes to see Sharacinth. Is it any wonder that the little shit murders her next. He’s killed one person for her love. It’s so much easier to kill the next.

Esmenet is a reminder that the people we see in power, the politicians and presidents and prime ministers, and even the famous actors, might seem remote. Might seem wise and authoritative. But they’re just people. They’re no different than you save, “A beggar’s mistake harms no one but the beggar. A king’s mistake, however, harms everyone but the king. Too often, the measure of power lies not in the number who obey your will, but in the number who suffer your stupidity.”

Remember that lesson. They get mad. Angry. They get offended. They make mistakes. They’re not savors. They’re not mighty. This is the very lesson the Frank Herbert wanted to show with Dune and Paul Atreides over the first three books. He’s a good man. Heroic, even. He’s the sort of man that you want to be your leader. And he couldn’t stop the results of his actions. He could barely keep the ship going straight.

Not surprisingly, Samarmas couldn’t recognize his mother on a coin. The parts of his brain that lets humans see images in patterns might not work with him. He might be able to tell faces apart (yes, that is something that can happen to you where all faces are the same to you because our brains spend a lot of time processing other’s expressions and if that gets damaged this happens). This might also be a hint at the theory that the Anasûrimbor line has nonman blood in it. Nonman cannot see two-dimensional, frozen images. Their art shows things blurring through motion and always has some level of three dimensions to them. Their brains just do not work like ours.

Power is an illusion. You have it because people give it to you. When they stop giving it to you, you either use actual power (violence) to force them to capitulate or you reveal just how empty it truly is.

As ever, Kellhus knows how to make an entrance. This both sets up the end of Book 3 when he returns to her as well as the fact that he can teleport. We’ll see this used greatly in the next books. It also reminds of his planning. He has anticipated when things will happen. When they’ll go wrong. When he needs to act.

Even hating Kellhus, even knowing the truth of him, Esmenet still worships him.

And poor Sharacinth. She got a brute force lesson in dealing with a Dûnyain. No time to pussyfoot around. Break her, remake her, and send her on her way to root out the cult plotting against him. And if it wasn’t for one crazy child, it might have done something.

Probably not since the White-Luck Warrior is already born and hooked up with Nannaferi and she’s about to find her tool in Fanayal.

For one moment, Esmenet wants to believe she’s married to a human. That her husband came because their son is dead. But then she remembers, he doesn’t love. Well, he does, but so weakly as not to matter. He cares for her, but their children, there appears no evidence of that.

Kellhus is never wrong the God is never wrong. How can you love something that isn’t human? That doesn’t make mistakes. That you can’t affect emotionally. She said those words to hurt him because he’s not showing pain. He should be grieving with her, but he can’t. How can she love something like him?

She chooses her children, power, and prestige over Kellhus and is learning how this hasn’t worked out. All her children are not human save Mimara who hates her. She has the power but realizes how hollow it is. The ease comes at the stress and fear of ruling. What seemed luxurious from the outside only reveals more problems. The idyllic life she wanted for herself and children was a lie. Now she has the Gods wanting to kill her family.

It’s clear she regrets not going with Achamian, that she thinks she’s made the wrong choice. Of course, Kellhus never would have let her go. He needed her womb.

“Esmi, you have my love, my trust. I know that you have the strength to do this.” I think these are true words from Kellhus. He does love and trust her. He rescued her from the collapse of the New Empire. I do not think he faked the fatigue. Teleporting all that way is tiring. Serwë, half-Dûnyain and a prodigy with the Gnosis herself, could only teleport a single time without needing rest. To come fetch her at the end of the Great Ordeal, he had to travel four or five times as far. He then spared Kelmomas for her. Love is both what lets Kellhus choose to save the world over stopping his damnation and what also causes him to fail because he could never love enough. He put his all into saving the world and ignored his family. His sons who were of no use to him.

You can tell Esmenet still worships Kellhus because she still sees the halos.

So the White-Luck Warrior sits on the slave chair. He’s here to be bound to Yatwer’s will. She has stolen him from his life, wiped it from his memory, and made a perfect warrior out of him. It is the feminine dominating the masculine in this ritual. The woman’s sexuality conquering the males with her talk of “gluttonous Phallus Eater.” We also see the beginning of her fertility returning to her. Once again, her womb is being washed clean by her menstrual blood to prepare for another egg to be released and another chance of creating life.

Nannaferi rails about slavers who take even as she is taking from the White-Luck Warrior on the chair. He is giving her his seed, his youth, so that she can be young again. She is conquering him with her sexuality.

Knife that cuts is martial force. The power of the few that dominates the many. The sea that drowns is the multitude that sweeps over and no amount of force can stop the tide of sheer numbers. The poor and abused have always been the later, only able effect change through mass riots instead of precise use of force. The White-Luck Warrior changes this. He’s their knife.

If you want to keep reading this, click here for Chapter 9!

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To save the skies, Ary must die!

If you love the works of Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, R. Scott Bakker, and Steven Erikson, then check out my first ever Fantasy novel!

You do not want to miss out on this awesome adventure!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Eight

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Eight

River Rohil

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

The will to conceal and the will to deceive are one and the same. Verily, a secret is naught but a deception that goes unspoken. A lie that only the Gods can hear.

—MEREMPOMPAS, EPISTEMATA

My Thoughts

Well, I think we know the big secret for the chapter: that Achamian is leading all these men to their deaths to satisfy his own obsession. But is that the only secret, the only deception, among the Skin eaters? We have who Cleric is and what his arrangement is with Kosoter. And that ties into why an Imperial agent had traveled into the wilderness to find Kosoter at the start of this book.

There are a lot of lies going on in the Skin Eaters.

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

The Skin-Eaters are taking a reliable rough up the River Rohil up to Ochain Passes to cross the Osthwai Mountains and enter the Meörn Wilderness. Once they’ve passed the Fringe, the edge of “skinny country” things would get deadly. For two nights, Achamian made his own camp and cooked his own meals. On the third night, Sarl invites him to Kosoter’s fire where Kiampas and the Cleric are dining.

Though Achamian was apprehensive, it goes how it could be expected, Sarl babbling on about anything with Kiampas speaking caution and the Nonman giving cryptic and strange observations. Kosoter says nothing. The next night, Achamian has to eat alone, which annoys him because he’s becoming lonely. He didn’t expect “heartsickness” to be one of them. However, he is moping by himself, wanting to belong.

They’re camping in a place often used by scalpers. Achamian can see them all, drifting from men sharing camaraderie. As the night goes on, he starts realizing how precious these interactions are. “They seemed at once precious and imperiled, like jewels mislaid across open ground, something sure to be scooped up by jealous enormities.”

People notice him watching. A Nilnameshi notices Achamian watching. After pointing it out to his friends. Then he heads over to Achamian. He keeps himself clean-shaved like a Nilnameshi caste-noble. He’s a handsome man who “inspired husbands to be more gracious to their wives.” He studies Achamian.

“You’re not one of them,” he said, nodding with raised brows towards the Captain’s fire. “And you certainly aren’t one of the Herd.” He tipped his head to his right, in the direction of three neighboring fire pits, each of them crammed with younger flame-yellowed faces. Most sporting long Galeoth mustaches. “That means you must be one of the Bitten.”

“The Bitten?”

“Yes,” he said, smiling broadly. “One of us.”

“One of you.”

The generous Nilnameshi invites Achamian to join him with the others, using a strange turn of phrase “punch of smoke.” Confused what it means, Achamian follows him. He soon learns that it refers to hashish and he’s handed a pipe. Out of nervousness, he inhales.

The smoke burned like molten lead. They roared with laughter as he hacked himself purple.

“See!” He heard Somandutta cry. “It wasn’t just me!”

“Wizard!” someone growled and cheered. Others took it up—“Wiz-Wiza-Wizard!”—and Achamian found himself smiling and choking and nodding in bleary-eyed acknowledgment. He even waved.

He’s told he’ll get used to it, joking that they have only the best. As the drug sinks in, Soma introduces him to the other. They’re “strangers hammered into families by the privations of the road.” With a newcomer, they’re all showing off, excited to have a new face in the Bitten. Galian is the oldest, an ex-Nansur soldier who fought at Kiyuth. A large man called Ox (Oxwora) is a renegade son of Yalgrota Sranchammer. Xonghis was an Imperial Tracker and prized by the captain and gets special privileges since he keeps them alive in the wilderness. Pox (Pokwas) is a disgraced Zeümi Sword-Dancer. Soot (Sutadra) is a Kianene who won’t talk about his past. He’s a possible Fanim heretic. Last is Moraubon, a former Shrial Priest from Galeoth. They joke he’s half-skinny.

These seven are the original members of the Skin-Eaters formed up by Kosoter ten years ago. After so many slogs, they feel gnawed upon by danger. All of them have literally been bitten by Sranc and have the scars to prove it. (Pox has his on his butt-cheek). The make raucous jokes about it. Achamian matches their humor.

Somandutta was the first to howl. Then all the Bitten joined in, rocking on their mats, trading looks like sips of priceless win, or simply rolling their eyes heavenward, shining beneath the eternal arches of the night.

And Drusas Achamian found himself friends with the men he had in all likelihood killed.

Achamian is surprised his old body is not only enduring the march but keeping up with the Skin-Eaters. His hard life for the last twenty years has given him the strength for this march. They march down the trail, passing inbound companies of half-starved men who, despite looking like the living dead, are jubilant to be reaching Marrow. They were trapped on the other side of the mountains by winter snows. Soma tells Achamian the Ochain Passes have been more unpredictable the last few years. The passing scalpers trade jokes, news, gossip, and complaining about skinnies.

Achamian listened without comment, both fascinated and dismayed. Like all Mandate Schoolman, he looked at the world with the arrogance of someone who had survived—fen if only in proxy—the greatest depravities circumstance could offer. But what happened in the Wilds, whatever it was that edged their voices when the Skin Easters spoke of it, was different somehow. They too carried the look and posture of survivors, but of something more mean, more poisonous, than the death of nations. There was the wickedness that cut throats, and there was the wickedness that put whole peoples to the sword. Scalpers, Achamian realized, dwelt somewhere in the lunatic in-between.

And for the first time he understood: He had no real comprehension of what was to come.

Achamian finds one scalper slump to his knees, too weak to continue. Achamian sees he’s starving and goes to help him, but Pokwas stops him and says there is “No pity on the slog, friend.” If you can’t keep going, you die. Achamian asks what sort of soldiers leave their fellows. But scalpers are “soldiers who aren’t soldiers.” Achamian realizes that the Wilds is a place is too deadly for normal human behavior. Achamian accepts this and resumes walking.

Achamian the talker, the asker of questions, had died a long time ago.

Despite his acceptance, the collapsed scalper lingers in Achamian’s mind. It reminds him how easily men can die anonymously. He should know this since he’d seen so much death in his dreams and during the First Holy War, yet that stranger still weighs on him. He wonders if it’s a premonition or if he’s growing soft. He knows that compassion can weaken the elderly as much as their aging body. Will it be his spirit that fails him?

Something always failed him.

He walks the rest of the day in silence despite Soma’s best effort. That night, Achamian sits by Pokwas. Everyone’s in good spirits since Xonghis killed a deer. He asks Pokwas about the Rules of the Slog and if he would have helped Galian if he had fallen on the road. Pokwas interrupts Achamian to say he absolutely is even though Pokwas’s considers Galian his brother. Confused, Achamian asks what about the “rules of brotherhood.” Galian is the one to answer and says only the rules of the slog matter. He says brotherhood’s great so long as it doesn’t cost anything. Survival is all that matters. Achamian comments that it “sounds like something our glorious Aspect-Emperor would say.”

Aside from the vague intuition that discussing the Aspect-Emperor was generally unwise, the old Wizard really didn’t know what to expect.

“I would help,” Soma blurted. “If Galian were dying, that is. I really would…”

The eating paused. The ring of faces turned to the young Nilnameshi, some screwed in mock outrage, others sporting skeptical grins.

With a guileless smile, Soma said, “His boots fit as fine as my own!”

Soma’s jokes are usually bad especially when he’s trying. The others shake heads or roll eyes at this one. Oxwora throws a bone he gnawed at Soma. Soma shouts and Oxwora grins. Then the rest start throwing their bones at Soma and laughter bursts out. Pokwas tells Achamian, “Loot thy brother.” and then welcomes him to the slog.

Achamian laughed and nodded, glanced out beyond the circle of illuminated faces to the night-hooded world. It was no simple or mean thing, the companionship of killers.

Two days later, Xonghis reports that a woman is following the company. Achamian gets alarmed and asks who knows about it. He’s told Moraubon and a few members of the Herd. Achamian sets off in run down the path, preparing to unleash his sorcery. He hears scalpers laughing with “malice and open-mouthed eagerness of men bent on rutting.” A woman cries out with defiance. Achamian climbs into the air and runs across “the echoes of the ground.” He bursts through the canopy and spots Skin Eaters racing down the trail towards where three of them have a hold of Mimara. She’s kicking and thrashing as they pin her down. Moraubon is undoing his breeches, preparing to rape her. Achamian steps into her midst and hits the ex-priest with the Odaini Concussion Cant. It doesn’t kill him but throws him away.

Angry, Achamian unleashes his sorcery to teach the Skin Eaters. He revels in the violence, taking enjoyment in them seeing his power. The Skin Eaters retreat from him. He destroys the surrounding trees with the Compass of Noshainrau. This drives the Skin Eaters further back.

Achamian stood over her, bright in the sudden sunlight, showered by the twirling green of innumerable spring-early leaves. A Wizard draped in wolf skins. The bulk of once great trees lay heaped about them. Forked trunks and limbs gouged the ground beneath the shags greenery.

Mimara spat blood from her lips, tried to pull her torn leggings to her hips. She made a noise that might have been a sob or a laugh or both. She fell to her knees before him, her left thigh as bare and pale as a barked sapling. A laughing grimace. A glimpse of teeth soaked in blood.

“Teach me,” she said.

Achamian marches back in a silent rage, Mimara trudging behind him. The Skin Eaters watch their approach, all staring at Mimara. He pulls her into his embrace to shield her. Moraubon races ahead to Lord Kosoter who is watching from a boulder. Cleric isn’t around. As Moraubon talks to Kosoter, Sarl glares at the Skin Eaters. Mimara, sensing the Chorae Kosoter is wearing, asks who he is. Achamian tells her to be quiet.

At first it seemed the Captain had simply reached out and seized Moraubon’s chin—so casual was his movement. Achamian squinted, trying to understand the wrongness of the image: Lord Kosoter holding the man mere inches from his face, not so much looking into his eyes as watching… Achamian only glimpsed the knife jammed beneath the scalper’s mandible when Lord Kosoter withdrew his hand.

Moraubon crumpled as if the Captain had ripped out his bones. Blood sheeted the boulder.

Sarl then demands of the company what’s the rule for peaches is. “The Captain always gets the first bite,” answers Galian. Sarl reminds them that following the rules is what lets them “eat so much skin.” Everyone, including the Bitten, roars their agreement, not caring their friend is dead. Achamian thinks them all mad.

Kosoter wipes his blade clean on Moraubon while studying Achamian and Mimara. Then he rushes to them, suddenly animated, and demands to know who she is. Achamian says his daughter. Achamian does not flinch from the murder in Kosoter’s eyes. Mimara feels too much like Esmenet for him to betray her. Kosoter nods after a moment and heads back up the trail.

“Either she carries her weight like a man,” he shouted as he walked away. “Or she carries our weight like a woman!”

The Skin Eaters lust for Mimara as they resume the marches. He’s most suspicious of those with blank faces and eyes remembering her being pinned down. No one bothers with Moraubon’s body. Mimara asks in a whisper who Kosoter is.

“A Veteran,” he murmured. “The same as me.”

Achamian and Mimara trail behind and then have an argument. He wants her to leave. She refuses to return to her mother. Achamian says Esmenet loves her. “Not so much as she hates what she did to me.” Achamian tries to justify Mimara being sold into slavery as saving her life. She threatens to tell her about her life and claims she can bear the Skin Eaters taking her. Achamian says she wouldn’t survive these men. She says she’s lucky to have him then.

She was nothing like Esmenet, he had come to realize. She tilted her head in the same way, as though literally trying to look around your nonsense, and her voice stiffened into the same reedy bundle of disgust, but aside from these echoes…

“Look. You simply cannot stay. This is a journey…” He paused, his breath yanked short by the sheer factuality of what he was about to say. “This is a journey without any return.”

She sneered and laughed. “So is every life.”

Achamian feels like she is begging, even daring him, to hit her. Nothing like Esmenet. Mimara then asks Achamian if he told the scalper that this is a journey they’ll all die on. He hasn’t and instead promised them the Coffers. She is incredulous that they don’t know they are searching for the origins of the Aspect-Emperor whose bounty feeds them.

“Murderer. That makes you a murderer.”

“Yes.”

She threatens to reveal this to the others. He counters that if he is a murder he could just kill her. She knows he won’t because of who she looks like. He threatens to tell Kosoter who she is. But she reminds him that the captain would get a better reward turning her in than bleeding for the Coffers.

This infuriates Achamian. He thinks her insane and she mocks him, saying he can’t win. That even though he vowed never to teach again (because his teachings lead to disaster), she won’t give up. Threats and reason won’t work. She vows to be a witch or dead, saying she only has the Gift.

“Didn’t you hear me? My teaching is cursed!”

“We’re a fine match then.”

Impudent! Impudent! Was there ever such a despicable slit?

Achamian sets up his camp with Mimara away from the others. It’s silent not only between them but all the Skin Eaters except Sarl. He keeps babbling on like nothing had happened. Achamian feels eyes, even among the Bitten, staring at them. They whisper about her body, speculating about how great it will be to turn her into a whore. Mimara hears it, too. A more innocent woman might be oblivious, but Mimara knew and she seemed at ease, unlike worried Achamian.

She had been raised in the covetous gaze of men, and though she had suffered beneath brutal hands, she had grown strong. She carried herself, Achamian realized, with a kind of coy arrogance, as though she were the sole human in the presence of resentful apes. Let them grunt. Let them abuse themselves. She cared nothing for all the versions of her that danced or moaned or choked behind their primitive eyes—save that they made her, and all the possibilities that her breath and body offered, invaluable.

She was the thing wanted. She would find ways to make them pay.

Achamian is disturbed. Though he doesn’t much like Mimara, she reminds him of Esmenet and he feels like he’s falling in love with her all over again. Memories of the First Holy War assault him. He wants to go back to those times. To bury his memories, he starts teaching her about the Gnosis. He doesn’t mean to, but it’s easier to instruct than thinking about Esmenet.

The trail in the mountains is difficult. As they walk, he teaches her Gilcûnya, the nonman tongue Gnostic Mages yous. She would have to learn an inhuman tongue, something very difficult for an adult. But he doesn’t have the heart to tell her she probably will fail if not take years to master.

Why this should seem a crime was beyond him.

Skin-Eaters are always watching them. If they could, they would walk around them feigning friendliness and proper behavior, but with Achamian, he catches predatory glimpses. They know he’s a threat to them enjoying Mimara. Their chivalrous gestures are all tor prove she doesn’t need Achamian. She can rely on them. She pretends not to notice what they’re up to.

They halt early for the day and Sarl tells Achamian that Kosoter needs to see him. There’s bad news. Achamian follows Sarl up, struggling to maintain his pace up the steep heel. He reaches the ridgeline, the Osthwai Mountains spread out before him. Kosoter and Cleric are watching Kiampas talk with a stranger nicknamed Feathers. Another group of scalpers lounge nearby. After talking with Kiampas, Feather and Kosoter clasp arms, two “storied Scalpoi” sharing respect with each other. The first time Kosoter has done so with anyone Achamian’s seen.

Achamian learns that a spring blizzard has closed the pass. They are stuck for at least two weeks if not longer. This is the end of Achamian’s expedition. It’ll be impossible to reach Sauglish by summer’s end now. Kiampas is relieved.

Cleric suggests the Black Halls. He says there is a way through the mountains. He remembers it. Achamian knows what the Nonman suggests but the shock of hearing his mission is over keeps him from voicing concern. Kosoter asks Cleric if he’s sure. Cleric says he lived there with his cousins before Men came. Kosoter asks if he is sure he remembers.

The cowl bent earthward.

“They were… difficult days.”

The Ainoni nodded in grim deliberation.

Kiampas is shocked. Scalpers who go into the Black Halls never return. But Kosoter cuts off the man’s words with a glance. Sarl cackles and boasts how they’re the Skin Eaters. They’ll do what others haven’t. Kiampas protests about the rumors. Achamian asks about those.

“Bah!” Sarl cackled. “Men just can’t countenance mystery. If companies get eaten, they have to invent a Great Eater, no matter what.” He turned to Achamian, his face wrinkling in incredulity. “He thinks a dragon hides in the Black Halls. A Dragon!” He jerked his gaze back to Kiampas, red face thrust forward, knobbly fists balled at his side. “Dragon, my eye! It’s the shinnies that get them. It’s the shinnies that get us all in the end.”

Achamian asks how he can know that it’s Sranc. Sarl says their clans get through the mountains somehow. Especially in Winter. It’s believed they use the Black Halls. Kiampas says he knew two from another scalper band who says their company died in there, but Sarl mocks and says they were just telling stories to get drinks. Their company died on the Long Side. The two men glare at each other. Kiampas seems like the only sane person in the Skin Eaters.

“We take the Low Road,” Lord Kosoter grated. “We enter the Black Halls.”

His tone seemed to condemn all humanity, let alone the petty dispute before him. The Nonman continued to stare off into the east, tall and broad beneath his mottled cowl. The mountain climbed the climbing ground beyond him, a white sentinel whispering with altitude and distance.

“Cleric says he remembers.”

Achamian finds Mimara surrounded by Skin Eaters. Oxwora and Pokwas tower over her like guards. She is not looking at the gathered men. Achamian sees she’s scared but the fear hasn’t disabled her. The two Bitten around her are joking about Kosoter sodomizing Achamian. Their laughter makes Mimara smile.

The laughter was genuine enough to make Mimara smile, but utterly unlike the raucous mirth that was their norm. Soldiers, Achamian had observed, often wore thin skins in the presence of women they could neither buy nor brutalize. A light and careless manner, a gentle concern for the small things, stretched across a sorrow and an anger than no woman could fathom. And these men were more than soldiers, more than scalpers, even. They were Skin Eaters. They were men who led lives of uncompromising viciousness and savagery. Men who could effortlessly forget the dead rapist that had been their bosom friend.

And they would try too what they could not take.

Soma says that Mimara is one of the Bitten in a tone that will brook no disagreement. Achamian realizes that the Bitten have been waiting to claim Mimara and bring her to their fire. Achamian wonders how far they can be trusted even as he says the pass is closed. He sees them realizing that the coffers are lost.

“The decision has been made,” he said, trying hard not to sound satisfied.

“We brave the Black Halls of Cil-Aujas.”

My Thoughts

Really can relate to Achamian at being excluded. Watching everyone else bonding and being all alone thinking no one cares about you. All his other problems are more remote, but this lack of human connection is an immediate problem. It’s not important to his mission, but his instincts don’t know that. They just know he’s being excluded from social bonding.

So, Bakker uses Somandutta’s name in the narrative before he tells Achamian his name. It’s used as if Bakker has already introduced him to us. I feel like this is a slight editing error.

Also, Somandutta is the skin spy. Is he one now? Let’s watch out for any clues to his true identity before his reveal. It is interesting that he’s the one who brings a Mandate Schoolman to the Bitten. Is he trying to lull Achamian in with friendship and learn information from him? Is he even a skin-spy yet? I think he is. After all, the Nonman King is with the Skin-Eaters. Of course, a skin-spy would be slipped into them. And then he gets thrust into this surprising situation of Achamian joining the group. He’s on his own with no contact with Golgotterath. And then we’ll get that strange comment about a prophecy involving Mimara.

Lots so strange things going on with this skin-spy.

Achamian has been invited to the cool-kids campfire. Bakker is showing us the important characters to pay attention to. The rest are “the herd.” The background characters who we don’t need to care about. As an author, you only have so much page space, time, and mental energy. Easier to have a reason why Achamian only spends time with the important characters and then have the unimportant ones be grouped in the background.

The Herd.

Also, do the Bitten seem like frat brothers?

“He hunts with both bows strung,” is the comment Pox makes about Moraubon and why he’s half-Sranc. He gets erect while fighting. It’s a dick a joke. Also, this is a character I’m going to be keeping an eye on. I cannot remember who tries to rape Mimara at the end of book two among the Bitten. Going to try and keep their backgrounds more in mind. Soma is the only one that really stands out in my memory.

(Okay, Moraubon tries to rape Mimara in this chapter. This explains why I don’t remember him.)

Good foreshadowing with Achamian realizing that the scalpers are both the perpetrators of genocide in their wholesale slaughter of the Sranc, and the victims of it. They are just as likely to massacre as to do be massacred. They carry both in their souls. The guilt of murder and the guilt of surviving.

The doubts are already happening. Achamian is feeling the weight of it all. He never feels up to the challenges before him. He found his strength in the First Holy War, now it’s being tested again.

It’s sacrilegious to eat pregnant animals, and yet the Skin-Eaters don’t care. These men are beyond any sort of limits of morality. They have peered way, way too long into the abyss. They’re friendly and jocular now, but these are men who don’t care about taboos. Nothing is sacred to them. They are not to be trusted. They seem like they’ll be Achamian’s allies against Kosoter in what’s to come. Ironically, the reverse will bear out.

As you see in the following conversation, the friendship of Brotherhood the Bitten has isn’t true. A facade. They will turn on each other the moment they have to. Surviving the Sranc is all that matters. They have become Sranc. We’ll see this with the Great Ordeal. Those men will become like the Skin-Eaters by the end. To stare into the Abyss is to have it stare back into you. The Consult, the Sranc, and all the other creations of the Inchoroi are so evil, they destroy all who come in contact with it.

The Bitten uses humor to deflect from really bonding with each other. It’s all surface level. The moment Achamian brings up something deep, a joke is made. They don’t really want to bond with each other because they all know they are really a group of individuals looking out only for themselves.

Mimara still wants to be taught Gnosis. She is stubborn. Almost raped, needing to be rescued, and still wants him to teach her. Now she will be the leverage used against Achamian. She is the violation of the Rule of the Slog. The one that not only Achamian breaks but Kosoter.

Because Kosoter isn’t a true Scalper. He’s a fanatic. He’s here for a mission. I’m more and more convinced that Kellhus placed him in the scalper post nearest to where Achamian lived to be in position for when Achamian would try to reach Ishuäl.

Finding out that Moraubon is with Mimara is what sends Achamian into a run. As I mentioned above, that dick joke about Moraubon is a signal this is a man not to be trusted.

Bakker is getting a lot of things done with the Moraubon sequence. He’s showing us the true nature of the Skin Eaters, how ruthless discipline is maintained, and reveals the true motivations of Kosoter. Skin Eaters don’t have a problem eating a pregnant animal. Raping and murdering the Empress’s daughter shouldn’t be an issue for them, either. Who will know out here in the wild? Kosoter protects her because he’s not a real scalper.

I believe Kosoter recognized who Mimara is because he backs down from Achamian.

Oh, Achamian, you and Kosoter might both be Veterans, but you are not the same.

Mimara is like the mother but broken. Esmenet had been worn down by her life as a prostitute, but she didn’t suffer like her daughter. Mimara cracked and she might never be whole. As it is, she sees no value in her life. It had been stolen from her long ago.

We can already see the conflicts Mimara’s presence sparks. She’s confident in the Wizard and thinks she understands these men. That she’s been around men like this for most of her life. She has no idea the abyss these men have bathed in.

I think Achamian believes it’s a crime that Mimara probably will never master Gilcûnya and those never make use of her gift is simple: she’s intelligent. She would probably make a great sorceress. She’s not able to use her talents to their fullest. That despite all her passion, all her drive, she’ll fail at the one thing she thinks she has in her life.

So, if you’ve read Lord of the Rings, this is getting very familiar. Need to cross the mountains, but the snow chokes out the passes. Luckily, there’s an abandoned underground city that you can pass through. Only full of ancient horrors. Like much of The Second Apocalypse, Bakker takes the familiar fantasy elements and twists them to his grimdark world. Cil-Aujas is harrowing in ways Moria is not.

Now we see the Bitten are acting like the guardians to Mimara. They’re pretending to be the good ones. The ones she can trust to protect her from the Herd, never mind that the guy who tried to rape her was one of them. The Bitten have forgotten about Moraubon.

How long before they forget about Achamian? He’s wondering that even as he is pleased that the quest will continue. They’ll be protecting Mimara for awhile. Bakker is setting up the powder keg that bursts at the end of Book 2.

Click here to continue on to Chapter 9!

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

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To save the skies, Ary must die!

If you love the works of Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, R. Scott Bakker, and Steven Erikson, then check out my first ever Fantasy novel!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Seven

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Seven

Sakarpus

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

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

—TRIAMIS 1, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Against me.”

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

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

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

I miss her too, Da…

Almost as much as I miss you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The way it made fate out of falling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dull and resentful glare.

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

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

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

Who were these people?

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

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

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

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

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

It is enough that I obey…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing needed to be spoken because all could be seen.

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

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

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

Then he did something inexplicable.

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

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

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

War…”

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

Do you know they come here, Sorwa?”

No, Mama…”

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

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

They come so that their children might be safe.”

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

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

The dead, it grated without sound, cannot see.

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

Hur rutwas matal skee!

Hur rutwas matal skee!

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

And the sun had followed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for Chapter Eight of the Reread!

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To save the skies, Ary must die!

If you love the works of Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, R. Scott Bakker, and Steven Erikson, then check out my first ever Fantasy novel!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Six

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Six

Marrow

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

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

—EKYANNUS 1, 44 EPISTLES

What the world merely kills, Men murder.

—SCYLVENDI PROVERB

My Thoughts

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

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

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

Murder is all about the intent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It made him feel like a weepy grandfather.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Skin Eaters?”

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

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

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

His first heartbeat in their presence told him otherwise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The word hooked Achamian like a wire garrote.

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

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

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

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

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

The Captain watched him [Achamian] with imperturbable care.

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

And they had already struck him down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the Coffers? You remember them?

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

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

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

“Am I? Is that what I am?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this was no trivial surprise.

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

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

Should he be grateful? Relieved? Horrified?

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

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

“Of children.”

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

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

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

Then the Wracu were upon them.

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

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

The world was ending.

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

Hopelessness… Futility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The smell of futility, perhaps.

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

A lie carved at the joints.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Seswatha.

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

How many pulses had he [Achamian] sacrificed?

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

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

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

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

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

How did one relive such ancient ignorance?

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

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

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

However many fools it took to find Ishuäl.

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

All passages into dread should exact come chastising toll.

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

But it was never clear just whom Mother was avenging.

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

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

Every bit as driven.

My Thoughts

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

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

Do you ever wonder about minor characters like this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kosoter has won their first battle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only he hasn’t.

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

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

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

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

She sat outside your tower for DAYS, Achamian.

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

Want to read more, click here for Chapter Seven!

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

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