Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 2: The Warrior Prophet
by R. Scott Bakker
The Second March
If all human events possess purpose, then all human deeds possess purpose. And yet when men vie with men, the purpose of no man comes to fruition: the result always falls somewhere in between. The purpose of deeds, then, cannot derive from the purposes of men, because all men vie with all men. This means the deeds of men must be willed by something other than men. From this it follows that we are all slaves. Who then is our Master?
—MEMGOWA, THE BOOK OF DIVINE ACTS
What is practicality but one moment betrayed for the next?
—TRIAMIS I, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES
So both these quotes are clearly about compromise and how you do not get what you want. The first quote comes at it from a predestined point of view, in that events have purpose and are not random chance, and therefore our acts have purpose, and since we have to compromise our desires against the desires of other humans, something else is driving things. From a deterministic universe, in one in which all events will happen the way they happen tracing back all causes to the beginning of everything, we do not have free will. We only think we do. Why am I writing this paragraph? Because the events in my life have shaped me to the point where I’m obsessed with R. Scott Bakker’s works and am compelled to write my analysis of his stories.
Thus, I am a slave to cause like all of us. Or, in other words, I am a slave to the darkness that comes before.
Now, Memgowa is not talking about that sort of determinism, or so I’d guess based on the title of the book. He surmises that the divine, the Outside, is what directs events And that we are therefor slaves to the divine. That the gods will our actions and influence them. Now this is a true statement in the Second Apocalypse. There is plenty of evidence in later books about this. This causality stands in violation to the Dûnyain philosophy and Kellhus, like all Dûnyain, has the goal of being a self-moving soul. One unchained from cause-and-effect. He will have to deal with this new wrinkle interfering with events.
The other quote is less about determinism and more about just how no one is happy for compromise. That we betray our goals to get something. Because it’s better than nothing. It’s how humans have to interact. If we didn’t, we would be killing each other left and right. And yet for a man like Triamis, a great conquering emperor, compromise must be so hard for him. He is so powerful, and yet even he has to betray his vision for the present.
And, of course, we have Martemus in this chapter, “the soul of practicality” (to quote David Eddings description of Durnik from the Belgariad). A man who has allowed practicality to make him a slave to Conphas’s ambition. A willing slave. But he has betrayed his own future for Conphas’s. And, we shall see, he has a new will he has to compromise with in this chapter.
Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, southern Gedea
The chapter opens with Bakker describing how abrupt the rugged Gedean interior ends at the floodplains of the River Sempis and the city of Shigek. Coithus Athjeäri is the first scout to find it. Bakker gives us the history of the city, how it once was the capital of an empire in far antiquity. But to Men of the Tusk, she’s a cursed place. Athjeäri learns that Skauras has abandoned the north bank of the Sempis and burned every boat he could find. Two weeks later, the Holy War arrives at the floodplains.
At first, there is little fighting, the Men of the Tusk in awe of the beauty around the river. The villagers found living on the river do no resist. Though they are Fanim, they are used to be conquered and give food and drink and even women to the conquerers, which bemuses the Men of the Tusk. Though the Tractate described Shigek as home to a tyrant, the place is vastly different, peaceful.
But then one small city, Chiama, bars its gates to a Tydonni earl. They want to negotiate, their grain stores low after a blight last year. But Earl Cerjulla doesn’t want to negotiate. He storms it and butchers the town. More massacres follow, such as a garrison of Fanim soldiers who mutineered and surrendered their fortress to a Ainoni Palatine only to be executed themselves. Uranyanak could tolerate heathens but not traitors.
Then, as though murder possessed its own unholy momentum, the Holy War’s occupation of the North Bank degenerated into wanton carnage, though for what reason, no one knew. Perhaps it was the rumors of poisoned dates and pomegranates. Perhaps bloodshed simply beget bloodshed. Perhaps faith’s certainty was as terrifying as it was beautiful. What could be more true than destroying the false?
As word spreads, the Fanim take refuge in their tabernacles only for the Inrithi to massacre them, the tabernacles destroyed. Anything Fanimry was destroyed. And those Inrithi faithful who had lived among Fanim rule, called Kerathotics, rose up, getting revenge on generations of persecution at the hands of their neighbors. The bloodshed became so frenzied, Men of the Tusk attacked each other by mistake. Shigek tried to surrender to Conphas to avoid bloodshed, but then mistakenly opened their gates for a Thunyeri force. Conphas tried to intervene, but were driven out after Yalgrota Sranchammer killed General Numemarius under a parley flag. The Fanim priest suffered the worse, tortured to death while their wives and daughters were raped.
Two weeks passed, then suddenly, as though some precise measure had been exacted, the madness lifted. In the end, only a fraction of the Shigeki population had been killed, but no traveler could pass more than an hour without crossing paths with the dead. Instead of humble boats of fishermen and traders, bloated corpses bobbed down the defiled waters of the Sempis and fanned out across the Meneanor Sea.
At long last, Shigek had been cleansed.
Kellhus climbs a ziggurat to survey the land, seeing another ancient land. He wonders if his father had seen this. Meanwhile, Achamian labors to climb the ziggurat and Kellhus tells a joke, asking why he’s taking so long. As Achamian continues his climb, Kellhus studies the ruined ziggurat.
Faith. Faith had raised this black-stepped mountain—the belief of long dead men.
So much, Father, and all in the name of delusion.
It scarcely seemed possible. And yet the Holy War wasn’t so different. In some ways it was a far greater, if more ephemeral, work.
Kellhus reflects on his own ziggurat he is building, the foundations laid. He has assumed the role of prophet after letting others thrust it on him. He is moving faster than he wants, but after Sarcellus almost killed him, he realizes he has to go faster. He needs to seize the Holy War before the Consult loses patience. “He had to make a ziggurat of these men.”
Kellhus wonders if his father had seen the skin-spies and that is why Kellhus was summoned. He sees all the thousands moving in the distance. Any could be a skin-spy. Achamian reaches the top, and Kellhus wonders how the sorcerer would react to learn about Kellhus’s war with the Consult. But Kellhus can’t let the Mandate get involved until he had power to equal there’s.
Kellhus turns to manipulating Achamian, bringing up Serwë’s name, making Achamian feel shame after his drunken tryst with the girl. Kellhus feigns suspicious that she might be unfaithful. Achamian pretends disinterest, but Kellhus reads the terror in the man.
Of all the souls Kellhus had mastered, few had proven as useful as Serwë. Lust and shame were ever the shortest paths to the hearts of world-born men. Ever since he’d sent her to Achamian the sorcerer had compensated for his half-remembered trespass in innumerable subtle ways. The old Conriyan proverb was true: no friend was more generous than the one ho has seduced your wife…
And generosity was precisely what he needed from Drusas Achamian.
“Nothing,” Kellhus said with a shake of his head. “All men fear their women venal, I suppose.” Some openings must be continually worked and worried, while others must be left to fester.
Achamian complains about his back, mentioning Esmenet. Kellhus has plans for her. “She too had a part to play.” Kellhus reflects on how Xinemus and Esmenet, those who love Achamian best, see him as week, even fragile. They often blunt their words towards him. Even Achamian think himself weak, but Kellhus sees differently. Achamian is the type of man who needs to be “hewed by the crude axe of the world. Tested.”
Kellhus asks Achamian how much a teacher has to give, flattering Achamian’s ego since he likes to think of himself as a teacher. Achamian gives a vague answer about it depending on the student. Kellhus presses and gets an contradictory answer. Unlike most men, Achamian likes “revealing the complexities that lurked beneath simple things.” Most men would rather see things as simple than to have to live with uncertainties. They begin talking about Proyas and how Achamian had hoped to teach him doubt and tolerance, lost to faith. Kellhus makes a quip to put Achamian at ease.
Kellhus laughed Xinemus’s laugh, then trailed, smiling. For some time he’d been mapping Achamian’s responses to the finer nuances of his expression. Though Kellhus had never met Inrau, he knew—with startling exactitude—the peculiarities of the young man’s manner and expression—so well that he could prompt Achamian to thoughts of Inrau with little more than a look or a smile.
They talk about fanaticism with Achamian claiming not all fanaticisms are equal. By bringing up Inrau, Kellhus has reminded Achamian about the duty the Mandate has put upon him and suggesting to Achamian that the Mandate and the Holy War are not different. Achamian says Truth distinguishes fanaticism even if the consequences (men die or suffer) are the same. It’s what they suffer or die for.
“So purpose—true purpose—justifies suffering, even death?” [asks Kellhus.]
“You must believe as much, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.”
Kellhus smiled as though abashed at having been exposed. “So it all comes to Truth. If one’s purpose are true…”
“Anything can be justified. Any torment, any murder…”
Kellhus rounded his eyes the way he knew Inrau would. “Any betrayal,” he said.
Achamian stared, his nimble face as stony as he could manage. But Kellhus saw past the dark skin, past the sheath of fine muscles, past even the soul that toiled beneath. He saw arcana and anguish, a yearning steeped in three thousand years of wisdom. He saw a child beaten and bullied by a drunken father. He saw a hundred generations of Nroni fishermen pinioned between hunger and the cruel seas. He saw Seswatha and the madness of war without hope. HE saw ancient Ketyai tribesmen surge down mountain slopes. He saw the animal, rooting and rutting, reaching back to time out of memory.
He didn’t see what came after; he saw what came before…
“Any betrayal,” the sorcerer repeated dully.
He is close.
Kellhus asks about Achamian’s cause, if it is Truth, asking if there is any act or betrayal Achamian will commit. Achamian doesn’t respond the way Kellhus expects, saying how what can sound so sure to one can sound outrageous when repeated by another. Kellhus sees this as good, a shorter path to manipulate Achamian.
“It troubles you,” Kellhus said, “because it shows that conviction is as cheap as words. Any man can believe unto death. Any man can claim your claim.”
So you fear I’m no different from any other fanatic.”
How deep does his conviction go?
“You are the Harbinger, Kellhus. If you dreamed Seswatha’s Dream as I did…”
“But couldn’t Proyas say the same of his fanaticism? Couldn’t he say, ‘If you spoke to Maithanet as I did’?”
How far will he follow it? To the death?
Achamian acknowledges that is the dilemma of faith. Kellhus pressing, asking who’s dilemma’s his or Achamian’s. The world’s dilemma. Kellhus pushes, mimicking Inrau, asking what that means for him if he his the Harbinger, that he predicts mankind’s extinction. Pushed to the limit, Achamian cries out that Kellhus has come for a reason, for a purpose. This Kellhus knows to be false, since it would mean something had to begin the world, had to cause it to happen, and that’s impossible to the Dûnyain. No effect could precede a cause. Not even sorcery appears to violate that law. Kellhus keeps pressing, asking what his purpose is. Achamian thinks it is to save the world.
Always it came to this. Always the same delusion.
“So I’m your cause?” Kellhus said incredulously. “I’m the Truth that justifies your fanaticism?”
Achamian could only stare in dread. Plundering the man’s expression, Kellhus watched the inferences splash and trickle through his soul, drawn of their own eight to a single, inexorable conclusion.
Everything… By his own admission, he must yield everything.
Even the Gnosis.
How powerful have you become, Father?
Without warning, Achamian stood and started down the monumental stair. He took each step with weary deliberation, as though counting them. The Shigeki wind tousled his shining black hair. When Kellhus called to him, he said only, “I tire of the heights.”
As Kellhus had known he would.
“See. Appraise. Act.” These are the words General Martemus lives by. The man believes in being clearheaded and practical. He lived his life by it. So his orders to watch Kellhus and gain his confidence appeared easy. He just had to fake a crisis of faith. But Martemus was learning it wasn’t so easy. He had to attend a dozen Imprompta before he was noticed.
Of course, Conphas, who always faulted his executors before his assumptions, had held Martemus responsible. There could be no doubt Kellhus was Cishaurim, because he was connected to Skeaös, who was indubitably Cishaurim. There could be no way the man knew that Martemus was bait, since Conphas had told no one of his plan other than Martemus. There, Martemus had failed, even if Martemus was too obstinate to see this for himself.
But this was merely one of the innumerable petty injustices Conphas had foisted on him over the years. Even if Martemus had cared to take insult, which was unlikely, he was far too busy being afraid.
Martemus now believes Kellhus to be a true prophet. He doesn’t believe this intellectually, being too practical, but the dichotomy of his thoughts has unnerved him. And the more he debated it, the more he questions if he can be loyal to Conphas. If Kellhus is a true prophet, how can he stay loyal to the man plotting against him? This is what scares him.
Martemus ponders his problem as he listens to Kellhus’s first sermon since the butchering in Shigek ended. As he waits, he realizes those around him are avoiding looking at him, frightened by his general uniform. He wants to say something to ease their fears, but can’t think of anything. He feels suddenly lonely.
Kellhus approaches and he wonders what he says. At first, Martemus assumed Kellhus would preach heresy, but he didn’t. He quotes sermons and nothing he says contradicts anything Martemus has heard preached. “It was as though the Prince pursued further truths, the unspoken implication of what all orthodox Inrithi already believed.” Martemus understand why Kellhus is called He-who-sheds-light-within.
His white silk robes shining in the sunlight, Prince Kellhus paused on the ziggurat’s lower steps and looked over the restless masses. There was something glorious about his aspect, as though he’d descended not from the heights but from the heavens. With a flutter of dread Martemus realized he never saw the man ascend the ziggurat, nor even step from the ruin of the ancient godhouse upon its summit. He had just…noticed him.
The General cursed himself for a fool.
Kellhus starts talking about Angeshraël the Burned Prophet and how, in his eagerness to bow down to the god Husyelt, knelt before a fire. Kellhus making a joke about it young men making errors out of eagerness. Husyelt commands Angeshraël to bow despite the fire. And he does, pressing his face into the flames. Martemus has heard the story, but this time he feels it Kellhus continues that they are like Angeshraël and are before the fire.
“Truth!” Prince Kellhus cried, as though calling out a name that every man recognized. “The fire of Truth. The Truth of what you are…”
Somehow his voice had divided, become a chorus.
“You are frail. You are alone. Those who would love you know you not. You lust for obscene things. You fear even your closest brother. You understand far less than you pretend…
“You—you!—are these things. Frail, alone, unknown, lusting, fearing, and uncomprehending. Even now you can feel these truths burn. Even now”—he raised a hand as though to further quiet silent men—“they consume you.”
He lowered his hand. “But you do not throw your face to the earth. You don not…”
His glittering eyes full upon Martemus, who felt his throat tighten, felt the small finishing-hammer of his heart tap-tap-tap blood to his face.
He sees through me. He witnesses…
Kellhus asks why they don’t kneel. God lies in the fire’s anguish. He tells them they each hold the key to their redemption. They kneel, but don’t bow because they are afraid, alone. Because they lust, they pretend. Martemus realizes Kellhus speaks of him. People weep as Kellhus asks for any to deny these truths. None answer. Kellhus accuses them of denying it anyways because they cheat their hearts, they lie about the fire, saying it’s not truth, that they’re not strong enough to endure. They deceive themselves.
How many times had Martemus lied thus? Martemus the practical man. Martemus the realistic man. How could he be these things if he knew so well of what Prince Kellhus spoke?
“But in these secret moments—yes, the secret moments—these denials ring hollow, do they not? In the secret moments you glimpse the anguish of Truth. In the secret moments you see that your life has been a mummer’s farce. And you weep! And you ask what is wrong! And you cry out, ‘Why cannot I be strong?”
He leapt down several steps.
“Why cannot I be strong?”
Martemus’s throat ached!—ached as though he himself had bawled these words.
“Because,” the Prince said softly, “you life.”
And Martemus thought madly: Skin and hair… He’s just a man!
Kellhus continue preaching about their self-deception. The tragedy of of it. How scripture urges me to be better than then frail, envious liars they are. “Men who remain frail because they cannot confess their frailty.” That one word changes everything for Martemus. He realized he is in the presence of the God. He finds it to be a miracle to be here, to finally truly be himself before the God. Kellhus screams at them to kneel before the fire, and Martemus cries out with the multitude, weeping with them.
Martemus is in a daze, vaguely remembering the rest of the sermon, as Kellhus talks about was as fire and “the very truth of our frailty.” He teaches them a song he learned in his dreams. “For the rest of his days, Martemus would awaken and hear that song.” Then Martemus joins the masses kneeling to kiss the hem of Kellhus’s robe. Now no one cared that he wore a general’s uniform. Kellhus says he has awaited the general. This excites the others. Kellhus says Conphas sent him but things have changed.
And Martemus felt a child before his father, unable to life, unable to speak truth.
The prophet nodded as though he had spoken. “What will happen to your loyalty, I wonder?”
Suddenly, a man tries to kill the Prophet. But Kellhus snags the attacker’s arm with “golden-haloed hand” and stops the knife from plunging into his flesh. Martemus is unconcerned as he realizes Kellhus cannot be killed. As the mob beats the assassin to death, Kellhus says to Martemus: “I would not divide your heart. Come to me again, when you are ready.”
Conphas is meeting with Proyas in private, warning him that Kellhus must be dealt with. Proyas seems amenable, and Proyas says they need to call a council and bring charges under the “auspices of the Tusk.” Using the Old Law. Proyas asks under what charge. For being a false prophet, but Proyas only grows angry.
Conphas laughed incredulously. He could remember once—long ago it now seemed—thinking he and Proyas would become fast and famous friends over the course of the Holy War. They were both handsome. They were both close in age. And in their respective corners of the Three Seas, they were considered prodigies of similar promise—that was, until his obliteration of the Scylvendi at the Battle of Kiyuth.
I have no peers.
Proyas won’t hear it, considering Kellhus his friend. Conphas demands if he’s heard of the sermons while at the same time berating Martemus for being a fool in his mind. Martemus acting like a fool when he isn’t one has Conphas worried about Kellhus. He presses, pointing out that the soldiers call Kellhus the Warrior-Prophet. Proyas does not care because Kellhus doesn’t claim to be a prophet. Conphas points out they march for the Latter Prophet of Inri Sejenus, but if Kellhus gains power, they will march for a new prophet.
Dead prophets were useful, because one could rule in their name. But live prophets? Cishaurim prophets?
Conphas debates telling Proyas about Skeaös while Proyas asks what Conphas expects him to do about Kellhus. Proyas believes the man is special, that he has dreams, but points out he doesn’t claim to be a prophet. Conphas says that doesn’t change him from being a False Prophet. Proyas asks why Conphas’s cares since he’s not pious. Conphas says that doesn’t matter, but Proyas disagrees. He talks about the time he’s spent with Kellhus, their talks on scripture, and nothing he says is heretical. He calls Kellhus “the most deeply pious man I’ve ever met.” He is disturbed that people call him a prophet, but Kellhus isn’t doing it. People are just weak.
Conphas felt sweet disdain unfold across his face. “Even you… He’s ensnared even you.”
What kind of man? Though he was loath to admit it, his briefing with Martemus had shook him deeply. Somehow, over a matter of weeks, this Prince Kellhus had managed to reduce his most dependable man to a babbling idiot. Truth! The frailty of men! The furnace!
What nonsense! And yet nonsense that was seeping through the Holy War like blood through linen. The Prince Kellhus was a wound. And if he was in fact a Cishaurim spy as dear old Uncle Xerius feared, he could well prove mortal.
Proyas is angry, attacking Conphas’s lack of faith and his ambition. But Conphas believes he has planted doubt into Proyas. Conphas turns to leave, done dealing with idiots, when Proyas stops him and asks about the assassination attempt. Conphas gives a flippant answer when Proyas says that the man was one of Conphas’s officers.
Conphas stared at the man blankly, realizing he’d been duped. All those questions… Proyas had asked them in order to implicate him, to see whether he had motive. Conphas cursed himself for a fool. Fanatic or not, Nersei Proyas was not a man to be underestimated.
This is becoming a nightmare.
“What?” Conphas asked. “You propose to arrest me?”
“You propose to arrest Prince Kellhus.”
Conphas grinned. “You would find it hard to arrest an army.”
“I see no army,” Proyas said.
Conphas smiled. “But you do…”
Conphas leaves, knowing Proyas can’t do anything. The Holy War needs his soldiers. He reflects on his aphorism that war is intellect, and he would teach Kellhus that. He joins his waiting cavalrymen, he brought two hundred for an escort since the Holy War remains scattered and there were Fanim raiders running about. He spots Martemus with his soldiers, wondering what happened to the man as Martemus watches without expression. He spits at the hooves of Martemus horse “like a Scylvendi” then glances back at Proyas’s pavilion.
He turned back to his wayward General.
“It appears,” he said in a fierce voice that wouldn’t carry, “that you aren’t the only casualty of the spy’s sorcerery, Martemus… When you kill this Warrior-Prophet, you will be avenging many, very many.”
Once again, Coithus Athjeäri is leading the scouts. Bakker does a great job making you excited to read about his adventures, often through the remote third-person POV of the historical sections of the novel. Athjeäri could almost have his own series about his adventures completely oblivious to all the political machinations and plotting and Dûnyaininess (yes, I made that word up, and I don’t care if it sounds silly) going on in the main story.
The River Sempis is very Nilesque (another word I made up, probably). A good trick for world building, take something already familiar to readers and use it as the foundation to build upon, to evoke a certain feeling in them.
So, as we can see, men vied in Shigek and it did not end well. A few misunderstandings, some impatient men, and then destructive rumors. Suddenly, the Holy War lost their discipline. Only the Imperial columns maintained theirs while everyone else was raping, pillaging, butchering, punishing their enemies, doing “gods” work. As much as Conphas is a slimy snake, he’s the guy I would surrender to over any of the other Inrithi. These sort of atrocities are common in warfare. It’s a dark thing. Humans have to put themselves into an us versus them mentality and stop seeing the other side as humans. And once that happens, it’s very easy to kill and brutalize. Unless, like that knight from the last chapter, you witness their humanity and it knocks you out that mindset.
Bakker does a good job giving plausible reasons for his characters to explore philosophy, in this case Kellhus musing on the irrationality of faith while standing atop a stone structure that would have taken decades to build and thousands of men working in concert to raise.
If we never had a POV from Kellhus, he would be the most likable character ever. Imagine this scene of Kellhus bringing up the possibility of Serwë’s infidelity from Achamian’s point of view, the feeling of shame and betrayal, wanting to make up for it even while to terrified to ever admit the truth. Because Kellhus is such a good man. An honest man. One who knows the truth and preaches it. He makes everyone around him better. And what did Achamian do? Slept with his wife. And now he sees the pain in Kellhus as the man wonders if Serwë might be unfaithful. How it must twist Achamian’s guts. We, the readers, would have all our sympathy with Kellhus.
But we don’t. It’s all with Achamian as we watch him being manipulated, played with. His life nothing but a tool for Kellhus to manipulate.
Kellhus, as always, is right about Achamian’s character needing to be hewn. As we see as the story goes forward, Achamian is “hewed by the crude axe of the world” and finds strength. He does what only one other character in series does later on.
Humans love simplicity. It’s why stories with such archetypal characters always resonate. The ones so different from our real lives with people acting how we wish the world was. Black and white. No complexities, no gray areas, no weakness of actions. We don’t want to really think about how things work, just accept them and move on. It takes a certain degree of freedom from everyday struggles to even get this mindset. If you can spend your time studying all day, pondering questions, it’s easier to shake off these illusions. When your day is spent waking up, doing the backbreaking labor to survive another day, and going to bed, well, you really don’t have the energy to think about complex things.
And here we see how Kellhus manipulates Achamian, and others, to think about past relationships by imitating vocal cues and expressions (Inrau and Xinemus), becoming a chameleon to provoke the responses he needs.
Anything can be justified when you believe you’re actions are moral. When you think you’re on the right side of history. You can persecute people for race, sex, beliefs, creeds, and more when you think you have the moral authority because you’ve found the Truth. It’s happening right now in our world.
Kellhus is salivating for the Gnosis. Not literally, obviously, he doesn’t have enough emotions for that, but you can tell as he uses Inrau’s death to prod Achamian down the path to surrendering the sorcery to make him equal to the Mandate so he could finally negotiate with them.
The conversation between Kellhus and Achamian on faith and fanaticism is engrossing. Kellhus needs to know how far Achamian will go in his dedication to the Mandate’s cause. He’s not sure if Achamian is a true fanatic. He’s experimenting right now, pushing him to go farther and farther, finding the line in his convictions, seeing if Achamian will betray the Mandate and give Kellhus the Gnosis.
And there it comes, Kellhus has manipulated Achamian to blurt out his beliefs about Kellhus himself, the reasons that Achamian found to support his passions to protect Kellhus. By making Kellhus not only the Harbinger, but also the Savior of the World, Achamian has found a reason to hide him from the Mandate. And now that he as acknowledged this Truth while at the same time having Kellhus remind him that any act in service of the Truth is a just act, like betraying the Gnosis to the Warrior Prophet.
“Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” David Hume, On Reason. According to Hume, we come up with reasons to satiate our passions. And we can see this philosophy in action with Achamian rationalizing his protection of the Harbinger.
Conphas identifies that Kellhus knows Martemus is bait and yet blames Martemus instead of his obvious plan. Conphas is a brilliant strategist, but his ego can get in the way. Everyone knows Martemus is his right hand man and that he opposes Kellhus. Even an idiot had to know why Martemus is there. But, of course, the great Conphas can never be wrong. His ego defeats his intellect time and time again.
I can hear Conphas’s condescending lecture to Martemus echoing through the prose of the text.
Martemus has one of the most fascinating character arcs in the series. At the start, you would never believe him capable of betraying Conphas. The man knows that Conphas is a narcissistic asshole, but also knows him to be a military genius, the man he was destined to support, to aid, the great Emperor who would save Nansur. And then a little bit of doubt enters his mind. It poisons him bit by bit. Once, he told Conphas he would save the Concubine, Conphas’s standard, over the Tusk, and now he is confronted with that choice in reality, with choosing the words of the gods over his earthly commander, and his prioritizes are shifting. It is easy to boast in the abstract but when confronted by circumstances, it can be so much harder.
Martemus is more a soldier than a noble. I bet he would fit in with the common people he sits among. But they are afraid of him. We’ve seen how nobles act in this world. Who wouldn’t be afraid of this man?
Martemus struggle is great, at one moment awed then his intellect reminding him that it can’t be true, calling himself a fool. He’s a war with himself.
Preachers often make jokes at the start of sermons like Kellhus does. It’s a good way to relax your audience before you get into the deep stuff. Get the crowd warmed-up, make sure you’re listening, then you hit them with the truths you have to tell. It can be powerful, and Kellhus is the master of it. His sermon is spoken for all and just for one man tonight. Martemus.
Humans do love their self-deception, and Kellhus is peeling it away to make martyrs. To make the sort of men that will die for him out of faith. It’s a mindset if you can achieve will get people to do anything for you.
Martemus is trying so hard to hold onto rational fact in the face of Kellhus’s sermon. As Kellhus truths. Doubts are assailing Martemus over and over. He’s fighting as hard as he can, but Kellhus wants him. Kellhus has plans for him. He is, after all, second-in-command of the Nansur columns.
Martemus is no longer alone after embracing Kellhus’s divinity. People want to belong. No one likes feeling alone. It can bind us to groups even when doubts make us question why we’re there. It can hold us in place, drive us to do acts just to fit in.
Kellhus knows Martemus is a loyal man. He can’t ask Martemus to betray Conphas. He needs Martemus to realize fully where his loyalty is. To the god or his earthly master. Of course, Kellhus knows this act will only bring Martemus back to him. Martemus is seeing him as divine, seeing the haloed hands.
The haloed hands is a much discussed topic. They are only seen by true believers in Kellhus’s divinity. Serwë sees them first, but now we have Martemus seeing them. There is nothing in the text that shows people who have seen them telling others about haloed hands to spark off a mass hallucination, and yet that’s how it appears. But this is a world where the Outside, the supernatural is real. Maybe the haloed hands are born out of a belief in the Three Seas that prophets must have them, or maybe when you believe in him, one of the Gods of the Outside lets you see it. It might be a mass delusion, but I am leaning towards something intrinsic into this world’s metaphysics, like the Judging Eye we meet in the second series, or topoi. The Outside is bleeding into the world around Kellhus’s hands. This might explain how Kellhus pulls Serwë’s heart out of his chest at the end of the novel.
Oh, Conphas, you could never be friends with anyone. You were just deluding yourself, believing that Proyas would be this perfect companion to only enhance your prestige without even considering his agency.
Dead prophets are useful for the powerful. But there’s nothing like a man taking away the loyalty of the common folk and undermining your power base to get you scared, eh, Conphas? Especially when your only confidant, the most solid man you know, is transforming into a fanatic before your eyes. We’re also seeing the groundwork laid in for the novel’s climax here. So long as Proyas has faith in Kellhus, Conphas can’t enact his False Prophet Trial. But if Kellhus was careless (like that happens) and allows Proyas to see something disturbing…
Conphas’s hatred of Kellhus is rooted in both fear of losing his power and fear of his enemies destroying them. Yes, he’s wrong that Kellhus is a Cishaurim spy, but he’s not wrong that Kellhus is a threat to the Holy War. Kellhus is transforming it, and he can see it. And he’s maddened that no one else can or cares. That would drive a normal person nuts, let alone a narcissist like Conphas.
And once again, Conphas’s ego gets in his way. He truly thought he could convince the pious Proyas, a man who has Kellhus staying in his army’s camp, who sponsored him to the other Great Names, would turn his back on him just because Conphas has concerns he’s a false prophet. And instead, he walked into a trap. I think Conphas needs to stick to the battlefield.
And now Kellhus is having another secret war with Conphas. Well, to Conphas it is a war, to Kellhus, I imagine, it’s an annoyance. Unlike his war with the Consult. Sadly for Conphas’s ego, everything he does ends up furthering Kellhus’s plan. As we’ve seen, Kellhus has either anticipated the Circumfix (the result of a trial by Tusk) or was granted a vision of it (which I lean towards). But Conphas’s actions will have consequences. And for a first time reader, this is exciting. Will Martemus betray Kellhus or Conphas? Who will win his loyalty?
And since we like Martemus and hate Conphas, we’re all rooting for Kellhus’s success. I suspect Kellhus seduces every first time reader. We’re predisposed to root for the “heroic” archetype Kellhus superficially occupies. It’s only after it’s over, when we look back on the story, can we see how Bakker manipulated us.
I think it’s why I love this series.