Tag Archives: Grimdark Fantasy

Review: BERSERK 12

BERSERK 12

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The eclipse has arrived. The moment the series has been building towards: what happened to turn Guts into the Black Swordsman and Griffith into the demonic Femto. After losing everything, his body tortured and mutilated, his tongue removed, denied the ability to command his Band of the Hawk, Griffith faces a hopeless future as an invalid being cared for by Caska.

What future is that for a poor orphan who dreamed of being a king? Of attaining that castle on the hill? He came so close. If it wasn’t for one man. If it wasn’t for Guts, the only person to ever make Griffith waver from his dream.

The only person to ever make Griffith weak.

No, before the Godhand, the demonic entities that create the apostles, he’s given a choice. Sacrifce Guts and the surviving Band of the Hawk, or let all those deaths, all those boys who perished, in service of attaining his dream be for nothing. He has one last chance to attain it. It just requires a few more sacrifices.

Then he’ll never be weak again.

We know how this ends. Mirua already showed us that Guts survives and that Griffith makes the choice. Now we just have to learn what happens next. Are their others? Will Caska, the woman Guts loves, survive, too?

The feast of the eclipse has began.

This is one of the most powerful pieces of fantasy out there. The images convey the emotions, while the character and story drives it forward. Miura has crafted these characters, built them so that when we got to this point, we understand what we read before. Why Guts is fueled by rage and anger, why he’s so desperate not to just kill Griffith, but to be noticed by him. We understand who Griffith is and what leads him to make that terrible choice.

In a world of cause and effect, where free will is an illusion, Griffith had no choice to make. His dream was at hand. Circumstances had reduced him to a pitiful state but hadn’t robbed him of his drive to keep fighting. His will remains intact. His rationale is in place to commit such a horrific act.

Volume 12 and 13 are why BERSERK is a masterpiece of not only graphic novels, but modern fantasy in general.

You can buy BERSERK Vol 12 from Amazon.

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Review: BERSERK 10

BERSERK 10

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The Band of the Hawk, rejoined by Guts, are ready to break Griffith out of jail. With the aid of Princess Charlotte, still in love with Griffith even after a year of his imprisonment, is willing to defy her father to save him. With Guts at the lead, Caska and the others venture into the dungeons.

But what will they find in the darkest cell? It has been a year of torture for Griffith. Will they even find the same man they once followed? Or will they merely find a broken shell, so brutalized he’ll be an invalid for the rest of his life.

As the Band ventures deeper, dark things move through the world. Something is gathering. A year ago, Guts was given a prophesy. The eclipse is coming, and the evil in the world coalesces to celebrate.

Not only does Volume 10 have some powerful imagery in it, it does more to further the back story and set up so many theories about just what is going on with the Godhand, the enigmatic Knight of Skeleton, and more in this one chapter. Are we witnessing a cycle that happened a thousand years ago played out again? Maybe?

What does that mean for the future of the series? So many great theories out there.

The story continues to be incredible. The artwork captures the emotions, from the helpless suffering of Griffith, the determination of the sheltered princess, and the rage of Guts as he does the only thing he’s good at: swings his sword. The characters and art continues to excel. The passion bleeds off the page. This is writing and art mixed together to make something amazing, something only found in the medium of the comic.

If you’re a fan of fantasy, especially the grimdark subgenre, you have to check out this novel. Fans of Bakker, Abercrombie, and Erikson will find so much in this series!

You can buy BERSERK Vol 10 from Amazon.

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Review: Darkblade Slayer (Hero of Darkness 5)

Darkblade Slayer (Hero of Darkness 5)

by Andy Peloquin

Reviewed by JMD Reid

For the Hunter, all his goals converge in Enarium, the lost city of the ancient Serenii. It is the destination of the demon known as the Sage who plans on unleashing the Destroyer upon the world. It is the only place where a cure can be found for Halien, the six-year-old boy who has become a son to the immortal assassin. And, lastly, it is where She awaits. The woman from his lost memories.

His wife.

He doesn’t know what he will find in Enarium or how he will even find it. It is lost. Treasure hunters for thousands of years have roamed the Empty Mountains searching for it. But he has something they don’t, a clue given by happenstance from Sage. A clue that an ancient play might hold the cipher for the journey. If he can figure it out.

At the same time, old enemies have returned. They have followed the Hunter’s trail across the world. Can he convince them that they have the same goals, or will he be forced to kill them and further weaken himself in the process.

The Hunter is no hero, but he’ll save the world anyways.

The penultimate novel of the Hero of Darkness series is a wild ride. Old friends and foes are back as everything is leading towards Enarium. The secrets of the past are bubbling to the surface along with the Hunter’s memories. A climatic ending is in the works if he can reach it. But the obstacles are large.

As always, Peloquin’s books move fast, plunging you forward through his dark, fantasy world. There are no easy decisions to be found. It’s a brutal world where the fortunes of one can change in an instant. It builds towards its ending and leaves you eager for the conclusion.

If you’re a fan of grimdark fantasy, then you have to try out Peloquin’s work. He’s an indie author worth reading!

You can buy Darkblade Seeker from Amazon. Check out Andy Peloquin’s website, connect on Linked In, follow him on Google Plus, like him on Twitter @AndyPeloquin, and like him on Facebook.

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Book Review: BERSERK 3

BERSERK 3

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Guts, the Black Swordsman, lies battered and near death at the hands of the transformed, demonic count. Guts’s quest of vengeance might have finally found an enemy he can’t defeated. Battered, many bones broken, he struggles to stand to fight. Only the arrival of the counts young daughter, the one person the monster doesn’t want to see his inhuman form, has saved Guts.

But for how much long will that last?

He’ll have only one chance to defeat the count. He might be broken. He might only be human, but Guts has a will that will carry him through to his desire. He will crush all that stands before him no matter the cost to himself or others.

Miura continues to peel back Guts’s backstory in this one. We finally learn who he wants to destroy and catch a glimpse of his past life with the enigmatic Griffith know turned into one of the demonic Godhand who oversee monsters like the count.

Emotion swirls through this one. Miura explores how love can feed a hate so black it can destroy the person you most love and then show how that same emotion can overcome a fear so profound that it gives even a loathsome monster a chance to do something right. To make one positive choice after seven years of perversion.

This volume is all about revealing the past of Guts, showing us the steps on the road of how he became the near-inhuman monster he is, cloaked in so much rage and hatred that his humanity can only come out in a single moment. As Vargas in the last volume was a mirror of Guts’s physical body, Theresia, the count’s daughter, is a mirror of his soul. That innocence that has been perverted by rage and anger, twisted and destroyed, leaving something else behind.

I would really like for Theresia to make a reappearance in the story.

The manga ends with flashing back to the beginning of Guts. Miura shows us right there in his origin why Guts is still alive. How in a world where “transcendental fate” rules all, that he survived the sacrifice, that he continues to kill the demons. Because Guts side-stepped his fate from the moment of birth.

The manga leaves us eager to read more of how this abused boy grew up into the Black Swordsman.

You can buy BERSERK Vol 3 from Amazon.

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Review: BERSERK 1

BERSERK 1

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The Black Swordsman is a demon in human flesh. A man scarred and battered, is missing an eye, and has an iron hand in place of his right. He wields a massive sword that can shear through an armored knight. He inspires fear where he goes.

And what he fights is far more terrifying.

On a quest for vengeance, consumed by an almost inhuman rage and anger, the Black Swordsman is carving a bloody path through the servants of true demons. Grotesque monsters with preternatural strength. They murder, they rape, they cannibalize those they rule over. Petty despots with inhuman powers clinging to their immortality.

The Black Swordsman arrives in one village where a one demon, Kora, rules. The local village sends women and children to be feasted in a cowardly attempt to protect themselves. The demon’s soldiers drink and whore as they please, knowing their inhuman master’s deadly reputation defends them. But the Black Swordsman doesn’t fear Kora.

He picks a fight and the carnage beings.

The start of BERSERK is a powerful beginning. Miura doesn’t pull any punches in his world. BERSERK is the banner of grimdark fantasy. There are no good choices. Innocent people get caught up in the horrific events, bystanders too weak to survive the growing darkness in the world. Our hero, Guts the Black Swordsman, is so consumed with anger and rage he doesn’t care about anything but but his revenge. He wields a weapon of such size it should be comical, but Guts is drawn with such a deadly grace, at once both lean and powerful muscled, a man who is a veteran of a thousand battles. He thinks, he plans, and he executes without flinching.

All we can do is wonder at the events that produced such a man. It is clear why he is so scarred and hardened. The enemies he fights can transform into towering monsters. They are capricious beings that delight in blood and carnage. Everywhere they go, they bring misery and death as they satiate their own base desires. It is a world without hope. A world on the verge of being swallowed by the darkness.

A world in need of a savior. Can Guts be that for them? Or will his own hatred and anger destroy him?

The art of BERSERK is detailed and fantastic. Miura forgoes the more traditional “big eyes” look of other Manga artist, instead using a very gritty, realistic, and Western style of art that fits well with his fantasy setting. Everything is drawn with care and detail. He has real skill at bringing to life his medieval world in all its sordid details.

BERSERK delivers a visceral punch that leaves you asking so many questions. Who is Guts? What happened to him? Who are these demons? What has happened to this world? You can feel that something has shifted in it. That something has gone very, very wrong.

The only way to find out is to keep reading!

You can buy BERSERK Vol 1 from Amazon.

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Review: Darkblade Seeker (Hero of Darkness 4)

Darkblade Seeker (Hero of Darkness 4)

by Andy Peloquin

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The Hunter’s quest to uncover his past and stop the demons from plunging his world into chaos continues!

Atop Shana Laal, a mighty peak, lies Karak-ket, the twin temples. The abode of the Sage, the entity directing the activities of the demons throughout the cities of the world. Here, the Hunter seeks his next prey, to stop the Sage’s destructive plan, and maybe to find the secrets that will unlock his forgotten memories.

But what the Hunter doesn’t contend with is the scheming machinations between the cold and calculating Sage and the bloodthirsty and psychotic Warmaster. Two foes pitting each other, both seeking to use the Hunter to their own gains. Can he use them both to his advantage, or will he become one of their pawns in their eons-long game. Another piece discarded and broken.

Peloquin continues the story of the Hunter in fashion. From the beginning, we know who the enemy is. Peloquin expertly weaves a story pitting a sociopath against a psychopath with the Hunter caught in the middle. His every move will tilt him towards one side or the other. How long can he walk between the two sides, promising support while plotting treachery?

Darkblade Seeker is a roller-coaster ride full of of twist and turns and stomach-churning loops as one revelation comes after the other. More of the Hunter’s past is peeled back as he grapples with whom he can trust, and what are the lies he’s being told and what are the truth. Everything is uncertain. Every moment fraught with danger, and Peloquin captures that masterfully.

Once again, Peloquin has delivered a fast-paced, grimdark fantasy novel that fans of the genre will love. If you’re not reading Peloquin, you need to give this indie author a try. He’s proof that the big publishers can miss quality talent.

You can buy Darkblade Seeker from Amazon. Check out Andy Peloquin’s website, connect on Linked In, follow him on Google Plus, like him on Twitter @AndyPeloquin, and like him on Facebook.

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Eight

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 8
Xerash

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

To merely recall the Apocalypse is to have survived it. This is what makes The Sagas, for all their cramped beauty, so monstrous.

Despite their protestations, the poets who authored them do not tremble, even less do they grieve. They celebrate.

—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

I really thought I had read this quote earlier in the series, but it must have just stayed with me. It’s a true statement about Achamian’s psychology. We have seen this over and over throughout the books. It’s the criticism of the soldier who fought in war and saw the truth versus the romantic who doesn’t comprehend just what happened. So, what does that have to do with his chapter?

“Apocalypse could feel so light” is something Esmenet thinks when she first picks up the Saga. This is exactly what Achamian is saying with his quote. Reading about the past makes you remote from it. It’s how humans can repeat the horrors that have come before because the farther removed we get from events, the less impact they have. The more likely they’ll be repeated. Communism killed more people in the 20th century than the Nazis did between Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and others. Yet you’ll find educated people today talking about the merits of the system because they’ve only read about it, not lived through its horrors.

Then we go to the next paragraph where Esmenet has her own Saga tattooed on her hand. She’s lived being a whore, but for everyone else who sees it, they can’t understand the poverty, smell, degradation, and simplicity of her past life. Especially not surrounded by her new reality. People will write poems about her. They will celebrate her past, showing how she was redeemed by their prophet. They will not tremble or grieve.

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

The scattered Holy War, split up on Kellhus’s orders, converge on Gerotha with the Ainoni Lord Soter being the first to arrive. He marches straight to the city’s gate, soon nicknamed the Twin Fists, to parley. The citizens are scared of atrocities. Lord Soter laughs, withdraws, and begins the siege. Kellhus, Proyas, and Gotian arrived the next day. Kellhus convinced an embassy from the city, demoralized by being abandoned by their ruler who already fled, to surrender the city without condition.

The following morning found the men of the Gerothan embassy strung from the battlements of the great gate, their entrails sagging to the foundations. According to the defectors who managed to escape the city, there had been a coup that night, led by priests and officers loyal to their old Kianene overlords.

The Men of the Tusk began preparing their assault.

Kellhus rides forward to demand answers. A veteran called Captain Hebarata curses him and rants about the Solitary God’s vengeance. Kellhus levels an ultimatum saying, “From this day I count!” The cryptic statement troubles every one.

Meanwhile, Athjeäri continues his patrols. The young earl takes prisoners and learns that the Kianene are seeking to defile Inrithi holy sites to provoke the Holy War. Talking to his captains, Athjeäri decides “if any man should be provoked to rashness, it should be Coithus Athjeäri.” It begins the start of Athjeäri’s Pilgrimage. However, they are too late to stop the shrine of Muselah from being destroyed.

Upon that ground they swore a mighty oath.

Back at Gerotha, the rest of the Holy War has arrived. They see the city as weak since they have made no sorties to test for weakness. Hulwarga and Gothyelk wan to attack immediately. But Kellhus wants them to wait. “Where hope burns bright, patience is quickly consumed.” He says the city will surrender on its own.

On the fourth day of the siege, Esmenet begins reading The Sagas. Before she does, she hears music playing in the background. She’s dealing with morning sickness. Her her body slaves, she learns that it’s a group of three male slaves showing off their skills. Fanashila wants to marry a handsome one, asking for Esmenet’s permission. That makes her feel sad as she gives it. She visits Moënghus and sees his eyes are blue like Cnaiür and feels guilty for not missing Serwë even while thinking of her own baby. Afterward, she has various meetings, including with Werjau to hear his “Summary of Reports.” It felt “deceptively routine” to her. She learns that Uranyanak, a man who Esmenet wants arrested for sedition but whom Kellhus says is too important, continues to curse him.

Her duties as Intricati busied her long into the afternoon. She had grown accustomed to them enough to become bored, especially when it came to administrative matters. Sometimes her old eyes would overcome her and she would find herself gauging the men about her with the carnal boredom of a whore sizing up custom. A sudden awareness of clothing and distance would descend upon her, and she would feel inviolate in a way that made her skin tingle. All the acts they could not commit, all the places they could not touch… These banned possibilities would seem to hang above her like the hazing the canvas ceilings.

I am forbidden, she would think.

Why this should make her feel so pure, she could not fathom.

After a meeting with Proyas, which always feel awkward because he still grieved “their earlier animosity” and another meeting with Werjau, she found herself free to do what she wants: reading The Sagas. She’s learned to enjoy reading, even hungering for it. She gathers them with the same “miserly feelings she harbored towards her cosmetic chests.” But books don’t hide her fear of aging, they allowed her to “so see more.”

“You’ve learned the lesson,” Kellhus had said on one of those rare mornings when he shared her breakfast.

“What lesson might that be?”

“That the lessons never end.” He laughed, gingerly sipped his steaming tea. “That ignorance is infinite.”

She asks how he could know, and makes a joke about his divinity, causing her to throw a pillow which instantly fills her with wonder for “throwing a pillow at a prophet.” She opens her chest containing her library, books she packed up from Caraskand. She sifts through them and feels apprehensive when she finds The Sagas. Feeling foolish, she scoops it up, marveling that “Apocalypse could feel so light.” As she starts reading, she notices her whore tattoo.

It seemed a kind of charm or totem now—her version of an ancestor scroll. That woman, that Sumna harlot who had hung her legs bare from her window, was a stranger to her now. Blood joined them, perhaps, but little else. Her poverty, her smell, her degradation, her simplicity—everything seemed to argue against her.

She reflects on how all her current power would make “the old Esmenet weep for wonder.” She’s second in power behind Kellhus. Men like Eleäzaras and Proyas have to bow to her. “She had rewritten jnan!” Kellhus promised her this and more. She also is a woman of faith now, not the “cynical harlot.” The old her couldn’t have faith, not with how many priests had bought her services.

The old Esmenet would never accept an understanding indistinguishable from trust.

She even carries a “destiny within her womb.” The greatest change, though, is the knowledge she gained. Through Kellhus, she had her world rewritten and understood the “twin darknesses of custom and appetite.” It had outraged her until she found her faith.

The world indeed held miracles, though only for those who dared abandon old hopes.

With a deep breath, Esmenet dives into the scroll, reading one of those “works familiar even to illiterate caste-menials.” To her, the Ancient North, the No-God, the Apocalypse, and the Ordeal were just curious stories, not anything real. Achamian rarely talked about The Sagas, and when he did, he bad-mouthed them. To him they were “like pearls strung across a corpse.” Achamian always spoke of those events with a “thoughtless, first-hand immediacy” that chilled her. Compared to that, The Sagas became something foolish to her and she like-wise would bad-mouth them to others while feeling smug because of her inside information. Despite this, she knows almost nothing about what The Sagas contained and is shocked to learn it’s a collection of different works from different authors, a mix of epic verse and prose.

She had no idea where Kellhus had obtained the scroll, but it was very old, and as much painted as inked—the prize of some dead scholar’s library. The parchment was uterine, soft and unmottled. Both the style of the script and the diction and tone of the translator’s dedicatory seemed bent to the sensibilities of some other kind of reader. For the first time she found herself appreciating the fact that this history was itself historical. For some reason she had never considered that writings could be part of what they were about. They always seemed to hang… outside the world they depicted.

She feels strange reading it on her marriage bed and finds herself carried away. She realizes reading “made gauze of what was immediate, and allowed what was ancient and faraway to rise into view.”

Infected by a kind of floating wonder, she fell into the first of The Sagas.

She feels it’s a curiously erotic experience reading someone’s else thoughts. She feels an intimate connection with the author. Then she realizes the book is talking about her husband’s ancestor, Anasûrimbor Celmomas. The past suddenly feels so close to her through Kellhus and Achamian’s dreams. She’s shocked to learn that there was history before the First Apocalypse. A lot of history, things she never had heard of. She reads and learns Celmomas II was born with a stillborn brother.

After this, the strange intensity that had nagged everything, from the mere thought of reading The Sagas to the weight of the scrolls in her palm, took on the character of a compulsion. It was as if something—a second voice—whispered beneath what she read. Once she even bolted from the bed and pressed her ear to the embroidered canvas walls. She enjoyed stories as much as anyone. She knew what it was to hang in suspense, to feel the gut of some almost-grasped conclusion. But this was different. Whatever it was she thought she heard, it spoke not to some climactic twist, nor even to some penetrating illumination—it spoke to her. The way a person might.

The next four days would be haggard. Jealousy, murder, rage, and doom before all… The First Apocalypse engulfed her.

Esmenet reads about the rule of Celmomas, the last Kûniüric High King (and the guy who gave the Celmomas Prophecy about the Harbinger’s return), how he was warned by Seswatha, via though Nonmen sorcerers of Ishterebinth, that the Mangaecca School (Consult forerunners) were investigating Min-Uroikas and trying to activate the Inchoroi technology, including the No-God. Seswatha’s Long Argument convinced Celmomas to act, though it was too late.

We’re given an overview how the various sagas see Seswatha, from a wise counselor to a scheming foreigner to a lunatic refugee. We get the first reference, I think, to the great Chorae Hoard at Sakarpus. We learn he was the Bearer of the Heron Spear.

Hated or adored, Seswatha was the pin in the navigator’s bowl, the true hero of The Sagas, though not one cycle or chronicle acknowledged him as such. And each time Esmenet encountered some variant of his name, would clutch her breast and think, Achamian.

As she goes about her day, she’s haunted of the images The Sagas conjured of the brutalities and atrocities committed by the Sranc and other servants. A war that engulfed everything “even the unborn.” She realizes that this is what he dreams night after night. “Each night, he literally relived the No-God’s dread awakening, he actually heard the mothers wail over their stillborn sons.” It makes her think of his mule, Daybreak, and what that name meant to him. A “poignant hope.” She realizes she never knew and feels guilty that she, a whore, didn’t realize he was “debased by hungers vast, ancient, and rutting.”

You are my morning, Esmi… my dawn light.

What could it mean? For a man who lived and relived the ruin of all, what could it mean to awake to her touch, to her face? Where had he found the courage? The trust?

I was his morning.

Esmenet felt it then, overpowering her, and in the strange fashion of moving souls, she struggled to ward it away. But it was too late. For what seemed the first time, she understood: his pointless urgency, his desperation to be believed, his haggard love, his short-winded compassion—shadows of the Apocalypse, all. To witness the dissolution of nations, to be stripped night after night of everything cherished, everything fair. The miracle was that he still loved, that he still recognized mercy, pity… How could she not think him strong?

She understood, and it terrified her, for it was a thing too near to love.

She has a dream of floating over a dark sea, fighting to keep from being dragged beneath it. She is tossed and turned by it and she sees Achamian in the current his arm “waved dead in the current.” Kellhus wakes her up and she clings to him, crying out that she doesn’t want to share him. He doesn’t want to share her.

His words remind her of her kiss with Achamian. Though she never told Kellhus, he knew but didn’t talk about it. She alternates why he hasn’t questioned her and cursing herself. It confuses her when he had drawn out her other flaws. She feared to ask while reading The Sagas. The images it conjures of destruction haunt her. “She watched it all from afar, more than two thousand years too late.” It’s the darkest thing she’d ever read, and Achamian relived it every night.

And though she tried to beat the words from her heart, they rose nonetheless, as cold as accusatory truth, as relentless as earned affliction. I was his morning.

As she nears the end of her reading, she finds Achamian soaking his feat in a river. She feels a moment of gladness and urges to make a joke, to sit down, and fall into that old relationship with him. This frightens her.

It was his fault for dying! If only he had stayed, if only Xinemus had said nothing of the Library, if only her hand hadn’t lingered in Kellhus’s lap… She felt his heart hush for terror.

Esmi, he said the night of his return from the dead, “it’s me… Me.”

She watches him sitting stun, ignoring the boisterous contest of a group of Thunyeri showing off for a group of women. Esmenet feels like she woke up from a “devious nightmare” that mimicked real life. That she hadn’t betrayed Achamian and could cry out his name.

But it was no dream.

She has memories of Kellhus touching her body while Achamian begs and pleads with her. They clash in her. She sees all those moments she betrayed him with Kellhus as she remembers the horror in Achamian’s eyes. She is horrified that she could betray Achamian like this. She things she’s not capable. Then she remembers she sold her daughter into slavery. Clutching her pregnant belly, she fled, leaving a survivor of the Apocalypse to grieve “his single trust” and to mourn “the whore, Esmenet.” That night, she finished The Saga, and wept as she finished it.

She wept and she whispered, “Akka.” For she was his world, and all lay in ruin.

Achamian is dreaming that he’s in Golgotterath, the Ark-of-the-Skies with Nau-Cayûti, the son of King Celmomas. As he dreams, he hears someone calling his real name, begging for him. They have spent days in the dark, “too terrified to dare any light.” They are using the sapper tunnels the Sranc built during Celmomas’s siege of Golgotterath that “dissolved in acrimony and cannibal pride.”

Who would dare what Seswatha and the High King’s youngest son now dared?

The distant voice asks Achamian to wake up as in the dream, he and Nau-Cayûti have reached a postern that leads into the Ark itself, the entrance at a strange angle since the Ark didn’t crash level. Sranc lounge outside of it. Seswatha things it’s madness to continue, but the woman Nau-Cayûti loves in here. He will save her and leaps across a gap to a smaller entrance. The voice continues to intrude and Achamian comes awake.

Akka, you’re dreaming...

A spark of light, frail and glaring.

“Please…”

At first she seemed an apparition before him, a glowing mist suspended in void, but as he blinked, he saw her lines drawn off into darkness, the lantern illuminating her oval face.

“Esmi,” he croaked.

He’s confused that she’s there, that his Wards hadn’t awakened him. He’s still clutched by “the horror of Golgotterath.” He sees she’s been crying, but she flinches when he tries to hug her, reminding him who she’s with. He asks her why she’s there, and she has to tell him something.

Her face crumpled, then recomposed. “That you are strong.”

She fled, and once again all was dark and absolute.

The Synthese flies through the night. “Urgency did not come easily to such an ancient intellect.” It is introspective, though thoughts are limited by being in the construct. It has been thousands of years since they had a true contest. Kellhus has upset all their plans and the Holy War has been “reborn as an instrument of unknown machinations…” It is shocked that Kellhus, a vermin, could be so cunning.

Golgotterath would not be pleased with this new disposition of pieces. But the rules had changed.

There were those who preferred clarity.

My Thoughts

Back to war and the Historical scope with the siege of Gerotha. We can see just how badly shaken the Fanim are. The Kianene have abandoned their subject people, the Xerashi, and this has demoralized the leadership. Belief is everything in war, and they believe they’ve lost. But the fanatics in there aren’t about to give up with out a fight. This leads to Kellhus cryptic threat and the “hope” of the people that they need to surrender if they want to survive. This will consume their patience with the coup and… the city will surrender itself. He’s applying his knowledge of humans to the group level.

I think Esmenet sees something in young Fanashila. She sees herself in the girl, the way the girl has no control over her life. Esmenet was lucky to marry over her social status, but this girl can only marry another slave.

Deceptively routine… Interesting. We know Werjau is maneuvering against Esmenet. Nice bit of foreshadowing for something that goes no where.

Some people like to bitch about their bosses but are happy when given importance. They might never like the boss, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do their job properly. Kellhus is the type of boss that doesn’t have an ego so it doesn’t bother him if people curse him.

Esmenet is still that same whore as before, but now she sees herself as elevated, better than all the others because of Kellhus. She’s reveling in this knowledge. It’s a self-deception that makes her feel special, pure. Something she hasn’t been in a long time, not since she was a child before her father raped her. Last chapter, Xinemus said she smelled horny, well, she is horny a lot of the time it seems. She always enjoyed sex as a whore. She always tried to own her pleasure, which is why her encounter with the Synthese in book frightened her because she didn’t own her pleasure that time. She was just a puppet being controlled through bliss and rapture. She still owns her pleasure. She feels her attraction and can control who gets it more effectively than before. For now, she thinks that’s only Kellhus so by denying her desires she reaffirms her special status as Kellhus’s wife. She’s reinforcing her own identity the way we all do.

Esmenet thinks she’s old, but in our society she would be seen as young. She’s only in her late twenties right now. But when you marry at fourteen or sixteen, that’s a woman that would have a few kids in their society.

Even to a Dûnyain, ignorance is infinite.

Kellhus does a good job keeping Esmenet believing in his divinity even while playing the role of her lover. While Kellhus may care for Esmenet in his own stunted way, he has to pretend to be what Achamian is natural. It makes him seem human to Esmenet, keeps her invested in the relationship.

Yeah, it’s hard to believe in a religion when the priests of it violate its teachings by paying to have sex with you.

It’s sad hearing Esmenet talk about her faith. She’s merely traded one dogma’s darkness for another. No longer is custom binding her, but Kellhus. There is no escape in this world from cause and effect, not even for the Dûnyain. That is their goal. To attain the Absolute, to become a self-moving soul. Perhaps Kellhus found this at the very end of The Unholy Consult. His son certainly did. We’ll have to wait for the final series to find out.

That’s a nice touch. How Esmenet would feel smug because she knew about the Apocalypse from Achamian, her “doorway to the past.” Don’t we all get that when we know something that someone doesn’t. Something secret and of seeming great important. Then we get to explain and talk like we have any idea what we’re discussing when it’s truly just second or third-hand information were passing off as truth. Why?

Because we get that dopamine rush in our brain, and that makes us feel good.

The Sagas are a mix of literary styles, much like Bakker’s Second Apocalypse series, from the limited 3rd person and intimate POVs to the “prose chronicles” of the historical settings.

Anyone who has ever seen an illuminated, medieval bible can appreciate how a work can itself be historical divorced from what the contents are about. It makes you wonder about the person who produced a book that is as much a work of art as the contents of the writing.

You don’t become an author without loving reading, so never be surprised to have passages in a book talking about how books carry you away to another world. Make the world gauzy is a nice metaphor from Bakker.

Celmomas was a twin whose brother died in childbirth. His namesake, Kelmomas, has a similar relationship with a twin brother. It’s an interesting literary device to have these two character mirror each other. But both have vastly different fates.

I’ve had books do this to me like The Sagas do to Esmenet. Consume me. Leave me thinking, locked in a world, transported from my own to ponder things that shouldn’t bother me, but did. Words that affected me to my core and shook my foundations.

So, the Heron Spear… What happened to it? If you didn’t know, it’s a powerful laser brought by the Inchoroi and the only weapon that could kill the No-God. Seswatha got his hands on it. The Scylvendi, supposedly, carried it off after looting a city, its fate unknown. Another laser is seen at Golgotterath, but it’s not the same one as the Heron Spear, its light a different color. After the events of The Unholy Consult, I hope someone can find it.

What’s a navigator’s bowl you’re asking? A compass. The earliest ones were bowls of water with the needle floating on it pinned to the bottom.

Esmenet is beginning to realize what Achamian truly felt for her. She’s gaining empathy for him. An empathy she’s warred against since he returned since he was the proof of the crime she committed with Kellhus, the betrayal she tries to forget because he threatens her current happiness. She meant more to Achamian then she can ever mean to Kellhus. She’s trying to deny what she’s feeling, because it’s her love for Achamian rising up again, no longer buried by grief, mourning, acceptance, and her newfound happiness. In other stories, this would be the shift of her working back towards Achamian. To having their reunion at the end of this novel. It comes so close…

But she’s a mother. And that’s more important to her then being a woman.

I am sure Kellhus has his reasons not to pry at Esmenet about Achamian. Perhaps he needs Achamian to feel there is some hope of getting Esmenet long enough to gain the Gnosis from him? Perhaps he needs her to fully feel her love so he can cut it out of her in a whole and clean manner.

She lists all the things she’s angry about: him dying, him leaving, Xinemus bringing up the library that lead Kellhus away, and her hand lingering in Kellhus’s lap, awakening her to new possibilities. If only she hadn’t let herself be seduced, she would be sitting with Achamian the way she used to, his morning once again. That’s what she’s truly angry at herself about. Allowing herself to love someone else.

Nau-Cayûti fell in love with a woman that wasn’t his wife. His wife was jealous. She plotted with the Consult, arranging for the girl to be kidnapped. Seswatha than used this to convince Nau-Cayûti to steal into Golgotterath and retrieve the Heron Spear. They are successful, though the girl isn’t found… intact. Like any myth, going into the underworld, into Hell, to save a loved one never works out for the hero. Nau-Cayûti returns home to his wife and she gives him a poisoned drink. Everyone thought he died, but he was left in a paralyzed stupor, buried alive, then dug up by the Consult and taken to Golgotterath to become the No-God. Perhaps stealing the girl was the first attempt to capture Nau-Cayûti and he managed to escape, so they went with Plan B.

Bakker employs a subtle way to show when Achamian wakes up. “Akka, you’re dreaming…” It switches from italics to normal in mid sentence, making that transition.

“That you are strong.” This is the only way that Esmenet can tell Achamian right now that she still loves him. She can’t admit the truth to herself. Not when Kellhus’s child grows in her belly. Not when she thinks she loves the Warrior-Prophet, the God Incarnate.

And we end with the even the ancient enemies of the world, these beings who are the equivalent of Sauron and Morgoth from Tolkien’s legerdemain, are realizing that Kellhus is a true threat. No more taking their time. That has only allowed him to take command. They have to listen to the Scylvendi. This is tacked onto a chapter all about what the Synthese and the Consult has already done, giving us more glimpse into the horrors of the last Apocalypse. It tells us what the stakes are via Esmenet’s fresh eyes. It’s no coincidence he appears here at the end of a chapter focused on her since she’ll be the next “benjuka plate” where the contest will be held.

If you want to read more, click here for Chapter Nine

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can check out my short stories on Amazon! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Seven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 7
Jocktha

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

Every woman knows there are only two kinds of men: those who feel and those who pretend. Always remember, my dear, though only the former can be loved, only the latter can be trusted. It is passion that blackens eyes, not calculation.

—ANONYMOUS LETTER

It is far better to outwit Truth than to apprehend it.

—AINONI PROVERB

My Thoughts

Wow, those are some quotes. But they really boil down to this: you can only be hurt by someone you love. And you can’t really love someone who pretends. So that guy who’s just faking it, he doesn’t really care, so he’s not going to inspire any real emotions, whether good one or bad ones. So what does that say about Esmenet. Only Achamian can hurt her? That she can’t actually love Kellhus because he fakes it (and the moment Esmenet realizes that Kellhus fakes it, her passion for him is lost).

Still, what a depressing thing to say. Makes you wonder who this anonymous woman is. Someone abused. Someone whose known a lot of men in her life. This letter says you can either have love and fear, or safety and emptiness.

The proverb does come off as very Ainoni. They are ones who like to shape reality to their liking. Better to find a work around to an unpleasant truth, then understand it. It’s easier on your conscience. It’s two interesting quotes to start the chapter with. On the surface, the second quote could be about the first one with a woman who outwits the truth about the two types of men. But these quotes are both about Cnaiür.

Cnaiür is a man who has passion. He blackens the eye. He’s not Kellhus. He doesn’t calculate. This is also why Esmenet falls out of love with Kellhus and stays in love with Achamian. Achamian never hits her, but he has passion for her. Kellhus doesn’t have passion, but he does have safety. And it’s for that safety that Esmenet stays. The second quote relates to Cnaiür at the end when he realizes by trying to outwit Truth, Kellhus, he instead apprehends it. But that doesn’t matter, because it leads to his capture.

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

Cnaiür is eating in the privy dining hall of the Donjon Palace, noting how this place feels not only Fanim, but Kianene. He’s dining with Conphas and his generals plus the two nobles on loan from Proyas. They all are taking pains not to rub knees, a problem with Kianene tables requiring you to sit on cushions.

Conphas mentions lights were seen on Cnaiür’s terrace a few nights ago with Sompas providing half-hearted support, leading Cnaiür to think Sompas isn’t happy Conphas agreed to dine with Cnaiür. Meanwhile, Conphas is waiting for Cnaiür’s answer. Cnaiür ignores it, drinks wine, and notes Conphas still has bruises from his beating. He notes how Conphas had his “wardrobe dragged across the desert, Cnaiür mused, spoke volumes.”

Cnaiür had ostensibly summoned Conphas and his Generals here to discuss the arrival of the transports and the subsequent embarkation of his Columns. Twice now, he had quizzed the man on the matter, only to latter realize afterward that the answers the fiend provided only made apparent sense. But in truth, he cared nothing for the transports.

Conphas presses that the lights were “unnatural,” still waiting for Cnaiür’s answer. Refusing didn’t get the message through to Conphas since men like him “did not embarrass.” They do fear, though. As Cnaiür drinks his wine, he approaches Conphas, noting the man’s canny eyes, his cleverness, but also his worry. He’s spooked by this sorcerer. Cnaiür’s not surprised by that.

Was this, he wondered, how the Dûnyain felt?

Cnaiür wishes to speak about Kiyuth. As Conphas eats in the “effete twin-fork manner of the Nansur caste-nobility.” Cnaiür senses an elated manner about him. Conphas thinks he’s won. Cnaiür asks what Conphas would have done if Xunnurit didn’t attack. Conphas claims the genius of his plan was Xunnurit had to attack. Trinemus doesn’t understand but Sompas explains how Conphas used the demands of the seasons on the Scylvendi’s herds, how they would react to their fellows being raped, and then he brings up their arrogance but trails off looking at Cnaiür. General Imyanax takes it up, explaining how the Scylvendi see buggery as the “greatest of obscenities.” Cnaiür notes how the other generals reacts while Conphas is mater-of-fact about saying he did it.

For a long moment no one dared utter a word. Devoid of expression, Cnaiür watched the Exalt-General chew.

“War…” Conphas continued, as though it were only natural that men should hang on his enlightened discourse. He paused to swallow. “War is no different than benjuka. The rules depend on the moves made, no more, no less.”

Before he continued, Cnaiür said, “War is intellect.”

That gives Conphas pause, realizing that Cnaiür must have been among the dead when he talked to Martemus about his tactics after the battle. Conphas asks Cnaiür didn’t try to kill him, though Cnaiür believes he could have. Cnaiür says he was tangled up in thick grass and couldn’t move. Everyone else in the room feels the danger from Cnaiür save Conphas, who makes a joke about how “the field was mine.” No one laughed. Cnaiür orders everyone to leave.

At first no one moved—no one even breathed. Then Conphas cleared his throat. With an intrepid scowl he said, “Do it… do as he says.”

Sompas began to protest.

“Now!” the Exalt-General barked.

After they leave, Cnaiür stares at him. Conphas realizes if Cnaiür was the King-of-Tribes, Conphas would have lost. Cnaiür hints he would have then conquered the Empire. Cnaiür almost feels wonder as her realizes Conphas is just a boy, not the Lion of Kiyuth. He was in Cnaiür’s power now, another neck “as slender as any Cnaiür had broken.”

The Exalt-General pushed back his plate, turned to him in a manner at once jocular and conspiratorial. “What is it that resides in the hearts of hated foes, hmm? Save the Anasûrimbor, there’s no man I despite more than you…” He leaned back with a friendly shrug. “And yet I find this… unlikely repose in your presence.”

“Repose,” Cnaiür snorted. “That is because the world is your trophy room. Your soul makes flattery of all things—even me. You make mirrors of all that you see.”

Conphas laughs it off and doesn’t want to beat around the bush. Cnaiür slams his knife into the table and declares that this is the truth of the world. Conphas manages to “maintain his facade of good humour” despite his fear. Cnaiür say it is fear that moves Conphas, though Conphas tries to deny it but is cut off by Cnaiür cuffing him hard.

“You act as though you live this life a second time!” Cnaiür leapt into a crouch upon the table, sent plates and bowls spinning. Eyes as round as silver talents, Conphas scrambled backward through the cushions. “As though you were assured of its outcome!”

Conphas cries for Sompas, but Cnaiür hits him in the back of the head. He then bends Conphas over the table. Cnaiür undoes his belt then smashes Conphas’s face “against its own reflection” a few times. The watching slaves cringe and weep.

“I am a demon!” he cried. “a demon!”

Then he turned back to Conphas shuddering on the table beneath him.

Some things required literal explanation.

Cnaiür wakes up the next morning, hung over, and cleans himself of the “blood and soil smeared across his thighs.” Out the window, he sees the Nansur ships had arrived. He leaves and finds a captain named Troyatti, part of a group called the Hemsilvara (Scylvendi’s Men) who ride with him, to send word to ships that they harbor chain will be lowered only after they are searched, then he wants Conphas and his officers assembled on the Grand Quay. He orders the captain to make sure Ikurei is captured. Troyatti asks what worries Conphas. Cnaiür wonders if he can trust Troyatti and decides he can, saying the fleet arrived too soon like it was “dispatched before Conphas’s expulsion.” Cnaiür fears they hold reinforcements.

“Think of Kiyuth… The Emperor only sent a faction of the Imperial Army with Conphas. Why? To guard against my kinsmen, when they have been ruined? No. He saved his strength for a reason.”

The Captain nodded, his eyes bright with sudden understanding.

“Secure Conphas, Troyatti. Spill as much blood as you have to.”

Cnaiür rides to the Grand Quay and his men take fishing boats out to the Nansur boat while Sanumnis arrived with more soldiers. Soon, Cnaiür learns that while three of Conphas’s generals were found, Conphas and Sompas were somewhere in the city, looking for a physician to treat Conphas after he was beaten last night. Cnaiür orders the city sealed. Cnaiür’s nervousness is spreading by the time the Nansur officers are brought. Cnaiür threatens them if the transports are not empty. This angers them and General Areamanteras implies he knows what Cnaiür did to Conphas.

Scowling, Cnaiür approached the General, pausing only when he towered over him. “What did I do?” he asked, his voice strange. “There was blood when I awoke… blood and shit.”

Areamanteras fairly quailed in his shadow. He opened his mouth to answer, then tried to purse away trembling lips.

“Fucking swine!” Baxatas cried to Cnaiür’s immediate right. “Scylvendi pig!” Despite his fury there was fear in his eyes as well.

Cnaiür demands to know where Conphas is. Baxatas won’t meet his gaze. The boats he sent out to the waiting transports are now signaling. The ships are empty. By that afternoon, the ships are in the harbor, but Cnaiür keeps the gates shut because Conphas still hasn’t been found. Tarempas, the Nansur admiral, claims they had unexpectedly favorable winds.

Word comes that the Nansur Columnaries are rioting and protesting because they know the ships have arrived but they aren’t boarding. It grows worse when they learn Conphas has escaped. They are assembling outside the gate before a thin line of a hundred Conryian knights. Cnaiür says not to fight them, they are too outnumbered, and not to be concerned since they lack weapons and siege equipment and are not forming up as soldiers.

Troyatti brings word of a tunnel they found leading out of the city. Conphas had escaped. Cnaiür orders the search canceled and the tunnel collapsed. He feels something is wrong. “After so long with the Dûnyain, he knew the smell of premeditation.”

This would not be another Kiyuth.

Something… something…

Cnaiür abruptly rides to the Donjon Palace and finds Saurnemmi, the Scarlet Schoolman. He asks the man if he can burn the ships from the distance. They are interrupted by a signal horn blasting from the walls. He orders the Schoolman to burn the ship and rides for the walls. He gains the walls, joining Baron Sanumnis, and sees Nansur reinforcements marching from the hills, both Kidruhil cavalry and infantrymen.

“You’ve doomed us,” Sanumnis said in his periphery. His tone was strange. There was no accusation in his voice. Something worse.

Cnaiür turned to the man, saw immediately that Sanumnis understood their straits all too well. He knew that the Imperial transports had set ashore in one of the natural harbours to the north of the city, and there disembarked who knew how many thousands—an entire army, no doubt. And he knew, moreover, that Conphas could not afford to let even one of them escape alive.

Sanumnis complains that Cnaiür didn’t kill Conphas. Cnaiür feels week again as he says he’s no assassin. Sanumnis relaxes and they have a moment of understand before Cnaiür has intuition and glances at the harbor where he sees flashes of sorcery, realizing there are Imperial Saik Schoolmen on the transport. Cnaiür realizes someone has to survive so orders their four Chorae bowmen to kill a sorcerer and make them afraid. “With no infantry to prise their way, they’ll be loath to advance. Sorcerers are fond of their skins.”

Cnaiür is only giving the order to give hope to Sanumnis and his men that they are foiling Conphas’s plan, when in reality Cnaiür believes the Schoolmen are just to keep them from escaping by sea while Conphas forces through the main gate. But it helps with his men’s morale. Then Cnaiür says under cover of dark, they will withdraw from the city and attack the forces, bleeding them. To inflict as many casualties as possible upon them. Saying these words sparks something in Sanumnis and Cnaiür must fan it. He turns to the soldiers, telling them that the Nansur will grant no quarter because they can’t afford the Truth to escape.

He [Cnaiür] let these words ring into silence.

“I know nothing of your Afterlife. I know nothing of your Gods or their greed for glory. But I do know this: In days to come, widows shall curse me as they weep! Fields shall go to seed! Sons and daughters shall be sold into slavery! Fathers shall die desolate, knowing their line is extinct! This night, I shall carve my mark into the Nansurium, and thousands shall cry out for want of my mercy!”

And the spark became flame.

“Scylvendi!” they roared. “Scylvendi!”

Later that night, Cnaiür waits with his soldiers while the Nansur’s outside prepare for their assault while the Imperial Saik stay on the ships, controlling the harbor. The defenders have been busy destroying knocking down walls in the warren of tenements outside the main gate, turning it into a confusing labyrinth. His men wait dispersed through it to lie in ambush.

This was not, Cnaiür realized, what the Dûnyain would do.

Either Kellhus would find a way—some elaborate or insidious track—that led to the domination of these circumstances, or he would flee. Was not that what had happened at Caraskand? Had he not walked a path of miracles to prevail? Not only had he united the warring factions within the Holy war, he had given them the means to war without.

No such path existed here—at least none that Cnaiür could fathom.

Cnaiür wonders why he isn’t fleeing by himself instead staying with these “doomed men.” Kellhus had taught Cnaiür that he was “enemy of all.” He had only “coincidental interests” with these men. Cnaiür stood “beyond origin or outcome.” He was beyond everything and stood “nowhere.” Troyatti asks what amuses Cnaiür. “That I once cared for my life.”

The attack begins. The gates are battered down by sorcery. The Nansur’s march in rank by rank, following their training to “strike hard and deep, cut upon your enemy’s flank, sever him from his kinsmen.” This leads the Nansur into Cnaiür’s ambush. They fall on the infantrymen’s flanks from both sides, hacking deep into the middle of their ranks only to retreat into the ruined buildings.

The battle that followed was unlike any Cnaiür had experienced. The pitch of night struck in the hues of sorcerous light Catching unawares and being so caught. Hunted and hunting through a labyrinthine slum then warring in open streets, hilt to hilt, spitting blood form one’s teeth. In the dark, his life hung from a thread, and time and again only his strength and fury saved him. But in the light, whether by moon or, more likely, the burning of nearby structures, the Nansur flinched from him and attacked only with the haft of their spears.

Conphas wanted him.

Cnaiür had not the arms for the swazond he earned that night.

As the night goes, Cnaiür loses more men, including Sanumnis and Troyatti. He finds himself down to three Conryians and six Thunyeri. They make their last stand in a ruined Fanim Tabernacle. They fight and kill until Cnaiür stands with a lone Thunyeri while “the dead formed a skirt of tangled limbs across the steps below them.” The Thunyeri takes a spear in his throat. Alone, Cnaiür roars “Demon!” as they try to kill him. He kills them, iron to their “rotted leather.”

He was of the People.

Without warning, the Nansur relented, crowded back into the shields of those behind, away from the advance of his dripping aspect. They stared in horror and astonishment. All the world seemed afire.

“For a thousand years!” he grated. “Fucking your wives! Strangling your children! Striking down your fathers!” He brandished his broken sword. Blood spilled in loops from his elbow. “For a thousand years I have stalked you!”

He throws away his broken sword and grabs a spear, killing a soldier. Conphas is in the background now, screaming for them to take Cnaiür. They surge at him and beat him down like “howling apes.” After he’s captured, he’s brought before Conphas whose face is still bruised and swollen from Cnaiür’s. However, Conphas’s eyes are the same. He says Cnaiür is no different from Xunnurit

And as the darkness came swirling down, Cnaiür at last understood. The Dûnyain had not sent him to be Conphas’s assassin…

He had sent him to be his victim.

My Thoughts

Interesting that Cnaiür knows Conphas is stalling, but then so is Cnaiür. He just has to kill the man, but is putting it off, inadvertently giving Conphas a lifeline.

Of course Conphas is spooked by the possibility of another sorcerer since he believes he has Cnaiür’s Scarlet Schoolmen under compulsion.

Well, Cnaiür, reading people like books is how the Dûnyain see the world. Feel… well, that’s a word they don’t really know since they murder their emotions or end up lobotomized.

Biaxi Sompas, coming from a rival family, has been won over by Conphas’s prowess. He’s like a fresh religious convert who usually number among the most zealous. He was raised seeing the Ikurei’s as the bad guys only to learn how amazing Conphas is, which means he has to be the most fervent in showing his support.

Once again, Bakker reminds us of Conphas’s intelligent with him figuring just how Cnaiür must have heard that phrase. This is followed by Bakker showing us how Conphas’s narcissism has handicapped him because he can’t sense the danger, only that he sees a chance to belittle Cnaiür, clearly taking his excuse of being knotted in grass as a weakness in the man.

You know what they say, never meet your idols. In a way, Cnaiür has obsessed over Conphas, too, adopting his war is intellect motto. Unlike Moënghus, Conphas is a man Cnaiür can best, not the mighty Lion of Kiyuth that was somehow more than human. Of course Cnaiür is disappointed.

More cutting observation from Cnaiür on Conphas’s narcissism. People see what they want to see in someone’s actions.

It takes a very self-deluded arrogance and narcissism to go through life like nothing will hurt you. To forget that suffering and misfortune comes to us all. We cannot keep the chaos of the world from intruding upon the order of our lives forever.

Nice touch on Bakker, making the table mirror-smooth as a motif then having Cnaiür bash Conphas’s head into his own refection, driving home the man’s narcissism.

Well, I guess raping Conphas is a “literal explanation” about the powerlessness Conphas truly is at the moment.

If you don’t know what a harbor chain is, they’re real things. It’s a long, thick chain that is stretched over the mouth of a harbor and can be raised. Ships can’t pass it. The most famous of these chains would be the one across the Bosphorus at Constantinople

I generally think Bakker is an author who sets things up and remembers about all the diverse groups. So it’s weird that suddenly the Hemsilvara, these young Conryian men who hero worship Cnaiür and to whom he had taught them about being Scylvendi until right now when he needs to use this character versus one of the other Conryians. His first mention, in this book, is at the start of the dinner in this chapter. They could have been mentioned earlier in the book, even explaining what the Hemsilvara where before this moment. This should have been fixed in rewrites as it strikes me as, while writing the rough draft, Bakker realized he needed this character and his background then forgot to seed it into the earlier part of the manuscript. It’s a little nitpick that doesn’t from the rest of the story.

Cnaiür does not remember the previous night. He had raped a man and probably didn’t like how much he enjoyed it and, to protect his identity, forgot he had done something so blatantly homosexual.

Nice bit of subversion. We’re expecting the transports to be full, and clearly Conphas knows this will be expected. But he’s fled, using is own assault last night as an excuse to vanish from his lodgings. Cnaiür knows something is up, but he has no idea what.

Cnaiür, despite teaching Conphas fear, despite all his care, was outmaneuvered. Just like he was at Anwurat. Cnaiür is a great tactician and a keen intellect, but that doesn’t mean he can’t mistake. Just like despite Kellhus’s intelligence, he can’t make mistakes. Bakker is reminding that while at the same time building the tension. You know the trap is about to be sprung, but will Cnaiür see it and counter it in time.

The narrative shifts from Cnaiür being in power to how he’s Cnaiür getting out of this alive.

Ultimately, fear ruled Cnaiür. He was afraid of killing Conphas because it would mean he no longer had any use to Kellhus. Therefore, Cnaiür would lose his only path to Moënghus and vengeance. Not killing Conphas definitely has lead to that path. Good thing the Consult is throwing him a lifeline.

Nothing like being the underdog and thinking you did something to the giant enemy. It could give Cnaiür’s forces the morale that might allow some of them to survive.

Great speech from Cnaiür. We’re going to die, but we’re going to make them pay. Get them angry. Get them mad at the situation. Then give them an enemy to destroy.

His plan is great. The Nansur are rigid soldiers designed to fight on open battlefield. So he gives them asymmetrical warfare, hitting the disciplined soldiers in their flanks then not standing to fight. It’s a great plan, but he doesn’t have the numbers to prevail. So it’s why they’re just turning it into a bloodbath, a final fuck you to the Nansur and Conphas.

“Cnaiür had not the arms for the swazond he earned that night.” Great world building allows you to have lines like that to say, “Cnaiür killed a lot of men.”

“He was the People.” Cnaiür has embraced being Scylvendi. He’s going to die killing the Nansur. This is the only way he can feel like a Scylvendi: killing. Murdering. Butchering.

Conphas’s eyes are the same. All he’s been through hasn’t changed him at all. He is the only character not to change at all. Even Kellhus changes. That’s some commentary on a true narcissist right there.

So Cnaiür thinks this is all to Kellhus’s plan, and maybe it is, but I have my doubts. If Achamian hadn’t stepped up to stop the Nansur army, because Cnaiür survived this and revealed the truth to Achamian, then the Nansurs would have fallen on the Holy War. Kellhus probably would have prevailed, but it’s better to have Cnaiür just kill him here. It’s possible an all options prove beneficial. But Kellhus isn’t fallible. He made mistakes. He got lucky with giving Saubon his blessing. And he got lucky that he survived the Circumfix. He didn’t see how to get passed it, only that he needed to get passed it to win. He gambled and paid off. But Cnaiür, he sees Kellhus as near omnipotent.

And we end this chapter with a variant of Bakker’s favorite expression “darkness came swirling down” instead of death.

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can check out my short stories on Amazon! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

If you want to keep reading! Click here for Chapter 8!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Six

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 6
Xerash

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

Of course we make crutches of one another. Why else would we crawl when we lose our lovers?

ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

History. Logic. Arithmetic. These all should be taught by slaves.

ANONYMOUS, THE NOBLE HOUSE

My Thoughts

Well, aren’t these two interesting quotes to have paired up? The first one is a truth we all know. One of the reasons to have a lover is to have that person to support you, to lean on them when things go bad. But when they’re gone, well, you end up like Drusas Achamian learning to walk all over again.

The second quote’s a bit more… interesting. It’s anonymous, which makes me think the person who wrote this might very well be a slave. It’s titled “The Noble House” which implies this is a critique on the nobility, another reason why the author is anonymous. Either he doesn’t want anyone to know he wrote it, or he was killed for writing it and his name was lost to history.

So why would you want a slaves to teach those three subjects? Well, these three subjects are at the core of the scientific world view. They are places were you don’t want to let grandiose ideas or the ego invade. I had trouble understanding this quote, the only connection I can make is to either Achamian teaching Kellhus Gnosis (logic at its purest). Achamian is definitely a lesser person to Kellhus, a slave to Kellhus’s words and manipulation, just like all men are slaves to the darkness that comes before.

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

The Holy War marches south. At Kellhus’s command, they spread out to forage along the way despite their spoils from defeating the Padirajah. The Fanim are not resisting the advances. Villages and towns are surrendering. The Inrithi, wearing looted clothing and weathered by the southern sun, look more Fanim themselves save for their weapons an armor.

They had been transformed, and in ways that struck far deeper than mere accouterments. The men Achamian recalled, the Inrithi who’d marched through the Southron Gates, were but the ancestors of the men he saw now. Just as he could no longer recognize the sorcerer who’d wandered into the Sareotic Library, they could no longer recognize the warriors who’d marched singing into the Carathay Desert. Those other man had become strangers They might as well have brandished weapons of bronze.

The God had culled the Men of the Tusk. Over battlefield and desert, through famine and pestilence, He had sifted them like sand through His fingers. Only the strongest or most fortunate survived. The Ainoni had a saying: breaking enemies, not bread, made brothers. But being broken, Achamian realized, was more potent still. Something new had arisen from the forge of their collective suffering, something hard and something sharp. Something Kellhus had simply lifted from the anvil.

They’re his, Achamian would think, watching their grim ranks file across ridge and hillside. All of them. So much so that if Kellhus were to die…

Achamian spends the majority of his time in the Sacral Retinue or in the “canvas warrens” of the Umbilica, keeping within arms reach of Kellhus to protect him against a Consult assassination attempt. “Kellhus’s ascendancy threatened far more than it had already exacted.” The marching gives little opportunity to interrogate the skin-spies, but no torture Kellhus devices nor Achamian’s Cants of Compulsion work. “The things convulsing in the fecal darkness,” always haunt Achamian afterward.

Achamian couldn’t decide what unnerved him more: their many-fingered faces clenching and unclenching, or the hallowed calm with which Kellhus regarded them. Never, not even in his Dreams of the First Apocalypse, had he witnessed such extremes of god and evil. Never had he felt more certain.

Achamian attends all meetings with the Scarlet Spire, which are “strange, bumbling affairs.” Eleäzaras is drunk all the time, making him seem like a boy who realizes how in over his head he is. With Shimeh looming, the Scarlet Spire is being led by a man terrified of losing against the Cishaurim. Achamian finds him pitying the man “they way those of hale constitution pity those of weak in times of sickness.” The Holy War has tested all men, and it broke Eleäzaras. Iyokus never attends the meetings, which Achamian was thankful for. “As much as he [Achamian] hated the man, as much as he had wanted to kill him that night in the Apple Garden, he could do no more than exact a fraction of what he was owed.” When Achamian watched the Hundred Pillars remove Iyokus’s eyes, he found himself feeling unworthy of passing “final judgment” because only murder was absolute. He only did it for Xinemus.

Achamian observes Kellhus throughout the days as he deals with the mundane matters of organizing a host on the march. It allows him to witness again and again the ‘prodigious depths of Kellhus’s intellect.” He hears Kellhus recite verbatim missives delivered days ago. He could recall every mundane detail which causes other men, especially Gayamakri, the Seneschal-Secretary, to wonder in awe at their good fortune. These sorts of meetings soon begin to bore Achamian. He would be lost in thought, fading into the background.

In spite of his lack of interest, the absurd gravity of his charge was not lost upon Achamian. Sometimes, during moments of boredom, an odd sense of detachment would overcome him as he watched Kellhus. The surreal glamour would fall away and the Warrior-Prophet would seem as frail as the warlike men about him—and far more lonely. Achamian would go rigid with terror, understanding that Kellhus, no matter how godlike he seemed, was in fact mortal. He was a man. Was this not the lesson of the Circumfixion? And if something were to happen, nothing would matter, not even his love for Esmenet.

A strange zeal would creep through his limbs then, one utterly unlike the nightmare-born fervour of Mandate Schoolmen. A fanaticism of person.

To be devoted to a cause alone was to possess momentum without direction or destination. For so long, wandering had been his twilight mission, beaten forward by his dreams, leading his mule down road and track, and never, not once, arriving. But with Kellhus all this had changed. This was what he could not explain to Nautzera: that Kellhus was the incarnation of the abstraction that gave their School purpose. In this one man lay the future of all mankind. He was their only bulwark against the End of Ends.

The No-God

Achamian thinks he’s glimpsed Kellhus’s halo on occasion, envying those like Proyas who do see them. There are times that, despite his hatred, Achamian believes he would die for Kellhus. But he can’t sustain that fervor. Doubts creep in, attacking his belief that he could even protect Kellhus.

Esmenet is another distraction. Sometimes she rides on a horse, growing more comfortable with the act. She often seems a stranger to him with her “acts of mannish boldness” as she gives orders. She’s at her most feminine to Achamian when carried in her palanquin, but he only glimpses of her on those days when she talks to Kellhus as he rides beside her. Achamian wants to call to her. “He almost never saw her eyes.” Only at night, during camping, does he meet her in public spaces, trading cordial nods. At first he thought her behavior cruel to harden her heart into hating him, but then he realized she did it for both their sake. Everyone knows their past relationship, so if she’s nice to him, it will remind others that she once was his.

On their fifth night, Achamian finds Esmenet in his chambers. His ardor for her is crushed as she came only to speak about Kellhus’s security. She acts the empress to him, and he finds himself playing along, feeling their new circumstances both absurd while impressed by her intelligence. He’s even proud of her, thinking she’s always been better than him.

Where others were simply walls to him, Esmenet was an ancient city, a maze of little streets and squares, where he made his home. He knew her hospices and her barracks, her towers and her cisterns. No matter where he wandered, he always knew that this direction led here and that direction there. He was never lost, though outside her gates all the world might confound him.

He knew the habit of lovers, their inclination to make scripture out of self-deception. There was little difference, he often thought, between the devotional verse of Protathis and the graffiti that marred the bathhouse walls. Love was never so simple as the marks with which it was written. Why else would the terror of loss come upon lovers so often? Why else would so many insist on calling love pure and simple.

Achamian realizes that he failed Esmenet by not helping with her burdens, all the “innumerable horrors” she had endured. He encouraged her to dismiss them with anger instead of supporting her. “He shrank from the work of understanding,” and thus failed her.

Small wonder she’d failed him in turn. Small wonder she had… succumbed to Kellhus.

Kellhus… These were the most selfish—and therefore the most painful-thoughts.

Esmenet, through commenting on how men treat their cocks (talking to them, boasting, cursing, cajoling) that she believed “men, far more than women, were other to themselves.” This talk disturbed Achamian especially as he remembers their time together.

Women were windows through which men could peer into other men. They were the unguarded gate, the point of contact for deeper, more defenseless selves. And there had been times, Achamian could now admit, when he feared the raucous crowd that scrutinized him through her almost guileless eyes. All that had consoled him was the fact that he was the last to bed her, would always be the last.

And now she was with Kellhus.

Why was this thought so unbearable? Why did it cramp his heart so?

Some nights, Achamian ponders Kellhus, knowing that the Warrior Prophet will start demanding not just the sacrifice of a lover from others, but of their lives. Though Achamian had lost Esmenet “he had gained his soul.” Right? Other nights all he can think about is Esmenet gasping in pleasure beneath Kellhus, reaching heights of ecstasy Achamian never gave her then picturing her making jokes about his less-than-satisfactory penis. Sometimes he just longed for her “as he’d never longed for anyone or anything.” He believes, desperately, that if he can hold her, she would be his again.

Then it hits him one night: she conceived a child with Kellhus. She never gave up her contraceptive whore’s shell for him. “She had never even mentioned the possibility of children.” He realizes neither had he.

With this recognition, something either broke or mended within him; he could not tell which. The following morning he sat at one of the slave fires, watching two nameless girls tear up stalks of mint for tea. For a time he stared in a blinking stupor, still awakening. Then he looked past them, where he saw Esmenet standing in the near distance with two Nascenti in the shadow of dark horses. She caught his eyes, and this time, rather than nod without expression or simply look away, she smiled a shy and dazzling smile. And somehow he just knew…

Her gates had been closed. She was a direction his heart could no longer go.

Boredom leads Achamian to visit Proyas, the “idea of annoying another struck him as justice.” He’s shocked to find Esmenet also visiting. Things are awkward as memories of Xinemus’s fire—where they used to tease Kellhus, Esmenet was still his woman, Xinemus still had eyes, and Serwë still could laugh—rears in Achamian. He tries to leave, but a drunken Xinemus with “antagonistic good nature only inveterate drunks could muster” tells him to stay. Esmenet agrees, voice strained, motivated by a pity for Xinemus rather then desire to see Achamian.

Achamian can’t help but notice how beautiful she looks now, no longer the “lovely weed” when she was his wife. Only Xinemus doesn’t act awkward as a slave collects dinner plates. Finally, Proyas asks after the lessons Achamian gives Kellheus, which confuses Achamian considering what the lessons were about.

Yes, with…” He [Proyas] shrugged, as if unsure of their old ways of referring. “With Kellhus.”

Simply speaking the name became something like twisting a tourniquet.

Achamian brushed at his knee, even though he could see nothing that blemished them. “Good.” He did his best to sound lighthearted. “If I somehow live to write a book about these days, I’ll call it On the Varieties of Awe.”

Drunk Xinemus claims Achamian stole his title. Esmenet asks what his title is, Achamian wincing at her sharp tone. “Blind as he was, Xinemus saw slight everywhere,” and was pricklier than Cnaiür. Xinemus proclaims his title of his book is, “On the Varieties of Ass.” Everyone laughs.

Achamian looked from face to beaming face, pressing away tears with his thumb. Memories flooded him. For a moment it seemed that Esmi need only reach out and clasp his hand, press the pad of her thumb against the nail of his own, and everything would be undone. Everything that had happened since Shigek.

All of them are here… all the people I love.

Xinemus explains how his sense of smell is so keen know he can tell that Proyas thought he ate mutton last night, but it was goat. Esmenet laughs so hard, she’s rolling on her back. Xinemus says you see beauty but “there’s truth in what we smell.” Everyone’s laughter trails off.

Truth!” Xinemus cried with savagery “The world stinks of it!” He made as though to stand up, but rolled back onto his rump instead. “I can smell all of you,’ he said, as if in answer to their shocked silence. “I can smell that Akka’s afraid. I can smell that Proyas grieves. Can smell that Esmi wants to fuck—

Enough!” Achamian cried. “What’s this madness? Zin… who’s this fool you’ve become?”

The marshal laughs and claims he’s the same man just “minus my eyes.” Achamian wonders how Xinemus got like this. The blind drunk continues saying now he doesn’t live with men but dwells “with asses.” No one laughs.

Achamian thanks Proyas for his hospitality and stands to leave. Proyas sits broken and as “silent as the grave.” Achamian realizes Proyas punishes himself by caring for Xinemus. Kellhus has “rewritten the regrets of many, many men.” Xinemus coughs and Achamian realizes he’s getting sicker. Sneering, Xinemus tells Achamian to flee. Esmenet offers to walk back with him while he wonders, “What’s happened to us?”

Be sure to ask her,” Xinemus growled as they hurried to the threshold, “why she’s fucking Kellhus.”

Zin!” Proyas cried, more in terror than anger.

His thoughts buzzing, is face burning, Achamian turned to his former study, bu tin his periphery he could see that Esmenet had turned to him, blinking tears. Esmi…

Xinemus asks if only the blind man can see what is obvious. Proyas gets annoyed, vowing to tolerate Xinemus’s affliction but won’t tolerate blasphemous. Xinemus mocks him, calling him “Proyas the Judge.” Xinemus then quotes a passage from the Tractate about Inri Sejenus healing a blind man name Horomon, a story synonymous with revelation.

Xinemus turned from Proyas to Achamian, as though from a lesser to a greater enemy. “He cannot heal, Akka. The Warrior-Prophet… He cannot heal.”

Achamian still feels the cramped madness from the pavilion after he leaves. He tries grinning at Esmenet to fake relief, but she’s staring off into the darkness. Xinemus’s words echo in Achamian’s head. He and Esmenet walk in darkness through the camp. He remembers holding her hand, hates himself for the longing. “How could he walk in the midst of so much dread wonder and yet feel the tug of her.” He tries to remind himself the Apocalypse is coming. Esmenet ends the silence by asking what happened to Xinemus. It shocks Achamian and makes walking with her more difficult. When he doesn’t answer, she gets angry.

You think the question stupid?” Esmenet snapped. “You think—”

No, Esmi.”

There had been too much honesty in the way he spoke her name—too much pain.

You… you’ve no idea what Kellhus has shown me,” she said. “I too was Horomon, and now—the world that I see, Akka! The world that I see! The woman you knew, the woman you loved… you must know, that woman was—

He couldn’t bear those words, so he interrupted. “Zin lost more than his eyes in Iothiah.”

She asks what he means and starts to talk about the Cants of Compulsion then stops. She reminds him she’s the Master of Spies and needs to know these things. He understands that, but knows she’s doing this because “the estranged always resorted to talk of third parties.” It allows her to talk to Achamian without being either insincere or to delve into their problem. Achamian explains how Cants of Compulsion work, how souls are not compelled but possessed. He talks about how the Scarlet Spire used Xinemus against him. He sees the way her look changes, she’s growing skeptical, thinking he’s fishing for sympathy. He tells her he’s not.

Then what’s your point?” [asked Esmenet.]

He beat down the anger that welled through him. “The great paradox of the Compulsions is that their victims in no way feel compelled. Zin sincerely meant everything he said to me, he chose to say them, even though others spoke the words.”

In the past, people always challenge how such a thing is possible, question it. Not Esmenet. She just wants to know what Xinemus said.

He [Achamian] shook his head, graced her with a false smile. “The Scarlet Spires… Trust me, they know which words wield the sharpest edges.”

Like Kellhus.

There was compassion in her eyes now… He looked away.

She presses him and he finally admits: “He said that pity was the only love I could hope for.” Only she can understand why that truly hurts him. He wants to hold her, kiss her. Instead, he keeps walking and finds “peevish relief in the way she obediently followed.”

Achamian further explains that by saying things without hope of forgiveness, he can no longer filter his thoughts. Esmenet is surprised by that since it’s been months since the torture.

Blinking, Achamian looked to the sky, saw the Round of Horns glittering in an arc over the northern hills. It was an ancient Kûniüric constellation, unknown to the astrologers of the Three Seas. “Think of the soul as a network of innumerable rivers. With the Cants of Compulsion, the old banks are swamped, dikes are washed away, new channels are cut… Sometimes when the floodwaters recede, things resume their old course. Sometimes they don’t.

Esmenet asks if the old Xinemus is dead, but Achamian isn’t sure if he is. Achamian’s isn’t even sure what he’s even saying. He grabs her “forbidden hand” and she doesn’t resist. He pulls her to her, shocked she’s so light, and feels her wrap around himself “as she had a thousand times.”

They kissed.

Then she was fighting him, striking him about the face and shoulders. He released her, overcome by rage and ardour and horror. “N-no!” she sputtered, beating the air as though fending off the mere idea of him.

I dream of murdering him!” Achamian cried. “Murdering Kellhus! I dream that all the world burns, and I rejoice, Esmi, I rejoice. All the world burns, and I exult for love of you!”

She stares in shock as he begs to know if she loves him. She doesn’t deny it, and instead says Kellhus knows her like any other. This makes Achamian realize that he was wrong. He does have something to offer you. Frantically, he says Kellhus “knows everyone, Esmi.” He keeps saying it while, still tasting her on his lips. She back away shouting that Kellhus loves her. He can’t put into words his feelings and she flees while he gathers himself. Then he realizes they’re not alone. The watching men look away as he gazes in fury at them.

That night, he beat the matted earth in fury. He cursed himself for a fool until dawn. The arguments were assembled and were defeated. The reasons railed and railed. But love had no logic.

No more than sleep.

When he sees her next, she only has a blank expression, like the kiss never happened. Nor do soldiers come to arrest him, reminding Achamian just who Kellhus is. This isn’t him against another man but him against a nation. “There would be no outburst of jealous rage, no confrontations, only cloaked officials in the night, discharging their writ without passion.” It reminds him of behind a spy. It doesn’t surprise Achamian that Kellhus neither sends anyone nor mentions it since Kellhus needs Achamian too much (the bitter explanation) and because that Kellhus “understood, that he too mourned the contested ground between them.”

How could one love one’s oppressor? Achamian didn’t know, but he loved nonetheless. He loved them both.

Every evening, Achamian meets with Kellhus in what is nicknamed the Scribal Room. Achamian was charged by the Mandate to protect Kellhus from the Consult, but Kellhus doesn’t seem to care about them. Sometimes Achamian felt Kellhus “tolerated him out of courtesy, as a way to built trust with a formidable ally.” Teaching Kellhus the Gnosis is something different that fills Achamian with “wonder and terror.”

From the very first time, even as far back as Momemn, there had been something remarkable about Kellhus’s company. Even then he’d been someone whom others sought to please, as if they grasped without knowing what it meant to stand tall in his eyes. The disarming charisma. The endearing candour. The breathtaking intellect. Men opened themselves to him because he lacked all these deficiencies that led brother to injure brother. His humility was invariable, utterly disconnected from the presence of other men. Where others crowed or fawned depending upon whose company they kept, Kellhus remained absolute. He never boasted. Ne never flattered. He simply described.

Such men were addicting, especially for those who feared what others saw.

Achamian reflects on how he and Esmenet had watched Kellhus grow to “struggle with truths that everyone else had secretly accepted.” They witnessed his humanity, how even has his power grew, even as he became the “Voice and Vessel” to save the world, he remained himself. He never took for granted his power and never required more than his due. “It just so happened all the world fell within the circle of his authority.”

Achamian sometimes finds himself joking with Kellhus like nothing had changed, not even losing Esmenet. Invariably, something would knock him out of the illusion and Kellhus would become something like he were “a kind of lodestone made flesh, drawing things unseen yet palpable into his orbit.” Sometimes, during these moments, Achamian glimpses the halos.

To sit in his [Kellhus’s] presence was overwhelming enough. But to teach him the Gnosis?

To allow Kellhus to retain the protection of the Chorae for as long as possible, they start with everything short of actual Cants. All the language and philosophical pinnings that gird sorcerery. Normally, he would also teach the denotaries, basic Cants to develop a students “intellectual flexibility” first. He can’t with Kellhus because that will Mark him. So he starts with Gilcûnya, the Nonman tongue used for Gnostic Cants. “This took less than two weeks.”

To say that Achamian was astonished or even appalled would e to name a confluence of passions that could not be named. He himself had required three years to master the grammar, let alone the vocabulary, of that exotic and alien tongue.

He starts teaching Kellhus the philosophy of Gnosis, the Aeturi Sohonca (Sohonc Theses). Without these, the “Cants were little more than soul-numbing recitations.” Sorcery depends on meaning, and that depends on “systemic comprehension.” He explains how a word can have different meanings, or connotations, that can varied from person to person, and group to group. He uses love as an example. The feelings of love for a parent are different than for a lover or a friend. An older man and a teenage boy can both suffer heartbreak, but the “former is tempered by loss, learning, and a lifetime of experience, while the latter knows only lust and ardour.”

He [Achamian] could not help but wonder in passing what “love” had come to mean for him? As always, he dispelled such thoughts—thoughts of her—by throwing himself into his discourse.

Sorcery requires “preserving and expressing the pure modalities of meaning.” Kellhus realizes that this is why they use Gilcûnya as their lingua arcana. Kellhus figuring something like this out doesn’t surprise Achamian. He confirms that the “sheer otherness of Gilcûnya serves to insulate the semantics of sorcery from the inconsistencies of our lives.” He adds the Angogic use a debased form called High Kunna for the reason.

To speak as the Gods do,” Kellhus said. “Far from the concerns of Men.”

He explains about the Persemiota, a meditative technique not needed for the Mandate because of Seswatha inside them. Then he teaches the Semansis Dualis, the final step before damnation (at least until Kellhus came around). He talks about the two halves of sorcery, what you speak (the utteral) and what you think (the inutteral). “Since any single meaning could be skewed by the vagaries of circumstance, Cants required a second, simultaneous meaning, which, though as vulnerable to distortion as the first, braced it nonetheless, even as it too was braced.” Kellhus grasp this immediately, coming up with his own analogy. According to Achamian, thinking one thing and saying another is the hardest step, and why you can’t just hear a Mandate Schoolmarm speak his cants to steal the Gnosis.

Kellhus nodded. “Has anyone experimented with further inutteral strings?”

Achamian swallowed. “What do you mean?”

By some coincidence two of the hanging lanterns guttered at the same time, drawing Achamian’s eyes upward. They instantly resumed their soundless illumination.

Has anyone devised Cants consisting of two inutteral strings?”

Though Achamian has heard of a legend of the nonman Su’juroit the Witch-King using the “third phrase, Achamian lies and says it’s not possible. Achamian is frightened by the possibilities Kellhus could work and is reminded of the time he participated in an assassination, delivered the poison to slave which resulted in four people dying.

As always with Kellhus, Achamian needed only to gloss the various topics, and then only once. Within the course of single evenings Kellhus mastered arguments, explanations, and details that had taken Achamian years to internalize. His questions always struck to the heart. His observations never failed to chill with their rigor and penetration. Then at last, as the first elements of the Holy War invested Gerotha, they came to the precipice.

Kellhus beamed with gratitude and good humour. He stroked his flaxen beard in an uncharacteristic gesture of excitement, and for an instant resembled no one so much as Inrau. His eyes reflected three points of light, one for each of the lanterns suspended above Achamian.

So the time has finally come.”

Achamian wants to teach basic Wards, but Kellhus wants the Cant of Calling. Achamian wants to objects, but knows he shouldn’t. He begins to teach the utterals for the Ishra Discursia, “the most ancient and most simple of the Gnostic Cants,” but finds himself unable to speak. Kellhus realizes Seswatha has stopped him, deducing that this is how the Mandate protected the Gnosis. Achamian looks helpless at Kellhus. He truly wanted to teach Kellhus, and now feels shamed that he can’t. It reminds him of Xinemus’s torture.

Kellhus wants to speak with Seswatha, which shocks Achamian. Then Kellhus draws a dagger which reminds Achamian of the type of knives his father used to debone fish. “For a panicked instant Achamian thought that Kellhus meant to debone him, to cut Seswatha from his skin, perhaps the way physician-priests sometimes cut living infants from dying mothers.” Instead, Kellhus hypnotizes Achamian by reflecting light from the dagger into his eyes in a captivating fashion.

He feels something inside of him that restrained him in a “manner more profound than chains or even inhumation.” He knows he speaks, but doesn’t remember what he says. He feels always on the edge of something and then he is out of it. Confused, he starts to ask Kellhus what happened, but is silenced. Kellhus tells him to repeat the spell. This time Achamian speaks the utteral and than the inutteral. Achamian is disoriented by how easy he spoke them then he waits, hovering “between hope and horror.” It took Achamian seven months to master speaking one thing and thinking another, and he started with the denotaries. He knows Kellhus will do it on the first try.

Silence, so absolute it seemed he could hear the lanterns wheeze their white light.

Then, with a faint otherworldly smile upon his lips, Kellhus nodded, looked directly into his [Achamian’s] eyes, and repeated, “Iratisrineis lo ocoimenein loroi hapara,” but in a way that rumbled like trailing thunder.

For the first time Achamian saw Kellhus’s eyes glow. Like coals beneath the bellows.

Terror seizes Achamian. He wonders what Kellhus’s limits are. “What did it mean for a prophet to sing in the God’s own voice.” He wonders if that would make Kellhus a shaman of old. Or was he a god.

Yes,” Kellhus murmured, and he uttered the words again, words that spoke from the marrow of existence, that resonated at the pitch of souls. His eyes flashed, like gold afire. Ground and air hummed.

And at last Achamian realized…

I have not the concepts to comprehend him.

My Thoughts

Have a call back to book 2 when Achamian and Esmenet gained a height to see the entirety of the Holy War. Kellhus has denied Achamian this just like he’s denied Achamian his wife.

We have Achamian musing on the truth any soldier knows. United in a purpose and thrust into dire circumstances binds men together. They have to work together for their survival, it’s one massive pressure on their behavior, and it forever changes them. Kellhus was then in the right position, thanks to his gamble with the Circumfix, to benefit from that united suffering binding the Holy war.

Further, we see this same level of suffering being used by Kellhus with the Great Ordeal on their march to Golgotterath, especially with the final march across the Fields of Appalling. And that last line, if Kellhus were to die… Well, we’ll see how that third and final series goes.

Achamian mistakes “good and evil” for “pure intellect and pure hunger” the two extremes of humans, both of which Bakker shows us are not “good” or “healthy” behaviors.

We can never know how true stress, true dangers, true survival will place on us. Those who seem strong will break and those who seem weak will withstand. Eleäzaras and Xinemus are examples of the former, two different forms of strength, one perceived as bad one as good, but both crumbled. Achamian and Esmenet would be examples of the later. And then some, like Serwë, just live in a dream world until they die.

Murder is about the only thing you can do to a person where you can’t make amends, can’t apologize, can’t try to do something to make it right. Achamian is giving Iyokus that chance to do that because, as always, Achamian is very self-reflective. He sees the selfishness of his action and can’t allow himself to embrace that sort of confidence retributive justice requires.

We witness the slow seduction of Achamian. How Kellhus would “seem as frail as the warlike men about him” at times, tugging on the compassion inside of Achamian. He is making Achamian see him as vulnerable, something that needs the sorcerer’s protection from the outside world. From the Consult. Kellhus needs Achamian willing to teach him, to surrender the Gnosis to him or he’ll lose against the Consult eventually.

The Halos are more than a mass hallucination. They have to be. Kellhus is touching the outside in some ways. It’s bleeding into him, and those who believe in him see it. Achamian’s doubts keep him from wholly believing in anything. He’s always questioning, which might be way he’s only getting glimpses. He sees them for a moment then they’re gone. Kellhus might very well be a nascent god. Perhaps he will be a god, and since the gods stands outside of time ultimately, capable of seeing its beginning and end, this might just be a manifestation of that. At the end of the series while he died, he didn’t get captured by Ajolki. Kellhus’s soul escaped whatever bargain he made with the trickster god. We’ll have to see what Bakker does with this going forward in the third series.

Achamian never seeing Esmenet’s eyes is a subtle hint that she’s avoiding looking at him.

If you didn’t know it, you can train yourself to hate people. You can also do the opposite. Dwelling on something over and over again bends your thoughts and makes it a truth to your mind. Our brains are quite plastic and malleable.

Bakker again shows us that Achamian doesn’t just want Esmenet back out possessiveness, but he truly cares for her. He’s proud of her growth as a person even though it came at the expense of their relationship.

I think Achamian is coming down on himself too hard here. He doesn’t know the full picture of what Kellhus can do. How he can manipulate. He’s feeling like he deserve this now. That he’s blaming himself for what happened, shifting the blame away from Esmenet. He does this because he still cares for her and the alternative is to hate her. Better to hate himself. It’s a selfish action nonetheless, and these are the ones we always do and always regret.

Men don’t like thinking about the previous sexual experiences of their female partner. It’s a direct comparison of one man’s manhood to another. No guy wants to think his partner is wishing he was someone else. Then it also gets into the reproductive strategies human males employ. Due to the long development period of human children, a decade or so before they can start to be self-sufficient outside the 9 month gestation period, is longer than any other animal, especially when you compare us to species the same size. Elephants don’t take that long to reach independence and they have a lot of growing to do. This in the vast majority of human history (not the little sliver the industrial revolution has brought about in the last two hundred years) has required most women to be tied to the home to raise her children. She needed to a provider. Men responded with the strategy of peer-bonding, building a relationship with a woman as a long term strategy to ensure your offspring thrive. It’s why men can be very possessive about their women. In this case, knowing that you’re the last to ever bed her is important thought. You’ll see that men rarely seek divorce. Even men who cheat on their wives. As an aside, adultery is usually triggered, in men, by the second reproductive strategy: if a woman is offering sex and not asking for commitment, why not reproduce with her? It’s a very basic and primal instinct in men. A hard one for a man to avoid. For a single woman, that sort of behavior, in the past, was quite risky. If she has a child before establishing peer-bond, it makes it harder for her to find a man willing to build that commitment. Once a woman has that commitment, she might engage in a reproductive strategy of cuckoldry if she finds a more suitable man to have a child with and then trick her peer-bonded mate into raising another male’s child or even trading up to a better provider though divorce. (Now these are evolutionary pressures that affect us at a very subconscious and primal levels and we can exhibit self-control over them since humans can override many instinctive behaviors.)

Achamian goes through the various stages of grief, bouncing between them, trying to rationalize why Esmenet is with Kellhus, trying to bargain that if she just gave him one last chance, the anger at imagining Kellhus pleasing her more than him. It all burns through him. Until he hits on children. The one thing she gave Kellhus and not him. Because he never asked. He realizes then that he never fully committed to their relationship. So she always held that one thing back. The one thing that would fully entangle her with him.

“Simply speaking the name became something like twisting a tourniquet.” It would seem to Achamian that Kellhus’s name is both something painful but also life-saving. Having a tourniquet applied hurts, but it’s better than dying, or finding damnation and allowing the world to be destroyed by the No-God.

All the people Achamian loves are at Proyas’s fire. Kellhus isn’t there, just Esmenet, Proyas, and Xinemus. This laughter, this one moment of the past is all the remains of who the four used to be. Because none of them are the same people. They all changed by the burdens of the Holy War. Proyas, Achamian, and Esmenet found new strength, but not Xinemus…

Who does Esmenet want to fuck though? Kellhus, probably. Xinemus is calling her a whore as we see in his comment when she and Achamian leave.

Xinemus sees himself as the same man because of the Cants of Compulsion. The Scarlet Spire broke him by making him say things he would never say, but he believes he could. To Xinemus, he has an unbroken line of self from before his capture to now, but that’s not true. He’s like a computer program. A computer can’t understand that someone added new code to it that changed its behavior because it can’t understand that any tampering happened. Bakker is saying that’s really all humans are.

Biological machines with delusions of free will.

Esmenet blinking back tears. The truth hurts her because she still loves Achamian, but Kellhus is new, he swallowed up her life, and she has no perspective about anything. She will soon, though.

I remember Xinemus being eager to reach Kellhus earlier. He had such hope he’d get his eyes back. But Kellhus couldn’t heal him nor could stealing Iyokus’s eyes fix the problem. He’s disillusioned and that adds a little more doubt nibbling at Achamian. Kellhus is being spread so thin. He can’t keep deceiving everyone.

Further, the story that Xinemus tells is a parable about revelation. If Kellhus cannot heal, does that mean he cannot reveal? As we see in the Judging Eye, Achamian is still damned for being a sorcerer despite Kellhus’s “revelation” to the contrary.

Through Achamian, Bakker is showing something about humans. It’s so hard for us to care about what’s not in our immediate life. It’s hard to care about suffering in other countries, even in our own, if it doesn’t directly impact us. On an intellectual level, we can care, but on an emotional level which could motivate us to truly act, it scarcely touches us. It’s how we’re wired. Things are not truly real to us unless they’re in our immediate life. I know England is a real place, but do I believe that. Truly? Inside of me. I know it, but… Well, it’s the same with Achamian. Esmenet is right here, it’s hard to care about the Apocalypse when he’s hurting; when the woman he loves is with another man.

Esmenet reacts with anger to Achamian’s pain at losing her and immediately tries to justify it. She feels the guilt, which prompts her intellect to reason away her pain so she won’t feel it any longer. A very human reaction.

How Compulsion works in Bakker’s universe highlights one of the themes of the books: that free will is an illusion. And here is a concrete, irrefutable proof. Through Compulsion, a sorcerer steps into the darkness that comes before and guides it to affect you and you can’t tell the difference. To your mind, it responds that stimuli like any other and keeps up the facade of free will. Esmenet, surrounded by Kellhus, has had her eyes opened to free will to an extant, and thus doesn’t challenge this assertion by Achamian and doesn’t fearing what it means for her own decisions.

The moment Achamian admits what Xinemus said, he gets pity from Esmenet, proving the Scarlet Spire correct.

Achamian, I believe, was trying to tell Esmenet that she, ultimately, wasn’t special to Kellhus, no more than Achamian was. Because Kellhus knows everyone unlike Achamian, who cares only for her. He doesn’t know anyone but her. However, she says that Kellhus loves her (and in his own stunted way, Kellhus does love Esmenet). Note that she doesn’t say she loves Kellhus. Nor did she deny her feelings for Achamian. She even allowed herself, for a brief moment, to embrace him. She didn’t resist until after the kiss began. Then she’s angry. Like Achamian, she’s trying to use logic to justify why she’s with Kellhus and not Achamian, and can’t. Because love has no logic.

Over the rest of the book, we see her realizing the truth about who she really loves, not just who she was manipulated into caring for. However, that maternal part of her drives her to make the decision best not for herself, but for Kellhus’s child growing in her womb.

Kellhus has opted for dealing with Achamian by taking the noble, “This just sucks that while everyone thought you were dead (but really had no proof) we mourned you and then hooked up; I mean, it was like a month or two, and so that’s weird to swoop in so fast, but, I think this sucks, too” route. It’s effective against Achamian.

Not really surprising you can love your oppressor. After all, most of us love our parents.

This quote Achamian has that “Kellhus merely tolerated him out of courtesy, as a way to built trust with a formidable ally” is a very good sounding of who Kellhus truly is. Achamian is picking up on some of it. Perhaps Kellhus is stretching himself to thin and the observant Achamian is gleaming hints of Kellhus’s true nature. Perhaps it’s deliberate, to have Kellhus have a certain aloof air.

Who doesn’t like to be seen as someone admirable in the eyes of a man above you in social standing, someone who appears noble and good and caring and friendly. As Cnaiür says, the Dûnyain enslave you with love.

We get to see the requirements of seeing the halos from Achamian through those few times he glimpses them. It’s when he stops seeing Kellhus as a human being with whom he joked and laughed with and instead feels the divine, the Outside, shining out of Kellhus. I am convinced these Halos are a hint that Kellhus will ascend to some form of Godhood. If any soul could join the Hundred in power, it’s Kellhus. And since the Hundred see time in its entirety instead of just inhabiting the present, it’s possible that people see these almost topoi-like halos shining from Kellhus because they are glimpsing his future as an entity as close to deityhood as you get in the Three Seas. A being on par with Ajolki or Yatwer. For those who worship him, who align their souls into his sphere of influence and are drawn to him to be devoured the way the Hundred do to the souls of their worshipers, you get to see the halos.

The denotaries is why Inrau could use sorcery in book one even though he wasn’t really Marked. He was just about to step into that and apparently knew all the principals but left before every uttering one before that moment he killed the skin-spy. Perhaps he was struggling to master the utteral and inutteral and in this moment of fear, it all clicked for him.

Or it’s a plot hole and, like any good fan, I’m writing the story for Bakker.

If you ever needed more proof that Bakker has had a Ph.D. in philosophy, look no further into how he made it the central component of his magic system. Meaning is at the heart of philosophy.

There’s a reason the Greeks had four different words for love agape (unconditional love, universal love, like of God for his creation), Eros (sexual love or intimate love), Phillia (friendship, brotherly love), and Stroge (usually that parent/child love familiar love). English, however, put all our eggs into one word and it has to do a lot of work with so many shades of meaning to it.

Bakker’s not the only author I’ve seen use the ancient language to preserve the “pure modalities” of a word from the constant shift and slide of a living language. I know Butcher uses that in his Dresden Files Universe.

“To speak as the Gods do. Far from the concerns of Men.” This is the rabbit hole philosophers can fall down, lost in their own philosophy and losing sight of the day to day grind of living.

Achamian realizes what he is handing Kellhus in this moment. I wonder if this is why Seswatha balked and stopped Achamian from teaching Kellhus anything else. For it’s after this that Achamian can’t talk about the Gnosis. Maybe it was just teaching Kellhus the actual utterals and inutterals that did it, but Achamian didn’t have any problem teaching the philosophy underpinning Gnosis, something that the Mandate, thanks to Seswatha, has denied to the Angogic Schools even under torture. I think the Seswatha inside Achamian felt his fear and responded by locking down any additional information.

“He [Kellhus] stroked his flaxen beard in an uncharacteristic gesture of excitement, and for an instant resembled no one so much as Inrau.” In the last book, Kellhus identified Achamian’s relationship with Inrau, deduced the youth’s mannerisms, and then uses it to manipulate Achamian into teaching him. And here, at the cusp of learning the Gnosis, Kellhus pulls out all the bells and whistles to apply as much manipulation on Achamian as possible. Especially after he just freaked Achamian out with his question on the second inutteral.

And now Kellhus has the Gnosis. I always wondered what Kellhus said to the soul of Seswatha dwelling inside of Achamian. I have no doubts that it is the reason the dreams have changed for Achamian and no one else. The version of Seswatha inside of him knows that the harbinger has come. It unlocks information for Achamian after that.

Then we have the reveal, Achamian using the Cant of Calling, which I believe is the same one he uses for teleportation by adding a second inutteral. I suspect Kellhus has already figured this out, or has a theory about it based on his understanding of Gnostic Philosophy that Achamian taught him. He already sees the potential of the ability to teleport and wants it over any other. And even if he hadn’t know he could use it to teleport, he still chooses the ability that allows communication. Not defenses or attacks, but something that lets him speak to others.

Words, after all, are Kellhus’s deadliest weapon. And now he can wield them with an arcane edge.

If you want to read more, Click here for Chapter Seven!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Five

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 5
Jocktha

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

To indulge it is to breed it. To punish it is to feed it. Madness knows no bridle but the knife.

—SCYLVENDI PROVERB

When others speak, I hear naught but the squawking of parrots. But when I speak, it always seems to be the first time. Each man is the rule of the other, no matter how mad or vain.

—HATATIAN, EXHORTATIONS

My Thoughts

An interesting pair of quotes. The first one is a rather bleak view on madness. And there’s truth in it. People who allow their delusions to be entertained can only sink deeper and deeper into them, to see them multiplied. This can lead them to be forever lost. Any attempts to snap them out, to punish them for their delusions, only feeds them. Then, in the unflinching fashion of the Scylvendi, the only option to control it is to kill the mad person.

Perhaps a proverb Kellhus should have ruminated about. Conphas and Cnaiür are both mad, and they are both beyond Kellhus’s ultimate control. Cnaiür’s madness keeps him from ever enacting Kellhus’s orders to kill Conphas and nothing short of death can curtail Conphas’s sociopathic narcissism.

Now the second quote speaks to the fact that we’re all narcissistic to some extant (see Conphas and the slave girl in this chapter). We’ve all had that impatient annoyance while listening to someone talk about what you don’t care about while at the same time you’re just eager to tell them what’s important to you (but something they won’t care about). That impulse we have to feel like everything we do has importance fills us. It’s an illusion to keep us going during times of banality. So is Bakker saying we are all mad and therefore the only way to fully control us is with the knife.

Is with power. Force.

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” said Mao. There’s a great deal of truth in that statement.

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

Conphas cannot shake Kellhus’s words, “For some it is a defect carried from the womb.” The feeling, like a bruise on his soul, is a new one for him. He doesn’t understand it or the words Kellhus spoke. While he’s ruminating over it, his army is disarmed. While no incidents happened, it still aggravates Conphas since his normally disciplined men found trouble following basic orders. In the end they looked like “an assembly of half-starved beggars.”

Proyas then calls on any who wish to follow the Warrior Prophet to step forward. After a pause, the first deserters step does. Conphas fears he’ll lose most of his men, but less than a fifth switch sides. He’s ecstatic while Proyas is vexed and castigates the loyal men. They shout that they follow the Lion. Proyas retreats in a fury while Conphas revels in it and “the bruise of his indignities began to fade.” He’s even happier when he learns that he won’t have to march back to Momemn through the desert but that contact was made, via the Scarlet Spire, with his uncle. A fleet of ships will come to Joktha to pick them up.

No matter who threw the number-sticks, it seemed, he [Conphas] owned the results.

Nothing happens on the march to Joktha, which he spent riding lost in thought. His staff holds their distance, only interacting with Conphas when he asks them questions like, “What man doesn’t aspire to godhead?” They answer all man then say only the boldest would voice it. Conphas knows they are being sycophants saying what he wants to hear. Conphas normally hates that since “no command could tolerate sycophants.” He finds himself indulging it since after all he was a defect and not quite human.

The strange thing was that he understood full well what the man had meant. His entire life, Conphas had known he was different. He never stammered in embarrassment. He never blushed in the presence of his betters. He never minced his words with his worries. All around him, men jerked this way and that, pulled by hooks that he knew only by reputation: love, guilt, duty… Though he understood how to use these words well enough, they meant nothing to him.

And the strangest thing of all was that he didn’t care.

Listening to the vain flattery, Conphas realized that his belief didn’t matter, only results. Logic and fats don’t mattered, only their connection to belief and desire. “If it pleased him to think himself divine, then so he would think.” He could do anything if he believed it. So it doesn’t matter what Kellhus does to the world, he’ll just adjust to make it right again. It didn’t matter if he was deformed or if the Consult was real. “It simply did not matter if he did not care.” He’s a unique soul that the world bends around.

“The fiend couldn’t attack you outright,” General Sompas ventured, “not without risking more bloodshed, more losses.” The caste-noble raised a hand against the sun to look directly at his Exalt-General. “So he heaped infamy on your name, kicked dirt across your fire, so that he alone might illumine the councils of the great.”

Even though he knew the man simply flattered him, Conphas decided that he agreed. He told himself that the Prince of Atrithau was the most accomplished liar he’d ever encountered—a veritable Ajolki! He told himself that the Council had been a trap, the product of thorough rehearsal and painstaking premeditation.

So he told himself, and so he believed. For Conphas, there was no difference between decision and revelation, manufacture and discovery. Gods made themselves the rule. And he was one of them.

By the time he reaches Jocktha, the pain of Kellhus’s words have vanished and he believes arriving here is his own will. He surveys the city when he first spies it. The city isn’t built on a defensive spot but beside a natural harbor. He spies the Donjon Palace built on “hazy heights.” They ride through a grove of peppertrees, the fragrance reminding Conphas of his time as Skauras’s hostage. He wants to hold onto those memoirs since “a captive had to always recall those he had mastered, lest he become one of them.” It’s another of his grandmother’s lessons.

The 300 Conryian knights awaiting him don’t bother him, but seeing Cnaiür does. He’s shocked and wonders why Kellhus chose Cnaiür. General Sompas objects, but Conphas says they are just trying to antagonize him into breaking the conditions of his freedom. Sompas starts to objects but swallows it, annoying Conphas. He remembers how Martemus never hesitated because he never feared Conphas. “Perhaps Sompas was the smarter man.” Sompas thinks they are being humiliated by having to submit to a Scylvendi. After reflection, Conphas thinks Kellhus is doing them a favor. Sompas doesn’t understand.

“Of course. He’s returned to me my most precious possession.”

The fool could only stare.

“My men. He’s returned to me my men. He’s even culled them for me.”

“But we are disarmed.”

Conphas looked back at the great train of beggars that was his army. They looked shadowy in the dust, at once dark and pale, like a legion of wraiths too insubstantial to threaten, let alone harm.

Perfect.

He glanced one last time at his General. “Hold on to your worries, Sompas…” He turned back to the Scylvendi, raising his hand in the mockery of a salute. “Your dismay,” he muttered askance, “lends the stamp of authenticity to these proceedings.”

Cnaiür thinks he’s forgetting something as he studies cracks in the marmoreal paving stones. He thinks only an Utemot Chieftain would allow such defects to be shown and not covered. He feels like he did just waking up at Kiyuth as he remembers meeting Conphas last night, how they’d argued, how Conphas tried to provoke him. As he does, Cnaiür struggles to remember who is he.

He starts dreaming he’s walking towards Shimeh, though it looks like the camp of his youth. As he passes through the yurts, he sees all the Utemot as dead and rotting. “They watched him with the parchment eyes of the dead.” He passes his livestock butchered. He’s not surprised. Before the White Yaksh, which he sees as the heart of Shimeh, he finds his feather’s head impaled on a spear. Inside he finds Moënghus has “made a harem of his wives.” He isn’t shocked or angry even as he beats Serwë, Anissi, the others. Their blood unnerves him.

Moënghus looked up from his passion and grinned a broad and welcoming grin. The Ikurei still lives, he said. Why don’t you kill him?

“The time… the time…”

Are you drunk?

“Nepenthe… All that the bird gave to me…”

Ah… so you yearn to forget after all.

“No… not forget. Sleep.”

So why not kill him?

“Because he wants me to.”

The Dûnyain? You think this is a trap?

“His every word is a feint. His every look a spear!”

Then what’s his intent?

“To keep me from his father. To deny my hate. To betray—”

Dream Moënghus points out if Cnaiür kills Conphas, he’s free to go after the Holy War. Cnaiür comes awake and realizes he’s been talking to the Synthese. It cries at him to avenge his People for the Battle of Kiyuth.”

I’m forgetting something.

Days pass. At night, Cnaiür lies with “Serwë” while he tries to understand his circumstances. He needs to deal with Conphas and his soldiers. He has 428 men. They’re outnumbered, but are battle-hardened. They’re not happy about being left behind, so Cnaiür focuses their anger at the Nansur and Conphas. He needs them to be as aggressive as possible. Baron Sanumnis, in charge of the Conryians, is worried. Cnaiür says since Nansur can defeat them “we must strip their will from them.” Cnaiür needs to cow the soldiers before murdering Conphas.

Cnaiür segregates Conphas soldiers, keeping the veterans from the younger ones and making them form camps far enough away from fresh water to keep them busy carrying it to their camp. He has the cavalry units dispersed among the infantry, using the “mutual enmity” between them to help keep unit cohesion down. He orders rumors that Conphas weeps and their officers objected to eating the same rations as the common soldiers. These were “the kinds of rumors that gnawed at every army’s heart.” Conphas is not allowed to leave the city or visit his men, but is allowed to move freely within the walls while Cnaiür “obsessively pondered the man’s murder.” Cnaiür understands the reasons both why he’s chosen and why Conphas has to die (can’t tolerate rivals and he’s the savage Scylvendi).

What tormented him [Cnaiür] was what these understandings implied. If murdering Moënghus was Kellhus’s sol mission, then preserving the Holy War should be his sole concern. Why assassinate Conphas when he need only remove him from the game—as he had? And why use Cnaiür to conceal his involvement, when the consequences—open war with the Empire—would have no bearing on the imminent conquest of Shimeh?

And Cnaiür realized… There was no way around it: the Dûnyain was looking behind the Holy War—past Shimeh. And to see past Shimeh was to see past Moënghus.

Cnaiür assumed he and Kellhus were on a hunt as “a collusion of enemies in pursuit of a greater foe.” Now he’s realizing it’s different. He feels it is a slave collar bent around the entire world with Kellhus and Moënghus at either ends.

He starts to get paranoid, often studying Trinemus and Sanumnis, the two lords with him, wondering if they had secret orders, especially since Trinemus defers to Sanumnis who only seems to watch. He thinks they will arrest him for murdering Conphas, the pair ready to act.

I’ve been sent to murder myself. The thought made Cnaiür cackle. Small wonder Proyas had been so unnerved relaying the Dûnyain’s murderous instructions.

Cnaiür takes the Scarlet Schoolman Sanumnis assigned to him to keep in constant communication with the Holy War as more proof. He is beset on all sides by “mad, unfathomable depths.” Cnaiür orders the Schoolman to study Conphas and his retinue while Cnaiür strides into them, showing off all his Swazond and boasting about killing them. Conphas retorts, starting to boast about how many Scylvendi he raped at Kiyuth when Cnaiür hits him hard. He disarms a Nansur coming to Conphas aid and starts beating the poor man while Trinemus’s soldiers come to hold the rest off. Cnaiür shouts at the Nansur that they will heed him.

“Do not,” Cnaiür said, raising his great banded arms, “Make me the ledger of your folly.”

They shrink like children from him. He then asks which one is the sorcerer. Sanumnis points him out. Cnaiür pulls out his Chorea. The hidden Imperial Saik tries to flee but he is killed by Cnaiür’s Chorae. Cnaiür strides away, marching past the cringing Conphas, not saying a word because “one did not trade words with whipped dogs.” Cnaiür knows this is all posturing, but he learned how important this is from Kellhus.

Later, he rants in his apartments. It never occurred to him that Conphas could have a secret sorcerer with him until Sanumnis arrived. He grows more paranoid, believing he is surrounded by enemies, including Proyas in that group.

He sent me to murder myself!

Cnaiür gets drunk to blunt “the spears that lay hidden beneath every surface.” He’s confused by his hallucinations of Moënghus and the Synthese’s words. He confides everything in “Serwë” even while knowing she’s false. He knows something is wrong with him because he can see himself “as the Dûnyain saw him.” For thirty years, he’s tried to get back to the “tracks of his People” after Moënghus led him out into the metaphorical plains of endless possibility.

Thirty accursed years! These too he understood. The Scylvendi were a forward people—as were all people save the Dûnyain. They listened to their storytellers. They listened to their hearts. Like dogs, they barked at strangers. They judged honour and shame the way they judged near and far. In their inborn conceit, they made themselves the absolute measure. They could not see that honour, like nearness, simply depended on where one stood.

That it was a lie.

Cnaiür realizes he can never be one of the people because the path back has been “trampled.” His kinsmen could sense this and hated him. He was a fool to try and be one. Once Moënghus asked the questions that exposed Cnaiür’s blissful ignorance, he could never get it back. It was so simple for custom and conviction to be overthrown. “That only outrage and accusation could be the only true foundation.

Why? cried his every step. Why? cried his every word. Why? cried his every breath.

For some reason… There must be some reason.

But why? Why?

Though Cnaiür isn’t Scylvendi, their customs and beliefs remain. He can’t escape his People’s belief that what he did was wrong. Shameful. Though he doesn’t care about their beliefs, he’s chained to them. He doesn’t understand. “How could absent things remain?”

There were two pasts; Cnaiür understood that now. There was the past that men remembered, and there was the past that determined, and rarely if ever were they the same. All men stood in the thrall of the latter.

And knowing this made them insane.

Conphas knows that his success or failure comes down to timing. Jocktha used to be part of the Empire, and they remember the escape tunnels built here. “Walls, after all, could be retaken; corpses could only be burned.” He still finds it a stressful experience, rattled by Cnaiür’s violence earlier. He was knocked down as easily as woman or child. It paralyzed him with fear. Conphas thought the barbarian, somehow still smelling of the Steppes, would kill him. He knows Cnaiür wants this because frightened men “thought with their skins.” Knowing this doesn’t alleviate Conphas’s dread.

Conphas only finds release once they tunnel opens out on the other side of the River Oras and he meets up with some of his Kidruhil. They escort him to a rendezvous point chosen by Conphas. He waits while the wind howls. Conphas finds the storm making him introspective and he decides he would be deep instead of flat.

Sompas’s chestnut snorted, shook its head and mane to shoo a wasp. The General cursed in the petulant way of those who keep score with animals. Suddenly Conphas found himself mourning the loss of Martemus. Sompas was useful—even now, his pickets combed the countryside, searching for the Scylvendi’s spies—but his value lay more in his availability than his quality. He was an able tool, not a foil as Martemus had been. And all great men required foils.

Especially on occasions such as this.

Conphas wishes he could forger Cnaiür. Even now, a small bit of dread lurks in him that he can’t get rid of. He wonders if this is what sin feels like. “The intimation of something greater watching.” He wonders if faith was also a stain. That makes him laugh because he feels like his old self is returning. A confused Sompas asks after the laughter, provoking a derisive thought from Conphas even as he notes those they wait on approach.

Conphas takes delight in the confusion of his retinue who don’t know what he’s up to. Conphas had readied for this day, knowing Kellhus would secure his authority. After defeating the Padirajah, no one else but Conphas could challenge Kellhus. Knowing Kellhus would move against him, Conphas made plans without telling his advisers. “The long view could not be trusted to those without vision.”

Sompas is confused then grows alarmed when he realizes that the riders are Kianene and goes to draw sword. Conphas orders him not to saying the only the wicked “would cast out the righteous.” They are shocked, but Conphas knows he can get them to understand since “their resolve was born of mundane earth, not heaven.” Conphas is convinced he could get his men to kill their own mothers for him if he timed it right. He fakes a shared camaraderie with his men and launches into a speech about all the amazing things he’s done as their leader and then contrasts that with their current straits where a False Prophet leads the Holy War and how they won’t reclaim their forefathers stolen land. This demands war, and that requires their hearts.

It all came to their hearts, in the end. Even though Conphas had no clue what “heart,” used in this sense, actually meant, he did know that it could be trusted, like any other well-trained dog. He smiled inwardly, realizing the issue had been decided long before he had spoken. They were already committed. The genius of most men lay in finding reasons after their actions. The heart was ever self-serving, especially when the beliefs served involved sacrifice. This was why the great general always sought consent in the instant of commission. Momentum did the rest.

Timing.

Sompas calls him the Lion and his men lower weapons, giving him respect. “Even worship.” Conphas is riding high on success as he meets with Fanayal ab Kascamandri, greeting him as Padirajah. Conphas is surprised by how low Fanayal bows in response then Conphas is called Emperor.

Cnaiür wanders from his bed, leaving “Serwë” sleeping. The rain has just finished, and he breaths in the scents from his terrace, staring at Conphas’s compound. The Synthese arrival surprises him. The Synthese is perplexed by Cnaiür.

Demons, Cnaiür now knew, had many guises. They were everywhere, mauling the world with their anarchic appetites, outraging with their impersonations. Birds. Lovers. Slaves…

And most of all, him.

Again, the Synthese asks why Cnaiür hasn’t killed Conphas. Cnaiür reflects on how other cultures “revered and reviled” some birds, but the Scylvendi see them as nothing more than signs of the world and food in a pinch. “So what was this thing?” Cnaiür counters Kellhus should be their concern. But the Synthese argues that Conphas wants to stop the Holy War while the Consult wants to use Kellhus to find Moënghus. “He’s the greater threat.”

“Fool!” Cnaiür exclaimed.

“I eclipse you, mortal!” it replied with bird-vehemency. “I am a son of a more violent race. You cannot conceive the compass of my life!”

Cnaiür turned his profile to it, glancing at it sidelong. “Why? The blood that pulses through my veins is no less ancient. Nor are the movements of my soul. You are not so old as the Truth.”

Cnaiür says that the Synthese still underestimates them, not realizing “Dûnyain are intellect.” The Synthese scoffs that he underestimates Kellhus, but Cnaiür says it’s true. Even the Synthese is but a child to Kellhus. And Moënghus has had thirty years to work on the Kianene. But the Synthese boasts of his own power.

Cnaiür cursed and laughed. “Would you like to know what a Dûnyain would hear in your words?”

“And what might that be?”

“Posturing. Vanity. Weakness that betray your measure and offer innumerable lines of assault. A Dûnyain would grant you your declarations. He would encourage you in your confidence. In all things, he would dispense flattering appearance. He would care nothing whether you thought him your lesser, your slave, so long as you remained ignorant.”

Cnaiür spat. “Your true circumstances.”

The Synthese asks what those are. Cnaiür says he is being played. “Like men, power stands high among your native desires.” The Synthese asks how he can act on his own. Cnaiür tells him that the Consult can’t act like nothing has changed, that Kellhus already has figured out their goals and resources. Cnaiür realizes the Consult will meet the Holy War’s fate. They will “strip them the way the People stripped the carcasses of bison.” The Synthese must change tactics and “strike across trackless grounds.” He says that they wait and watch, surrendering the battlefield where they cannot win. They must “become a student of opportunity.”

“Opportunity… for what?”

Cnaiür held out a scarred fist. “To kill him! To kill Anasûrimbor Kellhus while you still can!”

“He is naught but a trifle,” the bird crowed. “So long as he leads the Holy War to Shimeh, he works our will.”

“Fool!” Cnaiür crackled.

This angers the Synthese and he uses sorcery to conjure images of Sranc, Dragons, and more. Cnaiür is unimpressed, clutching his Chorae, and says that Kellhus is learning sorcery. This shocks the Synthese to learn Drusas is teaching him.

It will take him years, you fool…”

Cnaiür spat, managed to shake his head ruefully despite the mad disproportion between the thing before him and the aura of its might. Pity for the powerful—did that not make one great?

“You forget, Bird. He learned my people’s tongue in four days.”

Conphas kneels naked in his apartment, not moving as footsteps approach. He feels confident because he’s emperor. Sompas reports Cememketri, the Saik Grandmaster, has arrived. Conphas says he’ll be there soon. Despite his desperation for information, he’s riding high on his power and has to satiate himself with a Kianene slave girl. As usual, she holds a mirror for him to look at himself while using her. On a whim, he has her turn it around to stare at herself, promising, “Watch, and the pleasure will come…I swear it.”

For some reason the cold press of silver against his cheek fanned his ardour. They climaxed together, despite her shame. It made her seem more than the animal he knew her to be.

He would make, he decided, a far different Emperor from his uncle.

It’s been seven days since he met with Fanayal, and it grates on him he’s a prisoner of a Scylvendi and had to learn about his ascension to the Mantle of the Nansurium from a Kianene. But he refuses to fret over any ill-omens the way his “fool uncle” would. He thinks this ironic twist of fate is the Gods begrudging him. “The timing was all wrong.”

From Fanayal, Conphas learned Ngrau, the Grand Seneschal, is acting as regent awaiting Conphas’s return to hand over power. Though Fanayal assures Conphas his succession is secure, Conphas knows Fanayal needs him to think that so Conphas will save Kian instead of running home to Momemn. Only the fact that returning home meant crossing the desert and that his grandmother killed his uncle deters him. He thinks she did this to bring him home and install her ‘beloved grandson” on the throne. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s murdered an emperor. He reflects on the fact she always was against the plane to betray the Holy War claiming she wanted to protect her “precious soul.” Conphas sneers at a soul as defiled as hers ever could be.

But in the absence of facts to fix them, these thoughts and worries could do naught but cycle round and round, quickened by the mad stakes and the perverse unreality of it all. I’m Emperor, he would think. Emperor! But as things stood, he was a prisoner of his ignorance—far more so than the Scylvendi. And with his Saik Caller, Darastius, dead, there was nothing to be done about it. Save wait.

Finished wit the slave girl, he meets with Cememketri. Conphas makes the old sorcerer wait in supplication, Cememketri observing the Antique Protocol of not addressing the emperor without “explicit consent,” before Conphas speaks and rescinds it. He’s shocked by how aged Cememketri looks and hopes the man will endure. He asks what the Imperial Saik make of circumstances and Cememketri flatters, saying he believes Conphas will truly wield them. This flatters Conphas’s ego, understanding that “able men chafed under the rule of ingrates.” Cememketri’s rise to Grandmaster is impressive given his low background. But Conphas wonders if he can be trusted.

Conphas, unlike his grandfather, recognizes that the Imperial Saik revere their tradition of serving the Emperor. That they alone “honored the old Compactorium” that once bound all schools to the old Cenei Aspect-Emperors.

All men recited self-aggrandizing stories, words of ascendancy and exception, to balm the inevitable indignities of fact. An emperor need only repeat those stories to command the hearts of men. But this axiom had always escaped Xerius. He was too bent on hearing his own story repeated to learn, let alone speak, the flatteries that moved other men.

Conphas assures Cememketri that he’ll use the Saik with “all the respect and consideration accorded by the Compactorium.” He flatters Cememketri more, making the man brighten. They then talk about what happened to Darastius, and discuss how Cememketri was worried when they lost contact with him. Sorcerers can, through dreams, communicate with a person if they know where they sleep in the physical world. This is partly why Xerius was suspicious of the Saik since so many communications pass through them. Talk turns to the Scarlet Schoolman Cnaiür has with him. Cememketri promises to put him under compulsion if Conphas can lure him into a trap and thus avenge Darastius.

Conphas nodded, realizing for the first time that it was Imperial favour he dispensed now. He hesitated, only for a heartbeat, but it was enough.

“You wish to know what happened,” Cememketri said. “How your uncle fell…” He stooped for a moment, then drew upright in what seemed a breath of resolution. “I know only what my Compass has told me. Even so, there’s so much we must discuss, God-of-Men.”

“I imagine there is,” Conphas said, waving with indulgent impatience. “But the near before the far, Grandmaster, the near before the far. We have a Scylvendi to break…” He stared at the Schoolman with bland humour. “And a Holy War to annihilate.”

My Thoughts

Conphas is feeling pain for the first time. Not physical pain, but emotional kind. He cannot rationalize away Kellhus’s blunt words that he is a defect from birth. He can’t ignore them, either. Not with how piercing Kellhus’s insights are. But all it takes to heal his bruised ego is the loyalty of his soldier. How could that level of adoration and defiance not swell a regular person’s confidence let alone a rampant narcissist like Conphas who is back to his old self now, the master of the universe once more.

That is one of the things that makes Conphas so dangerous. He’s a narcissist with an over-inflated opinion of himself. But it’s not too over-inflated. He is a military genius. He understands tactics and the necessity of having men around, like Martemus, who would challenge him or speak plainly. Conphas is just such a sociopath because he doesn’t understand love, guilt, and duty.

His narcissism is astounding. He can rationalize anything to ensure his belief. Reason is slave to desire, and no intellect is chained more strongly than Conphas’s. He chooses to believe the truth that flatters his lies, bending his reason to it. He sees truth and lies as so interchangeable, that he doesn’t care which is reality. He thinks reality is what he believes. Like his uncle, he has the same deluded belief in his own godhood.

Interesting that Conphas compares Kellhus to Ajolki, thinking him a liar. Ajolki, the four-horned god, is a liar and the god of assassins. He’s also the god Kellhus cuts a deal with and we see the results of that at the end of the Unholy Consult.

Donjon is the word dungeon descends from. A donjon is merely the central keep of a castle, the large tower rising up from it. Because towers became associated with imprisonment (i.e. the Tower of London), the word donjon became synonymous with jail and transformed into our modern definition of below-ground cells. The word is still pronounced the same despite the fact the spelling has changed.

The favor is not only that Kellhus has culled their troops but united them in common hatred against Cnaiür. None of his soldiers, all veterans of fighting Scylvendi and raised in a martial culture bent towards protecting their peoples from the savagery of the barbarians, will begin to chafe at their imprisonment. They won’t bond with their jailers. Not with such a hated figure in charge. Conphas’s already loyal force has one more reason to stay committed to him. One wonders what Kellhus’s end game is here.

An Utemot Chieftain wouldn’t care about something as insignificant as cracks in stone. He’s trying to keep himself separate from the Inrithi, A part of him still wants to be of the People even has he’s mostly rejected that identity at this point. That’s what he’s forgetting. Who he thinks he is as he changes into something else.

Cnaiür’s dream is full of his guilt for abandoning his people, for letting Serwë die and leaving Anissi to the mercy of others. He sees all his chattel slaughtered. He knows that his tribe was vulnerable to their neighbors and the Sranc. But he only cared about Moënghus, who has seduced his wives the way the real Moënghus seduced Cnaiür’s mother. He beats them the same reason he always does: shame. They are proxies for himself to be punished because he allowed himself to be seduced by Moënghus and then Kellhus (though not physically, only in pursuit of his vengeance that has lead Cnaiür to the brink of his madness).

Nepenthe comes out of Homer’s Odyssey. It is a drug that banishes grief from a person’s mind. Exactly the purpose that Cnaiür puts it to here. It’s clearly messing with him, keeping him from acting out Kellhus’s orders. This, I think, is why Kellhus’s plans to dispose of Cnaiür and Conphas backfires. The Consult’s interference. The syntheses pushing Cnaiür to kill Kellhus only makes Cnaiür more certain it’s a trap. The syntheses doesn’t fully understand what they’re dealing with, but Cnaiür does. Kellhus has limitations to his predictions. He can’t compute everything. The more variables he has, the harder it becomes for him.

Despite Cnaiür’s swelling madness, his intelligence remains. He understands that killing Conphas will only turn all those Nansur soldiers against him. They’re not loyal to Kellhus. It only shows the force of personality Conphas has. The only one whose men are still his. It’s what makes Conphas so dangerous. He’s a man whose talents can almost back up his ego. If Kellhus wasn’t a Dûnyain, Conphas could.

So we get our first clue that Kellhus has a new plan. He started out just going to assassinate his father, but he’s learned things in the world. Things his brethren in Ishuäl have no understanding of. Things have changed, and now he is adapting his purpose and breaking away from being Dûnyain. He’s been changed by his visions of the future. By what he saw on the Circumfix.

“Men draped assumptions, endless assumptions, about their acts.” Isn’t that the truth. We all like to see what we’re doing as important. Sometimes we add little fantasies, little imaginative touches to give our actions more weight.

I think Cnaiür’s evaluation of the situation correct. But what goes wrong is Kellhus has misjudged Cnaiür’s madness and the fact the Consult is working through him, manipulating him with the Serwë skin-spy. Bakker likes to stress that Kellhus, for all his intelligence, has limitations and makes mistakes. It’s easy to think of Kellhus as this grand chess player and everything is going according to plan. It isn’t. He’s just very, very good at reacting and adapting to his circumstances.

Cnaiür has really broken. He’s drinking now. He’s never shown the need to get drunk to forget pain. But now he can’t control it. Everything is welling out of him. He’s clinging to Serwë even while he knows she’s not the real one. She’s finally giving him what he always wanted from her, what he used to get from Anissi.

Cnaiür’s self reflection on what happened to him is fascinating. The fact that customs and honor and right and wrong are a matter of perspective, to an extent. That we all have our prejudices and act on them without thought until we’re confronted with them. “Ignorance was ever the iron of certainty, for it was as blind to itself as sleep.” Once that ignorance is gone, once that question has wormed into your mind, it’s hard to ignore. Doubt… Nothing is more pernicious than doubt. It can be hard to recover from it, sometimes impossible. Our illusion in the safety around us is fragile. It doesn’t take much to overturn it. “All of it—everything that was man—perched on swords and screams.”

So it is pretty well established our subconscious minds edit our memories of the past. They alter things subtly to blunt traumatic pain. Cnaiür asserts this makes us insane, but it is really a way to cope with tragedy and keep the conscious part of the brain healthy. Cnaiür, of course, is losing his grip on sanity more and more. Thirty years of forcing himself to act Scylvendi, of trying to swallow shame, has only driven him farther from what he craves. And now the realization it’s gone, that he can’t ever have it back, is driving him further in self-destructive madness. Doubt has destroyed him with its question: “Why?” Maybe insanity is waking up from an ignorance so profound you can never go back to the sleep of ignorance, and sleep is such a necessary thing.

Maybe so is ignorance.

It has a very Cthulhu Mythos/existential overtones to it.

It’s interesting seeing Conphas scared. For the first time, he’s truly felt himself mortal. To truly think with his skin. He’s smart enough to know why he’s afriad, but that doesn’t shake it. I know I’ve had moments like that where I know I shouldn’t be afraid, but unable to shake that primal reaction. I was at the Tokyo Tower in Japan. On the observation deck, they have windows in the floor, letting you stand on them and stare straight down. Now I knew those glass windows were built strong enough to support my weight, but… It still turned my bowels to water to do it. And I wasn’t facing Cnaiür, Breaker-of-Horses-and-Men.

In Conphas musing on the world seeming flat most of time and then he deciding it would be deep today, interesting to him, is much like his uncle’s delusions about how much effect he has on the world.

Martemus was the only person in Conphas’s life who spoke straight. Conphas has enough military training to recognize the value of someone questioning and poking at his plans to strengthen them. It’s an interesting characteristic you don’t see in most depictions of a narcissist. It reminds me a bit of the relationship between Griffith and Guts in the manga Berserk.

“Their resolve was born of mundane earth, not heaven.” Conphas’s officers and men are loyal to him without the need of any faith or religious belief. This means he doesn’t have to worry about any religious ethics or religious personage or institution (such as the Holy Shriah or the Warrior Prophet) giving them a different morality than the one he imposes on them.

Conphas almost has a level of manipulation as Kellhus. If he understood the human heart better, he could be a real threat to a Dûnyain. But he only knows how to manipulate his soldiers. Men he’s trained, guided to be in a position to use their cultural heritage to manipulate them to his will, to use the shared darkness that comes before them all. Unlike Kellhus, his lack of understanding “heart” doesn’t let Conphas spread this control beyond his soldiers or others.

It’s an interesting meeting between Conphas and Fanayal, two young men who both find themselves now ruling their own countries. Both are soldiers. Both lead their men into danger, the opposite of the previous rulers. They are both thorns in Kellhus’s sides. As we see in the next series, neither ever submits to him like the rest. They stay defiant to the end.

It doesn’t end well for any of them.

So, it really shouldn’t have come as a shock what Kellhus found in Golgotterath at the end of The Unholy Consult. We see here that the Synthese, one of the last two Inchoroi, isn’t as smart as he thinks. That just because he’s lived for so long doesn’t mean he’s wise, doesn’t mean he understands things any better. The darkness still comes before him and affects him just like it affect Cnaiür. Only he’s aware of it while the Synthese is still chained to custom and culture. And since we learn the Inchoroi are really no more than genetically engineered soldiers, creatures bred for a purpose then stranded on this world, they still seek to fulfill that purpose.

To close the World against the Outside and stop Damnation.

Cnaiür exposes the one flaw in Kellhus’s tactic. So long as you remain ignorant to his chains, he can control you. But when you know, when you understand how he works, it becomes much, much harder. One person knowing, he can still use those around that person (like Serwë) to manipulate, but if everyone knows. If everyone understood, Kellhus would have no power at all. As Bakker has shown us, power isn’t taken, it’s given. It’s given because of honor. Obligation. Custom. Expectation. Fear. Weakness. Apathy. Hope. Worship. Love. Respect. Bribery. We surrender it in so many ways because, in the end, we’d rather someone else make the big decisions while we focus on our own little sphere. Our own little tribe.

10,000 years of human civilization and most of us still don’t see past the “family,” the clan. Their small community.

The reveal at the end of the Unholy Consult in Golgotterath really, really shouldn’t have been so shocking. Bakker explains, through Cnaiür, why the Consult will lose to the Dûnyain. Clearly, they didn’t heed his lesson. The Dûnyain are something new, a novel evolution of thinking, and it’s adapt or die time.

Notice Conphas smiling when called God-of-Men. He’s got all his dreams now, and he’s young enough to make use of it. And what’s the first thing he does with his power? Make one of his most powerful subordinates waits while he fucks a slave girl. Even though he needs information, he’s so excited from his power he has to indulge his desires. He rationalizes it (the intellect is slave to our desire) by believing he needs to have his lusts satiate to be disciplined in the meeting.

Wow, Conphas is truly a narcissist. Having sex while looking at himself in a mirror. Well, he’s the only thing he loves. But then to turn it on the slave girl, to show her that in or core that selfishness exists in all of us. He finds a certain kinship with the slave girl by doing this, making him see her a more than “the animal he knew her to be.” He thinks, no doubt, that this is a magnanimous gesture on his part making her have an orgasm during her rape. He seems to think he’ll be different from his uncle, more in control, and yet enjoying slave girls is something his uncle did, too. Like his uncle, he can’t resist his urges.

Bakker takes the moment to remind us in Conphas’s chapter that Istiya always was against betrayer the Holy War. It’s a reminder to us that she’s probably been a skin spy this entire time.

I like this line of Conphas reflecting on men watching his residence to monitor his comings and going. “…the Conryians were a civilized people, sharing a civilized appreciation for bribes.” Little touches like that always make me smile.

So true about “able men chafing under rule of ingrates.” Nothing like working for an incompetent.

Conphas understanding of the Saik isn’t surprising. They have that same pride a professional army takes in serving their country. And are motivated by that same sense of honor and tradition, or self-aggrandizing stories. Conphas is like a proto-Dûnyain, one who has utterly mastered the darkness that comes before the Nansur but he can’t change that to act differently for other men. It’s why he never could win over the other great names in all their councils even before Kellhus took such a dominating role in it.

Conphas is ever practical. The “near before the far.” It doesn’t matter if the ship will run aground tomorrow if the holes in the bottom aren’t plugged today. Of course, a Dûnyain would be working to fix both.

More pieces are in place as we delve into Conphas and Cnaiür’s character and their dynamics. It’s two intelligent men with radical outlooks on life. It’s interesting watching them maneuver.

Click here for Chapter Six!

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