Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 2: The Warrior Prophet
by R. Scott Bakker
The Second March
It is the difference in knowledge that commands respect. This is why the true test of every student lies in the humiliation of his master.
—GOTAGGA, THE PRIMA ARCANATA
The children here play with bones instead of sticks, and whenever I see them, I cannot but wonder whether the humeri they brandish are faithful or heathen. Heathen, I should think, for the bones seem bent.
—ANONYMOUS, LETTER FROM ANWURAT
The student, to earn his teacher’s respect, has to overcome him. Kellhus definitely did this with Achamian. He surpassed him with ease and Achamian respected him greatly. And as we see in this chapter, Cnaiür is humiliated when Kellhus spots what Skauras is doing before Cnaiür. And, of course, when it is too late to stop it. Note, also, that this is from the Prima Arcanata. This is a Schoolman book. It seems to be imploring its students to push the bounds of sorcery, to discover new things to surpass their teacher and strengthen their school, whichever school this text is from.
The letter shows us the grim realty of what the war has done and yet how the innocent children can still play. They haven’t been wholly corrupted. Like in the previous chapter when Achamian saw the children playing beneath the corpses hanging in the tree, the contrast of innocence with brutality. Then you throw in some color commentary on racism with the “bent bones” lines, to hammer home how tribal humans are. Plus, this is the fortress that we ended last chapter on preparing for a siege. It foreshadows the Inrithi victory (otherwise, why is this Inrithi writing home from here).
Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shigek
Conphas lets Martemus cool his heels as he reads intelligence reports in his command pavilion. Activity bustles around him in the Nansur camp as they prepare for the coming battle with the Fanim tomorrow.
Such a battle! And he—he! the lion of Kiyuth!—would be little more than a subaltern…
No matter, it would be salt for the honey, as the Ainoni were fond of saying. The bitterness that made vengeance sweet.
Conphas tells Martemus that he will represent the Nansur at Cnaiür’s side in the coming battle. Martemus asks if there are more instructions and Conphas wonders why he hadn’t stripped Martemus of his rank and sold him as a slave. He explains that he doesn’t trust Martemus anymore and actually trusts Cnaiür, in matters of war, far more. Martemus doesn’t protest but just asks why he was chosen with “stoic curiosity.” Conphas finds it such a waste that he has lost Martemus.
“Because you’ve unfinished business.” Conphas handed several sheets to his secretary, then looked down as though to study the next sheaf of parchment. “I’ve just been told the Prince of Atrithau accompanies the Scylvendi.” He graced the General with a dazzling smile.
Martemus said nothing for a stone-faced moment.
“But I told you… He’s…he’s…”
“Please,” Conphas snapped. “How long has it been since you’ve drawn your sword, hmm? If I doubt your loyalty, I laugh at your prowess. No. You’ll only observe.”
Conphas has hired three assassins, two Nansur and a Zeumi sword dancer, the latter whom Conphas thinks is a generous gift from his uncle. He then orders Martemus to bring back Kellhus head, using his general cloak as a sack. Conphas isn’t sure if he sees horror or hope in Martemus’s eyes.
The Inrithi horns sound at dawn and “the men of the Tusk rose certain of their triumph.” They form up on the South Bank to crush their enemy, knowing the God walks with them. Orders are barked as men assemble. Prayers are uttered, wine drunk, and bread broken. Wives and prostitutes say their farewells. The Fanim assemble on the horizon before the fortress of Anwurat. The Inrithi, each to their own culture, shout their cries as they prepare for battle while “a hundred hundred banners fluttered in the morning wind.”
Cnaiür ponders the trade he made with Kellhus last night, the knowledge of war for Serwë. He stands with Kellhus and a group of officers and messengers on a small hill. From here, he will command the battle, the newly made Swazond Standard fluttering over him.
Cnaiür stares in wonder at the Holy War assembled before him and the Fanim facing them. He reminds himself he is of the Land, a Scylvendi. He surveys their deployment, looking for weakness. Kellhus moves to his side, putting Cnaiür on his guard and again questioning the trade. He had spent the night screaming at the sea, demanding why he made the trade for “a bauble found on the Steppe.” He reflects on all he had given up over the last month: honor for vengeance, leather for silk, yaksh for a pavilion, the Utemot for the Inrithi. He was Battlemaster. King-of-Tribes.
Part of him reeled in drunken exultation at the thought. Such a host! From the river to the hills, a distance of almost seven miles, and still the ranks ran deep! The People could never assemble such a horde, not if they emptied every yaksh, saddled every boy. And here he, Cnaiür urs Skiötha, breaker-of-horses-and-men, commanded. Outland princes, earls and palatines, thanes and barons in their thousands, even an Exalt-General answered to him! Ikurei Conphas, the hated author of Kiyuth!
What would the People think? Would they call this glory? Or would they spit and cruse his name, give him to the torments of the aged and the infirm?
He reflects that all battle was holy, that defeating the Fanim would be a victory. He imagines them finally embracing him even as he realizes they would laugh as he hears his uncles words said at Kiyuth: “Yours is the name of our shame!” He ponders how they would react if he destroyed the Inrithi and returned with Conphas’s head.
“Scylvendi” Moënghus said from his side.
Cnaiür looked to Kellhus, blinking.
Skauras! The Dûnyain’s look shouted. Skauras is our foe here!
Cnaiür focuses on defeating Skauras. He feels fear, wanting more time, knowing that his usefulness for Kellhus is about to end. He knows he is a threat to Kellhus and he has given up the last of his leverage. But there is nothing he can do to delay it. The Inrithi are ready for he battle. He gives the order to march.
Kellhus fixed him with shining, empty eyes.
Cnaiür looks away to the army. It moves forward, the horses trotting ahead, the ranks of infantry following. The Fanim drums pound as they wait.
The Dûnyain loomed in his periphery, as sharp as a mortal rebuke.
What was this trade he had made? A woman for war.
Something is wrong.
Behind him, the Inrithi lords began singing.
The Inrithi knights outpaced the infantry as they cross the field. They are moving faster and faster. The Fanimry fire arrows. Men and horses die. They lower lances as they charge the heathens. They shout war cries born of hatred. They clash with the Fanim.
The sermon was simple.
Serwë is alone, avoiding the other camp-followers praying in the encampment. She doesn’t see the point, having already kissed Kellhus and watched him ride off. Instead, she boils a tea Proyas’s physician-priests prescribed her for her pregnancy. She’s not afraid but confused why Kellhus risks himself especially in the wake of Achamian’s loss. It made her realize they weren’t on a pilgrimage “to deliver something [Kellhus] Holy.” Now she realizes that Kellhus might vanish, too.
But this thought didn’t so much frighten her—the possibility was too unthinkable—as it confused her. One cannot fear for a God, but one can be baffled over whether one should.
Gods could die. The Scylvendi worshipped a dead god.
Does Kellhus fear?
That too, was unimaginable.
Her water boils just as she thinks she heard something. She grapples with the kettle, using sticks to pull it out of the fire, when she feels a hand touch her belly. Kellhus is holding her from behind, though he seems shorter. Kellhus is horny and needs her, which makes her wonder why he chose her instead of any other woman. She asks why he needs her now. Isn’t he worried about the battle. But he worries only for her.
“Everywhere Cnaiür turned, he saw glory and horror.” He stands with his cheering retinue trying to watch the battle. He finds the battle happening too fast. There is so much going on as across their lines, the Inrithi engage the Fanim. Cnaiür’s planning is working. He had deduced the Fanim tactics so far and his preparations, having the Nansur use rafts as improvised ramps, is working. But dust obscures the Ainoni, and that worries him.
He begins to instruct Kellhus, talking about how this battle will be one by penetration and not envelopment. But he trails off as the dust clears enough to let him see the Ainoni are withdrawing. The Kianene hold the heights. This worries him, but Kellhus asks if this is how you crush your foe by assaulting their flanks or rear.
Cnaiür shook his black mane. “No. This is how you convince your foe.”
Cnaiür snorted. “This war,” he snapped in Scylvendi, “is simply your war made honest.”
Kellhus acknowledged nothing. “Belief… You’re saying battle is a disputation of belief… An argument?”
Cnaiür keeps looking to the south as he explains about how attacking flanks and rears are arguments to convince the enemy they lost. “He who believes he is defeated is defeated.” Kellhus states that “conviction makes true” in battle.
As I said, it is honest.
Skauras! I must concentrate upon Skauras!
Cnaiür’s nervousness causes him to send a messenger to General Setpanares, commanding the Ainoni, to find out who defeated them even while knowing the battle will be over before the messenger can return. He finds the Nansur and Thunyeri are making fast progress up the makeshift ramps. Skauras reserves approach from the west and is worried about their numbers. He sends a message to the Conriyans while thinking everything is going to plan elsewhere.
Cnaiür points to the Galeoth and tells Kellhus to see how Skauras frustrates Saubon. Kellhus sees the delaying tactic. Cnaiür explains that the Galeoth and Tydonni possess shock, which the Fanim can’t stand up against, so they will use their cohesion and speed to d a defensive envelopment. Kellhus understands that an over-committed attack risks exposing flanks. Something the Inrithi are prone to do But, as Cnaiür says, their superior heart (conviction) saves them.
Their Conviction,” Kellhus said.
Cnaiür nodded. “When the memorialists counsel the Chieftains before battle, they bid them recall that in conflict all men are bound to one another, some by chains, some by ropes, and some by strings, all of different lengths. They call these bindings the mayutafiüri, the ligaments of war. These are just ways of describing the strength and flexibility of a formation’s angotma. Those Kianene the People would call trutu garothut, men of the long chains. They can be thrown apart, but they will pull themselves together. The Galeoth and Tydonni we would call trutu hirothut, men of the short chain. Left alone, such men would battle and battle. Only disaster or utgirkoy, attrition, can break the chains of such men.”
The Fanim scatter and Cnaiür explains a leader must always be reevaluating the battle. Kellhus asks if the south [my Kindle edition says north, but Cnaiür then looks southward, so I think this is a mistake] worries Cnaiür. He says no but then is “struck by an inexplicable apprehension of doom.” The Ainoni knights are retreating but the infantry are advancing. He lectures about how infantry will often drift to the right, betraying a lack of discipline or an act of deception to draw an enemy attack. Cnaiür is still confident things are going to plan. He goes on to saying that a general can tolerate no disbelief in his men that they will lose while he questions what the Ainoni general is now doing. Kellhus comments that disbelief spreads. Cnaiür knows that if men have conviction, they can die to the last, as Nansur Columns have in fighting Scylvendi in the past. Kellhus grasp that this is what a rout is, a loss of conviction, like what the Fanim suffered at the Battleplain. Cnaiür agrees, which is why a general has to be ready for that moment of decision. Cnaiür still worries over the Ainoni. He doesn’t understand why General Setpanares had withdrawn his horses. The Fanim were losing everywhere else save to the south.
Cnaiür glanced at Kellhus, saw his shining eyes study the distances the way they so often scrutinized souls. A gust cast his hair forward across his lower face.
“I fear,” the Dûnyain said, “the moment has already passed.”
Serwë can hear the fighting as “Kellhus” fucks her. He feels different in her and he tells her he is different for her. She is wracked with pleasure. He grabs her hair as she rides him, telling her to talk. She asks about what.
“Speak of me…”
“Kellhhhhussss,” she moaned. “I love you… I worship you! I do, I do, I do!”
“And why, sweet Serwë?”
“Because you’re the God incarnate! Because you’ve been sent!”
He fell absolutely still, knowing he’d delivered her to the humming brink.
Serwë aches for her climax, riding “Kellhus” faster, coming closer and closer, when he asks about Cnaiür and his hatred towards him. She says Cnaiür fears you and knows he will be punished. Serwë notices more differences, but is too lost to her pleasure to think about them.
His hand closed about the back of her neck… How she loved this game!
“And why does he call me Dûnyain?”
Cnaiür demands to know what Kellhus meant about the decision, thinking Kellhus seeks to deceive. Kellhus says he has studied the Kianene devices and though the dust prevents him, and Cnaiür, from seeing their patterns, he can see their shapes and has counted them, then compared them to the list of Sapatishah’s client Grandees. He tells Cnaiür that across most of their lines, only a fraction of the Kian face them.
Cnaiür jerked his gaze yet again to the souther hills and knew, from heart to marrow, that the Dûnyain spoke true. Suddenly he saw the field through Kianene eyes. The fleet Grandees of Shigek and Gedea drawing the Tydonni and Galeoth ever farther west. The Shigeki multitude dying as they should, and fleeing as everyone knew they would. Anwurat, an immovable point threatening the Inrithi rear. The then southern hills…
“He shows us,” Cnaiür murmured. “Skauras shows us…”
“Two armies,” Kellhus said without hesitation. “One defending, one concealed, the same as on the Battleplain.”
Cnaiür sees the Kianene second army charging at the Ainoni infantry while around him, the Inrithi celebrate seeing the Nansur and Thunyeri have broken through and routed the Shigeki. Cnaiür thinks them fools as he realized Skauras the Shigeki to scatter the Holy War.
A great ache filled Cnaiür’s chest. Only Kellhus’s strong grip saved him the humiliation of falling to his knees.
Always the same…
Martemus stands conflicted, watching Cnaiür and Kellhus speak. He finds it outrageous that a Scylvendi leads and questions why Conphas would want Kellhus killed instead. Martemus would gladly die to kill Cnaiür. He grapples with that question.
Because, General, he’s a Cishaurim spy…
But no spy could speak such words.
That’s his sorcery! Always remember—
No! Not sorcery, truth!
As I said, General. That is his sorcery.
Martemus watched, unmoved by the prattle around him.
The shouts draw Martemus attention to the battle. He sees the Heathens routing and feels pride for the Nansur columns. Then he sees Cnaiür’s posture and realizes, thanks to his years as a soldier, that something had gone wrong. Cnaiür screams for the retreat to be sounded. Everyone is astonished, some calling Cnaiür a traitor. Weapons are drawn while Cnaiür keeps roaring to look at the south. Kellhus is on his side, insisting that the retreat must be sounded. Then Cnaiür rushes to his horse and races south. Others follow while Martemus turns to the assassins, nodding at them.
For a heartbeat, Prince Kellhus caught his look. His smile held such sorrow that Martemus nearly gasped. Then the Prophet turned to the distances seething beneath his feet.
The Ainoni infantry begin breaking under the Fanim charge. The Ainoni knights counter-charge, crashing into the Fanim, killing many and sending them into retreat. The dust clears revealing Crown Prince Fanayal and his Coyauri cavalry charging in, massacring the van of the Ainoni knights. Other knights are confused, unable to see in the dust as horse archers attack their flanks and rears.
Serwë huddles in pain as “Kellhus” beats her. She cries out to know how she displeased him, saying she loves him. He keeps beating her while asking “What have I planned for the Holy War?”
Martemus watches the fighting with Kellhus and the three assassins, the only ones now by the Swazond Standard. He sees the Ainoni infantry rout out of the dust cloud. Already, Conphas is reforming his columns to face the new threat. “The Nansur were old hands when it came to surviving Fanim catastrophes.” Kellhus ignores the assassins, sitting with his back to them studying the battle.
The Prophet seemed to be…listening.
No. Bearing witness.
Not him, Martemus thought. I cannot do this.
The first of the assassins approached.
Right away, we are thrown into Conphas’s thoughts, seeing him stew because Cnaiür leads. But Conphas has his plans. He continues to plot. His ego is too great to be crushed down for long. To preserve his own self-image, he has to continuously lie to himself whenever he suffers these defeats. Like we all do to some extant.
When you read the first book, I doubt any would have thought Martemus and Conphas could have such a falling out. Martemus is the man who was prepared to assist Conphas in a coup against the Emperor. He was the one to suggest it to Conphas, in fact. Martemus once said he would rather defend the Nansur Empire than the Tusk, putting national identity above religion. And then Kellhus has twisted him into a new man.
Kellhus battle garb has elements of all the major nations of the Inrithi, showing he is not of any of their nations but of all of them. It’s a subtle thing, easy to overlook.
Love Cnaiür’s thoughts on his current circumstance. Promise of vengeance, effeminate silks, prince’s pavilion, unwashed Utemot. He embraces the rudeness and poverty of his own people and resenting the wealth he has now. But he knows his people won’t care that he is commanding this huge force. Even if all war was holy. He isn’t of the People, despite how much he wants to be. He hasn’t been since Moënghus if he ever truly was.
And then we see just how good Kellhus is at reading people. The moment Cnaiür entertains fantasies of butchering the Inrithi, Kellhus, pitching his voice to sound like Moënghus, reminds the Scylvendi of their true purpose and how Skauras has to be defeated so Cnaiür can get his vengeance.
You have to love how human Cnaiür is. The panic he is feeling, trapped, cornered by his obsessive need to own Serwë, to prove he is of the people. But he doesn’t want to give up his leverage with Kellhus, but he has to. He’s made his deal and now he has to lead. He’s cornered and he sees only his death. He starts to be self-reflective but forces it away to make himself into the ideal Scylvendi.
Cnaiür is warring with himself. His madness is growing.
Bakker’s imagery of the Inrithi knights charging is beautiful and poetic. “Hatred clamped tooth to tooth” “wall of heathen, who barbed the distance like a hedge of silvered thorns” and “outstretched like great, fluid arms the holy warriors embraced their enemy.” And then the next three lines. So powerful.
Serwë’s thoughts are interesting. If Kellhus is a god then she shouldn’t be afraid for him even though she really wants to be. She’s grappling with it in her own way. She can’t let her fear take over because it will shatter the illusion she’s constructed in her mind that he is God. She, like Cnaiür, is fighting to keep her own self-identity intact against the intrusion of the world.
Skin-spies greatest defect, they can’t change their height. Even Serwë notices that right away, though she finds a rationalization for it, thinking he’s standing in a hole. Serwë has no idea about skin-spies. Anyone would find a mundane answer instead of “an evil assassin made by dark genetics by a race of space rapist is impersonating the man I love and believe is a god.”
Cnaiür talking to Kellhus about tactics and how war is an argument to convince your enemy that he has lost is great to read. Especially when he talks about how different men are connected by ropes and chains of varying lengths and strengths, showing how their psychology and identity plays a huge role in how they will act in battle.
The moment Kellhus tells Cnaiür the moment of decision has passed, Kellhus has outstripped him in tactics. He has learned all Cnaiür has to offer and seen more clearly, understand events far better.
In the Serwë sex-interrogation scene, we learn so new facts about skin-spies: they can’t change their height, they can’t change their penises, and they can’t change their scents. This scene also serves to show us insight into the Inchoroi and how they operate. Like with the Synthese interrogating Esmenet in book 1, they default to sex. We see this again at the end of the novel. The Inchoroi, after all, are a “race of lovers.” But the skin spies have their lust tied to their aggression, like the Sranc do, and eventually the skin-spy turns to other pleasures with Serwë, something the Inchoroi creators appear never needing to do to get answers.
And there is Cnaiür’s humiliation, just like the quote at the start of the chapter starts. He has failed to match wits with Skauras. Kellhus has outstripped him.
Truth is his sorcery. To chain with truth instead of lies is always more powerful. Conphas has it right about Kellhus. He’s the only person in the Holy War seeing a danger from Kellhus, even if it is the wrong danger. His ego is just too great. It’s very brilliant storytelling from Bakker. It would be so easy for Kellhus to have everyone under his domination, but than where were the stakes. So Bakker created the perfect character to resist it, and set him up so we understood him and it makes so much sense that he opposes Kellhus.
There, at the end of Martemus’s POV, after giving the assassins the order, he caught Kellhus’s gaze. That look of sadness forever severed Martemus’s loyalty to Conphas. Notice how he now longer thinks “Prince Kellhus” but now “Prophet.” His conflict is over. His loyalties are no longer divided.
Bakker slips in a little more reinforcement about Conphas’s skill. He, too, has realized that catastrophe has hit and is doing what he can to salvage the fight. He is an interesting character. He is very arrogant but he can actually back up his arrogance with actual talent. You cannot deny his skill as a general or for politics.
So it is an interesting place to end it. While the chapter appears to be cliff-hanging on Kellhus being in danger, we know he has fought greater odds than those three with ease. The real threats are to Serwë and the Holy War itself. For Martemus, though, the cliffhanger is Kellhus’s doom. His loyalties are no longer divided and he has to stop this. The most loyal man in the Nansur army has betrayed his Exalt General.
Truth is such a powerful tool.