Tag Archives: Fantasy

Review: Into the Black

Into the Black (The Monster Series Book 2)

by Amber Naralim

Reviewed by JMD Reid

B01GHPCMYI.01.LZZZZZZZNaralim picks up right where Walking with Monsters ended. Ellie and Vincent have accomplished their mission. They have rescued Michael, Ellie’s brother, from the Foundation’s lab. But he has been changed, infected with the same virus that has made Vincent into a unstoppable killing machine.

A monster.

But that’s the least of their problems. During the breakout, Ellie freed more than her brother. Now other monsters our on the prowl, deadly and dangerous creatures that hunger for human flesh. But before they can correct her mistake and round up these creatures, they need to deal with Reese.

Vincent’s brother Reese, also transformed into a monster in WWII, is looking for vengeance. Vincent burned him a live sixty years ago, leaving Reese in agony until he healed. Burning his brother drove Vincent mad, and Ellie doesn’t want that to happen to the monster she loves again.

So she has a plan. A dangerous, deadly plan. It’s an Ellie plan, so what can go wrong?

Into the Black is a great follow-up to Walking with Monsters, expanding the world’s mythology and exploring more about the background of Vincent and his brother. The book is a fast paced thriller, full of twists and turns and romance. Naralim blends realistic violence (our heroes do not get through gunfights unscathed) and supernatural horror together to make a wonderful tale. I eagerly await to see where she is taking this series next.

If you’re a fan of Urban Fantasy, with a touch of horror and plenty of romance, then check out Naralim’s Monster series. You will not be disappointed.

You can buy Into the Black from Amazon.

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Thirteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 4
The Warrior
Chapter 13
The Hethanta Mountains

Welcome to Chapter Thirteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Twelve!

Even the hard-hearted avoid the heat of desperate men. For the bonfires of the weak crack the most stone.

Conriyan Proverb

So who were the heroes and the cravens of the Holy War? There are already songs enough to answer that question. Needless to say, the Holy War provided further violent proof of Ajencis’s old proverb, “Though all men be equally frail before the world, the differences between them are terrifying.”

Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the Holy War

My Thoughts

Stay away from people who are desperate. They will do stupid stuff and drag you down with them. It’s a good Proverb. These Conriyan are full of good advise. Of course, it is a warning to Kellhus, too. Cnaiür is a desperate man. Will Cnaiür crack Kellhus’s hearthstone and ruin everything? By the end of the chapter, Kellhus has plenty of reasons to kill Cnaiür, but stays his hand.

Achamian quote is obviously about the politics behind the Holy War, the differences between Cnaiür and Kellhus are terrifying to Cnaiür (and me). Glad I don’t have to deal with a Dûnyain.

Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Central Jiünati Steppe

Cnaiür and Kellhus encounter fewer tribesman then they would have before the disaster of Kiyuth. Those they do encounter are typically made up of youths. As they travel, Kellhus presses Cnaiür for information on Shimeh. Cnaiür informs him it is a holy city to the Inrithi but the Fanim captured it. The Fanim believe it is their mission to the destroy the Tusk and thus have been at war with the Nansur Empire for many years. Cnaiür tells Kellhus of when he lead the Utemot in battle against the Fanim at Zirkirta to the south.

Kellhus asks about the Tusk and Cnaiür explains it is the first scripture of Men and the Scylvendi followed it before the birth of Lokung, the Scylvendi’s now dead god. Kellhus asks about Lokung, and Cnaiür reveals that Lokung is the Scylvendi name for the No-God. Kellhus then asks if the Fanim will tolerate their presence. Cnaiür thinks that he is unsure because of the Holy War. The Fanim were supposedly very tolerant of Inrithi pilgrims to Shimeh before the Holy War. Because of this, Cnaiür has chosen to head to the Nansur Empire to learn more about the situation instead of striking southeast across the Steppes to Kian. Cnaiür tells Kellhus that Fanim are tolerant of pilgrims.

As they travel, Cnaiür constantly thinks of murdering Kellhus in his sleep, but fears he would never find Moënghus without him. Occasionally, Kellhus would break the silence by asking about sorcery, and Cnaiür, thinking it was harmless to speak of, would indulge Kellhus. After a few days, Cnaiür realized that Kellhus used the subject of sorcery to carefully guide the conversation to more important topics.

That night, Cnaiür tries to murder Kellhus but a “paroxysms of self-doubt and fury” seized him and he went back to his blankets. Weeks pass like this when they encounter the camp of that Akkunihor tribe in the shadow of the Hethanta Mountains. Xunnurit, King-of-the-Tribes, was the Chief of the Akkunihor. The camp was abandoned, dead. Kellhus asks what happened, and Cnaiür states “Ikurei Conphas.”

Then, with unaccountable certainty, he realized that Kellhus would kill him.

The mountains were looming, and the Steppe swept out behind them. Behind them. The son of Moënghus no longer needed him.

He’ll kill me while I sleep.

No. Such a thing could not happen. Not after traveling so far, after enduring so much! He must use the son to find the father. It was the only way!

We must cross the Hethantas,” he declared, pretending to survey the desolate yaksh.

They look formidable,” Kellhus replied.

They are . . . But I know the shortest way.”

They camped in an abandoned yaksh and Cnaiür ignored Kellhus and pondered his circumstances and question his own motives. He realizes how foolish it is to use a Dûnyain and crawls out into the Steppes to cry and beat the earth in fury while howls of wolves seemed to mock him.

Afterward, he put his lips to the earth and breathed. He could feel him listening from somewhere out there. He could feel him knowing.

What did he see?

It did not matter. The fire burned and it had to be fed.

On lies if need be.

Because the fire burned true. The fire alone.

So cold against swollen eyes. The Steppe. The trackless Steppe.

The next morning, they enter the foothills and encounter a group of Scylvendi returning from pilgrimage. A group breaks off to ride towards them while others guard a group of captives. Unlike other groups, these are young men, not youths, of the Munuäti tribe. Cnaiür remembers the Munuäti being decimated by the Imperial Saik. Their leader appears arrogant and Kellhus warns he “sees us as an opportunity to prove himself.”

Cnaiür tells Kellhus to be quite. The man introduces himself as Panteruth urs Mutkius and is distrustful of Cnaiür. He tells him there are rumors of Scylvendi spies for the Empire, which explains how they were defeated. An argument ensues and the man mocks Cnaiür. Cnaiür strikes Panteruth and then a fight breaks out.

Some charge at them while others fire arrows which Kellhus easily swats out of the sky. Cnaiür draws his own bow and uses his horse as cover and fires back while Kellhus faces eight charging Munuäti. Cnaiür momentarily thinks Kellhus is dead but Kellhus kills all of them. In the end, Cnaiür and Kellhus killed or incapacitated all the Munuäti save one who prepares to charge Kellhus.

Leaning into his lance, the horseman howled, giving voice to the Steppe’s fury through the thud of galloping hoofs. He knows, Cnaiür thought. Knows he’s about to die.

As he watched, the Dûnyain caught the iron tip of the man’s lance with his sword, guiding it to turf. The lance snapped, jerking the Munuäti back against his high cantle, and the Dûnyain leapt, impossibly throwing a sandaled foot over the horse’s head and kicking the rider square in the face. The man plummeted to the grasses, where his leathery tumble was stilled by the Dûnyain’s sword.

What manner of man. .?

Anasûrimbor Kellhus paused over the corpse, as though committing it to memory. Then he turned to Cnaiür. Beneath wind-tossed hair, streaks of blood scored his face, so that for a moment he possessed the semblance of expression. Beyond him, the dark escarpments of the Hethantas piled into the sky.

Cnaiür kills the wounded until only Panteruth is left. Cnaiür beats him and yells at him. “Spies! … A woman’s excuse!” Cnaiür beats and kicks the man, who weeps and cries out in pain before Cnaiür chokes the life out of the man. Kellhus watches and realizes that Cnaiür is mad. When Cnaiür finishes, Kellhus tells him the captives are all women. Cnaiür states that the women is “our prize.”

Serwë, one of the female captives, begs for Cnaiür’s help as he approaches. The other women huddled in fear behind her. Cnaiür just slaps her to the ground. Cnaiür and Kellhus make camp and Cnaiür claims Serwë as his prize because she reminds him of Anissi.

Kellhus feels a sense of outrage as he watches Cnaiür rape Serwë and wonders from what darkness the emotion came from. Kellhus believes something is happening to him. Kellhus observes that Serwë has suffered much and has learned to hide it. He watches as Cnaiür speaks to her in a foreign language that sounds like a threat. Then Cnaiür frees her.

You’ve freed her, then?” Kellhus asked, knowing this was not the case.

No. She bears different chains now.” After a moment he added, “Women are easy to break.”

He does not believe this.

Kellhus asks what language they spoke, and Cnaiür answers, Sheyic, the language of the Nansur Empire. Cnaiür says he questioned Serwë about the state of the Empire and learned that there is a Holy War against the Fanim to retake Shimeh. Kellhus instantly wonders if this is why his father summoned him. Kellhus asks what’s Serwë’s name. “I didn’t ask,” answers Cnaiür.

That night, as Cnaiür and Kellhus slumber, Serwë grabs a knife and goes to kill Cnaiür but is stopped by Kellhus who disarms her and pulls her away. He tells her his name and she replies with her own and starts to cry as he covers her gently with a blanket. She falls a sleep sobbing.

The next morning, Serwë’s continues to feel the dread she’s felt since she was capture by the Munuäti. She’s even more scared with Cnaiür. She felt utterly alone and thought her Gods had abandoned her. She watches Cnaiür walk to the other women, who, like Serwë, came from the Gaunum household. The women begin to plead with Cnaiür, including wives of several nobles who had hated Serwë. One had an ugly bruise on her face and asked Serwë to tell Cnaiür that she was beautiful. Serwë pretended not to hear, too scared.

Cnaiür draws his knife and the women think he means to kill them. He uses his knife to pry open their manacles and sets them free. He tells the women that others will find them and that he will shoot any who follow. Now the women begin to beg for him to stay. Others are envious that Serwë was staying with the Scylvendi and Serwë felt glad.

Barastas’s wife marched forward, shrieking at Serwë to stay, that she owns her, and Cnaiür causally fires an arrow and kills her. Serwë feels a surge of terror and thinks she might vomit.

During the day, Serwë passed the time talking to Kellhus, who seemed to exude trust to her. She that she was a Nymbricani and was sold as a concubine to a the Nansur House of Gaunum. The wives of the Gaunum nobles were jealous of her beauty and how they strangled her first child when it was born. She was told “Blue babies… That’s all you’ll ever bear, child.” After three days, Kellhus had mastered Sheyic, a tongue that took Serwë several years to learn. At night, Serwë belonged to the Scylvendi.

She could not fathom the relationship between these two men, though she pondered it often, understanding that her fate somehow lay between them. Initially, she’d assumed that Kellhus was the Scylvendi’s slave, but this was not the case. The Scylvendi, she eventually realized, hated the Norsirai, even feared him. He acted like someone trying to preserve himself from ritual pollution.

At first this insight thrilled her. You fear! she would silently howl at the Scylvendi’s back. You’re no different from me! No more than I am!

But then it began to trouble her—deeply. Feared by a Scylvendi? What kind of man is feared by a Scylvendi?

She dared ask the man himself.

Because I’ve come,” Kellhus had replied, “to do dreadful work.”

Serwë begins to wonder why Kellhus doesn’t take her from the Scylvendi, but she knew the reason. “She was Serwë. She was nothing.” A lesson she learned early on. She had a happy childhood. Her parents, particularly her mother, doted on her. When she was fourteen, her father sold her as a slave to the Gaunum family, and she had much of her delusions knocked out of her. Her life as a concubine was full of anxiety, she was trapped between the wives, who hated her beauty, and the husbands who lusted for her. She begin to take pride in seducing the husbands. It was all that was left to her.

Once, she was taken to Peristus’s bed with his wife. Peristus’s wife was an ugly woman and Peristus was using Serwë to get him ready to impregnate his wife. Serwë, out of spite, excited Peristus too much and stole his seed. She became pregnant, and Peristus’s wife spent the entire pregnancy tormenting her about her child’s impending death. She went to Peristus who just slapped her for bothering him. Serwë prayed to the gods for mercy but her child was “born blue.”

Serwë begin to pray for vengeance on the Gaunum, and a year later all the men rode off to join the Holy War. Then the Scylvendi raided the villa, and she learned a new level of suffering with the Munuäti. It filled her with outrage.

Despite all her vanities and all her peevish sins, she meant something. She was something. She was Serwë, daughter of Ingaera, and she deserved far more than what had been given. She would have dignity, or she would die hating.

But her courage had come at a horrible time. She had tried not to weep. She had tried to be strong. She had even spit in the face of Panteruth, the Scylvendi who claimed her as his prize. But Scylvendi were not quite human. They looked down on all outlanders as though from the summit of some godless mountain, more remote than the most brutal of the Patridomos’s sons. They were Scylvendi, the breakers-of-horses-and-men, and she was Serwë.

But she had clung to the word—somehow. And watching the Munuäti die at the hands of these two men, she had dared rejoice, had dared believe she would be delivered. At last, justice!

When Cnaiür raped her after killing the Munuäti, Serwë realized that there was no justice, just the whim of powerful men. Serwë thought she was nothing, that was why everyone hurt her. Even Kellhus abandoned her at night.

After crossing the Hethantas, Cnaiür confronts Kellhus, telling him he brought him to the Empire to kill him. Kellhus asks if Cnaiür actually wants to be killed by Kellhus. Kellhus had known for days that Cnaiür feared that Kellhus would kill him once they crossed the mountains. If Cnaiür could not kill the father, he would settle for the son. Crossing the Empire with a Scylvendi will just get them killed and Cnaiür knows there is nothing but the mission for a Dûnyain.

Such penetration. Hatred, but pleated by an almost preternatural cunning. Cnaiür urs Skiötha was dangerous. . . Why should he suffer his company?

Because Cnaiür still knew this world better than he. And more important, he knew war. He was bred to it.

I have use for him still.

Kellhus knows now he must join the Holy War to reach Shimeh. Kellhus doesn’t know enough about war to properly harness it and needs a tutor. Kellhus points out to Cnaiür his father has had thirty years to build his power base. Kellhus has need of a man who is as immune to Moënghus’s methods. Cnaiür thinks Kellhus is trying to lull him into lowering his guard.

Kellhus decides to demonstrate his skill and attacks Cnaiür with his sword. Serwë cheers for Kellhus to kill him as the pair trade blows. At the right moment, Kellhus grabbed Cnaiür sword arm but is not quick enough to stop Cnaiür landing a punch to Kellhus’s face, and he realized he misjudged Cnaiür reflexes. Kellhus drops his sword and catches Cnaiür blade between his hands and disarms him. Then Kellhus proceeds to beat him on the ground on the ledge of a cliff. Kellhus subdues Cnaiür and holds him out over the edge.

Do it!” Cnaiür gasped through snot and spittle. His feet swayed over nothingness.

So much hatred.

But I spoke true, Cnaiür. I do need you.”

The Scylvendi’s eyes rounded in horror. Let go, his expression said. For that way lies peace. And Kellhus realized he’d misjudged the Scylvendi yet again.

He’d thought him immune to the trauma of physical violence when he was not. Kellhus had beaten him the way a husband beats his wife or a father his child. This moment would dwell within him forever, in the way of both memories and involuntary cringes. Yet more degradation for him to heap on the fire.

Kellhus hoisted him to safety and let him drop. Another trespass.

Serwë is weeping because Kellhus spared Cnaiür. Kellhus asks Cnaiür if he believes him now. Cnaiür finally answer that Kellhus thinks he needs him. Kellhus is perplexed and thinks Cnaiür becomes more erratic. Cnaiür points out that he is a heathen, no better than a Fanim. Kellhus tells him to pretend to convert. “…the Inrithi think they are the chosen ones… Lies that flatter are rarely disbelieved.” Cnaiür points out the Nansur won’t care.

Kellhus doesn’t understand Cnaiür reluctance to find Moënghus, and then Kellhus realizes that Cnaiür despaired and had abandoned hope. Kellhus had missed this. He momentarily contemplates disposing of Cnaiür but knows he must posses the Holy War to succeed, but he would need instruction on how to properly wield it and thinks the odds of finding someone else with Cnaiür experience are slim. For now, he will stay this course unless crossing the Empire with a Scylvendi proves to difficult. Kellhus tells him their story, that Cnaiür is the last of his tribe who found Kellhus, a prince traveling from Atrithau to join the Holy War.

Though Cnaiür now understood, even appreciated, the path laid for him, Kellhus knew that the debate raged within him still. How much would the man bear to see his father’s death avenged?

The Utemot chieftain wiped a bare forearm across his mouth and nose. He spat blood. “A prince of nothing,” he said.

The next morning, the trio finds the spiked Scylvendi’s heads that Conphas had lined the road to Momemn with. Serwë urges Kellhus to kill Cnaiür before the Nansur find them and Kellhus tells her that she mustn’t betray them. Serwë would never betray Kellhus, who she has fallen in love with. Kellhus tells her she must suffer and she weeps bitterly. Cnaiür tells her “Hold tight this moment, women… it will be your only measure of this man.”

Cnaiür gestures to the road line with spiked heads and says, “This is the way to Momemn.”

My Thoughts

Fanim are tolerant of Inrithi pilgrims. I bet the economy of Shimeh is dependent on these wealthy Inrithi coming to Shimeh, buying supposedly holy trinkets. Even in horribly dysfunctional fantasy worlds its funny to think the tourist trap exists, and that it bridges religious differences. Historically, Muslims have been tolerant of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Lands at times.

Kellhus relates his encounter with the Nonman from the prologue, trying to learn everything he can about sorcery. However, Cnaiür is so distrustful of Kellhus that even when Kellhus tells a true story, Cnaiür doesn’t believe him. Kellhus, this is the same problem people have with politicians. I just assume there lying whenever they speak, which is the same policy one should take with a Dûnyain.

What do you see?” is a question Cnaiür asks himself as he studies Kellhus. This is a significant question. In one of Achamian’s dreams, he relives the Battle of Mengedda (taking place on the same plain where the Vulgar Holy War was destroyed). Here, the No-God was struck down and defeated 2000 years ago. The No-God, through the mouths of thousands of Srancs, asks “What do you see?” It’s a mystery that Bakker hasn’t yet revealed (though I’m hoping the Great Ordeal coming out Tuesday, July 12th will hold answers). When Cnaiür asks this question several times and it pops out of me.

When they approach the mountains, Cnaiür suddenly realizes his danger. Cnaiür is right, once his usefulness is over, Kellhus will discard him. However, Cnaiür, just because Kellhus doesn’t need you doesn’t mean he’ll kill you. However, given how much Dûnyain philosophy that Cnaiür knows, it might be a safe bet. It is great how he use Dûnyain Logos to continue his usefulness by pointing out Kellhus still doesn’t know the paths through the mountains. “I know the shortest way.”

But Cnaiür is beginning to crack beneath the pressure. His outburst in the raided village will not be the first time he screams and gibbers. It’s no wonder Kellhus has trouble understanding Cnaiür. He is irrational, which is what makes him such a great foil to the Dûnyain.

The name Ikurei Conphas stirs nothing in Cnaiür know. He has abandoned his people for vengeance. He is focused on killing Moënghus even as he lost all hope that he’ll succeed.

When they enter the foothills, Cnaiür thinks of it as Dûnyain country because anything could be concealed around the corner but one might also climb a summit and see. It’s a nice analogy that is proven right as they wonder right into the hostile Munuäti.

Cnaiür’s battle madness and Kellhus’s inhuman Dûnyain training allow the pair to destroy the Munuäti. Another thing to note, it is a staple among fantasy that the nomad/barbarian archetype has a great bond with their mount. Cnaiür never names his horses and here uses his horse as cover. It is wounded by an arrow and no doubt put down or left to roam wounded on the plain. In the next chapter, we’ll see the practicality again. Horses, while important to the Scylvendi, are still just tools to be used and discarded when they break. Cnaiür has no fear in the battle. As we see later on in the chapter, Cnaiür has a death wish. When Cnaiür beats Panteruth, he starts to beat him more harshly for crying. Cnaiür is beating Panteruth for displaying Cnaiür’s own perceived weakness, that he cries.

Poor Serwë. Your life sucks. I’m so sorry.

Kellhus, its called compassion. That’s what you feel when you watch Serwë’s rape. Maybe embrace this feeling of caring for others instead of being a damned robot. We are starting to see these little bits of humanity in Kellhus, particularly with Serwë. Also note how Cnaiür says Kellhus thinks he needs him.

Kellhus instantly recognizes that the Holy War and his summons are not a coincidence.

As Serwë works up the nerve to kill Cnaiür she remembers his warning, “If you leave, I will hunt you, girl. As sure as the earth, I will find you… Hurt you as you have never been hurt.” It gives her the courage to attempt to kill him. Shame Kellhus stopped her. Kellhus begins his work on Serwë that very night. Don’t be fooled, Serwë, the man will use you and discard you. Yes, he might have some vestigial outrage at your rape, but notice he does nothing to intervene.

The other captives are faced with a terrible choice. To be abandoned in the wilderness or staying with your rapist. Living is better than dieing, even if that life isn’t very great. Interesting that the only one Serwë names is a fellow concubine, the other’s she just thinks of as So-and-so’s wife.

Wow, starting not to feel so bad for Barastas’s wife now after Cnaiür followed through on his threat and killed her. Not cool killing babies. All Serwë known her entire life is rape. Sold by her father to be a concubine, which is nothing more than sex slave. No wonder Serwë is a little glad that they got left behind, up until Cnaiür put an arrow through Barastas’s wife’s throat.

You are worth something Serwë!

The Cnaiür-Kellhus throw down is a great fight. Cnaiür holds his own for a while and even lands a blow, much to Kellhus surprise. In the end, Kellhus pulls off the ninja blade catch, which Mythbusters had a great episode on. It also is a reference to the D&D class, Monk, which Kellhus is so clearly represents from the way he can catch arrows (another ability) to his superb martial arts.

Serwë has fallen in love with Kellhus so the Dûnyain seduction is well underway. Now, Kellhus is starting to get her to understand that being raped nightly by Cnaiür is important and that there is a promise at the end of it. She is still bitter that he won’t rescue her from the Sclyvendi. Cnaiür even tries to warn her about Kellhus, letting her know that tears is all she’ll really get from the man. Poor Serwë. She’s trapped between two despicable men.

Click here to continue onto Chapter Fourteen.

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Review: Going Forth by Day

Going Forth by Day (Children of Stone 2)

by Mary R. Woldering

Reviewed by JMD Reid

B00W1TDGJK.01.LZZZZZZZIn the 2500s BC, a Semetic shepherd named Marai living in the Shadow of Mount Sinai discovers the Children of the Stone, consciousness from another world come to our planet to bring enlightenment. Marai, along with three women who become his wives (Ariennu, Naibe, and Deka), has traveled to Ancient Kemet to bring the stones to Hordjedtef, an old priest and son of Pharoah Khufu (the guy who was buried in the Great Pyramid at Giza). But Hordjedtef grew jealous of Marai and poisoned him in a sacred ceremony.

Now Marai lies dying in a crypt and his three wives have been told he is dead. To survive in the politics of Ancient Egypt, Ariennu, Naibe, and Deka must play along with their roles, split apart and given to other princes as maids and concubines not knowing that their husband has survived and slowly recovers in the tomb.

Will they prosper, or will Hordjedtef’s jealousy over the Children of the Stone and the machinations of Prince Meenkaare cause the three women’s downfall?

What follows in an tale of betrayal and sex, interwoven into the life of the royal family of Egypt. Once again, Woldering breathes to life the intricate nature of Ancient Egyptian politics, from the incestuous nature of their marriages to their belief in magic and curses. Her research and knowledge is impeccable and the tension in the story keeps you reading.

Will Marai recover from the poisoning and Go Forth by Day, and if he does, will he find his wives waiting for him or claimed by other, powerful men. Politics, magic, and more permeate this story and leave me waiting for book 3.

You can buy Going Forth by Day from Amazon!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Ten

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Harlot
Chapter 10
Sumna

Welcome to Chapter Ten of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Nine!

 How should one describe the terrible majesty of the Holy War? Even then, still unblooded, it was both frightening and wondrous to behold, a great beast whose limbs were composed of entire nations—Galeoth, Thunyerus, Ce Tydonn, Conriya, High Ainon, and the Nansurium—and with the Scarlet Spires as the dragon’s maw, no less. Not since the days of the Ceneian Empire or the Ancient North has the world witnessed such an assembly. Even diseased by politics, it was a thing of awe.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My Thoughts

“Even diseased by politics, it was a thing of awe,” is a great line. A nice passage to set up the Holy war and I do love the “dragon’s maw” line since one of the greatest Angogic Sorceries practiced by the Scarlet Spires is the Dragon’s Maw.

Midwinter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

It is night now since Esmenet left Sumna on her journey to Momemn. At times she is intoxicated by the journey, running through grass and twirling “beneath the Nail of Heaven.” Other times she remembers the nauseating horror of the stranger and his black seed. Shame filled her, not the shame of betraying Achamian (who would understand), but the shame of enjoying her violation.

But not that night. The pleasure had been more intense than any she’d ever experienced. She had felt it. Gasped it. Shuddered it. But she had not owned it. Her body had been notched that night. And it shamed her to fury.

She often grew wet at the thought of his abdomen against her belly. Sometimes she flushed and tensed at the memory of her climaxes. Whoever he was, whatever he was, he had taken her body captive, had seized what was hers and remade it not in his own image, but in the image of what he needed her to be. Infinitely receptive. Infinitely docile. Infinitely gratified.

Esmenet realized that the stranger knew about Inrau and concluded that Inrau did not kill himself. Achamian almost broke thinking Inrau killed himself and this is the most important thing Esmenet needs to tell him. The Consult has appeared and murdered Inrau.

In the morning, she joins a group setting out from a hostel. A short time latter, the band on her sandal snapped and slowed her down. She’s forced to take off the sandal and walk with just a sock on. Soon, her sock is worn ragged and her foot pains her, forcing her to limp and fall farther and farther behind her group until she is alone.

Esmenet was talking the Karian Way to the Pon Way which lead to Momemn. Despite never looking at a map, Esmenet knew from her customers the best way to Momemn. As a prostitute, she sought out clients that had experienced the world, mostly soldiers, so that she could vicariously live through their experiences. She always questioned them, both flattering them and cajoling them to speak. Only Achamian ever saw the truth behind her questions.

“You do this with all your custom?” he [Achamian] once asked without warning.

She wasn’t shocked. Others had asked as much. “It comforts me to know my men are more than cocks.”

A half-truth. But true to form, Achamian was skeptical. He frowned, saying, “It’s a pity.”

This had stung, even though she had no idea what he meant. “What’s a pity?”

“That you’re not a man,” he replied. “If you were a man, you wouldn’t need to make teachers of everyone who used you.”

She had wept in his arms that night.

Thanks to her studies, she knew it was safest for a lone woman to take the Karian Way to the Pon Way to get to Momemn and that she would need to stay with a group. With her sandal broken, Esmenet could not keep up with her group and was becoming more frightened as she fell farther and farther behind.

Esmenet spies a village and hopes she can get her sandal repaired here. Esmenet hobbles into the village and starts looking for a cobbler. A group of five boys spot her and one walks up to her and asks if she is a whore, spotting the tattoo on her hand that marked her as one from Sumna. Esmenet tries to scare the boy off with soldier curses and strikes the boy when tries to grab her hand.

The boy she struck grabs a stone and throws it at her, and the other four boys follow suit. Esmenet, being pelted by stones, grabs her own and returns fire, hitting a fat boy in the face and drawing blood. The local village priest walks up to her and asks if she’s a whore. Esmenet sees the look in his eyes and realizes she’s in trouble. She lies, saying she’s not, and walks away.

“Do not walk away from me!” the old priest howled. “Do not walk away from me!”

She continued walking with what dignity she could muster.

“Suffer not a whore to live,” the old priest recited, “for she maketh a pit of her womb!”

Esmenet halted.

“Suffer not a whore to breathe,” the priest continued, his tone now gleeful, “for she mocks the seed of the righteous! Stone her so that thy hand shall not be tempt—”

Esmenet whirled. “Enough!” she exploded.

Stunned silence.

“I am damned!” she cried. “Don’t you see? I’m already dead! Isn’t that enough?”

A stone hits her in the back of the head, and a crowd forms around her and begins to stone her. Esmenet curls up, weeping, and tries to protect herself. She cries for help and then realizes the stones have stopped. A Shrial Knight has ridden up, demanding what is going on.

The priest starts to explain and the knight strikes him in the face. The priest protests and the knight begins to beat him. Esmenet struggles to her feat, bruised and bloodied and calms down. Finally, the knight finishes beating the priest and turns to Esmenet, introducing himself as Cutias Sarcellus, First Knight-Commander of the Shrial Knights.

The story jumps to Achamian as he moves through the camp of the Men of the Tusk and is amazed by how many men are gathered. He had climbed hills in the midst of camp and saw their campfire spread across the entire landscape. Achamian finally finds Krijates Xinemus’s camp, his old friend and Marshal of Attrempus. Xinemus and Achamian greet each other, hug, and joke with each other.

Xinemus helps Achamian set up his tent and care for his mule. The two exchange small talk and Achamian is a little embarrassed meeting his friend while on a mission and unsure if his presence in Xinemus camp will be a problem seeing as he’s an unclean sorcerer in the midst of a holy war. Xinemus doesn’t have a problem with it.

Xinemus asks about the Dreams, and Achamian changes the subject to the Scarlet Spire. Xinemus tells Achamian where the Scarlet Spire is camped and asks if he’s worried about them. Achamian explains how they covet the knowledge of Gnosis, saying “the Gnosis is iron to their bronze.”

Xinemus figures out that Achamian is here to spy on the Scarlet Spire and sees the pain in Achamian’s face about Inrau. Achamian wants to tell Xinemus everything, but can’t bring himself to. They return to Xinemus’s fire where three men waited. Two are captains, Dinchases and Zenkappa, and the third is Iryssas, Xinemus’s Majordomo.

Iryssas is uncomfortable with Achamian’s presence and Xinemus points out that the Scarlet Spire are part of the Holy War. Iryssas drunkenly insults Achamian and Xinemus kicks the fire at the man. The other two men apologize the Achamian for Iryssas behavior.

Iryssas scrambled back to his seat, his hair askew and his black beard streaked with ash. At once smiling and frowning, he leaned forward on his camp stool toward Achamian. He was bowing, Achamian realized, but was too lazy to lift his ass from his seat. “I do apologize,” he said, looking to Achamian with bemused sincerity. “And I do like you, Achamian, even though you are”—he shot a ducking look at his lord and cousin—“a damned sorcerer.”

Zenkappa began howling anew. Despite himself, Achamian smiled and bowed in return. Iryssas, he realized, was one of those men whose hatreds were far too whimsical to become the fixed point of an obsession. He could despise and embrace by guileless turns. Such men, Achamian had learned, inevitably mirrored the integrity or depravity of their lords.

Jokes are shared and for the first time in a while, Achamian laughs.

The next morning, Achamian joins Xinemus in a chess-like game called benjuka. The pair talk about the Holy War and Achamian reveals he was at the Hagerna when it was announced. Xinemus appeared annoyed that Achamian had been in the Hagerna and Achamian remembers how benjuka always causes the pair to bicker like “harem eunuchs.”

Achamian makes a bad move and Xinemus mocks him. Then he brings up Proyas and the disaster of the Vulgar Holy War. Achamian has heard of the march of the Vulgar Holy War but not its disasters end. Xinemus explains how Calmemunis feared Proyas’s arrival, knowing he would just be Proyas’s lapdog. Calmemunis was still angry that Proyas had him whipped for impiety at the Battle of Paremti a few years ago. Achamian is stunned, asking how far Proyas’s fanaticism has gone.

“Too far,” Xinemus said quickly, as though ashamed for his lord. “But for a brief time only. I was sorely disappointed in him, Akka. Heartbroken that the godlike child you and I had taught had grown to be a man of such . . . extremes.”

Proyas had been a godlike child. Over the four years he had spent as court tutor in the Conriyan capital of Aöknyssus, Achamian had fallen in love with the boy—even more than with his legendary mother. Sweet memories. Strolling through sunlit foyers and along murky garden paths, discussing history, logic, and mathematics, and answering a never-ending cataract of questions…

At the time, Xinemus was Proyas’s sword trainer. Achamian and Xinemus became friends through their tutelage of Proyas. Xinemus continues his story, explaining that he left the court in disgust over what Proyas had done. Proyas tracked him done and rebuked him for abandoning him. Proyas was in trouble, Calmemunis had protested his punishment. Achamian points out the Proyas just wanted his approval.

Xinemus continues, saying that after listening to Proyas’s rant, he gave Proyas a training sword and told Proyas to punish him. Proyas fought tenaciously and Xinemus soundly defeated him.

“The following morning he said nothing, avoided me like pestilence. But come afternoon he sought me out, his face bruised like apples. ‘I understand,’ he said. I asked him, ‘Understand what?’ ‘Your lesson,’ he replied. ‘I understand your lesson.’ I said, ‘Oh, and what lesson was that?’ And he said: ‘That I’ve forgotten how to learn. That life is the God’s lesson, and that even if we undertake to teach impious men, we must be ready to learn from them as well.’”

Achamian stared at his friend with candid awe. “Is that what you’d intended to teach him?”

Xinemus frowned and shook his head. “No. I just wanted to pound the arrogant piss out of him. But it sounded good to me, so I simply said, ‘Indeed, my Lord Prince, indeed,’ then nodded the sage way you do when you agree with someone you think isn’t as clever as you.”

Proyas returned to court and before his father, the king, offered to allow Calmemunis to whip him as compensation. Calmemunis agreed, and “lashed away his last shreds of honor.” This is the reason that a hundred thousand men are dead. Achamian makes a good move on benjuka plate and wonders if the death of the Vulgar Holy War was someone’s move.

Xinemus explains how the Emperor is capitalizing on the Vulgar Holy War’s destruction, pointing out the folly of marching without Ikurei Conphas. Achamian asks Xinemus his opinion on the politicking surrounding the Holy War. Xinemus is worried about Proyas’s reaction. All know of Proyas’s close relationship with Maithanet and the pious men are waiting to see how he’ll react. Xinemus fears that the Emperor will provoke Proyas into something rash.

Whether the Holy War fights for Inri Sejenus or Ikurei Xerius III depends on whether Proyas will be able to outmaneuver the Emperor. Achamian realizes how difficult it will be to tell Proyas that his beloved Shriah plays “some dark game.”

The chapter ends with Esmenet, sore from riding, in Sarcellus’s tent, sharing his bed. She sits up and Sarcellus asks if she’s thinking of Achamian.

“What of it?” she asked.

He smiled, and as always she found herself at once thrilled and unsettled. Something about his teeth maybe? Or his lips?

“Exactly,” he said. “Mandate Schoolmen are fools. Everyone in the Three Seas knows this… Do you know what the Nilnameshi say of women who love fools?”

She turned her face to him, fixed him with a languid look.

“No. What do the Nilnameshi say?”

“That when they sleep, they do not dream.”

He pressed her gently to his pillow.

My Thoughts

Not sure what the Nail of Heaven is. I think its a star like the North Star. The point in the sky where the stars seem to rotate about. Like the North Star, it would always be in the same place, I guess like a nail holding in the roof of the heavens. Other times, it is described as shining bright enough to give light. So maybe it’s not a star. The moon? A spaceship in orbit (and that’s not that crazy given the Inchoroi are aliens who crash-landed on the planet and Golgotterath is the ruins of their crashed ship).

Why, Nansur Empire, is it illegal for women to wear boots? To force them to stay home? It also outlaws pants for men to wear.

We see Esmenet’s keen intellect again. As she dissects what happened to her in Sumna (“But where her body groped, her intellect grasped.” She realizes the significance of the Consult syntheses coming to her. It means Achamian was right and Inrau found out something important. He did not kill himself and Achamian could alleviate the guilt of believing he drove Inrau to suicide.

And then there is her selfishness. She hates how she acted and blamed Inrau for Achamian leaving her. We are all selfish creatures. And now, in light of her new knowledge, she feels such guilt for how she acted. Someone I knew online once died and my first thought was, “He promised to do X, how’s that going to happen now.” I felt so guilty the second afterward.

As she walks, Esmenet “styled herself a character from The Sagas, like Ginsil or Ysilka, a wife mortally ensnared in her husband’s machinations.” How true this will be over the course of the series.

Esmenet’s fears of being left alone turn out not to be unfounded. Teenage bullies exist everywhere. It was nice to see Esmenet nail one of the boys with a rock. And then the adult bully wonders out. What a shitty guy.

While I’m not in favor of legal prostitution, stoning a woman for it is really wrong. Especially in this world where women have very few ways to support themselves. If they’re not married, and not a priestess (which apparently just makes you a legal prostitute), how is Esmenet supposed to survive when society denies her any other way to make a living?

Cutias Sarcellus, the Consult abomination, just happens to run into Esmenet the day after her encounter with the syntheses. Coincident, I think not. Why is he rescuing her? The Consult must think they have some use for her still. After all, she was compliant.

The hand gesture Esmenet gives to the boys who started everything, implying the one that bullied her had a small penis was hilarious.

Achamian reunion with his friend was great. Xinemus is one of my favorite characters in the series. A great guy. He doesn’t put up with his men talking shit to Achamian. And the way they all end up laughing afterwards was great.

Benjuka is an interesting game with the rules changing based on the players actions, mimicking life more than other games. I’m not surprised Achamian isn’t good at the game. He’s not that great at life, either.

We learn a lot learned about Proyas. He sounds like a pretty immature guy, but hopefully Xinemus’s lesson has stuck with him. Especially since the fate of the Holy War is now riding on his shoulders. Fanaticism and politics is not a good combination. Fanaticism rarely allows for any sort of comprise and that is at the heart of politics.

The last scene with Esmenet in bed with the abomination Sarcellus is not a story development I liked. Not cool, Consult. Haven’t you done enough to Esmenet?

I do like this little observation Esmenet has of Sarcellus. “He smiled, and as always she found herself once thrilled and unsettled. Something about his teeth maybe? Or his lips?” Yeah, because he’s a skin spy, Esmenet. But good on you for noticing something off.

If you want to keep reading, click here for my reread of Chapter Eleven.

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Nine

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Harlot
Chapter 9
Sumna

Welcome to Chapter Nine of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Eight!

And the Nonman King cried words that sting:

Now to me you must confess,

For death above you hovers!”

And the Emissary answered ever wary:

We are the race of flesh,

We are the race of lovers.”

—“Ballad of the Inchoroi,” Ancient Kûniüri Folk Song

My Thoughts

Our first mention of the Inchoroi, the race behind the Sranc, the Second Apocalypse, and the other horrors. This poem describes the first meeting between the Nonmen and the Inchoroi. We learn the most important aspect of the Inchoroi: they are the race of flesh and lovers. Sex is everything to them. They use it as a weapon, they use it to interrogate, and they motivate their creations with it. Back in the prologue, Leweth tells Kellhus how Sranc hunt men for other hungers.

Inchoroi seems derived from inchoate, a word that means (from Merriam-Webster online dictionary) “being only partly in existence or operation; especially imperfectly formed or formulated.” This implies that the Inchoroi, or their creations, are flawed (probably both). Bakker is always adding to my vocabulary.

Early Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

Esmenet has just finished with a client, a priest named Psammatus, who tells her this will be his last visit. Esmenet tells him he’s found a younger whore and he apologizes. Esmenet responds, “No. Don’t be sorry. Whores know better than to pout like wives.” As he dresses, Esmenet thinks that she’s becoming old, and that is one of the reasons Akka left her.

Inrau’s death had broken Achamian and he left Sumna. She had begged him to take her with him or to stay with her. She doesn’t want her life to return back to the drudgery. She was enamored with greater events.

And this was the irony that held her breathless. For even in the midst of enjoying that new life through Achamian, she’d been unable to relinquish the old. “You say you love me,” Achamian had cried, “and yet you still take custom. Tell me why, Esmi! Why?”

Because I knew you would leave me. All of you leave me . . . all the ones I love.

Esmi,” Psammatus was saying. “Esmi. Please don’t cry, my sweet. I’ll return next week. I promise.” She shook her head and wiped the tears from her eyes. Said nothing.

Weeping for a man! I’m stronger than this!

Esmenet wipes her tears and asks Psammatus if he knew Inrau. Psammatus answers that he’s the priest who killed himself in the Hagerna, causing a scandal. She asks if he’s sure, and he answers yes. Psammatus leaves, and Esmenet lies in her bed, depressed. She thinks of Inrau, Achamian, and her daughter. Esmenet notices someone at her door.

The man is handsome and richly dress. Esmenet tells him her price, twelve silver talents, and the man strikes her hard, telling her she’s not a “twelve-talent whore.” He tells her relationships should not begin with lies and reveals he’s after information on a Mandate Schoolman, Achamian.

Before Achamian left, he warned her that someone might come, that she would need to play the whore and not ask questions. So she agrees to sell both herself and the information. The pair negotiate the price and the man pulls out a single, gold coin. Esmenet agreed, staring at the coin with greed. The man begins to caress her and Esmenet instantly realizes something is wrong, something inhuman.

Pleasure floods Esmenet, more than she’s ever felt. She is willing to tell the man anything as he interrogates her in the midst of their coupling. She just wants the “nightmarish ecstasy” to continue. She realizes she would do anything to keep feeling this pleasure. She tells him everything about Achamian. Finally, as dawn approaches, the man finish, spilling his seed on her belly.

The golden coin fluttered in his hand, bewitching her with its glitter. He held it above her and let it slip between his fingers. It plopped onto the sticky pools across her belly. She glanced down and gasped in horror.

His seed was black.

Shush,” he said, gathering his finery. “Say a word of this to no one. Do you understand, whore?”

I understand,” she managed, tears now streaming. What have I done?

Esmenet is trying not to throw up as the man opens the shutters. She hears a flap of wings and the man is gone. The man leaves an inhuman stench behind and Esmenet vomits on the floor.

When she finally recovers, Esmenet washes and leaves her room, knowing she can never return. She wanders to the Ecosium Market. It is busy in the morning, and Esmenet is drinking in the sights. She loves Sumna but she had to leave.

She remembers that Achamian told her this might happen. That she would have to barter with whoever comes and be compliant. She would have to sell him out and tell them the truth and she’ll survive. She asks why they would spare her. Achamian answers, by hiding her strength and being useful, they will hope to use you again. She asks if that won’t put him in danger.

I’m a Schoolman, Esmi,” he had replied. “A Mandate Schoolman.”

At last, through a screen of passing people, she saw a little girl standing barefoot in dusty sunlight. She would do. With large brown eyes the girl watched Esmenet approach, too wary to return her smile. She clutched a stick to the breast of her threadbare shift.

I survived, Akka. And I did not survive.

Esmenet stooped before the child and astounded her with the gold talent. “Here,” she said, pressing it into small palms.

So like my daughter.

Achamian is ridding on a mule through the valley of Sudica on his way from Sumna to Momemn. Achamian is taking a longer route to avoid people. The valley, once inhabited in the days of Kyraneas, is no mostly abandoned thanks to Scylvendi raids. Achamian makes his way up to the ruined Fortress-Temple of Batathent and absently wanders through the ruin until nightfall, making his camp in the ruins.

In his sleep, he dreamed of that day when every child was stillborn, that day when the Consult, beaten back to the black ramparts of Golgotterath by the Nonmen and the ancient Norsirai, brought emptiness, absolute and terrible, into the world: Mog-Pharau, the No-God. In his sleep, Achamian watched glory after glory flicker out through Seswatha’s anguished eyes. And he awoke, as he always awoke, a witness to the end of the world.

Achamian is suffering from guilt and depression, fearing that if Inrau really committed suicide then Achamian murdered his student. Achamian tried to find the truth of Inrau’s death but got no where. He was relieved when Nautzera and the Quorum ordered him to Momemn to join the Holy War, to watch the Scarlet Spire.

After Inrau’s death, Achamian relationship with Esmenet deteriorated. He wanted her to distract him from his problems while she endlessly asked him questions, debated the meanings of what he learned. She also continued to see clients. When Achamian offered to pay for her exclusivity, she cried. Esmenet does not want to be Achamian’s whore. Achamian thinks about why he fell in love with her.

Often, in his soul’s eye, she was inexplicably thin and wild, buffeted by rain and winds, obscured by the swaying of forest branches. This woman who had once lifted her hand to the sun, holding it so that for him its light lay cupped in her palm, and telling him that truth was air, was sky, and could only be claimed, never touched by the limbs and fingers of a man. He couldn’t tell her how profoundly her musings affected him, that they thrashed like living things in the wells of his soul and gathered stones about them.

Regret fills Achamian, and he realizes he has become overwhelmed by circumstances and decides to try to make sense of things. He pulls at a sheet of parchment and writes Maithanet’s name in the center, whom Achamian suspects of murdering Inrau. He writes Holy War to the right, “Maithanet’s hammer.” Below, he writes Shimeh, the objective To the right of Shimeh he writes, Cishaurim. He writes Scarlet Spire and traces a line from Cishaurim through Scarlet Spire to the Holy War. Achamian again wonders how Maithanet knew their secret war. Adjacent to Holy War, he writes the Emperor, based on rumors of Xerius’s Investiture.

In the upper, right corner, he adds the Consult. Achamian ponders the Consult, wandering where they were and if they were involved. Finally, he writes Inrau below Maithanet. Achamian shakes away thoughts of guilt, he could not avenge Inrau if he wallowed in self-pity. The answers were on this map.

Achamian often made such maps—not because he worried he might forget something, but because he worried he might overlook something. Visualizing the connections, he found, always suggested further possible connections. Moreover, this simple exercise had often proved a valuable guide for his inquiries in the past. The crucial difference this time, however, was that instead of naming individuals and their connections to some petty agenda, this map named Great Factions and their connections to a Holy War. The scale of this mystery, the stakes, far exceeded anything he had encountered before . . . aside from his dreams.

His breath caught.

A prelude to the Second Apocalypse? Could it be?

Achamian is certain the Consult is involved They could never stay out of something this large. Achamian fixes on Maithanet and ponders how to learn his secrets. And then it comes to him—Proyas. Achamian writes Proyas’s name between Maithanet’s and the Holy War. Proyas, his former student, was a confident of Maithanet. If Achamian could mend his relationship with Proyas, he could learn more of Maithanet. “He needed answers, both to quiet his heart and, perhaps, to save the world.”

Achamian breaks camp and continues his lonely journey.

Esmenet walks through the Gates of Pelts and leaves Sumna. She pauses, looking out over the landscape, fearful. She told herself that everything would be fine. She would “sell peaches” as the soldiers say. “Men mights stand midway between women and the Gods, but they hungered like beasts.”

The road would be kind. Eventually, she would find the Holy War. And in the Holy War she would find Achamian. She would clutch his cheek and kiss him, at long last a fellow traveler.

Then she would tell him what had happened, of the danger.

Deep breath. She tasted dust and cold.

She began walking, her limbs so light they might have danced.

It would be dark soon.

My Thoughts

The Synthese returns, in the guise of a man, and know we have a name to call this abomination—an Inchoroi. As the folk song at the start of the passage says, they are a race of lovers. His interrogation is a hard part of the book to read. The Inchoroi violates her and makes her enjoy it more than anything she’s ever felt.

My heart breaks for Esmenet.

The Inchoroi has polluted her home and Sumna. Even the gold coin, a lot of money for Esmenet, was tainted. And as always with Esmenet, her thoughts turn to her daughter. She’s trying to have some good come out of that terrible encounter.

The Inchoroi embodies sex and yet his seed is black: death. This informs why they make creatures the Sranc, dragons, and the abominations like Sarcellus. They are a the race of flesh and they seem masters forming new things. His very touch stirs pleasure. We’ll learn later that this is a sorcerous glamor.

Achamian has been deeply depressed since Inrau died. And as often happens, it creates a rift between Achamian and Esmenet. He wants to forget his problems and she, I believe, is trying to help Achamian move past his hurt. Achamian, however, was not ready. He needed more to time to grieve.

Finally, sitting in these ruins, Achamian takes action. He realizes he has been wallowing in self-pity and to avenge Inrau, he needs to stop being overwhelmed. The map he draws is a great way to do this. Putting everything on paper, drawing lines, trying to see how everything connects. Achamian has a plan for the first time in the book.

We learn more about the horror of the No-God. The fact that once it was created, every child was stillborn. That is horrible. It goes back to the Inchoroi and what really makes them flawed. While they are creatures of sex and thus of creation, all they create is death. Achamian fears that the first steps of the Second Apocalypse have begun.

And we come back to Esmenet, who like Achamian is also making her own plans, seizing her own actions. She knows the Consult is involved and she is going to track Achamian down and tell him. I’m concerned that she doesn’t appear to have supplies. She is putting a lot of trust into her fellow travelers. Esmenet, you need to be careful. This world is terrible to women, watch your back.

I also hope that Esmenet thoughts on “men stand midway between women and Gods” as lies that men tell women as opposed to actual scripture. Though, in this world, it might be actually in there. And, of course, there is a clear that beliefs shape the metaphysics of this world which is why there is a theory that the Tusk, the old testament of this world, came from the Inchoroi. As Esmenet rightly points out, men are no more holy then women.

Below is a scan of Achamian’s map from the end of the book. I edited out the changes Achamian adds later on in the story. I really like the script that Bakker came up with. Similar to Arabic in its cursive style, but written top to bottom like many Southeast Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean).

Click here to go onto Chapter 10

achamian

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Eight

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Emperor
Chapter 8
Momemn

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

 Kings never lie. They demand the world be mistaken.

Conriyan Proverb

When we truly apprehend the Gods, the Nilnameshi sages say, we recognize them not as kings but as thieves. This is among the wisest of blasphemies, for we always see the king who cheats us, never the thief.

Olekaros, Avowals

My Thoughts

Not much to say on Kings never lie. Many rulers with to much power become egotistical and self-centered. We have seen as much with Xerius so far, and you could apply this saying to any politician.

The second one is a very cynical and disillusioned. The final lines of the novel illuminate this quote, Conphas musing on his role in the destruction, finds it erotic how his actions led to so many dead. He feels like a thief because he did in the dark where no one saw his actions. It makes him feel like a god, hidden and safe from the scrutiny of mere mortals.

Autumn, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Northern Jiünati Steppe

Yursalka, the Utemot who betrayed Cnaiür, is awoken in the night by the sound of something tapping at the hide of his yaksh. He hopes its his young son, Ogatha, who had been missing since yesterday. The taps continue and Yursalka hopes its Ogatha playing a prank, but times have been rough since Kiyuth, and he draws his sword and cautiously heads out into the darkness.

Yursalka spots what had been hitting his tent, not a rock but a piece of a child’s finger. Through lightning, Yursalka spots a figure and yells out, “Murderer!” The figure boasts of finding his son on the steppe and returns him, throwing Ogatha’s severed head at him. Yursalka attacks, but is thrown down by Cnaiür and disemboweled.

A brief flutter of white light, and Yursalka saw him crouching above, saw deranged eyes and a famished grin. Then everything went black.

Who am I?” the blackness asked. “

Nnn-Cnaiür,” he gasped. “M-man-killer . . . M-most v-violent of all men . . .”

A slap, open-handed as though he were a slave.

No. I am your end. Before your eyes I will put your seed to the knife. I will quarter your carcass and feed it to the dogs. Your bones I will grind to dust and cast to the winds. I will strike down those who speak your name or the name of your fathers, until ‘Yursalka’ becomes as meaningless as infant babble. I will blot you out, hunt down your every trace! The track of your life has come to me, and it goes no further. I am your end, your utter obliteration!”

The fight awakens the Utemot, who are stunned to see Cnaiür alive after a year. Cnaiür proclaims himself chieftain and tells them to, “Challenge me or witness my justice!” Cnaiür proclaims Yursalka’s crimes, his betrayal of Cnaiür and the other Utemot who charged with him. Yursalka protests, saying it was to free the Utemot from Cnaiür. Yursalka is outraged, he betrayed his chieftain for honour, not the love of another man. Cnaiür demands to know who objects to his judgment.

While everyone looks on in awe and terror, a “half-Norsirai mongrel Cnaiür taken wife” flung herself at Cnaiür and hugs him. Cnaiür greets Anissi tenderly. Cnaiür then turns to Yursalka’s family, starting with his youngest daughter, and killing all his children and wives until only Omiri, the daughter of Xunnurit is left. He spares her to watch Yursalka suffering before paying for the sins of her father.

Surrounded by his dead and dying family, Yursalka watched Cnaiür loop his bowel like rope about scarred arms. He glimpsed the callous eyes of his tribesman, knew they would do nothing.

Not because they feared their lunatic chieftain, but because it was the way.

My Thoughts

Wow! That’s a little overkill, Cnaiür. Yursalka surely deserved to die like the spineless traitor he was, but to make him watch as you murder his entire family. And god only knows what he did to Omiri after he tortured Yursalka slowly to death. Yursalka believed he did the right thing and is horrified how there is no justice. “Where was the justice in this? He’d [Yursalka] betrayed his chieftain, yes, but for honor. Cnaiür had betrayed his chieftain, his father, for the love of another man! For an outlander who could speak killing words! Where was the justice in this?”

And “killing words” is a great way to describe the Dûnyain.

Cnaiür is half-mad in the section. He is suffering from starvation and has been surviving somehow on the steppes for a year. Not sure why it took him that long to get home. Perhaps there was a lot of dodging other tribes, going slow on foot, and just taking care of the necessities of survival, but it seems long. Then again, I’ve never trudged across the steppes before on foot.

Cnaiür ferocity is softened around Anissi. He clearly cares for her and shows the affection publicly, which Yursalka found to be shameful. Just another reason for the tradition-bound Scylvendi to hate Cnaiür.

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

In the year and a half since the Holy War was called, thousands have reached Momemn. Rumor has it, the Shriah was surprised by how many of the low caste joined the Holy War. Freeman were selling wives and children into slavery to pay for passage. Hundreds of atrocities are committed in the name of Holy War and Maithanet was said to weep for all of them.

All these incidents palled in comparison to the Vulgar Holy War led by Calmemunis, Tharschilka, and Kumrezzer. All three signed Xerius Indenture and marched with all the low born that had so far gathered. Maithanet tries to stop the march, but Calmemunis ignores him. Calmemunis and the other Great Names led the host in name only, but most of the host was sworn to no one. At first, they kept the host in line but by the time it reached the frontier, may of the fanatics turned bandits.

General Martemus, shadowing the host, had to fight several battles against them to protect Nansur citizens. Martemus is driven back into the fortress of Gielgath, unable to fight the vast host numbers with two columns. Calmemunis blames the emperor for stopping the supplies, but that was done by Shrial edict. The Shriah then issued Censor on the Vulgar Holy War, and this stopped them for a day. The bulk of the host almost turned back when, by “accident,” an imperial supply train fell into their hands.

The Vulgar Holy War pressed on, looting, massacring and raping as they went. They reached the last obstacle before the heathen lands, the fortress of Asgilioch where three Fanim invasions had been stopped. Prophilas, commander of the fortress, invited the Great Names into the fortress. Calmemunis demanded hostages, received them, and agreed to enter and was promptly captured with the other Great Names. Prophilas had a Shrial Warrant and told them they would be held here until they commanded the Vulgar Holy War to return to Momemn. He assures Calmemunis that they have no hope of defeating the Kianene.

Calmemunis, however, replied with laughter. He admitted that sinew for sinew, weapon for weapon, the Vulgar Holy War was likely no match for the Padirajah’s armies. But this, he claimed, was of no consequence, for surely the Latter Prophet had shown that frailty, when suffused with righteousness, was unconquerable. “We have left Sumna and the Shriah behind us,” he said. “With every step we draw nearer Holy Shimeh. With every step we draw closer to Paradise! Proceed with care, Prophilas, for as Inri Sejenus himself says, ‘Woe to he who obstructs the Way!’”

Prophilas released Calmemunis and the other Great Names before sunset.

The Vulgar Holy War passed into heathen lands and Maithanet retired to prayer until he learned of their fate.

In Momemn, Conphas is being led by Skeaös to Privy Chamber. The Ainoni have arrived early, an old trick by the Scarlet Spire. They had arrived the previous morning and it seemed as if all High Ainon had marched with them. Xerius was hopeful that they would sign his Indenture. At the least, he expected the Ainoni to be civil since they were fellow Ketyai not Norsirai like the Thunyeri and the Tydonni that had already arrived and refused to sign the Indenture. Ainoni were civilized.

Conphas asks if they intentionally showed up early to throw them off balance and Skeaös agrees. The pair hike up Andiamine Heights to the Privy Chamber and Conphas wonders if Skeaös, like many older courtiers, would die of the “clutch” making the climb. Curious, Conphas quickens his pace and Skeaös is able to keep up and shows no sign of strain. Skeaös even continues their conversation, and Conphas grows board with his game.

Skeaös begins briefing Conphas on Eleäzaras, Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spire. When Sasheoka died he was a Subdidact and somehow became the Grandmaster in two years. Skeaös reveals that Conphas was to be excluded from this meeting but that Eleäzaras had requested him. Conphas is reluctant to believe Skeaös, and wonders what game he is playing with him.

Conphas demands to know why, if he’s the linchpin of the plan, did his uncle want to exclude him from the meeting. Conphas realizes Skeaös lied, and forces the old man to admit it. Skeaös reveals that he is troubled by Xerius plan to destroy the Holy War. Skeaös fears for his soul. Conphas is shocked, and asks if Skeaös if Maithanet has “ensnared you as well?” Skeaös say no, saying Conphas is to young to understand. He is to old to make amends before he dies. Conphas realizes Skeaös has been conspiring with his grandmother, hoping to drive a wedge between Conphas and Xerius and have Conphas come running to his grandmother.

Conphas is surprised that Skeaös would do something so close to treachery and rebukes him. Conphas likes his uncle’s plan, as much as it galls him to admit, and tells Skeaös that his soul is a small price to pay to restore the Empire.

In the Privy Chamber, Conphas takes a seat next to his uncle. Skeaös and Cememketri stand by the Emperor and the galleries are filled with Eothic Guardsmen and Imperial Saik. Xerius asks Conphas his opinion on how to handle Eleäzaras. Conphas replies that since they do not know why Eleäzaras joined the Holy War, it will be hard to get him to support the Indenture. Instead, they should bargain in good faith. Xerius agrees.

While Chepheramunni, King-Regent of High Ainon, was announced first, he followed Eleäzaras into the room revealing who really ruled Ainon. Pleasantries are exchanged and Xerius asks why they Scarlet Spire joined the Holy War. Eleäzaras answers they were purchased. Eleäzaras refuses to divulge the details of the contract. Conphas thinks it is a lie, not even the Shriah could afford to purchase them.

Eleäzaras says that Chepheramunni will sign the Indenture gladly in exchange for some concessions. Xerius feigns outrage and begins to explain why those lands belong to Nansur but is interrupted by Eleäzaras. The sorcerer dismiss that as dross and asks if they know what truly is at stake. Conphas answers, “power.” Eleäzaras agrees and asks why Xerius provisioned Calmemunis. Xerius gives the official answer, to end their depredations. Eleäzaras disagrees, revealing he knows the truth.

Xerius protests, asking what he would gain by destroying them. Eleäzaras responds, you would gain the Holy War. Eleäzaras admires their plan, saying the Indenture is a splendid idea.

This small flattery was Xerius’s undoing. For a brief instant his eyes flashed with jubilant conceit. Stupid men, Conphas had found, tended to be excessively proud of their few brilliant moments.

Eleäzaras smiled.

He plays you, Uncle, and you cannot even see.

Eleäzaras then threatens Xerius should he betray the Holy War, and thus, by extension, betray the Scarlet Spire. Not even the Imperial Saik will save him from their wrath. Cememketri rebukes Eleäzaras, pointing out they are in Momemn not Carythusal. Eleäzaras ignores Cememketri and turns to Conphas and asks after the battle, complementing him.

Conphas smiled, deciding the Grandmaster would lick his ass as clean as a cat’s if given the opportunity. For all his penetration, Eleäzaras had misjudged him.

It was time to set him straight. “What Cememketri said just now is true, you know. No matter what your deal with Maithanet, you’ve delivered your School to its greatest peril since the Scholastic Wars. And not just because of the Cishaurim. You’ll be a small enclave of profanity within a great tribe of fanatics. You’ll need every friend you can get.”

For the first time something like real anger surfaced in Eleäzaras’s eyes, like a glimpse of coals through a smoky fire. “We can make the world burn with our song, young Conphas. We need no one.”

The negotiations continue successfully. Chepheramunni signs then Indenture in exchange for all the intelligence the Empire had on the Cishaurim. Conphas notes the hatred in Eleäzaras voice when he said Cishaurim. Conphas realizes the Scarlet Spire already warred with the Cishaurim. Xerius dismissed Conphas theory until Skeaös and Cememketri agreed, and then the Emperor reveals he already had the same suspicions. Conphas wonders if Maithanet knew about this secret war. “Maithanet. What game did he play? For that matter, who was he?”

Days later, news of the Vulgar Holy War’s annihilation reached them. Survivors reported they were destroyed on the Plains of Mengedda. Two courtiers arrived from Kian bearing Calmemunis and the other leader’s severed heads and a secret message for Conphas from Skauras.

We cannot count the carcasses of your idolatrous kin, so many have been felled by the fury of our righteous hand. Praise be the Solitary God. Know that House Ikurei has been heard.

Conphas is stunned, realizing for the first time they had sacrificed an army. “Only the Gods dared such acts.” Many would suspect House Ikurei, but it would not be recorded in the annals. Conphas felt great pride in his secret manipulation of events.

For an instant, Conphas felt like a thief, the hidden author of a great loss. And the exhilaration he felt almost possessed a sexual intensity. He saw clearly now why he so loved this species of war. On the field of battle, his every act was open to the scrutiny of others. Here, however, he stood outside scrutiny, enacted destiny from a place that transcended judgment or recrimination. He lay hidden in the womb of events.

Like a God.

My Thoughts

It is terrible to sell you family into slavery so you can go crusading, but fitting with Bakker’s theme of exposing humanity in all its terrible flaws. It sad how so many of these “Men of the Tusk” end of killing their fellow Inrithi. From the band of Galeoth freebooters to King Nrezza Barisullas of Cironj, high and low take advantage of the Holy War.

Even the Vulgar Holy War, the most faithful and fanatic, turn to rape and plunder on their fellow Inrithi on the march south. I can understand the need to forage for supplies, but to massacre the men and rape their women is over the pale. And Calmemunis and the other, so greedy for land and power, they don’t care. Nothing deters their monumental stupidity. Prophilas is so stunned by his stupidity he just releases them. Not sad to see their severed heads show up after leading so many men to their needless deaths, even if these same men were raping and pillaging and deserved to hang for their crimes.

The Vulgar Holy War is a parallel to the People’s Crusade. When the First Crusade was called, a German priest rallied peasants and mercenaries then marched east to the holy lands. Along the way, the pillaged Christian lands, including sacking the city of Belgrade. Eventually, the People’s Crusade crossed the Byzantine Lands and were destroyed by the Turks.

Conphas self-centered narcissism leads him to attempt murder Skeaös via heart attack just to satisfy his morbid curiosity. Boy do I hate Conphas. This entire chapter shows just what a tool this guy is. At the end of the chapter, he thinks he just like a god, manipulating events from outside the lives of men, and he gets off on it. He is stunned, not by how many deaths can be laid at the feat of House Ikurei, but by the fact that only gods would dare to it.

Skeaös conspiring with Istiya is interesting. Conphas is surprised that the old man has problems with the plan. Religion does strange things to people, and Skeaös is seeing the end of his life approaching. I can see how that leads you to re-prioritize. And the prospect of damnation is not a pleasant one. He’s also in great shape. He climb up all those stairs, kept up with young, in shape Conphas, while talking. Wish I was in that great of shape.

Eleäzaras is so focused on revenge against the Cishaurim, he doesn’t care at all about the Indenture. Conphas is not shaken by Eleäzaras‘s threat, believing the men of the tusk won’t protect the Scarlet Spire well and they will be destroyed in the war and thus will be unable to retaliate against House Ikurei once they betray the war.

More speculation on Maithanet and his mysterious origins and strange ability to know hidden secrets. Conphas is right to have misgivings about the Shriah and whether House Ikurei is actually going to be able to seize the Holy War from the man or not.

The pieces are moving into place, setting the stage for the stage for the novel’s climax as we finish Part 2.

Click here for Chapter Nine!

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Review: The Darkness That Comes Before

The Darkness That Comes Before (The Prince of Nothing 1)

by R. Scott Bakker

Reviewed by JMD Reid

darkness-that-comes-beforeThe Darkness that Comes Before is the start of R. Scott Bakker’s metaseries The Second Apocalypse. Here he unfolds the rich, grimy world of the Three Seas and beyond. I was hooked with this series right from the beginning reading about refugees fleeing the end of the world and the founding of the Dûnyain. I was intrigued by the history teased before me and glad I found this book in the SeaTac Airport’s Borders.

What follows is a Fatnasy series unlike any I had read. Its roots are firmly in the heroic fantasy that developed over the twentieth century, including Tolkein. There are many illusions and parallels to the Lord of the Rings, but make no mistake, Bakker isn’t copying, he’s twisting, bending, creating a world that is grimy, filthy, myriad in the perversity of human lust, greed, envy, and religious fervor.

When a young man name Kellhus, who unknowingly carries the blood of ancient kings sets out on a quest inot the greater world, it is a familiar story. But Kellhus is a product of two thousand years of breeding by his secretive group the Dûnyain. His intellect is beyond normal men. He has been trained to understand the source of men’s passions. To us world-born, we are but children before him. With cold logic, Kellhus will do anything to accomplish his mission—even dominating an entire Holy War.

In the average Fantasy, Kellhus would be our protagonist. But he’s not. That is Achamian, the middle-aged sorcerer and spy, an overweight man prone to drink, drugs, and prostitutes. A man whose decades working as a spy has made him cynical of the world. He has drunk with kings and beggars and realizes not much separates them. He is on another mission for the Mandate, his order of sorcerers, to discover if the Consult has any role in the Holy War called by the new Shriah (Pope). Achamian will return to the holy city of Sumna, and to Esmenet the Whore, perhaps the only person who truly knows him.

Politics and maneuvering dominate this book. While there is warfare and action, much of the book is a contest between men seeking to dominate their circumstances, from Emperor Ikurie Xerius who plans to harness the Holy War to restore the glory of his waning Empire to Cnaiür urs Skiötha who seeks to prove himself the best of his nomadic people. And at the heart, Kellhus, the Prince of Nothing and harbinger of the Apocalypse, arriving out of the wastelands. He is one of the conditioned and all will yield before him.

Intrigue, politics, cryptic prophecies declaring the end of the world, philosophy, faith, sin, sorcererous battles, warfare and the battered souls who strive to make sense of their world. The Darkness that Comes Before is both sweeping and historical at the same time is it deeply personal as R. Scott Bakker delves into human nature in all its vagaries, the good and the ill. This series has a rich cast of flawed characters.

You can buy The Darkness that Comes Before on Amazon!

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Review: Call of Water

Call of Water (Elemental Realms Book 2)

by H.L. Burke

Reviewed by JMD Reid

B01ENLPJEI.01.LZZZZZZZIt’s been three years since Lands of Ash and Karvir, transformed into a fire-elemental-like charred, and his family have settled down with Brode and his little sister Pet. The world is peaceful again. When Karvir and his youngest daughter Trea, now on the cusp of womanhood, venture to a nearby town, a pair of travelers changes everything for Karvir’s family.

Eanan and Gabrin had fled the Fire Elementals to islands off the sea and have returned to find the Evermirror, a portal to the Water Elementals. While the Fire Elementals have been driven to their own realm, three other elemental races are out there. The pair want to find allies. And when Quilla, Karvir’s oldest daughter, begins hearing a strange voice talk to her, she is driven to find out, leaving her family behind to join Eanan and Gabrin on their quest.

But Karvir’s not going to let his daughter run off. With Trea and Brode, he sets off to bring his daughter home. But danger lurks. Alana, servant of the Earth Elementals, fears the Water Elementals return. She and her ruthless band will do anything to prevent Quilla, Eanan, and Gabrin from reaching the Evermirorr.

Elemental war again threatens the peace of the world.

Call of Water is a great follow-up to Lands of Ash. Burke expands the scope of her world, introducing us to the Water and Earth Elementals and illuminating the history of her world. It is a fast-paced story with plenty of action and youthful romance. Family, again, dominates the theme of this book with the entrance of Eanan to the story, Karvir’s father-in-law and she skillfully uses the plot to explore the relation of fathers with their growing daughters.

An excellent read and I am eager for Burke’s next entry into the series!

You can buy Call of Water on Amazon!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Seven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Emperor
Chapter 7
Momemn

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

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

Ajencis, the Third Analytic of Men

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conphas grinned. “Welcome to the brothel.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

How could he not hate the Holy War.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was she trying to get Conphas killed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But you can.”

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

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

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

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

His thoughts leaped. I will be immortal …

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to continue on to Chapter Eight.

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Six

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Emperor
Chapter 6
The Jiünati Steppe

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

 It is said: a man is born of his mother and is fed of his mother. Then he is fed of the land, and the land passes through him, taking and giving a pinch of dust each time, until man is no longer of his mother, but of the land.

—Scylvendi Proverb

and in Old Sheyic, the language of the ruling and religious castes of the Nansurium, skilvenas means “catastrophe” or “apocalypse,” as though the Sclyvendi have somehow transcended the role of peoples in history and become a principle.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My Thoughts

Bakker gives us some insight into both the Sclyvendi world view and how the Nansur Empire views them. The Scylvendi equate manhood with being completely divorced from his mother. He has left her behind and found a new mother, the land.

As we learned in the last chapter, whenever the Scylvendi tribes unite, an empire dies. No wonder their name has become synonymous with catastrophe the way the Vandals became synonymous with destruction to the Romans.

Early Summer, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Jiünati Steppes

Cnaiür urs Skiötha approaches the King-of-Tribes and other clan leaders on a ridge overlooking the Nansur’s army. Cnaiür studies the group, half-expecting to hear insults and snide comments thrown at him.

Why would they disgrace me like this?

But he was not a child. He was the many-blooded chieftain of the Utemot, a seasoned Sclyvendi warrior of more than forty-five summers. He owned eight wives, twenty-three slaves, and more than three hundred cattle. He had fathered thirty-seven sons, nineteen of the pure blood. His arms were ribbed with the swazond, ritual trophy scars, of more than two hundred dead foes. He was Cnaiür, breaker-of-horse-and-men.

I could kill any of them—pound them to bloody ruin!–and yet they affront me like this? What have I done?

But like any murderer, he knew the answer. The outrage lay not in the fact of his dishonour but in their presumption to know.

The chiefs all were dressed mismatched armor, looking like they came from a large variety of nations and ages. Some wear Kianene helmets, marking them veterans of Zirkirta. “Only their scarred arms, stone faces, and long black hair marked them as the People—as Scylvendi.” Xunnurit was elected King-of-Tribes.

Cnaiür watches a warrior fire an arrow and realizes they measured distances and were planning the assault without him. Cnaiür rides up and looks down at the Nansur. They were camped on the banks the River Kiyuth and were building fortifications. When Cnaiür first saw the Nansur army digging in on the Steppes, it filled him with anger. Now, he feels foreboding.

Cnaiür demands to know why he wasn’t summoned. Xunnurit, with “undisguised contempt” says he was. There had been instant dislike between Cnaiür and Xunnurit when they met five days ago. Cnaiür states it would be juvenile to attack. The rest of the chiefs murmur disapproval. But Cnaiür’s many swazond demanded respect. Xunnurit disagrees with Cnaiür, saying the Nansur defile the hallowed land. He asks if Cnaiür wants to parlay and pay tribute to Conphas.

Cnaiür wants to wait. To starve out Conphas and force him to attack the Scylvendi out of desperation instead of attacking Conphas on the ground of his choosing. The older chiefs, Cnaiür observed, saw the wisdom in his words. Xunnurit was unimpressed, demanding to know what Cnaiür would do if he found his wife being raped in his yaksh. Attack at once, or wait for a better tactical situation. Sneering, Cnaiür says this is different. Xunnurit asks, if this is what the memorialist tell them.

It wasn’t so much the man’s cunning that shocked Cnaiür as the realization that he’d underestimated him.

Xunnurit’s eyes flashed with triumph. “No. The memorialist say that battle is our hearth, earth our womb, and sky our yaksh. We’ve been violated, as surely as if Conphas had quickened our wives or cracked our hearthstone. Violated. Desecrated. Humiliated. We’re beyond measuring tactical advantage, Utemot.

Cnaiür points out eight years ago at Zirkirta, the tribes feel back from the Kianene, slowly bleeding them, before crushing them. Xunnurit tries to protest that this is different, and Cnaiür asks how this battle can be like a hearth, and not like Zirkirta where patience was practiced. Oknai One-Eye, Chieftain of the Munuäti, points out that the droughts began soon. Herds must be taken to summer pastures. The Scylvendi cannot wait long. Xunnurit jumps on this, pointing out Conphas’s large baggage train he brought. He might be able to last six months.

Cnaiür sees the worry in the other chiefs eyes. To long from away presented many hazards: herds could die, slaves revolt, wives wander, or for northern tribes (like Cnaiür’s), Sranc. Cnaiür realized, even if the others knew it was foolish, the pressure to act swiftly were to great. All eyes turns to Cnaiür.

Had Ikurei Conphas intended this? It would be easy enough, he supposed, to learn the different demands the seasons placed on the People. Had Conphas deliberately chosen the weeks before the summer drought?

The thought dizzied Cnaiür with its implications. Suddenly, everything he had witnessed and heard since joining the horde possessed different meanings: the buggery of their Scylvendi captives, the mocking embassies, even the positioning of their privies—all calculated to gall the People into attacking.

Cnaiür says Conphas has brought all these supplies to fight a war of patience. Xunnurit exclaims, that is why they must attack, before hunger forces the People to disband. Cnaiür disagrees, he plans to wait until hunger forces the People to attack him. Xunnurit mocks him, saying the Utemot are far removed from imperial lands and do not know the political situation. Conphas has grown to popular. The Emperor sent him hear to his death.

Cnaiür, in disbelief, retorts the cream of the Imperial Army is here. The elite cavalry, Norsirai auxiliaries, and even Eothic Guard. The Empire must have been stripped to assemble this host. Xunnurit disagrees, the memorialist speak of other Emperors who did this. Cnaiür points out the current Empire is besieged and could not afford to lose this army. Xunnurit jumps at this. Once this army is destroyed, they could sweep the Nansur Empire, like their fathers of yore. Cnaiür continues his protest, but the others begin mocking him.

Cnaiür could smell it then, the good-humoured camaraderie that amounted to little more than a conspiracy to mock one and the same man. His lips twisted into a grimace. Always the same, no matter what his claim to arms or intellect. They’d measured him many years ago—and found him wanting.

But measure is unceasing…

Cnaiür continues to try to reason with them. He explains that Conphas has gambled on the People making the mistake of attacking his fortifications. He is counting on the People to do what they always have done. The only way to defeat him, is to not play his game. To wait. Xunnurit openly mocks Cnaiür now, calling him “Time-killing Cnaiür.” The other chiefs join Xunnurit laughter. Their laughter falters under Cnaiür’s murderous glare. Nervously, Xunnurit says tomorrow they “shall sacrifice an entire nation to the Dead-God.”

The next morning, Cnaiür prepares for battle. He wonders why Conphas had provoked the People. The were fractious by nature, and few things could unite them. Invading the steppes is one way. Conphas had just created a great threat for the Empire and Cnaiür knew all was not as it seemed. Cnaiür could not grasp Conphas’s goal for doing this.

Cnaiür leads his tribe up the ridge, looking down at the lines of the Imperial Army, forming up in phalanxes between the river and their fortifications. Calvary were poised to harass any Sclyvendi crossing the river. Horns blared, and soldiers pounded weapons on shields. Cnaiür studies the assembled Imperial Army and is unsurprised to see them deployed between their camps and the river, instead of at the river. This would change the Scylvendi battle plan.

Cnaiür is startled out of his thoughts by Bannut, his uncle. Bannut wonders why the deployed so far from the river, allowing the People to charge them once they cross. Cnaiür thinks Conphas wants a decisive battle. There will be no room to maneuver once they cross the river. Bannut thinks the Nansur are mad, and Cnaiür remembers the Kianene had tried a similar tactic at Zirkirta and failed. Cnaiür doesn’t think Conphas is mad though. He sends Bannut to find out what Xunnurit wants the Utemot to do. Bannut takes Yursalka, who married Xunnurit’s daughter, with him.

Xunnurit signals the assault. As the Scylvendi ride their horses to the river, Bannut and Yursalka return from Xunnurit. They inform Cnaiür the Utemot are to take the southernmost ford and form up before the Nasueret Column, the Ninth Column. They are rumored to be the best. Cnaiür thinks Xunnurit means for the Utemot to be killed.

The Scylvendi begin to ford and drive back the Imperial Skirmishers. The first to cross began to fire arrows at the Columns while the rest of the Sclyvendi cross. The Utemot cross, and form up before the Nasueret. Conphas allows the Sclyvendi to assemble without contest. Horsehair signals were passed, and the Sclyvendi made ready to charge.

Bannut informs Cnaiür he will be measure today. Cnaiür is surprised that the old warrior would bring up old wounds and furiously confronts him. Bannut says this is the best time to revisit the past. Worries beset Cnaiür, but there was no time to think. “The pilgrimage had ended; worship was about to begin.”

Signals are sent, and the Scylvendi begin their assault. When they reach the Nansur bow range, they charged. Arrows fall on the Utemot and some died. Before them, pikes were readied to meet their charge. “War and worship!” is the Utemot battle cry. A pike takes Cnaiür horse in the chest and he dives off his mount.

The Nansur ranks were unbroken, and his kinsmen died. Cnaiür glanced behind him, expecting to see the second wave of Utemot and saw his tribesmen watching the slaughter from safety. Cnaiür realizes treachery and searches for Bannut. He finds him fighting with a Nansur soldier and Cnaiür kills the soldier with a javelin. Cnaiür demands to know what is going on. Bannut answers, they made a deal with Xunnurit.

Killed you! Killed the kin-slayer! The weeping faggot who’d be our chieftain!”

Horns blared through the uproar. Between heartbeats, Cnaiür saw his father in Bannut’s grizzled face. But Skiötha had not died like this.

I watched you that night!” Bannut wheezed, his voice growing more pinched with agony. “I saw the truth of what”—his body cramped and shook about a wracking cough—“what happened those thirty years past. I told all that truth! Now the Utemot will be delivered form the oppression of your disgrace.”

You know nothing!” Cnaiür cried.

I know all! I saw the way you looked at him. I know he was your lover!”

Cnaiür is shocked to learn his people think he is gay and a weeper. Cnaiür boasts of all the men he has killed, more than any other. “I’m the measure of disgrace and honour. Your measure!” Cnaiür yells, as he strangles Bannut, like a slave, until he dies. Cnaiür grabs his sword and rallies the few Utemot left alive from the charge.

The Nansur ranks advanced and charged Cnaiür his men. Cnaiür kills the first soldier and, in the Nansur “womanish tongue,” demands to know who’s next. Cnaiür continues to taunt and kill the Nansur soldiers, fighting with a feverish skill. The soldiers envelop Cnaiür and his Utemot, but they falter before the ferocity of the Scylvendi. More Scylvendi charge into the ranks of soldiers. Finally, the Nasueret Column breaks and flee.

While his tribe cheered their victory, Cnaiür climbed a low knoll to survey the battle. The Nansur camp was already burning, and several columns were isolated from the center. Cnaiür sees chaos at the center. Xunnurit has been pressed back to the river by Eothic Guards and other columns Cnaiür does not recognize. Cnaiür looks for the Kuöti and Alkussi tribes and sees them on the wrong side of the river being attacked by Kidruhil, elite cavalry. Cnaiür spots a perfectly formed column bearing the standards of the Nasueret.

Cnaiür is confused. The Utemot had just routed the Nasueret, so how could they be marching to the north? And Cnaiür was sure the Kidruhil were on the right flank of the Nansur formation, a position of honor, not across the river. Balait, Cnaiür brother-in-law and someone he respects, brings him a fresh horse and tells him they need to reform to strike again.

Something is wrong, though. Cnaiür explains that Conphas has conceded the flanks to the Scylvendi and to hold the center. He had used false banners to trick the Scylvendi into thinking the best soldiers were on the flank, not the center. Balait thinks Conphas means to kill Xunnurit and those throw the People into confusion. Cnaiür disagrees, saying Conphas is to smart for that. Cnaiür studies the battle, trying to figure out Conphas’s plan.

Cnaiür realizes Conphas’s plan. The Scylvendi had deployed their Chorae bowman behind their center. Conphas has either destroyed them or routed them and is now free to unleash a School upon the Scylvendi. Cnaiür tells Balait to flee. From the sky, descended two dozen Imperial Saik Schoolmen who unleash sorcery on the Munuäti. The entire battle was a trap to deny the Scylvendi their Chorae. Cnaiür grabs his Chorae from beneath his breastplate.

As though walking across the back of roiling smoke and dust, a Schoolman drifted toward them. He slowed, floating the heights of a tree-top above them. His black silk robe boiled in the mountain wind, its gold trim undulating like snakes in water. White light flashes from his eyes and mouth. A barrage of arrows winked into cinders against his spherical Wards. The ghost of a dragon’s head ponderously ascended from his hands. Cnaiür saw glassy scales and eyes like globes of bloody water.

The majestic head bowed.

He turned to Balait, crying, “Run!”

The horned maw opened and spewed blinding fire.

Teeth snapped. Skin blistered and sloughed. But Cnaiür felt nothing, only the warmth thrown by Balait’s burning shadow. There was a momentary shriek, the sound of bones and bowels exploding.

Around Cnaiür lies the cooked remains of many Utemot. Cnaiür routs. He spots Yursalka fleeing with a band of Utemot. Yursalka ignores Cnaiür’s cries for help. The Kidruhil begin to fan out and harry the routing Scylvendi. Cnaiür continues to run, reaching the river, and sees Yursalka and the Utemot on the other side. Cnaiür struggles to cut off his armor so he can swim the river, when he is struck in the head and is knocked unconscious.

When Cnaiür awakes, he lies in the river mud. It is night, and Cnaiür hears group of Nansur’s combing the dead for loot and killing any survivors. Cnaiür buries his Chorae in the mud beneath him, smears some dried blood on his face from a corpse, and fills his mouth with mud. When the looters reach him, they think he’s dead and quickly loot his body, moving on.

Cnaiür passes out again, and when he awakens it is morning. The first thing he does is dig up his Chorae. Cnaiür climbs up the riverbank and surveys the battlefield. He realizes the Nansur have humiliated the Scylvendi on their own territory. Anger fills Cnaiür. He had warned the chiefs and they had laughed at him. Cnaiür realizes they were all dead. The Scylvendi had been massacred. The People of Lokung, vengeance made flesh and bone, dead.

And by the Nansur! Cnaiür had fought too many borderland skirmishes not to respect them as warriors, but in the end he despised the Nansur the way all Scylvendi despised them:as a mongrel race, a kind of human vermin, to be hunted to extinction if possible. For the Scylvendi, the mention of the Empire-behind-the-Mountains summoned innumerable images of degradation: leering priests groveling before their unholy Tusk; sorcerers trussed in whorish gowns, uttering unearthly obscenities while painted courtiers, their soft bodies powdered and perfumed, committed earthly ones. These were the men who had conquered them. Tillers of earth and writers of words. Men who made sport with men.

Cnaiür begins to weep, and remembers the accusation of Bannut, that he was a weeper and a faggot. Cnaiür realizes his suspicions these thirty years were correct. His people had secretly hated him and slandered him behind his back. Cnaiür begins to scream out loud at his demons.

Cnaiür’s outburst is interrupted by the sound of voices. Cnaiür deduces that two officers approach. They are Martemus and Conphas. Conphas is explaining to Martemus why his plan worked. Conphas had studied the Scylvendi, reading everything he could find on them. He even had agents steal records from the Fanim. Conphas learned that in thousands of years, the Scylvendi battle tactics have not changed. “The Scylvendi are just as philosopher Ajencis claimed: a people without history.”

Martemus points out that any illiterate people would be without history. Conphas explains that even illiterate people would change over the years. But the Scylvendi are two obsessed with custom. Martemus thought Conphas’s plan was folly, and only his faith in Conphas kept him loyal. Conphas and Martemus banter about whether Conphas should fully explain his plan. Cnaiür begins to formulate plans on how to murder the pair. Finally, Conphas explains why they won.

As I said, the Scylvendi are obsessed with custom. That means they repeat, Martemus. They follow the same formula time and again. Do you see? They worship war, but they have no understanding of what it truly is.”

And what, then, is war truly?”

Intellect, Martemus. War is intellect.”

Conphas spurts his horse ahead and Martemus follows. Cnaiür hears Conphas order Martemus to collect all the Scylvendi heads. Conphas plans on lining the road to the capital of with spiked heads.

Cnaiür wonders what to do now. The Scylvendi were dead, and Cnaiür lies down amongst them. He remembers the death of his father, Skiötha. Like many other times, the leaders of the Utemot were gathered in the White Yaksh of the clan chief. A blonde Norsirai man, found abandon on the steppes and taken as a slave, challenges Skiötha to a wager. Skiötha is taken aback by a slave challenging him, speaking his name. Cnaiür had a role to play, and asks his father if he’s scared. Skiötha, stung, asks the slave his wager.

And Cnaiür is gripped by the terror that he might die.

Fear that the slave, Anasûrimbor Moënghus might die!

Not his father—Moënghus …

Afterward, when his father lay dead, he had wept before the eyes of his tribe. Wept with relief.

At last, Moënghus, the one who had called himself Dûnyain, was free.

Some names mark us so deeply. Thirty years, on hundred and twenty seasons—a long time in the life of one man.

And it meant nothing.

Some events mark us so deeply.

Cnaiür flees the battlefield under the cover of dark, haunted by the dead.

My Thoughts

Wow, you do not often get barbarians with an inferiority complex. The entire chapter is Cnaiür paranoid about people talking behind his back, making fun of him. Thinking everyone knows the truth that he murdered his father to became the Utemot Chieftain through dishonour. And then, in the midst of battle, to find out just how much his people hate him. To learn that they knew the entire shameful story. Cnaiür had conspired with his male lover to assassinate his father. To the Scylvendi, nothing could be worse.

And then through shear, hateful determination, Cnaiür has thrived as Chieftain. He has slain all rivals. Cnaiür so hates himself for what he did, he constantly strives to prove how great a Scylvendi he is. He has more swazond than any other. He is the greatest Scylvendi warrior. And yet, all that battle prowess is not enough. He is still the “faggot weeper” to his people. Nothing he does will ever change that.

When Cnaiür sees Conphas’s army, he senses something is off. He wants a siege, but the Scylvendi people clearly are not a patient group. The young burn with the anger at what Conphas has done to them: defiled both their holy steppes as well as their captured comrades. The Scylvendi are arrogant. For two thousand years, no army has ever stood up to all the clans united. And never on the steppes.

In the battle, we see why the Scylvendi are so feared by the Nansur. We have Cnaiür and the small handful of Utemot that survived the first charge, all on foot, fighting in a circle and driving back the soldiers. They are so effective that Yursalka can no longer hold back the rest of the Utemot, who charge in and rout the soldiers. That hateful determination of Cnaiür really comes into play here. He’s not going to let his tribes treachery kill him.

And then we see why sorcerer’s are really hated and feared. Once their Chorae bowman are scattered, it takes only two dozen Imperial Saik to massacre the Scylvendi. It is a rout. Every man for themselves. In an hour, the power of the Sclyvendi is destroyed, perhaps to never rise again.

Cnaiür is one of the most complex characters I’ve read in genre fiction. A man combining wild passions and deep intellect. A violent man. A man who has driven himself mad trying to be what his people expect and still is rejected because the harder he tries, the weaker they see him. He has completely buried his true self with who he believes he should be.

No wonder he screams at his demons.

The battle scenes are immerse, putting you into the thick of it, the horror and the smells, the screams and the fear. Bakker understands ancient warfare and the tactics of the steppe hordes from our own world. The Sclyvendi fight like the Scythians against the Romans. The first battle of the Holy War has been fought and one by the Ikurei Dynasty.

The introduction of Conphas talking with his general, Martemus, is a great and hearing Cnaiür’s anaylsis confirmed demonstrates his intelligence. The two have a great back and forth. Martemus is a commoner who rose through the ranks of the army. Conphas almost treats him like an equal, and Conphas eventually confides his plans and explains his actions to Martemus. I also think its great that the People of War were brought done by careful scholarship and understanding war.

War is Intellect,” says Conphas. Remember those words when we get to the end of the novel.

We learn from Martemus, that he, and by extension the army, only followed Conphas on this crazy plan because he had faith in him. Now that Conphas has done the impossible, destroyed the Scylvendi threat for decades to come if not permanently, the army will be even more loyal. Emperor Ikurei should watch out. History shows that ambitious general with the armies loyalty can take an emperor’s throne.

And finally, we have mention of the story set out in the prologue. The Dûnyain have reentered the tale. Thirty years ago, Anasûrimbor Moënghus had passed through Utemot land. From what we saw with Kellhus and Leweth in the prologue, it must have been child play for Moënghus to seduce Cnaiür and use him against his father. Moënghus would not only need to escape the Utemot, but would need safe passage through the rest of Scylvendi lands. The Dûnyain are amazing fighters, but not even they can take on hundreds by themselves.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Seven!

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