Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 2: The Warrior Prophet
by R. Scott Bakker
The First March
Ignorance is trust
—Ancient Kûniüric Proverb
What a true statement. When you don’t know the real things a person is saying, doing, or thinking, it is easy to trust them. If you don’t know they’re talking behind your back and undermining your chance at, say, a promotion, then you have no reason not to trust them when they say they’re helping you.
Now how does this apply to our current chapter? Who is ignorant? Well, all men are ignorant of the darkness that comes before, something that Kellhus is constantly exploiting. We have Achamian in this chapter warring with himself whether or not to turn over Kellhus to the Mandate. H doesn’t want to hand him over. Ignorant of the truth of Kellhus, Achamian finds him trusting the Dûnyain
Late Spring 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, south of Momemn
Drusas Achamian, our sorcerer and spymaster protagonist, sits in his tent muttering an incantation. “Though the moon-shining length of the Meneanor Sea lay between him and Atyersus, he walked the ancient halls of his School—walked among sleepers.” Achamian moves from dream to dream, nightmare to nightmare, until he finds Nautzera, dreaming as Seswatha and cradling the dead king Anasûrimbor Celmomas. A dragon lands and breathes fire, killing the soldiers around Nautzera, but he is protected by sorcerous wards. Achamian knows what will happen in the dream, he’s experienced it many times.
“Our Lord,” the dragon grated, “hath tasted thy King’s passing, and he saith, ‘It is done.’”
Nautzera stood before the golden-horned abomination. “Not while I draw breath, Skafra!” he cried. “Never!”
Laughter, like the wheezing of a thousand consumptive men. The Great Dragon reared his bull-chest above the sorcerer, revealing a necklace of steaming human heads.
“Thou art overthrown, sorcerer. They tribe hath perished, dashed like a potter’s vessel by our fury. The earth is sown with they nation’s blood, and soon thine enemies will compass thee with bent bow and whetted bronze. Wilt thou repent thy folly? Wilt though not abase thyself before our Lord?”
“As do you, mighty Skafra? As the exalted Tyrant of Cloud and Mountain abases himself?”
Membranes flickered across the dragon’s quicksilver eyes. A blink. “I am not a God.”
Nautzera smiled grimly. Seswatha said, “Neither is your lord.”
Skafra is not pleased by the answer. As the dragon attacks, Nautzera notices Achamian and is confused. Their souls touch and they speak through thoughts. Nautzera is shocked Achamian is alive. The concern shocks Achamian, Nautzera has never liked him. “But then Seswatha’s Dreams had a way of sweeping aside petty enmities.” Achamian reports he is with the Holy War and that it marches on Kian, the debate over the Emperor’s indenture resolved. He shows images of the mighty host marching.
Nautzera asks if Achamian learned anything about Maithanet and his reasons for calling the Holy War. Achamian has not, saying his former Student Proyas, a great prince and one of the leaders of the Holy War, belongs to Maithanet.
What is it with your students, Achamian? Why do they all turn to our rivals, hmm? The ease with which Nautzera had recovered his sarcasm both stung and curiously relieved Achamian. The grand old sorcerer would need his wits for what followed.
Achamian relates what happened in the Emperor’s dungeon at the end of the last book, the unveiling of the skin spy. Achamian has found the Consult, the ancient enemy of the Mandate and the world. He shows the imagery, proving that the skin spy are not marked by sorcerery. Despite Achamian hating Nautzera, he went to him first because he is a fanatic, a Mandate Schoolman who still believes in the Consult after centuries of their absence. He is shocked by what Achamian has seen, realizing the Consult has mastered new arts of the Tekne, the Old Science. He tells Achamian to share the dream with others.
But what? There’s more?
Far more. An Anasûrimbor had returned, a living descendant of the dead king Nautzera had just dreamed.
Nothing of significance, Achamian replied. Why had he said this? Why conceal Anasûrimbor Kellhus from the Mandate? Why protect—
Nautzera interrupts Achamian’s thoughts, urging him to tell all the Quorum this dream. Nautzera realizes what it means if the Consult can put their spies in even the Imperial Court, they could infiltrate anyone. “Send this dream to the entire Quorum! All Atyersus trembles this night.”
The next morning, Achamian is walking with his mule Daybreak down the Sogian Way as the sun rises, reflecting on the beauty of the morning. He is reeling. He was used to the waking world not possessing the horrors of his dreams. Bad things happened, but not like the atrocities of two thousand years ago. That had changed he realizes, staring at the Men of the Tusk, the vast army crossing the country side.
The vast host had broken up as they marched through the Empire partly out of prudence for foraging in case the Emperor failed to provision him, but also because the Great Names couldn’t decide on the route south. Achamian finds that a bad start, but his friend Xinemus thinks it is a good thing because Proyas, Xinemus’s lord, chose the road. On a map, it looked longer, but the other hosts cutting across the countryside will learn that roads allow for faster travel. “Even the Scylvendi know roads are fucking better!”
Achamian skulls in the baggage train with his mule during the march. Achamian wonders why he is in the baggage train instead of riding with the Great Names like Seswatha would have. He could. Proyas would, grudgingly, allow Achamian to ride with his party. At first he wonders if it is nostalgia or habit when he realized what it was—aversion. He realizes he is hiding from Kellhus, avoiding him, going out of his way because he feared scrutiny of others, including Kellhus, and because he kept staring at the beautiful Serwë and not like the worshipful way she stares at Kellhus.
Am I going mad?
Several times now, he’d found himself cackling aloud for no apparent reason. Once or twice he’d raised a hand to his cheek to discover he’d been weeping Each time he’d simply mumbled away his shock: few things are more familiar, he supposed, than finding oneself a stranger. Besides, what else could he do? Rediscovering the Consult was cause enough to go mad about the edges, certainly. But to suspect—no, to know—that the Second Apocalypse was beginning… And to be alone with such knowledge!
How could someone like him bear such weight?
Achamian grapples with telling the Mandate about finding Kellhus, but he knows Nautzera would have Kellhus seized and interrogated. Everything had changed in the Andiamine Heights. No longer was the Consult an abstract thing to Achamian, it was far too real. Achamian finds knowing worse than speculating.
But he can’t understand why he conceals Kellhus. “Within the space of days, the Three Seas had assumed the same bloated dimensions as the world he suffered night after night.” It frustrates Achamian that he says nothing. He vows that he will tell them tonight.
Kellhus appears, acting jovial, and Achamian finds himself reacting with equal levity, trying to banish dark thoughts. They joke. Achamian is surprised to find Kellhus walking. Caste Nobles never walked when they could ride.
Kellhus winked. “I thought I’d let my ass ride me for a change.”
Achamian laughed, feeling as though he’d been holding his breath and could only now exhale. Since that first evening outside Momemn, Kellhus had made him feel this way—as though he could breathe easy. When he’d mentioned this to Xinemus, the Marshal had shrugged and said “Everyone farts, sooner or later.”
Kellhus points out that Achamian promised to tutor him and begins leading Achamian’s mule. Kellhus asks the name of the mule, which shocks Achamian with the banality of the question. Not even Xinemus ever asked it, not caring. Kellhus sees Achamian’s turmoil and Achamian realizes “He reads me like any scroll.”
“Is it so easy?” Achamian asked. “So easy to see?”
“What does it matter?”
“It matters,” he said, blinking tears and turning to face Kellhus once again. So I weep! something desolate within him cried. So I weep!
“Ajencis,” he continued, “once wrote that all men are frauds. Some, the wise, fool only others. Others, the foolish, fool only themselves. And a rare few fool both others and themselves—they are the rulers of Men… But what about men like me, Kellhus? What about men who fool no one?”
And I call myself a spy!
Kellhus shrugged. “Perhaps they are less than fools and more than wise.”
Kellhus again asks what troubles Achamian. He deflects, instead answering the question about his mule’s name. Daybreak. “For a Mandate Schoolman, no name was more lucky.”
Achamian reflects on teaching Kellhus over the next few days, in awe of the man’s intellect. They discuss every topic, plants, animals, philosophy, and history. There is no curriculum. Achamian answers Kellhus’s curiosity, letting the student guide the discussion. Achamian is soon in awe of Kellhus’s intellect. No matter the topic “the Prince unerringly struck upon the matter’s heart.” Achamian finds Kellhus offering “explanations and interpretations as fine as any Achamian had read.”
“How?” Achamian blurted on one occasion.
“How what?” Kellhus replied.
“How is it that…that you see these things? No matter how deep I peer…”
Kellhus laughs it off and simply calls it a gift. Achamian is stunned by it. He was more than a genius. Achamian is shocked by how the man thinks. It is like Kellhus Is from a different age entirely.
Most, by and large, were born narrow, and cared to see only that which flattered them. Almost without exception, they assumed their hatreds and yearnings to be correct, no matter what the contradictions, simply because they felt correct. Almost all men prized the familiar path over the true. That was the glory of the students, to step from well-worn path and risk knowledge that oppressed, that horrified. Even still, Achamian, like all teachers, spent as much time uprooting prejudices as implanting truths. All souls were stubborn in the end.
Not so with Kellhus. Nothing was dismissed outright. Any possibility could be considered. It was as though his soul moved over something trackless. Only truth led him to conclusions.
Kellhus asks questions after questions, challenging Achamian’s own interpretations of events. It makes Achamian reflect on his youth when he argued with his teacher Simas, wondering why the older man couldn’t see what, to Achamian, was so clear. Never once do they ever cover the same topic again. Achamian realizes that even as he teaches Kellhus, Kellhus teaches him.
Who am I? he would often think, listening to Kellhus’s melodious voice. What do you see?
They move on to talk about the First Apocalypse, which Achamian finds easy to bring up but hard to discuss. He had lived it, so talking about it in detail is like taking about any other traumatic experience, welling up all the emotions. And Kellhus only makes it worse, reminding Achamian that he betrays his school by not telling them about Kellhus. One day, Kellhus asks about the No-God. Achamian is shocked that someone from Atrithau wouldn’t already know about the No-God. Kellhus says he’s read the Sagas, but wants first-hand accounting. Achamian has seen them.
No, Achamian wanted to say, Seswatha has seen these things. Seswatha.
Instead he studied the distance, gathering his thoughts. He clutched his hands, which felt as light as balsa.
You’ve seen these things. You…
“He has, as you likely know, many names. Men of ancient Kûniüri called him Mog-Pharau, from which we derived ‘No-God.’ In ancient Kyraneas, he was simply called Tsurumah, the ‘Hated One.’ The Nonmen of Ishoriol called him—with the peculiar poetry that belongs to all their names—Cara-Sincurimoi, the ‘Angel of Endless Hunger’… He is well named. Never has the world known a greater evil… A greater peril.”
Kellhus asks if he is an unclean spirit. Achamian answers he is not a demon. “He is more and his less…” Kellhus tries to change the subject and Achamian goes on about how he saw the No-God fight the Kyraneas at the Plains of Mengedda. Achamian realizes he has forgotten something. Kellhus asks what.
“That the Holy War would be crossing the Plains of Mengedda. That I would soon trod earth that had witnessed the No-God’s death…” He looked to the southern hills. Soon the Unaras Spur, which marked the ends of the Inrithi world, would resolve from the horizon. And on the far side…
“How could I have forgotten?”
“There’s so much to remember,’ Kellhus said. “Too much.”
“Which means too much has been forgotten,” Achamian snapped, unwilling to absolve himself of this oversight. I need my wits! The very world…
Kellhus thinks Achamian is being too harsh on himself, but Achamian reminds him what the No-God was like “Every infant stillborn for eleven years—for eleven years, Kellhus!” He relates how “every womb a grave.” Everyone could feel the No-God in their heart, now which direction it lay. He talks about the High North destroyed, Kyraneas on the verge of defeat, their capital sacked. On the Plains of Mengedda, the Kyranease awaited the foe, Seswatha at the side of Anaxophus V, the High King and an old friend to Seswatha.
Achamian abruptly stopped, turning to the north. “Imagine,” he said, opening his arms to the sky. “The day wasn’t unlike this, though the air smelled of wild blossoms… Imagine! A great shroud of thunderheads, as broad as the horizon and as black as crow, boiling across this sky, spilling towards us like hot blood over glass. I remember threads of lightning flashing among the hills. And beneath the eaves of the storm, great cohorts of Scylvendi galloping to the east and west, intent on enveloping our flanks. And behind them, loping as fast as dogs, legions upon legions of Sranc, howling… howling…”
Kellhus says Achamian doesn’t have to tell this. But Achamian has to. He needs Kellhus to know this, to understand who Achamian is. Achamian continues, describing the Scylvendi attach, the horde of Srancs, how they fought with reckless abandoned, singing laments for their faces, knowing this was the end of mankind. Dragons attacked, including Skafra.
“Just south of here,” he [Achamian] said, shaking his head. “Two thousand years ago.”
“What happened next?”
Achamian continues, saying the impossible happened. Seswatha killed Skafra, drew back another dragon called Skuthul the Black. The Kyranease stood against the tide. It looked like they might have one. And then the No-God came. The sranc shrieked, scratching at their eyes. Seswatha struggled to breath. Horses reared. Men clutched their ears. Bashrag pounded the ground as “a great whirlwind, like a black umbilicus joining earth and cloud.”
And then the voice, spoken through the throats of a hundred thousand Sranc.
WHAT DO YOU SEE?
I don’t understand…
I MUST KNOW WHAT YOU SEE
Death. Wretched death!
Even you cannot hide from what you don’t know! Even you!
WHAT AM I?
“Doomed,” Seswatha whispered to the thunder. He clutched the Kyranean Great King by the shoulder. “Now, Anaxophus! Strike now!”
I CANNOT S—
Anaxophus fires the Heron Spear and a “thread of silver light” strikes the No God’s Carapace. It explodes, destroying the whirlwind. Achamian is dazed by telling the story, caught up in his memories, thinking he is Seswatha with Anaxophus again. Kellhus pulls him out of it, asking about the Heron Spear. But Achamian can’t answer. He’s drained by telling the story. Achamian can not remember ever telling this tale, one the Mandate are all loath to speak about. But he told Kellhus.
He’s doing something to me.
Stupefied, Achamian found himself staring at the man with the candor of a sleepy child.
Who are you?
Kellhus responded without embarrassment—such a thing seemed too small for him. He smiled as though Achamian were in face a child, an innocent incapable of wishing him ill. The look reminded Achamian of Inrau, who’d so often seen him for what he wasn’t: a good man.
Achamian looked away, his throat aching. Must I give you up, too?
A student like no other.
A group of soldiers start singing a hymn and Kellhus takes off his sandals, asking Achamian to do the same and “bare feet with the others.” Achamian realizes that Kellhus is always giving lessons. “While Achamian taught, Kellhus continually gave lessons.” Achamian didn’t know what the lessons were about, but he knew he was a student to Kellhus and his education was incomplete.
Again, Achamian comes close to using the Cants of Calling at night to tell his brethren about the fulfillment of the Celmomian Prophecy, which most saw as the very reason they exist. He can’t believe he waged world “on a man he’d known no more than a fortnight.” He finds it madness and keeps telling himself “One more day.”
Kellhus believes (or pretends to) that Achamian is worried about the Holy War’s success. Achamian is because he’s seen so many defeats in his dream. But despite being in the war, surrounded by soldiers, it’s not his concern. Achamian starts talking about how Seswatha was a youth when the wars with Golgotterath began. Even then, the wise didn’t understand the stakes. The Norsirai just wanted to subdue. They ruled the north, driven back the Sranc, defeated the Scylvendi They were the power, better than everything. Not even in the beginning, when Shauriatas, Grandmaster of the Mangaecca (the Consult) awakened the No-God did the Norsirai believe they would loose. That in eleven years, only ruins would remain.
Shielding his eyes he looked into the Prince’s face. “Glory doesn’t vouchsafe glory. The unthinkable can always come to pass.”
The end is coming… I must decide.
Kellhus nodded, squinting against the sun. “Everything has its measure,” he said. “Every man…” He looked directly at Achamian. “Every decision.”
For an instant Achamian feared his heart might stop. A coincidence… It has to be!
Suddenly, Kellhus picks up a small stone and throws it at a stone shelf, knocking it over. Achamian asks if he meant to do that. Kellhus says no. “But then that was your point, wasn’t it? The unforeseen, the catastrophic, follows hard upon all our actions.” Achamian didn’t think he had a point.
That night, Achamian can’t even begin the Cants of Calling. Achamian knows Kellhus is the Harbinger and soon the “horrors of his nights” would afflict the world. All the great cities would die like all the past ones did. What right did Achamian have to risk the future.
Because there was something… something about him. Something that bid Achamian to wait. A sense of impossible becoming… But what? What was he becoming? And was it enough? Enough to warrant betraying his School? Enough to throw the number-sticks of Apocalypse? Could anything be enough?
Other than the truth. The truth was always enough, wasn’t it.
He looked at me and he knew. Throwing the stone, Achamian realized, had been another lesson. Another clue. But for what? That disaster would follow if he made the wrong decision? That disaster would follow no matter what his decision?
There was no end, it seemed, to his torment.
I love this description “dimensionless geometry of dreams” as Achamian reflects on how dreams can transport us across great distances, and how things sort of blend and merge together, bleeding from one thing to another.
It is telling that Achamian as he walks from dream to dream of his fellow Mandate Schoolman, instead only sees nightmares. They all are relieving Seswatha’s life, the harrowing moments as he witnessed the First Apocalypse.
I love the exchange between Nautzera and Skafra. Thought it is really Seswatha, the founder of Mandate School, who speaks these words, as Bakker shows in the the final line of the exchange.
Bakker has mention dragon, Wracu, but here is first good look at one. Huge beasts, servants of the No-God and the Consult. They are engineered beings like the sranc, bashrag, and the skin spies, made from the Tekne. But they possess far more free will than any other creations of the Inchoroi and their successor the Consult as we’ll see in later books.
It is also nice to see what happens after the Celmomian Prophecy, which we saw a number of times in the last book. And Nautzera is completely embroiled in the dream. He doesn’t know he’s not reliving the past until Achamian shakes him out of it.
Nautzera, for such a minor character making his first appearance in the story since Chapter Two of the first book, is a well-drawn out character. He has his reasons for disliking Achamian.
Poor Achamian. Discovering that the horrors of the past would be unsettling. For someone that his always self-reflecting like Achamian is, probing his motivations, it would be familiar to think of yourself as a stranger, to wonder why you do the things you do. Especially how you would change after what Achamian’s been through.
Achamian vow to tell them tonight is so familiar. We all tell ourselves that, wondering if we truly have the strength to do it or are we just lying to ourselves, placating the turmoil inside of us, saying we will do something but knowing we can’t or won’t.
“Everyone farts, sooner or later.” What a profound yet vulgar sentiment. We are all human, all afflicted with the same bodily functions no matter how lofty or pretentious we might feign. And it also shows just how much of a chameleon Kellhus is. He will be whatever he needs to be to master circumstances and the hearts of men. And when you’re ignorant of who Kellhus truly is, like Achamian, it is so easy to trust him.
Ajencis quote about fools is a great one. How often do we lesson to people for truth, whether theologians or scientist or talk show hosts. We imagine they know all these things with certainty while forgetting that they are humans, that they have our same self-doubt and, worse, can be wrong. Will be wrong. And then fools, of course, deluding themselves which leads us to rulers, politicians. Who both believe what they say to get you to support them.
Bakker, through Achamian, equates teaching with fatherhood. The point of a teacher is to shape, just like a father, or any parent, wishes to shape their children into a proper adult. Well, the good parents. The joy of a teacher for a student is akin to the joy of a parent.
“There was something about the way Kellhus thought, an elusive mobility Achamian had never encountered. Something that made him seem, at times, a man from a different age.” Achamian is touching on just how vast the intellect the Dûnyain have bred and trained for the last two thousand years. The ease with which Kellhus interrupts and exceeds the great minds of bygone eras is going to overawe an intellectual man like Achamian. All part of the seduction.
Narrow thoughts definitely characterizes humans. We all cherry-pick things that flatter are own believes. Even intelligent people can fall into this trap. Most like to lock themselves in an echo chamber and ignore those ideas that cause them to question their own world-view. Achamian’s insight in Kellhus thoughts as “trackless” is exactly how Kellhus is. Achamian is learning what a Dûnyain is, but he is still ignorant.
What do you see? Achamian asks that question in his mind to Kellhus. It is the same question the no-god asks. The no-god is one thing I am greatly looking forward to getting answers on. In this very chapter, we discuss the no-god after Achamian asks the question. Is Bakker trying to subtly hint that the no-god is seeking understanding of his own purpose, his own role even as he destroys the world? A blind entity flailing about, unable to control the damage he inflicts? Maybe.
Atrithau is one of the two cities remaining in the dead north, built on anarcane ground, a place where sorcery doesn’t exist. Achamian is right to be shocked by the holes in Kellhus’s knowledge about the No-God. OF course, Kellhus is good enough to cover up those holes. It is interesting that Atrithau and Sakarpus are the two cities that survived. Sakarpus has the Chorae Horde (small, iron balls that make a person immune to sorcerery) the largest collection of trinkets in the world, and Atrithau is built on a place were sorcery cannot exist.
We get reference to the Scarlet Spires consulting with demons, a branch of magic called the Daimos.
Mengedda sounds like a wonderful place. Only witnessed the death of the No-God. It is also the place where the Vulgar Holy War was defeated in the last novel. Mengedda of course, brings up the Valley of Meggido from the bible, a real place where armies throughout history have fought. A place soaked in blood. The word Armageddon derives from the Hebrew word Valley of Meggido. A fitting place for the No-God to die and the Holy War to cross.
Remembering the past is so very important. And the world has forgotten the Consult, the No-God, and the First Apocalypse. It is the Mandate’s job to keep it alive, and they failed. So it is no wonder that now, with the Consult back and the Harbinger appearance, that Achamian has to inform Kellhus, to make him understand.
Bakker’s description of the Battle of Mengedda is chilling, haunting. Just the idea that for 11 years no humans were born is terrifying. An entire generation that never even lived. Knowledge that there would be no youths growing up to join the fight. That they had to win or it was over. A true Apocalypse.
What do you see? What am I? These are the questions the No-God needs answering. This may be related to damnation. The No-God may be asking someone with the judging eye to see if he is still damned. It is one explanation of this. The whole motivation of the Consult is to avoid the very real damnation of Bakker’s universe. I CANNOT S— The No-God’s final words. What couldn’t he see? I am eager for The Unholy Consults release, hopefully next year since the manuscript is complete.
The Heron Spear is a laser. It’s Inchoroi technology. What happened to it after the No-God’s death is a question everyone asks. It has been lost. It is the only thing that can kill the No-God. Sorcery is out since the No-God’s carapace, a golden sarcophagus, is studded with magic-nullifying Chorae
Achamian has lost his two favorite students, one to actual death and the other to fanaticism. And now he has a new student to love, a student who he should turn over to the Mandate. Again, he will betray his school for the love of his pupil.
The lesson, Achamian, that Kellhus is teaching you is to trust him, to believe in him, to be in awe with him, so you’ll do what he wants.
Shauriatas and his school the Mangaecca were a Gnostic school, like Seswatha’s Sohonc. They broke through the Nonmen’s protective magics over Golgotterath, the crashed spaceship of the Inchoroi, and awakened the last two Inchoroi (one of whom is the Synthese directing the skin spies from the last novel). The No-God is a weapon they “awoke.” Something the Inchoroi had bet never used even as they lost their wars with the Nonmen The consult is born from the union of the Mangaecca with the last two Inchoroi
It wasn’t a coincidence that Kellhus mentions decisions just when Achamian is grappling with a big one. Though we aren’t getting Kellhus’s POV, we are reminded of just how skillful he is at reading people.
Kellhus has done a great job of keeping Achamian from telling the Mandate. We’ll learn later on that Kellhus knows to be wary of the Mandate. He is deliberately manipulating Achamian. He has figured out Achamian love of teaching and affection for his students. He has made Achamian love him. That’s what the Dûnyain do.
All in all, this is a great chapter. Bakker gets us all caught up on both the immediate story of the Holy War and the more vague threat of the Consult and the Second Apocalypse No other character than Achamian could have served to do that, mixing dreams, his mission, and his interactions with Kellhus allow Bakker to pen a masterful recap chapter.
Bakker has set the stage for Achamian’s moral dilemma and sets the stage for what the Holy War can expect.