Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 2: The Warrior Prophet
by R. Scott Bakker
The Second March
One can look into the future, or one can look at the future. The latter is by far the more instructive.
—AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN
If one doubts that passion and unreason govern the fate of nations, one need only look to meetings between the Great. Kings and emperors are unused to treating with equals, and are often excessively relieved or repelled as a result. The Nilnameshi have a saying, “When princes meet, they find brothers or themselves,” which is to say, either peace or war.
—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR
The first quote is talking about the difference between predicting the future and planning for it. Many claim to “predict” the future through various means of prognostication, especially in the setting of this book. Achamian alone is relying on one of these predictions. Normally, planning for the future based on lived experience is often a prudent thing.
It is interesting that Xerius nods to three people as he rides his chariot out of the Imperial Precinct: his mother (of course, he is a mama’s boy), General Kumuleus (a man whose political support gave him the throne), and Arithmeas, his augur. Xerius has not read Ajencis or didn’t took the man’s lessons to heart.
Kellhus is looking at the future at the end of the chapter when suddenly he is looking into the future. But not in a fake way like the augurs and astrologers that Ajencis is critiquing. As we see in this series, the Outside can break causality. The future truly can be glimpsed.
When nations are led by men, you have to expect them to do acts that are as illogical and emotional as any act a human alone can commit. Xerius, again, is keen to give us an example of Achamian’s quote in action.
Early Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn
Xerius is fuming having been summoned by Maithanet, the Shriah. He ponders his new Grand Seneschal Ngrau, trusting the man’s judgment in selecting the right person to hand Xerius his chariot’s reins, a ceremonial act of great significance and must be selected carefully. Thinking of his trust of Ngrau opens the wounds of Skeaös betrayal. He wonders how long it will hurt him.
As he rides, Xerius nods at a select few individuals, bestowing his imperial attention. He has learned from his mother and the bloody history of his past emperors that a balance had to be struck, not to be too trusting, too wasteful, too cruel. She had told him: “The world doesn’t constrain us, so we must constrain ourselves—like the Gods…” Xerius believes himself to be disciplined.
His chariot enters the city where people gather. Xerius believes Maithanet has let the city know of their meeting, to make it public. At first, he thinks they wave and salutes back, but then realizes they’re jeering and shouting. He’s shocked, embarrassed that they mocked his waves. The crowd grows. His perfumed censors cannot keep their odor at bay. He reminds himself to be disciplined, believing Maithanet provokes him. Xerius realizes the Momemnites hate him.
But this would change, he reminded himself. When all was finished, when the fruits of his labour had become manifest, they would hail him as no other emperor in living memory. They would rejoice as trains of heathen slaves bore tribute to the Home City, as blinded kings were dragged in chains to their Emperor’s feet. And with shielded eyes they would gaze upon Ikurei Xerius III and they would know—know!—that he was indeed the Aspect-Emperor, returned from the ashes of Kyraneas and Cenei to compel the world, to force nation and tribe to bow and kiss his knee.
I will show them! They will see!
Xerius’s chariot and escort of soldiers reach Cmiral’s plaza, the large temple complex of Momemn. It is choked with people. His escort forces there way through with clubs while the people chant “Maithanet!” over and over. Xerius fears the Shriah has whipped the mob into a frenzy to assassinate him in a riot. But the crowd surges, forcing the swords to be drawn and men to die.
The Charioteer steaded his team, glanced nervously at him [Xerius].
You look an Emperor in the eye?
“Go!” Xerius roared. “Into them! Go!”
Laughing, he leaned from the runners and spat upon his people, upon those who cried another’s name when Ikurei Xerius III stood godlike in their midst. If only he could spit molten gold!
Slowly, the chariot trundled ahead, lurching and throwing him forward as the wheels chipped over the fallen. His stomach burned with fear, his bowels felt loose, but there was wildness in his thoughts, a delirium that exulted in death’s proximity. One by one, the torch-bearers were pulled under, but the Kidruhil stood fast, battling their way ever forward, hacking their way among the masses, their swords rising and falling, rising and falling, and it seemed to Xerius that he punished the mongrels with his arm, that it was he who reached forward and chopped them to the ground.
Laughing maniacally, the Emperor of Nansur passed among his people, toward the growing immensity of temple Xothei.
The emperor’s decimated party reached the safety of the temple. He orders a captain to butcher the square, wanting his “chariot to skid across blood.” His fury dies when he hears the crowd mocking him more and hastily enters the temple in fear. He collapses the moments the doors close. He feels like a fool, glad Conphas wasn’t here to witness this. He can still hear Maithanet’s name being shouted. He spots the Shriah kneeling alone in the cavernous temple and walks to them, straightening his clothing. He reaches the Shriah, angered that Maithanet doesn’t rise and face him. Maithanet is pleased Xerius has come, and the Emperor demands to know why.
The broad back turned. Maithanet was wearing a plain white frock with sleeves that ended mid-arm. For an instant he appraised Xerius with glittering eyes, then he raised his head to the distant sound of the mob, as though it were the sound of rain prayed for and received. Xerius could see the strong chin beneath the black of his oiled beard. His face was broad, like that of a yeoman, and surprisingly youthful, though nothing about the man’s manner spoke of youth. How old are you?
“Listen!” Maithanet hissed, raising his hands to the resonant sound of his name. Maithanet-Maithanet-Maithanet…
“I am not a proud man, Ikurei Xerius, but it moves me to hear them call thus.”
Xerius finds himself awed but he ignores it, saying he doesn’t want to play games. Maithanet says he’s here about the Holy War. He has to look into Xerius’s eyes. This disconcerted Xerius despite him knowing this meeting would be high stakes. Then Maithanet asks straight out if Xerius has conspired with the Heathens to destroy the war. Xerius lies, answers no.
“I’m injured, Shriah, that you would—”
Maithanet’s laughter was sudden, loud, reverberant enough to fill even the hollows of great Xothei.
Xerius fairly gasped. The Writ of Psata-Antyu, the code governing Shrial conduct, forbade laughing aloud as carnal indulgence. Maithanet, he realized, was giving him a glimpse of his depths. But for what purpose? All of this—the mobs, the demand to meet here in Xothei, even the chanting of his name—was demonstration of some kind, terrifying in its premeditated lack of subtlety.
I’ll crush you, Maithanet was saying. If the Holy War fails, you’ll be destroyed.
Maithanet apologies, saying the holy war “may be poisoned by false rumors.” Xerius believes Maithanet is trying to cow him, and grows angry to cover his panic. He reflects how he can hate far more than Conphas, his nephew capable of it but too easily slips back into his “glassy remoteness.” Hatred never left Xerius. The Shriah then invites Xerius to listen to the crowd, and Xerius realizes how the man gained such power: “the ability to impart sanctity to the moment, to touch people with awe as though it were bread drawn from his own basket.”
But over the course of this brief exchange, the sounds of thousands chanting Maithanet’s name had transformed, hesitantly at first, but with greater certitude with each passing moment. Changed.
Obviously, the nameless Captain had executed his Emperor’s instructions with blessed alacrity. Xerius grinned his own winning grin. At last he felt a match for this obscenely imposing man.
“Do you hear, Maithanet? Now they call out my name.”
“Indeed they do,” the Shriah said darkly. “Indeed they do.”
Later Summer, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Hinnereth, on the coast of Gedea
After weeks of preparation, the Siege of Hinnereth has begun. The Holy War has constructed great siege machines to take the city. Bakker gives a history of the city, how it has always been a tributary, changing hands as the fortunes of nations wax and wane. The first assault begins and it is a disaster. A delegation is scent to the Scarlet Spire asking for their help, but they won’t fight short of reaching Shimeh or to engage the Cishaurim. The Great Names ask for just a breach, but Eleäzaras vehemently refuses. So another assault is prepared.
While the siege happens, bands of knights range the coast, raiding villages and towns. Athjeäri is very effective, routing a small army and taking a garrison. He kills any who surrendered but refused to denounce Fane and embrace Inrithism. The rest are sold as slaves. Other fortresses also fall.
On the eve of the second assault, the Holy War wakes up to find the Nansur fleet in the harbor and the city gates are open, the Nansur flag flying over the walls. “Hinnereth had fallen, not to the Holy War, but to Emperor Ikurei Xerius III.” Conphas, at first, refuses the Council’s summons. When he does arrive, he explains how he negotiated with the Gedean Sapatishah. After the brutality of the Holy War raiders, he decided to surrender to the Nansur to spare his people. “In matters of mercy, Martemus said, a known enemy was always more preferable than an unknown.” The Holy War isn’t happy that they are barred from looting the city, but those were part of the surrender terms. Saubon is furious. He claims that Hinnereth was his, “just spoils of his victory on the Battleplain.” He had to be restrained from assaulting Conphas. They placate Saubon, telling him Gedea is poor lands. Better prizes in Shigek await.
After a council among Proyas’s nobles, joined by Kellhus and Cnaiür, Proyas asks Xinemus is stay behind by Proyas. Once alone, Xinemus asks what troubles his prince. He has questions and hesitates when pressed before admitting about Kellhus.
Xinemus raised his eyebrows. “He troubles you?”
Proyas hooked a hand behind his neck, grimaced. “In all honesty, Zin, he’s the least troubling man I’ve ever known.”
“And that’s what troubles you.”
Many things troubled him [Proyas], not the least of which was the recent disaster at Hinnereth. They’d been outmaneuvered by Conphas and the Emperor. Never again.
He had no time and little patience for these…personal matters.
He asks Xinemus opinion of Kellhus, and the marshal admits he’s terrified of Kellhus, explaining that though he’s eaten and gotten drunk with Kellhus, he can’t explain how the man effects him, makes him better. Proyas agrees he has that effect. Xinemus studies Proyas, making the prince feel like a boy lying about being a man. Xinemus continues, commenting that Kellhus, by his own admission, is still a man when Proyas interrupts him to ask after Achamian. Xinemus is shocked. Proyas had forbidden Achamian’s name in the past. Proyas is curious. Warily, Xinemus tells about his relationship with Esmenet, how he’s happy and in love. Proyas has heard of the former whore, and Xinemus is quick to defend her. Xinemus continues about Achamian, saying he’s not even talking about the Consult or his dreams. Proyas would approve.
“So he’s in love,” Proyas said, shaking his head. “Love!” he exclaimed incredulously. “Are you sure?” A grin overpowered him.
Xinemus fairly cackled. “He’s in love, all right. He’s been stumbling after his pecker for weeks now.”
Proyas laughed and looked to the ground. “So he has one of those, does he?” Akka in love. It seemed both impossible and strangely inevitable.
Men like him need love… Men unlike me.
Xinemus further says Esmenet is fond of him. Proyas mentions Achamian is a sorcerer and that sobers the conversation. Proyas’s faith rears up, annoyed by Xinemus’s mulish acceptance of Achamian being a sorcerer. Then Proyas asks if Achamian still teaches Kellhus. Xinemus says yes, then says that Proyas wants “to believe Kellhus is more.” Proyas burst out he was right about Saubon down to the details.
“And yet,” Xinemus continued, frowning at the interruption, “he openly consorts with Achamian. With a sorcerer…”
Xinemus mockingly had spoken the word as other men spoke it: like a thing smeared in shit.
Proyas turns away, and asks Xinemus’s opinion. He says that Kellhus is like him, and Proyas once upon a time, seeing Achamian as good despite his sin. Proyas grows angry, interrupting, quoting the Tusk which says to burn them for being Unclean. He accuses Kellhus and Xinemus of consorting with an abomination. The Marshal doesn’t believe that.
Proyas fixed him with his gaze. Why did he feel so cold?
“Then you cannot believe the Tusk.”
The Marshal blanched, and for the first time the Conriyan Prince saw fear on his old sword-trainer’s face—fear! He wanted to apologize, to unsay what he’d said, but the cold was so unyielding…
I simply go by the Word!
If one couldn’t trust the God’s own voice, if one refused to listen—even for sentiment’s sake!—then everything became skepticism and scholarly disputation. Xinemus listened to his heart, and this was at once his strength and his weakness. The heart recited no scripture.
“Well then,” the Marshal said thinly. “You needn’t worry about Kellhus any more than you worry about me…”
Proyas narrowed his eyes and nodded.
After sunset, Kellhus sits on a cliff staring down at the Holy War, Hinnereth, and the Meneanor Sea. He didn’t see any of it with his eyes. He is in the probability trance, exploring his options, thinking about Eärwa and how it is “enslaved by history, custom, and animal hunger, a world driven by the hammers of what came before.” He thinks on Achamian, the Apocalypse, politics, factions, and wars. He thinks about the Gnosis and “the prospect of near limitless power.” He thinks of Esmenet and her “slender thighs and piercing intellect.” He thinks of a wary truce fashioned with the Consult “born of enigma and hesitation.” Of Saubon and his lust for power. Of Cnaiür, his growing madness and threat. He thinks of the holy war and asks his father what he should do.
Possible worlds blew through him, fanning and branching into a canopy of glimpses…
Nameless Schoolmen climbing a steep, gravely beach. A nipple pinched between fingers. A gasping climax. A severed head thrust against the burning sun. Apparitions marching out of morning mist.
A dead wife.
Kellhus exhaled, then breathed deep the bittersweet pinch of cedar, earth, and war.
There was revelation.
Of course Xerius is acting like a petulant child when he has to go see the Shriah. After all, Isn’t Xerius a god? Of course Maithanet would disagree and it is a brutal reminder to Xerius just how weak his political power is compared to the church, especially since his gambit to indenture the Holy War has failed.
Skeaös may have been the closet thing Xerius had to a friend. Of course he’s hurt by his betrayal. It’s a touch of humanism for the emperor. Bakker has great skill riding the line between intelligence and foolish, competence and failure with Xerius. He’s always on the edge of one or the other, just not quite there.
Xerius’s ego is on full display on the ride from his palace, first assuming that the shouting throng is waving to him, cheering him, happy to see their emperor. He so badly misreads them, that he allows himself to be mocked. Then when he realizes they hate him, well, his
Xerius loses his discipline at Cmiral. His ego overrides his fear of sparking a riot as he orders his chariot to trample the fallen. I mean, he laughs maniacally as his soldiers switch to swords to kill their way through the mob. Too much cruelty, Xerius. Remember your mother’s lessons.
Wow, Xerius’s ego is great. He has to have a wooden walkway for him to use so he can walk higher than “mere men.” And then he thinks butchering his people is discipline. But it is the exact opposite. He has lost control of both his people through his terrible rule and himself by reacting emotionally to them. Now he’s only going to make them hate him more to satiate his ego.
We see that Maithanet is young but doesn’t carry himself with youth. He’s experienced. It’s a very important detail that fits with what we learn about the man’s origins in the next book. Xerius finds himself awed by the man, reacting the way Maithanet wants him to. It’s skillful manipulation of Xerius. He’s off-balanced by the mob hating him and loving another, a direct attack on his ego.
See the lies Xerius tells himself after his realization of Maithanet’s threat to destroy him should the Holy War fail. Xerius can’t accept the truth that his plans have been unveiled. But it’s obvious to the reader, Maithanet knows. How? What do we know about him? He came from Fanim lands. He has blue eyes. He’s a manipulator. And he can see the Few. Very interesting character.
Interesting that Xerius uses Conphas to measure his own heart’s emotions. Xerius doesn’t get it, but he knows Conphas wants the throne, and he is staving off the day when his nephew becomes Emperor. He has to keep himself convinced he’s better than Conphas, smarter, hates more. More importantly, he needs his nephew to believe that, too, to forestall any coup attempts like we saw in Book 1.
And now Xerius thinks that butchering a crowd is at all equal to inspiring the fervor in that giant crowd to chant your name. He has propped up his ego once more and it only required hundreds to die. Achamian’s quote at the start of his chapter on display.
And now we jump some weeks to the siege of Gedea. Time can be hard to follow sometimes in Bakker’s book. We went from Early Summer to Late Summer. Maybe a month or longer has passed since Mengedda.
The opening paragraph is great prose describing the terrain as it funnels the Holy War to the city. We have switched once again from the personal, close 3rd Person POV that characterizes the majority of the book to the more remote, almost historical, 3rd Person Bakker uses to unfold his world building or describe battles. It is an effective technique.
Eleäzaras holds true to his promise to hold back the Scarlet Spire until the end. Not even a single breach of the wall. He won’t risk the Few to take one city.
We get a taste of the brutality of a holy war as Athjeäri only spares the Fanim that convert. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from selling them as slaves and making some money.
Great move on Conphas’s part to capture Hinnereth, even if it was probably just to spite Saubon. After all, Conphas was furious that Saubon was declared Battle-Celebrant after his reckless actions almost doomed the Holy War. And it also is a show to the Fanim that the Empire will be trusted to uphold their word and betray the Holy War.
I like the fact that Proyas wants to be focused on the war and it annoys him that his “personal matters” with Kellhus are a distraction. And it’s interesting that he’s troubled by how he’s not troubled by Kellhus being a prophet, he’s ready to accept that, but because he consorts with Achamian.
Proyas and Xinemus laughing over Achamian’s love life is a very touching moment. Proyas has been very remote, under so much pressure that he hasn’t really relaxed. But now he is. And over Achamian of all people. Proyas hides it, his zeal for his faith beating down his love for his teacher. “Stumbling around after his own pecker” is a great phrase.
And then it gets somber as Proyas believes he doesn’t need love. He’s hardening himself against his need to be loved by Achamian. He’s still that boy, as Xinemus makes him feel, and he wants that relationship back with Achamian.
And then we see what stops him. His faith. That cold, unbending believe in the Tusk’s scripture. He can’t relax it even as it destroys his relationship with his other mentor. He claims he doesn’t need love at all. And he’s just lost another man who could give it to him.
So, Kellhus, in the probability trance, thinking about many things (including the possibilities that Esmenet has towards breeding Dûnyain sons and his desire to gain the Gnosis from Achamian) when he has a revelation. (And if you’re not convinced, just remember their’s a book in the bible called The Revelations of the Apostle John, where visions of the future are revealed to John).
He doesn’t see a possibility. No, he has a vision of the future. It’s hidden by Bakker as a probability trance, but the key word is there at the end of the chapter. Revelation. He has been shown something. By what or whom… my money is on the No God. After all, he’s passed through Mengedda, a place that affects people.
For the first time, the Outside has touched him. He is given a glimpse of the future. He sees what happens at the end of the novel. Can’t remember what the Nameless Schoolman references, but I suspect the “nipple pinched between fingers” and “gasping climax” refers to his seduction of Esmenet. A severed head thrust against the burning sun would be Cnaiür killing Sarcellus and revealing skin spies to the Holy War. Apparitions marching out of morning mist is how the novel ends, the starving, beleaguered host marching out of Caraskand and falling upon the Fanim.
A dead wife… Serwë. Kellhus saw her death was coming. He knew he would lose a wife. And he made sure it wasn’t Esmenet because he needed her to breed sons and Serwë was just a pretty face. I personally think this one act, sacrificing Serwë, breaks Kellhus completely and comes to define his actions in the second series. (The revelation about Serwë’s fate in the afterlife from The Great Ordeal). Well, have to wait for July and the conclusion of the Aspect Empire to know if I’m right.
I’m going to keep an eye out for the Nameless Schoolman and a gravely beach going forward. I believe I’m write on the other things he sees.