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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Eighteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Third March
Chapter 18
Khemema

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

To piss across water is to piss across your reflection

KHIRGWI PROVERB

My Thoughts

So the Khirgwi are the desert nomads (who dwell in the very desert the Holy War is about to cross) and befouling water is such a taboo in such a harsh place. If they’re like Bedouin in the real world, then oasis would even be places were fighting wouldn’t happen, set aside because of the sacredness of water. So to piss in water, to them, is to soil their lives, to make things worse for themselves. Like the phrase never piss upwind in our own culture.

And so to see them poison water shows how desperate they are to stop the Holy War. They are, literally, pissing on themselves because survival has driven them so far.

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Southern Shigek

The Holy War heads south into “the furnace plains of the Carathay Desert.” A place called the “Great Thirst” by the Khirgwi. On the first night camping, Athjeäri returns with his men from scouting, all exhausted and dehydrated. All they found were polluted waters. The heat forced them to travel by night. But the Great Names believe the pack mules and Emperor’s fleet would keep them watered. Athjeäri is not convinced. The next evening, the Holy War marches with their camp-followers, people making jokes about marching at night.

The Khirgwi raid them around midnight, charging on camels and “bearing the truth of the Solitary God and His Prophet on the edges of sharp knives.” They hit the supply train, slicing open bladders of water then retreat. The Holy War continues on, meeting up with the Nansur fleet, getting fresh water. By night, they attacked by the Khirgwi in bloody raids.

On the seventh day, the Imperial fleet fails to arrive at the next rendezvous. A council is called, and Conphas is accused of betraying them until he points out that, he, too is stuck in the desert without water. So the Holy War waits a night and a day. The fleet doesn’t arrive. Conphas argues a squall might have put them off course, but Kellhus says the Kianene had waited until now to unleash their fleet. The desert is a trap they marched into.

Two days later, the bulk of the Greater and Lesser Names accompanied the mule trains across the hills to the sea, and stared dumbfounded by its empty beauty. When they returned form the hills, they no longer walked apart from the desert. Sun, stone, and sand beckoned to them.

Water was rationed by caste, severely. People were executed for hoarding. Conphas suggests heading for Subis, an oasis too big to poison. He says they can reach it, but only if they abandon the mules, slaves, and camp-followers. Proyas asks how. The Holy War kills them. Slaves, whores, merchants, and slavers. Only priests, wives, and useful tradesmen were spared.

That night the Inrithi marched blank-eyed through what seemed a cooling oven—away from the horror behind them, toward the promise of Subis… Men-at-arms, warhorses, and hearts had become beasts of burden.

When the Khirgwi found the fields of heaped bodies and strewn belongings, they fell to their knees and cried out in exultation to the Solitary God. The trial of the idolaters had begun.

The Holy War breaks apart while marching south and hundreds are killed by the Khirgwi raiders. The Great and Lesser Names grow desperate the next day. They know water has to be out there. The Khirgwi must get it form some where. So their scouts, like Athjeäri, head off to find them and “disappeared into the wavering distances.” Only Detnammi and his men don’t return. The rest were driven back by the Khirgwi and the heat. Worse, they found no wells, the desert featureless to the.

The water has almost runs out before Subis is reached. Horses are now butchered save those belonging to the Great Names. The Cengemi footmen mutiny, wanting all horses slaughtered. They want water shared equally. They are put down. Dehydration grows worse. Men die. Others don’t even notice attacks, stumbling in a fugue. Subis becomes a name of hope, more so than God. Another day and still they haven’t reached it. People mistake mirages for it, racing out into the desert until they die.

Subis… A lover’s name.

The Men of the Tusk stumbled down long, flinty slopes, filed between sandstone outcroppings that resembled towering mushrooms on thin stems. They climbed mountainous dunes.

The village looked like a many-chambered fossil unearthed by the wind. The deep green and sun silver of the oasis beckoned with its impossibility…

Subis.

The Men of the Tusk charge at the oasis, passing the abandoned village, and in the oasis, dead and bloating, they find the missing Detnammi and all five hundred of his men. The Khirgwi had found a way to poison Subis. But the Holy War didn’t care. They drank the befouled water, throwing up, and then drinking more. Hundreds were crushed in the rush, more hundreds drowning. The Great Names struggled to restore order. The bodies were removed, water distributed. Detnammi and his men were denied funeral rites for riding straight here to save themselves. Chepheramunni, King-Regent of High Ainon, posthumously strips the man of his rank.

Their thirst satiated, the Holy War begins to worry about disease. Cultic physician-priests of Akkeägni (the god of pestilence) warn of the symptoms to come but can’t do much more than pray, having abandoned their pharmaka. Soon, everyone is sick, from mild chills to diarrhea and vomiting. The Great Names know they can’t reach Enathpaneah without the fleet. Scouts are sent to the coast to find it. They don’t. Conphas and Saubon come to blows often, the rumors of the Empire’s betrayal growing. With no other choice, the Holy War continue marching south.

Either way, Prince Kellhus said, the God would see to them.

The Men of the Tusk abandoned Subis the following evening, their waterskins brimming with polluted water. Several hundred, those too sick to walk, remained behind, waiting for the Khirgwi.

The sickness spreads. Those without friends are abandoned to await the Khirgwi. The army shuffles. They now say Enathpaneah like they had Subis. Diarrhea kills the most, dehydrating them more than their ration replenishes. Proyas appears impossibly strong, walking and letting his horse die of thirst, refusing to water it while his men died.

Followed by two beautiful women, Prince Kellhus spread words of strength. They didn’t merely suffer, he told men, they suffered for… For Shimeh. For the Truth. For the God! And to suffer for the God was to secure glory in the Outside. Many would be broken in this furnace, that was true, but those who survived would know the temper of their own hearts They would be, he claimed, unlike other men. They would be more…

The Chosen.

Men follow him everywhere, begging for his attention. Only he can laugh and give thanks. His words were like water. On the third night, he orders his Zaudunyani to dig in a certain spot. Ultimately, they dig fourteen shallow pools of muddy water that “were sweet, and unfouled by the taste of dead men.” The Great Names find Kellhus laughing, standing in water, handing it out, saying “The God Showed me!” They Holy War digs more wells, find more waters. They spend several days here, letting the sickest recover while the Great Names argue over Kellhus. “The desert, Ikurei Conphas warned, had made a False Prophet of Fane as well.”

The Khirgwi think the Holy War has given up, waiting to die. They attack and are slaughtered. Entire tribes are eradicated. The survivors flee. But food has finally run out for the Holy War. With full waterskins, they march once more. But now they sing hymns, many to the Warrior-Prophet. They march “unconquered and defiant.” So far, the Holy War had lost 1/3 of its soldiers since they left Momemn.

Evening of the second day, they see clouds. They realize it is a sandstorm. Their flimsy tents rae blown away and they have to endure it. Hundreds are found buried when it’s over while others were left “wandering like stunned children” across the changed desert. Losing many shelters to the storm, they are forced to march because they have no protection against the sun. Arguments on which way to march are held, some wanting to return to Kellhus’s wells, but Conphas points out they’re likely buried. He claims they are within two days of water. Kellhus agrees with him, which surprises some. They continue marching for Enathpaneah.

Water is rationed. Dehydration sets in. The last of the horses die. Gothyelk collapses and his sons carry him, sharing their water with him. When night falls, they keep marching, stumbling. The cool night air doesn’t bring relief. No one talks. “They formed an endless procession of silent wraiths, passing across Carathay’s folds.” Soon, the Holy War loses its discipline, units breaking apart into solitary wanders.

The morning sun was a shrill rebuke, for still the desert had not ended. The Holy War had become an army of ghosts. Dead and dying men lay scattered in their thousands behind it, and as the sun rose still more fell. Some simply lost the will, and fell seated in the dust, their thoughts and bodies buzzing with thirst and fatigue. Others pressed themselves until they’re wracked bodies betrayed them. They struggled feebly across the sand, waving their heads like worms, perhaps croaking for help, for succor.

But only death would come swirling down.

Men are dying. They aren’t thinking any longer, just walking. Family bonds are broken as loved ones are abandoned. “Each man had become a solitary circle of misery that walked and walked.” Everything is gone, even the voice of Kellhus. They only had the trial. And they died in the thousands.

Esmenet stumbles as she walks beside Kellhus. He is carrying Serwë in his arms. Esmenet finds that so triumphant. Then he stops. She sways and grows dizzy, but he helps her. She wants to lick her lips, but her tongue is too swollen. And he grins at her, somehow healthy.

He leaned back and cried out to the hazy roll and pitch of distant green, to the wandering crease of a flashing river. And his words resounded across the compass of the horizon.

“Father! We come, Father!”

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

Xinemus and his two loyal men, Dinch and Zenkappa, are hiding the corpse of a Javreh, the slave soldiers who guard the Scarlet Spire. Xinemus is annoyed by Dinch and Zenkappa’s joking banter, not taking their missions seriously. It hurts him to realize they don’t care about Achamian’s life.

But if they failed to grasp the importance of their task, they were well aware of its lethality. To skulk like thieves among armed men was harrowing enough, but in the midst of the Scarlet Spires…

Both were frightened, Xinemus realized—thus the forced humour and empty bravado.

They are stalking through the Scarlet Spire base in Iothiah, the palace of a dead Ceneian Governor, to rescue Achamian and “undo what I’ve done.” They are hoping it is nearly empty with the Holy War marching into the desert, those remaining unable to properly defend such a huge place. Xinemus hopes Achamian is here, reckoning they wouldn’t have taken them south. “The road was no place to interrogate a Mandate sorcerer, especially when one marched with a prince such as Proyas.” He finds it heartening that they had left some behind.

If he [Achamian] wasn’t here, then he was very likely dead.

He’s here! I feel it!

Xinemus clutches his Chorae as if it “were holier than the small golden Tusk that clicked at its side.” He had two others, which he gave to his men. It is why he hasn’t attempted this with more of his men. He hopes that the sorcerers are asleep and they can creep in and out. He reminds his men that the Chorae must touch bare flesh, to hold them in fists. He expects wards to guard the place.

They enter the palace through the stables, finding a maze of empty rooms and hallways. Sometimes they hear voices and they hide. They pass sleeping slaves. “Each door they opened seemed hinged upon a precipice: either Achamian or certain death lay on the far side.” They gambled over and over while fearing the Scarlet Spire.

After some time, Xinemus began to feel bold. Was this how a thief or a rat felt, prowling at the edges of what others could see or know? There was exhilaration, and strangely enough, comfort in lurking unseen in the marrow of your enemy’s bones. Xinemus was overcome by a sudden certainty:

We’re going to do this! We’re going to save him!

Dinch suggests searching the cellars, reasoning if they’re torturing him, it’ll muffle his screams. Xinemus hates the thought but sees its logic. They descend “into pitch blackness” They’re blind, huddled close together, and then see a moving light. They spot a sorcerer ahead with an arcane candle. Their fear swells. The sorcerer pauses, looking in their direction like he had smelled something. But then he scowls and walks on, not seeing them in the dark. Xinemus wants to follow him.

Witnessing the face, the sorcerous light, now made their every step sing with peril. The only thing keeping Dinchases and Zenkappa behind him, Xinemus knew, was a loyalty that transcended fear of death. But here, in this place, in the bowels of the Scarlet Spire stronghold, that loyalty was being tested as it had never been tested before, even in the heart of their desperate battles. Not only did they gamble with the obscenely unholy, there were no rules here, and this, added to mortal fear, was enough to break any man.

They reach a door. They open It quietly and enter a large room, feeling as though “they were entombed in dread night.” They enter it when a voice speaks out that still there hearts: “But this will not do.” Light erupts around them. They are surrounded by a dozen Javreh, half with aimed crossbows, and all armed and armored.

Stunned, his thoughts reeling in panic, Xinemus lowered his father’s great sword.

We’re undone…

There are three Scarlet Magi, including the one they spotted. Their leader (Iyokus) admonishes Xinemus and his men while the marshal frantically thinks of a way out. Iyokus revels it was the Chorae that betrayed them since sorcerers can feel them. Sounding defiant, Xinemus demands to know where Achamian is.

“Wrong question, my friend. If I were you, I should rather ask, ‘What have I done?’”

Xinemus felt a flare of righteous anger. “I’m warning you, sorcerer. Surrender Achamian.”

“Warn me?” Droll laughter. The man’s cheeks fluted like fish gills. “Unless you’re speaking o inclement weather, Lord Marshal, I think there’s very little you could warn me about. Your Prince has marched into the wastes of Khemema. I assure you, you’re quite alone here.”

“But I still bear his writ.”

“No, you don’t. You were stripped of your rank and station. But either way, the fact is you trespass, my friend. We Schoolmen look very seriously upon trespass, and care nothing for the writ of Princes.”

Humid dread. Xinemus felt his hackles rise. This had been a fool’s errand.

But my path is righteous…

Iyokus orders them to drop their trinkets. With the crossbows aimed at them, they have no choice. They surrender. Then Iyokus consumes Dinch and Xinemus in sorcerous fires. Xinemus is thrown to his knees by the heat. Their shrieks die, leaving only burning heaps behind.

On his knees, Xinemus stared at the two fires. Without knowing, he’d brought his hands up to cover his ears.

My path…

Xinemus is seized by the Javreh, forced to face Iyokus. He reveals he knows that Xinemus is Achamian’s closest friend. He realizes he’ll be tortured to hurt Achamian and that he has failed his friend again. Iyokus continues, saying Achamian has been telling lies, so they want to know what he has told Xinemus. Then they’ll see if Achamian will surrender the Gnosis. “If he values knowledge over life and love…”

The translucent face paused, as though happening across a delicious thought.

“You’re a pious man, Marshal. You already know what it means to be an instrument of truth, no?”

Yes. He knew.

To suffer.

At the destroyed Library of the Sareots, Achamian’s Wathi Doll escapes the ruins. It had taken weeks for it to find its way free. But now it has a mission. “Someone had spoken its name.”

My Thoughts

Got to love Bakker’s description of the desert, starting off, of course, with something as crass as dung beetles and the mirth they bring.

The Kianene plan is great. They are using the terrain to their advantage. The Carathay has to be crossed. There aren’t enough ships to transport around, and that’s dangerous anyways. And now the Holy War is trapped. They wait until they are seven days in before attacking the Nansur fleet. They can either march back, losing many, or press on, losing more but hoping they will find something, water, hope, the fleet.

Either way, the Kianene benefit.

It’s a brutal decision to save the holy war. To put to death all those camp followers (including those friendly whores Esmenet knew). It is a terrible decision. A horrible one. But they are seven days into the desert. They wouldn’t have made it back to Shigek alive with all those people. The entire Holy War would perish. Morality vanishes when survival is at stake.

Bakker describing the thirst is so powerful, especially the apathy as they near death. Not even caring when they’re being attacked. Their bodies are giving out beneath the desert. Things are so dire. Even though Bakker is writing this part in his remote, historical style, you can still feel the emotion, the stakes of everything. You don’t get insight from any POV characters, but you can imagine how Esmenet, Serwë, Proyas, Cnaiür, and even Conphas are suffering. You wonder how badly is affecting Kellhus. After all, he’s still human. He needs water. Even his will and breeding will give out.

Hi Chepheramunni. Haven’t heard your name in a while. And that’s about to be important. This is very clever on Bakker’s part. He gives us this Ainoni nobleman, Detnammi, as a scout, shows us how humans can be so selfish in survival situation by having him abandon his duty and heading for Subis. This greed only further harms the Holy War. And then Bakker can use Detnammi’s posthumous punishment to remind us about the ceremonial Chepheramunni again without arousing any curious eyebrows. Of course, Chepheramunni would denounce such a traitor. The Holy War’s hope was taken away from them by Detnammi. It hits Bakker’s themes on human behavior and acts as a reminder to readers about a minor character about to have more of an impact on the plot. This is great writing, accomplishing so much with one little plot line.

The God would not be satisfied.” That is a curious line Bakker drops here about Akkeägni and how he’ll now inflict pestilence. It’s such a bleak look at the gods. The Cultic priests seem to have a real good grasp on the gods on how evil they truly are. We see this in the second series with the high priestess of Yatwar (Blanking on her name) and the information Kellhus uncovers venturing into the outside. When Fane called the Gods demons, he was absolutely right.

Marching into the desert with poisoned water is not great. Vomiting and diarrhea just dehydrate you faster, forcing you to drink more befouled water. And yet what choice do you have? You’ll definitely die without it. This is the crucible that shapes the Holy War into the fanatical army that follows Kellhus in the end. This makes brothers out them all.

And more references to the Nail of Heaven. Really want to know what this is and why it’s in a stationary position over the North Pole. There is one reference in the Great Ordeal to it arriving three years ahead of the Inchoroi crashing onto the planet. Is it a satellite? How’d they get it in a stationary position? In real world physics, a satellite can only be in a Geo-stationary orbit over the equator.

Good for Proyas. He is, mostly, a good man, but one forced to do some bad things by politics and his faith.

Then we see Kellhus using this to his advantage, making all these promises about salvation, saying how they will be better than others, flattering their egos and making them more and more fanatical about him.

You can always count on Conphas not to buy Kellhus’s BS.

Losing only 1/3 of their fighting strength after two major battles and the march across the desert in impressive. Of course, the full numbers of the Holy War have lost far more with the death of the camp followers.

More powerful imagery from Bakker on the sandstorm attacking the Holy War. “A new calligraphy of dunes was scrawled about them.”

Love the imagery of the footmen kicking their lords dead horses. I would be pissed, too. Horses need more water a day than a human. Those men had friends that had died because those horses were watered. Bakker always keeps the human in his text.

The horror of the march only mounts. The dehydration, the death. Without shelter from the sun, they’re loosing even more now, baked. Thousands are dying instead of hundreds. They stop thinking, just marching. They’ve truly become animals know, the intellect vanished. Not even Kellhus is speaking. “Gone was the voice of the Warrior-Prophet.” Even bonds of love and family break now.

And, of course, the return of Bakker’s favorite phrase (or a variant): “But only death would come swirling down.

Esmenet finds the sight of Kellhus carrying Serwë triumphant because he is the only one left caring about anyone. As we see in the preceding paragraphs, husbands aren’t helping their wives, and men are abandoning their brothers. It’s all about saving yourself now. The animal has wholly taken over them, but he’s still carrying someone. To Esmenet, it’s an act of love.

A shame Kellhus is doing it for his plans. He needs Serwë. He knows the Circumfix is coming. He needs to have a wife to be killed as part of his test. And he can’t afford for that wife to be Esmenet. He’s saving Serwë’s life now to sacrifice her later.

Javreh come from the Sranc Pits. That sounds interesting. Are the Ainoni capturing Sranc or are the Javreh purchased from slavers that operate on the frontier. There’s a lot of weird stuff with the Ainoni, like the mysterious Chanv.

Humor probably came about in humans because of men hunting in the distant path. In dangerous situations, stalking prey with primitive weapons that forced them to get up close and risk life and limb, demanded human males work together instead of competing. And humor and joking banter is one of the ways that eases the tension, the stress, and breeds camaraderie. We still do it today.

Xinemus’s guilt is driving him to this act of bravery. You can almost feel his desperation. He’s sneaking into the Scarlet Spire’s nest with only two other guys. It’s foolish, he knows it, but he has to do it. He can’t let his friend rot. Xinemus is my favorite character in the series for a lot of reasons, but this is one of them.

Interesting that Bakker turns the Chorae into an instrument of faith, one more important in this moment to Xinemus than his actual symbol of faith. He knows the Chorae works to stop sorcery.

The exhilaration Xinemus feels sneaking through the palace is no doubt a mix of adrenaline and the fact he is growing used to stalking. And it is hard to fear what is familiar. As the fear dwindles, complacency grows, and thus a bold feeling. He’s realized he’s gone this far without getting caught, he’s figured out how to do this, and he has confidence. It’s a trap in situations like this.

And there’s the fear again when the spot the sorcerer. They are reminded of the true stakes. Complacency has fallen away. They all want to flee, but Xinemus is ignoring his survival instinct out of love and guilt for Achamian, and his two men are doing it out of love for Xinemus. This, right here, shows you so much of Xinemus’s character. He has earned these men’s love and loyalty. He didn’t buy it. He didn’t scare it out of them.

Iyokus describes Chorae in the way a scientist will often describe how gravity warps spacetime. That Chorae’s greater weight distorts the sheet of reality more and more.

And Xinemus is struck by such a profound lesson: just because what you are doing is good doesn’t mean you’ll prevail. In another story, Xinemus would find a clever way to escape, to cause a distraction, take down the Javreh, make the sorcerers flee because they have Chorae. But things don’t work like that in this story. Things are, sadly, far too realistic.

The crushing realization hits Xinemus. He has utterly failed. He has gotten his men killed and knows he and Achamian will both suffer for it. This is the last time we see Xinemus as that strong man. In many ways, he dies here but only he keeps living, broken, shattered, debased.

And worse, Bakker shows us Achamian’s true instrument of freedom breaking free of the library and coming to save him. The Wathi Doll. Xinemus could have done nothing and Achamian would have been freed.

Way to twist the knife, Bakker.

Through a tiny mine, whose only ore was the debris of knowledge.” What a sad line to read about the destruction of so much knowledge.

It was a short chapter, but a powerful one, from the suffering of the Holy War to the peril of Xinemus.

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Seventeen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 17
Shigek

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

In terror, all men throw up their hands and turn aside their faces. Remember, Tratta, always preserve the face! For that is where you are.

THROSEANIS, TRIAMIS IMPERATOR

The Poet will yield up his stylus only when the Geometer can explain how Life can at once be a point and a line. How can all time, all creation, come to the now? Make no mistake: this moment, the instant of this very breath, is a frail thread from which all creation hangs. That men dare to be thoughtless…

TERES ANSANSIUS, THE CITY OF MEN

My Thoughts

Both these quotes are on the importance of the mind, on thinking, one written by the conquering emperor Triamis who puts it in a very physical and literal way by saying how it is our very instinct to protect our brains and that is important. Because our brains, our thoughts, are who we are.

The second is lamenting on how men squander the potential of their mind. And while poets are trying to describe this seeming contradictory that our lives follow a line and yet at the very moment you read this sentence you have the illusion that it is a point. That the present is all that matters. But the future is what comes next, and what you think, what you do, determines what happens. And if you’re not thinking about it, well, it is a thin thread, so easy to snap.

Proyas didn’t think when he sacrificed Achamian. He traded his present view of himself, as righteous, and allowed him to die. And now he learns that Achamian is important to the head of his faith. That if he had truly been a good person, helping his friend even if he were a blasphemer, the man wouldn’t be dead.

Ultimately, this chapter is about having brains and using them to think. Not to just live, not to just have faith in something else and accept what it tells you, but to use the mind that god or evolution or space aliens or whatever you believe in gave you.

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

As Esmenet walks back from laundering clothes, she reflects on the next phase of the Holy War. She knows that the Kianene have killed all the camels before retreating and so far scouts have only found poisoned wells in the desert, hoping to make a barrier out of the desert. But the Great Names plan to march along the coast, using the Imperial Fleet would carry their water, keeping them alive to Enathpaneah. She reflects on Kellhus making a joke about Serwë carrying everything, including his child. His manner is warm, teasing and one “Esmenet had learned to love long ago.”

Esmenet had laughed, at the same time realizing she’d be traveling even farther from Achamian…

She wants to ask Kellhus if there was any news from Xinemus even while fearing what it would be. She doesn’t, knowing Kellhus would have told her. That night, they cook dinner, Kellhus sitting between the two women while he continues teasing Serwë about the upcoming march through the desert. As he does, Kellhus accidentally brushes Esmenet’s breast.

The tingle of inadvertent intimacy. The flush of a body suddenly thick with a wisdom that transcended intellect.

For the remainder of the afternoon, Esmenet found her eyes plagued by a nagging waywardness. Where before her look had confined itself to Kellhus’s face, it now roamed over his entire form. It was as though her eyes had become brokers, intermediaries between his body and her own. When she saw his chest, her breasts tingled with the prospect of being crushed. When she glimpsed his narrow hips and deep buttocks, her inner thighs hummed with expectant warmth. Sometimes her palms literally itched!

Of course, this was madness. Esmenet needed only to catch Serwë’s watchful eyes to recall herself.

That night, while Kellhus is gone and she’s lying down beside Serwë, the pregnant girl says she would share Kellhus. Esmenet becomes nervous while protesting the girl has nothing to fear. No Serwë says she’s not afraid of losing him. “All I want is what he wants.” Esmenet asks if Kellhus wants her, but Serwë laughs that off. She suddenly feels guilty, thinking of Achamian, and says it will never happen.

Kellhus is gone until the next night when he returns with Proyas. Esmenet hates him, and tries to avoid him, knowing he refused to help Achamian and stripped Xinemus of his rank for wanting to. But then she hears him speak and realizes he, too, suffers in grief for Achamian and she feels a kinship with him. “That, she knew, was what Kellhus would say.”

As they eat, Esmenet studies Proyas and Kellhus as they talk, noticing how Proyas acted, the way he deferred and yet remained aloof. She understands why Kellhus doesn’t allow his followers around, knowing Great Names like Proyas would be disturbed. “Those at the centre of the things were always more inflexible, always more invested, than those at the edges.” Kellhus was starting a new center.

During a silence, Esmenet asks after Cnaiür. Proyas says he doesn’t see him much. The barbarian was no longer giving counsel. He even rejected being declared Battle-Celebrant after the victory, Kellhus having given him all the credit of saving the day. Proyas thinks Cnaiür finds it unbearable liking Inrithi. He then leaves. Esmenet feels ashamed for driving off Proyas. She finds shame to be “her characteristic stink.” She apologizes to Kellhus and questions why she is even here. She is polluted and yet is staying with Kellhus. Her whore tattoo permanently marks her. It will never go away. “The seed she could rinse away, but not the sin!” She flees to Achamian’s tent.

Kellhus comes to her tent, and she hates that she hoped he would. She tells him she wished she were dead. “So do many.” Kellhus was always honest and she wishes she could follow. She goes on to say she’s only loved two people, both dead.

“You don’t know my sins, Kellhus. You don’t know the darkness I harbour in my heart.

“Then tell me.”

They talk for hours and she grows calm, emotionless as she tells him about the many men she’s been with. “All of them punishing her for their need.” How it was so monotonous. One man after another. She was first whored out by her father at eleven or twelve, the start of her punishment. And then she turns to her daughter.

And her daughter… How old had she been?

She had thought her father’s thoughts, she explained. Another mouth. Let it feed itself. The monotony had numbed her to the horror, had made degradation a laughable thing. To trade flashing silver for milky seed—the fools. Let Mimara be schooled in the foolishness of men. Clumsy, rutting animals. One need only pay with little patience, mimic their passion, wait, and soon it would be over. In the morning, one could buy food… Food from fools, Mimara. Can’t you see child? Shush. Stop weeping. Look! Food from fools!

Kellhus asks if that was her name, Mimara. And she realizes she could say it to him, but never to Achamian. Then she begins crying. She is hugged to Kellhus’s chest. “They were dead. The only ones she’d ever loved.” When her crying subsides, she realizes her hands on her on his lap and feels him harden. For a moment, everything is silent. Then she jerks her hand away.

Why would she poison a night such as this?

Kellhus shook his head, softly laughed. “Intimacy begets intimacy, Esmi. So long as we remember ourselves, there’s no reason for shame. All of us are frail.”

She looked down to her palms, her wrists. Smiled.”

She thanks him and he leaves. She masturbates afterward, cursing the entire time, until she falls to sleep.

Proyas receives a message from the Shriah. Proyas is truck by how even the scroll-case, covered in tiny Tusks, is a message that this is sermon. He ponders what Maithanet wants before he breaks the seal and reads it. When he sees it’s about his last letter, guilt strikes him. Achamian had begged him to write Maithanet to inquire about Inrau’s “suicide.” It shocked Proyas he had even did it, but he felt kinship with Inrau. “How could he not pity him, a good man, a kind man, hunting fables and wives’ tales to his everlasting damnation.” Proyas never expected a reply, but he was the heir to Conryia.

Shame feels him as he reads for sending such a “trivial” matter to the Shriah. And shame for feeling ashamed of doing Achamian a favor. Maithanet’s letter says that Inrau was a suicide and they believe because of his association with Achamian. Maithanet quotes scripture to reinforce his position that Achamian is to blame. He was still perplexed, and says his response will also baffle Proyas. He explains that since the Holy War has allied with the Scarlet Spire to defeat the Cishaurim, it is important that Proyas assists Achamian, compromising his piety for the greater good like Maithanet did when striking his deal with the Scarlet Spire.

Proyas is stunned, wondering what was so important about Achamian. And then that it was too late to do anything now that Achamian is gone.

I killed him…

And Proyas suddenly realized that he’d used his old teacher as a marker, as a measure of his own piety. What greater evidence could there be of righteousness than the willingness to sacrifice a loved one? Wasn’t this the lesson of Angeshraël on Mount Kinsureah? And what better way to sacrifice a loved one than by hating?

Or delivering him to his enemies…

He thinks of Esmenet’s grief, feeling guilty, and uses anger to deflect. This leads him to pondering sin and how a man’s actions either elevate or condemn him. And Achamian had been a sorcerer. He damned himself, just like Esmenet had by being a whore. He tries to rationalize it’s not his judgment but the Tusk. But the shame doesn’t go away. Doubt creeps in. Doubt had been Achamian’s main lesson.

Doubt, he would say, set men free… Doubt, not truth.

Beliefs were the foundation of actions. Those who believed without doubting, he would say, acted without thinking. And those who acted without thinking were enslaved.

That was what Achamian would say.

Proyas recalls a time when he told Achamian he wanted to be a Shrial knight. Why asked Achamian. Proyas wants to kill heathens. Achamian calls him foolish, asking him how many faiths are there are and condemning him for murdering someone on “the slender hope that yours is somehow the only one?” Proyas is certain his is. Achamian challenges Proyas that it’s not a choice between two faiths but between faith and doubt.

“But doubt is weakness!” Proyas cried. “Faith is strength! Strength!” Never, he was convinced, had he felt so holy as that moment. The sunlight seemed to shine straight through him, to bathe his heart.

“Is it? Have you looked around you, Prosha? Pay attention, boy. Watch and tell me how many men, out of weakness, lapse into the practice of doubt. Listen to those around you, and tell me what you see…”

Proyas did as Achamian asked, watching men from soldiers to priests to ambassadors. And while he saw them hesitate, he never heard them say those three difficult words: I don’t know. Proyas had asked Achamian why they are so hard to say.

“Because men want to murder,” Achamian explained afterward. “Because men want their gold and their glory. Because they want beliefs to answer to their fears, their hatreds, and their hungers.”

Proyas could remember the heart-pounding wonder, the exhilaration of straying…

“Akka?” He took a deep, daring breath. “Are you saying the Tusk lies?”

A look of dread. “I don’t know…”

Those words got Achamian banished from teaching Proyas. Achamian knew it would happen, but did it anyways. Proyas is confused about that, why he would “sacrifice so much for so few words.” And then he realizes why. Achamian thought it worth the cost to teach Proyas this lesson because he loved Proyas. He loved Proyas enough to lose his position and reputation. “Achamian had given without hope of reward.” To make Proyas free.

And Proyas had given him away, thinking only of rewards.

The thought was too much to bear.

He tries to rationalize it, saying he did it for Shimeh and the Holy War. But the letter from Maithanet makes that much harder. The Shriah wants him supported. And then he remembers Achamian arguing that the Holy War wasn’t what it seemed. Something that now concerned the shriah. Proyas wonders if it has to do with Kellhus. He had meant to write the Shriah about him, but couldn’t He wasn’t sure if fear or hope caused him to wait. But Proyas finds it ridiculous that the Holy War for the Latter Prophet would birth the “Latter Latter Prophet.” So Proyas thinks it must be something else. “Something the Shriah thought beyond his [Proyas] tolerance of his ken.”

Could it be the Consult?

Proyas remembers a conversation with Achamian at Momemn where he talked about the intensity of his dreams, that something was happening. Proyas finds it absurd, reasoning that if the Mandate couldn’t find the Consult, how could the Shriah. He turns his thoughts to the Scarlet Spire, knowing Achamian was watching them. He grows frantic, pulling at his hair, demanding to know why.

Why couldn’t this one thing be pure? Why must everything holy—everything!—be riddled by tawdry and despicable intent.

He sat very still, drawing breath after shuddering breath. He imagined drawing his sword, slashing and hacking wildly through his chambers, howling and shrieking… Then he collected himself to the beat of his own pulse.

Nothing pure… Love transformed into betrayal. Prayers bent into accusations.

This was Maithanet’s point, wasn’t it? The holy followed upon the wicked.

Proyas realizes he isn’t the moral leader of the Holy War. He’s just another piece on the benjuka plate and he doesn’t know the rules. He doesn’t know anything. Despite the recent victory, he feels so weak.

Tired, wanting to rest, he instead composes a reply to the Shriah. Tomorrow, the Holy War marched into the desert. He feels like a boy as rights, remembering good times as Achamian’s student. He cries as he completes the first sentence of his “baffled reply”

…but it would seem, Your Eminence, that Drusas Achamian is dead.

Kellhus watches Esmenet as the camp prepares to arch into the Khemema Desert. With Kellhus are his fourteen senior Zaudunyani (the Tribe of Truth, his followers) to remind them of their purpose as they set out on their mission. “Beliefs alone didn’t control the actions of men. There were also desire, and these men, his apostles, must shine with that desire.” Esmenet knows he watches, laughing with two of the Zaudunyani.

He watches everyone, each “a riotous font of significance.” He sees Ottma fumbling before Serwë’s beauty, Ulnarta’s faint racism to black-skinned Tshuma, the way three others defer to Werjau. He notes how Werjau asserts his dominance over the others.

Kellhus calls out Werjau, asking to what he sees in his heart. Werjau answers joy while Kellhus knows he “sees, and he doesn’t see.” Then Kellhus asks what them what he sees. Werjau looks down. A Galeoth answered with Pride. Kellhus then makes a joke to cut through the anxiety and relax them with laughter. Kellhus would not let Werjau, or others, posture in the group. Kellhus knows they enjoy his presence because “the weight of sin was found in secrecy and condemnation.” By stripping that away, taking away their self-deception and shame, they “felt greater in his presence, both pure and chose.”

Kellhus flashes back to his training in Ishuäl with Pragma Meigon. They are deep beneath Ishuäl within the Thousand Thousand Halls. The room is exceedingly well lit, the only place in the labyrinth that is, and it is full of shackled men, each naked and bound to boards in a circle, the skin flayed from their faces to reveal their muscle structure. This is the Unmasking Room.

Kellhus is feeling fear despite Meigon reassuring him they’re harmless. He asks what they are. Exemplary defectives retained for the “purpose of education” for young Dûnyain. He leads Kellhus to one, telling him to study and memorize their faces, then draw them. He explains how the face has forty-four muscles that work together to produce every “permutation of passion.” Each figure shows different emotions, using neuropuncture to keep them locked in their expressions. Something the Dûnyain learned centuries ago.

“Neuropuncture,” the Pragma continued, “made possible the rehabilitation of defectives for instructional purpose. The specimen before you, for instance, always displays fear at a base-remove of two.”

“Horror?” Kellhus asked.

“Precisely.”

Kellhus felt the childishness of his own horror fade in understanding. He looked to either side, saw the specimens curving out of sight, rows of white eyes set in shining red musculatures. They were only defectives—nothing more. He returned his gaze to the man before him, to fear base-removed two, and committed what he saw to memory. Then he moved on to the next gasping skein of muscles.

“Good,” Pragma Meigon had said from his periphery. “Very good.”

Back in the present, Kellhus studies Esmenet and “peeled away her face with the hooks of his gaze.” He notes how she has twice found excuses to walk to her tent and draw his attention. She keeps glancing at him, making sure he’s watching her. Though they hadn’t had sex yet, Kellhus knows she wanted him and wooed him. “And she knew it not.”

For all her native gifts, Esmenet remained a world-born woman. And for all world-born men and women, two souls shared the same body, face, and eyes. The animal and the intellect. Everyone was two.

Defective.

One Esmenet had already renounced Drusas Achamian. The other would soon follow.

The next morning, Esmenet watches the Holy War march into the desert on a rise. She stands beside Serwë. The host of soldiers and camp followers stretches out of her sight. She looks to Shigek and says goodbye to Achamian in her thoughts. Then she strikes out, walking among the strangers, ignoring Kellhus calling after. She ignores the looks and muttered words, the men who see her as a whore. “She sweat and suffered and somehow knew it was only the beginning.”

She rejoins Kellhus and Serwë that evening around a meager fire. Kellhus asks about her walk, and she immediately feels shame and apologizes. But he says she doesn’t have to, she’s free to walk where she wants. Then asks again.

“Men,” she said leadenly. “Too many men.”

“And you call yourself a harlot,” Kellhus said, grinning.

Esmenet continued staring at her dusty feet. A shy smile stole across her face.

“Things change…”

Kellhus then asks her why “God holds men higher than women?” She shrugs, women are in men’s shadows who are in Gods’ shadows. He asks her if she thinks that. She replies, Some men, indicating Kellhus. She then realizes only Kellhus. She never stood in anyone else’s, not even Achamian. So Kellhus asks her if all men are overshadowed, why is she less than a man? She laughs, certain he plays a game and says that’s just how it is everywhere. “Women serve men.” She then says most women are simple, like Serwë while more men are educated. Wise.

“And is this because men are more than women?”

Esmenet stared at him, dumbfounded.

“Or is it,” he continued, “because men are granted more than women in this world?”

She stared, her thoughts spinning. She breathed deeply, set her palms carefully upon her knees. “You’re saying women are…are actually equal?”

Kellhus asks why men pay gold to have sex with women. She answers out of lust. Kellhus then says is it legal. She says no, but they can’t help themselves. Kellhus responds that they have no control over their desires and she makes a joke about being a “well-fed harlot” to prove him right. He then asks why men herd cattle. She’s confused and begins answering so they can slaughter them and then she realizes what he is saying.

“Men,” Kellhus said, “cannot dominate their hungers, so they dominate, domesticate, the objects of their hunger. Be it cattle…”

“Or women,” she said breathlessly.

The air prickled with understanding.

He then sites the example of a tributary race, like Serwë’s, speaking the language of their conquers just like women speak the language of men. This is why Esmenet fears growing old, because she sees herself as men see her. It’s why she preens and postures, molds herself to please men. She becomes so motionless as she listens to him talk about how she has degraded herself to please men, how she does things for coins. How the fact she knows she’s damned, that she has no dignity, lets her keep doing these acts. He asks, “What love lies beyond sacrifice?” She’s crying now.

“You speak the tongue of your conquerors…” Kellhus whispered. “You say, Mimara, come with me child.”

A shiver passed through her, as though she were a drumskin…

“And you take her…”

“She’s dead!” some woman cried. “She’s dead!”

“To the slavers in the harbour…”

Stop!” the woman hissed. “I say no!”

Gasping, like knives.

“And you sell her.”

Esmenet tells Kellhus everything as he holds her, how a famine had swept through Sumna, how she was so hungry that she was giving men blowjobs just to eat their seed. How she came to hate her daughter, “the filthy little bitch,” who cried and begged for food, sending Esmenet out into the street “all because of love.” And how the slavers were growing fat and the coins she received. Coins that lasted less than a week. She weeps in his arms, in his absolution.

“You are forgiven, Esmenet.”

Who are you to forgive?

“Mimara.”

She wakes up confused, lying beside Kellhus. She’s conflicted about that, part of her guilty part of her excited though she reminds herself they didn’t have sex. She only cried. For a while, she lies beside him, feeling his heartbeat. He wakes up and they feel the intimacy growing. Serwë sleeps beside them, and Kellhus tells Esmenet to be quiet so not to wake her. Then he’s on her, his hand sliding up her thighs, and she exults that finally he was taking her.

No one would call her harlot any more.

My Thoughts

What does Esmenet fear learning from Xinemus now? That Achamian is dead, or that he is alive and she’s been moving on, abandoning him? That she’s beginning to love again.

Notice the power of a simple “accidental” touch on behalf of Kellhus, bringing Esmenet one step closer to her seduction. First he was a prophet, then he was her friend, and now he’s a prospective lover. All done by his friendly banter, his comforting presence, and his constant presence around her.

We see more of Esmenet’s intelligence as she dissects the interaction between Kellhus and Proyas. She has picked up on a lot of Kellhus’s teachings about human behavior and is using them, understanding the political dynamics that what Kellhus has begun, being a prophet, will eventually lead to a problems with those at the current “center” of everything.

Kellhus gives Cnaiür credit for figuring out the trap. He can’t let Cnaiür’s skill as a tactician get undermined. He needs to keep him propped up for now. Kellhus has risen along with Cnaiür, and Proyas, Kellhus’s best ally, has sponsored them both, become their patrons. If Cnaiür is embarrassed or shown to have failed, it would look poorly on Proyas and thus Kellhus.

Poor Esmenet. While shame can be a good motivator when there’s cause, when you’ve done something wrong, she hasn’t. She’s just been told that what she’s done to survive is wrong while the men who pay her are absolved. They’re not condemned, just her. And it is to Achamian’s tent she flees. Someone else who is a sinner that cannot be absolved.

It’s sad she finds Kellhus always honest.

When Esmenet talks about how she whored her own daughter out, the way her father had done to her, is one of the most heartbreaking things in the world. How she had rationalized it. How years of being a whore had so degraded her that she no longer felt the horror her daughter did. How she’s so pragmatic about it. “Food from fools.” And now the guilt, combined with the other thing she did with her daughter. She knows it was wrong in the wake of her daughter’s “death.” How it eats at her.

The irony of Esmenet saying all those she loved are dead is that neither Achamian or Mimara are dead.

And notice how Kellhus uses this moment of comfort to add another bit to his seduction, creating that deep intimacy between them then taking advantage of her absent movement to bring the physical, the sexual, to the front.

Maithanet is good at manipulating with a scroll-case.

Proyas is such an interesting character. His faith has warped him, forcing him to destroy his relationship with Achamian even as he doesn’t want to. He loves Achamian, truly, but he also fears for his own soul. Too much virtue is itself a vice. (I’m paraphrasing a quote from someone here, can’t remember who.) And Proyas displays that with his piety causing destructive problems.

Notice how Proyas feels guilty for causing Esmenet grief then immediately rationalizes it away with that emphatic “She’s just a whore!” Using his piety to shift his guilt away, to alleviate his own pain. Very common thing for humans to do. But then he runs smack into Achamian being a sorcerer and uses that same reason justify sacrificing him, which he is now learning was a bad call.

Doubt, skepticism, is very important. This is why science uses the peer-review process to evaluate discovery. Any properly motivated researcher can find the facts to support his goal. You need someone who is properly motivated in disproving (doubting) the result to discover whether or not real truth was uncovered or just results that flattered the researcher’s own bias. Truth without doubt leads to orthodoxy. It leads to religion, even if it’s not called that.

Wonder what happened to Proyas’s older brother? He must have died to make Proyas the heir.

Faith untempered by doubt is a very dangerous thing. And it doesn’t have to be faith in a religion, but faith in a political belief, in a scientific truth, faith in a perspective on power dynamics in society. Any of those are dangerous and destructive. We have brains. Use them.

The recollection Proyas has with Achamian talking about doubt is amazing. Such truth found in there. Confirmation bias is ingrained in all of us. We cherry-pick everything in our lives to conform with our own beliefs. And thanks to social media, it’s getting worse. When you can block people whom you disagree with, when you can only visit blogs or follow people on twitter that believe what you do, then you don’t even hear those contradictory statements. You can curate the information you receive to prop up your beliefs, to receive the answers you want instead of the truth.

Proyas has got some nice line of reasoning on Maithanet’s support for Achamian. What else could it be but the Consult? But why would the Shriah believe in the Consult. Everyone in the Three Seas are sure they are gone. How could he know?

How did Maithanet know about the Scarlet Spires secret war with the Cishaurim? Maithanet lurks in the background for so much of the books, with little hints and clues sprinkled here and there, a great mystery that quickly is forgotten because more immediate things are happening in the book. It’s well done. It all makes sense when you learn the truth, and that’s important with mysteries. They have to hold up to scrutiny or they’re a cheat.

Why can’t anything be pure, Proyas? Because the actions of humans are involved.

Proyas was so close to the truth, and then he just couldn’t believe it. He had to go with something familiar, something that confirmed to his own beliefs on how the world worked, and rejects the Consult idea.

It’s sad watching Proyas grapple with the grief and guilt of his part in Achamian’s death. His illusions are shattered. He knows he’s not a moral person like he always believed. Achamian had given without hope of reward, Proyas had done the opposite. He took to get his reward.

So we see the Zaudunyani know. They have a name. A shared purpose. The start of Kellhus’s cult and his temporal power.

Werjau… His first mention. Remember this asshole for later. Not how he’s the one that some of the others are already deferring to. Bakker is setting him up to be a leader in the Zaudunyani right from the beginning. Note how Kellhus doesn’t want Werjau posturing, but we’ll see he never quite learns that lesson. Something Kellhus will lament. If he’s not on top of people, they backslide.

It is, perhaps, Kellhus greatest weakness. He doesn’t have the time to micromanage everyone.

We get our first taste of the true horror of the Dûnyain next in the Unmasking Room. Such a mundane place for such a horrific spot. Here we see those Dûnyain who didn’t succeed, lobotomized and kept alive to let students study facial expressions. We’ll learn more Dûnyain horrors (whale mothers) in later books. This is a brutal illustration that the Dûnyain purpose is dehumanization, to strip out emotions, to make “men” devoid of passions.

And then how Kellhus puts aside his own “childish” horror (because feeling emotions is childish for the Dûnyain) and understands. This is his fate if he can’t learn to control his passions. So he does. He rationalizes that the man is defective, therefore worthless, and his emotions fade. He’s turned a human being into an object.

And then he peels back Esmenet’s face, seeing her as nothing more than those tortured men he studied as a child. Defective. But a defective he needs. One he needs to seduce. One he can “rehabilitate” to a new purpose. And already the “animal” part of her is eager for the seduction. Now her intellect just had to abandon her love for Achamian and surrender to Kellhus.

Last time Esmenet stared at the Holy War, Achamian was with her. And now she admits it. He’s gone. She has to move on, literally and figuratively. She’s hit acceptance in the grieving process.

For anyone who thinks Bakker is not a feminist or is a misogynist should read Kellhus comments about men domesticating women like they have cattle. Kellhus often speaks Bakker’s own beliefs. Bakker, frankly, is more of a misandrist than he is a misogynist. He has a low opinion of men. We all mold ourselves to please those around us. Women make themselves look beautiful to attract a mate while men work for status and power for the same reason—women are valued for the beauty, men for their wealth. Kellhus is leaving that part out either on purpose, to aid in his molding of Esmenet, or because Bakker is espousing his own beliefs here.

That revelation that Mimara didn’t die of a disease, but that Esmenet sold her to the slaves while they were both starving is heartbreaking. Starving people start to lose compassion. They become driven to do things they would never do while fed. They abandon people. Their survival instincts kick in, driving them to do what it takes to live. And it gets harder and harder to fight that selfishness. And then you’ll do something you can never forgive yourself for.

If you’ve ever hard of Grave of the Fireflies, original a novel and then made into a movie by Studio Ghibli, it’s a true story about a brother and sister, just children, orphaned in Japan by World War II. At the end of the war, they are living with an abusive aunt. They runaway and live in the woods. At first, they’re happy. But soon the starvation sets in. The older brother, who is maybe 10, tries hard to keep them alive. But, first the sister dies and then he dies. Or that’s how the novel goes. In the real story, the brother lived. And the guilt he felt for getting them in this mess, for not saving his sister when they were starving and for living when she died, compelled him to write their story and symbolically kill himself by having his own character die.

Esmenet wakes up feeling guilty and excited for lying next to Kellhus, the last vestige of her relationship with Achamian and her excitement to start a new one. If Achamian were truly dead, this would be healthy. But he’s not, and it’s only been a few weeks. On top of that, she’s being manipulated. So it’s really the opposite.

Then it happens. Kellhus makes his move. He has welded an intimacy between them, he has guided her through the process of grieving for Achamian, making room for her to love another, and then he takes advantage of her. And as she has sex with him, she think she won’t be a harlot ever again. That he sees her as an equal. That she doesn’t have to be his whore.

Instead, she’s his broodmare. As we see in his POV, she is defective. But good thing you can find a use for defectives. He’s rehabilitating her.

This is a powerful chapter, from seeing Esmenet’s true guilt, the thing that has haunted her all this time, revealed. How her guilt for Mimara has made her feel motherly towards Serwë even as she fought her own jealousy towards the girl’s beauty. And even though Esmenet did this monstrous thing, you understand why. That desperation. That horrible circumstances. “Let her feed herself.” How many parents have thought similar thoughts, when angry, when tired, when weary but still having to attend to their children. Those small, dark flashes that pop up in all of us. None of us, I’d dare say, have been as starving as Esmenet.

And the sad part, Kellhus using it to seduce her. Even forgiving her in Mimara’s name. And, for those who’ve read the next series, you know Mimara has not forgiven.

And with that, we’re done with the Holy War’s second march. The third, and hardest, march is before it. The desert awaits. That’s a very symbolic place, the desert. A place where men are transformed into prophets in our own mythologies.

Click here for Chapter Eighteen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Sixteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 16
Shigek

Welcome to Chapter Sixteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Fifteen!

Men never resemble one another so much as when asleep or dead.

OPPARITHA, ON THE CARNAL

The arrogance of the Inrithi waxed bright in the days following Anwurat. Though the sober-minded demanded they press the attack, the great majority clamored for respite. They thought the Fanim doomed, just as they thought them doomed after Mengedda. But while the Men of the Tusk tarried, the Padirajah plotted. He would make the world his shield.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

The first quote is talking about the equalization that death brings. Because all men must die. And what is sleep, but the dress rehearsal? The surrendering to the darkness? In sleep, as Esmenet notes as she gazes on Serwë, the real person comes out. And that real person is the same flawed human being as everyone else. Equals in sleep and in death.

First, this quote reminds us that Achamian isn’t dead. He’s still in this story. He must be because he survived to write about these events. The next is just a commentary on humans (and the readers) who like to see things in simple terms. We conquered the Fanim. They must be crushed this time. But they’re not. They’re still plotting. Just remember that in these days of partisan politics, one side declaring victory forever over the other. It’s never that simple.

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

Achamian suffers the dreams of Seswatha’s life. He is before the gates of Golgotterath, armies of Sranc and Bashrag drawn up before it. He thinks it is about to yield, to be defeated. A horn is sound. The Sranc attack like “a tide of spiders.” They clash against the armies of the Northern Norsirai, the might of High Kûniüri accompanied by Nonmen from Ishterebinth. Seswatha is certain of their victory.

Achamian would relive all eighteen years of that delusion.

Dreams drawn from the knife’s sheath.

And when he awakened, to the sound of harsh shouts or the patter of cold water across his face, it would seem that one horror had merely replaced another. He would blink against torchlight, would dully note the bite of chains, a mouth stuffed with rank cloth, and the dark, scarlet-robed figures that surrounded him. And he would think, before succumbing to the Dreams once gain, It comes… the Apocalypse comes…

Iyokus and Eleäzaras stand around him, talking about how easy it is to render men so helpless. Iyokus points out so can schools, which brings a sharp question from Eleäzaras. They notice Achamian watching them and Iyokus says he needs time to recover before questioning can begin again.

Esmenet cries when she sees Kellhus and Serwë, both haggard, approach her. She runs towards Kellhus, hugging and kissing him. She sobs that she is going mad, but he says it is only grief. Kellhus “seemed a pillar of comfort.” Then she hugs a crying Serwë, who she has missed her.

Esmenet regarded the girl with sorrow. Her left eye was bruised black and cherry and an angry red cut poked from beneath her hairline. Even if Esmenet had the heart—and she had none—she would wait for Serwë to explain what had happened. With such marks, asking demanded lies, and silence afforded truth. That was the lot of women—especially when they were wanton.

Serwë appears healthy beside that, and Esmenet has many questions about how her pregnancy is progressing. She remembers her own “joyous terror” at being pregnant. Esmenet says Serwë must be hungry, which she denies which only makes Esmenet and Kellhus laugh—she was always hungry these days “as a pregnant woman should be.”

For a moment, Esmenet felt the old sunshine flash from her eyes.

Esmenet is happy to see them, missing them as she mourns Achamian. Kellhus notes that she is at the same fire in Shigek as when the army left. Serwë realizes it, shocked. Esmenet is silent, feeding the fire, which she had been obsessed over.

She could feel Kellhus’s gentle scrutiny.

“Some hearths can’t be rekindled,” he said.

“It burns well enough,” Esmenet murmured. She blinked tears, sniffled and wiped at her nose.

“But what makes a hearth, Esmi? Is it the fire, or the family that keeps it?”

“The family,” she finally said. A strange blankness had overcome her.

Kellhus says that he and Serwë are that family. She protests she has to say here and wait. He repeats that “we are that home.” And that ended it.

Over dinner, Kellhus talks about the events of the last week. She finds herself lost in his story about the battle. She is struck by how this great prophet could concern himself with a whore. She smiles, which makes Kellhus happy. He finishes the story and everyone falls silent. She stares at the sky, frightened by its “murderous indifference.” Her thoughts turn to Achamian. Kellhus has heard from Xinemus who still searches.

“So there’s hope?” [asked Esmenet.]

“There is always hope,” he said in a voice that at once encouraged and deadened her heart. “We can only wait and see what he finds.”

Esmenet couldn’t speak. She glanced at Serwë, but the girl avoided her eyes.

They think he’s dead.

She has tried not to hope, but she can’t think him dead. She struggles with it and Kellhus changes the subject, offering to teach her how to read. That makes her cry because it is the one thing she has always wanted to do.

Achamian transitions from dreaming of Seswatha’s torture at Dagliash into his present torment at the hands of the Scarlet Spire. The face of Mekeritrig becomes Eleäzaras, disorienting him. Eleäzaras is happy Achamian is conscious and aware. They feared they killed him. Eleäzaras laments the Library’s destruction.

Achamian realizes he is naked and chained, suspended in the air by his wrists to the ceiling and ankles to the floor. It is at that moment, he realizes that he is dead, the Scarlet Spire has captured him. He pisses and shits himself, which only makes Eleäzaras laugh and quip. The laughter from the others is uneasy. Achamian panics and fights against his chains, thinking about Esmenet.

Eleäzaras laments that “there is too much certainty here.” Achamian knows he’ll be tortured for the Gnosis, and Eleäzaras knows that he won’t surrender it and will rather die. “We’ll be left with yet another useless Mandate corpse.”

Achamian knows it is true. It is his duty to die to protect the Gnosis. The Angogic Schools, like the Scarlet Spire, were never tutored by the Nonmen Quya, so don’t know the more powerful Abstractions, but only the weaker Analogies. Achamian remembers he is stronger, a philosopher while they were merely poets. “I will see you burn!” he promises.

Eleäzaras says this time is different. Events are tumultuous. To prove his point, he removes Achamian’s gag and let him speak without using Compulsion. He does point out the Uroborian Circle drawn around Achamian. It will keep any sorcery from being cast in it by causing pain. Achamian has seen it, too. “The Scarlet Spires, it seemed, possessed many potent poetic devices.” Achamian asks where they are. They are still in Iothiah before. Then he studies the Uroborian Circle.

It didn’t seem a matter of courage, only a giddy instant of disconnection, a willful ignorance of the consequences.

He said two words.

Agony.

Achamian shits himself again as agony shots through him. His blood burns. And then passes out into Seswatha’s nightmares.

Eleäzaras stares at Achamian and though he’s naked, chained, and unconscious, finds him threatening. Iyokus calls Achamian stubborn, implying it was to be expected. Eleäzaras agrees, angry at the delay. And though he would love to have the Gnosis, he needed to know the truth of the Cishaurim skin-spy and Achamian’s connection to them. Worse, because of Achamian, the Scarlet Spire had lost their advantage in numbers gained after the Cishaurim’s casualties at Mengedda. He killed two and then six more fell at Anwurat. It was because of Proyas’s threat of avenging Achamian that Eleäzaras had sent in his sorcerers. He can’t afford to bleed his school.

Eleäzaras can’t help but remember fighting Achamian, lusting for the Gnosis and hating the Mandate for hoarding it. Once he had information on the Cishaurim, he would have Achamian tortured for the Gnosis. Maybe it would work this time, a gamble as significant as destroying the Cishaurim.

That, Eleäzaras decided, was Iyokus’s problem. He could not fathom the fact that certain rewards made even the most desperate gambles worthwhile. He knew nothing of hope.

Chanv addicts never seemed to know anything of hope.

Esmenet crosses the river with Serwë, both sharing a saddle on the same horse. Esmenet is impressed by Serwë’s horsemanship, but she shrugs and says she’s Cepaloran. “She’d been born astride a saddle.” Esmenet bitterly thinks it means born with her legs spread wide. On the other side, she peers across the river and realizes she won’t return, the river is a barrier even though she can swim. Kellhus tells her “The world looks south.”

They return to the Conryian cap and she’s shocked to find Kellhus accepting people calling him the Warrior Prophet. Serwë finds it wonderful, and so does she. He is the Warrior Prophet. She suddenly feels jealous that Serwë is Kellhus’s woman, not her. She instantly feels shame for those thoughts, reminding her Kellhus is helping her for Achamian’s sake.

Esmenet had told herself she feared returning because it would stir too many recollections. But losing those recollections was what she truly feared. Her refusal to leave their old camp had somehow rash, desperate, pathetic… Kellhus had shown her that. But remaining had fortified her somehow—or so it seemed when she thought about it. There was the clutching sense of defensiveness, the certainty that she must protect Achamian’s surroundings. She’d even refused to touch the chipped clay bowl he’d used for his tea that final morning. By describing his absence in such heartbreaking detail, such things had become, it seemed to her, fetishes, charms that would secure his return. And there was the sense of desolate pride. Everyone had fled, but she remained—she remained! She would look across the abandoned fields, at the firepits becoming earthen, at the paths scuffed through the grasses, and all the world would seem a ghost. Only her loss would seem real… Only Achamian. Wasn’t there some glory, some grace in that?

Now she moved on even though it means abandoning Achamian. That makes her cry as she pitches his tent next to Kellhus’s much larger pavilion. She feared things would be awkward, but Kellhus is to generous and Serwë innocent for that. She is welcomed. They make her laugh or share her sorrow. Serwë bounces between obliviousness that Esmenet is grieving to being devastated that Achamian is gone. Partly it’s her pregnancy causing mood sings, but it also makes Esmenet wonder if Serwë and Achamian were together more than that one night. It makes her bitter towards Serwë, which makes her feel guilty thinking Achamian would be disappointed in her. She can’t sleep remembering things she said to Serwë.

On her third night, she’s awoken by a crying Serwë and, feeling like a tired mother, hugs her. Serwë begs Esmenet not to steal Kellhus from her. She says Esmenet is so beautiful and smart. She can’t speak to him like Esmenet can. Esmenet protests that she loves Achamian and she has nothing to fear.

Esmenet had thought herself sincere, but afterward, as she nestled against Serwë’s slender back, she found herself exulting in the thought of Serwë’s fear. She curled the girl’s blond hair between her fingers, thinking of the way Serwë had swept it across Achamian’s chest… How easy, she thought, would it yank from her scalp?

Why did you lie with Akka? Why?

Guilt hits her the next morning, remembering a proverb: “Hatred was a rapacious houseguest, and lingered only in hearts fat with pride.” But her heart is thin. Esmenet watches Serwë sleep, so innocent and beautiful. She realizes that in sleep she saw Serwë’s true face. And her vulnerability. “The sleeping throat was easily cut,” according to a Nilnameshi proverb.

Was this not love? To be watched while you slept…

She was crying when Serwë awoke. She watched the girl blink, focus, and frown.

“Why?” Serwë asked.

Esmenet smiled. “Because you’re so beautiful,” she said. “So perfect.”

This makes Serwë happy and the pair start laughing and joking while Kellhus shakes his head “as perhaps a man should.” Now Esmenet treats Serwë nicer, their friendship deepening even as she wonders what Kellhus sees in Serwë. It had to be more than her great beauty because he saw “hearts, not skin.” And Serwë’s heart seems flawed.

But now Esmenet wondered whether these very flaws held the secret of her [Serwë’s] heart’s perfection. For she’d glimpsed that perfection while watching her sleep. For an instant, she’d glimpsed what only Kellhus could see. The beauty of frailty. The splendour of imperfection.

She had witnessed, she realized. Witnessed truth.

Kellhus acknowledges her insight without words. Later, he helps her with her reading. He gave her The Chronicle of the Tusk as a primer. Holding it filled her with dread. She could feel her own judgment. She told him she doesn’t want to read a book that condemns her and calls her filthy. He responds with “What does it say, Esmi.” So she struggles to read it.

That night, she falls asleep without crying for Achamian. She wakes up alert and too early, moonlight flooding through her open tent. Then she realizes Sarcellus is lying beside her. She is surprisingly calm, wondering how long he had been watching her. He asks her if she ever told Achamian and she says no. She asks what you want, which is her. He then tells her Kellhus is a fraud. At that moment, she realizes she meant nothing to Sarcellus, she was just a thing and not his lover. It hits her hard as fear grows in her. She orders him to leave. But he says he has gold. She says she’ll scream.

He clamps a hand over her mouth and places a knife at her throat. He warns her that just like Achamian has died, so to will the prophet. He asks whom she will bed next for food, calling her an old whore. Out of fear, she pisses herself, crying. He only mocks her for it.

Sarcellus smirked, removed his hand.

She shrieked, screamed until it seemed her throat must bleed.

Then Kellhus is holding her and takes her to the fire. She explains what happened while crying. The commotion dies down while Kellhus says he’ll complain to Gotian but doubts anything will happen. He was a Knight-Commander “and she was just a dead sorcerer’s whore.” Esmenet feels so week and pathetic, wondering how that happened, then gets angry at Achamian for leaving her.

In her tent, Kellhus promises Sarcellus won’t return. It’s here that she confesses that she lied to Akka about what happened to her in Sumna, how the Consult came to her and that she knew Inrau hadn’t killed him. And now she can’t tell him. Kellhus asks what this has to do with Sarcellus and she doesn’t know. Kellhus explains that she thought she loved Kellhus, even compared him to Achamian.

“I was a fool!” she cried. “A fool!” How could she be such a fool?

No man is your equal, love! No man!

“Achamian was weak,” Kellhus said.

“But I loved him for those weaknesses! Don’t you see? That’s why I loved him!”

I loved him in truth!

“And that’s why you could never go to him… To go to him while you shared Sarcellus’s bed would be to accuse him of those very weaknesses he couldn’t bear. So you stayed away, fooled yourself into thinking you searched for him when you were hiding all the while.”

She asks how he knows this. Because no matter how much she lies to herself, she knows the truth. It’s why she hid the truth from Achamian, because you feared he would hate you. She feels so dirty, and knowing Kellhus sees it feels her with shame. She tells him not to look at her. But he does and “it fills me with wonder.” Those words stilled her. He leaves her, but she can still feel his touch.

The next evening, Esmenet is reading from The Chronicle of the Tusk while Kellhus cooks in her place. She was reading the old “Tusk Laws,” many replaced by the Latter Prophet, when she comes across a difficult word. She sounds it out and realizes it is whore. “Suffer not a whore to live, for she maketh a pit of her womb.” Anger surges through her as she spits the verse at Kellhus.

Kellhus gazed back, utterly unsurprised.

He’s been waiting for me to reach this passage. All along…

Give me the book,” he said, his tone unreadable.

She does. And with his knife, he scraps away the ink of the passage. Esmenet is stunned, barely able to understand what he had done. Then he hands it back, asking if it were better “as though he’d just scraped mould from bread.” She can’t touch the book now, saying he couldn’t do that. It’s holy scripture. It’s the Tusk.

“I know. The warrant of your damnation.”

Esmenet gawked like a fool. “But…”

Kellhus scowled and shook his head, as though astonished she could be so dense.

“Just who, Esmi, do you think I am?”

Serwë chirped with laughter, even clapped her hands.

“Wh-who?” Esmenet stammered. It was the most she could manage. Other than in rare anger or jest, she’d never heard Kellhus speak with…with such presumption.

“Yes,” Kellhus repeated, “who?” His voice seemed satin thunder. He looked as eternal as a circle.

Then Esmenet glimpsed it: the shining gold about his hands… Without thinking, she rolled to her knees before him, pressed her face into the dust.

Serwë’s hiccups and Kellhus laughing draws her up and tells her it is time for dinner. But she is still shaken. She realizes that everything now comes from him. That he is everything, everywhere. A god. And then it hits her what he had done. He had freed her from damnation. He had redeemed her.

He scraped the passage clean!

Then she thought of Achamian.

Cnaiür is wondering through the alleys of Heppa haunted by the voices of his people accusing him of being a weeper. A faggot. A Galeoth spots him, saying he is the first disciple of the Warrior-Prophet. He doesn’t know who the man is talking about. Cnaiür has forgotten about the Dûnyain. Flashes of his seduction at Moënghus’s hands shake through him. He reminds himself he is of the people even while wondering how he ended up where he was. Memories assault him. He is a child running from his father’s hut holding something broken he tries to put back together.

Someone. He was forgetting to hate someone.

My Thoughts

In Achamian’s dream of the Great Ordeal, notice how Seswatha thinks Golgotterath is about to yield, the Consult’s defeat at hand. That same arrogance that the Inrithi felt after Anwurat and Mengedda.

The eighteen years of delusion was how long the Great Ordeal (the original, and not the one in the sequel series) besieged Golgotterath before the No-God was unleashed.

Sad quote about being abused from Esmenet. She suspects that Kellhus must have beaten her, for being wanton, implying that Kellhus must have found out that Serwë had seduced Achamian months back. There is no outrage from Esmenet, just acceptance.

We see Kellhus’s seduction of Esmenet begin. First by convincing her that he and Serwë are her family, too, and that she should be with them. Then he begins to undermine her hope in seeing Achamian alive, convincing her he is lost, dead, so she’ll let go of him. All under the guise of a comforting friend. But Kellhus needs her intelligence. He has plans forming, plans that go beyond killing his father.

Achamian, you could have really made her happy by teaching her to read.

Then we caught to Achamian’s interrogation. Brilliant transition from the torment of the Consult against Seswatha into what he knows he’ll face here. Of course he panics. Anyone would.

I do love how Bakker uses language to explain the differences in sorcery. The Angogic Sorcerers can’t just make something burn, they need to summon a flame first. But the Gnosis understand the essence of something, can conjure it in abstraction, and just immolate you. There’s an interesting analogy, poets versus philosopher. A poet seeks to describe emotions, to conjure its effects in his reader while the philosopher seeks to understand the very existence of the emotion, its essence.

We see our first indication that magic can be drawn to cause effect. I imagine an Uroborian Circle has some connection with the branch of sorcery that creates the Chorae, the Aporos.

I love Achamian testing the circle. It’s like, fuck it, might as well try. It’s going to suck. Let’s get it over with. Because, maybe, they didn’t do it right.

Oh, Eleäzaras. Maybe you should have cut your loses with Achamian and given him back to Proyas. Eight dead so far because of this mad plan of yours. But Eleäzaras is under a great deal of stress. He’s one of the most powerful men in the world, and we’re seeing him cracking under the weight of actions, gambling the very future of his school to get vengeance.

Chanv, the mysterious drug that lets you live longer, sharpens your intellect, and makes you infertile. Oh, and it kills hope. And no one knows where it comes from. My bet is the Consult created it. Killing hope is certainly a giveaway, and the infertile part. That’s how they destroyed the Nonmen.

The world looks south.” Another subtle nudging from Kellhus for Esmenet to forget Achamian. He’s to the north, across the river that is now a barrier to her.

Esmenet is a lot like Leweth from the first book prologues. He had retreated from the world to hold to the remembrance of his wife, to not let others change how he feels. Esmenet wanted the same, to hold onto Achamian. Now thanks to Kellhus’s help, she’s moving on. Of course, Achamian isn’t dead. There is still hope for him. It’s only been a few weeks after all.

So, what did Kellhus do or say that put such a fear in Serwë that Esmenet would steal Kellhus? Because it is this conversation that lays the foundation for the two women sharing Kellhus. The next step in his seduction. Remember, Kellhus will come at you wearing the face of your friend, your spouse, your enemy, or even a stranger.

Oh, Esmenet, everyone’s heart is flawed. You are all those things you think of with Serwë. You are vain about your appearance. You can be petulant and peevish, and you make dirty jokes with the best of them.

So Sarcellus was testing Esmenet, finding out how committed she was to Kellhus. Maybe she could be a spy. But she screamed, so he learned very committed considering he held a knife to her throat. She will not betray Kellhus. He thinks she did betray Achamian because she sold him out back in book 1. But Achamian told her to do that to protect herself.

Achamian cared about her.

She know is thinking about Achamian as dead. She no longer cries in grief before falling asleep. Now she’s moving into the anger stage of grief. She is moving on, guided by Kellhus. It’s tragic because we know Achamian, through the book he later writes about the holy war, isn’t dead.

Shame and fear can be such a destructive emotions when they keep you from trusting in the person you loved. And now Esmenet gets to have the guilt of never telling Achamian that Inrau didn’t kill himself. (Though she might later on, I can’t remember)

Suffer not a whore to live, for she maketh a pit of her womb.” The exact words the priest cried back in book 1 before Esmenet was stoned.

Telling someone they are not damned in a world where that is a very real thing is powerful. And here’s the real horribleness about the soteriology of Bakker’s world: there is no way to keep yourself from being damned for some people. Being a whore, damned. Being a sorcerer, damned. Being a murderer, damned. There is no chance to change it. Achamian can never change his own damnation. There is no redemption for him, for Esmenet. As we learn, even Serwë is damned when she dies. That sweet, innocent girl. Bakker’s religion draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition, but departs in it in some extreme ways when it comes to damnation.

So it is hard not to feel the joy Esmenet feels even knowing it is a lie. Because he is not a prophet. And she is not saved just because he declared it. Otherwise, Serwë wouldn’t have been damned when he died. And, as we learn in the sequel series thanks to the judging eye, that sorcerers are still damned.

Next, notice she thinks of Kellhus as an eternal circle. And then she can see the halos about his hand. At this moment, she truly believes he is a prophet to her core. The halos are manifestation of that eternal circle. I think this is a crucial clue to the mechanism that produces these halos in the world.

And now Cnaiür is having a complete mental breakdown. He must have some form of schizophrenia because he is having auditory and visual hallucinations. That final paragraph is interesting, Cnaiür as a boy fleeing from his father’s yaksh and his wrath. He has something broken. He tries to put them together. But it’s someone sad and beautiful. Is this Serwë? He wants to save her and can’t. And, of course, he’s forgetting his hatred of Moënghus. He’s completely lost right now, drowning in the scars of his past.

Click here for Chapter Seventeen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Fifteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 15
Shigek

Welcome to Chapter Fifteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Fourteen!

Where the holy take men for fools, the mad take the world.

PROTATHIS, THE GOAT’S HEART

My Thoughts

What an interesting quote. Holy probably refers to organized religion. Protathis is saying they view men as fools to be taken advantage of. Which is definitely what Kellhus is doing. See the Synthese quote about the Holy War making their own leather. But the mad see the world differently. They see it as a surrogate for their madness, lashing out in different ways. As we see with Cnaiür when we delve into his characters psyche.

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shigek

Cnaiür reaches the Ainoni, seeing the infantry retreating, shattered, some stripping off their armor to run faster, others just sitting in shock. But he doesn’t know where the knights are. He sees the Kianene riding uncontested without the reserves challenging them.

Cnaiür felt a sharp pang in his throat. He clenched his teeth.

It’s happening again…

Kiyuth.

Only this time he was Xunnurit. He was the arrogant mule!

And then Cnaiür realizes the encampment is vulnerable. That Serwë is vulnerable. He rides to the east.

Martemus watches the Prophet (Kellhus) fight Conphas’s assassins. In a heartbeat, the first Nansur is dead. In the second, the other. Only the Zeumi sword-dancer, wielding a massive tulwar, faces him and laughs, calling Kellhus a “civilized man.”

Without warning, he sent the tulwar whooshing through the air around him. Sunlight flashed as though from the silvered spokes of a chariot wheel.

Now standing, the Prophet drew his strange, long-pommeled sword from his shoulder sheath. Holding it in his right hand, he lowered its tip to the ground before his booted feet. He flicked a clot of dirt into the sword-dancer’s eyes. The sword-dancer stumbled back, cursing. The Prophet lunged, buried his sword point deep into the assassin’s palate. He guided the towering corpse to the earth.

He stood alone against a vista of strive and woe, his beard and hair boiling in the wind. He turned to Martemus, stepping over the sword-dancer’s body…

Illuminated by the morning sun. A striding vision. A walking aspect…

Something too terrible. Too bright.

Martemus stumbles back in fear, going for his sword. But Kellhus reaches out and grabs the man’s sword arm, calming him. Kellhus explains that Skauras has sent units to attack the Swazond Standard. Martemus looks out at the battle, seeing no battle lines and only chaos. The Conriyans, led by Proyas, look doomed. Then he notices the camel-mounted Khirgwi charging towards them, ululating war cries.

We must flee!” he [Martemus] cried.

No,” the Warrior-Prophet said. “The Swazond Standard cannot fall.”

But it will!” Martemus exclaimed. “It already has!”

The Warrior-Prophet smiled, and his eyes glittered with something fierce and unconquerable. “Conviction, General Martemus…” He gripped his shoulder with a haloed hand.

War is conviction.”

The Ainoni knights are panicked and confused. They are surrounded by horse archers, being hit from every side. Some charged through the enemy and broke free. Others get lost and are picked off. “Death came swirling down.” Other Fanim, led by the Tiger, charge through the broken infantry to hit the Ainoni command. General Setpanares is killed, but King Regent Chepheramunni made a miraculous escape.

The Inrithi who are fighting in the center have broken through the lines as they routed the Shigeki conscripts, many thinking they’ve won the day, don’t hear the horns signaling retreat. “Not once did the thundering drums of the heathen falter.” The Grandees of Khemema and tens of thousands Khirgwi attack them. Proyas is cut off from his infantry, retreating his knights to a mud-brick village. The Thunyeri fight in shield-wall circles, surprising the Fanim with their stubbornness. The battle has dissolved into dozens of smaller fights as the Holy War is cut off from each other.

Overcome by dismay, many knights charged alone, only to be unhorsed by arrows and trampled into dust.

Cnaiür rides through the camp looking for Serwë. People are screaming, thousands of them, as he searches. The Fanim are burning parts of the camp to disheartened the army while they capture the rest for plunder “especially the kind that wriggled and screamed.” He is desperate to find Serwë.

He kills two Fanim in the camp, charging through them with ease. He runs into a horde of camp-followers—a mix of wives, children, whores, slaves, scribes, and priests. They panic at the sight of him. Then Cnaiür spots the Kianene moving through the camp, searching and looting.

Cnaiür looked down, startled. A young woman, her leg slicked in blood, an infant strapped to her back, clutched his knee, beseeching him in some unknown tongue. He raised his boot to kick her, then unaccountably lowered it. He leaned forward and hoisted her before him onto his saddle. She fairly shrieked tears. He wheeled his black around and spurred after the fleeing camp-followers.

He heard an arrow buzz by his ear.

Kellhus stands before the charging Khirgwi, his hair and robe billowing in the wind. He tells Martemus to say down, and he can only watch stunned. Kellhus dodges their arrows “curious dance, at once random and premeditated, leisurely and breathtakingly quick.” Martemus is hit in the leg and collapses. He believes himself about to die and shouts for Kellhus to run.

Cnaiür’s horse flags as it gallops through the camp, fleeing the Kianene shouting after. Arrows his by and he holds the woman and her child to his chest. He overtakes the other fleeing camp-followers then rides away, knowing they chase him. All the Kianene have hard of the Skafadi with the heathens. He screams Zirkirta as a battle cry, firing his own bow back at them.

Kianene cut him off, forcing him to turn his ailing horse. He’s in the Nansur part of camp, and glad that they pitch tents in orderly fashion. In the chase, Cnaiür is struck by the fact the woman’s baby isn’t crying, marveling that even “infants knew when to be calm.”

More and more Kianene race after him. They corral him towards a large tent. He throws the woman from his horse and tosses her knife to cut through the tent and yells at her to run.

Veils of dust swept over him.

He turned, laughing.

He draws his weapon and fights the men. He kills them while demanding which of them will murder Cnaiür urs Skiötha, most violent of all men. He is wild, fearless as he kills, mocking them, boasting about killing their fathers and brothers at Zirkirta.

A piercing, feminine cry. Cnaiür glanced back, saw the nameless woman swaying at the entrance of the nearest tent. She gripped the knife he’d thrown her, gestured with it for him to follow. For an instant, it seemed he’d always known her, that they’d been lovers for long years. He saw sunlight flash through the far side of the tent where she’d cut open the canvas. Then he glimpsed a shadow from above, heard something not quite…

Several Kianene cried out—a different terror.

Cnaiür thrust his left hand beneath his girdle, clutched tight his father’s Trinket.

For an instant he me the woman’s wide uncomprehending eyes, and over her shoulder, those of her baby boy as well… Somehow he knew that now—that he was a son.

He tried to cry out.

They became shadows in a cataract of shimmering flame.

Kellhus flashes back to when he was five and first stepped outside of Ishuäl, led by Pragma Uän. He, with the others his age, are led out holding onto a rope and into the forest. The boys wander to grow accustomed to the chaos of the outside, the sounds, the smells, the shapes, and colors. But despite how new it was, Kellhus is more eager for why there here, knowing Pragma Uän teaches the ways of limb. Battle.

What do you see?” the old man finally asked, looking to the canopy above them.

There were many eager answers. Leaves. Branches. Sun.

But Kellhus saw more. He noticed the dead limbs, the scrum of competing branch and twig. He saw slender trees, mere striplings, ailing in the shadow of giants.

Conflict,” he said.

Uän asks for an explanation, and Kellhus says the trees war for space. That is what Una is here to teach them. To be like trees, branching out in every direction until they cover the sky. They attack at all directions and not just one. Then Uän shows it, using a quarterstaff and ordering the five-year-olds to attack him. Kellhus is having fun, finding delight in getting knocked back, and wonder in watching the old man dance. “Not one touched his legs. Not one so much as stepped into the circle described by his stick.” He had owned his space.

In the present, Kellhus faces the Khirgwi charge. He raises his sword, ready to defend his circle with Dûnyain steel.

Cnaiür breaks away from his charred horse. He’s surrounded by ash and smoke and scorched meet. He retrieves his hot dagger from the nameless woman’s burned corpse and begins walking. The Scarlet Schoolmen walk the skies, killing the Fanim with fire and lighting.

And he thought, Serwë…

Cnaiür moves through the confusion of the camp on foot, grateful to his father’s Chorae for saving his life a second time. Soon he finds Proyas’s pavilion and then the one he shared with Kellhus. He grows fearful, wondering if Serwë had fled of if she was taken. And then he hears her shriek followed by the sound of Kellhus’s voice. That shocks him so much, he almost collapses. He is confused as he creeps forward, drawing a knife in shaking hand. He enters to see her badly beaten, “Kellhus” naked and standing over her.

Without thinking, Cnaiür slipped into the gloom of the pavilion. The air reeked of foul rutting. The Dûnyain whirled, as naked as Serwë, a bloody hand clamped about his engorged member.

The Scylvendi,” Kellhus drawled, his eyes blazing with lurid rapture.

I didn’t smell you.”

Cnaiür struck at his heart. Somehow the bloody hand flickered up,g razed his wrist. The knife dug deep just below the Dûnyain’s collar bone.

Kellhus staggered back, raised his face to the bellied canvas, and screamed what seemed a hundred screams, a hundred voices bound to one inhuman throat. And Cnaiür saw his face open, as though the joints of his mouth were legion and ran from his scalp to his neck. Through steepled features, he saw lidless eyes, gums without lips…

The thing struck him, and he fell to one knee. He yanked his broadsword clear.

But it had vanished though the flap, leaping like some kind of beast.

The Ainoni knights are forced to stand and fight on foot as their mounts are killed, Kianene racing around them. They force the Kianene to pay for every inch of ground gained, throwing back charge after charge to the Fanim’s shock who are “astounded by these defeated men who refused to be defeated.”

The Khirgwi fight with wild abandon. Proyas is encircled. The Thunyeri make a fortress of their shield-wall. At the sight of the smoke burning the Inrithi camp, many of Skauras’s staff think they have victory. Until the Scarlet Spire arrive. The Fanim survivors of the sorcery enfilade flee into the Inrithi reserves, led by Gotian, and are massacred.

The Imperial Kidruhil come to the Ainoni rescue, driving back the attackers. With the Kidruhil, the Ainoni charge up the slope. Kellhus stand holds off the Khirgwi long enough for reinforcements to arrive. The drums of the Fanim fall silent, overrun by Inrithi knights as Saubon and Gothyelk’s men break through enemy lines and reach the Kianene camp.

The Fanim host falls apart. Crown Prince Fanayal and the Coyauri are chased south by the Kidruhil. The Ainoni finally take the slopes height, forcing more Kianene to flee. The Khirgwi flee southwest pursed by the iron men into the desert.

Hundreds of Inrithi would be lost for following the tribesmen too far.

Serwë tries to go after the wounded “Kellhus,” screaming that he’s hurt and needs her. Cnaiür stops her, saying it wasn’t him. She calls him mad. Cnaiür says he’s taking her away, she’s his prize. She calls him mad again, saying Kellhus told her everything. He hits her and she collapses, demanding to know what Kellhus has said.

She wiped blood from her lip, and for the first time didn’t seem afraid. “You you beat me. You your thoughts never stray far from me, but return, always return to me in fury. He’s told me everything!”

Something trembled through him. He raised his fist but his fingers would not clench.

What has he said?”

That I’m nothing but a sign, a token. That you strike not me, but yourself!”

I will strangle you! I will snap your neck like a cat’s! I will beat blood from your womb!”

Then do it!” she shrieked. “Do it, and be done with it!

He calls her his prize, that he owns her. But she says she’s his shame. He demands answers, and she tells him that he beats her for submitting, the same way he submitted. “For fucking him [Kellhus] the way you fucked his father!”

She collapses, and he finds her so beautiful even beaten. Numb, he asks her what else. But she’s sobbing. She grabs a knife, putting it to her throat. He sees the swazond on her forearm, and knows she has killed.

You’re mad!” she wept. “I’ll kill myself! I’ll kill myself! I’m not your prize! I’m his! HIS!”

Serwë…

Her fist hooked inward. The blade parted flesh.

But somehow he’d captured her wrist. He wrenched the knife from her hand.

He left her weeping outside the Dûnyain’s pavilion. He stared out over the trackless Meneanor as he wandered between the tents, through the growing crowds of jubilant Inrithi.

So unnatural, he thought, the sea…

Conphas finds Martemus sitting cross-legged beneath Cnaiür’s standard and surrounded by “ever widening circles of Khirgwi dead,” staring at the sunset. Conphas cuts down the standard with his sword. Martemus says Kellhus isn’t dead. Conphas finds that a pity, then asks if Martemus remembers their conversation after Kiyuth. He does and remembers that Conphas said war is intellect.

Are you a casualty of that war, Martemus?”

The sturdy General frowned, pursed his lips. He shook his head. “No.”

I worry that you are, Martemus.”

Martemus turned away from the sun and studied him with pinched eyes. “I worried too… But no longer.”

Conphas questions why. Martemus says he watched Kellhus kill all these heathens until they fled in terror. “He’s not human.” Conphas points out neither was Skeaös. Martemus just says he’s a practical man. Conphas studied the corpses around them, Anwurat burning in the distance.

He [Conphas] gazed back into Martemus’s sun. There was such a difference, he thought, between the beauty that illuminated, and the beauty that was illuminated.

You are at that, Martemus. You are at that.”

Skauras ab Nalajan has dismissed all his servants and followers, sitting alone at a table drinking wine. He is reflective as he awaits the Inrithi in a room atop one of Anwurat’s turrets. He hears the battle below.

Though he was a pious man, Skauras had committed many wicked acts in his life—wicked acts were ever the inescapable accessories of power. He contemplated them with regret and pined for a simpler life, one with fewer pleasures, surely, but with fewer burdens. Certainly nothing so crushing as this.

I have doomed my people… my faith.

He reflects on how good his plan was, faking a break in the center so he could attack their left flank. He thinks Conphas must have figured it out. “Old enemy. Old friend—if such a man could be anyone’s friend.”

He produces his agreement with the Nansur Emperor. The word of Ikurei Xerius is the only hope for his people, another old foe and old friend. He burns it to keep the rest of the Inrithi from finding the evidence. He watches it burn while a verse of scripture flashes through his mind. He drinks his wine as the Inrithi batter down his door. He wonders if his people are all dead. Only him.

In the depths of his final, most pious prayer to the Solitary God, he didn’t hear the fibrous snapping of wood. Only the final crash and the sound of kindling skating across tiled floor told him that the time had come to draw his sword.

He turned to face the rush of strapping, battle-crazed infidels.

It would be a short battle.

Serwë awakens cradled by Kellhus. Her first words are for her child, who is fine. Then she asks how she angered him. He explains it was a demon with a counterfeit face. And it clicks in her head, all the little things that were off. She feels such shame, realizing she had sex with it, cheating on Kellhus. She communicates without words to Kellhus as she falls apart.

You were faithful.”

She turned to him, her face crumpling.

But it wasn’t you!

You were deceived. You were faithful.”

He wipes her tears and her blood. She stares into his eyes for awhile, wondering how long she could stare. Forever? He answers her yes. Then she tells him that Cnaiür came to take her. Kellhus says he told Cnaiür he could.

And somehow she knew this too.

But why?

He smiled glory.

Because I knew you wouldn’t let him.”

Kellhus wonders how much the Consult has no learned. He uses hypnotizes Serwë with “patience no world-born man could fathom” into a trance called the Whelming. He interrogates her for everything that happened, then he wipes her memory of the incident.

He leaves her asleep and heads into the celebrating camp and towards the sea and Cnaiür’s camp pitched on its shores. He ignores those who call after him. He has one tasks to complete. He reflects on his study of Cnaiür, the deepest he’s ever made, how his pride and intelligence made him difficult to manipulate, which when combined with his knowledge of the Dûnyain, makes it worse. Moënghus surrendered too much to Cnaiür. “Of all world-born men, Cnaiür urs Skiötha was awake…”

Which was why he had to die.

Kellhus has found that the majority of world-born men adhere to custom without “thought or knowledge.” They never asked why. But Cnaiür is different, choosing to adhere to custom, to prove that he chose this set of beliefs out of others. He has spent thirty years beating himself into the mold of a Scylvendi. And his people could always tell, smelling the wrongness about him.

Thirty years of shame and denial. Thirty years of torment and terror. A lifetime of cannibal hatred… In the end, Cnaiür had cut a trail of his own making, a solitary track of madness and murder.

It is why he is such a ferocious warrior, since Scylvendi see war as worship. He had to be the greatest, most pious of them. Every man he kills is a surrogate for Moënghus. If he can’t kill the right man, then the man in front of him will do.

But despite his understanding of Cnaiür, Kellhus couldn’t control him because of his knowledge. Kellhus once thought Cnaiür would never surrender. And then they found Serwë. He used her as his proof he followed his people. “Cnaiür fell in love, not with her, but the idea of loving her.” Because it meant he couldn’t love Moënghus or his son. Then it was easy for Kellhus to dominate Cnaiür. He seduced her, forcing Cnaiür to relieve his own seduction. Kellhus used contradicting passions, which he had learned world-born men were vulnerable to, to make him obsessed. Then Kellhus took away his obsession and now he would do anything to get it.

And now the usefulness of Cnaiür urs Skiötha was at an end.

Kellhus climbs a dune and sees Cnaiür camp trampled. Kellhus fears he’s too late, that Cnaiür has fled. But then he hears “raw shouts.” He follows the noise and finds Scylvendi standing naked in the waves washing to shore.

There are no tracks!” the man screamed, beating the surf with his fists. “Where are the—”

Without warning, he went rigid. Dark water swelled about him, engulfed him almost to his shoulders, then tumbled forward in clouds of crystalline foam. He turned his head, and Kellhus saw his weathered face, framed by long tails of sodden black hair. There was no expression.

Absolutely no expression.

Cnaiür wades to shore, shouting about how he betrayed his race and father for Moënghus, talking to Kellhus like he’s the father. Kellhus realizes he can’t read Cnaiür. The Scylvendi keeps talking about how he followed you, how he loved you. Kellhus draws his sword and tells Cnaiür to kneel.

The Scylvendi fell to his knees. He held out his arms, trailing fingers through the sand. He bent his back to the stars, exposing his throat. The Meneanor surged and seethed behind him.

Kellhus stood motionless above him.

What is this, Father? Pity?

He gazed at the abject Scylvendi warrior. From what darkness had this passion come?

Strike!” the man cried. The great scarred body trembled in terror and exultation.

But still, Kellhus couldn’t move.

Cnaiür shouts over and over for Kellhus to kill him, grabbing the blade and pulling it to his throat. But Kellhus says no and gently pries Cnaiür’s grip form the sword. Cnaiür grips Kellhus head, almost breaking his neck. Kellhus isn’t sure if it was luck or Cnaiür’s instinct that stopped it. But just a little more, and he will die.

Cnaiür drew him close enough for him to feel his humid body heat.

I loved you!” he both whispered and screamed. Then he thrust Kellhus backward, nearly tossing him back to his feet. Wary now, Kellhus rolled his chin to straighten a kink from his neck. Cnaiür stared at him in hope and horror…

Kellhus sheathed his sword.

Cnaiür rips hair from his head as he raves about Kellhus’s promise. But Kellhus watches, unmoved. “There were always other uses.”

The Sarcellus skin-spy leaves the camp and enters an old ruin, not caring about what it might be. The Synthese arrives and notes he is wounded. The skin-spy explains about Cnaiür and that the wound doesn’t impair him. The Synthese asks for a report, and the skin-spy says he’s not Cishaurim but Dûnyain.

Tiny grimace. Small, glistening teeth, like grains of rice, flashed between its lips. “All games end with me, Gaörtha. All Games.”

Sarcellus became very still. “I play no game. This man is Dûnyain. That’s what the Scylvendi calls him. She said there’s no doubt.”

But there is no order called ‘Dûnyain’ in Atrithau.”

No. But then we know he’s not a Prince of Atrithau.”

The Synthese begins to think Kellhus is a real Anasûrimbor, but a remnant of the Old Seed that survived. The skin-spy wonders if the Nonmen could have trained him, but the syntheses is dismissive. They have spies in Ishterebinth and know what Nin-Cilijiras is up to. The syntheses suspects that the Dûnyain is a “stubborn ember” of Kûniüri that survived, like the Mandate. But this ember survived in the shadow of Golgotterath, which is worrying. The skin-spy further adds that Kellhus means to claim the Holy War. The Synthese wants to know who the Dûnyain are, what their plans, and how he can see skin-spies.

He orders the skin-spy to indulge Kellhus, though he doesn’t see him as that much of a threat now that Achamian has been “removed from the game.” But the skin-spy is worried. Kellhus’s power grows. He is called the Warrior Prophet. The Synthese is amused how Kellhus “leashes these fanatics with leather of their own making.” Then he asks if Kellhus preaches a threat to the Holy War’s goal. He hasn’t, yet. The skin-spy is ordered to watch, but if Kellhus seeks to stop the Holy War, he has to be killed. He is only something curious. The Cishaurim are their foe.

Yes, Old Father.”

Gleaming like wet marble, the white headed bobbed twice, as though in some overriding instinct. A wing dropped to Sarcellus’s knee, dipped between his shadowy thighs… Gaörtha went rigid.

Are you badly hurt, my sweet child?”

Yessss,” the thing called Sarcellus gasped.

The small headed tilted backward. Heavy-lidded eyes watched the wingtip circle and stroke, stroke and circle. “Ah, but imagine… Imagine a world where no womb quickens, where no soul hopes.”

Sarcellus sucked drool in delight.

My Thoughts

We have spent the last book and a half with Cnaiür. He was the only one that saw the mistake of following Xunnurit’s plan. Bakker has built him up to be this amazing general that will lead the Holy War. And his first time out, he is outsmarted. He has made a serious blunder in underestimating his enemies tactics. And this time, it is Kellhus that saw it. Kellhus the novice at war.

And now Cnaiür chooses a woman over his duty. A very human thing to do, and something that the Scylvendi would look down on him for. And the Inrithi. He’s in command and he’s fleeing.

Now we see Kellhus in action. The sword-dancer was built up to be a credible threat, a skilled man with that massive blade. He’s big and graceful. And Kellhus defeats him with a flick of the sword. It reminds me a lot of Berserk when Guts fights Griffith the first time.

As the Khirgwi charge, Kellhus has taken Cnaiür’s lessons to heart. He understands that once again he has to take a risk to achieve his plans, like with telling Saubon to punish the Shrial Knights. We know there is a limit to how many men he can fight with. We learned this during book 1 while the Nansur cavalry chased him and Cnaiür. And now he faces a charge of thousands of soldiers.

And then Martemus sees him as the Warrior-Prophet and the halos appear. I can find no instance in the book where people talk about him having haloed hands before this. Martemus hasn’t heard about it, and now he sees it. It’s hard to say mass illusion is causing this. Something from the Outside is definitely affecting Kellhus. He’s had one vision showing him the future. People are seeing halos about his hands. Looking forward to the Unholy Consult and finding out more about the metaphysics going on here. (Hopefully, it’s elucidated in there.)

Also note, Kellhus wears his sword on his back like it were a Chinese blade. I haven’t noticed any one in the Three Seas described wearing swords that way. It’s a nod to the fact that Kellhus is a D&D monk at his most basic. From catching arrows, to being good at hand-to-hand fighting, to wearing his sword in such a far east fashion amid the more Mediterranean cultures of the Three Seas.

Poor Ainoni. They take it hard in the chapter. They are presented as very effete civilization, but their soldiers are actually written as very good and skilled. They were just the nation that was in the wrong position. But good thing Chepheramunni made his escape. It’s so surprising. And such a great, subtle clue from Bakker, something readers will overlook until the reveal that Chepheramunni is a skin-spy. Probably that body the Ainoni found years ago without a face mentioned in book 1.

Quite the reversal has happened in the battle now. The Holy War is losing badly. With this type of story, with Bakker already undermining many tropes of Fantasy fiction, it’s easy to imagine them losing, that the story could have a great reversal in the fortunes, making Kellhus’s mission even harder.

Cnaiür has a moment of pity, something he doesn’t usually feel. But he’s consumed with panic for Serwë. He has to find her and can’t. And now there is this other woman that needs help. He can save her. So he does. This being Grimdark Fantasy, it doesn’t have a happy ending. No tearful reunion with the wife and her husband. They don’t even live.

Just more victims of the brutal reality of war.

Martemus should have stayed down as the Khirgwi attacked.

Cnaiür rides away from the camp-followers to lure the Kianene away from them. They say you only can truly know a man when he’s under pressure, how he reacts when things are bad, and Cnaiür… Cnaiür our violent barbarian makes a number of compassionate decisions in this frantic section. He could have charged through the camp-followers, using their presence to slow down the Kianene even for a few seconds.

We see Cnaiür’s death wish appear as he demands which one will murder him.

And then the woman repays his compassion with her own. She could have fled, but she calls for him to join her. It might not have made a difference. The Scarlet Spire might still have killed her. Bakker draws it out as Cnaiür sees her death. He feels such compassion for the woman, such love. He even sees the child as his own. He wants to save them.

Can’t.

Another failure for Cnaiür.

So we can see just how different Dûnyain children are. They are not allowed outside until they’re five. And when they do, they have to acclimatized to all the sensations their superior intellects are drinking in, giving them time to adjust. Kellhus had this same reaction when he left as an adult, bemused by nature for weeks. But, still, even a young Dûnyain boy is eager to learn fighting, just like any other group of boys who find sticks will start playing battle.

So we see even as a child, Kellhus had a keener intellect than others. He is at the pinnacle of the Dûnyain breeding program. Not surprising considering he has the Anasûrimbor bloodline. And there is good evidence that Nonman blood is found in their veins. That the only successful known mating between human and Nonman may have occurred in the family’s history.

Love the fact that the Dûnyain children are still children. They are having fun trying to get to Uän. They haven’t had all their emotions destroyed and beaten down, yet. Though the Dûnyain are working on it. No mention of girls, though. Whale Mothers…

We see a taste of Cnaiür’s skill when he encounters fake Kellhus. Skin spies are inhumanly fast, but he managed to stab this one. It tried to deflect, but not fully, knocking the knife up only a few inches but it might have saved the skin spy’s life (do they have hearts?).

In the Ainoni stand, we see the Fanim surprised that these men refuse to be defeated. They have conviction, holding them strong even as they are surrounded and on the verge of being overwhelmed. Bakker had Cnaiür talk about this last chapter, but now he is once again showing us about conviction and its power. This will be important for the end of the novel.

Conviction has changed the tide of battle. Kellhus held the standard, keeping up hope in the Inrithi. The Ainoni held out long enough for Conphas to come to their aid and that turned the tide of battle. He heard the horns sounding retreat and acted. We also have the Scarlet Schoolmen were deployed for the first time, foiling the Fanim plan to demoralize the Inrithi.

Such a powerful scene between Serwë and Cnaiür. We have Cnaiür’s character laid open, all the times he thought as he beat her that he was trying to save her from Kellhus, and the realization here that he failed. That she would rather die than be apart from Kellhus. That she would let him beat her and still love him. All he can do is save her life.

He goes to the sea. The trackless sea. It’s an unnatural steppe to him. But it’s the closest thing he has to home. It’s like his perception of himself. Something broken, something wrong, something that wants to be of the People, but isn’t. He often goes to the sea when in turmoil. He has good memories with his own father at the shore of an inland sea, too.

Conphas and Martemus’s scene is so subdued. Conphas is clearly drained by the battle, without much of his usual self-delusional thoughts and actions. It’s perfunctory the way he cuts down the banner. And then his chat with Martemus, so flat. He understands that Martemus is blinded by Kellhus’s “illumination.”

And then Bakker switches gears to Skauras, the crushing despair on him as he realizes his people are doomed unless the word of the Nansur Emperor can be trusted. It is their only hope now for the Nansur to betray the holy war and stop it short of Shimeh. You feel a great deal of pity for the man. He’s been this wily enemy, this cagey general for so long, the great obstacle in the path of the holy war. Then seeing him drinking his last cup of wine as he awaits his death is so humanizing.

And his reflection on how evil acts are the hallmark of power… So true. Keep that in mind, for those who want to change the world. “Power comes from the end of the gun,” said Lenin.

Whelming. A trance where voice can overwrite voice. Or a place where one soul can overwhelm another.

We get more reflection into Kellhus and his view on men, and Cnaiür. Plus how Moënghus messed up with Cnaiür. But, then, Moënghus hadn’t come upon his grand plan. He was just trying to survive. I doubt Moënghus even thought Kellhus would encounter Cnaiür or that Cnaiür would prove as troublesome when he summoned Kellhus.

Most people never ask why things are the way they are around them, just taking for granted. Most people in Bakker’s world are not philosophers. Bakker, a philosopher, clearly holds that the only way to be truly free is to be a philosopher, to question the why of things.

I still don’t know why picks is a racial slur for Ketyai by Norsirai. They think them unclean, but I am still missing the connection.

We saw Cnaiür’s need for surrogates a few chapters back when it talks about him raiding Fanim villages, killing and pillaging to satiate his true desire.

We see the power of obsession. The way it can drive humans to acts they wouldn’t think themselves capable of. Even knowing the outcome, it can be hard to fight an obsession.

So we get this scene, Cnaiür utterly mad, knowing his death has come, and ready for it. He wants it to be over. His prize is lost. She’s utterly Kellhus’s. He can’t keep pretending any longer that he doesn’t love Moënghus. He can’t find the tracks. He’s hopelessly lost. He’s broken, defeated.

And Kellhus feels pity. The second time he’s felt an emotion. Once for Serwë, now for Cnaiür. And that pity works on him. As we have seen in previous quotes, the intellect is always slave to our passion. We will always find reasons to justify our actions for our desires. Kellhus found his. “There were always other uses.” His passions are shriveled, barely there, but they do exist. There is a glimmer of humanity.

Which might be the only thing that stops Kellhus from siding with the Consult. But, he might still side with them. Oh, the Unholy Consult… Can’t wait for July!

We get a little more insight into skin-spies and how they function. They are creatures of the moment. They don’t care about the past. Its’ all about who they are pretending to be right now. A thing without a past is a thing without identity.

Gaörtha is the skin-spy who in book 1 is following Achamian around, the one he spotted trailing him in the marketplace in Momemn.

And then we see the worry in the Synthese that his spy might not be reliable. Kellhus had planted those seeds that the first Sarcellus had been close to betraying the Consult. Looks like they have found fertile ground.

More interesting, the Synthese recognizes the name Dûnyain. We don’t know much about them before they became modern Dûnyain. They were ascetics and looking to escape the world after it ended.

And now we get confirmation that the Consult wants the Cishaurim, in particular, destroyed. That this is why they support the Holy War and why their skin-spies in the imperial palace (Skeaös and Empresses Dowager) are against Xerius’s plans to betray the Holy War.

And then we end with the Consult’s true goal.

Damn, this was a long chapter. And so much happened at it. We learn so much about the Consult, we see Serwë finally standing up to Cnaiür after being conditioned by Kellhus, we see the turn of battle and the death of the Fanim who was the symbol of their enemy, Skauras. The Holy War stands triumphant while Kellhus has another emotion. This is one of the best chapters in the series. He weaves through so many different scenes, propels so many different plots forward, has so many character moments.

Great writing.

Click here for chapter sixteen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 14
Anwurat

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

It is the difference in knowledge that commands respect. This is why the true test of every student lies in the humiliation of his master.

GOTAGGA, THE PRIMA ARCANATA

The children here play with bones instead of sticks, and whenever I see them, I cannot but wonder whether the humeri they brandish are faithful or heathen. Heathen, I should think, for the bones seem bent.

ANONYMOUS, LETTER FROM ANWURAT

My Thoughts

The student, to earn his teacher’s respect, has to overcome him. Kellhus definitely did this with Achamian. He surpassed him with ease and Achamian respected him greatly. And as we see in this chapter, Cnaiür is humiliated when Kellhus spots what Skauras is doing before Cnaiür. And, of course, when it is too late to stop it. Note, also, that this is from the Prima Arcanata. This is a Schoolman book. It seems to be imploring its students to push the bounds of sorcery, to discover new things to surpass their teacher and strengthen their school, whichever school this text is from.

The letter shows us the grim realty of what the war has done and yet how the innocent children can still play. They haven’t been wholly corrupted. Like in the previous chapter when Achamian saw the children playing beneath the corpses hanging in the tree, the contrast of innocence with brutality. Then you throw in some color commentary on racism with the “bent bones” lines, to hammer home how tribal humans are. Plus, this is the fortress that we ended last chapter on preparing for a siege. It foreshadows the Inrithi victory (otherwise, why is this Inrithi writing home from here).

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shigek

Conphas lets Martemus cool his heels as he reads intelligence reports in his command pavilion. Activity bustles around him in the Nansur camp as they prepare for the coming battle with the Fanim tomorrow.

Such a battle! And he—he! the lion of Kiyuth!—would be little more than a subaltern…

No matter, it would be salt for the honey, as the Ainoni were fond of saying. The bitterness that made vengeance sweet.

Conphas tells Martemus that he will represent the Nansur at Cnaiür’s side in the coming battle. Martemus asks if there are more instructions and Conphas wonders why he hadn’t stripped Martemus of his rank and sold him as a slave. He explains that he doesn’t trust Martemus anymore and actually trusts Cnaiür, in matters of war, far more. Martemus doesn’t protest but just asks why he was chosen with “stoic curiosity.” Conphas finds it such a waste that he has lost Martemus.

“Because you’ve unfinished business.” Conphas handed several sheets to his secretary, then looked down as though to study the next sheaf of parchment. “I’ve just been told the Prince of Atrithau accompanies the Scylvendi.” He graced the General with a dazzling smile.

Martemus said nothing for a stone-faced moment.

“But I told you… He’s…he’s…”

“Please,” Conphas snapped. “How long has it been since you’ve drawn your sword, hmm? If I doubt your loyalty, I laugh at your prowess. No. You’ll only observe.”

Conphas has hired three assassins, two Nansur and a Zeumi sword dancer, the latter whom Conphas thinks is a generous gift from his uncle. He then orders Martemus to bring back Kellhus head, using his general cloak as a sack. Conphas isn’t sure if he sees horror or hope in Martemus’s eyes.

The Inrithi horns sound at dawn and “the men of the Tusk rose certain of their triumph.” They form up on the South Bank to crush their enemy, knowing the God walks with them. Orders are barked as men assemble. Prayers are uttered, wine drunk, and bread broken. Wives and prostitutes say their farewells. The Fanim assemble on the horizon before the fortress of Anwurat. The Inrithi, each to their own culture, shout their cries as they prepare for battle while “a hundred hundred banners fluttered in the morning wind.”

Cnaiür ponders the trade he made with Kellhus last night, the knowledge of war for Serwë. He stands with Kellhus and a group of officers and messengers on a small hill. From here, he will command the battle, the newly made Swazond Standard fluttering over him.

Cnaiür stares in wonder at the Holy War assembled before him and the Fanim facing them. He reminds himself he is of the Land, a Scylvendi. He surveys their deployment, looking for weakness. Kellhus moves to his side, putting Cnaiür on his guard and again questioning the trade. He had spent the night screaming at the sea, demanding why he made the trade for “a bauble found on the Steppe.” He reflects on all he had given up over the last month: honor for vengeance, leather for silk, yaksh for a pavilion, the Utemot for the Inrithi. He was Battlemaster. King-of-Tribes.

Part of him reeled in drunken exultation at the thought. Such a host! From the river to the hills, a distance of almost seven miles, and still the ranks ran deep! The People could never assemble such a horde, not if they emptied every yaksh, saddled every boy. And here he, Cnaiür urs Skiötha, breaker-of-horses-and-men, commanded. Outland princes, earls and palatines, thanes and barons in their thousands, even an Exalt-General answered to him! Ikurei Conphas, the hated author of Kiyuth!

What would the People think? Would they call this glory? Or would they spit and cruse his name, give him to the torments of the aged and the infirm?

He reflects that all battle was holy, that defeating the Fanim would be a victory. He imagines them finally embracing him even as he realizes they would laugh as he hears his uncles words said at Kiyuth: “Yours is the name of our shame!” He ponders how they would react if he destroyed the Inrithi and returned with Conphas’s head.

“Scylvendi” Moënghus said from his side.

That voice!

Cnaiür looked to Kellhus, blinking.

Skauras! The Dûnyain’s look shouted. Skauras is our foe here!

Cnaiür focuses on defeating Skauras. He feels fear, wanting more time, knowing that his usefulness for Kellhus is about to end. He knows he is a threat to Kellhus and he has given up the last of his leverage. But there is nothing he can do to delay it. The Inrithi are ready for he battle. He gives the order to march.

Kellhus fixed him with shining, empty eyes.

Cnaiür looks away to the army. It moves forward, the horses trotting ahead, the ranks of infantry following. The Fanim drums pound as they wait.

The Dûnyain loomed in his periphery, as sharp as a mortal rebuke.

What was this trade he had made? A woman for war.

Something is wrong.

Behind him, the Inrithi lords began singing.

The Inrithi knights outpaced the infantry as they cross the field. They are moving faster and faster. The Fanimry fire arrows. Men and horses die. They lower lances as they charge the heathens. They shout war cries born of hatred. They clash with the Fanim.

The sermon was simple.

Break.

Die.

Serwë is alone, avoiding the other camp-followers praying in the encampment. She doesn’t see the point, having already kissed Kellhus and watched him ride off. Instead, she boils a tea Proyas’s physician-priests prescribed her for her pregnancy. She’s not afraid but confused why Kellhus risks himself especially in the wake of Achamian’s loss. It made her realize they weren’t on a pilgrimage “to deliver something [Kellhus] Holy.” Now she realizes that Kellhus might vanish, too.

But this thought didn’t so much frighten her—the possibility was too unthinkable—as it confused her. One cannot fear for a God, but one can be baffled over whether one should.

Gods could die. The Scylvendi worshipped a dead god.

Does Kellhus fear?

That too, was unimaginable.

Her water boils just as she thinks she heard something. She grapples with the kettle, using sticks to pull it out of the fire, when she feels a hand touch her belly. Kellhus is holding her from behind, though he seems shorter. Kellhus is horny and needs her, which makes her wonder why he chose her instead of any other woman. She asks why he needs her now. Isn’t he worried about the battle. But he worries only for her.

“Everywhere Cnaiür turned, he saw glory and horror.” He stands with his cheering retinue trying to watch the battle. He finds the battle happening too fast. There is so much going on as across their lines, the Inrithi engage the Fanim. Cnaiür’s planning is working. He had deduced the Fanim tactics so far and his preparations, having the Nansur use rafts as improvised ramps, is working. But dust obscures the Ainoni, and that worries him.

He begins to instruct Kellhus, talking about how this battle will be one by penetration and not envelopment. But he trails off as the dust clears enough to let him see the Ainoni are withdrawing. The Kianene hold the heights. This worries him, but Kellhus asks if this is how you crush your foe by assaulting their flanks or rear.

Cnaiür shook his black mane. “No. This is how you convince your foe.”

“Convince?”

Cnaiür snorted. “This war,” he snapped in Scylvendi, “is simply your war made honest.”

Kellhus acknowledged nothing. “Belief… You’re saying battle is a disputation of belief… An argument?”

Cnaiür keeps looking to the south as he explains about how attacking flanks and rears are arguments to convince the enemy they lost. “He who believes he is defeated is defeated.” Kellhus states that “conviction makes true” in battle.

As I said, it is honest.

Skauras! I must concentrate upon Skauras!

Cnaiür’s nervousness causes him to send a messenger to General Setpanares, commanding the Ainoni, to find out who defeated them even while knowing the battle will be over before the messenger can return. He finds the Nansur and Thunyeri are making fast progress up the makeshift ramps. Skauras reserves approach from the west and is worried about their numbers. He sends a message to the Conriyans while thinking everything is going to plan elsewhere.

Cnaiür points to the Galeoth and tells Kellhus to see how Skauras frustrates Saubon. Kellhus sees the delaying tactic. Cnaiür explains that the Galeoth and Tydonni possess shock, which the Fanim can’t stand up against, so they will use their cohesion and speed to d a defensive envelopment. Kellhus understands that an over-committed attack risks exposing flanks. Something the Inrithi are prone to do But, as Cnaiür says, their superior heart (conviction) saves them.

Their Conviction,” Kellhus said.

Cnaiür nodded. “When the memorialists counsel the Chieftains before battle, they bid them recall that in conflict all men are bound to one another, some by chains, some by ropes, and some by strings, all of different lengths. They call these bindings the mayutafiüri, the ligaments of war. These are just ways of describing the strength and flexibility of a formation’s angotma. Those Kianene the People would call trutu garothut, men of the long chains. They can be thrown apart, but they will pull themselves together. The Galeoth and Tydonni we would call trutu hirothut, men of the short chain. Left alone, such men would battle and battle. Only disaster or utgirkoy, attrition, can break the chains of such men.”

The Fanim scatter and Cnaiür explains a leader must always be reevaluating the battle. Kellhus asks if the south [my Kindle edition says north, but Cnaiür then looks southward, so I think this is a mistake] worries Cnaiür. He says no but then is “struck by an inexplicable apprehension of doom.” The Ainoni knights are retreating but the infantry are advancing. He lectures about how infantry will often drift to the right, betraying a lack of discipline or an act of deception to draw an enemy attack. Cnaiür is still confident things are going to plan. He goes on to saying that a general can tolerate no disbelief in his men that they will lose while he questions what the Ainoni general is now doing. Kellhus comments that disbelief spreads. Cnaiür knows that if men have conviction, they can die to the last, as Nansur Columns have in fighting Scylvendi in the past. Kellhus grasp that this is what a rout is, a loss of conviction, like what the Fanim suffered at the Battleplain. Cnaiür agrees, which is why a general has to be ready for that moment of decision. Cnaiür still worries over the Ainoni. He doesn’t understand why General Setpanares had withdrawn his horses. The Fanim were losing everywhere else save to the south.

Cnaiür glanced at Kellhus, saw his shining eyes study the distances the way they so often scrutinized souls. A gust cast his hair forward across his lower face.

“I fear,” the Dûnyain said, “the moment has already passed.”

Serwë can hear the fighting as “Kellhus” fucks her. He feels different in her and he tells her he is different for her. She is wracked with pleasure. He grabs her hair as she rides him, telling her to talk. She asks about what.

“Speak of me…”

“Kellhhhhussss,” she moaned. “I love you… I worship you! I do, I do, I do!”

“And why, sweet Serwë?”

“Because you’re the God incarnate! Because you’ve been sent!”

He fell absolutely still, knowing he’d delivered her to the humming brink.

Serwë aches for her climax, riding “Kellhus” faster, coming closer and closer, when he asks about Cnaiür and his hatred towards him. She says Cnaiür fears you and knows he will be punished. Serwë notices more differences, but is too lost to her pleasure to think about them.

His hand closed about the back of her neck… How she loved this game!

“And why does he call me Dûnyain?”

Cnaiür demands to know what Kellhus meant about the decision, thinking Kellhus seeks to deceive. Kellhus says he has studied the Kianene devices and though the dust prevents him, and Cnaiür, from seeing their patterns, he can see their shapes and has counted them, then compared them to the list of Sapatishah’s client Grandees. He tells Cnaiür that across most of their lines, only a fraction of the Kian face them.

Cnaiür jerked his gaze yet again to the souther hills and knew, from heart to marrow, that the Dûnyain spoke true. Suddenly he saw the field through Kianene eyes. The fleet Grandees of Shigek and Gedea drawing the Tydonni and Galeoth ever farther west. The Shigeki multitude dying as they should, and fleeing as everyone knew they would. Anwurat, an immovable point threatening the Inrithi rear. The then southern hills…

“He shows us,” Cnaiür murmured. “Skauras shows us…”

“Two armies,” Kellhus said without hesitation. “One defending, one concealed, the same as on the Battleplain.”

Cnaiür sees the Kianene second army charging at the Ainoni infantry while around him, the Inrithi celebrate seeing the Nansur and Thunyeri have broken through and routed the Shigeki. Cnaiür thinks them fools as he realized Skauras the Shigeki to scatter the Holy War.

A great ache filled Cnaiür’s chest. Only Kellhus’s strong grip saved him the humiliation of falling to his knees.

Always the same…

Martemus stands conflicted, watching Cnaiür and Kellhus speak. He finds it outrageous that a Scylvendi leads and questions why Conphas would want Kellhus killed instead. Martemus would gladly die to kill Cnaiür. He grapples with that question.

Because, General, he’s a Cishaurim spy…

But no spy could speak such words.

That’s his sorcery! Always remember—

No! Not sorcery, truth!

As I said, General. That is his sorcery.

Martemus watched, unmoved by the prattle around him.

The shouts draw Martemus attention to the battle. He sees the Heathens routing and feels pride for the Nansur columns. Then he sees Cnaiür’s posture and realizes, thanks to his years as a soldier, that something had gone wrong. Cnaiür screams for the retreat to be sounded. Everyone is astonished, some calling Cnaiür a traitor. Weapons are drawn while Cnaiür keeps roaring to look at the south. Kellhus is on his side, insisting that the retreat must be sounded. Then Cnaiür rushes to his horse and races south. Others follow while Martemus turns to the assassins, nodding at them.

For a heartbeat, Prince Kellhus caught his look. His smile held such sorrow that Martemus nearly gasped. Then the Prophet turned to the distances seething beneath his feet.

The Ainoni infantry begin breaking under the Fanim charge. The Ainoni knights counter-charge, crashing into the Fanim, killing many and sending them into retreat. The dust clears revealing Crown Prince Fanayal and his Coyauri cavalry charging in, massacring the van of the Ainoni knights. Other knights are confused, unable to see in the dust as horse archers attack their flanks and rears.

Serwë huddles in pain as “Kellhus” beats her. She cries out to know how she displeased him, saying she loves him. He keeps beating her while asking “What have I planned for the Holy War?”

Martemus watches the fighting with Kellhus and the three assassins, the only ones now by the Swazond Standard. He sees the Ainoni infantry rout out of the dust cloud. Already, Conphas is reforming his columns to face the new threat. “The Nansur were old hands when it came to surviving Fanim catastrophes.” Kellhus ignores the assassins, sitting with his back to them studying the battle.

The Prophet seemed to be…listening.

No. Bearing witness.

Not him, Martemus thought. I cannot do this.

The first of the assassins approached.

My Thoughts

Right away, we are thrown into Conphas’s thoughts, seeing him stew because Cnaiür leads. But Conphas has his plans. He continues to plot. His ego is too great to be crushed down for long. To preserve his own self-image, he has to continuously lie to himself whenever he suffers these defeats. Like we all do to some extant.

When you read the first book, I doubt any would have thought Martemus and Conphas could have such a falling out. Martemus is the man who was prepared to assist Conphas in a coup against the Emperor. He was the one to suggest it to Conphas, in fact. Martemus once said he would rather defend the Nansur Empire than the Tusk, putting national identity above religion. And then Kellhus has twisted him into a new man.

Kellhus battle garb has elements of all the major nations of the Inrithi, showing he is not of any of their nations but of all of them. It’s a subtle thing, easy to overlook.

Love Cnaiür’s thoughts on his current circumstance. Promise of vengeance, effeminate silks, prince’s pavilion, unwashed Utemot. He embraces the rudeness and poverty of his own people and resenting the wealth he has now. But he knows his people won’t care that he is commanding this huge force. Even if all war was holy. He isn’t of the People, despite how much he wants to be. He hasn’t been since Moënghus if he ever truly was.

And then we see just how good Kellhus is at reading people. The moment Cnaiür entertains fantasies of butchering the Inrithi, Kellhus, pitching his voice to sound like Moënghus, reminds the Scylvendi of their true purpose and how Skauras has to be defeated so Cnaiür can get his vengeance.

You have to love how human Cnaiür is. The panic he is feeling, trapped, cornered by his obsessive need to own Serwë, to prove he is of the people. But he doesn’t want to give up his leverage with Kellhus, but he has to. He’s made his deal and now he has to lead. He’s cornered and he sees only his death. He starts to be self-reflective but forces it away to make himself into the ideal Scylvendi.

Cnaiür is warring with himself. His madness is growing.

Bakker’s imagery of the Inrithi knights charging is beautiful and poetic. “Hatred clamped tooth to tooth” “wall of heathen, who barbed the distance like a hedge of silvered thorns” and “outstretched like great, fluid arms the holy warriors embraced their enemy.” And then the next three lines. So powerful.

Serwë’s thoughts are interesting. If Kellhus is a god then she shouldn’t be afraid for him even though she really wants to be. She’s grappling with it in her own way. She can’t let her fear take over because it will shatter the illusion she’s constructed in her mind that he is God. She, like Cnaiür, is fighting to keep her own self-identity intact against the intrusion of the world.

Skin-spies greatest defect, they can’t change their height. Even Serwë notices that right away, though she finds a rationalization for it, thinking he’s standing in a hole. Serwë has no idea about skin-spies. Anyone would find a mundane answer instead of “an evil assassin made by dark genetics by a race of space rapist is impersonating the man I love and believe is a god.”

Cnaiür talking to Kellhus about tactics and how war is an argument to convince your enemy that he has lost is great to read. Especially when he talks about how different men are connected by ropes and chains of varying lengths and strengths, showing how their psychology and identity plays a huge role in how they will act in battle.

The moment Kellhus tells Cnaiür the moment of decision has passed, Kellhus has outstripped him in tactics. He has learned all Cnaiür has to offer and seen more clearly, understand events far better.

In the Serwë sex-interrogation scene, we learn so new facts about skin-spies: they can’t change their height, they can’t change their penises, and they can’t change their scents. This scene also serves to show us insight into the Inchoroi and how they operate. Like with the Synthese interrogating Esmenet in book 1, they default to sex. We see this again at the end of the novel. The Inchoroi, after all, are a “race of lovers.” But the skin spies have their lust tied to their aggression, like the Sranc do, and eventually the skin-spy turns to other pleasures with Serwë, something the Inchoroi creators appear never needing to do to get answers.

And there is Cnaiür’s humiliation, just like the quote at the start of the chapter starts. He has failed to match wits with Skauras. Kellhus has outstripped him.

Truth is his sorcery. To chain with truth instead of lies is always more powerful. Conphas has it right about Kellhus. He’s the only person in the Holy War seeing a danger from Kellhus, even if it is the wrong danger. His ego is just too great. It’s very brilliant storytelling from Bakker. It would be so easy for Kellhus to have everyone under his domination, but than where were the stakes. So Bakker created the perfect character to resist it, and set him up so we understood him and it makes so much sense that he opposes Kellhus.

There, at the end of Martemus’s POV, after giving the assassins the order, he caught Kellhus’s gaze. That look of sadness forever severed Martemus’s loyalty to Conphas. Notice how he now longer thinks “Prince Kellhus” but now “Prophet.” His conflict is over. His loyalties are no longer divided.

Bakker slips in a little more reinforcement about Conphas’s skill. He, too, has realized that catastrophe has hit and is doing what he can to salvage the fight. He is an interesting character. He is very arrogant but he can actually back up his arrogance with actual talent. You cannot deny his skill as a general or for politics.

So it is an interesting place to end it. While the chapter appears to be cliff-hanging on Kellhus being in danger, we know he has fought greater odds than those three with ease. The real threats are to Serwë and the Holy War itself. For Martemus, though, the cliffhanger is Kellhus’s doom. His loyalties are no longer divided and he has to stop this. The most loyal man in the Nansur army has betrayed his Exalt General.

Truth is such a powerful tool.

Click here for Chapter Fifteen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Thirteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 13
Shigek

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

Men are forever pointing at others, which is why I always follow the knuckle and not the nail.

ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

A day with no noon,

A year with no fall,

Love is forever new,

Or love is not at all.

ANONYMOUS, “ODE TO THE LOSS OF LOSSES

My Thoughts

It’s true that humans like to cast blame on others especially when we’re at fault. The knuckle part confuses me. I keep pointing my fingers and my knuckles are in the same direction. So this analogy is partly eluding me, though the gist, appears, not to follow those that are accusing. What it’s point has to do with this chapter is also escaping me.

The second one is far more clear, dealing with all three of the POV’s we get. Esmenet and others are dealing with Achamian’s “death” at Iothiah. The poem encapsulates exactly what she is feeling. Then we have Proyas grappling with his love and affection for his teacher and giving it up for politics. And last, mad Cnaiür, dealing with two loves, his betrayal at Moënghus hands and his need to possess and protect Serwë. The love that drives him to give Kellhus what he wants.

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shigek

Esmenet is woken out of a dream of swimming with Achamian by Kellhus. At first, she thinks it is Achamian, her thoughts still sleepy. She rolls over and sees Kellhus with a grave expression on her face.

“What—” she started, but paused to clear her throat. “What is it?”

“The Library of the Sareots,” he [Kellhus] said in a hollow voice. “It burns.”

She could only blink at the lamplight.

“The Scarlet Spires have destroyed it, Esmi.”

She turned, looking for Achamian.

Proyas is struck by the Xinemus’s desperation for Achamian as he meets with him two days after the news of Achamian’s abduction reached them. He orders Therishut’s to be found and arrest before riding to Iothiah to meet with Eleäzaras. But the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spire claimed they found a hidden group of Cishaurim. They lost two of their own in the fight. Proyas was skeptical, asking for their remains. Eleäzaras claims they are destroyed. He realizes it was futile. The Holy War would soon cross the Sempis and fight Skauras. They would need the Scarlet Spire. “The God demanded sacrifices.”

Xinemus demands Proyas use everything in his power to free Achamian. Proyas scoffs, asking what power does he have over the Scarlet Spire. Xinemus says a council, but Proyas asks what purpose it would serve.

“Purpose?” Xinemus repeated, obviously horrified. “What purpose would it serve?”

“Yes. It may be a hard question, but it’s honest.”

“Don’t you understand?” Xinemus exclaimed. “Achamian isn’t dead and gone! I’m not asking you to avenge him! They’ve taken him, Proyas. Even now, somewhere in Iothiah, they hold him. They ply him in ways you and I cannot imagine. The Scarlet Spires! The Scarlet Spires have Achamian!”

Proyas clings to his faith, using it to prop up his decision to abandon his friend. He tries to reason with him, but Xinemus grows angry, insulting Proyas, calling him ungrateful. He is wild with anger, demanding Proyas remember that Achamian was his teacher, the man who shaped his education. Proyas tries to get Xinemus to calm down, to remember Proyas’s rank, but Xinemus doesn’t care He will be heard.

“As inflexible as you are,” the Marshal grated, “You know how things work. Remember what you said on the Andiamine Heights? ‘The game is without beginning or end’ I’m not asking you to storm Eleäzaras’s compound, Proyas, I’m simply asking you to play the game! Make them think you’ll stop at nothing to see Akka safe, that you’re willing to declare open war against them if he should be killed. If they believe you’re willing to forsake anything, even Holy Shimeh, to recover Achamian, they will yield. They will yield!”

Proyas stood, retreated from his sword-trainer’s furious aspect. He did know how “these things” worked. He had threatened Eleäzaras with war.

He laughed bitterly.

Proyas asks Xinemus if he is mad, put an a sorcerer before his God. Xinemus is disgusted, saying Proyas still doesn’t understand. Proyas demands what there is to understand. Achamian is a blasphemer. Unclean. “If blasphemers kill blasphemers, then we’re saved oil and wood.” Xinemus flinches from those words and realizes Proyas will do nothing. Proyas order Xinemus to also do nothing. The Holy War prepares to cross the river.

“Then I resign as Marshal of Attrempus,” Xinemus declared in a stiff voice. “What is more, I repudiate you, your father, and my oath to House Nersei. No longer shall I call myself a Knight of Conriya.”

Proyas felt a numbness through his face and hands. This was impossible.

“Think about this, Zin,” he said breathlessly. “Everything… Your estates, your chattel, the sanctions of your caste… Everything you have, everything you are, will be forfeit.”

“No, Prosha,” he said, turning for the curtains. “It’s you who surrender everything.”

Then he was gone.

The reed wick of his oil lamp sputtered and fizzled. The gloom deepened.

It strikes Proyas then as he realizes Xinemus, the man he had leaned on through all the stress of the Holy War, was gone. And he realizes what he has done. How he has failed his old mentor. He almost grieves as he prays to the God, “I know you test me!”

“Two bodies, one warmth.” Esmenet reflects on Kellhus’s description of love as she watches Xinemus. He looks desperate, telling her he’s done what he could. But she pleads with him he has to do more. He tries to explain about the impending assault, and she understands.

He meant the issue of Drusas Achamian had been conveniently forgotten, as all intractable and embarrassing matters must be. How?How could now know Drusas Achamian, wander through his precincts, and then pull away, whisked like sheets across dry skin? Because they were men. Men were dry on the outside, and wet only within. They couldn’t commingle, weld their life to another in the ambiguity of fluids. Not truly.

Esmenet offers to sleep with Proyas as a bribe, but Xinemus tells her no. But she has to do something. Xinemus asks her why she isn’t staying with Kellhus and Serwë. Kellhus had moved his camp to Proyas after Xinemus renounced his rank. Esmenet had groveled to Kellhus to save Achamian, even trying to seduce him, but Kellhus has more than just Achamian to worry about, he has everyone.

The Holy War. The Holy War. Everything was about the fucking Holy War!

What about Achamian?

But Kellhus couldn’t cross Fate. He had a far greater whore to answer to…

She tells Xinemus she has to wait here so Achamian can find her if he returns. She kept his tent just where he had left it. Xinemus’s ex-soldiers treat her with respect, calling her the “sorcerer’s woman.” Xinemus doesn’t think it’s good. Iryssas, now in command, will march his soldiers. It could be dangerous. She says she’ll manage. He tells her to stay safe. And she asks him what he’s going to do. He tells her in a hopeless voice he’ll search. She says she’s coming with him, but instead he just gives her a dagger and tells her to be safe. Then she notices that Dinchases and Zenkappa wait in the distance. They join Xinemus as he rides away vanishing as she cries into her arms.

When she looked up, they were gone.

Helplessness. It women were hope’s oldest companions, it was due to helplessness. Certainly women often exercised dreadful power over a single heart, but the world between hearths belonged to men. And it was into this world that Achamian had disappeared: the cold darkness between firepits.

All she could do was wait… What grater anguish could there be than waiting? Nothing etched the shape of one’s impotence with more galling meticulousness than the blank passage of time. Moment after moment, some dull with disbelief, others taut with voiceless shrieks. Moment after gnashing moment. Bright with the flare of agonized questions: Where is he? What will I do without him? Dark with the exhaustion of hope. He’s dead. I am alone.

Days past as she waits. The Holy War packs up around her. She waits “alone in the midst of their absence.” The ground is scarred by their passage. She sits before Achamian’s tent and cries his name, saying it’s safe for him now. They all left. She makes her own “silent inquiries” without hope. She thinks of her dead daughter. She stares at the Sempis not sure if she will kill herself. Esmenet was a whore, and they know how to wait. And she keeps whispering the same thing.

It’s safe now, my love. Come out.

It’s is safe.

Cnaiür has spent his days since leaving the marshal’s camp with Proyas, either talking or following his orders as they prepare to fight Skauras again. He is preparing on the South Bank of the Sempis. Cnaiür recognizes Skauras’s cunning in how he abandoned the North Bank, knowing he couldn’t defend it. He burned all the boats but spared the granaries and orchard. Saubon thinks Skauras didn’t have time, but Cnaiür knows Skauras did it because seizing those food would slow the Holy War, giving him more time to prepare. The others, even Proyas who listened to much of Cnaiür’s advice, have trouble believing Skauras is a threat. Cnaiür asks Proyas if he thinks his victory is assured. Proyas does because “my God has willed it.”

“And Skauras? Would he not give much the same answer?”

Proyas’s eyebrows jumped up, then knitted into a frown. “But that’s not to the point, Scylvendi. How many thousands have we killed? How much terror have we struck into their hearts?”

“Too few thousands, and far, far too little terror.”

Cnaiür explains how his people tell stories to know the Nansur columns and read their lines, and how Conphas switching banners caused their defeat, “telling us a false story.” Proyas grows angry, saying he know how to read a battle line. Cnaiür asks what he saw on the Battleplain. Proyas doesn’t know, he couldn’t recognize most of the enemy units. Cnaiür recognized them all. Only two-thirds of the Kianene great houses fought, and several of those were token troops. After the Vulgar Holy War’s massacre, the Padirajah and many heathens were dismissive of the Holy War. But they won’t make that mistake. Every soldier rides to Shigek. “They will answer Holy War with Jihad.”

Proyas is won over and supports Cnaiür in the next meeting, but only Conphas agrees until captive Fanim confirm the Scylvendi’s predictions. Famed Fanim names approach. Everyone agreed, the Holy War had to cross the river as soon as possible.

“To think,” Proyas confided to him [Cnaiür] afterward, “that I thought you no more than an effective ruse to employ against the Emperor. Now you’re our general in all but name. You realize that?”

“I have said or offered nothing that Conphas himself could not say or offer.”

Proyas laughed. “Save trust, Scylvendi. Save Trust.”

Though Cnaiür grinned, these words cut him for some reasons. What did it matter, the trust of dogs and cattle?

Cnaiür eagerly throws himself into the preparations to assault the South Bank. He relishes it. He was bred for war. He scouts for the best landing spots and questions captives as preparations are made. He only saw Kellhus at Proyas’s councils. His days were the same, but not his nights. He never camps in the same spot. He often counts the Conryian fires “like an idiot child” because his father once told him that counting fires counts your enemies. He looks at the stars, wondering if they are his enemy. And he broods on Serwë and Kellhus. He repeats his reasons for abandoning her over and over, but can’t stop thinking of her, burning for her.

He remembered pretending to sleep while listening to her sob in the darkness. He remembered the remorse, as heavy as spring snow, pressing him breathless with its cold. What a fool he’d been! He thought of the apologies, of the desperate pleas that might soften her hatred, that might let her see. He thought of kissing the gentle swell of her belly. And he thought of Anissi, the first wife of his heart, slumbering in the flickering gloom of their faraway hearth, holding tight their daughter, Sanathi, as though sheltering her from the terror of womanhood.

And he thought of Proyas.

On the worse nights he hugged himself in the blackness of his tent, screaming and sobbing. He beat the earth with his fists, stabbed holes with his knife, then fucked them. He cursed the world. He cursed the heavens. He cursed Anasûrimbor Moënghus and his monstrous son.

He thought, So be it.

A good night for Cnaiür is heading into a Shigeki village, kicking in doors, killing anyone while screaming “Murder me and it stops!” It never does. “He would take what compensation he could.”

It took a week before he found the perfect spot for the landing. Of course, only Proyas and Conphas agreed, hating the marshy terrain which would hinder their horses. It will also hinder Fanim horses. At a council, Cnaiür explains his reasons, reminding that at Mengedda they learned the Kianene were faster, so they will always assemble first and attack before the Holy War is ready. However, they also learned their infantry is strong. And the Marsh isn’t deep and its passable for their soldiers. “As much as you pride your mounts, the Kianene pride theirs more.” They won’t dismount and fight. They will yield the marsh. Cnaiür predicts he will withdraw back to the fortress of Anwurat, ceding ground and horses. Gothyelk asks how Cnaiür can know. “Because Skauras is not a fool.” Conphas agrees while insulting Cnaiür at the same time.

Cnaiür imagined cutting his pampered throat.

This secures Cnaiür’s reputation, which enamors him with the Inrithi nobles. The Ainoni and their wives are the worse, propositioning him all the time, one even sneaking into his tent. He almost killed her.

Cnaiür ponders Skauras, knowing the man is fearless and a severe disciplinarian. He was organized and had the respect of men who outranked him, such as Fanayal the Padirajah’s son. The man is canny and mischievous. He realizes, thanks to Conphas’s stories, that Skauras would see the battle more as a demonstration, that after underestimating the Holy War at Mengedda, he would show them to be fools. This worries Cnaiür, and he tells Proyas. He wants the Scarlet Spire with the host. Proyas protests that Eleäzaras will resist, the Scarlet Spire wait for Shimeh where the Cishaurim gather.

Cnaiür scowled and spat. “Then we have the advantage!”

“The Scarlet Spires, I fear, conserve themselves for the Cishaurim.”

“They must accompany us,” Cnaiür insisted, “even if they remain hidden. There must be something you can offer.”

The Prince smiled mirthlessly. “Or someone,” he said with uncommon grief.

Cnaiür often inspects the preparation, the soldiers calling him “Scylvendi” as a title of respect and fame. He stares across the river, knowing Skauras prepares. Finally, it has come. Before dawn, the Holy war embarks on barges and rafts. Cnaiür crosses with Proyas, noting Xinemus’s absence which he finds strange. Kellhus is with them. Cnaiür has watched Kellhus yoke thousands with only his words, as he watched him yoke Serwë. He can’t bear to watch any longer.

Cnaiür had always known Kellhus’s capabilities, had always known the Holy War would yield to him. But knowing and witnessing were two different things. He cared nothing for the Inrithi. And yet, watching Kellhus’s lies spread like cancer across an old woman’s skin, he found himself fearing for them—fearing, even as he scored them! How they fell over themselves, fawning, wheedling, groveling. How they degraded themselves, youthful fools and inveterate warriors alike. Imploring looks and beseeching expressions. Oh, Kellhus… Oh, Kellhus… Staggering drunks! Unmanly ingrates! How easily they surrendered.

And none more so than Serwë. He watched her succumb, again and again. To see his hand drift deep between Dûnyain thighs…

Fickle, treacherous, whorish bitch! How many times must he strike her? How many times must he take her? How many times must he stare, dumbfounded by her beauty?

He watches the far bank, the Fanim scouts tracking them. The soldiers are nervous, and laughter and jokes breaks out until someone fell into the water, his armor dragging him down. That sobers him up while the watching Fanim now laugh and jeer.

Proyas joins Cnaiür at the prow, his “too-forward camaraderie” betraying his fear. He mentions how Cnaiür avoids Kellhus. Cnaiür snorts. Proyas reveals that Kellhus told him about their issues with Serwë. It gives Cnaiür the perfect explanation, a Dûnyain explanation, for his avoidance. Proyas asks what the Scylvendi believe, what are their Laws. He believes that Proyas’s ancestors killed his god and therefore bear a blood-guilt, so he worships vengeance. Proyas asks if that’s why is people are called the people of war.

“Yes. To war is to avenge.”

The proper answer. So why the throng of questions?

“to take back what has been taken,” Proyas said, his eyes at once troubled and bright. “Like our Holy War for Shimeh.”

“No,” Cnaiür replied. “To murder the taker.”

This answer alarms Proyas, reminding him who Cnaiür is. “I like you much better, Scylvendi, when I forget who you are.” Cnaiür doesn’t care. He’s already studying the bank as he reminds himself “I am of the People!”

As they enter the delta channels, Cnaiür wanders what Skauras is thinking as his scouts report. Had he anticipated the marsh landing, feared it? But only mosquitoes harass the flotilla. They spend the night on the barges. Cnaiür finds himself yearning for battle as his boredom mounts. The next day, the Holy War marches reaches the salt marshes, the men dragging the barges forward. Cnaiür is energized, hacking reeds with the others. They reach the bank and solid ground. Cnaiür scouts forward with Proyas and Kellhus. “As always, the Dûnyain’s presence made his heart itch, like the threat of a blow form unseen quarters.”

They step out of the marsh onto a pasture, Anwurat on the horizon. Skauras had yielded the ground as Cnaiür predicted. Ingiaban calls the Fanim fools. Cnaiür ignores that, not surprised to find the Dûnyain studying, knowing it was too easy.

The Holy Assembles and pitches camp for the night. The Inrithi sing, and he scoffs as they pray. “War for them wasn’t holy.” It was only a means to Shimeh. Darkness ends their revelry as they see the enemy campfires lighting up the horizon while drums beat. At council that night, Cnaiür is declared their battlemaster, Conphas storms out. Cnaiür accepts without word, conflicted. They even have a own banner stitched for him.

Later, Proyas finds him standing in the darkness staring at the fires. There are a lot. Proyas suddenly seems so young and frail, seeing their enemy’s numbers. Suddenly, Cnaiür realizes the “catastrophic dimensions” of the conflict. Nations, faiths, and races would be destroyed. He wonders how this young man, barely more than a boy, would fare. “He could be my son,” thinks Cnaiür who then promises to beat them. He feels guilty afterward, scoffing at reassuring an Inrithi, reminding himself he shouldn’t care about these people. He is Scylvendi. He stares at the sea, remembering being with his father at the shores of the Jorua Sea doing the same. He can’t remember what his father had said. He sets to sharpening his sword and isn’t shocked when Kellhus arrives.

Kellhus studies Cnaiür’s face and for the first time, he doesn’t care thinking, “I know you lie.” Kellhus asks if they’ll win. Cnaiür snorts, saying Kellhus is the Great Prophet being asked that question. Cnaiür then asks about Serwë.

“Serwë is well… Why do you avoid my question?”

Cnaiür sneered, turned back to his blade. “Why do you ask questions when you know the answer?”

Kellhus said nothing, but stood like something otherworldly against the darkness. The wind whipped smoke about him. The sea thundered and hissed.

“You think something has broken within me,” Cnaiür continued, drawing out his whetstone to the stars. “But you are wrong… You think I have become more erratic, more unpredictable, and therefore more a threat to your mission…”

He turned from his broadsword and matched the Dûnyain’s bottomless gaze.

“But you are wrong.”

Kellhus nods in agreement. Cnaiür doesn’t care. Then Kellhus says he must learn War during the battle. Cnaiür refuses. Kellhus promises to give him Serwë. Cnaiür drops his sword. He asks why he would want the Kellhus’s pregnant whore. She’s Cnaiür’s prize and pregnant with his child.

Why did he long for her so? She was a vain, shallow-witted waif—nothing more! Cnaiür had seen the way Kellhus used her, the way he dressed her. He’d heard the words he bid her speak. No tool was too small for a Dûnyain, no word too plain, no blink too brief. He’d utilized the chisel of her beauty, the hammer of her peach… Cnaiür had seen this!

So how could he contemplate…

All I have is war!

Cnaiür knows he is surrendering the last bit of use he has, that Kellhus will no longer need him. He will only have Kellhus’s word, and how can you trust the word of a Dûnyain? But he will have his prize. After worship, he will take “what compensation he can.”

My Thoughts

What a powerful way to start the chapter on the heels of the last. And Esmenet’s reaction, so human. She’s not understanding right away, she’s still half-asleep, and she’s turning to Achamian even though he’s not there. She’ll have to readjust to that fact.

This, right here, is why I love Xinemus. He doesn’t care about anything right now but saving his friend. Yes, guilt is propelling him, but Xinemus is the type of guy who would have done this anyways. And Proyas doesn’t want to come clean to Xinemus that he already tried his suggestion. That he failed to save Achamian. Instead, he hides behind his faith, pretending not to care, growing angry, saying careless words.

And Xinemus makes his choice. He let Achamian’s blasphemy drive a wedge in their friendship, the opening the at let all this happen. No longer. Xinemus is going to go save his friend no matter what. It’s a classic fantasy trope. And, of course, fails spectacularly.

Esmenet’s desperation is so clear. She’s in the bargaining stage of grief, willing to do anything to get Achamian back. And there’s Xinemus, giving her the same lame excuses as Proyas. He is doing what he can, but without his rank, he doesn’t have a lot of power.

It’s heartbreaking hearing tell Xinemus she can’t leave her camp. She still has hope he’ll return. She has to cling to that. She’s not done grieving. She hasn’t hit acceptance.

In other fantasy stories, Esmenet would have been accepted by Xinemus. She would have grabbed a spear and kicked-ass. Bootstrap Feminism is how Bakker has described this trope. This isn’t a power fantasy story. No one but Kellhus really kicks ass, and he is so alien, so inhuman, it’s not something you the reader can experience wish fulfillment through. Esmenet is an intelligent woman, but she doesn’t know how to fight. And, as we see, it didn’t matter. She wouldn’t have made the difference. She would just have been used to hurt Achamian.

Bakker gets a lot of criticism for how women are treated. He’s just writing about human history and experience. Our species has survived and dominated by protecting women from danger, often through cruel means to keep them subservient, so they can be protected in a very tribal fashion. Warriors in this series will have no qualms rapping women of their enemy and then die protecting their own wives and mothers and sisters. This is very true to our own history. We are a very tribal species. It’s very easy for us to care about those in our tribe and hate those who aren’t.

Esmenet’s rumination on helplessness, on how women are powerful around the hearth but out in the wild, that’s where men have their power, is rooted in the self-same survival strategy our species employed. Protect the women because they have the eggs that produce the next generation. Eggs are scare, and sperm is abundant, so men can be sacrificed by the tribe to achieve this. Warfare stems from this principal. It is survival at its most brutal, where scores of young men are sent out to die while the women are kept behind safe to produce the next generation. It seems doubly cruel to us modern humans because we are moving out of this tribal mentality, technology allowing us to reach a point where we do not have to protect our women from the dangers of the world, but can allow them to join us, no longer forced to be protected. It’s a rather remarkable shift in outlook for our species that has come about in a very short amount of time.

Bakker’s description of her grief, of the endless moments of waiting and waiting, of her hope dieing, of almost bipolar mood swings from despondent blankness to manic shrieks, is poignant. He does a great jog of capturing it.

It is safe now, my love. Come out.” Such sad, desperate, almost mad words. She is mired in grief, lost in it.

It’s been awhile since we had a good Cnaiür section. Listening to him explain to Proyas that believing your god will ensure your victory is not a good strategy. He needs to open his eyes to the reality that the Fanim are not beaten. They’ve retreated. They suffered a defeat, but that’s not the same thing by far. Especially not for a people that are used to retreating as a battle strategy. Their hit-and-run tactics are now being used in a strategic fashion. They hit the Inrithi and have run to a new possession to hit them with a new battle all over again. And they will keep retreating, whittling down the Inrithi, and destroy them. It’s not a philosophy the Inrithi, with their emphasis on heavy infantry and cavalry are familiar with. Bakker has a great grasp on tactics and strategy and how philosophy of your tactics influences the psychology of your troops.

Bakker is really driving home the Crusaders versus Muslim thread with Holy War versus Jihad line.

Conphas agreeing with Cnaiür should have been a warning sign to the other Great Names that the Scylvendi is right. Conphas hates Cnaiür, but the man knows both the Fanim and the war. Despite being an ass, I would listen to his opinion in these regards.

And I love how Bakker just drops all these Great Fanim names on us, peppering in the text the names we need to be on the watch for later on. They don’t really matter, but on subsequent rereads just seeing all his world-building play out with these minor characters is fascinating.

Cnaiür likes Proyas. He might not realize it, but that’s why his ultimate betrayal, knowing that the Holy War is being used, is why Proyas’s words about trust “cut him.” That despite trying to believe the Inrithi are just “dogs and cattle” it’s hard to maintain that belief while interacting with Proyas on a day-to-day basis. This, more than any other way, is how prejudices are broken. Telling someone not to be racist doesn’t work as well as just having that person interact with someone different, to work together, to “witness” their humanity.

Stars being enemies. Considering that the Inchoroi came from the stars, maybe.

Cnaiür going over his reasons for abandoning Serwë over and over is something we all do when we try to convince ourselves of something we know isn’t true. We lie to ourselves, and if we repeat that lie, we’ll often believe it. But he’s not. He can’t get Serwë out of his head. She is his proof of manhood, that he isn’t a “faggot” like his people believe. That he doesn’t desire Moënghus even after the man’s betrayal. He needs Serwë. She’s his wife’s proxy, the woman he does love, but not as much as he love/hates Moënghus.

Cnaiür definitely is crazy. Fucking the earth is not something sane men do. It’s like the earth is a proxy for Moënghus, and he’s just channeling all his anger and lust for the man into it, violating the soil. A good night for Cnaiür is attempting suicide by another. But he’s the breaker-of-men and none can put him out of his misery.

How it must eat Conphas up having to support Cnaiür in council because he knows the Scylvendi has found just what the Holy War needs. I love the terse fantasy of Cnaiür. A simple line, conveying how simple Cnaiür passions are. He wants to have Serwë’s love, wants to see Anissi, and really wants to hate-fuck Moënghus.

Those Ainoni quotes about wives peppered through the book give background to the persistence of the Ainoni women in pursuing Cnaiür.

And for politics, Proyas sacrifices Achamian. For the Holy War, he gives up the life of a man he, though he pretends otherwise, loves and respects.

I mentioned how prejudice is best erased by familiarity, note how Scylvendi is now a term of respect instead of a curse. Of course, it still annoys Cnaiür.

Cnaiür says he doesn’t care for the Inrithi, but he does. He sees himself in them, the youth seduced by Moënghus. It angers him because it’s happening all over again. Notice, in the midst of watching Serwë succumb we get this line: “To see his hand drift deep between Dûnyain thighs…” Not “her hand” but his. Cnaiür’s hand drifting deep between Moënghus’s thighs.

Cnaiür is giving Proyas the proper answers for his people, but he doesn’t quite believe them. He still questioning them. It makes him try even harder to be normal, to not be different. To follow the mountain passes of tradition instead of the trackless steppes.

Cnaiür is shocked he’s declared battlemaster. Notice he’s too conflicted to feel pride or embarrassment. There’s no anger here. He wants to be apart of these men, but his own prejudices, his own desire to be “of the People!” holds him back.

For a moment, Cnaiür lets himself belong with Proyas, feeling fatherly affection. We forget that Proyas is barely an adult, maybe twenty. He’s young. But then the guilt hits Cnaiür afterward for not being one of the people. He shouldn’t care. He keeps hardening himself, forcing himself to be this idealize Scylvendi, never realizing that the other men of his tribe probably think the same thing. Cnaiür is constantly acting and doesn’t realize so is everyone else, being whom they think the world expects them to be.

And now Kellhus springs his trap. He has baited it so well, first letting Cnaiür grow so attached to her, realizing that she is his symbol of being a proper Scylvendi, his prize he claimed in battle, the woman he lusts for (not Moënghus). He seduced her away, twisting the knife, forcing Cnaiür to only want her more, to want to protect her from Kellhus, violently at times. He beats her like he would a child, trying to get her to understand. And now, now he can have her. He can have his Prize. Kellhus has been very patient.

Worse, Cnaiür knows and still does it. He will take “what compensation he can,” enjoy her for as long as he can before Kellhus kills him. He knows this, he accepts it. At least it’ll be an end, he can die like one of the People.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Fourteen!

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Review: Gateway to the Past (The Last Bucerlari 3)

Gateway to the Past (The Last Bucerlari 3)

by Andy Peloquin

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The Hunter’s quest for the truth of his forgotten past leads him to the desert of Adavast. To find the answers and reach the twelve kingdoms on the other side, he’ll have to cross the parched wasteland. Now accompanied by the innocent Halien, a young boy whose presence helps to banish the murderous demon living inside him.

For the Hunter is Bucelari, half-human/half-demon. Possessed of a deadly dagger called Soulhunter and driven to kill by the demonic voice inside him. But every time he slays with the dagger, though it strengthens and heals his body, he brings the dark god Kharna one step closer to reviving and destroying the world.

But to find the answers of his past and protect Halien’s life, the Hunter will be forced to use the dagger to satiate his driving need and protect the innocent child.

The Hunter’s war with his nature only intensifies in the third book in the series. He tries so hard not to kill, not to feed his addiction. He knows the cost, he doesn’t want to see the world end, and yet time and time again circumstance and the whispering voice drives him to use what will one day doom the world.

Unless he finds the answers in his past.

Peloquin peels back more of the Hunter’s past as well as the activities of the Demons. The world grows larger, and the Hunter’s goals ever sharper in stopping their plans and finding out just who he truly is. Even if that person is someone he may not like.

The setting maintains the Grimdark ascetic with Halien providing a glimmer of hope in the dark tale about addiction and redemption. The Hunter struggles hard to fight his need, and Pelonquin does phenomenal job translating that battle to the page along with keeping the story moving at a high-neck speed that keeps the pages turning.

If you’re a fan of Grimdark Fantasy, Pelonquin is an author you have to read, and the Last of the Bucerlari is a phenomenal entry. I can’t wait for book four!

I was given an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.

You can buy Gateway to the Past 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 Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twelve

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 12
Iothiah

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

…the ends of the earth shall be wracked by the howls of the wicked, and the idols shall be cast down and shattered, stone against stone. And the demons of the idolaters shall hold open their mouths, like starving lepers, for no man living will answer their outrageous hunger.

16:4:22 THE WITNESS OF FANE

Though you lose you soul, you shall win the world

MANDATE CATECHISM

My Thoughts

We get Fanim theology to start us off. The “demons” are the hundred gods of the Tusk. Whenever you hear a Fanim speak about demons, that is who they mean. Now most of this is just the Fanim’s goal, to destroy them because they follow the Solitary God. But it is interesting that “outrageous hunger” is mentioned. We learn in the second series just what the gods hunger for and why it’s outrageous. The Hundred feed on human souls. It’s very possible that damnation exists because the Hundred require it to be fed. Even those that are saved may still be gnawed on by their patron god. I am eager for the Unholy Consult to shed more light on the matter of Damnation and the role the gods play in it.

The Catechism is to remind us both what the Mandate gain by condemning themselves to damnation. If the Mandate lose the Gnosis, they lose their power, their ability to defend the world. And then in this chapter, Achamian realizes that they don’t have to lose their souls because of Kellhus. It is that promise that will seduce even the sorcerers to follow Kellhus before this is all over.

Because when you know you are damned, it is a powerful motivator. Just ask the Consult.

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shigek

Xinemus is not pleased to be cornered by Therishut, a Conriyan baron from the frontier with High Ainon. He finds the man to be untrustworthy, but Xinemus is too polite to be rude and ignore him. Xinemus is known to love books and Therishut seeks to flatter by telling him the famed Sareotic Library was taken intact in Iothiah by the Galeoth. This confuses Xinemus. He hard the Ainoni took it. But Therishut is adamant. Xinemus’s patience is tried as Therishut continues, saying a friend of his found a manuscript speaking on the Gnosis was found in the library, questioning what that is.

This brings Xinemus up short. He asks what interest Therishut’s friend has in the matter. Therishut reveals his friend is a caste-merchant who is cataloging the library since it is rumored Saubon will sell it off to raise money. Xinemus tells Therishut to heed his station and not consort with caster-merchants.

But rather than take offense at this, Therishut smiled wickedly. “Surely, Lord Marshal,” he said in a tone devoid of all deference, “you of all people.”

Xinemus blinked, astonished more by his own hypocrisy than by Baron Therishut’s insolence. A man who sups with sorcerer castigating another for currying favour with a merchant? Suddenly the hushed rumbled of the Conriyan camp seemed to buzz in his ears. With a fierceness that shocked him, the Marshal of Attrempus stared at Therishut, stared at him until, flustered, the fool mumbled insincere apologies and scurried away.

Xinemus heads to his pavilion, pondering his friend of many years, and the difference in their caste. He wonders how many others thought of this. And since his friendship with Achamian has been strained, her thinks Achamian heading to this library “studying blasphemy” would be a good thing.

Esmenet is not happy that Achamian is leaving, feeling that he’s abandoning her. He’s packing to leave to the library. They’re arguing over it, Esmenet not understanding why he’s leaving. He says it’s a library, but she doesn’t care. And he admits he needs time to think, to be alone.

The desperation in his voice and expression shocked her into momentary silence.

“About Kellhus,” she said. The skin beneath her scalp prickled.

“About Kellhus,” he replied, turn back to his mule. He cleared his throat, spit into the dust.

“He’s asked you, hasn’t he?” Her chest tightened. Could it be?

He doesn’t answer right away, then feigns ignorance, repeating her question back at her. She responds “To teach him the Gnosis.” And then Esmenet realizes why Achamian has been haunted since the Wathi Doll incident. It wasn’t his fight with Xinemus. Days ago, she had spoken with Xinemus, trying to patch things up, speaking of Achamian’s dreams and fears about Kellhus. She realizes that for Xinemus, things had broken in their friendship. So instead, she tried to cheer Achamian up with little things. “The hurts of men were brittle, volatile things.” Achamian always claimed men were simple, only needing women to “feed, fuck, and flatter them.” She knew that wasn’t true of Achamian. So she waited for their friendship to mend. It hadn’t occurred to her that Kellhus was the problem. After all, he was holy. And sorcery wasn’t. Achamian had once said Kellhus would be a god-sorcerer.

She asks how that’s possible, how can a prophet speak blasphemy. He faces her “his face blank with hope and horror” and says he asked him that. Kellhus denies being a prophet, offended and hurt by Achamian’s claim.

A sudden desperation welled in Esmenet’s throat. “You can’t teach him, Akka! You mustn’t teach him! Don’t you see? You’re the temptation. He must resist you and the promise of power you hold. He must deny you to become what he must become!”

“Is that what you think?” Achamian exclaimed. “That I’m King Shikol tempting Sejenus with worldly power like in The Tractate? Maybe he’s right, Esmi, did you ever consider that? Maybe he’s not a prophet!”

Esmenet stared at him, fearful, bewildered, but strangely exhilarated as well. How had she come so far? How could a whore from a Sumna slum stand here, so near the world’s heart?

How had her life become scripture? For a moment, she couldn’t believe…

Esmenet asks Achamian what he thinks. He doesn’t answer, only repeats her question. She stares at him, though losing her anger. He sighs and says the Three Seas are not ready for the Second Apocalypse. The Heron Spear is lost, there are more Sranc now than in Seswatha time, and most of the Chorae are lost. “Though the Gods have damned me, damned us, I can’t believe they would so abandon the world…” He thinks Kellhus is more than the Harbinger, that he’s their savior. But she objects to her prophet learning sorcery.

“Is blasphemy, I know. But ask yourself, Esmi, why are sorcerers blasphemers? And why is a prophet a prophet?”

Her eyes opened horror-wide. “Because one sings the God’s song,” she replied, “and the other speaks the God’s voice.”

“Exactly,” Achamian said. “Is it blasphemy for a prophet to utter sorcerer?”

Esmenet stood staring, dumbstruck.

For the God to sing His own song…

She begs him not to go, and he says he needs to think. She feels they think so well together. “He was wiser for her counsel.” She doesn’t understand why he’s abandoning. Then she remembers seeing him with Serwë, thinking he’s “found a younger whore.” She demands to know why he does this. Why he opens his up the labyrinth of his thoughts to her but refuses to guide her through it. He laughs at that. And she presses that he does hide because he’s weak, but he doesn’t have to be. She urges him to reflect on Kellhus’s teachings.

He glanced at her, his eyes poised between hurt and fury. “How about you? Let’s talk about your daughter… Remember her? How long has it been since you’ve—”

“That’s different! She came before you! Before you!”

Why would he say this? Why would he try to hurt?

My girl! My baby girl is dead!

“Such fine discriminations,” Achamian spat. “The past is never dead, Esmi.” He laughed bitterly. “It’s not even past.

“Then where is my daughter, Akka?”

For an instant he stood dumbstruck. She often baffled him like this.

Self-loathing fills her, driving her to cry. And then she grows angry, blaming Achamian for it. He apologizes for his words. And then says that she doesn’t understand what the Gnosis is to the Mandate. He would forfeit more than his life if he shared it. She begs him to teach her, to make her understand. To do this together. But he can’t tell her because he knows what she’ll say. But she says he doesn’t. He keeps packing. He looks so poor and lonely, and she thinks of Sarcellus handsome and perfect, making her feel guilty. Achamian continues that he’s not leaving her. He could never do that.

“I see but one sleeping mat,” she said.

He tried to smile, then turned, leading Daybreak away at an awkward gait. She watched him, her innards churning as though she had dangled over unseen heights. He followed the path eastward, passing a row of weather-beaten round tents. He seemed so small so quickly. It was so strange, the way bright sun could make distant figures dark…

“Akka!” she cried out, not caring who heard. “Akka!”

I love you.

The figure with the mule stopped, distant and for a moment, unrecognizable.

He waved.

Then he disappeared beneath a strand of black willows.

Achamian reflects on why intelligent people are less happy. They are better at arguing away at truth than accepting them. It’s why he’s fleeing both Kellhus and Esmenet. As he walks along the Sempis, he reflects. It hurt Achamian that his friend is essentially banishing him from the fire with this talk of the library, even if it’s temporary. He tries to swallow it, remembering the Tusk saying “There is no friend more difficult than a sinner.” Achamian, unlike other sorcerers, rarely thought about damnation.

He reflects on his training, where he would embrace any blasphemy because he was damned, particularly mocking the Tractates with his friend Sancla (who died three years later). They would quote passages, making fun of them. They read a passage about doing good deeds. If you do good deeds in exchange for something, they’re not good deeds. You have to give without expecting to receive anything back. You can’t be selfish. And if you do, you get salvation. Which Sancla rightly points out is a reward. “Essentially Sejenus is saying, ‘Give without expectation of reward, and you expect a huge reward!’” He then goes on further, the best thing is to never give then you’ll never be selfish. This means that the Mandate, who have condemned themselves to damnation to save the world, are the only true selfless ones.

Everything had changed because of Kellhus. Achamian thinks about his damnation a lot. He had doubts before, tormenting himself because he believed that the many contradictions in scripture proved the prophets were just men. He could go round and round on different ideas without an answer.

But then of course the question could never be answered. If genuine doubt was in fact the condition of conditions, then only those ignorant of the answer could be redeemed. To ponder the question of his damnation, it had always seemed, was itself a kind of damnation.

So he didn’t think of it.

But now… Now there could be an answer. Every day he walked with its possibility, talked…

Prince Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

He didn’t think Kellhus could actually tell him the answer if he ever had the courage to ask. He didn’t think Kellhus “embodied or exemplified the answer.” Achamian knew his damnation depended on “what he himself was willing to sacrifice.” Only his actions would answer the question. It both horrified him and filled him with joy. Because he knew the possibility of salvation was real for him. The Mandate catechism said he would lose his soul, but he didn’t have to. He realizes how his life had lacked hope before. “Esmenet had taught him how to love. And Kellhus, Anasûrimbor Kellhus, had taught him how to hope.” And he would hold them both tightly.

Last night, Kellhus had come to Achamian and asked for the Gnosis. Achamian balked at it. It was unthinkable to each someone outside his school. He wasn’t sure he could teach it, that the Seswatha controlling his sleeping soul would let him. He wonders if the Seswatha in him knows what is going on. Never in his school’s history had a sorcerer of rank betrayed the Gnosis. It was what allowed them to survive, kept them from being a minor school. His brothers would fight to extinction to prevent it and he would be cursed for sharing it.

But what was this other than greed or jealousy? The Second Apocalypse was imminent. Hadn’t the time come to arm all the Three Seas? Hadn’t Seswatha himself bid them share their arsenal before the shadow fell?

He had…

And wouldn’t this make Achamian the most faithful of all Mandate Schoolmen?

Achamian knows Kellhus is special. In months, the man had learned a lifetime of knowledge. He spoke more truths than Ajencis and preached better than Sejenus. He drafted new logics. And in his hands, the Gnosis would be even more powerful.

Glimpses of Kellhus, striding as a god across fields of war, laying low host of Sranc, striking dragons from the sky, closing with the resurrected No-God, with dread Mog-Pharau…

He’s our savior! I know it!

But what if Esmenet were right? What if Achamian were merely the test? Like old, evil Shikol in The Tractate, offering Inri Sejenus his thighbone scepter, his army, his harem, his everything save his crown, to stop preaching…

Kellhus would be a Shaman, a sorcerer and prophet, if Achamian surrenders the Gnosis. And now he feels it is madness to even do it. Two thousand years none of his brethren had. “Who was he to forsake such tradition?” He watches young boys playing, so innocent and wonders when that would end or if they would meet Kellhus. Then he spots a corpse nailed to a tree above the boys. He flinches, debating cutting it down. Remorse hits him and he thinks of Esmenet, wishing her to be safe. Achamian continues on and “wrestled with impossibilities.”

The past was dead. The future, as black as a waiting grave.

Achamian wiped his tears on his shoulder. Something unimaginable was about to happen, something historians, philosophers, and theologians would a argue for thousands of years—if years or anything else survived. And the acts of Drusas Achamian would loom so very large.

He would simply give. Without expectation.

His School. His calling. His life…

The Gnosis would be his sacrifice.

Achamian reaches Iothiah and finds lots of Ainoni around. He even senses Scarlet Spire sorcery in the distance. But then he meets Galeoth horsemen, to his relief, and they give him directions to the Sareotic Library and said it was in their people’s hands. By noon, he is at the library, nervous. He fears that the same rumors that have brought him have brought the Scarlet Spire. He fears bumping into them during his search.

The possibility, Achamian reflects, of Gnosis scrolls being in here has merit. The Library was ancient, and during the Ceneian Empire all books brought into Iothiah had to be surrendered to the library so a copy could be made. And, since the Library was run by priests and then later controlled by the Fanim, no sorcerers had been allowed in before. Other scrolls had been found over the years, scrolls the Mandate jealously seized. Achamian questions searching here because Kellhus has changed everything.

He speaks to the guards and learns no one has entered, very few have even cared except for a “few thieving merchants.” But Achamian says he is a chronicler for Proyas and they let him in. He leaves his mule outside, gathers his belongings, and heads in. As he enters, ignoring a Galeoth racial slur, he feels excited. He’s eager to discovered more than just the scrolls but other works of lost antiquity.

Achamian searches through the “warren of pitch-black hallways that smelled of dust and the ghost of rotting books.” It saddens him. The Fanim had spared the library but not maintained it. The vast majority ruined. He does find new books, including a lost Dialogue of Ajencis, as he searches. He grows tired after awhile, taking a break to eat, thinking of Esmenet and missing her.

He did his best not to think of Kellhus.

He replaced his sputtering candle and decided to read. Alone with books, yet again. Suddenly he smiled. Again? No, at last…

A book was never “read.” Here, as elsewhere, language betrayed the true nature of the activity. To say that a book was read was to make the same mistake as the gambler who crowed about winning as though he’d never taken it by force of hand or resolve. To toss the number-sticks was to seize a moment of helpless, nothing more. But to open a book was by far the most profound gamble. To open a book was not only to seize a moment of helplessness, not only to relinquish a jealous handful of heartbeats to the unpredictable mark of another man’s quill, it was to allow oneself to be written. For what was a book if not a long consecutive surrender to the movements of another’s soul.

Achamian could think of no abandonment of self more profound.

He read, and was moved to chuckle by ironies a thousand years dead, and to reflect pensively on claims and hopes that had far outlived the age of their import.

He wouldn’t remember falling asleep.

Achamian dreams of the dragon Skuthula dueling Seswatha. The fires are just washing over his wards when suddenly the dream becomes the “blackness of open eyes.” He comes awake, struggling to remember where he is for a moment. And then he realizes what has woken him up—his Wards of Exposure. He knows the Scarlet Spires has come from him.

He launches into action, feeling them closing in from various directions. He wonders why. For the Gnosis? He thinks it is folly of them to abduct him during the middle of the Holy War. Then he thinks of skin-spies and realizes this is a trap. He was lured here. “This was actually happening!” He hides his satchel beneath scrolls then retreats into his alcove and sets his words “Luminescence sheeted the air before him, like the glare of sunlight across mist.”

Dark muttering from somewhere amid the teetering queues—skulking, insinuating words, like vermin gnawing on the walls of the world.

Then fierce light, transforming, for a heartbeat, the shelves before into a dawn horizon… Explosion. A geyser of ash and fire.

The attack hits him. He feels the heat, but his wards hold. Eleäzaras commands him to yield. Achamian calls him a fool, asking how many times the Scarlet Spire have tried to steal the Gnosis. Eleäzaras repeats he is doomed and should surrender. Achamian pleads for him not to do this, thinking of the stakes for the world.

“It’s already—”

But Achamian had whispered secrets to his first attacker. Five lines glittered along the gorge of blasted shelves, through smoke and wafting pages. Impact. The air cracked. His unseen foe cried out in astonishment—they always did at the first touch of the Gnosis. Achamian muttered more ancient words of power, more Cants. The Bisecting Planes of Mrseor, to continuously stress an opponent’s Wards. The Odaini Concussion Cants, to stun him, break his concentration. Then the Cirroi Loom…

Dazzling geometries lept through the smoke, lines and parabolas of razor light, punching through wood and papyrus, shearing through stone. The Scarlet Schoolmen screamed, tried to run. Achamian boiled him in his skin.

The Scarlet Spire hasten to coordinate their own attacks into a Concert. Achamian asks Eleäzaras how many more he’s willing to lose trying to capture him. Achamian is attacked. His wards groan as fire and thunder assault him.

He struck back with Inferences and Abstraction. He was a Mandate Schoolman, A Gnostic Sorcerer-of-the-Rank, a War-Cant Master. He was as a mask held before the sun. And his voice slapped the distances into chair and ruin.

The knowledge of the library is destroyed as Achamian fights with the Scarlet Spire. There are seven of them. Storms fire lightning bolts and dragon heads breath fire at him. He fights the Great Analogies “shining and ponderous” with Abstractions. He kills another Scarlet Spire, crumbling his “ghostly ramparts.”

As Achamian sings to strengthen his wards, the floor beneath him collapses from the “cataracts of hellfire.” He tries to keep fighting, but the jarring impact sends him reeling. They are above him now “Hanging as though from wires”, hammering his wards. “Sun after blinding sun set upon him.”

On his knees, burned, bleeding form the mouth and eyes, encircled by heaped stone and text, Achamian snarled Ward after Ward, but they cracked and shattered, were pinched away like rotten linen. The very firmament, it seemed, echoed with the implacable chorus of the Scarlet Spires. Like angry smiths they punished the anvil.

And through the madness, Drusas Achamian glimpsed the setting sun, impossibly indifferent, framed by clouds piled rose and orange…

It was, he thought, a good song.

Forgive me, Kellhus.

My Thoughts

Therishut lands border on High Ainon. This is a very subtle red flag that I am sure most readers missed on the first read through. He’s chumming the waters for the Scarlet Spires to bait and trap Achamian. And then we get another red flag with Xinemus believing Ainon captured Iothiah. And now a lost manuscript on Gnosis is found. It’s quite the trap the Scarlet Spire has baited.

Xinemus has pushed down his convictions long enough, ignoring the “sin” of his friend for as long as he could. It was easier when Achamian didn’t flaunt it, and then we had the Wathi Doll. And now…things have changed. And here is the perfect way to get rid of him, even for only a few days. It’s natural. We all have our prejudices in some form, finding certain activities or behaviors distasteful, but also not wanting to ruin friendships, so we ignore them. But they can build, fester, cause us to distance ourselves from our friends.

And here is the end of the honeymoon period between Achamian and Esmenet. The world is separating them just like she feared. He’s leaving her behind. Of course she fears abandonment. She can’t understand why she couldn’t go with him. After all, just because she’s illiterate doesn’t mean she can’t learn anything from a library.

And then Esmenet realizes why. She knows Achamian well.

Esmenet has completely bought into Kellhus’s lies. He’s ensnared her well. It’s sad watching Kellhus manipulate the lives of these characters with such cold calculation. They think he’s their friend, their prophet even, but he’s none of those things.

So why are sorcerers automatically condemned? I really can’t tell you. Maybe the Hundred don’t like sorcerery or the power it represents. Or maybe damnation is based off the belief of all the humans living, shaped by the Hundred through prophets (and those are real, we’ll meet people in the next series definitely under the influence of the Hundred able to perform miracles). Maybe it’s because of the Tusk. It says sorcerers are blasphemers. And we know that before the Tusk there were prophets who were sorcerers called Shamans. And there are good indication that the Tusk was written by the Inchoroi to get the humans to cross the mountains into Eärwa and destroy the Nonmen. Maybe they added that sorcery is blasphemous to weaken humans when it came time to destroy them. Hopefully, Bakker will answer these questions. I have a feeling he will. His metaphysics are well thought out.

We have our first real hint that Esmenet’s daughter is still alive. That she didn’t die of famine, that’s just the delusion guilt has driven Esmenet to embrace. Achamian clearly knows the truth and usually tiptoes around it.

Achamian disappears under black willows. He heads into darkness. So much will have changed for the both of them when he reemerges.

Achamian’s own doubts are sabotaging his relationship with Esmenet. He lied to her. If he truly wanted to think only on Kellhus, he would take her with him. But he needs more than that. His slip up with Serwë is still weighing on him. Especially with Kellhus twisting that dagger to prod him to surrender the Gnosis.

Achamian and Sancla’s talk about doing good deeds to be saved from damnation is a selfish act that would negate the good deed. Humans are rarely truly altruistic. We all do nice things, yes, but we do them because we get some reward from them, something we value. We help a friend out because we want to maintain the friendship. We give to our significant others because it gives us pleasure to see them happy. We sacrifice for our children because we take pride in seeing them grow up and succeed. And, thus, any theology that promises you salvation in exchange for doing good has major problems.

Doubt is a horrible, pernicious thing sometimes. It can gnaw away at you. But it also makes you question things, and that’s important to. Faith needs doubt to temper it, to keep it from becoming zealotry. But there are limits to how good it is. And now poor Achamian is suffering from it worse than usual.

As the philosopher David Hume said, desire rules our reason, so our reason is slave to our desires. We can justify anything, making excuses for what we do what we want. Achamian has found a reason to betray his school by being an even better Mandate. It’s not a betrayal now, but an expectation. Something Seswatha would want him to do. And thus, guilt has been assuaged. His reason has been enslaved to his desire and provided him justification to teach Kellhus.

And then doubt hits Achamian again. Just when his faith in Kellhus is swaying, doubt gnaws at him, forcing him to ask questions, to temper and answer them.

Interesting how Achamian equates the innocence of the two boys holding hands, wondering how long before they would be pressured to see that as weakness as they grow up, then equating Kellhus to guarding such innocence. To preserving it.

And then thinking about Esmenet dying is the final thing that compels Achamian to surrender the Gnosis. Kellhus should not let him go on this journey. But Kellhus knew Achamian needed to leave. And our Dûnyain can’t see all outcomes. He has no idea to suspect a Scarlet Spire trap. The Scarlet Spire hasn’t even entered into any of Kellhus’s true plans.

Tension builds as Kellhus enters the library. You can just feel it building. The trap is closing. This section of the story is one of my favorite in the entire series.

I’m trying to remember what ever happened to Daybreak the mule. I assume someone claimed him after Achamian’s capture.

Achamian wants to cackle when he enters. He is someone that values knowledge, and there is so much here. What happens next is such a tragedy on so many levels. Makes me think of ISIS over in the Middle East blowing up historical sites.

Sometimes Bakker, like all authors, inserts his own beliefs into his writing. And why not, it’s his. Achamian’s musing on literature and not just the gamble you take on it being good but the fact you are sinking into the works, letting someone else’s ideas take root in you, is something profound. Something Bakker clearly enjoys. Not surprising, I’ve yet to meet an author that didn’t love to read.

He wouldn’t remember falling asleep.” This line struck me as something so profound and so mundane at the same time. Because when he awakes, everything will change for Achamian. His life will never be the same. He will lose that love and hope he vowed to hold onto earlier in the chapter. And not because he let it go, because it was taken from him.

Achamian launches into action. For all his self-doubt and constant questioning, when his Wards of Exposure trip, he prepares himself for battle. We have heard Achamian think in his head that he could, basically, kick everyone’s ass but was holding back. We see this is no idle threat. For the first time in the series, Bakker shows us what his sorcerery really is. We’ve gotten glimpses before. No longer.

Bakker’s sorcery is as poetic and beautiful as it is violent and destructive.

We see now the difference between sorcerers. Achamian’s attacks are direct. He doesn’t have to create “analogous” that then perform spells. He doesn’t have to create a small storm to fire lightning or make a dragon’s head to breath fire. He just reaches into the mathematics of the universe, harnesses it, and attacks them directly. He uses the Abstract idea of fire or lightning. Or light. His wards are ethereal instead of actual walls like the Scarlet Spire. They sent eight to capture him, and he kills one before they are even able to fight back properly. He holds them off, killing more. And he only looses because the floor collapses beneath him, failing from the heat and attack of the Scarlet Spire.

And Bakker really makes you think Achamian dies here. And his last thoughts aren’t of Esmenet, but of Kellhus. He had vowed to sacrifice the Gnosis to give Kellhus what he needs to save the world, and the Scarlet Spire have destroyed that possibility. They have doomed the world in Achamian’s mind. “The stakes” he thought about they first attack him. They don’t understand the stakes. They don’t understand what their meddling will cause.

All I can say, Achamian, you put up one helluva a fight. For a book and a half, he thought himself weak. But he was strong here. As Kellhus predicted, he needed shaping. And the Scarlet Spire are the smiths wielding that hammer.

If you want to keep reading, click here for Chapter Thirteen

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Eleven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 11
Shigek

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

If all human events possess purpose, then all human deeds possess purpose. And yet when men vie with men, the purpose of no man comes to fruition: the result always falls somewhere in between. The purpose of deeds, then, cannot derive from the purposes of men, because all men vie with all men. This means the deeds of men must be willed by something other than men. From this it follows that we are all slaves. Who then is our Master?

MEMGOWA, THE BOOK OF DIVINE ACTS

What is practicality but one moment betrayed for the next?

TRIAMIS I, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

So both these quotes are clearly about compromise and how you do not get what you want. The first quote comes at it from a predestined point of view, in that events have purpose and are not random chance, and therefore our acts have purpose, and since we have to compromise our desires against the desires of other humans, something else is driving things. From a deterministic universe, in one in which all events will happen the way they happen tracing back all causes to the beginning of everything, we do not have free will. We only think we do. Why am I writing this paragraph? Because the events in my life have shaped me to the point where I’m obsessed with R. Scott Bakker’s works and am compelled to write my analysis of his stories.

Thus, I am a slave to cause like all of us. Or, in other words, I am a slave to the darkness that comes before.

Now, Memgowa is not talking about that sort of determinism, or so I’d guess based on the title of the book. He surmises that the divine, the Outside, is what directs events And that we are therefor slaves to the divine. That the gods will our actions and influence them. Now this is a true statement in the Second Apocalypse. There is plenty of evidence in later books about this. This causality stands in violation to the Dûnyain philosophy and Kellhus, like all Dûnyain, has the goal of being a self-moving soul. One unchained from cause-and-effect. He will have to deal with this new wrinkle interfering with events.

The other quote is less about determinism and more about just how no one is happy for compromise. That we betray our goals to get something. Because it’s better than nothing. It’s how humans have to interact. If we didn’t, we would be killing each other left and right. And yet for a man like Triamis, a great conquering emperor, compromise must be so hard for him. He is so powerful, and yet even he has to betray his vision for the present.

And, of course, we have Martemus in this chapter, “the soul of practicality” (to quote David Eddings description of Durnik from the Belgariad). A man who has allowed practicality to make him a slave to Conphas’s ambition. A willing slave. But he has betrayed his own future for Conphas’s. And, we shall see, he has a new will he has to compromise with in this chapter.

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, southern Gedea

The chapter opens with Bakker describing how abrupt the rugged Gedean interior ends at the floodplains of the River Sempis and the city of Shigek. Coithus Athjeäri is the first scout to find it. Bakker gives us the history of the city, how it once was the capital of an empire in far antiquity. But to Men of the Tusk, she’s a cursed place. Athjeäri learns that Skauras has abandoned the north bank of the Sempis and burned every boat he could find. Two weeks later, the Holy War arrives at the floodplains.

At first, there is little fighting, the Men of the Tusk in awe of the beauty around the river. The villagers found living on the river do no resist. Though they are Fanim, they are used to be conquered and give food and drink and even women to the conquerers, which bemuses the Men of the Tusk. Though the Tractate described Shigek as home to a tyrant, the place is vastly different, peaceful.

But then one small city, Chiama, bars its gates to a Tydonni earl. They want to negotiate, their grain stores low after a blight last year. But Earl Cerjulla doesn’t want to negotiate. He storms it and butchers the town. More massacres follow, such as a garrison of Fanim soldiers who mutineered and surrendered their fortress to a Ainoni Palatine only to be executed themselves. Uranyanak could tolerate heathens but not traitors.

Then, as though murder possessed its own unholy momentum, the Holy War’s occupation of the North Bank degenerated into wanton carnage, though for what reason, no one knew. Perhaps it was the rumors of poisoned dates and pomegranates. Perhaps bloodshed simply beget bloodshed. Perhaps faith’s certainty was as terrifying as it was beautiful. What could be more true than destroying the false?

As word spreads, the Fanim take refuge in their tabernacles only for the Inrithi to massacre them, the tabernacles destroyed. Anything Fanimry was destroyed. And those Inrithi faithful who had lived among Fanim rule, called Kerathotics, rose up, getting revenge on generations of persecution at the hands of their neighbors. The bloodshed became so frenzied, Men of the Tusk attacked each other by mistake. Shigek tried to surrender to Conphas to avoid bloodshed, but then mistakenly opened their gates for a Thunyeri force. Conphas tried to intervene, but were driven out after Yalgrota Sranchammer killed General Numemarius under a parley flag. The Fanim priest suffered the worse, tortured to death while their wives and daughters were raped.

Two weeks passed, then suddenly, as though some precise measure had been exacted, the madness lifted. In the end, only a fraction of the Shigeki population had been killed, but no traveler could pass more than an hour without crossing paths with the dead. Instead of humble boats of fishermen and traders, bloated corpses bobbed down the defiled waters of the Sempis and fanned out across the Meneanor Sea.

At long last, Shigek had been cleansed.

Kellhus climbs a ziggurat to survey the land, seeing another ancient land. He wonders if his father had seen this. Meanwhile, Achamian labors to climb the ziggurat and Kellhus tells a joke, asking why he’s taking so long. As Achamian continues his climb, Kellhus studies the ruined ziggurat.

Faith. Faith had raised this black-stepped mountain—the belief of long dead men.

So much, Father, and all in the name of delusion.

It scarcely seemed possible. And yet the Holy War wasn’t so different. In some ways it was a far greater, if more ephemeral, work.

Kellhus reflects on his own ziggurat he is building, the foundations laid. He has assumed the role of prophet after letting others thrust it on him. He is moving faster than he wants, but after Sarcellus almost killed him, he realizes he has to go faster. He needs to seize the Holy War before the Consult loses patience. “He had to make a ziggurat of these men.”

Kellhus wonders if his father had seen the skin-spies and that is why Kellhus was summoned. He sees all the thousands moving in the distance. Any could be a skin-spy. Achamian reaches the top, and Kellhus wonders how the sorcerer would react to learn about Kellhus’s war with the Consult. But Kellhus can’t let the Mandate get involved until he had power to equal there’s.

Kellhus turns to manipulating Achamian, bringing up Serwë’s name, making Achamian feel shame after his drunken tryst with the girl. Kellhus feigns suspicious that she might be unfaithful. Achamian pretends disinterest, but Kellhus reads the terror in the man.

Of all the souls Kellhus had mastered, few had proven as useful as Serwë. Lust and shame were ever the shortest paths to the hearts of world-born men. Ever since he’d sent her to Achamian the sorcerer had compensated for his half-remembered trespass in innumerable subtle ways. The old Conriyan proverb was true: no friend was more generous than the one ho has seduced your wife…

And generosity was precisely what he needed from Drusas Achamian.

“Nothing,” Kellhus said with a shake of his head. “All men fear their women venal, I suppose.” Some openings must be continually worked and worried, while others must be left to fester.

Achamian complains about his back, mentioning Esmenet. Kellhus has plans for her. “She too had a part to play.” Kellhus reflects on how Xinemus and Esmenet, those who love Achamian best, see him as week, even fragile. They often blunt their words towards him. Even Achamian think himself weak, but Kellhus sees differently. Achamian is the type of man who needs to be “hewed by the crude axe of the world. Tested.”

Kellhus asks Achamian how much a teacher has to give, flattering Achamian’s ego since he likes to think of himself as a teacher. Achamian gives a vague answer about it depending on the student. Kellhus presses and gets an contradictory answer. Unlike most men, Achamian likes “revealing the complexities that lurked beneath simple things.” Most men would rather see things as simple than to have to live with uncertainties. They begin talking about Proyas and how Achamian had hoped to teach him doubt and tolerance, lost to faith. Kellhus makes a quip to put Achamian at ease.

Kellhus laughed Xinemus’s laugh, then trailed, smiling. For some time he’d been mapping Achamian’s responses to the finer nuances of his expression. Though Kellhus had never met Inrau, he knew—with startling exactitude—the peculiarities of the young man’s manner and expression—so well that he could prompt Achamian to thoughts of Inrau with little more than a look or a smile.

They talk about fanaticism with Achamian claiming not all fanaticisms are equal. By bringing up Inrau, Kellhus has reminded Achamian about the duty the Mandate has put upon him and suggesting to Achamian that the Mandate and the Holy War are not different. Achamian says Truth distinguishes fanaticism even if the consequences (men die or suffer) are the same. It’s what they suffer or die for.

“So purpose—true purpose—justifies suffering, even death?” [asks Kellhus.]

“You must believe as much, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.”

Kellhus smiled as though abashed at having been exposed. “So it all comes to Truth. If one’s purpose are true…”

“Anything can be justified. Any torment, any murder…”

Kellhus rounded his eyes the way he knew Inrau would. “Any betrayal,” he said.

Achamian stared, his nimble face as stony as he could manage. But Kellhus saw past the dark skin, past the sheath of fine muscles, past even the soul that toiled beneath. He saw arcana and anguish, a yearning steeped in three thousand years of wisdom. He saw a child beaten and bullied by a drunken father. He saw a hundred generations of Nroni fishermen pinioned between hunger and the cruel seas. He saw Seswatha and the madness of war without hope. HE saw ancient Ketyai tribesmen surge down mountain slopes. He saw the animal, rooting and rutting, reaching back to time out of memory.

He didn’t see what came after; he saw what came before…

“Any betrayal,” the sorcerer repeated dully.

He is close.

Kellhus asks about Achamian’s cause, if it is Truth, asking if there is any act or betrayal Achamian will commit. Achamian doesn’t respond the way Kellhus expects, saying how what can sound so sure to one can sound outrageous when repeated by another. Kellhus sees this as good, a shorter path to manipulate Achamian.

“It troubles you,” Kellhus said, “because it shows that conviction is as cheap as words. Any man can believe unto death. Any man can claim your claim.”

So you fear I’m no different from any other fanatic.”

Wouldn’t you?”

How deep does his conviction go?

“You are the Harbinger, Kellhus. If you dreamed Seswatha’s Dream as I did…”

“But couldn’t Proyas say the same of his fanaticism? Couldn’t he say, ‘If you spoke to Maithanet as I did’?”

How far will he follow it? To the death?

Achamian acknowledges that is the dilemma of faith. Kellhus pressing, asking who’s dilemma’s his or Achamian’s. The world’s dilemma. Kellhus pushes, mimicking Inrau, asking what that means for him if he his the Harbinger, that he predicts mankind’s extinction. Pushed to the limit, Achamian cries out that Kellhus has come for a reason, for a purpose. This Kellhus knows to be false, since it would mean something had to begin the world, had to cause it to happen, and that’s impossible to the Dûnyain. No effect could precede a cause. Not even sorcery appears to violate that law. Kellhus keeps pressing, asking what his purpose is. Achamian thinks it is to save the world.

Always it came to this. Always the same delusion.

“So I’m your cause?” Kellhus said incredulously. “I’m the Truth that justifies your fanaticism?”

Achamian could only stare in dread. Plundering the man’s expression, Kellhus watched the inferences splash and trickle through his soul, drawn of their own eight to a single, inexorable conclusion.

Everything… By his own admission, he must yield everything.

Even the Gnosis.

How powerful have you become, Father?

Without warning, Achamian stood and started down the monumental stair. He took each step with weary deliberation, as though counting them. The Shigeki wind tousled his shining black hair. When Kellhus called to him, he said only, “I tire of the heights.”

As Kellhus had known he would.

“See. Appraise. Act.” These are the words General Martemus lives by. The man believes in being clearheaded and practical. He lived his life by it. So his orders to watch Kellhus and gain his confidence appeared easy. He just had to fake a crisis of faith. But Martemus was learning it wasn’t so easy. He had to attend a dozen Imprompta before he was noticed.

Of course, Conphas, who always faulted his executors before his assumptions, had held Martemus responsible. There could be no doubt Kellhus was Cishaurim, because he was connected to Skeaös, who was indubitably Cishaurim. There could be no way the man knew that Martemus was bait, since Conphas had told no one of his plan other than Martemus. There, Martemus had failed, even if Martemus was too obstinate to see this for himself.

But this was merely one of the innumerable petty injustices Conphas had foisted on him over the years. Even if Martemus had cared to take insult, which was unlikely, he was far too busy being afraid.

Martemus now believes Kellhus to be a true prophet. He doesn’t believe this intellectually, being too practical, but the dichotomy of his thoughts has unnerved him. And the more he debated it, the more he questions if he can be loyal to Conphas. If Kellhus is a true prophet, how can he stay loyal to the man plotting against him? This is what scares him.

Martemus ponders his problem as he listens to Kellhus’s first sermon since the butchering in Shigek ended. As he waits, he realizes those around him are avoiding looking at him, frightened by his general uniform. He wants to say something to ease their fears, but can’t think of anything. He feels suddenly lonely.

Kellhus approaches and he wonders what he says. At first, Martemus assumed Kellhus would preach heresy, but he didn’t. He quotes sermons and nothing he says contradicts anything Martemus has heard preached. “It was as though the Prince pursued further truths, the unspoken implication of what all orthodox Inrithi already believed.” Martemus understand why Kellhus is called He-who-sheds-light-within.

His white silk robes shining in the sunlight, Prince Kellhus paused on the ziggurat’s lower steps and looked over the restless masses. There was something glorious about his aspect, as though he’d descended not from the heights but from the heavens. With a flutter of dread Martemus realized he never saw the man ascend the ziggurat, nor even step from the ruin of the ancient godhouse upon its summit. He had just…noticed him.

The General cursed himself for a fool.

Kellhus starts talking about Angeshraël the Burned Prophet and how, in his eagerness to bow down to the god Husyelt, knelt before a fire. Kellhus making a joke about it young men making errors out of eagerness. Husyelt commands Angeshraël to bow despite the fire. And he does, pressing his face into the flames. Martemus has heard the story, but this time he feels it Kellhus continues that they are like Angeshraël and are before the fire.

Truth!” Prince Kellhus cried, as though calling out a name that every man recognized. “The fire of Truth. The Truth of what you are…”

Somehow his voice had divided, become a chorus.

You are frail. You are alone. Those who would love you know you not. You lust for obscene things. You fear even your closest brother. You understand far less than you pretend…

You—you!—are these things. Frail, alone, unknown, lusting, fearing, and uncomprehending. Even now you can feel these truths burn. Even now”—he raised a hand as though to further quiet silent men—“they consume you.”

He lowered his hand. “But you do not throw your face to the earth. You don not…”

His glittering eyes full upon Martemus, who felt his throat tighten, felt the small finishing-hammer of his heart tap-tap-tap blood to his face.

He sees through me. He witnesses…

Kellhus asks why they don’t kneel. God lies in the fire’s anguish. He tells them they each hold the key to their redemption. They kneel, but don’t bow because they are afraid, alone. Because they lust, they pretend. Martemus realizes Kellhus speaks of him. People weep as Kellhus asks for any to deny these truths. None answer. Kellhus accuses them of denying it anyways because they cheat their hearts, they lie about the fire, saying it’s not truth, that they’re not strong enough to endure. They deceive themselves.

How many times had Martemus lied thus? Martemus the practical man. Martemus the realistic man. How could he be these things if he knew so well of what Prince Kellhus spoke?

“But in these secret moments—yes, the secret moments—these denials ring hollow, do they not? In the secret moments you glimpse the anguish of Truth. In the secret moments you see that your life has been a mummer’s farce. And you weep! And you ask what is wrong! And you cry out, ‘Why cannot I be strong?”

He leapt down several steps.

Why cannot I be strong?”

Martemus’s throat ached!—ached as though he himself had bawled these words.

Because,” the Prince said softly, “you life.”

And Martemus thought madly: Skin and hair… He’s just a man!

Kellhus continue preaching about their self-deception. The tragedy of of it. How scripture urges me to be better than then frail, envious liars they are. “Men who remain frail because they cannot confess their frailty.” That one word changes everything for Martemus. He realized he is in the presence of the God. He finds it to be a miracle to be here, to finally truly be himself before the God. Kellhus screams at them to kneel before the fire, and Martemus cries out with the multitude, weeping with them.

Martemus is in a daze, vaguely remembering the rest of the sermon, as Kellhus talks about was as fire and “the very truth of our frailty.” He teaches them a song he learned in his dreams. “For the rest of his days, Martemus would awaken and hear that song.” Then Martemus joins the masses kneeling to kiss the hem of Kellhus’s robe. Now no one cared that he wore a general’s uniform. Kellhus says he has awaited the general. This excites the others. Kellhus says Conphas sent him but things have changed.

And Martemus felt a child before his father, unable to life, unable to speak truth.

The prophet nodded as though he had spoken. “What will happen to your loyalty, I wonder?”

Suddenly, a man tries to kill the Prophet. But Kellhus snags the attacker’s arm with “golden-haloed hand” and stops the knife from plunging into his flesh. Martemus is unconcerned as he realizes Kellhus cannot be killed. As the mob beats the assassin to death, Kellhus says to Martemus: “I would not divide your heart. Come to me again, when you are ready.”

Conphas is meeting with Proyas in private, warning him that Kellhus must be dealt with. Proyas seems amenable, and Proyas says they need to call a council and bring charges under the “auspices of the Tusk.” Using the Old Law. Proyas asks under what charge. For being a false prophet, but Proyas only grows angry.

Conphas laughed incredulously. He could remember once—long ago it now seemed—thinking he and Proyas would become fast and famous friends over the course of the Holy War. They were both handsome. They were both close in age. And in their respective corners of the Three Seas, they were considered prodigies of similar promise—that was, until his obliteration of the Scylvendi at the Battle of Kiyuth.

I have no peers.

Proyas won’t hear it, considering Kellhus his friend. Conphas demands if he’s heard of the sermons while at the same time berating Martemus for being a fool in his mind. Martemus acting like a fool when he isn’t one has Conphas worried about Kellhus. He presses, pointing out that the soldiers call Kellhus the Warrior-Prophet. Proyas does not care because Kellhus doesn’t claim to be a prophet. Conphas points out they march for the Latter Prophet of Inri Sejenus, but if Kellhus gains power, they will march for a new prophet.

Dead prophets were useful, because one could rule in their name. But live prophets? Cishaurim prophets?

Conphas debates telling Proyas about Skeaös while Proyas asks what Conphas expects him to do about Kellhus. Proyas believes the man is special, that he has dreams, but points out he doesn’t claim to be a prophet. Conphas says that doesn’t change him from being a False Prophet. Proyas asks why Conphas’s cares since he’s not pious. Conphas says that doesn’t matter, but Proyas disagrees. He talks about the time he’s spent with Kellhus, their talks on scripture, and nothing he says is heretical. He calls Kellhus “the most deeply pious man I’ve ever met.” He is disturbed that people call him a prophet, but Kellhus isn’t doing it. People are just weak.

Conphas felt sweet disdain unfold across his face. “Even you… He’s ensnared even you.”

What kind of man? Though he was loath to admit it, his briefing with Martemus had shook him deeply. Somehow, over a matter of weeks, this Prince Kellhus had managed to reduce his most dependable man to a babbling idiot. Truth! The frailty of men! The furnace!

What nonsense! And yet nonsense that was seeping through the Holy War like blood through linen. The Prince Kellhus was a wound. And if he was in fact a Cishaurim spy as dear old Uncle Xerius feared, he could well prove mortal.

Proyas is angry, attacking Conphas’s lack of faith and his ambition. But Conphas believes he has planted doubt into Proyas. Conphas turns to leave, done dealing with idiots, when Proyas stops him and asks about the assassination attempt. Conphas gives a flippant answer when Proyas says that the man was one of Conphas’s officers.

Conphas stared at the man blankly, realizing he’d been duped. All those questions… Proyas had asked them in order to implicate him, to see whether he had motive. Conphas cursed himself for a fool. Fanatic or not, Nersei Proyas was not a man to be underestimated.

This is becoming a nightmare.

“What?” Conphas asked. “You propose to arrest me?”

“You propose to arrest Prince Kellhus.”

Conphas grinned. “You would find it hard to arrest an army.”

“I see no army,” Proyas said.

Conphas smiled. “But you do…”

Conphas leaves, knowing Proyas can’t do anything. The Holy War needs his soldiers. He reflects on his aphorism that war is intellect, and he would teach Kellhus that. He joins his waiting cavalrymen, he brought two hundred for an escort since the Holy War remains scattered and there were Fanim raiders running about. He spots Martemus with his soldiers, wondering what happened to the man as Martemus watches without expression. He spits at the hooves of Martemus horse “like a Scylvendi” then glances back at Proyas’s pavilion.

He turned back to his wayward General.

“It appears,” he said in a fierce voice that wouldn’t carry, “that you aren’t the only casualty of the spy’s sorcerery, Martemus… When you kill this Warrior-Prophet, you will be avenging many, very many.”

My Thoughts

Once again, Coithus Athjeäri is leading the scouts. Bakker does a great job making you excited to read about his adventures, often through the remote third-person POV of the historical sections of the novel. Athjeäri could almost have his own series about his adventures completely oblivious to all the political machinations and plotting and Dûnyaininess (yes, I made that word up, and I don’t care if it sounds silly) going on in the main story.

The River Sempis is very Nilesque (another word I made up, probably). A good trick for world building, take something already familiar to readers and use it as the foundation to build upon, to evoke a certain feeling in them.

So, as we can see, men vied in Shigek and it did not end well. A few misunderstandings, some impatient men, and then destructive rumors. Suddenly, the Holy War lost their discipline. Only the Imperial columns maintained theirs while everyone else was raping, pillaging, butchering, punishing their enemies, doing “gods” work. As much as Conphas is a slimy snake, he’s the guy I would surrender to over any of the other Inrithi. These sort of atrocities are common in warfare. It’s a dark thing. Humans have to put themselves into an us versus them mentality and stop seeing the other side as humans. And once that happens, it’s very easy to kill and brutalize. Unless, like that knight from the last chapter, you witness their humanity and it knocks you out that mindset.

Bakker does a good job giving plausible reasons for his characters to explore philosophy, in this case Kellhus musing on the irrationality of faith while standing atop a stone structure that would have taken decades to build and thousands of men working in concert to raise.

If we never had a POV from Kellhus, he would be the most likable character ever. Imagine this scene of Kellhus bringing up the possibility of Serwë’s infidelity from Achamian’s point of view, the feeling of shame and betrayal, wanting to make up for it even while to terrified to ever admit the truth. Because Kellhus is such a good man. An honest man. One who knows the truth and preaches it. He makes everyone around him better. And what did Achamian do? Slept with his wife. And now he sees the pain in Kellhus as the man wonders if Serwë might be unfaithful. How it must twist Achamian’s guts. We, the readers, would have all our sympathy with Kellhus.

But we don’t. It’s all with Achamian as we watch him being manipulated, played with. His life nothing but a tool for Kellhus to manipulate.

Kellhus, as always, is right about Achamian’s character needing to be hewn. As we see as the story goes forward, Achamian is “hewed by the crude axe of the world” and finds strength. He does what only one other character in series does later on.

Humans love simplicity. It’s why stories with such archetypal characters always resonate. The ones so different from our real lives with people acting how we wish the world was. Black and white. No complexities, no gray areas, no weakness of actions. We don’t want to really think about how things work, just accept them and move on. It takes a certain degree of freedom from everyday struggles to even get this mindset. If you can spend your time studying all day, pondering questions, it’s easier to shake off these illusions. When your day is spent waking up, doing the backbreaking labor to survive another day, and going to bed, well, you really don’t have the energy to think about complex things.

And here we see how Kellhus manipulates Achamian, and others, to think about past relationships by imitating vocal cues and expressions (Inrau and Xinemus), becoming a chameleon to provoke the responses he needs.

Anything can be justified when you believe you’re actions are moral. When you think you’re on the right side of history. You can persecute people for race, sex, beliefs, creeds, and more when you think you have the moral authority because you’ve found the Truth. It’s happening right now in our world.

Kellhus is salivating for the Gnosis. Not literally, obviously, he doesn’t have enough emotions for that, but you can tell as he uses Inrau’s death to prod Achamian down the path to surrendering the sorcery to make him equal to the Mandate so he could finally negotiate with them.

The conversation between Kellhus and Achamian on faith and fanaticism is engrossing. Kellhus needs to know how far Achamian will go in his dedication to the Mandate’s cause. He’s not sure if Achamian is a true fanatic. He’s experimenting right now, pushing him to go farther and farther, finding the line in his convictions, seeing if Achamian will betray the Mandate and give Kellhus the Gnosis.

And there it comes, Kellhus has manipulated Achamian to blurt out his beliefs about Kellhus himself, the reasons that Achamian found to support his passions to protect Kellhus. By making Kellhus not only the Harbinger, but also the Savior of the World, Achamian has found a reason to hide him from the Mandate. And now that he as acknowledged this Truth while at the same time having Kellhus remind him that any act in service of the Truth is a just act, like betraying the Gnosis to the Warrior Prophet.

Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” David Hume, On Reason. According to Hume, we come up with reasons to satiate our passions. And we can see this philosophy in action with Achamian rationalizing his protection of the Harbinger.

Conphas identifies that Kellhus knows Martemus is bait and yet blames Martemus instead of his obvious plan. Conphas is a brilliant strategist, but his ego can get in the way. Everyone knows Martemus is his right hand man and that he opposes Kellhus. Even an idiot had to know why Martemus is there. But, of course, the great Conphas can never be wrong. His ego defeats his intellect time and time again.

I can hear Conphas’s condescending lecture to Martemus echoing through the prose of the text.

Martemus has one of the most fascinating character arcs in the series. At the start, you would never believe him capable of betraying Conphas. The man knows that Conphas is a narcissistic asshole, but also knows him to be a military genius, the man he was destined to support, to aid, the great Emperor who would save Nansur. And then a little bit of doubt enters his mind. It poisons him bit by bit. Once, he told Conphas he would save the Concubine, Conphas’s standard, over the Tusk, and now he is confronted with that choice in reality, with choosing the words of the gods over his earthly commander, and his prioritizes are shifting. It is easy to boast in the abstract but when confronted by circumstances, it can be so much harder.

Martemus is more a soldier than a noble. I bet he would fit in with the common people he sits among. But they are afraid of him. We’ve seen how nobles act in this world. Who wouldn’t be afraid of this man?

Martemus struggle is great, at one moment awed then his intellect reminding him that it can’t be true, calling himself a fool. He’s a war with himself.

Preachers often make jokes at the start of sermons like Kellhus does. It’s a good way to relax your audience before you get into the deep stuff. Get the crowd warmed-up, make sure you’re listening, then you hit them with the truths you have to tell. It can be powerful, and Kellhus is the master of it. His sermon is spoken for all and just for one man tonight. Martemus.

Humans do love their self-deception, and Kellhus is peeling it away to make martyrs. To make the sort of men that will die for him out of faith. It’s a mindset if you can achieve will get people to do anything for you.

Martemus is trying so hard to hold onto rational fact in the face of Kellhus’s sermon. As Kellhus truths. Doubts are assailing Martemus over and over. He’s fighting as hard as he can, but Kellhus wants him. Kellhus has plans for him. He is, after all, second-in-command of the Nansur columns.

Martemus is no longer alone after embracing Kellhus’s divinity. People want to belong. No one likes feeling alone. It can bind us to groups even when doubts make us question why we’re there. It can hold us in place, drive us to do acts just to fit in.

Kellhus knows Martemus is a loyal man. He can’t ask Martemus to betray Conphas. He needs Martemus to realize fully where his loyalty is. To the god or his earthly master. Of course, Kellhus knows this act will only bring Martemus back to him. Martemus is seeing him as divine, seeing the haloed hands.

The haloed hands is a much discussed topic. They are only seen by true believers in Kellhus’s divinity. Serwë sees them first, but now we have Martemus seeing them. There is nothing in the text that shows people who have seen them telling others about haloed hands to spark off a mass hallucination, and yet that’s how it appears. But this is a world where the Outside, the supernatural is real. Maybe the haloed hands are born out of a belief in the Three Seas that prophets must have them, or maybe when you believe in him, one of the Gods of the Outside lets you see it. It might be a mass delusion, but I am leaning towards something intrinsic into this world’s metaphysics, like the Judging Eye we meet in the second series, or topoi. The Outside is bleeding into the world around Kellhus’s hands. This might explain how Kellhus pulls Serwë’s heart out of his chest at the end of the novel.

Oh, Conphas, you could never be friends with anyone. You were just deluding yourself, believing that Proyas would be this perfect companion to only enhance your prestige without even considering his agency.

Dead prophets are useful for the powerful. But there’s nothing like a man taking away the loyalty of the common folk and undermining your power base to get you scared, eh, Conphas? Especially when your only confidant, the most solid man you know, is transforming into a fanatic before your eyes. We’re also seeing the groundwork laid in for the novel’s climax here. So long as Proyas has faith in Kellhus, Conphas can’t enact his False Prophet Trial. But if Kellhus was careless (like that happens) and allows Proyas to see something disturbing…

Conphas’s hatred of Kellhus is rooted in both fear of losing his power and fear of his enemies destroying them. Yes, he’s wrong that Kellhus is a Cishaurim spy, but he’s not wrong that Kellhus is a threat to the Holy War. Kellhus is transforming it, and he can see it. And he’s maddened that no one else can or cares. That would drive a normal person nuts, let alone a narcissist like Conphas.

And once again, Conphas’s ego gets in his way. He truly thought he could convince the pious Proyas, a man who has Kellhus staying in his army’s camp, who sponsored him to the other Great Names, would turn his back on him just because Conphas has concerns he’s a false prophet. And instead, he walked into a trap. I think Conphas needs to stick to the battlefield.

And now Kellhus is having another secret war with Conphas. Well, to Conphas it is a war, to Kellhus, I imagine, it’s an annoyance. Unlike his war with the Consult. Sadly for Conphas’s ego, everything he does ends up furthering Kellhus’s plan. As we’ve seen, Kellhus has either anticipated the Circumfix (the result of a trial by Tusk) or was granted a vision of it (which I lean towards). But Conphas’s actions will have consequences. And for a first time reader, this is exciting. Will Martemus betray Kellhus or Conphas? Who will win his loyalty?

And since we like Martemus and hate Conphas, we’re all rooting for Kellhus’s success. I suspect Kellhus seduces every first time reader. We’re predisposed to root for the “heroic” archetype Kellhus superficially occupies. It’s only after it’s over, when we look back on the story, can we see how Bakker manipulated us.

I think it’s why I love this series.

Want to read more, click here for Chapter Twelve!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Ten

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 10
Atsushan Highlands

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

Love is lust made meaningful. Hope is hunger made human.

AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

How does one learn innocence? How does one teach ignorance? For to be them is to know them not. And yet they are the immovable point from which the compass of life swings, the measure of all crime and compassion, the rule of all wisdom and folly. They are the Absolute.

ANONYMOUS, THE IMPROMPTA

My Thoughts

Love is what this chapter is about. Achamian’s love for Esmenet, her love for him, and Serwë’s love for Kellhus. And we see how the Dûnyain manipulates them all with it. Each of the three find hope in their love. Hunger and lust, the drives of these characters, given purpose, made less soiled by their emotions.

They are the Absolute.” This quote stands at the exact opposite of Dûnyain philosophy. Innocence and Ignorance are the things they strip away from themselves. They destroy their innocence with reason, bury ignorance with logic. Therefore, they have no measure for crime or compassion. They simply have their mission and what it takes to achieve it as they search for their “Absolute.” Now we know that The Imprompta is Kellhus’s sermons. So he is preaching this, using these lies to mold his followers.

I don’t know why Bakker has this credited as anonymous. I bet it’s to hide that Kellhus is the speaker at the start of the chapter. Also, I believe Achamian is the one who wrote the Imprompta, and if you know the events of the end of Prince of Nothing, there might be a good reason that the author of the Imprompta isn’t remembered, officially anyways.

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Gedean interior

Achamian, thanks to his dreams and his life, has seen so much war. But marching with the army is a new experience for him. Despite that, he finds peace in his life. And that’s despite Kellhus’s presence. His guilt at not telling the Mandate about Kellhus has vanished. He didn’t understand why it had departed, the threat of Kellhus as the Harbinger remained. The No-God’s rise would come and the Second Apocalypse would spill across the world. And then he understands. Like a man driven mad in combat, rushing at the ranks of the enemies alone, Achamian had become “the fool who dashed alone into the spears of thousands” for Kellhus.

He still teaches them, now accompanied by Esmenet and Serwë, though they spend most of the time chatting. He has exhausted all he knows of the Three Seas and has moved onto the Ancient North. Achamian soon realizes he will only have the Gnosis to teach. But he’s glad believing that “the Gnosis was a language for which the Prince possessed no tongue.”

The host marches day after day, reaching the dry Atsushan Highlands. At night, they pitch tents and gather about Xinemus’s fire. More often, Achamian ate with the women and slaves as Proyas summoned Kellhus, Xinemus, and Cnaiür to council meetings. Proyas, thanks to Cnaiür, was obsessed with planning tactics. On a rare night where Kellhus eats with them, they laugh as Kellhus tells jokes, doing an exaggerated impression of Cnaiür. But when Cnaiür arrives, he gets angry and spits in the fire, staking off.

Kellhus stood, apparently stricken with remorse.

“The man’s a thin-skinned lout,” Achamian said crossly. “Mockery is a gift between friends. A gift.”

The Prince whirled. “Is it?” he cried. “Or is it an excuse?”

Achamian could only stare, dumbstruck. Kellhus had rebuked him. Kellhus. Achamian looked to the others, saw his shock mirrored in their faces, though not his dismay.

“Is it?” Kellhus demanded.

Achamian felt his face flush, his lips tremble. There was something about Kellhus’s voice. So like Achamian’s father’s…

Who’s he to—

Kellhus begs for Achamian’s forgiveness suddenly, saying he was “twice the fool.” Achamian, too, apologizes. Kellhus touches Achamian and it makes the sorcerer feel numb. The scent of Kellhus always flusters Achamian. Xinemus makes a joke, and they began joking again. This wasn’t unusual. Routinely, someone would say something that made another mad. Achamian reflects on how men are like merchants, always trading “backbiting, petty jealousies, resentments, arguments, and third-party arbitrations.” But Kellhus stood outside the market. He was the judge, the “head of the fire.” Everyone in their group understood this. Kellhus says, “what the poet Protathis claimed men should strive for: the hand of Triamis, the intellect of Ajencis, and the heart of Sejenus.”

After dinner, men and women from every nation would gather around the perimeter and just watch them. It started out small, just a few, but soon there were dozens. Xinemus had to start pitching his tent in the center of larger clearings to give them room. For a week, everyone at the fire, even Kellhus, tried to ignore them. But they didn’t. Their numbers just grew.

One night, Achamian joins them. He watches his friends, trying to understand. He watches the men of the Tusk as they stare entranced by what, to Achamian, seems so mundane and familiar. He asks the man sitting beside him why he does this. The man doesn’t look away, not shocked Achamian doesn’t see him. He says Achamian is too close to see. Achamian asks what?

He touched me once,” the man inexplicably replied. “Before Asgilioch. I stumbled while marching and he caught me by the arm. He said, ‘Doff your sandals and shod the earth.’”

Achamian chortled. “An old joke,” he explained. “You must have cursed the ground when you stumbled.”

So?” the man replied. He was fairly trembling, Achamian realized, with indignant fury.

Achamian frowned, tried to smile, to reassure. “Well, it’s an old saying—ancient, in fact—meant to remind people not to foist their failings on others.”

No,” the man grated, “it’s not.”

Achamian paused. “Then what does it mean?”

Rather than answer, the man turned away, as though willfully consigning Achamian and his question to oblivion of what he couldn’t see. Achamian stared at him for a thick moment, bewildered and curiously dismayed. How could fury secure the truth?”

He stood, slapped dust from his knees.

It means,” the man said from behind him, “that we must uproot the world. That we must destroy all that offends.”

The hatred in the man’s words shocks Achamian. He’s too dumbfounded to argue. Achamian realizes these people will never leave. He further realizes he’s just like them, only he sits “closer to the fire.” Like Achamian, they are waiting for something to happen.

As the nights pass, even Kellhus starts to be affected by the watchers, his humor “seething.” Xinemus finally gets annoyed and asks Kellhus why he doesn’t just go talk to them. This stuns everyone. Kellhus answers. “Because they make more of me than I am.” Xinemus, still annoyed, doesn’t care and tells him to go. After a few moments, Kellhus does. And this begins the “The Imprompta,” his nightly sermons. Often, Achamian and Esmenet would join the sermons, which Kellhus appreciates, claiming it is easier to bear with the two of them watching saying, “So often when I speak I don’t recognize my voice.”

By the time the Holy War neared Shigek, the dozens had become hundreds. Achamian feels the need to write the Imprompta’s down after last night’s sermon where Kellhus talks about the fur trapper, his devotion to his dead wife, and how he transferred that love to his dogs, saying “When one love dies, one must love another.” Achamian believes these words must be written.

Even high ranking nobles, including Martemus, are present. Proyas even “sat in the dust with the others, though he seemed troubled.” Akka is ready to write as Kellhus searches the crowd, spotting a Conryian knight looking haggard. He asks the man what happened. The knight talks about how three days ago, his lord lead him and other men on a village raid. They didn’t find it, instead coming across a dead girl with her throat cut.

“What happened next?” [asked Kellhus.]

“Nothing… I mean, we simply ignored her, continued riding as though she were nothing more than discarded cloth… a-a scrap of leather in the dust,” he added, his voice breaking. He looked down to his calloused palms.

“Guilt and shame wrack you by day,” Kellhus said,” the feeling that you’ve committed some mortal crime. Nightmares wrack you by night… She speaks to you.”

The man’s nod was almost comical in its desperation. He hadn’t, Achamian realized, the nerve for war.

“But why?” he cried. “I mean, how many dead have we seen?”

“But not all seeing,” Kellhus replied, “is witness.”

The knight doesn’t understand what Kellhus means. And he explains that to witness is “seeing that testifies.” The knight then judged that she was murdered. The knight agrees, but he doesn’t understand why it make shim suffer. “She’s not mine. She was heathen!” He explains that though we are surrounded by good and bad, our hearts grow calloused, like hands from work. But all it takes is for one thing to strike and “our heart is torn.” Then a human feels something. The man asks what he should do.

“Rejoice.”

“Rejoice? But I suffer!”

“Yes, rejoice! The calloused hand cannot feel the lover’s cheek. When we witness, we testify, and when we testify we make ourselves responsible for what we see. And that—that—is what it means to belong.”

Kellhus suddenly stood, leapt from the low platform, took two breathtaking steps into their midst. “Make no mistake,” he continued, and the air thrummed with the resonance of his voice. “The world owns you. You belong, whether you want to or not. Why do we suffer? Who do the wretched take their own lives? Because the world, no matter how cursed, owns us. Because we belong.”

Someone challenges if they should “celebrate suffering.” Kellhus answers that you wouldn’t be suffering, but instead to celebrate its meaning, that “you belong, not that you suffer.” He quotes the latter prophet and the knight sees the wisdom of Kellhus’s words, but wants to know what to gain. Kellhus doesn’t want them to see, but witness. “To be one with the world in which you dwell. To make a covenant of your life.” The Mandate’s promise to Achamian echoes in his mind: “The world… You will gain the world.” Achamian is so moved, he forgot to write. Lucky, Esmenet remembers.

Of course she did.

Esmenet. The second pillar of his [Achamian] peace, and by far the mightier of the two.

It seemed at once strange and fitting to find something almost conjugal in the midst of the Holy War. Each evening they would walk exhausted from Kellhus’s talks or from Xinemus’s fire, holding hands like young lovers, ruminating or bickering or laughing about the evening’s events. They would pick their way through the guy ropes, and Achamian would pull the canvas aside with mock gallantry. They would touch and brush as they disrobed, then hold each other in the dark—as though together they could be more than what they were.

A whore of word and a whore of body.

As they days go by, he thinks less of Inrau, the Consult, and the Second Apocalypse, focusing on his new life with Esmenet, and Kellhus. The Dreams still come, but Esmenet’s touch when he awakes banishes them. For the first time, he lives in the moment, treasuring all the details of their relationship, the good and the bad.

One night, after they finish making love, Esmenet says everyone knows Kellhus is a prophet. Panic seizes Achamian and asks what she is saying. “Only what you need to hear,” she answers. He presses her, and she says because you think it and fear it and because you need it. “We are damned, her eyes said.” He’s not a mused and she asks him how long since he contacted the Mandate. She says he’s waiting “to see what he becomes.” And she is sure he is a prophet.

Achamian reflects on how Esmenet has always seemed to know him, even recognizing him as a sorcerer, leading to him to think she’s a witch. She knows him so well, and he finds it strange to be “awaited rather than anticipated.” And he knows her, too. All the little details that made up her life. “A mystery that he knew…” He wonders if that is love. “To know, to trust a mystery…”

During a Conriyan festival, Achamian is drunk with Kellhus and Xinemus, the only three still awake. He asks Kellhus how he loves Serwë. Kellhus replies in the same way Achamian loves Esmenet. Achamian presses, asking how he loves Esmenet. “Like a fish loves the ocean?” Xinemus crocks jocking answers, which annoys Achamian. He wants Kellhus and demands for it angrily.

Kellhus smiled, raised his downcast eyes. Tears scored his cheek.

“Like a child,” he said.

The words knocked Achamian from his feet. He crashed to his buttocks with a grunt.”

Kellhus explains that Achamian asks no questions. His love has no reserve. That Esmenet has become his ground. And Achamian realizes she has become his wife. He’s elated, but somehow, he found himself making love to Serwë.

He was just lying, half drunk, staring up at the sky, when Serwë hikes up his robe, stroking him hard. He wants to stop this, but when she undresses, she is beautiful. She mounts him and he realizes she is pregnant. She rides him, shouting “I can see you.” He looked away, shocked and in pleasure, and sees Esmenet watching. He blinks and she’s gone. After he orgasms, he passes out. He’s hungover the next morning. Feeling guilty, he watches Esmenet sleep. When she wakes up, he looks into her eyes, studying her. But she doesn’t seem any different, only chastising him for drinking. By the next evening, he had convinced himself it was a dream.

When he told Esmenet, she laughed and threatened to tell Kellhus. Afterward, alone, he actually wept in relief. Never, he realized, not even the night following the madness with the Emperor beneath the Andiamine Heights, had he felt a greater sense of doom. And he knew he belonged to Esmi—not the world.

She was his covenant. Esmenet was his wife.

The Holy War marches closer to Shigek, and Achamian continues shirking his duty to the Mandate. He realizes all his excuses were meaningless of why he was avoiding them. Because, for once, he was happy and had found peace.

Serwë sits by the fire, tired after the march, and glad Cnaiür was off scouting for the last four days. She didn’t have to put up with him watching her, raping her. She prays for him to die, “but this was the one prayer Kellhus wouldn’t answer.” She stares at Kellhus’s face as he talks with Achamian, not caring for the words spoken. She can only stare at the beauty of his face, how godlike it was. She touches her belly, still believing the child is his and not Cnaiür’s, and that brings her joy.

So much had changed! She was wise, far more so, she knew, than a girl of twenty summers should be. The world had chastened her, had shown her the impotence of outrage. First the Gaunum sons and their cruel lusts. Then Panteruth and his unspeakable brutalities. Then Cnaiür and his iron-willed madness. What could the outrage of a soft-skinned concubine mean to a man such as him? Just one more thing to be broken. She knew the futility, that the animal within would grovel, shriek, would place soothing lips around any man’s cock for a moment of mercy—that it would do anything, sate any hunger, to survive. She’d been enlightened.

Submission. Truth lay in submission.

“You’ve surrendered, Serwë,” Kellhus had told her. “And by surrendering, you have conquered me!”

The days of nothing had passed. The world, Kellhus said, had prepared her for him. She, Serwë hil Keyalti, was to be his sacred consort.

Because of this, she can endure Cnaiür’s rape and abuse. He was the demon to the god she found in Kellhus. She thinks the others who share the fire are stupid for not realizing that Kellhus is god in flesh. But she realizes they couldn’t know. How could they? They didn’t sleep with Kellhus, they weren’t taught by the world to be his. She loves watching him instruct. He is always doing that.

While talking with Achamian about how caste-nobles and sorcerers are different from regular people (one because of their blood, one because of their ability), Kellhus disagrees with Achamian’s assertion that those distinctions are inviolable. Kellhus reveals he is one of the Few. He can see the Mark. Achamian grows nervous as Kellhus explains now they are the same when before Achamian thought they were different. Achamian doesn’t believe it. He demands proof. Achamian is unnerved even as Xinemus shrugs it off, remarking that many of the Few never speak blasphemy. But Achamian doesn’t want to believe it. Serwë realizes Achamian sees Kellhus as something more. Just like she does. She remembers making love to Achamian, but to her, it was really Kellhus she slept with wearing Achamian’s appearance.

Achamian knows a way to prove in and races off into the dark. Esmenet sits down by Serwë, handing over tea to the girl, and remarks if Kellhus has wound Achamian up again. Serwë agrees, studying Esmenet, and realizes that the woman is almost as beautiful as she is. But Esmenet is also so bold, able to talk with men and joke with them. It makes Serwë feel insecure. Despite that, Esmenet is always so kind to her because Esmenet likes to care for those more vulnerable than her. Serwë objects that she is not a whore or vulnerable. “We’re all whores, Serchaa…” They chat, but Serwë senses something off about Esmenet and realizes that Esmenet knows she slept with Achamian and sees anger. She wants to protest that it was Kellhus she really slept with, not Achamian.

Then Achamian returns with the Wathi Doll. It scares Serwë. Esmenet asks if Achamian scares her and she says no, thinking Achamian is too sad to be scary. Esmenet promises Serwë will be scared after this while Xinemus mocks Achamian for bring a toy. Kellhus recognizes it as a sorcerer artifact, brining a sharp look from Achamian.

Achamian explains about the Wathi Doll, something he purchased from a Sansori witch. It contains a soul. Xinemus grows uncomfortable, but Achamian begs to allow him to continue. This is a way to test Kellhus without him damning himself and gaining the Mark. Achamian draws two words in the sand, tells Kellhus to repeat them. It’s not a cant, but the cipher to the doll, so it won’t Mark him. But if he is one of the Few, he will activate it.

Kellhus speaks the words. Serwë watches in horror as the doll comes to life. She can see a tiny face straining against the fabric, the soul trapped inside struggling to escape. It moves and staggers, but not like a puppet. No strings control it. Everyone watches in fearful awe. It plays with a coal from the fire.

Achamian muttered something unspeakable, and it collapsed in a jumble of splayed limbs. He looked blankly at Kellhus, and in a voice as ashen as his expression, said, “So, you’re one of the Few…”

Horror, Serwë thought. He was horrified. But why? Couldn’t he see?

Without warning, Xinemus leapt to his feet. Before Achamian could even glance at him, the Marshal had seized his arm, yanked him violently about.

“Why do you do this?” Xinemus cried, his face both pained and enraged. “You know that it’s difficult enough for me to…to… You know! And now displays such as this? Blasphemy?”

Stunned, Achamian looked at his friend aghast. “But Zin,” he cried. “This is what I am?”

Zin snarls that maybe Proyas was right and stalks off into the darkness. Esmenet goes to Achamian, whispering to him that Kellhus would show Xinemus his folly, make it all better. Serwë looks at Kellhus, praying for that. She knows she can speak to him just with her face. “Nothing was hidden.” But his look says no, he has to reveal himself to them slowly. “Otherwise they’ll turn against me…”

Later that night, Serwë awakens to an argument between Kellhus and Cnaiür. She fears he means to abuse her again and tenses for it. All her confidence at being a god’s sacred consort has vanished. They are arguing over Cnaiür breaking form their purpose, abandoning Kellhus and heading to Proyas’s camp. He’s only here for Serwë. She’s scared now, waiting for three heart-beats for Kellhus to answer. No. He won’t let Cnaiür have her.

Relief sweeps over her. She finally has mercy. She doesn’t hear their argument. When Kellhus enters, she kisses hi, braces him. She is giddy with excitement and falls asleep in his arms, feeling safe. “A God touched her. Watched over her with divine love.”

Its back to the canvas, the thing called Sarcellus crouched, as still as stone. The musk of the Scylvendi’s fury permeated the night air, sweet and sharp, heady with the promise of blood. The sound of the woman weeping tugged at its groin. She might have been worth its fancy, were it not for the smell of her fetus, which sickened…

What passed for thought bolted through what passed for its soul.

My Thoughts

Achamian has found peace with the illogical decision. He’s resigned himself to what’s coming. And now it doesn’t matter. It lets him do something so folly. It’s that moment when you just don’t care any longer. When circumstances have defeated you and you just say “Fuck it” let’s see what happens.

So, interesting that Esmenet has joined their lessons. I wonder who arranged that. Kellhus? He has the women befriending each other, too, paving the road for his future plans for Esmenet.

Kellhus’s impression of Cnaiür and Proyas is hilarious. Right down to spitting in the fire. Bakker does a good job with the camaraderie of this scene, the way people bond over the mocking of others when they’re not around. But what is Kellhus’s purpose in this mockery? I think it’s manipulating of Achamian. Kellhus needs two things from the sorcerer: the Gnosis and his wife. Kellhus impersonates Achamian’s father, after all. This is deliberate. He’s diving deeper into Achamian’s psyche, finding the scars we know his father left on him. Just re-read The Darkness that Comes Before. Achamian spends some time reflecting on his father’s abuse in that book.

Achamian (and Bakker’s) insight on human interaction is so very petty and yet rings very true. Even close friends have these little annoyances with each other, dumb things that they say under the guise of jocking mocks.

The Protathis quote about what men should strive for is a great way to describe Kellhus in universe. And Bakker trust us, the reader, to understand who these three men are after all those chapter epigraphs we’ve been reading. The strong warrior, the intelligent philosopher, and the compassionate preacher.

I love the description of the watchers as “little brothers” tagging along. I had a brother four years younger than me. And he used to do that with me and my friends, following us around. I found it so annoying. I was, sadly, mean to him when he did that. Something I regret now.

The fanatic Achamian talks to (no doubt a future Zaudunyani), interpretation of a simple joke into divine revelation is something you see in any form of belief. Look at any conspiracy theories, how they’ll latch onto anything to twist it to their theory, to make it proof in what they believe. It’s irrational. But human decisions usually are. We like to think we make rational decisions, weighing options, but the reality is we make snap judgments and then try to rationalize our irrational decisions. It what makes it hard to change people’s minds on politics, religions, and other philosophical ideas. The fanatic believes the world must be uprooted, and he has twisted his new prophet’s words into a special message just for himself.

Kellhus’s “seething humor” is the perfect tool to get someone else at the fire to broach talking to the gathering people. Like Kellhus is just innocent of their growing presence. It’s out of his control and he doesn’t want to make it worse. But, it won’t go away and he’ll just have to deal with it, reluctantly. Because he’s not a prophet. Yet.

And notice how Kellhus continues his manipulation of Achamian and Esmenet at the same time with his lie that their presence makes giving his sermons less terrifying.

Martemus has begun Conphas’s plan of becoming one of Kellhus’s “followers.”

I see Kellhus left off the part of his story with Leweth about how he abandoned the man to be raped and killed by Sranc once he had no further use of them. That’s definitely a trust betrayed there.

The knight’s story about finding the dead girl and just riding on, abandoning her, is so sad. It haunts this man. Achamian is dismissive, saying the man isn’t cut out for war, but I would disagree. Is any human really? For this man, that dead girl was the limit of what he could handle.

Witnessing… Once you witness something, it’s hard to forget it. Not just seeing, but noticing, having compassion and understanding for what you’re really seeing. She wasn’t just a dead body, on object, but a person to this knight.

Kellhus’s description of how easy it is to be callous, how just living can harden our hearts, enduring us to the terrible things around us, ignoring bad things when we come across it until one day, something happens that breaks through it. It’s so sad what the world can do to us, to make it so hard to be Human so we can avoid pain, suffering, like this knight is experiencing. Despite Kellhus saying the things to move his audience, his words were still beautiful. These are the chains that he binds their hearts to him. These beautiful words telling truths that he knows will make them weak.

This is how cults work. They do what’s called love-bombing, letting you know that despite your suffering, you have a place where people care. They make you feel like you belong, they open up your heart. And once you’re in, it’s hard to escape because you’ve come to care for these people. Kellhus is working on the crowd, leading them down the path of following him as their prophet. To belong with him. To be united to him so that they can become one with the world. To make something meaningful out of their life. To not just live. So seductive. It flatters the ego, which is the best way to win converts.

This section of the series is probably my favorite. Just for lines like “Esmenet. The second pillar of his peace, and by far the mightier of the two.” It’s nice to see these two characters have such peace because you know what’s coming.

Just reading about their domesticity, living amid the Holy War, carving something so normal in the midst of the abnormal, is very human. We crave that stability. In Babylon 5, the character Dalenn once remarked that “Humans build communities.” And that is an important statement. Even in the worse conditions, in terrible prisons, in abject poverty, humans still form communities. They may be dysfunctional, ruled by tyranny or apathy, but they still existed. A way to try to make their lives have some amount of normalcy to cope, to live, to survive.

Damnation is a huge theme in the Second Apocalypse. I have never read a series that has such a bleak soteriology as Bakker’s work. It’s even worse than the sort of depressing afterlife you see in Mesopotamia, where everyone just goes to the underworld and just exists. Damnation is easy to attain. There are rules, set for by the Hundred Gods, and they don’t care. Even “salvation” may not be a good thing as you learn in latter books. And the reason is horrifying. It also is the motivation for most characters. Escaping eternal torment. What greater motivation is there.

Why, you might even be willing to genocide whole planets to avoid it. To close the Outside once and for all. And how will Kellhus, a Dûnyain, react when he learns the truth?

Esmenet’s not one of the Few, but her mother might have been. She did divine by stars but refused to teach her daughter any of it. Witches aren’t really delved into, but women who are the Few exist with a some amount of sorcerers knowledge. Esmenet’s even has a talisman charmed by a witch to prevent contraception (her whore shell). And, of course, the Wathi doll Achamian has is another witch artifact. It’s a shame Bakker doesn’t have the opportunity to delve into what witches know and how they use sorcery.

Achamian’s musing on love is poignant. For such a dark, bleak series, it is peppered with such touching moments. Bakker really has a pulse on human behavior. These moments of humanity stand out in such contrast to the barbarism around it.

Achamian is knee-deep in Kellhus’s manipulation now. First, Kellhus makes Achamian realize just how much he loves and needs her, then he sends Serwë to sleep with him, maybe even arranging for Esmenet to find them. This puts Achamian right into the guilty frame of mind Kellhus needs for his next goal—the Gnosis.

We like to tell ourselves we would never go so far to survive. We would never degrade ourselves. We would never bow and surrender. But the truth is, we want to live. Most humans, when given that choice between death and life, will find themselves doing anything to survive. It takes a resolve, a commitment to something they believe greater than themselves, to push down that survival instinct. Belief in a religion, in a philosophy, in justice. And it’s vastly easier when you believe there is a reward waiting for you beyond. That you will, in fact, keep living and find something better.

Kellhus’s words on her conquering him through surrendering are merely the lies he needs to tell to flatter her ego, to transform her suffering into something that she can embrace to belong. Just like with the knight during his sermon.

The world hasn’t prepared Serwë for Kellhus. He is preparing her for his own ends. And her blind faith ends with a slit throat.

Well, everything Serwë was moaning while riding Achamian makes sense. She saw Kellhus in him, believed she was making love to him in a guise. It was probably how Kellhus got her to sleep with Achamian. “You must know me Serwë, in all my guises,” she remembers him saying to her. Probably followed up with, “So go sleep with Achamian and see if you recognize me in him.”

Esmenet’s kindness to vulnerable, young women is probably a manifest of her guilt over Mimara, her “dead” daughter. And she clearly blames Serwë for what happened.

The description of the doll moving is seriously creepy. Bakker does a great job with the mood and atmosphere in this passage, capturing the horror of a human soul trapped in a body, wanting to escape and being unable to. Our first proof in the series that souls are real, and they can be manipulated after death. Abused.

Serwë is pretty good at reading Kellhus’s expressions. Or, I should say, Kellhus knows how to frame his face so Serwë gets the exact message he wants her to get. Kellhus could, of course, patch things up, but he is manipulating Achamian, getting the man to open up to him. Of course, the plan ends up backfiring in the short term thanks to the Scarlet Spire’s interference.

Serwë’s self-esteem crashes the moment the Scylvendi appears. “Nothing could kill Cnaiür urs Skiötha, not so long as Serwë remained alive.” She had four days of freedom, and now he’s back to hurt her again. And now, finally, Kellhus intervenes. But not for Serwë. This is all part of his manipulation of Cnaiür. As we’ll see come the next major battle.

Interesting fact about the skin-spy Sarcellus being sickened by the scent of Serwë’s child. The Consult do not want humans reproducing. When the No God walked the world, every child was stillborn. They need to exterminate almost all life to end the cycle of damnation and free themselves from it.

Sarcellus and the Consult plot. Achamian is about to have is domesticity destroyed. Serwë has found happiness, but it only ends in death. Esmenet is about to embark upon a new journey.

Click here to continue onto Chapter 11!

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