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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Intro

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

Intro

 

I was hooked after the Warrior Prophet. That ending was insane. I wanted to know about the Consult, about the Dûnyain. I wanted to find out what would happen. I wanted Achamian and Esmenet to get back together even while realizing that would never happen. I was still well immersed in my awe for Kellhus. I hadn’t taken the time to really think about him as a character and how utterly horrifying he and the Dûnyain were.

So while The Thousandfold Thought didn’t answer a lot of the greater questions about the series (though its appendices was very informative about the history), it left me reeling. I had to understand what I just read. It was so different from other fantasies. And it didn’t end complete. I mean, the Holy War came to its conclusion, but what about the Consult and its machinations? Was the Second Apocalypse going to happen?

So I was thrilled to hit the internet and discover the fan community. To learn that this was only “Book 1” of a trilogy. That more was coming, I just needed to be patient. Already, the Judging Eye had been announced, though I recall it having a different name once upon a time. I just had to wait. A veteran of The Wheel of Time, I knew how to do it.

Obsess over details. To theorize. To dissect. To come and understand this universe. This whole reread series wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for that obsessive need to understand Bakker’s world. The fact that he creates such a lived-in and unique fantasy setting, so hinging on philosophy, drove me to learn, to question. If Bakker’s skill was less, this series easily would be a confusing mess that no one would care about.

But it was built with love and care. The more I studied, the more certain of that fact I became. It had a message. It had meaning. If you could peel it away, it made you think about your own life, to question your own decisions.

The events are brutal. They’re not fair. But then life is never fair. Despite how much us humans may wish it, how we may bend and contort ourselves to fit this fiction that it could ever be possible, that’s just not the way the world is. We lie to ourselves to protect us from the true darkness that comes before us all.

Let’s embark upon The Thousandfold Thought, the conclusion of the Prince of Nothing Trilogy.

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

Like with the first two books, Bakker opens The Thousandfold Thought with two quotes that aren’t from his own fictitious setting, but from the real world.

In pursuing yonder what they have lost, the encounter only the nothing they have. In order not to lose touch with the everyday dreariness in which, as irremediable realists, they are at home, they adapt the meaning they revel in to the meaninglessness they flee. The worthless magic is nothing other than the worthless existence it lights up.

—THEODOR ADORNO, MINIMA MORALIA

All progression from a higher to a lower order are marked by ruins and mystery and a residue of nameless rage. So. Here are the dead fathers.

—CORMAC McCARTHY, BLOOD MERIDIAN

My Thoughts

Bakker strikes to the core of his series with the first quote. If humans don’t understand why they do the things they do, then it is utterly meaningless. And yet they are happy in it. They revel in it because it is their home. But does it therefore have any worth? And anything that springs from it must be as worthless as the source. But if they understand what they have lost and try to reclaim it, they can do something with true purpose.

And this leads us into the other quote about how decay and entropy break things down. Those who come after always feeling like they are lesser than those who came before. This leaves them with bewilderment which drives an anger they can’t even understand, a “nameless” rage.

This implies a cycle of a culture or a group achieving something and then losing it without understanding what they had because they don’t truly know what they lost. They don’t understand themselves. On generation builds and the other allows it to breakdown helpless to stop it but feeling that impotent rage as they struggle to as they heap new meaning upon the old, rendering it meaningless.

On and on and on.

And that is how Bakker sets the stage as two cultures reach their final clash in the Thousandfold Thoughts. Inrithism and Fanimry collide and one is cast down and destroyed by those who don’t truly understand what they are doing or why they are driven to these acts of brutality.

All except Anasûrimbor Kellhus. The Warrior Prophet channels all of their actions, but it will be into something that is ultimately meaningful? It’s hard to say since in the end, Kellhus fails. His Great Ordeal undone by his own son. It shall fall upon lesser people to in the final third of the series.

People who are as blind to the darkness that comes before as any other world-born.

Let’s embark upon The Thousandfold Thought!

If you haven’t gotten bored yet, click her for Chapter One.

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 1
Caraskand

Welcome to Chapter One of my reread. Click here if you missed the intro!

My heart shrivels even as my intellect bristles. Reasons—I find myself desperate for reasons. Sometimes I think word written is written for shame.

—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

This looks like Achamian is rationalizing why he is doing what he is doing, sharing this information to the world. He has a great deal of shame, after all Kellhus cuckolded him and took his wife. More, for a time, he allowed himself to believe that was a good thing. He accepted it only to learn how utterly he was manipulated by Kellhus. And now he shares it to the world.

Late Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Enathpaneah

There had been a time, for Achamian, when the future had been a habit, something belonging to the hard rhythm of his days toiling in his father’s shadow. His fingers had stung in the morning, his back had burned in the afternoon. The fish had flashed silver in the sunlight. Tomorrow became today, and today became yesterday, as though time were little more than gravel rolled in a barrel, forever brightening what was the same. He expected only what he’d already endured, prepared only for what had already happened. His past had enslaved his future. Only the size of his hands had seemed to change.

But now…

Achamian is walking on Proyas’s rooftop garden, stars glinting overhead. The sounds of celebration “sounding at once melancholy and besotted with joy” rise from the streets below. The Holy War had won, defying the odds. Caraskand was theirs.

Achamian reminds himself that he is a Mandate Schoolman, but he hasn’t spoken to them in such a long time. Since he traveled, it was his responsibility to maintain contact. He knew it was a failure of his duty not to have. He knows the Mandate will demand “impossible things” of him. What would come tomorrow always held him back.

Achamian, using his sorcerery, calls out to Nautzera at Atyersus, the fortress housing his school. He finds Nautzera dreaming of Dagliash on the shores of a vast, inland sea. The reek of decay gags Achamian. Draped from the fortress’s walls are thousands of rotting corpses held in nets. Achamian had dreamed of the Wall of the Dead many times. Seswatha had been captured and held here after the fall of Tyrsë and hung from the wall to “ponder the glory of the Consult.”

Nautzera hangs, wearing the Agonic Collar, dreaming himself in Seswatha’s place. Achamian fights with his own fear. It has been three years since the No-God’s advent. Achamian can feel its presence “looming across the western horizon.”

Achamian tries to reach through to Nautzera but the arrival of a Bashrag, a horrible monstrosity made of three creatures welded together, each limbs three melded into one. As it nails another victim to the wall screaming, the Nonman Mekeritrig appears on the wall saying a single word: “Anguish.”

After a moment, Mekeritrig talks about how anguish and degradation contained salvation. Nautzera, speaking in Seswatha’s voice, calls Mekeritrig by his nonman name, Cet’ingira, asking if he’s progressed that far. That he remembers so little.

A flicker of terror marred the Nonman’s perfect features. His pupils became thin as quill strokes. After millennia of practicing sorcery, the Quya bore a Mark that was far, far deeper than that borne by any Schoolmen—like indigo compared with water. Despite their preternatural beauty, despite the porcelain whiteness of their skin, they seemed blasted, blackened, and withered, a husk of cinders at once animated and extinct. Some, it was said, were so deeply Marked that they couldn’t stand within a length of a Chorae without beginning to salt.

Mekeritrig questions recalling and says he built a great wall, which Nautzera/Seswatha calls an obscenity. “As are all monuments, all memorials,” responds Mekeritrig. He claims they merely proclaim a person’s impotence. He may be immortal, but he’s lived as a mortal. “Your suffering, Seswatha, is my salvation.” Seswatha objects, saying it doesn’t have to be like this. He’s read about the ancient chronicles and knew that Mekeritrig helped out the Norsirai and educated them into greatness. The nonman was never anything like this. This makes Mekeritrig shed a tear as he says “Which is why, Seswatha.”

A cut scarred where a caress faded away. In this simple fact lay the tragic and catastrophic truth of the Nonmen. Mekeritrig had lived a hundred lifetimes—more! What would it be like, Achamian wondered, to have every redeeming memory—be it a lover’s touch or a child’s warm squeal—blotted out by the accumulation of anguish, terror, and hate? To understand the soul of a Nonman, the philosopher Gotagga had once written, one need only bare the back of an old and arrogant slave. Scars. Scars upon scars. This was what made them mad. All of them.

“I am an Erratic,” Mekeritrig was saying. “I do that which I hate, I raise my heart to the lash, so that I might remember! Do you understand what this means? You are my children!”

Seswatha says there has to another way, by, crying, Mekeritrig says there isn’t. So Seswatha begs to be killed. Mekeritrig can’t because Seswatha knows the location of the Heron Spear. Because Mekeritrig loves Seswatha, he’ll torture him and draw forth the “howling Truth of all things.” Then Mekeritrig will remember Seswatha.

With the Cant of Thawa Ligatures, the nonman inflicts pain on Seswatha while soothing him like a child, begging him not to cry. Watching the torture reminds Achamian to make contact with Nautzera. He screams at him that it’s a dream. Realizing this, Nautzera turns form the torture and gasps in shock at the sight of Achamian, believe him dead.

The dreams vanishes and the pair stand in nowhere. They don’t speak with words, but with thoughts. Nautzera wants to know how Achamian live. The Scarlet Spire had them. Achamian can’t speak, feeling like his reasons for not making contact are so petty know. Meanwhile, Nautzera is saying they will get revenge on his behalf. That shocks Achamian to realize that Nautzera was concerned and has compassion. But he ignores that and admits that he has lied to him.

Nautzera is confused, thinking the Scarlet Spire didn’t seize Achamian, but he shows Nautzera his memories of Iothiah, his capture, Xinemus’s torture, and his escape. “Remembered men screaming.” Nautzera is excited by this, saying Achamian’s exploits will be immortalized. Then question the lies. Achamian grows nervous and says that he’s concealed a fact from the Mandate.

A fact?

An Anasûrimbor has returned…

A long pause, strangely studied.

What are you saying?

The Harbinger has come, Nautzera. The world is about to end.

That phrase, the world is about to end, echoes in Achamian’s mind. But any phrase, even that one, can become familiar, robbed of its importance by repetition. That is why Seswatha created the dreams, to remind his followers every night why they fight. Now, finally saying these words, makes Achamian realize he never meant them before. He never understood them. He does now.

Nautzera is shocked. Achamian later realizes that he’d frightened Nautzera the same way it had terrified Achamian months ago when he learned them and “feared himself unequal to the events unfolding before him.”

The world was about to end.

Achamian catches Nautzera up on the events of the last two books since Proyas introduced Achamian to Kellhus and Cnaiür. The only thing he leaves out is Esmenet. Achamian then explains just how Kellhus got the Holy War to follow him so thoroughly after being freed. Because Cnaiür killed the skin-spy, a demon, who had tried to murder the dying Kellhus. Achamian quotes Ajencis: “Men ever make corruption proof of purity.” He talks about how Kellhus unified the Holy War swiftly. Even Conphas knelt and kissed his knee. Sick and starving, they marched out the gates and won an impossible battle. Kascamandri, the Padirajah, killed by Kellhus. And now the Holy War prepares to march on Shimeh. “They’ve all but succeeded!”

Nautzera is confused why Kellhus, if knows about the Second Apocalypse, would continue the war at all. He speculates Kellhus is their instrument, but Achamian disagrees. The Holy War is being purged of the skin-spies. Over a dozen nobles vanished right after Sarcellus’s death and unveiling while two have been captured and “exorcised.” Nautzera is excited, thinking the entire Three Seas will believe the Mandate. Achamian responds: “Either that or burn.” He takes satisfaction in that thought. After being laughed out for hundreds of years, the Mandate were vindicated.

Nautzera is also drunk on the drug of vindication, but he warns Achamian that the Consult will try to assassinate Kellhus and Achamian must protect him. Achamian says “the Warrior-Prophet” doesn’t need protection. Nautzera is shocked Achamian calls him by that title, asking why.

Because no other name seemed his equal. Not even Anasûrimbor. But something, a profound indecision perhaps, held him mute.

Achamian? Do you actually think the man’s a prophet?

I don’t know what I think… Too much has happened.

This is no time for sentimental foolishness!

Enough, Nautzera. You haven’t seen the man.

No… but I will.

Achamian is shocked, asking what he means, wondering if his brother Schoolmen were coming. He doesn’t want them to see his humiliation. Nautzera ignores it, instead asking what the Scarlet Spire thinks. Eleäzaras looks defeated, unable to even stare into Achamian’s eyes. He’s afraid of Achamian because of Iothiah. Nautzera says Eleäzaras will come to Achamian eventually and Achamian is brash, declaring let him try. Nautzera says now isn’t the time for retribution, though he years for it. Things are too important. “Do you understand this?”

What did understanding have to do with hatred?

Nautzera is interested in what Eleäzaras thinks of Kellhus. Does he think he’s a fraud. Achamian isn’t sure, but thinks Eleäzaras wants him to be a fraud. Nautzera wants Achamian to let the Scarlet Spire know that Kellhus is theirs. Achamian says they will have to purchase Achamian. He wants the Gnosis. Achamian reveals Kellhus is one of the few and fears he’ll turn to the Scarlet Spire if denied the Gnosis. Nautzera is not happy to learn that Achamian has known this for so long and isn’t sure he can trust Achamian. Achamian rebukes him with what happened to Inrau. For a moment, Nautzera looks like a small boy full of fear and says that was unfortunate. Achamian then tells Nautzera that Kellhus will be a sorcerer more powerful than any else.

Harness your passions! You [Achamian] must see him as a tool—a Mandate tool!—nothing more, nothing less. We must possess him!

And if the Gnosis is his price for “possession,” what then?

The Gnosis is our hammer. Ours! Only by submitting—

And if the Spires? If Eleäzaras offers him the Anagogis?

Hesitation, both outraged and exasperated.

This is madness! A prophet would pit School against School for sorcery’s sake? A Wizard-Prophet? A Shaman?

Silence hangs between them as all such words of stunning import cause. Achamian agrees with Nautzera at how crazy this was. Worse, he has to “woo and win” the man who stole Esmenet. He fights off the pain as Nautzera agrees that Achamian can teach him the Lesser Cants and the denotories. “Deceive him with dross into thinking you’ve traded our deepest secrets.” Achamian objects, saying that won’t work.

All men can be deceived, Achamian. All men.

Achamian scoffs, saying Kellhus isn’t a man. Nautzera doesn’t care, he just needs Achamian to yoke Kellhus. Achamian says Kellhus is beyond them. Thinking of Esmenet, he blurts out, “He possesses.”

The Men of the Tusk rejoice as the butcher the herds of their enemies. They feast until they are sick. They are no longer divided into Orthodox and Zaudunyani. “They were Inrithi once again.” Conryians tattoo the Circumfix on their arms, while the Thunyeri and Tydonni scar themselves with the symbol. The Galeoth and Ainoni mark their bodies, too. “Only the Nansur refrained.”

For two days, the captured Kianene labor to make a mound of their dead. The carrion birds fight over the bounty. Meanwhile, the Inrithi keep celebrating, some growing ill and even dying from eating too much. On the fourth day, the gathered up their captives, stripped them naked to humiliate them, and forced them to carry great treasures. They marched them to Umiaki, the tree where Kellhus hung with dead Serwë, and had them present their spoils and swear to the Warrior-Prophet. Those who did and cursed Fane were given to the slavers. Those that didn’t, were executed.

When all was finished and the sun leaned crimson against the dark hills, the Warrior-Prophet walked from his seat and knelt in the blood of his enemies. He bid his people come to him, and upon the forehead of each he sketched the mark of the Tusk in Fanim blood.

Even the most manly wept for wonder.

Esmenet is his…” Achamian thinks over and over. “Like all horrifying thoughts, this one possessed a will all of its own.” He can’t shake the pain of her betrayal as he arrives at the Fama Palace. The Zaudunyani functionaries are anxious around him, not because he’s a sorcerer as would be normal, but Achamian feels like they’ve heard so much about Achamian, a man who will fit into their scriptures one day, and mocked him in their thoughts. But now he stands before them, shaming them.

Of course, they knew he was a cuckold. By now the stories of everyone who had broken bread or sawed joint at Xinemus’s fire would be known in some distorted form or another. There were no intimacies left. And his story, in particular—the sorcerer who loved the whore who would become the Prophet-Consort—had doubtless come quick to a thousand lips, multiplying his shame.

As Achamian waits, he realizes that Kellhus would change the world even if the Second Apocalypse wasn’t a threat the way Inri Sejenus would. Achamian realizes this is Year One of a new chapter of mankind.

He observes three other petitioners chatting in a courtyard and is stuck by how prosaic it is. Normalcy had returned so swiftly. Even Kellhus’s new banners, the Circumfix, feel like they’ve always belonged. He realizes someone must have been making these before the battle begun to have so many.

Whoever they were, they had forgotten Serwë. He blinked away images of her bound to Kellhus and the ring. It had been so very dark beneath Umiaki, but it seemed you could see her face arched back in rigor and ecstasy…

An officer of the Hundred Pillars (Kellhus’s bodyguard) kneels before Achamian and says he’s here to bring Achamian to Kellhus. Achamian’s skin tingles as her reflects on the fact Kellhus communed with the God. Achamian knows it to be true because Kellhus speaks words no man could know even if he’s still incredulous of it.

A miracle. A prophet in their midst.

Breathe when you speak to him. You must remember to breathe.

The officer marches Achamian in silence through the palace. Achamian, though nervous, is glad for the silence. He’s beset by conflicting emotions: hatred for a rival and love for an old friend. Fear for the darkness to come, and joy at their recent victory. Even awe fills him.

The eyes of men were but pinholes—no one knew this better than a Mandate Schoolmen. All their books, even their scriptures, were nothing more than pinholes. And yet, because they couldn’t see what was unseen, they assumed they saw everything, the confused pinpricks with the sky.

But Kellhus was something different. A doorway. A mighty gate.

He’s come to save us. This is what I must remember. I must hold onto this!

He’s led to a an orchard where Esmenet strolls with Kellhus. He can’t stop staring at her as she looks so happy and loving beside Kellhus. It’s the first time Achamian’s seen the two together. She’s dressed like a queen and wears a Chorae.

She was Esmenet and yet she wasn’t Esmenet. The woman of loose life had fallen away, and what remained was more, so much more, than she’d been at his side. Resplendent.

Redeemed.

I dimmed her, he realized. I was smoke and he… is a mirror.

The officer kneels, and Achamian does as well, but more because he’s legs give out at the shock then any need to genuflect. He feels like such a fool and fights back against the pain. He feels like he’s suffered so much and only wants one thing to balance his ledgers, her, but he knows “he would ruin it, the way he ruined everything.”

He remembers her words, telling him she’s carrying Kellhus’s child, as he watches her kiss Kellhus on the cheek. His terrible joke he told her when they reunited, “So what will it be the next time I die?” echoes in his mind.

Kellhus watches Achamian and, like Esmenet, he wears a chorea “though he had the courtesy to keep it concealed against his chest.” He tells Achamian he never has to kneel before him. That he is Kellhus friend always. Achamian glances where Esmenet vanished into the shadows, anger filling him. Achamian moves to Kellhus, shocked by the man’s height.

They walk together, Kellhus “effortlessly guiding” him. Kellhus asks after Xinemus, who Achamian admits he’s worried about. Kellhus wants to see him, his words easing Achamian into the rhythms of their old relationship. He even grins at a joke Kellhus tells until he notices the cuts and bruises on Kellhus’s body. Achamian remembers he was tortured and Serwë murdered.

“Yes,” Kellhus said, ruefully holding out his hands. He looked almost embarrassed. “Would that everything healed so quickly.”

Somehow these words found Achamian’s fury.

“You could see the Consult all along—all along!—and yet you said nothing to me… Why?

Why Esmenet?

Kellhus answers that the time wasn’t right, which Achamian knows. He explains that the Mandate would have seized him where now they have to negotiate with him. Then Kellhus continues, revealing he knows Achamian has told them and then asks if they agreed with Achamian’s interpretation that he’s the harbinger. They find it unlikely but, when pressed by Kellhus, admits he’s instructed to pretend to teach the Gnosis and to protect him.

“So you’re to be my bodyguard?”

“They have good reason to worry—as do you. Think of the catastrophe you’ve wrought. For centuries the Consult has hidden in the fat of the Three Seas, while we were little more than a laughingstock. They could act with impunity. But now that fat has cooked away. They’ll do anything to recover what they’ve lost. Anything.”

“There have been other assassins.”

“But that was before… The Stakes are far higher now. Perhaps these skin-spies act on their own. Perhaps they’re… directed.”

Kellhus studied him for a moment. “You fear one of the Consult might be directly involved… that an Old Name shadows the Holy war.”

Achamian does. After a few moments of silence, Kellhus asks if Achamian will give him the Gnosis. Achamian realizes Kellhus knows just how powerful he’ll be with it. Achamian reluctantly says if Kellhus demands it even as he realizes Kellhus knows exactly what Achamian says. Kellhus wants it while recognizing he’ll lose the protection of the Chorae. In the beginning of his training, before he can really use the Gnosis, he’ll still be marked and unable to touch a Chorae. So Kellhus declares Achamian is his Holy Vizier and will live in the palace to protect him, spoken with “the authority of a Shrial Edict.”

Kellhus did not wait for his [Achamian’s] reply—none was needed.

Can you protect me, Akka?”

Achamian blinked, still trying to digest what had just happened. “You will reside here…”

With her.

Achamian isn’t confident he could protect Kellhus from an Old Name while at the same time he feels a “treacherous joy,” thinking this will give him the chance to prove himself to Esmenet and win her back. But Kellhus meant if Achamian could control himself and not kill Kellhus. Achamian answers that if he can’t, “Seswatha can.” Kellhus accepts that and motions Achamian to follow him.

He’s lead to a captured skin-spy bound in chains to an apple tree that’s rotting away in the garden. Kellhus says the tree was already dead. Achamian takes in the sight, asks what Kellhus has learned. This stirs the skin-spy who taunts Achamian that it’s too late while Kellhus says that the skin-spies are directed. Achamian asks if Kellhus knows who is directing them, but Kellhus explains it would take months or more of interrogation to break one. “They’re conditioned—powerfully so.” Achamian believes Kellhus, in time, could break the creature. Achamian believes Kellhus infallible.

For a giddy instant a kind of gloating fury descended upon Achamian. All those years—centuries!—the Consult had played them for fools. But now—now! Did they know? Could they sense the peril this man represented? Or would they underestimate him like everyone had?

Like Esmenet.

Achamian then says Kellhus has to keep Chorae bowmen around and avoid large structures, but Kellhus cuts him off, saying it troubles Achamian to see the skin-spy. Achamian studies the prisoner and wonders why Kellhus bound it in the garden. “It seemed the act of someone who knew nothing of beauty… nothing.” Achamian agrees it troubles him.

“And your hatred?” [asks Kellhus]

For an instant it had seemed that everything—who he was and who he would become—wanted to love this godlike man. And how could he not, given the sanctuary of his mere presence? And yet intimations of Esmenet clung to him. Glimpses of her passion…

“It remains,” he said.

The Skin-spy begins fighting against its chains as though Achamian’s answer provoked it. He steps back, remembering the last time he saw one. Kellhus ignores it and says that men surrender to even while seeking to dominate. It’s in their nature. “The question is never whether they surrender, but rather to whom…” Achamian is confused and Kellhus continues that many men only truly submit to the God to preserve their pride. By kneeling to the unseen, they “can abase themselves without fear of degradation.”

“One,” Kellhus was saying, “can only be tested, never degraded, by the God.”

“You said ‘some,’” Achamian managed. “What of the others?” In his periphery he saw the thing’s face knuckle as though into interlocking fists.

“They’re like you, Akka. They surrender not to the God but to those like themselves. A man. A woman. There’s no pride to be preserved when one submits to another. Transgress, and there’s no formula. And the fear of degradation is always present, even if not quite believed. Lovers injure each other, humiliate and debase, but they never test, Akka—not if they truly love.”

Achamian asks why Kellhus is saying this. Kellhus says Achamian “clings to the hope” that this is Esmenet’s test. She’s not testing him. Achamian demands to know if she’s just degrading him. If they both are.

“I’m saying that she loves you still. As for me, I merely took what was given.”

“Then give it back!” Achamian barked with savagery. He shook. His breath cramped in his throat.

“You’re forgetting, Akka. Love is like sleep. One can never seize, never force love.”

The words were his own, spoken that first night about the fire with Kellhus and Serwë beneath Momemn. In a rush, Achamian recalled the sprained wonder of that night, the sense of having discovered something at once horrific and ineluctable. And those eyes, like lucid jewels set in the mud of the world, watching from across the flames—the same eyes that watched him this very moment… though a different fire burned between them.

Kellhus continues, saying for a while, Achamian was lost. That he had no meaning but his love for her. That he had only her. Achamian wants to murder Kellhus, his mind full of images of Esmenet. With his sorcery, he could kill Kellhus. Then Kellhus says that nothing Esmenet or he can do can undo what Achamian suffered. “Your degradation is your own.” Achamian recoils, not wanting Kellhus to see his emotions as he asks what Kellhus means. Kellhus explains this is Achamian’s test. “You, Drusas Achamian, are a Mandate Schoolman.”

Achamian vomits after Kellhus leaves. He hides in a niche and hugs himself. He’s trying to rationalize Kellhus and Esmenet, pointing out they thought him dead. But he realizes Kellhus should have known he lived.

How could he [Kellhus] not know? How—

Achamian laughed, stared with idiot eyes at the dim geometries painted across the ceiling. He ran a palm over his forehead, fingers through his hair. The skin-spy continued to thrash and bark in his periphery.

“Year One,” he whispered.

My Thoughts

I think we can all relate to that humdrum feel of just living our lives, every day the same as the one before, living in our ruts until something shakes us out of it and sends us reeling. We find comfort in that routine. We try to establish it even in hard circumstances so we can lie to ourselves that we have some amount of control over our existence.

Achamian finally believes Kellhus can survive if he makes contact with the Mandate. Achamian is in his camp now. He may be ordered to do those impossible things, but he won’t do them. Achamian was beaten into strength by his torture at the hands of the scarlet spire.

Ah, Dagliash. It’s a terrible place. The glory of the Consult… Thousands and thousands of corpses draped from a wall, proof of the might of the Consult. Of how they had destroyed Tyrsë and the Great Norsirai Kingdoms of the North.

Mekeritrig.. He was the nonman that Kellhus met in the prologue that showed our Dûnyain that effect could precede a cause. That the Outside was real, magic existed, and the Dûnyain framework wasn’t sufficient to cover everything. He is also the nonman that lead Shaeönanra and his Mangaecca school to the Ark and thus created the Consult.

How does anguish and degradation contain salvation? Because by suffering and debasing himself, by working with the Consult against his own people and helping the very beings that destroyed his race, Mekeritrig has found salvation. He has peered into the Inverse Fire and learned that it is very real. And that the No-God was created to end it. By making everyone else suffer, by destroying them, he shall earn his salvation.

And he has erected this wall as a I reminder. So he can remember that degradation and anguish that buys his salvation. It’s his book, his way of remembering the past. Like all erratics, only pain and suffering can elicit those memories of the past, of those he loved who died thousands of years ago.

Starting a new novel in a series is tricky. How do you catch up the reader? Bakker has a rather detailed “What Came Before” summary at the start of each novel (and you should read it because he’s often less coy in it and makes some things that were ambiguous in the text more clear). But this is a good start. He lays out Achamian’s main dilemma from the last book, shows the dreams of Seswatha, delves into identity and memory (a major theme of the novels), gives you a quick glimpse of what Achamian suffered, then drops that bombshell once more: “The world is about to end.”

Then by having Achamian catch-up Nautzera, Bakker has an excuse to drop some exposition on what happened in the last book in the quick strokes for those who skipped his “What Came Before” section. This part isn’t quite as well done. It’s just a straight plot dump in a few paragraphs, no conversation, but it also gets through it pretty fast. Even as a conversation, I doubt it would have been that great. Best to just get it out of the way and remind readers of what’s happened. When Bakker gets to the new information, he switches back to the conversation, to let it flow better. Authors, remember, if you have to have an exposition dump, have characters talk about, let them explore conflicts, show off their personalities, how they react and act. This lets you make the scene serve multiple purposes.

Every scene in a novel should do one of three things: Plot, Character, or World building. It should drive the plot, develop the characters, and establish the world. Ideally, if you can do two or even all three in a scene, even better.

The Ajencis quote is interesting about corruption giving proof to purity. I have listened to some sociologist, like Dr. Jonathan Haidt, talk about morality and how it is often wrapped around sacred objects and beliefs as much as controlling interactions between people. He postulates that morality came out of disgust behavior. Humans, as omnivorous, face a dilemma. We can eat almost anything, so that means we can explore new things to eat. New animals, new plants, etc. It allowed us to spread out of the tropics were we are adapted to survive without any clothing or technology. This puts a dual nature in us that we both need to seek out new things and yet be cautious of that less we expose ourselves to disease. Racism is probably not fear of others like people think, but this disgust reaction in that we’ve evolved to understand that meeting a new group can lead to new diseases being introduced so there is a part of us that recoils in disgust, no different than seeing a piece of rotten food. But at the same time, we’re driven to seek out novel things. This is the real difference between Conservatives and Liberals. A Conservative wants to protect from outside threats weakening us while a Liberal wants to introduce outside objects to strengthen us. Both are necessary for humans to advance and when one or the other gets too strong, it causes a lot of problems for us. So for a Conservative who has found something that they feel defends from the corrupt, like religion, like a symbol (the US Flag for the Right, or Immigration for the Left in the United States) they make it sacred. And when a human does that (because remember we are predisposed to religious thinking and not scientific thinking) we want to preserve it. And that makes us combative. Makes us rigid in our thinking. Makes us orthodoxy and not want to question these things.

And that leads to conflict.

Achamian is still aching for vengeance on the Scarlet Spires and upon Iyokus in particular. Shame those two didn’t have a seen in the followup series. But the Blind Schoolman was a little busy when Achamian arrived.

What does understanding have to do with hatred? Nothing. Hatred can destroy reason. It can slay objectivity. It can undermine logic. Hatred can cause you to murder what you need the most if you don’t control it. And Achamian has a lot of reasons to hate the Scarlet Spire, but also Esmenet and Kellhus. Stakes are being raised here. The conflicts for the novel are being established.

Nautzera’s greed to possess Kellhus is on display. The Mandate, who have spent so much time suffering for the second apocalypse, now must be the ones to control its defense, through the harbinger. He doesn’t think at all about the world’s good, but the fulfillment of his order’s purpose. He doesn’t think of any other way. And it leads him to do something that he would never have allowed before to keep Kellhus from falling in with their enemies.

Nautzera’s line “All men can be deceived” strikes right to the core of the series. If free will is an illusion, as Bakker’s universe contains, then we’re all deceived. It’s a true statement. Even a Dûnyain who can see so far, can be deceived. Can make mistakes. Can be manipulated in the right way. Just by limiting Kellhus’s information, by controlling it just right, you could deceive him. After all, he never believed in Sorcery, was deceived by the Pragmas into believing cause and effect were inviolable and then saw proof it wasn’t with his own eyes.

I like this mark about the carrion birds still fighting over the feast before them. Even for animals, it’s never enough. They always have to be in conflict with the other species. There is a fiction, a romantic view of nature, that it is in balance. It’s a lie. Nature has never been in balance. If it were, no species would ever have gone instinct. Humans have a need to lie about the nobility of it to punish their own hearts for their weaknesses, for their actions.

Kellhus has brutal style. It’s a new baptism, an inversion of Christianity. Here, the new prophet doesn’t use his own blood to wash clean his followers, but the blood of his enemies. And the fact that it is moving to his followers just underscores human psychology, how we can be manipulated into participating in acts of evil by the in-group/out-group preference we all share. As tribal creatures, we form tight bonds with those closest to us and have trouble caring about those who aren’t apart of that in-group. Our societies have struggled hard to expand the in-group while building tolerance for the out-group, but at our core, in our DNA, this behavior remains and it can be used to do terrible things.

You can’t help but pity Achamian. How terrible it must be to have to help the very people who so betrayed you. It speaks to his character that he sucks up his pain for the fate of the world. It’s only when he learns the truth of what Kellhus is from the Scylvendi that he can no longer do it, no longer trust that Kellhus will save the world.

Achamian thinks that Kellhus won’t be an Ajencis (a great philosopher) or a Triamis (a great leader) but a great prophet. The founder of a new religion. Bakker is telling us something about humans here. Despite the fact Kellhus has the intelligence to be a greater philosophy or leader than Ajencis or Triamis, something Bakker has shown us are the epitome of their two areas in his universe, he goes the religious route to seize power. It’s the shortest path. Humans are hard-wired to create sacred objects and protect them. This goes back to the omnivorous dilemma. When humans find something that works for them, they elevate it. They don’t want it challenge. It usually is religion, which if you look at a lot of old ones you’ll see plenty of commandments about cleanliness and purity (i.e. protecting yourself from diseases and sicknesses). In modern times, with the destruction of so many traditional institutes like religion, people are taking up new ideas and substituting them in its place from politics and political leaders, to movements (progressivism, feminism, socialism, environmentalism) to clinging to the past (southern nationalism, white nationalism) and even intellectual pursuits (like science or skeptical philosophy). This need to create the sacred is ingrained in us, and if you can harness it, you can really control people.

In just a few days, things are normal again. Humans crave that stability “normalcy” brings and are quick to reestablish it when circumstances permit. It’s the anti-fragileness of our species. It’s what lets us survive tragedy and keep going, but only so long as it’s permitted to develop while we’re children.

Poor Serwë, forgotten. Not seen as worthy of being remembered. But like all of us, she’s only truly remembered by those who knew her, cared for her in life.

Eyes as pinpricks is a profound reminder about the limitation of our perspectives. It’s easy for us to forget that we’re not seeing the whole picture. It’s easy to think the best and worst of another person because we’re only seeing them through a few minutes on the news, through a post on social media, through the gossip of our peers. It’s easy to judge without knowing all the facts.

And that only leads to pain and suffering.

Achamian loves Esmenet. Because he can see that she’s better off with Kellhus. That the man gave her more than he ever could. He can recognize that without thinking ill of her. And now we see he wants her back. He’s in denial that he can reclaim her, win back her affections. And he does, but it’s not enough because she’s pregnant and as a mother, she chooses the situation best for her child.

The Dûnyain are good at showing the world they don’t make mistakes, that they are infallible. Even us readers can be tricked into thinking this about Kellhus despite the numerous mistakes he makes over the course of this series. Let alone his miscalculation at the end of the Unholy Consult (no, that was not part of his master plan what happened at the end of that novel.)

I think Achamian is realizing, on a subconscious level, that Achamian had seduced Esmenet. That she, like everyone else, had underestimated Kellhus and didn’t see his ulterior motive to seduce her until it was too late. Perhaps this is just something Achamian wants to be true to protect the pain in his own heart, to try and soften her betrayal by shifting it all onto Kellhus. After all, Achamian now wants to win her back. He can’t hate her, think her false, if that’s the case. He’s starting to come up with rationalizations for his irrational desire for Esmenet. And after all, nothing is more irrational than love. As Bakker showed us earlier in this series, the intellect is ever slave to desire, forced to justify our actions as we pursue what we crave through whatever means the intellect can use.

Achamian realizes that Kellhus doesn’t appreciate beauty. As Kellhus said when Achamian first sees the skin-spy bound to the apple tree that the tree was already dead. To Kellhus, using a dead tree to hold the creature was making use of something now useless. It’s in a convenient spot for him to access. He doesn’t think about the ascetics of it.

I’ve talked about before that hierarchy among men is one of submission. That human leaders don’t really seize power without consent. That they have people, often armed men, who have submitted to them, allowing them to dominate others. And by accepting their submission, the man seeking domination often finds himself submitting to the man who he leads because to maintain their acceptance as the leader, he has to give them something back in exchange, fulfill their wants and desires. So since all men submit, even me and you, to something, choose carefully what it is you’re submitting to. Think about why you’re doing something, understand it. That’s probably Bakker’s most important lesson he teaches in this series: you have a brain, use it critically.

And then he shows us that love is another form of submission, one that opens yourself up to injury and degradation. If you’re partner is playing testing games with you, probably means she doesn’t love you. Always a warning sign. Kellhus is laying the foundation of winning Achamian back to his side. But there’s one major doubt that Achamian has. Kellhus knew he lived and still took what Esmenet offered. It’s this doubt combined with Cnaiür’s revelation that forever shakes Achamian from seeing Kellhus as anything but a manipulator. A cold, calculating man who doesn’t care about the beauty of a garden when it could be more useful as a makeshift dungeon.

This chapter lays the foundation for the central conflict for the major characters of Kellhus, Esmenet, and Achamian and their love triangle, which I’m loathe to use, going forward in this book. Esmenet does still love Achamian, which is why she’ll start feeling guilty about everything, which is why she’ll come so close to abandoning Kellhus for Achamian.

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Review: Nyssa Glass and the Cutpurse Kid

Nyssa Glass and the Cutpurse Kid

by H.L. Burke

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Settled into their new life, Nyssa and Ellis have opened their own repair shop. They need this business to be successful as Ellis’s money is dwindling fast. But when they catch a pickpocket trying to steal Ellis’s possessions, Nyssa sees herself in the young boy, something Ellis recognizes. The couple adopts the boy, to give him a new life like Nyssa had from her dead mentor.

But the cutpurse entering their life couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Nyssa’s past has caught up. Her uncle, the man who turned her into a thief, appears. Not dead, like his criminal partners had claimed when they tried to use Nyssa, but in prison for the last decade. Thinking Nyssa must have quite the stash, he wants his cut.

And he’ll do anything to get it.

The theme of identity comes up over and over in these books, from the computer AI in the first novella, to the true identity of the young couple in the last book. Now Nyssa’s true identity as a thief is released to her new community by the man who made her into one. It’s a tense story as you watch all Nyssa and Ellis’s hard work to start over ruined by a greedy man who doesn’t understand the true meaning of family.

Like the other Nyssa Glass novellas, this one has heart that keeps you reading. Burke has really found magic with the characters of Nyssa and Ellis, and you want them to succeed against the obstacles laid out before them. Another excellent novella.

Fans of fantasy and steampunk need to check out this delightful young adult novella.

You can buy Nyssa Glass and the Cutpurse Kid from Amazon!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Five

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 25
Caraskand

Welcome to Chapter Twenty-Five of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Twenty-Four!

What is the meaning of a deluded life?

AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

My Thoughts

What a powerful quote to end this book on. As we see, all man are deceived by the darkness that comes before them, therefor all men have a deluded life. What is the worth? Does that mean their actions have no value in a deterministic universe? There is a reason that determinism is not a wildly embraced philosophy. Even if it’s the truth of our circumstances, that everything we do was set in motion the moment the big bang happened, most humans reject that idea. We prefer the alternatives, that our conscious will does give us free will. That just because our society and culture, that our friends and acquaintances, put pressures on us to drive our behavior, we still make the decision. Most humans utterly reject the belief that we have no control over our will, that it is an illusion, so we can feel that our actions do have value. That we accomplish something with the minute amount of time we have in this world.

It’s what all the character’s in The Prince of Nothing series wish to believe even as their actions are shown to be at the behest of other forces. Is is better to live a deluded life and be happy? Or be miserable in the mire of nihilistic determinism? Is it better to believe your life has value and meaning then to be an insignificant spec, a tiny cog in a machine as vast as the entire universe?

Maybe being deluded isn’t all that bad.

Late Winter, 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Caraskand

Kellhus is cut down by the Nascenti, pulled away form his dead wife. Kellhus knows he should be too weak to act, but feels something “inexplicable” moving him. He pulls away from Serwë and stands. He’s wrapped in white linen and stumbles away from the tree. The crowds stare at him all and “it seemed he embraced all the Three Seas.” As he Cnaiür and Eleäzaras looks dumbstruck and Gotian staggers forward, Kellhus starts to understand the purpose of his father’s summons: the Thousandfold Thought.

And it seemed there was nothing, no dwarfing frame, that could restrict him to this place, to any place… He was all things, and all things were his…

He was one of the Condition. Dûnyain.

He was the Warrior-Prophet.

Tears roared down his cheeks. With a haloed hand, he reached beneath his breast, firmly wrested the heart from his ribs. He thrust it high to the thunder of their adulation. Beads of blood seemed to crack the stone at his feet… He glimpsed Sarcellus’s uncoiled face.

I see…

“They said!” he cried in a booming voice, and the howling chorus trailed into silence.

“They said that I was False, that I caused the anger of the God to burn against us!”

He looked into their wasted faces, answered their fevered eyes. He brandished Serwë’s burning heart.

“But I say that we—WE!—are that anger!

Kascamandri, the Padirajah of Kian, sent an offer of surrender to the Men of the Tusk, one he thought was generous. If they yield and forswear their false religion, he would make them Grandees among their “idolatrous nations.” He didn’t think it would be accept outright, he was too wise for that, but knew it was a start. He understands the power of his victory if he defeats the Holy War by religious conversion and not by the sword.

The reply came in the form of a dozen almost skeletal Inrithi knights, dressed in simple cotton tunics and wearing only knives. After disputing the knives, which the idolaters refused to relinquish, Kascamandri’s Ushers received them with all jnanic courtesy and brought them directly to the great Padirajah, his children, and the ornamental Grandees of his court.

There was a a moment of astonished silence, for the Kianene could scarce believe the bearded wretches before them could author so much woe. Then, before the first ritual declaration, the twelve men cried out, “Satephikos kana ta yerishi ankapharas!” in unison, then drew their knives and cut their own throats.

The court is horrified. Kascamandri hugs his youngest daughters as they cried. His shaken interpreter says that “the Warrior-Prophet shall… shall come before you…” Kascamandri demands to know who that is, but no one knows. The next morning, the Men of the Tusk form up to fight outside the Ivory Gate, singing. They have chosen to do battle instead of enduring “hunger and disease.” They form up, the Tydonni on the right flank, then the Nansur, the Conryians, Thunyeri, the Ainoni, and the Galeoth. The Kianene allow them to form up, fearing if they attacked too soon, the Holy War would retreat into Caraskand. All those with the strength, even the few women and priest who’d survived, wielded arms and sang hymns. “Some one hundred thousand Inrithi had stumbled form the Carathay, and less than fifty thousand now ranged across the plain.” Another twenty thousand too week remained behind, some cheering from the walls others praying.

Those who formed up on the field take hope in the new banner flying, the Circumfix of the Warrior Prophet. “The glory of it scarcely seemed possible…” War horns sound the advance. The grim Holy War marches to the Kianene who formed up two miles away on the open plains where the Inrithi would expose their flanks.

Songs keened over the throbbing of Fanim drums. The deep war chants of the Thunyeri, which had once filled the forest of their homeland with sound of doom. The keening hymns of the Ainoni, whose cultivated ears savored the dissonance of human voices. The dirges of the Galeoth and the Tydonni, solemn and foreboding. They sang, the Men of the Tusk, overcome with strange passions: joy that knew no laughter, terror that knew no fear. They sang and they marched, walking with the grace of almost-broken men.

When men collapsed, their kinsmen dragged them onward. The Tydonni make first contact with the Fanim, who fire arrows upon them. But they have their great shields and withstood the volley. Anasacer, whose lands were taken by Holy War, “charged with fury” at the Tydonni. At the center, war elephants charge at the Circumfix. But outriders set grass on fire, panicking the mastodons. Still, many trample into the Inrithi.

Soon, the Fanim are charging the entirety of the Inrithi lines, galloping on their horses. Crown Prince Fanayal attacks King Saubon, rampaging through his lines. On the wall, the sick still pray while the battle is obscured by smoke. But they see the Tydonni hold. The few horseman left, riding nags, break the Fanim charge. Athjeäri and his knights, sent to stop any attacks from the hills, found themselves in position to charge the Fanim rear. So Athjeäri took it.

The Fanim fell back in disarray, while before them, all across the Fields of Tertae, the singing Inrithi resumed their forward march. Many upon the walls limped eastward, toward the Gate of Horns, where they could see the first Men of the Tusk fight clear the smoke of the centre and press onward in the wake of retreating Girgashi horsemen. Then they saw it, the Circumfix, fluttering white and unsullied in the wind…

As though driven by inevitability, the iron men marched forward. When the heathen charged, they grabbed at bridles and were trampled. They punched spears deep into the haunches of Fanim horses. They fended hacking swords, pulled heathen shrieking to the ground, where they knifed them in the armpit, face, or groin. They shrugged off piercing arrows. When the heathen relented, some Men of the Tusk, the madness of battle upon them, hurled their helms at the fleeing horsemen. Time and again the Kianene charged, broke, then withdrew, while the iron men trudged on, through olive trees, across the fallow fields. They would walk with the God—whether he favored them or no.

Though driven back, the Kianene were too proud to falter now. Kascamandri, “hoisted by his slaves upon the back of a massive horse,” leads the counter attack. The elephants also regroup, though Yalgrota Sranchammer proves his name by braining one with a single blow. More and more, the Kianene charge the Holy War’s advancing lines. But then the Nansur break through, reaching the Padirajah’s camp. This silences the heathen drums and only the Inrithi’s hymns are heard. The rout begins as Kascamandri is killed by Kellhus. Fanayal escapes, saving his younger sisters and brothers. Some Kianene still fight, but they are butchered by Men of the Tusk who weep because “never had they known such dark glory.”

And in the wake of the battle, some climbed the mastodon carcasses, held their swords out to the glare of the sun, and understood things they did not know.

The Holy War had been absolved.

Forgiven

The surviving Grandees were strung from many-boughed sycamores, and in the evening light they hung, like drowned men floating up from the deep. And though years would pass, none would dare touch them. They would sag from the nails that fixed them, collapse into heaps about the base of their trees. And to anyone who listened, they would whisper a revelation… The secret of battle.

Indomitable conviction. Unconquerable belief.

Early Spring, 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Akssersia

Aëngelas rides with his fellow Werigda across the Plains of Gâl, many weeping when they spotted a track of a small child. They were searching for their missing wives and children for the last two days. They’d returned from a successful raid only to find their families slaughtered or carried off. They ride through the ruins of Myclai, the capital of long dead Akssersia. Aëngelas knew nothing of the “Old Wars” that had destroyed the Ancient North or anything of the nation from which his people were descended. “They dwelt among the unearthed bones of greater things.” They followed the tracks of the Sranc through the ruins. This was a new clan, not the Kig’krinaki nor Xoägi’i whom his people usually fought. This clan was wickeder. Some even rode horses.

Past the ruins, as evening approaches, they found a fire pit and the bones of their children in it. “The Werigda gnashed their teeth and howled at the dark heavens.” They didn’t sleep, so they kept riding. They question what sin they’ve committed against the “man-pummeling Gods?” They travel through two more days “of trembling horror.” Over and over, Aëngelas sees tracks of women and children, the tribes adolescents dead and raped bodies. He remembered his wife’s fear and her premeditation she told him before he left: “Do not leave us, Aënga… The Great Ruiner hunts for us. I’ve seen him in my dreams!”

They find another fire pit, but this time the ashes are warm. They are close. While many want to press on, Aëngelas points out they’re too tired for battle. Arguments break out, men worried whose children the Sranc would next eat. But they force themselves to rest and be ready.

They’re attacked in the night by Srancs. Aëngelas is dragged from his mat. He kills his assailant with a knife, but horses charge around him. He and his men are easily captured. They are driven through the night. He weeps, knowing he would never make love to his wife or tease his sons around the fire. He wonders, “What have we done to deserve this? What have we done?”

By the wicked glare of torchlight he saw the Sranc, with their narrow shoulders and dog-deep chests, surfacing form the night as though from the depths of the Sea. Inhumanly beautiful faces, as white as polished bone; armor of lacquered human skin; necklaces of human teeth; and the shrunken faces of men stitched into their round shields. He smelled their sweet stench—like feces and rotted fruit. He heard the nightmarish clacking of their laughter, and from somewhere in the night, the shrieks of the Werigda’s horses as they were slaughtered.

And periodically he saw the Nonmen, tall upon their silk-black steeds. What Valrissa had dreamed, he realized, was true: the Great Ruiner hunted them! But why?

At dawn, they reach the Sranc camp and are reunited with their surviving loved ones. Aëngelas embraces his wife and his one remaining son. They all cry as they hold each other. “And for an instant he felt hope in the pale warmth of degraded bodies.” This joy is short lived as the Sranc begin killing any men who didn’t find their families and any women or children whose husband hadn’t survived, leaving only those who’d reunited. Then they are separated, men from women and children. Aëngelas is leashed to a spike driven in the ground, unable to reach his wife and son.

And then, for the first time, he heard the question—even though it was not spoken.

An uncanny silence fell across the Werigda, and Aëngelas understood that all of them had heard the impossible voice… The question had resounded through the souls of all his suffering people.

Then he saw… it. An abomination walking through the dawn twilight.

It was half-again taller than a man, with long, folded wings curved like scythes over its powerful frame. Save where it was mottled by black, cancerous sports, its skin was translucent, and sheathed about a great flared skull shaped like an oyster set on edge. And within the gaping jaws of that skull was fused another, more manlike, so that an almost human face grinned from its watery features.

The Sranc writhe in orgasmic pleasure as the Inchoroi passes. The thing stops before Aëngelas while Valrissa sobbed. It sense “the old fire” in Aëngelas. The thing asks if Aëngelas knows what it is. He answers the Great Ruiner.

Noooo, it cooed, as though his mistake had aroused a delicious shiver. We are not He… We are His servant. Save my Brother, we are the last of those who descended from the void…

The abomination loomed over Valrissa. She clutches their son to her breast, tries to ward off the monster. The thing tells Aëngelas to answer his questions. But Aëngelas doesn’t know anything about it. The monster seizes Valrissa, their son crying out as he’s ripped away. Aëngelas screams his wife’s name.

Holding her by the throat, the thing languorously picked her clothing away, like the skin of a rotten peach. As her breasts fell free, round-white with soft-pin nipples, a sheen of sunlight flickered across the horizon, and illuminated her lithe curves… But the hunger that held her from behind remained shadowy—like glistening smoke.

Animal violence overcame Aëngelas, and he strained at his leash, gagged inarticulate fury.

And a husky voice in his soul said: We are a race of lovers, manling…

“Beaassee!” Aëngelas wept. “I don’t knoooowww…”

The thing’s free hand traced a thread of blood between her bosom across the plane of her shuddering belly. Valrissa’s eyes returned to Aëngelas, thick with something impossible She moaned and parted her hanging legs to great the abomination’s hand.

A race of lovers…

“I don’t know! I don’t! I don’t! Bease stop! Beaasse!”

The thing thing screeched like a thousand falcons as it plunged into her. Glass thunder. Shivering sky. She bent back her head, her face contorted in pain and bliss. She convulsed and groaned, arched to meet the creature’s thrust. And when she climaxed, Aëngelas crumbled, grasped his head between his hands, beat his face against the turf.

The cold felt good against his broken lips.

With an inhuman, dragon gasp, the ting pressed its bruised phallus up across her stomach and washed her sunlit breasts with pungent, black seed. Another thunderous screech, woven by the thin human wail of a woman.

And against it asked the question.

But Aëngelas doesn’t know. The Inchoroi says “this thing” made Aëngelas weak before throwing his wife to the Sranc to be raped. Over and over, it asks him the question as it rapes his son and then hands him over to the Sranc as well. Then Aëngelas himself is rapped, and with each thrust, the question is asked in his mind. Over and over.

Until the gagging shrieks of his wife and child became the question. Until his own deranged howls became the question…

His wife and child were dead. Sacks of penetrated flesh with faces that he still loved, and still… they did things.

Always, the same mad, incomprehensible question.

Who are the Dûnyain?

My Thoughts

Even Kellhus is surprised he can stand. He knows his body. Understands what he’s gone through is beyond even the endurance bred into his lineage by the Dûnyain. The outside is touching him right now. Effect is preceding cause, giving him the strength to stand. Is it Ajolki, the God Kellhus makes a deal with in the coming years to fight the Consult? Reality is bending and warping, almost like a topoi has formed around him. Note how he pulls out Serwë’s heart from his chest. He didn’t have that in his hand when he moved from her. This is a true miracle, not sorcerery.

And it’s the moment where Kellhus accepts his duel purpose. He is both a being of intellect, a Dûnyain. But he’s also now a being of faith, embracing his role as the Warrior-Prophet. For he witnesses his own haloed hands. Just like everyone else does when they believe him to be a prophet. The Outside has marked him.

Now he shall use the Thousandfold Thought to defeat the Consult, something the Dûnyain wouldn’t do. Because, as he says in the next book, he is mad. The break down of Cause and Effect has shattered Kellhus’s mind. The Dûnyain, for all their vaulted intellect, have some deficiencies. Their lack of strong emotions makes them vulnerable to outside manipulation. While they have incredible will, they lack the fire to truly defend it, as we see when Kellhus is possessed by Ajolki before the No-God’s sarcophagus (and Bakker has confirmed that it wasn’t Kellhus’s will, but the god taking him over in an AMA on Reddit). They also do not have the world view to deal with the violation of cause and effect. It warps them. We sees this with Kellhus’s son, the Survivor, in the next series.

Now this is an interesting scene to start a chapter with. It’s the climax of the last chapter, what it had built to, and yet he places it at the start of the next. It feels almost divorced from the historical section about the battle, this remote, omniscient third person Bakker slips into to convey broad events. But it’s a signal. Everything has changed in the world.

Kellhus has accepted a new role. He has had his rebirth. He’s wrapped in white, symbolizing that change. He’s, in effect, come back from the dead. And it changed even him. He’s the Warrior-Prophet in truth now, for good or ill. And what follows, the Inrithi’s desperate charge, is a direct result of that. So by undercutting narrative expectations, he instead delineates the importance of what just happened by starting a new chapter with it.

Kascamandri not only thinks himself wise, but it’s smart. Starve these men, get them to capitulate to his religion to save their skin. Men like Conphas would do it, but others wouldn’t. But enough would. However, he doesn’t know a Dûnyain is in there. He’s also counting his chickens, as it were, planning on making them Grandees of their nations. Kascamandri is plotting a Jihad. He has assembled this huge force and just demolished the fighting strength of the Inrithi.

Perfect time to invade and spread Fane, and his own power.

And then Kellhus responds with a terrifying display of power. To get twelve men to kill themselves is something no temporal leader ever can do. It takes the fanaticism of a true belief, one that can subsume a human’s survival instinct, to do that.

Now the last battle of the book unfolds. The desperate march of the Inrithi. They have nothing left to lose now. They need to attack because every day they weaken. And with Kellhus giving them the will to defy the surrender, they spill out. And they fight with zeal. The Fanim thought they were weak. And the secret of battle is that it is a war. Convince your opponent he lost and that you won. Who ever has the most conviction, the strongest belief, shall win. Those who are overconfident do not react well to upsets. It shakes their convictions, shatters their beliefs. It is how such a small, weakened force overcame a well-armed and healthy enemy.

I love how Bakker never calls Kascamandri fat. He has “elephantine arms” or it takes slaves plural to hoist him into a saddle. It’s a nice touch.

What a sad line: “They dwelt among the unearthed bones of greater things.” Here we have a post-apocalyptic tribe reduced back to hunter-gathers, living amid the Sranc-infested north. They’ve existed for two thousand years. And today, the Consult has need of them. They have no idea the “Old Wars” have begun again, and that they number among the first victims.

Man-pummeling Gods.” This gives a good idea how hard life is for the Werigda before this happened. They see the gods as something to be appeased and endured. Entities they had to placate and if they didn’t, they were punished. They fear their world, so have created Gods to personify that fear.

The Great Ruiner. So Kellhus isn’t the only one that’s dreamed of the No-God.

And for an instant he felt hope in the pale warmth of degraded bodies.” This line… What a dreadful thing befalls these people. Just trying to survive amid a world of monsters, nurturing all those small, important things: love, family, hope. And it all gets snuffed out by the cruelty of the Consult. It’s sick and barbaric.

Aëngelas calls the Inchoroi a Xurjranc. This must be a corruption of Ur-Sranc, introduced in the next series. The greater Sranc bread for war different from the vermin that the Werigda would be familiar with. It’s his only frame of reference to call the Inchoroi. I always thought Ur-Sranc was something Bakker didn’t come up with until the next series when he fleshed out the Consult more and how its armies worked. But now… Interesting.

And then this entire thing comes to its sickening end. Aëngelas watching the rape of his wife, and hearing her enjoy it, is like the anime and manga Berserk. When during the eclipse, Guts watches Caska’s rape at the hands of the now demonic Griffin. How she quivered and enjoyed it even as the violation destroyed her mind. And it should be clear to the Inchoroi that these hunter-gathers have nothing to do with the Dûnyain. Have never hard about them, but he’s having fun.

He’s part of a race of lovers. And he’s loving their flesh. He cares nothing about their pleasure, about their suffering, only himself. He’s selfish. His entire race is. That’s what they are. That’s why they’re condemned to damnation. And why they will butcher the entire world, have butchered others, just to free themselves from that fate.

Bakker ends the book showing us exactly why the Inchoroi can’t be allowed to succeed. We’ve heard about them, but to see how they operate in all their visceral depravity contrast that new rebirth. This is what Kellhus has decided to fight by becoming the Warrior-Prophet. Kellhus will do his own harm to do this, cause so many death and suffering, commit so many to damnation on the chance of defeating the Consult.

And in the vein of Grimdark Fantasy, fails.

What a powerful book. The characters suffer so much in this book. They are plunged to their nadir and are changed. Some become stronger like Achamian, some embrace madness like Kellhus, others are destroyed like Xinemus. Bakker has set the stage to end the first of his Three Series story. He’s shown us the world, how it works, and what the stakes are. Now he’ll show us who will be the one to try to save it, how he changes and grows, and I’m not talking about Kellhus.

Achamian. He was strengthened in this book. Will it be enough to stop the No-God once again?

Bakker’s final line of the novel is fitting: “Who are the Dûnyain?”

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Review: Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors

Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors

by H.L. Burke

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Nyssa Glass is a young woman with a troubled past. Raised as a thief and a pickpocket by an abusive uncle, she found freedom when he died. With the sponsorship of Mr. Calloway, she received an education in engineering and a job in his repair shop. She just wants a peaceful life.

But everything changes when her past catches up to her. Someone needs her skills for a dangerous job. When she revuses, she finds herself on the run, framed for Mr. Calloway’s murder, and having no choice but to complete the job to salvage her own reputation.

She’ll have to enter the mansion of Mr. Dalhart, famed inventor of many of the steampunk technology of her world. No one has seen Mr. Dalhart, his crippled son Ellis, or the staff in three years. Everyone sent is has died.

Nysaa Glass will have to use all her skills to survive.

What a wonderful, young adult novella. Burke has created a very realistic steampunk world, blending Victorian England with devices that are almost like modern technology but are so different. Full of heart and warmth, as well as danger. Tackling such topics as identity and what it means to be human, Burke weaves a fast-paced tale that keeps your reading and rooting for her young heroine to uncover the truth of The House of Mirrors.

If you’re a fan of fantasy, young adult literature not steeped in vapid romance, or steampunk adventures, this is a story for you! Great for youths and adults.

You can buy Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors from Amazon!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Four

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 24
Caraskand

Welcome to Chapter Twenty-Four of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Twenty-Three!

They strike down the weak and call it justice. They ungird their loins and call it reparations. They bark like dogs and call it reason.

ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

My Thoughts

Pretty straightforward. Humans will rationalize the crimes they commit. From rape to butchering the weak. Their excuses are as meaningless as the bark of a dog, and yet they have the gall to call it reason. Very damning look at men. Not surprising from a philosopher writing about men’s follies,

Proyas pleads with the council to listen to Achamian’s words without bias or bigotry, like the wise would. He tells them, in essence, to stop barking like dogs and think it is reason but to actually use their minds. A big theme of Bakker’s work is showing how humans really don’t think about what they do and why that’s bad. Things would be a lot better if we did.

Late Winter, 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Caraskand

A massive rainstorm hits Caraskand, sending people to cover as they pray. Cnaiür is dreaming about Kellhus, both words and deeds. He witnesses Serwë die as “the abominations” words ring in his mind: “Remember the secret of battle—remember!” He wakes up to the sound of the storm. The whispers in his mind compel him to seek out Proyas, ridding to the Sapatishah’s Palace where he’s learned Proyas is. By the time he reaches it, the storm is fading.

Though he passes nobles that he recognizes, none greet him as he strides through the palace. He runs into Gaidekki who asks after Cnaiür’s bleeding throat, which has been cut. Cnaiür just asks for Proyas. He’s told to follow the others heading in. He does.

No one will look at Cnaiür. Memories of his own people shunning him assault his psyche. He keeps going, insults from his past echoing in his mind. He keeps going, entering a large meeting room where Proyas stands over a table talking to Achamian. This shocks Cnaiür. But he shouts at Proyas that they need to speak. Proyas waves him away, but Cnaiür doesn’t give up.

Fool! Cnaiür thought. The siege could be broken! He knew what they must do!

The secret of battle. He remembered…

Cnaiür takes a seat with the gathering nobles and watched “the Great Names settle into their usual bickering.” Thanks to the lack of food, even the powerful look gaunt, appearing more like children wearing their fathers armor, “possessed of the shambling pageantry of dying rulers.” Saubon, as the titular king of Caraskand, sits at the table’s head. Other great names, and Achamian, sit around the table. Chinjosa is here as the interim King-Reagent of Ainoni and Hulwarga the Limper rules the Thunyerus since his brother Skaiyelt died. Gotian hasn’t arrived, which Conphas blames on a sorcerer speaking to them. But Sarcellus is here and doesn’t know where Gotian is.

Cnaiür stares at his hand, flexing and clenching it as he remembers Sarcellus killing Serwë. He doesn’t pay attention to their legal squabblings, instead staring at Sarcellus. He notices the “spidery network of red lines” that marred the man’s face. It’s fainter than last time he saw it. Sarcellus eyes appear troubled by the conversation.

What was it the Dûnyain said?

Lie made flesh.

Cnaiür was hungry, very hungry—he hadn’t eaten a true meal for several days now—and the gnawing in his belly lent a curious edge to everything he witnessed, as though his soul no longer hat the luxury of fat thoughts and fat impressions. The taste of horse’s blood was fresh upon his lips. For a mad moment, he found himself wondering what Sarcellus’s blood would taste like. Would it taste like lies?

Did lies have a taste?

Since Serwë’s murder, Cnaiür has lived a jumbled life, his memories muddled. “Everything overflowed, spilled into everything else.” The Dûnyain words keep rattling in his mind. Then he understood what the words meant. He’d already told the Dûnyain the secret of battle. Cnaiür understands part of Kellhus’s plan and laments Proyas not listening to him.

Achamian rises to speak and that quiets the bickering. He says the Holy War has made a mistake that must be corrected to protect the World. Everyone scowls at him. Then he says they have to free Kellhus. Arguing begins and Cnaiür realizes he didn’t have to speak to Proyas after all. Proyas pleads for them to listen to Achamian, his outburst quieting everyone. Cnaiür wanders if Achamian knows Kellhus’s plans.

Proyas pleads with them to listen, that more than their lives are at stake. He reminds them that listening without bias or bigotry is what wise men do. Cnaiür notes Sarcellus watching the proceedings with interest. Achamian continues, saying he’s not here to say if Kellhus is a false prophet, only to show the council the true cancer plaguing the Holy War: the skin-spies.

The sorcerer bent beneath the table, hoisted a fouled sack of some kind. In a single motion, he unfurled it across the table. Something like silvery eels about a blackened cabbage rolled onto the polished surface, came to rest against an impossible reflection. A severed head?

Lie made flesh…

Shouting breaks out as everyone struggles to understand what it means. Cnaiür keeps watching Sarcellus, who makes an exit. Cnaiür notices that pattern of red lines again and realizes he’s seen it an Anwurat when he fought the skin-spy posing as Kellhus.

Overcome by a trembling, wolfish hunger, Cnaiür stood and hurried to follow. At last he fathomed everything the Dûnyain had said to him the day he was denounced by the Great Names—the day of Serwë’s death. The memory of Kellhus’s voice pierced the thunder of assembled Inrithi…

Lie made flesh.

A name.

Sarcellus’s name.

Sinerses, a Kianene slave, brings word to from Lord Chinjosa to Eleäzaras. He’s not unexpected, but Eleäzaras is surprised by his agitation. His fear returns. Everything has gone wrong, “conspired against him.” Even he is starving. They’re eating their precious books to survive. They were close to agreeing to war openly with the Holy War just to survive, another wager to protect the first one Eleäzaras has made. But he fears the Thesji Bowmen and their Chorae, knowing they could decimate his school if they fight to break the siege.

Chorae! Accursed things. The Tears of the God cared nothing for those who brandished them, Inrithi or Fanim, so long as they weren’t sorcerers. Apparently one didn’t need to interpret the God to correctly wield Him.

Eleäzaras realizes the Scarlet Spire stands on the verge of destruction. Then he learns that the dread he’s feared, Achamian appearing after escaping Iothiah, has happened. He thinks he’s hear for vengeance. He fears there is a corps of Mandate Schoolmen. But he is alone and instead speaks of skin-spies, claiming they walk among us. That they’re everything. He says they have to free Kellhus because he can see them. This shocks Eleäzaras. He can’t believe this.

Eleäzaras feared Kellhus, like the others, especially since many of the Javreh slave-soldiers were secretly becoming Zaudunyani. He had Chinjosa support the move against him. He thought the matter closed. But learning that Kellhus can see them and cleanse the Holy War of their poison.

As an old master at jnan, Eleäzaras was loath to allow his true passions to surface in the presence of his slaves, but these past days… had been very hard. The face he showed Sinerses was bewildered—he seemed an old man who’d grown very afraid of the world.

“Muster as many men as you can,” he said distantly. “Immediately!”

Sinerses fled.

Spies… Everywhere spies! And if he couldn’t find them… If he couldn’t find them…

The Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires would speak to this Warrior-Prophet—to this holy man who could see what was hidden in their midst. Throughout his life, Eleäzaras, a sorcerer who could peer into the world’s smokiest recesses, had wondered what it was the Holy thought they saw. Now he knew.

Malice.

The thing called Sarcellus hungers for blood and fucking. It’s entire body is driven to it even the “sham it called its soul.” It’s creators twisted it for this purpose. And only few things could give them release, which is how the Architects created it. Killing Serwë had done it. Just remembering it makes him hard. But Achamian is ruining everything. Sarcellus knew what he had to do know to stop Kellhus’s freedom.

Although subtle beyond reason, the thing called Sarcellus walked a far simpler world than that walked by men. There was no war of competing passions, no need for discipline or denial. It lusted only to execute the will of its authors. In appeasing its hunger, it appeased the good.

So it had been forged. Such was the cunning of its manufacture.

The Warrior-Prophet must die. There were no interfering passions, no fear, no remorse, no competing lusts. It would kill Anasûrimbor Kellhus before he could be saved, and in so doing…

Find ecstasy.

Cnaiür quickly realizes where Sarcellus is going: to kill Kellhus. So he calls for his horse and gallops through the city to Umiaki, riding through the desolate city. “The very air seemed to buzz with omens.” As he rides, he can remembers Kellhus holding him over the cliff’s edge when they journeyed together into Nansur. Even know, Cnaiür knows that hand still holds him.

How? How can he [Kellhus] afflict me so?

But then that was Moënghus’s lesson. The Dûnyain made disciples of all men, whether they revered him or no. One need only breathe.

Even my hate! Cnaiür thought. Even my hate he uses to his advantage!

Though he knows he’s being manipulated, he wants Moënghus so badly. Kellhus spoke truth months ago: Cnaiür only cares for vengeance. Surrogates aren’t enough. He would bear anything, he realizes, to get his vengeance.

Hatred, and hatred alone, had kept him sane.

Of course the Dûnyain had known this.

Cnaiür thought making himself into the ideal Scylvendi would “preserve his heart.” He drove himself down that path, hurting himself, to be a true man. One who “conquered, and did not suffer himself to be used.” Cnaiür thought guarding his heart from Kellhus would save him, not realizing Kellhus could manipulate him by controlling everything around him. Just like the Inrithi, Kellhus used him.

Moënghus! He named him Moënghus! My son!

What better way to gall him? What better way to gull? He had been used. Even now, thinking these thoughts, the Dûnyain used him!

But it did not matter.

There were no coeds. There was no honor. The world between men was as trackless as the Steppe—as the desert! There were no men… Only beasts, clawing, craving, mewling, braying. Gnawing at the world with their hungers. Beaten like bears into dancing to this absurd custom or that. All these thousands, these Men of the Tusk, killed and died in the name of delusion. Save hunger, nothing commanded the world.

This was the secret of the Dûnyain. This was their monstrosity. This was their fascination.

After Moënghus abandoned Cnaiür, he thought he was the problem, never good enough for his people. But not he sees that the problem is others. They were fools. There was no honor. “Only Hate.” And he can still get his revenge.

He gallops through a bazaar when his horse throws a shoe and becomes lame. He jumps off, knowing he couldn’t overtake Sarcellus now. But when he rounds a corner, he sees thousands of starving men surrounding the square holding the tree. He barrels through the crowd, looking for Sarcellus. When he gets closer, seeing the tree, he thinks Kellhus is dead. Despair strikes him until he realizes that the people around him didn’t riot. He realizes Kellhus lives and is energized.

People began to recognize him, calling out “Scylvendi” and opening a path for him to the tree. He races ahead to where the Shrial Knights, in ranks three or four deep, guard the tree. Cnaiür spots Sarcellus speaking to Gotian. The ranks of Shrial Knights let him pass and approach Gotian and Sarcellus arguing. Above, Serwë and Kellhus rotate “like two sides of a coin.”

How can she be dead?

Because of you,” the Dûnyain whispered. “Weeper…”

“But why this moment?” Cnaiür heard the Grandmaster cry over the growing thunder of the masses.

“Because!” Cnaiür boomed in his mightiest battlefield voice. “He bears a grudge no man can fathom!”

Despite perfumed sensors, the scent of the rotting skin-spy head makes Achamian gag. The nobles stare at it in disgust and horror. Silence holds the chamber until Conphas asks is this why Kellhus has to be free. Achamian fears a trap from Conphas. He knows, thanks to Proyas, that Conphas would be the opposition. He’ll have to drag them out. Achamian tells Conphas to stop playing the fool. Proyas and Achamian force Proyas to admit that Skeaös the Prime Counsel to his uncle was a skin-spy and how Achamian was brought in to verify. Achamian adds he saw no sorcerery and this is why they’re all but impossible to detect. Only Kellhus can.

Hulwarga asks how Achamian knows this and he admits Kellhus told him. Chinjosa wants to know what they are while Saubon agrees with Achamian that Kellhus must be freed to cleanse the Holy War. Conphas says they are going too fast. And Proyas jumps in, wanting to know why Conphas hid something this important from them. Conphas says he didn’t know who to trust, saying they could be in this room at this very moment. He then says that Kellhus is the lead agent, which is why he moved against him.

“Nonsense!” Achamian cried. “This is rank foolishness!”

The Exalt-General’s eyebrows popped up, as though amazed that something so obvious could be overlooked. “But you just said that only he could see the abominations, do you not?”

“Yes, but—”

“Then tell us, how does he see them?”

Caught unawares, Achamian could only stare at the man. Never, it seemed, had he come to loathe someone so quickly..

“Well, the answer,” Conphas said, “seems plain enough to me. He sees them because he knows who they are.”

People shout as Achamian is flummoxed at what to do. He shivers, realizing the Consult is watching him right now and laughing. Saubon then asks how Kellhus predicted his victory at Mengedda, how he found water, and how he knows “the truth in men’s heart?” He and Gothyelk argue about whether that’s blasphemy when Conphas claims Kellhus has bewitched them with spells. Then Conphas says they need to know who sent these spies, something Chinjosa is eager to learn. Achamian realizes that he’s been outmaneuvered because Conphas knows Achamian’s answer and everyone here thinks the Consult is a fairy tale.

The man’s eyes mocked him [Achamian], seemed to say, You make it too easy…

Conphas then gives his theory that they were sent by the Cishaurim, whose sorcery no school can see. This alarms Proyas. Achamian knows he should speak, but he feel so exhausted, numbed by defeat. Then he remembers Esmenet pleading, feels that betrayal again. Meanwhile, Chinjosa is agreeing with Conphas that the skin-spies are Cishaurim. Conphas then claims Kellhus is a Cishaurim sent to destroy them and has succeeded.

Denials and lamentations shivered through the air. But doom, Achamian knew, had drawn its circle far beyond Caraskand’s walls. I must find some way . . .

Proyas asks if Kellhus was Cishaurim, why did he save the Holy War in the desert. Conphas replies to save himself. Conphas than adds he’s been watching Kellhus since Momemn when Kellhus was noticed staring at Skeaös which caused the Emperor’s paranoia to capture the skin-spy. Achamian is stunned, realizing this meant Kellhus could see them from the beginning but said nothing. All their conversations about the Consult take a new light for Achamian.

He was working me! Using me for my knowledge! Trying to understand what it was he saw!

And he saw Esmenet’s soft lips parting about those words, those impossible words . . .

I carry his child.”

How? How could she betray him?

He remembers lying beside her in his “poor tent,” holding her. Those little details of sharing a life with her while marveling how this woman could choose him and feel safe in his arms. He remembers how she swore he’d never be alone.

But he was. He was alone.

He blinked absurd tears from his eyes. Even his mule, Daybreak, was dead . . .

He looked to the Great Names, who watched him from the table. He felt now shame. The Scarlet Spires had carved that from him—or so it seemed. Only desolation, doubt, and hatred.

He did it! He took her!

Achamian remembered Nautzera, in what seemed another lifetime, asking him if the life of Inrau, his student, was wroth Apocalypse. He’d conceded then, had admitted that no man, no love, was worth such a risk. And here, he’d conceded once again. He would save the man who had halved his heart, because his heart was not worth the world, not worth the Second Apocalypse.

Was it?

Was it?

Achamian is tired. He barely slept, but what little he did wasn’t afflicted with his Dreams of Seswatha, but of Kellhus and Esmenet having sex. Right now, Achamian is weighing his heart against the world. Both have the same weight.

It was no different for these men.

The Holy War suffered, and someone must die. Even if it meant the World.

The Shrial Knights sense something is about to happen as Gotian glances from Sarcellus to Cnaiür. Normally, Gotian is decisive, but not today. Like others, the Holy War’s travels have left its scars on his spirit. Sarcellus continues to argue that they have to act because Achamian is lying to the Great Names to set Kellhus free, saying only Kellhus can see some evil spies. Cnaiür latches on to that, asking what Sarcellus means that only Kellhus can see them. When Sarcellus said Achamian argues that, Cnaiür asks how Sarcellus knows that since they both left before Achamian even mentioned it. Gotian asks if Cnaiür accuses Sarcellus of lying.

“No,” Cnaiür replied with a shrug. He felt the deadly calm settle about him. “I merely ask how he knows what he did not hear.”

“You’re a heathen dog, Scylvendi,” Sarcellus declared. “A heathen! By what’s right and holy, you should be rotting with the Kianene of Caraskand, not calling the word of a Shrial Knight into question.”

With a feral grin, Cnaiür spat between Sarcellus’s booted feet. Over the man’s shoulder, he saw the great tree, glimpsed Serwë’s willowy corpse bound upside down to the Dûnyain—like dead nailed to dead.

Let it be now.

Cries erupt for the crowd. Gotian orders both to back down. Sarcellus warns Cnaiür, the skin spies face twitching. Cnaiür stares at lies made flesh, remembering the madness of Anwurat. Gotian calls for reinforcements as the Scarlet Spires’ Javreh soldiers approach. A riot breaks out and Cnaiür and Sarcellus draw weapons. Then the Javreh reach the tree with slaves bearing a palanquin. The crowd grows quiet as an old men steps from the palanquin.

“I am Eleäzaras,” he declared in a resonant patrician’s voice. “Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires.” He glanced over the dumbstruck crowds, then leveled his hawkish eyes on Gotian.

“The one who calls himself the Warrior-Prophet. You will cut him down and deliver him to me.”

Conphas believes he’s won while Proyas, looking bewildered, pleads for Achamian to do something.

It was strange the way memory cared nothing for the form of the past. Perhaps this was why those dying of old age were so incredulous. Through memory, the past assailed the present, not in queues arranged by calendar and chronicle, but as a hungry mob of yesterdays.

Yesterday Esmenet had loved him. Just yesterday she’d begged him not to leave her, not to go to the Sareotic Library. For the rest of his life, he realized, it would always be yesterday.

Achamian noticed Xinemus being led into the room dressed as a Conryian knight in chainmail. Compared to the starving, he looks majestic. He moves with a “heartbreaking stubbornness” to rejoin the council. “Achamian swallowed at the knife in his throat.” Achamian knows what to do.

He had to tell a story.

Esmenet had loved him just yesterday. But then so too had the world ended!

Achamian says he’s suffered just like they have. He quotes the Latter Prophet saying that those who speak the truth do not have to fear even if they die. Achamian promises to tell the truth. Conphas scoffs and points out Achamian just admitted to lying to them. Achamian points out so has Conphas and every other man here. That’s what jnan is. “Even though men die, we play it . . .”

Somehow, he’d found that tone or note that stilled tongues and stirred hearts to listen—that voice, he realized, that Kellhus so effortlessly mastered.

He talks how men think the Mandate are “drunk on legend, deranged by history.” Achamian understands why they think this. But they’re not back home, they’re trapped in Caraskand. These are their last days alive. They feel that desperate horror of impending doom. Achamian has suffered that his entire life and more. They don’t even know, but he’ll tell them.

He tells them that, before their ancestors wrote The Chronicles of the Tusk, the Nonmen ruled this land. They warred against the Inchoroi, “a race of monstrosities.” Led by Cû’jara-Cinmoi, they drove the Inchoroi back to Golgotterath where they were trapped and hidden by glamours. This left the Nonmen broken and exhausted. Later, the humans of Eänna crossed the Kayarsus Mountains and almost exterminated the Nonmen. But soon, they signed treaties with the survivors and great nations rose in the north in Tyrsë and Sauglish. The Nonmen began to teach humans their knowledge, including sorcery. Cet’ingira (called Mekeritrig in The Sagas) revealed Golgotterath’s location to Shaeönanra, Grandvizier of the Gnostic School of Mangaecca. With this knowledge, his school reclaimed Golgotterath “to the woe of us all.”

“I say this because the Nonmen, even though they destroyed the Inchoroi, could not undo Min-Uroikas, for it wasn’t—isn’t—of this world. The Mangaecca ransacked the place, discovering much that the Nonmen had overlooked, including terrible armaments never brought to fruition. And much as a man who dwells in a place comes to think himself a prince, so the Mangaecca came to think themselves the successors of the Inchoroi. They became enamored of their inhuman ways, and they fell upon their obscene and degenerate craft the Tekne, with the curiosity of monkeys. And most importantly—most tragically!—they discovered Mog-Pharau . . .”

“The No-God,” Proyas said quietly.

Achamian says how it took them centuries to reawaken the No-God. “Near all the world crashed into screams and blood ere his fall.” He grows teary as he talks about the horrors of his dreams. Then he reminds them all of the Plans of Mengedda and the nightmares many suffered there along with the dead vomited from the ground. Though the No-God was defeated, the Consult recovered his remains. This is why the Mandate Schoolmen “haunt your courts and wander your halls.” For two thousands years, the Consult has labored to rebuild the no-God. It’s why Achamian is here.

He says the skin-spies aren’t from the Cishaurim, explaining that because you are “assailed by the Unknown: you drag it into the circle of what you know.” But Achamian says they’re beyond even the Cishaurim. This is the result of deep mastery of the Tekne, which means the No-God will soon be reborn.

“Need I tell you what that means?

“We Mandate Schoolmen, as you know, dream of the ancient world’s end. And of all those dreams, there’s one we suffer more than any other: the death of Celmomas, High-King of Kûniüri, on the Fields of Eleneöt.” He paused, realized that he panted for breath. “Anasûrimbor Celmomas,” he said.”

There was an anxious rustle through the chamber. He heard someone muttering in Ainoni.

And in this dream,” he continued, pressing his tone nearer its crescendo, “Celmomas speaks, as the dying sometimes do, a great prophecy. Do not grieve, he says, for an Anasûrimbor shall return at the end of the world…

“An Anasûrimbor!” he cried, as though that name held the secret of all reason. His voice resounded through the chamber, echoed across ancient stonework.

“An Anasûrimbor shall return at the wend of the world. And he has . . . He hangs dying even as we speak! Anasûrimbor Kellhus, the man you’ve condemned, is what we in the Mandate call the Harbinger, the living sign of the end of days. He is our only hope!”

Achamian looks at them. He asks if they’re willing to wager the safety of their families. Are you that certain of who he is. “Are you willing to risk the very world to see your bigotries through?” Silence gripped them. Then Achamian realizes that they listened. He thinks they believe him. And then Ikurei Conphas begins a mocking cheer, taken up by more and more people. It spreads until.

The Lords of the Holy War had made their wager.

At the tree, Eleäzaras demands Gotian free him. Gotian, gripping his chorea, demands Sarcellus kill “the False Prophet.” Cnaiür charges in and falls into a fighting stance before the Shrial Knights thinking he’ll pay any price or humiliation.

Sarcellus, lowering his sword, moves close enough to say something that only Cnaiür can hear: “We worship the same God, you and I.” Thinking that he shall avenge Serwë, he unveils his Swazond and says it is the sum of his worship. He’ll add Sarcellus to his flesh, bearing the weight of his life. Beyond, the Shrial Knights fight the Javreh slave-soldiers.

And Cnaiür grinned as only a Chieftain of the Utemot could grin. The neck of the world, it seemed, lay pressed against the point of his sword.

I shall butcher.

All hungered here. All starved.

Everything, Cnaiür realized, had transpired according to the Dûnyain’s mad gambit. What difference did it make whether he perished now, hanging from this tree, or several days hence, when the Padirajah at last overcame the walls? So he’d given himself to his captors, knowing that no man was so innocent as the accursed who exposed his accusers.

Knowing that if he survived . . .

The secret of battle!

Cnaiür sees something inhuman in how Sarcellus’s moves, but he doesn’t flinch from it. He is “sent to kill, to reave.” Cnaiür urs Skiötha, most violent of men, shrugs at Sarcellus’s attempt of intimidation. Sarcellus says Cnaiür will fear before the end, but Cnaiür says I cut you once. Sarcellus understands why Cnaiür loved the beautiful Serwë and promises to love her corpse. Cnaiür doesn’t rise to the taunt. Then they fight, Cnaiür’s attacks hard and brutal. But Sarcellus fights with sorcerous ability.

Cnaiür fell back, gathered his breath, shook sweat form his mane.

“My flesh,” Sarcellus whispered, “has been folded more times than the steel of your sword.” He laughed as they utterly unwinded. “Men are dogs and kine . . . But my kind, we’re wolves in the forest, lions on the plain. We’re sharks in the sea . . .”

Emptiness always laughed.

Cnaiür attacks. They trade blows. Sarcellus is impressed, but he’s stronger than Cnaiür and strikes him in the head. Cnaiür is knocked down, shocked, but gains his feet. Sarcellus attacks with blurring speed. Cnaiür grows tired, weakened by wounds.

But he glimpses Serwë on the tree. Anger surges in him. “He howled, the very mouth of the Steppe, his sword raping the air between . . .” His three blows force Sarcellus to retreat. Cnaiür is emboldened, screaming who will kill him as he resumes his attack. But Sarcellus recovers, “swatting is blade as though it were a game.” Cnaiür takes a wound in his thigh, his guard lowers, throat exposed. He realizes he’s dead.

A powerful voice pierced the roar of the Holy War.

Sarcellus!”

It was Gotian. He’d broken with Eleäzaras, and was warily approaching his zealous Knight-Commander. The crowds abruptly grew subdued.

“Sarcellus . . .” The Grandmaster’s eyes were slack with disbelief. “Where . . .”—a hesitant swallow—“where did you learn to fight so?”

The Knight of the Tusk whirled, is face the very mask of reverent subservience.

“My lord, I’ve—”

Sarcellus suddenly convulsed, coughed blood through gritted teeth. Cnaiür guided his thrashing body to the ground with his sword. Then, within reach of the dumbstruck Grandmaster, he hacked its head with a single stroke. He gathered the thick maul of black hair in his hand, raised the severed head high. Like bowels from a split belly, its face relaxed, opened like a harem of limbs. Gotian fell to his knees. Eleäzaras stumbled back into his slaves. The mob’s thunder—horror, exultation—broke across the Scylvendi. The riot of revelation.

He tossed the hoary thing at the sorcerer’s feet.

My Thoughts

So Cnaiür came so close to killing himself and slitting his own throat. He’s unhinged. He’s hearing auditory hallucinations.

Achamian lost a lot of weight in his captivity. You couldn’t think of him as the same portly man. Except when he’s surrounded by people starving to death, who are all skeletal and lean. Even a fit man looks fat compared to that. Nice detail from Bakker.

Titular king means Saubon is the king of Caraskand in name only. He doesn’t truly control it.

So Cnaiür has figured out what Kellhus is up to. Smart man. The secret of battle is what Cnaiür gave up for Serwë. That Serwë is his and that they murdered his wife. It reignites hatred that he’s forgotten: hatred for Moënghus. “The hunt need not end.” It’s one more way for Kellhus to manipulate Cnaiür, to drive him to save his life, and it’s working.

Eleäzaras is having a roller coaster of a day, isn’t he. He is cracking badly, just like other characters. The weight of the world is being put on these powerful man. They are experiencing true hardship and it’s revealing who they are. This is a precursor to the battle-madness he displays in the conquest of Shimeh, so driven by fear he lets himself over-extend in his need to exterminate what terrifies him: the Cishaurim. It’s what’s driving him to see Kellhus. The skin-spies, after all, are Cishaurim to him.

Skin-spies are just robots. Biological ones. Instead of hardware on the circuit board, processors and RAM and such, to control it’s behavior, it is driven by its singular lust. Since the reproductive urge is the strongest in nature, many species will even die to ensure they have sex, it is the perfect thing to motivate a biological robot. And that robot can only get its sexual release by obeying orders. Nothing else interferes. It’s smart.

Cnaiür is still shocked to find himself being manipulated by Kellhus. He knows it. He’s learned this lesson over and over. Nothing Cnaiür can do can escape it. Even his hate is chained, driving him know to save Kellhus. He needs him to get to Moënghus. His surrogates, every person he kills from those in battle to those he butchered because he could, won’t cut it.

Cnaiür is putting all the pieces together now, how Kellhus set about dominating him from the start, waiting for the right things to appear to prod and poke Cnaiür, to drive him to the ultimate goal. And even knowing it, he’s trapped. His hatred is too great to let anything stop him. He knows it’ll destroy him and doesn’t care. He’s a beast like everyone else, unable to use reason to control his hungers.

Cnaiür has realized realized the truth of morality, that it is imposed on us by others. It’s how we are controlled by society to keep things as harmonious as possible. And now he sees himself beyond the morality. That he doesn’t have to feel like a traitor for following his desires. He has the will to seize what he wants. He is embodying Nietzschian philosophy. Nietzsche argued that since morality came from God and since God didn’t exist, morality also didn’t. It was an illusion, lies that fools followed. So if you reject God, you reject the controls of society. Then all that is left is your own will reaching for your desires. And Cnaiür is doing it. He wants Moënghus dead, and nothing shall stop him now. He’s beyond trying to live up to society’s customs and morality. He sees them as all delusions now, just like the Dûnyain do. The only difference between him and Kellhus is Kellhus is driven by emotionless logic and Cnaiür is driven by rage-filled emotions. They are two sides of the same coin, foils to one another.

Because of you. Weeper…” Kellhus, in Cnaiür’s head, answers. Why? What’s the true reason Serwë’s dead. Because Kellhus used her against Cnaiür. Because Cnaiür put so much emotional need in her existence. To prove himself a Scylvendi, to follow custom, he made himself love her. And the Dûnyain used her. That’s why, to Cnaiür, she’s in this mess. She’s only dead because Cnaiür loved her.

Achamian . . . Poor man. Trying to save the life of the man who stole his wife. He’s trying to grieve over the end of their relationship, to process her betrayal at the same time he has to duel with Conphas in a match of wits. And he’s realizing that it’s easier to sacrifice someone else’s heart, someone else’s life, than your own. Even if the World is at stake.

Achamian’s reflection on memory is poignant. How some things that happened years ago can feel like they just happened yesterday. The shame, the anger, the pain of those memories flaring back up in a moment, assaulting you.

Conphas, Conphas, Conphas… Such a dick. He’s such a narcissist he has to believe his truth is right. He won’t be dissuaded even now. Even when he’s facing certain death whether or not he frees Kellhus. And still he won’t listen to anyone else. And his charisma wins the day. It’s a great setback in the story.

Cnaiür hasn’t figured out that last part of Kellhus’s plan. The part that would see Serwë dead to accomplish it. The wife that needed to be sacrificed as part of the Circumflex, just like the old laws prescribed. That would probably change Cnaiür’s actions right here.

The fight between Cnaiür and Sarcellus is both poetic and brutal. Trading blows, going back and forth. And Cnaiür, the best non-Dûnyain fighter in the series, can’t even beat a skin-spy. But he just had to unmask him. To survive, Sarcellus betrayed him. That’s great writing. Those reversals. Cnaiür realizing he failed, just after Achamian failed with diplomacy in the previous scene, only for the enemy to make the mistake and unmask himself. He just needed Cnaiür to finish the revelation.

And noticed something else in the second-to-last paragraph of the chapter. “Cnaiür guided his [Sarcellus’s] thrashing body to the ground with his sword.” Note how Bakker used the masculine pronoun there. But then in the next sentence, “he [Cnaiür] hacked off its [Sarcellus’s] head with a single stroke.” Sarcellus went from a human to a thing like that. It’s subtle. Easy to miss.

Well, the penultimate chapter of The Warrior Prophet is done. Kellhus is alive. And we’re about to see the fall out of his desperate gamble to make seize the heart of the Holy War. Cnaiür is right. This is a test he’s under, one that only a “prophet” should be able to survive. He had to sacrifice Serwë to pull it off, and she’s condemned to damnation for it. Killing her, staring at her, broke him. She’s the reason that he doesn’t side with the Consult like a logical Dûnyain should. She’s the reason that Kellhus tries to destroy the Consult in the next series.

If you want to keep reading, click here for Chapter Twenty-Five!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Three

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 23
Caraskand

Welcome to Chapter Twenty-Three of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Twenty-Two!

For Men, no circle is ever closed. We walk ever in spirals

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

Bring he who has spoken prophecy to the judgment of the priests, and if is prophecy is judged true, acclaim him, for he is clean, and if his prophecy is judged false, bind him to the corpse of his wife, and hang him one cubit above the earth, for he is unclean, an anathema unto the Gods.

WARRANTS 7:48, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

My Thoughts

No circle is ever closed. This is a statement on the relativity of truth, that as men we never find it. We’re always searching for it, spiraling ever closer or away, but we never find it, never form that complete circle of thought. There’s always a new argument, a new way to look at it, a different facet of “truth” to find. Why this quote, because look at the next one where we have a passage on judging the truth of prophecy. And it is black and white. It is the opposite of the skepticism that Achamian has always subscribed to.

It condemns two people to death.

The Tusks punishment on false prophets is harsh. I mean really harsh. If you look at the Old Testament you’ll find being put to death a punishment for being a false prophet, for daring to speak in the name of God, but you don’t have them putting your wife to death in the process. I feel this is the Inchoroi’s hand at work, this needless cruelty, this delight in torment that they breed into their servant-races like the Sranc and skin-spies.

Late Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Caraskand

Eleäzaras is shocked by what he finds in Chepheramunni’s sickroom. Count-Palatine Chinjosa holds him to steady him. Eleäzaras stumbles to the bed, the room thick with the scent of rot and death, and gazes at the dead ruler of Ainoni.

Chepheramunni’s head lay beneath the congregated candles, but his face…

It was nowhere to be seen.

Where his face should have been lay what resembled an overturn spider, its legs clutched in death about its abdomen. What had been Chepheramunni’s face lay unspooled across the knuckles and shins of steepled limbs. Eleäzaras saw familiar fragments: a lone nostril, the haired ridge of an eyebrow. Beneath he glimpsed lidless eyes and the shine of human teeth, bared and lipless.

And just as that fool Skalateas had claimed, nowhere could he sense the bruise of sorcery.

Chepheramunni—a Cishaurim skin-spy.

Impossible.

Eleäzaras is overwhelmed by the sight. The room spins around him. Chinjosa asks what this means and Eleäzaras things they’re doomed, that he’s led his School to its death. He reflects on the disasters the school has suffered from Anwurat to Iothiah, and now trapped in the city. And now he learns that the Cishaurim knew all their plans. He says they’re doomed. Chinjosa objects, saying the abomination is dead, the Gods have removed him.

Horrified, Eleäzaras suddenly wonders if Chinjosa is really Chinjosa. But the man’s warlike strength pulls Eleäzaras back from despair. He agrees the skin-spy’s death is a blessing while realizing there could be other skin-spies. He tells Chinjosa not to tell anyone, orders the head removed, the body burned all while cursing Achamian for not breaking and telling his secrets.

Achamian and Xinemus “walked the ways of twilight” from the port city of Jocktha to Caraskand. They pass the enemy camp and can feel the Cishaurim’s “plucked eyes” searching for them. Achamian feared they’d be discovered, that the shadows hiding them would be revealed by the Cishaurim. But they aren’t.

Gaining the walls, they revealed themselves beneath a small postern gate. It was night, and torches glittered between the battlements above. With Xinemus slumped against him, Achamian called to the astonished guards: “Open the gates! I am Drusas Achamian, a Mandate Schoolman, and this is Krijates Xinemus, the Marshal of Attrempus… We have come to share your plight!”

“This city is both doomed and damned,” someone shouted down. “Who seeks entry to such a place? Who but madmen or traitors?”

Achamian paused before answering, struck by the bleak conviction of the man’s tone. The Men of the Tusk, he realized, had lost all hope.

“Those who would attend their loved ones,” he said. “Even unto death.”

After a pause, the outer doors burst open and a troop of hollow-cheeked Tydonni seized them. At long last they found themselves inside the horror of Caraskand.

Esmenet weeps, holding baby Moënghus, as she stares at the forms of Kellhus and Serwë hanging from an ancient eucalyptus tree called Umiaki. She begs for Kellhus to wake up while she reflects what happened. She’d witnessed Gotian strip Kellhus naked, whip him bloody with cedar branches, and then bound him to Serwë’s nude corpse “ankle to ankle, wrist to wrist, face to face.” Then they strapped them to a bronze ring which they hung, upside down, to the tree. “Esmenet had wailed her voice to nothing.”

Now they spun in slow circles, their golden hair mingling in the breeze, their arms and legs sweeping out like those of dancers. Esmenet glimpsed ashen breasts crushed against a shining, armpit hair twisted into horns, then Serwë’s slender back rolled into view, almost mannish because of the deep line of her spine. She glimpsed her sex, bared between outspread legs, pressed against the confusion of Kellhus’s genitalia…

Serwë… Her face blackening as the blood settled, her limbs and torso carved in grey marble, as perfect in form as any artifice. And Kellhus… His face sheened in sweat, his muscular back gleaming white between lines of angry red. His eyes swollen shut.

“But you said!” Esmenet wailed. “You said Truth can’t die!”

But Serwë was dead and Kellhus dying. Holding Moënghus, Esmenet flees.

Cnaiür remembers Kellhus’s last message to him: “Remember when you recall the secret of battle.” He’s stalking through the Inrithi, who all fall silent because they know he is the breaker-of-horses-and-men. He didn’t need heralds or banners to announce him. His mere presence did it.

He’s conflicted, trying to drive Kellhus’s words from his mind as he stalks around Csokis, the temple complex where Kellhus is hung dying. He hardly notices the crowds watching as he wars with himself. He doesn’t care about any threats or curses as he pushes through the crowd. Only the sight of the eucalyptus tree arrests his attention. He can’t see Kellhus or Serwë from this distance in the dark.

He asks if Kellhus still lives, but he only gets bewildered looks in response. So he keeps plowing forward through the crowd until he reaches the Shrial Knights. He’s stopped and Cnaiür scowls, still unable to see Serwë and Kellhus. Then a procession of Shrial Knights with torches illuminates a silhouette, not sure if it’s hers or Kellhus.

The forward ranks of Inrithi began shouting, some in rapture, others in derision. Through the uproar, Cnaiür heard a velvety voice, spoken in timbres only his heart could hear.

It’s good that you’ve come… Proper.”

Cnaiür stared in horror at the figure across the ring. Then the string of torches marched on, and darkness reclaimed the ground beneath Umiaki. The surrounding clamour subsided, fractured into individual shouts.

All men,” the voice said, “should know their work.”

Cnaiür shouts out that he came to watch Kellhus suffer and die. People give him strange looks. The hallucination of Kellhus asks why he would want something. Cnaiür responds that Kellhus betrayed him. Kellhus asks how. “You need only speak!” Kellhus says Cnaiür makes too much of him, worse than the Inrithi. But Cnaiür responds that only he knew what Kellhus was and only he could destroy him. As he did. Kellhus reminds him of Moënghus, that they can still hunt him.

Cnaiür stood breathless, as motionless as a horse-laming stone hidden among the Steppe grasses.

“I’ve made a trade,” he said evenly. “I’ve yielded to the greater hate.”

Have you?”

“Yes! Yes! Look at her! Look at what you’ve done to her!”

What I’ve done, Scylvendi? Or what you’re done?”

“She’s dead. My Serwë! My Serwë is dead! My prize!”

Oh, yes… What will they whisper, now that your proof has passed? How will they measure?”

“They killed her because of you!”

Laughter, full and easy-hearted, like that of a favorite uncle just into his cups.

Spoken like a true Son of the Steppe!”

Cnaiür snarls that Kellhus mocks them when a hand seizes his shoulder, telling him to cease his madness and speaking in his tongue. Cnaiür breaks the man and batters him to the ground while Kellhus asks who would dare mock a murder. Cnaiür screams Kellhus killed her. But Kellhus says Cnaiür did when he sold him out. Cnaiür screams it was to save his son. He sees Serwë dying again in Sarcellus arms and then hears a baby crying. Cnaiür screams they were supposed to kill the whore, Esmenet.

The crowd starts attacking Cnaiür know. He fights back, but is getting pummeled while Kellhus calls him weeper. Suddenly, the mob is fleeing another man, tall and fighting his way to Cnaiür. The man asks if Cnaiür lost his wits while Kellhus says, “You murdered Serwë.”

And suddenly, the stranger became Coithus Saubon, dressed in a penitent’s shabby robes. What kind of devilry?

“Cnaiür,” the Galeoth Prince exclaimed, “who are you speaking to?”

You…” the darkness crackled.

“Scylvendi?”

Cnaiür shook free of the man’s firm grip. “This is a fool’s vigil,” he grated.

He spat, then turned to fight his way free of the stink.

Achamian’s thoughts are full of Esmenet as five Tydonni knights escort him and Xinemus through Caraskand. He can almost smell her, her hear gasp out in pleasure, feel her body against him. He’s so close to being reunited with them.

The knights escorting Achamian refuse to say much of what’s happening, not trusting the two strangers yet, but treat them with courtesy. As they pass through the city, Achamian recognizes the hopelessness he sees in the inhabitants, the same looks he saw in his dreams after Anasûrimbor Celmomas died at the Field of Eleneöt or at the Plains of Mengedda awaiting the No-God. “The look of horror and fury, of Men who could only exact and never overcome.”

The look of Apocalypse

Whenever Achamian matched their gazes, no threat or challenge was exchanged, only the thoughtless understanding of exhausted brothers. Something—demon or reptile—crawled into the skulls of those who endured the unendurable, and when it looked out their eyes, as it inevitably did, it could recognize itself in others. He belonged, Achamian realized. Not just here in Caraskand with those he loved, but here with the Holy War. He belonged with these men—even unto death.

We share the same doom.

Because of Xinemus, they move slow to Proyas’s camp. As Achamian is hopeful for his reunion with Kellhus, Esmenet, and even Proyas, he ponders his declaration on the walls of being a Mandate Schoolmen. He realizes he hasn’t said those words aloud in a long time. He isn’t sure he’s even is one because he is scared of contacting Atyersus. He hasn’t even let them know he escaped captivity. Even his reasons for refusing to contact them dwindled in his captivity.

Because I am no longer one of them.

For all the ferocity with which he defended the Gnosis—to the point of sacrificing Xinemus!—he’d forsaken the Mandate. He’d forsaken them, he realized, even before his abduction by the Scarlet Spires. He’d forsaken them for Kellhus…

I was going to teach him the Gnosis.

That makes him breathless. More than Esmenet awaits him. The threat of the Second Apocalypse also does. He finds himself callous, not wanting to care about the world. He just wants to be Drusas Achamian and be reunited with his wife Esmenet. “Like so many things in the aftermath of Iothiah, the rest seemed childish, the tropes in an over-read book.”

As they walk, Xinemus brings up their trip through the shadows, making Achamian at first think the man now regretted his acceptance of sorcery, something Xinemus before Iothiah never would have. But instead, Xinemus says that even blind he could see the Cishaurim. “I saw them seeing!”

“You did see,” he [Achamian] said carefully, “in a manner… There’s many ways of seeing. And all of us possess eyes that never breach skin. Men are wrong to think nothing lies between blindness and sight.”

“And the Cishaurim?” Xinemus pressed. “Is that… Is that how they—”

The Cishaurim are masters of this interval. They blind themselves, they say, to better see the World Between. According to some, it’s the key to their metaphysics.”

Xinemus has more questions, but Achamian says no isn’t the time, glancing at their escorts. They reach the compound where Anmergal, the leader of their escort, reports Proyas’s people agreed to take them in “despite their better judgment.” People only sneak out of Caraskand, not in. Before Achamian can answer, he orders his men to leave while Proyas’s men appear “from the darkness.” They are led inside and escorted to Proyas.

Despite his emaciated appearance, Achamian still thinks Proyas looks the same. Xinemus asks what’s going on and Achamian says it’s Proyas. The prince stares at Xinemus like a man shaking off sleep and asks what happened. Achamian can’t answer, suddenly angry. Proyas asks again with more command, and Achamian tries to explain how the Scarlet Spire took Xinemus’s eyes when Proyas hugs the Marshal as a sobbing child seeking comfort.

A moment of fierce silence passed.

Zin,” Proyas hissed. Please forgive me! Please, I beg of you!”

“Shhh… It’s enough to feel your embrace… To hear your voice.”

“But Zin! Your eyes! Your eyes!”

“Shush, now… Akka will fix me. You’ll see.”

Achamian flinched at the words. Hope was never so poison as when it deluded loved ones.

Then Proyas begs for Achamian’s forgiveness, calling him “Old Teacher.” Achamian hears the words, but feels too far from Proyas. He can’t forgive him because not only is his heart hardened but he has retreated. He can’t see Proyas as only his student. He also sees him as a murderous fanatic. “How could he [Achamian] think these men were his brothers?” Instead, he says he’s not his teacher.

Proyas squeezed shut his eyes. They were hooded in the old way when he opened them. Whatever hardships the Holy War had endured, Proyas the Judge had survived.

Then Achamian asked where Esmenet and Kellhus, the only other people beside Xinemus who “possessed any claim to his heart.” Only they matter. Proyas stiffens, realizing they haven’t heard. Achamian suddenly can’t breath, asking after Esmenet. Proyas says she’s safe while Xinemus asks after Kellhus. Proyas hedges, saying much has happened. Then, when pressed, he says Kellhus is dead.

Cnaiür is in the great bazaar of Caraskand, the open area a skeletal reminder of the steppes reclined against a dead horse. He is remembering Serwë, replaying their conversation when he gave her a Swazond after she killed the Nansur soldier in book one. “Such a dear fool, that girl. So innocent.” He then speaks traditional words of a groom to her memory as he prepares to slit his own throat.

Kellhus is “bound to a circle,s winging from the limb of a dead tree.” He feels Serwë’s corpse against him. When a fly crawls across her face, he exhales to blow it away, thinking he has to keep her clean.

Her eyes half-open, papyrus-dry.

Serwë! Breathe girl, breathe! I command it!

I come before you. I come before!

Bound skin-to-skin to Serwë.

What have I… What? What?

A convulsion of some kind.

No… No! I must focus. I must assess…

Unblinking eyes, staring down black cheeks, out to the stars.

Kellhus madness continues. He begs for his father to make her breathe, he keeps saying he’s one of the condition. He’s weary, he can’t do this any longer. He tries to focus on what’s going on, but he’s grieving that they killed his wife. But a part of him instead says “I gave her to them.” He falls into dreams and sees a man “seated, shoulders crouched like an ape, legs crossed like a priest.” A tree with forking branches overs the night sky while the sky revolves around the Nail of Heaven. Kellhus can only stare at the figure and the tree as night and day passes.

Framed by the wheeling heavens, the figure spoke, a million throats in his throat, a million mouths in his mouth…

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

The silhouette stood, hands clasped like a monk, legs bent like a beast.

TELL ME…

Whole words wailed in terror.

The Warrior-Prophet woke, his skin tingling against a dead woman’s cheek…

More convulsions.

Father! What happens to me?

Pang upon pang, wresting away his face, beating it into a stranger’s.

You weep.

The Zaudunyani recognize Achamian as a friend of their prophet. He’s escorted by Gayamakri, one of the Nascenti, to see Esmenet. He’s dazzled by the palace they walk through. In his head, he’s rehearsing a joke to tell Esmenet. “From a sorcerer’s tent to a caste-noble’s suite… Hmm,” he thinks, imagining her laughing. “So what will it be the next time I die? The Andiamine Heights?”

As they walk, Gayamakri says Esmenet was probably sleeping. It’s been hard for her. This makes Achamian feel silly for thinking of jokes when Serwë is dead and Kellhus dying. She would need him to comfort her instead. But then suddenly Gayamakri begs Achamian to save Kellhus. Achamian promises to try, the man thanks him while crying. Not sure what to do, Achamian helps the man stand saying he needs to see Esmenet before he can anything. Gayamakri runs away, leaving Achamian at Esmenet’s doors.

He stands before the door imagining their reunion, holding her while she cries. How he’ll tell her everything, and that he’ll take her as his wife for real, not caring about the rules against it. “He almost laughed with joy.” Instead of knocking, he enters her chambers “the way a husband might.”

He walks through her suite full of riches. Her bed is large, the sheets “knotted as though by passion.” He even spots a private garden. His joke grows in his mind. He’s excited to see her but wondering where she is.

Then his eyes found her on the far side of the room, curled up on a small couch with her back to the doors—to him. Her hair looked longer, almost purple in the gloom. Her loose gown had fallen, revealing a slender shoulder, both brown and pale. His arousal was immediate, both joyous and desperate.

How many times had he kissed that skin?

Kissing. That was how he would awaken her, crying while kissing her naked shoulder. She would stir, thinking he was a dream. “No… It can’t be you. You’re dead.” Then he would take her, with a slow, fierce tenderness, wrack her with voluptuous rapture. And she would know that at long last her heart had returned.

I’ve come back for you Esmi… From death and agony.

He approaches her when she bolts upright awake. She looks around, frightened, then sees him, shocked. She becomes a stranger to him, looking the way he remembers the first time he saw her years ago in Sumna. “There was a breathless moment between them.” He whispers her name as she looks horrified for a heartbeat. But then she rushes to him. They hug each other tight. She sobs, saying he was dead as he tries to sooth her and tell her everything will be alright. He tries to kiss her, but she won’t let him.

Instead, she begs him to save Kellhus. This confuses Achamian. He asks what she means as the realization builds in him. He tries to rationalize away his fear that she loves Kellhus now but it grows harder and harder the more she begs him to save Kellhus. He sees it in her face that she’s betrayed him. She tries to tell him but she’s crying to hard to speak.

Her face was now dead, in the way of those who must carve distances, cut wide what was once close.

Don’t say it! Please don’t say it!

He looked about the extravagant room, gesturing with his hands. He tried to laugh, then said, “S-some sorcerer’s tent, eh?” A sob knifed the back of his throat. “Wha-what will it be next time I die? The Andi… Th-the Andiamine…” He tried to smile.

“Akka,” she whispered. “I carry his child.”

Whore after all.

Achamian is thinking about how he escaped Iothiah as he moves through the crowd to see Kellhus at the tree. He wants to make the tree he hangs from burn, to kill the man who seduced his wife. But there are Chorae bound to the Circumflex, protecting Kellhus.

He creeps closer and sees Serwë’s corpse pressed against Kellhus, the pair slowly rotating. He wonders how this happened. As he breathes in the smells of death and the sweet scent of the eucalyptus, he hears hymns and dirges for the Warrior-Prophet “calling out the same godless prayer.” He hugs himself, wondering how this happened again.

He lifted his face, raised chin and brow to his hate. Tears streamed down his cheeks.

“How? How could you betray me like this? You… You! The two people—the only two! You kn-knew how empty my life had been. You knew! I c-can’t understand… I try and try but I can’t understand! How could you do this to me!”

He imagines Esmenet having sex with Kellhus, the Warrior-Prophet asking how Esmenet could even stand sleeping with Achamian. He imagines her answering because he fed her and paid her gold. He wasn’t you. Savage anger surges through Achamian. He rants at Kellhus that he could burn the treacherous dog with his sorcery.

Damn you…” he gasped. He couldn’t breathe. Where was the air to breathe?

He rolled his head, like a boy whose anger had been striped hollow by hurt. He beat an awkward fist against dead leaves.

Damn-you-damn-you-damn-you…”

He looked around numbly, and wiped at his face with a half-hearted sleeve. Sniffled and tasted the salt of tears in the back of his throat…”

“You’ve made a whore of her, Kellhus… You’ve made a whore of my Esmi…”

And then Kellhus speaks, saying Achamian’s name and says “he” knew Achamian would come. This shocks Achamian into silence. He’s angry that Kellhus is ruining his moment by speaking. But then Kellhus says he can see them and Achamian realizes he’s talking about the Consult. He then says that the No-God returns and is just as Achamian claims.

“Lies!” Achamian cried. “Lies to spare you my wrath!”

My Nascenti… Tell them to show you what lies in the garden.”

“What? What lies in the garden?”

But the shining eyes were closed.

A grievous howl echoed across the Kalaul, chilling blood and drawing men with torches to the blackness beneath Umiaki. The ring continued its endless roll.

Proyas is awakened by the dawn’s light. Shame floods back as he remembers last night and his reunion with Achamian and Xinemus. He feels guilty for their suffering. It takes him a few minutes to realize Achamian is in his bedroom, watching. He’s shocked, asking what his teacher wants. Achamian asks if Proyas knew about Kellhus and Esmenet. Proyas admits he know, but figured Kellhus would be dead. Achamian just says she’s lost to him with “exhausted resolve.” Then Achamian asks about Xinemus, who is sleeping one room over.

Achamian pursed his lips. “Did he [Xinemus] tell you?”

“About his eyes?” Proyas looked to the outline of his feet beneath the vermilion covers. “No. I hadn’t the courage to ask. I assume that the Spires…”

“Because of me, Proyas. They blinded him as way to coerce me.”

The message was obvious. It’s not your fault, he was saying.

Proyas raised a hand as though to pinch more sleep from his eyes. He wiped away tears instead.

Damn you, Akka… I don’t need your protection.

Achamian tells how the Scarlet Spire are scared about the Cishaurim and they were the reason he was captured. Proyas isn’t surprised seeing how Eleäzaras hasn’t wanted to take to the field. Achamian makes a joke that has Proyas laughing and feeling comfortable, slipping back into their old roles. But this makes Proyas feel worse because they can only achieve this when both are exhausted and scared. Silence follows.

Then Achamian said, “Kellhus cannot die.”

Proyas pursed his lips. “But of course,” he said numbly. “I say he must die, so you say he must live.” He glanced, not without nervousness, at his nearby work table. The parchment sat in plain view, its raised corners translucent in the sun: Maithanet’s letter.

“This has nothing to do with you, Proyas. I am past you.”

The tone as much as the words chilled Proyas to the pith.

Proyas asks why Achamian is here. Achamian responds only Proyas will understand. Proyas guesses it has to do with Kellhus being an Anasûrimbor and starts being derisive of Mandate beliefs when Achamian cuts him off, saying when Proyas mocks his beliefs its the same as mocking him. Achamian asks when has he ever done that about Proyas’s beliefs. Proyas swallows his rebuke and instead says Kellhus is judged. Achamian reminds Proyas of King Shikol who’d condemned Inri Sejenus. Proyas is frightened to be remembered in the same as that man who made such a mistake. Proyas claims he is right. “It all came down to Truth.” Achamian wondered if Shikol thought the same.

“What?” Proyas exclaimed. “So the great skeptic thinks a new prophet walks among us? Come, Akka… It’s too absurd!”

These are Conphas’s words… Another unkind thought.

Achamian isn’t sure if Kellhus is a prophet, but he knows he can’t die. Proyas then admits he knows there’s something special about Kellhus. He didn’t want to believe Conphas and the others that Kellhus was the reason for the Holy War’s string of recent misfortune because the Gods punished them. Achamian asks why Proyas did side against him. It was the Scylvendi, the man who knew Kellhus the most, and yet hated him. Achamian shrugs, thinking it only Cnaiür’s love for Serwë. Proyas thought so, too, but he felt there was more. The man was too complicated for that to be the reason.

Achamian makes a joke about Cnaiür’s thin skin. Then Proyas continues his story, saying how Cnaiür is as extraordinary as Kellhus and he’s glad he’s on the Holy War’s side. Proyas then tells how he pressed Cnaiür again about his dislike of Kellhus. Cnaiür told him to see Kellhus and that was when Proyas found Esmenet in Kellhus’s bed. Proyas couldn’t dismiss Conphas’s arguments. He didn’t support it, afraid of open war between the Orthodox and Zaudunyani. But when Conphas brought a witness who claimed that Atrithau had no prince and Cnaiür confirmed it. They debate Cnaiür’s motives for possibly lying when Achamian asks how Serwë could be executed. How Proyas let that happen.

“Ask Gotian!” Proyas blurted. “Trying them according to the Tusk was his idea—his! He thought it would legitimize the affair, make it seem less like… less—”

“Like what it was?” Achamian cried. “A conspiracy of frightened caste-nobles trying to protect their power and privileged.”

They argue for a moment on whether it was done for faith or power but Proyas cuts it off, saying he didn’t just condemn Kellhus for no good reason and it’s done. “Prophet or not, Anasûrimbor Kellhus is dead.” But Achamian points out he never said Kellhus is a prophet, just that he’s the world’s only hope. Proyas realizes this is about the Second Apocalypse. Asks if Achamian believes Kellhus is Seswatha returned.

“He’s more!” the Schoolman cried with alarming passion. “Far more than Seswatha, as he must be… The Heron Spear is lost, destroyed when the Scylvendi sacked ancient Cenei. If the Consult were to succeed a second time, if the No-God were to walk again…” Achamian stared, his eyes rounded in horror.

“Men would have no hope.”

Proyas had endured many of these small rants since his childhood. What made them so uncanny, and at the same time so intolerable, was the way Achamian spoke: as though he recounted rather than conjectured. Just then the morning sun flashed anew between a crease in the accumulating clouds. The thunder, however, continued to rumble across wretched Caraskand.

“Akka…”

Achamian then reminds Proyas that he had once asked if Achamian had more than dreams. Proyas does. It was the night Achamian asked him to write to Maithanet. Achamian then fetches an object. Proyas stares at it as Achamian yells at him to study it then send riders to the Great Names. Proyas recoils at what he sees, wanting to hide in his blankets. He realizes that Achamian would never relent. “And of course not: he was a Mandate Schoolman.” Then Proyas remembers his letter from Maithanet.

Certainty in doubt. That was what was holy! That!

Proyas gets out of bed and grabs the letter, showing it to Achamian. The sorcerer is shocked to read the Shriah’s words that Proyas should assist him. “The impossible always left the deepest marks on the soul.”

Achamian set the sheet upon his lap, though he still pinched the corner with his thumb and forefinger. The two men shard a thoughtful gaze… Confusion and relief warred in his teacher’s eyes.

“Aside from my sword, my harness, and my ancestors,” Proyas said, “that letter is the only thing I brought across the desert. The only thing I saved.”

“Call them,” Achamian said. “Summon the others to Council.”

Gone was the golden morning. Rain poured from black skies.

My Thoughts

It’s late winter, so we must be in a new month. The siege was said to go on for weeks and weeks, so this tracks.

So, I really thought Chepheramunni died early in the novel. But we’re finally here in all its shocking revel. He’s been in the background for the entire novel, always mentioned in the most casual ways, reminders that he’s around, keeping him in our thought. The real Chepheramunni was probably the corpse found faceless in the marsh a few years ago.

Eleäzaras continues cracking. This is a bad blow to a man already buckling under the strain of his decision. He’s a smart man, if blinded by his own prejudices the way any human can be, and this is catastrophic. To think his enemy has been privy to his counsels. To his decisions. Makes him wonder at all those other deaths. All those precious sorcerers killed at Anwurat, the lose of Ainoni’s skilled general.

And then to realize anyone can be a skin-spy would make a man as paranoid as Emperor Ikurei Xerius.

So Achamian must be using some sort of Gnosis to hide them as they journey to Caraskand on foot. It appears to use shadows in some way. I think this is the only time in the entire series this is used. It almost sounds like they’re walking through another dimension. I never noticed that detail before. “There was no food in this place, no life-giving water, and their bodies, which they carried across their backs the way one might carry a corpse, suffered horribly.” Like they’re walking through the Plane of Shadows from D&D. But it’s something detectable by other sorcerers in the real, especially the Cishaurim.

Powerful imagery of Kellhus and Serwë hanging from the tree, bound to the circumflex. And all Esmenet can do is wail in impotent fury. All the power she thought she gained, lost. Circumstances have stripped her bare. Now all she can do is witness. And that’s too much for her to bear.

Cnaiür’s madness continues. I do like the description of the eucalyptus tree, a generally positive image because of the medicinal qualities of its leaves, seen as an upside down tree, that the branches are really its roots. Which means the tree’s been uprooted. It’s dying. Dead.

So it’s not shocking that Cnaiür is hallucinating Kellhus’s voice. It’s obviously Cnaiür’s guilt at getting Serwë killed. He sided with Conphas to free Serwë from Kellhus, not to get her killed. She’s his proof. He needs her to cling to his identity as a Scylvendi just like he once needed Anissi. He’s adrift, so far from his people, and Serwë is his only anchor. An anchor he cut free to drown Kellhus not realizing he could never get it back from the depths of the ocean.

Cnaiür tries to say he traded Serwë’s life for his son, but that’s another lie. He wanted them both, as pointed out by shouting that they were supposed to kill the whore. I suspect that Proyas stepped in and saved Esmenet’s life. Or maybe Sarcellus decided to kill Serwë.. After all, he was interrupted in his fun with Serwë last time by Cnaiür and the Consult might still wish to use Esmenet.

Poor Achamian. He’s so eager to see Esmenet, and you know it’s not going to be the reunion at all what he thinks. It’s actually the most cliché thing in Bakker’s story. The man who goes through an ordeal, is believed dead, and clings to returning to his lover as the only thing to get hope. Only to return and find his lover has moved on, mourned his lost, and found another. Of course, Esmenet moved on very fast thanks to Kellhus’s manipulation. It’s only been a few months, not a year or longer like it usually would be.

And then we have Achamian finding kinship with those who’ve suffered. It reminds me of the Band of Brother miniseries. There’s a soldier, trained with Easy Company from the beginning, but was wounded on D-Day and doesn’t rejoin them until after the Battle of the Bulge. He’s suddenly a stranger to these guys he knew for years. He’s an outsider because he doesn’t have that look. He didn’t suffer with them in the Ardennes in foxholes, starving, freezing, shelled day in and day out. It’s reversed here. Suddenly these men have suffered as Achamian has in his dreams, in his other life.

Achamian, and maybe Bakker, is saying family is the true importance. If Achamian hadn’t put all that other stuff ahead of Esmenet, he never would have been parted from her. Instead, their reunion takes a long, long time.

Bakker gives us hints at the Psûkhe and what makes it different from other sorcery. Their ability to see between sight and blindness, to view the metaphysics of the world without the distraction of real sight, allows them to better forge the work of the God with sorcerery, to make something undetectable to other sorcerers.

Achamian has sees one Kianene in Caraskand, a slave in Proyas’s house. What happened to the others? Probably a lot dead from starvation, from the brutalities of the Men of the Tusk. As the Holy War starves, they would keep any food for themselves. They probably are constantly raiding homes for more scraps, killing any who defend what food they have for themselves and their families.

Achamian’s anger is not shocking at all. He knows, through Xinemus, that Proyas abandoned him. That’s not something easily forgotten even if Achamian might want to.

Poor Xinemus. The fact that he could see something while walking through the shadows has given him this false hope that Achamian can fix him. The man is lost, drowning. Not even reuniting with his surrogate son, Proyas, can save him.

Achamian cares for only three people in the world now. One he allowed to suffer and the other two betrayed him. He’s in for a rough time.

Cnaiür contemplates joining Serwë, his bride, in death, killing himself the same way Sarcellus killed her.

Kellhus is feeling the strongest amount of emotions ever. He is drowning in guilt as he slowly dies. He is delusional, thinking he can make Serwë breathe. He wants to keep her clean. He saw this coming. He had a vision of this. He tried to avoid it, but couldn’t. All he could do was make sure that Esmenet wasn’t the wife murdered. Because she had a use beyond the Circumflex if he survives. He even argues with himself, the logical part of him pointing out that he “gave her to them.” The logical part of Kellhus sacrificed Serwë. But the kernel of emotions, those weak passions he has, cared for Serwë, as much as he could. Just as he cares for Esmenet as much as he can as we see in the later books. His first ever emotion we see from Kellhus is outrage at Serwë’s rape. And now he’s gotten her killed. Has to stare at her face. Kellhus has slowly been going mad over the book confronted with the breaking of cause and effect because of beings in the outside, the “Gods,” who exist outside of time.

Then he dreams and runs into the No God. The figure sits before a tree that branches out across the sky. Trees represent all the possibilities of life, the decisions that cause probability to branch over and over. It represents the Dûnyain’s probability trance. Every time Kellhus descends into the trance, he’s trying to figure out which branch is the one he needs to follow. And here is the tree with the No-God. All those possibilities. What if they all lead to the No-God’s return without him. Notice how he is doing nothing but standing, watching. This is where Kellhus makes the decision to save the world. As Moënghus points out in the next book, Kellhus went mad. And that madness is the desire to save the world from the No-God and the real Gods.

All because he let Serwë die. All because he ventured down a path that led to him sacrificing one of the two people he cared for. And like any good Dûnyain, he’ll do anything to achieve that goal as we see in the next series.

Achamian wants to make Esmenet laugh. That’s what he’s thinking about. He loves her laugh, loves seeing her with joy in her eyes. It’s the most important thing to him right now.

Bakker really drags out the truth that Esmenet has moved on to Kellhus for Achamian. He lets us see his hope, his joy, his longing. The fantasies that play out in his head (like they play out in ours), imagining how their reunion will go. And, like with all fantasies, reality never matches up.

And then he meets her and he just wants to hold her, but she just wants him to save Kellhus. Achamian is a smart guy. He has that sickening dread of realization, that growing hurt that swells in his heart. He knows that she betrayed him, but he doesn’t want to hear it. He wants to live in his fantasy. But she pops it. She’s having his child. And anger crashes through him. “Whore after all.”

And to make it worse, she’s pregnant. Not even with Achamian did she give up her contraceptive totem, her whore’s shell. But she did for Kellhus. She gave more of herself to Kellhus then she did to Achamian. And in such a short amount of time, a few months versus the years of their relationship.

Achamian’s rant beneath the eucalyptus tree is heartbreaking. He’s grieving. He’s angry. He wanted so much to return to Esmenet only to find that she’s already moved on, pregnant, and with Kellhus… He’s too hurt to even understand how Esmenet thought him dead. That she had to move on with her life. Yes, her moving on happened faster than normal, but that was because of Kellhus because Kellhus had written Achamian off. The sorcerer was gone so there was no point in trying to maintain that relationship by staying away from Esmenet. I’ve always assumed Kellhus would one day work on the couple and get Achamian to understand why letting Kellhus take Esmenet as his wife would be for the good of the world. He almost does it in the next book until Cnaiür tells Achamian the truth about Kellhus.

You’ve made a whore of her, Kellhus.” This ties back in with that imagination he has previously of Esmenet claiming to always have been a whore to Achamian. It’s how they started, but by the end, she was his wife. But now his memories of all their times together are poisoned. He can’t help but imagine she only tolerated him and now moved on to someone better. He probably thinks she doesn’t care about Kellhus either. Just using him. It’s a very easy hole for men to plunge into when they are betrayed by a woman, especially if they leave him for someone with more status. Often men feel like that’s all they are to their women, just an ATM. And one she’ll abandon if the money stops flowing. And so when that does happen, it can really poison men towards women. For women, it’s youth and beauty, and a woman whose abandoned by her husband for a younger, prettier wife will have this same poisoning.

Even dying, Kellhus can still manipulate. Of course, he is telling the truth. He did see the No-God. He’s seen what a threat he is. He needs to survive to do something about it. And Achamian appears to be the only one to do it. Now it’s interesting, who is this “he” that Kellhus speak of. Who told Kellhus that Achamian would appear. Kellhus couldn’t have predicted Achamian appearing. He had stopped considering the sorcerer in any of his probability trances.

This is another breaking of causality. Something outside of time told Kellhus Achamian would come. Perhaps Ajolki. Kellhus caught a deal with that God as we learn at the end of the Unholy Consult. I think Ajolki sent Kellhus that “revelation” early on in the novel and is showing Kellhus other things.

Achamian is still being the parent with Proyas, trying to alleviate Proyas’s guilt by shifting it to himself. And it’s true. Achamian does feel guilty about Xinemus’s eyes. He could have given up the Gnosis, but didn’t. But Proyas’s doesn’t want his guilt taken away. He’s angry at Achamian for trying which just makes him feel worse.

The role reversal between Proyas and Achamian is great reading. Achamian is the assertive one, the one cutting off, the one speaking about faith and scripture, while Proyas is trying to tear it down. He’s smart enough to realize it and that disturbs him, but he’s condemned Kellhus. To change his mind know would be to admit he was wrong. That’s hard to do.

Proyas throws the guilt of Serwë’s death, which he is culpable in, all on Gotian. Like Proyas wasn’t in those councils. Like he didn’t give support to the entire endeavor.

So what does that mean for the world with the aftermath of The Unholy Consult if only Kellhus could give them hope? The final series of Bakker’s Second Apocalypse, The No God, will be very interesting to read.

Before the Scarlet Spire captured him, you could never have believed that Achamian would do the things he does in the second series. But now, seeing him in his interactions with Proyas, the determination, the fact he doesn’t care about how he appears, putting his mission to save the world above everything else. He learned what mattered in his torture. His mission and Esmenet.

And he lost Esmenet.

And then everything changes. Achamian pulls out the head of the skin-spy Esmenet showed him off-screen after Kellhus sent Achamian to her. Bakker is being coy, hiding what it is other than it’s covered in soil, building up the suspense in the readers. Everything is kicking off. You can feel that suddenly, all these scattered crumbs through out the novel have led us to this moment. To the climax of The Warrior Prophet!

Want to read the next part, click here for Chapter Twenty-Four!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Two

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 22
Caraskand

Welcome to Chapter Twenty-Two of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Twenty-One!

For all things there is a toll. We pay in breaths, and our purse is soon empty.

SONGS 57:3, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

Like many old tyrants, I dote upon my grandchildren. I delight in their tantrums, their squealing laughter, their peculiar fancies. I willfully spoil them with honey sticks. And I find myself wondering at their blessed ignorance of the world and its million grinning teeth. Should I, like my grandfather, knock such childishness from them? Or should I indulge their delusions? Even now, as death’s shadowy pickets gather about me, I ask, Why should innocence answer to the world? Perhaps the world should answer to innocence…. Yes, I rather like that. I tire of bearing the blame.

STAJANAS II, RUMINATIONS

My Thoughts

Both quotes are about the hardships of life, that we have only a finite amount of time before it’s taken from us. The second quote deals more into the guilt of actions. Stajanas II (based off the II) was a ruler, and all rulers have to make terrible decisions. He clearly regrets his. He’s made some that he wishes to undo, so know he yearns to shelter his grandchildren from that same pain. He wishes for a world without suffering, a world that answers to goodness. A delusion that helps to ease his own turmoil.

A world that answers to innocence sounds like many fantasy series of the past, the ones full of hope and idealism, of heroes incorruptible, of clear delineation of good and evil. But our world, like this book series, isn’t that. The world does not answer to the innocence. But we can always try to make that happen. We can protect children from the world for a time before they have to discover harsh realities and the “million grinning teeth” hungry to rip them apart.

And as we see in this chapter, the only innocent character in the series also couldn’t be protected from the “million grinning teeth.”

Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Caraskand

The morning after the siege, smoke hangs over Caraskand. The dead pile the streets and burned tabernacles. A horn awakens the Men of the Task, but not one to start the expected day of “repentance and sombre celebration.” The alarm sounds.

Kascamandri I, Padirajah of Kian, arrives with his host.

The Great Names muster their forces, but it’s difficult, their men scattered through the city. Gothyelk is in mourning for his son, the Thunyeri shattered into feuding clans with the death of their leader, Prince Skaiyelt. Even the Ainoni feud as Chepheramunni lies dying. The Fanim seize the Holy War’s camps, including stockpiled food and the siege engines. The sick left behind are massacred. Those still outside the walls flee for the city as the Holy War prepares to defend Caraskand’s walls. Worse, they learn Imbeyan had burned the city’s granaries to die provisions and whatever supplies the Citadel of the Dog held were lost to the Scarlet Spire’s assault, the fortress still burning.

Kascamandri watches his army envelop the city. After ignoring the Holy War and idling in the “fleshpot sanctuaries” of his palace, he realizes the Inrithi are not hapless in war like he thought. So he raised a host “worthy of his jihadic fathers.” He rallies the survivors of Anwurat and adds the southern grandees to them, fielding as many soldiers as the Holy War. Fresh troops with proper equipment. That evening, his army makes its assault, hoping to find the Inrithi disorganized. They use Inrithi ladders and siege towers, and batter at the gates with the Holy War’s own rams. But the Iron Men hold the wall.

When the sun finally set, the Men of the Tusk greeted the darkness with both relief and horror. For they were saved and they were doomed.

Proyas listens to Fanim drums beating while standing the battlements with Cnaiür. He peers at the Kianene army that “teemed across the landscape, dragging Inrithi wares and shelters to immense bonfires.” They mass at the same spot the Holy War chose to make their assaults on the city. He can’t believe this is happening, remembering the rapture of Caraskand’s fall, then the crushing despair of the Padirajah’s appearance. He first thought it “a catastrophic mistake, that everything would resolve itself once the chaos of the city’s ransacking passed.” Proyas feel they are so close to Shimeh, believing Caraskand’s smoke could be seen fro the holy city. He asks Cnaiür for his estimate of the enemy strength. Cnaiür says it doesn’t matter.

Unnerved by the man’s turquoise gaze, Proyas turned back to the smoke-grey vista. Yesterday, while the dimensions of the disaster slowly unfolded, he’d found himself asking why over and over again. Like a wronged child, his thoughts had stamped about the fact of his piety. Who among the Great Names had toiled as he’d toiled? Who’d burned more sacrifices, intoned more prayers? But now he no longer dared ask these questions.

Thoughts of Achamian and Xinemus had seen to that.

It is you,” the Marshal of Attrempus had said, “who surrender everything…”

But in the God’s name! For the God’s glory!

Proyas says the size matters, they have to find some way out of this mess. Cnaiür agrees. Proyas then asks if Cnaiür trusts Conphas’s count on the food, which Cnaiür does. Proyas is less sure, since he’s a good liar. “We’ll have to wait… See if he stays fat while we grow thin.” Proyas is angered how Cnaiür can bait him at times like this. Cnaiür then continues, explaining about how the Holy War spent weeks starving. It doesn’t matter if Conphas hordes food. They have to strike now with the Scarlet Spire before the Cishaurim can be assembled. The Holy War has to attack. Proyas already tried, but Eleäzaras says they’ve already suffered needless losses, which Proyas scoffs at, balancing a dozen sorcerers against a hundred thousand faithful souls.” He wishes all wars to be so bloodless.

Cnaiür says they are doomed then. Proyas mutters about them being cursed, that the God is punishing us. He wonders if Conphas is right about Kellhus. And then Proyas realizes he is floundering, like other man have in times of crisis. Despite knowing this, it doesn’t give him strength. Knowing it only makes it worse. Proyas then admits that Gotian, Gothyelk, and others are calling Kellhus a False prophet. They’ve asked for Proyas’s help to move against him.

“You would risk a war within these walls? Inrithi against Inrithi?”

Proyas swallowed, struggled to shore up his gaze. “If that’s what the Gods demands of me.”

“And how does one know what your God demands?”

Proyas stared at the Scylvendi in horror.

Proyas begin to cry, the burdens of everything too much. All the battles, the deaths, his sickness, and abandoning Achamian and Xinemus. “The two men he respected most in the world, given up to the Holy War.” Not enough. He’s never good enough. He then begs for Cnaiür to tell him what to do.

Now it was the Scylvendi who looked horrified.

“Go to Kellhus,” the barbarian said. “But I warn you”—he raised a mighty, battle-scarred fist—“secure your heart. Seal it tight!” He lowered his chin and glared, the way a wolf might…

“Go, Proyas. Go ask the man yourself.”

Kellhus strokes Esmenet’s cheek as she sleeps, staring at the signs of her pregnancy, his blood continuing on. He learned from Achamian that “only sons could conquer death.” Kellhus wonders if his father is dying, prompting the summons.

Esmenet wakes up, asking him what’s going on. Then Proyas bursts in “without warning” struggling with two guards. Proyas is shouting, telling Kellhus to order his men to stand down. Kellhus does and focuses his senses on Proyas, realizing the man is desperate, but the “wildness of his passion made the specifics difficult to ascertain.” Kellhus realizes Proyas needs to know if he’s a false prophet or not. He asks Proyas whats wrong.

But the Prince’s eyes had found Esmenet, rigid with shock. Kellhus instantly saw the peril.

He searches for excuses.

An interior porch had been raised about the doors; Proyas took an unsteady step toward the railing. “What’s she doing?” He blinked in confusion. “Why’s she in your bed?”

He doesn’t want to understand.

Kellhus says she’s his wife, but Proyas grows angry at that. Kellhus deduces that Proyas heard the rumors but gave him the benefit of the doubt. Kellhus tries to explain how the desert changed them, but Proyas is angry. That’s Akka’s wife. He loved her. He was Kellhus’s friends. Kellhus claims Achamian would want this. Which only angers Proyas more, questioning that Achamian would want “his best friend fucking the wo—” Esmenet cuts him off, angry that he’s speaking about Achamian to her. That sets him back. Kellhus sees an opportunity in Proyas’s passions, opened by horror.

“But you already know,” Kellhus said. “Of all people, you’ve no right to judge.”

The Conryian Prince flinched. “What do you mean?”

Now… Offer him truce. Show him understanding. Make stark his trespasses…

“Please,” Kellhus said, reaching out with word, tone, and every nuance of expression. “You let despair rule you… And me, I succumb to ill manners. Proyas! You’re among my dearest friends…” He cast aside the sheets, swung his feet to the floor. “Come, let us drink and talk.”

But Proyas had fastened on his earlier comment—as Kellhus had intended. “I would know why I’ve no right to judge. What’s that supposed to mean, ‘dear friend’?”

Kellhus drew his lips into a painted line. “It means that you, Proyas, not we, have betrayed Achamian.”

Horror strikes Proyas. Kellhus knows he must move carefully. Proyas disagrees. Kellhus says Proyas accuses them [Kellhus and Esmenet] because he knows he’s the one responsible, that he betrayed Achamian when he cut his deal with the Scarlet Spire. Proyas makes an excuse, saying no one knows what happened to Achamian. Kellhus presses, saying Proyas does know. He can see it. But Proyas stumbles back, shouting Kellhus sees nothing. Kellhus knows he’s close.

“Of course I do, Proyas. How, after all this time, could you still doubt?”

But as he watched, something happened: an unforeseen flare of recognition, a cascade of inferences, too quick to silence. That word…

Proyas asks how can he doubt when the Holy War is on the verge of annihilation. Kellhus shifts gears, putting on a Xinemus-like smile and says the God is testing the Holy War but hasn’t passed sentence. “How can there be trial without doubt?” Kellhus urges Proyas to open his heart to the truth.

“Open my…” Proyas trailed, his eyes brimming with incredulous dread. “He told me!” he abruptly whispered. “This is what he meant!” The yearning in his look, the ache that had warred against misgivings, suddenly collapsed into suspicion and disbelief.

Kellhus realizes Cnaiür warned him and realizes he should have killed Cnaiür after all. Angry, Proyas demands if the “great Warrior-Prophet” has doubts or fears for the future. Kellhus looks to Esmenet, sees her crying, and takes her cold hand.

“No,” he [Kellhus] said.

I do not fear.

Proyas was already backing out of the double doors, into the brighter light of the antechamber.

“You will.”

The days passed with the starving Men of the Tusk defending Caraskand’s Triamic Walls, proving that the emperor who raised them, Triamis I, had proved his detractors right when he said: “No Man can conquer the future.” Even as the Kianene curse their enemies as another sortie is beaten back, they can only “marvel at their [the Inrithi’s] desperate fury.” Athjeäri even leads raids to hamper enemy sappers. But their doom was obvious “as only men stalked by famine could know.”

At the same time, the plague of hemoplexy died down, with Chepheramunni lingering at death and others dying. The funeral pyres burn but “more and more they took casualties, and not the sick, as their fuel.” As famine grows, the god Bukris stalking the city, the men hunt cats, dogs, and rats for food. Horses are butchered. Leather boiled and eaten. “When the horns sounded the harnesses of many would swing like skirts, having lost their straps and buckles to some steaming pot.” Starving men wander the streets and rumors persist about cannibalism. New sicknesses arrive, brought on by famine, teeth lost to scurvy, dysentery afflicting cramps and diarrhea.

The debate about Kellhus intensifies with Conphas, Gothyelk, and Gotian condemning him as False Prophet. “Who could doubt the God punished them?” Only Inri Sejenus could be their prophet. Proyas no longer defends Kellhus, but holds his tongue. But still none move against Kellhus, his Zaudunyani now numbering in the tens of thousands. Riots break out and Inrithi kill each other as people take sides, even against lords, brothers, and countrymen. Only when the horns sound did they put aside their differences. “They roused themselves from the torpor of disease and sickness, and they battled with a fervour only those truly wracked by the God could know.” To the Kianene, it appeared dead men held the walls, their hate manifesting as wights.

Caraskand, it seemed, named not a city, but misery’s own precinct. Her very walls—walls raised by Triamis the Great—seemed to groan.

The palace Kellhus lives in reminds Serwë of her time as a concubine to House Gaunum. But here she reclines in luxury, her “pink son” cradled to her breast. Kellhus surprises her from behind and she asks what he’s doing here. He says much happens and asks after Esmi.

It always seemed so strange to hear him ask such simple questions. It reminded her that the God was still a man. “Kellhus,” she asked pensively, “what’s your father’s name.”

She asks after his father’s name, and he has to make up a lie why his father is named Moënghus despite the King of Atrithau, his supposed father, is named Aethelarius. Serwë then declares her son to be named Moënghus. Though she says it as a statement, it’s really a question. Kellhus agrees. She then asks about what kind of man his father is. “A most mysterious one.” She asks if he knows his son is a prophet. Kellhus isn’t sure.

Serwë, who’d grown accustomed to cryptic conversations such as this, smiled. She blinked at the tears in her eyes. With her child warm against her breast, and the breath of the Prophet warmer still across her neck, the World seemed a closed circle, as though woe had been exiled from joy at long last. No longer taxed by cruel and distant things, the hearth answered to the heart.

A sudden pang of guilt struck her. “I know that you grieve,” she said. “So many suffer…”

He lowered his face. Said nothing.

“But I’ve never been so happy,” she continued. “So whole… Is that a sin? To find rapture where others suffer?”

“Not for you, Serwë. Not for you.”

Serwë gasped and looked down at her suckling babe.

“Moënghus is hungry,” she laughed.

Two soldiers named Rash and Wigga are talking about how Wigga saw Kellhus’s child at the public anointing. The other soldier missed it. Wigga comments on how dark the child’s hair is, surprised since Kellhus and Serwë are blondes. Cnaiür appears, demanding to know the child’s name. They stare at the wild figure before them, more myth than man. Wigga says its Moënghus.

The air of menace suddenly vanished. The barbarian became curiously blank, motionless to the point where he seemed inanimate. His manic eyes looked through them, to places far and forbidding.

A taut moment passed, then without a word, the Scylvendi turned and walked into the darkness.

Sighing, the two men looked to each other for what seemed a long time, then just to be certain, they resumed their fabricated conversation.

As they’d been instructed.

Kellhus has doubts, wanting another way. In the Probability Trance, he can’t see any farther because “all the lines were extinguished, either by disaster or by the weight of excess permutations.” He’s worked hard, but now only Saubon still supports him. While Proyas hasn’t condemned him, he’s ignored all of Kellhus’s overtures. Things only worsen between Zaudunyani and the Orthodox. Worse, the threat of more Consult attacks limits his movement.

Meanwhile, the Holy War died.

You told me mine was the Shortest Path… He’d relived his brief encounter with the Cishaurim messenger a thousand times, analyzing, evaluating, weighing alternate interpretations—all for naughty. Every step was darkness now, no matter what his father said. Every word was risk. In so many ways, it seemed, he was no different from these world-born men…

What is the Thousandfold Thought.

Esmenet finds him, and he asks her how. She just gives him a grin of “pure mischief.” Though she’s also concerned. She says Werjau told her. Kellhus notes the man fears women. Then she almost falls and Kellhus is surprised by “a sudden shortness of breath” before she caught herself, almost falling to her death. Esmenet then declares that Werjau fears her before she laughs and hugs them looking out over the city and the world.

She knows… She knows I struggle.

“We all fear you,” Kellhus said, wondering at the clamminess of his skin.

She comes to comfort.

“You tell such delicious lies,” she murmured, raising her lips to his.

Kellhus’s nine senior disciples, the Nascenti, arrive at dusk. Esmenet watches them from the shadows. They seem more upset than usual. She knows that they, as the administrators of the Zaudunyani, no more about the Holy War’s problems than she does. They fall silent as Kellhus enters, Serwë behind him, a retinue of guards around them.

Esmenet cursed herself for catching her breath. How could he make her heart pound so? Glancing down, she realized she’d folded her right hand over the tattoo marring the back of her left.

Those days are over.

Esmenet greets her husband and sits to his right. He’s dressed like a warrior, a mix of Galeoth and Ainoni styles which Esmenet suspects Serwë had a hand in. Kellhus says all gathered here are “branches of me” and they know what moves them. As he speaks, Esmenet reflects on the differences between this serious meeting and her old life in Xinemus’s camp, full of “mirth and mischief.” She misses Achamian holding her too tight. She imagines that even then, she must have loved Kellhus and Serwë secretly, like she didn’t know about it. She remembers the last time she saw Xinemus and his two men, wondering what happened to them.

Had he found Achamian.

She suffered a moment of gaping horror… Kellhus’s melodic voice retrieved her.

Then Kellhus says Esmenet is his second, to be obeyed when he’s not around. This shocks them and she realizes “old bigotries die hard.” Werjau says it sounds like Kellhus fears being taken from them. Then Esmenet realizes they aren’t shocked that a woman is put above them, but that Kellhus fears his own death, which he doesn’t contradict. Fear strikes her. Serwë squeezes her hand, the girl trembling in shock. “The lunatic dimensions of Serwë’s belief had always baffled and troubled Esmenet.” It’s so great, her belief feels unmovable. Esmenet thinks that this belief, this love for Kellhus, is what lets her share him with Esmenet. The Nascenti argues, some wanting to fight, others to negotiate. With a look, Kellhus silences them.

It frightened her [Esmenet] sometimes, the way he effortlessly commanded these men. But then it could be no other way. Where others blundered from moment to moment, scarcely understanding their own wants, hurts, or hopes, let alone those of others, Kellhus caught each instant—each soul—like a fly. His world, Esmenet had realized, was one without surfaces, one where everything—from word and expression to war and nation—was smoky glass, something to be peered through…

He was the Warrior-Prophet… Truth. And Truth commanded all things.

She stops herself showing joy that she was here at the right hand of “the most glorious soul to have walked the world.” She lies with Truth. To her, this is beyond a gift. Werjau gets angry at her smiling. Kellhus says it’s because she can see what Werjau can’t. Esmenet doesn’t feel the same, thinking she daydreamed like a teenager in love. But she feels something in the air and wonders what she sees.

Her skin tingled. The Thanes of the Warrior-Prophet watched her, and she looked through their faces, glimpsed their yearning hearts. To think! So many deluded souls, living illusory lives in unreal worlds! So many! It both boggled her and broke her heart.

And at the same time, it was her triumph.

Something absolute.

Her heart fluttered, pinioned by Kellhus’s shining gaze. She fell at once smoke and naked flesh—something seen more through and something desired.

There’s more than me… More than this—yes!

“Tell us, Esmi,” Kellhus hissed through Serwë’s mouth. “Tell us what you see!”

There’s more than them.

“We must take the knife to them,” she said, speaking as she knew her Master would have her speak. “We must show them the demons in their midst.”

So much more!

The Warrior-Prophet smiled with her own lips.

“We must kill them,” her voice said.

The skin-spy Sarcellus heads to Conphas’s pavilion after receiving a message speaking of an imminent threat. He pushes through starving men, begging for food. He barrels through them. Normally, he didn’t begrudge the beggars because he could kill them and satiate his other hungers.

Besides, they were apt reminders of what Men were in truth.

Pale hands reached from looted silks. Piteous cries seed through the gloom. Then, in the gravelly voice of a drunkard, a rag-draped man before him said, “Truth shines.”

This surprises Sarcellus. He turns on the speaker and sees iron eyes. The man says truth doesn’t die. Sarcellus thinks it’s robbery, but the man shakes his head. Then Sarcellus understands it’s a Zaudunyani. The man smile momentarily frightens the skin-spy. Then he remembers what he is and gets an erection, calling them slaves and growing arrogant with what he is, asking if they know what he is.

“Dead,” someone said from behind.

Sarcellus laughed, sweeping his gaze over the necks he would break. Oh, rapture! How he would shoot hot across his thigh! He was certain of it!

Yes! With so many! This time…

But his humor vanished when his look returned to the man with the iron eyes. The face beneath his face twitched into a vestigial frown… They’re not af—

Oil suddenly drenches him, dousing his would-be assassins. He calls them fools, saying they’ll burn with him. But that’s the plan. The iron-eyed man leaps at Sarcellus as a flaming arrow sets him alight. “The thing called Sarcellus howled, shrieked with its entire face.” Horror fills him. As they burned, the iron-eyed man whispers “Truth…”

General Martemus watches Conphas, thinking him looking like a child as he sleeps. The general is here to kill Conphas on Kellhus’s orders.

Martemus had spent most of his life following commands, and though he’d unstintingly tried to execute each and every one, even those that proved disastrous, their origins had always haunted him. NO matter how tormented or august the channels, the commands he followed had always come from somewhere, from someplace within a beaten and debauched world: peevish officers, spiteful apparati, vainglorious generals… As a result, he had thought that thought, so catastrophic for a man who’d been bred to serve: I am greater than what I obey.

But the command he followed this night…

Martemus believes obeying this commands is more than worship or prayer, it was a lesson from Kellhus. He raises the knife. He already pictures his commander dead, wondered how the army would react when he’s found. Martemus thinks that he has wanted to do this for so long. Tells himself to strike now.

Conphas wakes up, shocked. “Truth,” declares Martemus and strikes. But Sarcellus, roasted, unable to keep his face closed, stops him, smacking away the blade. Snarling curses at Kellhus, the skin spy kills Martemus.

Conphas is shocked to see Martemus’s head sever from his neck. In fear, he scrambles back from the death, shocked by the death of his general. He realizes Sarcellus killed him and thinks he’s having a nightmare. Still stunned, he asks what happens.

“Belonged to him,” the voice from the dark corner said.

“Prince Kellhus,” Conphas said in dawning recognition. Suddenly he understood all that he needed to know: a battle had just been fought—and won. He grinned in relief—and wondrous admiration. The man had used Martemus! Martemus!

And here I thought I’d won the battle for his soul!

Conphas asks for light, but Sarcellus tells him not to, saying he was also attacked. This irks Conphas. It’s his tent. Conphas starts to object, but Sarcellus says they have to act now or the Holy War is lost. Conphas realizes Sarcellus was burned, smelling roasted pork. Sarcellus races out to the balcony. Conphas, calling for guards, follows. He doesn’t find Sarcellus, only notices Martemus’s blood on his body. He returns to his guards, telling them to hurl Martemus body at the Kianene then send for General Sompas. “The truce had ended.” The guards asks about what to do with the head.

“No,” Ikurei Conphas said, slipping into a robe held out by one of his haeturi. He laughed at the absurdity of the man’s head, which lay like a cabbage near the foot of his bed. It was odd how he could feel so little after all they suffered together.

“The General never leaves my side, Triah. You know that.”

Fustaras, a Proadjunct in the Selial Column of the Nansur army, is on a mission for General Sompas with several others. “When children go astray, they must be beaten.” He’s a “Threesie,” a veteran who’s enlisted three times. The senior NCOs that form the “stubborn heart” of any unit. “They were men who saw things through.” Him and the others with him enter an area Zaudunyani gather. They find a judge and asks him is said about truth. The man answers, “That it shines.” holding his cudgel, Fustaras asks if instead bleeds.

The man’s [the judge’s] sparkling gaze darted from Fustaras’s eyes to the club, then back. “That, too,” he said in the rigid manner of someone resolved to master their quailing heart. He pitched his voice so those nearby could hear. “If not, then why the Holy War?”

Thinking the judge too clever, Fustaras clubs him to death. His men form up around him as they are mobbed by so many Zaudunyani. He has doubts about the plan now, bur remembers he’s a Threesie. He yells defiance but is struck by a rock. It dazes him. His men are cut down around him. He’s more confused, General Sompas promising an easy task. But then a Thunyeri “with three shriveled Sranc heads jangling between his thighs” crushes his throat before a spear is rammed through his back.

The wounded Sarcellus has spent the last three days hiding “unable to close its face for pain.” As it stomps through a burned out tabernacle kicking charred skulls, it’s reminded of the Plains of Agongorea covered in snow, remembering how soothing those winds were. But that snow was far away. As far as Holy Golgotterath. While the fire burns so near. He curses Kellhus over and over. The Synthese arrives, asking if he suffers, calling Sarcellus by his skin spy name Gaörta. Sarcellus looks at it, studying its inscrutable face.

In the shell of the Old Father… Aurang, Great General of the World-Breaker, ancient Prince of the Inchoroi.

Sarcellus cries out that it hurts. He’s told to savor it. “A taste for what is to come.” The skin spy pleads and blubbers as the Synthese says he failed. The Holy War will perish. Sarcellus is terrified, knowing what failure means, but compelled to obey the Architect. He tries to shift the blame on the Cishaurim.

Fault, Gaörta?” the Old Father said. “The very poison we would suck from this world?”

Sarcellus begs for forgiveness. He’s given one more task “in the name of spite.” Sarcellus will do anything. The Synthese orders Sarcellus to make sure Kellhus is killed with the Holy War. No longer does Sarcellus think about snow to cool his burning flesh. Vengeance will soothe him.

Now,” the palm-sized expression grated, and Gaörta had the sense of vast power, ancient and hoary, forced through a reed throat. Here and there, small showers of dust trailed down the broken walls.

“Close your face.”

Gaörta obeyed as he must, screamed as he must.

Cnaiür crumples Proyas’s missive in his hand as he strides through Proyas’s residence in the city. Spotting a discarded orange peel in a pile of dust, his hunger compels him to eat it. As he does, he’s minds in turmoil that Kellhus would name his son Moënghus. He believes Kellhus did this to gall Cnaiür, to remind him who to hate.

He reaches Proyas and is angry to be summoned by words, reminding the man he can’t read. Proyas apologizes, trying to regain his composure, and says that his guests have made claims and wants Cnaiür to confirm it. The Scylvendi realizes Conphas is in the room. He hadn’t even noticed and thinks his madness lifts. He barks, demanding to know what he wants while also noticing Sarcellus is with them. Sarcellus, it seems, has word from Atrithau.

Cnaiür stared at the man [Sarcellus], for the first time noticing the bandages about his hands and the odd network of angry red lines across his sumptuous face. “Atrithau? But how is that possible?”

Sarcellus spins a story about three men who say they knew a fourth, conveniently dead in the desert, who claims Kellhus is lying. King Aethelarius has no living children. Kellhus is a pretender. As he speaks, Cnaiür notes the obvious pain Sarcellus is in. Then Cnaiür asks what these men want. Conphas gets annoyed. Proyas says there might be a way to prosecute Kellhus as a False Prophet without causing civil war. Cnaiür asks why he’s needed. Proyas trust him.

Cnaiür swallowed. Outland dogs! someone raged. Kine!

For some reason a look of alarm flickered across Conphas’s face.

Proyas refuses to trust hearsay on such an important matter, which irks Sarcellus. Cnaiür studies the Shrial knight, reminded of fighting the thing that looked like Kellhus. This makes him think of Serwë, “first wife of his heart.”

I will have her! someone within him wept. She belongs to me!

So beautiful… My proof!

Suddenly everything seemed to slump, as though the world itself had been soaked in numbness and lead. And he realized—without anguish, without heartbreak—that Anasûrimbor Moënghus was beyond him. Despite all the hate, all his tooth-gnashing fury, the blood trail he followed ended here… In a city.

We’re dead. All of us…

If Caraskand was to be their tomb, he would see certain blood spilled first.

But Moënghus! someone cried. Moënghus must die! And yet he could no longer recall the hated face. He saw only a mewling infant…

“The man you call Prince Kellhus is an impostor… A prince of nothing.”

Saubon sits upon Imbeyan’s throne as the King of Caraskand, even though his mighty and ostentatious throne room, in the Sapatishah’s Palace, feel like a hovel. But it didn’t matter, because he was king. Kellhus asks why he was summoned. Saubon warns him that he has to flee. Kellhus can’t because of the besieging army and won’t abandon his followers.

“But you must! They will condemn you. Even Proyas!”

“And you, Coithus Saubon? Will you condemn me?”

“No… Never!”

“But you’ve already given them your guarantees.”

“Who said this? What liar dares—”

“You. You say this.”

“But… But you must understand!”

“I understand. They’ve ransomed your city. All you need do is pay.”

Saubon pleads for understanding, saying it’s not that way. But Kellhus explains how Saubon has acted for “the trappings of a tyrant” just like his father. Kellhus asks who Saubon fled to after being beaten. Saubon objects he never was beaten and Kellhus deduces it was Kussalt. He then asks what was worse, Kussalt dying or learning the man hated him.

“Silence!”

“All your long life, no one has known you.”

“Silence!”

“All your long life you’ve suffered, you’ve questioned—”

“No! No! Silence!”

“—and you’ve punished those who would love you.”

Saubon slapped burly hands about his ears. “Cease! I command it!”

“As you punished Kussalt, as you punish—”

Silence-silence-silence! They told me you would do this! They warned me!”

“Indeed. They warned you against the truth. Against wandering into the nets of the Warrior-Prophet.”

Saubon asks how Kellhus could know this, struck by woe. Kellhus says it is Truth. Saubon curses the truth. Kellhus asks about Saubon’s soul. He’s willing to be damned. He embraces damnation. He would accept it all the pain and suffering “to be King for a day!” He would even pluck out God’s eye. His words echo as he falls to his knees. Soldiers come running. But Kellhus isn’t there. Saubon realizes he never was, but he’s still haunted by his guilt, imagining Kellhus is beating him.

For days, every sunrise and sunset, Esmenet would leave a bowl of water for Kellhus as he spends his time “lost in whatever worlds he searched in his trances.” She also left him food, though he only wanted water. She would watch him, feeling like a child kneeling before an idol offering sacrifices. But he touched none of the food. Then one dawn, he was gone. In a panic, she rushes through the palace and finds him joking with Serwë.

Serwë asks Esmi to bring her Moënghus. So relieved she doesn’t object and fetches the baby and “found the winter blue of his eyes unnerving.” When she returns, Kellhus reveals the Great Names want to parley.

He mentioned nothing, of course, about his mediation. He never did.

Esmenet is fearful, saying this parley is meant to be a trap. Serwë is confused by this, saying “Everyone loves Kellhus.” But Esmenet objects and says that he is hated by many. They want to see him dead.

Serwë laughed in the obvious way of which only she seemed capable. “Esmenet…” she said, shaking her had as though at a beloved fool. She boosted little Moënghus into the air. “Auntie Esmi forgets,” she cooed to the infant. “Yeeesss. She forgets who your father is!”

Esmenet watched dumbstruck. Sometimes she wanted nothing more than to wring the girl’s neck. How? How could he love such a simpering fool?

“Esmi…” Kellhus said abruptly. The warning in his voice chilled her heart. She turned to him, shouted Forgive me! with her eyes.

But at the same time, she couldn’t relent, not now, not after what she had found. “Tell her, Kellhus! Tell her what’s about to happen!”

Not again. Not again!

Kellhus tells her that he has to. They can’t go to war with the Orthodox. But she begs him that the Holy War, the city, is meaningless compared to him. She knows this is too important “for selfish grief” but she’s lost everyone else she loves. She reminds him of Akka’s belief that he’s “the world’s only hope.”

“Sometimes, Esmi, we must cross death to reach our destination.”

She thought of King Shikol in The Tractate, the demented Xerashi King who’d commanded the Latter Prophet’s execution. She thought of his gilded thighbone, the instrument of judgment, which to this day remained the most potent symbol of evil in Inrithidom. Was this what Inri Sejenus had said to his nameless lover? That loss could somehow secure glory?

But this is madness!

“The Shortest Path,” she said, horrified by the teary-eyed contemptuousness of her tone.

But the blond-bearded face smiled.

“Yes,” the Warrior-Prophet said. “The Logos.”

Serwë watches, dumbstruck, as Gotian condemns Kellhus as a False Prophet and pretender to the warrior-caste. He is condemned to be “scourged in the manner decreed by Scripture.” She holds her sobbing son, surrounded by Kellhus’s bodyguards who face the Shrial Knights. She looks at the multitude on the verge of war.

It seemed a thousand half-starved faces cried a thousand hungry things. Accusations. Curses. Laments. The air was flushed by humid cries. Hundreds had gathered within the ruined shell of the Citadel of the Dog to hear the Warrior-Prophet answer the charges of the Great and Lesser Names. Hot in the sun, the black ruins towered about them: walls unconsummated by vaults, foundations obscured by heaped wreckage, the side of a fallen tower bare and rounded against the debris, like the flanks of a whale breaching the surface of a choppy sea. The Men of the Tusk had congregated across every pitched slop and beneath every monolithic remnant. Fist-waving faces packed every pocket of clear ground.

Instinctively pulling her baby tight to her breast, Serwë glanced around in terror. Esmi was right… We shouldn’t have come! She looked up to Kellhus, and wasn’t surprised by the divine calm with which he observed the masses. Even here, he seemed the godlike nail which fastened what happened to what should happen.

He’ll make them see!

Violence is on the cusp of breaking out. The Great Names even look nervous as the mobs began skirmishing. One man breaks through the Hundred Pillars to knife Kellhus, only for Kellhus to disarm him “as though he were a child.” As Kellhus holds the man by the neck with one hand, silence spreads out from him. Serwë is confused why they would risk Kellhus’s anger.

“What is it that you fear?” the Warrior-Prophet asked. His tone was both plaintive and imperious—not the overbearing manner of a King certain of his sanction, but the despotic voice of Truth.

Gotian says the God’s punishment for harboring a false prophet. Kellhus says they fear their power fading as his rises. “You wouldn’t tolerate even the God to possess your Holy War.” He tries to implant doubt in their actions. But Conphas screams for silence. Kellhus asks Conphas what he hides.

“His words are spears!” Conphas cried to the others. “His very voice is an outrage!”

“But I ask only your question: What if you are wrong?”

Even Conphas was dumbstruck by the force of these words. It was as though the Warrior-Prophet had made this demand in the God’s own voice.

“You turn to fury in the absence of certainty,” he continued sadly. “I only ask you this: What moves your soul? What moves you to condemn me? Is it indeed the God? The God strides with certainty, with glory, through the hearts of men! Does the God so stride through you? Does the God so stride through you?”

Silence descends. Serwë cries in triumph, believing they see it. Then Sarcellus quotes from the Tusk about how both good and evil things speak to men’s heart, confusing them. Kellhus responds with a quote that Truth cannot be denied.

Possessed by a beatific calm, Sarcellus answered: “Fear him, for he is the deceiver, the Lie made Flesh, come among you to foul the waters of your heart.”

And the Warrior-Prophet smiled sadly. “Lie made flesh, Sarcellus?” Serwë watched his eyes search the crowds, then settle on the nearby Scylvendi. “Lie made flesh,” he repeated, staring into the fiend’s embattled face. “The hunt need not end… Remember this when you recall the secret of battle. You still command the ears of the Great.”

“False Prophet,” Sarcellus continued. “Prince of nothing!”

With those words, the Shrial Knights attacked. Men are cut down as the watching mob joins them. Serwë holds her baby and Kellhus’s sleeve in disbelief that it’s over. In moments, the Shrial knight are upon them. Kellhus fights back, killing a knight who attacks him, his punch so powerful the knight’s head ruptures like a melon. Gotian yells at them to stop. A knight then grabs her. But he’s cut down, killed by Cnaiür. Serwë is shocked at that.

The Shrial Knights back down from their assault on Kellhus. Gotian demands Kellhus yield to be scourged while Serwë rips herself free of Cnaiür’s grasp. She reaches Kellhus’s side, pressing herself and her child into him. She begs him to yield. To not die in this place.

She could feel her Prophet’s tender eyes upon her, his divine embrace encompass her. She looked up into his face and saw love in his shining, god-remote eyes. The love of the God for her! For Serwë, first wife and lover of the Warrior-Prophet. For the girl who was nothing…

Glittering tears branched across her cheeks. “I love you!” she cried. “I love you and you cannot die!”

She looked down at the squalling babe between them. “Our son!” she sobbed. “Our son needs the God!”

Rough hands pull her back. She shrieks that Kellhus is The god. Sarcellus grabs her, asking to Gotian, “According to Scripture?” Gotian agrees. Cnaiür objects, saying she has an infant. Serwë is so confused. Cnaiür is a dark blur in her tear-stained vision. Gotian says that doesn’t matter.

“My child!” Was there desperation, pain in the Scylvendi’s voice?

No… not your child. Kellhus? What happened.

“Then take it.” Curt, as though seeking to snuff further mortification.

Someone pulled her wailing son from her arms. Another heart gone. Another ache.

No… Moënghus? What’s happening?

Serwë shrieked, until it seemed her eyes must shimmer into flame, her face crumble into dust.

The flash of sunlight across a knife. Sarcellus’s knife. Sounds. Celebratory and horrified.

Serwë felt her life spill across her breasts. She worked her lips to speak to him, that godlike man so near, to say something final, but there was no sound, no breath. She raised her hands and beads of dark wine fell from her outstretched fingers…

My Prophet, my love, how could this be?

I know not, sweet Serwë…

And as sky and the howling faces beneath darkened, she remembered his words, once spoken.

You are innocence, sweet Serwë, the one heart I need not teach…”

Last flare of sunlight, drowsy, as though glimpsed by a child stirring from dreams beneath an airy tree.

Innocence, Serwë.

The limb-vaulted canopy, growing darker, warm-woolen like a shroud. No more sun.

You are the mercy you seek.

But my baby, my—

My Thoughts

The Holy War anticipated a “day of repentance.” Which sins are they repenting? The guilt of the massacre they performed while taking the city, or do most of the Holy War only expect to pray for other sins, not seeing what they did as wrong at all.

Does not look good for the holy war. Bakker sets it up elegantly. The Padirajah arrives before the Holy War can regroup and mount a defense outside the city, to at the very least bring in their supplies and destroy their own siege engines. Now the very weapons they used on Caraskand’s walls will be used against them. And they have no food. They’ll starve. It looks hopeless for the Holy War.

Of course Sirol, the Padirajah’s youngest daughter, weeps at the burning mastodons. Humans would rather weep for an animal than their fellow species dying by the hundreds. It shows how we’re so desensitized to human death, even in modern times thanks to media. It also shows how sheltered his daughter is. Humans who spend time around livestock are not nearly as emotional about animals as those who by their meat from the supermarket.

Also shows the arrogance of the Padirajah. He ignored the Holy War all this time, and now that he realized he can’t ignore them any longer, he brings his daughters with him on the campaign. He expects to win just like he expected to win at Mengedda and at Anwurat. It’s clear he loves his daughters, cares for them greatly (last chapter he did not look forward to telling his daughter her husband Imbeyan is dead).

The relief and horror quote is great. Humans want to survive, will keep fighting and fighting even if they’re only bough themselves a little more time. It’s like in the show Babylon 5 where John Sheridan is talking about standing on the edge of the cliff with the choice of staying and dying or jumping. You should jump because you might always learn to fly before you hit the ground. He does exactly that when faced with the situation. And while he didn’t learn to fly, he was caught.

I think we’ve all had that Proyas moment, getting such bad news that we can’t believe it happened, that we first want to deny it. The first stage of grief. It’s not just about mourning a dead one. Losing a job or an opportunity, beset by an illness, all of it can send us down that path.

Proyas is realizing his piety and belief that made him better is childish because he realizes others have suffered too. The child is selfish. That’s one of the defining trait. They can’t see past themselves. They haven’t learned to care for others needs. It’s something humans do for survival, to build communities and tribes, small bands of trusted people. And that means thinking about other’s and what they go to, as well.

Cnaiür is right. The Holy War has to take the initiative. They have to force a breakout, and to do that, they need to surprise the Padirajah’s army. Hit them with the Scarlet spire, fight their way free. It’s the end of the Holy war’s mission, but they might live to see their homes.

Proyas is utterly crushed and broken by the weight of everything. How worse to know it and still be unable to do anything, like drowning when you know how to swim but it doesn’t matter. You’re just too tired to keep kicking.

Cnaiür is horrified because he respects Proyas. Likes him. And now to see him so broken, weeping. Just like Cnaiür does. The same weakness Cnaiür hides in himself on display before him. And then he betrays Kellhus, armoring Proyas against the Dûnyain. Out of compassion. In the Unholy Consult, I wonder if Cnaiür felt the same, seeing the broken, dying Proyas in the pavilion.

As I read this passage, I’m thinking of the same Proyas at the end, broken by Kellhus, sinking into madness for his God, doing everything he can for Kellhus. He gave up his humanity for his God, and still wasn’t enough.

I hate Kellhus even more after reading that book.

An interesting moment from Kellhus. His vestigial emotions are bubbling up. He claims he loves her in the Unholy Consult, that is why he doesn’t kill Kelmomas. Maybe he does. She’s carrying his son right now, the only way for immortality. But that doesn’t stop him from using her, from making her miserable in the end, from taking her from a man that could truly love her and giving her only the illusion of it. Because even if Kellhus loves her in his own, stunted way, she learns the truth about what he is and can never believe it, especially not with the way he acts.

So in the Proyas and Kellhus exchange, we see how Kellhus isn’t infallible in numerous ways. He’s caught abed with Esmenet by the one person who needed to be eased into this new reality: Proyas. It’s unanticipated and “without warning.” Then he makes the mistake by using doubt, a word that Achamian always uses with Proyas, which forces the skeptical part of Proyas back up, focusing it on the betrayal to his mentor he is witnessing. Then Kellhus is blind-sided by Cnaiür’s interference. He didn’t anticipate Cnaiür doing that at all. Now Proyas is wholly lost to him without proving he’s a prophet.

Despite knowing that the Circumflex is coming, Kellhus doesn’t have enough emotions to be afraid of what will most likely lead to his death. This probably explains why he’s getting touch emotional with pregnant Esmenet and the knowledge that the only true immortality is through offpsrings. He’s facing his imminent death and doesn’t see a way out of it, even if he kept Proyas’s aid.

He only has to hope for a miracle. See, Kellhus is already crazy. I think all the Dûnyain are, they just don’t realize it. But Kellhus’s madness is accelerated by learning that effect can precede cause. That miracles can happen. The Shortest Path is now to prove himself a prophet, and only a true miracle, something he can’t fake, can do it.

Triamis I had a lot of practical wisdom. You can never conquer the future. That’s why people have to think about their actions and not just assume the status quo will continue. Say, if you don’t mind passing laws that will affect your political enemies because you can’t envision your political enemies gaining power one day and using those very laws on you.

It is not going well for the Holy War. Just when it seemed likes nothing worst can happen, it does. But still they fight. Desperation to live keeps them going. They have come so far, survived the desert. These are the men who don’t give up. Those who did perished a long time ago.

Serwë has a pink son. Not a blue baby.

Serwë has a lot of detractors. I’ve always liked her. People hate her naivety, her innocence. They see in her what we’ve all lost, what the world has stolen from her. She, like Xinemus, are our most stock fantasy characters. Those people from other, more romantic tales of the fantastic. Ones full of hope and optimism. With clear delineations between good and evil. And she’s stranded in this murky, gray, brutal world of Grimdark Fantasy. And like Xinemus, it ends badly for her. She’s not fit for this world. She’s got too much of us in her. Too much of what we secretly yearn for. Such simple joy and happiness even while the world burns around her, unburdened from the stresses of life.

She’s free. For now.

Another clue that Kellhus does love Esmenet, and probably Serwë, is his sudden fear when she almost falls to her death. Kellhus’s first emotion as an adult was for Serwë. And he’s feeling others with Esmenet and the child she carries. His child, which is why Serwë’s pregnancy doesn’t stir these feelings him him. But I do think he loves Serwë. The guilt for her death, and subsequently learning of her damnation, I believe is one of the things driving his actions in the next series. If such an innocent girl like her is damned, then something really has to be done about it.

He loves Esmenet, but she doesn’t really love him. We see that when Achamian returns, how it conflicts her, eats at her. And while she ultimately chooses to stay with Kellhus because of her pregnancy, she never stops loving Achamian and only grows to hate Kellhus more as she realizes what he did to her and those around him.

But with Kellhus’s weak emotions, does that even bother him? Her hatred? Her love for Achamian? We got so little POV of Kellhus in the last series. So little insight into him. I think that’s the greatest shame of The Aspect Emperor Series. Bakker had to keep us out of Kellhus’s head to keep us from guessing his motivations, about what would happen in Golgotterath there at the end. And yet we don’t get to know anymore about his character, not really, after the Thousandfold Thoughts. He’s a cipher that’s impossible to truly puzzle out from the outside.

Kellhus has an Ainoni style beard and Galeoth styled hair. A mix of Norsirai and Ketyai, showing he’s for the two different races of the Holy War.

Kellhus speaks to his followers like a cult-leader, love-bombing them by telling them how special they are. Flattery is such a hard thing to resist.

Esmenet almost realized that she never had confirmation of Achamian’s death, and it fills her with horror. Why? Because she knows, deep down, that she betrayed their love, tossed it aside for something new.

We see Esmenet take her first steps to become Empress, giving counsel. She’s so smart, she realizes just how Kellhus is manipulating her, how even Serwë’s voice is really coming at Kellhus’s manipulation. He’s molded her for this moment, and she surrenders utterly to him. Because she believes in him. It’s not romantic love Esmenet has for him, it’s worship. Adoration. It’s delusional.

Just like Serwë’s. Only that girl never had her delusions of Kellhus’s shattered.

Kellhus turned Martemus, one of the most loyal men in the series, the Xinemus in Conphas’s retinue, into an assassin. He led him down a road by first appearing as more than men, then helping Xinemus to understand that he’s better than the men who gave him commands, then even Conphas. That he had more worth than following the orders of a narcissist. Then Kellhus just had to build that into resentment, into murderous hate and unleash him.

In other stories, Conphas would have done something that galled Martemus. Something that went beyond the general’s moral code. An act too far across the pale, or something personal. But that never happens.

Conphas narcissism is on full display. Martemus is the closest thing he had to a friend, and learning that the man betrayed him, came to kill him, and now is dead has no negative effect. He has the sense of relief at surviving and admires the skill Kellhus said, like one general admiring the tactics of his rival. Especially one he just “beat.” Notice how Conphas thinks he won though he did nothing. If Sarcellus hadn’t survived his own assassination, Conphas would be dead.

So Kellhus’s last ditch effort to advert the Circumfix has failed. Readers like to believe Kellhus is infallible. That he doesn’t make mistakes, but he does. He has weaknesses that Bakker puts in the text, and those weaknesses come to matter in the Unholy Consult. He can plan and strategize, but no one can predict how something as messy as combat will fall out.

Fustaras has all the hallmark of that gruff NCO trope. Which Bakker subverts by the man getting terrified when it all goes wrong, shocked that the plan of marching into the heart of Zaudunyani territory and attacking their judges (which are their priests) wouldn’t result in the massacre.

Fault is the poison the Consult wishes to cleanse from the world. Fault is sin. Fault is condemnation. Fault is blame. It’s answering for your actions. And in this world, those actions mostly lead to damnation. This maybe the first real clue we get about the Consult’s motivations in the book. (It’s all so jumbled up when you learn what information after reading the books so many times).

We can see Cnaiür’s madness is still lurking. He’s still trying to be of the People, and Proyas’s admittance of trust is a further reminder that Cnaiür likes the man as a friend. But he shouldn’t. He’s “kine,” prey for the hunter.

First wife of my heart.” Serwë has become a proxy for Anissi. She was his proof to manhood before but also the on he could be weak with. He didn’t have to be the perfect Scylvendi with her. Serwë never gave him that no matter how hard he tried. Perhaps this is what drove him to be more and more harsh with her, to mold her into what he needed her to be. But she refused. She instead let Kellhus mold her. Just like Moënghus did with Cnaiür. In a way, Cnaiür tried to be Dûnyain with Serwë but his anger and madness thwarted his attempts at communication, at forming that connection he had with Anise. But he still wants her, needs her. And he needs his son. He can’t hate Moënghus any longer. Because it’s his son now.

And he’s found his way to get it all back.

Despite how bad everything is going, Saubon is happy. He got what he wanted. He won’t be king long at this rate. But he’ll hold it for as long as he can.

Well, Saubon, you will be damned. Maybe not for what you did by betraying Kellhus, but by all the acts of your life. You will suffer an eternity of torment, buried in the mud of Mengedda, wracked by your guilt.

Kellhus was never there, he’s hallucinating out of guilt. Perhaps he had this conversation with Kellhus, or perhaps he’s spent enough time with the Dûnyain to know the sort of words he would say, the Truths that Saubon tries so hard to deny in his heart. But Truths he knows because of Kellhus before.

Also notice it is Kellhus beating him at the end of this section. “But the gold-ringed fists kept falling. They would never stop.” No longer is he haunted by his actual father’s beatings, but by the metaphysical beatings of the prophet he’s betrayed, as seen by the haloed hands administering his current beatings.

We see Kellhus is deep in the probability trances for days trying to find a way out. He doesn’t.

Esmenet finding baby Moënghus’s eyes unnerving is a subtle reminder to who his real father is.

Serwë’s faith in Kellhus is absolute. I’ve often wondered about what Serwë did to earn damnation. And I think this is it. She put her faith in a man and not in one of the gods. She believed in Kellhus, and it earned her damnation for it. Perhaps this is part of what motivates Kellhus in his plan going forward. After all, he ensured she’d die so Esmenet would live in case Kellhus survived crossing death to reach his destination.

Esmenet spells it out though. Kellhus has found the Shortest Path. Submitting to the Circumflex. Just like he saw in a vision at far earlier in the novel. Possibly given to him by Ajolki, the horned god. The god of murder. The trickster.

Then we do the literary equivalent of the smash cut to Kellhus being condemned. As a reader, you expect Kellhus to somehow talk his way out of this, to plead his case, to win over his enemies. And it is taken away, witnessed from the one person who has the most faith in Kellhus: Serwë.

All things both sacred and vile speak to the hearts of Men, and they are bewildered, and holding out their hands to darkness, they name it light.” This quote from the Tusk is very telling. The Inchoroi wrote the tusk, twisting the beliefs of the humans to their own end. This maybe one of their verses put in there to muddy the waters even more by making sacred and vile equals.

And even in the midst of his last attempt to stop the circumflex, Kellhus is planting the seeds for Cnaiür’s intervention. After all, the Scylvendi is about to lose his prize, the reason he betrayed Kellhus to begin with. And at the hands of another “lie made flesh” like he fought at Anwurat.

Innocence is slain, throat slit, her blood allowed to pour out like dark wine. The heroine of a thousand fantasy stories, the beautiful maiden who’s the lover of our hero, executed. Condemned to torment for believing in him. Seduced by the Dûnyain’s lies.

But she had one child born pink.

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 21
Caraskand

Welcome to Chapter Twenty-One of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Twenty!

And We will give over all of them, slain, to the children of Eänna; you shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire. You shall bathe your feet in the blood of the wicked.

TRIBES 21:13, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

My Thoughts

The Gods are promising vengeance on the enemies of their people. This is what the Holy War is doing to the Fanim. This is showing us how religion can be used to create such brutal, bloody wars and shows us how that what is happening in the present has happened into the past.

So for context, The Chronicle of the Tusk is the scriptures written around the Tusk, the giant mammoth tusk inscribed with words from the gods (but is actually from the Inchoroi manipulating the humans of Eänna to invade Eärwa and destroy the Nonmen). It resembles the Old Testament in that it appears both as a religious document and a historical document about the men of Eänna. Tribes refers to the five tribes of humans dwelling in Eänna: the Norsirai, the Ketyai, the Scylvendi, the Satyothi (found in southern Nilnamesh and Zeüm), and the Xiuhianni (who didn’t cross the mountains and still live in Eänna).

Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Caraskand

Saubon heads into Proyas’s camp full of elation. He believes Caraskand will be his, the kingdom he’s been craving since the Holy War began. He shouts for Proyas and is shocked when the Conryian prince pulls back his tent flap and reveals himself sick and shivering. Embarrassed, Saubon apologizes. He thought Proyas had recovered. Proyas says that by standing he proves his recovery, though he still is sick. He is impatient, wanting Saubon to come to the point and ask his one question.

Saubon wants to know if Proyas will support his bid to be king of Caraskand if he delivers the city. Proyas asks how. This makes Proyas become more lucid and attentive, a strength rising in him. He promises to support the bid.

Saubon raised his face and his arms to the menacing sky and howled out his battle cry. The rains plummeted upon him, rinsed him in soothing cold, fell between his lips and teeth and tasted of honey. He’d tumbled in the breakers of circumstance, so violently that mere months ago he’d thought he would die. Then he’d met Kellhus, the Warrior-Prophet, the man who’d set him onto the path toward his own heart, and he’d survived calamities that could break ten lesser men. And now this, the lifelong moment come at last. It seemed a giddy, impossible thing.

It seemed a gift.

Rain, so heartbreakingly sweet after Khemema. Beads pattered against his forehead, cheeks, and closed eyes. He shook water from his matted hair.

King… I will be King at last.

Proyas asks Cnaiür why he’s so silent. They’re in Proyas’s pavilion and Cnaiür realizes Proyas has been planning while convalescing. Cnaiür is confused by it, and Proyas points out how Cnaiür changed at Anwurat, wants to know what happened.

Proyas was still sick—grievously so, it appeared. He sat bundled beneath wool blankets in a camp chair, his normally hale face drawn and pale. In any other man, Cnaiür would have found such weakness disgusting, but Proyas wasn’t any other man. Over the months the young prince had come to command something troubling within him, a respect not fit for a fellow Scylvendi, let alone an outlander. Even sick he seemed regal.

He’s just another Inrithi dog!

Cnaiür says nothing. But Proyas presses, asking why he ran and disappeared. He doesn’t know what to say. To admit he went mad. He has spent nights trying to understand what had happened. He has memories of killing a skin-spy with Kellhus’s face, then the beach. “He could remember a thousand different things, but they all seemed stolen, like stories told by a childhood friend.”

Cnaiür had lived the greater part of his life with madness. He heard the way his brothers spoke, he understood how they thought, but despite endless recriminations, despite years of roaring shame, he couldn’t market hose words and thoughts his own. He was a fractious and mutinous soul. Always one thought, one hunger, too many! But no matter how far his soul wandered from the tracks of the proper, he’d always borne witness to its treachery—he’d always known the measure of his depravity. His confusion had been that of one who watches the madness of another. How? he would cry. How could these thoughts be mine?

He had always owned his madness.

But at Anwurat, that had changed. The watcher within h ad collapsed, and for the first time his madness had owned him. For weeks he’d been little more than a corpse bound to a maddened horse. How his soul had galloped!

Cnaiür questions how this is any of Proyas’s business since he’s not a client of Proyas. Proyas counters that he’s an important advisor especially with the loss of Xinemus. Cnaiür belittles himself, but is cut off when Proyas brings up Cnaiür saving him in the desert.

Cnaiür quashed the sudden yearning that filled him. For some reason, he missed the desert—far more than the Steppe. What was it? Was it the anonymity of footsteps, the impossibility of leaving track or trail? Was it respect? The Carathay had killed far more than he… Or had his heart recognized itself in her desolation.

So many cursed questions! Shut up! Shut—

Cnaiür says he saved Proyas to preserve his own station in the Holy War. He regrets the words, realizing it made him sound like he needed Proyas (the truth) as opposed to the dismissal he meant. Proyas looks frustrated then says Conphas called a secret meeting about Kellhus, which Cnaiür hadn’t heard of. Proyas asks if Cnaiür still speaks to Kellhus. He doesn’t. Proyas asks what happened. He says because of Serwë and memories of finding her beaten float up, puzzling him. He thinks of her as his mistake. He doesn’t understand why he took her with them after killing the Munuäti back in the Steppes. It was stupid to take her on the trail even with her beauty. She was a prize lesser chieftains would flaunt. And meanwhile, he was hunting Moënghus.

No. The answer was plain: he’d taken her because of Kellhus. Hadn’t he?

She was my proof.

Before finding her, he’d spent weeks alone with the man—weeks alone with a Dûnyain. Now, after watching the inhuman fiend devour heart after Inrithi heart, it scarcely seemed possible he’d survived. The bottomless scrutiny. The narcotic voice. The demonic truths… How could he not take Serwë after enduring such an ordeal? Besides beautiful she was simple, honest, passionate—everything Kellhus wasn’t. He warred against a spider. How could he not crave the company of flies?

Yes… That was it! He’d taken her as a landmark, as a reminder of what was human. He should’ve known she’d become a battleground instead.

He used her to drive me mad!

Proyas is shocked that it was a woman, that Cnaiür would be so caught up in her. This makes Cnaiür bristle. Proyas then comments about the madness about Kellhus. Though thousands flock to him, the man who knew him longest can’t stand him. Cnaiür reiterates because he stole his woman. Proyas asks if he loved Serwë. Cnaiür considers it. He knows that men beat their sons as proxies for their fathers, but why did they beat their wives. He wonders if he beat Serwë to bruise Kellhus.

Where Kellhus caressed, Cnaiür had slapped. Where Kellhus whispered, Cnaiür had screamed. The more the Dûnyain compelled love, the more he exacted terror, and without any true understanding of what he did. At the time, she simply deserved his fury. Wayward bitch! he would think. How could you? How could you?

Did he love her? Could he?

Perhaps in a world without Moënghus…

Cnaiür declares he owned her. Proyas asks if that’s it? Cnaiür nearly laughs, unable to express “the sum for what he felt.” Proyas is unnerved by Cnaiür’s silence. The Scylvendi responds with being offended by the interrogation. Proyas needs to know the truth. “What would these dogs make of the truth?” Cnaiür thinks. He asks which truth? Cnaiür can’t answer if Kellhus is a prophet. Proyas sits heavily in his chair. He had hoped Cnaiür could. But this isn’t the reason he summoned Cnaiür.

Cnaiür realizes Conphas has approached Proyas about moving against Kellhus. He finds himself wondering why he keeps lying for Kellhus since he doesn’t believe the Dûnyain will honor their agreement. “So just what did he believe?”

Proyas explains that Saubon has exchanged letters and hostages with a Kianene officer named Kepfet ab Tanaj. This man has a grudge against Imbeyan that he’s willing to offer up a section of wall near a postern gate to Saubon’s forces. Cnaiür is surprised Proyas wants his opinion after Anwurat. In fact, Proyas wants more than Cnaiür’s counsel. He wants Cnaiür to go with Saubon, which Cnaiür interprets as he’s the most expendable person Proyas trusts. But Proyas sees that realization and adds he would send Xinemus if he were still here.

Cnaiür studied him closely. “You fear this may be a trap… That Saubon might be deceived.”

Proyas chewed at the inside of his cheek, nodded. “An entire city for the life of one man? No hatred could be so great.”

Cnaiür did not bother contradicting him.

Cnaiür is moving along Caraskand’s walls with Saubon and his men, thinking about how he needs to be useful for Kellhus again, his madness lifting. Saubon grabs his shoulder, grinning. Cnaiür, though respecting Saubon’s fighting skill, doesn’t like or trust him. “The man had, after all, kenneled with the Dûnyain’s other dogs.” Saubon asks, as they are no on the wall, if Cnaiür still doubts him. Cnaiür never doubted Saubon, only Kepfet.”

The Galeoth Prince’s grin broadened. “Truth shines,” he said.

Cnaiür squashed the urge to sneer. “So do pigs’ teeth.”

He spat across the ancient stonework. There was no escaping the Dûnyain—not any more. It sometimes seemed the abomination spoke from every mouth, watched from all eyes. And it was only getting worse.

Something… There must be something I can do!

But Cnaiür has no idea. He knows their agreement was a farce, that Kellhus wouldn’t honor any agreement unless it served his mission. And Cnaiür squandered every tool he had. He didn’t even have his reputation after running at Anwurat. And then it hits him and he gasps aloud, Saubon shooting him a look of alarm. Cnaiür realizes he can keep his silence about Kellhus. The only thing he has left to trade to the Dûnyain.

Saubon leads the force onward. They creep along the battlement to the guard tower. Here they would learn if Kepfet really meant to betray Caraskand. Cnaiür grabs the door, pulls the handle. It opens. Whispering “Die or conquer!” he charges into the tower. The move through the narrow corridors of the gatehouse and they reach a door, light bleeding through along with people talking. Saubon whispers that the God has given him this place. Cnaiür asks how he knows.

“I know!”

The Dûnyain had told him. Cnaiür was certain of it.

“You brought Kepfet to Kellhus…. Didn’t you?”

He let the Dûnyain read his face.

Saubon grin and snort is the answer Cnaiür needs. Then he knocks on the door. A Kianene soldier opens the door and is killed by Saubon. Cnaiür and Saubon charge in, killing the shocked Kianene. Cnaiür sees a youth flee from the room, doesn’t follow. The room secure, Saubon orders the gate to be open. Saubon orders the rest of the gatehouse, including the murder holes, taken. His men yelling, “Die or conquer!” Cnaiür spots the same Kianene boy begging for mercy. Cnaiür hesitates. Then a Galeoth comes up and butchers the youth, saying “Truth shines!” to Cnaiür. Cnaiür kills the Galeoth man in a brutal fashion.

I am stronger!

The twitching thing slouched to the ground, drained across the Men of the Tusk.

Cnaiür stood, his chest heaving, blood streaming in rivulets across the iron scales of his harness. The very world seemed to move, so great was the rush of arms and men beneath him.

Yes, the madness was lifting.

War horns sound across Caraskand. As dawn arrives, wreathed in fog, the citizens of the city crowd the rooftops to see what is happening. They witness smoke in the eastern quarters of the city. They understand what it means. Kianene horseman charge through the street riding down their own people to get to the battle. Soon, the watching citizens see the Inrithi pressing into the city.

Saubon’s men race through the streets to seize the Gate of the Horns. They succeed after fierce fighting. His men are pressed hard, even with his reinforcements coming in through the postern gate. But they hold long enough to open the gates. Athjeäri and his Gaenrish knights charge in first, followed by the Conryians. Proyas is carried in on a litter. This routs the Kianene and the city is lost.

The looting begins. Slave girls are claimed, families are murdered, houses are ransacked. “The Men of the Tusk rifled through ancient Caraskand, leaving behind them scattered clothes and broken chests, death and fire.” They encounter pockets of resistance throughout the city, the greatest in the large market squares and around the important buildings. The Fanim Tabernacles are sacked, all worshipers inside murdered. Children are ripped from their mothers arms and murdered before the women are raped before their dying husbands. “Moved by the God’s own fury, they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of sharp sword.”

The anger of the God burned bright against the people of Caraskand.

The Synthese flies over Caraskand at dawn, watching the city being sacked. He watches Kellhus being chased by the skin-spy Gaörta (Sarcellus) and his brothers. They are trying to kill Kellhus. He flees across rickety roofs. He jumps, leaps, and pirouettes through danger, even landing amid Kianene soldiers and darting away before they can react.

What was this man? Who were the Dûnyain?

These are the questions that needed to be answered. According to Gaörta, the man’s Zaudunyani, his “tribe of truth,” numbered in the tens of thousands. It was only a matter of weeks, Gaörta insisted, before the Holy War succumbed to him entirely. But the questions these facts raises were overmatched by the perils. Nothing could interfere with the Holy War’s mission. Shimeh must be taken. The Cishaurim must be destroyed!

But despite the questions, Kellhus had to be killed for “reasons that transcended their war against the Cishaurim.” The Synthese finds his name, Anasûrimbor, more troubling than his preternatural abilities. The Consult thought the Celmomian Prophecy false, but now that they were so near the “End of Ends” they can’t take chances with Kellhus. “One did not gamble with such things.” They would kill him and seize Cnaiür, Esmenet, and Serwë for questioning. The Synthese sees the skin-spies closing in, things it is over.

The Warrior-Prophet… The Old Name had already decided he would couple with his corpse.

Kellhus is running, thinking the skin-spies are too fast. When Kellhus plunges into a pitch-black basement, the skin-spies hesitate. “All eyes need light,” Kellhus thinks. Here, he makes his stand, drawing his sword and standing motionless in the corner. He hears them enter, spreading out through the darkness.

“I’ve tasted both of your peaches,” the one called Sarcellus said—to mask the sounds of the others, Kellhus realized. “I tasted them long and hard—did you know that? I made them squeal…”

“You lie!” Kellhus cried in mimicry of desperate fury. He heard the skin-spies pause, then close on the corner where he’d thrown his voice.

“Both were sweet,” Sarcellus called, “and so very juicy… The man, they say, ripens the peach.”

Kellhus strikes, killing a skin-spy without making a sound. Sarcellus keeps laughing, saying Kellhus was twice cuckolded. Kellhus guts another while a third screams out that Kellhus plays with them. Sarcellus orders them to use their noses. The dying skin-spy flops and flails, screaming in “demonic voices” as it dies. Just like Kellhus hoped. Then he takes off his robe to use as a scent trap. It works, and he kills two more. Sarcellus attack misses him and then he flees, the last one left alive.

How are such creatures possible? What do you know of them, Father?

Retrieving his long-pommeled sword, Kellhus struck off the living skin-spy’s head. Sudden silence. He wrapped it, still streaming blood, in his slashed robe.

Then he climbed back toward slaughter and daylight.

Ikurei Conphas assails the Citadel of the Dog, the key to holding the city. It’s his first act upon entering the city. Saubon and Gothyelk realizes this and join Conphas in the assault since neither were “so foolish as to leave such a prize to the Exalt-General.” Serge engines used to attack the city walls are brought in to assault the fortification. Saubon takes a Kianene arrow in the thigh during the assault.

But despite fierce Kianene resistance, the Tydonni gain the western wall and dislodge the Kianene, forcing them into the courtyard. But the Tydonni hold and allow reinforcements to follow them up. The Inrithi look on the verge of taking the fortress.

Then came a light more blinding than the sun. Men cried out, pointing to mad, saffron-robed figures hanging between the towers of the black keep. Eyeless Cishaurim, each with two snakes wrapped about their throats.

Threads of unholy incandescence waved across the outer wall like ropes in water. Stone cracked beneath the flashing heat. Hauberks were welded to skin. The Tydonni crouched beneath their great tear-shaped shields, leaning against the light, shouting in horror and outrage before being swept away. The Agmundrmen fired vainly at the floating abominations. Teams of Chorae Crossbowmen watched bolt after bolt whistle wide because of the range.

The Tydonni knights are massacred and routed, fleeing down the ladders or jumping on fire from the battlements. Gothyelk’s standard is consumed. Gothyelk is dragged away mad with grief, his youngest son killed. The Inrithi withdraw and send a message to the Scarlet Spire that the Cishaurim hold the Citadel of the Dog.

Kellhus, still carrying the skin-spy’s head, steps over the corpse of a raped woman to find a perch to survey the city. As he surveys the destruction, he reflects that he is so close to Shimeh and completing his mission.

He dumps out the skin-spy’s head, studying it. He knows sorcery didn’t make them, but created by the Inchoroi “the way swords were fashioned by Men.” He finds this remarkable.

Weapons. And the Consult had finally wielded them.

Wars within wars. It has finally come to this.

Kellhus has given orders to his Zaudunyani since the fight, ordering them to secure the palace he’s in and bring his wives from the camp. Further, he wants the Zaudunyani watching the known skin-spies to act. “They Holy War must be purged.”

The Scarlet Spire’s attack on the Citadel of the Dog begins, their sorcery ripping apart the fortress’s walls. He watches the destruction, the Scarlet Spire Schoolmen floating in the air. Several are killed by Chorae bowmen. “Hellish lights scourged the ramparts.”

The song of the Scarlet Schoolmen trailed. The thunder rumbled into the distance. For several heartbeats, all Caraskand stood still.

The fortress walls steamed with the smoke of burning flesh.

The Schoolmen advance, walking on the “ground’s echo in the sky.” Kellhus thinks they’re searching or waiting for something. Then the Cishaurim attack from the rubble. Sorcery is exchanged, more destruction happens.

Kellhus watched, wondering at the spectacle and at the promise of deeper dimensions of understanding. Sorcery was the only unconquered knowledge, the last remaining bastion of world-born secrets. He was one of the Few—as Achamian both feared and hope. What kind of power would he wield?

And his father, who was Cishaurim, what king of power did he already wield?

The sorcery battle continues. Kellhus ponders “how could words come before?” Then Kellhus spots a surviving Cishaurim fleeing the citadel. The Cishaurim isn’t escaping, Kellhus realizes, but coming for him. Kellhus thinks this might be his father, and grips his Chorae, one of two his Zaudunyani had given him. Kellhus is surprised by this action. But the Cishaurim is too young to be his father. The Cishaurim descends to Kellhus, calling him by name.

“I am Hifanat ab Tunukri,” the eyeless man said breathlessly, “a Dionoratë of the tribe Indara-Kishauri… I bear a message from your Father. He says, ‘You walk the Shortest Path. Soon you will grasp the Thousandfold Thought.”

Father?

Sheathing his sword, Kellhus opened himself to every outward sign the man offered. He saw desperation and purpose. Purpose above all…

Kellhus asked how Hifanat found him. The Cishaurim says that all who serve Moënghus, the Possessors of the Third Sight, can see Kellhus. Kellhus realizes his father controls a faction within the Cishaurim. Kellhus asks his fathers intentions, but Hifanat doesn’t know, saying there wouldn’t be time for him to tell if he did. Kellhus interprets this as his father knowing he’s an assassin and has to be certain of Kellhus’s intentions.

Then Hifanat adds that the Padirajah himself leads the army marching from the south and is almost upon the city. Kellhus realizes that with the Padirajah coming, the Consult attacking, and the Great Names plotting he is being overwhelmed. He wants his father to know that. But the Citadel of the Dog collapses and three Scarlet Schoolmen approach, so Hifanat cannot carry any messages.

“The Whores come,” the eyeless man said. “You must kill men.”

In a single motion Kellhus drew his blade. Though the man seemed oblivious, the closer asp reared as though drawn back by a string.

“The Logos,” Hifanat said, his voice quavering, “is without beginning or end.”

Kellhus kills the man and cuts in half one of his snakes. The other flees into the garden. Smoke rises from the destroyed Citadel of the Dog.

The city burns, but nothing as badly as the Citadel of the Dog. From a hill to the south, Kascamandri ab Tepherokar, the High Padirajah of Kian and all the Cleansed Lands, cries as he watches, his face otherwise hardened. He had refused to believe his son-in-law Imbeyan could lose the city. His eyes prove his beliefs wrong. He tells his Grandees that they shall avenge the city. He fears telling his daughter about her husband even as Imbeyan is killed trying to flee the city. Gotian has Imbeyan’s body hung from a tree.

Esmenet is relieved to see Kellhus in the mansion, rushing to him and embracing him. For her and Serwë, the joy they felt at seeing the city fall was soon banished by the news of the assassination attempt. They learn about “devils” who attacked him. Kellhus chuckles when she asks about that, saying they weren’t devils. She presses him for information.

Kellhus gently pushed her back. “We’ve endured much,” he said, stroking her cheek. He seemed to be watching more than looking… She understood the implied question: How strong are you?

“Kellhus?”

“The trial is about to begin, Esmi. The true trial.”

A horror like no other shuddered through her. Not you! she inwardly cried. Never you!

He had sounded afraid.

Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Bay of Trantis

Achamian stares at the calm waters, reflecting on this could be his life. “Aside from the wonder, there was never any answers.” According to Ajencis, this reflection, termed possessing in dispossession, is the heart of wisdom and “the most reliable mark of an enlightened soul.” Without reflection, “one simply stumbled through a dream.”

Xinemus asks Achamian what everyone sees as their ship sails through the bay. Achamian responds that they see burned ships, the remains of the Nansur fleet destroyed by the Cishaurim. When Iyokus told Achamian about this, it was where “he’d stopped fearing for himself and had started fearing for Esmenet.” He gives a prayer to Kellhus to keep her safe. Xinemus asks for a description of the wreckage.

“The Cishaurim burned everything,” Achamian replied.

He paused, almost overcome by a visceral reluctance to say anything more. It seemed blasphemous, somehow, rendering a thing like this in words—a sacrilege. But then such was the case whenever one described another’s loss. There was no way around words.

He does describe it anyways. They are joined by the ship’s captain, Meümaras. Achamian has liked the Captain since they met in Iothiah. The captain explains how this was out of their way, but he had to see it. Achamian realizes the Captain lost someone in the Nansur fleet. Captains says his brother. Further, tens of thousands of sailors survived the attack because they moored close to shore. But the desert killed them. Their bones litter the beaches for miles. The captain says no one survived.

Achamian stiffened, struck by what was now an old fear. Despite the desert air, a clamminess crept over his skin. “The Holy War survived,” he said.”

The Captain frowned, as though put off by something in Achamian’s tone. He opened his mouth in retort, but then paused, his eyes suddenly thoughtful.

“You fear you’ve lost someone as well.” He glanced yet again at Xinemus.

“No,” Achamian said. She’s alive! Kellhus has saved her!

The captain hopes Achamian is right, but his tone implies he’s not. The captain then says that the there’s never been a greater shedding of blood than the Holy War. “Achamian knew different” and resents the captain’s presence. Xinemus asks why the captain thinks that. Because of Craziness, disease, disastrous, the Padirajah’s new army. Xinemus dismisses it with bitterness.

Achamian now heard dread in Xinemus’s every word. It was as though something horrific loomed in the blackness, something he feared might recognize the sound of his voice. As the weeks passed it was becoming more and more apparent: the Scarlet Spires had taken more than his eyes; they had taken the light and devilry that had once filled them as well. With the Cants of Compulsion, Iyokus had moved Xinemus’s soul in perverse ways, had forced him to betray both dignity and love. Achamian had tried to explain that it wasn’t he who’d thought those thoughts, who’d uttered those words, but it didn’t matter. As Kellhus said, men couldn’t see what moved them. The frailties Xinemus had witnessed were his frailties. Confronted by the true dimensions of wickedness, he’d held his own infirmity accountable.

The Captain brings up rumors of a new prophet, and Achamian leaps at this, asking who it is. The man says someone called Kelah who found water in the desert. Achamian is certain Kellhus lives, which means Esmenet also lives. He’s relieved for both of them, he realizes, almost swooning but is steadied by the captain.

Esmenet and Kellhus. They lived! The woman who could save his heart, and the man who could save the world…

Xinemus is happy for Achamian, saying Esmenet will be joyful at their reunion. Achamian is struck by this moment of compassion from a man who suffered so much. Being reminded of his friend’s pain, anger grows at Iyokus.

“There will be fire when I return, Zin.”

He swept his dry eyes across the wrecked warships of the Imperial Fleet. Suddenly they looked more a transition and less an end—like the carapaces of monstrous beetles.

The red-throated gulls kept jealous watch.

“Fire,” he said.

My Thoughts

Proyas’s men aren’t holding watch in the rain. He thinks of Proyas as soft-hearted. I point this out, because the Great Ordeal has more interaction between these two men and we are already seeing here how Saubon has a low opinion of Proyas.

Great start to the chapter. After a siege that has last about two months (another month has passed since the last chapter, it seems) finally there is a way to break the siege and change the war’s fortunes. Saubon is the one most motivated to get in, to get his dream of being king, makes sense that he’d find it. He wants this badly. Conphas, in his mind, cheated him out of Shigek.

We’re back to Cnaiür. He’s been scarce since Anwurat. Only one POV of him picking up Proyas in the desert. Despite trying to fight it, trying to be of the People, he can’t help liking Proyas and feeling pity for the man as he battles his sickness. He respects Proyas in ways he wouldn’t respect a fellow Scylvendi. This is the last reread post I will write before The Unholy Consult comes out in the states. I am curious what will happen if (or when) Proyas and Cnaiür encounter each other. They’re both heading to the same place leading armies.

The way Cnaiür thinks about the madness he felt sounds like a dissociative break. Where he felt like another person had done those things, hence feeling like his memories were someone else’s tale. It started when he failed to save the woman and her child, that moment when she burned. And then killing the skin-spy and not understanding what was going on there, leading to the moment he knows he’s useless. That Kellhus will kill him. And then didn’t.

I think it’s all of the reasons Cnaiür thinks he might like the desert, recognizing himself in it. The desert has no pretense, no lies making it anything other than what it is. It’s what Cnaiür wishes he could be, truly himself, but can’t. He has to plant the grass of the Steppes over his truth, and it’s such maddening work to keep that grass alive.

Cnaiür, with distance between himself and Serwë, is finally thinking clearly. Just like he did after he realized Moënghus used him as a boy to escape, he now understands just what Kellhus did to him. How despite his best efforts, he was manipulated. Cnaiür is beginning to understand the darkness that comes before, the impulses that despite his best effort, Kellhus manipulated and set into motion.

Men, the memorialists said, often strike their sons to bruise their fathers.” Domestic violence, as Erin Pizzy the founder of the first domestic violence shelter teaches, is something children are taught by their parents. Boys and girls both. They learn it and if they aren’t taught differently, they will go on to beat their spouses and children. If a son’s father beats him, he’s likely to beat his children. If a mother slaps her husband all the time, her daughter’s likely to slap her husband. The Scylvendi understand this.

Cnaiür can’t betray Kellhus, though he’s close, because of Moënghus. As Cnaiür admits here, he loves the man but he also hates him. He has to find him. He’ll do anything to do it. Even continue hoping a Dûnyain won’t betray him.

This Kepfet ab Tanaj is a mirror to Cnaiür. The Scylvendi abandoned his people when they were weak, knowing other tribes would kill them, capture his beloved Anissi, and did not think twice. His hatred was all that mattered. Just like with this Kepfet. This talk of hate spurs Cnaiür into wondering how he can become useful for Kellhus again so he can get to Moënghus.

We need to talk about Bakker’s exclamation point. “Whispering, ‘Die or conquer!’ he slipped…” I know I use too many exclamation points in my writing, but Bakker loves them. He used one as Saubon is whispering! That’s the opposite of when you get to use them, Bakker. Ever since developing my own writing career, I’ve really started to notice the more technical aspects of writing, and every author has their little quirks. Exclamation points are Bakker’s. Still love his writing, but sometimes…

Foeman. I need to remember that word for writing.

Cnaiür shows another moment of mercy and again fails to save the person he spared. But this time he can inflict his anger on the person responsible instead of being forced to flee the Scarlet Spire Schoolmen.

And we see the horror of warfare. The looting. The infliction of wrongs on the conquered motivated by the need to right perceived crimes by the attackers. To take out their frustrations on suffering for so long. It takes real discipline in an army to keep this from happening, and the leaders of the Holy War don’t care to do so.

Moved by the God’s own fury” is how the Inrithi see themselves. They have scapegoated their crimes they commit onto the God, just like we see with the passage from Tribes. This is how they justify their terrible actions. For a human to do harm to another, he just needs an excuse, a lie to tell himself, to justify it. Our tribal nature makes us very prone to in-group, out-group think. And once you believe someone’s in the out-group, it’s easy to do harm against them.

So we have confirmation from the Syntheses that the Second Apocalypse approaches. We’ve only had Achamian’s insistence thus far that it did. But the End of Ends is coming. Also note how the Consult has dismissed the Celmomian Prophecy. In The White-Luck Warrior, a skin-spy tells Mimara that all prophecies, even the false, have to be respected. I have a feeling that Achamian’s appearance has caused the Consult to view any prophecy now as a possibility.

And we get more disturbing sexy times from an Inchoroi as the Syntheses is eager for necrophilia.

So, Kellhus can throw his voice. I bet he’d make a great ventriloquist.

Dûnyain never fight fair. He couldn’t take the skin-spies five-on-one where they could see. But he had trained in the Thousand Thousand Halls of Ishuäl, a dark labyrinth as we see in The Great Ordeal. It is never lit save for certain rooms. There are no markings on the walls, either. Dûnyain have to master navigating through the darkness or be lost in there and perish.

I talked about lack of discipline among the Holy War. Ikurei Conphas is the exception. He has his men disciplined. He ignores lotting the city for taking the vital military target of the Citadel of the Dog.

Having sorcerers hold a fortress is a great plan. As we saw, they let the Inrithi gain the walls before being unleashed, inflicting a great number of casualties. More than if they assaulted the army outside the wall.

Kellhus’s desire for sorcery is verging on true emotion. You can feel the envy he has for it, muted, but there, wondering what he could do with this knowledge.

So Kellhus learns the reason his father summoned him. To grasp the Thousandfold Thought, the goal of the Dûnyain. Based off the “Father?” thought Kellhus has, this is not something he considered. His father is still Dûnyain, still striving for their goals even though he was banished from Ishuäl. In fact he seems to think being away from Ishuäl is the only way to grasp it. Further, he must have failed to grasp it himself because he’s summoned Kellhus. In the process, he has conditioned the ground before Kellhus, manufacturing the Holy War, so Kellhus will be tested. We also see Moënghus has his own Zaudunyani faction, the Possessors of the Third Sight. Something special, something that sets them apart from the other Cishaurim, turning their loyalties from the Solitary God and the Fanim people to Moënghus.

A nice bit of characterization when Hifanat is about to die. Though he knows the necessity, he’s still afraid, his voice quavering.

Kellhus now knows with the consult attacking him, the great names plotting, and the Padirajah’s army about to besiege the newly captured city, there is no escaping the Circumfix. So he prepares Esmenet in the hopes he can survive it. Not only is this the shortest path, but it’s the only one left to him. He’s at his limits of his ability to cope with the situation.

I think we all have that moment Achamian has, wondering how our lives brought us to such a point, baffled by it whether by success or failure.

Great imagery on the destroyed fleet.

Poor Xinemus. To be used that way and not even be able to realize it. You’ve seen compulsion in many fantasy stories, but never one as horrible as Bakker’s. It’s one thing to be compelled to do something, but to not even realize you’re being compelled… It leaves you thinking you are capable of those acts.

Powerful moment for Achamian realizing that Esmenet lives. And that he also cares for Kellhus. But poor Achamian, Esmenet won’t save his heart. She won’t let those emotions come out of him like he needs. She’s moved on to Kellhus. The two people he’s most desperate to see have betrayed him.

We get to see a glimpse of the old Xinemus in that moment of realization and joy for Achamian. A last flicker of a dying fire before being snuffed out entirely.

To keep reading, click here for Chapter Twenty-Two!

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Review: Thief of the Night Guild (Queen of Thieves 2)

Thief of the Night Guild (Queen of Thieves 2)

by Andy Peloquin

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The Night Guild controls all crime in the city of Praamis. This brutal organization trains its members from childhood, pushing them through a gauntlet of pain and torment to harden them and make them hungry to steal, to kill, or do what else the Guild requires.

Ilanna survived their training. Now five years older from the events of Child of the Night Guild, Ilanna puts all her skills towards one task: protecting her young son. A son the Night Guild doesn’t know about. And she plans on keeping it that way. There’s only one way to do it. She’ll have to buy her way out of the Night Guild.

But the Night Guild doesn’t easily let go of useful tools. She will need to pull of a burglary of such prestige, of such wealth, to win her freedom. And Ilanna is nothing if not daring. She has a plan to not only destroy the most dangerous threat to the Night Guild in Praamis but to earn millions.

And it will require doing the impossible.

Peloquin shifts gears with this book. While the last one was more biopic, following GiRL from the age of seven until her early twenties as she has her ups and downs dealing with her rival, the brutal Sabot, this book is a heist thriller through and through. And with all the grimdark fantasy elements Peloquin is so skilled at balancing.

Thief of the Night Guild is a riveting read, keeping you following the intricacies of Ilanna plan as she has to overcome new obstacles, deal with dubious allies, and race against the clock to get everything ready for her window. Because if she doesn’t, more than she will pay the price.

Peloquin is swiftly joining my ranks of must-read fantasy authors.

I was given an ARC, but I liked it so much I bought the story.

You can buy Thief of the Night Guild form Amazon!

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