Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 2: The Warrior Prophet
by R. Scott Bakker
The Second March
Welcome to Chapter Seventeen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Sixteen!
In terror, all men throw up their hands and turn aside their faces. Remember, Tratta, always preserve the face! For that is where you are.
—THROSEANIS, TRIAMIS IMPERATOR
The Poet will yield up his stylus only when the Geometer can explain how Life can at once be a point and a line. How can all time, all creation, come to the now? Make no mistake: this moment, the instant of this very breath, is a frail thread from which all creation hangs. That men dare to be thoughtless…
—TERES ANSANSIUS, THE CITY OF MEN
Both these quotes are on the importance of the mind, on thinking, one written by the conquering emperor Triamis who puts it in a very physical and literal way by saying how it is our very instinct to protect our brains and that is important. Because our brains, our thoughts, are who we are.
The second is lamenting on how men squander the potential of their mind. And while poets are trying to describe this seeming contradictory that our lives follow a line and yet at the very moment you read this sentence you have the illusion that it is a point. That the present is all that matters. But the future is what comes next, and what you think, what you do, determines what happens. And if you’re not thinking about it, well, it is a thin thread, so easy to snap.
Proyas didn’t think when he sacrificed Achamian. He traded his present view of himself, as righteous, and allowed him to die. And now he learns that Achamian is important to the head of his faith. That if he had truly been a good person, helping his friend even if he were a blasphemer, the man wouldn’t be dead.
Ultimately, this chapter is about having brains and using them to think. Not to just live, not to just have faith in something else and accept what it tells you, but to use the mind that god or evolution or space aliens or whatever you believe in gave you.
Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah
As Esmenet walks back from laundering clothes, she reflects on the next phase of the Holy War. She knows that the Kianene have killed all the camels before retreating and so far scouts have only found poisoned wells in the desert, hoping to make a barrier out of the desert. But the Great Names plan to march along the coast, using the Imperial Fleet would carry their water, keeping them alive to Enathpaneah. She reflects on Kellhus making a joke about Serwë carrying everything, including his child. His manner is warm, teasing and one “Esmenet had learned to love long ago.”
Esmenet had laughed, at the same time realizing she’d be traveling even farther from Achamian…
She wants to ask Kellhus if there was any news from Xinemus even while fearing what it would be. She doesn’t, knowing Kellhus would have told her. That night, they cook dinner, Kellhus sitting between the two women while he continues teasing Serwë about the upcoming march through the desert. As he does, Kellhus accidentally brushes Esmenet’s breast.
The tingle of inadvertent intimacy. The flush of a body suddenly thick with a wisdom that transcended intellect.
For the remainder of the afternoon, Esmenet found her eyes plagued by a nagging waywardness. Where before her look had confined itself to Kellhus’s face, it now roamed over his entire form. It was as though her eyes had become brokers, intermediaries between his body and her own. When she saw his chest, her breasts tingled with the prospect of being crushed. When she glimpsed his narrow hips and deep buttocks, her inner thighs hummed with expectant warmth. Sometimes her palms literally itched!
Of course, this was madness. Esmenet needed only to catch Serwë’s watchful eyes to recall herself.
That night, while Kellhus is gone and she’s lying down beside Serwë, the pregnant girl says she would share Kellhus. Esmenet becomes nervous while protesting the girl has nothing to fear. No Serwë says she’s not afraid of losing him. “All I want is what he wants.” Esmenet asks if Kellhus wants her, but Serwë laughs that off. She suddenly feels guilty, thinking of Achamian, and says it will never happen.
Kellhus is gone until the next night when he returns with Proyas. Esmenet hates him, and tries to avoid him, knowing he refused to help Achamian and stripped Xinemus of his rank for wanting to. But then she hears him speak and realizes he, too, suffers in grief for Achamian and she feels a kinship with him. “That, she knew, was what Kellhus would say.”
As they eat, Esmenet studies Proyas and Kellhus as they talk, noticing how Proyas acted, the way he deferred and yet remained aloof. She understands why Kellhus doesn’t allow his followers around, knowing Great Names like Proyas would be disturbed. “Those at the centre of the things were always more inflexible, always more invested, than those at the edges.” Kellhus was starting a new center.
During a silence, Esmenet asks after Cnaiür. Proyas says he doesn’t see him much. The barbarian was no longer giving counsel. He even rejected being declared Battle-Celebrant after the victory, Kellhus having given him all the credit of saving the day. Proyas thinks Cnaiür finds it unbearable liking Inrithi. He then leaves. Esmenet feels ashamed for driving off Proyas. She finds shame to be “her characteristic stink.” She apologizes to Kellhus and questions why she is even here. She is polluted and yet is staying with Kellhus. Her whore tattoo permanently marks her. It will never go away. “The seed she could rinse away, but not the sin!” She flees to Achamian’s tent.
Kellhus comes to her tent, and she hates that she hoped he would. She tells him she wished she were dead. “So do many.” Kellhus was always honest and she wishes she could follow. She goes on to say she’s only loved two people, both dead.
“You don’t know my sins, Kellhus. You don’t know the darkness I harbour in my heart.
“Then tell me.”
They talk for hours and she grows calm, emotionless as she tells him about the many men she’s been with. “All of them punishing her for their need.” How it was so monotonous. One man after another. She was first whored out by her father at eleven or twelve, the start of her punishment. And then she turns to her daughter.
And her daughter… How old had she been?
She had thought her father’s thoughts, she explained. Another mouth. Let it feed itself. The monotony had numbed her to the horror, had made degradation a laughable thing. To trade flashing silver for milky seed—the fools. Let Mimara be schooled in the foolishness of men. Clumsy, rutting animals. One need only pay with little patience, mimic their passion, wait, and soon it would be over. In the morning, one could buy food… Food from fools, Mimara. Can’t you see child? Shush. Stop weeping. Look! Food from fools!
Kellhus asks if that was her name, Mimara. And she realizes she could say it to him, but never to Achamian. Then she begins crying. She is hugged to Kellhus’s chest. “They were dead. The only ones she’d ever loved.” When her crying subsides, she realizes her hands on her on his lap and feels him harden. For a moment, everything is silent. Then she jerks her hand away.
Why would she poison a night such as this?
Kellhus shook his head, softly laughed. “Intimacy begets intimacy, Esmi. So long as we remember ourselves, there’s no reason for shame. All of us are frail.”
She looked down to her palms, her wrists. Smiled.”
She thanks him and he leaves. She masturbates afterward, cursing the entire time, until she falls to sleep.
Proyas receives a message from the Shriah. Proyas is truck by how even the scroll-case, covered in tiny Tusks, is a message that this is sermon. He ponders what Maithanet wants before he breaks the seal and reads it. When he sees it’s about his last letter, guilt strikes him. Achamian had begged him to write Maithanet to inquire about Inrau’s “suicide.” It shocked Proyas he had even did it, but he felt kinship with Inrau. “How could he not pity him, a good man, a kind man, hunting fables and wives’ tales to his everlasting damnation.” Proyas never expected a reply, but he was the heir to Conryia.
Shame feels him as he reads for sending such a “trivial” matter to the Shriah. And shame for feeling ashamed of doing Achamian a favor. Maithanet’s letter says that Inrau was a suicide and they believe because of his association with Achamian. Maithanet quotes scripture to reinforce his position that Achamian is to blame. He was still perplexed, and says his response will also baffle Proyas. He explains that since the Holy War has allied with the Scarlet Spire to defeat the Cishaurim, it is important that Proyas assists Achamian, compromising his piety for the greater good like Maithanet did when striking his deal with the Scarlet Spire.
Proyas is stunned, wondering what was so important about Achamian. And then that it was too late to do anything now that Achamian is gone.
I killed him…
And Proyas suddenly realized that he’d used his old teacher as a marker, as a measure of his own piety. What greater evidence could there be of righteousness than the willingness to sacrifice a loved one? Wasn’t this the lesson of Angeshraël on Mount Kinsureah? And what better way to sacrifice a loved one than by hating?
Or delivering him to his enemies…
He thinks of Esmenet’s grief, feeling guilty, and uses anger to deflect. This leads him to pondering sin and how a man’s actions either elevate or condemn him. And Achamian had been a sorcerer. He damned himself, just like Esmenet had by being a whore. He tries to rationalize it’s not his judgment but the Tusk. But the shame doesn’t go away. Doubt creeps in. Doubt had been Achamian’s main lesson.
Doubt, he would say, set men free… Doubt, not truth.
Beliefs were the foundation of actions. Those who believed without doubting, he would say, acted without thinking. And those who acted without thinking were enslaved.
That was what Achamian would say.
Proyas recalls a time when he told Achamian he wanted to be a Shrial knight. Why asked Achamian. Proyas wants to kill heathens. Achamian calls him foolish, asking him how many faiths are there are and condemning him for murdering someone on “the slender hope that yours is somehow the only one?” Proyas is certain his is. Achamian challenges Proyas that it’s not a choice between two faiths but between faith and doubt.
“But doubt is weakness!” Proyas cried. “Faith is strength! Strength!” Never, he was convinced, had he felt so holy as that moment. The sunlight seemed to shine straight through him, to bathe his heart.
“Is it? Have you looked around you, Prosha? Pay attention, boy. Watch and tell me how many men, out of weakness, lapse into the practice of doubt. Listen to those around you, and tell me what you see…”
Proyas did as Achamian asked, watching men from soldiers to priests to ambassadors. And while he saw them hesitate, he never heard them say those three difficult words: I don’t know. Proyas had asked Achamian why they are so hard to say.
“Because men want to murder,” Achamian explained afterward. “Because men want their gold and their glory. Because they want beliefs to answer to their fears, their hatreds, and their hungers.”
Proyas could remember the heart-pounding wonder, the exhilaration of straying…
“Akka?” He took a deep, daring breath. “Are you saying the Tusk lies?”
A look of dread. “I don’t know…”
Those words got Achamian banished from teaching Proyas. Achamian knew it would happen, but did it anyways. Proyas is confused about that, why he would “sacrifice so much for so few words.” And then he realizes why. Achamian thought it worth the cost to teach Proyas this lesson because he loved Proyas. He loved Proyas enough to lose his position and reputation. “Achamian had given without hope of reward.” To make Proyas free.
And Proyas had given him away, thinking only of rewards.
The thought was too much to bear.
He tries to rationalize it, saying he did it for Shimeh and the Holy War. But the letter from Maithanet makes that much harder. The Shriah wants him supported. And then he remembers Achamian arguing that the Holy War wasn’t what it seemed. Something that now concerned the shriah. Proyas wonders if it has to do with Kellhus. He had meant to write the Shriah about him, but couldn’t He wasn’t sure if fear or hope caused him to wait. But Proyas finds it ridiculous that the Holy War for the Latter Prophet would birth the “Latter Latter Prophet.” So Proyas thinks it must be something else. “Something the Shriah thought beyond his [Proyas] tolerance of his ken.”
Could it be the Consult?
Proyas remembers a conversation with Achamian at Momemn where he talked about the intensity of his dreams, that something was happening. Proyas finds it absurd, reasoning that if the Mandate couldn’t find the Consult, how could the Shriah. He turns his thoughts to the Scarlet Spire, knowing Achamian was watching them. He grows frantic, pulling at his hair, demanding to know why.
Why couldn’t this one thing be pure? Why must everything holy—everything!—be riddled by tawdry and despicable intent.
He sat very still, drawing breath after shuddering breath. He imagined drawing his sword, slashing and hacking wildly through his chambers, howling and shrieking… Then he collected himself to the beat of his own pulse.
Nothing pure… Love transformed into betrayal. Prayers bent into accusations.
This was Maithanet’s point, wasn’t it? The holy followed upon the wicked.
Proyas realizes he isn’t the moral leader of the Holy War. He’s just another piece on the benjuka plate and he doesn’t know the rules. He doesn’t know anything. Despite the recent victory, he feels so weak.
Tired, wanting to rest, he instead composes a reply to the Shriah. Tomorrow, the Holy War marched into the desert. He feels like a boy as rights, remembering good times as Achamian’s student. He cries as he completes the first sentence of his “baffled reply”
…but it would seem, Your Eminence, that Drusas Achamian is dead.
Kellhus watches Esmenet as the camp prepares to arch into the Khemema Desert. With Kellhus are his fourteen senior Zaudunyani (the Tribe of Truth, his followers) to remind them of their purpose as they set out on their mission. “Beliefs alone didn’t control the actions of men. There were also desire, and these men, his apostles, must shine with that desire.” Esmenet knows he watches, laughing with two of the Zaudunyani.
He watches everyone, each “a riotous font of significance.” He sees Ottma fumbling before Serwë’s beauty, Ulnarta’s faint racism to black-skinned Tshuma, the way three others defer to Werjau. He notes how Werjau asserts his dominance over the others.
Kellhus calls out Werjau, asking to what he sees in his heart. Werjau answers joy while Kellhus knows he “sees, and he doesn’t see.” Then Kellhus asks what them what he sees. Werjau looks down. A Galeoth answered with Pride. Kellhus then makes a joke to cut through the anxiety and relax them with laughter. Kellhus would not let Werjau, or others, posture in the group. Kellhus knows they enjoy his presence because “the weight of sin was found in secrecy and condemnation.” By stripping that away, taking away their self-deception and shame, they “felt greater in his presence, both pure and chose.”
Kellhus flashes back to his training in Ishuäl with Pragma Meigon. They are deep beneath Ishuäl within the Thousand Thousand Halls. The room is exceedingly well lit, the only place in the labyrinth that is, and it is full of shackled men, each naked and bound to boards in a circle, the skin flayed from their faces to reveal their muscle structure. This is the Unmasking Room.
Kellhus is feeling fear despite Meigon reassuring him they’re harmless. He asks what they are. Exemplary defectives retained for the “purpose of education” for young Dûnyain. He leads Kellhus to one, telling him to study and memorize their faces, then draw them. He explains how the face has forty-four muscles that work together to produce every “permutation of passion.” Each figure shows different emotions, using neuropuncture to keep them locked in their expressions. Something the Dûnyain learned centuries ago.
“Neuropuncture,” the Pragma continued, “made possible the rehabilitation of defectives for instructional purpose. The specimen before you, for instance, always displays fear at a base-remove of two.”
“Horror?” Kellhus asked.
Kellhus felt the childishness of his own horror fade in understanding. He looked to either side, saw the specimens curving out of sight, rows of white eyes set in shining red musculatures. They were only defectives—nothing more. He returned his gaze to the man before him, to fear base-removed two, and committed what he saw to memory. Then he moved on to the next gasping skein of muscles.
“Good,” Pragma Meigon had said from his periphery. “Very good.”
Back in the present, Kellhus studies Esmenet and “peeled away her face with the hooks of his gaze.” He notes how she has twice found excuses to walk to her tent and draw his attention. She keeps glancing at him, making sure he’s watching her. Though they hadn’t had sex yet, Kellhus knows she wanted him and wooed him. “And she knew it not.”
For all her native gifts, Esmenet remained a world-born woman. And for all world-born men and women, two souls shared the same body, face, and eyes. The animal and the intellect. Everyone was two.
One Esmenet had already renounced Drusas Achamian. The other would soon follow.
The next morning, Esmenet watches the Holy War march into the desert on a rise. She stands beside Serwë. The host of soldiers and camp followers stretches out of her sight. She looks to Shigek and says goodbye to Achamian in her thoughts. Then she strikes out, walking among the strangers, ignoring Kellhus calling after. She ignores the looks and muttered words, the men who see her as a whore. “She sweat and suffered and somehow knew it was only the beginning.”
She rejoins Kellhus and Serwë that evening around a meager fire. Kellhus asks about her walk, and she immediately feels shame and apologizes. But he says she doesn’t have to, she’s free to walk where she wants. Then asks again.
“Men,” she said leadenly. “Too many men.”
“And you call yourself a harlot,” Kellhus said, grinning.
Esmenet continued staring at her dusty feet. A shy smile stole across her face.
Kellhus then asks her why “God holds men higher than women?” She shrugs, women are in men’s shadows who are in Gods’ shadows. He asks her if she thinks that. She replies, Some men, indicating Kellhus. She then realizes only Kellhus. She never stood in anyone else’s, not even Achamian. So Kellhus asks her if all men are overshadowed, why is she less than a man? She laughs, certain he plays a game and says that’s just how it is everywhere. “Women serve men.” She then says most women are simple, like Serwë while more men are educated. Wise.
“And is this because men are more than women?”
Esmenet stared at him, dumbfounded.
“Or is it,” he continued, “because men are granted more than women in this world?”
She stared, her thoughts spinning. She breathed deeply, set her palms carefully upon her knees. “You’re saying women are…are actually equal?”
Kellhus asks why men pay gold to have sex with women. She answers out of lust. Kellhus then says is it legal. She says no, but they can’t help themselves. Kellhus responds that they have no control over their desires and she makes a joke about being a “well-fed harlot” to prove him right. He then asks why men herd cattle. She’s confused and begins answering so they can slaughter them and then she realizes what he is saying.
“Men,” Kellhus said, “cannot dominate their hungers, so they dominate, domesticate, the objects of their hunger. Be it cattle…”
“Or women,” she said breathlessly.
The air prickled with understanding.
He then sites the example of a tributary race, like Serwë’s, speaking the language of their conquers just like women speak the language of men. This is why Esmenet fears growing old, because she sees herself as men see her. It’s why she preens and postures, molds herself to please men. She becomes so motionless as she listens to him talk about how she has degraded herself to please men, how she does things for coins. How the fact she knows she’s damned, that she has no dignity, lets her keep doing these acts. He asks, “What love lies beyond sacrifice?” She’s crying now.
“You speak the tongue of your conquerors…” Kellhus whispered. “You say, Mimara, come with me child.”
A shiver passed through her, as though she were a drumskin…
“And you take her…”
“She’s dead!” some woman cried. “She’s dead!”
“To the slavers in the harbour…”
Stop!” the woman hissed. “I say no!”
Gasping, like knives.
“And you sell her.”
Esmenet tells Kellhus everything as he holds her, how a famine had swept through Sumna, how she was so hungry that she was giving men blowjobs just to eat their seed. How she came to hate her daughter, “the filthy little bitch,” who cried and begged for food, sending Esmenet out into the street “all because of love.” And how the slavers were growing fat and the coins she received. Coins that lasted less than a week. She weeps in his arms, in his absolution.
“You are forgiven, Esmenet.”
Who are you to forgive?
She wakes up confused, lying beside Kellhus. She’s conflicted about that, part of her guilty part of her excited though she reminds herself they didn’t have sex. She only cried. For a while, she lies beside him, feeling his heartbeat. He wakes up and they feel the intimacy growing. Serwë sleeps beside them, and Kellhus tells Esmenet to be quiet so not to wake her. Then he’s on her, his hand sliding up her thighs, and she exults that finally he was taking her.
No one would call her harlot any more.
What does Esmenet fear learning from Xinemus now? That Achamian is dead, or that he is alive and she’s been moving on, abandoning him? That she’s beginning to love again.
Notice the power of a simple “accidental” touch on behalf of Kellhus, bringing Esmenet one step closer to her seduction. First he was a prophet, then he was her friend, and now he’s a prospective lover. All done by his friendly banter, his comforting presence, and his constant presence around her.
We see more of Esmenet’s intelligence as she dissects the interaction between Kellhus and Proyas. She has picked up on a lot of Kellhus’s teachings about human behavior and is using them, understanding the political dynamics that what Kellhus has begun, being a prophet, will eventually lead to a problems with those at the current “center” of everything.
Kellhus gives Cnaiür credit for figuring out the trap. He can’t let Cnaiür’s skill as a tactician get undermined. He needs to keep him propped up for now. Kellhus has risen along with Cnaiür, and Proyas, Kellhus’s best ally, has sponsored them both, become their patrons. If Cnaiür is embarrassed or shown to have failed, it would look poorly on Proyas and thus Kellhus.
Poor Esmenet. While shame can be a good motivator when there’s cause, when you’ve done something wrong, she hasn’t. She’s just been told that what she’s done to survive is wrong while the men who pay her are absolved. They’re not condemned, just her. And it is to Achamian’s tent she flees. Someone else who is a sinner that cannot be absolved.
It’s sad she finds Kellhus always honest.
When Esmenet talks about how she whored her own daughter out, the way her father had done to her, is one of the most heartbreaking things in the world. How she had rationalized it. How years of being a whore had so degraded her that she no longer felt the horror her daughter did. How she’s so pragmatic about it. “Food from fools.” And now the guilt, combined with the other thing she did with her daughter. She knows it was wrong in the wake of her daughter’s “death.” How it eats at her.
The irony of Esmenet saying all those she loved are dead is that neither Achamian or Mimara are dead.
And notice how Kellhus uses this moment of comfort to add another bit to his seduction, creating that deep intimacy between them then taking advantage of her absent movement to bring the physical, the sexual, to the front.
Maithanet is good at manipulating with a scroll-case.
Proyas is such an interesting character. His faith has warped him, forcing him to destroy his relationship with Achamian even as he doesn’t want to. He loves Achamian, truly, but he also fears for his own soul. Too much virtue is itself a vice. (I’m paraphrasing a quote from someone here, can’t remember who.) And Proyas displays that with his piety causing destructive problems.
Notice how Proyas feels guilty for causing Esmenet grief then immediately rationalizes it away with that emphatic “She’s just a whore!” Using his piety to shift his guilt away, to alleviate his own pain. Very common thing for humans to do. But then he runs smack into Achamian being a sorcerer and uses that same reason justify sacrificing him, which he is now learning was a bad call.
Doubt, skepticism, is very important. This is why science uses the peer-review process to evaluate discovery. Any properly motivated researcher can find the facts to support his goal. You need someone who is properly motivated in disproving (doubting) the result to discover whether or not real truth was uncovered or just results that flattered the researcher’s own bias. Truth without doubt leads to orthodoxy. It leads to religion, even if it’s not called that.
Wonder what happened to Proyas’s older brother? He must have died to make Proyas the heir.
Faith untempered by doubt is a very dangerous thing. And it doesn’t have to be faith in a religion, but faith in a political belief, in a scientific truth, faith in a perspective on power dynamics in society. Any of those are dangerous and destructive. We have brains. Use them.
The recollection Proyas has with Achamian talking about doubt is amazing. Such truth found in there. Confirmation bias is ingrained in all of us. We cherry-pick everything in our lives to conform with our own beliefs. And thanks to social media, it’s getting worse. When you can block people whom you disagree with, when you can only visit blogs or follow people on twitter that believe what you do, then you don’t even hear those contradictory statements. You can curate the information you receive to prop up your beliefs, to receive the answers you want instead of the truth.
Proyas has got some nice line of reasoning on Maithanet’s support for Achamian. What else could it be but the Consult? But why would the Shriah believe in the Consult. Everyone in the Three Seas are sure they are gone. How could he know?
How did Maithanet know about the Scarlet Spires secret war with the Cishaurim? Maithanet lurks in the background for so much of the books, with little hints and clues sprinkled here and there, a great mystery that quickly is forgotten because more immediate things are happening in the book. It’s well done. It all makes sense when you learn the truth, and that’s important with mysteries. They have to hold up to scrutiny or they’re a cheat.
Why can’t anything be pure, Proyas? Because the actions of humans are involved.
Proyas was so close to the truth, and then he just couldn’t believe it. He had to go with something familiar, something that confirmed to his own beliefs on how the world worked, and rejects the Consult idea.
It’s sad watching Proyas grapple with the grief and guilt of his part in Achamian’s death. His illusions are shattered. He knows he’s not a moral person like he always believed. Achamian had given without hope of reward, Proyas had done the opposite. He took to get his reward.
So we see the Zaudunyani know. They have a name. A shared purpose. The start of Kellhus’s cult and his temporal power.
Werjau… His first mention. Remember this asshole for later. Not how he’s the one that some of the others are already deferring to. Bakker is setting him up to be a leader in the Zaudunyani right from the beginning. Note how Kellhus doesn’t want Werjau posturing, but we’ll see he never quite learns that lesson. Something Kellhus will lament. If he’s not on top of people, they backslide.
It is, perhaps, Kellhus greatest weakness. He doesn’t have the time to micromanage everyone.
We get our first taste of the true horror of the Dûnyain next in the Unmasking Room. Such a mundane place for such a horrific spot. Here we see those Dûnyain who didn’t succeed, lobotomized and kept alive to let students study facial expressions. We’ll learn more Dûnyain horrors (whale mothers) in later books. This is a brutal illustration that the Dûnyain purpose is dehumanization, to strip out emotions, to make “men” devoid of passions.
And then how Kellhus puts aside his own “childish” horror (because feeling emotions is childish for the Dûnyain) and understands. This is his fate if he can’t learn to control his passions. So he does. He rationalizes that the man is defective, therefore worthless, and his emotions fade. He’s turned a human being into an object.
And then he peels back Esmenet’s face, seeing her as nothing more than those tortured men he studied as a child. Defective. But a defective he needs. One he needs to seduce. One he can “rehabilitate” to a new purpose. And already the “animal” part of her is eager for the seduction. Now her intellect just had to abandon her love for Achamian and surrender to Kellhus.
Last time Esmenet stared at the Holy War, Achamian was with her. And now she admits it. He’s gone. She has to move on, literally and figuratively. She’s hit acceptance in the grieving process.
For anyone who thinks Bakker is not a feminist or is a misogynist should read Kellhus comments about men domesticating women like they have cattle. Kellhus often speaks Bakker’s own beliefs. Bakker, frankly, is more of a misandrist than he is a misogynist. He has a low opinion of men. We all mold ourselves to please those around us. Women make themselves look beautiful to attract a mate while men work for status and power for the same reason—women are valued for the beauty, men for their wealth. Kellhus is leaving that part out either on purpose, to aid in his molding of Esmenet, or because Bakker is espousing his own beliefs here.
That revelation that Mimara didn’t die of a disease, but that Esmenet sold her to the slaves while they were both starving is heartbreaking. Starving people start to lose compassion. They become driven to do things they would never do while fed. They abandon people. Their survival instincts kick in, driving them to do what it takes to live. And it gets harder and harder to fight that selfishness. And then you’ll do something you can never forgive yourself for.
If you’ve ever hard of Grave of the Fireflies, original a novel and then made into a movie by Studio Ghibli, it’s a true story about a brother and sister, just children, orphaned in Japan by World War II. At the end of the war, they are living with an abusive aunt. They runaway and live in the woods. At first, they’re happy. But soon the starvation sets in. The older brother, who is maybe 10, tries hard to keep them alive. But, first the sister dies and then he dies. Or that’s how the novel goes. In the real story, the brother lived. And the guilt he felt for getting them in this mess, for not saving his sister when they were starving and for living when she died, compelled him to write their story and symbolically kill himself by having his own character die.
Esmenet wakes up feeling guilty and excited for lying next to Kellhus, the last vestige of her relationship with Achamian and her excitement to start a new one. If Achamian were truly dead, this would be healthy. But he’s not, and it’s only been a few weeks. On top of that, she’s being manipulated. So it’s really the opposite.
Then it happens. Kellhus makes his move. He has welded an intimacy between them, he has guided her through the process of grieving for Achamian, making room for her to love another, and then he takes advantage of her. And as she has sex with him, she think she won’t be a harlot ever again. That he sees her as an equal. That she doesn’t have to be his whore.
Instead, she’s his broodmare. As we see in his POV, she is defective. But good thing you can find a use for defectives. He’s rehabilitating her.
This is a powerful chapter, from seeing Esmenet’s true guilt, the thing that has haunted her all this time, revealed. How her guilt for Mimara has made her feel motherly towards Serwë even as she fought her own jealousy towards the girl’s beauty. And even though Esmenet did this monstrous thing, you understand why. That desperation. That horrible circumstances. “Let her feed herself.” How many parents have thought similar thoughts, when angry, when tired, when weary but still having to attend to their children. Those small, dark flashes that pop up in all of us. None of us, I’d dare say, have been as starving as Esmenet.
And the sad part, Kellhus using it to seduce her. Even forgiving her in Mimara’s name. And, for those who’ve read the next series, you know Mimara has not forgiven.
And with that, we’re done with the Holy War’s second march. The third, and hardest, march is before it. The desert awaits. That’s a very symbolic place, the desert. A place where men are transformed into prophets in our own mythologies.