Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before
by R. Scott Bakker
And the Nonman King cried words that sting:
“Now to me you must confess,
For death above you hovers!”
And the Emissary answered ever wary:
“We are the race of flesh,
We are the race of lovers.”
—“Ballad of the Inchoroi,” Ancient Kûniüri Folk Song
Our first mention of the Inchoroi, the race behind the Sranc, the Second Apocalypse, and the other horrors. This poem describes the first meeting between the Nonmen and the Inchoroi. We learn the most important aspect of the Inchoroi: they are the race of flesh and lovers. Sex is everything to them. They use it as a weapon, they use it to interrogate, and they motivate their creations with it. Back in the prologue, Leweth tells Kellhus how Sranc hunt men for other hungers.
Inchoroi seems derived from inchoate, a word that means (from Merriam-Webster online dictionary) “being only partly in existence or operation; especially imperfectly formed or formulated.” This implies that the Inchoroi, or their creations, are flawed (probably both). Bakker is always adding to my vocabulary.
Early Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna
Esmenet has just finished with a client, a priest named Psammatus, who tells her this will be his last visit. Esmenet tells him he’s found a younger whore and he apologizes. Esmenet responds, “No. Don’t be sorry. Whores know better than to pout like wives.” As he dresses, Esmenet thinks that she’s becoming old, and that is one of the reasons Akka left her.
Inrau’s death had broken Achamian and he left Sumna. She had begged him to take her with him or to stay with her. She doesn’t want her life to return back to the drudgery. She was enamored with greater events.
And this was the irony that held her breathless. For even in the midst of enjoying that new life through Achamian, she’d been unable to relinquish the old. “You say you love me,” Achamian had cried, “and yet you still take custom. Tell me why, Esmi! Why?”
Because I knew you would leave me. All of you leave me . . . all the ones I love.
“Esmi,” Psammatus was saying. “Esmi. Please don’t cry, my sweet. I’ll return next week. I promise.” She shook her head and wiped the tears from her eyes. Said nothing.
Weeping for a man! I’m stronger than this!
Esmenet wipes her tears and asks Psammatus if he knew Inrau. Psammatus answers that he’s the priest who killed himself in the Hagerna, causing a scandal. She asks if he’s sure, and he answers yes. Psammatus leaves, and Esmenet lies in her bed, depressed. She thinks of Inrau, Achamian, and her daughter. Esmenet notices someone at her door.
The man is handsome and richly dress. Esmenet tells him her price, twelve silver talents, and the man strikes her hard, telling her she’s not a “twelve-talent whore.” He tells her relationships should not begin with lies and reveals he’s after information on a Mandate Schoolman, Achamian.
Before Achamian left, he warned her that someone might come, that she would need to play the whore and not ask questions. So she agrees to sell both herself and the information. The pair negotiate the price and the man pulls out a single, gold coin. Esmenet agreed, staring at the coin with greed. The man begins to caress her and Esmenet instantly realizes something is wrong, something inhuman.
Pleasure floods Esmenet, more than she’s ever felt. She is willing to tell the man anything as he interrogates her in the midst of their coupling. She just wants the “nightmarish ecstasy” to continue. She realizes she would do anything to keep feeling this pleasure. She tells him everything about Achamian. Finally, as dawn approaches, the man finish, spilling his seed on her belly.
The golden coin fluttered in his hand, bewitching her with its glitter. He held it above her and let it slip between his fingers. It plopped onto the sticky pools across her belly. She glanced down and gasped in horror.
His seed was black.
“Shush,” he said, gathering his finery. “Say a word of this to no one. Do you understand, whore?”
“I understand,” she managed, tears now streaming. What have I done?
Esmenet is trying not to throw up as the man opens the shutters. She hears a flap of wings and the man is gone. The man leaves an inhuman stench behind and Esmenet vomits on the floor.
When she finally recovers, Esmenet washes and leaves her room, knowing she can never return. She wanders to the Ecosium Market. It is busy in the morning, and Esmenet is drinking in the sights. She loves Sumna but she had to leave.
She remembers that Achamian told her this might happen. That she would have to barter with whoever comes and be compliant. She would have to sell him out and tell them the truth and she’ll survive. She asks why they would spare her. Achamian answers, by hiding her strength and being useful, they will hope to use you again. She asks if that won’t put him in danger.
“I’m a Schoolman, Esmi,” he had replied. “A Mandate Schoolman.”
At last, through a screen of passing people, she saw a little girl standing barefoot in dusty sunlight. She would do. With large brown eyes the girl watched Esmenet approach, too wary to return her smile. She clutched a stick to the breast of her threadbare shift.
I survived, Akka. And I did not survive.
Esmenet stooped before the child and astounded her with the gold talent. “Here,” she said, pressing it into small palms.
So like my daughter.
Achamian is ridding on a mule through the valley of Sudica on his way from Sumna to Momemn. Achamian is taking a longer route to avoid people. The valley, once inhabited in the days of Kyraneas, is no mostly abandoned thanks to Scylvendi raids. Achamian makes his way up to the ruined Fortress-Temple of Batathent and absently wanders through the ruin until nightfall, making his camp in the ruins.
In his sleep, he dreamed of that day when every child was stillborn, that day when the Consult, beaten back to the black ramparts of Golgotterath by the Nonmen and the ancient Norsirai, brought emptiness, absolute and terrible, into the world: Mog-Pharau, the No-God. In his sleep, Achamian watched glory after glory flicker out through Seswatha’s anguished eyes. And he awoke, as he always awoke, a witness to the end of the world.
Achamian is suffering from guilt and depression, fearing that if Inrau really committed suicide then Achamian murdered his student. Achamian tried to find the truth of Inrau’s death but got no where. He was relieved when Nautzera and the Quorum ordered him to Momemn to join the Holy War, to watch the Scarlet Spire.
After Inrau’s death, Achamian relationship with Esmenet deteriorated. He wanted her to distract him from his problems while she endlessly asked him questions, debated the meanings of what he learned. She also continued to see clients. When Achamian offered to pay for her exclusivity, she cried. Esmenet does not want to be Achamian’s whore. Achamian thinks about why he fell in love with her.
Often, in his soul’s eye, she was inexplicably thin and wild, buffeted by rain and winds, obscured by the swaying of forest branches. This woman who had once lifted her hand to the sun, holding it so that for him its light lay cupped in her palm, and telling him that truth was air, was sky, and could only be claimed, never touched by the limbs and fingers of a man. He couldn’t tell her how profoundly her musings affected him, that they thrashed like living things in the wells of his soul and gathered stones about them.
Regret fills Achamian, and he realizes he has become overwhelmed by circumstances and decides to try to make sense of things. He pulls at a sheet of parchment and writes Maithanet’s name in the center, whom Achamian suspects of murdering Inrau. He writes Holy War to the right, “Maithanet’s hammer.” Below, he writes Shimeh, the objective To the right of Shimeh he writes, Cishaurim. He writes Scarlet Spire and traces a line from Cishaurim through Scarlet Spire to the Holy War. Achamian again wonders how Maithanet knew their secret war. Adjacent to Holy War, he writes the Emperor, based on rumors of Xerius’s Investiture.
In the upper, right corner, he adds the Consult. Achamian ponders the Consult, wandering where they were and if they were involved. Finally, he writes Inrau below Maithanet. Achamian shakes away thoughts of guilt, he could not avenge Inrau if he wallowed in self-pity. The answers were on this map.
Achamian often made such maps—not because he worried he might forget something, but because he worried he might overlook something. Visualizing the connections, he found, always suggested further possible connections. Moreover, this simple exercise had often proved a valuable guide for his inquiries in the past. The crucial difference this time, however, was that instead of naming individuals and their connections to some petty agenda, this map named Great Factions and their connections to a Holy War. The scale of this mystery, the stakes, far exceeded anything he had encountered before . . . aside from his dreams.
His breath caught.
A prelude to the Second Apocalypse? Could it be?
Achamian is certain the Consult is involved They could never stay out of something this large. Achamian fixes on Maithanet and ponders how to learn his secrets. And then it comes to him—Proyas. Achamian writes Proyas’s name between Maithanet’s and the Holy War. Proyas, his former student, was a confident of Maithanet. If Achamian could mend his relationship with Proyas, he could learn more of Maithanet. “He needed answers, both to quiet his heart and, perhaps, to save the world.”
Achamian breaks camp and continues his lonely journey.
Esmenet walks through the Gates of Pelts and leaves Sumna. She pauses, looking out over the landscape, fearful. She told herself that everything would be fine. She would “sell peaches” as the soldiers say. “Men mights stand midway between women and the Gods, but they hungered like beasts.”
The road would be kind. Eventually, she would find the Holy War. And in the Holy War she would find Achamian. She would clutch his cheek and kiss him, at long last a fellow traveler.
Then she would tell him what had happened, of the danger.
Deep breath. She tasted dust and cold.
She began walking, her limbs so light they might have danced.
It would be dark soon.
The Synthese returns, in the guise of a man, and know we have a name to call this abomination—an Inchoroi. As the folk song at the start of the passage says, they are a race of lovers. His interrogation is a hard part of the book to read. The Inchoroi violates her and makes her enjoy it more than anything she’s ever felt.
My heart breaks for Esmenet.
The Inchoroi has polluted her home and Sumna. Even the gold coin, a lot of money for Esmenet, was tainted. And as always with Esmenet, her thoughts turn to her daughter. She’s trying to have some good come out of that terrible encounter.
The Inchoroi embodies sex and yet his seed is black: death. This informs why they make creatures the Sranc, dragons, and the abominations like Sarcellus. They are a the race of flesh and they seem masters forming new things. His very touch stirs pleasure. We’ll learn later that this is a sorcerous glamor.
Achamian has been deeply depressed since Inrau died. And as often happens, it creates a rift between Achamian and Esmenet. He wants to forget his problems and she, I believe, is trying to help Achamian move past his hurt. Achamian, however, was not ready. He needed more to time to grieve.
Finally, sitting in these ruins, Achamian takes action. He realizes he has been wallowing in self-pity and to avenge Inrau, he needs to stop being overwhelmed. The map he draws is a great way to do this. Putting everything on paper, drawing lines, trying to see how everything connects. Achamian has a plan for the first time in the book.
We learn more about the horror of the No-God. The fact that once it was created, every child was stillborn. That is horrible. It goes back to the Inchoroi and what really makes them flawed. While they are creatures of sex and thus of creation, all they create is death. Achamian fears that the first steps of the Second Apocalypse have begun.
And we come back to Esmenet, who like Achamian is also making her own plans, seizing her own actions. She knows the Consult is involved and she is going to track Achamian down and tell him. I’m concerned that she doesn’t appear to have supplies. She is putting a lot of trust into her fellow travelers. Esmenet, you need to be careful. This world is terrible to women, watch your back.
I also hope that Esmenet thoughts on “men stand midway between women and Gods” as lies that men tell women as opposed to actual scripture. Though, in this world, it might be actually in there. And, of course, there is a clear that beliefs shape the metaphysics of this world which is why there is a theory that the Tusk, the old testament of this world, came from the Inchoroi. As Esmenet rightly points out, men are no more holy then women.
Below is a scan of Achamian’s map from the end of the book. I edited out the changes Achamian adds later on in the story. I really like the script that Bakker came up with. Similar to Arabic in its cursive style, but written top to bottom like many Southeast Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean).