Category Archives: Reread

Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Five

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 5
Jocktha

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

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

—SCYLVENDI PROVERB

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

—HATATIAN, EXHORTATIONS

My Thoughts

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

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

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

Is with power. Force.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fool could only stare.

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

“But we are disarmed.”

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

Perfect.

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

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

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

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

“The time… the time…”

Are you drunk?

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

Ah… so you yearn to forget after all.

“No… not forget. Sleep.”

So why not kill him?

“Because he wants me to.”

The Dûnyain? You think this is a trap?

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

Then what’s his intent?

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

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

I’m forgetting something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He sent me to murder myself!

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

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

That it was a lie.

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

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

For some reason… There must be some reason.

But why? Why?

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

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

And knowing this made them insane.

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

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

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

Especially on occasions such as this.

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

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

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

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

Timing.

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

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

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

And most of all, him.

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

“Fool!” Cnaiür exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

“And what might that be?”

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

Cnaiür spat. “Your true circumstances.”

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

“Opportunity… for what?”

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

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

“Fool!” Cnaiür crackled.

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

It will take him years, you fool…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe so is ignorance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t end well for any of them.

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

To close the World against the Outside and stop Damnation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather
Facebooktwitterrssby feather

Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Four

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 4
Enathpaneah

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

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

—PROTATHIS, ONE HUNDRED HEAVENS

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

—TRIAMIS I, JOURNAL AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Run! Run!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Hertata had spoken true.

Maithanet was sailing across the sea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope… Such a strange word.

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

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

Never had mystery seemed so taxing.

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

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

Though he could muster no retort, Achamian knew.

He preferred

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

To this last he answered, “Seswatha.”

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

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

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

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

He, Nautzera, is the Warrior-Prophet.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We never do learn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daybreak, you will not be forgotten.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for the next part!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather
Facebooktwitterrssby feather

Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Three

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 3
Caraskand

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

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

—EKYANNUS I, 44 EPISTLES

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

—AJENCIS, DISCOURSE ON WAR

My Thoughts

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

At the grand scale: war.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But how could lies do such a thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halt!” the Dûnyain thundered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again Cnaiür stood outside the Dûnyain’s machinations.

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

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

The Dûnyain simply culled the willful from his herd.

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

Fear.

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

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

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

“But I tried to kill you!”

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

“You are to kill him.”

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

It was an understandable precaution, especially given recent events.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iyokus stiffened. “You begged?”

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

“Then,” Iyokus said, “I shall not.”

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

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

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

An explosion of brilliance, then—

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

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

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

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

You’re mine!” he howled.

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

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

So holy.

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

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

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

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

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

Hate.

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

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

“Not even the dead escape the Plate.”

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

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

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

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

“Leave them… Leave me!”

“Zin… You must help me understand!”

Leave!”

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

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

Then he began thrashing through his apartments.

Achamian slipped through the door and fled.

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

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

“Y-yessss.”

“Then you are whole.”

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They can’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read Chapter Four!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather
Facebooktwitterrssby feather

Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Two

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 2
Caraskand

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

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

—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Shouts rang out from the galleries behind them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her proof.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yel and Burulan fell silent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such thoughts made her head swim.

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

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

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

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

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

“No one knows.”

Thoughts of Achamian always came as small calamities.

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

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

“Have the Shrial Knights gather them as always.”

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

For wounding that which heals!”

For seizing what would be given!”

For condemning that which saves!”

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

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

Where Achamian had been recently installed.

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

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

Akka…

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

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

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

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

“No… for me.”

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

Achamian had blanched. “Read”

“Yes… Imagine, a woman.”

He scowled in what could only be confusion.

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

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

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

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

She bit her lip, resisted the instinct to deceive.

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

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

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

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

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

“But you said—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what use is a blind, broken man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for the Chapter 3!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather
Facebooktwitterrssby feather

Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Intro

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

Intro

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—THEODOR ADORNO, MINIMA MORALIA

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

—CORMAC McCARTHY, BLOOD MERIDIAN

My Thoughts

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

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

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

On and on and on.

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

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

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

Let’s embark upon The Thousandfold Thought!

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

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather
Facebooktwitterrssby feather

Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 1
Caraskand

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

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

—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

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

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

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

But now…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fact?

An Anasûrimbor has returned…

A long pause, strangely studied.

What are you saying?

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

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

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

The world was about to end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is no time for sentimental foolishness!

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

No… but I will.

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

What did understanding have to do with hatred?

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

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

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

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

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

Hesitation, both outraged and exasperated.

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

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

All men can be deceived, Achamian. All men.

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

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

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

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

Even the most manly wept for wonder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A miracle. A prophet in their midst.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redeemed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somehow these words found Achamian’s fury.

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

Why Esmenet?

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

“So you’re to be my bodyguard?”

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

“There have been other assassins.”

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

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

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

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

Can you protect me, Akka?”

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

With her.

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

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

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

Like Esmenet.

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

“And your hatred?” [asks Kellhus]

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

“It remains,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How could he [Kellhus] not know? How—

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

“Year One,” he whispered.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that leads to conflict.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that only leads to pain and suffering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for Chapter Two!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather
Facebooktwitterrssby feather

Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Five

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 25
Caraskand

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

What is the meaning of a deluded life?

AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

My Thoughts

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

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

Maybe being deluded isn’t all that bad.

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

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

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

He was one of the Condition. Dûnyain.

He was the Warrior-Prophet.

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

I see…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Holy War had been absolved.

Forgiven

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

Indomitable conviction. Unconquerable belief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A race of lovers…

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

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

The cold felt good against his broken lips.

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

And against it asked the question.

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

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

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

Always, the same mad, incomprehensible question.

Who are the Dûnyain?

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in the vein of Grimdark Fantasy, fails.

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

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

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

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather
Facebooktwitterrssby feather

Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Four

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 24
Caraskand

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

They strike down the weak and call it justice. They ungird their loins and call it reparations. They bark like dogs and call it reason.

ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

My Thoughts

Pretty straightforward. Humans will rationalize the crimes they commit. From rape to butchering the weak. Their excuses are as meaningless as the bark of a dog, and yet they have the gall to call it reason. Very damning look at men. Not surprising from a philosopher writing about men’s follies,

Proyas pleads with the council to listen to Achamian’s words without bias or bigotry, like the wise would. He tells them, in essence, to stop barking like dogs and think it is reason but to actually use their minds. A big theme of Bakker’s work is showing how humans really don’t think about what they do and why that’s bad. Things would be a lot better if we did.

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

A massive rainstorm hits Caraskand, sending people to cover as they pray. Cnaiür is dreaming about Kellhus, both words and deeds. He witnesses Serwë die as “the abominations” words ring in his mind: “Remember the secret of battle—remember!” He wakes up to the sound of the storm. The whispers in his mind compel him to seek out Proyas, ridding to the Sapatishah’s Palace where he’s learned Proyas is. By the time he reaches it, the storm is fading.

Though he passes nobles that he recognizes, none greet him as he strides through the palace. He runs into Gaidekki who asks after Cnaiür’s bleeding throat, which has been cut. Cnaiür just asks for Proyas. He’s told to follow the others heading in. He does.

No one will look at Cnaiür. Memories of his own people shunning him assault his psyche. He keeps going, insults from his past echoing in his mind. He keeps going, entering a large meeting room where Proyas stands over a table talking to Achamian. This shocks Cnaiür. But he shouts at Proyas that they need to speak. Proyas waves him away, but Cnaiür doesn’t give up.

Fool! Cnaiür thought. The siege could be broken! He knew what they must do!

The secret of battle. He remembered…

Cnaiür takes a seat with the gathering nobles and watched “the Great Names settle into their usual bickering.” Thanks to the lack of food, even the powerful look gaunt, appearing more like children wearing their fathers armor, “possessed of the shambling pageantry of dying rulers.” Saubon, as the titular king of Caraskand, sits at the table’s head. Other great names, and Achamian, sit around the table. Chinjosa is here as the interim King-Reagent of Ainoni and Hulwarga the Limper rules the Thunyerus since his brother Skaiyelt died. Gotian hasn’t arrived, which Conphas blames on a sorcerer speaking to them. But Sarcellus is here and doesn’t know where Gotian is.

Cnaiür stares at his hand, flexing and clenching it as he remembers Sarcellus killing Serwë. He doesn’t pay attention to their legal squabblings, instead staring at Sarcellus. He notices the “spidery network of red lines” that marred the man’s face. It’s fainter than last time he saw it. Sarcellus eyes appear troubled by the conversation.

What was it the Dûnyain said?

Lie made flesh.

Cnaiür was hungry, very hungry—he hadn’t eaten a true meal for several days now—and the gnawing in his belly lent a curious edge to everything he witnessed, as though his soul no longer hat the luxury of fat thoughts and fat impressions. The taste of horse’s blood was fresh upon his lips. For a mad moment, he found himself wondering what Sarcellus’s blood would taste like. Would it taste like lies?

Did lies have a taste?

Since Serwë’s murder, Cnaiür has lived a jumbled life, his memories muddled. “Everything overflowed, spilled into everything else.” The Dûnyain words keep rattling in his mind. Then he understood what the words meant. He’d already told the Dûnyain the secret of battle. Cnaiür understands part of Kellhus’s plan and laments Proyas not listening to him.

Achamian rises to speak and that quiets the bickering. He says the Holy War has made a mistake that must be corrected to protect the World. Everyone scowls at him. Then he says they have to free Kellhus. Arguing begins and Cnaiür realizes he didn’t have to speak to Proyas after all. Proyas pleads for them to listen to Achamian, his outburst quieting everyone. Cnaiür wanders if Achamian knows Kellhus’s plans.

Proyas pleads with them to listen, that more than their lives are at stake. He reminds them that listening without bias or bigotry is what wise men do. Cnaiür notes Sarcellus watching the proceedings with interest. Achamian continues, saying he’s not here to say if Kellhus is a false prophet, only to show the council the true cancer plaguing the Holy War: the skin-spies.

The sorcerer bent beneath the table, hoisted a fouled sack of some kind. In a single motion, he unfurled it across the table. Something like silvery eels about a blackened cabbage rolled onto the polished surface, came to rest against an impossible reflection. A severed head?

Lie made flesh…

Shouting breaks out as everyone struggles to understand what it means. Cnaiür keeps watching Sarcellus, who makes an exit. Cnaiür notices that pattern of red lines again and realizes he’s seen it an Anwurat when he fought the skin-spy posing as Kellhus.

Overcome by a trembling, wolfish hunger, Cnaiür stood and hurried to follow. At last he fathomed everything the Dûnyain had said to him the day he was denounced by the Great Names—the day of Serwë’s death. The memory of Kellhus’s voice pierced the thunder of assembled Inrithi…

Lie made flesh.

A name.

Sarcellus’s name.

Sinerses, a Kianene slave, brings word to from Lord Chinjosa to Eleäzaras. He’s not unexpected, but Eleäzaras is surprised by his agitation. His fear returns. Everything has gone wrong, “conspired against him.” Even he is starving. They’re eating their precious books to survive. They were close to agreeing to war openly with the Holy War just to survive, another wager to protect the first one Eleäzaras has made. But he fears the Thesji Bowmen and their Chorae, knowing they could decimate his school if they fight to break the siege.

Chorae! Accursed things. The Tears of the God cared nothing for those who brandished them, Inrithi or Fanim, so long as they weren’t sorcerers. Apparently one didn’t need to interpret the God to correctly wield Him.

Eleäzaras realizes the Scarlet Spire stands on the verge of destruction. Then he learns that the dread he’s feared, Achamian appearing after escaping Iothiah, has happened. He thinks he’s hear for vengeance. He fears there is a corps of Mandate Schoolmen. But he is alone and instead speaks of skin-spies, claiming they walk among us. That they’re everything. He says they have to free Kellhus because he can see them. This shocks Eleäzaras. He can’t believe this.

Eleäzaras feared Kellhus, like the others, especially since many of the Javreh slave-soldiers were secretly becoming Zaudunyani. He had Chinjosa support the move against him. He thought the matter closed. But learning that Kellhus can see them and cleanse the Holy War of their poison.

As an old master at jnan, Eleäzaras was loath to allow his true passions to surface in the presence of his slaves, but these past days… had been very hard. The face he showed Sinerses was bewildered—he seemed an old man who’d grown very afraid of the world.

“Muster as many men as you can,” he said distantly. “Immediately!”

Sinerses fled.

Spies… Everywhere spies! And if he couldn’t find them… If he couldn’t find them…

The Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires would speak to this Warrior-Prophet—to this holy man who could see what was hidden in their midst. Throughout his life, Eleäzaras, a sorcerer who could peer into the world’s smokiest recesses, had wondered what it was the Holy thought they saw. Now he knew.

Malice.

The thing called Sarcellus hungers for blood and fucking. It’s entire body is driven to it even the “sham it called its soul.” It’s creators twisted it for this purpose. And only few things could give them release, which is how the Architects created it. Killing Serwë had done it. Just remembering it makes him hard. But Achamian is ruining everything. Sarcellus knew what he had to do know to stop Kellhus’s freedom.

Although subtle beyond reason, the thing called Sarcellus walked a far simpler world than that walked by men. There was no war of competing passions, no need for discipline or denial. It lusted only to execute the will of its authors. In appeasing its hunger, it appeased the good.

So it had been forged. Such was the cunning of its manufacture.

The Warrior-Prophet must die. There were no interfering passions, no fear, no remorse, no competing lusts. It would kill Anasûrimbor Kellhus before he could be saved, and in so doing…

Find ecstasy.

Cnaiür quickly realizes where Sarcellus is going: to kill Kellhus. So he calls for his horse and gallops through the city to Umiaki, riding through the desolate city. “The very air seemed to buzz with omens.” As he rides, he can remembers Kellhus holding him over the cliff’s edge when they journeyed together into Nansur. Even know, Cnaiür knows that hand still holds him.

How? How can he [Kellhus] afflict me so?

But then that was Moënghus’s lesson. The Dûnyain made disciples of all men, whether they revered him or no. One need only breathe.

Even my hate! Cnaiür thought. Even my hate he uses to his advantage!

Though he knows he’s being manipulated, he wants Moënghus so badly. Kellhus spoke truth months ago: Cnaiür only cares for vengeance. Surrogates aren’t enough. He would bear anything, he realizes, to get his vengeance.

Hatred, and hatred alone, had kept him sane.

Of course the Dûnyain had known this.

Cnaiür thought making himself into the ideal Scylvendi would “preserve his heart.” He drove himself down that path, hurting himself, to be a true man. One who “conquered, and did not suffer himself to be used.” Cnaiür thought guarding his heart from Kellhus would save him, not realizing Kellhus could manipulate him by controlling everything around him. Just like the Inrithi, Kellhus used him.

Moënghus! He named him Moënghus! My son!

What better way to gall him? What better way to gull? He had been used. Even now, thinking these thoughts, the Dûnyain used him!

But it did not matter.

There were no coeds. There was no honor. The world between men was as trackless as the Steppe—as the desert! There were no men… Only beasts, clawing, craving, mewling, braying. Gnawing at the world with their hungers. Beaten like bears into dancing to this absurd custom or that. All these thousands, these Men of the Tusk, killed and died in the name of delusion. Save hunger, nothing commanded the world.

This was the secret of the Dûnyain. This was their monstrosity. This was their fascination.

After Moënghus abandoned Cnaiür, he thought he was the problem, never good enough for his people. But not he sees that the problem is others. They were fools. There was no honor. “Only Hate.” And he can still get his revenge.

He gallops through a bazaar when his horse throws a shoe and becomes lame. He jumps off, knowing he couldn’t overtake Sarcellus now. But when he rounds a corner, he sees thousands of starving men surrounding the square holding the tree. He barrels through the crowd, looking for Sarcellus. When he gets closer, seeing the tree, he thinks Kellhus is dead. Despair strikes him until he realizes that the people around him didn’t riot. He realizes Kellhus lives and is energized.

People began to recognize him, calling out “Scylvendi” and opening a path for him to the tree. He races ahead to where the Shrial Knights, in ranks three or four deep, guard the tree. Cnaiür spots Sarcellus speaking to Gotian. The ranks of Shrial Knights let him pass and approach Gotian and Sarcellus arguing. Above, Serwë and Kellhus rotate “like two sides of a coin.”

How can she be dead?

Because of you,” the Dûnyain whispered. “Weeper…”

“But why this moment?” Cnaiür heard the Grandmaster cry over the growing thunder of the masses.

“Because!” Cnaiür boomed in his mightiest battlefield voice. “He bears a grudge no man can fathom!”

Despite perfumed sensors, the scent of the rotting skin-spy head makes Achamian gag. The nobles stare at it in disgust and horror. Silence holds the chamber until Conphas asks is this why Kellhus has to be free. Achamian fears a trap from Conphas. He knows, thanks to Proyas, that Conphas would be the opposition. He’ll have to drag them out. Achamian tells Conphas to stop playing the fool. Proyas and Achamian force Proyas to admit that Skeaös the Prime Counsel to his uncle was a skin-spy and how Achamian was brought in to verify. Achamian adds he saw no sorcerery and this is why they’re all but impossible to detect. Only Kellhus can.

Hulwarga asks how Achamian knows this and he admits Kellhus told him. Chinjosa wants to know what they are while Saubon agrees with Achamian that Kellhus must be freed to cleanse the Holy War. Conphas says they are going too fast. And Proyas jumps in, wanting to know why Conphas hid something this important from them. Conphas says he didn’t know who to trust, saying they could be in this room at this very moment. He then says that Kellhus is the lead agent, which is why he moved against him.

“Nonsense!” Achamian cried. “This is rank foolishness!”

The Exalt-General’s eyebrows popped up, as though amazed that something so obvious could be overlooked. “But you just said that only he could see the abominations, do you not?”

“Yes, but—”

“Then tell us, how does he see them?”

Caught unawares, Achamian could only stare at the man. Never, it seemed, had he come to loathe someone so quickly..

“Well, the answer,” Conphas said, “seems plain enough to me. He sees them because he knows who they are.”

People shout as Achamian is flummoxed at what to do. He shivers, realizing the Consult is watching him right now and laughing. Saubon then asks how Kellhus predicted his victory at Mengedda, how he found water, and how he knows “the truth in men’s heart?” He and Gothyelk argue about whether that’s blasphemy when Conphas claims Kellhus has bewitched them with spells. Then Conphas says they need to know who sent these spies, something Chinjosa is eager to learn. Achamian realizes that he’s been outmaneuvered because Conphas knows Achamian’s answer and everyone here thinks the Consult is a fairy tale.

The man’s eyes mocked him [Achamian], seemed to say, You make it too easy…

Conphas then gives his theory that they were sent by the Cishaurim, whose sorcery no school can see. This alarms Proyas. Achamian knows he should speak, but he feel so exhausted, numbed by defeat. Then he remembers Esmenet pleading, feels that betrayal again. Meanwhile, Chinjosa is agreeing with Conphas that the skin-spies are Cishaurim. Conphas then claims Kellhus is a Cishaurim sent to destroy them and has succeeded.

Denials and lamentations shivered through the air. But doom, Achamian knew, had drawn its circle far beyond Caraskand’s walls. I must find some way . . .

Proyas asks if Kellhus was Cishaurim, why did he save the Holy War in the desert. Conphas replies to save himself. Conphas than adds he’s been watching Kellhus since Momemn when Kellhus was noticed staring at Skeaös which caused the Emperor’s paranoia to capture the skin-spy. Achamian is stunned, realizing this meant Kellhus could see them from the beginning but said nothing. All their conversations about the Consult take a new light for Achamian.

He was working me! Using me for my knowledge! Trying to understand what it was he saw!

And he saw Esmenet’s soft lips parting about those words, those impossible words . . .

I carry his child.”

How? How could she betray him?

He remembers lying beside her in his “poor tent,” holding her. Those little details of sharing a life with her while marveling how this woman could choose him and feel safe in his arms. He remembers how she swore he’d never be alone.

But he was. He was alone.

He blinked absurd tears from his eyes. Even his mule, Daybreak, was dead . . .

He looked to the Great Names, who watched him from the table. He felt now shame. The Scarlet Spires had carved that from him—or so it seemed. Only desolation, doubt, and hatred.

He did it! He took her!

Achamian remembered Nautzera, in what seemed another lifetime, asking him if the life of Inrau, his student, was wroth Apocalypse. He’d conceded then, had admitted that no man, no love, was worth such a risk. And here, he’d conceded once again. He would save the man who had halved his heart, because his heart was not worth the world, not worth the Second Apocalypse.

Was it?

Was it?

Achamian is tired. He barely slept, but what little he did wasn’t afflicted with his Dreams of Seswatha, but of Kellhus and Esmenet having sex. Right now, Achamian is weighing his heart against the world. Both have the same weight.

It was no different for these men.

The Holy War suffered, and someone must die. Even if it meant the World.

The Shrial Knights sense something is about to happen as Gotian glances from Sarcellus to Cnaiür. Normally, Gotian is decisive, but not today. Like others, the Holy War’s travels have left its scars on his spirit. Sarcellus continues to argue that they have to act because Achamian is lying to the Great Names to set Kellhus free, saying only Kellhus can see some evil spies. Cnaiür latches on to that, asking what Sarcellus means that only Kellhus can see them. When Sarcellus said Achamian argues that, Cnaiür asks how Sarcellus knows that since they both left before Achamian even mentioned it. Gotian asks if Cnaiür accuses Sarcellus of lying.

“No,” Cnaiür replied with a shrug. He felt the deadly calm settle about him. “I merely ask how he knows what he did not hear.”

“You’re a heathen dog, Scylvendi,” Sarcellus declared. “A heathen! By what’s right and holy, you should be rotting with the Kianene of Caraskand, not calling the word of a Shrial Knight into question.”

With a feral grin, Cnaiür spat between Sarcellus’s booted feet. Over the man’s shoulder, he saw the great tree, glimpsed Serwë’s willowy corpse bound upside down to the Dûnyain—like dead nailed to dead.

Let it be now.

Cries erupt for the crowd. Gotian orders both to back down. Sarcellus warns Cnaiür, the skin spies face twitching. Cnaiür stares at lies made flesh, remembering the madness of Anwurat. Gotian calls for reinforcements as the Scarlet Spires’ Javreh soldiers approach. A riot breaks out and Cnaiür and Sarcellus draw weapons. Then the Javreh reach the tree with slaves bearing a palanquin. The crowd grows quiet as an old men steps from the palanquin.

“I am Eleäzaras,” he declared in a resonant patrician’s voice. “Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires.” He glanced over the dumbstruck crowds, then leveled his hawkish eyes on Gotian.

“The one who calls himself the Warrior-Prophet. You will cut him down and deliver him to me.”

Conphas believes he’s won while Proyas, looking bewildered, pleads for Achamian to do something.

It was strange the way memory cared nothing for the form of the past. Perhaps this was why those dying of old age were so incredulous. Through memory, the past assailed the present, not in queues arranged by calendar and chronicle, but as a hungry mob of yesterdays.

Yesterday Esmenet had loved him. Just yesterday she’d begged him not to leave her, not to go to the Sareotic Library. For the rest of his life, he realized, it would always be yesterday.

Achamian noticed Xinemus being led into the room dressed as a Conryian knight in chainmail. Compared to the starving, he looks majestic. He moves with a “heartbreaking stubbornness” to rejoin the council. “Achamian swallowed at the knife in his throat.” Achamian knows what to do.

He had to tell a story.

Esmenet had loved him just yesterday. But then so too had the world ended!

Achamian says he’s suffered just like they have. He quotes the Latter Prophet saying that those who speak the truth do not have to fear even if they die. Achamian promises to tell the truth. Conphas scoffs and points out Achamian just admitted to lying to them. Achamian points out so has Conphas and every other man here. That’s what jnan is. “Even though men die, we play it . . .”

Somehow, he’d found that tone or note that stilled tongues and stirred hearts to listen—that voice, he realized, that Kellhus so effortlessly mastered.

He talks how men think the Mandate are “drunk on legend, deranged by history.” Achamian understands why they think this. But they’re not back home, they’re trapped in Caraskand. These are their last days alive. They feel that desperate horror of impending doom. Achamian has suffered that his entire life and more. They don’t even know, but he’ll tell them.

He tells them that, before their ancestors wrote The Chronicles of the Tusk, the Nonmen ruled this land. They warred against the Inchoroi, “a race of monstrosities.” Led by Cû’jara-Cinmoi, they drove the Inchoroi back to Golgotterath where they were trapped and hidden by glamours. This left the Nonmen broken and exhausted. Later, the humans of Eänna crossed the Kayarsus Mountains and almost exterminated the Nonmen. But soon, they signed treaties with the survivors and great nations rose in the north in Tyrsë and Sauglish. The Nonmen began to teach humans their knowledge, including sorcery. Cet’ingira (called Mekeritrig in The Sagas) revealed Golgotterath’s location to Shaeönanra, Grandvizier of the Gnostic School of Mangaecca. With this knowledge, his school reclaimed Golgotterath “to the woe of us all.”

“I say this because the Nonmen, even though they destroyed the Inchoroi, could not undo Min-Uroikas, for it wasn’t—isn’t—of this world. The Mangaecca ransacked the place, discovering much that the Nonmen had overlooked, including terrible armaments never brought to fruition. And much as a man who dwells in a place comes to think himself a prince, so the Mangaecca came to think themselves the successors of the Inchoroi. They became enamored of their inhuman ways, and they fell upon their obscene and degenerate craft the Tekne, with the curiosity of monkeys. And most importantly—most tragically!—they discovered Mog-Pharau . . .”

“The No-God,” Proyas said quietly.

Achamian says how it took them centuries to reawaken the No-God. “Near all the world crashed into screams and blood ere his fall.” He grows teary as he talks about the horrors of his dreams. Then he reminds them all of the Plans of Mengedda and the nightmares many suffered there along with the dead vomited from the ground. Though the No-God was defeated, the Consult recovered his remains. This is why the Mandate Schoolmen “haunt your courts and wander your halls.” For two thousands years, the Consult has labored to rebuild the no-God. It’s why Achamian is here.

He says the skin-spies aren’t from the Cishaurim, explaining that because you are “assailed by the Unknown: you drag it into the circle of what you know.” But Achamian says they’re beyond even the Cishaurim. This is the result of deep mastery of the Tekne, which means the No-God will soon be reborn.

“Need I tell you what that means?

“We Mandate Schoolmen, as you know, dream of the ancient world’s end. And of all those dreams, there’s one we suffer more than any other: the death of Celmomas, High-King of Kûniüri, on the Fields of Eleneöt.” He paused, realized that he panted for breath. “Anasûrimbor Celmomas,” he said.”

There was an anxious rustle through the chamber. He heard someone muttering in Ainoni.

And in this dream,” he continued, pressing his tone nearer its crescendo, “Celmomas speaks, as the dying sometimes do, a great prophecy. Do not grieve, he says, for an Anasûrimbor shall return at the end of the world…

“An Anasûrimbor!” he cried, as though that name held the secret of all reason. His voice resounded through the chamber, echoed across ancient stonework.

“An Anasûrimbor shall return at the wend of the world. And he has . . . He hangs dying even as we speak! Anasûrimbor Kellhus, the man you’ve condemned, is what we in the Mandate call the Harbinger, the living sign of the end of days. He is our only hope!”

Achamian looks at them. He asks if they’re willing to wager the safety of their families. Are you that certain of who he is. “Are you willing to risk the very world to see your bigotries through?” Silence gripped them. Then Achamian realizes that they listened. He thinks they believe him. And then Ikurei Conphas begins a mocking cheer, taken up by more and more people. It spreads until.

The Lords of the Holy War had made their wager.

At the tree, Eleäzaras demands Gotian free him. Gotian, gripping his chorea, demands Sarcellus kill “the False Prophet.” Cnaiür charges in and falls into a fighting stance before the Shrial Knights thinking he’ll pay any price or humiliation.

Sarcellus, lowering his sword, moves close enough to say something that only Cnaiür can hear: “We worship the same God, you and I.” Thinking that he shall avenge Serwë, he unveils his Swazond and says it is the sum of his worship. He’ll add Sarcellus to his flesh, bearing the weight of his life. Beyond, the Shrial Knights fight the Javreh slave-soldiers.

And Cnaiür grinned as only a Chieftain of the Utemot could grin. The neck of the world, it seemed, lay pressed against the point of his sword.

I shall butcher.

All hungered here. All starved.

Everything, Cnaiür realized, had transpired according to the Dûnyain’s mad gambit. What difference did it make whether he perished now, hanging from this tree, or several days hence, when the Padirajah at last overcame the walls? So he’d given himself to his captors, knowing that no man was so innocent as the accursed who exposed his accusers.

Knowing that if he survived . . .

The secret of battle!

Cnaiür sees something inhuman in how Sarcellus’s moves, but he doesn’t flinch from it. He is “sent to kill, to reave.” Cnaiür urs Skiötha, most violent of men, shrugs at Sarcellus’s attempt of intimidation. Sarcellus says Cnaiür will fear before the end, but Cnaiür says I cut you once. Sarcellus understands why Cnaiür loved the beautiful Serwë and promises to love her corpse. Cnaiür doesn’t rise to the taunt. Then they fight, Cnaiür’s attacks hard and brutal. But Sarcellus fights with sorcerous ability.

Cnaiür fell back, gathered his breath, shook sweat form his mane.

“My flesh,” Sarcellus whispered, “has been folded more times than the steel of your sword.” He laughed as they utterly unwinded. “Men are dogs and kine . . . But my kind, we’re wolves in the forest, lions on the plain. We’re sharks in the sea . . .”

Emptiness always laughed.

Cnaiür attacks. They trade blows. Sarcellus is impressed, but he’s stronger than Cnaiür and strikes him in the head. Cnaiür is knocked down, shocked, but gains his feet. Sarcellus attacks with blurring speed. Cnaiür grows tired, weakened by wounds.

But he glimpses Serwë on the tree. Anger surges in him. “He howled, the very mouth of the Steppe, his sword raping the air between . . .” His three blows force Sarcellus to retreat. Cnaiür is emboldened, screaming who will kill him as he resumes his attack. But Sarcellus recovers, “swatting is blade as though it were a game.” Cnaiür takes a wound in his thigh, his guard lowers, throat exposed. He realizes he’s dead.

A powerful voice pierced the roar of the Holy War.

Sarcellus!”

It was Gotian. He’d broken with Eleäzaras, and was warily approaching his zealous Knight-Commander. The crowds abruptly grew subdued.

“Sarcellus . . .” The Grandmaster’s eyes were slack with disbelief. “Where . . .”—a hesitant swallow—“where did you learn to fight so?”

The Knight of the Tusk whirled, is face the very mask of reverent subservience.

“My lord, I’ve—”

Sarcellus suddenly convulsed, coughed blood through gritted teeth. Cnaiür guided his thrashing body to the ground with his sword. Then, within reach of the dumbstruck Grandmaster, he hacked its head with a single stroke. He gathered the thick maul of black hair in his hand, raised the severed head high. Like bowels from a split belly, its face relaxed, opened like a harem of limbs. Gotian fell to his knees. Eleäzaras stumbled back into his slaves. The mob’s thunder—horror, exultation—broke across the Scylvendi. The riot of revelation.

He tossed the hoary thing at the sorcerer’s feet.

My Thoughts

So Cnaiür came so close to killing himself and slitting his own throat. He’s unhinged. He’s hearing auditory hallucinations.

Achamian lost a lot of weight in his captivity. You couldn’t think of him as the same portly man. Except when he’s surrounded by people starving to death, who are all skeletal and lean. Even a fit man looks fat compared to that. Nice detail from Bakker.

Titular king means Saubon is the king of Caraskand in name only. He doesn’t truly control it.

So Cnaiür has figured out what Kellhus is up to. Smart man. The secret of battle is what Cnaiür gave up for Serwë. That Serwë is his and that they murdered his wife. It reignites hatred that he’s forgotten: hatred for Moënghus. “The hunt need not end.” It’s one more way for Kellhus to manipulate Cnaiür, to drive him to save his life, and it’s working.

Eleäzaras is having a roller coaster of a day, isn’t he. He is cracking badly, just like other characters. The weight of the world is being put on these powerful man. They are experiencing true hardship and it’s revealing who they are. This is a precursor to the battle-madness he displays in the conquest of Shimeh, so driven by fear he lets himself over-extend in his need to exterminate what terrifies him: the Cishaurim. It’s what’s driving him to see Kellhus. The skin-spies, after all, are Cishaurim to him.

Skin-spies are just robots. Biological ones. Instead of hardware on the circuit board, processors and RAM and such, to control it’s behavior, it is driven by its singular lust. Since the reproductive urge is the strongest in nature, many species will even die to ensure they have sex, it is the perfect thing to motivate a biological robot. And that robot can only get its sexual release by obeying orders. Nothing else interferes. It’s smart.

Cnaiür is still shocked to find himself being manipulated by Kellhus. He knows it. He’s learned this lesson over and over. Nothing Cnaiür can do can escape it. Even his hate is chained, driving him know to save Kellhus. He needs him to get to Moënghus. His surrogates, every person he kills from those in battle to those he butchered because he could, won’t cut it.

Cnaiür is putting all the pieces together now, how Kellhus set about dominating him from the start, waiting for the right things to appear to prod and poke Cnaiür, to drive him to the ultimate goal. And even knowing it, he’s trapped. His hatred is too great to let anything stop him. He knows it’ll destroy him and doesn’t care. He’s a beast like everyone else, unable to use reason to control his hungers.

Cnaiür has realized realized the truth of morality, that it is imposed on us by others. It’s how we are controlled by society to keep things as harmonious as possible. And now he sees himself beyond the morality. That he doesn’t have to feel like a traitor for following his desires. He has the will to seize what he wants. He is embodying Nietzschian philosophy. Nietzsche argued that since morality came from God and since God didn’t exist, morality also didn’t. It was an illusion, lies that fools followed. So if you reject God, you reject the controls of society. Then all that is left is your own will reaching for your desires. And Cnaiür is doing it. He wants Moënghus dead, and nothing shall stop him now. He’s beyond trying to live up to society’s customs and morality. He sees them as all delusions now, just like the Dûnyain do. The only difference between him and Kellhus is Kellhus is driven by emotionless logic and Cnaiür is driven by rage-filled emotions. They are two sides of the same coin, foils to one another.

Because of you. Weeper…” Kellhus, in Cnaiür’s head, answers. Why? What’s the true reason Serwë’s dead. Because Kellhus used her against Cnaiür. Because Cnaiür put so much emotional need in her existence. To prove himself a Scylvendi, to follow custom, he made himself love her. And the Dûnyain used her. That’s why, to Cnaiür, she’s in this mess. She’s only dead because Cnaiür loved her.

Achamian . . . Poor man. Trying to save the life of the man who stole his wife. He’s trying to grieve over the end of their relationship, to process her betrayal at the same time he has to duel with Conphas in a match of wits. And he’s realizing that it’s easier to sacrifice someone else’s heart, someone else’s life, than your own. Even if the World is at stake.

Achamian’s reflection on memory is poignant. How some things that happened years ago can feel like they just happened yesterday. The shame, the anger, the pain of those memories flaring back up in a moment, assaulting you.

Conphas, Conphas, Conphas… Such a dick. He’s such a narcissist he has to believe his truth is right. He won’t be dissuaded even now. Even when he’s facing certain death whether or not he frees Kellhus. And still he won’t listen to anyone else. And his charisma wins the day. It’s a great setback in the story.

Cnaiür hasn’t figured out that last part of Kellhus’s plan. The part that would see Serwë dead to accomplish it. The wife that needed to be sacrificed as part of the Circumflex, just like the old laws prescribed. That would probably change Cnaiür’s actions right here.

The fight between Cnaiür and Sarcellus is both poetic and brutal. Trading blows, going back and forth. And Cnaiür, the best non-Dûnyain fighter in the series, can’t even beat a skin-spy. But he just had to unmask him. To survive, Sarcellus betrayed him. That’s great writing. Those reversals. Cnaiür realizing he failed, just after Achamian failed with diplomacy in the previous scene, only for the enemy to make the mistake and unmask himself. He just needed Cnaiür to finish the revelation.

And noticed something else in the second-to-last paragraph of the chapter. “Cnaiür guided his [Sarcellus’s] thrashing body to the ground with his sword.” Note how Bakker used the masculine pronoun there. But then in the next sentence, “he [Cnaiür] hacked off its [Sarcellus’s] head with a single stroke.” Sarcellus went from a human to a thing like that. It’s subtle. Easy to miss.

Well, the penultimate chapter of The Warrior Prophet is done. Kellhus is alive. And we’re about to see the fall out of his desperate gamble to make seize the heart of the Holy War. Cnaiür is right. This is a test he’s under, one that only a “prophet” should be able to survive. He had to sacrifice Serwë to pull it off, and she’s condemned to damnation for it. Killing her, staring at her, broke him. She’s the reason that he doesn’t side with the Consult like a logical Dûnyain should. She’s the reason that Kellhus tries to destroy the Consult in the next series.

If you want to keep reading, click here for Chapter Twenty-Five!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather
Facebooktwitterrssby feather

Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Three

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 23
Caraskand

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

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

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

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

WARRANTS 7:48, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

My Thoughts

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

It condemns two people to death.

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

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

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

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

It was nowhere to be seen.

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

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

Chepheramunni—a Cishaurim skin-spy.

Impossible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s good that you’ve come… Proper.”

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

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

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

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

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

Have you?”

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

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

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

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

“They killed her because of you!”

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

Spoken like a true Son of the Steppe!”

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

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

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

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

You…” the darkness crackled.

“Scylvendi?”

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

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

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

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

The look of Apocalypse

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

We share the same doom.

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

Because I am no longer one of them.

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

I was going to teach him the Gnosis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A moment of fierce silence passed.

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

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

“But Zin! Your eyes! Your eyes!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her eyes half-open, papyrus-dry.

Serwë! Breathe girl, breathe! I command it!

I come before you. I come before!

Bound skin-to-skin to Serwë.

What have I… What? What?

A convulsion of some kind.

No… No! I must focus. I must assess…

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

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

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

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

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

TELL ME…

Whole words wailed in terror.

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

More convulsions.

Father! What happens to me?

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

You weep.

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

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

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

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

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

How many times had he kissed that skin?

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t say it! Please don’t say it!

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

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

Whore after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn-you-damn-you-damn-you…”

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

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

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

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

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

“What? What lies in the garden?”

But the shining eyes were closed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Achamian said, “Kellhus cannot die.”

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

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

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

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

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

These are Conphas’s words… Another unkind thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Men would have no hope.”

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

“Akka…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proyas throws the guilt of Serwë’s death, which he is culpable in, all on Gotian. Like Proyas wasn’t in those councils. Like he didn’t give support to the entire endeavor.

So what does that mean for the world with the aftermath of The Unholy Consult if only Kellhus could give them hope? The final series of Bakker’s Second Apocalypse, The No God, will be very interesting to read.

Before the Scarlet Spire captured him, you could never have believed that Achamian would do the things he does in the second series. But now, seeing him in his interactions with Proyas, the determination, the fact he doesn’t care about how he appears, putting his mission to save the world above everything else. He learned what mattered in his torture. His mission and Esmenet.

And he lost Esmenet.

And then everything changes. Achamian pulls out the head of the skin-spy Esmenet showed him off-screen after Kellhus sent Achamian to her. Bakker is being coy, hiding what it is other than it’s covered in soil, building up the suspense in the readers. Everything is kicking off. You can feel that suddenly, all these scattered crumbs through out the novel have led us to this moment. To the climax of The Warrior Prophet!

Want to read the next part, click here for Chapter Twenty-Four!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather
Facebooktwitterrssby feather

Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Two

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 22
Caraskand

Welcome to Chapter Twenty-Two of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Twenty-One!

For all things there is a toll. We pay in breaths, and our purse is soon empty.

SONGS 57:3, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

Like many old tyrants, I dote upon my grandchildren. I delight in their tantrums, their squealing laughter, their peculiar fancies. I willfully spoil them with honey sticks. And I find myself wondering at their blessed ignorance of the world and its million grinning teeth. Should I, like my grandfather, knock such childishness from them? Or should I indulge their delusions? Even now, as death’s shadowy pickets gather about me, I ask, Why should innocence answer to the world? Perhaps the world should answer to innocence…. Yes, I rather like that. I tire of bearing the blame.

STAJANAS II, RUMINATIONS

My Thoughts

Both quotes are about the hardships of life, that we have only a finite amount of time before it’s taken from us. The second quote deals more into the guilt of actions. Stajanas II (based off the II) was a ruler, and all rulers have to make terrible decisions. He clearly regrets his. He’s made some that he wishes to undo, so know he yearns to shelter his grandchildren from that same pain. He wishes for a world without suffering, a world that answers to goodness. A delusion that helps to ease his own turmoil.

A world that answers to innocence sounds like many fantasy series of the past, the ones full of hope and idealism, of heroes incorruptible, of clear delineation of good and evil. But our world, like this book series, isn’t that. The world does not answer to the innocence. But we can always try to make that happen. We can protect children from the world for a time before they have to discover harsh realities and the “million grinning teeth” hungry to rip them apart.

And as we see in this chapter, the only innocent character in the series also couldn’t be protected from the “million grinning teeth.”

Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Caraskand

The morning after the siege, smoke hangs over Caraskand. The dead pile the streets and burned tabernacles. A horn awakens the Men of the Task, but not one to start the expected day of “repentance and sombre celebration.” The alarm sounds.

Kascamandri I, Padirajah of Kian, arrives with his host.

The Great Names muster their forces, but it’s difficult, their men scattered through the city. Gothyelk is in mourning for his son, the Thunyeri shattered into feuding clans with the death of their leader, Prince Skaiyelt. Even the Ainoni feud as Chepheramunni lies dying. The Fanim seize the Holy War’s camps, including stockpiled food and the siege engines. The sick left behind are massacred. Those still outside the walls flee for the city as the Holy War prepares to defend Caraskand’s walls. Worse, they learn Imbeyan had burned the city’s granaries to die provisions and whatever supplies the Citadel of the Dog held were lost to the Scarlet Spire’s assault, the fortress still burning.

Kascamandri watches his army envelop the city. After ignoring the Holy War and idling in the “fleshpot sanctuaries” of his palace, he realizes the Inrithi are not hapless in war like he thought. So he raised a host “worthy of his jihadic fathers.” He rallies the survivors of Anwurat and adds the southern grandees to them, fielding as many soldiers as the Holy War. Fresh troops with proper equipment. That evening, his army makes its assault, hoping to find the Inrithi disorganized. They use Inrithi ladders and siege towers, and batter at the gates with the Holy War’s own rams. But the Iron Men hold the wall.

When the sun finally set, the Men of the Tusk greeted the darkness with both relief and horror. For they were saved and they were doomed.

Proyas listens to Fanim drums beating while standing the battlements with Cnaiür. He peers at the Kianene army that “teemed across the landscape, dragging Inrithi wares and shelters to immense bonfires.” They mass at the same spot the Holy War chose to make their assaults on the city. He can’t believe this is happening, remembering the rapture of Caraskand’s fall, then the crushing despair of the Padirajah’s appearance. He first thought it “a catastrophic mistake, that everything would resolve itself once the chaos of the city’s ransacking passed.” Proyas feel they are so close to Shimeh, believing Caraskand’s smoke could be seen fro the holy city. He asks Cnaiür for his estimate of the enemy strength. Cnaiür says it doesn’t matter.

Unnerved by the man’s turquoise gaze, Proyas turned back to the smoke-grey vista. Yesterday, while the dimensions of the disaster slowly unfolded, he’d found himself asking why over and over again. Like a wronged child, his thoughts had stamped about the fact of his piety. Who among the Great Names had toiled as he’d toiled? Who’d burned more sacrifices, intoned more prayers? But now he no longer dared ask these questions.

Thoughts of Achamian and Xinemus had seen to that.

It is you,” the Marshal of Attrempus had said, “who surrender everything…”

But in the God’s name! For the God’s glory!

Proyas says the size matters, they have to find some way out of this mess. Cnaiür agrees. Proyas then asks if Cnaiür trusts Conphas’s count on the food, which Cnaiür does. Proyas is less sure, since he’s a good liar. “We’ll have to wait… See if he stays fat while we grow thin.” Proyas is angered how Cnaiür can bait him at times like this. Cnaiür then continues, explaining about how the Holy War spent weeks starving. It doesn’t matter if Conphas hordes food. They have to strike now with the Scarlet Spire before the Cishaurim can be assembled. The Holy War has to attack. Proyas already tried, but Eleäzaras says they’ve already suffered needless losses, which Proyas scoffs at, balancing a dozen sorcerers against a hundred thousand faithful souls.” He wishes all wars to be so bloodless.

Cnaiür says they are doomed then. Proyas mutters about them being cursed, that the God is punishing us. He wonders if Conphas is right about Kellhus. And then Proyas realizes he is floundering, like other man have in times of crisis. Despite knowing this, it doesn’t give him strength. Knowing it only makes it worse. Proyas then admits that Gotian, Gothyelk, and others are calling Kellhus a False prophet. They’ve asked for Proyas’s help to move against him.

“You would risk a war within these walls? Inrithi against Inrithi?”

Proyas swallowed, struggled to shore up his gaze. “If that’s what the Gods demands of me.”

“And how does one know what your God demands?”

Proyas stared at the Scylvendi in horror.

Proyas begin to cry, the burdens of everything too much. All the battles, the deaths, his sickness, and abandoning Achamian and Xinemus. “The two men he respected most in the world, given up to the Holy War.” Not enough. He’s never good enough. He then begs for Cnaiür to tell him what to do.

Now it was the Scylvendi who looked horrified.

“Go to Kellhus,” the barbarian said. “But I warn you”—he raised a mighty, battle-scarred fist—“secure your heart. Seal it tight!” He lowered his chin and glared, the way a wolf might…

“Go, Proyas. Go ask the man yourself.”

Kellhus strokes Esmenet’s cheek as she sleeps, staring at the signs of her pregnancy, his blood continuing on. He learned from Achamian that “only sons could conquer death.” Kellhus wonders if his father is dying, prompting the summons.

Esmenet wakes up, asking him what’s going on. Then Proyas bursts in “without warning” struggling with two guards. Proyas is shouting, telling Kellhus to order his men to stand down. Kellhus does and focuses his senses on Proyas, realizing the man is desperate, but the “wildness of his passion made the specifics difficult to ascertain.” Kellhus realizes Proyas needs to know if he’s a false prophet or not. He asks Proyas whats wrong.

But the Prince’s eyes had found Esmenet, rigid with shock. Kellhus instantly saw the peril.

He searches for excuses.

An interior porch had been raised about the doors; Proyas took an unsteady step toward the railing. “What’s she doing?” He blinked in confusion. “Why’s she in your bed?”

He doesn’t want to understand.

Kellhus says she’s his wife, but Proyas grows angry at that. Kellhus deduces that Proyas heard the rumors but gave him the benefit of the doubt. Kellhus tries to explain how the desert changed them, but Proyas is angry. That’s Akka’s wife. He loved her. He was Kellhus’s friends. Kellhus claims Achamian would want this. Which only angers Proyas more, questioning that Achamian would want “his best friend fucking the wo—” Esmenet cuts him off, angry that he’s speaking about Achamian to her. That sets him back. Kellhus sees an opportunity in Proyas’s passions, opened by horror.

“But you already know,” Kellhus said. “Of all people, you’ve no right to judge.”

The Conryian Prince flinched. “What do you mean?”

Now… Offer him truce. Show him understanding. Make stark his trespasses…

“Please,” Kellhus said, reaching out with word, tone, and every nuance of expression. “You let despair rule you… And me, I succumb to ill manners. Proyas! You’re among my dearest friends…” He cast aside the sheets, swung his feet to the floor. “Come, let us drink and talk.”

But Proyas had fastened on his earlier comment—as Kellhus had intended. “I would know why I’ve no right to judge. What’s that supposed to mean, ‘dear friend’?”

Kellhus drew his lips into a painted line. “It means that you, Proyas, not we, have betrayed Achamian.”

Horror strikes Proyas. Kellhus knows he must move carefully. Proyas disagrees. Kellhus says Proyas accuses them [Kellhus and Esmenet] because he knows he’s the one responsible, that he betrayed Achamian when he cut his deal with the Scarlet Spire. Proyas makes an excuse, saying no one knows what happened to Achamian. Kellhus presses, saying Proyas does know. He can see it. But Proyas stumbles back, shouting Kellhus sees nothing. Kellhus knows he’s close.

“Of course I do, Proyas. How, after all this time, could you still doubt?”

But as he watched, something happened: an unforeseen flare of recognition, a cascade of inferences, too quick to silence. That word…

Proyas asks how can he doubt when the Holy War is on the verge of annihilation. Kellhus shifts gears, putting on a Xinemus-like smile and says the God is testing the Holy War but hasn’t passed sentence. “How can there be trial without doubt?” Kellhus urges Proyas to open his heart to the truth.

“Open my…” Proyas trailed, his eyes brimming with incredulous dread. “He told me!” he abruptly whispered. “This is what he meant!” The yearning in his look, the ache that had warred against misgivings, suddenly collapsed into suspicion and disbelief.

Kellhus realizes Cnaiür warned him and realizes he should have killed Cnaiür after all. Angry, Proyas demands if the “great Warrior-Prophet” has doubts or fears for the future. Kellhus looks to Esmenet, sees her crying, and takes her cold hand.

“No,” he [Kellhus] said.

I do not fear.

Proyas was already backing out of the double doors, into the brighter light of the antechamber.

“You will.”

The days passed with the starving Men of the Tusk defending Caraskand’s Triamic Walls, proving that the emperor who raised them, Triamis I, had proved his detractors right when he said: “No Man can conquer the future.” Even as the Kianene curse their enemies as another sortie is beaten back, they can only “marvel at their [the Inrithi’s] desperate fury.” Athjeäri even leads raids to hamper enemy sappers. But their doom was obvious “as only men stalked by famine could know.”

At the same time, the plague of hemoplexy died down, with Chepheramunni lingering at death and others dying. The funeral pyres burn but “more and more they took casualties, and not the sick, as their fuel.” As famine grows, the god Bukris stalking the city, the men hunt cats, dogs, and rats for food. Horses are butchered. Leather boiled and eaten. “When the horns sounded the harnesses of many would swing like skirts, having lost their straps and buckles to some steaming pot.” Starving men wander the streets and rumors persist about cannibalism. New sicknesses arrive, brought on by famine, teeth lost to scurvy, dysentery afflicting cramps and diarrhea.

The debate about Kellhus intensifies with Conphas, Gothyelk, and Gotian condemning him as False Prophet. “Who could doubt the God punished them?” Only Inri Sejenus could be their prophet. Proyas no longer defends Kellhus, but holds his tongue. But still none move against Kellhus, his Zaudunyani now numbering in the tens of thousands. Riots break out and Inrithi kill each other as people take sides, even against lords, brothers, and countrymen. Only when the horns sound did they put aside their differences. “They roused themselves from the torpor of disease and sickness, and they battled with a fervour only those truly wracked by the God could know.” To the Kianene, it appeared dead men held the walls, their hate manifesting as wights.

Caraskand, it seemed, named not a city, but misery’s own precinct. Her very walls—walls raised by Triamis the Great—seemed to groan.

The palace Kellhus lives in reminds Serwë of her time as a concubine to House Gaunum. But here she reclines in luxury, her “pink son” cradled to her breast. Kellhus surprises her from behind and she asks what he’s doing here. He says much happens and asks after Esmi.

It always seemed so strange to hear him ask such simple questions. It reminded her that the God was still a man. “Kellhus,” she asked pensively, “what’s your father’s name.”

She asks after his father’s name, and he has to make up a lie why his father is named Moënghus despite the King of Atrithau, his supposed father, is named Aethelarius. Serwë then declares her son to be named Moënghus. Though she says it as a statement, it’s really a question. Kellhus agrees. She then asks about what kind of man his father is. “A most mysterious one.” She asks if he knows his son is a prophet. Kellhus isn’t sure.

Serwë, who’d grown accustomed to cryptic conversations such as this, smiled. She blinked at the tears in her eyes. With her child warm against her breast, and the breath of the Prophet warmer still across her neck, the World seemed a closed circle, as though woe had been exiled from joy at long last. No longer taxed by cruel and distant things, the hearth answered to the heart.

A sudden pang of guilt struck her. “I know that you grieve,” she said. “So many suffer…”

He lowered his face. Said nothing.

“But I’ve never been so happy,” she continued. “So whole… Is that a sin? To find rapture where others suffer?”

“Not for you, Serwë. Not for you.”

Serwë gasped and looked down at her suckling babe.

“Moënghus is hungry,” she laughed.

Two soldiers named Rash and Wigga are talking about how Wigga saw Kellhus’s child at the public anointing. The other soldier missed it. Wigga comments on how dark the child’s hair is, surprised since Kellhus and Serwë are blondes. Cnaiür appears, demanding to know the child’s name. They stare at the wild figure before them, more myth than man. Wigga says its Moënghus.

The air of menace suddenly vanished. The barbarian became curiously blank, motionless to the point where he seemed inanimate. His manic eyes looked through them, to places far and forbidding.

A taut moment passed, then without a word, the Scylvendi turned and walked into the darkness.

Sighing, the two men looked to each other for what seemed a long time, then just to be certain, they resumed their fabricated conversation.

As they’d been instructed.

Kellhus has doubts, wanting another way. In the Probability Trance, he can’t see any farther because “all the lines were extinguished, either by disaster or by the weight of excess permutations.” He’s worked hard, but now only Saubon still supports him. While Proyas hasn’t condemned him, he’s ignored all of Kellhus’s overtures. Things only worsen between Zaudunyani and the Orthodox. Worse, the threat of more Consult attacks limits his movement.

Meanwhile, the Holy War died.

You told me mine was the Shortest Path… He’d relived his brief encounter with the Cishaurim messenger a thousand times, analyzing, evaluating, weighing alternate interpretations—all for naughty. Every step was darkness now, no matter what his father said. Every word was risk. In so many ways, it seemed, he was no different from these world-born men…

What is the Thousandfold Thought.

Esmenet finds him, and he asks her how. She just gives him a grin of “pure mischief.” Though she’s also concerned. She says Werjau told her. Kellhus notes the man fears women. Then she almost falls and Kellhus is surprised by “a sudden shortness of breath” before she caught herself, almost falling to her death. Esmenet then declares that Werjau fears her before she laughs and hugs them looking out over the city and the world.

She knows… She knows I struggle.

“We all fear you,” Kellhus said, wondering at the clamminess of his skin.

She comes to comfort.

“You tell such delicious lies,” she murmured, raising her lips to his.

Kellhus’s nine senior disciples, the Nascenti, arrive at dusk. Esmenet watches them from the shadows. They seem more upset than usual. She knows that they, as the administrators of the Zaudunyani, no more about the Holy War’s problems than she does. They fall silent as Kellhus enters, Serwë behind him, a retinue of guards around them.

Esmenet cursed herself for catching her breath. How could he make her heart pound so? Glancing down, she realized she’d folded her right hand over the tattoo marring the back of her left.

Those days are over.

Esmenet greets her husband and sits to his right. He’s dressed like a warrior, a mix of Galeoth and Ainoni styles which Esmenet suspects Serwë had a hand in. Kellhus says all gathered here are “branches of me” and they know what moves them. As he speaks, Esmenet reflects on the differences between this serious meeting and her old life in Xinemus’s camp, full of “mirth and mischief.” She misses Achamian holding her too tight. She imagines that even then, she must have loved Kellhus and Serwë secretly, like she didn’t know about it. She remembers the last time she saw Xinemus and his two men, wondering what happened to them.

Had he found Achamian.

She suffered a moment of gaping horror… Kellhus’s melodic voice retrieved her.

Then Kellhus says Esmenet is his second, to be obeyed when he’s not around. This shocks them and she realizes “old bigotries die hard.” Werjau says it sounds like Kellhus fears being taken from them. Then Esmenet realizes they aren’t shocked that a woman is put above them, but that Kellhus fears his own death, which he doesn’t contradict. Fear strikes her. Serwë squeezes her hand, the girl trembling in shock. “The lunatic dimensions of Serwë’s belief had always baffled and troubled Esmenet.” It’s so great, her belief feels unmovable. Esmenet thinks that this belief, this love for Kellhus, is what lets her share him with Esmenet. The Nascenti argues, some wanting to fight, others to negotiate. With a look, Kellhus silences them.

It frightened her [Esmenet] sometimes, the way he effortlessly commanded these men. But then it could be no other way. Where others blundered from moment to moment, scarcely understanding their own wants, hurts, or hopes, let alone those of others, Kellhus caught each instant—each soul—like a fly. His world, Esmenet had realized, was one without surfaces, one where everything—from word and expression to war and nation—was smoky glass, something to be peered through…

He was the Warrior-Prophet… Truth. And Truth commanded all things.

She stops herself showing joy that she was here at the right hand of “the most glorious soul to have walked the world.” She lies with Truth. To her, this is beyond a gift. Werjau gets angry at her smiling. Kellhus says it’s because she can see what Werjau can’t. Esmenet doesn’t feel the same, thinking she daydreamed like a teenager in love. But she feels something in the air and wonders what she sees.

Her skin tingled. The Thanes of the Warrior-Prophet watched her, and she looked through their faces, glimpsed their yearning hearts. To think! So many deluded souls, living illusory lives in unreal worlds! So many! It both boggled her and broke her heart.

And at the same time, it was her triumph.

Something absolute.

Her heart fluttered, pinioned by Kellhus’s shining gaze. She fell at once smoke and naked flesh—something seen more through and something desired.

There’s more than me… More than this—yes!

“Tell us, Esmi,” Kellhus hissed through Serwë’s mouth. “Tell us what you see!”

There’s more than them.

“We must take the knife to them,” she said, speaking as she knew her Master would have her speak. “We must show them the demons in their midst.”

So much more!

The Warrior-Prophet smiled with her own lips.

“We must kill them,” her voice said.

The skin-spy Sarcellus heads to Conphas’s pavilion after receiving a message speaking of an imminent threat. He pushes through starving men, begging for food. He barrels through them. Normally, he didn’t begrudge the beggars because he could kill them and satiate his other hungers.

Besides, they were apt reminders of what Men were in truth.

Pale hands reached from looted silks. Piteous cries seed through the gloom. Then, in the gravelly voice of a drunkard, a rag-draped man before him said, “Truth shines.”

This surprises Sarcellus. He turns on the speaker and sees iron eyes. The man says truth doesn’t die. Sarcellus thinks it’s robbery, but the man shakes his head. Then Sarcellus understands it’s a Zaudunyani. The man smile momentarily frightens the skin-spy. Then he remembers what he is and gets an erection, calling them slaves and growing arrogant with what he is, asking if they know what he is.

“Dead,” someone said from behind.

Sarcellus laughed, sweeping his gaze over the necks he would break. Oh, rapture! How he would shoot hot across his thigh! He was certain of it!

Yes! With so many! This time…

But his humor vanished when his look returned to the man with the iron eyes. The face beneath his face twitched into a vestigial frown… They’re not af—

Oil suddenly drenches him, dousing his would-be assassins. He calls them fools, saying they’ll burn with him. But that’s the plan. The iron-eyed man leaps at Sarcellus as a flaming arrow sets him alight. “The thing called Sarcellus howled, shrieked with its entire face.” Horror fills him. As they burned, the iron-eyed man whispers “Truth…”

General Martemus watches Conphas, thinking him looking like a child as he sleeps. The general is here to kill Conphas on Kellhus’s orders.

Martemus had spent most of his life following commands, and though he’d unstintingly tried to execute each and every one, even those that proved disastrous, their origins had always haunted him. NO matter how tormented or august the channels, the commands he followed had always come from somewhere, from someplace within a beaten and debauched world: peevish officers, spiteful apparati, vainglorious generals… As a result, he had thought that thought, so catastrophic for a man who’d been bred to serve: I am greater than what I obey.

But the command he followed this night…

Martemus believes obeying this commands is more than worship or prayer, it was a lesson from Kellhus. He raises the knife. He already pictures his commander dead, wondered how the army would react when he’s found. Martemus thinks that he has wanted to do this for so long. Tells himself to strike now.

Conphas wakes up, shocked. “Truth,” declares Martemus and strikes. But Sarcellus, roasted, unable to keep his face closed, stops him, smacking away the blade. Snarling curses at Kellhus, the skin spy kills Martemus.

Conphas is shocked to see Martemus’s head sever from his neck. In fear, he scrambles back from the death, shocked by the death of his general. He realizes Sarcellus killed him and thinks he’s having a nightmare. Still stunned, he asks what happens.

“Belonged to him,” the voice from the dark corner said.

“Prince Kellhus,” Conphas said in dawning recognition. Suddenly he understood all that he needed to know: a battle had just been fought—and won. He grinned in relief—and wondrous admiration. The man had used Martemus! Martemus!

And here I thought I’d won the battle for his soul!

Conphas asks for light, but Sarcellus tells him not to, saying he was also attacked. This irks Conphas. It’s his tent. Conphas starts to object, but Sarcellus says they have to act now or the Holy War is lost. Conphas realizes Sarcellus was burned, smelling roasted pork. Sarcellus races out to the balcony. Conphas, calling for guards, follows. He doesn’t find Sarcellus, only notices Martemus’s blood on his body. He returns to his guards, telling them to hurl Martemus body at the Kianene then send for General Sompas. “The truce had ended.” The guards asks about what to do with the head.

“No,” Ikurei Conphas said, slipping into a robe held out by one of his haeturi. He laughed at the absurdity of the man’s head, which lay like a cabbage near the foot of his bed. It was odd how he could feel so little after all they suffered together.

“The General never leaves my side, Triah. You know that.”

Fustaras, a Proadjunct in the Selial Column of the Nansur army, is on a mission for General Sompas with several others. “When children go astray, they must be beaten.” He’s a “Threesie,” a veteran who’s enlisted three times. The senior NCOs that form the “stubborn heart” of any unit. “They were men who saw things through.” Him and the others with him enter an area Zaudunyani gather. They find a judge and asks him is said about truth. The man answers, “That it shines.” holding his cudgel, Fustaras asks if instead bleeds.

The man’s [the judge’s] sparkling gaze darted from Fustaras’s eyes to the club, then back. “That, too,” he said in the rigid manner of someone resolved to master their quailing heart. He pitched his voice so those nearby could hear. “If not, then why the Holy War?”

Thinking the judge too clever, Fustaras clubs him to death. His men form up around him as they are mobbed by so many Zaudunyani. He has doubts about the plan now, bur remembers he’s a Threesie. He yells defiance but is struck by a rock. It dazes him. His men are cut down around him. He’s more confused, General Sompas promising an easy task. But then a Thunyeri “with three shriveled Sranc heads jangling between his thighs” crushes his throat before a spear is rammed through his back.

The wounded Sarcellus has spent the last three days hiding “unable to close its face for pain.” As it stomps through a burned out tabernacle kicking charred skulls, it’s reminded of the Plains of Agongorea covered in snow, remembering how soothing those winds were. But that snow was far away. As far as Holy Golgotterath. While the fire burns so near. He curses Kellhus over and over. The Synthese arrives, asking if he suffers, calling Sarcellus by his skin spy name Gaörta. Sarcellus looks at it, studying its inscrutable face.

In the shell of the Old Father… Aurang, Great General of the World-Breaker, ancient Prince of the Inchoroi.

Sarcellus cries out that it hurts. He’s told to savor it. “A taste for what is to come.” The skin spy pleads and blubbers as the Synthese says he failed. The Holy War will perish. Sarcellus is terrified, knowing what failure means, but compelled to obey the Architect. He tries to shift the blame on the Cishaurim.

Fault, Gaörta?” the Old Father said. “The very poison we would suck from this world?”

Sarcellus begs for forgiveness. He’s given one more task “in the name of spite.” Sarcellus will do anything. The Synthese orders Sarcellus to make sure Kellhus is killed with the Holy War. No longer does Sarcellus think about snow to cool his burning flesh. Vengeance will soothe him.

Now,” the palm-sized expression grated, and Gaörta had the sense of vast power, ancient and hoary, forced through a reed throat. Here and there, small showers of dust trailed down the broken walls.

“Close your face.”

Gaörta obeyed as he must, screamed as he must.

Cnaiür crumples Proyas’s missive in his hand as he strides through Proyas’s residence in the city. Spotting a discarded orange peel in a pile of dust, his hunger compels him to eat it. As he does, he’s minds in turmoil that Kellhus would name his son Moënghus. He believes Kellhus did this to gall Cnaiür, to remind him who to hate.

He reaches Proyas and is angry to be summoned by words, reminding the man he can’t read. Proyas apologizes, trying to regain his composure, and says that his guests have made claims and wants Cnaiür to confirm it. The Scylvendi realizes Conphas is in the room. He hadn’t even noticed and thinks his madness lifts. He barks, demanding to know what he wants while also noticing Sarcellus is with them. Sarcellus, it seems, has word from Atrithau.

Cnaiür stared at the man [Sarcellus], for the first time noticing the bandages about his hands and the odd network of angry red lines across his sumptuous face. “Atrithau? But how is that possible?”

Sarcellus spins a story about three men who say they knew a fourth, conveniently dead in the desert, who claims Kellhus is lying. King Aethelarius has no living children. Kellhus is a pretender. As he speaks, Cnaiür notes the obvious pain Sarcellus is in. Then Cnaiür asks what these men want. Conphas gets annoyed. Proyas says there might be a way to prosecute Kellhus as a False Prophet without causing civil war. Cnaiür asks why he’s needed. Proyas trust him.

Cnaiür swallowed. Outland dogs! someone raged. Kine!

For some reason a look of alarm flickered across Conphas’s face.

Proyas refuses to trust hearsay on such an important matter, which irks Sarcellus. Cnaiür studies the Shrial knight, reminded of fighting the thing that looked like Kellhus. This makes him think of Serwë, “first wife of his heart.”

I will have her! someone within him wept. She belongs to me!

So beautiful… My proof!

Suddenly everything seemed to slump, as though the world itself had been soaked in numbness and lead. And he realized—without anguish, without heartbreak—that Anasûrimbor Moënghus was beyond him. Despite all the hate, all his tooth-gnashing fury, the blood trail he followed ended here… In a city.

We’re dead. All of us…

If Caraskand was to be their tomb, he would see certain blood spilled first.

But Moënghus! someone cried. Moënghus must die! And yet he could no longer recall the hated face. He saw only a mewling infant…

“The man you call Prince Kellhus is an impostor… A prince of nothing.”

Saubon sits upon Imbeyan’s throne as the King of Caraskand, even though his mighty and ostentatious throne room, in the Sapatishah’s Palace, feel like a hovel. But it didn’t matter, because he was king. Kellhus asks why he was summoned. Saubon warns him that he has to flee. Kellhus can’t because of the besieging army and won’t abandon his followers.

“But you must! They will condemn you. Even Proyas!”

“And you, Coithus Saubon? Will you condemn me?”

“No… Never!”

“But you’ve already given them your guarantees.”

“Who said this? What liar dares—”

“You. You say this.”

“But… But you must understand!”

“I understand. They’ve ransomed your city. All you need do is pay.”

Saubon pleads for understanding, saying it’s not that way. But Kellhus explains how Saubon has acted for “the trappings of a tyrant” just like his father. Kellhus asks who Saubon fled to after being beaten. Saubon objects he never was beaten and Kellhus deduces it was Kussalt. He then asks what was worse, Kussalt dying or learning the man hated him.

“Silence!”

“All your long life, no one has known you.”

“Silence!”

“All your long life you’ve suffered, you’ve questioned—”

“No! No! Silence!”

“—and you’ve punished those who would love you.”

Saubon slapped burly hands about his ears. “Cease! I command it!”

“As you punished Kussalt, as you punish—”

Silence-silence-silence! They told me you would do this! They warned me!”

“Indeed. They warned you against the truth. Against wandering into the nets of the Warrior-Prophet.”

Saubon asks how Kellhus could know this, struck by woe. Kellhus says it is Truth. Saubon curses the truth. Kellhus asks about Saubon’s soul. He’s willing to be damned. He embraces damnation. He would accept it all the pain and suffering “to be King for a day!” He would even pluck out God’s eye. His words echo as he falls to his knees. Soldiers come running. But Kellhus isn’t there. Saubon realizes he never was, but he’s still haunted by his guilt, imagining Kellhus is beating him.

For days, every sunrise and sunset, Esmenet would leave a bowl of water for Kellhus as he spends his time “lost in whatever worlds he searched in his trances.” She also left him food, though he only wanted water. She would watch him, feeling like a child kneeling before an idol offering sacrifices. But he touched none of the food. Then one dawn, he was gone. In a panic, she rushes through the palace and finds him joking with Serwë.

Serwë asks Esmi to bring her Moënghus. So relieved she doesn’t object and fetches the baby and “found the winter blue of his eyes unnerving.” When she returns, Kellhus reveals the Great Names want to parley.

He mentioned nothing, of course, about his mediation. He never did.

Esmenet is fearful, saying this parley is meant to be a trap. Serwë is confused by this, saying “Everyone loves Kellhus.” But Esmenet objects and says that he is hated by many. They want to see him dead.

Serwë laughed in the obvious way of which only she seemed capable. “Esmenet…” she said, shaking her had as though at a beloved fool. She boosted little Moënghus into the air. “Auntie Esmi forgets,” she cooed to the infant. “Yeeesss. She forgets who your father is!”

Esmenet watched dumbstruck. Sometimes she wanted nothing more than to wring the girl’s neck. How? How could he love such a simpering fool?

“Esmi…” Kellhus said abruptly. The warning in his voice chilled her heart. She turned to him, shouted Forgive me! with her eyes.

But at the same time, she couldn’t relent, not now, not after what she had found. “Tell her, Kellhus! Tell her what’s about to happen!”

Not again. Not again!

Kellhus tells her that he has to. They can’t go to war with the Orthodox. But she begs him that the Holy War, the city, is meaningless compared to him. She knows this is too important “for selfish grief” but she’s lost everyone else she loves. She reminds him of Akka’s belief that he’s “the world’s only hope.”

“Sometimes, Esmi, we must cross death to reach our destination.”

She thought of King Shikol in The Tractate, the demented Xerashi King who’d commanded the Latter Prophet’s execution. She thought of his gilded thighbone, the instrument of judgment, which to this day remained the most potent symbol of evil in Inrithidom. Was this what Inri Sejenus had said to his nameless lover? That loss could somehow secure glory?

But this is madness!

“The Shortest Path,” she said, horrified by the teary-eyed contemptuousness of her tone.

But the blond-bearded face smiled.

“Yes,” the Warrior-Prophet said. “The Logos.”

Serwë watches, dumbstruck, as Gotian condemns Kellhus as a False Prophet and pretender to the warrior-caste. He is condemned to be “scourged in the manner decreed by Scripture.” She holds her sobbing son, surrounded by Kellhus’s bodyguards who face the Shrial Knights. She looks at the multitude on the verge of war.

It seemed a thousand half-starved faces cried a thousand hungry things. Accusations. Curses. Laments. The air was flushed by humid cries. Hundreds had gathered within the ruined shell of the Citadel of the Dog to hear the Warrior-Prophet answer the charges of the Great and Lesser Names. Hot in the sun, the black ruins towered about them: walls unconsummated by vaults, foundations obscured by heaped wreckage, the side of a fallen tower bare and rounded against the debris, like the flanks of a whale breaching the surface of a choppy sea. The Men of the Tusk had congregated across every pitched slop and beneath every monolithic remnant. Fist-waving faces packed every pocket of clear ground.

Instinctively pulling her baby tight to her breast, Serwë glanced around in terror. Esmi was right… We shouldn’t have come! She looked up to Kellhus, and wasn’t surprised by the divine calm with which he observed the masses. Even here, he seemed the godlike nail which fastened what happened to what should happen.

He’ll make them see!

Violence is on the cusp of breaking out. The Great Names even look nervous as the mobs began skirmishing. One man breaks through the Hundred Pillars to knife Kellhus, only for Kellhus to disarm him “as though he were a child.” As Kellhus holds the man by the neck with one hand, silence spreads out from him. Serwë is confused why they would risk Kellhus’s anger.

“What is it that you fear?” the Warrior-Prophet asked. His tone was both plaintive and imperious—not the overbearing manner of a King certain of his sanction, but the despotic voice of Truth.

Gotian says the God’s punishment for harboring a false prophet. Kellhus says they fear their power fading as his rises. “You wouldn’t tolerate even the God to possess your Holy War.” He tries to implant doubt in their actions. But Conphas screams for silence. Kellhus asks Conphas what he hides.

“His words are spears!” Conphas cried to the others. “His very voice is an outrage!”

“But I ask only your question: What if you are wrong?”

Even Conphas was dumbstruck by the force of these words. It was as though the Warrior-Prophet had made this demand in the God’s own voice.

“You turn to fury in the absence of certainty,” he continued sadly. “I only ask you this: What moves your soul? What moves you to condemn me? Is it indeed the God? The God strides with certainty, with glory, through the hearts of men! Does the God so stride through you? Does the God so stride through you?”

Silence descends. Serwë cries in triumph, believing they see it. Then Sarcellus quotes from the Tusk about how both good and evil things speak to men’s heart, confusing them. Kellhus responds with a quote that Truth cannot be denied.

Possessed by a beatific calm, Sarcellus answered: “Fear him, for he is the deceiver, the Lie made Flesh, come among you to foul the waters of your heart.”

And the Warrior-Prophet smiled sadly. “Lie made flesh, Sarcellus?” Serwë watched his eyes search the crowds, then settle on the nearby Scylvendi. “Lie made flesh,” he repeated, staring into the fiend’s embattled face. “The hunt need not end… Remember this when you recall the secret of battle. You still command the ears of the Great.”

“False Prophet,” Sarcellus continued. “Prince of nothing!”

With those words, the Shrial Knights attacked. Men are cut down as the watching mob joins them. Serwë holds her baby and Kellhus’s sleeve in disbelief that it’s over. In moments, the Shrial knight are upon them. Kellhus fights back, killing a knight who attacks him, his punch so powerful the knight’s head ruptures like a melon. Gotian yells at them to stop. A knight then grabs her. But he’s cut down, killed by Cnaiür. Serwë is shocked at that.

The Shrial Knights back down from their assault on Kellhus. Gotian demands Kellhus yield to be scourged while Serwë rips herself free of Cnaiür’s grasp. She reaches Kellhus’s side, pressing herself and her child into him. She begs him to yield. To not die in this place.

She could feel her Prophet’s tender eyes upon her, his divine embrace encompass her. She looked up into his face and saw love in his shining, god-remote eyes. The love of the God for her! For Serwë, first wife and lover of the Warrior-Prophet. For the girl who was nothing…

Glittering tears branched across her cheeks. “I love you!” she cried. “I love you and you cannot die!”

She looked down at the squalling babe between them. “Our son!” she sobbed. “Our son needs the God!”

Rough hands pull her back. She shrieks that Kellhus is The god. Sarcellus grabs her, asking to Gotian, “According to Scripture?” Gotian agrees. Cnaiür objects, saying she has an infant. Serwë is so confused. Cnaiür is a dark blur in her tear-stained vision. Gotian says that doesn’t matter.

“My child!” Was there desperation, pain in the Scylvendi’s voice?

No… not your child. Kellhus? What happened.

“Then take it.” Curt, as though seeking to snuff further mortification.

Someone pulled her wailing son from her arms. Another heart gone. Another ache.

No… Moënghus? What’s happening?

Serwë shrieked, until it seemed her eyes must shimmer into flame, her face crumble into dust.

The flash of sunlight across a knife. Sarcellus’s knife. Sounds. Celebratory and horrified.

Serwë felt her life spill across her breasts. She worked her lips to speak to him, that godlike man so near, to say something final, but there was no sound, no breath. She raised her hands and beads of dark wine fell from her outstretched fingers…

My Prophet, my love, how could this be?

I know not, sweet Serwë…

And as sky and the howling faces beneath darkened, she remembered his words, once spoken.

You are innocence, sweet Serwë, the one heart I need not teach…”

Last flare of sunlight, drowsy, as though glimpsed by a child stirring from dreams beneath an airy tree.

Innocence, Serwë.

The limb-vaulted canopy, growing darker, warm-woolen like a shroud. No more sun.

You are the mercy you seek.

But my baby, my—

My Thoughts

The Holy War anticipated a “day of repentance.” Which sins are they repenting? The guilt of the massacre they performed while taking the city, or do most of the Holy War only expect to pray for other sins, not seeing what they did as wrong at all.

Does not look good for the holy war. Bakker sets it up elegantly. The Padirajah arrives before the Holy War can regroup and mount a defense outside the city, to at the very least bring in their supplies and destroy their own siege engines. Now the very weapons they used on Caraskand’s walls will be used against them. And they have no food. They’ll starve. It looks hopeless for the Holy War.

Of course Sirol, the Padirajah’s youngest daughter, weeps at the burning mastodons. Humans would rather weep for an animal than their fellow species dying by the hundreds. It shows how we’re so desensitized to human death, even in modern times thanks to media. It also shows how sheltered his daughter is. Humans who spend time around livestock are not nearly as emotional about animals as those who by their meat from the supermarket.

Also shows the arrogance of the Padirajah. He ignored the Holy War all this time, and now that he realized he can’t ignore them any longer, he brings his daughters with him on the campaign. He expects to win just like he expected to win at Mengedda and at Anwurat. It’s clear he loves his daughters, cares for them greatly (last chapter he did not look forward to telling his daughter her husband Imbeyan is dead).

The relief and horror quote is great. Humans want to survive, will keep fighting and fighting even if they’re only bough themselves a little more time. It’s like in the show Babylon 5 where John Sheridan is talking about standing on the edge of the cliff with the choice of staying and dying or jumping. You should jump because you might always learn to fly before you hit the ground. He does exactly that when faced with the situation. And while he didn’t learn to fly, he was caught.

I think we’ve all had that Proyas moment, getting such bad news that we can’t believe it happened, that we first want to deny it. The first stage of grief. It’s not just about mourning a dead one. Losing a job or an opportunity, beset by an illness, all of it can send us down that path.

Proyas is realizing his piety and belief that made him better is childish because he realizes others have suffered too. The child is selfish. That’s one of the defining trait. They can’t see past themselves. They haven’t learned to care for others needs. It’s something humans do for survival, to build communities and tribes, small bands of trusted people. And that means thinking about other’s and what they go to, as well.

Cnaiür is right. The Holy War has to take the initiative. They have to force a breakout, and to do that, they need to surprise the Padirajah’s army. Hit them with the Scarlet spire, fight their way free. It’s the end of the Holy war’s mission, but they might live to see their homes.

Proyas is utterly crushed and broken by the weight of everything. How worse to know it and still be unable to do anything, like drowning when you know how to swim but it doesn’t matter. You’re just too tired to keep kicking.

Cnaiür is horrified because he respects Proyas. Likes him. And now to see him so broken, weeping. Just like Cnaiür does. The same weakness Cnaiür hides in himself on display before him. And then he betrays Kellhus, armoring Proyas against the Dûnyain. Out of compassion. In the Unholy Consult, I wonder if Cnaiür felt the same, seeing the broken, dying Proyas in the pavilion.

As I read this passage, I’m thinking of the same Proyas at the end, broken by Kellhus, sinking into madness for his God, doing everything he can for Kellhus. He gave up his humanity for his God, and still wasn’t enough.

I hate Kellhus even more after reading that book.

An interesting moment from Kellhus. His vestigial emotions are bubbling up. He claims he loves her in the Unholy Consult, that is why he doesn’t kill Kelmomas. Maybe he does. She’s carrying his son right now, the only way for immortality. But that doesn’t stop him from using her, from making her miserable in the end, from taking her from a man that could truly love her and giving her only the illusion of it. Because even if Kellhus loves her in his own, stunted way, she learns the truth about what he is and can never believe it, especially not with the way he acts.

So in the Proyas and Kellhus exchange, we see how Kellhus isn’t infallible in numerous ways. He’s caught abed with Esmenet by the one person who needed to be eased into this new reality: Proyas. It’s unanticipated and “without warning.” Then he makes the mistake by using doubt, a word that Achamian always uses with Proyas, which forces the skeptical part of Proyas back up, focusing it on the betrayal to his mentor he is witnessing. Then Kellhus is blind-sided by Cnaiür’s interference. He didn’t anticipate Cnaiür doing that at all. Now Proyas is wholly lost to him without proving he’s a prophet.

Despite knowing that the Circumflex is coming, Kellhus doesn’t have enough emotions to be afraid of what will most likely lead to his death. This probably explains why he’s getting touch emotional with pregnant Esmenet and the knowledge that the only true immortality is through offpsrings. He’s facing his imminent death and doesn’t see a way out of it, even if he kept Proyas’s aid.

He only has to hope for a miracle. See, Kellhus is already crazy. I think all the Dûnyain are, they just don’t realize it. But Kellhus’s madness is accelerated by learning that effect can precede cause. That miracles can happen. The Shortest Path is now to prove himself a prophet, and only a true miracle, something he can’t fake, can do it.

Triamis I had a lot of practical wisdom. You can never conquer the future. That’s why people have to think about their actions and not just assume the status quo will continue. Say, if you don’t mind passing laws that will affect your political enemies because you can’t envision your political enemies gaining power one day and using those very laws on you.

It is not going well for the Holy War. Just when it seemed likes nothing worst can happen, it does. But still they fight. Desperation to live keeps them going. They have come so far, survived the desert. These are the men who don’t give up. Those who did perished a long time ago.

Serwë has a pink son. Not a blue baby.

Serwë has a lot of detractors. I’ve always liked her. People hate her naivety, her innocence. They see in her what we’ve all lost, what the world has stolen from her. She, like Xinemus, are our most stock fantasy characters. Those people from other, more romantic tales of the fantastic. Ones full of hope and optimism. With clear delineations between good and evil. And she’s stranded in this murky, gray, brutal world of Grimdark Fantasy. And like Xinemus, it ends badly for her. She’s not fit for this world. She’s got too much of us in her. Too much of what we secretly yearn for. Such simple joy and happiness even while the world burns around her, unburdened from the stresses of life.

She’s free. For now.

Another clue that Kellhus does love Esmenet, and probably Serwë, is his sudden fear when she almost falls to her death. Kellhus’s first emotion as an adult was for Serwë. And he’s feeling others with Esmenet and the child she carries. His child, which is why Serwë’s pregnancy doesn’t stir these feelings him him. But I do think he loves Serwë. The guilt for her death, and subsequently learning of her damnation, I believe is one of the things driving his actions in the next series. If such an innocent girl like her is damned, then something really has to be done about it.

He loves Esmenet, but she doesn’t really love him. We see that when Achamian returns, how it conflicts her, eats at her. And while she ultimately chooses to stay with Kellhus because of her pregnancy, she never stops loving Achamian and only grows to hate Kellhus more as she realizes what he did to her and those around him.

But with Kellhus’s weak emotions, does that even bother him? Her hatred? Her love for Achamian? We got so little POV of Kellhus in the last series. So little insight into him. I think that’s the greatest shame of The Aspect Emperor Series. Bakker had to keep us out of Kellhus’s head to keep us from guessing his motivations, about what would happen in Golgotterath there at the end. And yet we don’t get to know anymore about his character, not really, after the Thousandfold Thoughts. He’s a cipher that’s impossible to truly puzzle out from the outside.

Kellhus has an Ainoni style beard and Galeoth styled hair. A mix of Norsirai and Ketyai, showing he’s for the two different races of the Holy War.

Kellhus speaks to his followers like a cult-leader, love-bombing them by telling them how special they are. Flattery is such a hard thing to resist.

Esmenet almost realized that she never had confirmation of Achamian’s death, and it fills her with horror. Why? Because she knows, deep down, that she betrayed their love, tossed it aside for something new.

We see Esmenet take her first steps to become Empress, giving counsel. She’s so smart, she realizes just how Kellhus is manipulating her, how even Serwë’s voice is really coming at Kellhus’s manipulation. He’s molded her for this moment, and she surrenders utterly to him. Because she believes in him. It’s not romantic love Esmenet has for him, it’s worship. Adoration. It’s delusional.

Just like Serwë’s. Only that girl never had her delusions of Kellhus’s shattered.

Kellhus turned Martemus, one of the most loyal men in the series, the Xinemus in Conphas’s retinue, into an assassin. He led him down a road by first appearing as more than men, then helping Xinemus to understand that he’s better than the men who gave him commands, then even Conphas. That he had more worth than following the orders of a narcissist. Then Kellhus just had to build that into resentment, into murderous hate and unleash him.

In other stories, Conphas would have done something that galled Martemus. Something that went beyond the general’s moral code. An act too far across the pale, or something personal. But that never happens.

Conphas narcissism is on full display. Martemus is the closest thing he had to a friend, and learning that the man betrayed him, came to kill him, and now is dead has no negative effect. He has the sense of relief at surviving and admires the skill Kellhus said, like one general admiring the tactics of his rival. Especially one he just “beat.” Notice how Conphas thinks he won though he did nothing. If Sarcellus hadn’t survived his own assassination, Conphas would be dead.

So Kellhus’s last ditch effort to advert the Circumfix has failed. Readers like to believe Kellhus is infallible. That he doesn’t make mistakes, but he does. He has weaknesses that Bakker puts in the text, and those weaknesses come to matter in the Unholy Consult. He can plan and strategize, but no one can predict how something as messy as combat will fall out.

Fustaras has all the hallmark of that gruff NCO trope. Which Bakker subverts by the man getting terrified when it all goes wrong, shocked that the plan of marching into the heart of Zaudunyani territory and attacking their judges (which are their priests) wouldn’t result in the massacre.

Fault is the poison the Consult wishes to cleanse from the world. Fault is sin. Fault is condemnation. Fault is blame. It’s answering for your actions. And in this world, those actions mostly lead to damnation. This maybe the first real clue we get about the Consult’s motivations in the book. (It’s all so jumbled up when you learn what information after reading the books so many times).

We can see Cnaiür’s madness is still lurking. He’s still trying to be of the People, and Proyas’s admittance of trust is a further reminder that Cnaiür likes the man as a friend. But he shouldn’t. He’s “kine,” prey for the hunter.

First wife of my heart.” Serwë has become a proxy for Anissi. She was his proof to manhood before but also the on he could be weak with. He didn’t have to be the perfect Scylvendi with her. Serwë never gave him that no matter how hard he tried. Perhaps this is what drove him to be more and more harsh with her, to mold her into what he needed her to be. But she refused. She instead let Kellhus mold her. Just like Moënghus did with Cnaiür. In a way, Cnaiür tried to be Dûnyain with Serwë but his anger and madness thwarted his attempts at communication, at forming that connection he had with Anise. But he still wants her, needs her. And he needs his son. He can’t hate Moënghus any longer. Because it’s his son now.

And he’s found his way to get it all back.

Despite how bad everything is going, Saubon is happy. He got what he wanted. He won’t be king long at this rate. But he’ll hold it for as long as he can.

Well, Saubon, you will be damned. Maybe not for what you did by betraying Kellhus, but by all the acts of your life. You will suffer an eternity of torment, buried in the mud of Mengedda, wracked by your guilt.

Kellhus was never there, he’s hallucinating out of guilt. Perhaps he had this conversation with Kellhus, or perhaps he’s spent enough time with the Dûnyain to know the sort of words he would say, the Truths that Saubon tries so hard to deny in his heart. But Truths he knows because of Kellhus before.

Also notice it is Kellhus beating him at the end of this section. “But the gold-ringed fists kept falling. They would never stop.” No longer is he haunted by his actual father’s beatings, but by the metaphysical beatings of the prophet he’s betrayed, as seen by the haloed hands administering his current beatings.

We see Kellhus is deep in the probability trances for days trying to find a way out. He doesn’t.

Esmenet finding baby Moënghus’s eyes unnerving is a subtle reminder to who his real father is.

Serwë’s faith in Kellhus is absolute. I’ve often wondered about what Serwë did to earn damnation. And I think this is it. She put her faith in a man and not in one of the gods. She believed in Kellhus, and it earned her damnation for it. Perhaps this is part of what motivates Kellhus in his plan going forward. After all, he ensured she’d die so Esmenet would live in case Kellhus survived crossing death to reach his destination.

Esmenet spells it out though. Kellhus has found the Shortest Path. Submitting to the Circumflex. Just like he saw in a vision at far earlier in the novel. Possibly given to him by Ajolki, the horned god. The god of murder. The trickster.

Then we do the literary equivalent of the smash cut to Kellhus being condemned. As a reader, you expect Kellhus to somehow talk his way out of this, to plead his case, to win over his enemies. And it is taken away, witnessed from the one person who has the most faith in Kellhus: Serwë.

All things both sacred and vile speak to the hearts of Men, and they are bewildered, and holding out their hands to darkness, they name it light.” This quote from the Tusk is very telling. The Inchoroi wrote the tusk, twisting the beliefs of the humans to their own end. This maybe one of their verses put in there to muddy the waters even more by making sacred and vile equals.

And even in the midst of his last attempt to stop the circumflex, Kellhus is planting the seeds for Cnaiür’s intervention. After all, the Scylvendi is about to lose his prize, the reason he betrayed Kellhus to begin with. And at the hands of another “lie made flesh” like he fought at Anwurat.

Innocence is slain, throat slit, her blood allowed to pour out like dark wine. The heroine of a thousand fantasy stories, the beautiful maiden who’s the lover of our hero, executed. Condemned to torment for believing in him. Seduced by the Dûnyain’s lies.

But she had one child born pink.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather
Facebooktwitterrssby feather