Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 2: The Warrior Prophet
by R. Scott Bakker
The Second March
Welcome to Chapter Sixteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Fifteen!
Men never resemble one another so much as when asleep or dead.
—OPPARITHA, ON THE CARNAL
The arrogance of the Inrithi waxed bright in the days following Anwurat. Though the sober-minded demanded they press the attack, the great majority clamored for respite. They thought the Fanim doomed, just as they thought them doomed after Mengedda. But while the Men of the Tusk tarried, the Padirajah plotted. He would make the world his shield.
—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR
The first quote is talking about the equalization that death brings. Because all men must die. And what is sleep, but the dress rehearsal? The surrendering to the darkness? In sleep, as Esmenet notes as she gazes on Serwë, the real person comes out. And that real person is the same flawed human being as everyone else. Equals in sleep and in death.
First, this quote reminds us that Achamian isn’t dead. He’s still in this story. He must be because he survived to write about these events. The next is just a commentary on humans (and the readers) who like to see things in simple terms. We conquered the Fanim. They must be crushed this time. But they’re not. They’re still plotting. Just remember that in these days of partisan politics, one side declaring victory forever over the other. It’s never that simple.
Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah
Achamian suffers the dreams of Seswatha’s life. He is before the gates of Golgotterath, armies of Sranc and Bashrag drawn up before it. He thinks it is about to yield, to be defeated. A horn is sound. The Sranc attack like “a tide of spiders.” They clash against the armies of the Northern Norsirai, the might of High Kûniüri accompanied by Nonmen from Ishterebinth. Seswatha is certain of their victory.
Achamian would relive all eighteen years of that delusion.
Dreams drawn from the knife’s sheath.
And when he awakened, to the sound of harsh shouts or the patter of cold water across his face, it would seem that one horror had merely replaced another. He would blink against torchlight, would dully note the bite of chains, a mouth stuffed with rank cloth, and the dark, scarlet-robed figures that surrounded him. And he would think, before succumbing to the Dreams once gain, It comes… the Apocalypse comes…
Iyokus and Eleäzaras stand around him, talking about how easy it is to render men so helpless. Iyokus points out so can schools, which brings a sharp question from Eleäzaras. They notice Achamian watching them and Iyokus says he needs time to recover before questioning can begin again.
Esmenet cries when she sees Kellhus and Serwë, both haggard, approach her. She runs towards Kellhus, hugging and kissing him. She sobs that she is going mad, but he says it is only grief. Kellhus “seemed a pillar of comfort.” Then she hugs a crying Serwë, who she has missed her.
Esmenet regarded the girl with sorrow. Her left eye was bruised black and cherry and an angry red cut poked from beneath her hairline. Even if Esmenet had the heart—and she had none—she would wait for Serwë to explain what had happened. With such marks, asking demanded lies, and silence afforded truth. That was the lot of women—especially when they were wanton.
Serwë appears healthy beside that, and Esmenet has many questions about how her pregnancy is progressing. She remembers her own “joyous terror” at being pregnant. Esmenet says Serwë must be hungry, which she denies which only makes Esmenet and Kellhus laugh—she was always hungry these days “as a pregnant woman should be.”
For a moment, Esmenet felt the old sunshine flash from her eyes.
Esmenet is happy to see them, missing them as she mourns Achamian. Kellhus notes that she is at the same fire in Shigek as when the army left. Serwë realizes it, shocked. Esmenet is silent, feeding the fire, which she had been obsessed over.
She could feel Kellhus’s gentle scrutiny.
“Some hearths can’t be rekindled,” he said.
“It burns well enough,” Esmenet murmured. She blinked tears, sniffled and wiped at her nose.
“But what makes a hearth, Esmi? Is it the fire, or the family that keeps it?”
“The family,” she finally said. A strange blankness had overcome her.
Kellhus says that he and Serwë are that family. She protests she has to say here and wait. He repeats that “we are that home.” And that ended it.
Over dinner, Kellhus talks about the events of the last week. She finds herself lost in his story about the battle. She is struck by how this great prophet could concern himself with a whore. She smiles, which makes Kellhus happy. He finishes the story and everyone falls silent. She stares at the sky, frightened by its “murderous indifference.” Her thoughts turn to Achamian. Kellhus has heard from Xinemus who still searches.
“So there’s hope?” [asked Esmenet.]
“There is always hope,” he said in a voice that at once encouraged and deadened her heart. “We can only wait and see what he finds.”
Esmenet couldn’t speak. She glanced at Serwë, but the girl avoided her eyes.
They think he’s dead.
She has tried not to hope, but she can’t think him dead. She struggles with it and Kellhus changes the subject, offering to teach her how to read. That makes her cry because it is the one thing she has always wanted to do.
Achamian transitions from dreaming of Seswatha’s torture at Dagliash into his present torment at the hands of the Scarlet Spire. The face of Mekeritrig becomes Eleäzaras, disorienting him. Eleäzaras is happy Achamian is conscious and aware. They feared they killed him. Eleäzaras laments the Library’s destruction.
Achamian realizes he is naked and chained, suspended in the air by his wrists to the ceiling and ankles to the floor. It is at that moment, he realizes that he is dead, the Scarlet Spire has captured him. He pisses and shits himself, which only makes Eleäzaras laugh and quip. The laughter from the others is uneasy. Achamian panics and fights against his chains, thinking about Esmenet.
Eleäzaras laments that “there is too much certainty here.” Achamian knows he’ll be tortured for the Gnosis, and Eleäzaras knows that he won’t surrender it and will rather die. “We’ll be left with yet another useless Mandate corpse.”
Achamian knows it is true. It is his duty to die to protect the Gnosis. The Angogic Schools, like the Scarlet Spire, were never tutored by the Nonmen Quya, so don’t know the more powerful Abstractions, but only the weaker Analogies. Achamian remembers he is stronger, a philosopher while they were merely poets. “I will see you burn!” he promises.
Eleäzaras says this time is different. Events are tumultuous. To prove his point, he removes Achamian’s gag and let him speak without using Compulsion. He does point out the Uroborian Circle drawn around Achamian. It will keep any sorcery from being cast in it by causing pain. Achamian has seen it, too. “The Scarlet Spires, it seemed, possessed many potent poetic devices.” Achamian asks where they are. They are still in Iothiah before. Then he studies the Uroborian Circle.
It didn’t seem a matter of courage, only a giddy instant of disconnection, a willful ignorance of the consequences.
He said two words.
Achamian shits himself again as agony shots through him. His blood burns. And then passes out into Seswatha’s nightmares.
Eleäzaras stares at Achamian and though he’s naked, chained, and unconscious, finds him threatening. Iyokus calls Achamian stubborn, implying it was to be expected. Eleäzaras agrees, angry at the delay. And though he would love to have the Gnosis, he needed to know the truth of the Cishaurim skin-spy and Achamian’s connection to them. Worse, because of Achamian, the Scarlet Spire had lost their advantage in numbers gained after the Cishaurim’s casualties at Mengedda. He killed two and then six more fell at Anwurat. It was because of Proyas’s threat of avenging Achamian that Eleäzaras had sent in his sorcerers. He can’t afford to bleed his school.
Eleäzaras can’t help but remember fighting Achamian, lusting for the Gnosis and hating the Mandate for hoarding it. Once he had information on the Cishaurim, he would have Achamian tortured for the Gnosis. Maybe it would work this time, a gamble as significant as destroying the Cishaurim.
That, Eleäzaras decided, was Iyokus’s problem. He could not fathom the fact that certain rewards made even the most desperate gambles worthwhile. He knew nothing of hope.
Chanv addicts never seemed to know anything of hope.
Esmenet crosses the river with Serwë, both sharing a saddle on the same horse. Esmenet is impressed by Serwë’s horsemanship, but she shrugs and says she’s Cepaloran. “She’d been born astride a saddle.” Esmenet bitterly thinks it means born with her legs spread wide. On the other side, she peers across the river and realizes she won’t return, the river is a barrier even though she can swim. Kellhus tells her “The world looks south.”
They return to the Conryian cap and she’s shocked to find Kellhus accepting people calling him the Warrior Prophet. Serwë finds it wonderful, and so does she. He is the Warrior Prophet. She suddenly feels jealous that Serwë is Kellhus’s woman, not her. She instantly feels shame for those thoughts, reminding her Kellhus is helping her for Achamian’s sake.
Esmenet had told herself she feared returning because it would stir too many recollections. But losing those recollections was what she truly feared. Her refusal to leave their old camp had somehow rash, desperate, pathetic… Kellhus had shown her that. But remaining had fortified her somehow—or so it seemed when she thought about it. There was the clutching sense of defensiveness, the certainty that she must protect Achamian’s surroundings. She’d even refused to touch the chipped clay bowl he’d used for his tea that final morning. By describing his absence in such heartbreaking detail, such things had become, it seemed to her, fetishes, charms that would secure his return. And there was the sense of desolate pride. Everyone had fled, but she remained—she remained! She would look across the abandoned fields, at the firepits becoming earthen, at the paths scuffed through the grasses, and all the world would seem a ghost. Only her loss would seem real… Only Achamian. Wasn’t there some glory, some grace in that?
Now she moved on even though it means abandoning Achamian. That makes her cry as she pitches his tent next to Kellhus’s much larger pavilion. She feared things would be awkward, but Kellhus is to generous and Serwë innocent for that. She is welcomed. They make her laugh or share her sorrow. Serwë bounces between obliviousness that Esmenet is grieving to being devastated that Achamian is gone. Partly it’s her pregnancy causing mood sings, but it also makes Esmenet wonder if Serwë and Achamian were together more than that one night. It makes her bitter towards Serwë, which makes her feel guilty thinking Achamian would be disappointed in her. She can’t sleep remembering things she said to Serwë.
On her third night, she’s awoken by a crying Serwë and, feeling like a tired mother, hugs her. Serwë begs Esmenet not to steal Kellhus from her. She says Esmenet is so beautiful and smart. She can’t speak to him like Esmenet can. Esmenet protests that she loves Achamian and she has nothing to fear.
Esmenet had thought herself sincere, but afterward, as she nestled against Serwë’s slender back, she found herself exulting in the thought of Serwë’s fear. She curled the girl’s blond hair between her fingers, thinking of the way Serwë had swept it across Achamian’s chest… How easy, she thought, would it yank from her scalp?
Why did you lie with Akka? Why?
Guilt hits her the next morning, remembering a proverb: “Hatred was a rapacious houseguest, and lingered only in hearts fat with pride.” But her heart is thin. Esmenet watches Serwë sleep, so innocent and beautiful. She realizes that in sleep she saw Serwë’s true face. And her vulnerability. “The sleeping throat was easily cut,” according to a Nilnameshi proverb.
Was this not love? To be watched while you slept…
She was crying when Serwë awoke. She watched the girl blink, focus, and frown.
“Why?” Serwë asked.
Esmenet smiled. “Because you’re so beautiful,” she said. “So perfect.”
This makes Serwë happy and the pair start laughing and joking while Kellhus shakes his head “as perhaps a man should.” Now Esmenet treats Serwë nicer, their friendship deepening even as she wonders what Kellhus sees in Serwë. It had to be more than her great beauty because he saw “hearts, not skin.” And Serwë’s heart seems flawed.
But now Esmenet wondered whether these very flaws held the secret of her [Serwë’s] heart’s perfection. For she’d glimpsed that perfection while watching her sleep. For an instant, she’d glimpsed what only Kellhus could see. The beauty of frailty. The splendour of imperfection.
She had witnessed, she realized. Witnessed truth.
Kellhus acknowledges her insight without words. Later, he helps her with her reading. He gave her The Chronicle of the Tusk as a primer. Holding it filled her with dread. She could feel her own judgment. She told him she doesn’t want to read a book that condemns her and calls her filthy. He responds with “What does it say, Esmi.” So she struggles to read it.
That night, she falls asleep without crying for Achamian. She wakes up alert and too early, moonlight flooding through her open tent. Then she realizes Sarcellus is lying beside her. She is surprisingly calm, wondering how long he had been watching her. He asks her if she ever told Achamian and she says no. She asks what you want, which is her. He then tells her Kellhus is a fraud. At that moment, she realizes she meant nothing to Sarcellus, she was just a thing and not his lover. It hits her hard as fear grows in her. She orders him to leave. But he says he has gold. She says she’ll scream.
He clamps a hand over her mouth and places a knife at her throat. He warns her that just like Achamian has died, so to will the prophet. He asks whom she will bed next for food, calling her an old whore. Out of fear, she pisses herself, crying. He only mocks her for it.
Sarcellus smirked, removed his hand.
She shrieked, screamed until it seemed her throat must bleed.
Then Kellhus is holding her and takes her to the fire. She explains what happened while crying. The commotion dies down while Kellhus says he’ll complain to Gotian but doubts anything will happen. He was a Knight-Commander “and she was just a dead sorcerer’s whore.” Esmenet feels so week and pathetic, wondering how that happened, then gets angry at Achamian for leaving her.
In her tent, Kellhus promises Sarcellus won’t return. It’s here that she confesses that she lied to Akka about what happened to her in Sumna, how the Consult came to her and that she knew Inrau hadn’t killed him. And now she can’t tell him. Kellhus asks what this has to do with Sarcellus and she doesn’t know. Kellhus explains that she thought she loved Kellhus, even compared him to Achamian.
“I was a fool!” she cried. “A fool!” How could she be such a fool?
No man is your equal, love! No man!
“Achamian was weak,” Kellhus said.
“But I loved him for those weaknesses! Don’t you see? That’s why I loved him!”
I loved him in truth!
“And that’s why you could never go to him… To go to him while you shared Sarcellus’s bed would be to accuse him of those very weaknesses he couldn’t bear. So you stayed away, fooled yourself into thinking you searched for him when you were hiding all the while.”
She asks how he knows this. Because no matter how much she lies to herself, she knows the truth. It’s why she hid the truth from Achamian, because you feared he would hate you. She feels so dirty, and knowing Kellhus sees it feels her with shame. She tells him not to look at her. But he does and “it fills me with wonder.” Those words stilled her. He leaves her, but she can still feel his touch.
The next evening, Esmenet is reading from The Chronicle of the Tusk while Kellhus cooks in her place. She was reading the old “Tusk Laws,” many replaced by the Latter Prophet, when she comes across a difficult word. She sounds it out and realizes it is whore. “Suffer not a whore to live, for she maketh a pit of her womb.” Anger surges through her as she spits the verse at Kellhus.
Kellhus gazed back, utterly unsurprised.
He’s been waiting for me to reach this passage. All along…
“Give me the book,” he said, his tone unreadable.
She does. And with his knife, he scraps away the ink of the passage. Esmenet is stunned, barely able to understand what he had done. Then he hands it back, asking if it were better “as though he’d just scraped mould from bread.” She can’t touch the book now, saying he couldn’t do that. It’s holy scripture. It’s the Tusk.
“I know. The warrant of your damnation.”
Esmenet gawked like a fool. “But…”
Kellhus scowled and shook his head, as though astonished she could be so dense.
“Just who, Esmi, do you think I am?”
Serwë chirped with laughter, even clapped her hands.
“Wh-who?” Esmenet stammered. It was the most she could manage. Other than in rare anger or jest, she’d never heard Kellhus speak with…with such presumption.
“Yes,” Kellhus repeated, “who?” His voice seemed satin thunder. He looked as eternal as a circle.
Then Esmenet glimpsed it: the shining gold about his hands… Without thinking, she rolled to her knees before him, pressed her face into the dust.
Serwë’s hiccups and Kellhus laughing draws her up and tells her it is time for dinner. But she is still shaken. She realizes that everything now comes from him. That he is everything, everywhere. A god. And then it hits her what he had done. He had freed her from damnation. He had redeemed her.
He scraped the passage clean!
Then she thought of Achamian.
Cnaiür is wondering through the alleys of Heppa haunted by the voices of his people accusing him of being a weeper. A faggot. A Galeoth spots him, saying he is the first disciple of the Warrior-Prophet. He doesn’t know who the man is talking about. Cnaiür has forgotten about the Dûnyain. Flashes of his seduction at Moënghus’s hands shake through him. He reminds himself he is of the people even while wondering how he ended up where he was. Memories assault him. He is a child running from his father’s hut holding something broken he tries to put back together.
Someone. He was forgetting to hate someone.
In Achamian’s dream of the Great Ordeal, notice how Seswatha thinks Golgotterath is about to yield, the Consult’s defeat at hand. That same arrogance that the Inrithi felt after Anwurat and Mengedda.
The eighteen years of delusion was how long the Great Ordeal (the original, and not the one in the sequel series) besieged Golgotterath before the No-God was unleashed.
Sad quote about being abused from Esmenet. She suspects that Kellhus must have beaten her, for being wanton, implying that Kellhus must have found out that Serwë had seduced Achamian months back. There is no outrage from Esmenet, just acceptance.
We see Kellhus’s seduction of Esmenet begin. First by convincing her that he and Serwë are her family, too, and that she should be with them. Then he begins to undermine her hope in seeing Achamian alive, convincing her he is lost, dead, so she’ll let go of him. All under the guise of a comforting friend. But Kellhus needs her intelligence. He has plans forming, plans that go beyond killing his father.
Achamian, you could have really made her happy by teaching her to read.
Then we caught to Achamian’s interrogation. Brilliant transition from the torment of the Consult against Seswatha into what he knows he’ll face here. Of course he panics. Anyone would.
I do love how Bakker uses language to explain the differences in sorcery. The Angogic Sorcerers can’t just make something burn, they need to summon a flame first. But the Gnosis understand the essence of something, can conjure it in abstraction, and just immolate you. There’s an interesting analogy, poets versus philosopher. A poet seeks to describe emotions, to conjure its effects in his reader while the philosopher seeks to understand the very existence of the emotion, its essence.
We see our first indication that magic can be drawn to cause effect. I imagine an Uroborian Circle has some connection with the branch of sorcery that creates the Chorae, the Aporos.
I love Achamian testing the circle. It’s like, fuck it, might as well try. It’s going to suck. Let’s get it over with. Because, maybe, they didn’t do it right.
Oh, Eleäzaras. Maybe you should have cut your loses with Achamian and given him back to Proyas. Eight dead so far because of this mad plan of yours. But Eleäzaras is under a great deal of stress. He’s one of the most powerful men in the world, and we’re seeing him cracking under the weight of actions, gambling the very future of his school to get vengeance.
Chanv, the mysterious drug that lets you live longer, sharpens your intellect, and makes you infertile. Oh, and it kills hope. And no one knows where it comes from. My bet is the Consult created it. Killing hope is certainly a giveaway, and the infertile part. That’s how they destroyed the Nonmen.
“The world looks south.” Another subtle nudging from Kellhus for Esmenet to forget Achamian. He’s to the north, across the river that is now a barrier to her.
Esmenet is a lot like Leweth from the first book prologues. He had retreated from the world to hold to the remembrance of his wife, to not let others change how he feels. Esmenet wanted the same, to hold onto Achamian. Now thanks to Kellhus’s help, she’s moving on. Of course, Achamian isn’t dead. There is still hope for him. It’s only been a few weeks after all.
So, what did Kellhus do or say that put such a fear in Serwë that Esmenet would steal Kellhus? Because it is this conversation that lays the foundation for the two women sharing Kellhus. The next step in his seduction. Remember, Kellhus will come at you wearing the face of your friend, your spouse, your enemy, or even a stranger.
Oh, Esmenet, everyone’s heart is flawed. You are all those things you think of with Serwë. You are vain about your appearance. You can be petulant and peevish, and you make dirty jokes with the best of them.
So Sarcellus was testing Esmenet, finding out how committed she was to Kellhus. Maybe she could be a spy. But she screamed, so he learned very committed considering he held a knife to her throat. She will not betray Kellhus. He thinks she did betray Achamian because she sold him out back in book 1. But Achamian told her to do that to protect herself.
Achamian cared about her.
She know is thinking about Achamian as dead. She no longer cries in grief before falling asleep. Now she’s moving into the anger stage of grief. She is moving on, guided by Kellhus. It’s tragic because we know Achamian, through the book he later writes about the holy war, isn’t dead.
Shame and fear can be such a destructive emotions when they keep you from trusting in the person you loved. And now Esmenet gets to have the guilt of never telling Achamian that Inrau didn’t kill himself. (Though she might later on, I can’t remember)
“Suffer not a whore to live, for she maketh a pit of her womb.” The exact words the priest cried back in book 1 before Esmenet was stoned.
Telling someone they are not damned in a world where that is a very real thing is powerful. And here’s the real horribleness about the soteriology of Bakker’s world: there is no way to keep yourself from being damned for some people. Being a whore, damned. Being a sorcerer, damned. Being a murderer, damned. There is no chance to change it. Achamian can never change his own damnation. There is no redemption for him, for Esmenet. As we learn, even Serwë is damned when she dies. That sweet, innocent girl. Bakker’s religion draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition, but departs in it in some extreme ways when it comes to damnation.
So it is hard not to feel the joy Esmenet feels even knowing it is a lie. Because he is not a prophet. And she is not saved just because he declared it. Otherwise, Serwë wouldn’t have been damned when he died. And, as we learn in the sequel series thanks to the judging eye, that sorcerers are still damned.
Next, notice she thinks of Kellhus as an eternal circle. And then she can see the halos about his hand. At this moment, she truly believes he is a prophet to her core. The halos are manifestation of that eternal circle. I think this is a crucial clue to the mechanism that produces these halos in the world.
And now Cnaiür is having a complete mental breakdown. He must have some form of schizophrenia because he is having auditory and visual hallucinations. That final paragraph is interesting, Cnaiür as a boy fleeing from his father’s yaksh and his wrath. He has something broken. He tries to put them together. But it’s someone sad and beautiful. Is this Serwë? He wants to save her and can’t. And, of course, he’s forgetting his hatred of Moënghus. He’s completely lost right now, drowning in the scars of his past.