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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Eighteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 5
The Holy Warrior
Chapter 18
The Andiamine Heights

Welcome to Chapter Eighteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Seventeen!

…and that revelation murdered all that I once did know. Where once I asked of the God, “Who are you?” now I ask, “Who am I?”


The Emperor, the consensus seems to be, was an excessively suspicious man. Fear has many forms, but it is never so dangers as when it is combined with power and perpetual uncertainty.


My Thoughts

While Bakker doesn’t give us a clue what the revelation Ankharlus received, his reaction is similar to what Achamian experiences in this chapter. Finally, after all these years, he has found the Consult in the wake of discovering the harbinger of the Celmomas Prophecy. Of course he’s reeling.

The second quite about Xerius we have seen borne true time and time again. He is a man always afraid, always suspicious, schooled by his mother in all the ways his ancestors died in the palace he lived, all the ways his rule can end. This chapter exists because of that paranoia

Late Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Xerius is shaken after the debacle in the garden and is drinking anpoi, joined by Conphas and Gaenkelti, the Captain of the Eothic Guard. Xerius asks if they have Skeaös and then demands to see him. Gaenkelti thinks that is a mistake. Xerius asks if sorcery is being used, and the Imperial Saik says no. But the man has been trained.

“What do you mean ‘trained’? Spare me your riddles, Gaenkelti! The Empire has been humiliated this day. I’ve been humiliated!”

“He was…hard to take. Three of my men are dead. Four more have broken limbs—”

“Surely you jest!” Conphas cried. “Was he armed?”

“No. I’ve never seen the like. If we hadn’t had extra guards assigned for the audience… As I said, he’s been trained.”

Xerius realized that Skeaös could have killed him at any time and is shaken. Conphas insists it has to be sorcery, which the Saik disagree with. Xerius gets paranoid and asks for another school to confirm, such as the Mysunsai. Gaenkelti has already done this, but agrees with the Saik. He used a Chorae on Skeaös and nothing. Xerius is stunned to learn his most trusted advisor was a spy. He was so sure that Skeaös knew the truth. “The others call me a God, but Skeaös, ah good Skeaös, he knows I’m divine.” in a fit of rage, he begins destroying things while demanding Skeaös is tortured and skinned.

There is silence as he calms down and then Gaenkelti breaches the subject of Kellhus. Xerius orders him to be be watched “Scrutinize him like no other.” Xerius finds satisfaction that even Conphas is disturbed by the events. Xerius dismisses Gaenkelti, after complimenting him, and orders the his chief sorcerer, spy, and augur to attend him. Gaenkelti leaves Xerius alone with Conphas.

Conphas is concerned, wondering just how much Skeaös knows. Xerius will have it tortured out of him and learn who he spies for. Conphas asks after the Holy War and the indenture. Xerius repeats what his mother would have said: “Our own house, Nephew. First, our own house…” Then he tells Conphas to personally summon the Mandate Schoolman in the Holy war.

“Why? Mandate Schoolmen are fools”

“Fools can be trusted precisely because they are fools. Their agendas rarely intersect with your own. These are great matters, Conphas. We must be certain.”

Alone, Xerius looks out from the summit of the Andiamine Heights. He could see far, but never far enough. He will listen to his sorcerer and spymaster squabble then go and see Skeaös himself. He would personally punish Skeaös

Achamian finds walking through Momemn at night, escorted by Conphas and Kidruhil soldiers, a nightmarish journey. At night, the already complex city is a maze. Achamian studies Conphas, self-conscious that he is a portly man when compared to Conphas’s physical perfection, and because the Prince-Imperial is too self-assured because he was “possessed either of a terrible strength or a frightening lack.”

Achamian is shocked Conphas is escorting him, wondering what could have caused the Imperial Nephew to fetch him personally. Conphas won’t say. “I have been sent to fetch not to banter.” The moment he received the summons, Achamian’s has experienced dread. Conphas attitude reminds Achamian just how little people think of his school as nothing more than desperate fools which the powerful avoid.

“Which was why this request was so unsettling. What could an Emperor want with a desperate fool like Drusas Achamian?

As far as he could tell, only one of two things could induce a Great Faction such as the Ikureis to call on him. Either they had encountered something beyond the abilities of their own school, the Imperial Saik, or the mercenary Mysunsai to resolve, or they wished to speak of the Consult. Since no one save the Mandate believed in the Consult any more, it had to be the former. And perhaps this wasn’t as implausible as it seemed. If the Great Factions commonly laughed at their mission, they still respected their skill.

The Gnosis had made them rich fools.

They arrive at the palace and Conphas leads him in. Achamian’s dread is not alleviated, especially when Conphas leads him into the “buried heart” of the mountain the palace is built on instead of the Heights. Achamian’s hesitates. Conphas tells Achamian this does lead to the dungeons. Achamian demands an explanation.

“Mandate sorcerers,” Conphas said ruefully. “Like all misers, you assume that everyone is after your hoard. What do you think, sorcerer? That I’m so stupid as to publicly barrel through Proyas’s camp just to abduct you?”

“You belong to House Ikurei. That’s cause for apprehension enough, don’t you think?”

Conphas realizes Achamian won’t go without answers and says they found a spy and need verification if sorcery is involved. The Emperor doesn’t trust the Imperial Saik and fear the Mysunsai’s “limited talents” won’t be enough. Achamian realizes something has scared them and that is why they sent for him. He agrees to enter.

As they walk, Conphas abruptly brings up Kellhus, shocking Achamian and he wonders if Kellhus is involved. Conphas attributes Kellhus’s cunning swaying the results of the meeting, which Achamian counters as Wisdom. Conphas grows angry and demands an answer to his “simple question.” But the question isn’t simple and Achamian reflects on what little he knows. “An Anasûrimbor had returned.” Achamian asks if this has to do with the spy and Conphas hesitates, thinking.

They truly are terrified.

The Exalt-General snorted, as though amazed he could worry about what a Mandate Schoolman might make of the Empire’s secrets. “Nothing whatsoever.” He smirked. “You should comb your beard, sorcerer,” he added as they continued down the passaged. “You’re about to meet the Emperor himself.”

Xerius, attended by his chief sorcerer Cememketri, Gaenkelti, his spymaster Tokush, the torture Kimish, and Skaleteas, the Mysunsai mercenary. The emperor examines Skeaös bound to the wall in the Truth Room. Skeaös has no fear and “blinked the way a child, awakened in the dead of night, might blink.”

Xerius asks his torturers opinion on Skeaös’s lack of fear, and Kimish answers that he has plied Skeaös already. Kimish has never seen a man like Skeaös Xerius grows impatient with Kimish’s need to play storyteller and demands answers.

Kimish shrugged. “Sometimes it’s better to show than to say,” he said, grasping a small set of pliers fro the rack of tools beside the Counsel. “Watch.”

He knelt and grasped one of the Counsel’s feet in his left hand. Slowly, with the boredom of a craftsman, he wrenched out a toenail.

There was nothing. O Shriek. Not even a shudder from the old frame.

Inhuman,” Xerius gasped, backing away.

The sorcerous all agree that no sorcery is at work. Xerius demands answers. Skeaös replies, but his voice is broken, “like many voices.” Xerius grows dizzy and grabs Cememketri for support. He calls the sorcerer a liar, insisting it must be at use. “This room reeks of it!” He accuse the Imperial Saik of plotting against him but is then caught short by Conphas and Achamian’s entrance. Conphas thinks Xerius’s accusation against the Saik is rash.

Xerius greets Achamian, feeling the need to be gracious when Achamian bowed, touching forehead to the ground. Achamian declares himself “your slave, God-of-Men” and asks what Xerius needs. Xerius brings Achamian forward before Skeaös, showing Achamian off.

The old face remained passionless, but the eyes glittered with a strange intensity.

“A Mandati,” it said.

Xerius looked to Achamian. The man’s expression was blank. And then Xerius felt it, felt the hatred emanating from Skeaös’s pale form, as though the old man recognized the Mandate sorcerer. The splayed body tensed. The chains tightened, link biting against link. The wooden table creaked.

Achamian backs up as Xerius demands to know if it is sorcery. Achamian demands to know who the man is, horror in his voice. Xerius answered and Achamian is in a panic, wanting to know what Skeaös confessed to. Xerius demands his answers. Achamian say there is no sorcery here unless it is invisible to the few. Skaleteas tries to brown-nose, which angers Xerius.

Meta ka peruptis sun rangashra, Chigra, Mandati—Chigraa,” the old Counsel spat, his voice now utterly inhuman. He writhed against his restraints, the old body rippling with thin, greasy muscles. A bolt snapped from the walls.

Achamian is struck dumb while the chains break. Xerius cries for help. Then Gaenkelti died, his neck broken. Conphas is hit with a chain and Tokush was “broken like a doll.” Sorcery is unleashed, Achamian using his Gnosis while Cememketri curses at him.

It is over. Achamian has saved Xerius’s life, leaving Skeaös is charred. Xerius realizes he is alive and safe. Achamian heads to the burned body of Skeaös and demands answers, wanting to know what Skeaös is.

“You are the first, Chigra,” Skeaös wheezed, an ambient, horrifying whisper. And you will be the last…”

What followed would haunt Xerius’s dreams for the rest of his numbered days. As though gasping for some deeper breath, Skeaös’s face unfolded like a spider’s legs clutched tight about a cold torso. Twelve limbs, crowned by small wicked claws, unclenched and opened, revealing lipless teeth and lidless eyes where a face should have been. Like a woman’s long fingers, they embraced the astounded Mandate sorcerer about the head and began to squeeze.

Achamian screams in pain. Xerius is shocked. But Conphas acts, decapitating the creature and saving Achamian’s life. The sorcerer stands, surveys the stunned faces, then goes to leave without a word. Cememketri blocks the way. Bluntly, Achamian says he is leaving. Xerius gives him permission while Conphas gives a look that asks if letting him leave is wise.

“He would have lectured us about myths, Conphas. About the Ancient North and the return of Mog. They always do.”

“After this,” Conphas replied, “perhaps we should listen.”

Xerius is dismissive: “Mad events seldom give credence to madmen.” Exhilaration surges through Xerius. He lives and he knows. He is no longer ignorant about the skin spies. He decides the skin spy must be Cishaurim in origin. Xerius surveys the room, the dead, and counts the cost of purchasing this knowledge. It did not beggar him.

“Perhaps,” Conphas replied, scowling, “but we’re debtors still.”

So like Mother, Xerius thought.

Esmenet hurries through the camp of the Holy War as they celebrate the victory over the Emperor and the impending march. Esmenet waited for Sarcellus to fall asleep before living his camp and heading out into the night. In the heady celebration, men grab her, some just to spin her, others to kiss her or grope her, and one tries to have sex with her, but she punches him in the face, bringing confusion to the man’s face.

She lies, crying and shaken after the encounter, but she regains herself and continues on. She is finally heading to Xinemus’s camp to find Achamian. She hides her tattooed hand, proclaiming her a prostitute, as she moves through the camp.

She finally finds Xinemus’s camp and stares at his banner, imagining Achamian before the fire and how he would burst with joy when he sees her. She imagines hugging him, smelling him, hearing him speak her name, joke about how old-fashioned it is (she was named for the wife of a prophet).

She wiped her eyes. That he would rejoice at seeing her, she had no doubt. But he would not understand the time she’d spent with Sarcellus—especially once she told him of that night in Sumna and what it meant for Inrau. He would be cut, outraged even. He might strike her.

But he would not turn her out. He would wait, as he always did, for the Mandate to call him away.

And he would forgive. As he always did.

She feels pathetic and struggles to gather herself, realizing she was still a mess from her earlier crying. She moves along the canal, spying on the camp, feeling the need to be secretive or “like a misbegotten creature from some nursery tale, one who must hide from lethal light.” She finally spies the fire, but doesn’t see Achamian. She does see Xinemus looking strong and in command, whom she thinks looks like Achamian’s older brother.

So you’re his friend, she thought, both watching and silently thanking him.

She didn’t know anyone else, but spies Cnaiür, hearing about him, and then sees Kellhus and Serwë and realizes he must be the Prince of Atrithau who had the dream. She wonders if Proyas is also with them.

She watched wide-eyed, a sense of awe squeezing the breath from her lungs. She stood, she realized, at the very heart of the Holy War, fiery with passion, promise, and sacred purpose. These men were more than human, they were Kahiht, World Souls, locked in a great wheel of great events. The thought of striding into their midst beckoned hot tears to her eyes. How could she? Awkwardly concealing the back of her hand, instantly branded for what she was by their far-seeing eyes…

What’s this? A whore? Here? You must be joking…

What had she been thinking? Even if Achamian had been her, she would have only shamed him.

Someone, probably Proyas based of the description, gives a sermon about the trials the Holy War shall endure and what the war’s goal is—Shimeh. Then Xinemus intones the High Temple Prayer. Things are sombre when he finishes until the celebration starts up again. She again wants to join them, seeing them as bright and regal, but fears they would vanish. Then Kellhus speaks to Xinemus while looking towards her, then the pair walk at her. She shrinks back and hides behind a tent. The pair urinate into the canal, trading jokes which make even Esmenet smile as she watches. She realizes a friendship has just formed between the two men. As they head back, again Kellhus appears to look at her. But he makes no notice of her and they rejoin the camp.

They seemed good people, Esmenet thought, the kind of people Akka would prize as friends. There was… room between these people, she decided. Room to fail. Room to hurt.

Alone in the darkness, she suddenly felt safe, as she had with Sarcellus. These were Achamian’s friends, and though she did not exist for them, somehow they would keep her safe. A sense of drowsiness embalmed her. The voices lilted and rumbled, shining with honest good cheer. Just a snooze she thought. Then she heard someone mention Akka’s name.

They talk about Conphas summoning Achamian to the Emperor, worried about him. As they talk, she falls asleep and dreams that the stump she leans against is a dead tree holding her emplace. And then someone wakes her up.

Sarcellus. She is scared as he hushes her, not wanting her to make a scene. “This might be hard to explain.” The camp is quiet, almost everyone asleep. She accuse him of following her, but he merely awoke and figured this is where she would be.

She swallowed. Her hands felt light, as though they were preparing of their own volition to shield her face. “I’m not going back with you, Sarcellus.”

Something Esmenet could not decipher flashed in his eyes. Triumph? Then he shrugged. The ease of the gesture terrified her.

“That’s good,” he said absently. “I’ve had my fill of you, Esmi.”

She stared at him. Tears traced hot lines across her cheeks. Why was she crying? She didn’t love him… Did she?

But he had loved her. Of this she was certain… Wasn’t she?

He tells her to go to Achamian because he doesn’t care. She tries to understand his change of mood, wondering of Gotian had commanded Sarcellus to get rid of her. She was the source of much gossip. Her thoughts drift, to the stranger in the market place, to four years ago when the famine came and she grew so skinny and when she almost died. A part of her wants to beg his forgiveness. But she doesn’t. She only stares and he grows impatient and leaves.

Dawn brightens the sky as she heads into the camp and scavenges wine and a crust of bread to eat, feeling like a child awake before her parents or a scavenging animal. She wonders where Akka is. She hears footsteps, turns, and sees Achamian walking towards her, recognizing his portly frame.

As he neared, she glimpsed the five stripes of his beard, then the first contours of his face, cadaverous in the gloom. She stood before him, smiling, crying her wrists held out.

It’s me.

He looked through her, beyond her, and continued walking.

She stands in shock. She had imagined so many different ways their reunion would play out. But not for Achamian to pretend not to see her. Crying, she runs from the camp and trips into the dust. She sobs, demanding why when she came to save him, to tell him about Inrau. Her self-esteem plummets. Why would he want a whore. She pleads to herself that Achamian has to love her while her doubts say no one ever loved you.

“M-m-my d-daughter… Sh-she loved me!”

Would that she hated!… Hated and lived!

She cries on the ground, her thoughts drifting through her memories she sobs, tormented by anguish and guilt. Time passes until she remembers what an old harlot told her many years ago. “That’s why we’re more. More than concubines, more than priestess, more than wives, more than even some queens. We may be oppressed, Esmi, but remember, always remember, sweet girl, we’re never owned.” Esmenet finds comfort in the thought as she realizes Sarcellus and Achamian do not own her. She rises stiffly.

Oh, Esmi, you’re getting old.

Not good for a whore.

She began walking.

My Thoughts

Here we see what a skin spy can do. The Eothic guard are Norsirai (think German or Scandinavian) and are on average bigger than the Ketyai like Xerius, which Achamian, through Esmenet’s ruminations at the end of the chapter, attributes to the greater amount of red meat. The thing called Skeaös kills three of them and injured four more. Skin spies are deadly

Xerius takes it badly learning the truth. Skeaös has been his number one advisor. He knows the true scope of their plan for the Holy War. Xerius has new fears to focus on. He has to learn. He can’t trust anyone in the court.

But a Mandate Schoolman Xerius can trust. They are fools, so he thinks, obsessed with the Consult. But they do not play the game, as the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spire believed until they found the butchered Geshruuni, the Javreh Captain from Chapter 1. A safe bet to confirm even with sending for a Mysunsai Sorcerer. He is so rattled, he sends Conphas personally.

Achamian isn’t sure if Conphas is terribly strong or has a lack in his personality. Conphas is a narcissist. Everything revolves around him and it breeds his arrogance. The fact that he has physical perfection, a tactical mind, and the power as the heir of the Nansur Empire only fosters it. His no doubt sexual relationship with his Grandmother and her shaping of him at a young edge no doubt led to this.

Achamian is not smart enough not to go into the dungeons of Xerius without an answer. Again, the Ikureis’ reputation proceeds them.

Achamian comments that mercenaries are rarely gifted souls from the previous chapter apply to the Mysunsai’s reputation. Of course, Achamian says he himself joins the Holy War for mercenary reasons, but his isn’t for money so maybe that is the difference.

As they walk into the mountain the Andiamine Heights is built upon, Achamian feels its weight above him. That is a creepy feeling if you’ve ever been underground. Of course, we walk into skyscrapers, man-made mountains, and don’t have that same reaction. It is purely psychological and speaks to the deepest fears in all of us—being trapped.

It appears that Conphas wasn’t expecting Achamian to be so perceptive, but a fool easily manipulated. Bringing up Kellhus, out of nowhere, is extremely clumsy, alerting Achamian immediately to the connection. By thinking less of of the Mandate, Conphas underestimates Achamian and gives away too much information.

Skeaös’s strange, many-voiced tone isn’t shocking. He is a mimic. He would be capable of producing the entire range of human speech. He can shape his body so he probably has control over his vocal cords.

Xerius does enjoy it when people give him the respect he needs. He might not understand why he was moved to graciousness, but he wants answers and Achamian is here to deliver. He is showing to the other sorcerers “This is how you treat me, as a god. And then I am benevolent in return.”

The Consult definitely hates the Mandate. Looks like they passed that on to their skin spies. Remember the pleasure Sarcellus took in striking Achamian the day he met Inrau at the tavern. At the time, it’s played off as Sarcellus enjoying beating an arrogant low-caste, but it wasn’t. He enjoyed striking his enemy.

Skeaös had the strength to free himself from the chains. He just didn’t care to until Achamian was there and he saw his enemy. These skin spies are so dangers and powerful. Far stronger than any normal human.

We see the skin spies unveiled now. Like Kellhus speculated, fingers simulating a face. And it is horrifying. Note how Xerius will remember this till the day he dies. I’m sure he will.

Also, the Consult use a from of the Gnosis. They Synthese had the Mark deep on him when Inrau so him. And yet the skin spies are not created by sorcery. They are the first hint we get of the Consult’s other skills.

Xerius is very dismissive of the No God, calling him Mog instead of Mog-Pharau. There you are, dismissing and belittling. No wonder Xerius never discovers the second skin spy in his court until it’s too late.

Conphas is clearly shaken by the events.

Xerius deduction of the Cishaurim is fair. There has been no sign of the Consult for 300 years. Even Mandate sorcerers like Achamian had lost faith in their mandate.

Poor Xerius. He can never have that moment where he feels like a genius. Some one, usually his mother, is there to let the hot air out of his swollen head.

Interesting that the eyes of the dead bull’s head reminds Esmenet of Sarcellus. She knows something is off in the man, smart enough to detect the wrongness but doesn’t have Kellhus trained perception to identify it.

Esmenet has a preference for tall, muscular Norsirai men “muscle trees” as clients. We’ll see this again in the second series.

Esmenet needs secrecy because she’s scared. As much as she wants to see Achamian, she spent that time with Sarcellus and she feels guilty. She knows he won’t understand, will be angry, and she’s delaying the confrontation.

Interesting how she thinks of the World Souls as locked into a great wheel of great events. They are chained to fate. Slaves to the Darkness that Comes Before.

Esmenet’s low self-esteem rears its head again as she gazes at the fire. We’ve all had those moments, outsiders looking at the warm fire, wishing we were included while too afraid to march up for fear of rejection. It is easier to skulk in the shadows and hide.

It is interesting how Kellhus puts her at ease simply by going off with Xinemus and urinating. I wonder what he made of the woman watching them. He felt it was important enough to ease her fright. Was he curious at her purpose in hiding and watching or did he recognize her from Achamian’s talk about Esmenet?

Easement may not love Sarcellus, but she liked that he loved her and to realize how little he cares for her stings her and shakes her up. As a whore, she prides herself on reading men. And she has read him badly. She clings to the idea he was ordered to discard her because of the rumors, it flatters her ego more than the truth that he doesn’t care. But he’s not human, so she wouldn’t be able to.

Esmenet has a lot of guilt over her daughter Mimara’s death. “Would that she hated!… Hated and lived.” We’ll learn more about Mimara’s fate, but it has to do with the famine and Esmenet nearly staving to death.

Poor Esmenet. She picked the wrong time to run into Achamian. He’s in shock from what happened with the Emperor. He does love you, Esmenet.

Esmenet’s realization that she is her own woman, unlike all those others the old whore named. Her profession has given her freedom. She doesn’t have to rely on one man to take care of her, slave to his whim. She can go out and make her fortune, using the men as they use her. She walks off into the camp back to the life she left in Sumna.

What a sad place to leave off Esmenet’s story until book 2, at her lowest point, rejected by both the men she thought loved her.

Click here to continue on to Chapter 19!

Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Seven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Emperor
Chapter 7

Welcome to Chapter Seven of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Six!

The world is a circle that possesses as many centres as it does men.

Ajencis, the Third Analytic of Men

My Thoughts

Humans are very self-centered creatures. It’s right there in the word “self-centered.” I always do love Bakker’s philosophy he adds to the stories. Always making you think.

Early Autumn, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Conphas, accompanied by Martemus, is making his triumphal return to Momemn. He pauses at the Xatantius Arch, showing one of the previous empire’s great victories. Conphas thinks that by defeating the Scylvendi, he has outshined Xatantius. Beyond the Arch is the Scuäri Campus, a parade ground filled with Imperial Soldiers, representing every column of the Imperial Army. They are dressed in ceremonial armor and arrayed in neat phalanxes. Past the Campus was the Allosian Forum, the base of the Andiamine Heights.

Conphas saw his uncle awaiting them, a distant figure framed by the Forum’s might columns. Despite the imperial pageantry, he looked small, like a hermit squinting from the entrance of his cave.

Is this your first Imperial Audience-of-State?” Conphas asked Martemus.

The General nodded, turned to him with a faintly doddering air. “My first time in the Imperial Precincts.”

Conphas grinned. “Welcome to the brothel.”

Gilgaöl Priest, as customary, brought out basins of water. They smeared lion’s blood on his arms, while praying, cleansed his symbolic wounds. Conphas is surprised when Shrial Priest come out, anoints him with oil, and draw the tusk on his forehead in palm wine. They give him the title, Shield-of-the-Tusk. Conphas understands why his uncle did this. The Scylvendi were heathens like the Kian and thus his victory was part of the Holy War. Conphas thinks Skeaös must be behind such a smart idea.

The elation Conphas felt after winning the Battle of Kiyuth was quickly lost by the journey back to Momemn. Conphas intended to line the road back to Momemn with Sclyvendi heads, but his cartographers argued about the exact distance back to capital and thus the proper spacing of heads. The Imperial Saik got involved, thinking that they knew better than the cartographers. This argument culminated in the murder of Erathius, an outspoken cartographer. The culprit could not be found, so Conphas exploited a loophole in the Martial Code to flay the most vocal individual of both factions.

Worst, when Conphas finally reached Momemn the day before, he found the capital surrounded by the Holy War. Instead of being greeted by adoring masses, a mob of Inrithi rioted and a pitch battle erupted. Conphas learns from an Imperial Officer about how his uncle is only supplying enough grain to keep them from starving until the Indenture is signed. The negotiations over the Indenture had turned bitter.

The Emperor,” the officer concluded, “is most heartened by your arrival, Lord Exalt-General.”

Conphas had nearly cackled aloud at that. The return of a rival heartened no emperor, but every emperor was heartened by the return of his army, particularly when he was besieged. Which was essentially the case. Conphas had been forced to enter Momemn by boat.

And now, the great triumph he’d so anticipated, the all-important recognition of what he’d wrought, had been overshadowed by greater events. The Holy war had dimmed his glory, had dwarfed even the destruction of the Sclyvendi. Men would celebrate him, yes, but the way their celebrated religious festivals in times of famine: listlessly, too preoccupied by the press of events to truly understand what or whom they celebrated.

How could he not hate the Holy War.

Finally, Conphas and Martemus cross the Campus, the soldiers kneeling as they pass. Behind him, Conphas’s bodyguard were bringing his captive while others lined his progress with Sclyvendi heads. Conphas looked for Istiya, his grandmother, but couldn’t see her. He knew she was there. Istiya had shaped Conphas to the man he was today, prepared him for greatness. Conphas suspected she was behind the trumped up charges against his father to make sure there would be no interference in Conphas taking the throne should Xerius die. Because of her efforts, everyone has seen him as the Imperial Heir, and even if Xerius had a son that “didn’t drool or require diapers into adulthood” nothing could overturn that perception.

She [Istiya] had done so much that he could almost love her.

As Conphas approaches his uncle, he sees the crown of Shigek on his brow. No emperor has worn the crown since Shigek was lost to the heathens three centuries ago. Conphas thinks his uncle is presumptuous. Conphas thinks his uncle fears him and means to kill him. Conphas has become to powerful and is a threat. Conphas knows his uncle desires to control the Holy War, to reclaim the provinces lost, and to be remembered as a great Statesman-Emperor like Caphrianas the Younger. As long as Conphas convinces Xerius he is still useful to that goal, Xerius won’t touch him.

He had always hated his uncle—even as a child. But for all the contempt he bore him, he’d learned long ago not to underestimate him. His uncle was like those uncommon drunks who slurred and staggered day after day yet became lethally alert when confronted by danger.

Conphas wonders what Xerius is thinking, and asks Martemus his opinion. Martemus points out that Conphas knows him better. Conphas asks if he should be afraid. Martemus answers yes. Conphas knows that Martemus speaks truthfully, so wants to know why he thinks Conphas should be afraid. Martemus answers if he was emperor he would fear Conphas. What emperors fear, emperors kill is provincial wisdom. Conphas disagrees. Xerius has feared Conphas for years, but only new fears provoke Xerius to murder because he fears everybody.

Martemus points out that Conphas now has the armies loyalty. Every soldier on the parade ground would fight for him. That is something new for Xerius to fear. Conphas is stunned to realize that he could rebel right here and now and begins to consider it. Conphas disagrees because of the Holy War. Martemus asks if the emperors greed will outweigh his fear. Conphas thinks it will. Martemus thinks its a gamble and will throw his lot in with Conphas.

As they climb the stairs to where Xerius waits, Conphas begins to consider rebellion. Conphas is a planner, but he knows that sometimes opportunities must be seized. As Conphas reaches his uncle, he realizes his ceremonial dagger could kill Xerius. He greeted by his uncle and he fails to kneel and kiss Xerius’s knee. Conphas has made the decision to kill him and have his men secure the capital.

Conphas presents his captive, Xunnurit, the former King-of-Tribes. Xerius is pleased, promising to blind Xunnurit and chain him to his throne like the High Kings of Kyraneas did in the past. Conphas spots his grandmother and notices something is different about her.

Conphas catches Martemus gaze and nods. Conphas is patiently waiting the moment when Xerius will embrace him so he can strike and kill his uncle. Conphas brings up the fact the Holy War attacked his men. Xerius is dismissive, saying the matter has been concluded. Xerius says tomorrow they will go upriver to see his new monument and tells Conphas to be patient, that this isn’t the Kiyuth and things are not as they seem. Conphas is baffled by that statement.

As though the matter were utterly closed, Xerius continued: “Is this the general you speak so highly of? Martemus, is it? I’m so very pleased he’s here. I couldn’t ferry enough of your men into the city to fill the Campus, so I was forced to use my Eothic Guard and several hundred of the City Watch.”

Though stunned, Conphas replied without hesitation, “And dress them as my … as army regulars?”

Of course. The ceremony is as much for them as for you, no?”

His heart thundering, Conphas knelt and kissed his uncle’s knee.

The next day, Xerius, Istiya, and Conphas are on the Imperial barge heading up the River Phayus to see Xerius’s new monument. Istiya is impatient and Xerius is pleased by her annoyance. The monument is going to be transported to the capital down the river today from the basalt quarries of Osbeus.

The entire trip, Istiya has been fawning over Conphas, telling him all the sacrifices she had made for him, including an albino lion who’s hide she has made into a cloak for him. “A suitable gift for the Lion of Kiyuth.” Conphas plays along with his grandmother’s flattery, thanking her and crediting her with their success. Xerius finds the entire exchange grating and knows Istiya does it to annoy him. Istiya proclaims Conphas to be greater than any Exalt-General in the empire’s history.

What is she trying to do? Istiya had always goaded him, but never had she pressed her banter so close to sedition. She knew Conphas’s victory over the Scylvendi had transformed him from a tool into a threat. Especially after the farce at the Forum the previous day. Xerius needed only to glimpse at his nephew’s face to know that Skeaös had been right. There had been murder in Conphas’s eyes. If not for the Holy War, Xerius would have ordered him cut down on the spot.

Istiya had been there. She knew all this, and yet she pushed further and further. Was she …

Was she trying to get Conphas killed?

Conphas is uneasy at his grandmother’s statement and Xerius wanders if he really is uneasy, or if Conphas and Istiya plotted together. The barge suddenly strikes a bar in the river, getting stuck. Xerius berates the captain who looks scarred to death. Conphas is enjoying the embarrassment this causes Xerius. Xerius orders the Captain to man the oars as punishment. The barge remains stuck and Xerius decides they’ll await his monument’s arrival here.

Skeaös suggest they await the arrival of the monument from the aft galley of the barge. While Skeaös points out that this will allow a breathtaking view of the passing monument, Xerius knows Skeaös is saving the Emperor from being witnessed by his subjects on a stuck boat.

As they wait, Conphas makes small talk, asking how Xerius’s new wife, Conphas’s half-sister, is doing. Xerius answers she is satisfactory. Istiya points out she hasn’t had a child yet. Xerius shrugs, saying he already has his heir. Angrily, Istiya says their won’t be an inheritance left. Xerius is surprised by his mother’s directness, attributing it to age, and warns her. Conphas intercedes, saying she means the Men of the Tusk, who the empire is on the brink of open war with.

Istiya wants to know what Xerius plans are, pointing out the other Houses of the Congregate are worried. Xerius deflects her question. Xerius says Calmemunis has agreed to sign the Indenture tomorrow. Istiya asks what of Tharschilka and Kumrezzer, and Conphas is sure they will sign if Calmemunis does. Conphas knows the Men of the Tusk thing God is on their side and have no fear of the Fanim. Conphas’s realizes the first to arrive are the greediest and want to get their share of Fanim lands before anyone else arrives.

Istiya is horrified as Conphas explains these three lords will march right away, that until their liege lords arrive, they command the Holy War. Istiya demands Xerius not provision them. Xerius disagrees, he wants them to march. Conphas suggest the slaves be dismissed. Once they are private, Conphas asks if a deal has been made with the Padirajah.

Struck mute by astonishment, Xerius gaped at his nephew. How could he have known? Too much penetration, and certainly too much ease of manner. At some level, Xerius had always been terrified of Conphas. It was more than just the man’s wit. There was something dead inside his nephew. No, more than dead—something smooth. With others, even with his mother—although she to seemed so remote lately—there was always the exchange of unspoken expectations of the small, human needs that crotched and braced all conversation, even silences. But with Conphas there was only sheer surfaces. His nephew was never moved by another. Conphas was moved by Conphas, even if at times in mimicry of being moved by others. He was a man for whom everything was whim. A perfect man.

But to master such a man! And master him he must.

Flatter him,” Skeaös had once told Xerius, “and be transformed into part of the glorious story that he sees as his life.” But he could not. To flatter another was to humble oneself.

Xerius demands to know how Conphas has learned of the agreement, threatening to send him to the Tower of Ziek. Conphas answers, it’s what he would do. The Kian need to know the the empire is not fanatics. Xerius doesn’t but it and demands again to know who told him. Conphas reveals Skauras told him. Conphas has maintained communication with his court since Conphas had spent time there as a boy as a hostage.

Istiya warns Conphas that Skauras is canny and would sow dissension amongst them. Istiya states the Dynasty is the most important thing, and Xerius is reminded of her when he was a boy, repeating that same phrase. Conphas states he is not a fool, to be tricked by Skauras. Istiya tries to reason with Conphas at the folly of allowing the first of the Holy War to be massacred by the Kian. Xerius states the empire will sacrifice the Holy War to get back the lost provinces.

Conphas finally understands. The first to arrive, other than those three greedy lords, are the vulgar masses. To lose a rabble of untrained fighters would just save the Holy War bellies to feed. It would also teach the other lords and the Shriah to fear the Fanim and thus their dependence of the empire would grow.

Istiya thinks its madness, they have the chance to destroy the Kian and instead Xerius plots with them. Conphas points out that Maithanet controls the Holy War now. He has done all he can to geld the empire by inviting the scarlet spire. Istiya demands to know what Xerius plans after the “herd is culled.”

What then? Our Shriah learns fear. Respect. All his mummery—all his sacrifices, hymns, and wheedling—will have been naught. As you said earlier, Mother, the Gods cannot be bribed.”

But you can.”

Xerius laughed. “Of course I can. If Maithanet commands the Great Names to sign my Indenture, to swear the return of all the old provinces to the Empire, then I will give them”—he turned to his nephew and lowered his head—“the Lion of Kiyuth.”

Splendid!” Conphas cried. “Why didn’t I see it? Thrash them with one hand in order to soothe them with the other. Brilliant, Uncle! The Holy War will be ours. The Empire will be restored!”

Desperately, Istiya asks for Skeaös opinion. Skeaös evades, saying its not his place to speak. Istiya flatters him, saying while she doesn’t like him, he gives sound counsel. Skeaös remains silent, and Istiya understands, saying Skeaös fears for his life, but she is an old woman and no longer cares. What Xerius has said so far doesn’t sound like enough payment to the Kian. Istiya wants to know where the useful part of the Holy War fails.

Xerius just says things go wrong in war. Istiya understands, the Holy War will fail before it reaches Shimeh. Xerius just shrugs and turns to the river as his monument floats by, a massive obelisk for the temple-complex of Cmiral.

His thoughts leaped. I will be immortal …

He returned to his settee and reclined, consciously savoring the flares of hope and pride. Oh, sweet godlike vanity!

Like an immense sarcophagus,” his mother said. Always, the asp of truth.

My Thoughts

Conphas is a narcissistic sociopath. He keeps Martemus around because the man wasn’t a sycophant. “Flattery was beneath his [Martemus] contempt. If the man said something, Conphas knew, it was true.” How could a man as great as Conphas imagines himself to be not find Martemus’s praise intoxicating. Conphas has to earn that praise. His reaction to the Holy War is to pout about how it spoiled his glorious arrival.

Martemus is the epitome of the practical soldier. While he doesn’t think in plots and intrigues, it is he who sees the potential of the assembled army. His simple statement almost caused Conphas to seize the throne for himself at that moment. This has always been a problem for empires, when your generals command your soldiers loyalty and then realize that they could make themselves into emperors.

Luckily for Xerius, Skeaös is not an idiot. The replacement of Martemus’s troops with Eothic Guards was brilliant. One of my favorite moments in the book. Conphas is reminded that Xerius is not out of moves yet and if Conphas wants to be emperor, he needs to stay in his uncle’s graces until then.

Xerius is also a bit of a narcissist. Maybe that comes with being an emperor and everyone telling you how important you are every walking moment. He’s very juvenile the way he wants to show off his new toy and annoyed about Istiya and Conphas not being nearly as excited as he was. Xerius, however, finds something wrong with Conphas personality, acknowledging that at least Xerius has some empathy, as opposed to Conphas who just cares about himself.

More hints that something has changed with Istiya. She seems very keen on the Holy War succeeding versus the Empire prospering by taking advantage of the Holy War. We also see why Xerius constantly refers to his mother as the “old whore.” The revelation that she would molest him as a youth would definitely skew that relationship. One wonders if she did the same to Conphas. This might explain his narcissism. During their banter, there may be hints of a more intimate relationship. Conphas compares her tutelage to having sex with women during his teenage years.

It is odd how Istiya, who is always talking about the dynasty, balks at the plan. This will strengthen the Empire while weakening their enemies. Instead, she’s afraid for her soul and death. This is the woman that convinced her son to murder her husband because he would make a better Emperor and who was behind the plot that saw Conphas’s father (her other son) to be executed just to make the succession clear for her skilled nephew. And yet she has serious issue with the plan. A plan Conphas, who is a brilliant tactician, finds great merit in.

Xerius paranoia shines in this section. The moment he fears there is a leak in his plan, he threatens Conphas with torture.

Xerius and Skauras agreement is interesting. Both get something, the Fanim get to survive and the Empire gets to recover some lost land. But not all of it. Shimeh was part of the Empire in the past. The Kian also get to satisfaction of stopping the Holy War from reaching their goal. A lot still needs to happen, and this new Shriah is very shrewd. This truly is a gamble for the Empire. If Xerius fail, the Holy War could very well be used to destroy him.

Istiya, of course, has to get the last word.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Eight.

Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Prologue

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker


The Wastes of Kûniüri

If you missed out on the introduction to the series, click here.

Section 1

It is only after that we understand what has come before, then we understand nothing. Thus we shall define the soul as follows: that which precedes everything.”

—Ajencis, the Third Analytic of Men

My thoughts

darkness-that-comes-beforeBakker opens every chapter with quotes from various fictitious philosophers, historians, or folk sayings of his world. To me, Ajencis is saying the cause of man’s actions is the soul. To understand men’s actions we need to understand the soul. Another reference, I believe, to the title of the book. The cause that comes out of the “darkness” is the soul.

Bakker is a philosopher in the field of human consciousness (read his treaties on thought, they are dense and make my head spin), in his series the soul is a very real phenomenon that he will explore over the course of the books.

2147 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Mountains of Demua

 The prologue begins in the citadel of Ishuäl. Months earlier, High King Anasûrimbor Ganrelka II fled here with the remnants of his household. Here they thought they would be safe and survive the end of the world. They were wrong.

“The citadel of Ishuäl succumbed during the height of the Apocalypse. But no army of inhuman Sranc had scaled its ramparts. No furnace-hearted dragon had pulled down its might gates. Ishuäl was the secret refuge of the Kûniüric High Kings, and no one, not even the No-God, could besiege a secret.”

Ganrelka was the first to die of plague. Followed by his concubine and her daughter. It burned though the fortress, claiming the lives of mighty knights, viziers, and servants. Only Ganrelka’s bastard son and a Bardic Priest survived.

The boy hid from the Bard, terrified of his strange manner and one white eye. The Bard pursued the boy and one night caught him. Crying and pleading for forgiveness, the Bard raped the boy. Afterward the Bard mumbled, “There are no crimes, when no one is left alive.” Five nights later, the boy pushed the Bard from the walls. “Was it murder when no one was left alive?”

Winter came and wolves howled in the forest beyond the walls. The boy survived alone in the fortress. When the snows broke, the boy heard shouts at the gate and found a group of refugees of the Apocalypse. The refugees scaled the walls and the boy hid in the fortress. Eventually, one of the refugees found him.

With a voice neither tender nor harsh, he said: “We are Dûnyain, child. What reason could you have to fear us?”

But the boy clutched his father’s sword, crying, “So long as men live, there are crimes!”

The man’s eyes filled with wonder. “No, child,” he said. “Only so long as men are deceived.”

For a moment, the young Anasûrimbor could only stare at him. The solemnly, he set aside his father’s sword and took the stranger’s hand. “I was a prince,” he mumbled.

The boy was brought to the refugees and together they celebrated. In Ishuäl they had found shelter against the end of the worlds. The Dûnyain buried the dead with their jewels and fine clothes, destroyed the sorcerous runes on the walls, and burned the Grand Vizier’s books. “And the world forgot them for two thousand years.


“One cannot raise walls against what has been forgotten.” Bakker opens the book with a warning about the need to remember. The importance of keeping and remembering history is a prevalent theme in the series. From the Dûnyain deliberately forgetting about the outside world, to the world forgetting about the Apocalypse. And, of course, the world forgetting about the Dûnyain for two thousand years.

Bakker then starts to give us hints of the Apocalypse that dominates the rest of the series. Of cities burning, dragons, and inhuman Sranc. This Apocalypse is so terrible that not just any king, but a High King has fled it and written off the world as lost. Now just hopes to survive. And finally the sadness that even in this refuge, they almost all die anyway.

Bakker displays in this section his ability to paint events in a historical context. His books change from the tight focus, limited third person POV common in most of Fantasy today, allowing you to get into the thoughts of a single character in any scene to vast, more omniscient third person sections where he tells the events of the story almost as a bard reciting the story of history. Not a dry text book, but a vibrant story that keeps you interested.

In the description of Ganrelka’s retainers as they die, we get hints about the world and the Apocalypse. Bakker doesn’t dump his world building on us, but teases us with names that are almost familiar. The five Knights of Tyrsë who saved Ganrelka’s after the catastrophe on the Fields of Eleneöt. The Grand Vizier who dies upon sorcerous text. Ganrelka’s unnamed uncle, “who led the heartbreaking assault on Golgotterath’s gate.” Golgotterath resembles Golgatha where Jesus was crucified. When I read this name, I always picture something like the Black Gate of Mordor with skulls.

Bakker is skilled at using the familiar trappings of Fantasy, whose modern roots extend from Tolkien It roots the reader in the familiar while his style and story clearly deviates from anything you would read in Lord of the Rings.

Without showing us a single scene of the Apocalypse, Bakker still conveys the horror of it. After showing large scale horror, Bakker narrows his focus to the Boy. Left alone, he is preyed upon by an adult. Nietzsche’s philosophy at work here. Humans are selfish creatures who pursue their own desires and its only the fear of the consequences that keep us from acting upon all of them. Whether fear of a higher power, fear of a temporal power, or just the fear of the opinion of others. Once those are removed, there are no crimes any longer.

And finally, the Dûnyain arrive. Another group of refugees who fled the Apocalypse. The Dûnyain have rejected the gods. They deliberately destroy there history and anything connected to the supernatural. They bury all the wealth and trappings of power. They have survived the Apocalypse and decide to reject the former world they come from. As they say, “Here awareness most holy could be tended.”

Section 2

Nonmen, Sranc, and Men:

The first forgets,

The third regrets,

And the second has all of the fun.

Ancient Kûniüri nursery rhyme

This is a history of a great and tragic holy war, of the mighty factions that sought to possess and pervert it, and of a son searching for his father. And as with all histories, it is we, the survivors, who will write its conclusion.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My thoughts

These two quotes began the second, much longer part of the prologue. Nonmen is one my favorite names for the “elf” race in a fantasy series. It also informs us about the most important part of a Nonman, they forget. Regret is definitely a large part of being human. And of course, Sranc just want to have fun—and by fun I mean murder and brutal rape.

The second quote is from a book written after the events of the Prince of Nothing trilogy and gives us a plot summary of what the overt plot Prince of Nothing series is about. The First Holy War is the obvious story, the one on which the true story hides in the shadows. The Compendium is written by Achamian, one of the main characters, and often a segment is before each chapter, teasing you about events that are up coming. The downside is you never can believe Achamian is in real danger because he has to survive the Holy War to write about it. But it does serve to keep you reading.

Now who is the son? Well, we’re about to find out.

Late Autumn, 4109 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Mountains of Demua

The section begins with dreams coming to a group of men. Dreams of clashes of culture, glimpses of history, and of a holy city—Shimeh. A voice “thin as though spoken through the reed of a serpent, saying ‘Send to me my son.‘” The dreamers follow the protocol they established after the first dream and meet in the Thousand Thousand Hall and decided that such desecration could not be tolerated.

The narrative shifts to Anasûrimbor Kellhus, transitioning to a limited, third person POV. He is on a mountain trail looking back at the monastic citadel of Ishuäl. He sees the elder Dûnyain abandoning their vigil. These Elders have been polluted by the dreams sent by Kellhus’ father. The Elders would die in the great Labyrinth beneath Ishuäl.

Kellhus has been sent alone on a mission. As he descends into the wilderness of Kûniüri, he wonders how many vistas he would cross before seeing his father at Shimeh. As he enters the forest he finds himself unnerved. He attempts to regain his composure using “ancient techniques to impose discipline on his intellect.” He wonders if this is the first trial. Kellhus is awed by the beauty of the natural world. “How could water taste so sweet. How could sunlight, broken across the back of rushing water, be so beautiful?

What comes before determines what comes after. Dûnyain monks spent their lives immersed in the study of this principle, illuminating the intangible mesh of cause and effect that determined every happenstance and meaning all that was wild and unpredictable. Because of this, events always unfolded with granitic certainty in Ishuäl. More often than not, one knew the skittering course a leaf would take through the terrace groves. More often than not, one knew what another would say before he spoke. To grasp what came before was to know what would come after. And to know what would come after was the beauty stilled, the hallowed communion of intellect and circumstance—the gift of the Logos.

This mission was Kellhus’s first surprise. His childhood was strict ritual, study, and conditioning. Out of Ishuäl he is constantly barraged by new sights, sensations, and creatures. His mind, trained to drink in stimuli in the controlled environment of his home, is overwhelmed by the chaos of the natural world. For more than a month he wanders south through the foothills of Demua. He stops talking care of himself or his gear as the endless walk continues. On his 43rd day he comes across an immense valley dotted with ruins.

Kellhus explores the ruins. They are ancient, overgrown by the forest. Kellhus wanders who were the men who built this place. Bending to drink from a pool, he sees his unshaven face reflected in the water

Is this me?

He studied the squirrels and those birds he could pick from the dim confusion of the trees. Once he glimpsed a fox slipping through the brush.

I am not one more animal.

His intellect flailed, found purchase, and grasped. He could sense wild cause sweep around him in statistical tides. Touch him and leave him untouched.

I am a man. I stand apart from these things.

As evening waxed, it began to rain. Through branches he watched the clouds build chill and gray. For the first time in weeks, he sought shelter.

Kellhus continues his journey but his supplies begin to dwindle. He set out with as much as he could carry. Hunger and exposure begin to take their toll of Kellhus. The snows come and Kellhus could finally walk no farther. “The way is to narrow, Father. Shimeh to far.”

Kellhus is found by a trapper named Leweth and his sled dogs. Kellhus is half buried by the snow and barely alive. Leweth takes Kellhus to his home and cares for him through the winter.

Neither Kellhus or Leweth speak the same language. Kellhus picks up the basics and begins to communicate with Leweth. Kellhus learns he is the lands of Sobel, the northernmost province of the ancient city of Atrithau. Sobel has been abandoned for generations, but Leweth prefers the isolation.

Though Leweth was a sturdy man of middle years, for Kellhus he was little more than a child. The fine musculature of his face was utterly untrained, bound as though by strings to his passions. Whatever moved Leweth’s soul moved his expression as well, and after a short time Kellhus needed only to glance at his face to know his thoughts. The ability to anticipate his thoughts, to re-enact the movements of Leweth’s soul as though they were his own, would come later.

A routine forms between the two men, with Kellhus helping with chores to “earn his keep.” Kellhus studies Leweth during this time and learns that through small labors Leweth learned patience. The only times his hands were still was when he slept or was drunk. Leweth would drink all day, and by the end become drunk. While Kellhus learned much from observing drunk Leweth, he decides a sober Leweth would be more useful. While Leweth is passed out, Kellhus dumps out all his whiskey.

After Leweth’s painful detox, they discuss old pains. Leweth came to the wilderness after the death of his wife in Atrithau. Kellhus observes that Leweth pretends to morn to secure pity. Leweth lies to himself about why he came out here. That Atrithau reminds him or his wife. He even believes his family and neighbors secretly hated her and are glad she is dead. This forced Leweth to flee to the forest.

Why does he [Leweth] deceive himself this way?

“No soul moves alone through the world, Leweth. Our every though stems from the thoughts of others. Our every word is but a repetition of words spoken before. Every time we listen, we allow the movements of another soul to carry our own.” He paused, cutting short his reply in order to bewilder the man. Insight struck with so much more force when it clarified confusion. “This is truly why you fled to Sobel, Leweth.”

Leweth fled Sobel so he could hold onto the ways his wife moved his soul—he fled to remember. Kellhus confronts Leweth with this truth. Kellhus does this to posses Leweth, but lies and says its because Leweth has suffered enough. They argue, but because Kellhus can predict Leweth’s reaction, he guides the argument in his own favor. In the end, Leweth breaks down and cries.

“I know it hurts, Leweth. Release from anguish can be purchased only through more anguish.” So much like a child …

“W-what should I do?” the trapper wept. “Kellhus … Please tell me!”

Thirty years, Father. What power you must wield over men such as this.

And Kellhus, his bearded face warm with firelight and compassion, answered. “No one’s soul moves alone, Leweth. When one love dies, one must learn to love another.”

Once Leweth regains his composure, the continue their conversation. Through his Dûnyain training, Kellhus could control the “legion of faces” that live within him. He can fake any emotional response with the same ease he can craft words. Pretending to happy and compassionate, Kellhus continues his cold scrutiny of Leweth.

Kellhus is disdainful of Leweth’s superstitions of gods and demons. To Leweth, finding Kellhus was fate. Leweth asks Kellhus why the gods sent him. Kellhus tells him of his mission to find his father Anasûrimbor Moënghus. Moënghus left when Kellhus was a child and has now summoned him to Shimeh. Leweth asks how that is possible since Shimeh is so far away and Kellhus answers through dreams. Leweth thinks sorcery explains the dreams. Kellhus doesn’t think that is possible. He dismiss Leweth’s talk of sorcerers and priests, of witches and demons.

Superstition. Everywhere and in everything, Leweth had confused that which came after with that which came before, confused the effect for the cause. Men came after, so he placed them before and called them “gods” or “demons.” Words came after, so he placed them before and called them “scriptures” or “incantations.” Confined to the aftermath of events and blind to the causes that preceded him, he merely fastened upon the ruin itself, men and the acts of men, as the model of what came before.

But what came before, the Dûnyain had learned, was inhuman.

There must be some other explanation. There is no sorcery.

Leweth tells Kellhus about Shimeh. It is a holy city far to the south in the Three Seas. Leweth doesn’t know much about the nations of the Three Seas since the Sranc controlled the lands of the north save for Atrithau and Sakarpus. What Leweth knows is they were young lands when the north was destroyed by the No-God and the Consult. The only contact between Atrithau and the Three Seas is by a yearly caravan. Shimeh is holy city in the hands of heathens. In Atrithau, Kellhus could secure the means of reaching Shimeh. Only after the trapper tells Kellhus everything, does he let him sleep.

Near the cabin, Kellhus finds an ancient stone stele with runes upon it. In Kellhus’s own language it records the deeds of Anasûrimbor Celmomas II. Kellhus had dismissed Leweth’s talk of the apocalypse as superstition, but the stone proves the world is far older the Dûnyain. On one of these trips he notices strange tracks in the snow.

Kellhus informs Leweth of the tracks, and in horror, Leweth says they are Sranc. Leweth is amazed the Kellhus can be from the north and not no what those tracks mean. Leweth explain the Sranc will eat anything, but they enjoy to hunt men to “calm the madness of their hearts.” The Sranc have found them, and Kellhus and Leweth flee.

A small group Sranc catch them. Kellhus stays to fight the Sranc and tells Leweth to keep fleeing. In amazement, Leweth watches Kellhus charge the Sranc and kill them “like a pale wraith through the drifts.” Then Leweth is injured by an arrow.

Another group of Sranc are killing Leweth’s dogs. Leweth wants to save them but Kellhus grabs his arm and half drags Leweth. Eventually, Leweth’s strength fails him and Kellhus questions him on the way to go to get to safety. Leweth answers and Kellhus abandons Leweth to the Sranc. Leweth sobs in disbelief as he watch Kellhus, a man he has come to love and worship, disappear into the woods. But for the calculating Kellhus, the decision to abandon Leweth is simple—he has no further use for him.

Kellhus leaves the forest and climbs a hill. The Sranc have caught him. Before the ruins of a wall and gate, Kellhus makes his stand. They fired arrows at him. Calmly, he plucks one out of the air and examines it. In a rush they come at him and he “speared the ecstasy from their inhuman faces.”

They could not see that circumstance was holy. They only hungered. He, on the other hand, was one of the Conditioned, Dûnyain, and all events yielded to him.

The Sranc fall back. For a moment they surrounded him and Kellhus faces their menace with tranquility. They flee. One dying on the ground hisses something in an unknown language. Kellhus wanders what these creatures are.

More Sranc come, led by a figure on a horse. The figure wears a cloak stitched with abstract faces. In Kûniüric, the figure praises Kellhus and asks his name. Anasûrimbor Kellhus, he answers. The figure thinks he is being mocked, but then sees the resemblance in Kellhus’s face.

Kellhus studies the figure and realizes the cloak is made from skinned faces, stretched flat and sewn together. The figure is powerfully built, heavily armored, and unafraid. “This one was not like Leweth. Not at all.”

The figure is surprised that a mortal is not afraid of him. Fear is what separates the figure from humans. Kellhus mocks the figure, trying to bait him and is surprised by the figures reaction.

Kellhus’s provocation had been deliberate but had yielded little—or so it seemed at first. The stranger abruptly lowered his obscured face, rolled his head back and forth on the pivot of his chin, muttering, “It baits me! The mortal baits me … It reminds me, reminds …” He began fumbling with his cloak, seized upon a misshape face. “Of this one! Oh, impertinent—what a joy this was! Yes, I remember …” He looked up at Kellhus and hissed, “I remember!”

And Kellhus grasped the first principle of this encounter. A Nonman. Another of Leweth’s myths come true.

The Nonman points to a dead Sranc and says this one was his elju (book). He laments the Sranc’s death, although they are vicious creatures, they are “most…memorable.” Kellhus sees an opening, and presses the Nonman. The Nonman reveals that while the Sranc are their children now, before humans were. He was a companion to the great Norsirai kings and enjoyed the humans childish squabbles (wars). But as time passed, some Nonmen need more exquisite brutality than humans can provide to remember. This is the great curse of the Nonman.

“I am a warrior of ages, Anasûrimbor … ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury.”

“Then why,” Kellhus asked, “raise arms now, against a lone man?”

Laughter. The free hand gestured to the dead Sranc. “A pittance, I agree, but still you would be memorable.

They fight, trading blows. Kellhus fends off the Nonman blows, but his weapon own cannot penetrate the Nonman’s armor. The Nonman is surprised at Kellhus ability. Kellhus sword slashes the Nonman’s chin open. The Nonman is disarmed, on his back, Kellhus sword at his face. Kellhus begins to interrogate the Nonman.

The Nonman speaks a word and Kellhus is thrown back by incandescent. The Nonman rises up into the air. Confronted with sorcery, Kellhus flees into the forest. Behind him are explosions and fire. An unearthly voice yells his name. “RUN, ANASÛRIMBOR! I WILL REMEMBER!” Kellhus runs faster than he had before the Sranc and wonders if sorcery is one of the lessons from his father.

My Thoughts

When we first meet Kellhus he seems like a traditional hero of a fantasy journey. The quintessential character to go on the Campbellian Heroic Journey. A young man leaving home for the first time on a quest who is the unknowing descendant of kings. However, there are differences between Kellhus’s and the Hero’s Journey. While Kellhus has answered the Call of Adventure, he never Refuses the Call. Kellhus upbringing and training have left him with no doubt. This is his mission, and he will accomplish it.

The wilderness is not kind to Kellhus. The isolation and toil reduces Kellhus to a beast with only one thing on his mind: reaching Shimeh. Eventually, Kellhus realizes this and overcomes the Crossing of the First Threshold and becomes a man again.

Kellhus’s time with Leweth is where we see the products of Dûnyain training. They have embraced Nietzsche’s philosophy. These are the übermench he wrote of. They have trained their bodies and minds past the normal human limits. They have made of study of passions and have learned how to control their emotions. Kellhus listens to Leweth’s story about his dead wife and never once feels anything. Neither pity or compassion. Kellhus uses truth to make Leweth his slave and once Leweth is of no further use, abandons him to death without a second thought. The Dûnyain embody the Will to Power and have no morality to temper their methods. Kellhus will do anything to accomplish his mission.

Kellhus is a sociopath. To contrast Leweth and Kellhus: when Leweth first finds Kellhus in the snow, he thinks food for his dogs. Meat was scarce in the north. However, Leweth’s humanity cause him to show Kellhus compassion,. Leweth cares for Kellhus, using his own scarce resources.

We seen more of Kellhus’s abilities against the Sranc. He reminds me a lot of Bene Gesserit of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. Their bodies are so under their control and their ability to read the movement of their enemies makes them almost invincible. Kellhus has a lot similarities to Paul Muad’dib. However, Paul’s abilities was tempered with emotions.

When Kellhus plucks the arrow out of the air, I recognized him as a D&D Monk (it’s a common ability the player class monks get). The setting of these books were originally Bakker’s D&D campaign he created. The Nonmen are elves, the Sranc are orcs, etc. Bakker also draws a lot on Tolkien. I read somewhere on the internet that the Second Apocalypse is Tolkien done with Nietzschean philosophy, and that is not far off. But only in the broad strokes does this series follow the Lord of the Rings. Take the sexual imagery that is used to describe the Sranc. It is the first hint about the nature of their creators.

Finally, Kellhus confronts the Nonman. A race so long lived, they forget, only remembering the bad stuff. No wonder the Nonman (revealed by Bakker to be Mekeritrig) seems slightly mad. You can see the delight the Nonman has at finding such a memorable man as Kellhus. He is really looking forward to the fight.

Bakker’s description of sorcerery is always very minimal and ethereal. He uses phrases like “petals blowing from a palm” and “pale watery light.” The Dûnyain rejection of the supernatural have left Kellhus without the training on how to deal with it. There is no pride that holds back Kellhus decision to flee. It is instantaneous. He has determined he has no chance of winning and the only option is flight. Even then, his mind is still working normally, cataloging the event and shifting his world view. Kellhus has almost died and no fear assails him.

Kellhus is the reason I love this series. He is so different from any character I have read. Everyone of his POV’s is fascinating to read. As you shall see, he is our prophesied hero and his appearance ushers in the end of the world.

But will Kellhus be the one to save it or cause its destruction?

Click here to continue on to Chapter One

Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Intro

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker


darkness-that-comes-beforeMore than a few years back, I was in the Borders (yep, that far back, I miss you Borders) at the SeaTac Airport killing time before my flight. While browsing the fantasy section, the Darkness that Comes Before caught my eye. I read the description on the back with talk of an apocalyptic past and a gathering crusade. The book promised a mysterious traveler named Anasûrimbor Kellhus. I was hooked. I bought the book on the spot and devoured it on my trip. I have since come to love the Prince of Nothing Trilogy and its sequel the Aspect Emperor Trilogy. Together these two series plus a third as yet written series form the greater Second Apocalypse meta-series.

R. Scott Bakker is a controversial author. His books are deep in the genre of modern fantasy called Grimdark. And that is what it is. He has created a world whose roots mankind struggles to rise from. It is not a pleasant place. Very few people are allowed the luxury of agency, and those tend to be men. Like most of human history, women hold little power in his series. He is accused of misogyny. There will be no female character bootstrapping feminism and rising above the shackles placed upon her.

But calling his books misogyny is missing the point. R. Scott Bakker is showing just how bad humans can get. He is also writing this towards men, not to show them treating women is bad but to illuminate some of the darker aspects of male fantasy and thoughts while at the same time showcasing the misery most of human kind has toiled under through most of our history. If anything, I would say the books are more misandrist. The every man a rapist trope is almost a reality in this series.

But there is still hope and light to be found.

With the third book of the Aspect Emperor Trilogy, the Great Ordeal (formally titled the Unholy Consult), release approaching in July I felt the need to reread the series in preparation. Of course, there is no way for me to even hope to catch up before the release, but I’ll give it a valiant try. This is a repost of a blog series I never finished from four years ago on my original blog, the ReReid blog (see, I was trying to be clever). But no one ever visited my blog so after several months, well, my interest wained.

So without further ado, let’s dive into the Darkness that Comes Before.

SPOILOR WARNING: Please read the book before any of these posts. This is intended for those who have read the books. I will discuss both the events of the chapter and even their ramification for future events.

Bakker opens the book with a quote. Not a fictitious quote from his own setting, but a quote of the German philosopher Nietzsche.

“I shall never tire of underlining a concise little fact which those superstitious people are loath to admit—namely, that a thought comes when ‘it’ wants, not when ‘I’ want…”

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

My Thoughts

Philosophy is a large part of the Second Apocalypse and Bakker starting the series with a quote of Nietzsche informs us of one of the major themes he will explore in the series. Nietzsche was an atheist who promoted the philosophy that without God there is no moral authority upon man. Nietzsche believed in ideas like “self-consciousness,” “knowledge,” “truth,” and “free will” were inventions of moral consciousness. Nietzsche believed the “will to power” explained all human behavior.

According to Nietzsche, the will to power illuminated all human ambition—the drive to succeed, and reaching the highest position in life. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche writes, “Even the body within which individuals treat each other as equals…will have to be an incarnate will to power, it will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant—not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power.”

The quote that Bakker opens his book is quite clear that we human have no control over the origin of our thoughts. This idea is directly related to the title of the book and one of the overarching themes of the series—the Illusion of Free Will.

If you haven’t gotten bored yet, click her for the Prologue