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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.

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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.

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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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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Five

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 25
Caraskand

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

What is the meaning of a deluded life?

AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

My Thoughts

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

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

Maybe being deluded isn’t all that bad.

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

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

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

He was one of the Condition. Dûnyain.

He was the Warrior-Prophet.

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

I see…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Holy War had been absolved.

Forgiven

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

Indomitable conviction. Unconquerable belief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A race of lovers…

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

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

The cold felt good against his broken lips.

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

And against it asked the question.

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

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

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

Always, the same mad, incomprehensible question.

Who are the Dûnyain?

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in the vein of Grimdark Fantasy, fails.

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

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

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

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Four

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 24
Caraskand

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

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

ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The secret of battle. He remembered…

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

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

What was it the Dûnyain said?

Lie made flesh.

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

Did lies have a taste?

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

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

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

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

Lie made flesh…

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

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

Lie made flesh.

A name.

Sarcellus’s name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinerses fled.

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

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

Malice.

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

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

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

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

Find ecstasy.

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

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

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

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

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

Hatred, and hatred alone, had kept him sane.

Of course the Dûnyain had known this.

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

Moënghus! He named him Moënghus! My son!

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

But it did not matter.

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

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

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

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

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

How can she be dead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, but—”

“Then tell us, how does he see them?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I carry his child.”

How? How could she betray him?

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

But he was. He was alone.

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

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

He did it! He took her!

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

Was it?

Was it?

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

It was no different for these men.

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

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

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

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

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

Let it be now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He had to tell a story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The No-God,” Proyas said quietly.

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

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

“Need I tell you what that means?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lords of the Holy War had made their wager.

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

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

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

I shall butcher.

All hungered here. All starved.

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

Knowing that if he survived . . .

The secret of battle!

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

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

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

Emptiness always laughed.

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

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

A powerful voice pierced the roar of the Holy War.

Sarcellus!”

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

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

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

“My lord, I’ve—”

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 20
Caraskand

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

The vulgar think the God by analogy to man and so worship Him in the form of the Gods. The learned think the God by analogy to principles and so worship Him in the form of Love or Truth. But the wise think the God not at all. They know that thought, which is finite, can only do violence to the God, which is infinite. It is enough, they say, that the God thinks them.

MEMGOWA, THE BOOK OF DIVINE ACTS

…for the sin of the idolater is not that he worships stone, but that he worships one stone over others.

8:9:4 THE WITNESS OF FANE

My Thoughts

The first quote is how men can only see the god through their own, limited views of an infinite being, having to use imprecise metaphors and to see the god as the ultimate king or the ultimate expression of truth, to worship them in how they think they’d want to be worship. The last line about the wise don’t think the God is any analogy. A wise man knows his limitations, that he doesn’t understand everything. And thus realizes, as a finite being, he can never understand the infinite. Not really. So to try, is to shove the God into a hole that he doesn’t fit. This can also connect to Esmenet’s thoughts on the two halves of humans and how we cannot appreciate the full of ourselves or others or even the God. Kellhus says wisdom is recognizing this.

The quote from Fane is similar to the above quote. The Fanim believe in the Solitary God, the one God, not a bunch of lesser beings who are aspects of the god (as Inrithism interprets the polytheism of the Cultic religion of the Tusk). And thus, by worshiping one rock over another, you are putting the god into too fine of categories, putting him in a hole he doesn’t fit. Kellhus is doing this with the Holy War, transferring their worship of the God and the Hundred onto solely himself.

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

Catapults hurl rocks at Caraskand’s walls as siege towers creep forward. The Holy War assaults, crying “Die or conquer!” The Inrithi gain the walls, fierce fighting erupts. However, Imbeyan and his Grandees counterattack and drive the Inrithi back. Very few escape alive. Two more times over the next two weeks, the Inrithi attack and are repelled.

Worse, the plague known as the hollows (to the commoners) and hemoplexy (to the nobles) strikes hundreds. The High Priest of Akkeägni informs the Holy War that “the dread God indeed groped among them with his hemoplectic Hand.” Panic grips the Holy War and many desert into the hills. The healthy launch attacks while the sick huddle in tents. After a week of fevers and chills, a person recovered or fell into a deathlike sleep. Lazarets are organized by the priests. The scent grows terrible. And no one is spared as Cumor, Proyas, Chepheramunni, and Skaiyelt all fall sick within days. 300 die in a single night. And through it all, the rains continue.

Athjeäri returns from scouting and pillaging with “news of doom.” After numerous battles and sieges, crushing Heathens when he can, he captured the Sapatishah of Xerash. He cut a deal with the man for information and learned the Padirajah Kascamandri himself led a host northward.

That night, Prince Skaiyelt, leader of the Thunyeri, dies. Other nobles follow and the physician-priests believe Proyas and Chepheramunni would follow. A fear seizes the surviving leaders. Caraskand stands defiant, their own god Akkeägni hurts them, and a new army advances. The God has turned his back on them far from their homes. The grow desperate.

And for such men questions of why, sooner or later always become questions of who

Sarcellus meets with Conphas. It is the first time they had met formally, though Conphas had seen the Shrial Knight with Grandmaster Gotian. Conphas finds Sarcellus’s white surcoat “improbably clean, so much so that he looked an anachronism, a throwback to the days when the Holy War still camped beneath Momemn.”

Sarcellus just want tot talk about troubling things. Conphas is always interested in that, joking that he’s a masochist. Sarcellus jokes back that council meetings have proved that true.

Conphas had never trusted Shrial Knights. Too much devotion. Too much renunciation… Self sacrifice, he’d always thought, was more madness than foolishness.

He’d come to this conclusion in his adolescence, after perceiving just how often—and how happily—others injured or destroyed themselves in the name of faith or sentiment. It was as though, he realized, everyone took instructions from a voice he couldn’t hear—a voice from nowhere. They committed suicide when dishonored, sold themselves into slavery to feed their children. They acted as though the world possessed fates worse than death or enslavement, as though they couldn’t live with themselves if harm befall others…

Conphas just can’t understand such levels of self-sacrifice. At an intellectual level, he understands about scripture and damnation, which he considers rubbish. He understands people motivated by avoiding damnation, even it it was ludicrous. Because scripture was external, not this internal voice. And hearing voices “made one mad.” He had heard enough hermits in markets to know that fact. And Shrial Knights became fanatics when they hear this voice.

Conphas asks Sarcellus what is the trouble. He answers, Kellhus. Sarcellus starts to talk, implying he and others know something. Conphas asks who the “we” are. This irritates Sarcellus and makes Conphas reevaluate the man, sensing a “whiff of conceit.” Conphas thinks he might be a man of reason. Sarcellus says the we is just him and a few other knights, but not Gotian, They know Conphas tried to assassinate Kellhus. Conphas denies it. Sarcellus says his group shares Conphas’s sentiment, especially after the desert.

Conphas frowned. He knew what the man meant: Princes Kellhus had walked from the Carathay commanding the worship of thousands, and the wonder of everyone, it sometimes seemed, save himself. But Conphas would’ve expected a Shrial Knight to argue signs and omens, not power…

Conphas had found the desert madness. He had shambled on foot with the rest, cursing General Sassotian who commanded the Imperial Fleets. For a while, Conphas even thought “the prospect of death seemed something he merely indulged for decorum’s sake.”

Please, he thought. Who do you think I am?

Then he begins to doubt that until it became a certainty. He realizes that his life’s destination led him to die in a desert. And then he found Prince Kellhus wading in a well, drinking while he died of thirsts. Conphas realizes he is saved by a man he tried to kill. It was galling and ludicrous. And yet, he felt a flutter in his heart. He wondered if Kellhus was a prophet. “The desert had been madness.”

Conphas studies Sarcellus, pointing out the man saved the Holy War, both their lives. Sarcellus says that’s the problem. Before, Kellhus was just another zealot, but now he claims more. And the Holy War is being punished by the Dread God. Half of the knights acclaim Kellhus as the next Inri Sejenus, the other half as the cause of their misery. Division is coming, and someone is needed to preserve the Holy War.

“After you’ve killed Prince Kellhus…” Conphas said derisively. He shook his head, as though disappointed by his own lack of surprise. “He camps with his followers now, and they guard him as though he were the Tusk. They say that in the desert a hundred of them surrendered their water—their lives—to him and his women. And now another hundred have stepped forward as his bodyguard, each of them sworn to die for the Warrior-Prophet. Not even the Emperor could claim such protection. And you still think you can kill him.”

A drowsy blink, which made Conphas certain—absurdly—that Sarcellus had beautiful sisters.

“Not think, Exalt-General… Know.”

Serwë is in labor, in pain, screaming, with Esmenet and a Kianene midwife assisting. Kellhus watches, looking both wise and sad. Esmenet is worried, but his eyes speak reassurances. Still, her apprehension remained. She reflects on how long it had been since Achamian left her.

Not that long, perhaps, but the desert lay between them.

No walk, it seemed, could be longer. The Carathay had ravished her, fumbling with knot and clasp, thrusting leathery hands beneath her robe, running polished fingertips across her breasts and thighs. It had stripped her past her ski, to the wood of her bones. It had spilled and raked her across the sand, like seashells.

It had offered her up to Kellhus.

In the beginning, she was drunk on just walking with Kellhus and Serwë, laughing and talking, sharing their new intimacies. She remembers what it was like in her adolescence “before whoring had placed nakedness and coupling beyond the circle of private, secret things.” Making love to Kellhus and Serwë had transformed sex back to something demure. She feels whole. When Kellhus walks with his Zaudunyani, she and Serwë held hands and joke, laugh, and “plot pleasures.” They hold back nothing because “the bed they shared brooked no deceit.” But when the water failed, did she truly walk in the desert. She remembers becoming a stranger walking in her own body, Serwë a stranger being held in Kellhus’s arms.

Nothing branched in the Carathay. Everything roamed without root or source. The death of trees: this she had thought, was the secret of desert.

Kellhus had asked Esmenet to surrender her share of water in the desert so Serwë wouldn’t lose her baby. She did, watching “him pour her muddy life into a stranger’s mouth.” She understood then that there’s more than just her. Kellhus says she’s the first to realize this. Later, when they reach Enathpaneah and find a river, Kellhus strips Esmenet and bathes her in the water, declaring she is his wife. They crossed the desert. She sees the sun-haloed palms.

They make camp by the river, Kellhus foraging for food, and the three recover while Esmenet feels like they are the only people left alive in the world. That they alone “gazed and understood that they gazed.”

They had become the measure… Absolute. Unconditioned.

When they made love in the river, it seemed they sanctified the sea.

You, Esmenet, are my wife.

Burning, submerged in clear waters—in each other… The anchoring ache.

The desert had changed everything.

Serwë crying out in pain draws Esmenet out of her reflection. Serwë thinks something is wrong, but Kellhus assures her everything’s fine. Esmenet is struck by the fact Kellhus is the Warrior-Prophet. Esmenet has felt like a child being led by the hand her entire life, having no idea where she was going, until now.

But now, after the desert, after the waters of Enathpaneah, she knew the answer. Every man she’d bedded, she had bedded for him. Every sin she’d committed, she had committed for hi. Every bowel she’d chipped. Every heart she’d bruised. Even Mimara. Even Achamian. Without knowing, Esmenet had lived her entire life for him—for Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

Grief for his compassion. Delusion for his revelation. Sin so he might forgive. Degradation so he might raise her high. He was the origin. He was the destination. He was the from where and the to which, and he was here!

Here!

It was mad, it was impossible, it was true.

It makes Esmenet laugh in “joyous wonder.” Before, the holy was distant to her, something she only glimpsed. She hated it and feared it. Not surprising since she was a whore in Sumna. She knew it was hard to reach, witnessing pilgrims who sacrificed what little they had to come to Sumna only to succumb to her charms and sinning with her. And now she was close.

Serwë’s child is born, crying out with strength. Esmenet tells Serwë she has a son and “he isn’t blue.” Serwë laughs and cries while Kellhus exams the child. When Kellhus looks at Serwë, anger strikes Esmenet for an instant. As Serwë holds her child, Esmenet feels grief at her jealousy and flees the tent.

Outside, the tent is surrounded by the men of the Hundred Pillars, Kellhus’s Zaudunyani bodyguards. They protect him from Heathens and Men of the Tusk, “another thing the desert had changed.” Two Galeoth recognize her and greet her with “Truth shines,” discomforted by the obeisance the Zaudunyani show her more and more.

As she hears Shrial Priests blow horns for evening prayers, she wonders why she can’t “give this moment of joy to Serwë.” In the desert, she gave her water. She doesn’t understand why, thinking it is not jealousy since she didn’t feel bitter.

Kellhus is right… We know not what moves us. There was more, always more.

A voice cries out for piteous help, a plague sufferer. He asks for help, begging for her care. He’s lying in his own filth. But she can’t help, saying it’s forbidden, Kellhus comes u behind her, saying the man can’t hear. “They hear only their own suffering.” Like Esmenet, still wondering why she ran. He tells her to be strong, and sometimes she feels strong, feels new. He tells her she is new, reamed by his Father, but her past remains. “Forgiveness between strangers takes time.” She’s struck by how he can always knows her heart, questioning how and then realizes she knew the answer.

Men, Kellhus had once told her, were like coins: they had two sides. Where one side of them saw, the other side of them was seen, and though men were both at once, men could only truly know the side of themselves that saw and the side of others that was seen—they could only know the inner half of themselves and the outer half of others.

Esmenet thought it foolish until Kellhus told her to think about conceited and arrogant behavior. This is why people aren’t themselves, but seek to “secure the good opinion of others.” Because on an instinctive level, they know they aren’t whole, but want to be.

The measure of wisdom, Kellhus had said, was found in the distance between these two selves.

This makes her realize what sets him apart. He could see the whole of both himself and of others. He had closed the distance with his two halves. She realizes he’s inside her, and this brings “wondrous tears” as she rejoices at being his wife. He needs her to be strong because “the God purges the Holy War, purifies us for the march on Shimeh.” She thinks the plague, but he means the Great Names. They are starting to fear him. She realizes he fears “a war within the Holy War” and urges him to speak to the opposition and in them over.

He shook his head. “Men praise what flatters and mock what rebukes—you know that. Before, when it was just slaves and men-at-arms, they could afford to overlook me. But now that their most trusted advisers and clients take the Whelming, they’re beginning to understand the truth of their power, and with it, their vulnerability.”

He says they won’t move yet, but the worse things get, the more likely they will try to kill him. So she says to kill them first. She’s shocked by “the thoughtless ferocity” of her words, but isn’t sorry for saying them. Kellhus laughs, chiding her for saying such words on this night. It reminds her of why she fled, asking Achamian why he left. Then she admits she envied Serwë and feels ashamed.

“You, Esmenet, are the lens through which I’ll burn. You… You’re the womb of tribes and nations, the begetting fire. You’re the immortality, hope, and history. You’re more than myth, more than scripture. You’re the mother of these things! You, Esmenet, are the mother of more…”

Breathing deep the dark, rainy world, she clutched his arms tight against her. She’d known this, ever since the earliest days of the desert, she’d known this. It was why she’d cast her whore’s shell, the contraceptive charm the witches sell, across the sands.

You are the begetting fire…

No more would she turn aside seed from her womb.

Early Winter 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Meneanor coast, near Iothiah

Achamian dreams of Mengedda, the No God asking his question “WHAT DO YOU SEE?” He wakes up without crying out. He’s in a bed, a luxury that once seemed impossible. But after destroying the Scarlet Spire, the Baron Shanipal (Proyas’s representative left in Shigek) took him and Xinemus in as honored guests. They are now in a Kianene villa on the coast. It’s been weeks of convalescing for the pair. Achamian sets out to find Xinemus, who didn’t return to his room last night.

He found himself cursing the Marshal as he searched the rooms. The healthy always begrudged the sick: being shackled by another’s incapacities was no easy thing. But the resentment Achamian suffered was curiously ingrown, almost labyrinthine in its complexity. With Xinemus, every day seemed more difficult than the last.

Achamian feels responsible since Xinemus is his “oldest and truest friend.” That the man sacrificed and suffered to save Achamian only builds on his obligation. But though free, Xinemus still suffers. “Ever day it seemed, he lost his eyes anew.” This makes him accuse Achamian of causing his pain. Achamian would complain that no asked Xinemus to save him, the Marshal responds that Esmi did. Achamian struggles to forgive Xinemus, but it grows harder and harder, making him question how much he truly owed, sometimes thinking the true Xinemus had died.

Achamian cajoles Xinemus to remember who he was, and yet Achamian too has changed. He hasn’t cried for his friend, and Achamian used to cry a lot. He doesn’t cry when waking from the dreams, either. He remembers the act, but it feels hollow. Xinemus appears to need the tears, to know that Achamian was still the weak one, but their roles had reversed and this torments Xinemus more. Achamian mourns for his friend, but can’t weep, like something essential had been cut out of him. Achamian will see Iyokus pay for what happened, thinking hatred had replaced grief in him.

Achamian finds Xinemus drinking on a terrace. As he stares at the drunk, broken man, Achamian reflects on Baron Shanipal’s offer to pay their passage by ship to Caraskand. Achamian needs to go as soon as possible, but he just abandon Xinemus, believing the man would die if left behind. “Grief and bitterness had killed greater men.” Achamian steels himself for the confrontation, but doesn’t know what to say to the drunk man to convince him to leave.

Xinemus talks to the darkness like it’s a leaving thing, demanding where it leads. Achamian still struggles to figure out to say, to explain how he needs to find Esmenet, and knows Xinemus will just yell at him to go and find “your whore” and leave him behind. Achamian is desperate for news about her, he can’t wait to see her, to “smother her with laughter, tears, and kisses.” He believes her alive, knowing she traveled with Kellhus and that he’d protect her. Achamian knows Kellhus will save the world, and he plans on helping the man.

Without thinking, Achamian hastened to him [Xinemus], embraced him.

“You’re the cause of this!” Xinemus screeched into his chest. “This is your doing!”

Achamian held tight his sobbing friend. The broadness of Xinemus’s shoulders surprised his outstretched arms.

Achamian says they need to leave, find their friends. Xinemus agrees, they have to find Kellhus. Despite the emotion, Achamian still hasn’t cried.

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

Conphas is holding a meeting at the estate he had claimed for his residence outside Caraskand. He stands with Martemus as he watches his guest arrival, reflecting on how everything had changed since he left Momemn. The nobles of the Holy War now look like hardened veterans, united into a new and separate people. The fact they are all wearing Kianene clothing and riding their horses only cements their new tribe

Conphas glanced at Martemus. “They look more heathen than the heathen.”

“The desert made the Kianene,” the General said, shrugging, “and it has remade us.”

Conphas regarded the man thoughtfully, troubled for some reason.

Conphas studies Martemus, continuously wanting to suspect him of treason. But even still, he enjoys the man’s company. Conphas reflects how the Empire and the Holy War will soon part company. But first Caraskand and Kellhus have to be dealt with.

They join the arriving Great Names for the counsel, and Palatine Gaidekki asks why Kellhus isn’t here. Gothyelk notes Saubon, Athjeäri, Proyas (who is sick), and Kellhus’s other “ardent defenders” are also absent. Palatine Uranyanak thought this was a council on Caraskand. Conphas says it is, asking why the city resists. Grandmaster Gotian asks for Conphas to explain.

Not for the first time Conphas realized that they despised him—almost to a man. All men hate their betters.

Conphas asks them why so much misfortune has befallen the Holy War after they survived the desert. Gotian says the God is angry at them. This pleases Conphas. While Sarcellus insists that Kellhus will be dead in a few weeks (Conphas has his doubts) they’d need allies in the aftermath. The number of Zaudunyani is unknown, maybe tens of thousands. “The more the Men of the Tusk suffered, it seemed, the more they turned to the fiend.”

Conphas glared at the assembled lords, pausing in the best oratorical fashion. “Who could disagree? The anger of the God does burn against us. And well it should…”

He swept his gaze across them.

“Given that we harbour and abet a False Prophet.”

Howls erupted from them, more in protest than in assent. But Conphas had expected as much. At this juncture, the important thing was to get these fools talking. Their bigotries would do the rest.

My Thoughts

The hemoplectic Hand of Akkeägni. Makes it sound like the God of Disease has a hundred different hands, each spreading a different disease, doesn’t it. Like a Hechtoncheires sworn to Nurgle (for 40k fans and who know their Greek mythology). Great imagery. Also shows how bad life used to be before modern medicine. Large groups of humans breed diseases, usually from contaminated drinking water. Hemoplexy is probably bubonic plague. The welts sounds like bubo. And we saw in the last chapter the Holy War throwing plague bodies into the city, and it was the bubonic plague victims used in the same way in our own history. There is no disease called hemoplexy. In fact, hemoplex is an iron pill for people suffering from anemia.

Bakker just casually mentions that a major character has the plague, slipped in with three names that don’t seem too important (though Chepheramunni, who we’ve been reminded of existing two chapters back, is).

Athjeäri grew bored with the siege so went raiding, captured a few fortresses, having a grand old time out there. Through the Historical accounts, Athjeäri exploits are always shown, this daring leader. But in the character sections, we see he’s just a young man who hero worships his Uncle Saubon. So it’s not surprising he got bored of the siege. So much waiting. And he just wants to go kill Heathens.

With the final line of the historical section, questions of why becoming questions of who, is the first seed of things turning against Kellhus. Things are going badly for the Holy War, and they need a scapegoat. And I am sure Conphas knows just who to blame.

Yeah, a clean, white surcoat is improbable given the holy war’s predicament. And here’s something interesting about white clothing. You know why wedding dresses are white today? This isn’t that old of a tradition, dating back to Queen Victoria in the mid 1800s. Having a white dress was seen as a symbol of wealth and ease, to wear something so easily stained meant you didn’t have to do anything that would dirty you. She wore a white wedding dress. And as the industrial revolution was underway and cleaning clothes became easier and living conditions improved, women began to follow suit until by the 1900s, anyone could have a white wedding dress.

Conphas doesn’t understand self-sacrifice. I am sooooooo shocked. Interesting that he sees it as madness. After all, why are you harming yourself to do something as ludicrous as helping another? And killing yourself or going into slavery, ridiculous. Yes, listen to the scriptures, pretend that there’s eternal damnation, try not to sin, but do real harm to yourself? Madness. And Shrial Knights are all mad to him. Great characterization into the mind of a narcissist. He has no empathy, so he can’t possibly imagine why people do things beyond him. And he hates it because he doesn’t understand it. Because they hear a voice “he couldn’t hear.” He’s denied this internal voice. The great Conphas.

Conphas is rightly confused why Sarcellus is talking about power and not signs or omens, like a fanatic should. Of course, Conphas doesn’t realize Sarcellus is speaking for the Consult, the ultimate Atheists, a group trying to literally kill the gods and the cycle of damnation. They wouldn’t use religious trappings. And just as well, power is the way to talk to Conphas.

And now the Consult is prepared to move openly against Kellhus. He has bought himself a lot of time, building himself into a position of strength. And we know from his “revelation” early in the book, he knows a test is coming, that he’ll have to sacrifice Serwë and survive the Circumfix to prove himself.

Esmenet’s reflection that the desert stands between her and Achamian is profound. The old Esmenet, the whore, died in the desert. She became the Warrior-Prophet’s wife. Even sex is transformed for her, something that didn’t happen with Achamian. Though she did felt like his wife, she never could get past the fact she was used to whore herself, that she had made sex into something so trivial and mundane. And then becoming an other to herself happened as she wasted away, stripping away everything from her.

The line about deserts lacking trees is a true statement. Desertification happens when trees are cut down and bad framing practices are used. The Mongolian Desert has doubled in size because of China’s poor framing tactics. Plants root soil in place, they trap water, and when they’re gone, there’s no evaporation to feed cloud growth. So the land grows drier and drier, more and more plants die, and there’s less water, so it goes dry. Thus, the desert grows. Or look at the Southwest United States. Once there were forests, but the Anasazi cut them down to build their cliff towns. This changed the climate and it grew arid, their population couldn’t sustain itself and crashed, their growing civilization plunged backward into the surviving tribes of the southwest. Or North Africa. It was once the breadbasket of the Ancient World. The Romans and Byzantines fed their empire with grain from North Africa. But slowly, the Saharan desert grew and grew because of poor framing practices.

We see even Esmenet reduced to selfishness in the desert until she surrendered her water, seeing Serwë, this girl she had come to love and share a sexual relationship in Kellhus’s bed, as a stranger. Then she watched her life pour into Serwë’s mouth, reminding her that there is more to the world than herself.

Kellhus, obviously, calculated that Esmenet would survive this. He needs them both still alive for his plans at this point.

I believe after Esmenet’s “rebirth” in the river when Kellhus declares her his wife, she sees his haloed hands for the first time, but I could be mistaken.

And then we see the profound effect surviving had on Esmenet, on the religious revelation she has while recovering. She survived the harshest place on the planet, she had walked on the edge of death, learned the limits of her humanity and reemerged “enlightened.” Bakker is showing us why the desert often produces religious prophets and preachers throughout history.

Esmenet’s revelation about her life’s goal is, of course, the lies she’s telling herself to justify the misery in her life, the things she’s done, betraying Achamian for Kellhus, selling Mimara into slavery and prostitution. And these are the lies Kellhus has crafted in her to use her for his goals. But at least they make her happy. And that’s why we lie to ourselves, so we can be happy with the things we’ve done.

Serwë having a living child is such a powerful moment.

Kellhus examines the child first, studying it like a Dûnyain would, seeing what its defects might be.

Esmenet is uncomfortable with being shown subservience by followers of Kellhus. She’s not used to it, but she will grow so callous about it she won’t even know it in the future. Familiar makes things comfortable, which makes things ignorable.

It’s envy that drove Esmenet out, not jealousy. She wants to bear Kellhus a son. She’s already stopped using her contraceptive talisman. But there’s also anger at Serwë because the girl slept with Achamian months ago. Interesting she is still holding that grudge even though she’s now sleeping with Serwë’s husband, has abandoned Achamian as dead, and moved on with her life. But it’s still there, and seeing Serwë and Kellhus sharing that look reminds her that Serwë also cheated on Kellhus. Esmenet doesn’t know Kellhus sent Serwë to seduce Achamian.

The coin analogy is great. We often don’t realize how are actions are perceived as others. Just witness someone who goes on national TV and says something they believe is right and just only for everyone else to be horrified by their words, seeing it as disgusting and the person being confronted with how others perceive them. And, of course, we can’t see the mind of the person who said that, we can only react to what they said. What they did. So understanding this duality is wisdom, realizing this fact and thinking more about what you say or do, understanding your not whole but doing what you can to come close.

Now we see Kellhus preparing her for the Circumfix. He needs her to be strong, because once Serwë’s dead and he’s hanging from the tree, Esmenet will have to hold together the Zaudunyani. He’s grooming her for leadership for when he’s not available.

Kellhus, speaking on the truth of power, reminds me of a talk by a behavioral psychologist. Male humans have a natural inclination towards hierarchical structure between their members. On the outside, this appears to be the strongest male seizes control, but that’s not what really happens. Power is elective. The strongest male is only in control so long as the other males allow him, seeing this individual as more virtuous (stronger, smarter, more skilled, more experienced, etc). Now a male can achieve power through pure force, but this can force the other males to rise up and supplant him (revolution). We see this same behavior in chimpanzee tribes, where the most successful dominant males maintain a social structure with the lesser who have allowed elected him. If a male chimpanzee is too authoritarian to the other males, they can (and will) revolt and kill him, choosing another. The Greater Names of the Holy War are beginning to realize this fact. If your soldiers and lieutenants, the people you trust to use fear to keep down the larger population, abandon you, electing to serve another, you also lose your power.

And we have Kellhus admit why he seduced her away from Achamian: he wants her to breed children for him. And, of course, he has her seeing this as an amazing thing. She’s so caught up in the mythos he’s created for himself.

Well, at least this jump of a month when we hop over to Achamian seems to be accounted in the timeline in text properly. Unlike our Holy War spending a month or longer dying of dehydration in the desert.

People tend to know that they’re being a burdened on love ones while sick, and often will try to do what they can, feeling embarrassed that they have to have help, or apologizing for imposing. But when they’re ungrateful, when they’re belligerent and spiteful, it makes it so much harder.

Achamian comes up with self-lie after self-lie to justify abandoning his friend. The fact he doesn’t speaks to his character.

Poor Xinemus. The Scarlet Spire broke him while they only hardened Achamian. Things can never go back, and for Xinemus that’s unacceptable, which only drives him to be harsher and hasher, to get the grief from Achamian he feels he’s owed.

Xinemus drunken rant is so sad, attacking the darkness, his world stolen from him, saying mocking things to try and rationalize his new state as he muddles from one thought to the other. And then for him to hate himself for not being able to see, like through sheer willpower, he could open his eyes. Xinemus’s slow death over this book and the next is one of the most heartbreaking thing, to see such a strong man so utterly broken because he did the right thing. He did the honorable thing. Sadly, the world does not respect either.

Xinemus’s torment drowns out the heartbreak Achamian is in for in the near future as he pines for Esmenet, not knowing the very man he believes will protect her has seduced her away.

Xinemus know hopes that Kellhus can restore his vision, can heal him the way prophets in the past were supposed to be able to. But Kellhus is a fraud.

Martemus is the closest thing Conphas has to a friend. And even a man as narcissistic as Conphas yearns for that relationship. So even though he’s pretty sure Martemus is a traitor, he just enjoys being around the man, talking with him, hearing his blunt observations.

Conphas’s narcissism has caused him to misinterpret why everyone hates and despises him—he’s an asshole. Men can respect and even love their betters. This goes back to male elective hierarchy. Monarchies bypass this, using tradition and custom to give them power, and so long as their soldiers by into it (and Conphas’s soldiers definitely do) they can maintain their power. But such arrogance and poor diplomacy doesn’t build that respect with the other males on the outside or who are being repressed. It is also an example of how wisdom is found between the two halves. Conphas has no inkling to how his outside half is seen by others and does a poor job understanding how other people’s inside halves work.

Conphas does know how to manipulate fear. He’s doing a great job here, using the Holy War’s own religious language (a language he doesn’t subscribe to) as his goad to drive them down the road towards Kellhus’s death.

The pieces are moving into place for the climax of the novel.

To continue on to Chapter Twenty-one, click here!

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