Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 2: The Warrior Prophet
by R. Scott Bakker
The First March
All men are greater than dead men.
Every monumental work of the State is measured by cubits. Every cubit is measured by the length of the Aspect-Emperor’s arm. And the Aspect-Emperor’s arm, they say, stands beyond measure. But I say the Aspect-Emperor’s arm is measured by the length of a cubit, and that all cubits are measured by the works of the State. Not even the All stands beyond measure, for it is more what lies within it, and “more” is a kind of measure. Even the God has His cubits.
You can’t do anything dead. As we see, even Kellhus knows this principal. It is why he reveals too much in his contest with Sarcellus to stave off dying. Which would ruin his mission. Definitely not the Shortest Way. We also see this principal in action with the Eleäzaras wanting to protect the Scarlet Spire from combat for as long as possible.
So the second is titled the Psûkalogues, and it is clearly a treaties on the metaphysics of Cishuarim sorcery: the Psûkhe. So why is it talking about measurements? The text uses the cubit as an example, showing how it measures everything, from the emperor’s arm to monuments and then says God also has his cubit. In other words, the world is measured by the God’s arm and in turn the God’s arm is measured by the world. I think this is a key insight into why the Psûkhe doesn’t leave a mark. The Cishaurim are so in tune with the relationship between the real world and the Outside, that when they change the world they are able to measure their work perfectly against “the God” and thus their work fits into the world, where other sorcerers work is imperfect. In essence, a shoddy finish. Both build a chair, but the Mandate chair, while strong and sturdy, wasn’t sanded, wasn’t stained with a finish, and has splinters jutting from it. The Cishaurim chair, while perhaps not able to hold as much weight, is a work of beauty, carved with pleasing lines, sanded to a polished finish, stained a deep, rich color. Both are then placed at a table filled with other beautiful chairs. The Cishaurim chair blends in, the Mandate chair stands out. Both work, but one is aesthetically better.
Early Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, near the Plains of Mengedda
Kellhus walks through the Galeoth encampment guided by the young Earl Athjeäri. He asks the Earl questions about his people, knowing that the young man is filled with pride for his people and will remember this walk. Kellhus finds manipulating him “at once so easy and so difficult.” The shortest path to learning more about Saubon. At the central campfire, they find two Galeoth men engaged in a contest of strength. Both men had their wrists bound to opposite ends of two poles, each pulling or pushing on their end to bring their opponent to the ground with the fire between them. They dance around it. Athjeäri comments the pair hate each other, wanting to hurt the other than winning coin.
Kellhus questions the game, which is called gandoki or “shadows.” Athjeäri explains this game proves his people do not lack subtly like Ketyai claim. As he speaks, Sarcellus steps between the pair, bowing to Kellhus. Athjeäri demands to know why Sarcellus is here. He’s here to speak with Kellhus. Athjeäri accuses Sarcellus of following, but the thing pretending to be Sarcellus guessed Kellhus would be with the Battle-Celebrant and his revelry.
Athjeäri glanced at Kellhus, his look, his heart rate, even the draw of his breath striking a note of scarcely concealed aversion. He thought Sarcellus vain and effete, Kellhus realized, a particularly repellent member of a species he’d long ago learned to despise. But then, that was likely what the original Cutias Sarcellus had been: a pompous caste-noble. Sarcellus, the real Sarcellus, was dead. What stood here in his stead was a beast of some kind, an exquisitely trained animal. It had wrenched Sarcellus from his place and had assumed all he once was. It had robbed him even of his death.
No murder could be more total.
Kellhus agrees to speak to Sarcellus alone. Athjeäri, reluctantly, says he’ll wait by his uncle’s tent. He shoves his way through the crowd. Just then, the game of shadows turns deadly. The smaller man has fallen into the fire and is held their by the larger. Friends rush to both men’s aid. Knives flash and a fight breaks out. Kellhus notices Sarcellus growing aroused by the violence, beset by an involuntary response and fighting the urge to masturbate.
The thing called Sarcellus fairly trembled with ardor. These things hungered, Kellhus realized. They ached.
Of all the rude animal impulses that coerced and battered the intellect, none possessed the subtlety or profundity of carnal lust. In some measure, it tinctured nearly every thought, impelled every act. This was what made Serwë so invaluable. Without realize, every man at Xinemus’s fire—with the exception of the Scylvendi—knew they best wooed her by pandering to Kellhus. And they could do naught but woo her.
But Sarcellus, it was clear, ached for a different species of congress. One involving suffering and violence. Like the Sranc, these skin-spies continually yearned to rut with their knives. They shared the same maker, one who harnessed the venal beast within their slaves, sharpened it as one might a spear point.
Sarcellus makes derisive comments about Galeoth harming themselves as they brawl is ended, several bleeding bad. Kellhus responds by quoting scripture. Kellhus feels the tightrope he walks. He knows the Consult is aware of his role in Skeaös’s unmasking. But do they know if it was accidental or intentional. If they suspected he could see his skin-spies, they would need to know how. Kellhus has to make himself “a mystery that they must solve.” So Kellhus says Sarcellus that there is something about his face. Sarcellus asks if that was why he was studying him at the meeting. Kellhus “opened himself to the legion within” to ponder his reaction, realizing that this was a new Sarcellus.
“Was I that indiscreet?” Kellhus said. “I apologize… I was thinking of what you said to me that night in the Unaras at the ruined shrine… You made quite an impression.”
“And what did I say?”
It acknowledges its ignorance as any man would, any man with nothing to hide… These things are well trained.
Sarcellus makes a joke out of saying many things and can’t remember. Kellhus asks if this is a game and then explains how Sarcellus told him about the “endless hunger” and how he wasn’t what he seemed. Wasn’t even a Shrial Knight. The thing’s face twitches “like a spider answering a shiver through its silk.” Kellhus he realizes he can read their reactions. He presses on, wanting to know why Sarcellus doesn’t remember. The thing grows confused. Kellhus continues, explaining how Sarcellus admitted to spying on Achamian and seducing Esmenet. How he feared his masters believed him responsible in a disaster at the Emperor’s court. Kellhus asks why he’s so coy now.
So much. In the span of moments, Kellhus had confirmed his hypothesis regarding the Consult’s immediate interests, and he’d uncovered the rudiments of what he needed to read these creatures. But most important, he’d sown the threat of betrayal. How could Kellhus possibly know what he knew, they would ask, unless the original Sarcellus had actually told him? Whatever their ends, the Consult depended, through and through, upon total secrecy. One defection could undo everything. If they feared for the reliability of their field agents—these skin-spies—they would be forced to restrict their autonomy and to proceed with more caution.
In other words, they would be forced to yield the one commodity Kellhus required more than any other: time. Time to dominate this Holy War. Time to find Anasûrimbor Moënghus.
He was one of the Conditioned, Dûnyain, and he followed the shortest path. The Logos.
A man holds up the gandoki sticks, calling for new contestants. Sarcellus seizes Kellhus, pulling him forward. Kellhus realizes the thing believed him and wonders if Sarcellus is improvising or panicking. Or was it the things intent to challenge him to gandoki all along. Before the warriors, Kellhus would have no choice but to play. “The resulting loss of face would be crippling.” They are bound to the poles and begin their contest, separated by the fire.
Everything melts away from Kellhus save Sarcellus. He studies the inhuman muscles moving, the creatures growing arousal. It speaks, saying “We are old, Anasûrimbor, very, very old.” Kellhus realizes that Sarcellus is bound to a beast, created by Tekne. “Possibilities bloomed, like branches twining through the open air of the improbable.” It taunts Kellhus, saying others have tried to do this and all failed. Kellhus thinks his strategy. The creature is strong, and if Kellhus beats the thing it might prove him too much a threat. He had to find a balance. But the thing is strong. They dance around the fire as Kellhus asks who Sarcellus is and what he wants.
Kellhus does a surprising move, almost knocking Sarcellus down. His foot hits the fire and he kicks up a cloud of ash and soot, blinding those watching. At that moment, Kellhus realizes the creature means to kill him. They struggled, and Sarcellus pushes Kellhus backward, bowling him through the crowd and into the tent. His goal is to carry Kellhus into the darkness and kill him. Not wanting to die, Kellhus leverages the poles and lifts Sarcellus from the ground, slamming him to the earth hard, winning the contest.
To save his life, Kellhus had demonstrated too much skill. Sarcellus knows it. Kellhus realizes he has made a mistake.
Saubon is drunk in his tent. His nephew, Athjeäri, complains, asking why Saubon now wants Kellhus sent away. Saubon sees his beloved sister in Athjeäri’s face. But in the wake of Kussalt’s death, it has him questioning if his sister ever actually cared for him like he thought Kussalt had. He almost tells Athjeäri about Kussalt, but Athjeäri isn’t his sister, and he would only despise Saubon’s grief. He bellows that he doesn’t want Kellhus to see him like this and to send him away.
Alone, Saubon believes no one ever cared for him.
Eleäzaras cannot sleep despite the hour. He feels like he had slept for weeks while away from the Holy War. “For what was sleep, if not unconsciousness of the greater world?” Already, he had Iyokus, his spymaster, studying the battlefield and interviewing agents on what happened. He needed information, particularly on the faceless spies of the Cishaurim. Iyokus finally returns and they go for a walk.
The talk about the battle, particularly how the Shrial Knights charge saved the day, discussing the tactics the Cishaurim used. Eleäzaras is elated that a dozen Cishaurim are dead. He estimates the Cishaurim can field between 100 and 120 sorcerers of the rank. Near the numbers of the Scarlet Spire.
When one counted in the thousands, the loss of twelve scarcely seemed significant, and Eleäzaras had no doubt that many in the Holy War, among the Shrial Knights in particular, gnashed their teeth at the thought of how many they had lost for the sake of so few. But when one counted, as Schoolmen did, in tens, the loss of twelve was nothing short of catastrophic—or glorious.
Eleäzaras decides their strategy will be to conserve themselves no matter what. Allow the Inrithi to kill as many Cishaurim. He wants the Scarlet Spire saved for Shimeh. He is confident that, though the Psûkhe remained mysterious, the Anagogis will defeat them. He sees only more power for the Scarlet Spire in the wake of their defeat. Iyokus isn’t certain it will work again, that the Cishaurim won’t use the same tactics they did here. They acted arrogantly upon seeing no Scarlet Spire on the field, and relied on no cavalry support like they normally would. They paid for it. They won’t again.
They reach the ruins of Mengedda and Eleäzaras realizes something broke this place. Feeling breathless, he asks about Achamian. Iyokus fears Eleäzaras suspicious are correct but doesn’t know that it’s significant. Eleäzaras says they have to capture Achamian to find out and interrogate him. This is what Iyokus fear, that Achamian will maintain that Skeaös was from the consult even under torture and compulsion. Eleäzaras brings up faceless Geshruuni.
“I know these arguments,” Iyokus said. He turned to once again scrutinize the moonlight ruins, his expression translucent and unreadable. “I simply fear there’s more to this…”
“There’s always more, Iyokus. Why else would men murder men?”
Esmenet is truly happy for the first time since her daughter’s death. She tried many ways to “attend to the void within her.” Camping for five days with Achamian away from the ruins of Mengedda, in their own little world, has been a dream she doesn’t want to end. While cleaning the tent, she finds his satchel and notice it has mold on it. She decides to clean it and empties it. She finds Achamian’s “map” as he returns from cutting firewood. They joke about curiosity and smells before she asks about the doll. He refuses, saying she doesn’t want to know about that. Then she goes to the map. His good mood vanishes. She asks about the writing and he tells her who they are, getting emotional when he mentions Inrau. Then she points to the name by itself. The Consult.
Chills pimpled her skin. Achamian, she realized, didn’t belong to her—not truly. He never could. What was she compared with these mighty things?
I can’t even read…
She ignores her pain and asks him why he stopped. She comments how he’s not acting like a spy any longer. He says he asked her not to be a prostitute, so he gave up spying. She tells him not to lie. He says it’s not her, but him. She knows it means Kellhus. Silence falls. They hadn’t spoken about Kellhus since fleeing. “Sometimes it seemed an unspoken accord, the kind lovers used to numb shared hurts.”
For a time, Kellhus had been a troubling figure, but he’d soon become intriguing, someone warm, welcoming, and mysterious—a man who promised pleasant surprises. Then at some point he’d become towering, someone who overshadowed all others—like a noble and indulgent father, or a great king breaking bread with his slaves. And now, even more so in his absence, he’d become a shining figure. A beacon of some kind. Something they must follow, if only because all else was so dark…
What is he? she wanted to say, but looked speechlessly to her lover instead.
To her husband.
Abruptly, Achamian tells her to follow and leads her to the edge of a ledge and gaze at the Holy War marching. “Like the shadows of truly mountainous clouds, they darkened the plain, great columns of them, their arms shining like powdered diamond in the sunlight.” She is awed. Achamian numbers them at 250,000 warriors with as many camp followers. Esmenet feels so powerless. She asks if it is something from his dreams.
He paused, and though he neither swayed nor stumbled, Esmenet suddenly feared he was about to fall. She reached out, clutched his elbow.
“Like my dreams,” he said.
Kellhus can never stop manipulating. Even with Athjeäri, a lesser Name, he is planting seeds to awe and impress the young man while getting information out of him about Saubon.
Shadows is an interesting take on tug-of-war. And, of course, the mud pit’s been replaced with a bonfire just to make the game that much more intense.
Killing someone and then hiding their death and taking their place really does erase them from the world. It doesn’t let their loved ones even grieve their passing.
Rude animal impulses. Great way to describe emotions, Kellhus. We get more insight into Kellhus’s use of Serwë, though I think he is lying to himself here about his motivations. He felt that twinge of pity so long ago when he first met her while watching her being raped. He kept her when the Nansur were hunting even when letting her go would be the smarter decision. He has now justified keeping her around. He does get great use out of her, as we’ll see with Achamian. And he has another use for her, one that will break him fully.
I hate Kellhus a lot because of what he does to Serwë.
The legion within Kellhus is a great hint here how Dûnyain truly think, and which Bakker truly shows us in The Great Ordeal. They have a thousand-thousand thoughts all contributing, working together, to provide the most logical solution. Different ideas heading down different branches, working different angles of the problem.
As much as I dislike him, he makes a compelling character to read. His interactions with Sarcellus, peeling back the layers of these creatures, his feints and moves, make for engrossing reading. An important thing for would-be writers. Make your readers love or hate your characters. Doesn’t matter which. Indifference is the worst thing you can do.
“Possibilities bloom…” This quote strikes Kellhus when he realizes that the creature was made by Tekne. We aren’t told what those possibilities are. What does Kellhus envision the Tekne can be used for? The Unholy Consult now has a release date. I can’t wait!
So the fight between Kellhus and Sarcellus is fascinating. Again, Kellhus withdraws until he is only a place, no longer a person. He studies, reacts, waits for the moment. But the thing is so strong, it forces Kellhus to make several mistakes. He was not ready for this fight. He let himself get trapped into it. Sarcellus set an ambush for Kellhus that our Dûnyain did not see coming until it was too late to stop it. His improvisation paid off with Saubon weeks earlier, but he has now overplayed his hand to the Consult. He may not have bought himself the time he hoped for.
Poor Saubon. To have the one man you thought cared for you use his dying breath to tell you how much he despites you has messed him up. Now it has him questioning every other person who cared for him. He has lost all trust. Can hardly blame him for drinking?
Iyokus wanting to visit the ruins is a great character moment but it also sets up his later plan to capture Achamian. Iyokus is, as Eleäzaras thinks, much like a Mandate Schoolman in his fascination with antiquities. Iyokus uses that same fascination on Achamian for his trap.
The arrogance of twelve men caused the Fanim defeat. If they just took precautions, the Fanim Calvary could have shielded them and the day would have been lost. It’s always interesting how battles can pivot sometimes on such small things and have such great effects.
We get hints that you cannot torture the Mandate Schoolman for the Gnosis. Eleäzaras fear of Achamian returns, awakened by Mengedda itself and the realization that the No-God really did die here. The fear that he’s led his school into its destruction compels his actions, which his why he’s afraid of Achamian. If the Mandate and the Cishaurim conspire… Acting out of fear rarely ends well.
Esmenet and Achamian camping is their honeymoon. Just five days of enjoying each other’s company, not worrying about anything. It’s a powerful emotion for her. Something that finally drowns out the grief (and guilt) of her daughter’s “death.” Such wonderful, little details are speckled through the text about their domesticity. Bakker does a great job of navigating through all the emotions of this chapter. We start out with Kellhus maneuvering then fighting for his life, transitions to Eleäzaras plotting Achamian’s own kidnapping. And now we’re here with Achamian and Esmenet happy. We don’t want them to leave, because we the reader know what’s lurking when they do. Bakker just showed it to us.
We get our first glimpse of the Wathi Doll as Esmenet cleans Achamian’s leather satchel. Even before it’s properly introduced. A good technique for a Chekhov gun is to introduce something, remind the readers later, then have it being used even later.
I love the domesticity of this scene, and so does Esmenet. The sure joy she gets out of seeing the mighty sorcerer bare-chested from cutting firewood. And Achamian seems well suited to it. Even fashioned a flint ax. Foreshadowing… Maybe.
The little touch of Esmenet grasping his knee when he exposes pain over Inrau. Wonderful characterization.
Esmenet always has great observations about Kellhus and how he changes, molding himself in their eyes, moving step-by-step into something greater and greater. In a few weeks, she went from mistrusting him to almost worshiping him.
And there at the end, we see the Holy War begin it’s Second March. It’s hard to even imagine. Half a million people marching across a plain all for one purpose.
Part 1 has come to an end. Already, this book has thrown a lot at us and now the stakes are even greater. Kellhus and the Consult’s hidden war has escalated while the most powerful school of sorcerers plots Achamian’s capture and torture. The Fanim have been bloodied, but this war if far from over. The Cishaurim won’t be so reckless. The next victory won’t be so “easy.”