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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Two

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Two

Hûnoreal

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

We burn like over-fat candles, our centres gouged, our edges curling in, our wick forever outrunning our wax. We resemble what we are: Men who never sleep.

—ANONYMOUS MANDATE SCHOOLMAN, THE HEIROMANTIC PRIMER

My Thoughts

It’s a nice reintroduction to the Mandate Schoolman. They used to be men at the edge of their resources. They are working themselves too hard. They are driven to push themselves to their utter limits. Why?

Because of Seswatha’s dreams.

And since this chapter starts out with Achamian, it’s a fitting introduction.

Early Spring, 19 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), southwestern Galeoth

There would have been nightmares aplenty had Drusas Achamian been able to dream a life that was his own. Nightmares of a long, hard war across deserts and great river deltas. Nightmares of sublimity and savagery held in perfect equipoise, though the cacophony of the latter would make all seem like misery. Nightmares of dead men, feeding like cannibals on their once strong souls, raising the impossible on the back of atrocity.

Nightmares of a city so holy it had become wicked.

And of a man who could peer into souls.

Achamian can’t dream of these things because, even though he renounced being a Mandate Schoolman, he still dreams of Seswatha and the First Apocalypse. He relives the horrors of the past. Tonight, he’s dreaming of a feast that the High King Anasûrimbor Celmomas has thrown. He’s reclining on his Urthrone drunk and almost passed out. His Knight-Chieftains are partying. Toasts are cried out and mead is drunk. Achamian (as Seswatha) is at the end of a table only drinking water. He is watching “the High King—the man he still called his best friend—drink himself into unconsciousness.”

Seswatha slips out. No one notices. He moves through the palace and finds a door open as expected. Candles light the room, illuminating Suriala, a wanton beauty. “He knelt in accordance with the very Laws he was about to break.” He’s overcome with her beauty. He goes to the bed, mounts her.

Made love to his High-King’s wife—

A convulsive gasp.

Achamian bolted forward from his blankets. The darkness buzzed with exertion, moaned and panted with feminine lust—but only for a moment. Within heartbeats the chorus call of morning birdsong ruled his ears. Throwing aside his blankets, he leaned into his knees, rubbed at the ache across his jaw and cheek. He had taken to sleeping on wood as part of the discipline he had adopted since leaving the School of Mandate, and to quicken the transition between his nightmares and wakefulness. Mattress, he had found, made waking a form of suffocation.

It takes him some time to banish his arousal from the dream. If he was still a Mandate, this would have been momentous to dream. He wasn’t one, and he had many such revelations in his dreams to be overawed. He glances at the sun shining through curtains thinking exposing truth to the light is “never a bad thing.”

He can hear the children of his two slaves playing outside. He savors the sound because today it felt like a “profound miracle.” He wished to just stay in this moment, a good way to spend the rest of his life.

He looks at his room in a Galeoth military tower. It’s simple and barbaric compared to his life spent in the “fleshpots of the South.” But it had been his home for twenty years. The place where he studied.

He walked different roads. Deeper roads.

How long had he travelled?

All his life, it seemed, though he had been a Wizard for only twenty.

Breathing deep, drawing fingers from his balding scalp to his shaggy white beard, he walked to the main worktable, braced himself for the concentrated recital to come…

The meticulous labour of mapping Seswatha’s labyrinthine life.

Thanks to writing down Seswatha’s dreams for years, he’d learned the best way to do it. Before his memory could taint the recollection, he had to write it down fresh. The first thing he did upon awakening. However, he could only write: “NAU-CAYÛTI?” He stares at the name of Celmomas’s son who helped steal the Heron Spear. That weapon slew the No-God. Achamian has read dozens of books devoted to him. His military exploits. His heroic deeds. How he was slain by his wife, Iëva. Some have noted how many of Seswatha’s dreams had involved Nau-Cayûti. Achamian is realizing Seswatha had bedded his lover, which is in itself a significant revelation. As much as Achamian wants to jump to the conclusion that Seswatha is Nau-Cayûti’s father, he thinks to the dream, wanting to date it to see if was possible. He’s interrupted by one of the slave children asking a question only for a strange woman to reply.

He’s shocked by the accent of the newcomer. She spoke like a Nansur or Ainoni. Someone from the south, not someone from Hûnoreal, a province in northern Galeoth. He looks out the window across the grounds and doesn’t see where the voices are coming from. He scans past a few outbuildings and spots a mule while the voices “continued to chirp and gaggle somewhere to the left.” The boy cries out for their mother and Achamian spots him moving through the trees on the slope. His mother, Tisthana, comes out to meet the children. There are children talking to the stranger, a woman, asking about her sword and the name of her mule. She’s wearing a fine cloak marking her noble caste, but he can’t see her face. He wonders how long it had been since a visitor had come. Maybe five or six years ago.

He remembers how it had been just him and Geraus in the beginning. He often had to use the Gnosis to kill packs of Sranc, leaving marks of the battle all over the place. Geraus still has nightmares about it. Later, Scalpoi came to win the bounty on Sranc scalps. They often brought their own problems, but his Gnosis took care of that.

No matter, the rule had been simple over the years: Visitors meant grief, the Gods and their laws of hospitality be damned.

The woman appears friendly as she greets Tisthana, and Achamian thinks the woman acts like caste-menial despite her fine clothing. He relaxes when he hears Tisthana laugh, knowing she’s a trustworthy judge of character. The two women now walking side by side to the tower, chatting in the friendly way of women. Tisthana points out Achamian. He tries to put on a dignified pose but the mortar of the windowsill crumbles and he almost falls out the window. The children laugh in delight as he rights himself.

The stranger looked up, her delicate face bemused and open and curious…

And something in Achamian suffered a greater fall.

No matter how surprising an event is, there is a reason for it. Cause and effect rule the world. The newcomer calls him the Great Wizard in a tone “balanced between many things, hope and sarcasm among them.” She reminds him of a child with poor manners. He demands to know what she’s doing here after sending Tisthana and the children away. Despite how short she is, she’s standing on the highest fold of the ground to loom over him out of instinctive. He recognizes her. She’s beautiful, her face that of his wife. This is Mimara, Esmenet’s daughter who she’d sold into slavery during a famine. Achamian wonders if finding Mimara is why Esmenet stayed with Kellhus, choosing the Dûnyain emperor over “a broken-hearted fool.”

Not because of the child she carried, but because of the child she had lost?

The questions were as inevitable as the pain, the questions that had pursued him beyond civilization’s perfumed rim. He could have continued asking them, he could have yielded to madness and made them his life’s refrain. Instead he had packed a new life about them, like clay around a wax figurine, then he had burned them out, growing ever more decrepit, even more old, about their absence—more mould than man. He had lived like some mad trapper, accumulating skins that were furred in ink instead of hair, the lines of every snare anchored to this silent hollow within him, to these questions he dared not ask.

And now here she stood… Mimara.

The answer?

Mimara is glad he recognized her. Memories of Esmenet ripple through Achamian at the sight of her, and he says she looks a lot like her. She doesn’t seem pleased about that. He repeats his question, asking why she is here. She gives a flippant, obvious answer that forces him to ask a third time. Anger glazes through her, startling Achamian. The world that had slowly faded away from his valley now has returned. He’d found peace here and realizes he’s about to lose it as he shouts at her to know why she’s here.

She flinched, looked down to the childish scribble at her feet: a gaping mouth scrawled in black across mineral white, with eyes, nose, and ears spaced across its lipless perimeter.

“B-because I wanted…” Something caught her throat. Her eyes shot up, as though requiring an antagonist to remain focused. “Because I wanted to know if…” Her tongue traced the seam of her lips.

“If you were my father.”

His laughter felt cruel, but if was such, she showed no sign of injury—no outward sign.

He explains he met Esmenet after Mimara was sold into slavery. He should have realized Esmenet would have used all her new power to find the “girl whose name she would never speak.” He tries to explain how Esmenet sold Mimara to save her from starving to death and how it broke her. As he says them, he realizes this is just the “same hollow justifications” she’s heard again and again. It’s clear that though Esmenet found her years ago, it was too late to fix her. She then starts pressing that she remembers that he bought her apples. He claims it wasn’t him and he’s not her father because the daughter of whores “have no fathers.” He tried to say it gently, but it comes out too hard. It hurts her. “You said that I was clever,” she accuses.

He ran a slow hand across his face, exhaled, suddenly feeling ancient with guilt and frustration. Why must everything be too big to wrestle, too muddy to grasp

“I feel sorry for you, child—I truly do. I have some notion of what you must have endured…” A deep breath, warm against the bright cool. “GO home, Mimara. Go back t your mother. We have no connection.”

He turned back towards the tower. The Sun instantly warmed his shoulders.

“But we do,” her voice chimed from behind him—so like her mother’s that chills skittered across his skin.

He reiterates that he’s not her father, but she says it’s something else that brought her. Her tone makes him turn back to face her. She says she’s one of the few. A witch. She continues that she isn’t looking for her father, but for a teacher. She wants to learn the Gnosis.

There is a progression to all things. Lives, encounters, histories, each trailing their own nameless residue, each burrowing into a black, black future, groping for the facts that conjure purpose out of the cruelties of mere coincidence.

And Achamian had his fill of it.

Mimara realizes that her mother “the old whore” is right: Achamian likes to teach. It’s been three months since she’s run away from the Andiamine Heights in search of Achamian. She had to dodge the Judges and survive the hard winter. She can’t believe she made it. She’s dreamed of this place, imagined it so much, it actually fits her fantasy. Everything but Achamian.

He’s the Apostate. The man who cursed the Aspect-Emperor out of love for Esmenet. She’s heard many versions of him. Even her mother talks about him in different ways. It’s the contradictions about this man that left the impression. “In the cycle of historical and scriptural characters that populated her education, he alone seemed real.

Only he isn’t. The man before her seems to mock her soft-bellied imaginings: a wild-haired hermit with limbs like barked branches and eyes that perpetually sort grievances. Bitter. Severe. He bears the Mark, as deep as any sorcerers she has seen glimpse through the halls of the Andiamine Heights, but where they drape silks and perfume about their stain, he wears wool patched with rancid fur.

How could anyone sing songs about such a man?

He asks if it’s true that witches aren’t burned. She says there’s even a School, the Sawayal Compact. That shocks Achamian who then asks why she needs him. Her mother won’t let her and the Sawayali won’t anger Esmenet by taking her. “Socerery, she [Esmenet] says, leaves only scars.” Achamian agrees with that.

“But what if scars are all you have?”

Achamian is taken back by Mimara’s statement then asks if she wants power to “feel the world crumble beneath the weight of your voice.” She sees this as a game and asks isn’t that why he did it and strikes a nerve, but she finds no satisfaction in winning. He tells her he’d rather be her father than teacher.

There is a set manner to the way he turns his back this time, one that tells her that no words can retrieve him. The sun pulls his shadow long and profound. He walks with a stoop that says he has long outlived the age of bargaining. But she hears it all the same, the peculiar pause of legend becoming actuality, the sound of the crazed and disjoint seams of the world falling flush.

He is the Great Teacher, the one who raised the Aspect-Emperor to the heights of godhead.

He is Drusas Achamian.

She builds a bonfire that night wanting to burn down his tower. She pretends the fire is living, a fantasy she often indulges in to put magic into the world. “That she is a witch.” It starts to rain. Lightning flashes. She crouches in the downpour, soaked. It slowly smothers her fire. Her misery grows. She finds herself before the tower hollering for him to teach her.

He simply has to hear, doesn’t he? Her voice cracking the way all voices crack about the soul’s turbulent essentials. He needs only to look down to see her leaning against the slope, wet and pathetic and defiant, the image of the woman he once loved, framed by steam and fire. Pleading. Pleading.

Teeeeeach!”

Meeee!”

Only wolves answer, howling with her. It mocks her, but she’s used to people “who celebrate her pain.” She throws her hurt back at the world, declaring he will teach her. Then she sees him watching her from a doorway. He steps out into the rain, hobbling towards her. She can see the unseen sorcery shielding him from the rain. She trembles when he looks down at her from the stairs while the storm rages around them. She feels embarrassed under his scrutiny and demands he teach her.

Without a word, which she could now see is made not of wood, but of bone. Quite unprepared, she watches him swing it like a mace—

An explosion against the side of her skull. Then sliding palms, knuckles scraped and skinned, arms and legs tangled rolling. She slams to a stop against a molar-shaped rock. Gasps for air.

Stunned, she watches him pick his way back up the shining slope. She tastes blood, bends her face back to let the endless rain rinse her clean. The drops seem to fall out of nowhere.

She begins laughing.

Teeeach meeee!”

My Thoughts

A great way to introduced Achamian and remind us of the Holy War and what happened. We cut right to the most important part of his motivation in this series: finding out the truth of Kellhus. He has to know the truth of who he is, and those keys lie in his dream of Seswatha. A dream about a sorcerer cuckolding a king.

So is Seswatha the father of Nau-Cayûti? This certainly seems to imply it. Why else would Achamian dream this moment.? Or more specifically, why else would Bakker write this passage? My theory on why both Nau-Cayûti and Kelmomas are both able to activate the No-God when no one else can is their bloodline. The Anasûrimbor bloodline. It is implied that the only successful mating between human and Nonman happened when an Anasûrimbor daughter was raped by a Nonman. However, if Nau-Cayûti isn’t Celmomas’s bloodline, how does my theory survive?

Well, as we can see from the appendix of Thousandfold Thought, the Anasûrimbor dynasty was large. It ruled several different kingdoms. The Anasûrimbor that Kellhus is a descendant of is a cousin to Kelmomas. If you know anything about royalty, they like to marry important people. There is often quite a number of close kin marrying amid royal families. It is possible that Suriala is also an Anasûrimbor by blood even if her maiden name was another.

In fact, estimates of human history show that most marriages in the history of our race (hardly dented by the small fraction of the modern era) have been between first and second cousins. So the Anasûrimbor bloodline was spread out wide, it was preserved in the Dûnyain as one of their various lines of descent because of its innate gifts. I also think this is why Kellhus has trouble with children. The Dûnyain have bred the Nonman part of the Anasûrimbor genetics to its limits through their program. The reason for their greater intelligence and reflex might be, partly, accounted by this strengthening of the Nonman genes. I think the Mutilated figured this out, but by then they were the last Dûnyain left alive and none of them wanted to do the activation.

They were trying to save their souls, not sacrifice them, so they needed a replacement. And one was coming. Their enemy. They were certain Kellhus would work. They had to have figured out the Anasûrimbor bloodline was the key. They could take out the greatest threat to their power and turn on the No-God in one step. Leave Kellhus alive, and he’d probably figure out how to destroy the No-God again even if one of them activated it.

There is precedent for it happening. Hope they find that missing Heron Spear.

The sound of children laughing and playing, a simple joy, is what Achamian yearns for. He wants to keep hearing it because it means the Second Apocalypse hasn’t come. That there is still innocence in the world.

We noticed near the end of the last book, that Achamian’s dreams with Seswatha were focused on Nau-Cayûti. Now, he’s dreaming things no other Mandate has. The things that the Seswatha-in-his-Soul didn’t think was relevant to their mission. What’s changed for Achamian. What makes him different.

Kellhus.

I believe when Kellhus hypnotized Achamian in the Thousandfold Thoughts, something changed. Perhaps Kellhus talking with the Seswatha caused him to react and start feeding Achamian more information, or whatever Kellhus did to free Achamian to teach the Gnosis loosened the other restraints on the Seswatha in him, and now he’s dreaming all sorts of things.

On another note, Mandate who get obsessed with dreams invariably fall into the conspiracy theory traps and get lost in them. Achamian, at least, is studying new things. But obsession can do a lot of damage if it consumes him.

Poor Achamian, having to dream about an adulterous wife while missing Esmenet. Twenty years, and it still hurts. He’s like Leweth from the first book. The man who went into the wilderness to preserve memories of his wife. Achamian is obsessed with his quest to unmask Kellhus and prove himself right. Esmenet went back to him without telling him why. She probably thought he was dead, she was pregnant, and she had a chance to find Mimara.

Achamian is always the teacher, even if his only pupils are slave children who’d normally never learn to write. The Turtle Shell rock is a nice and subtle reminder of one of Achamian’s core characteristics.

Why did Esmenet stay? I’ve always said it was for her children: Mimara and Kayûtas, the one she was pregnant with. She had to be a mother before a woman, choosing them over her heart.

I think I’ve mentioned this, but altruism is hard to maintain when you’re starving. The hungrier you get, the more you retreat into instinct. And instinct is selfish. We know from Esmenet’s point of view she sold Mimara to feed herself. In a fit of selfishness, she did it and only regretted it later. Once she’d eaten and could think properly, she wanted to take it back. Ironically, it did save Mimara’s life, but the girl suffered greatly anyways. A wound that being told her suffering was for her own good won’t work to heal.

I’m interested in the next series. Will becoming a mother herself bring Mimara and Esmenet together?

Achamian is lying about never meeting Mimara. He’s not her father, but he did know her as a child. He helped Esmenet to try and get her back after the famine but failed, and that was when Esmenet stopped talking about her. I imagined he’s denying he’s Mimara father out of guilt for that. She would have been sold off when he was away. When he couldn’t help Esmenet. Now he can’t be her father. He’s too old. He wants her to leave, not to bond with him.

Mimara being one of the Few is not a surprising plot twist if you were paying attention to the last series. Esmenet mentioned that her mother could do things that she refused to teach her daughter. She was a witch, but Esmenet didn’t have the ability. It’s a recessive gene or something and skipped her generation. So Mimara being one of the Few is not a clue she’s Achamian’s daughter.

She sees his face slacken, despite the matted wire of his beard. She sees his complexion blanch, despite the sun’s morning glare. And she knows that what her mother once told her is in fact true: Drusas Achamian possesses the soul of a teacher.

This is Mimara’s first POV paragraph. Notice the verbs. They are not in past tense like EVERYTHING else in the series. They’re present tense. It’s a subtle thing Bakker does with her POVs. Whenever we’re in her head, it’s not like the past is being retold to us, but that we’re living in the present with Mimara.

We’re seeing what her Judging Eye sees as the world unfolds before her.

I have to confess, I had read The Judging Eye maybe three or four times before I began seriously pursuing my own writing. The next time I read it after I did, in preparation for The Great Ordeal’s release, this leaped out at me at once and it made me ask, “Why did Bakker do this?”

Remember this lesson: if an author has even a modicum of talent, they write things for a reason. Now, don’t get lost in why they made so-and-so’s dress blue, or why such-and-such person has a wart on their nose. Most of the time, those are just there to paint the world, not for any special reason. But pay attention to which details an author shares and how they convey information. Bakker so far has used 3rd Person Omniscient Past Tense for the historical sections and 3rd Person Limited Past Tense for the character POVs. Now we have a shift to 3rd Person Limited Present Tense for Mimara and only Mimara. Why?

The Judging Eye.

When it opens, we see the world as she does. We experience it as she does. She’s the conduit for the God, the Oversoul, to peer out at the world and witness it the way IT sees the world. Damnation and Salvation. It makes her POVs have an immediacy that other sections can lack.

Like many abused as children, she has a great deal of anger inside of her. She’s lost. Looking for the family she should have had while rejecting the one who sold her into that horror. As we later see when she seduces Achamian, she’s been taught by her abuse that her body only holds value in pleasing a man.

Achamian sees too much of himself in her. He wants to hurt Kellhus and the world that has taken everything away. Mimara cuts too close. To protect himself, he has to drive her away. But she’s determined. She’s come too far to give up. Hitting her on the head won’t work. She thinks she has nothing else but this. She has a driving need to be here, manipulated to come here by her darling little brother Kelmomas.

He wants mommy all to himself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To save the skies, Ary must die!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Prologue

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Prologue

Welcome to the Prologue of my reread. Click here if you missed the Introduction!

When a man possesses the innocence of a child, we call him a fool. When a child possesses the cunning of a man, we call him an abomination. As with love, knowledge has its season.

—AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

My Thoughts

Wow, a warning about Kelmomas? He is introduced in this prologue. He’s certainly an abomination.

It’s nice to have Ajencis start us off. After quotes of Achamian’s Compendium of the First Holy War, quotes from The Third Analytic of Men were among the most common. It’s like a welcome sight at the start of this new series. Yes, this is continuing. We’re going to be diving into dark and difficult subjects wrapped up in the guise of a fantasy story.

Knowledge is something you have to gain over time. Having it too early is atypical and not gaining it as you age is disappointing. We do not like things that differ from the norm. We like predictable things. Children may be smart but lack knowledge, and adults may be dumb but possess it. The familiarity is comforting.

The opposite provokes a reaction. So, Kelmomas is the child with too much intellect, so who is the fool?

Samarmas. He might not be an adult, but he’s Dûnyain. The only child of Kellhus that has a normal intellect. And to Kelmomas, that makes him a fool.

Autumn, 19 New Imperial Year (4131 Year-of-the-Tusk), the “Long Side”

A horn pealed long and lonely beneath the forest canopies. A human horn.

For a moment all was quiet. Limbs arched across the imperious heights, and great trunks bullied the hollows beneath. Shorn saplings thatched the intervening spaces. A squirrel screeched warning from the gloom of interlocking branches. Starlings burst into the squinting sky.

They came, flickering across bands of sunlight and shadow.

The Sranc come running wearing armor and shield decorated in human trophies: teeth, skin, fingernails, and more. They smell mannish blood and spill their black seed on the ground. Their scouts have reported what they can smell. “It had been so long since they had glutted their rapacious hunger.” They are eager to kill and rape.

They ran, weeping for joy.

They spot their prey. The Sranc charge across the ground. Just as they are about to fall on the men, the ground collapses beneath them. They fall into pit traps. Some manage to stop in time, shocked by what has happened. They stare “in lust and apprehension” at their prey.

Men.

A hard-bitten handful, running as though by magic across the forest floor. They lunged into the Sranc’s midst, their heavy swords high and pitching. Shields cracked. Mouldered iron was bent and broken. Limbs and heads were thrown on arcs of glittering blood.

The Men roared and bellowed, hammered them to earth, hacked them to twitching ruin.

Later, a lone traveler cries out, “Scalper.” They all turn to face him and the traveler thinks they’re like animals. He threads through the slaughtered Sranc, passing one “white as drowned fish, floating face down in a pool of translucent red.” The traveler notes the ambush was very successful with many Sranc killed. He approaches the scalpers taking their grisly trophies with efficiency. A Galeoth washes the scalps off in a stream, treating them with the same care like they were gold. Even with the lowering of the Hallow Bounty offered by Kellhus, they still were worth money.

All the scalpers watch him even as they pretend to indifference. It was unusual for an outsider to find them in the wilderness. “This work, the work of collecting and counting, was the least manly portion of their trade.” Their shameful secret.

It was also the point.

Nearly eleven years had passed since the Aspect-Emperor had declared his bounty on Sranc scalps, before the last of the Unification Wars had ended. He placed the bounty on Sranc because of their vast numbers. He placed the bounty on scalps because their hairlessness made them distinctive to Sranc. Men such as these, the traveller supposed, would be far happier poaching something less inclined to kill back—like women and children.

So began the Scalping Years. Over that time, countless thousands had trudged into the northern wilderness, expedition after expedition, come to make their fortune as Scalpoi. Most died in a matter of weeks. But those who learned, who were wily and every bit as ruthless as their foe, prospered.

And some—a few—became legendary.

The traveler has come looking for one such legend. He studies the man who is dressed in the “traditional costume of his caste and race” only his armor and clothing ripped and rusted, soiled. The man is an Ainoni known as Ironsoul. The man the traveler judged to be him says it and the traveler bows out of respect to a Veteran of the First Holy War. It’s a crime not to “venerate a survivor” of that conflict.

“How did you find us?” the man asked in his native tongue. From the cadence of his voice, it was obvious that he despised speaking, that he was as jealous of his voice as he was of his women or his blood.

The traveller did not care. Men prized what they would

“We find everyone.”

A barely perceptible nod. “What do you want?”

The Ainoni glanced back towards his cowled companion. No words were exchanged, only an inscrutable look.

Autumn, 19 New Imperial Year (4131 Year-of-the-Tusk), the “Long Side”

Ever do Men seek to hide what is base and mean in their natures. This is why they talked of wolves or lions or even dragons when they likened themselves to animals. But it was the lowly beetle, the young boy decided, who they must resembled. Belly to the ground. Back hunched against the world. Eyes blind to everything save the small circle before them.

The boy, Anasûrimbor Kelmomas, follows the beetle scurrying across the floor in the wake of his Whelming. Prayers drift through the temple’s columns as he is curious to where the beetle is going. The beetle leaves a trail in the dust and obliterates it as the beetle leads to the statue of Ajokli, the Four-Horned Brother.

“The Thief?”

Kelmomas is not impressed. Ajokli’s godhouse is a poor one compared to the other gods, his brothers and sisters. It’s a statue carved from black diorite to look like a fat man crouching over to chamber pot. He has no jewels or precious metals. Kelmomas finds the expression inhuman. “Grinning like a monkey. Snarling like a dog. Staring like a dew-eyed virgin.”

It [the statue] also watched the beetle as it scurried into its gloomy bower.

Kelmomas follows the beetle and mocks the statue by mimicking its posture by crouching over the beetle. Then he grabbed the insect. “It writhed like a little automaton beneath his fingertip.” He anticipates killing it, knowing he could do it easily and enjoying his power. He rips off two legs and tells the statue to watch. He sets the beetle back down. Missing two legs, it moves in a circle.

See?” he exclaimed to Ajokli. They laughed together, child and idol, loud enough to blot out the chorus of chanting voices.

“They’re all like that,” he explained. “All you have to do is pinch.”

“Pinch what, Kelmomas?” a rich, feminine voice asked from behind him. Mother.

Another boy would have been startled, even ashamed, to be surprised by his mother after doing such a thing, but not Kelmomas. Despite the obscuring pillars and voices, he had known where she was all along, following her prim footsteps (though he knew not how) in a corner of his soul.

He asks if they’re done as he whirls to see his mother, the Empress Esmenet. He finds her the “world’s most beautiful thing” despite her makeup and jewelry. She is finished and rolls her eyes, signaling she’d rather dote on him then do boring things. Kelmomas knows she does things to maintain appearances, just not nearly as good as he did. He asks her if she prefers his company even though he already knows the answer. He doesn’t let her know he knows because “it troubled her when he read aloud the movement of her soul.” She smiles and scoops him up in her arms, adjusting his hair while he savors her embrace. He thinks, “Never was there such a sanctuary.”

Mommy…

She leads him away and he is satisfied the beetle still stalks in circles. Then he hears the sounds of a crowd and he grows nervous, not wanting to leave. She asked him what is wrong, but he lies and says anything. She licks her fingers and attends to his messy hair like any mother would.

“It’s proper that you be anxious,” she said, distracted by her ministrations. She looked him square in the eye, and he stared into the pith of her, past the paint and skin, past the sheath of interlocking muscles, down to the radiant truth of her love.

She would die for you, the secret voice—the voice that had been within always—whispered.

“Your father,” she continued, “says that we need fear only when we lose our fear.” She ran her hand from his temple to his chin. “When we become too accustomed to power and luxury.”

Father was forever saying things.

He sneers inside while faking being an adorable kid. The secret voice tells him to both hate his father but fear him. Kelmomas “must never forget that the Strength burned brightest in Father.” Meanwhile, Esmenet is happy to have such a good son and hugs him. Holding her hand, he allows her to lead him out of the Allosium. They exit the temple onto the Scuäri Campus, the plaza before all the temples. Eothic Guardsmen protect them. He can see the whole vista of the Home City. It’s massive.

On and on it went, the vast and mottled vista of the Home City, the great capital of all the Three Seas. For his entire life it had been encircled him, hedged him its teeming intricacies. And for his entire life it had frightened him, so much so that he often refused to look when Samarmas, his idiot twin, pointed to something unnoticed in its nebulous weave.

But today it seemed the only safe thing.

“Look!” his mother cried through the roar. “Look, Kel!”

He stares at the thousands crowding the square, pilgrims and locals, “churning like floodwaters about the base of the Xatantian Arch.” They all reach for them while his mother tells him they are all here to witness his divinity. He fakes the “bewildered gratitude” she expects; he feels only disgust. “Only fools, he decided, travelled in circles.” He wants to show Ajokli this truth.

People were bugs.

It feels like a long time that Kelmomas and his mother stand in their “proscribed places.” He focus on flying birds and sunlight on rooftops. He wants to ask his mother for a model of the city so he can burn it. Soon Thopsis, Master of Protocol, arrives and all the Imperial Apparati on the steps turn to face Kelmomas and his mother. He studies their faces, seeing all their emotions despite blank spaces. Ngrau, Xerius’s old seneschal, still holds that position. Phinersa is the Holy Master of Spies, and Imhailas is the Exalt-Captain of the Eothic Guard and Esmenet’s sometimes lover. Werjau is the Prime Nascenti and leads the Ministrate while Vem-Mithriti is the Grandmaster of the Imperial Saik and Vizier-in-Proxy. There are sixty-seven in all in descending order of importance to witness Kelmomas’s Whelming. He’s the youngest son of Kellhus. Only his Uncle Maithanet, the Shriah, is unreadable. He doesn’t like Maithanet’s scrutiny.

He suspects, the secret voice whispered.

Suspects what?

That you are make-believe.

The cheers die as the horns sound. Then, at Thopsis’s shout, “the whole world seemed to kneel.” The citizens of the New Empire prostrate themselves save for Maithanet who only kneels to Kellhus. Kelmomas is dazzled by the sun reflecting off small tusks decorating his vestments and loos away. As they descended, he can’t help but laugh at how absurd the Exalt-Ministers look “grovelling in the costumes of kings.”

“They honour you, Kel,” his mother said. “Why would you laugh at them?”

Had he meant to laugh? Sometimes it was hard to keep count.

“Sorry,” he said with a glum sigh. Sorry. It was one of the many words that confused him, but it never failed to spark compassion in his mother’s look.

They walk through the square to the Andiamine Heights under the armed escort of the hallowed Hundred Pillars. The walk makes Kelmomas nervous despite the familiarity of being escorted by towering, armed men. He can smell the unwashed masses, a nauseating reek while they chanted “Bless-bless-bless,” over and over. He stars at the “landscape of kneelers.” A beggar weeps while a young girl watches when she shouldn’t. It stretches forever.

He walked across a living ground.

And then he was among them, in them, watching his own steps, little more than a jewelled shadow behind a screen of merciless, chainarmoured men. A name. A rumour and a hope. A god-child, suckled at the breast of Empire, anointed by the palm of Fate. A son of the Aspect-Emperor.

They did not know him, he realized. They saw, they worshipped, they trusted what they could not fathom.

No one knows you, the secret voice said.

No one knows anyone.

He glances at her mother and sees she’s worrying over Mimara. He asks if she is thinking about Esmenet’s first daughter, “the one she loved with the most desperation—and hated.” Kelmomas drove Mimara away at the secret voices urging while the voice. His mother lies and says she’s worrying for his father and Kellhus. Seeing she still worried for Mimara, Kelmomas isn’t happy that all his manipulations haven’t worked. The secret voice wonders if they should have killed Mimara. He then asks when Kellhus will return.

He knew the answer at least as well as she did, but at some level he understood that as much as mothers love their sons, they loved being mothers as well—and being a mother meant answering childish questions. They traveled several yards before she replied, passing through a fog of please and whispers. Kelmomas found himself comparing her to the countless cameos he had seen depicting her in her youth—back in the days of the First Holy War. Her hips were wider, perhaps, and her skin not so smooth beneath the veneer of white paint, but her beauty was legendary still. The seven-year-old could scarce imagine anyone more beautiful.

She says he won’t return until the Great Ordeal is over. That gives Kelmomas such joy. He wants his father to die and this brings his “first true smile of the day.” As they continue walking, someone yells out cursed. A madman with a knife rushes to attack Esmenet. He watches “battling shadows” and a word pops into his mind.

Assassins.

My Thoughts

A human horn sounds. The fact Bakker has to point this out should let us know, we are in a place humans shouldn’t be. We start with the Sranc. They dominate this series. They are the great concern of the Holy War, which only grows worse as they start marching and began fighting their way across the Sranc to the north. In this wake travels Achamian and his band. It’s fitting that we start with these bestial creatures, reminding the reader what they are. How they wear trophies of human flesh. How they get so excited by the scent of human blood that they ejaculate their black seed. They are pure hunger.

The “traveler” sees the scalpers as nothing more than animals. We see how fighting Sranc dehumanizes men. The Great Ordeal is marching out to fight these same creatures. Bakker is laying the groundwork of what being around Sranc does to humans. How it’s going to twist them into beasts like Ironsoul and his men.

Scalpers must be seen as the most dangerous and deadly men. The ones with the balls to go off into the wilderness and fight the monsters then come back with their trophies. It’s as masculine as you can get, and yet to earn their money, they have to do something almost domestic: washing and counting and organizing.

Trust Bakker to slip in that comment about scalpers needing to bring back something purely Sranc else they’d just be murderers. Most follow the path of least resistance, and those who do this will quickly have the innocence beat out of them. Even if they started off killing Sranc, soon they’d realize easier ways to make money after the dehumanizing work.

Well, Bakker’s really building up Ironsoul and his men. As we’ll see, they earn it. Especially Ironsoul.

Ironsoul is a man cast in the vein of Cnaiür. As brutal and deadly. He’s Ainoni, which in the first series was the most effete of all the races. The most urbane and decadent. Though they had their soldiers who fought in battle with skill, but they were always looked down as being lesser men by the others. Yet here we have Ironsoul, dressed like an Ainoni down to having tattoos mimicking makeup, purple lips, and eyeliner. Still, there’s no denying this man could rip you apart. It’s a nice subversion of expectations of Ainoni, showing that they’re not monoliths but a diverse people.

So who is this Traveler his “cowled companion.” The man is someone who revers the laws of Kellhus Empire by showing defense to a Veteran of the First Holy War. He is someone on a mission, searching these men out. He is delivering them this cowled companion. This is Cleric. We see no mention of Cleric in this passage. No nonman preaching. This is how he was delivered to them. We see the Cleric agree with a silent nod

We later learn Cleric is the last Nonman King Nil’giccas who is supposed to be in their last city of Ishterebinth. Kellhus sends his daughter, adopted son, and Sorweel there ostensibly to negotiate with Nil’giccas. But Kellhus already knew he wasn’t there. Clearly, he has met with Nil’giccas and made an agreement with him. He delivers him to the Scalpers to act as his elju, his book, because the nonman king is an Erratic.

Kellhus appears to have placed these scalpers and Nil’giccas into the path of Achamian. He is arranging protection and the skills for Achamian to make his journey, probably because Kellhus anticipates Mimara will join him. He is protecting those Esmenet loves. Mimara, Achamian, Kelmomas, and Samarmas (well, Kellhus would have if he knew about Kelmomas activities).

I do not think Kellhus cares if Achamian learns anything or not. Maybe he had different plans for Achamian and Mimara after the Consult’s defeat, but Kellhus’s plan failed in the final moments and so we’ll probably never know.

Well, we see Kelmomas’s opinion of people. It has the clinical detachment of a Dûnyain but possesses a spite to it. A delusion of grandeur a sane Dûnyain wouldn’t have. Right there in the opening paragraph about him. He destroys the beetle’s trail, obliterating its history, the evidence of its existence.

It’s fitting knowing where he ends up. Many thought he would be the Narindar (avatar/agent) of Ajokli because of this scene, but Kelmomas is acting as an equal, not a servant, to what he calls “the Thief.” The humans have scurried to the gods to save them. The ones who steal their souls.

“It writhed like a little automaton beneath his fingertip.” What’s an automaton but a slave to what comes before unable to deviate from the cause that set it in motion. He proves it by ripping off the beetles two legs then shares in the joke with the god. Kelmomas is Ajokli’s equal. Or will be.

Kelmomas tracking his mother is something we’ve seen from Kellhus. Of course, Kellhus has gone past that, but it’s showing us that Kelmomas going to have some Dûnyain level of skills and manipulation as we see his interactions with Esmenet. But he’s also untrained. He does this all instinctual.

However, while he’s Dûnyain, he clearly has an emotional attachment to Esmenet. A jealous and obsessive love, as we’ll see. It’s very childish, the only thing childish about him. She’s his favorite toy but also the only place he feels safe. Interesting that he feels fear. He gets scared by the sounds of the crowd though he refuses to admit it and lets himself be mothered by Esmenet.

Kelmomas is scared by the city because it’s too much for him. He can’t possibly take it all in and pay attention to it. Take that line “something unnoticed in its nebulous weave.” Kelmomas needs to control everything, especially his mother. In the palace, he can do it. When Kellhus is absent, he has free rein, or so he thinks. He can’t control a city.

But today, everyone in the city is cheering for him. All the beetles have come to worship him.

Werjau… I remember you. Did that slave plot in Thousandfold Thoughts go anywhere? I’m going to be paying attention to him in this book because I can’t for the life of me remember what he does in this book and the next. Is he still working against Esmenet?

So Kelmomas has a secret voice. This is another indication that he’s a broken Dûnyain like many of his siblings. We later see he’s not sure if he meant to laugh or not. He can’t maintain the facade as well as others.

We have a Dûnyain who is jealously in love with his mother and has the impulse control of a seven-year-old. We can see him struggling to maintain his facade at times. He does acts that could get him caught, like mutilating the insect. He has a god compact. As we see going forward, he’s not as smart as he thinks when dealing with other half-Dûnyain.

This chapter is full of so much foreshadowing. We have glimpses of the Holy War’s fate with the scalpers followed by the introduction of one of the biggest sources of chaos in this series. Kelmomas has the idea of assassins implanted in his head, and that is a big thing he does in this book. He causes so many problems for his mother trying to isolate her. We have the mystery of Cleric and what deal he made with Kellhus. And we learn that the inciting incident for Achamian’s storyline, Mimara’s arrival, was orchestrated by Kelmomas.

A great start to this series.

If you want to read on to Chapter One, click here!

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

To save the world, Ary must die!

Ary, a young man scarred by his past, is thrust into the dangers of the military. But he carries a deadly secret: the dark goddess’s touch stains his soul.

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

He must hide the truth from the other marines and the woman he loves. Can Ary survive the dangers of service and the zealous assassin plotting his death?

Are you ready for the action, danger, romance, and betrayal exploding across the skies Above the Storm!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Introduction

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Introduction

Welcome to the start of my reread of The Judging Eye. Click here if you the Prince of Nothing Reread!

After reading the Prince of Nothing Trilogy, I needed more. It couldn’t just end there with Achamian renouncing everything and walking away from power. Yes, Kellhus had defeated the Fanim and founded his theocracy, becoming the Aspect-Emperor and reviving the Kyranean Empire of old (the very empire who’s ruler King Anaxophus used the Heron Spear to slay the No-God) and had mastered all before him, but the story wasn’t over.

What was all that stuff with the Consult? The skin-spies couldn’t have just been a plot device. The Synthese was working towards its own goals. Goals that had not been realized. The greater danger wasn’t resolved at all. It felt like we’d reached the end of a book in a series and more was to come.

But it was the end of the Prince of Nothing series.

I took to the internet. I discovered the Three Seas forums. I spent hours pouring through posts, struggling to understand the story I had just read. What had occurred between Kellhus and his father, and, most importantly to me, where was the rest of the story? What about the Second Apocalypse. Kellhus becoming emperor didn’t solve that. It was still there.

And then I found out the truth: The Prince of Nothing series was supposed to be one book. The first in a trilogy. Only Bakker soon discovered it was too big to be a book. He has several options, but the one he chose was to split each book into its own series. The Prince of Nothing series was complete, so that left two more.

I was eager for it. Rumors abounded. There were different names for what the next series could be. Different titles for the first book. I came into the series not long after Book 3 was published. I experienced that wait for what it would be. Then the title for the series:

The Aspect-Emperor

Spoilers came out. A time jump. A great war. Things were getting interested. We were all awaiting it. We had a title for the first book. The Judging Eye?

What did that mean? What was this Judging Eye? Nothing in the first series gave a clue. Speculation was rampant. And then it arrived. The Judging Eye was published in February of 2009 in the US. Just in time for me to lose my job delivering pizzas. I had plenty of time to read it. To dive into it. I opened that book with trembling anticipation.

SPOILER 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 Prince of Nothing Trilogy, Bakker opens The Judging Eye with a quote. But not any from his fictional setting. He quotes the bible to start out this series. Fitting given the increased presence of religion and the Gods (specifically Yatwer and Ajokli).

But who are you, man, to answer God thus? Will what is made say to him who made it—Why have you made me this way? Does the potter not have power over his clay, to make, from the same mass, on vessel for honour, and another for dishonour?

—ROMANS 9:20-21

My Thoughts

There are so many different ways to take this verse as it relates to The Aspect-Emperor. Who is the God of this world that Bakker is exposing? Is it the Hundred, the gods who split up the souls of mankind to feast upon in the afterlife. As we learn, human souls are the wheat with which the Gods make their bread.

Is it Kellhus as he takes on the persona of a Living God and remakes the world. He shapes the nations and builds them for a purpose. He took Proyas and turned him into a cannibal only to blame him for what happened, to be a scapegoat to assuage the guilt of the survivors of the final march of the Great Ordeal upon Golgotterath. Kellhus created his empire for one purpose then allowed it to collapse once the army march. He was finished with it.

Is it the Consult and the Inchoroi who shape flesh like men shape clay? They make different beings for different purposes. Sranc, Bashrags, Wracu, Skin-Spies, and other monstrosities. They toy with lives for their own perverse amusements.

Obviously, he chose this verse a critique on religion and the remote coldness of a creator Deity. The entire series is about the pitfalls of blind faith and the irony that the only way to unite people is to give them all the same belief to embrace and in which to find comfort. Humans crave that because it gives us the illusion of safety. We project our simplified view of things upon the world. A veneer of order slathered across the chaos of nature.

Bakker is condemning the level of power such a being would have. To so casually use its creations in such a fashion. The Hundred who vie for worship so they can claim souls to feast upon, Kellhus who fashions everything for one singular purpose to realize the Thousandfold Thought, and the Consult as they bend and twist flesh itself for their own selfish needs. Even Achamian uses the Scalpers knowing they’ll die.

If the Dune series is the critique of the myth of the Great Man and the folly in following one vision, then The Second Apocalypse is that on steroids. The only way to find freedom is to have knowledge else we will all be slaves to the Darkness that Comes Before.

It’s time to begin the second chapter of this story.

It’s time to delve into The Judging Eye.

The Letter

Before the prologue, we have a letter written from an unknown bureaucrat to an unnamed Exalt-Minister.

Exalt-Minister, most glorious, many be your days.

For the sing of apostasy, they were buried up to their necks in the ancient way, and stones were cast into their faces until their breathing was stopped. Three men and two women. The child recanted, even cursed his parents in the name of our glorious Aspect-Emperor. The world has lost five souls, but the Heavens have gained one, praise be the God of Gods.

The writer explains that the source of the heresy comes from them reading Drusas Achamian’s Compendium of the First Holy War. The writer goes on to say that the Heresy it contains is like a disease and must be studied to destroy. Because of that, he has and gives the three bullet points of what he considers the worst offenders that “contradict Doctrine and Scripture.”

I) Achamian had sex with Esmenet before the battle of Shimeh.

II) Achamian claiming that the “Holy Aspect-Emperor” is not an incarnation of “the God of Gods” but is a Dûnyain, a group who use their intellect to enslave mankind. “That his [Kellhus’s] Zaudunyani interpretation of Inrithism is nothing more than a tool, a means of manipulation of nations.” In short, everyone is his slave. The writer is greatly troubled by these words. He finds himself doubting his faith because Achamian wrote: “if all men lay claim to righteousness, and they do, who is to say which man claims true?”

III) The third claim is that Kellhus is not preparing war to stop the No-God. That he is not the savior of mankind but a fraud.

This is all the writer can remember. He understands the reader’s concern. Not only does Achamian’s book undermine their belief, but the man once walked at Kellhus’s side and taught him. The writer says he had his body-slave, who read the book to him, put to death and now the writer awaits his own summary judgment, writing: “It is our doom to suffer the consequences of our acts, regardless of the piety of our intentions.”

Some pollution begs not the cloth, but the knife; this I accept and understand.

Sin is sin.

My Thoughts

The child condemning his parents reminds me of the Hitler Youth and how they were encouraged to inform even on their own parents. They were convinced that an ideology was more important than familial bonds, just like Kellhus wants. He needs to unite mankind.

A body-slave reading for a person was not uncommon. There is a history of slaves being educated and reading for illiterate masters or for those whose age has weakened their eyesight. The Ottoman empire employed slaves to run their government, serving as their bureaucracy.

We see the fanaticism of the Zaudunyani interpretation of Inrithism through the author, how blasphemers have to be put to death to keep this disease from spreading and how even the author expects to die. Kellhus and his ministry understand that ideas are as virulent as a pestilence. They can take root in a population and cause downfall. It has to be rooted out.

Finally, this letter serves as a quick reminder of what Achamian’s motivations and beliefs are. He lost his wife to Kellhus, that Kellhus isn’t a god but a Dûnyain, and that we can’t trust Kellhus’s motivations in his war against the Consult. It’s a great way to set the stage for the series we’re about to read.

Right from the start, Bakker puts the ultimate narrative question before us: Can we trust Kellhus not to betray mankind like a proper Dûnyain would? It’s been twenty years. Has his assessment changed? Is he leading the Great Ordeal to their slaughter?

Other books try to make the readers question if one of the main characters has become a threat. It can be hard to pull off for a character you feel like you know and wouldn’t do that. Bakker pulled it off in this series.

Onward to the Prologue!

If you enjoyed this, continue on to the Prologue!

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

To save the world, Ary must die!

Ary, a young man scarred by his past, is thrust into the dangers of the military. But he carries a deadly secret: the dark goddess’s touch stains his soul.

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

He must hide the truth from the other marines and the woman he loves. Can Ary survive the dangers of service and the zealous assassin plotting his death?

Are you ready for the action, danger, romance, and betrayal exploding across the skies Above the Storm!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Seventeen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 17
Shimeh

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

Faith, they say, is simply hope confused for knowledge. Why believe when hope alone is enough?

—CRATIANAS, NILNAMESHI LORE

Ajencis, in the end, argued that ignorance was the only absolute. According to Parcis, he would tell his students that he knew only that he knew more than when he was an infant. This comparative assertion was the only nail, he would say, to which one could tie the carpenter-string of knowledge. This has come down to use as the famed “Ajencian Nail,” and it is the only thing that prevented the Great Kyranean from falling into the tail-chasing skepticism of Nirsolfa, or the embarrassing dogmatism of well-nigh every philosopher and theologian who ever dared scratch ink across parchment.

But even this metaphor, “nail,” is faulty, a result of what happens when we confuse our notation with what is noted. Like the numeral “zero” used by the Nilnameshi mathematicians to work such wonders, ignorance is the occluded frame of all discourse, the unseen circumference of every contention. Men are forever looking for the one point, the singular fulcrum they can use to dislodge all competing claims. Ignorance does not give us this. What it provides, rather, is the possibility of comparison, the assurance that not all claims are equal. And this Ajencis would argue, is all that we need. For so long as we admit our ignorance, we can help to improve our claims, and so long as we can improve our claims, we can aspire to the Truth, even if only in rank approximation.

And this is why I mourn my love of the Great Kyranean. For despite the pull of his wisdom, there are many things of which I am absolutely certain, things that feed the hate which derives this very quill.

—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

Achamian, ever the doubter, goes on to talk about how ignorance is the state of man. That despite the belief systems of both philosophers and theologians, they simply things too much. The world is too complicated to be reduced to a “singular fulcrum they can use to dislodge all competing claims.” We’re forever battling with ideas that threaten our own cherished ideals, and that can lead to real fights. The ability to look at everything and compare different ideas is how we fight against our biases. It is what we should strive for and usually fail at doing. And even saying that, Achamian admits he can’t do it. He hates Kellhus. He’s writing his compendium to reveal that Kellhus is a fraud.

The Compendium of the First Holy War is his singular fulcrum against the mythos Kellhus has crafted around himself.

This leads to our first quote. It’s saying faith is ignorance, but if it were that simple, why would you need it if you could just hope your right. Faith is more than believing in some higher power. It’s the faith that when you step on the ground, it will be firm. It’s the faith that when you press on your brakes, they’ll work. Faith comes out of knowledge. Blind faith is a danger. Faith without scrutinizing it, without testing it, is a weak faith.

Achamian has had his faith in Kellhus tested. He has scrutinized it. He has found it wanting.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Achamian is remembering soaring in the grasp of the Ciphrang. It flies unsteadily, crying out in pain. It’s bleeding and descending in a spiral. When Achamian awakens, he’s lying by the sea amid reeds. He wonders where his brothers are. He thinks he’s a child and expects his fisherman father to shout at him.

Then something was dragging him, drawing him across the sand; he could see the clots where his blood blackened it. Dragging him, a shadow leaning against the sun, drawing him down into the darkness of ancient wars, into Golgotterath…

Into a golden labyrinth of horrors more vast than any Nonmen Mansion, where a student, who was more a son, gazed at him with horror and incredulity. A Kûniüric Prince, just beginning to fathom his surrogate father’s betrayal.

He dreams he is Seswatha is telling Nau-Cayûti that his lover is dead or ruined beyond saving. Nau-Cayûti, betrayed, is horrified to learn that Seswatha lied to him. He’s utterly betrayed because “Sessa” was the only one who believed.

“Because I couldn’t succeed,” Achamian said. “Not alone. Because what we do here is more important than truth or love.”

Nau-Cayûti asks why they are here. To find the Heron spear. As he does, he turns and sees a little girl’s face that looks like Esmenet’s. The girl speaks, but it is a mature woman’s voice that comes out from it. He hears the sound of the sea and thinks he’s dying.

He doesn’t die. He comes awake after spending days feeling like he “rolled, as though he had been bound to a great spinning wheel, only a small portion of which breached the surface of hot, amniotic waters.” A woman and her daughter tends him. He has nightmares of the last Apocalypse as he suffers through fevers. When they break, he is able to take in the fisher hut he’s recovering in and he feels like he’s in his childhood home. He falls into a dream of riding in the chariot with the Kyranean High King.

For years now, an inexplicable sense of doom had hung upon the horizon, a horror that had no form, only direction… All Men could feel it. And all Men knew that it bore responsibility for their stillborn sons, that it had broken the great cycle of souls.

Now at last they could see it—the bone that would gag Creation.

An army of Sranc and Bashrag swarm before the No-God, the mighty whirlwind. “A great winding rope sucking the dun earth into black heavens, elemental and indifferent, roaring ever nearer, come to snuff out the last light of Men.” Twilight descends as the Sranc fall to their knees, not caring that they are getting slaughtered. Through all their throats, the No-God speaks.

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

“What,” Anaxophus said, “do you see?”

Seswatha gaped at the High King. Though the man’s tone and expression were entirely his own, he had spoken the selfsame words as the No-God.

“My Lord High King…” Achamian knew not what else to say.

The surrounding plains writhed and warred. As tall as the horizon, the dread whirlwind approached, the No-God walked, so vast it made gravel of Mengedda’s ruin, motes of men.

I MUST KNOW WHAT YOU SEE

“I must know what you see…”

The painted eyes fixed him, honest and intent, as though demanding a boon whose significance had yet to be determined.

“Anaxophus!” Seswatha cried through the clamour. “The Spear! You must take up the Spear!”

This isn’t what happens…

The No_God comes closer with Achamian screaming at Anaxophus to use the Spear. Entire legions of Sranc are caught up in the whirlwind, hurtling around it. Anaxophus keeps repeating the No-God’s questions. “WHAT AM I?” The No-God is closer. It’s ripping into the human army. Achamian realizes it’s too late, feeling the wind ripping at his skin.

Strange… the way passion flickered out before life.

Horses shrieking. Chariot tipping.

TELL ME, ACHAMIA—

He bolted awake, crying out.

The woman rushes to him. He grabs her too hard and keeps her from pulling away. He uses her to stand while she cries out in pain. He’s holding her too tight but can’t let go. A man rushes in and punches Achamian. Stunned and lying on the ground, Achamian doesn’t remember the actual blow, just the man yelling while the wife pleads. Naked, Achamian stands up. He wraps himself up in a rough blanket and leaves the couple. Their daughter watches him from where she cringes behind a wall.

He turned and, as fast as he could manage, fled across the shore.

Please don’t kill me! he wanted to cry out, though he knew he could burn them all.

He began walking east, to Shimeh. It seemed the only direction he knew.

Achamian trudges down the beach as the morning sun rises. The warm waves lap at his feet. He only takes a few breaks, including to make a staff from driftwood, tie a rope about his blanket, and to check his leg. It’s cut. The demon had injured Achamian before he cast his Skin Wards, keeping the demon from killing him. The fourth time he stopped, he notices his reflection in a tidal pool and sees the symbol of Fane drawn on it. He finds himself loathe to wash away the charm so only rinses out his beard.

He heads from the beach on his walk to the city. The heat grows away from the ocean. He finds signs of the battle then the camp of the Holy War. He walks through the battlefield and entered the Massus Gate. He pauses at the sight of a Scarlet Schoolman turned to salt. He then climbs up to the Juterum and sees no one until he reaches the Heterine Wall. Two Conryians who know Achamian kneel and cry, “Truth shines!” They want his blessing.

He spat on them instead.

He approaches the First Temple. Nearby, the Ctesarat, the home of the Cishaurim, is smoking ruins. He finds thousands of Inrithi crowding around it. He leans on his staff as the Men of the Tusk part for him, recognizing him. “He stood at the centre of the world—teacher to their Warrior-Prophet.” He ignores their cries and, before entering the temple, glares and laughs at them.

Inside the gloomy temple, everyone is kneeling amid the outer pillars. “The marble soothed his bleeding feet.” He feels hollow inside and only feels alive because he breathed and still has lice. He feels he’s about to die. He hears someone speaking “stern proclamations” and recognizes Maithanet’s voice. He glimpses him introducing Kellhus as the High King of Kûniüri and the Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas.

The words winded Achamian as surely as a father’s blow. While the Men of the Tusk leapt to their feet, crying out in rapture and adulation, he staggered against one of the white pillars, feeling the cool of engraved figures pressed against his cheek.

What was this hollow that had so consumed him? What was this yearning that felt so like mourning?

They make us love! They make us love!

Achamian is lost in his thoughts and doesn’t realize for a bit that Kellhus is speaking. He’s drawn forward “irresistibly, inevitably.” He passes the lords dressed in looted Fanim clothing. Kellhus is declaring that he is rewriting everything “Your books, your parables, and your prayers, all that was your costume are now nothing more than childhood curiosities.” He is hear to bring them Truth, a new beginning.

Year One.

Achamian keeps limping forward and as he reaches the end he cries out that Kellhus is declaring the “old world dead!” People gasp. The last figures part revealing the splendor of the “Holy Court of the Aspect-Emperor.” Maithanet is dressed in his golden robes. Proyas, Saubon, and the other surviving Great Names appear radiant. Nautzera stands to represent the Mandate. The growing Ministrate look glorious in the “fraudulent station.” Iyokus even stands “as pale as glass” dressed as in Eleäzaras’s garb.

He saw Esmenet, her mouth open, her painted eyes shining with tears that spilled… a Nilnameshi Empress once again.

He could not see Serwë. He could not see Cnaiür or Conphas.

Neither was Xinemus anywhere to be found.

But he saw Kellhus, sitting leonine before a great hanging Circumfix of white and gold, his hair flashing about his shoulders, his flaxen beard plaited. He saw him drawing the nets of the future, just as Scylvendi had said, measuring, theorizing, categorizing, penetrating…

He saw the Dûnyain.

Kellhus agrees with “Akka.” Achamian leans on his staff and says Kellhus speaks of apocalypse. Kellhus says it is not that simple and adopts a pose of good humor, inviting Achamian to sit at his side. Then Esmenet burst from the dais and false weeping before Achamian. She stares up at him, begging with her anguish.

“No,” Achamian said to Kellhus. “I’ve returned for my wife. Nothing more.”

A moment of crushing, monolithic silence.

Nautzera is the first to object, ordering Achamian to obey. Achamian ignores him and stares at his wife, holding out his hand and calling her by his pet name. He notices that her pregnancy is showing for the first time.

Kellhus simply… watched.

Nautzera shows menace as he admonishes Achamian. Ignoring Nautzera, Achamian continues to beg, holding out his hand to Esmi.

This was the only thing that could mean anymore.

“Akka,” she sobbed. She glanced about, seemed to wilt beneath the rapt gazes that encircled them. “I’m the mother of… of…”

So the hollow could not be shut. Achamian nodded, wiped the last tear he knew he would ever shed. He would be heartless now. A perfect man.

She begs with him, reminding him about the world. He remembers his joke. “What will it be the next time I die?” He seizes her wrist and exposes her whore tattoo. People shout, but no one moves to grab him. Esmenet even shouts for everyone to leave him alone. Achamian renounces his position as the Holy Tutor and Vizier to Kellhus. Then he renounces being a Mandate Schoolman calling them “an assembly of hypocrites and murderers.” Nautzera shouts that Achamian will be killed. No one can practice sorcery outside of the schools. Achamian cuts him off.

I renounce my Prophet!”

Everyone is in an uproar. Achamian waits for it to calm as he stares at Kellhus. “Nothing passed between them.” Then Achamian glances at Proyas who looks older. Achamian sees in Proyas’s eyes they could have a reconciliation. But it’s late.

“And I renounce…” He trailed, warred with errant passions. “I renounced my wife.”

His eyes fell upon Esmenet, stricken upon the floor. My wife!”

Nooo,” she wept and whispered. “Pleeaaase, Akka…”

“As an adulteress,” he continued, his voice cracking, “and a… a…”

His face hardening, he marches away. Everyone is dumbstruck and angry. He can hear Esmenet weeping as the crowd parts for him. Finally, Kellhus shouts Achamian’s name.

Kellhus. Achamian did not condescend to turn, but he did pause. It seemed the future itself leaned inscrutable against him, a yoke about his neck, a spear point against his spine…

“The next time you come before me,” the Aspect-Emperor said, his voice cavernous, ringing with inhuman resonance, “you will kneel, Drusas Achamian.”

Retracing his bloody footprints, the Wizard limped on.

My Thoughts

I wonder if Bakker has ever read Tad Williams amazing Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy (or tetralogy if you read in paperback). In the third book, the main character is attached to a water wheel and spun around for days and days, dunked into water, brought back up. The imagery with Achamian describing his recovery reminded me of it. Maybe not. I know GRR Martin attributes the trilogy as a big influence of his ASOIF series. If you like Bakker, I’d check out Tad Williams. It doesn’t have the grimdark feel, but it has some powerful moments in it and is a partial deconstruction of normal fantasy tropes.

We’re seeing Achamian’s first dream that’s different. Where things aren’t happening the way they should. There have always been variations in the dream, minor differences that probably come from the fact that memories are never quite precise. That Seswatha dreaming in them doesn’t remember everything correctly, but we’re seeing a major deviation. It’s right after Achamian was unconscious and the Synthese promising to tell the boy a secret. It is possible that Achamian’s shifting dreams are not caused by Kellhus’s hypnotism, but something Aurang did to the unconscious Schoolman. Some glamour or spell.

Not wiping off the sign of Fane is the first hint at what Achamian is up to. Spitting on the Conryians is another. He is done with Kellhus and his religion. He has learned the truth and he’s here to satiate his ego.

Serwë, Cnaiür, Conphas, and Xinemus. Why those four names? Serwë and Xinemus, sure, they are Achamian’s friends. Cnaiür was once an ally, but Conphas? What do they have in common? They are all Kellhus’s failures. The proof he’s not a true prophet. He couldn’t save his wife, he couldn’t win the loyalty of the man who knew him longest, he couldn’t win the trust of his bitterest enemy, and he couldn’t heal a man blinded by the cruelties of the world.

Heartless. Perfect man. Achamian thinks Kellhus is a perfect man because Esmi is choosing him in the end, so he’s trying to become him. To flee the emotions that Kellhus can’t ever really feel. It’s a natural reaction. He has to grieve losing Esmenet all over again. If the demon hadn’t come, maybe, but she had days of Kellhus working on her, making her understand that she has her child to think about. A mother has to choose what’s best. I can understand it. It sucks.

And what an end to the series, Achamian, our protagonist, leaving behind everything in angry defiance. He has learned the truth and he won’t comprise any longer. He gave up Esmenet for the greater good, but know he’s learned that Kellhus is a fraud. That He’d seduced Esmenet away. I don’t know what passed between Esmenet and Kellhus, but I almost think the way she was pleading with Achamian that they could have still had their relationship, in private. However, he would be cuckolded over and over. He would have to watch as she still went to his bed to bear his children. She would be his Empress.

As we see in the next series, Esmenet’s feelings for Kellhus are not passionate. They have a comfort with each other grown by the two decades that pass, but she regularly cheats on him with younger men. She embraces the power and privileged that he’s given her. She ensures that Achamian isn’t punished for both his defiance and the book he’ll write. Kellhus loves her, but he couldn’t ever get true love from her, only worship.

Esmenet made the choice that was in her best interest. Achamian did the same. He’s done sacrificing for the world. It left him with nothing. He had Esmenet twice and both times he “died.” If the demon hadn’t carried him off, I still doubt she would have left Kellhus, but maybe things would have turned out differently. Though Iyokus accidentally saved his life, the blind Scarlet Schoolman once again robbed Achamian of happiness.

I remembered being shocked that the story ended here. Not only had the Consult//Second Apocalypse plot didn’t any resolution, but there was also still a good hundred pages of the book. I was expecting more. And while the Holy War resolution was great, I wanted to get to the true story.

Like with Game of Thrones, the Consult and No-God is the true threat. All of this has been necessary for Kellhus to gain the power to deal with it, but he still needed it. So I was glad that there more out there. That he was writing two more series. I was eager for the Judging Eye (which didn’t even have a title) to come out. I couldn’t wait for the Aspect-Emperor Series to come.

Luckily, I had that glossary. It helps explain a lot (like who Anasûrimbor Ganrelka was and how did he relate to Anasûrimbor Celmomas and Nau-Cayûti). It explains a lot about the Nonmen and the Inchoroi. Gives a great deal of background information.

I still have no clue what the Nail of Heaven is. That really bugs me. It might be a satellite in a geosynchronous polar orbit (which sounds impossible, but fantasy). There is a cryptic line in the second series that I need to keep an eye out which makes it sound like the Nail of Heaven preceded the Inchoroi by a few years. It’s bright as moonlight though.

Well, The Thousandfold Thought has come to an end. We’ve learned a lot that we need to remember going forward:

  1. The Dûnyain are not infallible. They can make mistakes. Their predictions can be flawed.

  2. The Outside is real. There are demons. Events can precede their cause. The Darkness that Comes Before is not an absolute in this world.

  3. True Dûnyain, when shown incontrovertible truth that Damnation is real and they are going to suffer, will see the logic in the Consult’s plan and side with them, preferring oblivion upon death to eternal torment.

  4. The Consult is searching for the Dûnyain through the north.

The Prince of Nothing has come to its end. Let the Aspect-Emperor commence.

“Retracing his bloody footprints, the Wizard limped on.”

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

To save the world, Ary must die!

Ary, a young man scarred by his past, is thrust into the dangers of the military. But he carries a deadly secret: the dark goddess’s touch stains his soul.

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

He must hide the truth from the other marines and the woman he loves. Can Ary survive the dangers of service and the zealous assassin plotting his death?

Are you ready for the action, danger, romance, and betrayal exploding across the skies Above the Storm!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Sixteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 16
Shimeh

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

Hi, JMD Reid here. Sorry for how long this took to get out. Not only was this one of the longest chapters in the series, but this is also one of the longest writeups. On top of that, I went on vacation for two weeks in March and then I got sick this week. Between that and getting my novels published, I haven’t had the time to put to it. But I’ll be diving into the final chapter of Thousandfold Thought this Weekend and hopefully, it’s not as long!

Please leave comments because it is a great motivator to continue this. And please, check out my fiction. I’ve learned a lot from Bakker on characters that I’ve applied to my writing. I’m not promising his style of fiction, but I’ve learned many lessons from the greats in the genre to make my own!

Doubt begets understanding, and understanding begets compassion.

Verily, it is conviction that kills.

—PAARCIS, THE NEW ANALYTICS

My Thoughts

A very astute observation. It’s one of the themes of Bakker’s series. Doubt is something the wise do. They use their brains and question things. Seek to understand things. When you can step outside your own world view you understand others. Empathy forms.

The best way to counter things you don’t like, bigotry or hatred, isn’t to demonize but to socialize. To engage. To get to know your opponent. Speak to them. Host dialogues and share your ideas. You can open up both your minds and discover maybe you were a little close-minded, too. That common ground can be forged.

The zealot always believes they are right. And that always leads to violence when the “blasphemer” disagrees.

This leads directly to the goal of the Thousandfold Thought. The Dûnyain see the easiest way to unite humans is to make them all zealots for the same thing.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Bowmen huddle in the sewers of Shimeh with a Cishaurim. Above, the buildings burn. The sounds of the Scarlet Spires sorcery has gone quiet. The bald Cishaurim commands the bowmen to douse their torches and cover their eyes. They do. The world goes black.

Then impossibly bright. A thunderous crack.

“Move!” the Waterbearer cried. “Climb! Climb!”

Suddenly all was blue, illuminated by a coin of incandescence that flared on the Waterbearer’s brow. They jostled forward, spitting at the dust. One by one they shouldered their way past the blind man, struggled up a slope of broken and blistering stone, then found themselves dashing through fiery ruins.

Moënghus concludes that the voices Kellhus hear are not from the Thousandfold Thought. Kellhus responds by demanding to see the captives. Moënghus asks what Kellhus will do if he refuses. Kellhus asks why Moënghus would.

“Because I need to revise my assumptions, to explore these unforeseen permutations. I had discounted this possibility.”

“What possibility?”

That the Wilderness would break rather than enlighten. That you would come to me a madman.”

Water, endlessly dropping, pounded air and stone. The thunder of inevitability.

“Refuse me anything, and I will kill you, Father.”

The Kianene boil out of the ruins of the collapsed city wall and race out to attack the Ainoni flank. The Tydonni who spotted the attack keep sounding the alarm, but the dust and smoke have hidden this attack from the rest of the Holy war. The Kianene cross the Jeshimal River, including war mastodons dragging rafts to make improvised bridges. They Tydonni charge into hopeless numbers.

Moënghus leads Kellhus through “absolute darkness,” leaving behind the waterfall. Kellhus explains all he had inferred about his father that he’d gleaned from Cnaiür then speculates what Moënghus did after leaving the Utemot. Unlike Kellhus, his father had carved the swazond into his arms meaning he would find no safety in the Nansur Empire forcing him south to the Fanim. This was before the Battle of Zirkirta, so while they didn’t love the Scylvendi they also didn’t hate them. Moënghus was first a slave, but after his “conversion” to Fane and with his intellect, he was freed by his master. Moënghus made his master love him. Soon, Moënghus’s knowledge of scripture outstripped the Fanic Priests. “Those who would whip you now implored you to travel to Shimeh… to the Cishaurim, and the possibility of power beyond anything the Dûnyain had conceived.”

Five steps. Kellhus could smell the water drying across his father’s bare skin.

Moënghus responds that he had good reason to believe this. Kellhus agrees, pointing out that the worldborn are “less than children to us.” They see deeper in all their philosophies and sciences. Moënghus assumed becoming a Cishaurim and “taking up the Water” would be just as easy. He didn’t know that Psûkhe was all about emotions.

“So you let them blind you, only to find your powers proportionate to your vestigial passions. What you thought to be the Shortest Path was in fact a dead end.”

The Scarlet Schoolmen who are holding back from the main fray as Watchers feel the Chorae moving in the ground before the Thesji Bowmen appear. They cried warning but were confused by what to do. “Not since the Scholastic Wars had the Scarlet Spires waged such a battle.” Rimon is the first salted and killed. They scatter.

Their shouts catch Eleäzaras’s attention. He sees their fear but doesn’t feel any. Instead, he feels relief because the Cishaurim was finally fighting back. He sees the demolition of the city around him, creating a ring where they could fight the Cishaurim.

They come!” he boomed in a laughing, sorcerous voice. “At long last, they come!”

Arrayed across the pitched ruin, so small beneath the fires they had kindled, the Schoolmen of the Scarlet Spires cried out in exultant acclaim. Their Grandmaster had come back to them.

Then threads of incandescence, blinding blue and white, lashed through the encircling walls of flame.

Kellhus continues explaining that though Moënghus, going by Mallahet, was respected by Seökti and the other Cishaurim openly, they all secretly think he’s cursed for having so little Water. Worse, losing his eyes reduced his ability to “discern what comes before.” He could only see pinholes through them. He did what he could with his intellect and rose high, but whenever he left the powerful, the whispers about his weak powers would undermine his work.

Kellhus determines he first found the skin-spies twelve years ago. It shocks the Cishaurim and they blame the Scarlet Spire. What other school would dare to do this? But Moënghus understood that these weren’t made by sorcerers but “were engines of the flesh.” Though Moënghus couldn’t stop the Cishaurim from sending their assassins to kill the previous Scarlet Spire Grandmaster, starting the Holy War. Kellhus’s words are cut off.

Just then, Kellhus inadvertently kicked something lying upon the graven floor. Something hollow and fibrous. A skull?

Kellhus continues without giving the skull another thought, explaining how Moënghus had tortured the skin-spies and learned the truth about them, discovering about the last two Inchoroi, Aurang and Aurax, the Consult, and how they corrupted Meketerig and perverted Shaeönanra.

“These words you speak,” Moënghus said from the black, “‘wicked,’ ‘corrupted,’ ‘perverted’… why would you use them when you know they are nothing more than mechanisms of control?”

Kellhus ignores his father and explains how Moënghus would have thought of the Consult as long dead or Mandate delusion, but discovers the skin-spies story is too consistent. Moënghus became troubled learning that what he had dismissed as nonsense might be true. He had rejected the Sagas. After all who would be mad enough to destroy the world. What could you gain?

“But the skin-spies explained it all. Speaking in shrieks and howls, they taught you the way and wherefore of the Apocalypse. You learned that the boundaries between the World and the Outside were not fixed, that if the World could be cleansed of enough souls, it could be sealed shut. Against the Gods. Against the heavens and the hells of the Afterlife. Against redemption. And, most importantly, against the possibility of damnation.

“The Consult, you realized, were laboring to save their souls. And what was more, if your captives could be believed, they were drawing near the end of their millennial task.”

In the absence of light, Kellhus studied his father through the lens of different senses: the scent of naked skin, the displacement of drafts, the sound of bare feet scuffing through the dark.

“The Second Apocalypse,” Moënghus said simply.

Moënghus says the Consult has to be stopped. He spent years in the Probability Trance and is the only person who knew what the Consult was up to. Who could detect their spies? Kellhus thinks that this labyrinth is a place prepared for him by his father. He then says Moënghus began “contemplating what would become the Thousandfold Thought.” Moënghus agrees. Things change suddenly. They are in a larger room where a few things live but more have died.

“We have arrived,” his father said.

Gothyelk leads the Tydonni in a charge against the Fanim as they cross the river. The Inrithi cry out to Gilgaöl while the Fanim charge at them. The Men of the Tusk cry out to Shimeh as they set lances. The two groups crash together in a maelstrom of hacking death. The Tydonni drive through the horde and reach the riverbank, scattering those who crossed. They regroup like “angry bees” and attack the flanks.

Inrithi lords cajole their men to hold the river crossing. The Fanim began breaking apart their makeshift bridges as archers on the far bank pelt the Inrithi. Despite reaching the river, Gothyelk realizes he can’t hold it and sounds the retreat.

Kellhus lights the room with sorcery. For a nonman room, it’s austere (which means it still is pretty ornate just not excessive). Kellhus realizes it is access to the sewage system and hence why it is not as decorated. There are workbenches and a cistern. In between are four skin-spies spread eagle. Two more hang above pits, all shackled with iron. Kellhus notes a funnel above one’s head that is a force-feeding mechanism. He wonders how long they’ve been here. He then studies them, their facial limbs held back by a system of ropes and pulleys allowing them to be manipulated.

Kellhus asks when Moënghus realized he didn’t have the strength to face the No-God. Moënghus thought it was probably from the beginning. Thinking about it lead him to come upon the Thought. Kellhus continua his examination and notes that the skin-spies are lobotomized and have needles inserted into their brain. He brushes one, causing the skin-spy to defecate.

Kellhus has deduced that his father has some power, hence sending the dream. Moënghus nods while Kellhus ponders the secrets his father had learned from the skin-spies. Moënghus explains he is better at Psûkhe that requires subtly such as Scrying and Calling. The dreams were almost beyond him.

“I was the Shortest Path.” [asked Kellhus.]

“No. You were the only path.”

Kellhus notes a dead child and woman nailed to doors hung before the skin-spies. They are recently dead. Kellhus wanders if it was an interrogation technique or feeding them. As he does, he asks about his half-brother. Kellhus can almost visualize his half-brother from the way he had heard him described. At the same time, he feels his father’s scrutiny.

He uses every heartbeat to reassess. His son has returned to him insane.

Moënghus nodded and said, “You mean Maithanet.”

Esmenet, cuddling beside Achamian, stares up at the tree above them. She’s recently cried. She is astounded by how the tree keeps branching to thinner and thinner limbs, “all reaching for a thousand different heavens.”

She sighed and said, “I feel so young.”

His chest bounced in silent laughter beneath her cheek.

“You are… Only the world is old.”

“Oh, Akka, what are we going to do?”

“What we must.”

“No… that’s not what I mean.” She cast an urgent look to his profile. “He’ll see, Akka. The instant he glimpses our faces, he’ll see us here… He’ll know.”

He turned to her. The scowling hurt of old fears unearthed.

“Esmi—”

He’s interrupted by a horse. Alarmed, Achamian creeps out to view. She follows and is shocked to see Conphas’s Kidruhil riding in formation. She thought he was dead and then realizes Achamian isn’t. She realizes Cnaiür told him about it and to sound the alarm. Achamian was just so shocked by it that he didn’t think about it. He tells her to stay hiding. His tone causes her to shrink back. She asks what he plans to do. He says he can’t let Conphas succeed. She doesn’t want him to go, but he is afraid for her since she’s Kellhus’s wife.

Just like Serwë was.

In her soul’s eye she glimpsed the girl trying to palm blood back into the gash about her throat. “Akka!” she sobbed.

“I love you, Esmenet. The love of a fool…” He paused, blinked two tears. “That’s all I’ve ever had to offer.”

Then suddenly he stood tall. Before she could speak, he had stepped over the broken foundation. There was something nightmarish to his movements, an urgency that couldn’t be contained by his limbs. She would have laughed had she not known him so well.

He walked out and among the cavalrymen, calling…

His eyes shining. His voice a thunderclap.

Conphas is in a good mood as he witnesses Shimeh burning. He’s with Cememketri and asks the guy what it says about men that they find destruction beautiful. “That we are bred to war, God-of-Men,” answers the Schoolman. Conphas disagrees, saying that they’re bred to violence. “War is intellect, and men are stupid.”

Conphas feels everything is going perfectly. He had a smooth landing of his troops this morning and is arriving at just the right time to seize the day. He is delighted to see the Scarlet Spires fighting in the city and that the Holy War split, one half pouring into the city as the Tydonni are trying to stop Fanayal from outflanking them. He has achieved tactical surprise.

Whom do the Gods favour now, hmm, Prophet?

A defect carried from the womb… Please.

He laughed aloud, utterly unperturbed by the ashen looks of his officers. Suddenly it seemed he could see the future to its very limit. It wouldn’t end here, oh my, no! It would continue, first to the south, to Seleukara, then onward to Nenciphon, west to Invishi—all the way to Auvangshei and the legendary gates of Zeüm! He, Ikurei Conphas I, would be the new Triamis, the next Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas!

He scowls, realizing those around him couldn’t see anything but “their precious Holy City” burning. His thoughts are interrupted by General Areamanteras who is startled by Achamian walking towards them. Conphas realizes he’s casting sorcery and grabs his Chorae moments before fire engulfs him. Someone cries out to him and he realizes he’s no longer on his horse but on burned grass, Cememketri floating above protected with “ethereal ramparts.” Meanwhile, Achamian is destroying his troops with lines of light “more perfect than any rule.” His men are being butchered.

A blinding light rewrote all the shadows, and through upraised fingers Conphas saw a sun falling from black-bellied clouds, plummeting onto the figure of the Mandate Schoolman. Bursting fire, ribbons of it, arching off in all directions. Conphas heard himself cry out in relief elation…

But as his eyes adjusted, he saw the flames twining away into nothingness about an invisible sphere, and he glimpsed him, as clear as night beneath the Andiamine Heights, or in the Sapatishah’s Palace in Caraskand: Drusas Achamian, unharmed, untouched, laughing about incandescence as he sang.

From nowhere, a massive concussion. The air just cracked.

Cememketri is buckling, Achamian’s “parabolas of light” are tearing down the Saik Schoolmaster’s wards. Cememketri panics and stumbles on his words. He cries out for Conphas to run. Conphas does as Cememketri is ripped into bloody pieces.

The lone guardsman left to defend the Umbilica curses as he hears something. He’s terrified of what he sees. A figure that doesn’t look right “like a moth’s pupa or a bundle of collapsing cloth.” He wants to run, but he’s a Hundred Pillar. He feels enough shame at being left behind. He draws his weapon and demands it halt.

And miraculously, the thing ceased moving.

Forward, anyway, because it somehow clawed outward, as though soft inner surfaces were being peeled back, exposed to the needling sky.

A face like summer sunlight. Limbs barked in fire.

Reaching out, the thing grasped his head, skinned it like a grape.

Where, bolted a voice through his smoking skull, is Drusas Achamian?

The Scarlet Spire battled beneath the First Temple, led by “the thunder of their Grandmaster’s voice.” They are outnumbered by the Cishaurim. Everywhere, sorcery is unleashed. Cants are sung. Wards are strengthened. The Javreh shield-bearers struggle to block incoming Chorae arrows, but some get through. One kills Hem-Arkidu who, somehow, was perfectly balanced to remain standing as a “pillar of salt amid sizzling ruins.”

The Scarlet Schoolman retreat to each other, uniting their wards to create directed defenses. Protected, they counterattacked with Dragonheads belching fire, Memkotic Furies attack, and Meppa Cataract devours air. Cishaurim die while others are dragged away wounded. The Scarlet Spires own Chorae crossbowman reach the battle and, though they are buried beneath the rubble, killing dozens. The Cishaurim do not falter because “unlike their wicked foeman, they cared not for their lives.”

In the midst of their enemy, they spilled their Water.

The slaughter was great.

The Tydonni knights are in retreat now, pelted by Fanim arrows as they rout. Kianene cavalry overruns some. However, the infantry has formed lines and grow stronger with every moment as more and more men join the ranks. Standing amid a crumbling aqueduct, the ready to face the enemy. Some of the Ainoni are joining them now. The surviving knits reach their lines and ready to fight again. The heathens advance.

Missiles rained among them, like hail across tin.

“Here!” Earl Gothyelk roared. “Here we stand!”

But the Fanim parted before them, content to release storms of whirring arrows. The knights of Kishyat, their faces painted dread white above their square-plaited beards, had exacted a terrible toll on their flank. But even more, Cinganjehoi recalled well the obstinacy of the idolaters once their heels touched ground. As yet only a fraction of the Fanim army had crossed the Jeshimal.

Fanayal ab Kascamandri was coming. Lord of the Cleansed lands. Padirajah of Holy Kian.

Proyas’s men are losing their discipline More and more are raping and plundering the city. He’s given up, his heart grieving as the battle madness consumed them. He “understood what it meant to wager one’s life, and the bestial license that men took as their prize.” He’s realizing Shimeh isn’t any different. He finds himself separated from his soldiers and wandering through a market. Above, the First Temple is wreathed in smoke.

He enters a house and finds several dead men. Cringing in the corner is a woman and a young girl staring at him in fear. He is wearing his war-mark, hiding who he is. He realizes he’s splattered in blood. Memories of the fighting feel him mixing with his memories of kneeling before Maithanet. He approaches the mother. She’s crying out in her tongue and draws something on the floor. The tusk.

She keeps drawing the tusk and begging for mercy. He knows this is wrong, but the girl looks so young and inventing. He feels this urge for the “daughter of his enemy.” He wants to enjoy her, to take her.

An enormous crack shivered the air, thrummed through the building’s bones.

“Run,” he murmured, though he knew she wouldn’t understand. He pulled her back, held a soiled hand out to raise the mother. “You must find a better place to hide.”

This was Shimeh.

Moënghus explains that Dûnyain blood is the most precious commodity, but children born to worldborn women lack their full range of abilities. Maithanet isn’t Dûnyain. “He could do no more than preparing the way.” Kellhus feels a pang as he thinks of Esmenet’s name.

“Only a true son of Ishuäl could succeed,” his father continued. “For all the Thousandfold Thought’s innumerable deductions, for all its elegance, there remained countless variables that could not be foreseen. Each of its folds possess a haze of catastrophic possibilities, most of them remote, others nearly certain. I would have abandoned it long ago, were not the consequences of inaction so absolute.

“Only one of the Conditioned could follow its path. Only you, my son.”

Could it be? A tincture of sorrow in his father’s voice? Kellhus turned from the hanging skin-spies, once again enclosed his father within the circle of his scrutiny.

“You speak as though the Thought were a living thing.”

He could see nothing in the eyeless face.

Moënghus says thought is alive. He uses the Nilnamesh game viramsata (“many-breaths”) as an example. It is a game of truth. They have taken jnan so far, that they spread lies about each other and the person will act out those lies, “especially when they are elegant.” It blurs the line between what is fiction and lies. The best tale is declared Pivirsut (“this breath is ground”). It is a lie that has become truth, the foundation everyone walks on. Kellhus sees the connection to Inrithism and Fanimry.

“Precisely. Lies that have conquered and reproduced over the centuries. Delusional world views that have divided the world between them. They are twin viramsata that even now war through shouts and limbs of men. Two great thoughtless beasts that take the souls of Men as their ground.”

“And the Thousandfold Thought?”

Moënghus sees the Thousandfold Thought as a way to change history and transform the two religion into something new. Moënghus realizes to survive what is to come, then everyone must “all act of one accord.” Religious division cannot be allowed but must surrender to a “new delusion.” Kellhus asks where is Truth in this.

“There is no Truth for the worldborn. They feed and they couple, cozening their hearts with false flatteries, easing their intellects with pathetic simplifications. The Logos, for them, is a tool of their lust, nothing more… They excuse themselves and heap blame upon others. They glorify their people over other peoples, their nations over other nations. They focus their fears on the innocent. And when they hear words such as these, they recognize them—but as defects belonging to others. They are children who have learned to disguise their tantrums from their wives and their fellows, and from themselves most of all…

No man says, ‘They are chosen and we are damned.’ No worldborn man. They have not the heart for Truth.”

Stepping from between his faceless captives, Moënghus approached, his expression a mask of blind stone. He reached out as though to clasp Kellhus’s wrist or hand, but halted the instant Kellhus shrank back.

But why, my son? Why ask me what you already know?”

Esmenet watches Achamian battling the Nansur. He no longer seems like Achamian, but different. Something “godlike and all-conquering.” She’s witnessing “the War-Cants of the Ancient North.” Despite the supernatural cadence of his voice, it’s still Achamian she’s hearing. For the first time, she’s seeing the presence that has always shadowed their love: the Mandate Schoolman. The Nansur are reeling in confusion and panic. They are breaking, but she knows that soon they’ll bring up Chorae bowmen.

She was about to watch him die, she realized. The only man who truly loved her.

He’s attacked by new sorcery, the barrage causing her to stumble backward. Four Imperial Saik Schoolmen are approaching. He kills them one by one with “blistering precision.”

The Cishaurim’s surprise attack kills dozens of Scarlet Schoolman. “Entire cadres were swept away in deluge after glittering deluge.” Chorae bowmen on both sides kill Schoolmen and Cishaurim. The Scarlet Spires coordination is disrupted and a sorcerous melee erupts. Schoolmen are fighting on their own for their own survival. Lesser Cishaurim are killed, but the Scarlet Spires had no idea the true strength of the Nine Incandati, the Cishaurim “whose backs could bear the most Water.” Their power is driving back the Schoolmen.

Eleäzaras is in a battle with two Cishaurim, including Seökti, the High Heresiarch. All Eleäzaras can do is sing his Wards. He uses all his knowledge to protect himself. He couldn’t afford despair. Then he is saved by Prince Hulwarga and his Thunyeri are rushing into the battle under the blare of horns.

Men of the tusk, come to save them.

On the field, the Holy War’s troops watch the Kianene horsemen maneuver to attack them. “All that remained of a proud and fierce nation, come for a final reckoning.” The Men of the Tusk began singing. The Kianene rode faster, howling in rage and anger.

So many wrongs suffered. So many deaths unavenged.

The Kianene charge fast and crash into the ranks of the Inrithi. A wild melee erupts.

“Even the Dûnyain,” Moënghus said, “possess vestigial versions of these weaknesses. Even me. Even you, my son.”

The implication was clear. Your trial has broken you.

Kellhus wonders if he had broken while bound to Serwë’s corpse. The memory of walking away alive when he should have died and all the Inrithi staring at him in awe fills him. He reminds his father that there is more than this world.

He [Kellhus] could remember the voice.

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

Even without his eyes, his father’s face still seemed to scrutinize. “You refer to your visions, the voice from nowhere. But tell me, where is your proof? What assures your claim over those who are simply mad?”

TELL ME.

Assurance? What assurance did he have? When the real punished, the soul denied. He had seen it so many times in so many eyes… So how could he be so certain?

Kellhus starts to feign that he’s wavering in as he brings up his “prophecy” of the Shrial Knights coming to pass. Moënghus calls it a “Correspondence of Cause.” It was just happenstance. He repeats that a cause always proceeds an effect, not the other way around. Kellhus knows this is true because if it wasn’t, if what came after could affect what came before, he wouldn’t have risen to power. “The Principal of Before and After simply had to be true.”

His father had to be right.

So what was this certainty, this immovable conviction, that he was wrong?

Am I mad?

Moënghus continues that while the Dûnyain are wrong about the world, and there is something Outside. He calls it “fractured and distorted reflection” of the material world. Moënghus hasn’t found any contradiction to Before and After. He explains that men, thanks to their limitations, can’t see this. They only pay attention to what confirms their basis and dismiss anything that contradicts them. “They are bent upon affirmation.” Moënghus has studied the world and realizes nothing from the outside acts on it.

“The God sleeps… It has ever been thus. Only by striving for the Absolute may we awaken Him. Meaning. Purpose. These words name not something given… no, they name our task.”

Kellhus stood motionless.

“Set aside your conviction,” Moënghus said, “for the feeling of certainty is no more than a marker of truth than the feeling of will is a marker of freedom. Deceived men always think themselves certain, just as they always think themselves free. This is simply what it means to be deceived.”

Kellhus looked to the halos about his hands, wondered that they could be light and yet cast no light, throw no shadow… The light of delusion.

Moënghus continues that they can’t fall into this trap because of the Inchoroi who have twice tried to destroy the world and will do so again. Kellhus nods and says the No-God “speaks to me as well.” Moënghus seems as shocked as a Dûnyain can be before he proclaims Kellhus insane.

Conphas is dazed from Achamian’s sorcerery. His men are shouting, thinking he’s dead. Some are not happy to be fighting for “Fanim pigs” and risking damnation. Then they notice he’s moving. He’s gripping his Chorae in a bloody hand and thinks he’s dead before he gathers himself and orders his mean to kill Achamian. He realizes the blood is Cememketri and thinks he’s useless.

He continues to order for Achamian death, but no one will look at him. He then glances at the battle and sees his Saik Schoolmen dying. Conphas has split his Schoolmen up among his columns. They don’t have the massed numbers to take on Achamian and his Gnosis. He didn’t expect to have a sorcerous battle. Not with the Scarlet Spire and the Cishaurim fighting.

This isn’t happening… not to me!

“My Chorae,” he said numbly. “Where are my crossbowmen?”

No one could answer—of course. All was in disarray. The Mandate filth had obliterated his entire command. The Emperor’s own standard had vanished in an eruption of fire. The sacred standard destroyed! He turned from the spectacle, scanned the surrounding fields and pastures. Kidruhil fled to the south—fled! Three of his Columns had halted, while the phalanxes of the farthest, the Nasueret, actually seemed to be withdrawing.

They thought he was dead.

Laughing, he pressed his way through the clutch of soldiers, opened his bloodied arms to the far-flung ranks of the Imperial Army. He hesitated at the sight of white-garbed horsemen cresting the far rise, but only for a heartbeat.

Your Emperor has survived!” he roared. “The Lion of Kiyuth lives!”

The Cishaurim shift their attacks from the surviving Scarlet Spires to engage the Thunyeri rushing at them. Eleäzaras watches stunned as “one barbarian, his beard and hair aflame, stumble across the pitch of fallen walls, still holding a Circumfix banner high.” Then he realizes he’s not being attacked. He strengthens his wards while realizing the Cishaurim are stronger than they are. He spots Yalgrota Sranchammer strangling a Cishaurim, protected by his Chorae. Seökti retreats to the Sacred Heights while the surviving Scarlet Spires renew their attack. Eleäzaras orders his Schoolman to fight while he realizes only one shield-bearer remains and he cowers on the ground.

Cursing the fool, the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires stepped into the smoke-rent sky.

The Fanim led by Fanayal and the Inrithi battle outside the city. It’s a brutal fight, but then the Fanim retreat. The Inrithi cheer, shouting, “Wait! You forgot your blood!” The Men of the Tusk, seasoned by two years of fighting, regroup with ease as they see the Fanim massing. The sight shocks them.

Horns signaled. Someone, somewhere, resumed their song.

We shall raise glory to the morrow,

we shall bring fury to the now.

As the Fanim form up, they are charged by the outnumbered Shrial Knights lead by Gotian. The Men of the Tusk cheer at the disorder this causes the enemy. The Fanim faced the Inrithi as “the sons of Fane and Sejenus regarded one another.”

Sunlight showered across the fields, gleamed from clammy metal. Blinking, men looked to the heavens, saw vultures circling the glare.

Mastodons screamed among the Girgashi. An anxious rustling passed through the lines, both heathen and idolater. Spotters along the aqueduct’s crown shouted out warnings: heathen horsemen seemed to be re-positioning themselves behind their motionless brethren. But all eyes were drawn to the Coyauri, where the banner of the Padirajah himself pressed forward through the ranks—the Maned Desert Tiger, embroidered in silver on a triangular bolt of black silk. The rows parted and, draped in golden mail, Fanayal himself spurred his black onto the intervening ground.

Who?” he cried to the astonished onlookers—and in Sheyic no less. “Who is the true voice of God?”

The Fanim charge. The Inrithi brace for the attack. Fanayal’s words have shaken up the Inrithi and they are breaking through the Holy War’s lines. The Tydonni knights, lead by Gothyelk, charge into Fanayal’s horseman. Gothyelk and Fanayal find themselves face to face. Fanayal “swift blade” kills Gothyelk.

Death cam swirling down.

Kellhus asks his father what the No-God is. Moënghus states Kellhus was broken by the trial. Kellhus persists, saying if the No-God was destroyed, how can it send him dreams. Moënghus just says he mistakes his inner voice for something without, like any madman. Kellhus then asks what the skin-spy say.

Though walled in by the flesh of his face, Moënghus seemed to scrutinize him. “They do not know. But then, none in this world know what they worship.”

Kellhus asks what his father has considered about the No-God, but his father presses on the madness then starts to say something about Kellhus’s training when the sounds of others approach. Moënghus thinks Kellhus brought them while Kellhus recognizes Cnaiür by his heartbeat. Kellhus presses on and says that he’s been chosen to be the Harbinger.

“These voices,” Moënghus said with slow deliberation, “what do they say of me?”

His father, Kellhus realized, had finally grasped the principles of this encounter, Moënghus had assumed that his son would be the one requiring instruction. He had not foreseen it as possible, let alone inevitable, that the Thousandfold Thought would outgrow the soul of its incubation—and discard it.

“They warn me,” Kellhus said, “that you are Dûnyain still.”

Moënghus asks if this is why he has to die. Kellhus, glancing down at his hallowed hands, then says when the Inchoroi prove to Moënghus that damnation is real and the Dûnyain are all condemned to eternal punishment, his training as a will lead him to side with the Consult. Moënghus will “come to see tyranny in what is holy.” Kellhus assesses his father’s physical capabilities and knows he must strike fast.

“To shut the World against the Outside,” the pale lips said. “To seal it through the extermination of mankind…”

“As Ishuäl is shut against the Wilderness,” Kellhus replied.

For the Dûnyain, it was axiomatic: what was compliant had to be isolated from what was unruly and intractable. Kellhus had seen it many times, wandering the labyrinth of possibilities that was the Thousandfold Thought: The Warrior-Prophet’s assassination. The Rise of Anasûrimbor Moënghus to take his place. The Apocalyptic conspires. The counterfeit war against Golgotterath. The accumulation of premeditated disasters. The sacrifice of whole nations to the gluttony of the Sranc. The Three Seas crashing into char and ruin.

The Gods baying like wolves at a silent gate.

Kellhus isn’t sure if his father has seen this probability, where his plan would lead. Or maybe he had and merely accused Kellhus of being mad to throw off Kellhus. He then declares that His father is Dûnyain. Moënghus starts to say so is Kellhus, but he stabs his father in the chest before he can finish his words.

“I am more,” the Warrior-Prophet said.

Achamian realizes that he’s routed the Kidruhil and that the rest of the imperial army will soon march over the hill. He expects there to be Chorae bowmen and realize he’ll be killed as his Mandate Training kicks in. He then remembers Esmenet and is fearful for her when he sees how close the ruins are. She was alive, watching him. She had witnessed him fighting.

It shamed him for some reason.

She bursts out of cover to race for him as he yells at her to stop. Then the Ciphrang attacks from above. A powerful wind knocks Esmenet to the ground. As the demon descends, Achamian knows it is Iyokus’s doing.

Proyas finds a still-standing building and gazes out across the burning city of Shimeh. He watches the Scarlet Spire and Cishaurim fighting while everything below was destroyed. The First Temple stands untouched overall.

A loud crack almost knocks Proyas to the ground. He sees a pair of Scarlet Schoolman. They are sending sorcery at a floating Cishaurim. They unleash devastation that is answered by water-like energy from the Cishaurim that slams into their wards. The glare is bright. The Cishaurim rises until he’s level with Proyas. The sorcerery battle clashes before Proyas. The Cishaurim wins, killing the two Scarlet Schoolman.

“Sweet God of Gods!” he cried to the acrid wind. With bare hands he tore the Chorae from the chain about his neck.

“Who walk among us…” He drew back his sword-weary arm, secured his footing.

“Innumerable are your holy names…” And he cast his Tear of God, a gift from his mother on his seventh birthday.

It seemed to vanish against the iron horizon…

Then a flash, a black ringed circle of light, from which the saffron figure plummeted like a sodden flag.

Proyas fell to his knees on the brink, leaned out over the fall. His holy city gaped before him. And he wept, though he knew not why.

Despite the Tydonni knights’ charges, it’s not enough to rout the Kianene forces. Despite some victories, Fanayal’s forces are too much. The Inrithi forces are doomed to lose. Despite their loses, the Holy War holds their position.

The Fanim wept with fury, with outrage, as they cut down the Inrithi invaders. They cried out glory to Fane and the Solitary God, even as they wondered that the Men of the Tusk did not flee.

Achamian faces the demon and realizes it is a powerful demon. He struggles to think how to deal with it. He used an Odaini Concussion Cant to throw her clear before it landed on her. The demon advances on him speaking that it must take an eye for an eye. He is horrified by what Iyokus has unleashed and begs Esmenet to flee.

The thing leapt towards him.

Achamian began singing—the deepest of the Cirroi Looms. Glorious Abstractions knitted the air about and before him, a thresher of light. The demon laughed and screamed.

In the nonman ruins, Moënghus staggers back from his wound, his snakes coming out of recessed holes in the wall to curl about his neck. He realizes something in this moment about how Moënghus can see through the serpents, many becoming one. “What was soul became place.”

With three voices he sang, one utteral pitched to the world and two inutterals directed to the ground. What had been an ancient Cant of Calling became something far, far more… A Cant of Transposing.

Kellhus is wrapped up in the spell, illuminating the room in blue light. He sees his father looking so pale. Then he sees Serwë leaping at Moënghus out of the darkness. A moment later, Kellhus teleports away.

Achamian battles the demon while Esmenet is unable to look away. She’s transfixed by Achamian “surrounded by withered, burning grasses, he stood behind his sheets of light, at once glorious with power and dreadful with frailty.” The demon reaches his wards and breaks through them. Achamian’s sorcerer falters for one moment. The demon grabs him and carries him into the air.

She could not scream.

Conphas cries out that he’s alive, but no one cheers or looks relieved. They’ve mistaken him for a common soldier. He glances at a captain and orders him to find General Baxatas. The man hesitates but sees the “cold fire” in Conphas and obeys at a run. He is giving commands, telling a soldier to sound the advance. He hears shouting, thinking it’s his own soldiers only to see an army of horseman racing at him roaring, “There are no more nations!” They fly beneath the Red Lion and the Circumfix.

“Kill them!” Conphas howled. “Attack! Attack! Attack!”

For an instant it seemed nothing would happen, that nobody had heard. His army continued to mill in imbecile crowds; the interlopers continued to ride unmolested among them.

There are no more nations!”

Then the white-clad knights abruptly changed direction, began riding towards him.

As they charge, he remembers his grandmother when she was younger and beautiful. She was teaching him that an emperor needed to stay grounded and to measure “the purses of those who serve you, my little godling.” An emperor needs to know how much loyalty they have to spend. Today, Conphas’s found out the limits. His men don’t rally. They surrender. They flee. They break under the stress.

“I defeated the Scylvendi,” he said to the remainder. “You were there…”

Hooves pounding the turf. The ground shivered through his sandals.

“No man could do such a thing,” he said.

“No man!” one of the kneelers cried. The soldier clutched his hand, kissed his Imperial Ring.

Such a deep sound, the charge of the Inrithi. Thunder about horses snorting, gear clanking. So this was what the heathen heard.

The Emperor of Nansur turned, not really believing…

He saw King Saubon leaning from his saddle, his face ruddy with murderous intent. More than sun glinted in the man’s blue eyes.

He saw the broadsword that took his head.

Eleäzaras closes in on Seökti, the Heresiarch of the Cishaurim. He plans on avenging his “beloved teacher” and his school. He screams his mentor’s name between Cants. Eleäzaras smote Seökti with magma and fire, with suns and fury. Eleäzaras is laughing as he sang because “vengeance had made hatred a thing of rapture and glory.” However, he’s attacked by blue plasma, the Holy Water of Indara-Kishauri. Eleäzaras’s wards crack. Eleäzaras strengthen his defenses and then realizes he’s alone in the skies.

All about him the world had become a tidal surge of brilliant white and blue, tearing, pounding. Markless, as virginal as the Godspun world.

Tearing. Pounding.

The Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires grunted, cursed. Jets of incandescence exploded through his Wards, immolating his left arm even as he screamed deeper defenses. A fissure opened before him. Light blew across his scalp and brow. Like a doll, he was thrown backward.

His corpse toppled into burning tracts below.

Outside the city, Fanayal’s forces are encircling the Inrithi. Things are looking bleak for the Men of the Tusk. Gotian, in a desperate charge, is slain along with most of his Shrial Knights. Then they hear a horn sound. They spot the Imperial Army marching towards the battle. But mixed in among the banners of the Nansur Columns were the Circumfix and the Red lion.

This wasn’t the treachery of an Emperor—an Ikurei—come to seal a pact with their Padirajah. The hated standard of the Exalt-General, with its distinctive Kyranaean disc, was nowhere to be seen.

No. This wasn’t Ikurei Conphas. It was the Blond Beast…

King Saubon.

Cnaiür is struggling to breathe as he sees Moënghus slumped against the walls. The Scylvendi had moved for hours through the halls following Serwë and the other skin-spies. They tracked Kellhus’s scent. He knows he is farther from the Steppe than ever. Serwë attacks Moënghus first, but Moënghus uses a mix of hand-to-hand fighting and Psûkhe to kill her. The other skin-spies attack. One is seized by the throat and consumed from within by flue fire.

Cnaiür advances at a numb shamble. He feels that same dread on the day he approached Kellhus on his father’s barrow. Today is different. Kellhus had been where he departed. “This was his destination.” Moënghus, through his snakes, notices Cnaiür and calls him, “Nayu.” He sounds just like Kellhus. He says that Nayu has returned just as he knew. Moënghus beseeches Cnaiür and he feels a tug of joy and remorse.

Cnaiür stopped at the threshold, mere paces from the man who had butchered his heart. He glanced uneasily about the room, saw Serwë splayed motionless to his right, her long blonde hair swept across a bloodied floor, and captive skin-spies hanging abject within a curtain of pulley sand chains. The walls warred with inhuman images. He squinted at the light that hung impossibly beneath the graven vaults.

“Nayu… put down your sword. Please.”

Blinking, he saw the notched blade in the air before him, though he had no recollection of drawing it. The light rolled like liquid across it.

“I am Cnaiür urs Skiötha,” he said. “The most violent of men.”

Moënghus calls that a lie to hide his weakness. Cnaiür calls him the lie. Moënghus says he sees love in Cnaiür. He screams, “I hate!” Moënghus is full of pity and starts talking about how he showed Cnaiür he was different from the others. Cnaiür calls this deceit. Moënghus asks if they’re lies, why do they torment him. “It is truth that burns, Nayu—as you know… for you have burned in it for uncounted seasons.” Cnaiür feels the weight of the earth and knows he has strayed too far from his people. He drops the sword. He cries.

And Moënghus was holding him, enclosing him, healing his innumerable scars.

Nayu…”

He loved him… this man who had shown him, who had led onto the trackless steppe.

I am dying, Nayu.” Hot whispers in his ear. “I need your strength…”

Abandoned him. Forsook.

He had loved only him. In all the world…

Weeping faggot!

They kiss and Cnaiür feels shame. The snakes curl around his head as he finds this so different from kissing Serwë or Anissi. He can surrender here. He doesn’t have to be strong. He pulls his Chorae out of his breeches.

His eyes leaden with ardour, he murmured, “I wander trackless ground.”

Moënghus gasped, jerked, and spasmed as Cnaiür rolled the Chorae across his [Moënghus’s] cheek. White light flared from his gouged sockets. For an instant, Cnaiür thought, it seemed the God watched him through a man’s skull.

What do you see?

Moënghus spills dead on the ground as Cnaiür cries out in grief, asking how Moënghus could leave him again. He laughs, mad, realizing he has a final swazond to make. It was all too much. “He cackled with grief.” He loses track of time as he cries over Moënghus. Only the fading of the sorcerous light pulls him out. He looks over to Serwë, her face cracked for a moment before it’s smooth. “Seamless and perfect.”

Yes. Serwë… The first wife of his heart.

His proof and prize.

Absolute darkness engulfed him.

Proyas witnesses the destruction of the Scarlet Spires, the five surviving Cishaurim standing over the scorched landscape. Proyas was lucky to have survived without his Chorae. He’s confused, stunned as he witnesses the ruins of Shimeh. He stars up at the sky, the smoke choking out all but a glimmer of the sun. Then he notices something sparkle. The point became a geodesic dome. A burst of air drives back the smoke from the spell.

And Proyas saw a figure standing where the light had been, so distant he could scarce make out his features, save that his hair was gold and his gown billowed white.

Kellhus!

The Warrior-Prophet

Proyas blinked. Shivers splashed across his skin.

Kellhus begins chanting as marches at the Cishaurim. The five turn and face the Warrior-Prophet walking towards them on solid air. Debris begins to circle him, pulled up in various orbits. He uses the orbiting debris to deflect Chorae missiles shot up at him. When they hit, they disrupted the spell, sending the debris flying. At the same time, light flashes from Kellhus, attacking the bowmen.

The five Cishaurim advance on Kellhus. They send their water-like spells to crash against his spherical Wards. “Somehow, perfect lines flicked from the maelstrom, coiled into knifing geometries about the nearest of the Cishaurim.” He’s ripped to pieces. But the attacks from the others are weakening his wards. He has to strengthen them. Proyas fears he can’t win if he has to stay on the defensive.

Suddenly, the Cishaurim stop their attack. Kellhus has vanished. He reappears behind one Cishaurim and rams his sword through the Cishaurim’s back. Kellhus teleports as the three remaining Cishaurim are stunned. “Had they eyes, Proyas was certain they would have blinked.” Kellhus teleports behind another and beheads him. Kellhus catches a Chorae crossbow bolt and throws it at the fourth Cishaurim, turning him into a pillar of salt.

Proyas whooped. Never had he felt so renewed, so young!

And Anasûrimbor Kellhus was singing the Abstractions once again. White robes boiled in the clearing sun. Planes and parabolas crackled about him. The Very ground, to the pith of its ruin, hummed. The surviving Cishaurim floated in a broad and wary circle. He knew he had to keep moving, Proyas realized, to avoid the fate of his brothers. But it was already far too late…

There was no escaping the Warrior-Prophet’s holy light.

On the shores of the Meneanor, a peasant is picking along the beach as the sun sets. He finds a “dead sorcerer” lying on the beach next to a giant figure of salt. The battle is over. He’s chipping away at the salt figure, fearful he’ll get caught. He fills the purse with salt. When he finishes, a voice asks if he’d like to know a secret. He gasps to find the syntheses staring at him. Terrified, the boy nods.

The voice tells him to come closer.

My Thoughts

Looks like Eleäzaras was wrong about those Chorae being beneath the rubble as belonging to dead men. He’s walked right into a trap.

Things have shifted now. You can feel the tension in the conversation between Moënghus and Kellhus. He thinks Kellhus is mad. Is he? We know he saw visions during the Circumfix. He probably saw visions even earlier in book two. He had a ‘revelation” in an early probability trance. The balance of power is shifting in ways Moënghus didn’t expect. It’s interesting that he’s honest. Why would Moënghus refuse?

I have to stall for time and come up with Plan B.

Dûnyain are interesting. They do not lie to each other. They follow logic. They want facts. Truth. Then they will debate and one side will convince the other. Now Kellhus has to convince his father he’s not insane.

Moënghus made a big mistake. Nice of Bakker to have a type of metaphysics that wasn’t tied to intellect. And, interestingly, that’s the one that can’t be seen. It’s the one that matches creation far more closely than Gnosis, even then produced by the Quya.

Mallahet was mentioned as being one of the most influential Cishaurim back in book one. It was said then that the only reason he wasn’t the High Heresiarch was his foreign blood.

There are lots of theories about the skull Kellhus trips over. However, it’s just showing Kellhus is blind so he couldn’t see it, that Dûnyain does have weaknesses, and to break up the conversation with something interesting. I wouldn’t read anything into it.

Moënghus brings up an interesting point. Kellhus is painting the Consult as evil, a subjective description from the point of view of the Dûnyain. Kellhus doesn’t even engage this. Kellhus is preparing to go to war with the Consult.

The woman and the child… Shows you the Dûnyain priorities there. He needs to do something for the skin-spies. I imagine they require some level of violence innate in them. It’s also a preview to what we’ll find in Ishuäl in the next series.

Maithanet being half-Dûnyain explains a lot. We had the clues right from the beginning. He had blue eyes showing he was half-Ketyai and half-Norsirai. Further, he came out of nowhere from the south. The real question is, where did his mother go? Because Kellhus was having a hard time getting kids. He tried a lot of other women besides Esmenet. Smart women. Only she produced any viable offspring, and even most of hers had problems.

Achamian and Esmenet’s brief moment of happiness is ruined. Esmenet is his greatest motivation. It’s behind his actions in the next series. He wants to prove his theories right about Kellhus for her. To get her back. Now, he’s going to fight an army to protect her.

Conphas’s take is interesting about human nature. Bred to violence. It’s in us all. There is something in us that delights in destruction. In seeing something torn down. Not anything that we worked on. Destruction of objects acts as a proxy for darker emotions. Ones we know we can’t act on. Push us hard enough, some harder than others, and we all embrace violence.

Poor Conphas. He’s facing the Gnosis. One man ruins all the fun. And we get to see just why the Mandate are truly to be feared.

Bakker’s demons are truly alien and terrifying. Poor guardsman. Tension is mounting now.

Proyas is a real believer. Shimeh is his Jerusalem, and he’s helping to destroy it. His men are killing, raping, and stealing. He’s reeling, the poor guy. He’s feeling that wild exhilaration of risking his life conflicting with his faith. His illusions are being shattered. The horrors of war are filling him. They’re twisting him, turning him into something like the Inchoroi, losing his humanity, just caring about his own desires.

Remember what Proyas does in The Unholy Consult once his illusions of Kellhus are shattered even worse. We get a preview for the darkness of the human soul while seeing how it can be controlled now. He fights it here. This is what war and violence do to humans. It destroys us.

It will destroy Proyas eventually. Just not in Shimeh.

Kellhus just got confirmation that Esmenet can’t give him full Dûnyain children. This hurt Kellhus because he has that bit of love for her. As much as he can love.

As it has been apparent, Moënghus conditioned the path for Kellhus to walk on. It has been a massive program to see if Kellhus would solve the equation. It’s like a mathematician writing software to calculate something beyond his ability to solve and then letting it run. If he did it right, the solution would be derived.

The Dûnyain philosophy is a bleak one. There is a reason humans have a yearning for belief. Something about religion is important to our survival. Even those who think they’re not religious usually adopt a secular belief and put it in that same position. They can become just as zealous as any fanatic. The Dûnyain see these beliefs as the problem, but it’s really just humans twisting ideas for their own self-interest. That’s what has to be battled against. Not religion, but selfishness. The Dûnyain see the only way forward to unite everyone in the same selfish belief instead of freeing their minds. The Dûnyain want to be self-moving souls but care little for doing the same for others.

Interesting that Kellhus pulls back from his father’s gesture. It’s a clear rejection of Moënghus, almost revulsion. And yet, they’re Dûnyain. Moënghus couldn’t be reaching out like a father to find comfort in his son, and Kellhus shouldn’t be acting in revulsion, but we know Kellhus has emotions. Perhaps this was a test on Moënghus’s part, to see how he would act. To see how “mad” Kellhus is.

In the midst of her fear and seeing Achamian for who he truly is, Esmenet is finally honest with herself. Achamian loves her. Kellhus has some feelings for her. He loves her in the stunted way, but he can’t ever give her what Achamian can. What Kellhus can give her is other things and, being pregnant, she has to think of more than herself.

There is something ironic about Eleäzaras being saved by Men of the Tusk. He’s a sorcerer condemned by the Tusk to Hell, and yet he is being saved by them.

“So many wrongs suffered. So many deaths unavenged.” The cycle of violence. So hard to break.

Kellhus seems to think his survival at the Circumfix was a miracle. And definitely something weird happened. He plucked Serwë’s heart out of his own chest. A topoi had formed there. The outside bled in while he was on the Circumfix. He spoke with the No-God, or, I should say, interfaced with its connection. It’s an indication that Anasûrimbor blood can activate it. I think because they have nonman blood in their veins. The only time, it seems, that a nonman bred a human woman was the ancestor of the Anasûrimbor dynasty.

Kellhus believes he’s special. I think this is what lead him into venturing into the Outside between books. He had to find proof. Assurances of what he thinks. Bakker has an interesting world. He’s a materialist and yet created a world with the spiritual being a real thing. Is Kellhus actually special? Or is it all a delusion on his part? What if it’s a mix of all of it? He’s a fulcrum for the outside. For Ajokli and for the No-God.

Kellhus is an interesting character. A man raised to logic who know has embraced some modicum of faith. He’s seen beyond this world and seen the Outside touch it. Maybe the prophecy to the Shrial Knights was just good luck, but he had a “revelation” of the Circumfix. Bakker chose that word with care. Not a guess, not a probable outcome, but a revelation. He’s realizing it now, and he has to decide if he’s crazy or to trust that he’s not. He has to go against being Dûnyain, which is what keeps him from falling into the logical decision of siding with the Consult like the Mutilated do.

Force of personality is all that has held his army together. With him dead, they are lost. It’s not a good thing for an army. They should be able to survive the loss of any officer. It gave him this loyal force, but now it’s biting him in the ass as they think he’s dead.

I recently read a series with a character that is similar to Conphas. Someone who thought himself better. Someone who believed he was a God because of his abilities. He had the arrogance to think he could reshape the world in his own image, so certain in his vision of what right and wrong meant that he could impose it on the world. I won’t name the character so as not to spoil it, but in the end, when he realizes he lost, he starts to panic. He breaks down in disbelief and becomes a bitch.

Eleäzaras knows they can’t win, but he orders his survivors to fight. He can’t let this go. Not after all he’s done to his school. They have to win. He’s desperate for it.

No one can know what they worship because God stands outside our world. If there is something beyond the physical world, we can never reach it. We can never escape our universe. We’re limited. The more we learn, the more we realize we’ll never reach outside our universe.

He recognized Cnaiür by his HEARTBEAT! Jesus, that’s precise.

Kellhus pronouncement on his father is correct. We see that at the end of the Unholy Consult. I wondered all through the second series if Kellhus would still be Dûnyain. If he was leading the Great Ordeal to their destruction as a bargaining chip to assume command of the Consult and continue their work. Bakker was smart to deny us POV’s of Kellhus in the second series until near the end.

Such a strange heroes journey Kellhus has been upon. Now that we’ve seen the whole of the series and know his true intentions, this is a powerful moment in his story when he says he’s more than Dûnyain. It’s when he rejected his path and accepted the Call. Death and rebirth is also part of the Hero’s Journey. Will that play a role in the final series?

I suspect Achamian is shamed by Esmenet witnessing him killing. Seeing the true him, as she noted: the Mandate Schoolman not her husband.

So the Ciphrang tries to kill Achamian and inadvertently saves him from the Imperial Army’s Chorae bowmen. Iyokus accidentally saves Achamian’s life. I’ve never noticed that.

I think Proyas weeps because he is losing all his innocence. This was supposed to be a special place, and they are destroying it. Not the Fanim, but the Inrithi. To save it, they are defiling it. To protect it, they are breaking it. They came here thinking they were doing good, but only committed evil upon evil.

Kellhus realized that souls are things mapped on the outside. That they can be plotted. They can be a place. So he needs coordinates. He has previously speculated on using a second inutteral, something Achamian claimed impossible. Now he used it and took a two-dimensional spell and made it into three dimensions, inspired by the Cishaurim peering through the souls of their snakes.

Nice touch with the “rumbling climbing into the sky” as the demon carries off Achamian in the background of Conphas’s scene.

So long Conphas. Your men followed you so long as you were winning. Conphas had never run. When he faced the Warrior-Prophet after the Circumfix, he stayed proud, in charge. He was defiant and so they were, too. But today, he ran from Achamian. He broke and spent the last of their loyalty and faith in him.

Eleäzaras, obsessed with vengeance, is slain. His obsession with defeating his enemy has led his school to ruin. Arrogance let him think he was better than the Cishaurim. They’ve learned the hard way.

Oh, Saubon. That guilt got to you. Now you’re sweeping in to save the day. If Achamian hadn’t broken Conphas with his attack and delayed the Nansur advance, who knows how this battle would have resulted. Now the tied has turned.

I wondered why Kellhus didn’t just kill Moënghus but stab him. Cnaiür was here. Kellhus wounded Moënghus enough to give Cnaiür the ability to kill him. Kellhus upheld his bargain with Cnaiür in the end. He didn’t have to. Ensuring Moënghus died would be the more practical thing. The Dûnyain thing.

Kellhus is more than Dûnyain now.

What do you see?” This whispers in Cnaiür’s mind as he thinks he sees God through Moënghus’s dying eyes. The God is asking the question. The same question that the No-God sees. We go back to Kellhus’s theory that every soul is merely a point of the Oversoul, the unity trying to understand itself. The No-God is an artificial soul. It absorbs the pieces of the Oversoul, sucking them up and thus preventing the cycle of rebirth. Diminishing the Oversoul, the God, until it can’t keep the outside manifesting. So it can’t keep claiming the souls of the survivors. The No-God is it’s opposite, it’s inverse, and it asks the same questions. It wants to know the same thing.

What do you see? What am I?

Cnaiür admitted at long last he loved Moënghus. That was why his hate was so great. He loved this man and was abandoned by him. He found him, kissed him, and he knew that Moënghus would just abandon him again. Cnaiür knew that as he felt Moënghus manipulating him. “I need your strength.” That was the only reason Moënghus was so warm. He knew he would be abandoned again.

So he killed him to protect himself. Then he retreats back to his people. He’s come far, but he has Serwë again. It’s the surviving skin-spy brother, hence her face momentarily cracked as it changed appearances. By embracing Serwë, he’s rejecting the freedom of the Dûnyain and the trackless step. He’s choosing to return to the “absolute darkness.”

He’s embraced by the darkness that comes before. The lie is easier than the truth.

When we next see Cnaiür, he’s Scylvendi again.

So, the Psûkhe is different from other sorceries. It’s all about passion. There very best, the five Kellhus just annihilated, are probably on par with an average Mandate with the Gnosis through sheer passion and strength of will. It’s hard to say since we’ve never seen Cishaurim fight the Gnosis save this one instant, and, well, Kellhus.

If you didn’t know it, salt was a valuable commodity in ancient times. It was either found in natural salt flats or gathered along seashores and traded inland. To the boy, finding a demon turned into salt is like finding a huge stack of gold.

So, what is going on with this scene? Somehow, Achamian defeated the demon after it grasped him. A demon’s body seems to turn into salt when it is defeated. Then Achamian landed on the beach. He survives, but the boy thinks him dead.

What is the Synthese’s secret? I have no idea. What does this boy matter? Don’t know. Did the Synthese kill him, tell him some profound secret. Who knows. All we can say is the Synthese was over Achamian while he slept, probably with skin wards around him protecting him. The Synthese doesn’t have the strength to do any physical sorcerers, only glamours. It’s Bakker being cryptic.

Maybe Bakker had plans for this boy in the sequel series and it never manifested. Maybe it’s hinting that something was done to Achamian by the Synthese. After all, something changes with his dreams of Seswatha in the next series. I’ve always attributed it to being hypnotized by Kellhus in this book, but there is no conclusive proof.

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

To save the world, Ary must die!

Ary, a young man scarred by his past, is thrust into the dangers of the military. But he carries a deadly secret: the dark goddess’s touch stains his soul.

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

He must hide the truth from the other marines and the woman he loves. Can Ary survive the dangers of service and the zealous assassin plotting his death?

Are you ready for the action, danger, romance, and betrayal exploding across the skies Above the Storm!

Click here for Chapter Seventeen, the final part of The Prince of Nothing trilogy!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 14
Shimeh

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

Some say I learned dread knowledge that night. But of this, as so many other matters, I cannot write for fear of summary execution.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

Truth and hope are like travelers in contrary directions. They meet but once in any man’s life

AINONI PROVERB

My Thoughts

Wow, those are some quotes. The one is foreshadowing. Clearly, Achamian is going to learn something that he’s too terrified to write. Mind you, this is in his heretical book after he’s already rejected Kellhus and gone into voluntary exile. Even Achamian knows not to put what he learns. Even reading this the first time, you can only imagine the truth he learned.

Which leads us to the Ainoni proverb that truth and hope are so rarely meet up that you get it once in a lifetime. It implies that hope is built on lies, on self-fabrication. That the truth doesn’t care about what sustains you. And when you learn that truth, it can kill that hope. However, once in a blue moon, they compliment each other.

Will it happen here?

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Esmenet dreamed that she was a prince, an angel fallen from the dark, that her heart had beaten, her loins had ached, for tens of thousands of years. She dreamed that Kellhus stood before her, an outrage to be blotted, an enigma to be dissected, and above all a burning question…

Who are the Dûnyain?

She awakes confused about who she is for a few moments. Then she doesn’t find Kellhus beside her, but she’s not surprised. She feels a “sense of finality in the air.” A dread has been building in her since reading The Sagas. She’s felt strange desires since her possession, seeing memories of the Inchoroi flooding her mind. Those desires, while alien in origin, still were hers. Kellhus tried to comfort her while questioning her, telling her what Achamian had already explained about Xinemus and his compulsion. Kellhus says that she was Aurang for a bit, which is why she felt like all those dark lusts were hers. He even says that is why Aurang tried to provoke Kellhus to kill her so she wouldn’t retain any of his secrets. But she argues that she felt them too strong. That they were her desires.

“Those desires weren’t yours, Esmi. They only seemed to be yours because you couldn’t see where they came from… You simply suffered them.”

“But then, how does any desire belong to me?”

She thought the dread building in her was knowing Xinemus was dying. She tried to convince herself after she learned of his death, but couldn’t. It was “too obvious for even her to believe.” Then Achamian moved out, giving her a new lie. But it, too, faded when she beheld Shimeh and believes they all will die here.

She dresses and learns Kellhus is wandering the camp without an escort. Once, Esmenet would have been fearful. No longer. She knows the Holy War is the safest place for him now. She heads out looking for him, moving through the nighttime camp, finding some still awake carousing or drinking. She bumps into an Ainoni and realizes he’s a former customer before she reunited with Achamian. She realizes from his smirk that he takes pride in having bedded the Prophet-Consort, revealing that Esmenet’s belief she had controlled her activities a lie. He grabs her arm, drunk, clearly looking to enjoy her again.

“Do you know who I am?” she said sharply.

“Yes,” he repeated, his manner lurid. “I know you…”

“Then you know how close you stand to death.”

A look of dank puzzlement. She advanced and struck him with an open palm.

“Insolent dog! Kneel!”

He stared, stunned, unmoving.

“Kneel! Or I’ll have you flayed alive… Do you understand?”

Terror breaks through his drunkenness. He blubbers for forgiveness. She contemplates having her agents find the man. Different ways he could be punished flash through her. She knows it’s petty, but she revels in them. She normally hated “the brutality that her new station had forced upon her.” She isn’t sure why she feels this way if it was his shame or his delight. “Or was it the mere fact that she could do these things?” She feels giddy knowing she’s Kellhus’s “vessel.”

She climbs the hills over the Meneanor Sea, thinking, and comes across Kellhus staring at Shimeh. He’s atop the ruins and contemplates joining him, but thinks it’s too risky considering she’s pregnant. Instead of seeming lonely, he dominates the situation as always. Without even glancing at her, he says she’s worried that he’s getting distant like he was before the Circumfix. She thinks he’s doing something dangerous, though she admits she’s trying not to. She asks why he’s here. He says he has to leave soon then offers her a hand.

With ease, he hauls her up to join him on the narrow ruin. She is dizzied by it and holds him, savoring his presence “as she always did.” She asks where is going. He answers Kyudea, which was the twin city to Shimeh, destroyed a long time ago. She mutters, “Your father’s house.”

“Truth has its seasons, Esmi. Everything will be made clear in due course.”

“But, Kellhus…” What did it mean that they had to assail Shimeh without him?

“Proyas knows what must be done,” he said decisively. “The Scarlet Spire will act as they see fit.”

Desperation welled through her. You can’t leave us.

“I must, Esmi. I answer to a different voice.”

She realizes it’s not her voice. “The things that moved her simply didn’t touch him.” She feels that they are moving through the heavens. He feels like a stranger to her. “The son of something terrible.” She asks if Akka should go with him as protection. Kellhus says he has to go alone and that he’s beyond needing Achamian for defense. Esmenet points out Achamian will want to know where he goes and Kellhus smiles and nods in that knowing way and says Achamian’s already asked. His levity makes her want to try, though she isn’t sure why. She finds herself kneeling before him, “playing out in pantomime what others did.”

No matter where they turned, men found themselves encircled by greater things. Usually, they ignored them. And sometimes, moved by pride and base hunger, they warred against them. But either way, those things remained just as great, and men, no matter how lunatic their conceit, remained just as small. Only by kneeling, by offering themselves as one might offer the haft of a weapon, could men recognize their place in this world. Only by submitting could they recognize themselves.

There was rapture in submission. The vulnerability of another towering overhead—precarious, like letting a stranger touch one’s face. The sense of profound communing, as though only those who acknowledged their insignificance could themselves be acknowledged. The relief of surrender, the disburdening that accompanied the yielding of responsibility.

The paradoxical sense of license.

Everything grew silent. She finds this moment euphoric and arousing. He laughs, helps her stand, and says he loves you. Though a part of her “gushed like an adolescent,” the old whore in her watches with “callused eyes.” She says she knows and he says she afraid, as all man are. She claims she can’t survive without him.

Hadn’t she told Akka the same thing?

He touches her pregnant belly and says he can’t without her. Then he kisses her. She holds onto him, not wanting to let go of him even as he looks away from her to Shimeh. She’s desperate and he knows.

“Fear for the future, Esmi, not me.” Fingers combed through her hair, drew tingling lines across her scalp. “This flesh is but my shadow.”

Kellhus reflects on how far he had come from Ishuäl and thinks he hears someone shouting his name. “How far had he come?” He had departed for Kyudea after sending Esmenet back to camp. He walks through hills and starts talking to the world, saying he knows the world can hear him. Wind answers him. He asks what he was supposed to do when they only attend “to what lies before their eyes.” If it doesn’t make them happy, they hurt it. They entrust “things unseen” to the world. The wind dies.

“What was I to do? Tell them the truth?”

He stooped, pulled a twig from the straps of his right sandal. He studied it by the moonlight, followed the thin, muscular branchings that seized so much emptiness from the sky. Tusk sprouting from tusk. Though the trees about him had died seasons previously, the twig possessed two leaves, one waxy green, the other brown…

“No,” he said. “I cannot.”

The Dûnyain had sent him into the world as an assassin. His father had imperiled their isolation, had threatened Ishuäl, the great sanctuary of their hallowed meditations. They had no choice but to send Kellhus, even knowing that they served Moënghus’s ends… What else could they do?

He reflects how he had mastered the three great weapons: faith, war, and sorcery. “He was Dûnyain, one of the Condition.” He followed the Shortest Path and yet “he had come so far.” He remembers weeping against Serwë’s corpse on the Circumfix. Thinking that, he takes off running across the broken ground.

He ran. Not once did he stumble, nor did he slow to determine his bearings. His ground was his… Conditioned.

Everywhere, all about him, one world. The crossings were infinite, but they were not equal.

They were not equal.

In the night, Kianene and Amoti hear a sound “like tapestries being beaten” moving across the sky. A shadow crosses the First Temple. Something inhuman watches. “It drank with its eyes, while its soul dreamed a million years.” It hates where it is, feeling like it is being cut.

Thorns. Its every glimpse speared like thorns.

The stone is weak. We could wash it away…

Do nothing, the Voice replied. Just watch.

They know we are here. If we do not move, they will fund us.

Then test them.

The creature is a Ciphrang named Zioz. It comes across a Cishaurim and attacks it, ripping the soul from the manling’s body and throwing the corpse to the ground. It thinks they are weak, but the voice says there are others. The Ciphrang speculates it might die, but the voice says Zioz is too strong.

Perhaps you will die with me… Iyokus.

Achamian feels “a pendulous absence” circling him and thinks he should wake up. He is dreaming he is Seswatha vomiting in the bowels of Golgotterath while Nau-Cayûti watches. The pair is still moving through the “endless dark” as they climb through new horrors.

Seswatha had heard rumors of the horrors of this place, speaking with Nil’giccas and hearing his account of fighting through the “horrid immensity of the Incû-Holoinas.” The Nonmen said 1 in a 100 Inchoroi died in the Ark’s crash, but they still had thousands left. Nil’giccas had warned the Ark “was an ingrown world.” A maze. You always have to be on guard in it.

Nau-Cayûti spots a light. They douse theirs and creep towards it across eons of detritus and filth. There is a swelling clamor. The passage leads to a mighty void, a great space. They are looking down upon a city in the bowels of the ship. “The steaming heart of Golgotterath.”

He [Achamian] should be awake.

He keeps dreaming of Seswatha staring at what he realizes is the hold of a vast ship where the city has been built in it. “Structures of mortise and hacked stones climbed their foundations, crusting their sides like stacked hornets’ nests, not dwellings but open cells, squalid and innumerable.” In it, they see human captives toiling amid Bashrag and Sranc while others. There are “open-air harems” where men, women, and children are used. Achamian again thinks he should be awake.

Screams and roars echo as Nau-Cayûti slumps in horror realizing that the woman he’s here for is down there. He attacks Seswatha demanding to know where she is. Achamian struggles awake at his point, realizing that his wards are trying to wake him up. He claws to consciousness and finds a Chorae dangling over his head.

“Some time ago,” the Scylvendi grated, “during all the empty hours thinking, I understood that you die as I do…” A tremor passed through the hand holding the string.

“Without Gods.”

Eleäzaras is watching the Ctesarat Tabernacle, the heart of the Cishaurim power, from his tent, Iyokus beside him. There are circles of blood painted around them. Tomorrow, he thinks, they will face their “mortal enemy.” Eleäzaras can’t hold back anything. He is employing demons. Iyokus retorts that the Cishaurim flee the Ciphrang. They have no Chorae up there but are summoning those who bear them to deal with the Ciphrang.

That was what Eleäzaras wants, for the “Snakeheads” to pull away some of the Chorae guarding the wall to defend them from Ciphrang, giving the Scarlet Spires a better chance in the assault tomorrow.

However, he disagrees with using such a powerful demon, a Potent, when a Debile would have worked. He thinks Zioz is becoming too strong. Iyokus is dismissive, saying all is well. Eleäzaras wonders how he’d become so cowardly and accuses Iyokus of recklessness.

Iyokus turned to him. Blood soiled his bandages where they pressed against his translucent cheeks.

“They must fear us,” the man said. “Now they do.”

Achamian is both terrified by waking up to Cnaiür and the Chorae and shocked, thinking he must still dream. Cnaiür demands to know where Kellhus is. Achamian begins to say he doesn’t know, but Cnaiür says he lies, that Achamian is his protector.

Please…” he gasped, tried to cough without raising his chest. The Chorae had become unbearable. It seemed his heart might crack his sternum, leap into its absence. He could feel the stinging of his skin about his right nipple, the beginnings of the Salt. He thought of Carythusal, of Geshruuni, now long dead, holding a Trinket above his hand in the Holy Leper. Strange how this one seemed to have a different… taste.

I was never meant to escape.

Achamian feels Cnaiür’s murderous rage. The Scylvendi warns he won’t give Achamian another chance. Achamian tries not to panic as he manages to tell Cnaiür that he won’t betray Kellhus. Achamian says he’s willing to die.

Cnaiür thinks then offers a trade. Achamian is shocked by this as Cnaiür puts away the Chorae “like a child with a well-practiced toy.” Relief floods him but he’s still confused and frightened. Achamian asks what they will trade and notes there are a man and woman in the shadows behind Cnaiür.

“Truth.”

This word, intoned as it was with exhaustion and a profound, barbaric candour, struck him like a blow. Achamian pressed himself onto his elbows, glared at the man, his eyes wild with outrage and confusion.

“And what if I’ve had my fill of Truth?”

“The truth of him,” The Scylvendi said.

Achamian says he knows the truth, but Cnaiür cuts him off, spitting out he knows nothing. Like the rest of the salves. Achamian protests his freedom, but Cnaiür says he is because “all men are slaves.” Cnaiür says Kellhus is Dûnyain with such hatred in the word. It’s a curse, the way Achamian thinks of the Consult. Achamian has never heard the word but knows it means Truth in a dead tongue.

“The tongue is not dead,” Cnaiür snapped, “and the word no longer means ‘truth.’”

Achamian remembers the first time met Cnaiür, Serwë, and Kellhus, and realizes that they lied. Cnaiür didn’t come on a wager. Achamian has to know if Kellhus also lied about dreaming of the Holy War. Cnaiür wants to know where he is, but Achamian insists on the Truth not willing to “barter untested wares.”

The barbarian snorted, but it didn’t strike Achamian as an expression of derision or contempt. There was a pensiveness to the man, a vulnerability of movement and manner that contradicted the violence of his aspect. Somehow Achamian knew that Cnaiür wanted to speak of these things, as though they burdened him in the way of crimes or powerful grievances. And this realization terrified him [Achamian] more thoroughly than any Trinket ever could.

Cnaiür explains that Kellhus wasn’t sent, but summoned, that he’s not unique, and nor is he a savior. He’s a slaver. The blood drains from Achamian’s face. He doesn’t understand, but Cnaiür continues on explaining how the Dûnyain have bred themselves for millennia until humans were “little more than children to them.” Achamian listens as Cnaiür explains it all. Achamian finds it too “naked not to be true.” He listens to Cnaiür talk about his experience with Moënghus, how Cnaiür helped to murder his own father while claiming he wasn’t willing.

“They see our thoughts through our faces—our hurts, our hopes, our rage, and our passion! Where we guess, they know, the way herdsmen can read the afternoon’s weather in the morning sky… And what men know, they dominate.”

Cnaiür continues his story how he helped Moënghus kill his father. To Achamian, only Cnaiür and the Chorae exist. Cnaiür explains how Kellhus’s “every heartbeat” wars against the world. He conquers and makes men into his dog.

“They make us love! They make us love!”

Kellhus runs through the wilderness. Jackals start running beside him. He outruns them and he seems to hear them ask who he is. He calls them their master as he runs off into the night. He begins laughing, though the humor was foreign to him. He finds saying “your master” amusing.

Achamian is shocked by Cnaiür’s words after the barbarian leaves. He is bewildered by what he is learning. Off-balanced, he struggles to think. He knows that Cnaiür plans to kill Kellhus, Achamian’s “final, greatest student.” Despite that, he has betrayed Kellhus even after seeing that one of the figures with Cnaiür is “dead” Serwë. A skin-spy.

You gave him up. The Warrior-Prophet… You told the barbarian where he goes!

Because he lies! He steals what is ours! What is mine!

But the world! The world!

Fie on the world! Let it burn!

“The beginning!” he cried. Please.

Achamian pulls out a fresh paper and redraws his map of events, the one he lost to the Scarlet Spire. He stares at Inrau’s name after writing it, feeling grief. Then he writes “THE CONSULT” in violent strokes. He gave up Kellhus to the Consult.

When he finished, it seemed he held the very same parchment he had lost, and he pondered the identity of things, the way words did not discriminate between repetitions. They were immortal, and yet they cared.

He crosses out THE EMPEROR and replaces it with CONPHAS. Achamian knows he has to warn the Holy War of the threat marching from the West. He adds new lines to the map, things he’s learned since escaping the Scarlet Spire. In a steady hand, he adds DÛNYAIN and connects it to KELLHUS. Then, as if spurred, he writes Kellhus’s father, MOËNGHUS. “The man who summoned him [Kellhus] to the Three Seas…”

He dipped his quill into his inkhorn, his hand as light as an apparition. Then, as though crowded forward by dawning apprehension, he slowly wrote,

ESMENET

against the top left margin

How had her name become his prayer? Where did she fall in these monstrous events?

Where was his own name?

He studies his completed map, unaware of how long. The Holy War rouses around him. He feels like a ghost searching for a secret in the ink. All these important institutes representing the world. Representing prophets and lovers.

There was no pattern to these breathing things. There was no encompassing thought to give them meaning. Just men and their warring delusions… The world was a corpse.

Xinemus’s lesson.

He connects all the names to SHIMEH, the “bloodthirsty city.” He draws the line last to Esmenet’s name, knowing that she needed the city more than any other except, perhaps, Achamian. After drawing it, he keeps drawing it over and over until, in a frenzy, he rips through the vellum.

For he was sure that his quill had become a knife…

And that flesh lay beneath the tattooed skin.

My Thoughts

Aurang is compared to a fallen angel. The Inchoroi are rebelling against the Outside. They don’t want to follow the rules but want to their own thing. They think they’re right. Prideful.

Esmenet’s having the same issue as Xinemus. She felt those desires of Aurang as her own. Even though Kellhus explains it to her, she still feels that violent lust for rape.

How can you have a sense of identity after something like that? Where you became someone else and felt everything they do. Where their desires were your desires. What does it say about yourself? How can you trust anything after that?

After that, she’s having more illusions shattered from the knight she encounters about her own sexuality. She thought she was taking from men when she was selling her body, but to a man, spreading seed is a primal motivation. He takes pride in having done it to a woman so powerful. To protect her ego, she has to lash out, to prove that she’s not that woman any longer. That she’s risen above him. She has every right to be angry though she’s shocked by how quickly she came to ordering his death. How much the power has already changed her. We all have those dark impulses in us. Murder lurks in every human’s heart, but we usually control those impulses. We are ashamed of them, often pretending we don’t have them. She is in a position to exercise those impulses, and she knows it. It’ll be a test of her character going forward how she wields that ultimate power.

She calls Achamian “Akka” to Khellus. She’s starting to realize she doesn’t love Kellhus. The possession has eaten away at her worship. She’s realizing that her voice doesn’t move him. Her concerns are not his. That’s not good for a healthy relationship. Then he seems like a stranger to her, something dangerous, and she instantly asks about Akka.

She kneels in supplication before her husband and thinks she’s just imitating worship, that she’s his wife. But this is not something a wife does. Not in a real relationship. She’s prostrating herself before her prophet.

More doubt seeps into Esmenet. She’s seeing Kellhus like a whore now, too. She’s growing cautious around him even as he’s manipulating her to get that giddy, lovey-dovey response. Then the realization that she had told “Akka” the same things as Kellhus. That she meant these words for another.

She holds onto him with desperation because the lie is slipping from her that she loves him. She was only infatuated and never formed anything deeper. How can she when Kellhus’s emotions are as shallow as they come.

Kellhus is almost praying to the world. To the Darkness that Comes Before. He isn’t sure if he’s doing the right thing. He is having doubt, but he can’t see any other way. Just like the Dûnyain who sent him despite the fact they were doing what Moënghus wanted. “What else could they do?” Not even the Dûnyain, even Kellhus, are self-moving souls. They are still bound by cause.

Now we’ll see what effect all those causes have had on Kellhus. How they have changed him from the standard Dûnyain. How the Outside has affected him. He’s like Cnaiür. He’s been nudged from the Dûnyain tracks onto something else.

Kellhus remembers weeping. He’s feeling it. That he’s not wholly Dûnyain any longer. His mission has changed. He has come to a decision as he takes off running across that he know thinks as his. He knows longer is following the Conditioned path of his father, but one of his own choosing.

What a cool way to introduce demon summoning. From the point of view of the demon thrust into this world and constrained by reality. It hurts it and has to obey the voice. It knows who summoned it, and is eager to hurt the summoner. Rumor has it, the Ciphrang you summon get to play with you in the Outside.

Iyokus, it’s going to suck when you die.

Then we switch to the dream of the true horrors of Golgotterath, the slaves, the rape-pits. It’s disturbing. It is a place of true evil. A true Hell, the place the Inchoroi want to escape from experiencing they have unleashed on those they dominate. It is a place where reprehensible atrocities are committed in the name of satiating selfish desires. That is all the Inchoroi are. They don’t control themselves. If they can brutalize you, they will and enjoy it.

Achamian wakes up from one form of danger to another. To another man who doesn’t control his desires. Cnaiür seizes what he wants, kills men to get it, and brutalizes those when he needs to satiate his mad urges.

We get just a tease about Ciphrang. Two different classifications. Potent and Debile. I hadn’t heard of that word before, debile. It’s an archaic word for feeble, where our word debility originates from. Interesting to call one Potent and the other Feeble. Such a glimpse into this one bit of magic. I’ll have to pay attention to the end of The Unholy Consult when Ciphrang are next employed in the series.

“I was never meant to escape.” A curious thought for Achamian to have at this moment. To escape the Scarlet Spire? Probably. Kellhus never expected to see him, moving into the seduction of Esmenet from him, causing all sorts of problems when Achamian returned. I am convinced Kellhus would have tried to convince the pair that it was only right for Esmenet to be Kellhus’s queen, instead it gave Achamian that wedge of anger that ultimately led him to reject Kellhus and for Esmenet to never surrender her love for Achamian but only to bury it beneath her infatuation with Kellhus.

Or, perhaps, Achamian thinks he should have died that day in the tavern of Carythusal, when Geshruuni spared him. He can’t think that he will escape the fate of the Chorae a second time. Not with Cnaiür looming above him.

This meeting is great between Achamian and Cnaiür. The reversal. The bewilderment. The discussion of Truth and what Kellhus is. The Dûnyain spared Cnaiür out of pity when he witnessed the man’s madness on the beach. Kellhus, a good Dûnyain, should have killed him. But even then, he was splitting off from Conditioned Ground.

Of course, Cnaiür wants to speak. Who likes to swallow a secret. Especially one that causes such harm. Cnaiür, for all his hatred, has come to like Proyas as a friend. He hates what Kellhus is doing and, clearly, he has had his fill of it. He’s out for vengeance. He’s ready to unburden himself. It’s like his deathbed confession. Time to get his sins off his chest before he crosses the threshold.

“What men know, they dominate.” There is so much truth in that sentence. The crux of humans. We crave knowledge so we can make order out of chaos. We seek to dominate everything around us for stability. Familiarity. So then we can indulge in our desires. Our passions. We take nature and divide into plots. We take plants and cultivate them into crops. We’ve breed beasts into pets and livestock. We tamed the atom because we understood it.

Kellhus running with jackals right after we have Cnaiür compare humans as dogs eager to obey their Dûnyain master out of love. A loyal pack trained to obey.

For the first time since Inrau’s suicide, Achamian begins acting like a proper Mandate. He’s had his faith in Kellhus destroyed. He was manipulated by Kellhus all this time to not report in on him. So he put aside his map. He didn’t use it. Now he’s redrawing it, seeing the new state of the world.

He understands as he connects Esmenet’s name to Shimeh why she has fallen to Kellhus. The promise of salvation. That same promise, of being freed from the sin of sorcery, had enraptured Achamian, too. Remember back in book two when Kellhus scraped away the ink in the scripture that condemned harlots like Esmenet. How she wept. How she surrendered to him thinking it was love, but it was really worship.

Shimeh is the representation of the lie of Kellhus’s divinity. He has promised them salvation and then lead them to commit terrible acts. They are murdering their fellow men out of a delusion. They are slaves to Kellhus and the darkness that comes before him.

Esmenet is his slave. She’s Achamian’s prayer, and Kellhus stole her. Now that the truth is revealed, Achamian realizes just how utterly betrayed he was by Kellhus.

Click here to continue on to chapter fifteen!

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

To save the world, Ary must die!

Ary, a young man scarred by his past, is thrust into the dangers of the military. But he carries a deadly secret: the dark goddess’s touch stains his soul.

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

He must hide the truth from the other marines and the woman he loves. Can Ary survive the dangers of service and the zealous assassin plotting his death?

Are you ready for the action, danger, romance, and betrayal exploding across the skies Above the Storm!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Twelve

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 12
Holy Amateu

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

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

—AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

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

—HATATIAN, EXHORTATIONS

My Thoughts

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

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

Despite that, we fake it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This place.

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

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

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

To seal it shut.

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

The greatest light of men.

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

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

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

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

The Consult had come.

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

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

Something not human.

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

So similar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He caught her wrist.

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

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

Pain?

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

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

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

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

Who is your father? a voice whispered.

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

Sorcery!

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

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

Bait it.

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

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

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

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

Kellhus reached…

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

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

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

They fear us, Father.

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

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

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

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

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

Pause. The cycling of possibilities.

“You’re a distraction…” Kellhus said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dûnyain had outwitted them.

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

In what passed for its dying soul.

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

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

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

Achamian swallowed.

Only when things were broken did their meaning become clear.

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

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

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

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

“You have to believe me!”

“I do, Esmi… I do believe.”

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

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

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

Dûnyain sons.

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

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

He [Achamian] had gloated

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

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

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

Far, far too late.

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

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

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

“Did you?” the Marshal abruptly asked.

“Did I what?”

“Did you ever win?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do I get the stone?

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

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

He waited for the Warrior-Prophet.

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

How?

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

Achamian pulled away—no horrified, just… blank.

“What are you?”

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

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

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

But the voice would not relent.

Does this mean the sun is empty?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kellhus has come to love her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Eleven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 11
Holy Amateu

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

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

—MEREMNIS, THE ARCANA IMPLICATA

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

—ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have I done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did I do wrong? something churlish cried within.

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

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

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

Shimeh was coming, she said. Shimeh.

As though names could have teeth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She could not bear it.

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

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

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

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

Shimeh, it seemed, lay impossibly near. Shimeh!

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

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

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

The dirges of the Galeoth echoed long into the night.

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

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

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

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

She thought of Serwë. The perpetual anxiousness returned.

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

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

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

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

This one thing I can give…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for Chapter 12!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Ten

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 10
Xerash

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

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

—MEMGOWA, CELESTIAL APHORISMS

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

—SONGS 6:33, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

My Thoughts

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

A byproduct of combustion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It made breathing difficult. I have to stop this!

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

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

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

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

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

She took her husband’s hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am.”

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

So what did that make of Achamian’s hate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Achamian shrugged. “Myself.”

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

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

“Then you don’t see yourself.”

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

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

Metaphysics, Achamian realized. He spoke metaphysics.

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you saying?”

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

Esmenet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Achamian thought, He is! He is me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His eyes, luminous with wisdom, seemed unbearable.

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

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

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

One for the Unbeliever… One for the Unseeing Eye…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Prophet-Consort and the Holy Tutor”

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They can deceive Kellhus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for chapter eleven!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Nine

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 9
Joktha

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

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

Pale endless life. This, I call my own.

—ANONYMOUS, THE NONMAN CANTICLES

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you,” Cnaiür rasped, “a god?”

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

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

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

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

“And why would that be?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Always,” it said.

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

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

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

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

Terror. How could he not be terrified?

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

What was happening? Who ruled these events?

Not Emperor Ikurei Conphas I.

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

No wonder the savage had laughed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were these shallow creatures?”

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

She blinked in dread and sorrow. “Yes…”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes…”

“He set me free.”

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

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

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

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

“I am Serwë… your lover.”

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

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

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

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

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

He contradicted all of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She danced for him.

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

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

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

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

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

Serwë helped him.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss Martemus, too, Conphas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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