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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Fifteen

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Fifteen

Condia

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

If the immutable appears recast, then you yourself have been transformed.

—MEMGOWA, CELESTIAL APHORISMS

My Thoughts

This is a Zeumi aphorism. From the name, Memgowa, and Celestial, a word that we hear in regards to their civilization.

It’s talking about how if you see the world differently, if you see something you thought was monolith is something else, then it hasn’t changed, you have. It very much is observation dictates reality. It reminds me how they have that game they play at court where people play out the gossip about themselves to make the lie into Truth.

Postmodernists would love Zeumi.

Then we have Sorweel who appears to have been recast when he wasn’t. He has been transformed in a way Kellhus cannot see.

Spring, 20 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), Condia

It’s morning and Sorweel is watching Porsparian make a fire to cook their breakfast. Sorweel is trying to figure out the slave who is now as frightening to Sorweel as Kellhus. The King flinches, expecting to be struck. Porsparian is not “meek nor innocent nor powerless.” Porsparian is delighted to make the fire. Sorweel fakes a grin and brushes where the soil was smeared on his face.

Somehow, simply thinking her name, Yatwer, had become a premonition. And it shamed him. She was the Goddess of the weak, the enslaved, and now she was his.

Eskeles shows up, muttering how he dreamed about the Library of Sauglish again. Sorweel is tired of hearing of his dreams. Then Zsoronga shows up though no Obotegwa, forcing Eskeles to act as translator. Sorweel finds that annoying because Obotegwa has become his friend’s voice. Eskeles’s translation reminds Sorweel that there’s a rift between him and his friend that keeps them from communicating. And, of course, Zsoronga does not trust Eskeles so he doesn’t speak freely. Sorweel feels like it’s the early “dark days when all he could understand were the recriminations of his own voice.”

They go to the Umbilicus where Kellhus holds court. Things are subdued in the camp instead of the normal carnival feel it has. The men are all sleeping in or lounging around breakfast fires because they have nothing to do today.

Sorweel found himself staring at a young Galeoth warrior laying between guy-ropes with his eyes closed, his head propped on the tear-shaped shield he had lain against his pack. He was stripped to his waist, and his skin shone as white as a child’s teeth. A pang of envy struck the young Kin gas deep as a stabbing. After weeks of fear and indecision, he now knew that he, Varalt Sorweel III, was simply an ordinary fool, no wise, no stronger, than the next man. He had been born with the gifts of the mediocre, and yet here he was, stranded in the role of a captive king. He was cursed, cursed with the toil of pretending, endlessly pretending to be more.

Cursed to war, not across plains as heroes do, but within the wells of his soul—to war as cowards do.

Today was but one more example.

No one knows why Kellhus has declared today a day of rest, but Sorweel and Zsoronga, and only them from the Company of Scions, have been called to the Council of Potentates, the senior officers of the Great Ordeal. Eskeles is along to be Sorweel’s interpreter. Sorweel finds himself more excited than afraid to see Kellhus. “It all seemed a gaggle of voices, nagging, warning, accusing, a chorus of contradictions.” He feels pulled by Yatwer and Porsparian, Achamian’s book and Zsoronga, his father, and Kayûtas inhuman perception, Eskeles’s fanaticism. All these ideas are burying his heart. He feels like he’s a dead man going through the motions.

And he was about to face the Aspect-Emperor—Anasûrimbor Kellhus!

He was about to be discovered.

As they head into the Umbilicus, Sorweel notices the Circumfix and realizes how the symbol of “wickedness and revulsion” was now “innocuous and commonplace.” People are flowing into the meeting room. Sorweel wants to tarry, but Eskeles doesn’t let him. Men from every nation of the Tree Seas are here. He feels like a country bumpkin in his Sakarpic clothes while Zsoronga walks with confidence “as a man should, as though what set him apart also set him above.” Everything about his clothes and posture screams out his prestigious heritage while Sorweel feels his communicates “ignorance, poverty, crude manners, and foolish conceits.”

He feels bullied by the strangers, their words insults that he can’t understand. He tries to rally his pride by raising “defensive contempt.” He tells himself that he was better than them. They didn’t even speak his language. They’re animals.

But he knew these thoughts for what they were: the shallow posturings of a boy. He could feel it in the way his eyes flinched from the glare of others, in the empty bubbles that crept through his bones.

He’s jostled into the Umbilicus and pauses to gape. Men push past him. He hears the Sheyic insult “Shit-herder” directed at him. This is the largest tent he’s ever been in, and he’s used to camping out on the Pale. It was bigger than his father’s hall. Eskeles is ecstatic, saying how he had dreamed of the events like this, but now he’s witnessing it with “living eyes.” Sorweel pretends to be distracted as he hates how he agrees with the sorcerer. It feels seditious to do that. Zsoronga has a guarded expression like Sorweel’s own. “The look of a boy striving to pass unnoticed in the company of men.”

Sorweel feels something is in the air, but isn’t sure what it is. Then he realizes it’s belief. The shared faith in Kellhus has brought this diverse group of men together and united them. It “defined them to their unguessed core.”

Here was belief, rendered sensuous for its intensity, made palpable in lilting voices and shining eyes.

Sorweel had known he marched in the company of fanatics, but until now he had never… touched it. The fever of jubilation. The lunacy of eyes that witnessed without seeing. The smell of commitment, absolute and encompassing. The Men of the Circumfix were capable of anything, he realized. They would weary, but they would never pause. They would fear, but they would not flee. Any atrocity, any sacrifice—nothing lay outside the compass of their possibility. They could burn cities, drown sons, slaughter innocents; they could even, as Zsoronga’s story about the suicides proved, cut their own throats. Through their faith they had outrun their every scruple, animal or otherwise, and they gloried in the stink of it—in the numbing smell of losing oneself in the mastery of another.

The Aspect-Emperor.

He wonders how Kellhus can “command such mad extremes in men.” He remembers that Kellhus makes men children. Sorweel then wonders if the world is about to end. As he ponders these thoughts, he studies the room. He then notices a tapestry that appears strange and he realizes it has sorcery on it to make shapes move in it.

He turns his attention to the two Exalt-Generals sitting on the dais. King Proyas looks refined and King Saubon glares. There’s something miserly about King Saubon “as if he had won his stature at too great a cost.” He’s always remembering what he paid. The Grandmasters of the Major Schools sit at a table. Sorweel spots the beautiful Anasûrimbor Serwa who looks too young.

“Striking, no?” the Mandate Schoolman continued in a lowered voice. “The Aspect-Emperor’s daughter, and the Grandmistress of the Sawayal Compact. Serwa, the Ladywitch herself.”

“A witch…” Sorweel murmured. In Sakarpic, the word for witch was synonymous with many things, all of them wicked. That it could be applied to someone so exquisite in form and feature struck him as yet another Three Seas obscenity. Nevertheless, he found his gaze lingering for the wrong reasons. The word seemed to pry her open, make her image wanton with tugging promise.

“Ware her, my King,” Eskeles said with a soft laugh. “She walks with the Gods.”

That line is a quote from a Sakarpi tale about a king who tried to seduce the god Gilgaöl’s mortal daughter and was cursed, his line ending. It surprises Sorweel that Eskeles knows this. Then he remembers the Schoolman is a spy.

He then notices Serwa’s brothers, Kayûtas and Moënghus, sits on the other side of the table with other Southron generals. According to Zsoronga, Moënghus isn’t really Kellhus’s son but the child of his first wife and a Scylvendi wayfarer.

At first this struck Sorweel as almost laughably obvious. When the seed was strong, women were but vessels; they bore only what men planted in them. If a boy-child was born white-skinned, then his or her father was white-skinned, and so on, down to all the particularities of form and pigment. The Anasûrimbor couldn’t be Moënghus’s true father, and that was that. It had been a revelation of sorts to realize the Men of the Circumfix, without exception, overlooked this plain fact. Eskeles even referred to Moënghus as a “True Son of the Anasûrimbor” forcefully, as though the willful application of a word could undo what the world has wrought.

But another glimpse of the madness that had seized these men.

The Interval is sounded and the stragglers enter, growing loud as the late-comers look for a place to sit. If it wasn’t for Sorweel’s fear of being revealed, this would be like Temple service. Eskeles then asks him what Sorweel sees in the other’s faces. The question is so strange that he feels he’s being mocked, though Eskeles has a friendly expression. Still alarmed, he blurts out, “Gulls and fools!” This just brings a chuckle from someone “too familiar with the ways of the conceit not to be amused.”

As the Interval sounds again, people start turning towards the tiers as though a will seized it. Sorweel doesn’t see the light right away, but then he notices a star that seems to resolve and grow into substance. “Skirts of gloom fell from the tented heights.”

A sloped landscape of faces—bearded, painted, clean-shaven—watched.

Seven heartbeats of soundless thunder.

Blinking brilliance… and there he was.

Kellhus appears sitting cross-legged while floating in the air, his head bowed. He has a halo around his head. Awe passes through the crowd. He tries to remember his father’s face as he reminds himself that Kellhus is a demon.

But the Aspect-Emperor was speaking, his voice so broad, so simple and obvious, that gratitude welled through the young King of Sakarpus. It was a beloved voice, almost but not quite forgotten, here at last to soothe the anxious watchers, to heal the sundered heart. Sorweel understood none of the words, and Eskeles sat slack and dumbstruck, apparently too overawed to translate. But the voice—the voice! Somehow spoken to many, and yet intended only for one, for him, for Sorweel alone, out of the hundreds, the thousands! You, it whispered. Only you… A mother scolding cracked into laughter by love. A father’s coaxing crimped into tears by pride.

And then, just when the music wholly captured him, the assembled Lords of the Ordeal crashed into with a booming chorus. And Sorweel found himself understanding the words, for they belonged to the first thing Eskeles had taught him in Sheyic, the Temple Prayer…

As the prayer is spoken, Anasûrimbor’s voice can still be heard distinct from them. Sorweel finds himself wanting to pray. He feels sinful for not joining them and sees Zsoronga looking as resistant as if they were both the fools “not because they dared stand in the company of kneelers, but because being a fool consisted of no more than being thought so by others.”

The singing ends and one of the Nascenti order everyone to raise their faces and look at Kellhus. Sorweel realizes he has to look at Kellhus and nowhere else. Everyone seems to hold their breaths. It’s intense. Everyone’s hopeful and afraid as they all (except the two demon heads) look at Kellhus. Kellhus begins floating around the room staring into people’s faces, everyone tracking his progress. Sorweel is relieved when Kellhus zooms off to the far side of the room. Though everyone has a slightly different expression, all of them are confessing. “Grown men, warlike men, wept in the wake of their sovereign’s divine passage…”

The Aspect-Emperor paused.

The man beneath his gaze was an Ainoni, or so Sorweel guessed from the styling of his square-cut beard, ringlets about flattened braids. He sat on one of the lower tiers, and rather than descend, the Aspect-Emperor simply tilted in his floating posture to stud him. The rings of light about his head and hands gilded the man’s face and shoulders with a patina of gold. The caste-noble’s dark eyes glittered with tears.

Kellhus speaks to the man, Ezsiru, about how his family is loyal, especially his father Chinjosa. He then says that Ezsiru needs to make up with his father. “You do not understand the difference between the infirmities of youth and the infirmities of age.” Ezsiru is punishing his father the way he had been as a child. Kellhus asks if a father can discipline his son with the rod, which he can. But can a child do the same to the father? No.

“Love him, Ezsiru. Honour him. And always remember that old age is rod enough.”

Kellhus moves on to the next one, going from man to man. “And in each case, nothing more than some human truth was summoned forth, as though the Anasûrimbor need only look into the face of one who stumbled to get every man in attendance upon sure footing.” All Kellhus speaks is Truth, and it baffles how a demon can be miraculous. Sorweel’s heart races and fear clutches about his chest as Kellhus comes closer and closer to Sorweel. When he’s almost on Sorweel, he looks at someone in the level behind him.

Impalpotas, habaru—”

“Impalpotas,” Eskeles said with a quaver, “tell me, how long has it been since you were dead?”

Everyone gasps as Impalpotas just smiles like he’s “a rake caught wooing a friend’s daughter.” It’s at odds with the situation. Then Impalpotas explodes at Kellhus before he is caught in lines of sorcery, his sword falling from his hands. Everyone is crying out in outrage. Swords are drawn. Kellhus’s voice cuts through the noise as he reveals that Impalpotas is a skin-spy.

The Shigeki assassin had sailed out around the Aspect-Emperor and now floated behind his haloed head, a brighter beacon. The light that tattooed his skin and clothes flared, and his limbs were drawn out and away from his body. He hung, a different kind of proof, revolving like a coin in open space. He panted like an animal wrapped in wire, but his eyes betrayed no panic, nothing save glaring hate and laughter. Sorweel glimpsed the curve of his erect phallus through his silk breeches, looked away to his sigil-wrapped face, only to be more appalled…

For it flexed about invisible faults, then opened, drawn apart like interlocking fingers. Articulations were pried back and out, revealing eyes that neither laughed nor hatred, that simply looked, above shining slopes of boneless meat.

Rishra mei..” the Aspect-Emperor said in a voice that sounded like silk wrapped about a thunderclap. “I see…” Eskeles’s murmured in reedy tones, “I see mothers raise stillborn infants to blinded Gods. The death of birth—I see this! with eyes both ancient and foretold. I see the high towers burn, the innocents broken, the Sranc descend innumerable—innumerable! I see a world shut against Heaven!”

Everyone cries out in fear and fury. They are picturing their families killed and peoples destroyed and scream their defiance. Kellhus continues to talk about cities burning, the Tusk broken, and that the No-God walking. This makes them all groan. He points at the skin-spy and tells them “Behold!” and “See!” He dismembers the skin-spy with Gnosis and “a curtain of slop raining to the ground.” A breathless silence falls on them, things seeming normal again. “It had happened, and it had not happened.”

And then Kellhus continues moving around them like nothing happened. He is close to Sorweel. He fills his vision. The demons “puckered sockets” stare at Sorweel. He hopes that Kellhus picks Zsoronga. But Kellhus tops before Sorweel. His heart pounds, his fears almost overwhelming him. “What would he see?”

How would he punish?

“Sorweel,” a voice more melodious than music said in the tongue of his fathers. “Sad child. Proud King. There is nothing more deserving of compassion than an apologetic heart.”

“Yes.” A noise more kicked out of his lungs than spoken.

Never!

Kellhus asks if Sorweel repents his father’s defiance. Sorweel lies that he has while thinking Kellhus is a demon. Kellhus smiles like an old friend and declares Sorweel a Believer-King and departs. Sorweel is confused. He feels like he’s in the open sky as everyone smiles at him. Eskeles good naturally mocks him for calling the others Gulls and Fools. What follows is a council that Sorweel doesn’t care much about. Eskeles is overjoyed that Sorweel is saved.

Against a desolate backdrop, Zsoronga simply watched, speaking not a word.

Sorweel returns to his tent alone. He feels numb but free, no longer beset by fears. He drinks in all the sight and finds himself awed by the Great Ordeal. “There were simply too many warriors from too many nations not to be astonished in some small way.” In this moment, as he sees men looking back at him with hostility, indifference, and friendliness that they’re just Men. What made them believed, how they were all united behind a singular goal, that made them seem different.

It was at once glorious and an abomination. That so many could be folded into the intent of a single man.

The Calm slipped from his heart and limbs, and the mad rondo of questions began batting through his soul. What had happened at the Council? Did he see? Did he not see? Did he see and merely pretend not to see?

How could he, Sorweel, the broken son of a broken people, shout hate beneath the all-seeing eyes of the Aspect-Emperor, and not be… not be…

Corrected.

He touches his cheek where the mud had been smeared and thinks about Yatwer. He finds Porsparian back at camp. He’s been attending to Sorweel’s meager possessions, the tent even washed. He realizes this is “The High Court of the Sakarpic King.” Sorweel asks Porsparian what did he do, addressing him as a servant for the first time. This alarms Porsparian. He shouts at him to tell. He struggles to ask a simple question in Sheyic and manages to spit out, “What you do?” Porsparian is confused and Sorweel repeats it as he rubs at his cheeks in pantomime.

Like a flutter of wings, Porsparian’s confusion flickered into a kind of perverse glee. He grinned, began nodding like a madman confirmed in his delusions. “Yemarte… Yemarte’sus!”

And Sorweel understood. For the first time, it seemed, he actually heard his slave’s voice.

“Blessed… Blessed you.”

My Thoughts

It’s interesting how Sorweel flinches from Porsparian much like an abused child fearing his parent’s hand. As near as I can remember, there’s not a hint that Harweel ever abused Sorweel. He comes off as a good father. There’s something skittish about Sorweel, though.

And Eskeles is dreaming about what Achamian is obsessed about. Makes you wonder how this whole Soul of Seswatha works. The memories are imprinted by the heart of Seswatha held back in their stronghold (I’d love to find more about this).

“He [Sorweel] was cursed, cursed with the toil of pretending, endlessly pretending to be more.” That’s a big theme of Bakker’s work. How people present masks to the world. To change how we behave around others. The curse of humans is that we can only see the mask other people show and they can never see the true us. We are forever sundered from the truth of each other. Sorweel doesn’t realize this is everyone pretending to be what they need to be, pushing down their own impulses to adapt to the expectations of their neighbors or risk ostracization of being different.

“In his heart, words simply accumulated, piled one on top of the other.” The world is overwhelming young Sorweel. He has not had the life experience to withstand this and it is crushing him. It would crush many of us. It’s how he differs from the typical protagonist of other books who would rise to meet them.

Sorweel has the mindset of a loser. If you don’t know this about us humans but when you lose a challenge of dominance, it causes a decrease of serotonin levels in your brain. This leads you to feel lesser than what beat you. Makes you feel ashamed and less likely to challenge again. While winning increases serotonin. This is a very primitive reaction, one that can be found in creatures as ancient as lobsters who have similar serotonin levels that dictate confidence and weakness. Sorweel has been crushed. His people decimated. His father unmade. He has all the signs of low serotonin levels. Thinking he’s worse than his victors, that he can’t compare to them. That they’re better than he is.

Belief is a powerful motivation. I’ve been reading stuff about the Soviet Union and something struck me. It was talking about wedding practices, which were completely secular, and yet the new bride and groom were expected to lay flowers at a memorial to Lenin. Though the Soviet Union professed atheism, they believed in Lenin and his Socialist Paradise. It defined them. On his birthday, I believe, or the nearest Saturday to it, every worker was “encouraged” to work on their day off for no pay to show their support to the State and the Communist Party. The USSR abounded with religious sentiments masked under secular trappings to motivate the people to work hard for their country and not question their leadership. To trust them like the peasants of old trusted their priests and noblemen.

So this is interesting. Gilgaöl has a mortal daughter. That’s rather fascinating. We’re seeing that old, pagan polytheism that Inrithism has all but buried in the Three Seas. And it’s very Indo-European paganism. Greek, Old German, Latin, etc. This is the start of our love story between Sorweel and Serwa. The very classic of falling in love with the evil tyrant’s daughter and winning her heart while defeating her father.

Interesting that Sorweel sees the halo. This implies that at some level, he believes in Kellhus’s divinity. In the last series, people only started seeing the halos when they believed in him. It’s not around his hand, but his head, though. So that is different. Maybe it has to do with Inrithi Sejenus having haloed hands versus the more pagan beliefs of Sakarpi.

Despite how much he fights, Sorweel is caught up in it. He would end up a Believer-King without Yatwer’s intervention. He believes Kellhus is divine. Maybe a demon, but that’s still divine.

They [Sorweel and Zsoronga] were the fools here, not because they dared stand in the company of kneelers, but because being a fool consisted of no more than being thought so by others.” This is how good people stand by while bad things happen. It might even be a group who all think it’s wrong but don’t realize it and think they are alone. That need to conform to the group is a strong evolutionary pressure on our behavior.

Chinjosa. That name is definitely familiar to me. He must have been one of the Ainoni notables. I do recall a general who was quite skilled and helped hold things together during the disastrous battle at Mengedda, perhaps.

It’s good that Kellhus doesn’t believe in abusing the elderly. I have a feeling poor Chinjosa is suffering from some sort of dementia or Alzheimer. He’s become like a child and, clearly, it sounded like he was a brutal discipline to his son. That’s the effectiveness of Kellhus, he often gives great advice that can lead to positive change.

Kellhus’s speech about what he sees coming if they fail is what we get to look forward to in the next series!

It’s safe to say after reading the rest of this series, Yatwer deceived Kellhus. You can get hints that words were being forced out of Sorweel.

Sorweel is on his first steps of a Narinder. An assassin for Yatwer to kill Kellhus. It’s such a simple story. It’s been played out over and over again, and yet Bakker will turn it on its head as Sorweel is turned into a pawn for a Goddess who is blind to what is going on. His life is destroyed for nothing.

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Thirteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 13
Shigek

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

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

ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

A day with no noon,

A year with no fall,

Love is forever new,

Or love is not at all.

ANONYMOUS, “ODE TO THE LOSS OF LOSSES

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

She could only blink at the lamplight.

“The Scarlet Spires have destroyed it, Esmi.”

She turned, looking for Achamian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He laughed bitterly.

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

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

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

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

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

Then he was gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Achamian?

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

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

When she looked up, they were gone.

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

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

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

It’s safe now, my love. Come out.

It’s is safe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he thought of Proyas.

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

He thought, So be it.

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

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

Cnaiür imagined cutting his pampered throat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes. To war is to avenge.”

The proper answer. So why the throng of questions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But you are wrong.”

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

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

So how could he contemplate…

All I have is war!

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to continue on to Chapter Fourteen!