Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before
by R. Scott Bakker
The Holy Warrior
Many have condemned those who joined the Holy War for mercenary reasons, and doubtless, should this humble history find its way into their idle libraries, they will blast me as well. Admittedly, my reasons for joining the Holy War were “mercenary,” if by that one means I joined it in order to procure ends outside of the destruction of the heathen and the reconquest of Shimeh. But there were a great many mercenaries such as myself, and like myself, they inadvertently furthered the Holy War by killing their fair share of heathen. The failure of the Holy War had nothing to do with us. Did I say failure? Perhaps “transformation” would be a better word.
—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR
Faith is the truth of passion. Since no passion is more true than another, faith is the truth of nothing.
—AJENCIS, THE FOURTH ANALYTIC OF MAN
Well, we know what that greater reason was for Achamian, the purpose of the Mandate. And in this very chapter, the harbinger that Achamian has been dreaming about his appeared. He further eludes to the fact that something goes wrong with the Holy War. Something causes it to transform? What? Perhaps Kellhus? Another great point is on mercenaries. Just because they’re fifing for reasons other than faith doesn’t mean they’re not helping. But people like Proyas clearly have an issue with it. It makes them uncomfortable and yet he will use them because he has to.
The second passage goes to the argument between Achamian and Proyas. Proyas even quotes it, though he leaves of the last part of the passage about faith is the truth of nothing since Proyas believes his faith has all the truth he won’t acknowledge the possibility it has not truth. It contrast with Achamian’s faith where he’s willing to doubt and question.
Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn
Finally, Xinemus leads Achamian to see Proyas. They enter Proyas’s pavilion, Xinemus cautioning Achamian to be formal. Proyas is seeing Achamian just to get Xinemus to shut up about it. “You wielded too much influence over him as a child, Akka, left too deep a mark. Zealous men often confuse purity with intolerance, particularly when they’re young.”
Achamian is surprised that Proyas’s pavilion is only half-unpacked, remembering his student as “fastidious to a fault.” Xinemus explains it as the stress of dealing with the Emperor and his indenture. Proyas has his men out on busy work, “counting chickens” as the Conriyans put it. Things are bad because Proyas is losing the game. Akka has second thoughts, not wanting to further burden Proyas, but they are swept in to see him by a slave. Proyas’s greeting isn’t as welcoming as Achamian hoped.
Undeterred, he presses on. The talk turns to the Holy War and Achamian asks if it is true that Proyas is raiding the valley. Proyas isn’t happy that Achamian is questioning his tactics. Xinemus also isn’t happy that Proyas is raiding, but the Emperor has left them little choice. They hardly have enough grain to eat that they are now raiding Inrithi. Xinemus angers Proyas by objecting to the raiding.
Proyas scowled and waved his hand. “Enough! You says this, while I say that, over and over again. For once I’d rather hear Achamian speak! Did you hear that, Zin. You’ve irritated me that much…”
From Xinemus’s grave look, Achamian gathered Proyas was not joking.
So changed… What’s happened to him? But even as he asked this, Achamian recognized the answer. Proyas suffered, as all men of high purpose must, the endless exchange of principles for advantages. No triumph without remorse. No respite without siege. Compromise after anxious compromise, until one’s entire life felt a defeat. It was a malady Mandate Schoolmen knew well.
Proyas is frustrated by dealing with all the stress of feeding his army, keeping them in line, and trying to outwit the Emperor to deal with “the niceties of jnan.” Achamian realizes this meeting was a mistake, but he presses on and asks his student if he remembers what Achamian taught him. Those recollections are the only reason Achamian is here, answers Proyas. Achamian guides the conversation to why the Mandate would be in the Holy War, why Achamian would be here.
This was the question. When one warred with the intangible, convolutions were certain to abound. Any mission without purpose or with a purpose that had evaporated into abstraction, inevitably confused its own means as its ends, took its own striving as they very thing striven for. The Mandate was here, Achamian had realized, to determine whether it should be here. And this was as significant as any mission. But he could not tell Proyas this. No, he had to do what every Mandate agent did: populate the unknown with ancient threats and seed the future with past catastrophes. In a world that was already terrifying, the Mandate had become a School of fear-mongers.
“Our business? To discover the truth?”
Proyas is not happy to be lectured about truth and have his faith challenged. Achamian merely wants to temper it, reminding Proyas when “we’re most certain, we’re most certain to be deceived.” They move into discussing “troubling possibilities,” Proyas full of sarcasm. Achamian realizes that the Mandate have been crippled by become stale. He doesn’t know how to regain credibility. He opens the possibility the Holy War is not what it seems. Proyas immediately launches into a rant about the Emperor’s lecherous desires to regain his Empire, others who lust for glory, and he has no idea why the Scarlet Spire is involved. Proyas has prayed that the Holy War was more than it seemed, because it seems so base.
But prayers are not enough. Despite that, Proyas clings to the possibility that the Holy War is divine and a good thing. He asks if that is so hard to believe. Achamian concedes it is not. Proyas anger retreats and he apologizes for his outburst and admits this isn’t the best time since “I fear the God tests me.” Achamian questions and learns that Galeoth troops under Coithus Saubon massacred a Nansur village. Achamian asks if Maithanet knows.
Proyas grimaced. “He will.”
Suddenly Achamian understood.
“You defy him,” he said. “Maithanet has forbidden these raids!” Achamian could scarce conceal his jubilation. If Proyas had defied his Shriah…
“I like not your manner,” Proyas snapped. “What care you—” He stopped, as though struck by a realization of his own. “Is this the possibility you wish me to consider?” he asked, wonder and fury in his tone. “That Maithanet…” A sudden gallows laugh. “That Maithanet conspires with the Consult?”
“As I said,” Achamian replied evenly, “a possibility.”
While Proyas respects the Mandate mission, knowing about their dreams, he will not allow Achamian to drive a wedge between him and the Shriah. It is blasphemous. Proyas asks if Achamian has any proof. All Achamian has is poor, dead Inrau, which Proyas dismisses since spying would be punished by death. Achamian then says that Maithanet is one of the few, but Proyas already knew and doesn’t care.
“What of it?” Proyas repeated. “What does it mean other than he, unlike you, chose the path of righteousness.”
Achamian turns to talking about the intensity of his dreams and how he feels something is happening. But Proyas points out that they are at in impasse. What Achamian believes of the Consult is what Proyas believes of his God. All Achamian has is faith, like Proyas. “Faith is the truth of passion, Achamian, and no passion is more true than another.” Achamian is hurt, realizing he can’t convince his student anymore. Proyas has grown too certain in his faith. He loves his God more than a blaspheming sorcerer. Proyas says they will not speak again.
As Achamian leaves, he asks Proyas to inquire to Maithanet about Paro Inrau and learn if he committed suicide or was executed for spying. Achamian has to know. Proyas asks why. “Because you loved me once.” Then Achamian leaves, grieving for his lost students. Once Achamian is gone, Proyas asks what Xinemus disapproves of this time, his tactics or proprieties in dealing with Achamian. Xinemus disagrees with both.
“Ask yourself, Proyas—for once set scripture aside and truly ask yourself—whether the feeling within your breast—now, at this very moment—is wicked or righteous.”
“But I feel nothing.”
That night, Achamian first dreams of Esmenet and then Inrau crying out “from the Great Black: ‘They’re here, old teacher! In ways you cannot see!’” But then the dream turns to the nightmares. He is on the Fields of Eleneöt and witnesses the Celmomas Prophecy once more, hearing that an Anasûrimbor will return at the end of the world.
Esmenet is shopping in the Kamposea Agora, the great market of Momemn, accompanied by Sarcellus’s two slave girls, Ertiga and Hansa. She had bumped into a handsome officer of the Eothic Guard, and finds herself subtly flirting with the man as he watches her sharp, bending over, revealing parts of her body. But she is irritated by the two body slaves with her.
Sarcellus’s Cepaloran body-slave, Ertiga and Hansa, had spotted the man as well. They giggled over cinnamon, pretending to fuss over the length of the sticks. For not the first time this day, Esmenet found herself despising them, the way she had often found herself despising her competing neighbors in Sumna—particular the young ones.
He watches me! Me!
The man is very handsome, and she can’t get him out of her thoughts as he loiters, watching her. She grows annoyed with the slave girls, and they get petulance when Esmenet asks them a question. The spice-monger grows angry with the girl while showing deference to Esmenet, taking her for the wife of a humble caste noble. Easement realizes that the two girls do not obey her out of jealousy of her relationship with Sarcellus. Instead, she suspect Sarcellus has ordered the two girls to watch her. They wouldn’t let her leave the compound alone. She tries to order the two to go home, but they refuse until the spice-monger beats Ertiga. Hansa pulls Ertiga to safety and they flee.
Esmenet realizes this is the first time she’s been alone since Sarcellus saved her. He was always around a great deal to her, often taking her on trips to see the sights of the city, including the Imperial Precincts.
But he never left her alone. Why?
Was he afraid she’d seek out Achamian? It struck her as a silly fear.
She went cold.
They were watching Akka. They! He had to be Told!
But then why did she hide from him? Why did she dread the thought of bumping into him each time she left the encampment? Whenever she glimpsed someone who resembled him, she would instantly look away, afraid that if she did not, she might make whoever it was into Achamian. That he would see her, punish her questioning frown. Stop her heart with an anguished look…
The spice-monger asks her what she’ll buy, but she has no money on her. Then she remembers the man and feels stirring inside of her. She glances at him and he nods to an alley. She follows, eager to be with the strong man. The moment she reaches him, he’s on her, pinning her, eager for her, but she stops him.
“What?” He leaned against her elbows, searching for her mouth.
She turned her face away. “Coin,” she breathed. False laugh. “No one eats for free.”
“Ah, Sejenus! How much?”
“Twelve talents,” she gasped. “Silver talents.”
“A whore,” he hissed. “You’re a whore!”
The man hesitates then agrees until he notices her tattoo marking her as a prostitute from Sumna. He realizes that she’s a “bruised peach” and will only pay twelve copper talents. She agrees, eager for him. They have sex, hard and fast, and she revels in it. He spills in her and then feels guilty, stumbling away and not able to look at her. She takes a moment to find composure, or to fake it, and then she feels dirty. She remembers the syntheses and his black seed. She dropped the money. “Then she fled, truly alone.”
She returns to Sarcellus’s camp and finds him waiting for her. He’s missed her, asking where’s she been. She finds it curious that he smells her. Then he seized her, so fast she gasps. He rips up her gown. She tries to stop him from having sex with her. She wants to wash, aware of the other man’s seed staining her thighs. He then sees the evidence of her encounter in the market. He demands to know who she was with.
He slapped her. Not hard, but it seemed to sting all the more for it.
She said nothing, turned to the bedchamber.
He grabbed her arm, yanked her violently around, raised his hand for another strike…
“Was it Achamian?” he asked.
Never, it seemed to Esmenet, had she hated a face more. She felt the spit gather between her teeth.
“Yes!” she hissed.
Instead of hitting her, he looks broken and begins to weep, begging for her forgiveness. She is shocked. Then he embraces her, crying and she relents and relaxes. She doesn’t understand how such a confident man could weep after “striking someone like her.” She’s treacherous, adulterate. Sarcellus says he knows she loves Achamian, but she isn’t so sure anymore.
Proyas is joined by Achamian as he watches the sun rise on the edge of the Holy War. Proyas is excited. Everything changes. The debate “of dogs and crows, crows and dogs, would be over.” Achamian is surprised, a week after being told he would never see Proyas, to be summoned to his side. Proyas chastises his teacher while Achamian is grumpy and cut, which Proyas attributes to the the Dreams. Proyas hasn’t summoned Achamian, but a Mandate Schoolman to fulfill the treaty between them and House Nersei. Proyas needs advice, not to be needled. Not today. But Achamian brings up their last discussion, what he had learned form it, and lectures about faith.
“There’s faith that knows itself itself as faith, Proyas, and there’s faith that confuses itself for knowledge. The first embraces uncertainty, acknowledges the mysteriousness of the God. It begets compassion and tolerance. Who can entirely condemn when they’re not entirely certain they’re in the right? The the second, Proyas, the second embraces certainty and only pays lip service to the God’s mystery. It begets intolerance, hatred, violence…”
Proyas scowled. Why wouldn’t he relent? And it begets, I imagine, students who repudiate their old teachers, hmm, Achamian?”
The sorcerer nodded. “And Holy Wars…”
Proyas is unsettled, but he counters by quoting the Tractate about submitting to faith and having no doubts, which only annoys Achamian. Proyas feels he resorted to a shoddy trick, which shocks him since he used the Latter Prophet’s words. Proyas is angered that Achamian judges him.
Achamian asks why he was summoned. Proyas explains about the fugitives that Iryssas, Zin’s nephew, found a few days ago, which include a Scylvendi (yes, Cnaiür, Kellhus, and Serwë). They should arrive at any time. Achamian is shocked that a Sclyvendi would want to join the Holy War, since they see the others as sacrificial lambs to their dead god. The Scylvendi claims to know how the Fanim make war.
Achamian understands why he is here. Proyas hoped to use the Sclyvendi to defeat the Emperor. He presses Achamian if it is possible that he knows how to fight Fanim, and Achamian talks about the Battle of Zirkirta and concedes it is possible, but he still finds it doubtful that a Scylvendi would join.
The Crown Prince pursed his lips, looked out over the encampment, searching, Achamian supposed, for a sign of his dashed hopes. Never before had he seen Proyas like this—even as a child. He looked so…fragile.
Are things so desperate? What are you afraid you’ll lose?
“But of course,” Achamian added in a conciliatory manner, “after Conphas’s victory at Kiyuth, things might have changed on the Steppe. Drastically, perhaps.” Why did he always cater to him so.
Proyas gives Achamian a sardonic grin, realizing what Achamian is doing, but then he spots them and grows excited. Achamian fears Proyas will make a dangerous king because of his ability to go from despair to eagerness so fast. Achamian dread makes him realize with so many warriors round, a lot of people will die, including himself. He spots Xinemus in the approaching group and wonders if he will die. Then Achamian spots the Scylvendi and is shocked. He looks just how they did in his dreams and for a moment, Achamian is confused, thinking he is in ancient times, speaking about how the Scylvendi road for the No-God and sacked Sumna. He finds it so bizarre to see a Scylvendi here, especially after all the drams of Anasûrimbor Celmomas.
He urges Proyas not to tryst the Scylvendi, but all Proyas can see is the enemy of the Nansur, and thus his potential ally. They bicker because Proyas does not like the counsel he’s getting and his words sting Achamian when he realizes Proyas meant to injure. He wants obedience right now.
Proyas then greets Cnaiür congenial. Achamian is worried about Proyas’s ability to change emotions so swiftly, fearing it “demonstrated a worrisome capacity for deceit.” Things are rocky at first, with Achamian whispering advice to Proyas about how to treat with the Sclyvendi. When Achamian learns Cnaiür is Utemot, he is unnerved since an Utemot led them during the Apocalypse.
Proyas nodded. “So tell me, Cnaiür urs Skiötha, why would a Scylvendi wolf travel so far to confer with Inrithi dogs?”
The Scylvendi as much sneered as smiled. He possessed, Achamian realized, that arrogance peculiar to barbarians, the thoughtless certitude that the hard ways of his land made him harder by far than other, more civilized men. We are, Achamian thought, silly women to him.
Cnaiür first claims to be a mercenary, but Proyas doesn’t believe it. Then Cnaiür spins a tale about how his tribe was destroyed by others after Kiyuth. His tribe is no more. Proyas still doesn’t believe that he would join them, but is too eager to find out what the barbarian knows about fighting Fanim to press Cnaiür on his true motives.
Cnaiür, after a little verbal sparring, admits that he fought at Zirkirta and nows how to defeat them. Achamian fears that Cnaiür tells Proyas exactly what he wants to hear. Despite that, Achamian starts paying attention to Kellhus and realizes he is the answer to why Cnaiür Achamian hopes Proyas figures it out, but the young man is too eager to hear about Cnaiür’s fighting ability. Cnaiür is cautious, which Proyas prays, then explains why Cnaiür can trust him. Because Proyas needs the barbarian. Proyas explains about the politics keeping them in place and why he needs Cnaiür as an alternative to Ikurei Conphas leading the Holy War.
When Cnaiür laughs about being “the Exalt-General’s surrogate,” Proyas is puzzled. Achamian sees an opportunity and points out because of Kiyuth, the man must hate Conphas. Proyas asks if Achamian thinks Cnaiür wants revenge. Achamian tells Proyas to ask Cnaiür why he has come and who the others are. Proyas grows chagrined for letting his passion almost dupe him into trusting a Scylvendi without any hard questions. He asks the question and Kellhus steps forward. Everyone stares at him.
“And just who are you?” Proyas asked the man.
The clear blue eyes blinked. The serene face dipped only enough to acknowledge an equal. “I am Anasûrimbor Kellhus, son of Moënghus,” the man said in heavily accented Sheyic. “A prince of the north. Of Atrithau.”
Achamian is stunned, almost at a panic, the Celmomas Prophecy echoing in his head as Proyas questions why Kellhus would be here. How he could have even heard of the Holy War all the way in Atrithau which barley has in contact with the Three Seas.
Hesitation, as though he [Kellhus] were both frightened and unconvinced by what he was about to say. “Dreams. Someone sent me dreams.”
This cannot be!
The man could not answer.
Xinemus always has sage words to tell. He has much practical wisdom and is a great foil to Achamian’s more book learning. He is also a very moral person, more so than Proyas for all the man’s piety and faith.
The chicken counting proves very important for Kellhus and Cnaiür. Without that busy work, they would be dead right now.
I feel bad for Proyas as Achamian realizes how compromise is destroying him. He wants to be that good man, but he has to play politics. Having strong principals doesn’t make it easy to compromise them to make necessary deals.
The mandate sound like the our modern media, needing to populate the world with half-truths, to make us afraid so we’ll keep watching. Without fears, whether they have any truth or are blown so out of proportion to make them interesting, the media wouldn’t have anything to report. It is such a toxic cycle.
I think we have our first mention of Coithus Saubon here, the blond beast. His troops causing a massacre is not surprising. Don’t forget about him. Come Book 2 and on, he’ll be playing a far larger role in the story.
Achamian’s jubilation that he might have an opening between Proyas and Maithanet is quickly squashed. Proyas’s faith is very strong, not easily shaken. He is too certain that what he believes is right, and that is a very dangerous thing as our own history has shown. And it doesn’t have to be a religious faith. Any belief, political, economic, social can lead to those ends.
Poor Achamian. He’s just trying to get Proyas to think instead of believe and is getting so much flack. Faith is fine, but it needs to be tempered by rational thought.
Xinemus is not happy about how Proyas treated Achamian, but Proyas is ambivalent. He has gone beyond his tutor, or so he thinks.
I think that Inrau might have actually cried out from the Great Black, from beyond, and spoke to Achamian right there. “In ways you cannot see” is too specific to skin-spies, something Achamian doesn’t know about yet. Given the info of the Great Ordeal and the speculation that something chooses which dream a Mandate Schoolman sees, it is interesting that Achamian has the Calmemunis Prophecy dream right after. Bakker is both reminding us of the dream and possibly setting up a reveal on how the dreams work and the significance of their timing.
Fear of rejection such a powerful motivator, especially when someone’s self-esteem is so low. Poor Esmenet left Sumna to find Achamian and now is too scared of the consequences if he doesn’t want her. Not when she has the comfort of Sarcellus’s camp, which still bewilders her. Of course, she doesn’t know she’s being watched by the consult.
Esmenet can’t help playing the whore. And it sickens her when she’s done. She’s been traumatized by the syntheses’s visit. She doesn’t see herself as having any value. When she returns to Sarcellus, she notices skin-spy Sarcellus’s inhuman properties, though dismisses then. He has to control himself, almost losing it before remembering he supposed to keep an eye on her, not beat her, then he breaks down crying. It works, it makes her keep questioning her love for Achamian. Her self-esteem is very low right now. Explains why she is displaying such self-destructive behavior like provoking Sarcellus.
The irony of Proyas not liking to be judged when he is famous for judging others made me chuckle.
Proyas is shocked that Achamian, a blasphemer, had been to Shimeh. But to Achamian, it was just another place, nothing special like Proyas had made it become. Proyas has obsessed about it so much, he transformed it into something it’s not. And then we’ll see how he acts when he gets to Shimeh.
Achamian is shrewd enough to know that a lot of people have understatement Cnaiür by noticing the number of swazonds adorning his arms.
Cnaiür figures out Proyas’s plan before Proyas can explain it to him, pointing out that, essentially, the Shriah is turning the holy war into a band of mercenaries by “selling” them to the Emperor.
Kellhus speaks in “heavily accented Sheyic” which has to be him faking it because he speaks flawless Sheyic to Serwë. He’s already begun his seduction of the Holy War. He’s planted the first seeds. He has been sent dreams. He’s special.
Achamian is reeling from the revelation. The prophecy that his order has been obsessed with for two thousand years was just fulfilled. The harbinger, which I can safely say is Kellhus, has arrived. The end of the world is upon them. But is Kellhus the end or just the signaled that it’s started?