Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before
by R. Scott Bakker
Kings never lie. They demand the world be mistaken.
When we truly apprehend the Gods, the Nilnameshi sages say, we recognize them not as kings but as thieves. This is among the wisest of blasphemies, for we always see the king who cheats us, never the thief.
Not much to say on Kings never lie. Many rulers with to much power become egotistical and self-centered. We have seen as much with Xerius so far, and you could apply this saying to any politician.
The second one is a very cynical and disillusioned. The final lines of the novel illuminate this quote, Conphas musing on his role in the destruction, finds it erotic how his actions led to so many dead. He feels like a thief because he did in the dark where no one saw his actions. It makes him feel like a god, hidden and safe from the scrutiny of mere mortals.
Autumn, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Northern Jiünati Steppe
Yursalka, the Utemot who betrayed Cnaiür, is awoken in the night by the sound of something tapping at the hide of his yaksh. He hopes its his young son, Ogatha, who had been missing since yesterday. The taps continue and Yursalka hopes its Ogatha playing a prank, but times have been rough since Kiyuth, and he draws his sword and cautiously heads out into the darkness.
Yursalka spots what had been hitting his tent, not a rock but a piece of a child’s finger. Through lightning, Yursalka spots a figure and yells out, “Murderer!” The figure boasts of finding his son on the steppe and returns him, throwing Ogatha’s severed head at him. Yursalka attacks, but is thrown down by Cnaiür and disemboweled.
A brief flutter of white light, and Yursalka saw him crouching above, saw deranged eyes and a famished grin. Then everything went black.
“Who am I?” the blackness asked. “
Nnn-Cnaiür,” he gasped. “M-man-killer . . . M-most v-violent of all men . . .”
A slap, open-handed as though he were a slave.
“No. I am your end. Before your eyes I will put your seed to the knife. I will quarter your carcass and feed it to the dogs. Your bones I will grind to dust and cast to the winds. I will strike down those who speak your name or the name of your fathers, until ‘Yursalka’ becomes as meaningless as infant babble. I will blot you out, hunt down your every trace! The track of your life has come to me, and it goes no further. I am your end, your utter obliteration!”
The fight awakens the Utemot, who are stunned to see Cnaiür alive after a year. Cnaiür proclaims himself chieftain and tells them to, “Challenge me or witness my justice!” Cnaiür proclaims Yursalka’s crimes, his betrayal of Cnaiür and the other Utemot who charged with him. Yursalka protests, saying it was to free the Utemot from Cnaiür. Yursalka is outraged, he betrayed his chieftain for honour, not the love of another man. Cnaiür demands to know who objects to his judgment.
While everyone looks on in awe and terror, a “half-Norsirai mongrel Cnaiür taken wife” flung herself at Cnaiür and hugs him. Cnaiür greets Anissi tenderly. Cnaiür then turns to Yursalka’s family, starting with his youngest daughter, and killing all his children and wives until only Omiri, the daughter of Xunnurit is left. He spares her to watch Yursalka suffering before paying for the sins of her father.
Surrounded by his dead and dying family, Yursalka watched Cnaiür loop his bowel like rope about scarred arms. He glimpsed the callous eyes of his tribesman, knew they would do nothing.
Not because they feared their lunatic chieftain, but because it was the way.
Wow! That’s a little overkill, Cnaiür. Yursalka surely deserved to die like the spineless traitor he was, but to make him watch as you murder his entire family. And god only knows what he did to Omiri after he tortured Yursalka slowly to death. Yursalka believed he did the right thing and is horrified how there is no justice. “Where was the justice in this? He’d [Yursalka] betrayed his chieftain, yes, but for honor. Cnaiür had betrayed his chieftain, his father, for the love of another man! For an outlander who could speak killing words! Where was the justice in this?”
And “killing words” is a great way to describe the Dûnyain.
Cnaiür is half-mad in the section. He is suffering from starvation and has been surviving somehow on the steppes for a year. Not sure why it took him that long to get home. Perhaps there was a lot of dodging other tribes, going slow on foot, and just taking care of the necessities of survival, but it seems long. Then again, I’ve never trudged across the steppes before on foot.
Cnaiür ferocity is softened around Anissi. He clearly cares for her and shows the affection publicly, which Yursalka found to be shameful. Just another reason for the tradition-bound Scylvendi to hate Cnaiür.
Late Autumn, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn
In the year and a half since the Holy War was called, thousands have reached Momemn. Rumor has it, the Shriah was surprised by how many of the low caste joined the Holy War. Freeman were selling wives and children into slavery to pay for passage. Hundreds of atrocities are committed in the name of Holy War and Maithanet was said to weep for all of them.
All these incidents palled in comparison to the Vulgar Holy War led by Calmemunis, Tharschilka, and Kumrezzer. All three signed Xerius Indenture and marched with all the low born that had so far gathered. Maithanet tries to stop the march, but Calmemunis ignores him. Calmemunis and the other Great Names led the host in name only, but most of the host was sworn to no one. At first, they kept the host in line but by the time it reached the frontier, may of the fanatics turned bandits.
General Martemus, shadowing the host, had to fight several battles against them to protect Nansur citizens. Martemus is driven back into the fortress of Gielgath, unable to fight the vast host numbers with two columns. Calmemunis blames the emperor for stopping the supplies, but that was done by Shrial edict. The Shriah then issued Censor on the Vulgar Holy War, and this stopped them for a day. The bulk of the host almost turned back when, by “accident,” an imperial supply train fell into their hands.
The Vulgar Holy War pressed on, looting, massacring and raping as they went. They reached the last obstacle before the heathen lands, the fortress of Asgilioch where three Fanim invasions had been stopped. Prophilas, commander of the fortress, invited the Great Names into the fortress. Calmemunis demanded hostages, received them, and agreed to enter and was promptly captured with the other Great Names. Prophilas had a Shrial Warrant and told them they would be held here until they commanded the Vulgar Holy War to return to Momemn. He assures Calmemunis that they have no hope of defeating the Kianene.
Calmemunis, however, replied with laughter. He admitted that sinew for sinew, weapon for weapon, the Vulgar Holy War was likely no match for the Padirajah’s armies. But this, he claimed, was of no consequence, for surely the Latter Prophet had shown that frailty, when suffused with righteousness, was unconquerable. “We have left Sumna and the Shriah behind us,” he said. “With every step we draw nearer Holy Shimeh. With every step we draw closer to Paradise! Proceed with care, Prophilas, for as Inri Sejenus himself says, ‘Woe to he who obstructs the Way!’”
Prophilas released Calmemunis and the other Great Names before sunset.
The Vulgar Holy War passed into heathen lands and Maithanet retired to prayer until he learned of their fate.
In Momemn, Conphas is being led by Skeaös to Privy Chamber. The Ainoni have arrived early, an old trick by the Scarlet Spire. They had arrived the previous morning and it seemed as if all High Ainon had marched with them. Xerius was hopeful that they would sign his Indenture. At the least, he expected the Ainoni to be civil since they were fellow Ketyai not Norsirai like the Thunyeri and the Tydonni that had already arrived and refused to sign the Indenture. Ainoni were civilized.
Conphas asks if they intentionally showed up early to throw them off balance and Skeaös agrees. The pair hike up Andiamine Heights to the Privy Chamber and Conphas wonders if Skeaös, like many older courtiers, would die of the “clutch” making the climb. Curious, Conphas quickens his pace and Skeaös is able to keep up and shows no sign of strain. Skeaös even continues their conversation, and Conphas grows board with his game.
Skeaös begins briefing Conphas on Eleäzaras, Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spire. When Sasheoka died he was a Subdidact and somehow became the Grandmaster in two years. Skeaös reveals that Conphas was to be excluded from this meeting but that Eleäzaras had requested him. Conphas is reluctant to believe Skeaös, and wonders what game he is playing with him.
Conphas demands to know why, if he’s the linchpin of the plan, did his uncle want to exclude him from the meeting. Conphas realizes Skeaös lied, and forces the old man to admit it. Skeaös reveals that he is troubled by Xerius plan to destroy the Holy War. Skeaös fears for his soul. Conphas is shocked, and asks if Skeaös if Maithanet has “ensnared you as well?” Skeaös say no, saying Conphas is to young to understand. He is to old to make amends before he dies. Conphas realizes Skeaös has been conspiring with his grandmother, hoping to drive a wedge between Conphas and Xerius and have Conphas come running to his grandmother.
Conphas is surprised that Skeaös would do something so close to treachery and rebukes him. Conphas likes his uncle’s plan, as much as it galls him to admit, and tells Skeaös that his soul is a small price to pay to restore the Empire.
In the Privy Chamber, Conphas takes a seat next to his uncle. Skeaös and Cememketri stand by the Emperor and the galleries are filled with Eothic Guardsmen and Imperial Saik. Xerius asks Conphas his opinion on how to handle Eleäzaras. Conphas replies that since they do not know why Eleäzaras joined the Holy War, it will be hard to get him to support the Indenture. Instead, they should bargain in good faith. Xerius agrees.
While Chepheramunni, King-Regent of High Ainon, was announced first, he followed Eleäzaras into the room revealing who really ruled Ainon. Pleasantries are exchanged and Xerius asks why they Scarlet Spire joined the Holy War. Eleäzaras answers they were purchased. Eleäzaras refuses to divulge the details of the contract. Conphas thinks it is a lie, not even the Shriah could afford to purchase them.
Eleäzaras says that Chepheramunni will sign the Indenture gladly in exchange for some concessions. Xerius feigns outrage and begins to explain why those lands belong to Nansur but is interrupted by Eleäzaras. The sorcerer dismiss that as dross and asks if they know what truly is at stake. Conphas answers, “power.” Eleäzaras agrees and asks why Xerius provisioned Calmemunis. Xerius gives the official answer, to end their depredations. Eleäzaras disagrees, revealing he knows the truth.
Xerius protests, asking what he would gain by destroying them. Eleäzaras responds, you would gain the Holy War. Eleäzaras admires their plan, saying the Indenture is a splendid idea.
This small flattery was Xerius’s undoing. For a brief instant his eyes flashed with jubilant conceit. Stupid men, Conphas had found, tended to be excessively proud of their few brilliant moments.
He plays you, Uncle, and you cannot even see.
Eleäzaras then threatens Xerius should he betray the Holy War, and thus, by extension, betray the Scarlet Spire. Not even the Imperial Saik will save him from their wrath. Cememketri rebukes Eleäzaras, pointing out they are in Momemn not Carythusal. Eleäzaras ignores Cememketri and turns to Conphas and asks after the battle, complementing him.
Conphas smiled, deciding the Grandmaster would lick his ass as clean as a cat’s if given the opportunity. For all his penetration, Eleäzaras had misjudged him.
It was time to set him straight. “What Cememketri said just now is true, you know. No matter what your deal with Maithanet, you’ve delivered your School to its greatest peril since the Scholastic Wars. And not just because of the Cishaurim. You’ll be a small enclave of profanity within a great tribe of fanatics. You’ll need every friend you can get.”
For the first time something like real anger surfaced in Eleäzaras’s eyes, like a glimpse of coals through a smoky fire. “We can make the world burn with our song, young Conphas. We need no one.”
The negotiations continue successfully. Chepheramunni signs then Indenture in exchange for all the intelligence the Empire had on the Cishaurim. Conphas notes the hatred in Eleäzaras voice when he said Cishaurim. Conphas realizes the Scarlet Spire already warred with the Cishaurim. Xerius dismissed Conphas theory until Skeaös and Cememketri agreed, and then the Emperor reveals he already had the same suspicions. Conphas wonders if Maithanet knew about this secret war. “Maithanet. What game did he play? For that matter, who was he?”
Days later, news of the Vulgar Holy War’s annihilation reached them. Survivors reported they were destroyed on the Plains of Mengedda. Two courtiers arrived from Kian bearing Calmemunis and the other leader’s severed heads and a secret message for Conphas from Skauras.
We cannot count the carcasses of your idolatrous kin, so many have been felled by the fury of our righteous hand. Praise be the Solitary God. Know that House Ikurei has been heard.
Conphas is stunned, realizing for the first time they had sacrificed an army. “Only the Gods dared such acts.” Many would suspect House Ikurei, but it would not be recorded in the annals. Conphas felt great pride in his secret manipulation of events.
For an instant, Conphas felt like a thief, the hidden author of a great loss. And the exhilaration he felt almost possessed a sexual intensity. He saw clearly now why he so loved this species of war. On the field of battle, his every act was open to the scrutiny of others. Here, however, he stood outside scrutiny, enacted destiny from a place that transcended judgment or recrimination. He lay hidden in the womb of events.
Like a God.
It is terrible to sell you family into slavery so you can go crusading, but fitting with Bakker’s theme of exposing humanity in all its terrible flaws. It sad how so many of these “Men of the Tusk” end of killing their fellow Inrithi. From the band of Galeoth freebooters to King Nrezza Barisullas of Cironj, high and low take advantage of the Holy War.
Even the Vulgar Holy War, the most faithful and fanatic, turn to rape and plunder on their fellow Inrithi on the march south. I can understand the need to forage for supplies, but to massacre the men and rape their women is over the pale. And Calmemunis and the other, so greedy for land and power, they don’t care. Nothing deters their monumental stupidity. Prophilas is so stunned by his stupidity he just releases them. Not sad to see their severed heads show up after leading so many men to their needless deaths, even if these same men were raping and pillaging and deserved to hang for their crimes.
The Vulgar Holy War is a parallel to the People’s Crusade. When the First Crusade was called, a German priest rallied peasants and mercenaries then marched east to the holy lands. Along the way, the pillaged Christian lands, including sacking the city of Belgrade. Eventually, the People’s Crusade crossed the Byzantine Lands and were destroyed by the Turks.
Conphas self-centered narcissism leads him to attempt murder Skeaös via heart attack just to satisfy his morbid curiosity. Boy do I hate Conphas. This entire chapter shows just what a tool this guy is. At the end of the chapter, he thinks he just like a god, manipulating events from outside the lives of men, and he gets off on it. He is stunned, not by how many deaths can be laid at the feat of House Ikurei, but by the fact that only gods would dare to it.
Skeaös conspiring with Istiya is interesting. Conphas is surprised that the old man has problems with the plan. Religion does strange things to people, and Skeaös is seeing the end of his life approaching. I can see how that leads you to re-prioritize. And the prospect of damnation is not a pleasant one. He’s also in great shape. He climb up all those stairs, kept up with young, in shape Conphas, while talking. Wish I was in that great of shape.
Eleäzaras is so focused on revenge against the Cishaurim, he doesn’t care at all about the Indenture. Conphas is not shaken by Eleäzaras‘s threat, believing the men of the tusk won’t protect the Scarlet Spire well and they will be destroyed in the war and thus will be unable to retaliate against House Ikurei once they betray the war.
More speculation on Maithanet and his mysterious origins and strange ability to know hidden secrets. Conphas is right to have misgivings about the Shriah and whether House Ikurei is actually going to be able to seize the Holy War from the man or not.
The pieces are moving into place, setting the stage for the stage for the novel’s climax as we finish Part 2.