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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Twelve

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 12
Holy Amateu

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

Death, in the strict sense, cannot be defined, for whatever predicate we, the living, attribute to it necessarily belongs to Life. This means that Death, as a category, behaves in a manner indistinguishable from the Infinite, and from God

—AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

One cannot assume the truth of what one declares without presuming the falsity of all incongruous declarations. Since all men assume the truth of their declarations, this presumptions becomes at best ironic and at worst outrageous. Given the infinity of possible claims, who could be so vain as to think their dismal claims true? The tragedy, of course, is that we cannot make declarations. So it seems we must speak as Gods to converse as Men.

—HATATIAN, EXHORTATIONS

My Thoughts

Interesting quotes. They are both about the limitation of knowledge. We, as living human beings, cannot see beyond our material world. We cannot understand what lies beyond the boundary of our universe because we can never observe it. We cannot understand what happened before the big bang because it precedes all cause. We cannot study parallel realities because we cannot leave our own. We cannot understand what happens after death because we are still alive.

The second quote narrows the limitations of knowledge further. You cannot know all the knowledge that every other human possesses, only your own. Which means any truth you declare may be voided by the knowledge another person has. Because of this (even the author of this passage is guilty of it by stating this to be a truth), we can never speak with one hundred percent authority on a subject.

Despite that, we fake it.

We pretend to converse as Gods with all the conviction of omniscience. Remember that next time you hear some speak with absolute conviction. Maybe they’re right, or maybe they’re idiots. Interesting quotes to proceed Kellhus’s first meeting with the Consult proper.

Both quotes are more profound since Achamian will be dealing with the death of Xinemus and his latent guilt for Inrau while Esmenet is confronted with the death of her relationship. That she doesn’t love Kellhus but worships him as a good. She can’t ever know Kellhus like she could know Achamian.

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

Incû-Holoinas, the Nonmen had called it. The Ark-of-the-Skies.

After his victory over the Inchoroi, Nil’giccas had ordered a census of the vessel, the results of which were recorded in the Isûphiryas, the great annals of the Nonmen. Three thousand cubits in length, over two thousand of which were buried with the prow in the mangled depths. Five hundred in width. Three hundred in depth…

It was a many-chambered mountain, wrought in a gold-gleaming metal that could not be scored, let alone broken. A city rolled into the warped planes of some misbegotten fish. A ruin that the world could not stomach, that the ages could not digest.

And, as Seswatha and Nau-Cayûti discovered, a great, gilded crypt.

Seswatha and Nau-Cayûti wander the horrific Ark, finding crumbling bones of humans, Nonmen, Sranc, Bashrag, and others. Seswatha is having trouble comprehending the horror of the place. Intellectually, he knows he’s in the place where the “Inchoroi, in their wickedness, had gnawed at boundaries between the world and the Outside for thousands of years” but it still has him reeling. He can feel damnation nearby. The place had become a topoi, where “hard lines of reality had become shading.” He can hear inhuman moans and groans. They catch glimpses of thing that Achamian notices disturbs Nau-Cayûti. He keeps whirling to spot them but failing.

This is Achamian dreaming as Seswatha, relieving the past as he and Nau-Cayûti wander the “mouldering passage, wondering where his hope had at last guttered out.” Achamian ponders how they can escape even if they find their goal.

He could feel them, piling labyrinthine into the distances above and below him, the consuming hollows. IT seemed hell itself roared inaudible about them.

This place.

Nau-Cayûti thinks that they are passing bones. He’s hugging himself as “though shielding nakedness from blowing ice.” Achamian, as Seswatha, says that some believe the Ark was made of flesh and bone, that it birthed the Inchoroi. They call themselves “Children of the Ark” and Nonmen “Orphans.” Nau-Cayûti realizes that this place is a “dead womb.”

Nau-Cayûti peered through the surrounding gloom. “Obscenity,” he muttered. “Obscenity. Why, Seswatha? Why would they bring war against us?”

“To close the world,” seemed all he [Achamian] could muster.

To seal it shut.

Nau-Cayûti gets agitated, fearing for the life of his lover. Achamian lies that she’s still alive. They press on with Achamian (Seswatha) fearing they’re doomed. He follows after “the greatest light of the dynasty that called itself Anasûrimbor.”

The greatest light of men.

Kellhus thinks that he has crossed the world to reach his Father, following the Shortest Path. He plots out his next move, picturing the world beyond the manor house and it’s gardens. He imagines traveling over the Shairizor Plains. He is preparing to face his father when he something intrudes on trance.

Without warning, the drafts became humid with the scent of jasmine and feminine lust. He heard bare feet—her bare feet—pad over marble. The bruise of sorcery was plain, almost rank, but he didn’t turn to acknowledge her. He remained perfectly still, even when her shadow fell across his back.

“Tell me,” she said in ancient Kûniüric, both fluid and precise, “what are the Dûnyain?”

Kellhus bent his thought backward, yoked the legion that was his soul. Likelihood chased likelihood, some to fruition, others to extinction. Esmenet, entwined in boiling light. Esmenet bleeding, broken at his feet. Words, winding and forking, calling out apocalypse and salvation. Of all his encounters since leaving Ishuäl, none demanded more… exactitude.

The Consult had come.

Kellhus replies the Dûnyain are just men. Aurang, possessing Esmenet, doesn’t believe that. He watches as Aurang inserts fingers into Esmenet to draw out the seed Kellhus spilled in her earlier, tasting it, calling it bitter. Kellhus thinks it’s a provocation.

He [Kellhus] turned to her, drew her into the cauldron of his attention. Fluttering pulse. Shallow breath. Beads of sweat breaking into threads. He could smell he skin tingle in the night air, the residue of salt. He could even see the swelling of her breasts, the heat of her womb. But her thoughts… It was as though the string between her face and soul had been severed and resfastned to something both sleek and alien.

Something not human.

Kellhus, acting like a father, admonishes Aurang that he’s beyond the Consult’s power. Aurang asks how can Kellhus know that when he’s ignorant of Aurang. Kellhus notes pride as Aurang laughs, mocking whatever silver of knowledge Achamian possessed about the Inchoroi. Aurang says, “I’ve looked across the void and blotted your world by holding a fingertip.” As he speaks, Kellhus notes the lust that reminds him of a Sranc’s “rutting frenzy for blood” and skin-spies growing erect at violence.

So similar.

They were the template of their creations, he realized. They had implanted their own carnal longing, made their own appetite the instrument of their domination.

“So what are you, then?” Kellhus asked. “What are the Inchoroi?”

“We,” she cooed, “are a race of lovers.”

Kellhus expected this answer from Achamian’s descriptions. Kellhus feigns sorrow and asks if this is why the Inchoroi were damned. Aurang answers they were “born for damnation’s sake,” saying that they’re very nature is their sin. For enjoying sex, Aurang has to “heave and scream in lakes of fire?” Kellhus might not know how great Aurang’s intelligence is, but he understands that Aurang “counted grievances.” Just like all souls did, he put himself at the center of everything. Kellhus says that is the nature of the world.

Aurang mocks that Kellhus, as a prophet, can rewrite damnation. Kellhus says he can’t, it’s impossible. Aurang says there is a way.

“So you would destroy the world?” [asked Kellhus.]

She shuddered, her body afire with arousal. She lowered her buttocks, crossed her legs about her fingers. “To save my soul, hmmm? So long as there are Men, there are crimes. So long as there are crimes, I am damned. Tell, Dûnyain, what track would you follow? What would you do to save your soul?”

Kellhus picks up the word track, knowing Cnaiür has been tutoring Aurang. Kellhus regrets not killing Cnaiür. Aurang continues, talking about how sex is everything, the rest is a murmur farce to achieve it. “It all comes to love in the end.” Aurang saunters to Kellhus, talking how despite “love is the way,” the demons they call Gods to declare it a sin. Aurang wants to save its soul.

She reached out to trace his lips with a shinning fingertip. Esmenet, burning for congress. For all his breeding, all his conditioning, Kellhus could feel the ancient instinct rise… What kind of game?

He caught her wrist.

“She doesn’t love you,” she said, tugging her wrist free. “Not truly.”

The words jarred—but why? What was this darkness?

Pain?

“She worships,” Kellhus found himself replying, “and has yet to understand the difference.”

Kellhus wonders how keen was its intelligence while Aurang praises Kellhus for stealing the holy war. Kellhus realizes he’s being baited into boasting about how he claimed the Holy War. Kellhus says he needs the Holy War to defeat his father, given Moënghus’s thirty-year head start. Aurang doesn’t believe Kellhus, saying he’s his father’s heir instead. At the same time, sorcery fouling the air, it grabs Kellhus’s manhood. This confuses him. He wants to screw the possessed Esmenet and realizes he’s hiking up his own robe, letting Aurang touch him directly.

“Tell meeee,” she moaned again and again, and though Kellhus knew to be her words, he found himself hearing, Take me…

He lifted her with ease, spread her across the settee. He would pin her to the deep! He would plunge and hammer until she howled for release!

Who is your father? a voice whispered.

Aurang’s drawing him to Esmenet’s sex while asking what Moënghus’s plans are. Kellhus is unable to keep quiet and gasps, “To make manifest the Thousandfold Thought…” At that moment, he sees through the spell at the soul “old and hoary and rotted” lurking in Esmenet’s eyes.

Sorcery!

The Ward was simple—one of the first Achamian had taught him—an ancient Kûniüric Dara, proof against what were called incipient sorceries. His words racked the sultry air. For a moment the light of his eyes shone across her skin.

The darkness faltered and the shadow fell from his soul. He staggered back two steps, his phallus wet and chill and hard. She laughed as he covered himself, her voice guttural with inhuman intonations.

Bait it.

“Across the world in Golgotterath,” Kellhus gasped, still stamping out the coals of his manic lust, “The Mangaecca squat about your true flesh, rocking to the mutter of endless Cants. The Synthese is but a node. You are no more than the reflection of a shadow, an image cast upon the water of Esmenet. You possess subtlety, yes, but you haven’t the depth to confront me.”

Kellhus reflects on Achamian’s lessons, that Aurang would have its abilities restricted to glamorous and compulsions. “The great shout that was its true form, the Schoolman had said, could be heard only as whispers and insinuation at such a distance.” Angry, Aurang taunts Kellhus to kill it (and by proxy, Esmenet). Kellhus finds himself growing aroused as he retreats. He feels the past as a weight, drawing him into “the current of passing events.” Kellhus realizes that it is boredom and repetition that “rendered the aged immune to the press of events.”

Aurang keeps taunting, saying Kellhus can’t kill “this pretty shell.” He can’t kill what he loves. Kellhus draws his sword and, Aurang asks what man would kill his wife. “A Dûnyain,” answers Kellhus.

She stopped above the blade, close enough to pinch the tip between the toes of her right foot. She glared with ancient fury. “I am Aurang. Tranny! A son of the void you call Heaven… I am Inchoroi, a raper of thousands! I am he who would tear this world down. Strike, Anasûrimbor!”

Kellhus reached…

…and saw himself through the obscenity’s eyes, the enigma who would draw out his father, Moënghus. Kellhus reached, though with fingers lacking tips, palms without heat. He reached and he grasped…

Kellhus seizes Aurang’s soul, feeling its ancient memories of past atrocities. He learns the Inchoroi are a race with “a hundred names for the vagaries of ejaculation, who had silenced all compassion, all pity, to better savour the reckless chorus of their lust.” They have gone from world to world, plundering. It was a life so whole that only Kellhus and the Dûnyain were new and unprecedented. It wonders who the Dûnyain are and how they came from the shadow of Golgotterath. How could Kellhus enslave a holy war? The Consult especially hates that he’s an Anasûrimbor, their old enemy thought destroyed.

And Kellhus realized there was only one question here: Who were the Dûnyain?

They fear us, Father.

“Strike!” Esmenet cried, her arms back, her shining breasts pressed forward.

And he did strike, though with the flat of his palm. Esmenet sailed backward, rolled nude across the tiles.

Kellhus says the No-God speaks in his dreams, that the Consult failed him at Mengedda. Aurang calls it lies as Kellhus says the No-God comes for the world. Aurang begs Kellhus to strike or fuck her. This time, the “lustful glamour fell from him.” Kellhus declares Aurang defeated.

And for the first time she replied according to his anticipations.

“Ahhhh… but there are as many battlefields as there are moments, Dûnyain.”

Pause. The cycling of possibilities.

“You’re a distraction…” Kellhus said.

Kellhus realizes they are going after Achamian, willing to do anything to deny him the Gnosis. Aurang taunts that it is too late, Achamian is dead.

A skin-spy, appearing as Fanashila, steps out of a false panel in the wall, crammed in a space that had contorted her body. She kills Opsara, which arouses the skin-spy. Then she becomes Esmenet as she approaches Achamian’s quarters, tying a Chorae she carried about her neck. It enters Achamian’s room, hoping he was asleep.

He’s not. His wards had alerted him. It pretends to cry as it stands in the doorway. Achamian studies her, smelling terrified, asking if that’s Esmi. She lets her clothing drop away, revealing her naked breasts. He asks what she’s doing, saying Chorae are now forbidden. She claims Kellhus ordered her to wear it. He asks her to remove it. She does, dropping it, then steps into the moonlight, moaning that she loves him.

“No… this is wrong! He’ll know, Esmi! He’ll know!”

“He already knows,’ it said, crawling onto the foot of his bed.

She could smell his hammering heart, the promise of hot blood. There was such fear in him!

She keeps begging even as she crawls over him. Then her fist plunges down, crushing Achamian’s throat only for the illusion to fall away and reveal Captain Heörsa “thrashing in his very own death throes…”

The Dûnyain had outwitted them.

Traps within traps, the thing called Esmenet carelessly thought. So beautiful…

In what passed for its dying soul.

Someone calls Achamian as he is still dreaming of moving through the Ark with Nau-Cayûti, who is begging to know where “she” is. Achamian is worried his shouts will bring Golgotterath down on them while Nau-Cayûti calls him a liar.

That voice intrudes, speaking about Zin. Then Achamian comes awake and finds Proyas over him. He saying Zin is asking for him. Achamian, “without any real comprehension,” bolts out of bed. He still feels like he’s in the Ark and not Proyas’s tent. Proyas steadies him and they share a look, standing face to face. “For so long the Marshal of Attrempus had stood at their borderlands, guarding the frontier across which the doubt of one had warred with the certainty of the other.” Achamian realizes the distance between them was an illusion and clasps Proyas’s hand.

“I did not mean to disappoint you,” Proyas murmured.

Achamian swallowed.

Only when things were broken did their meaning become clear.

Kellhus is holding Esmenet as she sobs, crying out that she does love him. Outside, the Hundred Pillars are searching for the Synthese. Kellhus know all they will find is Captain Heörsa’s corpse. It played out just like Kellhus anticipated. They wouldn’t try to kill him. “So long as they knew nothing of the Dûnyain, the Consult were trapped in the pincers of a paradox: the more they needed to kill him, the more they needed to learn him—and to find his father.” So they went for Achamian.

Kellhus did not know if Esmenet would remember what happened. She did. She remembers speaking those words like they were her own, begging for him to believe her that she does love him. He agrees with her.

Quivering lips. Eyes parsed between horror and remorse. Panting breath. “But you said! You said!”

“Only,” he lied, “what needed to be heard, Esmi. Nothing more.”

“You have to believe me!”

“I do, Esmi… I do believe.”

She clutched her cheeks, scratched welts across them. “Always the whore! Why must I always be the whore?”

He looked through her, past her bewildered hurt, down to the beatings and the abuse, to the betrayals, and beyond, out to a world of rank lust, shaped by the hammers of custom, girded with scripture, scaled by ancient legacies of sentiment and belief. Her womb had cursed her, even as it made her what she was. Immortality and bliss—this was the living promise all women bore between their thighs. Strong sons and gasping climax. If what men called truth were ever the hostage of their desires, how could they fail to make slaves of their women? To hide them like hoarded gold. To feast on them like melons. To discard them like rinds.

Was this now why he used her? The promise of sons in her hips?

Dûnyain sons.

He realizes that he can’t undo this hurt. As she begs to be held by him, he understands that this is the beginning of the pain she will bear because of him.

Achamian wonders why he doesn’t feel much when things are happening, but only later upon reflection, does he experience emotions. He reflects on when the Pederisk, the Mandate recruiter, came to his hovel to claim him as a boy. Achamian’s father refused, saying both they boy was a good fisherman and,”more importantly, Achamian was his son.” His father was beaten for his defiance while a selfish coldness, the type only “children and madmen are sometimes capable” grips him.

He [Achamian] had gloated

Before that day, Achamian would never have believed his father could be so easily broken. For children, hard-hearted fathers were elemental, more deity than human. As judges, they seemed to stand beyond all possible judgment. Witnessing the humiliation of his father produced the first truly sorrowful day of his life—as well as a day of triumph. TO see the great breaker broken… How couldn’t this transform the proportions of a young boy’s world?

“Damnation!” his father had screeched. “Hell has come for you, boy! Hell!”

Only afterward, as they trundled up the coast in the Schoolman’s cart, would he cry, overwhelmed by loss and delinquent regret.

Far, far too late.

He’s pulled from this thoughts by Xinemus’s weak, rasping words saying he sees where he’s going. Achamian asks what he sees, humoring him since Xinemus is blind. Xinemus sees nothing. Achamian says he’ll describe Shimeh “through the eyes of a sorcerer”

Sickness wreathes around Xinemus. Achamian kneels and wipes at his friend’s brow. He wants to flee the lung-plague killing his friend, fearing for his own safety. Xinemus coughs for a while, making unmanly sounds. Soon it passes, and Xinemus says the rules have changed between them. Achamian doesn’t understand. Xinemus explains once it was Achamian waiting for Xinemus to return from councils.

Again Achamian couldn’t think of anything to say. It was as though words had come to their end, to the point where only impotence and travesty could follow. Even his thoughts prickled.

“Did you?” the Marshal abruptly asked.

“Did I what?”

“Did you ever win?”

Achamian says no, but then adds, someday he may be Xinemus at Benjuka. Xinemus disagrees because Achamian tries to hard but is caught off by coughing, unable to finish his point. Then he starts ranting how he sees nothing. He gags, cough blood, thrashes. When it passes, he begs Achamian to leave.

“Leave… me…” his friend gasped. “Leave me… be…”

“This is no time for pride, you fool!”

“Nooooo,” the Marshal of Attrempus whispered. “This… is… the… only…”

And then it happened. One moment his complexion was mottled by the pallid exertions only the dying can know, and then, as quickly as cloth soaking water, it went purple-grey. A cooler air settled through the canvas spaces, the quiet of utterly inert things. Lice thronged from Xinemus’s scalp onto his brow, across his waxy face. Achamian brushed at them, twitched them away with the numb fastidiousness of those who deny death by acting otherwise.

Achamian promises to bathe Xinemus with Proyas in the river. He watches his friend, feeling the weight of this moment. The lice crawl onto his skin, finding a new host. He realizes Xinemus is dead and screams out his pain. “And though his cry reached out across the plains, it fell far short of Shimeh.”

Achamian remembers playing Benjuka with Xinemus in better times while Xinemus explains why he always loses. Achamian tries so hard. Achamian picks up the stone piece that doesn’t match the other silvers. It annoys Achamian to play with it.

Why do I get the stone?

Achamian doesn’t sleep. He’s summoned with Proyas to see Kellhus, but he refuses to go. He rebukes Proyas for doing it, using words so harsh guards draw weapons. Achamian flees into the night and wanders “the dark ways of the Holy War.” His thoughts drift through mundane questions, latching onto anything save “that which might drive the wedges of madness deeper.”

Then, as dawn brightened over the promise of Shimeh in the east, he made his way to the fortified villa. He climbed the slopes ad passed unchallenged through the gates, and finally found himself walking the overgrown garden, heedless of the burrs and claws that snarled his robes, of the nettles that inflamed his skin. He waited below the veranda that fronted the main apartments—where his wife moaned about the cock of the man he worshipped.

He waited for the Warrior-Prophet.

Kellhus, saying Achamian looks terrible, snaps Achamian out of his daze. He’s frightened for Esmenet and asks after her. Kellhus says she’s sleeping but suffered greatly. Achamian thinks Kellhus looks like Nau-Cayûti. Achamian’s anger crumbles “as a child’s might before a mother or a father.” He asks Kellhus why he didn’t heal Xinemus. This shocks Kellhus for a heartbeat, he recovers, but “Achamian’s ears roared with such violence that he heard nothing of Kellhus’s reply, save that it was false.” The awe Achamian once felt for Kellhus is gone. He sees only coldness in Kellhus.

How?

And somehow, unaccountably, Achamian knew that he was truly awake—perhaps for the first time. No longer was that hapless child in this man’s gaze.

Achamian pulled away—no horrified, just… blank.

“What are you?”

Kellhus’s gaze did not falter. “You filch from me, Akka… Why?”

“You are not a prophet! What are you?”

Achamian witnesses a change in Kellhus. Expression dies in him. Kellhus says, in a dead voice, “I am Truth.” Achamian struggles to understand, feeling panicked, horrified. Kellhus forces Achamian to stare at the rising sun. Achamian is choking, held up by the throat. He struggles. When he’s released, Achamian begins preparing cants to kill Kellhus and die in the process.

But the voice would not relent.

Does this mean the sun is empty?”

Achamian paused, turned his face from the grass and scree, squinted at the figure looming above.

Do you think,” a voice crackled across every possibility of hearing, “the God would be anything other than remote?”

Achamian lowered his forehead to the biting weeds. Everything spinning, slumping.

Or do I lie, in that, since I am all souls, I choose the one that will turn the most hearts?”

Achamian is crying, feeling like he’s a child before his abusive father, begging not to be hit. He is terrified, thinking he’ll be good. He feels the guilt of getting Inrau and Xinemus killed. He weeps for them while The Warrior-Prophet held Achamian’s hand

Tomorrow,” he [Kellhus] said, “we march on Shimeh.”

My Thoughts

What a way to start this chapter. To show us where Aurang comes from. With a dream of Seswatha and Nau-Cayûti delving into the Ark, the mighty spaceship that brought the Inchoroi to this world. It’s crash so disrupted them, they lost so much in the impact, that they couldn’t repair it. The Inchoroi, so it seems, who survived weren’t the engineers. They were the soldiers. That was why it took them forever to the No-God running. Needed humans to help them out there beyond the fact that they couldn’t find the right soul to power its operating system.

Cubits. Very biblical measurement there. Not sure what the length is in Bakker’s, but traditionally it was the length of the king’s forearm. So it wasn’t a precise standard of measurement.

There are some great, visceral passages about the Ark and its contents. What have the Inchoroi been doing to make all the bones and detritus? For thousands of years, they’d hoarded and lived in this crashed ship mostly buried in the ground. It’s accumulated not just waste, but literal suffering. What a terrible place to be taken. It makes you wonder what has driven Seswatha and Nau-Cayûti in here.

Why does Achamian, as Seswatha, feel shame during his conversation with Nau-Cayûti, because he’s lying to him. We get that later. He needs to save the world and to do that he has given Nau-Cayûti false hope that he can save his lover.

I think we get some fatherly moments with Seswatha and Nau-Cayûti in this passage since the following series hints pretty clearly that Seswatha may be Nau-Cayûti’s true father. He also sees him as the salvation of mankind when Nau-Cayûti is actually is damnation.

When Aurang arrives, Kellhus immediately contemplates killing Esmenet. It is the shortest path. If he’s focused on only killing his father, his mission as a Dûnyain, he shouldn’t even hesitate. But he instead realizes he has to be very careful here. He wants to protect. He sees beyond killing his father. He has a new mission now. The Circumfix has broken him from being a Dûnyain. He has felt emotions, if weekly. He needs Esmenet as more than just a breeder.

Kellhus has come to love her.

Where there are Men, there are crimes. This takes us back to the very start of the series. The opening with the last survivor of Ishuäl reflecting on it after the bard had raped him, wondering if there can be a crime when the world had ended. Right there is the Inchoroi’s goal. They don’t want to go to damnation and are unwilling to bend to the outside. So they will exterminate the collective unconsciousness that has birthed the outside. It’s very rare that you can find a group bent on annihilating a world and also have a motivation that makes sense.

What would you do to save yourself from eternal damnation if you knew it was your fate?

Right there, with that jar of pain on hearing that Esmenet doesn’t love him, something Kellhus knows, he is feeling that stirring of emotion. Pain and love. It’s faint, but it’s there. Perhaps for the first time, he recognizes it. He felt similar for Serwë once. They are stains of emotions upon Kellhus’s soul. It’s not much, but it’s what allows him to side-step the pure Dûnyain logic. Why he doesn’t side with the Consult like every other Dûnyain would.

Now we see the power of the Inchoroi’s enchantments and how they can get people so horny they cooperate even while being violated. The reek of sorcery gives us a clue how they inspire such lust in a person. As we saw at the end of the Warrior Prophet, it’s impossible for a normal human to resist. Now Kellhus is falling prey to it. Even knowing he’s being manipulated, he’s losing. He’s feeling true lust for the first time.

We’re witnessing the first battle of the Second Apocalypse right here.

Kellhus doesn’t have experience dealing with true lust. He’s feeling it for the first time, and he’s realizing his lack of repetition with it, with dealing with emotions, is a weakness of his. It’s something that will allow the events of the Unholy Consult’s climax to happen.

The No-God was probably speaking to Kellhus during the Circumflex. It’s possible the No-God still is talking to Kellhus. Perhaps the No-God senses Kellhus is a potential component to activate it, though not that he will activate it.

It takes Kellhus some time to decipher Aurang, but by the end, Kellhus is predicting how Aurang will behave. In one encounter, maybe 10 minutes, Kellhus has already understood how Aurang thinks. So don’t be surprised by what is found at Golgotterath at the end of the Unholy Consult.

And now we see the full trap. It’s a devious plan, sending a skin-spy to him as Esmenet. But one that Kellhus was prepared for. No wonder Achamian smelled terrified. Heörsa had to know what was coming.

Love how the skin-spy really doesn’t care that the trap fell. It got to kill somebody and watch them die.

Get a little tease on how Seswatha convinced Nau-Cayûti to go into Golgotterath.

What a poignant scene between Kellhus and Proyas, finally coming together as they both realize what they lost. It’s powerful in its understatement. The naked truth laid bare with that final line of his section.

And there we have Esmenet in denial that she loves Kellhus and it isn’t about worship. He confirms it with his lie to her. He told Aurang the truth, because Aurang knows it, too. He’s studied regular humans for a long time. He understands them. It’s Dûnyain that Aurang doesn’t understand.

Poor Esmenet. Always the whore. She can’t escape her past, try as she might. It’s the darkness that comes before her. I have so much sympathy for Esmenet. She did what she had to survive, she’s trying to escape that past, and it clings to her.

I think this is where Kellhus realizes he loves Esmenet. Through this encounter, as he sees her pain from how he used her. He already felt the guilt of using Serwë, whom I think Kellhus loved ever since he witnessed her rape at the hands of Cnaiür, he just never noticed it. His passions are so weak, it’s only when he hurts them, like a nonman erratic, that he feels anything. When he uses them and sees the consequences is it enough for him to stir those stunted feelings.

It’s often on reflection that we can see things more clearly. That we can understand the import of what happened. When we’re in the middle of events, we don’t understand the significance. We can’t because the future hasn’t happened yet. We don’t know what the consequences are, what it meant. It can change how we felt.

Pederisk. There’s a Greek reference. It’s one that used to mean teaching young boys but got twisted through slander by the Spartans against the Athenians, suggesting it was a sexual relationship, too. Nothing in the text, here, however, suggest that save that Sorcerers and Whores are said to be similar. Like we see Esmenet, and women, are cursed because of their womb, sorcerers are cursed because they can see Creation a little more clearly.

It’s so heartbreaking to watch Xinemus die. He still has some of that pride, not wanting to be seen weak even as he’s utterly broken by the torture. A shell of a man dying of a sickness. Weakened and destroyed by events. Achamian is dealing with those selfish impulses we all have, those ones that hate being imposed upon as he tries to give comfort to his friend in these last moments. And then… it’s over.

Xinemus is gone, his last words talking about how in his final moments, he needed to be proud. To be who he used to be. That was the most important thing to him, to get back to whom he was before the compulsion. Nothing did it. Not vengeance. Not the Warrior-Prophet. Now it’s too late.

Nice call back to that game of Benjuka from Book One.

I think Achamian really surprised Kellhus with his question on why he didn’t heal Xinemus. It wasn’t what he was prepared to deal with, but to give comfort over a death. He recovers almost instantly. Maybe Kellhus is more shook up by this night’s events and realizing he loves Esmenet that he betrayed himself at that moment.

Achamian saw the truth of Kellhus, but Kellhus recovered. He embraced it. He realized he was unmasked, so he used it. He took the shortest way, acting like the remote, all-knowing God to keep Achamian on his side this time. But how much longer can he do that? Where can Kellhus go from here now that he’s abandoned the pretense to Achamian that he’s a soul who loves? Achamian knows it was all a deception.

A powerful chapter all around. One of the best in the series.

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Click her for Chapter Thirteen!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Eleven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 11
Holy Amateu

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

Of all the Cants, none better illustrates the nature of the soul than the Cants of Compulsion. According to Zarathinius, the fact that those compelled unerringly think themselves free shows that Volition is one more thing moved in the soul, and not the mover we take it to be. While few dispute this, the absurdities that follow escape comprehension altogether.

—MEREMNIS, THE ARCANA IMPLICATA

As a miller once told me, when the gears do not meet, they become as teeth. So it is with men and their machinations.

—ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

My Thoughts

What we see about the cants just reinforces what was discussed in the previous chapter about the soul. Free will is an illusion. It is the Darkness That Comes Before that manipulates us, and the Cants seize the soul and provide it with a new “past” of circumstances that then allow it to behave in a different way. But the soul can’t recognize that it’s been changed. That the circumstances that preceded it have shifted because it cannot stand apart from those circumstances. Everything in Bakker’s works follows the belief that in a materialistic universe, there can be no “self-moving soul.”

Then he adds the supernatural, the Outside, to it and plays with the premise of violating causal with something from behind it. As he does here with Compulsion.

When gears teeth don’t meet the they aren’t working properly. They don’t do what they’re supposed to do. I’m not sure Bakker’s analogy is as good as he thinks or I’m missing something from it (since gears have teeth on them that interlock and allow them to work properly), but he appears to be implying that men and their machinations only cause problems to the world. They disrupt things.

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

Two years ago, the Shriah had called the Holy War. From across the three seas, the men came. Now they march from Gerotha through a “subdued land.” None in Xerash defy them. The peoples all submit, offering their food stores, and their daughters, willingly to appease the “Lords of the Holy War.” Newcomers join the Holy War from the sea, shocked by the changes to their kinsmen’s “strange garb and implacable stares.” The Holy War takes few casualties and the soldiers “recalled their old humour” as their burdens lessened.

Unlike other places, there were few atrocities committed since Kellhus made it clear that the “Inrithi either kept or betrayed his word with their actions.” He doesn’t need the Xerashi’s love, only their trust.

While the Kianene have abandoned Xerash, Athjeäri is fighting them in Holy Amoteu. He’s discovering that the Kianene are burning all the wood to deny Holy War siege engines. Athjeäri does what he can, but he’s taking causalities with every raid. “Though he possessed daring in excess, he lacked the manpower required to secure his position.” He writes letters asking for help while Kellhus tells him to be patient and urges the Holy War to march faster.

Ten days after Gerotha’s fall, something “peculiar” happenes. Though accounts varied, all agreed Kellhus spoke with an “old blind man” that somehow was missed by the Hundred Pillars who kept away any who might harm Kellhus. Esmenet feared he was a Cishaurim. Proyas wrote his own eyewitness account in a letter to his father, describing Kellhus dismounting to talk with the man, asking who he is. The man answers, “One who has something to whisper into your ear.”

This provokes alarm as Kellhus asks why the man has to whisper only to him. The man says his words are a doom and Kellhus will kill him. People shout that it’s a Cishaurim trick, but Kellhus listens, kneeling to let the old man whisper. When the man finishes, Kellhus beheads the old man and orders the Holy War to make camp nearby. When pressed, Kellhus would not explain what he was told.

What did the old fool whisper? [wrote Proyas.]

The Inchoroi Aurang reflects on when he was spear bearer for Sil, who led the Inchoroi after they crashed on this world, and the other might deeds he’s done, like riding on Wutteät (Father of Dragons), and their great wars with the Nonman culminating in the Womb-Plague. He was young thing before all his grafts had “sapped his monumental frame.” He thinks they would have won, but Sil was impatient. It led them to being scattered and hunted. It was to men that gave the Inchoroi their “second age of glory.” Men figured out how to “resurrect their aborted designs” leading to him being Horde-General to the No-God. He remembers burning the Great Library of Sauglish. He butchered the Norsirai.

So how had it come to this? Bound to a Synthese, like a king to a leper’s robes. Frail and fugitive. Skulking about the fires of a roused enemy. There had been a time when the screams of thousands had heralded his coming.

He circles a compound surveying the land. He stares to the east where Shimeh, “the very heart of the mannish world” lay. He sees the signs of past countries in the compound, the “furtive mark of their [men’s] generations.” He reflects that he’s older than all of it. He lands in the courtyard where the skin-spies, his children, had left their horses. They come to him and grovel “their groins slick form their victims.”

He reflects how the Consult once thought the strange metaphysics of Psûkhe allowed the Cishaurim to unmask the skin-spies. It Is why they needed the Holy War to succeed. They couldn’t allow half of the Three Seas to be “immune to their poison.” It was why they acted against Xerius, trying to stop his plan to betray it. Now Aurang knows it is the Dûnyain, Anasûrimbor Moënghus, responsible for it all. He sees more in Kellhus’s than a son “hunting for his father.” Even if the Mandate didn’t have their prophecy, Aurang hated the Anasûrimbor bloodline. He fears what Moënghus has done in Shimeh the last thirty years when Kellhus claimed the Holy War in one.

Despite the rank disorder of his soul, the Scylvendi had been right about one thing: these Dûnyain had seized too much already. They could not be allowed the Gnosis as well.

Aurang, his hoary soul wrenching at the seams of the Syntheses that house him, smiled an odd, bird-twitching smile. How long since his last true contest?

The skin-spies gather, unveiling their true faces. He tells them to prepare this place, and one named Ûssirta how he can be certain that Kellhus will stop here. Aurang explains how Kellhus will pause here before entering the plain, learning from Cnaiür that Kellhus won’t be over-eager to march into the plain so close to his goal like a normal man. He will take time to plan.

Men. They had been little more than packs of wild dogs during the First Wars. How had they grown so?

A skin-spy named Maörta asks if “it” approaches. Aurang considers his skin-spies then says that he’s already made a sacrifice to lull Kellhus into thinking he’s uncovered their plot so he won’t be suspicious. They will catch him unaware because “there is treachery in his wife’s heart.”

They would test the limits of this Prophet’s penetration. They would deny him the Gnosis.

The skin-spy gurgles as Eleäzaras says to Esmenet they found him by probing his face with pins. He doesn’t like how clever she is, that she has power over him. He drinks from his wine bowl. Nor is he pleased that she’d learned so fast that the Scarlet Spire had found a skin-spy. He wouldn’t underestimate her again, realizing she’s more than a whore and has true skill at organization.

She was attractive, though. Well worth rutting… To do to her what they had done to that thing’s face. Yes, very attractive

He reflects that they had hardly begun studying the skin-spy when Esmenet had “just walked in” accompanied by Werjau (Eleäzaras thinks, but he was pretty drunk and isn’t sure) and four of the Hundred Pillars, all of them with Chorae. She does it like she has no idea that they’re the Scarlet Spires and they answered to know one especially not a woman. Iyokus says they would have shared once they finished their interrogation.

Whether this was true or false, of course, depended entirely on the information extracted.

Esmenet is doubtful that they would have share, which Eleäzaras isn’t happy she realized and is reminded Shimeh is only days away. He feels the weight of fear at facing the Cishaurim and Shimeh. He’s upset because serving Kellhus wasn’t what he agreed to with Maithanet. That the Mandate being right wasn’t part of the bargain.

How could they have been so deceived? And now to be bent upon murder, to have their knife drawn, only to discover that they had no motive… except self-preservation.

What have I done?

The Scarlet Spire’s privy council has argued over whether they should abandon the war or continue. They are shocked to learn about the Consult and the fact that a skin-spy ruled High Ainon “in their [the Scarlet Spires] name.” They can’t agree and need “decisive leadership—something that their present Grandmaster clearly lacked.” He feels their destruction is coming. Even Iyokus is arguing with him despite the blinded man keeping his position as Master of Spies at Eleäzaras’s insistence. Iyokus doesn’t want to submit to Kellhus, but Eleäzaras doesn’t see how he can treat with Kellhus from a position of strength because “He reads our souls in our faces.” Kellhus can deduce what Iyokus has told Eleäzaras just by asking a question. Iyokus is dismissive of that fact.

There was strength in ignorance, Eleäzaras realized. All his life he had thought knowledge a weapon. “The world repeats,” the Shiradic philosopher Umartu had written. “Know these repetitions, and you may intervene.” Eleäzaras had taken this as his mantra, had used it as the hammer with which to pound cunning into his wit. You may intervene, he would tell himself, no matter what the circumstance.

But there was knowledge beyond hope of intervention, knowledge that mocked, degraded… gelded and paralyzed. Knowledge that only ignorance could contradict. Iyokus and Inrûmmi even believe simply did not know what he knew, which was they though him castrate. They didn’t even believe.

Perhaps it was inevitable that the Intricati appear here and now. That the Warrior-Prophet intervene.

Esmenet, the Intricati, demands to know why she wasn’t summoned. Iyokus says it’s a school matter. She questions that, and Eleäzaras says they are the ones who will face “the Snakeheads,” implying the skin-spy is connected to the Cishaurim. She has “the temerity to step closer” and snap that the skin-spies aren’t Cishaurim and implies the Scarlet Spire is being treacherous. He gets mad, demanding why he’s even speaking to a woman. That infuriates her and he feels fear draining away his contempt. He feels hopeless and apologies.

He wonders what has happened to him. “When would this nightmare end.” He hates how a “caste-menial whore” smiles in triumph, outraging Iyokus. He realizes he’s losing his position as Grandmaster if he doesn’t act like one.

What did I do wrong? something churlish cried within.

She orders the skin-spy handed over since it has no soul for Cants to compel. It’s a royal command. He realizes Iyokus won’t obey. To maintain power, he has to act. He thinks how sweet it would be to fuck the warrior prophet’s woman. As she continues speaking in Kellhus’s name, he asks if she used to be Achamian’s woman. He knows the truth, but wants to hear her say it.

The room goes silent, save for the skin-spy’s dripping blood, as she stares in shock. He points out the irony since he ordered Achamian’s kidnapping which lead to Esmenet achieving her high position. She responds with, “More men should take credit for their mistakes.”

Eleäzaras tried to laugh, but she continued, speaking as though he were nothing more than a creaking pole or a barking dog. Noise. She continued tell him—the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires!—what he had to do. And why not, when he so obviously had abandoned decisions?

Shimeh was coming, she said. Shimeh.

As though names could have teeth.

Esmenet is caught in a downpour, running to reach the safety of her tent. In the warmth, Kellhus and Achamian await her, though Achamian turns back to the skin-spy she claimed from Eleäzaras. It is chained to the central pole, nude. Signs of torture mars its skin. She shudders, realizing how much damage Iyokus inflicted on the creature and realizing Achamian suffered the same for longer.

It mutters Chigra and other words in its language with Achamian talking about its curling face-fingers a reflex caused by being captive. She faces the skin-spy, trying to look tough while feeling foolish, thinking everyone sees through her act.

Was this how it was for others of high station? Perpetual fear? From everything, every word, every act, the consequences hung so heavy, swung so far and deep. The Consult is real.

Kellhus admonishes Achamian, saying he’s thinking of the skin-spies as men when they’re not. They don’t have a “self to hide.” They steal their personalities, and thus are only shells. “The mockery of souls.” Achamian implies that’s enough o replace a human. Kellhus agrees, his words foreboding. Suddenly, Esmenet goes to Kellhus, making sure he’s between her and Achamian. She’s feeling dizzy.

Kellhus asks who the skin-spy impersonated. She says a Javreh slave soldier, one of their Chorae archers (who are reputed to be the best shots in the world). She reveals the skin-spy was exposed by his lover, another Javreh. The Scarlet Spire used pins to probe the face, which Kellhus says is effective but impractical method to implement on everyone. As Kellhus moves from her, she feels naked beofre Achamian.

Achamian speculates they thwarted an assassination attempt. Esmenet realizes that this fear of making mistakes is never going to leave people like her. She says the Consult knows he’s vulnerable to Chorae now. Achamian adds that it this was a gamble, since the Scarlet Spire will scrutinize their Chorae archers the most. Kellhus says it implies the Consult is desperate.

She’s reminded living back in Sumna when Achamian and Inrau were discussing Maithanet’s alliance with the Scarlet Spire. That was the first time men had listened to her. So she adds to the present conversation, saying the Consult would do anything to keep him from gaining the Gnosis.

Chigraaaaaaaa,” the thing wheezed. “Put hara ki zurot…”

Achamian glanced at Kellhus before turning to her with uncommon boldness. “I think she’s right,” he said, gazing with open admiration. “Maybe we can breathe easy, or maybe not. Either way, we should probably keep you cloistered as much as possible.” Though the patronage of his look should have offended her, there was apology in it as well, a heartbreaking admission.

She could not bear it.

The skin-spy, chained up in the tent, knows it was a pawn sacrificed for the “Old Father’s” plan. Despite this, it also knows it won’t be abandoned, that it would be saved despite the air-tight security Kellhus has implement. These two contradictions it could “mull in what passed for its soul without any offense to consistency.”

There was but one measure, one Truth, and it was warm and wet and bloody. The mere thought of it sent spasms through its member. How it yearned! How it ached!

At the right moment, it cries out in its language at a pitch higher than any “mannish ear” could hear. A signal that lets his brothers know that the plan is succeeding.

The Holy War leaves Gim and enter Holy Amoteu. They walk in a land whose names and peoples they grew up reading about in the scriptures. They felt like they’d “come home. At the Anothrite Shrine, seven drown in the mad press to bathe in the holy waters. Every day’s march brought them closer and closer to their goal.

Shimeh, it seemed, lay impossibly near. Shimeh!

Like a shout on the horizon. A whisper become voice in their hearts.

A few days to the east, Fanayal leads his men to hunt Athjeäri, knowing his numbers dwindle. He plots an ambush with a full group of Cishaurim, which disgusts the High Heresiarch Seökti. They attack and though outnumbered, Athjeäri fights head on. “Despite the ferocity of the Inrithi, the situation was hopeless.” Athjeäri is killed by a youth. The Galeoth manage to retrieve Athjeäri’s body from the Fanim at a large cost of life and flee. They find reinforcements only a few hours away led by Lord Soter. Only twenty survived.

The nobles are somber. Kellhus declares Athjeäri Battle-Celebrant and speaks the rite without practice. He then gives a sermon how Inri Sejenus came after the Apocalypse to heal the world while he came before the catastrophe to prepare the world for it. They burn Athjeäri’s body with full ceremony.

The dirges of the Galeoth echoed long into the night.

Finally, the Holy War has crossed the Jarta Highlands but their mood is somber. But they are soon heartened to walk through the lands of Inri Sejenus’s birth. Only Shimeh lies before them. They arrive at an abandoned Nansur villa. Though there is daylight left, Kellhus calls a halt while the others are eager to march on to Shimeh.

Denying them, he took up residence behind the fortified walls.

Esmenet and Kellhus are making love, her on top, “welded to him in singular bliss.” She’s happy for this and thanks him after they climax since she doesn’t get to touch him much anymore. She watches him pant but knows he is not winded. “He was never winded.” She admires his body as she savors the memory of their passion.

As she lies in this room, she thinks back to when the Nansur ruled here, thinking that a long dead Patridomos had coupled here, too. She wonders what he would think of the Kianene, “an obscure desert people,” ruling so much of the world. “Not just individuals but entire ages, she realized, could be innocent or dreadful.”

She thought of Serwë. The perpetual anxiousness returned.

How had the joy of her new circumstances become so elusive? In her old life, she had often quizzed the priests who came to her, and in her darker moods she had even presumed to school them in what she saw as their hypocrisy. With some, those unlikely to return, she had asked what could be missing from their faith for them to find solace in whores. “Strength,” they sometimes answered; several had even wept. But more often than not they denied missing anything at all.

After all, how could they be miserable, when Inri Sejenus had claimed their hearts?

“Many make that mistake,” Kellhus said, standing at the side of the bed.

As he stands over her, she wants him to take her again. But he continues saying that they think you can’t be miserable if you have faith, so they fake that they aren’t, thinking that the others look happy, but they’re the only ones who are weak. “In the company of the joyous they become desolate” then blame themselves. She protest saying she has him, his child. He says he’s the answer not the cure. She starts crying, confused. She clutches him begging for him to take her again.

This one thing I can give…

“There’s more,” he said, drawing back the sheets and placing a shadowy hand upon her belly. “So much more.”

His look was long and sad. Then he left her for Achamian and the secrets of the Gnosis.

Esmenet can’t sleep after Kellhus leaves, catching “fragments of arcane voice that surfaced from the stonework around her.” She drowses, thinking about her pains, like Achamian’s “death” and Mimara’s “death.”

Nothing stayed dead in her life. Her past least of all.

“Walking between Wards is easy,” a voice hummed, “when their author practices other arcana.”

She bolts awake and sees a tall, handsome man over her. She feels a stirring of lust then notices that his shadow “had hooked wings.” She bolts from the bed and presses to the wall as he says he thought paying twelve talents was an outrage, referencing their last encounter in Sumna. Before she can scream, he presses his naked body against her naked back while covering her mouth.

He wanders why some “peaches” are better than others, asking if “the bruises can be swayed away?” He wonders if it’s the peach or the “vendor,” implying his skill is what makes her more enjoyable. She feels a surge of lust, wants him to be in her even as she knew his form is an illusion.

“My children,” he said, “only imitate what they see…”

She whimpered into his suffocating hand—tried to cry out even as her legs slackened to the touch of his probing fingers.

“But me,” he murmured in a voice that ran tickling over hers skin, “I take.”

My Thoughts

Kellhus’s actions at Gerotha, though brutal, have achieved the results he wanted so long as the Holy War doesn’t commit atrocities. A ruler above all must be trusted. Whether love or hated, a ruler who can’t be trusted is one to be feared. A capricious man like Xerius, whose mercurial whim dictated his actions, engendered much terror in his people. They couldn’t trust him to do more than brutalize them. A hard ruler, like Kellhus, can be trusted to keep his word. If he says you won’t be harmed, you won’t. If you break his rules, you can trust him to punish you just as he said. In the end, people prefer predictability over justice.

Doesn’t sound good for Athjeäri. His boldness is catching up to him. He penetrated too deep too many times. His luck is running out.

Interesting to have this quote from Proyas’s letter. These broad, 3rd person omniscient scenes always feel like you’re reading the historical account of the events years later, and having Proyas’s letter quoted in it only reinforces that. It’s an interesting choice on Bakker’s part.

Aurang has grafted his real body so many times he can’t move. Interesting. It’s an insight into the Inchoroi and how they work. They can modify their bodies through grafts. It’s how they gained sorcerery and how they can even talk. They didn’t have mouths before meeting the Nonmen. We get some names dropped here that we’ll see in The White-Luck Warrior, too.

All his great deeds, and he’s stuck as a tiny bird, a glorified messenger serving men who had figured out all their old tech and activated it. Resurrected the No-God once, created the skin-spies. Done things with Tekne Aurang never knew how to do.

Good to see Aurang is finally listening to Cnaiür. He’s using Kellhus’s own logic against him. The problem with doing the shortest, most efficient action is if your opponent can figure that out, he can use it against you. Will it be enough.

Aurang, of course, knows Esmenet is “treacherous.” She gave up Achamian to him without any hesitation back in book 1. Of course, Aurang didn’t know that Achamian told Esmenet to cooperate with any who came asking. He did that to protect her, knowing if she played the whore, they wouldn’t bother hurting her. It worked.

What will Aurang do to her this time? Nice bit of tension here.

Eleäzaras is drinking again even as he wants to hate-fuck Esmenet. He clearly doesn’t like a woman this clever. He’s never encountered it before, and it’s one more thing pressing in on his crumbling world. Nothing is at all as he planned. He’s led his school on a path that may destroy them and he doesn’t have the fortitude to withstand the pressures. It’s an interesting story line. The master manipulator and schemer, so powerful and confident at the start. Another archetype, like Xinemus, broken by the events of the Holy War.

Nothing like showing Esmenet’s power to have her walk into the heart of the Scarlet Spire with only four guys with her. All Eleäzaras can do is fume in humiliation at how low his school has fallen with the advent of Kellhus.

Eleäzaras unraveling is continuing. He is drowning in despair. He sees no way out but to press on and hope they don’t die. He knows he can’t challenge Kellhus. Iyokus doesn’t understand, like anyone else who hasn’t been before Kellhus and been stripped bare. It’s an interesting character arc to explore, the pressure of leadership and how it can destroy a person.

That bitterness pervades Eleäzaras. He doesn’t want to face the consequences of his actions, not even bending before Esmenet’s authority, let alone the greater consequence of dragging his school into this war.

Now he’s lashing out, asking about Achamian. He doesn’t have any power over her other than wounding her soul. So that’s what he does. He’s too weak to submit, his pride too great. His fear too strong. So he hurts her the way his own pride is wounded.

Nice come back from Esmenet, and an interesting one. Since she sees it a mistake that landed her there. Is she wondering what her life would have been like if it didn’t happen?

Well, Eleäzaras, you tried to have balls, but you’ve lost all your confidence. You are so shaken by events, by the fear of catastrophe that you might have lead your school to, you’re crushed.

A nice note of pity from Esmenet for Achamian and what he’s suffered while he was captured. Her walls holding back her true feelings are crumbling more and more.

Esmenet realizing that people posture, even when they have power, while inwardly they wonder if their frauds. If people see through them. Worse, if she appears weak, there could be real consequences. She has to force herself to act like something she’s not. And if you force yourself to do something, soon your brain adopts to it and it’s no longer an act. You can grow accustomed to anything.

Esmenet smiled when Kellhus chided Achamian. For a moment, I believe, she was feeling those days at camp when they sat around the fire. When she was still Achamian’s wife. Now she’s feeling that attraction to Achamian and is afraid, fleeing to Kellhus to shield her.

Weeper is a nice pejorative for Chorae bowmen. We’re seeing the start of Aurang’s plan here. This skin-spy was supposed to be caught. It was supposed to make Kellhus aware of this vector of assassination, skin-spies using Chorae. Note how the skin-spy was exposed by his lover. It wasn’t a good enough mimic.

That was a good moment for Esmenet, back in book one when men listened to her. And it’s so heartbreaking. She’s an intelligent woman. Maybe that comes to why she loves Achamian. He listened to her. And so does Kellhus.

And then we get confirmation from the skin-spy that this was a ruse. While it’s nice to get a skin-spy POV, and we learn about their ability to hear ultrasonic sounds and use that as communication, it might not be a needed seen. A careful reader would have guessed he was supposed to be captured from Aurang’s POV. Either way, it’s well written.

Damn, Athjeäri finally goes down. His exploits have been fun to read. He’s bold and wild and reckless, and it finally caught up with him. Killed by a youth, but then he himself wasn’t that old to begin with. A young man, Saubon’s nephew, eager for conquest and glory. He found glory, the sort of immortalization only youth can give through death.

Just like Aurang predicted, Kellhus waits at the villa to survey the plains instead of rushing headlong into the plains. The problem with always doing the most logical thing, following the shortest way, is its predictability.

Kellhus doesn’t have much time for Esmenet. He has impregnated her. Though he does love her in his own stunted way, he doesn’t need the physical intimacy she does. He just needs her on his side and be willing to be his breeder. I doubt he cares if she takes lovers (which she does) so long as she doesn’t have children. I doubt he’s even jealous that she loves Achamian.

Esmenet is not getting attention and she has Achamian back in her life. She’s starting to feel the difference between the two men. She’s aching to find what she’s missing. Kellhus, of course, reads her like an open book, telling her what he has to.

The hand on the belly. What he wants her for. What the Dûnyain use women for: breeding. He could soothe her tears, but that won’t help him with his mission. He loves her, but he can’t keep her happy. Trying to do that, ultimately, leads to Kellhus’s failure.

Nothing stays dead in her life then… Hey, it’s Aurang, the syntheses, back again. Her life as a prostitute back from the dead.

As we seen in the other times the Inchoroi interact, they give such pleasure with their touch it overwhelms the mind. We also learn that this body is an illusion, but one with substance. Esmenet has been told about this, how else did she know that this was an illusion. She can’t fight it though. No human can.

One of the best cliffhangers in the entire series. Bakker often doesn’t end chapters on such powerful hooks. His chapters are almost like short stories, telling complete arcs that then flow into another instead of cutting so swiftly in mid-scene like this.

Click here for Chapter 12!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Ten

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 10
Xerash

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

Souls can no more see the origins of their thought than they can see the backs of their heads or the insides of their entrails. And since souls cannot differentiate what they cannot see, there is a peculiar sense in which the soul cannot self-differentiate. So it is always, in a peculiar sense, the same time when they think, the same place where they think, and the same individual who does the thinking. Like tipping a spiral on it side until only a circle can be seen, the passage of moments always remains now, the carnival of spaces always sojourns here, and the succession of people always becomes me. The truth is, if the soul could apprehend itself the way it apprehended the world—if it could apprehend its origins—it would see that there is no now, there is no here, and there is no me. In other words, it would realize that just as there is no circle, there is no soul.

—MEMGOWA, CELESTIAL APHORISMS

You are fallen from Him like sparks from the flame. A dark wind blows, and you are soon to flicker out.

—SONGS 6:33, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

My Thoughts

So, Memgowa appears to be saying that we have an illusion of self. That our “soul” our consciousness isn’t real, but a byproduct of observing the world and rooting through the various causes that effect us. It is shackled to the present, to your belief that it’s in your head. The religious quote reinforces that, saying the soul is just sparks from God and will flicker out fast. That’s ephemeral. Almost accidental, like any spark falling from a fire.

A byproduct of combustion.

This feeds into the theme of the book of determinism. That the universe is material, everything is predetermined, and the only way to change that is for the supernatural to bleed through the outside. Memgowa appears to be in the Dûnyain camp of no outside, but as we can see from this world, the Chronicle of the Tusk may have a better explanation, in this universe, for the concept of self. That it is a spark from the outside, an accidental guttering, that lands in a human host, perceives the world for a time, thinks it is real and important, than flickers out by that dark wind, becoming smoke that drifts back to the Outside.

These quotes are to prime us with the conversation Achamian and Kellhus have in this chapter on the nature of souls, the God, and sorcery with Bakker taking the stance that the soul is real where, I think, the above quote is a more atheistic take on self-awareness, a peep into Bakker’s own views, perhaps.

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

Several days after the siege of Gerotha started, the Scarlet Spire arrives. The city, as Kellhus promises, surrenders almost immediately thereafter, the embassy bringing the heads of the loyalist, including Captain Hebarata. This does not appease the Great Names. Kellhus, speaking harshly, says the Gerothans need to make a sacrifice to “atone for and to warn against what had happened.” They defied him for four days, so they have until dawn to kill 4 out of 10 of their number.

That night, while the Holy War celebrated, all Gerotha screamed. Dawn’s light found her walls slicked in blood, their entire circuit ornamented with severed heads, thousands of them, either bundled in fishing nets or strung through the jaw along hanging ropes of hemp. When the heads were counted, it was found that the Gerothans had exceeded their measure by 3,056.

In all of Xerash, no city, town, or fortress would bar her gates against the Holy war again.

As this happens, Athjeäri enters the Sacred Lands, the first Lord of the Holy War to reach Amoteu. He plunges in, finding the people “treacherous and supportive by turns.” Though they are Fanim, they hate the Kianene and think their side is losing. Athjeäri battles deeper, visiting holy sites while evading or defeating the soldiers Fanayal sends after him.

Hurall’arkeet, the desert men began to call him—the “Wind Has Teeth.”

Finally, on the Day of Palms, the iron-clad knights rode into Beseral, the ancestral home of the Latter Prophet’s now-extinct line. Though the Inrithi mission had fled long ago, many Amoti gathered to cheer the haggard wayfarers.

For such hearts, they told one another, had to be holy.

Esmenet and Kellhus walk before Achamian through Gerotha, the pair talking like he’s not even there. The “Toll of Days” has been paid and now the Sacral Retinue toured Gerotha to be “seen, Achamian imagined, as to inspect his [Kellhus’s] prize.” Esmenet gives on update on Joktha she received from the Scarlet Spire, saying Cnaiür has it under control.

Achamian could only watch and listen with dismay and admiration. It was a marvel to see her thus. There was her appearance, of course, her hair pinned in a jeweled brace, her gown—a Kianene chiton—sewn for the courts and pleasure gardens of the White Sun Palace in Nenciphon. But there was her bearing as well. Upright. Guileless. Penetrating and ironic. She was a match, and an easy one at that, for her new-found station.

It made breathing difficult. I have to stop this!

He remembers how it was when it was just him and Esmenet, how he could touch her and now Kellhus “had become the centre, the way station that all must cross to find one another.” He feels a “heartbroken beggar” following along behind them, wondering why she called him strong.

Kellhus comments that Eleäzaras had insulted Esmenet, and she say a whore. Kellhus tells her she needs to expect these insults since she is unfamiliar to them. After she makes a quip, bringing a laugh from Kellhus, he talks about how men think primarily “in terms of things, not relation.” He explains this is why men think gold, not belief, makes coins valuable. Esmenet realizes he is talking about herself, saying men can’t understand that she has value to the Warrior-Prophet as more than a whore.

A sliver of sunshine flickered across her, and for an instant everything about her, from the pleats along her chiton to her red-painted lips, gleamed silk. The two of them seemed something otherworldly in that moment—too beautiful, too pure, for the dingy brick and unkempt hearts that surrounded them.

Esmenet makes a dick joke, and Achamian feels pain hearing her speak in “the old way.” He’s not sure why though. Kellhus jokes with her, speaking how men see gold and dicks the same way because they make it relevant, even Eleäzaras.

Shaking his leonine head, the Warrior-Prophet laughed to the heavens. And though Achamian could feel the laughter’s contagion, its preternatural demand to celebrate things great and small, grief struck all breath from him. Anasûrimbor Esmenet glanced about, her look shy with joy. Her eyes clicked away the instant she met his desolate gaze.

She took her husband’s hand.

The Lords of the Holy War gather in the ruins of Xerash’s palace, Charaöth waiting on Kellhus. Achamian is on the periphery, surprised that Charaöth wasn’t destroyed by the Kianene. To the Inrithi, it is an evil place, the “very heart of malevolence” while, Achamian later learns, the Kianene see it as a holy place. He feels the weight of evil king Shikol who once ruled from here, a man Achamian’s mother would threaten him with as a child.

Achamian is trying to ignore Esmenet, who is sitting nearby. As the crowd grows quiet, and Achamian thinks Kellhus has arrive,d he spots a sorcerous bird (the Synthese). Then Kellhus enters and Achamian senses the Mark on him. “It dirtied him [Kellhus] somehow, even as it augured an unthinkable future.” The bird has Achamian unnerved. He wonders if it’s from the Consult or if it’s “scarlet mischief.”

Kellhus starts with a sermon about how here Shikol condemned Kellhus’s “brother,” Inri Sejenus. He talks about how they are finally treading “the very ground of scripture.” He bids the lords to reflect on their journey, on all that they had conquered to reach here. Achamian sees “the disc of ethereal gold, the halo” about Kellhus’s right hand. He is reaching towards the horizon where they will march a final time to Shimeh, saying, “Even now we rewrite the scripture of this place!”

The Great and Lesser Names, who had watched rapt, erupted in shouts of ardour and worship. And Achamian could not but wonder what they must sound like to the Gerothans skulking the alleys below. The mad conquerors…

Kellhus says that the Men of the Tusk are something new, something better than before. That they are “the God’s own knife, cast in the crucible of plague, thirst, and starvation.” In the middle of his exhortation of them, he trails off and says men like to boast, asking who hasn’t “whispered lies in a maiden’s ear” Everyone laughs as he abandons his oration, shifting from the Warrior-Prophet to the Prince of Atrithau, their peer and drinking buddy now. He switches back to talking about war and doom and the glory of their task, saying it will “outshine that belonging to any of our forefathers.” He says they are giants. Which rings thunderous applause. Even Achamian is swept up, shedding tears, confused by his emotions. Even Esmenet cries.

“So who?” Kellhus bellowed through the trailing thunder. “Who is this menial who speaks as King?”

Sudden silence. The buckled stone, with its lattice of weeds and grasses, seemed to hum. The Warrior-Prophet held out both shining hands—a welcome, an appeal, a breathtaking benediction. And he whispered…

I am.”

Achamian reflects, as Kellhus dismounts the dais and motions for a prayer to begin, how men submit to hierarchy wherever they go. Kellhus, however, overturns all that wit his own hierarchy. Achamian thinks the world is bending around Kellhus and imagines Esmenet sleeping with him, and is suddenly afraid she’ll be destroyed by Kellhus as Achamian recognizes Kellhus is a prophet.

So what did that make of Achamian’s hate?

Achamian doesn’t join the discussion as the conquest of Amoteu, the lands around Shimeh, are plotted. The Holy War has one last march to make. He feels like everything is so surreal, noting how civil it is. No one’s bickering is “fueled by wounded or overweening pride.” Kellhus had ended that. They were his “unto death.” There were disagreements, of course, but no one is judged for dissenting. A Kellhus says, “where was Tyrant, the clear-eyed need fear no oppression.” The order of the march is determined, with the Thunyeri leading the van. Not even Kellhus knows what the Fanim plan, though the Scarlet Spire expect that the Cishaurim will fight in Shimeh instead of abandoning it. They expect Fanayal to either contest their march or retreat to the city. There, he would give fight. Everyone can feel that both the Cishaurim and Kian would win or lose. Kellhus says they must march now.

“We diminish,” he [Kellhus] said, “while they grow.”

Achamian’s gaze wanders, somethings to Esmenet who receives reports from functionaries, to Werjau, Gayamakri, and the other Nascenti standing behind Kellhus. Achamian realizes that the Holy War, starting off as a “migratory invasion led by a raucous council of chieftains” had become an emperor’s court. They no longer led, but advised Kellhus like generals. This has caused the rules to change, just like they did in benjuka. He finds it absurd.

Near sunset, Achamian has a head ache and he yearns for that bird he spotted to be prelude to a Consult attack so he could do something. Then the council ends. He feels Esmenet watching him, but he can’t approach her because others do. Proyas, however, does. Things are awkward at first, with Proyas clearly uncomfortable. He tells Achamian he should see Xinemus. Though he hasn’t asked for Achamian, he talks about him. Achamian says he has to protect Kellhus, his sharp retort angering Proyas. Achamian thinks Proyas is broken now and as Proyas argues he can visit, Achamian finds himself punishing Proyas by refusing. Achamian realizes he still bears old grudges he can’t help but seek payment for. Proyas repeats the request and leaves in bitterness. Achamian, feeling numb, watches with a blank mind at the interactions around him, feeling suddenly alone.

He knew nothing of his family, that this mother was dead. He despised his School almost as much as his School despised him. He had lost every student, in one way or another, to the blasted Gods. Esmenet had betrayed him…

He coughed and swallowed, cursed himself for a fool. He called out to a passing slave—a surly-looking adolescent—told him to fetch some unwatered wine. See, he thought to himself as the boy ran off, you have one friend. His forearms against his knees, he stared down at his sandals, frowned at his untrimmed toenails. He thought of Xinemus. I should see him…

A shadow fell on him and he knows it’s Kellhus. He asks if it’s time. Kellhus said soon. Achamian dreads their nightly lessons on the Gnosis. It unnerves him to witness Kellhus make intuitive jumps in logic with the War-Cants. He fears how much Kellhus “so effortlessly outran his [Achamian’s] ability to compare or categorize?”

Kellhus asks what troubles Achamian, and he almost says, “What do you think?” but instead asks why would he attack Shimeh when Golgotterath is the enemy of the world. Kellhus says Achamian is tired and suggests canceling the evening’s lesson, but Achamian interrupts. He’s fine. “Sleep and Mandate Schoolman are old enemies.”

Kellhus nodded, smiled sadly. “Your grief… It still overcomes you.” For some treacherous reason Achamian said, “Yes.

Though most have left, some watch from “a discreet distance,” waiting on Kellhus. He waves them away and soon Achamian is alone with him. They sit in silence while a cool wind blows around them. Achamian feels like he’s hiding from his father as a child. A part of him can’t believe Shikol once inhabited this place.

Kellhus talks about how he used to hear only noise from the world, but now there is a voice. This makes Achamian shiver. For a moment, Achamian sees the halos around Kellhus’s hands while Kellhus looks to the horizon.

“Tell me, Akka,” Kellhus said. “When you look into a mirror, what do you see?” He spoke as a bored child might.

Achamian shrugged. “Myself.”

A teacher’s indulgent look. “Are you so certain? So you see yourself looking through your eyes, or do you simply see your eyes? Strip away your assumptions, Akka, and ask yourself, what do you really see?”

“My eyes,” he admitted. “I simply see my eyes.”

“Then you don’t see yourself.”

Achamian stares dumbfounded as Kellhus grins and asks where he is if he can’t be seen. Achamian says he’s here, and Kellhus asks where that is. Achamian is confused as Kellhus asks how he can be here when Kellhus is here and Achamian is there. Achamian realizes Kellhus is playing word games.

Kellhus nodded, his expression at once cryptic and bemused. “Imagine,” he said, “that you could take the Great Ocean, in all its immensity, and fold it into the form and proportion of a man. There are depths, Akka, that go in rather than down—in without limit. What you call the Outside lies within us, and it’s everywhere. That is why, no matter where we stand, it’s always here. No matter where we dare treat, we always stand in the same place.”

Metaphysics, Achamian realized. He spoke metaphysics.

“Here,” Achamian repeated. “You’re saying here is a place outside place?”

Kellhus begins talking how a body is merely the place where a soul breaches into the world. This means that they are in the same metaphysical space because, as Achamian splutters in realization, Kellhus is saying they’re the same person. Kellhus says there is only one Soul “breaching the world in many different places” while failing to recognize itself. Achamian thinks this is “Nilnameshi foolishness.”

“This is just metaphysics,” he said, the very instant Kellhus whispered, “This is just metaphysics…”

Achamian is shocked, not sure if he had spoken those words of if Kellhus had spoken through him. He starts to realize Kellhus must be him, “How else could he know what he knows.” Then Kellhus asks why some people can “work miracles,” sorcery, and other’s can’t. Achamian starts to explain but then realizes he doesn’t, that he’s ignorant like every other sorcerer. Despite that, he gives the answer that it’s about “meanings.” He doesn’t know why it is that the “meanings are different” for some. Kellhus then asks if love means the same thing to Achamian.

Reward the intellect and punish the heart. It was always the same with Kellhus.

“What are you saying?”

“That the meaning is different because what it recollects is different.”

Esmenet.

Achamian starts to ask if sorcerers are recalling something and then realizes what Kellhus means, this one soul. Kellhus presses him, asking him what he can remember “that might make miracles of mere words?” Achamian, confused, thinks of his fight with the Scarlet Spire at Iothiah. He wonders how could a “mere man say such things” and reshape the world.

“We kneel before idols,” Kellhus was saying, “we hold open our arms to the sky. We beseech the distances, clutch at the horizon… We look outward, Akka, always outward, for what lies within…” He splayed a hand against his chest. “For what lies here, in this Clearing that we share.”

Achamian says the ubersoul is the God that is looking out “from behind all our eyes.” Kellhus says all humans are God, that the God watches the world through everyone’s eyes. Humans just forgot that, have become detached before the “immensities of the world.” But the Few are those who haven’t forgotten as much as others. He remembers a moment during the battle when he’d performed sorcery beyond even Seswatha’s ability. He wonders who he’d been at that moment.

“To speak sorcery, Akka, is to speak words that recollect the Truth.”

“Truth,” Achamian numbly repeated. He understood what Kellhus said, he knew, and yet something within him refused to grasp. “What truth?”

“That this place behind our face, though separated by nations and ages, is the same place, the same here. That each of us witnesses the world through innumerable eyes. That we are the God we would worship.”

Achamian has the feeling he was the God staring through eyes of different people. Suddenly, the Cants of Calling and Compulsion make sense, along with Seswatha’s dream. Kellhus continues, saying Achamian has thought himself an outcast, making him bitter and ready to castigate those who hate him. He’s lived in shame even while believing he was better than those who spat at him. Achamian would demanded to know “why must I be damned.”

And Achamian thought, He is! He is me!

Kellhus smiled, and somehow—impossibly—Achamian saw Inrau in the iridescent cast of his [Kellhus’s] look. “We are each other.”

But I’m broken… Something’s wrong with me!

“Because you’re a pious man born to a world unable to fathom your piety. But all that changes with me, Akka. The old revelations have outlived the age of their intention, and I have come to reveal the new. I am the Shortest Path, and I say that you are not damned.”

Just as he’s seized by this awe, the old Mandate Catechism whispers in his mind, adding doubt, but Kellhus keeps talking, explaining how a sorcerer “works miracles because they recall the God.” That’s what the Mark is, the flawed re-creation of the Few who are unable to perfectly recollect “the God’s voice.” They lack all the angles the God has to see, all the “thousand eyes that look out from this clearing we call ‘here.’”

Achamian asks about the Cishaurim. Kellhus explains that by blinding themselves, they can’t see this world which allows them to better recollect what the God’s see. This allows them to “recall the tone and timbre, the passion of the God’s voice—to near perfection—even as the meanings that make up true sorcery escape them.”

And there it was: the mysteries of the Psûkhe, which had baffled sorcerous thinking for centuries, dispelled in a handful of words.

The Warrior-Prophet turned to him, clutched his shoulder with a shining hand. “The Truth of Here is that it is Everywhere. And this, Akka, is what it means to be in love: to recognize the Here within the other, to see the world through another’s eyes. To be here together.

His eyes, luminous with wisdom, seemed unbearable.

Kellhus says this is why Achamian suffers because Esmenet was here but has now turned away. Achamian asks why he’s telling him this. “Because you are not alone.”

Fanashila believed slavery agreed with her. She enjoys her new life as Esmenet’s servant. It’s an easy life, and had the benefits of giving her power among the other slaves. “How could the freedom to chase goats compare with this?” We get a taste of the slave hierarchy, with those like Opsara who were part Kianene and thought themselves better than the others.

The only part she really doesn’t like is kneeling in worship while a Shrial Priest gives a sermon in a language she only knows little. She hates praying to the idols, which she finds grotesque like Ajokli, or made her blush like Giera. Though the priest call them “Aspects of the God” Fanashila knows they’re demons. Still, she prays “just as she was told.” Sometimes, she’ll notice the little signs of her true faith peeking through and it makes her silently repeat her word’s faith.

One for the Unbeliever… One for the Unseeing Eye…

This, she decided, had to be enough. What harm could there be in praying to demons, when the Solitary God commanded all? Besides, the demons listened… They actually answered their prayers. Why else would the idolaters be the slavers and the faithful the slaves?

At night, she sleeps in a large tent with the other slave women. Some who cause trouble, or are beautiful, are taken away and don’t always return. “But as far as Fanashila was concerned, they brought it on themselves.” She believes as long as she obeys, she’ll be rewarded. When it’s her turn to be taken away one night, she clings to the belief that she was obedient and will be fine, that Lady Esmenet will protect her.

Koropos, a freed Inrithi slave and now overseer, doesn’t answer her questions. She thinks she’s being taken to someone’s bed. She thought they wouldn’t dare rape and despoil her because Lady Esmenet protected her.

She’s brought before Werjau, which shocks her. She kneels and he asks her, in a gentle voice, about a rumor. She doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but relief sweeps through her. She likes gossiping.

Werjau smiled down at her, stood so perilously near she could smell the sour of his crotch. He brought a callused thumb to her chin. She shuddered as he traced the outline of her lips.

“That they are lovers still,” he said. Though his gaze remained remote, something seemed to… smirk in his tone.

Fanashila swallowed, afraid once again. “They?” she asked, blinking tears. “Who?”

“The Prophet-Consort and the Holy Tutor”

My Thoughts

Well, we see a typical Dûnyain solution to the siege and the rest of the war. By making the Gerothans punish themselves for defiance, he has shown everyone else in Xerash not to defy him. And it worked. He found the shortest way to conquer the area and probably saved more lives than would be killed if had to conquer them all, but… this sort of greater good philosophy, the ends justify the means, is not a great solution to the worlds ills.

Bakker takes a moment to show us that Xerash (the land of evil) and Amoteu (the Holy Land of Inri Sejenus) are so alike, the people so close in custom and appearance, the terrain flowing without any demarcation from one to he other, that Athjeäri doesn’t even notice it. Bakker’s showing us that these beliefs are as fictitious as the dividing line between these two people. Like a spiral set on a side appears to be a circle; it’s not real.

Athjeäri’s march is how legends are formed. You can see it as the people cheer him. Even if the Holy War fails, the Amoti and Kianene will talk about him. He’ll grow to such heights that in a thousand years, it won’t be a band of five hundred, but a small company made up of Athjeäri and his few loyal retainers who fight against odds. To the Kianene, they’ll be remembered as great villains, but to the conquered Amoti, perhaps they’ll be seen as symbols of resistance. And, in the present, of course, they’re being cheered because everyone loves rooting for the underdog when he’s winning.

We have an update on Uranyanka and his blasphemy and sedition. Does this matter? I will try to pay attention to this name.

Poor Achamian. How torturous it has to be to serve the man who stole your women then have to see them chatting (speaking of political matters is Kellhus and Esmenet’s small talk) in marital serenity. He’s trying to move on, but can’t.

More insight into Kellhus about how people, especially men, think. Men, as a whole, are more into things than women are (always exceptions, of course). Men think things have value in them based on what they do, not what you believe them to do. To the powerful, like Eleäzaras, she’s just a woman, a companion to bring comfort, a vessel in which to pour in seed and create strong sons. They can’t see her as an object that has the value Kellhus believes she has, just like they can’t realize the coin is only valuable not because of what it is, but because of what they believe.

The reason hearing Esmenet make the dick joke disturbs Achamian is the contrast. He’s trying to see her as the Empress, the consort to the Holy Prophet, to let her go. To see her as something greater than him. Something he’s not worthy to behold, but that Kellhus is, then he’s reminded that she’s a common-born whore. Just like he’s the common-born son of a fisherman. That banter used to their way of talking, and now she shares it with Kellhus.

Right before Esmenet takes Kellhus’s hand is the first time Achamian thinks of her as Kellhus’s wife, Anasûrimbor Esmenet. I did a search of the ebook’s text, and this is the only time in the ENTIRE novel she is addressed this way. Seeing her laughing and joking, a real woman and not the ideal, has proven to Achamian that she is lost.

Lurid tales written about people by their enemies sometimes have a ring of truth in it. Maybe Shikol wasn’t “making sport” with children in the middle of his throne room, and yet there looks like a bed might have been there. Right in the middle of the room. Maybe something else happened there that provided the foundation. Or maybe not. It’s Bakker showing us how the official narrative, like who Kellhus is, might not be the reality. But there has to be some kernel of truth to be there to lay that foundation.

“Scarlet mischief”… What a nice way to frame the Scarlet Spires schemes. To Achamian, concerned with Apocalypse, their petty plots are just mischief. Something petty and childish going on while the adults conduct real business.

For a moment, Achamian is swept up in the belief and sees the halos, then he loses it, thinking everything is mad as he imagines what the people of the city must think of these fanatics. Achamian’s mind is schooled to question everything.

Kellhus is working the crowd. Getting them pumped, then reminding them not to boast too much. They have done great things, but they can’t let themselves over exaggerate. Because, as he says, “War watches through our eyes.” They are doing great works. He is making them feel good about the evils they are committing on their “holy” war.

Kellhus uses even the location to his effect, bringing up evil King Shikol judging Inri Sejenus and taking his place after getting the entire crowd pumped up with how awesome they are. He fought a great battle here and triumphed.

Bakker starts the section of the war council talking about how men submit to hierarchies, then we have Achamian realizing that the hierarchy of the Holy War has shifted to an imperial court, everyone adopting their new roles and following the new roles, even him, as the vizier.

Pettiness can destroy any relationship if we let it. It can be so easy to do.

Uranyanka’s story progresses in the background. Achamian doesn’t get why the Ainoni are laughing at him kissing Kellhus’s knee, but we learned previously that he’s given up his blasphemy. Clearly, he’s making a public declaration.

Feeling alone in a crowd is the worst thing. Poor Achamian. Lost Inrau and Proyas to the Thousand Temples and Kellhus to his own prophethood. His women left him, his mule is dead. He needs to write a Country-Western song.

Achamian feels like a petulant child now after his angry flareup at Kellhus. He sees Kellhus as his father, imagines hiding from him. Why? Notice Kellhus says that strange line about Achamian being tired, telling him to go to bed. It puts Achamian in the place of a child and he reacts accordingly. Kellhus has manipulated the darkness. Cause and effect.

The voice Kellhus hears is very real. He heard it on the Circumfix, and I think he heard it earlier in his trance where he saw the future, which is I think the first time the outside touched him. Perhaps that was Ajokli molding Kellhus to be his avatar, perhaps it was the No-God reaching out to someone who could activate it. Either way, he saw the heart. No way Kellhus could have predicted pulling Serwë’s heart out of his own chest. He might have seen the Circumfix that early, but performing an actual miracle? No.

And it was a miracle. He did pluck Serwë’s heart out of his chest. A topoi had formed there and the outside bled through.

Okay, the we are all one soul thing failing to recognize each other is an interesting concept, but I don’t think that’s how Bakker’s world truly works. We see that in the Outside souls are still separate entities. They feed on each other. Enslave each other. We get this from demons that are summoned feed on each other. That’s what the gods do. And the No-God sucks in souls, stealing them. That’s it’s purpose to end the Outside and allow souls to find oblivion instead of damnation. Kellhus is spinning this tale to convert Achamian into a believer. To break through Achamian’s doubt. He’s doing it through metaphysics, by manipulating him into a state of mind and then using sorcery as his Truth to anchor his lie to.

Great observation on Bakker. Words, of course, have their denotation, their dictionary definition, but they also have their connotation, what they imply. Those connotations can shift over time, leading to words having archaic meanings. Gay used to be a word that meant happiness and joy. Over the years, it shifted its meaning until using it in that way sounds inappropriate to us because the word know conjures those who are homosexual, particularly men. Decimate is another. It used to mean to kill a tenth of something, a fraction, whereas know it means to utterly destroy something. Other words, like love, have so many shades of meaning to just one person, let alone to other English-speaking people who have to use that one word to cover such a vast array of feelings, emotions, and relationships. It can never have a meaning that is the same for every single person unlike, say, pebble.

Kellhus is speaking of a very Luciferian doctrine. The idea that all humans are God. Have that potential for divinity and can achieve it through enlightenment. At the same time, he’s speaking the truth about sorcery. That it is recollecting the divine, not the God in the sense of Inrithism, but the Absolute that the Dûnyain seek. That all-encompassing knowledge. The Pleroma, the light of creation, from Gnosticism in our own world. Whether souls, including the gods like Yatwer and Ajokli, are truly bits of one ubersoul or not, sorcery works on tapping into the memory of the Absolute Truth, the Absolute Knowledge of the Universe, of Creation itself, and therefore can change it. It’s not done well, hence the Mark. Though Psûkhe, thanks to its reliance on emotion, does a better job of mimicking it.

A theme of Bakker’s is that neither pure intellect or pure emotion is good. We get the extremes of the Dûnyain and the Inchoroi from those two extents. But Psûkhe, knowledge fused with emotion, allows the creation of miracles so perfect they are indistinguishable from reality.

There is just so much truth in the lies that Kellhus is spinning to capture Achamian. This one soul theory is allowing Achamian to re-frame his existence into a new way of looking at things and realizing he’s not damned. And in that, though, his rational doubt is working against the faith Kellhus is creating in him.

Interesting that Kellhus, even with the Metagnosis, still has the mark. He never sees the world through all the angles. And we know that the miracles of the Gods, like what Yatwer works on Psatama in the next series, don’t bear the mark. The Hundred, whether true gods or demons, can clearly see the world better than Kellhus.

They can deceive Kellhus.

Kellhus is doing all of this to help Achamian get over his grief. He needs Achamian to accept Esmenet’s loss, but also understands the man has to get through his grieving processes. Kellhus did something similar with Esmenet in the last book. He had to overcome the guilt she felt for loving again and for moving on. For leaving the here of Achamian for a new here.

What a profound comment on human nature. It’s not the bondage that humans have a problem with, it’s the conditions. Fanashila has to serve Esmenet, but she’s not demeaned or humiliated. She’s not beaten or coerced. She gets perks. It’s not drudgery like being “free” would give her.

This is one of the first mentions of Ajokli we get, and it’s not of him with the four horns like in later books, but him with his head on a his dick. Maybe Bakker made a mistake, or maybe he’s showing us the more trickster and mischievous elements of the god then his assassin persona we see in the next book.

Not all religions can survive being enslaved. If you believe your God is all powerful and then your enemy wins, well, that’s a knock to faith. Fanashila is holding onto what she has, but she’s finding contentment in her new life.

Koropos was a freed slave. Now he’s in charge of slave, returning on his enemy what happened to him. It’s a subtle thing on the cyclical nature of human behavior and how these patterns can lock us into problems for generations.

So Werjau is maneuvering against Esmenet. But as far as I know, this is never brought up again in the books. He never acts on this. It never impacts the plot. This is like some story thread that wasn’t fully excised from the book. I’ll pay attention going forward. Maybe I’m wrong and there’s something subtle here, but I think this is the one time in this trilogy of a plot thread that doesn’t matter.

Click here for chapter eleven!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Nine

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 9
Joktha

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

In the skins of elk I pass over grasses. Rain falls, and I cleanse my face in the sky. I hear the Horse Prayers spoken, but my lips are far away. I slip down weed and still twig—into their palms I pool. Then I am called out and am among them. In sorrow, I rejoice.

Pale endless life. This, I call my own.

—ANONYMOUS, THE NONMAN CANTICLES

My Thoughts

The person speaking sounds like an Erratic to me, though his words were collected by a Human or perhaps humans translated the Erratic’s words into a human tongue. Note the emphasis on what the person is doing. It is all present tense. He lives in the present because the past is fading. The Horse Prayer comes from far away. He is running, searching, but all he finds is sorrow. And he enjoys that, because in sorrow he can remember his past life, those he loved and knew. Immorality is a “pale endless life.”

It is an intriguing quote to start a chapter with. It’ll make us think about the skin-spies. They move like the Nonman, but they don’t even have a past. They leave forever in the present, slipping from one identity from another. There life is endless and not just pale, but colorless.

This is an appropriate quote because, more than anything, this chapter is about the skin-spies.

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

Cnaiür awakes feeling older. It reminds him of a time he woke one time while out on the Steppes and discovered that someone had, in ancient times, carved a relief into a cliff he slept beneath. It depicted a king celebrating his victory including a captured Scylvendi “from another age.” As Cnaiür comes to, he hears a man (Conphas, though Cnaiür doesn’t realize this) speaking, saying he felt pity at the end of the Battle of Kiyuth. Then he amends and says he felt regret seeing the myth of the Scylvendi destroyed. “The world became weaker.” It lead Conphas to realize he could defeat any obstacle.

Cnaiür realizes he is lying bound on the ground . Cnaiür is still coming out of his concussion from his severe beating. Conphas rants how Cnaiür meant nothing, that only Kellhus should be the “sole object of the Empire’s concern.” Conphas realizes that fixating on Cnaiür was a mistake because “What are the abuses of flesh compared with glory?” Cnaiür thinks there is no glory. Conphas laments all the casualties he took taking Jocktha, knowing Cnaiür was behind the costly tactics of the defenders. He “almost” wished Cnaiür commanded at Kiyuth so Conphas could vanquish him, a god defeating a demon. Conphas says they are kin.

“Are you,” Cnaiür rasped, “a god?”

The man [Conphas] stood, looked at him [Cnaiür]. Points of lantern light rolled like liquid across the figures worked into his cuirass. His voice possessed a shrill edge. “I know you love me… Men often beat those they love. Words fail them, and they throw their fists into the breach… I’ve seen it happen many times.”

Cnaiür rolled his head back, closed his eyes for pain. How had he come to be here? Why was he bound?

“I know also,” the man continued, “that you hate him.”

Him. There could be no mistaking the word’s intensity. The Dûnyain. He spoke of the Dûnyain—and as though he were his enemy, no less. “You do not want,” Cnaiür said, “to raise arms against him…”

“And why would that be?”

Cnaiür turned to him, blinking. “He knows the hearts of men. He seizes their beginnings and so wields their ends.”

Conphas gets mad, accusing Cnaiür of succumbing to the religion. Conpha is angry because he thought he’d found a peer in Cnaiür, admitting he even thought of making Cnaiür his Exalt-General. Cnaiür is still confused as Conphas rants why he couldn’t elevate Cnaiür to such a rank because the army would mutiny, but he thought with Cnaiür he could “eclipse even Triamis.”

Now Cnaiür realizes who is before him. Memories come back to him as he notices a “god with a beaten face.” Cnaiür laughs, stunning Conphas. Cnaiür realizes the man was sincere about thinking Cnaiür was his brother, his equal. This makes Cnaiür laugh more, insulting Conphas, saying, “Your heart is shrill and your soul is plain.” He calls it a stupid idea. Conphas is too weak to be his brother. Conphas kicks Cnaiür in the head. He only laughs as Conphas retreats leaving the tent. Cnaiür feels himself “slipping between immensities—the earth that pressed so cruelly against his battered frame and the commotion of men and their fatal purposes.”

At last, something deep laughed within him. At last it ends.

General Sompas enters and cuts Cnaiür’s bonds, telling Cnaiür his Chorae is on the table. Sompas reveals he’s a skin-spy taking Cnaiür to Serwë. The skin-spy has no problem leading Cnaiür out of camp even though he’s wearing a captain’s uniform. Conphas’s discipline holds, and the soldiers know “Biaxi Sompas was his man.”

“Is it always this easy?” Cnaiür asked the creature.

“Always,” it said.

In the blackness beneath a stand of carob trees, Serwë and another of her brothers awaited them, along with eight horses laden with supplies. Dawn had not yet broken when they heard the first of the horns, faint in the distance behind them.

Conphas, hunting Scylvendi, is feeling terror a “word he had always regarded from the outside.” He doesn’t understand how Cnaiür makes him feel this way. He reflects that his race has an obsession with the Scylvendi despite their hatred, their imagination fired by their mystique. Because the Scylvendi have beaten the Nansur so many times, its made the Scylvendi seem more manly. Conphas sees that in Cnaiür, just like his soldiers who were afraid to fight him earlier at Jocktha. He was like Gilgaöl, the God of War, given flesh.

And now, after wrestling him to the ground like some lunatic bull, after the wonder of capturing him—capturing War!—he had simply vanished.

Cememketri said it wasn’t sorcery, and suggested “Faceless Ones” as they call skin-spies, especially since some soldiers reported seeing Sompas freeing Cnaiür. Learning that one had killed his uncle has caused Conphas to admit that they are not Cishaurim since it made no sense for them to kill their secret ally. However, he can’t quite believe that they’re from the Consult. He wonders if the Second Apocalypse was on them.

Terror. How could he not be terrified?

All this time Conphas had assumed that he and his uncle had stood at the root of all that happened. No matter how the others plotted, they but thrashed in the nets of his hidden-designs—or so he thought. Such errant! All along, others had known, others had watched, and he hadn’t the slightest inkling of their intentions!

What was happening? Who ruled these events?

Not Emperor Ikurei Conphas I.

Conphas’s realization that he isn’t alone, but has men who followed him, thinking that the “ability to cede voice and limbo to the will of another” was mankind’s great genius. To follow allowed them to join together and extend power, and since he was the Emperor, he controlled it. If things are simple, he could handle it. And he would start with Cnaiür. He imagines “killing a son of his ancestral enemy” was the first step to restoring the Emperor. He sees himself as a mighty as the rulers of old.

No wonder the savage had laughed!

Conphas thinks the Gods are behind this, resenting them like you’d resent “children of a different father.” He questions why he spared Cnaiür, struggling to under stand “what vice or vanity” stopped him. He cries for Sompas and asks if he’d like to be the Exalt-General.

The ingrate [Sompas] swallowed. “Very well, God-of-Men.”

How he [Conphas] missed Martemus and the cool cynicism of his gaze. “Take the Kidruhil—all of them. Hunt down this demon for me, Sompas. Bring me his head and that shall be your title… Exalt-General, Spear-of-the-Empire.” His eyes narrowed in menace as he smiled. “Fail me and I shall burn you, your sons, your wives—every Biaxi breathing. I shall burn you all alive.”

Serwë’s “preternatural vision” guides Cnaiür’s party through a woods at night. They need to put as much distance as possible before the sun comes up. Despite his beating, Cnaiür draws on a reserve “as inexhaustible as lust or fear.” His mind wanders and then he realizes Serwë is cradling his head on her lap and tending to his wounds.

She smiled and a ragged breath stole through him. There was such sanctuary in the lap of a woman, a stillness that made the world, with all its threshing fury, seem small instead of encompassing, errant instead of essential. He winced as she dabbed a cut above his left eye. He savored the sense of cool water warming against his skin.

When he reaches up to caress her face, he notices his bloody knuckles. He feels his wound sand coughs up blood. He mumbles that he’s forgetting something. Serwë agrees, saying its the one he hunts. “The murderer.” He then says he’s the murder and rants about how men just “ape their fathers” in an unbroken chain back to the beginning. But he’s free of his people’s customs.

She studied him for a moment, her perfect face poised between thought and moonlight. “Yes… like the one you hunt.”

What were these shallow creatures?”

“You call yourself my lover? You think yourself my proof? My prize?”

She blinked in dread and sorrow. “Yes…”

“But you are a knife! You are a spear and hammer. You are nepenthe—opium! You would make a haft of my heart, and brandish me. Brandish me!”

Another skin-spy asks what about him. At first, Cnaiür thinks the skin-spy is Moënghus, then he realizes it’s Kellhus. The fake-Kellhus asks what he is, and Cnaiür is confused by this madness, now thinking the skin-spy is Moënghus as it presses Cnaiür for an answer. Cnaiür wonders how long Moënghus has been building his power. His hate fills him as they press him for answers.

“The one,” Cnaiür grated, “that I hunt.”

“Yes,” Serwë said from behind. “The murderer.”

“He murdered my father with words! Consumed my heart with revelation!”

“Yes…”

“He set me free.”

Lust for Serwë surges through him. She opens her “fake-face” and reveals her true one. They kiss with her spider-like “fingers” hugging him. “As though within a fist, she held him to her hot mouth.” He lifts her up as “Moënghus” says they must flee. Horns sound.

Cnaiür and his group press their horses hard, knowing Conphas won’t spare him again. Worse, Conphas has already sent troops south to keep any word of Conphas’s resurgence from reaching the Holy War, meaning they had foes before and behind them. As they ride, Cnaiür learns that the skin spies are “the Last Children of the Inchoroi” and are “Keepers of the Inverse Fire” though they grow confused when he asks them what that means. They don’t complain about anything except their lusts for “unspeakable congress” and that they are falling. They trust Cnaiür because the syntheses “made them his slaves,” claiming to be his loyal dogs.

They carried, Cnaiür could see, the spark of the void within them. Like the Sranc.

Cnaiür realized that while men where like tress, capable of branching in many different directions, the skin-spies were “spears concealed in the thickets of human activity.” This gives them a poetic beauty to Cnaiür as he both envies, loves, and pities them. He talks and learns “Serwë” was a Scylvendi two hundred years and has been many people since. He asks who it she now.

“I am Serwë… your lover.”

By the third night, it’s clear Conphas is not giving up. He studies their campfire and is disturbed by the number. It’s a large patrol and he’s worried that the Nansur know he’s not fleeing to Caraskand and Saubon and has to eventually turn east for the Holy War. This means there will likely be soldiers hoping to cut them off. “It would be like shooting arrows in the dark, certainly, but his [the Nansur commander’s] quiver looked deep.” Serwë kills a goatherd who surprised them the next day. Unable to bury him, they are forced to carry his body, tiring their horses more. Soon vultures circle them. That night, they burn the body and keep going for another week, avoiding men save a village which “they plundered for sort and supplies.” One night, Cnaiür makes new swazonds for the men he killed then rants his madness at the skin-spies followed by weeping. The skin-spies don’t judge him, lacking humanity.

The pursuers continue and Cnaiür starts thinking as the Nansur as the abominations, not the skin-spies he rides with. He questions if he is insane, no longer sure what the word even means. The Scylvendi cut the throats of those who went “feral in the manner of dogs and horses,” seeing it in the same way while the Inrithi blamed it on demons. He remembers Achamian’s explanation (early in the Warrior Prophet) about how madness was “a point where the Outside penetrated the world” caused by men breaking from “the trials of the world.”

At the time, Cnaiür had been less than impressed. He had despised the sorcerer, thinking him one of those mewling souls who forever groaned beneath burdens of their own manufacture. He had dismissed all things him out of hand. But now, the force of his demonstration seemed indisputable. Something other inhabited him.

It was peculiar. Sometimes, it seemed that each of his eyes answered to a different master, that his every look involved war an loss. Sometimes it seemed he possessed two faces, an honest outer expression, which he sunned beneath the open sky, and a more devious inner countenance. If he concentrated, he could almost feel its muscles—deep, twitching webs of them—beneath the musculature that stretched his skin. But it was elusive, like the presentiment of hate in a brother’s glare. And it was profound, sealed like marrow within living bone. There was no distance! No way to frame it within his comprehension. And how could there be? When it thought, he was…

Cnaiür understands that he is exactly what Achamian described. Madness came either from something diving, making prophets, or the demonic, making men like Cnaiür. It matches up to Cnaiür’s perceptions. “The problem, of course, was the Dûnyain.”

He contradicted all of it.

Cnaiür had watched Kellhus herd men’s thoughts like sheep, using their emotions to goad and prod them. He did it all with “mundane word and expression.” Kellhus acted like the Outside couldn’t breach the world, that causality couldn’t be violated. With that “elementary assumption” he had dominated the Holy War. Cnaiür reels from the insight as he feels he is in two different worlds, one without the Outside and one with it. It’s comforting to be mad because something from the Outside crept in, but in a world without it, a closed world, the idea is horrifying. Cnaiür rejects that world, clinging to the fact that “there had to be more.”

Besides, he couldn’t be mad, he decided, because he possessed no origins. He had kicked free of all earth. He didn’t possess a past. Not really. What he remembered, he always remembered now. He—Cnaiür urs Skiötha—was the ground of what came before. He was his own foundation!

Laughing, he thought of the Dûnyain and how, upon their fatal reunion, this would overthrow him.

He tried to share his thoughts with the skin-spies but they could only offer “the simulacrum of understanding” because they lack any depths. He’s a bottomless hole. They are just biological machines, not alive, lacking souls. “They dwelt utterly within the world.”

And for no reason, his love of them—his love of her—became all the more fierce.

More days passes and they near the Betmulla Mountains. The sight reminds him of how he abused Serwë in the Hethantas and thinks hew as a fool for hurting her, a “free man trying to make himself a slave of his people.” He never could find the words to speak to her. Now he tells Serwë that they conceived their child in a place like those mountains.

They loose a horse in the rough terrain. They march into the night, the skin-spies preternatural sight guiding them. Cnaiür thinks their pursuers can’t catch up to them at this pace. The next morning, the skin-spies run down a deer and kill it. It proved a mistake to cook it as Serwë warns that men come, smelling them when the wind shifts. Two skin-spies vanish into the trees as he hears the sounds of approaching horses.

Cnaiür sprints at the Kidruhil, knowing Serwë would follow. The skin-spies attack from the trees, lifting men out of their saddles, and throwing their bloody bodies back down, panicking the soldiers. They retreat form them trees and drew their bows, which Cnaiür realizes are similar to Scylvendi and they use the same horsebow tactics as his people. Serwë jumps before Cnaiür, using her body to shield him. Now wounded, Serwë keeps being a human shield as the Kidruhil encircle them.

Somehow, Serwë was in front of him. For an instant she stood, a poised beauty, arms out, flaxen hair gleaming in the mountain sun—

She danced for him.

Shielding, leaping, striking. She kept her back turned to him, as though in observance of some ritual modesty. Her sleeves snapped like leather. Shafts clattered across the platform. Others buzzed about his shoulders and head. She dipped, rolled her arms about. A shaft appeared in the palm of her hand. She kicked, swung her heel down from her raised knee. A shaft jutted from her calf. The fletching of two more materialized in her back. She cartwheeled, kicked an arrow away even as three others thudded into her chest and abdomen. She cycled her hands outward, batted away four in succession, threw her head back, thrust out her arms, caught one in the back of her right hand. Another in her left forearm.

She jerked her head to the left. An arrowhead popped from the back of her neck. She whimpered, as a little girl might.

But she never ceased moving. Blood flew out in beads and lines, flashed in arcs beneath the sun.

Cnaiür can’t look away from Serwë’s dance. “His prize.” The Nansur retreat. Serwë slumps to the ground and stares at him before she pitches forward dead. He rushes to her, crying out in horror. “When he shook her, her perfect face fell apart.” He is numb, the battle over, the other skin-spies wounded but alive.

“We must bury her,” he [Cnaiür] called.

Serwë helped him.

My Thoughts

I’ve said this in the reread before, but it holds true: never meet your heroes. Well, also never meet your mythical enemies either. Reality is never as impressive as story and imagination. There is an illusion that all those people who came before us were stronger, wiser, tougher. And maybe they were, but they were also still human. Still weak and frail and prone to foibles and mistakes as us. But the further removed we are from them in space and time, the more their deeds can shine. It might have to do why the glamour and mystique of pop star has fallen so much in modern time from the glitz and glamour of the golden age of movies to the present where a drunk rich girl can have as much fame. Social Media lets us know people in a different, though equally false, way.

Conphas narcissism has allowed him to internalize his rape at Cnaiür’s hand and turn it back to bolster himself. It’s a rather impressive bit of psychology. He’s sitting at the center of a narcissistic black hole. Once past the event horizon, all paths in a black hole, every directions of travel, bends back to the center. That is why light can’t escape. Conphas is just like that, twisting any criticism or affront to his person back to enhance his own self-inflated opinion of himself.

Okay, Bakker, sometimes you need to look at your pronouns. “The man stood, looked at him strangely” is a sentence where the man appears to looking at himself (the man is Conphas and theNhim is Cnaiür). He’s a little looser with his pronouns then he should be. Just a nitpick that could produce a cleaner prose to read.

Wow. Conphas has interpreted that Cnaiür must love him because he beat him. Narcissistic black hole.

Kellhus brings Cnaiür back into focus. And not even mentioned by name. Just him. He still doesn’t realize he’s talking to Conphas, but he knows the conversation now. Kellhus makes sense to Cnaiür at this moment when his brain is shrugging off a concussion.

Conphas’s delusions have reached a peak. Cnaiür must be an equal. After all, Cnaiür beat him, raped him, dominated him. To preserve his self-importance, Conphas has to pour Cnaiür into the mold of Conphas’s personal reality. He’s convinced himself it is true, that Cnaiür will be thrilled to be his Exalt-General and serve a magnificent god. After all, Cnaiür “loves” him. Petulant, childish anger follows this rejection. First lashing out like a spoiled brat than running away to those who pamper him, his general staff.

Cnaiür is just ready to die. He thinks it’s coming and welcomes it.

Conphas’s disciplined his soldiers so well, they just obey his officers. Those soldiers probably came up with a theory on why General Sompas wore a different uniform, maybe debating it until the uproar happens.

If you wonder about this mystique of the Scylvendi Conphas muses on, just think about Navy SEALs or Spartan Hoplites or Zulu Warriors or Samurai. Groups festishized for their battle prowess until the man who did those acts is swallowed by the myth of them. And when they’re your enemy, when they keep beating you, it makes you feel better putting them at an even higher pedestal. Then it doesn’t harm your ego. This is exactly what Conphas did in miniature with Cnaiür, playing out their race’s history of the Scylvendi raping and beating them over and over, shattering their Nansur pride.

Conphas’s narcissism is stretching to its limits now. This shows us why such powerful people reject the idea of the Consult. Because it is something stronger than them, and their egos, especially a with man like Conphas, can’t allow that. Great characterization from Bakker. As he’s on the moment of panic, Conphas finds a new way to prop up his ego while simultaneously showing off something important: working together is one of the things that helped humans dominate our world. His black hole is working hard to bend everything, even Cnaiür’s mocking laughter, in on his narcissism.

I miss Martemus, too, Conphas.

I just want to add that I love the world preternatural and am always delighted to come across it in a book.

Interesting that lust or fear are shown to be inexhaustible. They are the two most base emotions that push and pull us. It’s another way of saying fight or flight. What’s fighting, if not defending what your existence to pass on your genes. Lust is survival. But so is fear. Both are necessary to see a species, if not an individual, survive.

Cnaiür is noticing that the skin-spies aren’t real people, just very good parrots at mimicking speech. They are like an AI that could pass a Turing Test (which we’ve achieved) even as the computer doesn’t understand the emotions behind it. The skin-spy just has a great deal of understanding on how to fake conversations by drawing on its database to assemble coherent sentences that sound like human speech and responses. Skin-spies only truly understand lust and violence, the most base of emotions. They fake the rest. She can never be Serwë, but will Cnaiür care?

Is this the first mention of the Inverse Fire in the story? What’s interesting is that the skin-spies don’t understand what it means to be the Keeper. They are programmed to say it, repeating their phrases, but they don’t have the knowledge to explain it. They only pretend to be autonomous creatures. They truly are chained by the Darkness that Comes Before.

Interesting that they skin-spies are Cnaiür’s slaves. Perhaps that’s how he survived. We know one is still hanging around him twenty years later.

Two hundred years the Consult has been working to ready the world for the Second Apocalypse and then along comes Moënghus and disrupts centuries of planning. No wonder they leaped at the chance to use the Holy War against him.

They [emphasis mine] plundered the village for sport and supplies.” Cnaiür pillaged that village for fun with the skin-spies. Not the first village he’s massacred, but this time he’s not gripped by his madness.

The explanation that madness is something from the outside possessing a person is interesting. In a way, madness that breaks from the effects of the Darkness that Comes Before. They no longer respond to the world the way they should. Their minds have broken and something new, something alien, has crept in and altered how they work. I watched the movie Shutter Island last night, and a woman who drowned her own kids talked about how she had this bug crawling across her mind, tugging on her wires. She was aware that her madness wasn’t her, that it was something at once external to her core identity but still internal, trapped inside her skull, making her do things she didn’t want to do.

I think Bakker is showing us the true source of Cnaiür’s madness. He “possessed no origins.” Like the Dûnyain, Cnaiür has kicked free of the Darkness that Comes Before. He has made himself other than the rest of his neighbors. Something different. His mind works in different ways, it isn’t directed by the past as much as it should. It makes his thoughts aliens from other humans. Other. Where Kellhus only pretends to be normal at the surface level, Cnaiür does the opposite and tires to shove himself back onto those tracks he abandoned. The pair are foils and opposites of each other, both mad in their own ways, but one embraces logic the other emotion. Order versus chaos.

The skin-spies say they are Cnaiür’s faithful dogs, but they’re more like wolves and he’s their alpha. Bakker shows us this by having them hunt a dear like a pack of carnivores, showing us what they truly are.

Now the skin-spies are like apes, attacking from the trees, as violent as chimpanzees as they kill the Nansur soldiers.

We’ve seen someone catch arrows before. Kellhus did it, but he didn’t get hit. It is a good way to show that Kellhus just edges out a skin-spy on reflexes (though not strength), as we’ve seen in his past fights with them

Though Serwë only mimics being human, something we the reader know now from this very chapter, we are seeing her death through Cnaiür’s eyes. We are seeing his perception of her, so we find ourselves moved by her beauty and dedication to protect him, an almost maternal gesture on her part. The skin-spies claimed to be Cnaiür’s dogs, and she proves it here.

What a way to end the chapter. Cnaiür grieving over one Serwë only for a new one, who was moments before one of Serwë’s “brothers,” helped him bury the old one’s corpse. Identity is meaningless to the skin-spies. They are only surface level, but Cnaiür, in his madness, doesn’t care. It only matters that he has a Serwë with him. He grieves one while welcoming another. Just like he grieved the original and then found solace in her mimic’s arms.

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

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Seven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 7
Jocktha

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

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

—ANONYMOUS LETTER

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

—AINONI PROVERB

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was this, he wondered, how the Dûnyain felt?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sompas began to protest.

“Now!” the Exalt-General barked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am a demon!” he cried. “a demon!”

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

Some things required literal explanation.

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

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

The Captain nodded, his eyes bright with sudden understanding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This would not be another Kiyuth.

Something… something…

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

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

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

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

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

He [Cnaiür] let these words ring into silence.

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

And the spark became flame.

“Scylvendi!” they roared. “Scylvendi!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conphas wanted him.

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

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

He was of the People.

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

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

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

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

He had sent him to be his victim.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Five

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 5
Jocktha

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

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

—SCYLVENDI PROVERB

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

—HATATIAN, EXHORTATIONS

My Thoughts

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

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

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

Is with power. Force.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fool could only stare.

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

“But we are disarmed.”

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

Perfect.

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

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

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

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

“The time… the time…”

Are you drunk?

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

Ah… so you yearn to forget after all.

“No… not forget. Sleep.”

So why not kill him?

“Because he wants me to.”

The Dûnyain? You think this is a trap?

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

Then what’s his intent?

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

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

I’m forgetting something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He sent me to murder myself!

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

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

That it was a lie.

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

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

For some reason… There must be some reason.

But why? Why?

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

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

And knowing this made them insane.

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

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

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

Especially on occasions such as this.

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

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

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

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

Timing.

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

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

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

And most of all, him.

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

“Fool!” Cnaiür exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

“And what might that be?”

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

Cnaiür spat. “Your true circumstances.”

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

“Opportunity… for what?”

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

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

“Fool!” Cnaiür crackled.

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

It will take him years, you fool…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe so is ignorance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t end well for any of them.

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

To close the World against the Outside and stop Damnation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for Chapter Six!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Four

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 4
Enathpaneah

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

Like a stern father, war shames men into hating their childhood games.

—PROTATHIS, ONE HUNDRED HEAVENS

I returned from that campaign a far different man, or so my mother continuously complained. “Now only the dead,” she would tell me, “can hope to match your gaze.”

—TRIAMIS I, JOURNAL AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

Both are pretty straightforward quotes on the psychological effects war has on the human pysche. The first quote, from a commentary on religion I believe based on the title, implies it is shame that does that. Shame at the dreadful acts you commit in war that weighs down on you, that destroys your innocence. To survive, you have to kill that child in you or the guilt of what you’re doing will destroy you. PTSD is usually caused by experiencing true malevolence, often malevolence that you cause. That shock of realization that you could kill people in war. It often affects naïve, or people who have preserved their innocent child-self, the worst.

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

Perhaps, Ikurei Xerius III mused, tonight would be a night of desserts.

Xerius watches the Meneanor from his room in the Andiamine Heights, watching the moonlight play on the waves. His paranoia is gnawing at him, worsened by Skeaös’s betrayal. He keeps looking south towards Shimeh and Conphas. His Exalt-Captain, Skala, enters and says Xerius’s mother wants to see him. He agrees to see her.

He drained his bowl of Anpelian red. Seized by a sudden recklessness, he cast it at the southern horizon, as though daring the distances to be anything other than what they appeared. Why shouldn’t he be suspicious? The philosophers said this world was smoke, after all. He was the fire.

He watches the bowl fall and then orders whatever slave finds it and steals it to be flogged. He then enters his bedchambers and warms his hands at a brazier as his mother climbs the stairs from the lower floor. He prepares himself because “only wit, Xerius had learned long ago, could preserve him from Ikurei Istiya.” Instead of wondering why his mother was here, she had become so predictable lately, he instead wondered if she fucked her eunuch, Pisathulas. Feeling his wine, he is attracted to her and wonders how long it had been.

She greets him with proper jnanic form, which startles him and makes him wary. She asks if the Imperial Saik had seen him. He says yes, realizing she must have passed Thassius on her way up. She asks why it wasn’t Cememketri delivering the briefing, but he dodges that, asking what she wants. She wants to know if Conphas sent a message. He’s dismissive, and that makes her angry because she raised Conphas and deserves to know if he’s safe.

Xerius paused, keeping her figure in his periphery. It was strange, he thought, the way the same words could infuriate him at one moment yet strike a tender chord at another. But that was what it all came down to in the end, wasn’t it. His whims. He looked her full in the face, struck by how luminous, how young her eyes seemed in the lantern light. He liked this whim…

Xerius says that Kellhus has accused Conphas, and himself, of plotting to betray the Holy War. Istiya isn’t surprised. Xerius wonders if she had betrayed his plan. He thinks her more than capable of it. She asks what happened. He explains that Conphas has been turned out and ordered to wait at Jocktha for ships to bring him home. She’s relieved, believing his mad plan is finished.

He laughs, asking her if it’s his madness or Conphas’s. Her response to that makes Xerius realizes she’s growing old, her wits not able to keep up with him any longer even as she still arouses him with her beauty. He tells her that Conphas is still in the field. She finds it madness that they would still try to betray the Holy War if they know. “It would be madness!”

He stared at her, wondering how she managed it after so many years.

Xerius says that everyone will think it’s madness. She understands, who would suspect they’d still keep to the plan now. His attraction for her swells. He grows erect for her and finds himself pushing her down to his bed. She doesn’t submit but she doesn’t resist. He wants her tonight, moaning how it’s been so long and how he’s so lonely. He’s so aroused he thinks he’ll prematurely ejaculate as he undresses her.

“You do love me,” he gasped. “You do love…”

Her painted eyes had become drowsy, delirious. Her flat chest heaved beneath the fabric. Somehow he could see through the skein of wrinkles that made a mask of her face, down to the serpentine truth of her beauty. Somehow he could see the woman who had driven his father mad with jealousy, who had shown her son the ecstasy of secrets bundled between sheets.

My sweet son,” she gasped. “My sweet…”

He slides his hand up her leg and reaches her groin, finds her erect. He screams in realization that she has a penis. He throws himself back as his guards burst in. They die dumbfounded. He watches stunned as his mother kills Pisathulas, her giant eunuch, with ease. She grabs a sword and moves like a spider, “her two limbs becoming four with flashing grace.” She kills his Eothic guards as he runs for the door. He burst out, running in slippers and then soils himself. A mad part of him knows his mother would cackle at “her boy shitting his Imperial Regalia…”

Run! Run!”

Somewhere he could hear Skala bawling commands. He vaulted downstairs only to tumble, thrashing like a dog sewn into a sack. Moaning, blubbering, he found his feet, lurched back into a run. What happened? Where were his Guardsmen? Tapestries and gilded panels swam about him. There was shit on his knuckles! Then something bore him face-first into the marmoreal tiles. A shadow upon his back, a dozen hyenas laughing through its throat.

Iron hands about his face. Nails scoring his cheek. A meaty pop in his neck. An impossible glimpse of her—Mother—blood-spattered and disheveled. There was no—

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

A street urchin named Sol is awaken by another urchin named Hertata talking about how Maithanet is going to the docks. Sol sees the excitement in Hertata’s eyes, but fear of the slavers makes him cautious. Slavers always prowl for orphans like them. Hertata is convinced they wouldn’t because of Maithanet. Hertata says Maithanet is sailing.

Why should he [Sol] care for Maithanet? Men with gold rings gave no copper, unless they wanted to stick them. Why should he care for Maithanet, who would just try to stick him if he could? Fucking priests, anyway.

But the tears in Hertata’s eyes… Sol could see he was afraid to go alone.

Despite Sol wanting to sneer at Hertata, and disdainful of other weak orphans who cry at night (like his own younger brother), he agrees. They past beggars lamed by fullers rot, ignoring their jeers. Sol asks if there’ll be food, but there’ll only be petals. Hertata just wants to see Maithanet.

Sol shook his head in disgust. Fucking Hertata-tata. Fucking Echo.

The glimpses Sol catches of the Junriüma’s turrets inspires him. “Even orphans could hope.” Avoiding the Shrial Knights, they circle the Hagerna to reach the streets surrounding the harbor. As they get closer, it starts to feel like a carnival, making Sol scowl less. Loathe to admit it, Sol’s glad they came, surrounded by people having a good time. It makes him wander how long since his father’s murder.

Musicians start playing in the crowd, putting a dance to the orphan’s steps. Sol even starts telling jokes. As the crowds thicken, they run to get ahead and find a great vantage point, weaving through families. As they get closer, after some impromptu wrestling, they find some discarded orange rinds, eating them, which makes both boys even happier. The Summoning Horns blow and Hertata beckons Sol onward. Sol is shocked by Hertata’s courage, the orphan usually scared and cringing. “Why would he risk such a thing?”

And yet there was something in the air, something that made Sol feel uncertain in away he had never felt uncertain before. Something that made him feel small, not in the way of orphans or beggars or children, but in a good way. In the way of souls.

He could remember his mother praying the night his father had died. Crying and praying. Was that what drove Hertata? Could he remember his mother praying?

They find themselves in the crowd pushed towards Shrial Knights. Sol is afraid of the knights, and in awe of them, but Hertata just pokes past them to see the hundreds of knights leading a procession down the street. The knight, gently, pushes them back. As they wait, Hertata repeats all the things his mother had said about Maithanet, how he restored the church, and how he was blessed. Hertata is convinced something great will happen if Maithanet sees him, but when Sol asks what that is, Hertata doesn’t answer. Just as Sol is getting bored and frustrated, the Shrial Procession appears.

He has trouble breathing as he sees Maithanet, a younger man than he expected, wearing simple clothing. Hertata is shouting for the Shriah’s attention as thousands reached “pleading hands” towards Maithanet. So finds himself pointing at Hertata, trying to get Maithanet’s attention on the other boy.

Perhaps it was that Sol alone, of all those lining the avenue, gestured to another. Perhaps it was that Maithanet somehow knew. Whatever the reason, the bright eyes flickered towards him. Saw.

It was the first total moment in his entire life. Perhaps the only.

As Sol watched, Maithanet’s eyes were drawn by his pointing fingers to Hertata, wailing and jumping beside him. The Shriah of the Thousand Temples smiled.

For a breathless moment he held the boy’s gaze, then the Knight’s form swallowed his hallowed image.

“Yessss!” Hertata howled, fairly weeping with disbelief. “Yes-yes!”

Then a slaver appears behind them, grabbing Hertata’s tunic. Hold an orange in one hand, he asks where their parents are in a “predatory good nature.” It’s a new rule that slavers have to ask since they can be hung for stealing “real children.” Hertata lies but Sol can smell his friend’s piss. Sol is already running, abandoning his friend to the fate, saving himself.

Afterward, huddling between stacked amphorae, he [Sol] wept, always throwing a cautious eye to be sure no one could see. He spat and spat, but the taste of range peel would not go away. Finally he prayed. In his soul’s eye he glimpsed the flash of sunlight across jeweled rings.

Yes. Hertata had spoken true.

Maithanet was sailing across the sea.

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

Only forty thousand men of the Holy War remain, but they are undaunted as they march from Caraskand beneath the “slapping banners of Household, Tusk, and Circumfix.” Saubon chose to remain behind, not allowing his subordinates to march. Despite the petitions, Kellhus allows it. Many still march, including Athjeäri. Two thousand Galeoths remain. “They said that Saubon wept as the Warrior-Prophet rode form the Gate of Horns.”

They are greeted by reinforcements who wear the traditional clothing of their lands. They have come after hearing about the siege of Caraskand. All their boasting about coming to save the Holy War die when they witness the survivors. “The ancient customs were observed—hands were shaken, countrymen embraced—but it was all a pretense.”

The original Men of the Tusk—the survivors—were now sons of a different nation. They had spilled whatever blood they once shared with these men. The old loyalties and traditions had become tales of a faraway country, like Zeüm, a place too distant to be confirmed. The hooks of the old ways, the old concerns, had been set in the fat that no longer existed. Everything they had known had been tested and found wanting. Their vanity, their envy, their hubris, all the careless bigotries of their prior lives, had been murdered with their fellows. Their hopes had burned to ashes. Their scruples had been boiled to bone and tendon—or so it seemed.

Out of calamity they had salvaged only the barest necessities; all else had been jettisoned. Their spare manner, their guarded speech, their disinterested contempt for excess, all spoke to a dangerous thrift. And nowhere was this more evident than in their eyes: they stared with the blank wariness of men who never slept—not peering, not watching, but observing, and with a directness that transcended “bold” or “rude.”

They stared as though nothing stared back, as though all were objects.

Not even the highest rank noble could meet this gaze. The newcomers feel less than the survivors, measured by “the length and breadth of what they had suffered.” Tragedy and transformed the survivors into judgment. Because of this, few newcomers dared question the Warrior-Prophet. Those of power, like Dogora Teör, were inducted into the Zaudunyani by Kellhus while Judges befriended those from their own nations and brought them into the faith. Dissidents were separated from each other and the worst, according to rumor, were brought before Esmenet and “never to be seen again.”

The Holy War finds Enathpaneah abandoned by the Kian as they march south. Only the locals remain, none of their overlords to be found. Not even Athjeäri while on his long-ranging scouts could find the enemy, only forts burned in their retreat. Nothing stands between the Holy War and Shimeh. They reach Xerash, a land that figures heavily their religion. “It seemed a thing of awe to at last stand so close to those places named.” Pilgrims go out to visit ruined sites, to witness places the Latter Prophet walked.

At Ebaliol, the Warrior-Prophet climbed the broken foundations and addressed thousands. “I stand,” he cried, “where my brother stood!”

Twenty-two men died in the delicious crush. It would prove an omen for what was to follow.

The people of Xerash have long been seen as evil men, “an obscene race.” A land of brothels and homosexuality. The word “xeratic” had come to mean “sodomite.” The Holy War soon began punishing these people for the “trespasses of others long dead.” Massacres abounded. Kellhus condemns it and censures those responsible, ordering one lord flogged who had his archers slaughter a leper colony. But it was too late and Gerotha, the capital city of Xerash, had burned its fields. “Xerash was closed against them.”

Achamian feels like traveling in Kellhus company through Xerash the same as when he was Proyas’s tutor, noting how when Esmenet’s horse is lamed descending a switchback a dozen knights offered up their warhorses which was “tantamount to giving her their honour, since their mounts were their means of waging war.” Achamian had witnessed a similar thing with Proyas mother. Beyond that similarity, there something that remind him of those younger days despite “the daily battery of riding near Esmenet.” It’s the respect and deference he receives now. He was the Holy Tutor. He no loner walked, but rode. Owning a horse, more than a slave, marked one a noble. He names his horse Noon in memory of his mule Daybreak. He’s given other riches besides, including jewelry that he gives away to of embarrassment at owning. He even has a bed!

Achamian had disdained such comforts during his tenure at the Conriyan court. After all, he was a Gnostic Schoolman, not some “angogic whore.” But now, after the innumerable deprivations he’d endured… The life of a spy was hard. To finally have things, even things he couldn’t bring himself to enjoy, eased his heart for some reason, as though they were balm for unseen wounds. Sometimes, when he ran his hands over soft fabric or yet gain searched through the rings for one he might wear, a clutching sadness would come upon him, and he would remember how his father had cursed those who carved toys for their sons.

Achamian is thrust back into politics. They was the normal “jnanic posturing of the caste-nobles” except when Kellhus is around and then everyone becomes servile to him. But the moment Kellhus’s leaves, they start it back up again. At times, sensing problems, Kellhus would call someone to account and explain their motivations “as though the writ of their hearts had been inked across their faces.” The inner core of Kellhus’s Sacred Retinue lack this sort of politicking. Achamian believes Kellhus has laid bared their hearts to each other. In every other court, politics ruled, which wasn’t surprising, since politics was merely “the pursuit of advantage within communities of men.” The stronger that community, the more vicious the politicking. But “all knives were sheathed” around Kellhus.

Among the Nascenti, Achamian found camaraderie and candour unlike anything he’d known before. Despite the inevitable lapses, they largely approached one another as men should: with humour, openness, understanding. For Achamian, the fact that they were as much warriors as apostles or apparati made it all the more remarkable… and troubling.

Their companionship lulls Achamian into forgetting he’s marching with the Holy War to conquer Shimeh. Only glimpses of Esmenet or a corpse “mute in the surrounding grasses” reminds him of this purpose. During these moments, the familiarity of his time as Proyas’s tutor vanishes into dread.

After a few days, a group of tribesmen known as the Surdu approach the Holy War claiming to be Inrithi and offering to lead the Holy War through secret ways. But Kellhus orders them seized. Under torture, it’s revealed that Fanayal, the new Padirajah, took the tribesmen’s families hostage and ordered them to lead the Holy War into a trap. Kellhus has the men flayed alive. This event reminds Achamian of something from the past, but he can’t place it.

Achamian then realizes it’s not Proyas’s court he’s remembering, but ancient Kûniüri. He’s remembering Seswatha traveling with High King Anasûrimbor Celmomas. Achamian realizes he’s becoming Seswatha and that scares him.

For so long the sheer scale of the Dreams had offered him an immunity of sorts. The things he dreamed simply happen—at least not to the likes of him. With the Holy War, his life had taken a turn to the legendary, and the distance between his world and Seswatha’s closed, at least in terms of what he witnessed. But even that, what he lived remained banal and impoverished. “Seswatha never shat,” the old Mandate joke went. The dimensions of what Achamian lived could always fall into the dimensions of what he dreamed like a stone into a potter’s urn.

But now riding as the Holy Tutor at the Warrior-Prophet’s left hand?

In a way, he was as much as Seswatha, if not more. In a way, he no longer shat either. And knowing this was enough to make him shit.

Achamian is surprised to find the dreams more bearable, with Tywanrae and Dagliash dominating, though he couldn’t find any pattern to them. They still make him wake up crying out, but it’s not as powerful. He wonders if it’s the pain of losing Esmenet and he’s just at his limit of suffering he can endure, but then decides it’s Kellhus because the Warrior-Prophet represents hope that the Second Apocalypse can be stopped.

Hope… Such a strange word.

Did the Consult know what they had created? How far could Golgotterath see?

Predicting the future, according to Memgowa, is more about revealing what men are afraid of then predicting what will happen. Despite knowing this, Achamian can’t resist daydreaming about Kellhus defeating the Consult. “Victory would not come at the cost of all that mattered.” He pictures Min-Uroikas destroyed and all the old names dead without the No-God ever being resurrected. Despite the “opiate glamour” of these thoughts, Achamian is aware that the Gods were perverse and might let the world be destroyed just to punish Achamian’s hubris. Kellhus’s cryptic responses only make things worse. Achamian doesn’t understand why he marches on Shimeh, which Achamian sees as a distraction. “If I’m to succeed my brother, I must reclaim his house,” is his answer. This frustrates Achamian since he sees the Consult as the enemy, that the war isn’t here. Kellhus responds with a smile, treating this like a game, and answers that it is because the war is everywhere.

Never had mystery seemed so taxing.

After a lesson on Gnostic sorcery, Kellhus asks Achamian why he always asks about the future, not what Kellhus has already done. Achamian says because he dreams the future every night and because he’s with a living prophet. Kellhus says that Achamian is unique because he doesn’t ask after his soul like other men. Achamian is speechless.

“With me,” Kellhus continued, “the Tusk is rewritten, Akka.” A long, ransacking look. “Do you understand? Or do you simply prefer to think yourself damned?”

Though he could muster no retort, Achamian knew.

He preferred

Though Achamian is communicating with Nautzera, he’s having trouble making contact, the man’s sleep restless. The power in their relationship has shifted. Though Nautzera, a member of the Quorum, had “absolute authority” Achamian is their only conduit the Anasûrimbor and the mission of their entire order. For the moment, Achamian was the de facto Grandmaster. “Another unsettling parallel.” As expected, the Mandate is in chaos and the Quorum is preparing an expedition to join the Holy War. “Two thousand years of preparation, it seemed, had left them utterly unprepared.” Nautzera has a host of questions about Anasûrimbor from how he can see skin-spies to where he’s from. Lastly, Nautzera questions Achamian’s loyalty.

To this last he answered, “Seswatha.”

Achamian understands Nautzera’s concern, realizing they must question his sanity after being captured and tortured by the Scarlet Spire. “Even now they concocted rationales to relieve him of the burden they coveted.” Despite this, Nautzera does assure Achamian he has the backing of the school and to take pride. Despite this, they second-guess all his actions and think he’s teaching Kellhus too much of the Gnosis.

Tonight, Achamian has contacted Nautzera to relay a message from Kellhus. Nautzera is silent for a bit then finally agrees to hear it. Kellhus message is to remind the Mandate that they are players in the war, not the controls. To “not act out of conceit or ignorance.” Nautzera isn’t happy about this.

What? Does he imply that he possess this war? Who is he compared with what we know, what we dream?

All men were misers, Achamian reflected. They differed only in the objects of their obsession.

He, Nautzera, is the Warrior-Prophet.

My Thoughts

Xerius doesn’t know who to trust any longer, fearing that anyone could be a skin-spy like Skeaös. This is a healthy paranoia. Before, Xerius jumped at shadows, but when his enemies can look like anyone? That is enough to drive anyone mad with suspicions, to question everything. It has to make the world feel unreal.

We see Xerius’s paranoia, his ego, and his cruelly all in the example of him throwing the bowl. He’s paranoid someone will steal it, he has an ego that sees himself as making the world, and then orders whoever does pick it up to be flogged.

“Philosophers said this world was smoke…” The world is ephemeral. It’s hazy. We can’t see it clearly, the distances obscured by the limits of our knowledge. Of course, Xerius has misinterpret it to believe the world is burning and he is what’s causing the fire. That he’s the cause of the smoke instead of someone wrapped up in it, only seeing a tiny bit of it.

So only wit can keep Xerius from being manipulated by his mother. No wonder she has a habit of bringing virgin slave girls as gift to distract him.

Bakker does something sly here by having Istiya ask about Cememketri and then just having Xerius ignore her question and ask her bluntly out of irritation what she wants. It lets us, subtly, now that Cememketri isn’t here doing his duty. So where is he?

Bakker’s dropping more subtle clues that this isn’t the real Istiya, from the way she’s more fixated on the same topic, to how she’s not quite as witty as she used to be and unable to keep up with Xerius.

We’ve had hints of their incestuous relationship, but it overwhelms him, and the skin-spy, being controlled by sex, gets turned on allows itself to be unmasked. It’s one thing for a skin-spy pretending to be a guy to have sex, but when masquerading as a woman, a penis gives away the ruse. What does it say about the consult that they never made female skin-spies. That they only made males, creatures consumed with the need to rut without all that pesky birth and life. The Inchoroi appear to be an entire race of males, using cloning to create new members.

Xerius appears to greatly crave her affection. She controls him by denying it, but showering it on Conphas. She used that love to get him to kill his father, then she uses it to manipulate him in so many different ways. But he’s also grown adept at avoiding it, at recognizing it. But tonight, he’s in a mood to be loved by his mother, and he grows so excited when she appears to reciprocate. My molesting him as a young boy, she has locked him in his development, arresting it into a man who can be quite childish at times. She had a different effect on Conphas.

Such a great scene how it goes from the disturbingly erotic to terrifying deadly in a heartbeat. Xerius is beyond fear, reduced to an animalistic flight as he has to flee his mother transformed into a murderous monster.

I am pretty sure that Istiya was a skin-spy since the story spotted. She is noted as having odd behavior in book one, for instance not supporting Xerius on his plan to betray the Holy War. When the Consult realized their spy, Skeaös, didn’t have the influence to change his opinion, they switched over to his mother. They never just replaced Xerius since he’s never alone. It would be too risky. Then in book two, she presses Xerius for information about what happened in the dungeon with Skeaös, wanting to know what happened, how he was unveiled.

We see in Sol’s a child who is shamed out of childhood by the necessity of survival. He tries to sneer at Hertata, to shame him out of being a child, too. Because those who are weak don’t survive, like Sol’s little brother. But Sol does. As we see at the end of this section. Despite his callousness, he does go with Hertata.

Fuller’s rot… what a said fate to end up just to do people’s laundry. And what does it say about humans that “even cripples despised those poorer than themselves.”

So I was listening to a talk about childhood development and the positive effects that roughhousing has on children’s development. Baby rats have been shown to need this, too. Bigger rats have to let the younger ones win every so often or they smaller ones stop playing. Made me think of Sol letting Hertata tackle him. Losing all the time sucks, so if you win all the time, people might not want to play with you. One of the many social lessons children learn by such play.

We can see the effect faith and hope has on people. Hertata, normally the most timid of children, is taking such a risk going to watch the procession. Beatings or getting caught by slavers could happen to them. He’s not even afraid of Shrial Knights. He’s so desperate to escape his circumstances, he has constructed a fiction that promises him relief, that gives him something to look forward to. Today, it’s come. How will he handle it when it’s all snatched from him?

We never do learn.

The orphans are not “real children.” They’re not protected by laws against slavers and rapist. Like the homeless often are, they pass unseen, ignored by society who’d rather not see them than to feel the guilt of having comfort when someone else is wanting.

Bakker wants to set up a mystery of where is Maithanet going. Is he sailing to confront Kellhus? Is he going someplace else? He doesn’t ask these questions in the section, but they have to be in your mind as a reader. And while doing it, Bakker takes the time to do a little world building and to expand his philosophy about how terrible human beings can be and how we cope with such horrible circumstances. By shaming the child inside of us and killing it.

Going through suffering changes a person. It’s a demarcation between people, separating as great as a mountain. Only months ago, the newcomers to the Holy War would have been no different from the kin they come to join. But events have forged the survivors into something alien.

The survivors have utterly shamed their inner children. They had to. Survival dictated it. Those that didn’t, or couldn’t, perished.

I like the rumor that those brought before Esmenet were “never to be seen again.” I doubt that happens. It’s clear from Esmenet’s previous scene dispensing judgment that she doesn’t condemn people for having doubts. But it’s exactly the sort of rumor that would pop up n an army. A nice touch to Bakker’s world building.

The section about the Holy War march through Xerash is nicely written, conveying the religious awe people experience on pilgrimage combined with that Bakker twist of “twenty two men died in the delicious crush.” And then the religious fervor gets out of hand.

It’s interest how we make the new familiar, relating events in the present to comforting memories in the past. Achamian is doing it here with his realization that traveling as the Holy Tutor is much the same as journey with Proyas’s royal court. He’s even growing used to Esmenet’s presence, even if she’s a daily assault against him, she isn’t wholly defining his universe any longer.

Daybreak, you will not be forgotten.

In the list of treasures, Achamian is given Ambergris. If you’ve never heard of Ambergris, it’s a fascinating thing. It’s a waxy substance that’s found floating on the sea and washes up on the shores. It’s been used in perfumes for thousands of years. And… it’s basically whale vomit. Valuable whale vomit.

The line of Achamian remembering “how his father had cursed those how carved toys for their sons” made me think for a few moments. Achamian grew up so poor, his father never even made toys for his children. Either because the man didn’t have the resources, or just didn’t care. But it made his children want for things they couldn’t have. Which must have made them whine and complain. We know he was an abusive man from other flashbacks. This goes to show why he finds having stuff now so appearing, more even than his life as a spy.

Achamian notes about Kellhus’s inner court what we’ve seen from Esmenet’s POV about how the inner core has had all their petty motivations opened up and this makes them all appear to work in concert. But as we’ve seen, one member of the Nascenti, Werjau, is plotting against Esmenet. So there’s still politicking. But it has to be a lot more subtler because of Kellhus. In a way, Kellhus is making a smarter class of politician by forcing the ambitious in his court to work around him and be suspect, to be subtle and intelligent. To adapt to the changes he brought about. I’m sure Kellhus likes this because he can later use suck cunning.

Seeing Esmenet shocks Achamian the way a corpse does. It also reminds him they’re marching to Shimeh. Seeing her as shocking makes sense, but it reminds him of the purpose because it reminds him who took his wife: the Warrior-Prophet.

Achamian is becoming Seswatha. He’s walked with one Anasûrimbor king and survives that man’s attempt to defeat the Consult and stop the No-God. Somehow, Achamian’s going to have to find the way to defeat the No-God in the sequel series. We’ll see how that unfolds. Looking forward to it. Another parallel is Seswatha had an affair with Celmomas’s wife, and so does Achamian, though Achamian had a relationship with her first and we do not know the circumstances that led to Seswatha cuckolding his friend.

There is the question of why Achamian’s dreams changed. I think it has to do with the fact that Kellhus hypnotizes him and speaks with the Seswatha inside of him. We never do learn what transpired in that section. I always hoped we would… But maybe it’s the face Achamian is living events that were similar to Seswatha that awakened the soul inside of him, opening up more of his memories.

Hope is such a powerful delusion. It’s a survival mechanism that keeps us going and living when things get bad. And things can get bad fast even in modern times. It’s an important thing not to lose.

I wonder if the Consult is kicking themselves since the Circumfix plan has backfired rather spectacularly on them.

Nice bit of foreshadowing about the second series when the Gods, particularly Yatwer, conspire against Kellhus, wanting to punish Kellhus’s hubris because they can’t see the No-God. Though they stand outside of time and can see all events, they can’t see the No-God. All except one.

Kellhus is right. The war is here. The Consult want something in Shimeh and Kellhus has figured it out. But it’s also a threat to him (his father). He also needs to unite mankind, and he can’t have a competing religion on his doorstep. He needs the Fanim as much as the Inrithi to succeed in his new goal: defeating the Consult.

If I was hanging out with a prophet, I’d probably have a lot of questions for the future, too.

Achamian thinking he’s damned lets him focus on the important stuff: saving the world. He sees himself as a martyr, like all the Mandate. “Though you lose your soul, you shall win the world,” is the Mandate catechism. It undermines his identity to see himself as saved. That he’s not sacrificing anything grand. He’s not a martyr any longer if he gets to go to heaven.

Can you ever truly prepare for the cataclysmic? All the preparation are fine, but when faced with world-changing events, you truly don’t know how it’ll effect you, of if your preparations are actually going to do anything useful.

Achamian never loses that loyalty to Seswatha. It’s what drives him through the second series, struggling to understand what Seswatha is telling him through his dreams as he seeks to uncover whether Kellhus is mankind’s salvation or damnation. (Turned out neither, he’s the great man problem taken to its extreme and why you should be leery for following ‘great mean’).

Bakker dives into one of his themes that the rational brain is slave to desires, forever coming up with justifications so we can pursue our desires. Other members of the Mandate want Achamian’s position, so they come up with reasons why he’s insane. Inference to the Purse is a great way to describe it.

Micro managers exist in all times and places. Poor Achamian.

And what a powerful way to end the chapter. The Mandate, thinking this is their war, will want to control everything. Politics infect everything humans do. We cannot escape it. It’s how we deal with the inherent hierarchical structure that exists in the very depths of our brains. All we can do is understand how biology has shaped our minds and then use our ability to think and rationalize to find better solutions for dealing with hierarchical problems than using force or deceit or dirty tricks. By talking. Debates. Using our words openly and honestly.

A transition chapter, ending the Emperor’s story line and seeding Conphas’s plot while doing the same with Maithanet’s. Then with a little Achamian to round it out.

Click here for the next part!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Three

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 3
Caraskand

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

If soot stains your tunic, dye it black. This is vengeance.

—EKYANNUS I, 44 EPISTLES

Here we find further argument for Gotagga’s supposition that the world is round. How else could all men stand higher than their brothers?

—AJENCIS, DISCOURSE ON WAR

My Thoughts

These two quotes are on the arrogance and delusions of men. The Epistle, which I believe is written by Sejenus, refers to the ridiculous idea that the best way to deal with dirty clothing is to dye it the same color as the stain. Vengeance is an equally poor decision that doesn’t get you clean, but only further soils you. If you think it will accomplish anything, you’re mistaken. Then this is backed up by Ajencis quote that all men think they are better than their fellows. “I’m smarter than him, stronger than him, quicker, faster, sexier,” etc. All those little lies we tell ourselves, all those little recriminations that whisper in our soul to boost our ego. These delusions then lead to greater problems.

At the grand scale: war.

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

Cnaiür is realizing he is a fool, comparing his situation to a greedy Scylvendi who didn’t cull his herd so that his cattle could survive when the dry season comes to the Steppe. Cnaiür’s greed delivered the Holy War to Kellhus. He ponders this sitting in a council chamber watching Kellhus speaking with the other great names. Cnaiür is now constantly accosted by congratulations.

Cnaiür curses himself for looking away every time Kellhus looks at him. He studies Achamian instead, noting the man isn’t “festooned like a slaver’s concubine” like the others. He does notice the look in Achamian’s eye, one Cnaiür recognizes. Like Cnaiür, Achamian can’t quite believe the course of his life. The rest of the great names had been “stripped of the hauteur belonging to their station.” They sit now in silence, no longer bickering.

In the course of a single day, the world these men had known had been struck to its foundation, utterly overturned. There was wonder in that—Cnaiür knew this only too well—but there was an absurd uncertainty also. For the first time in their lives they stood upon trackless ground, and with few exceptions, they looked to the Dûnyain to show them the way. Much as Cnaiür had once looked to Moënghus.

As the last of the Lesser Names hunted seats across the tiers, the rumble of hushed voices trailed into expectant silence. The air beneath the corbelled dome seemed to whine with a collective discomfort. For these men, Cnaiür realized, the Warrior-Prophet’s presence collapsed too many intangible things. How could they speak without praying? Disagree without blaspheming? Even the presumption to advise would seem an act of outrageous conceit.

In the safety of unanswered prayers, they had thought themselves pious. Now they were like boasting gossips, astounded to find their story’s principal in their midst. And he might say anything, throw their most cherished conceits upon the pyre of his condemnation. What would they do, the devout and self-righteous alike? What would they do now that their hallowed scripture could talk back?

Cnaiür almost laughs, but instead spits. He didn’t care what they thought. “There was no honour here, only advantage—absolute and irremediable.” While it lacked honor, it held truth. Cnaiür suffers through the Inrithi’s rituals. As he does, he’s surprised the nobles aren’t jeering like usual, but are weeping. Then he feels the “dread purpose that moved these men.” He remembers their suicidal attack on the Fanim. Starving and dying, facing a large force, they fought with “lunatic determination, enough to shame his Utemot.” He’d witnessed them smiling as they died. He thought these people were the true People of War. Only know does he understand.

Cnaiür had seen it, but he had not understood—not fully. What the Dûnyain had wrought here would never be undone. Even if the Holy War should perish, the word of these events would survive. Ink would make this madness immortal. Kellhus had given these men more than gestures or promises, more even then insight or direction. He had given them dominion. Over their doubts. Over their most hated foes. He had made them strong.

But how could lies do such a thing?

The world these men dwelt within was a fever-dream, a delusion. And yet it seemed as real to the, Cnaiür knew, as his world seemed to him. The only difference—and Cnaiür was curiously troubled by the thought—was that he could, in meticulous detail, track the origin of their world within his, and only then because he knew the Dûnyain. Of all those congregated in this room, he alone knew the ground, the treacherous footing, beneath their feet.

As the Whelming beings, Cnaiür suddenly feels like he is seeing the world from two different perspectives, as if each of his eyes sees something different. He sees the Inrithi perspective of men who just crossed into something profound, cleansed of all their sins, unable, unwilling, to question anything. In the other, he sees it from his own perspective, recognizing how stupid this all was because he “did not stand within the circle of Dûnyain’s deceit.” They weren’t performing a sacred rite but operated a machine like a mill. This was a “way for the Dûnyain to grind these men into something he could digest.” He sees the men the way Kellhus does, as tools.

The Inrithi, Proyas had told him once, believed it was the lot of men to live within the designs, inscrutable or otherwise, of those greater than themselves. And in this sense, Cnaiür realized, Kellhus truly was their prophet. They were, as the memorialist claimed, willing slaves, always striving to bead down the furies that drove them to sovereign ends. That the designs—the tracks—they claimed to follow were authored in the Outside simply served their vanity, allowed them to abase themselves in a manner that fanned their overweening pride. There was no greater tyranny, the memorialists said, than that exercised by slaves over slaves.

But now the slaver stood among them. What did it matter, Kellhus had asked as they crossed the Steppe, that he mastered those already enslaved There was no honour, only advantage. To believe in honour was to stand inside things, to keep company with slaves and fools.

The Whelming ends and Saubon, titular King of Caraskand, is called to account. He refuses to march. He will not relinquish his kingdom even if it damns him. Gotian cries out that Kellhus ordered Saubon to march. Cnaiür hates how unmanly Gotian now sounds. He went from Kellhus’s most vocal opponent to fervent follower. “Such fickleness of spirit only deepened Cnaiür’s contempt for these people.” Saubon refuses to march, claiming he seized this city. Gothyelk points out he had helped. But Saubon does not budge. Chinjosa and Gothyelk mock him while Saubon turns to Proyas for support to his claim. Proyas glances at Kellhus and while he says he won’t break his word to support Saubon’s claim, things have changed.

Cnaiür knows the debate is a sham. Only Kellhus now makes decisions. Everyone turns to Kellhus for his input. Kellhus says that people have to freely chose to make holy war. Saubon realizes that the Dûnyain is forcing Saubon to “choose his own damnation.” Kellhus adds nothing else can be done.

“Strip him of his throne,” Ikurei Conphas said abruptly. “Have him dragged into the streets.” He shrugged in the manner of long-suffering men. “Have his teeth beaten from his head.”

Everyone is stunned into silence by Conphas’s words. He had been silent much of the time, an outcast for being one of the primary conspirator with Sarcellus. “It seemed that his patience had at last been exhausted.” He then remarks that Kellhus should have the power to punish Saubon. Gothyelk calls that insolence and says Conphas doesn’t know what he’s saying. Conphas insists he always does. Then he calls Kellhus a fraud. This promotes outrage while Kellhus only smiles. Kellhus then says, “But this is not what you say.”

It seemed that Conphas sensed, for perhaps the first time, the impossible dimensions of the Dûnyain’s authority over the men surrounding him. The Warrior-Prophet was more than their centre, as a general might be; he was their centre and their ground. These men had to trim not only their words and actions to conform to his authority, but their passions and hopes as well—the very movement of their souls now answered to the Warrior-Prophet.

“But,” Conphas said blankly, “how could another—”

“Another?” the Warrior-Prophet asked. “Don’t confuse me with any ‘other,’ Ikurei Conphas. I am here, with you.” He leaned forward in a way that made Cnaiür catch his breath. “I am here, in you.”

Conphas stammers, “In me,” trying to sneer but it sounds frightened. Kellhus then talks about Conphas’s indecision, how the man doesn’t know how to act now. Kellhus threatens Conphas’s and his uncle’s plans for the Holy War and the Exalt-General is unsure if he should play the sycophant or not. This has led him to try and prove that he is better than Kellhus. “An “obscene arrogance” dwells in Conphas. He believes all men are measured against him. “It is this lie that you seek [Conphas] to preserve at all costs.”

Conphas protests he doesn’t think that. Kellhus asks him how often he thinks of himself as a god. “Never,” he says, nervous. Kellhus then calls out Conphas, saying the man has to lie about who he believes himself to be, a god, “in order to prove” who he is. He has to degrade himself “to remain proud.” Even now, Conphas clings to his self-deception. Outrage explodes from Conphas for being talk to in this way.

“Shame is a stranger to you, Ikurei Conphas. An unbearable stranger.”

Wild-eyed, Conphas stared at the congregated faces. The sound of weeping filled the room, the weeping of other men who’d recognized themselves in the Warrior-Prophet’s words. Cnaiür watched and listened, his skin awash with dread, his heart pounding in his throat. Ordinarily, he would have taken deep satisfaction in the Exalt-General’s humiliation—but this was a different order. Shame itself now reared above them, a beast that devoured all certainties, that wrapped cold coils about the fiercest souls.

Cnaiür wonders how Kellhus can do this even as Kellhus promises Conphas release. For a moment, Conphas appears on the verge of kneeling. And then a mad laugh burst from his lips. Gotian pleads with Conphas to listen to the Prophet. Conphas expression grows blank as Proyas calls Conphas a brother among equals. Their words snap Conphas out of his madness.

Conphas snarls that he’s no “brother to slaves!” He calls them fools for thinking Kellhus speaks the truth about their hearts. Instead, Kellhus uses truth to yoke you into being his slaves. He repudiates them and goes to leave.

Halt!” the Dûnyain thundered.

Everyone, including Cnaiür, flinched. Conphas stumbled as though struck. Arms and hands clasped him, turned him, thrust him into the center of the Warrior-Prophet’s attention.

Kellhus shouts, “Halt!” and everyone flinches, including Conphas. Then he is dragged back before Kellhus. The nobles cry out for his death. For Conphas to be punished. Conphas appears stunned as he faces Kellhus.

Pride,” the Warrior-Prophet said, silencing the chamber like a carpenter sweeping sawdust from his workbench. “Pride is a sickness… For most it’s a fever, a contagion goaded by the glories of others. But or some, like you, Ikurei Conphas, it is a defect carried from the womb. For your whole life you’ve wondered what it was that moved the men about you. Why would a father sell himself into slavery, when he need only strangle his children? Why would a young man take the Orders of the Tusk, exchange the luxuries of his station for a cubicle, authority for servitude to the Holy Shriah? Why do so many give, when it is so easy to take?

“But you ask these questions because you know nothing of strength. For what is strength but the resolve to deny base inclinations—the determination to sacrifice in the name of one’s brothers? You, Ikurei Conphas, know only weakness, and because it takes strength to acknowledge weakness, you call your weakness strength. You betray your brother. You fresco your heart with flatters. You, who are less than any man, say to yourself, ‘I am a god.’”

Conphas whispers denial, shame fills the room. A shame greater than Cnaiür’s hatred for the Dûnyain. In this one moment, Cnaiür witnesses the Warrior-Prophet and not a Dûnyain. “For an instant he [Cnaiür] found himself inside the man’s lies.”

Kellhus orders Conphas to disarm his soldiers and go to Jocktha to await passage back to Nansur. He further adds Conphas was never a Man of the Tusk. Conphas is offended by these words, not the previous. He asks why he should do this. Kellhus stands and says he knows that the Emperor made a deal to betray the Holy War before Shimeh. Conphas shrinks from Kellhus and is caught by the faithful.

“Because,” Kellhus continued, looming over him, “if you fail to comply, I will have you flayed and hung form the gates.” The tenor of his voice was such that the word “flay” and the skinless images it conjured seemed to linger.

Conphas stared up in abject horror. His lower lip quivered, and his face broke into soundless sob, only to stiffen, then break again. Cnaiür found himself clutching his breast. Why did his heart race so?

“Release him,” the Warrior-Prophet murmured, and Exalt-General fled through the entrance way, shielding his face, waving his hands as though pelted with stones.

Again Cnaiür stood outside the Dûnyain’s machinations.

Cnaiür thinks the accusation of treachery something Kellhus invented, unable to believe the Nansur Empire would cut a deal with the ancestral enemies. Cnaiür further realizes everything that just happened was premeditated. “Every word, every look, every insight, had some function. Cnaiür ponders it. It can’t be to remove Conphas since Kellhus could just order his execution. Cnaiür realizes that only Conphas “possessed the force of character” to hold his men’s loyalty. Kellhus couldn’t have competition, but he also couldn’t risk more infighting. That saved Conphas’s life. Kellhus leaves, and Cnaiür watches the Men of the tusk once more with both sets of eyes. The Inrithi think they’ve been forged and tempered of impurities. Cnaiür knows otherwise.

The dry season had not ended. Perhaps it never would.

The Dûnyain simply culled the willful from his herd.

Proyas searches the meeting room for Cnaiür in the wake of Kellhus’s exit. Around him, the nobleman “rumbled amongst themselves, exchanging exclamations of hilarity and outrage” about what had just happened. Proyas notices a shrill cadence to the talk and realizes he feels something is off.

Fear.

Perhaps this was to be expected. As Ajencis was so fond of observing, habit ruled the souls of men. So long as the past governed the present, those habits could be depended on. But the past had been overturned, and now the men of the Tusk found themselves stranded with judgments and assumptions they could no longer trust. They had learned that the metaphor cut both way: to be reborn, Proyas had come to realize, one must murder who one was.

It seemed such a small price—ludicrously small—given what they had gained.

Proyas feels a great deal of guilt for siding against Kellhus and almost murdering “the God’s own voice.” He wishes to undo his actions and can’t. He’s learned that conviction doesn’t equal truth. When two sides of equal fervor fights, one has to be wrong so “what could be more preposterous than claiming oneself the least deluded, let alone privy to the absolution?” When faced with truth, he rejected it for faith. The realization of that had him weeping at Kellhus’s feet. Kellhus had told Proyas not to cry.

“But I tried to kill you!”

A beatific smile, jarring given the obvious pain it contradicted. “All our acts turn upon what we assume to be true, Proyas, what we assume to know. The connection is so strong, so thoughtless, that when these things we need to be true are threatened, we try to make them true with our acts. We condemn the innocent to make them guilty. We raise the wicked to make them holy. Like the mother who continues nursing her dead babe, we act out our refusal.”

Kellhus explains that when you believe without proof, you only have conviction. And leads you to turning your beliefs into a God. By explaining Proyas’s actions, he was absolved “as though to be known was to be forgiven.”

Cnaiür appears before Proyas, the Men of the Tusk flinching out of his way. Proyas realizes something about Cnaiür makes men panic, even the most courageous. He emanated a “feral power” and an “absence of constraint.” Cnaiür always stood ready to do violence. Proyas thinks Cnaiür is insane. As he starts to walk with Cnaiür, blind Xinemus grabs his elbow. Proyas leads both men to a quiet alcove and there asks Cnaiür what he thinks. “That Conphas will laugh himself to sleep.” Cnaiür then adds that Proyas didn’t bring him here to ask about his opinion. Xinemus realizes this is a private conversation and says he’ll leave. Proyas realizes Xinemus came because he has no where else to go. He allows him to stay, saying he trusts him.

Cnaiür realizes Kellhus sent Proyas because of Conphas. Proyas agrees and says Cnaiür is to stay behind at Jocktha with Conphas. The barbarian looks on the verge of “howling rage” before stilling himself and stating: “I am to be his nursemaid.”

Proyas breathed deep, frowned at the solicitations of several passerby. “No,” he replied, lowering his voice, “and yes…”

“What do you mean?”

“You are to kill him.”

Iyokus is brought by a servant to a grove at night, moonlight drifting through the branches. He’s told to wait here. He feels that two dozen Chorae bowman surround him, watching him, ready to kill him.

It was an understandable precaution, especially given recent events.

Iyokus is still off-balanced from his conversation with Eleäzaras earlier today upon his arrival from Jocktha. Iyokus has trouble believing that a prophet controls the Holy War and that the Consult existed. But he believes in a few days of meticulous consideration would let him figure out this new order. “He would not break beneath their weight.”

He was disappointed to find Eleäzaras destroyed and thinks a new Grandmaster should be elected. But first he has a meeting with Kellhus, which is why he is waiting in the garden. He studies some dolmens, ancient remains of a time before Caraskand was built. He laments his order’s disdain of the past, instead focusing on the present. If the No-God is real, he realizes, that will change. The past must be studied. The thought frighten him.

Iyokus senses someone with the Mark approaching him. A sorcerer. He resists the urge to make sorcerous light to see, feeling those Chorae around him. Achamian appears before him, confirming the rumor that he was Kellhus’s vizier and taught him the Gnosis. “There was no end to the absurdities, it seemed.” Iyokus calls out a greeting, knowing this must be hard for Achamian to meet with him.

More shadow than man, Achamian paused some fifteen paces away, gazed at Iyokus through hunched tree limbs. His voice was hard. “If an eye offends thee, Iyokus…”

A bolt of terror struck the chanv addict. What was this? Eleäzaras’s drunken warning rang loud in his ears. “Beware the Mandate Schoolman…”

Iyokus asks where Kellhus is. Achamian says he’s indisposed and Iyokus realizes he was tricked into coming. Achamian reminds him of Iothiah and how he searched for Iyokus during his escape. Fear grips the Scarlet Schoolman. He asks what’s going on, and Achamian says he begged Kellhus to do this. Kellhus said yes. Achamian starts performing sorcery.

Iyokus stiffened. “You begged?”

The fire-coal eyes lowered in an unseen nod. Branches and blossoms were etched blood-red against the greater black. “Yes.”

“Then,” Iyokus said, “I shall not.”

Iyokus knows he’s trapped, just like Achamian had been at the Sareotic Library. He begins singing his defenses. Achamian attacks. Iyokus is desperate as words poured out of him. “Passion became semantics, and semantics became real.” He attacks with lightning that sets trees on fire. Achamian is unfazed and walks forward. Iyokus realizes Achamian toys with him. He summons the Dragonhead, the most powerful of his School’s attack. It breaths fire that does little more than crack Achamian’s wards. Achamian continues advancing.

Iyokus screamed the words, but there was a flash of something brighter than lightning. The pure dispensation of force, unmuted by image or interpretation.

Geometries scythed through the air. Parabolas of blinding white, swinging from perfect lines, all converging upon his Ward. Ghost-stone shivered and cracked, fell away like shale beneath a hammer…

An explosion of brilliance, then—

Cnaiür rides without fear through the dark in the Enathpanean hills around the city. He makes camp overlooking Caraskand. As he stares out at the city he knows he is no longer of the People. He grown past them. He could do anything now. “Nothing was forbidden.” He falls asleep dreaming he is bound to Serwë on the Circumfix and having sex with her. She calls him mad.

“I am yours,” he gasped in an outland tongue. “You are the only track remaining.”

A corpse’s gaping grin. “But I’m dead.”

The words drive him awake. He finds himself naked and curled on the grass. He is disturbed by the dream and then she sees Serwë by the fire looking “like an Inrithi goddess conjured from the flames.” He’s shocked. He tries to breathe. Can’t. She smiles and vanishes into the darkness. He chases after her, crying out her name. He catches glimpses of her painted in moonlight dancing from rock to rock. He’s heedless of the dangers as he stumbles down a steep slope.

You’re mine!” he howled.

She leads him towards the city and vanishes into an olive grove. On the other side, he spots her heading towards the great mounds made by the dead Fanim. His strength leaves him. He’s winded from the long chase. He loses her among the dead but knows she waits.

It seemed he no longer breathed, but could smell the dead as he willed himself up the last fallow slope. The stench soon became overpowering, a sourness so raw, so earthen deep, it clawed convulsions from his stomach. It possessed a flavour that could be tasted only on the bottom of the tongue.

So holy.

Cnaiür throws up before continuing on through the macabre landscape. He finds her with the wagons that were used to bring the dead here. He calls her name and she reveals herself to be a skin-spy. He leaps at her and tackles her to the ground. The fight and she knocks him into a corpse. He rises and the skin-spy just studies him as Serwë’s blonde hair falls away. Cnaiür thinks he’s dead.

Wings flap above. He sees a raven descend and land on a corpse by the skin-spy. Cnaiür is shocked to see it has a human face and speaks with a reedy voice. The Synthese talks about the covenant he has with Cnaiür’s people. Cnaiür says not part of the People. The voice says something binds him to Kellhus, driving Cnaiür to save him and kill the Synthese “child.” Cnaiür says nothing binds him.

“But the past binds us all, Scylvendi, as the bow binds the flight of an arrow. All of us have been nocked, raised, and released. All that remains is to see where we land… to see whether we strike true.”

Cnaiür can’t breath. He feels chewed up. Then the Synthese say he knows whom Cnaiür hunts. Cnaiür accuses it of lying, but the Synthese knows that Cnaiür hunts for Kellhus’s father. “The Dûnyain.”

The Chieftain of the Utemot gazed at the thing, his thoughts battered senseless by the chorus of conflicting passions: confusion, outrage, hope… Then at last he recalled the only track remaining—the only true track—though his heart had known it all along. The one certainty.

Hate.

Growing calm, Cnaiür says it’s over. He’s not leaving with the Holy War when it marches. The Synthese is unperturbed, comparing Cnaiür to a piece in benjuka as being moved, but still useful to be used by the Consult.

Eyes tiny and impossibly old. An intimation of power, rumbling through vein, heart, and bone.

“Not even the dead escape the Plate.”

Achamian finds Xinemus drunk in his quarters, coughing hard. Xinemus asks if Achamian did it, he did, and then Xinemus asks if Achamian was hurt. He wasn’t. Finally, Xinemus asks if Achamian has them. He does.

“Good… good!” Xinemus said. He bolted from his chair, but with the same rigid aimlessness with which he seemed to do everything now that he and no eyes. “Give them to me!”

He had shouted this as though Achamian were a Knight of Attrempus.

“I…” Achamian swallowed. “I don’t understand…”

“Leave them… Leave me!”

“Zin… You must help me understand!”

Leave!”

Achamian is startled and goes to leave. Just as he’s about to, he witnesses Xinemus muttering finally under his breath as he heads to a mirror holding the bloody cloth Achamian handed over. For a long moment “it seemed Xinemus gazed into the phlegmatic pits where his eyes had once laughed and fumed.” Then he opens the cloth and pulls out “Iyokus’s weeping eyes.” Xinemus puts them in his own sockets.

“Open!” the Marshal of Attrempus wailed. He jerked his dead and bloody gaze about the room, pausing for a heart-stopping moment on Achamian. “Ooopen!”

Then he began thrashing through his apartments.

Achamian slipped through the door and fled.

Eleäzaras holds the crying, blinded Iyokus in his room, rocking the man. He asks the man if he still remembers how to see. Iyokus gathers himself, blood trickling like tears down his cheeks. Eleäzaras asks if Iyokus’s remembers the words.

In sorcery, everything depended on the purity of meaning. Who knew what blinding might do?

“Y-yessss.”

“Then you are whole.”

My Thoughts

Accosted by congratulations. The perfect way to describe the feeling when you get praise and know you did not earn it. That squirming guilt in you. Some people are good at ignoring that guilt. Cnaiür, however, knows just how his greed to possess Serwë, to get his vengeance on Moënghus, has left him a herdless fool.

Cnaiür and Achamian both have a lot in common. They both lost the woman they love to Kellhus. They both are dazed by what has happened to them and where they are now. In effect, they are both cuckolds, though we don’t feel that same pity for Achamian that we do for Cnaiür. Achamian never raped and beat Esmenet. He didn’t treat her like an object. Esmenet was never proof of Achamian’s heterosexual prowess like Serwë was for Cnaiür. So how they act is completely different. But both men have had their lives utterly upturned by Kellhus and dragged in his wake.

Cnaiür has only disdain for Achamian. After all, the Breaker-of-Horses-and-Men has a Chorae. He sees no use for Achamian as anything other than a shield of fat for Kellhus to hide behind.

Word of the day “corbelled.” A corbel is “a projection jutting out from a wall to support a structure above it” (The New Oxford American Dictionary). So a corbelled dome is something supported by corbels.

Cnaiür’s observation about what it is like to sit in council with a being you believe to be a god is so on point. How can you argue with God? How can you say he’s wrong? How can you even interpret his commands to fit your outlook, to twist the words around to benefit yourself when he could just say, “Nope, I didn’t mean that.” It has to be overwhelming. No wonder it amuses Cnaiür. He knows the truth.

Having sat through a few Catholic masses, I feel for Cnaiür as he suffers through the “ritual and pageantry.” But these sort of customs bring order and comfort. They’re familiar and keep you locked in a familiar rut. You don’t question when you don’t have to think.

When you can control your doubts, you control your fears. You don’t have to think any longer. Bakker is saying here that this sort of blind faith, the certainty that you know what your doing is so righteous that even if you die, you shall be rewarded, then you don’t need to think. More and more, I am certain the point of this series, the true core of it, is that humans have these incredible brains and we squander them. We waste them in such trivial fashions in so many negative ways. Like muscles not used, we allow our minds to atrophy.

All because we’d rather believe simple lies than complex truth. This is why lies can build something so strong in men. The “fever-dream” simplicity is more appealing than reality.

Cnaiür’s intelligence can give him the power of empathy, but he wars against it. He doesn’t want to pity these men because it reminds him too much of his own weakness. He’s seeing it all play out again, how they have made Kellhus the center of their worlds in the same way as Moënghus. He both understands these men and despise them for their weakness

The religious ceremony, the Whelming, is something Cnaiür notes is a way for the Dûnyain to “grind these men into something he could digest.” In the next series, Kellhus tells Proyas that human souls are the grain with which the gods grind to make their bread. The gods use religion to make souls just right for them to feast on in the afterlife. They use it to prepare them, just like Kellhus is now preparing the Inrithi.

Cnaiür’s musings on the Inrithi’s belief in how they had to submit to greater men’s power is very Nietzschian in its principal. Nietzsche taught that morality existed only to keep us enslaved to religion and society. That is the point of morality. It is the chains that hold civilization together. And that submission is easier when we believe the men we’re submitting to are “great men.” Hence the cult of the “Great Man” who will save us. Whether Obama or Trump in the modern era, people want to submit to this slavery in the belief it will lead to good.

But the truth is, Obama and Trump are no better than you or me. They are just people. Flawed, terrible, broken people. They make mistakes. They commit sins. And yet people have put their faith in these men thinking they will save them.

They can’t.

But it’s a nice deception to have. One most people would rather believe in then reality, and one so seductive in this modern era of social media where some people can just blather their dumb thoughts to the world in a single tweet without spending any time to think about them. We’re throwing off these chains that Nietzsche and Bakker write about, but it’s yet to see if this will truly be a good thing or if we’ll destroy ourselves with nihilism.

Cnaiür is wrong about it being a “fickleness of spirit” in regards to Gotian and the other’s conversion. When humans have their world view so shaken they embrace a new one, they often become fanatics. To prove that they have embraced the “correct truth” they want to prove their virtue. Whether it’s a new convert to Christianity or a person that has embrace veganism, they will be at the most fervent and zealous in these early stages.

Bakker does a nice bit of character reminder with Proyas by showing us that he looks gaunt and old because he stayed on the same starvation diet as his men unlike other great names.

Making decisions with real stakes sucks. It’s easier to let someone else decide, and when that person is distant, like say a deity, you can then interpret their will it to your own wishes while holding that fiction you’re really just following orders. It’s a comfort to people. You can do a lot of horrible things when you’re just following orders. Now poor Saubon isn’t afforded that luxury.

This scene is re-introducing us to the Great Names and the changed dynamics of their meetings now that Kellhus is running things. By having it as Cnaiür’s POV Bakker can write the scene from a passive view point, something reminiscent of third person omniscience, while still giving us character insight into Cnaiür only found with this intimate third-person limited. Cnaiür’s intelligence allows him to decipher many of the subtle dynamics found in the interaction, essentially, making him all-knowing.

Great re-introduction to Conphas with such a callous, imperious decision. Direct. Brutal. Without mercy. Without caring what the others things. Pure Conphas. Note how he’s also described as being the only Great Name to still look like his old self, wearing his Nansur uniform, looking healthy. He didn’t choose to eat the same rations as his man.

Watching Kellhus finally dismantle Conphas is a great scene. He had to get to a position of such overwhelming power to break through the Exalt-General’s pathology. He’s such a sociopathic narcissist he can reinterpret anything to fit his worldview, to hold onto that lie that he is the greatest person who’s ever lived.

When Kellhus talks about pride and how Conphas has long wondered about why men would sell their children into slavery, etc, these are questions Conphas has pondered in the last book. It has got to make him question his doubts in Kellhus’s abilities. But his narcissism is preserving him. It’s the best defense against the Dûnyain. Which sucks, because narcissism is an ugly character defect. Plus, Kellhus can still manipulate you in other ways. But Conphas manages to wiggle through the net in this book and almost ruins things.

Of course, given how powerful Kellhus becomes in this book, he could have easily destroyed Conphas and his army. After all, Achamian did it.

Since all humans are weak in some ways, we admire those who at least appear strong. Who sacrifice. This is why they can inspire us because even if we can’t admit we’re weak, which takes a certain amount of self-honesty not easy to obtain, we want to be better than our baser selves. We want to escape the grip of our weakness in whatever forms they take even as we remain bound to them. Slaves to our baser appetites. Our intellects yearn for freedom. In essence, this is what the Dûnyain have done. But at the same time the conflict between intellect and instinct is what makes us human, sets us apart from the beasts and the machines.

Since the Circumfix, Kellhus is no longer a Dûnyain. He has gone past it. Cnaiür is catching a glimpse of it here. Kellhus’s ordeal broke him. The outside has touched him and allowed him to see past cause and effect After all, he had a vision of the Circumfix near the start of Book 2. The No-God and probably Ajolki are affecting him.

Cnaiür steps out of Kellhus’s machinations and thinks Kellhus lied about the deal the Nansur made with the Fanim. It seems so ludicrous to him that such ancient enemies would cut this deal that he reverts to his normal default method of dealing with Kellhus: don’t believe anything he speaks.

“The Dûnyain simply culled the willful from his herd.” Dûnyain philosophy at its simplest. The shortest path. Whatever doesn’t bring about success is a hindrance. Best thing to do is discarded it.

Change is always scary. It sucks not being comfortable, and you can see the great names trying to mask it with bravado through jokes or serious talk. It’s a survival mechanism to deal with this primal instinct in us that was adapted for more immediate dangers.

Proyas has grown as a character. He’s learned that even though conviction and blind zeal can feel great, doesn’t make you right. And now he’s facing the consequences of that both from Achamian’s return and, of course, Kellhus. It’s made him realize the pitfalls and dangerous of zeal. Doubt has to be allowed to temper excessive actions.

We see Proyas realizing that to become a new person, to be reborn, is a scary thing. It’s the unknown. It stepping outside of comfort. It’s something to be afraid of. And it can make a person resist, to fight against it, to murder to protect their status quo. Like Proyas did with Kellhus when condemning him.

Proyas’s guilt is keeping Xinemus in the conversation. Probably sparked by Cnaiür’s disdainful snort, reminding Proyas that everyone thinks Xinemus is useless now and that’s because Proyas didn’t do the right thing but the easy thing.

“The past cannot be bribed, and the future cannot be buried,” says the Scarlet Spire. This saying is a mirror of itself. The past cannot be bribed, but it can be buried. The future cannot be buried, but it can be bribed. They see the past as something they can’t effect, but they can certainly ignore it. But the future is something bursting with possibility. It’s something you can’t ignore, but you can influence.

Iyokus doesn’t even think for a moment that Achamian is here to get vengeance. Iyokus is a very rational person. He compartmentalizes everything. To him, what happened was business. He understands it might be hard for Achamian, but he doesn’t have a problem with meeting as equals now.

Have to give it to Iyokus. He has to think he was about to die, but he doesn’t beg. He doesn’t plead. He realizes it’s not going to work and faces death with dignity, making a contrast to Achamian who had to beg for this privilege. Iyokus appears to draw strength from this, seeing himself as the better man, the stronger one.

As always, sorcery is described with such poetry and beauty, at odds with the death and destruction it wreaks.

Interesting, Cnaiür had a mad grandmother who thought a crow lived in her chest. There may be a genetic component to some mental illnesses.

Notice how when he thinks he’s free, he thinks there’s no lips he could not kiss. He’s accepting his homosexual desires, no longer going to be restrained by his people’s customs.

This is a nice reveal on Bakker’s part. You think Cnaiür has utterly lost his mind. First dreaming about Serwë, then waking up and seeing her. He’s chasing her. It’s impossible. And then it’s revealed she’s a skin-spy, a fusion of the feminine and the masculine, possessing all the things Cnaiür craves: a beautiful woman who proclaims his manhood’s virility while the true thing he desires lurks beneath. His prize has returned to him and giving him the keys to his revenge on Kellhus.

Not even Cnaiür has a stomach strong enough to walk through a carnal pit.

The Consult never discards a useful piece. They use Cnaiür for the same reason they spared Esmenet. They see the world as a game of Benjuka, the rules ever changing. Bakker has used the game for a metaphor for life many times, and has so thoroughly explained it to the readers he doesn’t need to teach you what they’re talking about here. He already has. Well done.

Achamian is disturbed that Xinemus only asks if he was hurt fighting Iyokus more out of habit than actually really caring. Xinemus is too obsessed with getting his “cure.” He’s cracked. It’s one of the saddest scenes in the series to see this once great and noble man so utterly ruined by the world.

Being blinded doesn’t make Iyokus useless in his chosen profession. He can still use sorcery. He can still summon demons through the Daimos. As we see in the sequel series, especially The Unholy Consult, he gets quite skilled at it, second only to Kellhus. Xinemus, on the other hand, has to deal with the end of his martial career on top of the fact he said things he can never forget, words he was forced to speak that have utterly broken him. He’s beyond repair. He’s mad and suffering. Already the cough that will kill him is ravaging his body.

Even though Achamian dealt out his reciprocal justice, it feels hollow because Xinemus still suffers far more than Iyokus even though both men are now blind.

Click here to read Chapter Four!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Intro

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

Intro

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—THEODOR ADORNO, MINIMA MORALIA

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

—CORMAC McCARTHY, BLOOD MERIDIAN

My Thoughts

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

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

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

On and on and on.

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

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

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

Let’s embark upon The Thousandfold Thought!

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

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 1
Caraskand

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

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

—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

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

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

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

But now…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fact?

An Anasûrimbor has returned…

A long pause, strangely studied.

What are you saying?

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

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

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

The world was about to end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is no time for sentimental foolishness!

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

No… but I will.

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

What did understanding have to do with hatred?

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

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

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

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

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

Hesitation, both outraged and exasperated.

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

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

All men can be deceived, Achamian. All men.

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

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

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

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

Even the most manly wept for wonder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A miracle. A prophet in their midst.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redeemed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somehow these words found Achamian’s fury.

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

Why Esmenet?

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

“So you’re to be my bodyguard?”

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

“There have been other assassins.”

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

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

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

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

Can you protect me, Akka?”

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

With her.

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

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

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

Like Esmenet.

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

“And your hatred?” [asks Kellhus]

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

“It remains,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How could he [Kellhus] not know? How—

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

“Year One,” he whispered.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that leads to conflict.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that only leads to pain and suffering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for Chapter Two!

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